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Saving Face

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The office is... darker than it should be. Serizawa can’t figure out why that is, but heavy thinking like that is currently concentrated elsewhere. Reigen stands with his back to him, silhouetted by the orange street light coming through the shutter-striped window. There’s something wrong here... something wrong with his face. A soft clicking noise interrupts the air for a moment, something akin to the sound of plastic board game pieces shifting in their box, before Serizawa speaks.

“Reigen? Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine— wonderful even,” Reigen says, no hesitation. He half turns towards Serizawa, facial silhouette... different. His jaw doesn’t move when he speaks but... Serizawa is compelled to believe him. “Don’t you think it’s a wonderful night, Serizawa? Of course you do. That’s what I like about you, Serizawa— you’re smart.”

“Um.” He’s not sure where the compliment comes from but he doesn’t really know how else to react, mesmerized by something off with Reigen. “...Thanks?”

Reigen chuckles warmly, fully turning to face him now. And now, Serizawa sees his face, still a silhouette haloed by orange night light, but joining him in the shadow, visage revealed as he steps forward. The teeth seem to rustle, pleased to be seen by him, curious, friendly even. Row upon row of lipless smiles silently acknowledge him. They’re blunt and sharp, but they aren’t directing danger at him.

“Serizawa, you’re not a dummy. You’re smart— you’re not afraid, are you?” A test.

Is he afraid? He’s not sure. He’s not afraid for himself. “...Reigen?”

Con man-shaped shadow cocks his head, as if acknowledging his question.

“I’m... not afraid. I think.” No, no, he’s not. He’s mesmerized and curious, that’s all.

Reigen takes a step forward, and Serizawa’s instincts scream for him to step backwards. His leg twitches, foot sliding back warily.

“I knew it, didn’t I say you were smart?” Step forward— step back. “You’re not afraid, not like everyone else. No, no, you’re special. You’re very special and smart.” Step forward— step back. One of Reigen’s hands whips through the air, pointing. “Very special very smart people deserve recognition, you know.”

Step forward— back.

“Oh?” This close, Serizawa can see the gums and how they seem suctioned on his face, strips of flesh coiling around, secured to his head.

“Oh yes. Only the best get recognized, and you, my friend, must be one of the best.”

Step forward— Serizawa’s heel hits a wall. Ah. Seems he’s run out of places to go, cornered. But, he’s not scared, why should he be scared of Reigen? Especially now, when he’s saying such nice things? He stares down at the faceless man, unsure why his pulse is so high.

“R-really?”

Another warm laugh and a step forward. Reigen is far too close for comfort now, teeth inches away from his face looking up. Incisors stare him down, and he can only watch, breathless, hypnotized, not-scared.

“Serizawa, if you stick with me, you’ll go further than you can even imagine.”

Something twists in Serizawa’s gut, an old feeling he doesn’t like. He blinks at the open maw before him, feeling as if he’s about to be consumed, shredded apart by those dangerous rows of sharp refined bones— too squared off, too white, too big, too many.

“I...” He starts, looking over where Reigen’s face should be. He wishes he could run, but his back is against the wall, shoulders tight, legs paralyzed. Blood rushes in his ears, a feeling claws between his ribs, burning and powerful. His own jaw sets. “I am afraid.”

The teeth click still— had they been moving this entire time? Reigen’s head tilts, curious, curious, a hand gripping Serizawa’s shoulder tight, tight, tight. The mask inches closer to his face, Reigen’s voice feeling distant and dusty.

“Hm. You really are a smart one, aren’t you?”

The terror in Serizawa’s heart acts first; a blast of psychic power sends Reigen flying, crashing over his desk, a screech like a bomb filling the air. It’s Serizawa’s turn to step forward, and forward and forward, closing the distance with the swift determination of an old enemy. The desk moves out of his way, revealing the teeth, Reigen crouched in an unnatural manner, joints too twisted, neck too flexible— another shriek fills the air and Reigen lunges at him. He bounces off his barrier only to come back with renewed force. To Serizawa’s horror, the teeth rear back, ripping, ripping, a large bite out of his barrier— psychic powers release the barrier and grab Reigen before he can lay a hand on him.

The teeth chatter furiously, Reigen’s whole body jittering and spasmodic, trying to get away, trying to save face, shrieking, shrieking— the shrieks increase when Serizawa curls fingers under the top edge of the mask, Reigen’s head jerking around in an effort to get away. He yanks once, twice, three times... it’s very stuck and very close to snapping his fingers clean off. His other hand finds the fleshy strap on the back of his head, and pulls. The teeth scream directly in his face; he pulls again, prying at the front of the mask at the same time.

A wet sounding rip drags through the hissing and screaming, cutting into silence and a heavy thud as Reigen falls to the floor— he’s gasping for air, coughing and shuddering at his feet. Serizawa yelps and crushes the mask in a psychic fist with a series of cracks and squelches, tossing it as far from them as possible.

“Reigen! Reigen, oh my god-“ He crouches besides the man struggling for breath, helping him into a shaky sitting position. The look in his eyes is haunted and distant, his face is red where the mask had been suctioned on. He looks like he’s ready to throw up any second now— a trash bin flies through the air next to them just in case. Serizawa smooths hands down his shaky arms, trying to help Reigen situate himself in the present. Long minutes pass, full of shaky breaths and dry heaves and soft words of comfort.

Finally, finally, Reigen manages to take a deep, steady breath and look Serizawa in the eyes.

“Are... are you okay?” He asks, voice rough. He swallows thickly, still clearly shaken but doing better.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”

Reigen nods, exhaling in stutters and shakes, tie loosened around his neck. Serizawa prevents him from standing, urging him to take his time, to just breathe a little longer. He offers to get him some water but Reigen shakes his head, fingers curled around his wrist, tight and scared and desperate to feel a pulse.

Staying by his side is all Serizawa feels he can do at this point. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s something. Concern bothers his aura, but he keeps it reigned and in control, merely a psychic facial expression. Careful, careful, he wipes the tears off of Reigen’s cheeks. Slow, slow, he brushes hair off of his forehead. Kind, kind, he meets Reigen’s eyes and offers a hopeful smile.

“Do you think you’re ready to get out of here?”

Reigen nods; Serizawa helps him stand on still shaky legs.

They leave the office, Serizawa with a hand to support him on his back.