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The Memory Remains

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"They're what?!"

"You heard me. They're looking for a corpse."

"...I think I'm going to be sick."

The crowd of spectators was growing. Naru slipped through their numbers to find a quiet spot to meditate, tuning out the gossipers comments as he worked to put distance between them. A group of trees growing along the lake’s edge had proved to be a comfortable haven over the previous days and he was relieved to find the area blessedly empty.

He made himself comfortable amongst the lush grass and let the light breeze tease his hair. Footsteps approached from behind and Lin held out a steaming takeaway cup. Naru took the gift, wrapping his hands around the cup and brought it under his nose to appreciate the tea’s fragrance.

"Are you looking forward to going home?"

For a moment, Naru wondered which 'home' his friend was referring to. Then it occurred to him that maybe that was the point. "You want to know if I plan on returning to England when this is over."

"No." Lin amended, watching him carefully. "I want to know if you want to return to England."

It was a good question, and one Naru had specifically avoided asking himself. He felt like the answer should be yes – his family were waiting for him and it wasn’t as if he didn’t miss them. Now though, he had more people to miss. He knew no matter where he lived, Mai wouldn’t stop loving him, nor he her. They would work something out – and who was to say that returning to England had to be permanent?

Lin’s phone began to ring and whatever advice or criticism he might have offered was shelved. Naru watched intently as he answered, heart pounding. Was this the call they were waiting for, or just another in an endless string of updates? He held his breath.

Lin’s eyes widened.

“It’s the divers,” he confirmed, hand cupped over the mobile’s microphone. "They've found a skull and a partially revealed ribcage embedded in the lake floor."

Only time would tell if they belonged to Gene.

 

-x-

 

Hiroto Seigi grimaced at the incomplete skeleton splayed out before him. Dealing with this sort of thing on a daily basis had a tendency to make people lose faith in humanity. He had no idea how his partner managed to wield empathy's double-edged sword and remain optimistic after all they had seen, but Hiroto hoped nothing would ever break her spirit. Though he might never admit it, he found Nakai's positivity refreshing; a stark contrast to his dry scepticism.

"Judging by the mandible, frontal and occipital profiles, we're looking at a male; probably between fourteen and eighteen years of age." A stern looking woman in her late thirties informed the pair, raising an eyebrow at Hiroto when it looked like he might lean on the folding table behind him. Nakai shot an amused 'you should know better' look in his direction as he hurriedly corrected his posture, but the forensic scientist seemed appeased and returned her attention to the job at hand.

Like most specialists, Chiba Izanami had her quirks - the most prominent of which being a very strict 'no touch' policy. Her sharp observation skills, combined with a possessive streak and a strong sense of professional pride, meant that if so much as a pen moved a millimetre, the anthropologist knew about it.

"I'd estimate the height to be around one hundred and sixty-five, maybe one-seventy centimetres, but it's hard to be certain without more of the remains," the preoccupied woman offered. "Lack of soft tissue will make it difficult to pinpoint the time of death, but I'd say he's been down there for at least eight months, probably more."

"What can you tell us about the injuries?" Nakai ventured. "Could this have been an accident, or are we looking at foul play?"

"Possibly a little of both," Chiba mused, gesturing to the relevant damage as she elaborated. "Aside from the fractured skull, crushed ribs and upper humerus, the partial tibia suggests that at least one of the legs suffered similar damage, as well as some form of blunt trauma."

Turning to address the investigators directly, she concluded, "Despite the location of the body, I doubt the deceased died in the lake. It's likely that the victim's legs were struck first, causing him to fall and hit his head before being crushed."

Hiroto agreed. Though his qualifications paled in comparison to the woman in front of him, he had seen enough dead bodies to recognise a plausible pattern in the wounds she had mentioned.

"If I had to guess, I'd say we're looking at a 'hit and run'."

Hiroto registered Nakai thanking the anthropologist for her time, but his attention drifted to the men responsible for the body's recovery. The younger of the two was abnormally accomplished for his age, having obtained a doctorate degree by the time he was fifteen. According to his statement, the boy had reported his brother missing years ago, eventually travelling to Japan in order to search for him.

So far everything had checked out, but while Oliver Davis's actions indicated that he cared deeply for his twin, the investigator was convinced that he and his taciturn guard dog were hiding something important from them.

Nobody hired divers to search for almost a week without being sure there is something to find, no matter how much cash they have to burn.

"I think it's time we had another 'talk' with the boy," Hiroto begrudgingly conceded, not looking forward to the prospect. He was too cool for his liking – the type who probably thought they could get away with anything if you threw enough money at a problem. The kid was too smart and too confident for his own good. If they were lucky, he’d think he was so untouchable that he’d let some crucial detail slip.

With Nakai in tow, Hiroto began to approach the boy and his tall, sombre shadow, ignoring the way his skin prickled underneath the Chinese man's assessing gaze.

There was no sense in putting this off any longer.

"Davis-san, would you mind coming with us for a moment?"

If Davis was surprised by the request, it didn't show. He barely seemed to acknowledge their presence as they moved away from the noise of the crime scene, his blue eyes focused somewhere far in the distance.

"How long would you have continued to search the lake if a body had not been found?" Hiroto inquired bluntly, not bothering to mince words.

"For as long as necessary."

"What if the body doesn't belong to your brother?" Nakai pressed.

The look the boy shot them was withering, settling somewhere between irritation and boredom. He may as well have slowly articulated, as if to a child, that he would have kept looking.

Nakai’s brow furrowed. "Are you so sure he won't be found alive?"

"If he were still alive, wouldn't the police have found him by now?" Davis countered, hardly bothering to veil the insult. Hiroto was far from impressed.

"Since you were the one who reported him missing in the first place, I find it suspicious that you seem to have knowledge concerning his whereabouts that we don't." He vocalised, cutting to the chase, "What are you hiding from us? Why search this lake?"

The once disinterested eyes flashed, meeting the angered officer's gaze with cold justification. "Instinct."

"Instinct?" Hiroto echoed. He wasn’t sure what to make of the strange response, aside from that it appeared to be genuine. Davis sighed, as if he hadn’t expected to be understood, but still found the chore of explaining distasteful.

"Are you familiar with many theories concerning the bond between identical twins?"

To the investigator's exasperation, his partner appeared to be seriously considering the argument, nodding slowly at his words.

"Wait a minute," he protested. "Isn't something like that a little farfetched?"

Though Nakai moved to answer, it seemed Davis had grown tired of their conversation. He shook his head and interrupted with his own question. "Have you ever fallen in love, Hiroto-san?"

Hiroto blinked in confusion. "Excuse me? What does that have to do with it?"

Davis' expression hardened. "Humour me."

Though the interrogation was rapidly being derailed, this was more or less how Hiroto pictured their conversation going. His first impression of the unusual pair currently at the top of his list of suspects suggested that ordinary tactics would be of little use. That the boy was talking at all was actually a bonus.

He weighed the advantages and disadvantages of going with the flow, sharing a look with Nakai before indulging Davis.

"Yes, I have."

"Do you have any tangible evidence?" Davis waited for his words to hit the mark before ploughing ahead. "The words 'I love you' are merely one of many phrases that may be offered to anyone, as are gifts. Chemical reactions indicating physical attraction can be gauged scientifically, but the emotion itself? Can you prove that 'love' exists?"

Fully aware that his interrogators had no answer to his challenge, Oliver Davis turned his back on them, his dark coat billowing in the breeze as he left them with a parting thought.

"Just because a theory has yet to be proven, doesn't mean it is without truth."

 

-x-

 

“Thank you for following up with us, Suzuki-san,” Mai said, bidding the client goodbye. She returned the phone to its cradle and read through the notes she’d jotted down during their conversation. Suzuki had recently approached SPR on behalf of her comatose daughter – a case Naru hadn’t dismissed outright thanks to some surrounding circumstances, but thought it more likely to be a medical issue.

Sure enough, Suzuki’s daughter had been diagnosed with diabetes. She was conscious and recovering, but the stress on their family had been so great that no one had thought to update SPR on the situation until the chaos died down. Mai thought that was completely reasonable. While it was definitely nice to know that a client’s issue had been resolved, if a client never returned, their files were simply archived.

Mai diligently cleaned up her notes, typing up a copy for the case file and emailing it to Lin. Once finished, she wandered into the kitchen out of sheer habit. There wasn’t much point in making a full pot of tea, so Mai only boiled enough water to cover the minimum line and not damage the kettle.

As wisps of steam began to rise, her mobile pinged in her pocket. It was a message from Masako. The text read, “Kayo came to meet me at work”. Mai smiled giddily on behalf of her friend and sent back a response.

<Mai> awww that’s so sweet!

She hadn’t met Kayo yet but she seemed to make Masako very happy. A few seconds later she received a second notification.

<Masako> no you don’t understand

The message was immediately followed by another, a photo this time. It was a picture of an attractive young woman in tight black leather, astride a motorbike. She’d just removed her helmet and was smiling widely, presumably at Masako as she took the picture. Before Mai had a chance to respond with anything other than a low whistle, her phone chimed in her hands. Twice.

<Masako> how do I survive this knowledge

<Masako> help

Mai laughed so hard that she snorted.

<Mai> take deep breaths and enjoy the view ;)

<Masako> hnngg

SPR’s landline started ringing and Mai typed out a quick “brb” and raced back to the office to answer it.

"Shibuya Psychic Research," she answered, readying pen and paper to take down any necessary information. "How may I help you?"

"Mai."

“Naru!” She dropped the pen and accidentally knocked the paper pad to the floor. If he heard the resulting chaos of his earlier than usual call, Naru didn’t mention it. When he spoke, she could hear how emotionally drained he was.

"Lin and I will be coming back tonight."

Elation and dread simultaneously flooded Mai. “Did you -”

“Find him?” Naru concluded. “Yes. Dental records confirm it," he added quietly. "I didn't want to tell you until we were sure."

“How are you feeling?”

For a little while, Mai listened in silence as Naru contemplated how to answer.

“I don’t know,” he breathed. “I thought if I found him -” Naru floundered and fell silent again. “I thought it would feel ‘over’.”

Mai wanted to hold him. They had both experienced tragic loss and if there was anything that could have been said to ease the pain in her own heart, Mai couldn’t think of it. She remembered her friends, coming round on the days her parents had passed with cooked meals and snacks to share, holding her hands as they huddled on the couch and watched movies.

“What was it like?” Mai asked. “Being connected to someone like that?” Knowing she could talk freely about her parents had helped her heal – maybe Naru could use a safe place to reminisce, too.

“He was always there, like hearing sound or feeling temperature,” he mused softly. Though quiet, Naru sounded far more settled than he had before. Relief flooded Mai and she relaxed against her desk. Maybe she should have made herself comfortable and sat down before answering the phone, but the second she heard Naru’s voice, all non-essential concerns evaporated.

“I never really knew what ‘alone’ felt like until he was gone,” Naru confessed.

She couldn’t help but ask. “Do you still feel alone?”

He took a moment to assess himself, as he tended to when she made inquiries about his emotional state. A younger Mai might have thought he was planning to dodge her question, but she knew him so much better now. A haunting, he could come to conclusions quickly on – his feelings were another matter. Verbalising them was a challenge itself.

Naru’s answer drew slowly from his lips. “No.” His tone was light and suffused with dawning realisation, “no, I don’t.”

Mai covered her mouth and blinked back tears. She couldn’t even begin to imagine the weight of the loss he’d been living with and healing from. Whatever role she and the rest of SPR played in easing his loneliness, Mai was overwhelmingly grateful to be a part of it.

When Naru spoke again, his voice was decisive and clear. “Mai, contact the team and organise a time to meet.”

“As soon as possible?” Mai wasn’t sure how much time it had taken Lin to drive them to Tochigi, but if Naru wanted any sleep at all, she’d better arrange the meeting for tomorrow.

“Yes. If timing is an issue, let them know it’s a personal matter.”

Well, that would get the team’s attention. They had a habit of hording information about their elusive boss, as if it was some kind of forbidden treasure. Naru certainly knew how to motivate his target audience.

“This is about what you plan to do next, isn’t it?” Mai asked. “What will you tell them?”

It was a discussion they had yet to conclude, though Mai had made her stance clear – whatever he wanted to do, she had his back. Being apart wouldn’t break them, and circumstances were changeable.

“To start with,” Naru began, dragging air in through his nose and exhaling with the kind of abrupt puff that said he’d bitten off more than he could chew. "My name."

 

-x-

 

 

Omake:

 

When Naru spoke, his voice was decisive and clear. “Mai, contact the team and organise a time to meet.”

“As soon as possible?” Mai wasn’t sure how much time it had taken Lin to drive them to Tochigi, but if Naru wanted any sleep at all, she’d better arrange the meeting for tomorrow.

“Yes. If timing is an issue, let them know it’s a personal matter.”

Mai pulled a face, despite Naru being unable to see it. She was concerned that he had underestimated his employee’s curiosity, or perhaps overestimated their common sense. “Are you sure you want them on your doorstep at dawn?”

“There’s a reason I’ve never let them know where I live.”