Chapter 1: One
Teru offers assistance with finding housing for Shimazaki.
The return to society was perhaps the most critical upset for Claw’s members following the organizations’ defeat. The remaining high-ranking members enjoyed the grace of having Suzuki’s mansion, their home for at least the last few years, as a hiding place during the mass arrests. But while it served as a beautiful hideout, eventually Shou would appear to kick them out if he was a responsible kid, and the bank would repossess the house if he wasn’t. No one was particularly thrilled to stick around and find out which would happen first.
“Are you the only one asking to live with me?” Minegishi asked. Behind Shimazaki, he tested the heat of his tea, fingertips groping at his cup, until he found it too hot and folded his arms instead.
As cozy as the break room of Minegishi’s little flower shop was, Shimazaki couldn’t bring himself to exactly relax while making an unreasonable request to him in the room doubling as a second storage for flowers pending pickup. “Unless someone else beat me to the punch, I’m the only one asking,” he answered.
Staying in the very city where everything had gone down was a lot ballsier than he would have expected of Minegishi, and to be honest, much riskier than he would have personally chosen. However, since he was begging, his personal choice was irrelevant.
“What’s happening to the old mansion?” Minegishi asked next.
“Presumably Shou or the bank will be asking for it back sometime soon.”
“Meaning you’ll be left homeless if I say no?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
Minegishi took a pause for a cautious sip of tea. As usual, he was hard to read while making a decision, with few nervous tics or tells and an aura rooted too firmly to waver. “Do you have any idea how you hope to make permanent living arrangements for yourself?”
“That’s not the most reassuring answer from someone asking to live in your home for free.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“Hm.” He sipped again. “What about the others? Serizawa? Shibata? Hatori? Did you ask them?”
“Serizawa’s my next best hope, but he seems like he’ll have enough on his plate just learning how to take care of himself. No one’s seen or heard from Shibata since that day, so we’re pretty sure he got arrested. Hatori already took as much money as he could and left; I’m not exactly sure what he’s planning.”
“I see.” He stared down at his tea, and Shimazaki could have sworn his aura started to wilt as he processed the information. “Alright. Keep the place clean while you’re there. Limit smoking to outside the apartment. I don’t have a couch yet, so you’ll have to sleep on the floor.”
“Ouch. No chance of sharing the bed, then?”
Minegishi blinked. “On that note, slutting for your rent isn’t going to keep the lights on or put food in the fridge. You’ll be looking for a job while you’re living in my home.”
“I guess that’s only fair.”
“I’m serious. We don’t have anyone taking care of us anymore. This is just temporary for you to save enough money to find your own place. I can’t mommy anyone just because I happen to have a job and an apartment.”
“Minegishi,” Shimazaki interrupted.
Minegishi’s aura seemed a bit fuller, a bit taller. “I get off work at five,” he continued, relaxing. “Meet me in front of the shop and I’ll take you there.”
And so with that massive uncertainty taken care of, Shimazaki was content to stand out front and enjoy a cigarette. While reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket, he noticed a familiar esper aura sticking out from the surrounding ones. Upon identifying it, he briefly considered slipping out of the area.
But he stopped himself from doing so. If Minegishi was able to scrape by without being hunted down by the powerful psychics who lived here, then Shimazaki probably had no need to act like he was something to chase either. For now, he simply continued to retrieve his box of cigarettes, keeping his third eye trained on the owner of that radiant aura as it approached. It burned low and steady – nothing like the intensity that seared his senses the last time he met the young psychic – and so it was entirely plausible that neither he nor Minegishi was being targeted.
The boy was close, just about to walk past the florist’s shop, when he turned his head and suddenly stopped with a quick flash of his nimbus. He stood there for a moment, watching Shimazaki open the box and pull out a cigarette. Shimazaki pretended not to notice him or his abysmal manners.
“Shimazaki,” he said rather than asked, stepping closer to the man. “Good afternoon,” he decided to say once satisfied with the proximity.
“Hey, Teru, right?” Shimazaki greeted back.
“You can call me Teru,” he confirmed, apparently not feeling friendly enough to share his full name.
Shimazaki returned the box of cigarettes to his pocket. “Fancy meeting you here. Sorry about that whole beating you half unconscious thing before.” It wasn’t the most sincere-sounding apology, but he didn’t think he’d be able to make a whole production out of giving a formal apology out of the blue.
Which was fine, as Teru seemed much more preoccupied with assessing the situation. “What are you,” his head tilted a bit toward the florist’s shop, “doing here?”
“Oh, you know, just doing my best to deal with Claw suddenly being dissolved, trying not to end up homeless, that sort of thing.”
“I could recommend some places you can go.”
“Is hell one of them?”
Teru finally smiled. “Shimazaki. I would never tell you to go to hell.” Those last three words felt heavier, almost (just almost) as if endowed with extra weight as Teru sat on them to enjoy saying them to Shimazaki’s face.
Charming. He patted his pockets in search of a lighter, but upon inspection, it seemed he left it back at the mansion. How annoying – he was really looking forward to that smoke by now. “Say, I don’t suppose you’d happen to have a light, would you?” he asked, hoping to change the subject if nothing else.
Teru quickly looked around, and then shrugged. He held an index finger up, and with a small nudge of his power, a little flame flickered to life above his finger.
“That’ll work,” Shimazaki accepted before leaning forward to light his cigarette on Teru’s flame. The kid was even nice enough to not try to burn his face with it. “Thanks,” he added, taking the long first drag he had been craving since he decided to step foot inside Minegishi’s workplace.
Teru kept standing there, eyeballing Shimazaki and getting oddly excited about something or other. His aura brightened, but since its texture hadn’t taken on the sharp, spiked form indicating hostility, Shimazaki ignored it. Hell, maybe it was just hitting him that he had been standing and speaking to Shimazaki so long already without a fight to the death ensuing.
“Do you have a phone I could use?” Teru suddenly asked.
Oh. Maybe he was just the type who had to psych himself up before asking people for favors. “Yeah, sure,” Shimazaki answered, reaching into his pocket to retrieve his phone.
“How do you use a smartphone if you’re blind?”
“Voice command isn’t that hard to figure out.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Teru conceded, and then began to tap out a phone number.
Shimazaki sensed the vibration in Teru’s pocket. The boy froze and waited for his response. And here he was, trying to be nice and refraining from checking the kid’s pockets as soon as he stopped to talk.
“Your phone’s ringing,” he said after a moment.
“Right.” He tapped the screen, stopping the vibration in his pocket, and returned Shimazaki’s phone to him. “I thought I left it with a friend.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” Shimazaki returned his phone to his pocket. “So now you have my number. What did you need it for so bad that you couldn’t just ask?”
“I don’t know,” Teru answered. He twinkled. In reality, his aura was quivering with his growing nervousness, but the overall effect left him twinkling. As marvelous as he looked, it grounded Shimazaki to sense him, an apparently skilled and respected leader in combat, acting like a child who had just gotten caught stealing candy.
“Hm.” Shimazaki took another drag. “You don’t know,” he repeated, emboldened enough by Teru’s sudden shyness to give the boy some pressure.
“Well, I thought,” he stopped briefly to look to his side and find a nice wall to stare at, “I thought I probably should keep an eye on you if you’re going to be living here.”
“And who made you my parole officer?”
Shimazaki could sense Teru’s pulse becoming heavier, but he ignored the question all the same. “But also, you’re kind of cute, so I thought it’ll be good if we have each other’s numbers.”
“Now that’s a good one.”
Teru smiled now, despite the nervous shake remaining in his aura. “What, you don’t think anyone would ask you out? I didn’t expect you to be so modest.” His voice was playful.
“If this is how you try to turn me into the cops, this sure is a roundabout way of doing it.”
Teru’s aura finally stilled, and he seemed mischievous with the smile continuing to grace his features. “I could do that if you want. They can help you get a place to live. The room’s even free and they’ll provide meals.”
Shimazaki laughed. “Sorry, I already made arrangements, so I guess I’ll have to pass.”
“Ah. In that case, I should be getting home.”
Chapter 2: Two
Teru challenges Shimazaki to a fight.
Shimazaki spoke to Teru a few days later, from Minegishi’s apartment, over the phone. Taking calls from the kid was pretty low on the list of connections he wanted to make in this city. To his credit, he ignored the first call, but the resulting voicemail consisting only of “Hey Shimazaki, this is Teru. Give me a call back when you get this,” sounded sufficiently urgent, and Teru’s contacts were sufficiently unknown to Shimazaki, that he bit the bullet and decided that the call might actually be something important.
The first ring was barely over when Teru picked up and answered a “Hello?”
“It’s Shimazaki,” he greeted. “You called?”
“Yes, right,” Teru responded, a nervous pinch audible in his voice. “Shimazaki. Where are you now?”
His brow furrowed. Was this already the call in which Teru would tell him that the police know he’s in the city, that they’re offering to go easy on him if he turns himself in and cooperates? It wouldn’t be too hard to skip town if he needed to, but he was already comfortable with the idea of having a consistent place to sleep at night. He took care in answering. “I’m in midtown. Might I know the purpose of you asking?”
“Do you know where the giant broccoli is?”
Shimazaki decided to be patient. “Yes, what about it?”
Teru was quiet for a moment. “Come fight me,” he finally said.
“Are you kidding me?” he asked, incredulous. “No.”
“What?” Teru responded, sounding equally shocked. “Seriously?”
“Yes, seriously. What do you want me to fight you for?”
“I want to know if I can win,” Teru answered quickly.
“Kid, did you get a few screws knocked loose last time? I surrendered.”
There was another pause on the line before the boy spoke. “That time feels like it didn’t count.”
“Well that just sucks, doesn’t it?”
“Are you worried you’ll lose?”
“Nice try, but I’m not going to meet you for a pointless fight in the middle of town.”
The sound of the apartment unlocking caught Shimazaki’s attention. Minegishi soon entered with another damn plant under his arm. He acknowledged Shimazaki, but did not speak and instead began to find a place for the new addition to his indoor plant collection. The apartment was already stocked with pothos cascading down the sides of shelves, snake plant thrusting their pointed leaves up in the corners, and a complacent cactus resting on nearly every surface. Were it anyone else, it would have just looked like the home of a person who couldn’t say no to buying plants. Considering who the apartment belonged to, it felt more like living with guns mounted on every wall.
Teru’s voice pulled his attention back. “We can go somewhere else if you’re worried about fighting in the city.”
Shimazaki had heard enough. “If that’s all you had to talk about, I’m hanging up now.”
The line was silent, as if Teru hadn’t thought this far ahead. “What about… What if we just did something like practice sparring?”
Shimazaki gave a final “I’ll talk to you later, Teru,” before hanging up. The apartment became silent save for the sounds of Minegishi reorganizing the dining table to accommodate the new flowerpot. Shimazaki didn’t particularly mind the silence, but he figured he should at least speak to his roommate.
“I can never get over how inquisitive you are about the things happening around you, Minegishi.”
He shrugged without looking away from his task. “If I’m meant to know about it, you’ll tell me.”
“Not even a week living in this city and I’m being challenged to a fight!” Shimazaki explained dramatically. “What kind of a medieval place is this?”
“A fight?” Minegishi was smiling. “But you make friends so easily,” he continued, fully aware of Shimazaki's knack for pissing people off.
“He’s from the group that took down Suzuki, to make it all the better.”
Minegishi stopped and turned to Shimazaki. “Someone who helped stop Suzuki has your phone number and wants to fight you.” Small, rose-thorn hooks began to grow from the shape of his aura, a reflex for the fellow former terrorist to the possibility of external threat. “Do they know you’re living here?” he asked.
“Hey, relax, it’s just a kid,” Shimazaki said, both to himself and to Minegishi. “Besides, I’m not gonna go fighting him.”
The thorns only partially receded into Minegishi’s aura as he returned to his task. “Stay out of trouble,” he warned.
Chapter 3: Three
Teru offers to take Shimazaki home.
Teru informed Shimazaki that he was taking a walk in a park one evening.
Shimazaki’s first reaction was to tell Teru that he still had no desire to fight him, but was quickly told that no, that’s not what the call was about. “I was just letting you know that you’re welcome to join me if you’re not doing anything right now.”
“Yes,” he answered a little sheepishly.
“Thank you for the invitation.” Shimazaki hung up the phone. He sensed Minegishi’s aura turning toward him, likely trying to gauge his response.
“Same person?” he asked. Apparently he was feeling talkative today.
“Yeah, fortunately he’s not trying to pick a fight this time. He’s a little weird though, seems to want to meet with me, but was really vague about it.”
Minegishi thought for a moment. “You said this is a kid, right?”
“Yeah, some kind of prodigy who led an attack on Suzuki’s base of operations.”
“So you’ve met before.” He tilted his head a small amount. “Maybe he has a crush on you.”
Minegishi and Shimazaki were not terribly different people. Both knew how to navigate social interaction with the reasonable amount of grace expected of an individual, and both would just rather not bother with taking such care. It was only by happy coincidence that Shimazaki had the posture and good-humored timbre of voice that made his aloofness better received by others. On the other hand, Minegishi’s preference to stay back and absorb the interactions of others made him much more perceptive than was usually expected of him.
And in response to Minegishi’s suggested assessment of the situation, everything clicked at once and Shimazaki had to mutter, “Oh shit.”
Minegishi shrugged. “Or maybe he just wants to get rid of you and doesn’t know how yet. But it sounds like he’s just trying to make up excuses to see you.”
“Yeah, I think you’re onto something,” Shimazaki answered. “Maybe I should pay him a visit after all.”
Minegishi’s aura ceased its inquisitive tilting. “However you decide to handle it, just don’t have the police knocking on my door looking for you.”
“You’re such a kidder, Minegishi.” He stood from the chair where he sat, and then teleported to the genkan to retrieve his shoes. “There’s nothing illegal about taking a walk in a public park. Besides, don’t you think it’s a good idea to be on good terms with some of the special locals we’ve met?”
“I suppose you’re not wrong about that.”
“Anyway, I shouldn’t keep him waiting. Teenagers are so impatient, you know.”
He teleported again, this time to the specified park where Teru was killing time. The boy was strolling on a jogging trail, giving off a steady bright glow. Occasionally he calmed himself down, turning down the excited intensity of his aura, only for it to regain luminosity within seconds in a firefly’s alternating glow and fade. Shimazaki placed himself beside Teru, keeping pace with his stride and announcing himself with a “good evening.”
“Good evening, Shimazaki,” Teru returned. His voice was much steadier in person than on the phone. “How have you been?”
“Being unemployed is simultaneously boring and exhausting, but I’m surviving. Speaking of which, thanks for not giving me and my roommate any trouble, yeah?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Teru dismissed, face pointing straight ahead and very not toward Shimazaki. “Or rather, I don’t waste energy on stuff like holding grudges, and you don’t seem like you’ve been up to anything dangerous, so I really have no reason to give you a hard time, you know?”
“Absolutely,” Shimazaki agreed, watching the shine of Teru’s psychic energy scatter with the nervousness swaying his aura. He absently wondered if Teru knew how transparent he was, but so far remained content with watching the boy flounder some more.
“So, what made you want to live here?” Teru asked next.
“This is where an old colleague happens to have settled. If I wanted any kind of help while I’m trying to get myself together, I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“So you don’t think you’ll be staying here? For the long term, I mean.”
Shimazaki tilted his head thoughtfully. “Who knows? To be honest, finding a decent job is a lot harder when you can’t see, even if you do manage to wow everyone with how well you can navigate the place. Travel isn’t so bad, but if I find work here I doubt I’ll want to go through that all over again somewhere else.”
“I see. But you know, there are people who saw you kidnap the prime minister.” Shimazaki scrutinized Teru. He was looking up at Shimazaki out of the side of his eye. Had he been smiling this whole time? “I wonder if anyone else would recognize you and report you.”
He gave a pensive hum. “I heard through the grapevine that police have been denying some eyewitness accounts that came out already. And according to my roommate, my grand capture of the Prime Minister of Japan isn’t even being aired on the news!” Shimazaki feigned an offended tone over the cover-up. “For better or worse, even if they want me in custody, they’re not willing to publicly admit that psychics exist for it. I guess I just have to hope they aren’t using covert methods to get a hold of me.” He turned his head to face Teru, a placid smile on his face. “You wouldn’t know about anything like that, would you, Teru?”
“Good! Maybe I won’t have to skip town after all if I keep my fingers crossed.”
Teru faced Shimazaki briefly, then returned his gaze ahead. “Being able to teleport must help a lot though. It sounds like fun being able to go anywhere you want instantly.”
“It is very convenient; I can’t imagine what life must be like having to always worry about how long it takes to get anywhere. Though, the problem with using it for getting to vacation spots is that I need to have either been there, or have a very good idea of where it is. I could always guess, but there’s no telling where I'd end up. Is there some place you’d like to visit?”
“I haven’t put a lot of thought into it, actually. I’d like to see more of Japan, but I’ve also never been outside of the country, even though my parents have been working abroad for some years now.”
“So you live with a relative in the meantime?”
With enough focus, Shimazaki could sense Teru’s pulse quickening as he started to answer. “No, I live on my own.”
“Really? You must be quite the mature one for them to agree to that.”
“You think so? It’s no big deal, really.” He made a valiant effort to hide any flattery in his voice and body language, but he couldn’t stop the proud halo swelling past his form at the compliment. “It’s not very hard to take care of the place since I’m used to it. But it does get lonely living there by myself sometimes.”
“I’m sure your parents were worried sick about you when they heard about everything that happened here.”
Perhaps (and hopefully) the mention of his parents killed Teru’s mood. His aura retreated to a smaller, dimmer corona, and he pursed his lips. “You talk about it like a completely innocent third party,” he pointed out.
“Well, you can send them my apologies, but then they might ask why you’re talking to someone from this mysterious criminal organization.”
“They don’t know I was in the middle of everything. I try not to bring up stuff that’ll make them worry – they already do enough.”
“That’s to be expected; they’re your parents, after all, and parents are always going to worry. Especially with a headstrong boy wandering into who knows what kinds of messes while they’re gone.”
Shimazaki figured he struck a nerve, but Teru didn’t voice his complaint, opting instead to pout and put his hands in his pockets. Shimazaki let him steep in his agitation a little longer before continuing to speak.
“Is something the matter, Teru?” he asked.
“I’m not just some irresponsible kid, you know.”
“That’s not what I’m insinuating at all. I just think that judging by the circumstances of some of our own meetings, you probably enjoy finding difficult situations to get into.”
Teru’s teeth grasped at his lip as he tried to come up with a response to the vague accusation. “I guess I can see why you’d say that,” he said, failing to deny Shimazaki’s assessment. “But I don’t get myself into anything I can’t get myself out of.”
Shimazaki gave a light chuckle. “You really think so?”
“I know so.” Another proud swell of his aura.
“I wonder if I’m the one who should be keeping watch over you while I’m here.”
“Hoping for an opportunity to rescue me from something?”
“That would be exciting. Saving the talented young Teru from certain danger, having him fawn over me from that day on. I could get used to that.”
Teru smirked. “You can keep dreaming about that one.”
They came to the point marking the beginning and end of the trail loop, where Teru slowed to a stop, and Shimazaki stopped with him. “So, I guess I should be going home soon. I’ve got stuff I need to do at home.” Presumably, algebra homework, or whatever classes someone Teru’s age should be taking. He was bright and shimmering again with his nervousness. Shimazaki prepared for any rash last-minute actions.
“Very well. I hope you enjoyed your walk, Teru.”
He gave a crooked smile. “The company was okay,” he answered. “You don’t really have anything to do after this, do you?”
“Not really, no,” Shimazaki answered patiently.
“Do you wanna come home with me for a while?”
Teru’s shape burned silently as he waited for Shimazaki to proceed.
“I don’t think you understand what you’re asking me.”
An indignant rattle passed over him. “I understand just fine.”
“Mhm. And just how old are you, anyway?”
“I’m old enough.”
“That sounds like an answer someone underage would give,” Shimazaki taunted.
“What do you care, anyway? You’ve probably done worse already.”
“Now Teru, how can I go turning over a new leaf if I use my old criminal behavior as my standard? Past crimes don’t excuse future ones, you know.”
Teru responded with the mannerisms of a person trained in deceiving others. Everything on the surface – his face, his posture – relaxed, but his jaw tight behind that nonplussed face, hands balling up as they hid in his pockets. “Wouldn’t it be kind of funny though, if after escaping all those mass arrests, you finally got caught for corruption of youth?”
Shimazaki couldn't tell if that was a playful taunt or an intentional threat. He didn't want to test it. “Well that’s definitely not helping you change my mind,” he scolded.
“You still never said no.”
“No, Teru, I’m not going home with you,” Shimazaki said with both a stern finality and a nonchalant smile. “Be careful; you’ll get yourself into trouble thinking like that.”
“Maybe I’m looking for trouble.”
“But here’s the thing: I’m not.” Teru kept a poker face as he looked to his side, but he still had a frustrated shake along the edges of his image. The offense he took to rejection made him look very much the part of an overconfident boy, one who still didn’t quite understand that he couldn’t always have his way. Shimazaki took advantage of his turned head to teleport closer to him and whisper into his ear. “Not yet, anyway,” he offered as an amendment to his answer. He returned to his previous distance in front of Teru, leaving the boy to process the words in flustered surprise. “So we’ll go our separate ways tonight, alright?”
“Yeah, okay.” Teru placed a hand on the back of his neck.
“Goodnight, Teru,” Shimazaki said pleasantly.
“I’ll see you later, maybe?” he asked, a little too hopefully for his cool act.
“Of course, anytime.”
Teru allowed the corners of his lips pull back into a small smile. “Goodnight then,” he bade before stepping in the direction of the park exit, and Shimazaki prepared to teleport back to the apartment.
Chapter 4: Four
Teru offers to pay for lunch.
Teru definitely had a crush on Shimazaki – that much was obvious from the nervous motions of his aura and his little attempts to convince Shimazaki of his maturity. However, Shimazaki still didn’t know enough about him to determine whether or not he was harmless. Teru may have been a little awkward talking to adults, but he knew how to keep his cards hidden.
Part of the way through a Saturday of talking to restaurant managers for kitchen openings, Shimazaki was invited out to lunch with Teru. He gladly welcomed the break from job hunting, and so agreed to get ramen with him.
Teru was less nervous around Shimazaki this time around. He still gave off little swells in his aura under the man’s attention, still sought out small openings to brag or otherwise try to impress Shimazaki, though this he did so naturally that maybe it was just his personality. But having Shimazaki continue to see him, even after last time’s rejection, seemed to settle him compared to their previous encounters. Shimazaki thought this might be a good time to try to coax more information out of him.
“You know, it’s nice having someone to ask me how I’m doing every now and then, but you’re still a little mysterious to me,” he said, both of them a few mouthfuls into their meal.
Teru perked up and swallowed his noodles. “Mysterious?” he echoed, setting down his chopsticks and spoon. “What do you mean? I’m just an average person.” The line sounded practiced, as if spoken with the hope, not the assumption, that it would be taken as true.
“Sure,” Shimazaki chimed noncommittally. “But I still know so little about you and your organization.”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” he said as Shimazaki gave him a psychic pat-down. All he had in his pockets were a phone, a wallet, and a small set of keys. There were no strange devices hidden in his clothing, nor any implements for writing.
“Hey, don’t worry, this isn’t an interrogation. Whoever you guys are that stopped Suzuki, I’m not trying to make any enemies. I’m not asking who you work for or anything like that. But I have to know, you’re not on some kind of hunt for former Claw members, are you?”
Teru stared for a moment after Shimazaki stopped speaking. Shimazaki gave him time to choose his answer, until he announced his decision by way of a controlled smile and resolute, still aura. “Shimazaki,” he sighed, “for someone who ran away when the situation got bad, you’re surprisingly diplomatic when you find yourself at a disadvantage.” He placed an elbow on the table to lean casually with his chin in his hand. “Kidnapping is a serious offense, of course, not to mention who your target was. That aside, you attacked several people, and you presumably have plenty of experiences from your time at Claw that I couldn’t begin to list.”
“I can’t deny any of it,” Shimazaki conceded, nonchalant as ever.
“However, my usual approach is to neutralize threats, not to deal punishment. Well,” he stopped himself for a moment, “sometimes I do go a little overboard, but I don’t think you’ll make me do that.” Teru was blatantly smirking now. “Just don’t do anything to seem like a threat, and maybe stay on my good side for good measure, and you should have nothing to worry about.”
So that’s how it was going to be. Shimazaki smiled back at him. “Those sound like fair terms. In the meantime, I have to know if your requests to see me have been for business or pleasure.”
Teru picked up his eating utensils again, radiating warm energy. “Pleasure, for sure.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Teru opened up more during the rest of the lunch without revealing many personal details. He turned out to be particularly excited to talk about movies, especially due to (not despite) Shimazaki’s inexperience with movies in general. Shimazaki didn’t mind listening as Teru described the plots of two movies at length. One was a romantic comedy that sounded incredibly cheesy for someone he assumed was a teenage boy, and the other was an odd indie film with a title that had something to do with a pig and which Teru insisted people just didn’t “get.” Shimazaki gave his opinions on his secondhand knowledge at points, often to the effect of Teru trying to shoehorn his thoughts into the review.
When their meals were eaten and it came time to pay, Teru made an offer while Shimazaki surveyed the restaurant for their server. “I’ll pay for both of us,” he declared just before Shimazaki waved to their waiter.
“No you won’t.”
Their server arrived at the table to ask if they were ready for the check.
“Yes, put our orders together,” Teru answered quickly.
“Two checks, please,” Shimazaki answered patiently after him.
“Two checks,” the waiter repeated, nodding to Shimazaki reflexively before collecting their bowls and walking away.
Shimazaki’s expression was satisfied, a silent gloat over his seniority over Teru.
Teru ignored it. “You don’t have a job,” he mentioned, apparently forgetting the insensitivity of the reminder, “let me pay.”
“I do have some money, thank you,” he easily deflected.
“Money you stole?” he asked quietly, smirking again.
“Money gained from my last employer, don’t worry.” Never mind that Hatori had done some helpful electronic tampering with Suzuki’s bank account for the two of them before he vanished.
Teru eyed him suspiciously, but didn’t press the matter any further. “Anyway,” he continued, “I’m the one who invited you out to eat, so I should pay.”
“I’m not letting a kid buy me lunch.”
“Why not? Is it too much like a real date if I do?”
“Sure,” Shimazaki answered, refusing to argue or explain.
Their waiter returned, two tickets for their meals in hand.
“I guess you’ll need help paying,” Teru thought aloud. “Here, I’ll read the amount for you,” he continued, reaching for Shimazaki’s receipt.
Shimazaki easily pulled it out of Teru’s reach. “Thank you, but I can manage it,” he said before retrieving his wallet and pulling out the front-most card.
Teru clicked his tongue and proceeded to tend to his own check, resigned frustration causing a rough, abrasive edge around his aura. “If you really insist,” he acquiesced.
Chapter 5: Five
Teru asks Shimazaki to dinner.
Teru once asked Shimazaki how he looked. “With your ESP, I mean. I know people’s auras feel different, but I don’t know what mine is like.”
Shimazaki considered the question. “Now that you mention it, I don’t, either,” he answered, sounding stumped himself.
Teru looked up from the side of the bridge to Shimazaki. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” he asked.
Shimazaki was leaning back on the metal side rails. He gave a thoughtful hum. “Most people’s auras can be described with some kind of a feeling or a sensation. Maybe they feel fluid like wind, or sturdy like a tree’s roots. You have a unique signature, but I can’t think of anything to compare it to.”
Teru continued to look at him for a moment, then back down at the creek flowing below with a hum.
“It’s usually a sort of warm feeling, but sometimes it’s cool,” he offered as an explanation. “It radiates like heat, but faster like electricity. And there’s always an intensity there, even when you’re calm. It's beautiful, and I don't think I’ve experienced anything like it.”
“I see,” Teru said quietly, shimmering at the very direct compliment.
Shimazaki let him consider the description for a while, but when no suggestions came, he spoke again. “What about me?”
It was Teru’s turn to pause and think of a description. He cast a flood of his energy to investigate the feeling of Shimazaki’s. “It’s a little startling sometimes because it feels like being watched. Or maybe, it feels like suddenly realizing you’re being watched.”
“Is that so?” Shimazaki asked curiously. “Does that make you uncomfortable?”
“Nah,” Teru answered casually. “It did feel weird at first, but I guess I got used to it. But there is something I’ve been wondering.”
Teru’s expression became impish, and he brightened. “You can basically see through walls, right?”
“You could say that.”
“So, do you do the same thing with people’s clothes?”
He should have expected a question like that to come up sooner or later. “Are you feeling self-conscious?” Shimazaki asked playfully.
“Just answer the question,” Teru swatted back.
Shimazaki made an amused sound. “I’m doing it constantly,” he answered plainly.
Teru flashed in surprise. “Are you serious?” he asked.
“I have to,” Shimazaki stated in his defense.
“What does that even mean?”
“I can change how wide I cast my net, but once something is caught, it’s there for me to see. If I want to sense a reasonable distance around me to figure out my surroundings, that usually means I’ll have people in my range.”
“Isn’t that a little weird?” Teru asked.
“I guess so if you’re used to not being able to see past objects, but this is how I’ve always figured my way around.”
“So you just look at everyone naked all the time.”
“Teru, I wasn’t raised by wolves. I know where it’s rude to direct my attention.”
“That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. Especially if no one knows what you’re looking at.”
“I guess all you can do is hope I’m being honest, then,” he surrendered with a shrug.
Teru kept a skeptical brow raised at Shimazaki, but didn’t have anything to say.
Shimazaki’s attention drifted back to the quality of Teru’s aura. He truly hadn’t felt anything that gave him the same impression, and hence couldn’t help dwelling and trying to come up with something that did. His ESP reached through objects and past people to reveal intricacies others didn’t seem to be aware of: the complex corridors of an ant colony, the circuitry encased in the outer shells of their electronics, the little turbulences that died just as soon as they came to life in flowing water. Yet from none of these observations could he pull anything like Teru and the way his aura pierced the ether in all directions at once.
Teru’s stomach growled. Shimazaki faintly registered it somewhere in his subconscious, but he was still too lost in thought to respond when it happened.
“I’m hungry,” Teru finally voiced.
“Yeah? Me too.”
“We should go out for dinner.”
“Thanks for the invite, but I’ll have to miss this one.”
“I can pay if that’s the problem.”
“Not if I don’t go.”
He clicked his tongue.
“Enjoy your dinner, Teru.”
Teru’s image softened after the good bidding. “Yeah. I’ll see you later.”
Chapter 6: One
Teru re-extends an old offer.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Another time, Shimazaki met Teru at the center of the city. The broccoli that stood there was titanic and magnificent, sure, but the surrounding area was in a pitiful state. The rubble that would have made it a hazard zone had been cleared, but everything else either had been crushed beneath the plant’s roots or appeared to have had most of their structure torn right off. Now that he was here, he recognized the area as where he had fought Teru and his allies before.
“Teru, you’re going to make me feel guilty bringing me here,” he commented.
“You’re still dwelling on that?” Teru dismissed. He emitted a soft, but proud, gleam, staring up at the broccoli as he walked. “That was just a squabble between commoners. This should be proof enough of that.”
Shimazaki regarded the massive broccoli. Probably because of how it was brought to this size, it somehow still seemed imbued with psychic energy this long after its growth. Sometimes, when Minegishi mobilized a particularly large mass of plants, they retained his power for up to a few minutes afterward, but for energy to linger weeks after being implanted was outside the realm of what he would have considered possible.
“Nothing like a creepy giant vegetable to make you feel small, I guess,” he remarked.
“Come on, don’t you think it’s just a little amazing that this was made with your boss’s power and some seeds?”
“It might have been Suzuki’s power, but the fact that your buddy didn’t die redirecting that much is a little chilling to think about,” Shimazaki admitted.
“He is capable of some amazing things,” Teru said, and Shimazaki caught himself growing a bit sardonic about the audible wonder in Teru’s voice.
They approached the oversized roots that plunged into the concrete only to peek above the ground and then dive back down. After splitting beneath the roads and partial building shells, they twisted to grip the earth possessively. “So, are we climbing this thing?” Shimazaki asked.
“Allow me.” Teru’s aura illuminated around him, and Shimazaki allowed it to hug his body as well. Teru managed a gentle takeoff for a slow ascent to the limbs.
“You sure have some interesting picks for local attractions to show me,” Shimazaki said on the way up.
“I’ll hold your hand if it gets too scary for you,” Teru teased.
Once they reached a height where they could stand within the branches, Shimazaki easily slipped out of the grasp of Teru’s telekinesis to teleport onto a thick tangle of sturdy branches. Teru settled more slowly, opting to hover to the join of a limb. Shimazaki noticed him pawing at the trunk and still holding himself up with telekinesis.
“Having trouble?” Shimazaki asked.
“It’s hard to trust the footing here,” Teru explained, pushing the branch below him with his foot. “And I didn’t think it would be so dark up here already.”
“Is it? I didn’t notice.”
Either Teru forgot that Shimazaki could still tell he was making that pointedly unamused face, or he was fully aware of this fact. “Could you take us to the top?”
“Sure thing, but I’ll need you to come over here.”
“Right,” Teru said under his breath before clearing the space between them. He reached forward along the way to avoid crashing into Shimazaki.
“Right here,” Shimazaki notified as he grabbed Teru’s hand. He took a half-second to appreciate the quick flash from Teru. “Come closer, to my left side.” Teru did so, still hovering cloaked in his own telekinesis. “Let go of your telekinesis or this may not feel nice,” Shimazaki instructed further. “It’s safe to land where you are.”
Teru switched off the psychic hold, dimming his form and drawing a groan out of the broccoli branches. He immediately lit back up to take his weight off the plant. “You’re not trying to drop me to my death, are you?” he asked, sarcastic despite how heavily his heart pounded.
“I wouldn’t dream of it – here, hold on to me.”
Teru managed to hook an arm around Shimazaki’s waist and keep his composure; Shimazaki wrapped an arm around Teru and politely pretended not to notice how hot his face was. The boy released once again, and before there was time for him to react to the branches’ protests, Shimazaki squeezed a little tighter and teleported them to the highest clusters of offshoots.
Teru took a moment to reorient himself before he let go, and then hoisted himself up to where an upright branch split into three. Teru looked around curiously, while Shimazaki observed the odd way the broccoli weaved itself together to support its own weight.
“So, is this where you hide your bodies?” he asked playfully.
Teru smiled. “Can’t I just want to be somewhere we have a little privacy?”
Shimazaki teleported to Teru’s side and leaned back casually on one of the two other branches of his perch. “Privacy, hm? But we’re still in public, isn’t whatever you have planned still a bit exhibitionistic?”
Teru rolled his eyes and sat up. “Just because I want privacy, that doesn’t mean I’m doing something bad,” he argued, his energy still at a higher glow.
“No? Well there must be some reason to hide, right? Otherwise, we might as well go back down.”
Teru opened his mouth and inhaled, and then promptly closed his mouth. Shimazaki didn’t need to be an esper to sense the gears turning in Teru’s head, but his next actions were more obvious with the ability to feel his overworking pulse, his muscles preparing to push him forward, his aura radiating in self-motivating flashes.
He let Teru kiss him, briefly, on the lips; the boy immediately pulled himself to put space between their faces. He even permitted Teru a second to feel embarrassed for his childish impulse, and murmur out a “Sorr-” before returning a deeper, lingering kiss to surprise him. When Shimazaki’s lips parted from his, Teru followed close and reconnected them.
Shimazaki let him again. He had only meant to tease Teru, to do something to shake up the comfort Teru was settling into. He wasn’t expecting Teru to actually be bolder than a peck on the lips and a timid apology. But now this boy was kissing him earnestly, and Shimazaki wasn’t backing down either, and he was seriously making out with this kid, and Teru’s initial shocked spark scattered into a bright glitter as something not quite malicious barbed his halo.
He broke away upon noticing this strangely sinister sparkle. What was his deal?
“Shimazaki,” Teru called with a controlled voice, even though his body was responding like it was on an adrenaline rush. “You kissed me back.”
Shimazaki needed to come back to earth. “Yeah. What did you expect when you kissed me?”
Teru licked his lips. “Doesn’t my age bother you?”
Shimazaki smiled, in some part due to disbelief at his situation. “I guess it seemed okay since you wanted to kiss and not do anything bad, right?”
The shimmering serration of Teru’s aura became finer, sharper. “I never said I don’t want to do anything bad.”
What the hell happened? The same boy who was struggling a few weeks ago to play cool just because Shimazaki complimented him was now ablaze like he wanted to eat the man alive. Shimazaki had to stand there, quietly dumbfounded for a moment convincing himself that this was the same person in front of him, that he would have noticed Teru being replaced with a double.
Teru took advantage of his daze to kiss him again, and when Shimazaki returned it without hesitation, something jostled the boy and his sparkling barbs. He kissed far too well for a boy his age, Shimazaki thought as Teru separated them. “Hey, Shimazaki,” he called, face still close, “come home with me this time.”
Shimazaki’s mind stuttered before he could respond. “If this is some kind of a trap, I’d appreciate just a little clue,” he said as jokingly as he could muster.
He hummed. “Do you really think I’m some kind of a secret agent?”
“I’m not ruling it out,” he answered bluntly.
“Well I’m not.”
“You don’t believe me.”
He wanted to kiss Teru again. “I’m being cautious,” he answered.
“I’m not plotting anything.”
Shimazaki wanted to believe that Teru really was just a precocious teenager with a crush and a curious set of psychic skills who could easily be taken advantage of. But something about that dangerous quality in his aura made Shimazaki feel like he was the prey.
“Do you believe me when I say I want you?”
Places on Teru's body hailed Shimazaki’s senses without his bidding. Sides of his neck. Backs of his arms. Nipples. Above his navel. “I believe you,” he answered through the mental haze.
“Well then, Shimazaki. Either I’m in a secret organization, or I’m not. But even if I am, either that has nothing to do with you and I just want you, or you really are being targeted and I want you anyway. You have two out of three safe guesses. I’ll invite you one more time. Do you want to come home with me?”
Shimazaki swallowed. Of fucking course he did. He would have had no qualms about taking Teru right here and now and showing the kid what he was asking for. He noticed just how harshly bright Teru burned, struggled to focus anywhere other than those spots demanding his notice, and he made his decision.
“Where do you live?”
Photuris is the name of a genus of fireflies which prey on other firefly species by mimicking their mating signals to draw them closer first. I wanted to write something in which Teru leads the progression, but there's still an aspect of danger surrounding him.
Thanks for sticking through to the end!