He looks the same as he did the last time she'd seen him, except for a few bumps and bruises perhaps. His hair is longer; his bangs falling into his eyes in a way she knows must be uncomfortable, and he's skinnier, as if he hasn't been eating properly.
The bags under his dull blue eyes are so prominent they nearly resemble bruises. So he hasn't been sleeping, either.
He looks the same, but it is immediately obvious that this is not the Naru she used to know. She immediately thought of the last time she'd seen him, er, the last time she remembered seeing him. His presence had screamed confidence in the way only his could and he hadn't been afraid to touch her.
Afraid to look at her. Tears well in her brown eyes. Is that Naru gone… forever?
Those dark blue eyes are wide as he stares at her, obviously surprised to see her. Something in her gut tells her that he doesn't want to see her and maybe that's why he didn't bother to come see her at the hospital. But her heart lurches at the thought and she shoves it to the back of her mind. It has to be something else.
But that frightened look on his face is hard to ignore. And the way he flinched when she smiled at him, as if he'd expected her to say something else.
She is still waiting on him to say something when it hit that she doesn't know how long it has been since he's spoken Japanese. Maybe he hadn't understood her. "Uhh," she tries again in rusty English. "How are you?"
He recoils at the sound of her voice, taking a shaky step back into the noisy hall but Lin is blocking the only exit, forcing Naru back into the office. Back toward her.
Sadness pinches her heart at the absolute terror in that one word. He studies her for a long moment, his wide blue eyes tracing down her face and figure, lingering on her stomach. She squirms under his scrutiny, reaching out with her free hand to fidget with a forgotten pen on his desk.
She raises her eyes to meet his but he looks away quickly, diverting his gaze to the pen she's nervously tapping on his desk.
Is he afraid of her?
Ever since she woke up she had this feeling that something was missing. She wondered why she was in a hospital bed and why none of the Nurses would tell her where Naru was or what happened to him.
Something is wrong, her intuition kept whispering, where is he? Then the pain hit and it was hard to concentrate on anything that wasn't the throbbing pain in her abdomen. It felt like someone had taken her insides and stomped on them before throwing them in a blender for good measure. She cried out for someone and the Nurses gave her another dose of pain medication, but the pain was still there, on the edges of her consciousness.
Just like that feeling… the feeling that something was missing.
Even after her friends had shown up to comfort her, none of them could explain what had happened.
When she asked for Naru, all of their faces darkened. Even John Brown, the Catholic Priest who couldn't hurt a fly, looked uncomfortable at the name. Still, nobody offered an explanation and that feeling in her gut only grew stronger.
Where was Naru?
The sound of the door shutting jars Mai out of her memory and it vaguely registers that Lin must have decided to give them some time to talk. But talking looks like the last thing Naru wants to do.
His face is even more pale and ashen than it had been when he first walked in. And his eyes are hidden behind his bangs and his fists are balled at his sides. She realizes with a pang that he's shaking.
But she hadn't said anything.
Oh, she realizes with a pang of guilt. She didn't have to. Her thoughts gave her away.
He whets his lips, the baritone of his voice loud in the silence. "You… don't remember?"
He had been afraid, no terrified of how she would deal with what had happened to them. Absolutely terrified she wouldn't be able to deal with it, or that she would blame him. But not remembering... that is somehow worse.
Noll forces himself to take a deep breath.
"No," Mai's voice is barely above a whisper and he has to strain to hear it. "I don't."
This can't be happening. For months he has mauled over the idea of Mai hating him, of her casting him from her life because of the things he had done. But he has never once thought of the idea that she could not remember.
And he hates himself for the joy that spread through him the moment he read her thoughts; the moment he realized she wouldn't hate him.
God, he is so pathetic.
His fingernails are starting to pinch the skin of his palm but he doesn't care. He turns his back to her, afraid the emotions he might see on her face. He was ready for her to yell at him, for all the nasty things she might say. Noll leans breathlessly against the bookcase as fear and panic and dread all wash over him.
For the third time in his life, he doesn't know what to do.
"Yell at me."
"I'm sorry?" Mai leans forward in her seat, her eyebrows rising. She flinches back when Noll suddenly whips around, anger clear on his face.
She has never seen him so… raw.
"Yell at me! Tell me you hate me!" He yells, raking a hand through his hair. His voice breaks with the effort it takes to speak. "Tell me ー tell me to kill myself, I don't care. Just don't… don't smile at me…"
Mai is quiet, mouth open as she watches the dark boy break apart in front of her. "Naruー" she tries but winces when the sudden movement tugs uncomfortably on her stitches.
Noll stands rigid, watching her breathe through the pain. "I did this to you." He whispers, voice thick with the tears that fall over his cheeks.
When he doesn't say anything else, just stands there still as a statue, she fixes him with a steady gaze, voice filled with pain that has nothing to do with the wound in her stomach. "What happened, Naru?"
What made you like this?
He swallows the lump gathering in his throat and shakes his head violently from side to side, as if trying to expel her thoughts from his mind. His hands bunch into fists at his sides. "You don't need to know."
"You don't need to hide it from me."
Noll scoffs pitifully, feeling every bit like he has had this conversation before. Except now, it's Mai doing the interrogating. "I'm not hiding anything..." he mumbles, raking a hand threw his already disheveled hair. He turns slowly back to her, fixing that stoic mask back on his face. "Are you in pain?"
Mai shakes her head, "It's… it's nothing, really."
"It'sー" she tries again, but the fierce expression in his eyes stops her. "A little."
He seethes on the inside but skillfully keeps his face blank. "Let's go, I'll take you home."
She pauses, studying him. Then she dissolves into laughter. "That's the Naru I know." Noll doesn't say anything but stares across the desk at her, face impassive. This lack of emotion sends Mai into a fit of giggles that ends with her bent over at the waist, clutching her stomach with tears shining at the corner of her eyes.
Noll is kneeling beside her in a moment, blue eyes wide with worry. He reaches out to to steady her but stops, thinking better of it. "You shouldn't be out if your still in pain, Mai."
The brunette half-heartedly swats him away. "I'm fine, really. It only hurts when I laugh."
He watches her giggle for another minute, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She looks...happy despite the horrors he knew she'd been through, even if she doesn't remember.
The thought strikes him: Even if he wanted to tell her, he doesn't think he can. Not if it means she wouldn't smile or laugh like that again.
He can't take that from her. "Let's go."