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Beyond Measure

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Session 13
Epitaph

Present day

Noll would have called a cab if Lin hadn't been so insistent on driving them himself. He sits awkwardly in the backseat of the SUV, alone, because he absolutely refused to allow Mai to sit anywhere but the passenger's seat where she could sit comfortably.

The silence is only broken by the low murmuring of the radio playing some type of rock music in the background. Noll pushed his fists into his eyes, trying to quell the thoughts racing through his throbbing head. It doesn't help. There are a million things he wishes he could say to Mai, some just to fill the silence, some more personal, but none he is prepared to say in front of Lin. He sighs.

He really should have called a cab.

They roll to a stop as they wait to pass through the gates to the Manor and chills run up his spine at the sight of the daunting structure. Why, why, why had he insisted in bringing her here, to the one place they could never have a private moment? He clenches his jaw. Stupid, stupid brain.

The second Lin jams the SUV into park, Noll pushes his fear to the back of his mind and jumps out, scurrying to help Mai as she stumbles from the vehicle. "Are you all right?" He asks in a low voice as soon as both her sneakered feet are firmly on the ground. "Does it hurt?"

"Naru, I swear," Mai mumbles under her breath, adjusting her jacket where it draped off her shoulder. She can't help but notice the way the dark teen came to her rescue and yet refused to touch her. He always stays a measured distance away, just close enough that he can save her if she needs it but far enough to keep it impersonal. "If you ask me that one more time..."

"Sorry," he offers softly and the young brunette would have stopped in her tracks to soak in the novelty to Oliver Davis apologizing if she hadn't already heard him say it thirty times before; when he'd asked if she was okay taking the stairs to the garage, or again if her abdomen hurt getting into the SUV.

No matter how many times she tells him she is fine.

Mai moves through the open front door, oblivious to the hesitation in Noll's decision to follow her, and slides out of her shoes. Lin disappears to park the car properly, leaving the two alone in the foyer.

"Would you like some tea?" She asks, half-turning to see the dark teen hovering by the door, his blue eyes betraying nothing as he cautiously slipped out of his shoes, not making a sound. He looks up at the sound of her voice and seems to consider her offer before shaking his head. Since when does Naru is refuse tea? Her tea? She remembers the last time she'd made it for him, he had all but complained that she didn't make it often enough. And here he is now, refusing it?

Mai narrows her eyes, focusing on him and what thoughts he could possibly be hiding from her, but his barrier is firmly in place and her attempts are simply swatted away. The notion makes her uncomfortable even as the boy turns away from her, toward the stairs. "Naru, what's wrong?"

He shrugs, suddenly looking very, very uncomfortable and smaller than he had at the office. When he speaks, it's quiet and devoid of any emotion, like he's said it a million times before. "I'm fineー"

"Mai?" A familiar voice calls down the hall.

Noll jumps at the sound, staring in the direction of the voice like a deer caught in headlights.

"Naru?"

His wide blue eyes flit to hers, full of apprehension and... fear? Then he's back in motion, not bothering to slip out of his jacket before scrambling to reach the stairs in time. "I'll be in my room," he offers quickly over his shoulder.

He manages to get up a few steps before Mai has time to react, reaching out to stop him ー but she teeters off balance, pain streaking through her insides like lightening. She yips, watching and unable to stop herself from hurtling towards the hard wood floor. She braces herself for impact.

Strong arms wrap around her shoulders, catching her. They pull her gently back to her feet, helping her find her balance. "Thank-Thank you," she mutters through the veil of waning pain. The arms tighten; careful not to touch anything but her clothes as they hold her secure for another moment and then fall away.

But she can still feel his lingering assurance of his presence beside her, and the warmth of his breath on her ear as he asks, "Are you okay?"

She sucks in a deep breath, breathing in the peppery aroma of Earl Grey and the pine scent of his aftershave, and she doesn't have to look at his face to know it is Noll who saved her from falling. Or that he is still so incredibly close.

"Hey!" That same familiar voice shouts. Mai jerks away from Noll, turning to see Bou-san standing in the archway, watching them with his fists clenched at his sides. The anger is plain on his face. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Noll fell silent, taking a few cautionary paces back from the brunette, but it's too late. Takigawa crosses the space in two strides, grabbing the teen by the collar and forcing him back against the wall. Noll let out a strangled cry, instinct kicking in as he locked his hands on the Monks wrists, trying to pry his fingers from his shirt.

Bou-san only tightens his grip, holding him firm against the wall with his forearm pressing into his windpipe. "Touch her again and I'll make you wish you died in that basement."

"Bou-san!"

"Iー" Noll chokes but Takigawa cuts him off, pulling back just far enough to slam him back into the wall. Stars exploded behind the teen's eyes, the room starting to spin.

"You have no right toー"

"Bou-san, stop it!" Mai screeches, pulling on the monk's arm as tears run down pink her cheeks.

Just over the monk's shoulder, Noll can see the rest of the team gathered in the arch way, faces a mix of disbelief (for Takigawa), pity (for Mai), and condemnation (for him). No one moves to interfere, no one speaks. They just watch as Noll struggles to pull in enough air, lips turning a pale shade of blue. He scrambles to pull back the monk's arm, but his fingers are numbing, the fight leaving him.

His arms fall limp at his sides as he gasps, "Pl...ease..."

Bou-san ignores his choked plea but he can't ignore the short brunette grappling with his unyielding hold. "Please," she echoes. He heard her voice through a filter, his heart pounding heard in his ears, "let him go…"

He meets the monk's dark glare, sees the anger leaving them. Then he feels himself sliding. His chest spasms, angry at being deprived of air for too long. It hurt, but he can barely feel the pain as his eyes flutter, unable to focus any longer.

There's a shrill buzzing in his ear as Noll is vaguely aware of his knees hitting the floor, or of Mai hovering in front of him, reaching for him. And then of Lin, dashing in just as her frigid fingers meets his burning hot cheek.

Ice water.

He flinches, watching Mai's eyes darken and the life leaving them as Lin pulls her away. But it's too late. He can feel her pain before it twists her face into a grimace, her scream echoing in his ears.

The sound falls off into a whimper as she clutches her chest, bending at the waist to rest her forehead on the cold tile.

Noll let out a pathetic squeak, willing himself to reach out for her, to take away the pain, but his legs won't move. Blackness is ebbing into his vision, a sweet promise of peace and silence, but he fights it back. He pushes it back, focusing on the girl writhing just feet away from him. He needs to do something.

Mai looks up at him, face pinched in pain. She clenches a hand at her chest but the other reaches out for him. "Naruー"

He can't move, his breath frozen in his lungs.

Bou-san takes a step between, his harsh command muffled by the incessant buzzing. "Don't touch her!"

The shout hit Noll like a ton of bricks. He jerks back into himself, watching Mai flinch too, obvious pain in her eyes. "Bou-san, don'tー" It isn't until now that Noll sees the thin wisps of white energy dancing in the air between them, connecting them. Bonding them. Mai jerks again, her body unable to absorb his energy like Gene's could.

She isn't ready.

The thought hits him hard as he stares up at the faces of his employees, his family, his friends aghast with fear. Fear of him; of what he could do.

The darkness makes another grab for him and this time, he doesn't bother to fight it.
.
.

When he opens his eyes again, it isn't exactly what he is expecting. Instead of the speckled pattern of the white ceiling of the entryway, he is met with the misty, grey overcast sky and a looming stone archway.

He stares blankly at the single word engraved at the top:

CEMETERY.

Am I dead?

Noll folds his arms cross his chest, shivering in the nonexistent cold. He turns on his heel, looking for any other kind of landmark, but he couldn't see anything through the mist. Despite his better judgment, Noll found himself slipping through the cracks, disappearing into the dark cemetery.

He takes a deep shuttering breath, watching as it fogs in the air. Hundreds of gravestones surround him, a sight that would have normally made him uncomfortable. Now he only feels relief. At least here, he won't hurt anyone.

His chest aches with the thought of what Mai must have been going through. If he was dead, surely she would be too. His power is much too much for her… there is no way she could survive such a direct connection…

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows it was inevitable. It was always going to end this way, since the day they found Gene's body. Neither of them were meant to survive this.

And it's all your fault.
You killed her.

Noll shakes his head, pushing those nasty thoughts to the back of his mind. They won't do him any good, now.

Allowing his eyes to flicker over the tombstones, Noll follows the warn dirt path through the thickening fog. He doesn't know where he's going, but his feet pull him forward, deeper into the haze until he can no longer see the tall looming stone entrance.

All he can see is a small marble headstone getting closer and closer with every step. His feet take him to it and he knows who it is without having to read the elegantly carved letters.

EUGENE J.A. DAVIS
beloved brother and son
September 1985 - March 2001

Noll collapses beside the headstone. He takes a deep shuttering breath but the deep ache in his chest is etched too deeply, and his breath came out in a raspy, unceremonious sob. Tears spill down his cheeks as his trembling hands slid down over the frigid, smooth stone.

Suddenly, it was like he was back in that dark stone basement. James was smiling, crouching in an attempt to make eye contact, "C'mon Oliver. Gene is waiting for you."

Noll blinks, wiping the furious tears away with the back of his hand. "No he's not!" He screeches suddenly, voice breaking. His cry ricochets off the stones, creating an eerie chorus of deadly whispers. Noll rocks on his bare heels, beating the ground with his fists. "He's dead. Dead! And he's not coming back you bastard!"

He presses his forehead into the grass, shaking with unbridled grief. Tears dampen the soil as he holds his arms tighter, afraid if he let go he will completely fall apart. Is this his punishment? Sentenced to eternity in this misty graveyard; his own personal hell.

Why don't you just kill yourself? A small voice whispers. He gazes at the ground through the blur of tears. Isn't he already dead? He can't feel his heart beating, a jackhammer in his chest like it had been before…

Before what?

Noll tries to remember what it was he had been doing the moment he died but his mind remains doggedly blank. How had he died? If he isn't dead, why is he here? Slowly, he lifts his tear stained face to the headstone again as if sensing that something had changed. A small, sadistic smirk splits his lips as he traces his hand over the chiseled scripture and the new name engraved above it.

OLIVER E.C. DAVIS
beloved son and brother
September 1985 - May 2003

He sits there, on his knees before his own grave and he feels nothing. Noll just stares at his name, the inscription, and laughs. He doesn't know why and frankly, he doesn't care. The chuckles vibrate his chest, loud staccato yelps that shatter the grave silence, ringing in his ears. He digs his fingers into the dirt, trying to stop the shivering that seems to wrack his entire body.

When did it get so cold?

"Oliver..."

Noll freezes, rocking back on his heels to better see the misty figure standing stoically behind the headstone. His arms hang limp at his sides, hands clenched in fists and dark blue eyes filled with contempt and… pity? His pale skin is even whiter than it should have been, surrounded by the mist, but his forever sixteen-year-old face is the same as it had been the day he died; smooth and confident.

Eugene gazes down at his wide eyed brother, lips pressed into a hard line. "Why are you here?"

"What do you mean?" Noll chuckles but the Cheshire grin falls from his face. "I'm dead."

His twin's blue eyes narrow but he doesn't say anything as he moves around the grave to stand beside his brother. Noll rises slowly to his feet, wiping his face off on his sleeve. He watches Gene kneel down to brush something off the headstone, bowing his head a moment before he rose back to his feet.

He spares a lingering glance at his younger brother. "Why… are you here?" He asks again in a soft voice, barely above a whisper. His voice is deep and low, just as it had been when he was alive. But now, in death, it just sounds hollow. Is the time he's spending walking the spirit plane finally starting to affect him?

All of a sudden, Noll isn't entirely sure it is his brother he is standing beside.

He shrugs, taking a half step away, and crosses his arms. "Why are you here?" he counters, chuckling again.

"I belong here." Gene turns to face him now, expression grim. "You do not. Not yet, anyway."

Noll should feel elated. He should feel relieved. Instead, he only feels dread pooling in his stomach. His heart sank. He deserves death, he deserves to be punished for the horrific things he's done. He stumbles back, unable to meet his twin's pained blue eyes. "I should just kill myself…"

"Why would you say such a thing?"

"I'm a monster, Gene." Noll shakes his head, jamming a hand through his hair as he turns from the grave and his name and the cold chill that is fighting its way down his spine. His shoulders tremble with the effort to keep himself from shouting like he wants to. "A god damned demon."

Gene stood straight, glaring at his brother. "You aren'tー"

"I'm a murderer!" Noll screeches, voice cracking. Tears stream easily down his cheeks. "I ー I killed that girl!"

"That wasn't your fault and you know it ー please don't turn your back, Oliver."

He shakes his head, unwilling share the emotions running rampant across his face.

The chill crawling over his skin morphs into a full blown icy freeze as he struggles to calm his racing heart. Heart… it's beating… Every breath fogs in the air but Gene seems completely unaffected by the sudden cold. Noll can feel his essence stretching out, gliding over the ground like the mist, spreading out around him in a haze of dark purple wisps.

He clenches his fists, willing it to stop; praying that it would all just stop.

But of course it won't. He had never been strong enough to do that. James was right; he wasn't made for holding back.

"You said it yourself, Gene." He chews on his knuckle, "My abilities are immeasurable. And th-there will be a day when I can't..." he trembles, feeling his heart stutter in his chest, "con-control it..."

Gene spins his brother around, keeping a firm grip on his shoulders, forcing Noll to look at him. "It's not impossible. You can control it. But you can't do it alone."

Noll tries to step back but stumbles, his vision blurring as he tries to catch his balance. He's wrong. There is no controlling this curse. It's going to kill him like it killed that girl. And Mai.

Gene takes another step closer, until he's nose to nose with his twin. "Why are you here, Noll?" He says for the last time, watching his twin's eyes grow wide with confusion when Gene raises his hand and pushes him backwards. "Go back where you belong."

Noll lets out a shout of protest but it's silenced by the darkness that rushes up to catch him. It wraps around him, pulling him down, away from the white mists of the graveyard and further into oblivion. Gene is standing on the other side, a dubious smile on his face. He raises his hand in a small wave and mouths something as he disappears from sight.

"Go back."