Noll stretched out on the couch, grateful for the time alone. It seemed ever since he'd been discharged from the hospital Luella had developed separation anxiety.
She hovered over him for hours, giving any excuse to coax him from his room or accompany him in Martin's study. It was annoying, exhausting, and, more often than not, led to this argument:
"I am not a child."
"I know, dear." She half smiled, tucking a loose blonde curl behind her ear. "I just feel better knowing you're not alone."
"It isn't necessary."
She sighed and dropped the cup she had been washing back in the sink. "Just bear with me, Noll, please. It's been difficult for all of us."
He turned the page of the Parapsychology book and tried to concentrate. "Yes, mother."
Then Martin would interrupt with: "Don't mock her, Oliver." And they would call a truce for the day.
Eventually even Martin had grown irritated with the shenanigans and coaxed Luella from the house with a bit of shopping. Of course, Masako and Ayako were chosen as the honored guests for said shopping trip. And Monk, Father Brown, and Yasuhara had quickly realized the game and left to see some of the popular 'historical sights' England had to offer.
Noll thought it was an answered prayer.
So he spent a few hours sulking in his room, but eventually gave in to his growing hunger and skulked down to the kitchen. The house staff had left early but there was plenty of left-over's wrapped carefully in the refrigerator for him to pick through. However, Noll being Noll, he ignored the food and settled on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a handful of Andes mints.
He unwrapped one and let it melt on his tongue. Chocolate and mint. Not completely satisfying but enough to trick his queasy stomach into silence.
Noll swallowed, quickly replacing it with another. The sweet tang soothed him, working with the serenity of the quiet manor, until his dark blue eyes became heavy lidded. He tried to blink away the lethargy but sleep had been hard to come by in recent days.
He thought if he fought it much longer, the insomnia would warrant another round of therapy sessions ー and he was pretty sure that would only drive him more insane.
So as the fresh Andes bar coated his tongue, he let his eyes fall shut.
7 months earlier
Ten months. That's how long it took Noll to find the body of his brother. He tried not to think of the state the body had been in. Instead he leaned against the tree and tried not to think at all.
The moment Gene's body had been found Noll had taken it upon himself to identify it. Luella was already in tears but one look at her remaining son's grave face brought on a new wave. Martin had merely given him a curt nod in understanding.
Then Noll left. He couldn't stand to watch his brother be loaded into a body bag for the mortician to examine later. He walked into the woods by the forest, hoping for some peace, but what he found was Mai.
She spun around, eyes wide when she saw him. She looked back at the tree then at him, confusion in her eyes. He dropped his gaze to the ground. "What's wrong?"
"Naru?" Mai questioned. "You really are... Naru, right?"
"What kind of question is that?"
Mai's cheeks tinted red. "I-I'm not sure... I-If you're you, then who was the Naru who was here until now?"
Noll froze, fighting the irritation that bubbled in his chest. He just wanted to be alone. "Who was here?"
"Naru, I was talking to you until a second ago."
He glared at the ground before sighing. "You were dreaming."
"No I wasn't," Mai huffed, pointing back towards the tree. "I was definitely awake. It looked like the usual dreams I have, but it wasn't."
Noll felt his curiosity getting the better of him. He crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at the ground. "Usual dream?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mai jump and cover her mouth with her hands. "What was that?"
"N-nothing! Just a dream!"
"It doesn't concern you."
"It didn't sound that way. I was in it?" A blush threatened to creep up Noll's neck but he restrained it. Mai was dreaming about him?
"It doesn't concern you!"
"I don't think so."
"Y-you don't have to know."
"You don't have to hide it."
"I..." Mai wrapped her arms around herself as Noll took a few steps closer. "I'm not hiding!... I had a dream with you, Naru!" Mai's hands were clenched into tiny fists, her eyes full of fire staring straight at him.
Noll couldn't help it. He tilted his head in an almost childish way, feeling the frown on his lips as he looked at Mai. "...with me?"
"Y-yeah... But it couldn't be you, not really. The Naru in my dreams is always smiling... and kind."
"ーkind?" Mai's brown eyes focused on his blue ones and all at once the images came to him. Images of him, smiling, telling her it was alright. Images of them in the cave next to the house from the last case with Naru holding her hand, guiding her through the mystery...
No. That wasn't him. His heart stuttered. His knees suddenly felt like jelly as he looked at the girl before him. "You said you were... talking to him until a second ago?"
Mai nodded but didn't say anything. She didn't need to. Noll could hear every thought that raced through her mind.
I know it was just wishful thinking ーNaru could never smile like that. Just when I was beginning to think Naru visited my dreams on purposeー
"I can't leave my body, Mai. I don't have that gift."
Her eyes went wide. Can you hear me? Are you reading myー
"When did this start?"
The dreams? Since... since I met you.
His eyes narrowed. "It's not me."
"That's not me. That was Gene." He rubbed his temples. "Eugene..."
No way! It was you! Even if you were siblings I would never mistake you forー
"We were twins Mai. If we were expressionless, no one could tell us apart."
But... your older brother's... deー
He looked away from Mai, breaking the connection. He had heard enough.
There was a moment of silence and then: "You can hear my thoughts, can't you?"
Noll thought about not answering her. He could just turn around and leave her to her own devices, but he would have to tell her sooner or later. So he nodded.
Mai's expression dimmed. "Is this because of theー"
"Connection. Bond. Psychic Link."
His head hurt. Bad. He pinched the spot between his eyes, hoping to ward it off.
"Wait. How come I can't hear yours?"
It took a lot out of him to keep his eyes off the confused girl but he needed the peace of mind. So he turned his back to her. "I can block you out; you'll learn how. Eventually."
"I'm done here, Mai. I expect to see you at the office tomorrow, on time."
The next morning, Noll didn't know what to do but he was hell bent on not leaving his office until he figured it out. The familiar roll and click of the filing cabinet was a constant reminder that Mai was there, just on the other side of that door.
The sound also reminded him that he seriously needed tea, but he pushed it away. Figuring this out was more important. He only had a few hours left.
On her own, Mai had abilities that BSPR only dreamed of studying and would be accepted there without a thought. But paired with their psychic link, Mai became more than a study subject; she became an invaluable asset to his research.
But would she be willing to leave Japan? To him, England was only a twelve hour flight away but to her, it might as well have been another planet.
Noll pushed his head into his hands and thought until his head pounded. Screw it. He'd get the damned tea himself.
He rose from his chair and made his way to the small kitchenette, but not before palming a thick book. Rounding the corner he could see his assistant, short with a brown bob and questionable fashion sense.
Mai had jumped when the door to Noll's office creaked open.
Speak of the devil. Her thoughts hummed beneath his own the moment he crossed the threshold of his office. Either the bond was getting stronger or she was thinking incredibly loud.
Noll sighed and took a few steps out of his dark office, regarding Mai with an incredulous look. "Here," he said, tossing a thick book to the unsuspecting girl. She reached out just in time to stop it from sliding off the desk. "You'll need it."
Her brown eyes went wide then furrowed, lips moving as she attempted to read the title: The English Language for Dummies.
Noll bit back a yelp of surprise. Mai's mind raced, muddling his own thoughts with questions she debated on asking and comments she would never say aloud. He was trying to siphon through them, a hand on his temple, when he noticed Mai's eyes on him.
This one thought rang above the rest of the noise. He let a sardonic smirk slip onto his lips as he retreated into his office.
We're going to England.
Mai's eyes couldn't have gotten any bigger. Noll's thought echoed in her head as she stared back down at the book. English? She was going to have to learn English?
Not that she was a complete idiot. She'd paid attention in school to know enough of the language to get by. At least, she thought so.
Noll pressed his forehead against the cool wood of his office door. In the rush of his decision, he'd forgotten the tea. "Maiー"
"Get your own tea!"
Two hours later Mai had given in and made her boss his Earl Grey, which he sipped at eagerly, though now all he could focus on was her nervous presence. It was almost too simple to sense her standing there, outside his door.
Uncertainty practically dripped off of her. C'mon Mai, he can't shoot you down if you don't ASK, he heard her tell herself. He would have chuckled if it hadn't been so aggravating.
"If you're not going to come in, then leave. You're disturbing my work, Mai."
The girl made an embarrassed noise but pushed the door open anyway. "Uh, N-Naru? Can I talk to you?"
Noll sat at his desk, an open file in hand. His head was tilted, resting against his propped up fist. He didn't even blink at his assistant as she meandered inside. "I suppose it's better than your hovering outside my office."
Mai glared at him, taking a calming breath. "I'll go to England."
Noll scoffed. "If you're here to state the obviousー"
"But I have one stipulation."
This made him raise an eyebrow. He studied her out of the corner of his eye, pressing to read her thoughts. But they were still just a flurry of information so he quickly retreated.
Mai only hesitated for a moment before deciding that that was her boss's way of showing interest. "There are only two months left before school breaks for winter," she said, leveling her gaze on him, "I will stay in Japan until then."
Mai nearly fell over. "You do?" Up until then, Mai had been under the impression that she and Noll would be on the next flight out of the country. Now, seeing the disturbing lack of packed material scattered around the office, she mentally kicked herself.
Noll sighed and placed the thick file on his desk, rising to his feet. "Yes, Mai. I never expected you to drop out of school." He thought he should add an insult but decided against it. He needed Mai to come to England and pissing her off was not going to make it easier. "However, your stay in England will exceed the length of the break. I will arrange for you to continue your schooling there, instead."
She hadn't been expecting that. Her eyes grew wide in shock and her mouth formed a ring as she tugged at the hem of her skirt and whispered. "Oh."
He had to admit he felt bad for tearing her away from her studies and her friends, but it was dangerous for the both of them to be apart long. Noll diverted his attention to the wall clock in an attempt to stop that thought before it had time to simmer and slipped his jacket on. "Was there anything else? I have a flight to catch."
She shook her head, eyes sad. Then, not even a second later, a crimson blush crossed her cheeks.
Noll regarded her with a curious look as he brushed past her to the door. "Two months, Mai," was all he said before he was gone.
Ja matta, Naru, she thought gloomily. Then a small smile spread over her as she heard his voice chime in her head.