6 months earlier
Two weeks. That's how long he'd subjected himself to this torture. If it wasn't Lin reminding him just how fragile he was by kicking his ass in the Dojo, it was Martin or Luella following him around, scrutinizing his every movement. Hell, even Mai had given him a concerned look when he'd excused himself from the conversation to go to the bathroom.
That was the last straw. He'd had enough of their coddling. But just as he rose from his chair at the dining room table he heard a deep accented voice ask, "Oliver?"
Noll turned to glare at the source of the offending voice, quite unsurprised to find the clear brown eyes of their butler staring innocently back at him. "What?" he growled, wincing. His throat wasn't healing nearly as fast as he'd wanted it to; the bruises that peeked from under his turtle neck were a testament to that.
The blonde butler smiled innocently, ignoring the obvious contempt in the teen's voice. "Would you like some tea?"
Noll sighed, allowing his eyes to flicker to the short brunette sitting at the other end of the table.
James watched the exchange with a knowing smile, setting down a steaming cup of brown liquid. "Forgive me. Miss Mai seems a bit busy."
He had to admit the butler was right. Mai was occupied with her English lesson with Luella, working on her "L"'s and "R"'s with some difficulty. Her accent was much better from when he met her and she had the pronunciation down perfect but there was something weird about hearing her voice in English instead of Japanese.
It was off putting to say the least. And now that he was looking at her, really looking at her, he could see the small scrapes across her cheeks and arms that had been the result of that morning's Qigong lesson. Noll clenched his jaw. What was Lin doing to give her those? Qigong was supposed to be all about controlling Qi and mediation-
"Start reading through the files," Martin's voice echoed down the hall, tearing Noll's attention back to the present. He hadn't even heard the door open. "I'll be right back."
Noll rose to his full height as the Professor glided into the room, dark eyes glittering with hope. Work sounded like a wonderful distraction. "You have a case?"
Martin pushed his glasses up higher on his nose, brushing past his glowering son to kiss his wife on the forehead. "Good morning,"
Noll watched the professor make a cup of coffee, "What kind of case?"
"We're having a debriefing in the living room." Martin offered, making his way out of the kitchen. "Please refrain from disturbing us ー and that means you, Oliver." Unfortunately Noll had already been hot on his heels. His adopted father halted in the doorway, spinning on his heel so fast it took all the teen had not to collide with him. He appraised the dark haired teen for a moment before asking, "How's your leg?"
Surprise flashed across his face but it was gone in the next moment as Noll schooled his face into a blank expression. His dark eyes glared at his father figure, trying not to hear the true meaning behind the question. If he were being completely honest, the wound on his leg was all but healed into a wide, crescent-shaped, purple scar but still pretty tender. "It's fine."
"And you're neck?"
"Noll, sweetheart," Luella soothed, crossing the room to rest a hand on her son's back. "Why don't you help me with Mai'sー"
Noll jerked away from her touch, folding his arms across his chest. He could feel his power swelling beneath his fingertips, making the phone just feet away tremble on its cradle. "What are you getting at?"
Martin tucked the manila folder tighter under his arm. "What I'm saying is that the safest place for you right now, is here Oliver. Where the staff can keep an eye on you. You're in no shape for the type of dangerous situation this case seems to be."
His world froze. "Butー"
"No." The Professor's voice was firm, unwavering. He met his son's troubled blue eyes with his grey ones. "As your boss, I am officially putting you on leave."
"You can't do that."
"And as you're father, Oliver," Martin gave a smile that it didn't reach his eyes. "you're grounded. Two weeks."
Grounded. Grounded. Noll knew his mouth had dropped open, his hands clenched into fists. The faraway sound of something crashing to the floor barely registered as he stood there, grappling for some kind of retort but his wit had all but abandoned him. Never in his life had Martin ever showed one ounce of parental authority over him. "You can't ー I am 17 years oldー"
"Yes you are. Now go to your room before I make it a month."
Noll couldn't help it. The taunt his brother and himself had often used as children slipped from his lips before he could stop it. "Yes, father."
As he turned his back to head toward the back stairway he heard Martin bark at the blonde butler who had watched the scene from the kitchen. "James?"
"Make sure he stays there."
With an uncharacteristic shriek of frustration, Noll bounded up the stairs before he could say something he would regret. There was nothing he would have liked more than to call his pseudo-parent every dirty word he could think of ー in English and Japanese. But he held himself back, instead taking his anger out on slamming his bedroom door as hard as he possibly could.
He seethed, pacing back and forth across his room, so focused on how unfair it was that he didn't hear the door open.
Noll nearly fell over himself in an attempt to look like he hadn't been doing what it was obvious he was doing. When he realized it was only Mai, he resumed his pacing. "Can you believe he just did that? Eight years ー eight years! And now is when he decides to start acting like my father. After Gene's deadー"
"You really think that?" Mai cut him off, agitation and disbelief flashing in her cinnamon eyes.
"What?" He found himself saying, then felt the need to kick himself. How could he have forgotten? His anger at Martin had dimmed his grip on his mental barrier, allowing Mai to hear all of his thoughts. That was probably why she was glaring at him.
She flinched in the half-second it took for him to reinforce the barrier.
"Stop being so childish, Naru!"
Noll froze. Childish? He didn't think he was being childish.
Mai took advantage of his stunned silence, crossing the room to poke her finger into his chest. "You have no idea what your parents are going through!" She jabbed him so hard Noll found himself stumbling backwards as he watched tears dribble down her cheeks. "Your brother was murdered and now ー now someone's after you too and you don't even care. We're all just worried about you, you big dummy!"
Maybe it was the fact that no one but his brother had ever called him stupid before, or maybe it seemed like the only way to make her stop yelling, but kissed her. Noll cupped his hands on either side of her face and leaned down, catching her lips with his own.
He groaned, unable to stop himself from pulling her in closer. When he was finally able to get his barrings enough to pull away, Mai wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him back down. After the shock of it, his hands found her hips, molding her body to his. He breathed her in; the artificial scent of lilacs from her shampoo. The lingering tang of citrus on her breath.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Noll vowed to never let Mai stop eating fruit. The taste of it on her was... intoxicating.
Her thoughts were quiet as she pulled away, just far enough to catch her breath. "Naruー"
"I know," he captured her lips one last time before resting his forehead against hers. "I do care, Mai. And I'm... I'm terrified. What if Martin had been in the room? Or you? I wouldn't have been able to protect either of you."
"We're supposed to be the ones doing the protecting," she giggled, fiddling with a lock of his hair. "And who knows. If we had been there, it probably wouldn't have happened at all. You wouldn't have these bruises."
A frown tugged at her lips as her fingers trailed hot over his exposed neck. He could see dark blotches spread over his skin through her eyes. He looked pathetic.
"I promise ー I'll be more careful."
A wide smile broke out on Mai's face. Her big cinnamon eyes sparkled in the dim light of his bedroom. "Domo arigatou,"
"But only if you promise toー"
As if reading his mind, Mai pushed herself back on her tiptoes and not even the stolen kiss in SPR's storage room compared to the one she gave him then. It was soft, sweet, and sent electric shivers down his spine. A content sigh escaped him. They could have stayed like that all night if Luella hadn't called them down for dinner.