5 months ago
"Found him!" A loud, boisterous voice woke him.
Noll groaned, peeling his eyes open. Fire had overtaken what used to be the table but was now just splintered bits of wood, smoke billowing from the smoldering pieces, stinging his eyes. Sunlight had peeked in through the rubble of the outside wall, masking the room in a golden haze.
It was a moment before he realized there was a person standing in the doorway, or at least, there had been. The figure moved to kneel beside him. Noll couldn't see the figures face ー his eyes had begun to water from the smoke ー but he somehow knew it was Lin. Maybe it was the years he had spent training under him ー or maybe it was the feeling of his shiki waiting nearby.
Lin reached for him.
"Mai…" Noll coughed. Beside him, there were two bodies. James, pinned beneath a slab of thick concrete, blood dripping from his nose. And Mai, sagged against perhaps the only remaining intact section of wall, still and lifeless. Tears pricked his eyes as he jerked a lame finger at her, "Save Mai..."
Lin must have understood what he was trying to say. He stepped over James' body, striding quickly over to Mai's limp one, pressing a hand to her chin. Was she still alive? She must have been because Lin had begun to pull her gently into his arms. He turned, pausing for a second beside Noll as if he were trying to figure a way to carry both of them.
"I'll be right back, Noll," he said finally, but it sounded off to Noll's ears. Too emotional to be Lin's voice. "Don't go to sleep."
Noll didn't think to question him. He watched Lin's hulking figure step around the burning wood, Mai held gingerly in his arms as he disappeared back into the void. Relief filled him. Relief and hunger.
It's over, he told himself, but it didn't really feel that way. The nightmare may have been over; the nights of starvation and torture. But Mai was Schrodinger's cat; caught somewhere between alive and dead, her future still questionable.
His own mind may have survived intact, but his body was still broken and he doubted any of these wounds would ever really heal.
Only time would tell.
Noll swallowed, his throat raw from the smoke, and allowed his eyes to fall closed. Pain was worming its way back from the recesses of his mind, but he pushed it away again. Eventually, he would have to feel it; he would have to move. Lin would return and coax him to his feet, or maybe carry him out like he had Mai ー but that was an eternity from now. He wouldn't think about that.
Nor would he think of Belikov and the visitors, and if they had gotten away, or if they had been buried beneath the ruins of the warehouse in some sort of twisted, poetic justice. No, he would think about that later.
When Koujo Lin raced back into the burning room, followed closely by Martin Davis and several members of the police, Noll had already slipped into oblivion.
Mai stared at the silver framed wall clock, scrutinizing the second hand. It seemed to linger in the space between five and six; a lull in time that made every minute feel like hours.
The plastic excuse for a chair pressed into the back of her thighs as she sat waiting, watching nurses buzz here and there, carrying charts and wiry equipment. They talked in hushed voices, speaking in color coded jargon. None of them looked at her. They didn't look at anyone in the ever-growing group of family, friends, and strangers. They might as well have been ghosts, coming and going, but cursed forever to haunt the waiting room.
"Don't bite your nails, sweetie," Luella cupped her warm hand around hers, pulling her hand back down to her lap. She gave a small, watery smile.
"Tell me…" Mai said in Japanese, tears were already welling in her eyes. Trying to find the correct English words were proving too difficult for her frazzled brain at the moment. She gripped the hem of her skirt, "Tell me Naru will be okay…"
"Naru will be okay." Luella patted her hand in the way only a mother could, "I'm absolutely sure of it."
She eyed her husband who was pacing back and forth, occasionally causing the automatic doors to slide open and let in a blast of chilled air. "Oliver was always a bit of a rowdy child. You'd never know it by the way he acts now, but he used to drive Martin and I absolutely crazy."
Despite herself, Mai giggled.
Luella's eyes glossed over, focused on something in the distance. Her smile widened, "Don't get me wrong, Eugene was twice as bad, but Noll just had a certain way about him… Did he ever tell you about the time he and Gene sneaked away from a Runes exhibit?"
Mai shook her head.
"Oh lord," she giggled, "Noll had been talking on and on about studying these ancient runes. It was all he would ever talk about. Eventually, Martin signed them up for a midnight tour of the castle where most of the runes were.
"Apparently, the tour wasn't satisfactory enough for Noll. He and Gene slipped away from the crowd to make their own tour. When Martin found them, they had pinned themselves against the wall, blustering about how they'd heard a banshee's shriek. Oh, those boys were something else."
Mai smiled. Naru seemed like such an anomaly in her life, smart and utterly full of himself; someone who didn't really belong in her simplistic world. But to Luella, they were just boys; child masterminds and unseemly adventurers. Mai longed to know that side of him.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Davis?"
Luella jumped to her feet. Neither of them had seen the doctor wade into the waiting room, eyeing them with a look of commiseration, until he was right in front of them. Luella folded her hands over his breastbone. "Is Oliver okay?"
"The surgery went as well as expected," the Doctor assured, "He's being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit as we speak."
"Oh, thank God."
"There is just one thing that still concerns us. The bullet shred through his deltoid muscle, and lodged itself in his collarbone. We removed the bullet and did what we could to repair the damage but…" he let his arms drop lamely to his side, "Simply stating… It's likely that he will never regain full use of that arm."
"…O-oh…" Luella cupped a hand over her mouth, leaning into Martin's open arms.
The entire waiting room crowded around them now, each taking the news differently.
Masako frowned at the speckled grey floor, stone faced even as tears fell over her reddened cheeks. John bowed his head. Takigawa clenched his fists on the back of one of the seats, the plastic whining under his grip. Yasuhara pushed his glasses up firmly on the bridge of his nose, almost hiding behind them and Ayako looked grim, perhaps the only one in the room that truly understood the doctors' diagnosis.
Lin's shoulder's sagged, but his resigned expression didn't change.
Mai was suddenly wrought with the overwhelming feeling that she might never see her Naru again. Despite what the doctor said, her chest tightened and her heart pulsed erratically in her chest. It didn't even compare to what she felt when she'd heard the gunshot two floors below. She hadn't needed to be told, she'd just somehow known it was Naru. Her heart knew. There was a distinct tugging, ripping sensation in her chest and the feeling that something was very, very wrong.
She'd practically flew down the stair, stumbling onto the scene just as the paramedics rushed through the growing crowd.
Her gut clenched at the sight of blood splattered over the crisp white tile and creamy walls. On the floor, there were two bodies. One had light hair and dark eyes that stared blankly at the ceiling. Most of his body had already been covered with a large sheet, but blood quickly soaked through it, dying the blue hem a grisly purple.
At James' feet was a black-haired boy. Face down and legs crossed gracefully over one another, it was difficult to tell what exactly had thrown him to the floor. It took a keen eye to see the small, rounded tear in the shoulder of his suit jacket. The paramedics buzzed around him, pressing thick clothes over this tear and feeling his neck for a pulse.
Mai's stomach churned uncomfortably. For a moment it felt as if she might vomit. Then, steeling her nerves, she asked, "Can... can we see him?"
"Mai-chan!" Ayako barked, but Mai looked hopefully up at the doctor's troubled smile.
"As soon as he is awake, I will have a nurse fetch you."
The moment Noll had convinced his eyes to open once again, he'd been surrounded by people. They buzzed around him, asking him questions he wasn't entirely sure how to answer, and calling out codes he figured he wouldn't ever know anyway. One of the nurses shined a light in his eyes and asked him to recite the alphabet. Annoyed by her and further irritated by the dull throb of pain in his shoulder, he seethed out the 26 letters and one of the other nurses upped his medication.
One by one the nurses left and Noll sat in relieved silence. That was until Luella and Martin slid quietly into the room, followed by all six members of JSPR. He glared as they entered but had a feeling his glare had been dimmed by the oxycodone coursing through him.
Luella immediately took up the space by his bed and kissed his forehead. "How do you feel?"
"Fine, I guess," Noll shrugged one shoulder; the other remained unmoving, wrapped in white gauzes and bandages. He couldn't feel it, but he tried not to let it bother him. He forced a smirk, "It's not like it's the first time I've been shot."
Half the party in attendance gasped, looks of utter horror crossing their faces. The other half (read Martin and Luella) laughed in at the memory.
"That was a BB gun, Oliver," Martin assured, "and Gene was not trying to shoot you."
Noll smirked, "That's what he wanted you to think."
"Gene shot you?" Mai asked timidly, in Japanese.
A rush of an emotion he didn't know hit Noll with such ferocity the heart monitor beeped in alarm. Mai had been the third to enter the room, but unlike the others, she had chosen to linger uneasily at the edge of his bed and well out of reach. He suddenly found himself wishing she would move closer.
Luella waved a dismissive hand, "He hadn't meant to, sweetie. It had been an accident, the wrong place at the wrong time."
"At least I had still had my arm then."
The room grew silent.
Martin asked, "Can you feel it at all?"
Before they had pumped him full of painkillers, it was all he could feel. But now, the entire left side of his body had an unsettling numb sensation to it whenever he tried to move. "Yes, but… I don't think I will be lifting any equipment anytime soon."
This time, the whole room laughed.
"After all that, Naru is still Naru," Ayako murmured in Japanese.
Takigawa shook his head, chuckling, "Not even a bullet can keep this guy from working."
Martin crossed his arms, sharing a look with Lin and Luella, "We will talk about that later."
Noll chose not to answer.
There was a soft knock on the door and Mrs. Klein slipped in between Yasuhara and John. "You all are quite lively," she said, settling Noll with a pointed look, "Especially you, Oliver. What's wrong?"
Noll pointed to the IV drip in his arm as if it held all the answer she needed. He said, "Pain killer."
"Ah, that explains it," she said, folding her hands out in front of her, "Well, I, uh, I have some news."
Luella took Martin's hand and held it firmly, "What kind of news?"
Klein shuffled through her ever-present briefcase, producing a thick stack of papers. The top paper said in bold font, 'MOTION TO DISMISS'. "As you know, Mr. Dumont isー"
"Dead," Noll finished for her, "Yes, I know." He did know. No one had told him but something inside him just... knew.
"Well, then, I've filed a motion to dismiss the case ー both of them. Both Judge Mathis and I have already signed the document, all that's left if your signature."
No one spoke, but a unified relief filled the small room. If he had been looking, Noll was sure he could have seen the tension melt from their faces as the news sank in. He, however, felt like he might be sick.
Klein handed him the stack which he took with his good arm, skimming slowly over the paragraphs of legal jargon. He may have been a successful scientist, but a lawyer he was not. He flipped to the last page where there were two wide, scrawling signatures. There was a space between them with a line that read, 'client signature'. Sheepishly, he asked, "What does… this mean?"
Klein held out a thin black pen. "Once you sign that, it's over. You cannot be held liable for anything that happened in that warehouse."
The papers shook in his unsteady hands. He may have been free of that basement and torture for months, but sometimes it still felt like he had never escaped. He felt like that now; as if somehow all this had been one long, over detailed dream that hunger or pain or James himself would be waking him from soon enough. But he would never wake up from this. This was reality.
It was... over.
He slowly took the pen from her, bending his knee to lean the paper against it, but he didn't sign. He stared at the blank space, the pen trembling, leaving tiny ink dots over the page.
"You don't have to sign now," Klein offered, seeing his hesitation, "We can wait. Let it sink in a bit. It's okayー"
He scribbled furiously over the line, watching the ink mark the space with a lopsided 'o' then the 'l' and the 'i' as if he were watching it from somewhere else. His hand slid easily across the paper until he lifted it and tapped the two i's harder than he'd meant to. Centered between the two other curly, broad-stroked signatures of Judge Mathis and Klein, his own signature was dark and tilted as if the letters were running from something.
"There," he pushed the stack of paper away, not caring if they ended up wrinkled or creased, "take it."
Luella pressed her hand over his, "Noll, it's okayー"
"Forgive me for interrupting, but," a tall man in a nurses light blue uniform entered the already crowded room. He picked up the clipboard secured at the foot of the bed and smiled apologetically at the group. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you all to leave now."
Martin and Luella both looked as if they wanted to protest, but Mrs. Klein beat them to it.
"May I have a moment with my client?"
The whole room turned to her, except Noll who was staring pointedly at his feet hidden beneath the thin hospital blanket.
"Just one minute," the nurse said, replacing the clipboard, "But the rest need to leave, please. Doctor's orders."
Ayako and Luella glared after the nurse as if they were going to show him exactly what the doctor's orders were, but Martin slid his arm around his wife's shoulder and pulled her to him. "It's okay, he needs to rest anyway. We will be back later, Noll. Get some sleep."
No one argued with that reasoning, though Noll felt the need to say that he wasn't really all that tired.
As the others filed out, Mrs. Klein smiled broadly at him, "I'll call Judge Mathis immediately to get this filed. You know, make it official."
Noll was only half listening, his eyes trailed his family out the door. Despite their short visit, happiness radiated off them in palpable waves. To them, the nightmare was officially over. But Noll still felt somehow incomplete, ostracized from their collective relief. Justice had been dealt; James was dead. Why couldn't he be happy?
"What's wrong?" Ms. Klein asked, playfully bumping her arm against his. Her smile promptly slid from her lips when she caught a glimpse of Noll's chagrin. "Oliver?"
"What..." he started, falling back against the beds plastic headboard. He sucked in a breath, "What happens now?"
Mrs. Klein smiled softly, dropping into the chair beside him. "Now you go home. Move on," she patted his back, careful not to reinjure him. "I know you may not ever get truly over this, but you see that girl?"
He peeked through his bangs, watching as Luella pulled Mai into a ginger hug just outside the glass door. She was smiling from ear to ear, relief painting her face. When her big cinnamon eyes met his, she gave a small wave.
He gave a meek nod in return. "Yeah?"
"Don't let her down."
He scoffed, directing a glare at the prosecutor's mischievous expression. He opened his mouth, a snarky retort on his lips, but thought better of it. Without warning, Noll sifted his legs off the edge of the bed.
Mrs. Klein pushed him back, "What do you think you're doing? You're going to pull your stitches lose!"
"I don't care," he said. Not waiting for a reply, he strode across cold tiles, barefooted, using the wall to keep himself from falling. In a few short, hobbling steps, he made it to the door.
Luella is the first to respond, a frown tugging at her lips and furrowing her eyebrows. "Oliver Davis, what is God's name are you doing?"
His shoulder had begun to throb but at least he could feel it again. Noll laughed; Luella had always reserved that look for Gene and his crazy antics, and he'd certainly had never been on the receiving end of it before. "I'm fine, Luella,"
"Naru!" Mai's voice was barely above a whisper. She watched him, doe eyed as he leaned heavily against the door frame.
"Mai," he started, heat pulsing in his cheeks. "Is it...I...Iー"
She silenced him with her lips.
She was soft and warm beside him, her arms reaching up to hook around his neck, longing to be closer. He cupped her cheek, caressing it with his thumb before gently pulling back. Mai stumbled into his chest, pain smarting in his shoulder, but he kept the grimace off his face. He pressed his lips to hers once more, chuckling as he tucked a loose tendril behind her ear.
"I was so scared," she mumbled, "I thought you wouldn't…" she drifted off, drawing her lip between her teeth.
"It's okay." He leaned his forehead against hers, taking in the warmth of her presence. The safety of it. "It's over."
Mai blushed harder, "...what happens now?"
Noll shook his head, eyes closed. "It doesn't matter," he whispered just for her to hear, "as long as I have you, nothing else matters."
"Naru…" Mai pulled back, brown eyes wide with surprise. She searched his face for the punch line, the hidden meaning behind his words but all she could find was his determination and honesty. "IーI..."
That infamous narcissistic smirk pulled at his lips. He opened his eyes to watch her stumble over the words her thoughts were already shouting at him. Finally, he relented, chuckling, bending down to place a chaste kiss on her cheek. He paused there, whispering in her ear, "I love you too, Mai."