The days were short in the winter.
It was only 5:00 when the sunset shot streams of light across the room, dust particles illuminated in the beams. It was only 6:00 when the skies were well and truly dark, and the hustle on the streets became something quieter; when people would slow their paces and hush their voices, seemingly out of respect for the night. It was only 7:00 when Reigen sat slumped over his desk, having been lulled to sleep by the stillness of the world after staying late at the office. And it was only 8:00 when Serizawa returned, looking for something he’d forgotten, and found his boss asleep on his desk.
Reigen’s eyes blinked open, a confused noise slipping out of him as he was shaken awake. Slowly, he sat upright, wincing at the ache in his back and trying to register what was happening. Right, the office.
His head snapped up, and there was Serizawa. “Oh. Ah, hi.”
“Why were you… asleep at the office?” Serizawa sounded hesitant, like he wasn’t sure he should ask.
Reigen stood and stretched. “Was an accident. Paperwork was boring me to death.” He laughed, trying to ease the worry lines on Serizawa’s face, and the sound was jarring in the quiet atmosphere.
Serizawa’s eyes strayed to said paperwork, and Reigen quietly shuffled the haphazard pile into a stack. It’d been a long few days. He’d gotten many stubborn clients who had worn his patient thin, and he had begun to slip up today, snapping at people more than once. Of course, that only added fuel to their fire. They threatened bad reviews and legal actions, one of them even digging out a magazine from the time he’d been on television.
He’d slapped on his most plastic smile, and simply told them to take the consultation free of pay, in more or less words. They’d finally left him alone, and he’d flipped the sign to closed; then, and only then, did he remember the mountain of paperwork that he still had to complete by Friday.
He slipped out of his not-so-pleasant thoughts when he heard Serizawa call his name.
“What… when did this..” Serizawa trailed off, and when Reigen looked up his stomach dropped.
He forgot that client had left the magazine here.
And now Serizawa held it, open to a page with a harsh little tabloid about Reigen, about how he was a fake, a fraud, etc- among other such things.
Right. Okay, yeah, okay! Alright. Time for damage control. “You… shouldn’t listen to those things. S-so much gossip, you know?” He inwardly kicked himself at the stutter, and tried to keep his posture nonchalant.
“Reigen, it’s okay. I kind of already knew.”
“I mean, you have no aura, and… I’ve heard people talk about this before, you know.” He gestured vaguely with his hands, which turned the page towards Reigen, who caught an eyeful of his own broken expression plastered across the page. Right. This was okay. It was just fine.
Serizawa caught his gaze and turned the magazine back towards himself, peering down at it. Reigen’s every instinct screamed at him to snatch it away, or smack it to the ground, but that would probably just make things worse. Serizawa’s nose wrinkled, and Reigen fidgeted.
“Wow. They really didn’t… pull any punches, huh.”
Reigen could feel his ears burning, and hoped it wasn’t visible. He could only imagine how the article painted him.
Slowly, Serizawa put the magazine back on the desk, almost antagonizing in how gentle he was with it. He swept his thumb over the edge, smoothing the pages down. He looked back at Reigen, who was still frozen in place, paperwork starting to dampen in his hands, and something softened in his gaze. Then those gentle hands were on his own, coaxing the papers out of them and putting them next to the magazine.
“You should get home, get some rest.”
Reigen nodded, swallowed thickly. Was Serizawa even going to address what he’d read? Sure, he said he’d already known, but he wasn’t just going to brush over this, was he?
It seemed like that was what he planned to do though, as he quietly grabbed the schoolbook he’d forgotten and waited by the door for him. They walked to his apartment together, Serizawa seemingly immune to the tension rolling off Reigen in waves.
He only spoke once before they split.
“Reigen? You know, maybe you do lie sometimes, but… in the end, you really do help people. That’s why I stayed, you know.” And with that, he had been gone.
It’d been a week since then, and Serizawa hadn’t once brought it up.
Something had shifted, though. It was subtle, but with the way Reigen could read people- especially those he knew- he could practically taste it in the air. Not now, of course- as Serizawa wasn’t present at the moment. He was pulling another stupidly late night at the office, the sun long since set. He just never seemed to have enough time these days.
Some kind of new paranormal show had come out, and it had caused a flux in anxious clients looking for help. There were more house calls than ever, 99% of the time for something mundane, only rarely requiring an actual esper to take care of it. He still had Mob or Serizawa tag along every time- just in case. On top of that, he was having some disagreements with his landlord.
She had, for some reason, decided she wanted to raise rent on the office, and hadn’t brought it up with Reigen until said rent was due. This had tightened his already wiggle-less budget, and he was working hard to get her to change her mind- but she was tough. If he was to get her to sway, it would be through legal action; so that’s exactly what he was doing, hence the endless stacks of papers he had. It was to the point where Serizawa had offered to help more than once.
That’s right- Serizawa. Recently, his silence wasn’t just one of nonassertion, or anxiety anymore. Over his months at the office it had grown into one of observation, sharp eyes absorbing the world around him and slotting pieces together, learning more every day. Reigen would be rattled by it was the man not so clearly backing him.
However, after last week’s encounter, those sharp eyes had turned on him. Before, they would soften passively when Reigen spoke, regarding him with something of an understanding. Now, he watched him like a detective eyeballing a suspect. Since then he’d combed over the article countless times, desperate to find what it was that had made Serizawa so critical, hoping for a clue as to how he could fix it. In fact, it was the reason for his current distraction after staying late to chip away at his paperwork.
He’d pulled it out from where it had been fitted snugly into the bottom drawer of his desk, opening to the page with the words he’d long since memorized.
Meet Reigen Arataka, the greatest fraud of the twenty-first century. The self-proclaimed psychic appeared on television late last night, and exposed his true nature in quite the spectacle. Through a witless flurry of ‘techniques’, he claimed to be exorcising a spirit from the show’s guest; the young child had to endure fistfuls of salt, among other things. However, said spirit did not exist, as the real psychic Kirin Shoudou pointed out after half an hour of Reigen’s antics.
When confronted, Reigen began scrambling to cover himself, but only dug his hole deeper. It was clear by the end of the program that he held no psychic abilities. That same night, victims of his cons began to come out with their stories. Many had been too scared to do so before, for fear of the repercussions the man could bring down on them.
Once they did begin coming forth, it was obvious that Reigen is no saint; his misdemeanors range from taking pay without solving any problems, to people who have been harassed in more personal ways. One victim even came forth to say he’d had them undress for him.
Our journalists have been dispatched to perform further investigation, and are hot on the tails of any new leads. This menace to society will be known by all for who he is; a thief, a swindler, a creep, and an overall sham. We encourage you, the reader, to send in any more information you have on him to our PO box.
Shoudou is truly a hero to many for spearheading this revolution, and we can rest assured that the fraud known as Reigen Arataka will hurt no more victims when we are through.
Reigen sighed and pushed the paper away. He didn’t know why he kept reading it- it’s not like it ever made him feel better. His mind was always left racing afterwards, wondering if Serizawa had taken any of it to heart. It was the only explanation he had for the rapt attention that had been fixed on him lately- maybe Seri had believed the part about him harassing people.
Maybe he thought Reigen had done such to him. Had he? He knew Serizawa tended to be skittish with touch sometimes, but that never stopped him from clapping him on the shoulder or patting his back after a job well done. Maybe he should stop.
Reigen heaved a sigh and let his head fall into his hands, fingers upsetting his hair. It was too goddamn late for this. He peeked at the clock- 11:42- and stood up, scrubbing his palms against his eyes. He wasn’t getting anywhere, might as well get home and get some sleep before tomorrow. He tucked the magazine back into it’s place and slid the drawer shut, and got everything else ready for the night before heading out.
The street was dark, and the lights cast an orange glow against everything around them. Reigen kept his head down, watching their reflection dance on his shoes. He looked up when he realized there was someone else on the sidewalk, walking the opposite way as him; a man with a beanie pulled snug over his ears, and a puffy jacket with the collar popped up over his face. The streetlights couldn’t reach his face through the attire, leaving it cast in shadow.
Odd. It wasn’t that cold tonight.
He brushed off the feeling, noting that he was almost home and looking forward to his bed and it’s soft blanket. The thought was quickly derailed by an arm hooking around his neck and yanking him into an ally. He let out an undignified yelp and swung out his elbow, clipping something- he wasn’t sure- causing his assailant to curse and slam him against the wall. His skull cracked against the bricks, stars flickering across his vision, and the arm was replaced by a hand around his throat.
When he recovered, Reigen quickly recognized the man as the one that had been walking the opposite way.
“What-” He cut off, wheezing as a thumb pressed down on his windpipe.
“Wallet. Give me everything you’ve got.”
Oh, he’d give him something, alright. He swung his knee up, nailing the man right in the crotch; low blow, but it was self defence. The man cursed again, choked off this time, and Reigen thought for a moment he’d get away when the hand slipped; he quickly realized he’d made a mistake, though, as the grip on his neck only tightened.
He croaked and pawed at the arm holding him, rapidly losing oxygen, panic speeding the process up.
“You little fucker .”
Yep, he’d pissed him off. Reigen’s vision was fading on the edges, and he made a sound akin to a dying squeaky toy as the man landed a hard left jab to his gut. He would have doubled over were he not held up, and as it was slumped lamely against the wall.
“I’ll ask you again. Give me. Everything. You’ve got.”
Reigen’s arms twitched at his side, not making it to his pockets. The hold on his throat finally released, and he fell to the ground, sucking in much needed air. Then there were hands on him again, at his jacket, pulling it off. Ice cold terror flooded him for a second at the implications of that, but the jacket was thrown back at him only seconds later- and he sagged in relief. The man had only taken his wallet.
One more blow landed on him- a vicious kick to the ribs- and then the thief was long gone. Reigen opted to lay on the ground for a bit, panting and willing his heartbeat to return to normal.
Did he- he just got mugged. He just got fucking mugged.
The panic dissipated, and was replaced with thick, heavy sitting anger. At the situation, at the assailant, at the loss of whatever money he’d had in his wallet. Anger for all the difficult clients he’d had the past few days, for his landlord’s demands, for all the hours of sleep he’d skipped, and for all the anxiety he had spent on stupid, frivolous things.
He lurched to his feet- staggered- and then spotted a roach on the ground, near where he’d just been. He snarled and smashed his heel into it, sending a shockwave all the way up his spine, and ground his shoe into the dirt. He then picked up his jacket, shook it out, and with a steadying breath he was on his way.
He fully intended to go straight home, honestly- but every shadow he passed, every noise he heard left him cringing away, heart pounding. He’d really and truly meant to just go to his own apartment. It was the most rational decision. Just go sleep off the fury, the nervousness, the bitterness, the rolling waves of self pity- all the ugly emotions that he shouldn’t be letting anyone see.
But stupidly, impulsively, he walked himself over to Serizawa’s apartment. Right into the building, mechanically up the stairs, straight down the hallway and now right in front of his door. He rose his hand- hesitated- and knocked twice. It should have been quiet, but in the dead silence of the hall at whatever god forsaken hour it was, the sound was deafening.
He was there for about thirty seconds before he found himself violently regretting this decision. He eyeballed the distance to the stairwell, wondering if he should make a break for it, or if Serizawa had even heard him. It was another thirty seconds when he made up his mind and turned to leave, and then a half second after that when the door opened, revealing a sleep-mussed Serizawa.
He took one look at Reigen, and all signs of lethargy snapped out of him in a heartbeat. His voice squeaked when he spoke.
“Reigen?” His hands rose, flitting aimlessly. “What did- are you- how did you- what happened?”
All at once, words escaped him. “Uh. Hi, Serizawa.”
Serizawa stepped backwards and tugged him through the doorway. Reigen was grateful he didn’t comment on the subtle flinch. Once they were inside, the babbling started up again.
“Reigen, oh my god, are you okay? Why were you out at-” he glanced at his microwave- “-a quarter past midnight?”
Serizawa’s gaze hardened, and those sharp eyes that had become so familiar were trained on him again. “Reigen, you are not going to show up at my apartment in the middle of the night, bruised and dirty, and then not tell me what happened.”
Reigen’s movements stuttered, and Serizawa deflated. “Sorry. That was harsh. I’m just- worried. Reigen, who did this to you?”
Serizawa shut the door, and Reigen’s shoulders sagged. “Hell if I know. Was walking home and some son of a bitch caught me off guard. Took my wallet and booked it.”
Serizawa’s hand landed on his back and guided him to the couch, which he sank gratefully into. “Why here? Why not… why didn’t you go to the police?”
Reigen’s eyes fell on the far wall. That was… a good question. He shrugged one shoulder. “S’late. I was tired.” Serizawa sat next to him on the couch, and Reigen fought the urge to lean into him. “I… was honestly just gonna go home. I don’t know why I came here.”
“Okay… okay.” Serizawa got up and returned with an ice pack. Reigen pressed it to the back of his head, and some indiscernible emotion flickered across Seri’s face. “So, why were you out so late?”
Reigen shrugged his shoulder again. “Was working.”
Serizawa looked unhappy. “Do you always stay this late?”
“We’ve just had a lot of business lately.” It was a non-answer, he knew, and he knew that Serizawa knew too, because that look was back. He was really starting to dislike it.
He waved Serizawa off. “It’s fine Seri, I’m fine.” He really wasn’t. His body hurt, and he was tired, and still kinda scared, and the magazine article still sat in the back of his mind, and god did he mention how tired he was?
Serizawa grunted, obviously displeased, and dragged his hands down his face. “Fine. Okay. We can talk about this more later. For now let’s just get you cleaned up and to bed, alright?”
Reigen blinked. The ice pack dripped down his neck, and Serizawa held his hand out. “What? Did you think I’d make you go home?”
Reigen didn’t know what he thought, really. He hadn’t planned that far ahead. Serizawa stood, still waiting- and Reigen caved and took his hand. He was hefted to his feet and stumbled, but Serizawa remained steady, keeping him upright.
Then he found himself sat on a closed toilet, watching Serizawa rummage through cabinets. “I don’t know how much I can do, but we can at least get the dirt off.” He dumped his supplies on the counter and turned to Reigen, then reached out, moving to push his suit jacket off.
Reigen jerked backwards, embarrassingly violent, and Serizawa froze where he was. He cleared his throat and laughed weakly. “Sorry. I, uh. I got it.” He reached up and slipped it off with trembling hands- when had he started shaking?- and laid it in his lap. Serizawa took his wrist and made eye contact with him before slowly, deliberately pushing the sleeve up to get a proper look at his palm. It was scraped up from the short fall he took, and Serizawa quietly cleaned it off and disinfected it. He moved to the other one, keeping the same, steady pace.
Reigen didn’t enjoy being treated like a skittish animal, but he really couldn’t blame him.
Serizawa swiped a rag over his face, and though he was still exhausted, it left him a bit more refreshed. A softer kind of tired. He was then turned to face the side, Seri guiding him by his chin, and hissed as fingers brushed the back of the skull. Serizawa murmured an apology and let Reigen face forwards again. “You don’t think you have a concussion, do you?”
“No. Not dizzy, just tired.”
Serizawa nodded and leaned back. “Anywhere else hurt?”
Reigen considered mentioning his ribs, whether it was worth it. Though, the thought in and of itself made the decision for him, as Serizawa noticed his pause and leaned in.
Reigen sighed. “Ribs.” Serizawa waited patiently, and Reigen realized he wanted him to take his shirt off. He started fumbling with the buttons, frustration building at the tremors still in his hands before Serizawa brushed them aside and did it for him.
His shirt was eased open, and Serizawa sucked in a breath. It didn’t look that bad, really- just one ugly bruise from the point of the man’s shoe, and a reddened spot where he’d been punched. Reigen was about to tell Serizawa to just leave it when he pushed his shirt open more, leaning in, and Reigen fell still.
Serizawa ran his fingers over the bruise, and the intimacy of it was just a little too comfortable, too familiar. A shiver ran up Reigen’s spine and Serizawa seemed to realize all at once what he was doing, shooting back upright and stammering an apology.
“I guess there’s not really much we can do for that, huh?”
“Yeah.” Reigen moved to button his shirt again, but Serizawa stopped him.
“I have clothes you can wear.”
Reigen nodded and followed Serizawa to his bedroom, feeling odd with his shirt only half-tucked and still hanging open, fluttering as he walked. Serizawa tossed him sweatpants that would be loose on him, and a t-shirt that would be even looser. Too tired to care for privacy, he went ahead and changed where he was.
He muttered a thanks, and Serizawa just smiled softly at him. “It’s no big deal, Reigen. Go get some rest.”
He was soon settled into the couch, having snagged a cushion from the back to pillow his head on, and under a blanket Serizawa had thrown over him.
Reigen genuinely didn’t realize how stressed over work he was until the next day, when he woke groggily mid-afternoon and began to panic. Serizawa, the ever-constant blessing, had grabbed his hands and stopped the frantic motioning he’d taken up as he talked about how much you could miss in half a day, among other things.
“Reigen, you were exhausted. You needed the rest. Why don’t we call Mob and tell him to take today off, leave the office closed for a day?”
Reigen really, really didn’t have the time to just sit around for a whole day, but the prospect sounded agonizingly luxurious. In the end he’d caved, when Serizawa mentioned how bruised he was, and how Mob didn’t even know anything had happened.
Reigen scoffed to himself, because of course he chose the night before Mob came in to go and get strangled. But there wasn’t anything to be done about it now, so he let Serizawa push him back down onto the couch, and bring him painkillers and food. He took both gratefully, feeling like he hadn’t had a proper meal in years. The painkillers eased a headache he didn’t even know he had.
Serizawa had eaten with him, and it was almost chokingly domestic. Reigen hadn’t felt this kind of quiet in a while.
He finished first and left his plate on the coffee table, curling up on the couch and basking in the feeling of relaxation. He felt bad for imposing himself on Serizawa like this, but the man was such a great buffer on his thoughts that he could hardly find it in him to care. He knew that, were he alone, he’d most likely be up and pacing again, trying to figure out how to fit two days’ work into one when he returned tomorrow.
As it was, he was drifting, eyes half-lidded and body slumped into the cushions. He blinked sluggishly, turned to thank Serizawa for the hospitality, but the look on his face snapped the drowsiness out of him all at once. Those critical eyes were back, and they were trained on him once more.
He stumbled over his words, the thanks becoming tangled up and pouring out as apologies. Apologies for barging in, taking up his food and time- and his couch- not to mention his clothes, and-
…and Serizawa’s gaze softened into something sadder. What?
“Reigen, you don’t have to apologize. I’m just doing what any friend would do.”
And then Reigen was tongue tied for the second time. “Ah. T-thank you.”
“No, really. I don’t mind at all.”
Reigen nodded weakly, and Serizawa went back to eating.
Three more days passed. The edges of the bruising on his neck had faded, and he could cover the rest with his dress shirt now, given he tugged it up every now and then. Mob had still noticed, of course, and Reigen had managed to keep him sated with a few well-placed deflections. No use worrying the kid.
Serizawa watched him even more now; it was unnerving, and Reigen often found himself drained by the attention he so usually thrived off of.
Despite that, he’d been struggling to sleep. He found himself constantly thinking- about Serizawa, about the magazine, about the papers he was still late on- and though he’d been leaving the office earlier since the incident, he always found himself turning back to work. It was easier to drown himself in it than let other thoughts consume him.
It was currently somewhere around three am, as the unforgivingly bright monitor informed him, and he was working on emails; appeasements to get extensions on anything he could. He was only one man, and could only get so much done during a given time frame. Maybe he should start bringing some of it home with him.
His phone jolted him from these considerations, buzzing angrily against his desk. He grabbed it and checked the caller id, and felt muted surprise flow through him at Serizawa’s name. He usually only ever called for work-related reasons.
Reigen flipped the phone open and pressed it to his ear. “Serizawa?”
“Ah! Um. Hi. You picked up fast.” His voice sounded odd. “Sorry if I woke you.”
“No, I was already awake, what’s wrong?”
“Um, I… uh. Well, actually, it’s kind of stupid. I shouldn’t have called you. Sorry.”
Serizawa tended to apologize a lot when he was nervous.
“It’s alright, you’ve nothing to be sorry for. Besides, I’m already here. You can talk to me, Ser.”
Reigen heard him shift on the other side. “Alright. Okay, uh. I kind of… had a bad dream.”
Reigen almost nodded before remembering this was a call. “Wanna talk about it?”
“Uh… well, I was back at claw. And you were there and, I don’t know. It was really vague but I knew you were hurt. But I couldn’t…” Serizawa took a deep breath, and Reigen’s chest fluttered oddly.
“I couldn't reach you, and it was scary.” A pause. “And I don’t know. I woke up, and it was still right there in my head, and I was grabbing my phone before I even knew what I was doing. I’m surprised you even picked up. What are you doing up so late, actually?”
Reigen’s eyes slid over the half-composed email on his screen. He considered lying, saying he was simply a light sleeper- ah, but he’d already told Serizawa he hadn’t woken him. Oh well. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“Does.. that happen often?”
“No, only sometimes.” It technically wasn’t a lie; it was only when he had something he couldn’t get off his mind. Which just happened to be a lot of things lately. Reigen sighed quietly- wasn’t he the one supposed to be making Serizawa feel better?
“Oh. Okay.” There was some shuffling on the other end. “Uh… thanks. For picking up. Telling someone helped.”
“Of course, Seri, anytime.” Quite literally, in this case. “Get some rest, okay? And don’t worry too much. I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Okay. You too, Reigen. And… thanks. Again.”
Reigen murmured a quiet farewell and ended the call. The short talk had quieted his mind, and he took advantage of that, saving his draft and shutting down his computer. The sleep he got that night was minimal, and later that day when he started to lose focus Serizawa quietly slipped the pen out of his hand and the paperwork away from his gaze.
He’d damn near cried when Seri told him he could do it for him, and to just relax. He ended up falling asleep on his desk, and woke later with Serizawa’s jacket draped over him.
Reigen had many bad habits. Of them, the smoking was the one he wanted to get rid of the most; it made Mob upset. However, the workload lately had left him often craving nicotine like- well, like the drug it was. He’d compensated with little things, pinching his arms, pressing his nails in occasionally- just enough to ground him. Nothing extreme.
He, at one point, had forgotten what that might look like to someone else. And, as such, this led to a slip up; he ended up digging his fingers into his arm before he could stop to consider that he maybe, probably shouldn’t do that in front of Serizawa. The man had been on him in an instant, shoving his hand away from his arm and pushing his sleeve up to get a good look. There was nothing there but some slight reddening, of course, but Serizawa seemed shaken up nonetheless.
He looked back up at Reigen’s face and there, behind the worry, the confusion and the anxiety- Reigen could see the sharp calculating stare he’d been subjected to so often as of late. Serizawa made a few false starts, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, before looking back down at where he still held Reigen’s wrist.
“If- if something’s bothering you, you… know you can tell me, right?”
And Reigen knew. He knew he could tell Serizawa, that the man would be tripping over himself in his haste to help, and that he might even genuinely care about Reigen. But he also knew that he was his employer. That Serizawa could only be offering out of obligation, or some kind of pity. He did have to deal with Reigen on a daily basis, after all. Reigen physically shook the thoughts off, knowing self pity would get him nowhere. When he spoke, his voice was soft.
“I know, Serizawa.”
Another two weeks passed since then; and tonight, Reigen decided, he would bite the bullet and ask Serizawa out to drinks. It had been exactly one month since he started getting those analytical stares, and he wanted to know what the hell was up. Why Serizawa kept watching him like he’d pull out a gun, or something.
He asked near the end of the day, as business had slowed and they had time alone. Serizawa’d agreed happily, much to his relief.
They decided to close up prematurely, business having seemed to stop for the day. It wasn’t necessarily early, per se, but still unusually so for drinking. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually left the office at closing time, let alone before. It was refreshing to be out while the sun was still up, and the occasional leaf crunching underfoot kept his mind from wandering too far. He knew he was being quieter than usual, but Serizawa seemed to have that effect on him in general. Besides- Seri didn’t seem to mind too much.
When they did arrive Reigen had gotten something light, careful about how much of it he drank. He didn’t wanna be inebriated for this. When he looked up from his drink Serizawa was watching him in exactly the manner he’d come here to address.
Now or never. “Why do you keep, ah… looking at me like that?”
Serizawa stiffened. “Like what?”
“Like, like- you know. Like I’m gonna do something bad?”
Serizawa blinked. Blinked again. Took a very long drink from his mug. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He wasn’t very good at lying.
“I- I don’t.”
Serizawa sagged in his seat. “I’m- it’s not that I expect you to do something bad. That’s not why I… have been watching you.”
Reigen nodded, pulse speeding up. He hadn’t expected to get down to it so quickly.
“I… just… sometimes I don’t think you’re as well put together as you like to act.”
Now it was Reigen’s turn to blink.
“I just, for.. a while, I just kind of- had this… admiration? I guess you could call it that. I admired you, and thought you were the kind of well-built member of society I should aim to be.” Reigen snorted. “But, I don’t know. I got to know you more, and, I guess I realized you weren’t as perfect as I thought.” Serizawa looked at his face and quickly backtracked. “Not- not in a bad way! I mean, I realized that you were just… human. Like me, like everyone else. And that just because you act okay doesn’t mean you really are.”
Well, damn. When had he grown so much?
Serizawa hunched over his drink. “And then after that I got a little worried. Especially after I found you asleep on your desk, that night with the magazine. Because you are just as human as anyone else but you don’t really let yourself act like it. So I guess… I started watching after that. Seems I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought, though, if you’d noticed.” He grabbed his cup, swirled the drink some.
“You don’t have to hide yourself from me, Reigen. I know you’re not perfect, and I know you make mistakes and sometimes say stupid things, but I still l- like you. I still care about you.”
Reigen was not about to cry in the middle of a bar while it was still light out. “I- I care about you too, but-”
Reigen’s mouth clicked shut. That had to have been the most stern he’d ever heard Serizawa. “What?”
“No buts. I care about you, you care about me, and we’re friends and there’s nothing you can do about it. Unless.. unless you uh, don’t want to be friends.” Stern-izawa disappeared and the one Reigen knew was back, laughing nervously.
“No- no no no, no, of course I want to be friends. It just- it-” Reigen trailed off, staring at his own drink.
Serizawa didn’t push him to finish his sentence, and instead laid a hand over his. “I know work has been really busy lately, and the landlord is being difficult, and you’ve had a lot to do. And I, I can help , Reigen, it’s okay to let me take some of it.” Serizawa reached over and brushed his bangs back. “And I’ve noticed you haven’t been sleeping enough, either. You can’t keep doing this, Reigen, you’re running yourself into the ground.”
“I- I, uh-” God, he was flustered. Just one casual touch was all it took to turn him to a stuttering mess. “Thank you.” Of all the things he’d expected to come from tonight, this one… was not even a consideration. By far it was the most favorable, though.
The sudden switch of their roles had left him reeling. That didn’t mean it wasn’t nice, of course- someone paying enough attention to notice such things. Maybe if it was someone else he’d be more upset at being laid more bare- but this wasn’t someone else. It was Serizawa. He didn’t know what it was, but something about him just exuded safety; Reigen wanted to curl up and take a nap in it. Similar to the way he had at Serizawa’s apartment after he was mugged.
He wondered idly if it was an aura thing that always left the worried energy seeping from him with Serizawa around. If it was, he decided he would let himself be selfish and revel in it whenever he could- right now being one of those times. Maybe the alcohol was playing a small part in it, but he felt content to just sit here, perched on this old bar stool, for the rest of his life.
Or at least until Serizawa pulled him back to the present with a hand on his shoulder. “We should head home. You… seem tired.”
Tomorrow would be another day, another stack of papers to wade through, and another number of hours to remain conscious. Another round of wake, work, work more , and sleep. But tomorrow was another day. Another set of new experiences, another 24 hours to make new achievements. Another run through the routine of the office that brought him to Serizawa. To a friend.
Today had run its course. It had given him all it had, and he’d made it through just as he had before, every other day of his life. He had a creeping feeling that tomorrow, he’d be just fine.
The days were short in the winter; it was only 5:00 as the sun dipped low on the horizon, and everything around Reigen was washed in a warm glow. It was only 6:00 when the world around him settled, the same way he did in Serizawa’s little apartment. It was only 7:00 when he ended up dozing on the soft couch, cradled in warmth and borrowed clothes, and it was only 8:00 when Serizawa coaxed him awake, guiding him into his bed.
And the next morning, it was only 9:00 when he woke, and realized he was right where he belonged.