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The Lady in The Lake

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Mai opened her eyes against the sunlight that streamed in through the blinds of her window and warmed her face. It was one of her few days off she recalled absently, eyes staring unfocused up at the ceiling above her, and it was a fact that left her reeling with relief. The sound of people talking below her second story window could be heard, though they were too muffled to make out exact words, she could tell they were happy. She rolled over in bed and sighed. She wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep and rest her tired mind and body but she didn't want to her waste the day away when she had to go back to work tomorrow.

She groaned and pushed herself out of bed with a yawn, adjusting her rumpled pajamas, he padded into the bathroom. She paused in front of the mirror and took in the dark circles and outgrown haircut thoughtfully. A lot can change in a year, she thought tiredly. The human existence can be so chaotic and fluctuating at times that it often left her head spinning. But if there was one thing Taniyama Mai was good at it was adapting. She was used to having to support herself. So when the mysterious figure that was her previous employer returned to his home land after recovering the body of his lost twin, she had immediately found herself another job. There may have been a day or two reserved for moping between employments but I digress. She may have had to acquire a second job on top of that as well in order to make up for the amount she had originally been making with her unique job at SPR but she wouldn't complain.

She shook her head and smacked her cheeks to get some color in them before washing her face and scrubbing the sleep away. She dried her face then scanned the bathroom counter blearily in search of her toothbrush. It was cluttered with hair ties and bobby pins, a stick of deodorant, but no toothbrush. She scowled and pulled the cabinet door open to check in their but only found a few bottles of body spray and a comb.

"What the. . ." she muttered and trudged out into the room that acted as her living room and dining room together, and searched every surface available before she found it. Her toothbrush and toothpaste were thrown on the kitchen counter over her mathematics book.

Speaking of mathematics, she wouldn't open her mouth when she nearly fell behind in school because of how much she was working. Her teachers were sympathetic and helpful, however, and for that she was eternally thankful. She would not have passed on to the next year if they had not allowed her time to catch up.

She sighed and returned to the bathroom with her find, toothbrush and paste clutched in her hands, and set about finally brushing her teeth while she continued to think.

She had been advised to find herself a decent mode of transportation just so she could save time between her two jobs and classes. After she had to get her second job she agreed that it would be very helpful. And so four months into her new life, for that is what she had dubbed it after the office had closed, that she found herself cruising through the streets on an old scooter bought off of her friend's brother's dad who fixed up mopeds for fun.

At the thought of her scooter she shuffled out of the bathroom, still brushing her teeth, and peered out of her bedroom mirror where she could just see the off white vintage looking scooter in the parking lot below. She was always worried that someone would run off with it. Sure it was heavy but two guys could easily heft it and throw into the back of a van or truck.

She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, silently asking for guidance with her mouth full of toothpaste, before returning to the bathroom. Anyways . . .

A lot had happened in a year. She had dated a few people. A fact that greatly surprised her old team members when they caught wind of it. She had dated one guy for at least five months out of the year since he left. He had been very kind and sweet but it made her feel like a piece of glass. As if he were afraid that one wrong word or slip up would leave her shattered and he would be left with the pieces. He had really been hurt by her decision to end it.

Mai had even found herself a stalker at one point. It had been a terrifying two weeks in which she constantly watched over her shoulder and would hurry to Monk or Yasuhara's homes in search of refuge. She had first noticed the man when he came into the tea shop three times in one day. He was pretty average looking, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and had maybe been in his early twenties. But he had been strange. He seemed nervous but determined to catch her eye whenever he interacted with her and it quickly became unnerving. Thankfully she noticed him the first night he tried to follow her home in his car and simply made her way to Monk's apartment. He was the closest and also strongest person she could think of and if anyone could fight off some creepy guy it would be the base player.

Mai had hurried up the steps to Monk's apartment, hands tight on the strap of her bag, and knocked urgently. She glanced down into the parking lot where she could see his car idling in the dark with lights off, watching patiently, and she paled. When Monk had pulled the door open she had thrown herself into his apartment and slammed the door after her.

"What the hell," Monk had exclaimed and rested his hands on her shoulders, taking in her pale and nervous state.

"Some guy was following me home," she explained breathlessly.

His expression had instantly darkened. He took her home that night in his own car. The next day they worried about collecting her scooter but after that incident Monk had started giving her rides when he could. Until the day when her stalker was caught and arrested after attacking a certain band and, to quote Monk, "Getting his ass beat".

Mai didn't know how he had convinced his entire band to back him up while he picked a fight with her stalker but convince them he did.

The memory caused a small smile to pull at her lips as she finished brushing her teeth and she rinsed her mouth. She could only imagine what would have happened had she not kept in contact with everybody. Thanks to them she had avoided a lot of strife. But it was Ayako that took her away on 'Mini-cases', as they had dubbed them, to help exorcise small shrines or homes for pocket money. The smiles on the faces of the people they helped were what really boosted Mai's morale but Ayako had always made sure to give her fifty percent of whatever they made despite her protests. Though their mini-cases were enough to make her happy, it was never long term, and she would find herself slipping into, not quite depression, but a definite funk of some kind.

Mai sighed and exited the bathroom with a stretch, her feet shuffling in the thick carpet of her apartment, and picked up the remote from off the coffee table in her living room and turned the tv on. She watched the news for a few moments, wondering what the weather would be like later that afternoon, and contemplated on calling one of the three team members she kept in constant contact with. It would be a nice day to go out and do something other than work or school.

Yes, a lot can change in a year, but it is sometimes for the better.

Mai had a busy schedule and had become even more confident in her life decisions because of it. There was something about constantly being aware of where you were needed next that reassured her. So the strangeness of having her schedule open that day left her feeling rather surreal. She should be doing something, she thought, but there was nothing that needed done. She hummed in thought and turned towards the kitchen to find herself something to eat.

Working at the tea shop down the street from the old SPR office was nice. The owners had loved her as just a customer so when she had sidled into the shop one Sunday morning and asked if they were hiring they had been ecstatic. She had made several friends there, though she wasn't particularly close to any of them, they were still a nice group to talk with. And when she had let slip one day, a Thursday she thought it was, that she had once been a paranormal investigator they had suddenly become her fan club. At least, that was what Yasuhara had dubbed them upon meeting her at the tea shop one day.

She enjoyed working at the animal shelter near her school well enough. In truth she preferred the animal shelter to the tea shop, at least when the animals got nasty with her it was a simple matter of bribing them with food, but angry tea deprived people were harder to deal with. She knew from experience and so was not really surprised the first time a guest snapped on her for not having his favorite tea. She had been able to quell that situation quickly enough by offering another tea she knew the man would like judging by how well-kept appearance and preferences.

Also, if an animal stalked her it was cute not terrifying. . .

Mai snorted at the thought and pulled a cup of ramen from her pantry before setting water to boil on the stove. She could make herself some tea too. She pulled a set of chopsticks out of a drawer and fiddled with them while she waited for the water to boil. Her eyes fell on the math book still sitting innocently on the counter and she scowled. Her grades had improved immensely since last semester now that she had transportation and a bit more free time but she also had a convenient Yasuhara to tutor her when things got too difficult. Her English had done a one-eighty. But that did not mean she enjoyed school. Quite the opposite.

But still . . . She sighed and set the chopsticks down and leaned onto the counter, resting her chin in the palm of her hand, and closed her eyes.

There were times when she missed the quiet stretch of the hours in a dusty office with nothing but the sound of page turning and keyboard clicking to tempt her ears only to be interrupted by the convenient arrival of the entirety of the irregulars. Suddenly she would be rushing around to prepare tea for everyone, tidy their coats and shoes, only to laugh when He would throw open the door to his lair and complain about the noise. And they would gossip like a bunch of old ladies. Though their brand of gossip leaned more towards the paranormal . . .

The sound of the kettle whistling jolted her into action and she pushed herself away from the counter. Half of the water was used for her tea while the other half went to her ramen. She set the tea cup on top of the cup of ramen, satisfied with her genius, and turned away to watch the new on her tv across the room.

She had always been horribly prone to nostalgia and it only grew worse with the disbanding of SPR.

But no matter, she only ever had a minute or two to think before she was rushing off to class or a shift, night times were used for dreamless sleep nowadays too. She would be fine. She still had her family, her friends, and now her new jobs to keep her occupied.

She prodded her phone on the counter, wondering if she would be contacted by any of those friends or family, but sighed when she realized how unlikely that was. They were all so used to her working and never having any free time.

She turned back to her tea and ramen and took the two into the living room where she set them down on the table before flopping back onto the couch. She set her phone down on the seat next to her and lifted the remote in her hand, flipping through the stations until she found a show she liked, before reaching for her ramen.

So when a year had passed, and she had settled into her new routine quite nicely, and she had made some headway in her school work, and the days had finally started to blend together in contentment, she found herself at a crossroads when her phone rang the morning of her first day off in three weeks. She stared down at the cellphone while the talk show she had been watching continued on in the background of her thoughts and wiggled her sock covered toes in the fabric of her couch nervously. She did not recognize the number but she knew who it was. She knew who it was because she had not specifically thought of him in precisely three months and twenty seven days yet he had suddenly sprung into her mind that morning with no provocation whatsoever, and she knew who it was.

But a lot had changed in a year. And she debated ignoring the call. But something in her would not allow it. Somewhere within her there was a petulant child who crossed her arms and stomped her foot and demanded that she answer that phone or so help her! It was the little girl who dreamed of helping those helpless souls pass on, of hunting the bad ghosties, and fumbling through dark crumbling buildings with nothing but a flash light and a determination to move forward.

So on the fourth ring she slid her finger across the screen and brought the phone up to her ear and casually let out a questioning hello, as if she did not know who exactly it was on the other line but she was willing to hear them out because she was a confident and independent person who had a few spare moments to give.


And that was all it took.

Just that one word in that one voice that she had not heard in a year was enough to open the floodgates of her memory and force the tidal wave of recollections to spill fourth through her mind's eye. All those memories she had taken such precaution into NOT recollecting were splashing back and forth between the walls of her brain and heart and she could feel the telltale burning of her eyes, threatening to spill over with tears.

"Yes," she answered in a hesitant tone. The cup of ramen she had been nursing forgotten in her hand while it continued to send steam up into the air of her apartment.

"I am planning on reopening the office, the job is yours if you want it . . ." And his tone was as cool and collected as she always remembered it being but he had trailed off in what she knew to be his own unique form of hesitation. As if he wanted her to think that he expected her to use her brain to fill in the blanks … but she knew better.

There was silence on his side of the line while the words swam through the memories she still had sloshing about in her mind and she hesitated.

She stood from the couch and set the cup of ramen down ready to pick the perfect course for pacing so that she could organize her thoughts and make the right decision but she never lifted her foot to take the first step.

"Of course," she answered with a relieved sigh.

"Great," he responded professionally and she heard a door open and close in the background, "You'll start Monday."

And then he hung up and she was left stunned, staring wide eyed at her phone, before she finally began pacing her living room. What had she just done? She had worked so hard to put it all behind her and yet one word from him had been enough to obliterate whatever progress she had made. She lifted a hand to her forward and groaned.

But was it such a bad thing?

Surely he would be calling everyone back together again because there was no way he had just called her, she snorted at the idea, he probably called her last. In fact, he probably had already called everyone a month ago and had just now informed her so that he could imagine her suffering.

It was another ten minutes of pondering before her phone screen lit up from where she had left it on the couch and she pounced on it, like a wild animal discovering its first meal in days, and answered.

"Yes!" She sounded nothing like she had on the phone with him but she did not care because it was Yasuhara who was on the other line this time.

"Yo!" Yasu greeted cheerily. "I'm assuming you got boss man's call?"

Mai let out a sigh of relief, at least he hadn't waited a month before finally letting her in on the plan, and laughed nervously. "Yeah, he did, I'm not sure how to react," she admitted sheepishly.

"Go get it, how else would you react?" he instructed with a laugh which quickly turned into a grunt and a crash, "Hime-chan your brother is having an important work call, now is not the time to throw things at him."

Mai blinked at her phone before laughing, "Tell Hime-Chan I say hi!"

"Hime-chan, the wife says hello," he shouted, Mai assumed because he was across the room from his little sister, and Mai snorted.

"Mai, Mai, Mai," she heard a little voice cheering in the background and Mai smiled.

Mai sat down at the table Yasuhara had grabbed for them, the restaurant fairly small but quite popular, and she sighed.

"Ugh, don't do that the moment you see me," Yasuhara admonished and snapped his text book shut while adopting a rather cold and blank expression. He had practiced the art of mimicry for as long as he could remember and while some people tended to more difficult than others he had to admit, that one was the easiest, which only served to amuse him.

Mai groaned and dropped her head into her hands, ignoring the laughter that bubbled up out of Yasuhara's mouth, before leveling him with a glare. "Why do you do these things to me?" she demanded quietly and dropped her arms to the table in exasperation.

"Because I find it funny?" Yasuahra quirked a brow and shoved his text books aside while Mai pulled her bag over her head and set it down in the seat next to her.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she bemoaned.

"You can always elope with me, we'll run away and start a new life . . ." he offered imploringly and Mai could not resist the laugh.

"I feel like he would find us one day . . .Or he would just send Lin," Mai shot his idea down and snorted.

"Poor Lin," Yasuhara said quietly. The shared a moment in silence in which they prayed for the silent but diligent man who would no doubt soon need glasses.

"How do you think he'll react to your new boyfriend?" Yasuhara asked seriously and took a sip from the water sitting in front of him.

Mai's face fell and she turned her eyes to the window where she could see several people making their way down the streets, heading home after a long day's work, and ignored the look Yasuhara gave her. The sun was just beginning to set and the light shot through the window directly into Mai's eyes as if the sun itself was giving her a pointed look as well.

"I ended it a couple days ago," she muttered and reached for her phone in her bag to avoid Yasu's face.

"Poor guy, he really liked you too . . ." Yasuhara sighed.

"He wasn't all that intelligent," Mai explained lamely but her eyes brightened when their waitress slid in front of their table.

"What can I get you guys?" she asked brightly, obviously in busy work mode due to the sudden influx of people as soon as school had let out, and was putting on a smile. Mai wondered what kind of thoughts she was hiding beneath the cherry red lipstick. Probably something along the lines of when she was getting off and what she would do that night.

"Ramen!" She and Yasu sang out simultaneously.

"You know, if you keep comparing everyone to Naru then you're never going to settle down, like, ever," Yasu lectured and pulled her phone from her hands and setting it aside. "There is literally no one like him in the world and the one guy that might have come close is currently kicking it in the afterlife."

Mai smacked at Yasuhara's hand and snatched her phone back but laughed at the image of Gene, swimming trunks and sun glasses, sitting in a beach chair by the pool. "Don't talk about Gene that way, it's rude," she grumbled but there was an evident blush on her face.

"I'm just saying," Yasuhara defended with a casual shrug.

Mai sighed and once again looked out the window. She was worried how he would act around her once he got back, would he treat her the same? Or would he turn even more obstinate and cold towards her than ever before. She certainly couldn't imagine him being any more kind or polite, the thought alone sent a shiver up her spine.

"You eat a lot of ramen," Yasuhara commented when they had gotten their food and picked up their chopsticks.

Mai looked down at her bowl and found it to be true. It was a quick and easy meal and always reminded her of home. She lived off of it. "Yeah, and you talk a lot of shit, what's your point?" she shot back haughtily and pulled a strand of noodles up to eye level before taking a bite.

"Oh, feisty today, must be because you know your love is coming back," Yasu deflected her comment and smirked when her face turned bright red.

And so a lot can change in a year but she once again found herself standing in the now much dustier office. Her jeans wet from the rain outside and her hair, now a bit longer, plastered to the back of her neck did not even register with her because the musty air of that office had never smelt so good. Because she could hear the footsteps of someone coming up the stairs a few minutes behind her. Because there was a bag of tea and a brand new tea set sitting innocently on the counter in the kitchenette. And because, on her desk that had not seen any use since the doors had been locked behind him, sat a mountain of paperwork and a blank application.

And everything felt right.

The sudden relief that washed over her nearly had her in a puddle on the floor. Her knees felt like jelly and her hands shook as she turned to watch the door open behind her. She could forget about all those allnighters she suffered to get through her school work, the days she had gone without a single meal purely because she just didn't have the time, the awkward first dates and boring mundane conversations, the thought that she would spend the rest of her life remembering the good old days and wishing they had never ended.

But Oliver Davis and Lin Koujo did not see the relief on her face when they stepped through that door, arms laden with equipment and folders filled with research (and a wet paper bag containing their lunch), no, what they saw was something quite different. They saw an exhausted woman, pale and flustered, who looked as if she had not eaten a decent meal in months. There were dark circles under her eyes and her hair had outgrown its ruffled bob. She was wearing a pair of skinny jeans, something they could not recall her even owning, and an old band t-shirt that looked like something Bou-san would own.

And she smiled the most radiant smile they had ever seen. Though it may have hidden a few feelings of uncertainty and embarrassment. It was all the more beautiful for it.

"Naru-Chan, Lin-San! Welcome back!"

There had been a moment in which Naru had been forced to recompose himself. Because a lot can change in a year. And he was not expecting Mai to actually arrive on time but, much less, had he expected her to be so happy and yet look as if she had been stranded on an uninhabited island for a month.

And he could not fight the condescending smirk that tugged at his lips.

But Mai did not notice because she herself was smiling so brightly that her eyes were closed.

His own eyes slid over to take in the form of his assistant and noticed that the stoic man was also wearing a small smile of his own.


"You're actually on time," he observed coolly.

And suddenly Mai had to force the smile on her face not to break and found her fists clenched in a threatening manner, "I know, it's hard to believe," she laughed. Of course he would choose to comment on the one thing that would utterly ruin the moment. How Naru like of him. It was like she had never confessed her love for him and he had left her standing in the middle of a forest before leaving for England. How convenient for him, she thought darkly.

"I expected you to be at least a few hours late," Naru continued to comment as he breezed through the room and into his office, the door left open, and set down his arm load of equipment and papers. The dark room had obviously not been aired out or dusted since his departure and Mai was pleased to hear a sneeze from behind the half opened door.

"Of course you would," Mia muttered as she too decided now would be a good time to set her bag down and stroll over to her own desk to see exactly what kind of paperwork he was silently demanding her to fill out. She could hear Naru shuffling about in his office while Lin set down the bag with their food in it on the table and took a seat on one of the black couches that took up the center of the main room.

With trembling hands she reached for the paper but her mind was on the man in the other room. There were conflicting emotions raging within her, joy and anger being chief among them, and she was finding it hard to control herself. She wanted so badly to march on up to him and smack him in his pretty face. Maybe that would finally cause some semblance of an actual expression to form.

She could feel Lin watching her.

So awkward, she cried in her mind, but focused on the application in her hand. It was different from the one she had first filled out, purely for the purpose of having it on file of course, as that one had been for a clerical position. But this one, this unholy monster of paperwork, was for the position of official investigator.

"Hey, Naru-," she had been about to question him on the new position, disbelieving of her apparent promotion, when the front door of SPR swung open and a familiar figure appeared. "Yasuhara!" She exclaimed happily instead.

"Hello Mai," the young man greeted cheerily as he walked into the office, school bag over shoulder, and set his hands on his hips to take in the sights. It would seem he had already been reunited with the two stoic men as he only gave Lin a brief nod before moving over towards Mai. "I know you've been really busy lately, what with your two jobs and all those extra classes you're taking to graduate early, but how's the baby doing."

Mai only laughed at his rambling but both Lin and Naru paused in their various tasks to stare at the two questioningly. "He's fine, he's fine, quit your worrying."

She was glad that Yasuhara had taken it upon himself to show up a day before the office actually opened in order to support her. She had not asked him to but the young man had offered, more like stated, that he would be there to help ease the tension he knew would arise between the two.

Lin and Naru made eye contact, from the corners of their eyes of course, over the back of the couch.

"He's right here," she continued obliviously and lifted the bag from the desk where she had set it gently before. It was a rather large bag, certainly big enough for a baby, but it was not a proper mode of transportation for a child at all. She unzipped the leather bag and lifted it so as to allow Yasuhara to peer inside.

"He looks so much better since you started bottle feeding him," Yasuhara said in a cooing voice while he stuck a hand in the bag to touch whatever it was that was inside.

"I know! It's amazing, a few more weeks and he'll be ready to go up for adoption and I already have someone interested," Mai cooed back while she watched Yasuhara stroke the creature inside her bag.

"Am I to assume you brought a living creature into my office?" Naru's cold voice emanated from the doorway of his lair and the two turned to receive his cold stare nervously.

"No…" Mai mumbled while Yasuhara grinned from ear to ear.

"Get it out of here," Naru stated blankly as he moved to join Lin on the couches.

"But Naru, I have to be with him at all times so that he can become accustomed to human contact, otherwise he won't be able to go up for adoption, and he can't survive on his own in the wild," Mai hurried to explain. She rushed over to her once again boss and sat down on the couch next to him. "See." She held the bag open and nearly shoved it into his face while the man pulled apart the set of disposable chopsticks that came with his meal.

Naru steadily ignored the bag that seemed to yawn like a black hole in his peripheral. He refused to look at whatever kind of creature it held and would have continued to eat his meal, content to ignore the childish woman at his side, if it had not been for the annoyed look he knew would be taking over her face.

As if to prove him right an irritated "Naru!" shot through his left ear and he sighed, lifting his eyes to connect with Lin's across the coffee table, the man smirked into his bowl of noodles, before turning his eyes onto the bag. Only an idiot by that point would have expected an actual baby to be bundled up within the bag, though he was certain that is what Yasuhara had intended for him to think, but he was not exactly expecting the bundle of fur that he found.

"Isn't it cute?" Yasuhara prodded from where he stood behind the couch, leaning over to look into the bag again.

"Adorable," Naru stated blandly before returning to his own bowl of food. "You were working at an animal shelter then," he added before taking his first bite, "How fitting."

The small chinchilla slept on within its dark home unaware of the attention it was getting.

While Mai ranted out against his attitude and his need to constantly belittle her, he too, smirked into his bowl of noodles as balance was restored.

Mai let go of the job at the tea shop, claiming that she would be making enough tea for a life time at her old job, and was glad that the old couple that owned it were happy for her. They had noticed that she was not as cheerful as she had been when she was just a costumer, popping in once a week or so to pick up an order of earl grey, and had wished her luck in her endeavors. The job at the animal shelter was a different story. She had so many little friends there that she could never leave them without knowing they had all found good homes and so she decided that she would become a volunteer and come in on her free days to help out.

There was a Welcome Back Party planned for the members of the SPR office that Friday, an event that took a week of figuring out everyone's schedule, but was finally in the process of actually happening. And amidst it all neither the physic prodigy nor his female assistant mentioned the events that had transpired between them a year ago just before they had all disbanded. And it seemed like they were determined to keep it that way.

Mai's days were a lot more peaceful now that she was working a single familiar job while going to school. SPR had yet to receive a case, though she doubted Naru would accept one any time soon, as there was a lot of cleaning up to do, and so her days had been simple paperwork and chores while Naru and Lin worked to reestablish SPR.

That's not to say that her days were not filled with strife, though she was not as physically strained as she had been during Naru's absence, she was now so emotionally. While sitting at her desk in the office she often found her eye wandering to his door and her thoughts wandering to the relationship they had. A year had gone by and in that year she had come to a conclusion.

She loved Naru.

She had spent countless nights agonizing over her thoughts and feelings towards him and his ghost of a brother, whom she had not seen since his body had been found, and realized that it was quite idiotic of Naru to assume that it was his brother that she had loved. Naru had been the first one she had met. It had been his cold and confident attitude, mixed with a bit of caution and care, that had pulled her into his life. When she had dreamed of Gene it was with the hope that it was a side of Naru she had yet to see, and so she had grown feelings for Naru. Gene had become a close friend, yes, but he was dead. And it had not been him who comforted her at the bottom of a well with a talking coin and a smile.

That was Naru.

He infuriated her, poked and prodded her mentally, and constantly pushed her to her limits. And amongst all that he gifted her with a small smile on occasion that stole her breath away every time. He taught her all she knew about the paranormal field that she had become enamored with, so much so, that when she had tried to return to her simple life she found that she could not. And grew depressed.

She had labeled it the Peter Pan syndrome on one of her darker days, thinking that she had pulled a Wendy and fallen for the first guy to sweep her away on an adventure to a new world. But on that same day she had come to the conclusion that she truly loved him.

And he claimed she loved Gene.

Mai sat back in her desk and sighed, rubbing at her tired eyes that had yet to catch up on rest since she reclaimed her job, and looked out the window behind her. It was the day of their party, something that Naru had originally refused but after much prodding from Mai had agreed to have. And by agreed she meant that he had simply stopped voicing his opinion against it.

They had all agreed to go out and celebrate at a local restaurant that they used to frequent and year prior. It was spacious enough for a large group and the owners knew their faces well enough, at least they thought did, and hoped to surprise them with their reunion as well. Mai could recall several nights, when they had returned to the office after a case, and would all complain about hunger until they finally managed to muster the strength to shamble down to the restaurant. Naru even came once or twice, though he usually stayed behind to go over the case, and had sat with them while the older members of the team drank and provided entertainment.

She sighed and returned to staring at the computer screen in front of her, eyes to bleary to really see, and wondered if she could get away with taking a cat nap before they left when Naru's door opened and he stepped out into the main room quietly.

This was a rarity, as he only ever came out when there was noise or a client, and would usually call for Mai or Yasuhara (who had taken up Mai's clerical position) if there was anything he needed. She perked up in her chair as he approached.

"What's up, Naru." She asked nervously against his intimidating stare.

"It occurred to me that I never asked if you had a passport," he answered and set a folder brimming with paper on her desk for her to look through later.

"Passport," she repeated curiously but upon seeing the quirked brow and hearing the disappointed sigh that came from him she rushed to respond. "I actually just got mine a few months back, I was planning on taking a trip before graduation," she stammered out with a blush at her own inability to correctly process and answer a question fast enough for him.

"Good," he said and turned from her desk just as Lin exited his own private office. The tall man was pulling on his suit jacket and sent an imploring look towards the two.

Glad that she understood that Lin was looking to head to the restaurant early in order to get a table large enough for their group, she stood and pulled on her cardigan from the back of her chair. As she slid her arms into the sleeves of the light sweate she gave one last stretch and headed for the door.

"I'm starving," she admitted with a laugh to which Lin responded with a short nod and a small quirk of his lips. She could not deny the excitement she felt at finally getting everyone together again in one room let alone one table.

"Are you coming," Lin shot back at his charge questioningly, as the man had yet to move from Mai's desk.

"I'll catch up with you," Naru responded absently as he lifted his hand to his mouth in thought.

"You better," Mai muttered threateningly under her breath, as he was the guest of honor, so to speak.

Naru heard but did not respond to her comment as the two left, instead, his eyes lingered on the photo on her desk of two young Davis brothers. His eyes slid to the decorative mirror hanging on the wall just above her desk thoughtfully.

"Ugh, I can't believe that Naru," Mai complained as they traveled down the stairs and out onto the street in front of their office building. She stepped into the parking lot where her scooter sat and went about pulling her wallet from beneath the seat while Lin waited patiently.

"I can't believe you can't believe it," Lin responded lowly and eyed a suspicious man whose own eyes seemed to linger on the oblivious Mai.

Mai turned back to look at Lin in stunned amazement before letting out a giggle and moving out to the sidewalk. Lin had just made a joke when a little over a year ago he would have ignored her statement all together. How times change.

"I can't believe that you can't believe that she can't believe it," a new voice spoke up from just behind Lin and the man turned to find Yasuhara still clothed in his school uniform.

The three walked across the busy street and into the restaurant that was already looking busy. Lin spoke to the hostess while Mai and Yasuhara bowed over his phone, watching a video of a supposed ghost sighting, and another party walked in through the door behind them.

The restaurant was lively with a full bar in the very center packed with people, there was a small stage set up for live music, and rows upon rows of booth seating. In the back there was a party booth big enough to fit ten people. The lighting was low and all the tables and flooring were dark wood, if it weren't for the many wide windows on every wall the room would have been almost too dark to see in. Several fish tanks were set up throughout the main room and while the fish were small they were all of bright colors and exotic origins to make up for the lack of color within the room itself.

The hostess led them back through the restaurant to the very booth they had hoped to acquire and the three slid in without further thought. As it was, Mai sat in the middle of the large table, Lin beside her, and Yasuhara had decided to remain on the other side of the table. Thankfully, Lin no longer held Mai in as much low regard as he used to, otherwise she would have felt very uncomfortable. There were times that she forgot the man hated the Japanese for the crimes they performed against the Chinese in the past thanks to how much their relationship had changed since the day she yelled at him for hating her just because she was Japanese. And he had laughed at how much like Gene she was. Now she could safely say that, as part of her SPR family, he was like a slightly intimidating grandfather.


Mai lifted her eyes from the menu in front of her to see the familiar form of Monk waving at her from across the restaurant. Ayako was hanging off of one of his arms and waving, a little less energetically than the man, but wearing a smile to rival his. The two had finally gotten together some months ago and though their bickering had not lessened the intensity of them had. Mai had begun to see the much sweeter side of Ayako more often now that the two had officially started dating and she couldn't have been happier for the two. They had unofficially adopted Mai as their daughter and often called or stopped by to check on her when either had the time. It had been Bou-san who had suggested she get a scooter and had even loaned her some money to buy it. Of course she had immediately paid him back out of embarrassment and guilt but the Monk had only laughed it off and claimed that she owed him one.

"Bou-san, Ayako!" Mai greeted cheerily as the slid into the booth on the other side of her. Monk bumped shoulders with her in greeting.

"It's good to see you, little lady, I was beginning to worry after a month of no contact," Bou-san exclaimed before reaching past her to give Lin a firm handshake which the Chinese man returned politely. "How are you, Lin-san?"

"Good, and yourself?" Lin asked in return. He had noted to close proximity of the Monk and the priestess with a small twitch of his lips before moving on without comment.

"Pretty great, actually," Bou-san shot back with a laugh before leaning back into the booth with an arm behind both Mai and Ayako.

"Mai, did you ever use that gift card I gave you?" Ayako questioned under Monk's loud voice. She leaned forward onto the table to get a look at the girl.

"Not yet, I haven't had the time," she answered with an embarrassed laugh.

"That's fine, I was hoping you hadn't because I'm planning on going shopping next week and wanted to bring you along." The priestess smiled at the girl excitedly and laughed when her eyes lit up just a fraction. She had quickly learned that, although Mai had little money to ever actually go shopping, she did so enjoy the event and was more than content to window shop and offer her opinion when Ayako invited her.

"Oooh, shopping, can I come?" Yasuhara asked from across the table with what could only be described as a shit eating grin. He had propped his head against his hand and listened as the others spoke.

"I feel like you're planning something," Ayako muttered suspiciously but said no more after his questionable laughter that followed her comment. "Figures," she muttered.

Mai laughed at her friend's antics and was pleased to see everyone getting along. John was soon to arrive after and had opted to sit next to the rather lonely looking Yasuhara on the other side of the table. He had remained in Japan for the past year, intent on helping those he could both religiously and paranormally when he had the time, he claimed that the Japanese culture also very much intrigued him and spent the majority of his time learning about the various spirits and demons that cultivated their paranormal legends. His accent had even gotten a little better over time and it no longer caused the others to giggle when he greeted them cheerily and shook hands with everyone at the table. Though Mai had taken it upon herself to stand and hug him over the table with an excited grin.

John blushed a light pink before he finally sat down, something that Yasuhara picked up on right away.

Masako arrived next and it was a curious sight to see the petit girl in her usual attire of a formal kimono in the casual atmosphere of the restaurant but everyone greeted her with a smile which she returned and bowed before taking a seat next to John.

"Where's Naru?" She asked after she had settled and taken a sip from the glass of water in front of her.

She certainly hasn't changed, Mai thought irritably but smiled at the woman nonetheless. Out of all of them Masako had been the one that she had the least contact with as the medium was always busy with her ever popular television show but they had spoken a handful of times. Nothing more than polite conversation just to make sure the other was still alive, mind you, but even that small amount counted as friendship in Mai's book. They had been rivals for Naru's affection, after all, but after the big reveal and his abrupt departure they had found themselves in an awkward truce. While Masako regretted her actions in blackmailing the man, she could not deny there had been true feelings behind her actions, but that regret kept her from making any further advances towards him. They two girls were on shaky ground, unsure of what to think of the other, but unable to deny the bond they had formed through working together. One day, Mai was certain, they would move past it all and that thought was what allowed her to smile kindly back at the medium and answer her question.

"He was still at the office when we left, he should be here shortly," she said with a small irritated sigh that Masako caught and responded to with an understanding smirk.

"Of course," she answered with a delicate laugh.

"Gosh, you'd think he'd have the decency to show up to his own welcome back party on time," Ayako admonished with crossed arms. She leaned back in the booth and let out a huff of air that ruffled her bangs and caused the monk next to her to chuckle knowingly.

"He has to make a grand entrance," Yasuhara defended with a laugh.

"Well, while he's working out how best to walk through the door we should order appetizers," Bou-san called across the table and the other laughed in agreement.

"I don't know, we should probably just put in our whole order, he does have to decide on which black coat would look best," Yasuhara commented thoughtfully as his eyes scanned the menu in front of him.

Mai covered her mouth with a hand in an attempt of hide the fit of giggles that threatened to overtake her. She was just so happy to have everyone together again, and making fun of her narcissistic boss on top of it, that she could not wipe the smile from her face. She wished the moment would last forever. This was part of what she had so dearly missed, even Lin's stoic but reliable presence beside her, because they had not all been together in the same room for a year and it felt like her whole life had suddenly just shifted back into clarity. Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes while she laughed at the continued banter around her and she hurried to wipe them away before anybody could notice just as the man of the hour slid into the booth at the other end of the table, directly across from Mai, and leveled a blank stare at her.

Suddenly they were all talking at once and greeting the cold and logical man like the long lost friend that he was and for once the smart mouthed manager found himself at a loss for words amongst the chaos. It was one thing to begrudgingly socialize with fellow colleagues in his line of study or distant relatives that he had only ever met a handful of times, but another to sit down at a table with a collection of people he had handpicked and deemed worthy of becoming permanent members of his team. A team that had grown into something he would loosely call his friends.

"I see you are all doing well," he observed dryly.

There was a varied chorus of agreements before Ayako deemed in necessary to point out the one fact they had all been ignoring since the man sat down at the table, "Did you really bring work with you?" Because, sure enough, Naru had brought with him a small stack of manila folders that he had dropped onto the tabletop in front of him.

"It will be discussed after," he answered cryptically and crossed his arms to lean back comfortably in his seat while the others scowled in annoyance or, in Johns and Masako's case, laughed lightly.

"Well, if it isn't my little crew of ghost busters!"

They all turned towards the woman who had spoken and smiled. They did not know her name, only that she liked to go by Joe, but she had always been the one to take care of them. And she delighted in the cold anger she often provoked in their manager by calling them the Ghost Busters and various other popular paranormal tittles. She was decidedly tall for a Japanese woman, and had shaved half of her head while long tendrils of pink hair spilled down her shoulder and back from the other side, although she pulled it back for work and usually tied a bandana around her head.

"We're back!" Mai answered cheerily and lifted her hands to display the collection of paranormal investigators.

"Took you long enough, I was beginning to think you all had gone and gotten yourselves spirited away," Joe shot back with a laugh.

"Nah, that's just Masako's job," Yasuhara chipped in and laughed when Masako shot him a dirty look over the sleeve of her kimono.

"I did hear that you two finally got busy," Joe continued and pointed at Monk and Ayako with her pen before scribbling something down in her notepad.

Ayako blushed scarlet and became rather flustered while Monk chuckled and scratched at his cheek.

They placed their orders with Joe, who was all too excited to have them back and was quick to suggest their usual, before she turned away to get their food started.

"How's the scooter running Mai?" Monk asked the girl next to him curiously while Yasuhara spoke quietly, and suggestively, to the priest next to him.

"Eh, it was making a funny noise a few weeks ago and I spent a whole day trying to figure out what it was," she answered thoughtfully, "but I gave up and took it to Tana-san and he said I needed a new oil filter which means the garage that I took it to last month didn't do a proper job." She recalled the day she had spent in the parking lot of her apartment with her laptop and a handful of tools she had borrowed from Tana-san attempting to solve the problem on her own. "I guess I'll never become a mechanic," she bemoaned playfully.

Monk laughed and ruffled her hair with something akin to pride in his eyes, "The fact that you tried to figure it out yourself first says a lot about you, little lady."

Mai blushed under his praise but laughed happily.

"Our little Mai is growing up," Bou-san whined to Ayako next to him and the red head rolled her eyes up to the heavens imploringly.

"She is a mother now," Yasuhara commented from across the table knowledgably.

Masako's eyes widened curiously and she turned her attention to Mai for answers but it was Ayako who clucked her tongue and said, "You're still carrying that rat around with you?"

Mai scowled, "He is not a rat, he is a chinchilla, and yes," she snapped back and, as if to emphasis the fact she clutched the bag that had been resting atop her lap defensively.

"I thought you would have quit that job the moment Naru called you," Ayako said with a sigh. She eyed the young woman critically, as if she feared Mai was falling apart right before her eyes.

"I did, technically," she answered with a pout, "Now I'm just a volunteer."

"Uh-huh," Ayako agreed, "And when do you volunteer."

"My days off," she answered as if the woman was stupid and winced when Ayako leveled a glower at her.

"The point of this was so that you could finally have some free time to rest," Ayako snapped.

"Now, now," Monk leaned forward to block their view of each other, "this is not the time to pick fights. We are here celebrating the return of our lovable Naru-chan. Not to criticize Mai on her lack of common sense."

"What did you just say, you fanboy?" Mai muttered darkly but though the monk had heard he continued to smile obliviously.

At the head of the table Naru let out a small sigh to which John responded with an endearing smile. The rest of dinner passed in much the same manner only a few of the SPR members got a bit more rowdy as alcohol was consumed. Even Lin was looking a little more relaxed. Yasuhara's cheeks were pink and he had been making John feel more and more uncomfortable with his comments but the whole table knew he was not as drunk as he wanted them to think. He had started to hit on Monk again when Ayako had busted out into a fit of laughter at the shiver that wracked the monk's body.

Naru had settle with a cup of tea, continuously refilled thanks to their attentive Joe, and listened to the constant chatter with the same composed expression he wore when reading over case files. He ignored Ayako's squawking, Monk's whining, and the constant sarcastic proddings of Yasuhara and instead set his eyes on the pile of folders that had been moved off to the side while they ate.

"I think now would be a good time to bring up the case," Masako commented quietly but her words shushed the whole table as all eyes turned to Naru imploringly. It seemed everyone was ready to get back to work, the job they actually enjoyed, and were eager to hear what sort of case Naru had brought them upon his return.

And like that the somewhat approachable air Naru had adopted since his return vanished.

He set his tea to the side and pulled the folders in front of him and opened the top most one, his eyes flicker over its contents carelessly before looking up to meet the eyes of his team critically. "First, I will start off by stating that this case is not like any other we have taken on before," he said ominously and his voice, though quiet, carried across the table easily.

"How so?" Monk asked, ever the one to voice the questions they all had on the tips of their tongue but were too afraid of voicing for fear of sounding unintelligent in front of their boss.

"Several deaths have occurred," Naru answered flippantly and leaned forward and clasped his hands together in front of him.

There was a moment of silence in which they all pondered exactly what that meant before John spoke up, "All the more reason for us to help then," and that seemed to calm the nervous atmosphere that had welled up after those foreboding words.

Naru nodded curtly towards the priest before scanning the group around him, "I got the call regarding this case when I was still in England but at the time I was not too inclined to take it. The case involves an old mansion in which its original owners, a married couple, were involved in drug trafficking. The wife was shot and killed by the husband who was later tried for his crimes and sentenced to life under house arrest. He died of old age but it was noted he declined into insanity long before that. It is now owned by the state and has since become a hotel, museum, and a restaurant. It is often used to host large city events and festivals throughout the year." He gave a brief explanation of the property's history wryly before flipping through a few pages in the top folder, all for show, as he had memorized every aspect of the case weeks ago. "Since then there have been reported sightings of white figures walking through the woods on the property at night, crying can be heard in several rooms of the house itself, bloody messages are left for others to find, and over the course of several decades three women have gone missing only to be found the next night floating in the nearby lake – dead - during large events."

Mai stared with wide eyes at her boss in astonishment and she was not surprised to realize she was the only one. Already her heart was pounding at the thought of the tortures those women had endured. A spirit powerful enough to actually kill was rare, in fact, she could only recall two instances in which they had dealt with such a thing before. She clasped her trembling hands in her lap and dropped her eyes to them in slight annoyance. If she was scared now then Naru would have no faith in her.

"Were these women drowned?" Ayako asked in a hushed tone.

"No," Naru answered curtly, "Strangulation is the determined cause of death."

"Damn," Monk hissed and sat forward in the booth with a stunned expression.

"Naturally I would understand if some of you wished to sit this one out," Naru added and shared a look with Ayako and Mai. "Masako had already agreed to help as she was one of the two who brought this case to my attention."

Masako sat, if possible, even straighter in her seat and lifted a kimono clad sleeve to her mouth while she sent a look to the other two women in their team. "My director went ahead to the location with the hopes of filming there and advised that I speak with Naru first before I joined him. This alone was enough to cause worry as he is a very stout hearted person," Masako explained quietly.

The table fell quiet at that and Mai rubbed her thumbs together nervously in thought.

"Mai," Naru questioned.

Mai jumped upon hearing him call her name and lifted her eyes to meet his. She was sad to see that the cold tone he had adopted since the case had been brought up remained and she was reminded of the man who had left her standing in the dark after her confession. A lot can change in a year but her temper was not susceptible to the passage of time and so she resisted the urge to scowl and instead squared her shoulders. "I'll go," she answered calmly, I am not a coward unlike some people I know . . .

Naru nodded and turned his eyes to the priestess in the midst who had crossed her arms and turned her head away, "I'll go too . . ." she muttered, "Someone has to keep an eye on Mai."

Mai rolled her eyes but said nothing against Ayako's comment as it was obvious the woman was just trying to hide her fear while at the same time bolster her courage. It was admirable of her, Mai thought, since she was always the one more susceptible to fear, yet she had never left during a case despite how often she voiced that she wished she could.

"Good," Naru snapped the folder shut, though it lacked the satisfying sound his notebook usually exuded, and continued with "I hope you all have your passports because we leave the Tuesday of next week for America." He stood from the booth and passed out the rest of the folders, copies of his own, out to each member of the team.

"What!" they squawked in unison.

"Why would you take a case in another country?" Bou-san exclaimed in surprise.

"More importantly," Yasuhara spoke up, "Who would ask you to take a case in America?" He eyed their boss curiously with a devilish glint to his eye, always hoping to get some information on Naru.

"My father," Naru answered coldly and turned away from the table to return to the office.

Chapter Text

The reunion party ended that night with an air of equal parts excitement and worry but it was with lighter hearts that they parted ways and retired to their homes. None of them could deny the satisfaction they felt at returning to the field and now they would even be going international on top of it. But while Mai felt these things just as strongly, if not more so, then her fellow team members she also had several negative emotions reawakened by Naru's return to his work mode. The little bit of distance they had managed to close between them was now set back tenfold and her recollection of her confession to him was once again replaying on an infinite loop in the back of her mind. It was maddening.

They would be traveling to America in a week and because of this the office was closed, as they would not be able to take on another case for at least two, and that left Mai with little to distract herself with but school and the animal shelter. And while she loved school her mind was just not sufficiently occupied by the droning lessons of her teachers or the mindless gossiping of her fellow peers and friends.

She was only happy when she was taking care of the animals that she had grown to love and even then their playful antics were not always enough to keep her mind from wandering to her boss. What he was doing, what he thought of the case, and the most important of all, how he felt about her. Because she had never gotten an answer from him, he had simply responded by asking a heart breaking question before exiting her life, and she had been left to ponder his feelings for a year.

Her nights were filled with failed attempts to get a jump start on class work so she would not fall behind during the trip but she often caught herself spacing out and or rereading the same sentence multiple times before giving up. Consequently, she also got very little sleep, and so by the time Tuesday morning rolled around she was thoroughly incensed and ready to get the case started so she could ACTUALLY distract herself with something she knew would force her to concentrate.

She had not slept the night before, excited for the trip, angered by Naru's existence, and fearing that, with the return of her SPR life, so too would her dreams. And this was a case she was utterly cowed by for some reason that she could not name. It was the same fear that gnawed at her stomach during the Urado case. Her life was in danger and yet she had yet to even set foot on American soil. There was more to the story than what Naru had claimed, without a doubt, but whether he was aware of it or not she did not know. She only knew what her gut was telling her and as experience had shown her gut was normally a trustworthy ally.

So it was with relieved surprise that when a quiet Lin climbed the stairs to her apartment and knocked on the door, she answered within seconds, and she was already packed and ready to go. Her freshly showered hair was pulled into a messy bun at the top of her head and a disposable cup of coffee was steaming in her hand while the other held onto the rolling suitcase at her feet.

"Do you have everything you need?" The usually silent man questioned not unkindly. He had instantly spotted the dark circles under her eyes and the exhausted aura she radiated and had decided that she would need a gentle guidance to ground her in reality.

Mai blinked up at him and reached for the backpack strap on her shoulder as if to assure herself that it was there, glanced down at the suitcase to make sure that too was present, before turning back to take in the messy apartment. "Ah, I almost forgot," she said quietly and turned back into her apartment, leaving her suitcase at the door, and disappeared into her bedroom. Lin smirked after her and watched as she returned while slipping a necklace over her head. From the simple silver chain hung what he knew to be her old house key, the one she had lived in with her parents, and had acted as her lucky charm ever since. "I left it in the bathroom," she said in way of explanation.

Lin only nodded and stepped out of the way while the girl closed and locked her apartment door. They shuffled down the steps of her apartment and down to the van that sat idling at the curb, its headlights on and illuminating the still dark parking lot. Lin opened the door for her and helped her into the back seat, lifting her suitcase in after her once she had slid across the seat, and shut it before climbing into the driver's seat.

"Do you have everything?" Naru asked in an ironic echo of his assistant. He was writing down a few notes in his black folder as he spoke but he glanced back at her in time to catch the annoyed scowl on her face.

She couldn't help but notice how perfect he looked in the morning while she felt like a zombie. Irritably she took a sip of her still hot coffee and turned to look out the window, unintentionally ignoring his question, and wondered how long the flight would be.

Behind the wheel Lin smirked but made no comment on the small sigh that escaped his charge's lips.

They arrived at the airport on schedule and met up with the rest of the team who were all in varying states of exhaustion, though Mai noted that Yasuhara seemed the most energetic out of everyone, and grudgingly shuffled through security before boarding the plane. Mai was thankful she was still half asleep by that point because the hour and a half it took would have been miserable if she had actually been conscious. Ayako would not stop whining about how tired she was and Monk was silent on the matter as he had yet to have a single cup of coffee that morning.

John was the true hero of the hour, unlike Yasuhara who used their displeasure as a form of amusement, because he was constantly ushering them forward after Naru and Lin. The shepherd of the flock, so to speak, and did not let their sour attitudes bother him. A kind word here and gentle touch there and they were moving forward towards boarding the actual plane before they knew it.

Seating was a nightmare, Ayako demanded to have the window seat but Yasuhara would not give it up, and while Mai wanted one as well she was not about to ask Naru for anything unless it was whether he wanted sugar or a slap in the face with his tea, such was her unexplainable ire with him. Plus he had paid for her ticket and she felt it was not in her place. So she settled for a seat next to Yasuhara, who Ayako refused to sit next to, and settled in for the long haul.

Their flight was seventeen hours long.

Mai was glad she had brought a book.

Masako had flown out ahead of them to meet with her director and for that Mai was also glad. While she considered the girl a friend she did not know if she could deal with her prim and proper self while she STILL felt like a zombie.

When the plane had finally left the runway and taken to the air Mai had shoved her face against the window to watch and ignored Yasuhara's comments about how forward she was. It had been worth it, she decided when, despite the fact that she could not quite see the rising sun from her position, she could see the colors it painted across the city of Tokyo where she had lived all her life. She waved goodbye before returning her butt to her seat and glancing about the plane curiously to see what other passengers were doing. Satisfied that they all seemed rather carefree, talking amongst themselves, she sat back in her seat and pulled a pair of headphones from her backpack to listen to music while she read. The book she had deemed worthy of her first flight was the first Harry Potter, something that Yasuhara took note of joyously, but he warned the book probably wouldn't last her the whole flight.

It was an hour later, between conversations with her flight partner that she heard Naru snap his folder shut and shift in his seat behind her. Reminded of his existence she lifted her eyes to the heavens and hoped it was not her that he was about to pay his attention to but of course it would be, as we all knew the kind of luck Mai had.

"I hope you've improved your English while I was away," he commented a moment later and just from his tone of voice she knew he wasn't even looking in her direction.

"I'm sorry, what did you say." She shot back in only slightly accented English. "I couldn't hear you over all that narcissism."

A row ahead of her she heard Bou-san erupt with a bark of laughter while Ayako snickered into her hand. Somewhere off to her left she heard John sigh good naturedly.

"He said he underestimated the power of determined and studious students and is quite impressed with our achievements," Yasurhara spoke up from behind his school book joyously.

"That's what it sounded like but I wasn't quite sure with the English accent," Mai said in return.

"Ils ne sont pas pleinement d'eux-mêmes," Naru muttered. He shared a smirk with his assistant, though his was in regards to his one up and Lin's was for his lack of humility.

Mai and Yasuhara silently high fived, glad they had gotten a rise out of Naru, and returned to their books for another length of time before they grew bored with reading and chatted about school. Yasuhara was in college now and enjoying the new experiences and was determined to give Mai an example of what to expect.

It was exactly five hours into their flight when Mai got up to stretch her legs and use the restroom but her walk was ruined when she felt a shadow detach itself from its seat and follow her through the aisles of seats into the back.

"What is it Naru?" She grouched and turned to face him in front of the stalls. She noted the slight quirk of a brow that displayed his annoyance, she had deliberately waited until they had reach the bathrooms to confront him as she knew it would irritate him, he was so prim and proper just like a certain medium she knew.

"If I have done something to invoke you wrath I would prefer you to say something rather than pout about it. This case is one that my father requested of me and I do not want your actions to reflect upon the team as a whole when we get to America," he stated simply, staring at her in that cold and logical way of his that both irritated her and caused her face to flush in admiration.

But her blush did nothing to mask the rage that overcame her face and she knew it. "Well excuse me for being human!" she snapped and stepped into the bathroom, slamming the door shut in his face.

Naru scowled at the innocent door before turning on his heel and returning to his seat with an irritated sigh. As he dropped back into place he caught a smirk on Lin's face and asked, "Yes?"

"You have no skill with women," Lin answered dryly and flipped through the sheaf of papers on his lap thoughtfully.

Bou-san let out another bark of laughter from two rows ahead and Yasuhara nodded in agreement.

"Maybe if we taped a mirror to Mai's face he would be more considerate," Ayako muttered.

Naru shot a glance over the seats to the top of her red head and clenched the armrests of his seat.

Lin took notice of this but did not comment.

When Mai returned to her seat she studiously ignored Naru and put her earbuds back in to avoid any further conversation with anyone, determined to block out their comments, and closed her eyes. She allowed her thoughts to wander and for the first time in a long while she wondered what her parents would think if they saw her now. They probably would have never pegged her as the type to end up as a paranormal investigator. She could imagine her mother's reaction too. She would blink at her in confusion and give a nervous laugh before saying something like "If that's what you're sure you want to do . . . but be safe!" Then she would make some kind of desert in celebration or take her out to dinner and would ask her a hundred questions, trying to understand her daughter's passion for such a strange field, but would be proud of her nonetheless. Because that's just who her mother had been: a kind, gentle, and ever curious women who had the most open mind in the world. Her father had been a bit like Bou-san, a little funny, a little overprotective, and a lot of cheesy puns. He would probably make a joke about ghost busters or something.

Mai chuckled at the thought, causing Yasuhara to glance at her curiously, and shifted in her seat to get more comfortable.

Before she knew it she was being pulled into a nap. Her breathing mellowing out into a soft even pace and her head lulled onto Yasuhara's shoulder, though the boy made no comment seeing that she had fallen asleep, and she found herself on a familiar plain. Beneath her feet was miles of placid water and from it floated the gentle light of spirits beyond count, floating in the empty space, and the darkness set her free.

She wandered through the plain, wondering what it was she would see now that Gene had passed on. She had no guide to nudge her in the right direction and she had learned through experience that, instead of a coherent story, spirits often shoved prominent memories in her direction in the hopes that she could piece them together. It tended to be disorienting but she was generally able to work through what she was given as if she were a grade school teacher reading her student's first attempt at an essay. It was kind of endearing in a way.

She giggled at the thought.

"Will you be my princess?"

Mai turned on the spot, wondering where the voice had come from. It sounded like a man but she did not recognize the voice. In her mind's eye she saw the figure of a woman in a glowing white dress, so long it trailed beneath her in the water of the astral plain, and she watched as the woman nodded. The only discernible feature Mai could make out was her luminous smile, highlighted with red lipstick, and the soft tear that trailed down her cheek.

It was dark outside the plane, the night sky bright with stars, and for a moment she wondered if they were actually flying through the astral plain. She imagined it would look much the same even the ocean below could act as the reflective expanse of calm water that represented the floor of the astral plain. Several of her fellow passengers had begun to nod off into sleep by that point, tired from their early rise, even though their flight was only half way through. She heard the distinct snoring of Monk and the slightly more feminine snoring of the Miko in front of her and she stifled a giggle. She lifted her arms in a stretch and pushed herself out of her seat and sighed.

She found herself in a much better mood after getting some shut eye and turned to glance over at her narcissistic boss only to find him slouched against his arm rest, head propped up with a loose fist, and eyes shut against consciousness. Lin had pulled out his laptop at some point and seemed engrossed with whatever it was he was reading so she did not bother to ask why it was Naru had a hand mirror clutched in his free hand resting across his lap.

Does he look at himself before he goes to bed?she wondered jokingly before traveling back to the bathroom. She fixed her bun, which had become a bit lopsided during her nap, and lightly smacked her cheeks to wake up and add some color to her pale face. She recalled the dream she had seen and was quickly overcome with a feeling of nostalgic melancholy that nearly overwhelmed her. She blamed it partially on her reminiscing on her parents as well as the memory the spirits had chosen to show her and partially on the fact that she was finally working with all of her friends again. Despite her own personal one sided drama that seemed to plague her mind constantly.

She was still wiping her eyes when she returned to her seat but the only one that noticed was a concerned John who she smiled at and waved her hand about in the air as if to say it was nothing. John nodded and smiled in return.

Their flight passed without further incident, especially after Yasuhara finally fell asleep and they could enjoy some actual comfort, but not before Mai slid her thumb across the screen of her phone and found her background changed to a rather embarrassing selfie that Yasuhara must have taken when she fell asleep on his shoulder. She was not able to stop the laugh that bubbled out of her throat and she showed the picture to a curious John who chuckled.

"You should keep that one," he advised through his mirth.

"I will," Mai answered with another laugh, "Maybe I should make a scrapbook."

"I'm sure you would enjoy the project," John answered with a kind eye. He knew Mai to be a secretly crafty person and a scrapbook seemed like a good way to spend her free time. She was such a nostalgic person as it was and having a photo album on hand suited her.

Mai finished her Harry Potter book just as the seat-belt lights flashed on. She was glad that she had taken a nap and spent a good amount of time conversing with her friends between reading otherwise she would have been bored out of her mind. Not quite true, really, she probably would have just stewed over the incident with Naru thus inadvertently entertaining herself. But a bored Mai was better than an angry one.

They stepped off the plane, pushed forward by the ebb and flow of the crowds around them, and moved into the actual airport with many sighs of relief. The flight had been ridiculously long and they were all tired but in Tampa, Florida the sun was still shinning. It was midday when the plane touched down on the tarmac therefore the airport was packed with people and Mai found herself being dragged through the crowd by way of Ayako. It seemed the woman feared she would get lost and while that was not a completely unheard of situation it still irritated the girl to no end but she attempted to reign in her frustration and let out a small sigh instead.

Naru and Lin lead the way ahead of them, the crowd seemed to part like the red sea around them, and they all moved to collect their luggage before exiting the building. Up ahead Mai could just make out Masako standing next to the largest black van she had ever seen. And next to the medium was someone Mai had not expected to see at all.

"Lin!" the strawberry blonde woman called over the crowd, waving her hand wildly, and the Chinese man stopped in surprise.

"I should have known," Lin muttered to his charge angrily.

"She's staying at a nearby hotel with mum and dad," Naru answered in response, though his eyes were trained on the screen of his phone as he walked.

Lin's shoulders fell slack in relief as said women ran up to him and jumped, throwing her arms around his neck, and nearly knocked him to the ground.

The rest of the group laughed at his expense.

The large van was loaded up with their luggage and equipment and they all piled into the vehicle, relieved to feel the warmth seeping through the air vents, and shuffled about until they were all comfortable. Naru had given up the front passenger seat for Lin, who was then able to sit next to Madoka who had driven the behemoth of a vehicle to the airport to pick them up, and was now squished between Mai and Yasuhara. Not able to pass up on a chance to poke fun at his boss the young man mumbled sadly, "I feel like something has come between us Mai . . ."

Mai snorted and crossed her arms, her face directed towards the view outside her window, and shot back, "You mean like an inflated ego?"

"Mai," Naru growled in a warning tone, a rare display of his frustrations, and ignored the stunned silence that radiated from the other members of SPR. He had already broached the subject of her attitude at the beginning of the flight but it seemed that she had not taken his warning to heart.

Yasuhara whistled and turned to look out the window as well, possibly feeling a bit guilty for indirectly getting Mai in trouble, but most likely he was enjoying her struggles.

Mai scowled but drew pinched fingers across her mouth in a zipping motion and then proceeded to throw away the key in a begrudging promise to keep her mouth shut for the remainder of the car ride.

Up front Madoka sent Lin a questioning glance from the corner of her eye to which the man responded with a slight shake of his head. He would explain later when it was just the two of them. If a moment like that ever arose anyways. The odds were very slim.

Mai had never before been to America and she had certainly never been to Florida before. The sights were a bit breathtaking if she were honest. While the city of Tampa was small in comparison to Tokyo it made up for it with the abundant amount of water surrounding it. Indeed, to get to their destination they drove across a five mile long bridge that cut a path across the bay. She stared at the green blue water and jumped when she saw the fin of a dolphin break the surface as they drove past. The bridge continued over land and through a sea of trees before Madoka took and exit ramp that spat them out into the middle of downtown St. Petersburg, one of the older cities in Florida, and Mai found herself shoving her face against the window to take in the old buildings that crowded the small streets and cobblestone alleyways. People of all kinds populated the area and many could be seen out walking their dogs, enjoying the cold weather, or eating in the outdoors sections of restaurants.

"Kind of a cool town," Bou-san commented from the very back of the van. "I bet you there are a lot of underground bars and concerts here."

"There is an upcoming concert that will be taking place on the property," Madoka commented cheerily as she navigated the streets, "It's one of the reasons they insisted we investigate now as it is a rather large event for Florida. Apparently there are fourteen bands scheduled to play." She continued knowledgeably and laughed when Monk jumped in his seat while fumbling to form a response. "If I remember correctly the flyer had Linkin Park on it. That's the only band I recognized."

"Linkin Park!" Monk exclaimed.

"You're such a fanboy," Ayako muttered with a sigh which caused the others to chuckle.

Madoka turned onto a street that ran beside the sea wall. Trees and large plots of grass separated the road from the ocean and exotic looking vines fell from the branches of the wide trees from which Mai could see several children swinging. She smiled at the sight and leaned back in her seat as the tree's thickened and the road pulled further away from the ocean. They drove through what looked like an entrance to a park, red brick gates and a wrought iron sign overhead that read "Vinoy Park", before the trees thinned and they could make out the large mansion ahead of them.

The road had turned into a driveway that looped about in front of the building, creating a drop off point, which Madoka pulled to a stop.

"It's almost as big as the Urado house," Monk commented as he ducked and stepped out of the van into the chilly open air. He adjusted the strap of his backpack that hung from one shoulder and turned back to give Ayako a hand out of the van.

"Thanks for making the comparison," Mai muttered irritably and shaded her eyes against the sun to take in the mansion for herself. It had a grand front entrance, white pillars and hundreds of potted plants and trees decorated a large patio that also held enough outdoor furniture to seat dozens of people, in fact, she trailed her eyes to the left and found that a set of doors were thrown open and the smell of baked bread wafted out into the open air. Large paneled windows, beginning a foot above the ground and nearly running to the ceiling of the first floor, displayed what must have been a restaurant within the building. She could see several parties of people enjoying a late lunch inside while smartly dressed wait staff rushed about to and fro. The majority of the building was made of crumbling red brick, thin glass windows, and warm light that radiated through them even in the middle of the day. Green vines crept across the walls and white pillars and lent the building age.

Mai found it a lot more charming then the Urado house, so much so, that she found herself smiling up at the building excitedly. Her jet lag momentarily forgotten, she decided she would take the first opportunity she could to explore the building and learn what secrets it held.

"It's quite lovely, isn't it?" Masako spoke up from next to Mai, she had clasped her hands in front of her as she spoke, and gazed up at the mansion as well.

"It is," Mai agreed wistfully. It looked like something straight out of a fairy tale to be quite honest.

"During the day it's fine, but at night . . ." Masako trailed off and shivered. She wanted to give her friend a warning before she experienced anything. She knew Mai had latent abilities of her own and that she would be especially sensitive to the spirits that roamed the halls after hours.

"Really . . ." Mai trailed off with a feeling of foreboding and pursed her lips in thought. So the house was elegant and welcoming in the daylight but at night it changed.

"Alright everybody," Madoka called and clapped her hands to garner their attention. "I'll help you set up base but then I have to return to our hotel and prepare for the dinner tonight so let's make this quick!"

Naru stood off to the side with a quirked brow but said nothing against his teachers controlling attitude and instead turned to look up at the building darkly. Inside he could see several people laughing and enjoying themselves but the atmosphere of the house seemed hollow and fake. His eyes landed on a man who was approaching them quickly from the front entrance. He was wearing a black suit and had combed his salt and pepper hair back with gel. His shiny black leather shoes squeaked as he walked and Naru found his nervous smile to be quite irritating.

"Good afternoon!" the man called with a slight stutter. "I'm glad you have all finally arrive, My name is Sam, I'm the manager of this establishment," he continued while he flitted about the group and shook each and every one of their hands before they even had a chance to respond. "I'm afraid we are very busy today, we just have so many guests . . .but please feel free to make yourselves comfortable and utilize the staff however you see fit. I have already showed Ms. Madoka the rooms you will be permitted to use so please," he finally paused to draw a breath and gestured for them to go on ahead to begin their set up.

Naru took a moment to mentally note that, though the man tended to ramble, he was also efficient in his ravings. It comes with being a manager of a large business, he supposed, and watched as the rest of his team each grabbed their luggage and whatever equipment they could manage before turning to follow Madoka into the building.

"There's even an indoor pool and hot tub, I already scoped out all the good places," Madoka continued to talk as she lead the way through the red carpeted hallways large enough for five people to walk through side by side. The walls were dark wood and several chandeliers hung from the ceiling to throw their sparkling light throughout the halls. But the air was heavy, weighed down with nearly a century of memories trapped within its wall, and it was something they all felt and took note of bid did not comment on. Despite the windows that lined every outward facing wall, the sunlight seemed inable to penetrate the dusty darkness of the house, and several lamps were spaced out down the halls to provide

"A hot tub!" Ayako repeated happily.

Naru was silent while the rest of the team oohed and ahhed over the features of the mansion, excited to see everything for themselves, and lifted a finger to his lips in thought. They would only have a handful of hours to set up base and conduct interviews before night arrived. Furthermore, the team would probably want to turn in early that night after the long flight, even he was feeling the jet lag, though he was most surprised with the energy Mai was displaying. Usually she was the crankiest one of the group next to Ayako.

It took an hour to set up base. Thankfully all members of the team were present for the case and made short work of building their headquarters, usually it would have taken him and Lin a total of three to get everything in place and powered up, but with his supervision and direction everyone had finished in record time.

The room Madoka showed them to was large, containing two full sized couches, a fire place, and several tables and chairs scattered about. Ornate and plush rugs gave the room a homier feel and the tall windows that overlooked the park and let in sunlight lent the room a more airy atmosphere. Soon the antique furniture was covered with monitors and miles of cord and wiring.

"The women's quarters will be through that door," Naru stated after they had finished set up, "I want someone on guard at all times in case one of them goes missing. It was never explained how the previous victims were taken and I would rather we not find out." He stood in the center of the room, casually leaning against one of the fold out tables that they had brought with them, and crossed his arms.

"Roommates again," Ayako sighed.

"Aw, come on, it'll be just like old times," Mai poked the woman and laughed when she fanned her away despite the smile threatening to break through her scowl.

Masoka lifted a sleeve to hide the small laugh that escaped her lips.

"Aye, Aye Captain," Yasuhara saluted Naru while Monk snorted.

"Good," Naru nodded curtly and pushed himself away from the table, arms still crossed, before continuing, "Let's conduct our interviews and then we can retire for the day. Dinner is served at seven o'clock sharp and that leaves us with four hours to interview the entirety of the staff and current guests. Mai!"

Mai jumped, startled out of her thoughts of American food, "Yes!" she squeaked in surprise.

"Make some tea while the others round up the staff, you and I will each interview one staff member at a time, please be as quick and thorough as possible." He moved away from the table to retrieve his notebook from the table where they had set up all the monitors and opened it to a blank page while the others shared a look before breaking into their appointed tasks. Madoka had already bowed out and Masako had left to meet with her director who was debating on filming the investigation despite Masako's warning against it. That left Monk, Ayako, John, and Yasuhara to gather the staff.

Mai watched her friends go before dropping her eyes to the rug beneath her sneakers thoughtfully. She had forgotten that Naru had technically promoted her upon his return. The thought left her feeling proud of herself for moving up on Naru's intelligence scale although he still compared her to a wild animal.

While she set about preparing tea with the portable stove top and kettle they had brought along with them she allowed her mind to wander towards the upcoming interviews and the proper questions she would ask. She had never liked how cold Naru tended to be during interviews and so she vowed to be as courteous and friendly as possible. Something she knew he would probably criticize her for. She shook her head and poured three cups of tea and deposited two in front of both Lin and Naru before she moved over to the couches, pulling her own notebook from her bag as she did so, and uncapped a pen the moment she had seated herself. She would have to take diligent notes as there was only one Lin in existence and he generally assisted Naru with his interviews. She was proven wrong, however, when the Chinese man pulled up a chair and sat down at the head of the coffee table between the couches. Ironically, had they been back home in the office he would have been in the exact same spot.

"He doesn't think me capable of taking notes, does he?" She drawled dispassionately and watched the man's face for the telltale smirk that she was correct. She stewed in her anger while Lin opened his laptop and pulled up a blank document. "One step at a time, I guess," she muttered and leaned back in her seat with a sigh.

Naru had set up his own laptop at a table and was just scanning through the claims one last time when the doors opened and Yasuraha gestured two ladies into the room. They both wore powder blue uniform dresses and white sneakers indicating they were the maid service. One was closer to Mai's age while the other looked to be nearing her fifties. As instructed by Yasuhara the younger stepped up to Naru's table while the other moved over to Mai at the couches.

Mai smiled at the older woman and stood from her seat as she approached, "Good afternoon, my name is Mai," she held out a hand to the woman, secretly pleased when she shook it and returned her smile, "I'll be interviewing you today so please be patient with me."

The woman laughed and sat down on the couch. She seemed to be a generally good natured person and Mai was glad to see that the crow's feet at the corners of her eyes were more from laughter than age. "Nice to meet you, my name is Grace," she responded kindly and crossed her legs before placing her clasped hands atop her knee. Her hair was blonde with a bit of grey peeking through and her eyes a very warm brown.

"Lovely name!" Mai commented and made note of her name in her notebook. She wrote down a brief description of the woman as well so she wouldn't forget her face before clearing her throat. "Now, would you mind telling me what it is you experienced while employed in this establishment?" she asked politely, reminded of how little time they had to interview everyone when she caught sight of Naru glancing over from his table while he spoke with the younger maid.

"Of course," Grace nodded cooperatively and paused to collect her thoughts, "I've worked here for almost ten years now and in all this time I think I can safely say I have only personally experienced a handful of things. It was my first night on the job when I first had an experience, funnily enough, when I was switching out the towels in the bathroom of one of the third floor rooms when I heard someone crying in the bedroom. It sounded like a man but when I called out to see who was there, it stopped. I didn't think much of it at the time, I figured I just might have been hearing someone pass by in the hall, but when I told some of the other girls about it they all claimed to have had similar experiences."

Mai nodded and made note of the male crying before shifting in her seat, "Have you heard it since." She asked.

"Yes, several times over the years," Grace answered dutifully. "After that, some years later, I was cleaning out one of the rooms used for storage and I started to feel really hot and itchy," here she shrugged and scratched at her head in thought, "I just remember leaving the room and discovering all these scratch marks all over me."

"Are you sure you didn't cause them yourself, you were itchy after all," Mai questioned kindly.

"I didn't have any nails to speak of, I still don't, years of hard labor and cleaning have destroyed them," Grace answered with a laugh and lifted a hand for Mai to see. "The scratches showed up a couple more times over the years but within the past couple months I recently found a bloody message in the bathroom of the main suite."

"A bloody message." Mai repeated curiously, she noted that Lin had paused in his typing, before urging the woman to continue.

"Yes , it was on the floor in front of the sink and said, 'It's in the blood'," she shrugged as if to say 'you can figure that one out' before uncrossing her legs and standing. "That's all I've got I'm afraid, and I really should get back to work."

"Ah, of course, thank you for your cooperation Grace," Mai responded with a smile and waved to the woman as she left before returning back to her notebook to write down the message and commit it to memory.

Another woman was lead in by Yasuhara to occupy the seat Grace had just vacated and Mai was not surprised to see her give Lin a nervous look. Mai laughed and greeted the woman just as she had greeted Grace before commencing with the interview. It was a long afternoon filled with elaborate stories that Mai had to decipher and discern the truth from. Some of the woman who spoke to her were honestly frightened by their experiences and many were considering leaving because they were occurring more and more frequently as time passed while others were obviously just looking for attention. Despite their lies it was important to note that Mai treated each with the same kindness and respect and only made small notes about their questionable stories in her notebook.

Mai quickly picked up on the pattern the interviews had taken up and by pattern she meant the way in which Yasuhara sent all the young girls to Naru and the older to Mai. She was a bit peeved by this but she supposed it also made a bit of sense. The older women would not really respect Naru as he was both much younger and male while the younger women would be intimidated by him and thus more obligated to tell the truth. The older women would get along with Mai because she herself was female, well-mannered and polite.

Three hours into the interviews and Mai had comforted four sobbing maids, an annoyed waitress who complained about missing out on tables, and a frightened manager in training amongst all the other interviews that had gone smoothly. She herself had consumed four cups of tea and given countless others to their guests and realized she would have to find somewhere to purchase more if Naru would not be a happy camper tomorrow. Not that she could ever tell if he was truly happy or not and she really couldn't picture him as a camper of any kind. She wondered if she could borrow some from the kitchen downstairs.

She had not seen any of the other SPR members, accept for Yasuhara when he led someone in, and she could only assume they were out investigating the mansion. She stifled the petty jealousy she felt welling up in her stomach and let out a sigh. After they had finished up interviewing the staff they had spoken with a handful of guests who claimed to have felt like they were being watched and often thought they heard laughter or crying throughout the nights. Nothing to horrible or extraordinary. And so Mai had closed her notebook and left the note taking up to Lin from then on but she did notice even his steady typing had slowed.

When Naru had finished up with his last interview she was glad to hear the snap of his notebook. The moment the last woman had left the room she stood and stretched, groaning as she did, and was satisfied to hear her spine click back into place. She sighed and turned towards Lin with her hands on her hips.

"That was worse than Yasuhara's school," she commented dryly. Lin lifted his one visible eye to the heavens upon recalling that debacle and Mai laughed. "I think Grace was the most informative, she also seemed the least emotionally unstable out of the lot, plus she was the only one who mentioned that bloody message. I might try talking to her again later."

"I agree," Lin stated thoughtfully as he shut his laptop.

Mai pulled her phone from her jeans pocket to look at the time, noted that they had a half an hour before dinner, and turned to glance over at Naru who had moved over to one of the many plastic boxes they had started keeping their notes and research material in. He was shuffling through one of the boxes, most likely looking for something to compare his notes to, when the door opened and the rest of the team returned.

"How'd it go?" John asked Mai as soon as he saw the relieved expression on her face.

"Good," she answered with a shrug and a smile.

"I'm starving," Monk whined as he strolled in, clutching at his stomach, and flopped onto one of the couches. He set his feet on the coffee table and glanced about in search of Ayako who had followed in after him but had immediately disappeared into the girl's room.

"You're always hungry," Mai said in place of the red head.

"Did any of you happen to do a walkthrough of the property?" Naru asked while he scanned through the information on a sheet of paper her had just pulled from the box and circled several lines with a pen.

"We all did," John answered, "We met up with Masako as well and asked her what she felt as well." John sat down on the couch across from Monk and pulled at the knees of his jeans.

"And?" Naru prompted.

"She said there were several spirits here, though she didn't feel they were particularly violent, but admitted that she had not stayed overnight yet. Ayako felt there was something here and said the indoor pool particularly gave her the creeps," John answered with a gentle laugh at the end. "I personally feel that whatever is here is biding its time."

"Hmm," Naru hummed and returned the paper to its proper location before shutting the box and turning to face those of his team that were within the main room. "We'll set up cameras and take measurements tomorrow but for now you all should prepare for dinner." He moved over towards the door, probably to get ready himself, but he paused with his hand on the handle and looked pointedly at Mai and Bou-san, "Wear something nice," he stated coolly before departing.

"I feel attacked," Bou-san said with a snort.

Lin let out a low chuckle before standing to follow Naru's example but said nothing.

Mai scowled at the door and kicked at the couch before storming into the girl's room. Stupid Naru with his stupid rude attitude, she thought darkly and shut the door behind her. Their room was fairly large, almost as big as the main room they had claimed as base, with three queen sized beds, each covered in a mountain of pillows and covered with ornate comforters. Three windows ran the span of one wall, each with its own deep set window sill for seating, and a tv hung from the wall across from the beds. It was obvious the room had been set up for them as Mai did not think hotel rooms typically housed three large beds like theirs did.

Mai noted that the bathroom doors was closed, light spilled from the crack beneath it, and concluded that Ayako was already getting ready and so moved over to the bed that she had claimed as her own. Her suitcase was resting on top of it and she flipped the top open to find something decent to wear. By the time Ayako had finished in the bathroom Mai was wearing a pale olive green dress that fell just above her knees, a brown jacket, black leggings, and a pair of matching brown leather boots. She wiggled her toes in the pointed shoes and smiled. They were her favorite pair of shoes she owned.

"I'll do your make up for you," Ayako stated after mentally approving the girls choice of clothes. She stood with a hand on her hip in a black dress and patent leather heels. She looked very elegant and Mai could not help but feel a bit childish in comparison but she smiled and accepted the offer.

Mai followed the woman back into the bathroom and sat on the toilet lid and clasped her hands together while Ayako rummaged through her vast collection of makeup, kept in a black leather bag, and sighed.

"I know Naru's being an ass," Ayako commented without looking up from her task. "But I'm sure it has more to do with his parent's than anything you did."

Mai blinked up at Ayako blankly before blushing and dropping her gaze to her hands. "It's not that, not really anyways . . ." she trailed off sadly.

Ayako pulled a compact from her bag and quirked a brow at the girl sitting on the toilet, "I'm sensing a secret."

"Maybe," Mai muttered but obediently turned her face up for the miko while she applied the beige powder to her face. She always forgot how observant the woman could be when it came to normal life things. Paranormal wise she was a little bit rusty but then that would imply she had skill beforehand and Mai refused to believe that simply out of teasing endearment. She smiled at the thought.

Ayako finished with the compact and examined the girl's eyes before searching for a neutral eyeshadow before snapping, "So spill. What's got you in such a funk? Ever since Naru came back you've been scowling and sighing and acting like a brat."

Mai pursed her lips but let out a sigh, "I confessed to Naru before he left for England," she muttered in one go. If the band aid was coming off she might as well rip it, she decided, and hunched her shoulders against the stunned silence that followed her statement.

"What?" Ayako squawked and smacked the girl on the head irritably, "Why didn't you tell me!"

"Because he didn't give me an answer!" she shot back just as loudly.

"He didn't . . . What did he say?" She asked in an aghast tone, she had yet to apply the chosen eyeshadow, too caught up in the thought of her little Mai confessing her love to the man she had been pining after for years.

Mai blushed, horribly, and swallowed. "He said 'Me, or Gene'," she responded sadly and dropped her eyes to her shoes. She had told Ayako long ago about her dreams the dead twin brother of their boss had guided her through. So it came as no surprise when she gasped and nearly crushed the eyeshadow pallet in her hand.

"That little shit," she glowered at the floor, imaging his face, and scoffed. Of course he would be a smart ass about it, he was probably uncomfortable with the thought of emotions and had said the first thing that had come to mind before making his escape. She turned sad eyes onto the girl in front of her and ruffled her hair comfortingly. "We'll just have to make him fall for you then," she mumbled thoughtfully and set the eyeshadow down in search of another.

"What?" Mai questioned in confusion.

"Don't worry about a thing," Ayako advised with a grin. Instead of the neutral browns she had planned on using she instead applied a smoky grey highlighted by a light pink.

Ayako was careful with her makeup, deciding that Mai was a natural person thanks to her great skin and bone structure, she settled for simple eyeliner and a light pink lipstick, and focused on bringing out the lovely brown of her eyes. She fixed her messy bun, pulling down delicate strands to frame her face, and only stepped back to take in the full effect when she was satisfied.

"I'm going to beat that boy's ass, one of these days, and he won't look so pretty then," Ayako muttered while she put her makeup away and shut the bag. She checked her own appearance in the mirror, running a hand through her hair one last time, before turning back to Mai expectantly. "I bet Masako's already claimed a seat next to Naru so we better hurry if you want to get the seat across from him," she stated as she left the bathroom and collected the clutch she had picked out for the night.

"Across from him?" Mai repeated confusedly and followed her out of the bathroom, shutting off the bathroom light as she left, and watched the woman as she checked the contents of her purse.

"Yes, across from him, so he has to look at you," Ayako answered with a conniving smirk and grabbed the girl's arm, dragging her out of the room, through the base (now empty) and out into the hall.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Ayako planned on making that statement abundantly clear to Naru one way or the other.

"Ayakooooo," Mai whined after the miko but gave up the fight. She was doomed. The amount of melancholy that Mai exuded was evident while they traversed the halls and eventually the stairs that led into the grand foyer of the old mansion. She barely kept up with the woman and instead focused on dragging her feet across the plush carpet with a sigh. It was embarrassing to be turned down the way she had but it was even more embarrassing to have your mother sister figure take up the reigns to salvage the situation by enacting petty revenge.

Whatever kind of seating arrangement Ayako was expecting when they stormed into the restaurant downstairs was certainly not what she found. Naru sat at a long table, situated along the far wall that was filled with windows looking out over the park property, with his back to the view and an unfamiliar man sitting at the head of the table to his left and a women sitting directly across from him. Lin sat to his right and Masako across from him. The priestess mentally cursed and continued to pull Mai along before depositing her in the chair next to Masako and claimed the seat next to her.

Mai blinked, surprised to find herself already seated, and took in the faces around her before turning her gaze to the candlelit table and admired the plants that acted as a living table runner. Above them strands of light crisscrossed through the high ceiling of the restaurant. It truly felt magical, especially with the view she had of the lake from her seat.

Mai let out a content sigh before glancing over at Naru, then did a double take, because the man was staring at her with a quirked brow. Her own brows scrunched together in confusion and she watched as his expecting expression turned to one of disappointment. She scowled at him in return, not understanding, and silently scoffed when he turned his face away from hers deliberately.

"Should we give you two a moment?" A feminine voice asked through a quiet fit of laughter.

Mai jumped and leaned back in her chair to view the person sitting on the other side of Masako while the girl in the kimono lifted a sleeve to hide the smile on her face. There sat a small blonde woman, a lively and amused expression on her face, wearing a white skirt suit and a pair of pearl earrings. She set her sights on Mai with a kind smile and the girl immediately jumped out of her seat and bowed before her frantically.

"I am so sorry ma'am, I wasn't paying any attention at all," she fought the blush defiantly but it seemed her efforts were all in vain as she felt the telltale heat on her cheeks anyways. She refused to lift her head.

"That's quite alright, my goodness," the woman laughed and waved Mai off, "Sit down, sit down, don't worry yourself over something so silly. I'm Luella Davis, Noll's mother."

Mai lifted her head and gaped at the woman before bowing again, "Taniyama Mai, it's a pleasure to meet you!" She exclaimed before straightening and then bowing to the man who she could only assume was Martin Davis before reclaiming her seat embarrassedly.

Luella turned bright eyes onto her husband wearing a smile, "She's the cutest little thing I've ever met," she whispered to which the man chuckled and only shook his head in response.

"I'm Matsuzaki Ayako, it's a pleasure to meet you," Ayako greeted the two with a polite smile before sitting back and flicking Mai in the ear discretely. The girl jumped, already in a flustered state, and covered her ear defensively while scowling at the woman irritably.

Luella continued to smile, "She reminds me of a sugar glider," she mumbled and noticed the irritated expression that overtook her son's face amusedly.

Across from Mai, Lin smirked into his glass of water and attempted to cover up his chuckle with a cough but Mai caught it anyways and stared at him as if he had betrayed her. He quirked a brow at her as if to ask her what exactly it was that he had done to cause that expression and she dropped her eyes to the table top in embarrassment.

"Is it pick on Mai day again?" Yasuhara's voice rang out as he approached the table and the girl wished she could sink to the floor underneath the table to avoid any further commentary. The young man bowed to the Davis's and introduced himself properly before taking the seat one over from Lin and grinned over at Mai apologetically as he had been unable to resist the temptation.

"Apparently," Mai mumbled.

"Picking on her?" Naru questioned lightly, "We're merely observing her lack of manners."

"Even better," Yasuhara replied on point. "While we're at it we should do Naru too."

Martin let out such a loud laugh that the rest of the table was immediately put to ease and he smiled at Yasuhara cheerfully, "That, I am afraid, would take far too long." He leaned back in his chair and loosened the tie around his neck while sending an amused glance to his son.

Madoka chose that moment to return from the rest room and slid into the seat next to Lin and smiled at the rest of the table cheerfully before turning to Lin and whispering something to him. She was quickly followed by John and Bou-san who took the last two seats at the table.

"What did we miss?" Monk questioned upon noticing the stifled laughter and amused atmosphere.

"Just the usual, "Ayako responded dryly, "Mai making a fool of herself and those two chuckle heads poking fun at her and each other." She gestured to Naru and Yasuhara as she spoke before taking a sip of her own water and setting it back down with a tired sigh.

"Ah, the usual then," Monk responded with an assured nod and immediately lifted his menu from the table to look over its contents critically.

"It never ends," John added with a laugh from where he sat at the end of the table.

"Think of how awkward it would be if it did," Yasuhara said and turned his gaze onto the priest with a smirk.

"It would be a little . . ." John trailed off looking for the appropriate word, ". . .stiff . . ." he seemed to realize his mistake the moment Monk snorted into his water and covered his face with a hand.

"The priest isn't allowed to hang out with Yasu anymore," Monk muttered into his drink while Yasuhara laughed.

"Ugh, real mature," Ayako grouched and dropped her head into a hand with a disgusted sigh all the while Naru sat with his eyes closed against the immaturity his team was displaying for his parents to see.

Mai, too, felt embarrassed for their behavior but there was also a part of her that was enjoying it. She loved her family dearly and the kind of behavior they were witnessing now was one of the reasons she had missed hanging out with them all together again. She was also glad for the suffering that she knew Naru to be feeling at the moment. She smiled into her hand, much like she knew Masako to be doing, and lifted her eyes to her boss curiously only to find him staring back at her blankly but she knew he was thinking something along the lines of "Look what you've done" and she could not stop the peel of laughter that erupted from her lips and caused the rest of the table to fall silent.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she apologized through her laughter and was glad when Monk and Yasuhara joined in.

"Mai," Naru admonished quietly.

"Oh leave her be, Naru, she's been such a depressed little thing since SPR disbanded," Ayako came to her defense and although she didn't say it, everyone at the table knew what she meant, sine you left for England.

"It's true," Masako agreed quietly, "She's only good at two things after all: Tea and ghosts. Imagine how lost she felt when you left."

"Oh, you poor thing," Luella cooed from the other side of Masako and reached around her to rub Mai's back comfortingly.

"Luella, dear, I don't think you're helping," Martin attempted to reign in his wife but only sighed when she shot him an annoyed look. "Why don't we get down to business and go around the table with detailed introductions? You all have been working with Noll for quite a while and I would like to know what parts you play in this diverse team he has seemed to have brought together." The man leaned forward in his seat and rested his elbows on the table invitingly, giving them all his attention. At some point he had taken his black suit jacket off and placed it on the back of his chair for comfort.

"I'll start," Yasuhara began cheerily, "As I said my name is Yasuhara and I was the last to join the team. Naru accepted a case at my school and I offered my services as Mai's underling. Since then I have been the go to person for research and grunt work." He ended on a good note, to which the other were surprised, they had been waiting with bated breath for him to make some kind of inappropriate comment and while his explanation had been . . . questionable, it was still far better than what they had expected.

"Ah," John sat of straighter in his seat and smiled at the Davis's, "My name is John Brown and I am a catholic priest. I helped in a case two years ago and have been working with SPR ever since. I think that was the same case we all met on actually . . ." he trailed off thoughtfully.

"You all met on one case?" Martin questioned curiously and turned to look at Naru for further information.

"The principle of the school trusted none of us to get the job done properly and took it upon himself to higher an expert in several different fields," Naru answered simply and set his elbows on the table and clasped his hands.

"Strange fellow," Martin commented before turning his eyes to Monk expectantly with a nod for him to go on.

"My name is Takigawa Houshou," he introduced seriously and bowed his head, "I am a monk though I am currently working as a base player with a local band in Tokyo. I often take cases on the side and have been working with SPR since the same case."

"A monk with long hair," Luella chuckled but made no further comment.

"As I said my name is Ayako, I am a self-taught shrine maiden, though I often work at my parent's hospital and am a successful doctor." Ayako introduced herself quickly before glancing over at Mai expectantly.

Mai shifted in her seat, suddenly feeling everyone's eyes on her, and rubbed the back of her head embarrassedly. "You can call me Mai, I am actually a student at the school we all met at. I started working for Naru when I broke one of his cameras and simultaneously injured Lin. After that I was doing all the filing and cleaning in the office and acted as an assistant on cases." She twiddled her fingers and glanced over at Lin who was wearing a blank expression but he grimaced at the memory, recalling how rude he had been to Mai upon their first meeting, and glanced over to Naru curiously.

"Mai also has latent psychic abilities and has shown signs of precognition as well as the ability to astral project, both of which have been useful on cases," Naru added after she had fallen silent and Martin shot him a critical look.

"You never mentioned this," he accused lightly and turned his eyes onto the jittery girl across the table.

"I didn't find it relevant," Naru responded coolly but did not take his eyes off of Mai as he spoke.

"On an amusing side note," Luella interrupted what she was certain would have been an argument between the two, "How in the world did that little thing manage to injure you Lin?" She shot an aghast look at the man who had been quit the entire meeting.

"She knocked a shoe rack over onto me," he answered dispassionately.

Monk guffawed and slapped the table, "I never knew that was how you were injured, that is too funny." He continued to chortle as Lin sighed tragically and Madako patted his shoulder comfortingly.

"You could have killed the man," Yasuhara exclaimed.

"It was an accident, he startled me!" Mai defended irritably.

"Never scare Mai or she'll attack you with furniture, got it," Yasuhara ignored her pleas.

"It's alright Mai, everyone knows you didn't do it on purpose," John offered from his end of the table.

"Anyways," Martin declared and settled the table down with a wave of his hand, "We of course know who Hara Masako is as we have had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday. Now," here he paused and lifted clasped his hands together, much like Naru, "let's discuss this case."

But it was not to be for as soon as those words had left his mouth their waiter appeared to take their orders and it was twenty minutes of decision making, chaotic conversations, and a silent Naru and Lin who took it all in tiredly. It was nothing new, really, Martin should not have expected such a large group of misfits to concentrate when food was around. But still, Naru took some sort of satisfaction out of allowing his father to experience what he had been dealing with for over a year. Even though it was the exact opposite of the impression he had wanted to make. He could already tell that a lecture was brewing but it probably had more to do with Mai than anything else. Naturally.

Once the orders were all settled Martin reclaimed their attention, "I assume that Naru has already briefed you on the situation and gone over the case details with you?"

The team members all nodded their heads and gave the man their undivided attention.

"Good, that makes this easier for me," he paused and leaned forward, lowering his voice so that only their table would hear his next words and said, "The manager of the property is a good friend of mine and had previously mentioned the possibility of hiring someone to investigate but a few months ago he called me up to inform that they had found another victim in the lake. The first in a decade. He was very distraught and worried that another would turn up at the upcoming concert and he wants this taken care of before any more lives are lost." Martin paused as if to organize his thoughts and shifted. "I understand that this will be a dangerous case and I appreciate you all coming out to help and if any of you wish to leave I would not blame you in any way for choosing the safety of your life . . ." he trailed off and scanned the faces around him, noting their nervous but determined expressions, and sighed.

Mai gulped, they had not been told of the most recent victim, and she suddenly felt a cold sweat overtake her. She lifted her eyes to the window, noting that the sun was sinking below the tree line. Night was approaching, when all the reported activity had taken place, and she felt Masako tense beside her as she too felt the ominous feeling wash over her.

"You did not mention there had been another victim," Naru's voice cut through the cold fear that had washed over the table like a blade of ice all its own.

Martin nodded curtly, "I'm sorry but I was still dealing with other matters at the time," he said and leveled a look of deepest regret at Naru and the others at the table shared knowing looks. The death of Gene, it seemed, had rocked the small family of four to the point of breaking.

Luella lowered her eyes to the table for a moment before lifting them once more to take in the team Naru had put together while he was away in Japan and was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for the people that had stuck by her son even when she knew he had tried to push them away. And she had a feeling it all had to do with the flustered girl sitting between the other two women of the team looking like the world had just come crashing down around her ears at the indirect mention of their late son.

Naru stared at his father for a few moments before he leaned back and gave a curt nod in response to his reasoning. He, of course, understood and accepted that the death of his brother would have affected his father.

Mai glance over to Naru knowingly and swallowed the spit that had gathered in her mouth. Their meeting had suddenly turned so serious when it had been so light and jovial not minutes before. She felt emotionally exhausted and the jet lag was weighing on her heavily all of a sudden. She rubbed at her eyes frustratingly and looked down the table at the others, sympathizing with the serious expression that adorned Monk's face. He too had found the situation uncomfortable while Ayako had turned her face away as if to give the family a moment of privacy. John was looking down at the table sadly and Yasuhara's expression was unreadable behind his glasses and next to Mai Masako had closed her eyes and covered her mouth with her sleeve once again.

She had never felt so removed yet included at the same time. She had unknowingly known Gene for a year before she realized who he was yet she had never met him in the flesh or seen how he interacted with his family. And at the same time she did not know what it was like for the others who had never known of him until the very end. She felt like a bridge spanning the distance between the two parties. Stretched.

"We can discuss the rest tomorrow," Naru spoke, the first words said aloud in several minutes.

"Yes," Luella jumped at the chance to break the tense atmosphere, "I'm sure you are all looking forward to a good meal and some rest after your flight."

There were relieved sighs all around and several sets of shoulders fell.

Mai dropped her eyes to her clasped hands in her lap tiredly.

Their food arrived shortly after that and Mai spent the rest of her time watching how Naru's parents interacted with the others at the table, surprised by their friendly nature, and amazed that Naru turned into such a cold and logical person with them as his guardians. If she thought about, she was a pretty even combination of her own parents, but then again she had been raised by them whereas Naru had been adopted at a later age. She wondered what had happened that had caused him to become so callous.

She hadn't even tasted the food she had ordered, a chicken salad with an extra side of croutons and dressing, and only realized she had been staring at it absently when Ayako had nudged her with her shoulder.

"You're not falling asleep on us now, are you?" she asked loudly and startled the girl from her thoughts.

"What? No, just thinking," she laughed nervously and waved the woman off.

Naru, who had been conversing with his father on the topic of Japanese spirits verses the English, paused and glanced over at Mai. He narrowed his eyes before standing, "Mai," he said her name in such a quiet tone that she almost missed it the first time and only looked up from her plate when he had called her again.

"Yes?" she answered nervously.

"If you're tired then you should sleep," he stated coldly and pushed his chair in.

Mai blushed, thinking he was being polite, but then the realization set in and she turned her face away from him. He only wanted her to sleep so that she would dream about the case. It was the same old routine. He would practically force her into sleep so that they could hurry up and close a case before moving onto the next.

"I'll take you back," he continued despite the sudden cold shoulder.

Bou-san stood suddenly, "No," he practically snapped, "I'll take her. You stay and catch up with your parents." The monk pushed in his chair and laid a hand on Mai's shoulder before leveling a stern look at Naru.

Mai pushed herself out of her chair, refusing to meet the eyes of her employer, and allowed monk to lead her away from the table. Ayako glanced around the table before jumping out of her seat and hurrying after the two. She caught up just before they had exited the restaurant and latched onto Mai's hand with her own and followed them out the door.

Naru watched the three go with narrowed eyes, a hand still lifted towards the chair Mai had just vacated.

"Lin's right," Yasuhara spoke up with a nod, "You have no skill with women."

Naru shut his eyes and turned away to reclaim his seat once more with a sigh.

"Ayako and Monk have been acting as her stand in parents ever since SPR disbanded, they know all of her woes after all . . ." Yasuhara trailed off and took a sip from his glass of water while Naru crossed his arms and retreated into himsel

Next to him Lin sighed and Madoka shook her head.

"Noll?" Luella questioned curiously.

But he did not respond to her.

Chapter Text

Mai was led through the halls by Ayako and Monk who were silent but both stewing in their own thoughts, mainly pertaining to Naru's treatment of Mai, which is why they had both come to her rescue in support. It was rare for them to see her react in such way. In the year that Naru had been absent from their lives Mai had been a bit depressed, yes, but she had been making improvements. She had been working herself to death but she had also been experiencing life and they had seen her blossom into a more mature woman. But to see all her progress come crumbling down on their first official case together again was heart wrenching.

She was silent between them, obviously tired and mentally exhausted, and they were sure a good night's rest would do her some good. The flight and all those interviews had taken a lot out of her. Not to mention dealing with Naru's "Case-mode" as they had dubbed it. Monk was privy to the knowledge that Mai had only distributed to Ayako that night before dinner, as he had seen the aftermath, and it was not something he was quite ready to forgive Naru for yet. They had been playing along, enjoying the high of each other's company once more, but now it was time to get serious. Naru had a lot of explaining to do and as he and Ayako made eye contact over the top of Mai's head they silently vowed to set things right.

They dragged her to bed and Ayako made sure she had changed into a comfortable set of pajamas before tucking her in and doing the same. The poor girl was asleep the moment her head hit the pillow.

Mai found herself wandering through the trees of the park, a white dress dragged across the ground behind her and was perfectly comfortable in the humid heat of Florida. She could hear the sound of waves lapping against the nearby seawall and paused to rest a hand on a tree while she took in the serenity of the moment. The sunlight was filtering through the leaves and brushing gentle fingers across her cheeks and the sea gulls sounded particularly jovial that day, their cries echoing out over the water to reach her ears, and she wondered if it would be a good idea to go for a swim. She enjoyed these calm moments in her life, when she could simply walk barefoot among the plot of nature he had purchased for her, and remind herself that she was alive. Not just some smiling accessory that hung off of his arm every night for all to see.

Yes, she enjoyed the calm beautiful days.

In the distance she heard a gunshot and opened her eyes, staring out into the trees ahead of her with some unknown emotion in her eyes, before dropping her hand and crouching on the ground to cover her ears.

It wasn't right. It wasn't right how often he had people killed. And all those men just did as he said.

Even when she had lived on the streets, selling her body for money, she had never seen such atrocious things as that man had performed on others. The memories of rough hands sliding across her skin, pulling, tearing, and the sounds they made had been horrible. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. But that all compared to nothing when she had first walked in upon the death throes of a man, limbless and choking on his own blood, while men in suits and ties stood around and grinned menacingly.

And the way he had come at her, striding through the cloud of cigarette smoke and heavy scent of blood, shouting and cursing at her . . .

The sights and sounds, the smells, assaulted her memories and she gagged. Her chest tightened and threatened to suffocate her.

She wasn't his wife, she was his prisoner.

How long would this go on?

Mai opened her eyes to the sunlight streaming in through her window and for just a moment, enjoyed the peace between wake and slumber when one did not recall either events from the two, but when she took in a breath to let out a contented sigh she was overcome with nausea and nearly threw herself out of bed to make it to the bathroom in time.

Ayako had just walked in through the door, already dressed in a black top and khaki capris and watched as Mai slammed the bathroom door shut behind her before her ears were assaulted by the sound of retching and she cursed.

It normally took at least a day or two for Mai's dreams to kick in but on the first night? Ayako turned on her heel and hurried out of the rooms and down to the restaurant where some of the others were already seated and awaiting breakfast. She marched up to the table and snatched a glass of water up before pausing to take in the figure of Naru sitting next to his father and Lin. Monk was still asleep and Masako had been pulled away by her director. She did not know where the others were, unsure of what exactly she should do she cleared her throat to garner the men's attention.

"Naru," she called quietly, a stern wrinkle took up roost between her eyes as the young man lifted his serious gaze onto her. "It's Mai," she said in way of answer to his silent question and she lifted the glass of water hesitantly.

"Am I allowed to see her?" he asked coldly but he was already standing and pushing his chair in.

"Not with that attitude you're not," she growled back but she was already turning and leading the way. She stomped out of the restaurant while calmly glided along beside her.

Honestly, she would have anyone other than Naru assist her with Mai at this point. She was still angry about their relationship or lack thereof and would have gone in search of someone else if she had not known that Naru would want the valuable information garnered through Mai's dreams anyways. She wanted NAru to have as little of Mai as possible because, in her book, he did not deserve her. After all she had done for him . . . But it was what it was and he would no doubt be the most capable of dealing with the situation. The others would have gotten too emotional. Maybe John though . . .? He would have been a good person to go to and she made a mental note of it for next time.

Her eye's slid to the man walking just in her peripheral and scowled. He was wearing such a calm expression that it irritated her. Show some emotion! He didn't even seem worried in the least for the well being of their team mascot, the one that kept them all together, and had basically become the face of SPR.

When the two passed through the door of the room assigned to the girls the sound of retching had stopped but when Ayako opened the door to the bathroom she found Mai, head resting on her arm over the toilet seat, with tears streaming down her face. She rushed into the large bathroom and set the glass of water on the counter top in favor of pulling Mai away from the toilet and wiping the tears off her cheeks despite the fact that more fell to replace them. Ayako could not recall her ever being so emotionally distraught after a dream. The urado case had left her terrified but not to the point of the disheartened creature she now found herself holding.

"What's wrong, Mai?" Ayako crooned although her face was marred with a worried frown.

Naru remained in the doorway, having only ever seen Mai in such a state once before, and knowing that she needed the comfort of a friend. He exited the room while Ayako continued to mummer words of comfort and attempted to help the girl to her feet. Together they shuffled out of the bathroom an over towards Mai's bed.

"Let's get you comfortable and then you can tell me what's wrong, alright?" Ayako said quietly and the still crying Mai nodded wordlessly and climbed back into her bed before sniffling and pulling the covers up cover her knees and under her chin.

Ayako sat on the bed next to her and brushed a strand of hair out of her face with a kind smile but inside she was fighting the rage against Naru and his absence. Mai always wanted to be in the presence of Naru, not matter how hurt or angry he made her feel, and he had just slipped away after she had gone all the way to get him. Well, him and a glass of water, which she just remembered she had left in the bathroom. She was debating on getting it when Satan himself stepped back into the room and joined the two on the other side of the bed.

With shaking hands Mai accepted the cup of tea he offered and took a small sip before setting it down in her lap, visibly relaxed. "Thank you" she mumbled quietly and glanced up to see him watching her carefully. Not something that she was completely used to but she had seen him wear that expression towards her a couple times in the past and knew that he was silently asking if she were alright.

Ayoko quirked a brow.

"Why don't you tell us what you dreamed," he prompted quietly and pulled a chair up to the side of her bed before taking a seat.

Mai watched him, content when he had made himself comfortable, before she looked away and allowed her eyes to wander the room while she organized her memories. "I dreamt of was a woman who lived here, a long time ago . . ." she trailed off and turned her eyes to the window. "I was his wife, I think, and I hated it . . . he wasn't as kind as he used to be."

"That doesn't sound so horrible that you would wake up sobbing into a toilet," Ayako drawled dryly and crossed her arms.

"No," Mai shook her head, agreeing that that was not what had caused her so much grief, "But I had her memories and for a moment . . ." she trailed of and shivered. Her face grew pale and for a moment Ayako thought she was going to vomit again. "Anyways," Mai shook herself out of it after taking another sip of tea, "I was walking through the trees, admiring the weather, when I heard a gunshot. He has people killed often, you see, and I don't like it . . ." tears streamed down her face again. "It just seemed so different before. Things used to be simple. But then there was something about taking up his father's business and all those evil men started showing up at all hours of the day... and he changed."

Naru shifted in his seat and rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. "Mai?" he called questioningly. When she did not respond he repeated her name a bit more urgently and the girl blinked and leveled her eyes on him in confusion. "Have you been having dreams since I left?"

She took a moment to think about his question before nodding once, "They're different now though . . ."

"Is Gene in them?" he asked quietly, looking up at her from his position. He touched the tips of his fingers to each other absently.

She shook her head as more tears trailed down her face and she reached up to wipe them away. "Gene?" she repeated the name in confusion.

In a rare show of emotion Naru dropped his head into his hands and rubbed at his face in frustration. "He was your guide Mai, you shouldn't astral project without him, it's dangerous," he muttered. Naru had assumed that Gene was still with her when she dreamed otherwise he wouldn't have urged her to bed so quickly as he had last night. She had known what he wanted and that had planted the need to astral project in her mind. Who knows what could have happened.

"What do you mean?" she asked in furstration. She lifted a hand to her head and closed her eyes.

Naru sat back in the chair and crossed his arms, adopting his cold and blank expression once more, "What is your name?"

"Prudence," she responded instantly.

The room grew dark and Mai only realized her mistake moments later and she lifted her hand to her mouth in horror. "No, no, no, that's not right . . ." she shivered and turned to Ayako in a panic but the woman was looking at her with wide eyes at a loss of how to react. "It's Mai, Taniyama Mai," she stated quietly and leaned back against the pillows suddenly exhausted.

Naru dropped his gaze to the rug beneath his feet in thought with narrowed eyes.

"Ayako," Naru called and the when the red head had looked at him he continued, "Will you get Mai something to eat and bring it back? She should be fine once she gets something in her."

Ayako slid off the bed and nodded, she sent one last look towards Mai before leaving, even as she moved through the base she was biting her lip in thought.

Naru stood only once the miko had gone and sat on the side of the bed instead. "Mai," he said her name again as if to reassure her of her identity. When the girl opened her eyes again she stared at him blankly for a moment before nodding.

"I'm okay," she said quietly, the hint of a blush coloring her cheeks, and Naru sighed.

"You said Prudence's husband had men killed, was that what scared you?" he asked.

Mai shook her head and took another sip of tea, "Partly, but what scared me the most was her memories. I felt them. I experienced them. And Naru . . ." she paused while she fought the tears that threatened to fall again, "She had such a horrible life."

Naru remained silent and watched as his assistant composed herself. Vaguely he was aware that someone had entered the base thanks to the heavy squeak the door made, he assumed it was Lin, and waited for Mai to continue.

Mai fingered the handle of her tea cup while speaking, "She was a prostitute before he married her, she had experienced such horrible things, but compared to what that man was doing to people it was nothing. It made her sick, Naru . . . and it made me feel . . ." she trailed off again for what felt the hundredth time that morning and wished she could go back to the moment when she had first woken up and felt the calm serenity of the rising sun. She shivered in disgust and wrapped her arms around herself.

Naru leaned away from her with a sigh, "You don't have to say anymore," he muttered quietly and watched as her shoulders fell in relief. He eyed her critically for a moment before he asked, "Will you be alright?"

Mai wiped at her eyes one more time before smiling up at him with a nod, "Yes, I'll be okay."

He nodded once, paused as if he were about to say something else, before standing from the bed just as the door was thrown open and Monk flew in like a bat out of hell.

"Mai!" he cried in a panic but froze at the sight that greeted him. "Are you alright?" he asked in a calmer tone and approached the other side of the bed.

Mai smiled brightly, even brighter than the smile she had just graced Naru with, and nodded energetically. "I'm fine," she answered with an assuring laugh. "Naru made me tea," she added and lifted the cup in her hands.

"Did he now?" Monk drawled knowingly and sent the man a smirk that he did not respond to.

Naru turned away from the bed and headed for the door, "Once you've eaten and are ready, join us in setting up the rest of the equipment."

"I will," Mai called after him before turning her eyes onto the monk with a blush.

"Alright Mai," the Monk grinned and gave her a thumbs up to which her response was to throw a pillow at him. The Monk dodged it and bid a retreat from the room after that, laughing as he went. He pulled the door shut behind him and heard the distinctive thud of another pillow hitting the other side before looking up at the few gathered members of the team with a smile, "She's totally fine."

Ayako had brought Mai some eggs and toast which the girl was grateful for. It felt like it had been ages since she had last eaten even though she could clearly recall her dinner the night before. The very intense and awkward dinner that they had created through their behavior. A dinner in which Mai had been constantly embarrassed and ridiculed.

She scowled at the memory before sliding out of bed, leaving the tray of dishes behind, and headed for the bathroom to shower. After the caffeine from the tea had finally kicked in and she had gotten something in her stomach she felt ten times better. The realization that she had been in danger of losing herself was a little bit frightening but mostly frustrating. Without Gene, it would seem, she was completely useless.

She stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her torso and moved over to her suitcase, now at the foot of her bed, and searched for something to wear that day. After many incidents when she had found herself the epicenter of spiritually produced accidents or pranks she had decided skirts and dresses were not the best choice of clothing while she was on the job and so had packed mostly jeans and tights for this trip. Thanks to Ayako she brought a couple of nice dresses for dinner too but she wasn't planning on wearing any of them in the long run. At least she was hoping she wouldn't have to. If she was forced to sit through another dinner like the one they had had last night she would probably die. She chuckled at her thoughts before pulling out a pair of blue skinny jeans and a black and white striped sweater. She was just setting them out onto the bed when the door swung open.

"Mai, I think Naru is missing your face because he's getting all moody again and says you're holding everyone up," Yasuhara rambled cheerily.

Mai froze and turned to look over her shoulder at the man whom she thought of as a very good friend but was now seriously considering ending his life. She was still only in a towel and here this idiot was standing in the doorway with said door thrown open wide. She could just see Lin sitting at his chosen desk staring wide eyed, flabbergasted, over Yasuhara's shoulder from the other side of base.

"Yasuhara . . ." Mai attempted to politely reprimand him.

"Yes?" he asked innocently. Clearly he was avoiding the elephant in the room but whether or not this was due to embarrassment or if he wanted to make her suffer Mai was unsure.

Her politeness quickly dwindled away under the fire that was her anger and she glowered, "What do you think you are doing?" She lifted a fist, knuckles white and straining against her grip, and grabbed the towel with her other hand.

"Staring at a beautiful half naked woman, naturally," he answered with a smile. His hand was still on the nob when Mai charged over to him and slammed the door in his face, nearly knocking the man to the ground such was her strength.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you how to knock!" she could be heard shouting from the other side of the door.

Yasuhara stared at the door for a moment, a bit put out, but deciding he was a gentlemen and that he should know better than to enter a woman's room without knocking. He sighed, his shoulders falling forward, and turned away from the door. His eyes landed on a suspicious looking Lin who, upon realizing that he had been staring, blushed the barest hint of red and dropped his gaze back to his laptop.

"Lin, you pervert!" Yasuhara called with a grin earning himself a glower from the intimidating man which he only shrugged off.

The rest of the team, scattered about the room, looked up to take in the situation with varying expressions of weariness and curiosity.

Never one to let a joke at Lin's expense pass (or anyone's expense for that matter) Bou-san asked, "What did Lin do now?" He had set the morning's paper down on his lap and turned in his seat on the couch to look between the two with a grin.

"Oh, I dare not warp your sweet innocent mind with that pervy old man's antics," Yasuhara waved the monk off and walked over to his own backpack and extracted his laptop. With it stuffed under one arm he sent the Chinese man one last smile before turning to Naru, who was standing at the window in thought, and offered the man a salute, "I'll be off, I'll see what I can find on the original owners, but I make no promises."

Naru closed his eyes against a mild spike of irritation, though he knew it had less to do with Yasuhara's antics and more to do with his slip up with Mai, and let out a sigh. "Be back here in time for dinner," he muttered, dropping his eyes to the park grounds below and watched as locals played out in the open fields.

"Yes mother," Yasuhara called back over his shoulder as he left. He would be meeting Madoka at the local library to do some research for the day and he was silently glad that he would soon be spending his day with someone who appreciated his humor.

In the corner Lin cleared his throat.

Naru turned to look over his shoulder at the man with slight frown but his attention was pulled away as Mai stepped into the room, running her hand through her wet hair, and he turned away from the window.

"Now that we're all here," he began pointedly, "We'll be setting up cameras and microphones today. This is a large property so we'll have to use our equipment sparingly, on top of that, we will have a team patrolling each night in hopes of catching some activity. For this we have brought two handheld cameras." While Naru spoke he had leaned back against one of the several tables in the room and gestured to the pile of equipment behind him.

Mai, who did not even bother reacting to his barb towards her, crossed her own arms and shifted her weight to one hip. "I know there has been a lot of history with this case but isn't it a bit early to already be assuming it's haunted?" Indeed, it sounded like Naru was already certain there was an evil spirit within those walls if he was talking about using patrolling teams to catch activity. Although she had had a dream that morning, she had learned over time never to jump conclusions, and was practicing her hard earned knowledge in order to establish herself as an official paranormal investigator. Never mind the fact that that hard earned knowledge had mostly been beaten into her brain by the very man she was now staring at.

Naru turned his head towards her, "Quite an observation from you, Mai, it seems your intelligence has improved in my absence."

Mai rubbed her forehead with a hand and attempted to hold back the scream of frustration that she felt building in her chest.

Naru smirked and closed his eyes, "While Mai's question is a good one it is important to note that I did not specify what kind of activity we would be searching for at night." The sound of an irritated huff from Mai's direction assured him that she was beyond annoyed. "All recorded victims have been found within the past forty years, which means there is a possibility that these are the actions of a living human, so I want everyone on the lookout for any suspicious employees or local residents. The perpetrator, if there is one, will most likely be male and in his fifties or older."

"You think a human did all this?" Monk questioned from his spot on the couch, his brows scrunched together in confusion and uncertainty.

"The only undeniable evidence we have are the four victims," Naru shot back, "Any of the other claims we received could be faked. The reported male crying could set up with a recorder to trick guests. Messages can be left by other people. And so on and so forth. Haunted hotels are all the rage these days after all." He pushed himself away from the table with a sigh, "I want to be sure that we are not being made fools of before we move on with this investigation."

"It makes sense," John nodded in agreement from where he sat next to Monk.

"You can't seriously think it's the staff that is doing this?" Monk turned to the priest in disbelief.

"Well," John scratched at his head at suddenly finding himself to center of attention, "I've heard several cases of establishment using ghost stories to draw in guests so it's not like it's unheard of." The blond man shrugged and pushed himself off of the couch.

Naru nodded, respecting John's professionalism, and opened his mouth to continue when the main door opened and Martin Davis stepped in and shut it behind him. Naru narrowed his eyes but continued, "Takigawa-san, Mai, I want you two to set up camera's and take temperature readings of each room."

"This place is huge, that's going to take hours!" Bou-san groaned while Mai shot him a sympathizing smile.

"You can trade off at lunch with John and Ayako," Naru shot back with slight irritation, "I want John, Ayako, and Masako to investigate the surrounding woods and see if they can sense anything."

Ayako snorted but pushed herself off of the couch from across Monk and crossed her arms, "Good thing I brought my boots this time," she muttered and moved passed Mai and slipped into the girl's room. Presumably she was retrieving said boots and probably a scarf to shield her neck against the cool winter Florida air.

"I don't understand why she still wears heels on cases," Monk grouched with a tired sigh.

"She was the one who first suggested I stopped wearing skirts when I fell down a well for the second time," Mai mumbled thoughtfully with a finger to her chin as she recalled the day she and Naru had limped back to base, bruised and beaten, and both ready for the case to be over.

Masako, who had been sitting at an antique table (not one of the fold out tables the team had brought), took a sip of her tea before stating; "You have rotten luck." She refused to make eye contact with the other girl knowing she was probably scowling at her and only smirked.

"Well excuse me," Mai drawled with her arms crossed and a deadpan expression on her face, "I'll try and be more careful." It was true though, she admitted grudgingly in her mind, she had always gotten herself into some kind of trouble. But she was proud to admit she had grown since their last case together and she had learned a lot about taking care of herself. This morning, she decided, did not count and she would work hard to prove to the others just how far she had come.

"That's highly improbable."

Naru's voice cut through her train of thought like a hot knife through butter and Mai shut her eyes and growled. It was like he could read her thoughts. She had so many words bouncing about her brain that she could not decide on a comeback that would neither be too harsh or too unintelligent and so she threw her arms up into the air and turned on her heel. "Come on, Monk, let's go," she growled and the man jumped up from the couch with a laugh and helped her to collect the equipment.

"Before you go . . ." Naru called out from across the room as Mai moved towards the door.

Mai did not know what prompted her to level a blank expression at Martin, who she noted was wearing a pair of nice jeans and a black long sleeved button down shirt, but the knowing look in her eyes was enough to cause the man to scrunch his brows in question. He wondered what it was his son was going to ask of that girl that would cause her to wear such a look.

"Mai, tea," Naru finished seconds later. He had returned to his seat in front of the monitors and had adopted his thinking pose before she could even respond.

Mai smirked, such a derisive smirk that Martin could not stop the impressed look before it had taken over his face, and laughed knowingly. "We're out," she stated simply before stepping through the main doors and leaving an amazed Monk, impressed Martin, and a collection of tired sighs in her wake. Naru spun around in his chair just in time to see the girl disappear through the doors and he scowled.

"Great, now he's going to be in a pissy mood all day," Monk grouched and hefted the equipment in his arms and followed after Mai.

"She's improved," Lin mumbled from his corner and took a sip of the coffee Madoka had brought him earlier that morning. For the moment he actually had no work to do until Mai and Bou-san began setting up the camera and so he was able to see when Naru turned his glare onto him and he sent a smirk towards Martin.

"Don't encourage her," Naru muttered. He had just used the last of the tea for her that morning, he realized irritably, and sighed.

"Then quite antagonizing her," Lin shot back quietly and sighed as he lifted the walkie-talkie next to his laptop.

"You are kind of poking the bear with a stick so to speak," John added with a nervous laugh.

"If the bear would stop being so unintelligent and do its job I wouldn't be poking it," Naru responded.

"I can't picture Mai as a bear," Masako mumbled from her table thoughtfully. "Maybe a red panda . . ." she trailed off and glanced up to see the rest of the room looking at her. She quickly lifted the sleeve of her kimono over her mouth in hopes of hiding the slight blush that spread across her cheeks.

"Red pandas are endangered," John blurted without thought, though he was not bothered by this, and stood from his seat on the couch as Ayako returned from the girl's room.

"What about red pandas?" Ayako questioned as she adjusted the floral patterned scarf around her neck.

"We were comparing Mai to a red panda, she is a wild animal after all," Masako explained as she too stood and approached the other two team members.

Ayako lifted her eyes to the ceiling in thought, "I guess I could see it, she does have a similar temperament . . ."

"They are also endangered," Naru added from his seat, his back facing them, "Which says something about Mai's poor luck."

The three fell silent but it was Ayako who snorted, "He's kind of right."

John sighed and rubbed the back of his head.

Mai followed Monk down the halls of the mansion, a clipboard and pen in hand, and an immovable scowl on her face. The walkie-talkie hung from the waistband of her jeans and was silent as they had yet to begin setting up the next camera. They had set up a camera outside, facing towards the small wood, to hopefully catch sightings of the white figures reported to wander the property. There was also one at the lake and Mai recalled that she did not like the feeling of the water the second she had laid eyes on it. She stayed as far away from it as she could while Monk set up the camera per Lin's instructions. As they walked back through the trees she had looked over her shoulder at the innocent looking lake and shivered.

Naru wanted a camera in the main foyer facing into the small ballroom, the doors open, and at such an angle that they could get the stairs as well. One of the servers of the restaurant had claimed that they often heard music and saw flickering lights in the ballroom at night and others had claimed they saw the figure of a man climbing the stairs. Mai herself had interviewed said server and remembered the girl had been impatient to get back to work. She had a feeling nothing would phase that woman if money was at stake. She had kind of reminded her of Joe, their usual server and friend back in Japan, and wondered if it was simply a restaurant thing. Did all servers adopt nerves of steel in order to make that extra cash? She should contact that woman when she got back to Japan and ask, maybe it would lead to a more in depth friendship then simply taking her food order and the casual polite chitchat they shared. Joe seemed like she would make a good friend.

"There is a room on the third floor where several people have reported hearing a man crying, I think we can just leave a microphone in that room . . ." Mai spoke up as they walked through the quiet hall on the second floor. She had been thinking their equipment placement out logically so as to use it as sparingly as possible and she was quite proud of Lin's unspoken appreciation.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Monk slowed the cart that they had borrowed from the hotel to carry the cameras and microphones and waited while Mai went into the room, took the temperature, and returned with a sigh. Despite its vast size the building was pretty much all the same temperature, a nice 21.6 degrees Celsius.

Mai stepped out of the vacant room as a couple passed Monk and gave him curious glances from out of the corner of their eyes. Mai quirked a brow but did not comment on their nosiness before she turned back to Monk and they continued on.

"So what's going on between you and Naru?" Monk asked as they traveled down the hall at a leisurely pace, one of the wheels on the cart squeaked but the two ignored it as they moved, to content with their own task to be annoyed. It was nice sometimes to have a simple job and not have to worry about rushing, though Monk was certain their boss would not appreciate their laziness.

Mai sighed and sent the man an annoyed scowl before stepping into the next vacant room. Some of the rooms were occupied and so they were not permitted access, but the ones that were empty were left unlocked for the team to utilize. She glanced around the airy room, with its white walls and floral patterns, and let out a sigh when the thermometer read the same temperature as all the rooms before.

"If you really must know," Mai began with a sigh as she exited the room, "I've been thinking."

"That's dangerous," Monk muttered with a chortle and winced when Mai smacked him on the shoulder.

"Anyways," she declared loudly and continued in a much quiet tone, "You know that I told him . . . how I felt . . ." she trailed off.

Monk nodded curtly with a more serious expression.

"Well, you know how he asked me if it was him or Gene that I had feelings for?" she continued with a slight tinge of pink to her cheeks.

Monk scowled but responded with, "Yes."

"Well, he's not really a narcissist then, is he?" she finished finally with a smirk.

Monk came to a stop, the cart wheels screeching to a halt, and stared at Mai like she had just shared the location of the Holy Grail to him. He looked up in thought and let out a knowing chuckle, "You think it's all an act? Maybe the only reason he pretended to be a narcissist was because you dubbed him as such and was just playing along, you know, building this character to help hide his identity."

Mai shrugged and let out a sigh, "I don't know. I've just been so irritable since he came back, I think I just kind of forgot about the whole thing and now that he's back I was reminded, I'm just really bitter about it I guess." She fiddled with the top of the clipboard and started walking again, noting the squeak of the cart as Monk did the same, and let her eyes trail over to the windows they were passing. It was a beautiful day outside and she could see several families walking their dogs, playing Frisbee, and just casually meandering through the park. It wasn't too cold now that the sun was high in the sky.

"What time is it anyways?" she asked and glanced over at Bou-san curiously.

The Monk lifted his wrist to look at his watch, something she found funny that he had, and grinned. "It's 11:30, we should probably set up the microphone and then trade off with the others. Though all they'll really have to worry about is taking the temperature of each room." Bou-san shrugged and Mai nodded.

It took them a few short moments to set up said equipment before they hurried back to base. Monk had demanded that Mai push him while he sat on the cart about halfway back and she agreed with a laugh. It was rare for them to get the chance to goof off when they were working a case. As she pushed the Monk laden cart around the corner of the hall, the last stretch of hallway before they reached base, Mai pushed a bit harder and picked up her pace. When she was within thirty feet of their door she jumped onto the back of the cart with a laugh and they flew the rest of the distance to base. Mai slowed their ride to a stop at the door and held on to the handles until Monk had extracted himself from the cart.

"That was terrifying," Monk mumbled but his complaint fell on deaf ears as Mai threw their door open and strolled into the base with her hands behind her head and flopped onto the couch nearest the door. With her head buried in the cushions and her feet hanging over the arm of the couch she did not see Naru's parents sitting at the antique table by the window Masako had utilized that morning. "Good afternoon," Monk greeted them casually and sat on the couch across from Mai.

Mai lifted her head and blanched before sitting up properly on the couch, "Good afternoon!" she stumbled to greet them and laughed nervously.

"How are you two?" Luella asked cheerily while she typed away at a laptop in front of her.

"Good," they answered in unison.

Mai was just wondering why the Davis's were in base without Naru or Lin, now that she took a look around, but Luella seemed to realize what she was thinking and sent her a playful pout. "They left to grab lunch and left us to watch over the base," she sighed and glanced up at her husband who was sitting across from her, noting the way he was reading through Naru's notes on the case, and shook her head. The two got along so well but when it came to work they had differing opinions which often led to arguments.

"That jerk," Mai muttered and flopped back into the couch, her actions only causing Luella to smile, and rubbed her own empty stomach.


Mai sat up again and turned her eyes to Martin who was looking at her curiously, "Yes sir?" she stuttered, wondering what it was the man wanted, and wondered what it was about him that intimidated her so when he seemed to friendly.

"Noll had said that you are capable of astral projection and precognition, can you give an example of a case in which your abilities played a part?" he asked politely and turned in his chair to face her. His grey eyes were piercing.

Mai felt like a butterfly pinned up for display. "Umm," she stalled for time to think and shot a look at Bou-san helplessly.

"The Urado case is probably the best example," Monk drawled in thought and shrugged.

"Ah, you're right," Mai exclaimed in agreement and turned to face Martin while she scratched her head in thought. "We investigated the property of a man named Urado a long time ago, the house was built similar to the Winchester Mansion, and people were going missing. Eventually Masako went missing as well, the day we were going to leave actually, and I had previously had a dream that helped us find her. . ." she trailed off, recalling the strange house and its hundreds of hidden rooms and passages. "I had dreamt that two men came into our room, dragged me through the house, and into a tiled room where they strapped me to a table and then slit my throat. It was that room that we found Masako," she lifted a hand and dropped it to her lap as if to say 'there it is' and lifted her gaze back up to Martin.

"So you relived the memories of a previous victim?" Martin questioned and leaned forward with a hand over his mouth in thought.

"Essentially, that's how I help on cases besides doing the labor," she laughed lightly, "I get the background story, so to speak, and share the information I get with the rest of the team."

"And how do you know where you're going?" Martin sat back and crossed his arms, his foot tapping against the floor in excitement. It was obvious he was very interested in Mai and it made her feel more than a little bit uncomfortable as they drew closer and closer to a subject she'd rather not be the one to discuss with the father of the adopted twins.

"Instinct," Mai answered simply, a cold undertone to her response, Martin was prying too far and she would not be the one to tell him his late son had been the one teaching her. It was a sore subject after that morning's event and she was glad when, just as Martin opened his mouth to ask another question despite the warning looks Luella was giving him, the door opened and Naru and Lin reentered the base ignorant of the discussion they had just interrupted.

They had brought up several plates of food from the restaurant downstairs, stacked on two trays, and they set them down on the table between Martin and Luella.

Mai let out a relieved sigh and glanced over at Monk to see him shooting a suspicious look at Martin. He crossed his arms and stood before moving over to one of the windows, staring out into the park.

Naru watched the Monk's movements out of the corner of his eye before turning to take in the irritated frown that marred his mother's face, and the lack of any discomfort whatsoever on his father's. He pulled the stacked plates off of the tray and pulled the covers off of each of them before setting two in front his parents and bringing two over to the couch across from Mai. He set them both on the table and slid one across to her.

Mai blushed and pulled the plate onto her lap while mumbling an embarrassed 'thank you'.

"I'm not serving you yours, Bou-san," Lin muttered as he took his own plate back to his desk.

Monk scowled at Lin good naturedly before grabbing his own plate of food from the table and joining Mai on the couch. "We should steal that cart when we leave," Monk said to Mai as he dug into his plate of pasta happily.

"We're not stealing it," Mai admonished and picked at her plate. Though she would admit it had made things easier while they were setting up equipment. She wondered if they could convince Naru to let them purchase one when they returned to Japan. "You just want to ride on it some more," she added as an afterthought and laughed when the monk grinned into his plate.

"It's great for long distances," he defended playfully, "Some of the places we investigate are really big."

"Uh-huh," Mai drawled sarcastically.

"It would be great if my employees could display some professionalism for a change," Naru cut through their banter and the two fell into a guilty silence.

Then Monk snorted, "You should have hired actual adults then."

Mai smiled into her own plate then and could not bring herself to meet Naru's eyes. It was kind of true, and a bit ironic, that all of Naru's employees were so rambunctious and energetic while he was not. They couldn't be professional unless the situation really called for it, otherwise, that was what Naru was for. He kept them in line.

"Lin's the professional one," Monk added and gestured towards the man at his desk with his fork.

Lin did not deem that statement worthy of a response and continued scrolling through notes on his laptop as he ate. It was questionable if he was really professional anyways. In fact, the man never even really interacted with their clients so in reality if more that he had just never displayed unprofessionalism.

Naru sighed but made no further comment.

From the table by the window Luella laughed into her hand at her son's expense. Though the case itself was a somber one, as they all were, she could not help but enjoy the mood that his team brought to it and found herself wishing she had been able to take part in all of their previous cases just to witness it herself. She had sensed a change in him since he had gone to Japan, despite the loss of his brother, he seemed more open minded towards others. She met her husband's eyes over to top of her laptop and noticed that he was smiling but there was a curious and determined look in his eye that she knew all too well and that it pertained to the small brunette sitting on the couch across from Noll. She rolled her eyes and stood from the table, bringing her plate with, and moved to join Naru on the couch.

"So, Mai, what do you do for fun?" Luella asked after she had made herself comfortable and smoothed out the long beige skirt she had worn that day.

Mai lifted a finger to her chin in thought. What did she do for fun? Had she been asked that question two years ago she would have said telling ghost stories or day dreaming. After she had met Naru her life had been consumed by paranormal investigating and pining after the man who had hired her. She had made herself a new life and found a family and she had enjoyed it all so much that she never really considered finding herself a hobby. And after Naru had left she had been working two jobs and going to school so she had never had the time to actually rest and enjoy any activity. It had really never occurred to her how much life kept her on her toes until just then and the thought was really quite eye opening. She wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing. She supposed it was good that she enjoyed life to its fullest and was content with her job but did that mean she was lacking in something because she had never really found herself a hobby or passion other than working for SPR? Most girls her age already had an idea of what they wanted to do when they graduated. She knew several artists, musicians, and soon to be doctors from school and yet she had simply been existing. But then, she could never really see herself doing anything other than what she was doing now. She had only been existing for as long as she could remember and it hadn't been until that day, when she accidentally stumbled into her first true ghost hunt, that she found herself desperate to learn and participate in something.

Mai looked down to meet Luella's eyes, realizing she had been spacing out for quite some time because the woman was looking at her with a perplexed expression. Mai laughed embarrassed for loosing focus and scratched her cheek, "I suppose what I really enjoy is spending time with my family."

Monk paused in his eating a leveled a sad smile at Mai though the girl did not notice.

Naru continued to eat his meal in silence.

"Oh, how sweet," Luella said. "Do you have any siblings?"

"You could say that," Mai responded with another laugh. "We fight often enough," she added and took a thoughtful bite from her plate. She supposed that John, Masako, and Yasuhara were her siblings while Monk and Ayako were her parents.

"What does your mother do?" Luella asked while she cut up a small piece of chicken on her plate and listened.

"She was a published writer but she had a part time job as a florist," Mai answered dutifully. "Sadly she passed away a few years ago," she continued kindly, weary of the subject knowing that some people felt a little awkward when she brought it up. It usually tended to garner pity from others and she was not one to easily accept such an emotion directed at her. She had come so far in life on her own that it often annoyed her more than anything. Though she would never make it outwardly known for fear of insulting whoever it was she was speaking with.

"I'm sorry to hear that, she must have been a lovely woman," Luella answered just as kindly and with passion.

Mai paused and looked up at the woman sitting across the table in surprise before smiling, "She was, she spoiled me rotten."

Luella laughed, "I have no doubt she did. You must have been so adorable when you were little."

Mai grinned cheekily and hummed in agreement, "I was always getting into trouble. I can't count how many times I came home dirty and scraped up from some kind of mess. She was at her wits end with me sometimes. She always panicked and flapped around like a bird." Mai waved her hands about like wings and laughed with Luella. "Dad always laughed it off and said I had earned some battle scars and that there was no point in lecturing me because I would just come home with more tomorrow," she added and turned her gaze out towards the window, reminiscing.

"You're father?" Luella questioned.

"Oh, he passed as well," Mai answered quietly. "He was in construction and there was an accident. He managed to save a coworker before the equipment fell though. I still check in with him every now and then. His wife was pregnant at the time so it's nice to know that she still has her husband."

Monk had set his plate down, his appetite lost, and glanced at Naru from beneath his bangs. He had already finished his meal and had leaned back in his spot on the couch and was staring out the window, a hand to his chin in thought.

"After that I lived on my own for a while and then I became a part of SPR, they're my family," Mai explained with a smile. "I don't really dwell on it, I'm normally too busy, and I really enjoy the job." She shrugged and set her empty plate down with a contented sigh, glad that her aching stomach was full, and thought over their conversation.

Luella stared at Mai in shock before turning to look a Noll with a knowing smile but her son would not meet her eyes. "The last year really must have been hard for you, the ladies weren't joking," she observed sincerely.

Mai blushed, "I learned a lot about myself in the past year and I do not regret the time spent away from this job because of that."

"Well that's good," Luella said.

John, Masako, and Ayako returned soon after and it was Monk and Mai's turn to wander the property. They explored the house and discovered that there were many sitting rooms dedicated towards nothing but sitting. Servant halls ran throughout the structure abound and they spent a while, playing for lack of a better term, in those under the pretense that they were investigating if anyone stopped to ask. They even went outside and walked around for a bit, glad to see that there were still several people who came to the park despite the dark tales that surrounded it.

Mai took a moment, out amongst the trees of the park, to the let the cool sea breeze blow through her hair and the sun warm her back. She could hear the sea gulls far above, circling through the sparsely clouded sky but she could also here several other birds in the tree of the park. She wondered what ti would be like to just appear among the foliage and never return and whether or not Prudence had wished for the same thing.

She trailed a hand across the bark of a tree while Monk faced towards the ocean with is hands on his hips and smiled.

She imagined this must have been where the woman escaped to when things got to rough. Did this tree ever console her? Supported her until the tears finally came to a stop and the rays of the sun licked them from her face? How many good memories did this forest hold, clutched beneath their branches, in the hopes that one day someone could experience them again?

The laughter of children could be heard in the distance and she smiled.

And before night fell Mai claimed she wanted to go for a swim in the indoor pool.

Monk had shrugged and said she could go on ahead and he would probably see if Ayako wanted to go after they had finished up with the rest of the rooms.

Mai had hurried back to the girl's room, pulled on a bathing suit, and traipsed back down the halls to the indoor pool. The room was large and made up of floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the tampa bay. There was only two other people there and for that she was glad. She wanted a bit of peace after all the tense and awkward situations she had had to endure since arriving.

Naru stepped into his personal room and closed the door behind him. When he was certain that he was alone he moved deeper into the dark room, thick curtains pulled shut over the windows, and lifted his eyes to the mirror hanging from the wall to his left. In it he could see his four poster bed and the nightstand next to it. And himself.

"Gene," he stated.

The man reflected in the mirror cocked his head curiously, "What's up?"

Naru lifted a hand to his face and let out a sigh before sitting in the plush chair to his right. The reflection of Gene seemed to lean forward in curious worry and followed his brother's every movement with his eyes.

"Why aren't you guiding Mai?" he demanded quietly.

"Mai?" Gene questioned and lifted a hand to his chin in thought. His brows scrunched together in thought. "Who's Mai?"

Naru lifted his eyes to meet his brothers in stunned surprise. He did not know how to respond. And suddenly he found his mind racing a hundred miles a minute as he leaned back in the chair and clutched the ends of the armrests. "My assistant, the girl that you were guiding as she slept, on the astral plain. You helped us to solve cases through her."

Gene's eyes took on a panicked and apologetic look and he turned his face away. "I don't remember . . ." he trailed off. "I thought I was asleep all this time . . ."

Naru narrowed his eyes but rather than waste time trying to jog his brother's memories he adopted a thinking pose instead, and wondered what could have changed. "She said that after we returned to England you stopped visiting her and the only thing to change in that time was my presence," he said stiffly.

Gene hummed in thought and took on his own thinking pose, arms crossed and head down, before perking up, "Not so, that's when we first spoke through the mirror."

"Hmm," Naru tapped a finger against the armrest. "Without me there she must have slipped into a different wavelength . . ."

"Alright Mr. Ego," Gene shot back with a chuckle.

Naru scowled, "It's not because of my ego that I say that. She only started seeing you after she met me, which means she had adjusted herself to our wavelength." He pushed himself out of the chair and stood with arms crossed. "We've been gone for a year now, so she must have shifted . . ." he trailed off then looked to his brother curiously, "Can you sense her? Besides Masako she is the only one on my team that is as strongly spiritually sensitive."

Gene straightened and turned his eyes away with his head cocked. There were a few moments of silence before he grinned and turned bright and mischievous eyes onto his brother. "I can, and she's in the pool," he chuckled at the dark look that overcame Naru's face.

"Gene," he said and there was a warning in his tone.

"Alright, alright," Gene whined and lifted his hands in surrender. "I can sense her, but just barely, if you can get her to adjust again I should be able to reconnect and maybe get my memories back. She's got the makings of a good medium in her."

Naru scowled again and nodded curtly but his mind wandered to thoughts of what could have caused the girl to shift wavelengths. It was not something so easily done and required concentration that she would not have thought to use unless the situation called for it. She must have been doing her own paranormal investigating while he was away and the thought both made him slightly proud and a little annoyed. She was danger prone and the idea that she had gone off on her own without his or his brother's aid was frightening.

Chapter Text

Mai sighed. Floating in the pool water with her eyes closed. She could not recall the last time she had gone swimming. It had been far too long if what she thought was true, but it had been before she had joined SPR. It had been somebody's birthday and they had gone to the beach to celebrate. She remembered that she had dropped a melted ice cream onto her bathing suit and had to soak it off in the ocean while someone cracked jokes about it the entire time.

She wiggled her toes and wondered when Monk and Ayako would arrive. It had to be five o'clock at least which left them two hours before nightfall. She could probably get Masako to go swimming with her. Or at least sit in the hot tub. Did Masako even own a bathing suit though? It was a good question and she made a note to ask.

She twisted in the water and opened her eyes and swam for the edge of the pool. She rested her arms on the ledge and dropped her chin on top of them. The pool room was really large, as it should have been, but the high windows let in so much light that danced across the water and sent shimmering reflections dancing across the walls and ceiling and made it seem so much bigger. The walls were dark wood, as the majority of the house was, but the floor was a light blue tile, cracked from age in some places, and colored glass lanterns hung from the ceiling. Live plants spilled over from their pots and wall sconces and hid the hot tub from view. It was nestled into an alcove and surrounded by gossamer drapes of pale ivory. All the furniture was wrought iron and wood.

It had such a magical feel to it . . .


She opened her eyes which had fallen shut and took in the pair of black dress shoes in front of her nose in confusion before lifting her eyes to meet the cold blue of her employer.

"Naru!" she exclaimed and immediately blushed. She was in a bathing suit!

Naru quirked a brow.

"What is it?" Mai grumbled, knowing he was thinking something rude about her intelligence, and sank deeper into the water. She grasped the edge with her fingers and lowered her mouth below the surface, hoping to hide her blush.

"Why are you alone?" he questioned.

Mai glanced around the pool room and realized that it was indeed true, even the couple from earlier had left. She shrugged. "Monk said he was going to find Ayako but that was over an hour ago," she said through the water and watched as Naru sighed and crouched down at the pool edge in front of her.

"Listen to me, Mai, I don't want you to go anywhere alone. You are highly prone to accidents as it is let alone while we are on a dangerous case," he muttered darkly.

Mai scowled and opened her mouth to make a retort but Naru silenced her with a simple look.

"That's not why I came looking for you," he continued. "I need you to do something for me," he stated calmly.

"What?" Mai asked wearily and once again lowered her face into the water. Naru was acting suspicious and any time he acted suspicious towards her it normally meant he had some kind of plan but did not deem her worthy of sharing.

"Stay still and look into my eyes," he said and she didn't even have time to object before his hands were on either side of her face and his eyes were drilling holes into her own.

Her heart pounded in her ears and her face turned as red as a tomato, she was acutely aware of how alone they were and what it would look like if someone were to suddenly walk in on them. But his eyes were so calm, with a determined glint in them, that she found herself being drawn into them.

Neither was aware of the ghostly figure of Gene as he stood behind his brother, mixed thoughts churning in his mind, before he smirked knowingly and moved forwards through the corporeal form of his brother, and crouched in front of Mai. He leaned forward and planted a kiss upon her forehead before leaning back and flicking her in the same spot.

Mai jolted out of the trance and lifted a hand to her forehead before tears fell from her eyes and she grunted.

Naru leaned back on his haunches, certain that it had worked, before standing. "Are you done here?" he asked casually.

Mai jumped, startled into reality, and nodded. "Yes," she answered in a strangely relieved tone and climbed up out of the pool. She hurried over to claim the towel she had brought with her and wrapped it around herself, making sure to cover her shoulders, before hurrying back over to Naru.

Naru slid a hand into his pocket while he waited and nodded when she had returned to his side. The two left the pool, Mai walking slightly behind him and to his left. She wondered what it was that had just transpired between the two of them but she somehow felt whole again. She could not explain it but it was as if someone had been missing from their group the entire time since Naru had returned and that person had just slid back into place. She felt shaky but relieved and it was only after they had left the pool and climbed up the stairs, about to turn down the main hall that would take them to base, when she paused.

Naru continued on for a handful of steps before turning back to her curiously.

"That was Gene," she mumbled while staring wide eyed at Naru.

Mai had assumed that when they had pulled Gene's body out of the lake that day and he had spoken with her one last time in the woods that he had moved on. Naru had taken Gene's body home, closed the office, and that chapter of her life had ended. She had realized, and even accepted it, when she had helped Ayako with a case a few months later and was not visited by him in her dreams and she had had to stumble around the astral plain on her own and piece together what she could. She had been depressed for a while after that and Ayako had noticed but had not commented, assuming that it was just the lack of Naru that was getting her down.

It was as if she had finally gotten everyone back and another tear slid down her cheek.

Naru had given her Gene back and she suddenly had everyone back in her life.

She gazed up at the man who had walked into her life a little over two years ago and found there to be a small, if not sad, smile gracing his lips and she reached out for him without thought. She wrapped her arms around him, heedless of her wet bathing suit, and cried.

Naru stared wide eyed at the wall over the top of Mai's head, for once in his life unsure of how to react in a situation. He clenched and unclenched his hands, not sure if he should return the embrace or not, unsure if it was towards him her emotions were directed at or if she was just glad to have Gene's presence back in her life. She had never answered him that day so long ago in the forest, given that he did not leave her with enough time to, but found himself suddenly wishing he had. Regardless of all that it was he that she had latched onto in the heat of the moment and so he finally decided on lifting a hand and placing it on the back of her head.

He let out a sigh and that was how Lin found them, striding down the hall no doubt in search of Naru himself, and came to an abrupt halt.

Naru turned his eyes onto the man, a curious collection of emotions so rarely seen on his face flickering by before he reclaimed his usual stoic expression, and allowed his hand to fall. He pushed Mai away, as gently as he was able, and rested a hand on her shoulder. The presence of Lin did not distract him as he looked into her face, satisfied that she would be alright judging by the smile that tugged at her lips even as she was wiping away her tears, before gently leading her towards Lin.

"Tonight we'll have dinner in base before we send out the first team to investigate," Naru said as he led Mai along passed his assistant.

Lin only nodded and followed behind the two, noting the wet stains that had spread on Naru's shirt with a smirk, and let out a sigh.

Mai said nothing on the subject of what they had just shared as they returned to the base and if she were to be honest with herself she was utterly mortified that Lin had seen. But she figured that if anyone had seen them then Lin was the best person as he was not the kind to gossip. The thought of a gossiping Lin was enough to lift the embarrassment and she giggled.

The base was filled with every member of SPR when they returned. Yasuhara and Madoka were in the process of organizing the information they had gathered, transferring written notes onto Yasuhara's laptop, and someone had taken the time to make tea for everyone. Mai's eyes scanned the room and she noticed that Luella was seated with John, Ayako, and Masako on the couches chatting. Monk was passed out in a comfortable looking armchair and Mai scowled at the sleeping man. He had fallen asleep and left her to Naru's plotting.

Martin stood at one of the windows with his hands clasped behind his back deep in thought. When Lin shut the door behind them he turned to look and lifted a brow, "I was wondering where you had disappeared to without Lin . . ."

"I went to retrieve Mai," Naru answered coolly without pause and breezed into the room. "We'll order room service and eat dinner here, after which I want Monk and Masako to patrol until midnight, you'll return and then Ayako and John will patrol until six. Do not leave each other's sight in any circumstance." Naru instructed as he reclaimed his seat at the table he had held interview yesterday and pulled his black notebook in front of him before scribbling some notes down.

"Great," Ayako muttered and crossed her arms. The thought of a sleepless night weighed heavy on her shoulders and she looked over at John who only smiled kindly and shrugged. He was too compliant for his own good.

"I thought so," Naru answered curtly and snapped his notebook shut.

"Alright, room service," Yasuhara spoke up from Lin's table. "Let's order one of everything and see how much of a bill we can rack up."

"Yasu," Mai admonished.

No one commented on her state of dress, even Yasuhara seemed to be purposefully avoiding eye contact with her, and Mai took the chance to slip into the girl's room and change into a clean t-shirt and jeans before padding back out in her bare feet. She sat between John and Ayako while she worked a brush through her wet hair.

"Did you go swimming?" Ayako asked curiously.

"Yes," she answered with a laugh, "Monk was supposed to come get you to join us but I guess he didn't quite make it."

Ayako rolled her eyes and snorted but turned back to her curiously, "How is the hot tub?"

"I didn't go in it," she admitted, "But it looked nice. Maybe we can go tomorrow," she whispered the last part conspiringly and glanced over at Naru who was caught in a conversation with his father.

"So Naru came to get you?" Ayako whispered back.

Mai blushed but nodded, choosing not to tell her of the things that transpired, and set her brush down before tying her hair up in a bun. "He lectured me about being alone and then dragged me back, we met Lin in the hall," she continued with a shrug.

Ayako snorted and sent a glare in the man's direction.

It was Madoka who took control and wrote down everyone's orders that night. She flitted about the room with a pad of paper and a hello kitty pen borrowed from Mai before retreating to the only phone in the room to place their orders. They all shared light conversations while they waited but it was Naru who brought them back on track.

"I want to get an opinion from everyone after today's investigations," his voice wrung out across the room and Lin obediently opened another word document to continue his notes. He sat with fingers posed while everyone thought over the events of the day.

"Well," Yasuhara began, "Since Madoka and I spent the day digging up everything we could find I guess we should go first." He stood and cleared his throat while he shuffled through his hand written notes. "The couple that lived in this home were quite extravagant. They wasted no expenses and were quite successful socialites. William, the husband, dealt with exotic trade and often traveled abroad while Prudence stayed home, his wife was into fashion."

Mai hunched her shoulders and dropped her eyes to her hands, fiddling with the hairbrush in her lap, while the other listened closely, but the memories of that mornings events sprung into her mind. Though she could not recall Prudence's memories with as much clarity the horrors that she had suffered still rang clear in her mind. She calmed herself with the thought of the park and its gentle aura that inspired families to play beneath its trees.

"While on the surface they seemed like good enough people we found some things quite suspicious about William's trade," he paused while his glasses flashed in the low lighting the antique lamps provided, "It was rather obvious that he was smuggling drugs, we suspect opium but we could be wrong."

"Drug trafficking?" John stated in disbelief.

"Yes, and he had several people brought into the states as well," Madoka added. She had taken a seat next to Lin after placing their orders. She was still fiddling with Mai's pen.

"During their residency on this property several people were reported missing, though they were admittedly caught within the shadier businesses of town, so we can assume that they may have stepped on a few toes," Yasuhara continued. "The last recorded incident before he murdered his wife states that he brought a noblewoman from Japan overseas and had integrated her within the household. Records state that she been caught within an arranged marriage and that the two had plotted her escape together. Kikio, as she was named, went missing after that."

"They were in love," Masako stated quietly.

The others fell silent.

"So he killed his wife to get her out of the way?" Monk questioned from his chair. He had been woken up by Madoka earlier so that he could order food and had remained silent ever since.

"Presumably," Yasuhara agreed with a curt nod.

The others mulled over the situation while Mai chewed at her lip in thought. "That doesn't seem right," she voiced hesitantly, unsure of her exact reasoning and knowing that if she were to say it as a statement Naru would question her.

He lifted his eyes to hers anyways, and intense gleam evident, and turned to Yasuhara, "Is that all the information you found?"

Yasuhara nodded again and set his notes down on the table carefully.

"Then we will remain unbiased until further notice. For now we know that he killed his wife but we do not know what caused if or where this Kikio fits into the story," Naru stated.

Next to him Martin turned his eyes onto Mai, who had fallen into deep though, before glancing back at his son who had studiously returned to writing notes in his notebook. It seemed Noll was intentionally ignoring him and the only reason the man could come up with was that he was hiding something from him and Mai played an important part of that. In fact, he was certain she knew what it was, because Noll trusted her whole heartedly if her uncertain statement was enough to sway his opinion.

Their food arrived shortly after and while everyone ate they shared theories and opinions, bouncing ideas back and forth, but always looking to Mai for approval.

They had fallen into a lull of such when a piercing scream pierced the quiet calm of the hotel and in seconds everyone was on their feet.

The scream had come from Grace, the first maid Mai had interviewed, who had been pushing her cart of cleaning supplies along, passing the main stairwell, when she spotted the figure of someone lying at the foot of the stairs. At first she had thought it may have been one of their guests stumbling upstairs after an evening of partying but upon closer inspection she noticed that his leg was at a wrong angle and a pool of blood had formed under his head where it laid against the banister.

When SPR arrived on the seen Lin had immediately grabbed the woman by her arm and instructed her to call for an ambulance. Grace had nodded curtly, pale faced and tight lipped, but did as instructed without hesitation.

Ayako had rushed forward and demanded that the man not be moved while she pushed through the crowd of employees and guests that had gathered.

While everyone rushed down to help the man Mai and Masako had remained at the top of the stairs so as not to be in the way but also because they felt and overwhelming sense of dread welling up from the bottom of their feet to the top of the heads. They shared a knowing look. Whatever it was that was haunting the building had finally taken notice of their presence and was acting out. Far more violently than they would have thought too.

Naru stood ahead of them on the stairs, one hand resting on the banister as he watched the events below him, before turning to look back at the two woman. He noted their reaction before his grip on the banister tightened.

Things had gotten dangerous.

Once the man had been taken away in an ambulance and the crowd slowly dispersed, whispering amongst each other, SPR returned to their base of operations in solemn silence. Luella wore a very grim and worried expression as they gathered back in the room.

Naru ordered Masako and Monk to begin their patrol and everyone to rest while they could. He joined Lin at the monitors after that and the searched for the footage that the camera would have recorded. Luella, Martin, and Madoka left for their own hotel, while Ayako, John, and Yasuhara retreated to their rooms.

Mai stood behind Naru and Lin, a hand on the back of each of their chairs, as the monitors displayed the footage from the main foyer. Lin stopped rewinding not twenty minutes before they had heard the scream and narrowed his eye at the grainy display while Naru lifted his hand to his mouth.

All seemed normal for a Wednesday night, there weren't to many guests about, but they did spot the man as he climbed the stairs. He did not seem to be intoxicated, at least not to the scale that they could see, but he was looking at his phone as he strolled up the steps. Suddenly he looked up, staring at something at the top of the stairs.

"Can I help you?" his voice crackled over the video.

There was no answer. The man was suddenly pushed back and he tumbled down the steps, flailing and crying out as he went, but fell silent when his head smack against a marble step. This was quickly followed by the snapping of his leg before he came to an ungraceful heap at the bottom of the steps.

Mai covered her mouth with her hands and stared in horror at the screen as events continued on.

"We've angered it," Lin stated darkly.

"The patterns have changed," Naru muttered into his hand. "Whatever it is is attacking men as well now," he sat back in his seat and crossed his arms. "This makes things difficult," he added with a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

They fell silent and it wasn't until Mai placed her hand on Naru's shoulder that he opened his eyes and cocked his head in her direction to look at her.

"Naru," she mumbled through her fear, realization written across her face, "He saw it."

Naru's eyes widened and he turned back to the screen, "Lin!" he barked and the man was already rewinding the footage again. They watched as the man paused on the steps, cocked his head, and in a friendly tone asked if he could help.

"Whatever he saw did not frighten him," Naru observed and stood, bracing his hands on the table while he examined the paused image critically. "I can't see anything on the footage though," he growled. "There isn't even any interference, it's perfect clarity and yet there's nothing."

"But he saw it," Mai reminded, "And he'll remember when he wakes up."

Naru straightened and looked down at the frightened woman, he sighed through his nose and closed his eyes, "If he wakes up, Mai."

Mai's eyes widened again and she crossed her arms in front of her and gripped her elbows as if to steady herself.

"Lin," Naru looked over at the man, "I want charms made for everybody. Before Ayako leaves help her to make some up for our team and tomorrow we'll work on making enough for the staff and guests."

Lin nodded curtly and stood.

"Mai," Naru called and when he had garnered her attention he asked gently "Will you wake Ayako?"

Mai nodded and turned on the spot, hurrying into their room, and gently shook the woman awake from her light slumber. Ayako threw a fit at being woken when she had just fallen asleep but after hearing Mai's explanation she sighed and shuffled back out into the base in her sweatpants and tank top.

Mai watched the woman go before turning to her own bed and pulling the comforter from it and followed. She was not sleeping in that room alone. She wrapped the comforter around her before collapsing on one of the couches. She settled into the warmth and turned her attention to the two older members of their team as they sat at a table together with stacks of paper and ink between them. They muttered quietly to each other as they worked and the quiet shuffling of paper and voices lulled her into a trance. Naru sat in front of the bank of monitors with his arms crossed, his eyes straining for any activity while the others worked.

Mai sighed and rolled over onto her side, facing the back of the couch, and closed her eyes.


Mai opened her eyes upon hearing her name and found herself once more on the astral plain. A moment of panic cut through her chest but she immediately calmed and turned, for she had heard a familiar voice, and she had to admit that in all the drama of the past hour she had forgotten the most important thing.

"Gene!" she exclaimed with a smile bright enough to light the whole astral plain on its own.

Gene smiled back in return and opened his arms for the hug he knew was coming. Mai latched onto him joyfully and she laughed. "I'm so glad to see you, where have you been?" she rambled and was glad to hear her laughter returned.

"Apparently you slipped out of my wave length when Naru left," Gene explained kindly and ruffled her hair before taking a step back. "We only figured it out today when you dreamt without me."

"We?" Mai questioned curiously.

"Naru and I," he clarified and smirked at the perplexed expression on her face. "It's the mirrors, I can communicate with him through the mirrors," he continued.

"That's great!" Mai exclaimed. She could only imagine how relieved Naru was to be able to contact his late brother, especially after the months she had had to get to know him while Naru frantically searched for his body thinking he would have already passed on. She could only imagine how horrible it was to lose a sibling, let alone a twin, but to have finally regained contact with the one person who always had his back must have been so relieving. Even if he didn't want to admit it.

Gene nodded and took her hand, pulling her through the plain as they talked, and continued. "Now that that's out of the way. I've been doing some digging of my own and I found something that I think might help you." He came to a stop and Mai looked ahead of them, watching as the scenery rushed by until a well-lit room blurred into existence.

Mai and Gene stood at the top of the main staircase looking down at what most have been a party from the past. Men and woman were talking and laughing, all in grand and sparkling dresses and sharp suites, but Mai was no longer Mai and she knew that Gene was no longer Gene.

Mai was Prudence once more and she only realized this when Gene turned to her with a dark look on his face, "I'm sorry Prudence, I never thought he would sink this low." He lifted her hand in his and rubbed the back of hers with his thumb.

But Mai was looking out across the room where, in an alcove just between the ballroom and the main entrance, William stood with the exotic beauty he had brought back with him from Japan. She was dressed in an ornate and extravagant kimono and her hair was done up with pins, though stray locks fell to frame her face, while she held his hands and stared into his face lovingly.

Something within Mai snapped and a despicable heat welled up within her chest. It clenched at her heart and ran through her arms down to the tips of her fingers like the strongest of spirits. She watched as William whispered sweet nothings into her ear before Prudence turned away and looked up at Gene wearing a cheerful expression.

"Let him have his fun, I'm sure he's tired of being cooped up with me all these years," her eyes fell to the floor momentarily and she ran a hand across her stomach in despair.

"You should have married me when you had the chance Prudence. I was never interested in starting a family," he muttered sadly and the woman could only nod in agreement as tears slid down her face. It was all her fault. She had been broken long before they got married and she should have told William from the beginning. She had known after the years of prostitution that pregnancy would never come to her.

Gene wrapped an arm around her shoulder comfortingly and whispered into her ear, "He'll get what's coming to him, you'll see . . ." he trailed off and before Prudence could respond he added. "After all, it's in the blood. His father certainly got what was coming to him as well." He took on a darkly whimsical expression as he looked down at the two lovers, hidden away from all the prying eyes but theirs, and the expression was oddly terrifying but exhilarating on his features.

"Alexander!" Prudence gasped and shot him an appalled look despite the slight blush on her cheeks.

"I'm not going to kill him," Alexander said. "I'm just saying, the man doesn't know what's right from wrong and sooner or later it's going to come back and bite him in the ass." His deadly expression morphed in a grimace as he girt his teeth in anger.

Prudence dropped her eyes to the hidden pair once more before turning away with a shaky breath, "I'm retiring for the night, Alex, good night." She hurried down the halls, fighting the tears the defiantly fell, and wished she had never been born.

Mai woke with a start. All but one of the lights in the base had been turned off and she could just barely make out the figure of John leaning over her, but his blond hair reflected the light and she let out a relieved breath.

"Sorry," John whispered, "I didn't mean to wake you but you were crying."

Mai blinked at him blearily before wiping at her face and found that she had indeed been crying. "It's alright, I think the dream was over anyways," she mumbled and sat up. "What time is is?" she wondered aloud.

"Just after midnight, Ayako and I are about to go out on patrol," John answered quietly.

"Stay safe," she mumbled and John nodded with a smile before moving out of her line of sight. She glanced about and found Lin and Naru both sitting in front of the monitors and found Ayako just as she was leaving the room behind John.

Mai pushed herself out of the blanket and off of the couch before shuffling over to the portable stove top to make herself a cup of tea. She noted that someone must have gotten more as she had completely forgotten to find more earlier. She was glad to find a packet of green tea and set about boiling some water for herself and hoped that the hot beverage, lacking in caffeine, would help to soothe her. The dream that had given her another sliver of Prudence's life. It had not been as impressionable as her last one had been, whereas she had fully experienced the memories she recalled while riding along her stream of consciousness, Gene had acted as a buffer and allowed her only to experience what the woman was feeling in that specific moment. It was an interesting concept and while she would have been able to chase the thought round and round during the day the exhaustion she felt in mind and body caused her to drop the idea until later. While she steeped her tea and added a bit of sugar she lifted her eyes to the window and sighed.

The moon was big and yellow and hung over the water of the bay heavily. She could make out a few stars but the lights of both St. Petersburg and, just across the bay, Tampa city were far too powerful to allow for the human eye to really enjoy the view. She dropped her eyes to the park grounds below and lifted the cup of tea to her nose while she took in the dark wood at night. She had heard that several deer roamed the grounds and they often came out into the fields at night to graze.

eh? She leaned forward, nearly pressing her nose to the glass, to recapture the image she had seen in passing. And froze. There! She mentally exclaimed excitedly. Surely it had to be some kind of bird, it had looked so graceful, and she had seen some of the herons on their drive over from the airport and those birds had stood nearly five feet tall with their long graceful necks. And their feathers had been luminously white and flowing.

But it was not a bird her eyes landed on. No, what she found wondering through the trees was a lady in white and the realization caused her to drop the cup of tea and lunge forward, throwing the window open, and lean out over the two story drop to get a better look.

Is it her? She wondered. Was Prudence the one wandering the grounds? She felt no malice from the figure as it disappeared among the trees and Mai wondered if the woman was acting as a guardian over the property. Was she patrolling the grounds at night just as John and Ayako were at that very moment?

The sound of her tea cup shattering against the ground and Mai throwing the window open must have grabbed Lin and Naru's attention because the two were at her side in a moment. No words were spoken as they looked to wear Mai's gaze was directed just in time to see the last few inches of that beautiful white gown disappear behind a large tree just at the edge of the clearing.

Mai let out a shaky breath she had not knowingly held and leaned back into the window, her hands clenching the windowsill for all they were worth. "Somethings just not right here," she muttered and sat at the cushioned bench just in front of the window, simultaneously turning to face the two men. "It doesn't make sense to me and I can't figure out why," she continued thoughtlessly and looked back out the window over her shoulder.

"What's not making sense Mai?" Naru asked, though his eyes never left the spot where he had last seen the slip of white fabric.

"Prudence doesn't make sense," she muttered and lifted a hand to her mouth in thought. "The story doesn't make sense. Why would she have married him if she knew what kind of a man he was? He wasn't the only person who loved her, Alexander did, and I'm sure he had just as much money so it couldn't be for that. Why did she stay?" Mai trailed off in thought and bit her lip.

Naru dropped his eyes to her, taking in the profile of her face thoughtfully, before leaning away from the window and straightening his stance. "Did you dream this?" He asked quietly and crossed his arms, lifting a curled finger to his mouth in thought, before glancing over to see what Lin thought of the whole situation.

"Yeah," Mai mumbled a response.

Naru fell silent for a moment before asking, "Was Gene with you?" Lin's head whipped towards Naru but he ignored his assistant's reaction and watched as Mai blinked, coming out of her thoughts, and looked up at him.

"Yes, he was," she answered quietly, "Why hasn't he moved on Naru?" Her eyes took on a questioning light and Naru let out a sigh before crossing his arms.

"He doesn't know why, only that he can't, something is keeping him here," he explained, frustrated, and dropped his eyes to Mai. He looked at her as if she were the answer to everything if only he could figure it out and that implication both angered and saddened her. There was a strained moment of silence between the three paranormal investigators before Naru dropped his arms and spoke. "Why don't you get some rest, Mai," he muttered, but before she could get angry with him he lifted a placating hand and added, "Some normal rest."

Mai let out the breath of air she had taken in purely for the sake of arguing and stood. She heard the crunching of the broken porcelain cup beneath her feet and winced. She would have probably cut herself in the time it took her to realize she was standing over the broken cup had it not been for the sound. She lifted her foot with a sigh and crouched down to gather the pieces into her hands. Naru leaned over and pulled the small trashcan, placed just at the end of a table near the window, over so that Mai could dispose of the shards while Lin moved to find a towel to clean up the tea.

Once the mess had been cleaned up Mai gathered her comforter from the couch and sidled into the girl's room where she could just make out the figure of Masako already asleep beneath the covers of her own bed. She threw herself onto her own bed, the middle of the three, and rolled over to stare out the window, the moon still visible, and let out a sigh. Something about this case just felt horribly wrong to her. It made her feel nauseous and shaky to think about Prudence and the horrors she had suffered. And it felt somehow unfair that this was the first case they got upon finally reuniting as a team.

She closed her eyes and rolled away from the window, pulling the comforter over her head, and wished for the first time in a long while that she could speak with her mother. Or even her father.

After Mai had woken up and showered that morning she had shuffled out into the base wearing a pair of black leggings and a large green sweater that fell to her thighs. She had slipped on her favorite pair of brown boots to give herself a little boost of confidence that she felt she needed for the day. So much had happened last night that she was a little weary of getting out of bed that day but the clear blue sky beckoned her and so she found herself standing her doorway taking in the scene before her.

Someone had bought coffee and doughnuts it would seem as one of the tables was filled with them, and everyone was scattered about the room talking and nibbling on their treats, though John and Ayako had yet to join them. Mai brushed her fingers through her hair as she moved over towards the table and looked over the selection curiously.

"Luella brought them," Monk said in way of explanation as he too scanned their options. There were three boxes of said doughnuts and most of the really good ones had already been picked through, but there were still a few chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla iced doughnuts.

"She's so nice," Mai said with a smile and reached for a chocolate doughnut while Monk scooped the last strawberry.

"I think she's really worried about Naru taking this case and all," Monk replied with a shrug. He took a bite of his doughnut and Mai briefly wondered how many the black hole of a Buddhist monk had already eaten.

"A lot happened yesterday, I'm sure everyone is worried," Mai mumbled in response, stared off into space for a moment, before taking a thoughtful bite out of her doughnut. She scanned the room until her eyes landed on the famous medium who was seated at her preferred table nursing a cup of tea. Mai knew she had felt whatever it was she had last night at the top of the stairs. She paused in thought before walking across the room and joining Masako at the table.

"Good morning," Masako greeted politely and gave a half smile.

Mai smiled back and pulled her chair up to the table and sighed, "How did you sleep?" Mai asked curiously.

Masako blinked before lifting her eyes up in thought, "Fitfully, though Monk and I found nothing during our patrol, I'm certain now there is a dark spirit here."

Mai nodded in agreement and propped her head in a hand, elbow on the table, and turned her eyes to each member of the team worriedly. "Me too, something is really weird here, but I can't explain it," she said quietly. "I'm just worried," she added, returning her eyes to medium who was watching her considerately.

"I am as well," Masako admitted hesitantly and lifted a sleeve to her mouth to hide the frown that marred her delicate features.

"Do you know anything about the spirit that is haunting the place yet?" Mai wondered in a hushed tone, leaning forward and unintentionally causing Masako to as well in order to hear her question.

Masako leaned back and shook her head, "It's very faint during the day and I can feel an immense hatred coming from it at night, but I can't make out any details." She dropped her eyes to the top of the table in frustration and Mai slumped back in her chair.

Naru and Lin had spent the night watching the monitors and had seen no other activity after midnight. Sadly, neither of the two cameras that had been set up outside caught the woman in a white dress and that had put Naru in a foul mood. He stood in front of the glowing screens in his classic thinking pose, weight shifted to one leg, while Lin checked the microphones for any sound. Martin had been there earlier to check in with them but he had left shortly after under the pretense that he had some of his own research to do. Naru knew that his father already had suspiciouns, as he did as well, but Martin's way of sneaking about to get his research done irritated him. Some might say he was getting a taste of his own medicine but Martin had asked him to investigate the case yet he seemed to be doing it on his own.

Naru had watched him go with narrowed eyes and shared a knowing glance with Lin before turning his head to look at the figure of his mother standing by the window, watching as her husband left the property, and sighed in despair.

"While Ayako and John are resting I want Mai, Monk, and Yasuhara to interview the locals who frequent the park and museum downstairs. We may be able to get more information out of them. Masako, if you wouldn't mind helping Madoka setting up the charms Ayako and Lin made last night," Naru instructed when everyone had quieted and found themselves a seat to occupy. "After reviewing last night's footage of the man's fall down the stairs we have concluded it to be a paranormal event. Not only was he pushed by some force he also stopped to speak with someone at the top of the stairs that we could not see on camera," Naru explained briskly and turned away from them to rewind the footage, again, so everyone could see.

While the others watched the video, growing paler and paler with each crunch that echoed out through the speakers, Mai turned her face away.

"Furthermore, while the rest of you were in bed or on patrol, Lin, Mai, and myself happened to spot a white figure walking amongst the trees last night," Naru added while he leaned back against the table and grasped the edge of the table with his hands. "It's safe to say that I am ruling out the possibility of a living human as a culprit of these events," he muttered darkly and the others shivered, feeling the temperature in the room drop.

Lin looked over at his charge curiously before turning back to his work.

Mai looked down at her unfinished doughnut and sighed. It was going to be a long day.

Martin stared down at his laptop, screen dim in the sunlight that streamed in through the car window, and squinted at the information as he scrolled through it. He was not as adept at Japanese as his wife was but he was able to discern much of the information if he struggled, and while the picture of Mai Taniyama stared innocently up at him from the corner of the page, the information it held was much too sad for the grin she wore. He had recalled her story from the day before but seeing it in fine print rammed home just how much she had suffered.

"I know Naru must keep her information somewhere on file," he muttered into the phone he held to his ear with his other hand.

"I'm sure he does, the boy is meticulous, but you know how hard it is to hack into his computer of all people's," a male voice answered from the other side of the line.

"I know, but I know you can do it, you've done it before," Martin answered back with a sigh and let go of the laptop to rub at his face. "She could be dangerous, to herself, but others as well if what I am thinking is correct."

"I'll see what I can do, but whose to say he doesn't just have it all written down in that black notebook of his?" the man muttered.

"You think he would keep only one copy?" Martin asked with a laugh.

"Well . . .no, you're right."

"Thank you, Anderson, let me know what you find," Martin mumbled and ended the call absently.

"I understand the thought process behind it, but do we really need to interview the locals? I mean, they probably know just as much as we do, if not less," Monk grouched as they stepped outside. Their shoes crunched on the gravel that made up the driveway as they moved away from the mansion.

"How about we let Mai do all the interviews while you and I slip away, Bou-san," Yasuhara sidled up to the much taller man and wrapped his hands around his arm suggestively.

"Maybe we should," Monk mumbled thoughtfully which caused Yasuhara to blink in confusion.

Mai laughed at their antics and skipped ahead, glad to be outside of the building that she had been stuck in for the past two days. The sun was shining and she could hear several voices laughing in the distance. The park was filled with people and along the sea wall and she could see several boats anchored while people swam and listened to music. Some of the passengers climbed the wall and pulled themselves up onto the park grounds triumphantly. It was cold out, she realized after a moment of admiration, these people were crazy.

The interviews were at first rather awkward because the three were unsure how to approach the guests of the park without seeming, for lack of a better word, creepy. But as soon as they explained who they were people tended to cooperate with them and asked their own questions about their investigation out of curiosity.

Mai herself was actually enjoying the task thanks to the chilly breeze and warm sun. The weather was perfect to be out and about and the locals were all very friendly if not a bit nosy, but that was to be expected, and she found she was a little disappointed when one of the interviews actually gave them a bit of information.

They were speaking with a mother and her young daughter who claimed they came to the park every Friday. The mother did not have much information to give other than the folklore that had been brewing over the years and passed through the generations. But it was as Yasuhara was thanking the woman that she happened to look down at the little girl standing at her mom's side. She was looking in the direction of the mansion and when Mai followed her line of sight she found it to lead to one of the windows on the third floor.

Mai crouched down in front of the girl, hands to her knees, and smiled while her mother continued to speak with Yasuhara and Monk about the stories she had heard of the property.

"What are you looking at?" Mai asked kindly. She watched as the girl seemed to blink and come back down to reality before she turned her head to look at the older girl nervously. Her hair was a dark brown and tied into pigtails while her large innocent eyes were a deep green. She was just too adorable and Mai found herself internally squealing as the little girl bit her lip.

"There was a lady up there, but she disappeared . . ." she mumbled and dropped her eyes onto her little white sneakers and tightened her grip on her mother's jean.

"Hmm," Mai cocked her head and smiled at the girl. "There's lot's of ladies in there so there is nothing you need to worry about," she assured gently.

The girl nodded once but she looked unconvinced as Mai pushed herself into a standing position and straightened her green sweater so that it covered her bottom once more. She was only wearing leggings underneath after all.

"Well that was a waste," Monk grumbled and rubbed at his head with a sigh.

"Not quite," Mai corrected knowingly and shook her finger at Monk with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Oh! Mai's channeling Naru again," Monk exclaimed with a laugh and winced when Mai smacked him on the shoulder.

With arms crossed and a scowl on her face Mai pointed to the exact window, "Third from the left on the top floor, the little girl was looking at it, let's investigate," she grit out through her teeth before stomping off.

Yasuhara laughed pleasantly and followed after the angry assistant leaving Monk to fall behind and roll his eyes.

The third floor of the mansion was mostly unoccupied, as it was this floor where the crying was normally heard, and so the three were relatively free to roam as they saw fit. But Mai knew where she was going and so she led the two men with a determined gleam in her eye and set to her shoulders. She counted the doors as they passed, studiously ignoring the strangely stuffy and quiet air about the hall, and came to a stop at the third door from the end of the hall.

"It's this one," she whispered over her shoulder to the two.

"Why are you whispering?" Monk questioned loudly with a scowl.

"Shhhhhh!" Mai hissed out angrily with a finger to her lips.

"Sorry," Monk whispered back and lifted his eyes to the ceiling for guidance.

She returned her attention to the door and lifted her hand and placed it on the knob. It was warm to the touch, as if someone had just entered, and the thought struck her as odd. She shook off her worries and turned the knob before slowly pushing the door open. The room was mostly used as storage, she could tell, thanks to the boxes that were stacked around the old furniture that used to make up the bedroom.

The three paranormal investigators shuffled into the room and snooped about, looking for any clues as to whose room it used to be. Monk opened a door that led into a large closet and sitting room of sorts, again, it was filled with boxes upon boxes. He sniffled against the dust the the door had disturbed and squeezed passed several boxes to explore while outside of the room Mai had shuffled over to a vanity that displayed very old makeup and hairbrushes. Bottles of perfume were aligned by size flush against the mirror of the vanity. She pulled a drawer open curiously and peered inside while Yasuhara perused the shelves filled with books and pictures.

"Wait a minute," Yasuhara spoke up after a few minutes of snooping. "I think I know whose room this was," he added and pulled a picture from a bookshelf directly in front of him.

Mai set her hand on the vanity and turned to look over her shoulder at Yasuhara with wide and curious eyes, "Really? Whose?"

Yasuhara lifted the picture to his face before another caught his eye and he snatched that one up as well, "This is weird," he muttered. "I though it may have been Prudence's room but then why would there be a picture of Kioko in here," he lifted the black and white photo covered in a thick layer of dust and waved it for Mai to see. Indeed there was a beautiful and young Japanese girl dressed in a heavy kimono staring back at her.

"Maybe it's William's room?" Mai guessed with scrunched brows.

"I don't think so, unless he keeps pictures of himself," he responded and held up another picture.

That didn't make sense at all, nothing about this case made sense, as Mai was beginning to realize. It was obvious that there was some kind of mixed up love triangle, well, square if you counted Alexander, but the only death they knew of was Prudence's. William was carted off to jail and Kikio was never heard from again . . . Mai paused on that thought and gasped lightly. Could it be that Kikio was also murdered? But then, her body had never been found. Her eyes drifted to the window, out to the park bellow, and she wondered if the woman had been buried beneath one of the many tree's she had thought to hold the bittersweet memories of the past not so long ago. Something dark and poisonous was hidden just out of sight here, Mai thought, and she dropped her eyes to her feet as a shiver wracked her body.

Mai stared at her shoes in thought while Yasuhara fell silent. She tapped her finger on the vanity and looked into the mirror absently before she froze. The reflection was all wrong, she quickly noticed, and stared at the image of a woman with golden hair stared back at her. Her eyes were blank and emotionless. The sound of glass cracking ripped through the silence of the room as abruptly as a lightning strike. Mai watched as the cracks worked their way across the surface of the mirror and the image of the woman reflected in her place, lifting her eyes to follow, and stopped when she met Yasuhara's in the reflection.

"Mai," he stated in a dark and serious warning tone, something she had never heard from him, and reached out a hand towards her. "Get away from the mirror," he instructed lowly.

Mai focused back on the cracks which had settle, but the glass was still creaking, and took a hesitant step back. Her reflection had returned to normal as soon as she had taken her eyes away but the splintered glass still loomed all the more threatening. It seeped so much malice into the air, radiating a cold miasma that it left her frozen.

"I said move, Mai!" Yasuhara shouted and jumped forward, pushing her out of the way, just as the mirror exploded outwards and glass shards flew everywhere.

Mai hit the ground and immediately covered her head and shoved her face into the carpet as the glass sliced through the air and rained down across the floor. She heard Monk, knocking over boxes in a hurry to get back into the other room, and looked up at the man as he practically fell into the room with his hands clutching the doorway and eyes wide.

"Yasuhara!" He shouted and leapt over the boxes to crouch down next to the fallen college student.

Mai could not see Yasuahra now that Monk had crouched down in front of him, but she could see his legs. His jeans were torn to scrap and a shard of glass stuck out of his thigh. Blood had started to stain the carpet while Mai stared wide eyed at what had just happened. She pushed herself onto her knees and crawled across the floor, heedless of the broken glass beneath her hands and knees, and hurried over to Yasuhara's other side. Tears began streaming down her cheeks at the sight of the hundreds of scrapes that littered his body and the trails of blood that trickled down his face and arms before reaching the carpet below him. There was a shard of broken mirror jutting out from his shoulder and without thought Mai reached for it.

"Don't pull it out!" Monk snapped and pushed her hand away.

"Sorry," she mumbled and leaned back on her legs and watched as Monk pushed Yasuhara into a sitting position before sliding his arm beneath his legs and lifting him up. The man only grunted in pain and squeezed his eyes shut.

Monk and Mai hurried out of the door and out into the hall quick as a flash and raced back to base, Monk practically kicked the door down, before he rushed over to a couch and set Yasuhara down as gently as he could. One of his legs fell from the couch and thudded against the ground as he cried out in pain.

"What happened?" Naru demanded urgently while he examined Yasuhara.

"We were looking around in a room upstairs when the mirror just exploded," Monk hurriedly explained.

"Lin! Call and ambulance," Naru ordered and lifted his gaze to the girl's bedroom door upon hearing a gasp. Thankfully it was Ayako who rushed over and shooed the men away, demanding they give him space, and ordered Monk to bring her whatever towels he could find in their bathroom. Across the room Lin was on the phone and speaking into the microphone as calm and cool as he always was in urgent situations.

Mai turned her eyes onto Naru and found him to be staring at her with his own narrowed eyes. "What room?" he asked darkly.

"Third from the end of the hall," she answered dully and stared up at him with wide eyes as he moved towards her and grabbed at her hands. She flinched, expecting some kind of angry retort, but Naru was looking down at her bloody palms which she had only just noticed. Glass was embedded within her palms and there was a particular shard that had dug itself an inch into her hand, just between the bones of her thumb and forefinger that disturbed her. If she turned her hand over she could just make out the tip of the shard pushing through her flesh on the other side.

Naru moved bother her hands to one of his, his fingers clasped around both her wrists easily, and reached for one of the towels Monk had brought back and set on the coffee table. All the while he kept on eye on her paling face.

"Stop looking at it," he instructed calmly, afraid that she may faint, and was pleased when she obediently did so. With a pair of tweezers provided to him by Lin he pulled the shards free, cursed silently when Mai cried out, and quickly through the pieces into the trash before instructing her to clench the towel in her hands. Hopefully the pressure would help to slow the bleeding. Her knees, upon closer inspection, were just as bad. "Mai," he called for her attention, glad to see that she was not in too much shock, and continued, "You'll go with Yasuhara to the hospital."

Mai nodded curtly and brought her hands, still clasping the towel, to her chest just as the door was opened and several paramedics rushed in to collect Yasuhara.

"If there is any news please call me," Naru added quietly and placed a hand on her shoulder, leading her towards a paramedic who immediately took notice of the pallid girl.

Chapter Text

Mai stared out the window of the hospital room she and Yasuhara were occupying. She had pulled up a chair to watch the people down below while Yasuhara was being stitched up by two nurses. She had called Naru a few minutes ago and told him that Yasuhara would be fine, he just needed a lot of stitches, and she herself had only needed nine. Both her knees and left hand each had three. Naru had told her they would be there to pick them up in an hour or so and in the mean time she should relax.

Mai had propped her feet up on the sill of the window and leaned back in her chair, choosing to watch the fluffy white clouds instead, while Yasuhara hissed and complained behind her. Her mind kept wandering back to the picture of Kikio and what it had been doing in Prudence's room. And then she paused in thought and realization dawned on her. They had been in Prudence's room. That would explain why there was a picture of William in a beautiful picture frame and a folded abused picture of Kikio hidden among the books on the shelf. Yasuhara had been right

"Ouch!" Yasuhara yelped from behind her and she smiled, knowing that he had had the courage to come to her rescue warmed her heart, and she decided she would have to repay his kindness somehow. Maybe she could take him out to dinner to some place in the city or something like that. She fell silent in thought and shut her eyes against the slowly sinking sun and sighed.

"Mai," Gene's voice echoed in her mind and she found him standing before her on the astral plain, a sad frown marring his face, and sighed. "I'm sorry, I didn't think about how that dream would have affected you," he apologized and watched her as she moved closer.

Mai had nearly forgotten about the dream. But he was right, Prudence's strife's had really affected her and had it not been for John she probably would have seen a lot more. She was thankful he had woken her when he did.

"What happened to you?" Gene questioned in surprise as Mai drew closer.

Mai paused and lifted her hands, finding that the wounds were still open and bleeding in the astral plain, despite her knowing that in reality they were already stitched and bandaged. "A mirror in Prudence's room exploded. Yasuhara took most of the damage," she explained with a shaky breath and dropped her hands to her sides and allowed her blood to trickle into the water at her feet.

Gene stared at her, aghast, before a knowing smirk overcame him and he chuckled. "Oh, Naru will just eat this up," he drawled and lifted her hands in his, examining the wounds, and smiling when they closed right before Mai's eyes. "You should milk this, Naru always hates to see a girl's tears, especially when they're in pain," he instructed with a laugh.

"Gene!" Mai admonished and smacked him in the arm which only caused the spirit to laugh in response and lean away from her hands. "Though it couldn't hurt," she mumbled thoughtfully. She should have known Gene would know how she felt about his brother, all those dreams where she had called him Naru and blushed whenever he took her hand or even so much as spoke to her. She grimaced at the embarrassment at both having mistaken him for his brother and the girlish way in which she had acted. . . Still acted, she corrected, and sighed.

"Ha!" Gene chuckled into his hand and shook his head. This is too good, his expression said, and he tried to compose himself while Mai stewed in embarrassed irritation.


Mai opened her eyes and took a moment to collect herself. It was disorienting to be looking at one face in a dream and then to wake up and find almost the exact same face staring back out you with a particularly more arrogant expression. Naru lifted a brow in question when she smiled at him before glancing around the hospital room in search of Yasuhara. The young man was still seated on the bed but he grinned upon making eye contact with Mai and pushed himself up. He looked a bit like human mummy hybrid with the amount of bandaging he had acquired while she was out.

"I am so glad my sacrifice managed to save the lovely face of Mai," he cried dramatically and stood to join the two by the window.

"Yasu!" Mai admonished, "I thought you were going to die, it's not funny." She pouted but it quickly turned into a wicked grin. "If only Bou-san had seen your heroics, he would have fallen in love all over again."

Yasuhara nodded solemnly before he paused upon realizing she had cracked a joke as well and laughed. "But in all seriousness, I think I'll be avoiding mirrors for a while," he added with a nervous laugh.

"Hehe," I just might do that too," she replied with a similar laugh.

The two shared a moment of silence, recalling the events of that day, before Naru stepped away to meet Lin at the door. The man had just walked into the room and glanced over Yasuhara and Mai, gave them a curt nod, and turned to Naru.

"I just pulled the car around out front before checking in with the others. Nothing has happened since we left," Lin explained in a low voice.

Mai pushed herself out of the chair with a contented sigh and attempted to brush the wrinkles out of her clothes while Yasuhara stood beside her silently. It was the first time he had ever been hurt on a case, she realized, and wondered if he would be alright. She blinked, thinking how strange it was that bodily injury was normal in their line of work, before she glanced at the man out of the corner of her eye. Yasuhara was a pretty independent and good humored person, he seemed very well rounded, and she found it hard to believe he would let something like today's events bring him down. But still, just to be safe, she would be keeping an eye on him.

"Let's go," Naru stated quietly and the two jumped to attention before following the stoic men out of the hospital. It was just as Yasuhara and Lin were climbing into the car that Naru said, "I checked in on the man from yesterday, his name is Adam, he was very disoriented but admitted that he had seen two people just before he fell."

Mai paused with her hand on the open door of the car and frowned. That was worrying news. Whoever he had seen at the top of the stairs before the accident was surely the one that was causing all the harm in the hotel. "Two people?" she questioned in confusion, her brows scrunched together.

"Yes, he said he originally spoke to a woman but thought he had seen a man by the window," Naru did not divulge anymore information as it was obvious he had about as little of an idea to their identities as Mai did. Little did he know her mind was working and had already come to her own conclusion. She bit her lip but nodded once, alerting Naru to her understanding, before she too slid into the car and shut the door behind her.

Yasuhara fell asleep on the car ride back to the mansion and Mai was half tempted to follow him but she didn't want to risk having a dream at that moment. She was getting frustrated with their lack of headway and she would have liked nothing more than to take a break from the case and explore the city. But this case was different than their usual ones. Lives were in danger and they could not afford to waste time. No matter how good the smells that spilled from the restaurants they passed were. Her stomach growled.

When they finally made it back Lin parked the car in the side lot that had been constructed next to the house and they stepped out of the car into the cold night air. Mai took a moment to admire the way her breath rose up and crystalized in front of her nose. But she was pulled away when she felt an unknown spike of fear that caused her to spin about on the spot and eye the trees that surrounded the building wearily. Whatever was out there was aware of their presence, she could feel it, and it dawned on her that the incident with the mirror was a good indicator that whatever was haunting the property wanted them gone.

But Adam had claimed to have seen two people. The knowledge that it was more than one spirit was unnerving. More spirits meant a more complicated story. More chaos. It would be a lot harder to deal with when push came to shove as they only had so many people of power on their team. Mai scanned the trees and wondered if they still had their spirits within them. Would Ayako be able to utilize them when it came down to cleansing the house?

She jumped when she felt a hand wrap around her elbow, "Come on," but she calmed upon hearing Naru's voice and she hesitantly allowed him to lead her away. Lin woke Yasuhara from his nap and helped the man out of the car and brought up the rear of their little group. With Lin behind her she found she was able to relax and she let out a relieved breath of air. The man was practically a spiritual barrier with his abilities and she was confident he would react correctly if they were to be attacked.

"This case is stressing me out," she admitted quietly to Naru, not certain what it was that made her do it, except that she had felt closer to him then than she ever had since his return. Perhaps it had to do with Gene but she didn't dwell too long on it as she was prone to do.

"I know," Naru answered back calmly and gave her elbow a reassuring squeeze.

Mai turned surprised eyes on him but he only continued to look ahead as they climbed the steps onto the large patio and shuffled inside. Once inside he released her but his hand eventually returned to the small of her back and continued to guide her through the foyer. Is he worried about me? She wondered with a blush and dropped her eyes to the floor as they walked. He had never before touched her as casually as he was just then. She assumed it had to do with his ability, thus causing him to avoid contact with others when he could, but now it was almost as if he were afraid she would disappear without his guidance. Maybe this case was stressing him out as well.

Lin helped Yasuhara to his room while Naru and Mai continued on to the base before catching up with them just as Naru opened the door and ushered Mai through.

"Welcome back!" The entire team cheered from inside and Mai smiled at her family, dinner had already been set up on one of the tables and everyone had waited to dig in for their return. They were all a bit sad to hear that Yasuhara had retired to bed but were glad that Mai was able to join them for the meal anyways.

"I'm home," she called back jokingly and moved into the room to flop onto the couch and leaned into Ayako who swamped her in a hug.

"I was so worried," she bemoaned and squished Mai in her arms. She smelled like strawberries and freshly laundered clothes. Mai could not recall her ever smelling of anything else and grinned into the woman's shirt, returning the embrace, and realized that Ayako's scent had somehow become one that meant safety and love.

Mai laughed and said, "Every things fine, I just got some more battle scars," she said through her laughter. And I'm sure I'll get more tomorrow, she thought flatly. She accepted the food Monk presented to her, a plate of pizza and salad, and promptly took a ravenous bite from it.

Nothing happened that night.

It seemed the incident with the mirror was all the spirit could manage and for that the SPR team was grateful. They wanted to enjoy their peace and quiet with good cheer and fun, glad that their friends were not seriously injured, and spent the night joking amongst each other while Lin watched over the monitors and Naru watched over his shoulder with crossed arms and narrowed eyes. The workaholic would never stop working, it would seem, as even while they partied he was pondering the information they had gathered.

But there was a moment during the night, when Luella had thrown the doors of the base open and rushed in to scoop Mai up into her arms, that Naru's stoic expression shattered and his eyes became thoughtful while he watched the two women interact. Luella was smitten with Mai, that much was obvious, and he wondered if Luella had hoped she would have a daughter one day. The smallest of smiles graced his lips as he watched Mai reassure his mother that she was quite alright, and if the way she brandished her fist was anything to go by, that she was ready to get back into the fight tomorrow. Luella laughed and brushed a strand of hair from Mai's face before pointing a finger at her and he knew from experience that she was lecturing Mai on safety and the need to think of her life before the job. He snorted and turned his eyes away, as if she would ever listen, Mai was all rash decisions and instinct.

His father was nowhere to be seen that night and he once again narrowed his eyes in thought. What was he doing?

His mind ran in circles while the others laughed and enjoyed each other's company, and discovered that he was quite tired, it had been days since he had had a full night's sleep, and the warning pangs of a headache began to make themselves known. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes against the pain with a sigh.


He opened his eyes and found Mai standing in front of him, where he had been leaning against a table, and grunted. When had she moved? He lifted his gaze to the room and found that Monk and Masako had left to patrol as they had the night before and John and Ayako had retreated to their rooms to rest before their shift. He was normally quite efficient at sensing their energies, predicting their movements, and was at a bit of a loss at how they managed to slip away without his knowing.

"Why don't you sit on the couch for a bit, I'll make some tea," she offered with a hesitant smile. She was uncertain how to act around him, he concluded, and wondered when that had become abnormal. When had her rash comments and brutish behavior become normal and expected? He had been certain he was an enigma to her for as long as they had known each other but upon closer inspection it was obvious that had not been the case. She had seen through him the moment they had first made eye contact. Before that even. What had thrown her off had been Gene. She dealt with the kinder of the two and it unnerved her so much that he was so unlike the Naru of her dreams that it threw her off balance.

He stared down at her, stunned, though his expression did not show it. How perceptive she was . . . But then, why was she so uncertain now? And then he understood. She had been uncertain ever since he had returned.

Naru pushed himself away from the table and moved towards the couch wordlessly, for once grateful for how observant she was, and sat down into the cushion seat. His body ached and he let his head fall back against the back of the couch with a sigh.

Mai smiled again before setting about making some tea. Green tea, she decided, as it was obvious he needed sleep. She was certain he was too tired to complain anyways.

Luella watched her son, slightly worried, but wore a knowing smile and patted his knee once he had sunk into the couch next to her. He only grunted in response and she giggled. It had been so long since she had seen him worn out and grouchy that she found it adorable.

Mai returned a few minutes later and set the tea down on the table in front of him, as was customary, and sat down on the opposite couch. She stretched her arms and flopped back into the couch in a comedic imitation of her boss and sighed.

"Have you ever heard the saying 'Every time you sigh a bit of happiness leaves you'?" Luella asked with a smile.

Mai opened her eyes just as Naru did and watched as he leaned forward to lift the cup of tea from the table, satisfied when he had taken the first sip without comment on the distinct lack of earl grey, she turned her eyes to the woman with a smile. "I have, but did you know every time you laugh a bit of happiness comes back?"

Luella's smile widened and she chuckled, "I did not," she admitted jovially.

Mai grinned and snuggled deeper into the couch, "Laughter is the best medicine after all."

"That might explain why this one is such a grump," Luella shot back with a laugh and looked to Naru pointedly.

"Maybe," Mai responded diplomatically and shrugged. She lifted her feet onto the table and examined the ripped holes in her tights and the bandages they exposed. And wondered, if she had never healed, how many wounds she would have from her life with SPR alone. Probably hundred by now. More if she counted the ones from before she had even joined their merry little group.

Monk and Masako shuffled into the base, Monk claimed that Masako had to use the bathroom, which caused the girl to blush when Luella spotted Mai's injuries and frowned, "Do you get hurt often on cases?"

Mai had been tapping her feet together on the table but paused on hearing Luella's question, "hmmm," she hummed as she thought. The memories of the past two years flitted through her mind and caused her to smile. "I don't think so, at least, no more so than the others . . ." she trailed off and laughed embarrassedly, "Although there was this one time a shelf fell on me, I fell into a well on another case, and the one after that too, actually," she scowled at her shoes irritably. "Another time I slipped and hit my head, and I think I was pushed down the stairs once . . ."

Luella stared at Mai with wide eyes and the girl scratched her cheek in an attempt to hide her blush.

The was snort from the other couch and Mai stared wide eyed at the usually stoic man who was covering his eyes with one hand while the other arm was crossed over his stomach as he sat slouched on the couch. "You have the rottenest of luck," Naru stated blankly but his lips twitched and he snorted again. "Collectively speaking, Mai has had more accidents than all the team members combined," Naru explained quietly while he struggled to regain control.

But the damage was done. Monk and Masako, who were about to leave, stared wide eyed at the man sitting on the couch while Lin stifled his own laughter from the back of the room.

Luella's eyes widened and she turned to look at Mai as if she were going to have some kind of accident right there and then, "My goodness," she muttered and lifted a hand to her heart.

Mai chuckled nervously, "I guess it's kind of true."

"It's not kind of true, it is true, Lin has a record," Naru shot down whatever pride Mai may have had left and rubbed the bridge of his nose in fake despair.

Mai turned a glower onto the man behind her from over the back of the couch but his eyes had returned to the computer screen and studiously ignored her look.

Naru sat up again and took another sip of tea while Monk and Masako took their chance to exit the room. As soon as Monk had shut the door behind him he turned wide eyes onto Masako and let out a breath of awe, "Naru just laughed," he stated in a whisper.

Masako lifted a sleeve to her mouth and closed her eyes, "It's not so unheard of, he is human after all." She turned up her nose, a bit miffed that Mai had managed to do something she had not, even though she was no longer pursuing the man, and hmphed.

"I didn't think he was until just now," Monk admitted with a snort. "We have to wake up Yasuhara and tell him," he declared and preceded to drag the medium behind him as he hurried down the hall towards the man's room. This was definitely something Yasuhara would want to hear, even if he had been on his death bed he would have demanded it, Monk was sure of it.

"Please, Bou-san, do not drag me!" Masako cried after him.

Leulla stood from the couch where, just an hour before, she had been having a pleasant conversation with Mai about her previous experiences in the paranormal field. She had gotten to learn a lot about the girl and how much it was that she affected her son. There had been many quiet laughs shared between them and they had only noticed that Naru had fallen asleep when he had slumped onto the arm of the couch, his body no longer able to hold its upright position, and the two had shared an amazed look before giggling quietly into their hands. He had fallen asleep with his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose!

Luella had gotten up to retrieve a blanket and laid it across him quietly before she reclaimed her seat and Mai picked up where they had left off, the case where Masako was possessed and had latched onto Naru, before she had settled back into the couch and pulled a pillow under her head and yawned.

"The next case was a really sad one," she muttered. And proceeded to share the story of Kenji, the little mute boy who had been left at a church by his father, and fought the tears that threatened to fall as she spoke.

Luella herself cried but she did not interrupt while Mai told her story.

Mai had fallen in unconsciousness after that and Luella had repeated the process of retrieving a blanket before she returned to her seat to read through a book she had brought with her. She had planned on staying the night to help in any way she could and if playing mother was the only thing she could do then she was satisfied.

She looked down at the two and smiled before moving over to Lin, who was watching the monitors as always, and she scowled playfully at him. "Your eyes are going to go bad," she commented and patted the man on the shoulder.

Lin shot her a kind smile in return, "One day, yes, but until then . . ."

"I know, I know," she waved him away with a sigh and glanced over at the two sleeping teens on the couch. Though she supposed they were barely teens anymore, Naru would be turning twenty soon, how time flies. "He's particularly protective of her," she observed dryly and turned her eyes back to Lin quizzically.

"He's hopelessly in love with her," Lin shot back dryly but did not shift in the slightest as he spoke.

"I knew it," Luella gasped quietly and grinned.

"When he hired her he said it was to pay him back for the camera she broke," he deadpanned and smirked when Luella laughed. "He used PK several times to impress her or cheer her up despite my warnings and he trusted her judgement from the moment they first met. It was really quite obvious . . ." Lin shrugged and sent the conspiring mother another smile before returning his eye to the screens in front of him.

"That little punk," Luella grouched and crossed her arms, "After everything they went through he still closed the office and came home for a whole year!"

Lin's eye widened before he laughed for the second time that night.

"I don't understand!"

Mai opened her eyes and found William standing in front of her, a dark expression marring his face, and watched as the man poured himself a glass of bourbon. He set the tumbler back down on the mantle in his study and set his eyes on her.

A fire blazed behind him.

"What's not to understand?" he bit back and downed the glass in one go before throwing it into the fireplace behind him. He ignored the sound of shattering glass behind him and took a threatening step towards her. "You're a filthy piece of trash I pulled off the streets. You lied to me. I spent all this time on you and for what? You can't even give me a child!" he roared.

Mai fought the tears that poured down her face and glowered at the man she had once loved for all she was worth. "You are a beast!" she cried. "There is nothing of the boy I fell in love with left in you!"

"For good reason!" William shouted. "This is a man's world, where would I be if I was still weaving daisy chains with you! In the dirt, that's where!"

"You call me filthy for my past yet here you are sleeping around with some whore you found on a midlife crisis adventure-," she was cut off before she could say more. The slap could be heard all throughout the room.

William watched in triumph as his wife fell to the floor, blood pouring from her nose and mouth with the force of his hit. "Someone like you does not even deserve to taste her name on your tongue," he whispered waspishly and reached for the table next to her, topped with several books and a vase of long dead flowers, and knocked it over onto her as if to bury for good beneath the clutter. He set his foot against the table, now toppled onto her prone figure, and shoved it for good measure. Satisfied when he heard her cry out he turned away, storming from the room, and slammed the door behind him.

The door opened moments later and she could hear someone rushing towards her, causing her to flinch away while she cried.


Mai lurched into consciousness with a strangled gasp, choking, and turned to the side to spit out the mouthful of bitter blood that was suffocating her.


"What's wrong with her?!"

"Someone get a towel!"

Mai heaved for air and slid off of the ouch and onto the floor, blood still pouring from her nose, and fought back the sob that was held captive in her tight chest. She pushed the hands away from her and curled in on herself, catching the blood within her hands while she sheltered her face from view behind her knees and cried. Why did Prudence have to suffer so much? It wasn't fair. William was supposed to be her knight in shining armor, he had been the only one on her side, and he had turned on her like a vicious animal. Without a second thought he had shunted the woman he loved aside for another after promising her so much. He had given her the world and then cruelly took it away and dared to call her trash!

"He's a monster," she cried and covered her eyes, heedless of the blood on her hands. How could he? How could he? How could he? "He has no right . . .!" she trailed off as a sob wracked her body and she felt comforting hands grab her shoulders. Blood dribbled from her nose and mouth, she must have bit her tongue too, she noted dully in the back of her mind. Her cheek felt tender and swollen and she had no doubt there was the beginnings of a black eye.

"Someone get her some ice."

The only calm voice in a sea of panic and Mai found herself latching onto his arms just as he held onto her shoulders. Her head fell forward and her hair hid her face from view as she heaved emotion filled breaths, in and out, in an attempt to calm herself and regain her sanity.

"Mai." He said her name in that urgent way he did whenever she was in trouble, or he was scolding her, the thought made her trembling lips quirk and she took in one last ragged breath before swallowing. Then she stuck her tongue out afterwards upon swallowing a mouthful of blood.

"I'm okay, I'm okay," she placated, though still out of breath, but did not dare to show him her blood streaked face. She could feel it drying around her eyes and chin and it made her feel sticky and gross.

"Here," she heard the Ayako say and Naru removed one of his hands to lift her face to his.

There was a collective gasp, "Oh Mai," Luella whispered and crouched down next to her son to pull her face from his grip and into her own.

Naru lifted the bag of ice and took a piece out before setting it against her cheek, "Suck on this one," he muttered.

Mai took the piece of ice from his hand obediently and stuck it into her mouth. It bit at her tongue harshly but she continued to endure while Luella tutted over her face and the rest of the team shared worried glances.

"Naru," she mumbled around the melting piece of ice, "Naru he beat her!" She cried, and felt the stinging return to her eyes, and blinked back the tears. "Just because she couldn't give him a child he turned on her. But they loved each other since they were little, I don't understand, how can anyone do that!"

Naru frowned and pulled her forward so that her head rested on his shoulder and sent a pointed look to the people crowded around behind him.

Reluctantly they dispersed, though it was quite obvious the thought of leaving Mai disgusted them, they filed out of the door and headed down to the restaurant to order breakfast. Masako was the last to leave the room and she set one last sidelong glance at the small collection of their team huddled around her on the floor before shutting the door.

"It's alright, Mai," Luella cooed and ran a hand through the girl's hair while she hid her face in Naru's shoulder. Her own were still trembling.

"No it's not, I don't understand," her voice was muffled but they could hear her just fine. "I understood them all, every case, but why this?"

Naru slid from his knees into a more comfortable sitting position and glanced over to his mother before he brought his hand up to the back of her head.

"She was the only one he had too," she continued. "How could he throw it all away and call her trash. It just doesn't make sense." She shook her head in his shoulder.

Naru brought his other hand up to rest on her back, just between her shoulders, and grimaced at the trembling he felt. Behind Mai he could so Lin crouched as well from the corner of his eye and in that moment he felt sudden clarity. Mai was the glue. It was such a simple thought to have, but in all the chaos he had never realized, just how much they all cared for her.

He let out a small laugh through is nose, just enough to ruffle her hair, and caused her to lift her face towards his curiously. "Mai," he began with the smallest of smiles, "Look how worried you've made everyone."

Mai pulled her face away to take in the image of Luella, Lin, Naru, and even Madoka who had stayed while the others left, all crouched around her wearing such despairing expressions that it made her sit straight and wipe the rest of the tears away. "I'm sorry," she apologized through a small laugh and a hiccup.

Luella laughed in relief and pulled the girl out of Naru's arms and into her own, "you're such a strong little thing," she said through her own tears.

Lin stood from where he was crouched, satisfied that Mai would be alright, and his eye turned to the man that stood behind them all with wide eyes. Martin had not moved from his spot next to the table by the window but he felt Lin's eye on him and lifted his gaze to him in disbelief. And that was when Lin knew, not only was Naru in trouble, but he was as well.

Lin closed his eyes and turned away from the man.

Together Naru and Luella pulled Mai to her feet. Her face was a mess but it looked like the swelling had gone down around her cheek and eye. Luella took charge and led the girl to the bathroom so she could get cleaned up while Naru took the towel brought earlier and mopped up whatever blood he could find on the floor.

All the while he felt his father's gaze drilling a hole through the back of his head. He sighed as he stood, shoulders straight, and eyed the now bloody towel with narrowed eyes. If they didn't wrap this case up soon he feared for Mai's life. It was obvious her abilities were expanding and if he didn't have a word with Gene then he was certain they would end up paying the ultimate price. He cracked his neck and turned to face Martin at last and was not surprised to see the man standing with his arms crossed.

"We need to talk," he stated darkly and the stoic young man gave a single curt nod before dropping the towel into the trash and following the man out of the main doors.

Lin and Madoka were left in the room alone and the usually chipper woman was biting her lip where she stood next to the seated man. "I'm worried," she admitted quietly.

Lin reached over and grasped her hand within his, giving her a reassuring squeeze, before standing and leading her out of the room and down to the restaurant where the others were eagerly awaiting some news on Mai's health.

"There now," Luella said as Mai stepped out of the bathroom, freshly showered, and clapped her hands together once before standing from the bed. "It's going to be cold out today, there's a storm coming, so why don't you wear something extra warm."

Mai smiled brightly at the woman and nodded, "Sounds like a smart thing to do, Naru will be so surprised." She laughed at the perplexed look that came over Luella's face and moved over to her suitcase, sorting through her clothes as she explained, "He always makes fun of me for being dumb because I skip so much school while working."

Luella snorted and sat in a chair while she watched the girl, "He did the same thing to Gene," she commented with a laugh.

"That doesn't surprise me," Mai muttered darkly and snorted. "Gene probably thought he was just as dumb."

"He did," Luella agreed and sighed.

Mai winced and regretted bringing Gene up but she covered it by pulling out a floral patterned long sleeved shirt and brandishing it for Luella to see. "How about this with my brown jacket?"

"Oh, that's perfect, do you have some nice jeans?" Luella asked cheerily.

"I think I have a clean pair left in here," she admitted and shuffled through the dirty clothes hopefully, "I never bring enough clothes on these things."

"Well it's hard to know how long these cases will last," Luella appeased.

"Ayako and Masako always seem to have an endless supply by the end up having, like, five bags to tote around," Mai continued with a shrug. She recalled the several moments in which the rest of the team had played rock, paper, scissors to decide who would have to help them carry their luggage and snorted. "I am a simple woman," Mai declared proudly while she aired out the jeans she had just pulled from her suitcase.

Luella smirked knowingly, "Naru prefers girls like that anyways," she said innocently.

Mai blushed and dropped the jeans onto her bed and smoothed the wrinkles in the shirt hurriedly. "Yes well, I wouldn't know anything about that," she shot back with a nervous laugh.

"Oh, I'm sure," Luella placated her jokingly and laughed when the girl gathered her clothes and hurried into the bathroom to change.

They arrived at breakfast just as the others were tucking into their meals and it was with relieved smiles that the team greeted Mai. She looked much better since she had woken that morning. Her face was clean and barely a mark remained on her cheek. She was showered and in clean clothing. And she had even regained her color.

Luella pulled a chair out for the girl, satisfied when she had been seated, before claiming the seat next to her and letting out a satisfied sigh. "Well then," she declared to the table and opened the menu in front of her, "let's get the day started, shall we?"

"Coffee sounds great," Mai admitted wistfully.

Everyone laughed in relief.

The relief was short lived, however, when Naru strode into the dining room and took the seat at the head of the table without so much as a word or glance to any of the others sitting at the table. He was shortly followed by Martin, how sat on the other side of Luella.

Instantly the mood turned tense and it became obvious the two were not currently on speaking terms. Across from Mai, Lin shut his eyes and took a sip from his own mug of coffee.

The silence lasted exactly ten minutes before someone cleared their throat and said, "So, I recently read an article about a robot who gained a sense of humor."

All eyes turned to Yasuhara, still bandaged from head to toe, but wearing his usual devilish grin.

Monk stared at him with mouth agape before snorting into his hand and closing his eyes against the accusatory glares that were turned on him.

Masako lifted a sleeve to her mouth to hide the smile.

And Lin grimaced, unable to ignore the dark aura that spilled from his charge like so much poison.

The others at the table looked on in confusion.

"Oh yeah, well I saw a mummy rise from the dead yesterday," Mai's voice broke the silence and the tension broke along with it. Ayako scoffed and Monk laughed outright.

"I once met a woman who swore up and down that she was possessed by the spirit of a kangaroo who had known the crocodile hunter," John added thoughtfully, fork poised over his plate as he recalled the event. His eyes seemed lost in the memory as he spoke so it was obvious the strange circumstances had been true. They doubted the man would lie anyways. He simply didn't have it in him.

"What the hell?" Monk blurted, "That is the most Australian thing you have ever said."

The table erupted into laughter and Martin rubbed at his face with a sigh and sent a glance down the table to his son who was smirking into his recently ordered cup of tea and smiled.

"Can we take nothing seriously?" Mai chortled and wiped at the tears of laughter in her eyes.

"I took someone seriously once," Yasuhara revealed thoughtfully and rubbed at his chin before he shuddered violently and finished, "But it only happened once. Never again."

"Lin and Naru are the only serious ones on this team and even then, half the shit Naru says is some intelligent and sarcastic comment he thinks we're too dumb to get and I am almost positive that Lin has a folder specifically just for the shit he thinks about us but never says," Monk theorized with a laugh.

Lin smirked and turned his face away from the Monk to which the rest of the table fell into a stunned silence.

"Lin, you do not!" Madoka gasped and laughed into her hands. Seconds later she snorted and left Mai in a fit of giggles because of it.

"You have no room to talk, Monk, the only thing you take seriously is your guitar," Ayako declared and waved her hand about in the air as if to brush his comments aside.

"Ouch," Yasuhara winced in sympathy at the stunned look on Monk's face.

"I can't help it that I actually have a talent," Monk shot back irritably.

"What was that, you perverted old man?" Ayako cried.

"I'm only two years older than you!"

"Now, now," John attempted to calm the bickering couple with a nervous laugh.

"They went three days without fighting, I think that's a record," Mai mumbled in awe.

"You think it was a miracle?" Yasuhara questioned with a smirk, "Naru separates them on purpose you know."

Mai lifted a finger to her chin in thought. "Ah, you're totally right," she admitted, a bit impressed as she hadn't even caught on to that fact yet, and chuckled. Naru probably had plenty of time to go over their performances while he was away. She had no doubt that he had planned it all out long before he had even set foot back in Japan.

"I don't let Mai and Masako work alone anymore either," Naru added coolly from his spot at the head of the table.

Mai blushed and sent him a scowl while Masako covered her mouth and turned her face away from both Mai and Naru peevishly.

Yasuhara chuckled, "We all knew where that was going."

After breakfast they all gathered back at base to plan out their tasks for the day. Temperatures needed to be retaken and charms needed to be made and handed out to the guests, while rooms needed to be exorcised and cleansed to the best of their abilities. It was going to be a busy day that was for certain. Once again Ayako and Lin were putting together charms at the back table while Monk and John were donning their robes for the first time on the case. Masako was partnered with Yasuhara to patrol the grounds and mark out specific locations for the priest and the monk to visit.

While everyone was preparing Naru turned to Mai and said, "Mai, take a break for the day."

"What?" she squawked in confusion while she held the thermometer and clipboard in her hands. She had been searching for a pen when he had approached her.

"Lin will take care of temperatures for the day," he added.

"But what about base?" she shot back.

"My father can handle it," Naru added in a quieter voice.

Mai stared at him in confusion, "But what am I supposed to do?" Surely he wasn't demanding her to sleep? Not with that morning's episode so fresh in her mind and on her face too for that matter.

"Go for a walk with me," he instructed and straightened his shoulders. He stared down at her while she blushed and fumbled to form a response.

"Why would you want to go for a walk?" Mai questioned, aghast, how could the workaholic narcissist that she called a boss want to do anything other than his job? Especially when Monk and John were going to be performing exorcisms on specific rooms. Anything could happen! Someone could get hurt or worse and all of a sudden Naru was indirectly asking her out on a date? Her blush increased tenfold at the thought and she quickly shook her head. No, that's not right, Naru probably had something planned. She paused and it dawned on her. Of course! That was it! Naru was enacting some kind of plan and this was his way of getting her to play her part. It made sense, after all, he had pulled similar stunts numerous times before.

"Well if you don't want to go, that's fine . . ." Naru trailed off with a quiet sigh.

"Wait, wait! I'll go!" Mai exclaimed, flustered, and fumed internally when she saw a small smirk play across his face. That jerk, she grumbled in her mind and followed him with her arms crossed as they exited the base. "Isn't it supposed to rain today?" she questioned after a few moments of silence, having recalled Luella commenting on the weather that morning, and superstitiously glanced out one of the many windows they passed wearily. She hoped it wouldn't rain.

"My mother greatly exaggerates, rain in Florida is almost a constant threat, you know it's rained twice in the past four days," Naru explained while he lifted a hand that held a small umbrella, wrapped tightly, and shook it for her to see.

"Oh," Mai clasped her hands behind her back and the tomato red blush dimmed to a light pink. She followed behind Naru and sent his back a sideways glance as they walked. She wondered what it was exactly he was thinking.

They stepped outside and traveled down the steps of the patio, once Mai's feet touched the gravel of the driveway Naru offered his arm, and she hesitantly took it with a blush. What is happening?! She had wanted to fight the blush for as long as she could but she quickly realized she was fighting a losing battle and so she let out a strangled breath of air. How often had she wished for a situation like the one she found herself in then? Yet she could not stop her stomach from twisting into knots. Something about the whole thing just seemed off, Naru had been far too comfortable with her over the past couple days, and it made no sense. When she had confessed to him he had denied it was him that she was in love with and when he returned a year later he had been just as he had before, but the second he first mentioned that case he had grown cold. But by the second day of the case he was practically suffocating her, well, for Naru it would be considered suffocating anyways.

She dropped her eyes to her boots as they walked, ignoring the rocks that she kicked up in favor of enjoying the sounds they made as they crunched across the gravel. Her eyes skittered over to Naru's black dress shoes, easily keeping pace with hers, and smiled. It may have seemed strange but she could not deny that she enjoyed it. Masako would be so jealous, after all, he had asked her to go on a walk rather than the other way around.

Mai snorted into her hand which caused Naru to quirk a brow but he made no comment.

As they walked Mai could hear several people still playing within the park, though far fewer than the day before, and lifted her eyes to scan their surroundings curiously. She always took small pleasures in watching people interact with the people around them, she liked to ponder over their lives, and figure out what kind of people they were. It was a habit she had had since she was a child and it was one of the reasons, of this she was certain, that she had been able to see through Naru's pleasant act the first time she had met him.

Naru had remained quiet as they walked, secretly enjoying the range of emotions he could see passing over Mai's face from the corner of his eye, and lifted his gaze to the clouded sky blankly. He was certain it would rain at some point during their venture but he was confident they would already be on their way back. He may be testing his luck though, he knew, but he was determined to keep Mai away from his father and the mansion for as long as he could that day. He feared she was being pulled taught between her responsibilities and moral obligations and it had been distressing to see the usually cheery girl sobbing into her hands that morning while blood poured from her nose and mouth.

At the reminded of that morning's events Naru brought a hand up to rest atop of Mai's on his arm.

Mai turned her eyes to their hands before allowing them to travel further up along Naru's arm to finally land on his face in befuddlement.

Was it even fair of him to be as close to her as he had been over the past couple days? He was certain Gene had had feelings for her at some point in the past and that at least half of the reason Mai claimed to have feelings for Naru himself was due to the actions of his twin brother. Was it morally correct for him to whisk her away while the others worked and his own brother was left unconscious floating somewhere in the astral plain until he called on him?

They continued on up the gravel path, heading towards the park exit, and passed the lake where he noted Mai's eyes lingered and she shifted, minutely, to walk more closely to him as they passed. Once they had passed through the red brick entrance they stepped out onto a small cobblestone street that was filled with people. There were several stalls set up along the blocked off streets selling various fried foods and crafty creations and hundreds of people were shuffling past them, all with drinks in their hands, despite the threat of rain.

Mai blinked in surprise, the weather must really not bother these people at all, she wondered and looked up and down the street as they crossed. Naru glanced down at her before asking lowly, "Do you want to look?"

Mai whipped her head around to look at him and she grinned, "Yes!" she agreed with a laugh and was pleased as punch when Naru nodded in return and led her to the center of the road so that she could get a good look at every stall as they passed.

It had been a long time since she had been able to attend any kind of street festival back home and she was glad to see that America had its own versions as well. While the stalls selling food and different goods and wears were great, she also noted that there were several street performers, and at the very end of the blocked off street was a small stage set up where a band was playing live. The music swelled down the street towards the two and Mai made a mental note to mention it to Monk when they returned. Maybe he could sneak out to enjoy the music after he was done.

"The concert is tomorrow," Naru stated as Mai stopped to look at a table filled with sparkling jewelry.

"Really?" she gasped and pulled her eyes away from some glittering blue stone earrings to meet her employer's gaze. "What are we going to do, Naru, what if someone goes missing?" she questioned.

Naru let out a small sigh, "I had wanted to get this case wrapped up before the event but it looks like we'll have to incorporate it into our investigation. We'll have to patrol the property throughout the day and make sure no one goes missing." He pulled her forward, forcing her to move on to the next stall, and paused as her eyes were pulled away from his face and onto the brightly colored fabrics that littered that stall. "I'll need you and Masako on full alert, if you sense anything at all you need to let us know, I'll set you up with walkie-talkies . . ." he trailed off and watched as Mai lifted a roll of fabric with wondrous eyes. The pattern was very elegant and reminiscent of those used for Japanese kimonos. Red peacock feathers and grasping, twining, sakura branches danced across the white satin.

"I can sleep if you need me to, if I ask Gene we can probably monitor the spiritual activity while I astral project, that's how I knew what all was going to happen during Yasuhara's case," she offered distractedly before returning the fabric to its rightful place and moving on.

"I don't like the idea of you projecting any more than you need to on this case," Naru muttered darkly.

Mai shot him a bewildered look before turning her face away thoughtfully, "Well, from what I have learned, there are three ways for me to project."

Naru's eyes widened, if only a fraction, and he tightened his grip on her hand once more. "Care to elaborate?" This was news to him. It was no secret that he was lacking in the spiritually sensitive field, all his power was focused in PK, while Gene had been the perfect medium.

"Well, normally what I experience is what Gene wants me to know but this can occur two ways; he and I take on rolls of the people from the past and live through the events he finds useful or we watch them as they occur through a bystander's perspective. But there is a third way I astral project and, basically, it is my soul literally just leaving my body to wander. There have been many times when I fell asleep and would end up following one of you guys around and trying to find clues on my own. . ." she trailed off thoughtfully and grinned mischievously.

Naru quirked a brow and turned a skeptical look onto his assistant, "I'll make note of that," he stated mysteriously and paused as Mai stopped at the next stall, which was an adoption center, and sighed.

Mai crouched down at the small playpen fence that surrounded several dogs and reached a hand in. Immediately the five rambunctious mutts were upon her and she laughed, wishing she had more hands to pet them all, and attempted to give each an equal amount of loving.

"Are you looking to adopt?" the woman sitting in the chair up front asked cheerily.

"Oh, no, we're just passing through," Mai answered back with an apologetic smile.

Mai made Naru wait while she spoke with the woman, curious as to how adoptions worked over in America, and was amazed when the process was explained and the woman admitted that it was pretty cheap and easy to adopt. She worked with the SPCA, which made sure all animals were spade and neutered, and were not allowed to leave until all necessary shots were given.

"That's amazing!" Mai exclaimed and dropped down to pet another dog, this one tied to the table with his leash, and laughed while he licked her face. "You're a hyper one," she commented in Japanese and chuckled when the dog whined, as if in indignation, before she stood and brushed her shirt off.

All the while Naru watched with a hand to his mouth in thought. "Excuse me, ma'am, but are these dogs trained?" he asked and moved to stand in front of the table while Mai moved on to another pen filled with puppies this time.

"They are all housebroken, some know basic commands, but the younger ones are still learning," she explained informatively and watched as Naru turned away to scan the surrounding animals.

"Are there any here who are older, maybe one that is not so hyper?" he asked, though he could not find a specific dog he would mark as older seeing as how the majority were still in their puppyhood.

"We do have a few here, though I would recommend Rocco if you were looking for a calm dog, the only problem though is that he has been returned to us several times and I am hesitant about letting him go," she explained unsurely and watched as the young man set a hand on the table and turned his cold gaze onto her curiously.

"What's wrong with him?" he asked seriously.

"Well, he's blind, most people get frustrated or creeped out by him," she answered with a sad shrug.

"It's a good thing I don't need him for his eyes then," Naru muttered thoughtfully under his breath and lifted his eyes back to the woman. "How's his temperament?"

"Oh, he's wonderful! He's great around both kids and adults, he enjoys playing with other dogs, he's just an old soul is all," she answered cheerily.

"Mai," Naru turned back to look at the brunette with an amused gleam to his eyes. "Can I trust you with a project of mine?"

"What kind of project?" she asked suspiciously and narrowed her eyes at him.

"Spiritual sensitivity in animals," he answered dryly, both finding himself irritated and amused by her suspicion.

Mai scowled, "Are you making fun of me again?"

Naru sighed and turned towards the woman at the table, "Why don't you bring him out so we can see him?"

The woman hopped off of the stool she had been sitting on excitedly and hurried to the back of the canopy where a few other crates were kept and fumbled with the locking mechanism on one of them while Naru waited patiently and Mai straightened and moved to stand next to him curiously.

"You can't be serious, Naru," she said in disbelief and watched the lady open the door to the crate and reach a hand in.

"One hundred percent," he answered back as his hand returned to his chin in thought.

"Where are we going to keep him?" she asked in awe as the dog was led up to the front say they could get a look at him.

"It's not 'we'," Naru stated dully and waved a dismissive hand in her direction, "It's you."

"He's the size of a horse, Naru! I don't think my apartment will let me have a horse!" she exclaimed as the woman brought the dog to a stop and instructed him to sit. Even while he rested on his haunches his head still reached her chest. He sniffed at her, his nose falling just below her collar bone, and he wagged his tail. Mai stared into his cloudy eyes and she fell silent. "Naru," she whined in frustration and the dog barked back excitedly but remained seated and turned his head towards Naru and the man found himself drawn into those sightless eyes that seemed to look straight at him though he had yet to speak or make any kind of sound since the dog had joined them up front.

Naru smirked from behind his hand and quirked a brow, "He'll do fine."

Chapter Text

He wanted her to what now?

Mai blanched even as she reached her hands up and mushed them into the dog's fur on each side of his head absently. He panted and closed his eyes, enjoying the ministration, while his tail continued to flop about happily.

"What kind of dog is he anyways?" Mai asked in hushed amazement.

"He is an Irish wolf hound," the woman answered distractedly, happy to see Rocco was getting some attention.

It was another thirty minutes while Naru filled out paper work and selected the necessary items needed for the dog, while Mai kept Rocco company and sat just outside with his leash wrapped around her wrist, and the man could not help but find the sight amusing. While she sat on the curb and Rocca next to her, the dogs head towered over her own, and his tail had yet to stop wagging.

"Hey, Naru?" Mai called as he approached, finally finished gathering supplies and paying for everything. The lady had even given him a little cart for them to tote everything around in. A large bag of food, treats, a handful of Rocco's favorite toys, and the bed he had refused to give up filled it. It should be noted that the bag of dog food alone weighed fifty pounds. The woman had just been so happy to see her little Rocco get adopted that she had been all too happy to assist in any way she could.

"Hm?" he responded while he read through the dog's paperwork, he had come to a stop on the other side of Rocco, though he refused to sit on the curb like the two next to him.

"Are we going to bring him on cases?" she asked quietly.

"Maybe," he answered as he turned the page.

"I think we should repaint the van then," she mumbled thoughtfully and scratched the happy dog behind his ears with a smirk.

Naru lowered the papers and dropped his eyes to her in confusion before it dawned on him and he huffed out an irritated sigh that Mai knew was meant to cover a snort of laughter. As if to prove it Rocco bumped his head against Naru's thigh and caused the man to roll his eyes. They were most certainly NOT the Scooby Gang.

"Will they even allow dogs in the hotel?" Mai asked as she stood and brushed off the seat of her jeans. Rocco hopped to his paws and followed after her as she trailed after Naru.

"Of course, he is a part of our team after all," Naru answered carelessly and glanced up and down the streets in search of a restaurant with outdoor seating. "He is to stay by your side at all times," he added lowly and pulled Mai along across the street, not even bothering to dodge people as he led the way, and ignored the annoyed glares they sent him as easily as he ignored Mai's. "If they have a problem then we'll leave," he answered with a shrug.

"Naru!" she admonished and nearly tripped over the curb and blinked in surprise when Rocco navigated it gracefully and hopped up onto the sidewalk. "You only knew it was there because I tripped on it," she muttered and poked Rocco in the nose. He licked her finger in retaliation.

Naru shot her a glance from the corner of his eye, "I was only kidding," he answered quietly. "We'd just have to figure something out." He stopped at a table and pulled out a chair for Mai to sit, once she had claimed the seat, all flustered like, he sat down across from her with a sigh.

Rocco rested his head atop the table and gave a gentle woof for attention and Mai giggled. She scratched him between the ears while Naru watched with his arms crossed. He was glad to see that Mai was looking much more cheerful now that she was out of the mansion but he had to warn her of the events that may come to pass and so he leaned forwards and rested his crossed arms on the table.


"Hmm?" she responded absently and wiggled a finger just above Rocco's nose, smiling when he managed to find it with his tongue.

"The reason I brought you out here was so that I could warn you," Naru continued darkly and narrowed his eyes while Mai turned to face him in confusion.

"Warn me about what?" she asked wearily and was thankful when Rocco dropped his head onto her lap. She took comfort from the reassuring weight and settled a hand on the top of his head.

"My father," he stated simply. He watched her while several different emotions flickered across her face, the most prominent being confusion, before he continued. "I didn't tell him about your growing abilities because I knew they would intrigue him but it's become quite obvious that your powers are continuing to expand and if you are not careful . . ." he trailed off and watched as her eyes widened in understanding and she lowered her gaze to the table between them in thought. "He believes that you are a danger to yourself and should be properly trained so that your abilities may be honed and used," he fell silent at the distressed look that consumed her face and he sighed. "I told him you already had the best teacher there was but he won't hear any of it," he added irritably.

"You told him about Gene?" she pondered.

Naru shook his head, "No, I didn't tell him who it was."

Mai's expression fell flat and she sighed, he could probably clear up the whole situation if he told his father about his late brother, but she understood that Naru did not feel comfortable with doing that. The Davises had just buried Gene and she highly doubted they wanted to hear that his spirit was still wandering the Earth. Especially given the field they were in. Spirits, no matter how jovial in life, could easily be affected by the negativity around them. The longer they lingered the more likely it would be that they would turn. But Gene was different, Mai knew, as he claimed to be 'asleep' whenever he was not assisting them in a case. Her intuition told her so.

"He will try to persuade you," Naru added quietly and clasped his hands together in front of him while he organized his thoughts. "What I want to know is what you think about the situation. If he asked you to return to England with him, what would you do?"

"I'd tell him no," she answered without even bothering to think the question over. She only shrugged and continued to pet Rocco lovingly while Naru stared at her blankly. "I just got everyone back and I'll be damned if I let someone else drag me away," she muttered and blushed at the anger that seeped into her tone, not sure if Naru would appreciate such emotions being directed towards his father, and scowled. "Anyways, I already have the best teachers around, I've already learned so much . . ." despite the conviction her words were meant to inspire she seemed worried.

"You're going to get wrinkles," Naru observed dryly.

Mai lifted a hand to her forehead and rubbed the skin between her brows with a frown, "Don't say that," she hushed him.

They were greeted by their waiter soon after and the man was happy to meet Rocco and bring him a big bowl of water after he had taken their orders. Mai just ordered a bowl of soup, as her stomach was in knots and she didn't think she could stomach anything greasy or too filling, while Naru ordered some kind of fancy salad from what Mai could gather.

They ate in relative silence until Mai pulled a piece of chicken from Naru's plate and fed it to the dog without so much as asking for permission. Naru had looked at her flatly before rubbing the bridge of his nose with a sigh.

"You're going to spoil him," he said in warning.

"Of course," Mai answered with a laugh.

The walk back to the mansion was peaceful, though it did start to rain as Naru predicted it would, and he opened the umbrella and held it over their heads while he pulled the cart and Mai held onto Rocco's leash.

Mai stared down at the horse of a dog walking calmly beside her and she had to admit that his figure was a reassuring one. It was nice to have something big, with teeth and claws, prowling along beside you. But she glanced sideways at Naru and wondered what in the world he had been thinking by adopting a dog. Sure, the experiment was a plausible excuse, but any trained dog would have done, and he had to pick out the largest one who was blind on top of it. A Chihuahua would have been easier to handle and sneak around with on cases. But there was no hiding Rocco.

"We should get him a little SPR vest so people will think he is a service dog," she voiced her thought with a giggle, turning to look up at Naru from under the umbrella, and laughed when she noticed the thoughtful look that had developed on his face.

"That's not a bad idea," he mumbled quietly and turned his eyes on to her as if he were reappraising her intelligence level, slightly impressed.

Rocco perked his ears upon hearing the soft chittering of a squirrel and he strained against the leash, nose pointed in the direction of said woodland animal, and whined.

"No, Rocco," Mai warned and pulled back on the leash.

"In English, Mai," Naru reminded blandly and paused to pull at the wagon that's wheel had gotten caught up on a tree root. It crept across the gravel drive way innocently and Naru grunted.

"Ah, you're right," Mai agreed before turning back to Rocco, "No, Rocco!" She admonished in english and was satisfied when the dog lowered his ears and ceased struggling against the leash. But then there was the sound of a dog barking in the distance and Rocco was off, pulling Mai along, and racing down the gravel path with his tongue rolling about in the wind.

Mai cried out upon being pulled from out beneath the umbrella and laughed when the rain drenched her within seconds and yet Rocco continued to pull her along. The dog refused to give up the chase, even Mai could no longer hear the dog barking, until Naru's voice called out after them.

"Rocco, Sit!"

The dog slid to a stop and Mai tumbled over him and rolled onto her back before the dog that barely budged under her weight. He leaned forward and sniffed at her face before laying down over her chest and wagged his tail. Mai laughed despite the weight on her chest and the mud on her clothes. She had played with so many dogs in the past year that the rough treatment barely phased her. She had once been toppled by a mastiff, his weight nearly too much for her to bear, but had laughed it off when he sat down next to her and licked her face. She had gotten plenty dirty then too, as she recalled, and had spent the rest of the day playing outside with all the other dogs since her clothes were already ruined.

"Rocco," she whined through her giggles and tried to roll out from under the dog but he only shifted his weight and cocked his head towards Naru as he approached. Mai wound up on her stomach while Rocco had shifted so that his top half rested on her back and he panted heavily. "This is my Mai," he seemed to say and claimed her as his by sitting on her.

"Don't let him pull you around, Mai," Naru admonished lightly.

"Like I can help it! He's bigger than me!" She cried but it soon turned into laughter when Rocco dropped his head and licked her neck. She finally managed to roll out from under him and stood, attempting to brush the worst of the dirt and mud off of her jeans and jacket while Naru lifted his eyes to the skies above.

They continued on down the drive but as they walked Mai noted the black vans and RV's that flew down the road, barely avoiding them, and stopped at the Vinoy mansion with no time to spare. Instantly people would pour forth from every vehicle and move inside, carrying tons of luggage, while the RV's spit out a handful of people at most.

"Those must be the bands," Mai observed curiously while Rocco trotted at her side.

"Hm," Naru hummed in agreement but made no comment as they climbed the steps and breezed through the main entrance.

They didn't make it ten feet in before someone called out, "That's a huge dog!"

Mai turned nervously to watch as a young man, only a few years older than Mai herself, approached wearing black jeans and a grey t-shirt. He seemed jovial enough and when he drew close to them Rocco turned his head and wagged his tail, taking a few excited steps in his direction while he sniffed the air.

"What's his name?" the man asked curiously as he crouched down in front of Rocco and offered his hand curiously. His blue eyes immediatly landed on the sightless ones of Rocco's and he frowned before ruffling the fur atop his head and smiling.

"His name is Rocco," Mai answered with a nervous chuckle and crouched down next to the two to act as a sort of mediator.

"Rocco, huh? It suits him, a nice big strong name for a big strong guy," he chuckled and continued to scratch the dog.

"I thought so too," Mai agreed with a laugh, glad to see the man was familiar with dogs by the way he treated Rocco, "He's part of our team."

"What kind of team?" The man asked curiously and shot Mai and amused look.

"Paranormal investigators," Mai answered nervously with a chuckle and a shrug.

"No way, like those TAPS guys who have their own show?" he exclaimed and dropped his hands from Rocco to fully face Mai, still crouched in front of her.

"Well, we don't have a show, we are more like researchers," she answered, surprised by his excitement and turned to glance over at Naru, who was standing with his arms crossed and looking away. She scowled at his unsociable attitude but returned her attention to the gentleman next to her. He seemed so generally interested by the topic and she could not deny the energy that she unintentionally fed off of.

"That's so cool, I had heard this place was haunted but to find out it's actually being investigated during our show is awesome," he admitted with an excited laugh and pushed himself into a standing position. He brushed off the knees of his jeans and offered Mai his hand to shake. "I'm Tyler," he said with a grin.

Mai jumped to her feet and shook his hand, "Mai Taniyama," she greeted in return and shook his hand. "Are you part of one of the bands?" she asked curiously and slightly excited. She would love to tell Monk that she had met and spoken with one of the band members that would be playing tomorrow.

"Yes, I'm the lead of Twenty One Pilots," he answered, not the least bit surprised that she did not know who he was, "We're still a little new to the scene so this past year has been a rush . . . But we made it to Next Big Thing!" He explained and laughed excitedly again.

"Well congratulations!" Mai exclaimed and awarded him a bright smile.

Tyler was pulled away after that by another man around his age but they could hear him talking about the encounter he had just had and while Mai watched him go with a laugh, she felt a shiver travel up her spine. She ignored it though as Naru ushered them along through the main foyer until her eyes landed upon a figure standing at one of the windows. He was standing with his arms crossed and staring straight at her with pleading eyes. But he was wearing the wrong kind of clothes. She did not have time to ponder on his appearance, though, because someone walked in front of her and blocked her vision of him and when her eyes returned to the spot he was gone.

She glanced down at Rocco to find him staring in the same direction, tail between his legs and ears down, and growled lowly in his chest. She tugged at his leash worriedly and pulled him away after Naru who had already moved on.

Just behind the stairs there was an elevator and they utilized this while Naru pulled the wagon behind him.

"I hope we don't get in trouble," Mai mumbled as they stood in the elevator patiently.

"Who would we get in trouble with?" Naru asked with his arms crossed and eyes closed.

Mai shrugged and lifted her eyes in thought, "The hotel manager, the staff, your parents . . ." she listed off and clasped her hands in front of her, Rocco's leash still looped over her wrist. "We'll have to let the airport know, and I'm pretty sure my apartment won't allow me to keep him so I'll have to hide him . . ." she rubbed her neck and looked down at the dog who was currently sniffing around the elevator.

"If it comes to that I am sure Monk will jump at the chance for you to move in," Naru commented dryly and smirked when Mai blushed and threw what he was sure was an internal fit.

The elevator binged and the doors slid open. Rocco felt the rush of air and sniffed the now open space curiously. His tail fell as Mai led him out of the elevator and it was something Naru noticed with pleasure. Clearly, Rocco was not happy with this establishment. Which meant he had a useful subject to study.

"Hmm," he hummed in thought as they trailed down the hallway.

Mai was day dreaming as they walked but when she came to the base door she waited for Naru to open it. The genius paused to roll his eyes before he stepped around her and opened the door, pulling the cart behind him, and held the door for Mai once he had moved it out of the way. It was obvious that she did not want to be the first to walk in and wanted Naru to act as a distraction. But no distraction could hide the presence of Rocco, such was his sie, and Mai knew it.

"Oi, Naru, what's with the dog foo- holy shit!" Monk exclaimed as Mai sidled into the room dragging Rocco with her.

"What the hell, you guys leave and come back with a horse," Ayako squawked from where she sat on the couch.

"Noll!" Luella reprimanded but Naru only closed his eyes against their questioning and pushed the cart up against the wall out of the way. It was just another pile of clutter within their once pristine room. He recalled a time when base had been organised a quiet, just him and Lin, broken only by the sound of them typing away on their laptops. But now he stared out into a sea of cluttered equipment and research material, personal bags and articles of clothing, shoes, books, and the remainder of their coffees and doughnuts from the day before . . . and sighed. The dog's belongings were just another added mess.

"Was there any activity while we were away ?" he asked, ignoring the excitement behind him as the team huddled around Rocco and gave him adoring pats and cooed over his obvious happiness upon receiving attention.

"Temperatures dropped in a few rooms while Monk and John cleared out some, but nothing major," Lin answered as Naru joined him at the bank of monitors. Lin had managed to record the temperatures of every room on his own in record time but he had always been the more efficient out of the group when it came to such menial tasks and it was no surprise. What was a surprise was the lack of activity even as the members of the team attempted to exorcise the property.

"Hmm," Naru hummed but did not share his thoughts with Lin. He had little more than suspicion to go on and he tended not to voice his opinions until they were fact, lest he altered the opinions of others, for fear of ruining a potentially interesting idea from another angle voiced by someone else. Rare though it was.

"I always pegged you as a cat person," Madoka commented from next to Lin and laughed when Naru sighed.

"I'm working on a theory and I required an animal for said theory," he explained coldly.

"You mean the theory that animals can sense spirits?" Madoka questioned curiously. She herself had never delved to far into the topic, assuming it be fact as she had seen it occur herself on many of her own cases, but it would be interesting to study. She wondered if he planned to study young children as well and she pondered the idea of Naru working with small children and laughed again.

"Yes," he answered and straightened from where he had been leaning over the table to look at the screens.

"Then why not just use Mai as an example."

Naru turned an icy glare on Yasuhara, who had appeared out of nowhere, summoned by the opportunity to make a joke.

Lin snorted and Naru turned away, "She's has too much conscious thought to use, my experiment would not be credible."

Yasuhara guffawed and covered his mouth with a hand before turning back to Madoka, his partner in crime, and whispered "I bet he just wanted to get her a guard dog so the men would leave her alone."

Madoka giggled into her hand and nodded.

"Now that all the bands and their crews have arrived, we probably won't see any activity," John said aloud while he thought. He was seated on the couch with Rocco sitting in his lap and the image was one none of the SPR team would ever forget because Rocco was so large that his front paws were still on the floor in front of him, yet John seemed not to notice.

"I was thinking that as well," Martin muttered with a sigh while he eyed the dog critically.

"Don't jinx it," Monk muttered. He had yet to change out of his robes and it was obvious he was tired from the day's event.

"You might be right," Mai replied thoughtfully. They could hear the sounds of shouting, luggage being dragged up the stairs, and doors opening and slamming from their room even with the doors shut. It almost sounded like the hotel was being haunted by hundreds of poltergeists at that very moment. They would have had their hands full if it were so.

"That means Linkin Park is here!" Bou-san cried and leapt to his feet.

"Oh no," Ayako exclaimed, "He is going to embarrass us and go knocking on every door until he finds them and gets their autograph."

Monk turned to his girlfriend and arch enemy with a scowl, "I am not," he muttered and sat back down on the chair he had claimed as his days ago.

Mai jumped at the chance to infrom Monk that they had run into one of the band members and the man practically squealed.

"Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day," Luella said quietly.

"Yes," Naru agreed and moved to the center of the room. "I have a plan for tomorrow but it will only work if you are all on your game so pay attention."

The room fell silent as all eyes turned to their leader.

"There will be hundreds of people in this park tomorrow, and every victim has gone missing during large scale events, we will be acting as guards," Naru explained. "Everyone will have a walkie-talkie on them at all times. I want Mai and Masako to stay within the mansion and monitor the spiritual movements from here. Martin will remain in base to monitor the equipment. Everyone else will be in the park stationed around the surrounding area to watch and make sure no one goes missing." It was obvious that Naru was taking the situation very seriously and did not intend on the perpetrator adding another victim to their list any time soon.

Everyone nodded their understanding, satisfied with that, Naru turned away and sighed when there was a loud thump from the room above theirs.

Mai took the chance to slip away into her room and shower. She was still covered in dirt and mud from her tumble in the park. She checked the stitches on her hands and knees, glad that none of them had ripped open and scrubbed her hair free of the rainwater before she scurried to her suitcase and picked out an outfit for the night and hurryied back to the bathroom, not about to be caught by a peeping Yasu again.

It was a simple cotton black dress that fell around her knees in gentle folds. She had pulled on her green cardigan over it before pulling on a pair of black flats and stepping through the door into base. The others were talking amongst themselves and Mai took the opportunity to dig some dog food out of the large bag for Rocco who, upon hearing the sound, hurried over with tail wagging. She watched him wolf down the food with gusto and chuckled when he whined for more. He nosed her stomach and pushed her about, following her as she claimed a seat on the couch, and dropped his head into her lap with his ears down and tail wagging.

"You're such a moocher," she exclaimed with a laugh.

Rocco barked and licked his lips.

Mai glanced around the room, spotting the usual two in front of the monitors talking quietly between themselves, Masako was sitting at the table by the window, and Ayako was sitting across from Mai on the couch looking through her phone.

"Where is everyone else?" she asked curiously.

"Meh," Ayako answered with a shrug. "Getting cleaned up and changed into nice clothes. Martin, Luella, and Madoka went back to their hotel for the night."

"Aw," Mai whined, she liked Leulla a lot and enjoyed having her at the table during meals. She was such a mother hen, not as loud or angry as Ayako, and brought a certain kind of brightness with her that she admired.

"Your mother-in-law will be back tomorrow," Ayako drawled dryly and lifted her eyes to watch as Mai spluttered and blushed.

Naru did not react to the comment, but he did fall silent, and Mai wondered what that meant.

"I just like it when we're all together as a big group," Mai muttered and scratched Rocco behind his ears.

"Uh-huh," Ayako responded and dropped her eyes back to her phone.

They all spent time in the base, lounging around and waiting for the rest of the team to assemble, and didn't talk about anything particular. In fact, Mai even took a short catnap dream free whole Rocco laid on top of her on the couch. Although, she had a feeling that he only hung around because he still wanted more food. She hugged his head to her chest, ignoring the smell of his doggy breath, and blushed at the memory of Naru forcing him onto her. She wasn't quite sure what his reasoning for that had been but she was grateful because she had found another family member to add to her collection. She chuckled in her throat and squeezed just a bit harder when Rocco licked her cheek.

When she woke Monk was standing over her and scratching Rocco behind the ears and talking over his shoulder to who she assumed was Naru about going down to the restaurant for dinner that night. Naru had agreed, knowing the Monk wanted a chance to see if he could spot a few band members, and mumbled something to Lin.

"I'll come," Lin responded just a bit loud and stood from his chair, attempting to hide the stretch that was meant to relieve the tension in his shoulders, before he let out a small sigh.

Mai pushed Rocco off of her and sat up on the couch before letting out a yawn and doing her own stretch. Everyone stood and they shuffled out the door down to the restaurant. Rocco was left behind to guard the base, though Mai felt bad about it, the dog seemed content within the charm sealed room. When they had left he had claimed a spot on the couch while chewing on one of his toys happily.

Monk seemed to be teeming with excitement and would not stop talking about the other bands he knew were at the hotel and practically threw himself through the restaurant doors. Yasuhara chuckled and turned backwards, still walking, to look at Mai with fake longing.

"My love has left me for other men," he cried and Mai laughed in response. "Will you stay with me tonight, Mai?"

Mai's laugh turned awkward and she pulled her hand out of Yasuhara's grasp, which he had latched onto in his act, "Probably not, Yasu." He always had to take it a step too far, that damn Yasuhara.

"Even after I worked so hard to save that pretty face of yours," he bemoaned.

"Hmm," Mai hummed in thought and lifted her eyes to the ceiling, "Maybe, as long as it's just cuddling."

Ayako snorted into her hand and Naru sighed.

John, on the other hand, had leaned against the wall with a blush.

"Will they never grow up?" Masako pondered out loud.

They reclaimed their table by the window, though there were several seats left empty, and had greeted their waiter cheerily enough but the man seemed flustered and somewhat stressed. Indeed the restaurant, usually filled with hushed conversations and sat tables sparingly, was packed.

"So, are we going to address the fact that Naru got Mai a dog?" Yasuhara started them off after clearing his throat and clasping his hands together on the table and turned to look at the stoic man curiously. He looked like some kind of counselor as he spoke and the others snickered while Mai laughed.

"Yeah, isn't that like, something you do after you've been dating for a while?" Monk questioned as he too, leaned forward and clasped his hands.

Mai blushed under Masako and Ayako's scrutiny and sank into her chair.

"It amazes me how little work is discussed on these cases," Naru commented while he scooped two spoons of sugar into his tea and studiously ignored the imploring stairs the two men were sending him. If they thought their drilling holes into his face would make him crack then they were sorely mistaken as he had grown up with Eugene Davis for a brother and was quite used to the tactic. That boy could stare people down like no tomorrow.

"Well, all we know is that Prudence had a crappy life and that William is a douche, we exorcised most of the house today and nothing happened, what more can we do unless something else happens?" Monk defended seriously.

Mai scowled over at him, irritated that he would simplify what she had experience to something so trivial, but sighed, knowing that he didn't mean it as an insult. He too was frustrated by their lack of progress. She felt as if they usually had a bit more to go on by this point but their previous cases had not been so, well, secretive. It was like someone had gone behind, after all the events that had taken place to leave the property, and cleaned house. There was barely any information to gather and they were relying heavily on Mai's dreams.

"Mai and I have known each other for over two years, surely it's not so strange for me to do something kind. She's always complaining about how empty her apartment is," Naru deflected the question and returned to the previous topic as easily as one would turn the page in a book.

Monk grunted and sat back in his chair, "Alright, alright, Mr. too good to admit when he's wrong."

"I'm never wrong, just yet to be proven right in this case," Naru shot back and took a sip from his tea.

Yasuhara snorted and turned his eyes to Mai but before he could say anything else their food had arrived and everyone was promptly distracted. Except for Monk, whose attention was turned onto the rest of the restaurant in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the many band members that had arrived that day. But it seemed it was only their crews and assistants who were dining downstairs that night.

"Can you calm down," Ayako muttered from where she sat next to Monk. His leg was jumping up and down at the speed of light and knocking into hers irritably.

"No," Monk answered defensively.

Mai dropped her eyes to the plate of pasta in front of her with a grin just as the lights in the restaurant went out.

Everyone froze. The silence that befell the previously loud room was deafening as voices were caught in their throats in surprise. It was just the power, they all reassured themselves. Well, all but the group of people sitting at the long table by the window, who had all grown pale and nervous.

"Nobody panic!" a voice rang out over the crowd of guests who had immediately started talking amongst each other in hushed and frightened tones. Everyone knew of the stories that surrounded the old house, indeed, it was part of the reason many of them had decided to stay at that particular hotel as opposed to the much newer one across the street from the park.

Then the scratching started. It sounded like the claws of some small animal scittering across the hardwood floor of the restaurant, but there were hundreds of them, clambering under the chairs and tables. The crowd grew panicked, unable to see what was causing the noises, and someone screamed. Masako stiffened in her seat as she felt something wet and slimy glide over her foot and brush up against her ankle. She dared not move as the others at the table threw their eyes about the dark room in hopes of catching sight of what it was.

Above their heads the chandeliers and light strands swayed, their light creaking causing the hairs on the back of Mai's neck to stand on end.

Someone from one of the tables stood, shoving their chair back, and fled the room in fear.

One of the wait staff had pulled out a flashlight and was talking about finding some candles to set on the tables while they searched for the breaker when Mai happened to catch sight of her plate of food during a broad sweep of his flashlight and she latched onto the person sitting next to her.

Lin sent her a curious glance, finding her death grip on his arm rather uncomfortable, when he too saw it and he froze.

"Close your eyes, Mai," he said in a low tone but his voice alone was enough to alert the others at their table.

"What are you talking about, Lin?" Ayako questioned nervously. She had grabbed Monk's hand when the lights first went out and he now gave her a reassuring squeeze back in return but he too was looking in the direction of Chinese man.

Mai covered her mouth with one hand and gagged, the sound alerting the others to her disgust, "I'm sorry," she muttered in apology before frantically pushing the plate off the table. It shattered on the ground as she scrabbled to get out of her chair.

"Lin," Naru snapped, demanding to know what was wrong with Mai, when the lights flashed back on and all chaos broke loose.

Screams pierced the air and the sound of furniture clattering to the ground, dishes breaking, and gagging could be heard coming from every table as people scrambled to get away from the plates that had moments ago held their food. But were now dishes filled with wiggling worms and questionable red masses that looked suspiciously like flesh and organs.

The members of SPR stared down at their own personal plates of horror with wide eyes of appalled disgust.

Ayako leaned over her chair and vomited up whatever she had already eaten of her meal while Monk, ever the gentleman in any situation, held her hair back and covered his own mouth. John had grown extremely pale but he set his silverware down gently and pushed himself back into his chair. Yasuhara was fighting with the bile he felt rising in his own throat and choked. Lin had already turned his plate over before the lights had even come on and he sent Naru, who had not visibly reacted in slightest besides the grip he had on the edge of the table, a dangerous warning look.

No one dared voice what it was they were looking at but Mai could not deny what she had seen. Her plate of pasta had become a mass of wriggling larva covered in dirt and blood and in the very center had been what she was certain was once a beating heart. The blood had pooled to the edges of the dish and dribbled over onto the white table cloth, towards the edge, and into her lap where the cold and sticky substance had splattered and first drawn her eye to her plate.

"Everyone out," Naru ordered and stood from his chair and in one graceful sweeping motion had pulled the table cloth with him. It all went crashing to the floor and the image was shattered. It was their original food that splattered across the floor but the damage had been done.

Monk stood and scooped Ayako up into his arms while John placed a hand on Masako's shoulder, the woman had not even blinked since the lights had come back on, and guided her up out of her seat and followed Monk out.

"I'm going to run to the bathroom," Yasuhara muttered and hurried after them.

Lin pushed himself out of his chair and turned to look back at Mai who had pushed herself up against the wall with a hand clutched to one of the curtains that hung between the windows. Her other hand was still covering her mouth, staring at the broken plates on the floor, before she lifted her eyes to Lin.

"Mai, it's alright," he muttered quietly and reached a hand out for her.

"We left Rocco alone," she whispered and suddenly she shot off like a dart, stumbling through the destroyed restaurant and leaping over fallen chairs.

"Mai!" Lin shouted and rushed after her but paused halfway to the door and turned back to look at Naru who had yet to move from where he stood, staring at the table cloth in his hand.

Naru lifted his eyes to his assistant, stared for a few seconds, before dropping the cloth and following after him.

They chased Mai up the stairs and down the main hall to their room and made it to the door just as she threw it open and a frantic Rocco knocked Mai to the ground. He sniffed her up and down, whining and chuffing with his tail between his legs, and refused to settle until she had lifted a hand to his head and hushed him. The relief she felt was immense and she brought the dogs head to her chest and squeezed him for all that he was worth in happiness. His warm body was the biggest comfort she could have asked for and she buried her face and hands into his fur to hide the tears and trembling.

Lin sighed in relief and turned to look at Naru who was watching the scene with narrowed eyes. He did not return his look and instead clenched his fists and crouched down next to Mai.

"Mai," he called her name urgently and once she had lifted watery eyes to look at him he continued, "I don't want you dreaming of this case anymore, do you hear me?" His tone was demanding and she scrunched her brows in confusion at him.

"I don't think I can do that, Naru," she answered hesitantly and pulled Rocco even tighter against her chest at the look Naru leveled at her.

Lin felt the temperature drop and set a hand on Naru's shoulder, though the man ignored it.

"This is no spirit we are dealing with," Naru whispered dangerously and pushed himself to his feet, knocking Lin's hand aside, and practically threw the door to base open. "Gene!" he growled out as soon as he had found a mirror hanging from the wall across from the window.

Lin hurried into the room after him and was shortly followed by a confused Mai.

"You will not let her dream of this case any longer," Naru practically growled.

His reflection did not reflect his angered glower in the least, in fact, he looked sad and sympathetic.

"It won't work, Naru," Gene whispered back.

Lin froze, having not known of Gene's development in the slightest, and stared wide eyed at the mirror.

"What do you mean it won't work?" Naru whispered dangerously low.

Gene shook his head and turned to look back over his shoulder as if he had heard something before turning back urgently. "I can't stop her, she's dreaming right now and I didn't even do anything, this has gone beyond my control," he explained hurriedly and looked over his brother's shoulder imploringly.

Naru spun on the spot and his eyes landed on the figure of Mai, slouched on the floor leaning against the doorframe. "Dammit," he cursed and left the mirror, unintentionally severing the connection with Gene, and rushed to her side. "Mai!" he called urgently and grabbed her shoulder.

Rocco growled low in his chest but Naru ignored him and crouched over his assistant's fallen form. "Mai, wake up!" he ordered. When she did not respond he grabbed her chin in his hand and lifted her face to his. Her eyes were closed and he cursed again before scooping her up into his arms and rushing to the bathroom.

"Naru, what are you doing?" Lin cried and followed after him while Rocco circled Naru, jumping and barking, demanding that he set Mai down.

"Waking her up," Naru answered darkly.

Mai opened her eyes to a dark room. It was the room she, Monk, and Yasu had discovered the day before, now empty of boxes. There were no electric lights nor were there any candles lit to help her but moonlight spill in through the window where Mai saw the figure of Prudence huddled upon the deep set sill. She was crying into her hands, a loose fitting gown that barely clung to her thin frame, while she rocked back and forth.

"Prudence?" Mai called hesitantly and lifted a hand as if to place it on her shoulder but as soon as their skin made contact Mai found herself viewing the scene from Prudence's perspective once more.

"She's pregnant," she rasped with a raw and blank voice. She pulled her hands away and stared at them as if she were seeing them for the first time. They looked like claws in the strange lighting and she imagined that's what they looked like to William on a regular basis. She was nothing but some old hag he kept hidden away in his mansion while he slept around with that woman.

"I thought I was his princess," she mumbled as tears continued to spill from her eyes. Kikio was a real princess. That must have been what he wanted.

Her eyes drifted towards her vanity where a pair of scissors sat and she pushed herself to her feet slowly. If she wasn't a princess herself then she had to make it obvious so no one else would make the same mistake William had. She sat down at the vanity, lifted the scissors to her eyes, before grabbing a strand of her hair and cutting it away. Strand after strand of her golden hair, silver in the moonlight, fell to the floor around her. And with each strand she grew sadder and sadder. There had been a point in her life when he had braided flowers into that hair, she recalled dully.

That woman was going to have his child now.

She didn't want to be around to see that.

She paused, halfway through her full head of hair, and looked at the scissors in a new light. How they gleamed in the moonlight. She grabbed one of the blades with her hand and pulled, ignoring the way the flesh of her palms split, and grunted when the blades came apart. She set one down and held the other in her hand, turning it this way and that in her grip, before bring it to her wrist.


Mai gasped back into consciousness, water pouring over her head, and cried out. She was yanked out of the tub by a pair of hands and whisked out of the bathroom before she could even register what was going on. She was shaking so violently that she could not actually grasp a hold of the arms that were supporting her and dragging her out into the room where she was set in a chair and one of the comforters was thrown over her shoulders.

She was staring down at her hands as if she were seeing them for the first time, and noticed there were a few new cuts to add to the collection but they weren't deep, just enough to draw blood.

"Mai," Naru called in a soft but urgent tone.

Mai lifted her eyes to his, surprised to see the relieved expression that flashed across his usually stoic face, and let out a shaky breath. "I'm okay," she answered, just as she always did, and pulled the comforter tighter around her.

"No, you are not," Naru stated coldly. Beside him Rocco whined and set his head in Mai's lap pleadingly.

"I am," she answered back with a hesitant smile.

"You have not been fine since the moment we set foot in this house," Naru continued, ignoring her attempts to reassure him and crouched down in front of her to pull her hands from the depths of the thick blanket.

Mai was silent while he examined her hands, not caring if the blood smeared across his own fingers, and watched wearily. She knew what he was thinking and she knew that he was going to try to argue with her and she twisted her hands around so that it was she who was holding his. Naru lifted is eyes to her questioningly and she frowned.

"You will not send me home and you will not close this case without finishing it," she ordered in a tone so like his that the man was taken aback. "There are lives at risk tomorrow and I will not leave this up to the police who have no idea what their interference could mean," she continued, "This is not like the Urado case. This house cannot simply be burned. This runs too deep." She shook her head as Naru opened his mouth and smiled sadly. "This is not simply the fear of death that has driven this spirit to madness, this is the desperate wish of someone who wants the world to know the truth. If this house is destroyed then it will release whatever it is that has been brewing within these walls." She lifted her eyes to the ceiling slowly as she spoke and the walls creaked in warning, as if they were listening to their whispered argument. "It's in the blood," she finished quietly and squeezed Naru's hands.

"Mai," Naru whispered, "Your life is in danger here. Others have gotten hurt but this spirit seems to have latched on to you . . ." he trailed off.

"I know," she whispered back.

"I can't allow you to risk your life for something that already had a chance at one," Naru said. And it was true. She could clearly recall every case in which the stakes rose too high for Naru to compete with and he would order everyone out. He did not condone the risk of their lives simply to cleanse a building.

Mai felt tears brimming and smiled, his strength of will and kindness was inspirational, and it saddened her that so few ever got the chance to see that. "My father gave up his life so that another could live," she began, "and his blood runs through my veins. I have seen what Prudence has suffered and I cannot turn a blind eye to it. If I left now then I would be driven mad."

"Mai." Naru sighed, annoyed with the patronizing tone his voice had taken, but froze when he felt Mai lean forward and place a kiss on the top of his head.

"You know it's true," she muttered and leaned back, "But thank you for your concern."

Naru stared at her wide eyed and let out a breath he had not intentionally held.

"Don't mention this to the others," Mai said quietly, "But I know who is haunting this property, I've known the whole time, and I think it's time for her to rest. . . She's been trying so hard."

Naru dropped his head and sighed, moved by Mai's heart (unwillingly), and stood. How anyone could see the good in a being that had long since been twisted into a monster, killed several people, and threatened their very life was beyond him. But he knew that he could not argue with her. He would send her on the first plane home if he thought it would do her any good but he knew. He knew that if he forced her to leave she would fall into a depression and wither away until there was nothing but that sad smile left. She wouldn't even be angry with him. He lifted his fingers to the bridge of his nose and let out a shaky sigh.

Mai would either wither away from depression, be killed by the spirit that roamed those halls, or . . . she just might get to the bottom of it all and solve the case. He did not enjoy taking chances, only doing so when his hand was forced, but he could not simply ignore her words.

"We will follow through with tomorrow's plans," he said quietly. "But there will be no astral projecting. You'll help patrol the property and John will stay in the mansion with Masako."

Mai smiled up at him so radiantly that he paused. She had smiled at him the same way when he had first set foot back in the office a few weeks ago.

Mai followed Naru back into the base and sat down on one of the couches with Rocco at her side. She felt shaky and scared but also very determined and it surprised her. Slowly, the rest of the team returned and Naru had them all sit down before he spoke. They had all separated to regain their composure before daring to reenter the house, disturbed by what they had seen, but knowing it was their duty to return.

"It may be quite obvious to some of you but I will explain anyway," he began, "What we are facing is no longer a vengeful spirit." He stood leaned against the table where the bank of monitors sat, ever vigilant in their recording, and sighed.

"No spirit would have been able to do that," John agreed quietly and clasped his hands in front of him.

"This is a demon," Naru stated coldly and shut his eyes with a visible wrinkle between his brows. "Be that as it may I am determined to see this through. You all may leave if you wish, I do not want to put you all in danger against your will." He did not make eye contact with them as he let his words sink in. He knew that his stare would only pressure them and he did not need an unwilling team on the case, he needed a determined one, like the one he had spoken with before they had even left Japan. still fresh from their extended break and ready to get back into the fight.

There was stunned silence all around while the team thought over what he had said.

"I'll stay," Monk declared quietly. Everyone turned their eyes onto the now serious man who had pushed himself to his feet. "If Naru-bou it staying than I will as well, Lin can't always protect him."

"I'll stay then," Ayako added quietly. She still looked a bit shaken up from the event but she had regained her color and the angry glint to her eyes. If Monk was staying then she would as well.

"I'll stay," John spoke up from where he sat on the couch. His eyes too had adopted a steely look.

"Me too," Masako mumbled into her sleeve and dropped her eyes to the floor.

"Can I be the waterboy in this one?" Yasuhara asked with a laugh.

"What about you, Mai?" Monk asked quietly.

Suddenly all eyes were on her and she smiled, "Is that even a question you need to ask?"

They all shared reassuring smiles and turned their eyes onto Naru who wore a smirk. He pushed himself away from the table and uncrossed his arms, "This is our biggest case yet and may be the breakthrough of the century in regards to the paranormal field, let's not disappoint."

The others laughed at his confidence and like that the tension was broken.

"I don't know about you guys but I could go for some pizza," Monk spoke up moments later and everybody groaned.

"I'll take mine with a side of meal worms, I heard they are a great source of protein," Yasuahra added and Mai promptly lobbed a pillow at him from across the room. Ayako had turned green.

They were visited by the manager shortly after, distraught after the events of the night, but not angry with them like several of their clients had been on previous cases. Sam asked if they were all alright, flustered that they had had to witness such a sight, and seemed to be assuring himself that they were all in perfect health as he rambled. They assured him they would get to the bottom of the case and were not going to run out on him to which the man was grateful. After that Naru made a call to his father explaining the situation to him and Martin had agreed to return to the hotel and offer his opinion on the matter. He was more knowledgeable than even Naru was when it came to demons and claimed he had a few ideas.

There would be no patrolling that night. In fact, no one even wanted to return to their rooms. Comforters, blankets, and pillows were collected and the base became a camp. Rocco was having the grandest time rolling around on everyone's blankets and ignored their whines of objection. No one had the heart to stop him and Monk even joined him on the floor, roughhousing with him and scratching his stomach when the dog rolled over.

They did end up ordering pizza and everyone but Ayako and Masako ate.

Mai was having a blast, she couldn't help but feel like she was hosting a slumber party, and it got even better when Madoka, Luella, and Martin breezed into the room fresh from their own hotel. She sat on the floor on the other side of Rocco and laughed when the dog instantly sensed her and rolled over so that his head was in her lap. Mai watched from the corner of her eye as Monk, seated on the floor, leaned back against Ayako's legs and the woman dragged her fingers through his hair thoughtlessly as she was once again reading something on her phone. Mai smiled down at Rocco and scratched his stomach. She was kind of glad that Monk and Ayako had become the token couple of SPR. It was perfect too because she had already viewed them as parental figures and for a moment she felt like they were a real family.

Yasuhara came and dropped down onto the floor next to Mai, made no comment on her choice to wear pajamas outside of the girl's room, and bumped his shoulder into hers. He looked down at her knowingly, a serious glint to his eye, and for a moment Mai feared he was going to confront her. As if he was aware that she knew far more than what she was telling them and was letting her know that it was okay, he would support her, and she smiled up at him. And he smiled in return and leaned back against the couch and threw his arms behind his head with a sigh.

"You're a good friend," Mai said quietly, her eyes now focused on Rocco again, and she missed the grin the pulled at Yasu's mouth.

"I know," he responded with a shrug and wrapped an arm around Mai's shoulders. "Just remember you don't have to take on everything by yourself," he murmured in her ear and Mai smiled.

Mai had not realized how big of an impact Yasuahra had had on her life until that moment. Since he had become a part of the SPR team it had been his job to crack all the jokes and help to lift everyone's spirits, to distract them from the darkness of the cases they dealt with, and he had done it all eagerly. She admired his strength of will then but it only grew when SPR had disbanded and, instead of focusing on college and making new friends, he had taken it upon himself to tutor her and see to it that she graduated high school. He was her big brother and how wonderful that thought felt as it nestled into her chest and spread its warmth to the tips of her fingers.

"Hey, what are you two doing getting all cozy over there?" Monk exclaimed from across the sea of blankets that had taken up residence between the two couches after the coffee table had been moved.

Yasuhara shot a lecherous grin over at Monk while Mai stuck her tongue out at him and laughed when the man blushed, either due to their combined expressions, or the fact that neither of them denied his statement. He shot curious eyes over to Naru, who was leaning over a table and muttering something to his father while Martin nodded and gestured to the pile of papers between them, and scowled. Of course Naru didn't care what Mai did with Yasuhara, or anyone for that matter, since he was still being an ass and ignoring the obvious tension between them.

Monk's heart was in the right place but he couldn't have been more wrong.

Naru could see the two from the corner of his eye, could hear their conversation and process it even as he spoke to his father and followed the man's every move with is eyes, and it was infuriating. Though his calm and stoic expression never faltered, never broke, there was definitely a kind of energy raging within him. He was only glad his father did not think to comment on it. The man was one of the top paranormal investigators in the world and Naru had no doubt he could feel the emotional and PK driven energy that whipped about inside of him like a storm.

Naru nodded thoughtfully to his father after listening to his suggestions for dealing with demons and or spirits that were far too lost in negativity to be cleansed and lifted a hand to his chin to file away the new information. While it was all useful he was certain that neither of them were quite the solution Mai was looking for. Of course, if it were up to him he would simply tell the manager the property was a lost cause and be done with it, but Mai had something that struck a chord in him. "It's in the blood," she had admitted. The phrase was familiar but he could not place where it was he had heard it and for someone of his intelligence that was extremely frustrating.

His eyes drifted to the figure of his female assistant, curled up under Yasuhara's arm while the man spoke with Monk, before they slid right on past her and he moved over to the table where Lin sat.

The next morning was a chaotic mess of disorganization and activity. While SPR was waking up and getting ready for the day, pulling on a few less layers of clothes as the sky was predicted to be clear and the sun could shine freely, the rest of the hotel was frantic. It was the day of the concert and men had been working all night to set up the large stage across the clearing from the hotel, leaving hundreds of yards of open space between the two structures for concert goers to move about freely, and the noise had not once died down. Well into the night the crews had been shouting, hammering, drilling, and setting up sound equipment and anyone who had been able to sleep undisturbed was considered a god after that night. Of course Yasuhara had no problem as he had a large family and was used to obnoxious snoring and children refusing to go to bed, up late and giggling mischievously, and so had only rolled over once during the night because of Rocco breathing directly into his ear.

The couches had been pushed apart and all the comforters laid out side by side, like mats, and the six members of SPR not including Naru and Lin, had slipped beneath a layer of second blankets to sleep. Martin and Luella had only napped on one of the couches while Madoka took it upon herself to stay up with Lin and Naru in case anything happened.

Mai had just been glad she got to sleep between Ayako and Monk. Monk, of course, would not let Yasuhara anywhere near Mai after their behavior earlier, and Mai could not find it in herself to be embarrassed. She was only amused and happy.

So as everyone collected their blankets and returned to their rooms to get dressed, Mai took a moment to stare out one of the many windows in the base, and take on an impressed expression at the mass amounts of stalls and canopies that decorated the property. Food trucks were steaming away as their owners cooked for the upcoming concert. And she could just barely make out the stage in the distance thanks to its height.

"Wow," she mumbled and lifted a hand to the glass to get a closer look at the ground just below the window where she could see several staff gathered to watch. The hotel would be open to any guests who wanted to get out of the sun but only the bottom floor would be accessible. Drinks would not be allowed inside from outside and vice versa. Mai had a feeling the hotel was going to be trashed by the end of the night but she was certain the manager would be able to handle it as he had to have the past couple of years that the concert took place within Vinoy Park.

"Mai," she heard the voice of her boss call out from across the room, "Tea."

Mai sent him a curious look before moving over to the portable stove to prepare enough tea for everyone. She was just glad that someone had provided them with more tea cups. She had a feeling it might have been the property manager, he seemed the kind type, and he was used to overseeing the care of his employees. In fact, Mai recalled a lot of the interviews she had had with the staff in which the majority of them had painted the nervous man in a favorable light. She smiled at the thought as she waited for the water to boil and sighed. The man was probably only such a nervous wreck because of the spirit that haunted his property. Mai had only been there for going on five days and she was almost at her wits end. If the case wasn't solved soon she feared for her sanity.

When the kettle whistled she quickly filled the cups that she had set up on the table, only a few as some of the others hadn't returned from their rooms yet, and dutifully distributed them. It was only as she was handing a cup to Lin that she realized she was still in her pajamas, a pair of night shorts and a baggy orange t-shirt, and she blushed irritably. Naru had literally demanded tea from her the moment she had opened her eyes! He hadn't even bothered to let her get dressed!

She set Naru's cup of tea down in front of him a bit more forcefully than necessary. "Anything else, master?" she asked cheerily.

Naru took a sip of the tea before returning his eyes to the screens of the monitors. "Hand me those folders from over there," he said and gestured to a stack of manila folders off to his left and Mai stared wide eyed before she scowled and pushed herself away from him with a huff.

"Yes, master," she exclaimed in annoyance and lifted the stack of folders into her arm and brought them over to him. Once they had been rudely dropped onto the table next to him she crossed her arms and asked, "May I be allowed to change out of my pajamas now?"

"If you must," Naru replied calmly and pulled one of the folders from the top without tearing his eyes away from the monitors.

"Gosh," she muttered and turned away from him.

Once everyone had changed into appropriate clothing and had eaten their fair share of the donuts provided by Luella, again, they gathered around the monitors to begin their planning.

Chapter Text

To say Mai was nervous when she stepped out of the shower would have been and understatement. Though she knew the others were preparing for what they thought was an exciting day, the sight of Masako sitting on one of the windowsills in their room deep in troubling thoughts was enough to cause her pause, and she found herself wishing that she could remain in bed. While she went about searching for some clothes to wear that day, something light as it was surprisingly warm outside for a winter day, she thought about questioning the medium on what was on her mind. It wasn't until she was dressed and properly prepared for the day, a pair of black tights and a light and grey dress, that she joined the woman at the window with a sigh.

"What's wrong, Masako?" she asked quietly and watched as she dragged herself from her thoughts, blinking back into reality, and turned her eyes onto Mai.

"The spirits have become restless . . ." she answered in a hushed tone.

"Restless?" Mai questioned wearily and fought the shiver that trailed up her spine.

"Yes, there are many on this property and from the majority I feel fear . . ." Masako trailed off and clasped her hands together in her lap, "But there are three that are different and much more powerful. Two of them are anxious, I would go as far as to say worried . . ."

"Hmm," Mai leaned back against the sill and lifted a hand to her chin in thought. She knew of two spirits on the property; Prudence, and who she had concluded was Alexander. She recalled the fact that Adam, the man who had been pushed down the stairs, had seen a man standing in the distance and she herself had caught sight of him just the day before. She had not made the connection until just then though. She berated herself for her stupidity and scowled at her hands. But there was a third . . .? It couln't be William himself as the man had been carted off to jail for life where she assumed he eventually perished. If his soul was left to linger in the world it would surely be trapped within the walls of whatever prison he had been kept in. So who then was the third?

"Do you have any idea who they are?" she asked hesitantly. So far she had kept the identities of those she knew a secret from the rest of the team besides Naru himself. This was partly due to her not having the full story and partly to do with her knowledge of the team. If she were to tell them the identity of the spirit who she thought was causing all the harm they would have jumped the gun and exorcised her long ago.

"No," Masako shook her head and her delicate brows scrunched together in frustration and she huffed. "They are too wrapped up in the emotions they are experiencing right now to even realize their own selves."

Mai nodded once and turned her eyes out onto the park below them, now beginning to fill with people, and wondered just what it was they were in store for that day. All those people were oblivious to the darkness dwelling within the mansion on the property, fooled by its innocent fairy tale appearance, and it was up to them to make sure that not one of them was spirited away while they were on the job. She felt daunted by the task as she looked down into the park teeming with hundreds of people already. The vent had started at nine o'clock but the bands didn't start til eleven.

She pushed herself off of the sill and entered the base, caught in thought, and did not even notice Monk standing in front of her with his arms crossed until she bumped into him.

"Mai," Monk muttered with a quirked brow, a look of disapproval on his face.

Mai stepped back, surprised, and scowled at the monk for not announcing his presence sooner, "Yes?" she snapped and rubbed at her aching nose.

Monk's serious expression broke and he smirked, "Are you going to be okay today?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" she shot back and her sour look turned to one of annoyed confusion. She was still mulling over Masako's words and debating whether they were worth mentioning to Naru and had no patience for Monk's games.

"You'll be stuck with Naru and Lin today," Monk answered with a shrug and his amused expression turned to tenderness as he ruffled her hair. "I know you two have been on rocky ground since he came back and after yesterday . . ." He had not witnessed the events that took place after the dinner fiasco but it did not take a cold hearted genius prodigy to feel the tension between them.

"I'll be fine," Mai answered with an understanding smile and pushed his hand away from her hair. "It's not what you think, quit worrying so much about me," she berated him lightly but she would be lying if she said she did not enjoy the attention. It had been so long since someone had actually worried about her and it struck a small chord with her.

"Never," Monk shot back and smiled down at her cheerily.

"Is everyone ready?" Madoka called out across the room.

Monk turned away from Mai to join the others who were seated on the two couches and surrounding chairs. Mai glanced back into the girl's room to find Masako making her way out and so she hurried over to stand behind one of the couches while Madoka handed out walkie-talkies to everyone.

"Everyone will have a walkie-talkie and if anything strange or paranormal catches your eye, please, do not refrain from mentioning it," Naru instructed while he snapped his own walkie-talkie to his waste band and turned it on. Once finished he turned his eyes onto his team and parents. "As I said before, we do not know how these women are taken, only that their bodies are found the next day, keep your eyes open."

Madoka handed Mai her own walkie-talkie and the girl immediately fiddled with it until it was on the correct setting before clipping it to the belt she wore over the grey dress.

"Masako and John will remain here with my parents in the base while we patrol the grounds. This is an all day event so be sure to keep yourselves hydrated and your minds focused," Naru continued and moved towards the couches. He scanned over their determined faces before he turned to look back at Lin who was, as usual, seated behind his laptop. "Lin, what is the temperature outside?" he asked lightly.

"It is eighty-five degrees though projected to rise to ninety by noon," Lin answered quickly.

"What?" Ayako exclaimed and sat straighter in her seat on the couch next to John, "Wasn't it in the sixties yesterday?"

"Welcome to Florida," Madoka replied with a smile and laughed when the red head blanched before immediately shedding the jacket she had pulled on over her black top.

Naru sighed and crossed his arms while Luella chuckled and took a sip of her coffee from the table by the window. All eyes turned to their leader as the young man reached for his button up shirt and undid the first button. "Like I said, keep hydrated, I don't want any distractions from this and a another trip to the hospital is the last thing we need to by worrying about today," he explained as he undid the last button and shed the black shirt to reveal a short sleeved black undershirt beneath. He pulled the sleeve from his arm and folded the shirt in his hands before placing it on the table that held all his notes and laptop.

"Who needs sunscreen?" Madoka sang cheerfully and rummaged through her bag on the coffee table before pulling out a white bottle and brandishing it for all to see.

"I'm too distracted by Naru's arms to worry about sunscreen," Yasu explained from where he sat and grinned while the others chuckled.

"They are nice arms," Monk agreed from where he stood next to Ayako, a hand to his chin in thought as he stared at the young man who was determinedly ignoring them, "Naru, do you work out by any chance?"

They all turned their eyes to the man as he straightened and moved over towards Madoka, quietly accepting the bottle of sunscreen she offered him, and simply said, "Tai Chi."

"Oh," Monk answered with a surprised expression. He turned his eyes on Mai who met his stare curiously before he waggled his eyebrows at her and she blushed before turning her head away.

Honestly, Mai had expected him to be a twig underneath all the layers of black, as it seemed he hardly ever did anything but work. Even sleep was often shunted aside for his research. The only time he would have had time to practice martial arts would have had to have been when he was at home. It went to show how little she knew of him. It obviously wasn't for self defense that he studied the art of karate, as the man could blast away practically anything he wanted if he was willing to. It must have purely for the sake of remaining in shape and staying healthy. Something Mai knew nothing about she realized with a blush and a scratch to her cheek. Though it totally made sense that he had some strength, now that she thought about it, all those times that he had saved her would not have been possible if he had been an out of shape weakling.

"Well, now that we all know Naru's secret," Yasuhara stated bluntly and stood from his seat, "Why don't we get this show on the road?"

They slowly stood to follow Yasuhara's example, some of them shedding layers of clothes in the process, and mentally prepared themselves for a long and hot day. Before she pulled her shoes on Mai retreated to their room and shimmied out of her tights, determined to sweat as little as possible that day, and returned to base just in time to put the leash on Rocco and follow Lin and Naru out of the room.

The hotel was bustling with activity. People were sprinting up and down the halls as they trailed down and out into the hot day with determination. Mai kind of wished they were there simply to enjoy the concert like the rest of the guests were but she could admit their job was an important one so she settled on a light sigh as she stepped out into the sunlight and stretched, Rocco's leash looped around her wrist, and glanced down at the dog. His tail was wagging now that they were out of the hotel and his ears were perked and nose working while he took in the smells and sounds the concert brought with it. There were several other dogs following their owners about the large open field and Mai laughed as Rocco's tail paused in its wagging when another dog drew near, before it took up its rhythm once again though this time much faster.

It was hot. Even though they had only been walking along the stalls set up for a few minutes Mai could already feel herself sweating. The part of the park the concert took place in was bare of any trees and the sky was clear so the sun beat down upon them mercilessly. Several women, she noticed, were wearing nothing but bathing suit tops and shorts while they walked about. She blushed, though she wished she could have done so as well, and lifted her eyes to her boss who was walking along beside her. He seemed far more comfortable and composed then she but she noticed the small beads of sweat that were forming along his hairline and smirked. Not so perfect now, was he? But she was also glad that his eyes did not linger on the woman around him like she thought they would. Of course he wouldn't be distracted by something as simple as half naked woman, he was too good for that.

Mai shook her head to get herself back on track and scanned the crowds that had only increased since they had stepped outside. Naru was leading them towards a small cluster of trees, populated by only a few concert goers since it was so far removed from the grounds and stage itself, and paused once he had finally reached the shade. Mai was reminded of a black cat and she chuckled at the comparison as she spun around, pulled by Rocco as he sniffed about, and let out a contented sigh.

"Enjoying yourself?" Naru questioned irritably which only caused Mai to laugh again.

"I can't help it, the weather is just so nice and all the hype for the concert has got me kind of excited . . ." she finally came to a stop as she spoke when Rocco had taken a seat on the ground and she placed her hands on her hips. "Besides, it's not my fault you only own black clothing," she chided.

Naru shot her a look but made no comment. It had more to do with the amount of people than the heat but he was not about to correct her. Lin knew this and he patted the man's shoulder knowingly before turning to scan the crowds himself. The reports claimed that the women always went missing towards the end of the events so he was certain they had a bit of time before they would even sense anything but he was not about to let his guard down. He adjusted his white button up shirt with a sigh and undid the first button before rolling up his sleeves.

"I'm going to get some ice cream," Mai declared after they had rested for a bit in the shade.

"Mai," Naru muttered in warning.

"You can come with if you guys want," she answered with a shrug. She was getting a bit too hot despite the trees and she felt bad for Rocco, who was heavily panting by that point.

Naru looked to Lin who nodded wordlessly and remained standing under the trees as the three made their way back towards the line of stalls quietly. Lin only smirked as he watched his charge go, trailing after the girl whereas he would usually be leading the way, and wondered how Mai had fallen for Naru of all people.

Mai was just digging into her freshly bought ice cream, crouching down so Rocco could have some too, when a woman in a white Kimono caught her eye. Her first thought was that she looked very beautiful but sad as she stood at the edge of the crowds with her hands clasped before her, a line of trees at her back. Her second thought was that she must have been awfully hot in the kimono and wondered what in the world had possessed her to wear it to a concert. Her third thought was that she herself was incredibly stupid because they were in America and there were no japanese women walking around in Kimonos unless you counted Masako. And so she found herself frozen in place as the woman, ignorant of the hundreds of people walking by her, lifted her eyes to meet Mai's forlornly.

"Naru," Mai called quietly.

Naru turned his head towards her from where he was standing at her side, arms crossed, and scanned her stance thoughtfully before following her line of sight. Unfortunately he was not spiritually sensitive, though he was rather adept at feeling the differing energies of the living, and so saw nothing. But he knew better than to doubt Mai's abilities so he returned his eyes to hers and asked, "What is it, Mai?"

"Masako said she sensed three spirits this morning," she began quietly, yet to move from her position. "I only knew of two but I think I just found out who the third is. . ."

"Who?" he asked quietly but did not comment on the fact that Rocco had by now finished off her ice cream.

"Prudence and Alexander are in the house," she explained and pushed herself to her feet only after the woman had turned and disappeared amongst the crowd. "The third is Kikio." Kikio had been the woman they had seen in the forest that night. She had been walking through the trees in her white kimono when Mai had just caught sight of her, managing to drop her cup of tea in the same moment, but she had thought it was Prudence at the time.

Naru did not waste further breath on the conversation and gently placed a hand under Mai's elbow, guiding her back towards the shade where Lin waited for them, and deposited her between Lin and himself. Mai had a lot of explaining to do, she had not shared a lot of information with him on this case and it frustrated him, though he would not show it. He wasn't going to question her until he had thought the situation through himself.

Mai saw her repeatedly throughout the day. And she could not help but wonder at her own stupidity, she found herself doing it often that day, as she had realized that it had been Kikio she had first seen in the forest all those nights ago. Not to mention her picture had been in Prudence's room. The picture had been dropped to the floor and forgotten about in the chaos but Mai would not forget the face of the woman that had destroyed whatever fragile sanity Prudence had had left before her death.

Kikio was present amongst the crowds and the thought struck Mai as odd because she was certain it was Prudence and Alexander that were haunting the mansion. Would Kikio really be on the property still as well?

Every hour or so Mai would see her in the crowd of concert goers as she, Naru, and Lin patrolled the grounds. She was always facing away from her after that but her long black hair was loose and flowing over the white Kimono. It was hard to miss. The utter picture of grace and beauty amongst the crowds of half naked and sweating concert goers posed quite the image and Mai felt that she would never forget the scene for as long as she lived. The utter despair Kikio radiated while she was surrounded by thousands of cheering fans, hyped up on excitement and alcohol.

But as the sun started to sink towards the horizon and the pounding music of the bands had begun to blur together, something changed. Mai was scanning the crowds again when she spotted Kikio, but this time she was staring right at Mai, and she lifted a beckoning hand to her. Her face was pleading as the young woman stopped and stared at her, unsure of how to react, and wondering just where everyone else had disappeared to. Naru and Lin had been at her side not seconds ago but now she found herself quite alone on the open field.

The band playing on stage was gone, the fans were gone, and even Lin and Naru had disappeared among the shadows that surrounded her and Kikio who had yet to move closer.

"What do you want?" Mai asked hesitantly but not unkindly. She took a step towards Kikio just as tears started to pour down the woman's face in silent anguish and her beckoning hand became desperate. Mai knew something was off but she could not deny her instincts and so she took another slow and hesitant step forward. Had Naru been there she was certain he would have criticized her for her actions and lack of thought. But he wasn't. And now that she thought about it, neither was Gene, which could only mean one thing.

Mai was not asleep.

"Let me show you," a voice echoed across the plain of darkness where the only light seemed to emanate from Kikio herself, but Kikio's mouth did not move as the words were spoken.

Mai nodded once, slowly, but gasped when Kikio lunged towards her and wrapped her hands around her throat. Mai closed her eyes and suddenly it was Prudence who was choking her, gripping her neck with such force that it terrified her, because she could truly not breathe. From the corner of her eyes she saw that it was she who was now wearing the white kimono as the thick satin material was falling down her arms while she struggled to grip the wrists of the hands choking her. It weighed on her chest and pulled at her stomach as she struggled and only added to her panic.

"This is what you get," Prudence hissed. Mai saw that someone, if not Prudence herself, had taken it upon themselves to finish cutting the rest of her hair. The woman was so thin that she was bordering emaciated, and her dress fell from her shoulders while she straddled Mai. She had truly become a madwoman in her despair.

Please, stop, Mai struggled to think through the haze that was clouding her mind, but she was aware that the desperation she was sure belonged to Kikio, had less to do with her life and more to do with that of the unborn child in her stomach. Her eyes burned with the realization and her struggles increased. She tried to kick out against the woman but the heavy satin fabric again restrained her.

Don't do it, Prudence, she pleaded mentally and felt the tears stain her cheeks as she choked for air. It wasn't fair. This woman had done nothing wrong up until that point, she had only suffered the tragedies thrown at her one after the other until she could no longer take it, and now here she was poised to kill a woman and her unborn child because of it all. There was a part of her that was aware what she was experiencing was a memory but it was buried under the need for survival and the want to help the woman in front of her.

Mai's vision turned black as Kikio lost conscious. She was left alone, unable to break away from the dream she had fallen into for whatever reason, and frightened because Gene had not come to her like he normally would after the vision had ended. All she could see was the blackness of this strange astral plain. Not even her hand could be picked out from the blackness as she lifted it before her face and touched her neck, wincing when she felt extreme pain radiating from it, and coughed.

She wondered, was Kikio dead? Surely that was the only thing the complete and utter darkness could have meant. If she had simply lost consciousness then the scenes would have continued through another's eyes or after Kikio had come to.

Just then she felt a pair of hands push her from behind, violently, and she noted in the moment that they were wet with a warm liquid. She could only assume it was blood. She dropped to her knees, tears streaming down her face while she struggled to catch her breath, when her eyes opened and she found herself as the bystander in the next vision.

Prudence had dragged Kikio's body to the lake where she had dropped her and then proceeded to straighten her Kimono and brush her hair out of her face.

"It's not right that you were brought into my home," Prudence muttered darkly while she pulled a knife from the folds of her dress. "You slept with the only man I loved and then fell pregnant like some prostitute . . ." Prudence trailed off upon realizing what she said and dropped her eyes to her hands. They shook and made it hard for her to hold the knife properly but eventually she shook her head and crouched down in front of the prone form of Kikio.

Mai gasped and covered her mouth, tears streaming from her eyes as she watched Prudence cut into the woman's stomach and stabbed her repeatedly until whatever organs had been visible were beyond recognition, before she threw the knife away and stood. She paid little heed to the horror she had just enacted and seemed not to notice the gore that had splattered at her feet. What Mai was certain had once been and unborn child's hand hanging from the open hole that had been Kikio's stomach. She gasped for breath and wiped a blood smeared hand across her forehead before glancing over her shoulder at the lake. She turned back and lifted Kikio by her shoulders and dragged her into the water, her body floating along while Prudence shuffled across the slimy lake floor. Once she was satisfied with the distance Prudence turned around, pulling the body of Kikio with, before letting go and watching as her body drifted out into the center of the lake.

Prudence wadded back to shore, her white dress wet and clinging to her, and turned back once she had reached dry land to examine her work.

She stood there for hours while Mai stared wide eyed in shock.

The moon rose high into the sky and a chill took over the wooded area and Prudence began to shiver, and her lips turned blue, and she lost feeling in her fingers and toes, and still she did not move.

It was by this point that Mai heard the sound of someone running. Their breath came in horrible rasping pants and their hands and feet crashed through the shrubbery and sticks of the wood chaotically. It was second after that the figure of William broke into the clearing looking like a demon fresh from hell, such was the anger blazing in his eyes, and charged Prudence.

"Hello William," Prudence greeted absently as the man slid to a stop next to her.

"What are you doing out here?" he panted and gripped the woman's shoulders, shaking her violently. "Where is Kikio?" he questioned urgently.

"Swimming," Prudence answered lightly and shrugged, eyes unfocused. "I told her it was too cold . . ."

William scowled at her in confusion but turned his eyes out to the lake and paled. He teetered towards the shore, hands lifted as if to reach out for the woman floating in the middle of the lake, and watched as her blood polluted the water. "What have you done?" he moaned and fell to his knees, dropping his head into his hands, wishing he could rid his mind of the image of his love, dead in the lake, while bits of her organs and blood floated freely around her.

"She really is quite beautiful," Prudence responded dully and stepped up next to him. She watched as Kikio's hair pooled around her in a halo of glossy black under the moonlight, her pale face lit by the dusty silver light, and sighed wistfully.


William sounded strangely calm and Prudence blinked before dropping her gaze down to her husband quizzically. And found herself looking down the barrel of a gun.

"Go to hell," he muttered and pulled the trigger.

The stunned expression never left her face as her body fell back with the force of the bullet plowing through the center of her forehead. She fell into the water of the lake, eyes still opened wide, and knew no more.

Mai had gone into shock and was barely coherent in thought when she watched William drag his wife's body away where he would later throw her into the basement to rot away and never be found until the investigations a year later. Kikio eventually sank but only after William had managed to paddle out to her in a boat and drop a rock onto her. By all rights and purposes Kikio should have sunk within an hour of being killed but she had continued to float on the surface like a cancerous tumor in the placid lake. It was an act of defiance, William decided, before he returned to his home to wash up.

It was only a day later when Alexander returned, learned of what had happened through the terrified servants of the house, before he attacked William and was killed by several gunshots to the stomach and chest. William put a hole through his head last for satisfaction before he threw him into the dungeons along with Prudence. They deserved to rot together, he thought, because he had always seen them whispering together and plotting against him.

The man's mind had been broken, much like his wife's, and he later went mad after being arrested.

"Will you help us?" Kikio's voice echoed in the darkness that had overtaken Mai again.

Mai lifted her head, eyes wide and unfocused as Prudence's had been not long ago, and she nodded dully. She was unable to speak. She had never before witnessed someone's murder from an outsider's perspective. She was disgusted with what she had seen. Disappointed that her theory was proven correct and that it was Prudence haunting the house and continuing to kill women as she had killed Kikio. And mentally exhausted, in fact, she wouldn't have been surprised if her mind had broken too.

"Look," Kikio instructed gently and Mai found herself standing in a lake of blood, the red liquid glowing in the darkness, and she felt it's warmth reach all the way up to her stomach. She lifted her hands out, able to see the blood that coated them up to her elbows, and stared. And something in her snapped.

"It's in the blood."

Mai had been missing for hours. And the team had never been as on edge as the moment Naru had come on over the walkie-talkies to mutter, "Mai's gone missing, find her". They had plowed through the crowds like no tomorrow, calling out her name over the loud music and cheering fans, and it was Monk who found her own walkie-talkie trampled in the mud of the concert grounds. He had had to shove his way through many people to get to it but when he returned to Ayako's side the woman had paled and redoubled her efforts to find the girl.

Masako and John had stepped out of the mansion and into the fading sun in order to help in the search but not even their fresh eyes were able to discern where Mai had run off to.

And all the while the bands on stage played away, their music deafening the members of SPR as they hurriedly shoved their way through the crowds, and the people were oblivious to the dangers that prowled around them. Just on the outskirts of the trees was a darkness so vile and livid that Masako nearly fainted when she had stepped out of the house. But it had not been the time to do so and she managed to compose herself.

The sun had long since set when they met up by the largest oak tree on the property, the crowds slowly dispersing after the last song, while they shared foreboding glances and shifted from foot to foot. Ayako had tears streaming down her face. It was obvious what had happened. Painfully so. But none of them knew quite what to do without any direction, so lost in despair were they, and Monk begun to bite the nail of his thumb in anxiety.

"She's on the property somewhere," Monk muttered as he scanned the area, even going as far as to search through the trees. She had not simply blinked out of existence, that much was certain, and refused to think of what she was suffering without them at her side. She had experienced enough pain for a life time and the Monk wished she could have gone on living a normal life if only for her safety. But he knew she would not have been satisfied with that kind of existence.

No one had the heart to even dare utter the thought they were all thinking and no one had the will to move and look either. Their feet were glued to the spot as they stood in a circle refusing to meet each other's eyes.

No one accept Naru, that is, as the moment he had joined up with them and saw that Mai was not present amongst them he took off running into the trees like a man possessed. They were only able to see him due to his bare arms because his black clothes rendered him completely invisible otherwise. Lin called out after him and cursed before delving into the trees himself. Monk was the next to follow after him and Lin, and his movement broke the others out of their thoughts and sent them running too.

Their breaths came out in panicked gasps as they navigated the roots and fallen branches of the wood. Trees reached for them as they passed in the dim light the moon offered. They did not care if they stumbled, bruised, or scratched themselves in the effort to find the missing girl as long as they found her alive. But at the rate things were going it was uncertain if they would even find her at all.

Naru slid to a stop minutes later, his shoes skidding along in the gravel, and stared at the scene with narrowed eyes. The others came up behind him and gasped.

"No!" Ayako screamed.

"Mai!" Monk called out and moved to jump into the lake but Naru lifted an arm to hold him back.

"Don't!" he snapped, "She's possessed." He muttered darkly and his eyes dropped to the black figure that paced the shore line around where Mai stood, waist deep in the water. Eyes shone in the darkness as the thing looked back at them and the sound of heavy breathing, huffing and puffing, filled the air as it seemed to grow more agitated with their presence. Shadows trailed behind it as it moved and the stench of decay seemed to radiate from the lake like a miasma of pure hatred and disgust. In the dim light they could make out the opened maw of the creature, noted the fangs and slim that dribbled from its mouth only to fall to the ground and hiss like acid.

"How can you tell?" Yasuhara whispered, his eyes too, had fallen onto the monster that paced the shore. Back and forth, back and forth, it turned about and kicked up gravel as it did so.

"Because the dog is guarding her," Naru said lowly. His eyes followed the path it carved in the shore darkly and his shoulders tensed.

"That's Rocco?" Monk stuttered.

Indeed the dog had taken on a rather demonic look.

"Yes," Naru growled. "Animals can sense spirits and they change, but if I am correct . . ." he trailed off and moved closer towards the shore at a slow pace. His movements were sure and steady but the others behind him were terrified as he dared to approach the dog that had become a monster since they had last seen him.

"Naru, don't-" Lin clamped his mouth shut when Naru lifted a hand, never taking his eyes off of the dog.

"Rocco, come," Naru ordered in a stern tone totally unsuited to the current situation.

Rocco's head whipped around and his sightless eyes stared at the man for a moment before he lowered his head and growled.

"Rocco!," he hissed, "Come here!"

Rocco looked back at Mai once before shuffling towards Naru, his gate strange and lopsided as if he had been hurt, before the light from the nearby streetlamp illuminated him and he whined. Foam had gathered at the corners of his mouth and he was dragging his back hind leg.

"Naru . . ."Lin warned as the dog drew closer, "He looks rabid."

"He's not," Naru shot back gently, never taking his eyes from the dog as he approached. "He's afraid."

Sure enough Rocco dropped his tail between his legs and continued passed Naru to stand behind him, shivering in the cooling night air. Naru dropped a hand to his head, grateful the dog had stayed with Mai, and lifted his eyes to the woman in the lake. One obstacle had been tamed but Mai was a whole other story. He feared for her life in that very moment.

"Mai," he called gently.

Mai jumped, as if startled and slowly turned her head over her shoulder to look at Naru, eyes wide and unfocused. "Naru?" she questioned quietly. She was obviously lost in mind, as if she were sleepwalking in that moment, and could not drag herself back into reality.

"I'm here," he answered calmly and moved a couple more feet. His bare flesh shivered in the cold air, which had dropped several degrees since they had arrived on seen, and he grimaced.

"There's so much blood," she whispered and her eyes slowly trailed down to the water she stood in and she lifted her hands, fingers spread wide, and stared as if her hands were coated in the mentioned fluids.

"There is no blood," he replied lowly as if he may frighten her, "You're standing in the lake."

"Oh," she mumbled but her eyes never moved from her hands and she looked as if she were about to vomit. She shook.

"Naru, just get her out of there," Ayako cried through her tears from behind him. Monk had wrapped his arms around her to hold her steady but he too was struggling with the situation, wanting to run to Mai and worry about the consequences later. He tightened his hold on the woman and tried to steady himself as well.

Naru grit his teeth and hurried the last few feet to the shore. Gravel skittered away under his shoes and he nearly slipped once he had reached the water but he quickly regained his footing.

"No, don't!" Mai cried out and lifted her hands to ward him away. Naru paused. And that had been his downfall because as soon as he slid to a stop Mai's breath hitched and she froze. And suddenly she was gone. Pulled under the surface of the water with nothing but a few splashes and a trail of bubbles to mark where she had been just moments before.

Naru wasted no time and kicked his shoes off before pushing his way through the water as far as he could and diving in after her. Lin was quick to follow. The man sped past the others and threw himself into the water before they had even reached the shore line.

Monk was soon to follow.

The water was cold, something all three humans realized in that moment, and Naru struggled to see in the blackness of the murky water at night. But ahead of him he could just make out the glowing of something in the distance. It fluttered and wavered with the water but for a moment something obstructed it from view and he doubled his efforts to push through the water. He paid little heed to the things he felt brushing up against him in the murky darkness nor the depth of the lake that pushed and weighed upon him as he delved deeper. His arms continued to slice through the cold liquid with determined sweeping arcs.

Ahead he could make out the form of a woman in a kimono, she floated in the water as if she were simply standing on a solid floor, with eyes lowered to her clasped hands in front of her. Her hair fanned out around her in graceful swirls, moving with the currents of the lake, and she lifted her eyes as Naru examined her. It was everywhere, he quickly observed, her hair had spread out across the entirety of the lake and now that he was aware of this he realized it had been her hair he felt brushing up against him as he swam.

Mai came in to view, illuminated by the glowing figure and caught within her hair, and he grunted as he pushed the last couple feet towards her. He was thankful when the figures of Lin and Monk appeared next to him and helped to pull her out of the mess of silky black hair. The water weighed heavily on them all as they fought their way up and Naru nearly lost what little air he had left when something wrapped around his ankle and pulled.

"I tried," he heard a feminine voice echo in his mind through the contact on his ankle, "I took the poor souls she murdered and I have protected them. They are here with me . . . please stop her . . ."

Lin swiped his arm through the water with barely any hesitation and whatever it was released his charge, allowing him to rocket towards the surface with Monk pushing him from behind. Naru did not bother to look behind him, to get one last glance at the beautiful women who stood at the bottom of the lake, he had gotten all the information he needed. He instead turned his eyes to the surface shimmering in the moonlight and gripped the girl in his arms tight. She felt cold and heavy in his grasp.

The calm broke and four heads popped up, but only three gasped for breath.

"Shit," Naru coughed out between breaths and swam towards the shore, dragging Mai along with him. He could hear Lin just to his left, probably helping to push Mai along, and struggled to his feet when the water became too shallow to swim. "Get out of the way," he rasped and scooped Mai into his arms in one swift motion. He ignored the way the stones and trash at the bottom of the lake dug into his feet as stumbled towards the shore, his arms laden with Mai's limp form.

The others quickly stepped back while he worked his way onto dry land and fell to his knees, water streaming down his body, and set Mai onto the ground as gently as his tired arms would allow. He dropped his ear to her mouth and then to her chest while the others watched on in shock. Rocco limped forward whining, trying to get to Mai, but Naru waved his hand and John grabbed at his collar to hold him back.

Naru set his palms against Mai's chest, elbows locked, and pushed down.

"Oh god," Ayako sobbed and fell to her knees clutching at Monk's legs. The man was too distraught to notice the shivers that wracked his body in the cool night air.

Naru counted in his head, the compressions quick and forceful, before lifting Mai's chin and placing his mouth to hers and exhaled. He was silent as the grave as he returned to compressing her chest, eyes cold and merciless, and did not even bother to wipe the water from his face as it streamed into them. There was no way, in heaven or hell, that any force of man or nature was taking her away from them. Not now. Not when he had just returned and called their group of misfits back together for her. So that she could smile again and feel like she belonged, something that he had only ever felt once or twice, and look at him with pure gratitude in her eyes. Though she never said the words. And he never expected her too. And they understood that.

". . .Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three . . ." he started to count out loud, frustrations mounting, and tried his best to tune out Ayako's sobbing and Monk's muffled curses. Yasuhara had frozen and though Naru lacked common human emotion he was certain there was no joke in the world that could ever right this wrong if it were to follow through.

Again his mouth fell onto hers and he breathed everything he had into her, every last desperate molecule of air, before pulling back and repeating. This was not how she was going to go. She did not deserve to go in such a senseless way, not even saving the soul she so desperately yearned to, even as it tried to snuff out her own. Not on his watch. He had saved her life so many times before and he did not take kindly to the thought of losing. It was well known that his pride, above all else, must always remain intact. He cursed and grit his teeth and emotion crept into his eyes.

"Mai." He growled desperately.

Again. One, two, three . . .

"Naru," Lin called his name lowly.

Ten, eleven, twelve. . .

"Shut up Lin," Naru barked before he could lose his concentration.

Masako lifted her eyes to the people around her in that moment, pleadingly, wishing that someone would do something, anything, to salvage Mai's life, and for a moment she saw it happen. She saw a figure crouch over Mai's head and place a hand to her forehead. But she blinked and it was gone. And she paid it little mind in the situation as she lifted a sleeve to her mouth and fought the tears threatening to spill forth.

"Naru," Lin snapped back harshly.

"Daddy!" A little voice echoed in the back of his mind. "You're not daddy," she pouted and looked up at the men the crowded her porch from behind her door, they looked somber and at the sight of her some turned their faces away.

"Is your mother home, Mai?" One man asked sadly, a construction helmet grasped loosely in his fingers.

"Mom." The voice was scared, hesitant, and so achingly familiar to him as he tried to block out the visions of her past. "Mom, wake up!"

She dropped to the woman's side, her pale lifeless body illuminated by the sunlight streaming in through the thick blinds. "Mom!"

"I can't do this," she mumbled into her hands, now sitting in a dark room while the family she stayed with carried on cheerily downstairs. The smells of food making her stomach roil in disgust. "It's not fair!"

"I said shut up!" Naru dropped his mouth to Mai's again, ignoring the way his head spun, and in a strange sense of morbid fascination, wondered at how soft and warm her lips were. But then he felt her chest hitch, like a gear finally locking into place, and she coughed. He pulled back and lifted her up into a sitting position as she coughed and hacked up the lungfull of water. She clutched at his shirt for support while her chest heaved and he dropped his head onto the back of her neck in relief.

"Jesus Christ," Monk mumbled through his own tears and grasped the sides of his head while Ayako crawled forwards towards the two and placed a hand on Mai's shoulder. Monk turned away in a vain attempt to hide his own tears of relief and lifted his face to the sky.

John fell to his knees in prayer right then and there while Yasuhara wiped at his eyes from beneath his glasses.

"You idiot," Naru mumbled.

Lin crouched next to Naru and laid a hand on his shoulder, "Don't do that again," he muttered though his tone was that of relief.

"It worked, didn't it?" he shot back while gasping for breath. The others were oblivious to the fact that Naru had channeled energy into Mai using his PK, much like he would do with Gene, but it had taken its toll on him. He felt his limbs grow heavy and his eyelids fluttered despite his best efforts to stay conscious. But the warm body beneath his fingers kept him more anchored then any strength of will would have in that moment and he knew it. Knew it like he knew death would come to even him one day and he would join his brother. Knew it like the sky was blue and the sun would one day peter out and leave their planet cold. He chuckled darkly in the nape of Mai's neck and frowned when he felt her shiver.

Lin did not berate him further, only tightened his grip and shook him lightly, a grin present on his usually stoic face.

Mai cried over all that Prudence had suffered and wailed into Naru's shoulder while the man rested his head on hers, utterly spent, and unable to offer words of comfort due to his exhaustion. She cried until she had told them all the whole story up until the bloody end and sucked in haggard breaths as she wrapped her arms around Naru, now supporting him as he leaned heavily against her. She wanted to be sick, wanted to scream and yell, but also wanted to curl into a ball in her bed back home all at the same time. And she wished for her mother who's presence she was sure she had felt brush past her mind in the swirling unconsciousness that had settled behind her eyes in those moments.

"It's not right," she mumbled into his shoulder, "And Kikio and Alexander have been doing their best to stop her, to keep her in the house . . ."

"I know," Naru mumbled and lifted a hand to the back of her head. They were wet and shivering, yet there was a warmth between them, so even as their flesh shivered in the night neither felt quite ready to move.

It was then that Lin deemed it time to pry them apart so they could be brought back to base to rest.

"Naru," Lin called and the man grunted in response. "Are you okay to stand?"

"Yes," he rasped and groaned when Lin pulled his arm over his shoulder and onto his feet. He did not want to leave Mai's side in that moment, though he would never admit it, and had only released his grip on her when Lin had forcefully pulled him away.

Monk scooped Mai up into his arms and together they all limped back to the mansion. John took it upon himself to lift Rocco into his arms, though he struggled with the dogs size, he eventually managed and caught up with the others as the stumbled back through the trees and out onto the open field. They were not stopped by any of the few workers that remained to clean up after the event. They supposed that, in the dark, they just looked like a couple of drunks stumbling back to their hotel room. Lin snorted.

The procession of emotionally distraught and physically exhausted people piled into the room, barely aware of the anxious adults that hovered around them: Madoka, Luella, and even Martin. Monk shuffled over to the couch and sat Mai down on it, satisfied when she gave him a weak smile in return, before Luella swooped in with a blanket in hand.

Together Lin and Naru made it to the couch and Lin set him down with a frustrated but relieved sigh. The young man collapsed onto the couch with little grace and his head instantly fell back onto the back of the couch.

No one berated them to get themselves cleaned up. They stank of lake water and Mai had a bit of dirt and mud splattered across her body but she did not care as she wrapped the proffered blanket tighter around her shoulders and curled into a ball on the couch so that no part of her was exposed to the cold air of the hotel but her face. Naru vaguely wondered where his shoes had disappeared to but he found them by his feet, placed there by Lin, and sighed.

"Lin," Naru muttered with his eyes now closed.

"Hm?" Lin responded quietly and adjusted one of the pillows on the couch so Naru could sit more comfortably before accepting the blanket Luella handed to him and laid it over his charge. The man didn't even seem to notice.

"Is Mai okay?" he asked quietly.

His questioned went unheard by the others of the team who had gathered around Martin and his wife to explain what had happened while Masako went about preparing tea for everyone since Mai was unable to in her condition. It was obvious she was still shaking from the scare she had experienced and the cold as well.

Lin's brows crashed together in confusion and he turned his eyes onto the female assistant who had pulled her feet up onto the couch and wrapped her arms, blanket included, around her knees and dropped her head on top of them, effectively sealing out the world.

"She'll be alright," Lin answered absently and returned his attention to his charge, wondering what he was thinking.

"Lin," Naru responded, a note of irritation in his voice, before he opened one bleary eye to glower at his assistant.

Lin, impressed with the expression, turned back to Mai and rested a hand on her shoulder. "Mai," he called gently but faltered when he felt her trembling beneath his hand. In all honesty he expected it, she had been through so much because of that house, but he was shocked when she lifted her eyes. She stared at the coffee table behind him, tears trailing from her eyes, and clasped the small chain around her neck. She pulled it over her head and from beneath her shirt collar, a house key swung free and caught the light of the room.

She stared at it as if she had never seen if before and then turned her gaze onto Naru who had allowed his eye to fall shut. She dropped her hands between her ankles and the key dangled over the floor before her eyes turned to the air in front of her, unfocused, and her tears slowed to a stop.

"That's not fair at all," Mai muttered.

"It was an accident," Naru muttered back.

Lin's eyes widened and he looked down at the key. The very key he recalled Mai almost forgetting the day they had left. He had asked her if she had everything and she had gone back to retrieve it and explained that it was her old house key. The key to the house where she had lived with both her parents when they were alive.

"I'm sure he would be willing to show you ours," Naru continued in such a quiet tone that even Lin strained to hear as he sat down on the opposite couch with a sigh.

Mai did not lift her eyes from the floor as she mumbled, "I don't think I could bear it."

Naru opened his eyes and lowered his own gaze to the floor something sad and foreign in his face that none had seen. Was his past so horrible that Mai would be unable to cope? No, he knew that for a fact that, while his childhood had not been a nice one, he had seen her handle far worse from other spirits. Why then, would she say she would not be able to bear his? And then he really did feel like an idiot. Because he realized that it was because she was close to them. He never did understand human emotion all that well. It was so complex at times, filled with twists and turns, and it left his head reeling with frustrated irritation. He did not understand the living. But the dead, the dead he could understand, because they could only hold on to so much emotion in death. They were simple, either they wanted revenge or they were looking for somebody or something . . . Not this complex mess that he found himself in.

It was going to become even more complicated when Mai found out that he planned on exorcising Prudence instead of cleansing her.

"I miss her," Mai mumbled after a few moments of silence and she pulled the blankets around her once more, even going so far as to pull it over her head, before she fell to her side on the couch.

All around them the rest of the SPR team muttered quietly and thought over the events of the day. They shot worrying glances to the two on the couch but neither one of them approached them, frightened that they would break whatever spell of quiet clam that had settled over them, and nursed their cups of tea that Masako had provided for them. Martin and Luella seemed to be having some kind of whispered argument in the back of the room and it was obvious the woman was distraught. She wanted the case to be over with but Martin argued they could not leave it hanging and simply walk away no matter how dangerous it had become. Lives were at stake, even theirs, and he knew Noll would never approve of their retreat. Yasuhara was reading through his notes at Lin's table, studying it for any kind of clue that could help them, but he had read the same sentence twenty times over since they had returned and was making no headway. Ayako and Monk were fighting, arguing over Mai's health and what the right thing to do was. Ayako wanted to send her home but Monk defended that it would do her little good at that point. John was trying to mediate it but it was obvious they were not listening to his quiet words.

Naru sipped from his own cup of tea, deposited directly into his hand by Masako, and glanced down at the form of his assistant. She had rested her head on one of the many pillows of the couch next his leg and a few strands of her hair had fallen from her blanket cocoon and over the back of his hand. He rubbed a strand between his fingers, admiring the reddish brown hair, such a unique hue, and noted the softness. He was reminded that his powerful assistant, always angry and ready to defend her position, powers growing rapidly, never letting fear stop her from doing what she considered right . . .he was reminded that she was just a girl.

Among the several arguments and whispered conversations, the distress and despair that engulfed the room, Naru sighed and placed his hand on Mai's head. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the couch, feeling the warmth from Mai under his hand but also that the very tips of her ears were cold, and smirked.

Chapter Text

Naru fell asleep on the couch and when everyone had settled Mai slipped away to the girl's room, empty because everyone was sleeping in base again, and she sat down on one of the deep set window sills after changing into a clean dress. She didn't plan on getting much sleep that night as her thoughts were pulled to the past. Memories of her parents and what life had been like when they were still alive. And while she wished more than anything they had not passed she knew that she could never give up the family she had now and she wondered if that made her selfish. She felt guilty for having such thoughts.

She rested her head against the cold glass and shivered, still feeling the chill in her bones left over from the lake, and hugged her arms about herself. Thoughts of the lake filled with blood fluttered through her mind, like moth wings, not coherent or solid but there all the same.

"What have you done?" She whispered into the glass. "Prudence . . ."

The house creaked in the wind and she lifted a hand to her eyes.

She recalled the day she had first returned to the office and though it felt like years she knew that it had only been a couple of weeks since. But it all felt so hollow now. The happiness could not penetrate the choking depression she felt come over and she let out another sigh. It was the lingering affect of Kikio's touch, she was sure, because that woman's sadness had been so deep. Deeper than the lake she rested in. She missed her home, her family, she loathed the distress she had caused in Prudence, and she bemoaned the life of her unborn child, snuffed out before it could ever experience the world. But she had not allowed herself to falter in integrity. Even as the darkness of the afterlife, and all the negativity surrounding her, threatened to pull her down and change her. Mai wondered if it had something to do with the happiness the park inspired in others. Maybe Kikio being trapped in the lake, surrounded by trees that held up the skies for children and their families to play under, had encouraged her to keep holding on.

Either way she knew that after the night's horrors Naru would not allow her to save Prudence. Mai wasn't even sure if she wanted to save Prudence anymore, she wasn't sure if she wanted anything anymore.

She sat there for hours, thoughts circulating in her mind, of the case, of her life, and felt what little energy she had left drain away. Poor Prudence had had a horrible life and thought she had finally found her happily ever after. Mai could recall it from her memories shared with her that first night in the house. She had seen the days filled with love and laughter, before William had fallen into the drug business like his father before him. She could pick apart the flashes of recollection as expertly as any specialist thanks to the practice she had gotten in the year of Naru's absence. And she did just that throughout the night. She tortured herself with every happy memory Prudence had experienced, though the list was short in comparison to the horrors, and she wondered why she was any better than the long dead woman. She wondered if she had been in a similar situation if she would have acted any differently. How would she have managed to pull herself out of the downward spiral that Prudence had failed to and her heart skipped a beat.

She would not have been able to, she realized with sickening dread, she would have fallen prey to the same madness. If Mai had been forced to prostitute herself while her mother grew sick and died she would have been shaken. If she had finally married the boy she loved from childhood only for him to turn out to be a criminal and murderer she would have been broken. And if he had one day brought another woman home to bear his child because she could not she would have wanted to end it all.

She lifted her hands to her face, trembling, and let out a shaky breath.

Was that all life was? A series of events that could or could not happen but would inadvertently shape the people they would become?

She guessed so.

And how lucky that meant she was.

Because she had had a teacher who cared enough to take her in. Because she happened to find a school that would let her attend tuition free. Because Naru had walked into her classroom one night while they were telling ghost stories and given her purpose.

What would have happened if her parents had lived?

Would she even be there now, suffering, while the others struggled to hold the team together?

Round and round they went and by the time midnight rolled around she was so thoroughly exhausted in mind and body, yet unable to sleep, that she felt like crying. But she did not have the energy to.

The door to their bedroom opened but she did not look to see who it was. Footsteps moved across the hardwood and rugs towards her but she did not turn to greet them. And when a chair was settled next to her she did not dare to look at the figure she could just make out from the corner of her eye.

She sat, one leg dangling to the ground, one arm across her stomach, and the other resting on the edge of the sill, limp as any dead body she had ever seen. Which was something quite horrible to comprehend. She had seen a lot of dead bodies in her life. And stared out at the moonlit night wondering if she could just fade away into the silvery glow like so many spirits before her.

"Mai." He called to her.

Go away, she thought dully, I don't want to talk.

Hadn't he been asleep on the couch? Why in the world would he have woken up just to come and bother her? He had been acting strange ever since he had returned to Japan and it was enough to drive her insane, or at least, it had been. But now she found herself losing interest in even his actions and could not bring herself to voice her questions that quickly faded away.

"Look at me," he ordered, because he knew for certain that she had heard him.

Mai turned her eyes to him, took in the disheveled appearance she had never before seen him wear, not even after he had been possessed and then used his PK to destroy that demigod in the cursed house had he looked as tired and ruffled as he did then. And then returned her gaze to the trees outside the window.

"Stop this," Naru muttered darkly.

"I'm tired, Naru," she finally spoke, her voice quiet with none of the usual bite or sarcasm behind it.

"Why aren't you sleeping then?" he asked with the slightest hints of annoyance in his tone.

"Sleep won't help," she mumbled. Her eyes were stuck now on the window, unseeing, and she could not bring them back into focus for the life of her. Prudence. Prudence. Prudence. Her mind was stuck.

Naru paused to contemplate the meaning she was getting at and his eyes hardened. "That's disappointing," he drawled and leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed.

"It is," she answered absently.

"Because I was under the impression that you weren't so weak," he continued as soon as the words had left her mouth and she snapped her mouth shut.

"Me too," she answered with a derisive chuckle and sighed.

"My efforts have been wasted with you, it would seem," he cut her off. "What would your father think of you now?"

"Your efforts?" she questioned with a laugh. She ignored the mention of her father and turned her head to face Naru with a quirked brow. "The ones where you hired me and had me make tea for you?"

"Yes," Naru answered simply and stared at her. His eyes were blank and his expression dry.

"Naru," she began quietly and finally pushed herself up, though it looked like it pained her as she was still sore and cold, and lacking in energy. "I spent two years thinking about you," she continued, "from the moment I met you I knew you had suffered in life. It was in your eyes. In the lifeless way you interacted with people. In the way you viewed yourself. And I wondered where the kindness was. Because all those who have suffered tend to be the kindest people of all."

Naru's expression did not change as she spoke, some would wonder if he were even listening, but Mai knew better. He was giving her his full and undivided attention.

"And then I dreamt of Gene for the first time and I thought 'this is the kindness I want him to have, it's in there somewhere, I just know it'." She paused and adjusted the hem of her dress, which she had just realized had been rather revealing with how her legs were placed. But she could not bring herself to care all that much at that point. "And then I was introduced to your pet coin and I thought 'Ah, there it is' and it made me so happy," she smiled at the memory. "And I had so much fun arguing with you all the time on top of it," she laughed, "I never really had anyone who would put up with my bratty sarcastic side, but you did. And you returned fire." She sighed upon seeing his dead stare but sent him a gentle smile, "Then I started to notice other things. Your unwillingness to take chances with other people's lives. How you tried to get the best outcome for everyone on every case. And the fact that you weren't really a narcissist at all."

She leaned forward and poked him in the chest, glad to see that his eyes followed her hand, before continuing, "It was thanks to you that I found myself. My calling and my new family. So when you finally found Gene and said you were going to close the office I was devastated. I felt so lost and I knew I would never see you again so I confessed my feelings because I hate 'What ifs'," she scowled and waved her hand about, "It was really bad timing now that I think about it," she mumbled the last bit. "And then you asked if it was you or Gene and smiled at me like Gene would and that hurt. I knew you wanted it to hurt. . ." she trailed off in thought, recalling the day. "Here I had mistaken your brother for you and had pinned all these expectations on you, I'm sure you were angry . . . But you know what I liked best about you?" She trailed off, waiting for him to make some kind of comment about his looks, but when he didn't she lifted her eyes to his and saw a rather intimidating gleam in his eyes and she knew he desperately wanted to know. "The fact that you were so kind to me but never expected anything in return, never gloated about what you had done for me, maybe threatened to fire me every once in a while, but you know . . ." she trailed off again and she smiled, "You were just happy to help."

Naru dropped his gaze to the floor between them, though they did linger the her ankle for a moment, before he lifted a hand to his chin and covered his mouth.

"Gene is kind. Gene is polite. Gene is helpful. But how could I love someone who I only met a handful of times in my dreams and who I later learned to be dead when I had such a challenging and fun person right in front of me. A complex person who struggled to keep everyone safe and in check while he desperately searched for the body of his own brother." She shook her head in exasperation and lifted her eyes to the ceiling for guidance. "Me or Gene?" she mimicked him, lowering her voice, and adopting a straight face. "What an un-narcissistic thing to say," she grumbled.

She finally fell silent and pulled both legs up onto the sill, straightening them out and crossing her ankles, and rested her hands in her lap.

"Mai," Naru spoke after what felt like an hour of silence between the two. It was obvious to him what needed to be said and so he tried to force the frown into a straight line and sighed. "I don't think you realize it but I don't feel emotions the same way you do," he began in a soft and slightly patronizing tone. "I don't feel sadness all that much, I cannot recall a single moment in my life when I had cried or felt overwhelmed. The only thing I know is pride."

"Really?" she shot back with a mocking look of curiosity. "Then why did you hire me?" She sat back in the sill and crossed her arms.

Naru did not respond.

"That camera was insured, Lin was better within a week, and the only thing I did in the office was make tea and get lunch," she listed them like bullet points on her fingers and smirked in an eerie and ironic reflection of the one he so often wore. When he did not respond she rolled her eyes, "It was because I was an orphan like you. You sympathized with me." She crossed her arms and turned her eyes to the window once more.

Naru pushed himself to his feet, eyes closed, and slid his hands into his pockets before turning away and leaving the room.

And Mai was left alone after confessing for the second time by the same man.

And it hurt more than the first time.

She turned her eyes to the door and stared at it long after it had been shut, gently, and she wondered what in the world made her think it had been a good time to bring up her feelings again. In those situations Naru would always turn his back to her. She knew that. And yet she continued to torture herself and wish that he would one day return her feelings.

She dropped her eyes to her hands and though the pain she felt from Naru's rejection still raged within her she found that, outwardly, she was rather blank and unaffected. The thought of the pain that Prudence had suffered, so utterly heartbreaking, was enough to steady her nerves and she slid her legs off of the sill and turned. She paused, ready to push herself to her feet, before she shook her head and stood.

Now was not the time to wallow in self pity, she decided, as there were people who still needed her help. She just needed to figure out how to help. With that in mind she slipped out of the girl's room and into the base. All but one of the lights were turned off, a single lamp next to the bank of monitors was turned on where Lin sat, she noted that the man was listening to the audio thanks to the large headphones over his ears.

Rocco lifted his head from where he sat by the couch upon hearing her and she whispered his name. The dog pushed himself to his feet and trotted after her as she made her way towards the door.

Naru was no where in sight. He had probably gone back to his room to take a shower and get some actual rest, something he rarely ever did, and she was glad for it. She intended to do some investigating of her own and she did not need him to berate her and force her into resting at that moment.

As silently as she could she pulled the door to the base open and stepped through, holding it open just long enough for Rocco to slip out, before she shut it gently and looked up and down the hall. At night the hotel was a whole other monster, she thought dryly in an attempt to stave off the fear she felt fluttering in her chest, as the lights were shut off and the halls gave off an ominous vibe. It was too quiet. The silence was suffocating in the large and open halls illuminated only by the dim moonlight. Not even the sound of Rocco's panting and shuffling gate could break the stifling atmosphere as the two sidled down the hall.

Mai was not sure what exactly she was hoping to find in the hotel at night. She just needed some kind of sign or an answer of how to help and she was sure she could find it if she only opened her senses and actually looked. Despite her best intentions, though, she could not help but feel like a mouse in the den of a dragon. As she and Rocco shuffled out towards the main staircase and she looked down at the main foyer, empty of any people, she felt as if one sound would wake the whole house and set the demons upon her. She lifted a hand and placed it on the banister hesitantly before she padded down the marble steps. It was cold on her bare feet but she took no notice of it as she followed her gut instinct and turned left into the ballroom.

It was only after she had entered the grandiose room that she remembered there was a camera set up to look into it. Too late now, she thought and glanced over her shoulder at the device in the corner of the room. The red power light glowed in the darkness and she scowled before turning back to take in the ballroom wistfully. The mosaic floor was hard to make out in the gloom but swaths of moonlight spilled forth from the tall windows and cut across it helpfully. There were potted plants everywhere along the walls and their leaves threw interesting shadows across the room. She felt like she was in some jungle ruins.

It must have been nice back in the day when the sounds of laughter and music spilled forth, feet tapping away to the music as partners swirled across the floor. She closed her eyes and spun about in place, feeling her own dress swirls about her knees, and nearly fainted when she felt warm hands grasp her own.

She feared that if she opened her eyes it would be some monster holding on to her, but no, those hands were far too warm and gentle. She lifted her lids and stared down at the hands over hers. They were not familiar in the least. Slowly her eyes followed up the arm clothed in a tailored black suit, until her brown orbs met green of quiet sadness.

"Alexander," she stated quietly, her voice wavering.

He smiled back kindly in return and pulled her across the floor. They fell into a simple dance and she was at a loss on how to react. It must have taken him a huge amount of energy to appear before her and even more so to actually hold on to her and lead her in a dance yet his sad smile never wavered as he watched her. This was dangerous, she realized with a start, where was Prudence? She had seen both Kikio and now Alexander that day but the infamous Prudence had yet to make an appearance.

"She is asleep," he whispered quietly to her and chuckled when Mai blinked at him in surprise.

"How do I help her?" Mai asked, determined not to waste time and to get straight to the point. She knew Alexander did not have the time to waste either as his form was already fading, his hands growing a little less warm, and his smile faltering.

"I don't know," he answered in a whisper and tears streamed down his face as he fought the overwhelming emotions. He shook his head sadly and came to a stop.

"It's okay," Mai whispered in reply even as he stepped back and turned his face away from her. He faded from existence right before her eyes and she fell silent, staring at where he had stood not moments before, her mind racing a hundred miles a minute. Not even Alexander knew how to help Prudence and he had loved her the most out of everybody. She clearly had a lot more digging to do but she had no leads to go off of. She wrapped her arms around herself as she thought, listening to Rocco as his nails clacked across the tile floor, and realized he had not reacted to Alexander's presence in the least. She wondered if it was only negative spirits that caused him distress. It would be an interesting thought to discuss with Naru but she did not feel up to communicating with him at the moment. She just felt tired. She was not getting any closer to helping Prudence and she had already almost died twice on the case.


The stern voice caused her to jump and she spun on the spot to find Lin standing in the doorway, a slight frown marring his face, and she knew it was time to return to base. He had no doubt seen her on the camera and while she liked him she could not stop the spike of irritation that rose within her at that moment. She still had so much to do and he was simply hindering what little progress she had made.

"Sorry," she muttered as she made her way across the ballroom towards him. She heard Rocco trot after her.

"Are you feeling well?" he asked as she drew near, watching the way she moved, trying to determine if she had been hurt.

"I'm fine," she answered with a sigh.

Lin quirked a brow as she drew near, noting that she was still covered in dirt from the lake shore. She had yet to clean herself up and had almost immediately disappeared the moment no one was looking. Despite the suspicious behavior he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt but he could not deny the strangeness of catching her on film dancing with herself. He was no fool but he knew better than to push a woman after she had just experienced something traumatizing. As Mai brushed passed him to begin her trek back to the girl's room he cleared his throat and muttered quietly, "You should probably clean yourself up a bit, Taniyama-san."

Mai spun on her heel to stare at him, wide eyed and blushing, before she turned back to the foyer and stomped on ahead of him. "Rude," she muttered and clenched her fists as they returned to the base but she did catch the smirk the man was wearing and chuckled moments later. She was still dirty, wasn't she?

It was the next day when everything came crashing down around Mai's ears. She had begun to feel positive, as she always did after her bouts of depression and anger, when it was revealed by Martin that they would be exorcising the spirit. Prudence.

She had showered in the early morning hours and caught a few hours of sleep before she had tiredly dragged herself out of bed, ignorant of the way her hair stood on end, and shuffled out into the base where everyone was already gathered. Unsurprisingly she had slept in but no one blamed her for it this morning. They were all gathered on the couches while Martin stood and addressed them all the while she went about making herself a cup of coffee. Let's face it, one does not survive off of just tea with only a handful of hours of sleep, Naru was inhuman and so did not count. She lifted the steaming mug to her face and breathed in the sweetly bitter scent when her ears caught the words 'Exorcism' and 'today' and she nearly dropped the mug onto her bare toes. As it was she managed to catch it before it hit the ground but she still managed to spill the boiling liquid across her feet and she gasped.

"What did you say?" she exclaimed through the tears of pain while a trembling hand held her coffee mug aloft over her red and burning toes.

All eyes turned to her with varying levels of surprise, amusement, and sympathy. But none compared to the look of cold certainty that Naru displayed. He stood with his arms crossed next to his father who had paused mid-speech to stare at Mai in concern.

"I said we will be trying to exorcise the demon today, as it is rare for someone of such strength to accomplish this, I recommended that we test the waters with a few different methods first . . ." Martin reiterated slowly while his look of concern turned slightly patronizing. It was clear he had picked up on her lack of intelligence through Naru, or he was just emulating how his son treated her, but she did not notice it at the time.

"But you can't . . ." Mai mumbled and scanned the rest of the team, hoping to find a supporting member, but they all turned their eyes away from her. Naru refused to look at her then and simply closed his eyes with a sigh.

"Mai," Martin began slowly and briefly glanced at his son before continuing, "I understand that you feel particularly attached to this spirit but once they began to turn, in such an extent as this one has, there is no saving them . . ." He trailed off upon noticing the look of wrath that she had leveled on him and shut his mouth.

"She is not some pet I happened to find on the street with rabies," she grit out and clenched her fists, again forgetting the coffee mug and nearly spilling more. Reminded of the pain her ire increased tenfold and she growled in frustration.

"Mai . . ." Masako stood from where she sat on the couch to face her, "I understand your pain." She muttered quietly and clasped her hands together in front of her as her expression grew rather melancholy. "But even I must admit that the rage I feel from Prudence is not one that we could ever hope to compete with . . ."

Mai stared wide eyed at Masako, disbelief written plainly across her face, and clamped her mouth shut as emotions waged war within her chest. She could not believe that Masako of all people would turn her back on a spirit so clearly in need of help, especially when others requested they help her, and was having trouble processing the information as she turned back to the table and set the sticky coffee mug down. "I see," she said quietly and it set off a warning bell within every head of the SPR team.

Monk sat forward in his seat and set his hands on his knees, prepared to push himself to his feet, "Mai-."

"Don't bother, Monk," Mai snapped, refusing to turn to face them all, and shut her eyes. She rested a hand over the mouth of the coffee mug and gripped the hot sides with her fingers, hoping to steady herself with the pain as the steam curled up against her palm, but no amount of suffering could quell her anger in that moment. It was a dangerous emotion that nestled itself within the pit of her stomach. "I promised myself that I would see this through," she muttered quietly and opened her eyes to stare out the window and below, "And I will not go back on my word." She turned on her heel to face them all though her eyes remained on the wall behind them, "Do what you think is right," she said with a deadly calm, "But don't expect my compliance."

"Mai!" Ayako admonished and pushed herself off of the couch to move towards the girl but she was already brushing past her and towards the door. Bare feet and all. And was gone before any of them could say otherwise. It was only after the door had shut that they realized she had taken Rocco with her.

Mai let out a breath of air to calm her nerves. She sat under the large oak tree that stood like a guardian between the wood and the clearing of the park. Behind it's leaves she knew the lake sat innocent and waiting for its next victim. But now was not the time to worry about that. She shook her head and closed her eyes against the peaceful daylight that warmed her skin and flickered in the breeze through the trees. The anger she had felt earlier still slithered beneath her skin and she was having trouble in taming it. She was frustrated that after all the time, all the cases they had worked together on, they did not believe her capable to cleansing a spirit. She had once cleansed twenty spirits all at the same time while the team wondered around confused and lost in a sealed building. She was quite capable of cleansing Prudence, she just had to figure out how to approach her.

She steadied her breathing while listening to the panting of Rocco who sat at her side. The dog was acting as her guard, though he did not appear in anyway alert as he casually turned his head this way and that, unable to see but taking in the scents and sounds available to him. She trusted him to react if someone were to approach. So she counted to ten and tightened her muscles, relaxing them one by one, and worked to calm her emotions. Her breathing steadied and her mind wandered and soon she could feel the gentle warmth of the astral plain on her skin.

"Gene," she called across the astral plain, her voice echoing across the darkness, and the floating orbs around her seemed to brighten upon noticing her presence.

"What are you thinking Mai?" he asked wearily, a frown marring his features as he appeared before her.

"I need a spirit guide," she answered simply. She watched him steadily as he approached and tried to garner his reaction. She had never before asked for his assistance in this manner so she was unsure of how to proceed. He had always been the one to guide her and show her what she needed to see before he would disappear. But now she had summoned him in hopes of a favor.

Gene quirked a brow but moved closer towards her curiously. "I hope you're not thinking of digging deeper into this mess, you need to leave it alone, learn when to call it quits," he lectured lightly but noticed the determined gleam in her eyes and sighed. She looked livid, as if she had just come from a fight and was ready for more, and he could not deny the little thrill he felt at the thought of being a bit mischievous. He had been cooped up on the astral plain and in his brother's reflection for far too long.

"I am doing exactly that," she exclaimed and shut her eyes against the ire she felt and huffed. "I know I can figure this out and I refuse to let them exorcise her."

Gene's face turned blank and Mai scowled. "Don't give me that, you don't get to pull his faces," she shot back and Gene snorted.

"What's your plan?" he asked curiously.

"I don't know yet," she answered honestly and rolled her eyes when Gene lifted his own to the heavens, a strange concept given they were on the astral plain.

"Mai, Prudence is too far gone, there is no purpose behind her actions . . ." he trailed off and watched as her shoulders fell. He pulled his lips into a tight line and looked down at her from his height before sighing. "This better not be because of what happened between you and the idiot," he muttered.

Mai's eyes widened and she stuttered, "How do you know about that?"

Gene did not respond verbally, he only shrugged one shoulder and slid a hand into one of his pockets before he lifted his eyes to the astral plain around them. He was silent for a few moments while Mai stewed in her embarrassment. "I've done a lot of time thinking . . ." he shifted his weight to one leg and brought his free hand up to his mouth in thought.

"About what?" Mai asked curiously. She wondered what the late Eugene Davis thought about in his afterlife. The pressing matter of Prudence's situation could wait, as time always seemed to slow in the astral plain, and she devoted her full attention to the boy in front of her.

"About why I can't seem to move on and what it means to be a perfect medium," he answered after a moments silence and dropped his hand into his other pocket. "I think the two are connected. I think that a medium's job is to help the dead in life but also to help the living in death," he continued and dropped his eyes to Mai who seemed perplexed by the statement but he also was well aware of the wheels turning in her head and he smirked.

"What do you mean?" she asked hesitantly and crossed her arms against a shiver that worked its way up her spine.

"I mean that I am not meant to move on, Mai, I never was," he shrugged helplessly. "I worried, at first, that if I lingered I would begin to turn like other spirits before me but I have been monitoring my mental state, as has Naru, and nothing has changed. There have been no fluctuations in my mood no matter the emotions that I am surrounded by. . ."

"But why?" Mai pondered aloud and scratched her cheek in thought. How sad of an existence Gene would be forced to lead if he only had her and his brother to converse with for the rest of their lives. Would he continue on after they had grown old and passed? She grew somber at the thought and her lips pulled into a frown. That seemed so unfair to her and it frustrated her. It would be another problem for her to worry about in days to come.

Gene shrugged again and lifted his eyes from where they had fallen to his feet as he continued to wonder about his theory. He did not want to tell her that she may suffer the same fate when the time came. Her powers were continuing to expand and at the rate she was going he had no doubt she would one day become a perfect medium just like him. But he also had another theory in regards to his own abilities that he was tempted to test soon if given the chance.

Mai shook her head to rid herself of the gloomy thoughts and straightened her posture.

"There was one person in those dreams that you showed me who was never quite explained and I think I know why," she covered the last bit of distance between them and stopped. "I want to see the memories regarding Alexander."

Gene looked at her like she had grown a second head but he sighed, "Fine." He took her hand as he always did and led her through the astral plain to a flickering light in the distance. As they walked the two were laden with heavy thoughts. But Mai brightened as they drew closer to the specific light Gene was leading her to. It seemed such a jovial and happy light that Mai felt Gene must have made a mistake, how could something so innocent connected to that case even exist. But Gene ignored or did not notice her hesitation, moved behind her, and pushed her into the light.

Unlike her usual visions, this one came in fast jolting images and memories, and assaulted her mind with such force that she was pushed to her knees.

"You can't do that Prudence!"

It was a childish voice that objected the actions of his young friend. Prudence was perched on the roof of the barn, wearing an impish grin, and kicking her feet over the edge.

"Says who," she questioned.

"Mama said we shouldn't do that, it's dangerous," Alexander exclaimed and stomped his foot.

"Your mom is boring, mine never tells me not to do anything," Prudence bragged.

"That's because your mom thinks you're an angel and don't know no better," Alexander snapped back and crossed his arms.

"Hehe," Prudence giggled in triumph and applauded the boy when he sighed and followed her up onto the roof.

"Mama is sick," Prudence whispered to Alexander as they sat on the same roof years later. They had both grown so tall in that time . . .

"She's always been sick," Alexander said encouragingly, "she'll pull through."

"I don't think so, papa's not here to take care of her anymore," Prudence whimpered as tears trailed down her face.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of you," Alexander whispered back and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

Alexander watched as Prudence giggled and played with William, a boy wearing expensive clothes, and braiding daisy chains while they whispered conspiringly between each other about the things they would do to the world when they were adults.

Alexander watched as Prudence wasted away after her mother's death and comforted her the nights she could not meet up with William. He held her close those nights and whispered words of encouragement into her ear.

Alexander attended the wedding and smiled for her in his best suit while a new woman hung from his arm. But her eyes were the same blue as Prudence's.

He held her the night she had run to him upon witnessing William's first kill.

He argued with her to leave . . .

He held her hand the nights she was sick with despair . . .

He watched her wither away again under William's tyranny . . .

He fought with William and was chased through the woods by gunfire . . .

He received word of Prudence's deteriorating health through the mouths of the servants . . .

He heard of her death and wept . . .

And he charged into the manor with little regard for those around him and drew to a stop in front of a mad William, clenched his fists, and lunged for the man without hesitation . . .

"Please help her."

Mai blinked and found herself standing before a man who was little more than a street rat in life but was oh so princely and charming in death. He looked ever the gentleman, just as she had remembered him to be from the night before, and from Prudence's memories as well. Tears poured from his eyes as he held a hand out to her pleadingly. She was all he had left to save Prudence, the woman he had loved, still loved, and would always love for as long as time. He had held on for nearly a century, fighting the madness that threatened to consume him day and night, just to hold Prudence back. It was he that had contained her rage to the best of his abilities through out the years. He soothed her soul with his very presence and lured unsuspecting humans away from her. But on the nights when the property was flooded with hundreds of living souls his presence was often lost among them and her's as well, and he was unable to hold her back. He felt guilt for the lives lost but knew that the woman, Kikio, had collected them and held them tight within her grasp so as to protect them from the same fate as Prudence. She held their madness at bay while the positivity of those that visited the park and the unborn spark of life within her anchored her to reality.

"How?" Mai asked, hearing her voice echo in the plain and winced when a rush of wind whipped her hair into her eyes. How could she possibly help Prudence when the man closest to her was unable to do anything? She had hoped to cleanse Prudence but she was beginning to see how impossible it would be. No amount of persuasion on her part would be able to curb the rage and soothe the grudge that woman held to her chest like her own sickly and poisoned beating heart.

"Ma would know," he answered desperately. He saw the way her shoulders had fallen and the utter look of defeat that had come over her face and grew frantic. His last string of hope was dangling in front of him and he would not allow it to falter now.

Mai lifted her gaze to him upon hearing the tone of his voice and something within her chest pulled taught. She realized she was his last hope in that moment too and determination to help swelled within her once more as she pushed herself to her feet and brushed off her knees. She straightened and offered him her most reassuring smile, "Then I guess we'll have to get Ma." She lifted her hand to him encouragingly with a chuckle, surprised by her own strength of will.

Alexander laughed with relief, tears still dripping down his cheeks, and drifted towards Mai's outstretched hand.

Just as their fingers brushed against each other Mai's eyes snapped open to the sight of the park around her once more. She dropped her eyes to the dog at her side, noticing that he was facing her with a curious tilt to his head, and smiled before lifting a hand to scratch him behind the ears. She could still feel the warmth from Alexander lingering across her fingers and she absently wondered how long it would last before she pushed herself to her feet and stretched. She felt and heard her spine crack as she reached for the leaves above her and sighed.

"I have to find out about her mother," she mumbled thoughtfully and tugged on Rocco's leash, urging him to his paw, and lead the way back to the hotel. There was one person she knew she could go to for research and secrecy and she knew just where to find him.

Chapter Text

Mai strolled along through the hotel, her hands behind her back and an obedient Rocco at her side, and smiled at the people who passed by. She found herself in the positive state she had been searching for since she had first set foot on the property. She had been so drawn in by the horrors that Prudence had shown them and had faltered under her immense power as an evil spirit. But now she had a plan, sort of, and she was on her way to put it into action. She trotted up the steps of the main foyer and laughed when Rocco pulled at the leash to sniff at a passing by family who was towing a little girl after them. She was reaching for the dog that was twice her height and Mai had to admire her for her bravery. Most kids would have shied away from a dog of his mass.

"Rocco," she called through her chuckles and tugged on the leash. He hurried back to her side with his tail wagging.

They made it back to the base and she unclipped his leash so that he could reclaim his spot on the couch while she scanned the room for a certain man. She only found Martin, Luella, and Masako present. It was an odd combination and left her more than a bit confused as she approached Masako at her favored table with a cup of tea between her delicate hands.

"Where is everybody?" she asked curiously as she came to a stop next to the table and crossed her arms. She immediately felt irritation well up upon sighting Martin and was studiously ignoring him even as she felt his eyes on her.

"They are out preparing for tonight, they plan on exorcising Prudence," Masako answered quietly. It was obvious she was still a bit miffed by Mai's behavior towards her that morning but Mai did not hold it against her.

"Is Yasuhara with them?" she asked with a tired sighed.

"No, I believe he said he was going to go for a swim since he would be of little help," she answered coolly.

Okay, so Mai had not known where to find Yasuhara but she had been able to find out through other means, so she still counted it as a win in her book. Though she wasn't really competing with anyone. She hummed and uncrossed her arms before turning away from the woman and heading towards the door of the base. She would find him shortly and request that he help her dig up some information on Prudence's mother. She knew he would be up to the challenge and would love a chance to ruffle Naru's feathers at the same time. Any chance for mischief would be irresistible to him and in that sense she realized Yasu was a lot like Gene. She pondered the thought as she reached for the nob of the door but her lightened mood was instantly dashed the moment she heard her name called.

"Mai," Martin addressed her from where he stood across the room.

Mai paused, wondering what it was about her name being called in such a manner that was really beginning to irk her, and turned to look back at the man with a quirked brow. For lack of a better term he was on her shit list and would have to work hard to alter her opinion of him. She debated on leaving the room before he could actually utter another syllable but shot the idea down with a mental shake of her head and turned to face the man fully. "Yes?" she responded in a civil tone.

Next to him, Luella was watching with a tight lipped expression, obviously irritated by her husband's treatment of her but not yet willing to speak out against him in public.

"What are you planning on doing?" he asked bluntly but with a hint of hesitation.

Mai did not immediately respond to his question and instead eyed him thoughtfully. What had prompted that kind of question from him? She recalled the other day when Naru had taken her away and stated that his father had become interested in her abilities and wondered just how much he was aware of. Whether or not Naru had discussed with him in detail just how capable she was of handling cases. How many unique abilities she had displayed a talent for over time. At the thought she recalled the day when Naru had first tested her for psychic abilities and mentally paused. It was funny that just the day before that she had been lamenting over the sufferings most psychic users were forced to deal with and how much she would hate to have abilities of her own. She had missed every light on that test and she understood then that she had missed them all intentionally. Since that day she had delved deeper and deeper into the world of spiritual sensitivity and had helped to solve as many cases as she could while her talents grew and developed with the gentle teachings of Gene. Martin's very own son.

She straightened her shoulders and sighed, "I plan on cleansing her," she answered simply.

"On your own?" he muttered in shock. "I highly doubt you are capable of such a thing," he added intensely and eyed her up and down thoughtfully. He did not recall ever hearing anything about her being able to cleanse a spirit, something normally only a medium could do, and scowled at the lack of information he had been able to gather on her.

"I assure you I am quite capable," she shot back with an impish grin before she opened the door and shut it behind her with finality.

She had left Rocco behind but she was not concerned with entertaining the dog as she once again found herself strolling through the hotel, a sense of accomplishment swelled within her upon getting one up on Martin, and she was enjoying the high as she made her way down to the indoor pool in search of Yasuhara. She adjusted the waist belt she was wearing over her long plaid shirt as she stepped through the doors into the warm room and scanned over the small crowd that had gathered for a mid day swim. She did not see Yasuhara among them at first but as she wandered further in she reached an angle where she could just spot the hot tub through the potted foliage and spotted her target lounging about on his own.

With a smirk she walked across the cracked blue ceramic tile and came to a stop just behind his head, "Yasu~" she called in a sing song voice and looked down at him from above.

Yasuhara dropped his head back to look up at her curiously, a brow raised, and she noted that he had left his glasses behind somewhere. Probably due to the fact that they would have fogged up in the steam billowing up from the water. He blinked at her, trying to make her out through his blurry vision, but finally grinned.

"What can I do for you, Mai-chan?" he questioned in an equally sing song voice.

"I need your help," she stated simply.

"With what, if I may ask?" he responded smoothly and shut his eyes as a mischievous smile grew upon his face.

Mai smiled back, "I need to do some research and who better to ask than the great Yasuahara?" she answered.

"That's quite the compliment," Yasuahra drawled but it was obvious he would not give her a straight answer until she had divulged further details.

Mai sighed and dropped her arms, which she had been crossing across her chest as she spoke to him, and rolled her eyes. "I have a plan to cleanse Prudence but I need to find out about her mother in order to do so." She watched as his smile fell and he took on a serious expression before he straightened and turned to look at her full on.

"I won't bother trying to persuade you not to try cleansing her," he began and let out a sigh, "I guess I have no choice in the matter really."

Mai blinked at him in surprise and cocked her head questioningly. He certainly had the will to deny her, it was in his right as she was technically going against their boss, but yet he acted as if she were twisting his arm. "What do you mean?" she asked curiously.

"Mai, you know me," he declared in an admonishing tone before he stood up out of the water and climbed to his feet, "I can't pass up an opportunity to go against the big boss." He moved over towards the bench sat near the hot tub and lifted a folded towel and dried his hair and face. "Besides," he added as he pulled the towel away to reveal a rather serious expression, "I don't think it's right to exorcise her."

Mai was shocked but she was quick to mask it as Yasuhara draped the towel over his shoulders with an uncharacteristically kind smile. "That means a lot, Yasu," she said quietly and returned his kind smile. Now that she finally had an accomplice she felt a weight lift from her chest and sighed. She had been ready to go it alone and take on the spirit of Prudence but knowing that she had Yasuhara's support seemed to steady her in a way she never thought possible. He had been such a kind friend to her when Naru had left that he had become like a brother to her.

"I'll go get changed and then we can walk to the library, it's only about a fifteen minute trip, we can even stop and get lunch," he said as they moved through the room towards the doors.

Mai clasped her hands behind her back and smiled up at him, "That sounds great actually, I never did get breakfast this morning." She recalled the mornings events and felt the slight burn that still lingered over her feet, which were also still bare, and grimaced. The anger had fueled her belly and allowed her to turn a blind eye to her hunger but now that she had calmed down and Yasuhara had mentioned food she felt it kick in with full force. She even felt a little shaky though it was no surprise since she had been living off of little else but ramen since the closing of the office, and she had developed slight anemia. She needed more red meat in her life and the thought of a burger made fresh from one of the family owned restaurants in town was more than tempting.

"I don't think I've ever seen little Mai so scary before," Yasuhara commented with a mock look of dread on his face and Mai scowled and swatted him in the shoulder as they left the indoor pool room.

While she and Yasuhara split to prepare for their trip, he to get changed and she to grab her boots, she was suddenly overcome with dread. It was not the kind of heart stopping dread associated with spirits or the scary but was frightening all the same. She would have to return to the base where she was sure Martin still remained after she had indirectly brushed him off before rudely departing before he could utter a response. She paused in front of the door, one hand hovering over the handle while she struggled against her urge to flee and wondered if she could get away with walking all the way to the library with bare feet, before she shook her head and opened the door. She peeked in warily and was immediately relieved to find that Martin had left. Masako had too, now that she thought about, and she assumed the woman had slipped away to film more for her show as she had repeatedly throughout their stay. Mai suddenly wondered if any of the team had been caught on camera . . .

"Don't hover in the door, Mai," Luella's light reprimand floated to her from across the room and Mai jumped to do as she was told.

"Sorry," she laughed nervously and pulled the door shut behind her before making her way over to the girl's room. She swiftly pulled her boots on before stepping back into the base and was greeted by a cheery Rocco. She scratched his head as she walked passed and glanced over at the monitors where Luella sat. On one of the monitors Prudence's room was displayed and she noted that all the boxes had been moved out in the hall so that the team could set up for the exorcism. The room was filled with all of the others as they conversed amongst each other, adjusted their robes, or set about making charms. Naru could be seen in the doorway discussing something with Lin.

"It won't work," she mumbled absently. The feeling of certainty washed over her as she stared absently, lost in thought, at the screen from over Luella's shoulder.

Luella turned to look back at her curiously, "What makes you say that?"

"Wrong room," she answered thoughtlessly and adjusted the bag she had thrown over her shoulder with her wallet and various belongings inside.

"And which room is the right one?" Luella questioned lightly.

Mai tightened her lips and dropped her eyes to the woman before her warily but her nerves were calmed when she saw the slight knowing smirk that adorned her lips and she chuckled. "The actual room they need to exorcise," she responded vaguely and turned away from the bank of monitors.

"I thought so," Luella agreed with a laugh and returned her attention to the monitors as Mai left. Though this time she did not take Rocco with her.

The walk through the park with Yasuhara was much more pleasant than Mai had expected. Yasuhara was strangely quiet as they walked along the gravel path towards the park entrance and Mai could only guess at why. She assumed the case was weighing on him as it was weighing on all of them and the lack of chatter was just a tell. She did not blame him in the least as she herself was nearly frustrated to tears with the whole thing even though she was attempting to enact her half baked plan to solve it. Just recalling all the nightmares and horrors she had suffered in the last week was enough to slow her step and weigh her down. And to top if all off she now had Martin Davis breathing down her neck like an evil spirit all her own. She felt his eyes on her whenever she entered the room and it was unnerving. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and crossed her arms as if to hold herself together as they walked.

"Is something wrong?" Mai asked to distract herself and turned her eyes onto the man walking next to her.

Yasuahra grinned and looked at her slyly from the corner of his eye, "Worried that your presence isn't as captivating as you thought?" he prodded jokingly.

"What? No!" she scowled and turned her face away with a huff.

Yasu fell silent again before he let out a heavy sigh and lifted his eyes to the blue sky above, "I forgot to turn in an assignment . . ."

Mai whipped her head around to stare at him in disbelief before a fit of laughter overcame her and she covered her mouth. How odd that in the midst of a life threatening case Yasuhara was more troubled by his lack of dedication to his school work than the threat of death. She shook her head when he frowned at her and waved him off while she laughed. It was like a paradigm shift. She was suddenly pulled from the intense and frightening case and thrust back into the realm of school work and social lives with such force it left her head reeling. Once again she found herself awash with relief and certainty as they walked and she let out a contented sigh. She wondered what her friends back home were doing and what kind of assignments she herself was missing.

"I completely forgot about school," she admitted and stretched her hands up towards the sky as relief flooded through her body and left her feeling like jelly. She had a life outside of the cleansing of Prudence's soul and that horrid mansion it was trapped within. As if to solidify that thought they stepped out onto the cobblestone street and left the park behind them.

"Poor Mai, how will you ever graduate," Yasu bemoaned tragically. "Naru will never marry you if you can't even finish high school you know."

Mai scowled and crossed her arms again. "I can't imagine him marrying anybody . . ." she grouched and dropped her eyes to her shoes in frustration.

"Don't worry, little Mai, there will come a day when his heart will beat for the first time and only thoughts of you will flood his unnaturally large brain . . ." Yasuhara continued to berate her playfully as they walked along the street in search of a decent restaurant to get lunch at. It was just like old times, before Naru had returned, when they would meet up to go over homework with each other or wonder what the others were up to. Sometimes they had gotten distracted and scoured the internet for possible cases that would never be taken by the previously disbanded SPR. There had been days when they would sit within a booth for well into the night talking and theorizing over possible scenarios.

They found a decently busy burger joint, family owned of course, and claimed a seat outside so they could enjoy the nice weather. It wasn't particularly hot or cold that day, the temperature was just right and the sun was shinning, and naturally this meant the streets were flooded with people of the same mind.

"What's the probability of Monk and Ayako getting married?" Yasu pondered out loud while they waited on their server.

Mai lifted a finger to her chin in thought, noting how they had fallen into their old routine of theorizing, and chuckled, "I couldn't tell you. Monk doesn't seem like the type to settle down and I can't imagine him proposing, but he is full of surprises . . ." she trailed off with a shrug.

"I agree," Yasu responded thoughtfully just as their waiter came to greet them. They each ordered a burger and some water and while the boy, obviously new to the restaurant, repeated their order with a nervous stutter the two made eye contact. Yasuhara waggled his eyebrows and caused Mai to giggle. Sensing the atmosphere of the table they boy snapped his book shut and barely managed to hide the scowl of annoyance before he left. "Uh oh, it looks like we upset him," Yasu observed.

"Yasu," Mai admonished but she could not fight the infectious grin that bloomed across her face.

After they had eaten they traveled to the library, which was only a few blocks down from the restaurant, and passed many interesting shops on the way. A man sat at a corner strumming his guitar and singing in a soft voice, Mai slowed her pace as they passed and watched him for a moment, wondering what made him so different from the people that had performed at the concert not a day before. She was stunned to realize that she had nearly died just the night before. She had been chugging away at a nearly unstoppable pace and had not stopped to consider the fact that they had only been within that house for a week at most. It felt like she had been trapped within those walls for months, not days, and she wondered how the others were feeling as well.

She focused on the man again, obviously homeless judging by the state of his attire, but he had such a lively face that it beguiled her. Yasuhara came a stop and glanced back at her before following her line of sight. He stopped to listen to the song, a bittersweet tune about some woman, and grinned. Just as he moved towards the man he finished the song and Yasuhara greeted him cheerfully, going so far as to grasp his hand in his own and shake it firmly, before he asked him how long he had been playing. The man seemed genuinely glad to be addressed and was eager to share his story to the bright young man.

Mai watched as Yasuhara offered him the rest of his lunch, contained within a white styrofoam box, and leaned closer as the man thanked him and showed him his guitar. She wondered what he had suffered. He was homeless and reduced to playing on the street for leftovers and petty cash yet he seemed so jovial. What had caused him to lose his home? But what bothered her more was how positive he was. She could practically feel the energy he exuded and yet people like Prudence had declined into an emotional wreck. She could not place what it was exactly that was bothering her so much only that she wished she could understand. It just seemed so unfair but at the same time she understood how ignorant that thought was. Life was unfair and everyone was dealt their own hand of hardships to weather. Prudence had just not been able to stand against the harshness of her reality. A reality she should have never had to suffer as it seemed uncommonly dark and gruesome.

Yasuhara returned from his conversation with the man, who Mai later learned was named Daniel, before they returned to their trek to the library. But her mind continued to circulate with the thoughts of Prudence and Daniel.

The library was, as all buildings in downtown St. Pete were, older than dirt. It stood amongst the tall buildings, sheltered by ancient oaks, and gave off an air of quite dignity that one would expect of a library. There were a couple people milling about out front, smoking cigarettes and talking on their phones, while several people could be seen moving around inside.

They entered the building and were immediately overwhelmed by the musty scent of old books and new carpeting. Mai paused at the door while Yasuhara strode in confidently, as he had already been to the library with Madoka, and went about procuring a computer for them to use. Mai had hoped that she could have been of more service to the man but as he sat down in front of the computer and immediately began sifting through thousands of online websites and documentations she realized she was useless. She did not know how to navigate the internet as deftly as him and so she had fallen into a daydream while Yasuhara combed through the web in silent concentration.

Behind them was a wall of glass looking out onto a courtyard of sorts, filled with many trees and plants, as well as a few cement benches that stood unused. It was such a calming and peaceful atmosphere that Mai worried she would fall asleep where she sat, tired from her sleepless night, and she had to pinch herself to remain awake. The rest of the library was quiet, aside from a few hushed conversations, and the isles upon isles of books seemed to absorb the thoughts and sounds of those around them. It was like a mental blanket.

Mai groaned quietly and dropped her head into her hands.

It was nearly thirty minutes later when Yasuhara straightened in his seat and hummed in thought. Mai blinked back in to reality and turned to face his computer screen, which displayed nothing but text, and asked "Did you find something?"

"I did," Yasuhara admitted with a tone of resigned frustration, "Prudence's mother was named Catherine and she passed away at the age of twenty-nine. It says here that she was sick but they could never figure out was wrong with her, only that she had very poor health and often fell ill before her body gave up. She was married to a man named Jacob who drowned at sea when Prudence was very young."

Mai stared wide eyed and lowered her stare to the computer desk in quiet awe. How similar their lives had been. Again she wondered how she would have turned out had she continued along the path Prudence had and shivered. She was so lucky, she thought, so lucky that Naru had waltzed into her life. He had pulled them all together and dragged them along for the ride like some kind of maniacal composure. He moved to a completely different music and they were forced to stumble about like idiots to keep up with him but they had grown so much since that first day and come so far. . .

"It says here she was buried in the local cemetery, but other than that there are no outstanding incidences or dark history to dig up," he scratched his head and turned in his seat to look at Mai with a slightly embarrassed expression. "I could have found all this out at the hotel on my laptop . . ."

"That's alright Yasu, I wanted to get out and get something to eat anyways, but now I'm stumped," she mumbled with and lifted a curled finger to her lips in worried thought. Alexander had told her that Prudence's mother would know best how to handle her but Mai had no way of contacting her. She could try summoning her but she would have to ask Masako for help. She was certain she could convince the woman to help her but she felt bad about pulling another member of the team into going behind Naru's back. She glanced over at Yasu and let out a sigh. She sent him a tired smile before clasping her hands together in her lap. "Honestly, I haven't been very truthful with you guys on this case and I want to apologize for that. Recently I had come into contact with a spirit named Alexander, a childhood friend of Prudence, and he advised me that her mother would know how to help her . . . but now I'm stumped."

Yasuhara blinked at her in confusion before resting his chin in the palm of his hand, elbow propped on the table, and hummed in thought. "Well, I think our next step then would be to recruit Masako into our rebellion and enlist her unique abilities to give Catherine a call," he stated matter of factly, unknowingly echoing her thoughts, and smiled over at Mai who wore a stunned expression.

"Alright," Mai said quietly and gave a determined nod before standing from her chair just as Yasuhara did, and together they returned to the hotel.

The walk back was not as pleasant as the trip to the library had been as they were both laden with heavy thoughts and hopes for the outcome of the case. But the weather was still nice and they had plenty of daylight hours ahead of them to work. Their shoes crunched across the gravel as they walked back through the park, now a bit more populated than it had been earlier, but the cheerful atmosphere was not enough to quell the determination the two had gathered after their trip.

As luck would have it, Masako was filming upon their arrival, and so the two came to a stop among the filming crew while Masako stood in front of the mansion talking in a quiet and pleasant voice. She was explaining the unique haunting of the building when they came to a stop and though she was immediately aware of their presence the medium's eyes never wavered from the camera in front of her. It wasn't until she had finished the shoot, some ten minutes later, that she gracefully crossed the distance between them and greeted them.

"Mai, Yasuhara-san," she said quietly though there was a curious spark in her eye as she examined them. "What brings you out here, I would have thought you would be back at base helping to prepare for tonight."

Mai shifted uncomfortably under Masako's slightly disapproving but saddened look while Yasuhara only smiled and shrugged. "We have a proposition for you," Yasuhara began cheerfully.

"Oh?" Masako lifted a brow and shifted her eyes between the two, clearly waiting for further explanation.

When Mai realized Yasuhara would explain no further she sighed and stepped forward. "I need your help summoning a spirit," she muttered, knowing Masako would enjoy her situation. She would just love a chance to flaunt her abilities in front of Mai and brag, passively of course, and Mai knew it.

Masako pulled her lips into a tight line and clasped her hands together in front of her, "Who is it you want me to summon, Mai?" Her voice was low and held a wary tone but Mai brushed it aside.

"The spirit I need you to summon is named Catherine, and she is Prudence's mother . . ." she explained quietly.

Masako was silent for some time while she stared at the girl in front of her, who's eyes had dropped to her feet as she spoke, before she sighed through her nose and nodded. "It was the kind one that told you of her . . ." she spoke evenly, stating it as a fact, and lowered her own eyes when Mai nodded in return. The Kind One was Alexander, though Masako had only caught his presence a handful of times throughout their stay she had understood him to be a gentle being and his gentleness had piqued her interest the moment she sensed it. The house was filled with anger, hatred, and loneliness. Yet his soul had remained intact. "Alright," she agreed in a louder tone and lifted her eyes to the two with a determined nod. "But you owe me one," she stated primly and turned on the spot to return to the hotel.

Mai scowled after the woman and clenched her teeth in annoyance but she grinned when she heard Yasuhara's laughter. It was obvious then that he had left the explaining to Mai purely for the entertainment but she did not mind as it helped to lighten the mood.

They followed Masako back into the hotel and up to the base, excited to make some headway on the case, and tailed her even as she entered the girl's room to rummage through her belongings for incense and a candle. Mai did not comment on the oddness of carrying such items around but she realized it was actually a norm for their group and chuckled. Ayako always had paper for her charms while John always had his bible and rosary beads. They all had robes and accessories for their practices while NAru had all his equipment. She was certain Lin always had a collection of useful items related the his skills as an omyoji. Really, the only ones who had nothing of the like were Yasuhara and herself.

"Well that's convenient," Yasuahra commented as Masako straightened with the necessary items in hand.

"I always carry such items in case of situations like these," Masako stated and brushed past them. She walked back into the base room while the two shrugged and followed after her once more. It was quite obvious who was in charge at that moment but neither were the type to dispute it and so they trailed behind her like obedient children.

"May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

They all slowed to a stop at the main door and turned to look back at the man who had spoken. He stood, leaning against the table on which the monitors rested, black book open and held in one hand while the other crossed his stomach in a pose reminiscent of one someone would find in a male fashion magazine. Accept this model looked rather annoyed and was wearing all black. Not to mention he had the behemoth of a dog that was Rocco resting at his feet.

Damn him for always looking so good.

Mai was not able to think quickly enough to form a valid excuse and for whatever reason her heart was pounding in her chest as Naru snapped his book shut and placed it on the table to cross his arm over the other. Luckily she had the most steadfast and confident woman on her left and the best liar in the world on her right.

"We're helping Masako with her show," Yasuhara answered simply and his eyes never wavered from the man across the room. Even as he stared back and the tension between them grew ten times in the span of a second Yasuhara did not falter.

"I will be setting up a fake seance as I advised a real one would be dangerous," Masako explained delicately, "Since these two had nothing better to do I enlisted their help."

Naru did not respond, simply stared at them with a cold and knowing look, before turning away and joining Lin at another table where the man was studiously typing away at his laptop.

The three took their chance to escape and slipped out of the room before anymore could be said. They did not need their boss to hinder them any further in that moment as they were all sure they were at the beginning of the end of this case and Prudence's soul would be saved. It was decided that they would preform the seance in an unoccupied room, as it did not particularly matter where they did it since Catherine had never graced the property with her presence. It would make summoning her all the more difficult but Masako assured them it could be done with enough concentration.

So they slipped into a room on the second floor and locked the door behind them. They pulled a low table into the center of the large suit and set up the candles and incense while Masako sat quietly and prepared herself for the upcoming event. Once they had all settled around the table Masako lifted her hands, pressed together in prayer, and steadied her breathing.

The candle flame flickered with her slow breaths and Mai held her own in anticipation.

They had drawn the curtains to darken the room but a few strands of sunlight filtered in through the drapes and fell across her legs and arms as she watched. Yasuhara was quiet and his usually cheery disposition had been replaced by a more serious one as he sat ramrod straight atop the patterned rug. Out of habit they had both removed their shoes before seating themselves so their sock covered toes wiggled in an effort to relieve the lack of blood flow.

It was a tense silence that fell over them.

Masako continued to breath, eyes shut against the flickering light of the candle, and ignored the growing tension of the room as easily as one would ignore strangers on the street.

They waited for several minutes. Those minutes spanned into thirty. And before they knew it an hour had passed.

It was at this point that Masako's brows scrunched together in a sign of frustration before she let out a sigh and dropped her hands to her lap and opened her eyes. "It would appear Catherine is no longer a part of this world," she stated quietly and watched as the two slumped in defeat.

"I don't understand," Mai mumbled in frustration and sighed, dropping her head onto the coffee table in front of her and groaned.

"What does that mean, exactly?" Yasuhara questioned politely and leaned over the table curiously, "Aren't they all 'no longer a part of this world'?"

Masako lifted a kimono sleeve to her mouth and a rather sad expression took over her previously frustrated one. "It simply means that Prudence has moved on. She was cleansed and departed for the next world. Simply put, the spirits that we often summon or come in contact with have never moved on and still wander this plain but Catherine is now out of reach," she explained quietly and dropped her eyes to her lap forlornly, "I am sorry I could not be of more help."

"It's alright," Mai answered as she lifted her head from the table, "You did your best." She smiled kindly and pushed herself to her feet, relieving the ache in her ankles with a grimace, while the others followed suit and returned the room back to its original order.

Little did they know that Mai was in turmoil. She had exhausted all her options but one and it had been the very one she had wished to avoid. She would not want to admit it but she feared what Prudence had become, as there was very little humanity left within her, and the thought of facing her left her frightened. But it had to be done. Somehow. Every fiber of her being told her so and she was as powerless to deny that as mouse before a lion. Catherine could be of no help to them in that moment but she knew that, had the woman's spirit been available, she would have come running at the chance to help. That too she could feel.

"Well, nature calls, I'll see you ladies at dinner," Yasuhara exclaimed before he gave them a brief wave and left them at the entrance to the room.

The two women did not move as he left and instead stood, side by side, in tense silence. Both had thoughts raging through their minds at that moment but it was Masako who broke the quiet first.

"Mai," she said in a hesitant tone and glanced at the girl from the corner of her eye.

"It has to be done," Mai responded simply, her own eyes locked on the opposite wall as she thought. After all, she had told Martin not a few hours ago that she was quite capable of cleansing Prudence on her own. Now was not the time to back down.

"It's dangerous," Masako stated blankly, already knowing that no amount of words could convince the girl to change her mind, but still she felt obligated to try.

"I know," Mai answered before she left the room and headed down the hall in the opposite direction.

Masako watched her go, worry evident on her face, before turning to hurry back to base in earnest. It was clear that Mai was way over her head but yet she seemed not to care and that sort of attitude was a dangerous one to have in their line of business as it often ended with one's death.

Mai sat down amongst the pile of water resistant pillows stacked up under the little cement pavilion under which the hot tub was located. She adjusted a pillow behind her and crossed her legs before she leaned back and let out a deep breath. She had chosen the pool room because, as dinner was drawing near, it was empty of occupants at the moment. She could have easily used the room the failed seance had taken place in but it had felt too stuffy and the dust had irritated her nose. And she could not deny the sense of peace she felt when she was in that room. She had felt it the day she had taken a swim and had spent the time admiring the plants and lights that decorated it.

She sighed and slowly relaxed her body just as Gene had once shown her starting with her toes. During the process of breathing and relaxing she cleared her mind so that only the image of Prudence, pure and innocent, filled it. The bubbling of the hot tub and gentle swaying of the pool water easily lulled her into a trance like state as she focused.

Poor Prudence, she thought as she stared at the back of her eyelids. She wanted to recall the most radiant image of the woman she could muster and it was no surprise that what came to mind was the memories shared with her by Alexander, when she was still just a child, laughing and grinning the impish grin she had always seemed to be wearing.

She felt her mind grow hazy and the vibrant colors she pictured dulled as her breathing slowed into the calm of sleep. She was moments away from garnering access to the astral plain but a flicker of a thought reminded her that she wanted to project into the current realm, not the limbo that was the astral plain, and she redirected her conscious promptly to correct it.

As she stood, leaving her body behind, she was overwhelmed by the crushing loneliness that the house seemed to seal off from the rest of the world. It was stale and stagnant and had not been touched by any light of positivity in nearly a century. Like the unused rooms of the house it had gathered a kind of residue of disuse. The world had turned to blue and black as her soul stood up and examined her surroundings. There were many spirits here, she noticed, and she could only assume they had been gathered by the murderous acts of William and afterwards, Prudence herself. They floated about sporadically as if in search of a way to escape to suffocating loneliness.

"Prudence," she called lightly into the open air but was only met with silence. If it weren't for the gentle sounds of the water around her then she was certain her ears would have been ringing against the quiet.

"Who are you?" A rasping voice finally asked, it echoed across the room and sent shivers up Mai's spine. Her eyes cast about the room until they landed upon a dark figure standing in the corner, just behind a pillar, and therefore half out of sight. She was not able to make out much other than the grey dress she wore and the tangles of dirty matted hair that fell around her shoulders and face.

"Someone who wants to help," Mai answered reassuringly and smiled at the woman despite the warning bells the sounded in her mind. This was wrong, somehow, but she did not waste time in thinking it over. In the situation she was one could not afford to falter. It was like facing down a wild and rabid animal and one wrong move, one moment of hesitation, could spell certain doom.

The dirt covered woman cocked her head curiously and slowly lifted a hand to the pillar that she stood behind. It left smears of sticky grim in its wake as she pulled herself out from behind it and into the light of the astral plain. Mai could now see that there was a copious amount of blood that coated her face and neck, from what she could see beneath the tangled locks of hair, and she recalled the woman had been shot in the head before her body had fallen into the lake to join Kikio's.

"To help?" she questioned in a whisper.

"Yes, I know that you have suffered much, but it is over now. Peace is waiting for you. Where you are going there is nothing but warmth and love of those who have been watching over you," Mai answered with a smile as the woman shuffled forward and closer to the pool. She could feel the warmth in her own chest grow as she spoke to the spirit and urged her to feel the same. "Your mother is there," she added quietly. She was once again reminded of her own mother, as she had often been on this case, and yearned to see her face one last time. But that was a silly thought, she thought absently, as even if she were to see her mother's face one last time she would later wish again for the same thing. How saddening that thought was but she mentally shook her head and squared her shoulders. Remember the good things, the smiles and laughter, the nights she had fallen asleep in her mother's arms, and all that she had taught her.

The woman paused before she cocked her head again and whispered, "I don't want to go anywhere."

Mai's smile grew into a saddened one but she continued, "There is nothing to be afraid of."

". . . Afraid . . .?" she stepped down into the pool, or at least, Mai assumed she had. But her foot did not pass through the surface as she shuffled across the water towards her. Behind her blood turned the water red. It poured down her face and across her dress now and gushed down her legs into the pool beneath her as she moved and it was then that Mai felt fear grip her heart. She was not faltering in the least, her words were having no affect, and she was drawing ever closer to her defenseless body and soul.

And the closer she got the more horrible she appeared. She no longer resembled a woman in the least. Her figure was genderless beneath the bloodstained dress and her face had morphed into a hideous collection of wounds and rotted flesh. What was left of her mouth pulled into a grimace.

Mai wanted to take a step back but she was frozen in place as the world around her took on a greenish hue and warped under the influence of Prudence's hatred and anger.

All the while she drew closer. The water rippled beneath her feet and each step was clearly discernible in the silence. But her next step was the wet slap her flesh of tile. She lifted a hand towards Mai, reaching for her, fingers grasping at air.

Suddenly the door to the indoor pool was thrown open and a figure in black darted in. "Mai!" Naru's voice wrung out across the pool and Mai was startled into action. She turned and dove back into her body so quickly that she nearly lost consciousness when she returned. She was afraid to open her eyes lest she still see Prudence shuffling across the pool surface, coated in running blood, and so kept her lids squeezed shut against the possibility. She had been so close to reaching her, she had taken her first step onto the tiled floor just as Naru had entered and the girl was certain the monster was still there. Perhaps out of sight but no where near out of mind. She shivered violently and clenched her fists atop her crossed legs to regain control of her body.

There were a few tense moments of silence and then . . . "Mai . . . don't open your eyes."

She heard Naru's voice, noted that he was not as close as she had expected him to be with the speed in which in he had entered, and then finally registered what he had said and her heart literally stopped. She felt her lungs cry out for air while her whole body, every muscle, tensed, and she became aware of the breath that was hitting her face. It was putrid and hot, smelt of rotting flesh, and she struggled not to gag.

She was still there.

She had not disappeared even after Mai had severed contact.

The fear she felt in that moment was so intense that she could not rightly compare it to any she had ever felt before. She had been afraid when Urado himself had loomed over her pinned figure but in that case she had been protecting Masako. She had had to put on a brave face and stand her ground in order to see Masako to safety. But now. Now there was no one behind her to protect and keep calm. No one to bolster her courage. And the only one who could help her was separated from her by the very thing that was after her. She felt droplets of blood landing on her arms and legs as what she assumed was Prudence leaned over her form and breathed into her face hungrily. A new sound became apparent in the midst of her terror. The sound of growling. But it was not coming from Prudence and for some reason that frightened her even more. She was so scared that in that moment she wished Gene was there as well, but she did not feel his presence, and so she whispered the name of the only person she hoped could help her in that moment.

". . .Oliver . . .help . . ." the words had barely escaped her mouth before she heard him bark out a command in english and she found herself being thrown back into the pillows as the sounds of a rabid and enraged dog attacked the twisted spirit of Prudence in front of her. Before she could react she felt arms hauling her away from the fight and she was pulled up onto the bench against his chest. She knew it was him because she could hear his heart thudding away beneath his shirt at such an intense rate she worried for his health. But she was in no better condition, in fact, she couldn't feel her own heartbeat at all. It was more of a constant thrum beneath her ribs. His arms tightened around her as the sounds of fighting stopped and Prudence's last growl of rage had fallen silent.

Her eyes had remained shut the entire time but in that moment her mind went blank and the tension left her body all at once. Naru rushed to compensate for her dead weight, catching her head just before it fell back against the armrest of the bench and let out a string of curses in various languages that would have surprised her if she had not fainted.

"Mai!" he called urgently. Rocco's head appeared and sniffed at Mai's face worriedly while his tail dropped between his legs. Naru lifted her head in his hand, bringing her face up to his as he called her name again and lightly slapped her cheek in an effort to bring her back into the realm of the living. "Mai, wake up," he demanded quietly and let out a small sigh of relief when she jolted up in his arms and gripped his shoulder with one hand while she gasped for breath and struggled to calm her racing heart. He gave her a minute to collect herself before his expression turned heartstoppingly cold and he glowered down at her, "You stupid girl," he began lowly. "I would normally ask what you were thinking in that moment but it has become quite obvious to me that you weren't thinking at all."

Mai turned wide eyes on to him, tears streaming from them as he spoke, before dropping her eyes to her knees in front of her blankly. She was shaking so bad that she felt certain she would have fallen off of Naru's lap had he not been holding her in place. She didn't even seem to register that the man she loved was holding her in his lap while the remaineder of the adrenaline eddied away and she was left as a quivering heap in his arms. "Oh god . . ." she whispered and felt her stomach revolt in disgust and fear. She forced back the bile rising in her throat however, and instead dropped her head onto his shoulder as a sob wracked her body.

Naru sighed again as he felt her tears run down his neck and beneath his shirt collar but he tightened his grip regardless of his wavering irritation for her lack of common sense. "Calm down, Mai, it's over," he muttered quietly.

Mai shook her head against his words, "She's so twisted and wrong . . ." she mumbled through her slowing tears. "And none of it is her fault . . ."

"She will be exorcised tonight, her suffering must end," Naru said lowly.

"No . . ." she sobbed. "You can't . . . they've been working so hard to help her . . ."

Naru did not need to ask who it was she was speaking of. He had had his own experience back in the lake and recalled the words Kikio had said to him just before Lin had severed contact. He knew that Alexander had played a part in it as well but he did not understand why this caused Mai to feel so much obligation towards them. He was certain her concerns were well founded but he was unable to grasp them without further explanation and he knew now would not be a good time to ask. He dropped his eyes to what he could see of her face on his shoulder, saw the way her tears trailed glistening streaks across her cheeks, and grimaced. She had so much emotion bottled up within her that it surprised even him. She had been such a lonely little thing when he had first met her, though she had covered it up with sass and anger, he had seen right through her act just as she had his. But where he was lacking in emotion she made up for it ten times over and he would be lying if he said it did not occasionally overwhelm him. But he often used her reactions as a base for his. Thanks to her he had solved several cases at a rate he had never thought capable before. She was able to delve into the reasoning behind the actions of both the living and the dead so deftly he sometimes wondered if she were not some director who was calling the shots first while her subjects hurried to comply.

He looked down at the distressed girl in his arms in a whole new light.

Without further thought he turned his head and captured her lips with his.

It was right, he decided then, that he was allowed to have the girl he knew his brother cared for. Because she needed someone who could hold her like this and Gene was no longer capable of such a thing. It was right because, he realized then, that he deserved something in return. Return for all that life had put him through. And the uncharacteristically emotional and selfish thought was noted by him and his usual stoic control was promptly shunted to the side.

They never had good timing. It was something both had come to realize over the years. Mai had first confessed to him while his brother's body had been discovered and had been in the process of rejoining the surface world and again hours after she had nearly died and he had pulled her from the depths, all the while cursing his luck with water, and now he had stolen a kiss from her not seconds after she had experienced another brush with what he was certain was almost death. It would be something they would have to work around, it would seem, and grudgingly accept.

Mai had at first jumped, startled when she felt him shift and then met her lips with his, but she found herself lost in pure joy soon after and returned his kiss without further hesitation. Without a second to spare all the fear and jumbled emotions of distress and despair were washed away with the realization that the man she had been pining after for years had finally given in.

In that moment no amount of evil spirits would have been able to pull them a part. It was like they were in their own little astral plain, complete with floating lights and gentle quiet, and thoughts of the real world slipped away from them as easily as water.

Naru pulled back from the kiss and stared down at her dazed expression, noted the way her cheeks had taken on a pinkish hue, and decided that he was quite tempted to kiss her again. But instead he stood, with her cradled into his arms, and headed for the door. She did not react as he knew she wouldn't by their abrupt departure and spared the dog a brief glance to assure himself that he was following, before exiting the room and gliding down the hallway towards the foyer. They traveled in silence, neither daring to speak for differing reasons, but each lost in their own thoughts yet content with their lack of communication. Mai had dropped her head back onto his shoulder, reveling in the warmth and steadiness he provided, and closed her eyes against reality. She could feel the edge of his collar bone just beneath her temple and sighed. Despite the horror she had just experienced she felt calm and peaceful in his arms.

There it is, she thought in quiet amusement, that kindness he so loathes.

By the time they had made it back to base she had yet to open her mouth and utter a complaint, for which Naru was grateful, because he did not know if he was capable of dodging her questions in that moment. His head hurt from sleep deprivation and most likely dehydration, his hands hurt from holding Rocco back by his leash while the dog strained to attack the monster that had been looming over Mai, and his chest hurt . . . He could not filter all the pain and emotion while attempting to strategically distract Mai from what it was he was about to do.

The base was empty of everyone but his mother who shot to her feet upon their entrance and rushed to close the door after them before hurrying after Naru worriedly. He stalked through the room, arms laden with an exhausted Mail, and studiously ignored his mother's hovering and questioning.

"She's fine, mum," he muttered as he slid through the doorway of the girl's room and set Mai down upon her bed. The girl didn't even complain and leaned back against the headboard and mountain of pillows with a tired sigh. He took a moment to assure himself that she was not physically injured and their eyes met for just a moment before she turned her attention to his mother.

"Are you sure?" she questioned as she hurried across the room but paused when Naru straightened and leveled a look at her. It was clear that he wanted to speak with Mai alone and Luella was not one to ignore such things so she clamped her mouth shut and shot him a warning look, daring him to treat her in such a manner again, before turning on her heel and closing the door gently behind her. She would not slam, though she was sorely tempted, as she was an adult and lady but she would certainly have a few words with her son later.

"Naru . . .?" Mai called his name questioningly from where she sat on the bed. The sheets were still cold against her skin and she relished in the freshness and comfort it brought her but she instead focused on the man beside her curiously.

Naru turned back to her and sat down on the side of the bed. "How do you feel?" he asked after a moment of silence between the two.

"I'm fine, why did you bring me all the way back here?" she wondered dazedly and lifted her eyes to his questioningly. She had been staring at his hand which had been placed precariously close to her leg in that moment and was still fighting the blush that threatened to erupt across her cheeks.

Naru did not answer her immediately as he busied himself with pulling the covers over her legs and situating the comforter so that it properly covered her. "Because you need rest. You are exhausted. You've been pushing yourself and living out of the lives of several spirits who have suffered much in life. You've nearly been killed three times alone on this case. And have suffered far too many injuries. So from now on . . ." he paused in his work and trailed off before he lifted his eyes to hers with finality. "You are no longer taking part in this case."

Chapter Text

Mai stared at him as if he had just performed the ultimate betrayal. And in a way, he had. Though it never had been voiced it was clear the case had become Mai's at some point throughout the week. Naru would even say it had become her's after her first dream, when she had gotten a full serving of Prudence's memories, and was well aware of the effects his refusal to allow her to finish it would have on her. But he could not let her endanger her life any further. Had it been up to him they would have departed for Japan days ago but she had convinced him to stay and while it was growing more apparent each passing minute that Prudence could not be cleansed, he would at least see her suffering end and exorcise her. If only for Mai's sake.

But he could not deny the way his chest tightened at the sight of that expression she wore directed at him.

He could not let her continue down the path she was traveling. His confidence had faltered the first time he had seen blood pouring from her nose and mouth after experiencing Prudence's memories. His confidence had faltered when she had nearly committed suicide had he not woken her in time. His confidence had nearly shattered when he had had to pull her from the lake and practically force the life back into her. But after finding her, sitting defenseless in an empty room with a rotting demon hovering over her, blood pouring from various wounds and hands outstretched towards her neck, fingers wavering in excitement, he had come to the conclusion that he could not allow her to go any further. Because somewhere along the line she had become more than a simple act of kindness. She had been nothing more than a kind gesture, empathetic, as he had seen himself in her. But at some point she had become valuable to solving cases. And then she had become valuable to him when he had learned that she had been in contact with his brother. She had been a representation of all that he had suffered and lost in his time on the Earth and it had thrown him off balance. Then she had confessed to him and he had made a smart comment to return the favor. To throw her off balance for a change. But even as he had turned away from her that day in the wood he had caught the barest traces of a smile from the corner of his eye. She had smiled back at him and he did not know how to take it and so he did not react. But he realized that, again, she had unbalanced him.

He met her eyes blankly but a million thoughts were racing through his mind while he watched the anger build within her. He saw it in the way her fists clenched and her whole body tensed. How her brows crashed together and she grit her teeth, obvious by the way her jaw worked, and her eyes turned hard.

They had been so warm not a few minutes ago.

"I can't do that," she stated heatedly and gripped the comforter in her fists, ready to pull it off of her and push herself to her feet, but she paused when Naru spoke.

"Why are you so determined to cleanse her?" he asked with a hint of ire in his soft voice.

Mai fell silent but her eyes did not waver from his as she said quietly, "Because she's like me." She swallowed and leaned forward, pulling his hand into both or hers, "Because she is like you. And all the others who have suffered in this world."

"She is not like us, Mai, she is dead," Naru argued coldly though his fingers wrapped around hers without thought.

"The only difference between her and us is luck and strength of will," she said quietly and lowered her eyes to their clasped hands absently while her mind raced with thoughts.

Naru fell silent for a moment, lips drawn tight in a frown as he struggled to comprehend the emotions she was feeling, before he lowered his own eyes. "Be that as it may . . . I can't allow you to get yourself killed."

"Then why else am I here?" she asked quietly, the words having slipped out without thought, and her eyes widened upon realizing it. What else was she meant to do with her life other than help those lost souls who had not quite made it to the finish line yet. It was her calling. She was obligated to help all those she could because she felt and understood their suffering like so few did. She gave what she could and it was all she wanted to do. Why couldn't he understand that?

"Because you have people in this realm that care about you," he replied quietly. "And if even one of them remained, wouldn't you want to make them happy? Because this is the realm where people truly suffer and no amount of cleansing can help them unless they have people to support them."

Mai stared at him in the silence that followed. She was stunned by his words. He showed so little emotion so when he truly spoke words from the heart it was equal to the tolling of a bell in silence. And his words were true. She instantly felt guilt and doubt flood her mind and she slumped back against the pillows in defeat. Spirits did have conscious thoughts like they did, they were stuck in a loop of the emotions they had before they died, but the living could feel so much more and suffer for it. And here she was, so ready to throw away her life, for one tortured soul that could no longer distinguish the difference between right and wrong. She thought of her new family and frowned. But she would have just as easily risked her life to save a kitten stuck in a tree. She tightened her grip on Naru's hand and sighed.

Naru squeezed her hand in return before he pulled his away and stood from the bed, "Get some rest, Mai." His quiet voice barely penetrated the wall of thoughts circulating in her mind but she lifted her eyes to him in acknowledgement before they returned to her now empty hands.

Naru turned away from her and left the room, shutting the door behind him gently as he did so, and let out a heavy sigh.

Luella was seated at a table nursing a cup of tea when he reentered the room and she set it back down at the table to watch him expectantly. Obliging her voiceless demand he shuffled over to the table and sat down across from her quietly. It was obvious he was at his wits end with that girl but Luella demanded to know what was going on. It was her right as his mother after all!

"What happened?" she asked quietly and watched him warily. Masako had come into base not an hour before and had pulled Naru aside to whisper to him in urgency after which her son had fled the room with the dog at his heels. The very creature now resting at her feet under the table and subsequently keeping her feet warm in the cold room.

"She tried to cleanse the spirit," he answered dully and lifted a hand to his face to rub at it in frustration.

"She was unable to?" Luella asked in befuddlement.

Naru did not miss her tone of surprise and leveled a slightly curious but warning look at his mother. It was endearing to know Luella thought so highly of Mai but he feared that the expectations of others would pressure her into making rash decisions. And she certainly needed no help in that area. "She failed," he muttered and leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table as he spoke, "Prudence is far to corrupted for someone like her to cleanse."

"So you think Prudence is capable of being cleansed, just not by any of us," Luella concluded matter of factly and quirked a brow at her son before taking a sip of her tea.

"I didn't say that," Naru replied cooly and pushed himself out of the chair to make himself a cup of tea. He disappeared for a moment to collect enough water before returning. It was two cups that he sat out, something Luella took note of, before he continued speaking. "She cannot be cleansed, period, in my opinion."

"That's not what you were implying," Luella said lightly.

Naru did not outwardly show his growing frustration with his mother but if one were to look closely they could have seen the way his fingers tensed and his eyes closed against the building emotion. "I was implying nothing," he muttered while he stared at the pot of soon to be boiling water as if his annoyance would be enough to hurry it along.

"You think Gene would have been able to?" Luella asked quietly.

Naru dropped his eyes to his hands, resting on the dresser they had set up the tea station on, and drummed his fingers against the dark wood thoughtlessly. "Gene was a perfect medium, he had trained to become so, he was capable of becoming one with the spirits he contacted, he had a strong will and an empathetic disposition beyond what I have seen in anyone else in my life . . ." he trailed off. "Mai is rash, empathetic yes, almost as much as Gene had been, but she is not careful and gives little value to her own life. She has not been fully trained. I fear that if she were to continue in the manner she has been then her life would be sucked dry."

Luella stared at him in sad comprehension before she dropped her eyes to the tea cup in front of her and sighed. "I see," she mumbled quietly.

Naru poured the hat water into the two cups and set about preparing them while they fell into a sad but tense silence. "Will you take this to her?" he asked as he stood, holding both cups within his hands, and stared at her with a hint of imploring.

Luella blinked in confusion before she pushed her chair back and stood, joints popping as she did so, and moved to take one of the cups from his hand.

"It's this one," he muttered and pulled the one she had been reaching for back to offer her the other.

Luella smirked knowingly and took the offered one. Obviously it had been prepared specifically to the girl's liking, before she paused and asked, "And why can't you bring it to her, if I may ask?"

Naru stared at her blankly and muttered, "She wouldn't want to see me right now."

Luella frowned at him but nonetheless turned towards the girl's room. She hated to see him so upset, though she took a moment to bemoan how little emotion he showed and her need of the ability to distinguish his emotions through so little clues, before she stepped into the room and shut the door behind her.

Naru watched her go before he finally dropped his hand and looked down at the tea in his other. He was used to playing the part of the bad guy. He was the boss of a team of idiots and often found himself setting his foot down to declare order. He was used to denying troubled clients and or telling it to them straight that he could not or would not help them. He operated under cold logic. It was just how he was. So why did his chest feel so tight? Why now, was it so different?

He heard the sound of the door and lifted his eyes to find Lin shutting the door behind him. The man stared at him curiously, unaware of what had just transpired in the past hour because he had been up in Prudence's room helping the others prepare, but able to see the confused frustration Naru was struggling with instantly.

"Mai is officially off the case," he said simply and took a sip from his tea before moving over to the table where his notes were set up neatly for him to look over.

Lin's brows furrowed at this but he moved away from the door and to the table set up with their spare equipment to collect a handheld camera. He would not bother asking what had happened but he made a mental note to pry later. Luella would be the perfect victim as, despite her professional manner, she was still a woman prone to gossip. Especially in regards to her son and his possible love interest.

He had ruined everything. Of course he would. It was in his nature. She knew that but she could not deny the frustrations she felt as she nursed the cup of tea Luella had brought for her. Something she knew he had made because it had just the right amount of sugar in it and she was certain Luella would not have known her preferences. They had kissed. Shared something so intimate and yet he had dashed it away minutes later by shutting her out of the case and leaving her in a room by herself to stew over everything that had happened.

She growled and set the tea cup down on her nightstand before shutting her eyes and crossing her arms. Really now, how does one kiss a girl one moment and than simultaneously shatter the moment and metaphorically slap in her in the face the next? She was pretty sure he was the only one capable. She knew he was only trying to do what he thought was best but still. . .

She sighed and opened her eyes to look down at her lap, covered with the comforter he had pulled over her, and she blushed.

But the problem that was Prudence intruded upon her thoughts and she shivered. She had never seen anything as ghastly as she had been, except maybe in the cursed house case, when those zombies had come crawling through the windows to attack them. She recalled the way the woman had pulled her tattered mouth and cheeks into a smile while blood poured from the wound in her head. And the smell of her breath. She grew nauseas just thinking about it.

And she was going to be exorcised that night.

The image of Alexander's desperate tears filtered through her mind and she grimaced. She was letting him down. Him and Kikio. She was certain that cleansing Prudence was the way to cleanse them as well. What would happen when Prudence was exorcised and they were left to figure it out? She gasped at the thought, disbelieving that she had not thought of the consequences until then. Would they turn angry with betrayal?

Without a second thought she leaned back into the pillows and closed her eyes. She needed to speak with Gene. Again she found herself slowing her breathing, relaxing her body, and drifting off to sleep to contact him for the second time that day. She vaguely wondered if he ever got annoyed with how often she bothered him. Probably not. He was probably lonely.

When she felt the familiar presence of the astral plain she opened her eyes and sighed. The gentle lights, floating effortlessly through the air, had become comforting to her over time. She felt her mind easing at the sight of them and she turned about lazily in search of the familiar figure of Gene. He wasn't far off. He could probably feel her presence the moment she had slipped onto the plain so it was with relief that Mai spotted him walking towards her in the distance. But it was with surprise that she saw someone else walking alongside him.

"Gene, Alexander . . . ?" she called hesitantly.

"Mai," Gene greeted with a saddened smile. Alexander only nodded but offered his own smile in return.

"I'm sorry," Mai immediately exclaimed and moved to meet the two half way, "I tried to cleanse her on my own because we weren't able to contact Catherine . . ."

"It's alright," Alexander calmed her fears with his gentle words and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze, before he stood back.

Mai frowned sadly but turned her eyes to Gene pleadingly, "What should I do? I've exhausted all my options. Naru wants to exorcise her tonight!"

Gene lifted a hand to stall her rambling and grinned, "What do you think I've been doing all this time stuck on the astral plain?"

Mai shrugged sheepishly and gave him a hesitant smile.

"Alexander thinks you may be able to contact her if he were to lead you to their home," Gene stated and crossed his arms. "The closer contact may allow you to reach her wherever she is."

"But how will he be able to lead me? That would take an immense amount of energy and on top of that Naru has me on house arrest. Luella is sitting right outside the door!" Mai shot back nervously and clasped her hands together anxiously.

"Rocco will have to assist," Gene answered matter of factly and shrugged with one shoulder but he wore a cheeky grin and the expression boosted Mai's confidence.

"Rocco?" Mai reiterated with a quirked brow.

"I'll posses him," Alexander answered simply. He watched Mai critically, wondering if she were capable of performing the task he had selfishly asked her too. She had already been through so much in that house and he feared she would break before the job was done.

"Posses-," she cut herself off, realizing she probably sounded like a parrot and scowled before shaking her head. "Will he be able to withstand that?"

"Animals are extremely resilient, I have no doubt he will be fine," Gene stepped in and placed a hand on each of her shoulders, drawing her eyes to his, before he continued, "Mai, I know how much this means to you. I want to help you and this seems to be the only option we have left . . . Naru is already pissed with me so I don't mind pushing him a little further but I also don't want to see you get hurt."

Mai stared at him in stunned surprise. She nodded once, absently, before swallowing and lifted her clasped hands to her chest. "I understand, but I feel that this has to be done," she responded quietly and dropped her eyes to her hands.

"I know you do," Gene said quietly. He took his hands away and crossed his arms again before smirking at her and tilting his head to the side, "By the way, it seems you finally got Naru to make a move, good job."

Mai blushed from the tips of her toes to the top of her head and stared at him, aghast that he would say such a thing in their situation, before she turned her head away and crossed her arms. "That's rude Gene," she grouched.

Gene laughed, "Maybe, but he's a little late in stealing a kiss, I got to you first," he declared.

"What are you talking about?" she exclaimed and whipped her head around to look at him. She could not recall him ever kissing her, not even while they were experiencing the memories of others, and his cheekiness surprised her.

"Don't you worry about it," he waved a hand and laughed when she scowled. "But more importantly, you should wake up now."

Mai blinked in confusion but when she opened her eyes she was back in her room, staring at the ceiling, but the blush still painted her face. Something on the bed shifted and she sat up quickly to find Rocco waiting for her. She rubbed at her face with her hands and sighed, "That Gene," she muttered. She dropped her hands to her lap and turned to look at Rocco and was surprised to see that he was looking straight at her with lively green eyes that did not belong to him. "Alexander?" she questioned.

The dog touched his nose to her hand in acknowledgement.

"I suppose we should get started then," she mumbled in awe, resisting the urge to pet him for fear of offending him, before she pushed the covers away and slid out of bed.

Alexander stood up and jumped off to follow her.

She patted her clothes down, making sure she was presentable, before she squared her shoulders and looked down at Rocco turned Alexander with a small smile. "Let's do this then, we have to sneak out first though . . ."

Alexander nodded in response and stepped forward to nudge her leg, urging her forward, and Mai laughed before doing as he wanted and opening the door. The room was empty accept for Luella as she expected. The woman was sitting in front of the monitors now, watching as the rest of SPR began the exorcism. At the sound of the door opening Luella turned in her seat to look at Mai.

"Rocco has to go out," Mai answered her silent question and laughed nervously when the woman frowned.

"I don't think it wise, Mai, but if you have to take him out then be quick. And take a charm," she warned, gesturing to the table where Lin and Ayako had worked to produce as many charms as possible.

Mai nodded in understanding before doing as she was told. She could feel the woman's eyes on her as she left the base and wished she did not have to deceive her but it was the only way. Alexander padded along beside her but the further they got from base the more anxious he became. They hurried down the steps and out the front door of the mansion, into the humid but chilly night air, before he broke into a run and Mai had to rush to keep up with him.

She could not recall her ever being in a stranger situation. She was running through a dark park, at night, breath fogging the air while she followed a possessed dog in order to save the spirit of the woman he loved. And she was in Florida. And Naru had kissed her. Even as she panted for breath she could not fight the blush that tinged her cheeks and it annoyed her to no end. She could just see Alexander ahead of her, paws scrabbling over the gravel, and tried to put in an extra burst of speed as they approached the park entrance. She didn't even bother sparing a glance for the eerie lake as she passed it.

He paused briefly at the gate to look back at her, when he had assured himself that she was able to keep up he took off down the street at a slightly more relaxed pace. He had wanted to get away from the property the second he had entered Rocco's body. He felt the pressure of the charms, scattered about the rooms and hallways, but they had not hindered him too much. It could only be because of his positive disposition. He was not marked as an evil spirit yet and for that he was thankful.

Mai wondered at the night life of St. Pete even as they ran through the streets, it was nearing nine o'clock but there were still plenty of people despite it being a business night, and was distracted by the several night clubs and bars that spilled fourth crowds and loud music. Pounding away they cried in defiance against the societal rut the world had fallen into.

Where was this house anyway? Mai thought incredulously as they passed the fifth block. Her lungs were burning and she feared she was nearing the end of her energy but Alexander was still running full force and had yet to slow.

Cars slowed to watch the two as they ran and at one point someone even called out asking if Mai needed help and she realized it probably looked as if Rocco had gotten off his leash and she was chasing him down. She waved the man off but did not falter in her pursuit.

By the time Alexander slowed to an easy lope Mai's feet were killing her and her lungs were screaming for air. She had fallen several yards behind him during their trek through downtown but she did not have the drive to catch up with him at that moment. She slowed to a walk while Alexander dipped down a street into an old neighborhood, filled with winding cobblestone streets barely wide enough to allow one car through let alone two. He was a dark figure in the distance, as there were no street lights on this road to illuminate him, and so Mai had to squint to follow his movements. Thankfully he never went more than one turn ahead of her.

When she turned down a particularly dark road, not even large enough to consider it a road really, she lost sight of Alexander for a moment. There were so many parked cars along the driveways and road that she feared she had lost him for good amongst them. But before the panic could set in she caught his eyes flashing in some distant light and jogged over to him. He had come to a stop in front of a two story house, old in its design, and roof sagging with age. The windows were large and made of fragile glass, most broken in its abandonment, but they displayed little else but darkness. The front door was closed but one of the hinges had broken. A wrap around patio sported a broken porch swing and several piles of junk and trash.

It was a dump.

Alexander whined, his tail fell between his legs, and he dropped his nose to the ground as he approached over the sparse grass and dirt that made up the small patch of lawn. Mai watched him sadly before she followed him, her boots crunching over broken glass, and climbed the creaking steps onto the patio. The air was musty and smelled of disuse and rotting wood.

"Let's get started then, I guess . . ." she whispered and let out a breath of air, watching as it fogged in the night, and stepped forward. The door gave way under her strength easily, as the doorknob had broken over the years and become stuck, and she stepped into the dark house hesitantly. She leaned forward in the doorway and peeked about before she stepped in and allowed Alexander to scamper in behind her before gently shutting the door. She briefly worried about squatters. People high on drugs or drunk hiding out within the house. But Alexander seemed relaxed and that eased her mind.

She walked the expanse of the bottom floor, finding the kitchen and sitting room easily enough, and paused to look out the window over the sink. The backyard was more like a graveyard for old furniture. It was overtaken by plant life and she could see several raccoons pass by as she watched. There was a broken dinner table off to her left and she moved over to it, pulling at a chair as she did, and seated herself carefully. The chair creaked under her weight but it held.

"How does Masako do this?" she wondered aloud, throwing her eyes about the room thoughtfully. The medium always had a candle and incense burning when she performed a seance but Mai had neither. Did she even really need them? She had never required any kind of aid, other than Gene, to contact the spirits of the dead before. But just to be safe she pushed herself out of the chair and searched the house for a candle, an easy enough task as there were several scattered about all coated in dust, and then located a book of matches in the kitchen windowsill. When the candle was burning away at the table she reclaimed her seat and let out a breath before giving an encouraging smile to Alexander, still possessing Rocco's body, who had sat on his haunches at her side.

She leaned back in the chair, ignoring the way it groaned in warning, and shut her eyes against the flickering light of the candle. She breathed in the dusty air of the house and relaxed her body before drifting off into a sleep like state.

When she opened her eyes she was once more in the astral plain. Gene was waiting for her with a relieved expression on his face.

"I was wondering what was taking you so long . . ." he muttered with a relieved sigh and brushed a hand through his hair.

"Sorry," Mai grouched, "But I had to go on foot seeing as how I can't drive."

Gene rolled his eyes but there was a smirk on his face. He glanced about the astral plain before turning back to Mai with a shrug, "I've been trying to get a hold of Catherine but Masako was right, she has moved on. This place feels right though, I can feel her presence, faintly, but it's there."

"Well that's good," Mai commented thoughtfully and sat down on the spot. Even in the astral plain her legs still felt like jelly from all the running. She crossed them and straightened her back before closing her eyes to repeat the process.

"Be careful, Mai, it's dangerous to project in the astral plain." Gene warned before crouching down in front of her. "I'll be here to ground you just don't go getting lost," he added lightly.

Mai nodded once before clearing her mind and letting out a long breath. She rested her hands on her knees and let go of whatever tension had built up in her body throughout their trip. And she thought only of Catherine and Prudence. She thought of the loving embrace of a mother, a mother's encouraging smile, a helpful hand, but at first felt nothing in response. Even on the astral plain the house still felt abandoned and empty, with few spirits about, but the longer she drifted the more optimistic she became. She had unknowingly gripped the key that hung from a chain on her neck and felt it grow warm beneath her fingers. Though she did need a mother in that moment it was not her mother she was calling for and whatever force she was working with seemed to recognize this.

As Gene watched a distant glow became apparent on the horizon of the astral plain. A usually dark and comforting expanse of nothingness was suddenly awash with the soft light of hundreds of thousands of souls as the approached at an energetic pace. They danced among each other, flitting about to and fro, and Gene was reminded of a wave of fairies. They closed the spanning distance and rushed to circle them in their spiraling lights. So fast did they circle the two that their hair was ruffled by the wind left in their wake.

Gene pushed himself to his feet, face pointed towards the heavens, and watched as the spirits spiraled up and up. Higher than he had ever seen them reach. And compacted themselves into a tight formation that, when their lights had dimmed, revealed itself to be a staircase.

"Mai," he called gently.

Mai opened her eyes curiously and lifted them to Gene, who had yet to look down, and up at the spiral staircase constructed out of the shimmering orbs that were the spirits of the astral plain. It circled so far over head that Mai could not see the end. It was a daunting climb that was ahead of her and the thought forced her to swallow before she pushed herself to her feet and absently dusted off her tights.

"Will you come with me?" she asked quietly, her voice wavering.

Gene glanced down at her with an encouraging smile and lifted a hand towards her, "What kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn't?"

Mai grinned at him, "No gentleman at all, really," she shot back playfully and took his hand in hers gratefully.

Their fingers tightened before Gene pulled her along towards the first step.

It felt solid enough and was radiating a gentle warmth that managed to penetrate the souls of their shoes as they walked. It boosted Mai's spirits and soon it was she that was leading the way, pulling Gene along behind her, her eyes never wavering from the climb ahead of them. Were they walking towards heaven? It was hard to say for certain, as these were uncharted boundaries that no human had ever crossed before, but what was certain was the emotions that the looming destination spurred within their chests. It was like winning a marathon or ending a war. The high of adrenaline and pure joy that their path radiated was enough to push them into a run.

It was exhilarating. Mai didn't even feel fear as she glanced over the side of the staircase and saw how far they had already climbed. She could just make out the surface of the astral plain, that strange watery surface that was solid at the same time, only excitement.

This was it. She was about to accomplish what she had set out to do all those days ago and she was about to do what no one had ever done before. She was going to retrieve someone from another realm all together. She vaguely wondered if it was fair of her to do so. This was such a momentous thing that it seemed highly unlikely that she would survive. Was this what the first man on the moon felt like? Had his heart pounded just as much as hers was in that moment when he coasted around the satellite and saw Earth from over it's horizons for the first time? She grinned at the thought. What would Naru say? She could imagine him staring at her like she was an idiot but he would eventually be forced to admit her feat was quite impressive in the most begrudging way possible.

The staircase continued to wind on in front of them.

They were all squished into the room that had, at one point, belonged to Prudence herself. They had decided it would be best to let John go first, as it was probable that the woman had been christian in life, and had lined up around the walls and or sat on the bed or vanity seat while he worked. Lin stood next to Naru near the doorway, handheld camera powered on an recording, and watched on with a grim expression as John read from his bible. The small vial of holy water was sprinkled about carefully, only a few drops here and there, as he spoke.

They waited with baited breath. Feeling the room grow colder the longer John worked, but nothing else happened, it was as if Prudence was unphased by his words. Usually anyone who was god fearing would show some kind of reaction to his exorcism. Either they would leave or put up a fight. But it was becoming more and more apparent that Prudence was not doing either. Her presence, the oppressing cold that seemed to cling to each of their shoulders as if it were she herself hanging over them, had not diminished in the slightest.

Naru had crossed his arms and stood with his weight evenly distributed between both legs in his usual stoic stance, but his fingers were digging into his arms and bruising the flesh, frustration welled up within him. Clearly, Prudence no longer feared the wrath of God, otherwise she would have been kicking up a fuss by now. The exorcism would not be easy, he knew, but he wished it would be. Thoughts of Mai, pulled tight between her moral obligations and physical limitations, circulated in his mind like a broken record. He wanted this to end for her sake.

John slowed to a stop in his readings, having reached the end, and slowly shut his book before crossing himself and letting out a resigned sigh. "I'm sorry you guys . . ." he trailed off in defeat and glanced about the others.

"It's alright, John," Monk spoke up seriously but wore a kind smile as he stepped up.

John stepped aside as the monk took his place and lifted his hands in front of him to begin.

But he never got the chance.

As soon as he shut his eyes the rest of the room was thrown into darkness. The light of the only lamp in the room was shattered and everyone jumped to their feet or tensed as the temperature dropped even further.

Naru did not move.

The sound of a light chuckle, long and quiet, as if from a distance, slipped in through the closed door of the room and circled about their ears. "Please, no more, it's just too sad to watch . . ." a rasping voice followed it and sent shivers down all of their spines. It was too guttural to even assign a gender to it but they all knew who it was.

"Enough of this," Monk growled and began is chant. His brows crashed together in concentration and is voice was commanding, like that of a king addressing his people, and refused to be swayed by the continued laughter of the evil spirit.

"Wait!" Ayako cried from where she stood by the bed, causing Monk to stumble to a halt, and he turned back to send her an annoyed look. But his face grew concerned by the urgent expression she wore.

"What is it?" he asked curiously.

"Don't you hear that?" Ayako asked in surprise as she took a step forward with a fist held against her chest.

"The annoying laughter?" Monk deadpanned and scowled at the woman as if she were an idiot.

"No-" Ayako shook her head but was cut off by movement from the corner of her eye.

All turned to look at Naru who had dropped his arms to his sides, fists clenched, and turned his head back towards the door. He paused in place, listening attentively, before he launched himself at the door and flung it open. They could all hear it now. The sound of people screaming in terror coming from the first floor, two flights of stairs below them, and Naru cursed. He had hoped those on the lower floors would not be affected but it was clear he had only been practicing wishful thinking, something incredibly rare for him, and had been too distracted by Mai's troubles to order the property manager and his staff to vacate to premises.

"Noll," Luella's voice filtered to him through the walkie-talkie at his waist and he reached for it in a flash.

"Yes?" he growled out in anger, though not directed at his mother in any way, and signaled for the others to head down stairs towards the commotion as he followed. They hurried out of the room and down the hall in a chaotic stream of modern clothing and traditional robes.

"Mai left to take Rocco out," Luella continued worriedly, "That was almost an hour ago . . ."

Naru felt a spike of rage but calmed himself with the knowledge that she was at least of the property during the exorcism.

"But she said something to me earlier and I didn't think much of it at the time, well, I did but I didn't want to say anything because I wanted to help her . . ." Luella trailed off. "When she saw that you were setting up the exorcism in Prudence's room she mentioned that it was the wrong room."

Naru charged passed the others as they hurried down the first flight of stairs, anger, frustration, and worry eating away at his mind. "Did she say which room was the right room?"

Luella fell quiet, she was safe within the charm covered base and so was oblivious to the extent of their troubles other than the fact that the temperatures had all drastically dropped. "No, but wasn't she in the pool room earlier?"

Naru did not bother to respond. He clenched the handheld device in his hand and jumped the last three steps of the staircase before leading the charge down the hall. The rest of SPR and his father trailing behind him. That's where the screams were originating from, he was sure of it, and didn't even pause as he bypassed the base doors and headed for the main foyer staircase.

As the group trailed after him Luella stuck her head out of the door, caught sight of them all, and hurried after them. She had shut the door tight behind her as she did so and caught up with Martin just as he passed.

Naru slid to a stop upon reaching the staircase and stared with wide eyes down at the chaotic mess below. The main doors had been thrown open and staff were fleeing the house as the floor was consumed by a flood of red liquid. It reached their ankles as the splashed through it, followed them out the door and spewed forth down the main steps, but did not seem to be slowing.

"Holy shit," Monk exclaimed as he came to a stop behind Naru to take in the scene.

The quiet laughter of Prudence had yet to subside and, in fact, had grown more obvious at the sight of the turmoil below.

"Get everyone out!" Naru ordered, looking back at his team who all wore expressions of shock and fear, "Now is not the time to falter!" To prove his point he launched himself down the stairs and jumped into the pooling blood without hesitation and pushed his way through the panicking employees to head upstream of the flowing liquid. It was almost at his knees by the time the others had followed his example and ushered the remaining staff out of the building.

Lin followed after Naru, camera still in hand, and ignored the calls of the others. They were pushing their way against the flow of the blood towards the indoor pool. The doors had been thrown open and from the pool itself, now red with blood, was where the flow originated. It bubbled and boiled with the liquid and spilled forth every few seconds or so with another wave of it. It was like a natural spring of gore. The pool room was lost in the red and the blood was up to their thighs as they approached.

But Naru did not enter the pool room. No. He paused at the doorway and turned his head to take in the cellar door next to it. The blood seemed to be splashing up against it particularly hard, not like the gentle rushing ebb that the pool produced. It was as if it were trying to force its way through the door. Without hesitating Naru reached for the handle and threw the door open. The blood rushed forward, spilling forth down the stairs, and disappeared into the darkness.

The stairs lead directly under the pool.

"It's down here," Naru muttered darkly and leaned in through the door to get a better look.

"Naru-" Lin warned lowly but he was cut off by another voice.

"Yes, come to me, little one!"

Something within the darkness reached rotting hands out and clutched Naru around his shoulders before pulling him forward and down the stairs. Lin jumped after him without second thought but the sound of Naru's body, crashing its way down the stairs along the river of blood, made his heart stop. The others were shortly behind him as he stumbled down after his charge and someone, he assumed Yasuhara, and pulled out a flashlight to light their way.

"What just happened?" Ayako demanded fearfully.

"Where's Noll!" Luella cried.

The stairs seemed to go on forever but the sound of Naru's decent had ended just seconds ago.

Yasuhara's light illuminated the bottom of the stairs and there Naru lied, body half submerged under the flow of blood, unmoving. Lin splashed down onto the cellar floor and grabbed Naru by the scruff of his neck. He pulled his face from the blood, grimacing at the sight of it trailing from his mouth, and pulled his arm of his shoulder and supported his weight with his other arm wrapped around his torso.

"Naru-bou!" Monk cried out and splashed down next to Lin to check the young man over.

Naru groaned as the monk smacked his cheeks and choked, spitting out another mouthful of blood before he lifted his head and gasped for breath.

"Oh thank god," Luella cried from the stairs and hurried down to the bottom towards her son. She lifted his face in her hands and wiped the blood out of his eyes to the best of her ability while the others hurried down after. Last to reach the bottom was Masako, who had taken her sandals off in favor of more stability in the flowing blood, and was holding on to the slick stone wall for support. She held a sleeve to her mouth at the stench of the stuff and at the sight of Naru drenched within it.

"Is everyone alright?" Naru coughed out and pushed his mother's hands away tiredly.

"We're all here," Yasuhara supplied helpfully as he shone his light about the cellar. There was not much to it except for the stone walls and piping above their heads. The blood had completely covered the floor by that point and so there was not much to be gained from searching it. He took a couple of steps in and scanned their surroundings. His light caught a door off to the right, it was dark and made of some heavy rotting wood, and like before the blood seemed to be attempting to force its way through. From the other side of the door came the sound of scratching. As if somebody was scrabbling against the door to get out, nails dragging across the wood and catching on the metal hinges.

"She's leading us straight to her," Naru muttered darkly and pushed himself away from Lin to move over towards the door.

"Naru, I don't think this is such a good idea," Monk warned and shuffled after him, his robes dragging in the blood behind him.

But Naru ignored him, something had changed within him when he had been pulled down those stairs, it festered in his stomach and threatened to push its way back up. But it made his blood feel hot as anger and pride warred within his mind. Prudence had made a fool of him and he would not let her get away with it. But more importantly, she had tried to kill Mai. He glowered at the door with such hatred and loathing that even Lin began to feel uncomfortable against the building PK energy.

The others watched him with varying looks of worry.

They had been climbing for what felt like hours and Mai's legs were beginning to strain. They trembled with the pressure of her weight and threatened to give out if it had not been for Gene at her side. But she ignored her troubles as they drew closer to the end. She knew it was the end because there was a glowing doorway, just another hundred steps or so above them, and she could feel it drawing her in eagerly.

"Mai," Gene called her name and slowed to a stop. He was staring up at the entrance with a forlorn expression but he managed to tear his eyes away to look back at her apologetically. "I won't be able to go any further," he said quietly.

Mai stared up at him in confusion, "What? Why?" She had made it that far only because of the man standing in front of her and the thought of continuing on without his support frightened her. She gripped his hand all the tighter, loathe to let him go, and shook her head in denial.

Gene chuckled, "I'll wait for you here, but even if I am not meant to pass on, I don't think it would be a good idea for me to go any further . . .I might not be able to come back." His explanation was quiet and calming and he pulled her forward as he talked, urging her to go on ahead of him. "I'll be right here," he mumbled into her ear as she passed.

Mai looked back at him with a worried expression but she nodded hesitantly before she turned to face the glowing doorway. She squared her shoulders to steady her nerves and stepped forward. Her hand slid from Gene's grasp as she did and she immediately felt the loss of his presence like a slap to the face but she continued forward. Now was not the time to falter. Not when everyone was counting on her.

She did not look back as she climbed the last couple of steps and came to a stop at the wall of light. She could not see past it and was struggling to squint against the light, going so far as to lift a hand in front of her face, before she gulped and stepped forward.

It was like passing into the sunlight after being stuck in a cold and dark cave for days. It was burning and intense but in the same moment welcoming and comforting. She shut her eyes as she stepped through and came to a stop when she could no longer feel the coolness of the astral plain at her back. The oppressive silence was forced away by the sound of birds twittering in the trees. Tree's she knew were there because of the wind that rustled their leaves and tossed her hair about. It smelled of flowers and the fresh air of the ocean.

She felt like she was home. As if any moment she would hear her mother's voice for the first time in years and her father would laugh at her state of dress. After all that she had done that day she was certain her clothes were dirty and sweat stained.

Tears pulled in her eyes which she had yet to open.

"Were you calling for me, little one?"

The voice was so soft and gentle, so kind and caring, that the tears she could no longer fight spilled down her cheeks and she barely managed to restrain a sob. She opened her eyes and saw the most beautiful creature she had ever seen in all of her existence. The sight of her made her gasp and the tears continued to pour down her face as she wordlessly nodded and wiped at her eyes with a sleeve. It was pure happiness that overwhelmed her and she realized that it had been she who had been pulling her forward, filling her with hope and excitement, and welcoming her into her realm.

The creature smiled, such a radiant thing that it made Mai's heart clench, and pulled one of Mai's hands into her own. Warmth seeped into her from where they touched and it soothed her very soul in a way no other thing could. "Well then, I am here now, tell me what it is that troubles you, little one," she whispered joyfully and wiped at the tears.

Gene had waited for Mai just as he promised but he would have been lying if he said he had known what to expect when she returned. He had watched her disappear within the light apprehensively, worried of what was to come. Wondering if she would even return. It would be a difficult conversation to have with his brother when he next called on him. Be that as it may he had waited hopefully just a few steps down from the door for several minutes before he turned to glance down at the stairs impatiently. The spirits had yet to disperse, he took that as a good sign, but he did not know how much longer they had before they began to move again.

When he turned back to the entrance to the next realm he caught sight of Mai, a black figure against the light, and smiled in triumph. She moved towards him slowly, as if she were in a daze, and he waited for her to draw closer. But when she did he was stunned. She was not even looking at him as she walked. She was moving forward down the steps blindly and he worried that she had somehow managed to leave her soul behind before he shook his head and snorted. This was her soul that he was looking at. Her body was back in the house in reality. But she had changed. Her skin glowed with its own light and her eyes shined a brilliant blue against the darkness she now entered.

Without thought he reached his hand out and took one of hers in it, gently as he could, and guided her back down the spiral steps.

He knew now that they had succeeded.

It would be a long trip back for her but he was certain Alexander would guide her properly. He walked her all the way back down the steps, now seeming like a much shorter distance, and came to a stop at the bottom. He looked her over once before smiling sadly at her unresponsiveness. He dropped a kiss onto her forehead, like he had done all those days ago at the indoor pool, and rubbed a thumb over her cheek. He was so proud of her. So proud of how far she had come and how strong she had grown and even how loyal she was to his brother. Had he been alive he would have loved her, would have fought his brother for her, but he knew that it was unfair of him to do so. Naru needed her like she needed him. He could never give her what Naru could. He couldn't come to her in her times of need unless she was sleeping whilst his brother could be there for her always.

Gene sighed, giving her one last look over, before he gently pushed her back.

She fell back into her body, light as a feather, and opened her eyes to the abandoned house. But they were still glowing blue as she dropped them to the dog at her feet and smiled sweetly down at him.

"Faithful little Alex," she mumbled and ran a gentle hand over his head and down his neck, "Always ready to get her out of trouble."

Alexander whined happily and his tail thumped against the rotting wood floor of the house, stirring up dust as he did so, before he pushed himself to his feet and barked.

"Yes, I know, she has told me," she answered his question and stood from the chair. Her eyes roved over the state of the house thoughtfully before she gracefully padded down the hall and out the front door. "Lead me to her, Alexander, so that this tragedy may come to an end."

Chapter Text

The image of a young woman walking her dog at night was not an uncommon one in downtown St. Pete. It may have seemed a little dangerous as, with any city, there were several unsavory people that roamed the streets late at night but again it was not all that strange. There were several different kinds of people living different kinds of lives and they all had varying schedules to accommodate their choices and work. So nobody bothered to look twice at the petite woman walking along side a monstrous dog. If anything, they were glad such a small defenseless looking person had a behemoth like Rocco guarding her. Nobody would try messing with that kind of a dog, one that looked more wolf than pup, and any who did were clearly insane or desperate.

However . . .

If one were to glance at them from just the right angel, from the corner of their eye, they would not see a woman and her dog. No. What they saw was something all together different. What some saw that night was what could only be described as an otherwordly queen, perhaps of magical decent, being escorted by a nicely dressed gentleman who wore the kindest but saddest of smiles.

But if they were to look again the image would be gone, replaced by the girl with short hair and a dog, and they would think themselves insane or simply overworked. Perhaps the absinthe had finally gotten to them and what they were seeing was their own rendition of the green fairy.

Either way, the two continued their silent but strangely graceful trek through the city, as if the broken bottles and questionable splatters of liquid that decorated the broken and cracked concrete were nothing more than a red carpet laid out just for them. No one bothered to approach them as they traversed down the bar strewn streets. No one dared to watch them for longer than a few moments. Because they exuded such an overwhelming atmosphere of removed and distant grace, as if they were the product of a recording from long ago, some royal event, and the film was flickering with age and disuse. It was queer and made all who looked upon them feel like they were children looking upon the ageless and intimidating figures of gods.

Even Alexander, who was padding across the cement at Mai's side, could not deny the feeling of strange unease. His tongue had lolled out of his mouth and he panted away while he prowled the streets with the woman at his side and from the corner of his eye he often caught sight of something that was not all together human. One moment it would be Mai's brown leather boot, scuffed and dirtied from their adventures, the next it was a pale bare foot that trailed the fabric of a white dress along with it. He caught the scent of exotic flowers and nature, decaying leaves and pine needles, before it would disappear to be replaced by Mai's. It was very disconcerting but at the same time comforting and while the feeling frustrated him it was not able to overwhelm the extreme hope and excitement that had taken roost within his chest. Because they were on their way back to the mansion to save his Prudence and that was all he had ever wanted.

He had missed her smile. Not the grotesque and decaying one she had developed but the one of innocent mirth, lips painted with a red or pink rouge, and the slight dimple she had on her left cheek. It had been nearly a century since he had last seen it, and while the image of her face had become somewhat blurred and faded in his mind, that smile had never faltered. Nor had the laughter that often accompanied it. Filled with glee and mischievousness.

He picked up his pace and pulled ahead of Mai, unable to calm his racing heart, before doubling back and circling her upon finding her own pace did not falter but neither did it increase.

Catherine had always been like that, he recalled, steady and calm and quietly confident. Even when she had fallen into poor health she had never become frantic in a situation. Everything would always work out in the end, she would say, and smile kindly at them. She had not fallen into a depression after the death of her husband either, she would only ever lapse into a quiet sadness from time to time before squaring her shoulders and returning to work. He had often wished Prudence had turned out more like her but his love had been so much more fragile. Like a butterfly. She was beautiful and delicate, fun and lively, but the smallest of winds would send her fluttering in panic.

He lifted his eyes to the night sky above them, nowhere near as populated with the shining stars as it had been in his time, and he let out a huff of air reminiscent of a sigh. How times have changed.

"This is dangerous," the low and steady voice of Lin broke the silence that had fallen over the group like an alarm clock. Everyone jumped or whipped their heads back to look at him in confusion, as if they had been pulled from deep thought, and Lin quirked a brow at them while he adjusted the camera in his hands. "We've never actually dealt with a spirit this strong and in the one case that we have, we bid a tactical retreat and had the property cleansed with fire," he explained quietly.

Yasuhara, still manning the flashlight that had yet to move from the wooden door from which scratching could still be heard from the other side, lifted his eyes to the ceiling in thought. "That is true, we never allowed our lives to be in danger and in the event that they were we fell back . . .well, accept for that one time when Naru was in a bad mood." He trailed off in thought but there was an obvious amused air about his speech that no one had truly missed. Though in that moment it was appreciated if only to lighten the mood and clam the ebb of fear that flowed through their bodies like the pooling blood around their knees.

Luella shot Naru a disapproving glance but could not find it in her to comment on his behavior as they were in a very precarious situation. She looked down at the blood around her knees and grimaced. She had been fighting the nausea since she had first laid eyes on it but after standing in it for several minutes the horror had somewhat faded. Now, while she still felt disturbed, she also wondered if she would be able to save the white pants she had chosen to wear that day.

"Why are we, exactly, going this far?" Ayako questioned nervously. She had crossed her arms in hopes of hiding the shivers that were wracking her body but it was obvious she was fooling no one. Monk had wrapped an arm around her shoulders in silent support as she spoke to which she was grateful. "I mean, I get why you originally wanted to stay, Naru, but this is a bit extreme," she continued with a nervous laugh and gestured to the blood at their feet.

Naru had not moved from where he stood facing the door, fists clenched at his side, but he did respond. "You can leave if you wish," he muttered quietly, "But it's become personal."

"What do you mean 'personal'?" Monk questioned darkly and tightened his grip on Ayako while he stared at the back of Naru's head.

Naru glanced back at the man from over his shoulder, "She tried to kill Mai, just a few hours ago, and I would like to be the one to personally wipe her from the face of this planet." He turned back to the door and stepped towards it, resting a hand against the aged wood, and felt the vibrations of whatever it was that continued to claw at the other side.

"What?" Monk exclaimed and stepped after him, sloshing through the foaming blood, and grabbed Naru's shoulder. He jerked back when he felt an electric shock but did not lose the intense look her wore. "When did this happen and why didn't you tell us?" he snapped.

"It was irrelevant at the time, I had taken her off the case and left her for mum to take care of," here he shot a look at his mother, "But Mai has managed to slip away again. I don't know where she is but I know that, as long as Prudence is dealing with us, she cannot hurt Mai." He matched Monk's glare with is own unfaltering one and waited for him to question him further.

But it seemed that his logical argument had worked because Monk sighed and dropped his hand from his shoulder with a scowl. "It does make sense," he muttered and turned his eyes onto the door in front of them. Such cold air radiated from it that it set them all on edge. "But is it her on the other side of this door, or something else . . ." he trailed off.

"I intend to find out," Naru answered and dropped his hand to the rusted metal knob, paused for a moment as if to mentally brace himself, before he twisted it. Whatever he had been expecting to find, it was not the cold dark tunnel bare of anything but a few scraps of furniture. There was nothing at all waiting for them on the other side. No grotesque form scrabbling against the door to get out, or to get them, no vengeful spirit, not even a mouse. He stared it the darkness with such an intense look of rage that, had there been something there, it surely would have faltered in fright. "Nothing," he stated irritably and pulled the door open to its widest.

There was a collective gasp from the team and this drew him to take in the back side of the door critically. It was covered in bloody scratches, gouge marks to deep to be made by human hands without causing severe damage, and as if to prove him right he spotted what was clearly a torn away human nail embedded within the cracks of the wood. Whatever other evidence he may have found had been washed away by the blood that had seeped in through under the door and then swept away by the flood when he had opened it. He hummed in darkly amused thought, overtaken by the rage he had felt building in his gut earlier, and stepped through the doorway.

"Naru!" Lin admonished irritably. Had he forgotten what had happened just moments ago when he had stepped in through the cellar doorway?

But Naru ignored him and lifted a curled finger to his mouth in thought, "Yasuhara," he called back to the man with the flashlight.

Obediently Yasuhara stepped forward, blood sloshing around his legs as he did so, and shone his light about the stretch of the tunnel. It spanned fifteen yards or so before another tunnel intersected it. "Is it a labyrinth?" he pondered aloud while his glasses reflected the light.

"Possibly," Naru answered and lifted his eyes to the ceiling, "William had been a rich drug lord and no doubt had all kinds of strange fantasies. On top of that . . ." he trailed off and turned towards the stone walls to run a hand along it. "He needed somewhere to throw the bodies of those murdered in his line of business," he finished coldly and drew his hand back from the wall before he wiped it across his stained black pants.

"Oh god," Luella muttered and covered her mouth with a hand.

"Naru," Yasuhara called quietly. He had been silent during Naru's explanation but as the man turned to him, found him staring towards the end of the first tunnel and followed his line of sight, he understood why. They was a figure standing at the corner, shoulder touching the wall, and twiddling its fingers in anticipation. Yasuhara's light only illuminated its dirt covered feet but he dared not raise the light higher for his own sanity. He did not wish to see the face attached to the grotesquely misshapen shadow.

"Don't look away from it," Naru warned and crossed his arms, leaning his weight onto one foot, and smirked.

"Easy for you to say," Yasu shot back with a nervous laugh.

Naru ignored his comment and lifted his chin towards the shadowed figure, glistening with grime and blood in the light provided, and spoke. "I have a medium, a Buddhist monk, a shrine maiden, and an omyoji," he began challengingly and straightened, "What do you have?" His voice echoed down the tunnel and reverberated back to them several times before the figure giggled.

"I don't think provoking it is a good idea," Yasuhara mumbled and swallowed the spit that had gathered in his mouth. The stench of the thing had finally reached him an it was horrible.

Naru did not bother responding to the nervous man beside him and he ignored the frightened but annoyed comments Monk muttered from behind him. His eyes never faltered from the laughing figure hiding within the darkness of the tunnel.

"Blood," it finally answered breathlessly and chuckled, "and all the bodies it belonged to."

All eyes, with the exception of Naru and Yasuhara's, dropped to the blood that now reached their thighs. How many people had died to create such a flood of the red lifeblood? And it claimed to have control over them all. Hundreds of people must have been murdered within those walls and Prudence just so happened to be one of the very last. Her blood was the freshest and it clearly flowed within the flood around them. It exuded such anger and disgust that it chilled them to the bone. And Naru had nearly been completely submerged in it. It had flowed down his mouth and throat and directly into his stomach where it now nestled, spurring his anger and hatred, and forcing him to act rashly in the dangerous situation. Surely he would have never provoked a powerful evil spirit, now a demon, if he had been in the right state of mind.

"That's quite the claim," he drawled and stepped forward, but was forced to a halt when he felt something encircle his ankle. He could not see through the blood but it was quite obvious it was a human hand. He could feel each finger denting his flesh through his pant leg, felt it squeeze with all the strength it had, and he scowled. "Lin!" he barked, never breaking eye contact from the thing in front of them.

Lin lifted his fingers to his lips and whistled. White spirits, formless and fast, whipped by Naru and Yasuhara, heading straight for the figure of Prudence. They shot through her body and tore great holes within her before she vanished from sight. Naru felt whatever had hold of his ankle disappear and without hesitation walked deeper into the tunnel.

"She is not gone, Naru," Lin warned urgently and rushed after his charge.

"I am aware," Naru called back over his shoulder.

"This is not safe, Noll!" Martin spoke up for the first time since they had entered the cellar and shuffled through the blood after his son.

"I am aware," Naru repeated darkly but did not stop.

"Where's Mai when you need her?" Monk growled out and followed the other men into the tunnels warily. He was certain that she would have been able to inspire caution within their employer if she had been present, but as it was his arrogance ran unchecked and urged him on.

John looked back at the three ladies imploringly, "Do you wish to continue? I can escort you outside if you wish," he offered kindly.

"Let's just go," Ayako grouched and lifted her drenched robes in hand before trudging after the men. "I wanna get this over with as soon as possible and then I am going to the spa, where I can scrub every last inch of this place from mind and body and be done with it!" She continued to complain the deeper into the tunnel she got and only fell silent when she had caught up with Monk and reached for his hand.

Masako and Luella shared a silent look before they nodded and followed. John brought up the rear behind them with a frustrated frown, wishing they were not in such a situation, but hoping to help in any way he could.

The tunnels spanned out before them and every turn they took only added to the confusion as they seemed to go on forever with no rhyme or reason. Some ended abruptly while others continued with several more paths branching out from them. It was impossible to discern where exactly they were under the house, or, if they were even still under the structure at all. Water and blood dripped from the ceilings and walls and the found several sets of skeletons scattered about the flooded tunnels. It was a disturbing sight to watch the blood seep through the bones and shift them about as if they had regained some form of life.

It was impossible for them to tell just who's bones they were looking at but they were certain the ones they had found did not belong to Prudence. The blood continued to lead them forward, never reaching a turn without them seeing it, and it became quite clear she was leading them straight towards her as Naru had observed earlier. It was both disturbing and curious too watch the flood of red liquid slow as they slowed and speed up as they did. It ebbed around their thighs and seemed to push them onwards while simultaneously sucking the energy from them. Several times one of them would feel something brush past their legs in the liquid, a finger, a hand, even what felt like hair to Ayako, wrapped itself around her ankle for several yards before it disappeared.

John had noticed at some point during their trek that they were being followed and had yet to say anything because he could not catch sight of what it was at first. But as Naru turned a corner up ahead he felt something brush past his thigh, what felt like a hand, and happened to look down and catch sight of it from the corner of his eye. And it turned his blood to ice.

There were several lumbering figures behind them, mere shadows in the darkness, but they sloshed through the blood only as they moved and hid their presence. They were disjointed and strange, obviously bodies that had been beaten and destroyed in life, and very much on their tail. John feared that if he were to stop moving and allow the others to leave him behind they would swallow him up and drag him away.

"Lin," he called quietly.

The man in question glanced back over his shoulder briefly before his eyes widened and he whistled, sending his shiki after the lumbering figures. Satisfied once they had been dealt with he fell back to join John. His strength would be more useful from that position. He trusted Monk and Ayako could ward off anything coming from ahead and while John was an excellent exorcist his methods tended to take a bit of preparation.

The others had looked back at the sound of Lin's whistle and had drawn closer together nervously. They were now being targeted from both ahead and behind and they could not deny the fear it sent coursing through their veins like so much ice. They were trapped.

Eventually, they came to a junction of tunnels, a sort of round room with a domed ceiling made of stone like the rest of the tunnels. A light hung from the center of the room and within it flickered several candles. No one bothered to comment on this as they were distracted by the rivulets of blood that cascaded from the ceiling and connect the floor and ceiling with the sticky red liquid like a spider's web. The walls were splattered with the stuff. Hand prints dragged along its surface and eventually trailed towards the floor and into the depths of the pooling blood eerily.

The team came to a stop, standing in a semicircle around Naru, who had paused to take in the sight of the room determinedly.

"I think we found the right place," Yasuhara commented unnecessarily and shone his light about the few shadows that remained within the room. The tunnels were black yawning pits spaced periodically around them but the room itself was quite illuminated. Yasuhara's light could not penetrate the darkness of the tunnels though, and that unnerved him even more.

"Yes," Naru agreed and stared at the strange form protruding from the now calm surface of the blood, some yards away from them, like a cancerous blot. It was the top of a head. Eyeless sockets stared back at him and matted blonde hair pooled out around it like a mockery of a halo. "She is quite talented," he observed grimly and drew his mouth into a tight line. "Lin," he called again, "Disperse her so that the others can begin their exorcism."

Lin stepped forward but before he could so much as lift his hand to his mouth to summon his shiki again a geyser of blood erupted in front of him and a hand shot out to cover his mouth. He grunted, eyes wide, and was shoved down into the pool of blood before he could react.

"I don't think so," Prudence's disjointed voice echoed about the cavern shortly followed by a rasping chuckle.

"Lin!" Monk jumped to pull the man from the blood but as soon as his hand had wrapped around the mans arm, white sleeve stained red and quickly disappearing beneath the surface, he too was shoved down. A grotesque figure launched itself from the water and onto his back, forcing him down into the blood, but he struggled violently against it.

It became obvious then that they were quite unmatched and Naru knew it. Knew it like he knew death was about to come to them on swift wings. And it angered him. He turned halfway towards the woman, still submerged within the water and watching with sick glee as they struggled, and he glowered.

And she felt his eyes on her like she had felt William's slap to her face all those years ago. And it enraged her.

How dare a man look upon her with such an expression. Not after how hard she had worked and become what she had. No one should ever be allowed to leave her clutches alive. No one had yet. Her grin turned into a grimace and she pulled herself up from the blood, her body towering over them, lifted by the blood that supported her. And she growled. A deep resonating sound one would expect to hear from a bear much less her small and withered form.

Naru lifted his hands, fingers spread wide, and focused his eyes on her master display of rage and power. But before he could gather the energy required to smite her she had launched herself over his head in a showering spray of blood and dismembered limbs. No doubt the ones she had used to touch and guide them towards her haven. There was a scream and Naru whipped around, ignoring the blood that ran into his eyes and mouth, and stared wide eyed as Ayako was ripped from her spot and wrapped up within Prudence's clutches like a rag doll.

While they were now down three powerful players in their fight against the evil spirit, her actions had caused the blood to spill out into the tunnels around them and the forms of Monk and Lin were revealed. Monk sat up gasping and coughing up blood, clutching a hand to his chest in pain, but Lin did not stir from where he laid sprawled across the muddied dirt floor. Monk noticed it right away and pulled himself over to the man and attempted to sit him up with one hand, the other dangling uselessly at his side.

"Lin!" he called urgently. Once he had pulled the man up Lin coughed, gasped for breath, and promptly vomited what must have been a gallon of blood into his lap.

Prudence chuckled and tightened her hold on Ayako, causing the woman to grunt in pain, and gripped her chin with one gnarled and hag like hand. She was holding Ayako hostage against Naru's attack but she had also cut down any chance of Lin or Monk aiding in the fight. John was left standing but she had already made it quite obvious that she feared no God and so his tactics would have little affect on her.

"What will you do now, little one?" Prudence gurgled out in her wet voice, blood dribbling from her lips and down Ayako's neck and shoulders.

Naru glowered up at the creature. How the tables had turned. He had lectured Mai on her rash behavior and the possibility of losing her life yet here he was gambling all of theirs away. If they died here she would have no family to return to. He straightened, squaring his shoulders against the heavy weight of his guilt, and clenched his fists at his sides. The room was silent as the creature gripped the form of Ayako to her, claws embedded in her flesh, and what had once been a beautiful face had rotted and morphed into something hideous with fangs. They hovered over Ayako's throat threateningly while it hissed and glowered through eyeless sockets and challenged the man before her to make a move.

The floor was still coated in blood and the smell of rotten flesh clung to the people who were trapped within the things power. At some point during the scuffle Yasuhara had realized why his light could not penetrate the tunnels and it was because they were all filled to the brim with the prone figures of the dead. It had to have been some trickery on Prudence's part because the amount of victims she had acquired did not equal the amount he now saw piled up within the tunnel entrances. Limbs hanging limply towards the muddy floor and eyes staring sightlessly out at them.

They had all been frozen to the spot by some dark force but upon closer inspection there were more arms, reaching out through the blood muddied floor, and holding tight to all of their ankles.

Lin was still unconscious on the floor and Monk was holding a broken hand to his chest. Masako had fainted at some point and Martin and Luella were useless to them in the current situation. John was struggling with the urge to act but knowing that it would be useless. Yasuhara looked to Naru, as it became clear he was the only one capable of altering the situation in any way, but he was stumped. He could not lash out against Prudence without injuring or, most likely, killing Ayako.

Martin and Luella stood huddled in the far corner of the room, helpless due to their lack of any power or ability, and watched as their son petered on the edge of despair.

"Don't do it Naru!" Monk growled out threateningly, he had followed Yasuhara's train of thought, watching as Naru's fingers twitched and he clenched them into fists. "You'll kill Ayako!"

Naru growled and glowered at the creature who was watching him in twisted amusement. Behind it sat the bodies of those killed and gone missing in the past and their combined stench was overpowering. Those people had never gotten the chance to return to their families, to have proper burials, and had been discovered only years later by SPR themselves. It seemed so utterly hopeless. Naru felt his anger boil over, the iciness consuming his chest, and cursed.

"Be quiet" He shot back irritably and took a threatening step towards the demon. The blood in his stomach revolted suddenly, as if by its master's orders, and Naru lifted a hand to his mouth as it spewed forth from inside him. He coughed and gagged while the others watched on helplessly, eyes wide. She was just trying to buy herself some time, Naru knew, because they were stuck at a standstill. If she killed Ayako then Naru would see her destroyed and she was well aware of that fact.

"Don't you fucking do it!" Monk exclaimed and pushed himself up off of the ground, ignoring Naru's moment of weakness, and took a step towards the struggling man as if to restrain him.

"Then what do you suggest!" Naru looked at Monk from over his shoulder, his sleeve used to wipe the blood from his mouth, but that had been his mistake.

The demon threw Ayako to the side, ignoring the way her body smashed into the wall before slumping to the floor beneath, and flew at Naru before the man could even react. She pounced on him, knocking him to the ground, and wrapped her hands around his throat while she straddled his chest. Her nails pierced his flesh and spots swam before his eyes from the knock to his head caused by his fall. Any energy he had been gathering was released into the air, dispersing in a cloud of static, and left him feeling drained. Despite the situation he still managed to be disgusted with himself as he reached for her wrists and tugged, he had let emotions get the best of him, emotions fueled by the blood of the victims and Prudence herself, but his emotions nonetheless. He glowered at the face before him, not bothered by the gruesome sight one bit, and grit his teeth in anger.

"Get away from him!" Martin roared. He and Luella had been locked in place but as soon as Prudence had thrown herself at Naru the spell had broken. Now he pushed his wife behind him and stepped forward. Despite the intense emotions he was feeling, however, he did not know how to help. Frustrated, he did the only thing he could, and tackled the thing off of Naru. As soon as he made contact with her body, felt the brittle and decaying thing break beneath his, she vanished. But as his body sailed over that of his son's and landed across the muddy floor feet away from him she reappeared in the same spot. She ripped a hand away from Naru's neck, pulling flesh along with it, and slashed at Martin who had scrambled to his feet. The man stumbled back gripping his shoulder while Naru choked and gripped the wrist of his attacker, his neck now spilling blood.

"You get away!" she growled in a demonic voice, it echoed, as if several people were speaking at once. And suddenly everybody found themselves pinned against a wall except for her current victim. There were bodies forced up against the stone as if the air itself was holding them in check. They struggled to breath against the pressure on their chests and watched on helplessly in fear as Naru's struggles slowed. It had never once occurred to them that they could actually die on any of their cases. Even as they grew more grim and they were forced to accept the death of others, sometimes their clients and sometimes of fellow investigators, but never the members of SPR. Somewhere along the line they had become a family. An immortal and immovable thing that would never falter. They just were, and always would be, a team. They would alwas meet at the office for coffee and gossip, they would always bicker and fight, and they would always be there for each other in their times of need. The cases had become only one aspect of their relationship with each other as they grew closer and learned more about each other. Mai would always be there to clumsily bring them together. Monk would always be there to deescalate situations with a laugh. Ayako would always be the mother hen and ask the questions nobody wanted to ask. John was the level headed one who more often then not was unable to curb the bickering group because he was too quiet. Masako was the sly one who would always stir up Mai's anger. Yasuhara made them all laugh and simultaneously uncomfortable. And Lin's stoic presence leant them all a sense of comfort and safety. And Naru watched over them all, kept them safe, and allowed them to be a family.

Yet now, the man had fallen still, and his hands had fallen to the ground as his body went limp under Prudence's hands.

"You're mine, you are all mine, and you'll stay here with me, forever, just like all the others . . ." she hissed and tightened her grip around Naru's neck despite the fact that he had already grown still. She could still feel his heart beating faintly beneath her grip and she would not stop until she had snuffed out every last bit of life from his body.

Then, the baying of a hound heralded something new. It echoed through the tunnels and broke the tense silence that had fallen over the room like a sheet of ice. Eyes lifted to the three entrances, frantically searching for the culprit of such a sound and they soon settled on a distant glow. From the furthest tunnel, behind the pile of bodies, came a golden light. It shone through the gaps and threw strange shadows across the room. They could hear it running through the bloody flood that had poured into the tunnels when Prudence began her attack. It bounded towards them, howling, and the sound eased their souls and offered comfort when none could be found. Because Prudence had frozen in place. They watched as, from over the pile of bodies, and glowing hound leapt into the room. It landed within the mud and launched into a run, circling the room and dissipating the force that had pushed them all back against the wall, before it came to a stop yards away from Prudence and turned to look back at her with glowing green eyes.

And suddenly, it was not blood they found themselves to be standing in, but cold water. It spilled forth from every tunnel and crack, swallowing up the blood that coated the ground, and danced over the feet of all those within the tunnel. It splashed up against the walls and painted it black and from its depths white orbs were born, pulling away from the water as if it were thick and viscous, before they floated up into the air and instantly calmed those who they touched. In less than a minute their surroundings had completely changed. No longer were they trapped within the stone labyrinth beneath the old mansion but standing upon a summoned representation of the astral plain. The majority of them had never experienced the astral plain itself and so were unaware what their surroundings meant other than the fact that their situation had suddenly been severely altered.

The demoness froze, eyes wide at the man beneath her but unseeing, and loosened her grip.

Naru's body came back to life and he gasped, dragging in great lungfuls of air as he stared wide eyed at the ceiling, unseeing. And as all eyes turned to him something else entirely unexpected occurred.

"That is enough little one," a light and musical voice rang out with an admonishing lilt.

All eyes turned towards the golden glow that had slowly made its way up one of the tunnels towards them. As they watched it drew closer and closer until a female figure could be made out of the light. She gracefully bypassed the pile of bodies as she approached and lifted her face towards the room full of injured SPR members calmly. She was beautiful. Long flowing blonde hair and the white dress of a goddess, layers of the material dragging in the water behind her, while vines and flowers fell from her hair and down her shoulders. Her eyes were those of an animal and the antlers of a deer grew from her head upon which butterflies perched, their wings fluttering in the once stale air of the tunnels.

She was beautiful.

There was nothing in the world any of the humans who saw her that night could compare her too. She radiated joy and laughter and eased their hearts like only the fondest of childhood memories could. And the moment she set a barefoot, pale and glowing, into the realm of the living everything stopped. No child cried, no angry words spat, and those in the midst of despair and insanity paused in their actions to think. Such was the power she radiated as she walked atop the surface of the spiritual water of the astral plain, brought forth by her presence alone, and approached the group of filthy and wounded humans.

The monster lifted her gaze to the beautiful goddess and fell into herself, becoming a small grotesque figure on the floor, covered in blood and mumbling nonsense. Her eyes could not stand the sight of such a radiant creature, so long had she been shrouded in the blackest of horror filled shadows, and even the sight of it from her peripheral was enough to send her into madness. How the light loomed over her so.

"My little one, my sweet little Prue, what has become of you?" she murmured and came to a stop before the creature. Her pale and luminous skin glowed in the darkness and bathed the gross creature in a new light, a whole new level of horrifying, and the woman only tutted. "You have been through so much, but it is alright, I am here now," she said as she crouched in front of the creature. The air around them grew fresh, the smell of the dead brushed aside as easily as one would brush aside a speck of dust, and a light breeze swept through the tunnels and dried the sweat on their brows.

"No, don't!" Yasuhara cried out, fearing that the beautiful creature in front of them would be eaten up by the darkness. He felt that, if he were to witness such a radiant light extinguished, he would never be able to continue in life. So strong was the urge to save her that he leapt to his feet from where he had fallen earlier.

But the woman ignored him or did not hear him for she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the demon. "Let not the wrongs of one man haunt you any longer and recall all those who you have helped in life, all those who's faces you summoned a smile to, all those who were saved by a simple act of kindness. Remember your laughter and their laughter and the sun's as it shone on your face every morning encouraging you to greet the new day."

The monster trembled and hiccuped, unsure of how to react, and stared up at the ceiling while the graceful goddess cooed into her ear and drew circles into her back with delicate fingers.

"Forget the wrongs done to you for they matter no longer and let go. I am here now to take away your sorrows, rest with me, and remember who you once were before any darkness had ever touched you. My sweet Prudence, remember the blue birds and the sea shells you brought to me, for that is how I have always seen you. My sweet little girl." She lifted a delicate finger and wiped bloody tears from the creature's face, ignorant of the bloated flesh and wounds that decorated her like medals of honor, and smiled sweetly down at her. Because what she saw and what the living saw were two completely different images.

A sob ripped forth from the monsters throat, but it was not the demonic howling they had grown used to, but the cries of a woman. "Mama!" she wailed and threw her arms around the woman. And where they touched her rotted and bloated skin transformed, pale flesh, new and glowing, bloomed and spread across her body until the thing remaining was not but a woman. Blonde curls fell to her shoulders in perfect little ringlets and blue eyes poured forth the tears of relief as she wept.

"I am here," she shushed and pulled her head to her chest, running her fingers through her hair.

Naru sat up, rubbing at his throat, while he watched on with wide eyes. Everyone watched on with wide eyes. As the butterflies and flowers in her hair seemed to take on a life of their own and flew about the room, blown by a mysterious wind, and the woman stood while pulling her daughter up with her. Tears, unbidden, came to all of their eyes at the sight of the beautiful woman and the goddess she held onto. Monk had pushed himself to his feet as well, hand still held against his chest, While Ayako latched onto his legs from where she sat on the floor beside him. She clutched onto him for dear life as tears streamed from her eyes and down her cheeks.

"Come with me," she whispered and together they took small steps, water rippling beneath their feet, and moved towards the tunnel entrance. Before them an entire new realm of their world awaiting. But the living could not see it. Never would see it. And so they were forced to use their imaginations as Prudence stared with wide eyes ahead of her.

Lin had come to at some point and struggled to stand while he took in the situation and found himself completely at a loss as to what had happened. But his eyes eventually located his charge and he blanched. Naru was bleeding from the neck and panting for breath as he struggled to gain the energy back to stand. Martin was at his side, watching the spirits move on, and was unaware of his son's desperate attempts to stand.

Naru scrambled to his feet, water and blood sloshing about beneath him, and coughed. Yasuhara went to grab on to him, to stop him, but the man evaded his grasp and stumbled forward. The gash in his neck, though shallow, spattered blood and it tainted the clean water beneath them. His father glanced back at him then, wide eyed, and took a step after him but was unsure if any of them were actually in any danger.

Frantic was not a word any of them would apply to Oliver Davis but as he scrambled through the slick water after the two women there was no other word capable of describing the desperation in his eyes. He slipped on the slick floor and stumbled, catching himself before he fell, and struggled to close the distance between them. He knew what had happened from the moment he had regained consciousness and laid eyes upon the spirit of nature before him. And then had spotted a possessed Rocco standing off to the side. He had stared in amazement, eyes wide and disbelieving, at what he was seeing as it was strictly impossible to summon something that had already passed on. But of course she would not have let that stop her. Anything to prove him wrong. And with the purity that creature radiated he felt something in his chest snap. Like a rope that had been strung tight over his rib cage had just broken. He had sat up and felt something new. Something he had never before experienced. And it trailed down his face leaving warm salty trails that eventually fell from the end of his jaw and into his outstretched hands.

"Mai!" he cried out.

The goddess turned and leveled blue eyes on him before a smile spread across her face, "She is alright, little one," she placated him as a parent would their child and Naru's heart nearly stopped because this was not a human, this was not some ghost who was stuck wandering the world, she might not even know what her presence would do to Mai. Being possessed by a lost spirit was draining, being possessed by a vengeful one was debilitating, but to be possessed by the creature he found in front of him? Well there was no previous recorded incident he could base his theory off of, but he was certain they would never see their Mai again. After everything he had done to keep her in his life he felt horribly cheated and anger welled up within him to add to the new tears trailing down his face.

But the two glowing woman turned away and disappeared into a fluttering mass of golden glowing spheres and all that remained was the figure they all recognized.

Mai stood still, her shoulders slumped forward, facing upwards as if she were watching the balls of light disappear, before her knees buckled and she hit the floor with a splash. They heard her knees connect with the stone below them and saw the utterly pale and lifeless way in which she dropped and they feared the worst. Because how could little Mai possibly have done so much without paying a price? It seemed unbelievable that she had managed to cleanse Prudence who had, by all rights, become a demon fit to be exorcised. They had been left powerless before yet Mai had cleansed her within moments.

Naru lunged for her, throat still bleeding and his body muddied and bruised, and dropped to the ground beside her. She was sprawled limply across the watery mud. Now dirt and blood filled once more as the astral plain had left along with Prudence and her mother. He lifted her into his arms, checking over her face with frantic hands, he felt for a pulse. He ignored the blood that still seeped from his throat and shook the girl lightly. "Mai," he called and lightly slapped her face. When there was no response and panic had begun to set in among the team Mai cracked her eyes open and settled her sights on Naru.

"Naru . . ." she mumbled as a tear spilled from her eye and trailed down her cheek.

"You stupid girl," Naru whispered and brought his lips to the top of her head. "You stupid stupid girl," he rambled and dropped from his haunches onto the ground, bringing Mai with him, with a choking sound. He gripped her tightly in his arms and struggled to compose himself, to regain his cold and logical disposition, but he was unable to in that moment. Had he not been holding onto the woman in his arms he feared his hands would have been trembling enough for all to see.

Luella rushed forward to get a look at Mai. She dropped to her knees in front of her son and ran a finger over the girl's cheek tenderly before lifting her hand to her son's face lovingly. The amount of relief and pride she radiated was enough to stun even him in that moment.

"What just happened?" Monk asked from where he sat, crouched over Ayako who had sustained several injuries from the ordeal and was attempting to stand.

"She summoned her mother," Naru muttered through tears. Tears that he had never before shed. Never before had he experienced the sensation of tears streaming down his face, the salty water slipping in through his lips to dance on his tongue, or the way the pressure built in his throat and he wanted to scream. He gripped the girl in his arms tighter and shivered against the influx of emotions that he had never allowed himself to feel while his mother watched on with a sad smile.

"I don't understand, we've done that kind of stuff before," Yasuhara stated quietly, eyes still wide, tears were streaming from his eyes as well. His voice echoed in the silence left behind by Naru's explanation. He stood in the mud, clenching and unclenching his hands, unsure of what move to make.

"No," Masako corrected as she pushed herself off of the ground using the wall as support, "We have summoned spirits who are wandering the Earth still. That woman," Masako trailed off and allowed her eyes to drift towards the tunnel where they had disappeared. "That woman had already passed on long ago. Mai did not summon a spirit . . . she summoned an angel."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Mai mumbled and hiccuped. "She didn't deserve to die, she didn't deserve any of it, I couldn't let her go on anymore. It wasn't right."

"It's alright, Mai," Naru hushed her and leaned back against the wall behind him.

"No one deserves to be alone forever," she whispered.

They remained within that room far longer than they felt comfortable with while they struggled to collect their beaten and battered selves. Though the bodies and blood had disappeared from the tunnels and the majority of the blood had vanished, it still felt eerie and wrong to be there. Much had been suffered within those tunnels and though the presence of evil was gone there was still an empty sadness that continued to linger as they all pushed themselves to their feet. No one was too terribly injured, though Ayako confirmed Monk's hand had been broken, but the majority of their wounds would heal on their own with plenty of rest. Mai was able to stand after a few moments to compose herself and she help Naru to his feet. The wounds in his neck had stopped bleeding and they were not to terribly deep and after Ayako had assured him that she could patch him up easily enough, Naru had put them out of his mind for the moment. Mai had pulled his arm over her shoulder to give him some support and smiled up at him so radiantly that he could not deny the small smile he gave her in return. He was glad it had all ended in everyone's favor but he could not deny the anger with himself that had nestled within his stomach and sat there like a rock. But that smile . . .

Lin's usual crisp white shirt was sodden with blood and though the image was horrifying it was also, well, kind of funny. Because they had never seen him in anything but black and white. Pressed suits and shining black leather shoes. And now his shirt was untucked and painted red, his hair disheveled, and to top it all off he wore such an unusual expression. It was obvious he was uncomfortable but he was struggling against a smile all the same as he looked over at Mai and Naru.

"You look good in red, Lin," Yasuhara commented and it shattered the daze they had all fallen into. Laughter echoed down the tunnels that had not seen a living soul in nearly a hundred years. It broke through the quiet sadness that prevailed the underground and finished what they had all set out to do over a week ago when they had first arrived. The house was cleanse of evil spirits and the lingering darkness thanks to, in the end, Yasuhara. Though none would think of it that way.

"Thank you, Yasuahra-san, I shall take that into consideration when I next go shopping," Lin responded blandly and turned to lead the way back through the tunnels with annoyed amusement.

"I always knew I was good with fashion," Yasuhara muttered obviously and turned to look back at Ayako, "We never did go on that shopping trip you promised us Ayako."

Ayako, leaning heavily on Monk as they followed after Lin, scowled, "I never said you could come. That was supposed to be a girl thing between me and Mai!"

"I don't see your point," Yasuhara shot back and turned away with a grin.

"Is now really the time?" John mumbled with a sigh as he assisted Masako with navigating the slippery floor in her bare feet. She was not injured but her body tended to be a bit weaker than the others and so he was taking special care to help her.

"Why do you even bother asking," Monk grouched irritably.

John did not even attempt to respond and looked back at the last two, Martin and Luella, to check on them. They seemed relatively unhurt but were quiet as they whispered to each other and brought up the rear. Martin had wrapped an arm around Luella to hold her tight while they walked. John was not one to eavesdrop and so he turned back towards the front and tuned out the quiet discussion they were having between each other.

Mai sighed tiredly, tightened her grip on Naru's arm, and dropped her eyes to the figure of Rocco. Alexander had left him, it would seem, because he was once again left sightless. He too seemed a little tired as he padded away beside them, panting in the humid air of the tunnels, while he relied completely on sound and touch to navigate the tunnels. She would have to give him an extra serving of food that night to make up for it. And probably a bath. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of wet dog but smiled nonetheless and chuckled. She glanced up at Lin's back, the man leading the way as easily as if he had traversed the tunnels a thousand times before, and wondered what exactly they would do once they had returned to the surface.

"I could use some ice cream," she stated thoughtlessly. It did sound great. She was hot and sticky and tired and the thought of the relief cold ice cream would grant her was mouthwatering in that moment. "And a bed," she added after further thought and laughed when she heard various noises of agreement from the group. As per usual it was she and Yasuhara who left the situation with light spirits. As if sensing her thoughts Yasu glanced back and gave her a grin.

The door to the cellar appeared far sooner then they thought it would, as the trek through the tunnels the first time had been complicated and confusing, but it was relief that they climbed the stairs out and stepped into the hall between the foyer and indoor pool. There was no blood to be seen. They blinked in the soft light provided by the lamps set up about the hall and breathed in the fresh air with sighs of content.

"We are not breaking base tonight," Monk declared with finality as he stepped through the door and glanced about the empty hallway. The staff had begun to file back into the building after the blood had disappeared and they spotted the team curiously. One of them left in search of the manager.

Naru snorted, both in amusement and disgust at the idea. "Go to bed," he said simply.

And just like that they dispersed. Martin and Luella remained in the foyer to speak with the property manager, Sam, while everyone else clambered up the staircase towards base to regroup and get some rest. Madoka was waiting from them when they returned. She had been sent out, oddly enough, for coffee just before the whole ideal had taken place and had only been allowed into the mansion turned hotel when the blood had dispersed.

The coffee was good.

They had all taken seats around the room after cleaning themselves up to the best of their abilities while Madoka handed out the hot beverages and helped Ayako with patching them all up. They talked quietly amongst each other and relaxed into their seats, allowing the exhaustion to take over despite the coffee in their stomachs, and watched Modako as she flitted about energetically to assist them.

No one spoke of the case that night but Naru, who was seated on the couch next to Mai with a fresh bandage wrapped about his neck, sent her an intense look that promised for questioning her later. She only rolled her eyes and smiled in good humor before she sighed and pulled a blanket that had been left on the couch over her. Rocco was sitting at her feet, fast asleep, and she happily wiggled her bare toes beneath his stomach for extra warmth. Now that they were out of those tunnels she felt the chill of the late winter night that had permeated the property through the open entrance.

It felt good being in a fresh set of pajamas, surrounded by her friends and family, knowing that Prudence had finally gotten the chance to pass on. Alexander had left, she assumed he was cleansed as well, and she was certain that Kikio had followed. She no longer felt anything from the house. No anger or hatred, sadness or loneliness, just the usual emptiness that one felt in a normal building not haunted by evil spirits. But that wasn't exactly right. The house may have been empty of spirits but there were still nearly a centuries worth of memories within those walls and the weightiness of them could still be felt if one allowed themselves to.

"Mai," Naru called to her seriously, drawing the others attention.

"Yes?" she jumped to respond and looked to him hopefully. Maybe he would say something nice for a change, compliment her on a job well done like he had on that one case, or commend her for her determination, or even something possibly romantic . . .

"Your nose," he stated simply.

"What?" she shot back in confusion, not understanding exactly what he was referring to as her nose had nothing to do with anything that had just happened.

"It's running," he finished blankly.

Of course. She scowled at him before reaching for a tissue, offered to her by Madoka while the others snickered, and stemmed the flow brought on by the sudden chill after stepping out of the cellar. As if he would ever actually say what she wanted him to say when she wanted him to say it. They always had such bad timing. It just wasn't fair.

Despite all of her irritable thoughts Naru smirked and rested his head against his fist, propped up by the arm of the couch, and closed his eyes. Even to him sleep sounded wonderful in that moment and he was quickly overtaken by the darkness as soon as he allowed his body to relax. But he was still conscious when he felt the weight of Mai's head on his shoulder, and that was all the comfort he needed in that moment. Knowing that she was alive and well at his side.

"Thank you, little one, for bringing my child back to me."

"You're welcome," Mai answered. She was standing on the astral plain and though she could no longer see Catherine, as she had returned to the afterlife with her daughter and Alexander, she could still hear her voice. If only for a moment.

She was alone. A strange thing considering Gene was generally always with her when she was on the astral plain but she assumed even he needed to rest every once in a while. She did not mind all that much. She was just so mentally and physically exhausted that she wanted nothing more than to be on her own and think.

"Sleep well," Catherine's voice echoed across the plain one last time, causing Mai to jump and blink in confusion, before she was plunged into a dreamless sleep so deep she could not even be bothered when she felt someone ruffle her hair and whisper their own 'Good night'.

Chapter Text

Mai was the most comfortable she had ever been in her entire life. She was wrapped up in a thick comforter against the chilly morning air. Her hair still felt a little damp from the shower she had taken the night before thus she still felt clean and fresh. She could feel the weight of Rocco's head on her leg where he sat sprawled across the couch next to her. And she was laying atop something warm and very much alive and she did not need to guess who it was. His arm was resting across her back, over her shoulders, and his voice vibrated in his chest beneath her ear. That must have been what had woken her. She had been enjoying her first dreamless sleep in what felt like years, and in truth it probably had been, when his soft voice had pulled her from the blackness. She was loath to leave it but she could not ignore him.

"We'll leave tomorrow if you think that is best," Naru said in a low tone and shifted. He was reaching for the morning paper, which Lin had brought him as soon as he had noticed him regain consciousness, that he had rested on the arm of the couch while he spoke to his father.

"I do," Martin answered from the other couch while he nursed a cup of coffee. "Sam wants to show you all his appreciation and I am sure your team would like a rest before they return home, give them the day to do as they want," he added suggestively and shrugged. They had been through a lot and saw the case through and for that the man was grateful and quite honestly impressed.

Naru hummed and shuffled the paper open with both hands, pulling his arm away from Mai for a second to fold it back into a manageable position, before dropping his arm back across her shoulders. He had yet to get himself a cup of tea, he did not want to wake Mai, and he dared not ask Lin to prepare him a cup. The man was furiously typing away at his laptop in an effort to finish up the case report as quickly as possible while everything was fresh in his mind. Plus, the one time he had asked Lin to make him a cup of tea, rather than it be bland or horribly bitter, he had dumped so much sugar in it he feared he would have gone into diabetic shock had he actually finished the whole thing. He had a feeling the man had done it on purpose but he made no comment and simply refrained from ever asking him again.

Despite that he was not as irritable as he thought he would have been. That's not to say he was not in a foul mood. On the contrary, he was internally berating himself and stressing all the mistakes he had made the night prior while he put on a pleasant front for his father. He was certain the man knew he was troubled but was holding himself back from attempting to comfort him as he knew it would only anger him. He just could not bring himself to feel the amount of rage he normally would in a similar situation. He would usually lock himself away or remove himself from the group to think it all over, but as Mai was still asleep he dared not move, and was forced to push back the dark and brooding thoughts for his own sanity.

Mai on the other hand, was thoroughly embarrassed by the situation as her sleep muddled mind gained more clarity, and she struggled not to blush. Naru was having a completely normal conversation with his father while she slept on him. She wanted nothing more, in that moment, then to fall back asleep and pretend none of it was so. Unfortunately she could not do that and so settled for the appearance of sleep while she kept her breathing low and even and tried to enjoy the warmth she still felt.

"Your mother is probably downstairs reserving a table for everyone, I am sure they are all hungry," Martin mumbled through a yawn and rubbed at his face tiredly.

"I have no doubt," Naru responded absently while his eyes skimmed the paper.

"Don't get hung up on that article, the news reporter only took the opinions of the guest and staff, he did not speak with Sam who would have set it all straight," Martin instructed as he stood and straightened his button up shirt. He still held his mug of coffee in his hand while he stared down at his son with a quirked brow.

"I am aware," he drawled but his eyes did not rise to meet his father's.

Martin snorted but smiled down at him before taking his leave and heading down to the restaurant to join Luella.

There were a few moments of silence while Naru continued to read the paper and Mai pretended to be asleep before he sighed, "You can get up now."

Mai immediately straightened and pulled herself into a sitting position with crimson cheeks and shoulders tense, "Sorry!" she exclaimed and ignored Rocco as he too was forced to move. She should have known he would have called her on it, really, it was no surprise. Yet she still found herself embarrassed and wishing she had moved when she first woke but the thought of greeting Martin had terrified her. She weighed the two in her head and decided she would take Naru's comments and the embarrassment they caused over Martin any day.

Naru pulled his legs out from behind her and stood in one graceful movement, "You should get dressed, I am sure your hungry," he said as he flipped through the paper while moving across the room.

"You're right," she answered with a nervous laugh and placed a hand over her growling stomach. She was starving. While Naru walked over to Lin she stood and hurried into the girls room to pull on the cleanest article of clothing she could find. It happened to be the olive green dress she had worn their first night there. She could not deny the lightness she felt now that the case was over, Prudence had been cleansed, and she felt the light dress suited her mood perfectly. While she went about fixing her hair she wondered over the events of the past week with surprise, she could not believe that she had managed what she had, and she was still thinking about it even as she stepped back into base and set about feeding Rocco.

She noticed that the base had been empty only when Naru returned in a fresh set of black clothes. He was still straightening his shirt collar when he entered and scanned the room before his eyes landed on her, crouched over the food bowl while Rocco ate, watching him absently while she thought.

"You should work on that," he stated while he moved over to the table where Lin's laptop and all of his notes rested.

Mai blinked and looked at him in confusion, "What?" she asked curiously.

Naru did not grace her with an answer as he shuffled the loose papers into a folder and set it neatly over Lin's laptop. She scowled at him but pushed herself to her feet and brushed out the skirt of her dress irritably before heading for the door. The thought of breakfast was far to great for her to ignore.

"Mai," he called over his shoulder without moving to look at her, "How did you summon her?"

Mai paused at the door, hand resting on the knob, and stared at his back in thought. "I don't know," she answered truthfully, "I think I went to heaven."

Naru whipped around to stare at her like she had just bestowed him with the whereabouts to the holy grail and simultaneously informed him that she quit. He was looking at her in a whole new light, or rather, a light that he had refused to look at her in until he was absolutely forced to. He had likened her to a director just the other day and he was wondering just how close to the truth he had been in that adrenaline infused moment. Perhaps it was not a director that Mai was like but rather a god. How could a human voluntarily travel to the afterlife and bring back the closest thing to a true angle and still continue to exist on a normal plain? In that moment he was certain of one thing. If he ever wanted to complete his research then he would need her by his side.

He lifted a hand to his head and carded it through his hair in a gesture of bewilderment that Mai had never before seen him perform. She widened her eyes for a second before she took a step towards him hesitantly. But in a flash it was gone, replaced by his usual stoic demeanor, and he walked towards her calmly.

"Let's get breakfast," he stated simply and stepped around her to open the door. He held it open for her while she blinked at him in bemusement before she stepped through and he followed.

Rocco was left to his own devices in the room.

The walk down to the dining room was a quiet one, though it was a bit tense, but Mai was content with that. Naru's mind was never still. It was something she had come to learn over time. No matter how quiet he was, how active or commanding he was, his mind was always churning over some thought or concept. A theory. His was like the ocean, calm on the surface but raging with currents beneath, and his rage was frightening and merciless. Many a time Mai had found herself being tossed about the raging waves of his anger and frustration, of his plans of action, and so she relished in the relative calm now. But there was a storm brewing, she knew it, because there was no way he was satisfied with his or her actions on the case and he would be brooding over them for days to come. Regardless of the upcoming tempest she was certain that, despite his cold and stoic demeanor, he had a kind side. Because with every raging ocean came a sunny beach filled with laughter and wonder. She had caught glimpses of it over the years, and maybe it was a quiet beach, a lonely one, filled with only two sets of identical footprints for the longest time, but it was a beach nonetheless. And that everything worthwhile.

Mai glanced over at Naru from the corner of her eye and smiled, clasping her hands behind her back as they walked, and turned to look out the windows displaying the sunny park. It was such a nice day. It was like the universe itself had realized what they had down and gifted them a day of peace.

"Hey Naru," she called curiously as they walked and turned her head to look at him curiously.

Naru returned her look with a quirked brow, quietly waiting for her to continue.

"We should have a pool party," she stated simply.

Naru turned his eyes forward without comment. Mai had just silently compared his mind to an ocean but the man himself was beginning to loath the water. It had taken his brother from him, held him captive for a year beneath its depths while they searched, and it had nearly taken Mai too. Yes, he was beginning to hate the water, but he was not a man who would allow such feelings to hinder him. So when Mai presented her idea the momentary flicker of irritation did not even register in his mind before he sighed. "You have all of today to do as you wish," he stated simply as they entered the foyer.

Mai scowled at him and, just as he passed her to enter the open door of the dinning hall, she stuck her tongue out at him and followed.

The sun shone in through the large windows and threw bright swathes of light across the several tables placed within the hall. It fell across the staff and the few remaining guests, mostly those who had come for the concert, and left everyone feeling optimistic about the day. It was one of those rare mornings that left a person feeling grateful just to feel their lungs pull in air and that anything was possible that day. Mai paused to take a deep breath, pulling in the smells of fresh coffee and breakfast foods, and smiled. She could see that their usual table was filled with the other members of SPR and they were already cheerful and bantering like usual. The table was laden with food and hot drinks and decorated with bright cheerful flowers. It felt like a spring morning, not winter, Mai thought in amusement. She had a feeling that it had something to do with Sam the manger and his supposed gratitude towards them. He seemed like the type to perform such acts.

Mai hurried over to the table and took her usual place between Ayako and Masako. "Good morning," she greeted as she got comfortable in her seat and stretched.

"Morning," everyone greeted in response.

"We were just discussing what object everyone was," Yasu explained with a grin.

"Object?" Mai questioned in bemusement as she unrolled her napkin and set it over her lap.

"Yeah, like, we decided Masako was a fan," Monk jumped in to explain while swirling the remainder of his coffee around in its mug.

"Oh," Mai laughed, "What about you, Monk?" she replied with a grin.

"I'm a shield," he answered proudly and downed the rest of his drink.

"Hmmm," Mai hummed while she lifted a finger to her chin in thought, "I can see that." She glanced about the table, noting that everyone was present, even Madoka, and set to pondering on what everyone else was. It was an interesting train of thought. "Ayako should be a bow and arrow," she offered and glanced at the woman to her left who was now wearing a thoughtful expression.

"Ancient?" Monk stated and received a smack for his efforts.

"No," Mai laughed, "Because she is a strong person and a priestess. It's just what came to mind . . ."

"Lin is the sword then," John said thoughtfully. "He is pretty useful in a fight."

They all looked to Lin, who was seated between Madoka and Naru, but he seemed to be ignoring them as usual. Though Madoka was smiling into her hand and bumped shoulders with the man playfully.

"Yasu is a dog," Monk threw out the thought and shrugged. "He's just so energetic and playful all the time, like a puppy, I can't picture him as anything else."

"That ruins the whole 'Object' thing," Mai countered as she scanned the menu in her hands.

"So?" Monk shrugged again.

"So we have a fan, a sword and shield, and bow and arrow, a dog . . . what else?" John said thoughtfully.

"If it can be more than an object I would say John is faith then, because he is always so optimistic and goodhearted," Mai jumped to explain and smiled at the priest who returned her expression with a bashful nod. His cheeks were slightly pink.

"Naru is a really bad ass set of armor," Monk continued with a chuckle. "He holds us all together and keeps us in line. Not to mention he is pretty strong on his own but I would consider him our last line of defense."

"That does kind of make sense," Ayako mumbled thoughtfully. She pushed a piece of egg around on her plate absently while her mind worked to sort through the images they had just created. "But what does that make Mai?" she added and turned to look at the younger woman seated beside her with a raised brow.

"She's our little warrior of course," Monk explained proudly. "Naru may be the one calling the shots but I think we all know who it is that really solves the cases and challenges us," he continued on and ignored the way Mai's face was morphing into a tomato and the weird spluttering noises she was making.

"She's our warrior angle," Yasuhara said and sighed dreamily while staring at Mai with a mock look of enchantment.

Mai scowled at him for making her feel so awkward and looked away while the others laughed.

"I thought Mai was a red panda?" John countered curiously.

"She is our warrior angle red panda," Yasuhara corrected himself but did not remove the enchanted look on his face and even went so far as to sigh dreamily.

"Setting the image aside, that sounds like a really crappy band name," Monk muttered into his forkfull of egg.

"You're a crappy band name . . ." Mai muttered but not loud enough for Monk to hear as she snatched a piece of buttered toast from a plate full of it sitting in the middle of the table for all to eat.

"As interesting as this conversation has been I have a serious proposition for Mai."

Everyone turned to the front of the table where Martin sat, hands clasped together and resting under his chin thoughtfully, he was staring at Mai pointedly and the girl had never felt so singled out in her entire life. Her whole team had just labeled her as their warrior, essentially their mascot, and now he was going to demand her to come with him to England. It was obvious that was what he wanted but she knew she could not accept. Not only did the man frighten her, through no intention of his own she was sure, she would be leaving her home and family if she did. As someone who had never really known what it was like to have a whole and happy family she simply could not imagine leaving the one she had just gained.

Naru's mood instantly blackened. The light conversation had allowed him to forget the previous night and to think on less heavy topics while he set about preparing his own cup of tea. His father had never been one capable of reading the mood of a situation, neither was he for that matter, but even he had to have realized now was not a good time to pester the woman with such topics. They had just solved one of their most difficult cases to date, nearly died in the process, and had just woken up the next day in hopes of enjoying some rest and relaxation. Mai deserved some rest and relaxation. But Martin wanted to laden her mind with heavy offers and proposals. Frustration welled up within him and he set his cup of tea down on the table forcefully. It was not a loud noise but the impact had been enough to shake the bright and cheerful flowers in their glass vases.

And the temperature of the room dropped.

"Martin," Luella snapped and the room, which had fallen quiet as soon as the cold began to seep in, had become deathly silent. "Shame on you. Leave the poor girl alone. She has Noll and Lin looking after her. Bringing her to England would benefit no one but you in this moment," she scolded from the seat next to him, across from Naru, and wore an expression if disbelief.

And just like that the cold receded from the room and the silence was lifted, to be replaced by quiet talk, and those at the table shared nervous glances.

Martin sighed in defeat, "I know, I know," he muttered and waved the woman off. "But you cannot deny what she might bring to the table if we were to research her abilities. What could be learned . . ." he trailed off with a sigh but knew it was a losing battle. Luella had not allowed him to work with Noll and Gene either. She did not want those she loved treated like science experiments even though those that they worked with were treated with respect.

Mai fiddled with her napkin nervously and recalled the look of astonishment that Naru had worn just a handful of minutes ago. Even he had been surprised by her claim and he was the most difficult person in the world to throw off balance. She pulled on a strand of hair while they continued to talk and looked down at her other hand. Was her ability really so great? She could not recall every reading of anyone doing what she had done. Perhaps in fairytales yes, but not in reality. She had stepped over the boundaries of life and death, well, more like danced over them with a laugh. Because SPR blurred the line of life and death on the daily but she had done something all together different. She had traveled to the next life, seen what it was like, and saw what it did to the souls that passed over. What they all would one day become. The thought stopped her dead. Who exactly was she sitting at the table with? Catherine had become the embodiment of nature. She had been a deer, or something like it, with her angular features and antlers. What would those at the table look like once they had passed on? She found herself playing a similar game to the one they had been partaking in not moments before. Masako would be a fox, she was certain, the woman was far to intelligent for her own good sometimes and the features would look good on her. Monk would be a crow, he was observant and wise, and the color black seemed to suit him. Ayako would be a tiger or some other kind of wild cat. She had a temper about her and pride. Yasuhara would be a canine of some sort. He was far too playful not to be. John was a dove. Lin would be a dragon, he was stoic and intelligent and fierce when it came down to it. But she could not, for the life of her, figure out what Naru would be.

In that moment every human took on a whole new light in her eyes and she felt that she was sitting at a table of gods and goddesses. She was dining in their court before they journied on and it was such a strange concept that she felt weird. It would be nice to learn more about it. To discover what happened after death. Where did the souls go after they had changed? What did they do? Would a medium have the ability to travel back after they had passed on? Maybe that was where gods and goddesses came from. Every being humans had ever worshiped had once been humans who had moved on the become something new. Something more.

"We could always work together," Mai spoke up after a moment of silence, "We can keep detailed documents with everything we learn and we can visit . . ." she offered.

Martin lifted his eyes to her again, a look of compliant contemplation on his face, and nodded. "We might be able to work something out like that, schedules would need to be arranged, but it could work."

Mai smiled at him as peace was restored to the table.

Naru remained silent and sipped his tea.

While the day progressed Mai's mind was occupied with her theories and revelations. She felt a bit removed from reality. It had been a mind boggling thought tantamount to a paradigm shift. And she had trouble shaking herself out of it even when she had found herself dressed in a bathing suit and sitting at the edge of the pool, swirling her feet in the water, while the rest of the team swam about or sat in the sunlight streaming in through the windows.

"Quit spacing out Mai!"

Mai looked over to Monk, who was standing waist deep in the pull wearing an annoyed scowl, she grinned back at him in return.

"This was your idea so have fun already!" he shouted.

Mai opened her mouth to respond but she felt a push from behind and suddenly found herself plunging into the water. The cold splash to the face was what she had needed to snap back into reality. She opened her eyes, adjusting to the blur of the water, and glanced around the pool. It had once been filled with blood but now the water was clear and brisk, reflecting the light and throwing it across the blue tile beneath, and made Mai feel as if she were in a strange new world. Curiously she lifted a hand to her nose and spun about to look directly up. She could make out the windows and ceiling of the room through the distortion before she could take it no longer and surfaced for air. She would have thought she would have been afraid of the water after nearly drowning, but she felt none.

When she opened her eyes above water she found that everyone was laughing and she grinned. Yes, she had missed these moments in the year of Naru's absence. Speaking of which, where was he? She spun about in the water and her eyes landed on the figure in black sitting on a pool chair, book open in his hand, while Rocco sat at his side gnawing on a toy.

Mai rolled her eyes and turned to find Luella, striding in through the entrance wearing a one piece bathing suit under a wrap, and met hers with a look of disbelief. Naru was not even going to swim with them. He hadn't even bothered to change. She was unsure if he actually owned a bathing suit but the fact that he was even there was strange. He could have just as easily stayed back at base and continued to read through his notes but he had decided to sit in the pool room while the others had a good time.

Luella quirked a brow and glanced over at her son before walking up to the edge of the pool where Mai swam, "Noll, will you come here for a moment?" she called back over her shoulder.

Mai looked at her strangely before latching onto the pool edge with her hands to watch as Naru sighed and set his book down on the chair and pushing himself to his feet. Once he had reached the pool edge Luella rested a hand on his shoulder with a smile. "I know you didn't want to talk about it earlier but I wanted to tell you that your father and I are going to purchase a house near Tokyo. We figured it would be a good idea if there was going to be a lot of traveling for us and it would be easier than staying in a hotel. You should use it while we are in England."

"That's all well and good, Mum, but is there a reason you had to call me over to tell me this?" Naru asked coldly and crossed his arms, adopting a look of frustrated disappointment Mai often found herself the cause of.

"I wanted Mai to hear it as well, she can stay there whenever she wants too, there is plenty of space," Luella explained with a smile.

Mai blushed, surely she wasn't suggesting they live together? Naru must have had similar thoughts because he shot her a strange look and scowled. Luella only laughed and shuffled through the bag hanging from her shoulder for a moment before she pulled out a brightly colored rubber ball.

"And I wanted to try out this new toy I found for Rocco," she squeezed the ball and it let out such a high pitched squeal as air was pulled in through the small opening on the side.

Naru's eyes flitted between the ball and Luella's face in irritation before a thought occurred to him and he turned to look back over his shoulder. Not quick enough though, as the excited ball of energy that was Rocco came barreling into him, mouth open and tongue lulling out, and sent both himself and Naru over the lip of the pool and into the water. The splash was magnificent, practically reaching the lowest chandelier, and reach Monk on the other side of the pool.

The silence that fell across the room was deafening.

Rocco came to the surface with a happy bark and paddled about in search of some sort foot hold while Mai absently reached out for him, waiting for the moment when Naru would resurface and treat them all with an extremely cold shoulder.

But it was not the case.

Naru broke through the surface and brushed his hair back out of his face before turning to stare up at his mother with a scowl, "You owe me a new set of clothes," he stated simply. No doubt the chlorine would turn his attire to a strange shade of brown and he would have to throw them away. His shoes would survive if he set them out in the sun to dry.

"It would seem I do," Luella observed with a chuckled and stepped back as Naru swam to the edge and lifted himself out of the pool, clothes clinging to his figure, and sighed.

It was Lin, sitting at a table with Madoka, who laughed first. He had worked with Naru for years, dealt with is attitude and fits of rage and wounded pride more times than he could count, and could not deny the bit of satisfaction he felt upon watching the man's own mother trick him into the pool.

Soon laughter was abound and even Masako could be hear giggling into her hand from where she sat in the sunlight wearing a light dress.

"It just so happens I have something you could wear right here," Luella continued while she shuffled through her bag and pulled out a pair of black swimming trunks.

Naru simply stared at her with a blank face.

"Aw, come on Naru-bou," Monk voiced from the pool pleadingly. "Have some fun for once."

"At least sit in the hot tub," Mai encouraged.

Naru sighed and held out a hand for the trunks.

And that was how they all found themselves seated within the large hot tub as the sun set, laughing and sharing stories of what had happened in the past year. It was a tight fit but they managed. Though Monk and Ayako chose to sit on the bench while the woman worked a comb through her wet hair. Yasuhara was telling the story about the time he and Mai had been lured to a possible haunted house by a friend who just wanted a chance to make a move on Mai. It had all ended in a disaster because Mai had accidentally pushed him down the stairs when a coat had fallen out of a closet when she opened the door. He had been uninjured, besides his pride, and had stormed off in a fuss while she and Yasuhara watched him go bemusedly.

It was a fun story and Mai found herself laughing at the memory when she happened to glance up at Naru to her left and paused. He was watching her as they talked and laughed, wearing a curious expression, one she could not ever recall seeing him wear. It was a funny little half smirk, not his usual derisive one, nor was it an amused smile bestowed upon her for something she had said that he found amusing. But a small little smirk, as if he had won the game, and it made her blush.

He had looked away, attention drawn by Lin who had called his name, before she could fully register it. But she had seen it and she in turn watched him as he spoke with his assistant. What had that look meant? She recalled the day prior when they had kissed on the very bench Monk and Ayako now sat on and wondered if that had been an action of love or if Naru had simply done it to distract her while he went about returning her to her room and figuratively placing her under house arrest. Did they have something between them? He was so mysterious and intelligent that she could rarely tell what he was thinking, only what he was feeling, and it frustrated her.

He was a wolf. She decided with clarity and smirked. A loner and stoic but with a surprisingly kind and warm side if one were to stick around long enough. She guessed the only way she would ever find out how he truly felt about her was if she stuck around.

Mom, if you were here now, what in the world would you think of this man? she wondered while her eyes lifted to the large windows across from them and stared out at the darkening sky. The stars were just beginning to peek down at them from their places among the dark expanse. Just like the spirits on the astral plain. It made her feel warm and safe.

She heard a chuckle. Light and warm. And she glanced about the group wondering who it had belonged to but she found that no one in that moment was talking. They had all fallen silent and were simply enjoying each other's presence. And she was suddenly hit with such powerful nostalgia that her eyes burned with the threat of tears while her heart soared because she recognized that laughter. She would know it anywhere. And she could not fight the smile that was pulling at her lips. It was wonderful, knowing where exactly her mother was and what it was she had become, and it calmed her aching heart. A heart that had been aching for far too long.

Beneath the water her hand slid over to Naru's and she intertwined their fingers as gently as she could. He squeezed her fingers back and glanced down at her curiously but did not pull his hand away, curious as to why her eyes had misted over and she wore such a strange combination of sadness and joy on her face. Nostalgia was not an emotion he was familiar with and so he did not recognize it when he saw it but he could understand that something had moved her emotionally and so he offered his support in the only way he could - by holding her hand in his. Letting her know that he wasn't going anywhere and if the others noticed then he did not care.

For that, Mai was grateful.

"Why don't we start our own tv show?" Yasuhara spoke up thoughtfully from across the hot tub. "There's enough drama and action for everyone and we would make so much money . . ."

"Because, you idiot, if we did that all Naru's research would be seen as a scam," Monk drawled, causing the others to laugh and Yasuhara to frown.

"I'm just saying . . ." Yasuhara lamely defended and crossed his arms.

Mai laughed, though her hand never left Naru's, and watched as Monk nudged the back of Yasuhara's head with his foot and John sighed in defeat. Masako had closed her eyes with a smirk and lifted a hand to her mouth. Ayako had rolled her eyes and Lin had snorted. Luella and Madoka had chuckled and shaken their heads from where they sat between Lin and Naru. And Martin had just arrived to join them.

Everything felt right. The only one missing was Gene, but Mai was certain it was him reflected in the water in front of Naru, judging by the smirk he wore.

And she felt truly at home for the first time in a very long while.

Neither Naru or Lin informed Mai that day that all the footage from the night previous, recorded by Lin himself, had been practically useless up until the point of Catherine's appearance. Though Lin had dropped the camera at that point it had still fallen in such a way that it caught sight of the woman just as she entered the room and recorded the conversation afterwards. The moment Catherine had arrived the camera had started working at full capacity with no interruptions.

They did not tell her that day but it would be mentioned later down the road when they had finally returned to Japan and things had fallen back into the old routine. They did not tell her but Mai already knew. Just as she knew that it had been her mother who visited her the night she drowned, who wished her good night, and later laughed at her silent question. Just as she knew it had been Naru who had given her Gene back. And where it was Prudence's body was located. Just as she knew it was Naru calling her on the phone all those days ago to offer her her old job back.

She just knew.

And she smiled.