Noll blinks slowly up at the white ceiling, his vision blurry with unshed tears. When did he become such a cry baby? The ghost of Mai's lips still lingers on his own and he fought the urge to wipe them on the back of his hand. He would relive the memories of being strangled and beaten a million times over if it meant he didn't have to remember moments like those. Moments when Mai smiled at him with no hint of fear or anguish in her eyes; where she was lively and her porcelain skin held no reminders of the torment she'd endured because of him.
Because of him.
"Are you alright?"
"Fine," he says too quickly, voice coming out more defensive than he had meant it to. Noll clears his throat and adjusts himself on the plush couch. Feelings like those are the reason he's in therapy in the first place. "I'm fine."
Doctor Arainn studies him with narrowed eyes, leaning forward in her chair to get a better view of his face. "You are in no place to lie to me, Oliver. Opening statements are in less than 48 hours. If you've got something to say, now is the time to say it."
Noll rolls his eyes, looking anywhere but where he could meet her gaze. She is right, of course. But when he starts to form the words, a twinge in his gut keeps his mouth shut. After everything he has already shared with this woman, he still couldn't bring himself to say it. Not to her, not to anyone. And especially not to himself.
It's too painful.
Both parties blink in confusion as the unmistakable ring, ring, ring of a cell phone breaks the silence. Noll feels relief at the interruption but puts on a show of glaring at his jacket hanging harmlessly on hook by the door. "They should know not to call me."
"You should answer it." Arainn says, closing her notebook with a snap, "Our session is nearly over anyway."
Noll eyes his therapist before leaping off the couch to catch his phone on the last ring. "What is it?" He growls.
"Noll," Lin rasps from the other end of the line. Noll recognizes the proceeding static garble as the Chinese man breathing into the receiver as he says something unintelligible.
He knows he really shouldn't but Noll can't stop himself from running; sprinting through the Hospital atrium and completely ignoring the shouts from the front desk as he passes. Excitement and terror are warring in his chest, fighting for dominance until he isn't sure whether he wants to laugh or scream.
Noll misses the elevator by seconds but he can't stand to wait for the next one, so he keeps on, bursting into the stairwell and taking them three at a time. His lungs are burning by the time he reaches the third floor, his heart thrumming hard in his chest but he doesn't slow. He rounds a corner, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a stray hospital bed, when he hears a loud, familiar laugh.
"In your dreams, Hōshō!" Matsuzaki-san's high, boisterous voice meets Noll halfway down the hall, followed closely by the soft murmurings he can't entirely make out.
He stumbles to a halt in front of the open door, panting as dread pools in his stomach. Nurses bustles in and out of the room, casting him nervous glances when he barely makes a move to get out of their way.
Everyone is already there, backs turned toward him, filling the small room as they huddle around the single bed and its occupant. No one notices him standing there, wishing he could be part of it. But Noll felt completely alone, leaning against the beige wall for support as he caught his breath. He'd never run so fast in his life, but now he was here, separated only by an open door and a handful of familiar faces, he didn't know what to do.
No one had heard him, no one had seen him. He could leave and no one would never know he was here.
Didn't he deserve this?
He could visit her every Wednesday while she was unconscious but that had been easy. She couldn't judge him; there could be no look accusation in her eyes whenever she saw his face. She had been incapacitated and the coward he was took solace in that fact until he was able to forget that she was here because of him.
And now she is awake, smiling and laughing and swapping playfully bitter retorts with Hara-san, and he just can't do it.
He isn't strong enough for this.
Will she hate him? This question whirls around in his brain, dizzying him into taking a step back. Someone growls angrily at him, shouting for him to watch where he's going. How can she not hate him after all that he'd done to her... or had been unable to do.
Noll sucks in a deep breath, feeling his stomach do an angry flip as he pushes away from the wall. He knows full well that he will have to face Mai eventually; incur her wrath sooner or later, and he is ready for that. But he isn't ready to let his world come crumbling down with an audience that already made it clear he deserves every minute of it.
No. He'd already waited five months. He could wait a few more hours.
He turns on his heel, heart beating loud in his ears as he flits away from the hospital room as fast as he had arrived.
Though, through the wild, directionless thoughts that fill his head, he could have sworn he heard her voice calling his name.
"Noll?" Lin calls. The young scientist flinches, ducking back into the hallway the moment he recognizes that look on the Chinese man's face. He immediately feels guilty, but really, Noll could go without getting his ass kicked today. "Noll!"
Somehow he managed to avoid speaking to anyone after the fiasco at the hospital and he is thankful for that. Until he woke early to go to the work for the first time in months and Martin spent the entirety of the trip talking about how well Mai looked and how cheery she was even after everything. And how all she wanted was to see him.
Yeah, he could have gone without knowing that. Especially today. He needs to put his thoughts in order; to ready himself to relive the nightmare he had been put through – and Mai was still going through.
Tomorrow is the trial. Tomorrow the whole world will know exactly what he'd been through and all the questions would finally stop.
His heart stuttered. I can't do this…
Yes. You. Can.
Noll nearly trips over his own unsteady feet as he forces his mind back to the file in his hand. Poltergeist activity, that's something he can deal with.
"Oliver Ethan Christopher Davis." A shiver runs the length of his spine as he remembers Lin who, apparently, isn't above the full name thing to get the teens attention.
He pretends to actually be reading the file, feigning a sense of urgency as he redoubles his pace. "I'm working," he offers over his shoulder.
The Chinese man huffs what could pass as a laugh, "You and I both know that's a lie."
Noll decides it is best not to grace him with a reply. He gnashes his teeth together as they turn a corner, bringing him that much closer to the sanctity of his office.
"The Aldridge case?" Lin observes, reading the tap on the side of the manila folder. "The professor is letting you take cases again?"
He frowns, holding the file tighter and not at all liking the dubious tone in his mentor's voice. "Not exactly." He explains. In reality, he had all but stolen the file off one of the Intern's docket when she wasn't paying attention.
Lin sighs but makes no move to take the file. "You really should be taking it easy." He says, earning a glare from his young charge. The two delve into an uncomfortable silence as they walk but Noll can't shake the feeling that there is something Lin isn't saying.
He growls under his breath as the pair rounds another corner, walking the catwalk that leads through the bullpen and to the private offices. "Is there something else you need to say?"
"No," he says with a sense of finality that makes Noll even more suspicious.
He casts a sideways glance at the tall man and pauses feet from the dark wooden door with his name plastered over the front. "You're just escorting me to my office." He counters in sarcastic disbelief.
"You could say that," Lin's says slowly, dark eyes full of something Noll couldn't put his finger on.
"It's unnecessary," he chides, sending one last suspicious glance over his shoulder and pushes the door open.
"Oh," the Chinese man says, as if he has just remembered the real reason why he had followed Noll to his office and the teen can practically hear the smile in his voice as he says, "There's someone here to see you."
Noll freezes in his tracks, the file tumbling from his gasp and scattering at his feet. His head spins, heart thrumming in his ears as he stands in the doorway, barely sticking out his hand in time to stop the heavy door from swinging back and hitting him square in the face.
His gut twists into a tight, nervous knot at the sight of that short-haired brunette grinning at him from behind his desk. Her cheeks are flushed as if he had surprised her, even though she is in his office, and as he takes her in he can't help but notice the way she hunches slightly, one arm wrapping protectively around her stomach.
The disarming smile fell into a shy grin at his silence and when she speaks it's in heavily accented Japanese. "Konnichiwa, Naru."