A Return Engagement

A Return Engagement

By Amaranth Adanae

Disclaimer: This is a fanwork intended purely for entertainment; no copyright infringement is intended.

Authors Note: This is a sequel to "Rules of Engagement"; you can probably understand what is going on without it, but you'll get more if you have read it.

Chapter One:

"We thought it was a very nice house, at first," the American man explained in careful Japanese. "My firm sent me as a consultant to a growing cooperation in a town called Tokai. They arranged a house for me, a very large house, located conveniently on the edge of the town, near their new facility. It seemed like such a nice town, such a nice house. At first."

"I've been assigned here for several months, perhaps as long as a year, so my wife and children came with me. We thought it would be a good experience for them. My son is seven," he elaborated, "and my daughter, five. We settled in fairly quickly."

The man paused, and seemed to be organizing his thoughts. Or perhaps translating them. Mai thought he was doing very well, considering that Japanese wasn't his first language. Naru sat quietly, taking notes with the cool, inward turning expression on his face that had Mai mentally packing a weekend bag. It was the look of focused thinking that meant they would be taking the case.

The American, Thomas Reynolds he had said his name was, continued, "The new facility was not as popular with the residents as we might have hoped. And my wife noticed that when she went shopping, the locals, already very reserved with a stranger, a foreigner, seemed to get very unfriendly when they discovered where she lived. She might have been mistaken; her Japanese isn't good. But…." Reynolds-san trailed off.

"Yes?" prompted Naru.

"By then, my daughter had started talking about an old man who spoke to her in the yard—an older Japanese gentleman in traditional dress. My wife never saw him, and she worried. There aren't many nearby houses, and none with an older man. The nearest neighbors are an elderly woman and her grandson. And, if he were well-intentioned, wouldn't he introduce himself to us? We were concerned, and suspicious. So, we kept a closer eye on our daughter, kept her in the house when we weren't able to watch her. Yet, she still talked about him. Yokonaka-san, she called him."

"It's hard to recall exactly what happened next. Lots of small things, building up over time. Doors that wouldn't stay closed. You shut them, turned your back, and the next time you looked, they were ajar again. Lights that flickered. Shadows that didn't quite correspond to an object that might cast them. Things that weren't quite where you thought you put them. Little things, easy to explain away—faulty latches and bad wiring. Imagination and poor memory. But then…"

Reynolds-san stood and pulled a small stack of photos from his pocket. He handed them to Naru, who subjected them to expressionless scrutiny for a moment.

"May we keep these?" he asked.

"Of course," replied Reynolds-san. "I never want to see them again."

Naru held out the photos in a negligent hand. Mai blinked at him for a moment, unable to believe he was sharing the photos with her so easily—she had been planning to nab the file from Lin later. Naru sighed in exasperation.

"Mai, start a file. And bring tea."

Naru turned back to their new client before Mai had a chance to take the photos. Inwardly seething, she bared her teeth at him in what she hoped Reynolds-san thought was a smile, and snatched the proffered pictures hurriedly, before bustling to the kitchenette to put on tea water. While it was heating, she carefully warmed the teapot with hot water, measured tea into the mesh strainer, and arranged cookies on a plate, and placed them along with two thin china cups on a tray. By the time she was done, the water was boiling. Balancing the tray carefully, she carried the now-steaming tea into the main room, setting it on the coffee table before Naru and his client.

Naru picked up one of the cookies and inspected it.

"What's in them?" he inquired, with a faint inquiring lift of the brow.

"Ground glass," muttered Mai.

Reynolds-san looked startled. "I don't think I can have understood that correctly…"

"Uh, raisins," said Mai hastily.

"Forgive us," said Naru smoothly. "You speak Japanese so well that it is difficult to remember it isn't your first language. Let us continue in English. I speak it fluently, and Mai, he concluded with a sardonic glance in her direction, "needs practice."

With that, his teeth closed on the edge of the cookie with an audible snap. Mai glared at him; point to the narcissistic bastard. A slightly baffled Reynolds-san thanked him, with a thoughtful glance between Naru and Mai.

Mai retreated hastily to her desk with the photos, before Naru-chan found an excuse to send her from the room. She examined them, listening with half an ear to Reynolds-san's story and the accompanying rapid scratch of Naru's pen. Her eyes widened as she looked at the first glossy print. It showed a sturdy Caucasian boy of about 7 or 8 years (Reynolds-san's son, clearly) standing shirtless with his back to the cameral, head bowed. Across his back were five raw gashes, neatly parallel.

They looked like claw marks.