Actions

Work Header

graduation

Work Text:

As an adult, Reigen has learned a long time ago that things never tend to work out exactly how you want.

Mob’s graduation ceremony is soon. He’s been coming Spirits and Such a little less this year, busy with leading the Body Improvement Club and his high-school entrance exams. Reigen helps when he can he’s a liberal arts person. Japanese literature, he can do, easy. Trigonometry? Not so much. He can sometimes help with a little Google-fu, but most other times his attempts just end with him and Mob staring, utterly bewildered, at the practice book and its strange unholy symbols. Reigen eventually appoints Hanazawa as Mob’s math study buddy, because at least Hanazawa’s complete lack of knowledge regarding math is age-appropriate.

Regardless of his struggles with math, Mob is blossoming, growing into himself before Reigen’s eyes. He’s still rocking the bowl cut, declining Hanazawa’s offers to style it for him (a decision Reigen privately agrees with), and the kid was never quite wired to wear his heart on his sleeve, but he seems so much lighter, as if a great weight has been lifted from him. Reigen lets him and Hanazawa study in the office so long as they don’t go giving his clients involuntary buzz-cuts, and he sees Mob smiling as they work, laughing soft and free at Hanazawa’s words without pressing his hands to his mouth and looking as if he’s done something he shouldn’t have afterwards.

Sometimes Suzuki’s kid and even Ritsu will drop by (with suspicion in his eyes) to help, ignoring Reigen’s admittedly half-hearted warnings about keeping it down. They always end up causing a ruckus that makes Serizawa shift nervously in his seat, and then Reigen has to shoo them away, telling them to go give some other adult gray hairs.

That doesn’t stop Mob from telling him that they’ll be quiet this time for sure, Shishou, with a little glint in his eyes that tells Reigen they both know that won’t happen. And Reigen must have a screw loose or something, because he lets them, every time. He’s got a soft spot, damn these brats. Mob seems to know it, too, because he’s got a little back-talk going on now not to the point of disrespect, but he’ll call out Reigen’s bullshit sometimes, go toe-to-toe with him; he’s even starting to develop his own brand of dry humor, with deadpan delivery only Mob could pull off. Kid managed to pick up Reigen’s quick wit, and Reigen can’t even bring himself to be mad about it.

The only thing that makes Reigen nervous is that Mob is growing rapidly, shooting up like broccoli. He’s only a few centimeters shorter than Reigen now, and Reigen has no doubt that Mob’ll be taller than him by his second year of high school, at the latest. Reigen doesn’t know what emotion to feel at that.

(He does, and the emotion is ‘annoyance’. The Kageyama family seems to have won the lottery when it comes to genetics.)

Anyways, Mob is graduating. Reigen tells himself he’ll pick up a bouquet for him, something nice. Now’s not the time to cheap out (that comes later, when he takes the kids out for ramen and tries to avoid breaking the bank). Traditionally, Reigen does not believe in well thought out plans, and on many occasions, forgoes any plan altogether: the best course of action is one that is carried out by the seat of your pants, in Reigen’s mind.

However and this is rare Reigen has actually thought about what he’s going to do on graduation day. He’ll roll up with a beautiful bouquet, mingle with the throng of parents and siblings while looking very professional and stylish and not-at-all-pushing-thirty, then he’ll congratulate Mob and leave having gained a few new prospective clients and a plan to have ramen with Mob later after he celebrates with his family.

Then Reigen will go home, eat an entire can of Pringles while crying, and then go to sleep.

Of course, though, the week Mob takes off from work, the week Reigen plans at some point to pick up flowers for him — that’s when he gets flooded with work, him and Serizawa almost overwhelmed with the sudden influx of clients that springs out of god-knows-where. That’s on top of helping Serizawa; he’s more than competent, just needs Reigen’s help to build his confidence Reigen ignores Dimple’s comments about him getting a new pet project after Mob leaves but these things take time, not to mention energy. Most days, Reigen crashes and falls asleep immediately after he gets home.

That’s how he ends up on Sunday, the day before the graduation ceremony, completely empty-handed. Reigen managed to forget that there’s at least six other middle schools in Seasoning City having graduation ceremonies right around now, and every single flower shop he’s been to has been completely cleaned out.

“Boy, you really fucked the dog here,” Dimple barks out, laughing hysterically. Reigen almost tells him that the phase is ‘screwed the pooch’, and why doesn’t he piss off and go bother Mob, except he specifically told Dimple to stick with him so that Mob wouldn’t have to deal with a shitty ball of snot during his last week at school.

“Gotta tell ya, showing up empty-handed is at least in-character for you, Reigen.” There’s a disgusting sneer on this equally disgusting snot cloud. Reigen tries to bat at him, but his hand goes directly through him. Dimple, ever generous, reaches deep inside himself, manages to find in his heart the capacity for additional smugness.

“Shut up,” is all Reigen can say; there’s not even any edge to his words, because, once again, Dimple is right. He has nobody to blame but himself for not planning ahead sooner, doing everything last-minute, trusting that it’ll somehow all work out. That’s the danger of making plans: they always end up going wrong, one way or the other. The orange glow of the sunset glints mockingly off the ‘CLOSED’ sign in front of them.

Dimple sighs. “What are you gonna do now? You could grow some flowers with your psychic powers” —a pause for dramatic emphasis— “if you had them.” Yeah, just rub more salt in the wound, buddy. Dimple erupts into fresh peals of laughter.

“You’re goddamn lucky I don’t have them, otherwise I would’ve exorcised you a long time ago,” Reigen tells him flatly, turning away from the storefront.

“You know you love having me around,” Dimple replies, and does not waver at the unimpressed look Reigen throws him. “I mean, I’m pretty much the only real adult friend you have. All your other friends are middle schoolers.”

Now that Dimple brings it up, he makes a very good point, and Reigen takes a brief moment to reflect on how exactly he managed to let it get to this state. “There’s Serizawa,” he points out.

“Does Serizawa even count as an adult? He can’t even make his own instant ramen.”

Reigen frowns. He doesn’t like this new thing Dimple does where he says things that are actually correct. “Neither can you ,” he says instead.

“I can do lots of things,” Dimple says mysteriously, and then looks panicked when Reigen starts walking away. “Wait, you’re not actually going to go home without any flowers, are you?”

“What else do you want me to do?” Reigen responds, deadpan, as Dimple floats after him.

Dimple looks like he doesn’t know what to say for once, and Reigen relishes the silence. “Hey, Shigeo’s a weird kid, so he probably won’t be disappointed. He might even be planning to give you flowers.”

Reigen thinks Dimple’s taking a stab at being comforting, and it makes him profoundly uncomfortable.

“What are you giving him?” Reigen asks, kicking at a can and watching it roll into an alleyway.

“Broccoli,” comes the reply, and Reigen actually looks up at Dimple, the are-you-fucking-with-me expression coming to his face unbidden.

“You forget that there’s gonna be at least four other people who can exorcise you instantly at the ceremony.”

Dimple sighs. “Too on the nose?”

“Watch it,” Reigen scoffs, chuckling dryly but it’s not really funny, just another reminder of all the bullshit Mob has had to put up with in his short life.

The rest of their walk home is in silence, and for that, Reigen is thankful. Dimple doesn’t usually hang around Reigen’s apartment, usually parting ways with him long before that point, but today he goes up with Reigen. Sure, it’s weird for Dimple, but it’s also weird for Reigen to let a floating spirit come up with him, and that’s what he does today. Not that he could stop Dimple if he wanted to, anyways. Maybe Reigen could talk at him until he gets annoyed and leaves, but he’s not really in a talking mood right now.

He pours water into his kettle and sets it on the stove to boil, fumbles on his table for the pack of cigarettes he knows he left there last night, and shrugs off his suit jacket on the chair, loosens his tie and drapes that over the chair too. Most days he hangs up his work suit neatly in his closet, but today is just hard, for a few reasons, and he lets himself slip.

The sun has already set, casting his room in a strange bluish-grey light. It’s a good place for spirits to linger, feels like the whole city is holding its breath. Somehow the air feels oppressive in his apartment, so Reigen takes his cigarettes and opens the door to the veranda, stepping out into the cool spring air.

“Quit moping,” Dimple says behind him, making Reigen jump and almost drop the pack of cigarettes over the balcony.

“Jesus,” Reigen breathes out, clutching his chest and leaning on the rail. “Don’t scare me like that.”

Dimple floats over the railing, arms crossed. “It’s just a bouquet. You know Shigeo’s not going to care.”

“No,” Reigen sighs, “he won’t.”

Mob doesn’t ask for much at all, really. Reigen was only too happy to pay him that paltry salary, too happy to take advantage of him. He’s gotten better recently, offering to raise Mob’s pay (slightly, he’s not made of money), make him work less hours, but Mob has turned down every offer.

It’s too late for Reigen to be regretting all of this now. He’s not used to admitting his own faults, least of all to himself, but he’s also not used to not getting something he’s set his mind on. The bouquet is just that last straw, and the thought of it crawls on his back along with Dimple’s jeers.

He lights a cigarette, leans over the railing and stares out at the city. His apartment, too, was a cheap one-room deal, the cheapest he could find without it being infested with cockroaches; he managed to talk his way into moving into another room when the last tenant had left, and this one has a good view of the city. Dimple is somewhere behind him, probably floating restlessly, evil schemes whirring around in that empty head of his, but Reigen is the one to break the silence.

“Dimple,” Reigen says suddenly, looking up at him. “Are you going to hang around Mob after he graduates?”

Dimple floats there for a minute, looking as reflective as a snot cloud can. “I’ll be doing my own thing, like I always do,” he replies finally, not looking at Reigen. “But I’ll probably drop by to visit you and the kid sometimes. Mostly the kid, to be honest. He’s a hell of a lot more interesting than you , at least.”

Reigen actually laughs at that, surprising himself, and he takes another drag of his cigarette. “You like him, don’t you?”

“Shuddup. I haven’t gone all soft like you have,” Dimple throws back, crossing his stubby arms in front of him and floating out of Reigen’s reach. He’s transparent enough now that Reigen can actually sort of make out the twinkle of city lights through him.

“You almost died for him.”

Dimple goes quiet for a moment. “So did you.”

There’s no response to that, so Reigen doesn’t bother trying to find one. He stays there on the balcony for a while, even after Dimple leaves, telling him he’s off to find some lesser spirits to gobble up. It’s the first time in a while he’s smoked back-to-back; the smoke seems to freeze in the winter chill, cold nipping at all the exposed skin outside of his thin undershirt. A cacophony of lights twinkle against the night sky, windows glowing bright yellow, lit by their occupants. Mob’s probably in his house by now, his parents ironing his uniform for the next day, while his younger brother runs around like a headless chicken, crying before the ceremony even begins.

The lights of Seasoning City glitter, blocking out the stars, flashy, noisy. Seasoning City used to be different when he was a kid, less development.

It reminds him of when he and Mob would sometimes take overnight trips to the countryside to check out random rumors of spirits. The bus they rode on was often painted in faded reds, blues, covered with dust from the roads. It’s not like the work itself is particularly interesting ― more Mob’s speed, really. There isn’t a lot of talking involved, just exorcising a few wandering spirits kicking up a fuss in rice fields or on bridges. Reigen tunes it out, prattling on to Mob about this and that even though when he works without Mob, well, there’s not much going on in Reigen’s life. Mob doesn’t seem to mind the endless background noise.

What Reigen liked about those trips is that he could see the stars shining at night as they walked back to where they’re staying for the night, sky blotched with cyan streaks, thin wisps of clouds hanging low in the air. Reigen’s not the sentimental sort, he just likes things that glitter. Money, sure. But then, also: the way little Mob’s eyes shone with awe as he stared up at the night sky, a city kid who Reigen bets had never ventured out to go stargazing before that moment. He probably had never even seen it outside of pictures.

The memories are faded, time-worn, but Reigen recalls talking to Mob about the constellations he can pick out from the sky. Most of it was probably him bullshitting, but there are bits and pieces he probably could have remembered from the books he used to devour back in his own middle school days. Mob wouldn’t have known any better, staring at Reigen like he holds all the secrets to the universe, just the two of them under that star-lit sky, and everything just feeling right .

Now that Mob’s going into high school, it’s hard to make the time for those trips at all anymore. Mob already gets on his case about calling him on short notice, grumbling about time management and cram school even though he sleeps through half of his classes anyways, Reigen doesn’t want to hear about that from this kid. He’s got his own life outside of Reigen, now; him and that Hanazawa could probably go on their own, catch a bus to the middle of nowhere.

If Reigen closes his eyes, he can still picture all the stars on the backs of his eyelids. But then the kettle shrills from inside the apartment, and his cigarette is down to a pathetic little nub, so he snuffs it, walks back inside to make himself some tea and fall asleep watching late-night variety shows. He likes to laugh at the ones featuring psychics who bullshit even harder than Reigen, except they don’t have nearly as much practice. Reigen has it down to an art.

The apartment doesn’t feel nearly as stuffy now that Dimple has left. Damn him, probably up to no good, but Reigen doesn’t bother with it now. He sets his alarm and settles down, teacup in hand, and turns on the television.

 


 

Reigen somehow manages to sleep through all four of his alarms. He rises to light filtering through his windows. The light is dulled by overcast skies outside. It’s weird, because he normally wakes up at 5, barely too early to catch the sun peaking over the horizon in the summer, and if it’s overcast outside, then it should be dark still. Blinking hazily at his phone 9:30 Reigen does a double-take, eyes widening, and then he’s out of bed faster than he’s ever moved before, bones cracking in weird places but he doesn’t care because he’s already 15 minutes late to Salt Middle School’s graduation ceremony.

He gets his clothes on at record speed, special suit rumpled in the process and he can only find his pink tie but it doesn’t matter, he’s out the door and then has to fumble his way back because he forgot his wallet and keys, and then he’s out again, dashing down the street and his suit is flapping ridiculously behind him, people are giving him weird looks but it doesn’t matter.

This might be a record time for Reigen; he arrives at the auditorium, sweaty, chest heaving, hair probably rumpled, so Reigen can say goodbye to his dignity, much less new clients, but he’s here, and that’s what counts. For a minute he stands at the door, blood pounding in his ears, listening. His heart stops for a minute, because he thinks he’s missed Mob’s name being called, but then he hears the name ‘Okumura’ being read out, and he heaves a soft sigh of relief. They always summon the students up by last name, alphabetical by kana reading, or at least that’s how it was when he went here, so many years ago. He’s made it, just barely - ka follows soon after.

Trying his best to seem as inconspicuous as possible, Reigen opens the doors, ignoring how a good amount of eyes turn to him. He sidles over to the first available seat he sees, near the back, and sits down, smoothing down his suit coat. The Kageyama family is seated near the front (Ritsu probably made them get up extra early), spotted when Reigen first walked in.

There’s a handful of names before Mob is due up, so Reigen sits back, catches his breath, and lets the sound of the ceremony wash over him. It all comes back in a rush of memories, his own graduation ceremony both an eternity ago and just yesterday. He probably wasn’t all that different from Mob, awkward and spindly, not quite sure what to do with himself. The principal hasn’t aged much either, still there after, what, 14 years? Reigen thinks about introducing himself after the ceremony, shaking his hand, but he doesn’t think the man will be impressed by his answer to ‘so what do you do for a living now?’. You win some, you lose some.

‘Kageyama Shigeo, Class 3-B.’

Reigen jolts up in attention, almost knocking over his chair and attracting a few curious looks. He sees Mob walk up the steps to the stage and bow, back ramrod-straight. The principal says his lines about how a bright future awaits him, handing Mob the diploma, and then Mob turns around and bows again. Reigen leans to the side so he can catch a glimpse of Mob’s face as he straightens up.

Mob looks happy, confidence bubbling up through him like soda and relaxing his posture. His smile is actually a bit wobbly, overcome with emotion (by Mob’s standards, anyways). Reigen sees the flag of Japan waving slightly behind him even though there is no wind in the auditorium, and some of the flower baskets in the aisles seem to be hovering a bit, but nobody else seems to notice, so he keeps quiet.

The crowd applauds like they do for every other student, but there are a few stand-outs. The Body Improvement Club is the most obvious and loud, and a few larger students who Reigen guesses are Salt alumni are the loudest of all, standing up and roaring their approval to the chagrin of everyone around them. Kageyama’s family is, of course, standing and clapping. What surprises Reigen the most, though, is that there are a few female voices cheering. A pink-haired girl a little in front of him is standing too.

Reigen stands up, brought to life, and he claps and cheers like he’s never done before, as loud as he can. Mob will probably be embarrassed if he notices (the people around Reigen certainly have), but Reigen considers it his duty to push aside the swirl of emotions in him and cheer for his kid, and, slightly less so, to embarrass him, as is tradition. Some of the people around Reigen, he notices, look confused as to why there’s so much ruckus around this plain-looking boy with a bowl cut, and it just makes Reigen prouder. You’re damn right, he wants to tell them. That’s my boy.

Mob’s eyes flit back and forth across the crowd as if looking for someone, and then he catches Reigen’s eye. The smile on his face gets a little more shy, his face a little more red, pleased.

After Mob steps off the podium, Reigen does what he does best. He completely zones out, head leaning against the back of one of the rickety plastic chairs they have in the auditorium, and he might be drooling a little bit because he wakes up with an ‘accidental’ elbow to the side a little while later. The woman next to him doesn’t look apologetic.

He doesn’t know how long it is, but eventually the ceremony comes to a close with a few more dry words from the principal, the obligatory pop song or two sung by squeaky middle schoolers whose balls haven’t dropped yet, et cetera. Reigen gets up, yawning, and stretches, cracking his neck and looking around blearily for his student.

Mob, unfortunately, stays true to his name. He’s nearly impossible to find in the sea of black-haired students clad in gakuran, and it takes Reigen a couple minutes of searching before he’s near defeat, taking out his phone to text Mob.

“Oh, it’s you,” comes a familiar voice that does not belong to Mob.

“Kageyama-kun,” Reigen says, surprised. He blinks down at the younger Kageyama, who looks at Reigen like he’s something the kid scraped off the bottom of his shoe. “Hey, do you know where Mob is?”

“He’s outside,” Ritsu grits out. “I’m surprised they don’t ask for ID at the door,” he mutters under his breath, but Reigen gets the feeling he’s not trying all that hard to stop Reigen from hearing it.

Reigen sighs. He’s not going to let a middle-schooler get to him. “Of course they don’t ask for ID,” he replies, injecting confusion into his voice. “Why would someone show up to a graduation ceremony for kids they don’t care about?”

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you,” Ritsu snaps, merciless.

This must be karma of some sort, because Ritsu has a way of making up for all the buttons his older brother is pleasant enough to avoid pushing. Reigen takes a deep breath and reminds himself that they both have the same person’s interests at heart here. A common goal. He knows Ritsu won’t fall for his typical conversation tactics, so Reigen just decides to play it straight.

“Look, kid. I know we’re never going to get along ―” he starts, before Ritsu interrupts him by grumbling something about Reigen actually being right for once in his life.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you to show some respect when other people are talking?” Reigen demands, allowing himself to lose his cool for a little bit. He thinks about replacing ‘other people’ with ‘adults’, but both of them, Ritsu especially, know by now that many adults’ words aren’t worth respect at all.

Ritsu’s mouth clicks shut; Reigen feels vindicated for snapping, even though he really tries not to resort to it. He’s usually far better at getting his way with words, but something about Ritsu rubs him entirely the wrong way, and he suspects the feeling is mutual. Reigen knows he’s being unfair: most people would probably be upset if their older sibling was being used by an adult nearly twice their age for a money-making scheme, particularly if said adult is a known fraud. Ritsu is being unfair to him too, doesn’t have the full story, but he’s a middle-schooler .

Deep breath. Start over.

“You’re right. I haven’t treated your brother fairly. There are probably a lot of people more qualified than me to help him manage his powers, and some of them might even pay more than 300 yen an hour.”

Ritsu blinks, startled at Reigen’s sudden honestly, and Reigen is satisfied despite the embarrassing admission he’s making.

“But I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that I care about Mob. A lot. That’s why I’m here today,” he continues, pauses to take a breath. “You can say or think whatever you want about me, and I might even deserve some of it. I know I could’ve done better. But don’t think for a second that I don’t care about him, because I do.” So there, Reigen almost adds at the end, but doesn’t. There’s only supposed to be one middle schooler in this conversation, and it sure as hell isn’t him.

Ritsu opens his mouth to speak, but before he can actually say anything, one of Mob's friends — Shou, he thinks — saunters up like he owns the place, and Reigen has never been so happy to see one of the Suzukis in his life. He didn't even know Suzuki's kid went to school. Reigen chooses now to deploy one of his tactical retreats; he speedwalks away and out of the auditorium while Ritsu is still staring at him, because damn it all, he’s getting the last word here. There is no shame in running.

When he makes it outside, the weather hasn’t changed much since his walk-run here. In fact, it’s getting worse. The overcast skies are looking dangerously dark, threatening rain, casting the whole campus in shadow. The cherry blossom trees are late to bloom too, still barren and bleak-looking, though some of them are making a valiant effort at sprouting buds. Not exactly idyllic weather to be taking your next step towards adulthood is, Reigen thinks dryly.

Privately, he had hoped that the school would have looked like it stepped out of a shoujo manga, just for today, blooming with pink and bright sunshine. He knows the thought is stupid, but he wanted Mob to have this perfect moment for himself. It suits him, though. Mob’s journey through youth has been anything but stereotypically perfect, and deep inside, Reigen really wasn’t expecting today to change anything. In fact, after everything that’s happened, he’s just glad the school is still standing.

Reigen makes his way to the largest tree on the campus, somewhere near the back entrance. He’ll admit the choice is a tad sentimental; he remembers sitting under this tree, playing stupid word games and arguing over group projects with the few friends he did have in middle school, safe from the prying eyes of stupid schoolyard bullies. He supposes not all people get a shot at that picture-perfect school life ― most people probably don’t. He certainly shouldn’t expect it from Mob, who seems genuinely happy with what he has now.

So he waits under the tree, watching the mingling of students on the school grounds. If Mob wants to find Reigen, he will come.

Eventually he spots Mob, almost raises a hand and shouts to him, but stops himself just in time. Mob is talking with that pretty girl he likes Tsubomi. Tsubomi is saying something to him, tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and Mob smiles, small but genuine, dipping his head slightly. Then Tsubomi smiles too, and turns to join the girls grouped up behind her, calling something over her shoulder as she leaves.

Reigen squints, trying to get a good look at the kid’s expression. The task has gotten easier, especially recently, but it’s still pretty hard to get a good read on Mob, especially from a few yards away. He’s embarrassed to admit that he’s a little tensed up, realizing that it’s because he’s ready to jog over and console Mob, just in case he’s upset.

But Mob looks fine. He carries himself high, no longer hunched into himself, and that’s in part due to his training, but more because he’s accepted himself and where he is, and knows there are people around him to do the same. Mob hasn’t needed Reigen to hold his hand and guide him in a very long time. Reigen can’t imagine him in a high-school uniform, except now he kinda can.

Mob seems to sense Reigen’s gaze on him, because he turns to face Reigen, face lighting up with recognition. He starts making his way to Reigen through the crowd of students, pausing to help a girl gather the contents of her bag, spilled on the ground. Reigen notes that he does it the old-fashioned way, stooping down to help her, but the shimmer of psychic powers around the girl stops other people from crashing into her while she’s bent over.

Task completed, Mob finishes weaving through students and stands in front of Reigen. He doesn’t know how he missed it before, but now he sees that Mob is holding a bouquet, almost certainly from his family.

“So, you’re officially a high-schooler now,” Reigen says, grinning despite his stomach twisting into knots. “How’s it feel?”

Mob frowns slightly. “I feel the same.” The knots in Reigen’s gut untwist just a little some things never change.

“Come on, kiddo.” Reigen laughs, ruffling Mob’s hair. “You’ve got a lot to be glad about. Look how far you’ve come.”

Mob’s eyes scrunch up as Reigen musses his hair, and then he blinks, looking up at Reigen. He’s not really smiling, but somehow, Reigen knows that he’s happy, can see it in his eyes. Some things really don’t ever change.

“Thanks to you, shishou.”

“Me? I didn’t do all that much,” Reigen replies, feeling his throat start to close up as he speaks, but he can’t stop the words from bubbling out. “Sure, I blew a lot of hot air about building you up, but the truth is, this was all you, Mob. These are the results of all your hard work. I didn’t do much at all, really.”

His voice comes out scratchy at the end, and he hopes Mob will miss that, because he’s still not that good at reading people. Like so many other things, though, he’s getting better at it, and it’s not because of Reigen. The truth hurts, digs into his heart like thorns, but it’s true Mob has worked so very hard, and Reigen has seen his sweat, blood, tears. Reigen has certainly never shied away from taking credit for Mob’s effort, not really, but it feels unforgivable to not admit the truth; now is no better time.

Mob has clawed himself up, a flower growing through the concrete. The truth is that he didn’t need Reigen’s help at all: what little could a fraud do to help him? Reigen has just never been able to bring himself to admit it to him, least of all to himself, and that’s the danger of lies - you repeat them enough, you start to fool yourself into believing them.

But he smiles, for Mob’s sake. This is his day. Reigen has had his time. It’s his job to let Mob go and spread his wings, even if they take him somewhere far higher than a small hole-in-the-wall office where the lights flicker and the pay is a measly 300 yen. Even if that place is somewhere beyond where Reigen could ever hope to reach. That’s his responsibility as an adult - to set aside his own struggles, lift his kid up.

Mob is staring at him now, looking a little alarmed, and Reigen’s face is starting to hurt. “What,” Reigen asks, voice light. “Do I have something on my face?”

Saying that, Reigen’s hand comes up instinctively to touch his cheek as if checking, and he starts when it comes away wet. He stares at it uncomprehendingly.

“Shishou?” Mob asks softly, so concerned, what a good kid, and God, that just breaks Reigen’s heart in half. This should be a happy day for Mob after so many horrible ones, he deserves this, and look at Reigen, stealing his thunder yet again. Now the tears won’t stop, pouring down his face in waterfalls like he’s a character in a damn Ghibli movie, and wiping at them just makes it worse.

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” Reigen chokes out pathetically. Words very rarely fail him, but here he is, the word ‘sorry’ sitting in his mouth like cotton, not enough, never enough. Sorry for not doing more to help you. Sorry for being so selfish. Sorry for taking our days together for granted until it was too late, and now you’re heading towards somewhere new, somewhere great, that bright future they always blather about but nobody has deserved to reach it more than you.

Mob’s arms wrap around him, and the bouquet is getting crushed between them but of course Mob doesn’t care. For a moment, Reigen’s thoughts get interrupted with surprise, and then he hugs Mob back, crying into his shoulder and getting his gakuran all wet and snotty. And Mob, with his patience for Reigen that at times seems near-infinite, lets him.

They hold each other for a long moment; their heights don’t quite match up anymore, and Reigen has always been pointy, bending at weird angles and places, so he can’t imagine it’s comfortable for Mob. Back when Mob was little, he was stiff and awkward to hug, unsure what to do with himself. Hell, Reigen isn’t exactly a hugger either, or a piggyback-ride-giver, but something about this kid brings out a nurturing side in him he didn’t know he was capable of. Now Mob has grown up. He’s probably too heavy for Reigen to give him a piggyback ride anymore. That, too, is a result of his hard work.

Something in Reigen breaks open, floods him with fierce pride. No, Reigen wasn’t the one to build him up, but he just can’t fight back the joy that comes with seeing Mob flourish, the fruits of his labor finally coming into fruition. Many things come naturally to Reigen (excluding psychic powers), but this kid he’s worked so damn hard for everything he has. And now here he is, holding his teacher, a grown-ass man, as he cries like a baby.

“I’m so proud of you, Shigeo.” He sounds all scratchy, throat like sandpaper. Reigen reaches up to ruffle Mob’s hair again. It doesn’t feel quite right in his mouth, but Mob deserves better than that dumb nickname. He’s the only one who really calls Mob by that anymore, but old habits die hard.

“It feels weird when you call me that,” Mob replies, no tact at all, and his voice wobbles a little but it doesn’t break. Reigen remembers holding Mob when he barely came up to Reigen’s waist, crying over a scraped knee and furiously wiping away his tears, trying desperately to hold them in, and realizes too late that their roles have reversed.

“I shouldn’t be calling you ‘Mob’ anymore,” Reigen says, laughing wetly. “You outgrew that name a long time ago.”

Mob draws back slightly, frowning. “I like being Mob.”

Reigen never would have used ‘petulant’ as an adjective to describe Mob, but here they are, and those four words make Reigen’s heart swell for reasons he doesn’t really understand. Mob will always be Mob; the name itself a reminder of where he came from, blending into the crowd, a background character they don’t know that the light inside him burns bright, just as bright as anyone else’s. Ordinary, extraordinary.

“Alright,” Reigen agrees. “I just… I wish I had done more, Mob. You deserved better, and I failed you.” The ground is suddenly very interesting.

“You didn’t fail me,” Mob insists, soft voice now strong with conviction. “If I didn’t meet you, Shishou, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

Reigen breathes in, struggles with himself; this is Mob all over, gentle to everyone, even those that don’t deserve it, and he fights against the way everything in him clings to Mob’s kindness. “But—”

“Reigen-shishou,” Mob interrupts for maybe the first time ever, “shut up.”

Reigen shuts up.

“I want to show you something,” he continues, pulling away and taking Reigen’s hand in his.

For the briefest of moments, Reigen pictures Mob swinging him over his head and slamming him into the ground, Mogami-style, because before today he would assume the chances of that happening would be as likely as Mob telling him to shut up, and now he’s not sure. He tenses up slightly.

Mob’s hair flares up, swaying as if underwater, and the air around him shimmers with an iridescent sheen. Maybe Reigen should be scared, but something in him knows this isn’t Mob losing control, and even if it was, Reigen would walk through a hurricane for this kid. Barefoot. He’s not afraid.

The energy from Mob goes through their connected hands, rising up from within Reigen, warm like green tea, electric, overflowing. He feels strong like that day they faced Claw, filled with an unwavering power that feels no need to be proven. It wipes the twisted knots inside him away, replaces it with a profound calm, the sort that comes from emotions that run soul-deep. Even Reigen’s hair, thick like straw, has risen, waving around his head gently.

Mob looks determined, and his gaze does not waver from Reigen’s.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Okay,” Reigen replies, even though he’s not quite sure what he’s ready for.

He doesn’t know exactly what happens next, but there’s a flash of brilliant rainbow light, and all of the energy inside Reigen bursts out, blinding him, but he doesn’t let go of Mob’s hand. The sensation he feels is unlike any he’s ever felt before sort of like sticking a fork into a light socket, which Reigen has definitely not done at any point in his life. Reigen shivers violently as the light dissipates, and he can see Mob’s hair falling again as well as feel his own doing the same.

“What was that ?” Reigen asks after a long pause, finally able to form words again.

Mob blinks and lets his hand drop, and there’s another brief moment of silence where he seems to be deciding what he wants to say.

“I’m not very good with words,” he admits softly, eyes flickering to his shoes. “So I thought I’d show you how I feel instead.” Mob meets Reigen’s gaze again, resolute, and Reigen suddenly recalls Dimple rambling about how Mob “goes all shoujo-protagonist-style, man, you should see him when he goes all-out”. Mob does seem a bit… sparkly.

He also just now notices that Mob’s other hand is still clutching the bouquet from his family, but instead of being squished like it should be, it blooms more vibrantly than ever, filled with flowers that bloom in colors he’s pretty sure weren’t there before and might not even exist in nature. Reigen sighs softly.

“Mob, I can’t take that from you. You got it from your family.”

Mob looks confused, tilting his head slightly, then he follows Reigen’s eyes to the bouquet he’s holding, and his face clears with understanding. Then to Reigen’s surprise he giggles, smile sparkling in his eyes.

“Shishou, that’s not what I meant.”

“You’re gonna have to spell it out for me, kiddo,” Reigen tells him, sighing again; he’s a little embarrassed after all the waterworks and feeling rather vulnerable, and it feels like he’s missing something big, here. And because the big man upstairs seems to think he needs to crank it up a notch, a flower petal even lands on Reigen’s nose and makes him sneeze, which is weird, because all the trees around them were barren—

Reigen feels his eyes widen with realization, and he jerks around to look at the campus. His gasp catches in his throat.

The grove of trees around them have burst into brilliant bloom, almost sagging with the weight of the cloud of pink blossoms hanging on them. The struggling, dry-looking grass on the ground now rises green and lush almost to Reigen’s ankles, dotted with wildflowers as far as the eye can see. More petals rain down from the sky, and he sees no apparent source of them: they come in a kaleidoscope of colors, vivid, bright. Sunshine peeks through a gap in the clouds, and blue sky is starting to replace what was once the dark rumblings of rain.

Reigen turns back to face Mob. “You did this?” he asks, voice shaky with emotion, even though he already knows the answer. For me? are the words that go unsaid. Mob nods slightly.

“Mob,” Reigen breathes in awe, struggling to hold back the fresh tears welling up and failing miserably. He must have depleted all the sodium he’s taken in over the past ten years, and he didn’t even get to eat his whole thing of Pringles first.

God, this kid is so damn special and he doesn’t even know it. Reigen is lucky in very many ways: the powers that be would probably let him waltz into a bank vault and get away with it, talk the coin out of a miser’s purse, win first in the world at a game he barely picked up a week ago. All that glittering gold, and Mob is his most precious treasure. Reigen would give everything up for him in an instant.

He lives life so genuinely, the opposite of Reigen, it tangles his heart up so tight he can’t breathe, and he remembers thinking for the first time ever, so desperately, that he didn’t want to fuck this up. It made him try to lock Mob up in a cage, it made Reigen hurt him, selfish, cruel, full of hubris built on the back of his student.

But Mob is looking at him. There’s satisfaction, contentment, happiness in his face, open and clear and no longer tucked away in fear of himself. Mob looks past all of Reigen’s faults, his guilt, his mask, and sees his Shishou. None of it matters to Mob. Mob looks at barren trees and sees what could blossom there. Now, more than ever, he thinks: maybe I can be the one to make them bloom.

So, Reigen is okay. The fear in his heart is edged out by pride, excitement. Love.

Yeah. This must be that unconditional love they talk about and that Reigen has always tuned out, because it’s always in the context of that white-picket fence with a office job and a normal wife and two normal kids that play catch and don’t explode half the city on weekends; that’s not a life Reigen can picture himself neatly slotted into. But he loves this kid so damn much. He wants to see Mob fly.

Reigen must have gone too long without saying anything, because Mob starts to look a little nervous.

“Do you like it?” Mob asks. There’s that awkwardness that Reigen hasn’t seen in quite some time, Mob peering at him from under his bangs. Reigen feels like takoyaki, soft and mushy under that thin shell, and this time it’s him pulling Mob into a tight hug.

“Of course I like it,” he huffs. He can feel Mob smile against his shoulder, and Reigen doesn’t even try to hide his own smile, spreading across his face, warmth welling up in him.

“I love you,” Reigen tells him, holding him close, close. “Shitty brat.”

There’s no bite in the last part, hastily tacked on, because Reigen isn’t quite ready to let go of all of his walls just yet. He knows Mob understands.

“I love you too, Shishou.”

There’s a wet patch forming on Reigen’s shoulder, right where the kid has his face buried, and Reigen’s just going to assume that it’s sweat and nothing else.

“Jeez, what’s with the waterworks?” comes a scratchy grumble from behind them, and they separate to see Dimple rolling his eyes, checking a watch he doesn’t have and tapping invisible feet. “It’s not like Shigeo’s fucking off to the other side of the country. You’ll still get to see him, you big crybaby.”

“You’re just jealous I get to hug him and you don’t,” Reigen replies after a moment, and Dimple opens his mouth to say something but gets interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Hey, Kageyama-kun!” Hanazawa shouts, running up to them. “Did you see all the trees suddenly flowering? That was you, right?”

Reigen doesn’t even bother questioning why Hanazawa’s here ― esper brats never change ― nor why Suzuki’s kid is strolling up to them too.

“Of course it was him,” Suzuki says, grinning, and it's now that Reigen notices he’s actually wearing his school uniform this time, complete with a flower pinned to the right lapel (his dad probably made him wear it). There’s even a pitiful attempt made at smoothing down his hair, while Hanazawa hasn’t bothered at all; if anything, his hair is even more wild today. Suzuki has the younger Kageyama’s hand laced in his own, tugging him forward. Cute.

Mob has retreated behind Reigen slightly. Reigen is concerned for a moment, because Mob hasn’t done something like this in a long time, least of all when it comes to his close friends, but then he realizes that Mob’s face is probably still wet and blotchy. He quietly slips Mob a handkerchief while Hanazawa and Suzuki bicker, and Mob nods in silent thanks, accepting the cloth and quickly wiping his face.

“Apparently every tree in the city has burst into bloom,” Ritsu says, smiling gently. “You’re amazing, Nii-san.” Reigen glances at Mob, surprised. Jeez, this kid really doesn’t half-ass anything.

When he looks back at Ritsu, Reigen can tell that he knows Mob was crying, and the way his eyes flicker to Reigen’s, protective, lets him know that there’s not going to be any miraculous developments in their relationship anytime soon. There’s also understanding there, though, and Reigen will take this temporary peace.

“He is,” Reigen agrees. Maybe he imagines it, but for the briefest instant, a tiny smile flashes across Ritsu’s face.

Hanazawa and Suzuki seem to just now notice Reigen’s presence, because they both startle out of their discussion. “Did you help him out, Reigen-shishou?” Hanazawa questions, beaming, and this kid thinks he already knows the damn answer.

“You know, I did, actually,” Reigen tells him, just a little smug.

“No you didn’t, you fraud,” Ritsu snaps, and maybe Reigen would be offended if it wasn’t for the way his face is flushed slightly pink, face softening when Suzuki laughs at that, loud and shameless, squeezing his hand. Makes it hard for the kid to throw his usual barbs with the same viciousness. Reigen certainly isn’t complaining.

“He actually did, though,” Mob mutters under his breath, soft enough that only Reigen can hear. It startles a grin out of him, turning to look at Mob, and Mob smiles back.

“Hey, Kageyama-kun,” Hanazawa repeats. He sidles up to Reigen’s side, grabs Mob’s arm and pulls him forward, sending up a fresh cloud of flower petals behind him. “We were talking about going somewhere to celebrate…”

Hanazawa looks at Mob, hope and a touch of nervousness in his eyes, an open book, hand still around Mob’s wrist, and it makes Reigen’s smile go a bit wobbly watching them. These kids are really touchy-feely, Reigen notes privately, although he supposes he himself is no exception. This kid’s got flowers and some tears waiting for him in the future, a new development but not really. Reigen is glad for it. He wishes he was the same way at their age, instead of closed off, too insecure to wear his feelings for the world to see, a kid trying to fit into adult shoes too early. Bad habits.

Mob opens his mouth to agree to Hanazawa’s invitation — but then he looks back at Reigen. He’s not asking permission; he’s asking if Reigen is okay. Mob may have changed a lot over the past couple of years, but the most important things have stayed the same. They really do grow up so fast.

Reigen smiles with renewed energy, scrubs at the back of his neck. Yeah, he’s okay. Maybe not right now, but he will be.

“You kids have fun,” he tells them, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Suzuki grins. “Don’t worry. We’ll have him back before evening, gramps,” he assures Reigen with mock seriousness, and that’s definitely a note of dripping sarcasm he detects in Suzuki’s voice. The lot of them all snicker. Reigen is reminded, for all of their raw emotion, just as real as anyone else’s, and surprising thoughtfulness ― at the end of the day, they’re still shitty, snotty middle schoolers, obsessed with pushing and pushing until the whole world bends to their will.

“Yeah, yeah,” Reigen grouses, waving his hand at the brats. “Go be someone else’s problem.”

They don’t deign to reply, taking off across the school grounds and green grass and blossoming flowers like it’s all a big race to them. Hanazawa pulls at Mob and Ritsu yells at them to wait up, tugging at Hanazawa’s hair with a shimmer of psychic powers, and then Hanazawa yelps and tries to take Shou down with him. Mob lets him eat dirt, laughing, really laughing, and somehow they all end up a few feet in the air, never stopping, never looking back.

Reigen takes one last look at them before turning to the back entrance, beckoning for Dimple to follow after him.

“You’re not gonna turn into a puddle in front of me, are you?” Dimple asks, but he, too, is looking back at them.

“I need a smoke,” Reigen says instead of answering, walking out into Seasoning City, its tangle of wires and gray concrete and blocky buildings now alive with fluttering petals raining from the sky, metal gleaming in sunshine.

As he walks towards the convenience store near his office, he watches salarymen poking their heads out of windows like hermit crabs from sand, marveling with childlike wonder at the beauty that has spread over the city. People have stopped, come outside of their houses and apartments and work, watching pink blanket the ground, get stuck in their hair. Reigen doesn’t think he’s ever seen so many smiles in his whole life here.

Shrieking children run past Reigen, and one of them has a bowl cut and randoseru trailing behind him. Reigen only hesitates for a moment, and then he keeps walking forward. He hears Dimple snort next to him, debates telling him to shut up, and then decides against it.

The convenience store clerk makes small talk with him, babbling about the flowers outside, how beautiful, she’s never seen anything like it before. Reigen smiles to himself and nods, putting on the counter a pack of cigarettes, a container of Pringles, and some instant ramen. Now is the day to teach his new disciple some new tricks, he thinks, and thanks the clerk, taking his bag into the outside world, bright, beautiful.

He wonders if Serizawa might want to take a walk with him.