Your name is Kageyama Shigeo. Mob. When you are ten years old, you wake up.
Blink, Mob. Blink, but there is only red. Sticky, warm, stinging in your eyes. You try to wipe it away but it won’t go, even when the stinging stops, even when you start to cry. Red on your hands, red on the ground, red on the high school boys slumped along the cracked and shattered pavement. You want your mother. You want Ritsu.
And then Ritsu is there, but it is nothing like you wanted because Ritsu is crying too, and he is red just like the rest, and you were supposed to protect him but he is smeared on the ground all red red red-–
Your name is Mob. When you are ten years old, you hurt your brother. You are too powerful. You are frightened. You need guidance.
But there is no one to guide you.
When you are fourteen years old, you wake up to see the destruction you have wrought: a school demolished, an earth ravaged, a boy humiliated and hurt. His name is Hanazawa Teruki, and he is the first person you have ever met that is anything like you. You had hoped you could be friends, but now you know–as you should have known, as you have always known–that this is impossible. Your medication is supposed to keep you from doing this. Your emotions, your powers, they’re supposed to be under control. You’re supposed to have changed.
But you haven’t changed. You repair the school and you apologize but still you weep because you haven’t changed. When you are fourteen, you see Hanazawa Teruki and you doubt that you ever will.
When you are fourteen, Hanazawa Teruki sees you too.
When you are eighteen years old, you wake up to see Hanazawa Teruki sleeping beside you, and you realize that you are in love. It does not surprise you as much as it should, perhaps, but to be fair you are heavily medicated, and accustomed by this point to more or less annual revelations. When you were fifteen you learned that Hanazawa-kun was your friend, because he is kind and forgiving and better than you deserve. When you were sixteen you learned that maybe you were never in love with Tsubomi-chan, or if you were then it was an innocent and ignorant and bittersweet kind of love, different from the things you feel now. When you were seventeen you learned Teruki-kun was in love you-–that is something you have to relearn every day–-and now, at eighteen, after two years of dating and one year of cohabitation you learn that you love Teru back. You think maybe you have loved him for a long while, but no one has ever accused you of being the most in touch with your emotions. The medication doesn’t help that any.
What it does do is help you protect the things you love, and that list has just gotten longer. You increase the dosage to compensate.
When you are twenty one years old, you wake up for the first time as Hanazawa Shigeo. Marriage is not yet legal in Salt City but adult adoption is, and the result is more or less the same. Teru puts a ring on your finger anyway and even though the medication keeps your emotions tethered to you from very far away, you know that you have never been so happy, and doubt that you ever will be again.
So far Teru has been supporting the both of you, though not for lack of trying on your part. Despite your best efforts to find and keep a job, the fact of the matter seems to be that you are mediocre in all marketable skills, as well as several unmarketable skills. This never really bothered you because it never really bothered Teru, and he insists it still doesn’t, but things are different now and you’d like to ease his burdens in any way you can. Ritsu suggested opening a psychic agency, and even offered to help out when he wasn’t in class at university. If it were up to you then your powers would wither away unused inside you, but it’s looking more and more like this might be your only option.
Teru stirs and presses closer against you. He whispers his sleepy affection and you whisper it back, petting one hand through his hair until he is still and dreaming once more. His hair runs as gold thread through your fingers–he’s been saying he’d cut it for years but you know he’s just a little vain about it, despite his best efforts not to be. Personally you don’t see much wrong with being a little proud. It’s part of who Teru is and you are hopelessly endeared by it. In these drowsy ungroomed hours there are knots and kinks in it that he would never let anyone see but you-–there’s some secret pleasure in that–-and you work gentle fingers through them. Your hands shake now if you go too long without medication. But once you were a child and you hurt the people you love. You will never let anything like that happen again.
The day you turn twenty four years old you wake up and ask Teru to repeat what he just said, please, because surely you were dreaming. Surely now you will wake. Surely he didn’t just say-–
“Adoption,” Teru says again. His spiralling aura of gold and amber twists now into panicky geometric shapes with too many hard edges, painting your home in sickly neon yellow. You haven’t seen Teru this anxious since he proposed.
“Of a child, I mean,” he continues. “The two of us, adopting a child. Ha. You probably gathered that, though. It’s not like we could adopt each other again. That was a bit redundant of me, wasn’t it? And now I’m babbling. Ha ha. Say something, please?”
You’d like to, except you have no idea what to say. Ritsu and Shou left only minutes ago–the cake sits forgotten on your lap. A meter far back behind your eyes is ratcheting up and you need your medication but Teru’s got your hands clasped tight. He’s looking at you like your next words could change everything–maybe they could. You wonder if he can feel your hands trembling.
“That’s…” you start, without knowing how to finish. “That’s what I thought you said. I’m, um. Teru, I’m not sure I’d make a very good–”
“You definitely would!” Teru rushes close until you are nose to nose and his aura has enveloped you both, it glitters and winks like a million shards of sun. A second later he flushes at his own enthusiasm, but instead of pulling away, he leans forward to tap your foreheads together. His hair weaves with yours, gold on black on gold.
“I know you don’t think so, and I know you think I’m biased, but I promise you this is true. You’re kind, and nurturing, and patient. You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I truly, honestly believe you would make a wonderful father, Shigeo, and I want to be that with you.”
His speech sounds a bit rehearsed–he anticipated this fear of yours, it seems. Well, he is your partner, you suppose that makes sense, even if you apparently can’t read him half as well. How long has he been thinking about this? How long haven’t you known? Get a clue, Mob. Do you even want a child? You’ve never really considered it, never needed anything more than what you have now. Maybe Teru doesn’t feel the same way. Maybe he isn’t satisfied.
“Are you… unhappy… with how things are now?”
“No!” The cool composure Teru had worked so hard to regain is lost. “No, Shigeo, no, never think that. I am my best, happiest self when I’m with you. Of course I’m happy. You make me happy.” He presses a quick apologetic kiss to your entwined knuckles. “I just think… I think this will make us even happier. I want to share our happiness with someone else. Does that make sense?”
You don’t know. Maybe.
“I probably shouldn’t have brought this up on your birthday–-I probably should have spoken to you earlier. I’m sorry for that. You know me, flair for the dramatic. I never change, do I?” He laughs, and the sound is self-deprecating. You want to reassure him but he’s already moved on. “I don’t expect an answer right away, of course. If you could just… please, will you think about it, Shigeo?”
Will you think about it? The answer should be no. Clearly, and without question. Maybe it does sound nice, raising a family with Teru. Maybe that’s something you really did want once upon a time. But the hard truth is that that future died before you could even begin to dream it. You are too dangerous to care for a child, you have been since you were one yourself, and it surprises you that sensible, intelligent Teru could even really consider it. A child would be helpless against you. Your nightmares could all come to pass. You need your medication. Your hands won’t stop trembling. You need your medication. You need your medication.
Teru’s hands are trembling too.
“Yes,” you rasp. Close your eyes to the hope in Teru’s. “I promise, I’ll think about it.”
You do think about it. You think about it for several days that turn to weeks that turn to months, and you don’t say a word.
This makes you some manner of terrible, you know. If you don’t want this future Teru has sketched out for you then you should be forthright and honest about it. You should do anything but pretend the issue doesn’t exist, for months, just because the thought of it gives you anxiety. That’s no excuse. Teru deserves better than your bad coping mechanisms. Sometimes, now that you’re paying attention to it, you see how his gaze lingers on families when you’re out together, and how his smile seems strained. Get a clue, Mob. But he never once brings it up, and despite the occasional longing glance, he truly does seem happy. In half a year of radio silence nothing really changes, and you almost begin to think the whole conversation was an elaborate dream.
Then you meet Reigen Arataka.
Spirits and Such is out of milk. You take a walk to the convenience store while Ritsu, whose classes ended early, holds down the fort. By the time the milk is bagged it’s started raining again. You didn’t think to take your umbrella along but at least the worst of it seems to have passed, as you are caught now only in a light drizzle. You don’t mind the rain much, anyway–it paints Salt City silver, and around Christmas the lights are mirrored in the water and made to glow. Snow would be prettier, but this isn’t too bad.
Halfway back to the office you stop.
There’s a boy in a tree. This by itself isn’t particularly strange–from your understanding little boys and girls are often climbing around in trees, never mind that you never did it much yourself–but it’s somewhat strange that this boy chose to climb this tree when it happens to have thick overhang into the street, not to mention the decision to climb it in the rain on Christmas Eve. And it’s strange too that he’s talking to himself while reaching for… ah. Yes, that would make it a little less strange.
“C’mon-–just a little farther-–c’mere, that’s a good girl,”
The boy is clinging to a thick branch, inchworming his slow and steady way to a more precarious perch where a bedraggled white cat is shivering. Boy and cat are thoroughly soaked. He’s got choppy brown hair, darkened by the rain, and limbs that are wiry and small. You might even say he’s scruffier than the cat, if only you weren’t distracted by his aura, which is decidedly not scruffy at all. You’ve never seen one quite this color, not in the bold neon auras of espers and not in the diluted foggy clouds of everyone else. It’s pink–pastel, nearly. Winter sunsets, you think. Spring dawns. Teru blushing. Something gentle that glows around him, just a soft halo against the steely winter sky.
He can’t be more than ten years old.
“Come over here, I’m just trying to help you, come on–”
“Excuse me,” you say, once you’ve stood beside the tree for thirty seconds and the boy has not once acknowledged your presence. “Would you like some help?”
It turns out the boy did not acknowledge your presence because he did not notice your presence. He jumps violently enough to dislodge him from the tree, though he catches himself at the last second. You lurch forward a step to catch him anyway, though you doubt you’re strong enough to actually help if he did fall. Luckily he didn’t.
“Geez, mister,” huffs the boy. He’s glaring at you. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to sneak up on people? It’s real rude, I coulda slipped and broke something! You’re lucky I wasn’t scared at all–it takes a lot more than that to scare me, of course–but what about poor Shiro?”
He’s lecturing you. A ten year old child–-stuck in a tree, seventy pounds soaking wet and trying to make hand gestures as he speaks only to remember the situation he’s in and plaster himself to the branch again-–is lecturing you without even a hint of irony in his voice. That alone is almost enough to draw a reflexive laugh out of you, but you manage to smother it just before it passes your teeth. What you can’t smother is the reflexive apology, although after a moment’s thought you add, “No, she didn’t.”
The boy, who had been satisfied with your apology and returned to the task of rescuing the cat, glances back down at you again. “Who didn’t what?”
“My mother. She never told me that.”
The boy harrumphs ambiguously, and might mutter something to the effect of “Yeah, mine neither,” but you can’t be sure. He stretches one arm out to the shivering cat and tries to coax it closer.
“I really think I could help,” you say again. The boy is wobbling on two bony knees now, and anxiety is really starting to chew its way down the tether of medication to burrow in your mind. You entertain the thought of just floating them both down for only an instant; it’s been years since you exorcised anything stronger than a lower level spirit, or levitated something heavier than a client’s purse to their hand from across the room. You’d never forgive yourself if you dropped them.
“This isn’t safe. I’d have an easier time reaching the cat if you’d just climb down–”
“It’s not a cat.”
“It’s not a cat. It’s a dog. Duh.” The boy rolls his eyes, and, huh, he’s right. How did a dog get up there?
“How did a dog get up there?”
This time the boy answers without looking. His scoots forward and pinwheels his arms for balance. “Some jerks from school were chasing her around. I got them to say sorry but by then she was already stuck up here and those guys went home. She did it ‘cause she was scared.” He adopts the lecturing tone from earlier. “We can all do pretty crazy things when we’re scared.”
It might have been a bit more profound a line if he didn’t so obviously think so himself, but you decide he deserves some credit.
“That’s very wise,” you concede, and the boy visibly swells with pride. You think Ritsu might be irritated by that, and Teru might be amused, but more than anything you find yourself endeared. Distantly so, yes, but endeared all the same. It’s more than you expected.
The branch gives a sudden and ominous groan. The dog yelps; the boy yelps; you yelp too, albeit internally. It seems the fear is enough to kickstart at least one of the three you into action–with another frightened bark the dog leaps the last few feet into the boy’s waiting arms. You’re too shocked to do much more than clench one triumphant fist at your side, but the boy laughs, loud, shameless, and bold. Around him his aura flares like a victory banner of northern lights, and you are transfixed.
Then the branch snaps.
There’s a moment where you feel as if you’re the one who’s falling: your gut swoops, your vision blackens, your throat clamps around a cry. It’s fear–real fear, strong and potent fear like you haven’t felt in years. You’re directly below him and in theory he should fall right into your arms. In practice he seems to have toppled forwards toward the street, and you fear for your frail body and medically dulled levitation. What if you’re too slow? What if you’re too weak? What if he lies cracked open on the ground, a long red smear just like–
Later you’ll look back and realize that surge of raw fear was probably what gave you the psychic strength to catch him at all.
When the boy finds the courage to open his eyes, you can see every emotion he feels as he feels it. Fear confusion shock disbelief panic awe–that’s the one he sticks on. Big brown eyes staring at the ground, a few feet below his hovering shoes, and then staring at you as you strain to maintain it. Completely mystified.
“Wow,” he says.
Ritsu hisses, “Who is this kid, Nii-san?”
The kid in question answers before you can, indignantly, from across the office.
“I’m not a kid!” he squawks, “And I already told you, I’m Reigen Arataka, soon-to-be greatest psychic of the twenty first century. Mob’s gonna be my shishou and he’s gonna teach me how to use my powers!”
He is seated on the couch next to your elderly client, pouring her a cup of tea. A towel is slung around his neck that he has yet to put to his hair; it dries in stiff streaks against his forehead, looking more amber than brown with every passing second. Shiro is curled up in his lap with a towel of her own.
“My brother is not going to be your–” Ritsu pinches the bridge of his nose and abandons this sentence in favor of a new one. “How old are you, then, if you’re not a kid?”
Reigen flounders only for a second, and for that second Ritsu looks very smug. Then: “You have no right calling me a kid when you’re wearing a sweater like that.” To the client he says, in a voice like saccharine, “Would you like milk with that, Mrs. Matsuda?”
Ritsu splutters in outrage. He crosses his arms over the aforementioned sweater, a clashing amalgam of holiday iconography and electric lights worthy of Teru’s clothing line. (It actually might be, now that you look closer.) He told you that Shou forced him into it with the ultimatum of wearing it in the office or wearing it while they went to look at the Christmas lights later in the evening. You try very hard not to laugh but Reigen is objectively clever and objectively cute, and you can’t stop just one laugh from coughing it’s way out of you. Ritsu looks gravely betrayed.
“Just a cough,” you say, but the damage is done. Ritsu whirls back on Reigen.
“Stop harassing our clients! Mrs. Matsuda, I apologize, but we already told you that a spirit isn’t making you feel guilty.”
“Ha ha, of course Ritsu” you can literally hear Ritsu grinding his teeth to be addressed by his first name, “is just joking, Mrs. Matsuda. If you’d like me and my Shishou to exorcise this spirit for you, you’ll have to tell me what you’re feeling guilty about, if that’s alright.”
Ritsu makes worrisome twitch-squeeze motions with his hands in Reigen’s direction, and when Reigen ignores him, he whips back, again, to you. “Nii-san. Explain.”
You shrug a little helplessly. “I found him in a tree. He was trying to help a dog-”
“A dog? That dog? In a tree?”
“Ah, yes. It climbed up there-”
‘Dogs don’t climb trees.”
“This one did,” Reigen interjects. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Matsuda, please continue.”
Reigen goes back to Mrs. Matsuda and you go back to Ritsu. You tell him the truth: Reigen-kun fell trying to help the dog and you caught him with your powers. When you asked where his parents were, he waved the question off–very enthusiastically, with both hands–and declared himself your student. Then he followed you back to the office.
“Oh please. He isn’t even a real psychic,” Ritsu scoffs, this time making sure to keep his voice down. He gives you a searching look. “Is he?”
“If he is,” you admit, “Then the powers are very, very latent.”
“In other words he isn’t.” Ritsu shakes his head. He seems calmer with the confirmation. “You’re too kind, Nii-san. You should quit indulging his fantasies and send him home.”
You know Ritsu is right–he usually is. It’s Christmas Eve and Reigen’s parents are undoubtedly worried about him. Over Ritsu’s shoulder you see him nodding along to whatever Mrs. Matsuda is telling him. His aura falls gentle around their shoulders, blanketing them both in sunset. And you, Mob, you hesitate.
You keep hesitating long enough for Mrs. Matsuda to tell you she is thoroughly satisfied with the service, Much to your surprise and Ritsu’s frustration. She insists on paying you in full and after she’s gone Ritsu stalks back to his desk, where he sulks and staples paperwork together with excessive force. Reigen, for his part, looks exceedingly pleased with himself; you take Mrs. Matsuda’s place on the couch beside him.
“How did I do?” he asks, over eager. He really does speak with his hands, they flitter about like baby birds. “Pretty good, right? You’ll let me work for you now, won’t you, I’ll be a big help, I promise, I’ll be good and I learn fast and you’ll only have to pay me a little. Please?”
“You did handle Mrs. Matsuda very well,” you offer, because it’s true and you don’t know how to respond to the rest of it. “You were very polite.”
Reigen preens. “Well, of course! If you’re not polite and good you’ll never get a–”
He cuts off so abruptly that he chokes on air, or spit, or something, you’re not sure. He spends a moment or two thumping on his chest and coughing into a fist while you hover a little helplessly. Give his back a few gentle pats. When he’s calm again he waves you off with a smile, but his teeth seem to be clenched very tight. You can’t tell if the sheen on his face is sweat or rain water.
“Sorry, sorry. Um, anyway, Mrs. Matsuda was easy. She said some pretty mean things to her son, and he said some pretty mean things too, and neither of them wanted to talk to each other but he got then he got sick and she felt bad. So I told her the only way to beat the ghost was by talking to him, and then the ghost wouldn’t have anything to make her feel guilty about and it would go away.”
“But there was no ghost.”
He watches you closely, gauging your expression. What surprises you is less that he seems satisfied with whatever he sees there and more that he sees anything at all. Your face is rather apathetic even on the best of days. There really shouldn’t have been anything to find.
Reigen makes a few hand gestures that roughly translate to I knew that already, obviously. “No duh there was no ghost. But she wanted to believe there was and she wasn’t hurting anyone. She just wanted someone to talk to.” His smile falters. “She was just lonely.”
You’re stunned, for just a moment. Ten years old and better at reading people than you are. You might think he’s older than he looks but he does look very young, right then, in several ways: in his two small hands wrapped around Mrs. Matsuda’s empty tea cup, thumbs twiddling where they meet over the lip. In the youthful roundness of his face. In the way his feet do not reach the floor. It does something to you, something in your chest, the cartilage of your ribs, the meat of your heart. Makes them soft and achy.
You stand abruptly; Reigen startles and fumbles the cup. You float it behind you as you head for the kitchen and do not see Reigen’s hanging jaw. When you return you have your medication in one hand and a new cup in the other, ceramic and steaming. You set it down on the coffee table in front of Reigen.
“I don’t have dry clothes for you to change into,” you start, choosing your words with care, “but you can have a cup of warm milk before you go home, if you’d like?”
Reigen is making a face you’ve never seen before. He tightens his mouth into a line but still his lip trembles. He looks like no one has ever given him a glass of warm milk before. Not when he had nightmares, not when he couldn’t sleep. It occurs to you suddenly that maybe no one ever did, and the achy parts of you get achier.
Reigen watches the curling steam with longing. “Milk is for babies,” he says, even as he reaches out and wraps reverent hands around the ceramic. His fingers fit to each groove.
“It’s my favorite drink,” you confess. “It always makes me feel better.”
A pause. He snuffles at his nose. “…Really?”
“…I guess milk’s okay, then.”
He drinks the milk. Two sips in and he begins to sniffle. Two more and he begins to cry. One more sip after that and then he wipes his eyes and lets the sadness roll off his shoulders, just like that. You’ve never known a child who could shrug off their sadness like rainwater. You’ve never known one who had to. Other than maybe you.
Reigen gives you a shaky smile. “It’s good,” he says.
There are only two people who have ever succeeded in making you forget that you are a monster, Mob. Teru is one–Teru like the sun, Teru like the sky. All sweetness and light, and warm open spaces with room to spread your fingers and wiggle your toes and breathe. Teru feels like safety, you think. All the darkness inside him forgets it is dark and turns into something like home. Some precious place drenched in sunlight.
Your brother is the other. If Teru is something warm then Ritsu is something cool, and clear, and natural as breathing. Ritsu washes you out, wakes you up. Or maybe he puts you to sleep–maybe that’s more accurate. Ritsu is like dreaming, and the dream is lucid, and lovely. You often feel lost in the waking. That world is a fog of fear and muted color; in the dreaming Ritsu puts the world in technicolor. Vibrant and clear. Ritsu is in your nightmares too, when you still have them, but in those he is always young and frightened. An older Ritsu is proof that you are in a waking dream, not a living nightmare. When you are with them, it’s easy to indulge. To dream. To forget.
When you walk Reigen Arataka home, you do not forget that you are a monster. Your medication is heavy in your coat pocket when he asks, “What were those pills?”
They’re the first words he’s said since you left the agency. He was reluctant to leave, and more reluctant to accept your offer to accompany him. Shiro stayed back with Ritsu because Reigen said he wouldn’t get to keep her–you assume his parents don’t ant any pets. The rain has stopped for good and the street lamps make perfect spheres of light along the wet sidewalk, glowing golden stepping stones in an inky dark ocean. Reigen tries to hop one to the next without stepping in the blackness between, but he keeps an eye trained on you behind him. He seems nervous, though you don’t know why.
“My medicine.” You thought he hadn’t noticed when you took one–you know Ritsu did, and he frowned but didn’t comment. It’s been a stressful day.
“Are you sick?”
“In a way, yes.”
“In a way?” Reigen’s nose scrunches up. “What’s that mean? Are you sick or aren’t you?”
“Sometimes, when I get nervous, my powers get hard to control. I don’t want to hurt anyone so I take these to keep from getting too nervous.” Or too sad, or angry, or happy, or anything at all.
“And it… stops your powers?”
“Something like that, yes.”
He frowns, and the frown is thoughtful. You let him work out what he wants to say. You are patient.
“How are you supposed to control them if you never use them?”
You open your mouth but nothing comes out. You have no answer to that.
“What do you wanna be when you grow up, Shishou?”
“What do-–I’m sorry?”
Reigen makes another hop and narrowly avoids a puddle. He seems to have moved on completely. “I mean, I know you’re a grown up already, but you kinda don’t seem like one. I’m gonna be the best psychic ever, or something else really big and important. What about you?”
It’s the surprise of the question that does it, probably, and the fact that you are still of guard from the last one. You haven’t been asked this question in years, and before you can think to lie to yourself, you are honest.
“I want to be a better person.”
Reigen stops in the middle of a pool of light, and you stop at the edge of it. He gives you a funny look.
“Then be one.”
Just like that. As though it’s really that simple.
“That’s what I’m gonna do, anyway,” he continues, oblivious to the effect his words have had on you. “I’m gonna work hard and I’m gonna get into the best high school and then I’m gonna be somebody.” A pause.
“Okay, we’re here.”
You blink back to yourself. You’ve stopped at a corner. “It’s just around here,” he says, with a few elaborate pointing gestures. “But, uh, my mom would freak out if she saw me walking home with a stranger, so you should stay here. That makes sense, right?”
“Yes,” you agree, “That makes sense.”
“Right!” He agrees back. “So I’ll just go talk to her and I’ll see you at work after school tomorrow! Bye!”
He dashes around the corner before you can say a word in response. And then he dashes back and throws his arms around you, and that knocks whatever words you had finally thought of right out of your head.
Muffled into your jacket, he says, “I think you’re a pretty good person already, Shishou. I guess.”
He grins up at you and his aura is sweet and a little self conscious, it paints pastel highlights into his hair. For the first time in all your memory, Hanazawa Shigeo, Mob, brother, husband, psychic, Shishou–
You do not feel like a monster. Not at all.
The next morning you wake before the rest of the world, though that is not unusual. Go about your day, Mob. Climb out of bed–the hours are still small and the sun is still sleeping under your comforter, so do it quietly. Consider brushing your teeth, consider getting dressed, consider tea for you and Teru. Go for your medication instead. One in the morning, first thing’s first, then one at noon. Another in the evening when you come home. Two before bed, to deal with the monochrome dreams and the things that hide in their shadows, and maybe another in secret during the day depending on how much you’re feeling and how little you want to. The tablet sits small and unassuming in your palm; you take pause to watch the tremors run up and down your fingers. Teru doesn’t like them but he knows how much they means to you. Ritsu frowns but he never comments. How are you supposed to control your powers if you don’t use them? What do you want to be? What do you want?
The tremor worsens and you throw the tablet back before it can skitter out of your hand. Go get dressed: a holiday outfit designed by Teru, violently bright, he has a matching one. Then to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Look in the mirror.
What do you see, Mob?
A man, twenty four years old, with cracked lips and haunted eyes. A brother, a husband all but legally, a human being. A psychic with an addiction. A monster.
But maybe you don’t have to see that. Maybe you could be better.
Before long the sun is there behind you, arms wrapping around your waist and chin at your shoulder and mouth at your pulse. Teru drags the morning behind him like a cape, lightening winter skies that chase the shadows back into the corners of the room, under the bed, beneath your eyes. The sun outside the room is rising. The sun inside the room has bedhead.
“Merry Christmas, Shige,” A yawn; his aura spirals out in sleepy fractals and he folds in close. “What are we looking at?”
“Nothing.” You press a kiss to the flyaway sunbeams of his hair. “I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep.”
“The bed’s too cold without you.”
That is a lie, you know it is. Psychics run hot but the medication keeps you under a constant chill, and you don’t leave much time to warm up between doses. Teru is much, much too kind for you, but you would take all his lies if it meant keeping him.
“Alright,” you concede, and he sighs, quietly content. Together you sway for a moment, and then a longer moment, until the moments are bleeding together. Your eyes are shut and Teru is warm. His heat orbits you, and there’s something a little backwards about that: a star orbiting a planet, or a moon, more like, something cold and lifeless warmed only by the sun.
“Pancakes for breakfast?” Teru suggests, after enough moments have rolled on by. You keep your eyes shut. “I could try to make shapes with them. A tree, a candy cane, maybe even a reindeer. Do you think I could?”
“If it’s Teru, I’m sure they’ll be perfect.”
“I don’t know about perfect,” he says, modestly, but he sounds pleased. “Hm, or I could make blueberry muffins. What do you want?”
You open your eyes and meet his gaze in the mirror, and suddenly you forget what you were going to say. What do you want to be?
You want to change. You want to be the kind of person Teruki Hanazawa is in love with. You want to be the kind of person Reigen thought you were–you want to be the kind of person you thought you were when you were with Reigen. Not the monster you see in the mirror. Someone kind. Someone good.
What do you want, Mob?
“I want to do this.”
“Adopt a child. I want to. With you.”
He jerks back to look you in the eyes, and his are wide and urgent. He seems to find something in your gaze just like Reigen did; you want to ask what it is but you think this time you might know. You almost wish he would be mad–springing this on him after so long is dreadfully unfair of you. He should ask you what happened. He should ask you why now. He should reprimand you and interrogate you and maybe hate you just a bit for putting him through all this, but he doesn’t. All he does is kiss you, and you kiss him back, and the future unfolds, and unfolds, and unfolds.
When you are twenty five years old, you wean yourself off of the medication.
It’s unjust to say it was just you, of course. You would never have survived if it was just you. Christmas is barely behind you when you start–you’re still twenty four. Five tablets a day to four tablets to three tablets to four to three to two to one to two to one. It takes months and nothing has ever been harder, you think, until you start lowering the dosage. That kicks the amount back up to three a day, at first. It’s a battle of inches: little by little, day by day. One step forward two steps back. You ache during the day and you’re sick during night and you’re tired all the time except for when you’re too busy being everything else: confused, ecstatic, angry, sad, afraid afraid afraid. Emotion is a terrible burden. It exhausts you, it terrifies you, it kills you, it kills everything else, you’re sure of it, you’re dying slow while your powers kill everything quick. Sometimes you rearrange furniture; sometimes you shatter mirrors. You’d forgotten how volatile the monster inside you could be. You’d forgotten, too, how strong it is, or perhaps you couldn’t forget because you never gave yourself the chance to learn how strong it was in the first place.
Ritsu and Teru are there beside you and they never stop being there beside you. Ritsu picks up your slack when you come to work and he visits you at home when you can’t. Some days you think you can see fear in his eyes-–some days you’re certain–-but he never once abandons you. You could reach out in the dark and you know he would be there. That knowledge alone is a balm, and on some days, dark days, you really do reach out. Those are the days that you feel closest to your brother.
On the dark days that you don’t reach for Ritsu, and every other day too, there is Teru. Of course there is Teru. Teru with his open field hands and his sunny sky smiles and his earnest adoration that you have never once deserved. When you can’t believe in yourself he believes for you, and his faith is awesome and terrifying. He opens caverns of light inside you when you thought there is only darkness. You would never have survived without him. You don’t want to.
And there is Reigen.
Reigen, observant as ever no matter how you try to hide it, comments on the changes as you go through them. He is reliably straightforward in the unique way of childhood. Or maybe it’s just him.
“Are you sick? You look all green and gross.”
“What’s with the bags under your eyes, are you going on a trip?”
“Maybe you should go home today, you can’t teach me to use my powers when you don’t feel good.”
“Hey, you don’t look like a skeleton anymore.”
“I haven’t seen those pills in a while.”
“You smile more than you used to, Shishou. It looks kinda weird, but not in a bad way.”
He buys you tea to help you sleep with his own pocket money and pretends he just bought the wrong kind for his parents. When you’re not at work he writes letters telling you to feel better soon and come back to work because the soon-to-be greatest psychic can’t be the greatest without his Shishou. There are scribbles of Shiro in the margins. Once he sends a test with a 100 circled on top, and in his scratchy handwriting there is the addition: see, we’re both working hard! He gives them all to Ritsu to deliver, which he does grudgingly, and each of them end up displayed proudly on your fridge.
Teru insists on meeting the boy who changed your mind. He goes with you to work and shakes Reigen’s hand and introduces himself formally as your husband. If you had been concerned for Reigen’s judgment then you needn’t have worried; he has visibly less interest in the nature of your relationship than in the way Teru treats him with such respect. Just like a grown up, you’re sure he’s thinking.
And then Teru says, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Arataka-chan,” and Reigen’s expression sours.
“Everyone calls me Reigen,” he says. Something mischievous twitches at the corner of Teru’s mouth.
“You don’t like Arataka-chan? My apologies. Arataka-chan-kun, then.”
They trade a few more quips, quick and clever in their own ways, and you are transfixed to watch them. Teru’s teasing is gentle, and more than that, it’s fond. Something goes a little soft and gooey in your chest when he ruffles Reigen’s hair.
He turns eleven, and he cries when you get him a cake.
“That boy is something special,” Teru says, and you cannot disagree.
When you are twenty six–-almost twenty six-–Reigen gets hurt on a job. He is nearly twelve and you are down to one tablet of low potency in stressful situations. The circumstances are not special: a ghost in a haunted forest startles him and he trips. There is no concussion; no stitches are needed. He’s unconscious for less than five minutes. It’s no one’s fault.
You level the whole forest. This sets you back a year.
When you are twenty seven you are finally clean for good, and have enough control to move forward in the adoption process. This does not register until weeks after Reigen’s graduation from elementary to middle school, when you come home from work the night before your first interview with an adoption agency.
Teru is in the kitchen preparing dinner. You kiss his cheek with a quiet greeting and–-pause, Mob. Blink, once, twice. “You cut your hair.”
“I thought it might make me look a bit more professional,” Teru says, very cool, but then he reaches self conscious fingers to brush his bangs back behind his ear and aborts the motion too late, hand stilling over the color as it starts in his cheeks and gives him away. You want to snort in amusement and affection and so–so you do. Genuine emotion given a genuine outlet, just like that. It still surprises you a little.
“You run a multimillion dollar fashion company, I don’t think professionalism is going to be a problem.” You go to set the table. “But for what it’s worth, I always liked your short hair.”
Teru tries to duck and catch your eyes; you maneuver. A huff of frustration-–you can see Teru’s pout without looking–and then he circles the table until you’re right across from each other. He braces his weight and leans forward into your personal space. “You like my short hair?”
You meet him, inch for inch. “I like your hair all the time.”
“Even the cactus wig?”
“Even the ochimusha?”
“Especially the ochimusha.”
Teru laughs. It’s a lovely sound, all buoyant and bright, and you want to bottle it, drink it, tuck it away next to your heart. As it is all you can do is kiss Teru soundly and try to swallow it whole.
“You are a liar, Hanazawa Shigeo!” Teru accuses against your mouth. The laughter bubbles up between you anyway. It really is such a pretty sound that you almost want to cry when it stops so abruptly, but you don’t, because you’re too busy–oh. No wonder Teru is staring like that. It’s because you’re laughing too.
It’s strange. More air than noise, less laughter than sigh, and nowhere near as pretty as Teru’s. You stifle it easily, but not before Teru murmurs one word against your lips. Privately you think that such a tone would be better saved for other words, more important words, but you’re a little awed yourself.
“Shigeo,” Teru says again, and the awe is still there but so is something else, something sweet and maybe sad and maybe happy. “I can’t remember the last time you laughed like that.”
Neither can you.
The interview goes off without a hitch. Teru does most of the talking, charming and sunshine-smiled, and the directors of the agency are instantly taken by him. In the shadow of his light they forget that you exist, which, honestly, is how you prefer it. Teru has handled most of the logistics throughout the process, though he kept you involved every step of the way. He picked the case manager while you were tapering off your medication; he chose the private adoption agencies to apply to; he gathered all the information and filled out all the forms. You had feared, at first, that your situation-–two young men, and both psychics, no less-–would make things difficult, but money, as Teru has sometimes wryly said, speaks louder than words. And as the CEO and founder of a multimillion dollar fashion company, he has quite a lot of that.
In the end the agencies are fighting over you instead of the other way around. Teru is a little smug about that; you try to be smug with him. After a long discussion you decide to go with the children’s home that, as luck would have it, happens to be just around the block from your office.
You don’t realize it at first, though really, you should have. (Get a clue, Mob.) Here is Teru and here is the agent from the children’s home and a nebulous, soon-to-be child hovering between the three of you, and you are not picky. You have very rarely been picky about anything in all your life, but when they ask for specifications, much to everyone’s surprise, you give them. An outgoing child. Confident. A boy, preferably. Older-–yes, you know most couples adopt children under six. Teru told you. It’s just that you don’t think the older kids should be neglected just for growing up. Yes, you are quite certain.
Teru catches on before you do. He gives your knee a discreet and comforting squeeze as the agent jots notes, and it surprises you, because you have no idea what he could be comforting you for. But then you meet his eyes, and he smiles, and the smile is sad. And you know.
Sometimes you dream in memory–-Ritsu small and broken and red red red, vibrant against the pavement–-but sometimes you do not. Half your dreams now, Mob, are vague and hazy things about the future. A family. A child. Happy, lovely dreams.
(Half of your dreams now, Mob, are about Reigen Arataka.)
When you are twenty eight years old, case files sit open and waiting on your lap. Dozens of glossy, laminated young faces stare up at you. You are trying very hard not to be bitter.
“Could you give us a moment alone, please?” Teru asks, and both your agent and the representative from the children’s home acquiesce graciously. Teru closes the case files and sets them aside. He takes your face in his hands and waits until you can lift your head.
“I know how much you care about that boy,” he says, very soft. “I do too. I promise you, Shigeo, having a child of our own will not replace Reigen-kun.”
You know that. Of course you know that. This is what you want-–this is what you have been working toward for nearly four years. You just wish…
“Yeah. Me too.”
Teru invites the agent and representative back in. Together you flip through case after case, and you try, very hard, to be charitable and fair. Each and every child that you might be paired up with is as good as the next. You’re sure you’d be happy to build a family with any of them.
None of them are Reigen Arataka.
Teru’s voice is just a breath. He’s got one case in his hands and his hands are shivering-–his whole body is shivering. You put a hand on his forearm to steady him and read the file over his shoulder.
All the air goes out of you. You know that face.
There are a few more interviews, a few home visits, and then several weeks later a meeting is scheduled between you, Teru, and your potential son. Several things had fallen into place when you saw the case file, and you had debated for weeks whether or not to tell him in advance. As you wait for his arrival now you begin to regret deciding against that warning. Not for the first time you long for your medication to calm your nerves–not for the first time Teru squeezes your hand before it can start to shake. You press your forehead into his shoulder and focus on the pretty shapes and colors his aura spins into and out of. Sun and sky, your Teru.
“How do you feel?” he asks.
“Too much,” you answer, only half joking. “I’m… excited. And nervous. And… and happy.”
“Yes. I really, really am.”
Teru studies you for a long moment, and then his eyes fall shut and he sighs. If the sound didn’t break your heart then his teary smile does.
There is a knock on the door.
When the door opens, Reigen Arataka’s aura floods the apartment, warm and pink and achingly familiar. He plays it cool for all of ten seconds, as polite and well-mannered as he was that very first day with Mrs. Matsuda. Then you say, “Hello, Reigen-kun,” and he tackles you and bursts into tears.
In the daydreams you didn’t allow yourself to have, you had thought that having Reigen as a son would feel like home–like soft blankets and good food and utter content, simple and clean.
Having Reigen as a son does feel like home, but you do not feel content. The feeling in your chest is like weightlessness but not like spaciousness. In fact, it feels like quite the opposite–like there is only so much space inside the tubes and tunnels of your heart but the feeling overflows to take up your whole ribcage, and there is only so much room there but the feeling overflows to take up your whole body, and there is only so much room there but still it overflows, and it never stops overflowing, and surely you should have drowned long ago but you never do.
You are not content. You want the best for this boy. You want more than that. You want for Reigen Arataka to never see one unhappy day, you wish, you crave, you strive. You are twenty nine and Reigen is nearly fifteen and when he calls you dad you could weep because once you were ten and wanted guidance, and then you were fourteen and wanted comfort, and now you will do anything to make sure he wants for neither. For him you are better.
Your name is Hanazawa Shigeo. Mob. When you are twenty nine years old, you wake up.
It’s movie night and the credits are rolling-–you must have fallen asleep half way through. Teru is asleep on your shoulder and Reigen is asleep in your lap. Their auras blanket and warm you, sunbeams scattered in a rosy sky. In that moment you feel so profoundly that it breaks your heart. You could chart the fracture.
Your hands do not shake.