Sano was familiar with Aoshi’s dramatic tendencies — indeed, had more than once been required to restrain a grin of mockery or a roll of eyes in the man’s presence — but, if Hajime’s sudden half-stagger and evidently somewhat irritated attempt at regaining his balance under Aoshi’s collapsed frame was any indication, this was the real thing. It was interesting; Sano had never seen anyone faint before.
He’d been restraining the ghost ever since he’d entered the room, holding it still in order to let Aoshi examine it without having to follow its drifting circle around Sano, but now he let it go in favor of moving to help Hajime manhandle Aoshi into a chair. The medium didn’t actually weigh very much, for a guy just under six feet tall, and it was easier than he’d expected to get him into the seat — much more comfortable than the other two in the room — beside the desk. Hajime tilted the chair backward, and adjusted the knobs underneath to make it stay that way, so Aoshi would remain where they’d set him, then looked around.
“It’s so damn dark in here,” he grumbled. “He must at least have some candles somewhere.”
Sano gave a grimace indicating no ideas, glancing at the window that would have let in some additional light if it hadn’t been painted over in black and half-obscured by a bookshelf. When he turned back, he found Hajime taking Aoshi’s pulse.
“Should we get someone?” asked Sano uncertainly. “Or call 911, or…”
Hajime frowned. “I’m not sure what we’d tell the 911 operator. At least his pulse is normal. Look in that fridge and see if he has any water.”
Sano had visited this office a number of times, seated in one of the hard chairs in front of the desk while Aoshi, in the big leather one behind it, questioned him impassively about recent shade-related activity and eventually fetched and counted out the pills Sano needed from a plastic container he kept in a locked cabinet to the left of his desk. But he had never taken much notice of the small refrigerator beneath the shelves on the opposite side. And he’d certainly never expected to see the eccentric medium lying pale and prostrate in that same big leather chair.
Now, trying to disregard Hajime’s dictatorial tone, he did as he was told. No water was to be found in the fridge, only a salad in Tupperware, seven different flavors of coffee creamer, and a couple of vials Sano probably didn’t want to know the contents of; however, he caught sight of the coffeemaker on a shelf (this one almost more of a countertop in an alcove) above the fridge. The device seemed to have a water line in, and a group of upside-down mugs stood beside it. One of these, full of lukewarm liquid, he handed to Hajime in short order.
As Hajime flicked water in Aoshi’s face, he issued his next command: “Make some coffee too, if you can figure the machine out; he’ll probably need it when he wakes up.”
“Or,” Sano replied crossly, “he’ll get annoyed that we’re messing with his stuff.”
“How often have you seen him in here without a cup of coffee?” countered Hajime.
Sano would have liked to make an angry retort, but, unfortunately, the answer to Hajime’s question was ‘practically never,’ so argument was futile. Wanting to let out some anger, though, as he turned he demanded, “And what do you mean, if I can figure out the machine? How hard do you think it is to push buttons on a coffeemaker?”
“For you, or for the average single-celled organism?”
“You know what? Fuck you.” The insult was about what he’d been expecting, however — well, technically, a little funnier than he’d expected — and it was weird to feel so angry, yet simultaneously relieved and satisfied… and disconcerting to consider that this jerk was actually, in a way, kinda nice to have around, what with his willingness to be offensive and irritating at the drop of a hat, and his sexy voice…
Hajime was chuckling quietly, but went silent as Aoshi stirred. From Sano’s angle it was difficult to tell, but he thought Aoshi’s eyes drifted open and his breath came out in a faint sigh. Sano hastened to finish dealing with the coffee package and filter and get the machine going, and, to the sound of its quiet hiss as the brewing cycle started, circumnavigated the big chair to see what exactly was going on.
Aoshi didn’t appear to be taking in anything before him, though he had indeed opened his eyes, and Sano was in time to see Hajime grip his shoulder and give him a shake. Slowly a sort of fog seemed to lift from the medium’s gaze, into which the customary glint returned as he focused more and more coherently on the two men in front of him. “Oh,” he finally said. Then he struggled to sit up straight in his chair, and frowned slightly at the odd angle it was set to. He reached down to readjust the knobs Hajime had changed, saying nothing for several seconds, until he’d fixed his seat.
Next he looked around, still a little vague. His eyes fell on the active coffeemaker and seemed to stick there for several seconds as if he was confused as to why coffee was brewing when he hadn’t initiated that process. Then he shook himself slightly, nodded, and turned back.
“You OK?” Sano wondered.
Aoshi nodded again. “I believe I am.” And like the last few things he’d said before passing out, this brief phrase was for some reason in Japanese.
Hajime prodded Sano in the ribs suddenly, and when Sano looked in his direction he found him gesturing for movement. Realizing that he probably meant it was a good idea at this point to stop towering over the seated Aoshi and resume their own chairs on the other side of the desk, annoyed at Hajime’s manner of expressing the suggestion but thinking it best to comply, he stuck out his tongue and did so.
Having turned the wooden chairs to face Aoshi and sat down again, they watched him draw close to the desk as if to use it for support against the weariness that was now evident in his face and movements. Then Aoshi fixed his eyes on Sano and said, “This was the shade you contacted me about, correct? The one that collects again even after you’ve absorbed it all?”
The quiet, dour gaze was moving up and down Sano analytically, undoubtedly taking in the angry aura that lingered around him after his latest irritation at Hajime’s behavior. “It’s vicious shade energy,” Aoshi remarked at last.
“Tell me about it,” Sano muttered.
“Actually, tell us about the ghost,” Hajime corrected. “Were you able to talk to it?”
Aoshi shook his head. “I was only able to get general impressions from him.”
“So he is a guy, then,” said Sano.
When Aoshi nodded, Hajime put in, “And of Japanese descent, I assume.”
“Yes. How–” Aoshi paused, his brows twitching briefly inward. Sano got the feeling he was only just realizing he’d made an unexplained language switch some time ago and the other two had cooperated without protest. “Yes,” he finally went on, now in English again. “I would tentatively guess half Japanese, half American, born and raised in the States in a Japanese-style home, possibly here in this very Asian district.”
“Sounds like me,” Sano mused.
“I couldn’t sense much more about him than that. Even that was a vague impression I might be mistaken about.”
“It seems like a fairly specific impression to me,” Hajime contradicted. “Why that particular information?”
“I am a Japanese immigrant. It’s easier to sense how you’re similar to a ghost than areas in which you’re totally different from him.”
Hajime appeared a little suspicious as he remarked, “You say that as if you’ve met other ghosts.”
“This is the second I’ve encountered,” Aoshi replied.
Though Hajime sat back without another word, Sano couldn’t help thinking somewhat complacently that that news must be annoying the hell out of him; he’d thought he’d found a ghost before Aoshi had, and here Aoshi had been ahead of him all along and was one up on him now.
The coffeemaker had gradually stopped its gurgling, and now Aoshi reached for the full mug in a movement so automatic it almost seemed he wasn’t aware of what he was doing. Once he had the coffee on the desk in front of him, however, he definitively noticed it; then there was a long process of selecting a creamer from the fridge and stirring it into the dark liquid, carried out in complete silence, that was amusing and frustrating to watch.
Next he unlocked the cabinet to his left and withdrew, rather than some magical pill or powder as Sano had seen him do before, just a bottle of standard pain-killers. Sano knew the brand, which was targeted at migraine sufferers and caffeinated, and raised his brows at the amount of the latter chemical Aoshi was about to ingest.
After swallowing three of the pills and beginning to sip what must still be extremely hot coffee, Aoshi finally continued in a dark tone. “I wasn’t able to sense more about him because I couldn’t maintain the connection through that intense shade energy — and also because he was projecting his anchor so strongly it overrode nearly everything else.”
“Anchor?” Sano echoed, unfamiliar with the term in this context.
At the same moment Hajime wondered, “Oh? What is it?”
Aoshi sighed faintly. “It’s the same anchor as it was for the last ghost I encountered,” he answered Hajime rather than Sano. “And, as far as I’ve read, for a majority of ghosts throughout human history. A woman, of course.”