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3 a.m.

Chapter Text

Although he didn’t shoulder the fate of the entire country, nor did he bear the responsibility of have to saving the world, he felt tired. The reason was simple – another “worst day ever” had happened in the life of Teruki Hanazawa. Today ranked second on the list of the worst days ever. First place wasn’t really important right now, and Teru didn’t want to think about it. The third worst day ever was related to a sad childhood event. And the fourth...? Fourth, fifth and later, and he didn't remember those, which meant they were of no consequence, he supposed.

But today, oh God, today will embed in the memory of not only Teruki, but also all of Japan. The abduction of the Prime Minister, the fierce battle with Claw, and even flying buildings. An explosion and a huge stalk of broccoli grown in the middle of Seasoning City – who could forget today? On top of all that, Teru was involved in all of this chaos, or at least he had watched the events closely, so he had extra awful points for his memories. Hurray.

Maybe he should start a blog where he described all his adventures? It wouldn’t be as interesting as Kageyama's experiences, but if Hanazawa tried, he could get a few fangirls (and fanboys). Maybe he could make some money out of it, or even...

Teru leaned his forehead against the wall, clenched his fists, and held his breath. He banged his head against the wall, lightly, only to drown out some stupid ideas, brought to life by fever and fatigue. What the hell? A blog, money, fangirls? No way. The most important thing now was regaining his strength and taking care of problems at hand. A blog, that's a good joke.

With a wandering, shaking hand he found his key leash under his t–shirt and took it off. Before reaching the lock, a few seconds passed in Teru’s perception, while a few long, long moments passed for anyone standing nearby and watching him. Teru was slowly losing contact with reality, and only by some miracle did he make it to his apartment. He should have stayed at Reigen’s place; he overestimated himself.

He didn’t remember whether he closed the door behind him or not. Closing doors was so instinctive that he sometimes didn’t even notice. Anyway, even if somebody came and robbed his house or tried to kill him, Teru would let them, because… well, whatever. If something got stolen, it’s just stuff that he can buy again. And if someone killed Teru, at least he won’t be so tired and sick any longer.

He stood beside the bed and looked at the duvet. Glass. He looked at the floor. Glass. He looked at the table. Glass. Glass. Glass. It was everywhere, just not where it should be – the frames of the windows were empty. Yesterday's ambush by the random Claw esper has left his apartment in ruins, with broken windows among them. Teru didn’t have time to take care of it – he had to chase his enemies first, and then only come back to change clothes and take some medicine. “I'll fix it when I get back home,” he said to himself. Good joke, just like the one about writing a blog.

He considered lying down on the glass for a moment, because – once again – whatever. But he didn't want tomorrow’s Teru to hate the present Teru; tomorrow’s Teru certainly wouldn't be so “whatever.”

Just thinking about getting rid of the shards on the bed was overwhelming. Teru would have to use his powers or pick up the duvet and shake them off. Difficult. Unnecessary. Maybe tomorrow’s Teru will be understanding, and he could forgive Teru for sleeping amongst the glass. It would be a good idea to leave him a note. “Sorry, dude, you were too dead to take care of that.”

Teru closed his eyes. His head felt heavy and full of cotton wool, and Teru couldn’t think logically or force himself to do anything. And he still had to take off his clothes and lie down. And it wouldn't hurt to take some more medicine and eat something. Medicine, right.

Loud pulsing in his brain was driving him crazy. Thud, thud, thud. With each pulse, the pain in his throat and lungs rose and rose, and Teru felt more and more heat flooding his face.

But taking medicine without eating anything? Bad idea.

Medicine, food, glass, clothes – for God’s sake, Teru had to take care of all of these. If mom were here, she would at least have made tea and dinner, and she would hug him and say that everything was all right and Teru didn't have to go to school tomorrow, and she already called for new windows and, and, and…

Teru hid his face in his hands. He gave up. Lazily and without bending over, he took off his shoes with his feet. He unzipped the tracksuit jacket and winced at the pain in his torso. Fighting with the nameless esper had left traces in the apartment, but the battle (well, you couldn't call it anything else) with the blind Nostradamus of our time completely ruined Teru's body, especially his bones. At least he didn't have to pay much for the hospital, thank you very much, so tomorrow or the day after tomorrow he will see someone to put him together. Teru could take serious hits during battles, but he didn’t even want to count how many times his barrier was broken during that fight. Tens, hundreds, maybe even a million times. He had never before experienced something like this. Even Kageyama (or the messed up creature inside him) didn’t do as much harm.

A cool gust swept Teruki's body. Hanazawa didn't open his eyes. It was just wind, a draft; there were no windows, so it was understandable.

Glass shards fell on his feet, small and sharp, but fortunately not pricking his skin. They just dropped from somewhere in the apartment, the wind probably swept them from the shelves; glass was everywhere now, maybe even in the containers of soup in the fridge.

Teru flinched when he felt something unpleasant; strange and difficult to describe. For a moment he couldn't associate the feeling with anything. He looked around the room to find its source, but he saw nothing but the darkness. The feeling faded away, but only for a short while. It appeared, disappeared. Once again it appeared and disappeared.

After an eternity that lasted for a minute – it clicked. The noise was a vibrating phone, tucked in his pants pocket. Teru tried to smile at his tiredness and stupidity, but he couldn't find any strength for that either.

Three missed calls from Reigen and four unread messages.

 

“Are you home yet?”

“Are you home???”

“At home??????///”

“RPLY!!!”

 

“Yeessssdd” – was the only thing Teru managed to write. If he could, he would've added “mom,” but he tapped “send” faster than he thought about calling Reigen “mom”. But one day he’ll do it, yes.

He dropped the phone on the mattress near the pillow and took off his jacket. It caught on his elbows. Almost there. He was almost undressed. C’mon, Teru, you can do it, you believe in yourself.

He snorted impatiently. He snorted? Teru didn't remember snorting. Boy, it was getting worse and worse. It happened literally a second ago. Did you or did you not snort? Or was it only your imagination?

Teru got lost searching for the truth of (not) snorting, so he didn’t even feel anyone grasp the sleeves of his jacket. He only felt a short, light tug on the material. The tracksuit fell softly around the boy's feet and Teru was finally free. And pants… pants… Fuck the pants.

Finally, he lifted the duvet and hurriedly slipped under it. He reached for the phone to make sure it was there. It disappeared! B-but he put it right there...! Uh, okay, never mind, it probably fell somewhere under the pillows. Teru would look for it tomorrow.

Disappearing glass that had previously been scattered on the bed also went unnoticed. Teru forgot about it. It didn't matter that much. The most important thing was that Teru was lying under the duvet, and the pillow was so wonderfully soft, and the mattress was so familiar, and school was probably closed the next day. It was good to be alive.

He fell asleep.

Chapter Text

 Teru slept for only three hours before a crushing pain in his chest woke him up. He turned from his side onto his back and breathed through his clenched teeth. Damn Kageyama, why did he have to... No, wait, it wasn’t Kageyama this time; it must have been someone else that hurt Teru in this recent fight. But half-asleep Teru couldn’t – nor did he want to – remember the events of the previous day.

 He tilted his head to the side and frowned, irritated by his bedroom's uncommon brightness for nighttime. He looked around; the TV was turned on and lighting up the entire room. Its sound was on minimum. There was a drama airing and a message bar at the bottom of the screen. Teru read the first few words, then closed his eyes. He didn’t remember turning on the TV yesterday, but nah, it was okay, let it be. At least the room wasn’t quiet. Teru hated silence.

 He’d love to drink some water, but he couldn’t move – it felt as if boulders were lying on his legs, heavy and impossible to move. His hands were already trapped under the pressure of a soft duvet, and there was no chance Teru could win against that. He'll definitely die of thirst at this rate.

 Teru swallowed. His throat burned with a pain that made him groan and swear silently. Now he really knew what it meant to live alone; there was no one who would give Teru medicine and a glass of water. If only he had the strength to kick off the duvet and get up...

 Maybe it would be better in the morning. He didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything right away, so he could sleep as long as he wanted. He had plenty of time to recover.

 He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep again. He only needed a few moments before sickness and fatigue overwhelmed him and pushed him into a daze. For a few seconds, he was drifting between dreaming and being awake, slowly losing contact with his surroundings, barely noticing the strange but familiar premonition of someone else’s presence. At first the foreign aura only stroked Teru's sixth sense. It got stronger after a few breaths, when the boy was finally sleeping.

 Teru heard neither the rustle of paper nor the crinkle of glass shards. He didn’t even move when a cold hand touched his forehead and cheek, although it took Teru out of the net of sleep for a few seconds. He wasn’t even sure whether someone had actually touched him – maybe it was just a drowsy hallucination. It didn’t matter anyway.

***

It was about eight in the morning when Teru woke up for real. The sun lit the room, irritating and hurting his eyes with its bright impudence. Normally in the evenings, Teru would close the curtains, but after the fight, they were reduced to shreds. He’ll have to buy new ones today. That was all he could do for now.

 Whatever he denied himself at night, it came back to Teru now – he had to get out the house and deal with a few things. The hospital wouldn’t visit him, and the windows wouldn’t buy themselves. And the very first thing he had to do was to clean up the apartment.

 He wanted to look around the room, but his eyes instead landed on the turned off TV. Next to it stood a glass of water and a paper shopping bag. Teru opened and closed his mouth mindlessly, and then narrowed his eyes. That was not how he left things last night. Something was wrong.

 He reached under the pillow where he usually kept his phone during the night. Sure enough, his hand found a familiar, cool phone case and its cable. He lifted the mobile above his head and traced the trail of the cord– it was plugged into the wall, just behind the bed. Weird. He didn't remember plugging his phone in. Either Teru was sleepwalking or perhaps Reigen had rushed over to make sure everything was okay. Teru couldn't come up with any another explanations, although both of these options seemed unlikely.

 Teru muttered unhappily and rubbed his forehead and nose. He felt less tired, but his cold had definitely become worse – he was hot, his head was still pulsing, and there was some cross between a tickle and an itch between his eyes. When he tried to get air, pressure weighed on his lungs, trying to break into a cough. At least Teru didn’t have a runny nose. Yet. Experience taught him that a little medicine and a few hours in bed should do the job, or at the very least, get Teru well enough that he could go out without fainting in the middle of the city.

 There was cold medicine in the kitchen, in the cupboard above the sink. But that was a long way away, and Teru didn't want to overdo his powers by using them to fetch such a small thing. And he needed to change clothes as well. So getting out of bed was necessary.

 Hanazawa sat up and froze, his blood running ice cold. At the other end of the bed, just beside his feet, sat Shimazaki; hunched, with his chin resting on his palm, looking slightly battered after yesterday's fight, but clean and seemingly well-rested. He turned his face towards Teru, while the boy only thought about calling for help.

 “Good…” Shimazaki said faintly, “Well, either morning or afternoon, I can’t tell.”

 "Morning," Teru said, trying to calm his pounding heart. He took several deep breaths, trying his best not to cough.

 "Just stay calm, stay calm!" his mind shouted over the annoyingly pulsing fear. He knew he was fucked. He barely had enough strength to stand, much less to fight with one of the most ruthless espers he had ever met. On top of it all, it was Shimazaki's fault Teru was feeling sick and sore all over his body. Apparently after what happened yesterday, Hanazawa was now waiting for death, or maybe something worse.

 "He would have made his move by now if he really wanted to harm you," said a soft, internal voice of reason. How long had Shimazaki been here, anyway? Teru couldn’t sense his presence or aura until now.

 “I was waiting the whole night for you to wake up,” Shimazaki leaned back on his hands against the mattress behind him, “and I wondered why you didn’t notice me before.”

 “The whole… Whole night... Oh, hell.”

 Teru looked around the room. The TV being turned on at night, the plugged-in phone, and the glass of water – those had all been Shimazaki's doing. But worst of all, Teru didn’t even notice the older esper. Was he so tired at night that he ignored Shimazaki? And then he just got used to his aura and presence? Was it even possible?! It was damn dangerous, that was for sure.

 “You let yourself in, so you can find a way out,” Teru snorted.

 “Ohh... are you kicking me out after everything I did for you? You have zero hospitality.”

 “And did anyone ask you for help? I don’t think so.”

 He knew he could only throw Shimazaki out of here by force. And in more favorable circumstances – if he had his health and after drinking at least one coffee – Teru could do this without a problem. After all, he figured out Shimazaki's fighting style and almost defeated him once already. But now, honestly, Teru needed help.

 “I couldn’t just stand aside and let you roll in the glass,” Shimazaki muttered, amused. He tilted his head and smiled slightly. “Unless you are a masochist.”

 "I’m not," the answer barely passed Teru's lips. Nervousness from this unexpected meeting with Shimazaki didn’t help his fever – Teru felt the heat in his face intensify, while more and more coughs tried to break through his lungs, and sweat flooded down his neck and back. Maybe if he sent out a distress message now, someone would come to help soon... wait! The others were probably dead tired after yesterday's events. Damn it! Getting everyone up and bringing their asses to Teru's apartment would take an hour, if not longer.

 But Teru needed them. There was a damn Claw esper sitting on his bed, and Teru couldn’t throw him out by himself. Ha, in the state he was in, he probably wouldn’t even manage to touch Shimazaki. There was no chance.

 Teru grabbed his phone and chose the numbers of Reigen, Ritsu, and, after a second of thought, the older Kageyama. He was tapping the first words when Shimazaki suddenly appeared beside him. The esper's hand snaked out to grab at Teru's throat.

 “N–no...!” Teru cried weakly. Shimazaki's other hand caught his palm holding the mobile and pushed Teru back against the soft cushions. Hanazawa gasped nervously and clenched his teeth as the man hovered over him.

 For a long moment, neither of them moved; they both waited to see what the other would to do.

 The fingers of the former Claw esper burned Teruki's skin and fueled his panic, speeding up his heartbeat. The grip was not strong, but the touch itself suggested that Teru would have to fight for air if he merely said a wrong word or made any suspicious move. What's worse, Shimazaki's face remained emotionless; he certainly knew that the boy had no chance to win.

 “I do not want to fight,” Shimazaki said suddenly. “I have a little proposal for you instead.”

 Teru frowned. He must be joking!

 “No.” He answered immediately.

 "If you won't agree ..." Shimazaki's grip tightened around Teru's throat. After a moment, he loosened his hold and started stroking the skin under his thumb. “I won’t hurt you in any way, my dear... What was your name again...? Teru?”

 Teru gritted his teeth again. Know your enemy, right?

 “Hanazawa. Teruki Hanazawa.”

 “Oh. So, my dear, little Teru, I will feed and take care of you, and you’ll appreciate it like a good kid, and in return you’ll let me stay here until things in the city calm down. Both of us gain something. You can tell that’s a pretty cool proposal, hmm?” The grip on his throat had trailed upwards, where now Shimazaki was gently stroking Teru's cheek. His other hand covered the phone that was still in Hanazawa's hands. His fingers slowly closed around Teru's hand to try and take that unnecessary object away.

 "Cool," Teru echoed, unimpressed. “Perfect. I just hope I don’t get Stockholm syndrome.”

 First, he would have to lull Shimazaki into lowering his guard while Teru thought up a plan. The, at the right time, he could call the other espers... Unless he recovered quickly enough to throw Shimazaki off the balcony himself.

 “Stockholm Syndrome? I wouldn’t mind.” Shimazaki smirked. He took the phone from Teru and laid it on the floor under the bed. As he bent over, the boy felt a familiar, sweet smell.

 Fear gave in to a moment of confusion. Shimazaki used his shampoo. This circus started even before Teru woke up.

 For a moment, Teru simply stared at the face of the older esper. He shuddered when Shimazaki covered him with a duvet.

 “I'm glad you agree,” Teru heard before warmth flooded through his body once again and tried to push him to sleep. “I’ll try not to break you even more.”

 Teru didn’t want to fall asleep, and he fought stubbornly for a few good minutes. The last thing he noted was the lack of weight on the bed as Shimazaki stood, and the pounding pressure lifting from his head. A warm, wet towel instead was laid gently over the boy's forehead, but Teruki was no longer awake to appreciate it.

 He fell asleep, not for the first time and not the last time that day.

 

Chapter Text

“Sick kids should stay in bed, not wander around the apartment.”

“What do you know about taking care of a sick kid, huh?" Teru scowled at Shimazaki. "More than that, you're blind, you won’t do anything right!”

“I'm blind and I beat your ass two... no! Three times, and now you’re telling me that I can’t handle taking care of you? Stop joking.”

“Okay, fine. Go on.”

Teru leaned his hip against the cupboards and wrapped the duvet tighter around his shoulders. He had come to the kitchen barefoot, because his slippers were lying God knew where, and there was no chance he would be able to find them. He had to watch over Shimazaki, see what he was doing. What if Shimazaki tried to poison or kill him? No one said that the Claw’s esper had any good intentions. Even if it had been their deal – I’ll take care of your sick ass, if you let me live here until things get better – Shimazaki could still try to get rid of Teru in at any moment. After all, he was a terrorist, and terrorists have no honor, right?

“Where do you keep the medicine?” Shimazaki asked.

In response, Teru tapped the cabinet hanging just beside Shimazaki's head. He opened the door, pulled out the box with medicines, and with a loud thud placed it on the counter.

“You are very helpful, Teru. And now, if you excuse me.” Shimazaki started taking out boxes and pill bottles. He searched for letters on each of the packages, reading with his fingers. He set some to the left, others to the right side. The latter, as Teruki noticed, were for a cold. Okay, he could distinguish types of medicine, that was a point for Shimazaki.

“See?” Shimazaki asked. “Now go back to bed.”

“Why do you even care? It’s in your own interest if I don’t feel better so fast.”

"I don’t want to catch this shitty cold of yours."

Shimazaki moved past Teru, his hand searching for cabinet handles. He walked across the kitchen, from the door of the fridge and back, with his free hand holding the edges of the countertops.

“Where do you keep tea? And mugs? Kettle? Everything?”

A few minutes later, Shimazaki was familiar with the whole kitchen. He had to count cabinets and steps two, three times. The room wasn’t even spacious, and Teruki wondered why Shimazaki needed so much time to learn everything. He laughed at this in thoughts; but aloud – he didn’t dare.

“And now you can go back to bed.”

“You just like having an advantage over someone," Teru snapped. "It doesn’t matter whether it's about their health or in a fight.”

"I will always have the advantage over you. Get lost.”

Teruki moved back a few steps, but stopped at the door. He turned to Shimazaki as quietly as he could, just to watch as the man pour water into the kettle and rummage through tea boxes. The Claw’s esper looked tired and irritated and his movements were sharp, sometimes unnecessary, and even once he stumbled over his own feet. At one point Shimazaki leaned his forearms against the top of the table and hung his head helplessly, as if the greatest horror of the world had happened to him. Hmh, poor dude.

Shimazaki stood there for several long seconds. Suddenly he straightened up and moved towards Teruki. The boy jerked to attention and started to step back again.

"Okay, okay," said Teru, trying to calm Shimazaki down. But the Claw’s esper was still walking in his direction, until they both passed through doorway of the room. He stopped only when Teru stood by the bed, took the duvet off shoulders, before turning on his heel and going back to the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.

Okay. It wasn't really "okay", because it was Teruki's apartment, not Shimazaki’s, damn it. But everything might end up worse – Shimazaki could have grabbed Teru by his neck and sent him flying through the room, straight into the bed. Luckily, this time Shimazaki only used a delicate suggestion. Thank you very much for your kindness, Mr. Terrorist.

Teruki sat on the bed and pulled his knees to his chest. He looked at the windows and sighed at sight of foil, temporarily replacing the glass. It was going to be a hard day, but Teru would get through it somehow and go to school tomorrow and maybe try to get rid of Shimazaki. He should find Kageyama and ask him for help... No, wait, Teru could not ask Kageyama for help. He would handle Shimazaki fine on his own. The man was tired and apparently shattered mentally, most likely after the unsuccessful world domination attempt. After a speedy recovery Teru would get rid of Shimazaki once and for all.

At least, that’s what he hoped.

The kettle began whistling just as Teruki laid down. He heard the noise calm, muffled by many layers of blankets. Fine, maybe Shimazaki could make a tea, but how about dinner? He was blind after all, and surely a blind terrorist couldn't cook, who would teach them that? Probably Claw had a few cooks employed, who traveled around the world alongside of them, so the espers didn’t have to worry about dinners. They might’ve been commoners, Teru wondered, watching Shimazaki entering the room. Did Claw treat them like they treated other people? Looking down on them and saying they were all inferior, and meanwhile feeling too important to cook their own meals?

“What's for dinner?” Teru asked, looking at Shimazaki's hands, reading the boxes and bottles and taking out pills.

“We’ll get a take–out.”

“So you can’t cook.”

"Do you trust me enough to let me cook for you? That's so sweet.”

Of course he didn’t trust Shimazaki! Not at all! He just wanted to tease him a little, for Gods’ sake. Ugh.

Teru pulled the duvet over his head, ignoring the man standing next to him with a cup of tea and a handful of pills. Neither of them moved for a while until Shimazaki crouched by the bed and set the mug on the ground. Teru peeked out from under the blanket.

"Do you have anything to eat so you don’t have to take this on an empty stomach?" Shimazaki asked.

Hanazawa had no appetite nor was he hungry. His thoughts wandered to the cupboards full of sweets. He tried to recall where he hid the strawberry flavoured Kit–Kats.

"Yeah, there’re chocolate bars in the fifth one from entrance," he said after a moment.

“Are they in the cupboard, or a drawer...?”

“Yup.”

Shimazaki waited a few seconds for more hints. When nothing came, he rubbed the temples of his forehead, and with long sigh extended a hand holding the medicine to Teruki. The boy clenched his fists, grit his teeth, but after a short battle with his own thoughts, finally raised his hand. He jumped when Shimazaki grabbed his wrist and covered his hand with his own, trying to hand over the medicine without dropping them. The older esper stood up and went to the kitchen; Teru heard the sound of drawers being opened.

"It’s just one day, one damn day," Teru repeated to himself.

He looked at the medicine Shimazaki gave him. He knew them, they were to help his immune system, or to fight a cough or fever, all in the right amount. It was almost a professional care... although pills weren't all that Teru needed. Yeah, it was true that Shimazaki showed Teru some mercy and bandaged his chest and sore ribs, but that was all. He hadn't let Teru to go to the hospital. Meanwhile, bending and making sudden movements was painful, so Teru couldn’t catch a deep breath, not to mention he was coughing. But this… wouldn't kill him, right? And wouldn’t hurt forever?

He raised his head as Shimazaki extended a pink Kit–Kat under his nose.

“I took one for myself.” Shimazaki grinned.

Teru wasn’t surprised at all. He shrugged, started to unwrapping the bar, and moved slightly away as Shimazaki sat on the bed. They didn’t say a word for awhile.

Shimazaki’s silence was a bit of a shock to Teru, because the Claw’s esper seemed to be a man who never shut up and kept talking and talking and talking. Not that Teru complained; he didn’t want to have a conversation with the terrorist anyway.

He noticed more scars and bruises on the other man, ones that had been hidden under Shimazaki's jacket before. Shimazaki stank of sweat and dirt, and no wonder; he found the boy's apartment just after the battle and didn’t seem to have any clean clothes.

“Take the medicine and go to sleep. And stop staring at me.”

“And what are you going to do?”

"Hmm." Shimazaki pretended to give this some thought. “Maybe I’ll burn your apartment down, sell all your stuff, kill your friends... I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.”

Teru bit his tongue. He swallowed the medicine and drank the tea, then looked around, searching for his phone. He hadn't seen it or his laptop in a while; Shimazaki must have hidden them somewhere to cut off the boy from his family and friends. With a little luck, someone would get worried and come to see why Hanazawa hadn't spoken to anyone lately... If anyone had even tried to contact him. Maybe mom, but she was probably the only person who would think to look for him at all.

That thought hurt Teru. Many times before he wished he could have established a closer relationship with his friends, and now that loneliness stung even more. Especially now when he was in danger. Help would be nice... no, Teruki could handle this. Nothing bad would happen to him.

He buried himself in the blankets. He turned away from Shimazaki, facing the wall. It wasn't like he was sleepy; he wasn’t tired at all, to be honest, but he needed to get some sleep to recover faster.

Teru held his breath as he felt the mattress bend under Shimazaki's weight. The bed frame creaked. Shimazaki had laid down near Teru, the boy was certain. Teru moved closer to the wall and shuddered.

One day. One damn day.

***

"I'll pay, but you're opening the door," was probably the strangest request... no, the strangest command Teru had ever heard. Of course, Shimazaki was a wanted criminal, so he couldn’t be seen picking up a delivery order from a random employee who happened to deliver food to a random apartment.

Without hesitating, Shimazaki pulled out a few banknotes from his wallet and gave them to Teru to pay for the food. Hanazawa noticed an ATM and credit cards inside as well.

"The bank will definitely block his accounts," he thought with satisfaction. He grinned broadly, then started coughing, dropping his chopsticks.

"You have cough drops," he heard Shimazaki say. He shook his head. They hadn't worked.

The cough was getting worse. It seemed as if all his guts wanted to jump out; they prickled, ached, and didn’t let him breathe. Teru was beginning to doubt he would go to school the next day.

“There, there.”

He felt Shimazaki's hand on his back, but he didn’t even have the strength to react. The coughing fit strained him and took away any willingness to do anything, especially to finish his dinner. He closed the take–out box and pushed it away, as far as he could reach and rest his forehead against the table. Shivers went through Teru’s body, making him shudder.

“I'll buy some antibiotics,” he heard the other esper say.

“No one will give them to you,” Teru muttered, getting no answer in return. The tension in the air briefly raised and disappeared in the blink of an eye. Teru blinked and lifted his head. Shimazaki was gone.

He stood abruptly; the chair clattering loudly to the floor. Teru looked around the room, searching for his mobile and laptop. He ran to the wardrobe, looked through the shelves and pulled away the hangers. Nope. He checked the corners, dived under the bed, looked into the balcony. Nope, nope, nope. There was nothing in the kitchen as well. Discouraged, he returned to his room and sat down on the bed, hiding his face in his hands. Shimazaki probably took his stuff out of the apartment, maybe just threw them on the roof. It would be stupid if Shimazaki had them somewhere where Teru could easily find them. BUT...!

Hanazawa jumped to his feet.

His neighbors could help him!

He was heading for the door when the atmosphere filled with Shimazaki's aura again. Teru stopped abruptly and turned on his heels to face Shimazaki, half a foot in front of him. The Claw’s esper pushed three small boxes into Teru's hands.

“It took a while, the pharmacist was pretty stubborn," Shimazaki said. "This medicine should be more helpful. And you have to sleep... And actually sleep, don't just lie there and stare at the wall, damn it.”

He grabbed Teruki by the back of his neck and pushed him towards the bed. Hanazawa growled and gasped, letting Shimazaki know he didn’t like the whole situation. Moreover, he didn’t want to sleep. How much could he sleep anyway, with a terrorist in his house?

Teru practically tore apart the boxes to get the medicine out. He skimmed through the directions.

"Twice a day, in twelve–hour intervals," he said after a moment, then glanced at the clock. It was three o'clock. "There's no way I could get up in the middle of the night and... Ugh. Okay, nevermind.”

Yeah, he could talk as much as he wanted, but he needed to feel better before Shimazaki recovered from their fight. Who knew how long the Claw’s esper was going to stay and when all of this shit would calm down. A week or two? A month? No, no, Teru wouldn't let him stay here for that long, no way. He would go insane. Ha, even NOW he felt like a madman, letting Shimazaki stay at all.

Finally Teru took the medicine and laid down as gently as he could. He levitated a book to himself. He wouldn't fall asleep, so he would at least read, learn or whatever. It may make the time fly faster.

***

But, of course, he fell asleep, and he didn’t even know when. He woke up a few hours later, wrapped tightly in the blanket, sweaty and confused. His pulse rumbled in his head and behind his eyes, and his throat was squeezed with pain and dryness. The room was dark, except for the dim light coming from Shimazaki's phone. The esper was sitting by the bed, with a mobile near his ear, and in his other hand he held a bottle of something that smelled like beer. He spoke to someone in a whisper.

“I won’t go back to the apartment yet, no way. Maybe I'll check it for a moment and take a few things, but in maybe... Ugh, I don’t even know, in two weeks, three? You need something?”

Teru frowned. Two weeks, three? And just "check it for a moment?" He must be joking. Hanazawa would give him one more day to get out; and if not, he would grab Shimazaki and throw him off the balcony.

“What time is it?” Shimazaki murmured. Teru glanced involuntarily in the direction of the clock, but didn’t see anything in the almost complete darkness. “Two o’clock? Time just can’t go any slower.”

Eleven hours. So many hours Teru slept, completely unmoved by nothing or nobody. At least one day had passed... and it wasn't as if Teru felt any better. There was no chance Teru could go to school tomorrow; he didn't even have the strength to cross the street. But the day after tomorrow? He’d have to. Even if he had to spit his lungs out, break his ribs– he'd get out, away from this asshole.

Teru twitched as Shimazaki turned and reached for him. Teru closed his eyes, tensed, waited for whatever the man wanted to do. Shimazaki could just check if Teru was hot, or wake him up, maybe something else. Teru would never understand this guy – in the morning Shimazaki would kick your ass like no one before, and then lull you to sleep the evening; an unpredictable man.

A few heartbeats later, nothing happened, there was no touch or sound. Teru peeked one eye open; Shimazaki's hand had stopped just above Teru’s forehead.

“How long have you been awake?”

Teru bit his lip but didn’t answer.

“I wasn’t talking to you. I'll call you back.”

Shimazaki hung up and put the phone somewhere on the ground.

“Stop pretending you’re still asleep,” he sighed.

“I just woke up.”

“Sure you did.”

He moved, turning to sit facing Teruki, and leaned his elbows on the mattress. Whatever Shimazaki had intended to do earlier – he gave up.

And he stank of beer. Not like a drunkard, only like he drank one or two bottles, but Teru hated it anyway. Hanazawa moved away from Shimazaki and covered his nose with the duvet.

“Who were you talking to?” he asked, although he didn’t expect an honest answer. And he was right, because Shimazaki only raised an eyebrow. "I'll have to call someone too... or at least check if someone is looking for me."

“'If?' So you aren't even sure?”

Touché.

“I need to call my parents at least," Teru said. "If they saw what you all did to the city…”

“I’ll think about it.”

Teru snorted. He turned to face the wall and moved closer to it.

“Just don’t fall asleep. You have to take the meds soon.”

Of course, yeah, meds, sure. Teruki covered his head with the duvet. He could be stubborn and refuse to take medicine until Shimazaki let him call his parents, but – firstly – it wouldn't do any good. Secondly, the older esper would probably get mad and eventually shove the pills down Teru’s throat.

Oh GOD, why did Shimazaki care so much about this? Why was he so crazy about Teru’s health? Shimazaki could do something else anyway – get rid of someone he didn’t need (probably Teruki) and stay in their apartment for as long as he wanted. And why did it have been Hanazawa? How did Shimazaki know that he lived alone...?

Various scenarios and answers went through Teru's head. One of them included accusing Shimazaki's of stalking, another suggested that Claw probably kept information about Teru. Either way, Shimazaki had to be somehow interested in Hanazawa. Great.

"Let me check," Shimazaki muttered, pulling back the duvet. Teru clenched his fingers around the sheets to keep it close, but the man uncovered Teru's face anyway. Shimazaki placed a hand on Teru’s forehead.

"At least your fever is better than yesterday," he commented. “See how I care about you? Professional care in every way.”

Teru didn’t comment. He wanted to smash his head against the wall.

***

Nineteen missed calls and thirty–four unread messages. Teruki checked every single one, and a heavy hand of fear clutched his throat and heart harder and harder. The calls were mostly from his parents trying to contact him; the last message said they were on their way to the airport. Sent three hours ago.

That’s what Teru was worried about the most – that his family would panic and decide to get on a plane to fly from the other end of world. He wasn’t surprised, but preferred to avoid similar situations; he didn’t want to expose his parents to danger.

He dialed the number hoping someone would answer. One ring, a second, a third.

“Teruki!” yelled his dad on the other side of call. Teru twitched, scared. Lying nearby, Shimzaki chuckled.

“Why weren’t you picking up your phone?! Do you even know how much we were worried?!”

Teru was ready to sing a serenade of apologies and assurances that everything was ok. He had also thought up a logical explanation for the current situation and his disappearance. Unfortunately, he had to listen to reprimands and threats first.

"What a nice man," whispered Shimazaki. “I wanna meet him.”

"Teru, honey," Mrs. Hanazawa took her husband's phone. She didn’t scream; Teru had the chance to hear the noises in the background – crowd murmurs, the clatter of wheels and some other things he didn’t want to think about right now.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“We are going to the airport. What happened? On TV they said that…”

Another minute of explaining what Teru knew perfectly well. Abducting of the prime minister, destruction of the city, broccoli. Thank you very much for reminding him. Now let's get back to the important topic.

“Are you all right, Teru?”

Thank you.

No, he wasn’t all right. He had a foil instead of windows, and beside him there was a damn terrorist who didn’t allow Teru to go to the hospital. To make things worse, the boy coughed, sneezed, sometimes twisted in pain and had no appetite, and the icing on the cake was his ambition of going to school the very next day. He wanted to say it all, complain and cry to his mother like he used to. But when he opened his mouth, he felt a gentle touch on his chest. Shimazaki's fingers slid across his ribs, making a path around the broken bones.

Teru swallowed and squeezed the phone harder. He could barely restrain himself from cursing or punching the older esper.

"Well, yeah, I’m fine," he said with fake confidence. “I'm just tired. Yeaaah, everything you said happened, yes. But I stayed away from it and just helped people later. Aaaand I lost my phone and I just found it. You don’t have to come, seriously. Everything is all right.”

He added a series of apologies and thanks for their concern. He had to make sure his parents wouldn't come. Sometimes his voice broke when Shimazaki's fingers wandered around the most aching places of his body. When asked what was wrong, he blamed fatigue and sore throat... There was no other good answer for that.

Shimazaki took his hand the exact moment as Teru finished the call.

"You are such a obedient boy," he said, reaching for the phone. “I really hope they won’t visit you.”

He disappeared, probably to hide the mobile God knows where.

The hours were passing incredibly slowly.

 

Chapter Text

Teruki spent the rest of the day thinking about tomorrow. He had to go to school. He could die on the way, but he would go. Didn't Shimazaki realize that Teru had some things he had to do (mostly because he didn’t want to stay with Shimazaki)? Would he let Teru go or start a fight? The boy was determined to defend himself, even if the brawl would be short and merciless. He was sure he wouldn’t win anyway.

Teru could just walk out in the morning, not looking back, without explaining, but merely shuffling to his bag and leaving his flat behind. Catch Shimazaki unaware... and wait for a very sharp reaction (damn, there was no perfect solution!)

So Teru would have to gently inform Shimazaki about his plans. But in a way where Teru wouldn’t end up tied to a chair or, even worse, to the bed.

Starting with "You know, I thought to myself" was too nonchalant, as if Shimazaki was a colleague. "Listen to me" in turn, was just asking for a fight. Saying "I have school tomorrow" could receive an answer like "Just like you did today – so what?” Nothing was good enough. The easiest way to break the news would be to simply say, "I’m going to school tomorrow." Maybe with a little luck, Shimazaki would think it was a joke and brush it off. Hm, maybe that was the perfect situation, because if Teru gave a warning, Shimazaki couldn't complain later.

Well, that was what Teru would say. Next was the more difficult part – gathering enough courage to say it. Which was theoretically easy, because Teru would just need to open his mouth and let the words flow. Teru never had a problem talking – he talked to whoever he wanted and rarely met with any unpleasant consequences. But with Shimazaki it was worse, and Teru didn’t know why. He tried to tell himself it wasn’t fear, but he couldn’t think of any other reason. The words stuck in his throat, and his stubborn mouth refused to open. The only thoughts that crossed his mind were "Now!" and "In a minute" alternately. But he had been thinking "now" and "in a minute" for three hours already. And throughout this, Teruki sat on the bed with a book in his lap and stared at the blanket, zoned out, ignoring anything Shimazaki was doing.

He flinched when the older esper shoved a bowl filled with steaming soup into his hands.

“It's amazing how long you can just sit and do nothing," muttered Shimazaki, turning on his heel and heading for the table. “You meditate or what?”

“N-no.”

On the one hand, Teruki was grateful for the break in the silence, and angry on the other, because he was about to tell Shimazaki about going to school...! He would tell him after dinner. Otherwise he’d never say a word.

He drank some of the soup's broth and grimaced at its too salty taste. He wanted to comment on it, but he bit his tongue. If he started talking about the soup now, he would never touch on the subject of school – Teru would be stressed over things he shouldn’t, and it would take up unnecessary thoughts and time.

Delaying it wasn’t a good solution either. Most likely if he waited to tell Shimazaki at the end of dinner, he might find another reason to not to say it. Now was the best moment for it – just after Shimazaki broke the silence. Come on, Teru.

“Hey.”

So far so good. Teru had his attention, and there was no chance that either of them would withdraw from this conversation.

Teru took a deep, calming breath and thought about how much he wanted all of this to end.

“I’m going to school tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

Okay. The young, battered Teruki Hanazawa had been fighting with himself for the last three hours over all this.

"Okay" – and that was it. There must have been a catch, and Teruki tried to spot it in Shimazaki's attitude and voice. But he couldn’t find anything. Shimazaki sat unmoved, his back to the boy, arms folded behind his neck. What a good actor.

“Alone,” Teru added after a moment of hesitation.

“Ah,” Shimazaki sat up straighter and turned to him. He smiled sympathetically. “That could be a problem. You see, my dear Teru... I'm not entirely convinced about the condition of your health.”

Teru raised an eyebrow, gritted his teeth. Wonderful. Just... wonderful.

Shimazaki continued, “You haven’t recovered yet and you already want to go back to school? What if you faint on the way?”

"You don’t care about my health," Teru snapped. "You're afraid that I'll tell someone about you.”

"Naaah." Shimazaki tilted his head. "If I was worried about you doing that, you know I'd just kill you.”

Yeah, Teruki knew that. But there were hundreds of ways Teru could still contact other espers. He could send an email, borrow a phone, tell someone to deliver the letter... Just to get someone to help and not have to deal with this situation alone. Otherwise there was another, more problematic solution that Teru knew of and wanted to use from the beginning – he could wait until he fully recovered and get rid of Shimazaki himself. And no matter how long it could take – days, weeks – it didn't matter. The satisfaction would be greater if he defeated Shimazaki himself. He would wait and lull Shimazaki into a false sense of security and kick him out, as far away as he could. Wonderful! All he had to do was to survive. Easy, haha... ha...

But would that satisfaction compensate for all of this? It would be a long time, filled with sitting with Shimazaki in a poisonous silence, slowly provoking paranoia. "If he sits there and does nothing, he’ll get bored, he’ll go mad!" – over the last two days Teru had such thoughts, because Shimazaki was SITTING and doing NOTHING this whole goddamn time. It was probably him who was meditating, and not Hanazawa.

He had to survive. If his strength hadn't returned in the meantime and things started looking really bad, then Teru would ask Kageyama or someone else for help. But only as a last resort, because Shimazaki was Teruki's problem; no one else's.

"I'll go to the hospital after school," Teru added. "I have to see if everything is okay with my ribs... Uh, your help with them hasn't been great.”

“I wasn’t even trying, to be honest." He shrugged. “I'll teleport you where you need to go, so you… won’t get lost on the way.”

Teruki sighed in resignation, almost spilling his soup.

But he did it. He would be able to leave the house. Hallelujah. Thanks to anyone in the heavens who watched over him.

***

It was raining and was the first sign Teruki's day wouldn't be as good as he hoped. First of all, the downpour was used as another pretext for Shimazaki to help him get to school.

“Do you like getting wet?" Shimazaki asked. "Okay, normally you can do whatever you like, but now you're sick, so I can’t let you get worse.”

He wrapped an arm around Teru’s waist before he could react. Shimazki’s power tugged, took his breath away, and stirred inside Teru's head. A second later, the two espers stood in a side street near his school.

Teru staggered; the world flickered in front of his eyes, and his ears rang. Teru leaned against the wall and wrapped his arms tightly around himself. Being teleported during the fighting was troublesome, and now it felt even worse. He didn’t know why this time it felt so different.

"You're getting wet," Shimazaki murmured. He nudged Teruki with his foot. “Get up, there's no need to wait.”

Huh, easy for him to say. Teru’s stomach rolled; at any moment his breakfast could end up on the ground. If that was how teleportation worked, Teru preferred to go all the way on foot, even if he would get wet.

Teru stood and moved slowly along the wall. Thick drops of rain ran down back of his neck; they chilled Teru more than the cold wind had as it blew through his windowless flat.

For a split second, the air tensed. Teru's heart and mind were squeezed with an unpleasant feeling, something between fear and panic. Everything was over before the boy realized it was Shimazaki's aura – it always reached its the highest intensity just before he teleported.

So Teru was alone. He could finally enjoy freedom and peace.

***

Or Teru would have if he could have focused on anything all day. His head was heavy, and his body burned with pain. He didn’t say a word in his classes, he ignored his friends and classmates. A few teachers wanted to send him to a nurse, but he refused. He said he felt "fine." He'd just recently had a few bad days... Like everyone else in the town lately.

The school lessons passed Teruki lazily, far beyond his normal perception. He could see and hear through the fog, but he didn’t understand most of the words that were spoken to him. He just sat at his desk and didn’t engage in anything. And at least nothing that required any effort – he had been perfect all year; he was allowed to zone out this one day, only once.

He indifferently noted every passing hour. He stopped caring about being away from Shimazaki and only dreamed about going home and sleeping, sleeping, sleeping... He should have stayed home. And he would tomorrow. And even the day after tomorrow. Maybe even forever if he had to.

"That was probably a bad idea, huh?”

Under normal circumstances and in good health Teruki would probably have been frightened by the sudden voice. Now he barely heard Shimazaki, didn’t even sense his aura like he normally would. Teru glanced over his shoulder; Shimazaki looked blurry, leaning against the school corridor.

“Why?” Teru asked.

"Because you're just standing here without moving... and you didn’t even notice me. And you look awful.”

“I do?” Teru tilted his head. “Everyone has been telling me that today.”

Silence. Shimazaki raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. The rain was the only sound that was surrounded them. The noise from the school was long gone already; no one was wandering around corridor or in the courtyard. Empty, cold, and moreover, it was already dusk.

Something in Teru's brain clicked.

"Wait," he said. “How do you know what I look like?”

“I checked your reaction time. And I told you to better stay home.”

“Shut up.”

They stood motionless for a long moment. Teru didn’t think that he should probably approach Shimazaki to get out of there. He couldn’t think of anything at all. All he knew was that he had to go to the hospital for an x-ray. The visit to the hospital had already been arranged, and with a little luck he wouldn’t wait too long in the line.

Teru heard the click of someone’s heels approaching them, echoing down the corridor.

"Well okay," Shimazaki murmured. “You done with the meaningless standing? We're getting outta here.”

He walked quickly to Teruki, and again put an arm around his waist, firmly, without hesitation. The boy clung to him and clenched his teeth, ready for the nasty discomfort that teleportation caused.

They disappeared before they were noticed by the teacher.

***

"No strenous activities, take painkillers if anything hurts, apply a cold compress" – these were things said by the doctor after he x-rayed Teru's ribs. His broken bones hadn't damaged any organs, thank God, but Teruki was scolded for coming to the hospital so late. The doctor also yelled something about Teru’s parents, using words that he probably shouldn’t – too sharp and direct. But... what was Teru was supposed to say? He stared blankly at the doctor and pretended to be repentant, and the doctor’s words fluttered through his head, leaving no trace behind.

“Visit me in two weeks to see how you're healing. And come with your parents this time.”

Of course, with parents. Or maybe a fake older brother who accidentally was also a terrorist? He would avoid trouble by skipping the next appointment entirely.

He thanked the doctor and headed for the exit. His legs were getting heavier and he was barely able to walk, his eyes almost closed, his head still pounding. But okay, no worries; soon he would be home and in bed. He couldn’t wait.

At least it had stopped raining, although it was still cold, and the wind was chilly through Teru's clothes. According to Teruki's plan, he hadn't expected to stay outside long – only between teleports and getting inside buildings – so he hadn't dug in the closet to find warmer clothes. He regretted that now.

He hid in the street where he was supposed to meet Shimazaki. The man was not there yet. Okay, Teru would wait. He would definitely going to get colder, get even sicker, but he would wait politely. It was too far to the train station, and if he took the bus, he would have to change stops somewhere… he didn’t even know where the nearest bus stop was anyway.

Teru leaned against the wall and crouched down. He put his face in his hands. Hurry up, man; Hanazawa was hungry and tired and had to get home as soon as possible.

It started raining again.

***

Teru stopped thinking about the passing time. He didn’t know when exactly he left the doctor’s office – maybe half an hour, or maybe an hour ago? But at 7'oclock when Shimzaki still hadn't shown, Teruki decided to go home by himself. He stood up and headed to a taxi stand. He didn’t notice people who watched him as he passed, didn’t hear any street noise. The only thing that existed for him was the sight of the pavement and the recurring thoughts of "taxi, house, bed, sleep." He felt stupid for waiting for Shimazaki. How could he rely on the Claw esper at all? Sucker.

It's not that he felt betrayed. Hah, no, it was a different feeling – more like being cheated after trusting someone waaay too much. Sweet. He'd played right into a fucking terrorist's game.

But why had Shimazaki dealt with him for the last two days just to leave him now?

He tried not to fall asleep in the taxi. He forced himself to not to close his eyes. He stared at the scenery that passed by – the city was slowly calming down and heading for a well deserved rest. With each passing street, there were less and less people, the lights in stores went out, and car parks filled with cars.

Soon he would rest well too, finally. He already recognized his neighborhood. One or two more minutes, and he would be able to lay down in his bed.

He seemed to have lost consciousness for a moment. The last sight he remembered – the smiling face of the driver when he got the money – was now replaced with a view of his apartment door. What happened in between was unknown. But more importantly, Teru was finally home. He wasn't even inside before he pulled off his school uniform blazer. He crossed the threshold as he loosened his tie, and turned on the light. Something was wrong. He didn’t know exactly what, but there was something wrong in the silence that so often filled this apartment. There was a strange tension in the air, a heavy, unidentified source, similar to that sort that stretched between two people after an argument.

Shimazaki was nowhere in sight. Earlier, Teru had assumed that the man had just ignored him and stayed home... But now he was gone. And with any luck, he would never come back.

Again, Teru lost a sense of time and didn’t know how long he stared ahead. His eyes eventually landed on the balcony windows. Windows. Windows... The windows, Jesus Christ!

He ran to the windows, stumbling across the carpet and his feet. He reached for the frame and started checking them from top to bottom. They were covered in glass; new and undamaged! But how? Did Shimazaki kidnap someone? Or he somehow stole a window from the factory? The mortar at the jams hadn’t dried, so it must have been finished recently.

Anyway, it would be interesting to see whether the workers were still alive or not.

Teru shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a dark shape on the table. He turned on his heel and froze. It was his laptop, and next to that, Teru's phone.

“What...?” It was the only thing Teru could say. Shimazaki had left. Had he been scared that the young esper would turn him in? Or did he get bored? Found a better place to hide?

No, it didn't matter. Shimazaki was gone and that was the most important thing. If he had been feeling a little better and more confident, Teru might have thrown a party to celebrate that fact. It should have to cheered him up that he was alone, but the tension hanging in the air still hadn't left. Teru tried to ignore it; it was probably only a strange hunch, something based on his irrational fears. He would feel better with some rest.

He grabbed his blazer off the ground and walked to the closet, thinking about supper. He had to eat something before sleep; he didn’t like to go to bed hungry. In the fridge there would be some food leftover from yesterday or he’d just order delivery again. He didn't really have the strength to prepare anything.

He opened the closet door swiftly. He froze. Some of the shelves that had been empty until today were occupied now by dark t-shirts and several pairs of trousers. Jackets hung on previously empty hangers.

Shimazaki hadn't left. He had moved in for good.

Teru stared at the inside of the closet for what seemed like hours, completely turned off from the reality.

Chapter Text

Tick-tock-tick-tock…

Teru opened his eyes, his heart pounding. He gasped and bit his lip. A cloudy nightmare had torn him out of sleep and pushed him into reality’s arms at exactly three o'clock in the morning. It wasn't the first or the last time, and Teru had long since stopped wondering about what had woken him up. Everything started two weeks ago, when he took the second dose of the antibiotics. He hadn't been taking the medicine longer than a few days, but he was still waking up in the middle of the night; all of sudden and without anyone or anything’s help.

And every time Teru woke up, his heart was pounding, practically jumping out his ribs, like it was scared of something it saw in Teru’s nightmare. Teru never remembered his dreams, he didn't want to, which was why he didn’t know what his heart was so scared of. He quickly tried to calm it down, so he would be able go back to sleep. He stared at the ceiling, practiced deep, calm breathing and… that’s all. Teru couldn’t really do anything else, but lie in his bed until he fell asleep again.

Sometimes sleep wouldn't come again for hours. During these times, Teru was too awake to even think about resting. He could barely stop himself from getting up and leaving the apartment for a short walk. With each sleepless night, his fight against going out right now was weaker and weaker. “I’ll get up in a moment,” he would always think. But he didn’t get up. But he felt so close to doing it. So close.

This night Teru considered taking a stroll more than he had during the previous nights. He was fed up with his insomnia and he knew he wouldn't fall back asleep this time. It seemed like he would spend this night staring at the ceiling again, in almost complete silence and loneliness. Almost, a key-word.

The ticking of the clock was the only sound that disturbed the silence, and lying nearby, Shimazaki – the only company Teru could count on. Tick-tocks and Shimazaki were little things, but they still overwhelmed Teruki and tried to rush him out of his bed. The only things that advocated for Teru staying in bed; a blanket, embracing Hanazawa with its warmness, and soft mattress. Two simple things, but very convincing.

A short beep from Shimazaki’s watch announced another hour had passed. Four o’clock. Today's first sixty minutes of insomnia had passed quickly and Teru hadn't even been bored. It seemed overthinking took over his mind, so he had forgotten about the passing time.

But he should finally decide. He should go out, and see how the world looked like at this hour.

Teru quickly thought about all the possible destinations of his stroll. The park, the outdoor gym, the cemetery, another park – and then a third, a fourth… Or maybe he'd go to all the places, if the night was long enough. Maybe on his way, he would think of other spots he could see. The last option was just moving forward, without any specified destination or direction. Wherever his feet would take him.

He sat slowly, gently, so as not to wake Shimazaki. He crawled on all fours across the bed and went to the wardrobe, groping for clothes in the dark. One minute later, Teru was ready to leave. He left the apartment through the balcony. He didn’t even think about leaving Shimazaki a note; he would be back soon anyway.

“I guess,” Teru thought pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt. He soared off the balcony to the ground, jumping over the fence and flying into the street.

Shimazaki, still deep in his sleep, turned onto his other side, brazenly taking Teru’s place on the bed.

***

Teru should’ve known that taking a walk would make him overthink everything, just like he would lying in his bed and staring at ceiling. He remembered a few conversations he had with Shimazaki during the two last weeks, but a particular one – he had never paid much  attention to before –  stuck out:

 

“Did you notice you're living alone?” Shimazaki had asked him. Teru had looked up from his notebook and raised his eyebrow.

“I’m not the blind one here,” he had said.

“Sure. But did you notice? Don’t you think it’s a little… strange?”

Teru didn’t answer. He had pretended not to hear the question and returned to his homework.

 

It wasn’t “a little” strange. It was “completely” strange and Teru was very much aware of it. Of course, when he first started living alone he got a lot of praise from kids his age – “Wow, you can do whatever you want without your parents!” or “Teru, you're so mature! Do you cook too?” And at first Teruki enjoyed this freedom. But with time it weighed on him more and more. Laundry, chores, homework, cooking, shopping – everything was his responsibility, and took most of Teru’s free time. The only moments when he could take a break were evenings and nights, when his neighbors were fast asleep, and it didn’t seem right to make noise so late.

Lately it was easier for Teru. Not only because the meetings of Awakening Lab were canceled (ergo – more free time), but also, surprisingly, because of Shimazaki’s help. Shimazaki was as terrible as always, but at least he cooked and prepared all the meals (ergo – even more free time.)

Teru rested his chin on his arms, crossed over the railings in front of him, and stared at the city on the horizon. Wind swept across his face and under a collar of his hoodie, making Teru shiver. The cold started to bother Teru, but he didn’t want to leave yet. He didn’t want to go back home.

Cold. Winter. Yes. Winter was around the corner, and so was New Year's, exams, Valentine’s day, and the second anniversary of his moving to Seasoning City… It had been almost two years of the completely strange situation that was living alone. How long would it last? Teru had no idea. Maybe he would never go back to his parents. It’d be the best and safest solution; no one knew what dangers were waiting for Teruki… And he would have to get rid of Shimazaki first anyway, in a way that Claw's esper would never come back to bother Teru.

Teru pressed his face against his arms, curled up, sniffled. Yes, he was cold already.

For fourteen long days Teru had tried to throw Shimazaki out. He tried to fight and tried to talk, all for nothing. Shimazaki only laughed at his attempts, then changed the subject or fell quiet for a few hours. Sometimes Shimazaki disappeared, but always came back. Teru thought he would go crazy soon.

The neighbors had started asking questions. “Because we heard (and here, depending on the situation) an unfamiliar voice/conversations/arguing/fights,” and “you used to do laundry more often" and "you don’t bring your friends home as often as you used to,” and so on. They cornered Teru with their questions, and Teru tried his best to make something up. He told Shimazaki about all of this, but Shimazaki laughed again and just shrugged. He liked to tease Teru, and didn’t seem to care that this snooping of Teru’s neighbors could cause them both problems.

Hah, at least when the real fights happened, Shimazaki was smart enough to teleport them somewhere far from the apartment, where they could argue without anyone overhearing (should Teru really be happy about that? Maybe if they fought at Teru’s place, someone would take an interest in Hanazawa’s situation and try to help him.)

Despite all the problems that Shimazaki had caused, he was… tolerable. A little tolerable. As much as a terrorist can be tolerable. And in Hanazawa’s dictionary “tolerable Shimazaki” meant “hadn't pissed me off so much I wanted to snap his neck,” but not quite “I can fully stand his presence.” Because still spending time with Shimazaki for even part of the day resulted in Teruki getting annoyed. Sometimes Claw’s esper seemed to to push him off balance with well-placed remarks about everything that surrounded Teru: his school, his parents, his psychic abilities. And even if Teru tried to say something back, he usually couldn’t find an answer that was good enough to shut Shimazaki up.

“You lack life experience,” Shimazaki had said one day. “Maybe you’ll win when you grow up, little Teru.”

As if he and Teru would be still in touch. Their damn “relationship” should have ended long time ago. The whole fuss around Claw was slowly calming down; people on the news weren’t talking about the terrorists as much as they were two weeks ago. They still were looking for Shimazaki and the other esper, but the story seemed to have calmed down.

Citizens of Seasoning City had started to get back to their previous lives, and the center of the city, destroyed by the fighting, was slowly being rebuilt. The main problem now was the broccoli. If that was for better or worse – Teru didn't know. Something was wrong with this phenomenon for sure, but at least it masked all the mess and curiosity around Claw.

But for Shimazaki, it wasn't enough; it wasn't safe for him to come out of hiding yet. He didn't talk about his plans for the future, and the fragments of the phone conversations Teru sometimes overheard hadn't told him anything. It was as if Shimazaki didn't know what to do with himself.

Because what Shimazaki would be doing now anyway? Start working at Reigen's psychic agency too? That's a good joke (the whole situation with Serizawa was hilarious to Teru too, but he didn't say that aloud. Shimazaki hadn't said anything about it either, although when he heard the news about Serizawa, he simply smiled and shook his head.)

Teruki tried not to sound like an idiot when he had asked Shimazaki where he planned on working next.

“Job? The government will be looking for me for the rest of my life and you want me to get a job? Besides that, you really think I'd be able to find something legal?"

But Teru didn't say anything about a legal job. Shimazaki was fit for something shady, maybe working for the yakuza or something like that. He would probably be welcomed there with open arms. And that had been what Teru meant, but he didn't say it. He didn't want to give Shimazaki any ideas, if the former Claw esper didn't think it up himself.

Anyway, who even said the government would be looking for Shimazaki for the rest of his life? They went easy on Serizawa and that other esper (Mine...something.) The remaining two espers seemed to have slowly blended into society, although this Minesomething had way more problems with that, somehow. All Shimazaki needed was a good alibi and he would be free of his shit too. Hmmm, maybe say he had been hypnotized? Damn, if only Shimazaki felt bad or embarrassed of what he did with Claw...

Teru pushed away from the railing and with loud thud fell on a bench behind him. He crossed his arms over his chest. Was he crazy? Why was he thinking up excuses for this jerk?! Shimazaki was a criminal, he couldn't get away! So why would Teruki think about how to help him? Did he get this Stockholm Syndrome or something?

His stomach ached with regret and anger at himself. Why hadn't he noticed it earlier? Why was he stupid enough to let Shimazaki wrap him around his finger so easily, even when the older esper did absolutely nothing? Shimazaki simply... existed. And occasionally paid for food, and told stories, and pissed Teru off with his presence, and...

Things were bad. It was really bad and Teru needed to talk with someone about it. He couldn't keep Shimazaki's presence in his apartment a secret any longer! Because now Teru's mindset was slowly changing and he hadn't even noticed, and that could cause more troubles than neighbors' snooping!

Too bad Teru only noticed it just now.

Better late than never, they say, but it didn't make him feel any better.

***

On his way home, Teru went over all the people he knew, but couldn't help him. Because let’s be real, he needed someone’s help. Of course, he had planned to get rid of Shimazaki himself, but he had failed miserably so many times already… There were no chances he would defeat him alone.

Direct actions weren't taken under consideration – attacking or scaring off Shimazaki could end with the death of Teru or someone close to him. He needed a plan that involved someone smart, someone who could capture Shimazaki. The best choice would be someone who could do everything alone, without Teru's help... in case something went wrong.

Everyone from the Super Five was out the question, although Serizawa might have been a good fit – a strong man full of remorse, eager to help. But Teru didn't want to risk it; there was always a chance that Serizawa would support Shimazaki in a fight out of sentiment.

Kageyama and his brother, on the other hand... But it would be difficult to hide them with their strong auras. Shimazaki would run away before espers like the Kageyama siblings even knocked on Teru's door. Reigen? The first time he defeated Shimazaki was only because Claw's esper was careless. Of course Shimazaki still thought that Reigen was someone special, but how long would take him to see through the lie? Teru didn't want risk that happening either.

The 7th Division was out of the question too because they weren't strong enough. Ekubo? Teru hadn't seen him in long time. The only person that left was Shou. Teru barely knew him and they had only shared a couple of words between them. But apparently he had grown up around the Super Five... So who would know Shimazaki better than Shou? Moreover he was around when Suzuki had been arrested, so maybe Shou might know someone who could help against powerful espers.

Unfortunately Teru didn't know where Shou was right now. Serizawa or Ritsu might have a contact for him. But Teru would have to get it without raising any suspicion.

Back at home, Teru leapt to his balcony and walked inside. Behind him, the sun was rising, hidden behind thick clouds. A gust of wind passed, causing Teru shiver even more.

He glanced to his bed and sighed, annoyed. Of course Shimazaki had to roll over to Teru's side of bed and even take his blanket. And nothing had woken him up – not Teru's aura disappearing or its reappearing. He slept like the dead, not disturbed by anything. Teru could put a knife in his back and Shimazaki probably wouldn't notice. Teru could do that... and would, if the problem lying in his bed didn't get solved soon.

For now he had to contact Shou. Teru wondered if Ritsu was still asleep.

Teru's eyes shifted from the bed to the table and stopped at Shimazaki's mobile. Hanazawa had tried a couple of times to look through Shimazaki's phone, especially the contacts, but every time the older esper noticed too quickly and moved the mobile out of reach. Now Teru had a chance to see who Shimazaki was talking with so often. Maybe it would give a hint on how to get rid of him.

Teruki took one, two steps closer to the phone. Shimazaki was still asleep, and Hanazawa reached for the phone while watching the other esper closely. Shimazaki didn't move. He didn't even wake up at the sound of Teru unlocking the screen. Great.

First Teru would check the recent calls. He tightened his fingers around the mobile and prayed he would see someone else from the Super Five there; it would be easier for the boy to deal with that – he could hand them all over to the police.

He opened and frowned at the list of recent calls.

“Unknown number” was all over the list. Teru scrolled down and down and down... Unknown number, unknown number, unknown number... Almost as if Shimazaki hadn't spoken to anyone from his contacts. The times of calls were around the same as when Teru had heard Shimazaki talking with someone. And no outgoing calls. Damn.

Teru bit his lip and glanced at Shimazaki. With his free hand he used his abilities to bring a paper and pencil to him. He sat down and quickly took down any numbers and names that looked suspicious or useful. For a moment he considered deleting his contact. He wanted to, but he shouldn't leave any trace that he was in Shimazaki's phone.

He focused on his task, lost in browsing through the contacts. The surnames didn't mean anything to Teru, but most of them were on speed dials. That meant Shimazaki used them often. That meant they were important. And there was also Shou.

He was just rewriting last number, when Shimazaki rolled onto his back and sighed in his sleep. Teru glanced at the clock on the phone; it was nine in the morning. That was a good hour for Shimazaki to finally wake up and start living.

Carefully he placed the mobile on the table and turned to Shimazaki. He felt a prick of irritation at the rolled up sheets and pillows tucked against the wall. Add that to the fact that Shimazaki was taking up the whole bed, like it belonged to him. Teru wondered if Shimazaki might have done the same if Teru had stayed in the bed. If so – Hanazawa would have punched him and kicked him awake.

Shimazaki ran a hand through his hair, humming loudly. He was waking up slowly, maintaining his senses and ESP; days ago Teru figured out that the other esper needed some time to come back to reality from his sleep. And when Hanazawa was home, Shimazaki would always turn to him and say hoarsely:

“Good morning.”

It wasn't any different now. Teruki ignored the welcome and looked at the paper he was clenching in his hand. He would call Shou today. And maybe that was one of the last good morning's he would ever hear from Shimazaki.

Chapter Text

 Shou wasn’t picking up. Teru had tried to call him before and after dinner, all for nothing. He had even sent him a few messages, but he still hadn’t got any answer. It had made Teru wonder if Shimazaki even had the right number for Shou. Ahhh, he should have taken the contact from Ritsu, at least then Teru would be certain if he was being ignored or if Shou was busy.

Although, to be honest, Teru didn’t really want to see Ritsu. Last time they had spoken was three days after they had disbanded the Awakening Lab and they both had already been aloof… Which was quite unusual in their case; like they didn’t bond over all those lessons and fights with enemies.

Teru’s aversion to speaking with Ritsu was nothing compared to his aversion to living with Shimazaki. So he would have to do this, even if it meant leaving at a late hour.

“Leaving so soon?” asked Shimazaki, leaning against the door frame. Teru didn’t answer right away. He tied his shoes and got up. It wasn’t unusual for him to leave the apartment in the evenings, just to be away from Shimazaki, and he didn’t need to explain himself to anyone. Especially to this jerk.

“I have a date,” he lied instead. “I need to stay social, even if you keep pestering me.”

“A date. How adorable.” Shimazaki's voice dripped with sweet poison. Teru clenched his fingers around the doorknob.

He shouldn’t have said anything, he shouldn’t have said…

“Just watch out for yourself, Teru… And your friends.”

He wouldn’t let Shimazaki provoke him. Shimazaki was constantly prodding at Teru’s weak points and using words that could hurt him the most, raise the most fear. Most of their conversations came to this point – learn as much about Teru as Shimazaki could, and make a list of people that could be possible victims of Hanazawa’s mistake. The more he knew about Teru, the more Shimazaki could be certain the boy wouldn’t turn him over to the police. They both knew it. To protect people, Teru often lied about his life; about his parents – where they lived and worked – and Shimazaki had believed those. But it was harder to come up with fake stories about other Teru’s aspects of life – about school or his social life because Shimazaki could check on those things. But the Hanazawa parents were safe, and that was the most important for Teru.

He closed the door behind him, leaving without another word. He dialed Ritsu’s number. If Teru was lucky enough, maybe the younger Kageyama would pick up.

 

Ritsu did pick up and he agreed to see Teru, although reluctantly. Of course, Teru could get Shou’s number over the phone, but he would feel bad just calling after two weeks of giving no signs of life and asking right away about things that didn’t matter to their relationship. It didn’t seem right. Moreover, they had stuff they had to talk about. Hanazawa didn’t really know what exactly stuff. He knew he had done something that upset Ritsu and made him so aloof since last time they saw each other. Ritsu not saying what was wrong was unusual too, because Ritsu was honest (sometimes too honest) and had never seemed to hide his feelings before.

“Surprised you could slip out at such late hour.” Teru greeted Ritsu as he approached the swing occupied by Hanazawa. “Kicking this rebel phase?”

Ritsu shrugged and leaned his back against the frame of the swingset. He held Teru’s gaze and crossed his arms.

“So… What’s up?” Teru tried some small talk before asking about Shou.

“It's been a tiring week. And you?”

Such short answer wasn't like Ritsu. It’s not like Kageyama was the most talkative person days ago, but he was more friendly at least. Before he wouldn't just say the week had been tiring, he'd give reasons that had made it tiring. And Kageyama would normally be sighing, complaining, shaking his head. Now he stood beside Teru, completely unmoved, frowning like he didn’t want to be there.

“A tiring two and half weeks,” said Teru, fake smile on his face. He rubbed his neck. “Busy. I didn’t even have time to call you.”

“Same.”

“S–soooo I’ve heard there was a Culture Week… at your school...?” He frowned seeing Ritsu squinting. “How was it?”

“Wonderful.”

This whole small-talk thing was overwhelming Teru and made him want to shut up and never speak to Ritsu again. Why did he even bother? He should just take Shou’s number and then they both could go wherever they wanted to be instead.

“Uh, okay,” he muttered. “I need Suzuki’s phone number. Maybe you have it?”

Ritsu’s expression eased and the tension in his arms vanished, as if by magic.

“Suzuki?” he asked. “Yeah, I have it.” He patted his pockets, searching for his mobile. “You could have just asked me that over the phone, and not dragged me out in the middle of the night.”

“I needed a walk.”

“What do you need this number for? Did something bad happen?”

Teru took out his phone, carefully watching Ritsu. The change in his mood was so sudden, even though Teru had asked for a favor. Maybe Ritsu simply hated small talk too, or maybe he was just waiting for this meeting to end so he could go back home and rest after this tiring week (which probably wasn’t even as tiring as Teru’s.)

“Sorry, can you repeat that?” asked Hanazawa. He so caught up in his thoughts he hadn't been listening when Ritsu recited Suzuki's number. This overthinking would kill him one day.

He stared at the number he got from Ritsu and considered it. It was the same phone number he had taken from Shimazaki's mobile. That meant he met with Ritsu for nothing, and that Shou hadn’t picked up nor answered because he had reasons, and not because Teru had the wrong number. Okay, maybe Shou really was busy, and maybe he would call back soon. Teru had to wait, but impatience had been gnawing at him all day and he was starting to feel irritated.

“If it’s something urgent,” Ritsu spoke again. Teru looked at him carefully. "Suzuki is in Seasoning City right now.”

Teru held his breath and clenched his fingers around his phone. In Seasoning City? What luck!

“You can meet up with him,” Kageyama went on, “but I don’t know where he’s staying. I'm seeing him tomorrow, so you… you…”

He looked away from Hanazawa. The sand under his shoe crunched as he thoughtlessly drew zig zags on the ground.

“You can join us if you want.”

Relief and a beacon of hope. Teruki hid his face in his hands and sighed deeply. He couldn’t see the look Ritsu gave him – a bit worried and pretty confused.

“Are you alright?” asked Kageyama. Teru reflexively shook his head, but then nodded a few times, too energetically to call it honest. He put his hands down and even managed to smile.

“It would be great to go out together. Even if I eventually need to meet with Suzuki alone…”

Ritsu’s bad mood from earlier returned. Kageyama winced and crossed his arms again. Okay, fine, Teru got it. Ritsu was happier when a conversation wasn’t about him and Teru. Those conversations were usually bad news. Something somewhere had gone wrong and had hurt younger Kageyama. Teru quickly recalled all their last meetings, but couldn’t find any exact moment he had said anything amiss.

“Is anyone else invited?” Teru returned to a safer topic.

“Suzuki’s friends and my brother. Just espers hanging out.”

“Espers hanging out.”

He swallowed. He felt a little bitter he wasn’t invited. Maybe it had to do with how Teru wasn’t answering most of Kageyama brothers’ messages over the past few days.

“Where?” he asked.

He got the address and meeting time. And after that he didn’t know what to say next. But he knew that one day he would need to talk with Ritsu to learn what he was so upset about, what went wrong. Maybe not now, because Teru’s thoughts were too occupied with tomorrow’s meeting with Shou; and it was too late to start any new topic today anyway.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “See you tomorrow then?”

Ritsu only nodded and said reluctantly, “Goodnight, Hanazawa.” Teru stared at his back as he was walking away. For a moment he wanted to catch up to Ritsu and walk him home, to hear this “Goodnight, Hanazawa,” at the door and no sooner. That’s how it used to be – on the weekends they wandered around the city until late hours, and they said their goodbyes in front of Ritsu’s house. Now Teru got his “Goodnight, Hanazawa” in an overgrown park, in a forgotten playground.

Teru eventually got mad, and spent the next hour sitting in one place, wondering where the hell he had made a mistake.

***

While Teru was on his way back home, he hoped Shimazaki was already asleep. Teru didn’t really know what evening routine of the older esper kept – especially not what hour he went to bed, because it was always Teru who was the first one to end his day. Shimazaki didn’t look like someone who would stay up late… And whatever he was doing when Teru wasn’t around probably required him to be well-rested… also in case he needed to flee all of sudden.

That’s why Teru was surprised seeing Shimazaki still awake and in his daily clothes, even though it was midnight. Shimazaki stood on the balcony, his back to the door, holding a lit cigarette. He hadn’t even turned when Teru had shown up at the door.

Teru breathed slowly. He felt anger trying to take control over him – to push him to barge onto the balcony and throw a hook at this damn jerk. He clenched his teeth. How many times had he told Shimazaki to not to smoke here? Their neighbors were nosy, and would smell right away if someone smoked on the balcony. They had already asked Teru about this, and only by a miracle, had he managed to avoid answering. Shimazaki didn’t care, of course.

Shimazaki seemed like he felt Teru’s anger – he rubbed his neck and took a lungful of smoke, stubbornly not turning to Hanazawa. His arms tensed as if he was waiting for a confrontation.

“Third time this week,” thought Teru making his way to the balcony. He tried to walk calmly, even though his anger was telling him to RUN, RUN! Kick in the door, grab this jerk by his rags and throw him over the railing and…!

“Welcome back,” greeted Shimazaki when Teru stopped beside him. He was just finishing the cigarette, but his other hand was reaching for a pack in his pants pocket.

“I told you not to…”

“Yeah, yeah, leave it. Oh, unless maybe you just want one too?”

And he held the pack to Teru. Hanazawa eyed the cigarettes, then glared at Shimazaki, clenched his fists. This. Fucking. Jerk.

He took a swing trying to grab the pack. Shimazaki was faster; he pulled it back, far from Teru’s reach, and smiled mockingly.

“A ‘no’ would've been enough,” he said and took out another cigarette. Before he could put it between his lips, Teru jumped at him and tried to snatch it. Hanazawa wasn’t fully aware of what he was doing. The anger took its lead and clouded all reasonable thinking. The fog cleared a half a second too late. Shimazaki caught Teru’s arm.

A tug.

A gasp.

After a second Teru was surrounded by the stench of something burning. Smoke filled the air.

“Hey!” yelled Teru. He struggled with Shimazaki’s hold, and took a step back. His one foot landed in the air and he lost his balance, tilted to one side, almost falling into clouds of smoke and stench. Shimazaki held him firmly and helped him regain his footing.

“Easy, Teru,” he said.

Teru looked around confused. The city stretched on the horizon, and the nearest surroundings were lit up by factory lighting. The espers stood on the edge of a dozen floor's high chimney.

“Are you nuts?!” Teru glared at Shimazaki again. Almost always when their brawls had started to get outta control, Shimazaki had teleported them both out of the city, so they could “talk it out” without the neighbors hearing anything. And the places where they had been fighting up until now was always neutral... But now? The top of the chimney was another story; here Shimazaki had an advantage.

Teru tried to yank his hand out of Shimazaki’s grip.

“Let go!”

“One moment.”

Shimazaki twisted Teru’s hands to his back, holding him fast, so Hanazawa wouldn’t slip on the spin; he turned them both to face the flue and tilted Teru slightly forward.

Teru gasped. He stared with horror into the dark abyss, where he saw no bottom. Only Shimazaki’s hands – one gripping Teru’s both wrists, the other holding him by his t–shirt – kept him from falling down.

“Breathe some fresh smoke. Maybe then it won’t bother you at home,” hissed Shimazaki. Teru reflexively took a breath. He smelled the stench of burning… wood? Plastic? He couldn’t even recognize it.

“Shimazaki, that’s not funny,” Teru growled. He tried to stay still; his feet were on the edge of the chimney, one wrong move and even Shimazaki wouldn’t be able to help him. He swallowed and closed his eyes tight. The smoke stung. “You know that neighbors…”

“Oh, yes, that’s not important. We have another small problem.”

The hold on the t–shirt disappeared, and Teru though he would start falling. But Shimazaki put his free hand around Hanazawa’s waist and leaned forward, pressing Teru’s back to his chest.

Teru flinched at this. Then he felt Shimazaki’s warm breath on his neck and froze. He couldn’t say anything – all words stuck in his throat, as if in fear that something would stir the older esper up even more.

“I wanted to ask you about that in a more friendly way, but I see you are in a fighting mood today,” explained Shimazaki. “It would be a shame to not to jump at the chance.”

A quiet “Mh…” was the only sound that left Teru.

“Tell me, little Teru, what did you want from Suzuki Shou?”

Fear clutched Hanazawa’s heart. How did Shimazaki know? Had he spied on Teru? Or eavesdropped? But Teru wasn’t even talking with Shou, he was just messaging him, that’s all! And he even kept the mobile near him, so Shimazaki couldn’t have checked it in any way. Also, Shimazaki hadn’t been nearby when Hanazawa had met with Ritsu; Teru hadn’t felt his aura. So how the hell did this damn Claw’s esper know…?!

“I–I don’t know what do you mean,” Teru whispered. He tried to lie. Up until now, he was pretty good at lying to Shimazaki, but right now he didn’t know where the other esper got his information. So Teru didn’t know where to start his fake stories... But trying wouldn’t hurt. Probably.

“Oh, yes, you do,” Shimazaki chuckled, although it was a forced laugh, and that paralyzed Teru even more. Until today Shimazaki during their fights was, of course, aggressive, but also annoying – he was taunting, yelling, goading. Now he was scary and threatening for the first time in the past three weeks.

“I–I really want to know,” Teru stammered.

“Don’t talk to me like I'm an idiot, boy, because I’m not the one standing on the edge, at the mercy of a… Hmm…”

“Freak,” Teru said with shaking voice.

“Freak, okay. So?”

“Why do you think it has something to do with you? He’s an esper, I’m an esper. I think it’s normal I want to know other espers.”

The grip on Teru’s wrists loosened a bit. Shimazaki hummed thoughtfully and rested his cheek on top of Hanazawa’s head. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and calm – too calm:

“'It’s Teruki Hanazawa. I’m sorry that I'm writing all of a sudden, but I need your help.'”

Teru’s first message to Shou. All thoughts and feelings left Hanazawa, leaving only confusion. How… how did he…?

“'Call me if you can',” Shimazaki kept on. It was the second message. After a while, there was another:

“'Sorry, maybe you don’t remember me. I was among other espers who fought with Claw.'”

He stopped and sighed lingeringly.

“You want me to go on?” he asked. “And maybe count all these times you tried to call him? Or maybe you could stop lying and making me look like an idiot.”

Teru didn’t even flinch.

“I’ll kill you,” he hissed.

“I’d love to see you try.”

And he would. Teru jerked with his arms; it didn’t free him from a firm grasp but distracted Shimazaki. Teru threw his head backwards into Shimazaki’s jaw. He heard an angry growl and curses and felt the grip loosen. The hand around his waist disappeared. A light push. And then he was falling.

In the very last second, he turned on his heel, facing Shimazaki. The darkness and smoke quickly surrounded Teru, the wind whistled in his ears. Hanazawa isolated himself from the world around him, and let the energy slide down his arms. It took him a second to target the other esper – Shimazaki was still standing on the top of the chimney. The whips of energy snapped and flew up, wrapped around the man’s legs. Teru tugged at them, pulling Shimazaki down with him.

He wasn’t sure if it was a good plan. But it was the only one Teru had managed to think up right now. Shimazaki could escape any time and Teru didn’t know if the teleportation would work on him too, considering they were connected with the gold chain of power.

A tug. The whips went loose. Shimazaki escaped, and Teru was still falling. Fuck.

A tug again, after a second. Shimazaki appeared just beside Teru and reached for his neck. They both gasped, choking on smoke.

Another tug and before Teru realized where he was – he was slammed into the ground. Shimazaki landed on top of him, his heavy body knocking the breath from Hanazawa’s lungs. He got up hastily and teleported a few steps away, bent over and coughing.

Teru tried to stop himself from a cough that was choking his lungs and bringing tears to his eyes. The view went blurry, but the boy recognized where they were – the light reflected by the moon illuminated their surroundings; forest, outside the town, remains of Claw's 7th Division facility – a common place where the two espers had fought.

“Damn brat,” Shimazaki coughed. He leaned with his arm on a ruined wall, hid in shadows, between stones and broken walls; shaken. Teru didn’t let him to recover – he jumped up and dashed at Shimazaki.

One, two, three steps further, he almost reached the man, grabbing one of the rods torn off a building on his way. Teru bounced off the ground aiming for Shimazaki’s back.

Shimazaki teleported away, far from the boy.

“Didn’t you want an explanation?” Shimazaki asked, still coughing.

No, he didn’t want any now, but he wouldn’t say that aloud. He was focused on getting Shimazaki.

And killing him.

Teru moved on with his next attack, lifting debris with his powers – rods and pieces of walls swinging in the air, waiting for Teru’s command. Teru flung the debris at Shimazaki, but he escaped again. If Shimazaki would just stay still, he would get stabbed and stoned to death.

Teru growled annoyed and turned just in time to notice Shimazaki behind him. He swung with the rod in his hand, aiming for his chest. Energy lit the lengths of the metal – the one rod held by Teru and those floating beside him. Shimazaki disappeared. The bars twisted through the air blindly, in various directions. Teru hoped at least one of them would hit.

A yelp and a furious cry filled the forest. He got him.

Teru looked around, but he couldn’t see Shimazaki. But the man was nearby, Teru sensed his aura.

“Show yourself,” he whispered walking along the wall. The rod was heavy in his hand, digging sharply into his skin, but he didn’t care. Just like he wasn’t aware of all the debris flying around him. The air was filled with energy that flicked against the wall, making holes and tearing away at the remaining paint.

Teru’s senses focused on searching the source Shimazaki’s aura – he tried to find him and also recognize condition he was in. It was hard; Shimazaki was teleporting every few breaths, each time maintaining a greater and greater distance from Teru.

“You said you’d like to see it!” yelled Teru. “Why are you hiding now?!”

He didn’t get any answer and it pissed him off even more. Shimazaki had been such tough guy, and now he was hiding and avoiding the fight.

“Show yourself!”

The air tensed.

There he was.

The air loosened up. Teru dodged in time – Shimazaki had jumped at him from above, trying to kick him to the ground. The he vanished, but not before Teru noticed the red covering chest and right arm.

“Did it hurt?” Teru asked, an ugly smile on his face. “DID IT HURT?!”

He turned on his heel, trying to jab with a hook. The other esper caught his arm. Teru blinked, surprised.

“Wanna see yourself?” asked Shimazaki before he seized the boy’s throat. He shoved him into the wall, Teru’s arm only missing a protruding rod by a millimeter.

Teru's head hit the wall so hard he saw stars. He couldn't recover before a heavy fist punched him in his guts. He choked. The next blow hit him in his jaw. Then the world fell quiet and vanished into the darkness.

When it returned, the first thing Teru heard was Shimazaki’s heavy breathing. The older esper held him by his t–shirt, his head low, almost leaning his forehead against Teru’s arm.

“Calm down,” he hissed. Teru didn’t want to listen. Shimazaki was right in front of him, alive, but hurt. He wouldn’t get away this time.

Teru raised his hand to hit again. Everything seemed to slow down; the power barely slid down his arm, but Shimazaki reacted quickly. He sighed and just when Teru wanted to attack, Shimazaki slammed him against the wall again.

A blow, light, warmth. That was all Teru noticed. Energy cascaded around his body and pulled away, swirling around the two espers. The grip on Hanazawa’s shirt didn’t loosen, but the boy heard a hiss and some curses. Something whistled, something snapped, something collapsed. Teru tried to look around. He didn’t see anything; a golden light filled his view, and Teru couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how hard he squeezed his eyes shut. With his heart pounding, he reached for the power wildly roaring around them. He tried to catch it and take control, but slid between his fingers, ignoring his commands.

“Calm down!” yelled Shimazaki. Teru clenched his teeth. Blindly, he found the other’s esper’s body with his hands and held it. He tried to anchor himself with something material, something that would help him to relate to the reality. He heard his shaken breath as he tried to calm down his nerves. The power didn’t vanish, it was still orbiting around, and kept destroying everything in its wake.

“Breathe, you brat!”

He was breathing, or at least he was trying to. Teru couldn’t take a deep breath; an unknown being was clenching its hands on Teru’s lungs, caused pain.

The power hissed and a fragile something that was too close cracked. Teru noticed a small chip, a tear that could be a hole in Shimazaki’s barrier. He heard another curse, and before he could do anything, he was punched in the jaw again.

The light was gone as if on command. Teru finally took a deep breath. He opened his eyes and looked at Shimazaki – covered in dirt and blood, as white as a sheet. Everything behind Shimazaki was lying flat – all the trees and walls that had stood firm before were now were on the ground, cracked, ruined.

Teru kept his hands on Shimazaki, one at his throat, the other squeezing his right arm, the exact place where he had a still bleeding wound.

“'The hell was that?” gasped Shimazaki. Teru tried to look around, but his body refused to move. And not because of anger; that feeling had left him. He couldn’t figure it out.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. He had never lost control of his powers before, so he didn’t know how to explain that. He was scared, but also excited, because he had managed to break Shimazaki’s barrier without using a distraction. That was something new.

“You really tried to kill me,” Shimazaki went on. “A–are you... what the fu…”

“Are you joking?” Teru snapped. “You started it all. You. Started. It.” His gripped Shimazaki’s arm harder; that was all he could do for now. The Claw esper hissed, and his knees buckled. His free hand grabbed Teru’s wrist.

“Did you really think I would let you fall? After you asked someone for help? I told you I’m not an idiot.”

“How did you know?”

“By accident. We were checking all the people that could be after us. We checked Suzuki, not you.”

A strange excuse. It seemed that Shimazaki wasn’t afraid of Teru or the possibility of being handed over to the police, not even a little. He was so certain of Teru’s cooperation because he had his family and friends on his mercy. He was more afraid of Shou than Teru, even though Hanazawa could easily beat him if he had a support.

Hah! Even now he had beaten him… Kinda. It was a draw – Shimazaki was hurt, but he could still fight, and Teru couldn’t move, but he didn’t feel hurt or tired.

(But why he couldn’t move? Teru wondered. Was it because he overdid his powers or he lost the control? It was dangerous, he would need to careful.)

“You tried to kill me,” Shimazaki repeated in disbelief.

“When are you leaving?”

No answer.

“You can find another place to stay, that’s not even a problem!” said Teru. “There are lots of apartments empty because people are moving away from the city. You can even fly to other country… Hah, or a continent! But for some messed up reasons, you decided to stay and wreck my life!"

Shimazaki chuckled and rested his forehead on Teru’s arm, hiding his smile in a shadow. He fell silent, and Teru didn’t say a word, waiting for any other reaction from him. He wanted to know a reason, even the stupidest one, why the hell Claw’s esper had stuck to him.

The dust that had been raised during the fight finally settled, and they both didn’t move, until Teru clenched his fingers in Shimazaki’s wound again. Finally, the man spoke:

“Do you really think I like it…?” he started bitterly. He sighed, and spoke again, calmly now. “Maybe I don’t like being alone. Maybe I like having a company.”

“That’s a stupid reason.”

“Said by someone who lives alone for… how long? Nevermind. You live alone, but you like having people around you. You know how I feel.”

Teru knew, but he would never ever say it aloud.

Shimazaki took his hands off the boy; Teru removed his hands as well. He finally regained control over his body, although every move was heavy.

“Give me two weeks,” said Shimazaki. “We’re almost done with our preparations.”

“Two weeks and no longer.”

Shimazaki nodded and extended his hand to Teru, offering to teleport them back to home. When they returned, they landed on the balcony.

“Don’t you dare smoke here,” said Teru. “Don’t… don’t smoke anywhere. Quit smoking.”

Shimazaki nodded again, probably as a reflex. They went inside. It was three in the morning. 

Chapter Text

Teruki could read between the lines. It helped him maintain his with relationships his peers. Boys were straightforward and simple, and no one had to strain their brain to understand what they meant. But girls... It’s not like Teru thought girls were complicated, no; maybe they were just too shy and it wasn’t often they said their real thoughts aloud. For example, instead of just saying “No” maybe because they were scared of Teru laughing at them, girls made up various excuses for not going on dates. Teru never tried to find out if the excuses had been true or not – by reading between the lines he had saved a lot of time and energy. He had just chosen the best and the most comfortable solution and had moved on.

Dealing with adults was a different story, and Teru had less patience there. Hypothetically, the adults should be more honest and less afraid of saying their thoughts. And yet something stopped adults from doing so. And when Teru had made up his own assumptions in place of the truth, these adults had got angry, because that wasn’t what they had meant.

Theoretically, Shimazaki was easy to read – a jerk who would stab you in the heart whenever possible, looking for fun anywhere he could, hard to throw off his balance, hated losing. He said what he thought and wasn’t afraid of other people’s opinions.

And that’s what Teru had thought – up until a day ago. Shimazaki saying 'Maybe I don’t like being alone' had changed everything. Now Teru wasn’t sure if Shimazaki had been honest or had just tried to play with Hanazawa’s feelings or put Teru's suspicions to bed. Truth to be told, Teru shouldn’t care – Shimazaki would eventually have to leave and take responsibility for his actions as a Claw member.

Two weeks. Shimazaki would leave in two weeks unless Teru could find another way to get rid of him. Either way, he couldn’t wait until it was finally over; when he could come back home, not afraid of someone waiting for him. And he would happily welcome the loneliness and the burden of cooking these damn dinners for himself.

Although Shimazaki cooked quite well.

“Hm? Hanazawa?”

Teru flinched and looked at the older Kageyama brother sitting beside him. Their whole group had rented a karaoke box for the afternoon, and Shou was singing – or rather yelling – one of the songs, while his three friends were talking with Ritsu about some boring stuff. Teru was holding the second microphone and, as he just noticed, had almost broken it, clenching his fingers too hard around the plastic, his psychic energy wildly sparking around.

“I got lost in my thoughts,” he said with a smile. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

Kageyama lowered his gaze and swirled the water in the glass he was holding.

“Only that I’m happy you finally talked to us,” he said. “It was so hard to convince you to meet with us lately.”

Teru felt warmth slowly creeping up his neck and ears. He swallowed and moved his gaze to Shou, who was squealing a high note.

“Y-yeah.” Teru nodded. He had deliberately ignored most of the messages from Reigen and the Kageyama brothers, especially those asking to meet up. He didn’t feel like seeing anyone; he wanted to get rid Shimazaki before he started living his full life again.

“I had a few problems,” he said. Shigeo and Ritsu deserved an explanation – or at least part of one. Or half-truths. Anything.

“But it’s better now,” Teru went on. “Now I just need to catch up.”

Shigeo answered with only a short hum. He didn’t question anything, so it seemed this version of Teru’s story was enough for him. Teru inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. The conversation with Ritsu would be much more difficult, but it would happen later – after Teru’s talk with Shou or maybe even after Shimazaki left his apartment. The second option was more likely only because it would let Teru focus on fixing whatever he – or Ritsu – had messed up between them.

Unconsciously he was staring at Ritsu. He only noticed it when the younger Kageyama had caught his gaze and frowned in a silent question. Teru opened his mouth to say something when suddenly Shigeo said:

“You've changed.”

“Huh?” was a surprised reply from Teruki. Shou had just finished singing and was reaching for the remote, but he stopped and stared at Hanazawa, just like his friends and Ritsu.

“These two last weeks must have been really tough,” Shigeo continued, his voice quieter. “You were always... radiating happiness and so confident, talkative... Now you’re barely saying a word and you're lost in your thoughts. I... I hope we'll get the good old Hanazawa back soon.” He glanced at Teru from the corner of his eye and smiled slightly.

'Good old Hanazawa.' Teru tried to recall what the 'recent Hanazawa' was like for the others. He hadn't even noticed that he had changed. But it was true. Now he wasn't shining among people like the popular guy he used to be, yeah... To be honest, he avoided his friends too. Not only because he didn't want to risk their lives, but because arguing and dealing with Shimazaki had left Teru worn out.

“The 'good old Hanazawa' will be back soon, don't worry,” Teru said. “I miss him too.” Teru tried to smile all the time, no matter how much his smile was fake or tired. Fake it 'till you make it, or at least until Kageyama stopped worrying.

“Are you gonna use that or...?” Ootsuki asked, nodding towards the microphone. Teruki handed it over; the second one was now in Fukuda's hands. They choose a song while Shou said he was going to find something to drink. Without a second thought, Teru ran after him. It was the only chance he could talk with Suzuki alone and he didn't want to waste it.

“Shimazaki is in my house and I need your help to get rid of him,” was a really good opening line. Straightforward and on topic. Teru could start their conversation with that, but an unexplainable hunch stopped him – it tugged his heart when he wanted to speak. Teru bit his tongue; he had learned well to trust his hunches.

“You afraid I'd get lost?” asked Shou when they stood beside the drink dispensers. “You didn’t even touch your coke, and we've been here for two hours already. You...” He tilted his head. “Really lost contact with the world. You weren’t like that in Ritsu’s stories.”

Ritsu had been talking about Teru. For a short moment, Hanazawa’s heart felt lighter, and he felt a little better. But he couldn’t let himself to think about it for longer.

“Did you get my texts?”

Shou frowned and looked around.

“I don’t like questions like that.”

Teru wrung his hands.

“Those kinds of questions always mean I’ve got this one dude on my tail,” said Shou. “And it seems we have a similar situation here.”

Teru sighed with relief and rubbed his eyes. He didn’t know Shou that well, so he thought that Shou might have a negative attitude towards him. But it turned out they had a similar problem.

“That’s what I wanted to talk about,” Teru muttered. “Among other things.”

“Turn off your phone.”

“Wha…”

“Just turn it off. And pull out the sim card, for a good measure.”

There was nothing to question, although the request was uncommon. Still, if someone could read the texts Teru had sent to Shou, they might be able to intercept the conversation right now.

He froze when he noticed his phone was on a call with an unknown number. He looked up at Shou, who was staring unimpressed at the screen, hands in his pockets like he was used to being intercepted.

Shou leaned towards the phone and, not caring about the dozens of people around, yelled:

“Hatori, you dipshit!”

His face remained passive, calm, but his aura burst around them, riled-up and sliding across the ceiling.

The sound of the call ending surprised Teru. Hanazawa looked at his phone, then at Shou again. His aura had calmed down fast.

“What the hell?” Teru hissed.

“Hatori Nozomu. One of two of the Super Five the government can’t find.”

“Yeah, I figured." At Teru's reply, Shou cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. "Uh, I mean…”

Teru did some very fast thinking.

“I’ve heard the police are looking for him, I saw it the news.” He put his phone on the table, after turning it off and pulling out the sim card. Occasionally he glanced at it to make sure it wasn’t on the line again. “How is he doing that, by the way?”

“He can manipulate electronics. He hijacked the tv signal back then, so intercepting texts and doing these sort of things,” Shou nodded at the phone. “Aren’t any problem for him… Aaand that’s why he’s so hard to find because he knows where they're looking for him.”

Teru hummed and looked around, noting all the people who probably had their phones with them. Hatori could hack them too… Teru and Shou could still be bugged.

“So, you tried to reach me and now Hatori was bugging us,” said Shou squinted suspiciously at Teru. His aura was still calm, although it was circling leisurely, carefully, like an animal of prey waiting for a good moment to attack.

Shou wanted explanations. Teru swallowed. Here we go.

“Shimazaki is living with me,” he began. “For almost three weeks.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and looked out the window, suddenly feeling silly for not searching for help earlier. Suzuki opened his mouth to say something, but Hanazawa didn’t let him interrupt.

“I couldn’t ask anyone for help because he was… threatening he would do something to my parents. And… I tried to get rid of him alone, but,” he continued bitterly, “I couldn’t manage it. Now… Now I don’t even want to think what he'll do if Hatori tells him we met. They must still be in touch and because Shimazaki knows I tried to reach you earlier.”

“Dude,” Shou whispered and took a step towards Teru. He started to reach out to grab Teru's arms, but stopped himself. “We totally need to do something about that. Joseph has been looking for them for… yeah, almost three weeks!”

Joseph. Teru had never heard this name. He hoped it was someone strong enough to catch Shimazaki.

“He is from the government,” explained Shou. “He looks after Serizawa, Minegishi, Shibata and… well…” he winced. “After my pop too. Though he's in the jail and the Super Five is as free as wild pigs.”

“Isn’t that weird?”

“That they didn’t put the Super Five in the prison? If you ask me, yeah. But I won’t question Joseph’s decision. I guess he knows what he’s doing.”

“He won’t make a difference with Hatori and Shimazaki,” muttered Teru, anxiously rubbing his arm. Unwittingly he pressed down on one of the bruises from yesterday’s fight. “He just wants to keep an eye on them? And he’ll let Shimazaki and Hatori go, even though they kidnapped the prime minister and tried to take over the world?”

“Dunno, maybe." Shou shrugged. "It may be a little different with Shimazaki, because the whole country saw the kidnapping, there are videos of it all over the web. If he could find a job after that, you'd call him a lucky guy.”

“Well, he could always apply to the yakuza,” thought Teru. For a moment he considered suggesting Shimazaki talk to Joseph; he could always teleport away if something went wrong, right? Besides, now that Shou knew Shimazaki was staying at Teru’s place, he would be on the government’s radar soon. Killing Hanazawa or his family wouldn’t improve his situation at all.

Although that didn’t mean he wouldn’t hurt anyone…

“Meet with Joseph,” said Shou. “We’ll see what he says. I’ll contact you with him and… If you need my help, I’m here.”

“To be honest, I thought maybe you’d come help me kick him out. I’ve been dealing with this jerk for almost three weeks, and now he knows I met you. I bet we’ll have a fight again soon.”

“An afterparty?” Shou suggested.

“What?”

“Or a pajama party! We’ll all come over and if he doesn't get scared off, all…” he quickly counted the number of espers, “seven of us will kick his ass. Have you ever had eight espers at your place?”

“But it’s Monday tomorrow.”

“Yeah, and? Is that a bigger problem than some asshole sleeping at your…” Shou stopped. He squinted and leaned towards Teru. “Ritsu said you live alone. That means… you only have one bed.”

“Stop it,” snapped Teru. The warmness crept up his neck and ears. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. However it sounded, sharing a bed with Shimazaki was the worst part of living with him.

“Oh my god, you can’t even jerk off!” gasped Shou theatrically.

“Exactly. The most important problem of teen's life,” thought Teru sarcastically. He rolled his eyes. He didn’t feel like laughing, but he managed a forced smile.

“I still have a bathroom, so despite appearances, I do have some privacy,” he explained. But he kept to himself the fact that since Shimazaki moved in, Teru had been too stressed out to think about anyone like that.

“What do you think?” asked Shou. “We have the room only for one more hour and we've got nothing to do later anyway.”

No matter if Teru agreed or not – in both cases he had just as much to lose. He thought briefly about his parents; he had texted them this morning, just after Shimazaki had left, but he would need to check on them later too. Teru had lied about where they lived and worked, but he was still anxious about their lives.

“We’ll buy something to eat on the way,” he decided.

If he was home now, Shimazaki would run away before they encountered him, Hanazawa was certain of that.

***

Of course, Shimazaki wasn’t home when Teru and other espers got to Hanazawa’s place. There was no sign of Shimazaki or his aura. Probably he hadn't come back after he left in the morning.

Teru hadn’t told the others about Shimazaki. He had planned to tell them when they reached the building where Teru lived, so not to cause a panic earlier. Now Teru changed his plans. If Shimazaki wasn’t home, Hanazawa could spend some fun time with his guests, and worry about the jerk later. Shimazaki probably wouldn’t appear suddenly in the apartment, since he would feel the auras of the other espers, the older Kageyama’s especially… So Teru had time.

“The more people know, the better,” Teru thought as he was pulling out plates from a cupboard. The rest of the espers took up the bed and floor; Ritsu and Suzuki looked through the console games and shouted over themselves trying to pick one. Teru didn’t mind the noise, still lost in his thoughts:

“And now there’s no difference if only Suzuki knew or the others know too. I ratted him.”

He was setting down the glasses when he heard the older Kageyama entering the kitchen.

“You need help?”

“No, it’s okay," Teru replied. "Sorry for the mess, but I had other things on my mind, and this whole so-called after party was so spontaneous and…”

He turned to Shigeo and paused. Kageyama was looking meaningfully at the table behind Teru. Teru held his breath. He was surrounded by the auras of seven other espers, so lost in setting things up that he might not have even noticed if Shimazaki had showed up suddenly. If this jerk was just sitting at the table as if nothing…

“You smoke?” asked Shigeo quietly.

Teru sighed with relief. He glanced at the table and winced, seeing a cigarette pack lying there.

“Sometimes,” he replied. “Leftovers from old times when I was, you know, a delinquent. Smoked to show off.”

He didn’t know why he had lied... The espers would learn about Shimazaki sooner or later anyway. Maybe lying about Shimazaki had become a habit of Teru's, one that might stay long after the older esper moved out.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you,” said Kageyama.

Oh, thank god.

“My lies have lost their quality?” asked Teru with a forced smile, too common lately.

“No, I don’t think so. It’s just… Smoking doesn’t fit you. You look like you would prefer perfumes over some smoke’s stink." Shigeo was thoughtful. "It’s more like a higher standard of presenting yourself… I think.”

Oh. That was nice. And it was nice to hear such flattering words from a rival.

“Can I ask you something?” Teru asked rhetorically; he didn’t need the quiet “mhm” that Shigeo had murmured. “What do you think about the espers from the Super Five and their lives now?”

Luckily Kageyama easily took the bait of a new topic. He shuffled his feet and stared at the wall with a louder “hmm.”

“They’re better people now,” he answered after a moment. Teru had assumed an answer like that.

“You said once that Serizawa was manipulated and used,” Teru said. “And that would explain why he didn’t go to the jail like his boss. But how about the other two? Mine… Uh…”

“Minegishi.”

“I will never remember his name. And the other one, this huge dude," Teru began slowly. "They knew what they were doing this whole time they were in Claw. But still, they escaped punishment.”

“You think so?”

Teru crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his hip against the cupboards. Shigeo stared at something behind Hanazawa. The game’s music came from the other room, apparently Ritsu and Suzuki picked a racing game. Higashio, Ootsuki, and Fukuda were cheering for both of them.

“Of course they did,” Teru snarled. “Are they in a jail? No, they’re free like they did nothing wrong. That’s unfair. No one deserves easy redemption if they were aware of what they were doing and they hurt a lot of innocent people.”

In a second, Kageyama looked at Teru. Something had changed in him, he was frowning slightly, with his lips shut tight.

“No one?” Shigeo whispered after a moment.

Teru felt smaller. Small and weak, just like he had felt a few months ago, standing in the ruined walls of his school. And just now he noticed that in some ways he wasn’t really different from Shimazaki and other espers from the Super Five.

“They have to live with the burden of their pasts, trying to be better people now,” said Kageyama. “Isn’t that enough?”

Teru couldn’t agree. But if he wanted a harsher punishment for the Super Five, he would have to be punished too. He couldn’t be a hypocrite; he shouldn’t – he was a better man now after all.

Teru nodded and said a short “you’re right,” just to drop the subject. They went back to the other espers. Teru decided to not to say anything about Shimazaki yet. He wanted to talk with him himself first.

***

Shou and the others left, and still Shimazaki hadn’t come back. Teru peeked at the clock every couple minutes while talking with his mother on the phone. Mrs. Hanazawa talked about New Year plans, even though it was barely the end of October. Teruki listened to everything carefully, content that his parents were safe.

And surprisingly, his heart wasn’t squeezed with any unpleasant feelings or hunches. He wasn’t stressed or afraid, but rather calm compared to how he had felt over the last few days. Nothing would happen soon, Shimazaki couldn’t do anything to him.

Teru started to become stressed out because he was too calm. He growled irritably.

“What happened?” asked Mrs. Hanazawa.

“I forgot to do something for school.”

They ended the call. Teru threw his phone on the mattress and hid his face in his hands.

It was ten o’clock and Shimazaki still wasn’t home. Earlier this morning, when he teleported them to the apartment after the fight, he had disappeared shortly afterwards. He had come back after four hours just to change his clothes, before leaving again. Since then Teru hadn't felt his aura or heard from him.

Of course, Shimazaki disappearing was common, but the other times before he left he would say something like “I’ll be back.” This time he hadn't said anything.

Teru went to bed. He slept well, and nothing woke him up at three in the damn morning.

***

When his alarm rang a few hours later, Teru rolled onto his side and noticed that Shimazaki was still gone. The cigarettes in the kitchen were untouched since yesterday, but his clothes were still in the closet.

Teru was alone, at least for now.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

This day was strange; it was way too calm in comparison to the last two and half weeks. When Teru had spoken with his friends, he didn't have to lie about his after-school plans. Before today he had to come up with the most boring activities he had supposedly planned, so people wouldn’t want to accompany him… And the reason for this deception? Always the same – he didn't want Shimazaki to see Teru with any of his friends. But now Hanazawa could meet with anyone, anywhere, and do with them whatever he wanted – even go on dates or invite them home. Shimazaki was done, and no threats would change that. With a little luck, Shimazaki was aware of that.

Shimazaki hadn't given Teru any sign of life the whole day – no calling or texting with shopping lists or questions about whatever. Complete silence. Like he didn’t exist. It had never happened before. The only texts Teru got were from his parents and Shou. The one from Suzuki was what had interested him the most.

All it said was “Café Café Café 5.” Teru knew right away what it meant: Joseph would be waiting for him in that café at exactly five o’clock in the afternoon. Teru knew this place was on the other side of the city, and to get there on time after school, he would need to take a taxi or use his powers.

And even though he saved some money these past few weeks, it was hard for him to say goodbye to extra cash. So no taxi.

Speaking of money, Teru would need to buy something for dinner. The fridge was terrifying in its emptiness and there was nothing decent to eat. The question was, should Teru buy something for Shimazaki too? He didn't consider that for very long, only on his way to the café, before he decided he would live like Shimazaki wasn’t part of his life anymore.

“Good riddance,” he thought, dashing from one roof to another. It was a bit before five o’clock when he approached where he was supposed to meet Joseph, so he wouldn’t be late or miss the man. From what Shou had said, Joseph should be easy to recognize – a light haired European, with a cigarette practically glued to his lips.

Teru landed on the pavement near the café. He ran a hand through his hair, which had grown out enough to remind Teru to dye it again soon. Seriously, this whole living with Shimazaki had been too much for him; Teru hadn’t even had time to take care of himself.

The name “Café Café Café” stretched out over the whole wall of the building, which was a few windows wide. Teru glanced skeptically at the scraped walls and falling plaster. The cafe didn’t look inviting, but unfamiliar psychic aura coming from inside told Hanazawa he was in the right place. He went inside and had to immediately step back and cover his nose with his jacket sleeve, as he was overwhelmed with the sudden stink of smoke. He was so nauseous he almost left, but he eventually powered through it and stepped into the dark and stinky room.

Teru glanced at the people sitting at the tables around him; a few of them looked at him too, but didn’t show much interest before going back to their business. Teru didn’t see anyone who might look like Joseph. Maybe the aura he had felt from outside wasn’t his? It could always be another random esper.

Trying not to draw any more attention, Teru approached the counter and ordered a tea. Then he took a place at a table in the corner, so he would have a better view of the whole room.

He didn’t exactly fit in. He was a kid in a place normally preferred by adults. Most people were smoking cigarettes and there was alcohol on the menu. Teru didn’t see anyone his age. He shouldn’t be here, he was certain of that. But, well, he wasn’t the one who had picked this place, so no one could fault him for that.

A waitress brought the tea just as Teru sent another text to his parents. He thanked her, added sweetener to the drink and put it aside. It was five past five. He would wait until Joseph finally showed up. And if the man didn't come – Teru would find Shou and kick his ass for wasting his time on his first day of freedom.

“You've never asked about the weather here before,” Teru read the message from his mom. “Are you alright, sweetheart?”

He felt silly for looking for a reason to text his parents. Almost like he was paranoid something had happened to them. The over twenty messages he had sent since this morning proved very well that he was on edge.

   “ Shimazaki wouldn’t hurt them ,” said a voice in his head, reasonable maybe.

         “ But what if he did? ” asked the other voices, more paranoid.

   “ It would be a stupid move.

         “ But you would learn a lesson.

“Are you Teru?”

Teruki jumped, suddenly hearing a voice near him. He looked up. Next to his table stood Joseph, or someone Hanazawa rightly concluded to be Joesph from his bright hair, European features, and a cig between his lips. Everything fit. His aura was strange, it made Teru think of a sticky smoke that clung to his senses and confused him.

Joseph sat across from Teru and tapped the ashes off his cigarette.

“Who’s the other esper here?” asked Teru. He had tried to identify the person in the cafe with that unfamiliar aura before, but he had failed, although he had looked over the other people in the cafe a few times.

“My friend,” muttered Joseph. “Don’t mind him. Young Suzuki said you wanted to talk with me. I hope you aren’t wasting my time.”

“And I hope you aren’t wasting my time and can help me somehow,” Teru snapped. Joseph let out a puff of smoke and squinted at him. Hanazawa held his gaze, although Joseph’s cigarette stank worse than the other smells around them. Teru suppressed a cough.

“I’ve heard you’re the one who’s keeping an eye on the espers from Claw. Especially on the Super Five,” he said. “Is that true?”

“Maybe.”

“Um… Okay. Yeah. So. Shimazaki, Ryou Shimazaki, was living with me for the past two weeks. And this whole time he was in touch with Hatori. I know you are looking for them.”

Joseph leaned forward, interested.

“Hmmm… Was living? But not anymore? You sheltered a terrorist? How lovely.”

Teru shook his head. He took his cup in his hands and began explaining.

***

That evening, Teru hadn’t been able to cook dinner. He had talked with Joseph for so long, it was too late to go to the grocery store, let alone prepare anything. So he had to order take-out again.

“This is the last time,” he said to himself for the third time this week. Take-out was an easy alternative for when Teru or Shimazaki had been too lazy to cook anything themselves. But for those last few weeks, it had been Shimazaki who had always paid for food. And starting today it was on Teru… Too bad, especially if he wanted to save money.

Teru sat on his bed, munching on rice and staring at the TV. There was a drama quietly airing in the background as he was recalled his earlier conversation with Joseph.

The man had heard Teru’s whole story and – thank God – offered to help, but only after some negotiations, and thinking up a plan with the other espers from the government. If Shimazaki returned, Teru was supposed to contact Joesph at once. Teru trusted him, of course, he did. Joseph was kinda abrupt and straightforward, but in Hanazawa’s eyes, that was to his advantage; he hadn’t cried over Teru’s life or played the role of a kind adult who had to help a kid. And Joesph knew who he was fighting – he hadn’t been even a little surprised when Teru had spoken about all of Shimazaki’s skills. Well, Joseph reportedly had been a spy snooping on Claw, so that would explain a lot.

DING! A text.

Teru grabbed his phone. His heart skipped a beat when he saw Ritsu’s name on the screen.

 “They said there are nice views from the Whale,” said the message.

He didn’t know he was smiling as he pressed the phone to his chest. He wanted to squeal.

The Whale, that was the name of place outside of town – a small hill with a gentle slope on one side, and a steep drop on the other. That’s where most people went when they wanted to have a picnic or just meet outdoors.

And Ritsu, with his typical grace, had suggested a meeting. Or a date. It was a good day, a good day.

Teru answered immediately:

 “On bikes? Tomorrow?”

“If you pick me up after the student council meeting. And if you bring something to eat. I’ll be starving.”

It sounded like a one on one, but Teru wanted to be sure:

 “Only us or are you taking your friends too?”

“..........you want me to invite someone else?”

“NO NONONO”

“Good.”

He didn’t know how to answer so he left it at that. He finished his meal and rushed to the bathroom to wash off the hair dye he had left setting in his hair earlier. Ritsu, Ritsu, Ritsu – echoed in Teru’s head. They would finally talk and clear everything up. And maybe they would date for real. A first date, a second, a third, mom, dad, this is Ritsu .

He was so distracted in his daydreaming, he almost bumped into a cabinet, as he was drying his hair with a towel. And he and nearly fell on the ground when he jumped happily and slipped on the tiles. One more mistake and Teru would probably break his neck. He had to calm down, to direct his energy somewhere else, do something useful. Laundry!

He dived into the laundry bin and started sorting the darks from the lights. During the sorting, he was lost in thought about his outfit for tomorrow. Would he even have time to go back home after classes to change AND make them something to eat (or buy a take-out again? Ugh.) Hmm, maybe he would make bentos in the morning and ride to the school on his bike, without going back home after classes… Well, he looked good in his school uniform, right? Yeah, he looked good in anything, so he didn’t have to waste time going home. He could pick up Ritsu, without a fear of being late and…

The air around him tensed, and fear grasped Teru’s heart. The apartment flooded with Shimazaki’s aura.

Teru heard quick footsteps approaching the bathroom. He straightened and clenched his hands around the laundry basket. His heart was racing, the world spun. No, no, no, goddamnit, no! This jerk was back, he was here, and he was probably pissed off. Teru could say bye to the date. Hah, bye to his life! Teru couldn’t even call for help – he'd left his phone in the bedroom, and between it and Teru was Shimazaki.

The footsteps stopped. Neither of the espers moved for a couple of breaths.

“Teru?” Hanazawa heard. He blinked.

“No, it's Santa Claus.”

Silence.

“So can I sit on your lap?” Shimazaki asked.

What the hell?

“Forget it," Teru snapped. "You were mean.”

“Damn. Hey, um, I need to take a shower. Are you done in there?”

Teru looked at the basket, then at the door. He had finished sorting, so yeah, he was done. But that meant, he would have to face Shimazaki, and he wasn’t ready for that.

When was the last time he had messaged his parents? Why did Shimazaki want to take this shower so urgently? Was he covered in someone’s blood?

“Why?” asked Teru.

“What's with that ‘why’?”

“Why do you need to take a shower?”

Shimazaki answered him with an impatient sigh and then:

“Because I stink. And I’m dirty.”

“Of blood?”

“Luckily no. I was careful when I was cutting this guy’s head off so not to make a mess.”

Teru knew that was a sarcasm, but it only made his mood worse. Until now this Monday had been okay. Too okay. Teru should have known that sooner or later something would ruin it.

He looked around, seeking possible weapons. If they started fighting, he could throw everything that was in here – cosmetics, clothes, accessories – at Shimazaki to divert his attention and run for his phone. The small space in the bathroom was to Teru’s advantage, who would be able to see all the obstacles, in contrary to the other esper.

“You can come in,” he said. He didn’t have to say it twice, Shimazaki opened the door and hurriedly rushed towards the shower, shoving Teru out of his way.

“Doing laundry?”

Teru nodded. He looked him over – Shimazaki was dirty, right, but not from blood. Dust and mud covered his body, as if Shimazaki had rolled on the ground.

“Washing dark clothes,” said Teru, not sure how much of this information was important. Well, Shimazaki was back and he behaved like nothing had happened, like he didn't know Teru had sold him out to Joseph. But Shimazaki had to know about it, it was obvious!

“Good,” Shimazaki said. “Here, have this too.”

He started taking off his blazer and t-shirt.

Teru blinked, confused. Shimazaki was just stripping in front of him, completely unmoved, but clearly upset by something else. And it wasn't as if Teru hadn’t seen Shimazaki without a shirt before (it had happened a few times), but it was more like…

“You want to fight me naked ?” he asked. Shimazaki’s hand stopped in the middle of unbuttoning his pants.

“You’re asking for trouble with those stupid questions.”

He reached out for Teru. Hanazawa glanced at his hand, then up Shimazaki’s chest, studying the marks and bruises on his skin. His attention landed on a gauze on Shimazaki's shoulder, that covered the wound Shimazaki had got when the rod almost had pierced him two evenings before. Seeing this made Teru more confident. Wherever Shimazaki had just invited him, Teru would use the surroundings again to defeat him. All alone.

He grasped the basket with his one hand, and lifted his head (and he let his gaze hang for a moment on Shimazaki’s sharp muscles) before and reaching for Shimazaki's hand. If Shimazaki wanted to fight, no problem. Bring it on.

Shimazaki teleported him across the apartment and then disappeared, leaving Teru alone with the washing machine.

Teru didn’t comment on this strange development, not even in his thoughts. He simply started loading the clothes inside.

***

Usually while waiting for the machine to finish its mission, Teru had waited on the balcony or gone shopping, just to not be in the apartment with Shimazaki. But now he ran back to the bedroom, stumbling over his feet. He noted that Shimazaki just finished his shower as the sound of the water stopped right as he grabbed his phone. Some time between washing his own hair and the laundry, Teru had got another message from Ritsu:

“...but you’ll come, right?”

Teru completely forgot about him. Shimazaki showing up had clouded all his earlier happiness about the date with Ritsu, dammit.

Shimazaki, right. Joseph needed to know he was back.

Hanazawa was just writing first characters of his message when Shimazaki came in.

“Teru?”

The boy looked up. Shimazaki was standing a few steps away, holding a first-aid kit in one hand and a shirt in the other. At least he had put on pants, thank you very much. Teru glanced again at all the bruises and scratches, and internally patted himself on the back for putting such nice decorations on Shimazaki’s body.

“I need you to…” Shimazaki pointed at the wound on his arm. Stitches marked a long path over the injury.

“To what?”

“To put a gauze on that.” He waved with the first aid kid. “And check if everything’s alright with… with the thing you did. The wound.”

Teru smiled to himself.

“And you have no one else to ask for help,” he hummed pleasantly.

“They didn’t want to help me, cowards.”

“Ah.” Teru straightened and put away his phone with ‘He’s back’ remaining unsent to Joseph. “No one at all? Minegishi? Shibata? Serizawa? Hatori… ? Looks like I won this round because I have friends who would help me if I needed.”

He didn’t regret his words. He stood firm as Shimazaki approached him, but clenched his fingers around his phone.

“If you're stupid enough to try anything…” Teru added. But Shimazaki simply pushed him aside and sat down on the bed. Teru breathed a sigh of relief.

“Okay, let me see that,” he said, moving in front of Shimazaki. He had to stand between Shimazaki’s legs to have a better view of the wound. “Who stitched it?”

Teru had no clue about stitches, so he couldn’t tell if the job had been done well or not. The wound hadn't festered at least.

“The guy I know is a surgeon,” answered Shimazaki. His warm breath teased the skin of Teru’s neck. “But as soon as he was done he told me to leave and never show up again,” he added bitterly. Teru nodded and hummed. It was good someone had helped Shimazaki with the wound, but it seemed that Shimazaki had caused more problems than his friends had predicted, and they had abandoned him. It would explain the long time Shimazaki was away and the state he had been in when he came back – he probably had checked with everyone who could be able to help him and only decided to return to Teru when he had run out of options.

They didn’t talk when Teru rinsed the wound with a disinfectant and put on a gauze. The silence was different than the ones that had previously stretched between them when they had been busy with their business. Now the roles had been reversed; this time it was Shimazaki who was recovering, was the one who wasn’t certain of his future. Ergo – he wasn’t teasing and being mean to Teru. He had lost and he knew it.

“Okay, done,” Teru said quietly, patting the gauze flat. “I don’t know much about wounds, but it doesn’t look bad. Anything else you want me to check?”

Instead of answering, Shimazaki gave a lingering hum and leaned his forehead against Teru’s arm.

Teru twitched in surprise but didn’t move away. It started to feel awkward that this whole evening Shimazaki hadn't been aggressive. He was clearly tired, fed up. But it couldn’t be the only reason for Shimazaki's strange behavior right now.

“What is it?” Teru decided to ask.

“I didn’t sleep at all today.”

“Oh, but I did. I finally rested. It was so nice having the whole bed to myself again.”

“Mmmmhhhh…”

“Then get some sleep if you’re sooo tired,” Teru wanted to say, but then he felt a light touch on his legs. He peeked down. Shimazaki rested his hands over Teru's knees, fingers catching slightly against Hanazawa’s pants.

Teru wasn’t held, but he felt like he was in the trap of a sleepy, wounded beast. The beast – although he had bared its teeth and clenched his claws on its prey days before – now was helpless and weak. Remorse pricked Teru’s heart, but he stifled it effectively. A terrorist, a jerk; Shimazaki didn’t deserve a sympathy.

“No?” something said in Teru’s head. It had Kageyama’s voice and now Teru felt bad. He and Shimazaki were similar, they both had been using their positions and powers to cause chaos. The only difference was that Shimazaki waited longer to feel remorseful, and in meantime, he terrorized Hanazawa, fought and threatened him… Teru had seen himself Shimazaki's awful conduct and attitude, and…

And all of this made Teru aware that he was the perfect person to lead Shimazaki on a good path, one where he would finally come out of the shadows and meet with Joseph.

DING! A new text. Teru ignored his phone and focused on Shimazaki. He absolutely had to tell him about Joseph now, even if he was within the beast’s claws. He had to tell him that the others from the Super Five had met with Joseph and now were living new lives, and that there was a chance for Shimazaki too.

Teru took a deep breath. He put his one hand on Shimazaki’s unwounded arm. His other hand began combing the man’s wet hair, calmly and slowly, as if trying to get the beast used to his touch, to help Teru in taming him.

“Are you sleeping?” he asked. Shimazaki shook his head. “Do you know I saw Shou?”

No reaction.

“And Joseph. You know him, right? They both know you’re here.”

“And do you know that…”

“That what?" Teru cut him off. "That you could do something to me and run away? Of course you could, if you wanted to. But how long are you going to hide? And what’s point of that?”

Shimazaki sighed and embraced Teru’s legs with his hands, pulling him closer. Hanazawa swallowed. He wouldn't let this man threaten him. He lifted his hand from Shimazaki’s hair and placed it on the wound as a reminder he could defend himself if needed.

“You’re the most stubborn of all of them,” he said. “The others from the Super Five started putting their lives back together a long time ago. What’s stopping you?”

“Because I can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

Shimazaki was silent. Teru waited patiently for the answer.

“I can’t have regrets,” the man said quietly after a few minutes. “I can’t be like them, whipping myself every morning for what I've done. I was doing all of this for fun, you know. So why do I have to feel bad about it?”

Oh. So Teru was wrong. He had thought that the beast had changed and started crying over his past, but no. He thought about his answer for a moment.

“Um, well, no one said you should whip yourself.” Certainly, Teru hadn't done that after he changed from the person he used to be.  “Just... Change your life. There’s no way to go back to Claw because it doesn’t exist anymore. You can come out of hiding, show that you don’t want to be the bad guy. That’s what the others did, right? Maybe not Hatori, but I bet he’ll break soon too… Uh, anyway, you don’t know their thoughts, you don’t know if they feel bad about their pasts or not. But they go on because that’s the only thing they can do now.”

No answer again. Shimazaki hugged Teru. The warmth of the hug and closeness was a little too much for Hanazawa. Moments ago he had tried to not to think too much about the awkwardness of this situation – two days ago they fought practically to the death, and now they were close, chest to chest. But he didn’t want to free himself from the embrace yet. Yes, he felt like prey, but he also felt like it helped him in convincing Shimazaki. Well, at least the man hadn't ruled anything out; he was still listening carefully.

“You’ll meet Joseph tomorrow,” Teru said, quieter. “He won’t do anything besides giving you a really small, tiny implant, just to keep an eye on you. Just like they did to the others. And then you can live again.”

“I don’t know how.”

Teru bit his lip. What did he mean by “I don’t know how?” He was an adult, dammit!

“The others managed, and you will too. Just stop resisting.”

“I need to think about it.”

“You will meet Joseph tomorrow. I’ll text you where and when.”

“I’m going to sleep.”

Teru tried to step back. Shimazaki let him go and hanged his head.

“Then go,” Teru said. “I still have a few things to do.”

Shimazaki nodded, put on his shirt and laid down, lazily and sleepy.

That’s it. They were done. Teru grabbed his phone and the basket for the laundry and retreated from the room. He closed the door behind him, and slid down the wall, with his face hid in his hands. He barely noticed he was shaking.

Finally. Finally. FINALLY . He knew Shimazaki hadn't agreed to anything yet, but Teru was certain this was the end of his suffering, he felt it in his bones.

Now he could check the messages he had received earlier.

Ritsu again.

“...Hanazawa?”

Teru remembered he hadn’t answered the last text.

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

On his way to the washing machine, he dialed Joseph’s number.

Chapter Text

Shimazaki woke up to the feeling of a warm breath teasing against his neck. The man mumbled a question and was about to free his hand from under the blankets to shield himself, when he felt Teru’s aura – sharp and awakened – leaning over him. Shimazaki decided to lay still, waiting for the boy's next move.

Teru froze as well, and then slowly leaned over on his forearm, his other hand close to his side. He was probably waiting for the right moment or until Shimazaki went back to sleep. Only after a few more breaths did Teru raise his hand and brush his fingertips carefully against the bruises decorating Shimazaki’s arms and chest. The touch – not so light that it tickled and not enough to wake Shimazaki even if he was asleep – was approaching the gauze over Shimazaki's stitches.

Shimazaki’s heart began beating faster and he tried not to move, stopped himself from grabbing or pushing Teru’s hand away. Of course, he could guess what Teru's next move might be – Teru's touch might study the biggest wound on Shimazaki’s arm – but Shimazaki didn’t know what would happen after that or what exactly was on Teru’s mind. So Shimazaki lied still on his back, on his side of the bed, in the middle of the night. Well, he could only assume it was middle of the night – he hadn’t heard any noises from outside, and those noises from inside included only the ticking of the clock and the rustle of the sheets.

Suddenly Teru’s aura swirled in excitement and thinned, and then shifted from a thick slime, almost oil-like, to something as light as water. It peeled back from the boy in streams, coiling around him wildly and shaking as Teru tried to calm himself down. For the first few seconds Teru couldn’t control his aura, so he froze again and breathed deeply. He lowered his head, but his hand was still on Shimazaki’s arm.

When Teru had calmed down, his aura thickened again. Those changes weren’t similar to what had happened to Teru in the woods two nights before when he had lost control of his psychic powers. Now the aura betrayed all too well how Teru felt. The odds were the boy didn’t even know that Shimazaki could read him like an open book from only a short glance.

Teru got up on his knees and leaned over the man again. Now Shimazaki was even more confused, he couldn’t think what motivated Teru or what he was so excited about. These wounds weren’t anything serious, just some scratches. That could happen to anyone – so what if they were from a fight? No one had won anyway, so there was nothing to be happy about.

But Teru’s aura brightened and deepened, thinned and thickened, all depending if the boy managed or not to calm himself down in time. He was still tracking the bruises and marks, and now Teru's touch wasn’t that light, but firmer. Teru was leaning closer and closer; if he tilted his head and turned his face towards the man, Shimazaki could kiss him if he wanted. That was a bad joke, but maybe it would teach Teru to not molest other espers while they were asleep. A different kind of a lesson from their usual fights.

Fortunately for the boy, Shimazaki didn’t move his head. Teru's wandering hand found a comfortable place to rest on the gauze and his fingers traced up and down the stitches. They didn’t press or cause any pain, but Shimazaki clearly felt the touch… and he grew annoyed with Teru’s behavior. Admittedly he had heard a bit about Hanazawa before he had appeared in his apartment, but in between notes about Teru liking torturing the others and not stopping himself from killing if needed, there was no mention of Teru being fascinated with someone’s bruises. Maybe he was a sadist; Shimazaki wouldn’t be surprised by that at all.

The hand started wandering again, hesitantly, this time in the direction of Shimazaki's neck. Shimazaki frowned. He felt a change in the boy’s aura – it was growing under a thin layer, that could snap in any moment after being put under too much pressure; suppressed, but barely trained and wild somewhere deep inside. The aura was getting harder to stifle the nearer Teru’s hand was to Shimazaki’s neck. It was only a matter of seconds, and Shimazaki caught the changes because the aura grew, and grew, and grew…

Shimazaki wasn’t afraid of what might happen, but he also didn’t want to find out if Teru would try to choke him. He mumbled in annoyance and, as if in his sleep, turned onto his side, his back to Teru. The boy’s aura quickly contracted and returned to its old pattern, with a small pinch of confusion. Then Teru laid back down and didn’t move for a long time.

That night Shimazaki didn’t sleep well.

***

Shimazaki had slept only a half an hour, but when he woke up with Teru’s alarm, he felt as if he was well rested and could conquer the world. He got dressed, brushed his teeth and shaved, and had sat down to eat breakfast before his fatigue caught up with him, and his face almost landed on the plate of food. Teru didn’t look much better – his aura barely smoldered, and if something fanned it, it only grew off-balance and twitchy. Neither of them talked; even Shimazaki wasn’t trying to goad any information out of the boy. He couldn’t even think about that right now, his mind covered in a mist of exhaustion.

The silence broke the moment Shimazaki pulled out a cigarette.

“No,” Teru growled.

“Let an old man have a smoke in the morning.”

“Get. Out.”

Shimazaki wanted nothing else but peace, so he obeyed. He grabbed his coffee and teleported to the balcony. Teru reacted in no time and rushed after him. Shimazaki sighed and moved to the roof, hoping he would get there with some time to himself. He sat down on the edge of the building, put his mug aside and finally lit the cigarette. He could sense Teru standing in the middle of the bedroom and didn’t move for a moment; maybe he was considering going after Shimazaki. It made no difference to the former Claw esper if only Teru would be quiet.

The chill air, the coffee, and the cigarette woke Shimazaki up, but he still felt he would need to get a few more hours of sleep after Teru left for school. The question was, which did Teru care about more – going to school or choking Shimazaki? Would Teru come back just to check if Shimazaki was asleep and use the chance?

Well, yeah, that sounded like paranoia, but after earlier that morning, Shimazaki didn’t know what he could expect from the boy. Teru hadn’t behaved like that before… although some of Claw’s reports said that Teruki Hanazawa could have some mental problems, even for a kid his age. Torturing and drowning people? At the age of fourteen? Good grief.

Shimazaki assumed it had something to do with Claw espers hunting Teru for a long time; they weren’t exactly gentle in persuading people to their ideas after all. So Teru had to choose between giving in or fighting with tears in his eyes and turning into a bastard, similar to those men who were chasing him.

Except that Shimazaki promised to meet with Joseph, so Teru had no reason to behave strangely, right? Or was his nature a result of something more than the fighting with Claw?

Anyway, Shimazaki should have noticed the oddness of the kid before, when he had “moved in.” He should have, but he hadn’t. The last two weeks had wrung all the strength and determination from Shimazaki thanks to Teru – on top of being a madman – and his attitude. He had not even once let up on Shimazaki, even if he had been losing every battle this entire time. Ultimately desperation had won, and without caring about the lives of his family and friends, Teru had decided to seek help. Shimazaki wasn’t surprised. He was only mad that Joseph traced him before he and Hatori managed to find a perfect place to hide.

It could be so beautiful. If they would have had only a few days more… Hatori had promised he would stitch everything up in no longer than two weeks; after that they would be impossible to track until the world forgot about them. Teru had known about it, and Shimazaki hadn’t wanted to lie to him (especially not after their last fight)... Only Teru didn’t believe him. And here Shimazaki wasn’t surprised again.

Now Shimazaki had nowhere to hide and he had to meet with Joseph. He couldn’t imagine what would happen during this meeting. Would Joesph tell him he was free to do whatever the hell he wanted? Just like the others from the Super Five? There had to be a catch.

Teru found him on the roof, although Shimazaki hadn’t intended to hide. Hanazawa approached him, buttoning up his coat, or the man guessed from hearing a rustle of material.

“I’ll contact Joseph and give you details about the meeting,” said Teru. “I wanna get you both over as soon as possible.”

Shimazaki tilted his head and considered telling Teru about his plans. He hadn’t planned meeting Joseph alone, he wasn’t that stupid. And maybe the presence of Teru as a hostage wouldn’t give him much of an advantage, but he didn’t want to be an easy catch.

“And… And I won’t be home for a dinner,” Teru added. Shimazaki turned his head to him and raised his eyebrows.

“You think you’ll still find me here after this meeting?” he asked. Because, well, he was sure he would be sleeping in a prison bed tonight.

“Saying just in case you're still here. Good luck.”

So Shimazaki didn’t say anything about his plans. Teru would leave him with no choice, but Shimazaki could deal with that later. Wherever Teru would be after the school… Finding him shouldn’t be a problem. And if Teru was hiding, Shimazaki would ask Hatori for help in tracking him.

Several minutes later the boy moved quickly up the street in the direction of his school. Shimazaki guessed Teru had taken his bike. It was too chilly for his liking, but it seemed that wasn't a problem for the younger esper. Kids these days, they were just asking for a cold.

Maybe it was a good thing he would meet with Joseph today. Even if the man put Shimazaki into a prison, this whole circus with hiding at Teru's would be over. On the other hand, now, the others from the Super Five were more free than ever before, and the government imprisoned only Toichiro... Shimazaki and Hatori could have surrendered right after the battle back then, but how could they have predicted it would end up like this and not in jail...? Especially when you take into consideration that, besides the boss, Shimazaki was the one who caused the most chaos. After kidnapping the prime minister and losing the battle with a bunch of kids, it was hard for Shimazaki to bend his knee to just anyone and accept the punishment. So he had had to look for a shelter. And maybe irony or karma had decided to finally show its claws just in time, just as Shimazaki had found his perfect hiding place at the apartment of a kid who caused him the most trouble.

Shimazaki had learned during their first fights that Teru was not only a sadist but damn talented sadist... But at least he lived alone, according to the Claw informants. Moreover, Shimazaki had felt that after this battle Teru would be tired and hurt and wouldn't put up much of a resistance. Aaaand he was sick as well. Shimazaki hadn't wanted to take care of a sick kid, but damn if he had had any other choice.

Shimazaki had lost to weaklings, that's right, but the sheer force of numbers had been to his disadvantage back then. And Teru was the only one here to fight Shimazaki this time, and Teru might be smart and sneaky, but on his own he never stood a chance against Shimazaki. Especially after Shimazaki knew his own weak points and learned how to effectively use his new ESP powers.

Teru had to be aware of this, but he kept on stubbornly fighting. Shimazaki was almost impressed. Yeah, he was tired of all the quarrels and fights, but still impressed.

Well, it was hard to not to recognize Teru. He was different from all other esper kids that Claw had obtained and who Shimazaki had had a chance to meet. They were aware of their psychic powers, but they still had been in diapers, weak and afraid of fighting; they had treated their psychic powers like something cool (no wonder of course) but they still had lacked composure, skills, or a readiness to learn from their mistakes... And in the end, they had all broken under the pressure of Claw's training and if they hadn't killed themselves, the kids had become demented puppets with no utility. Teru on the other hand? Using psychic powers for him was not only as easy as breathing, but he also knew many techniques and could use all of them flawlessly. And he was still learning. All alone! Maybe Shou was stronger than Teru – as Shimazaki could assess – but before running away, young Suzuki had teachers who had showed him how to use his psychic powers, while Hanazawa was self-taught. Who knew what Teru would become in a few years! Maybe someone could help him and Teru would be even more powerful, maybe even more than Toichiro. If he had the proper motivation, that is.

But there was something wrong in Teru's approach to his special powers. Fake modesty. Shaky distance. Trained restraint. Teru looked like he wasn't himself, he came off as someone who once had been smashed to pieces and then rebuilt based on a specific pattern. “I'm just a commoner,” a boy said, who in a blink of an eye had deciphered one of the most powerful espers in the world. “I'm just a commoner,” said a boy who had been the only one who could stand on his own after Shimazaki's knockout attack. “I'm just a commoner,” a boy said who was one of only few espers who could use more than one fighting technique at once. “I'm just a...” “DAMNIT, NO!” – Shimazaki wanted to yell, to grab Teru's arms and shake him. How could he think of himself as a commoner when he was an esper like this?! Why couldn't Teru see that he was above the others, better, smarter? Everything he said in this regard sounded so fake. Teru just needed to take a few steps, needed a small push to stop believing in this stupid “commoner” thing. He had a chance to become the ideal esper. Why wouldn't he take it? What was stopping him?

Even if he didn't want to use his psychic powers against regular people (because Teru said that's wrong, for some strange reason) it was obvious he was better than them, and it wasn't healthy to live in such denial.

Unless... What had Teru said during their second fight, shortly after he had figured Shimazaki out? “There are espers in the world with power greater than you can even imagine”? And Teru had been talking about his friend, the one who had shown up at the very end of the battle... Uh, okay, his psychic powers were indeed greater than Teru's, but that wasn't any reason to give someone a complex! Seriously, Teru needed somebody who would help him fight against that! (But not Shimazaki, no way. It was enough for him to get his ass beaten up, he didn't have to add any more bricks into building Teru's ego.)

Teru was wasting his potential. Moreover, he was living alone, without parents so instead of getting the best out of his life he was doing all the stuff his old folks should be doing. Shimazaki felt sorry for him.

Speak of the devil.

Shimazaki's mobile rang with a cheerful tone. Shimazaki – who had tried to sleep in but failed to rest – struggled for his phone and picked up, his cheek buried in a soft pillow.

“Hm?” was his greeting.

“Half past noon,” Teru snapped. “At the corner of Mita and Otome streets.”

“Mhm.”

Surprisingly Teru didn't hang up. He was silent.

“What time is it anyway?” asked Shimazaki. It felt like he'd been trying to sleep for a long time, and he hadn't checked the hour.

“Ten o'clock.”

“You don't sound amused. What's wrong?” It wasn't as if Shimazaki was super interested in Teru's mood, but the boy should be happy he would be rid of Shimazaki soon, right?

“I don't know why, but Joseph wants me to come with you.”

“Oh.” Shimazaki rolled onto his side and tucked Hanazawa's pillow under his head. Joseph had made his task easier; now Shimazaki wouldn't have to kidnap Teruki, thanks, thanks. “Yeah, strange. This doesn't have anything to do with you.”

“Exactly! Like I wouldn't have better things to do during lunch.”

“I can pick you up if you want. To be honest...” he yawned. “I don't know where those streets you mentioned are. Mi... uh... ta?”

“Mita and Otoma. Fine. I'll be waiting at the same place as always. See you.”

“Bye-bye.”

Shimazaki hung up and set an alarm, just in case he did fall asleep. Then he rolled onto his stomach and snuggled his face into the pillow. The material smelled familiar, of Teru's shampoo scent. “Familiar and nice,” the thought flickered in the back of Shimazaki's mind. He still had two more hours to enjoy to the fullest his familiar surroundings, before he would go to Joseph, who would be waiting for him with his damn ideas and plans.

***

Teru's aura was sharper than it had been in the morning – that, or Shimazaki's ESP had been muffled with fatigue and was now sharper in the face of danger. But maybe it was just Teru who was different, simply excited about the events that were about to happen.

“I hope you won't surprise us with a fight or something,” Teru said as they walked down Mita street. It wasn't too busy or empty, accurate to the time of the day when most people were at school or work. Only a few men passed the espers, giving them as much attention as they were receiving.

“I haven't decided yet, to be honest,” answered Shimazaki. It didn't matter if he cried 'nooo, I'm not planning anything, I swear!' Teru would stay alert anyway, so there was no point in lying.

“Shimazaki.” Teru suddenly came to a stop and turned to him. “You still don't believe they'll let you go? Don't pick a fight or you'll get yourself into bigger problems.”

“And you believe that?” Shimazaki shrugged. “Imagine being a guy who kidnapped the prime minister and made a damn mess out of a city, killing people and other espers. Would you let them go?”

“Honestly? No.”

“Exactly.”

“But considering they didn't put the others in jail, I have to believe them," Teru said. "This all doesn't make any sense for me, but... You see how it is.”

“I hope for your own good that they'll really let me go.”

“Seriously?” Teru's aura glowed and lit up the gray silhouettes of passers-by. “Or what?”

“I wouldn't hurt you, that's for sure. But don't let the others pay for your mistakes.”

“What the hell is this again?”

Shimazaki tilted his head and sighed loudly. Oh God, okay, Teru had his head on the right way and could lie like no one else, but he had forgotten one important thing – Shimazaki wasn't an idiot.

“Your parents,” Shimazaki said, closing the distance between them with three slow steps. “You weren’t honest about them. Although it would have been a stupid move if you had told me the truth about them.”

Teru swallowed and clenched his fists. His anger was trying to take control of him and push him to attack Shimazaki, but he was resisting. He stood firm, not moving.

So Shimazaki had him by his throat. He and Hatori had traced Teru's parents days ago, but they had kept this information as long as they needed. And now was a good moment to use it, just in case something went wrong during this talk with Joseph.

“You aren't making it easy for anyone,” snapped Teru. “Especially not for yourself.”

“I haven't had it easy since I was born, and I lived with that. But thanks for your concern.”

“You know I'm not afraid of you.”

“You are definitely trying not to be afraid, I'm certain of that.”

Teru growled something in return and turned on his heel to continue down the street. Shimazaki followed him. He started noticing auras of other espers who were in a building somewhere in a distance. He guessed it had to be Joseph and his team. Good, at least he wouldn't need to wait for him and this bullshit would be over with soon.

“Why didn't he bring the whole army?” Shimazaki asked under his breath. Teru didn't answer, but his aura tensed. “Hey, I was just kidding, okay? I don't want to fight anyone, but if they try to jail me then, sorry, but it won't be that easy.”

“Mhm.”

After a few minutes of a rushed walk, they finally reached the meeting place – a closed restaurant; there was no staff inside but all the tables were occupied by espers of different ranks and psychic power strength. Their auras each tensed and sharpened as Shimazaki and Teru entered the building.

The door immediately shut behind them, closed by someone's use of telekinesis, and a shiver went down Shimazaki's back. The lock scraped shut. The world and auras around them suddenly blurred as Shimazaki lost his orientation in the room. He came to a stop.

“Right,” he muttered. “Of course they'd use some damn seals.”

He still could sense the presence of other espers, but now instead of carefully studying them, he could only tell they were somewhere here. If they rushed at him, Shimazaki would only know about it when they hit him. Cute.

“And here's Joseph,” he heard Teru say. Yeah, no shit. Shimazaki tried to teleport two steps back, but his psychic powers refused to work. Well, it looked like they would put him in jail for real. Why didn't he predict they would meet in a sealed place? It was the first and the last time they had duped him. But he still could predict their moves. Maybe not by reading their auras but...

He flinched when he felt Teru's hand squeezing his wrist.

“This way,” said the boy. His hand slipped down and his fingers entwined with Shimazaki's. They moved ahead and stopped after a few steps; Teru first.

“Well, finally.” Shimazaki recognized Joseph's voice. He felt a choking smoke, too thick and sleazy to call it normal.

Teru pulled his hand away.

“Good afternoon,” answered Shimazaki.

“You've been hiding for so long,” said Joseph. “And at some kid's place... Like you didn't have enough problems.”

“I had too much fun to come out and see old friends like you. I hope you're in good health.”

“Where's Hatori?”

“Straight to business, huh?" Shimazaki grinned. "Why do you even think I know?”

“You're in touch, right?”

“Yeah, and? There's something called a phone. I don't need to know where he's hiding to be able to talk to him. It wouldn't be a good thing to know anyway.”

The reek of smoke came even closer, brushing against the former Claw esper’s face. Shimazaki felt a grasp on his jacket, a tug. The next second his face smashed against something hard and wooden – surely the top of a table or a counter. Pain flared up his temple and the side of his face, piercing down his injured arm.

“Wow,” panted Shimazaki.

“Where's Hatori?” it was Joseph again, his voice calm. He was holding Shimazaki by his hair and the back of his neck.

“I don't know,” Shimazaki growled. His hands struggled to find the edge of the countertop. “He doesn't like talking about himself.”

“Then you'll ask him in... What time is it?”

“Twenty to one,” an esper answered from the other side of the room.

“In three minutes. You'll be a good boy and call him and ask about everything we need to know,” explained Joseph.

“I won't do that.” Shimazaki smiled to himself, amused. “I don't have his number. He's the one who's always calling me.”

“And why would I believe you?” Joesph emphasized his question by slamming Shimazaki's head against the counter again. For a second the other espers' auras disappeared. When they returned, they were more blurred than before.

“Take my phone and check it, fuck,” Shimazaki hissed. He felt someone's hands patting his pants pockets. The smell of the smoke was replaced with a scent of Teru's shampoo. This damn brat...

“Hmmm.” Joseph probably considered whatever he saw in Shimazaki's phone. “Fine, but we'll take this. For a day at least.”

“And you'll give it back?” Shimazaki asked, fidgeting under his hold. “That's so nice of you.”

“I'm nice like that."

He heard hurried steps and tried to lift his head, but Joseph pushed him back down. Joseph took his hand from Shimazaki's neck and tugged his shirt collar back, uncovering the skin there. Another pair of hands grabbed Shimazaki's arms.

His heart skipped a beat. He tried to get free from the hold, but the two other espers were stronger.

“Easy,” purred Joseph.

Anxiously Shimazaki tried to look around the room. Teru's muffled aura stood out amongst the others; it was a bright spot among other auras that were smokey, oily, veiny, and all the other various types Shimazaki hadn't managed to see before now. Shimazaki tried to anchor himself in the boy's appearance and told himself that as long as Teru was here, Joseph wouldn't hurt him. It was a strange thought, but somehow Shimazaki believed it.

A sting on his neck tore him away from Teru's aura. Shimazaki hissed in pain. There was a stretching feeling against a spot on the nape of his neck; it felt like something was crawling deep beneath his skin, slowly and with difficulty. It must've lasted ages and took away the rest of Shimazaki's senses and will to fight. He tried to find Teru's aura again; Hanazawa was somewhere nearby, blinking at him in the darkness, thank the Lord.

The hold on Shimazaki's arms and neck disappeared, although the pain stayed. Shimazaki's knees knocked against the floor, and he almost fell on the ground.

“Tell me when you're ready to talk,” he heard Joseph say behind a thick fog of pain and confusion. “There are things we need to discuss.”

“Fuck you.”

“Choose a good moment, because I won't repeat myself. I don't want to waste my breath for a trash like you.”

Shimazaki tried to lift himself up, but his legs wobbled under his weight and he didn't stay up for long. He tried that a few more times before he felt Teru's hands under his arms. With the boy's help, Shimazaki sat heavily into a chair.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“I'm in hurry, okay?” answered Teru. He heard a click of a lighter, and smelt a new intensified stink of smoke. Shimazaki wanted to smoke too.

“I would give you a cigarette, but I don't share,” said Joseph. “But maybe someone has one to spare, hm?”

A shuffle of legs, a few lazy steps. An aura that reminded Shimazaki of a rolled-up string of barbed wire approached Shimazaki. The former Claw esper reached blindly to find the pack of cigarettes with his hand.

“Give it to me,” Teru sighed. A second later Shimazaki felt a cigarette on his lips and heard a click of a lighter again. He inhaled deeply.

“You've got experience in taking care of this asshole,” said Joseph, sounding surprised. “Funny you're still doing it after all this.”

“Someone has to be the good person here.”

“Can I explain what just happened?” Joseph asked, the question clearly directed to Shimazaki. He nodded. He wasn't sure how much he would remember of this conversation, but they couldn't sit here for ages. Teru was listening to everything carefully and he would probably repeat anything said to Shimazaki a few times.

“We implanted a chip in you,” Joseph explained what Shimazaki already knew. “Every one of your friends has a similar one. And every of those cute chips has a cute, tiny GPS, that shows us where you are at all times. We have an eye on you every day, every week, the whole year.”

Shimazaki sighed. Teru had already told him this. So it was nothing new, and nothing too bad.

“And another thing,” Joseph went on. “I want all of you in one place, you sons of bitches.” He tapped the lighter against the counter. “That's why you can't leave the city. For you, pretty face, I'd say ten years of that sort of house arrest should be enough for now.”

Oh. Shit.

“'The fuck?” Shimazaki gasped. “I've got a family in north Japan, I have to visit them sometime.”

“Stop talking bullshit, you haven't seen them in over five years. We checked with your family at the very beginning of the search.”

“You can call them,” suggested Teru. “Every day, if you care so much about them.”

“Listen to the kid, it sounds like he has some experience here.”

Shimazaki snorted. He clenched his fists and forced himself not to do something stupid, like seizing Joseph and punching him. He felt confident that Hatori could simply hack those chips and deactivate them.

“And if you or your friends,” said Joseph again, “try to mess with the implants... Well, I can only wish you good luck. I won't bore you with all the details, but I'll just say we'll instantly know about any interference to our lil' cute devices. And they've got something called firewall, that could harm a carrier... And what exactly does it mean... Well, I leave that to your imagination. Understood?”

“Jesus fuck,” snapped Shimazaki.

“I'll take that as a 'Yes.' I'm glad. There's one other thing we need to talk about.”

Great. There's something else. What – did this implant sense if Shimazaki did some good deed and would electrocute him if he wasn't nice at least once an hour? Goddamn. Okay, maybe this whole deal was better than putting him into a jail, but to be trapped in this city for ten fucking years? And what if Shimazaki couldn't find a job here or manage to start a new life? All the people living in this city had seen the kidnapping of the prime minister and they all probably had heard about the searches. Great. Fucking great.

Not to mention he wouldn't have any way to warn Hatori or how to run away to wherever they were supposed to hide in those two weeks.

“What's that?” Shimazaki asked.

“Work with us.”

“What?!” yelled Teru and Shimazaki.

“He's a terrorist!” Teru added.

“Forget it!” were Shimazaki's next words.

“If you want.” Joseph shrugged. “But good luck in getting your new life together. You're a bastard, but I wish you the best. You can leave. Teru, we need to talk.”

Shimazaki stood up and pushed the chair out his way; he heard as it hit the table. He rushed in the direction of the door, as he calculated. Teru didn't run to guide him, so he guessed he was going the right way. The click of an opened lock and door confirmed his hunch.

“Oh, hm... Shimazaki,” Teru called from behind him. Shimazaki stopped. “My lunch break is over in five minutes...”

He shrugged. What a kid, now he wanted a lift back to school. And what else? Buy him food on their way?

The exact moment Shimazaki passed the entrance of the restaurant, all auras of people and espers surrounding him sharpened again. He was able to predict the move of every passers-by, every flinch. He didn't try to teleport, but he was certain that this power was back on track too. It was a strange feeling – being ripped of his psychic powers, but not unfamiliar. A few years ago he had tried to train in a sealed room, but it was only a simulation. Later he came to the conclusion that there was no point in depriving himself the pleasure of using his powers.

“You rely too much on them,” he remembered Teru's words during their first fight, shortly before he had brought Shimazaki down to earth, literally and figuratively.

Shimazaki smiled sadly to himself. If he had been smarter all those years ago and trained persistently in this sealed room, maybe his situation now would be different. Better, and without this shit in his neck.

The door shut closed behind him so he didn't hear what Joseph and Teru were talking about. Maybe with a little luck, the boy would whine about this conversation later. Shimazaki knew it had to be something about him or Hatori, otherwise, they wouldn't be so discreet about it.

It took them a few minutes. And finally, Teru stepped out the restaurant and grabbed Shimazaki's hand, saying:

“Teleport me to school, the closest as you can.”

Ah, right, it was long after the bell, and the perfect boy couldn't be late.

Two seconds later they stood in the school, in the middle of one of its halls, a place familiar to Shimazaki that was near the classrooms. Teru almost turned to run, but he squeezed the man's hand and sighed deeply.

“Shimazaki...”

“Hm?”

Teru turned to him, his aura radiating calmly. It was a contrast to his shaking voice: “My parents.”

Right. They still were Hatori's target, and he and Shimazaki still could get rid of them if they wanted. If Teru started acting weird, Shimazaki only needed to say the word. Shimazaki didn't know what Teru and Joseph had planned now, but... That didn't really matter anymore. They got him, they had their eyes on him. Shimazaki couldn't do much, couldn't run away, all his aces in the hole were useless. He had to start his life anew, here and now.

“Don't worry about them,” he finally replied.

“This one time,” Teru said quietly, “this one time I'll trust you. Don't mess it up.”

Teru tried to pull his hand from Shimazaki's grip, but the man held onto it.

“Teru,” now it was harder for Shimazaki to talk, as this too familiar feeling of loss and shame squeezed against his throat. But he had to say it before Teru would go back to his own life. “Thanks, for everything.”

Teru held his breath.

“And sorry. For everything,” Shimazaki added. He wasn't sure if he really felt sorry for everything he had done in the past two weeks. He had his reasons, yes, but the boy didn't deserve all of this... or at least half of it.

“A cheap 'sorry' won't be enough,” said Teru. “Any 'sorry' wouldn't be enough. To be honest I'm not sure if I'll ever forgive you for this shit you put me through. You're feeling sorry all of sudden, because someone beat your ass, and not because... Ugh, nevermind.”

“Any requests for dinner?” Shimazaki asked.

“I won't be back for a dinner. I told you I have a date,” Teru muttered finally taking his hand from Shimazaki's grasp.

“Ah, right, you mentioned that. Have fun then.”

Teru answered with a nod, turned and dashed away. Shimazaki followed him with his ESP for a moment before teleporting back to his apartment.

He stood in the middle of the room, not sure what he should do now.

 

 

Chapter Text

The restaurant door closed behind Shimazaki and now it was Teru’s turn to deal with whatever Joseph had prepared for him. He didn’t like that the man wanted to talk with him alone. The government had Shimazaki chipped; what else could they want from Teru?

He looked around, checking every esper that was in the room. There were eleven of them including Joseph. Teru could handle them in case they wanted to implant a chip in him too, for some reason. The seal restricting special abilities only worked on Shimazaki; Teru felt traces of his psychic powers on his fingers when he checked it.

“Sit down, kid.” Joseph nodded at the chair that had been previously occupied by Shimazaki. Teru took him up on that offer. Reluctantly. “I don't expect you to know anything, but I need to ask anyway. Do you know where Hatori is? Or anything about him?”

“No.”

“Did Shimazaki say anything? Or did you overhear something by accident?”

“No.”

“You didn’t even think about my questions.”

“I've been thinking about them for the past two weeks. Now I just want peace and quiet.”

“I can’t guarantee that.”

Teru frowned. He held Joseph’s gaze.

“What do you want?” he asked slowly. “I literally put Shimazaki under your lazy nose. Don’t even think I’ll be chasing another terrorist.”

“We don’t want you to chase Hatori,” Joseph answered, playing with a pack of cigarettes in his hands. “We need a little of your help… It won’t even be anything new to you… Well, as you’ve got quite a lot of experience already.”

Joseph turned to his people and nodded. One of the espers stood up and brought a laptop to the table; the computer was covered with colorful stickers.

“Do you remember our first conversation?” Joseph asked as he opened his laptop. “You mentioned Shimazaki said he would be ready to move out in two weeks.”

It was crucial information, Teru had to share it. He nodded and let the man continue.

“The thing is, Shimazaki and Hatori were supposed to hide, right? That means there was someone who was willing to help them. Someone stupid enough to not to be afraid of the police or the government. Or someone with a huge influence. Or someone who could use the powers of dangerous espers. Or everything at once. It can be an organization, a group of people or a single man.”

“Yakuza,” Teru whispered, clenching his fingers around an edge of the chair.

“Um… Maybe. I mean, it’s not really possible, but we aren’t crossing it out. Why did you think about yakuza?”

“Oh, n-no reason. It was just the first thing that came to mind.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Joseph turned to his people again. “Write that down.”

The warmth of embarrassment flooded Teru’s neck and cheeks. He was only joking, c’mon. Did they really have to take everything so seriously?

“Anyway, there is a huge chance they didn’t write him off,” Joseph went on. “And they’ll try to get him back, with or without Hatori’s help. And if they don’t try to contact Shimazaki personally, then Hatori will try to reach him for sure.”

“I wouldn’t be so certain of that, to be honest,” Teru interrupted him. “Yesterday Shimazaki said his friends didn’t want to help him and he was left with no backup.”

“And that’s why he decided to meet with me?”

“Not really. He just didn’t want to hide any longer. But… Hm... he was still ready to fight if you tried to put him into a jail. That means he eventually had an alternative… and still, he met with you… So his closest friends turned their backs on him, but someone powerful is still by his side.”

“That’s interesting. Maybe he was checking us out for Hatori’s sake. Damn, what a sacrifice.” Joseph sighed. “I never would have thought an asshole like him would go that far for someone else. Now I’m even more certain we need your help.”

He turned the laptop’s screen to Teru. The map on the desktop showed Seasoning City; four red dots with the names of the espers of the Super Five were placed on streets and buildings. Teru found the one with Shimazaki’s characters.

“We keep an eye on them, that’s right,” Joseph said. “But there’s a tiny problem with Shimazaki. Not only he could meet with his… hm... would-be employer or Hatori, but also with his powers of teleportation… well, the GPS might go crazy sometimes.”

“You want me to watch him,” Teru said, looking up at Joseph, his voice steady.

“As I said, you’ve got experience with that. Nothing new, nothing hard.”

Teru laughed and folded his arms. He figured Joseph would ask for something like that. Well, letting the Super Five go freely, with only a damn chip in their neck sounded like a bad joke. Someone had to watch them when the espers from the government were busy with whatever else. It would be easier to simply jail the terrorists. But of course, Joseph didn’t want to say why they hadn’t decided to do that. Now Teru thought that they just wanted to flush other degenerates out of hiding.

“No way,” Teru said. “I have my own problems. School, for example, or my personal life. The last two weeks were rough enough to leave me traumatized for years and you want to put me into an even bigger mess? Hey, I’m just a kid, okay?”

“You are a smart and talented kid, and you would do better than most of my men.”

“You saying that doesn't make me any older,” Teru snapped, not even batting an eye at the compliment. Like he needed one from a man asking for a major favor like spying on a terrorist.

“Fine, I get it. Damn,” Joseph sighed, turning the laptop back to himself and closing it down. “That means I’ll need to ask the other kid for help again.”

Teru quickly assessed the situation, taking into account the recent life of the Super Five and the last thing Joseph had said. Who was he talking about? Kageyama and Serizawa? They were quite close; they both worked in Reigen’s office. On the other hand, Teru couldn’t imagine Kageyama agreeing to spy on anyone, especially not on someone like Serizawa. 'He’s grown-up and responsible for his own actions,' was probably what would Kageyama say; Hanazawa could almost hear him saying those words.

Maybe by 'other kid' Joseph had meant Suzuki or Ritsu? As if they didn't have anything better to do than take care of terrorists.

While Teru thought about all the espers he knew, he noticed that no one besides the older Kageyama brother was good enough to handle Shimazaki, in both spying and fighting. But if Teru would agree to spy on Shimazaki himself, it meant his personal life would be torn to pieces again… Then again…

He rubbed his chin, staring at a point on the table. He didn’t notice Joseph staring at him, clearly waiting for an answer or reaction.

Hanazawa could help Joseph and not mess up his life too much if he only let Shimazaki live in his apartment for a little longer. Maybe it sounded paradoxical, but Shimazaki would be a lot easier to watch from now on. Moreover, Shimazaki shouldn’t be such pain in the butt now, since he had come out of the hiding and likely wouldn’t be threatening Teru. Only his smart-ass attitude might piss the boy off…

“I’ll think about it,” Teru said. Joseph nodded.

“Don’t take it too long. I need to know if I’ll have to ask someone else.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Teru checked the time. His class started five minutes ago. “Shit! Gotta go!”

He ran to the door and shoved it open, almost pulling it from its hinges. Shimazaki — still pale and weak after being chipped — twitched as Teru grabbed his hand. A moment later they were back in the school.

***

Teru didn’t like the fact that he had to explain himself for being late. At least after telling a couple lies about his parents — that he had to talk to them on the phone for really long because his dad was sick and his mother was more worried than ever before and had cried so hard Teru couldn’t calm her down — and then giving some exceptional answers during class, the teacher eventually forgave Teru's late arrival. Of course they did.

The rest of the day went by calmly, almost with no stress. Almost, because every now and then Teru checked the time, waiting for the last bell of the day. Ritsu’s name came to his thoughts more often than Shimazaki’s, which was a good sign. Teru couldn’t sit still; he really tried, but he shuffled his feet throughout the day until finally — finally! — a signal announced the end of class. Teru was the first one outside; he hopped on his bike and sped up the street.

“This was a bad plan,” he thought, shivering in the icy wind. “I should’ve invited him to a cafe.”

But if they would be freezing like two idiots, Teru could blame no one else but Ritsu — Kageyama was the one who had picked the place to meet. But on bikes? Walking at least would have been a better idea.

Well, maybe Ritsu wouldn’t complain.

Teru didn’t know why he had hurried, why he let himself be pushed by excitement — he wondered why as he reached Salt Middle School a half an hour too early. Ritsu was somewhere inside, still at his Student Council meeting; Teru clearly felt Ritsu's glass-shards-shaped aura. He decided to wait by the gate and kill time by deleting all the useless contacts on his LINE.

In the middle of the list, his eyelids started drooping and his head grew heavy. He hadn’t slept well the night before, and the adrenaline rush he had from the meetings with Joseph and Ritsu had faded and fatigue started overwhelming Teru. But he still had to wait fifteen minutes… If he didn't fall asleep on his way to the Whale, it'd be a miracle.

He opted for getting a little sleep while he waited. Maybe it wouldn’t look strange if he would try to sleep in a tree… Or finding a good spot on the roof was a better solution — that could also motive Ritsu to use his powers to look for Teru; it'd be almost like psychic training. Good idea.

Teru patted himself on the back as he headed to the top of the building.

***

“Hanazawa?”

Teru opened his eyes and looked around, still half asleep. The shaded silhouette of Ritsu contrasted against the sunset around the buildings, a reddish light. The younger Kageyama approached Hanazawa slowly.

“Yes, good afternoon,” Teru yawned. He checked the time; the Student Council meeting had ended over twenty minutes ago, so probably that was how long it took Ritsu to find him. “I thought you would do better than this.”

Ritsu came to stop. Teru couldn’t see his face hidden in the shadow, but he guessed that Kageyama winced; he was always bad at taking criticism.

“So? Are we going?” Teru asked. Ritsu agreed, and a moment later they darted up the street, for the road out of the city.

Along the way they stopped by a restaurant to buy something to eat — in the end Teru hadn’t bought anything before the meeting because he didn’t want to decide for Ritsu. Ritsu didn’t seem bothered, but when Teru mentioned the meal would be on him, Ritsu's gaze moved to the pricey side of the menu. Hanazawa quelled a cry of despair. Well, it was a date. He guessed it was a date. He could handle it if Ritsu ordered something expensive.

“So, what’s up? Anything interesting?” Teru asked while they waited for their take-out. In the end, Ritsu ordered katsudon, just like Teru did, so Hanazawa’s finances wouldn’t wilt that much.

“Well, one of the students had a brilliant idea of eliminating all the sweets sold in the school shop,” Ritsu sighed, his gaze stuck somewhere behind the window. “No way it goes through, but it’s funny enough to mention.”

“The free market doesn’t work that way,” Teru laughed.

“He spent way too much time on watching the news. Have you heard there's some scandal within the sugar companies? Maybe that’s where he got the idea.”

“Scandal within the sugar companies...” Teru thought through every word. He winced and glanced at the cooks to see if they were finished preparing their order. The only news Teru had listened to lately were weather forecasts and reports on searching for the Claw espers. Since when Ritsu was so interested in such serious stuff? Who could even understand all that?

What a smart boy.

“Maybe we could open a stand with sweets a little outside of the area of prohibition,” Teru wondered. Ritsu looked at him sideways but smiled. “I would have a job and wouldn’t have to worry about my future. Hey, let’s do this!” He pointed at Kageyama. “You’ll force the idea of prohibition, I’ll open the shop, and we’ll split the profits in a half.”

Now Ritsu laughed for real, but he hid it behind his hand. He always did that when his laugh wasn’t fake or forced. Teru thought it was cute.

“A ban would need a lot of work,” Kageyama said. “A little bit of propaganda about the harmfulness of sugar, and then giving the idea to the headmaster, and then maybe to someone in the City Hall…”

“You wouldn’t be bored.”

“Oh, and I wouldn’t have time for my other training.”

Teru blinked surprised.

“Training?” he asked. “What other tra…?”

“Two order of katsudon to go!”

Teru wasn't able to finish his question. When he returned with their food, Ritsu was already on his bike.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said just as Teru wanted to bring up the topic again. But Hanazawa was determined. He would get the information even if he had to drop dead. Someone was training with Ritsu and Teru hadn’t known about it. Why didn’t Ritsu tell him he still needed some lessons? He learned so much thanks to Hanazawa, goddamnit. Maybe Ritsu would never be as good as his older brother or Teru, but it didn’t mean he should give up… Well, and Ritsu hadn’t. Now he was under someone else’s wing, the little traitor.

Breathless — and after half an hour or so — they reached the top of the Whale, Teru in first. On the hill stood wooden picnic tables and benches, and the open view of the city was now darkened by the night’s purple hues. There was no one around. “Cold weather probably scared people away. Good for us,” Hanazawa thought as he set his bike aside and waited patiently for Ritsu to catch up.

“I won, so you’ll tell me what’s going on with this training,” he said, half-joking as the other boy approached.

“I haven’t promised I’ll tell you.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t wanna. I’m just curious.”

They sat across from each other. The smell of food wafted around them when they opened the boxes.

“Enjoy!” was the last word they said — Teru’s was happier, Ritsu’s calmer — before they snapped their chopsticks and busied themselves with their katsudons. Teru wanted to ask not only about the training, but also about everything he had worried about for a past few days — who made a wrong move and what exactly was the problem in their — huh — friendship. And then… well, depending on the outcome of the conversation, Teru would ask Ritsu for another date, and then another, and the next one, and, and… And if he needed, he would offer some training too, so Ritsu could compare him to this other “teacher.” Hanazawa had more free time now. Shimazaki wasn’t (such) a pain in the butt any longer, so Teru could do everything he wanted.

But he didn’t want to bring it up while they were eating. Well, his rule was never to talk about unpleasant topics when he ate, and Teru stuck to that even when he had meals with Shimazaki.

Kageyama’s food was barely touched; he was eating slowly and unwillingly. When they closed their boxes — simultaneously, Teru’s empty, Ritsu’s three-quarters full — a bad feeling tugged at Hanazawa’s heart. He shushed it.

Ritsu cleared his throat.

“I’m glad I finally managed to meet with you,” he started. Teru gulped; yeah, no small-talk, straight to the point. “Especially since you were so busy lately.”

“I’m glad too. Especially since you didn't seem that happy to see me last time,” Teru added. “You know, back then, on the playground.”

Ritsu bit his lip, his gaze focused on a point of the table while he was looking for the words.

“First of all.” Ritsu didn’t look up when he decided to speak again “I didn’t know what you were dealing with.”

“What do you mean?” Teru frowned. Only now, Ritsu’s gaze moved up, landed on something interesting behind Hanazawa before finding his eyes after a moment. The yellow glow of the lanterns hanging nearby barely illuminated the boys, but the light reflected in Ritsu’s eyes.

“I meant Shimazaki.”

Teru blinked, surprised. Huh, so. So Ritsu knew about that now. Probably Shou had told him, what an idiot. He didn't even consider that Teru had other plans regarding talking about Shimazaki with his crus… um, with Kageyama’s little brother. Great, awesome. Thanks. Now how did Teru look in Ritsu’s eyes, huh? Like a weakling.

Teru couldn't manage to answer, the words stuck in his throat, cogs turning like crazy in his brain as he tried to come up with a good explanation.

“Shou told us just after we left your apartment,” Kageyama explained. “We wanted to go back, but he said that was a bad idea.”

“I wanted to tell you myself,” Teru choked out. He waved his hands in some indescribable gestures. “But… but…”

“I bet there were a lot of ‘buts.’ We could've helped you, you know that. We would have kicked him out.”

“I know.”

“So? Why haven’t you told us?”

At least all the reasons why Teru hadn’t looked for help were valid. He wasn't just being paranoid — Shimazaki had actually been tracking his parents. It was the truth — not an excuse. Teru explained everything and added:

“That’s why I kept it a secret.”

“And then you told Shou but not us.”

“Because we found another solution. I wanted to keep you away from that.”

“I see.” Ritsu leaned back. “It’s not like I’m mad about it. You knew exactly what was happening, and I can only assume. But… well… we could have helped you with that much earlier. And it makes me think…”

He tilted his head. His gaze dug holes into the heart and soul of Hanazawa. Teru didn’t like it. He imagined himself running away from Kageyama and going back home.

Ritsu went on:

“There was something else that kept you from asking us for help.”

Boom, busted, haha… ha.

Teru smiled but he knew it was too forced to look real. A forced smile wouldn’t work on Ritsu. Ritsu wasn’t an easy person to lie to, compared to other people.

“Why do you think so?” Teru asked. He couldn't clearly remember what had happened at the beginning of this whole mess called living with Shimazaki. But if he recalled correctly, he had tried to reach Ritsu, Reigen, and even the older Kageyama brother too. But of course, Shimazaki hadn’t let him.

And now Ritsu didn’t seem satisfied with that story.

“Hanazawa,” Ritsu interrupted him sharply when Teru began his next excuses. “I know you. Maybe we haven't spent as much time to call each other best friends, but it was enough for me to learn your priorities.”

“Priorities can change," Teru countered. "And family’s safety is the most important thing, you know that yourself.”

Ritsu looked at him askance. “The Claw espers didn’t know where your parents live. And I’m not that stupid to believe you gave Shimazaki this information without a fight, so if he learned that himself, then it had to have taken him some time. You probably had plenty of chances to ask us for help… but you didn’t want to.” He frowned. His next words struck Hanazawa:

“You wanted to be a hero. You thought you would handle him yourself. And for what?”

“And for what?” hit Teru like a final blow, and took him a few minutes to answer. He knew why, he was always aware of his own motivations. But that didn’t mean he was going to tell Ritsu all about them in order to have the younger boy to pity him.

In his thoughts, he worked out all the things he could say — starting with “None of your business,” and ending with “What, are you jealous because I’m stronger?” with other, more passive-aggressive versions of those replies. He could say those things. But also after dealing with Shimazaki, he wanted to just… have a normal conversation with a normal human being. And that wouldn’t happen if Teru was mean, right? Talk about good will.

“You're just making an assumption,” he muttered. “With no evidence.”

“The fact I know you is enough evidence.”

Teru was growing tired of this topic. Why even mull over that, damn. Finding his weak point wouldn’t change anything.

Moreover, they didn’t meet here to talk about this. They were supposed to talk about why Ritsu was mad even before he had learned about Shimazaki, and not to argue about Teru’s motivations.

“Okay, enough of that,” Teru said, shrugging. “Shimazaki met with Joseph and I don’t have to deal with that now. So it doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Ritsu hissed. “Because it’s a part of your ‘wonderful,’” he made air quotes around the word “character. The character no one besides me seems to notice.”

“Did we meet here so we could have a nice time, or for you to trash talk me? You said you were glad to see me, and now…”

“Oh, I said I’m glad I managed to meet you; not that I’m happy to see you. There’s a difference.”

Teru groaned and rested his head in his hands the wall behind. This was the worst date he had ever had. It was even worse than the one where a girl’s snot had been all over his shirt and, with no shame, she had planned a next rendezvous (oh God, he definitely didn’t want to remember that.)

If he even could call this meeting with Ritsu a date. There was no way this situation was going to end well.

“For almost three weeks I shared an apartment with a terrorist,” he snapped. “And this is what I get when I finally manage to deal with him. Thank you.”

“You’re a victim of your strange ambitions. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

“Thank you again. I really needed it.” Teru added, sarcastically.

“I’m just trying to say you should be more careful, otherwise you’ll hurt yourself one day.”

“Now, there’s the concern, little brother.”

Ritsu didn’t look like his conscience was affected by that, not even a little. Hah, Teru guessed Ritsu was probably eager to drag him even more. What a guy. Why did Hanazawa like him again?

“Sorry, but I'm not going to be all nice and cry over your sad fate,” said Kageyama. “And I hope you didn’t expect me to.”

Well, Teru had expected it a little. But he should have known better.

“I thought we’d meet to talk about something else,” Teru muttered.

“I’m listening.”

“Just like that? So we’re done with my so-called playing the hero?”

“I’ve said all what I wanted to say.” Ritsu shrugged.

“Oh, great then.” Teru leaned towards him and rested his hands on the table. "Now can you tell me why you were, and maybe still are, mad at me?”

Ritsu winced.

“I wasn’t mad at you,” he answered slowly. “Okay, maybe sometimes you irritate me to the core, but I bet that’s not what you meant.”

“Hah.” Teru’s smile was crooked. Yeah, sometimes he had teased Ritsu intentionally, and he wouldn’t lie that he didn’t have fun doing that. It had happened whether they worked with other kids from the Awakening Lab, or if it was just them alone, but it had never lead to any quarrels. Small jokes were quickly forgotten for the sake of the trainings.

“I thought,” Teru started, “that you liked me. But then you started being aloof like something was wrong, and you didn’t even say a word about it. For example when we met at the playground, right? You know, when I was asking for Suzuki’s...”

“Because you were annoying,” Ritsu snapped. Teru answered with a silent “what?” “Everything about you, so annoying. Do you even know how tiring you are?”

This wasn’t a date. This was a hell.

“No one's ever told me that,” Teru argued. “So maybe it’s you who has a problem.”

“Or maybe you've finally met someone honest.” Ritsu looked meaningfully at Teru’s clenched fists. “I can’t believe my words hurt you that much.”

Teru tried to take a deep breath, relax, get some distance from what Ritsu said. He took a breath, right, but he failed at everything else. Of course, normally he probably wouldn’t have had any problem with those kinds of comments, if only Ritsu hadn’t tired him first by bringing up Shimazaki.

Well, of course Kageyama’s words hurt him. Maybe not his feelings, but they had certainly ruined his hopes for getting something more out of this relationship.

“I used to like your honesty.” Teru couldn’t look at him. “But I didn’t know you can trash someone that much”.

“I can keep things to myself if I need.” Ritsu shrugged. “In your case, I thought a few comments wouldn’t hurt.”

“But despite… despite the fact that I was annoying you, you showed up to the trainings anyway, and even agreed to train with me alone, and hung out with me on evenings, and...”

“I needed those trainings, Hanazawa. Don’t think I was showing up because of you. And yes,” he waved his hand, “I agreed to train one-to-one because I hoped that without other people around you wouldn’t be so annoying, or-or that you wouldn't prance around trying to be all the best and ‘oh look at me.’ But I was wrong. At least I learned more than I did training with the group. I’m thankful for that.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Teru said quietly, bitterly.

And… And what? Was that all? Were they done with their “date”? Teru had heard everything he needed — not really what he wanted — to hear. Now they could go home.

“Then have we explained everything?” he asked, then added in his thoughts: “And everything’s my fault and I’m the worst one here.

“Yeah, it seems so.

“And that was the only reason you wanted to meet?”

“No.”

Finally, Teru looked up at Ritsu. The lanterns swung, lightly brushed by Hanazawa’s psychic powers. His heart was heavy with the words he heard today, but it just skipped a beat for the hope of finally hearing something positive.

“I know this whole living with Shimazaki thing tired you out,” Ritsu began. “You clearly look like it did. Aaaand if even my brother noticed that, then things really are bad with you.”

Teru didn’t reply, waiting for more explanations. Ritsu opened his box of food and poked the rice with his chopsticks.

“We thought that maybe when this had all calmed down, we could meet for a training or two? For fun. Not just with me; Suzuki will be there too.”

Ah, so that’s what he meant when he mentioned another training before.

“But I’ll be soooo annoying,” Teru muttered.

“You think so? So you won’t learn anything from what I just told you?”

Maybe he would, but first Teru had to think about it… Although Teru knew how it could end up – the Kageyama brothers had an incredible gift of persuading people to their ideas, and before now, Hanazawa couldn’t resist all the stuff Shigeo had instilled into him. It might be no different with Ritsu’s lesson here today.

Might.

“I’ll definitely remember it.” Teru hoped they were done with that topic for real. “And about the training… I still have to wrap up this problem with Shimazaki but I think I’ll be free soon.”

Ritsu nodded. He closed his box of food again, and looked around for a trash bin. Soon after he was ready to go back – his wasted food thrown away, clothes straightened, helmet on his head.

So, that was it. Teru's whole worrying with the cold, stressing over being late or not, and buying dinner just to hear that Ritsu disliked him and only wanted to meet with him and Shou too. They could have talked about that over the phone.

“You're not leaving?” Kageyama asked. Teru shook his head.

“I don’t really miss Shimazaki. I’ll stay for a little longer.”

“Okay. See you.”

“Bye.”

And Ritsu was off. For a moment Teru heard the rasp of sand under wheels of Kageyama's bike, then felt his aura slowly drifting away. When he was sure Ritsu was really far, Teru hid his face in his hands and with a loud groan of disappointment, leaned his forehead on the table.

Teru tried to tell himself that he didn’t feel like an utter idiot. He had liked Ritsu, he really had. Sure at the very beginning of the training, he had hit on him for fun — as a challenge – and Ritsu, despite being popular, didn't seem interested in any relationship. Later Teru had fell for Ritsu's approach to the world, full of distance and sarcasm. He even thought they got along but… Eh, apparently they didn’t.

But not everything was lost! Their future meetings could completely change if only Teru would try to be a different person!

He would love to believe that and think “it would work out.” And maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, he would get his shattered ego back together and go on, but for now, he needed a self-pity trip… Because there was no one around who would say “oh poor Teru.” Maybe except fangirls, but sure he didn’t need them now. He wanted real support. Sadly it was out of reach

Chapter Text

Teru knew the moment he walked over the threshold of his apartment, the issue with Ritsu should be distant, forgotten. Closing the door meant that Teru would have to focus on Shimazaki. He stood in the hallway for a moment and tried to shrug off any final thoughts about Kageyama. He took one deep breath and then another. Teru didn’t know how long it would take him to calm his nerves, considering the fact that a few minutes ago he had rode his bike frantically through the city, hoping the wind and adrenaline rush would help him forget about the “date.“ Unfortunately, it only irritated Teru more.

Pouring himself into the task of spying might help better... but the gut-wrenching feelings (feelings he couldn’t name yet – anger? Disappointment?) instead inspired him to give the whole thing up. Because if Teru wanted to put his life together and not to mess anything up on the way, he shouldn’t waste his time spying. But still, as Teru had noticed himself, he was the best person to complete Joseph's mission.

But he wanted to focus on Ritsu.

But Shimazaki could do something bad to someone, and Teru could prevent that.

But Teru’s social life was in pieces.

But no one knew where Hatori was.

But it wasn’t Teru’s job to chase criminals.

But, but, but, but. There were many “pros and cons,“ too many, and Teru almost got himself lost in the arguments, unable to prioritize them. Damn, and everything had been almost done and settled at noon today. But Teru started doubting all his decisions after that stupid talk with Ritsu. Life couldn’t be all nice and perfect, it seemed.

And it certainly wouldn’t be easy to build a friendship with Ritsu and spy on Shimazaki at the same time... but screw it! They came across Teruki “Teru“ Hanazawa and he would rather die than give up. Looks like the other espers didn’t know who they were dealing with.

A one more deep breath and then an audacious step forward. Improvise, adapt, overcome – like this one guy on TV said.

Teru’s thoughts turned towards Shimazaki.

If he wanted to agree to Joseph’s request, then he would have to play it a certain way – first, convince Shimazaki to stay with Hanazawa a little longer. That was the first part of the plan; if that didn't work out, Teru would tell Joseph to look for another loser to spy on the man.

Fatigue had probably surprised Shimazaki, because as Teru entered, he saw Shimazaki lying in bed, the TV still on. He was sleeping on his side of the bed (how nice of him) with Teru’s pillow under his head (not so nice of him; “Cute,“ Teru thought sarcastically.) It looked like Shimazaki had settled in and felt more comfortable than Teru had thought.

Teru sat on the edge of the bed, next to Shimazaki’s legs. He had to stop himself from laying down and taking a nap too. His place beside the man, by the wall, looked unusually invitingly… But the absence of his pillows and Teru’s null level of willingness to fight over it prevented him from going to sleep.

Instead, Teru considered his next move. He took a blanket and spread it over Shimazaki. It was a good start to show the man he was welcome (...ugh…) in the apartment. Preparing supper would be another good ruse, but it might be too much and raise suspicions. Teru couldn’t rush. He had to act calmly, slowly, with a smile on his face… just as he did with everyone but Shimazaki. The man was the only exception, until now.

Teru sighed, thinking about this turnaround. He had never thought he would suddenly, overnight decide to let Shimazaki stay. But decisions had already been made and Teru wouldn’t step back.

Shimazaki flinched in his sleep, adjusted the pillow and muttered something. It was time to act.

“Hey, are you awake?“ Teru asked. No answer. He got off the bed and crouched beside it, so Shimazaki would have a good view of his aura upon waking up. “Heeeey.“ Teru reached for him and carefully brushed the hair off Shimazaki’s face. “It’s almost eight o’clock and you’re still taking a nap. Wanna bet you won’t sleep tonight?“

Shimazaki stirred again, finally waking up for real.

“And I’m hungry,“ Teru went on. He brushed Shimazaki’s hair with his fingers hoping it would help the man break free from sleep’s claws. “And I don’t know if I should make something to eat for you too or not…“

“You’re too nice now.“ Shimazaki’s voice was muffled by the pillow and Teru barely understood what he said.

Silently, Teru snapped, “I’m always nice, but you always miss it somehow or you just can’t appreciate it.“ Then out loud asked, “You want something to drink?“

“No.“

A ‘no’ was a no, so Teru didn’t think about asking again. He stood up and made his way to the kitchen. By the door he heard as Shimazaki quietly said:

“Some tea.“

He wanted tea now! What else, maybe make something to eat for real, but also serve it under Shimazaki’s nose and…

“Easy, Teru,“ the boy thought, rubbing his temples. “It’s only tea.“ Seriously now, Teru had become accustomed to being annoyed with whatever Shimazaki said, that even an answer to his own question got on Teru's nerves. It wasn’t a good sign for his spying-task.

“What did you eat for dinner?“ he decided to ask while he calmed down in the kitchen. He wanted to talk about anything in order to try and ground himself, as well as not let Shimazaki fall back asleep. The quiet groan of the bed frame filled the silence before Teru heard lazy steps approaching him.

“Tonkatsu… I guess,“ Shimazaki yawned.

“You guess.“

“I haven’t eaten, to be honest.“

The kettle was on and the tea was already in mugs. Time to eat something. Teru didn’t know how hard this fight – okay, this talk (another serious talk today, huh?) – would be, but he mentally prepared to stay up until the late hours… If he didn't fall asleep in the mid-sentence, that is.

Just to be sure, Teru put his tea back in its box and filled his cup with two heaping spoons of coffee. Yup, now he wouldn’t fall asleep.

Eat.

“You went shopping,“ Teru remarked, seeing the fridge loaded with food. The drawers at the bottom shelf were filled with prepared meat, vegetables, and miso soup; two fair servings.

“Yeah, well.“ Shimazaki shuffled his legs. “You didn’t say to move out, so I did.“

“And enough for dinner for two.“

“I was hungry.“

“And you haven’t eaten. Yeah, right. Just tell me you cooked it out of habit and stop lying.“

Shimazaki only muttered to himself, irritated. He sat down at the table, with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

“Do you want to eat now?“ Teru asked. He shook his head when he heard a quiet “mhm“ as an answer. After a while of idleness, Shimazaki stood up to pour water in the mugs.

“Not planning on sleeping tonight?“ Shimazaki commented when he smelled the coffee. He didn’t get a reply; Teru wanted to eat his supper as quickly as possible and start their Serious Talk.

***

As per his habit, after a big meal, Shimazaki went outside to smoke. It was no different now. Teru followed him, with his cup in his hand and thick sweater on, and sat alongside on the edge of the roof. Nearly empty streets dotted a couple floors below, decorated here and there with people and cars. Higher, above the buildings, a limb of the broccoli obscured the moon.

“Okay,“ Shimazaki spoke. “What’s going on?“

“Hm?“ Teru glanced at him, noticing his scowl.

“I couldn’t miss that you’re up to something. Tea first, then dinner – and we don’t usually eat meals together, remember? And now you're sitting here. So?“

Teru was glad he didn’t have to dance around the topic and Shimazaki started it on his own. He clenched his fingers in his sweater and sipped his coffee. He winced; he hated coffee’s taste, but sometimes the drink was a rescue when he wanted to stay awake for a few more hours.

“Yeah, you know, I was thinking,“ Teru began slowly, as if he was considering his words. “What are you going to do now? You met Joseph and don’t need to hide anymore … The perfect scenario would be finding a job and a place to live, right?“

“Right. And it looks like that’s all I can do.“ Shimazaki shrugged. “Finding a job,“ he snapped. “It’s gonna be easier than finding my own place.“

“You think so?“

“Mhmmm. Well, I’ll be looking for a job with people. With these abilities, it’s easier to work around something that's… living. And with an apartment… Not only I would need to buy furniture and learn the whole layout, I'd have to sort everything, organize, mark things…“ He counted on his fingers. “It’s gonna take time.“

“I thought that job-hunting was going to be the harder one.“

“Maybe if I didn't have my ESP.“

“Any ideas of what kind of job you could be doing?“

“Hmmm…“

Teru turned his gaze from a cloud to Shimazaki at the exact moment the man put a cigarette between his lips. Hanazawa had never paid attention to Shimazaki when he was smoking, so he hadn’t noticed that the man with a cigarette… well. He looked good. Not like a breathless and sweaty salaryman, who gritted a cig between his teeth, almost swallowing its filter in stress.

Shimazaki reminded Teru all those air-brushed men from magazine photoshoots or on Instagram. He would fit the a role of a model well, and wouldn't even need Photoshop’s help, if anybody asked Teru.

“Yes, I’ve got a few ideas,“ Shimazaki said. “A bodyguard or something like that.“

“What about working in a call center?“

“Boring.“

“A cook?“

“Maybe… Nah, no. I’m not that good at cooking.“

“A model.“

Shimazaki frowned. Teru shrugged.

“Although you would have a better chance with me next to you,“ he added. He heard a laugh as an answer and smiled. Embarrassed, Teru rubbed his face. “But if you’re saying that finding a job will be easier than an apartment… And… and you're building your life from the beginning, starting over… um, it sounds pesky. It’s gonna be pesky. Good luck.“

“Mmmhmmm…“

And silence. Why wasn’t Shimazaki crying over his sad fate? That had been Teru's plan – Shimazaki crying and then Teru kindly proposing Shimazaki stay with him until things got better. Without Shimazaki getting upset, it would look like Teru wanted his company.

“Don’t worry!“ Shimazaki suddenly patted Teru on the arm. “Two weeks and I’m gone. That’s what I promised.“

“Do you think two weeks will be enough time to get everything together?“

“Do I have any other choice?“

HA!

“Of course.“ Teru straightened up and turned to sit facing Shimazaki. The cold concrete of the roof was starting to get to him but he had to bear with that, for greater purposes. “You can stay with me until you patch everything up. You’d have fewer worries and more time and energy to look for a job.“

“Are you serious?“ Now Shimazaki turned toward Teru, probably trying to read any changes in his aura. He leaned back on his hands. “You wanted to kill me only two days ago!“

“Can't you see how much things change in such a short time?“

“It’s suspicious.“

“Why suspicious? You’re being paranoid,“ Teru smiled, cursing Shimazaki in his thoughts. “Things can’t get any worse between us, right?“

“Then why let me stay?“

“Hmmm… I can use it to my advantage. Or rather, use you, to be exact.“ He pointed at Shimazaki. “You could do my shopping or make dinner for example…“

“And to keep you company too.“

Teru almost choked on his coffee. It was hard to say anything good about Shimazaki’s company, considering how troublesome it had been. Shimazaki had the capacity to change, sure, but only so far as he'd only stopped threatening Teru; he would still be a jerk.

“I think you’re the one who needs the company more… You keep talking about it,“ Teru retorted, remembering their conversation after their last fight. “Soooo that's another point for staying.“

“I’ll think about it.“

He would stay, Teru was certain of that. Now the boy could contact Joseph again to say he would watch Shimazaki for a little while. Time for his next move, because Teru had to put the final seal on his plan.

“Do you have any money?“ he asked. “Because if I were you, I wouldn’t be looking for a job in those… rags you have hanging in my closet. You need some new clothes.“

“I should have some more clothes at my old apartment if no one's set everything on fire.“

“Shimazaki’s old apartment“ was a topic they often returned to in their fights – it was a place far from Seasoning City, where the man seemingly dropped in only once in the past few weeks, and only to grab something from his wardrobe. Later, it seemed Shimazaki hadn’t even wanted to think about going there for fear of falling into Joseph’s traps. And now there was the problem of Shimazaki’s “house“ arrest, so he couldn’t even think about checking his apartment.

Unless Teru would – as if by accident – help Hatori in hacking this GPS thing, but in reality ask Joseph to turn a blind eye to Shimazaki’s sudden and short disappearances. That would help Teru gain Shimazaki’s trust… But he needed to be in touch with Hatori, which hadn’t happened. The plan wouldn’t succeed, until the last of the Super Five came out of his hiding. For now, Teru had to come up with something else. He had an idea already. He needed to talk with Joseph.

“I see,“ Teru nodded. “If you have to buy a new suit, I’d be glad to help.“

“Damn, you’re super nice today. I guess the date went well, huh?“

Teru slouched and sighed.

“If I let you stay, then I can’t leave you hanging with all your other problems, right?“ he muttered. “Anyone would do that much.“

“Not me,“ Shimazaki said happily.

“Then you'll have a chance to learn that.“

“Fine, fine. Geez, you’re so pesky.“

“Not as bad as you.“

“And you’ve got quite an attitude.“

“Hm?“ Surprised, Teru looked at Shimazaki. The latter swung his legs and leaned forward, checking with his blind sight what was happening on the streets below.

“You don't give up,“ he hummed. “You’ll lose five million times but still keep on fighting. It was so tiring…“ Lost in thought, he rubbed his chin. “And annoying. Sometimes I could barely stop myself from hurting you a bit more.“

Oh, was that… a compliment? Of course it was a compliment. Teru often wallowed in the compliments he got from the others, but hearing a good word from Shimazaki was a miracle. Not like the boy expected anything like that from him, but now he could pin a medal to his chest with the achievement. Especially because Shimazaki wasn’t wrong here; Teru would never give up, and definitely not against someone like him.

Heh, who would've thought after this shitty day Teru would finally hear something nice. A good way to finish his evening. Look, Ritsu, that’s how you cheer up a man, and not drag him lower and lower.

“I’m impressed,“ Shimazaki added.

“Thanks,“ Teru replied weakly, almost smiling. “I’m glad I was a worthy opponent.“

“Do you want to give me a compliment too?“

“You’re a complete jerk.“

“Ow…“ Shimazaki winced, clutching his chest.

“But you didn’t break all our necks during the group fight. That gives you a small, half of a point. I bet you just wanted to play with us, like a typical sadist.“

Shimazaki hummed but didn’t answer. He drank his tea and adjusted the blanket over his arms. Then he checked how many cigarettes he had in the package.

“There are… various equipments still in my apartment,“ he said after a moment. “It would be great to get them back. They’ll help me with living here.“

“I’ll talk with Joseph.“

“Really?“ Shimazaki raised his eyebrows. The only answer Teru gave was a nod. “You’re really helping out with my nerves and my funds. And to think I was so mean to you, and you’re so… so… I like you, you know?“

Then Shimazaki smiled. Teru felt as something inside of him cracked, something like a thin shell, covering the fascade he had been holding for no longer than two hours. It was breaking because Shimazaki really needed his help. And he probably really was grateful, and Teru… was Teru, with his damn plan and all.

He shushed the pang of guilt. It wouldn’t be that easy to trick Teru, no way.

“It's warm tonight, isn’t it?“ he muttered. Shimazaki sniffed and huddled under the blanket.

They didn’t move for a few minutes, teasing each other from time to time. Finally, the fatigue overwhelmed Teru and he almost fell asleep sitting up. Through the haze, he noted Shimazaki enfolded him in his arms and teleported them to the apartment. Teru barely changed his clothes, tripping over his own legs, and setting his alarm; he fell asleep the moment he put his head on the pillow.

The last thing he caught was Shimazaki’s warm breath on the nape of his neck. He didn’t have the strength to do anything about it… not that he wanted to anyway.

***

Teru had barely got out of bed before he felt a strange thing filling his heart – a dark, tangled feeling with no defined start or end, unable to untie. He thought it was his sixth sense trying to warn him, which wouldn’t be surprising considering the state his life was in right now – stuck between Shimazaki and Joseph. Something in the spying-quest would go wrong eventually – Teru wasn’t such naïve optimist to believe everything would be easy and without hiccups. The times when things came effortlessly to Teru were long gone.

“You’re acting different than yesterday,“ Shimazaki noticed as they ate breakfast. He tilted his head as if he were watching some mysterious creature. “You okay?“

Teru had never felt this odd tangle before, the hunch was like tripping, like he was losing a fight – that’s how he identified it, as he couldn’t come up with any other identification. He wasn’t good in guessing feelings, especially negative ones – those were unknown to the protagonists. And they hadn’t lasted long for Teru after he obediently had got off his high horse, but he hadn’t had many chances to learn all the sadnesses of a commoner. Now it seemed as if he had just started this worse chapter of his life.

Put a smile on your face and try to shine, try to scare the annoying feeling off – that was his remedy usually. But it didn’t work now in contrast to anger, which passed after venting to someone, or like sadness, that disappeared with tears. What was it?

“Will you talk to Joseph about a trip to my apartment?“ Shimazaki asked when he didn’t get an answer to his previous question. Teru decided to push aside the problems with his feelings and take care of something more mundane.

“I’ll try to contact him,“ he said, biting into a slice of toast. “But I’m not promising anything. They just gave you the chip and you’re already trying to meddle.“

“He should know what I’m up to right away.“ Shimazaki grinned. “Then he won’t think that I’m hiding anything. It’ll be a few quick teleports there and back, no big deal.“

“If no one's set everything on fire,“ Teru repeated Shimazaki’s earlier words.

“Exactly. But first of all, I need a suit. You know I think there’s something like that in my apartment, but it’s too old. No way I’m gonna wear it.“ He waved his hand. “I need to buy a new one.“

We could have helped you with that much earlier,“ flickered in Teru’s thoughts. The boy blinked, surprised.

“Sure,“ he said ignoring the tangle growing in his heart. “We can check a few stores after school and find you something.“

“Can I rely on your taste in clothes?“

“You want an honest answer or should I spare you the suffering?“

Apparently, Shimazaki hadn't noticed Teru’s question wasn’t a joke. Coughing on his laughter, he located the sugar bowl with his hand and sweetened his coffee with two spoonfuls.

Teru didn’t feel like joking. He had heard what people said about his clothes, and that only mattered if he gave a damn about their opinions (he didn’t, naturally.) Although he wasn’t stupid enough to make someone wear ugly things if it wasn’t funny. But! Shimazaki was supposed to find a suit, and look respectable, so there was no room for pranks...

I know you. I know about your priorities.“

...Because Shimazaki had to find a legal job and start to trust Teru after he helped him.

“Yeah, you can trust me,“ he said. “It’s just a suit, you can’t mess it up.“

“I’m glad you’ll go with me. I don’t really want to ask Minegishi for help,“ Shimazaki sighed. “He’s a tiny bit mad at me… We’ll be in touch, right?“

Teru nodded. Shimazaki said a goodbye, grabbed his cigarettes and his coffee, and teleported to the rooftop.

The alarm on Teru’s phone reminded him it was right in time to get ready for school, but the boy didn’t feel like moving from the table. Instead, he fixated his thoughts on Ritsu’s other words.

I said I’m glad I managed to meet you; not that I’m happy to see you.

Ritsu liked nitpicking over words and he knew exactly what he wanted or not; especially when it came to recognizing his feelings and being ruthless with other people. Nothing to tell him, but congratulations.

It seemed that was what would Teru face today – memories from the date. A fun way to spend the day.

He groaned loudly, and ground his fist against the table, stopping himself from smashing the mug against the wall. Finally, he stood up to get ready for school. Heh, he had hoped his life would be easier after Shimazaki and Joseph’s meeting. Someone up there – karma, fate, god, whoever, whatever – really liked causing him trouble. Teru thought he had already atoned for his old sins… He was so wrong.

***

The tangled feeling in his heart kept Teru company the whole day, no matter how busy he was or if his mind was preoccupied. During his classes, conversations with his friends, even during P.E. – the feeling gnawed and clung, throwing shadows over his small joys. To make things worse, Ritsu's words would reappear in Teru's mind all of sudden, bouncing in an echo of memories and jabbing at his heart. And all that without any reason. Teru couldn't get rid of them just like he couldn’t untie the knot. With every passing hour, it annoyed him more and more.

He arranged a meeting with Joseph as soon as they both were available – over lunch break again. Teru could call it a luck that Joseph was still in town, finishing up some matters regarding Shimazaki.

Leaving behind the cries of his fangirls' (“You're not eating lunch with us again?“) Teru left school, repeating in his thoughts what he should have said to Ritsu yesterday.

“Of course I thought I could handle Shimazaki alone. And can't you see I managed? Because I did. You should have seen that. I was right not asking you for help, you would only be a bother,“ Or “What? You know me? Good joke! How long have you spent with me? How many difficult situations have we been through together? Haha, please, be serious!“ and so on, each more bitter and fierce, inciting the tangle, making his mood worse.

A park nearby school was the place Teru and Joseph agreed to meet – no cameras, far from the technology, with low possibility of someone overhearing them. And even before passing the first trees, Teru turned off his phone and hid it between the pages of a school book, just for good measure. They both were cautious about that stuff.

“What's the decision?“ Joseph asked instead of offering him a greeting. Teru was completely indifferent towards the man, but he grew annoyed with his lack of manners.

“Good morning.“ He wouldn't let himself be worse than him. After all, as Ritsu had said, it was the part of his “wonderful“ character. He stood beside the bench occupied by Joseph but didn't take up the free seat beside him.

“I'll do it,“ he said. “I'll spy on Shimazaki. But don't expect much.“

Joseph tilted his head.

“If you're going to half-ass the job, I'll find someone else.“ He winced.

I'm just trying to say you should be more careful.

Teru clenched his fists and breathed deeply, trying to shake off thoughts that shouldn't be there.

“I didn't say it'll be half-assed,“ he sighed. “I'll try to do what I can, but the results don't just depend on me. I'm gonna need your help so I can...“ He waved his hands. “Let's call it, gain Shimazaki's trust. I could do more this way, I think.“

“And I assume you have an idea already.“

A short nod for an answer. Then Teru told him about convincing Shimazaki to stay at the apartment – at which Joseph leaned forward, almost yelling “What?“ – and lending him a hand in searching for a job and his own place to live.

“But if you really want me to learn about him as much as I can,“ Teru added. “Then maybe... You'll let him teleport outside the city if I'm with him?“

Here Joseph didn't think about it for even a second:

“No.“

Teru gritted his teeth.

“Please consider it. Before every teleportation, I would message you about a destination and how long he'll be away from the city. If he wanted to meet with someone suspicious, he'd lead us right to them.“

Gravel crunched under Joseph's feet when the man stood up. He looked above the boy, then moved his gaze to somewhere in between yellowish tree tops.

“It's dangerous,“ he began.

Inside Teru's head, he heard Ritsu yelling meanly, “A hero! A hero! A hero!“ Luckily Joseph went on:

“But I’ll think about it. I'll talk to someone about this idea and call you.“

“I'll be waiting.“ Teru sighed in relief.

“Is that all you wanted to talk about?“

“Access to his GPS would be helpful.“

“You'll get it, don't worry. If that's all, I'll get going. If you need anything – write, call, and what not. We'll be glad to help.“

Ritsu's words were still in Teru's thoughts: “But maybe there was something else that kept you from asking us for help.

Teru was boiling with rage at that memory, but he managed to nod and say a polite goodbye. They parted ways, and he quickly returned to school, hoping that Ritsu's words would get lost in murmurs of other people.

***

During his last hour at school, Teru understood that the tangled feeling in his chest and echoes from yesterday's date were connected, and what was worse – the former was a result of the latter. So the tangle wasn't a hunch, but a distaste left after the meeting. Quite a strong distaste, one that couldn't be washed away by the taste of a – somehow – good day. Teru didn't want to think about it, but the uniqueness of the feeling resulted in the opposite result. Drowning in his thoughts, Teru almost had forgotten about meeting Shimazaki after school. And now he was racing around the people on the street, almost running into them.

“Do you even know where we're going?“ asked Shimazaki, following Teru. The boy nodded, then came to a stop and looked around. Irritated, he shook his head. They had passed the store two streets ago. Shimazaki only shrugged but didn't comment.

A simple “Good afternoon, a suit with a white shirt for this man, please“ later, Teru sat on a stool in the shop, watching Shimazaki talk with the shop assistant. He felt like elements of the puzzle were slowly coming together, fitting, creating one solid picture. He needed just another small piece to finally fully understand what was going on with the tangle and Ritsu's words. Teru had never tried to catch a spider's web on the wind, but searching for the last tip felt a lot like that.

Shimazaki had tried on a few outfits, so a long hour had passed before everything clicked. And it was only after the attendant had said:

“In this suit, you'll break the hearts of many women.“

Broken heart. Teru had a broken heart. Wait, what?! That had to be a sick joke! No one could break his heart. He was the one who made people cry, ruining dreams of everyone who fell in love with him. It wasn't the other way around. And he didn't even like Ritsu at all, or at least not that much to get that sad over being insulted.

“Broken heart, what bullshit,“ Teru snapped under his breath. He stood up and, to busy his hands, started fixing Shimazaki's blazer (who luckily didn't question anything, maybe he really could read his mood?) He buttoned the blazer up, straightened his tie...

A broken heart. Did Ritsu want a broken heart? He'll get it – cold as Ritsu’s very own, damn, not knowing compassion.

“So, how do I look?“ Shimazaki asked when Teru took two steps back and looked at him from head to toe.

“Like a commoner,“ he answered. Teru didn't notice Shimazaki's irritation, saying only “This one is the best, we'll take it. And two more shirts.“ and sat down again. In a flush of anger and to prove to himself he didn't have a broken heart, Teru took out his phone and in the blink of an eye tapped out a text to Ritsu and Shou:

“Hi! So when are we going for our training? ^o^“

And sent it before he could stop himself.

He wouldn't be the one with a broken heart.

 

Chapter Text

“Hanazawa, look out!”

Teru dodged just in time – his barrier had been weakened by his distraction and it had burst from the stone Ritsu threw. The floor under his feet broke away, shattered to pieces just like Teru’s shield had been, and Hanazawa fell down through the remains of the 7th Division's facility. This wasn't his first fall from great heights, usually they'd happened when he had fought Shimazaki. On his way towards solid ground, he usually calculated how much psychic power he needed to cushion his fall and quickly stand up and strike a counterattack. But now…

Pain shot up Teru’s leg when his foot landed on an uneven part of the ground. Teru muffled a pained growl and reflexively grabbed his knee, stopping himself from sitting down.

“Teeeeruuuuu!” echoed through the collapsed building. Teru lifted his head to see Shou dashing towards him; his psychic powers added to Suzuki's speed and made his silhouette gleam bright red.

Teru almost screamed “Wait!” but pride clenched its claws into his throat and stopped him from speaking. He lifted a new barrier and ducked as much as he could with his throbbing leg. He shifted his weight onto his good foot, turned around to face Shou, and hurled a psychic-energy-bullet at his opponent before Suzuki could react.

It bounced against Shou’s barrier, but from that Teru knew how much power he should use. He was ready to strike again. With pain lingering in his leg, he pushed himself off the ground and sped out to meet Shou halfway.

But then Teru tripped over some debris in his way and hit his face against the ground. Surprised by the twist, Suzuki wasn't able to stop himself on time – his feet stumbled, nearly kicking Teru in the head before he fell as well. When Ritsu descended down the ruins, he found them lying on top of each other.

“What the heck was that?” Shou asked, scrambling to his feet. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie and glanced at Hanazawa.

Teru didn’t want to get up. He preferred to stay there, and maybe even decay there, waiting for someone to bury him. This fight was such a disgrace to him, something that should have never happened. Firstly he had strained or twisted his leg, and now… He tripped, just like that, with no finesse, like some kind of loser. He tried to come up with an excuse that would prevent Ritsu from labeling him some sort of idiot.

“Are you okay?” Shou nudged Teru’s hurt leg with his foot. Hanazawa sighed and finally tried to get up – he leaned on his hands and tested his wounded leg. Pain jabbed around the right ankle and up to the knee. There was no way he could stand up for now.

“Guess I’m done training for today,” Teru said sitting up. He smiled through his pain at Ritsu.“Good work knocking me out like that.”

Kageyama crossed his arms and stepped back.

“It’s wasn’t that difficult,” he muttered.

“You’re so modest,” Teru thought irritably. He resisted a grimace when Ritsu eyed him.

“I thought maybe you were holding back,” Kageyama went on. “But now I see it’s just not your day.”

Oh. Hm, not his day? More like not his week. Month. Year. Nevermind.

“'Holding back?'” Teru tilted his head, a smile not leaving his lips. “As if I wouldn’t treat you like a worthy opponent.”

Ritsu rolled his eyes.

“Okay guys, we’re all nice and cute here,” Shou cut in. “But what’s the plan now? Are we still training?”

“I’m out,” Teru answered. “At least for now. Train on your own if you want to.”

“You’re out? Seriously?”

“C’mon.” Ritsu took Shou by his elbow. “He’s gonna kill himself if he keeps training with us. Let’s go up.”

With difficulty, Teru stood, bounced off the ground and darted up and out of the ruins. He found a place to rest with a good view of the other two espers who started fighting on their own. One of the knocked-down trees served as a bench, and although it was uncomfortable and itchy, it was still better than the cold ground.

Teru wrapped his track jacket tighter around himself and reached to his hurt leg, trying to massage away the pain. Of course, today’s fuck up wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a good look for Teru to make a fool of himself in front of Ritsu. It just wasn’t his day, that’s all. If only he had a decent excuse, like if Shimazaki had suddenly turned back into a damn jerk and was causing trouble for him again… But no. The truth was, Teru hadn’t slept well today – for the hundredth time sleep had avoided Hanazawa and hadn’t let him rest. Now Teru’s body understood that three, sometimes four hours of sleep daily wasn’t enough and had decided to slowly turn off all functions of his well being.

Teru pulled a cold bottle of water out of his backpack and pressed it to his aching leg. The injury wasn’t serious, he was certain of that. Maybe he pulled a muscle or twisted something – but after a couple days of rest, he would be back to normal. Although that wouldn't take care of his insomnia. He couldn’t ignore that any longer.

The air shuddered with psychic powers, a sign that Ritsu and Shou had clashed in a direct confrontation and their barriers had collided. In a moment their fight would be done, and Teru would know who had won this time. It wasn’t like it was always him or Shou who won – before their training started, they both had lowered their power levels to meet Ritsu's, so the chances for a victor between three of them was even. Had Kageyama noticed? Perhaps, but he hadn't said anything. He would probably feel bad if he learned the truth about Teru and Shou tailoring their levels; Ritsu was so proud and ambitious after all. But on the other hand, they didn’t want to wipe Ritsu out but wanted to teach him. Simple.

The pain slowly subsided, but Teru didn’t plan to go back to training. He pulled out his phone to check the time. Some time during the fight he had received a few texts from Shimazaki.

“I’m going out to buy groceries. Do you need something?”

“God, this old woman in the grocery store started yelling at me and almost started a fight. What the hell did I do to her???”

“Ah, ok, so she was yelling something about the prime minister and that we ruined her house. In that order exactly. People have funny priorities. And they still remember that??? Get a life.”

Teru smiled and shook his head. He lifted his eyes from the phone when he heard the other espers approaching. Ritsu and Shou were even more beaten up and weary than before.

“By the way, I was wondering,” Suzuki started. Teru waved his hand at them; bottles of water lifted by his psychic powers emerged from the backpacks and flung in the boys’ direction. They caught them without a problem. “Thanks. So, I was wondering what happened to this place.”

The espers looked around at the trees that had been struck down by Teru’s psychic powers, collapsed walls and torn up grass and soil. A good portion of the 7th Division ruins were even more demolished than they had been in the battle with Shigeo’s group. Teru hadn’t been here since his last fight with Shimazaki, so he didn’t even know how far the destruction reached.

He shrugged.

“I thought that after that night,” Shou waved with his bottle of water. “You know, that action with that old-timer, I thought this building was in a better state… Or at least not in so bad we could get killed from tripping over a stone on the ground.” He pointed at Teru’s leg. “You okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Will you make it back home?”

“It’s not so bad. I could always ask Shimazaki to pick me up.”

“Are you good buddies now or what?” Shou frowned. Ritsu raised his eyebrows, shooting Teru a piercing look. Teru shrugged and looked away.

“Not good buddies,” he sighed. “I'm just letting him stay with me a little longer until he puts his life together.”

He didn’t want to go into details, especially not while Ritsu was listening.

“If he pisses you off, tell us and we’ll kick his ass,” Shou said happily, like he was ready to beat up everyone alive who asked for a fight.

“Have you ever fought him before?” Teru asked before he thought maybe Suzuki didn’t want to talk about his past. He was about to apologize and say “You don’t need to answer, of course,” when Shou sat beside him, sighing heavily as if he was about to tell the story of his life. Teru turned to face him, for a brief moment following Ritsu with his sight, as if Ritsu was going to take a seat to the right of Suzuki. Kageyama and Hanazawa’s gazes locked, both neutral and tired after the training.

“It's happened a few times,” Shou said. “My pop wanted me to train with Shimazaki when I was still around Claw… Ugh, that jerk really gave me some hard times.” He rubbed the back of his neck, staring at a point between the trees in the distance. “Well, you could say that Shibata and Serizawa could hold back and, you know,” he waved his hands in an indescribable gesture, “set their levels to mine, but Shimazaki fought like a sadist.”

Teru wondered for a moment about what Shou just said – that even Suzuki thought Shimazaki was strong and hard to beat. And Shou was (as Teru had acknowledged with a heavy heart and a great sadness) a tiny bit stronger than Hanazawa and he certainly knew how to fight other espers, in contrary to Teru who, for the most of his life, had only commoners as his opponents. Shou’s words helped Teru see the difference in levels between him and Shimazaki… The difference he could beat only when he lost control of his psychic powers or when a group of people helped him...

“But at least,” Shou wasn’t done with his story. “He didn’t tell my pop that I was a weakling or something. Maybe he was scared, I don’t know.”

“Scared?” Teru laughed. “Of what?”

“Of saying bad stuff about me to my pop? I don’t know, he was strange. I never really knew what was on his mind. Sometimes he could be all snarky around my pop, and other times he held back. It’s not like my pop cared about his comments most of the time anyway. But, okay, nevermind. I still don’t know how you managed to live with him.” Shou pointed at Teru. “And you still wanna live with him. Sorry, but you must be nuts.”

Teru’s mobile rang cheerfully with a new message.

“Is that him?” asked Shou, he and Ritsu leaning over to Hanazawa to peek at the screen.

“No, it's a classmate.” Teru didn’t let them see the name. “You know, maybe I have strange priorities, but it’s really hard to say goodbye to homemade dinners.”

“Yup, you’re nuts.”

“And I don’t know how to tell him he’s cooking too small portions.”

“‘Hey you’re cooking too small portions’?”

“He would tell me to cook them myself.”

“What a petty man,” Shou sighed.

They remained silent for a few minutes, catching their breath, their thoughts lost somewhere else, until Shou hopped to his feet and decided to take a stroll around, exploring and inspecting the fallen trees. Teru glanced at him, then to Ritsu, before he finally decided to answer the text he got earlier.

“What movies are playing in theaters right now?” Teru asked indifferently.

“Hmmhhh.” The sound Ritsu made could be taken as thinking about an answer or being offended by Teru's question. Ritsu pressed his bottle of water against his hurt cheek, a red token of his fight with Hanazawa. “Another part of this strange horror about snakes. Reigen wanted to see that, no idea why. Hmm, some romance movies, three new ones I think…” He listed the titles. Teru wasn’t interested in movies about love so he didn’t even try to remember them. “And some action movies. And some others too, I think. Plenty to choose from.”

“Anything that interests you?” Teru asked, his eyes not leaving his phone.

“No,” was the immediate answer. Hanazawa hadn’t expected a positive answer, to be honest. He shrugged and looked at Shou as he walked back towards them, jumping into the air every couple of steps.

“There’s some fresh blood over there.” Suzuki jerked his head in the direction he came from. “You think someone died here? Heh.”

“Almost,” Teru wasn’t too far from the truth.

“‘Almost’?!”

With open pleasure, Teru told them how he and Shimazaki had fought here many times, until one day the boy had overdone it with his psychic powers, and the results were seen all around them. He didn’t mention he had actually lost control of his abilities… Although maybe Shou would know what exactly could cause that amount of psychic energy slipping from Teru’s hands, and what Hanazawa should do to prevent that from happening in the future. The time would come and Teru would ask him; but for now, his version of the situation was a simple “I passed out while I was activating my psychic powers so I couldn’t constrain them and they burst like a broken dam.” It was the most logical explanation.

“And you’re still living with him!” Shou exclaimed again. He shook his head and sighed loudly. “Okay, gang, when’s the next training? What’s today?”

“Friday,” Ritsu and Teru said in unison.

“I’ll try to feel better as soon as possible,” Hanazawa added, patting his leg.

“Yeeeaahhh.” Shou glanced at him suspiciously. “And wake up, okay? How about Monday?”

“Tuesday,” Ritsu corrected. The others nodded and noted down their plans for Tuesday. Ritsu and Shou asked again if Teru would be able to make it to his apartment, and after a short set of goodbyes, they went their separate ways.

Another marvelous lie from a marvelous boy, because Teru was certain he wouldn’t be able to get home without Shimazaki’s help… Or he would, but it would definitely take a few hours, provided he didn't fall asleep on his way.

He looked to his phone, reading another message he just received from his classmate.

“But I’m not Kaori,” it said. "Did you call me by the wrong name, Teru??"

With a loud thud, the mobile dropped to the ground. Teru gave up. He really had to start sleeping like a normal person again.

***

For two long days, Shimazaki had tried to find a job. No one had told him it would be easy and even Teru had frequently and unkindly reminded Shimazaki that he wouldn’t get a job by sitting at home and doing nothing. There were plenty of open positions, but until now none of them had seemed interesting enough to make Shimazaki call the recruiter or even send his application. It was a miracle he had agreed to Teru’s suggestion to meet with someone smart in the job-searching-field to help him in fill out his resume.

“‘Employment history,’” Teru read the resume aloud, lying on his bed with his hurt ankle resting comfortably in Shimazaki's lap. Shimazaki sat unamused, his fingers tracing circles on Teru’s leg. “‘Bodyguard to the highest priest of the Church of…’The Church of Espers?” Teru looked at him over the edge of his laptop. “Are you two serious? Couldn’t you write something else besides... this?”

“We had to write some bull, right?” Shimazaki shrugged.

“Bull that could be written by a fraud, and not by an ex-terrorist. What did Serizawa write about Claw in his resume? Or Minegishi? Shibata?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t talked to them.”

“You haven’t talked to… Wait a second, but Reigen helped you with this, so how the hell did you miss seeing Seri… Okay, nevermind. You are weird, all of you." Teru sighed. "We’re crossing that out, no way you’re going to make yourself a fool when I’m around. Next, ‘Accomplishments.’” Teru went on with reading. “Why you didn’t write ‘defeating a dozen men and abducting a prime minister’? O-Ouch!” he cried out and tried to pull out his leg free from Shimazaki’s painful clutches.

“Don’t be mean, Teru.”

“If you were stupid enough to write something like ‘The Church of Espers’ then you should have been consistent and made this resume one big joke. I still can’t believe what I’m reading.” He shook his head. “Sending you to Reigen was a mistake.”

The hum from the heater made a pleasant background noise as Teru read through Shimazaki’s resume, but the warm room and the thick blanket that covered the boy made Hanazawa lazy and sleepy. The only thing that kept him awake was the thought that he had to – he really had to – finish fixing this resume, so Shimazaki would finally start looking for a job.

Teru figured out why Shimazaki had been so lazy – first of all, it had probably been a long time ago when the man had first browsed through job offers, so maybe he felt lost. And secondly, Shimazaki probably had enough savings to keep on living in unemployment. Teru couldn’t understand this attitude and took Shimazaki as an irresponsible person. Although he was far from giving him lessons.

“If only I could look for a job in another city,” Shimazaki said quietly. “I would find one without a problem.”

“You’re saying this as if you have something in your sights.”

“This guy I know has a security company. For a few years, he asked me to work for him.”

“Is he an esper?”

Shimazaki’s lips were shut tight in with no answer.

“Talk with him,” Teru suggested as he read the last lines of the resume. “Maybe he has clients or buildings to watch in Seasoning City.”

Easily Teru got a little more information about this “guy Shimazaki knew,” but Shimazaki spent a long time on thinking if sending him the resume was even worth a shot. Eventually and after a few minutes of bickering, Teru said he would send Shimazaki’s resume without his help, stressing his threat by throwing a pillow at the man’s face. He didn’t get an answer, but Shimazaki’s frown was a clear sign they were one step from a serious fight.

They both sulked for a little less than an hour, and during that time, Teru read a few job offers aloud. He didn’t lose patience, not even after the fifth “Send your resume now!” where Shimazaki still didn’t say a word. The itch for doing it for Shimazaki hadn’t won over Teru’s common sense... At least for now.

“By the way,” Shimazaki began in a reaction to laptop’s shutting down. “Did you talk with Joseph about teleporting to my old apartment?”

“I’ll ask tomorrow,” Teru said, remembering he still hadn’t got an answer from Joseph. He took his leg from the man’s lap and rubbed his ankle. It hurt a little less than before and it should be back to normal on Monday, but only if he spent his weekend at home. He sighed internally – he had really hoped he would be able to spend Saturday out of the apartment. Looks like his fortune didn’t think his way.

***

Saturday naturally started with a breakfast.

“I still can’t believe you’re eating more than me.” Shimazaki sipped his coffee.

“Don’t change the subject.” Teru frowned and reluctantly took another slice – a sixth – of toast. “As I was just saying, I’ll text you addresses of job agencies… With some luck, they’ll be working today. You’ll go there and ask for a job. Anyway, you were doing it for a past few days, so you know what I mean.”

Shimazaki said something under his breath, but Hanazawa didn’t have any intention of listening to him.

“And you won’t be allowed back before I let you,” he added.

“What?!” Shimazaki yelled. “Oh, c’mon!”

“I’m gonna have guests.” Teru shrugged. If he was trapped at home, he could always use it to invite some of his classmates. He had already sent messages and he didn’t plan on canceling anything. “Go see your old friends or something, if you have time after checking all these places I told you to see.”

“I shouldn’t have agreed,” Shimazaki growled.

“To what? To me helping you search for a job? Stop being a drama queen and get it together!”

Teru didn’t really care about Shimazaki’s childish attitude, until the end of the day accompanied him with an unpleasant thought of something being amiss. He tried to find the source of his bad hunch, and he kept on thinking about it even when he was surrounded by his classmates. The chatter about everything and nothing – games, movies, gossip – went by Teru unheard when he was staring at Shimazaki’s red dot on the GPS. The man was jumping from place to place, not spending a lot of time in each building.

“And you know what? Yesterday Teru called me Kaori,” laughed Haruko, a girl like any other – pleasant and sweet, nice and helpful, beautiful and fragile, smart and honest, and so on. Teru paid her as much attention as he did to the others sitting in his bedroom, around the snacks occupying most of the space on the carpet.

“You’re not the only one,” said Yuto, who Teru had once called Daiki. And it encouraged other classmates to tell their stories of the boy’s mistake identities. Mei was called Rina, Fuko – Reina, Kosei – Yuki… Teru eventually nodded that yeah, he had some problems with his memory lately. With cunning pirouettes of white lies, he ran away from any discussion about this subject, and said a word or two about a lot of stress that didn’t let him sleep. And after this unimportant to the others truth, he managed to lead them to talk about something else. They started making plans to go to the cinema. Some girls asked about romance movies. Teru groaned in his thoughts.

For the last time he checked GPS and found Shimazaki sitting in the same place for an hour – in a club on the outskirts of the town. He quickly tapped to Joseph “How’s the matter we talked about last time?” and put his phone as far away as he could, to fully focus his attention on his guests.

 

Shimazaki was back a second after Teru told him his guests had left. They didn’t talk much and the boy didn’t ask about Shimazaki’s job-hunting progress, as he noticed the man was irritated. Hanazawa ignored his bad mood. He took the high ground and bid him a good night, in a response to the tension between them and their auras frizzling with pent anger.

Shimazaki slept, and Teru didn’t. He stared at the man’s back, trying to solve today’s puzzles, whose elements fit, but didn’t make a whole picture. Teru didn’t want to think about it. He wanted to sleep.

He squeezed his eyes shut, his inner monologue repeating, like a mantra: “Sleep, sleep, sleep.” All for nothing. Another point for insomnia.

***

Teru fell asleep only when Shimazaki crawled out of the bed. But it wasn’t a deep sleep, so Teru couldn’t say he was lucky. He drifted on the surface of dreaming, where a mere sound or a little movement woke him up. After a few minutes of this unavailing fight, he decided to give up and get up to start a new day, when suddenly a thick material fell on his shoulders. Teru grasped it, before he noticed he was covered with Shimazaki’s blanket. He felt the man’s hand on his forehead. He couldn’t say a word, so he only hummed in a question.

“You don’t look good, get more sleep,” he heard. Finally, Teru turned onto his side to face the wall, snuggled his face into the pillow and fell asleep deeply, with Shimazaki’s hand stroking his hair.

***

The answer to all his questions came during Teru’s breakfast – which today happened to be at three o’clock. Teru had got plenty of rest, although he was certain he traded sleeping in the daytime for another night spent wide awake. But at least he had been able to find a solution for the puzzle and could now fight insomnia effectively.

“You can’t stress me out,” he said sitting down at the table where Shimazaki was playing solitaire. The TV behind Teru’s back was playing a top list of western bands.

“Did you talk to Joseph?” Shimazaki crooned to the tune of one of the songs.

“He didn’t answer me yet. Damn! Stop interrupting me. I was saying, you can’t stress me out because then I won’t be able to sleep later.”

“And what am I supposed to say to that?”

“‘Okay, Teru, I’m sorry, I won’t stress you out.’”

“Are you sure I’m the cause of your insomnia?”

Teru had no doubts about that. At first, he had thought he couldn’t sleep because he had been taking the meds for his cold at three in the morning, so his body had got used to waking up at such strange hour. But then had come up some other problems – never-ending brawls and tensions, and Shimazaki sleeping beside the boy. For over half of month, Teru had been ready to fight at any moment, and most of his days he spent worrying about his family, friends, and especially about himself, because Shimazaki could kill him in his sleep. And now, even after the battle dust had settled, Teru’s subconscious didn’t let him sleep if he and Shimazaki had even the smallest disagreement. That’s how Teru thought it worked, and that’s how he presented it to Shimazaki.

The man listened carefully, with his cheek resting in his hand, undealt cards in his other, his face turned to Teru. And he smiled.

“What a beautiful explanation,” he said mockingly. “Am I responsible for a global warming too?”

“Well, yeah, somehow yes. Do you want me to give you lectures about global warming? I can do that.”

“Ugh, no, save it. Minegishi’s the one who badgers us with that bullshit… Was. He used to.” He winced. Teru blinked a few times, surprised, then shook his head. No, it wasn’t his problem, whatever Shimazaki had on his mind.

“Anyway,” he started. “Dammit, you changed the subject again! Anyway, you can’t stress me out.”

“Teru,” Shimazaki sighed, settingthe cards aside. Half of the solitaire was left still unsolved. “You can’t expect from me – from us, actually – that everything will be cute and nice. Be realistic.”

“I am realistic. You just don’t want to try to be better.”

“Then keep on living in this twisted reality of yours, but at least stop being bossy and demanding and god knows what.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “There are so many people that argue and they have no problems with sleeping like you have. Maybe you should see a doc to help you with that?”

Teru waved his hand, giving up on the subject. Talking with a doctor was the last thing he wanted now.

“I won’t do anything to you when you’re sleeping,” Shimazaki said in a final statement. “So you don’t have to be afraid. I hope you can say that to me too.”

A loud commercial from the TV drowned out the boy’s “What do you mean?” Shimazaki didn’t explain anything. He just said he was lost in the cards.

***

The day slowly turned to evening, which, under common sense, meant Shimazaki should spend it at home. But the end of the weekend and Monday peeking from behind the corner discouraged Shimazaki to spend a few hours in the club. At least he was nice enough to tell Teru about his plans beforehand.

Teru checked on Shimazaki a few times and saw him in the place he should be – in a building on the outskirts of the city, the same building he spent his last evening. He didn’t lie then, thank god. A quick googling told Teru that the club was the one of a higher quality that didn’t open its doors to just anyone, very often holding private parties. Shimazaki, as far as Teru knew, was there only for a second time now… and Shimazaki didn’t really go to any clubs before.

Teru hadn’t planned on making a scene as it wasn’t his business how Shimazaki spent his free time. Until... There always had to be an “until” followed by an “event” and this one came long after ten o’clock that night, in the exact moment when Shimazaki slammed into the apartment – through the door – tripping over the threshold and the carpet. To take off his shoes he had to sit down, but he seemed to have a problem getting up a few minutes later. When he was heading to the bed, he slipped off his jacket and started unbuttoning his shirt.

The mixed stink of the alcohol, sweat, and burnt cigarettes filled the room.

“You’re drunk,” Teru said with disbelief. He had never had someone in his apartment so drunk they tripped over their own feet. Teru, of course, had been drunk, but only once, when he had alcohol for the first time in his life. After that, he decided – after the killer hangover – this kind of fun wasn’t his taste.

As if a fourteen-year-old had much to say about alcohol.

“I’m NOT. Drunk. Not drunk,” muttered Shimazaki sitting on the bed. His shirt landed on the floor. Teru glanced at his chest, checking he didn’t get in a fight, but apparently, Shimazaki was a good guy tonight. What luck.

Teru’s eyes fell on the gauze over the man’s arm. It had been over a week since the stitches were placed over the wound. They both knew well that they should pull them out, but Shimazaki was delicate on this subject and hadn’t let Teru come near him. He even learned how to change the gauze without anyone’s help. His behavior was strange to Hanazawa, but the boy hadn’t questioned anything.

But! Now he had his only chance to finally take care of the stitches. Why did he care so much about it? Teru didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

Quickly he found mini scissors, antiseptic spray, and cotton pads, and caught up with Shimazaki, who was now in the process of taking off his pants.

“Oh. Hi, hello, hi.” Shimazaki greeted him when Teru placed himself between Shimazaki's legs. “You come here often?”

“This is just embarrassing. Don’t move.”

Teru pulled off the gauze and took a look at the wound. It wasn’t as bad as he predicted.

“So? You do anything interesting today?” the boy started a delicate interrogation while he cut the first stitch.

“Yesss. Yes. I...! Got a job. For example.”

“What?” Teru stepped back and looked at Shimazaki’s flushed face. A job? So suddenly? “Where? As… as what?”

“A gorilla.”

“A go… a what…? Who now? The hell?”

“A guard.”

“A guard. But for who or what? Or… or where? In a club or something?”

As his answer Shimazaki embraced Teru’s legs and hugged him tightly, snuggling his face into the crook of the boy’s neck. He hummed softly, his breath teasing Teru’s skin.

Teru felt panic slowly taking control over him. He had to calm down. Of course, it was strange that Shimazaki was so… clingy all of sudden, but he was just drunk. Not dangerous. Easy, Teru. It wasn’t his first time being in Shimazaki's arms and even when it had happened then, nothing bad had followed the hug. So calm down, and go back to your work.

He took a deep breath and, as his common sense commanded, went back to cutting the stitches, his hands not shaking – or, at least, Teru didn’t notice them shaking.

“You didn’t tell me sooner? You decided to celebrate all on your own?” he asked, as if sad. “I thought we’d have a small party together.”

“Oh nooooo!” Shimazaki quietly cried, lifting his head. Teru barely held back a grimace when he felt the stronger stink of the alcohol. “Teru, I’m so-so-SO-SO soooorry.”

“I understand. You decided to celebrate with some randoms.”

“Not randoms! It was my boss!”

A boss who drank with their fresh subordinates couldn’t be a serious man. Maybe they were someone who had as many problems with finding a good bodyguard as Shimazaki had with finding a job (or even starting to search for a job) and so they had decided to celebrate this small success?

“They must be reaaaaaally friendly,” Teru muttered.

“A cool guy!”

“Cooler than me?”

“Oh, Teruuu, c’mon!”

“Will you tell me more about your job? Because you went out and just a few hours later you’re hired by… by who again? I didn’t hear it the first time.”

“Hmmm…”

Shimazaki didn’t say anything for a long time and it seemed he didn’t plan to answer Teru’s questions. He sighed loudly and then started humming a song. Teru squinted but let it go for now. He would learn one day, that was certain. He couldn’t play as if Shimazaki suddenly finding a job in a random, pricey club wasn’t suspicious.

“I could sleep like this,” Shimazaki muttered dreamily, still hugging the boy and his lips almost touching Teru’s skin. “It’s so warm and nice and… What are you doin’, by the way?”

“Getting rid of the stitches.”

“What-!”

The man twitched as if he tried to back away from Teru. Shimazaki forgot he was still embracing his legs and didn’t let them go. Hanazawa almost lost his balance and they both nearby fell on the bed.

“Easy, easy.” Teru patted Shimazaki’s arms. “I won’t hurt you, right? You want to start a new job like a nice guy then we have to pull them out.” He poked at the stitches. “I’m almost done. Be still.”

Shimazaki answered with an angry hum. Teru waited a bit longer to try again to get some more information.

“You won’t brag about your new job?” he asked. “We both worked on it, read all the jobs offers, fixing the resume… I even let you stay and this is how you pay me back.”

“I promised to not to tell anyone.” Shimazaki fixed his grip on Teru.

“Oh, well, not even me?”

“Not even you.”

“Okay. I’ll remember that.”

Teru pulled out all the stitches and sprayed the wound with antiseptic spray. He peeked at Shimazaki’s jacket lying in the middle of the floor. His mobile and some documents poked out of an interior pocket. He would need to check them later.

“When do you start?” he asked.

A silence.

Teru stepped back. Shimazaki’s head, which until now had been resting against the boy’s chest, hung limply. Teru rolled his eyes, gathering up his remaining patience for this man. He shook him by his arms.

“Wake up! I asked when you’re starting.”

“I already started. Today.”

“You got drunk at work.”

“I couldn’t say no.”

Teru ran his hand down his face.

“Undress and go sleep,” he snapped. “You’re sleeping on the floor today. No way I’m gonna stink of alcohol because of you.”

Only after a few minutes of bantering did Shimazaki let Teru out of the hug. It took a little longer before he decided to go sleep – and this took some bickering too. He quickly fell asleep and Teru was free to check Shimazaki's phone and documents.

But before that, Teru had to clean up the mess. Teru hadn’t planned on becoming a housewife in the future or taking care of a drunk partner or someone like this. It was just the sight of clothes lying on the floor, wrinkled and dirty, that set his anger on fire, that reminded him of how long he had spent on the washing and ironing and… And this ungrateful jerk didn’t even want to say a word about his new boss. Teru would remember that. He would also hide all the bottles of water and turn off the water in sinks in the whole building, so Shimazaki would suffer from his hangover tomorrow. That should teach him.

There was nothing interesting in Shimazaki’s wallet, as the man used to throw away all the receipts and the stuff he couldn’t read. In the wallet pockets were only business cards of job agencies – he had to take and keep them, just in case. Now they were useless. Besides that, there was only money and his credit cards. Nothing interesting.

Scrolling down Shimazaki’s phone didn’t bring up anything new either. The last calls were between him and Teru, the list sometimes diverted by the numbers of recruiters. It looked like no one else called Shimazaki to make appointments, or the man deleted everything that Teru shouldn’t have seen.

Teru put away the wallet and the phone, thinking about his next steps. Should he leave school early and spy on Shimazaki? No, there was no point in doing that now. He would wait a few days, and see where Shimazaki would be going – wander around behind his boss’ back or maybe stay in one place, guarding a building?

And Teru would certainly try to get some more information from Shimazaki. Maybe he would be more talkative when he was sober.

***

The hangover practically murdered Shimazaki, which was easy to predict. The man was lying on the same place when Teru left to school, and later he only moved onto the bed, taking up the whole space on the mattress. Teru threw up his arms. This guy hadn’t even taken a shower!

“What time are you going to work today?” Teru asked him, shaking his arm. A sad mutter answered him:

“At eight o’clock. I’ll be back late.”

“First of all, you have to leave in order to be back. Get up!”

Regarding his work, Shimazaki was even more silent than the last evening. He didn’t say anything – not even for how long he had his contract or what he was supposed to do at his work. Teru’s “How came you don’t trust me!” didn’t work on him either; he just shrugged and didn’t even try to lie… Which was another clue for the boy. It meant whatever lie Shimazaki would tell, it would be easy to see through.

That night – or at least while Teru was awake and could spy on Shimazaki through his GPS – the man was in another place than last evening. The building looked like another club for rich people. Teru winced. After a while he shot a text to Shimazaki:

“I forgot to tell you – don’t get drunk.”

The answer came immediately:

“Good night.”

With the very intense dot at the end of the text, a punctuation mark that was hardly seen in any other messages from Shimazaki. Teru snorted, annoyed, and hid his mobile under the pillow. He turned onto his side to face the wall and tried to fall asleep as quickly as he could.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“How’s your leg?” was a quite strange question from Ritsu, considering… well, everything, but mostly that Ritsu was worried about Teru at all. Hanazawa hadn’t thought his plan would succeed so soon and that Ritsu would so suddenly fall for him… No, wait, easy, Teru. Don’t jump to conclusions that easily. Friends sometimes just care about each other, right? Especially if they trained together.

And Hanazawa’s leg was fine, anyway. All it needed was a few massages, some ointments, and by Monday it was like a new. It didn't hurt at all as long as Teru didn’t overdo with walking and jumping. On Tuesday it was even better, but Teru decided to be careful for a little longer.

A short “it's fine” was a sufficient answer to text someone like Kageyama. Since Teru already had his mobile in hand, he checked the GPS: Shimazaki was currently in a grocery shop, most likely buying something for a dinner.

“And what do you think about ‘Off Into the Sunset?’” Haruko asked, hugged close to Teru’s side and checking on her phone a list of movies that were currently in theaters.

“I already saw it,” replied the classmate sitting on her other side. “Maybe something else? Look, there's the sequel to ‘Escaping Snakes.’”

“It’s a horror movie!”

In a reaction to her high tone, Teru set his mobile aside and with his typical charm asked:

“You don’t like horror movies, Haruko?”

“They're scary!” Haruko huffed. Two other girls from their group nodded in an agreement. “And their characters just yell and yell and yell and there’s always a dead dog.”

The others joined in criticizing horror movies, except for one boy who claimed he liked them, and Teru, who stared at a point on the floor, letting his thoughts jump from one subject to another. If their group went to see a horror movie, Teru wouldn’t be able to relax. He certainly wasn’t afraid – not with all the ghosts and paranormal stuff that surrounded him. He just wanted to spend his free time on something that would let him take a nap. He didn’t want to be mean to his classmates, but even three more hours of sleep daily would save Teru from the oppression of exhaustion. If only Shimazaki worked in the daytime instead of at night… Why did this guy getting a job have to cause even more problems?

Teru rubbed his eyes. Lately, he managed to sleep through most of the night, but he still had fallen asleep really late, after staring at the GPS for a few hours.

“Teeerrruu.”

Hanazawa twitched at the finger poking at his cheek. He blinked, trying to get back from his wandering thoughts and flashed a smile.

“There’s ‘A Mystery in the Mine’ on Thursday,” Haruko explained. “Are you going with us?”

Teru couldn't be sure how his life would go over the next two days or if Shimazaki or Ritsu would play any dirty tricks on him, but Teru happily – or as happily as he could muster from his tired mind – agreed to go with the group. He hoped he wouldn’t need to change his plans later.

Speaking of Shimazaki – it looked like he just returned home. Teru noticed the man was in a nearby tobacco shop too. His fingers itched to text him “Quit smoking” but he had to stop himself. Maybe next time. Maybe.

***

Ritsu’s barrier shattered into pieces. A round of debris thrown by Teru broke through three layers of the shield and grazed Kageyama’s arm. Ritsu only dodged the second attack and rolled on the ground, into the mud and sticky leaves. He didn’t have time to even brush himself down, before Shou attacked from the side, sending three needle-shaped rods flying his way.

Teru knew he shouldn’t have reacted. Ritsu had to learn for himself, and pain was a good teacher. Ritsu didn’t need Teru’s protection. But despite this, Teru interfered – on autopilot, he told himself – and slammed the rods with his psychic powers a second before they reached Ritsu. Teru’s powers against Shou’s; the former couldn’t measure up to the latter, to Hanazawa’s annoyance, but at least Suzuki’s attack changed trajectory and the metal pierced the ground around Kageyama. After that, all three espers stopped, surprised by Teru’s action… Teru included.

He quickly came up with an explanation, but Ritsu spoke first:

“I could've handled it.”

“And even if he couldn’t,” Shou broke in, a second before Teru wanted to say something. “No biggie if it had hit him. Relax, Teru.”

Teru really tried to relax. He hoped his reaction wasn’t a result of him being an idiot in love, who would do anything for his crush. He shivered at the embarrassing thought.

“That blood you saw here last time?” Teru asked, looking for the place where he hurt Shimazaki days ago. The sun slowly sunk beneath the horizon and in a few minutes, the woods and ruins would be drowned in darkness. “It was Shimazaki’s blood. He got hit with those.” Teru pointed at the rods, sticking out the ground and marking a border Ritsu didn’t dare cross. “It looked bad, the wound and stitches, you know? And we wouldn’t want to explain our fights to Kageyama’s parents if something like that happened to you too, Ritsu.”

He noticed Kageyama frowning. Okay, maybe he was being too bold by calling Ritsu by his name; maybe Ritsu still wanted to be called “lil brother.”

But apparently it wasn’t the reason for Ritsu’s reaction, as Ritsu said after a moment:

“You really hurt him that badly? Without anyone’s help?”

“Hah.” Teru smiled nonchalantly. “I gotta admit, it wasn’t easy.”

“I'll believe that when I see it.”

“I don’t think Shimazaki would be so willing to boast about it.”

“Take a pic!” Shou caught Teru and Ritsu in a frame made from his fingers. “He will definitely pose for a photo.”

Teru shrugged, smile not leaving his lips, and nodded at the idea. Then he walked away a few steps, lifting a few pieces of small debris with his psychic powers.

“Get ready!” he called to Ritsu. Stones flew at Kageyama, each thrown with more and more strength than the last. They bounced against Kageyama’s barrier, crumbling it more or less. When Teru sprinted off to attack, he felt warmth pulsating off Ritsu’s aura. Kageyama’s smile flashed before his eyes and he smiled too – not involuntarily, he tried to tell himself.

***

After coming home, Teru informed Shimazaki he should check his wound, just to make sure. The explanation was that Hanazawa heard some nasty stories about gross infections after pulling out the stitches. Shimazaki frowned, opened his mouth to say something, and gestured his hands in a silent question, but eventually he took off his shirt and let Teru do whatever he wanted.

“But this is the last time,” he muttered to the boy standing between his legs, holding his mobile in one hand and cleaning the wound with the other. “I won’t promise I'll be all nice next time.”

Teru didn’t pay attention to his words – he didn’t even think of what Shimazaki meant – he just focused on sending the pics to Ritsu and Shou.

***

Teru and Shimazaki's lives could be described as two narrow roads running alongside each other, their paths sometimes crossing – like when Teru was home from school and trainings or meetings with friends and managed to catch Shimazaki before he left for work. They lived more next to each other than together, although Shimazaki couldn’t be aware that Teru kept an eye on him, literally not leaving his phone for a minute. A lot of times when Hanazawa was supposed to be with his friends, he spent most of the time thinking about Shimazaki and what he was doing at home. And it wasn’t daydreaming combined with yearning and sighing, but more Teru wondered why the man wasn’t living. Why wasn’t Shimazaki meeting with the Super Five, and how did he spend his free time at the apartment? While when Teru was living his life, Shimazaki was sitting home, probably doing nothing.

In the place where the roads met, the situation shifted and their roles changed. From seven o’clock, it was Teru who stayed home while Shimazaki left for work, armed with a full pack of cigarettes. His last words were always “Good night,” as an unquestioned request to not be disturbed by Teru with any petty problems. And Hanazawa listened. Anyway, all he needed was to unlock his phone, open the app, and usually, he didn’t have to ask Shimazaki what place he planned to visit. The GPS app helped Teru and saved him a lot of quarrels and nerves.

During his work time, Shimazaki wandered around the city – from club to club, from strange ones that were unmarked on the map, to ones for rich people in the town’s center and even places resembling fancy estates… And so it lasted for a few days. The places were different but Teru had no doubts Shimazaki was glued to his boss’ back. Who was the boss? The boy didn’t know, he didn’t get any information out of Shimazaki, no matter what he asked or what methods he used; and with each passing day his ways were less and less subtle, until one evening, after the espers’ usual conversation about Shimazaki’s job, Shimazaki asked:

“Don’t you have your own life?”

Of course Teru did. But it wasn’t his fault it now revolved around Shimazaki and his work. Shimazaki shouldn’t be surprised that Teru was so interested in his job – after all Shimazaki had been a terrorist, right? What if the said terrorist went back to his old self only because Teru wasn't checking up on him, huh?

He repeated that aloud to Shimazaki. The latter leaned back in the chair and with a loud groan and dragged his hands down his face.

“This is really, and I’m saying really, a stupid argument,” he said, sitting straight again. The watch on Shimazki's wrist beeped at the hour, a signal Shimazaki would need to get ready for work soon. “You don’t need to act like my mother, you know? Spare me.”

“I'm not,” Teru said after a moment. He sipped his tea. “I’m just curious and you keep everything a secret… Are you scared of someone? Of your boss? Who would even know that I know? You can just tell me and I'll stop asking questions, it’s that simple.”

Shimazaki was silent but frowning. Teru tapped his fingers against the table.

“I don’t think you want me to nag you until you eventually go crazy,” he said. “Right?”

“Right.” Shimazaki nodded. He hummed thoughtfully and just when Teru was certain he would finally get the information he wanted – the man disappeared. Shimazaki teleported to the entryway.

“Hey!” Teru jolted off his chair. He ran to catch Shimazaki and almost bumped against the man’s chest. “That was mean.”

“Sorry, mom.”

“What are your plans for today? Any specific place you're going to see?”

“Hm? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps. Most likely somewhere where kids like you,” Shimazaki poked Teru’s chest, “can't get in. Goodnight and sleep well.”

He made sure he had his keys and documents, said a happy “bye” and teleported away. Teru didn’t move for a moment; the silence after Shimazaki’s leaving seemed unusually hard tonight, signaling to Teru that maybe he should go after Shimazaki. He shivered at the thought of checking where the ex-Claw esper was now and he looked for his phone. He hoped he wasn’t becoming obsessed with this whole spying thing – it was his work, after all, a task from Joseph. If Joseph was satisfied with the results, Teru wouldn’t have to check the GPS all the time.

“Why am I explaining myself?” he asked himself a few hours later when he was lying in his bed, his eyes not leaving the map on the phone. Shimazaki had been in one building for an hour already, and Teru hadn't been able to sleep for much longer. It was midnight.

“Shit,” he snapped before he threw his phone on the mattress and hid his face in his hands. The idea of a short walk flickered in his thoughts, just like it had two weeks ago when he had finally decided to tell someone about Shimazaki. That walk hadn’t been so bad – Teru had breathed some fresh air, seen the city at night…

He checked the GPS once again. Shimazaki was in a restaurant located about fifteen minutes away from Teru’s apartment. Maybe… Maybe…

Teru shook his head. There was no point in debating it. He quickly dressed and left home, trying really hard not to think about the fact that no longer than a week ago he had decided to fight his insomnia. And it had been going well, until tonight.

“Five nights in a row of full sleep isn't a bad streak,” he thought sarcastically.

***

In front of the building, Teru had no doubts Shimazaki knew about his presence. Espers’ auras definitely handicapped spying if the other esper could detect them – so sleuthing on Shimazaki was about as discreet as meeting him face to face or even yelling at him in front of crowds of people.

But there was no turning back. Teru had decided to find Shimazaki who was now having fun (or working, whatever) somewhere in the building towering over Teru. The restaurant was three stories high, made entirely of glass and on one side decorated with neon lights. A sliding door opened before whoever wanted to go in, but just behind the doorstep, two clerks turned away those who most likely weren’t in the reservation book. After looking around the restaurant, Teru noticed two other doors he wouldn't be able to use without arousing suspicion. Someone exceptionally ambitious and determined or desperate could also get in through the roof.

And Teru was no less ambitious and determined, but not desperate. He didn’t know how long Shimazaki would spend in the building or how he would go back – teleporting or using other doors thinking that Teru would be waiting for him by the main entrance. So the boy had to find him as quickly as he could.

The lock of the roof entrance put up no resistance against Teru’s psychic powers and it unlocked with a loud click. Teru looked into the darkness of the attic and jumped in.

***

Finding the Kageyama brothers, Suzuki, or Serizawa by following their auras was child’s play – Teru simply walked the path leading to the epicenter of their psychic aura. It was so obvious, even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able lose the trail. But it was different with Shimazaki, more difficult. Teru blamed it on the nature of his powers – the man disappeared and appeared in a blink of an eye, wherever he wanted, so his aura wasn’t steady trail. Instead of following a firm path, firstly Teru had to collect all crumbs of psychic powers left by Shimazaki and figure out where they came from. The more crumbs, the nearer Shimazaki was. If the man suddenly disappeared – the track went cold, and the crumbs faded as if blown away by the wind.

Learning this took Teru a while because even if Shimazaki was frequently around the boy, it was rare for him to be at a distance large enough to let Teru train how to follow his tracks. But what kind of genius would Teru be if he couldn’t find Shimazaki in the restaurant on his first try? Good work. Too bad between them now was a door and several guards blocking the way.

Teru walked past them, sizing the men up. “That’s all for today, I guess,” he thought hiding behind the corner. He looked around. The restaurant was… unusual in his opinion. Here – or at least on this floor – there weren’t tables to book, but rooms, hidden behind heavy doors. Well-dressed waiters in red uniforms hung around, walking between rooms and elevators, pushing food trolleys filled with tray covers and buckets with ice with bottles of alcohol. They didn’t pay any attention to Teru, nor did they talk to each other; they passed between bodyguards without a word, easily opening doors and disappearing into the noise of conversations or loud music. The men guarding entrances didn’t even flinch at the loud click of the door locks.

Teru shied away, getting out of sight of the bodyguards in the hall. The thought of politely borrowing clothes from one of the waiters passed his thoughts. But it wouldn’t work, this wasn’t a movie or a book or…

“Did you get lost?” Teru jumped at the sudden baritone voice behind him. He turned on his heel and stepped back to look up at the face of the stranger – one of the bodyguards.

“Unfortunately.” Teru frowned. “I’m looking for a room number twenty-seven. I was told it would be somewhere here.”

“One floor down.”

“Thank you very much.”

He had to consider his options. The only way to peep on Shimazaki was to lie in a wait near the door or look through the windows outside, a few floors above the ground. Both options were out of the question.

When he took the elevator to the first floor, he felt Shimazaki’s aura move – its epicenter migrated a few steps to the side, stopped, then moved again, this time towards the door. Would he teleport away or not? That was the question.

Shimazaki teleported before Teru reached the first floor. Unsteadily, the boy got out of the elevator wondering if he would meet the man now. He didn’t feel Shimazaki’s aura, so that meant he wasn’t in the building. But… so suddenly? Leaving his boss behind?

Teru checked the GPS and found Shimazaki back in his apartment. He… he didn’t take there his boss, did he? Was that person still here…?

Teru sneaked along the wall, hidden from eyes of the receptionists, and holed up in a dark corner, with a good view of the elevators on the other side of the hall. The number on a floor display went up to three only to go down again after a good minute. Someone would get out of the elevator soon.

A loud ding broke the silence. The doors slid open and a few people lazily rolled out of the elevator – everyone was dressed in suits, middle-aged, and had same grey faces – no one different… except for one. This person was way younger than the others – definitely wasn’t older than twenty – and dressed more casually – wearing an oversized sweatshirt and excessively worn jeans. His eyeglasses made Teru think he'd just found Hatori, but he was wrong. This guy was too young and didn’t have red hair.

Teru’s instincts told him to remember everything he was able to hear, just in case he would need it later. The first words of conversation between the men didn’t sound like anything interesting:

“I’m glad we came to an agreement,” said the one.

“We’ll send the documents by mail,” answered the other.

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you very much for the meeting.”

“Oh, mister Kobayashi!”

The guy in glasses looked at the man who just spoke.

“Yes?” he asked.

“The bar here is still open. Maybe we’ll get a drink to celebrate today’s success before we go back to the hotel?”

“Can’t say no to that.”

The two said their goodbyes to the rest of the group and went to the bar behind the reception. Teru stared at their faces, trying to remember as many details as he could. Kobayashi was easy to remember while the other one wasn’t – he was too average.

“Too bad Ryou couldn’t stay,” Kobayashi said. “Usually he stays after work to drink a glass or two with me.”

They passed the corner where Teru hid. The boy twitched when a glimmer of an unfamiliar aura grazed his arm. He followed Kobayashi with his eyes, but apparently, the man didn’t see or even sense Hanazawa.

So Shimazaki was a bodyguard of an esper, huh?

“He said he has to go back because he left his wife waiting or something,” said the other man.

Teru almost tripped.

“Waiting until four in the morning? Wait, he has a wife?!” Kobayashi sounded just as surprised as Teru. His next words were quieter as he and his colleague stepped into the bar. When they disappeared around the corner, Teru couldn’t hear a word.

He considered his next move. He could stay and wait for this Kobayashi, but he would probably be stuck here a long time… And he'd be lucky if no one spotted him sooner or later. So it was time to go back home; he wouldn’t get anywhere tonight without raising any suspicion.

His phone vibrated with a new message. Teru rolled his eyes when he saw Shimazaki’s name.

“You need a lift?” the man texted.

Teru didn’t answer… although deep inside he indeed needed and wanted a lift.

When he arrived back home, Shimazaki was asleep.

***

It was strange for Teru, but Shimazaki didn’t mention anything about Hanazawa’s night trip. They spend the whole next day as if nothing had happened, and although they had both agreed to mind their own business, there were moments when Shimazaki simply could have asked or pointed out what Teru had done. Nothing like that happened.

“We asked our friends,” Teru read over a text from the older Kageyama. “But no one has heard about a Kobayashi or someone like that.”

Teru hadn’t expected much when he had asked Shigeo and Shou for help in recognizing the man. Even he, since the incident with the 7th Division, had kept an eye on the city and was careful not to miss any new espers, but it looked like this Kobayashi guy had appeared not too long time ago… And moreover was here only for a short while, since he stayed in a hotel. Probably he would be out of the town soon too, considering he sounded as if he was done with his business.

Teru put away his phone and went back to hanging the wash on the balcony.

“Are you going to work tonight?” he asked Shimazaki.

“Are you talking to me, honey?” someone answered from behind the wall. Teru grimaced and leaned out to see the neighbor – old granny – living next door, now looking at the boy heedfully.

“Ah, no, no.” Teru snapped with his psychic powers to get his phone from the table in the bedroom. He waved his mobile and smiled a smile as bright as thousand suns. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Shimazaki almost choking on laughter. “I’m talking with my mom. Was I too loud? I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” the woman answered. “Say hi to her, my dear.”

“I will, I will!”

Teru ran back to the bedroom, leaving half the basket of wet laundry on the balcony.

“Shut up, okay?” He snapped at Shimazaki, closing the door behind him. His heart was still pounding at the thought alone of his neighbors learning he lived with Shimazaki. “Stop laughing!”

“You let your guard down,” Shimazaki finally managed to say. “Two weeks ago you wouldn’t let yourself to talk with me so loudly… That’s… cute.”

“What?! No! Shut up!”

“Yeah, I’m working today. Why wouldn’t I?”

Teru frowned. Maybe Kobayashi still had some matters to do in the city and that’s why he still needed Shimazaki… Because Shimazaki wasn’t that dumb to leave Seasoning City with his boss, right?

“Shimazaki,” Teru spoke up a few minutes later when the man was getting ready for work. “Just… don’t do anything stupid.”

He bit his lip and stepped back when Shimazaki leaned towards him.

“Teru.” Shimazaki put his hands on Teru’s arms and after a while moved them up his neck and cupped Teru's face. Teru muffled the instinct to push Shimazaki’s hands away and pull back, as if his fingers burned like ice. He clenched his fists, standing firmly in place.

“Teru, Teru, Teru,” Shimazaki went on, caressing the boy’s cheeks. “I can take care of myself. Don’t make me take care of you too.”

“Are you threatening me again?” Teru stated rather than asked. The sense of danger from Shimazaki had decreased lately, but had never left Teru. In every moment he expected Shimazaki to be This Damn Jerk… especially now, when Shimazaki felt so sure of himself that he intruded on Teru’s personal space. Teru could barely stop himself from breaking Shimazaki’s hands.

“No, I’m not, Teru,” Shimazaki sighed. “I’m just warning you because I don’t want you to get into some nasty shit. I have no business in hurting you…” His thumbs brushed against the dark circles under Teru’s eyes. “But I can’t guarantee everybody will like you.”

“Their loss,” Teru said through clenched teeth. Shimazaki shook his head.

“Sleep well.”

And disappeared. An hour later Teru caught his aura in the nightclub on the other side of the city. When he was staring at the darkened windows of the building he decided to not give up until he learned everything about Shimazaki’s boss, even if, like Shimazaki had warned, someone wound up not liking him.