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Don't Ask

Chapter Text


Mai arrived late again.

Oliver Davis, aka Kazuya Shibuya, aka Naru, bit back his irritation when the girl finally walked through the office door, instead finishing the tea he’d made for himself. “Why are you late this time, Mai? Surely even someone as dumb as you is still capable of punctuality.”

He still expected her to get mad—to react. But instead, she just said, “Sorry. It won’t happen again,” and headed over to her desk, her face betraying none of the anger he was accustomed to. Because that was how things had been since the Agawa case.

To put it mildly, he didn’t understand.

Was he supposed to ask her what was wrong? Ignore it and go about business as usual? Apologize? Or was she finally getting sick of him? He’d been asking himself the same questions for weeks, and had still come up with nothing. Mai gave no hints, and he kept his distance, still hoping to remind her of Gene as little as possible, and keep his own troublesome emotions further out of the equation.

Mai started on paperwork without so much as a sigh.

Frowning, Oliver returned to his office, puzzled as ever.

It had been a while since she’d gotten angry at him. But she didn’t exactly seem happy, either. Her behavior was outside her normal parameters, and therefore suspect. Yet he had no idea how to proceed.

They seemed to have some sort of unspoken understanding, even though he’d never understood the terms of it. Neither of them had mentioned anything concerning her mistaken confession, and lately had been making sure they were never alone together for more than a few seconds. On the rare attempts he tried to tease her, she responded with apathy.

To say the least, he didn’t like this arrangement. It felt odd for the girl to be so quiet. He almost wanted her to call him a “damned narcissist,” as usual. That would have been familiar territory.

Sinking into his desk chair, he glared at the files opened on his monitor. Familiar territory? That was a joke. There’d been a shortage of that since she’d told him Gene was appearing in her dreams.

His smile was really pretty, she’d said.

Feeling the familiar twist in his stomach, Oliver forced his mind back on to his work. He wasn’t going to think about that.

A few minutes passed before the front door opened, and he heard the monk and the miko’s inane babble as they walked in, treating the place like a cafe, as usual.

Oliver continued typing, though with gritted teeth.

“How’d the date, go, Mai?” Takigawa’s words made Oliver’s hands freeze on his keyboard.

“It went well,” Mai’s cheerful voice said, as if nothing had been wrong to begin with. “Shinji’s really nice.”

Oh. That was how things stood.

Really, he should have expected that. He didn’t own her, after all. She could do whatever she chose. It was none of his business, and he had no right to feel hurt. Because there was no plausible way any girl would want him, once she saw past his face.

And that didn’t hurt, he told himself. It was merely a fact he knew very well.

“When do we get to meet him?” Matsuzaki said, as Oliver tried to block their voices out.

“He’s coming to pick me up after work today.”

Of course he was.

Chapter Text


The hours passed slowly, with Naru making few requests (not demands) for tea. That was odd.
He was almost acting like a decent human being.

The first time he’d asked for tea, please, Mai’d nearly fainted from shock. And then he’d thanked her as if it was something he did all the time.

At first, she’d thought he was sick, or stressed about something. Then, maybe an attempt to show gratitude for her saving his life in their last case. But that was too far-fetched. She’d even asked Lin, although he didn’t have any insight to offer. And she hadn’t seen Gene since the case, so it was impossible to ask him.

But Naru hadn’t even smirked at her in weeks.

Whatever. She was trying to give up on that stupid narcissist, so what he did was none of her business.

During the last few minutes before Shinji was supposed to arrive, she remained quiet, listening to the chatter/flirting going between Monk and Ayako, peppered by Yasu’s comments. She couldn’t bring herself to join in.

Her insides were still twisting with guilt over Shinji. When he’d confessed and she’d told him about Naru, he’d just smiled and said, “That’s okay. I can wait.” She liked him, but it was a far cry from her stupid obsession with her boss. But he’d been patient. He was a saint. And that just made her feel even worse.

The door opening signaled Shinji’s arrival, and Mai finally looked up from her work to smile at him. He barely had time to smile back before he was swarmed by the other three.

“So this is the boyfriend, huh?” Monk said.

“A new victim,” Yasu pulled Shinji onto one of the couches, sitting closely beside him, with an arm draped over Shinji’s shoulder. Making sure to make him as uncomfortable as possible. “Shinji Tokiwa, yes? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Yasu beamed, but the expression looked far from friendly.

Shinji tried to back away, only to find himself flanked on the other side by Monk. “So, how did you meet our Mai?”

“W-we’re in the same class,” Shinji said. To his credit, he barely stuttered.

Ayako, sitting on the opposite couch, leaned in closer, smirking. “I do hope you have honorable intentions toward her, Tokiwa-kun. We’d hate for something bad to happen to you.” Her tone suggested many awful things.

“Guys! That’s enough!” Mai pushed Yasu aside, pulling a nervous Shinji out of the way of the three. “You don’t need to threaten him!”

Shinji chuckled, albeit nervously. “Don’t worry about it, Mai. I understand how they feel. They just want to protect you.”

“Good man,” Monk nodded in obvious approval.

Mai moved to grab her things, but froze when she heard Naru’s office door open, turning to look at his unreadable face. “Naru! I didn’t expect you to come out!”

He merely quirked one perfect eyebrow at her before saying, “I wanted to remind you all that this is a place of business. Acting otherwise, and dragging in people who aren’t even associates, is taking it a little far, even for you.”

“Oh, come on, boss,” Yasu grinned, glasses glinting, “don’t you want to also make sure Tokiwa-kun is good enough for our precious Mai?”

“Yasu!” Mai could feel herself blushing.

“Actually, I would like to speak to Tokiwa-san for a minute, if you don’t mind.” The words were spoken quietly, but everyone stared at Naru after he’d said them.

Great, what was he going to do? Tell Shinji how incompetent she was? She could do without that. She grabbed his arm, turning to leave, but Shinji stopped her. “It’s alright, Mai. It will only take a moment, right?” he looked to Naru for confirmation. Naru nodded.

And thus, Shinji followed Naru back into his office. Mai couldn’t help but feeling like he’d gone straight into the lion’s den. She flopped back onto the couch.

“Do you think Naru’s going to rip him a new one?” Monk asked.

“Maybe we should go,” Ayako said with a smirk. “That way, we’re not involved.”

“You guys!” Mai groaned.

“Relax, Mai,” Yasu said. “I’m sure everything will be fine.” she was about to thank him when he added, “The boss knows better than to leave any evidence.”

This was ridiculous. Turning away from the three of them, Mai watched the door. Hopefully Naru wouldn’t be too rude, whatever they were talking about.

Chapter Text


Shibuya-san’s office was meticulously organized, with bookshelves full of titles in English. A whole bunch of stuff Shinji couldn’t read. So Mai was right. This guy was smart. Not to mention handsome, though the lack of expression on his pale face made him look more like a doll than anything.

And was it just him, or was it cold in here?

The competition regarded him with cold blue eyes which nailed Shinji to the spot. The most important guy in Mai’s life. One of those guys who always had beautiful girls after him, even though he just treats them like shit. Entitled jackass.

Narcissist. That was what Mai called him.

“Is she happy?”
Shinji started at the question. That certainly wasn’t what he was expecting. Oh, so now this guy was going to pretend she actually meant something to him? “What do you care?” he said.

Shibuya’s stupid pretty face remained impassive. “Please just answer the question, Tokiwa-san.”

And being polite? What, was this guy bipolar? He was acting nothing like Mai always described him. Besides, how the hell was Shinji supposed to answer that? Mai was still hung up over this jackass, so no, she wasn’t happy. But no way was he going to let Shibuya know that. “Yeah,” he said, smiling again. “she is. Why? You’re not jealous, are you, Shibuya-san?”

“My personal feelings are of no consequence.” Shibuya said, still showing no twitch of emotion. It was definitely getting colder in here, though, making Shinji shiver. “I just wanted to make sure you knew that it’s your job. Keep her happy. Take care of her. Do you understand?”

Glaring at the narcissist, Shinji nodded, eyes drawn to the empty teacup on the desk that was rattling in its saucer. An earthquake?

“Good,” Shibuya sat down at his desk, returning to whatever the hell he was working on, paying no mind to the teacup. “Have a pleasant evening.”

Biting his tongue to hold back the insults he wanted to hurl at this dismissive jackass, Shinji turned and walked out, fists clenched.

Chapter Text


Lin was getting sick of Noll's emotional constipation. He and Mai had been avoiding each other, acting depressed, and otherwise being as annoying as angsty teenagers could be. Someone needed to get Noll's head out of his ass, and, as his guardian, that job fell to Lin.

He had walked out of his own office once he heard Mai and her boyfriend leave, only to find Takigawa, Matsuzaki, and Yasuhara sitting in the waiting area. He was all for ignoring them as he looked over the completed paperwork on Mai's desk, but then Yasuhara said, "Lin, you're the closest to the big boss. Surely you know what he said to Tokiwa-san just now. What's been eating him."

"Why?" he asked.

"This is getting ridiculous," Matsukazi sniffed. "If he's going to let Mai get away that easily, he deserves it."

Takigawa was silent for a long while, staring out the window. "I know Mai's trying to get over Naru, but she's been acting oddly the past few weeks, too. I don't like seeing her so down."

"Maybe you could talk to the big boss," Yasuhara suggested, "try to figure out what's going on between them."

Somehow, he'd ended up telling them that he would try. Though talking to Noll was sometimes harder than talking to a brick wall. But this seemed to reassure the three, who were then quick to leave.

But then, as the time approached to close, Lin had to walk into Noll's office to find the boy sweeping the remains of a shattered teacup into the garbage. He looked paler than usual, and Lin noticed a few books on the floor that were usually situated on the shelves. Great. Just great. But he didn't say anything, watching Noll put the broom away, and following him out of the office.

When the two of them got in the car, however, he couldn't hold it any longer. "There were some concerns about what you said to Mai's boyfriend."

"It's nothing to worry about," Noll said.

"And I suppose the way you and Mai have both been sulking isn't, either?"

"I have not been sulking."

"Oh, really? Then how would you care to explain your recent behavior? You two haven't been speaking to each other unless it's necessary. We both know you hate making your own tea, yet you're doing it. Why? Did you two have a disagreement?"

"I fail to see how my relationship with my assistant is any concern of yours."

This was one of the many times Lin was tempted to slap some sense into his young charge. Instead, he gritted his teeth and started the car. "I'm not one of the irregulars, Noll. You can't fool me that easily. Mai's a good person. You care about her. Why can't you just tell her that?"

"There's nothing to tell."

"We can all see how much she means to you. Everyone except Mai, herself. Do you really want this boyfriend of hers to take her away from you?"

"She's free to do whatever she wants. I will not interfere."

"So you're admitting it, then?"

"Admitting what?"

"Don't play dumb. It's very unbecoming of you."

"What I choose to do with my personal life is no concern of yours."

"Of course not," Lin said, the sarcasm heavy. "I'm just the one who has to sit back and watch as you tear yourself apart over a girl. How could that concern me?"

"Precisely, though I'm not tearing myself apart over anything."

"Which explains the mess in your office after Tokiwa-san left." Lin swerved around a driver who was going too slow. "Noll, you can't keep avoiding everything you don't want to deal with. That's not how it works."

"Focus on the road, Lin," Noll said as Lin took a corner a bit fast, causing the tires to squeal. "I'd rather not be killed by a car, as well."

"Don't change the subject."

"I was merely attempting to think of my parents. Don't you tell me I should do that more often? That was a red light, by the way."

"You're avoiding it again."

"Avoiding what?"

"You've been acting oddly toward Mai since we got back."

"The police are heavy in this area. You should really slow down."

"Damn it, Oliver!" Lin only pressed harder on the accelerator, the car zooming past others who were adamantly sticking to the speed limit. "Even I know that Mai's in love with you. But apparently I'm the only one who knows you love her, even if you won't admit it. Whatever game you're playing, I'd rather not have to check you into the hospital again. Either talk to me, or I'm calling your parents."

There was a long silence, and Lin was pretty sure Noll wasn't going to say anything. And then, "She isn't."

It took him a moment to realize what Noll meant. She isn't, as in, she isn't in love with me. Oh, how adorable. "Oh, really? You obviously haven't seen how she looks at you."

"That's because I look like Gene."

Lin turned to stare at the boy. Noll had told him about Gene being Mai's spirit guide. But going that far was ridiculous. "Gene's dead."

"I am aware. Keep your eyes on the road."

Lin turned his eyes back just in time to avoid running onto the sidewalk. Rather smoothly, if he did say so, himself. He'd been helping this idiot stabilize his emotions enough to prevent poltergeists for years, now. Emotions weren't Lin's strong point either, but Noll was bottling everything up. "So you think Mai's just after him, and therefore, you're not going to ever tell her anything?" he summarized as he pulled into the parking structure for their apartment building.

"There is nothing between us and there never will be, even if I wished it to be otherwise." Noll said.

This was going to be difficult.

Chapter Text


The movie was fine. A silly romantic comedy where the cold, aloof hero fell for the feisty heroine. Really, there wasn't anything wrong with it. But as it drew to the end and the two shared a final loving embrace, Mai was fed up. Mr. Cold and Aloof had turned into an idiot, all in the name of love, completely abandoning his common sense.

Wait, was she sounding a bit too much like a certain narcissist?

Damn it.

She'd been trying to avoid thinking about him. And she'd been doing pretty well, no matter how much the movie man had acted like such a Naru.

"Mai, is everything okay?" Shinji drew her from her thoughts as they left the train heading back to her apartment. He was frowning, eyebrows drawn together in worry.

She smiled at him. No need to burden him with even more of her problems. After all, she'd already told him about Naru. He'd already said it was fine, and that he could wait. She was trying to forget that Naru the Narcissist existed outside of work. She could grow to love Shinji. "I'm okay. Just thinking about the movie."

"Yeah, it wasn't my favorite either. How come girls always go for jerks like that? He insulted her so many times and she still kept going after him."

This was not something that she wanted to get into with him. Not now. "It wasn't realistic."

"I wish you were right." The way he looked at her, she knew exactly what he was referring to. "Mai, he doesn't deserve someone as amazing as you."

"Thank you." She smiled again, unsure what else to say. This was all unfamiliar territory.

"I mean it. That guy may be good looking, but he's a jerk."

That reminded her, "What did he say to you before we left the office?"

"Nothing particular." After a moment, he added, "It's really better you don't know."

"Of course it'd be something like that," she said through gritted teeth, glaring at the unoffending sidewalk. Didn't the stupid narcissist have anything better to do besides insult her?

They walked in silence again, and when Shinji reached out and took her hand, she didn't pull away. It was fine. Everything was fine.

His hand was really dry, but he held hers loosely enough so that she could pull away at any time. "You're beautiful, Mai," he finally said as they stopped outside her apartment door. "That jerk boss of yours is an idiot for not seeing it, and treating you as he does. You deserve someone nicer than that."

When he leaned in, his eyes intent on her lips, she drew back, shaking his hand off. "I'm not ready for that sort of thing."

"You'll never be ready, if you keep letting that narcissist stand in your way." he ran a hand through his short hair, sighing. "You shouldn't let him suck all the good things out of your life. Weren't you the one who wanted to get over him? Let me help."

Was that true? Was Naru holding her back? Was kissing Shinji really the best way to get over it, though? Well, he was her boyfriend. And she was getting past that tea-loving jerk. And she could already feel her face heating up."But—"

"Please, Mai. It would make me really happy." He looked so sad. What was she supposed to do?

Really, she didn't have to answer, though, because he took her silence for approval, pulling her in and planting his lips on hers.

What. The. Hell.

Her first kiss was supposed to be something magical, wasn't it? But this was just. . . cold. And slimy.

She pushed him away, pretty sure her face was on fire. But seeing his face, she restrained herself from wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. "I told you I wasn't ready!"

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that," Shinji said, his eyes wide. "But you just looked so cute, and I didn't want you to have to think about him anymore."

Mai took a deep breath. It was alright, right? Shinji was a kind person. He was just trying to help. Her discomfort just proved that there was something wrong with her. "It's okay. Just. . . don't do it again. Not until I'm ready."

"He really hurt you, didn't he?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Shinji merely shook his head. "It's okay, I understand. You'll grow to love me. I just have to keep trying." Turning to leave, he added with a smile, "I'll see you on Monday, beautiful girl."

And Mai was left at her door, fuming, blushing, not sure who or what she was mad at, and absolutely hating the guilt knotting in the pit of her stomach.

Chapter Text


Mai’s guilt over not returning Shinji’s feelings didn’t go away the next day. It still hadn’t faded on Monday when she had to go back to school, only to be confronted with a bouquet of red roses in her shoe locker, with Keiko and Michiru both oohing and awing over them, and how happy they were she was with a guy who was treating her right. She didn’t have the heart to tell them about any of her misgivings.

And it still wasn’t gone when she made it to work that afternoon, on time (Take that, you stupid narcissist!). But she knew something was wrong when she saw Yasuhara’s grin. “Ah, Mai, you just missed What’s-his-name. He looked like a kicked puppy when he found out you weren’t here.” he pointed over to her desk, where a vase full of more red roses sat.

Of course he did.

Mai flopped into her desk chair with a huff. Why couldn’t she be as happy as her friends were for her? This was how relationships were supposed to be, right? So she should be able to fall in love with the nice, cute guy who didn’t insult her all the time. Why did it have to be so complicated?

“Big Boss didn’t even lecture either of us,” Yasu added, watching Mai carefully. “He didn’t say anything.”

“You know Naru. He’s probably pouting about something again.” Mai twirled in her chair, not wanting to see the roses on her desk.

She waited for a while, but Naru made no demands for tea again. So she made some anyway. Whatever was up with him, it was still safe to say he couldn’t live without his tea. When she knocked on his office door and brought the tray in, he ignored her, as usual, very entranced with whatever he was doing on his computer. She set the tray down and headed back to the door, not bothering to wait for the thanks that wasn’t coming. At least that was still normal.

But, when she moved to open the door, his words stopped her. “Thank you, Taniyama-san.”

What the hell was this bastard doing? She whirled to face him, ready to give him a piece of her mind, but he still wasn’t looking at her. There was no other sign he’d even acknowledged her existence. Fine. Whatever. “You’re welcome, Shibuya-san,” she said, her voice laced with all the false sweetness she could muster before she left, taking care not to slam the door behind her. She wasn’t going to let him get to her. She was getting over him. If she had to kiss Shinji in order to do that, fine. She could do that. And she could keep accepting the stupid roses he was spending so much on. Better than that jerk who obviously didn’t want to associate with her any longer.

The day passed slowly, with no potential cases and no end to the tedium. Just when Mai would have given anything to distract her from her problems, too. Yasu had to take off almost as soon as she arrived (stupid university classes), and she was left alone, with nothing to do but stupid filing and getting more tea for Naru.

So, when the door opened close to the end of her shift, Mai leapt to her feet, eager for whatever distraction had walked in. It was Ayako, looking as fashionable as ever. “Ayako! What are you doing here?”

“The stupid monk wanted to know how your date went,” Ayako said. “He has a gig to get ready for, so he made me come by instead.” How he’d managed to do that was a dangerous thing to ask, judging by the look on the miko’s face.

“So, how did it go?” Ayako prompted, sitting on one of the couches.

Mai frowned, trying to figure out exactly what to say. “I’m not sure.”

Ayako watched her face for a moment, then stood up, walking into Naru’s office without so much as a knock, the door closing tightly behind her. Within less than a minute, she was back out. “Let’s go,” she said to Mai.


“It’s obvious there’s something bothering you about it, so I’m taking you to dinner so we can talk about it.” She had already breezed across the office and was standing by the door, looking over expectantly at Mai. “Naru already cleared it. Come on.”

So that was how Mai found herself seated in a restaurant, with Ayako still watching her face too closely across the table.

“What happened?” the miko asked yet again over her glass of wine. And Mai was quickly running out of ways to sidetrack her. So, she told the story, all the while focusing on the food she’d barely touched.

She didn’t look up until when she finished, and she heard the wine glass set on the table somewhat harder than necessary. “And why are you dating this guy to begin with?” Ayako asked, more harshly.

“He was really nice,” Mai tried to explain. “He gave me roses, and was really understanding when I told him about Naru. He said he’d help me--”

“Mai, that’s not how it works. You’re not going to fall for this boy just because he asks you to. Besides,” Ayako’s face darkened, “kissing a girl without her consent isn’t something he’d do if he was nice.”

“He was just trying to help.”

“That’s bullshit.” Ayako made no apologies for her harsh language. “He’s taking advantage of you. You shouldn’t allow him to do things that make you uncomfortable. An important part of relationships is respecting boundaries.” She sighed, relaxing a little. “Mai, I know I don’t have any right to tell you what to do. But take it from someone who’s been there. Trying to stay in a relationship with a guy like him, especially when you don’t feel the same way about him, isn’t good for either one of you. I know you’re trying to be nice and give him a chance, but you’ll just end up hurting each other worse. I really think you should break it off.”

She’d been afraid of that.

After a small argument where Ayako had insisted on paying for Mai’s meal, and Mai trying to pay for herself, only to have Ayako pay when she wasn’t looking, Mai headed home. The logical side of her agreed that she needed to end things with Shinji, but there was also the side of her that didn’t want to hurt him. But was it really worth it to keep this up? She’d been trying to fall for him ever since he’d confessed to her. And nothing. She was only annoyed by the flowers and the endearments and the touching and especially that kiss. If that was what kissing was supposed to be like, she really didn’t want anything to do with it.

When she got to the door of her apartment, she was surprised to see Shinji there, leaning against the wall nice and comfortably, like he was trying to look cool. When he saw her, though, he straightened up immediately, his face turning to one of worry. “I went to the office to walk you home, but Shibuya-san said you’d already left. I’ve been here for over an hour. Are you okay?”

“I was having dinner with a friend.”

“And that friend let you walk home alone?”

It wasn’t even completely dark yet. And it wasn’t like she’d never walked home at night before. But instead of mentioning that, she merely said, “I had a lot to think about.”

He deflated. “Thinking about him, huh?”

She moved toward her door. “My thoughts don’t always revolve around him--”

“Why does it have to be him?” he interrupted, grabbing her arm.

That was not something she wanted to answer, so she shook her head, staring at the ground again. She really didn’t want to go further into her painful relationship with Naru.

“Come on, Mai. You owe me that much. I’d never act like him. I’d never call you stupid, or manipulate you into working for me. I’d never boss you around without any thanks. He takes you for granted. Why do girls like you always go for jerks like him?”

Because he wasn’t always a jerk. “I do not want to go into this with you, Shinji,” she said, fighting to control her temper as she pulled her arm away from him. “Just let it go.”

“You’re still holding back, like there’s something so damn special about him. Can’t you get it through your head that there’s nothing likeable behind that pretty face of his? I’d give you the world, but all you want is him.”

Looking directly into his eyes, keeping her face neutral, she said, “You told me you wouldn’t push it. I’m sorry I don’t love you, Shinji. But if you’re going to keep acting this way, I don’t see the point of us staying together.”

Something blazed in his eyes. “You said you’d give me a chance.”

“I did. But what kind of a guy kisses a girl who says she isn’t ready for that?”

He scoffed, face turning red. “Like your perfect narcissist is any better.”

“Maybe he is!” She unlocked her door and yanked it open, ready to go inside and forget about all this.

But then he said, “You didn’t hear what he said to me.”

She turned around to face him. “Fine. What did he say?”

“It. . . wasn’t nice,” he said. “You already know he thinks you’re an idiot, yeah, but he just had to add a few other things on top of that. He said you were a useless assistant, and he was glad I was taking you off his hands. He was hoping I’d help you find another job, so he’d finally be able to get rid of you completely. And when I asked if he cared about you at all, you know what he said?” he was looking at her so intently now. “He wanted to know how anyone could bring themselves to care about an idiot like you.”

One hand still on the door, Mai’s other hand curled into a fist at her side. That bastard. Was he really that much of an uncaring asshole? “Shinji,” she said, “we’re done.” And she retreated into her apartment, closing the door behind her, and starting to plan just how she was going to confront that jerk the next day.

Chapter Text


It hadn't been a pleasant morning. A nearly sleepless night was bad enough, but this was added to by Lin's accusatory silence on the way to the office. The older man hadn't mentioned anything about the roses Tokiwa-san had left on Mai's desk, or how he'd come by looking for her, but Oliver could tell that Lin was thinking about it. Lin was frustratingly talented at saying too much without saying anything. Combined with a few near death experiences due to Lin's erratic driving, Oliver had a raging headache by the time they reached the office. He'd quickly headed to make himself a cup of much-needed tea, praying that he wouldn't have to deal with anymore of the useless bullshit with Mai and Tokiwa-san today.

That was going fairly well, until Mai stormed into his office that afternoon without bothering to knock, slamming the door behind her. Oliver didn't look away from his monitor, feeling the weight of her glare already on him. It didn't matter what had set her off, this was at least his Mai again. The one who got angry.

The following silence was filled only with the sound of her heavy breathing (God, had she run all the way here?) and the click of his keyboard, so he asked, never pausing in his typing, "Is there a problem, Taniyama-san?" The honorific had done well at helping him remember to keep his distance.

"You bet your narcissistic ass there is," she snapped. "What makes you think it's okay to keep putting me down in the first place, much less in front of Shinji?"

Shinji? Ah, she meant Tokiwa-san. Her boyfriend. Oliver sifted through all that had happened since Friday, trying to find something amiss that he'd said. There was nothing.

Apparently, the enraged girl wasn't done yet. "And using honorifics all of a sudden? What the hell? What did I do to incite your wrath this time, your highness?"

He finally looked up at her. Her face was red with rage, her hands firmly on her hips, and she was giving him one of the most furious glares he'd ever seen on her. He could practically see the steam coming out of her ears. If he was being honest with himself, it was adorable. However, this was not the time or place for such reckless honesty, nor was it the time to tease her, no matter how much he was tempted to. "I don't recall saying anything remotely insulting about you in Tokiwa-san's presence," he finally said. That was a safe enough answer.

"Oh, really? So you didn't tell him I was useless, and you couldn't wait to be rid of me? I can put up with the teasing, you stupid jerk, but there are some lines you just don't cross!" She was positively seething. "Remember the last case, when it was me who had to save your sorry ass?"

He remembered the occasion all too well. Along with the very uncomfortable surge of affection he'd felt toward her in that moment, as she'd stood above his downed attacker with a triumphant smile on her face. The girl had been troubling before that, but that moment had made far more of an impression on him than he would care to admit, giving too much space to the stupid emotions he'd worked so hard to suppress. It was really for the best not to think about any of that. Especially not now.

As to the rest of it, though, he had no idea what the hell she was talking about. And the idiotic, insistently emotional side of him was hurt that she'd think such of him, when he was trying his best to avoid hurting her again. He'd been being nice, hadn't he? "Why would I ever claim you're useless? You have proved your worth on multiple occasions." He wasn't going to mention any examples, most especially not the Agawa case. In fact, it was better if he stopped thinking anything about the entire damned case, therefore to avoid anything resembling a memory of that incident.

"Then what the hell did you say to him?"

That was something else he didn't plan on revealing. "That is between him and me."

To his shock, he watched the fight drain out of her, as her shoulders drooped and she stared down at her shoes. "Naru, aren't we friends?"

He raised one eyebrow. "You do realize who you're speaking to, right?"

"But do you hate me?"

And where the hell would she get that idea? "No, Mai. I don't hate you."

But somehow, she was only getting angry again, because no matter what he did, he obviously could never make her happy. "Of course not," she said with an inelegant snort, her arms folding over her chest. "Someone like me just falls beneath your all-important notice, right?"

"I know you're not stupid enough to believe that."

"Then what? Tell me. I'm dying to know."

Instead of answering, though, he forced himself to ask what he really wanted to know, "What exactly do you want from me? I can't bring Gene back."

It was ridiculous how cute that confused face of hers was, not that he was noticing. "Who said anything about him?"

He was feeling the strain of a sleepless night, building in his skull until all he wanted to do was take a sledgehammer to it. "When do you stop? If you're not talking about him, you're thinking about him—it's written all over your face. I know nobody else can measure up, but you insult this boy you're dating at every turn, and then come to take it out on me. How is that fair?" He was calm. Perfectly calm. There was no way he'd let her get to him that easily. Not this time. He was better than that. He could be nice, and it was to his advantage to extricate himself from situations where he was not wanted.

"Well, as nice as it is to know you approve, I can't fall in love with someone just to make you happy, your majesty."

"Obviously." He immediately hated himself for saying that, especially for the bitterness he detected in his own voice. Her happiness was what mattered. His illogical attraction to her was something he could deal with. He would be fine, as long as she was happy.

Her hands clenched into fists. "Listen, you arrogant ass. Do I ever bother you with my feelings? I keep it to myself as much as I can because I respect you and I don't want to burden you. You already rejected me. I get it. Believe me, I wish getting over you was easy, but it's not." Those words were like a rapid combination of punches to the gut, leaving him reeling as she took a breath, her anger fading again as she released it. "Even if I'm not allowed to love you, I thought we were still friends. Why are you acting this way?"

His heart was pounding, an odd twist in his stomach as he stared at her red face. For a moment, he could almost believe she meant him. But he needed to stop looking for something where nothing existed. He was the bad personality, the defective model, and he would do well to remember that. His hands slightly clenched on his keyboard as he fought to get out the words he had to say. He had to shut this down once and for all. "Mai, please don't confuse me with my brother anymore." Nothing hurt. This ridiculous emotion wasn't worth acknowledging. He was fine. At least, he would be.

"I'm not the one who's confused," she snapped, stomping her foot on the ground. "I love you, you idiot scientist, not Gene, not Shinji."

This was a joke. Or a dream. Either way, it was best for him to stay firmly rooted in reality, and ignore that odd elated sensation in his stomach. He fixed his eyes on his monitor again, not seeing any of the words on the screen, but knowing how he had to respond. "That's quite possibly the stupidest thing I've heard you say. You shouldn't glance over decent individuals for someone like me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"

"Tokiwa-san and Gene are both far more deserving of your affection. If you took the time to think, you'd realize that."

"Doesn't sound at all like the narcissist I know," Her tone was challenging, daring him to correct her yet again, but he was not about to take the bait.

"I know my shortcomings," he picked up one of the files on his desk, flipping it open as if he actually cared what was inside it right now. If he could ignore her, maybe she would just go away. He was quite ready to forget all about this. "If that's all—"

"No, that is damn well not all!" One hand slammed down on the wooden top of the desk, while she snatched the folder out of his hand with the other. "You don't have to accept my feelings, not that you ever would. But stop trying to tell me how to feel. You can't control it anymore than I can." The storm of her emotions was already deflating her again with each word. Even worse, he could see the tears in her eyes. "I won't bother you anymore, I promise."

That last plea broke him, and the words were out before he could stop them. "I am. . . not opposed to you bothering me." Her warm brown eyes shot up to meet his, her confusion as apparent and adorable as ever. And maybe, just maybe, it would be okay for him to think that. "How hard is it for you to believe that I care about you, idiot?"

"You're you," she answered simply.

Deciding to get it out and seal his fate rather than seeing her cry, he said, not looking away from those eyes, "Mai, I don't know where you got the idea that I would ever say something like that to Tokiwa-san, but it's not true. I merely asked if you were happy, and told him to take care of you." How was it so easy to say such damning words to this wide-eyed girl?

He watched her eyes widen even more in her surprise as his words sank in, but within a few moments, her anger was back. "That bastard," she seethed, once more becoming a cute bundle of fury as she threw the file she was still holding back onto his desk. "He lied to me! I told him how I felt about you from the start, then he has the gall to steal my first kiss, and then when I get mad at him he flat-out lies to me?" She'd reached a shriek now.

"Don't be so gullible next time, dummy," he said automatically.

"And you!" she jabbed a finger at him. "You're not off the hook yet just because you're being nice! If I'm so damn gullible, how the hell am I supposed to believe you?! Just because I love you doesn't mean I'm going to believe everything you say just because you bat those pretty blue eyes at me!"

Somehow, he found the ground solidifying under his feet again. This was something almost like familiar territory. Honestly, he wasn't sure he could believe her, either. But if this chance was falling so blatantly into his lap, he'd be an idiot not to take it. With an all-too-familiar smirk, he said, "I guess I'll have to prove my sincerity to you, then. I assume you're ending your relationship with Tokiwa-san?"

She huffed, "Oh, please. I did that last night."

"Good. Then would you be willing to join me for dinner tonight?"

But his bravado faded when she didn't blush or stammer or even smile. Instead, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"

Shit. He'd really just jumped into this, hadn't he? What the fuck was he thinking? And there was no way out. Damn it, how the hell was he even supposed to say it? "It has come to my attention recently," he said slowly, studying the pattern of the desk's wood, "that the affection you insist you have for me. . . may not be entirely unreciprocated?" Fuck it all, why did that sound like a question? Goddammit, he really was not cut out for this.

But after a silence that stretched out far too long, he finally had no choice but to look up at her again. And the change was remarkable. Her eyes had widened considerably, and her mouth had fallen open as she gaped at him. "Really?"

Part of him was tempted to question her intellect, as he turned back to the computer. This was too much. "Maybe. Additional experiments will need to be conducted to achieve more conclusive results."

He heard her take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, I guess I can help with these experiments. As long as you don't get sick of me, that is." Her odd tone caused him to look over again, only to be taken back by the bright smile on her face. Had she ever looked that happy? Probably. It was Mai.

If he were Gene, he would have known exactly what to say. Instead, however, he was an idiot scientist, who had tried very hard to distance himself from such things as much as possible. "That. . . would be nice."

"Then I suppose dinner with you would be nice, too," this brightly smiling Mai said. He saw her hand moving. It was slow, slow enough to give him plenty of time to tell her no. Though apprehensive, he didn't move, allowing her soft, warm fingers to touch his. The feeling was. . . not unpleasant, and caused no errant vision. "Thank you, Naru."

As suddenly as it had been there, the warmth of her hand was gone, and she left his office, the door closing behind her with a quiet click. Oliver was left staring at his door for a long moment before he realized he was smiling, even as the reality of what had happened started to sink in. Maybe, just maybe, this could work out.