Sano had always thought himself persistent, but Hajime was absolutely indefatigable. They had tried everything: they’d used every communicative technique Hajime knew, and looked up others online; they’d performed various types of séance — most of these also gleaned off websites, many of dubious authenticity; Hajime had attempted to get the cats to make some sort of mental connection with the ghost so he could talk through them; and they’d eventually just tried to exorcize the thing rather than communicate with it, which Sano could see annoyed and dismayed Hajime, who wanted very much to get information out of the ghost.
It was this last fact that negated any guilt Sano might have been feeling about essentially asking the exorcist to work for free: Hajime was clearly more than a little eager to interact with the ghost, and didn’t care whether he got anything else out of this experience. This was extremely fortunate, since Sano, who between tuition and rent was always low on funds, didn’t know how much longer he could go on with this angering distraction in his life, but also didn’t know how else he was going to be able to get rid of it.
Not that any efforts toward dealing with the ghost had paid off so far. Nothing had seemed even the least bit effective, and Hajime’s thin lips had set into a tighter and tighter line as the afternoon turned into evening and then night, until he appeared almost as frustrated as Sano was. The two of them had taken to bickering over every little thing, and violence was only barely averted on a number of occasions. Even the cats had become increasingly irritable, and at one point Misao bit Sano’s hand so hard it drew significant blood.
Sano had firmly vetoed the suggestion that they order Chinese (since he worked at a Chinese restaurant and already suffered nightmares about never being able to eat anything else for the rest of his life), so they’d ordered pizza instead and argued heatedly about toppings. Sano had been forced to give in on that score when reminded that Hajime was paying. Then they’d eaten pizza and drunk beer as if they were hanging out having fun instead of futilely and increasingly frustratingly trying to get into contact with a ghost they could very plainly sense in their immediate presence but couldn’t talk to no matter what they tried.
At one point Sano had suggested they attempt inducing possession, and volunteered himself for the process when Hajime evinced obvious distaste for the idea. However, even once Hajime had been reluctantly convinced that this was worth giving a try, yet again it hadn’t worked. Sano had been disappointed — he would have said ‘secretly disappointed’ if he hadn’t been in the same room as a communicator — not solely because it was another blocked avenue to getting rid of or at least talking to the ghost, but because he thought it would be pretty cool to be able to say later that he’d been possessed. Even if the outcome might have been unpleasant, it would have been an interesting and unique experience.
It was the damn shade that had unendingly gotten in the way. There was always more of the stuff no matter how much Hajime diffused or Sano absorbed; and no matter how quickly they dealt with it, they couldn’t seem to cause even a momentary break in the flow to allow them through to the ghost beyond. He supposed it was not a bad method of protection, and reflected further that if he were undead, he would probably be wreathed in the same impenetrable anger.
The annoyance he felt at the circumstance must have caused him to project this last thought, for Hajime had remarked in response, “Undoubtedly.”
Eventually, frustrated, irritated, worn ragged on a magical level, they’d given up — at least on dealing with the ghost under their own power. To Sano, who in calling Hajime in the first place had already admitted this defeat, it hadn’t been as annoying a concession as it obviously was to Hajime himself. But Hajime had been the one to suggest the alternative they probably should have had in mind all along: taking the ghost to Aoshi. The latter was a skilled medium; if anyone could talk to this damned thing, it was he.
Unfortunately, Aoshi was unavailable on weekends (and Sano had to work on Sunday in any case), which meant another day of trying to restrain the shade from hovering where other people might unknowingly walk through it and take ill effects from the invisible anger. It was just such a fucking pain.
But now, finally, Monday morning, he was up earlier than he generally ever wanted to be during Spring Break, and headed toward Forest of Four to meet Hajime there and hope Aoshi had a free moment sometime before lunch. Well, more than a moment: if Aoshi could communicate with the ghost, he and Hajime both were sure to sit there asking it all kinds of questions probably for hours on end. Sano was already bracing himself for a lengthy period of boredom, since, although he was certain it would be interesting enough at first, he was just as certain those two necrovisua nerds would drag it out far past the point of easy endurance. He just hoped they wouldn’t forget about him and his predicament in the process and fail to ask the ghost the all-important question of what they needed to do to get rid of it.
Aoshi’s shop was never terribly busy, and when the little parking lot was starting to fill up it was usually mostly for the market next door. Sano didn’t see Hajime’s car yet, though, so he loitered around outside. Since this destination was only a negligible distance from his apartment, he’d come on foot, and therefore hadn’t outdistanced the ghost. It maintained its customary slow, elliptical orbit as he stood on the curb and looked idly around.
A couple of guys hanging out pointlessly in front of the used CD store on the far side of the market kept glancing over at him, and some market shoppers stared likewise as they emerged with full bags. He wondered if he seemed angrier than usual, or if it was just that he’d used blue gel in his hair today.
Someone that was actually here to shop Forest of Four gave a startled look to the ghost as she emerged from her car, then a pitying one to Sano; she probably thought he was here for advice on how to deal with a red shade and was politely waiting for his appointment time outside where it wouldn’t disturb the business. He was tempted to tell her, as she passed, that he was perfectly capable of dealing with red shades all on his own, thank you very much, but just then Hajime pulled up.
Glad at the prospect of taking out some of his anger on a relatively willing victim, Sano went to meet him at his car. Hajime’s yellow eyes, on stepping from that vehicle, were not on Sano but on the ghost, and he looked a little surprised. “How long have you been waiting?”
“Since nine.” Sano stuck his chin out and did not add, “You know, the time you said to meet you?” Hajime probably assumed Sano was the unreliable type just out of his teens that was never on time for anything, and therefore hadn’t hurried to get here. Sano greatly disliked that sort of assumption, and was pleased that he’d come on foot and already had the ghost with him in order to give the impression of having been here a while.
Unfortunately, Hajime seemed to pick up on this, and, with a glance around the parking lot that of course did not contain Sano’s vehicle, smirked faintly and gestured that they should go inside. Hajime’s car, which reminded Sano a little of gangster cars in movies, was evidently new and well-enough-favored to merit locking and arming, which made Sano faintly jealous as they headed into the store.
“Good morning, Mr. Saitou!” The girl at the counter sounded surprised, but no less cheerful for that. They were always cheerful in here — all of them except Aoshi, who seemed to have made it his goal to weigh a personal balance against the combined peppiness of his entire staff.
“We need to see Aoshi as soon as possible,” Hajime told the girl as they drew up to the counter.
Sano, had he been behind that counter, would have become a little annoyed at the dictatorial tone; all the girl did, however, was widen her eyes a bit as she looked past them both. “Is that–”
“It’s a ghost,” Hajime declared, clearly and perhaps a little overloudly.
“Really?” the girl breathed. Sano finally remembered her name now: Omasu, who’d turned him down when he’d asked her out the very first time he’d come in here. “An actual ghost?”
Hajime nodded. “I assume Aoshi will be interested.”
“I just bet he will!” agreed Omasu in excitement. She was already pulling up the hinged counter segment and emerging. “Let me run talk to him!”
While she carried out her stated intention, Sano realized with an odd feeling why Hajime had practically announced to the entire store that what they had with them was a real ghost. There were only two other visitors at the moment, and although one (the woman that had thrown Sano that look as she entered) had been browsing the books on crystal healing and the other the jewelry, it appeared that by some chance they were both necrovisual. And the moment Omasu was gone, they converged on Hajime without even any polite pretense, demanding to know about the ghost.
Admittedly Hajime handled it very well, never dropping a hint that they’d brought the ghost here because they couldn’t even begin to communicate with it or, almost, affect it in any way. He made it seem, instead, without actually saying so, that he was doing Aoshi a favor by giving him the opportunity to interact with an actual ghost. He didn’t mention Sano at all.
Of course this was all only natural; an exorcist’s reputation could be significantly boosted by a situation like this, and Hajime would be an idiot not to take advantage of it. Logically Sano didn’t blame him, and also reminded himself that Hajime was helping him out for free when he might have been working on a paying job — but it was no less annoying for that.
And what made it worse was that it wasn’t even Sano Hajime was taking advantage of, but, rather, the ghost haunting him. Sano was accessory to the actual person Hajime was using to enhance his professional reputation. What the two eager necrovisuals made of the angry young man emitting the same energy that surrounded the purported ghost, Sano did not know. Maybe he was lucky and they didn’t see red. In any case, taking cue from Hajime, they largely ignored him.
Hajime ended up giving each of them a business card, and Sano ended up giving each of them a surreptitious gesture with a particular finger. Hajime seemed highly amused by this, and was clearly restraining a chuckle as Omasu came hurrying back to them with the news that Aoshi had cleared his schedule for the entire morning in order to see them.
Even as they headed for the office in back, they could hear her starting to make calls to cancel all of her employer’s existing appointments. These probably amounted to no more than two, knowing Aoshi, but even so Sano felt a little bad about displacing them. Not nearly as bad as he would have if he hadn’t been haunted by a ghost he couldn’t get rid of and an exorcist that clearly regarded said ghost with far more interest than he did Sano. It would be nice to get this all dealt with.