Generally speaking, Teruki would do just about any favour for Kageyama. Within reason, though Teruki admitted that ‘within reason’ for him could end up pretty unreasonable. It was fine though, Kageyama hardly ever asked for anything.
That was why, when Kageyama called, asking if Teruki could help his Shishou on an exorcism because he’d overexerted himself from club activities, there had been no question. Teruki had jumped at the chance, regardless of his lack of familiarity with the man he’d actually be helping. But, this was Kageyama’s master, so it would be fine! Someone so powerful hardly even needed help, so this was surely more of a courtesy than anything.
“Oh! Hanazawa Teruki, right? Mob said you’d be coming.” The man waved from the bus stop as Teruki stepped off, the only passenger left.
“Yo, Kageyama’s Shishou. This really is out in the middle of nowhere, huh?”
He chuckled, straightening the cuffs of his cheap grey suit. “Reigen is fine. And, since I’m sure you have places you’d rather be, I’ll try to be quick about this. From what Mob’s told me, this job’s going to be a stronger spirit than we usually deal with, but he says it shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle.”
Teruki felt himself puff up, because wow, Kageyama actually said that? “Of course!”He boasted, warmth pressing against his face.
Reigen seemed to find something amusing, a quick upturn of the lips quickly smothered as he turned around. Passingly, Teruki wondered if there was something on his face. “Right then, it’s a bit of a hike from here on out. Should be about South-East, which is...” Reigen cast his gaze around, shielding his eyes from the bright afternoon sun. “-Ah! This way.”
Without any hesitation, the older man strode into the bush. Teruki blinked, surprised at the sudden movement, and followed.
Quickly, Teruki realized that he did not, in fact, prepare for this. His clothes were too warm for a hike through the woods, and the nice shoes that he’d worn to look just a bit more impressive quickly became muddy. He couldn’t say anything though, both for Kageyama’s sake, and also because he didn’t want to look whiny in front of someone close to Kageyama.
Reigen, for his part, at least seemed to slow down after the first few minutes of walking, hands twisting about as he made empty conversation.
“ That client today was just so pushy! Normally the basic massage covers simple shoulder pain like that, but she needed the full treatment, and a follow up for Tuesday! I almost wanted to make it for the afternoon to check if it really is a spirit!”
“Uh,” Teruki’s mind blanked. “Why would you need to wait for the afternoon? Is it something to do with your specific powers?” Teruki couldn’t think of a single power that worked like that, but then, why would Kageyama’s Shishou be typical?
Reigen stopped suddenly, ramrod straight in the middle of the rough trail, Teruki stopping just in time to avoid falling into him. “Ah. Haha. Did Mob not tell you?”
Teruki blinked. “Tell me what?”
Reigen paused, and then coughed. “Well then, let’s not worry about that for now. If it becomes relevant, I’ll let you know. And, on a completely coincidental note, are you sensing anything yet from the spirit? We should be seeing the cabin it’s haunting soon, though there may be an aura hiding it from non-espers. “
Teruki paused. Now that Kageyama’s master mentioned it, there was a slight twinge against his senses, something almost electric poking at the edge of his mind. It had to be a spirit, because it was a different sort of psychic energy to human espers.
Come to think of it, Teruki really didn’t have much experience with spirits. They avoided him, and he never bothered to seek any out. Which meant that he had to do his very best, to impress Reigen and Kageyama by extension.
“Right. Of course I sense something. Spirits, that is.” Teruki felt himself start to sweat, as he realized the sense wasn’t quite as direct as he hoped. Was there more than one..? Teruki cleared his throat and pressed on, now side by side with Reigen.
That was, until Reigen seemed to drift a bit to the left. And then suddenly turned off the path altogether, right as Teruki felt a spike in the spiritual atmosphere. “Hey!” Teruki shouted, startled. “Where are you going?”
Reigen stopped, whirling around. His eyes settled on Teruki, and then paused, brows furrowing. “Oh! Sorry about that. We must be very close.”
Sure enough, Teruki turned forwards. Where the path seemed to abruptly end up ahead, there was an odd shimmer in the air. The more he stared though, the more it seemed to peel away, until a dingy old shack was standing there instead. And, as the illusion seeped away, so did the confusing veil over his senses.
They were completely surrounded by spirits. None of them moving, but all of them staring, positioned in a silent circle around the shack- and themselves. Reigen jumped slightly- he couldn’t be seeing them just now too, could he?
Reigen sighed, turning his head one way, then the other. “That’s a lot,” He appraised. “Do you think you’re okay to handle them? You can say no.”
Teruki swallowed. Generally speaking, he thought he could. Each spirit was individually weak. Then again, he wasn’t always great at multitasking. He tended to focus too narrowly in fights. And, there were an awful lot... “ I think so,” Teru said, trying to exude as much of his usual confidence as possible. “Besides, you’re here, so it’s fine, right?”
Something seemed to cross Reigen’s mind, his mouth pressing into a line. For a moment, Teruki thought he might be angry- was it rude of Teruki to imply that Reigen would just bail him out? He rarely used his powers, after all.
Reigen took a breath, and let it out in one harsh movement. “Okay, it’s relevant now. I’m not sure why Mob didn’t warn you, but.” Another breath. “I’m not actually a psychic.”
Despite the situation, Teruki’s world froze. “You’re what!?”
With a casual shrug that didn’t fit the circumstances, Reigen shook his head. “Nope. Not an ounce of psychic ability, here. Anything you’ve seen has just been Mob. Which is why, if you’re not one-hundred-percent confident right now, we need to leave.”
The spirits surrounding them remained still, though each and every one of them seemed to be staring with laser focus. Many of them didn’t even have eyes, and yet Teruki could still feel their gaze. And, as Reigen’s words sunk in, Teruki realized something.
He was the only thing standing between hundreds of evil spirits and a very fragile non-esper. Oh God, Kageyama hadn’t just trusted him to help on this job- he’d trusted that Teruki could both do this job singlehandedly and keep his (fragile non-esper) master safe.
“Get behind me, Mr. Reigen!” Teruki shouted as soon as he’d gathered his wits. “I’ll do my best!”
“Wait, seriously, we don’t have to fight!” Despite the protest, Reigen listened, stepping right up to Teruki’s shadow. “It might look scary, but they aren’t doing anything yet. We can make a diversion and run.”
A diversion? No way, they were surrounded! They’d be shot in the back if they tried that. No, Teruki had to do this. As quietly as possible, Teruki started forming a pair of air whips, snaking psychic energy around his hands.
Now, the spirits shifted, a low rumble filling the air. “Alright,” Reigen spoke from behind, slow and steady. “Let’s not do whatever you’re about to do, alright? The spirits are more interested in protecting that building than they are in us. If you just relax, put that away, and slowly back up, we can get out of here and regroup. Okay?”
Teruki was barely paying attention. No, his eyes were focused on the line of spirits. The pressure in the air increased. Teruki narrowed his eyes in concentration.
He just had to wait for the right moment, and... “Now!” Teruki shouted, throwing his whips in two wide arcs.
Everything exploded. The spirits- before, pale and lanky and still, now burst with colour as they grew to cover the sky. What came into contact with his whips warped and screamed as they split into pieces, but that only seemed to spawn more spirits as they flew in to fill the gaps.
In a panic, Teruki threw one whip backwards, hoping to cover Reigen, even as yet more spirits crowded in from the front. His head hurt, buzzing with ghostly energy. He needed something with wide-range, like fire, but how could he, with Reigen-
“Shit!” Teruki heard, before something solid shoved into him and he slammed against the ground. At the same moment, something hot and blinding whizzed overhead. His eyes closed from reflex, and he scrambled against the weight pressing him down. Then, just as suddenly, the weight pulled itself off.
“Come on, time to run!” Reigen’s hand gripped Teruki’s arm and yanked upwards.
“Hey!” He protested, trying to stumble back onto his feet. But Reigen wasn’t listening, half carrying Teruki while shouting something unintelligible at the spirits now behind them.
Eventually, Teruki got his feet under him, and found himself sprinting. He didn’t think about fighting as the pure, instinctive fear of being chased gripped him.
Neither of them stopped running until well after the oily-sharp feeling of untamed psychic energy was gone, and Reigen collapsed, wheezing, against a mossy boulder. Teruki sat hard against a nearby tree. Just a moment, and he’d catch his breath.
“Well,” Reigen said, “That was a mess.”
Teruki nodded wearily. “Yes. I wasn’t expecting that many spirits. There were far more than their aura made it seem like.”
“That makes sense,” Reigen nodded. One hand wiped his brow, while the other gripped at his side. He must have gotten stitches from running so hard. He was old, after all. “Mob would have warned me, if he thought it was going to be that bad. Still, I should have been more cautious.”
Teruki paused, both at the mention of Mob and the implication of who was responsible. “No, it’s my fault, I wasn’t being careful, but I’m the one who could sense them in the first place.”
Reigen sighed, then winced. “It’s not your fault. I should have been upfront from the start, but I half-assed being honest and made you panic.”
Teruki considered it, then shrugged. “Probably. But still,” Teruki sighed. “Kageyama’s going to be so disappointed in me.”
“Hah!” Reigen chuckled, and then cut himself off with a quiet gasp. “You’re like, thirteen. That’s my line.”
“Fourteen,” Teruki corrected, because really? “And I’m the one with psychic powers.”
“So what?” Reigen countered, “I’m still in charge of you. But, if you’re alright, then no harm, no foul. We’ll just go home and Mob and I will take care of it later.”
Teruki jumped to his feet, back scraping against tree bark. “What! No, I can still do it!” And He could. Teruki knew he could. “Now that I’m prepared, you could stay back here, and I could sneak up and make an explosion with pyrokinesis.” That would scatter them, and then Teruki could throw up a barrier- like he should have done earlier, but he panicked, you can’t defend and attack at the same time- scout out the survivors, and then start picking them off with the air whips. He could make good use of the tree cover too.
But Reigen was shaking his head. “No, that’s enough for the day. I’m not going back there right now, and Spirits and Such operates under a strict ‘no minors are allowed to exorcise unsupervised’ policy. You can show off to Mob some other time.”
“What- but-” Teruki sputtered. “I’m not just a kid! Espers are more durable, you wouldn’t get it!”
Reigen’s brows furrowed as he scowled, and Teruki realized he had been mistaken, before. Now Reigen looked angry. “Really? Mob has been working for me for three years now, and you think I don’t get it?”
For a moment Teruki felt scolded. “Well, sure, but Mob doesn’t like confrontation that much. It’s different.”
Reigen took a deep breath- or tried to, as he cut himself off. He looked a little paler than Teruki remembered. “Nope. I’m the adult here, it would be pretty crappy of me to just let you run off, especially since you don’t have much experience with exorcisms.”
“Hey, how would you know!?” Teruki huffed. It was true, but that just annoyed him more.
Reigen raised one eyebrow, all previous frustration apparently vanished. “Because I do have experience. This isn’t my first rodeo, despite what you might think about squishy non-espers.” His expression suddenly screamed boredom. “I do admit, this was a little hairier than I’m used to.”
Now, Teruki really felt scolded. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re right, I was getting ahead of myself.” But, because he couldn’t resist, “I still think I could handle them now.”
“And I believe you. But save it for next time.” Reigen smirked, shifting his hands, both now cradling his torso. Teruki’s eyes followed the movement, he couldn’t help it. “Because honestly? I think I might need the hospital.”
Reigen’s suit jacket had a big red stain on it. Teruki’s mind flashed, trying to pinpoint when, exactly, the man had time to get injured. Dirt covered Teruki’s scuffed palms from when a solid weight had thrown him to the ground. The weight that had pushed him out of the way of an attack so sudden he had only just sensed it.
“You pushed me out of the way,” Teruki breathed. Reigen blinked, then glanced away. “ You even warned me to back off, before. Why would you do that?”
Reigen scoffed. “That’s a stupid question. Now, not to be an invalid, but can you help me up here? We need to get back to the road so I can call an ambulance.”
It wasn’t a stupid question. Teruki was in a much better position to handle any kind of psychic attack. Instead of saying that though, Teruki found himself staring at the patch of red. Was it getting larger? How much blood did it take to soak through a shirt and suit jacket? Guilt, painful and ugly, crawled its way up from his stomach and into his chest.
Something must have shown in his expression, because suddenly Reigen was rambling. “Okay, this may look bad, but you never saw the end result of the great tree haunting that Mob and I handled, what was it, two years ago? Now that sucked, there was a cat in the tree, but the tree moved whenever psychic powers got near it, so Mob couldn’t float it down, so of course I had to climb it..”
As he spoke, Reigen started to stand, taking a moment to wince. Oh, Teruki should probably help with that. With a short buzz of power, he surrounded Reigen with his aura and carefully lifted.
“Woah-hey! I can walk, you know! I just, might need a tiny bit of a hand, nothing dramatic.”
Teruki shot him one of his best no-nonsense stares. “Mr. Reigen, you just got yourself hurt for me. I’m not going to watch you bleed out.”
Reigen frowned. He looked at Teruki, then at the ground, then at Teruki again, as if weighing his options. And then, as if nothing had happened, he continued his story.
“You can guess what happened. Fell out of the tree, at probably the worst moment. Broke my leg and wrist in two places. So, getting hurt on the job sucks, but it happens. No accounting for ghosts, and all that.”
Reigen was clearly trying to make him feel better, by talking about unrelated incidents and making it seem like no big deal, drawing attention away from the blood that was now occasionally dripping from his over-saturated jacket to the forest ground below. Teruki wasn’t stupid. But he couldn’t say it wasn’t working, either. He could stress and worry and apologize about it later.
“So,” Teruki started. “If you’re not an esper, how in the world did you end up being Kageyama’s teacher? And how do you run your business anyways, if you’re faking?”
“Well, for one, you’d be surprised how many psychic-related problems can be solved with no powers whatsoever.” Reigen grinned.
And then, he began to talk. They reached the roadside in record time, and the ambulance came quickly. Reigen looked a bit unsteady, but managed to ruffle Teruki’s hair and pass him some billls for a taxi. Teruki tried to refuse it, but it was hard to argue with a person bleeding out on the ground.
Later, he would apologize, both to Reigen and to Kageyama. Neither would end up accepting it, of course. Kageyama ended up taking care of the spirits himself, despite Reigen’s apparent policy on minors and exorcisms. Teruki suspected that he couldn’t really do anything about it while still hospitalized, and that honestly, Kageyama probably needed the stress relief.
For a long time afterwords, Teruki would think about having an adult in his life who would unquestionably look out for him, regardless of psychic abilities.
It felt nice.