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Permanency

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The only sounds left in the city are ragged exhales and crumbling concrete. It’s deathly silent in a way downtown should never be, a torn flyer fluttering in the light evening breeze and traces of raw power still compressing Reigen’s lungs as he takes a moment to breathe.

It’s over, and Mob’s alive.

He guesses it’s the best outcome he could hope for. Sure, at least a third of the city was reduced to rubble and Reigen’s pretty sure he has a concussion, but none of them are dead.  

Almost everyone has cleared out already. Serizawa took off the moment that last, massive explosion went off and the rest hadn’t seemed interested in sticking around, either. Mob’s friend – Hanazawa, if he’s remembering the kid’s name right – and Ritsu look like they’re barely staying on their feet. The side of Ritsu’s face is swollen and halfway to becoming a seriously ugly bruise, his once-yellow hoodie stained brown with dirt and what Reigen hopes to hell isn’t dried blood. Hanazawa’s hair looks almost gray with all the cement dust coating it, dark bruises under his eyes revealing his fatigue. Mob is slumped over Ritsu’s back, his face buried in his brother’s shoulder with blood-caked hair hiding it from sight. Reigen imagines he doesn’t look much better than them. He is definitely tossing the tattered remains of his suit in the trash when he gets home.

“Do you boys have anywhere to stay?” Reigen asks, even though the thought of cramming four people in his two-room apartment isn’t exactly appealing. Ritsu’s lip draws up slightly in disgust, but the fact that he’s not immediately blowing Reigen off tells him no, they don’t have anywhere else to go, not until their parents can get back into the city. Hanazawa stares at the ground, looking torn over something Reigen doesn’t have the energy to parse.  

“Right,” Reigen says. “Good thing my couch is a pull-out.”

“I can go back to my apartment,” Hanazawa says, an easy confidence slipping over his demeanor when Reigen looks at him, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world now that its impending destruction was averted. “It’s pretty close by, so I’ll be fine.”

Somehow Reigen doubts that, given the fact that any buildings even remotely close to their location have been scattered across several districts. “My apartment’s small, but we’ll all fit. It’s just for one night. I’m sure Ritsu would appreciate the help with Mob, anyway.”

Ritsu shoots Reigen a look that promises a slow, painful death. “I don’t need any help, Reigen-san. I can take care of my brother myself.”

The kid was able to make honorifics sound like a grave insult. Reigen would almost be impressed if he wasn’t so tired. He sighs. “There’s no point in fighting over something this insignificant. We’re all filthy and tired, and frankly I’d rather not send you all back to your parents with blood all over yourselves. My clothes’ll be kind of big, but it’s better than – “

“We have changes of clothes at school,” Ritsu quickly interrupts. “Hanazawa can borrow some of my gym clothes.”

Hanazawa looks uncharacteristically hesitant, eyes flicking between the two of them. “If you’re sure it’s not too much trouble…”

“Of course not,” Reigen says breezily, his hand waving wildly in dismissal. The pounding in his head gets worse with the movement, and he quickly drops his hand. It’s just for one night, anyway. Tomorrow they’d meet up with the Kageyama’s parents and find Hanazawa’s parents and things could start returning to normal. Well, whatever normal they still have. He has a feeling school won’t be running for a while. “Lead the way, Ritsu.”

The trek out of the epicenter of annihilation is slow-going. The ground is unsteady, slabs of cement liable to shift at any moment, and they’re all exhausted.

Reigen presses a hand against the haphazard bandage on his forehead (courtesy of Serizawa), gritting his teeth against the sting, and his fingers come away bloody. Wonderful. Head wounds usually looked worse than they were, right? Reigen’s pretty sure that’s how it worked. He’d just put on some actual gauze when he got back to the apartment instead of whatever the hell was currently tied around his head and it’d be fine. He’d have to make sure none of the others were hiding injuries, too. The last thing he wants to deal with is furious, panicked parents breaking down his door demanding to know why their kids look like they’ve been put through a blender.

 

--

 

This is your apartment?” Ritsu is staring at the tiny room that is Reigen’s combined living room and kitchenette like he can’t decide if he’s disgusted or pitying.

Lord have mercy.

“I thought I told you it’s not much to look at,” Reigen says, tamping down on his irritability as much as he can.

“But it’s so…” Ritsu gestures at the room, “small.”

He’s right. Reigen’s never been one to spend money on more than he needs, not that his budget had allowed for much more than this in the first place. It’ll be a tight fit. The couch sits in the middle of the room in front of a small, cheap TV. The coffee table is littered with a few magazines, an old cigarette tray he hasn’t thrown out even though he quit smoking several years ago and a couple dirty dishes. The counter is covered with cans – both empty and unopened ones – and a giant bag of salt he’d meant to bring to his office. He isn’t sure what to do with it now that he doesn’t have an office. A small plant sits in the lone windowsill next to the door to his balcony. His desk and computer are shoved into the corner, the light blinking on the monitor letting him know that he’d forgotten to turn it off before shit went to hell. Damn.

“I’m not exactly swimming in cash, kid,” Reigen says. He lets what’s left of his suit jacket drop into a heap next to the door; he’d take care of it tomorrow when he doesn’t feel like he’s about to collapse. “I know you’ve got these illusions that I’m some rich asshole who’s just using Mob, but I’m not living here because I want to.”

“I think it’s nice,” Hanazawa says encouragingly, offering Reigen a fatigue-tinged smile. “It’s a little messy, maybe. But my apartment’s around the same size.” It’s hard to tell if he’s just saying it to be polite or if he somehow genuinely thinks Reigen’s apartment is nice, but whatever.

“Thanks, I guess. Ritsu, go get Mob and yourself cleaned up. I’ve got a first-aid kit in the bathroom – make sure he doesn’t have any open wounds or something that needs a visit to the emergency room. Then take a shower. You all stink.”

“You’re one to talk,” Ritsu mumbles, but he shuffles off to Reigen’s bathroom without further prompting.

Reigen ignores the retort. “Hanazawa, can you help me set up the pull-out and futon?”

Hanazawa brightens. “Of course, Reigen-sensei!”

“Leave off the ‘sensei.’ Here, just put the cushions by the desk, I’ll go grab some sheets.”

Thank god Reigen never threw out his spare futon. His bed is only a twin-size and the pull-out can’t really fit more than two people on it at a time, and he would have hated to relegate one of the kids to the floor. There’s no way the futon will fit anywhere but his bedroom, not when the pull-out is being used too, but he figures they’re all too tired to care anyway.

There’s almost no space to walk around once everything is set up. In his defense, Reigen virtually never has anyone over, so he’d forgotten just how crowded it would be. He would kill to have a spare bedroom right about now.

Ritsu can barely keep his eyes open once he finally exits the bathroom, Mob (now completely unconscious) still slung across his back but in fresh clothes and blessedly blood-free. Both of them still have wet hair, and any other day Reigen would be worried about them catching a cold. Right now he just wants to sleep, and it seems Ritsu feels the same because he wastes no time in getting Mob on the pull-out and crawling under the sheets next to his brother. He’s out in seconds.

Hanazawa takes a turn in the shower while Reigen peels off his makeshift bandage with a hiss. He looks at it and… oh, hell. A sock? Really? He’s not sure he wants to know whose. Better than letting his head bleed uncontrollably, but at the same time he almost would have preferred it to a sock. He grabs the gauze and a wipe packet, squinting to try to see his reflection in his computer monitor since the bathroom’s occupied and his only mirror is in there.

“I can help you with that,” Hanazawa says from right behind Reigen, startling him into dropping the gauze. It’s enveloped in a haze of yellow before it can hit the ground, zipping up into Hanazawa’s hand. “I’ve had some practice with first-aid, and it’s hard to patch up head wounds on your own.”

Reigen’s too drained to argue, so he sits in his desk chair as the blond grabs an antiseptic wipe. The boy’s movements are quick and practiced in a way that speaks of experience. Reigen sighs. “Do I want to know how you learned how to do this?”

Hanazawa’s movements still, just for a second. He recovers almost instantly. “I’ve dealt with Claw before, you know. They didn’t exactly hold back, even against kids.”

“Right, right,” Reigen mumbles. His thoughts feel sluggish. “But your parents helped when you got hurt, didn’t they? You’re, what, thirteen?”

“Fourteen,” Hanazawa says. He doesn’t answer Reigen’s first question. “Okay, you should be good. Most of the hot water’s gone – sorry – so it’s cold, but you should still go take a shower before you go to bed. You’ll be happy you did in the morning.”

“I plan to.” Reigen’s missing something. He knows it, but he can’t focus long enough to figure out what.

“Good. I’m gonna go crash.” Hanazawa bows. “Thank you for opening your home to us.”

Reigen waves it off. “It’s nothing. Go get some sleep.”

“Yeah. Thank you.”

 

--

 

Hanazawa was right. The water’s freezing.

 

--

 

Breakfast is a crowded, chaotic affair. They folded the couch back up which helps, but Reigen is woefully unprepared to be hosting three extra people. He only has one spare toothbrush and even after their pit-stop at the middle school the boys are going to have to wear the same clothes they slept in. They’re all adorably rumpled-looking, though the cuteness factor is offset by the purpling bruises marring their skin.

The guilt Reigen’s been pushing to the back of his mind comes roaring back with full steam. He put them in danger. What was wrong with him? They were only thirteen and fourteen, and he’d not only allowed them to join the plan to take down Claw – he didn’t stop them from fighting espers decades older than them. Experienced espers who had no qualms about hurting children. He should never have been allowed around kids if these were the sorts of decisions he made while he was responsible for them.

“Your diet is terrible,” Ritsu says as he digs through Reigen’s fridge, pulling Reigen out of his silent worrying. “All you have is takeout and onigiri.”

Reigen rolls his eyes, resisting the urge to reach over and slam the fridge door shut. “I’m a single guy in his twenties. What did you expect?”

Ritsu pauses in contemplation. Reigen has a feeling Ritsu set him up for another insult and he’s not disappointed. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have expected anything more from you.”

“Ritsu!” Mob says, scandalized. “Stop being so rude!”

“I’m hurt,” Reigen says in as deadpan a voice he can manage. “Truly, I’m wounded. You should be nicer to your elders, Ritsu.”

“If you say so, old man.”

Ritsu,” Mob says, his voice lowering in warning. His expression barely changes, but both Reigen and Ritsu know him well enough to see that he’s upset. “Reigen-shishou let us spend the night. He let us borrow his stuff, and now we’re about to eat his food. He’s been nothing but nice to you. Why are you being so mean?”

Ritsu backs off, chastened. “Sorry,” he mutters. Reigen suspects the apology is mostly for Mob, not him, but it’s not a big deal either way. He has a feeling Ritsu’s feeling very unbalanced right now and just taking it out on the nearest, easiest target.

Hanazawa, maybe hoping to ease the tension in the room a little, leans over Ritsu’s shoulder to get a better look at the food and starts talking. “I eat a lot of onigiri, too. It’s an easy and healthy way to start the day, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make something – ah! Is that gyukatsu?” Hanazawa’s eyes light up as he grabs one of the takeout containers before turning a thousand-watt smile on Reigen. “Is it okay if I eat this?”

It’s probably the most expensive thing in his fridge – he usually opts for tonkatsu, because the pork katsu’s way cheaper than the steak katsu – but Reigen finds he doesn’t mind. He’d only gotten it because he was with a client at the time, anyway. “Go for it.”

“Awesome! Thanks, Reigen!”

Mob quietly takes one of the onigiri and Ritsu, after a moment of hesitation, does the same. Reigen grabs one of the containers of leftover yakisoba and doesn’t bother with heating it up before digging in.

“Thanks for the food,” Hanazawa and Mob say simultaneously. Ritsu sullenly echoes it a few seconds later. He’s probably going through an emo phase of some sort, and his longstanding dislike of Reigen wouldn’t exactly tone it down.

Ah, to be thirteen again.

“Did you or Ritsu tell your parents where to meet us?” Reigen asks Mob once they’re all done with breakfast.

Mob nods. “Yeah. They said that they can meet us at the 7-11 down the street.”

“When?”

“At noon.”

Reigen checks his watch. Checks it again. “Mob, it’s already 12:15.”

Mob freezes. “What?”

“Shit – I mean, shoot. Darn. What’re they gonna think of me?! They’re probably already panicking, thinking I’m an irresponsible idiot – oi, Ritsu, don’t just stand there, get your shoes on!”

They’re out the door in record time and make it to the 7-11 in less than four minutes.

Mob and Ritsu’s parents are overwhelmingly grateful despite Reigen’s lateness. Reigen still does not know their names. He feels like he should, considering he’s known Mob for almost five years now, and he’s too embarrassed to ask now.

Hey, it’s not his fault Mob barely talks about his life. He knows next to nothing about the kid’s parents, much less their names.

“We were so worried,” Mrs. Kageyama frets, her hands twisting together with nervous energy. “You can’t understand how grateful we are that you took them in for the night. When we saw what was happening on the news…”

“It was no trouble at all,” Reigen assures her. “Shigeo is a model employee and a good friend. I only did what anyone else would have.”

“We’ve really appreciated all the guidance you’ve given him over the years, Reigen,” Mr. Kageyama says. “I know the media made a stink saying you weren’t a psychic a few months ago, but we never believed it.”

They should have. Reigen doesn’t deserve Mob and definitely doesn’t deserve his forgiveness for the things Reigen had said back then. And now he put their kids in danger, and for what? Insurance money? His parents wouldn’t be singing Reigen’s praises if they knew, they’d be forbidding their kids from ever seeing Reigen again. He knows he’s not a good man, no matter what Mob says. Ritsu is scoffing silently where he stands out of his parents’ lines of sight, and Reigen doesn’t blame him. 

Reigen says none of that.

He says, “Both of your sons are growing up to be wonderful people. I’m honored to know them.”

 Hanazawa is quiet, standing a few feet behind Mob. He’s watching the parents with a smile, but it’s not a very happy smile. He must be worried about his own parents. Reigen claps a hand on his shoulder as the Kageyamas leave, apparently going to stay with Mrs. Kageyama’s sister. “Don’t worry. I’m sure your parents are just fine. In fact, I’ll bet they’re out looking for you right now.”

Hanazawa manages a shaky grin. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “I’m sure they’ll call any minute now and let me know they’re okay. I’m not worried.”

 

--

 

Hanazawa might not be worried, but by the time it’s five in the afternoon Reigen’s in his room having a full-blown internal panic attack.

He’d assumed Hanazawa’s parents were safe. A lot of areas didn’t have power, and he’d assumed their phones were dead or not getting signal and that’s why they hadn’t gotten in contact with their son.

Oh, shit. What if they’re dead? Most of the city had been evacuated before the really bad damage happened, but it wasn’t like no one at all had died. The news is saying they’d confirmed thirty casualties so far. Mostly police, but a few civilians too.

For all Reigen knows, they’re under a pile of rubble and very, very dead.

What should he do? He isn’t sure how long he can keep up pretenses, because Hanazawa isn’t dumb. The teenager has to have realized there’s a chance he’s been orphaned, and Reigen’s empty platitudes won’t do a thing if they can’t contact the Hanazawas soon.

What is Reigen supposed to do if they’re dead? Bring the kid to child services? The thought makes his stomach turn. Not an option. Relatives? Maybe. Hanazawa hasn’t mentioned any, but he had to have some out there.

Their best bet is Hanazawa’s apartment. That’s probably be the first place his parents would look.

He almost breaks his bedroom door off its hinges in his haste to get out there and find Hanazawa’s parents. Hanazawa looks up at him from the couch, startled.

“Let’s go back to your apartment,” Reigen suggests. “Maybe your parents are already there looking for you.”

Hanazawa doesn’t look convinced. “Maybe. But a lot of it was destroyed by that guy we interrogated a couple days ago. I doubt they’d stay there even if they went.”

“No harm in just going and taking a look,” Reigen replies. “You never know. Besides, even if they’re not there we can try to salvage some of your stuff. Do you have any relatives you can stay with?”

Hanazawa’s lips pinch together. He’s nervously picking at his fingernails, and Reigen’s kind of sorry he asked. “…No. I don’t really have any besides my grandparents, and we don’t get along. At all.”

Yeah, Reigen isn’t making Hanazawa stay with relatives he hates. He knows a thing or two about poor familial relationships. “I see. Well, if we don’t find your parents and you’re okay with it, you can stay on the futon again tonight.”

“You don’t mind?” Hanazawa says, clearly taken aback.

“Not really,” Reigen says, even if it’s not completely true. He’s a little worried he’s setting himself up for something way more serious than just hosting a teen in his apartment for a couple nights. “It’s nice to have some company for once. I’ve been living on my own for a long time now.”

“I – well – okay, if you’re sure,” Hanazawa says. “It would be nice to get some of my own clothes at least, if I can.”

“Great!” Reigen exclaims, clapping his hands together in a show of enthusiasm he wasn’t really feeling. “Let’s go.”

 

--

 

Well, at least Hanazawa’s apartment complex is still standing.

There’s a big hole in the side of it, but hey, it doesn’t look like it’s about to collapse and most of it is fine. Relatively speaking.

Hanazawa’s apartment is another story.

Half of his living room is completely gone, floorboards charred and dropping bits of ash into the apartment under his. What’s left of the furniture is in pieces. Glass litters every available surface and crunches loudly under their feet as they slowly make their way inside.

Reigen narrows his eyes as he surveys the space. There’s part of a mattress slumped against the wall and only one door other than the front door – most likely leading to the bathroom. This was a studio apartment, not the sort of place a family lived in. The niggling sensation that something is wrong, wrong, wrong with this scenario grows heavier in his stomach.

Hanazawa is silent. He hasn’t said a word since they managed to force the warped front door open, and despite his blank face he’s biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. He takes a couple more steps forward, stops, then takes a couple more like it’s physically painful to keep moving.

A piece of concrete breaks off a corner and crumbles onto the ground.

Hanazawa’s parents are nowhere to be seen. From the looks of it, they haven’t been here at all since its destruction.

“Can I have a minute?” Hanazawa asks, his voice small and thready. “Alone?”

Reigen takes a deep breath. Lets it out slowly. “Of course. I’ll be right outside if you need anything. Come out whenever you’re ready, all right?”

Hanazawa doesn’t answer. Reigen didn’t expect him to.

Reigen steps outside and shuts the door as quietly as it can be when it doesn’t quite fit right in the frame anymore. He leans against the wall across from the apartment and takes another deep breath. His fingers are itching to dig through his pockets for a pack of cigarettes he doesn’t have. He wants nothing more than to revel in the calming smoke of his favorite brand. But he hasn’t smoked in nearly four years, not since he made the decision to quit for Mob’s sake. That doesn’t stop the cravings, of course.

Mob’s friend has lost almost everything. His apartment is in shambles. His parents can’t be reached. He doesn’t have any relatives to fall back on. Even his school won’t be open for another couple of weeks, minimum. His whole life has been turned upside down.

Mob has forgiven Suzuki Toichirou. Reigen isn’t so kind – he hates him, for what he’s done to the Kageyamas. To Hanazawa. To Shou, his own son. To hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted. To police officers and civilians who died because of that man’s delusional outlook on the world.

That hatred flares brighter than ever at the sight of one lonely child staring at the twisted remnants of his home.

Reigen’s probably making a huge mistake in letting Hanazawa stay with him, even if he says it’s only temporary. He’s the last person anyone should trust to take good care of kids. He’s a friendless self-proclaimed psychic who does the bare minimum to take care of himself, much less another human being.

But he looks at Hanazawa and sees a younger version of himself, and he can’t bring himself to do anything else.

Chapter Text

Hanazawa exits his apartment after half an hour carrying only a backpack. It’s not even a big one.

“We can go,” he says, forcing the door shut and locking it. There isn’t really much point, considering anyone with a modicum of strength could probably bust it down in its current state. He’s back to looking like his cheerful self, but Reigen doesn’t buy it. The skin around Hanazawa’s eyes is still slightly puffy, his nose is chapped where he’d probably rubbed it with a tissue and the sleeve of Ritsu’s tracksuit is damp. Reigen’s seen (and done) every trick in the book; he knows what to look for. He’s not about to point it out, though.

“You found some stuff that was okay, then?” Reigen asks, wondering if that was a safe enough topic to focus on for now. They start making their way down the hall and stairwell.

“Yeah,” Hanazawa says with an empty smile that probably would have seemed genuine to anyone else. “Most of the stuff in the bathroom was fine, so I took the clothes that were in my hamper and some toiletries. I have some coins for the laundromat – I’m guessing there’s one not far from your place? My textbooks were a lost cause, of course, but I’m pretty sure my school will help me replace those once they reopen.”

Reigen wants to ask if that’s all that survived – if all Hanazawa has to his name now is a backpack of clothes and toiletries – but he’s going to feel like the biggest asshole ever if he makes the kid cry again. He’s just going to hope Hanazawa just didn’t want to mention his more treasured possessions. “You’re probably right,” he says noncommittedly. Hanazawa won’t be the only kid needing new school supplies.

The weather outside is bright and pleasant, casting the half-standing buildings they walk past in sharp light. It’s good for the rescue teams working tirelessly to find any unrecovered survivors, but Reigen almost wishes it was raining. It would match the panic roiling in his stomach better than the sun.

Hanazawa’s fingers tighten around the backpack straps. His voice is casual, lighthearted, when he speaks again. “Reigen-sens – I mean, Reigen – you don’t need to feel like you have to take me in. They’ve got lots of emergency shelters now, and I don’t mind staying in one.” He cracks an amused grin. “It’d be kind of like a giant sleepover.”

Reigen shoves his hands in his pockets. That comparison is just a little too similar to things Reigen doesn’t want to think about, even if he knows Hanazawa didn’t mean anything with it. “I won’t force you to stay at my place if you really don’t want to, but I’m serious when I say it’s fine. You’re one of Mob’s good friends – what kind of mentor would I be if I didn’t help you guys out when you need it?”

Hanazawa purses his lips. “I don’t need you to take care of me. I’m fourteen, not five.”

“I know,” Reigen says easily, sensing that he’s skated near thin ice and risks a big argument if he isn’t careful. “I never said you couldn’t. But you’ve got the option of staying somewhere other than those shelters, and not everyone does. Why not leave those beds open for them?”

“I guess.” The silence that settles over them on isn’t a comfortable one, but Reigen’s going to count it a success anyway.

Until he realizes he just had the perfect opportunity to escape responsibility for a teenager and he didn’t take it.

Would it really be so bad to just have one cigarette? Just one, to calm his nerves a little, because this isn’t what’s supposed to happen. He’s supposed to find Hanazawa’s parents and go back to his solitary, mostly child-free existence. The longer he lets Hanazawa stick around the harder it’s going to be if his parents are dead.

Reigen doesn’t do this sort of thing. He doesn’t form attachments if he can avoid it, because he inevitably makes bad decisions and it’s better to minimize the potential for damage ahead of time. Hanazawa’s going to have a lot of issues considering everything he’s just lost and Reigen is not the right person to deal with it, even on a temporary basis. He’s got his own problems to deal with that don’t involve angsty teenagers.

Maybe he could call up the Kageyamas, see if they’re willing to –

No. It’s not fair to try to pawn Hanazawa off on them like he’s an unwanted annoyance. Reigen dug himself into this hole, and now he has to deal with it.

It’ll only be for another day or two anyway.

He’s sure of it.

Later that day, Reigen slips out of the apartment under the guise of calling his insurance company about his office again. He calls emergency services twenty-three times in the span of forty minutes pressing them for any updates on the status of Hanazawa Misaki or Hanazawa Ken and is told he needs to stop calling or they will block his number permanently.

 

--

 

The next day, the government releases their missing persons list.

Hanazawa’s parents’ names are on it.

“Do you have any pictures of them?” Reigen asks Hanazawa. They’re in the laundromat down the street from Reigen’s apartment. It had been closed the day before because of Claw’s attack. Reigen pulls an exceptionally bright pink sweater out of the dryer and wonders if Hanazawa owned any normal-looking clothing at all or if it had all been destroyed. “We could make flyers.”

“Not any recent ones,” Hanazawa says. He’s wearing a green shirt with a weird yellow mascot on it that’s about three sizes too big for him. Reigen got it for free as a marketing ploy a couple years ago and never threw it out, even though he hated it (but it was free, and he’s always been a sucker for free stuff). Somehow the gaudiness of it suits Hanazawa. It certainly wouldn’t be out of place in the kid’s eccentric wardrobe. It’s clean, at least, which has to be a relief after wearing the same gym uniform for two days straight. “The only one I have is from, like, five years ago. They’d changed a lot since then.”

There it is again. Hanazawa has started using the past tense when referencing his parents, which is concerning, to put it lightly. Even worse is that Hanazawa doesn’t seem all that torn up about it. Reigen wants to shake the kid and demand to know do you even care if they’re dead? What did they do to you to make you so indifferent? Were they such awful parents that you wouldn’t even cry once if they’ve been killed? but he’d feel like a hypocrite if he did.

“It might still be helpful,” Reigen says as he folds a primary-blue tracksuit top. “It’s better than nothing, at least. Can I see it?”

“Sure,” Hanazawa says. He takes an unnecessarily long time to pull it out and hand it to Reigen. Given Hanazawa’s blasé attitude towards them, Reigen’s kind of surprised he’s actually carrying a photo around at all. Reigen carefully takes it, hyper-aware that this is possibly the boy’s only surviving picture of his family.

It’s laminated, the surface scratched, corners scuffed up and softened from years of wear. This probably hadn’t been in Hanazawa’s apartment when it blew up – did he carry it around in his backpack? The picture itself isn’t anything special. Hanazawa’s parents are two reasonably attractive, ordinary looking individuals, the only thing of note being his father’s Caucasian ethnicity. That must be the source of Hanazawa’s blue eyes. They’re smiling calmly at the camera. A dark-blond Teruki sits between them on a park bench, smiling brightly with an ice cream almost falling off its stick in his hand. He’s missing his front teeth and looks to be around seven or eight years old.

Reigen feels a little sick as he hands the photo back.  

Hanazawa brushes his thumb carefully over the faces on the picture, his eyes lingering for a few moments before he tucks it back into his pants pocket. He still doesn’t look upset. Reigen wishes he did, because that would almost be easier to deal with than trying to parse the underlying issues here.

“It’s a nice picture,” Reigen offers.  

“Yeah,” Hanazawa says.

Conversation becomes like pulling out teeth every time Hanazawa’s parents get brought into it. Reigen is internally flailing for something to say. Finally he settles on, “If you need anyone to talk to – “

“I don’t,” Hanazawa interrupts. His tone is still polite, but the steady look he gives Reigen is telling him to drop it. Reigen doesn’t.

“It doesn’t have to be me,” he quickly says. “Even if it’s just Mob, or one of your other friends. It’s good to find someone to talk with when you’re having problems.”

Hanazawa seems to mull this over for a bit. They’ve finished folding the clothing, but neither of them make a move to leave the laundromat. He asks, “Who do you talk to?” And Reigen freezes, then nervously laughs and runs a hand through his hair.

“Ah, you know, friends. That I have. You wouldn’t know them.”

“Of course I wouldn’t know them,” Hanazawa says, the slightest edge of irritability creeping through his voice. “Why are you giving me advice that you don’t follow yourself? I might not be on your level of power, but I’m not weak. I can take care of myself and I don’t need others to help me.”

Reigen waves his hand frantically. “Psychic power has nothing to do with this! You can be the strongest psychic in the world – like me, of course – but that doesn’t mean you should never rely on others!”

“I don’t need to rely on others,” Hanazawa snaps. A fine tremor runs through his fingers. “I don’t need anyone’s help.”

Shit. Reigen hadn’t realized Hanazawa was this close to his breaking point, or he wouldn’t have pushed it. “Hanazawa – “

“Look, thank you for everything you’ve done for me and the Kageyamas up till now, but I’m going to go stay in a hotel.”

“Hold on a second – “

“I’ll be back later to pick up my stuff and pay you for the food I ate,” Hanazawa says, and he leaves Reigen standing there with a laundry basket of neon clothing and no clue what to do next.

Especially since there’s no way any hotel will rent a room to a fourteen-year-old.

 

--

 

Reigen paces in his apartment. Five steps, turn around, five steps, repeat. It feels even smaller in here now that it’s only him and the quiet is oppressive in a way it’s almost never been before.

The futon is still set up. Reigen isn’t going to put it away unless he’s absolutely sure there’s no chance Hanazawa will be staying anymore. The basket of clean clothing sits on the couch. Hanazawa’s backpack slumps dejectedly against the wall next to the futon.

The bandage Hanazawa carefully put on Reigen’s forehead two nights ago has come loose from how many times Reigen’s run his fingers through his hair.

He’ll call Mob. He’ll ask if Hanazawa can stay with them. Their house is practically rebuilt at this point now, thanks to Shou’s friend, and surely they won’t mind having their son’s friend over for a few nights. They’re way better equipped to care for another kid in the first place. Hanazawa obviously wants nothing more to do with Reigen (and he can’t really blame the boy) and he’ll need somewhere to sleep until if they find his parents. Hanazawa will probably try to go to one of the emergency shelters when he gets turned away by the hotels, and Reigen knows that’s almost equivalent to going straight to child services.

Reigen won’t do that. Can’t do that. He barely knows Hanazawa, but even if he’d never met the boy he wouldn’t ever want to subject a child to that sort of place. Hanazawa is smiles and confidence and showy clothing. Reigen doesn’t know much about the actual child care institutions, but the temporary care facilities –

Reigen dials Mob’s number. He would call Mob’s parents if he had their numbers, but he can just ask Mob to hand the phone off to one of them.

There’s a click, and Mob says, “I thought I told you to stop calling me for exorcisms on such short notice.”

“What? Oh, no, don’t worry, I wasn’t calling you for a job,” Reigen says quickly. He hasn’t called Mob like this at all since their falling-out, but considering he never really called just for social purposes he can’t blame Mob for the assumption.

Mob’s voice takes on a mildly curious tone. “Oh. Is something wrong? Is Hanazawa okay?”

“He’s actually the reason I’m calling,” Reigen says. Do you think he can stay with you once your house is rebuilt? he plans to ask. Instead he finds himself asking, “What do you know about his home life?”

Mob is silent for almost thirty seconds. Reigen thinks about just hanging up, but he’s really trying to show Mob more consideration and that includes giving him the time he needs to think and choose his words. “What did you want to know?”

“Anything,” Reigen says. “Whatever you know. His parents are still missing and I’m trying to find them.”

“Oh,” Mob says, and what the hell? He doesn’t sound concerned at all to hear that his friend’s parents haven’t been found. “They live in America. They probably don’t know people think they’re missing.”

Wait.

Wait.

“Wait,” Reigen says. His fingers grip his phone so tightly he’s distantly worried it’s going to break. “I think I heard you wrong. You said they live in America?”

“That’s what I said,” Mob replies, his confusion clear in his voice. “Hanazawa-kun lives on his own. So you don’t need to worry. His parents are fine. Didn’t he tell you?”

“I need to go,” Reigen says and he hangs up without saying goodbye. He regrets it two seconds later and redials Mob’s number. Mob picks up immediately.

“I thought you said you needed to go,” Mob says. “Did you call me again accidentally?”

“Why does he live alone?” Reigen demands without answering Mob’s question.

“He never told me,” Mob says, too used to Reigen’s five-track brain to be annoyed. “I think it’s because Claw tried to kidnap him when he was younger. So maybe it was too dangerous for them to stay together.”

That’s not a good reason. That’s one of the shittiest, most selfish reasons to leave a child living alone that Reigen has ever heard. “I see,” Reigen says even though he doesn’t. “Thanks, Mob.”

“You’re welcome, Shishou,” Mob says. The call ends.

Reigen sets his phone down on the counter. Picks it back up. Puts it down. It feels like the full weight of Suzuki Toichirou’s powers is wrapped around his lungs and constricting his breathing. His fingers dig into the edge of his cheap, laminated countertop as he fights the urge to hyperventilate. His mind is fuzzy and his thoughts come in short, staticky bursts.

Hanazawa’s parents aren’t dead.

They aren’t even injured.

They were never in danger to begin with.

Because they don’t even live in Japan.

Hanazawa has been living on his own. For at least a couple of years now, if the way Mob phrased it is any indication.

Hanazawa is fourteen and living on his own while his parents live on another continent.

No wonder Hanazawa had reacted so strongly to any implication that he couldn’t take care of himself. The kid’s been taking care of himself while still in middle school for who knows how long with no one the wiser. He’s not only lost his home, but a lot of his independence, and he’s most likely worried about what Reigen would do if he knew the truth about Hanazawa’s situation. Reigen never would have realized that the kid was living on his own if he hadn’t just been told otherwise. He probably would have assumed that Mob had just misunderstood the situation if Reigen hadn’t seen the evidence himself.

Reigen is no stranger to inattentive parents. Even though Japanese culture centers around family, he’s painfully aware that this is not the case for everyone. Some people should simply never be responsible for children. He still counts himself as one of those people, but at the same time he knows he would never be so cold as to leave his child completely alone. It’s a horrifying realization that he – Reigen Arataka, con man extraordinaire without a steady income, man with a history of never finishing what he starts, who lives off cold takeout and hasn’t vacuumed in god knows how long – would potentially make a better father than the one Hanazawa Teruki was born with, because at least he wouldn’t abandon his child.

Reigen wants to throw up. Somehow Hanazawa has escaped detection up till now, but if child services gets wind of this…

If Reigen fails to report it, and they find out he knew…

With a hand that’s far steadier than he feels, Reigen picks up his phone and dials emergency services. They must recognize his number, because the operator answers in a very annoyed voice. “Sir, we asked you to stop calling and clogging our phone lines. We’ll contact you right away if –“

“No need,” Reigen says. He’s almost impressed at how calm his voice sounds. “I found Hanazawa Misaki and Hanazawa Ken. You can take them off your missing persons list.”

He says nothing about their location.

Chapter Text

Reigen takes the time while Hanazawa is still gone to think.

The truth about Hanazawa’s parents’ whereabouts changes everything. The entire playing field has shifted, and Reigen feels like he’s been dropped in the middle of a sports game with the ball thrust into his hands before he’s ready. Whatever move he makes – and he has to make one, he can’t just half-ass this – could make or break him, and he’s not the only one at risk.

The way Reigen sees it, he can make one of four choices.

Option 1: He can try to get in contact with Hanazawa’s parents. Maybe they’ll decide to bring him to live with them in America, and Teruki will live happily ever after with his family. Reigen doesn’t think this is a very likely outcome.

Option 2: Reigen can call child services. They have resources and experienced social workers who can decide how to move forward with Hanazawa’s situation. Society would say this is the correct choice, but it’s the first one Reigen mentally discards. He would never forgive himself if he voluntarily sent a child there.

Option 3: Reigen can try to find some sort of foster parent for Hanazawa. The Kageyamas come to mind – they not only have child-raising experience and kids Teruki’s age, but they have experience with esper children. But Reigen can count the number of times he’s met them on one hand, and he doesn’t actually know anything about their stances on foster care or if they’d even be willing to take on a third child that’s not even theirs.

Option 4, and the one Reigen half dreads thinking about: Reigen can take responsibility for Hanazawa. Somehow the kid’s gone this long without getting picked up by social services, and with the current emergency state in the city Reigen doubts they’re going to be expending a lot of resources tracking down a teenager who’d already slipped through the cracks. He doesn’t know much about childcare, but Hanazawa is already a teenager and extremely self-sufficient. It might be more like having a roommate than a kid.

Financially it would be challenging, but it wouldn’t be impossible – if Serizawa accepts Reigen’s job offer, and he’s almost certain the man will, then he can start expanding Spirits & Such and take on more cases. It would be tight, but Reigen could probably stretch his finances to get a two-bedroom apartment if it was in a more run-down part of the city. He’d thankfully gotten a response from the insurance company saying that his claim had been accepted, so his currently nonexistent office was no longer a concern. It would only be for four years, until Hanazawa turns eighteen. That’s not so long in the grand scheme of things, is it? He’s been Mob’s mentor for longer than that already.

There’s also the option to simply do nothing and let Hanazawa run off to wherever he wants, but Reigen discards this almost as quickly as he did option 2. Reigen can’t just stand back like he’d never gotten involved in the first place.

Reigen writes all of these down on the back of a supermarket flyer. He crosses out options 2 and 5 immediately. He stares at option 1 for a while, torn between crossing it out entirely and at least giving it a shot.

What’s the best course of action for Hanazawa? For himself?

He remembers Hanazawa’s strong need for control, the reaction he had to the insinuation that he couldn’t take care of himself. Is it really fair of Reigen to butt into this boy’s life and start making decisions for him without even taking Hanazawa’s input into consideration? Even if Reigen can’t help but see him as a kid, he’s fourteen, not a tiny child. He’s shown himself to be capable of caring for himself (even if he shouldn’t have had to prove that capability) and there’s no way he’d just let others take control of his life. Maybe Reigen could get away with just taking a distant form of responsibility. Sign for an apartment if Hanazawa can’t contact his parents to do it (and they’d need to be present for that to happen – really, Reigen’s shocked Hanazawa’s landlord never did anything about him living alone before now). He could go check in a couple times a week, make sure there’s enough food, that everything’s okay.

Reigen needs to tread carefully. At any other time maybe it would be easier to talk with Hanazawa without setting him off, but the destruction of the city and his home has left a dangerous minefield in its wake. Emotions are running high and thin.

It’s almost nine in the evening. Hanazawa has been gone for almost five hours, and Reigen’s starting to worry that he’s not going to come back tonight at all. He drums his fingers along the arm of his couch, the list clutched in his other hand as he rereads what he’d written. His eyes linger on option 4.

He can’t believe he’s seriously considering this. He’s gone from wanting nothing to do with kids to actually, legitimately contemplating taking one in on a long-term basis in a matter of hours. He’s probably making a huge mistake not crossing the option out right now.

But then Reigen thinks about how Hanazawa must feel. Unwanted, even by his own parents, the two people who he should have been able to count on the most in his life. Left behind as they left to start new lives in another country. Forced to face a dangerous organization hellbent on capturing children for their causes alone.

They’ll talk, and Reigen will do his best to give Hanazawa control over his own future. He doesn’t like the idea of letting a young teen make such a huge decision, but Hanazawa isn’t going to be okay with some random adult stepping in without that security of having control over his life. Reigen picks up the phone and orders delivery of enough gyukatsu to feed five people, then settles in to wait.

 

--

 

When a knock at the door comes not even fifteen minutes after the food arrived, Reigen trips over the laundry basket in his haste to get over there and get the door open before Hanazawa could change his mind or leave or anything else.

The middle-schooler doesn’t look especially impressed by his hastiness, but he also doesn’t look angry or even annoyed. Reigen really isn’t sure what to expect, whether it be Hanazawa insisting on leaving immediately or an apology or maybe a demand for an apology.

Something in his chest unclenches when all Hanazawa says is, “Did you order gyukatsu?” He sounds surprised.

Reigen clears his throat and schools his expression into something more casual. “Ah, yeah,” he says. “I was hungry. There’s more if you want some.”

He hasn’t touched any of it yet. He’d felt way too nauseous to consider it up till now, but in the face of Hanazawa’s partially-masked delight he finds he’s starving.

“If it’s okay,” Hanazawa says hesitantly. There’s a touch of guilt in his expression, almost completely hidden. The guilt grows a little clearer as he sees just how much gyukatsu is laid out on the coffee table – Reigen knows it’s obvious he hadn’t ordered food with only himself in mind. Reigen counts the guilt as a good sign, because he doesn’t want Hanazawa storming out of the apartment before he can have a chance to properly talk.

They sit in a tense silence as Hanazawa eats and Reigen tries to decide what to say first. He’s used to being in control of his words, of knowing exactly what to say, but right now he’s terrified that he’s going to get it wrong and irreparably widen the gap that’s already formed between the two of them. He takes a deep breath to steady himself, and Hanazawa stills slightly in what Reigen guesses is anticipation.

He goes straight for the punch. “I know your parents don’t live in Japan,” Reigen says, “and that you live alone. You knew they were fine, didn’t you?”

Hanazawa grips the takeout box harder, the edges crumpling slightly under the force. “What about it?” he says casually, as if this is no big deal and he hadn’t been lying by omission about it.

“I’m not going to ask why you didn’t tell me, because I’m pretty sure I already know.” Reigen forces himself to grab some of the food in an effort to diffuse some of the tension, show that he’s not angry with Hanazawa. “Though I wish you’d been open from the start about it. I’m pretty sure emergency services hates me now because I’ve called them so many times trying to find them.”

Hanazawa doesn’t respond to that. He doesn’t look like he’s in fight or flight mode yet though, so Reigen continues, watching carefully for any indication that he’s getting too close to the line.

“I like you, Hanazawa. You’re one of the most responsible middle schoolers I’ve ever met and you seem to have a very good head on your shoulders. Not a lot of kids would have handled living on their own as well as you have. But you have to understand that it’s concerning to know you’ve been alone all this time.”

Hanazawa glances up at Reigen, expression so calm and blank that Reigen’s worried he’s misread how close to the edge he might already be. “Are you going to report me?”

“Only if you want me to,” Reigen says honestly. He takes a bite of gyukatsu and watches as tension seeps out of Hanazawa’s posture. “The last thing I’d want is for you to end up in child services. It’s… it’s not a nice place, if you have any other options. Which you do, if you’re willing to take any of them.”

A little of the tension returns, Hanazawa eyeing him with a mixture of wariness and curiosity. “Like what?”

“First is, to see if your parents are open to having you move to America with them,” Reigen says. “Have you tried getting in contact with them since Claw’s attack?”

“Obviously,” Hanazawa says. Reigen waits a moment, but Hanazawa doesn’t elaborate. He hadn’t been able to reach them, then. Reigen forces himself to remain calm, to not show any of the surge of anger rearing up inside of him.

“Is it normal that they don’t answer?” Reigen asks. Hanazawa shrugs.

“They’re both really busy,” he says. “The time zones make it hard, too; it’s not their fault. It doesn’t really matter – they send me plenty of money, so I’ll be able to find a new place pretty easily.”

It does matter, and it is very much the parents’ faults. There are plenty of ways they could have found to stay in contact with their kid. Especially in the wake of a terrorist attack – didn’t they care to check if their son was still alive?

“You won’t be able to sign for a new apartment without an adult,” Reigen points out. He waves his hand in dismissal. “But we’ll get to that in a bit. The parents option is probably off the table, then. I know you said you don’t have any relatives to stay with, but what about close family friends?”

“I have a lot of friends,” Hanazawa says quickly. “It shouldn’t be hard to find a place to stay for a while until I get things sorted out.”

Reigen chews on another piece of gyukatsu. That’s not what he’d meant, and he knows Hanazawa knows this. Reigen needs to seem casual, unbothered by this. Hanazawa can’t know how much he’s been panicking over this situation. When he speaks, he keeps his tone easy, like this is an everyday offer. “You could stay with me.”

Hanazawa’s eyebrows fly up, and he’s suddenly studying Reigen much more intently. “Why?”

“Like I said, I like you. You’re smart, pretty self-reliant, and one of Mob’s best friends. Why wouldn’t I offer?”

“Because you don’t have space?” Hanazawa points out. Reigen gestures wildly, settling on a thumbs-up.

“I’ve been planning on moving to a larger apartment soon anyway,” he says, even though he’s only been thinking about that for the last few hours. “My business has been going really well, you know, and the insurance claim went through. I’ve even got a new prospective employee lined up. I never liked this place much to begin with. You could even help me pick out a place, if you want. Besides, it would be nice to have the company. It’s not that fun living alone. You’d be doing me a favor, really.”

It’s hard to tell what Hanazawa is thinking. He’s getting better at sustaining his masks again.

“Of course, you don’t have to,” Reigen adds. “If you don’t want to, if you want to keep staying on your own, that’s fine. I’ll even sign the lease for an apartment if you can’t reach your parents, if you’re okay with me stopping by sometimes and just checking in on how you’re doing. But it would be easier if you just moved in with me. You wouldn’t even have to worry about buying new furniture. And it would save you a lot of money – you could put what your parents are sending you towards your future instead. You’ll even be able to see Mob more frequently. The benefits are endless!”

Hanazawa is quiet for a while, obviously considering Reigen’s words. He looks away, eyes flitting over the apartment and settling briefly on the huge amount of food still on the coffee table, then returning back to Reigen. Finally, after a long pause, he says, “I guess it’s okay. To move in with you, I mean. Only if you let me pay you rent and for my expenses, though. It would be nice to be able to split the chores with someone.”

Reigen doesn’t want to agree to that, but he’s too relieved that Hanazawa is agreeing at all to argue. It’ll be easy enough to downplay expenses for now, until he feels it’s safe enough to revisit the topic. “If that makes you more comfortable. You could repay me by working at my office instead, too.”

Hanazawa’s eyes light up in a way they haven’t since Claw’s attack, completely genuine. “Really? I could work there?”

“Of course,” Reigen says with a grand, sweeping gesture.

“Awesome! I’ll do a great job, Reigen-sensei, I promise!” Hanazawa’s grin is blindingly bright. He looks like he’s almost vibrating with excitement.

“You really don’t need to call me sensei, Hanazawa,” Reigen reminds him.

“Then you should call me Teru,” Hanazawa replies. “Especially if I’m going to be staying with you.”

“Of course, Teru,” Reigen responds with a smile, though internally he’s freaking out. He hadn’t really expected Teru to agree this easily. He shouldn’t be doing this. He isn’t a responsible enough person to watch over a kid, even one as self-sufficient as Teru. Teru’s going to realize Reigen’s nothing but a fraud, and all this happiness will turn to resentment.

Reigen isn’t dependable enough for this, but maybe he can become the sort of man who is.

Isn’t that what Mob is always saying? That anyone can change and become a better person if they’re willing to put in the effort? Reigen’s already trying to change himself for Mob’s sake. Maybe he can start changing for Teru’s sake, too.

Chapter Text

Reigen watches the news closely in the days after Claw’s attack. Up until now they’ve been mostly focused on the destruction and Claw’s leader, but as the initial chaos dies down they’re starting to question the “how.”

And that’s what he’s worried about.

This could go very badly if the existence of psychic powers becomes widely accepted as fact. People are afraid of what they don’t understand and considering a third of the city is in ruins because of espers, it’s possible the ramifications will be severe for espers like the Kageyamas and Teru. Sure, they’re only kids and were largely the reason the destruction wasn’t even worse, but Reigen doubts the general public is going to see it that way. He’s seen enough dystopian movies to know where this might be headed.

For all Reigen knows, the government’s been quietly detaining a lot more people than they’ve reported. So far almost all of the blame has been pinned solely on Suzuki and Shimazaki. A grainy photo of the back of Minegishi’s head has been put out for identification, though Reigen doesn’t think they’ve managed to identify him.

Serizawa hasn’t been mentioned even in passing, and Reigen hopes that it’ll stay that way – he doesn’t know much about the man, but from what Suzuki had been saying up there in the tower, Serizawa hadn’t exactly gotten involved with Claw because he believed in its objectives.

As he flips through the channels he realizes that somehow, it looks like most of his worries are going to remain unfounded. He’s astounded by the news’ collective denial of all the evidence, even the videos. Shimazaki had teleported on national television and they seemed to think it was nothing but a camera glitch.

“Suzuki Toichirou was obviously delusional,” an attractive young news anchor says, and her companions emphatically agree.

“Claw is supposedly an organization of people with psychic abilities, but most of the population remains skeptical of this outlandish claim,” another reporter explains on the next channel.

“…have with us today Yamamoto Daisuke, a professional video editor, to explain the special effects used by Claw to fake their claims of esper powers…”

“…the general consensus is that these alleged ‘psychic powers’ are nothing more than a scare tactic…”

“…government has released a statement that the explosions were determined to be the result of explosives, not psychic abilities like Suzuki asserted…”

Reigen turns off the TV. It’s almost painful how hard they’re trying to disprove the existence of espers, even if it comes as a relief. He much prefers this over a potential manhunt for espers.

He’s not sure why the government is denying the existence of psychic abilities, because there’s no way they don’t know. Maybe to avoid a mass panic. He’s not about to question the statement too much. If it helps protect Teru and Mob and the others, Reigen doesn’t really care about their motives.

Meanwhile Teru, unlike Reigen, doesn’t seem to have a care in the world now that his living situation has been essentially resolved. All of that liveliness that’s been lacking over the last couple of days seems to have come back tenfold. The kid’s practically bouncing off the walls, carrying on about anything and everything and barely stopping to take a breath. Reigen feels tired just watching him. He’s not sure what Teru’s apartment looked like before it was destroyed, but he imagines it must have been immaculate, because Teru’s using his excess energy to clean – and he’s good at it.

Reigen’s pretty sure his apartment didn’t look this great even before he moved in.

“You don’t have to do all of this,” he’d protested weakly after coming home from signing the lease for his new office to find all his cleaning supplies out and all his mess already put away.

“I know,” Teru had said, smiling proudly as he dried the last of the newly-cleaned dishes. “But it looks so much nicer this way, doesn’t it?”

Reigen decides Teru had definitely been lying when he’d called Reigen’s apartment “nice” that first night.

Teru’s right, though. The space is still tight, but with everything neatly put away and the counter cleared of clutter it seems larger and less cheap than Reigen realized it even could. Still, he feels bad letting a kid do his cleaning for him when he should have been keeping up with it himself.

His thoughts are interrupted by the feeling of his phone buzzing in his pocket. He pulls it out, doesn’t recognize the phone number, and puts on his best salesman voice as he answers.

“You’ve reached Spirits and Such Consultation Office, Reigen Arataka speaking.”

Teru’s head pops out of Reigen’s bedroom where he’s been color-coding Reigen’s (very limited) wardrobe. His eyes are already bright with anticipation. Reigen hides a grin as he takes down the client’s information.

“Did you get a case?” Teru asks as Reigen snaps his phone shut. He leans casually against the doorframe, obviously trying to look nonchalant and failing by a long shot. Reigen can’t really blame him for being excited – he’d run out of things to reorganize a few hours ago and the kid was probably beyond bored by now.

Scratch that, there was no way he wasn’t bored. He’d stooped to sorting Reigen’s suits by the barely varying shades of gray they came in.

“Yup,” Reigen says, already grabbing his suit jacket. He’s just as thankful for the job as Teru is, if he’s being honest with himself. His bank account hasn’t been too happy lately, especially considering the drop in jobs since his office burned down. He’s stuck relying solely on his website to bring in new clients until his new office is set up, and even though he’s secured a new location with his insurance advance, his move-in date is still a few days away.

“That’s cool,” Teru says casually, calmly. He’s practically vibrating in place.

Reigen can barely restrain his laughter. “Do you want to come with me?”

Yes,” Teru blurts out before Reigen’s even finished asking.

“Great,” Reigen says. “Let’s go – “

“Wait, I need to change first!” Teru exclaims. He slams the bedroom door shut and Reigen waits by the front door, listening to the thumping sounds of Teru frantically ripping through his drawer of the dresser for whatever clothes he thinks is ideal for an exorcism. Reigen’s slightly afraid to find out what that ideal is.

It takes only forty seconds before the door slams open again, and he decides it could be worse. Teru’s wearing a pastel purple dress shirt and pale blue pants. Reigen wonders if Teru knows they might get ruined, then figures there’s probably a way to psychically remove stains. From what he’s seen so far, Teru has a very wide arsenal of techniques. If anyone knows how to do it, he would.

“So, what’s the case?” Teru asks as they leave the apartment.

“A woman wants us to exorcise a spirit haunting her house,” Reigen says. In truth, he doesn’t think there’s a real spirit, not with the signs she’d explained to him. “She’s been hearing it scratching on her walls at night, leaving scuff marks, there’s a bad smell, things like that. It should be a pretty easy job.”

“That sounds more like an animal problem than a spirit problem,” Teru says, his brow furrowing.

“You never know,” Reigen says.

 

--

 

Unsurprisingly, it’s just a mouse.

Reigen puts out his catch & release trap with a dollop of peanut butter, and in less than an hour they’re on their way with the mouse, 12,000 yen and a tearful “thank you” from the elderly client.

Teru looks a bit disappointed by the lack of an actual spirit, and Reigen would feel bad but this is how 80% of his cases turn out and it’s best he learn that sooner rather than later.  

“Is this what you normally do on cases?” Teru asks as they stop by a building that’s missing all but the bottom two floors. Reigen opens the trap’s door and the mouse darts out into the concrete wreckage. “There wasn’t a ghost, not even a weak one.”

“There usually isn’t,” Reigen admits.

“Then why didn’t you just tell her to call an exterminator? Isn’t this… I don’t know, kinda beneath you? You’re a really powerful psychic – I don’t understand why you’d waste your time catching mice if you could be out exorcising spirits.” Teru looks genuinely baffled by this, pursing his lips as he tries to understand the logic. Reigen sighs, staring up at the late afternoon sky as he decides how to explain it. He almost considers Teru that he’s not actually a psychic. Almost.

“Look at it this way,” he says after a moment. “I’m not so much in the exorcism business as I am the business of solving people’s problems. Even if their issues aren’t supernatural, they come to me because they’re in distress and looking for help. If I can help them, does it really matter whether or not it’s a spirit causing the problem, or if it’s something that needs psychic abilities? My job is to make people happy, even if it’s not glamorous. I’d say we were successful today, wouldn’t you?”

He looks back down at Teru, who is staring starry-eyed at Reigen like he just told him the secret to life itself. “Kageyama-kun was right! You’re incredible!”

The guilt stabs right through Reigen’s chest. He should come clean. “Ah, no, I’m – “

“I’ve been trying really hard to change the way I think after we fought, you know, but I know I still have a ways to go – there’s so much good I can do in the world that doesn’t require my psychic powers, but I never thought about it like you do! No wonder Kageyama-kun looks up to you so much!”

Reigen doesn’t know what fight the kid is referencing, but he can just ask Mob later. He’s torn between deflecting Teru’s praise or just going along with it like he normally would, but his phone buzzes again before he can do either.

Two clients in one day? Thank the heavens. He hadn’t been optimistic enough to think he’d even get one today, much less two. Teru is watching him with an expectant gleam in his eyes, speaking up the moment Reigen disconnects from the call. “Another case?”

“Yeah,” Reigen says, sticking his phone back into his pocket. “There might actually be a spirit on this one, too.”  

“If there is, can I take care of it? Wait, even if there isn’t, can I do whatever we need to do?”

Reigen was going to ask Teru to perform the exorcism if one was needed anyway, so Teru’s enthusiasm is a relief. “Sure, as long as it’s not a massage or something.”

Teru looks slightly less enthused at hearing that was even a possibility. “Oh. Yeah, I’ll leave that to you. Do people really come to you for massages?”

“You’d be surprised at how many people think their stiff joints are because they’re being haunted,” Reigen says. He waves his hand wildly and points at himself. “Besides, I’m pretty good at them. I have a lot of repeat customers.”

“Huh,” Teru says. It’s hard to tell what he thinks about that.

Sure enough, at the second client’s apartment there’s a legitimate spirit. Reigen’s kind of glad – Teru’s been very obviously looking forward to showing off his exorcising talents, and this is the perfect chance for it.

“It’s been really bothersome,” the client says, his eyes twitching around like he thinks the spirit’s about to attack out of vengeance. “I knew there’d been reports the place was haunted before I moved in, but I never believed it until now. It keeps turning on all my lights and water – my utility bill has been through the roof! Please, you have to get rid of it!”

Reigen gestures grandly, playing it up for the client. “Have no fear – my associate and I will take care of the spirit once and for all!”

Teru stands a little straighter, his posture shifting just slightly to mimic Reigen’s. Reigen is struck by the urge to ruffle the kid’s hair, but refrains; he’s not sure it would go over well even if they weren’t at a client’s home.

“Teru, I’m leaving it to you,” he says. Teru nods with a determined expression, leading him further into the house in search of the spirit. Reigen watches as Teru’s hand suddenly shoots into the air, bursts of vibrant yellow lighting up the room as he presumably exorcises the spirit. It’s dramatic and flashy in a way Mob’s exorcisms rarely are, and Reigen feels a hint of pride as he notices the client’s awestruck face. Teru has a flair for showmanship – he would get far in this line of work if he chose to pursue it.

“That was incredible!” the client exclaims, with far more enthusiasm than Reigen normally sees. Getting Teru to work for him was definitely a smart move. The client even tips Teru an extra 2,000 yen when he thinks Reigen’s not looking.

“That was easy,” Teru boasts as they leave. His cheeks are flushed with the thrill of his success. “It was a really weak one – I could exorcise spirits like that in my sleep.”

“You did a great job,” Reigen tells him. He mentally counts up the money they’d made (excluding Teru’s tip, because that was going to have to be his pay for the day) and decides that yes, he could probably make his budget work even with a celebratory dinner. Teru’s earned it, and it’s late enough that they need something to eat anyway. “Wanna go out for ramen? My treat – there’s a place Mob and I really like a few blocks away.”

Teru’s bright smile makes any of Reigen’s lingering hesitations over the indulgence vanish.

Chapter Text

The day Reigen can finally start setting up his new office comes as a huge relief.

He’s incredibly lucky he was able to secure a place this quickly, really. It’s only been two weeks or so since his old one burned down. With so many businesses desperate to find new locations so they can start recuperating from all the damage throughout the city there weren’t many available spaces to choose from, much less ones within Reigen’s limited budget. In the end it had come down to a mix of negotiation, manipulation and sheer unadulterated luck.

“It’s really unfair how lucky you are,” Dimple grouches, hovering over Reigen’s shoulder as he tacks up one of his posters. “I can’t believe your insurance said a mouse chewing on wires was the cause of that fire. And of course you have to go making this office look just as tacky as the last one. Do you really think you look cool in that picture?”

“It’s supposed to be tacky,” Reigen says. “It’s part of my business strategy.”

“What kind of fucking strategy is that?” Dimple scoffs. Reigen rolls his eyes and doesn’t justify that with a response, turning his attention back to setting everything up. Behind them, Mob is standing next to a box of Reigen’s meager selection of books. He’s handing them one-by-one to Teru, who is sorting them by whatever criteria he’d picked as he puts them on the bookshelf. There aren’t nearly enough to fill it up – all that’s left are the ones Reigen had had back at his apartment. All the rest were destroyed in the fire.

He lost a lot of things when his office burned down. The big things, the furniture and such, are easily replaced. It’s all the little things he lost that really get to him. There isn’t a price tag he can put on them, not really. Those books, some of which he doubts he’ll ever be able to find copies of again. Pictures he doesn’t have digital copies of. A figurine he’d gotten in Kyoto during middle school, on the only school trip he’d ever gotten to take. A drawing by a ten-year-old Mob, with shaky lines and barely recognizable renditions of himself and Reigen.

He misses that one the most.

Mob glances over at Reigen, not for the first time since the three of them met to start setting up the new office. He has something on his mind, though like always it’s hard to tell what. Reigen won’t ask. Mob will speak up whenever he’s ready – if there’s one thing Reigen has learned over the years, it’s that Mob needs time to think through his words.

Or maybe Reigen has something on his face. That’s another lesson he’d learned, borne from Mob’s silent staring and a client eventually, hesitantly pointing out the splotch of wasabi on Reigen’s cheek hours after lunch.

“– bet your neighbors freaked out when your house suddenly reappeared,” Teru is saying to Mob. Reigen grins internally, watching them out of the corner of his eye. It was probably quite a sight. He would have liked to be there to see the neighbors’ faces when they woke up to a house where only rubble had been the night before.

“It took Suzuki-kun’s friend three days to rebuild,” Mob replies. “They just thought we hired a really fast-working company.”

“Oh,” Teru says, looking mildly disappointed. It switches back to his ordinary smile a second later. “Does it look the same as it used to?”

“Yeah,” Mob says. “For the most part. But he could only fix the house itself and some of the furniture, so we’re still working on replacing the rest of it. Your apartment was destroyed too, right? I can ask Ritsu to call Suzuki-kun. Maybe his friend can fix your place too – “

“No,” Teru interrupts quickly, surreptitiously glancing at Reigen. Reigen can’t quite see what his expression is, but he doesn’t turn to get a better look, acting like he’s too distracted with his files to be listening in on their conversation. Teru turns back to Mob, speaking almost too quietly for Reigen to hear. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so curt. Don’t worry about it, Kageyama-kun. I’m fine.”

“You don’t want your apartment back?”

“I’m sure Suzuki-kun’s friend has better things to do. I don’t need his help.”

Reigen silently lets out the breath he’d been holding. He hadn’t even considered the possibility that that Suzuki kid’s friend could repair Teru’s apartment, and he’s not sure how he feels about Teru’s instant refusal. Maybe a little relieved.

Somehow, he can’t believe this kid looks up to him so much already. That he’d actually choose Reigen, of all people, even when he had other options available.

 “You’re staying with Reigen-shishou for now, right?” Mob asks. “Have you already found a new place?”

“I don’t need to,” Teru says, a grin in his voice. “He said I could move in with him. I’m going to be paying rent, of course.”

“Really? Oh, is that the ‘great news’ you texted that you wanted to tell me? Congratulations. What did your parents say?”

Reigen strains to hear any change in Teru’s voice as he answers Mob, but they’re still talking too quietly for him to tell. “…They won’t mind. I can do pretty much whatever I want.”

Right, because they live on a different continent and don’t even care enough to call to make sure he’s safe after a third of the city is destroyed.

“Oh. Have you told them anything about Reigen-shishou?”

“Nah.”

“You really think they’ll be okay with you moving in with a man they’ve never even heard of?”

May God above have mercy on his soul, because Mob’s phrasing is going to send Reigen to an early grave. He feels sick even at the thought of how some people could interpret his intentions. That’s it, he can’t sit back and just listen anymore. Reigen shoots to his feet, hands slamming down on his desk a little harder than he’d intended, and both boys turn to look at him with startled expressions. He flails his hand frantically and points at Mob.

“Don’t phrase it like that, Mob! Someone could take it the wrong way!”

“Eh?” Mob looks confused for a couple seconds before his expression twists into shocked horror. He glances frantically between Reigen and Teru. “I didn’t mean – H-Hanazawa-kun, he would never – “

“I’m going to die of a heart attack before I even reach thirty,” Reigen moans, pinching the bridge of his nose. A migraine is setting in fast and he feels nauseous. “I’m going to get investigated by the police, the PTA is going to come after my head…”

“I know Reigen would never do anything,” Teru interjects, and Reigen is relieved to see that believes it full-heartedly. “Besides, there’s an easy solution to make sure no one else gets the wrong idea. We can say I’m his nephew, or a younger brother. Or an illegitimate son, maybe – we already look kind of alike, I think people would believe it.”

Teru’s voice doesn’t waver. He sounds confident, easy, like passing himself off as Reigen’s son is the most natural suggestion in the world.

Reigen, on the other hand, is frozen. It would solve a lot of problems, as long as no one looked into the situation too closely. But he’s only twenty-nine, he doesn’t have any siblings, and what if it got back to his parents? What would they do?  Actually, why does he care what they would think?

They would probably have to go the illegitimate son route, if they decide to claim a blood relation. Anything else and his parents would probably go straight to child services and open an investigation, because they’d know Reigen was lying and the introduction of a kid throws what they would see as an unwanted variable into Reigen’s future. Into their plans for Reigen’s future, which they’re still pushing on him even though he’s refused to visit them for over eight years. They would believe him to be irresponsible enough to potentially be a father, though, and his mother is always harping on about his responsibilities. Taking accountability for a kid he supposedly fathered would fall under that, right? He reminds himself to keep this situation as secretive as he can, lest they get any bright ideas on coming to visit. Just the thought of what he’ll have to do to keep them from ruining everything gives him hives.

But the problem with claiming he has a son is anyone who knows Reigen’s age would think he was fourteen when he had a kid, the same age as Teru is now, and that’s… way too young to be a father. Maybe he can start lying about his age, say he’s thirty-two or something, because what’s one more lie in the pile he’s already cultivating? But still – he’ll really be fully, completely committed to this if he starts claiming Teru is genuinely his kid. He’s not sure he’s ready for that.

Mob taps a finger on his chin, studying them intently. “That would work. Your hair is similar – you even have the same eyebrows. And you both have the same flashy mannerisms. I would have believed it, if you told me you two were related.”

“See? It’s the perfect cover,” Teru says. There’s a faint tint of color in his face, though his expression is so tightly schooled that it takes Reigen a moment to identify the barely visible yearning in it.

Oh, hell. There’s no way he can say no now. He’d feel like the biggest asshole in the world if he let down this kid because of his own insecurities. Besides, he’s already pretty much committed at this point. He’s used to playing the long-con game to begin with, so this should be no big deal.

If he keeps telling himself that, maybe he’ll start believing it.

He realizes he’s been silent for a moment too long as Teru’s shoulders drop slightly. “Or not. It wasn’t that great of an idea.”

“No, no, it’s perfect,” Reigen says quickly. “I don’t have any siblings and my parents would call bullsh- I mean, they’d never go along with saying you were my brother, but as long as no one investigates I think we could pull the father-son thing off. Would your school question it?”

Teru’s eyes are wide, almost shining with anticipation. “I doubt they will. They’ve never met my parents and I’ve always dodged the question when they ask. They’d probably be too relieved to finally have an adult contact to care about looking into it.”

That the school hadn’t bothered to investigate further into Teru’s situation in the absence of any adult figures makes Reigen fume silently, but at the same time he’s not too surprised. It’s probably for the best. Sometimes he wonders if some of the kids who slip through the cracks are better off than the ones who don’t anyway.

(He remembers tatami mats crammed ten to a room. Peeling wallpaper held up only by the haphazard patches meant to cover where the plaster had been kicked through. Boys with anger issues and no outlet other than the children smaller than them. He locks those thoughts back down into the tightly sealed safe buried crudely in the corner of things he does not think about.)

“We’ll have to work out a believable story,” he tells Teru.

They are interrupted from the conversation by the door opening and a mass of curly hair peering nervously around the corner.

Serizawa. Reigen had been wondering when he’d arrive.

“You made it,” he says, motioning for the man to step into the room. “Come on in.”

“I-I’m so sorry I’m late,” Serizawa stammers, shoulders hunching over as he carefully shuts the door behind him and moves towards them. “I got lost on my way here.”

“It’s fine. We were just setting the place up anyway.”

“Serizawa-san?” Mob questions.

Serizawa glances at him, recognition setting in almost instantly. His expression brightens slightly, though it’s still mostly overshadowed by nerves. “Kageyama-kun! I wanted to say thank you for the other day.”

Mob’s eyes widen as he stares at Serizawa. “You’re wearing a suit. Are you going to work here?”

“Yeah,” Serizawa says, eyes flicking over to Reigen. His hands twist together, fingers nervously weaving nonsensical patterns before he forces himself to stop. He clasps them together into a white-knuckled grip. “Reigen-san offered me a job after the whole mess with Claw. H-he said I could do some good here… I really want to make up for all I did while I was a part of their organization.”

“You were a part of Claw?” Teru asks. He looks over at Mob, the corners of his mouth quirking up with undisguised fondness and admiration. “Kageyama-kun really is amazing.”

Serizawa’s clutching his hands together so tightly Reigen’s slightly worried his nails are going to break the skin. “Yeah, I-I was. I’m very sorry for the trouble I caused.”

Reigen claps his hands together loudly and Serizawa flinches badly. Whoops. He makes a mental note to not do that again. “Well, this is the perfect place for you! We’re here to make the world a better place, one exorcism at a time!”

“I’ll do my best!” Serizawa cries, giving Reigen a stiff, frantic bow. Well, it’s a start. The man is incredibly twitchy and has a nervous demeanor that’s the complete opposite of Teru’s confident pride, but he’s got a lot of potential and a strong desire to do good.

He’ll fit into their eclectic group just fine.

Reigen studies Serizawa for a moment, giving him a cursory look-over. He has to admit, he likes the curls, but they’re very distinctive. The news hasn’t released any images of Serizawa or stated that the government was searching for him, but that only means so much. Reigen’s been keeping an eye on online forums, too, and it’s a different story there. Released snippets of CCTV footage have been circulating as people debate the truth behind the terrorism attack. He’s watched every single one he can find, looking for any trace of any of the esper kids. So far there have been a couple of extremely blurry shots of Mob, Teru and who he thinks is Ritsu, but anyone other than himself would be hard-pressed to recognize them.

There’s a slightly clearer from-behind video of Serizawa out there. He’s dressed in those weird, baggy orange clothes and using what almost looks like an umbrella as a weapon to blow away a group of people. Reigen thinks he must be wrong about the umbrella thing because that’s a very odd choice for an attack, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that easily-recognizable mop of curls. It has to go.

Reigen’s under no illusions that it would stop anyone truly determined to find the man, especially if it’s the government – Serizawa is still using his real name, after all – but it should help prevent any chance identifications on the street.

“Mob, could you make us some tea? Teru, you can help me out,” Reigen says, digging through a box for his scissors and spare razor. They’ll get rid of that two-day stubble while they’re at it, too. “We’re going to give Serizawa a makeover.”

Teru’s eyes gleam way too excitedly as he clutches that razor. Reigen is worried he’s going to regret this.

 

--

 

Reigen’s worries are unfounded. It turns out really nicely.

Too nicely.

Oh no, he’s hot, Reigen thinks wryly. Losing the stubble has made a huge, positive difference. The wooden panic in Serizawa’s expression dampens the effect a bit, though.

He doesn’t let himself dwell on it for more than a couple seconds. The last thing he needs right now is to start pining after a guy who desperately needs to find his own self-identity before ever moving beyond anything but friendship with anyone. Not to mention, Reigen is his boss. Yeah, it’s an all-around bad idea to even entertain the possibility.

“He looks so different,” Mob observes. It’s true. Serizawa looks like a completely different person without the stubble or wild hair.

Teru beams. “It looks great! The curly hair was cool – awfully tangled, though – but the shorter style really helps bring out his features. Add some colorful accessories to the suit and it’d be perfect.”

Reigen doubts Serizawa wants to walk around with a neon tie. Then again, it could be a lesson in confidence if he wore something that eye-catching, or on asserting himself if he refuses. Reigen can already see Teru making mental plans over clothing. Well, as long as they don’t all start showing up in pajamas or cheddar-orange suits, they can wear whatever they want. He’s not strict on a dress-code.

“Good work, Teru,” Reigen says, even though he only let Teru do the shaving, not quite trusting an overzealous fourteen-year-old with the haircut. Teru is practically glowing with pride. “I think our client is due to arrive soon. Could you and Mob go make sure the sign is properly visible and clear the hall of empty boxes? I want it to look as nice as it can for them.”

“Sure thing,” Teru says. Mob gives Reigen a look like he knows Reigen just wants them out of the room, but he doesn’t say anything about it. The door closes behind them.

“Serizawa,” Reigen starts. Serizawa gives him his full attention, hands clasping his knees tightly. “Do you know why I had you change your appearance entirely?”

“To look more like a proper businessman?” Serizawa guesses.

“Well, that too,” Reigen says. “But that’s not what I’m getting at. Has anyone from the government or police come to talk to you about what happened?”

“I saw Joseph-san when he was arresting Suzuki-shacho, b-but he didn’t really say anything to me,” Serizawa says, his eyes widening as he catches on to what Reigen is implying. “No one’s come to find me since then. But my address is still listed as my mother’s… and I’m staying with Minegishi right now, s-so it might just be that they don’t know where to find me.”

“At least they didn’t arrest you right off the bat,” Reigen mutters, tapping his fingers on the edge of his desk. “That’s a good sign. But even if they aren’t interested in pursuing you, there’s the public to keep in mind. Serizawa, I’m not going to lie to you – you’re in a precarious situation. There’s at least one video on the internet of you working on Claw’s side. Some people who aren’t buying into the whole ‘Suzuki was just a delusional terrorist’ rhetoric are trying to identify you. If they do, and there’s enough public outrage, it could lead to you getting arrested even if the police weren’t originally interested in pressing charges against you.”

Serizawa wilts, expression dimming with resignation. “I wouldn’t fight it. Even if I was being manipulated, I allowed myself to be. I turned a blind eye to a lot of things that were wrong. I deserve to be put in prison.”

“Well, I think you can do a lot more good out here than sitting behind bars,” Reigen says, clapping a hand onto Serizawa’s shoulder. Serizawa flinches again and Reigen removes his hand guiltily, but powers through what he wants to say before the boys get back. “I’m telling you all this as a warning more than anything, to be careful what you say. People hate Claw for what they did to them, and you’ll do nothing but make yourself into a target if people find out you were a part of that organization. From here on out, try to avoid mentioning Claw or Suzuki Toichirou to anyone other than us, or other reformed members of Claw. If people find out I knowingly hired a former Claw member it’ll probably destroy my business, so keep that in mind too.”

Maybe Reigen shouldn’t have said that last part, but it’s true – he is taking a massive risk in hiring Serizawa. He’d already been through the cycle of a media scandal and undergoing another one would almost definitely result in the ruin of Spirits & Such. He wouldn’t have taken the chance on any of the other former Claw members. Mob’s trust in Serizawa is really the only reason Reigen is even giving it a shot. It was also an impulse offer, unsurprisingly. Hopefully not one he’ll regret.

“I understand,” Serizawa says. Surprisingly, most of the nervousness that has been plaguing his mannerisms since he entered the office has vanished. His mouth is set in a determined line. “I won’t let you down, Reigen-san.”

“Do it for yourself, not for me,” Reigen says. “You’re getting a second chance, so take it and make a positive impact on the world.”

Serizawa offers Reigen a small grin, the first Reigen’s ever seen from the man. “I can see why Kageyama-kun and your son look up to you so much. You’re a good man.”

Reigen, who is just taking a sip of his tea, sputters, coughing harshly as tea goes down the wrong pipe. “Sorry, I swallowed wrong,” he chokes out, quickly moving to clean up the droplets now spattered over his desk.

He doesn’t correct Serizawa’s assumption.

Chapter Text

It’s been two weeks since Teru started living with Reigen. Teru has been nothing but a model teenager since then.  

Reigen doesn’t trust it.

He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the longer it takes the more he dreads the inevitable. There’s no way Teru is a healthily adjusted kid, not completely. There are going to be issues. Conflicts. Difficult situations. Reigen has been expecting to deal with problems ever since finding out the truth about Teru’s parents – it’s just a matter of time before they come out.

Reigen scrolls through dozens of parenting blogs and scans advice forums so quickly he only absorbs half the information. He hides in the corner of a bookstore and reads as much of a parenting book as he can before they kick him out for staying too long without buying anything.

He does his best to tamp down on the panic that he’s going to completely fuck this up. At least he isn’t abandoning the kid, he reasons, even if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. That has to count for something, right?

 

--

 

Reigen is sifting through apartment listings when official reports on school reopenings are released. Most of them are looking to start up within the next week or two, most of the more significant repair-work having finally been completed. Salt Mid is scheduled to reopen in two days; apart from some broken windows and a lot of debris littering the lawn, it had escaped most of the damage so many other buildings had been subject to.

Teru’s school was one of the buildings wrecked in the Claw attack. It’s one of almost thirty schools that have either been completely destroyed or damaged enough to be permanently closed. Over seventy others need repairs. Considering Mob and Suzuki had been hurling buildings at each other all over the downtown district, Reigen supposes they’re lucky the number isn’t higher.

“It’s far enough away from downtown that I thought it’d be okay,” Teru admits. Today’s outfit consists of a bright yellow shirt, a blue gradient sweatshirt and light-wash pants (how Teru fits this much clothing variety in one tiny dresser drawer is beyond Reigen’s understanding). He’s curled into the corner of the couch that has basically become ‘his spot,’ feet tucked under himself as he studies the report on his phone. “But they’re saying the foundation of the school was already in bad shape, so the earthquakes from the explosions were enough to get it condemned.”

Reigen tightens his jaw. What kind of school had Teru been going to, for it to have been in such bad condition before the attack? “It’s probably for the best it’s being torn down. They should have done it sooner, if it was a hazard.”

For some reason Teru gets a faintly guilty look in his face at that. “They. Uh. I don’t think they knew it was damaged.”

Reigen gives him an incredulous look. “Unless they’ve been skipping all the safety tests they’re supposed to be doing, they should have known about it a long time ago. How could they just not notice the foundation of the school was deteriorating?”

“Did Kageyama-kun not tell you what happened during our fight?” Teru questions, his fingers absently touching his hair. His eyes stay glued to his phone.

Reigen frowns, not sure he wants to know. “I think you mentioned something about it the other day, but no, I didn’t even know you guys had a fight.”

“It was pretty one-sided on my part,” Teru says. “I used to believe my psychic powers made me special, like I was above everyone else. So I tried to prove I was better than Kageyama-kun when I found out he was an esper like me, and my school got destroyed in the process. He put it back together afterwards but it was never quite the same.”

Oh. Oh. Mob had told Reigen about this fight, though he’d had no idea Teru was the boy who’d attacked him. If nothing else it explained how they got to know each other.

Reigen studies Teru’s hair. Didn’t Mob say he’d shaved that off in self-defense (though how that happened in self-defense he never quite understood)? It grew back impressively quickly. Or maybe this was the remnants of that haystack-style wig Teru had been wearing the first time Reigen saw him.

He decides he’s most likely better off not knowing.  

“Well, at least now they know about the damage,” Reigen muses. “Have they let you know what you’re supposed to do about your education? Are you being relocated to another school?”

“Looks like it,” Teru says. “I think they’re splitting us by class between different schools. I’m in class 2-B, so I’m going to…” He suddenly sits up straight, his eyes lighting up with one of his brilliant smiles. “Reigen! My class is going to Salt Mid!”

“Really?” That’s a really lucky coincidence, but not altogether a surprise. Reigen has a feeling most of the nearby schools are going to be very overloaded for the foreseeable future.

“Yeah! I won’t be in the same classes as Kageyama-kun or Little Bro or anything – I’m still technically a Black Vinegar student – but we’ll be in the same building! Maybe we can get lunch together sometimes. Oh! I could even walk him home from school! I have to text him and tell him!”

Reigen can’t help but grin as well, Teru’s happiness contagious.

Then he remembers he might have to put in his first “official” appearance as Teru’s pseudo-dad and he starts sweating nervously.

What does a father even act like? He doesn’t want to model his own – that wouldn’t go well – and he doesn’t really have any other good examples to work off of. Maybe he could try to mimic Mr. Kageyama. Reigen barely knows him, but it’s better than nothing.

Maybe he should talk with Teru about it. Even if he’s pretending to be Teru’s dad, he needs to make sure he doesn’t overstep boundaries. They need to come up with a decent cover story, too, because he doesn’t want to pique the school’s suspicions if he and Teru aren’t on the same page.

And Reigen still hasn’t told Serizawa that no, he’s not actually Teru’s father. It’s not something he can just keep a secret forever, especially not with someone he’s expecting to be working closely with for an extended period of time, but he has no idea how to breach the subject now that the initial moment has passed. He doesn’t want to lie to Serizawa. The guy’s had enough of that in his life already.

Reigen might be a fraud, but he still wants to be someone Serizawa feels he can trust.

...How he’s going to make that oxymoron work in practice is still a work in progress.

 

--

 

Later that night, after another exorcism job-slash-massage session, they’re settling onto Reigen’s couch to eat a late dinner. As Reigen divides their udon takeout into two portions, Teru asks a question that most people would find innocuous.

“What are your parents like?”

He looks genuinely curious. Reigen bites the inside of his cheek to keep his reflexive scoff from escaping, realizing after a moment that his hands have frozen over the bowls. It’s no more than a momentary hesitation before he’s handing Teru one of the bowls. He should have known this question was coming eventually.

He doesn’t want to answer. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He hasn’t mentioned his parents to anyone since Mob’s similarly curious query a few years ago.

Reigen tells Teru the same thing he’d said to Mob back then, forcing his voice into as casual a tone as he can manage. “My parents and I don’t really get along.”

That had been enough for Mob. He hadn’t pushed Reigen for the details and had never brought the subject up again, though Reigen has a feeling it wasn’t for a lack of interest. Teru doesn’t have the same sense of reservation. “Why not?”

Reigen opens his mouth to give Teru a half-assed answer, because the last thing he wants to get into is that part of his past. We don’t see eye-to-eye. Or he could say sometimes people just don’t get along. Or the classic we just had a difference of opinion. But something in Teru’s eyes stops him. This isn’t just the questioning of an overly curious teenager. He isn’t asking just for the hell of it.

This is about Teru’s parents.

Reigen doesn’t know exactly what Teru is looking for. He’s not sure if Teru’s hoping for an example of a healthy parent-son relationship to compare his own to or searching for some sort of camaraderie over having shitty parents. All those parenting guides were no help at all, not for situations like this.

Okay, so blowing Teru off isn’t the right solution. He takes a bite of udon he can barely taste to give himself a few seconds to decide how to respond. What the hell should Reigen say? The last time Teru had asked a serious question like this Reigen had completely blown it, so badly that Teru had decided finding a hotel room was a better choice than staying with him.

“Who do you talk to?”

Reigen doesn’t talk to anyone. Not when it comes to his personal issues and past. Yet he’d told Teru to do the opposite.

“Why are you giving me advice that you don’t follow yourself?”

Teru is perceptive. He’ll notice if Reigen dodges the question and most likely do it with his own past in turn, because why would he trust Reigen with his own issues if Reigen is completely unwilling to give anything in return?

“I don’t think they ever truly wanted kids,” he says slowly, haltingly. The noodles are like ash in his mouth. His fingers drum restlessly against the bowl before he sets it on his coffee table, appetite gone. “They liked the idea of one better than the reality. The chance to have a legacy, someone to pass on the family name, you know?” Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best wording, because it’s doubtful Teru knows anything about that. It seems like his parents were more interested in completely forgetting they ever had a child and severing any ties they could. “And I didn’t make it easy for them. I was what you’d call a problem child.” There’s a lot more to it. So much more Reigen is leaving out.

Teru’s piercing stare finally breaks away at that. He picks at his udon, seeming to have lost his appetite as well. “…So was I. A problem child, I mean. They never said it out loud, but I caused a lot of issues. They were right to leave.”

It’s like a freezing sword has just been stabbed into Reigen’s chest. He’s fucked this up again. He’s just gone and reinforced the belief that Teru was responsible for being abandoned.

Why did he ever think he could do this? He doesn’t know how to help Teru, how to be a proper adult figure in his life. Reigen is the least qualified guy for this.

“Don’t say stuff like that,” Reigen snaps, more harshly than he’d meant to. Teru’s eyebrows pinch together and his mouth flattens into a thin line, a mulish look in his eyes. Reigen powers through before the situation can devolve further, desperate not to completely flub this. “That’s not what I meant at all. Even if you were a difficult kid – which I doubt, by the way – it’s never okay for parents to just leave, no matter what reason they give for it. How old were you? Twelve? Thirteen?”

“Ten,” Teru supplies quietly.

“Ten years old.” Christ. Reigen feels sick. Teru’s been living alone for four years? “Please tell me you understand that’s not normal.”

I’m not normal,” Teru argues. His shoulders are stiff with defiant resolution, probably desperate to cling onto what’s left of the tattered remains of his trust in his parents. Reigen recognizes it because he’s seen the same thing in himself. “Claw’s been pursuing me for years. It was too dangerous for them to stay. Mom almost died because of them!”

“And that’s terrible, I’m not saying otherwise. But it’s the parent’s job to protect their kids, not leave them to face a criminal organization alone,” Reigen retorts, his voice raising slightly against his will as he gestures wildly. This is touching too close to things Reigen has studiously avoided for as long as he can remember. “It doesn’t matter that Claw was after you. They failed the most important part of being a parent, and that’s doing everything they can to keep you safe. They could have taken you with them.”

“I did fine on my own. I can take care of myself, I don’t need their help. Or yours. Why are you so stuck on this? Why do you care so much about it?”

“Because no one helped me when my parents failed me, and I couldn’t live with myself if I did the same thing to you.” It bursts out before Reigen thinks to filter his words. That was… way more candid than he’d meant for it to be. Teru looks stricken, the defensiveness seeping out of his posture and being replaced by guilt.

“What do you mean?” asks Teru in a small voice. “Did your parents… did they abandon you?” The ‘too’ is left unsaid but hangs heavily in the air.

Reigen lets out a deep sigh, fingers drumming along the arm of the couch. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He really doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants to be anywhere but in this room, sitting on his dingy couch with a kid that reminds him way too much of himself.

But this isn’t about himself, not really. Not anymore. Teru doesn’t want to accept that what his parents did was wrong, and he’s not going to listen to just anyone if they say otherwise. Not without a good reason. It’s not surprising – that faith in his parents’ intentions might be all that’s been getting him through the lonely years with no one else to rely on but himself.

“Not like yours,” Reigen says finally, reluctantly. “They just. Uh. They weren’t good parents, to put it simply. I was left on my own a lot. A few times they dropped me off at a child guidance center for a couple months at a time to try to get me to shape up. They’re… they’re not nice places. That’s why I didn’t want to report your living situation.”

‘Not nice places’ is an understatement. They’re prisons under a friendly-sounding name, masquerading as centers for child protection yet being little better – or even worse – than the homes kids come from. Restricted from leaving the building for anything at all, even school. Crammed tightly together in dingy rooms with no privacy whatsoever, curtains permanently drawn with no natural light getting through. Severe punishment for breaking any of their rules. No eye contact. No talking to each other.

They’re hells disguised as safe havens.

But Teru doesn’t need to know about all that. It wouldn’t do anything but scare him, even disregarding how little Reigen wants to delve into those details in the first place. He’s determined not to ever let Teru find out what those centers are like, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure Teru never has to experience it firsthand.

“Like… juvenile detention?” Teru doesn’t seem to quite know what to think about that.

“Pretty much,” Reigen admits. He waits for the follow-up question he knows is coming.

“What did… what did you do?” And there it is. Teru looks guilty just for asking.

“Talking back, lying, stuff like that. The third time was for smoking.” And for getting involved with another boy, but Reigen isn’t about to say that much. He doesn’t tell Teru that he’d only been eight the first time they sent him to the CGC. “They weren’t physically abusive or anything. I think they just didn’t want to deal with me.”

The room is silent, oppressive like cigarette smoke. Reigen regrets saying anything at all. Maybe he should have lied. He’d probably said too much, even if he’d tried to keep the explanation as bare-bones as he could.

“I’m sorry for pushing,” Teru says quietly.

Reigen waves his hand dismissively, keeping his expression as neutral as he can to make it less obvious how much talking about this subject bothers him. “I didn’t tell you about it to make you feel bad. It’s more… to put things into perspective, I guess. What my parents did was wrong. What your parents did was even more wrong. It’s really messed up to leave a ten-year-old completely alone, even a responsible one like you. And yeah, you’ve done a great job at taking care of yourself. Most kids wouldn’t have handled it as well as you have.

“But that doesn’t make it okay that your parents left, Teru. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have problems because of it, and that’s okay. It’s normal. My situation was different than yours is, but it took me a long time to feel all right afterwards. And. Uh. If you’re okay with it I want to be able to help you work towards feeling all right, too.” Reigen’s rambling at this point, but Teru’s still listening and he needs to get this right, he can’t screw this up again – “I’m just trying to say I’m here if you ever need to talk about it or vent. We could find a gym if you want to work out any anger – wait, your psychic powers might destroy the equipment, that stuff’s expensive, maybe we could find a clearing in a forest or something instead – and it doesn’t have to be me you talk to, I’m not trying to pressure you, but I’d be happy to listen if you do want to talk – “

“Reigen,” Teru interrupts, and Reigen’s mouth snaps shut. Teru is smiling slightly, though he’s not looking at Reigen so it’s hard to fully interpret whether it’s a happy or sad one. Maybe it’s both. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Reigen says instinctively, even if he hopes he never has to touch on his past again. Once in a decade is more than enough.

All right, that’s enough of that. The nightmares are going to be bad enough tonight already without digging even further into old wounds. He wants a cigarette so badly his hands are trembling. A stiff drink would work too, but he has a feeling that he wouldn’t stop at just one and he can’t afford to be that irresponsible anymore. He nudges his still-full bowl of udon further away from himself with his foot, noting Teru’s equally uneaten portion, and claps his hands with as much enthusiasm as he can muster. “Okay! I want dango. This night calls for dango and green tea. Sound good to you?”

“It’s already past nine at night,” Teru says, though the corners of his mouth are twitching up in mirth. Some of the stifling melancholy in the air starts clearing out.

“I’ll have you know, I am a connoisseur of late-night restaurants,” Reigen says, gesturing grandly at himself. “In fact, there’s a great one just two blocks east of here. It’d be fun! What do you say?”

“I guess we can.” Teru smiles a little wider. It doesn’t hold a candle to the dazzling smiles he normally flaunts, but it eases something in Reigen’s chest anyway. “You’ll probably eat too many and get sick if I’m not there to stop you, so I don’t have much of a choice.”

Reigen gasps in mock outrage. “I take offense to that! When have I ever done that?”

“Yesterday, when that ramen shop offered us all-you-can-eat as a thank you?”

“It’s a waste to pass up free food,” Reigen says sagely.

Teru laughs, and Reigen takes it as a sign that he didn’t completely screw up their conversation. It’s hard to tell if he’s gotten through to the kid yet or at least made him reconsider the severity of his parents’ actions, but it’s a start.

Chapter Text

Reigen likes to think he’s good at facing danger head-on. Half his business model relies on him staying cool and collected regardless of what’s happening around him. Years of working around Mob and a wide assortment of evil spirits has desensitized him to most of it anyway.

All the confidence he’d managed to muster has melted away by the time he and Teru reach the front gates of Salt Mid.

The weather is surprisingly warm considering it’s late November. Both he and Teru only need to wear light jackets – Teru’s is an unsurprisingly attention-grabbing yellow – and if anyone asked Reigen, he’d claim his hesitance is because he’s enjoying the sun.

In reality, Salt Mid has morphed from the nondescript location of Mob’s education to a daunting fortress Reigen has no interest in entering.

He chances a quick glance at Teru. The kid looks completely at ease, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s hard to tell if it’s genuine or one of the masks he’s so exceptionally good at using. Either way, he looks almost excited to be here. Probably thinking about Mob rather than the situation at hand, if Reigen were to hazard a guess.

Himself, on the other hand? He’s fucking terrified.

Students and their parents are milling all around them, all here for the same reason Reigen and Teru are: registration. The chaos Claw left in its wake has turned everything on its head, with schools uncertain of what students will be returning or relocating to other parts of the country, and to get an accurate count of attendance all students and their guardians are required to visit their schools. There’s paperwork to finalize, procedures to run through, the whole gamut.  

Most of the parents around them are at least a decade older than him. They’re walking with their children confidently, none of them hesitating as they move from one location to the next. Many hold neat binders with all the required documents carefully arranged inside. Reigen clutches his little sheaf of hastily-gathered paperwork in his hand, wishing he’d had the foresight to at least put them in a briefcase. He stands in front of the gates and feels like an imposter.

Reigen straightens his tie, letting out a breath he hadn’t meant to hold. He and Teru have gone through this. They’ve rehearsed their story to make sure they’re on the same page. Everything will be fine.

He lets the mask of brazen self-confidence fall over him as he finally forces himself forward and into the school. He’s pulled off bigger cons than this before. This is nothing. It should be nothing.

It doesn’t feel like nothing.

It’s simple in theory, really; with the continued disarray caused by the Claw attack, it’s somewhat doubtful anyone will be interested in digging into his or Teru’s life if there don’t appear to be any problems worth investigating. Teru has been living on his own for over four years without any serious problems from the school system and that’s unlikely to change, especially with circumstances being what they are. They’ll probably just be relieved to have someone reachable on file.

But at the same time, this is putting his connection to Teru on paper. Backing out won’t really be an option anymore, not in the same way. This is way more permanent than anything else he’s done so far.

Reigen doesn’t feel ready. He’d never intended to have kids, and even if Teru isn’t technically his the distinguishing line is starting to blur, one little smudge at a time. It’s barely been three weeks and the years of coming home to a dark, empty apartment are already fading into the past. The comforting presence of another human being is becoming his new normal.

And he doesn’t want to lose that. Reigen has lived with a gaping hole of loneliness for as long as he can remember. He’s dealt with it by going to bars and drinking too much. By having one-night-stands with strangers whose names he can’t remember. The longest relationship he’s ever been in lasted less than six months before his boyfriend had ended it, complaining Reigen had been too impersonal and too fake.

He couldn’t argue with that. He’d been surprised his ex stayed with him that long to begin with. When Reigen is drunk enough to step back and take a more impartial look at himself he doesn’t like what he sees, either.

His friendships have been just as infrequent. Before Spirits & Such, before Mob, Reigen wouldn’t have been able to name anyone he considered a genuine friend. Mob had changed that. He knows some people would find their friendship strange considering the 15-year age gap, but Reigen is thankful for every moment he’s gotten to spend with the kid.

He wishes he could work up the nerve to actually tell Mob as much. There’s so much he wishes he could say. Yet every time he tries his voice locks up, the words trapped in his throat and choking him in a stranglehold of anxiety. Would Mob understand? Would he even care? Reigen likes to think so. He prefers to believe it’s his own deep-seated insecurities that keep him from being sure.

And now there’s Teru. He’s gone from knowing almost nothing about Mob’s friend to moving into a new apartment with him in less than a month. Reigen has essentially taken over all the day-to-day responsibilities for Teru’s wellbeing, though the kid’s self-sufficient enough to need very little actual caretaking.

It’s similar to and also completely different from the relationship he has with his first student. In some ways it feels like he’s taken on a new protégé, duping him into offering almost free labor in exchange for Reigen’s on-the-spot “wisdom.” Yet he hadn’t realized just how different it would be just because he knows it’s not the same. Every night Mob goes home to two loving parents and a brother, where he receives all the affection he could want. He has an extended support system – one that’s grown significantly over the last year, with the Body Improvement Club and those telepathy club kids.

Teru doesn’t. He claims he has a lot of friends, but he’s only ever contacted Mob to Reigen’s knowledge. Before the Claw attack (and moving in with Reigen afterwards) Teru went home to an empty apartment. No one to help him if he got sick, or teach him the basics like how to cook, how to properly do laundry, that an essential part of keeping a futon in good shape is letting it air in the sun.

It reminds Reigen of himself and he hates it. He hates who he’s become. He hates the parts of himself that have been irreparably twisted and left him divided in half, between who he really is and the hollow caricature of who he wishes he was. He hates that he can already see signs of it in Teru, who’s young enough that he should still be enjoying the carefree nature of youth instead of facing the cold reality of an adult.

Reigen feels like a sack of shit for taking the money Teru insists on giving to him for rent and food. The allowance his parents give him is way, way more than Reigen would have expected and way more than Reigen actually needs to accommodate an extra person. The avarice he felt when he first saw those numbers only makes him feel worse, because he was so close to just taking the money and telling himself it was only fair given what he’s essentially committed himself to.

He’d stared at those bills and clenched trembling hands under the table. Money has always been so tight, a haze of anxiety clinging to his skin as he moves through life, and the temptation of not needing to worry about finances is so, so hard to resist. (He only allowed himself to accept a third, citing Teru’s work at Spirits & Such as being more than enough to cover any additional costs when Teru protested. He’s afraid taking any more will only make things worse for himself.)

“Hanazawa-kun! I’m glad to see you’re okay,” a voice breaks through the fog of Reigen’s mind, and he realizes they’ve arrived at one of the tables set up in the school’s gym. A young man gives them a relieved smile, already shuffling through the papers stacked in front of him. Teru is a steady presence at his side and takes the lead when Reigen doesn’t answer quickly enough.

“You too, Hashimoto-sensei,” Teru says, grinning.  

 The man turns to Reigen. “I’m Hanazawa-kun’s homeroom teacher, Hashimoto Takuya,” the man says, nodding his head in greeting. He doesn’t actually look all that happy to see Reigen, though his displeasure is mostly hidden behind the standard polite smile. “It is very nice to finally make your acquaintance, Hanazawa-san.”

“It’s Reigen, actually,” Reigen says, giving Hashimoto a short bow – the last thing he needs is a slighted teacher deciding to poke his head where he shouldn’t – before his hand flies up to point at himself with a bright, disarming smile. “Reigen Arataka. Good to meet you. Teru tells me a lot of good things about you.” Teru has never once mentioned his teacher. Reigen is confident he can bullshit his way through it if Hashimoto asks for any specifics.  

Hashimoto’s forehead creases as he looks between Reigen and Teru. “You don’t share a surname?”

“Hanazawa is his mother’s family name,” Reigen says. He drapes an arm around Teru, who leans into the half-hug easily like they’ve done this a hundred times instead of only once. “I’m his father, but work kept me out of the picture until recently. Due to the Claw attack, Teru’s mother is…” His voice catches like he just can’t bear to say the words. His eyes drop to the ground before he takes a deep breath, visibly steeling himself. “She’s unable to take care of him any longer. Sorry, it’s still so hard to believe, I saw her just the other day and now…” He clears his throat. “So, anyway, he’s staying with me from now on. It’s a painful situation, so I’m sure you’ll understand my hesitance to get into the details.”

Teru’s quick on the uptake, staring melancholically into the distance as he wraps his arms around himself as if he’s being overcome with grief. He even adds a little lip wobble. Reigen’s so damn proud of him.

Hashimoto visibly falters. If he’d planned to interrogate Reigen on the unusual situation he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable doing so anymore. “I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I had no idea.”

Reigen wipes away an imaginary tear. “Thank you. So, do I just sign some papers and we’re good to go? I don’t want to hold you from your work.”  

“I’d like to schedule a meeting with you as well,” Hashimoto says quickly. “Since we haven’t been able to speak with or even contact Hanazawa-kun’s guardians in the past. Preferably one as soon as possible.”

“Of course, of course,” Reigen says vaguely, even as he grimaces internally. He’d hoped to make a quick enough escape that no one would have time to think of asking for a parent-teacher conference.

Well, it doesn’t matter that much in the end. They’ll probably just talk about Teru’s grades for a bit and passive-aggressively warn Reigen to actually answer their calls in the future. No big deal.

The paperwork is as boring as Reigen expected it to be. At least they’re out of there quickly without any further questioning, though he now has a parent-teacher conference scheduled for next week he’s already dreading, especially on top of all the packing and cleaning they need to do.

 

--

 

Reigen is going to miss his apartment. He’s a little surprised by the sudden wave of sentimentality he feels as he surveys the room, a pile of boxes taking up the center where he and Teru have been packing his minimal possessions away in preparation.

They’re finally moving. Reigen’s landlord has been surprisingly unbothered with breaking the lease early, waiving any associated fees. Reigen has a feeling it’s less to do with kindness and more to do with the opportunity to make a profit from the spiking rental market prices.

 Their new apartment had been an even luckier find, even if most others wouldn’t think so. Apparently all the previous occupants have been driven out by the apartment’s resident spirit, leaving the owner desperate to find new tenants and offering a significant discount for anyone willing to give the place a chance.

Reigen hasn’t told the landlord about his psychic business. He doesn’t want the rent to go up, after all, and there’s no doubt it will if he tells them they’ve exorcised the spirit.

“I’m finished cleaning the kitchenette,” Teru says, dropping the cleaning solution onto the counter with a relieved grin. It took him less time than Reigen had expected, but he supposes it’s thanks to Teru’s neat streak keeping the place in much better shape than Reigen alone had.

Reigen gives it a quick once-over – he trusts Teru to do a good job, but his security deposit is on the line and he’s not going to risk it – before nodding in satisfaction.

“I think that’s about it aside from the main room, then,” Reigen says. He checks his watch. “The moving company should be here any minute. I got the cheap service, so we’ll have to help the driver load the truck, but it should be easy enough.”

There’s a light in Teru’s eyes that’s been getting brighter the closer they are to officially moving out. At first Reigen thought it was the anticipation of having a space of his own again instead of a futon shoved into the corner of the living room. That’s certainly part of it – Teru said as much when Reigen asked, though he hasn’t complained at all about it – but the more Reigen thinks about it the more he wonders if Teru’s starting to realize that this is real. This is long-term, not just a short break from living alone. Reigen’s still wrapping his own mind around it.

There’s a knock at the front door, and it swings open without prompting. It’s Mob, somewhat surprisingly.

“Sorry for the intrusion,” Mob says, and Reigen perks up instantly. He’d mentioned their plans to move to him a few days ago, but he hadn’t really thought Mob would show up.

Mob’s appearances at Spirits & Such are starting to decrease, which is… to be expected. Both Serizawa and Teru are typically already there to help, after all, so he doesn’t strictly need Mob like he used to anymore. Still, he’s already starting to miss the boy’s steady, quiet presence.

“Mob! Thanks for coming,” Reigen says. Then he blinks in surprise as Ritsu follows his brother into the room, Dimple trailing after them. “Ritsu too? This is a surprise. What’s the occasion?”

Ritsu scoffs. “This is payment for when you let us stay in your apartment back then. I hate being in your debt.”

“I still say you should have left him to do it himself,” Dimple snorts, surveying Reigen’s apartment with undisguised distaste.

Reigen rolls his eyes. Ritsu doesn’t owe him anything, but he doesn’t refute Ritsu’s statement – knowing him, he’d just leave and Reigen is hardly going to turn away free labor. “Well, thanks for the help anyway.”

“Yeah! Thanks for the help, little bro,” Teru says as he leans his elbow on Mob’s shoulder.

“Don’t call me that,” Ritsu grumbles, but he seems more resigned than anything. He’s eyeing Teru like he normally eyes Reigen, like he’s just waiting for a reason to get angry on Mob’s behalf.

Reigen sighs and hopes the moving company arrives soon.

 

--

 

“Here, take this – oi, Mob, don’t jostle it! You’re going to break something!”

“Sorry, shishou,” Mob says, readjusting his hold on the box. His arms strain slightly at the weight. Teru laughs, not unkindly, before raising his hand and letting his kaleidoscopic aura envelope several of the boxes, including the one in Mob’s arms. They lift into the air like they don’t weigh a thing.

The truck driver is staring at the boxes now floating in midair. Reigen moves a little closer to the poor guy in case he passes out, because he’s not looking too good anymore.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” Teru tells Mob, grinning brightly. There’s a dusting of red over his face. Mob just stares at the box he’d been holding, not looking entirely impressed.

“You don’t need to do that, I could have carried it myself,” Mob says.

“Sure, but this is easier. Come on, let’s get these downstairs.” Teru struts out the door without a care in the world, Mob reluctantly trailing after him. The truck driver just gapes as all the boxes neatly follow the pair out of the apartment. Reigen claps a hand on the man’s shoulder to snap him out of his stupor.

“You should probably go make sure they get everything into the truck properly,” Reigen says.

The man blinks rapidly, glancing between the door and the now-empty room. “R-right,” he says dazedly, and Reigen, Ritsu and Dimple watch the driver leave.

“Should I possess him so this goes faster?” Dimple suggests. Reigen can never tell if he’s joking or not.  

“God, no,” Reigen says. “This is the cheapest moving company in Seasoning City. Don’t go ruining my reputation with them. Besides, you’d probably crash the truck and kill us all.”

Dimple scoffs. “You never let me have any fun.”

“Your idea of fun is pretty skewed.”

“Whatever. Shigeo and Teruki are way more entertaining than you two anyway. Have fun cleaning up.” Dimple gives Reigen the middle finger as he phases through the wall, leaving Reigen and Ritsu alone.

Just what Reigen dreaded. Ritsu isn’t even trying to hide his annoyance. Reigen heaves a sigh and grabs the cleaner and clean rags off the counter, tossing one to Ritsu. “We’ve already cleaned the rest of the place, so all we have left is the floor.”

“All right,” Ritsu says in an uncharacteristically civil tone (compared to how he normally sounds when he talks to Reigen, at least). Reigen had half-expected Ritsu to just leave and join the others, so his easy compliance is a pleasant surprise.

They clean in silence. Ritsu works meticulously, every corner carefully scoured for any stray bits of dirt or dust. He’s almost as thorough as Teru. Reigen is struck by just how little he actually knows about Mob’s little brother. Almost all his knowledge comes from Mob, and Mob’s descriptions of Ritsu have usually been completely at odds with what Reigen has witnessed.  

He’s a hard worker, though, that much is clearly true. The younger Kageyama may not like Reigen, but he’s not using that as an excuse to do a half-hearted job even when he doesn’t gain anything from it. And Reigen isn’t even going to start on Ritsu’s loyalty. That bit’s obvious even without Mob’s input.

Reigen is tempted to talk to fill the silence, but Ritsu beats him to it. “Why did you let Teru-san stay with you?”

Reigen raises his eyebrows, pausing mid-swipe. “Teru’s apartment was destroyed, for starters. His parents live overseas, too, and what kind of person would I be if I let a middle-schooler live all on his own? It was the right thing to do.”

“Since when have you ever cared about doing the right thing?” Ritsu presses.

Reigen waves a hand in a display of mock hurt, though secretly he is just a little offended. The movement accidentally sends a spray of water droplets in an arc on the wall. “I always care! Why did you even bother asking if you think you already know the answer, anyway?”

Ritsu purses his lips, scrubbing the floor harder in lieu of actually looking at Reigen. “It just doesn’t make sense. You could have called child services if you were that concerned.”

“I’m not calling child services,” Reigen says, his voice cold. There’s something pressing on his chest and making it hard to breathe all of a sudden. He needs Ritsu to understand. “Don’t you dare call them, either. Even if you think it’s the right thing to do, it’s not. It’ll only hurt Teru in the end.”

Ritsu’s head snaps towards Reigen, eyes widening. He doesn’t speak for a few seconds, just examines Reigen like he’s looking for something. “I wasn’t going to. Even if I don’t like you, as long as he’s happy then it’s not really any of my business. I was just curious.”

Deep breath. In, out. “Good. Teru’s a good kid. I like his company. I like all of your company, for that matter.”

“Yeah, right. What kind of middle-aged man likes hanging out with middle schoolers?”

“Oi, I’m not middle-aged!” Reigen flails his arm defensively, sending another spray of water towards Ritsu. “I’m not even thirty, brat! Show some respect!”

“When you’ve earned it, I will,” Ritsu says, grimacing as he makes a show of wiping off the water droplets. “I’ll admit that you’re not a total piece of trash. Whenever you raise my brother’s pay to a reasonable amount I’ll even stop calling you an old man. You’re still a fraud, though.”

Somehow Reigen doesn’t mind the insult all that much, at least not this time. Ritsu’s right back to his normal insulting banter, and it’s strangely comforting after the tense moment they’d just shared.

They’re still bickering when Mob comes back and reports that the driver passed out behind the truck. Reigen has a feeling he’s going to be blacklisted from that company after today.

Chapter Text

The new apartment is in a decent location. Not great, but Reigen can walk to his office and Salt Mid is a short subway ride away so it’s manageable. The building is older, two stories tall, made of wood and a far cry from Teru’s previous modern concrete studio. It’s still a tight fit, but all four of them can move around comfortably rather than practically tripping over each other. The windows and balcony overlook an alley and will need curtains if they want any modicum of privacy. But it has two bedrooms, no rust on the fixtures and a functioning oven. And at least one evil spirit.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a disembodied voice whispers as they’re bringing in the last of the boxes, which Mob had insisted they all carry in normally to spare the truck driver any further trauma. “I’ll put a curse on you –“

It’s hard to tell which of the kids is the one who exorcises it in the end, because the spirit hasn’t even finished his sentence before all three raise their hands with matching unimpressed expressions, and psychic power explodes in a wash of different colors and patterns.

“I guess that takes care of that,” Reigen comments as he sets his box onto the kitchen counter. They have a real kitchen now instead of the fridge and microwave masquerading as one in his last apartment. Does Teru know how to cook? Reigen’s a bit rusty, he hasn’t needed to in years, but maybe that’s something they could work on together later.  

“Why was there a spirit in your new apartment?” Mob questions.

“I got a good deal on it,” Reigen says.

Ritsu rolls his eyes. “Of course you did.”  

“The vintage architecture is so cool,” Teru says, slinging an arm around Mob’s shoulders and almost making him drop his box with the jostling. Reigen’s not sure he’d call the place vintage, but it’s one way of putting it.

“It’s bigger than the last place, at least,” Reigen says. “I’m sure it’ll be nice to have some space of your own again.”

Teru’s smile is blindingly bright. His arm is still wrapped around Mob as he leans into Reigen’s side, like he’s been doing more and more frequently ever since they’d gone to the school. Reigen ruffles Teru’s hair awkwardly, still adjusting to showing more physical affection with the kid. Mob had never sought it out, not like Teru does, and it’s not something Reigen ever remembers having with anyone else in the past, either. His own parents weren’t exactly the affectionate sort. It feels weird.

(He’s okay with getting used to it, if it makes Teru happy.)

Ritsu is watching them, an unreadable expression on his face. Reigen wishes he knew what he was thinking about; the staring is making him feel uneasy.

“Anyway, I guess we should start unpacking some of these boxes,” Reigen says, clapping a hand onto Teru’s shoulder as he takes a step forward to start opening them back up to find the more important stuff. At the very least they need to get their toiletries and sleeping items out so they’re not stuck sleeping on the floor. He’s just opened the first one when he’s interrupted.

 “Reigen-san?” Ritsu suddenly speaks up. His hands are bunched nervously by his sides. “Could I talk to you for a second? Alone?”

“Sure,” Reigen says, blinking in surprise and vague unease. He’s not sure what Ritsu wants. He’s not sure he wants to know. Both Mob and Teru watch them curiously as Reigen ushers Ritsu into one of the bedrooms, the one that’s going to be Teru’s, shutting the door for a modicum of privacy. He tries to keep his body language as open as possible, though he finds himself crossing his arms anyway. “What’s up?”

Ritsu stares at everything but Reigen. His hands clench into fists. “I’m sorry.”

Reigen’s arms drop to his sides. He hadn’t expected an apology of all things, not in the slightest, and he’s not totally sure what Mob’s brother is even apologizing for. “What for?”

“For saying you don’t care about doing the right thing,” Ritsu says, speaking fast like it hurts to get the words out. “It’s not true, and it was wrong of me to say it.”

“What brought this on?” This is not the first apology Ritsu has given Reigen, but it’s the first one that actually seems genuine.

Ritsu is quiet for a moment, staring out the window. He looks like he’s choosing his words carefully. “I thought you were taking advantage of Teru-san when my brother first told me he was staying with you long-term. I figured there had to be something you got out of it. Maybe there is. I wouldn’t put it past you, I guess.” He shifts, now meeting Reigen’s gaze evenly. “But watching you two out there… I can see that you actually do care about him. You’re maybe not as bad of a guy as I thought you were. So I’m sorry.”

Reigen runs a hand through his hair, chewing the inside of his cheek. In one way the sort-of validation offered by Ritsu’s apology feels good. He’d never expected the kid to ever have anything remotely nice to say about him. But it simultaneously makes something in his chest tighten painfully, because Reigen will be the first to admit (to himself, at least) that he’s not a good person. He’s known that for years.

“I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier,” he offers after a few seconds. He means it. Ritsu has no way of knowing just how touchy that topic is. He’s thirteen and Reigen’s twenty-nine, and it’s not fair of him to get angry with the kid over a question.

Now it’s Ritsu’s turn to blink in surprise. Something in his expression softens a little. “It’s fine. I probably had it coming.”

“Great!” Reigen says with a little too much cheer, clapping a hand onto Ritsu’s shoulder. The kid gives him a very unimpressed look, but Reigen just grins a little wider in response. “I’ll treat you all to MobDonald’s for all your help today, how’s that sound?”

“Like the cheapest option available,” Ritsu grumbles, no heat behind the words.

Reigen’s hand flies into a thumbs-up. “Got it in one. Feeding three growing teenagers isn’t exactly cheap, you know. Gotta cut costs somewhere.”

Ritsu rolls his eyes, but as he opens the door to go back into the main room Reigen can see a hint of a smile on his face.

 

--

 

The office is quiet. Reigen checks his phone under his desk, but there are no new notifications or missed calls. He turns up the volume just in case. He taps his fingers absently against the edge of his office chair, surveying the nearly empty room. There’s nothing out of place to put away. Serizawa’s done an excellent job at keeping up with any maintenance, though in quiet moments like this it’s almost annoying just for the lack of anything worthwhile to do.

The man in question is sitting at his own desk (one Reigen finally found secondhand within his very limited budget) working on homework. He’d started taking night classes a couple weeks ago and is taking his coursework very, very seriously. It’s obvious that Serizawa is determined to do everything in his power to help himself reintegrate into society.

Reigen has only known Serizawa for two weeks, and they’ve spent almost all of that time accompanied by at least one of the kids. A slow day like this normally would have given him a perfect chance to actually get to know his newest employee, but he’s reluctant to distract him from his work.

Reigen checks his phone again. He would have heard it if anyone had called, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure. Briefly annoyed by his own paranoia, he leans over to put his phone on the furthest corner of his desk. He’s just making himself miserable checking it every ten seconds. Not to mention he can see Serizawa peering over at him from the corner of his eye.

It’s really, really unlikely the school is going to call him saying there’s a problem. Reigen knows this. It’s the mantra he’s been replaying inside his head ever since Teru left this morning for his first day back at school. He’s being absolutely ridiculous. He should be glad for the break; he’s spent almost all day, every day of the last few weeks in constant, close company with Teru. His previous apartment hadn’t exactly made it easy for them to get any space from each other even outside of work, and Reigen had kind of been looking forward to getting a few hours not constantly in the company of middle schoolers.

He picks at a tiny flap of dead skin by his fingernail and glances at his phone again. He did turn it off silent, right? Before he can grab it again just to make sure, Serizawa speaks up.

“I’m sure Teru-kun is just fine, Reigen-san,” he says, eyeing Reigen with undisguised trepidation. There’s a faint haze of staticky violet surrounding his desk, fingers gripping his pencil so hard it looks about ready to snap. With a start, Reigen realizes his own nervousness is rubbing off on Serizawa. Serizawa, who openly struggles with anxiety. Shit.

Reigen forces himself to take a deep breath and doesn’t grab his phone. “I know,” he says, tone nonchalant. He can’t let himself wallow like this, not at his employee’s expense. “I’m not worried.”

Serizawa quirks an eyebrow as he stares Reigen down. “You’ve been muttering about schools and phone calls for the last ten minutes. You won’t stop checking your phone like you’re afraid you missed something.”

“I’ve just checking to see if a client tried to get in contact,” Reigen says. “It’s a slow day.”

“It’s okay, you know. To be anxious about him being away. Especially after…” Serizawa steels himself, though he stops meeting Reigen’s eyes. “Especially after everything with Claw. He’s your son, of course you’d be worried.”

He really needs to come clean about that one. “Ah, actually – “

“I worry, too,” Serizawa continues like he hadn’t even heard Reigen. “Though I guess it’s different, because Shou’s not actually my kid, but I helped watch over him sometimes when he was younger – “

Serizawa babysitting goddamn Suzuki Toichirou’s kid is a mental image Reigen never thought he’d have. He scrubs a hand through his hair, torn between letting Serizawa vent out something that’s clearly been bothering him and clearing up the misunderstanding before it gets even worse.

“ – He’s gone to live with his mom now, but I haven’t heard from him since he left and it makes me so nervous, Reigen-san, it really does, because what if he’s miserable? She left him with Suzuki-shacho years ago, does that mean she’s a bad mother? What if – “

“Serizawa,” Reigen interrupts, pinching the bridge of his nose. Serizawa’s mouth snaps shut, eyes wide like he’s half-expecting some great wisdom on the situation. “Why don’t you just call Shou and ask how he’s doing?”

“I don’t know his number,” Serizawa says sheepishly.

“I think Mob’s brother’s been in contact with him. I can ask him for Shou’s number, if you want.”

“You would do that for me?” Serizawa’s face lights up, shoulders lifting as the purple haze surrounding him brightens into something more tangible.

“If it’ll help you feel better, sure. It’s not a big deal,” Reigen says.

“It is, though. He means a lot to me.” Serizawa twists his hands together, picking at his stubby fingernails. “What’s it like? Being a father?”

Yeah, Reigen can’t keep this charade going. He hadn’t even meant for it to start in the first place – Serizawa works too closely with both he and Teru for it to be remotely a good idea to lie to him. He’s not sure why he didn’t correct him from the start, but at the very least he can fess up now.

“About that,” he says reluctantly. “Teru and I aren’t actually related.”

Serizawa opens his mouth silently, his expression flummoxed. “But you… what? I thought…”

Reigen rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry I didn’t clear that up sooner. Though I’m surprised you didn’t realize, considering we don’t share a last name.”

“…I thought it would be rude to ask. You two live together and look kind of alike, so I just assumed... I figured it was a complicated family issue of some kind and I didn’t want to pry.”

“You’re not completely wrong,” Reigen admits, waving his hand in a vague, aimless gesture. “His parents aren’t really in the picture. I just found out a few weeks ago, right after that whole mess with Claw. He’s been staying with me since then.”

Serizawa hums, his eyebrows furrowed as he absorbs the new information. “So he was in the system? You’re a foster parent?”

“…Not exactly. That’s, uh, why I didn’t correct you at first. He was living alone.”

“What? Isn’t he only fourteen?”

“Yeah.” Reigen sighs, tilting his chair back and staring at the blinds covering the window. “Apparently he’s been on his own since he was ten. They send him money every month to pay for his expenses, but that’s it. As far as I’m aware they haven’t called once since he moved in with me.”

“God.” Serizawa looks ill, his skin a few shades too pale. “Shouldn’t we call child services? That’s… that’s not okay.”

The suggestion just makes Reigen feel drained. There’s so much stress lining his bones and weighing him down, and he finds he can’t muster up enough fear and anxiety to give much weight to his response. He’s had no one to talk to, no one to express any of his true emotions to, because his only genuine friends are all middle schoolers he can’t exactly burden with his own issues. He’s afraid that if he starts talking now, he won’t be able to stop.

“I can’t do that,” Reigen confesses. His nails are digging into his palms hard enough to break the skin. “I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. But I can’t do it, Serizawa. I can’t put him through that, even if I know calling them is supposed to be the right answer.”

I’m not cut out to be a father figure, not in the slightest, he doesn’t say. I have no idea what I’m doing, he doesn’t add.

“But – but they’d be able to help, wouldn’t they? They have resources, and programs to help. Shouldn’t we report it so his parents can be punished, at least?”

He can tell Serizawa doesn’t really understand. He doesn’t expect the guy to. Reigen is a conglomeration of issues and failures and a history that’s permanently tainted his outlook on life. Serizawa’s experiences, from what he knows of them, are in a completely different ballpark. Not better, not worse, just different, and without any context there’s no way he could be expected to get it. He’s never been inside one of those facilities and seen the way they treat the kids within it. Of course he wouldn’t know.

It still hurts.

“What if they find out he was involved with everything that went down with Claw?” Reigen asks, reluctantly. It’s not his primary reason for keeping Teru under the radar like this, but it’s still something he’s considered and an excuse Serizawa will most likely respect. “I’m worried what might happen. There’s footage of him out there, you know. Of him using his psychic powers, and most of those videos it’s hard to tell who’s on what side. It’s blurry and not high quality so he’s not easily identifiable, but if he gets entered into the system…”

“I’m not going to say anything,” Serizawa says. “If you think this is what’s best, I would be wrong to interfere. I trust your judgement.”

Now Reigen feels even worse. His judgement is flawed, broken in ways he knows he can’t even see, and Serizawa shouldn’t trust it. He knows this, but he can’t bring himself to say so.

“Thank you,” he says instead. Serizawa will come to see Reigen’s flaws soon enough. There’s no point in rushing the inevitable.

 

--

 

In the end, they only get one walk-in that day, and it’s not even a real spirit. Serizawa packs up at the same time he does every day to go to his night classes, and Reigen sees him off before deciding to just close up for the day.

The emotional turmoil of the day has left Reigen unbalanced and with bone-deep exhaustion, and right now he wants nothing more than to be back in his old, familiar apartment with Teru and some of his favorite takeout. He’ll get used to the new apartment with time, but right now it still feels unfamiliar and not like home. Maybe they could do some Chinese tonight.

“Reigen Arataka?”

It’s an unfamiliar voice, one with an edge of smugness that just screams of a superiority complex. Another reporter, most likely; although their numbers have drastically decreased since the Claw attack and more important things came into the spotlight, Reigen’s disastrous TV debut still attracts some attention.

As much as he’d like to just keep walking, he plasters a fake smile on his face and turns, bracing himself for a barrage of questions insulting his character. “How can I help you?”

The Caucasian man smiling back at him looks nothing like a reporter. With his shaved head and blatant disregard for smoking regulations he looks more like a gang member than anything, though the two professionally dressed people flanking the man are a strange contrast. They’re all staring intensely at Reigen.

There’s a bad feeling growing in his gut.

The man takes a deep drag of his cigarette. “We’d just like to talk with you, if you could come with us.”

The last thing Reigen wants to do right now is go anywhere with these people. His nerves are buzzing, warning him that there’s something dangerous about them. The man’s posture is loose, seemingly unconcerned, but his companions are both tense, watching Reigen like they expect him to attack at any moment. Reigen’s eyes dart around to take in the empty street, humming to buy himself a few seconds of time.

“Now’s not a good time,” he says, keeping his voice light and hiding the trepidation trying to tell him he needs to get out of there, now. “I have a prior obligation I have to attend to, you see –“

“Sure you do.” The man’s smile is unnerving. “I should introduce myself, shouldn’t I? You can call me Joseph. I’m here on behalf of the Japanese government. We’ve got some questions regarding your role in the destruction of downtown Seasoning City.”