In a funny mixture of hesitation and bravado, Kaoru pulled out one of the vacant chairs, took a seat, and looked back and forth between the two men. She hadn’t said a word yet, but Sano thought he could feel her eyes on his facial bruises as palpably as if she’d been using her fingers. A glance at Hajime showed him studying Kaoru as intently as she was studying them, and it would have made sense to assume the exorcist was trying to determine whether the woman felt ready to tell the mysterious truth he was so sure she was withholding… but for some reason Sano had the impression Hajime was actually examining her features trying to decide on her level of attractiveness. Sano stood by his five.
Kenshin, meanwhile, was attempting to approach his wife again, which meant that all the effort Hajime had expended to get Sano back down to a manageable level of anger was going to be undone as Sano had to restrain the guy all over again.
The deep breath Kaoru eventually drew in preparation for speech partook of the same mixture of boldness and uncertainty as had her motions sitting down, but her voice was steady as she said, “I may be ready to believe you.”
“Oh?” was all Hajime replied. He seemed to have been expecting this; jerk could have mentioned that.
“I followed you when you walked away. I saw you fighting. I think it’s pretty obvious that either what you’re saying is true, or at least you believe it is.”
“Or we’re thorough con artists,” Hajime added.
“Or that,” she agreed, evidently rendered a little easier by the suggestion.
“Yeah…” Sano looked at her askance. “Not to argue against ourselves or anything, but seeing us fighting… doesn’t really prove anything.”
She sighed. “No, I guess not. But I already wanted to believe you. No, that’s not what I mean. I don’t want to believe my husband is haunting you and can’t pass on, or that he’s so mad he’s making you try to beat up your friend… but I think I do believe you. Because what you were saying before?” She turned to Hajime. “About the usual effects of having an angry ghost around? That happened to me.
“I don’t know why it didn’t start until December — late December, almost January — when he died in November, but it was just like you described. I had non-stop migraines, and I was just so angry all the time… I had to send Kenji, my son, to my parents’ house practically every day because I was afraid I was going to take it out on him. Sometimes I took it out on people I met — people at stores, and friends, and even my own parents sometimes — and on things, like the furniture and my car, and…” She was starting to look distraught again. “I thought I was just angry about what had happened, but now that you’ve mentioned what ghosts do to you…”
Sano had actually opened his mouth to repair her conflation of ghosts with red shades, but decided that being pedantic at this point might do more harm than good. Besides, his anger was swiftly growing again, and he probably wouldn’t be able to say it without sounding inordinately unkind.
So after a moment or two she went on uninterrupted. “Eventually I noticed it starting to fade, but it’s only about a week and a half ago that I’ve really started to feel like myself again. But I realized it was probably about three weeks ago that it started fading. Because that was when he left and went to you, wasn’t it?”
Sano nodded as she looked at him again.
“Probably because he couldn’t get through to you,” Hajime mused, “and got tired of trying. Why he went to Sano, specifically, we still have no idea, but it seems logical for him to have gone to someone else when he found he wasn’t getting anywhere with you, who can’t see ghosts.”
“Is this something that happens a lot?” Kaoru wondered next. “Do lots of people get haunted by other people’s husbands?” Sano considered this question a sign that her stated readiness to believe was genuine.
Hajime shook his head. “What I usually deal with are shades, which are just leftover emotions, not people. Real ghosts are very rare. If you were wondering what my part in all of this is,” he added in much the same tone he’d used for the earlier con artist comment, “I’m essentially just waiting around to talk to your husband in order to get some more information about ghosts.”
Kaoru gave a confused half smile. “I wasn’t wondering; I assumed he was paying you.” She glanced from one of the men to the other and back. There was a new interest in her face, but Sano thought she was forcing it in order to avoid thinking about something else. And when she asked, “Are there a lot of exorcists?” it sounded somewhat like someone making polite conversation. If this was a needed strengthening routine that would allow her to move on to a more difficult subject, Sano didn’t want to discourage her… but he was once again becoming angrier with every moment he spent near her as Kenshin strained against his hold, and her delays could only worsen the situation.
Hajime seemed all patience, however. “I’m currently the only professional exorcist in this city, which is why I moved here. For this population, one tends to be enough — though there are certain types of cases I have to use a specialist for.”
Though she was listening, Kaoru still seemed caught up in something else she would rather not think about. “So the leftover emotion things keep you busy enough,” she asked somewhat hastily, “to make a living?”
Sano rearranged his sore body in his chair. He’d picked up his cloth napkin for something to do with his hands, and now realized that he was pulling it badly askew. It didn’t seem in danger of tearing — yet — but there were long stretch-marks where he’d been tugging at it.
“More or less,” Hajime was answering with a glance at the younger man. “But listen, Mrs. Himura: you need to understand what it does to Sano to have you sitting here.”
She too glanced at Sano, with dark eyes and a frown, then searched the air around him for a moment before returning her gaze to his angry face. Her brows contracted and she swallowed. Softly she said, “I’m just trying not to think about the idea that he’s really here when he shouldn’t be.” It was clear that by ‘he’ she did not mean Sano, though she kept looking at him as she spoke. “Ghosts are really rare, you say… so I guess only a very unusual situation can turn someone into one.” Her voice sank even farther. “No wonder he’s so angry.”
Seeing the tears welling again in her eyes, Sano wanted to share with her his theory that she wasn’t the object of Kenshin’s wrath, but he couldn’t without making her the object of his. He wished Hajime would bring it up, but he obviously thought that doing so would destroy the progress they’d made toward getting at what they needed to know.
“Why should he be angry at you?” the exorcist asked quietly.
Kaoru shook her head rapidly as if trying to rid herself of some clinging aura (and probably failing). Again she looked from one man to the other. After a deep breath she said, “You were right. I wasn’t telling the truth before.”
Hajime’s gaze intensified, but he said nothing.
Kaoru’s hands on the table clenched as she looked down at them as she had earlier. “If I believe you, I have to tell you. I don’t want to believe you and I don’t want to tell you… but I feel like I have to believe you, and I do want to tell someone. I’m so tired of this…” As she looked up again, her expression confirmed this last statement, and the breath she drew in sounded much the same. “I will tell you… but you have to promise not to go to the police.”
She really did kill him, Sano sent to Hajime. He wasn’t so sure he was joking this time.
Hajime nodded slowly, and Sano was fairly certain it was in response to the thought, but his expression did not change. “I can’t promise you that,” he told Kaoru gravely. “We want and need to hear your story, but if there’s been a crime I feel I have to report, I will report it.”
She gave him a long look, then eventually turned to Sano. “And you?”
Sano forced himself to answer, though he wasn’t too pleased with the growl in which his words emerged. “I could promise, but it wouldn’t matter: this bastard reads my mind, so he’d get at it anyway.”
She seemed taken aback, though whether at the roughness of the statement or the revelation that she was seated next to a mind-reader Sano couldn’t guess. Her eyes dropped, and for several moments she sat in tense silence staring at her hands. Finally she reached a decision, as evinced by the determined hardening of her expression and the set of her shoulders. “All right,” she said. “I’m probably crazy, but I’m going to trust you. I’ll tell you everything.”