*kin kon kan kon...*
The bell signalling the end of the school day could be heard ringing throughout Mai's school. As she slowly packed away her books, her friends Keiko and Michiru came and surrounded her desk.
"Mai, what's with you lately? You've been acting a bit... I don't know... weird." Keiko said looking at her friend a little worried.
Mai looked up surprised. She'd been trying to act like she usually did at school, but apparently she hadn't succeeded in fooling her friends. Mai shook her head slightly. "It's nothing. I'm just a little tired these days," she said with a wan smile.
Michiru grabbed Mai's arm pretending she didn't notice when Mai stiffened at her touch. "I know! Rumour has it that someone's found an old desk in one of the storage areas, and it's supposed to've belonged to a student that committed suicide some time ago. You work for a psychic research office. You should take a look!" she said brightly.
Mai grimaced slightly. "I really don't think I want to think about work at school, right now. Even though I work in a place like that, it's not like I'm all that useful in the investigations... Not to mention, Naru was less than impressed with me last month and let me know in no uncertain terms that I'd apparently forgotten how to do my job properly while he'd been away." Mai had a slight look of distaste on her face at that memory. She'd thought she'd learned a little from Madoka who'd been the acting manager while Naru was away only to discover she'd forgotten other things at the same time.
"Ehhh?! Really? Mai, you're not supposed to slack off like that!" Keiko exclaimed.
"Besides," Mai continued. "How do you even know that it's the desk of someone who committed suicide... assuming someone did in fact do that here?"
"Come on Mai," Michiru said exasperated, "you heard all those stories about the old school building right? There were lots of people who died there including some suicides, right?"
"That's there; this is here." Mai said primly. The old school building is gone. Besides, like I said, how do you know it's that person's desk?"
"Mai," Keiko said looking at her long-time friend resentfully, "you've become a lot less fun about these sorts of things since you started working at that office. Do you know that?"
Mai burst out laughing at her friend's statement. Keiko's voice was virtually dripping with disgust over Mai's more practical attitude towards the supernatural.
Mai thought back. If this were back over a year and a half ago at the beginning of high school, the three of them would've loved to have had this sort of opportunity. She had to admit, actually investigating the paranormal definitely put a damper on the more innocent and clueless activities she and her friends had taken part in before.
"All right, let's go take a look at that desk," Mai said laughing. It'd been a very long time indeed since the three of them had done this sort thing, so she couldn't help feeling a twinge of nostalgia at the idea.
As soon as his classes were over for the day, Yasuhara went straight to his job at the SPR office. When he arrived, he found his boss out in the reception area reading a journal as was often the case when neither Yasuhara nor Mai were around.
Going to his desk, he dropped his things off. "Ah, Shibuya-san, would you like some tea?" he asked. While perhaps not quite as good as his co-worker's, Yasuhara often found himself serving drinks to the other office members as well as the irregulars who dropped by.
"No, I'm fine." Naru said shortly without looking up.
Much to Yasuhara's surprise, his boss showed no signs of returning immediately to his own haven. "Umm, about yesterday..."
"I don't know yet." Naru answered his gaze still firmly fixed on the article he was reading.
"Ehh? You don't know yet?" Yasuhara asked dismayed. "When will you know? There's not that much time before Saturday after all."
Naru looked up from his journal and looked at Yasuhara oddly. "What are you talking about?" he finally asked.
"About what time you'll be closing the office on Saturday, of course." Yasuhara said smiling winningly.
Naru sighed. "If you want to go to the movies with Mai on Saturday, that's your business. Kindly don't expect personal matters to affect business here."
"But Shibuya-san. If the office stays open as late as usual, Taniyama-san will, of course, want to work until it closes. But in that case, while Taniyama-san and I'll be able to catch our movie, when it comes to getting home, either I'd have to leave her at the train station to make her own way home extremely late at night--which I would never consider doing--or I'd see her home and promptly end up being stranded at her place because I'll have missed the last train," Yasuhara said with his glasses glinting suspiciously. "Of course, it wouldn't bother me if I ended up having to spend the night at Taniyama-san's apartment..."
Naru glared slightly at Yasuhara who could feel the office temperature start to dip from his boss' icy demeanor. Unfazed, Yasuhara changed the subject. "Well, we'll leave that issue aside for now. The fact that you went along with things yesterday means that you've also noticed Taniyama-san's unusual behaviour, is that right, Shibuya-san?"
Naru shrugged slightly, "To be honest, I didn't think she was acting all that unusually. She seemed to have the odd moment, but I didn't think them often enough to be a cause for concern. However, your comment yesterday combined with a strange question she asked made me reconsider."
As Yasuhara considered Naru's statement, the door to the records room opened and a tall man came out. Lin paused briefly when he noticed Yasuhara standing in the middle of the office talking to Naru who was still seated in the reception area.
"Ah, Lin-san, hello." Yasuhara said automatically turning to greet his colleague.
Lin nodded slightly to Yasuhara and started towards the front door to the office when Yasuhara called out to him again.
"Lin-san, are you in a hurry right now?" he asked.
Lin turned and looked at Yasuhara. "It can wait if it's important," he replied.
Yasuhara considered briefly before nodding. "We were talking about Taniyama-san's strange behaviour as of late."
Lin looked at Yasuhara steadily for a moment then glanced at Naru. "I haven't noticed her to be acting any differently?" he said quietly.
"Eh? Not at all?" Yasuhara asked surprised.
Lin hesitated slightly before nodding in confirmation. Yasuhara was clearly surprised by his answer and even Naru was looking at him a little oddly. "...Is something wrong with Taniyama-san?"
Naru sighed. "Yasuhara-san mentioned yesterday that she seems to have been acting a bit strange lately and that she's been making some unusual comments--things that she shouldn't know anything about."
"Meaning?" Lin asked quietly, his expression inscrutable.
"If it is psychometry... Taniyama-san did have that dream in Suwa, but..." Yasuhara started to say when Naru interrupted him.
"We already know that her dream then and the one last month at the Agawa residence were both because Gene relayed my vision to her," he said frowning slightly.
However, just as he was about to continue, the front door to the office opened suddenly, and the bell attached to it rang out merrily as a tall brown-haired man entered the office. Takigawa Houshou paused in surprise as he entered the office. He'd clearly come in while the office regulars (minus Mai) were having a serious discussion.
"Ah, sorry. Am I interrupting something?" he asked hesitantly.
Naru looked annoyed at the intrusion. "As always you seem to have a lot of time on your hands," he said coolly.
Following Bou-san, a smaller blonde-haired man entered the office. "It's good to see y'all," John said with a warm and friendly smile.
Naru's frown deepened when he realised that there wasn't just one, but two newcomers. However, he didn't say anything further about the intrusion. Yasuhara in the meantime ushered the two in to take a seat on one of the couches.
"We were just talking about Taniyama-san," Yasuhara explained without preamble. "She's been acting a little strangely lately, so--"
"Has something happened to Mai?!" Bou-san asked interrupted Yasuhara. "I haven't been by at all this past week, so I haven't seen her! Hey, Naru-bou..."
Bou-san's words trailed off as Naru glared him into silence. Naru glanced at John, "What about you, John? Have you noticed anything?"
John shook his head, "I haven't been by of late either. More than a week I believe."
Bou-san raised a hand politely, "Sensei, I'm not sure I follow. What do you mean she's been acting strangely?"
Naru looked annoyed. The constant interruptions meant having to go back and repeat what had already been said. "We're getting to that point. Yasuhara-san, you've noticed it most, so perhaps you should explain."
"Ah, okay. Umm..." Yasuhara hesitated slightly as he gathered his thoughts. "During the past week, it seems that Taniyama-san's been acting a little unusually every now and again. It's nothing major. She seems to freeze or pause for a moment. I didn't really notice it at first, but it kept happening and occasionally she'd say something unusual too. For example, yesterday, when I lent her an eraser, she mentioned that while I hadn't stolen it, I'd done something to get it. The thing is, I'd almost completely forgotten about that incident and there's no way she could have known about it. And before you suggest maybe it's because the item itself was strange, I'll stress the fact that she said 'I didn't steal it.' Why would she think something like that in the first place compared to some other means of acquisition?"
Bou-san ran his hand roughly through his hair and scratched his head. "You mean... she might've done psychometry?"
"That's what I thought, but when we later did a minor test of the idea using Shibuya-san's pen..." Yasuhara paused glancing at Naru.
"There were no signs of anything unusual." Naru said with a slight shrug.
"Maybe it's an on-again, off-again thing," Bou-san suggested after a moment's thought.
Naru nodded. "It's possible, but what's also interesting is that I didn't think much of Mai's behaviour recently, and Lin hasn't noticed anything at all."
"Nothing?" Bou-san asked as he turned to Lin.
Lin nodded. "She didn't seem to be any different from her usual self. ...Although she did seem to be a bit more tired than normal."
"So, either Lin's exceptionally dense to how Mai's doing, or there's a reason why the three of us are noticing things to different degrees," Naru said.
"We were talking about the different visionary dreams Taniyama-san's had since working here," Yasuhara continued. "And we'd only started thinking about the different ones she'd had. Shibuya-san says that the one in Suwa during the Urado case and the one last month at the Agawa residence were both visions of his that had been relayed to Taniyama-san by his brother Gene."
Bou-san frowned slightly. "Other than those..."
"There's the dream she had when she fell into the well at the Morishita home," Lin said quietly. "Did Taniyama-san say anything that might give a clue about the visions themselves?"
Yasuhara shook his head slightly.
Naru looked thoughtful. "She might not be synching very strongly with the person and therefore seeing things as a bystander," he said at last. "She asked about synching and psychometry yesterday, but my answer didn't seem to answer whatever it was that was bothering her."
"When she talked about the dream she had when she fell into the well, it sounded like she was watching everything as an outsider," Lin said slowly thinking back to that scene almost a year and a half ago.
Bou-san started ticking of the different dreams he could remember Mai having while on investigations, "So, what, we have the Morishita case, Urado courtesy of big brother, I think there was something during the Yoshimi case, did she say anything about the school at the lake?, then last month at the Agawa residence again courtesy of big brother. Umm... so really we've got the Morishita case, the Yoshimi case, and maybe that school by the lake. It'd really help if the rest of the girls were here so we could ask them if Mai ever said anything about those cases and any dreams she might've had."
"Um, but those're all dreams, right?" John asked cocking his head to one side. "From what Yasuhara-san's been sayin' it seems more like she's seein' things while awake?"
"Yeah, but Mai's abilities all work when she's half-asleep, right?" Bou-san replied.
"True, except for her sixth sense, her abilities tend to manifest only when she's in a trance," Naru confirmed. "Other than occasionally seeing ghosts, she hasn't shown any other ability while awake."
John looked mildly confused. "But she has, hasn't she?"
"Huh? What're you talking about, John? Everything she's done's always been when she's asleep, right?" Bou-san said.
John gave a slight troubled smile. "But, there's that incident during the Yoshimi case, when we all ran after Kazuyasu-san before he jumped from the cliff. She'd grabbed hold of the fence and then froze for a moment, and when she finally responded to my voice, she said that Kazuyasu-san's the one who pushed Nao-san from the cliff, killed the birds and dogs the family'd been keepin', and that he's the one who'd tampered with the car. How'd she know he'd done those things?"
Bou-san frowned. "......Come to think of it... something like that... might've happened. And she was awake then, too..."
John cocked his head slightly. "My question is, if what she's doing is psychometry..."
However, before he could finish his question, the office phone rang.
*sigh* The large puppy romping about chasing butterflies is making this story a bit... um. Um's a good descriptive word for this. >.>