The only sounds left in the city are ragged exhales and crumbling concrete. It’s deathly silent in a way downtown should never be, a torn flyer fluttering in the light evening breeze and traces of raw power still compressing Reigen’s lungs as he takes a moment to breathe.
It’s over, and Mob’s alive.
He guesses it’s the best outcome he could hope for. Sure, at least a third of the city was reduced to rubble and Reigen’s pretty sure he has a concussion, but none of them are dead.
Almost everyone has cleared out already. Serizawa took off the moment that last, massive explosion went off and the rest hadn’t seemed interested in sticking around, either. Mob’s friend – Hanazawa, if he’s remembering the kid’s name right – and Ritsu look like they’re barely staying on their feet. The side of Ritsu’s face is swollen and halfway to becoming a seriously ugly bruise, his once-yellow hoodie stained brown with dirt and what Reigen hopes to hell isn’t dried blood. Hanazawa’s hair looks almost gray with all the cement dust coating it, dark bruises under his eyes revealing his fatigue. Mob is slumped over Ritsu’s back, his face buried in his brother’s shoulder with blood-caked hair hiding it from sight. Reigen imagines he doesn’t look much better than them. He is definitely tossing the tattered remains of his suit in the trash when he gets home.
“Do you boys have anywhere to stay?” Reigen asks, even though the thought of cramming four people in his two-room apartment isn’t exactly appealing. Ritsu’s lip draws up slightly in disgust, but the fact that he’s not immediately blowing Reigen off tells him no, they don’t have anywhere else to go, not until their parents can get back into the city. Hanazawa stares at the ground, looking torn over something Reigen doesn’t have the energy to parse.
“Right,” Reigen says. “Good thing my couch is a pull-out.”
“I can go back to my apartment,” Hanazawa says, an easy confidence slipping over his demeanor when Reigen looks at him, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world now that its impending destruction was averted. “It’s pretty close by, so I’ll be fine.”
Somehow Reigen doubts that, given the fact that any buildings even remotely close to their location have been scattered across several districts. “My apartment’s small, but we’ll all fit. It’s just for one night. I’m sure Ritsu would appreciate the help with Mob, anyway.”
Ritsu shoots Reigen a look that promises a slow, painful death. “I don’t need any help, Reigen-san. I can take care of my brother myself.”
The kid was able to make honorifics sound like a grave insult. Reigen would almost be impressed if he wasn’t so tired. He sighs. “There’s no point in fighting over something this insignificant. We’re all filthy and tired, and frankly I’d rather not send you all back to your parents with blood all over yourselves. My clothes’ll be kind of big, but it’s better than – “
“We have changes of clothes at school,” Ritsu quickly interrupts. “Hanazawa can borrow some of my gym clothes.”
Hanazawa looks uncharacteristically hesitant, eyes flicking between the two of them. “If you’re sure it’s not too much trouble…”
“Of course not,” Reigen says breezily, his hand waving wildly in dismissal. The pounding in his head gets worse with the movement, and he quickly drops his hand. It’s just for one night, anyway. Tomorrow they’d meet up with the Kageyama’s parents and find Hanazawa’s parents and things could start returning to normal. Well, whatever normal they still have. He has a feeling school won’t be running for a while. “Lead the way, Ritsu.”
The trek out of the epicenter of annihilation is slow-going. The ground is unsteady, slabs of cement liable to shift at any moment, and they’re all exhausted.
Reigen presses a hand against the haphazard bandage on his forehead (courtesy of Serizawa), gritting his teeth against the sting, and his fingers come away bloody. Wonderful. Head wounds usually looked worse than they were, right? Reigen’s pretty sure that’s how it worked. He’d just put on some actual gauze when he got back to the apartment instead of whatever the hell was currently tied around his head and it’d be fine. He’d have to make sure none of the others were hiding injuries, too. The last thing he wants to deal with is furious, panicked parents breaking down his door demanding to know why their kids look like they’ve been put through a blender.
“This is your apartment?” Ritsu is staring at the tiny room that is Reigen’s combined living room and kitchenette like he can’t decide if he’s disgusted or pitying.
Lord have mercy.
“I thought I told you it’s not much to look at,” Reigen says, tamping down on his irritability as much as he can.
“But it’s so…” Ritsu gestures at the room, “small.”
He’s right. Reigen’s never been one to spend money on more than he needs, not that his budget had allowed for much more than this in the first place. It’ll be a tight fit. The couch sits in the middle of the room in front of a small, cheap TV. The coffee table is littered with a few magazines, an old cigarette tray he hasn’t thrown out even though he quit smoking several years ago and a couple dirty dishes. The counter is covered with cans – both empty and unopened ones – and a giant bag of salt he’d meant to bring to his office. He isn’t sure what to do with it now that he doesn’t have an office. A small plant sits in the lone windowsill next to the door to his balcony. His desk and computer are shoved into the corner, the light blinking on the monitor letting him know that he’d forgotten to turn it off before shit went to hell. Damn.
“I’m not exactly swimming in cash, kid,” Reigen says. He lets what’s left of his suit jacket drop into a heap next to the door; he’d take care of it tomorrow when he doesn’t feel like he’s about to collapse. “I know you’ve got these illusions that I’m some rich asshole who’s just using Mob, but I’m not living here because I want to.”
“I think it’s nice,” Hanazawa says encouragingly, offering Reigen a fatigue-tinged smile. “It’s a little messy, maybe. But my apartment’s around the same size.” It’s hard to tell if he’s just saying it to be polite or if he somehow genuinely thinks Reigen’s apartment is nice, but whatever.
“Thanks, I guess. Ritsu, go get Mob and yourself cleaned up. I’ve got a first-aid kit in the bathroom – make sure he doesn’t have any open wounds or something that needs a visit to the emergency room. Then take a shower. You all stink.”
“You’re one to talk,” Ritsu mumbles, but he shuffles off to Reigen’s bathroom without further prompting.
Reigen ignores the retort. “Hanazawa, can you help me set up the pull-out and futon?”
Hanazawa brightens. “Of course, Reigen-sensei!”
“Leave off the ‘sensei.’ Here, just put the cushions by the desk, I’ll go grab some sheets.”
Thank god Reigen never threw out his spare futon. His bed is only a twin-size and the pull-out can’t really fit more than two people on it at a time, and he would have hated to relegate one of the kids to the floor. There’s no way the futon will fit anywhere but his bedroom, not when the pull-out is being used too, but he figures they’re all too tired to care anyway.
There’s almost no space to walk around once everything is set up. In his defense, Reigen virtually never has anyone over, so he’d forgotten just how crowded it would be. He would kill to have a spare bedroom right about now.
Ritsu can barely keep his eyes open once he finally exits the bathroom, Mob (now completely unconscious) still slung across his back but in fresh clothes and blessedly blood-free. Both of them still have wet hair, and any other day Reigen would be worried about them catching a cold. Right now he just wants to sleep, and it seems Ritsu feels the same because he wastes no time in getting Mob on the pull-out and crawling under the sheets next to his brother. He’s out in seconds.
Hanazawa takes a turn in the shower while Reigen peels off his makeshift bandage with a hiss. He looks at it and… oh, hell. A sock? Really? He’s not sure he wants to know whose. Better than letting his head bleed uncontrollably, but at the same time he almost would have preferred it to a sock. He grabs the gauze and a wipe packet, squinting to try to see his reflection in his computer monitor since the bathroom’s occupied and his only mirror is in there.
“I can help you with that,” Hanazawa says from right behind Reigen, startling him into dropping the gauze. It’s enveloped in a haze of yellow before it can hit the ground, zipping up into Hanazawa’s hand. “I’ve had some practice with first-aid, and it’s hard to patch up head wounds on your own.”
Reigen’s too drained to argue, so he sits in his desk chair as the blond grabs an antiseptic wipe. The boy’s movements are quick and practiced in a way that speaks of experience. Reigen sighs. “Do I want to know how you learned how to do this?”
Hanazawa’s movements still, just for a second. He recovers almost instantly. “I’ve dealt with Claw before, you know. They didn’t exactly hold back, even against kids.”
“Right, right,” Reigen mumbles. His thoughts feel sluggish. “But your parents helped when you got hurt, didn’t they? You’re, what, thirteen?”
“Fourteen,” Hanazawa says. He doesn’t answer Reigen’s first question. “Okay, you should be good. Most of the hot water’s gone – sorry – so it’s cold, but you should still go take a shower before you go to bed. You’ll be happy you did in the morning.”
“I plan to.” Reigen’s missing something. He knows it, but he can’t focus long enough to figure out what.
“Good. I’m gonna go crash.” Hanazawa bows. “Thank you for opening your home to us.”
Reigen waves it off. “It’s nothing. Go get some sleep.”
“Yeah. Thank you.”
Hanazawa was right. The water’s freezing.
Breakfast is a crowded, chaotic affair. They folded the couch back up which helps, but Reigen is woefully unprepared to be hosting three extra people. He only has one spare toothbrush and even after their pit-stop at the middle school the boys are going to have to wear the same clothes they slept in. They’re all adorably rumpled-looking, though the cuteness factor is offset by the purpling bruises marring their skin.
The guilt Reigen’s been pushing to the back of his mind comes roaring back with full steam. He put them in danger. What was wrong with him? They were only thirteen and fourteen, and he’d not only allowed them to join the plan to take down Claw – he didn’t stop them from fighting espers decades older than them. Experienced espers who had no qualms about hurting children. He should never have been allowed around kids if these were the sorts of decisions he made while he was responsible for them.
“Your diet is terrible,” Ritsu says as he digs through Reigen’s fridge, pulling Reigen out of his silent worrying. “All you have is takeout and onigiri.”
Reigen rolls his eyes, resisting the urge to reach over and slam the fridge door shut. “I’m a single guy in his twenties. What did you expect?”
Ritsu pauses in contemplation. Reigen has a feeling Ritsu set him up for another insult and he’s not disappointed. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have expected anything more from you.”
“Ritsu!” Mob says, scandalized. “Stop being so rude!”
“I’m hurt,” Reigen says in as deadpan a voice he can manage. “Truly, I’m wounded. You should be nicer to your elders, Ritsu.”
“If you say so, old man.”
“Ritsu,” Mob says, his voice lowering in warning. His expression barely changes, but both Reigen and Ritsu know him well enough to see that he’s upset. “Reigen-shishou let us spend the night. He let us borrow his stuff, and now we’re about to eat his food. He’s been nothing but nice to you. Why are you being so mean?”
Ritsu backs off, chastened. “Sorry,” he mutters. Reigen suspects the apology is mostly for Mob, not him, but it’s not a big deal either way. He has a feeling Ritsu’s feeling very unbalanced right now and just taking it out on the nearest, easiest target.
Hanazawa, maybe hoping to ease the tension in the room a little, leans over Ritsu’s shoulder to get a better look at the food and starts talking. “I eat a lot of onigiri, too. It’s an easy and healthy way to start the day, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make something – ah! Is that gyukatsu?” Hanazawa’s eyes light up as he grabs one of the takeout containers before turning a thousand-watt smile on Reigen. “Is it okay if I eat this?”
It’s probably the most expensive thing in his fridge – he usually opts for tonkatsu, because the pork katsu’s way cheaper than the steak katsu – but Reigen finds he doesn’t mind. He’d only gotten it because he was with a client at the time, anyway. “Go for it.”
“Awesome! Thanks, Reigen!”
Mob quietly takes one of the onigiri and Ritsu, after a moment of hesitation, does the same. Reigen grabs one of the containers of leftover yakisoba and doesn’t bother with heating it up before digging in.
“Thanks for the food,” Hanazawa and Mob say simultaneously. Ritsu sullenly echoes it a few seconds later. He’s probably going through an emo phase of some sort, and his longstanding dislike of Reigen wouldn’t exactly tone it down.
Ah, to be thirteen again.
“Did you or Ritsu tell your parents where to meet us?” Reigen asks Mob once they’re all done with breakfast.
Mob nods. “Yeah. They said that they can meet us at the 7-11 down the street.”
Reigen checks his watch. Checks it again. “Mob, it’s already 12:15.”
Mob freezes. “What?”
“Shit – I mean, shoot. Darn. What’re they gonna think of me?! They’re probably already panicking, thinking I’m an irresponsible idiot – oi, Ritsu, don’t just stand there, get your shoes on!”
They’re out the door in record time and make it to the 7-11 in less than four minutes.
Mob and Ritsu’s parents are overwhelmingly grateful despite Reigen’s lateness. Reigen still does not know their names. He feels like he should, considering he’s known Mob for almost five years now, and he’s too embarrassed to ask now.
Hey, it’s not his fault Mob barely talks about his life. He knows next to nothing about the kid’s parents, much less their names.
“We were so worried,” Mrs. Kageyama frets, her hands twisting together with nervous energy. “You can’t understand how grateful we are that you took them in for the night. When we saw what was happening on the news…”
“It was no trouble at all,” Reigen assures her. “Shigeo is a model employee and a good friend. I only did what anyone else would have.”
“We’ve really appreciated all the guidance you’ve given him over the years, Reigen,” Mr. Kageyama says. “I know the media made a stink saying you weren’t a psychic a few months ago, but we never believed it.”
They should have. Reigen doesn’t deserve Mob and definitely doesn’t deserve his forgiveness for the things Reigen had said back then. And now he put their kids in danger, and for what? Insurance money? His parents wouldn’t be singing Reigen’s praises if they knew, they’d be forbidding their kids from ever seeing Reigen again. He knows he’s not a good man, no matter what Mob says. Ritsu is scoffing silently where he stands out of his parents’ lines of sight, and Reigen doesn’t blame him.
Reigen says none of that.
He says, “Both of your sons are growing up to be wonderful people. I’m honored to know them.”
Hanazawa is quiet, standing a few feet behind Mob. He’s watching the parents with a smile, but it’s not a very happy smile. He must be worried about his own parents. Reigen claps a hand on his shoulder as the Kageyamas leave, apparently going to stay with Mrs. Kageyama’s sister. “Don’t worry. I’m sure your parents are just fine. In fact, I’ll bet they’re out looking for you right now.”
Hanazawa manages a shaky grin. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “I’m sure they’ll call any minute now and let me know they’re okay. I’m not worried.”
Hanazawa might not be worried, but by the time it’s five in the afternoon Reigen’s in his room having a full-blown internal panic attack.
He’d assumed Hanazawa’s parents were safe. A lot of areas didn’t have power, and he’d assumed their phones were dead or not getting signal and that’s why they hadn’t gotten in contact with their son.
Oh, shit. What if they’re dead? Most of the city had been evacuated before the really bad damage happened, but it wasn’t like no one at all had died. The news is saying they’d confirmed thirty casualties so far. Mostly police, but a few civilians too.
For all Reigen knows, they’re under a pile of rubble and very, very dead.
What should he do? He isn’t sure how long he can keep up pretenses, because Hanazawa isn’t dumb. The teenager has to have realized there’s a chance he’s been orphaned, and Reigen’s empty platitudes won’t do a thing if they can’t contact the Hanazawas soon.
What is Reigen supposed to do if they’re dead? Bring the kid to child services? The thought makes his stomach turn. Not an option. Relatives? Maybe. Hanazawa hasn’t mentioned any, but he had to have some out there.
Their best bet is Hanazawa’s apartment. That’s probably be the first place his parents would look.
He almost breaks his bedroom door off its hinges in his haste to get out there and find Hanazawa’s parents. Hanazawa looks up at him from the couch, startled.
“Let’s go back to your apartment,” Reigen suggests. “Maybe your parents are already there looking for you.”
Hanazawa doesn’t look convinced. “Maybe. But a lot of it was destroyed by that guy we interrogated a couple days ago. I doubt they’d stay there even if they went.”
“No harm in just going and taking a look,” Reigen replies. “You never know. Besides, even if they’re not there we can try to salvage some of your stuff. Do you have any relatives you can stay with?”
Hanazawa’s lips pinch together. He’s nervously picking at his fingernails, and Reigen’s kind of sorry he asked. “…No. I don’t really have any besides my grandparents, and we don’t get along. At all.”
Yeah, Reigen isn’t making Hanazawa stay with relatives he hates. He knows a thing or two about poor familial relationships. “I see. Well, if we don’t find your parents and you’re okay with it, you can stay on the futon again tonight.”
“You don’t mind?” Hanazawa says, clearly taken aback.
“Not really,” Reigen says, even if it’s not completely true. He’s a little worried he’s setting himself up for something way more serious than just hosting a teen in his apartment for a couple nights. “It’s nice to have some company for once. I’ve been living on my own for a long time now.”
“I – well – okay, if you’re sure,” Hanazawa says. “It would be nice to get some of my own clothes at least, if I can.”
“Great!” Reigen exclaims, clapping his hands together in a show of enthusiasm he wasn’t really feeling. “Let’s go.”
Well, at least Hanazawa’s apartment complex is still standing.
There’s a big hole in the side of it, but hey, it doesn’t look like it’s about to collapse and most of it is fine. Relatively speaking.
Hanazawa’s apartment is another story.
Half of his living room is completely gone, floorboards charred and dropping bits of ash into the apartment under his. What’s left of the furniture is in pieces. Glass litters every available surface and crunches loudly under their feet as they slowly make their way inside.
Reigen narrows his eyes as he surveys the space. There’s part of a mattress slumped against the wall and only one door other than the front door – most likely leading to the bathroom. This was a studio apartment, not the sort of place a family lived in. The niggling sensation that something is wrong, wrong, wrong with this scenario grows heavier in his stomach.
Hanazawa is silent. He hasn’t said a word since they managed to force the warped front door open, and despite his blank face he’s biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. He takes a couple more steps forward, stops, then takes a couple more like it’s physically painful to keep moving.
A piece of concrete breaks off a corner and crumbles onto the ground.
Hanazawa’s parents are nowhere to be seen. From the looks of it, they haven’t been here at all since its destruction.
“Can I have a minute?” Hanazawa asks, his voice small and thready. “Alone?”
Reigen takes a deep breath. Lets it out slowly. “Of course. I’ll be right outside if you need anything. Come out whenever you’re ready, all right?”
Hanazawa doesn’t answer. Reigen didn’t expect him to.
Reigen steps outside and shuts the door as quietly as it can be when it doesn’t quite fit right in the frame anymore. He leans against the wall across from the apartment and takes another deep breath. His fingers are itching to dig through his pockets for a pack of cigarettes he doesn’t have. He wants nothing more than to revel in the calming smoke of his favorite brand. But he hasn’t smoked in nearly four years, not since he made the decision to quit for Mob’s sake. That doesn’t stop the cravings, of course.
Mob’s friend has lost almost everything. His apartment is in shambles. His parents can’t be reached. He doesn’t have any relatives to fall back on. Even his school won’t be open for another couple of weeks, minimum. His whole life has been turned upside down.
Mob has forgiven Suzuki Toichirou. Reigen isn’t so kind – he hates him, for what he’s done to the Kageyamas. To Hanazawa. To Shou, his own son. To hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted. To police officers and civilians who died because of that man’s delusional outlook on the world.
That hatred flares brighter than ever at the sight of one lonely child staring at the twisted remnants of his home.
Reigen’s probably making a huge mistake in letting Hanazawa stay with him, even if he says it’s only temporary. He’s the last person anyone should trust to take good care of kids. He’s a friendless self-proclaimed psychic who does the bare minimum to take care of himself, much less another human being.
But he looks at Hanazawa and sees a younger version of himself, and he can’t bring himself to do anything else.