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Three Hours, Or Six Years Later

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Reigen hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep until he woke up. He was tempted to let the comfort of unconsciousness claim him once more, but someone was shaking him. They were being loud. They actually sounded kind of concerned.

He opened his eyes, confused as to who the hell would actually be that worried about him.

Shigeo was kneeling over him, his face filled with concern. With a start, Reigen noticed the redness of his eyes. He must have been crying over something, but he couldn’t figure out what, or how it would involve him.

Then Shigeo pulled him into a hug, and Reigen blinked, uncomprehending. Maybe he’d gotten confused. Maybe he was still sleeping.

“I’m sorry,” Shigeo said, and it sounded like he was crying again. “I’m sorry.”

The hug tightened, and Reigen almost made an attempt to return it, but stopped. He didn’t want to make Shigeo uncomfortable, but nothing about the situation was normal. It was hard to tell what would warrant an appropriate response. He gingerly patted Shigeo on the back instead.

“Oh, no – I’m sorry,” he said, unsure of what he was apologizing for. But Shigeo was crying and for whatever reason had decided to seek solace from him. It was – Reigen had always viewed the kid as a son of sorts, and had hoped that maybe one day he’d reach out for advice or something – but for some kind of genuine emotional attachment to actually happen was incredibly jarring. Shigeo had never shown any sort of interest in interacting with him beyond what was strictly necessary. He desperately tried to think back on what he could have done to yield such a response.

“Reigen-san?”

Reigen lifted his head a little bit and saw Serizawa standing a few feet away, wringing his hands nervously. He jerked back a little bit, shocked, and Shigeo let go of him.

They were looking at him, almost like they were examining him. Nobody said anything for a moment.

There were times when he felt particularly exposed and vulnerable and small. Like if he made one wrong move all of a sudden everyone would be able to see right to his core, staring at all the bits he worked so hard to hide. Seeing him for what he was. A liar. A sorry, selfish, unreliable fraud. Pitiful, superficial. Alone.

He had to say something, quickly. Before they looked too close.

“I thought–” Reigen began, his voice cracking a little. He cleared his throat; he had to handle this professionally. God he’d been such a mess when Serizawa had left, it was disgusting. It had been so pathetic and he hated himself for it. “Serizawa, I thought you’d found work elsewhere.”

“What – I – no, I haven’t,” Serizawa replied, confused. He looked at Shigeo, who was starting to look a little bit scared. The two exchanged a glance, and Reigen tried to piece together Serizawa’s answer. It seemed that he was responding honestly, which didn’t make sense. Reigen wasn’t cruel or imaginative enough to have created the revulsion on Serizawa’s face when he’d told him – he stopped the thought there. He could still feel the pain that had made itself a permanent home in his chest on that day.

Reigen shifted forward, preparing to stand up so Serizawa wouldn’t be looking down on him as much. Shigeo went to help him, in a movement that seemed natural and familiar, but at the same time startled Reigen a bit.

He took a few steps back, eyeing his two employees. They stared back at him, and he thought they looked almost worried. For him? It must have been wishful thinking.

“I – I think I’m confused,” he said, trying to keep his tone even. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

“You were possessed,” Shigeo said, softly. “It was so hard to get rid of the spirit–”

Reigen noticed he’d taken a few more steps back, probably the reason for Shigeo had stopped the sentence so abruptly. He should have been happy that they were showing concern for him, but there was something about their simple words and actions that was so kind that it was too much. It hurt.

Maybe Shigeo would start acting normally again, or act least act in a way that made sense, complaining about how difficult it was to get rid of the spirit and how it had been such a nuisance he wasn’t sure why he had even bothered. Maybe he’d demand extra payment and Reigen would have to skip food for a few days, but it would be okay, as long as he wasn’t alone.

Although, most of the time, Shigeo was simply aloof, seemingly apathetic to Reigen’s existence.

Instead of something that would have made sense, some reaction that Reigen could expect, Shigeo looked at Serizawa before taking a few cautious steps forward. He looked as though he were approaching a scared stray cat.

“Shishou?” He asked, gently.

Reigen felt like he’d been hit. He’d told Shigeo that it would be okay to call him “shishou” if he wanted, right when Shigeo had first started coming to him. But Shigeo had just looked at him.

“Why would I do that?” He’d asked, bluntly.

“Something’s wrong,” Serizawa stated, sounding farther away than he probably was.

Reigen realized that he’d doubled over, that he was having trouble breathing. It was just entirely too overwhelming. He felt like he was being smothered. People didn’t just change their behavior like that for no reason, but he had no idea what their motives could be. He couldn’t inhale, but he made horrible gasping noises in the attempt. He had fallen to his knees without noticing, dark spots enveloping his vision.

“Shishou!” Shigeo yelled.

There were footsteps – the two must have started running towards him. Why?

Reigen looked up, and they were there and they were so close, and he was already pressed against the wall. He desperately met Serizawa’s eyes once last time before letting his own slip shut.