Hello lovely, Lily! I’m sorry that you were the one ghosted this year. I thought about continuing Quality Ingredients (I swear I will some day), but nothing was coming out for that and instead this did. In a way it’s kind of a spiritual successor to that and A Small Reprieve (where the OC in this came from), But it’s also it’s own thing. It mostly came from your comment about how Naru deserves to be happy. I agree whole-heartedly. I hope you like this!
Naru knew something was up the moment he opened the front door.
It was just him and Ellen this Month. Mai had some business back in Japan and they’d decided it was better for the two of them to stay behind. It was the start of Ellen’s ninth grade year and Naru had work he still had to attend to at the main SPR office. It only made sense for the two of them to stick it out until she came home.
Currently, they were almost three weeks in, and they’d established a system. Unless Ellen wanted to hang out at a friend’s house, she would come home and work on homework until Naru came home with dinner. Occasionally, his mother and father came over to cook, but that was only about once a week. Otherwise, it’s easy, familiar, and routine.
It had been a rough day at the office. One of their investors wasn’t happy with the results of one of the most recent cases coming out of the Japan office. It had taken far too much of his day calming the man down so that he wouldn’t pull his funding. Between the amount of time it took and just how demanding the man was, Naru was ready to call it a day.
But, as he entered the house, he gave pause. It smelled as though something were burning. Thinking the worst, he immediately dropped everything and ran into the kitchen. As he crossed the threshold he found Ellen, in tears, looking dejectedly into a baking dish.
His daughter started and looked at him with fearful eyes. She couldn’t hold his gaze for long, though, and cast them to the ground, her lip quivering terribly.
“I’m sorry, D-Dad,” She hiccupped. “I wanted to bake you something, but now—”
“Are you hurt?”
“No… But the cake is ruined.”
That gave Naru pause. “Why were you baking a cake?
Naru gestured to the kitchen table and Ellen sat without much fuss. He then took stock of the kitchen. Ellen had cleaned up most of her mess, though it looked like there were dishes soaking in the sink. The ‘cake’ though was burnt to a crisp.
He turned on the fan above the stove and went about opening the kitchen windows as he waited for his daughter to answer.
“It's… It’s your birthday.” He turned and saw her fiddling with the table cloth, a habit she picked up from her mother. “I know you don’t like gifts. But I… I still wanted to do something for you.”
A pain went through him at the realization. He looked to the wall calendar and, yes, it was September 19th. How had he lost track of time so much so that he’d forgotten what day it was?
No matter how much time had passed, his grief was always strongest on his and Gene’s birthday. His brother had always enjoyed celebrating. Whether it was just the two of them, or then the four of them, or a whole slew of people, Gene thrived on the excitement and theatrics that came with it. Naru wasn’t all that keen on most of it, but he still usually found himself enjoying the time with his brother, regardless.
Knowing what day it was, Naru wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep the rest of the day away. He was so exhausted already that he didn’t even have the energy to process his grief how he normally would, through self-reflection and writing a letter that he would never send and that his brother would never read.
But he couldn’t do either of those things.
“Now I’ve just ruined it,” Ellen said bitterly. It looked as though she was going to nearly tear the table cloth in her upset state.
Naru took a look at the cake. Now that he wasn’t fearful of his daughter’s well-being, he could see that the cake didn’t look nearly as bad as Ellen was making it out to be. It looked a little dry, and the sides were most certainly a little hard. But memories of his brother’s poor attempts at baking told Naru that the chocolate cake was by no means unsalvageable.
“Did you plan to frost the cake?" Naru asked as he walked over to retrieve a bread knife.
Ellen shook her head. "I forgot to buy any.”
“Fortunately, your mother keeps us well stocked. Go get powdered sugar, vanilla, and butter from the pantry and milk from the refrigerator.”
Ellen looked up at her father, confused. “Why?”
“To make frosting.” Naru took out a cooling rack and placed it atop the baking dish. “And get milk and butter from the fridge as well.”
Ellen did as she was told, albeit with very visible confusion on her face. While she was scavenging for the necessary ingredients, Naru went about the task of cutting off the worst bits of the cake. It wouldn’t be a very pretty one, but he supposed that it would be fine for the two of them.
By the time that she returned, Naru had disposed of the worst of the cake and leveled it off as best he could. In that same time, Ellen had composed herself as well she could. Which he was grateful for. Because while his ability to comfort others had improved over the years, he still didn’t know what to do when someone was crying.
Ellen placed the ingredients on the counter. “What else do we need?”
“That’s it. Unless you’d prefer something besides vanilla. I’d have to consult a recipe for that, though.”
“Vanilla is fine…” Ellen watched attentively as he began mixing the ingredients with the mixer. “How do you know how to make frosting?”
“Your grandmother taught your uncle Gene and I when we were younger. Though, he always forgot to set a timer so he always burned whatever he was trying to bake.”
Good. He hated when either of his girls were sad.
“Your grandmother and I always tried reminding him, but he’d always forget.” He sighed. “That left me to salvage whatever I could.”
“Do you miss him?”
Naru paused, staring at the frosting. He sighed and then nodded as he retrieved a frosting knife and went about the task of adding it to the cake. It was still a bit warm for his liking, it would most likely melt the frosting some, but hopefully that would help moisten the cake some as well.
A silence of sorts fell between them. He could tell that his daughter was trying to piece something together. She was just as easy to read as Mai was, though there were times when she adopted his mask. He was grateful that she didn’t do that too often, though, as it always worried him when she did.
“Did you want any toppings?”
Her look of concentration broke as she considered his question. “Do we have anything?”
Naru hummed as he went to the fridge. There was a package of cut strawberries from his mother. On top was a note reminding the two of them to not eat out so much. He retrieved it and handed it to Ellen.
“Put these on top however you like. I have to go get something.”
Naru went to the entrance way and picked up the carry out that he’d dropped on the ground when he’d first entered the house. He shook his head at his own carelessness. Thankfully, after a quick inspection, he found the food to be alright. He locked the door and returned to the kitchen, food in hand.
Ellen raised an eyebrow at him.
“I left it at the front door.”
“It smelled like the house was burning down,” Naru grumbled as he set the plastic bag on the kitchen table.
“What’d you get?”
Ellen’s face brightened. “Yay! Thanks, dad!”
“Of course.” He walked over to the cake and inspected it. The strawberries were a little unevenly placed around the top, but still looked carefully placed. “Looks nice. Let’s eat dinner first then we can see how it turned out.”
Dinner was mostly uneventful. They chatted a little bit about their days, but otherwise there was a comfortable silence that Naru welcomed with open arms. Before Ellen was born he’d have only found solace in silence with a book in his hands, but he’d begun to appreciate these small moments more and more as the years went by.
Once they were finished, Ellen pushed their disposable dishes aside and went to retrieve the cake from the counter. The frosting had held up surprisingly well. After setting it down he expected her to go and retrieve a candle or sing, but instead she just stood there, contemplative.
Over the years, most everyone gave him space on Gene and his birthday. Beside the gifts that everyone still felt obligated to give him, they didn’t ever plan any celebrations for him. They allowed him to retreat into himself and grieve the loss of his brother.
Except for Ellen.
No matter what either of them did to deter Ellen, she always attempted to force a small celebration, such as today’s, on him. When she was younger she would toddle behind him singing happy birthday. As she got older she mellowed out her attempts, but every year, without fail, she’d attempt to force him to celebrate.
It usually hurt some, despite how adorable her sincere attempts to cheer her father up were. Normally, Mai would catch her halfway through and shush her or distract her with something else. Without her mother around to curtail her excitement, Naru was fully prepared to take the brunt of her excitement.
But, instead, she just stood there, looking at him.
It was obvious that she had something that she wanted to say, but was unsure of how to. A younger Naru might have lost his patience minutes ago, but he allowed his impatience to dissipate. Instead, he sat there, expectantly and waited for her to speak.
Eventually she took a deep breath and spoke.
“Do you hate celebrating your birthday because Uncle Gene isn’t around?”
Naru closed his eyes. He’d never said as such to anyone, but, considering her mother’s intuition, it didn’t exactly surprise him that she’d picked up on why the day upset him so much.
“Yes,” he said after quite a bit of time passed. He was sure that his face was pained, but he decided not to mask it. He was too tired for that right now. “It wasn’t supposed to ever be just my birthday.”
He opened his eyes and found Ellen looking at him, contemplative. After a few moments, she nodded and went to retrieve utensils and plates for the two of them. As she went about the task, Naru stood and made tea for the two of them.
As he waited for the kettle, he watched as she approached him. She was somewhat hesitant, but he could recognize Mai’s determination a mile away.
“I don’t really know what it’s like to lose a brother. Or anyone really…” She trailed off for a moment and then continued on. “And, I never met him… But wouldn’t Uncle Gene want you to be happy?”
That gave Naru pause.
There was a part of him that wanted to immediately shoot her down. That, because she didn’t know anything about his pain, obviously she was wrong. That, because of his failures, what he deserved was to suffer.
That he didn’t deserve to be happy.
But there was another part of him, a quieter part, that said she was right. That, he could grieve, but he shouldn’t torture himself in the process.
That of course Gene would want him to be happy.
Naru felt torn on which side to listen to. But as he stared at his daughter’s quickly deteriorating face, there was only really once choice to make. If not for his own sake, but then for the sake of others.
He stepped forward and pulled his daughter into his arms and hugged her. It was awkward, as he was not nearly as well-versed in them as Mai was, but Ellen immediately returned the gesture.
“You’re right,” he said as he pulled away. “Thank you.”
He went about finishing the tea as Ellen retrieved a candle and lighter from another drawer. They bantered a bit about making sure that she didn’t actually burn down the house this time. But, otherwise the kitchen was mostly silent.
Once the tea was finally done, and Naru was seated at the table, Ellen lit the candle.
“Happy Birthday, Dad.”
She didn’t sing, but he took the invitation to blow the candle out all the same.
“What’d you wish for?”
Naru stared for a moment.
“Don’t tell me you forgot to make a wish!” She sighed and lit the candle once again. “You have to make a wish when you blow it out!”
He sighed and rolled his eyes, though he didn’t work too hard to cover up the small smirk that was worming its way onto his face. Of course she’d insist on such a superstitious act.
He watched the flame on the candle dance for a few moments. He had most of what he could wish for, aside from Mai being away from home. But perhaps…
He blew out the candle and wished for the strength to accept the happy days that may come.
“What’d you wish for?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Isn’t it tradition to not say the wish aloud for fear that it won’t come true?”
A bright smile broke across Ellen’s face. “So you do know what you’re supposed to do. You were just being silly!”
He crossed his arms. “Of course I know about it. Gene always made me make wishes. I just thought that I’d be able to get away without this time.”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “Well, if I have my way you’ll never get out of it.”
“And there’s your Mother’s stubbornness.”
“You’re stubborn, too! And don’t make fun of Mom when she’s not around to defend herself.”
He sighed. “Fine. But just wait until the moment your Mother is back."
Ellen giggled as she cut out two pieces of cake. She set one in front of him and took her seat as well. Naru paused before taking a bite. It was a pretty good. A little dry still, but nothing a little tea couldn’t help.
Naru and Mai enjoy a day at the zoo, but things don’t quite go the way Mai hoped.
“When we get there, we have to go to see the pandas first,” Mai says, practically humming with energy. She’s bouncing in the passenger seat as Naru drives them in their rental car towards the San Diego Zoo.
Naru nods, but his blank facial expression remains in tact.
“Aren’t you excited? This zoo is so cool!”
Naru shrugs as he hits his turn signal.
“It’s odd driving on the right side of the road,” he says, slyly changing the subject.
Unfazed, Mai looks back to her phone and continues looking at the San Diego Zoo website.
When she found out that they would be travelling to California for Naru’s speaking engagement, Mai immediately began begging Naru to take her to the zoo. She’d heard that it was one of the best zoos in America and had always wanted to visit.
Naru couldn’t resist his girlfriend’s pout, and he booked tickets with VIP access to training sessions for them.
Mai was properly at a loss for words when they pulled into the parking lot past the giant lion statue at the park opening. She’d been babbling nonstop the whole car ride, so her silence was almost jarring.
“Are you okay?” Naru placed a hand on Mai’s knee as he asked this.
She, in turn, scooped up his hand and planted a ferocious kiss on the back of it.
“I’m so happy!”
Naru chuckled, “I’m glad it’s meeting your expectations already.”
“It’s exceeding them!”
As they climb out of the car, Mai pulls up the zoo map on her phone.
“This app is so cool,” she says, “I have all of the times for when they feed the animals and everything!”
“You lead the way.”
Mai, despite her excitement, could tell that something was off with Naru. He seemed to be his usual self, calm and collected, but Mai knew him well enough to tell that there was something off, just under the surface. Naru could fool most people, but he could no longer fool his girlfriend.
“What animals are you most excited to see?” Mai prodded, gently attempting to gather intel without letting him know that she could tell he was upset.
Mai’s heart leaps as Naru glances down at her and offers a lighthearted grin. She has to remind herself to focus.
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Oh,” Mai frowns. “Okay.”
Before going into the park, Mai makes Naru pose with her to take a selfie next to the lion statue at the entrance. He loops an arm around her and smiles one of his charming Naru grins.
“I’m going to send this to Luella so she knows that we’re having fun,” Mai says, tapping a short message to Luella on her phone before putting it back in her pocket and taking Naru’s hand in hers and pulling him towards the ticket counter. When she gets to the window, she pushes Naru forward so that he can handle all of the interaction in English.
“We have two tickets reserved under the name Davis,” he says. “I booked them online.”
The woman at the ticket counter nods as she looks down at her computer.
“Yes, right here. Oliver Davis?”
“Alright, here are your VIP wristbands,” the woman says, handing Oliver two pink paper wristbands with the zoo logo printed on them. “There are maps on that kiosk to the left. Enjoy your day!”
“Thank you.” Naru gives her a nod.
Once out of the line, Naru and Mai stop so that they can put on their wristbands. Without being asked, Naru puts Mai’s on her wrist for her which earns a not-so-serious rebuff accompanied by a giggle.
My part of the GHFE2019! I got @frenchcirce , and had perhaps too much fun with this. I was given some pretty free reign with this, so I went with a supernatural bit of mystery writing! Added in a dash of romance as well. Hope you enjoy it! From: @theroyalprussianarmy
Mai’s heart sank. Her throat tightened. The silence in the room felt alive. Even Lin paused his typing, the rhythmic clacking of keys stopping for a stilted moment that felt endless. Mai couldn’t believe what she’d heard even as it replayed over and over again in her head.
“Whenever Junko appears… a child died.”
It sounded too horrific to be true.
“I know it sounds hard to believe,” Ms Saito said finally, breaking the silence. “But it’s true. Every time Junko has appeared a child has died the same night. No matter what we do.”
Mai glanced at Naru, gauging his reaction. Waiting for him to speak. She could see the cogs turning in his mind, she could tell that his mind was turning over dozens of thoughts behind the calm façade of his dark eyes.
Mai’s heart throbbed. She wanted to know what he was thinking.
“Do you have any evidence to prove this idea?” Naru asked. His voice was as calm as usual, his expression neutral. Professional as always.
He never gave anything away.
Ms Saito nodded stiffly. “We… we kept the death certificates. I-I can get them for you, if you’d like.”
Ms Saito stood hurriedly from her chair and nodded again before leaving the room. Despite watching Ms Saito flee the room and swing the door shut, the noise sent a jolt through Mai’s body.
“Do… do you think she’s telling the truth?” Mai asked, if only to break the silence.
“There’s no way of knowing until we see the death certificates,” Naru answered curtly.
“I know but…” Mai clenched her hands by her sides. A trickle of unease traced down her back. “If Junko worked here, why would she go around killing the children? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Just because she worked at the orphanage doesn’t make her a saint.”
“Still…” It didn’t sit right with Mai.
“People change after death. You should know that by now.”
Mai pursed her lips tightly. “I know, I know, it’s just…” She didn’t know how to say it. She didn’t know how to explain how she felt, what this nagging feeling in her gut was.
Naru raised an eyebrow at her. A silent question, a silent command for her to continue.
“It doesn’t feel right,” Mai huffed.
Naru said nothing for a moment, looking straight at Mai. Straight into her eyes. It was as if he was trying to read her mind, as if he were trying to peer right through her. His gaze, however cool and calculating, seemed to bore a hole through her skull. Her face heated beneath his stare. It was dizzying.
“Is that your intuition?” Naru asked.
Mai nodded, finding it difficult to answer him with heat coursing through her body. Her cheeks burned and burned against her will and she was glad when Ms Saito returned with a small wooden chest nestled in her arms.
“They’re in here,” Ms Saito said, handing the box to Mai. “I… I hope you have everything you need. I need to return to my duties now.”
Naru stood and nodded. “Yes, thank you. We will let you know if we need anything.”
Ms Saito fled the room as swiftly as she had the first time. The door slammed behind her and Mai stared blankly at it before Naru entered her field of view. He stood close. Mai’s breath caught before her arms were suddenly freed of the weight of the wooden chest. And Naru was gone as quickly as he’d stolen Mai’s breath.
Mai mentally slapped herself. It was too early in an investigation for her emotions to be playing up. She had to focus. Mai steeled herself and took a seat with Naru and Lin as they poured over the stack of death certificates.
It was instantly sobering.
Kaede Hanada. Date of Death: 5th of July 2018. Age: 6 months. Cause of Death: SIDS.
Ichiro Fujikawa. Date of Death: 20th of February 2015. Age: 4 months. Cause of Death: SIDS.
Mayu Chiba. Date of Death: 1st of August 2011. Age: 3 weeks. Cause of Death: SIDS.
Izumi Hirota. Date of Death: 16th December 2009. Age: 2 months. Cause of Death: SIDS.
The list continued.
April 3rd 2005. September 18th 2000. January 28th 1998. Cause of death: SIDS. SIDS. SIDS. Unknown. Suffocation. Accidental drowning. SIDS.
1995. 1992. 1990. 1985.
Age 3 days. 5 months. 12 weeks. 15 weeks.
The names, the dates, the ages. They all blurred together.
Soon, Mai stopped listening. She didn’t want to hear any more.
She couldn’t contribute anything even when Naru finished reading out the list. Even when he and Lin began discussing it all. The causes of death were mostly SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Which meant there was no obvious cause of death. The further back in date they went the more the cause of death changed, but largely stayed on a similar track. Accidental, unpredictable deaths.
All aged under 1 year.
At the bottom of the stack was the oldest death certificate, dated 1959. A stillborn child. Unnamed.
The first of the victims, dated around the time of Junko Nakamura’s suicide.
They had dates. They had names. Now they needed to prove the existence of a spirit, which meant one thing. Masako Hara was coming.
Mai needed a cup of tea. Desperately. Not only because she needed an excuse to leave the stuffy room that would be their base of operations for the duration of the case, but also because it had become a ritual. It was one of the few things that stayed the same regardless of how different their cases were. It was calming. Familiar. It gave Mai something to do while her head was spinning with dates and names and causes of death.
Hopefully a nice hot cup of tea would settle the churning in her stomach.
Mai made her way to the kitchen as sounds of kids playing, of laughter and chatter, of a baby crying, reached her ears. Kids were playing in the yard, in the expansive grassed area behind the building. The innocent noises shouldn’t have bothered Mai the way they did. She kept seeing the papers in Naru’s hands. She kept hearing his voice saying name after name, date after date. Age after age.
They were so young.
Mai’s eyes stung with tears. She sniffled and wiped them away before they formed, before she began to cry.
It was a relief when she reached the kitchen and began to make tea. She pushed every other thought away and focused on what she was doing. On boiling the water, preparing the tea leaves. Making Naru another perfect cup of tea.
And herself, of course. She wasn’t just doing this for him.
Mai blocked out the sounds children playing from her mind. She blocked out the crying. The insistent crying that drilled right into her brain. The crying of an infant that wanted to be held. The crying of an infant they didn’t have.
You said I could draw whatever I wanted and I wanted to draw Mai about to cut a b*tch. This is some of the work for @tiffotcf and I’s upcoming Merfolk & Pirates AU. We are really excited for it and I hope you like the art.
I went with Luella’s perspective! I thought it would be fun to look through her eyes for once. Fair warning: the main theme of this piece is astrology, and if your not familiar with that, I’ve included a short explanation below. (Also, I was inspired by the fact that my twin brothers are Virgos. And do you know who else are Virgos??)
sun sign: generally represents an individual’s basic nature and their constant personality traits
moon sign: describes an individual’s inner self; rules over one’s emotional and more intimate side
rising/ascendant sign: the outer self; the mask one shows to other people
If you would like to know more, I suggest going to cafe-astrology! And if your curious about your own signs, you can also calculate your signs there~
Hope you enjoy~
[The Difference of a Minute]
I. Moon Signs
It was a little known fact that Luella was interested in astrology. And by interested, she actually means she’s obsessed with it.
It all started in college, and as an arts major, it was inevitable that she would be exposed to ideologies previously out of her reach as a child coddled by the vast reach of the sciences. Astrology was one field that she was raised to scoff at, as the metaphysical was not enough grounds to build evidence upon. Another notion she was discouraged to pursue was parapsychology, since ghosts and other paranormal and supernatural phenomena simply could not be real. (Religion is still a relevant path for her to study however, she was told.)
It goes to say, then, that she first fell in love because of the fact that he would be pursuing parapsychology for his graduate studies. What a lunatic, her first thought was after he introduced himself in a party they both attended during their final undergraduate year. Thus, she was set on marrying the man. It was a horrible decision, economically speaking. But Luella would be glad to support him and their soon-to-be family if it meant the rest of her life would at the very least be interesting.
She continued to be an active enthusiast, and while she once contemplated to pursue a career as a full-time astrologist, she decided after marrying a parapsychologist that a 9-5 job would be more lucrative.
She was a Capricorn sun, Virgo moon, Capricorn rising. A workaholic, in other words, but at least she’s self aware. Martin’s an Aquarius sun, Pisces moon, Aries rising. Nothing to say other than he was a mess of a man, but at least he’s affectionate.
What puts her on a loop was how Noll and Gene had completely different natal charts despite being born just a minute apart. It’s entirely accurate to say that only thing they shared in common were their faces, and from her first interaction with them, she had a clear premonition. They would be entirely worse once they become teenagers. And yet, she knew she’d love them still.
“Hello there, my name is Luella,” she said in a hushed voice, as if she was scared that the orphanage’s walls would crumble at a pitch higher than a whisper. “I’m your new mum. I hope we can get along well.”
Gene ran into her arms and embraced her with as much strength as he could. “Will you really?”
“Yes, of course.” Of course. A Leo moon.
And Noll, the Aquarius, snatched Gene’s arms and dragged him away. To the other room, without a word said.
‘I still remember the day we first met. It wasn’t really a good start.’
‘I always seem to get on your bad side but…’
'You have this charm that I can’t seem to avoid.’
'I think you didn’t like me, but all these events keep on happening. Now, I am not so sure.’
'Is it okay to assume that you like me too?’
'Your aloof face tell nothing much of you feelings.’
'But, you smile reassures me somehow…’
'That the possibility of you liking me too was not zero.’
Artist’s Note: It would seem that my creative juices to make an AU ran out huhu thus I made a little snippet from the scenes I loved which fits the theme. I will make something better I promise.