Chapter 1: Therapy
Doctor Arainn crossed her long legs, settling in the chair opposite of the dark haired teen with a notebook and pen. A small voice recorder sat on the table between them, blinking red. "I'm going to ask you to recall the memories of the trauma," she said softly. "I need you to recall every memory in as much detail as you can manage."
"It's best if you lie down and close your eyes so you can focus solely on the memory."
Noll uncrossed his own legs and stretched out on the overstuffed couch. Staring uncomfortably up at the white ceiling, he wished was anywhere but there; home, the hospital, any haunted house. It was a waste of time but, rather unfortunately, Martin wouldn't allow him on another case until he completed his therapy treatment.
He had spent months jumping from doctor to doctor, realizing it was hard enough finding a qualified specialist that believed in his abilities let alone one that would treat him for them.
Fortunately, Doctor Arainn found him. With a PhD in psychology and a Masters in Parapsychology, she showed the same level of enthusiasm for the unknown that Martin did. "Start wherever you feel comfortable and then go through the story all the way to the end. I'll refrain from interrupting you but will occasionally ask you to rate your anxiety level on a 0 to 100 scale."
"Okay," he mumbled, a wave of sleepiness washing over him. Those precious few hours of sleep he'd managed last night definitely wouldn't be enough to get through this session.
Pen poised over the notebook and blinking steadily between them, she smiled. "You can begin whenever you're ready."
7 months earlier
The moment Eugene Davis died, Oliver, splayed semi-conscious on the floor, gave up. He invited that nauseating green fog in and willed it to consume him, to numb the excruciating void in his chest.
He accepted death, welcomed it, like the murky water that burned his eyes and throat. He bobbed up and down in the lulling motion of the lake, his hair swirling in slow circles around his head.
Sunlight warmed his back as he floated there, still and peaceful. For a fleeting moment he wondered if this was what Gene had felt, the calm rise and fall of the lake's waves. Well, there were worse ways to go, he thought, letting his eyes drift shut.
Noll, you idiot.
Under any other circumstances, Oliver would have scoffed at the comment but he didn't have the energy. When had he gotten so tired? But still, he couldn't completely ignore his brother.
Leave me alone, Gene.
The bite in Gene's voice was enough to send chills down his spine. Oliver opened a grey eye to find two bluer ones peering back at him. Behind Gene, Oliver could have seen the rotting yellow blanket if he'd bothered to look.
Go back, Noll.
Oliver focused both sleepy eyes on his twin. The water was getting darker and colder with every passing second. Find his body? But he was right here with him, why did he need to go anywhere?
Gene? His arms reached for the smiling face of his brother but it seemed like he was sinking out of reach. Oliver struggled, trying desperately to swim and reach his brother but Gene was only getting farther away.
He fought harder when he realized it wasn't Gene who was sinking, but he who was rising out of the water. Somehow strong hands had wrapped themselves around his torso, pulling him up to the surface.
No, he screamed to himself.
His twin only smiled as he broke through the surface.
Chapter 2: Whisper
7 months earlier
Mai was there when it happened. She wouldn't admit it but she had been watching him, awed by his slackened jaw and relaxed body. Somehow he had fallen asleep without her notice, half-stretched across the couch, arm placed delicately over his eyes as if he had meant to open them again. A few manila folders rested in his lap, forgotten.
Noll jerks unceremoniously back into reality, jackknifing halfway off the therapy couch. He runs a hand through his hair to calm his racing heart and glances around, searching wildly for the source of the shout. When his dark gaze only finds a pensive Doctor Arainn sitting in a chair a few feet away, he sighs. "What is it?"
"I know experiencing the death of a loved one is hard," she says, tapping her pen nervously on the edge of the notebook, "but talking as if you are them is–"
Noll feels his expression darken. "I'm telling you what I remember."
Arainn pauses, confusion clouding her grey eyes, creasing her eyebrows. "I'm afraid you're going to have to explain."
"It's..." he pushes his fists into his eyes, searching for the right words. Martin had tried to research the twins' bond any number of times, but he'd only ever succeeded in establishing parameters. Apparently, there were none. Noll and Gene could have been half a world away from each other and it wouldn't matter. "Selective telepathy – that's what Martin called it. Gene and I could share our thoughts and occasionally our memories. My connection with Mai was no different, except, perhaps, for her fantastic lack of control."
Arainn jots something down in her notebook, "what does that feel like?" She asks softly, undeniably curious.
Noll shrugs. "It just feels like an out of body experience."
If they had not been in her office, in the middle of a session, Arainn might have giggled in her excitement. "Right," she says, "and you had this... bond with Miss Taniyama, correct? And previously with your brother?"
Noll nods; then remembers the tape that is supposed to be recording his every word, "Yes."
"Just to be clear: the bond is what allows you to share 'selective telepathy'?"
Doctor Arainn's tone doesn't changed but to Noll, it sounds just a tad bit like she's mocking him, testing to see if his answer will change. He avoids her prying eyes, choosing to glare at the plush brown carpet instead, responding in a way only a scientist would. "There is a positive correlation, yes. You could say that."
She makes another note then clears her throat. "Sorry for the interruption. Settle back and restart."
Noll hesitates to return to his not-so-comfortable position, but lays his head back on the arm rest and allows the memory to take over...
7 months earlier
Mai was there when it happened. She wouldn't admit it but she had been watching him, awed by his slackened jaw and relaxed body. Somehow he had fallen asleep without her notice, half-stretched across the couch, arm placed delicately over his eyes as if he had meant to open them again. A few manila folders rested in his lap, forgotten.
She watched his chest rhythmically rise and fall. He had never looked so...peaceful.
Luella poured her a cup of coffee before sitting down next to her. "He is stoic. Even as a child I almost never saw him smile." The woman smiled at her sleeping son.
Mai felt her cheeks flush. She was looking at her shoes, hoping to avoid Luella's gaze, when she noticed something odd. The floor was shaking.
All around the girls, things were starting to move. Glasses falling off counters before shattering into a million pieces, the cordless phone dismounting itself from the wall so it could crash onto the counter top.
Luella screamed. Mai jumped up.
The table the two had been sitting at rose a few inches off the ground and was now revolving slowly in the air as it shook. Mai motioned for Luella to move away from the table but her eyes were fixed on something in the other room.
"Noll!" The blonde haired woman sprinted to her son. Mai slowly backed away from the precariously floating table and followed behind Luella. Maybe if they woke Naru up he could tell them what was happening.
But one look at the boy sent shivers down her spine. His eyes were pinched shut, his arm bent awkwardly behind him as he lay crumpled on the floor. As she watched, his free arm reached out into the air. "Gene..."
"Oliver, stop this!" Luella shouted, brushing her son's bangs out of his face. She tapped him lightly on the cheek. "Wake up!"
Mai didn't know what to do. She sank to her knees beside her boss, watching his eyes dart back and forth under his eyelids. Without thinking, she reached out for his hand.
Ice water crept down her spin. A green haze settled over the scene as the cabin began to morph before her eyes. The walls disappeared behind the thick haze and bedrock snaked across the wood floor. A glittering light kissed her shoulders, warming them as the gentle waves rocked her.
Mai should have been scared, suddenly finding herself at the bottom of the lake but instated she felt... at peace. Experience told Mai she was just dreaming again, having a vision. But her gut told her it wasn't her vision.
With a start Mai realized she was staring at Naru. He was smiling like he always did in her dreams but something was off.
He reached out to her; eyes glittering with something that she knew wasn't sunlight. Why were they here? Mai stretched hesitantly forward, feeling like she was both beside Naru and a million miles away. When their fingertips touched it was something like ice that froze her spine.
She jerked away and just like that Mai was standing in the cabin. Gasping, she tried to forget the feeling but it crawled up her arm and encompassed her whole body. She jumped to her feet, desperate to get away.
The movement made her head swim.
Lights flickered. The coffee table beside them was suddenly flipped on its side. Around the room, objects were beginning to take flight.
Was this... Naru?
Mai jumped at the loud bang! the door made when a disheveled looking Lin came rushing into the room. He took one look around before his eyes fell on Noll. He barely dodged a flying chair as it danced across the room.
Lin ran across the room and into the kitchen. Mai couldn't take her eyes off Noll. He was relatively still now; his head lay on his mother's lap as she screamed for Lin to do something. That's when Lin bounded across the cabin, a cold water bottle in hand.
In one motion he uncapped it and sent the liquid spilling onto Noll's face.
The room stilled.
Noll's eyes snapped open, crying out as cold water soaked his shirt. He jerked up, sputtering, but was almost instantly pushed back to the ground. Lin held his shoulders fast to the hard floor. Noll fell silent and Mai wondered if he had fallen back unconscious. But his eyes were still open, staring wide open at the ceiling.
"Noll? If you can hear me, blink." A few moments passed in silence. "Nollー"
"I'm still alive," he scoffed but his voice was raspy and low.
Mai heard it; the whispered thought that seemed to echo through her head. It sounded both exactly like Naru, and yet nothing like him. She searched his face, absolutely sure she hadn't seen his lips move.
Chapter 3: Lake
7 months earlier
Noll wished the ambulance driver had had enough sense to turn off the flashing red and white lights. It'd been annoying enough that everyone and their mother heard the wailing cries of the sirens that announced their arrival, but he had a headache and these lights were not helping.
A crowd of nosy camp-goers had begun to form on the path between the cabins and the lake, everyone trying to get a glimpse of what was happening. He could hear the whispers, the beginning of rumors. He shook his head. On the edge of the crowd, the faces of his team glowed in the periodic flashes of red and white. Monk, Ayako, John, Masako, Yasu, and Mai. His eyes lingered on her, watching her hands move adamantly as she talked. As if she could feel his stare, Mai picked that moment to turn around. Their eyes met.
He flinched. In an instant, her thoughts flitted through his brain, humming so fast he couldn't make out one thought from the other. The only word he could make out was his name ー or rather his nickname, Naru. Curiosity made him want to listen longer, to decipher what she was thinking about him, but his head throbbed.
He blinked, deciding the ground was much more interesting to look at. The second his eyes left hers, the telepathic link disconnected and he was left with silence.
It looked like he'd have to avoid all contact with the girl until they learned how to control it. Or at least until she learned how to guard her mind better. It was a skill Noll had been forced to learn at a very young age, when Gene had used his brothers' thoughts as his personal source of entertainment.
Noll pinched the bridge of his nose.
He just wanted some peace. A moment to himself to think.
He tried his best to sit still on the edge of the ambulance car as a man in blue probed him for injuries. Noll had told the man he was fine but Lin, worried for his young friend, all but forced him into the truck.
Ironically enough, Luella had then forced Lin down beside her son so she could wrap a bandage around his arm where a gash had appeared from all the chaos. Lin stayed beside Noll when his mother had left to find her husband. Which was probably why Noll had not made a break for it.
"How are you feeling?"
The paramedic chuckled, removing the blood-pressure cuff from around his arm. "Your heart rate is a little higher than normal but other than that you're just fine, Shibuya-san. I recommend a change of clothes and an aspirin for that headache."
He sighed, waving away the offered pills. "No thanks."
Once the man was gone to give his report to Luella, Noll felt Lin's hard glare studying him. He didn't bother to look back at his chaperone; he already knew what was going to be asked.
"What did you see?"
He didn't answer. He knew he could trust Lin with many things but didn't know if this could be one of them. Noll had already told Mai not to tell anyone about what had happened inside the cabin; no one needed to know until he was sure he was right.
"You bonded with her."
A cold chill slid down his spine. Had it really been that obvious? His head thrummed a little harder but he forced himself to answer. "...yes."
"I know," he said, "I know it was stupid but it just happened. I...I was dreaming about Gene and..." He thought back to the moment when Gene had smiled and turned away reaching out for something he couldn't see but felt. The electricity, the feeling of refuge. The control.
Why he could hear Mai's thoughts? It was only in spurts when they touched or looked at each other, but it was there when it hadn't been before.
And that was something only he and Gene had ever been able to do.
Not to mention ー he had used PK. He had used a lot of PK; the state of the cabin was testament to that. So why was he perched on the back of the emergency van being told he was "just fine"? He should have been lying on his death bed, not that he wanted to be.
He let out an irritated sigh. He was Oliver freaking Davis and he was determined to figure this out. But before he could put any more thought into it, Lin's voice broke his concentration.
It was deeper and almost guttural, "I've known you and Gene for a long time, Noll. I saw the effect it had on Gene, on you even, when you couldn't control it." Noll made the mistake of looking at Lin whose eyes were burning with something like hatred. "You could kill that girlー"
"I know," he breathed, head bowed. The severity of the situation had not escaped him; he'd just tried to see a way around it. But now, hearing Lin's warning, Noll couldn't ignore it. "I have to train her."
"You'd need a secluded environment with paramedics on hand. Where are you going to get that in Japan?"
The thought struck Noll only a moment before Lin said it. But now, the 'where' seemed obvious and he was just about to say so when a terrible shout caught his attention.
A man clad in a wet suit broke through the crowd. Noll recognized him instantly. It was one of the divers from the lake.
"We found something."
"That's enough for today, Oliver." Doctor Arainn says, smoothing down her grey skirt as she stands. She glances at the dark teen over her shoulder as she fidgets with something on the desk beside her. "Open your eyes."
Noll feels the painful scene slip from his mind as he focuses once again on the white ceiling. He replays the two hour session in his mind, embarrassment settling in. It's astounding to him just how much he had shared. His thoughts ー his feelings ー are things he has always kept to himself, even as a child. And to think he was now sharing them with a stranger made him feel... violated.
Arainn is oblivious to his discomfort as she hands him a glass of water, "May I ask you a question?"
"You're my therapist. " He mumbles over the brim of the glass, "Isn't it your job to ask questions?"
Arainn regards him, "Is that what you think my job is?"
Noll raises his eyebrow.
"I see your point," she laughs, "but this isn't a medical question. It's more to satisfy my own curiosity."
"The incident occurred about three months after your last few days in Japan, correct?" Noll nods. "Why did you choose that moment to start? I mean, it's a bit... in the middle of things, don't you agree?"
He shrugs, leaning back further into the couch. "For me..." he starts, grabbing for the right words, "...this is the beginning."
Chapter 4: Andes
Noll stretched out on the couch, grateful for the time alone. It seemed ever since he'd been discharged from the hospital Luella had developed separation anxiety.
She hovered over him for hours, giving any excuse to coax him from his room or accompany him in Martin's study. It was annoying, exhausting, and, more often than not, led to this argument:
"I am not a child."
"I know, dear." She half smiled, tucking a loose blonde curl behind her ear. "I just feel better knowing you're not alone."
"It isn't necessary."
She sighed and dropped the cup she had been washing back in the sink. "Just bear with me, Noll, please. It's been difficult for all of us."
He turned the page of the Parapsychology book and tried to concentrate. "Yes, mother."
Then Martin would interrupt with: "Don't mock her, Oliver." And they would call a truce for the day.
Eventually even Martin had grown irritated with the shenanigans and coaxed Luella from the house with a bit of shopping. Of course, Masako and Ayako were chosen as the honored guests for said shopping trip. And Monk, Father Brown, and Yasuhara had quickly realized the game and left to see some of the popular 'historical sights' England had to offer.
Noll thought it was an answered prayer.
So he spent a few hours sulking in his room, but eventually gave in to his growing hunger and skulked down to the kitchen. The house staff had left early but there was plenty of left-over's wrapped carefully in the refrigerator for him to pick through. However, Noll being Noll, he ignored the food and settled on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a handful of Andes mints.
He unwrapped one and let it melt on his tongue. Chocolate and mint. Not completely satisfying but enough to trick his queasy stomach into silence.
Noll swallowed, quickly replacing it with another. The sweet tang soothed him, working with the serenity of the quiet manor, until his dark blue eyes became heavy lidded. He tried to blink away the lethargy but sleep had been hard to come by in recent days.
He thought if he fought it much longer, the insomnia would warrant another round of therapy sessions ー and he was pretty sure that would only drive him more insane.
So as the fresh Andes bar coated his tongue, he let his eyes fall shut.
7 months earlier
Ten months. That's how long it took Noll to find the body of his brother. He tried not to think of the state the body had been in. Instead he leaned against the tree and tried not to think at all.
The moment Gene's body had been found Noll had taken it upon himself to identify it. Luella was already in tears but one look at her remaining son's grave face brought on a new wave. Martin had merely given him a curt nod in understanding.
Then Noll left. He couldn't stand to watch his brother be loaded into a body bag for the mortician to examine later. He walked into the woods by the forest, hoping for some peace, but what he found was Mai.
She spun around, eyes wide when she saw him. She looked back at the tree then at him, confusion in her eyes. He dropped his gaze to the ground. "What's wrong?"
"Naru?" Mai questioned. "You really are... Naru, right?"
"What kind of question is that?"
Mai's cheeks tinted red. "I-I'm not sure... I-If you're you, then who was the Naru who was here until now?"
Noll froze, fighting the irritation that bubbled in his chest. He just wanted to be alone. "Who was here?"
"Naru, I was talking to you until a second ago."
He glared at the ground before sighing. "You were dreaming."
"No I wasn't," Mai huffed, pointing back towards the tree. "I was definitely awake. It looked like the usual dreams I have, but it wasn't."
Noll felt his curiosity getting the better of him. He crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at the ground. "Usual dream?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mai jump and cover her mouth with her hands. "What was that?"
"N-nothing! Just a dream!"
"It doesn't concern you."
"It didn't sound that way. I was in it?" A blush threatened to creep up Noll's neck but he restrained it. Mai was dreaming about him?
"It doesn't concern you!"
"I don't think so."
"Y-you don't have to know."
"You don't have to hide it."
"I..." Mai wrapped her arms around herself as Noll took a few steps closer. "I'm not hiding!... I had a dream with you, Naru!" Mai's hands were clenched into tiny fists, her eyes full of fire staring straight at him.
Noll couldn't help it. He tilted his head in an almost childish way, feeling the frown on his lips as he looked at Mai. "...with me?"
"Y-yeah... But it couldn't be you, not really. The Naru in my dreams is always smiling... and kind."
"ーkind?" Mai's brown eyes focused on his blue ones and all at once the images came to him. Images of him, smiling, telling her it was alright. Images of them in the cave next to the house from the last case with Naru holding her hand, guiding her through the mystery...
No. That wasn't him. His heart stuttered. His knees suddenly felt like jelly as he looked at the girl before him. "You said you were... talking to him until a second ago?"
Mai nodded but didn't say anything. She didn't need to. Noll could hear every thought that raced through her mind.
I know it was just wishful thinking ーNaru could never smile like that. Just when I was beginning to think Naru visited my dreams on purposeー
"I can't leave my body, Mai. I don't have that gift."
Her eyes went wide. Can you hear me? Are you reading myー
"When did this start?"
The dreams? Since... since I met you.
His eyes narrowed. "It's not me."
"That's not me. That was Gene." He rubbed his temples. "Eugene..."
No way! It was you! Even if you were siblings I would never mistake you forー
"We were twins Mai. If we were expressionless, no one could tell us apart."
But... your older brother's... deー
He looked away from Mai, breaking the connection. He had heard enough.
There was a moment of silence and then: "You can hear my thoughts, can't you?"
Noll thought about not answering her. He could just turn around and leave her to her own devices, but he would have to tell her sooner or later. So he nodded.
Mai's expression dimmed. "Is this because of theー"
"Connection. Bond. Psychic Link."
His head hurt. Bad. He pinched the spot between his eyes, hoping to ward it off.
"Wait. How come I can't hear yours?"
It took a lot out of him to keep his eyes off the confused girl but he needed the peace of mind. So he turned his back to her. "I can block you out; you'll learn how. Eventually."
"I'm done here, Mai. I expect to see you at the office tomorrow, on time."
The next morning, Noll didn't know what to do but he was hell bent on not leaving his office until he figured it out. The familiar roll and click of the filing cabinet was a constant reminder that Mai was there, just on the other side of that door.
The sound also reminded him that he seriously needed tea, but he pushed it away. Figuring this out was more important. He only had a few hours left.
On her own, Mai had abilities that BSPR only dreamed of studying and would be accepted there without a thought. But paired with their psychic link, Mai became more than a study subject; she became an invaluable asset to his research.
But would she be willing to leave Japan? To him, England was only a twelve hour flight away but to her, it might as well have been another planet.
Noll pushed his head into his hands and thought until his head pounded. Screw it. He'd get the damned tea himself.
He rose from his chair and made his way to the small kitchenette, but not before palming a thick book. Rounding the corner he could see his assistant, short with a brown bob and questionable fashion sense.
Mai had jumped when the door to Noll's office creaked open.
Speak of the devil. Her thoughts hummed beneath his own the moment he crossed the threshold of his office. Either the bond was getting stronger or she was thinking incredibly loud.
Noll sighed and took a few steps out of his dark office, regarding Mai with an incredulous look. "Here," he said, tossing a thick book to the unsuspecting girl. She reached out just in time to stop it from sliding off the desk. "You'll need it."
Her brown eyes went wide then furrowed, lips moving as she attempted to read the title: The English Language for Dummies.
Noll bit back a yelp of surprise. Mai's mind raced, muddling his own thoughts with questions she debated on asking and comments she would never say aloud. He was trying to siphon through them, a hand on his temple, when he noticed Mai's eyes on him.
This one thought rang above the rest of the noise. He let a sardonic smirk slip onto his lips as he retreated into his office.
We're going to England.
Mai's eyes couldn't have gotten any bigger. Noll's thought echoed in her head as she stared back down at the book. English? She was going to have to learn English?
Not that she was a complete idiot. She'd paid attention in school to know enough of the language to get by. At least, she thought so.
Noll pressed his forehead against the cool wood of his office door. In the rush of his decision, he'd forgotten the tea. "Maiー"
"Get your own tea!"
Two hours later Mai had given in and made her boss his Earl Grey, which he sipped at eagerly, though now all he could focus on was her nervous presence. It was almost too simple to sense her standing there, outside his door.
Uncertainty practically dripped off of her. C'mon Mai, he can't shoot you down if you don't ASK, he heard her tell herself. He would have chuckled if it hadn't been so aggravating.
"If you're not going to come in, then leave. You're disturbing my work, Mai."
The girl made an embarrassed noise but pushed the door open anyway. "Uh, N-Naru? Can I talk to you?"
Noll sat at his desk, an open file in hand. His head was tilted, resting against his propped up fist. He didn't even blink at his assistant as she meandered inside. "I suppose it's better than your hovering outside my office."
Mai glared at him, taking a calming breath. "I'll go to England."
Noll scoffed. "If you're here to state the obviousー"
"But I have one stipulation."
This made him raise an eyebrow. He studied her out of the corner of his eye, pressing to read her thoughts. But they were still just a flurry of information so he quickly retreated.
Mai only hesitated for a moment before deciding that that was her boss's way of showing interest. "There are only two months left before school breaks for winter," she said, leveling her gaze on him, "I will stay in Japan until then."
Mai nearly fell over. "You do?" Up until then, Mai had been under the impression that she and Noll would be on the next flight out of the country. Now, seeing the disturbing lack of packed material scattered around the office, she mentally kicked herself.
Noll sighed and placed the thick file on his desk, rising to his feet. "Yes, Mai. I never expected you to drop out of school." He thought he should add an insult but decided against it. He needed Mai to come to England and pissing her off was not going to make it easier. "However, your stay in England will exceed the length of the break. I will arrange for you to continue your schooling there, instead."
She hadn't been expecting that. Her eyes grew wide in shock and her mouth formed a ring as she tugged at the hem of her skirt and whispered. "Oh."
He had to admit he felt bad for tearing her away from her studies and her friends, but it was dangerous for the both of them to be apart long. Noll diverted his attention to the wall clock in an attempt to stop that thought before it had time to simmer and slipped his jacket on. "Was there anything else? I have a flight to catch."
She shook her head, eyes sad. Then, not even a second later, a crimson blush crossed her cheeks.
Noll regarded her with a curious look as he brushed past her to the door. "Two months, Mai," was all he said before he was gone.
Ja matta, Naru, she thought gloomily. Then a small smile spread over her as she heard his voice chime in her head.
Chapter 5: Point of View
Point of View
6 months earlier
Any time now.
He wiped his sodden hand on the dish towel draped carefully over his shoulder, being sure to keep busy. If all went well, they would never know of his involvement. It wouldn't be hard. They would be far too deep in their grief over their second missing son and he would just slip away to his new prize possession.
He had meticulously planned every second of this day. Oliver would leave soon after dinner, excusing himself from the idle conversation as he usually did. The drugs James had mixed into the young scientists tea would be taking effect anytime now, leaving him defenseless and primed for taking.
The butler hovered on the edge of the living area, half listening to the hushed voices of Martin and Lin talking business on the long couch. Luella sat opposite of them, her lip caught between her teeth as she delicately swirled her wine in its glass. He fought off a grin at the thought of seeing her tear stained face, those stunning violet eyes bright with grief and instead crossed the room with a humble smile. "Can I get you a fresh glass?"
Luella jumped, nearly spilling the remains of her wine onto her dress. She had been so entranced in her own thoughts that she hadn't even noticed the young elegantly dressed man offering his hand to her. "Oh, James. You startled me." She forced a short laugh and handed him her glass. "A cup of tea sounds lovely, dear. Thank you."
He smiled and nodded, turning back toward the kitchen.
"Wait – James?" He turned back to her, biting back a chuckle. This was it, the beginning of the end. He knew what she would ask. "Have you seen Oliver?"
He shook his head. "Not since supper."
"I see. Thank you."
The worry was evident in the down turn of her lips and the slope of her shoulders. He wondered how long it would take for reality to set in; when would she realize Oliver wasn't coming home? Excitement bubbled in his chest. It wouldn't be long now.
That was when the door opened. The sound of the heavy wood smacking into the wall echoed through the mansion.
"Luella?" A voice slurred from the entryway. James' heart stuttered. It couldn't be... this wasn't supposed to happen, not like this. He couldn't afford any failure. James stiffened his shoulders, forcing a confused expression as he turned back to the three adults who sat frozen in their seats, dazed as another crash sounded. Then there was the sound of shattering glass. "Mum?"
"Oliver?" Luella lunged from her chair, practically flying into the foyer. "Oliver!" She gasped, a hand fluttering to her mouth.
James tried not to look as angry as he felt as he followed her into the entryway.
The sight of Oliver's limp body drawn out across the floor surrounded by a sea of broken glass and rose pedals was... a true work of art. No brush, no canvas could ever duplicate the beauty of this mistake; this moment. A shiver ran the length of his spine as blood from shallow cuts on his victims hands mingled with the water from the broken vase, creating a dark pink cloud, almost like a halo around his body. It was divine.
Until she ruined it. Luella Davis flitted through the hall, dropping to her knees beside her unresponsive son. She sloshes through the blood puddle and scattered the roses across the rest of the foyer, destroying it.
James shouts in his rage, tearing the paper in two until it's nothing more than useless confetti covering the concrete floor. He jams a hand through his short blonde hair and falls back onto the thin cot that was supposed to pass as a bed. If everything had gone according to plan the first time... he wouldn't be rotting in this God forsaken cell.
But if he had succeeded... James groans, resting his head against the cool concrete wall. If he had succeeded, he never would have met her.
And God, was she worth it.
Noll drifts slowly back into consciousness, feeling as if he has been asleep for years rather than minutes as reality chases away the last lingering remnants of a dream he can't recall. He cautiously peeks through his eyelashes, wondering what exactly had woken him up. The room is dark save for the dim yellow light coming from overhead and the sun is noticeably absent from the blackened windows; it must have been late. It takes another moment before he registers the warmth of something pressing gently against his throbbing shoulder and contemplates it through half-lidded eyes, unwilling to move just yet.
Could it be a cat? No, he didn't have a cat...
"Noll, sweetheart," Luella's soft, motherly voice breaks through the last of his sleepy haze. He looks up, wincing at the aching pain in his neck as his deep blue eyes meets her familiar violet ones. She smiles, "It's time to get up."
He nods, hearing her words but not quite ready to put in the effort to sit up. Sometime during his slumber he must have turned over onto his stomach, nearly tumbling to the floor in the process. One of his knees rests on the carpeted floor, possibly the only thing keeping him from falling off entirely as one of his arm's follows suit. It hangs precariously off the edge, his fingers grazing the floor while the other is folded under his head, posing as a make-shift pillow.
He scrambles to sit up, feeling Luella's warm hand leave his back as he moves.
"I don't..." I don't remember falling asleep, he wants to say, but stops himself. It doesn't matter in the long run and he really doesn't need Luella worrying about his lapses in memory any more than she already does. He blinks for a long moment, feeling the soothing whisper of sleep threatening to drag him back to the world of dreams when he hears the unmistakable chatter of his team. Their voices bounce through the hallway, simultaneously inviting him into the conversation and shutting him out.
It's been like this ever since they arrived in England. Noll somehow manages to avoid their company, whether out out of nervousness or guilt, he isn't sure, and none of his former friends acknowledges his existence. From time to time, Luella and Martin forbid their son from skipping dinner and force him to sit at the table with the others for a very uncomfortable amount of time. In times like these, his crew was more than happy to just outright ignore his presence. That was just how it went.
They blame him.
Noll runs a hand over his face to hid the tension creeping back into his chest, then he rolls his shoulder to coax some feeling back into it. "What time is it?"
"Quarter until nine," she started, picking up one of the pillows that had fallen to the floor. When she doesn't say anything else but just looms above him looking uncomfortable, Noll looks up at her expectantly. "...Doctor Arainn called. You missed your session."
"I did?" Noll sighs and runs a hand through his hair, kicking off the rest of the blanket he doesn't remember having. He slips his phone out of his pocket with deft fingers, flipping it open. The whole blue screen lit up with notifications, he scrolled through them.
One is a snooze alert for the alarm he had set so he never misses a session. With a disappointed click he deletes the message and turns his attention to the call list.
13 missed calls, it says; from Luella
It was no wonder his mother-figure seems so frazzled. Considering the events of the past 6 months, he can help but feel guilty about worrying her unnecessarily. She probably had a heart attack when he didn't pick up. "Shimatta. I'm sorry, Luella." The apology sounds forced and awkward on his tongue, but it isn't as if he doesn't mean it. That is perhaps the most difficult part about it. "It was on silent."
She glances over him, reaching out to smooth down a lock of his hair that refuses to lay flat. "It's okay, sweetheart."
Noll jumps to his feet in momentary panic. His heart thrums in his chest as he watches the tall, dark-haired man straighten from his place leaning against the entryway and cross the space between them. His face is kind; dark green eyes crinkle around the edges as he offers the pair a disarming smile. The teen studies him, crossing his arms over his chest. Why did he look so familiar? "Who are you?"
Luella never loses her smile as she takes a step back and gestures him forward. "This is Doctor Arainn's husbandー"
"Doctor August Arainn," the man says, offering his hand, "It's nice to see you again, kid."
Again? Noll tries not to focus on the pet-name too hard as he considered the doctor's hand. "You're a therapist, too?"
"Something of the sort."
When Noll felt his skin make contact, instinct took over. He stilled, waiting to be dragged under by the pull of his psychometry, his breath froze in his lungs hoping to stay off the wave of nausea – but all that came was the pressing warmth of the doctors' hand. Noll blinks, staring blankly at the offending hand until he hears the older man's knowing laugh.
"Psychometry only works if you allow it to work. I thought you knew that."
"I did." Noll huffs, taking back his hand. He knows very well that it is possible to control his psychometry but he has only ever succeeded in pulling himself out of the vision, not avoiding them. He crosses his arms. "Why are you here?"
Luella smacks her son's arm, "Manners, Noll." She warms, then turns a smile to August. "I'll leave you two to talk but please, don't be afraid to stop by more often."
"Of course, thank you, Luella. And tell Martin good luck on his project." When she is safely out of earshot, August gestures to the couch. "Shall we?"
Noll sits on the other end of the couch, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his thighs. Every sense is on full alert as he eyes the doctor, unable, or perhaps unwilling to let down his guard. The memories of what happened the last time he did that are still so fresh in his mind it makes his ribs ache.
August leans back on the couch, a sharp contrast to the teen's rigid, closed posture, and crosses his legs. He studies Noll with trained green eyes, "I would say I'm sorry for your loss but I'm sure you're sick of hearing it."
He remembers now. Flashes of memories from his childhood with this man sitting before him, urging him to sleep with a soft, melodic voice. It was irresistible. Noll fights the urge to grab the nearest weapon. He doesn't remember why exactly this man had been hypnotizing him, only that it had something to do with his brother. "You're a hypnotist." He can feel his nose crinkle in disgust at the word.
"I prefer behaviorist, but yes." A smile graces August's face, "you remember."
"Only pieces." Noll swallows, turning his dark gaze to his guest to repeat his question, "Why are you here?"
"Mara – my wife – was worried when you didn't show for your session." The doctor casts the teen a side-long glance, laughing as he says, "she is not a happy-camper right now."
Noll laces his fingers together in front of him, sucking in a deep calming breath. Then he closes his eyes and blows out the air in an irritated huff. "And you came to check-up on me."
August doesn't answer right away. He considers the boy's rumpled clothes, pale skin and tired eyes, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. "He's in your head, isn't he? Dumont."
Noll's head jerks up, startled. His dark blue eyes pierced the doctor as he fights the urge to increase the space between them. "How do you–?"
"You look like shit, Olly." August leans forward, mirroring the teen's posture, "It doesn't take a therapist to see he's gotten to you."
Noll avoids his gaze, snatching the last mint chocolate bar off the coffee table. "I'm fine."
August watches him; studying him. It was subtle, maybe in the way the proud teens shoulders hunched just a little too much, or the nervous tap of his feet but the longer he sits, coaxing what might pass as a conversation out of the boy, the more obvious it becomes. Oliver is the exact opposite of 'fine'. "I read the case reports, Olly. I know what happened." he found himself saying. Noll froze. "You don't just get over something like that."
He is met with ringing silence.
Noll's heart feels like it's attempting to break out of his chest. He isn't ready for this. He isn't ready for any of this.
Panic rises in his chest and once again he could feel the ghost of cold metal encircling his wrists; the biting cold of the basement floor.
Sometimes... Part of him was still in chains.
When it becomes obvious that Noll isn't about to answer him, August claps his hands together. "I'd better go before Mara blow a gasket." He sighs as he pushes himself to his feet, surprised when Noll follows his lead.
Noll nods, raking a hand through his hair, making it stick up in the back again. "I'll reschedule the session."
"Listen, Oliver," August lays a hand on the teen's shoulder. Noll stiffens on instinct, expecting his abilities to spike, then he sags in relief. "If you need anything, anything, call me."
Noll doesn't feel the need to answer, remaining silence as he leads the doctor through the hall to the front door. Then a thought hits him. "Can you tell me something?"
August doesn't look surprised as he says, "It's about before, isn't it?"
"You hypnotized me," Noll says it as fact, finding a only nod as August's reply. "Why?"
"You were having nightmares; refusing to speak, refusing to eat. It was only natural that your parents call me in."
Noll tilts his head so his bangs shade his eyes. His chest aches but he needed to know. "Where they aboutー?"
"If I said yes," August interrupts, dark eyes shining, "would it change anything, Olly?"
Noll grips the door handle harder, knuckles turning white. He shakes his head. "No, it wouldn't. Goodnight, Doctor."
"Take care of yourself."
Chapter 6: Danger
6 months earlier
"Our technicians found high levels of serotonin in his blood samples. Along with adrenergic, dopamine, andー"
"Doctor please," Luella gripped her husband's arm tighter, voice filled with emotion. "Please just tell us what happened to our son."
The heart rate monitor sputtered for the fifth time since the young man had been admitted. Martin turned his head toward the sound and gazed at his son's peaceful face. If he hadn't known better, he would have assumed Noll was sleeping, not unconscious. But the thin bandages wrapped around the superficial cuts on both his hands made it hard to forget.
The doctor sighed, pressing his glasses back into place. "I believe it's most likely that your son was drugged."
He nodded. "Oliver isn't on any medications, right? No, by any chance, 'recreational' drug use either?"
"No." Luella supplied immediately.
"If there's any doubtー"
"What are you insinuating?"
Martin squeezed his wife's hand, glancing again toward his son. "You don't know Oliver; he won't even take medication for headaches. There is no way he would ever take any kind of drug, prescription or otherwise."
"That's what I suspected." The doctor sighed, glancing down at the clip board in his hand. "I've seen this combination of solutions before in an antipsychotic prescription drug called Sychol. Drowsiness and confusion are some of the most common side effects."
"Are you sure?"
"We are still running tests, but yes."
Luella bit her lip. "How could someone drug him with a pill?"
"It would be pretty simple, actually." The doctor jotted something down on the paper and slid the clip board back into its holder at the end of the bed. "These tablets are made to dissolve relatively quickly. It could have been slipped into a drink or food ー it has no taste."
A soft groan filled the room. All three occupants turned to watch as the heart monitor sputtered again and Noll scrunched his eyes against the offending light. His hand that sported the IV needle flexed into a loose fist.
He felt like shit. Both his hands stung like he'd lost a fight with a bottle of antiseptic. A wave of nausea washed over him with the throbbing of his knee. And his head hurt.
God his head hurt. It throbbed from temple to temple, shooting strings of pain down to his jaw. Noll forced his eyes open, panic settling in his expression. He jerked up, deft hands reaching over his chest and wrist, pulling on the jelled wires and IV tube.
"Noll!" Luella flitted to his side with tears of relief shining in her eyes.
A resounding alarm muffled her yell, though. The heart monitor drew a flat line across the screen, screeching its warning for all there to hear. Noll flinched at the sound and at his adoptive mother's arms as they wrapped around his shoulders.
The doctor took a step around the bed and unplugged the machine, gracing the room with silence.
Noll exchanged a look with him, realization dawning on his face. "Sorry," he offered curtly, watching as the doctor waved away a team of panicked nurses with what looked like a crash cart.
Martin stood beside his wife as she sat on the edge of the small hospital bed. "Are you alright, dear? Does anything hurt?"
Noll blinked a flash of déjà vu at the worried look in her misty blue eyes. He cast a glance around the room. "I'm fine," he said running a hand through his hair, a habit he picked up from Gene. "Why am I in the hospital?"
Funny, he didn't remember fainting. It did explain why his leg hurt so much, though. "What happened?"
His parents shared a look with the doctor.
"We were hoping you could tell us, Oliver. Do you remember anything at all from yesterday?"
Yesterday? Noll's eyes drifted toward the window and the offending afternoon sun. He'd been out for almost a day. Sighing to cover his surprise, Noll glared at the sheets. He searched his memory but there was nothing, no sign of the lingering buzz of PK or any hint of feeling sick. He remembered dinner and then... nothing.
"No," he said finally.
The doctor managed a smile. "Unfortunate but not unexpected. It's likely the memories won't come back at all," he added, sensing the question before Luella could ask it.
"Okay," she sniffed.
Martin shook the doctor's hand. "Thank you for your help, Doctor Cameron."
"Of course. As soon and as long as the nurses don't find anything else troubling, Oliver should be able to go home in a few hours."
Noll watched the doctor leave with as much of a curious expression as he could muster. "Where's Lin?" The last he remembered his Chinese colleague had been at the Davises' for dinner and he could probably help jog Noll's memory more than either of his parents.
"The airport; he left about an hour ago."
Noll bit his lip in an effort to keep the surprise off his face. "Airport?"
His parents shared another look and the suspense was really starting to piss him off. He hated not knowing. Then Martin flashed him a knowing smile, glancing at the silver watch on his wrist.
"Her flight landed about 15 minutes ago. They'll be meeting us at home."
"Who?" he growled, trying to ignore the way his heart leapt in his chest. Suddenly he didn't feel so guilty for ripping off the heart monitor's wires.
Luella squeezed his hand with an adoring smile. "Mai."
Noll had heard Mai's heavily accented voice ring out in unsure English, "What time do you think they will get here?"
"Soon," Lin answered offhandedly.
Noll limped down the hall, taking care to keep as silent as possible. He heard her sigh as he rounded on the archway to the living room. Mai was gazing at the black bookshelf, running her fingers over the well-worn spines. The one titled Supernatural Systems made her smile as Noll allowed her thoughts to take precedence in his head.
Of course, she thought, what kind of narcissist wouldn't own his own book? Mai debated reading it, but decided she wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
She moved slowly over to the fireplace where she saw the mantle filled with pictures. Some of them featured Martin and Luella at what could only be their wedding, but most of them were of the twins. It was immediately obvious which one was which in the picture closest to her. Gene was sporting a huge grin while Naru looked blankly at the camera.
"It's hard to believe Naru was ever this young..."
"Your accent is terrible."
"Naru!" Mai spun on her heel so fast it was all she could do to not go careening into the fire pit. "You're here!"
The teenager leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and a sullen smirk on his face. He was in his usual dark attire but unusually, it was just a plain t-shirt and sweatpants. No dress shirt, no slacks. He looked exactly the same as he had a month ago, but somehow his dressing down made him look... hotter.
That was when a tall blond haired boy dressed a butler's uniform entered the room with a steaming cup of tea. His eyes fell over Mai before stopping dead when he saw Noll standing there beside her. "Oh. Welcome home, young master."
Naru didn't move from his spot but cast an annoyed glance at the slightly older teen. "It's Oliver."
"Right, sorry. My mistake."
Noll's anxiety spiked as he studied the butler.
"Not even home five minutes and you're already harassing the staff, Noll? You must be feeling better." Luella's teasing voice drifted through the hall as she appeared behind her son. Her wide smile only got wider when she spotted Mai. "Oh, Mai sweetheart! It's so nice to see you again!"
Mai met the woman in the middle of the room, hugging her back tightly. "It's nice to see you too, Mrs. Davis. Thank you for having me."
"Call me Luella! And please, you're welcome here anytime."
A bespectacled man crossed the room and stretched an arm around his wife. Mai had never met him but she recognized him from the pictures and a few spare moments at the camp ground in Japan. "Hello, Miss Taniyama. It's nice to finally meet you. My wife has been talking nonstop about your visit here."
Mai bowed her head in a rushed greeting before realizing he had stuck his hand out for her to shake. She took it quickly, feeling a blush heat her cheeks. "It's just Mai," she stammered. "It's nice to meet you too, Professor Davis."
"Please, call me Martin."
Noll watched his parents from the archway, trying to ignore the ache in his leg. It wasn't until he'd gotten up to change that he realized he'd sustained a pretty bad flesh wound from his knee down. The nurses had dressed it with gauze and some wrap to keep it from getting infected but the longer he stood, the worse it seemed to burn. It was the only time he was grateful for the sweatpants Luella had brought him.
Unfortunately, Mai sensed his discomfort.
"Naru? Are you in pain?" She asked as a dull panic started to rise in his chest. He glanced at the source. Mai stared at him with wide eyes.
He immediately slammed his mental block down; he didn't need Mai reading all of his thoughts. But Noll was grateful for the switch in languages. "No," he said curtly. "This is not necessary. Mai, you should go home."
"I know you meant well, Lin, but you're hurting Mai more than your helping me. She shouldn't miss schoolー"
Lin closed the file with a louder smack than should have been possible with the manila folder. "Think about yourself for once, Naru. Someone is gunning for you, and if Mai can help keep you safe then she is staying here."
Noll blinked a few times in surprise. Lin thought someone was after him? Anger welled in his chest, "If Mai is here," Noll seethed, "then SHE is the one in danger."
"Why did you think Mai was in danger?"
"What?" Noll felt like an idiot as his brain slowly came back to the present.
"Why did you think Mai was in danger when she came to England? You didn't know who Dumont was until the kidnapping, correct?"
Dimly, he nodded.
"Why did you think Mai was in danger?" Doctor Arainn asked again.
Noll sighed. It was a stupid question and the answer seemed blatantly obvious. "Mai was in danger."
Chapter 7: Wednesday
"I think that will do for today," Arainn said as she slipped off her glasses. The dark-haired teen stretched his arms above his head, shoulders popping as he stood. She handed him his jacket with a knowing smile. "Are you going to see her?"
Noll raised an eyebrow as if his answer should have been obvious. "It's Wednesday."
Arainn chuckled. "Of course."
He left her office without another word, hugging his jacket closer as the winter wind burned his cheeks. It was only a short walk to the hospital from Arainn's office but it was one Noll enjoyed taking. It seemed like the only time where he was free from the prying eyes of his friends and family.
As he climbed the short flight of stairs leading to the hospital lobby, Noll let himself relax. His shoulders sagged and his back ached from the tension coiled there but he still managed a small smile as the nurse greeted him.
"How are you today, Doctor Davis?" She gave him a kind smile, rummaging through a tall filing cabinet.
Noll shrugged halfheartedly, signing into the visitors' log. "I'm okay," he said. Nearly all of the hospital's main staff knew of the Davises due to Gene and Noll's regular visits. It was almost ironic, now that he was here for someone else. "How is she?"
"Stable," the nurse supplied, looking into the file. "It looks like the wound is healing well, but she'll still need stitches for a while. Here, I'll take you to her."
He nodded and followed the nurse to the elevator which they rode to the third floor. She led him through the maze of halls until they came across one with TANIYAMA, MAI plastered over the linoleum.
"Here she is. I'll come get you when visiting hours are over ー unless you're planning on staying again?"
"Unfortunately, I'm not," Noll said, remembering the lecture Martin had given him when he slept at the hospital for two weeks straight. "Thanks though."
The nurse nodded, giving him another smile before heading back the way they had come.
Noll pushed the door and it opened with a muted creak. She was there, lying placid in the bed in the middle of the room with an IV hooked up to one arm and a heart monitor constantly checking her pulse. Golden sunlight filtered through the window, lighting up her pale skin. He approached her slowly and stroked her short hair with a watery smile. "Konbanwa, Mai."
He waited the space of a second for her to respond but she just breathed evenly, expression serene. Sighing, he pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down, cupping his hand around Mai's smaller one.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, as he always did when he saw her. And that would have been everyday if Martin and Luella hadn't thought it detrimental to his health.
He smoothed back her bangs with his free hand, wishing, not for the first time, to hear her energetic thoughts humming beneath his own. But her mind was silent as she slept. The superficial cuts and bruises had all healed but Mai hadn't shown any signs of waking.
And it was all his fault.
Noll talked for a while before running out of things to say. Then he sat there in silence, lay his head on the firm hospital bed, and watched the sun set. The heart monitor beeped rhythmically as he stroked the back of her hand, a smile teasing the edges of his lips as he remembered the first time he held it.
6 months earlier
It had been a few weeks since Mai's arrival in England and Noll had successfully annoyed Luella into allowing him back to work. Though, on the condition that he not leave his desk for any reason.
Nonetheless, he had sat in his dark office, thankful for the change in scenery. Mai, having just returned from an English lesson with Luella, sat across from him, taping a pencil to her chin in thought. He watched her from the corner of his eye, letting her thoughts slowly seep into his own.
Her focus was on him, debating which hand he used more. She knew he would write with his right hand and then eat with his left. She rationalized this in some odd roundabout way that left Noll feeling quite confused. And he was about to inquire as to why she was studying him when Gene's name got his attention.
Knowing she was watching, he very deliberately reached ー with his right hand ー for his tea. "Gene was left handed, Mai."
She squeaked, pencil flying across the room, as the realization that he was listening dawned on her. "S-So," she stuttered, leaning over the plush chair to retrieve the writing utensil, "you two weren't completely identical, then."
He didn't look up from the laptop. "He was left-handed because his right arm spent most of our childhood in a cast."
"Oh." Her soft pink lips formed an 'O' shape as she settled back into her seat. "Is that why you're ambidextrous?"
Noll finally looked up, surprised. Apparently, while he could hear her thoughts, he couldn't hear all her thoughts. "No. I've never considered myself as such." He set his tea back down and quirked an eyebrow, remembering his original question. "What are you doing?"
She gestured to the paper in front of her with a look of disdain. "Homework." When he only continued to give her a blank stare she added: "My psychology final is a paper on profiling."
"When did you start taking psychology classes?"
"The beginning of the year?" Her answer sounded more like a question. She tapped her chin again. "It was the only advanced social-science class available."
"Hm," he hummed as he turned back to his work. "Well, I would appreciate it if you refrained from using me as your guinea pig."
Mai cracked a grin, leaning in closer. "Ara? Afraid I might uncover something?"
"No," he said, a sardonic smile slipping over his features. "If you were as good as you think you are, you'd already know ー I'm not afraid of anything."
"Not even Luella?"
Noll opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. Instead, he sat back and studied Mai, the room, the interns buzzing just outside his office. "Mai."
The short haired girl had already dubbed the argument over and had returned to her homework. "Nandesuka?"
"Come with me," he said, pushing himself out of his chair.
Mai watched him with wide brown eyes. "I thought Luella said not to leave-"
"It was more of a suggestion than an actual stipulation." Noll shrugged, tugging on his white lab coat instead of his usual black duster.
"Is that why we're sneaking?" She asked dubiously but followed him out the door anyway. Noll kept his head bowed as if he were reading something, but to Mai it just looked it he was being shy. It was an incredibly endearing thought.
He hid his face from the passing interns, pulling in his overwhelming presence until even Mai was having a hard time sensing him.
Without the commanding dip to his shoulders and his confident air, Oliver Davis was just an ordinary 17-year-old boy.
Albeit a really good looking 17-year-old boy.
Noll led her through the maze of hallways until he reached what he had been looking for. Mai followed him into the biggest room she had ever seen ー it was at least ten times the size of her bedroom in Japan. All the walls were stark white and half covered with 2-way viewing windows. "What is this place?"
"The Dungeon," Noll said in a grandiose voice, spreading his arms wide. A small smirk lifted the edges of his lips. "At least, that's what Gene called it. It's Training Room B."
Mai looked about the empty room, skeptical. "Training? For what?"
Noll pressed a button and a large door slid open to their right. The small space was filled with equipment: ball-machines, boxes of EMF measuring devices, cameras, and a bunch of other stuff Mai didn't recognize. "Everything."
She giggled as she tiptoed through the room and took in as much as she could. Everything looked well-used yet in mint condition; it shouldn't have been possible. Mai picked up a small silver box with slits for a speaker. "What's this?"
"A white-noise machineー"
"Noll, are you in here?" Luella's worried voice echoed through the room, punctuated by the sound of approaching footsteps.
Shit. Noll returned Mai's wide-eyed stare with his own. He wasn't supposed to be anywhere but his desk and ー of course ー Luella would go looking for him as soon as she found out he wasn't there.
He didn't think. Noll pushed Mai by the shoulders, hard enough to send her careening into the closest shelf. She cried out but he cut her off with his mouth. Closing the space between them, he wrapped an arm around her waist, the other sneaking up to tangle in her hair.
Mai made a surprised grunt but all Noll would think about was how much she tasted like oranges. Her lips were soft against his, maybe a little chapped from the cold weather, and warm.
Mai jumped beneath him, squirming to get out of his hold. She murmured something against his mouth as Noll pulled back slowly, eyes fluttering open. Was that what it was like to kiss someone? No wonder Gene did it so often.
He let the thought of going further cross his mind before dismissing it. A very confused Luella stood in the doorway to the storage room, hand held delicately over her mouth. Martin stood behind her.
Noll could practically see the gears turning in his parents head as the room fell into an awkward silence.
"Wait," Martin said, looking quickly from his Japanese house guest to his son. "So... Mai isー"
Noll took a breath to steady himself. Lips still buzzing from the kiss, he looked between his adoptive parents, trying to remember what his plan had been. Or if he ever had one. "Uh, it's n-not what you think."
"I... I uh..." Mai resembled a fish, mouth falling open and then quickly closed as she volleyed between feeling surprised and embarrassed. The sight would have made Noll laugh if he hadn't hastily bitten the inside of his cheek and choked down the urge.
Eventually, a grin formed on Luella's face. "Noll! Why didn't you tell us?" She clapped her hands excitedly, hopping on the balls of her feet. "Oh, this is wonderful!"
Beside her, her husband seemed less than ecstatic. His eyes had narrowed at the young couple. "She's not pregnant is she?"
Noll felt the blood simultaneously drain from this face and rush to his cheeks. "You know that's notー"
"I know, I know." The father figure chuckled, relief washing over him as a smile crinkled the corner of his dark eyes. "I just had to be sure."
Luella's eyes were positively brimming with curiosity. "When did this happen? The relationship I mean."
Mai had a deep blush on her cheeks, whether from the question or the kiss, Noll couldn't decide. Her heart thrummed erratically under his fingertips.
"You girls can talk about this over lunch," Martin said with a weary smile, "we were just going to get you guys when we saw that you were gone."
"I was giving Mai a tour."
"Yeah," Luella rolled her eyes sarcastically, "if that's what they're calling it these days."
Noll jerked around, having not heard the door open. His adoptive father hovered just inside the doorway with the nurse from earlier just behind him.
Martin smiled kindly. "It's time to go, Noll."
He nodded, rubbing his eyes as he stood. "Goodnight, Mai," Noll whispered, leaning down to kiss her cheek. Her skin was soft and warm beneath his lips and ー God did he wish she would wake up. He held her hand for another moment, watching her breath come in soft, even puffs. And then he left.
Until next Wednesday.
Chapter 8: Justice
Noll was not in the mood. He paced around the dark office, irritation gnawing at every thought.
Doctor Arainn gave him a pensive look. "Is Mai doing well?"
"As well as someone in a coma can be, I guess." He shrugged, dragging his hand over the numerous books stacked on the bookshelf. Normally, he would have taken the time to read the titles, peel back the covers and read a few passages. Today, he wanted to rip them to shreds. "Why are we doing this?"
Noll gave a humorless laugh, "this entire thing is pointless, you realize that, right?"
Arainn crossed her legs, leveling him with a dark stare. "Are you referring to these sessions? You think they're pointless?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" He mumbled, turning on his heel to lean against the couch.
"I don't get what you're aiming at."
"I mean," Arainn gave him a pointed look, "you were perfectly rational two days ago. What happened after our session?"
Noll sighed, sagging out of his perfect posture. "The prosecutor came to see me yesterday..."
"What did she say?"
"The evidence against... Dumont is circumstantial at best. She doesn't think we can win the case." He watched his fingers work their way into a tight fist. "Not without my testimony."
"And if you take the stand..." she drifted off as realization hit. Doctor Arainn might have just been a therapist but she knew enough about the court system to get what he was hinting at. "You could be put on trial for murder."
He turned away from her words, body tense. "Exactly."
"I'm sorry, Oliver. I know this isn't the ideal situation but there's still a chance he will be indicted."
Noll pounded his fist into the couches' wooden frame. "I can't take that chance." He barked, "Mai deserves justice for what he did to her and I will make damn sure she gets it."
Arainn was silent for a long moment, studying him. Then she pulled her notebook into her lap and gestured to the couch. "If you're really sure about this then I suggest you sit down. When are opening statements?"
"I want you here, in my office, every day for the next two weeks. We've got a lot to cover and not a lot of time."
Noll nodded deftly, collapsing onto the hard cushions with a thud. "Thank you," he said, "for helping me."
Arainn clicked her pen, "You can thank me when you don't have a mental breakdown on the stand. Now, I need you to tell me about the second kidnapping attempt."
"I know," she interrupted, "I told you before not to skip anything but we're on a schedule now. If it's not immediately critical to the story, then we don't need to go over it."
He pushed a hand through his hair, holding it there. "Fine," he conceded. The thought of skipping over most of his time with Mai, but even he had to admit it wasn't important. He closed his eyes. "It was early December. This couple had been requesting to see me for some time..."
6 months earlier
His head pulsed; that spot just above his eye. He pressed a hand to his temple trying to ignore the dull throb but it was just... there.
"I'm listening." He eyed the intern, all blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses. She was supposed to be top of her class and aiming for her own doctorate, but Noll couldn't help but think the 'leggy model' thing was why she was assigned to him.
"I know you're not officially back yet but there's this couple. They've been trying to make an appointment with you for months ー are you alright?"
Noll had leaned forward, resting his hot cheek on the cold glass of his desk. His leg was throbbing in time with his head. He made a gesture, closing his eyes. "Appointment for what?"
"You haven't heard?" She asked, incredulous. When Noll just glared in her direction she quickly continued, "Their daughter went missing two weeks ago. They've been trying to get in contact with you but..."
He stayed silent but gave a curt nod of his head. Sweat had begun to bead across his forehead as the headache raged on. The memory flickered, blurring with his effort to recall it.
Miss Intern cocked her head to the side, reading off the file in her hand, "Annalise Foster, 14 years old."
He paused, posture rigid and tried not to think about the statistics that had crossed his mind then. Survival rates, recovery rates... Those didn't matter anymore. He already knew the outcome. "Reschedule them for," he stood, checking his watch, "two o'clock."
"But," she said, following him out the door, "you have a prep meeting at two."
He ignored her, turning down the hall to the main area. "Is that all?"
"Nothing important. Where are we going?"
The office area was loud, buzzing with activity. With a sigh, Noll turned back to the intern and continued. "You are going to go back to your desk and call the Foster's. I'm going to have that prep meeting with Martin." His voice sounded as if he were talking into a glass jar. The image of the intern wavered as he left her out in the hallway.
The color of Martin's walls looked pastel and more dreamlike than Noll would have like. It was making him nauseous.
"Don't open your eyes. On a scale of zero to one-hundred, how anxious do you feel?"
"Can you tell me why?"
Noll bit his lip. "You'll see."
Doctor Arainn huffed and he could hear her scribbling something down in her notebook. "Continue then."
He was split between feeling annoyed and relieved. The case seemed, for lack of a better word, simple. Almost too much so.
"And when was the last time you saw her?"
"T-Tuesday afternoon." The woman on the couch hiccupped. He watched as she leaned into her husband, sniffling delicately into her tissue.
Martin was observing from behind his desk with his hands clasped tightly in front of him. Noll tried not to think how hard it must have been for him to remain impassive. He was a father whose child had also gone missing. That story, too, had ended in tragedy.
Mai stood just behind the love seat, frowning at her teacup with a despondent look in her eyes.
Noll wished she would leave. She didn't need to hear this. "Where?"
"Home. She was h-heading to s-soccer practice and... God, I should have gone with her but I-I couldn't just leave Egor alone."
"Our son." Mr. Foster replied, raising his gaze to Noll's. It was the first time he'd spoken since the couple had arrived. "He's just a couple months old."
"How old is Annalise?"
"She-She'll be 15 next month."
He closed my eyes and brought the cup of tea to his lips, breathing in the earthy scent of Earl Grey. But he didn't drink. He thought.
Annalise Foster was a 14-year-old girl gone missing just short of a week ago. Noll had read the case file, complete with newspaper clippings and police reports multiple times but something still felt off.
He opened his eyes to study the couple. Mrs. Foster's eyes were red and puffy, signs of distress clear in the sag of her shoulders. It was clear she was the driving force behind the search for Annalise. Mr. Foster looked a little disorganized, aiming a blank stare at the floor.
"Is anything Annalise has done in the past few weeks that might have led to her disappearance?"
Mrs. Foster's eyes filled with fresh tears. She hid her face in her husband's chest and sobbed quietly. "No," Mr. Foster said, gazing at his wife but not moving to comfort her. "Ana was a happy soul. She always was."
"There were no arguments? No rebelliousness that you can remember?"
Mrs. Foster jerked away from her husband, sniffling as she stared at him. He tried not to flinch. "Are... Are you suggesting my daughter has... Run away?"
"Would there be any reason for her to?"
Her brown eyes widened, anger morphing quickly into rage. Noll sipped his tea.
"Doctor Davis," her voice was cold. Ridged. Defensive. "Right now my daughter is out there by herself, alone and afraid. So call me what you will, accuse me of whatever you please but you must help me find her before something bad happens. Please."
Mai made a noise halfway between surprise and anger. Noll met her gaze, saw the concern swirling in the honey brown irises.
Martin cleared his throat. "Noll,"
Noll raised his hand to stop him and regarded the Fosters' carefully. "Are you familiar with psychometry?"
They exchanged looks. Mrs. Foster shook her head.
Noll took a breath, watching Mai fiddle with the empty tea cup. "Psychometry is the ability to read the past or future of a person through an object they are familiar with."
Suddenly a loud ruckus erupted from the main office area, leaking through the walls of the office. Martin rose from his chair with a quick apology. "Mai? Come with me please? I need you to go find Lin."
Mai was reluctant to leave Noll alone in such a situation but nodded and excused herself from the room with the professor.
"When they said you could help us..." Mrs. Foster swallowed and shared a look with her husband. "Are you sure this will help us find Annalise?"
No, he wasn't sure, not entirely. Despite the ability to see through the victims eyes, it never guaranteed success. Realizing they were still waiting for an answer, Noll stumbled for the right words. "Psychometry will give you irrefutable answers." He offered, "But be warned. What I see might not be what you want to hear. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"
Mr. Foster looked terrified but his wife nodded eagerly. "I just... I need to know. I want her to come home."
Noll nodded curtly. "Do you have an object of Ana's? Something she was fond of, perhaps?"
Mrs. Foster had started to shake her head before she stopped and looked expectantly at her husband. "Yes," she breathed, "you have her ring don't you, Daniel? He's been carrying it around with him since she disappeared." She directed the last part at Noll as she waited expectantly for her husband to dig the ring out go his pocket. With shaking hands he handed it over.
The fear hit first, his skin tingling where the silver ring lay in his palm. Then the nausea hit. He held his breath to keep from retching there in front of the Fosters'.
He turned the ring over in his hand, rubbing a thumb over the square pink diamond, and suddenly, he was her. Annalise.
He ー she ー was on her knees, hands held securely behind her by a man Noll couldn't see. Mr. Foster, however, was in plain view, hovering by the door. "What do you want from me?" Annalise spit, struggling against her captor, "I'm not going to do anything for you!"
Foster smirked as he sized the girl up. "You will do as I say, Ana," he said, thick Russian accent shaping his words, "or you will die. You're choice."
"Go fuck yourself ー ahhhh!" Annalise screamed, white lightening jolting through her. Noll felt his own heart stutter from the shock.
Or maybe it was from the pressure wrapped around his neck.
Annalise's presence lingered at the edge of his brain as Noll struggled for air. He knew this wasn't part of the vision ー this was happening to his real body.
With a jolt, Noll wrenched himself out of the vision, the room spinning dangerously as he recognized the feeling of hands around his throat. The face above him was Mr. Foster's, his black eyes glistening with self-importance. "S vozvrasheniyem, Olivier," he cackled, Russian accent once again seeping into his voice.
"You..." Noll growled, bucking his hips. The Russian had expected a struggle and widened his stance over the teen. He hadn't, however, expected the punch to his nose. "You murderer!"
Chapter 9: Escape
6 months earlier
Noll gasped around Foster's oversized hands, searching with watery eyes for anything he could use as a weapon. What he saw was Mrs. Foster (if that was even her real name) lurking by the door with a forlorn expression.
"Hurry up!" she hissed, peeping through the small curtained window.
Noll threw another punch that landed neatly on the side of Mr. Foster's collarbone. When his hands loosened from the shock of it, Noll gulped down a lungful of air. "She was your daughter." He managed, head thrumming in time to his racing heart. "How could... do that... your daughter?"
A sharp crack filled the room as Noll let out a strangled cry. "Shut up!" Foster snapped, kneeing him again in the rib.
Every little movement felt like his insides were being set ablaze. Oxygen was no longer making its way to his brain and the edges of his vision were fading to black, dark spots taking over.
Noll was well aware that he was going to suffocate there on the office floor, but suddenly, he couldn't bring himself to care. One minute he was writhing in waves of pain and the next he was blissfully unaware.
He saw nothing; no darkness, no light. It wasn't that he couldn't see, but that his brain had deemed the action unnecessary. He heard no sound, but wasn't encased in silence.
Warm. That was the word. He felt warmth sweeping over him. It beckoned him forward, pulling with a promise of safety and contentment andー
Noll felt his muscles twitch, vibrating as he slammed back into awareness. He swallowed hard and managed to open his mouth to speak but then his jaw locked and his teeth came smashing back together. The taste of copper exploded over his tongue.
Soft hands cupped his face. "Naru? Can you hear me?"
"Don't move," Lin appeared beside Mai and Noll couldn't help but hope he wasn't making a habit out of waking to those words. "The paramedics are on the way,"
"What happened?" He croaked, voice cracking. "Where'd they go?"
Mai creased her eyebrows, sitting back on her heels. Noll tried not to notice the absence of her hands on his face. "They attacked you, Naru. You don't remember?"
"That's not what I meant," he said, bringing a hand up to massage his sore throat. "Where are they?"
"The woman is being held in another room until the police arrive." Lin gestured to the office door and then the broken window. "I'm sorry but the man got away."
"Damn it." Noll smashed his fist into the floor and immediately regretted it. His hand throbbed.
Lin glared down at his young charge. "When you get discharged from the hospital, you and I will be spending a lot more time in the dojo. You obviously don't remember how to fight without using your PK."
Noll rolled his eyes. "They caught me in a vision. I wasn't exactly expecting-" he hushed as two paramedics rushed into the room. They settled down beside him, checking his vitals and asking annoying questions. He answered with short, curt answers, listening more to what Lin was whispering to Mai.
"I'm going to go with Noll to the ambulance. Meet me in Training Room B. You're going to get your first Qi-gong lesson."
Noll was the type of person who hated the cold. Well, he hated being hot too, but it was something about the way his toes always froze before he could manage to get to sleep.
But he had been sleeping, he realized groggily. The kink in his back was a testament to that.
Grumbling, he kicked the blanket back over his feet and tried to return to the land unconsciousness, but it was too late. He was wide awake.
Noll sighed. He needed tea. Even when he was little, a nice hot cup of tea (or in Gene's case, hot chocolate) would always make him feel better. So he padded as quietly as he could down the hallway to the back stairway that lead right into the kitchen. Blinking against the bright overhead lights, he grabbed the kettle and stuck it under the faucet.
The kettle clanged loudly onto the counter as Noll spun around, heart pounding. In his sleepy haze it hadn't occurred to him that someone else could be up at this hour. Or that he should have thought to put some actual clothes on.
Takigawa raised an eyebrow, sipping from a coffee mug as he regarded half-naked Noll, "I couldn't either."
Noll managed a nod, leaning as far away from the monk as he possibly could. The two men hadn't been alone in the same room since the he and the rest of the Irregulars arrived in England. It was hard for Noll not to remember the way Takigawa's hands twisted in his hospital gown, pinning him against the wall. "What did you do?" The older man growled, "Why are you standing here while she's fighting for her life in that bed?!"
His own voice was hoarse and meek, barely audible above the steady beep of the heart monitor. "I-I tried t-to save her-"
"Not hard enough!"
"Hōshō! Stop it!" The redhead priestess appeared in the doorway. She pulled at the Monk's shirt, tears streaming down her face. "It's not his fault! Let him go."
"The hell is isn't," he spit but stepped away from the bedraggled boy. His eyes were bloodshot, tears threatening to fall. "If she dies, Oliver, I swear I will kill you myself."
A chill ran through Noll. Though that hadn't been the first threat he'd received that week, it definitely was the scariest. He couldn't find it in himself to blame the monk for what he was feeling that way but he wasn't exactly excited to be face to face again. Even if Mai's condition was stable.
Swallowing hard, Noll forced himself to ignore the company and focus back on his task. He filled the kettle and rummaged around for his favorite teacup as he waited for it to whistle.
When he finally had his cup he turned to make his way back to his bedroom but stopped. Takigawa didn't look up as Noll watched him from the corner of his eye. The monk sat at the kitchen table, a small mountain of rectangular papers spread out in front of him. Curiosity hit as Noll realized these small rectangles were, in fact, pictures.
Pushing self-preservation aside, (along with the knowledge that he was still only in his boxers) Noll deftly pulled out the chair opposite of the monk and took a seat. He glanced over the pictures; most of them were filled with various members of the SPR team laughing and smiling. A few of them bore his face, stern and glaring at the person behind the camera. He spotted one lingering at the edge of the table featuring both him and his brown haired assistant in the midst of an argument. Even from the picture it was obvious Mai was winning.
Takigawa sifted through the photos with a sigh. "I feel like as soon as I fall asleep, she'll wake up. And she'll be scared because no one is there to greet her." He smiled at a picture of himself and Mai decorating the tree on Christmas last year. "It's stupid, I know, but I can't stop thinking about it."
Noll didn't say anything but sipped his tea. It didn't taste the same when he made it - he could never get just the right amount of lemon - but it would have to do for now.
Takigawa glanced at him over the picture. "What's your excuse?"
The way the monk was studying him made Noll feel like he had no choice but to answer. But the thought of explaining how his room was too cold for him to sleep made him feel like an idiot, so instead he said: "Nightmare."
It wasn't a lie; not entirely. He had experienced chronic nightmares ever since waking up in the hospital with healing burns and fresh memories of the hell he'd just survived. Tonight he'd just happened to wake to his frozen toes than to his screams.
"Yeah?" Monk questioned, taking another mouthful of coffee. "Naruー" he started, then stopped. He leaned back into the wooden chair and Noll felt the weight of his gaze sweeping over his exposed skin.
Fresh pink and purple scars littered almost every inch of his back and torso, spreading up over his shoulders and around the curve of his ribs. Noll wished he had been more careful about wearing a shirt.
"What happened in there?" Takigawa breathed the question. His eyes had that pained look Noll had grown to hate overtime. It was the same look the doctors gave him, the same look his parents gave him.
It was sickening. "You'll find out soon enough." He said, downing the last of the tea and leaving the monk alone at the table to lay the cup in the sink. "You're attending the trial, right?"
"Oh," Takigawa looked guilty. He scratched the back of his head. "I, uh... I'm on the witness list, actually."
"You're... You're what?"
"Character witness. Ms. Klein stopped by again while you were at therapy. Since you're taking the stand she thinks it's a good idea to have someone to tell the jury what you were like before... This..." He gestured to the scars.
Noll crossed his arms, half hoping to restore some of his dignity. "And you volunteered?"
"No. But I was the only one who qualified. Well, John-san and Masako-san did too but John-san is too nice to say anything bad and Masako-san wasn't sure she could be non-bias. So it fell to me."
"I..." Noll bowed his head, trying to think of something to say. But he wasn't sure if he should have been angry that his friends were being dragged into his mess or happy that even through everything, they were willing to support him. He had already started up the stairs when he turned back to the monk. "Promise me something?"
Takigawa paused in his attempt at brewing another pot of coffee. "Yeah?"
"Tell the truth."
He laughed. "You don't have to worry about that. And Naru?"
Noll turned around again.
"You should know... I'm not doing this for you," the monk said, stirring in a generous amount of creamer. "I'm doing this for her."
"Yeah," Noll smiled. "I know."
Chapter 10: Citrus
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.
Chapter 11: Remainder
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."
Chapter 12: Memory
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."
Chapter 13: Epitaph
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.
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."
"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.
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:
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…
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?
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.
Chapter 14: Influence
It didn't work.
James slams the phone back down on its holder, ramming a hand through his short hair. It didn't make sense. He'd planned every minute so meticulously, detailed every word ー accounted for every possibility. And it still hadn't worked. He growled, slamming his fist onto the small phone desk.
Oliver Davis should be dead.
The officers in the corner of the room flinch, hands hovering over their stun guns as they eye the prisoner. James sighs, pushing himself to his feet. He just needs time, that's all. More time to figure it out.
"Hands behind your back." One of the officers approaches him cautiously, hand-cuffs in one hand and the other still firmly on his weapon. James doesn't fight; he allows the officer to shove him down against the desk and place the cuffs too tightly on his wrists.
"Do you have any manners?" He snarls as he's jerked back into his standing position. "I'm not an animal."
The heat of pent up anger rushes to his cheeks as the officer grabs him by the elbow, spinning him around. His head spins with the sudden surge of energy. It feels as though a soft golden light is pumping through him, stretching out just beneath his skin.
James revels in the sweet, familiar sensation, catching the officer's gaze. "Loosen the handcuffs." His voice sounds like a melodic lullaby even to his own ears. He watches expectably as the officer's eyes grow wide and then glaze over as it takes effect. James clears his throat and speaks again. "Take them off."
The officer jumps to attention, scrambling to get the key out. James turns and after a moment, the cuffs fall away. "Thank you," he said, massaging the bright red marks on his wrists. "Take me to my cell."
A grin makes its way onto his lips as he follows behind the officer back to the cell block.
Yes, he just needs more time. After all, he has no intentions of dying in a prison cell.
"Olly ー Oliver. Wake up. Come on now, open your eyes ー that's it."
Noll comes back to consciousness in waves of familiar sounds. The tic, tic, tic of a clock. The steady breathing of the person sitting beside him, their warm hand on his should in the exact place his brother's had been. He blinks slowly, a frown on his face. Gene, you bastard, he wants to say but his voice fails him at the sight of the dark green eyes that are definitely not his brother's.
Noll tried to lift his hand, to smooth away the oncoming headache, but his arms wouldn't respond. They felt cold, detached from the rest of him. This isn't right. Noll tries to blink away the uneasiness but can't seem to find the strength to open them again.
He shouldn't be here, his fuzzy mind told him, he should be… he should be…
"Hey," someone snaps, but it sounds far away. Too far for him to care. "I need you to stay with me, Oliver. Can you do that? Focus on me."
He feels something cold press against his lips and another, more familiar voice orders him to drink. The second the cold liquid slips down his throat, Noll feels more alert. Despite the voice in his ear telling him to take his time, Noll gulps down half the glass. His throat feels raw, swollen, and lights up like fire with every wheezing breath.
August Arainn watches him, pressing his lips together in a tight smile, eyes crinkling just slightly around the edges as he felt Noll's wrist. "Pulse is normal," he announces, "He should be stable but we should get him to the hospital just to make sure."
Bou-san, stop it!
Don't touch her!
"Oh," Noll groans, but it comes out as more of a raspy gasp. He takes another sip of water and gingerly clears his throat. "Maiー"
"Are you all right?" Doctor Arainn pulls a small flashlight from his coat pocket, shinning it into Noll's eyes.
Noll shakes his head, "Where's Mai?"
Here, he hears in his head, feeling the pull of their connection.
Before he knows it, Noll had jumped from the bed and is racing down the stairs, taking them two at a time, until he stumbles to the ground floor and into the living room. Mai, who is sitting in the ottoman beside Luella, flashes him a small, painful smile. Noll wants to go to her, to make sure she is really okay, but stops dead when he notices the Irregulars occupying the rest of the room.
Noll flinches back, half expecting someone to come after him again, but no one moves. They all look completely dejected, avoiding his gaze ー but not out of hatred, this time. Out of guilt.
August is behind him, closely followed by Martin and Lin. The doctor clicks the flashlight off with a sigh, "You could have a concussion, Oliver. You need to sit down." Noll shakes his head. He feels fine, despite the fear growing in his chest. He stumbles a step backward, nearly bumping into the doctor in his panic.
August recognizes the look on the teens face and holds him firmly in place, urging him further into the room as he whispers, "You're friends were under some kind of hypnotism," he explains, "much like you were."
Noll doesn't want to believe it but there is definitely something wrong with the group. They are pale and wide eyed, focused sheepishly on their hands. Takigawa is the worst of them all, bent over in his seat with his head in his hands. It was obvious something has gotten to them.
At the sight of her son, Luella crosses the room, violet eyes sad as she spots the dark bruises forming over Noll's pale throat. "Oh, Oliver," she whispers, "You can't ー if we need to post-pone the trialー"
"No!" Noll shouts, but his voice cracks. He coughs into his sleeve, ignoring the burning pain that follows. "No," he says again, this time his voice doesn't waver, "I can do it."
He let James hurt him and his friends for too long. He isn't about to let him get away with it.
Luella glances up at her husband, who shrugs, knowing nothing he could say will change the stubborn teens mind. They murmur to each other, something Noll can't quite hear as they ready themselves. Slowly, Noll finds himself alone in the room with his father, the Irregulars, and Mai.
Mai smiles at him, slow to rise from the ottoman as she crosses the room. You need to forgive them. She thinks to him, brushing her hand across the back of his as she passes, the rest of her thoughts buzzing just beneath his. Noll turns to watch her leave, a frown on his face.
Forgive them? He thinks, how could he forgive them for continuing his torture even after he'd made it out of that basement? He clenches his fists at the thought, then pauses, realizing... he already has forgiven them.
I know you have, Mai continues, even after she disappears into the kitchen, but they don't.
As if on que, Takigawa rises slowly from his seat, his blue eyes glossy and focused on the floor. "Naru-bou, I..." he reached out, then thinks better of it.
Noll turns from his father who paused in the doorway, face pensive, and faces the group. He glances at each of them, "There is no need to apologize."
Masako and John's head snap up, surprise mounting on their faces. Matsuzaki and Yasu are slower, peaking up at him through their eyelashes.
"Yes." Monk urges, "Yes, there is. We've-"
Noll raises a hand to silence him. "You wanted to protect Mai, right?"
Takigawa slumps his shoulders, surprise bringing his blue gaze to Noll's. "But... I've done something awful andー"
"And it isn't your fault." Noll gestures to the group, "It isn't any of your faults. It's Dumont."
Noll takes a confident step forward, a smirk on his face as he offered his hand to the tall monk. "Let's get this bastard."
Takigawa stares at the offered hand, unsure what do to. But Noll stands, unwavering.
"I can't do this without you, Bou-san. Any of you."
Cautiously, the monk takes his hand, surprised the teens firm grip. A smile breaks over his face.
Chapter 15: Trial by Fire
Trial by Fire
Noll stands uncomfortably in the middle of the judge's chambers, trying not to fidget with the hem of his nice dress shirt as he waits. It feels like he's been standing here for ages, answering the sporadic questions the Judges threw at him. It had started with his physical condition, asking how he had gotten the deep purple bruises encircling his neck. Noll had been able to shrug it off as lingering injuries, and they hadn't asked again.
The five old men, a 'panel' as it had been explained to him (to judge wether or not his case actually had some merit to it) continued on, talking as if he wasn't present; some pretentious, unbelieving, some filled with wonder as they discuss the possibility of preternatural powers.
Usually, Noll wouldn't mind the discussion – he would join in. He would push and calculate and take the situation into his own hands, spinning it to the outcome he wanted. If he had been Shibuya, the cold stares of the judges wouldn't have bothered him in the least. But this, this is different. He is Oliver Davis, world renowned Parapsychologist, not Shibuya Kazuya, no-name ghost hunter, and his heart is pounding loud in his ears, nervousness making his hands tremble.
"Preposterous. The whole idea is preposterous."
Noll holds back a sigh, wishing Mai had been allowed in to accompany him. Wishing anyone had been allowed to accompany him. Alas, he was thrown into the lion's den with nothing to protect him but his own sheer will and a freshly pressed suit. At least the suit would make it out intact.
"Well, Mr. Davis?"
Doctor Davis, Noll wants to correct the judge to his left who had done more than his fair share of the insulting thus far, but he restrains himself. Now is not the time to make enemies. Especially after he'd missed the question. "I'm sorry, Your Honor?"
"A demonstration, if you please."
"Oh." Noll manages a weak nod, pausing a moment to glance at the video camera balanced precariously on a book shelf beside him. He never did like being in front of the camera, especially while using his abilities. But it seems he doesn't have any other option.
One of the judges mistakes his hesitation as a refusal. "Just a party trick." He hisses, gesturing to the other judges, "What did I tell you. This whole case is a fraud. It should be thrown out."
Noll freezes halfway to a pen lying haphazardly on one of the judge's desks, stomach dropping at the thought of James walking free. After everything he's done...
"Give the boy a chance, will you, Harper?"
"Yes, please proceed, Mr. Davis."
Noll eyes the five judges, unsure even as he concentrates on the thin pencil, making an easy connection.
The pencil quivers once before lifting smoothly into the air. He rotates it, moves it sideways through the air, then drops it on Judge Harper's desk. Harper reaches for it immediately, searching for a string, a source for the trick.
He finds nothing.
"H-how did you do that? Show me the trick."
Noll turns to the judge, unable to keep the scowl off his face, "There is no trick."
"Unlike Judge Harper, I do not dismiss what I don't understand." The middle judge, Judge Mathis, states, not hiding his contempt as he eyed his equal. He smiles as he turns back to Noll, "I simply wish to understand it."
"Please explain, Mr. Davis. How do you do these, as Harper put it, magic tricks?"
Noll frowns. He's never been asked to explain it before. Gene had attempted to, something about physics and vibrational frequencies, but it had never made sense to Noll. "I've never been able to adequately describe it." He shrugs, flicking his wrist so the pencil rolls back and forth on the flat desk. "I really don't know."
Judge Mathis nods, "I do believe we have seen all we need to, gentleman. The case against Mr. Dumont will continue as planned." He reaches out a hand which Noll graciously accepts. "Thank you for your time and energy, Oliver. It is something I think each of us will cherish, always."
"No, thank you, Judge Mathis."
Noll shakes each of the judge's hands in turn.
Judge Harper is last, keeping his grip in an almost painful way as he glares down his nose. "I'm not as easily fooled as my peers, Mr. Davis. I will not allow you to make a mockery of this court."
Noll feels his cheeks heat in anger, or embarrassment, he isn't sure, but he meets Harper's steely brown eyes with his own calm blue ones. He knows not everyone in the world will believe him, just as not everyone believes in ghosts or spirits.
He calms himself with this thought as he releases Judge Harper's hand but not before the image of a young girl with her arms crossed in a defiant gesture took over his thoughts. He feels a brief anger for this girl he's never met, and a longing, then the image is gone.
Noll turns to leave, unable to stop himself before he says, "You should spend more time with your daughter. She misses you."
The judge turns to face him, eyes wide and mouth agape, "Howー" but Noll is already gone.
2 days later
Noll leans forward, reaching his arms across the cool wooden desk, absolutely sure if he has to wait much longer he is going to be sick. He knows any second now he will once again be face to face (or at least desk to desk) with Dumont. Part of him is ready; ready to face the source of his and Mai's torment. The other part is absolutely terrified.
Will he be able to resist?
It took a near death experience and his twin brother to break the spell before, if he falls into it again... Noll shakes his head. He can't think like that.
The prosecutor, Alexandra Ryan, shuffles through her papers one last time, offering him an apologetic smile. "Are you okay, Oliver?"
"I wish people would stop asking me that." He mumbles, laying his head in his stretched out arms.
She chuckles, pushing a glass of water his way. "I'll take that as a no. Just try to breathe. I'll be over soon, I promise."
Not soon enough, he's about to say when a hush falls over the court room. A chill runs the length of his spine as the door on the far side of the room creaks open and two wardens appear, each holding the elbow of James Dumont. He gives a cheeky grin when he sees Noll, a grin that screams anger. Noll drops his gaze from those hypnotic brown eyes, turning instead to lock eyes with Mai, sitting in the audience behind him. But she doesn't notice.
Mai's blank faced, studying James intently, as if she were waiting to remember his face. But then she bites her lips and Noll wishes he could say something to comfort her. But then another officer makes his way to the middle of the court room, pulling his attention back to the floor.
The officer looks over the room with an even gaze, his voice loud. "All rise for presiding judge, Judge Mathis."
Noll's stomach flips but he swallows the nausea and stands alongside the prosecutor as Judge Mathis steps up to the Judges chairs. His dark blue robes shimmer in the bright light.
"Be seated," he announces, adjusting his glasses.
The officer hands the judge a thick file, "Docket number 032763, criminal case of Oliver Davis versus James Dumont."
Judge Mathis clasps his hands together, meeting Noll's wide eyes with a nod. "Are both sides ready?"
Mrs. Klein's smile fades, replaced by a serious expression as she stands confidently beside Noll, "The prosecution is ready, Your Honor."
Noll could still feel James' gaze on him as the defense attorney rose from his seat, flattening his tie with a calm smile. "The defense is ready, Your Honor."
The judge nods, rifling through something on his podium. He doesn't look up as he gestures to the bailiff, "Bring in the Jury."
One by one, the ladies and gentleman of the jury file in and take their seats. Noll watches them, some looking around at him, at James, and some avoiding them completely, gaze locked straight ahead. When they are all seated, it hits Noll that these twelve complete strangers are about to learn his entire life story. As if telling it to Dr. Arainn hadn't been hard enough.
Privacy. His whole life, every precaution they'd taken had been about keeping his and Gene's identities secret so they could work and live the way they wanted. Without the worlds judgments and expectations; without being sought after for what they could do.
Obviously, it hadn't worked out.
Noll clenches his trembling hands into fists. When had he become such a cry baby?
This decision had been made for him months ago. The second he woke in that black basement with James Dumont standing over him, Noll knew he would sacrifice anything to end it. One way or another, their lives, the way they knew it, would never be the same.
Noll closes his eyes, focusing on the gentle hum of Mai's presence behind him, and he straightens in his seat.
He can do this.
Judge Mathis' voice booms through the court room. Noll opens his eyes to find him addressing the Jury with a soft but stern smile.
"This case is full of unique circumstances that may seem farfetched or fantastical at times, but I must ask that you all treat this case the same as you would any other. At times where it seems unbelievable, I implore you to suspend you're disbelief so that you may reach a right and true verdict."
The Jury replies in a chorus of "Yes, Your Honor"'s before they take their seats and are sworn in by the bailiff. None of them look at all surprised by his words as Judge Mathis continues on, leaving Noll wondering exactly why these twelve were chosen.
"Let's proceed to opening statements."
Mrs. Klein wastes no time in jumping into her speech, reciting Noll's story in only a few words. She's speaks to the Jury with a strong but emotional voice, promising to prove to them that James Dumont is a monster.
When she is done the defense attorney stands and makes his way to the Jury.
Noll straightens in his seat.
"Ladies and Gentleman, the prosecution would have you believe that Oliver Davis is a victim. That he and Mai Taniyama fell victim to my client's monstrous acts ー but that is not the case. In fact, it's the exact opposite. My client, James Dumont, is a victim of Oliver Davis."
Noll had been warned; he knew this would happen, but nothing could have prepared him to hear it out loud. He feels his heart stutter.
Mrs. Klein doesn't look surprised as she covers his hand with hers. "Oliver, breathe."
He can't. Some of the Jury look incredulous, some are riveted by the man's story.
"Oliver Davis is a well-known parapsychologist. A boy who is frequently sought after for his abilities; abilities that can move a 50 kilogram aluminum block without touching it. Abilities that once allowed him to save an American millionaire's son from suffocation after being buried alive." The man makes a wide sweeping motion to Noll. "It's impressive ー and difficult. So difficult, in fact, that it's not hard to imagine a young teenager buckling under the pressure, especially so soon after his own twin brother's death.
Oliver Davis wanted out and he wanted to take Mai Taniyama with him. So he arranged her flight here and planned to run away with her. But something went wrong. Miss Taniyama was severely injured by the hands of Mr. Davis and he didn't want to take the blame. Instead, he made up a story, a story that involved my client kidnapping the pair and torturing them for use of those impressive abilities. During this trial you will hear circumstantial evidence against James Dumont and his role in this 'kidnapping'. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I ask that you look beyond the lies and storytelling, and see that my client is not guilty."
When the man stops speaking, he strides calmly back across the silent court room and takes his place beside a snickering James. Noll looks away, wishing he could turn to see Mai, to comfort her, but he knew he couldn't. So he just closes his eyes and fights off the urge to stand and express his frustration. He can feel the indignant stares of the crowd and the Jury, trying desperately to ignore them as Judge Mathis broke the silence.
"The prosecution may call their first witness."
"We call character witness, Hōshō Takigawa to the stand."
Noll sat one the edge of his seat through what seemed like hours of testimony about him. The monk kept his promise, not holding back as he aptly describes the teen genius, a work-a-holic with compassion for everyone he helped, even if he didn't like to show it.
He takes the first part as a compliment, choosing to ignore that last bit.
"Would you consider Mr. Davis you're friend?"
Monk didn't try to hide his smile as he nods at Noll. "Yes. I would."
"Then," Mrs. Klein didn't look amused, "as his friend, can you tell me how Mr. Davis got those bruises?" She gestures to Noll who shrinks back in his seat, tugging the collar up around his neck.
Takigawa's calm expression pinches, lips turning down in a frown. "Those are from me."
"Can you explain what happened?"
"Um," the monk runs a hand through his hair, nervousness making him stutter, "I'm not really sure. I-I was just so... Angry. I thought he was going to hurt Mai."
"No. Naru may be a bit cold sometimes, but he'd never hurt anyone. Especially Mai."
"Then what made you think that he would hurt Miss Taniyama?"
"I don't know. I was told afterward that I had been under someone else's influence."
Mrs. Klein leans on her podium, looking completely at home as she asks, "By who?"
"Doctor August Arainn."
"Thank you. No further questions, Your Honor."
Mrs. Klein sits back down beside Noll, her spot by the podium taken by the defense attorney whose name Noll wasn't sure. His presence emanates sly confidence that borders on self-importance. "Mr. Takigawa," he says, pausing.
Takigawa adjusts himself, clearing his throat. "Yes?"
"Have you ever spoken to my client before?"
"Have you ever had contact with him before?"
"Mr. Takigawa, have you ever even seen my client before today?"
"Then how is it that you claim to have fallen under the hypnotic suggestion of a man you've never met?"
Noll has never seen Takigawa as annoyed as he is now, crossing his arms as he shrugs at the defense attorney. "I'm not the expert."
The defense attorney faces the jury who are watching the exchange with curious faces. Noll follows his gaze. "Could it be that you knew the truth behind Mr. Davises ploy and wanted revenge? Is that why you tried to strangle him to death?"
Ploy? Noll openly glares at the man who in turn, spins on his heel to face him.
"No. Naru would neverー"
"Earlier you called Mr. Davis a genius."
The monk is peeved at being cut off but he nods along. "He is."
"But you don't think he's smart enough to plan the kidnapping?"
"That's not what Iー"
"Is it possible, Mr. Takigawa, that Mr. Davis staged the events of December 2003? Do you believe he possess the intellect to devise such an elaborate scheme?"
Takigawa's icy glare melts to an indignant one, as if he didn't want to say what he knew he should.
The defense attorney sees this weakness growing in the monk and moves closer, whispering, "May I remind you that you are under oath."
Takigawa visibly sags in defeat, "...y-yes."
"Yes, it is... possible."
The attorney's face lights up. He nods once at the Jury before turning to the judge, "No further questions, Your Honor."
Noll hangs his head as the monk leaves the stand and a heavy air fills the room. He barely hears the prosecutor call their next witness, Doctor August Arainn, over the rampant beating of his heart. A few hours ago, justice seemed to be just out of reach. Now, Noll isn't so sure.
He listens idly as August delves into his explanation of hypnotism with the gentle prompting of Mrs. Klein, explaining the practices and its uses in a hodgepodge of big words and lingo even Noll isn't sure he understood, but the Jury seemed to. He sneaks glances at them, surprised to find some of them nodding along to the hypnotisms rant.
"And what exactly is an 'anchor', Dr. Arainn?"
"It's a term used to describe a lingering hypnotic suggestion, usually linked to a person's memory of an object or person."
"And this 'suggestion' can be triggered at any time?"
"Yes. If the hypnotist is strong enough, the anchor can last for hours or days before being triggered. Months even."
"And this is what you believe Mr. Takigawa was under when he attacked Mr. Davis just the other day?"
"Without a doubt."
It drones on. An hour, or maybe several hours later, Noll finds Mrs. Klein nudging him. He raises his head to meet her dark, expectant gaze as she pulls him to his feet. "Are you ready?"
"Ready?" He asks.
Her eyebrows rise in a show of pity. He immediately hates it. "To testify. It's your turn."
"Oh." With that one word his confidence crumbles. He has never felt more self-conscious in his life; he can't move, can't think. After watching the defense attorney tear apart Takigawa-san's testimony, Noll is absolutely sure he is in for the same fate.
I can't do this. I can't do this. I can'tーI can'tーI can'tー
Naru? Like an angel in the darkness, Mai's thought comes to him as easily as his own, pulling him back to the present. He half turns to meet her cinnamon gaze to find her smiling at him. He waits for her to say something else, but she doesn't have to; he can read it in her face.
He turns back to the prosecutor, squaring his shoulders. With one last deep, calming breath, he says, "Ready."
Mrs. Klein studies him, searching for any lingering panic, but then she mimics his rigid posture and announces. "The prosecution calls Oliver Davis to the stand."
Chapter 16: Testimony
James sits straight in his chair, resisting the urge to smirk at the black haired teen. It's finally here. It had been a grueling number of hours waiting for his chance, but it's finally here. He couldn't interfere with the monk, nor the therapist, but Oliver ー Oliver was his favorite toy.
The boy is trying hard to keep his face stoic for his audience ー the group of foreigners acting as an impenetrable wall between James and Mai ー but he can't hide the nervous tremble of his hands as he takes his seat at the witness stand.
Oliver looks years older, his blue eyes sunken in and his skin a sickly pale color. James relished the pain etched in the lines of his face, knowing he had put them there.
When the bailiff steps forward, James can't help the twinge of satisfaction at the look of fear in the teens eyes. This would be easier than expected. "Do you solemnly affirm that the evidence that you shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"
James leans back in his chair, expectant. All it would take was a glance; the briefest moment of eye contact and his freedom would be won.
But Oliver keeps his gaze frustratingly forward, sitting on the edge of the seat. Why doesn't he look? James wants to shout, but bites his tongue.
The prosecutor doesn't turn an eye to James either as she approaches the stand, tapping her nails against the podium as she glances over her notes. "Where did you meet the defendant, James Dumont?"
Oliver clears his throat, "He, uh, he was hired to work for my family under the name James Currin while I was in Japan. I met him in May when I returned to London." he says, confident.
"Did you recognize him at the time?"
James frowns, remembering the feeling of the butterflies in his stomach when he had been face to face with the great Oliver Davis for the first time. And the disgust that had followed.
Oliver shakes his head, glaring at the wooden desk. "No."
Of course he didn't. The bastard.
"Did you know of his talents as a hypnotist?"
James studies Oliver's blank face with a sneer. Yes.
James slams his fist down on his knee, nearly forgetting to keep his mouth shut. His attorney taps him hard on the shoulder, masked as a comforting gesture, he turns to silence him. James pushes his hand away, barely listening as the prosecutor approached Oliver, "Have you ever willingly taken a drug called Sychol, a known sleeping agent?"
And Oliver's redundant answer. "No."
James finds it increasingly hard to concentrate as questions continued, his fury growing with every answer untilー
"And you believe the defendant was the person who drugged you?"
"At the time we didn't really know what happened. We didn't know who it was. But after..." he pauses, clearing his throat, "after what's happened I find it hard to believe it was just coincidence."
The prosecutor nods as she turns to face James and his attorney with a smile, her bright blue eyes focused on something over his shoulder. James growls under his breath. If she would just look at him.
"What happened next?"
He can see Oliver's wide dark blue orbs focus on the crowd. "The kidnapping."
A smile slid over James's face.
Of everything he had done to the boy, even bringing him to the brink of death could not compare to the fear and surprise he had seen in those blue eyes when James had surprised him as the Davis manor.
He had to admit, it had been a wonderful plan. Infallible. The kidnapping of Oliver Davis had been planned for ages ー ever since the boy had appeared on Belikov's radar. When they had been too late to get the elder twin ー and had been perfectly executed.
The Davises had planned a day trip to visit relatives in Kent, but their dear son had stayed behind with the excuse that he had been feeling sick. Much to James's glee, Mai had opted to stay behind as well. He wanted her almost as much as Belikov wanted the Davis boy.
It was almost more than James could have asked for, finding them both in the same place, if only for one problem: the Chinese man he called Lin, who stayed behind to chaperone the couple.
It was near impossible to use suggestion on the man, his shiki would protect him from most any outside source of power. But, the man wasn't faultless. All it took was some waiting, an hour or two of biding his time and the Chinese man excused himself from the living room to take a phone call.
When he stepped outside, James made his move.
He glided up the stairs, giddy with excitement. After months of planning, months of scheming and playing his part, it had arrived. The finally to his very own real-life drama.
After that night, he would never again be James Currin, Davis butler. After he delivered the boy to Belikov, he would be free to be himself. And the girl... He would keep the girl for himself. She would resist at first, of course, but she would be his, in the end.
And so he had made his way toward the soft murmuring of voices coming from the Davis boy's bedroom. Disgust had risen in the pit of his stomach at the sound of it.
It was revolting, but he had propelled himself forward on tip-toe, reaching out for the door knob...
But then it had swung opened on its own accord, forcing James back a step before the black haired teen careened into him.
"Oh, sorryー" Oliver had started, then paused, realizing to whom he was apologizing. He frowned, "Do you need something?"
James had simply smirked at the boy, irritation setting in. "No, no, it was my fault. I just...you need to come with me." He had felt the swell of power, heard the hypnotizing ring of his voice but something had gone wrong.
James frowned at the memory. He still had no explanation on why his ability had failed to work on them. He had a theory that it was something to do with sensitivity to supernatural energy.
Their eyes hadn't glazed over like he hadn't spoken at all. In fact, Mai had gone completely unaffected. She only tilted her head in confusion, lips pouting.
Oliver however, while he hadn't exactly been affected, he had enough sense to level James with such a look of shocked understanding that James knew he knew. Knew that the boy had finally recognized James for what he really was. A criminal.
"Mai, run!" He growled, shoving the girl down the hall, away from James. Mai paused for a moment, whispering something in rapid Japanese, but Oliver pushed her away again.
No matter. He would fetch her later.
"That's not very nice," James found himself saying, matching his dark gaze with Oliver's.
Brown locked on blue. The gentle hum of energy spread through his body until he emanated it. He had concentrated so hard that a thin sheen of sweat had beaded over his forehead.
This time, boy didn't resist. He fell easily into James's command, face going blank, gaze unfocused. "You are going to go downstairs to the garage. Wait for me there." he said in that sickly sweet voice.
Oliver immediately turned his back, heading for the stairs.
"Do not speak to anyone." James called out after him, watching the boy disappear down the stair case. He had no doubts that he would do exactly as he had asked. It wasn't the first time he had used his power against another human being, and it wouldn't be the last.
He still needed to find Mai.
For some time, he had convinced himself that she would come with him willingly. Once she had seen his power, realized exactly what he was... She would be his.
But it was obvious then that the Davis boy had his claws too deep in her. That there was only one way to win Mai for himself once and for all.
Kill Oliver Davis.
Chapter 17: Hostage
5 months ago
Noll groaned, tugging tentatively on the tight metal biting into his wrists. The resounding clinking noise offended the dull ache in his head. It pulsed harder.
Something had startled him into consciousness; the same something that was still jabbing him painfully in the side. He imagined Mai leaning down beside him, trying to wake him from his restless sleep.
He kept his eyes firmly shut; attempting to ignore her and the nausea rolling in his stomach and wishing they both would leave him alone. He could ignore the jabbing but the chill that had settled in his bones while he was sleeping now kept him wide awake. He flexed his frozen, bare toes, dragging them across the dirty floor in attempt to warm them.
Wait, his tired mind slowly processed the solid mass he was sitting on, the gritty feel of dirt, concrete?
Noll frowned, allowing his eyes to fall open to see... nothing. He made a noise, something between a gasp and a whimper, and opened his eyes wider. The only light in the room seemed to be coming from a tiny floor light angled in the far corner of the room. Its muted yellow light barely lit anything at all, except a crumpled heap of something.
Even in the dim light Noll could just make out the labored rise and fall of a person breathing.
He whispered her name over their bond, barely refraining from shouting out loud into the darkness. When she didn't answer, didn't even stir, Noll had to swallow his mounting panic. If she's unconscious, he told himself, she wouldn't be able to hear him.
Unconscious, he flinched at the word his brain had supplied. Not sleeping.
He squinted hard at her still form but he couldn't see any blood. Maybe she was just sleeping.
Noll leaned forward, tutting at the sudden, sharp pains in his shoulders. His heart leapt into his throat as he realized that his arms weren't by his side, but suspended precariously above his head. And those clanging noises were the sound of the chains rattling. He shuttered.
Definitely not sleeping.
"Mai," he hissed, yanking on the cuffs for good measure. They didn't budge. That would certainly be a bruise later. As he leaned back, the painful jab in his side took precedence over his aching wrists.
A nail sticking out of the wall.
Where were they? It was cold ー underground maybe?
He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate over the blood rushing in his ears. His parents, they'd left for Kent and they... He hadn't been feeling well. So he'd stayed behind. He, Lin, and...
"Mai!" he called out again, louder into the darkness. The crumpled figure didn't stir. "Mai!"
He was sure she had been there, remembered her confused questions as he pushed her behind him. To protect her. Protect her from...
He jerked upright, all too aware of the cool pinch of metal around his wrist. "Mai!" He shouted, voice breaking. Had he hurt her? He thought maybe he had given her enough time ー God, why wouldn't she wake up. "Maiー"
"Now now, Oliver, don't be so noisy." A familiar voice chimed in, smooth and confident. Noll jumped as a light flickered to life overhead, illuminating James standing arms crossed over his chest in the door way. He was grinning. "You'll wake the others."
Noll sat in stunned silence, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. He hadn't heard any footsteps. No creaking. Noll bit his lip, had he been there the whole time?
James grinned, mistaking Noll's paled expression for fear. "There's no need to be scared. I won't hurt you," he deliberately paused in his approach, glancing towards the edge of the room where Mai was lying motionless. "Not yet, anyway."
A trickle of fear ran the length of Noll's spine. He sat straighter, ignoring the ache in his hips as he shifted over the hard surface, and glanced at Mai.
But it wasn't her at all. In the darkness, the girl's dirty hair looked like Mai's short brown bob, but now he could clearly see it was blonde. Grimy and laced with dirt, but blonde.
Noll held his sigh of relief. "Where is Mai?"
James smiled, "Exactly where I want her to be ー oh, don't make that face. It's unbecoming."
Noll glared at the butler, hating the look of twisted triumph that crossed his face. The malice behind his smug smile. How had his parents missed it ー how had he missed it?
Go down to the garage and wait for me there. Don't talk to anyone.
Noll remembered James's silky voice as they stood in the hallway of the Davis manor, quiet and steady. Rhythmic.
Noll wished his hands were free if only so he could hit himself. The clues had always been there, right in front of him. He would have figured it out weeks ago if he hadn't been so... distracted. He hung his head, "It was all you."
Besides his parents, James knew more about his personal life than any other person. He knew Noll's habits, his capabilities, his weaknesses. No one else could have served Noll the spiked tea that had landed him in the hospital.
No one else could have known he would be back at the office that day. His return hadn't been broadcasted to anyone but his family. And the staff.
"You know, they told me you were smart." James laughed, pushing off from the wall. "And here I was just beginning to think they lied to me."
Noll glared icy holes into the side of his head, but kept his lips pressed tightly together.
James meandered forward, sinking cross legged on the floor directly in front of Noll. "Enough chit-chat. Let's get down to business, shall we?"
If he really tried, Noll thought, maybe he could kick him. No, his next thought dead panned, he's too far. By about a foot.
So, throw something at him.
Noll, who had been on the verge of chastising himself for being so childish, suddenly sat up straighter. If he sat completely still, maybe, just maybe he could use a pulse of PK to loosen the cuffs. The energy loss would be so minuscule that it wouldn't affect him, just like when he had used it to break that spoon.
Then he would have to deal with James and whoever else was here with them. Suddenly he regretted not taking his sanshou lessons with Lin seriously. There was no way he would make it out of here without using more of his energy.
James smiled. "We are going to play a little game," he said, pulling a palm sized camcorder out of his pocket. Noll told himself it was reflex, not fear that had him turning away from the camera as red light up. James chuckled at the show and placed a small shiny block on the floor between them. "This game is called show and tell. Have you heard of it?"
Noll didn't answer, trying to hide is face from the camera.
"This is how show and tell works, Oliver. I tell," he fisted the fabric of Noll's collar and jerked him painfully forward until Noll had no choice but to look up, "you show."
He let go. Noll had to jerk forward again to keep from impaling himself on the nail.
"This is a 10g aluminum brick. Lift it."
Noll's glare right then would have frightened even Yasuhara, but James just quirked a smile. "No."
"It is in your best interests to do as I say, Davis."
He hated the way the world seemed to blur when James' brown eyes locked on his. He looked away.
"I don't careー" Noll grunted in pain as James took a new approach, taking ahold of his leg and pushing him backwards, into the nail. Noll wrenched his legs out of his grasp.
"Lift it." James's voice had taken on that silky melodic tone.
The command wrapped itself around Noll's thoughts as he realized too late. He felt frozen in his own body as his PK swelled, burning in his fingertips ー and then faded. He glared at the small aluminum block, feeling his consciousness reaching for it...
The block shivered on the floor, vibrating as it lifted two, three inches off the floor. Then Noll shook his head, the block wobbled and thumped to the floor.
The spell was broken.
"You surprised me the first time, but now," it was Noll's turn to smirk at James' slack-jaw. "You're going to have to try harder than that to control me."
The silence that fell over the two was punctuated by a loud bang! Noll chanced a glance upward at the ceiling.
James stood up, chuckling. "I guess this'll have to wait, then." He winked, "You're female friend seems to be awake."
"Don't you dare touch her!" Noll's shout echoed back at him in the small room. He struggled against his chains, shoulders aching in protest.
James ignored him, nodding to someone Noll couldn't see just outside the door. "Keep a close eye on him."
He turned back to Noll, eyes dancing with mirth, "I'll tell Mai you say hello."
"James!" He roared, but he was already gone.
The last thing he heard was the sound of James's footsteps leading away, echoing in the dark.
Chapter 18: Defiance
5 months ago
James frowned at the girl lying unconscious in his bed.
She looked rather... uncomfortable, lying there with her arms pulled behind her back, tied together neatly at the elbow. He regretted having to restrain her at all, but it couldn't be avoided.
She brought this upon herself.
He would have forgiven her for breaking his desk chair in attempt to open the door (the result of the loud bang) if she had just stopped to listen to him. But she hadn't.
He glared at her, rubbing his cheek where she had managed to cut him. Of course he hadn't expected her to come around easily, but lunging at him with a splintered chair leg as soon as he opened the locked door was a bit uncalled for.
James couldn't exactly blame her for that reaction ー his actions at the Davis manor had more than frightened the girl, but honestly. He hadn't meant to hurt her, he'd just... panicked.
Which brought him to a different problem.
His powers were completely useless on her. No matter how hard he concentrated, no amount of suggestion had affected Mai. She had only blinked those woeful brown eyes at him and backed herself into a corner. In the end, it had taken physical action to subdue her. Just as it had earlier.
James sighed at the memory, brushing a finger over the bruise darkening her temple. How could one person be so beautiful and infuriating at the same time? His fingers trailed down her cheek, over her lips. He wondered what they would feel like, pressed against his...
His phone vibrated then, its incessant trilling shattering the fantasy he had conjured for himself. He wasn't in any hurry to answer it, knowing he would probably have to leave Mai when he did. So he pulled it slowly out of his pocket, turning the sleek device over in his palm as he waited for the sixth ring.
He didn't say anything as he pressed the phone to his ear and fixed his gaze again on Mai. If Belikov could see this...
"James," a deep, accented voice rang out over the line, "how are things?"
"As to be expected," he answered immediately, then paused. Taking Mai had never been part of Belikov's plan, even if it had been James's. "Mostly."
"Where is he?"
"In the basement," James barely contained himself from growling into the phone. Mai was beginning to stir on the bed. He watched her long pale legs slide over the satin sheets, "with Griffith. You should call him, I'm sure he can give you a better update."
"I've already called Griffith."
Mai groaned softly, twisting so that the fabric of her shirt hiked up, showing the general curve of her abdomen.
"He didn't answer."
That couldn't be good. The guards were never supposed to ignore any call. Especially from Belikov.
James swallowed hard, "...I'll check."
"Call me when you've finished."
As the line went dead, Mai's eyes flutter open. Her half-lidded brown eyes scanned the room before locking on James.
"Yes, sir," he grumbled under his breath before flicking the phone shut and letting it drop to the ground. As it landed with a muted thud, he fixed Mai with his most charming smile, "Good morning, sweetheart. How'd you sleep?"
He knew he was supposed to be doing something important.
But instead, his eyes flickered between the abandoned doorway and the blonde girl slumped beside it. It almost felt as if her name was poised on the tip of his tongue but he just couldn't quite remember it. Then again, some part of him felt absolutely certain this girl was nothing more than a stranger to him.
A means to an end.
A flurry of movement forced his eyes to the other corner of the room, hand tightening around the heavy pistol.
There a man sat back on his haunches, blocking the view of whatever it was backed against the stone wall. This man he knew without a doubt. He watched, indifferent, as James swung a fist and an odd strangled sound filled the small room.
The noise didn't bother him. If anything, it sparked something deep within him and it wasn't long before curiosity had him inching forward for a better view of the scene. James growled under his breath as another fist came down, followed closely by a sharp sob.
The closer he got, the easier it was to tell that whatever it was, was human. A boy, nonetheless, who's head whipped to the side as yet another blow connected with his cheekbone.
James shouted then, lurching forward to grab the boy's collar and shake him. "I said enough!"
Shaggy black hair stuck the boy's bloody and bruised face as it lolled with the movement. It was a bit startling to see his dim blue eyes wide open and staring blankly into the distance. He looked half dead.
A wall of vertigo slammed into his chest. He recognized that face; felt the ghost of pain as it spiked across his jaw. He willed his body forward, to throw himself between James and... wait. Was he... watching himself?
With a jerk, Noll became hyper-aware of the secondary consciousness pressing down on him, forcing him to the recesses of his mind. Not his mind, this ー this was someone else.
He struggled with the other consciousness, fighting to stay aware, when he saw James slam his body's limp hand against the stone. Noll cried out in silent fear even as the small silver chain untangled itself from around his fingers and fell deftly into James' open palm.
His vision blurred. It felt like he was being pulled back, yanked out of the air as he ghosted back into his body. He arched back in protest, cracking his head against the wall. The sudden reality of it all; the chains, the pain, the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, filled him with the need to vomit.
"So good of you to join us again, Dr. Davis," James quipped, sounding a little too jovial for Noll's tastes, "did you have a nice trip?"
He managed a grunt, ignoring the uncomfortable ache in his jaw as he righted himself. His legs were beginning to go numb but the cuffs holding his wrists suspended above him didn't give him many options.
James gave a peevish smile, "While I can certainly appreciate that impressive display of cunning and skill, I must ask that you refrain from using psychometry again in the future."
Noll glowered at the familiar man but wouldn't give him the satisfaction of a reply. He'd managed to get his hands on the guards necklace during an embarrassing display of having to use the restroom.
But Psychometry hadn't been what he had intended to use it for.
"For your own safety, of course." James continued, pulling back to get a look at Noll's bleeding nose and bruising cheeks. He tutted, "Damaged property does not sell, dear Oliver. My clients will not be happy with the result of your behavior."
Clients? Noll lifted his head carefully, feeling the blood from his nose drip over his lips. Damaged property? What did that mean?
"Yes, clients." James answered.
Noll jumped. Had he said that out loud?
James went on, ignoring him in favor of studying the golden chain dangling from his fingers, "When Belikov first learned about you and your abilities, he was quite intent on keeping you for himself. But, fortunately for me, he had since decided you're worth more in money than skill."
Money? Did he hear that right? Noll's head was starting its dizzying spin that usually followed a psychometry trip.
"As soon as we're done here, you're being sold to the highest bidder."
"I..." Noll trailed off, his voice failing him. He stared, unseeing at the concrete floor as another wave of nausea hit him.
This couldn't be happening.
Part of him had been waiting for James's list of demands ー for him to announce the price of his freedom. Never had he expected this.
What will happen to Mai?
When Noll looked up again, James was staring at him, chuckling darkly. "Oh, surely you must have had some inkling? You didn't think it was just money we were after? Come on, Davis. I lived in your mansion for months ー if I wanted your money, I would have it by now."
No snappy comment came to mind. No witty remark. Noll just gaped, open mouthed at the former butler, grappling for words, "Your selling... My PK?"
"No." James grinned again, fisting the golden chain in his hand as he stood, "I'm selling you. For your PK. You'd be surprised, the market for what we do is quite extensive and right now, everyone is looking at you. Oliver Davis ー boy wonder, or Doctor Wonder. Whatever it is they call you these days."
James waved a dismissing hand, "but first, you have to learn some manners. Like only using your psychometry when asked to do so."
Noll fell back against the wall, barely registering the pain in his side as the nail broke skin. This wasn't happening... It was all a bad dream. It had to be.
Maybe if he pinched his eyes shut tight enough, he could wake himself up from this nightmare.
"I know it must be hard, so help you resist the temptation," James continued, voice growing harsh as he turned to face the guard, "I'll remind my crew to leave their personal effects at home."
The guard stood just how Noll had seen him, awkwardly in the doorway, and fidgeting with the small silver gun. At James' words, he went slack-faced, eyes glossing over for the space of a second. It was so quick, Noll wasn't entirely sure it had happened at all. "Yes, sir."
"What about Mai?" Noll hated how his voice shook, but Mai's powers were unpredictable ー and directly linked to his. He didn't want to think of what James might do to her.
James stilled. "Mai is no longer any of your concern." He said slowly in a voice Noll could only describe as forced. "She's mine now, Davis."
"She's got nothing to do with this!" Noll barked, pulling his legs in to his chest. If James lunged for another attack, he was ready. "Let her go and..." He swallowed hard, lowering his gaze to the floor. "I'll do what you say."
"Mai's instincts will prove useful once she's trained a bit. Besides," James scoffed with a grin, "I have my own ways of making you cooperate."
Noll glowered, his muscles beginning to shake with the effort to keep his position but he refused to back down. Then his stomached growled loud in the quiet room.
James chuckled. "That reminds me," he said, reaching for something outside the door, "you've been such a good boy recently I thought I'd bring you a little snack." The plastic tray clanged to the floor hard enough to send its contents spilling onto the floor at his feet.
Noll flinched at the sight, still feeling queasy but gazing longingly at the slices of bread.
"Future disobedience will not be tolerated. Bon appétit."
A second later, Noll was once again alone in the room. Well, as alone as they would allow him to be with the guard standing just outside the door. He glanced back at the stupid metal tray, stomach clenching so hard that he almost regretted what he had done.
Chapter 19: Murderer
"The witness may resume the stand."
Noll bit back a yawn as he stepped through the short gate up to the witness stand. It was still early, the sun had barely peaked into the sky when they entered the courthouse, but Noll felt more tired now than he had then. Perhaps it was the nervousness as the bailiff held out the Bible and Noll raised his right hand, waiting as the bailiff read him the oath for the third time in just as many days. He thought by now he would be used to the nervousness that came with sitting in the small wooden box and at least a hundred pair of eyes trained on him, but his hands still trembled in his lap. His face burned hot as he scanned the crowd of cameramen and photographers supporting bulky cameras all trained on him.
He knew that, after everything, it would be nearly impossible to keep his identity a secret, but he desperately wished they wouldn't plaster his face all over Europe.
Are you okay?
Noll blinked slowly, trying to hold onto Mai's fuzzy, garbled thought, but it slipped through his grip, sinking back into the ocean that was his own mind. After months of underuse, their connection had grown weak and spotty, and neither had been too keen on spending time fixing it. Not now, anyway.
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself staring into a pair of soft, honey brown eyes. Mai's face lit up when their eyes met, a light blush tingeing her cheeks, but she didn't turn away like she used to. Noll wanted to smile back but his muscles wouldn't respond. He thought he may have managed a half smile, but from the way Mai's expression faltered it was likely more of a grimace.
"If we are all set to begin, will the bailiff please call in the jury—"
"Your Honor?" The defense attorney whose name was either Crowden or Crowley (Noll honestly couldn't bother to remember) suddenly rose to his feet. "If I may?"
Judge Mathis looked surprised but gestured for him to continue.
Noll made the mistake of meeting the older man's poised blue eyes. He didn't bother hiding his smirk as he said, "Your Honor, the defense beseeches the court to arrest the witness, Oliver Davis."
Noll stared blankly at the man, heart leaping in his throat.
Mrs. Klein stood, calm, having expected something like this. He couldn't help but notice the way her hands gripped the edge of the table. "On what grounds?"
The defense attorney turned his sly smile from him to her. "On account of murder, Your Honor."
The courtroom exploded into noise, reporters bending over in their seats, scribbling notes, and cameramen flashing pictures. In the front row, Martin and Luella had paled, holding each other steady as they watched the scene play out. The Irregulars all held similar faces. Noll had avoided telling them anything about The Event, but he supposed now that hadn't been such a good idea.
Noll, in the meantime, forgot how to breathe. He slunk forward in his chair, trying not to show the panic he felt rising in his chest. He knew this could have happened. Mrs. Klein had warned him it could have happened. But he never thoughtー
The gavel came down hard twice beside him, Judge Mathis' booming voice reining over the chaos that had exploded over the crowd. "Silence in the court! Approach the bench!"
Both attorneys sported opposite looks of smug gratification and delicate self-assurance as they left their notes behind and approached the Judge. "Mr. Crowell, what is the meaning of this? I do not appreciate you making a mockery of my courtroom."
Crowell motioned back to his notes, "New evidence has come to light, Your Honor. Evidence, it seems, the prosecution was attempting to hide from myself and the court."
Noll held his head between his hands, eavesdropping on the hushed argument.
Judge Mathis harrumphed disparagingly, raising an eyebrow. "Is this true, Mrs. Klein?"
"Your Honor, the prosecution has deeply investigated this claim and we can assure the court that Dr. Davis is not a murdererー"
"I request to see the evidence."
Crowell happily slid a thin folder across the podium. "This is all the evidence we were able to gather after yesterday's meeting. As you can see on the first page, this information was retrieved from the prosecution's evidence files."
Mrs. Klein didn't offer an explanation but pushed her own thick manila folder over to the Judge. "This is the sum of evidence that came from our investigation."
Noll ground up the courage to look up as Judge Mathis ruffled through each folder in turn, glaring at the contents. His eyebrows pinched together as he flipped the page backward, then forward again. After a moment of silence, he raised his head to the bailiff. "Bailiff, please escort the Jury back to their rooms. These documents are in need of further review." He paused for a moment, organizing the folders in his hands. "However... due to the nature of this accusation, the witness will be held in the court's custody. We will resume proceedings at 8 A.M. tomorrow morning. The court is dismissed until that time."
Noll swallowed hard, watching absently as the crowd began to stand and the room became a buzz of chatter. In custody of the court?
"Mr. Davis, please stand."
Noll jerked back, wide eyes finding the bailiff who had a stern look to him, metal handcuffs dangling from his belt.
Beyond him, James was being led in his own pair of handcuffs out the side door, grinning.
"Noll!" Luella was on her feet, leaning over the short barrier, a bailiff holding her back. Despite himself, Noll managed a Gene-like, reassuring smile, even if it felt like a grimace. "It'll be fine," he half said, half shouted over the chattering crowd.
Don't think like that.
Noll was being led by his elbow through the side door when he caught her thought and jerked in the officer's grip to see her in the thinning crowd.
A light bulb flashed in his face. A photographer.
He blinked, but the lights danced in front of his eyes, blinding him as they pulled him through the door and out of view.
5 months ago
It was unnerving not knowing what time it was. There were no windows as far as he could see in the dark, but he supposed that was the point; keeping him in a constant state of confusion.
Yes, that must have been Step One in the abduction handbook. 'Breakdown the body and the mind will follow.' He supposed that was Step Two. But no matter how unnerved he was, how painful the twist in his stomach had become, Noll would not give in. He would not give James the satisfaction of breaking him.
He figured it had been at least two days since his last interaction with James; the guards outside the door had changed shift three times already. Once every twelve hours, Noll guessed.
Two days... Where was he? It pained Noll to think of what James could be doing to Mai in the time he was wasting here.
Mai? He prodded through the bond, but it echoed back to him. It almost felt as if there was something blocking them, interfering with their mental frequencies.
Noll shook his head, closing his eyes. He couldn't think about that right now. He needed to figure a way out.
There was one guard at his door, but were there others? The only other person he had seen was James. In an all-out battle of strength, Noll had no doubt he would be the victor, but as satisfying as it would have been to give James what was coming to him, the imminent death that would follow wouldn't help anyone. Noll straightened at the sound of footsteps, opening his eyes just in time to make out the hulking figure in the darkness. Defeated, he waited for the guard to strike out, legs too numb to defend himself and throat too dry to speak.
But the guard didn't so much as spare a glance at Noll as he turned to the other end of the room and nudged the body lying there.
"Get up." She didn't move. He kicked her harder. "Get. Up."
Was she dead? No, Noll could see the steady p and down of her chest, but she hadn't moved in all the time he had been there
The guard leaned down and fisted her hair, jerking her up.
There was a mousy squeak that filled the room and Noll could just make out her body jerking in the guard pulled her to him, chuckling as he hugged her against his chest. "I kind of miss your struggling. It would make this more enjoyable.
"Madam Miska has arrived early for the viewing," Noll sneered at James who he hadn't seen leaning casually against the doorway. He looked annoyed; uncharacteristically rumpled. "Run that one through the shower first. Miska likes them clean."
The guard barely turned to see James as he drug the girl backward toward the door. "Yessir."
Noll leveled James with his fiercest glare, watching him follow the path of the guard up the stairs. Only when the door slammed shut did he turn to Noll. "Sorry about that. Business, you know."
He didn't answer.
"Speaking of business," James had apparently deemed it safe enough to lean over him and detach the cuff from the wall. "it's about time you earn your keep."
Noll tried not to cry out in pain as his arms fell, shoulders protesting, popping into their old position by his side.
He couldn't, however, stop the yelp that escaped his lips when James, quite unceremoniously, jerked him to his numb feet. It only now occurred to Noll that he was free. There was nothing beside James stopping him from escaping this cellar. Sure, the handcuffs were still firmly around his wrists but he could still fight. He could even win ー if his head would stop throbbing painfully from his new upright position. He could step backward and force James against the wall, but he wobbled, unsteady on his numbed feet. Before he could regain his balance something cold pressed into the small of his back.
"I really would like to keep you lead-free, Davis. Move." He jabbed the barrel of what Noll assumed was the pistol he had seen earlier into his spine, forcing Noll forward on shaky legs. He stumbled twice on the ten foot stretch to the doorway before he could feel his toes again.
For the first time, Noll could see the other end of the hallway. There were two other rooms likes his, each shrouded in shadows from the dim swinging light above the stairway. Noll couldn't tell if anyone was being held in these rooms, but he doubted it. In all the hours he had spent writhing in silent pain, he hadn't heard any voices besides the guards.
"Keep going," James dug the pistol in harder, pushing Noll forward on tingling legs. They slowly climbed the stairs, Noll grimacing with every step as pins and needles shot from his feet up his shins.
When they reached the top, James reached quickly around him to push open the heavy wooden door. They emerged at the end of another, longer hallway. Noll held his hands over his eyes, shielding them from the sudden burst of sunlight. His eyes watered as James prodded him through a maze of lefts and right, rooms that lead to other rooms and hallways with no windows, lit only but too-bright, flickering floodlights.
Eventually, James jerked Noll to a stop in front of a plain, industrial looking room with a single, narrow window. He shoved Noll inside whose legs were still kind of numb and couldn't yet move fast enough to keep himself from falling over. He fell hard on his side just inside the door, James following quickly behind him.
He didn't close the door, pulling a chair into the middle of the room but didn't sit. Instead, he stood a few feet away, palming some type of stick. and pointing to his feet. "Kneel."
Noll glared, struggling to maneuver himself into a back to his feet. This was his chance. "Go to hell."
James twirled the long, black stick once in his hand and chucked. "I was hoping you'd say that." The low humming was Noll's only warning before a sharp electric shock seared the back of his thigh. He yelled, his knees giving out and sending him tumbling to the floor again.
Above him, James sported a rather smug grin, "Picana electrica or otherwise known as a cattle prod. Averages five million volts a pop. Great device, don't you think?"
Noll panted, resting his forehead on the cold floor. "I think you enjoy this tooーngh!" The cattle prod hummed again, zapping him in the back. Noll bit his lip to keep from finishing his statement, choosing to focus on the physical pain instead of his wounded pride.
"I do rather enjoy this part," James cackled, spinning the stick expertly around his fingers. He stepped in front of his crumpled prey, pulling him roughly into a proper kneeling position. "The human will is something to be admired."
Noll jerked away, nearly throwing himself back to the floor in the process. "What do you know about the human will?" He spat, sinking back to his heels. If he could just catch him by surprise...
"Nothing." James gave him a devilish smile, bending down to level with Noll's shaded blue eyes, "Except the satisfaction of breaking it."
A shaky grunt punctuated the end of his statement as the cattle prod found Noll's rib.
Anger and irritation seized him, enticing him to lean bravely into the electric pulse. The air in his lungs seemed to be frozen, but he managed a soft growl. "Try me."
The current seared his skin, burning through his shirt, the shock making his toes twitch.
He gulped down fresh air as James pulled away, masking his annoyance behind a cunning smirk. "You'll regret that."
Chapter 20: Remnant
Warning; chapter contains violence, sexual themes, and offensive language.
5 months earlier
"You'll regret that."
Barely containing his rising anger, James aimed the cattle prod at Noll's head. It made contract with a sickening crack! and Noll collapsed sideways.
His vision blurred, the taste of copper coating his tongue as he struggled to sit up again. James was on him in an instant, wrenching his head backward by his hair.
"I'm going to make you wish you were never born, Davis." James hissed into his ear, electricity dancing off the tip of the cattle prod he held just under Noll's chin. The heat emanating off it was starting to burn, eliciting an angry red mark across his throat.
Noll held his breath.
"Don't kill him, James," a deeper, almost familiar accented voice sounded, "He's worthless to us dead."
James growled in frustration but released Noll, letting him fall unceremoniously to the floor, "He's worthless to us alive," he seethed, watching Noll nurse his throat as he gasped for air.
Belikov chuckled, hovering in the doorway with his arms in his pockets. He watched the boy struggle with some mixture of curiosity and pleasure. "He's worth millions," he said offhandedly, then smirked, "but I understand that you have a young lady with you, dear Olivier."
S vozvrasheniyem, Olivier.
Noll turned to the pair, blue eyes narrowed in hatred. He knew that voice sounded familiar. The man who Noll had originally known as Mr. Foster, father of Annalise Foster, took a carefully measured step toward him. Noll rose to his knees.
"And she is… very pretty." Mr. Foster, or Belikov as James called him, sank into a crouch, dark eyes shining, "Of course I have no interest in her… but I have a friend who… likes pretty girls."
Noll lunged for him, but James was fast. Electricity stole Noll's breath away and he collapsed again to the floor. "Don't…" he gasped, "don't you dare… touch her..."
All traces of amiable curiosity disappeared from Belikov's expression, leaving behind a cold, hollow glare. "A dog that does not obey must be punished."
"No ー Nng!" The scream ripped from his chest as white hot pain seared his spine. He tumbled hard to the floor, muscles twitching. Tears sprang to his eyes, "Please… don't hurt her… please…"
"Obey me," James demanded, jerking him up by the shirt. Noll wanted to move away but his body wouldn't respond. "Now. Get up."
He released him, and Noll scrambled to pull his heavy body into a sitting position.
James turned his back, motioning to the chair still poised in the center of the room. "Move the chair to the black 'x'."
It took him a second to find the small painted black 'x' a few feet to the left of James. He hesitated a moment. If he used his PK, there could be dire consequences. But if he didn'tー
"I said now, Davis!"
He jumped at James' deadly tone. He couldn't see his face, but he didn't have to. Noll swallowed his pride and his inner voice screaming at him not to, and focused on the chair. It only took a small amount of energy and the chair inched slowly toward the 'x'.
He almost smiled when it finally reached it.
"Again," James demanded. "Move it back."
"No," Noll glared. It hadn't taken much power to move the chair, but he could already feel the fatigue pressing in at the edge of his consciousness. He wouldn't pass out, not yet. But if he were to do it again… that was a different story.
Was it possible… James didn't know about his limitations?
"Get the girl."
"No!" Noll focused too suddenly on the chair as it flung across the room, smashing into the wall.
James chuckled, not at all startled as he turned to Noll with a cunning smirk. "Again, Davis."
Sweat dripped from his nose, his bangs sticking to his forehead even as he leaned forward on his knees as far as the chains would allow. He managed to suck in a breath before another jolt from the baton stole it from him again.
"Again." James demanded, twirling the baton around his wrist. He sounded bored but Noll knew he was enjoying this.
Noll didn't lift his head, he didn't move. He simply blinked the sweat from his eyes and tried to speak, but not for the first time, his voice failed him.
"Sorry?" James taunted him. "I couldn't quite hear you."
"I-I can't," he managed to murmur despite his dry throat. He concentrated again on the old wooden chair currently in the doorway of his prison. He'd already moved it countless times in the last hour, doing whatever they had told him. But now the world swayed and tilted before him, and he couldn't make the connection.
The chair wouldn't move.
James studied him for a moment before gesturing to the guard lurking in the doorway. Belikov had left them quite some time ago. "Bring me the girlー"
"No!" Noll lurched forward, ignoring the twist of pain in his aching knees.
James was swift. With a flick of his wrist, the cattle prod landed in the spot between Noll's shoulder blades. He cried out, sparks exploding behind his eyes as the electricity burned him.
"Please," Noll rasped, gasping. "I'm trying…" he closed his eyes, trying to focus, but his stomach churned.
James growled over him, lifting Noll's chin with the handle of the baton. "Then. Move. The. Chair."
Noll focused on the chair but it felt as heavy as a truck. A minute passed. James sighed.
"Wa-Water." Noll rushed out. He licked his dry, cracking lips, "I need water."
It was James' turn to shake his head. Nevertheless, he breathed an exaggerated sigh, tsking as he grabbed for the water bottle he'd kept hidden out of view. "If you're so thirsty," he said, setting it down on the chair as nodded to the guard who disappeared into the hallway, "get it yourself."
Noll almost shouted in joy and then fear when Mai appeared in the doorway of his torture room, blindfolded and handcuffed. He was fighting a losing battle, his abilities taking their toll on his mind. He could feel the surge of energy emanating from Mai's aura that almost seemed to call out to him, enticing him to take it. He instinctively reached out with his own aura but it wasn't enough. He needed to touch her.
Could he take that chance? What kind of things would they do to her if they knew the power Mai possessed? The thought made Noll shiver. The power Mai had… Noll's mind fought to grasp the idea that had begun to form in his head.
Mai. She jumped, a quick jerk backward into the wall as one of the guards pushed her into a kneeling position. Well that was a good sign; it was the first time he had gotten through to her. Had there been something blocking them? Noll forced his blurry gaze to the floor, seething as James zapped him with the baton again.
Mai, can you hear me?
Y-yes... her thoughts surfaced over his like a wave, there, yet slowly ebbing away.
He summoned another spurt of energy. Then unleashed it on the chair, but it only trembled. He grunted, do you think you can astral project?
Naru, what are youー
"Nngh!" He could barely hear Mai's yelp over the ringing in his ears. The world was starting to turn and sway. He wouldn't last much longer. It was a long shot; Mai had only ever projected on the living plane once, and not without help. But seeing where this situation was going… it was their only option.
James barked a laugh, stooping over to yank Noll's head back. "Performance anxiety, Davis?" he laughed again and Noll scowled, "Careful, your girlfriends watching. You don't want to disappoint her, do you?"
Mai's arms were already littered with fresh pink cuts and dark bruises. What had they been doing to her? Naru? Are you okay?
It took all his strength not to fall sideways with the force of James' next blow to his ribs. C-can you?
"Don't… me hurt... the chair." James' voice sounded garbled in his ears.
I-I don't know…
Please… Mai… Every hard labored breath sent a jab of pain through his chest. He'd reached his limit. He swayed, falling forward onto his hands. He tried to concentrate on the swirling pattern of the concrete floor, but his eyes blurred. Get to Lin… tell him… James…
James whipped around at the sound of Mai's shout. She was struggling against her binds, screeching. What happened? He turned to the Davis boy, cattle prod buzzing in his hand.
But the boy was sprawled out on the floor, unmoving. It was only now that he vaguely recalled the report he'd read on Oliver that hinted at the fact that he was fragile. How his body couldn't handle the large output of power without effectively keeling over.
James sighed, kneeling beside the limp orphan. He slapped his cheek, "Oliver, wake up."
Oliver's head rolled with the force of it but there was no other sign of life. Fear sparked in James as he turned him onto his back and leaned down to press an ear against his chest.
No pulse. "Shit."
Instinct kicked in. He straightened Oliver's head, dropped his jaw, pinched his nose, and blew.
James pulled back from his mouth and focused on pumping his chest. If this boy died, he could kiss his own life goodbye.
He could hear Mai screaming as he did it, calling for 'Naru'. "Will someone please shut her up?"
"I can help him!" she screeched in broken English. "Let me go!"
James ignored her, restarting the CPR regimen.
"Please! Please! Don't let him die..." she sobbed.
Oliver's lips were already turning a light shade of blue. What did he have to lose? James dug in his pocket, tossing the key to the one closet to Mai. "Let her go."
Belikov had come to stand in the doorway, attracted by the yelling. He remained silent, his cold gaze focusing on the boy's body lying face down on the floor, and then on Mai who was crying uncontrollably as one of his men pulled her to her feet.
As soon as her hands were free she staggered blindly to the boy's side, cupping his face. She yelled his name again, ripping off her blindfold. When he didn't respond, she didn't hesitate as she leaned down and kissed him.
James nearly threw himself at her, the frustration that had been building inside of him finally boiling over. He pushed her away with enough force to send her sprawling backwards. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he seethed through gritted teeth, but he was interrupted by a soft groan.
The Davis boy's eyes were flickering beneath his eyelids. He was… alive?
"What…what did you do?" James asked again, mind reeling. He turned to Mai, forcing her to look him in the eye as he summoned his best soothing voice. "Tell me."
Mai went glassy eyed, wiping the tears with the back of her hand. "W-we have a bond," she mumbled as Oliver groaned again, eyes fluttering open.
He jerked up, eyes wide and panting, "Mai?" He swayed unsteadily, reaching out for her.
James sprang to his feet, jerking Mai back by the collar of her neck until she was out of reach. He wasn't sure what this 'bond' was and he sure didn't want to give Oliver the upper hand. He pushed her back into the arms of the guards, "Take her back upstairsー"
James turned toward the door where Belikov had raised a hand to his chin. "But, Belikovー"
"This is interesting," Belikov interrupted, eyeing the pair. "Resume your training, James. I want to see how far this bond will go."
Chapter 21: Self Destruction
WARNING; chapter contains suicide, sexual inferences, homicide, offensive language, and other mature themes. Reader digression advised.
5 months ago
Noll snapped into awareness, suddenly hyper-aware of the fine grains of dirt scraping his cheek. He groaned blinking in the darkness. No longer was he in the brightly lit torture rooms upstairs. The musky smell and the faint sound of the groaning pipes assured him he was back in the prison basement. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't remember how he'd gotten there. He remembered Mai and the image of tears streaming down her face… the feeling of a calming warmth racing through him ー over and over.
"да. Welcome back, Olivier."
Noll jackknifed, moving so fast his head throbbed. Silhouetted in the dim doorway was the man Noll now knew as Belikov. If it had been two days ago, Noll would have let it go. He would have simply turned his perfectly blank face to the floor and ignored the man's gross mispronunciation, seeing it for what it was.
But today he was tired, hungry, and thoroughly irritated. He leaned backward against the wall, irritated by the slight stab of the nail embedded there. "It's Oliver, you prat."
Belikov chuckled, his outline rising to his feet and leaving Noll feeling regrettable. "I see you're well enough, then," his figure disappeared to the left, no longer visible in the dim light. But, without Belikov's hulking figure to distract him, Noll realized there was a second person in the room. A thin figure sat just a few feet away.
Then a light flickered to life from the corner of the room, and Noll's hopes fell. The girlish figure wasn't Mai.
If it weren't for the piercing blue of her eyes, he wouldn't have recognized her at all. Her face was all bruises and dried blood, her blonde hair more of a dirty brownish sheen.
He wanted to call out to her but thought better of it. She was staring blankly at the floor, blue eyes hazy.
"Let's get to business, Oliver. About your… bond," he said casually as if he were talking about the weather, "three times. Three times your heart stopped, and three times a simple kiss from your 'lady friend' brought you back to life. This is, as you say, interesting."
Three times? Noll felt the blood rush from his face. He didn't remember, but past experience told him that was bad. Gene had only ever been able to recover once from an energy pull. Any more after that and Gene suffered from severe dehydration and muscle atrophy. But three times…
"Where's Mai?" His voice came out stronger than he had felt since this all started. He glared daggers at the Russian man. "Where is she?"
Belikov shrugged. "That's not what we're here to discuss," he took a step forward, eyes on Annalise. "After the third time, I became aware that there are limitations to your services. That's when I thought 'why not create another?'"
Noll remained silent, following his abductor with careful eyes. The bond between Mai and himself had been forged by accident and they were lucky that it didn't kill either of them. He couldn't ー and wouldn't ー forge another bond, even if he knew how.
Belikov knelt down beside him and Noll leaned away, "Ana here is also a psychic. She possesses psychometry, like yourself. She's lost all value to me, but… for you? I think she'd make a wonderful bond partner."
"Not on your life," he hissed.
"So predictable," Again, Belikov chuckled. "You will bond will this girl, Olivier. Even if it takes a little… coercion."
There was the feel of something cold sliding over the skin of his cheek. He flinched away, but it was too late. The pain registered as the thin cut started to burn. Belikov pulled away, brandished a small silver knife and watching the blood dribble down Noll's cheek with interest. Noll didn't let the pain show. After everything he'd gone through already, this was nothing.
"I know much about you, Oliver. You're not the type to show your pain. You'll put on a brave face, pretend it doesn't hurt. It's true that torturing you had proved more than pointless." Belikov moved slowly over to Annalise, watching Noll's face as he turned the knife to her cheek. "You respond better to the suffering of others."
Noll recoiled as a stream of blood ran freely down her face, soaking into her shirt. Annalise didn't respond. "Stop."
Belikov pulled on a strand of her hair, tipping her head backward. He trailed the knife down across her face, and down over her lips where blood instantly coated them.
"Please," Noll swallowed hard, unable to look, "stop."
Belikov grinned, placing the tip of the knife in the center of her throat. "You can stop this."
Noll shook his head, "A bond…" he mumbled, thinking fast, "it-it could kill her." He was too afraid to deny that it would work at all. Afraid what Belikov would do.
He nodded, "That's alright, isn't it, Ana?" He jostled the young, battered girls shoulder.
Without a moment of hesitation, Noll heard the girl speak for the first time since her scream in his vision. "Yes, sir." Her voice was flat, monotonous. As if she were in a trance.
Noll pinched his lips together, hesitant. If he didn't act fast, he firmly believed Belikov wouldn't hesitate to kill Annalise. He'd already more than proved his willingness to injure her without a second thought. Her face was bathed in blood and dirt, her overgrown bangs sticking to her forehead.
"Choose quickly, my boy," Belikov jerked her head back again, sliding the knife over the underside of her chin, "or she might die before you get the chance."
He let her go and the expression on Ana's face mirrored pain. Her blue eyes were glistening with tears and Noll wondered how many people he was going to hurt before this was over.
What would happen after they realized the bond didn't work? Would they kill her anyway? Annalise's face was starting to pale beneath the crimson.
It wasn't like he had a choice.
Noll reached out, suddenly aware he was unchained, free to move as he pleased. But this thought was far from comforting.
The skin of her palm was cold and riddled with puckered scars from a torture he didn't want to think about. As he watched, a spark of fear ignited in her eyes, then faded into resignations. He felt the gentle pull of psychometry and wondered if she was seeing scenes from his life flash in her mind as he was seeing hers.
The only child in a loving family, never without a smile. There was soccer practice and flashes of championship trophies. A boy with red hair and stolen glances when no one's looking. Then there was loneliness. Returning home from practice to a mother who ignored her, and a father that saw right through her. As if she were invisible.
"Why won't you guys look at me!?"
Then a tall, sly figure appears from the darkness and places his hands hard on her shoulders. "That's because they no longer know you exist." The scene changes for the last time and Noll was once again on his knees in the brightly lit torture room, screaming in pain. He feels her hope of rescue slipping away with every tear until she no longer feels anything.
Just as soon as it started, the visions end and Noll is back in his own mind, but he keeps a firm hold on her hand. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Belikov watching them carefully, hovering just over her shoulder.
Noll stares at their interlocked hand, feeling his warmth slowly seeping into her frigid fingers.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as he summed just enough energy that the air crackled with electricity. He was going to have to put on a show to satisfy their captor, but that didn't mean it wouldn't hurt.
He tried to remember what he had been thinking about before he had bonded with Mai but all he could remember was the feeling of rocking in the gentle waves of the lake where he had seen Gene. Gene. So that was it. All this time he had been searching for the catalyst that had bonded him and Mai, but all along it had been his own meddlesome twin. Noll could vaguely recall the icy feeling creeping down his hand and into his fingers where it had dissipated almost instantly. And Mai's startled face as she held her own hand so close to her chest.
Her hands were shaking. No Mai's; Annalise's. Noll opened his eyes, momentarily blinded by the white wisps of energy that swirled around them, emanating from that hand that held hers. Her entire body was convulsing, eye wide ー in fear or pain, he couldn't tell.
He tried to pull his hand away but her fingers had locked onto him in a death grip that he couldn't escape. And so he reigned in his energy. It hurt, searing the skin of his palm in his haste to help Anna, but slowly the wisps vanished.
The whine and click of the heavy barred door peaked Noll's curiosity. He stood from his perch on the edge of the small cot, legs shaking. It felt like hours since he had been escorted to the 8x6 holding cell and told to wait. He had expected someone to come; Luella, Mrs. Klein… Mai… But no one came. An officer patrolled by the cell door every ill determined amount of time, but no one spoke. Noll had been ready to give up hope.
He was a murderer. He may have liked to think he was better than James and Belikov, but was he really?
Noll tried not to build up hope as he craned to see down the brightly lit hallway. A loud buzzer sounded and then the opening of another heavy door.
Mrs. Klein appeared beside another uniformed officer and another woman.
"Dr. Arainn?" Noll took a half step back in surprise as they came to a stop just outside the cell.
The doctor gave him a disarming smile. "How are you, Oliver?"
"I'm… fine…" he said slowly, volleying between the prosecutor and the therapist, confused. Why would they send his therapist down… unless…? He paled. "Why are you here?"
Dr. Arainn answered first. "I just wanted to make sure you were alright. Your parents are so worried."
Mrs. Klein laughed. "You should have seen Mai arguing with the guards when they wouldn't let her see you."
"…Mai wanted to see me?" Noll breathed.
"Judge Mathis has stayed his ruling, Oliver." Mrs. Klein didn't exactly smile, but she wasn't frowning either. "He's requested your testimony. Please open the door, officer."
"I'm sorry, Prosecutor," the uniformed man inclined his head, "but all inmates must be handcuffed upon release. Protocol."
Noll couldn't hide the flinch that jerked him back at the sound of the clanging metal. His face felt flush and breathing became difficult. Suddenly he could feel the thick, heavy chains encircling his wrists again and the ghost of pain in his stiff shoulders.
"Oliver?" Dr. Arainn was gazing concernedly at him, "are you alright?"
He shook his head, knees buckling. He fell backward onto the cot. He held his head in his hands, panting. What was wrong with him?
There was the distant sound of the door rolling open and someone prying his hands from his face, Dr. Arainn was there, kneeling in front of him, worry creasing her face. "Oliver, I need you to calm down okay? I know you're scared and you shouldn't have to go through this again but I really need you to calm down."
Noll stared at her, the memories slowly fading from his mind. He hadn't noticed the sharp electrical charge that thickened the air inside the small room or that the metal bars had begun to shake. He swallowed hard, "I'm sorry but… I can't." Tears threatened to well in his eyes, but he held them back. He wouldn't cry because of this.
"It's okay. We will find another way." They both looked back to the cell door where Mrs. Klein was in the midst of an argument with the guilty looking officer.
Noll sucked down a deep breath. "No, it's-it's fine. I'm fine." He wasn't sure if that last part was more for her or himself.
He stood on shaky legs, Dr. Arainn following his lead. The officer opened the door once again and Dr. Arainn slipped out, but Noll paused in archway, offering his scarred wrists. The officer took great care in making sure the cuffs were not tight at all and were practically falling off when he allowed him to go on, following behind the prosecutor and Dr. Arainn. They led him through the security doors and down a quiet hallway to a big mahogany door. The name plate posted beside the door read 'Judge Mathis' in big, gold lettering.
Mrs. Klein knocked once and then entered. Noll reluctantly trailed in behind her.
The judge was sullen, drumming his fingertips impatiently on the large desk. His frown deepened when his eyes landed on Noll but he didn't speak.
It was the defense attorney, hovering near the bookcases on the other side of the room that spoke first. "Your Honor, I still don't see the necessity ofー"
"I have heard enough of your complaints, Mr. Crowell." The judge sounded irritated, on the verge of shouting. His tapping ceased as he leveled his blue gaze on Noll who looked away. "I see no point in wasting time so I will be blunt with you, Mr. Davis. Did you kill Annalise Foster?"
Noll nodded, unable to speak over the rolling nausea in his stomach. She had been so small... So pale… the second the trembling had stopped, she had crumpled like a ragdoll into his chest. He remembered wrapping his arms around her shoulders to hide her broken form from Belikov's view. He hadn't realized she was already dead, then. Not untilー
"Please verbalize your answer for the record, Mr. Davis."
"Yes," he breathed, a heavy weight settling on his shoulders. It wasn't the first time he had admitted it out loud, but it seemed the weight of her death only got heavier. "I killed Anna."
"Judge Mathis," he winced at the sound of the prosecutor's crisp, confident tone. "Mr. Davis did not willingly play a part in the death of Annalise Foster ー he was forced. Tortured into complianceー"
"Do not interrupt, Mrs. Klein," Judge Mathis leaned forward on the desk.
The Prosecutor bristled with contempt, straightened her jacket, and brushed a stray hair behind her ear, "Your Honor, the evidence isー"
"Mrs. Klein!" The judge shouted, slamming his fist, "If either of you speak again I will have you removed from my office. Is that clear?"
The chamber was completely silent for a moment before the Judge nodded, satisfied, "Mr. Davis, please continue."
His stomach did another flip. He didn't want to speak anymore. Noll wanted to disappear, to fold in on himself and put this all behind him… but this wasn't about him anymore. I was about the life he had taken. He swallowed hard, summoning the memory of her bloody face as he pressed his fists into his eyes, trying desperately to hide the tears welling there. "She was bleeding from-from everywhere."
It had felt like hours before Belikov had finally pulled Annalise's lifeless form from his arms. Noll hadn't the chance to see her face or call out her name as he dragged her backward, out of reach. Noll could have gone to her if he had wanted to, but for some reason his legs wouldn't respond. Belikov pressed a finger to her wrist, swearing in Russian. "What a shame," he had said, letting her arm fall hard to the ground. He'd turned then, disappearing through the doorway as he shouted to the guard there. "Get rid of the body."
It wasn't until much later that he even noticed the blood stain on his shirt.
When he finished his story, Judge Mathis remained silent for a long time. He watched Noll struggle to wipe the tears from his cheeks, then calmly stood from his chair. "Officer, remove those handcuffs."
The officer lurking silently in the back of the room obediently stepped forward and released Noll. Though they didn't really hurt, he couldn't help but rub his newly freed wrists. "T-thank you, sir."
"I want to thank you for your honesty, Mr. Davis. However, I will need more time to think on this new information." He glanced back down at his desk, sounding resigned, "You will have my answer by tomorrow's court date. But, until that time I'm afraid you will have to remain in the courts custody."
Noll nodded. "I understand."
"Officer Reilly will escort you back to your cell. Mrs. Klein, Mr. Crowell; I ask that you please remain here. There are still some things we must discuss."
Noll was more than relieved when the officer didn't make to re-cuff him in their trek back to the holding cell.
Once outside the hulking oak doors, he allowed himself a deep breath.
Dr. Arainn had waited for him outside and he quickly explained the situation. The officer waited patiently behind them as Dr. Arainn nodded in understanding, "I should update your family on the situation. They are just about as anxious as you are."
"Yeah…" Noll frowned, fear rising with the thought of having to spend hours alone in that small space. He wasn't sure why he had thought the doctor would have kept him company.
"Oliver…" Arainn padded his arm, "Are you sure you're okay?"
It only took a second to school his face into the familiar blank expression. He didn't want to make anyone worry over him anymore. "Do I not look okay?"
"You look like you're trying your best to be strong," she said with a knowing smile. "Everything will be okay."
He almost smiled back. "Yeah, I know."
She gave him a full smile, taking a step backward, "Is there anything you'd like me to relay to your parents? Or Mai?"
He paused. There were a million things he wanted to say to all of them, especially the short Japanese girl. But he just shook his head, "Nothing they don't already know."
"I'll tell them you said that!" Dr. Arainn said, laughing. "I'll visit you as soon as I get any new information. Get some sleep, Oliver. You look like you need it."
He nodded his reply and the officer motioned him forward as Dr. Arainn disappeared down the opposite hallway.
Noll trudged two steps behind the uniformed officer, prolonging his return to solitude if only by a few precious seconds. The officer didn't check to make sure he was following, he just continued down the hall toward what Noll assumed was the Holding area. But this hall wasn't the one they had traveled down before. It was completely devoid of people who had been bustling in and out of offices only minutes before.
"Um, excuse me?" he called out, but the officer didn't respond. Anxiety pinched his chest. Something just didn't seem right.
Noll was just about to call out again, reaching to tap the officer's arm when he saw him. A lanky man with short blond hair leaning nonchalantly against the doorway into the next hall. At first, he almost felt relieved to see another person, but the closer they got, the more he recognized the man.
Noll came to an immediate halt, staggering backward in a clumsy attempt to flee. Before he could get far, someone seized him by the shoulders, locking his arms behind his back. He was trapped.
"Hey!" He shouted, praying someone would hear, "Let me go!" He struggled, but whoever was holding him proved too strong to fight.
"Quiet, Davis." James kicked off from the wall, weary as he meandered over to the scene. "You'll ruin the moment."
Noll growled but gave up shouting. "It's over, Dumont. This isn't your little hideout. Someone's going to find us hereー"
"I know very well what will happen," James pushed past the officer who remained completely impassive, pulling a long baton from his belt. Noll thought it looked eerily similar to the cattle prod. James gave a cynical cackle, "Life in a prison cell. Though, my lawyer tells me I should be happy they don't have the death penalty here."
Noll stayed silent, half listening as he tried desperately to find a way out. But his options were quickly dwindling as James crept forward.
When he was just a few feet away, he shrugged, "But all I could think of was how... irritating it would be if I had to spend all that time knowing you were the one that got away." Noll hadn't even seen him raise the baton before it struck the side of his knee. He shouted in pain, jerking forward, but the hands kept him from falling.
"So I devised this elaborate plan just for you, Oliver." He spit his name, landing another hard blow to his ribs. Noll could feel the searing pain from his old wounds springing back to life. "But I'm afraid Officer Reilly took too long in bringing you to me, so I'll have to cut out time together short." There was a dull thud as James tossed the heavy stick away. He backtracked to where the officer stood and reached into his belt.
It only took a moment for Noll to realize where this was going. He wanted to scream and shout until his throat was raw, but what good would it do? He wanted to thrash and curse at the man who had ruined so many lives and almost ended Mai's, but it wouldn't change anything. The strangers hands were still holding fast to his arms. There was not escape. Yelling wouldn't save him now. It was too late for help.
James pulled the hulking black gun from Officer Reilly's utility belt, expertly clicking off the safety.
Noll hung his head, feeling the fight leave his body as he sagged into the strangers hold. Was this how Annalise had felt? This... emptiness? Hopelessness? Had she welcomed the inevitable as he was doing now? Somewhere in front of him he heard the click of the gun as the bullet entered the chamber.
He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until they snapped open at the sound of the foreign shout.
James was staring at something just behind Noll, the gun still aimed at his forehead. "Get out of here," his said, voice languid and sooth; almost hypnotizing.
"Put the gun down!" The voice shouted again. Then Noll could hear him mumbling and the faint sound of a radio chirp. Something life hope blossomed in his chest.
James' hypnotism had failed.
In spite of the pain gripping his ribs and his (most likely broken) knee, Noll laughed. He raised his head, standing as tall as he could on one leg, absolutely giddy. He couldn't stop himself as he said, "Not exactly how you imagined it would end, is it?"
James sneered at him, a look of total disgust twisting his face as he snarled, "Shut up, Davis."
There was a loud bang and Noll's world faded to black.
Chapter 22: Ruin
"Gunshot wound to the left shoulder at close range. Possible damage to internal organs. Possible hemorrhaging."
He was moving; held down on some type of hard surface, bright lights whooshing past overhead. He jerked instinctively against the restraints, but it hurt too much to fight. His chest burned, a low and intense. It hurt to breathe.
Someone leaned into his view, face dark. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Na...ru..." he said automatically as a plastic cup was pushed over his mouth. It blew cold air at him until he took a deep breath, or what could pass as a deep breath.
"How old are you?"
He cast what he thought was a glare at that looming face, but didn't answer. What did it matter? Black dots swam in his vision.
"BP 141 over 93, patient entering hypertension." A voice droned somewhere out of view and the face suddenly moved away, leaving the bright lights to sear his sensitive eyes again. A wave of lethargy swept over Noll and the plastic cup fell slack around his mouth. "Heart rate's dropping — we're losing him."
5 months ago
When he woke, the sun was on his face. At first it was blinding; bright and hot on his cheeks, it seared through his eyelids. He opened his eyes and Mai was there. Leaning back against the bleak wall, Mai watched him with red-rimmed eyes.
He blinked. Was her voice real, or in his head? He didn't reply, studying her ripped skirt and dirty t-shirt. Was she wearing that when they got here? He couldn't remember. It was hard to remember much of anything.
This time her voice was very obviously in his mind. It held that hollow, bounce-around-your-head ringing to it that always came with their telepathy. He held that thought for a moment. Did Gene's voice ever ring in his head like that? He didn't think so.
Now that he knew it was in his head, it was hard not to hear the rest of her thoughts, buzzing just beneath his own. Images of himself bouncing around her mind. With his hair in stringy, oily clumps of black. His black button up was torn beyond repair, blood and bruises covering every inch of exposed skin.
Are you okay?
Her voice drudged up a lingering image of Annalise. His heart stuttered in his chest. She was dead. He… killed her. Like a tidal wave, grief and furious hatred washed over him. No, he was not okay. He hated himself. Mai gasped with the intensity of his emotions that pulsed across their bond. Did she already know what he had done? That he was a killer — no better than the people who kept them there.
Could she see it in his head?
Noll blinked, slowly, and shut the bond. He imagined the invisible wall erected in the space between him and her. Her voice faded almost instantly. He couldn't bring himself to look at her, but the sun was too bright to look anywhere else. He closed his eyes.
Footsteps sounded from somewhere too close and suddenly something sharp stabbed him in the shoulder.
James stooped over him, pushing the tips of a cold steel knife into the dip of his neck. "Wake up."
He watched the blood that beaded over the metal with bored curiosity. The boy made no noise. Not a whine or a groan that James had come to expect from his victims. The Davis boy didn't flinch. His dark blue eyes were hooded, sunken into his skull and fixated on something in the distance. He looked dead.
James wasn't entirely sure he was breathing until he felt rather than saw the rapid fluttering of his chest. He pulled the knife away and stood straight, wiping the blood off on the fabric of his jeans. "I said, wake up."
Noll stirred, just barely, his muscles answering to the silk in James' voice before his brain knew what was happening. He pushed himself off the floor, wheezing, forcing his legs to fold beneath him in any sort of comfortable manner.
More voices sounded from far away, echoing in the emptiness of the hallway, punctuated by the crisp click click click of high heels. Noll recognized Belikov's deep, Russian baritone. "Next is subject 85, Davis."
A soft, sultry female voice retorted with a blithe snort. "What's his talent?"
"Davis?" A lower, male voice interrupted, hesitant, "You mean Oliver Davis? That missing teenager?"
Noll didn't recognize the sound of his own name. He swayed, unsteady, wondering why he stayed in such an uncomfortable position when his toes had long gone numb and it felt as if his knees were going to shatter. He grumbled, leaning dramatically to one side.
"Myesto!" James spit in Russian. Noll had no idea what the word meant, but his body froze. James pushed a stony hand to his shoulder. "Pozirovat."
His body slowly righted itself, every muscle protesting as he centered his weight back on his heels. He felt as if he were in a vision he couldn't remember going into. As if he both was and was not himself, but like a spirit, watching from the outside. He frowned at the spot between his knees. Why wouldn't his body obey him?
"Precisely, Mr. Steffen," Belikov answered. They were closer; Noll could hear the muffled shuffle of papers just outside the open doorway. "He is the most recent addition to my collection."
"His disappearance has certainly made a wave in the news circuit. Don't you think you are unnecessarily running the risk of exposure by keeping him?"
"I don't see it as a problem," Belikov soothed. "It's only been a week and already the public is tired of it. Tomorrow there will be something new and everyone will forget about the Davis boy."
"Well, that picture they show on the news certainly does him no justice." The female clucked. Noll could practically feel her eyes on him as he watched the woman's silver high heels clack across the cement, followed closely by a short blue dress that stopped just above her knees.
She stopped and bent down to his eyes level. He didn't look up. "Oh," she cooed, reaching out to him, brushing the scarcely healed burn on the side of his neck. "What gave you this?"
"His training method was rather… intense."
She dropped her hand, turning slowly as if she had deliberately ignored him. "James," she said in a tone Noll knew well. Barely held contempt.
James forced a smile. "Pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Steffen. Mr. Steffen."
"What about her?" Mr. Steffen said, apparently happy to keep ignoring him. He gestured solemnly to the back corner of the room where Mai sat. Noll still refused to look at her, and he couldn't even feel her anymore, but he heard the shuffle of the handcuffs around her wrists as she cowered further into the wall. "Who is she?"
James didn't spare a glance at her. "Not for sale."
"I do wish you had stayed away from his face." Mrs. Steffen clucked, returning her attention to Noll. She slid a finger over his bruised jaw, lifting his chin. "He is quite handsome."
Noll met her gaze. Her face was unfamiliar, all golden tint makeup and red cheeks, but her eyes — her eyes were a conglomerate of blues and grey's, mixing in the diminishing sunlight to make a vivid purple. He held his breath.
Luella. It wasn't her — of course it wasn't her, but he so desperately wanted it to be. Her face was all wrong, her hair was too red, but his logical mind didn't care anymore. Tears pricked the corners of his eyes; his heart thumped hard, a drum in his chest.
James shrugged. "It couldn't be helped."
And just like that the spell was broken. Mrs. Steffen dropped his chin and took a step back, irritation in every sway of her hips as she sauntered back to her husband's side. "Of course,"
"Oliver," Belikov slipped just inside the door, placing a small metal object in the center of the desk. "Please, demonstrate for our guests."
Almost instantly Noll could feel the hum of power, agitated by the command. It buzzed at the tips of his fingers, obedient, and yet, hesitant. He fisted his hand. "…No."
He didn't think about what they would do to him. He didn't want to think about what they would do to Mai. He pinched his eyes shut, straining to remember the last time he had talked to his mother or his father. Hadn't he ignored them, shut them down at every turn when they were only trying to help?
"No?" Someone echoed him.
"Povinuysya mne!" James hissed in his ear. "Move it." It was smooth, tantalizing, but the lull was gone. Noll didn't feel the need to answer.
James landed a booted foot in the center of Noll's back; feeling strangely satisfied with the childish yip sound he made. James took a step back, then kicked again, listening for the sound.
Sometime in between the first blow and the moment Noll realized he was crumpled on his side, Belikov had escorted the couple out. He could still hear the fading click of Mrs. Steffen's heels on the concrete.
"Oliver" — kick— "Fucking" —kick— "Davis." James seethed, "You piece of shit."
Noll tried to remember to breathe but every hard-labored breath sending a jab of pain up his chest, through his ribs. Free from James' control, he felt relieved and regrettable. He laid in the strip of sunlight that stretched across the floor, catching the drops of blood splayed over the concrete. Was all that... his blood? The room was practically smothered in it. He stretched out a dirt covered hand, smearing one of those beads with his blackened fingertip.
James grabbed him by the hair, jerking him backward into a crude arch. "I should have killed you when I had the chance."
Noll scratched at his knuckles, twisting and turning; fighting. Every bone in his body screamed in protest, cracking and popping as he tottered backward. James suddenly pulled him to the floor, pressing the cold steel of the butcher's knife against Noll's laryngeal.
The bite of the blade only strengthened his resolve. "Just do it. Kill me already."
James glared at him, intent burning like fire behind his dark eyes. A smirk ate away at his lips and he laughed, loud and humorless, "No. That would be too easy," he said, then he released him, letting Noll fall brusquely to the floor.
"You're a smart boy, Davis ー at least they say you are," James mused. Noll held his breath, watching helplessly as James crossed the room in two quick strides. The butcher's knife glinted in the waning sun light as he sank down to his knees beside Mai. "Tell me: what is more painful than death?"
James watched him, expectant. Noll watched the knife, held steady in James' grip, sharp and dangerous. Mai mewed, nervous with its proximity to her pale skin.
Tentatively, Noll reached for their bond, all previous concerns forgotten. The link buzzed through his body from his fingertips to her ー but her thoughts were silent. He knocked, unable to force himself into her mind, but she hadn't opened the door. He growled under his breath. Now was not the time.
"Answer me, Davis," James snapped. He eyes Mai, tucking a lock of her loose brown hair behind her ear. She flinched away. "Don't make her hurt her."
James slid the blade the length of her bruised thigh.
"Life!" he croaked, speckling the back of his hand with blood. "Life is more painful."
James cocked an eyebrow, laughing. "Poetic, Davis. But incorrect."
With a flick of the wrist, he sliced a long incision over the soft stop of Mai's knee. She cried out, blood blossoming from the shallow cut. "It's love," James whispered. He ran the tip of his finger over Mai's trembling lips, forcing her to look at him. "Love is more painful than death."
Noll scrambled to his hands and knees, head spinning. "D-Don't touch her!"
He forced his body forward, inch by inch. He would stop James even if he had to crawl on his hands and knees. His ribs jabbed painfully into his lungs, He inched forward, but his body was done. There was nothing left in him. The weeks ー days ー hours of torture had finally caught up to him.
He collapsed to the floor, motionless.
Was this it? Was this all he had left? He'd fought so hard to stay sane, to keep his humanity despite everything they did to him. He refused to be broken… but it didn't matter. They couldn't break his mind, but they had broken his body. In the end, none of it mattered. He would die here in this concrete dungeon.
Why was this happening to him? To them? In the grand scheme of things, he had probably done something to deserve this. He'd always been told his specialness would get him into trouble, but Mai? She was only here because of him. An innocent bystander to his inevitable tragedy.
And James had his hands all over her.
Mai was crying, sobbing in between forced, sloppy kisses. She struggled to put distance between them, but James fisted her blouse, holding her close.
"Don't fight me, Mai," he growled, leading a trail of kisses down her neck.
Mai whimpered, "Ya-yamete…"
"Leave her alone!"
James tangled his free hand in Mai's hair, yanking her head back and exposing more of her collarbone. "Shut up," he said, tearing the collar of her shirt in two. The tattered cloth ripped easily, revealing a faded pink bra. James slid the knife over the fabric, chuckling, "Cute."
James' hand traveled over her hip and down under her skirt.
Mai cried, "Tasukete, N-Naru…"
Something primal snapped inside him.
"I said don't touch her!"
The small window suddenly bowed inward, shattering, showering James and Mai in tiny pieces of glass. The concrete building made a terrible sound, a cacophony of mental shrieks and groaning earth. Righteous fury drove him to his feet, the ground moving, quivering beneath him. As he stepped, the cement bucked, shallow cracks snaking in every direction. Every stride felt like a lifetime as he bested gravity and his smarting muscles.
When he reached James, he punched him. They made a mistake when they decided not to bind his hands, he thought, astonished by the gurgled sound James made when he whipped backward, smacking into the wall. He thought for a moment he had killed him, but the feeling was short lived.
James recovered before Noll had regained his balance, lashing out, knife first. The six inches of cool steel swished by his face, frighteningly close. Noll jerked back, but there was nowhere to go. His poorly thought out attack had landed him in-between Mai and James, wedged between Mai's warm body and James' boot clad feet.
"Naru…" Mai plead, pressing her shaking hands to his back. He still couldn't hear her thoughts, but through her hands he could feel her terror. It resonated within him, rocking him.
James rolled over, unable to get back to his feet. The cracks on the floor had ventured up the walls, spider webbing across the ceiling. It was going to collapse.
Mai, run, he thought as the wall beside them emitted a deep groaning. His own though bounced back at him. Was she shutting him out? …Or had he permanently severed their connection? Was that possible?
"Mai," he tried out loud, "run!"
He felt her press on his shoulders, moving behind him.
James had already made it to his feet. He thrust the knife wildly, grazing Noll's shoulder. It burned like hot coals, blood streaming from the deep gash, but Noll seized his chance. He lunged forward, colliding shoulder first with James.
They both tumbled to the floor, James pinned beneath him. Adrenaline pumped through Noll. He punched James hard in the cheek, satisfied with the gross crunching noise it made. James sagged, dazed. Noll pinned his arms to the floor, reaching for the knife ー it wasn't there.
Had he dropped it on the way down? Noll scurried back, searching. Where was it?
Noll jerked back, why was she still here? Hadn't he told her to run? "Maiー"
Mai was bleeding.
The breath caught in his lungs and for just a moment, the Earth had ceased to spin. Mai sat back on her heels, both hands wrapped loosely around the knife's plastic handle, blood seeping out from around it.
A bright, vibrant red.
For a second, he thought it was a trick. The angle was wrong ー his eyes were playing tricks on him. Mai was fine. But then she coughed, her abdomen spasming around the blade, and reality clicked.
How had this happened?
Mai whined, a soft sound, barely audible.
"Mai…" Noll breathed. He scuttled the few feet to her side, James forgotten. He touched her chin, hesitant, instinctively reached for the handle of the knife to pull it out.
"D-don't…" Mai squeaked, shaky, blood smeared hands pushing him away.
She sagged back against the wall, wheezing, blood dribbling over her lips. His vision blurred. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. He still remembered what her mouth felt like against his. Soft yet firm, sweet with the lingering tang of the orange she'd had for breakfast. Mai wheezed violently, her eyelids fluttering.
Her lips quivered, but not sound came out.
This wasn't happening.
"Look what you've done!" James roared, yanking Noll up by the collar of his shirt.
He didn't struggle. Noll stared, captivated by the angelic look on Mai's face. Her head lulled to one side, her bangs shielding her eyes.
Was she… dead?
James threw him to the floor.
The sound of bone crunching filled his ears, but it didn't hurt. His whole body had gone numb and all he could see was Mai, blood soaking through her shirt, pooling in a shallow puddle between her legs.
She was dying. She was dead. He had killed her, too. How many people would die because of him?
James screamed, kicking him until all the air had been forced from Noll's lungs. He stomped on his chest, speaking Russian, but Noll couldn't hear it over the sound of the walls collapsing.
Chapter 23: Resonance
Trigger warning; gruesome description of crime scene.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
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."
Luella's childhood story of Noll's was inspired by Coriana's 'The Not Too Distant Past', specifically the second chapter, 'B is for Banshee'. The whole series of one-shots is amazing and everyone should check it out!
Chapter 24: Salvage
"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."
- Elbert Hubbard
"It's been six months since Judge Mathis officially dismissed the criminal case of James Dumont and Doctor Oliver Davis is reportedly 'doing well', says his father, Professor Martin Davis. Rumor is he is planning on leaving London later this year to open a satellite SPR office in Japan."
Noll paused in his typing. He glanced over the laptop at her, eyebrows furrowed. He was slouched in his seat, chin in the hand. His shoulder still bothered him sometimes, but at the moment it didn't seem to mind the angle, especially because he'd spent the last few hours at his keyboard.
He breathed an indignant sigh. "I really wish you wouldn't read those things," he murmured, turning back to the laptop and scrolling back through the document. It was almost done now, his complete account of what happened in the basement of that abandoned house and everything that followed. He isn't sure what he's going to do with it once he's done, probably keep it stored away somewhere on his computer.
Noll, clicked the save button, catching Mai's eyes as she continued to grin at him. He replayed their conversation in his head, realization hitting him. She couldn't hold back her giggles as his blazing blue eyes widened, laptop completely forgotten as he rose to snatch the magazine out of his girlfriend's hands. "How do they know about Japan?"
Mai shook her head. "Who knows? It's a wonder how they even got your picture on the front cover." She snatched the magazine back from him. "Though, you do look handsome."
He almost laughed when she flipped the cover around to face him. It was ironic really that the person staring from behind those intense blue eyes both was and wasn't him. It was Gene impersonating him at one of SPR's Gala's a few years back when Noll couldn't have been bothered to show his actual face.
The mirth in his eyes must have given him away because Mai adorned a pensive glare, turning the page back to look at it. "That's not you, is it?"
"If it walks like a duck," Noll offered, shrugging as he exited the word file and shut the computer.
Mai looked perplexed. "Is that another one of your 'idioms'?" When he nodded, she pushed herself to her feet, letting the magazine fall unceremoniously onto the desk. "I will never understand the English language."
"It meansー" he tried but Mai had other plans. She leaned over the remainder of the desk that separated them and placed a soft kiss on his lips. Noll had the sudden urge to do more than just kiss but he quickly dismissed that thought. "Never mind that," he said, pushing his sleeve back to check his watch. "Ready to go?"
Alarm colored Mai's face as she spun to glance up at the wall clock, her eyebrows furrowing, melting into confusion when she saw it was only just after noon. "I thought our flight was at four?"
"It is ー but," he turned away, suddenly much more interested in readjusting his watch than meeting her gaze, "there was somewhere else I wanted to visit before we left."
"Oh," she said. A smile worked its way to her lips as she studied him. This was the Naru she knew; stone-faced, arrogant, and illusive to the point of annoyance for everyone around him. Well, the soft pink coloring his cheeks was new but that was just one of the many new quirks Naru's acquired since The Event. It was obvious to anyone who knew the young scientist before that he had changed. Whether or not he himself noticed it, Naru had dropped his indifferent mask, allowing witness to his inner feelings.
Over the days, Mai had memorized and cataloged nearly all of them.
Embarrassment made his eyes narrow and his cheeks burn. Joy made his eyes crinkle at the sides even if he didn't smile. Anger earned a piercing glare and ridged posture. Sadness was the worst. It made his dark eyes distant and his skin pale. One could almost watch the past come back to life, gazing in those dark blue irises.
Then he had moments like those when he was almost back to his irritatingly somber self. But it was this part of him that she loved the most.
She grinned, looping her arm through his. "Lead the way,"
They paused to give one last goodbye to Martin and Luella. The rest of the JSPR crew were fluttering about London, getting in last minute shopping and sightseeing. So the manor was quiet as Luella pull Mai into a tight hug and whispered about how much she would miss her. Mai smiled bashfully, making her promise to visit the satellite office soon. Martin had agreed whole heartedly to this idea, one arm around Noll's shoulder. Even Noll himself looked pleased with this idea. They laughed and hugged again and then they were off.
Mai watched the Davis manor fade from view as they pulled out of the driveway and onto the private dirt road. "Are you going to tell me where we're going?"
Noll's silence was enough of an answer. You'll see when we get there.
Though, it didn't take long for the young Japanese girl to recognize the street names and the towering buildings. By the time they pulled off the main road, Mai was positive she knew their destination. Not long after, they were passing through the Victorian-style iron gates and driving along a narrow dirt road.
She had expected him to stop about halfway up the rolling hill, where Gene was buried, but Naru didn't even tap the breaks as the Toyota pushed on, further up the hill and down the other side. They were further back into the cemetery than she had ever been before when they finally stopped.
He had his mask back on as he unbuckled his seat-belt and motioned for Mai to follow him. The grass crunched softly beneath their feet, still partly frozen from the cold night, as they walked sit by side, between the gravestones. Some stones had carvings on them so old they were nearly impossible to read, others were newer, with roses and lilies laid in front of them.
Noll pulled her to a stop in front of one of these. The roses and lilies had begun to wilt already, as if it had been a few weeks since anyone had come to visit this grave. Mai took in the elegant scripture carved into the stone. Below that was a name she felt she should have recognized but was meant with only a twinge of familiarity.
ANNALISE JUNE FOSTER
April 1987 ー December 2002
So young, Mai thought watching as Naru sank to his knees, ignoring the way the damp grass soaked the knees of his pants and clasped his hands together. It almost looked like he was praying the way he bowed his head, his bangs shadowing his face.
"Annalise," he whispered, voice carrying on the wind, soft and solemn, as if speaking any louder would break him. "It took me far too long to come here but I thought... I thought you should know...It's not over." He sighed, shoulders sagging, "I'm not done. There were others like you, children taken from their families... and I couldn't live with myself if I turned away.
"I promise to find them. I will spend the rest of my life saving them because I couldn't save you. And I hope you can find peace knowing that." Naru fell silent again as he reached out to trace a hand over the carving. Mai, so entranced by his words, never noticed the couple that lingered behind her, waiting for their chance to speak.
Tears rolled down the older woman's face as her husband took a step forward. "Are you Oliver Davis?"
Naru never moved so quickly. He made no attempt to hide his fear or surprise as he rose to his feet, turning to face the couple. He was quiet for a long moment, drinking in the sight of them, noting their obvious resemblance to the young girl whose grave he had been talking to. Finally, he bowed his head, "Yes,"
The woman hiccuped. Mr. Foster's grey eyes lowered into a glare, nostrils flaring. He took another step closer.
Noll didn't flinch even when his instincts were screaming for him to move, to ready himself for the blow. Whatever this man did to him, he deserved it. He knew now that his lose of control of his powers hadn't killed Annalise. After hours and days of researching, he knew now that Annalise had... chosen to die. Along with her psychometry, Ana possessed the uncanny power to amplify others powers. She had seen her chance to end her torture with him, and she had taken it.
Mr. Foster didn't hit him. He closed the distance between them, his large arms encircling the teen in a tight embrace. Noll tried not to yell in surprise as they teetered back a few steps, the older man whispering harshly in his ear.
"Thank you for freeing my daughter."
Noll settled into his seat, waving away the flight attendant as he pulled his bag into his lap. Mai watched him curiously, sipping her Sprite as he produced a small stack of manila folders. Some were singed around the edges, some were filled to the brim with messy stacks of paper.
"What are those?" She asked, tilting her head to read one of the names neatly printed on the side.
Noll shrugged, leaning his cheek on his fist as he opened the top file. "Files on all the people Dumont took, or was researching. These were the only ones that survived the fire."
"...How many were there?"
He shook his head, face sullen. "Too many, Mai."
Mai sank back, wondering how many people had been forced to go through what Naru had been through. "What are you going to do with them?"
This time, Noll's eyes narrowed. He read the name at the top of the file over and over again, committing it to memory. "I'm going to find them."
He didn't answer.
Mai pouted, but didn't press him. "Oh, I almost forgot!" She jumped from her seat, digging around in her bag. "Here," she said, thrusting a thick, rectangular shaped present into his lap.
Noll inspected the beautifully festive wrapping paper with a confused lean to his head. "What's this for?"
Mai felt a blush heating her cheeks even as her abdomen ached in remembrance. "Since I missed Christmas and all I, uh, I didn't get to give you your present."
"I didn't..." He started to say but held his tongue. Neither of them had been in any condition to celebrate the holiday, and to be completely honest, it had never crossed his mind to get her a gift. Normally this wouldn't bother him, but he could already feel his ears heating up. He wished he had gotten her something, but instead of apologizing he forced a small smile and mumbled, "You weren't obligated toー"
"I didn't feel obligated," she challenged quickly. Then she blushed a deeper shade of red all the way up to her own ears and plopped down rather ungracefully beside him. "Aren't you gonna open it?"
Noll studied his girlfriend for another second before he ever-so-slowly peeled back the tape that held the wrapping in place, chuckling when he heard Mai's impatient growl.
"Will you just open it already?"
He obliged, ripping the rest of it off in a single movement. It was a book; a thick, red, hardback novel that bore no title nor author. He checked the back cover and the spine but they were both equally blank.
"It's a treatise on the manifestation of supernatural talents." Mai offered, sensing his confusion. She looked sheepish as she added, "I noticed you had quite a number of manuscripts on the subject in your library so..." she drifted off, ending with a shrug.
Noll watched the different emotions flit over her expressive face with a soft smile. "Yes, it is a recent interest of mine. This is very thoughtful of you, Mai. Thank you."
She blushed again, grinning as she sat back in her chair. When she didn't say anything else, Noll dubbed the conversation over and studied his gift. He had intended to sleep the first leg of the 12-hour flight back to Tokyo, but decided to indulge his curiosity instead. The scent of fresh ink and old parchment reached his nose as he cracked the book open, skipping over the nondescript title page and index. On the next page, however, he paused.
Like the ones before, it was blank ー except for a beautiful gold lettered inscription centered near the bottom of the page.
He traced his fingers over the elegant gold-lettered inscription, smile deepening with every word he read.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world;
there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
It's not just us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
- Marianne Williamson