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Three

Chapter Text

Kaygema Shigeo’s third emergency contact had become something of an enigma at Salt Middle School.

The office had raised a fuss about it, when they’d originally been inputting his information into the school’s computer. The rest of his registration form had been completed perfectly, almost meticulously, with allergies, medications, home, mobile, and work phone numbers and such all filled in. All of it was perfect, except for two small details: firstly, under ‘medical conditions,’ the word ‘ESP’ had been written in the deliberate, wobbling handwriting of a child. (The issue with this one was resolved about a week into the school year, with the Flying Stapler Incident of Class 1-3.)

The second oddity, however, was more persistent. In the third box for emergency contacts, written in the same handwriting, was ‘Reigen Arataka’, along with a phone number. The box labelled ‘relationship to student’ was conspicuously blank. The office had intended to raise the issue, but between the Stapler Incident and the fact that nobody ever actually used their third emergency contact, it was quickly forgotten.

Until the day that Reigen Arataka showed up in the middle of the day to sign Shigeo out of school, and suddenly, the man was the talk of the break room. Over the course of three days, some teachers plied the office secretaries with enough baked goods to learn that Reigen Arataka had come across as odd, if somewhat charming, that he’d tried to sell them all some sort of ‘group massage discount,’ and that they thought, possibly, that someone might’ve overheard Shigeo call him ‘Shishou.’

The mystery continued.

“Do you think he’s the real father?” The suggestion had come from Miyu Satoh, one of the 3rd year teachers, during an after school grading session. The general consensus had been that they couldn’t possibly have been related–after all, most of them had seen Reigen by this point, waiting outside of the school gates for Shigeo with a grin and a wave, and they all agreed that the two bore absolutely no familial resemblance. Besides, the year 1 teachers had all met the Kageyamas and their nice, mild-mannered younger son at the school’s open house, and there had been very little doubt as to whether the four were all related.

It was unusual, but for most of Shigeo’s first year, it just became a routine: start school day, teach, go to lunch and find out that Shigeo had been picked up early by Reigen, keep throwing around conspiracy theories about Reigen (the latest popular idea was that he was from the government, testing Shigeo’s ESP abilities,) break up a fight between some of the troublemakers (shame about Onigawara, they agreed after the third disciplinary warning, kid had real promise but he was determined to toss it out,) listen to Shigeo’s teacher, Toyoda, lament about how a thirteen year old could possibly not know basic algebra, teach again, grade papers, go home.

Shigeo had squeezed by with passable grades, and the next year, was placed into the class of Katsuko Kano. 

Chapter Text

It had seemed as if Shigeo’s second year of middle school was going to go in much the same direction.

Kageyama Ritsu was a blessing and a reprieve to the 1st year teachers. Polite, intelligent, popular, empathetic, not displaying destructive psychic abilities, a first year and already involved in student council, Ritsu was a model student. It was noted with extreme interest that Ritsu's third emergency contact was his grandfather, living fairly nearby.

Shigeo still seemed to struggle with his schoolwork, and aside from what was considered to be an accidental joining of the telepathy/body improvement club (despite the telepathy club being officially abolished, it was still just referred to as a joint club by most of the staff, because otherwise, there were just a bunch of squatters hanging out in the equipment room,) he didn’t seem to have any friends, or any relationships at all with his peers. He was still picked up on some days by Reigen, but much more rarely, and never before school got out for the day.

Katsuko Kano, class 2-1’s teacher, was by and large more concerned with the boy’s consistently awful math grades. (“Really,” she complained to Toyoda, as they chatted under the guise of grading tests, “he’s psychic, and he can’t do basic order of operations. How does that even happen?”)

At least, until the incidents.

Shigeo had come to school one day with bruises. His gakuran had been done up to the collar, but Kano had still been able to see the angry reds and purples on his neck, and when she’d called his name for attendance, she’d barely heard his croaked response. When she looked at him closely, despite the usual vacant stare, his cheeks had been red and blotchy, his eyes puffy, as if he’d been sobbing for quite a while.

Oh, shit, she’d thought, because there wasn’t really a protocol for this. Oh, sure, there were steps to take if there was reason to believe that a student was being bullied, or abused at home, but Shigeo had been assaulted. Neither of the Kageyamas had ever come to school looking anything other than completely healthy, and while Shigeo had been ostracized by his classmates, nobody had ever seen them get physical beyond small shoves, certainly never to this extent.

As soon as the classes had dispersed for lunch, she’d snagged Toyoda by the elbow and dragged him into the copy room. Kayegama Ritsu was, he’d said, completely fine, if a little preoccupied.

She’d taken it to the administration, but it was a slow going process. An injured student was certainly a concern, they’d suggested, but if the injuries were not acquired on school property, and an abuse situation seems unlikely, then it’s not a high priority for the school to investigate. After all, between Seasoning City’s crumbling infrastructure, the frequent supernatural phenomena, and the stray monster attacks that didn’t fall under the Hero Association’s jurisdiction, well, Kageyama Shigeo could’ve acquired his injuries any number of ways, not necessarily an assault, and he was likely being treated by his own family’s doctor.

The ‘investigation’ dragged on for a week, then two, until the urgency of it was drowned out by the student council’s mass purge of the school’s troublemakers, and Shigeo’s bruises had faded to a dull, barely visible yellow, and the stiffness had left his shoulders.

Both Kageyama brothers missed school the following Monday–an unexcused absence.  A call to the Kageyama household revealed that both parents were out of town on business for the weekend, and it was assumed that they’d simply forgotten to call the school and inform them that their sons had come with them.

On Tuesday, Katsuko was standing by the front gate when she saw them approaching. She recognized Reigen first; the bright hair and ratty pink tie stuck out like a sore thumb in the light greys of the early morning. He was walking with one hand in his pocket, the other moving expressively as he said something to the three boys walking with him. Shigeo’s haircut identified him from a block away, and he was walking shoulder to shoulder with a boy she didn’t recognize, with a shock of blond hair and the purple uniform of Black Vinegar Mid. On Reigen’s other side, Ritsu was scowling at his shoes.

As they came closer to the school, Katsuko had to bite her cheek to stop herself from gasping. It was almost too much to take in, how haggard they looked. Reigen, for the most part, seemed uninjured, but the shadows under his eyes, the greasy, rumpled hair, spoke of a couple of rough nights. The blond boy looked in much the same shape, although the skin of his hands and his face seemed an odd, angry red–burns, maybe?

Ritsu and Shigeo had enough injuries between them to kill any regular man, with bruises, scratches, scrapes littering their faces, their hands, their necks. Both of them were holding their shoulders in the stiff way that says it hurts to breathe, let alone walk. Shigeo had a single, bright green band-aid plastered across the bridge of his nose, for all of the good it’d do him.
Katsuko made sure she was vaguely elsewhere when the four of them reached the gate, but still positioned in order to see Reigen pat both of the brothers gently on the shoulder, much to the apparent disgust of Ritsu, and she watched as the blond boy grabbed Shigeo’s wrist, grinning and saying something that made him smile, just slightly, in return.

Thirty minutes after the bell rang, Shigeo was asleep, head nodded forward so that his chin was resting on his chest. Katsuko took in the harsh shadows under his eyes, the scabbed over scratches on his cheek, (like it’d been rubbed against asphalt, God, ) the little bandage on his nose, and for once, didn’t wake him up.

It became another routine, but with slightly less theorizing and more constant worry.

Shigeo and Ritsu very rarely came in with the sorts of injuries from the last two incidents, but Katsuko still noted every bruise, every scrape, every neon bandage wrapped around Shigeo’s fingers.

So, her day became this:

Start school day, teach, pretend not to notice Shigeo drifting off, note new injuries, if any, go to break room for lunch, worry with the other teachers, file another incident report with the district, receive an email informing her that her ‘report was being processed’ at the district’s headquarters, (the first one she’d filed had been processing for six months, now,) theorize about what was happening (Fight Club was the only one sticking,) go back to teaching, grade papers, go home.

Allegedly, things were much the same in Toyoda’s class, although he did keep telling her stories about an odd ginger boy who kept appearing in the windows of his classroom. One day, he’d apparently seen Ritsu flipping him off out of the corner of his eye.

She reflected, one day, that her life had become rather… odd.

Chapter Text

Parent-teacher conferences rolled around so quickly that Katsuko hadn’t even realized it was time until she saw the sign-up forms sitting on her desk. Well, this is going to be interesting, she’d thought, more dread than excitement. Still, sitting through explanation after explanation of why someone’s child had failed their last three tests or why they kept getting detention would be worth it if she got even one hint, one scrap of information about Shigeo’s life.

Except that Shigeo had squirmed uncomfortably during her spiel, had come up to her desk after class with the signup form clutched in his hands and said, “Um, Miss Kano, both of my parents are out of town this week…”

Well, shit. An idea struck her.

“Ah, well, Shigeo, it is required that everyone’s parents come in.” It wasn’t; plenty of people skipped these things. It was only the delinquents and the star students’ parents who ever came in. Still, she continued, bullshitting like a champion. “Even if your parents aren’t able to come, I’m sure you have more extended family. It can even be anyone the school has listed as a contact.”

Shigeo was blank for another few moments before his eyes lit up. “Oh! Alright, thank you, Miss Kano.”

Sure enough, the next day, Shigeo had brought back his form filled out and signed by one Reigen Arataka.

Which may have, she reflected, been a bad idea, when she actually came face to face with the man. She’d seen him plenty over the course of the last two years, and listened to every story and odd anecdote about exchanges the office secretaries and other teachers had had with him, but she’d never actually spoken to the man himself. She felt that perhaps, she had not been adequately warned. Out of, well, everything, the thing that struck her the most was the odd way that he moved: an odd collision of tempos, a few deliberate steps followed by an abruptly rapid and fluid motion that was, in most cases, about 90% arm. Despite the air conditioning, a thin sheen of sweat was clear on his forehead.

Still, he sat across from her in the uncomfortable little classroom chair, leaning back with an ankle crossed over a knee like he’d been there longer than she had. He straightened his tie, the same pink one that he’d worn every time she’d ever seen him. She wondered, absently, if he ever changed clothes.

“Well,” she began with her best first-day-of-school smile, “thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to come in, Reigen-san. My name is Kano Katsuko, and I am Shigeo’s teacher this year.”

Reigen nodded, waving it off. “Yeah, sure, of course. Academics and stuff, it’s important.”

Katsuko bit back a wry smile. Reigen did not give off the vibes of someone who believed in the importance of a traditional education. “Quite. Anyways, there are a few things I would like to discuss about Shigeo’s academic performance.”

Reigen leaned forward, one elbow resting on his knee. “What, his grades?”

Katsuko nodded, and handed over the folder in her lap. It contained Shigeo’s tests from the last term, and a paper with his overall grades on it. As Reigen flipped through it, one eyebrow raised, Katsuko explained. “When it comes to essays and such, Shigeo is, at worst, overly concise, and his vocabulary is a little more simplistic than we’d expect given his age. He does get his point across, though, so he usually does just fine.”

Reigen snorted softly, muttering something to himself that Katsuko didn’t entirely catch, but she thought might’ve been “–does have a way with words, doesn’t he?”

She continued, “In sciences, he seems to be doing fine, with help from his brother.” About half of his homework was done entirely in Ritsu’s handwriting, but she and Toyoda had made a pact early on this year not to bring it up, for their sakes, and Shigeo’s.
“The only… issue is with his math grades, which continue to be, well, fairly poor.”
Numbers seemed like an abstract concept to the boy. Well, to be fair, they technically were an abstract concept, but Shigeo seemed to think in abstracts, could write about complex emotional concepts like love, loss, goodness, pride, in such a dry, blatant tone that she could swear he had formulas for them in his head. Plain facts like numbers, however, were lost on him.

Reigen gave a sharp laugh, more of a bark. “Well, no wonder. he’s showed me some of the work you send home with him. I swear, math wasn’t that complicated when I was a kid. Jeez, why would Mob ever need any of the nonsense with the letters-being-numbers thing?”

Something about that gave her pause. She had to tread lightly here. “Ah, I didn’t realize that Shigeo’s nickname was used in his… family.” She’d always assumed the nickname was derisive, the way the other students said it. Shigeo hadn’t responded to it negatively, but then, he didn’t seem to respond to much of anything.

Misstep. Something changed, just slightly, in Reigen’s expression, and then his entire posture shifted so that he was leaning back, one arm slung over the back of the chair, chin tilted up so that he was looking down at her with something defensive and sharp in his eyes.

“Well,” he said, and abruptly his voice was smooth, liquid silver. “He’s told me that he prefers it, so why wouldn’t I?”

Katsuko felt off-balance, like the playing field was shifting and changing underneath her feet as they spoke. She’d dealt with worse than this, though. She’d dealt with district board representatives , so she would not let this nonsense phase her. “No reason at all, sir,” she replied serenely, ploughing ahead. “If Shigeo is having difficulty with the work, and is unable to receive help at home, the school does offer after-school tutoring–”

“Ha!” Reigen cut her off with another barking laugh. “Wow, you think he has time for that? I mean, between,” and at this, he started counting off on his fingers, “going to school in the first place, all of the homework, reading, and essays he brings home, the extracurriculars he’s expected to be in, the social life he’s supposed to have, his interests and work outside of school, actually spending time with his family, and, oh I don’t know, eating and sleeping, you really expect him to be able to attend tutoring?” Reigen tutted, wagging a finger. “Fact of the matter is, you guys expect too much out of your students. You’re not giving them any time to be kids, messing around and making dumb mistakes.”

Reigen stood from the chair, heaving a sigh that had a weight of finality. As he made his way towards the door, he said, “Don’t get me wrong, I get the worry about his grades, but I’ll make sure he passes.”

District board representatives asking about pencil sharpener brands, she reminded herself. This would not phase her. Reigen was dead-set on leaving, that was clear, and Katsuko couldn’t blame him. The way things were run, there were more and more kids burning out every year, and while Katsuko did what she could, there was a curriculum to follow and standardized tests to take.
Still, she couldn’t let him leave, not yet.

“Ah, Reigen-san, before you go. I have been wondering about Shigeo’s,” she paused while she considered the right term, “extracurriculars. Because it seems to me that they’re causing him more stress than any of his assignments.”

Sure enough, Reigen paused. When he looked over his shoulder at her, his expression had softened, but the emotions were no more readable than before.
“Kano-san,” he said, voice soft like he was comforting an upset child, “you and I both have duties to Mob, and I’m going to ask you to believe that I’m fulfilling mine as best as I can, and I’m also going to ask that you trust me when I say that this is not something you want to get involved in.”

Neither of them said another word as Reigen left, the door swinging shut behind him.

Interestingly, Shigeo’s next math worksheet was turned in, filled out in an odd hodgepodge of Shigeo’s deliberate, blocky writing, and Reigen’s slanted, curving script, and every single answer was correct. She was glad that she didn’t have to grade for showing work, because she couldn’t have deciphered the odd string of numbers leading up to the final answer if her life depended on it.

She’d watched Shigeo closely during the next math test and while he was still going through his nervous motions (biting at the skin around his fingernails, tapping one sneaker against the leg of his chair, floating his entire desk an inch or so off of the ground,) he was actually writing, as opposed to the blank staring that usually came with math tests.

He was the last one to hand in his test, and when he did, it was covered in a series of odd little grids filled with numbers and variables, but the answers were… right, right, wrong, wrong but only because of a misplaced variable so partial credit, right, wrong, right, right…

She looked back up at the grids, aligned the numbers to the problems, and found that Shigeo had discovered a shortcut, not one that she’d ever seen before, so where could he have…
Oh, of course. She almost wanted to laugh; in trying to give Shigeo a cheat to pass his test, Reigen had inadvertently found a shortcut that was easy to explain, and showed all of the crucial parts of the problem. I might actually use this next year.

When she handed back the tests the next day, she felt a pop of energy burst through the room, nearly startling her out of her seat. On instinct, she looked at Shigeo. Sure enough, his hair was ruffled, desk still vibrating with aftershocks, and he was looking at his paper with a small, wide-eyed smile.

Considering it wasn’t really any of her doing, Katsuko felt oddly proud.

Even as she watched Shigeo’s scratches heal into scars, invisible white lines and marks that dotted his face, his hands, even as she knew they’d keep coming back, and Shigeo would spend more often than not trying to sleep off the now-permanent shadows under his hooded eyes, she still felt… at peace, would be the best word. For the first time, it almost felt like Shigeo might just turn out alright.

Chapter Text

She’d thought that she’d see less of Shigeo, the next year. After all, his first year, she’d only seen him walking through the gates in the mornings, or on the rare occasions she’d popped into Toyoda’s classroom during the school day. The rest, she’d only heard about from break-room hearsay. Truthfully, she didn’t really see him on the first couple weeks of the year, beyond the usual mornings, where he always greeted her with a quiet, “Good morning, Miss Kano,” before breaking away from Ritsu to go and find either Tome Kurata or one of the members of the body improvement club.

Kageyama Ritsu was in her class this year, and while, thus far, he wasn’t quite as eventful a student as Shigeo, it still served as a decent distraction. He was, inarguably, a perfect student, turning in assignments on time, raising his hand, giving concise, correct answers in class, and asking relevant questions during lectures. His papers were appropriately formatted and cited, and his theses and analyses were accurate, if on occasion two-dimensional. He did not chat, fidget, or sleep during lessons, and was never anything other than perfectly polite when she spoke to him.

There was something… odd, about him, though. Sharp, almost, like he was surrounded by barbed wire, especially considering the wide berth just about everyone but Shigeo seemed to give him. The formality of the way he spoke, not just to her but to the student council members, to his classmates, didn’t allow for personal conversation, didn’t allow for any kind of familiarity. He was always closed off, distant, and sometimes, if she probed his reasoning for an answer for too long, he’d start spitting back his answers, tone turning biting and defiant. It had taken her a while to notice, just like it had taken her some time to learn to read Shigeo and the subtler nuances of his expressions. The teachers have privately nicknamed the student council incident of last year ‘the Purge,’ as a sort of morbid joke, but it’s still fresh in her mind every time she looks at him, the way he’d stood behind Kamuro, stone faced and resolutely avoiding the questioning looks from his brother as a few of the resident fidgeters and slackers had been humiliated and pulled from the classroom.

She wonders about him, how he copes with what’s happened. Shigeo, she’s fairly certain, can rely on Reigen for support, and Ritsu, and to some extent, the body improvement/telepathy club as well.

Ritsu, though…

Some part of her feels sorry for the Kageyama parents, who have somehow manage to raise two children who are troubled in unique but equally extreme ways.

More of her feels sorry of the boys.

On Monday of the third week of school, while Katsuko is grading papers during lunch, she hears a soft knock on her classroom door.

“Yes?” she asks, craning to see the figure peering in the doorway.

Shigeo, bag clutched in one hand and a piece of paper in the other, takes a few hesitant steps until he’s standing just inside the room, but still close enough to the doorway to make a retreat. He’s grown, just a little, over the summer, enough that he’s about level with Ritsu now, but he still carries himself with an unassuming smallness, like if he tried hard enough, maybe he could fold in on himself and disappear entirely. “Um, Miss Kano?” he says quietly, not quite meeting her eyes.

She finds herself smiling at him, feeling oddly fond. “Yes, Shigeo?” she asks, as gently as she can manage, out of habit. She’d noticed at some point that raised voices, even if they weren’t directed at him, made the boy nervous.

He holds up the piece of paper as he explains, “I have, um, some math homework… Shishou helped me, so I think that I understand it, but, um, could I maybe work on it in here? It’s loud outside…”

Katsuko stares blankly for a moment before the request sinks in. Technically, tutoring is offered after school exclusively, and students aren’t supposed to be in the building during lunch, but, well, this was Shigeo, and his nerves were easy to see if you knew how to read him even despite the vacant expression, there in the shuffling of his weight from foot to foot, the way he stared at some nonexistent point on the wall, and why has he come to her?
“Oh. Ah, yes, of course, just let me know if you need any help!”

Shigeo sits a few rows back and starts working, looking down at his scribble-covered paper with single-minded concentration. Katsuko almost suggests that he move to the front row of desks, so that he isn’t just plopped haphazardly in the middle of the room, but something familiar strikes her about where he’s sitting… oh, and she has to stifle a small laugh when she realizes that he’s sitting in his desk from last year. Creature of habit, indeed.
He doesn’t ask her for help on his work, and they sit in oddly amicable silence for the rest of the lunch period, the only noises in the room being the constant scratching of a pen or a pencil, and the occasional turn of a page.

Two minutes before the end of the lunch period, he neatly puts his worksheet into a folder and tucks it into his bag. “Thank you, Miss Kano,” he says, as he weaves around the desks towards the door, voice failing to carry even in the almost-empty room. “Have a good day.”

It doesn’t become a routine, but it does become something, a couple of times a month at most, where Shigeo will knock softly on the open door of the classroom and take his old seat, and spends the lunch period frowning at his math worksheets, or mouthing stilted English to himself as he reads from a piece of paper. He’s never asked for help, which is probably just as well, because Katsuko isn’t sure she’s ever taught the boy a thing. So, she just provides the room and the peace and quiet, and grades essays as he takes up sheets of scratch paper with the algebra the Year 3s are suddenly expected to learn before they’re unceremoniously shoved into high school mathematics.

She looks over him every time he comes in, and finds the shadows under his eyes to be just a little lighter, sees that the recent bruises and colourful bandages he’d come in with last year are nowhere to be seen. Even his demeanor feels changed. Something about the way he speaks, the way he holds himself, comes across as more… reserved, rather than awkward or anxious.

After a certain point, the entire break room seems to breathe a sigh of relief when everyone realizes that they can begin swapping weird Kageyama anecdotes again, instead of trading injury descriptions.

A few weeks in, Ritsu misses a couple of days of school. She’d been nervous–there hadn’t been any Kageyama Incidents this year, but it was only a matter of time–until the office had informed her that he’d been called in sick by his parents, and that he should be back within the next two days or so.

It always takes a few minutes for the stragglers to pack up their things and clear out of the classrooms, so she almost doesn’t notice the unfamiliar boy leaning against her doorframe. He looks young, probably around Ritsu’s age, but he’s not wearing a school uniform, instead decked in an almost excessively green jacket and torn up skinny jeans. His shock of bright orange hair is gelled into wild spikes, and they bounce along with his head as he saunters into the classroom, shoulders set and chin up in the universal technique of teenagers who want to look much taller than they actually are.

“Hey, hey, Ritsu-kun’s teacher!” he says, and it’s only years of training in not making fun of children that stops her from bursting out laughing, because he’s trying to pitch his voice down to sound older, but his voice has only just started to drop, and he’s cracking on every other word.

She laces her fingers together on the desk. “Can I help you?”

The boy braces one hand on the edge of her desk, and his grin is lazy, catlike. “Yeah, I’m here for Ritsu-kun’s homework. He finally stopped trying to throw up his guts, so his parents are on him about being caught up before he gets back to school.”

She reaches for the folder balanced on her stack of ungraded essays, but hesitates before handing it over. On the few occasions that Shigeo had actually been sick last year, Ritsu had popped in at some point to collect his work. There’s something odd about this kid she’s never seen before, who doesn’t even attend this school, coming to get Ritsu’s homework.

Shigeo knocks on the door softly, speaking even as he walks into the classroom. “Miss Kano, is there any work Ritsu’s missed the past two days? He wanted to– Oh, hello, Suzuki-kun. What are you doing here?”

The boy–Suzuki, allegedly–freezes, and his grin and tone both take on a panicked edge. “Ha, hey, Kageyama-kun, fancy seeing you here!”

“This is my school, Suzuki-kun. I go here.”

It’s impossible to tell what Shigeo’s thinking. Based on Suzuki’s reaction, she’d think he was… angry? But his expression gives away nothing, and he doesn’t have any of his regular tells that would indicate he’s upset, instead just staring at Suzuki with wide eyes, head cocked to one side like a confused puppy.

Suzuki barrels through the ensuing silence with a hurried, “Hey, Kageyama-kun, don’t worry about taking your brother his homework. I’m on my way there anyways, and you’ve probably got work, right?”

Now seeming unsure, Shigeo starts to wring his hands, worrying his thumb as if he’s going to crack the knuckle, but never actually doing it. “Shishou said I could come in late today… Are you sure Ritsu would be okay with it?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course! We’ve been meaning to hang out for a while, and if I’m on my way there anyways, it’s waaaaaay easier if i just take his stuff to him, right?” Arm-wise, Suzuki is about as expressive as Reigen, waving his hands placatingly at Shigeo and moving wildly as he speaks. Shigeo is silent for a few moments longer, before he nods once.

“Alright, that does make sense. Good afternoon, Miss Kano. Suzuki-kun, please don’t do anything too strenuous with my brother. He’s still kinda sick.” And then Shigeo is gone, leaving Suzuki spluttering and bright red.

“No way he actually meant…?” Suzuki mutters, probably to himself. “Jeez, some wingman he is.”

The inside of Katsuko’s cheek is sore from how hard she’s had to bite it to keep from laughing, but she still manages to keep a relatively straight face as she hands the homework folder to Suzuki, who grabs it and dashes from the room without another word.

She’s suspected for a while now. She bookmarks news stories, watches blurry phone-videos of entire buildings flinging themselves piece by piece into the sky, reads speculation about massive-impact craters left behind. She tries to match up dates in her head, lines up the bigger accidents with the days that Shigeo or Ritsu have missed school.

Halfway through the year, Shigeo and Ritsu are both gone, marked as unexcused absences. During lunch, the teachers huddle around the break room’s tiny television and watch as a hundred miles away, a city tears itself apart at the seams.

She recognizes the spiel by now, the “tragedy that’s shaking a city” speech, the psychic ‘experts’ talking about unexplained destructive phenomena, high concentrations of psychic energy, the footage of dust-covered people stumbling amongst the rubble trying to salvage some piece of their lives.

Butterfly stitches are holding the angry red gash on Ritsu’s forehead closed, and the scrapes on his cheek trail downwards, disappearing into the collar of his uniform. He spends the class staring at some point in the middle distance, with fingertips pressing into the already swollen bruise below his eye. His notebook lies on the desk in front of him, untouched. When she gets the students started on independent reading, she runs to the break room and digs around in the freezer, past Toyoda’s weird ice cube trays and Satoh’s frozen diet meals until she finds the cold compress she’d stashed in there last year. It’s an easy matter to subtly slip it onto Ritsu’s desk as she walks back to the front of the room.

She leaves Toyoda, now the master-teacher for the first year class, supervising her students when she has to run down to the office for some paperwork. When she steps out from secretary's’ office, pile of newly-copied papers in hand, she almost crashes head-first into Reigen.

“Ah, my apologies, Kano-san,” he says, and the cheeriness in his voice is strained. The energy she remembers vividly from the conference is dulled, the set of his shoulders just a little too sagged, the shadows under his eyes a little too pronounced. He doesn’t look injured, per-se… just tired.

One of the secretaries puts down her phone with a click, leans over the monitor of her computer, and says quietly to Reigen, “Shigeo should be down in a moment, sir.” He thanks her with a nod, and goes back to absently staring at the various flyers for school events displayed around the office.

Katsuko makes as if she’s forgotten something, and weaves back behind the counter. None of the staff mention that she’s not actually doing anything as she attempts to make herself look busy; everyone’s played this game, at some point, and Katsuko is more invested than most.

The office is never particularly loud in the first place, but the silence grows oppressive when Shigeo walks into the room, the clattering of keyboards slowing and general chatter becoming muted.

She can’t quite register it as a whole, can’t put together the bruises, the swollen split slip still dribbling blood at the corner, the scabs, the scrapes, the burns, the little bright neon bandages littering fingers, his cheeks, as something that’s happened to this boy. When Shigeo sees Reigen, his eyes widen, grip on the strap of his bag going white-knuckled. “Shishou, is something wrong? Did we miss something, or-”
Reigen has already stepped into Shigeo’s space, with a hand on his shoulder. “Oi, Mob, calm down, everything’s fine. I just came to check on you.” Katsuko is stuck with the distinct impression that they’re all listening in on a private moment, but after three years and virtually no glimpses into the Kageyama brothers’ lives, well.

Reigen’s hand moves from Shigeo’s shoulder, ghosting over a particularly angry bruise at the corner of his mouth. “You don’t tell your parents about this stuff, huh?” Shigeo shakes his head, mumbles something that sounds like, “Ritsu helps make sure that they don’t notice,” and Reigen’s responding sigh is utterly resigned.

“You should rest, Mob, you’ve been through a lot. Do you want me to sign you out?”
Shigeo frowns, says, “If you need help at the office, then I could…”
“I’m not opening up the office until you’re not limping anymore, Mob. But you’ve got to take care of yourself, alright? What kind of master would I be if I let my student sit around here trying to do math while he’s hurt, huh? You should rest up. We can go out to lunch and you can nap back at my place, yeah?”

Shigeo hesitates a few more beats, and then he’s wrapped around Reigen’s waist, clinging with his hands fisted in the back of his suit. From this angle, Katsuko can’t see his face, but she assumes that he’s nodding, because Reigen quietly laughs, “Yeah, alright, thought so,” as he pats Shigeo’s head.

Shigeo stays attached to Reigen’s side while he signs him out, and Reigen keeps a hand on Shigeo’s shoulder as they’re walking out of the door.

Chapter Text

After a certain point in one’s teaching career, graduation ceremonies are just plain boring.

Following the disaster that was Salt Mid’s brief flirtation with the 21st century last year, they’d stuck to a traditional ceremony, with speech after speech after speech, and absolutely no pop songs of any kind. Ever.

Still, she usually drags Toyoda to the graduation every year, if only because she needs someone who it’s socially acceptable to fall asleep on during the principal’s speech. They both know the drill by now: sit towards the middle of the gymnasium, in the middle of a row, preferably behind some tall and/or chatty parents. Once they’re comfortably seated, they can safely zone out until the scripted speeches about success and school spirit and moving on to do great things have been run dry again, and wake up just in time to watch the graduating class receive their little diplomas. The real fun in this, of course, was the gossip. It’s not that Katsuko doesn’t like her students, or isn’t incredibly proud of them. It’s just that, as a teacher, becoming invested in the lives of teenagers is the only way to stay sane.

“Did you have him last year?” Toyoda asks, as a lanky, awkward boy that Katsuko vaguely recognizes stumbles on stage to collect his diploma.
She shakes her head. “No, I think he was in Amori’s class.”

“Kid sniffs pens.”

“What, like a drug thing?”

“No, that would’ve made sense! Just, he sniffed them, Kano. Always. During lessons, while he was working, just always… sniffing.”

“Weird.”

As sniffer boy is clapped off of the stage, he’s replaced by a petite girl that it takes Katsuko a moment to place, but when she does…
“Hey, isn’t she the one who told everyone she dated a high schooler?”

Toyoda squints at her. “Did she? I swear I saw her flirting with my first years.”

They get so caught up in trying to piece together the tangled mess that is the middle school dating scene that Katsuko almost misses Shigeo’s name being called. The only thing that alerts her is the sole whoop! among the polite clapping that follows him on stage. As subtly as she can, Katsuko turns around in her chair. Sure enough, at the back of the gymnasium, Reigen is standing against a wall with the others who couldn’t get a seat, clapping and grinning with an enthusiasm that seems to be giving other parents secondhand embarrassment.

Shigeo has managed to grab his diploma and shake the hands of most all of the officials in the span of about three seconds, and Katsuko reminds herself to add a tally on the break room whiteboard to Satoh’s secret agent theory from a couple of years ago (“The quiet ones are always the shiftiest, Kano!”). Still, she manages to get a couple of claps in as he scurries off of the stage.

Toyoda always ditches as soon as the ceremony is over, which, frankly, Katsuko doesn’t understand. In her opinion, there’s little point in attending the ceremony itself if you’re not going to stick around for the classroom party afterwards. The only real draw is the promise of more gossip and convenience store cookies, but still.

The desks in Sugita Ken’s classroom are pushed around haphazardly, and Katsuko works her way through the maze, past little cliques of students and chittering parents until she finally manages to reach the food table, and the long-awaited cookies. Objectively, it’s not a huge distance from the door to the food, but Katsuko has been cornered by a series of her former students and, of all people, the Kageyamas, so finally getting to the back of the room feels like an accomplishment.

She’s surprised that the Kageyamas are sticking around, given that all four of them seem to be incredibly uncomfortable talking to people in general. Of course, the parents had had no trouble thanking her for all her work, gushing about their sons and such, but both of them are mingling with the overly-happy tone and strained smiles of adults who would rather like to be done being adults for the day. Ritsu is far less subtle about his discomfort, fidgeting and tugging on the collar of his dress shirt. Whenever he thinks nobody's looking, his nose scrunches up, glaring mercilessly at the nearest person or object.

He seems to be sticking to his parents’ sides, unlike Shigeo, who she’s seen speaking to no less than four other students. All of them were in the telepathy/body improvement club, but still, she thinks it might be a new record.

Compared to the rest of the boys in his year, mostly wearing baggy suits, scuffed shoes, and ties that hung down half to their knees, Shigeo is surprisingly sharply dressed. His black suit jacket actually seems, well, calling it tailored would be a stretch, but it actually fits. The matching pants have to have been hemmed, and the collar of his dress shirt is crisply ironed. The only thing that’s not new-looking is the tie, and by this point, the faded pink of the ratty thing is actually familiar. She loses sight of Shigeo when he disappears behind some of the girls’ soccer team trying to take a picture, so she scans the room for Reigen instead. It isn’t difficult.

He’s amassed a decent following in the corner of the room, and looks to be entirely in his element, leaning back casually against the wall and presumably telling stories that are accompanied by extravagant sweeping hand motions that usually make the group burst into obnoxious laughter. She’s seen him twiddle his purple bow tie no less than fifteen times since she arrived.

Her phone buzzes in her pocket.



FROM SATOH:
im gonna be able to get over there in 5 mins, is reigen still there

TO SATOH:
Yep, but I don’t know for how much longer. Until Shigeo leaves, probably.

FROM SATOH:
listen. katsuko. this is the LAST NIGHT for us to get to the bottom of this

TO SATOH:
For YOU to get to the bottom of this, you mean?

FROM SATOH:
not important, listen, katsu, if u see him going to leave, u gotta stop him. talk to him abt idk old rocks or whatever your minor was until i get there

TO SATOH:
Anthropology, but you were close.


 

She’s so caught up in looking at her phone that she almost startles when she sees Shigeo in front of her. His telltale nerves are on full display, scuffing one shoe on the linoleum tiles, but he’s smiling softly up at her, and his hands are behind his back, clearly hiding something.

She smiles back at him. “Congratulations, Shigeo! I’m sure everyone’s very proud of you.”

Shigeo looks down at the floor as he mumbles, “Oh, um, thank you, Miss Kano.” She waits patiently as he stares at his feet, biting his lip as he gathers his words. “I wanted to, um, to thank you for… everything, and Shishou helped me a lot to pick it out and plant it, so, uh…” He holds something out from behind his back. “Please accept this from both of us!”

As she gently takes the little pot from him, he explains, “It’s a sweet pea plant. Shishou says it means ‘goodbye,’ so… oh! Um, they can grow kind of big, so if you want to, you can plant it in the ground, or a bigger pot, and tie it onto something so that it can grow straight… ours is tied to a yardstick that Shishou found. Yours should flower soon.”

The tiny green stalk is bending with the weight of the buds, already splitting down the sides to reveal streaks of white petals. It’s impossible to place the way she’s feeling, the thing in her chest that’s heavy and light all at once, and she thinks, a flower that means goodbye.

All she can do is meet his eyes, and she her voice comes out sounding soft and awed when she says, “Thank you, Shigeo. Thank you, for everything.”

Shigeo’s hug is too quick for her to reciprocate, just a quick squeeze before he’s stepped away, eyes towards the floor again.

He perks up when he hears Reigen calling, “Oi, Mob!” from his corner of the room. Katsuko puts a hand on his shoulder as he moves to leave.

“You’ll thank your shishou as well for me, won’t you? And I certainly hope this won’t be the last I see of you. After all, your brother is graduating next year, isn’t he?”

Shigeo nods, and he smiles up at her again, eyes bright. He actually waves a small goodbye as he walks over to Reigen, whose audience has since dispersed. Reigen bends down to say something to him, hand clasped on his shoulder.

Satoh Miyu sidles up to her, quickly following her line of sight. “Oh, thank goodness, he’s still here.” She looks at Katsuko. “Katsu, you have a plant.”

Katsuko adopts the dry deadpan that’s more or less necessary to be friends with Satoh. “Indeed I do. Shouldn’t you be supervising your own class party?” Satoh waves her off with a small scoff, but doesn’t actually answer the question.

Katsuko sees Shigeo walking away from Reigen, and towards his parents and Ritsu, who are all idling near the door in the manner of people who are very ready to leave the party. Reigen, as well, seems to be gearing up to head off. Katsuko points in his direction. “Looks like your window of opportunity is closing to… what are you actually planning?”

Satoh looks over at Reigen and hisses, “Shit.” Then, to Katsuko, “I’m going to solve the mystery once and for all, Katsu.” At Katsuko’s blank stare, she leans close and whispers conspiratorially, “The ‘relationship-to-student’ mystery.” Ah, right. She supposed it never had been filled in, had it? The students even updated their information at the beginning of every year, and while Reigen’s phone number had changed once, that little box had still been blank.

She follows behind Satoh as she walks towards Reigen, but drifts away to find an inconspicuous eavesdropping spot. This should be interesting.

Satoh, chatterbox that she is, makes easy smalltalk, the kind of oh, I’ve heard about you from Shigeo’s teachers, lovely to finally meet you, isn’t this whole ceremony simply lovely, so excited to see them all graduating, bland sort of talk that just disguises the real point of a conversation. Tone still innocuously sweet, Satoh finally asks, “So, I’m just dying to know. How do you know Shigeo?”

Reigen’s answer is immediate.

“He’s my kid.” The duh is unspoken, but Katsuko can hear it clear as day in his unimpressed tone, and she stifles a laugh.

“If you’ll excuse me, Satoh-san, I’ve really gotta get going.” Reigen excuses himself politely and beelines for the exit while Satoh is still floundering a little at the response. He catches her eye as he’s crossing the room, and waves her a quick goodbye before disappearing through the door.

Katsuko should probably head home herself, soon. It’s been a long night, and these things always tend to tire her out. Teachers aren’t known for their active party lives. First though, she needs to drop by her classroom and clear the textbooks off of the windowsill. Her little sweet pea flowers are going to need all of the sunlight they can get.