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3 a.m.

Chapter Text

Although he didn’t shoulder the fate of the entire country, nor did he bear the responsibility of have to saving the world, he felt tired. The reason was simple – another “worst day ever” had happened in the life of Teruki Hanazawa. Today ranked second on the list of the worst days ever. First place wasn’t really important right now, and Teru didn’t want to think about it. The third worst day ever was related to a sad childhood event. And the fourth...? Fourth, fifth and later, and he didn't remember those, which meant they were of no consequence, he supposed.

But today, oh God, today will embed in the memory of not only Teruki, but also all of Japan. The abduction of the Prime Minister, the fierce battle with Claw, and even flying buildings. An explosion and a huge stalk of broccoli grown in the middle of Seasoning City – who could forget today? On top of all that, Teru was involved in all of this chaos, or at least he had watched the events closely, so he had extra awful points for his memories. Hurray.

Maybe he should start a blog where he described all his adventures? It wouldn’t be as interesting as Kageyama's experiences, but if Hanazawa tried, he could get a few fangirls (and fanboys). Maybe he could make some money out of it, or even...

Teru leaned his forehead against the wall, clenched his fists, and held his breath. He banged his head against the wall, lightly, only to drown out some stupid ideas, brought to life by fever and fatigue. What the hell? A blog, money, fangirls? No way. The most important thing now was regaining his strength and taking care of problems at hand. A blog, that's a good joke.

With a wandering, shaking hand he found his key lanyard under his t–shirt and took it off. Before reaching the lock, a few seconds passed in Teru’s perception, while a few long, long moments passed for anyone standing nearby and watching him. Teru was slowly losing contact with reality, and only by some miracle did he make it to his apartment. He should have stayed at Reigen’s place; he overestimated himself.

He didn’t remember whether he closed the door behind him or not. Closing doors was so instinctive that he sometimes didn’t even notice. Anyway, even if somebody came and robbed his house or tried to kill him, Teru would let them, because… well, whatever. If something got stolen, it’s just stuff that he can buy again. And if someone killed Teru, at least he won’t be so tired and sick any longer.

He stood beside the bed and looked at the duvet. Glass. He looked at the floor. Glass. He looked at the table. Glass. Glass. Glass. It was everywhere, just not where it should be – the frames of the windows were empty. Yesterday's ambush by the random Claw esper has left his apartment in ruins, with broken windows among them. Teru didn’t have time to take care of it – he had to chase his enemies first, and then only come back to change clothes and take some medicine. “I'll fix it when I get back home,” he said to himself. Good joke, just like the one about writing a blog.

He considered lying down on the glass for a moment, because – once again – whatever. But he didn't want tomorrow’s Teru to hate the present Teru; tomorrow’s Teru certainly wouldn't be so “whatever.”

Just thinking about getting rid of the shards on the bed was overwhelming. Teru would have to use his powers or pick up the duvet and shake them off. Difficult. Unnecessary. Maybe tomorrow’s Teru will be understanding, and he could forgive Teru for sleeping amongst the glass. It would be a good idea to leave him a note. “Sorry, dude, you were too dead to take care of that.”

Teru closed his eyes. His head felt heavy and full of cotton wool, and Teru couldn’t think logically or force himself to do anything. And he still had to take off his clothes and lie down. And it wouldn't hurt to take some more medicine and eat something. Medicine, right.

Loud pulsing in his brain was driving him crazy. Thud, thud, thud. With each pulse, the pain in his throat and lungs rose and rose, and Teru felt more and more heat flooding his face.

But taking medicine without eating anything? Bad idea.

Medicine, food, glass, clothes – for God’s sake, Teru had to take care of all of these. If mom were here, she would at least have made tea and dinner, and she would hug him and say that everything was all right and Teru didn't have to go to school tomorrow, and she already called for new windows and, and, and…

Teru hid his face in his hands. He gave up. Lazily and without bending over, he took off his shoes with his feet. He unzipped the tracksuit jacket and winced at the pain in his torso. Fighting with the nameless esper had left traces in the apartment, but the battle (well, you couldn't call it anything else) with the blind Nostradamus of our time completely ruined Teru's body, especially his bones. At least he didn't have to pay much for the hospital, thank you very much, so tomorrow or the day after tomorrow he will see someone to put him together. Teru could take serious hits during battles, but he didn’t even want to count how many times his barrier was broken during that fight. Tens, hundreds, maybe even a million times. He had never before experienced something like this. Even Kageyama (or the messed up creature inside him) didn’t do as much harm.

A cool gust swept Teruki's body. Hanazawa didn't open his eyes. It was just wind, a draft; there were no windows, so it was understandable.

Glass shards fell on his feet, small and sharp, but fortunately not pricking his skin. They just dropped from somewhere in the apartment, the wind probably swept them from the shelves; glass was everywhere now, maybe even in the containers of soup in the fridge.

Teru flinched when he felt something unpleasant; strange and difficult to describe. For a moment he couldn't associate the feeling with anything. He looked around the room to find its source, but he saw nothing but the darkness. The feeling faded away, but only for a short while. It appeared, disappeared. Once again it appeared and disappeared.

After an eternity that lasted for a minute – it clicked. The noise was a vibrating phone, tucked in his pants pocket. Teru tried to smile at his tiredness and stupidity, but he couldn't find any strength for that either.

Three missed calls from Reigen and four unread messages.

 

“Are you home yet?”

“Are you home???”

“At home??????///”

“RPLY!!!”

 

“Yeessssdd” – was the only thing Teru managed to write. If he could, he would've added “mom,” but he tapped “send” faster than he thought about calling Reigen “mom”. But one day he’ll do it, yes.

He dropped the phone on the mattress near the pillow and took off his jacket. It caught on his elbows. Almost there. He was almost undressed. C’mon, Teru, you can do it, you believe in yourself.

He snorted impatiently. He snorted? Teru didn't remember snorting. Boy, it was getting worse and worse. It happened literally a second ago. Did you or did you not snort? Or was it only your imagination?

Teru got lost searching for the truth of (not) snorting, so he didn’t even feel anyone grasp the sleeves of his jacket. He only felt a short, light tug on the material. The tracksuit fell softly around the boy's feet and Teru was finally free. And pants… pants… Fuck the pants.

Finally, he lifted the duvet and hurriedly slipped under it. He reached for the phone to make sure it was there. It disappeared! B-but he put it right there...! Uh, okay, never mind, it probably fell somewhere under the pillows. Teru would look for it tomorrow.

Disappearing glass that had previously been scattered on the bed also went unnoticed. Teru forgot about it. It didn't matter that much. The most important thing was that Teru was lying under the duvet, and the pillow was so wonderfully soft, and the mattress was so familiar, and school was probably closed the next day. It was good to be alive.

He fell asleep.

Chapter Text

 Teru slept for only three hours before a crushing pain in his chest woke him up. He turned from his side onto his back and breathed through his clenched teeth. Damn Kageyama, why did he have to... No, wait, it wasn’t Kageyama this time; it must have been someone else that hurt Teru in this recent fight. But half-asleep Teru couldn’t – nor did he want to – remember the events of the previous day.

 He tilted his head to the side and frowned, irritated by his bedroom's uncommon brightness for nighttime. He looked around; the TV was turned on and lighting up the entire room. Its sound was on minimum. There was a drama airing and a message bar at the bottom of the screen. Teru read the first few words, then closed his eyes. He didn’t remember turning on the TV yesterday, but nah, it was okay, let it be. At least the room wasn’t quiet. Teru hated silence.

 He’d love to drink some water, but he couldn’t move – it felt as if boulders were lying on his legs, heavy and impossible to move. His hands were already trapped under the pressure of a soft duvet, and there was no chance Teru could win against that. He'll definitely die of thirst at this rate.

 Teru swallowed. His throat burned with a pain that made him groan and swear silently. Now he really knew what it meant to live alone; there was no one who would give Teru medicine and a glass of water. If only he had the strength to kick off the duvet and get up...

 Maybe it would be better in the morning. He didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything right away, so he could sleep as long as he wanted. He had plenty of time to recover.

 He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep again. He only needed a few moments before sickness and fatigue overwhelmed him and pushed him into a daze. For a few seconds, he was drifting between dreaming and being awake, slowly losing contact with his surroundings, barely noticing the strange but familiar premonition of someone else’s presence. At first the foreign aura only stroked Teru's sixth sense. It got stronger after a few breaths, when the boy was finally sleeping.

 Teru heard neither the rustle of paper nor the crinkle of glass shards. He didn’t even move when a cold hand touched his forehead and cheek, although it took Teru out of the net of sleep for a few seconds. He wasn’t even sure whether someone had actually touched him – maybe it was just a drowsy hallucination. It didn’t matter anyway.

***

It was about eight in the morning when Teru woke up for real. The sun lit the room, irritating and hurting his eyes with its bright impudence. Normally in the evenings, Teru would close the curtains, but after the fight, they were reduced to shreds. He’ll have to buy new ones today. That was all he could do for now.

 Whatever he denied himself at night, it came back to Teru now – he had to get out the house and deal with a few things. The hospital wouldn’t visit him, and the windows wouldn’t buy themselves. And the very first thing he had to do was to clean up the apartment.

 He wanted to look around the room, but his eyes instead landed on the turned off TV. Next to it stood a glass of water and a paper shopping bag. Teru opened and closed his mouth mindlessly, and then narrowed his eyes. That was not how he left things last night. Something was wrong.

 He reached under the pillow where he usually kept his phone during the night. Sure enough, his hand found a familiar, cool phone case and its cable. He lifted the mobile above his head and traced the trail of the cord– it was plugged into the wall, just behind the bed. Weird. He didn't remember plugging his phone in. Either Teru was sleepwalking or perhaps Reigen had rushed over to make sure everything was okay. Teru couldn't come up with any another explanations, although both of these options seemed unlikely.

 Teru muttered unhappily and rubbed his forehead and nose. He felt less tired, but his cold had definitely become worse – he was hot, his head was still pulsing, and there was some cross between a tickle and an itch between his eyes. When he tried to get air, pressure weighed on his lungs, trying to break into a cough. At least Teru didn’t have a runny nose. Yet. Experience taught him that a little medicine and a few hours in bed should do the job, or at the very least, get Teru well enough that he could go out without fainting in the middle of the city.

 There was cold medicine in the kitchen, in the cupboard above the sink. But that was a long way away, and Teru didn't want to overdo his powers by using them to fetch such a small thing. And he needed to change clothes as well. So getting out of bed was necessary.

 Hanazawa sat up and froze, his blood running ice cold. At the other end of the bed, just beside his feet, sat Shimazaki; hunched, with his chin resting on his palm, looking slightly battered after yesterday's fight, but clean and seemingly well-rested. He turned his face towards Teru, while the boy only thought about calling for help.

 “Good…” Shimazaki said faintly, “Well, either morning or afternoon, I can’t tell.”

 "Morning," Teru said, trying to calm his pounding heart. He took several deep breaths, trying his best not to cough.

 "Just stay calm, stay calm!" his mind shouted over the annoyingly pulsing fear. He knew he was fucked. He barely had enough strength to stand, much less to fight with one of the most ruthless espers he had ever met. On top of it all, it was Shimazaki's fault Teru was feeling sick and sore all over his body. Apparently after what happened yesterday, Hanazawa was now waiting for death, or maybe something worse.

 "He would have made his move by now if he really wanted to harm you," said a soft, internal voice of reason. How long had Shimazaki been here, anyway? Teru couldn’t sense his presence or aura until now.

 “I was waiting the whole night for you to wake up,” Shimazaki leaned back on his hands against the mattress behind him, “and I wondered why you didn’t notice me before.”

 “The whole… Whole night... Oh, hell.”

 Teru looked around the room. The TV being turned on at night, the plugged-in phone, and the glass of water – those had all been Shimazaki's doing. But worst of all, Teru didn’t even notice the older esper. Was he so tired at night that he ignored Shimazaki? And then he just got used to his aura and presence? Was it even possible?! It was damn dangerous, that was for sure.

 “You let yourself in, so you can find a way out,” Teru snorted.

 “Ohh... are you kicking me out after everything I did for you? You have zero hospitality.”

 “And did anyone ask you for help? I don’t think so.”

 He knew he could only throw Shimazaki out of here by force. And in more favorable circumstances – if he had his health and after drinking at least one coffee – Teru could do this without a problem. After all, he figured out Shimazaki's fighting style and almost defeated him once already. But now, honestly, Teru needed help.

 “I couldn’t just stand aside and let you roll in the glass,” Shimazaki muttered, amused. He tilted his head and smiled slightly. “Unless you are a masochist.”

 "I’m not," the answer barely passed Teru's lips. Nervousness from this unexpected meeting with Shimazaki didn’t help his fever – Teru felt the heat in his face intensify, while more and more coughs tried to break through his lungs, and sweat flooded down his neck and back. Maybe if he sent out a distress message now, someone would come to help soon... wait! The others were probably dead tired after yesterday's events. Damn it! Getting everyone up and bringing their asses to Teru's apartment would take an hour, if not longer.

 But Teru needed them. There was a damn Claw esper sitting on his bed, and Teru couldn’t throw him out by himself. Ha, in the state he was in, he probably wouldn’t even manage to touch Shimazaki. There was no chance.

 Teru grabbed his phone and chose the numbers of Reigen, Ritsu, and, after a second of thought, the older Kageyama. He was tapping the first words when Shimazaki suddenly appeared beside him. The esper's hand snaked out to grab at Teru's throat.

 “N–no...!” Teru cried weakly. Shimazaki's other hand caught his palm holding the mobile and pushed Teru back against the soft cushions. Hanazawa gasped nervously and clenched his teeth as the man hovered over him.

 For a long moment, neither of them moved; they both waited to see what the other would to do.

 The fingers of the former Claw esper burned Teruki's skin and fueled his panic, speeding up his heartbeat. The grip was not strong, but the touch itself suggested that Teru would have to fight for air if he merely said a wrong word or made any suspicious move. What's worse, Shimazaki's face remained emotionless; he certainly knew that the boy had no chance to win.

 “I do not want to fight,” Shimazaki said suddenly. “I have a little proposal for you instead.”

 Teru frowned. He must be joking!

 “No.” He answered immediately.

 "If you won't agree ..." Shimazaki's grip tightened around Teru's throat. After a moment, he loosened his hold and started stroking the skin under his thumb. “I won’t hurt you in any way, my dear... What was your name again...? Teru?”

 Teru gritted his teeth again. Know your enemy, right?

 “Hanazawa. Teruki Hanazawa.”

 “Oh. So, my dear, little Teru, I will feed and take care of you, and you’ll appreciate it like a good kid, and in return you’ll let me stay here until things in the city calm down. Both of us gain something. You can tell that’s a pretty cool proposal, hmm?” The grip on his throat had trailed upwards, where now Shimazaki was gently stroking Teru's cheek. His other hand covered the phone that was still in Hanazawa's hands. His fingers slowly closed around Teru's hand to try and take that unnecessary object away.

 "Cool," Teru echoed, unimpressed. “Perfect. I just hope I don’t get Stockholm syndrome.”

 First, he would have to lull Shimazaki into lowering his guard while Teru thought up a plan. The, at the right time, he could call the other espers... Unless he recovered quickly enough to throw Shimazaki off the balcony himself.

 “Stockholm Syndrome? I wouldn’t mind.” Shimazaki smirked. He took the phone from Teru and laid it on the floor under the bed. As he bent over, the boy felt a familiar, sweet smell.

 Fear gave in to a moment of confusion. Shimazaki used his shampoo. This circus started even before Teru woke up.

 For a moment, Teru simply stared at the face of the older esper. He shuddered when Shimazaki covered him with a duvet.

 “I'm glad you agree,” Teru heard before warmth flooded through his body once again and tried to push him to sleep. “I’ll try not to break you even more.”

 Teru didn’t want to fall asleep, and he fought stubbornly for a few good minutes. The last thing he noted was the lack of weight on the bed as Shimazaki stood, and the pounding pressure lifting from his head. A warm, wet towel instead was laid gently over the boy's forehead, but Teruki was no longer awake to appreciate it.

 He fell asleep, not for the first time and not the last time that day.

 

Chapter Text

“Sick kids should stay in bed, not wander around the apartment.”

“What do you know about taking care of a sick kid, huh?" Teru scowled at Shimazaki. "More than that, you're blind, you won’t do anything right!”

“I'm blind and I beat your ass two... no! Three times, and now you’re telling me that I can’t handle taking care of you? Stop joking.”

“Okay, fine. Go on.”

Teru leaned his hip against the cupboards and wrapped the duvet tighter around his shoulders. He had come to the kitchen barefoot, because his slippers were lying God knew where, and there was no chance he would be able to find them. He had to watch over Shimazaki, see what he was doing. What if Shimazaki tried to poison or kill him? No one said that the Claw’s esper had any good intentions. Even if it had been their deal – I’ll take care of your sick ass, if you let me live here until things get better – Shimazaki could still try to get rid of Teru in at any moment. After all, he was a terrorist, and terrorists have no honor, right?

“Where do you keep the medicine?” Shimazaki asked.

In response, Teru tapped the cabinet hanging just beside Shimazaki's head. He opened the door, pulled out the box with medicines, and with a loud thud placed it on the counter.

“You are very helpful, Teru. And now, if you excuse me.” Shimazaki started taking out boxes and pill bottles. He searched for letters on each of the packages, reading with his fingers. He set some to the left, others to the right side. The latter, as Teruki noticed, were for a cold. Okay, he could distinguish types of medicine, that was a point for Shimazaki.

“See?” Shimazaki asked. “Now go back to bed.”

“Why do you even care? It’s in your own interest if I don’t feel better so fast.”

"I don’t want to catch this shitty cold of yours."

Shimazaki moved past Teru, his hand searching for cabinet handles. He walked across the kitchen, from the door of the fridge and back, with his free hand holding the edges of the countertops.

“Where do you keep tea? And mugs? Kettle? Everything?”

A few minutes later, Shimazaki was familiar with the whole kitchen. He had to count cabinets and steps two, three times. The room wasn’t even spacious, and Teruki wondered why Shimazaki needed so much time to learn everything. He laughed at this in thoughts; but aloud – he didn’t dare.

“And now you can go back to bed.”

“You just like having an advantage over someone," Teru snapped. "It doesn’t matter whether it's about their health or in a fight.”

"I will always have the advantage over you. Get lost.”

Teruki moved back a few steps, but stopped at the door. He turned to Shimazaki as quietly as he could, just to watch as the man pour water into the kettle and rummage through tea boxes. The Claw’s esper looked tired and irritated and his movements were sharp, sometimes unnecessary, and even once he stumbled over his own feet. At one point Shimazaki leaned his forearms against the top of the table and hung his head helplessly, as if the greatest horror of the world had happened to him. Hmh, poor dude.

Shimazaki stood there for several long seconds. Suddenly he straightened up and moved towards Teruki. The boy jerked to attention and started to step back again.

"Okay, okay," said Teru, trying to calm Shimazaki down. But the Claw’s esper was still walking in his direction, until they both passed through doorway of the room. He stopped only when Teru stood by the bed, took the duvet off shoulders, before turning on his heel and going back to the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.

Okay. It wasn't really "okay", because it was Teruki's apartment, not Shimazaki’s, damn it. But everything might end up worse – Shimazaki could have grabbed Teru by his neck and sent him flying through the room, straight into the bed. Luckily, this time Shimazaki only used a delicate suggestion. Thank you very much for your kindness, Mr. Terrorist.

Teruki sat on the bed and pulled his knees to his chest. He looked at the windows and sighed at sight of foil, temporarily replacing the glass. It was going to be a hard day, but Teru would get through it somehow and go to school tomorrow and maybe try to get rid of Shimazaki. He should find Kageyama and ask him for help... No, wait, Teru could not ask Kageyama for help. He would handle Shimazaki fine on his own. The man was tired and apparently shattered mentally, most likely after the unsuccessful world domination attempt. After a speedy recovery Teru would get rid of Shimazaki once and for all.

At least, that’s what he hoped.

The kettle began whistling just as Teruki laid down. He heard the noise calm, muffled by many layers of blankets. Fine, maybe Shimazaki could make a tea, but how about dinner? He was blind after all, and surely a blind terrorist couldn't cook, who would teach them that? Probably Claw had a few cooks employed, who traveled around the world alongside of them, so the espers didn’t have to worry about dinners. They might’ve been commoners, Teru wondered, watching Shimazaki entering the room. Did Claw treat them like they treated other people? Looking down on them and saying they were all inferior, and meanwhile feeling too important to cook their own meals?

“What's for dinner?” Teru asked, looking at Shimazaki's hands, reading the boxes and bottles and taking out pills.

“We’ll get a take–out.”

“So you can’t cook.”

"Do you trust me enough to let me cook for you? That's so sweet.”

Of course he didn’t trust Shimazaki! Not at all! He just wanted to tease him a little, for Gods’ sake. Ugh.

Teru pulled the duvet over his head, ignoring the man standing next to him with a cup of tea and a handful of pills. Neither of them moved for a while until Shimazaki crouched by the bed and set the mug on the ground. Teru peeked out from under the blanket.

"Do you have anything to eat so you don’t have to take this on an empty stomach?" Shimazaki asked.

Hanazawa had no appetite nor was he hungry. His thoughts wandered to the cupboards full of sweets. He tried to recall where he hid the strawberry flavoured Kit–Kats.

"Yeah, there’re chocolate bars in the fifth one from entrance," he said after a moment.

“Are they in the cupboard, or a drawer...?”

“Yup.”

Shimazaki waited a few seconds for more hints. When nothing came, he rubbed the temples of his forehead, and with long sigh extended a hand holding the medicine to Teruki. The boy clenched his fists, grit his teeth, but after a short battle with his own thoughts, finally raised his hand. He jumped when Shimazaki grabbed his wrist and covered his hand with his own, trying to hand over the medicine without dropping them. The older esper stood up and went to the kitchen; Teru heard the sound of drawers being opened.

"It’s just one day, one damn day," Teru repeated to himself.

He looked at the medicine Shimazaki gave him. He knew them, they were to help his immune system, or to fight a cough or fever, all in the right amount. It was almost a professional care... although pills weren't all that Teru needed. Yeah, it was true that Shimazaki showed Teru some mercy and bandaged his chest and sore ribs, but that was all. He hadn't let Teru to go to the hospital. Meanwhile, bending and making sudden movements was painful, so Teru couldn’t catch a deep breath, not to mention he was coughing. But this… wouldn't kill him, right? And wouldn’t hurt forever?

He raised his head as Shimazaki extended a pink Kit–Kat under his nose.

“I took one for myself.” Shimazaki grinned.

Teru wasn’t surprised at all. He shrugged, started to unwrapping the bar, and moved slightly away as Shimazaki sat on the bed. They didn’t say a word for awhile.

Shimazaki’s silence was a bit of a shock to Teru, because the Claw’s esper seemed to be a man who never shut up and kept talking and talking and talking. Not that Teru complained; he didn’t want to have a conversation with the terrorist anyway.

He noticed more scars and bruises on the other man, ones that had been hidden under Shimazaki's jacket before. Shimazaki stank of sweat and dirt, and no wonder; he found the boy's apartment just after the battle and didn’t seem to have any clean clothes.

“Take the medicine and go to sleep. And stop staring at me.”

“And what are you going to do?”

"Hmm." Shimazaki pretended to give this some thought. “Maybe I’ll burn your apartment down, sell all your stuff, kill your friends... I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.”

Teru bit his tongue. He swallowed the medicine and drank the tea, then looked around, searching for his phone. He hadn't seen it or his laptop in a while; Shimazaki must have hidden them somewhere to cut off the boy from his family and friends. With a little luck, someone would get worried and come to see why Hanazawa hadn't spoken to anyone lately... If anyone had even tried to contact him. Maybe mom, but she was probably the only person who would think to look for him at all.

That thought hurt Teru. Many times before he wished he could have established a closer relationship with his friends, and now that loneliness stung even more. Especially now when he was in danger. Help would be nice... no, Teruki could handle this. Nothing bad would happen to him.

He buried himself in the blankets. He turned away from Shimazaki, facing the wall. It wasn't like he was sleepy; he wasn’t tired at all, to be honest, but he needed to get some sleep to recover faster.

Teru held his breath as he felt the mattress bend under Shimazaki's weight. The bed frame creaked. Shimazaki had laid down near Teru, the boy was certain. Teru moved closer to the wall and shuddered.

One day. One damn day.

***

"I'll pay, but you're opening the door," was probably the strangest request... no, the strangest command Teru had ever heard. Of course, Shimazaki was a wanted criminal, so he couldn’t be seen picking up a delivery order from a random employee who happened to deliver food to a random apartment.

Without hesitating, Shimazaki pulled out a few banknotes from his wallet and gave them to Teru to pay for the food. Hanazawa noticed an ATM and credit cards inside as well.

"The bank will definitely block his accounts," he thought with satisfaction. He grinned broadly, then started coughing, dropping his chopsticks.

"You have cough drops," he heard Shimazaki say. He shook his head. They hadn't worked.

The cough was getting worse. It seemed as if all his guts wanted to jump out; they prickled, ached, and didn’t let him breathe. Teru was beginning to doubt he would go to school the next day.

“There, there.”

He felt Shimazaki's hand on his back, but he didn’t even have the strength to react. The coughing fit strained him and took away any willingness to do anything, especially to finish his dinner. He closed the take–out box and pushed it away, as far as he could reach and rest his forehead against the table. Shivers went through Teru’s body, making him shudder.

“I'll buy some antibiotics,” he heard the other esper say.

“No one will give them to you,” Teru muttered, getting no answer in return. The tension in the air briefly raised and disappeared in the blink of an eye. Teru blinked and lifted his head. Shimazaki was gone.

He stood abruptly; the chair clattering loudly to the floor. Teru looked around the room, searching for his mobile and laptop. He ran to the wardrobe, looked through the shelves and pulled away the hangers. Nope. He checked the corners, dived under the bed, looked into the balcony. Nope, nope, nope. There was nothing in the kitchen as well. Discouraged, he returned to his room and sat down on the bed, hiding his face in his hands. Shimazaki probably took his stuff out of the apartment, maybe just threw them on the roof. It would be stupid if Shimazaki had them somewhere where Teru could easily find them. BUT...!

Hanazawa jumped to his feet.

His neighbors could help him!

He was heading for the door when the atmosphere filled with Shimazaki's aura again. Teru stopped abruptly and turned on his heels to face Shimazaki, half a foot in front of him. The Claw’s esper pushed three small boxes into Teru's hands.

“It took a while, the pharmacist was pretty stubborn," Shimazaki said. "This medicine should be more helpful. And you have to sleep... And actually sleep, don't just lie there and stare at the wall, damn it.”

He grabbed Teruki by the back of his neck and pushed him towards the bed. Hanazawa growled and gasped, letting Shimazaki know he didn’t like the whole situation. Moreover, he didn’t want to sleep. How much could he sleep anyway, with a terrorist in his house?

Teru practically tore apart the boxes to get the medicine out. He skimmed through the directions.

"Twice a day, in twelve–hour intervals," he said after a moment, then glanced at the clock. It was three o'clock. "There's no way I could get up in the middle of the night and... Ugh. Okay, nevermind.”

Yeah, he could talk as much as he wanted, but he needed to feel better before Shimazaki recovered from their fight. Who knew how long the Claw’s esper was going to stay and when all of this shit would calm down. A week or two? A month? No, no, Teru wouldn't let him stay here for that long, no way. He would go insane. Ha, even NOW he felt like a madman, letting Shimazaki stay at all.

Finally Teru took the medicine and laid down as gently as he could. He levitated a book to himself. He wouldn't fall asleep, so he would at least read, learn or whatever. It may make the time fly faster.

***

But, of course, he fell asleep, and he didn’t even know when. He woke up a few hours later, wrapped tightly in the blanket, sweaty and confused. His pulse rumbled in his head and behind his eyes, and his throat was squeezed with pain and dryness. The room was dark, except for the dim light coming from Shimazaki's phone. The esper was sitting by the bed, with a mobile near his ear, and in his other hand he held a bottle of something that smelled like beer. He spoke to someone in a whisper.

“I won’t go back to the apartment yet, no way. Maybe I'll check it for a moment and take a few things, but in maybe... Ugh, I don’t even know, in two weeks, three? You need something?”

Teru frowned. Two weeks, three? And just "check it for a moment?" He must be joking. Hanazawa would give him one more day to get out; and if not, he would grab Shimazaki and throw him off the balcony.

“What time is it?” Shimazaki murmured. Teru glanced involuntarily in the direction of the clock, but didn’t see anything in the almost complete darkness. “Two o’clock? Time just can’t go any slower.”

Eleven hours. So many hours Teru slept, completely unmoved by nothing or nobody. At least one day had passed... and it wasn't as if Teru felt any better. There was no chance Teru could go to school tomorrow; he didn't even have the strength to cross the street. But the day after tomorrow? He’d have to. Even if he had to spit his lungs out, break his ribs– he'd get out, away from this asshole.

Teru twitched as Shimazaki turned and reached for him. Teru closed his eyes, tensed, waited for whatever the man wanted to do. Shimazaki could just check if Teru was hot, or wake him up, maybe something else. Teru would never understand this guy – in the morning Shimazaki would kick your ass like no one before, and then lull you to sleep the evening; an unpredictable man.

A few heartbeats later, nothing happened, there was no touch or sound. Teru peeked one eye open; Shimazaki's hand had stopped just above Teru’s forehead.

“How long have you been awake?”

Teru bit his lip but didn’t answer.

“I wasn’t talking to you. I'll call you back.”

Shimazaki hung up and put the phone somewhere on the ground.

“Stop pretending you’re still asleep,” he sighed.

“I just woke up.”

“Sure you did.”

He moved, turning to sit facing Teruki, and leaned his elbows on the mattress. Whatever Shimazaki had intended to do earlier – he gave up.

And he stank of beer. Not like a drunkard, only like he drank one or two bottles, but Teru hated it anyway. Hanazawa moved away from Shimazaki and covered his nose with the duvet.

“Who were you talking to?” he asked, although he didn’t expect an honest answer. And he was right, because Shimazaki only raised an eyebrow. "I'll have to call someone too... or at least check if someone is looking for me."

“'If?' So you aren't even sure?”

Touché.

“I need to call my parents at least," Teru said. "If they saw what you all did to the city…”

“I’ll think about it.”

Teru snorted. He turned to face the wall and moved closer to it.

“Just don’t fall asleep. You have to take the meds soon.”

Of course, yeah, meds, sure. Teruki covered his head with the duvet. He could be stubborn and refuse to take medicine until Shimazaki let him call his parents, but – firstly – it wouldn't do any good. Secondly, the older esper would probably get mad and eventually shove the pills down Teru’s throat.

Oh GOD, why did Shimazaki care so much about this? Why was he so crazy about Teru’s health? Shimazaki could do something else anyway – get rid of someone he didn’t need (probably Teruki) and stay in their apartment for as long as he wanted. And why did it have been Hanazawa? How did Shimazaki know that he lived alone...?

Various scenarios and answers went through Teru's head. One of them included accusing Shimazaki's of stalking, another suggested that Claw probably kept information about Teru. Either way, Shimazaki had to be somehow interested in Hanazawa. Great.

"Let me check," Shimazaki muttered, pulling back the duvet. Teru clenched his fingers around the sheets to keep it close, but the man uncovered Teru's face anyway. Shimazaki placed a hand on Teru’s forehead.

"At least your fever is better than yesterday," he commented. “See how I care about you? Professional care in every way.”

Teru didn’t comment. He wanted to smash his head against the wall.

***

Nineteen missed calls and thirty–four unread messages. Teruki checked every single one, and a heavy hand of fear clutched his throat and heart harder and harder. The calls were mostly from his parents trying to contact him; the last message said they were on their way to the airport. Sent three hours ago.

That’s what Teru was worried about the most – that his family would panic and decide to get on a plane to fly from the other end of world. He wasn’t surprised, but preferred to avoid similar situations; he didn’t want to expose his parents to danger.

He dialed the number hoping someone would answer. One ring, a second, a third.

“Teruki!” yelled his dad on the other side of call. Teru twitched, scared. Lying nearby, Shimzaki chuckled.

“Why weren’t you picking up your phone?! Do you even know how much we were worried?!”

Teru was ready to sing a serenade of apologies and assurances that everything was ok. He had also thought up a logical explanation for the current situation and his disappearance. Unfortunately, he had to listen to reprimands and threats first.

"What a nice man," whispered Shimazaki. “I wanna meet him.”

"Teru, honey," Mrs. Hanazawa took her husband's phone. She didn’t scream; Teru had the chance to hear the noises in the background – crowd murmurs, the clatter of wheels and some other things he didn’t want to think about right now.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“We are going to the airport. What happened? On TV they said that…”

Another minute of explaining what Teru knew perfectly well. Abducting of the prime minister, destruction of the city, broccoli. Thank you very much for reminding him. Now let's get back to the important topic.

“Are you all right, Teru?”

Thank you.

No, he wasn’t all right. He had a foil instead of windows, and beside him there was a damn terrorist who didn’t allow Teru to go to the hospital. To make things worse, the boy coughed, sneezed, sometimes twisted in pain and had no appetite, and the icing on the cake was his ambition of going to school the very next day. He wanted to say it all, complain and cry to his mother like he used to. But when he opened his mouth, he felt a gentle touch on his chest. Shimazaki's fingers slid across his ribs, making a path around the broken bones.

Teru swallowed and squeezed the phone harder. He could barely restrain himself from cursing or punching the older esper.

"Well, yeah, I’m fine," he said with fake confidence. “I'm just tired. Yeaaah, everything you said happened, yes. But I stayed away from it and just helped people later. Aaaand I lost my phone and I just found it. You don’t have to come, seriously. Everything is all right.”

He added a series of apologies and thanks for their concern. He had to make sure his parents wouldn't come. Sometimes his voice broke when Shimazaki's fingers wandered around the most aching places of his body. When asked what was wrong, he blamed fatigue and sore throat... There was no other good answer for that.

Shimazaki took his hand the exact moment as Teru finished the call.

"You are such a obedient boy," he said, reaching for the phone. “I really hope they won’t visit you.”

He disappeared, probably to hide the mobile God knows where.

The hours were passing incredibly slowly.

 

Chapter Text

Teruki spent the rest of the day thinking about tomorrow. He had to go to school. He could die on the way, but he would go. Didn't Shimazaki realize that Teru had some things he had to do (mostly because he didn’t want to stay with Shimazaki)? Would he let Teru go or start a fight? The boy was determined to defend himself, even if the brawl would be short and merciless. He was sure he wouldn’t win anyway.

Teru could just walk out in the morning, not looking back, without explaining, but merely shuffling to his bag and leaving his flat behind. Catch Shimazaki unaware... and wait for a very sharp reaction (damn, there was no perfect solution!)

So Teru would have to gently inform Shimazaki about his plans. But in a way where Teru wouldn’t end up tied to a chair or, even worse, to the bed.

Starting with "You know, I thought to myself" was too nonchalant, as if Shimazaki was a colleague. "Listen to me" in turn, was just asking for a fight. Saying "I have school tomorrow" could receive an answer like "Just like you did today – so what?” Nothing was good enough. The easiest way to break the news would be to simply say, "I’m going to school tomorrow." Maybe with a little luck, Shimazaki would think it was a joke and brush it off. Hm, maybe that was the perfect situation, because if Teru gave a warning, Shimazaki couldn't complain later.

Well, that was what Teru would say. Next was the more difficult part – gathering enough courage to say it. Which was theoretically easy, because Teru would just need to open his mouth and let the words flow. Teru never had a problem talking – he talked to whoever he wanted and rarely met with any unpleasant consequences. But with Shimazaki it was worse, and Teru didn’t know why. He tried to tell himself it wasn’t fear, but he couldn’t think of any other reason. The words stuck in his throat, and his stubborn mouth refused to open. The only thoughts that crossed his mind were "Now!" and "In a minute" alternately. But he had been thinking "now" and "in a minute" for three hours already. And throughout this, Teruki sat on the bed with a book in his lap and stared at the blanket, zoned out, ignoring anything Shimazaki was doing.

He flinched when the older esper shoved a bowl filled with steaming soup into his hands.

“It's amazing how long you can just sit and do nothing," muttered Shimazaki, turning on his heel and heading for the table. “You meditate or what?”

“N-no.”

On the one hand, Teruki was grateful for the break in the silence, and angry on the other, because he was about to tell Shimazaki about going to school...! He would tell him after dinner. Otherwise he’d never say a word.

He drank some of the soup's broth and grimaced at its too salty taste. He wanted to comment on it, but he bit his tongue. If he started talking about the soup now, he would never touch on the subject of school – Teru would be stressed over things he shouldn’t, and it would take up unnecessary thoughts and time.

Delaying it wasn’t a good solution either. Most likely if he waited to tell Shimazaki at the end of dinner, he might find another reason to not to say it. Now was the best moment for it – just after Shimazaki broke the silence. Come on, Teru.

“Hey.”

So far so good. Teru had his attention, and there was no chance that either of them would withdraw from this conversation.

Teru took a deep, calming breath and thought about how much he wanted all of this to end.

“I’m going to school tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

Okay. The young, battered Teruki Hanazawa had been fighting with himself for the last three hours over all this.

"Okay" – and that was it. There must have been a catch, and Teruki tried to spot it in Shimazaki's attitude and voice. But he couldn’t find anything. Shimazaki sat unmoved, his back to the boy, arms folded behind his neck. What a good actor.

“Alone,” Teru added after a moment of hesitation.

“Ah,” Shimazaki sat up straighter and turned to him. He smiled sympathetically. “That could be a problem. You see, my dear Teru... I'm not entirely convinced about the condition of your health.”

Teru raised an eyebrow, gritted his teeth. Wonderful. Just... wonderful.

Shimazaki continued, “You haven’t recovered yet and you already want to go back to school? What if you faint on the way?”

"You don’t care about my health," Teru snapped. "You're afraid that I'll tell someone about you.”

"Naaah." Shimazaki tilted his head. "If I was worried about you doing that, you know I'd just kill you.”

Yeah, Teruki knew that. But there were hundreds of ways Teru could still contact other espers. He could send an email, borrow a phone, tell someone to deliver the letter... Just to get someone to help and not have to deal with this situation alone. Otherwise there was another, more problematic solution that Teru knew of and wanted to use from the beginning – he could wait until he fully recovered and get rid of Shimazaki himself. And no matter how long it could take – days, weeks – it didn't matter. The satisfaction would be greater if he defeated Shimazaki himself. He would wait and lull Shimazaki into a false sense of security and kick him out, as far away as he could. Wonderful! All he had to do was to survive. Easy, haha... ha...

But would that satisfaction compensate for all of this? It would be a long time, filled with sitting with Shimazaki in a poisonous silence, slowly provoking paranoia. "If he sits there and does nothing, he’ll get bored, he’ll go mad!" – over the last two days Teru had such thoughts, because Shimazaki was SITTING and doing NOTHING this whole goddamn time. It was probably him who was meditating, and not Hanazawa.

He had to survive. If his strength hadn't returned in the meantime and things started looking really bad, then Teru would ask Kageyama or someone else for help. But only as a last resort, because Shimazaki was Teruki's problem; no one else's.

"I'll go to the hospital after school," Teru added. "I have to see if everything is okay with my ribs... Uh, your help with them hasn't been great.”

“I wasn’t even trying, to be honest." He shrugged. “I'll teleport you where you need to go, so you… won’t get lost on the way.”

Teruki sighed in resignation, almost spilling his soup.

But he did it. He would be able to leave the house. Hallelujah. Thanks to anyone in the heavens who watched over him.

***

It was raining and was the first sign Teruki's day wouldn't be as good as he hoped. First of all, the downpour was used as another pretext for Shimazaki to help him get to school.

“Do you like getting wet?" Shimazaki asked. "Okay, normally you can do whatever you like, but now you're sick, so I can’t let you get worse.”

He wrapped an arm around Teru’s waist before he could react. Shimazki’s power tugged, took his breath away, and stirred inside Teru's head. A second later, the two espers stood in a side street near his school.

Teru staggered; the world flickered in front of his eyes, and his ears rang. Teru leaned against the wall and wrapped his arms tightly around himself. Being teleported during the fighting was troublesome, and now it felt even worse. He didn’t know why this time it felt so different.

"You're getting wet," Shimazaki murmured. He nudged Teruki with his foot. “Get up, there's no need to wait.”

Huh, easy for him to say. Teru’s stomach rolled; at any moment his breakfast could end up on the ground. If that was how teleportation worked, Teru preferred to go all the way on foot, even if he would get wet.

Teru stood and moved slowly along the wall. Thick drops of rain ran down back of his neck; they chilled Teru more than the cold wind had as it blew through his windowless flat.

For a split second, the air tensed. Teru's heart and mind were squeezed with an unpleasant feeling, something between fear and panic. Everything was over before the boy realized it was Shimazaki's aura – it always reached its the highest intensity just before he teleported.

So Teru was alone. He could finally enjoy freedom and peace.

***

Or Teru would have if he could have focused on anything all day. His head was heavy, and his body burned with pain. He didn’t say a word in his classes, he ignored his friends and classmates. A few teachers wanted to send him to a nurse, but he refused. He said he felt "fine." He'd just recently had a few bad days... Like everyone else in the town lately.

The school lessons passed Teruki lazily, far beyond his normal perception. He could see and hear through the fog, but he didn’t understand most of the words that were spoken to him. He just sat at his desk and didn’t engage in anything. And at least nothing that required any effort – he had been perfect all year; he was allowed to zone out this one day, only once.

He indifferently noted every passing hour. He stopped caring about being away from Shimazaki and only dreamed about going home and sleeping, sleeping, sleeping... He should have stayed home. And he would tomorrow. And even the day after tomorrow. Maybe even forever if he had to.

"That was probably a bad idea, huh?”

Under normal circumstances and in good health Teruki would probably have been frightened by the sudden voice. Now he barely heard Shimazaki, didn’t even sense his aura like he normally would. Teru glanced over his shoulder; Shimazaki looked blurry, leaning against the school corridor.

“Why?” Teru asked.

"Because you're just standing here without moving... and you didn’t even notice me. And you look awful.”

“I do?” Teru tilted his head. “Everyone has been telling me that today.”

Silence. Shimazaki raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. The rain was the only sound that was surrounded them. The noise from the school was long gone already; no one was wandering around corridor or in the courtyard. Empty, cold, and moreover, it was already dusk.

Something in Teru's brain clicked.

"Wait," he said. “How do you know what I look like?”

“I checked your reaction time. And I told you to better stay home.”

“Shut up.”

They stood motionless for a long moment. Teru didn’t think that he should probably approach Shimazaki to get out of there. He couldn’t think of anything at all. All he knew was that he had to go to the hospital for an x-ray. The visit to the hospital had already been arranged, and with a little luck he wouldn’t wait too long in the line.

Teru heard the click of someone’s heels approaching them, echoing down the corridor.

"Well okay," Shimazaki murmured. “You done with the meaningless standing? We're getting outta here.”

He walked quickly to Teruki, and again put an arm around his waist, firmly, without hesitation. The boy clung to him and clenched his teeth, ready for the nasty discomfort that teleportation caused.

They disappeared before they were noticed by the teacher.

***

"No strenous activities, take painkillers if anything hurts, apply a cold compress" – these were things said by the doctor after he x-rayed Teru's ribs. His broken bones hadn't damaged any organs, thank God, but Teruki was scolded for coming to the hospital so late. The doctor also yelled something about Teru’s parents, using words that he probably shouldn’t – too sharp and direct. But... what was Teru was supposed to say? He stared blankly at the doctor and pretended to be repentant, and the doctor’s words fluttered through his head, leaving no trace behind.

“Visit me in two weeks to see how you're healing. And come with your parents this time.”

Of course, with parents. Or maybe a fake older brother who accidentally was also a terrorist? He would avoid trouble by skipping the next appointment entirely.

He thanked the doctor and headed for the exit. His legs were getting heavier and he was barely able to walk, his eyes almost closed, his head still pounding. But okay, no worries; soon he would be home and in bed. He couldn’t wait.

At least it had stopped raining, although it was still cold, and the wind was chilly through Teru's clothes. According to Teruki's plan, he hadn't expected to stay outside long – only between teleports and getting inside buildings – so he hadn't dug in the closet to find warmer clothes. He regretted that now.

He hid in the street where he was supposed to meet Shimazaki. The man was not there yet. Okay, Teru would wait. He would definitely going to get colder, get even sicker, but he would wait politely. It was too far to the train station, and if he took the bus, he would have to change stops somewhere… he didn’t even know where the nearest bus stop was anyway.

Teru leaned against the wall and crouched down. He put his face in his hands. Hurry up, man; Hanazawa was hungry and tired and had to get home as soon as possible.

It started raining again.

***

Teru stopped thinking about the passing time. He didn’t know when exactly he left the doctor’s office – maybe half an hour, or maybe an hour ago? But at 7'oclock when Shimzaki still hadn't shown, Teruki decided to go home by himself. He stood up and headed to a taxi stand. He didn’t notice people who watched him as he passed, didn’t hear any street noise. The only thing that existed for him was the sight of the pavement and the recurring thoughts of "taxi, house, bed, sleep." He felt stupid for waiting for Shimazaki. How could he rely on the Claw esper at all? Sucker.

It's not that he felt betrayed. Hah, no, it was a different feeling – more like being cheated after trusting someone waaay too much. Sweet. He'd played right into a fucking terrorist's game.

But why had Shimazaki dealt with him for the last two days just to leave him now?

He tried not to fall asleep in the taxi. He forced himself to not to close his eyes. He stared at the scenery that passed by – the city was slowly calming down and heading for a well deserved rest. With each passing street, there were less and less people, the lights in stores went out, and car parks filled with cars.

Soon he would rest well too, finally. He already recognized his neighborhood. One or two more minutes, and he would be able to lay down in his bed.

He seemed to have lost consciousness for a moment. The last sight he remembered – the smiling face of the driver when he got the money – was now replaced with a view of his apartment door. What happened in between was unknown. But more importantly, Teru was finally home. He wasn't even inside before he pulled off his school uniform blazer. He crossed the threshold as he loosened his tie, and turned on the light. Something was wrong. He didn’t know exactly what, but there was something wrong in the silence that so often filled this apartment. There was a strange tension in the air, a heavy, unidentified source, similar to that sort that stretched between two people after an argument.

Shimazaki was nowhere in sight. Earlier, Teru had assumed that the man had just ignored him and stayed home... But now he was gone. And with any luck, he would never come back.

Again, Teru lost a sense of time and didn’t know how long he stared ahead. His eyes eventually landed on the balcony windows. Windows. Windows... The windows, Jesus Christ!

He ran to the windows, stumbling across the carpet and his feet. He reached for the frame and started checking them from top to bottom. They were covered in glass; new and undamaged! But how? Did Shimazaki kidnap someone? Or he somehow stole a window from the factory? The mortar at the jams hadn’t dried, so it must have been finished recently.

Anyway, it would be interesting to see whether the workers were still alive or not.

Teru shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a dark shape on the table. He turned on his heel and froze. It was his laptop, and next to that, Teru's phone.

“What...?” It was the only thing Teru could say. Shimazaki had left. Had he been scared that the young esper would turn him in? Or did he get bored? Found a better place to hide?

No, it didn't matter. Shimazaki was gone and that was the most important thing. If he had been feeling a little better and more confident, Teru might have thrown a party to celebrate that fact. It should have to cheered him up that he was alone, but the tension hanging in the air still hadn't left. Teru tried to ignore it; it was probably only a strange hunch, something based on his irrational fears. He would feel better with some rest.

He grabbed his blazer off the ground and walked to the closet, thinking about dinner. He had to eat something before sleep; he didn’t like to go to bed hungry. In the fridge there would be some food leftover from yesterday or he’d just order delivery again. He didn't really have the strength to prepare anything.

He opened the closet door swiftly. He froze. Some of the shelves that had been empty until today were occupied now by dark t-shirts and several pairs of trousers. Jackets hung on previously empty hangers.

Shimazaki hadn't left. He had moved in for good.

Teru stared at the inside of the closet for what seemed like hours, completely turned off from the reality.

Chapter Text

Tick-tock-tick-tock…

Teru opened his eyes, his heart pounding. He gasped and bit his lip. A cloudy nightmare had torn him out of sleep and pushed him into reality’s arms at exactly three o'clock in the morning. It wasn't the first or the last time, and Teru had long since stopped wondering about what had woken him up. Everything started two weeks ago, when he took the second dose of the antibiotics. He hadn't been taking the medicine longer than a few days, but he was still waking up in the middle of the night; all of sudden and without anyone or anything’s help.

And every time Teru woke up, his heart was pounding, practically jumping out his ribs, like it was scared of something it saw in Teru’s nightmare. Teru never remembered his dreams, he didn't want to, which was why he didn’t know what his heart was so scared of. He quickly tried to calm it down, so he would be able go back to sleep. He stared at the ceiling, practiced deep, calm breathing and… that’s all. Teru couldn’t really do anything else, but lie in his bed until he fell asleep again.

Sometimes sleep wouldn't come again for hours. During these times, Teru was too awake to even think about resting. He could barely stop himself from getting up and leaving the apartment for a short walk. With each sleepless night, his fight against going out right now was weaker and weaker. “I’ll get up in a moment,” he would always think. But he didn’t get up. But he felt so close to doing it. So close.

This night Teru considered taking a stroll more than he had during the previous nights. He was fed up with his insomnia and he knew he wouldn't fall back asleep this time. It seemed like he would spend this night staring at the ceiling again, in almost complete silence and loneliness. Almost, a key-word.

The ticking of the clock was the only sound that disturbed the silence, and lying nearby, Shimazaki – the only company Teru could count on. Tick-tocks and Shimazaki were little things, but they still overwhelmed Teruki and tried to rush him out of his bed. The only things that advocated for Teru staying in bed; a blanket, embracing Hanazawa with its warmness, and soft mattress. Two simple things, but very convincing.

A short beep from Shimazaki’s watch announced another hour had passed. Four o’clock. Today's first sixty minutes of insomnia had passed quickly and Teru hadn't even been bored. It seemed overthinking took over his mind, so he had forgotten about the passing time.

But he should finally decide. He should go out, and see how the world looked like at this hour.

Teru quickly thought about all the possible destinations of his stroll. The park, the outdoor gym, the cemetery, another park – and then a third, a fourth… Or maybe he'd go to all the places, if the night was long enough. Maybe on his way, he would think of other spots he could see. The last option was just moving forward, without any specified destination or direction. Wherever his feet would take him.

He sat slowly, gently, so as not to wake Shimazaki. He crawled on all fours across the bed and went to the wardrobe, groping for clothes in the dark. One minute later, Teru was ready to leave. He left the apartment through the balcony. He didn’t even think about leaving Shimazaki a note; he would be back soon anyway.

“I guess,” Teru thought pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt. He soared off the balcony to the ground, jumping over the fence and flying into the street.

Shimazaki, still deep in his sleep, turned onto his other side, brazenly taking Teru’s place on the bed.

***

Teru should’ve known that taking a walk would make him overthink everything, just like he would lying in his bed and staring at ceiling. He remembered a few conversations he had with Shimazaki during the two last weeks, but a particular one – he had never paid much  attention to before –  stuck out:

 

“Did you notice you're living alone?” Shimazaki had asked him. Teru had looked up from his notebook and raised his eyebrow.

“I’m not the blind one here,” he had said.

“Sure. But did you notice? Don’t you think it’s a little… strange?”

Teru didn’t answer. He had pretended not to hear the question and returned to his homework.

 

It wasn’t “a little” strange. It was “completely” strange and Teru was very much aware of it. Of course, when he first started living alone he got a lot of praise from kids his age – “Wow, you can do whatever you want without your parents!” or “Teru, you're so mature! Do you cook too?” And at first Teruki enjoyed this freedom. But with time it weighed on him more and more. Laundry, chores, homework, cooking, shopping – everything was his responsibility, and took most of Teru’s free time. The only moments when he could take a break were evenings and nights, when his neighbors were fast asleep, and it didn’t seem right to make noise so late.

Lately it was easier for Teru. Not only because the meetings of Awakening Lab were canceled (ergo – more free time), but also, surprisingly, because of Shimazaki’s help. Shimazaki was as terrible as always, but at least he cooked and prepared all the meals (ergo – even more free time.)

Teru rested his chin on his arms, crossed over the railings in front of him, and stared at the city on the horizon. Wind swept across his face and under a collar of his hoodie, making Teru shiver. The cold started to bother Teru, but he didn’t want to leave yet. He didn’t want to go back home.

Cold. Winter. Yes. Winter was around the corner, and so was New Year's, exams, Valentine’s day, and the second anniversary of his moving to Seasoning City… It had been almost two years of the completely strange situation that was living alone. How long would it last? Teru had no idea. Maybe he would never go back to his parents. It’d be the best and safest solution; no one knew what dangers were waiting for Teruki… And he would have to get rid of Shimazaki first anyway, in a way that Claw's esper would never come back to bother Teru.

Teru pressed his face against his arms, curled up, sniffled. Yes, he was cold already.

For fourteen long days Teru had tried to throw Shimazaki out. He tried to fight and tried to talk, all for nothing. Shimazaki only laughed at his attempts, then changed the subject or fell quiet for a few hours. Sometimes Shimazaki disappeared, but always came back. Teru thought he would go crazy soon.

The neighbors had started asking questions. “Because we heard (and here, depending on the situation) an unfamiliar voice/conversations/arguing/fights,” and “you used to do laundry more often" and "you don’t bring your friends home as often as you used to,” and so on. They cornered Teru with their questions, and Teru tried his best to make something up. He told Shimazaki about all of this, but Shimazaki laughed again and just shrugged. He liked to tease Teru, and didn’t seem to care that this snooping of Teru’s neighbors could cause them both problems.

Hah, at least when the real fights happened, Shimazaki was smart enough to teleport them somewhere far from the apartment, where they could argue without anyone overhearing (should Teru really be happy about that? Maybe if they fought at Teru’s place, someone would take an interest in Hanazawa’s situation and try to help him.)

Despite all the problems that Shimazaki had caused, he was… tolerable. A little tolerable. As much as a terrorist can be tolerable. And in Hanazawa’s dictionary “tolerable Shimazaki” meant “hadn't pissed me off so much I wanted to snap his neck,” but not quite “I can fully stand his presence.” Because still spending time with Shimazaki for even part of the day resulted in Teruki getting annoyed. Sometimes Claw’s esper seemed to to push him off balance with well-placed remarks about everything that surrounded Teru: his school, his parents, his psychic abilities. And even if Teru tried to say something back, he usually couldn’t find an answer that was good enough to shut Shimazaki up.

“You lack life experience,” Shimazaki had said one day. “Maybe you’ll win when you grow up, little Teru.”

As if he and Teru would be still in touch. Their damn “relationship” should have ended long time ago. The whole fuss around Claw was slowly calming down; people on the news weren’t talking about the terrorists as much as they were two weeks ago. They still were looking for Shimazaki and the other esper, but the story seemed to have calmed down.

Citizens of Seasoning City had started to get back to their previous lives, and the center of the city, destroyed by the fighting, was slowly being rebuilt. The main problem now was the broccoli. If that was for better or worse – Teru didn't know. Something was wrong with this phenomenon for sure, but at least it masked all the mess and curiosity around Claw.

But for Shimazaki, it wasn't enough; it wasn't safe for him to come out of hiding yet. He didn't talk about his plans for the future, and the fragments of the phone conversations Teru sometimes overheard hadn't told him anything. It was as if Shimazaki didn't know what to do with himself.

Because what Shimazaki would be doing now anyway? Start working at Reigen's psychic agency too? That's a good joke (the whole situation with Serizawa was hilarious to Teru too, but he didn't say that aloud. Shimazaki hadn't said anything about it either, although when he heard the news about Serizawa, he simply smiled and shook his head.)

Teruki tried not to sound like an idiot when he had asked Shimazaki where he planned on working next.

“Job? The government will be looking for me for the rest of my life and you want me to get a job? Besides that, you really think I'd be able to find something legal?"

But Teru didn't say anything about a legal job. Shimazaki was fit for something shady, maybe working for the yakuza or something like that. He would probably be welcomed there with open arms. And that had been what Teru meant, but he didn't say it. He didn't want to give Shimazaki any ideas, if the former Claw esper didn't think it up himself.

Anyway, who even said the government would be looking for Shimazaki for the rest of his life? They went easy on Serizawa and that other esper (Mine...something.) The remaining two espers seemed to have slowly blended into society, although this Minesomething had way more problems with that, somehow. All Shimazaki needed was a good alibi and he would be free of his shit too. Hmmm, maybe say he had been hypnotized? Damn, if only Shimazaki felt bad or embarrassed of what he did with Claw...

Teru pushed away from the railing and with loud thud fell on a bench behind him. He crossed his arms over his chest. Was he crazy? Why was he thinking up excuses for this jerk?! Shimazaki was a criminal, he couldn't get away! So why would Teruki think about how to help him? Did he get this Stockholm Syndrome or something?

His stomach ached with regret and anger at himself. Why hadn't he noticed it earlier? Why was he stupid enough to let Shimazaki wrap him around his finger so easily, even when the older esper did absolutely nothing? Shimazaki simply... existed. And occasionally paid for food, and told stories, and pissed Teru off with his presence, and...

Things were bad. It was really bad and Teru needed to talk with someone about it. He couldn't keep Shimazaki's presence in his apartment a secret any longer! Because now Teru's mindset was slowly changing and he hadn't even noticed, and that could cause more troubles than neighbors' snooping!

Too bad Teru only noticed it just now.

Better late than never, they say, but it didn't make him feel any better.

***

On his way home, Teru went over all the people he knew, but couldn't help him. Because let’s be real, he needed someone’s help. Of course, he had planned to get rid of Shimazaki himself, but he had failed miserably so many times already… There were no chances he would defeat him alone.

Direct actions weren't taken under consideration – attacking or scaring off Shimazaki could end with the death of Teru or someone close to him. He needed a plan that involved someone smart, someone who could capture Shimazaki. The best choice would be someone who could do everything alone, without Teru's help... in case something went wrong.

Everyone from the Super Five was out the question, although Serizawa might have been a good fit – a strong man full of remorse, eager to help. But Teru didn't want to risk it; there was always a chance that Serizawa would support Shimazaki in a fight out of sentiment.

Kageyama and his brother, on the other hand... But it would be difficult to hide them with their strong auras. Shimazaki would run away before espers like the Kageyama siblings even knocked on Teru's door. Reigen? The first time he defeated Shimazaki was only because Claw's esper was careless. Of course Shimazaki still thought that Reigen was someone special, but how long would take him to see through the lie? Teru didn't want risk that happening either.

The 7th Division was out of the question too because they weren't strong enough. Ekubo? Teru hadn't seen him in long time. The only person that left was Shou. Teru barely knew him and they had only shared a couple of words between them. But apparently he had grown up around the Super Five... So who would know Shimazaki better than Shou? Moreover he was around when Suzuki had been arrested, so maybe Shou might know someone who could help against powerful espers.

Unfortunately Teru didn't know where Shou was right now. Serizawa or Ritsu might have a contact for him. But Teru would have to get it without raising any suspicion.

Back at home, Teru leapt to his balcony and walked inside. Behind him, the sun was rising, hidden behind thick clouds. A gust of wind passed, causing Teru shiver even more.

He glanced to his bed and sighed, annoyed. Of course Shimazaki had to roll over to Teru's side of bed and even take his blanket. And nothing had woken him up – not Teru's aura disappearing or its reappearing. He slept like the dead, not disturbed by anything. Teru could put a knife in his back and Shimazaki probably wouldn't notice. Teru could do that... and would, if the problem lying in his bed didn't get solved soon.

For now he had to contact Shou. Teru wondered if Ritsu was still asleep.

Teru's eyes shifted from the bed to the table and stopped at Shimazaki's mobile. Hanazawa had tried a couple of times to look through Shimazaki's phone, especially the contacts, but every time the older esper noticed too quickly and moved the mobile out of reach. Now Teru had a chance to see who Shimazaki was talking with so often. Maybe it would give a hint on how to get rid of him.

Teruki took one, two steps closer to the phone. Shimazaki was still asleep, and Hanazawa reached for the phone while watching the other esper closely. Shimazaki didn't move. He didn't even wake up at the sound of Teru unlocking the screen. Great.

First Teru would check the recent calls. He tightened his fingers around the mobile and prayed he would see someone else from the Super Five there; it would be easier for the boy to deal with that – he could hand them all over to the police.

He opened and frowned at the list of recent calls.

“Unknown number” was all over the list. Teru scrolled down and down and down... Unknown number, unknown number, unknown number... Almost as if Shimazaki hadn't spoken to anyone from his contacts. The times of calls were around the same as when Teru had heard Shimazaki talking with someone. And no outgoing calls. Damn.

Teru bit his lip and glanced at Shimazaki. With his free hand he used his abilities to bring a paper and pencil to him. He sat down and quickly took down any numbers and names that looked suspicious or useful. For a moment he considered deleting his contact. He wanted to, but he shouldn't leave any trace that he was in Shimazaki's phone.

He focused on his task, lost in browsing through the contacts. The surnames didn't mean anything to Teru, but most of them were on speed dials. That meant Shimazaki used them often. That meant they were important. And there was also Shou.

He was just rewriting last number, when Shimazaki rolled onto his back and sighed in his sleep. Teru glanced at the clock on the phone; it was nine in the morning. That was a good hour for Shimazaki to finally wake up and start living.

Carefully he placed the mobile on the table and turned to Shimazaki. He felt a prick of irritation at the rolled up sheets and pillows tucked against the wall. Add that to the fact that Shimazaki was taking up the whole bed, like it belonged to him. Teru wondered if Shimazaki might have done the same if Teru had stayed in the bed. If so – Hanazawa would have punched him and kicked him awake.

Shimazaki ran a hand through his hair, humming loudly. He was waking up slowly, maintaining his senses and ESP; days ago Teru figured out that the other esper needed some time to come back to reality from his sleep. And when Hanazawa was home, Shimazaki would always turn to him and say hoarsely:

“Good morning.”

It wasn't any different now. Teruki ignored the welcome and looked at the paper he was clenching in his hand. He would call Shou today. And maybe that was one of the last good morning's he would ever hear from Shimazaki.

Chapter Text

 Shou wasn’t picking up. Teru had tried to call him before and after dinner, all for nothing. He had even sent him a few messages, but he still hadn’t got any answer. It had made Teru wonder if Shimazaki even had the right number for Shou. Ahhh, he should have taken the contact from Ritsu, at least then Teru would be certain if he was being ignored or if Shou was busy.

Although, to be honest, Teru didn’t really want to see Ritsu. Last time they had spoken was three days after they had disbanded the Awakening Lab and they both had already been aloof… Which was quite unusual in their case; like they didn’t bond over all those lessons and fights with enemies.

Teru’s aversion to speaking with Ritsu was nothing compared to his aversion to living with Shimazaki. So he would have to do this, even if it meant leaving at a late hour.

“Leaving so soon?” asked Shimazaki, leaning against the door frame. Teru didn’t answer right away. He tied his shoes and got up. It wasn’t unusual for him to leave the apartment in the evenings, just to be away from Shimazaki, and he didn’t need to explain himself to anyone. Especially to this jerk.

“I have a date,” he lied instead. “I need to stay social, even if you keep pestering me.”

“A date. How adorable.” Shimazaki's voice dripped with sweet poison. Teru clenched his fingers around the doorknob.

He shouldn’t have said anything, he shouldn’t have said…

“Just watch out for yourself, Teru… And your friends.”

He wouldn’t let Shimazaki provoke him. Shimazaki was constantly prodding at Teru’s weak points and using words that could hurt him the most, raise the most fear. Most of their conversations came to this point – learn as much about Teru as Shimazaki could, and make a list of people that could be possible victims of Hanazawa’s mistake. The more he knew about Teru, the more Shimazaki could be certain the boy wouldn’t turn him over to the police. They both knew it. To protect people, Teru often lied about his life; about his parents – where they lived and worked – and Shimazaki had believed those. But it was harder to come up with fake stories about other Teru’s aspects of life – about school or his social life because Shimazaki could check on those things. But the Hanazawa parents were safe, and that was the most important for Teru.

He closed the door behind him, leaving without another word. He dialed Ritsu’s number. If Teru was lucky enough, maybe the younger Kageyama would pick up.

 

Ritsu did pick up and he agreed to see Teru, although reluctantly. Of course, Teru could get Shou’s number over the phone, but he would feel bad just calling after two weeks of giving no signs of life and asking right away about things that didn’t matter to their relationship. It didn’t seem right. Moreover, they had stuff they had to talk about. Hanazawa didn’t really know what exactly stuff. He knew he had done something that upset Ritsu and made him so aloof since last time they saw each other. Ritsu not saying what was wrong was unusual too, because Ritsu was honest (sometimes too honest) and had never seemed to hide his feelings before.

“Surprised you could slip out at such late hour.” Teru greeted Ritsu as he approached the swing occupied by Hanazawa. “Kicking this rebel phase?”

Ritsu shrugged and leaned his back against the frame of the swingset. He held Teru’s gaze and crossed his arms.

“So… What’s up?” Teru tried some small talk before asking about Shou.

“It's been a tiring week. And you?”

Such short answer wasn't like Ritsu. It’s not like Kageyama was the most talkative person days ago, but he was more friendly at least. Before he wouldn't just say the week had been tiring, he'd give reasons that had made it tiring. And Kageyama would normally be sighing, complaining, shaking his head. Now he stood beside Teru, completely unmoved, frowning like he didn’t want to be there.

“A tiring two and half weeks,” said Teru, fake smile on his face. He rubbed his neck. “Busy. I didn’t even have time to call you.”

“Same.”

“S–soooo I’ve heard there was a Culture Week… at your school...?” He frowned seeing Ritsu squinting. “How was it?”

“Wonderful.”

This whole small-talk thing was overwhelming Teru and made him want to shut up and never speak to Ritsu again. Why did he even bother? He should just take Shou’s number and then they both could go wherever they wanted to be instead.

“Uh, okay,” he muttered. “I need Suzuki’s phone number. Maybe you have it?”

Ritsu’s expression eased and the tension in his arms vanished, as if by magic.

“Suzuki?” he asked. “Yeah, I have it.” He patted his pockets, searching for his mobile. “You could have just asked me that over the phone, and not dragged me out in the middle of the night.”

“I needed a walk.”

“What do you need this number for? Did something bad happen?”

Teru took out his phone, carefully watching Ritsu. The change in his mood was so sudden, even though Teru had asked for a favor. Maybe Ritsu simply hated small talk too, or maybe he was just waiting for this meeting to end so he could go back home and rest after this tiring week (which probably wasn’t even as tiring as Teru’s.)

“Sorry, can you repeat that?” asked Hanazawa. He so caught up in his thoughts he hadn't been listening when Ritsu recited Suzuki's number. This overthinking would kill him one day.

He stared at the number he got from Ritsu and considered it. It was the same phone number he had taken from Shimazaki's mobile. That meant he met with Ritsu for nothing, and that Shou hadn’t picked up nor answered because he had reasons, and not because Teru had the wrong number. Okay, maybe Shou really was busy, and maybe he would call back soon. Teru had to wait, but impatience had been gnawing at him all day and he was starting to feel irritated.

“If it’s something urgent,” Ritsu spoke again. Teru looked at him carefully. "Suzuki is in Seasoning City right now.”

Teru held his breath and clenched his fingers around his phone. In Seasoning City? What luck!

“You can meet up with him,” Kageyama went on, “but I don’t know where he’s staying. I'm seeing him tomorrow, so you… you…”

He looked away from Hanazawa. The sand under his shoe crunched as he thoughtlessly drew zig zags on the ground.

“You can join us if you want.”

Relief and a beacon of hope. Teruki hid his face in his hands and sighed deeply. He couldn’t see the look Ritsu gave him – a bit worried and pretty confused.

“Are you alright?” asked Kageyama. Teru reflexively shook his head, but then nodded a few times, too energetically to call it honest. He put his hands down and even managed to smile.

“It would be great to go out together. Even if I eventually need to meet with Suzuki alone…”

Ritsu’s bad mood from earlier returned. Kageyama winced and crossed his arms again. Okay, fine, Teru got it. Ritsu was happier when a conversation wasn’t about him and Teru. Those conversations were usually bad news. Something somewhere had gone wrong and had hurt younger Kageyama. Teru quickly recalled all their last meetings, but couldn’t find any exact moment he had said anything amiss.

“Is anyone else invited?” Teru returned to a safer topic.

“Suzuki’s friends and my brother. Just espers hanging out.”

“Espers hanging out.”

He swallowed. He felt a little bitter he wasn’t invited. Maybe it had to do with how Teru wasn’t answering most of Kageyama brothers’ messages over the past few days.

“Where?” he asked.

He got the address and meeting time. And after that he didn’t know what to say next. But he knew that one day he would need to talk with Ritsu to learn what he was so upset about, what went wrong. Maybe not now, because Teru’s thoughts were too occupied with tomorrow’s meeting with Shou; and it was too late to start any new topic today anyway.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “See you tomorrow then?”

Ritsu only nodded and said reluctantly, “Goodnight, Hanazawa.” Teru stared at his back as he was walking away. For a moment he wanted to catch up to Ritsu and walk him home, to hear this “Goodnight, Hanazawa,” at the door and no sooner. That’s how it used to be – on the weekends they wandered around the city until late hours, and they said their goodbyes in front of Ritsu’s house. Now Teru got his “Goodnight, Hanazawa” in an overgrown park, in a forgotten playground.

Teru eventually got mad, and spent the next hour sitting in one place, wondering where the hell he had made a mistake.

***

While Teru was on his way back home, he hoped Shimazaki was already asleep. Teru didn’t really know what evening routine of the older esper kept – especially not what hour he went to bed, because it was always Teru who was the first one to end his day. Shimazaki didn’t look like someone who would stay up late… And whatever he was doing when Teru wasn’t around probably required him to be well-rested… also in case he needed to flee all of sudden.

That’s why Teru was surprised seeing Shimazaki still awake and in his daily clothes, even though it was midnight. Shimazaki stood on the balcony, his back to the door, holding a lit cigarette. He hadn’t even turned when Teru had shown up at the door.

Teru breathed slowly. He felt anger trying to take control over him – to push him to barge onto the balcony and throw a hook at this damn jerk. He clenched his teeth. How many times had he told Shimazaki to not to smoke here? Their neighbors were nosy, and would smell right away if someone smoked on the balcony. They had already asked Teru about this, and only by a miracle, had he managed to avoid answering. Shimazaki didn’t care, of course.

Shimazaki seemed like he felt Teru’s anger – he rubbed his neck and took a lungful of smoke, stubbornly not turning to Hanazawa. His arms tensed as if he was waiting for a confrontation.

“Third time this week,” thought Teru making his way to the balcony. He tried to walk calmly, even though his anger was telling him to RUN, RUN! Kick in the door, grab this jerk by his rags and throw him over the railing and…!

“Welcome back,” greeted Shimazaki when Teru stopped beside him. He was just finishing the cigarette, but his other hand was reaching for a pack in his pants pocket.

“I told you not to…”

“Yeah, yeah, leave it. Oh, unless maybe you just want one too?”

And he held the pack to Teru. Hanazawa eyed the cigarettes, then glared at Shimazaki, clenched his fists. This. Fucking. Jerk.

He took a swing trying to grab the pack. Shimazaki was faster; he pulled it back, far from Teru’s reach, and smiled mockingly.

“A ‘no’ would've been enough,” he said and took out another cigarette. Before he could put it between his lips, Teru jumped at him and tried to snatch it. Hanazawa wasn’t fully aware of what he was doing. The anger took its lead and clouded all reasonable thinking. The fog cleared a half a second too late. Shimazaki caught Teru’s arm.

A tug.

A gasp.

After a second Teru was surrounded by the stench of something burning. Smoke filled the air.

“Hey!” yelled Teru. He struggled with Shimazaki’s hold, and took a step back. His one foot landed in the air and he lost his balance, tilted to one side, almost falling into clouds of smoke and stench. Shimazaki held him firmly and helped him regain his footing.

“Easy, Teru,” he said.

Teru looked around confused. The city stretched on the horizon, and the nearest surroundings were lit up by factory lighting. The espers stood on the edge of a dozen floor's high chimney.

“Are you nuts?!” Teru glared at Shimazaki again. Almost always when their brawls had started to get outta control, Shimazaki had teleported them both out of the city, so they could “talk it out” without the neighbors hearing anything. And the places where they had been fighting up until now was always neutral... But now? The top of the chimney was another story; here Shimazaki had an advantage.

Teru tried to yank his hand out of Shimazaki’s grip.

“Let go!”

“One moment.”

Shimazaki twisted Teru’s hands to his back, holding him fast, so Hanazawa wouldn’t slip on the spin; he turned them both to face the flue and tilted Teru slightly forward.

Teru gasped. He stared with horror into the dark abyss, where he saw no bottom. Only Shimazaki’s hands – one gripping Teru’s both wrists, the other holding him by his t–shirt – kept him from falling down.

“Breathe some fresh smoke. Maybe then it won’t bother you at home,” hissed Shimazaki. Teru reflexively took a breath. He smelled the stench of burning… wood? Plastic? He couldn’t even recognize it.

“Shimazaki, that’s not funny,” Teru growled. He tried to stay still; his feet were on the edge of the chimney, one wrong move and even Shimazaki wouldn’t be able to help him. He swallowed and closed his eyes tight. The smoke stung. “You know that neighbors…”

“Oh, yes, that’s not important. We have another small problem.”

The hold on the t–shirt disappeared, and Teru though he would start falling. But Shimazaki put his free hand around Hanazawa’s waist and leaned forward, pressing Teru’s back to his chest.

Teru flinched at this. Then he felt Shimazaki’s warm breath on his neck and froze. He couldn’t say anything – all words stuck in his throat, as if in fear that something would stir the older esper up even more.

“I wanted to ask you about that in a more friendly way, but I see you are in a fighting mood today,” explained Shimazaki. “It would be a shame to not to jump at the chance.”

A quiet “Mh…” was the only sound that left Teru.

“Tell me, little Teru, what did you want from Suzuki Shou?”

Fear clutched Hanazawa’s heart. How did Shimazaki know? Had he spied on Teru? Or eavesdropped? But Teru wasn’t even talking with Shou, he was just messaging him, that’s all! And he even kept the mobile near him, so Shimazaki couldn’t have checked it in any way. Also, Shimazaki hadn’t been nearby when Hanazawa had met with Ritsu; Teru hadn’t felt his aura. So how the hell did this damn Claw’s esper know…?!

“I–I don’t know what do you mean,” Teru whispered. He tried to lie. Up until now, he was pretty good at lying to Shimazaki, but right now he didn’t know where the other esper got his information. So Teru didn’t know where to start his fake stories... But trying wouldn’t hurt. Probably.

“Oh, yes, you do,” Shimazaki chuckled, although it was a forced laugh, and that paralyzed Teru even more. Until today Shimazaki during their fights was, of course, aggressive, but also annoying – he was taunting, yelling, goading. Now he was scary and threatening for the first time in the past three weeks.

“I–I really want to know,” Teru stammered.

“Don’t talk to me like I'm an idiot, boy, because I’m not the one standing on the edge, at the mercy of a… Hmm…”

“Freak,” Teru said with shaking voice.

“Freak, okay. So?”

“Why do you think it has something to do with you? He’s an esper, I’m an esper. I think it’s normal I want to know other espers.”

The grip on Teru’s wrists loosened a bit. Shimazaki hummed thoughtfully and rested his cheek on top of Hanazawa’s head. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and calm – too calm:

“'It’s Teruki Hanazawa. I’m sorry that I'm writing all of a sudden, but I need your help.'”

Teru’s first message to Shou. All thoughts and feelings left Hanazawa, leaving only confusion. How… how did he…?

“'Call me if you can',” Shimazaki kept on. It was the second message. After a while, there was another:

“'Sorry, maybe you don’t remember me. I was among other espers who fought with Claw.'”

He stopped and sighed lingeringly.

“You want me to go on?” he asked. “And maybe count all these times you tried to call him? Or maybe you could stop lying and making me look like an idiot.”

Teru didn’t even flinch.

“I’ll kill you,” he hissed.

“I’d love to see you try.”

And he would. Teru jerked with his arms; it didn’t free him from a firm grasp but distracted Shimazaki. Teru threw his head backwards into Shimazaki’s jaw. He heard an angry growl and curses and felt the grip loosen. The hand around his waist disappeared. A light push. And then he was falling.

In the very last second, he turned on his heel, facing Shimazaki. The darkness and smoke quickly surrounded Teru, the wind whistled in his ears. Hanazawa isolated himself from the world around him, and let the energy slide down his arms. It took him a second to target the other esper – Shimazaki was still standing on the top of the chimney. The whips of energy snapped and flew up, wrapped around the man’s legs. Teru tugged at them, pulling Shimazaki down with him.

He wasn’t sure if it was a good plan. But it was the only one Teru had managed to think up right now. Shimazaki could escape any time and Teru didn’t know if the teleportation would work on him too, considering they were connected with the gold chain of power.

A tug. The whips went loose. Shimazaki escaped, and Teru was still falling. Fuck.

A tug again, after a second. Shimazaki appeared just beside Teru and reached for his neck. They both gasped, choking on smoke.

Another tug and before Teru realized where he was – he was slammed into the ground. Shimazaki landed on top of him, his heavy body knocking the breath from Hanazawa’s lungs. He got up hastily and teleported a few steps away, bent over and coughing.

Teru tried to stop himself from a cough that was choking his lungs and bringing tears to his eyes. The view went blurry, but the boy recognized where they were – the light reflected by the moon illuminated their surroundings; forest, outside the town, remains of Claw's 7th Division facility – a common place where the two espers had fought.

“Damn brat,” Shimazaki coughed. He leaned with his arm on a ruined wall, hid in shadows, between stones and broken walls; shaken. Teru didn’t let him to recover – he jumped up and dashed at Shimazaki.

One, two, three steps further, he almost reached the man, grabbing one of the rods torn off a building on his way. Teru bounced off the ground aiming for Shimazaki’s back.

Shimazaki teleported away, far from the boy.

“Didn’t you want an explanation?” Shimazaki asked, still coughing.

No, he didn’t want any now, but he wouldn’t say that aloud. He was focused on getting Shimazaki.

And killing him.

Teru moved on with his next attack, lifting debris with his powers – rods and pieces of walls swinging in the air, waiting for Teru’s command. Teru flung the debris at Shimazaki, but he escaped again. If Shimazaki would just stay still, he would get stabbed and stoned to death.

Teru growled annoyed and turned just in time to notice Shimazaki behind him. He swung with the rod in his hand, aiming for his chest. Energy lit the lengths of the metal – the one rod held by Teru and those floating beside him. Shimazaki disappeared. The bars twisted through the air blindly, in various directions. Teru hoped at least one of them would hit.

A yelp and a furious cry filled the forest. He got him.

Teru looked around, but he couldn’t see Shimazaki. But the man was nearby, Teru sensed his aura.

“Show yourself,” he whispered walking along the wall. The rod was heavy in his hand, digging sharply into his skin, but he didn’t care. Just like he wasn’t aware of all the debris flying around him. The air was filled with energy that flicked against the wall, making holes and tearing away at the remaining paint.

Teru’s senses focused on searching the source Shimazaki’s aura – he tried to find him and also recognize condition he was in. It was hard; Shimazaki was teleporting every few breaths, each time maintaining a greater and greater distance from Teru.

“You said you’d like to see it!” yelled Teru. “Why are you hiding now?!”

He didn’t get any answer and it pissed him off even more. Shimazaki had been such tough guy, and now he was hiding and avoiding the fight.

“Show yourself!”

The air tensed.

There he was.

The air loosened up. Teru dodged in time – Shimazaki had jumped at him from above, trying to kick him to the ground. The he vanished, but not before Teru noticed the red covering chest and right arm.

“Did it hurt?” Teru asked, an ugly smile on his face. “DID IT HURT?!”

He turned on his heel, trying to jab with a hook. The other esper caught his arm. Teru blinked, surprised.

“Wanna see yourself?” asked Shimazaki before he seized the boy’s throat. He shoved him into the wall, Teru’s arm only missing a protruding rod by a millimeter.

Teru's head hit the wall so hard he saw stars. He couldn't recover before a heavy fist punched him in his guts. He choked. The next blow hit him in his jaw. Then the world fell quiet and vanished into the darkness.

When it returned, the first thing Teru heard was Shimazaki’s heavy breathing. The older esper held him by his t–shirt, his head low, almost leaning his forehead against Teru’s arm.

“Calm down,” he hissed. Teru didn’t want to listen. Shimazaki was right in front of him, alive, but hurt. He wouldn’t get away this time.

Teru raised his hand to hit again. Everything seemed to slow down; the power barely slid down his arm, but Shimazaki reacted quickly. He sighed and just when Teru wanted to attack, Shimazaki slammed him against the wall again.

A blow, light, warmth. That was all Teru noticed. Energy cascaded around his body and pulled away, swirling around the two espers. The grip on Hanazawa’s shirt didn’t loosen, but the boy heard a hiss and some curses. Something whistled, something snapped, something collapsed. Teru tried to look around. He didn’t see anything; a golden light filled his view, and Teru couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how hard he squeezed his eyes shut. With his heart pounding, he reached for the power wildly roaring around them. He tried to catch it and take control, but slid between his fingers, ignoring his commands.

“Calm down!” yelled Shimazaki. Teru clenched his teeth. Blindly, he found the other’s esper’s body with his hands and held it. He tried to anchor himself with something material, something that would help him to relate to the reality. He heard his shaken breath as he tried to calm down his nerves. The power didn’t vanish, it was still orbiting around, and kept destroying everything in its wake.

“Breathe, you brat!”

He was breathing, or at least he was trying to. Teru couldn’t take a deep breath; an unknown being was clenching its hands on Teru’s lungs, caused pain.

The power hissed and a fragile something that was too close cracked. Teru noticed a small chip, a tear that could be a hole in Shimazaki’s barrier. He heard another curse, and before he could do anything, he was punched in the jaw again.

The light was gone as if on command. Teru finally took a deep breath. He opened his eyes and looked at Shimazaki – covered in dirt and blood, as white as a sheet. Everything behind Shimazaki was lying flat – all the trees and walls that had stood firm before were now were on the ground, cracked, ruined.

Teru kept his hands on Shimazaki, one at his throat, the other squeezing his right arm, the exact place where he had a still bleeding wound.

“'The hell was that?” gasped Shimazaki. Teru tried to look around, but his body refused to move. And not because of anger; that feeling had left him. He couldn’t figure it out.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. He had never lost control of his powers before, so he didn’t know how to explain that. He was scared, but also excited, because he had managed to break Shimazaki’s barrier without using a distraction. That was something new.

“You really tried to kill me,” Shimazaki went on. “A–are you... what the fu…”

“Are you joking?” Teru snapped. “You started it all. You. Started. It.” His gripped Shimazaki’s arm harder; that was all he could do for now. The Claw esper hissed, and his knees buckled. His free hand grabbed Teru’s wrist.

“Did you really think I would let you fall? After you asked someone for help? I told you I’m not an idiot.”

“How did you know?”

“By accident. We were checking all the people that could be after us. We checked Suzuki, not you.”

A strange excuse. It seemed that Shimazaki wasn’t afraid of Teru or the possibility of being handed over to the police, not even a little. He was so certain of Teru’s cooperation because he had his family and friends on his mercy. He was more afraid of Shou than Teru, even though Hanazawa could easily beat him if he had a support.

Hah! Even now he had beaten him… Kinda. It was a draw – Shimazaki was hurt, but he could still fight, and Teru couldn’t move, but he didn’t feel hurt or tired.

(But why he couldn’t move? Teru wondered. Was it because he overdid his powers or he lost the control? It was dangerous, he would need to careful.)

“You tried to kill me,” Shimazaki repeated in disbelief.

“When are you leaving?”

No answer.

“You can find another place to stay, that’s not even a problem!” said Teru. “There are lots of apartments empty because people are moving away from the city. You can even fly to other country… Hah, or a continent! But for some messed up reasons, you decided to stay and wreck my life!"

Shimazaki chuckled and rested his forehead on Teru’s arm, hiding his smile in a shadow. He fell silent, and Teru didn’t say a word, waiting for any other reaction from him. He wanted to know a reason, even the stupidest one, why the hell Claw’s esper had stuck to him.

The dust that had been raised during the fight finally settled, and they both didn’t move, until Teru clenched his fingers in Shimazaki’s wound again. Finally, the man spoke:

“Do you really think I like it…?” he started bitterly. He sighed, and spoke again, calmly now. “Maybe I don’t like being alone. Maybe I like having a company.”

“That’s a stupid reason.”

“Said by someone who lives alone for… how long? Nevermind. You live alone, but you like having people around you. You know how I feel.”

Teru knew, but he would never ever say it aloud.

Shimazaki took his hands off the boy; Teru removed his hands as well. He finally regained control over his body, although every move was heavy.

“Give me two weeks,” said Shimazaki. “We’re almost done with our preparations.”

“Two weeks and no longer.”

Shimazaki nodded and extended his hand to Teru, offering to teleport them back to home. When they returned, they landed on the balcony.

“Don’t you dare smoke here,” said Teru. “Don’t… don’t smoke anywhere. Quit smoking.”

Shimazaki nodded again, probably as a reflex. They went inside. It was three in the morning. 

Chapter Text

Teruki could read between the lines. It helped him maintain his with relationships his peers. Boys were straightforward and simple, and no one had to strain their brain to understand what they meant. But girls... It’s not like Teru thought girls were complicated, no; maybe they were just too shy and it wasn’t often they said their real thoughts aloud. For example, instead of just saying “No” maybe because they were scared of Teru laughing at them, girls made up various excuses for not going on dates. Teru never tried to find out if the excuses had been true or not – by reading between the lines he had saved a lot of time and energy. He had just chosen the best and the most comfortable solution and had moved on.

Dealing with adults was a different story, and Teru had less patience there. Hypothetically, the adults should be more honest and less afraid of saying their thoughts. And yet something stopped adults from doing so. And when Teru had made up his own assumptions in place of the truth, these adults had got angry, because that wasn’t what they had meant.

Theoretically, Shimazaki was easy to read – a jerk who would stab you in the heart whenever possible, looking for fun anywhere he could, hard to throw off his balance, hated losing. He said what he thought and wasn’t afraid of other people’s opinions.

And that’s what Teru had thought – up until a day ago. Shimazaki saying 'Maybe I don’t like being alone' had changed everything. Now Teru wasn’t sure if Shimazaki had been honest or had just tried to play with Hanazawa’s feelings or put Teru's suspicions to bed. Truth to be told, Teru shouldn’t care – Shimazaki would eventually have to leave and take responsibility for his actions as a Claw member.

Two weeks. Shimazaki would leave in two weeks unless Teru could find another way to get rid of him. Either way, he couldn’t wait until it was finally over; when he could come back home, not afraid of someone waiting for him. And he would happily welcome the loneliness and the burden of cooking these damn dinners for himself.

Although Shimazaki cooked quite well.

“Hm? Hanazawa?”

Teru flinched and looked at the older Kageyama brother sitting beside him. Their whole group had rented a karaoke box for the afternoon, and Shou was singing – or rather yelling – one of the songs, while his three friends were talking with Ritsu about some boring stuff. Teru was holding the second microphone and, as he just noticed, had almost broken it, clenching his fingers too hard around the plastic, his psychic energy wildly sparking around.

“I got lost in my thoughts,” he said with a smile. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

Kageyama lowered his gaze and swirled the water in the glass he was holding.

“Only that I’m happy you finally talked to us,” he said. “It was so hard to convince you to meet with us lately.”

Teru felt warmth slowly creeping up his neck and ears. He swallowed and moved his gaze to Shou, who was squealing a high note.

“Y-yeah.” Teru nodded. He had deliberately ignored most of the messages from Reigen and the Kageyama brothers, especially those asking to meet up. He didn’t feel like seeing anyone; he wanted to get rid Shimazaki before he started living his full life again.

“I had a few problems,” he said. Shigeo and Ritsu deserved an explanation – or at least part of one. Or half-truths. Anything.

“But it’s better now,” Teru went on. “Now I just need to catch up.”

Shigeo answered with only a short hum. He didn’t question anything, so it seemed this version of Teru’s story was enough for him. Teru inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. The conversation with Ritsu would be much more difficult, but it would happen later – after Teru’s talk with Shou or maybe even after Shimazaki left his apartment. The second option was more likely only because it would let Teru focus on fixing whatever he – or Ritsu – had messed up between them.

Unconsciously he was staring at Ritsu. He only noticed it when the younger Kageyama had caught his gaze and frowned in a silent question. Teru opened his mouth to say something when suddenly Shigeo said:

“You've changed.”

“Huh?” was a surprised reply from Teruki. Shou had just finished singing and was reaching for the remote, but he stopped and stared at Hanazawa, just like his friends and Ritsu.

“These two last weeks must have been really tough,” Shigeo continued, his voice quieter. “You were always... radiating happiness and so confident, talkative... Now you’re barely saying a word and you're lost in your thoughts. I... I hope we'll get the good old Hanazawa back soon.” He glanced at Teru from the corner of his eye and smiled slightly.

'Good old Hanazawa.' Teru tried to recall what the 'recent Hanazawa' was like for the others. He hadn't even noticed that he had changed. But it was true. Now he wasn't shining among people like the popular guy he used to be, yeah... To be honest, he avoided his friends too. Not only because he didn't want to risk their lives, but because arguing and dealing with Shimazaki had left Teru worn out.

“The 'good old Hanazawa' will be back soon, don't worry,” Teru said. “I miss him too.” Teru tried to smile all the time, no matter how much his smile was fake or tired. Fake it 'till you make it, or at least until Kageyama stopped worrying.

“Are you gonna use that or...?” Ootsuki asked, nodding towards the microphone. Teruki handed it over; the second one was now in Fukuda's hands. They choose a song while Shou said he was going to find something to drink. Without a second thought, Teru ran after him. It was the only chance he could talk with Suzuki alone and he didn't want to waste it.

“Shimazaki is in my house and I need your help to get rid of him,” was a really good opening line. Straightforward and on topic. Teru could start their conversation with that, but an unexplainable hunch stopped him – it tugged his heart when he wanted to speak. Teru bit his tongue; he had learned well to trust his hunches.

“You afraid I'd get lost?” asked Shou when they stood beside the drink dispensers. “You didn’t even touch your coke, and we've been here for two hours already. You...” He tilted his head. “Really lost contact with the world. You weren’t like that in Ritsu’s stories.”

Ritsu had been talking about Teru. For a short moment, Hanazawa’s heart felt lighter, and he felt a little better. But he couldn’t let himself to think about it for longer.

“Did you get my texts?”

Shou frowned and looked around.

“I don’t like questions like that.”

Teru wrung his hands.

“Those kinds of questions always mean I’ve got this one dude on my tail,” said Shou. “And it seems we have a similar situation here.”

Teru sighed with relief and rubbed his eyes. He didn’t know Shou that well, so he thought that Shou might have a negative attitude towards him. But it turned out they had a similar problem.

“That’s what I wanted to talk about,” Teru muttered. “Among other things.”

“Turn off your phone.”

“Wha…”

“Just turn it off. And pull out the sim card, for a good measure.”

There was nothing to question, although the request was uncommon. Still, if someone could read the texts Teru had sent to Shou, they might be able to intercept the conversation right now.

He froze when he noticed his phone was on a call with an unknown number. He looked up at Shou, who was staring unimpressed at the screen, hands in his pockets like he was used to being intercepted.

Shou leaned towards the phone and, not caring about the dozens of people around, yelled:

“Hatori, you dipshit!”

His face remained passive, calm, but his aura burst around them, riled-up and sliding across the ceiling.

The sound of the call ending surprised Teru. Hanazawa looked at his phone, then at Shou again. His aura had calmed down fast.

“What the hell?” Teru hissed.

“Hatori Nozomu. One of two of the Super Five the government can’t find.”

“Yeah, I figured." At Teru's reply, Shou cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. "Uh, I mean…”

Teru did some very fast thinking.

“I’ve heard the police are looking for him, I saw it the news.” He put his phone on the table, after turning it off and pulling out the sim card. Occasionally he glanced at it to make sure it wasn’t on the line again. “How is he doing that, by the way?”

“He can manipulate electronics. He hijacked the tv signal back then, so intercepting texts and doing these sort of things,” Shou nodded at the phone. “Aren’t any problem for him… Aaand that’s why he’s so hard to find because he knows where they're looking for him.”

Teru hummed and looked around, noting all the people who probably had their phones with them. Hatori could hack them too… Teru and Shou could still be bugged.

“So, you tried to reach me and now Hatori was bugging us,” said Shou squinted suspiciously at Teru. His aura was still calm, although it was circling leisurely, carefully, like an animal of prey waiting for a good moment to attack.

Shou wanted explanations. Teru swallowed. Here we go.

“Shimazaki is living with me,” he began. “For almost three weeks.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and looked out the window, suddenly feeling silly for not searching for help earlier. Suzuki opened his mouth to say something, but Hanazawa didn’t let him interrupt.

“I couldn’t ask anyone for help because he was… threatening he would do something to my parents. And… I tried to get rid of him alone, but,” he continued bitterly, “I couldn’t manage it. Now… Now I don’t even want to think what he'll do if Hatori tells him we met. They must still be in touch and because Shimazaki knows I tried to reach you earlier.”

“Dude,” Shou whispered and took a step towards Teru. He started to reach out to grab Teru's arms, but stopped himself. “We totally need to do something about that. Joseph has been looking for them for… yeah, almost three weeks!”

Joseph. Teru had never heard this name. He hoped it was someone strong enough to catch Shimazaki.

“He is from the government,” explained Shou. “He looks after Serizawa, Minegishi, Shibata and… well…” he winced. “After my pop too. Though he's in the jail and the Super Five is as free as wild pigs.”

“Isn’t that weird?”

“That they didn’t put the Super Five in the prison? If you ask me, yeah. But I won’t question Joseph’s decision. I guess he knows what he’s doing.”

“He won’t make a difference with Hatori and Shimazaki,” muttered Teru, anxiously rubbing his arm. Unwittingly he pressed down on one of the bruises from yesterday’s fight. “He just wants to keep an eye on them? And he’ll let Shimazaki and Hatori go, even though they kidnapped the prime minister and tried to take over the world?”

“Dunno, maybe." Shou shrugged. "It may be a little different with Shimazaki, because the whole country saw the kidnapping, there are videos of it all over the web. If he could find a job after that, you'd call him a lucky guy.”

“Well, he could always apply to the yakuza,” thought Teru. For a moment he considered suggesting Shimazaki talk to Joseph; he could always teleport away if something went wrong, right? Besides, now that Shou knew Shimazaki was staying at Teru’s place, he would be on the government’s radar soon. Killing Hanazawa or his family wouldn’t improve his situation at all.

Although that didn’t mean he wouldn’t hurt anyone…

“Meet with Joseph,” said Shou. “We’ll see what he says. I’ll contact you with him and… If you need my help, I’m here.”

“To be honest, I thought maybe you’d come help me kick him out. I’ve been dealing with this jerk for almost three weeks, and now he knows I met you. I bet we’ll have a fight again soon.”

“An afterparty?” Shou suggested.

“What?”

“Or a pajama party! We’ll all come over and if he doesn't get scared off, all…” he quickly counted the number of espers, “seven of us will kick his ass. Have you ever had eight espers at your place?”

“But it’s Monday tomorrow.”

“Yeah, and? Is that a bigger problem than some asshole sleeping at your…” Shou stopped. He squinted and leaned towards Teru. “Ritsu said you live alone. That means… you only have one bed.”

“Stop it,” snapped Teru. The warmness crept up his neck and ears. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. However it sounded, sharing a bed with Shimazaki was the worst part of living with him.

“Oh my god, you can’t even jerk off!” gasped Shou theatrically.

“Exactly. The most important problem of teen's life,” thought Teru sarcastically. He rolled his eyes. He didn’t feel like laughing, but he managed a forced smile.

“I still have a bathroom, so despite appearances, I do have some privacy,” he explained. But he kept to himself the fact that since Shimazaki moved in, Teru had been too stressed out to think about anyone like that.

“What do you think?” asked Shou. “We have the room only for one more hour and we've got nothing to do later anyway.”

No matter if Teru agreed or not – in both cases he had just as much to lose. He thought briefly about his parents; he had texted them this morning, just after Shimazaki had left, but he would need to check on them later too. Teru had lied about where they lived and worked, but he was still anxious about their lives.

“We’ll buy something to eat on the way,” he decided.

If he was home now, Shimazaki would run away before they encountered him, Hanazawa was certain of that.

***

Of course, Shimazaki wasn’t home when Teru and other espers got to Hanazawa’s place. There was no sign of Shimazaki or his aura. Probably he hadn't come back after he left in the morning.

Teru hadn’t told the others about Shimazaki. He had planned to tell them when they reached the building where Teru lived, so not to cause a panic earlier. Now Teru changed his plans. If Shimazaki wasn’t home, Hanazawa could spend some fun time with his guests, and worry about the jerk later. Shimazaki probably wouldn’t appear suddenly in the apartment, since he would feel the auras of the other espers, the older Kageyama’s especially… So Teru had time.

“The more people know, the better,” Teru thought as he was pulling out plates from a cupboard. The rest of the espers took up the bed and floor; Ritsu and Suzuki looked through the console games and shouted over themselves trying to pick one. Teru didn’t mind the noise, still lost in his thoughts:

“And now there’s no difference if only Suzuki knew or the others know too. I ratted him.”

He was setting down the glasses when he heard the older Kageyama entering the kitchen.

“You need help?”

“No, it’s okay," Teru replied. "Sorry for the mess, but I had other things on my mind, and this whole so-called after party was so spontaneous and…”

He turned to Shigeo and paused. Kageyama was looking meaningfully at the table behind Teru. Teru held his breath. He was surrounded by the auras of seven other espers, so lost in setting things up that he might not have even noticed if Shimazaki had showed up suddenly. If this jerk was just sitting at the table as if nothing…

“You smoke?” asked Shigeo quietly.

Teru sighed with relief. He glanced at the table and winced, seeing a cigarette pack lying there.

“Sometimes,” he replied. “Leftovers from old times when I was, you know, a delinquent. Smoked to show off.”

He didn’t know why he had lied... The espers would learn about Shimazaki sooner or later anyway. Maybe lying about Shimazaki had become a habit of Teru's, one that might stay long after the older esper moved out.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you,” said Kageyama.

Oh, thank god.

“My lies have lost their quality?” asked Teru with a forced smile, too common lately.

“No, I don’t think so. It’s just… Smoking doesn’t fit you. You look like you would prefer perfumes over some smoke’s stink." Shigeo was thoughtful. "It’s more like a higher standard of presenting yourself… I think.”

Oh. That was nice. And it was nice to hear such flattering words from a rival.

“Can I ask you something?” Teru asked rhetorically; he didn’t need the quiet “mhm” that Shigeo had murmured. “What do you think about the espers from the Super Five and their lives now?”

Luckily Kageyama easily took the bait of a new topic. He shuffled his feet and stared at the wall with a louder “hmm.”

“They’re better people now,” he answered after a moment. Teru had assumed an answer like that.

“You said once that Serizawa was manipulated and used,” Teru said. “And that would explain why he didn’t go to the jail like his boss. But how about the other two? Mine… Uh…”

“Minegishi.”

“I will never remember his name. And the other one, this huge dude," Teru began slowly. "They knew what they were doing this whole time they were in Claw. But still, they escaped punishment.”

“You think so?”

Teru crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his hip against the cupboards. Shigeo stared at something behind Hanazawa. The game’s music came from the other room, apparently Ritsu and Suzuki picked a racing game. Higashio, Ootsuki, and Fukuda were cheering for both of them.

“Of course they did,” Teru snarled. “Are they in a jail? No, they’re free like they did nothing wrong. That’s unfair. No one deserves easy redemption if they were aware of what they were doing and they hurt a lot of innocent people.”

In a second, Kageyama looked at Teru. Something had changed in him, he was frowning slightly, with his lips shut tight.

“No one?” Shigeo whispered after a moment.

Teru felt smaller. Small and weak, just like he had felt a few months ago, standing in the ruined walls of his school. And just now he noticed that in some ways he wasn’t really different from Shimazaki and other espers from the Super Five.

“They have to live with the burden of their pasts, trying to be better people now,” said Kageyama. “Isn’t that enough?”

Teru couldn’t agree. But if he wanted a harsher punishment for the Super Five, he would have to be punished too. He couldn’t be a hypocrite; he shouldn’t – he was a better man now after all.

Teru nodded and said a short “you’re right,” just to drop the subject. They went back to the other espers. Teru decided to not to say anything about Shimazaki yet. He wanted to talk with him himself first.

***

Shou and the others left, and still Shimazaki hadn’t come back. Teru peeked at the clock every couple minutes while talking with his mother on the phone. Mrs. Hanazawa talked about New Year plans, even though it was barely the end of October. Teruki listened to everything carefully, content that his parents were safe.

And surprisingly, his heart wasn’t squeezed with any unpleasant feelings or hunches. He wasn’t stressed or afraid, but rather calm compared to how he had felt over the last few days. Nothing would happen soon, Shimazaki couldn’t do anything to him.

Teru started to become stressed out because he was too calm. He growled irritably.

“What happened?” asked Mrs. Hanazawa.

“I forgot to do something for school.”

They ended the call. Teru threw his phone on the mattress and hid his face in his hands.

It was ten o’clock and Shimazaki still wasn’t home. Earlier this morning, when he teleported them to the apartment after the fight, he had disappeared shortly afterwards. He had come back after four hours just to change his clothes, before leaving again. Since then Teru hadn't felt his aura or heard from him.

Of course, Shimazaki disappearing was common, but the other times before he left he would say something like “I’ll be back.” This time he hadn't said anything.

Teru went to bed. He slept well, and nothing woke him up at three in the damn morning.

***

When his alarm rang a few hours later, Teru rolled onto his side and noticed that Shimazaki was still gone. The cigarettes in the kitchen were untouched since yesterday, but his clothes were still in the closet.

Teru was alone, at least for now.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

This day was strange; it was way too calm in comparison to the last two and half weeks. When Teru had spoken with his friends, he didn't have to lie about his after-school plans. Before today he had to come up with the most boring activities he had supposedly planned, so people wouldn’t want to accompany him… And the reason for this deception? Always the same – he didn't want Shimazaki to see Teru with any of his friends. But now Hanazawa could meet with anyone, anywhere, and do with them whatever he wanted – even go on dates or invite them home. Shimazaki was done, and no threats would change that. With a little luck, Shimazaki was aware of that.

Shimazaki hadn't given Teru any sign of life the whole day – no calling or texting with shopping lists or questions about whatever. Complete silence. Like he didn’t exist. It had never happened before. The only texts Teru got were from his parents and Shou. The one from Suzuki was what had interested him the most.

All it said was “Café Café Café 5.” Teru knew right away what it meant: Joseph would be waiting for him in that café at exactly five o’clock in the afternoon. Teru knew this place was on the other side of the city, and to get there on time after school, he would need to take a taxi or use his powers.

And even though he saved some money these past few weeks, it was hard for him to say goodbye to extra cash. So no taxi.

Speaking of money, Teru would need to buy something for dinner. The fridge was terrifying in its emptiness and there was nothing decent to eat. The question was, should Teru buy something for Shimazaki too? He didn't consider that for very long, only on his way to the café, before he decided he would live like Shimazaki wasn’t part of his life anymore.

“Good riddance,” he thought, dashing from one roof to another. It was a bit before five o’clock when he approached where he was supposed to meet Joseph, so he wouldn’t be late or miss the man. From what Shou had said, Joseph should be easy to recognize – a light haired European, with a cigarette practically glued to his lips.

Teru landed on the pavement near the café. He ran a hand through his hair, which had grown out enough to remind Teru to dye it again soon. Seriously, this whole living with Shimazaki had been too much for him; Teru hadn’t even had time to take care of himself.

The name “Café Café Café” stretched out over the whole wall of the building, which was a few windows wide. Teru glanced skeptically at the scraped walls and falling plaster. The cafe didn’t look inviting, but unfamiliar psychic aura coming from inside told Hanazawa he was in the right place. He went inside and had to immediately step back and cover his nose with his jacket sleeve, as he was overwhelmed with the sudden stink of smoke. He was so nauseous he almost left, but he eventually powered through it and stepped into the dark and stinky room.

Teru glanced at the people sitting at the tables around him; a few of them looked at him too, but didn’t show much interest before going back to their business. Teru didn’t see anyone who might look like Joseph. Maybe the aura he had felt from outside wasn’t his? It could always be another random esper.

Trying not to draw any more attention, Teru approached the counter and ordered a tea. Then he took a place at a table in the corner, so he would have a better view of the whole room.

He didn’t exactly fit in. He was a kid in a place normally preferred by adults. Most people were smoking cigarettes and there was alcohol on the menu. Teru didn’t see anyone his age. He shouldn’t be here, he was certain of that. But, well, he wasn’t the one who had picked this place, so no one could fault him for that.

A waitress brought the tea just as Teru sent another text to his parents. He thanked her, added sweetener to the drink and put it aside. It was five past five. He would wait until Joseph finally showed up. And if the man didn't come – Teru would find Shou and kick his ass for wasting his time on his first day of freedom.

“You've never asked about the weather here before,” Teru read the message from his mom. “Are you alright, sweetheart?”

He felt silly for looking for a reason to text his parents. Almost like he was paranoid something had happened to them. The over twenty messages he had sent since this morning proved very well that he was on edge.

   “ Shimazaki wouldn’t hurt them ,” said a voice in his head, reasonable maybe.

         “ But what if he did? ” asked the other voices, more paranoid.

   “ It would be a stupid move.

         “ But you would learn a lesson.

“Are you Teru?”

Teruki jumped, suddenly hearing a voice near him. He looked up. Next to his table stood Joseph, or someone Hanazawa rightly concluded to be Joesph from his bright hair, European features, and a cig between his lips. Everything fit. His aura was strange, it made Teru think of a sticky smoke that clung to his senses and confused him.

Joseph sat across from Teru and tapped the ashes off his cigarette.

“Who’s the other esper here?” asked Teru. He had tried to identify the person in the cafe with that unfamiliar aura before, but he had failed, although he had looked over the other people in the cafe a few times.

“My friend,” muttered Joseph. “Don’t mind him. Young Suzuki said you wanted to talk with me. I hope you aren’t wasting my time.”

“And I hope you aren’t wasting my time and can help me somehow,” Teru snapped. Joseph let out a puff of smoke and squinted at him. Hanazawa held his gaze, although Joseph’s cigarette stank worse than the other smells around them. Teru suppressed a cough.

“I’ve heard you’re the one who’s keeping an eye on the espers from Claw. Especially on the Super Five,” he said. “Is that true?”

“Maybe.”

“Um… Okay. Yeah. So. Shimazaki, Ryou Shimazaki, was living with me for the past two weeks. And this whole time he was in touch with Hatori. I know you are looking for them.”

Joseph leaned forward, interested.

“Hmmm… Was living? But not anymore? You sheltered a terrorist? How lovely.”

Teru shook his head. He took his cup in his hands and began explaining.

***

That evening, Teru hadn’t been able to cook dinner. He had talked with Joseph for so long, it was too late to go to the grocery store, let alone prepare anything. So he had to order take-out again.

“This is the last time,” he said to himself for the third time this week. Take-out was an easy alternative for when Teru or Shimazaki had been too lazy to cook anything themselves. But for those last few weeks, it had been Shimazaki who had always paid for food. And starting today it was on Teru… Too bad, especially if he wanted to save money.

Teru sat on his bed, munching on rice and staring at the TV. There was a drama quietly airing in the background as he was recalled his earlier conversation with Joseph.

The man had heard Teru’s whole story and – thank God – offered to help, but only after some negotiations, and thinking up a plan with the other espers from the government. If Shimazaki returned, Teru was supposed to contact Joesph at once. Teru trusted him, of course, he did. Joseph was kinda abrupt and straightforward, but in Hanazawa’s eyes, that was to his advantage; he hadn’t cried over Teru’s life or played the role of a kind adult who had to help a kid. And Joesph knew who he was fighting – he hadn’t been even a little surprised when Teru had spoken about all of Shimazaki’s skills. Well, Joseph reportedly had been a spy snooping on Claw, so that would explain a lot.

DING! A text.

Teru grabbed his phone. His heart skipped a beat when he saw Ritsu’s name on the screen.

 “They said there are nice views from the Whale,” said the message.

He didn’t know he was smiling as he pressed the phone to his chest. He wanted to squeal.

The Whale, that was the name of place outside of town – a small hill with a gentle slope on one side, and a steep drop on the other. That’s where most people went when they wanted to have a picnic or just meet outdoors.

And Ritsu, with his typical grace, had suggested a meeting. Or a date. It was a good day, a good day.

Teru answered immediately:

 “On bikes? Tomorrow?”

“If you pick me up after the student council meeting. And if you bring something to eat. I’ll be starving.”

It sounded like a one on one, but Teru wanted to be sure:

 “Only us or are you taking your friends too?”

“..........you want me to invite someone else?”

“NO NONONO”

“Good.”

He didn’t know how to answer so he left it at that. He finished his meal and rushed to the bathroom to wash off the hair dye he had left setting in his hair earlier. Ritsu, Ritsu, Ritsu – echoed in Teru’s head. They would finally talk and clear everything up. And maybe they would date for real. A first date, a second, a third, mom, dad, this is Ritsu .

He was so distracted in his daydreaming, he almost bumped into a cabinet, as he was drying his hair with a towel. And he and nearly fell on the ground when he jumped happily and slipped on the tiles. One more mistake and Teru would probably break his neck. He had to calm down, to direct his energy somewhere else, do something useful. Laundry!

He dived into the laundry bin and started sorting the darks from the lights. During the sorting, he was lost in thought about his outfit for tomorrow. Would he even have time to go back home after classes to change AND make them something to eat (or buy a take-out again? Ugh.) Hmm, maybe he would make bentos in the morning and ride to the school on his bike, without going back home after classes… Well, he looked good in his school uniform, right? Yeah, he looked good in anything, so he didn’t have to waste time going home. He could pick up Ritsu, without a fear of being late and…

The air around him tensed, and fear grasped Teru’s heart. The apartment flooded with Shimazaki’s aura.

Teru heard quick footsteps approaching the bathroom. He straightened and clenched his hands around the laundry basket. His heart was racing, the world spun. No, no, no, goddamnit, no! This jerk was back, he was here, and he was probably pissed off. Teru could say bye to the date. Hah, bye to his life! Teru couldn’t even call for help – he'd left his phone in the bedroom, and between it and Teru was Shimazaki.

The footsteps stopped. Neither of the espers moved for a couple of breaths.

“Teru?” Hanazawa heard. He blinked.

“No, it's Santa Claus.”

Silence.

“So can I sit on your lap?” Shimazaki asked.

What the hell?

“Forget it," Teru snapped. "You were mean.”

“Damn. Hey, um, I need to take a shower. Are you done in there?”

Teru looked at the basket, then at the door. He had finished sorting, so yeah, he was done. But that meant, he would have to face Shimazaki, and he wasn’t ready for that.

When was the last time he had messaged his parents? Why did Shimazaki want to take this shower so urgently? Was he covered in someone’s blood?

“Why?” asked Teru.

“What's with that ‘why’?”

“Why do you need to take a shower?”

Shimazaki answered him with an impatient sigh and then:

“Because I stink. And I’m dirty.”

“Of blood?”

“Luckily no. I was careful when I was cutting this guy’s head off so not to make a mess.”

Teru knew that was a sarcasm, but it only made his mood worse. Until now this Monday had been okay. Too okay. Teru should have known that sooner or later something would ruin it.

He looked around, seeking possible weapons. If they started fighting, he could throw everything that was in here – cosmetics, clothes, accessories – at Shimazaki to divert his attention and run for his phone. The small space in the bathroom was to Teru’s advantage, who would be able to see all the obstacles, in contrary to the other esper.

“You can come in,” he said. He didn’t have to say it twice, Shimazaki opened the door and hurriedly rushed towards the shower, shoving Teru out of his way.

“Doing laundry?”

Teru nodded. He looked him over – Shimazaki was dirty, right, but not from blood. Dust and mud covered his body, as if Shimazaki had rolled on the ground.

“Washing dark clothes,” said Teru, not sure how much of this information was important. Well, Shimazaki was back and he behaved like nothing had happened, like he didn't know Teru had sold him out to Joseph. But Shimazaki had to know about it, it was obvious!

“Good,” Shimazaki said. “Here, have this too.”

He started taking off his blazer and t-shirt.

Teru blinked, confused. Shimazaki was just stripping in front of him, completely unmoved, but clearly upset by something else. And it wasn't as if Teru hadn’t seen Shimazaki without a shirt before (it had happened a few times), but it was more like…

“You want to fight me naked ?” he asked. Shimazaki’s hand stopped in the middle of unbuttoning his pants.

“You’re asking for trouble with those stupid questions.”

He reached out for Teru. Hanazawa glanced at his hand, then up Shimazaki’s chest, studying the marks and bruises on his skin. His attention landed on a gauze on Shimazaki's shoulder, that covered the wound Shimazaki had got when the rod almost had pierced him two evenings before. Seeing this made Teru more confident. Wherever Shimazaki had just invited him, Teru would use the surroundings again to defeat him. All alone.

He grasped the basket with his one hand, and lifted his head (and he let his gaze hang for a moment on Shimazaki’s sharp muscles) before and reaching for Shimazaki's hand. If Shimazaki wanted to fight, no problem. Bring it on.

Shimazaki teleported him across the apartment and then disappeared, leaving Teru alone with the washing machine.

Teru didn’t comment on this strange development, not even in his thoughts. He simply started loading the clothes inside.

***

Usually while waiting for the machine to finish its mission, Teru had waited on the balcony or gone shopping, just to not be in the apartment with Shimazaki. But now he ran back to the bedroom, stumbling over his feet. He noted that Shimazaki just finished his shower as the sound of the water stopped right as he grabbed his phone. Some time between washing his own hair and the laundry, Teru had got another message from Ritsu:

“...but you’ll come, right?”

Teru completely forgot about him. Shimazaki showing up had clouded all his earlier happiness about the date with Ritsu, dammit.

Shimazaki, right. Joseph needed to know he was back.

Hanazawa was just writing first characters of his message when Shimazaki came in.

“Teru?”

The boy looked up. Shimazaki was standing a few steps away, holding a first-aid kit in one hand and a shirt in the other. At least he had put on pants, thank you very much. Teru glanced again at all the bruises and scratches, and internally patted himself on the back for putting such nice decorations on Shimazaki’s body.

“I need you to…” Shimazaki pointed at the wound on his arm. Stitches marked a long path over the injury.

“To what?”

“To put a gauze on that.” He waved with the first aid kid. “And check if everything’s alright with… with the thing you did. The wound.”

Teru smiled to himself.

“And you have no one else to ask for help,” he hummed pleasantly.

“They didn’t want to help me, cowards.”

“Ah.” Teru straightened and put away his phone with ‘He’s back’ remaining unsent to Joseph. “No one at all? Minegishi? Shibata? Serizawa? Hatori… ? Looks like I won this round because I have friends who would help me if I needed.”

He didn’t regret his words. He stood firm as Shimazaki approached him, but clenched his fingers around his phone.

“If you're stupid enough to try anything…” Teru added. But Shimazaki simply pushed him aside and sat down on the bed. Teru breathed a sigh of relief.

“Okay, let me see that,” he said, moving in front of Shimazaki. He had to stand between Shimazaki’s legs to have a better view of the wound. “Who stitched it?”

Teru had no clue about stitches, so he couldn’t tell if the job had been done well or not. The wound hadn't festered at least.

“The guy I know is a surgeon,” answered Shimazaki. His warm breath teased the skin of Teru’s neck. “But as soon as he was done he told me to leave and never show up again,” he added bitterly. Teru nodded and hummed. It was good someone had helped Shimazaki with the wound, but it seemed that Shimazaki had caused more problems than his friends had predicted, and they had abandoned him. It would explain the long time Shimazaki was away and the state he had been in when he came back – he probably had checked with everyone who could be able to help him and only decided to return to Teru when he had run out of options.

They didn’t talk when Teru rinsed the wound with a disinfectant and put on a gauze. The silence was different than the ones that had previously stretched between them when they had been busy with their business. Now the roles had been reversed; this time it was Shimazaki who was recovering, was the one who wasn’t certain of his future. Ergo – he wasn’t teasing and being mean to Teru. He had lost and he knew it.

“Okay, done,” Teru said quietly, patting the gauze flat. “I don’t know much about wounds, but it doesn’t look bad. Anything else you want me to check?”

Instead of answering, Shimazaki gave a lingering hum and leaned his forehead against Teru’s arm.

Teru twitched in surprise but didn’t move away. It started to feel awkward that this whole evening Shimazaki hadn't been aggressive. He was clearly tired, fed up. But it couldn’t be the only reason for Shimazaki's strange behavior right now.

“What is it?” Teru decided to ask.

“I didn’t sleep at all today.”

“Oh, but I did. I finally rested. It was so nice having the whole bed to myself again.”

“Mmmmhhhh…”

“Then get some sleep if you’re sooo tired,” Teru wanted to say, but then he felt a light touch on his legs. He peeked down. Shimazaki rested his hands over Teru's knees, fingers catching slightly against Hanazawa’s pants.

Teru wasn’t held, but he felt like he was in the trap of a sleepy, wounded beast. The beast – although he had bared its teeth and clenched his claws on its prey days before – now was helpless and weak. Remorse pricked Teru’s heart, but he stifled it effectively. A terrorist, a jerk; Shimazaki didn’t deserve a sympathy.

“No?” something said in Teru’s head. It had Kageyama’s voice and now Teru felt bad. He and Shimazaki were similar, they both had been using their positions and powers to cause chaos. The only difference was that Shimazaki waited longer to feel remorseful, and in meantime, he terrorized Hanazawa, fought and threatened him… Teru had seen himself Shimazaki's awful conduct and attitude, and…

And all of this made Teru aware that he was the perfect person to lead Shimazaki on a good path, one where he would finally come out of the shadows and meet with Joseph.

DING! A new text. Teru ignored his phone and focused on Shimazaki. He absolutely had to tell him about Joseph now, even if he was within the beast’s claws. He had to tell him that the others from the Super Five had met with Joseph and now were living new lives, and that there was a chance for Shimazaki too.

Teru took a deep breath. He put his one hand on Shimazaki’s unwounded arm. His other hand began combing the man’s wet hair, calmly and slowly, as if trying to get the beast used to his touch, to help Teru in taming him.

“Are you sleeping?” he asked. Shimazaki shook his head. “Do you know I saw Shou?”

No reaction.

“And Joseph. You know him, right? They both know you’re here.”

“And do you know that…”

“That what?" Teru cut him off. "That you could do something to me and run away? Of course you could, if you wanted to. But how long are you going to hide? And what’s point of that?”

Shimazaki sighed and embraced Teru’s legs with his hands, pulling him closer. Hanazawa swallowed. He wouldn't let this man threaten him. He lifted his hand from Shimazaki’s hair and placed it on the wound as a reminder he could defend himself if needed.

“You’re the most stubborn of all of them,” he said. “The others from the Super Five started putting their lives back together a long time ago. What’s stopping you?”

“Because I can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

Shimazaki was silent. Teru waited patiently for the answer.

“I can’t have regrets,” the man said quietly after a few minutes. “I can’t be like them, whipping myself every morning for what I've done. I was doing all of this for fun, you know. So why do I have to feel bad about it?”

Oh. So Teru was wrong. He had thought that the beast had changed and started crying over his past, but no. He thought about his answer for a moment.

“Um, well, no one said you should whip yourself.” Certainly, Teru hadn't done that after he changed from the person he used to be.  “Just... Change your life. There’s no way to go back to Claw because it doesn’t exist anymore. You can come out of hiding, show that you don’t want to be the bad guy. That’s what the others did, right? Maybe not Hatori, but I bet he’ll break soon too… Uh, anyway, you don’t know their thoughts, you don’t know if they feel bad about their pasts or not. But they go on because that’s the only thing they can do now.”

No answer again. Shimazaki hugged Teru. The warmth of the hug and closeness was a little too much for Hanazawa. Moments ago he had tried to not to think too much about the awkwardness of this situation – two days ago they fought practically to the death, and now they were close, chest to chest. But he didn’t want to free himself from the embrace yet. Yes, he felt like prey, but he also felt like it helped him in convincing Shimazaki. Well, at least the man hadn't ruled anything out; he was still listening carefully.

“You’ll meet Joseph tomorrow,” Teru said, quieter. “He won’t do anything besides giving you a really small, tiny implant, just to keep an eye on you. Just like they did to the others. And then you can live again.”

“I don’t know how.”

Teru bit his lip. What did he mean by “I don’t know how?” He was an adult, dammit!

“The others managed, and you will too. Just stop resisting.”

“I need to think about it.”

“You will meet Joseph tomorrow. I’ll text you where and when.”

“I’m going to sleep.”

Teru tried to step back. Shimazaki let him go and hanged his head.

“Then go,” Teru said. “I still have a few things to do.”

Shimazaki nodded, put on his shirt and laid down, lazily and sleepy.

That’s it. They were done. Teru grabbed his phone and the basket for the laundry and retreated from the room. He closed the door behind him, and slid down the wall, with his face hid in his hands. He barely noticed he was shaking.

Finally. Finally. FINALLY . He knew Shimazaki hadn't agreed to anything yet, but Teru was certain this was the end of his suffering, he felt it in his bones.

Now he could check the messages he had received earlier.

Ritsu again.

“...Hanazawa?”

Teru remembered he hadn’t answered the last text.

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

On his way to the washing machine, he dialed Joseph’s number.

Chapter Text

Shimazaki woke up to the feeling of a warm breath teasing against his neck. The man mumbled a question and was about to free his hand from under the blankets to shield himself, when he felt Teru’s aura – sharp and awakened – leaning over him. Shimazaki decided to lay still, waiting for the boy's next move.

Teru froze as well, and then slowly leaned over on his forearm, his other hand close to his side. He was probably waiting for the right moment or until Shimazaki went back to sleep. Only after a few more breaths did Teru raise his hand and brush his fingertips carefully against the bruises decorating Shimazaki’s arms and chest. The touch – not so light that it tickled and not enough to wake Shimazaki even if he was asleep – was approaching the gauze over Shimazaki's stitches.

Shimazaki’s heart began beating faster and he tried not to move, stopped himself from grabbing or pushing Teru’s hand away. Of course, he could guess what Teru's next move might be – Teru's touch might study the biggest wound on Shimazaki’s arm – but Shimazaki didn’t know what would happen after that or what exactly was on Teru’s mind. So Shimazaki lied still on his back, on his side of the bed, in the middle of the night. Well, he could only assume it was middle of the night – he hadn’t heard any noises from outside, and those noises from inside included only the ticking of the clock and the rustle of the sheets.

Suddenly Teru’s aura swirled in excitement and thinned, and then shifted from a thick slime, almost oil-like, to something as light as water. It peeled back from the boy in streams, coiling around him wildly and shaking as Teru tried to calm himself down. For the first few seconds Teru couldn’t control his aura, so he froze again and breathed deeply. He lowered his head, but his hand was still on Shimazaki’s arm.

When Teru had calmed down, his aura thickened again. Those changes weren’t similar to what had happened to Teru in the woods two nights before when he had lost control of his psychic powers. Now the aura betrayed all too well how Teru felt. The odds were the boy didn’t even know that Shimazaki could read him like an open book from only a short glance.

Teru got up on his knees and leaned over the man again. Now Shimazaki was even more confused, he couldn’t think what motivated Teru or what he was so excited about. These wounds weren’t anything serious, just some scratches. That could happen to anyone – so what if they were from a fight? No one had won anyway, so there was nothing to be happy about.

But Teru’s aura brightened and deepened, thinned and thickened, all depending if the boy managed or not to calm himself down in time. He was still tracking the bruises and marks, and now Teru's touch wasn’t that light, but firmer. Teru was leaning closer and closer; if he tilted his head and turned his face towards the man, Shimazaki could kiss him if he wanted. That was a bad joke, but maybe it would teach Teru to not molest other espers while they were asleep. A different kind of a lesson from their usual fights.

Fortunately for the boy, Shimazaki didn’t move his head. Teru's wandering hand found a comfortable place to rest on the gauze and his fingers traced up and down the stitches. They didn’t press or cause any pain, but Shimazaki clearly felt the touch… and he grew annoyed with Teru’s behavior. Admittedly he had heard a bit about Hanazawa before he had appeared in his apartment, but in between notes about Teru liking torturing the others and not stopping himself from killing if needed, there was no mention of Teru being fascinated with someone’s bruises. Maybe he was a sadist; Shimazaki wouldn’t be surprised by that at all.

The hand started wandering again, hesitantly, this time in the direction of Shimazaki's neck. Shimazaki frowned. He felt a change in the boy’s aura – it was growing under a thin layer, that could snap in any moment after being put under too much pressure; suppressed, but barely trained and wild somewhere deep inside. The aura was getting harder to stifle the nearer Teru’s hand was to Shimazaki’s neck. It was only a matter of seconds, and Shimazaki caught the changes because the aura grew, and grew, and grew…

Shimazaki wasn’t afraid of what might happen, but he also didn’t want to find out if Teru would try to choke him. He mumbled in annoyance and, as if in his sleep, turned onto his side, his back to Teru. The boy’s aura quickly contracted and returned to its old pattern, with a small pinch of confusion. Then Teru laid back down and didn’t move for a long time.

That night Shimazaki didn’t sleep well.

***

Shimazaki had slept only a half an hour, but when he woke up with Teru’s alarm, he felt as if he was well rested and could conquer the world. He got dressed, brushed his teeth and shaved, and had sat down to eat breakfast before his fatigue caught up with him, and his face almost landed on the plate of food. Teru didn’t look much better – his aura barely smoldered, and if something fanned it, it only grew off-balance and twitchy. Neither of them talked; even Shimazaki wasn’t trying to goad any information out of the boy. He couldn’t even think about that right now, his mind covered in a mist of exhaustion.

The silence broke the moment Shimazaki pulled out a cigarette.

“No,” Teru growled.

“Let an old man have a smoke in the morning.”

“Get. Out.”

Shimazaki wanted nothing else but peace, so he obeyed. He grabbed his coffee and teleported to the balcony. Teru reacted in no time and rushed after him. Shimazaki sighed and moved to the roof, hoping he would get there with some time to himself. He sat down on the edge of the building, put his mug aside and finally lit the cigarette. He could sense Teru standing in the middle of the bedroom and didn’t move for a moment; maybe he was considering going after Shimazaki. It made no difference to the former Claw esper if only Teru would be quiet.

The chill air, the coffee, and the cigarette woke Shimazaki up, but he still felt he would need to get a few more hours of sleep after Teru left for school. The question was, which did Teru care about more – going to school or choking Shimazaki? Would Teru come back just to check if Shimazaki was asleep and use the chance?

Well, yeah, that sounded like paranoia, but after earlier that morning, Shimazaki didn’t know what he could expect from the boy. Teru hadn’t behaved like that before… although some of Claw’s reports said that Teruki Hanazawa could have some mental problems, even for a kid his age. Torturing and drowning people? At the age of fourteen? Good grief.

Shimazaki assumed it had something to do with Claw espers hunting Teru for a long time; they weren’t exactly gentle in persuading people to their ideas after all. So Teru had to choose between giving in or fighting with tears in his eyes and turning into a bastard, similar to those men who were chasing him.

Except that Shimazaki promised to meet with Joseph, so Teru had no reason to behave strangely, right? Or was his nature a result of something more than the fighting with Claw?

Anyway, Shimazaki should have noticed the oddness of the kid before, when he had “moved in.” He should have, but he hadn’t. The last two weeks had wrung all the strength and determination from Shimazaki thanks to Teru – on top of being a madman – and his attitude. He had not even once let up on Shimazaki, even if he had been losing every battle this entire time. Ultimately desperation had won, and without caring about the lives of his family and friends, Teru had decided to seek help. Shimazaki wasn’t surprised. He was only mad that Joseph traced him before he and Hatori managed to find a perfect place to hide.

It could be so beautiful. If they would have had only a few days more… Hatori had promised he would stitch everything up in no longer than two weeks; after that they would be impossible to track until the world forgot about them. Teru had known about it, and Shimazaki hadn’t wanted to lie to him (especially not after their last fight)... Only Teru didn’t believe him. And here Shimazaki wasn’t surprised again.

Now Shimazaki had nowhere to hide and he had to meet with Joseph. He couldn’t imagine what would happen during this meeting. Would Joesph tell him he was free to do whatever the hell he wanted? Just like the others from the Super Five? There had to be a catch.

Teru found him on the roof, although Shimazaki hadn’t intended to hide. Hanazawa approached him, buttoning up his coat, or the man guessed from hearing a rustle of material.

“I’ll contact Joseph and give you details about the meeting,” said Teru. “I wanna get you both over as soon as possible.”

Shimazaki tilted his head and considered telling Teru about his plans. He hadn’t planned meeting Joseph alone, he wasn’t that stupid. And maybe the presence of Teru as a hostage wouldn’t give him much of an advantage, but he didn’t want to be an easy catch.

“And… And I won’t be home for a dinner,” Teru added. Shimazaki turned his head to him and raised his eyebrows.

“You think you’ll still find me here after this meeting?” he asked. Because, well, he was sure he would be sleeping in a prison bed tonight.

“Saying just in case you're still here. Good luck.”

So Shimazaki didn’t say anything about his plans. Teru would leave him with no choice, but Shimazaki could deal with that later. Wherever Teru would be after the school… Finding him shouldn’t be a problem. And if Teru was hiding, Shimazaki would ask Hatori for help in tracking him.

Several minutes later the boy moved quickly up the street in the direction of his school. Shimazaki guessed Teru had taken his bike. It was too chilly for his liking, but it seemed that wasn't a problem for the younger esper. Kids these days, they were just asking for a cold.

Maybe it was a good thing he would meet with Joseph today. Even if the man put Shimazaki into a prison, this whole circus with hiding at Teru's would be over. On the other hand, now, the others from the Super Five were more free than ever before, and the government imprisoned only Toichiro... Shimazaki and Hatori could have surrendered right after the battle back then, but how could they have predicted it would end up like this and not in jail...? Especially when you take into consideration that, besides the boss, Shimazaki was the one who caused the most chaos. After kidnapping the prime minister and losing the battle with a bunch of kids, it was hard for Shimazaki to bend his knee to just anyone and accept the punishment. So he had had to look for a shelter. And maybe irony or karma had decided to finally show its claws just in time, just as Shimazaki had found his perfect hiding place at the apartment of a kid who caused him the most trouble.

Shimazaki had learned during their first fights that Teru was not only a sadist but damn talented sadist... But at least he lived alone, according to the Claw informants. Moreover, Shimazaki had felt that after this battle Teru would be tired and hurt and wouldn't put up much of a resistance. Aaaand he was sick as well. Shimazaki hadn't wanted to take care of a sick kid, but damn if he had had any other choice.

Shimazaki had lost to weaklings, that's right, but the sheer force of numbers had been to his disadvantage back then. And Teru was the only one here to fight Shimazaki this time, and Teru might be smart and sneaky, but on his own he never stood a chance against Shimazaki. Especially after Shimazaki knew his own weak points and learned how to effectively use his new ESP powers.

Teru had to be aware of this, but he kept on stubbornly fighting. Shimazaki was almost impressed. Yeah, he was tired of all the quarrels and fights, but still impressed.

Well, it was hard to not to recognize Teru. He was different from all other esper kids that Claw had obtained and who Shimazaki had had a chance to meet. They were aware of their psychic powers, but they still had been in diapers, weak and afraid of fighting; they had treated their psychic powers like something cool (no wonder of course) but they still had lacked composure, skills, or a readiness to learn from their mistakes... And in the end, they had all broken under the pressure of Claw's training and if they hadn't killed themselves, the kids had become demented puppets with no utility. Teru on the other hand? Using psychic powers for him was not only as easy as breathing, but he also knew many techniques and could use all of them flawlessly. And he was still learning. All alone! Maybe Shou was stronger than Teru – as Shimazaki could assess – but before running away, young Suzuki had teachers who had showed him how to use his psychic powers, while Hanazawa was self-taught. Who knew what Teru would become in a few years! Maybe someone could help him and Teru would be even more powerful, maybe even more than Toichiro. If he had the proper motivation, that is.

But there was something wrong in Teru's approach to his special powers. Fake modesty. Shaky distance. Trained restraint. Teru looked like he wasn't himself, he came off as someone who once had been smashed to pieces and then rebuilt based on a specific pattern. “I'm just a commoner,” a boy said, who in a blink of an eye had deciphered one of the most powerful espers in the world. “I'm just a commoner,” said a boy who had been the only one who could stand on his own after Shimazaki's knockout attack. “I'm just a commoner,” a boy said who was one of only few espers who could use more than one fighting technique at once. “I'm just a...” “DAMNIT, NO!” – Shimazaki wanted to yell, to grab Teru's arms and shake him. How could he think of himself as a commoner when he was an esper like this?! Why couldn't Teru see that he was above the others, better, smarter? Everything he said in this regard sounded so fake. Teru just needed to take a few steps, needed a small push to stop believing in this stupid “commoner” thing. He had a chance to become the ideal esper. Why wouldn't he take it? What was stopping him?

Even if he didn't want to use his psychic powers against regular people (because Teru said that's wrong, for some strange reason) it was obvious he was better than them, and it wasn't healthy to live in such denial.

Unless... What had Teru said during their second fight, shortly after he had figured Shimazaki out? “There are espers in the world with power greater than you can even imagine”? And Teru had been talking about his friend, the one who had shown up at the very end of the battle... Uh, okay, his psychic powers were indeed greater than Teru's, but that wasn't any reason to give someone a complex! Seriously, Teru needed somebody who would help him fight against that! (But not Shimazaki, no way. It was enough for him to get his ass beaten up, he didn't have to add any more bricks into building Teru's ego.)

Teru was wasting his potential. Moreover, he was living alone, without parents so instead of getting the best out of his life he was doing all the stuff his old folks should be doing. Shimazaki felt sorry for him.

Speak of the devil.

Shimazaki's mobile rang with a cheerful tone. Shimazaki – who had tried to sleep in but failed to rest – struggled for his phone and picked up, his cheek buried in a soft pillow.

“Hm?” was his greeting.

“Half past noon,” Teru snapped. “At the corner of Mita and Otome streets.”

“Mhm.”

Surprisingly Teru didn't hang up. He was silent.

“What time is it anyway?” asked Shimazaki. It felt like he'd been trying to sleep for a long time, and he hadn't checked the hour.

“Ten o'clock.”

“You don't sound amused. What's wrong?” It wasn't as if Shimazaki was super interested in Teru's mood, but the boy should be happy he would be rid of Shimazaki soon, right?

“I don't know why, but Joseph wants me to come with you.”

“Oh.” Shimazaki rolled onto his side and tucked Hanazawa's pillow under his head. Joseph had made his task easier; now Shimazaki wouldn't have to kidnap Teruki, thanks, thanks. “Yeah, strange. This doesn't have anything to do with you.”

“Exactly! Like I wouldn't have better things to do during lunch.”

“I can pick you up if you want. To be honest...” he yawned. “I don't know where those streets you mentioned are. Mi... uh... ta?”

“Mita and Otoma. Fine. I'll be waiting at the same place as always. See you.”

“Bye-bye.”

Shimazaki hung up and set an alarm, just in case he did fall asleep. Then he rolled onto his stomach and snuggled his face into the pillow. The material smelled familiar, of Teru's shampoo scent. “Familiar and nice,” the thought flickered in the back of Shimazaki's mind. He still had two more hours to enjoy to the fullest his familiar surroundings, before he would go to Joseph, who would be waiting for him with his damn ideas and plans.

***

Teru's aura was sharper than it had been in the morning – that, or Shimazaki's ESP had been muffled with fatigue and was now sharper in the face of danger. But maybe it was just Teru who was different, simply excited about the events that were about to happen.

“I hope you won't surprise us with a fight or something,” Teru said as they walked down Mita street. It wasn't too busy or empty, accurate to the time of the day when most people were at school or work. Only a few men passed the espers, giving them as much attention as they were receiving.

“I haven't decided yet, to be honest,” answered Shimazaki. It didn't matter if he cried 'nooo, I'm not planning anything, I swear!' Teru would stay alert anyway, so there was no point in lying.

“Shimazaki.” Teru suddenly came to a stop and turned to him. “You still don't believe they'll let you go? Don't pick a fight or you'll get yourself into bigger problems.”

“And you believe that?” Shimazaki shrugged. “Imagine being a guy who kidnapped the prime minister and made a damn mess out of a city, killing people and other espers. Would you let them go?”

“Honestly? No.”

“Exactly.”

“But considering they didn't put the others in jail, I have to believe them," Teru said. "This all doesn't make any sense for me, but... You see how it is.”

“I hope for your own good that they'll really let me go.”

“Seriously?” Teru's aura glowed and lit up the gray silhouettes of passers-by. “Or what?”

“I wouldn't hurt you, that's for sure. But don't let the others pay for your mistakes.”

“What the hell is this again?”

Shimazaki tilted his head and sighed loudly. Oh God, okay, Teru had his head on the right way and could lie like no one else, but he had forgotten one important thing – Shimazaki wasn't an idiot.

“Your parents,” Shimazaki said, closing the distance between them with three slow steps. “You weren’t honest about them. Although it would have been a stupid move if you had told me the truth about them.”

Teru swallowed and clenched his fists. His anger was trying to take control of him and push him to attack Shimazaki, but he was resisting. He stood firm, not moving.

So Shimazaki had him by his throat. He and Hatori had traced Teru's parents days ago, but they had kept this information as long as they needed. And now was a good moment to use it, just in case something went wrong during this talk with Joseph.

“You aren't making it easy for anyone,” snapped Teru. “Especially not for yourself.”

“I haven't had it easy since I was born, and I lived with that. But thanks for your concern.”

“You know I'm not afraid of you.”

“You are definitely trying not to be afraid, I'm certain of that.”

Teru growled something in return and turned on his heel to continue down the street. Shimazaki followed him. He started noticing auras of other espers who were in a building somewhere in a distance. He guessed it had to be Joseph and his team. Good, at least he wouldn't need to wait for him and this bullshit would be over with soon.

“Why didn't he bring the whole army?” Shimazaki asked under his breath. Teru didn't answer, but his aura tensed. “Hey, I was just kidding, okay? I don't want to fight anyone, but if they try to jail me then, sorry, but it won't be that easy.”

“Mhm.”

After a few minutes of a rushed walk, they finally reached the meeting place – a closed restaurant; there was no staff inside but all the tables were occupied by espers of different ranks and psychic power strength. Their auras each tensed and sharpened as Shimazaki and Teru entered the building.

The door immediately shut behind them, closed by someone's use of telekinesis, and a shiver went down Shimazaki's back. The lock scraped shut. The world and auras around them suddenly blurred as Shimazaki lost his orientation in the room. He came to a stop.

“Right,” he muttered. “Of course they'd use some damn seals.”

He still could sense the presence of other espers, but now instead of carefully studying them, he could only tell they were somewhere here. If they rushed at him, Shimazaki would only know about it when they hit him. Cute.

“And here's Joseph,” he heard Teru say. Yeah, no shit. Shimazaki tried to teleport two steps back, but his psychic powers refused to work. Well, it looked like they would put him in jail for real. Why didn't he predict they would meet in a sealed place? It was the first and the last time they had duped him. But he still could predict their moves. Maybe not by reading their auras but...

He flinched when he felt Teru's hand squeezing his wrist.

“This way,” said the boy. His hand slipped down and his fingers entwined with Shimazaki's. They moved ahead and stopped after a few steps; Teru first.

“Well, finally.” Shimazaki recognized Joseph's voice. He felt a choking smoke, too thick and sleazy to call it normal.

Teru pulled his hand away.

“Good afternoon,” answered Shimazaki.

“You've been hiding for so long,” said Joseph. “And at some kid's place... Like you didn't have enough problems.”

“I had too much fun to come out and see old friends like you. I hope you're in good health.”

“Where's Hatori?”

“Straight to business, huh?" Shimazaki grinned. "Why do you even think I know?”

“You're in touch, right?”

“Yeah, and? There's something called a phone. I don't need to know where he's hiding to be able to talk to him. It wouldn't be a good thing to know anyway.”

The reek of smoke came even closer, brushing against the former Claw esper’s face. Shimazaki felt a grasp on his jacket, a tug. The next second his face smashed against something hard and wooden – surely the top of a table or a counter. Pain flared up his temple and the side of his face, piercing down his injured arm.

“Wow,” panted Shimazaki.

“Where's Hatori?” it was Joseph again, his voice calm. He was holding Shimazaki by his hair and the back of his neck.

“I don't know,” Shimazaki growled. His hands struggled to find the edge of the countertop. “He doesn't like talking about himself.”

“Then you'll ask him in... What time is it?”

“Twenty to one,” an esper answered from the other side of the room.

“In three minutes. You'll be a good boy and call him and ask about everything we need to know,” explained Joseph.

“I won't do that.” Shimazaki smiled to himself, amused. “I don't have his number. He's the one who's always calling me.”

“And why would I believe you?” Joesph emphasized his question by slamming Shimazaki's head against the counter again. For a second the other espers' auras disappeared. When they returned, they were more blurred than before.

“Take my phone and check it, fuck,” Shimazaki hissed. He felt someone's hands patting his pants pockets. The smell of the smoke was replaced with a scent of Teru's shampoo. This damn brat...

“Hmmm.” Joseph probably considered whatever he saw in Shimazaki's phone. “Fine, but we'll take this. For a day at least.”

“And you'll give it back?” Shimazaki asked, fidgeting under his hold. “That's so nice of you.”

“I'm nice like that."

He heard hurried steps and tried to lift his head, but Joseph pushed him back down. Joseph took his hand from Shimazaki's neck and tugged his shirt collar back, uncovering the skin there. Another pair of hands grabbed Shimazaki's arms.

His heart skipped a beat. He tried to get free from the hold, but the two other espers were stronger.

“Easy,” purred Joseph.

Anxiously Shimazaki tried to look around the room. Teru's muffled aura stood out amongst the others; it was a bright spot among other auras that were smokey, oily, veiny, and all the other various types Shimazaki hadn't managed to see before now. Shimazaki tried to anchor himself in the boy's appearance and told himself that as long as Teru was here, Joseph wouldn't hurt him. It was a strange thought, but somehow Shimazaki believed it.

A sting on his neck tore him away from Teru's aura. Shimazaki hissed in pain. There was a stretching feeling against a spot on the nape of his neck; it felt like something was crawling deep beneath his skin, slowly and with difficulty. It must've lasted ages and took away the rest of Shimazaki's senses and will to fight. He tried to find Teru's aura again; Hanazawa was somewhere nearby, blinking at him in the darkness, thank the Lord.

The hold on Shimazaki's arms and neck disappeared, although the pain stayed. Shimazaki's knees knocked against the floor, and he almost fell on the ground.

“Tell me when you're ready to talk,” he heard Joseph say behind a thick fog of pain and confusion. “There are things we need to discuss.”

“Fuck you.”

“Choose a good moment, because I won't repeat myself. I don't want to waste my breath for a trash like you.”

Shimazaki tried to lift himself up, but his legs wobbled under his weight and he didn't stay up for long. He tried that a few more times before he felt Teru's hands under his arms. With the boy's help, Shimazaki sat heavily into a chair.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“I'm in hurry, okay?” answered Teru. He heard a click of a lighter, and smelt a new intensified stink of smoke. Shimazaki wanted to smoke too.

“I would give you a cigarette, but I don't share,” said Joseph. “But maybe someone has one to spare, hm?”

A shuffle of legs, a few lazy steps. An aura that reminded Shimazaki of a rolled-up string of barbed wire approached Shimazaki. The former Claw esper reached blindly to find the pack of cigarettes with his hand.

“Give it to me,” Teru sighed. A second later Shimazaki felt a cigarette on his lips and heard a click of a lighter again. He inhaled deeply.

“You've got experience in taking care of this asshole,” said Joseph, sounding surprised. “Funny you're still doing it after all this.”

“Someone has to be the good person here.”

“Can I explain what just happened?” Joseph asked, the question clearly directed to Shimazaki. He nodded. He wasn't sure how much he would remember of this conversation, but they couldn't sit here for ages. Teru was listening to everything carefully and he would probably repeat anything said to Shimazaki a few times.

“We implanted a chip in you,” Joseph explained what Shimazaki already knew. “Every one of your friends has a similar one. And every of those cute chips has a cute, tiny GPS, that shows us where you are at all times. We have an eye on you every day, every week, the whole year.”

Shimazaki sighed. Teru had already told him this. So it was nothing new, and nothing too bad.

“And another thing,” Joseph went on. “I want all of you in one place, you sons of bitches.” He tapped the lighter against the counter. “That's why you can't leave the city. For you, pretty face, I'd say ten years of that sort of house arrest should be enough for now.”

Oh. Shit.

“'The fuck?” Shimazaki gasped. “I've got a family in north Japan, I have to visit them sometime.”

“Stop talking bullshit, you haven't seen them in over five years. We checked with your family at the very beginning of the search.”

“You can call them,” suggested Teru. “Every day, if you care so much about them.”

“Listen to the kid, it sounds like he has some experience here.”

Shimazaki snorted. He clenched his fists and forced himself not to do something stupid, like seizing Joseph and punching him. He felt confident that Hatori could simply hack those chips and deactivate them.

“And if you or your friends,” said Joseph again, “try to mess with the implants... Well, I can only wish you good luck. I won't bore you with all the details, but I'll just say we'll instantly know about any interference to our lil' cute devices. And they've got something called firewall, that could harm a carrier... And what exactly does it mean... Well, I leave that to your imagination. Understood?”

“Jesus fuck,” snapped Shimazaki.

“I'll take that as a 'Yes.' I'm glad. There's one other thing we need to talk about.”

Great. There's something else. What – did this implant sense if Shimazaki did some good deed and would electrocute him if he wasn't nice at least once an hour? Goddamn. Okay, maybe this whole deal was better than putting him into a jail, but to be trapped in this city for ten fucking years? And what if Shimazaki couldn't find a job here or manage to start a new life? All the people living in this city had seen the kidnapping of the prime minister and they all probably had heard about the searches. Great. Fucking great.

Not to mention he wouldn't have any way to warn Hatori or how to run away to wherever they were supposed to hide in those two weeks.

“What's that?” Shimazaki asked.

“Work with us.”

“What?!” yelled Teru and Shimazaki.

“He's a terrorist!” Teru added.

“Forget it!” were Shimazaki's next words.

“If you want.” Joseph shrugged. “But good luck in getting your new life together. You're a bastard, but I wish you the best. You can leave. Teru, we need to talk.”

Shimazaki stood up and pushed the chair out his way; he heard as it hit the table. He rushed in the direction of the door, as he calculated. Teru didn't run to guide him, so he guessed he was going the right way. The click of an opened lock and door confirmed his hunch.

“Oh, hm... Shimazaki,” Teru called from behind him. Shimazaki stopped. “My lunch break is over in five minutes...”

He shrugged. What a kid, now he wanted a lift back to school. And what else? Buy him food on their way?

The exact moment Shimazaki passed the entrance of the restaurant, all auras of people and espers surrounding him sharpened again. He was able to predict the move of every passers-by, every flinch. He didn't try to teleport, but he was certain that this power was back on track too. It was a strange feeling – being ripped of his psychic powers, but not unfamiliar. A few years ago he had tried to train in a sealed room, but it was only a simulation. Later he came to the conclusion that there was no point in depriving himself the pleasure of using his powers.

“You rely too much on them,” he remembered Teru's words during their first fight, shortly before he had brought Shimazaki down to earth, literally and figuratively.

Shimazaki smiled sadly to himself. If he had been smarter all those years ago and trained persistently in this sealed room, maybe his situation now would be different. Better, and without this shit in his neck.

The door shut closed behind him so he didn't hear what Joseph and Teru were talking about. Maybe with a little luck, the boy would whine about this conversation later. Shimazaki knew it had to be something about him or Hatori, otherwise, they wouldn't be so discreet about it.

It took them a few minutes. And finally, Teru stepped out the restaurant and grabbed Shimazaki's hand, saying:

“Teleport me to school, the closest as you can.”

Ah, right, it was long after the bell, and the perfect boy couldn't be late.

Two seconds later they stood in the school, in the middle of one of its halls, a place familiar to Shimazaki that was near the classrooms. Teru almost turned to run, but he squeezed the man's hand and sighed deeply.

“Shimazaki...”

“Hm?”

Teru turned to him, his aura radiating calmly. It was a contrast to his shaking voice: “My parents.”

Right. They still were Hatori's target, and he and Shimazaki still could get rid of them if they wanted. If Teru started acting weird, Shimazaki only needed to say the word. Shimazaki didn't know what Teru and Joseph had planned now, but... That didn't really matter anymore. They got him, they had their eyes on him. Shimazaki couldn't do much, couldn't run away, all his aces in the hole were useless. He had to start his life anew, here and now.

“Don't worry about them,” he finally replied.

“This one time,” Teru said quietly, “this one time I'll trust you. Don't mess it up.”

Teru tried to pull his hand from Shimazaki's grip, but the man held onto it.

“Teru,” now it was harder for Shimazaki to talk, as this too familiar feeling of loss and shame squeezed against his throat. But he had to say it before Teru would go back to his own life. “Thank you, for everything.”

Teru held his breath.

“And sorry. For everything,” Shimazaki added. He wasn't sure if he really felt sorry for everything he had done in the past two weeks. He had his reasons, yes, but the boy didn't deserve all of this... or at least half of it.

“A cheap 'sorry' won't be enough,” said Teru. “Any 'sorry' wouldn't be enough. To be honest I'm not sure if I'll ever forgive you for this shit you put me through. You're feeling sorry all of sudden, because someone beat your ass, and not because... Ugh, nevermind.”

“Any requests for dinner?” Shimazaki asked.

“I won't be back for a dinner. I told you I have a date,” Teru muttered finally taking his hand from Shimazaki's grasp.

“Ah, right, you mentioned that. Have fun then.”

Teru answered with a nod, turned and dashed away. Shimazaki followed him with his ESP for a moment before teleporting back to his apartment.

He stood in the middle of the room, not sure what he should do now.

 

 

Chapter Text

The restaurant door closed behind Shimazaki and now it was Teru’s turn to deal with whatever Joseph had prepared for him. He didn’t like that the man wanted to talk with him alone. The government had Shimazaki chipped; what else could they want from Teru?

He looked around, checking every esper that was in the room. There were eleven of them including Joseph. Teru could handle them in case they wanted to implant a chip in him too, for some reason. The seal restricting special abilities only worked on Shimazaki; Teru felt traces of his psychic powers on his fingers when he checked it.

“Sit down, kid.” Joseph nodded at the chair that had been previously occupied by Shimazaki. Teru took him up on that offer. Reluctantly. “I don't expect you to know anything, but I need to ask anyway. Do you know where Hatori is? Or anything about him?”

“No.”

“Did Shimazaki say anything? Or did you overhear something by accident?”

“No.”

“You didn’t even think about my questions.”

“I've been thinking about them for the past two weeks. Now I just want peace and quiet.”

“I can’t guarantee that.”

Teru frowned. He held Joseph’s gaze.

“What do you want?” he asked slowly. “I literally put Shimazaki under your lazy nose. Don’t even think I’ll be chasing another terrorist.”

“We don’t want you to chase Hatori,” Joseph answered, playing with a pack of cigarettes in his hands. “We need a little of your help… It won’t even be anything new to you… Well, as you’ve got quite a lot of experience already.”

Joseph turned to his people and nodded. One of the espers stood up and brought a laptop to the table; the computer was covered with colorful stickers.

“Do you remember our first conversation?” Joseph asked as he opened his laptop. “You mentioned Shimazaki said he would be ready to move out in two weeks.”

It was crucial information, Teru had to share it. He nodded and let the man continue.

“The thing is, Shimazaki and Hatori were supposed to hide, right? That means there was someone who was willing to help them. Someone stupid enough to not to be afraid of the police or the government. Or someone with a huge influence. Or someone who could use the powers of dangerous espers. Or everything at once. It can be an organization, a group of people or a single man.”

“Yakuza,” Teru whispered, clenching his fingers around an edge of the chair.

“Um… Maybe. I mean, it’s not really possible, but we aren’t crossing it out. Why did you think about yakuza?”

“Oh, n-no reason. It was just the first thing that came to mind.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Joseph turned to his people again. “Write that down.”

The warmth of embarrassment flooded Teru’s neck and cheeks. He was only joking, c’mon. Did they really have to take everything so seriously?

“Anyway, there is a huge chance they didn’t write him off,” Joseph went on. “And they’ll try to get him back, with or without Hatori’s help. And if they don’t try to contact Shimazaki personally, then Hatori will try to reach him for sure.”

“I wouldn’t be so certain of that, to be honest,” Teru interrupted him. “Yesterday Shimazaki said his friends didn’t want to help him and he was left with no backup.”

“And that’s why he decided to meet with me?”

“Not really. He just didn’t want to hide any longer. But… Hm... he was still ready to fight if you tried to put him into a jail. That means he eventually had an alternative… and still, he met with you… So his closest friends turned their backs on him, but someone powerful is still by his side.”

“That’s interesting. Maybe he was checking us out for Hatori’s sake. Damn, what a sacrifice.” Joseph sighed. “I never would have thought an asshole like him would go that far for someone else. Now I’m even more certain we need your help.”

He turned the laptop’s screen to Teru. The map on the desktop showed Seasoning City; four red dots with the names of the espers of the Super Five were placed on streets and buildings. Teru found the one with Shimazaki’s characters.

“We keep an eye on them, that’s right,” Joseph said. “But there’s a tiny problem with Shimazaki. Not only he could meet with his… hm... would-be employer or Hatori, but also with his powers of teleportation… well, the GPS might go crazy sometimes.”

“You want me to watch him,” Teru said, looking up at Joseph, his voice steady.

“As I said, you’ve got experience with that. Nothing new, nothing hard.”

Teru laughed and folded his arms. He figured Joseph would ask for something like that. Well, letting the Super Five go freely, with only a damn chip in their neck sounded like a bad joke. Someone had to watch them when the espers from the government were busy with whatever else. It would be easier to simply jail the terrorists. But of course, Joseph didn’t want to say why they hadn’t decided to do that. Now Teru thought that they just wanted to flush other degenerates out of hiding.

“No way,” Teru said. “I have my own problems. School, for example, or my personal life. The last two weeks were rough enough to leave me traumatized for years and you want to put me into an even bigger mess? Hey, I’m just a kid, okay?”

“You are a smart and talented kid, and you would do better than most of my men.”

“You saying that doesn't make me any older,” Teru snapped, not even batting an eye at the compliment. Like he needed one from a man asking for a major favor like spying on a terrorist.

“Fine, I get it. Damn,” Joseph sighed, turning the laptop back to himself and closing it down. “That means I’ll need to ask the other kid for help again.”

Teru quickly assessed the situation, taking into account the recent life of the Super Five and the last thing Joseph had said. Who was he talking about? Kageyama and Serizawa? They were quite close; they both worked in Reigen’s office. On the other hand, Teru couldn’t imagine Kageyama agreeing to spy on anyone, especially not on someone like Serizawa. 'He’s grown-up and responsible for his own actions,' was probably what would Kageyama say; Hanazawa could almost hear him saying those words.

Maybe by 'other kid' Joseph had meant Suzuki or Ritsu? As if they didn't have anything better to do than take care of terrorists.

While Teru thought about all the espers he knew, he noticed that no one besides the older Kageyama brother was good enough to handle Shimazaki, in both spying and fighting. But if Teru would agree to spy on Shimazaki himself, it meant his personal life would be torn to pieces again… Then again…

He rubbed his chin, staring at a point on the table. He didn’t notice Joseph staring at him, clearly waiting for an answer or reaction.

Hanazawa could help Joseph and not mess up his life too much if he only let Shimazaki live in his apartment for a little longer. Maybe it sounded paradoxical, but Shimazaki would be a lot easier to watch from now on. Moreover, Shimazaki shouldn’t be such pain in the butt now, since he had come out of the hiding and likely wouldn’t be threatening Teru. Only his smart-ass attitude might piss the boy off…

“I’ll think about it,” Teru said. Joseph nodded.

“Don’t take it too long. I need to know if I’ll have to ask someone else.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Teru checked the time. His class started five minutes ago. “Shit! Gotta go!”

He ran to the door and shoved it open, almost pulling it from its hinges. Shimazaki — still pale and weak after being chipped — twitched as Teru grabbed his hand. A moment later they were back in the school.

***

Teru didn’t like the fact that he had to explain himself for being late. At least after telling a couple lies about his parents — that he had to talk to them on the phone for really long because his dad was sick and his mother was more worried than ever before and had cried so hard Teru couldn’t calm her down — and then giving some exceptional answers during class, the teacher eventually forgave Teru's late arrival. Of course they did.

The rest of the day went by calmly, almost with no stress. Almost, because every now and then Teru checked the time, waiting for the last bell of the day. Ritsu’s name came to his thoughts more often than Shimazaki’s, which was a good sign. Teru couldn’t sit still; he really tried, but he shuffled his feet throughout the day until finally — finally! — a signal announced the end of class. Teru was the first one outside; he hopped on his bike and sped up the street.

“This was a bad plan,” he thought, shivering in the icy wind. “I should’ve invited him to a cafe.”

But if they would be freezing like two idiots, Teru could blame no one else but Ritsu — Kageyama was the one who had picked the place to meet. But on bikes? Walking at least would have been a better idea.

Well, maybe Ritsu wouldn’t complain.

Teru didn’t know why he had hurried, why he let himself be pushed by excitement — he wondered why as he reached Salt Middle School a half an hour too early. Ritsu was somewhere inside, still at his Student Council meeting; Teru clearly felt Ritsu's glass-shards-shaped aura. He decided to wait by the gate and kill time by deleting all the useless contacts on his LINE.

In the middle of the list, his eyelids started drooping and his head grew heavy. He hadn’t slept well the night before, and the adrenaline rush he had from the meetings with Joseph and Ritsu had faded and fatigue started overwhelming Teru. But he still had to wait fifteen minutes… If he didn't fall asleep on his way to the Whale, it'd be a miracle.

He opted for getting a little sleep while he waited. Maybe it wouldn’t look strange if he would try to sleep in a tree… Or finding a good spot on the roof was a better solution — that could also motive Ritsu to use his powers to look for Teru; it'd be almost like psychic training. Good idea.

Teru patted himself on the back as he headed to the top of the building.

***

“Hanazawa?”

Teru opened his eyes and looked around, still half asleep. The shaded silhouette of Ritsu contrasted against the sunset around the buildings, a reddish light. The younger Kageyama approached Hanazawa slowly.

“Yes, good afternoon,” Teru yawned. He checked the time; the Student Council meeting had ended over twenty minutes ago, so probably that was how long it took Ritsu to find him. “I thought you would do better than this.”

Ritsu came to stop. Teru couldn’t see his face hidden in the shadow, but he guessed that Kageyama winced; he was always bad at taking criticism.

“So? Are we going?” Teru asked. Ritsu agreed, and a moment later they darted up the street, for the road out of the city.

Along the way they stopped by a restaurant to buy something to eat — in the end Teru hadn’t bought anything before the meeting because he didn’t want to decide for Ritsu. Ritsu didn’t seem bothered, but when Teru mentioned the meal would be on him, Ritsu's gaze moved to the pricey side of the menu. Hanazawa quelled a cry of despair. Well, it was a date. He guessed it was a date. He could handle it if Ritsu ordered something expensive.

“So, what’s up? Anything interesting?” Teru asked while they waited for their take-out. In the end, Ritsu ordered katsudon, just like Teru did, so Hanazawa’s finances wouldn’t wilt that much.

“Well, one of the students had a brilliant idea of eliminating all the sweets sold in the school shop,” Ritsu sighed, his gaze stuck somewhere behind the window. “No way it goes through, but it’s funny enough to mention.”

“The free market doesn’t work that way,” Teru laughed.

“He spent way too much time on watching the news. Have you heard there's some scandal within the sugar companies? Maybe that’s where he got the idea.”

“Scandal within the sugar companies...” Teru thought through every word. He winced and glanced at the cooks to see if they were finished preparing their order. The only news Teru had listened to lately were weather forecasts and reports on searching for the Claw espers. Since when Ritsu was so interested in such serious stuff? Who could even understand all that?

What a smart boy.

“Maybe we could open a stand with sweets a little outside of the area of prohibition,” Teru wondered. Ritsu looked at him sideways but smiled. “I would have a job and wouldn’t have to worry about my future. Hey, let’s do this!” He pointed at Kageyama. “You’ll force the idea of prohibition, I’ll open the shop, and we’ll split the profits in a half.”

Now Ritsu laughed for real, but he hid it behind his hand. He always did that when his laugh wasn’t fake or forced. Teru thought it was cute.

“A ban would need a lot of work,” Kageyama said. “A little bit of propaganda about the harmfulness of sugar, and then giving the idea to the headmaster, and then maybe to someone in the City Hall…”

“You wouldn’t be bored.”

“Oh, and I wouldn’t have time for my other training.”

Teru blinked surprised.

“Training?” he asked. “What other tra…?”

“Two order of katsudon to go!”

Teru wasn't able to finish his question. When he returned with their food, Ritsu was already on his bike.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said just as Teru wanted to bring up the topic again. But Hanazawa was determined. He would get the information even if he had to drop dead. Someone was training with Ritsu and Teru hadn’t known about it. Why didn’t Ritsu tell him he still needed some lessons? He learned so much thanks to Hanazawa, goddamnit. Maybe Ritsu would never be as good as his older brother or Teru, but it didn’t mean he should give up… Well, and Ritsu hadn’t. Now he was under someone else’s wing, the little traitor.

Breathless — and after half an hour or so — they reached the top of the Whale, Teru in first. On the hill stood wooden picnic tables and benches, and the open view of the city was now darkened by the night’s purple hues. There was no one around. “Cold weather probably scared people away. Good for us,” Hanazawa thought as he set his bike aside and waited patiently for Ritsu to catch up.

“I won, so you’ll tell me what’s going on with this training,” he said, half-joking as the other boy approached.

“I haven’t promised I’ll tell you.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t wanna. I’m just curious.”

They sat across from each other. The smell of food wafted around them when they opened the boxes.

“Enjoy!” was the last word they said — Teru’s was happier, Ritsu’s calmer — before they snapped their chopsticks and busied themselves with their katsudons. Teru wanted to ask not only about the training, but also about everything he had worried about for a past few days — who made a wrong move and what exactly was the problem in their — huh — friendship. And then… well, depending on the outcome of the conversation, Teru would ask Ritsu for another date, and then another, and the next one, and, and… And if he needed, he would offer some training too, so Ritsu could compare him to this other “teacher.” Hanazawa had more free time now. Shimazaki wasn’t (such) a pain in the butt any longer, so Teru could do everything he wanted.

But he didn’t want to bring it up while they were eating. Well, his rule was never to talk about unpleasant topics when he ate, and Teru stuck to that even when he had meals with Shimazaki.

Kageyama’s food was barely touched; he was eating slowly and unwillingly. When they closed their boxes — simultaneously, Teru’s empty, Ritsu’s three-quarters full — a bad feeling tugged at Hanazawa’s heart. He shushed it.

Ritsu cleared his throat.

“I’m glad I finally managed to meet with you,” he started. Teru gulped; yeah, no small-talk, straight to the point. “Especially since you were so busy lately.”

“I’m glad too. Especially since you didn't seem that happy to see me last time,” Teru added. “You know, back then, on the playground.”

Ritsu bit his lip, his gaze focused on a point of the table while he was looking for the words.

“First of all.” Ritsu didn’t look up when he decided to speak again “I didn’t know what you were dealing with.”

“What do you mean?” Teru frowned. Only now, Ritsu’s gaze moved up, landed on something interesting behind Hanazawa before finding his eyes after a moment. The yellow glow of the lanterns hanging nearby barely illuminated the boys, but the light reflected in Ritsu’s eyes.

“I meant Shimazaki.”

Teru blinked, surprised. Huh, so. So Ritsu knew about that now. Probably Shou had told him, what an idiot. He didn't even consider that Teru had other plans regarding talking about Shimazaki with his crus… um, with Kageyama’s little brother. Great, awesome. Thanks. Now how did Teru look in Ritsu’s eyes, huh? Like a weakling.

Teru couldn't manage to answer, the words stuck in his throat, cogs turning like crazy in his brain as he tried to come up with a good explanation.

“Shou told us just after we left your apartment,” Kageyama explained. “We wanted to go back, but he said that was a bad idea.”

“I wanted to tell you myself,” Teru choked out. He waved his hands in some indescribable gestures. “But… but…”

“I bet there were a lot of ‘buts.’ We could've helped you, you know that. We would have kicked him out.”

“I know.”

“So? Why haven’t you told us?”

At least all the reasons why Teru hadn’t looked for help were valid. He wasn't just being paranoid — Shimazaki had actually been tracking his parents. It was the truth — not an excuse. Teru explained everything and added:

“That’s why I kept it a secret.”

“And then you told Shou but not us.”

“Because we found another solution. I wanted to keep you away from that.”

“I see.” Ritsu leaned back. “It’s not like I’m mad about it. You knew exactly what was happening, and I can only assume. But… well… we could have helped you with that much earlier. And it makes me think…”

He tilted his head. His gaze dug holes into the heart and soul of Hanazawa. Teru didn’t like it. He imagined himself running away from Kageyama and going back home.

Ritsu went on:

“There was something else that kept you from asking us for help.”

Boom, busted, haha… ha.

Teru smiled but he knew it was too forced to look real. A forced smile wouldn’t work on Ritsu. Ritsu wasn’t an easy person to lie to, compared to other people.

“Why do you think so?” Teru asked. He couldn't clearly remember what had happened at the beginning of this whole mess called living with Shimazaki. But if he recalled correctly, he had tried to reach Ritsu, Reigen, and even the older Kageyama brother too. But of course, Shimazaki hadn’t let him.

And now Ritsu didn’t seem satisfied with that story.

“Hanazawa,” Ritsu interrupted him sharply when Teru began his next excuses. “I know you. Maybe we haven't spent as much time to call each other best friends, but it was enough for me to learn your priorities.”

“Priorities can change," Teru countered. "And family’s safety is the most important thing, you know that yourself.”

Ritsu looked at him askance. “The Claw espers didn’t know where your parents live. And I’m not that stupid to believe you gave Shimazaki this information without a fight, so if he learned that himself, then it had to have taken him some time. You probably had plenty of chances to ask us for help… but you didn’t want to.” He frowned. His next words struck Hanazawa:

“You wanted to be a hero. You thought you would handle him yourself. And for what?”

“And for what?” hit Teru like a final blow, and took him a few minutes to answer. He knew why, he was always aware of his own motivations. But that didn’t mean he was going to tell Ritsu all about them in order to have the younger boy to pity him.

In his thoughts, he worked out all the things he could say — starting with “None of your business,” and ending with “What, are you jealous because I’m stronger?” with other, more passive-aggressive versions of those replies. He could say those things. But also after dealing with Shimazaki, he wanted to just… have a normal conversation with a normal human being. And that wouldn’t happen if Teru was mean, right? Talk about good will.

“You're just making an assumption,” he muttered. “With no evidence.”

“The fact I know you is enough evidence.”

Teru was growing tired of this topic. Why even mull over that, damn. Finding his weak point wouldn’t change anything.

Moreover, they didn’t meet here to talk about this. They were supposed to talk about why Ritsu was mad even before he had learned about Shimazaki, and not to argue about Teru’s motivations.

“Okay, enough of that,” Teru said, shrugging. “Shimazaki met with Joseph and I don’t have to deal with that now. So it doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Ritsu hissed. “Because it’s a part of your ‘wonderful,’” he made air quotes around the word “character. The character no one besides me seems to notice.”

“Did we meet here so we could have a nice time, or for you to trash talk me? You said you were glad to see me, and now…”

“Oh, I said I’m glad I managed to meet you; not that I’m happy to see you. There’s a difference.”

Teru groaned and rested his head in his hands. This was the worst date he had ever had. It was even worse than the one where a girl’s snot had been all over his shirt and, with no shame, she had planned a next rendezvous (oh God, he definitely didn’t want to remember that.)

If he even could call this meeting with Ritsu a date. There was no way this situation was going to end well.

“For almost three weeks I shared an apartment with a terrorist,” he snapped. “And this is what I get when I finally manage to deal with him. Thank you.”

“You’re a victim of your strange ambitions. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

“Thank you again. I really needed it.” Teru added, sarcastically.

“I’m just trying to say you should be more careful, otherwise you’ll hurt yourself one day.”

“Now, there’s the concern, little brother.”

Ritsu didn’t look like his conscience was affected by that, not even a little. Hah, Teru guessed Ritsu was probably eager to drag him even more. What a guy. Why did Hanazawa like him again?

“Sorry, but I'm not going to be all nice and cry over your sad fate,” said Kageyama. “And I hope you didn’t expect me to.”

Well, Teru had expected it a little. But he should have known better.

“I thought we’d meet to talk about something else,” Teru muttered.

“I’m listening.”

“Just like that? So we’re done with my so-called playing the hero?”

“I’ve said all what I wanted to say.” Ritsu shrugged.

“Oh, great then.” Teru leaned towards him and rested his hands on the table. "Now can you tell me why you were, and maybe still are, mad at me?”

Ritsu winced.

“I wasn’t mad at you,” he answered slowly. “Okay, maybe sometimes you irritate me to the core, but I bet that’s not what you meant.”

“Hah.” Teru’s smile was crooked. Yeah, sometimes he had teased Ritsu intentionally, and he wouldn’t lie that he didn’t have fun doing that. It had happened whether they worked with other kids from the Awakening Lab, or if it was just them alone, but it had never lead to any quarrels. Small jokes were quickly forgotten for the sake of the trainings.

“I thought,” Teru started, “that you liked me. But then you started being aloof like something was wrong, and you didn’t even say a word about it. For example when we met at the playground, right? You know, when I was asking for Suzuki’s...”

“Because you were annoying,” Ritsu snapped. Teru answered with a silent “what?” “Everything about you, so annoying. Do you even know how tiring you are?”

This wasn’t a date. This was a hell.

“No one's ever told me that,” Teru argued. “So maybe it’s you who has a problem.”

“Or maybe you've finally met someone honest.” Ritsu looked meaningfully at Teru’s clenched fists. “I can’t believe my words hurt you that much.”

Teru tried to take a deep breath, relax, get some distance from what Ritsu said. He took a breath, right, but he failed at everything else. Of course, normally he probably wouldn’t have had any problem with those kinds of comments, if only Ritsu hadn’t tired him first by bringing up Shimazaki.

Well, of course Kageyama’s words hurt him. Maybe not his feelings, but they had certainly ruined his hopes for getting something more out of this relationship.

“I used to like your honesty.” Teru couldn’t look at him. “But I didn’t know you can trash someone that much”.

“I can keep things to myself if I need.” Ritsu shrugged. “In your case, I thought a few comments wouldn’t hurt.”

“But despite… despite the fact that I was annoying you, you showed up to the trainings anyway, and even agreed to train with me alone, and hung out with me on evenings, and...”

“I needed those trainings, Hanazawa. Don’t think I was showing up because of you. And yes,” he waved his hand, “I agreed to train one-to-one because I hoped that without other people around you wouldn’t be so annoying, or-or that you wouldn't prance around trying to be all the best and ‘oh look at me.’ But I was wrong. At least I learned more than I did training with the group. I’m thankful for that.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Teru said quietly, bitterly.

And… And what? Was that all? Were they done with their “date”? Teru had heard everything he needed — not really what he wanted — to hear. Now they could go home.

“Then have we explained everything?” he asked, then added in his thoughts: “And everything’s my fault and I’m the worst one here.

“Yeah, it seems so.

“And that was the only reason you wanted to meet?”

“No.”

Finally, Teru looked up at Ritsu. The lanterns swung, lightly brushed by Hanazawa’s psychic powers. His heart was heavy with the words he heard today, but it just skipped a beat for the hope of finally hearing something positive.

“I know this whole living with Shimazaki thing tired you out,” Ritsu began. “You clearly look like it did. Aaaand if even my brother noticed that, then things really are bad with you.”

Teru didn’t reply, waiting for more explanations. Ritsu opened his box of food and poked the rice with his chopsticks.

“We thought that maybe when this had all calmed down, we could meet for a training or two? For fun. Not just with me; Suzuki will be there too.”

Ah, so that’s what he meant when he mentioned another training before.

“But I’ll be soooo annoying,” Teru muttered.

“You think so? So you won’t learn anything from what I just told you?”

Maybe he would, but first Teru had to think about it… Although Teru knew how it could end up – the Kageyama brothers had an incredible gift of persuading people to their ideas, and before now, Hanazawa couldn’t resist all the stuff Shigeo had instilled into him. It might be no different with Ritsu’s lesson here today.

Might.

“I’ll definitely remember it.” Teru hoped they were done with that topic for real. “And about the training… I still have to wrap up this problem with Shimazaki but I think I’ll be free soon.”

Ritsu nodded. He closed his box of food again, and looked around for a trash bin. Soon after he was ready to go back – his wasted food thrown away, clothes straightened, helmet on his head.

So, that was it. Teru's whole worrying with the cold, stressing over being late or not, and buying dinner just to hear that Ritsu disliked him and only wanted to meet with him and Shou too. They could have talked about that over the phone.

“You're not leaving?” Kageyama asked. Teru shook his head.

“I don’t really miss Shimazaki. I’ll stay for a little longer.”

“Okay. See you.”

“Bye.”

And Ritsu was off. For a moment Teru heard the rasp of sand under wheels of Kageyama's bike, then felt his aura slowly drifting away. When he was sure Ritsu was really far, Teru hid his face in his hands and with a loud groan of disappointment, leaned his forehead on the table.

Teru tried to tell himself that he didn’t feel like an utter idiot. He had liked Ritsu, he really had. Sure at the very beginning of the training, he had hit on him for fun — as a challenge – and Ritsu, despite being popular, didn't seem interested in any relationship. Later Teru had fell for Ritsu's approach to the world, full of distance and sarcasm. He even thought they got along but… Eh, apparently they didn’t.

But not everything was lost! Their future meetings could completely change if only Teru would try to be a different person!

He would love to believe that and think “it would work out.” And maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, he would get his shattered ego back together and go on, but for now, he needed a self-pity trip… Because there was no one around who would say “oh poor Teru.” Maybe except fangirls, but sure he didn’t need them now. He wanted real support. Sadly it was out of reach

Chapter Text

Teru knew the moment he walked over the threshold of his apartment, the issue with Ritsu should be distant, forgotten. Closing the door meant that Teru would have to focus on Shimazaki. He stood in the hallway for a moment and tried to shrug off any final thoughts about Kageyama. He took one deep breath and then another. Teru didn’t know how long it would take him to calm his nerves, considering the fact that a few minutes ago he had rode his bike frantically through the city, hoping the wind and adrenaline rush would help him forget about the “date.“ Unfortunately, it only irritated Teru more.

Pouring himself into the task of spying might help better... but the gut-wrenching feelings (feelings he couldn’t name yet – anger? Disappointment?) instead inspired him to give the whole thing up. Because if Teru wanted to put his life together and not to mess anything up on the way, he shouldn’t waste his time spying. But still, as Teru had noticed himself, he was the best person to complete Joseph's mission.

But he wanted to focus on Ritsu.

But Shimazaki could do something bad to someone, and Teru could prevent that.

But Teru’s social life was in pieces.

But no one knew where Hatori was.

But it wasn’t Teru’s job to chase criminals.

But, but, but, but. There were many “pros and cons,“ too many, and Teru almost got himself lost in the arguments, unable to prioritize them. Damn, and everything had been almost done and settled at noon today. But Teru started doubting all his decisions after that stupid talk with Ritsu. Life couldn’t be all nice and perfect, it seemed.

And it certainly wouldn’t be easy to build a friendship with Ritsu and spy on Shimazaki at the same time... but screw it! They came across Teruki “Teru“ Hanazawa and he would rather die than give up. Looks like the other espers didn’t know who they were dealing with.

A one more deep breath and then an audacious step forward. Improvise, adapt, overcome – like this one guy on TV said.

Teru’s thoughts turned towards Shimazaki.

If he wanted to agree to Joseph’s request, then he would have to play it a certain way – first, convince Shimazaki to stay with Hanazawa a little longer. That was the first part of the plan; if that didn't work out, Teru would tell Joseph to look for another loser to spy on the man.

Fatigue had probably surprised Shimazaki, because as Teru entered, he saw Shimazaki lying in bed, the TV still on. He was sleeping on his side of the bed (how nice of him) with Teru’s pillow under his head (not so nice of him; “Cute,“ Teru thought sarcastically.) It looked like Shimazaki had settled in and felt more comfortable than Teru had thought.

Teru sat on the edge of the bed, next to Shimazaki’s legs. He had to stop himself from laying down and taking a nap too. His place beside the man, by the wall, looked unusually invitingly… But the absence of his pillows and Teru’s null level of willingness to fight over it prevented him from going to sleep.

Instead, Teru considered his next move. He took a blanket and spread it over Shimazaki. It was a good start to show the man he was welcome (...ugh…) in the apartment. Preparing dinner would be another good ruse, but it might be too much and raise suspicions. Teru couldn’t rush. He had to act calmly, slowly, with a smile on his face… just as he did with everyone but Shimazaki. The man was the only exception, until now.

Teru sighed, thinking about this turnaround. He had never thought he would suddenly, overnight decide to let Shimazaki stay. But decisions had already been made and Teru wouldn’t step back.

Shimazaki flinched in his sleep, adjusted the pillow and muttered something. It was time to act.

“Hey, are you awake?“ Teru asked. No answer. He got off the bed and crouched beside it, so Shimazaki would have a good view of his aura upon waking up. “Heeeey.“ Teru reached for him and carefully brushed the hair off Shimazaki’s face. “It’s almost eight o’clock and you’re still taking a nap. Wanna bet you won’t sleep tonight?“

Shimazaki stirred again, finally waking up for real.

“And I’m hungry,“ Teru went on. He brushed Shimazaki’s hair with his fingers hoping it would help the man break free from sleep’s claws. “And I don’t know if I should make something to eat for you too or not…“

“You’re too nice now.“ Shimazaki’s voice was muffled by the pillow and Teru barely understood what he said.

Silently, Teru snapped, “I’m always nice, but you always miss it somehow or you just can’t appreciate it.“ Then out loud asked, “You want something to drink?“

“No.“

A ‘no’ was a no, so Teru didn’t think about asking again. He stood up and made his way to the kitchen. By the door he heard as Shimazaki quietly said:

“Some tea.“

He wanted tea now! What else, maybe make something to eat for real, but also serve it under Shimazaki’s nose and…

“Easy, Teru,“ the boy thought, rubbing his temples. “It’s only tea.“ Seriously now, Teru had become accustomed to being annoyed with whatever Shimazaki said, that even an answer to his own question got on Teru's nerves. It wasn’t a good sign for his spying-task.

“What did you eat for dinner?“ he decided to ask while he calmed down in the kitchen. He wanted to talk about anything in order to try and ground himself, as well as not let Shimazaki fall back asleep. The quiet groan of the bed frame filled the silence before Teru heard lazy steps approaching him.

“Tonkatsu… I guess,“ Shimazaki yawned.

“You guess.“

“I haven’t eaten, to be honest.“

The kettle was on and the tea was already in mugs. Time to eat something. Teru didn’t know how hard this fight – okay, this talk (another serious talk today, huh?) – would be, but he mentally prepared to stay up until the late hours… If he didn't fall asleep in the mid-sentence, that is.

Just to be sure, Teru put his tea back in its box and filled his cup with two heaping spoons of coffee. Yup, now he wouldn’t fall asleep.

Eat.

“You went shopping,“ Teru remarked, seeing the fridge loaded with food. The drawers at the bottom shelf were filled with prepared meat, vegetables, and miso soup; two fair servings.

“Yeah, well.“ Shimazaki shuffled his legs. “You didn’t say to move out, so I did.“

“And enough for dinner for two.“

“I was hungry.“

“And you haven’t eaten. Yeah, right. Just tell me you cooked it out of habit and stop lying.“

Shimazaki only muttered to himself, irritated. He sat down at the table, with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

“Do you want to eat now?“ Teru asked. He shook his head when he heard a quiet “mhm“ as an answer. After a while of idleness, Shimazaki stood up to pour water in the mugs.

“Not planning on sleeping tonight?“ Shimazaki commented when he smelled the coffee. He didn’t get a reply; Teru wanted to eat his dinner as quickly as possible and start their Serious Talk.

***

As per his habit, after a big meal, Shimazaki went outside to smoke. It was no different now. Teru followed him, with his cup in his hand and thick sweater on, and sat alongside on the edge of the roof. Nearly empty streets dotted a couple floors below, decorated here and there with people and cars. Higher, above the buildings, a limb of the broccoli obscured the moon.

“Okay,“ Shimazaki spoke. “What’s going on?“

“Hm?“ Teru glanced at him, noticing his scowl.

“I couldn’t miss that you’re up to something. Tea first, then dinner – and we don’t usually eat meals together, remember? And now you're sitting here. So?“

Teru was glad he didn’t have to dance around the topic and Shimazaki started it on his own. He clenched his fingers in his sweater and sipped his coffee. He winced; he hated coffee’s taste, but sometimes the drink was a rescue when he wanted to stay awake for a few more hours.

“Yeah, you know, I was thinking,“ Teru began slowly, as if he was considering his words. “What are you going to do now? You met Joseph and don’t need to hide anymore … The perfect scenario would be finding a job and a place to live, right?“

“Right. And it looks like that’s all I can do.“ Shimazaki shrugged. “Finding a job,“ he snapped. “It’s gonna be easier than finding my own place.“

“You think so?“

“Mhmmm. Well, I’ll be looking for a job with people. With these abilities, it’s easier to work around something that's… living. And with an apartment… Not only I would need to buy furniture and learn the whole layout, I'd have to sort everything, organize, mark things…“ He counted on his fingers. “It’s gonna take time.“

“I thought that job-hunting was going to be the harder one.“

“Maybe if I didn't have my ESP.“

“Any ideas of what kind of job you could be doing?“

“Hmmm…“

Teru turned his gaze from a cloud to Shimazaki at the exact moment the man put a cigarette between his lips. Hanazawa had never paid attention to Shimazaki when he was smoking, so he hadn’t noticed that the man with a cigarette… well. He looked good. Not like a breathless and sweaty salaryman, who gritted a cig between his teeth, almost swallowing its filter in stress.

Shimazaki reminded Teru all those air-brushed men from magazine photoshoots or on Instagram. He would fit the a role of a model well, and wouldn't even need Photoshop’s help, if anybody asked Teru.

“Yes, I’ve got a few ideas,“ Shimazaki said. “A bodyguard or something like that.“

“What about working in a call center?“

“Boring.“

“A cook?“

“Maybe… Nah, no. I’m not that good at cooking.“

“A model.“

Shimazaki frowned. Teru shrugged.

“Although you would have a better chance with me next to you,“ he added. He heard a laugh as an answer and smiled. Embarrassed, Teru rubbed his face. “But if you’re saying that finding a job will be easier than an apartment… And… and you're building your life from the beginning, starting over… um, it sounds pesky. It’s gonna be pesky. Good luck.“

“Mmmhmmm…“

And silence. Why wasn’t Shimazaki crying over his sad fate? That had been Teru's plan – Shimazaki crying and then Teru kindly proposing Shimazaki stay with him until things got better. Without Shimazaki getting upset, it would look like Teru wanted his company.

“Don’t worry!“ Shimazaki suddenly patted Teru on the arm. “Two weeks and I’m gone. That’s what I promised.“

“Do you think two weeks will be enough time to get everything together?“

“Do I have any other choice?“

HA!

“Of course.“ Teru straightened up and turned to sit facing Shimazaki. The cold concrete of the roof was starting to get to him but he had to bear with that, for greater purposes. “You can stay with me until you patch everything up. You’d have fewer worries and more time and energy to look for a job.“

“Are you serious?“ Now Shimazaki turned toward Teru, probably trying to read any changes in his aura. He leaned back on his hands. “You wanted to kill me only two days ago!“

“Can't you see how much things change in such a short time?“

“It’s suspicious.“

“Why suspicious? You’re being paranoid,“ Teru smiled, cursing Shimazaki in his thoughts. “Things can’t get any worse between us, right?“

“Then why let me stay?“

“Hmmm… I can use it to my advantage. Or rather, use you, to be exact.“ He pointed at Shimazaki. “You could do my shopping or make dinner for example…“

“And to keep you company too.“

Teru almost choked on his coffee. It was hard to say anything good about Shimazaki’s company, considering how troublesome it had been. Shimazaki had the capacity to change, sure, but only so far as he'd only stopped threatening Teru; he would still be a jerk.

“I think you’re the one who needs the company more… You keep talking about it,“ Teru retorted, remembering their conversation after their last fight. “Soooo that's another point for staying.“

“I’ll think about it.“

He would stay, Teru was certain of that. Now the boy could contact Joseph again to say he would watch Shimazaki for a little while. Time for his next move, because Teru had to put the final seal on his plan.

“Do you have any money?“ he asked. “Because if I were you, I wouldn’t be looking for a job in those… rags you have hanging in my closet. You need some new clothes.“

“I should have some more clothes at my old apartment if no one's set everything on fire.“

“Shimazaki’s old apartment“ was a topic they often returned to in their fights – it was a place far from Seasoning City, where the man seemingly dropped in only once in the past few weeks, and only to grab something from his wardrobe. Later, it seemed Shimazaki hadn’t even wanted to think about going there for fear of falling into Joseph’s traps. And now there was the problem of Shimazaki’s “house“ arrest, so he couldn’t even think about checking his apartment.

Unless Teru would – as if by accident – help Hatori in hacking this GPS thing, but in reality ask Joseph to turn a blind eye to Shimazaki’s sudden and short disappearances. That would help Teru gain Shimazaki’s trust… But he needed to be in touch with Hatori, which hadn’t happened. The plan wouldn’t succeed, until the last of the Super Five came out of his hiding. For now, Teru had to come up with something else. He had an idea already. He needed to talk with Joseph.

“I see,“ Teru nodded. “If you have to buy a new suit, I’d be glad to help.“

“Damn, you’re super nice today. I guess the date went well, huh?“

Teru slouched and sighed.

“If I let you stay, then I can’t leave you hanging with all your other problems, right?“ he muttered. “Anyone would do that much.“

“Not me,“ Shimazaki said happily.

“Then you'll have a chance to learn that.“

“Fine, fine. Geez, you’re so pesky.“

“Not as bad as you.“

“And you’ve got quite an attitude.“

“Hm?“ Surprised, Teru looked at Shimazaki. The latter swung his legs and leaned forward, checking with his blind sight what was happening on the streets below.

“You don't give up,“ he hummed. “You’ll lose five million times but still keep on fighting. It was so tiring…“ Lost in thought, he rubbed his chin. “And annoying. Sometimes I could barely stop myself from hurting you a bit more.“

Oh, was that… a compliment? Of course it was a compliment. Teru often wallowed in the compliments he got from the others, but hearing a good word from Shimazaki was a miracle. Not like the boy expected anything like that from him, but now he could pin a medal to his chest with the achievement. Especially because Shimazaki wasn’t wrong here; Teru would never give up, and definitely not against someone like him.

Heh, who would've thought after this shitty day Teru would finally hear something nice. A good way to finish his evening. Look, Ritsu, that’s how you cheer up a man, and not drag him lower and lower.

“I’m impressed,“ Shimazaki added.

“Thanks,“ Teru replied weakly, almost smiling. “I’m glad I was a worthy opponent.“

“Do you want to give me a compliment too?“

“You’re a complete jerk.“

“Ow…“ Shimazaki winced, clutching his chest.

“But you didn’t break all our necks during the group fight. That gives you a small, half of a point. I bet you just wanted to play with us, like a typical sadist.“

Shimazaki hummed but didn’t answer. He drank his tea and adjusted the blanket over his arms. Then he checked how many cigarettes he had in the package.

“There are… various equipments still in my apartment,“ he said after a moment. “It would be great to get them back. They’ll help me with living here.“

“I’ll talk with Joseph.“

“Really?“ Shimazaki raised his eyebrows. The only answer Teru gave was a nod. “You’re really helping out with my nerves and my funds. And to think I was so mean to you, and you’re so… so… I like you, you know?“

Then Shimazaki smiled. Teru felt as something inside of him cracked, something like a thin shell, covering the fascade he had been holding for no longer than two hours. It was breaking because Shimazaki really needed his help. And he probably really was grateful, and Teru… was Teru, with his damn plan and all.

He shushed the pang of guilt. It wouldn’t be that easy to trick Teru, no way.

“It's warm tonight, isn’t it?“ he muttered. Shimazaki sniffed and huddled under the blanket.

They didn’t move for a few minutes, teasing each other from time to time. Finally, the fatigue overwhelmed Teru and he almost fell asleep sitting up. Through the haze, he noted Shimazaki enfolded him in his arms and teleported them to the apartment. Teru barely changed his clothes, tripping over his own legs, and setting his alarm; he fell asleep the moment he put his head on the pillow.

The last thing he caught was Shimazaki’s warm breath on the nape of his neck. He didn’t have the strength to do anything about it… not that he wanted to anyway.

***

Teru had barely got out of bed before he felt a strange thing filling his heart – a dark, tangled feeling with no defined start or end, unable to untie. He thought it was his sixth sense trying to warn him, which wouldn’t be surprising considering the state his life was in right now – stuck between Shimazaki and Joseph. Something in the spying-quest would go wrong eventually – Teru wasn’t such naïve optimist to believe everything would be easy and without hiccups. The times when things came effortlessly to Teru were long gone.

“You’re acting different than yesterday,“ Shimazaki noticed as they ate breakfast. He tilted his head as if he were watching some mysterious creature. “You okay?“

Teru had never felt this odd tangle before, the hunch was like tripping, like he was losing a fight – that’s how he identified it, as he couldn’t come up with any other identification. He wasn’t good in guessing feelings, especially negative ones – those were unknown to the protagonists. And they hadn’t lasted long for Teru after he obediently had got off his high horse, but he hadn’t had many chances to learn all the sadnesses of a commoner. Now it seemed as if he had just started this worse chapter of his life.

Put a smile on your face and try to shine, try to scare the annoying feeling off – that was his remedy usually. But it didn’t work now in contrast to anger, which passed after venting to someone, or like sadness, that disappeared with tears. What was it?

“Will you talk to Joseph about a trip to my apartment?“ Shimazaki asked when he didn’t get an answer to his previous question. Teru decided to push aside the problems with his feelings and take care of something more mundane.

“I’ll try to contact him,“ he said, biting into a slice of toast. “But I’m not promising anything. They just gave you the chip and you’re already trying to meddle.“

“He should know what I’m up to right away.“ Shimazaki grinned. “Then he won’t think that I’m hiding anything. It’ll be a few quick teleports there and back, no big deal.“

“If no one's set everything on fire,“ Teru repeated Shimazaki’s earlier words.

“Exactly. But first of all, I need a suit. You know I think there’s something like that in my apartment, but it’s too old. No way I’m gonna wear it.“ He waved his hand. “I need to buy a new one.“

We could have helped you with that much earlier,“ flickered in Teru’s thoughts. The boy blinked, surprised.

“Sure,“ he said ignoring the tangle growing in his heart. “We can check a few stores after school and find you something.“

“Can I rely on your taste in clothes?“

“You want an honest answer or should I spare you the suffering?“

Apparently, Shimazaki hadn't noticed Teru’s question wasn’t a joke. Coughing on his laughter, he located the sugar bowl with his hand and sweetened his coffee with two spoonfuls.

Teru didn’t feel like joking. He had heard what people said about his clothes, and that only mattered if he gave a damn about their opinions (he didn’t, naturally.) Although he wasn’t stupid enough to make someone wear ugly things if it wasn’t funny. But! Shimazaki was supposed to find a suit, and look respectable, so there was no room for pranks...

I know you. I know about your priorities.“

...Because Shimazaki had to find a legal job and start to trust Teru after he helped him.

“Yeah, you can trust me,“ he said. “It’s just a suit, you can’t mess it up.“

“I’m glad you’ll go with me. I don’t really want to ask Minegishi for help,“ Shimazaki sighed. “He’s a tiny bit mad at me… We’ll be in touch, right?“

Teru nodded. Shimazaki said a goodbye, grabbed his cigarettes and his coffee, and teleported to the rooftop.

The alarm on Teru’s phone reminded him it was right in time to get ready for school, but the boy didn’t feel like moving from the table. Instead, he fixated his thoughts on Ritsu’s other words.

I said I’m glad I managed to meet you; not that I’m happy to see you.

Ritsu liked nitpicking over words and he knew exactly what he wanted or not; especially when it came to recognizing his feelings and being ruthless with other people. Nothing to tell him, but congratulations.

It seemed that was what would Teru face today – memories from the date. A fun way to spend the day.

He groaned loudly, and ground his fist against the table, stopping himself from smashing the mug against the wall. Finally, he stood up to get ready for school. Heh, he had hoped his life would be easier after Shimazaki and Joseph’s meeting. Someone up there – karma, fate, god, whoever, whatever – really liked causing him trouble. Teru thought he had already atoned for his old sins… He was so wrong.

***

The tangled feeling in his heart kept Teru company the whole day, no matter how busy he was or if his mind was preoccupied. During his classes, conversations with his friends, even during P.E. – the feeling gnawed and clung, throwing shadows over his small joys. To make things worse, Ritsu's words would reappear in Teru's mind all of sudden, bouncing in an echo of memories and jabbing at his heart. And all that without any reason. Teru couldn't get rid of them just like he couldn’t untie the knot. With every passing hour, it annoyed him more and more.

He arranged a meeting with Joseph as soon as they both were available – over lunch break again. Teru could call it a luck that Joseph was still in town, finishing up some matters regarding Shimazaki.

Leaving behind the cries of his fangirls' (“You're not eating lunch with us again?“) Teru left school, repeating in his thoughts what he should have said to Ritsu yesterday.

“Of course I thought I could handle Shimazaki alone. And can't you see I managed? Because I did. You should have seen that. I was right not asking you for help, you would only be a bother,“ Or “What? You know me? Good joke! How long have you spent with me? How many difficult situations have we been through together? Haha, please, be serious!“ and so on, each more bitter and fierce, inciting the tangle, making his mood worse.

A park nearby school was the place Teru and Joseph agreed to meet – no cameras, far from the technology, with low possibility of someone overhearing them. And even before passing the first trees, Teru turned off his phone and hid it between the pages of a school book, just for good measure. They both were cautious about that stuff.

“What's the decision?“ Joseph asked instead of offering him a greeting. Teru was completely indifferent towards the man, but he grew annoyed with his lack of manners.

“Good morning.“ He wouldn't let himself be worse than him. After all, as Ritsu had said, it was the part of his “wonderful“ character. He stood beside the bench occupied by Joseph but didn't take up the free seat beside him.

“I'll do it,“ he said. “I'll spy on Shimazaki. But don't expect much.“

Joseph tilted his head.

“If you're going to half-ass the job, I'll find someone else.“ He winced.

I'm just trying to say you should be more careful.

Teru clenched his fists and breathed deeply, trying to shake off thoughts that shouldn't be there.

“I didn't say it'll be half-assed,“ he sighed. “I'll try to do what I can, but the results don't just depend on me. I'm gonna need your help so I can...“ He waved his hands. “Let's call it, gain Shimazaki's trust. I could do more this way, I think.“

“And I assume you have an idea already.“

A short nod for an answer. Then Teru told him about convincing Shimazaki to stay at the apartment – at which Joseph leaned forward, almost yelling “What?“ – and lending him a hand in searching for a job and his own place to live.

“But if you really want me to learn about him as much as I can,“ Teru added. “Then maybe... You'll let him teleport outside the city if I'm with him?“

Here Joseph didn't think about it for even a second:

“No.“

Teru gritted his teeth.

“Please consider it. Before every teleportation, I would message you about a destination and how long he'll be away from the city. If he wanted to meet with someone suspicious, he'd lead us right to them.“

Gravel crunched under Joseph's feet when the man stood up. He looked above the boy, then moved his gaze to somewhere in between yellowish tree tops.

“It's dangerous,“ he began.

Inside Teru's head, he heard Ritsu yelling meanly, “A hero! A hero! A hero!“ Luckily Joseph went on:

“But I’ll think about it. I'll talk to someone about this idea and call you.“

“I'll be waiting.“ Teru sighed in relief.

“Is that all you wanted to talk about?“

“Access to his GPS would be helpful.“

“You'll get it, don't worry. If that's all, I'll get going. If you need anything – write, call, and what not. We'll be glad to help.“

Ritsu's words were still in Teru's thoughts: “But maybe there was something else that kept you from asking us for help.

Teru was boiling with rage at that memory, but he managed to nod and say a polite goodbye. They parted ways, and he quickly returned to school, hoping that Ritsu's words would get lost in murmurs of other people.

***

During his last hour at school, Teru understood that the tangled feeling in his chest and echoes from yesterday's date were connected, and what was worse – the former was a result of the latter. So the tangle wasn't a hunch, but a distaste left after the meeting. Quite a strong distaste, one that couldn't be washed away by the taste of a – somehow – good day. Teru didn't want to think about it, but the uniqueness of the feeling resulted in the opposite result. Drowning in his thoughts, Teru almost had forgotten about meeting Shimazaki after school. And now he was racing around the people on the street, almost running into them.

“Do you even know where we're going?“ asked Shimazaki, following Teru. The boy nodded, then came to a stop and looked around. Irritated, he shook his head. They had passed the store two streets ago. Shimazaki only shrugged but didn't comment.

A simple “Good afternoon, a suit with a white shirt for this man, please“ later, Teru sat on a stool in the shop, watching Shimazaki talk with the shop assistant. He felt like elements of the puzzle were slowly coming together, fitting, creating one solid picture. He needed just another small piece to finally fully understand what was going on with the tangle and Ritsu's words. Teru had never tried to catch a spider's web on the wind, but searching for the last tip felt a lot like that.

Shimazaki had tried on a few outfits, so a long hour had passed before everything clicked. And it was only after the attendant had said:

“In this suit, you'll break the hearts of many women.“

Broken heart. Teru had a broken heart. Wait, what?! That had to be a sick joke! No one could break his heart. He was the one who made people cry, ruining dreams of everyone who fell in love with him. It wasn't the other way around. And he didn't even like Ritsu at all, or at least not that much to get that sad over being insulted.

“Broken heart, what bullshit,“ Teru snapped under his breath. He stood up and, to busy his hands, started fixing Shimazaki's blazer (who luckily didn't question anything, maybe he really could read his mood?) He buttoned the blazer up, straightened his tie...

A broken heart. Did Ritsu want a broken heart? He'll get it – cold as Ritsu’s very own, damn, not knowing compassion.

“So, how do I look?“ Shimazaki asked when Teru took two steps back and looked at him from head to toe.

“Like a commoner,“ he answered. Teru didn't notice Shimazaki's irritation, saying only “This one is the best, we'll take it. And two more shirts.“ and sat down again. In a flush of anger and to prove to himself he didn't have a broken heart, Teru took out his phone and in the blink of an eye tapped out a text to Ritsu and Shou:

“Hi! So when are we going for our training? ^o^“

And sent it before he could stop himself.

He wouldn't be the one with a broken heart.

 

Chapter Text

“Hanazawa, look out!”

Teru dodged just in time – his barrier had been weakened by his distraction and it had burst from the stone Ritsu threw. The floor under his feet broke away, shattered to pieces just like Teru’s shield had been, and Hanazawa fell down through the remains of the 7th Division's facility. This wasn't his first fall from great heights, usually they'd happened when he had fought Shimazaki. On his way towards solid ground, he usually calculated how much psychic power he needed to cushion his fall and quickly stand up and strike a counterattack. But now…

Pain shot up Teru’s leg when his foot landed on an uneven part of the ground. Teru muffled a pained growl and reflexively grabbed his knee, stopping himself from sitting down.

“Teeeeruuuuu!” echoed through the collapsed building. Teru lifted his head to see Shou dashing towards him; his psychic powers added to Suzuki's speed and made his silhouette gleam bright red.

Teru almost screamed “Wait!” but pride clenched its claws into his throat and stopped him from speaking. He lifted a new barrier and ducked as much as he could with his throbbing leg. He shifted his weight onto his good foot, turned around to face Shou, and hurled a psychic-energy-bullet at his opponent before Suzuki could react.

It bounced against Shou’s barrier, but from that Teru knew how much power he should use. He was ready to strike again. With pain lingering in his leg, he pushed himself off the ground and sped out to meet Shou halfway.

But then Teru tripped over some debris in his way and hit his face against the ground. Surprised by the twist, Suzuki wasn't able to stop himself on time – his feet stumbled, nearly kicking Teru in the head before he fell as well. When Ritsu descended down the ruins, he found them lying on top of each other.

“What the heck was that?” Shou asked, scrambling to his feet. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie and glanced at Hanazawa.

Teru didn’t want to get up. He preferred to stay there, and maybe even decay there, waiting for someone to bury him. This fight was such a disgrace to him, something that should have never happened. Firstly he had strained or twisted his leg, and now… He tripped, just like that, with no finesse, like some kind of loser. He tried to come up with an excuse that would prevent Ritsu from labeling him some sort of idiot.

“Are you okay?” Shou nudged Teru’s hurt leg with his foot. Hanazawa sighed and finally tried to get up – he leaned on his hands and tested his wounded leg. Pain jabbed around the right ankle and up to the knee. There was no way he could stand up for now.

“Guess I’m done training for today,” Teru said sitting up. He smiled through his pain at Ritsu.“Good work knocking me out like that.”

Kageyama crossed his arms and stepped back.

“It’s wasn’t that difficult,” he muttered.

“You’re so modest,” Teru thought irritably. He resisted a grimace when Ritsu eyed him.

“I thought maybe you were holding back,” Kageyama went on. “But now I see it’s just not your day.”

Oh. Hm, not his day? More like not his week. Month. Year. Nevermind.

“'Holding back?'” Teru tilted his head, a smile not leaving his lips. “As if I wouldn’t treat you like a worthy opponent.”

Ritsu rolled his eyes.

“Okay guys, we’re all nice and cute here,” Shou cut in. “But what’s the plan now? Are we still training?”

“I’m out,” Teru answered. “At least for now. Train on your own if you want to.”

“You’re out? Seriously?”

“C’mon.” Ritsu took Shou by his elbow. “He’s gonna kill himself if he keeps training with us. Let’s go up.”

With difficulty, Teru stood, bounced off the ground and darted up and out of the ruins. He found a place to rest with a good view of the other two espers who started fighting on their own. One of the knocked-down trees served as a bench, and although it was uncomfortable and itchy, it was still better than the cold ground.

Teru wrapped his track jacket tighter around himself and reached to his hurt leg, trying to massage away the pain. Of course, today’s fuck up wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a good look for Teru to make a fool of himself in front of Ritsu. It just wasn’t his day, that’s all. If only he had a decent excuse, like if Shimazaki had suddenly turned back into a damn jerk and was causing trouble for him again… But no. The truth was, Teru hadn’t slept well today – for the hundredth time sleep had avoided Hanazawa and hadn’t let him rest. Now Teru’s body understood that three, sometimes four hours of sleep daily wasn’t enough and had decided to slowly turn off all functions of his well being.

Teru pulled a cold bottle of water out of his backpack and pressed it to his aching leg. The injury wasn’t serious, he was certain of that. Maybe he pulled a muscle or twisted something – but after a couple days of rest, he would be back to normal. Although that wouldn't take care of his insomnia. He couldn’t ignore that any longer.

The air shuddered with psychic powers, a sign that Ritsu and Shou had clashed in a direct confrontation and their barriers had collided. In a moment their fight would be done, and Teru would know who had won this time. It wasn’t like it was always him or Shou who won – before their training started, they both had lowered their power levels to meet Ritsu's, so the chances for a victor between three of them was even. Had Kageyama noticed? Perhaps, but he hadn't said anything. He would probably feel bad if he learned the truth about Teru and Shou tailoring their levels; Ritsu was so proud and ambitious after all. But on the other hand, they didn’t want to wipe Ritsu out but wanted to teach him. Simple.

The pain slowly subsided, but Teru didn’t plan to go back to training. He pulled out his phone to check the time. Some time during the fight he had received a few texts from Shimazaki.

“I’m going out to buy groceries. Do you need something?”

“God, this old woman in the grocery store started yelling at me and almost started a fight. What the hell did I do to her???”

“Ah, ok, so she was yelling something about the prime minister and that we ruined her house. In that order exactly. People have funny priorities. And they still remember that??? Get a life.”

Teru smiled and shook his head. He lifted his eyes from the phone when he heard the other espers approaching. Ritsu and Shou were even more beaten up and weary than before.

“By the way, I was wondering,” Suzuki started. Teru waved his hand at them; bottles of water lifted by his psychic powers emerged from the backpacks and flung in the boys’ direction. They caught them without a problem. “Thanks. So, I was wondering what happened to this place.”

The espers looked around at the trees that had been struck down by Teru’s psychic powers, collapsed walls and torn up grass and soil. A good portion of the 7th Division ruins were even more demolished than they had been in the battle with Shigeo’s group. Teru hadn’t been here since his last fight with Shimazaki, so he didn’t even know how far the destruction reached.

He shrugged.

“I thought that after that night,” Shou waved with his bottle of water. “You know, that action with that old-timer, I thought this building was in a better state… Or at least not in so bad we could get killed from tripping over a stone on the ground.” He pointed at Teru’s leg. “You okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Will you make it back home?”

“It’s not so bad. I could always ask Shimazaki to pick me up.”

“Are you good buddies now or what?” Shou frowned. Ritsu raised his eyebrows, shooting Teru a piercing look. Teru shrugged and looked away.

“Not good buddies,” he sighed. “I'm just letting him stay with me a little longer until he puts his life together.”

He didn’t want to go into details, especially not while Ritsu was listening.

“If he pisses you off, tell us and we’ll kick his ass,” Shou said happily, like he was ready to beat up everyone alive who asked for a fight.

“Have you ever fought him before?” Teru asked before he thought maybe Suzuki didn’t want to talk about his past. He was about to apologize and say “You don’t need to answer, of course,” when Shou sat beside him, sighing heavily as if he was about to tell the story of his life. Teru turned to face him, for a brief moment following Ritsu with his sight, as if Ritsu was going to take a seat to the right of Suzuki. Kageyama and Hanazawa’s gazes locked, both neutral and tired after the training.

“It's happened a few times,” Shou said. “My pop wanted me to train with Shimazaki when I was still around Claw… Ugh, that jerk really gave me some hard times.” He rubbed the back of his neck, staring at a point between the trees in the distance. “Well, you could say that Shibata and Serizawa could hold back and, you know,” he waved his hands in an indescribable gesture, “set their levels to mine, but Shimazaki fought like a sadist.”

Teru wondered for a moment about what Shou just said – that even Suzuki thought Shimazaki was strong and hard to beat. And Shou was (as Teru had acknowledged with a heavy heart and a great sadness) a tiny bit stronger than Hanazawa and he certainly knew how to fight other espers, in contrary to Teru who, for the most of his life, had only commoners as his opponents. Shou’s words helped Teru see the difference in levels between him and Shimazaki… The difference he could beat only when he lost control of his psychic powers or when a group of people helped him...

“But at least,” Shou wasn’t done with his story. “He didn’t tell my pop that I was a weakling or something. Maybe he was scared, I don’t know.”

“Scared?” Teru laughed. “Of what?”

“Of saying bad stuff about me to my pop? I don’t know, he was strange. I never really knew what was on his mind. Sometimes he could be all snarky around my pop, and other times he held back. It’s not like my pop cared about his comments most of the time anyway. But, okay, nevermind. I still don’t know how you managed to live with him.” Shou pointed at Teru. “And you still wanna live with him. Sorry, but you must be nuts.”

Teru’s mobile rang cheerfully with a new message.

“Is that him?” asked Shou, he and Ritsu leaning over to Hanazawa to peek at the screen.

“No, it's a classmate.” Teru didn’t let them see the name. “You know, maybe I have strange priorities, but it’s really hard to say goodbye to homemade dinners.”

“Yup, you’re nuts.”

“And I don’t know how to tell him he’s cooking too small portions.”

“‘Hey you’re cooking too small portions’?”

“He would tell me to cook them myself.”

“What a petty man,” Shou sighed.

They remained silent for a few minutes, catching their breath, their thoughts lost somewhere else, until Shou hopped to his feet and decided to take a stroll around, exploring and inspecting the fallen trees. Teru glanced at him, then to Ritsu, before he finally decided to answer the text he got earlier.

“What movies are playing in theaters right now?” Teru asked indifferently.

“Hmmhhh.” The sound Ritsu made could be taken as thinking about an answer or being offended by Teru's question. Ritsu pressed his bottle of water against his hurt cheek, a red token of his fight with Hanazawa. “Another part of this strange horror about snakes. Reigen wanted to see that, no idea why. Hmm, some romance movies, three new ones I think…” He listed the titles. Teru wasn’t interested in movies about love so he didn’t even try to remember them. “And some action movies. And some others too, I think. Plenty to choose from.”

“Anything that interests you?” Teru asked, his eyes not leaving his phone.

“No,” was the immediate answer. Hanazawa hadn’t expected a positive answer, to be honest. He shrugged and looked at Shou as he walked back towards them, jumping into the air every couple of steps.

“There’s some fresh blood over there.” Suzuki jerked his head in the direction he came from. “You think someone died here? Heh.”

“Almost,” Teru wasn’t too far from the truth.

“‘Almost’?!”

With open pleasure, Teru told them how he and Shimazaki had fought here many times, until one day the boy had overdone it with his psychic powers, and the results were seen all around them. He didn’t mention he had actually lost control of his abilities… Although maybe Shou would know what exactly could cause that amount of psychic energy slipping from Teru’s hands, and what Hanazawa should do to prevent that from happening in the future. The time would come and Teru would ask him; but for now, his version of the situation was a simple “I passed out while I was activating my psychic powers so I couldn’t constrain them and they burst like a broken dam.” It was the most logical explanation.

“And you’re still living with him!” Shou exclaimed again. He shook his head and sighed loudly. “Okay, gang, when’s the next training? What’s today?”

“Friday,” Ritsu and Teru said in unison.

“I’ll try to feel better as soon as possible,” Hanazawa added, patting his leg.

“Yeeeaahhh.” Shou glanced at him suspiciously. “And wake up, okay? How about Monday?”

“Tuesday,” Ritsu corrected. The others nodded and noted down their plans for Tuesday. Ritsu and Shou asked again if Teru would be able to make it to his apartment, and after a short set of goodbyes, they went their separate ways.

Another marvelous lie from a marvelous boy, because Teru was certain he wouldn’t be able to get home without Shimazaki’s help… Or he would, but it would definitely take a few hours, provided he didn't fall asleep on his way.

He looked to his phone, reading another message he just received from his classmate.

“But I’m not Kaori,” it said. "Did you call me by the wrong name, Teru??"

With a loud thud, the mobile dropped to the ground. Teru gave up. He really had to start sleeping like a normal person again.

***

For two long days, Shimazaki had tried to find a job. No one had told him it would be easy and even Teru had frequently and unkindly reminded Shimazaki that he wouldn’t get a job by sitting at home and doing nothing. There were plenty of open positions, but until now none of them had seemed interesting enough to make Shimazaki call the recruiter or even send his application. It was a miracle he had agreed to Teru’s suggestion to meet with someone smart in the job-searching-field to help him in fill out his resume.

“‘Employment history,’” Teru read the resume aloud, lying on his bed with his hurt ankle resting comfortably in Shimazaki's lap. Shimazaki sat unamused, his fingers tracing circles on Teru’s leg. “‘Bodyguard to the highest priest of the Church of…’The Church of Espers?” Teru looked at him over the edge of his laptop. “Are you two serious? Couldn’t you write something else besides... this?”

“We had to write some bull, right?” Shimazaki shrugged.

“Bull that could be written by a fraud, and not by an ex-terrorist. What did Serizawa write about Claw in his resume? Or Minegishi? Shibata?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t talked to them.”

“You haven’t talked to… Wait a second, but Reigen helped you with this, so how the hell did you miss seeing Seri… Okay, nevermind. You are weird, all of you." Teru sighed. "We’re crossing that out, no way you’re going to make yourself a fool when I’m around. Next, ‘Accomplishments.’” Teru went on with reading. “Why you didn’t write ‘defeating a dozen men and abducting a prime minister’? O-Ouch!” he cried out and tried to pull out his leg free from Shimazaki’s painful clutches.

“Don’t be mean, Teru.”

“If you were stupid enough to write something like ‘The Church of Espers’ then you should have been consistent and made this resume one big joke. I still can’t believe what I’m reading.” He shook his head. “Sending you to Reigen was a mistake.”

The hum from the heater made a pleasant background noise as Teru read through Shimazaki’s resume, but the warm room and the thick blanket that covered the boy made Hanazawa lazy and sleepy. The only thing that kept him awake was the thought that he had to – he really had to – finish fixing this resume, so Shimazaki would finally start looking for a job.

Teru figured out why Shimazaki had been so lazy – first of all, it had probably been a long time ago when the man had first browsed through job offers, so maybe he felt lost. And secondly, Shimazaki probably had enough savings to keep on living in unemployment. Teru couldn’t understand this attitude and took Shimazaki as an irresponsible person. Although he was far from giving him lessons.

“If only I could look for a job in another city,” Shimazaki said quietly. “I would find one without a problem.”

“You’re saying this as if you have something in your sights.”

“This guy I know has a security company. For a few years, he asked me to work for him.”

“Is he an esper?”

Shimazaki’s lips were shut tight in with no answer.

“Talk with him,” Teru suggested as he read the last lines of the resume. “Maybe he has clients or buildings to watch in Seasoning City.”

Easily Teru got a little more information about this “guy Shimazaki knew,” but Shimazaki spent a long time on thinking if sending him the resume was even worth a shot. Eventually and after a few minutes of bickering, Teru said he would send Shimazaki’s resume without his help, stressing his threat by throwing a pillow at the man’s face. He didn’t get an answer, but Shimazaki’s frown was a clear sign they were one step from a serious fight.

They both sulked for a little less than an hour, and during that time, Teru read a few job offers aloud. He didn’t lose patience, not even after the fifth “Send your resume now!” where Shimazaki still didn’t say a word. The itch for doing it for Shimazaki hadn’t won over Teru’s common sense... At least for now.

“By the way,” Shimazaki began in a reaction to laptop’s shutting down. “Did you talk with Joseph about teleporting to my old apartment?”

“I’ll ask tomorrow,” Teru said, remembering he still hadn’t got an answer from Joseph. He took his leg from the man’s lap and rubbed his ankle. It hurt a little less than before and it should be back to normal on Monday, but only if he spent his weekend at home. He sighed internally – he had really hoped he would be able to spend Saturday out of the apartment. Looks like his fortune didn’t think his way.

***

Saturday naturally started with a breakfast.

“I still can’t believe you’re eating more than me.” Shimazaki sipped his coffee.

“Don’t change the subject.” Teru frowned and reluctantly took another slice – a sixth – of toast. “As I was just saying, I’ll text you addresses of job agencies… With some luck, they’ll be working today. You’ll go there and ask for a job. Anyway, you were doing it for a past few days, so you know what I mean.”

Shimazaki said something under his breath, but Hanazawa didn’t have any intention of listening to him.

“And you won’t be allowed back before I let you,” he added.

“What?!” Shimazaki yelled. “Oh, c’mon!”

“I’m gonna have guests.” Teru shrugged. If he was trapped at home, he could always use it to invite some of his classmates. He had already sent messages and he didn’t plan on canceling anything. “Go see your old friends or something, if you have time after checking all these places I told you to see.”

“I shouldn’t have agreed,” Shimazaki growled.

“To what? To me helping you search for a job? Stop being a drama queen and get it together!”

Teru didn’t really care about Shimazaki’s childish attitude, until the end of the day accompanied him with an unpleasant thought of something being amiss. He tried to find the source of his bad hunch, and he kept on thinking about it even when he was surrounded by his classmates. The chatter about everything and nothing – games, movies, gossip – went by Teru unheard when he was staring at Shimazaki’s red dot on the GPS. The man was jumping from place to place, not spending a lot of time in each building.

“And you know what? Yesterday Teru called me Kaori,” laughed Haruko, a girl like any other – pleasant and sweet, nice and helpful, beautiful and fragile, smart and honest, and so on. Teru paid her as much attention as he did to the others sitting in his bedroom, around the snacks occupying most of the space on the carpet.

“You’re not the only one,” said Yuto, who Teru had once called Daiki. And it encouraged other classmates to tell their stories of the boy’s mistake identities. Mei was called Rina, Fuko – Reina, Kosei – Yuki… Teru eventually nodded that yeah, he had some problems with his memory lately. With cunning pirouettes of white lies, he ran away from any discussion about this subject, and said a word or two about a lot of stress that didn’t let him sleep. And after this unimportant to the others truth, he managed to lead them to talk about something else. They started making plans to go to the cinema. Some girls asked about romance movies. Teru groaned in his thoughts.

For the last time he checked GPS and found Shimazaki sitting in the same place for an hour – in a club on the outskirts of the town. He quickly tapped to Joseph “How’s the matter we talked about last time?” and put his phone as far away as he could, to fully focus his attention on his guests.

 

Shimazaki was back a second after Teru told him his guests had left. They didn’t talk much and the boy didn’t ask about Shimazaki’s job-hunting progress, as he noticed the man was irritated. Hanazawa ignored his bad mood. He took the high ground and bid him a good night, in a response to the tension between them and their auras frizzling with pent anger.

Shimazaki slept, and Teru didn’t. He stared at the man’s back, trying to solve today’s puzzles, whose elements fit, but didn’t make a whole picture. Teru didn’t want to think about it. He wanted to sleep.

He squeezed his eyes shut, his inner monologue repeating, like a mantra: “Sleep, sleep, sleep.” All for nothing. Another point for insomnia.

***

Teru fell asleep only when Shimazaki crawled out of the bed. But it wasn’t a deep sleep, so Teru couldn’t say he was lucky. He drifted on the surface of dreaming, where a mere sound or a little movement woke him up. After a few minutes of this unavailing fight, he decided to give up and get up to start a new day, when suddenly a thick material fell on his shoulders. Teru grasped it, before he noticed he was covered with Shimazaki’s blanket. He felt the man’s hand on his forehead. He couldn’t say a word, so he only hummed in a question.

“You don’t look good, get more sleep,” he heard. Finally, Teru turned onto his side to face the wall, snuggled his face into the pillow and fell asleep deeply, with Shimazaki’s hand stroking his hair.

***

The answer to all his questions came during Teru’s breakfast – which today happened to be at three o’clock. Teru had got plenty of rest, although he was certain he traded sleeping in the daytime for another night spent wide awake. But at least he had been able to find a solution for the puzzle and could now fight insomnia effectively.

“You can’t stress me out,” he said sitting down at the table where Shimazaki was playing solitaire. The TV behind Teru’s back was playing a top list of western bands.

“Did you talk to Joseph?” Shimazaki crooned to the tune of one of the songs.

“He didn’t answer me yet. Damn! Stop interrupting me. I was saying, you can’t stress me out because then I won’t be able to sleep later.”

“And what am I supposed to say to that?”

“‘Okay, Teru, I’m sorry, I won’t stress you out.’”

“Are you sure I’m the cause of your insomnia?”

Teru had no doubts about that. At first, he had thought he couldn’t sleep because he had been taking the meds for his cold at three in the morning, so his body had got used to waking up at such strange hour. But then had come up some other problems – never-ending brawls and tensions, and Shimazaki sleeping beside the boy. For over half of month, Teru had been ready to fight at any moment, and most of his days he spent worrying about his family, friends, and especially about himself, because Shimazaki could kill him in his sleep. And now, even after the battle dust had settled, Teru’s subconscious didn’t let him sleep if he and Shimazaki had even the smallest disagreement. That’s how Teru thought it worked, and that’s how he presented it to Shimazaki.

The man listened carefully, with his cheek resting in his hand, undealt cards in his other, his face turned to Teru. And he smiled.

“What a beautiful explanation,” he said mockingly. “Am I responsible for a global warming too?”

“Well, yeah, somehow yes. Do you want me to give you lectures about global warming? I can do that.”

“Ugh, no, save it. Minegishi’s the one who badgers us with that bullshit… Was. He used to.” He winced. Teru blinked a few times, surprised, then shook his head. No, it wasn’t his problem, whatever Shimazaki had on his mind.

“Anyway,” he started. “Dammit, you changed the subject again! Anyway, you can’t stress me out.”

“Teru,” Shimazaki sighed, settingthe cards aside. Half of the solitaire was left still unsolved. “You can’t expect from me – from us, actually – that everything will be cute and nice. Be realistic.”

“I am realistic. You just don’t want to try to be better.”

“Then keep on living in this twisted reality of yours, but at least stop being bossy and demanding and god knows what.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “There are so many people that argue and they have no problems with sleeping like you have. Maybe you should see a doc to help you with that?”

Teru waved his hand, giving up on the subject. Talking with a doctor was the last thing he wanted now.

“I won’t do anything to you when you’re sleeping,” Shimazaki said in a final statement. “So you don’t have to be afraid. I hope you can say that to me too.”

A loud commercial from the TV drowned out the boy’s “What do you mean?” Shimazaki didn’t explain anything. He just said he was lost in the cards.

***

The day slowly turned to evening, which, under common sense, meant Shimazaki should spend it at home. But the end of the weekend and Monday peeking from behind the corner didn't discourage Shimazaki to spend a few hours in the club. At least he was nice enough to tell Teru about his plans beforehand.

Teru checked on Shimazaki a few times and saw him in the place he should be – in a building on the outskirts of the city, the same building he spent his last evening. He didn’t lie then, thank god. A quick googling told Teru that the club was the one of a higher quality that didn’t open its doors to just anyone, very often holding private parties. Shimazaki, as far as Teru knew, was there only for a second time now… and Shimazaki didn’t really go to any clubs before.

Teru hadn’t planned on making a scene as it wasn’t his business how Shimazaki spent his free time. Until... There always had to be an “until” followed by an “event” and this one came long after ten o’clock that night, in the exact moment when Shimazaki slammed into the apartment – through the door – tripping over the threshold and the carpet. To take off his shoes he had to sit down, but he seemed to have a problem getting up a few minutes later. When he was heading to the bed, he slipped off his jacket and started unbuttoning his shirt.

The mixed stink of the alcohol, sweat, and burnt cigarettes filled the room.

“You’re drunk,” Teru said with disbelief. He had never had someone in his apartment so drunk they tripped over their own feet. Teru, of course, had been drunk, but only once, when he had alcohol for the first time in his life. After that, he decided – after the killer hangover – this kind of fun wasn’t his taste.

As if a fourteen-year-old had much to say about alcohol.

“I’m NOT. Drunk. Not drunk,” muttered Shimazaki sitting on the bed. His shirt landed on the floor. Teru glanced at his chest, checking he didn’t get in a fight, but apparently, Shimazaki was a good guy tonight. What luck.

Teru’s eyes fell on the gauze over the man’s arm. It had been over a week since the stitches were placed over the wound. They both knew well that they should pull them out, but Shimazaki was delicate on this subject and hadn’t let Teru come near him. He even learned how to change the gauze without anyone’s help. His behavior was strange to Hanazawa, but the boy hadn’t questioned anything.

But! Now he had his only chance to finally take care of the stitches. Why did he care so much about it? Teru didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

Quickly he found mini scissors, antiseptic spray, and cotton pads, and caught up with Shimazaki, who was now in the process of taking off his pants.

“Oh. Hi, hello, hi.” Shimazaki greeted him when Teru placed himself between Shimazaki's legs. “You come here often?”

“This is just embarrassing. Don’t move.”

Teru pulled off the gauze and took a look at the wound. It wasn’t as bad as he predicted.

“So? You do anything interesting today?” the boy started a delicate interrogation while he cut the first stitch.

“Yesss. Yes. I...! Got a job. For example.”

“What?” Teru stepped back and looked at Shimazaki’s flushed face. A job? So suddenly? “Where? As… as what?”

“A gorilla.”

“A go… a what…? Who now? The hell?”

“A guard.”

“A guard. But for who or what? Or… or where? In a club or something?”

As his answer Shimazaki embraced Teru’s legs and hugged him tightly, snuggling his face into the crook of the boy’s neck. He hummed softly, his breath teasing Teru’s skin.

Teru felt panic slowly taking control over him. He had to calm down. Of course, it was strange that Shimazaki was so… clingy all of sudden, but he was just drunk. Not dangerous. Easy, Teru. It wasn’t his first time being in Shimazaki's arms and even when it had happened then, nothing bad had followed the hug. So calm down, and go back to your work.

He took a deep breath and, as his common sense commanded, went back to cutting the stitches, his hands not shaking – or, at least, Teru didn’t notice them shaking.

“You didn’t tell me sooner? You decided to celebrate all on your own?” he asked, as if sad. “I thought we’d have a small party together.”

“Oh nooooo!” Shimazaki quietly cried, lifting his head. Teru barely held back a grimace when he felt the stronger stink of the alcohol. “Teru, I’m so-so-SO-SO soooorry.”

“I understand. You decided to celebrate with some randoms.”

“Not randoms! It was my boss!”

A boss who drank with their fresh subordinates couldn’t be a serious man. Maybe they were someone who had as many problems with finding a good bodyguard as Shimazaki had with finding a job (or even starting to search for a job) and so they had decided to celebrate this small success?

“They must be reaaaaaally friendly,” Teru muttered.

“A cool guy!”

“Cooler than me?”

“Oh, Teruuu, c’mon!”

“Will you tell me more about your job? Because you went out and just a few hours later you’re hired by… by who again? I didn’t hear it the first time.”

“Hmmm…”

Shimazaki didn’t say anything for a long time and it seemed he didn’t plan to answer Teru’s questions. He sighed loudly and then started humming a song. Teru squinted but let it go for now. He would learn one day, that was certain. He couldn’t play as if Shimazaki suddenly finding a job in a random, pricey club wasn’t suspicious.

“I could sleep like this,” Shimazaki muttered dreamily, still hugging the boy and his lips almost touching Teru’s skin. “It’s so warm and nice and… What are you doin’, by the way?”

“Getting rid of the stitches.”

“What-!”

The man twitched as if he tried to back away from Teru. Shimazaki forgot he was still embracing his legs and didn’t let them go. Hanazawa almost lost his balance and they both nearby fell on the bed.

“Easy, easy.” Teru patted Shimazaki’s arms. “I won’t hurt you, right? You want to start a new job like a nice guy then we have to pull them out.” He poked at the stitches. “I’m almost done. Be still.”

Shimazaki answered with an angry hum. Teru waited a bit longer to try again to get some more information.

“You won’t brag about your new job?” he asked. “We both worked on it, read all the jobs offers, fixing the resume… I even let you stay and this is how you pay me back.”

“I promised to not to tell anyone.” Shimazaki fixed his grip on Teru.

“Oh, well, not even me?”

“Not even you.”

“Okay. I’ll remember that.”

Teru pulled out all the stitches and sprayed the wound with antiseptic spray. He peeked at Shimazaki’s jacket lying in the middle of the floor. His mobile and some documents poked out of an interior pocket. He would need to check them later.

“When do you start?” he asked.

A silence.

Teru stepped back. Shimazaki’s head, which until now had been resting against the boy’s chest, hung limply. Teru rolled his eyes, gathering up his remaining patience for this man. He shook him by his arms.

“Wake up! I asked when you’re starting.”

“I already started. Today.”

“You got drunk at work.”

“I couldn’t say no.”

Teru ran his hand down his face.

“Undress and go sleep,” he snapped. “You’re sleeping on the floor today. No way I’m gonna stink of alcohol because of you.”

Only after a few minutes of bantering did Shimazaki let Teru out of the hug. It took a little longer before he decided to go sleep – and this took some bickering too. He quickly fell asleep and Teru was free to check Shimazaki's phone and documents.

But before that, Teru had to clean up the mess. Teru hadn’t planned on becoming a housewife in the future or taking care of a drunk partner or someone like this. It was just the sight of clothes lying on the floor, wrinkled and dirty, that set his anger on fire, that reminded him of how long he had spent on the washing and ironing and… And this ungrateful jerk didn’t even want to say a word about his new boss. Teru would remember that. He would also hide all the bottles of water and turn off the water in sinks in the whole building, so Shimazaki would suffer from his hangover tomorrow. That should teach him.

There was nothing interesting in Shimazaki’s wallet, as the man used to throw away all the receipts and the stuff he couldn’t read. In the wallet pockets were only business cards of job agencies – he had to take and keep them, just in case. Now they were useless. Besides that, there was only money and his credit cards. Nothing interesting.

Scrolling down Shimazaki’s phone didn’t bring up anything new either. The last calls were between him and Teru, the list sometimes diverted by the numbers of recruiters. It looked like no one else called Shimazaki to make appointments, or the man deleted everything that Teru shouldn’t have seen.

Teru put away the wallet and the phone, thinking about his next steps. Should he leave school early and spy on Shimazaki? No, there was no point in doing that now. He would wait a few days, and see where Shimazaki would be going – wander around behind his boss’ back or maybe stay in one place, guarding a building?

And Teru would certainly try to get some more information from Shimazaki. Maybe he would be more talkative when he was sober.

***

The hangover practically murdered Shimazaki, which was easy to predict. The man was lying on the same place when Teru left to school, and later he only moved onto the bed, taking up the whole space on the mattress. Teru threw up his arms. This guy hadn’t even taken a shower!

“What time are you going to work today?” Teru asked him, shaking his arm. A sad mutter answered him:

“At eight o’clock. I’ll be back late.”

“First of all, you have to leave in order to be back. Get up!”

Regarding his work, Shimazaki was even more silent than the last evening. He didn’t say anything – not even for how long he had his contract or what he was supposed to do at his work. Teru’s “How came you don’t trust me!” didn’t work on him either; he just shrugged and didn’t even try to lie… Which was another clue for the boy. It meant whatever lie Shimazaki would tell, it would be easy to see through.

That night – or at least while Teru was awake and could spy on Shimazaki through his GPS – the man was in another place than last evening. The building looked like another club for rich people. Teru winced. After a while he shot a text to Shimazaki:

“I forgot to tell you – don’t get drunk.”

The answer came immediately:

“Good night.”

With the very intense dot at the end of the text, a punctuation mark that was hardly seen in any other messages from Shimazaki. Teru snorted, annoyed, and hid his mobile under the pillow. He turned onto his side to face the wall and tried to fall asleep as quickly as he could.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“How’s your leg?” was a quite strange question from Ritsu, considering… well, everything, but mostly that Ritsu was worried about Teru at all. Hanazawa hadn’t thought his plan would succeed so soon and that Ritsu would so suddenly fall for him… No, wait, easy, Teru. Don’t jump to conclusions that easily. Friends sometimes just care about each other, right? Especially if they trained together.

And Hanazawa’s leg was fine, anyway. All it needed was a few massages, some ointments, and by Monday it was like a new. It didn't hurt at all as long as Teru didn’t overdo with walking and jumping. On Tuesday it was even better, but Teru decided to be careful for a little longer.

A short “it's fine” was a sufficient answer to text someone like Kageyama. Since Teru already had his mobile in hand, he checked the GPS: Shimazaki was currently in a grocery shop, most likely buying something for a dinner.

“And what do you think about ‘Off Into the Sunset?’” Haruko asked, hugged close to Teru’s side and checking on her phone a list of movies that were currently in theaters.

“I already saw it,” replied the classmate sitting on her other side. “Maybe something else? Look, there's the sequel to ‘Escaping Snakes.’”

“It’s a horror movie!”

In a reaction to her high tone, Teru set his mobile aside and with his typical charm asked:

“You don’t like horror movies, Haruko?”

“They're scary!” Haruko huffed. Two other girls from their group nodded in an agreement. “And their characters just yell and yell and yell and there’s always a dead dog.”

The others joined in criticizing horror movies, except for one boy who claimed he liked them, and Teru, who stared at a point on the floor, letting his thoughts jump from one subject to another. If their group went to see a horror movie, Teru wouldn’t be able to relax. He certainly wasn’t afraid – not with all the ghosts and paranormal stuff that surrounded him. He just wanted to spend his free time on something that would let him take a nap. He didn’t want to be mean to his classmates, but even three more hours of sleep daily would save Teru from the oppression of exhaustion. If only Shimazaki worked in the daytime instead of at night… Why did this guy getting a job have to cause even more problems?

Teru rubbed his eyes. Lately, he managed to sleep through most of the night, but he still had fallen asleep really late, after staring at the GPS for a few hours.

“Teeerrruu.”

Hanazawa twitched at the finger poking at his cheek. He blinked, trying to get back from his wandering thoughts and flashed a smile.

“There’s ‘A Mystery in the Mine’ on Thursday,” Haruko explained. “Are you going with us?”

Teru couldn't be sure how his life would go over the next two days or if Shimazaki or Ritsu would play any dirty tricks on him, but Teru happily – or as happily as he could muster from his tired mind – agreed to go with the group. He hoped he wouldn’t need to change his plans later.

Speaking of Shimazaki – it looked like he just returned home. Teru noticed the man was in a nearby tobacco shop too. His fingers itched to text him “Quit smoking” but he had to stop himself. Maybe next time. Maybe.

***

Ritsu’s barrier shattered into pieces. A round of debris thrown by Teru broke through three layers of the shield and grazed Kageyama’s arm. Ritsu only dodged the second attack and rolled on the ground, into the mud and sticky leaves. He didn’t have time to even brush himself down, before Shou attacked from the side, sending three needle-shaped rods flying his way.

Teru knew he shouldn’t have reacted. Ritsu had to learn for himself, and pain was a good teacher. Ritsu didn’t need Teru’s protection. But despite this, Teru interfered – on autopilot, he told himself – and slammed the rods with his psychic powers a second before they reached Ritsu. Teru’s powers against Shou’s; the former couldn’t measure up to the latter, to Hanazawa’s annoyance, but at least Suzuki’s attack changed trajectory and the metal pierced the ground around Kageyama. After that, all three espers stopped, surprised by Teru’s action… Teru included.

He quickly came up with an explanation, but Ritsu spoke first:

“I could've handled it.”

“And even if he couldn’t,” Shou broke in, a second before Teru wanted to say something. “No biggie if it had hit him. Relax, Teru.”

Teru really tried to relax. He hoped his reaction wasn’t a result of him being an idiot in love, who would do anything for his crush. He shivered at the embarrassing thought.

“That blood you saw here last time?” Teru asked, looking for the place where he hurt Shimazaki days ago. The sun slowly sunk beneath the horizon and in a few minutes, the woods and ruins would be drowned in darkness. “It was Shimazaki’s blood. He got hit with those.” Teru pointed at the rods, sticking out the ground and marking a border Ritsu didn’t dare cross. “It looked bad, the wound and stitches, you know? And we wouldn’t want to explain our fights to Kageyama’s parents if something like that happened to you too, Ritsu.”

He noticed Kageyama frowning. Okay, maybe he was being too bold by calling Ritsu by his name; maybe Ritsu still wanted to be called “lil brother.”

But apparently it wasn’t the reason for Ritsu’s reaction, as Ritsu said after a moment:

“You really hurt him that badly? Without anyone’s help?”

“Hah.” Teru smiled nonchalantly. “I gotta admit, it wasn’t easy.”

“I'll believe that when I see it.”

“I don’t think Shimazaki would be so willing to boast about it.”

“Take a pic!” Shou caught Teru and Ritsu in a frame made from his fingers. “He will definitely pose for a photo.”

Teru shrugged, smile not leaving his lips, and nodded at the idea. Then he walked away a few steps, lifting a few pieces of small debris with his psychic powers.

“Get ready!” he called to Ritsu. Stones flew at Kageyama, each thrown with more and more strength than the last. They bounced against Kageyama’s barrier, crumbling it more or less. When Teru sprinted off to attack, he felt warmth pulsating off Ritsu’s aura. Kageyama’s smile flashed before his eyes and he smiled too – not involuntarily, he tried to tell himself.

***

After coming home, Teru informed Shimazaki he should check his wound, just to make sure. The explanation was that Hanazawa heard some nasty stories about gross infections after pulling out the stitches. Shimazaki frowned, opened his mouth to say something, and gestured his hands in a silent question, but eventually he took off his shirt and let Teru do whatever he wanted.

“But this is the last time,” he muttered to the boy standing between his legs, holding his mobile in one hand and cleaning the wound with the other. “I won’t promise I'll be all nice next time.”

Teru didn’t pay attention to his words – he didn’t even think of what Shimazaki meant – he just focused on sending the pics to Ritsu and Shou.

***

Teru and Shimazaki's lives could be described as two narrow roads running alongside each other, their paths sometimes crossing – like when Teru was home from school and trainings or meetings with friends and managed to catch Shimazaki before he left for work. They lived more next to each other than together, although Shimazaki couldn’t be aware that Teru kept an eye on him, literally not leaving his phone for a minute. A lot of times when Hanazawa was supposed to be with his friends, he spent most of the time thinking about Shimazaki and what he was doing at home. And it wasn’t daydreaming combined with yearning and sighing, but more Teru wondered why the man wasn’t living. Why wasn’t Shimazaki meeting with the Super Five, and how did he spend his free time at the apartment? While when Teru was living his life, Shimazaki was sitting home, probably doing nothing.

In the place where the roads met, the situation shifted and their roles changed. From seven o’clock, it was Teru who stayed home while Shimazaki left for work, armed with a full pack of cigarettes. His last words were always “Good night,” as an unquestioned request to not be disturbed by Teru with any petty problems. And Hanazawa listened. Anyway, all he needed was to unlock his phone, open the app, and usually, he didn’t have to ask Shimazaki what place he planned to visit. The GPS app helped Teru and saved him a lot of quarrels and nerves.

During his work time, Shimazaki wandered around the city – from club to club, from strange ones that were unmarked on the map, to ones for rich people in the town’s center and even places resembling fancy estates… And so it lasted for a few days. The places were different but Teru had no doubts Shimazaki was glued to his boss’ back. Who was the boss? The boy didn’t know, he didn’t get any information out of Shimazaki, no matter what he asked or what methods he used; and with each passing day his ways were less and less subtle, until one evening, after the espers’ usual conversation about Shimazaki’s job, Shimazaki asked:

“Don’t you have your own life?”

Of course Teru did. But it wasn’t his fault it now revolved around Shimazaki and his work. Shimazaki shouldn’t be surprised that Teru was so interested in his job – after all Shimazaki had been a terrorist, right? What if the said terrorist went back to his old self only because Teru wasn't checking up on him, huh?

He repeated that aloud to Shimazaki. The latter leaned back in the chair and with a loud groan and dragged his hands down his face.

“This is really, and I’m saying really, a stupid argument,” he said, sitting straight again. The watch on Shimazki's wrist beeped at the hour, a signal Shimazaki would need to get ready for work soon. “You don’t need to act like my mother, you know? Spare me.”

“I'm not,” Teru said after a moment. He sipped his tea. “I’m just curious and you keep everything a secret… Are you scared of someone? Of your boss? Who would even know that I know? You can just tell me and I'll stop asking questions, it’s that simple.”

Shimazaki was silent but frowning. Teru tapped his fingers against the table.

“I don’t think you want me to nag you until you eventually go crazy,” he said. “Right?”

“Right.” Shimazaki nodded. He hummed thoughtfully and just when Teru was certain he would finally get the information he wanted – the man disappeared. Shimazaki teleported to the entryway.

“Hey!” Teru jolted off his chair. He ran to catch Shimazaki and almost bumped against the man’s chest. “That was mean.”

“Sorry, mom.”

“What are your plans for today? Any specific place you're going to see?”

“Hm? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps. Most likely somewhere where kids like you,” Shimazaki poked Teru’s chest, “can't get in. Goodnight and sleep well.”

He made sure he had his keys and documents, said a happy “bye” and teleported away. Teru didn’t move for a moment; the silence after Shimazaki’s leaving seemed unusually hard tonight, signaling to Teru that maybe he should go after Shimazaki. He shivered at the thought of checking where the ex-Claw esper was now and he looked for his phone. He hoped he wasn’t becoming obsessed with this whole spying thing – it was his work, after all, a task from Joseph. If Joseph was satisfied with the results, Teru wouldn’t have to check the GPS all the time.

“Why am I explaining myself?” he asked himself a few hours later when he was lying in his bed, his eyes not leaving the map on the phone. Shimazaki had been in one building for an hour already, and Teru hadn't been able to sleep for much longer. It was midnight.

“Shit,” he snapped before he threw his phone on the mattress and hid his face in his hands. The idea of a short walk flickered in his thoughts, just like it had two weeks ago when he had finally decided to tell someone about Shimazaki. That walk hadn’t been so bad – Teru had breathed some fresh air, seen the city at night…

He checked the GPS once again. Shimazaki was in a restaurant located about fifteen minutes away from Teru’s apartment. Maybe… Maybe…

Teru shook his head. There was no point in debating it. He quickly dressed and left home, trying really hard not to think about the fact that no longer than a week ago he had decided to fight his insomnia. And it had been going well, until tonight.

“Five nights in a row of full sleep isn't a bad streak,” he thought sarcastically.

***

In front of the building, Teru had no doubts Shimazaki knew about his presence. Espers’ auras definitely handicapped spying if the other esper could detect them – so sleuthing on Shimazaki was about as discreet as meeting him face to face or even yelling at him in front of crowds of people.

But there was no turning back. Teru had decided to find Shimazaki who was now having fun (or working, whatever) somewhere in the building towering over Teru. The restaurant was three stories high, made entirely of glass and on one side decorated with neon lights. A sliding door opened before whoever wanted to go in, but just behind the doorstep, two clerks turned away those who most likely weren’t in the reservation book. After looking around the restaurant, Teru noticed two other doors he wouldn't be able to use without arousing suspicion. Someone exceptionally ambitious and determined or desperate could also get in through the roof.

And Teru was no less ambitious and determined, but not desperate. He didn’t know how long Shimazaki would spend in the building or how he would go back – teleporting or using other doors thinking that Teru would be waiting for him by the main entrance. So the boy had to find him as quickly as he could.

The lock of the roof entrance put up no resistance against Teru’s psychic powers and it unlocked with a loud click. Teru looked into the darkness of the attic and jumped in.

***

Finding the Kageyama brothers, Suzuki, or Serizawa by following their auras was child’s play – Teru simply walked the path leading to the epicenter of their psychic aura. It was so obvious, even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able lose the trail. But it was different with Shimazaki, more difficult. Teru blamed it on the nature of his powers – the man disappeared and appeared in a blink of an eye, wherever he wanted, so his aura wasn’t steady trail. Instead of following a firm path, firstly Teru had to collect all crumbs of psychic powers left by Shimazaki and figure out where they came from. The more crumbs, the nearer Shimazaki was. If the man suddenly disappeared – the track went cold, and the crumbs faded as if blown away by the wind.

Learning this took Teru a while because even if Shimazaki was frequently around the boy, it was rare for him to be at a distance large enough to let Teru train how to follow his tracks. But what kind of genius would Teru be if he couldn’t find Shimazaki in the restaurant on his first try? Good work. Too bad between them now was a door and several guards blocking the way.

Teru walked past them, sizing the men up. “That’s all for today, I guess,” he thought hiding behind the corner. He looked around. The restaurant was… unusual in his opinion. Here – or at least on this floor – there weren’t tables to book, but rooms, hidden behind heavy doors. Well-dressed waiters in red uniforms hung around, walking between rooms and elevators, pushing food trolleys filled with tray covers and buckets with ice with bottles of alcohol. They didn’t pay any attention to Teru, nor did they talk to each other; they passed between bodyguards without a word, easily opening doors and disappearing into the noise of conversations or loud music. The men guarding entrances didn’t even flinch at the loud click of the door locks.

Teru shied away, getting out of sight of the bodyguards in the hall. The thought of politely borrowing clothes from one of the waiters passed his thoughts. But it wouldn’t work, this wasn’t a movie or a book or…

“Did you get lost?” Teru jumped at the sudden baritone voice behind him. He turned on his heel and stepped back to look up at the face of the stranger – one of the bodyguards.

“Unfortunately.” Teru frowned. “I’m looking for a room number twenty-seven. I was told it would be somewhere here.”

“One floor down.”

“Thank you very much.”

He had to consider his options. The only way to peep on Shimazaki was to lie in a wait near the door or look through the windows outside, a few floors above the ground. Both options were out of the question.

When he took the elevator to the first floor, he felt Shimazaki’s aura move – its epicenter migrated a few steps to the side, stopped, then moved again, this time towards the door. Would he teleport away or not? That was the question.

Shimazaki teleported before Teru reached the first floor. Unsteadily, the boy got out of the elevator wondering if he would meet the man now. He didn’t feel Shimazaki’s aura, so that meant he wasn’t in the building. But… so suddenly? Leaving his boss behind?

Teru checked the GPS and found Shimazaki back in his apartment. He… he didn’t take there his boss, did he? Was that person still here…?

Teru sneaked along the wall, hidden from eyes of the receptionists, and holed up in a dark corner, with a good view of the elevators on the other side of the hall. The number on a floor display went up to three only to go down again after a good minute. Someone would get out of the elevator soon.

A loud ding broke the silence. The doors slid open and a few people lazily rolled out of the elevator – everyone was dressed in suits, middle-aged, and had same grey faces – no one different… except for one. This person was way younger than the others – definitely wasn’t older than twenty – and dressed more casually – wearing an oversized sweatshirt and excessively worn jeans. His eyeglasses made Teru think he'd just found Hatori, but he was wrong. This guy was too young and didn’t have red hair.

Teru’s instincts told him to remember everything he was able to hear, just in case he would need it later. The first words of conversation between the men didn’t sound like anything interesting:

“I’m glad we came to an agreement,” said the one.

“We’ll send the documents by mail,” answered the other.

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you very much for the meeting.”

“Oh, mister Kobayashi!”

The guy in glasses looked at the man who just spoke.

“Yes?” he asked.

“The bar here is still open. Maybe we’ll get a drink to celebrate today’s success before we go back to the hotel?”

“Can’t say no to that.”

The two said their goodbyes to the rest of the group and went to the bar behind the reception. Teru stared at their faces, trying to remember as many details as he could. Kobayashi was easy to remember while the other one wasn’t – he was too average.

“Too bad Ryou couldn’t stay,” Kobayashi said. “Usually he stays after work to drink a glass or two with me.”

They passed the corner where Teru hid. The boy twitched when a glimmer of an unfamiliar aura grazed his arm. He followed Kobayashi with his eyes, but apparently, the man didn’t see or even sense Hanazawa.

So Shimazaki was a bodyguard of an esper, huh?

“He said he has to go back because he left his wife waiting or something,” said the other man.

Teru almost tripped.

“Waiting until four in the morning? Wait, he has a wife?!” Kobayashi sounded just as surprised as Teru. His next words were quieter as he and his colleague stepped into the bar. When they disappeared around the corner, Teru couldn’t hear a word.

He considered his next move. He could stay and wait for this Kobayashi, but he would probably be stuck here a long time… And he'd be lucky if no one spotted him sooner or later. So it was time to go back home; he wouldn’t get anywhere tonight without raising any suspicion.

His phone vibrated with a new message. Teru rolled his eyes when he saw Shimazaki’s name.

“You need a lift?” the man texted.

Teru didn’t answer… although deep inside he indeed needed and wanted a lift.

When he arrived back home, Shimazaki was asleep.

***

It was strange for Teru, but Shimazaki didn’t mention anything about Hanazawa’s night trip. They spend the whole next day as if nothing had happened, and although they had both agreed to mind their own business, there were moments when Shimazaki simply could have asked or pointed out what Teru had done. Nothing like that happened.

“We asked our friends,” Teru read over a text from the older Kageyama. “But no one has heard about a Kobayashi or someone like that.”

Teru hadn’t expected much when he had asked Shigeo and Shou for help in recognizing the man. Even he, since the incident with the 7th Division, had kept an eye on the city and was careful not to miss any new espers, but it looked like this Kobayashi guy had appeared not too long time ago… And moreover was here only for a short while, since he stayed in a hotel. Probably he would be out of the town soon too, considering he sounded as if he was done with his business.

Teru put away his phone and went back to hanging the wash on the balcony.

“Are you going to work tonight?” he asked Shimazaki.

“Are you talking to me, honey?” someone answered from behind the wall. Teru grimaced and leaned out to see the neighbor – old granny – living next door, now looking at the boy heedfully.

“Ah, no, no.” Teru snapped with his psychic powers to get his phone from the table in the bedroom. He waved his mobile and smiled a smile as bright as thousand suns. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Shimazaki almost choking on laughter. “I’m talking with my mom. Was I too loud? I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” the woman answered. “Say hi to her, my dear.”

“I will, I will!”

Teru ran back to the bedroom, leaving half the basket of wet laundry on the balcony.

“Shut up, okay?” He snapped at Shimazaki, closing the door behind him. His heart was still pounding at the thought alone of his neighbors learning he lived with Shimazaki. “Stop laughing!”

“You let your guard down,” Shimazaki finally managed to say. “Two weeks ago you wouldn’t let yourself to talk with me so loudly… That’s… cute.”

“What?! No! Shut up!”

“Yeah, I’m working today. Why wouldn’t I?”

Teru frowned. Maybe Kobayashi still had some matters to do in the city and that’s why he still needed Shimazaki… Because Shimazaki wasn’t that dumb to leave Seasoning City with his boss, right?

“Shimazaki,” Teru spoke up a few minutes later when the man was getting ready for work. “Just… don’t do anything stupid.”

He bit his lip and stepped back when Shimazaki leaned towards him.

“Teru.” Shimazaki put his hands on Teru’s arms and after a while moved them up his neck and cupped Teru's face. Teru muffled the instinct to push Shimazaki’s hands away and pull back, as if his fingers burned like ice. He clenched his fists, standing firmly in place.

“Teru, Teru, Teru,” Shimazaki went on, caressing the boy’s cheeks. “I can take care of myself. Don’t make me take care of you too.”

“Are you threatening me again?” Teru stated rather than asked. The sense of danger from Shimazaki had decreased lately, but had never left Teru. In every moment he expected Shimazaki to be This Damn Jerk… especially now, when Shimazaki felt so sure of himself that he intruded on Teru’s personal space. Teru could barely stop himself from breaking Shimazaki’s hands.

“No, I’m not, Teru,” Shimazaki sighed. “I’m just warning you because I don’t want you to get into some nasty shit. I have no business in hurting you…” His thumbs brushed against the dark circles under Teru’s eyes. “But I can’t guarantee everybody will like you.”

“Their loss,” Teru said through clenched teeth. Shimazaki shook his head.

“Sleep well.”

And disappeared. An hour later Teru caught his aura in the nightclub on the other side of the city. When he was staring at the darkened windows of the building he decided to not give up until he learned everything about Shimazaki’s boss, even if, like Shimazaki had warned, someone wound up not liking him.

Chapter Text

Out of all things Teru did while spying on Shimazaki, invading his personal space – except for during their fights – was at the very end of a very long list. But Shimazaki had a problem respecting Teru's boundaries; which was why he had trapped Teru against a wall in a dark alley somewhere in the middle of the city.

“I like this look of your aura,” Shimazaki purred, cocking his head. "It's like a little ember." The alley was hidden in darkness, as it happened in unlit places near dawn, so Teru couldn’t see Shimazaki’s face, but he could swear the man was smiling… Like he always did, that jerk.

Teru swallowed and tried to remain calm, but it was hard to steady his nerves. He breathed deeply, trying to ignore the tension building in his chest and tried to focus on the cold wall behind him. He kept his psychic powers on alert, to use them as a last resort… The very last resort; if he used them any sooner, it would feel like he'd lost to Shimazaki by losing his temper.

Shimazaki chuckled; Teru felt his warm breath on his face.

“I wonder what should I do,” Shimazaki spoke again, “to spark it up a little…”

Teru pressed his back against the wall harder, now feeling the sharpness of bricks through his jacket. He looked around for a way to put some distance between him and Shimazaki before an eventual fight. Movement at the other end of the alley caught his attention; but the passers-by didn’t see the espers, too busy with what was happening on the other side of the street.

“Teru.” Shimazaki grabbed Teru’s chin, forcing him to look at him again. Teru’s hands slid against the wet wall, unable to push away. Something – most likely Shimazaki’s knee – brushed against his leg. The heavy air, until now filled with the scent of recent rain, choked Teru with the intensity of Shimazaki’s cologne and made the world swim.

He should have said something, done anything, otherwise Shimazaki would do something incredibly stupid. But despite Teru’s wishes and needs, his body was too heavy to shove Shimazaki away, and the words stuck in his throat, weighted not by fear but with an unusual anticipation.

Shimazaki’s fingers clenched around Teru’s chin, and his other hand lazily found its way to the small of his back, peeling the boy off the wall and pressing him against Shimazaki’s body – warmer and seemingly friendlier than the sharp bricks. Hanazawa cringed at the tension still building in his chest and at another feeling gathering below his navel – which he would rather not think about – and recalled the events of the past few days, where he might be able to find a clue to deal with Shimazaki’s new aggression.

***

Teru took his task seriously. Meanwhile, Shimazaki took Teru’s behavior a little less seriously. Teru knew it, and Shimazaki knew Teru knew it. There weren’t any fights about that, but a sort of mutual acceptance that they both had their secrets.

Shimazaki left home first, and Teru left soon after he located Shimazaki and his boss's meeting place. Teru rushed there for his chance to learn who was this mysterious employer.

Shimazaki also returned home first, and Teru was back soon after, but Shimazaki was always already asleep, so neither of them could talk about what that night. It was as if it had never happened. It confused Teru at first because he was ready to explain himself at any time – even in the middle of his sleep – but he quickly learned rules of the game – he hadn’t asked and been asked. Shimazaki didn’t help or disturb him, so solving this mystery was up to Teru alone.

Sometimes Teru knew the limits of what he could do during his spying. But he often went beyond them, of course, by putting his foot over the line and carefully checking if anyone reacted. Then he would quickly step back, because it was a dumb move to stick out when he was the only teenager in a room full of adults; it would only succeed in getting more attention.

As an example – one night Shimazaki and Teru found themselves downtown, in a place visited by the man many times before – a club buried deep under a sleazy hotel. Rugged walls, barred windows, and a door barely hanging on its hinges told Teru that in the insides the place would likely only be worse. But fortunately, it wasn’t that bad. He didn't notice the difference right away – not one step after crossing the doorway, but slowly within the few next meters, deeper into the building as it started to look better, prettier, more well-maintained. With each step down the stairs, Teru felt he was emerging from one messy chamber of hell into another, more polished, loud and crowded and very much alive chamber of hell.

When Teru stepped into the room he felt like he'd been lured into a trap, soon to be devoured by evils – and so on. He let himself be overdramatic as people around him glanced in his direction. No one actually paid attention to him for too long, but he felt their stares piercing his back as he made his way to the bar. With an easy pace, he reached the counter and fixed his gaze on the menu hanging high above the shelves of alcohol. One of the bartenders looked furtively at Teru but didn’t say a word.

It wasn’t the first time Teru had gone through all this – a club full of people who knew Teru shouldn’t be there, but minding their business, as if it was expected someone so young would visit this type of place. So Teru knew how he should behave; as if there hadn’t been a bodyguard at the entrance, Teru went in the club as if he owned it, confidently, not looking at the other people staring at him. If someone mistook Teru as some sort of teenage escort, Teru didn’t mind – it helped actually – that way no one would bother him (except maybe a few perverts of course, but they didn’t pose a problem to Teru in a long run. He could quickly convince them to leave him alone after he broke their fingers.) So Teru could focus on Shimazaki in peace.

Today Shimazaki and his boss were at a table across from the bar, on the other side of the room. Between the bar and Teru were drunk dancers, giggling girls, and groups of friends shouting their toasts over the rumbling music. They all obscured Teru's view of who was sitting next to Shimazaki; he noticed only partial glances faces, clothes, a hand. At least he was able to notice there were a few others at the table, and all of them – except Shimazaki – appeared to be dressed casually. So it couldn’t be one of those formal meetings like the one in the restaurant where Teru first seen Kobayashi.

Teru unbuttoned his blazer and fidgeted with the lapels, thinking about a tactic that could get him closer to Shimazaki and his people.

“Nice ass, huh?” said someone standing too close to Teru. The boy stepped back and sized up the stranger with a flat stare; smart-ass face, practically dripping hair gel, cheap cologne and well-worn flashy clothes, fit to show-off but not comfortable enough for dancing. He was leaning close to Teru so he could hear him over the music.

“I meant those over there.” He nodded at the girls dancing nearby. There were too many girls and Teru had no idea who was this guy talking about. To him, all the girls in the club looked all the same, and even if he wasn't busy spying on Shimazaki now, he wouldn’t consider talking to any of them. He shrugged.

“No?” The stranger seemed surprised. “How about that redhead? In these… funny shoes. Platforms maybe? Is that what they’re called? Look at her, the way she moves. Wow.”

It was too dark and the blue LEDs lighting along walls made it hard to tell any sense of color in the room. Teru vaguely looked around for “this redhead” in “platforms maybe” and he found one, dancing by an awkward guy who looked to be around forty.

“Then go talk to her if you really like her,” Teru answered. He moved his gaze from the girl back to Shimazaki's table.

“Don’t you like her?” The stranger nudged him with his elbow. Teru pursed his lips and sighed impatiently. “Not your taste, or maybe…” He leaned closer, brazenly barging into Teru’s view and grinned. “Maybe you don’t like girls at all?”

Teru shot the creep a look that said “Don’t piss me off,” or “Watch yourself,” and maybe even “Better turn around and kick yourself out the door.” Usually, that kind of look got Teru the results he wanted – the delinquents would leave with their tails between their legs, spouting apologizes Teru didn’t listen to anyway. But this time it didn’t work. The guy straightened up and lifted his hands defensively, although his smile betrayed he wasn’t intimated at all.

“Wow! Oh my! Okay!” he said. “We got angry, didn’t we? How about a drink? It’s on me.” He turned to the bar and pointed at the menu. “What do you want? No, wait, let me guess! You know what I think fits you the most?”

Teru didn’t answer or listen to the names of the drinks the creep listed off, too focused on Shimazaki making his way toward them, squeezing through the dancing people with empty glasses in his hands.

“So what do you want?” the creep asked when Teru turned back to the bar.

“Whatever,” Teru muttered.

“Whiskey for me, and this Bald Kitty drink for my new friend, please.”

Shimazaki’s aura approached closer and closer and Teru was ready for the inevitable confrontation. Would Shimazaki finally snap at Hanazawa and try to kick him out? Whatever happened, Teru wouldn’t be that easy to drive off! He had spent too many hours trailing Shimazaki to just give up!

Shimazaki's arm brushed against his as the man stood next to him, placing the glasses on the counter, a few marked with lipstick. Teru eyed them for a moment, then glanced at Shimazaki's face for signs of anger or annoyance. He found nothing but a relaxed attitude. Shimazaki smiled at the girl behind the counter.

“The usual?” the bartender asked. Shimazaki nodded and paid with a card Teru had never seen before.

“Ahhh, here they are!” the creep called behind Teru. Another bartender had handed him two drinks and quickly returned to her work. “A glass to good looking asses on boys and girls!” He raised his drink and courteously waited for Teru.

This guy got on Hanazawa’s nerves. Teru would prefer to stick to Shimazaki when he went back to his table. But it would only work if the man wanted to play a little game with him.

Ignoring the creep, Teru turned to Shimazaki, but just before he asked something, Shimazaki interrupted him:

“Aren’t you too young to be here?”

Teru forced a short laugh. “Do I look like someone who needs a daddy to tell him his place?”

“Oh. Hm.” Shimazaki frowned. “I don’t know, you tell me.”

“Rude.”

“Exactly!” the creep chimed in and stepped up beside them. Teru rolled his eyes. “You can’t just interfere in our conversation. Excuse me, but. But we were just.” He pushed the forgotten drink into Teru’s hand. “We were just. Here. Like. You know.” And stared at Shimazaki pointedly.

“Yeah and now I will just...” Shimazaki trailed off meaningfully and took Teru’s drink and put it aside, far from the boy’s reach. ”And you can get lost.” To stress his words, he put his hand on Teru’s waist. The creep didn’t leave, but instead snapped, cussed, rolled up his sleeves and made threats. He was ignored and Teru brushed his fingers against Shimazaki’s tie as he leaned down to say something for Hanazawa’s ears only. “Don’t take drinks from the strangers. Especially from him.”

“At least Shimazaki doesn’t stink of alcohol today,” Teru silently noticed. He held him by his tie and didn’t let the man pull away.

“Not from strangers?” he asked. “And how about from you?”

Shimazaki laughed quietly and gently pulled his tie from Teru’s fingers. In the light cast by the neon menu, Shimazaki's face looked younger than it was in reality.

“Maybe later,” he said. “Better go home.”

A second later Shimazaki turned on his heel and headed back to his table, holding his drinks close to his chest. Teru followed him with his eyes.

“Jerk,” he snapped for no bigger reason than having a chance to call him a jerk for the first time in the few past days.

“Yeah, a jerk.” The creep slid into the place Shimazaki occupied a second ago and handed Teru his drink again. “I hate when he spoils my fun.”

It had been a long time since Teru despised someone this much, the kind of hatred a kid has before cruelly plucking the wings off a disgusting fly. How long exactly? At least six months, maybe shorter, definitely since the day he squeezed his fingers into Shigeo’s throat. He had been a different man back then, looking for praise and worship, that overall hadn’t meant anything to him. Now he felt his old self creep back to the surface and tried to drag The Better Teru down. But Teru didn’t want praise and worship and drinks, especially not from this creep. He just wanted this moron to fuck off.

Teru stared at him impatiently. He pushed his drink back into the creep’s hand and took the man's whiskey instead. He sipped on the alcohol, his stare drilling into the man’s eyes. He noticed the astonishment on his face, but didn’t give it any thought.

“Does he come here often?” Teru asked, turning to the bartender, barely holding back his grimace after trying the whiskey. Disgusting.

“Shimazaki?” asked the bartender. “Quite often. He seems to work when he comes around.”

“Work? In a place like that? Who would do business here?”

The bartender shrugged and rushed to help another customer.

“Did you like him?” The creep asked. His smile made him look even more irritating. “I can help you get to him.”

Teru felt his aura crackling.

“Looks like you know each other well.” Teru said instead, going for another tactic in dealing with the creep.

“Yeaaah, quite well. He's disturbed me so many times…”

The creep leaned back on his hands against the counter as his eyes scanned the dance floor, probably for girls. From that angle, Teru noticed a smile-shaped scar wrapping around his neck. He quickly checked the man's face and hands but didn’t find any other marks.

“Can’t he mind his own business?” Teru asked.

“Nothing like that, he’s just doing his job.” He sighed deeply as if a heavy burden was laying on his heart. And then he looked at Teru. “You know.” He pointed at him. “I think I've seen you somewhere before… Ain’t I right?”

Wow. Well. If this guy and Shimazaki knew each other and the creep had seen Teru, it could only mean he was as glued to Shimazaki as Teru was. Or maybe they were all connected somehow. Teru didn’t believe it was a coincidence.

He tilted his head, considering how much he could gain from playing along with the creep’s game. He could possibly get some information from this guy, but Teru wasn’t sure he had enough time and energy to deal with his antics. Probably not. It was almost two in the morning and around this hour Shimazaki usually headed back home.

“How would I know?” Teru asked. “I can’t read your mind.”

“It’s hard to mistake such pretty face with someone else's.” The creep reached to caress Teru’s hand, but a strong slap at his hand effectively discouraged him.

“You must've noticed by now; I’m interested in only one man in this building.”

“We could always leave... Oh! That look again! It really could kill, I can already feel my soul leaving my body! I get it, I understand.” He lifted his hands in defeat. “I won’t get between you two. Goodnight.”

So suddenly? Teru trailed the creep with his eyes when he stepped away from the counter and followed a man – the same man who was dancing with the red-haired girl. A few steps behind them waddled another man, a bodyguard perhaps – sturdy as an ox and eyeing the dancing people around them.

Something was wrong. That creep couldn’t be just a random guy. Teru looked for Shimazaki, confused by the lack of his aura. He was so busy talking with that creep, he hadn’t noticed that Shimazaki disappeared. He cursed silently before he pulled his phone from his pocket to check the GPS. Suddenly, the man was back – he was somewhere in the club, his aura scattered around the room. Teru quickly followed its path.

Shimazaki was sitting by the wall, by the same table he had occupied earlier. He was alone.

“Did you have fun?” he asked when Teru was close enough to hear him.

“Who was that creep?” Teru asked, sitting down beside Shimazaki, their thighs touching slightly. “He was so annoying.”

“Oh yeah, I know. Don’t mind him. You can beat him up next time if you wanna, I won’t stop you. So? Do you want a drink or...?”

Teru rubbed the corner of his eyes. He felt as if the loud music and crowds of people were closing in on him and messing with his nerves. And it was getting late, and he was hungry. He really didn’t want to be here.

Before he could answer, Shimazaki put his arm around Teru and a second later they were back home.

***

“I’ve got a rough situation over here and I can’t talk now,” Teru panted into his phone as he ran across the pavement, close behind the suspicious guy he saw in the club the other time.

“You haven’t answered our texts for a few days and we got a little worried,” explained Ritsu on the other end of the call.

The guy Teru chased suddenly darted into the street, in between rushing cars. Tripping over his legs, the man managed miraculously to get to the other side, but Teru – although there were many meters between them by now – didn’t think about giving up. He jumped from car roof to roof and caught up with the man, leaving behind a yellow streak of his psychic powers. Teru reached out feeling the man’s clothes brush against his fingertips, almost closed his fist around them, almost catching him…

“Everything is fine,” Teru said to Ritsu. “Don’t worr-AH!” He yelped as he tripped over an uneven spot on the sidewalk. He fell flat on his face, scraping his nose and chin against the cement. Quickly, he got back to his feet, but the man had already vanished.

“Shit!” Teru looked around and glared at all the cracks on the sidewalk. He could swear the pavements in the city used to be in much better condition.

“Hanazawa?” Ritsu called out.

“Yes, still here.” Teru sighed. He combed his hair with his fingers and sighed deeply. “I'll call you back sometime later, okay? Today, I promise.”

Once Ritsu had hung up, Teru allowed himself to curse loudly with even worse words than he had used before. A couple passing by looked at him askance, but Teru ignored them.

For last three days, Teru had spied on Shimazaki and his group but learned absolutely nothing about their boss. Although he had noticed that there was someone else who followed Shimazaki too, and Teru had decided to ask him a few questions. Unfortunately, this guy quickly noticed Teru wasn’t the friendliest person and started running away. And now he had gotten away.

Teru shook his head and sighed again. He could have used his psychic powers to catch him, but at the time he didn’t want to risk showing them to other people. Now he regretted it. Next time he wouldn’t hesitate.

***

He hadn't been lying, he really didn't have the time for training or talking with Ritsu. It wasn’t like he had forgotten to answer his messages either – he just knew that the conversation wouldn’t end after one or two texts; Teru’s pride wouldn’t allow him to have such short talk with someone he tried to woo. That’s why Teru had preferred not to start talking with Ritsu at all. It was to Teru’s advantage if Ritsu suddenly got worried and called him, but that call was bad timing.

Only after the unsuccessful chase could Teru sit down and talk with him. First he went home, loudly played his favorite music, served himself two huge portions of cake and sat on his bed, tucking himself into a blanket cocoon. He felt done with this world, like he always did when nothing went his way. He shoved a bite of oversweetened cheesecake into his mouth and finally texted Ritsu back.

Luckily he didn’t have to lie. He could explain his silence with the fact that after school he had to sleep off all the nights that were filled with spying on Shimazaki, because, as he put it, “There’s something suspicious about his work.” The rest of the time he simply didn’t have even a moment to talk to anyone – he added. At least now he had free time, but this free time had a bitter taste. Next time Teru would get this guy, he promised himself.

“...I hope you aren’t playing the hero again,” Ritsu wrote back. Teru’s teeth clenched around the dessert fork.

“Screw you,” he growled. But he simply texted Ritsu back: “No, nothing like that ^^d.”

He didn’t even feel like checking on Shimazaki. He really, really, really didn’t want to, because he knew he would feel worse after he checked, because Teru had given up after chasing a useless loser instead of sitting in the club and waiting for a chance to get near Shimazaki and his colleagues.

So if someone had asked how it happened, Teru would just say that the GPS app had turned on by itself, of course. Shimazaki’s red dot was exactly where it had been the last time Teru saw him.

Teru took another angry bite of cake. Maybe the sweetness would kill the bitter taste in his mouth.

***

The next day Teru stared at his calendar wondering how on earth he would be able to squeeze in his planned trainings with Ritsu and Shou. He glanced at Shimazaki’s back and his eyes followed the folds of the man’s t-shirt, too tight around his upper arms and waist. It took a moment before Teru’s thoughts got back on the right track.

If Shimazaki knew that Teru was spying him and apparently was okay with that, then maybe… maybe…

“Shimazaki,” Teru called with a sweet voice. “Would you tell me what days you have off next week?”

Shimazaki didn’t answer right away, busy with frying vegetables. After a while, he shook his head and laughed under his breath.

“You really miss me at night, don’t you?” he asked.

“It would really help me if…”

“If I told you who my boss was, I know, I know. But…” Shimazaki put the wooden spoon aside and turned to Teru, his hands on his hips. “I get the impression you’re having fun with all this.”

It was the first time they had talked about the spying and moreover, even touched on the topic of Teru following Shimazaki's every step. Teru hadn't been sure if they would make it through without a fight if Shimazaki ever finally decided to mention it. He would've rather not taken that risk.

“I just wanna plan my week, that’s all,” Teru decided to return to the previous topic. “I can’t do anything during the day if I’m having fun with you at night.”

“Keep an eye on the vegetables.”

Heavily, Teru got up from the chair and approached the stove, passing Shimazaki, who decided to look for something in the bedroom. He returned with his phone, presenting the calendar on his screen. His two next days were free, and his two other shifts were shorter by a few hours.

“Maybe while you're at it, you could tell me where you’re going to spend your nights?” Teru asked after he read everything a few times, trying to memorize it to the hour.

“And take away all your fun? No way. Hey, careful not to burn them!”

Teru had barely managed to stir the food before Shimazaki grabbed him his hand holding the spoon. Teru twitched at the warmth creeping up his neck. Shimazaki’s schedule Teru had tried so hard to remember was suddenly lost in the oblivion.

***

Teru’s knowledge of school gossip and trends were replaced by the knowledge of clubs and posh restaurants. He tried to keep up with everything that was happening to his peers, he really tried. But all the information he was supposed to know somehow missed him – he forgot to ask, didn’t have the strength to get into the details, or nothing sounded interesting enough. Teru cursed at himself and cursed at everything because nothing had gone how he had planned. Of course, after turning Shimazaki in, Teru would likely shine among his peers as the brightest star in the sky again. He'd manage to find time for his classmates and for Ritsu too! But now all that wasn't possible. Earlier – when he had considered taking the spying quest – he had hoped he would be able to keep his school life, young Kageyama, and Shimazaki separate, but it hadn't worked that way. Teru hadn’t predicted Shimazaki would work at night. Teru hadn’t predicted he would have to sleep those nights away. Teru hadn’t predicted that…

“Oooh! It’s you again!” someone called out behind Teru.

...someone would bother him in his quest.

Despite his bad feeling, Teru looked over his shoulder. The creep from a few nights ago was squeezing through the shouting crowd to get to Teru. Teru quickly continued on his way after Shimazaki who was somewhere deeper into the hall.

“Wait, wait!” he heard from behind him. No way he was going to wait. He didn’t want to deal with this… this… What on earth was the creep doing here anyway? It wasn’t a dance club this time, but some sort of fight club; there was no place to dance and no girls in sight. Apparently, the creep followed Shimazaki too; now Teru had seen him for the second time, but he wouldn’t have been surprised to learn they had shared a room on other nights without Teru knowing.

Teru dodged being elbowed by a man who jumped to cheer. He didn’t look back again, he didn’t want to look at the faces of the gross people around him – although the boy probably wouldn’t notice much anyway, as the hall was dimly lit, with only a few lamps turned towards a center ring. Teru had to focus on Shimazaki and follow the path of his aura; he knew he was close.

“Hey! Hey, boy!” the creep called again. “Wait! We need to talk!”

“Fuck off!” Teru growled, barely stopping himself from using his psychic powers against the creep; maybe later, without people around and not when he was near Shimazaki and his boss. He could feel Shimazaki’s aura – it crowded Teru more than all those sweaty shouters that surrounded him. He saw Shimazaki's profile for a second. Teru reached forward to make a room and get closer, the edges of the man’s aura painfully scratching his skin when suddenly someone grabbed him by his hand. Teru lifted his head up. Above him stared a bald man, twice the size of Teru, an ugly grimace blemishing his face.

“You’re going with me,” he said in a low, rough voice. Teru tried to yank his hand out of his grip. “Calm down.”

The baldy headed towards the exit, ramming his way through the crowd with his wide chest. Teru tried to yank himself free, but all for nothing – the man easily dragged Teru with him, then eventually grew impatient from the boy's resistance and tossed Teru forward, holding him by his arms. Teru briefly considered using his psychic powers again. But there was no way he could do it here, not without possibly hurting innocent people. Goddamn his newfound sense of morality, it only brought him more trouble!

He'd pissed someone off, Teru was certain of that; the man didn’t look like one of the club’s bodyguards. Teru decided to not to wait for the man's questions or threats, he would fight the first second he could.

As soon as they'd stepped outside of the building, Teru yanked his hand free and turned to the bald man, his psychic powers sparkling in his hands. But a blow fell before he could use it. The ground came up fast and hit him, the impact filling his world with darkness. Teru was surprised (and a little scared,) trying to blink his world back into focus, and licked his lips. He tasted blood.

“Get up!” the baldy growled, towering over Teru. The boy only saw the tips of his shoes before he was jerked up by his clothes. Before he could react, he was tossed into the dark alley and held up against the wall. His feet dangled in the air, frantically searching for the ground. “You’ve been following us for days. Did you think no one would notice a rat like you?!”

Teru felt the man's gross breath on his face and even if he wanted, he couldn’t hold back a grimace. He struggled with the man's hands, now painfully digging into his hurt arm.

“Explain yourself!” he barked. Teru sighed, annoyed. Everyone kept disturbing him!

A heavy blow to the center of the man’s chest threw him against the opposite wall, and Teru, free from his grip, landed gracefully on his feet. Not waiting for the other man to get up, Teru attacked again; the air whips slammed against the ground and walls, and flew at the man, wrapping tightly around his arms. One wave of Teru's hand and a moment later the bald man crashed into another wall. The impact of the hit and the weight of him left cracks in the building.

Teru waited a moment, carefully watching the man – he didn’t move, but Teru heard his heavy breathing and groans. If he were one of the Claw espers, Teru wouldn’t hesitate and beat him within an inch of his life. His fingers itched with his psychic powers, ready to be used, to act… But he had to stop himself, he didn’t know who he was fighting with.

Teru approached him slowly, his eyes not leaving him. The other man reached for a gun – Teru could clearly see it. He raised a barrier. A second later the man aimed at him with a shaking hand, the wound on his head dripping blood into his eyes. He shot the gun, but the bullet bounced off the barrier, not leaving a scratch. Teru snapped his whips again, one of them wrapping around the gun and tugging it from his grasp. Another whip caught the man by his legs and threw him at the stack of bins in the corner of the alley. A slam, a groan, and then there was silence.

“Now he shouldn’t cause any more trouble,” Teru thought, going to the man and checking his pockets. He had to hurry if he wanted to learn anything about him. Someone had probably called the police after hearing the fight and the gunshot… In the middle of the night, in the middle of the city, by a busy street… Yup, someone definitely would've called the authorities.

The baldy didn’t have any documents, nor ID, and not even a phone. Teru cursed. What a waste of his time. How many times would he be chasing some roaches instead of…

The barely audible sound of steps behind him interrupted his thoughts. Teru swung around; out of the alley, in a spot lit by the streetlight, stood the creep.

“Holy shit,” he whispered. Teru sighed, clenching and unclenching his fists. Well, this guy would have to get a slap too, otherwise, he'd never leave Teru alone.

“I’d love to say it’s nothing personal but,” Teru trailed off. In the blink of an eye, he appeared before the creep. A kick to the stomach took the breath from the creep, a slam on his neck took his consciousness as well. Teru dragged his body deeper into the alley, far from the street. After some fast thinking, Teru placed the gun near the creep. He didn’t any time to check him for his ID or anything useful; he had to run away from here. He also couldn’t go back to the fight club now that he was certain his presence had got the other bodyguards’ attention. Going home was out of the question as well – he didn't want to leave just when things started to crumble. The only way out of the situation was to hide in another alley, where he had a good view of the club’s exit, and wait patiently until this fight-party was over.

He didn’t expect that Shimazaki would appear only a moment after Teru made himself comfortable in his hiding spot. The air didn’t tense, the neighborhood wasn’t flooded with his psychic power; Teru only felt his aura when Shimazaki was close. Teru turned around and stepped back, but before he could do anything else, the man grabbed him by his jacket and shoved Teru deeper into the alley.

Shimazaki’s words – “I have no business hurting you” – echoed in Teru’s head as he tripped over his legs, trying to put more distance between him and Shimazaki. He knew the man was lying, of course, he knew that! – his inner voice full of a strange grudge. After all, there was a constant war between them, sometimes suspended by short moments to catch their breaths.

“At first,” Shimazaki approached Teru again. His footsteps were slow and confident, as if he already knew he had won this confrontation. But his voice was quiet, like it always was when he had tried to stifle his negative emotions. "At first I thought this was funny and hoped maybe you'd get bored of it. But it seems I can’t win against your obsession.”

"Obsession?” Teru thought, frowning. His back hit the wet, cold wall. He looked around; he was flanked by more walls on both sides and Shimazaki was standing in the way of the only way out.

"But it's my fault,” Shimazaki continued as he stepped into the shadow. The light from the street lamps outlined his silhouette, leaving no spark to light his face, and Teru couldn't read any emotion from it. But Shimazaki’s voice betrayed everything – shaky composure and barely muted anger, the kind that couldn't be distracted by a joke or a laugh... Something that rarely happened and, until now, hadn't been because of Teru's actions; until now, the things Teru had done were nothing, forgotten after a short, and often won by Shimazaki, fight or rude comments. Teru's actions had never resulted in Shimazaki's true anger – the boiling type that made Teru's hair stand on end, changing Shimazaki's aura from crumbs into shards, biting into Teru's skin painfully and chipping against the walls.

But Teru wouldn't let himself be threatened. They had gone through their fights so many times it had become boring. If they had to fight now – fine, Teru was ready – but for fuck's sake...!

"So?” Teru asked, "Another fight, mano a mano? And then we go back home like nothing happened and you keep going to parties and I keep spying on you?” Shimazaki came to a stop nearby. "And so on. I won't get bored, and you won't surprise me with anything.”

And it was at that moment when Shimazaki advanced on Teru, seizing him by the collar of his jacket. The boy's heart skipped a beat as Shimazaki pressed his back hard against the wall.

"There are a lot of things that I could do to surprise you, Teru.” Shimazaki's whisper was too close; it made an unpleasant shiver run down Teru's spine. "I could try one or two things if I had more time now.”

Shimazaki fell silent, waiting for Teru's answer. The latter didn't plan on saying anything though, too focused on trying to somehow calm his heartbeat. He breathed deeply and slowly, ignoring the instinct that yelled at him to move, to act, to push Shimazaki aside or hit him, to try and run away or do anything to break out of this cat and mouse situation.

He wouldn't win by being aggressive. The only way out was to wait until the cat would grow bored and leave.

Suddenly Shimazaki chuckled.

“I like this look of your aura,” he purred, “It's like a little ember. I wonder what should I do to spark it up a little…”

His fingers burned against Teru's skin, while warning horns bellowed in the boy's head again: "Fight, fight, fight!” they screamed. He didn't need to do much after all – just lift his hands and hit. But the closeness of Shimazaki – his breath on Teru's face, the pulsating warmth from his body, the hand around Teru's waist – and the fact that someone so casually and confidently had managed to charm Teru into stillness, and also trap him and stifle his will to fight... All of that together and made Teru's body weak and his knees buckle. In a split second, he understood how it felt when he deluded all those girls with sweet lies, gifts, and...

Confused, Teru held his breath as he felt Shimazaki's lips brush against his. And then he remembered this whole time Shimazaki had lived with him and how Shimazaki had been behaving lately – it was far from being aggressive, it was far from the way Shimazaki would treat a stranger he could hardly call a friend. He had become soft, he was too nice – except the rare moments when he had lost his patience. He wasn't his old self.

And Teru wanted to slap himself because he only noticed it now!

The alarm bells in his head fell silent, leaving room for cold calculations and actions. Teru batted the hand holding his jaw away and tried to push Shimazaki back, his heart still pounding from the revelation he just learned. Shimazaki stepped one, two, and – after a moment of hesitation – three steps back.

There was an awkward silence between them; distant yells from the street and the night chill needling at Teru were the only elements that made him certain he wasn't dreaming.

"Go home,” Shimazaki finally said. Teru shook his head. He glanced at him when he heard the click of a lighter. Suddenly he wanted to smoke too; he wondered if smoking did really help in calming nerves like they said.

"People have started noticing you,” Shimazaki growled. "I'm gonna be in trouble thanks to you; did you ever think about that?”

"Why would someone care that a kid is following you?” Teru snapped.

"Why do you want to know so badly? It's not a health concern any more.”

Teru rubbed his chin, still hot from the ghost of Shimazaki's touch. He bit his lip at the brief – unnecessary, unwelcomed – memory of his closeness. "I'm worried,” would be a good answer to Shimazaki's question, but not now – too sudden, too bold. "Easy, Teru, easy,” he calmed himself silently. “One wrong move and you will lose this chance.”

"Maybe...” Teru said aloud, his legs shuffling. "Maybe I feel responsible for you...? Because, um...”

"You think I can't manage to live on my own?”

"No! Not that. You can manage, of course you can. It's just... we lived together for the past few weeks and I-I-I saw the moment when you decided to... to change.”

Another moment of silence, as if for the sake of Teru gathering his thoughts.

"So I feel responsible now,” he went on slowly, considering his words and hoping Shimazaki was buying this bullshit. "For yourself and your actions. And the mystery around your boss doesn't help you build this new you, you know? I know you're trying to be a better man and... and it would be a stupid move to mess it up and ruin everything. You've put too much effort into it.”

"You think so?”

Teru nodded vigorously.

"I know what I'm saying,” Teru added. At least that wasn't a lie. He stepped away from the wall and closed the distance between them, as evidence he wasn't scared of Shimazaki and only wanted good for him.

"You know what you're saying,” Shimazaki echoed, stepping back. Teru didn't push, didn't go after him. His eyes followed the spark of a half-smoked cigarette, thrown away by the man. "Hm.”

"I can go home,” Teru put his hands in his pants pockets. "But you know that...”

"I know you won't leave me alone because you're stubborn as an...” He waved the comparison aside. "Hey, Teru. You know one day that you will...”

"Get me in trouble, yeah. And what, won't you help me?” he asked flirtatiously. Shimazaki snorted; that meant he at least noticed the joke.

"I know you wouldn't have a problem in dealing with most of them by yourself. Ehhh,” he sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Let me think.”

He turned his back to Teru and stepped back into the light. Teru stared at him, a smirk sneaking onto his lips. Everything was moving in a good direction – Shimazaki was thinking, either about how to make Teru finally leave, or the way the three people – Teru, Shimazaki, and his boss – could finally meet. But Teru wouldn't plan a victory party until he heard what he wanted to hear.

"Fine.” Shimazaki turned to him after a while. "Fine. I'll let you meet them. You'll see they’re cool and you won't have to worry any longer.”

"Sweet,” Teru thought and smiled. Then he added aloud: "Thank you for your trust.”

"Can't say the same to you.”

Teru didn't care about the bitterness in Shimazaki's voice. He offered his hand to him.

"You can take me home,” he purred.

Shimazaki winced and reluctantly grabbed Teru's hands. He teleported them back home, and disappeared again, without a word, most likely to go back to work.

The moment Teru stepped from the entryway of the bedroom, he was hit with the mist of Shimazaki's cologne – a relic of the man walking around the apartment while getting ready for work. The unsettlingly pleasant memory of being trapped between the wall and Shimazaki's body came back to Teru and seized one important word from him:

"Fuck.”

Chapter Text

When Teru had asked Joseph for permission to teleport to Shimazaki’s apartment, he'd had no clue it would take three long weeks for the man to answer. To make things worse, Joseph had decided to text Hanazawa at the murderous hour of five o’clock in the morning. The twinkling sound of a new message woke Teru up, tearing him from his light sleep. Hanazawa looked for the source of the noise – spotting his phone's light blinking from the other side of the room. A moment later, the phone flew to Teru’s hand, lazily tugged by his psychic powers.

“You can teleport outside the city but only once,” Joseph wrote. “To Shimazaki’s apartment and back. Don’t leave him alone. Message me when you want to go.”

Teru rubbed his eyes, heavied by sleep, and laid down on his back, wondering if he should answer Joseph right away. He still hadn’t told him that Shimazaki worked for someone suspicious... who moreover did their business at night, which only made them more shady.

Involuntarily, Teru looked at Shimazaki’s back when the other man moved under the blanket.

“Who’s bugging you this late?” he heard.

“Go back to sleep.” Teru stifled a yawn. As it turned out Shimazaki didn’t plan on using one of his few nights off to go back to sleep – instead he turned onto his other side and sighed deeply.

“Tell them to get lost,” he said hoarsely. Teru moved a couple inches away to just to press the fact that Shimazaki was too close. It got no reaction from the man.

“You get lost,” Teru muttered while answering Joseph with “Okay.” He put his phone on his chest and glanced at Shimazaki. Lights from the cars on the street below lit the room for a couple seconds, revealing Shimazaki’s sleepy face and messy hair.

“But they don’t let you sleep. What time is it?”

“They'll let me sleep now, don’t worry.”

He closed his eyes, accepting the sleep that was pleasantly weighing down on him when the sound of a new message blew apart the silence. Teru and Shimazaki both jumped, frightened.

“Godfuckingfuck,” Shimazaki snapped in one breath. Teru held a hand to his racing heart and rubbed his face. From the corner of his eye, he saw Shimazaki tucking himself back under the blanket and heard some more curses.

“How is it going?” Joseph asked. “Did you learn anything?”

Teru had learned a lot, but he couldn't say anything significant right now – and not through a message that could be intercepted by someone like Hatori. Teru didn't know if Joseph had found the last of the Super Five espers. Lost in thought, Teru bit his lip.

“.” A single, lonely dot was Teru's answer to Joseph. He hoped the man could read between the lines. He muted his phone and turned his back to Shimazaki. In a moment, he got another text from Joseph. Shimazaki sighed, annoyed at the still audible sound of vibration.

“CCC, Monday at 6 o'clock?”

Teru recalled his plans for the next week. He was busier than usual, he would have a problem trying to squeeze Joseph in anywhere, especially on Monday... But if he canceled training with Ritsu and Shou...

A few messages later, they set up a meeting on Friday during his lunch break, in the park near Teru's school. During Teru's back and forth with Joseph, Shimazaki was literally breathing on the boy's neck, stubbornly reminding Teru of his existence, but not saying a single word. And only when Teru finally hid his phone under the pillow did Shimazaki suddenly lean over him and catch his hand holding the mobile.

“You were supposed to go back to sleep,” he whispered. Teru bit the inside of his cheek and tried to move away or onto his back, but Shimazaki blocked both possibilities. In the narrow corner between Shimazaki's chest and the wall, there was less and less air... or Teru just forgot to breathe for a moment. “Easy, Teru,” he tried to tell himself in his thoughts, ignoring his heart pounding furiously. “Nothing special is happening... I guess. This guy won't try to kiss you again, right? He could though... Maybe.” Not that Teru planned to let him if something like that would happen... Most likely.

Teru tried to swallow but his throat was dry as sand. While searching for the right words, he let his eyes wander down Shimazaki's face, and then at the bruise on his arm... The bruise that a few days ago had cheered Teru up, had given him hope for winning another eventual fight... But now it didn't help with Shimazaki's body pressing against him.

“Give it to me,” Shimazaki said again. His fingers seem to burn Teru.

“No need. We're done talking.”

“Give. It. To. Me. Please.”

And Teru had no other choice than to give Shimazaki his phone. The man thanked him softly and turned onto his other side to hide the mobile under the bed. He lied down, his back to Teru, and as the boy slowly regained his breath, Shimazaki fell asleep.

That night Teru didn't go back to sleep, as he was ordered. He laid wide awake, his hands squeezed around the blanket, trying to push out of his mind the warm memory of Shimazaki's body against his.

***

He didn't tell Shimazaki about Joseph's answer right away – he decided to wait and test the man's mood, not sure if Shimazaki wasn't mad at him after being woken up on his night off. The thought that Shimazaki could be angry with him lingered in Teru's mind, but at least it wasn't too pesky – it just existed there, like many other thoughts, not stressing him out or pushing to act, but only serving as a reminder of the predator sleeping beside him.

These kinds of anxious thoughts had appeared long ago, since the first week Shimazaki stepped into Teru's life, and they had never really left. They subsided with time, sure, but often returned like an echo. A few days ago, Teru had hoped they would be gone for good soon – maybe in a couple weeks, or only after Shimazaki moved out... The worst case was that he would never be free of them at all, and, right now, the third scenario seemed the most possible.

This pessimistic mindset had taken over after Teru and Shimazaki's rendezvous in the alley, although the main factor wasn’t Shimazaki’s “act” itself, but what happened afterwards. Shimazaki had changed again. This time he became quieter and more distant, and spent most of his free time out. Teru understood why he was like that, because Teru was a smart boy and putting two and two together wasn’t a problem for him. He managed to treat the news with cold distance and calculations as if he wasn’t dealing with the heart of a random man, but how he dealt with the heart of someone who had spent weeks threatening him and almost killed him during their brutal fights.

Shimazaki was a strange type… And everything around him was strange. And Teru knew his own life wasn’t any less strange either. He was almost used to it. Almost. Naturally, he had no problem accepting ghosts and psychic activities, but he had a problem with the more mundane, like understanding adults who couldn’t understand their own feelings and actions. And, in Teru’s opinion, adults should definitely understand them, not less but better than Teru. They were adults after all. Fortunately, the boy didn’t have to rely on them since his parents had taught him how to function without their direct help. Overall he wasn’t disappointed by Shimazaki’s lack of understanding, but simply surprised.

Teru had heard a lot about Serizawa – that he had been a loser who had spent half of his life closed in his room; that he had the mentality of a puppy who couldn’t take care of himself. And apparently, now he was trying to to live on his own, and build his new life , which made him look a lot more put together than Shimazaki’s. But maybe Teru just didn’t know Serizawa that well and hadn’t had a chance to see his failures, and had no idea about whether Serizawa might also have crush on Shigeo, or Reigen or whoever helped him (maybe the Super Five had a questionable affinity for falling in love with people who gave them a helping hand; Teru wouldn’t be surprised.)

Anyway, Teru had no idea how to deal with Shimazaki. It wasn’t new that someone had fallen for him, but he had never thought it would be someone like Shimazaki – this damn, ruthless bastard with no sense of duty or remorse. A playboy and a hellraiser and… and… simply, Shimazaki as he was. Of course, Teru was flattered he broke someone like that, but he couldn’t enjoy it to the fullest, because that enjoyment was suppressed by confusion.

He also had two hunches: that he wasn’t the only one confused by this turn of events, and that now Shimazaki had tried to run away from it. Shimazaki hadn't mentioned anything, but two days after their kiss-not-kiss event, he had started looking for an apartment – Teru noticed in the GPS that during the afternoons the man was visiting real estate agencies and wandering around random places. Teru wanted to ask, to chat lightly about it, but a bad feeling told him to not to press the man. A few days passed, and Shimazaki still hadn't said he wanted to move out any sooner than they had previously planned.

They barely talked and if they did, it wasn't for long. By comparison, their conversation that night Joseph reached out was the longest they had had in a few days. That was why Teru wasn’t sure if he should say anything about Joseph’s messages or simply wait until Shimazaki brought up his old apartment.

The answer came in the morning, a good hour after their breakfast. Teru was preparing to leave for a training session and Shimazaki had just got himself comfortable in bed, checking his planner for the next week, when he spoke:

“Have you talked to Joseph?”

Teru clenched his fingers around the strap of his backpack and looked hesitantly at Shimazaki, trying to guess his mood.

“Yes,” he answered after a moment. “He says we can teleport to your place but only once.”

“Us?” Shimazaki turned to him and frowned.

“Yeah? You can’t possibly think he would let you go anywhere alone?” Teru put down his backpack. There was no way this conversation would end soon.

“I’m surprised he trusted you too, that’s all.”

“Why wouldn’t he? I dragged you to him and all.”

Shimazaki chuckled and shook his head in disbelief. “If only you could buy trust with a small favor.”

Teru ignored the remark, although he gave Shimazaki some credit for it. “When do you want to teleport?”

“I don’t know. Today, I guess. I’m not sure when I will find an apartment or move out, so there’s no point in waiting.” Shimazaki fell silent for a moment, clenching and unclenching his fists. A faint blush crept up his neck, which he tried to rub away with his hand. It didn’t disappear. He smiled instead, with a smile that most of the time was charming and full of confidence. “Do you have time today?”

“I’m leaving now,” Teru said slowly. “Didn't you notice?”

"Oh… hm… How about later, when you’re back?”

“I don’t know.” Teru grew impatient. "Depends on what time I get home.” He understood Shimazaki needed to get some stuff from his old apartment, but – let’s be serious – Teru wouldn’t clear his calendar just for him. He hoped Shimazaki didn’t expect that.

“I’m really busy for the next few days,” Shimazaki muttered. “The jump there and back shouldn’t take us long.”

Maybe Teru had gone soft or he just couldn’t stand Shimazaki being all sulky and weak. Something between regret and frustration smoldered in him, something that made him think “I’m not his mother to pity him and take care of his sorry ass.” Teru shook his head and rubbed his temples. He had agreed to help Shimazaki in the very beginning of his quest, he couldn’t back off now.

“We'll see when I’m back, okay?” he asked. “If I'm not dead tired, we can check your apartment.”

“Fine. Have fun wherever you’re going.”

Teru had been ready to leave for a few minutes. Now he had only to put on his shoes and close the door behind him. Easy.

“Teru?” he heard a weak call. He looked at Shimazaki. “Thank you.”

Teru couldn’t answer even if he knew what to say.

***

Shimazaki managed to stay calm for quite a long time, or at least he tried to look as calm as someone who was a millimeter away from kissing Teru. Although, the reality looked differently, and his thoughts were an insane mix of frustrated screams and pleas to get his shit together.

No, he couldn't understand and didn't want to understand how Teru managed to charm him, or when had it happened. This kid, this brat, this damn... No, it was impossible.

“Easy, Shimazaki,” said a gentle voice in Shimazaki's head. “Maybe you didn't fall for him, maybe it's something else... Some kind of attachment maybe... Or maybe you were too focused on Teru because of lack of a better alternative? Everything should be back to normal once you move out. And until then,” the voice became sharper suddenly, “Be careful and don't do anything stupid – again! Like you did back in the alley... Better not think about it.”

And the voice talked and talked and instead of helping, it only fueled the panic in Shimazaki. He hadn't fallen for anyone, and especially not for someone like Teru. He's just become soft lately, he changed, dammit. NO! No, it was probably because of this damn chip in his neck, it had changed his personality, there was no other reasonable explanation.

Shimazaki rubbed the nape of his neck, feeling the chip under his fingertips. He rubbed the corners of his eyes. He couldn't understand how even after a few days he still hadn't managed to bounce back to his old self. Why was his damn heart still embarrassed by the stupid situation in the alley? It was a long time ago, and... and... Putting his hands on someone – it could happen to anyone.

Yes, of course, Shimazaki wasn't a prude; he had had so many lovers and one-night stands he stopped counting years ago. And if he wanted – and if Teru wanted (which he probably didn't, most likely) – Shimazaki would have no qualms about getting Teru into bed. Although there was a small problem – they both had realized there was something wrong with Shimazaki after the incident. There wouldn't be any problem if it was only Shimazaki who had noticed what was going on – he would think about it, come to terms with his feelings, and happily move on. But now Teru knew too. This small twinkle of his aura and that quiet “oh” that fell from his lips betrayed too well that Teru had gathered all the clues and reached the right conclusion.

And this really screwed Shimazaki. And also caused Teru to be distant and aloof. The latter was understandable, because how else should Teru behave if someone who had threatened and almost killed him suddenly fell for him?

That's why finding his own apartment was a priority for Shimazaki – take his stuff, say “bye” and go his own way to leave everything behind so Shimazaki could for real – FOR REAL – start his life anew. It wasn't easy, as he learned after checking a few potential places to live. But at least he was prepared for the difficulty of the task and all he had to do was to stay patient for sake of himself.

But enough about that. Shimazaki's life didn't revolve around Teru. He had to busy himself with something else just to avoid thinking about the boy and the mess he (“Teru, not me,” he thought) caused.

Dinner was the first thing that came to Shimazaki's mind. What to cook? Would Teru be back for a dinner? What would he want to eat?

Damn.

Laundry then. Shimazaki didn't remember whether Teru had done the laundry in the morning or if he had taken the clothes in from the balcony or...?

Shit.

Grocery shopping. Did Teru write the list...?

Fuck.

Shimazaki groaned loudly and fell back onto the bed, his back hitting the mattress. He had to – he really had to – find something to do that wasn't work or chores. He had to meet with people – something that had been a common activity before Claw had fallen, something that meant he barely spent time at home. Maybe he could brace himself to meet up with the others from the Super Five and talk to them and... explain himself. It wouldn't be easy since no one except Hatori had tried to reach him, which was proof they didn't want to have anything to do with Shimazaki anymore... Although, as much as he had heard, Shibata, Serizawa, and Minegishi were in contact with each other.

Shimazaki didn't understand, but he wanted to understand. He had to understand. He had to focus on that instead of Teru otherwise he would go crazy.

But first, he had to make a dinner.

***

A warm dinner waited for Teru when he got home. It wasn't too late or too early, but his usual time at exactly five o'clock. He had thought he would stay with Ritsu and Shou a bit longer, especially since today Shigeo decided to watch them train. After training, someone came up with the idea of going into town, but it was quickly declined by the Kageyama brothers (Shigeo had to help Reigen with something and Ritsu decided he didn't want to leave his brother alone with the man on Saturday night.) Shou followed their example saying it wouldn't be any fun without Ritsu's company. Teru pretended Suzuki's remark didn't hurt him, but his good humor had disappeared in a second. He wasn't in the mood to call his classmates at such short notice, or wander alone in the city, so he came home.

At dinner, he told the whole story to Shimazaki, who listened to everything in a silence. He only nodded in reaction.

“So, if you wanna go to your apartment today I'm okay with that,” Teru said. Shimazaki raised his eyebrows.

“If you're not tired...”

“Not much. Anyway, I already told Joseph we will teleport today. Do you know how long it would take us?”

Shimazaki shrugged. “It depends. If everything is upside down in my apartment, then finding stuff I need might take me a week if not longer.”

“And how much stuff?'”

“Only a little. It will fit in one box, I think. Hey, do you...” He cut off to drink a gulp of the soup's broth. “Do you think Joseph will let me go there again sometime later? After I... hm, find own apartment?”

“I don't know.” Teru didn't want to give him any false hope. He knew Shimazaki was lucky enough that Joseph let him teleport outside the city. The others from the Super Five would probably be jealous.

“Maybe if you’re a good guy?” Teru said, half-joking. Shimazaki shrugged again in a response of “I knew you said something but I don't care enough to came up with an answer.” Then they ate in silence.

***

“There should be empty boxes, I think,” Shimazaki said when Teru looked in his apartment for something that could help them move things. “Left over after my last move.”

“How long have you lived there?” Teru asked, pushing a small box of his most personal belongings under his bed. Then he got to his feet, having not found any empty cardboard boxes.

“Half a year, I think.”

“So short...”

“What could I do?” Shimazaki approached Teru and buried his hands in the pockets of his worn tracksuit. “It was hard to stay in one place until Suzuki finally decided on the date of...” He hummed. “Conquering the world.”

Sounded logical. Shimazaki had talked about traveling around the world, sometimes including the details about the hidden and mysterious places he saw with the Super Five. It would be indeed difficult to stay in one place while gathering an army and meeting people.

“I bet someone will sell my apartment or something,” Shimazaki said as Teru put on his shoes. “I don't even know who owns it now.”

Teru had given this some thought before now and even talked about it with Ritsu and Shou. “If you have money to pay for repairing the city after what you've done, then it's still yours. I think.”

“Heh. I hope so. It was quite expensive, you know? Are you ready? Let's go.”

It was quarter to six, around the time Teru had told Joseph they would be teleporting. The boy breezily reached out his hand to Shimazaki, who moved hastily, catching Teru by his forearm.

Energy tugged at them and the world fell into darkness. The first thing Teru noticed after the teleportation was a disgusting, intense stench of alcohol. Teru yanked his hand free and covered his nose with his sleeve. He looked around, confused. At the end of the hallway, Teru managed to see the dim shape of the living room, bathed in the city lights.

“Damn,” Shimazaki sighed not moving. “I bet it's... bad.”

Cautiously, Teru walked to the living room, searching for a light switch with his hand. He flicked the first switch he felt under his fingers.

“O-oh,” he couldn't withhold his reaction to the apartment. “It looks better in the dark.”

“Guess I'm lucky then.”

Teru took a deep breath to give himself more courage and once again looked around the hallway and the room. It seemed like a tornado and a horde of furious gorillas had gone through the whole apartment, smashing everything that got in their way. Broken furniture lay on the ground, their pieces detached as if they were ready to be put together; the books had made impressive mountains under the fallen bookshelves; pieces of a broken glass table decorated the carpet, reflecting the city lights like snow on dark winter night; the leather of a couch and armchairs were in shreds; electronic equipment of a various sort – like a TV or stereo system – had found their new place by the wall, at the opposite sides of their designed corner. The stench's source was a knocked down glass showcase, a few shelves high, flooded with alcohol leaking from smashed bottles. All that this mess needed to complete the trashed atmosphere was curse words scrawled on the walls, which instead were stripped of their paint.

Shimazaki was about to make a hesitant step forward when Teru caught him by the sleeve of his hoodie.

“Wait,” he said. “I’ll make a path through this mess.”

Helping himself with his psychic powers, Teru moved the trash aside and collected them in piles in the corners of the room, making a safe path to the doors – probably leading into two bedrooms, a kitchen, and bathroom. Finally, Teru opened the balcony door and all the windows in the living room – the glass was decorated with an uncountable web of cracks, but it remained stable and didn’t let in any fresh air unless opened.

During this time, Shimazaki was silent, tense. He stood beside Teru, not involving himself in cleaning up the mess that a few weeks ago used to be an apartment with some class… That class could be seen even now, despite the state it was in. Minimalism, snow-white walls, backlit panels, with furniture and carpet of highest quality. Teru could easily imagine how it might have looked before, like standing in a living room straight out of an interior design magazine. A little too well-organized and cold, but giving the impression of high standards and wealth. And now, it would take a lot of time to make the apartment look as it had before.

“Thanks,” Shimazaki said indistinctly when Teru finished collecting the trash. “I hope the kitchen is in a better state.”

It wasn’t. Teru didn’t even want to think what he saw as he cleaned the kitchen – he just shoved everything against the wall and left Shimazaki alone. One of the bedrooms was next on his list, so Teru came back to the main room and headed to a closed door, hoping he wouldn’t find any dead bodies inside (Hatori’s for example.) Anything could happen in a place like this and Teru wouldn’t be surprised by anything he might find.

While crossing the living room, Teru’s eyes landed on the city spread out beyond the window. The tiny lights on skyscrapers winked invitingly to come closer and take a better look. Teru couldn’t refuse; he came out onto the balcony and leaned his hands against the railing. Chill air nipped at his cheeks and a breeze swept across his hair, bringing more fresh air for Teru to enjoy.

The horizon was obscured by the buildings – tall, some polished metals and others concrete; buildings, that despite being simple and ugly, pulsated with life in the rhythm of their twinkling lights. Far down, the streets, busy and crowded, gave a further impression of not being the only person in the whole world. It would be difficult to feel alone here.

Teru pulled out his phone and took a few photos for his own satisfaction.

“I knew most of these people,” Shimazaki said standing next to Teru. “They didn't know me, of course. I liked to peep in on them sometimes, check what commoners are doing in their common lives.”

“You stalked them, you mean? Like a typical pervert.”

Shimazaki waited a bit with his answer. “Yeah, that’s how it looks like from the outside. But I wouldn’t call it stalking… More like, hm…” With his sightless sight, he looked around and sighed deeply. “Something similar when you can’t stand silence so you turn on the TV to have some background noise, but you don’t really pay attention to what's happening.”

“And the families are like channels.” Teru nodded at the buildings.

“You can say that.”

“It’s still stalking,” Teru hummed.

“It seems you can’t grasp this subtle difference. Not that I’m going to try to change your mind…”

“I wouldn’t anyway.”

Shimazaki gave him a tired half-smile.

“I would be surprised if you would. I just,” he shrugged “wanted to say I hope my new apartment isn't in a less interesting… hm, setting.”

He waited a while for Teru’s answer and then without saying anything more went back inside. Teru heard as Shimazaki rustle around in the living room, picking through the remains of furniture and other items. He shivered under a cold breeze and took another glance at the buildings.

Stalking. It wasn’t the worst that Shimazaki had done in his life, but it still wasn’t right. Had he watched unmoved as other people cried and went through their different failures and hardships? Had Shimazaki pitied them? And what if a murderer burst into their apartment and tried to kill them – would Shimazaki have helped the victims?

Teru sneezed loudly. Terrified by the noise he made, he ran back inside. He hoped no one heard him and would check Shimazaki’s apartment. They didn’t need problems with nosy neighbors now.

He passed Shimazaki in the living room and stood by the threshold of one of the bedrooms. The lightbulb barely remained lit as it hung on a cable yanked out of the ceiling. It illuminated a mess that contained an enormous tangle of clothes, smashed pieces of furniture, as well as the mattress pushed up against the wall, and various junk Teru didn’t want to look at too long to tell apart.

Teru sighed loudly and started moving everything aside to make paths around the trash, noticing the difference in designs between the living room and the bedroom. The latter wasn’t as cold and lackluster; the walls were touched with warm colors, marked by shadowed spots from paintings that used to hang there – they were on the floor now, useless, broken but still so kitschy even Teru wouldn't have put them in his apartment. At the other side of the bedroom, opposite where the bed stood, the windows were covered by shreds of heavy curtains with zig-zags patterns. Numerous knick knacks, big and small, broken and shattered, had found their final moments between clothes, which were no less peculiar than the man they belonged to... This was a side of Shimazaki Teru didn’t know, as the ex-Claw esper seemed to prefer smart casual outfits; plain, with no flashy colors, while these clothes on the floor were more to Teru’s taste. Teru wondered if Shimazaki, being blind and all, even knew what he had in his bedroom and wardrobe; if he had chosen the items himself even though he couldn’t enjoy their designs. It was intriguing, and almost made Teru go back to the living room and ask Shimazaki a few questions…

…Questions including if Shimazaki wanted to have some of those unusual clothes back. Although, if he did, he would probably need to buy new versions, because what was on the floor was now battered and shabby – no longer wearable. Someone had searched in this apartment for something – or for Shimazaki most likely – and hadn't been very careful with his belongings in their hunt. Not that Teru pitied Shimazaki.

“It serves him right,” he thought while putting the mattress on the bed frame. He looked askance at the bed. It was huge. Too huge for just one person, it could probably fit four or five people. This jerk had had too comfortable of a life.

Teru glanced at the door and rubbed his arm thoughtfully. He glanced at the bed again – too big, too welcoming. He considered what he was about to do for another second before deciding.

He dashed towards the bed.

“Teru?” he heard Shimazaki say, but ignored it. He bounced off the floor and threw himself onto the mattress. Layers of dust sprang up with Teru and landed gently around him as he finally lied down, content with the bed.

“Having fun?” Shimazaki asked, stopping by the door.

“Why did you need such huge bed?” Teru turned onto his back and reached for the pillow. It smelled like dust, but Teru also noticed the scent of Shimazaki’s shampoo, so faint Teru had to check twice to make sure he wasn’t mistaken.

“For comfort. And, well, I had guests sometimes.”

“Hmmm…” Teru squinted at the orange and red stripes on the ceiling. He moved his gaze to Shimazaki when the man sat on the bed, keeping his distance from Teru. “Did you furnish this place by yourself? This room is so different than the living room…”

“I heard that a lot.” Shimazaki sighed. “Hatori helped me. We have similar tastes in lots of things.”

“Still do.’”

“Tastes don’t really change, you know.”

“And do you two still talk?”

Shimazaki tensed, which Teru wouldn’t have noticed if he didn’t pay close attention to the man. Teru’s eyes traveled down Shimazaki’s back to his clenched fists.

“Depends on who’s asking,” Shimazaki answered dryly.

“It speaks for itself.”

“You can interpret it however you want.”

Teru turned onto his side again and hugged his face into a pillow, once more looking for the familiar smell. With his gaze fixed on Shimazaki’s profile, he brushed his hand against the soft blanket that marked the space between the espers.

“And how should I interpret what happened a few days ago?” Teru asked. Shimazaki turned his face away, leaving only the back of his head in view. Teru heard the quiet sounds of cracking joints, a gesture  Shimazaki usually only did when he had started thinking hard or had become stressed. The light bulb overhead flickered, indicating it would soon be dead. The light went out before Shimazaki answered:

“However you want.”

“Or you’re too scared to give me a straight answer.”

“Whatever.”

“Shimazaki?”

“Hm?”

“Do you want to kiss me?”

***

Shimazaki hunched under Teru’s gaze, feeling like its intensity was burning into his back. Shimazaki knew the answer and he knew what he should answer, and both these things were in contrast to one another. “And why are you asking?”

And even if he did pride himself on being honest and talking about his desires without shame, he couldn’t bring himself to be straightforward now. Weeks ago he could enjoy everything to the fullest and without hesitation take what he was entitled to have – someone like Teru for example.

Past Shimazaki wouldn’t keep hands to himself.

Past Shimazaki wouldn’t try to stop himself.

Past Shimazaki wouldn’t have any problem with this.

Past Shimazaki would have punished Teru for all this spying and going around to places that were strictly for adults. But past Shimazaki was long dead and present Shimazaki was the one in control of his actions. He couldn’t just take Teru, not without his clear consent, not after this mess he put Teru through.

He didn’t dare look at Teru. He had already made the best of the pleasantly blinking aura sprawled out on his bed, making sure to remember all the details. Now Teru's aura would probably dazzle and burn his ESP with its intensity.

“And do you think I would let you kiss me again?” He heard Teru ask with a note of amusement… Although that note seemed to be forced.

“And do you want me to try?” Shimazaki did want to try. Maybe this time it would have another outcome.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

Well, Teru got him here. Shimazaki smiled to himself.

“I don’t know if you would let me do it or not. I don’t know what’s happening in that cute head of yours,” he sighed. “On one hand, you can’t stand me. On the other… People are unpredictable.”

“That’s right, I can’t stand you…”

The unspoken “but” stretched between them, not followed by the words Teru wasn’t brave enough to say.

“I’m used to that,” Teru said instead, in a happier tone than before. “In fact, lots of people want to kiss me, that’s it. So many people, of different sorts. Mmm,” he purred, stretching out over the mattress. Shimazaki bit the inside of his cheek and didn’t let himself to turn towards Teru. “One more or less doesn’t make a difference.”

“Do you like when people run after you?”

“Of course I like it. And you?”

“That makes two of us. But don’t ever think I’ll follow you around like a lonely dog.”

Teru spat angrily, “Same to you.” And as if he wanted to quickly change the subject he asked: “Did you find everything you needed?”

“Yup.”

“Didn’t you forget something?”

Finally, Shimazaki braced himself and glanced at Teru, who played with something at the head of the bed – most likely the wide velvet ribbons tied to the frame.

“You were supposed to introduce me to your boss,” Teru said, “I did my best so Joseph would let you teleport to your apartment and you…” He cut off pointedly. “How long am I supposed to wait?”

“As long as it’s needed,” Shimazaki sighed heavily. The boy’s impatience was getting on his nerves. It wasn’t that easy to arrange the meeting, both because his boss didn’t have much free time and… yeah, it wasn’t very safe either. Shimazaki had to work hard not to expose Teru to anyone dangerous and find an accessible place to meet, all while he was only a bodyguard who didn’t have much influence on his boss.

But with some luck, Teru would let it go after they meet and Shimazaki would be able to do his work in peace.

“This Thursday is your deadline,” Teru said, coldly. “Or you’ll have me on your tail again.”

Teru thinking he was in higher position was quite amusing to Shimazaki, but he had to stop himself from saying Teru couldn't give him orders. He didn’t want any more fights or quarrels – he had no time or strength for that… Not to mention fighting with Teru was like an endless war. Their fights were always close, and their strongest attributes were quite different – Shimazaki’s strength fought hard against Teru’s stubbornness.

“Be patient,” Shimazaki said. He started thinking of a way to squeeze the meeting into his boss’ calendar, if only so Teru would get lost.

***

Thursday was the deadline for Shimazaki to introduce Teru to his boss and it was no earlier, no later, but exactly on that day that he did so. In Teru’s opinion, Shimazaki only waited so long because he didn’t want to hear his complaining. That or Shimazaki simply didn’t want to bring on Teru’s spying again, in case the boy wasn’t content with what he learned about his boss. The agreement was simple: Teru and Shimazaki’s boss would meet, but until then Teru had to give up on the surveillance. And Teru had to agree. He didn’t need any more fights, and those would definitely happen if he'd tripped up in his investigation again like he did with the fight club.

Teru had to trust Shimazaki… And maybe he could make himself to trust him just a little. But only a little.

“We’ll see how much this trust is worth,” Teru thought, eyeing the door of the club – the one where Shimazaki had been the night he had got the job. A neon sign with the name “A Little Orange” blinked invitingly, casting a hard light over its tall windows. The music wasn’t loud, but Teru could easily hear it from where he stood on the street. There wasn’t anyone else outside – no one smoking or bodyguards – so Teru guessed that the chilly, rainy night had chased them inside.

Teru felt Shimazaki’s aura; it was weakened by distance, but Shimazaki was certainly in the building. The red dot on the GPS confirmed it. The boy texted a “Where are you?” to Shimazaki; he didn’t feel like wasting any time on searching for him.

The answer came before his phone locked: “Come and find me.”

Teru muttered curses under his breath. He shoved his mobile into the pocket of his jeans and rushed inside, following the path of Shimazaki’s aura.




Chapter Text

The “A little orange” club was, in fact, not only orange. Every wing on every floor had walls and decor that bathed it in different colors, and it made “A little rainbow” a more fitting name for the club. The thresholds of each wing could almost be seen as portals, leading to new dimensions, connected only by the blast of the electronic music, blowing apart a person's skull from the inside, echoing in their dreams. There was no way to run from the overwhelming sound as it reached one’s ears, not even in the farthest corner of the building. The only way to have some peace and quiet was leaving the club entirely…

…or finding a private room, shut behind heavy, hot pink doors. And this was where Teru arrived after following Shimazaki’s aura. He restrained himself from rushing the door when he noticed the bodyguards sitting on either side of the entrance – four overgrown gorillas, more serious than their work required. Among them Teru found the man he had fought a few days ago; they eyed each other, but nothing more happened.

The door cracked open.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” someone yelled from the inside. “No way, I said! Goodnight!” And an overweight businessman in white suit rushed out of the room. Teru stepped out of his way, wondering if he should follow. The man didn’t even look around, so he probably wouldn’t notice if he was followed.

“Get in!” Teru heard behind him. He couldn't manage to see the source of the voice before someone seized his arm and pushed him into the room. The door slammed, muffling the sound of the music a little and leaving Teru at the mercy of the people inside.

There were only two of them – Shimazaki and a girl glued to his side, dressed – in Teru’s honest opinion – clothes too revealingly to look sexy. “She’s trying too hard,” Teru thought eyeing her flashy clothes, which styled separately might have earned Teru’s better opinion. Platforms shoes added a few centimeters to her height, making her too tall and skinny to the point of appearing starved. Her flame red hair was cut a little below her shoulder blades, cascading down from the ponytail on the top of her head. Two loose strands of hair and blunt bangs framed her long smiling face. She had a cute smile, indeed, but Teru couldn't force himself to return it. Especially not after his gaze went to her long nailed hands… One of which rested in Shimazaki's lap.

Teru dared to look up again, into her dark-brown eyes that were staring back at him, sizing him up like a predator. Teru felt uneasy under her attention. He decided to focus on other details of the girl just to surpass the feeling – her makeup. He had tried to ignore this element until now – it was flashy, but put on carefully and perfectly, trying to draw the most attention to the girl's features. Teru came to the conclusion the girl wasn't more than seventeen but tried to look older. If not for the fact there were only three of them in the room, Teru would think she was Shimazaki's plus-one.

“A cutie,” she muttered, still staring at Teru. He bit his tongue to not to snap at her and looked around, searching for anything suspicious. White-leather sofas and rows of tall mirrors lined the walls. Most of the short tables were occupied by empty glasses, some of them decorated with a touch of lipstick. Everything was bathed in candy-pink light from the lamps hidden in the dropped ceiling. No cameras in sight. It appeared to be a VIP room like many others.

“Soooo,” Shimazaki began, waving at Teru with one hand, the other draped behind the girl, on the back of the sofa. “This is my little star I've told you about.”

“'My little star?'” Teru thought, and his brows drew together.

“Teru, isn't it?” the girl asked. She had a high but pleasant voice, a fine contrast to her appearance. “I've heard a lot about you! There were days Shimazaki just couldn't shut up.”

Teru expected no less from Shimazaki, to be honest. It was typical people talked about Teru, so the man wouldn't be an exception.

“And who are you?” Teru asked, crossing his arms and not moving from his place. His eyes caught the movement of her hand – it wandered up Shimazaki's lap. He glanced at Shimazaki. The man didn't seem happy at all – maybe his feelings weren't obvious, but Teru had learned how to catch his slightest gestures and winces, no matter how well hidden.

He frowned and sighed, trying to shush the icky feeling he suddenly had, as if he caught it from Shimazaki. He wanted to look away, to move his gaze onto the girl, but it slid down again at her hand, which had now started to play with one of Shimazaki's shirt buttons.

The same button that Teru had to sew back on a few days ago.

Teru only looked at her when she spoke “I'm Chihiro. Nice to meet you, I think. We will see.” She smiled sweetly. “So, how can I help you, little Teru? Do you want to join us?”

“Don't be silly, Chihiro,” Shimazaki laughed.

“What's wrong, Ryou?” She glanced at Shimazaki and then back at Teru. “He won't be standing there for the rest of the night, will he?”

The club music moved to another, strange dimension, ceding its place to Chihiro's voice, which had became more distinct with each passing minute. It attracted Teru like a light attracts a moth, beckoning him to step away from the door and come closer to her. Teru considered it. He would ultimately have to accept the offer, because he couldn't stay in one place during the whole conversation, it didn't look good. He would move in a moment and join Chihiro and Shimazaki, but first he needed to take care of the other matter. One, small, tiny matter, that should be settled calmly, with composure and nerves of steel, and with a voice colder than the harshest winter in northern Japan.

“Take your hands off him,” Teru said. Chihiro opened her mouth, surprised, but a second later she grinned. She took her hand off Shimazaki.

“What a strong spirit,” she giggled. “Why do you care?”

“I don't.” Teru hesitated. He didn't see Shimazaki's reaction, too focused on Chihiro and her eyes shining from excitement. “He does. And he didn't like anything you were doing.”

“No? I didn't hear any complaints, but, fine, okay. I believe you. You know,” she tilted her head to the side and crossed her legs. “You seem like someone who knows what our friend likes.”

“You both know I'm sitting here, right?” Shimazaki asked with a half-smile. He was ignored.

“Maybe,” Teru answered slowly. “So what?”

Chihiro didn't look moved by his wariness. “So, little Teru, show us what he likes the most.”

“Chihiro!” Shimazaki hissed. He tried to get up, but her hand held him down.

Teru glanced at him, then back at Chihiro, and couldn’t stop himself from smirking. 'Show what he likes?' Hah, fine. No one else knew much about Shimazaki – especially not his desires and fantasies. No one else but Teruki “Teru” Hanazawa. “His little star,” Teru snickered in his thoughts, stepping from the door and closing the distance between him and Shimazaki. With amusement he noticed the confusion that appeared on Shimazaki's face.

“Chihiro, dammit,” the man pleaded again. “Knock it off!”

“I could get used to that,” Teru thought: Shimazaki pleading, trapped on the couch with no way to escape, even though there was only a girl and a boy against him. “Strange.”

Shimazaki could fight or ask Teru to stop, but he didn’t. Teru wouldn’t have stopped anyway, even if Shimazaki was on his knees and begging, but at least then Teru would have his full attention. He didn’t like sharing Shimazaki. He didn’t like seeing Shimazaki calling out to this girl. What could she even do? He was at mercy of Teru and nothing, not even a benign word from Chihiro would help him.

Apparently, Shimazaki understood this only when Teru stood by his legs. Shimazaki sat up straight and raised his hands in the air, as if he wanted Teru to keep his distance.

“Teru, don't do anything,” he tried to say calmly, but by the end of the sentence, Shimazaki's voice was shaking. “Don't be ridiculous.”

“Why ridiculous?” Teru tilted his head. He stepped forward and, in reaction, Shimazaki leaned towards him, almost putting his hands on the boy's arms. “Don't you want me to...” Teru caught Shimazaki's wrists and pushed him back, helping himself with his psychic powers. Shimazaki's shoulders hit the couch; he gasped loudly and with a weak tug Shimazaki tried to yank his hands free. Teru grinned. “Don't you want me to sit by you, as close as possible?”

With ease, he climbed onto the couch and kneeled above Shimazaki, trapping him between his knees. Teru purred at the view under him – it wasn't the first time he'd seen Shimazaki from above; that had happened whenever Teru took care of his bruises and stitches. But now Shimazaki could barely stop himself from fidgeting, the stress tensing his body. It only pushed Teru to keep going.

“Well, little Teru,” Chihiro spoke up. Teru looked at her blankly. “If you ask me, he doesn't look happy now either.”

But Teru knew better than her. He hadn't lived with Shimazaki for so long to be misled by a grimace or some weak, almost non-existent resistance. Shimazaki could push Teru away or teleport to freedom, but he didn't do anything.

“If you think so. Maybe you just don't know him as well as I do,” Teru said, letting go of Shimazaki's wrists. Chihiro smiled, and Teru smiled in response too.

“Fine, Teru,” Shimazaki sighed. With hesitation, he put his hands on the boy's arms. From that close, Teru felt his breath on his neck; it burned Hanazawa's skin even through the material of his shirt. “You've got what you wanted, now you can get up.”

“I only know him a little,” Chihiro agreed, completely ignoring Shimazaki again. “But you? I don't know you at all...” She thought for a moment, rubbing her chin and looking at the ceiling. Her gaze went back to Teru after a moment. “I only know a few things that Shimazaki said about you. Nothing interesting, in my opinion.”

Teru squinted at her. Something was wrong.

“I could say the same about you,” he muttered. Suddenly he wasn't sure if he was talking to Shimazaki's boss – Chihiro seemed too young and didn't exactly fit in as part of Shimazaki's work – at least, not the part that contained meetings in high-class restaurants and fight clubs.

“Better it stays that way,” she said, sitting more comfortably on the couch and smoothing her skirt down. “Enough about me. You two live together, right? But from what Shimazaki said, I can tell you don't really like each other. And still...” She moved her gaze from Teru to Shimazaki. Shimazaki seemed to be tuned out of the conversation, most likely waiting until this all was over. Teru couldn't see his face; the man lowered his head but didn't rest it against Teru's arm.

“And still,” Chihiro went on. “Shimazaki talks about you with such fire, and you... You're on his lap.”

Teru blinked, surprised. While Chihiro had been talking, he'd lowered on his legs and sat on Shimazaki's lap. He blinked again. He hadn't noticed as the world around them had blurred into colorful smears, when everything except them had stopped existing – this room, the club, and the world only now formed vague shapes. Reality crept back to Teru. He felt the tickle of Shimazaki's aura on his skin, and a painful grip on his arms. He gasped, almost choking on the air. The smell of Shimazaki's cologne and the man's warm breath on his skin hit him and made the world blur again. Shimazaki whispered something in his ear, something Teru didn't understand. His heart skipped a beat in a panic when he noticed he'd lost his orientation in the world. He had to find his way back, something instinctively told him. He had to find an anchor that would help him return to reality.

He clenched his fingers around the collar of Shimazaki's blazer and moved closer, to take in what he could sense – warmth, touch, smell. Shimazaki loosened his grip and tried to move away from Teru, but there was no way out. He said something again, but Teru still didn't understand anything. Teru's heartbeat had replaced almost all the sounds in the room.

“Teeeruuu.” Chihiro's sweet voice stood out amongst the noise of his thrumming heart and showed Teru the way back to the world. He looked at her and found her glassy-eyed, glazed by alcohol or something else Teru couldn't define. “Everything that I've heard about you is so inconsistent. Sometimes I don't know how I should understand it. Tell me your version, Teru.” She leaned towards him, and he listened to everything carefully. “Can I ask a few questions? I bet I can.”

She could, of course, she could; Teru nodded.

“Tell me then,” Chihiro went on. “If you had to choose, would you rather choke him or kiss him?”

Teru's voice stuck in his throat. He tried to swallow, to take a breath and answer, but he couldn't. He had a clear answer; between two opposites it wasn't that hard to choose. If there was a third option, somewhere in the middle, maybe Teru would pick it, but Chihiro only gave him two and there was nothing to question here.

“Don't you know?” Chihiro asked. Teru knew. But the problem was he couldn't speak, too surprised with his choice. With difficulty, he tore his gaze from the girl and moved it to Shimazaki, to the knot of his necktie and exposed pale neck. Teru's fingertips twitched and he readied himself for the familiar wave of stifled aggression, one that would push him to seize Shimazaki's throat...

But nothing like that happened. Teru frowned. He let go of Shimazaki's blazer and with his shaking hands, closed his palms around the man's neck. He noticed as Shimazaki breathed deeply and fidgeted under Teru, his arms tensed in waiting for the boy's next move. Shimazaki said something again, but Teru didn't try to understand, too focused on finding a way to give Chihiro the answer she was waiting for.

He moved his fingers up the neck, marking it with a stronger touch, until they reached the end of their journey and cupped Shimazaki’s face. Teru leaned back to have a better look. His heart, engulfed in a something between fear and excitement, began beating faster at the sight of the void-black eyes of the man, giving away the feelings inside of him – uncertainty and lostness. Teru relished this void for a bit longer, in the meantime brushing the hair off Shimazaki’s face. His hand – less shivery than before – ran down from Shimazaki's temple to his cheek to finally rest on his neck the same time as Teru’s eyes landed on Shimazaki’s lips. He closed his eyes and leaned in, so lost in the world he wasn’t sure if he kissed Shimazaki first or if Shimazaki met him halfway.

A fire of thousands suns burst and flooded into Teru’s body. The grip on his arms disappeared, leaving behind aching fingerprints as Shimazaki’s restless hands traveled down to find a comfortable place on Teru’s hips. The final destination felt as if it was carved to fit the tight hold, which took away any chance for Teru to flee. But the thought of running away seemed abstract to Teru, even if he felt like he would burn alive here. And if that would happen – which was dangerously too likely – he would feel no pain and have no doubts anyway, as he was too lost in Shimazaki’s lips – soft and wanting, and now belonging only to Teru, just like the rest Shimazaki. Teru didn’t know how far he had crossed the line into possessiveness. He only knew he would never let anyone else lay a finger on Shimazaki because now he belonged to Teru, like a reward for giving the right answer to someone’s (gods knew whose) question. And Teru had only just managed to brand the man as his prize (a bite on Shimazaki's bottom lip – although not strong enough to draw blood) and name himself as his ruler (signified by a submissive sigh from Shimazaki as Teru’s nails sank into his neck), when Shimazaki broke the kiss. Teru glanced at him reproachfully, his sight too cloudy to notice anything besides Shimazaki's red, used lips... that Teru would gladly use up even more.

Teru gasped at the abrupt touch on his back – at some point Shimazaki’s hand had snuck under Teru’s clothes and started its attempt to take back some of the domination. It felt the muscles around Teru’s shoulder blades, fingertips leaving chilly paths against his skin. Before Teru could change his plan of action, the other hand gripped him by the nape of his neck, and held him still, despite Teru’s weak protest. He had to fight – he knew it – he should fight and win. He needed a plan, he almost had a plan.

The closeness of Shimazaki’s breath prompted him to close his eyes and wait for another kiss that was about to happen. And Shimazaki did, leaving Teru surprised with his obedience. He felt a slight nibble on his lips, teasing as if it was a revenge for earlier. The teeth were quickly replaced by Shimazaki's tongue, tracing over the bites with its tip. Teru leaned in, sighing pleased and trying to take more from the kiss, his knees involuntary pressing against Shimazaki’s sides.

Shimazaki smiled, for the first time in minutes, ages, centuries, and this smile turned out to be the final step to make Teru finally submit. The final missing step, and if Teru could give it a second thought, he would had never believed he missed Shimazaki’s cocky stupid smile. And maybe it was only a smile of a victory, but it was Teru who was the one being kissed now, and he had to show how he deserved it. There were no other options if Teru didn’t want Shimazaki to run away with someone else.

Not breaking the kiss, Teru's hands found the collar of Shimazaki’s shirt, loosened his tie, and unbuttoned first two buttons before letting his fingers slink past the material. Teru’s warm fingertips met the much hotter – painfully hot – skin of Shimazaki’s neck. It was almost scary; surely Teru couldn’t let Shimazaki melt here, he wasn’t a sadist. It was already enough that Teru had nearly turned into a messy, attention-seeking puddle.

He was about to unbutton the shirt more (that was the new plan, yes) when the touch of Shimazaki’s hands and lips disappeared. Teru eked out a small sound of a question, not trying to hide his annoyance. He got the answer right away – Shimazaki’s hands found their place back at Teru’s sides, exploring the boy’s body, and Shimazaki's lips marked their presence on his neck with short, wet pecks. “Just don’t bite,” Teru wanted to say, but was too late as Shimazaki – the bastard – bit down into his skin. Teru stifled a sigh and clenched his hands around Shimazaki’s jacket.

“Don’t,” he managed to whisper, but so quietly and inarticulate he thought Shimazaki would ignore him. The man’s lips left Teru’s neck for a brief moment, considering the request, then decided for another kiss, just under Teru’s ear. Teru could relax again. He fidgeted, trying to move closer to Shimazaki, to cling to his chest, feel more of his body, but Shimazaki held him strongly, almost melting his fingers into Teru’s sides. Insufferable. Teru both loved and hated it.

“Don’t burn here, my little star,” he heard whispered into his ear, the voice hoarse. Teru gasped loudly when Shimazaki’s hands grabbed his ass, and his fingers dug into the flesh there – not painfully, but in a possessive manner.

“Something is wrong,” buzzed in Teru’s thoughts. He ignored it. He bit his lip to not to make a sound at the next kisses, tickling and short, and planted on his cheek and jaw.

“Let’s go home,” he said between one caress and the other, stumbling on the words and not being ashamed of it at all. For a little longer, he could enjoy the kisses and devour Shimazaki’s warmth, his breath, his touch. For a little longer, he could make the best use of the man.

And then everything disappeared. Sometime afterwards, someone’s fingers touched his eyelids, and finally, the world around him took back its shape.

What came back to Teru first was blasting music, and his hands clenched around Shimazaki’s blazer, and the feeling of his own pants being too tight in the crotch. He coughed and tried to catch a breath like he was resurfacing from a long, exhausting dive. He hunched forward, overwhelmed by the flames burning his body, the hazy memories of the past few minutes, and the sensation of fingers digging into his arms. Teru lifted his gaze, with each second wishing to run far away and hide somewhere noone would find him. He met Shimazaki’s stare, still void-black and deep, but this time mirroring no similar feelings.

“You’re still on his lap,” Teru's sense of logic prompted him. He tried to deny it. He didn’t let himself to look down. He didn’t want to know he was way too close to Shimazaki.

“You could have just said so,” Chihiro chided. Teru glanced at her, then at the phone she was holding, with a conversation opened. “Are they always like that?” said the message Teru saw, before his eyes snapped back to Chihiro.

“But fine, at least I don't have any doubts,” she added, locking her phone.

“What the… What the hell?” Teru stammered.

“I’ve heard you’re a smart boy. I won’t lead you around by your hand, Teru.”

The fog lifted from around Teru and everything that happened in the last few minutes came back to him as clear, hard to reject facts. A cold shiver went down his spine when Teru realized he had indeed kissed Shimazaki and let the man touch him. And he was still on his lap. How the hell? How the fucking hell?

“You are…” Teru began, his voice still shaky. “You’re a telepath. You can control people.”

The silence was the only answer, and what told Teru he was right. He swallowed with his throat tight. He tried to snap out of everything that happened and come down to earth - both literally and figuratively. The first step was letting go of Shimazaki’s lapel.

“How did you…” he whispered. He looked into Chihiro’s eyes and now knew if she only wanted to, she could definitely take control of him again. There was no way Teru could have predicted that the moment he stepped into the room.

“You want a lift home?” Shimazaki asked. Teru nodded, then shook his head. He couldn’t go back, even if his common sense yelled at him to run home and hide somewhere until the end of his days, far from Chihiro and Shimazaki - especially Shimazaki. But he had to stay. He hadn't learned enough about the girl or whoever else was Shimazaki’s boss, and if he gave up now he would waste this one chance Shimazaki gifted him.

“C’mon, sit by me,” Chihiro suggested, moving away from Shimazaki and patting a free space beside her. Teru slid from the man’s lap on his own.

“Sorry for everything,” she said, not sounding sorry at all. She flicked her hair back and smiled sweetly. “I would have never guessed it would end up like… that. Do you want something to drink?”

“No.”

“Oh, too bad. They have really amazing drinks here. Maybe next time then? So what are we going to do if you don’t wanna drink? Dance? Sweet!”

Teru shook his head again and clenched his hands around his knees. He felt his head began to ache, too full with thoughts, and music, and sensations. He hoped he would be all right soon, but there was no sign of that now. He needed more time than he thought. And peace. And quiet. And no one around. He would have it all once he was done with this conversation.

“Who are you?” he asked while he tried to lean away from Shimazaki’s aura that lurked around and brushed against him.

“Huh? Didn’t I introduce myself?” Chihiro tilted her head.

“I mean…” Teru waved his hand. “Something more. Why would someone like you need the protection of someone like Shimazaki?”

“Is he special or something?”

Shimazaki laughed. “Not at all. Just a commoner.”

Teru grit his teeth, braced himself and looked into Chihiro’s eyes. He hoped she knew he wasn’t so naive to believe the bullshit they tried to sell him.

Chihiro held his gaze, but her smile didn’t drop in the slightest.

“I don’t know what answer would please you, Teru,” she sighed finally. “I know people like you, and they tend to look for their own version of the truth even when there’s nothing new to find.”

"Then tell me your truth and maybe I won't need to look for it, simple as that."

"Fine." Chihiro tilted her head and rested her hands on her legs. She looked around the room, her smile fading. A long sigh left her. "I'm the loveliest daughter of my father, who's excessively overprotective. I can't even go out to the grocery store let alone or go on a date with a boy. Can you believe it? And that's why I have these lovely bodyguards with me."

Teru nodded, then turned to Shimazaki. "What about Kobayashi?"

"Kobayashi?" Shimazaki frowned. "I was his bodyguard weeks ago, I already forgot about him. Now I take care of this young lady." And he pointed at Chihiro as if he presented a unique specimen. Said specimen giggled.

"Yeah, right," Teru muttered. Was it really that easy for Shimazaki to forget about the people who paid him or bought him drinks after work? Moreover, Kobayashi had used Shimazaki's first name, so they had to have at least a small bond. "And you want me to think," Teru said to Shimazaki again, "That your work protecting random people – espers, to be exact – is completely unrelated?"

"Of course." Shimazaki gave him a half-smile he managed to hold for only two seconds. He rubbed his temples. "Put yourself in my shoes, Teru. Try to find work after people saw all that mess with kidnapping the prime minister."

"And that's why you decided to work for a shady guy, huh?"

"Shady?" Chihiro interrupted. "Don't call my dad shady, okay? He did nothing wrong."

"Sure." Teru glanced at her, stopping his gaze on her hands rumpling her skirt. He didn't believe them, but he had run out of arguments. He had to think about it, but at home without the blasting music and Shimazaki's aura teasing at his sides. And, most importantly, he had to contact Joseph and tell him everything he learned; maybe the man would notice something Teru missed.

"You know, Teru." From the sound of Shimazaki's voice, Teru's experience told him Shimazaki was at the end of his patience. And not that the man was about to start a fight, but rather Shimazaki might surrender as if he had explained to a kid a hundred times why grass was green. "Even if I worked for someone in the government, you would say it's shady. Any work I could do for an esper would be shady to you, because you know me, and..." He rubbed the corners of his eyes. "You've been through a lot because of me, and you don't trust me, and so on. And, as we just said, there's no damn chance I would get hired by a non-esper. Ain't I right?"

"Maybe," Teru muttered. Of course, Shimazaki was right, but agreeing with him was like losing a fight. "Then why did you keep all this secret?"

Shimazaki groaned and ran a hand down his face. The texture of his aura changed from smooth to scratchy and made Teru squirm away. "Maybe I don't need some brat knowing everything about my life? But now that the cutest kid in town has learned the truth, he can mind his own business."

"Teru," Chihiro chimed in softly, just when the boy was about to say something harsh. "Do you think someone with a backstory like Shimazaki's would do something as stupid as getting into new trouble?"

Teru did think so, but at the moment he couldn't come up with a reason why Shimazaki would do this. The whole story seemed quite believable, but it missed the element that would tie everything up and make Teru trust Shimazaki to the fullest. Teru had doubts, he didn't exactly know what doubts, but he definitely had them.

He got up, almost tripping over Shimazaki's legs as he turned towards the pair, his hands crossed over his chest.

"Fine, I believe you," Teru decided to lie. "It doesn't change the fact I don't like it, but I believe you."

"So you'll stop spying on me?" Shimazaki asked flatly. Teru twisted his lips and tapped his fingers against his arms.

"Yes," he answered. He had no other choice but to leave Shimazaki alone. For now, at least.

"You want me to teleport you home?"

"Ye... No. Ugh." Did he really want to give up already and go back? With Shimazaki? "No need," he muttered. "You're still at work."

"I'm going home anyway." Chihiro shrugged and then nodded at the door. "The boys will escort me."

As if on command, Shimazaki stood and bowed to her, his hand on his heart. They both smirked; Teru considered it to be some kind of inside joke.

"It was nice to meet you, Teru," Chihiro chirped. "Maybe we'll meet again someday, randomly or something."

"Maybe." Teru didn't feel like answering the first part of her goodbye. The meeting would be "nice" if he didn’t spend most of it on Shimazaki's lap. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Teru glanced at Shimazaki and rushed at the door, leaving the two alone. The door handle slipped twice in his hands before he managed to open it and he had to brace himself to step into the crowds. It wasn't long before Shimazaki joined him in maneuvering between people, and by the time they reached the exit, they had bumped against far too many drunk revelers.

The outside welcomed them with a crisp chill. Teru breathed in deeply and heard a click of a lighter and smelled a cigarette.

"Do you want to teleport or go on foot?" Shimazaki asked.

"You just lit a cigarette, so I think you already answered yourself."

"Lead the way then."

***

They didn't speak a word the whole way home, both lost in thought. Teru could barely keep his eyes open; the meeting with Chihiro had strained his mind enough for one day and made him wish for nothing more than solitude and a comfortable bed. But no matter how hard he tried to keep his thoughts on a leash, they wandered into forbidden regions – places where Teru really, really didn't want them to go. It was even harder with Shimazaki walking only two steps behind and the breeze sending Teru the light scent of the man's cologne. Teru imagined himself turning to him and snapping that he should put some more distance between them. And he would have done that, if not for the strategy of silence he decided to use. This guy had had enough of Teru's attention today anyway.

But the thoughts didn't give up. Teru sighed loudly and decided to find something else to do - whatever, really,even planning his next step to get Ritsu's heart. He persuaded himself that he still had time to do that, even if he'd toyed with idea of postponing it a few times. He had to do this now. He had a good opportunity, with these trainings and all. Of course, Ritsu wasn't eager to meet just the two of them, so Teru would have to arrange a group meeting. It sounded more entertaining anyway.

A round of paintball, the cinema, laser tag, karaoke, a trip to the beach or an amusement park... the list of places he could use grew longer with every street he crossed. He kept track of them in a note on his phone, and only stopped writing when they were standing in front of the familiar door of his apartment building.

"I'll go first." Teru twitched at the sudden interruption of Shimazaki's voice. The man disappeared before he could answer.

"Well," Teru thought saving the note on his phone. "It's time to face it." Alone with Shimazaki, in a too tiny apartment... on an even tinier bed... It wouldn't be pleasant. It had never been pleasant; maybe bearable for the few last weeks, but that was all. And now it was back to the sense of normality they had before their first meeting with Joseph – a kinda screwed normality, the one that made Teru pray this jerk would move out as soon as possible.

Teru's grip squeezed tight around his phone. He tried to relax. He wished he could stay outside a little longer, a few years at least. On the other hand, he knew there was no point in delaying facing Shimazaki. Shimazaki would definitely talk about what had happened in the club, it was too good of an opportunity to laugh at Teru; Teru knew him too well..

The way up to his apartment was too short, but his encountering Shimazaki was postponed thanks to the man deciding to take a shower. Teru considered forgetting about the evening and simply going to bed as if nothing had happened... But the memories of Shimazaki's kisses and restless hands were too fresh for Teru to leave it behind. He rubbed his neck, hoping it would erase Shimazaki's touch. Instead, it made his thoughts go back to the club, and all the warm feelings inside him surged. They met him in the middle of his bedroom, as a mix of frustration as well as an odd and deeply hidden fascination.

He shook them off and rushed into the kitchen, to wash his face with freezing cold water, to feel the chill against his burningcheeks. The memories of Shimazaki's fingers darting down Teru's back and his hoarse whisper disappeared for a split second, giving Teru enough time to come up with a plan – run to bed, sleep with his face turned to the wall, and, most important: keep his hands to himself and think as little as he possible.

The plan was easy enough, except for maybe the last point. With all his will, Teru miserably tried to keep his thoughts from Shimazaki. He counted imaginary sheep, repeated basic algebra formulas, went through the names of the girls he dated... Still, he couldn't drown out l the muffled sounds from the bathroom that indicated Shimazaki would soon come to the bedroom. The squeak of the tap closing, the rush of the water in the sink, stuff on the shelf clinking against each other. Shimazaki unlocking the door and his soft steps down the hallway, the calm aura growing as it came closer... Teru clenched his fingers around the blanket and held his breath when the mattress bent under the other man's weight.

The silence jarred Teru with its tension – although it was different than usual. This time it was filled not with furious auras gnawing at each other, but with unasked questions, "now what?" being the most important one.

"Are you awake?" Shimazaki whispered. Teru bit his bottom lip. He knew he needed an explanation, but he wasn't sure if he was ready to talk about it. He considered his next move for a few breaths before he finally said coldly:

"Yes."

Shimazaki moved, most likely sitting up to face Teru. He didn't do anything more for now – not reach for him and touch or anything else that Teru was worried he would do.

"I should've told you beforehand," the man began. "About her powers. This whole situation would've never happened." He sighed and fell silent for a moment, but Teru knew he wasn't done. "I never would've thought... I didn’t know it could turn into something like... this. I'm sorry."

Teru frowned. Shimazaki didn't sound sorry at all. His voice was balanced between neutral and amusement. The boy wanted to kick him off the bed, off the balcony or even off a cliff if he could, and jump after him to catch him and beat his face to a pulp.

"Why didn't you try to stop me?" he hissed.

"I tried. But, you know, her whole hypnosis thing is quite... Complicated." He broke off, looking for the words. Teru turned slightly to him, to not miss a word. "When Chihiro asks for something from someone,that person won't quit until they're done... Or until Chihiro tells them to stop or," he waved his hand. "Cancels the hypnosis."

"By touching the hypnotized person's eyelids," Teru interrupted. "I figured. It doesn't change the fact that you didn't do anything."

"Yes, it does." Shimazaki's voice raised a bit, but he calmed down quickly. "You were hypnotized, and you're the most stubborn guy I know. You would rather raze the club to the ground than give up."

"What a wonderful excuse! Let me..." The words stuck in Teru's throat. He didn't manage to finish the sentence. "Let me do all that instead of making your boss stop or let me destroy everything in sight."

No answer. Teru dared to turn onto his back and glance at Shimazaki. He froze when his eyes met with Shimazaki's blind gaze. The lights of the streets below streamed into the room and broke up the darkness enough for Teru to see that the man looked like he wanted... something. A word? A gesture? Who knew what, but Teru didn't feel like asking. He felt deep in his gut he wouldn't like whatever answer he got.

"She didn't tell you to kiss me," Shimazaki said. A heavy boulder of panic crashed against Teru's chest, crushing him and making his heart beat rapidly. The boy buried himself deeper in the duvets, hoping they would swallow him or take him far away from the awareness that Chihiro, indeed, didn't tell him to kiss Shimazaki.

"She didn't tell you to kiss me for... I don't even know how long we did it," Shimazaki went on. "Or to try to take me home."

"So you're trying to blame me now."

"No, I'm not. This all started because I didn't tell you about Chihiro's powers. And we're done with that. Now we're talking about you going a step further."

"You're sleeping on the floor from now on."

"That's what I planned. Who knows, maybe you'd try to kiss me when I'm asleep."

"You wish," Teru snapped and turned onto his side. He pulled the blanket over his head, trying to hide his red cheeks and ears.

"Teru."

"What."

"When you wanted me to move out, you said so. When you wanted me to stay and not to rush with looking for an apartment, you said so. All your curses, your thoughts, your ideas of what to make for dinner -since the very first day you were honest with me." Shimazaki forced a laugh and then sighed deeply as if he shed all his worries from the day. "If you want someone to give you attention, just say so. If you want someone to kiss you, don't hide it, dammit. If you want to..." He stopped, searching for the best term for what he wanted to say to Teru.

"'Fuck,'" the boy helped him. The word barely went through his throat, squeezed by the embarrassment that he had to talk about it with Shimazaki.

"Have sex," Shimazaki decided on the other term. "Then just say so."

Teru shoved the blanket aside and sat up. "I don't want your attention, or to kiss you, or have sex with you, okay?!"

"If you say so." Shimazaki didn't seem moved by his outburst. "I'll be here for the next few days if you change your mind. Goodnight Teru." And he gathered his blanket and pillow and moved onto the floor. The rustling sound of getting comfortable in his new nest of duvets filled the room, and then there was silence.

Teru wasn't brave enough to take up the whole space on the bed, as it should be. Instead, he curled up by the wall and hoped that the morning would erase everything that had happened that night from his memory.

 

Chapter Text

Giving the report to Joseph wasn't easy for Teru. Unexpected hesitation fell over Teru the next day as he sat on a park bench, with intention of revealing to Joseph the information he had obtained about Shimazaki. Suddenly Teru was uncertain about it – maybe Shimazaki was really just protecting the daughter of a random businessman, maybe there was nothing to be suspicious about. Shimazaki wasn’t some stupid person who, even after the mess with the prime minister, would still want to find an illegal or evil job again… right?

That was the explanation that was sold to Teru by Shimazaki and Chihiro, and although it was quite reasonable, Teru still had his doubts.

“I don't know if there's anything suspicious,” Teru muttered, playing with the rest of his lunch.

“Leave that for me to decide,” Joseph answered, letting a heavy cloud of smoke leave his mouth. Teru wrinkled his nose at the smell. He closed his bento box and put it aside, still looking for a starting point for the story he had to tell.

“One day,” he spoke again after a moment. “Shimazaki came home, all drunk and happy, and said he finally found a job. You know, that wouldn't be strange at all, if he'd been looking for it in the first place. It just looked like he... He...” Teru waved his hands. “Went to a club, talked with a guy and suddenly got hired.”

With every word Teru spoke, the baggage on his heart grew heavier, and Joseph's silence didn't help it. More doubts rose to the surface – what if he had misunderstood everything about Shimazaki, what if he was fooled and manipulated again, what if Shimazaki was innocent after all? Shimazaki didn't want to share secrets about his life, that was reasonable. There were a lot of people who would want to use Shimazaki's help as he was an experienced fighter, so it was reasonable too that Shimazaki kept his boss’s identity as a secret. But Teru had to tell Joseph, because the man expected it, not at all bothered by Teru's second thoughts.

When Teru reached the part in the story about Chihiro, his voice shook and he had to stop for a moment. He tried not to think about the situation in the club, the kiss, and Shimazaki's hands, but the memory didn't want to go away – it poked at Teru's thoughts, only barely reminding him about its existence, but still didn't let itself be shushed. Teru breathed in deeply, in the least trying to stay sane, and resumed talking. He ignored the questioning look he got from Joseph.

Teru explained as little as he could about the moment in the club – he revealed what he knew about Chihiro's powers and what she had told him about herself; the rest of it Teru kept a secret, it wasn't important for Joseph to know anyway. He almost finished his story with an “It's probably nothing important” but he stopped himself in time.

“Well, that's interesting,” Joseph said after a moment of silence. His words calmed Teru down but didn't muffle his worries. “Kobayashi, Chihiro... I've never heard of them.” Joseph rubbed his chin, his eyes focused on something in the distance. “Too bad you don't know anything more about them, but it's good you gathered this too, I guess.”

Teru fidgetted in place.

“Won't you write down the names?” he asked, forcing himself to smile. Joseph shrugged.

“No need.”

Teru cursed in his thoughts. “What does he mean by “No need”? Then why did I tell him all this?” He cracked his joints, stopping himself from clenching them.

“How about Hatori?” Joseph asked. “Did you hear anything new about him?”

“If you’re asking me, then I guess you still haven't found him,” Teru muttered.

“We're working on it.”

Of course they were working on it. What else could Joseph say? Teru pondered; it was strange to him that the government couldn't find the weakest esper of the Super Five.

“He slips out of our reach all the time. He probably has someone covering him,” Joseph said as an explanation Teru had thought about too. Hanazawa shook his head.

“No, Shimazaki didn't mention him,” he said. And he lied. Shimazaki had admitted he still had contact with Hatori, but Teru couldn't say if it was a vague contact – if they didn't argue and still had a good relationship – or if they talked regularly. Hanazawa decided not to make any more fuss about it until he learned more. Still, the fact that he was hiding even this small fact from Joseph added points to Teru’s stress level.

“If that's all...” Joseph got up slowly. “I'll check these espers and maybe I'll find something about them.”

Teru looked at him, doubting. This guy was useless, in Teru's opinion, and wouldn't learn anything. But even if he did – he probably wouldn't tell Hanazawa. Whether that was from an unexplained hunch or a simple paranoia after getting almost no feedback on the information Teru had said. Maybe there wasn't any point in spying on Shimazaki any longer.

“We'll be in touch,” Joseph added. They bid their goodbyes and the man went his way.

If only Joseph didn't leave the park so quickly, Teru would have yelled after him that he was fed up and no longer in the mood to work on this case. It was Joseph who should be working on it anyway.

“But next time...” Teru snapped silently, staring at the man's back. He sighed and tried to relax. He couldn’t work on it anyway, as he had promised Shimazaki to leave him alone. So now Teru had no other choice but to wait for Shimazaki's next strange move or a twist.

***

During their training, Teru overdid it – he struck Ritsu too hard and the other boy fell down the ruins, bouncing off the fallen walls and cracked floors. His body missed sharp debris and rods by a hair's breadth, the only thing that saved him from serious injuries.

But instead blaming Teru, Ritsu only looked at him askance. He said his barrier wasn't strong enough and he should've dodged the attack. He took everything on himself.

Teru rolled his eyes; he didn't need any pity now, it was kinda too late for that. He could have used some when they had been talking about Shimazaki, back then out on the Whale.

“Nice!” Shou yelled flying down the ruins. He stood by Teru and smiled proudly at Ritsu. “A few weeks ago you wouldn’t have been able to get up after an attack like that.”

Teru tried to look unmoved, but too many, unnecessary questions flew through his head. How would Shou know how strong Ritsu was a few weeks ago? Had they already trained before they asked Teru to join? For how long? And where? And why did Teru care anyway?

“Can you still fight?” Teru asked, focusing back on the important matter.

“Sure.” Ritsu straightened up after dusting off his clothes. Teru noticed a grimace of pain on his face, even well hidden.

“That's the spirit!” Shou called. “Let's go up! Damn, guys! Two more trainings and there'll be ruins in here, seriously! Let's blow it up!” Shou's voice echoed when he darted up. Teru followed him with his eyes, considering the idea. He'd raze this place with pleasure, blow off steam like he used to do on people from his gang. It was a long time since he had fought with Shimazaki too, and his frustration couldn't find a way out.

Well, fights with Shimazaki had their advantages. They let Teru extend himself and it worked for the boy better than the meditation in the woods – dark and silent, full of bugs, spiders and other nasty...

“You okay?” Ritsu asked. Teru looked around surprised; he thought Kageyama had flown after Shou.

“Yes, yes,” Teru answered without thinking. He didn't feel like talking with Ritsu – not today, not this week, not this month, and most probably not in this lifetime. A hunch told Hanazawa this bad mood would stick to him for a really long time.

He tried to relax, to not worry Ritsu and prevent him from asking unnecessary questions. Kageyama wasn't one of these probing people, so most likely he'd quit...

“I can see something is gnawing on you.” Teru heard Ritsu again. He sighed deeply, keeping his irritation in check.

“It's fine,” he said as light-hearted as he could muster. “Don't worry.”

“Sure, if you say so.”

Something tumbled down – high above the espers, on the left. Then a victorious scream from Shou joined the noise.

“He's full of energy today,” Ritsu commented. “Maybe you wanna fight him?”

The psychic power sparkled in Teru's hands, pushed him to an action, to destroy something, to wreck someone. Hanazawa had to stop himself from flying up to Suzuki and fight him until both of them collapsed, drained. Teru's nerves tugged, yelled at him, “Go! Get him! Punch him!”

He had never fought with Shou without Ritsu's assistance, and Teru knew he'd lose if he started a clash now... He'd lose right before Ritsu's very eyes. No, no way, it couldn't happen.

The thought he could make fool of himself angered him even more. But he couldn't lose his temper. No, they'd peacefully continue the training, without any useless fights.

Too deep into his thoughts, Teru didn't notice he didn't answer Ritsu's question. He also missed Ritsu's questioning – and a bit worried – look.

***

“I didn't buy any food,” Shimazaki messaged him just as Teru stood by the door to his apartment and searched for his keys in his backpack. Teru cursed loudly and ran down the stairs, hunger clenching in his stomach, and the stress of the day added speed to his rush. He hadn’t eaten anything for hours and hadn't planned on buying any take-out since Shimazaki was supposed to make a dinner... Teru shouldn't have trusted this jerk, shouldn't have got used to having food at home, even if they lived together for a month and a half or so. Shimazaki didn't have much to do at home, only dinners, and yet, he couldn’t even manage to do anything that simple.

Teru was back home a half hour later with a heavy bag of groceries, the level of irritation dangerously high and his stomach cramping up from hunger. There was no one inside; Shimazaki left to work earlier than usual if he even spent any time at home today – Teru noticed on the GPS that the man wandered around the city, from place to place, most likely checking apartments or visiting real estate agencies. Just as it should be.

On the other hand, the thought that Shimazaki would move out all of sudden stung in Teru's heart.

The feeling surged when Teru walked into the overwhelmingly silent bedroom. He sat down on the bed, ignoring Shimazaki's blankets tangled under his feet as his eyes fell on dirty mugs, placed on the table since this morning – one from coffee, the other tea, one Shimazaki's, the other Teru's.

A dark jacket hanging on the back of the chair and a school bag occupying its seat. A pile of books in Braille taking up the only free space on shelves between the boy's DVDs. An opened closet that Teru had never left opened. The mirror moved a bit to the right to make a place for the box filled with stuff from Shimazaki's old apartment.

Teru tried to erase from the scenery everything that hadn't been here before Shimazaki moved in. He couldn't, it wasn't in his power. He lowered his gaze to avoid looking at the pieces of evidence of the mess they both had got into. The dirt on his fingers turned out to be an interesting view as Teru's feelings switched from irritation into something calmer, but still unpleasant and irrational. He tried to shush it again.

“It's hunger,” he tried to tell himself, as he knew himself and knew that most time the uneasiness left after Teru tended to his very first needs. He had felt even better when he added at least two chocolate bars and three cans of cherry coke to his meals. Maybe he would be writhing in pain with a stomach ache afterwards, but at least he had forgotten about the nasty feelings.

“Maybe I won't be dying this time,” he thought trying to get rid of the dirt behind his nails. He put an enormous pile of soap on the brush, and the foam covered his hands up to his elbows, wetting the sleeves of his shirt; Teru couldn't bring himself to care.

“After all,” his thoughts returned to the food-themed. “I bought all this junk today... Instead of getting something reasonable for dinner tomorrow. Shimazaki is gonna huff again.” He'd fix it in the morning, he decided, before he'd busy himself with meeting with his classmates or whatever activity he'd think up.

The brush scratched against the bruises on Teru's skin, making the boy yelp. His hand twitched in a painful reaction, hitting the shelf above the sink, sending the cosmetics into a clattering dance against the wall or mirror; some fell down. Panicked, Teru managed to catch all of them except for one – and this one met the floor and shattered into bits, releasing a sharp smell. Shimazaki's cologne.

Teru covered his nose with the sleeve of his shirt and looked around for something he could use to tidy up the mess. Two minutes later, almost all the evidence of the incident was gone. Almost.

The smell was as strong as if it had sunk into the walls and the scent was still in the air, impossible to get rid of. It was bad, it was very bad, in that situation Teru couldn't take a shower, there was no way. Even before Teru had had to run away from Shimazaki when the man put on the cologne; Teru couldn't stand the smell, it brought too many memories and Teru loathed Shimazaki too much to appreciate them. And after the other day in the club? It'd get only worse.

(Although no one would know if Teru decided to use the smell to fire up his imagination and use it, right?)

(Bullshit, Teru would know and he'd never forgive himself.)

He turned on the ventilation in the bathroom and ran to the kitchen to finally prepare dinner.

The scent of the cologne was like a demon, who clung to Teru and never let go, never ever. Although the source of the smell was shut behind a door, Teru still smelled it any place he went – the kitchen, the hallway, the bedroom. Only on the balcony Teru could find fresh air, but the chill and rainy weather quickly chased him back inside.

In the end, he ended up on the bed, with the blanket draped over his nose and his attention focused on the drama he had promised himself to watch. His mobile was far, far away on the table – just in case Teru would have the idea of checking on Shimazaki. He really wanted to do it this whole evening, but he knew he had to let go for a moment. It'd be nice to not think about his jerk, right? For a moment, for a small, blessed moment.

Teru crossed his arms and clenched his fingers around his sides, giving the signal to this damn half-arousal in his pants that he was not interested in taking care of it. He focused on the drama.

During the first episode, he had to reach with his powers to the light switch, because – yes, watching the TV with the lights off was comfortable and pleasant, but it worked for Teru's imagination as well, and now and then the boy's thoughts drifted to Shimazaki's body.

The second episode Teru watched without disturbances, and he managed to enchant himself into the plot and with an interest. He followed the story of a girl who decided to run away from home because her brother had a crush on someone she hated. It was too dramatic, but also amusing, despite the intentions of the creators, most likely.

The third episode lost Teru's attention when he remembered he could check Shimazaki on the GPS, and he fought with this idea until he got dragged into the plot of the drama again. Teru turned onto his side, pressing his back against the wall, hugging Shimazaki's pillow, the smell of the cologne forgotten.

But the fourth episode had a scene taking place in a club and Teru had to close his eyes to steady his nerves. There was nothing special in the scene – a couple dancing to the music and a group of friends gulping down their drinks, but it was too much for Teru. Dim lights, overwhelming noise, the smell of sweat and alcohol, and crowds, crowds, crowds...

Shimazaki's body between Teru's knees, his fingers clenched on Teru's arms, his palms following the shape of Teru's waist, his fingertips studying Teru's bare back. And Teru, trapped again, not between Shimazaki and a wall, but in his arms – between possessive hands and igniting kisses.

It was hot under the blanket, way too hot.

”Don't burn here, my little star.”

“You can't,” Teru growled at himself, his face buried in the pillow, his fingers clenched painfully around his sides. “You. Can't. Don't.”

He didn't want to, he knew he shouldn't, not with Shimazaki. With anyone else – sure, Teru wouldn't mind, but not with this guy who threatened him for weeks, who he fought with day after day, and who couldn't say a nice word. “So what,” Teru thought, letting a quiet cry at the throbbing between his legs. “So what if this fucker looks... looks... like that? And that he can... Ugh. You can't, you can't. It's that son of a bitch, and. You. Can't!”

But when was the last time they had fought anyway? Teru tried to remember; most likely it was when Teru had razed the woods around the 7th Division facility, so maybe a month ago. It was so long time ago, and their relationship had changed so much... They still argued, but these were only small fights, quickly forgotten, only verbal. It was better than the day Shimazaki invited himself into Teru's life.

But Teru couldn't, couldn't, couldn't think about his hands, and lips, and thighs, and...

Frustrated, Teru shoved aside the blanket, and with a heavy sigh of the acceptance of being horny for Ryou Shimazaki, he reached for his cock. He threw the pillow off the bed, rolled onto his back, and put his face into the crook of his elbow, to help himself cut off reality.

Shimazaki's smell was everywhere and more intrusive than earlier. And Shimazaki himself was everywhere and more intrusive than before, more than in the moment he stepped into Teru's life. He caught, held, explored; he talked, whispered, kissed – in the fantasies of Teru this time. With his wet lips and warm breath, he marked Teru as his, took off another layer of his clothes, in the boy's opinion too slowly, too lazy. And as never before, he said nothing, keeping the thoughts and judgements for himself.

Teru squeezed his eyes shut and with his shaky hand, he managed to take off his pants and pull his shirt up his chest. The chill of the room tried to overtake the boy's skin, but it failed the fight against the heat sparking up with every touch of Teru's hand against his muscles, and memories of Shimazaki pressed firm to his body these last occasions – when Teru took care of his bruises, or when he took out the stitches, or when they both fell silent in the alley, or yesterday in the club...

In the fantasy, Shimazaki held him still, teased Teru's neck and arms with kisses – burning reminiscences of his presence, accented with light bites. His hands didn't move from Teru's sides, didn't reach to close around Teru's cock, no matter how much the boy fidgeted under him. Shimazaki was a damn jerk, who would gloat over the fact that “this proud Teru” submitted to him, and then grind on teasing him for hours. And Teru wouldn't complain, or at least not honestly; he yearned for touches, the skin-to-skin contact, his hips jerking frantically, trying to rub against Shimazaki, but getting no proper response from the man. And Teru hissed at him to do something, anything, but of course Shimazaki kept ignoring him, and his only reaction was a smile that Teru felt against his neck.

”Tell me what you want me to do,” Shimazaki said, the stupidest thing he could say in his whole life. He knew exactly what he should say, ask... ask rhetorically – he knew Teru wouldn't answer, too shy, too nervous, too proud to tell Shimazaki to kiss him again, to kiss him lower and lower and...

Teru wouldn't ask nicely. He wasn't nice with Shimazaki.

”You can suck it.”

”Oh, can I?” Shimazaki lifted his head, his blind stare piercing through Teru's soul. ”You aren't subtle at all.”

In Teru's opinion, he was subtle enough, but he couldn't talk back, as Shimazaki leaned in again to kiss him deeply. Then another peck on Teru's neck, a second and third and when Teru started losing all the hope for any other move from the man, Shimazaki kissed and bit his way down, leaving a wet and raw path. His hands trailed alongside Teru, to finally grab him by his knees and spread his legs, making more room for Shimazaki.

At the thought of Shimazaki's lips around his cock, Teru's breath became sharp and panting, his fist pumping and working out of him not so quiet sighs and moans. A second before the orgasm hit Teru, his spine curved and his head pushed against the pillow, held with his free hand the way Shimazaki had held it a few days ago in the alley – by the chin, with fingers digging into his skin, possessively.

He came, his mind white blank, with an only thought – he should call Shimazaki to tell him to come home right now and take care of the mess he was responsible for. Teru didn't open his eyes for a long time, catching and calming his breath, his heartbeat as fast as if he ran a few miles. Gropingly, he found with his psychic powers a tissue box and tugged it, smashing it against the wall. He yanked out one – two – tissues and wiped himself clean, deep inside regretting that he couldn't erase the memory of the last few minutes as easy as he got rid of the come off his body.

Teru grit his teeth at the thought that Shimazaki could be back any moment and see the boy in this state. It would be... Horrible. Embarrassing. Or both. “Oh well,” Shimazaki would say after learning everything, with a fucking smile on his face. Yes, oh well, Teru would gladly sleep- fuck- whatever- with Shimazaki.

“So tell me,” Shimazaki would continue. But how was Teru supposed to tell such thing to someone like Shimazaki?! Besides, finding the right words (would “Let's fuck” be too amusing?), the idea of saying it to Shimazaki was too unreal, too awkward... Just like the fact that Teru jerked off to fantasies of the man.

No, the conversation would never happen, Teru would never say anything to him, never ever. Masturbating was sufficient; at least for now.

***

Today Shimazaki's shift was longer than usual because when Teru woke up, Shimazaki was just taking off his blazer, making his way from the bedroom door to the closet. The room was flooded with the blinding light of the sun; Teru turned away before he reached for the curtains with his psychic powers and closed them, still too sleepy to get up. Although he was awake enough to peek from under the duvet and stare at Shimazaki's back – the material around them shifted, prompted by the man unbuttoning his shirt.

“She took us to all the clubs in the city,” Shimazaki answered the question Teru didn't manage to ask yet. “And blacked out, but not before seven o'clock.”

“Chihiro?” Teru wondered, his voice hoarse by the sleep.

“Who else? She's got more energy than Japanese army. I have no idea how she's doing that. I wish I had. She makes me feel old.”

Teru buried his cheek into the pillow, content with the view of Shimazaki's naked arms. The rest of his body was hidden under the tank top, which probably wouldn't be taken off – not even if Shimazaki would be going to sleep. The pants went gone though. But Teru stubbornly stared at the top parts of Shimazaki's body, and even when the man made his way to the bed, Teru didn't let his gaze slide. He fixed his eyes on the scar on Shimazaki's arm; yes, the safest place to look at – away from the muscular chest, that practically asked Teru to put his hands on it, grope, and snuggle and bite into the skin there, and...

No, no, no, that was weird, too weird. “Keep your hands off,” Teru thought to himself. “And don't look down, don't look at this damn chest. Arms. Neck. Yes. Let's keep some dignity, shall we? Don't look, don't...”

Shimazaki crouched by the bed, gathered his blanket into his arms and without a word threw it at Teru.

“Hey!” Teru's yell was barely audible from under the duvets. He tried to shove them aside, but he froze when he felt the mattress bend under a new weight. “You're sleeping on the floor!”

“You're getting up anyway,” Shimazaki chinned taking back his blanket. Teru snorted.

“You didn't even shower! Disgusting.”

“Be understanding, my humble Hanazawa,” Shimazaki sighed, squeezing his pillow between the boy's head and the edge of the bed. “Because I just came back from a twelve hour shift and I'm barely awake.” And he closed his hands around Teru's arm and on his side, and pushed him back to the wall, as easily as if he moved a featherlight trunk. Shimazaki moved into the free space, making himself comfortable under his blanket.

Teru blinked surprised by the way he was just threatened. No one before had ever dared, no one.

He tried to escape from the cramped corner, almost bumping his head against the shelves on the wall.

“This is manipulation and emotional blackmail!” he gasped dramatically. After a few moments of fighting against the duvets, he managed to jump out of the bed. “Change the sheets when you get up! I bet they'll stink! And do the laundry. Just don't forget!”

Instructions were made, so Teru was ready to take care of his life. He had already planned to do stuff today and nothing would...

Teru flinched when Shimazaki put his hands around Hanazawa's pillow and hugged it close, purring contentedly. A chain of inarticulate words flew through Teru's mind and a stupid – the stupidest in the whole world – feeling pricked at his heart.

“That's the best you can have right now, huh?” he asked. As an answer, Shimazaki squeezed the pillow. Teru turned his eyes away.

“Stupid pillow,” Teru thought while eating his breakfast.

“Stupid pillow,” he thought during a morning jog.

“Stupid pillow,” he thought on his way to the grocery shop.

“Stupid Shimazaki,” he thought while he forcefully ironed one of the man's shirts. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

“Oh, shit!” he yelled, suddenly startled back into awareness. With a shaky hand, he put the iron aside, glancing at the sleeping Shimazaki. Teru lifted the shirt off the ironing board, looking over the burned, wrinkled material. To make things worse, this one, exact item of clothing was Shimazaki's favorite.

Teru quickly finished the ironing, checked Shimazaki's sizes and left the apartment to not only find new cologne for the man, but also a new shirt for him.

Stupid Shimazaki.

Teru was too smart to blame himself.

Chapter Text

It really wasn’t Teru’s week, or even his month. All the signs told him he shouldn’t have worked for Joseph, because it seemed like the moment he had agreed to spy on Shimazaki, his life had only become worse – he had been rejected by Ritsu, suffered more sleepless nights, tackled intrusive thoughts about Shimazaki… And now, he had to find the cologne Shimazaki had used. Teru tested all the ones the shop assistant had handed him; they were similar to what he was looking for, but not right. Teru didn’t remember the name of the cosmetic, and the shape of the bottle was too featureless to stand out from the others. He almost gave up.

Not to mention it was embarrassing that he was able to recognize the exact smell of the cologne he wanted to find.

“Maybe I’ll buy a similar one and hope he won’t notice the difference?” Teru thought, staring at the shelf of small, ugly packages. He had to stop himself from checking the price tags – most perfumes and colognes cost almost as much as his monthly savings… Although it wasn’t surprising, since he was standing in one of the best fragrance stores in the city. Shimazaki’s cosmetics probably wouldn't cost only a hundred yen.

“Or,” Teru pondered on, “I’ll tell him what happened and ask if he remembers the name.” He reached for a random bottle and looked around for blotter strips. “If I call him now, he wouldn’t know where am I and won’t be able to teleport here to make a fuss about it.” It was a better idea, in his opinion – he wasn’t sure how good Shimazaki was at recognizing his belongings; what if he’d notice the replaced the cologne right away? Would he start a fight?

“Stop overreacting,” Teru scolded himself silently, wincing at the latest smell he checked. “He didn’t care about cash, there’s no way he’s gonna make a big deal about this.” He tossed the blotter strip in a trash bin and shoved his hands into his pockets, where he felt the cold case of his mobile. “Wonder if he's up already.”

Suddenly, a sweet peach aroma swept over him, so strong Teru had to hold his breath to not suffocate. He looked around for anything that could cause this flood of a smell – like tons of peaches appearing in the store or a hundred shattered bottles of perfume. No peaches in sight, nor broken cosmetics. Teru had to evacuate, he could handle a lot but not being in the center of a most peachy cloud.

He almost turned around to rush out when a purple package was thrust out just in front of him. Teru stepped back, startled, his gaze moving from the cologne to a hand holding it – slim, tanned, nails painted with neon colors, and a colorful bracelet jingling around the wrist. He gasped and leapt aside to face the intruder.

“Chihiro,” he hissed.

The girl smiled, beaming. “Shimazaki’s little star. I heard you’re looking for...” She presented him with a purple package. “This?”

Teru pursed his lips, cursing his bad luck. He really didn’t need to meet her again, especially here and now. Would anything ever go according to plan again? Just like it used to before he met Kageyama? No, probably not. Teru sighed, defeated.

“What’s that?” he asked, moving his gaze from the package to Chihiro – dressed more modestly than the last time he saw her, but still flashy. Her eye makeup appeared to be less striking too.

But apparently, the strong smell of her perfume compensated for her lack of eyeliner and glitter eyeshadow.

“It’s a cologne, my dear Teru,” Chihiro answered. She handed him the package. “I saw you checking a few ones similar to this one and, I dunno.” She shrugged. “I thought you might be looking for Shimazaki’s cologne.”

She smiled. Teru didn’t like her smile. He didn’t trust her smile.

“Maybe,” he said slowly. “How do you know which one he uses?”

“Well, let’s say perfumes are my hobby.” Chihiro folded her arms. “So I can distinguish between smells without a problem. I’m here so often I joke it’s like my other home.”

They both glanced over the shop. Chihiro sighed dreamily. “There are samples if you wanna check it,” she added.

“Maybe you bought him this cologne and that’s how you know the name,” Teru muttered as they headed to the shelf she had pointed out.

“Why would I buy him cologne worth forty?”

“Forty yen?”

“Forty thousand yen.”

“What?!”

The price tag said the cologne was worth no less than thirty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine yen. Teru’s gaze was fixed on one of the most expensive bottles in the shop. His imagination prompted him to run away from Seasoning City and hide somewhere far away, somewhere even Shimazaki couldn’t find him.

Teru covered his eyes. “No. No, don’t even…”

But Chihiro already called for the shop assistant and asked for cologne samples. Despite Teru hunching and turning his head away, she managed to put the tester under his nose.

Teru sighed. That was it. That was exactly what he was looking for.

“He’ll kill me,” he whispered, his imagination now showing him images of his funeral. He had to think quick, make up a plan – should he run back home and fake a burglary? Or... or... Or lie that he had to borrow this cologne- no, that was stupid.

“What happened, by the way?” Chihiro asked, putting the package and cologne samples into a shopping basket.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing at all? Don’t make me ask you again.”

The corners of Teru’s lips twitched when he tried to withhold a scowl. He straightened up and looked into Chihiro’s eyes challengingly.

“Oh, c’mon,” Chihiro snorted. She turned on her heel and headed to the checkout. “You think I’d rat on you? I’ve got more important things to do.”

Only now something occurred to Teru and he looked around, searching for the girl's bodyguard. Not finding one seemed suspicious and strange, especially if they – Chihiro, Shimazaki, and the rest of the group – had only finished their club crawl earlier that morning. And now it was only noon. Maybe Chihiro was full of energy but Teru couldn't believe that after a night like that, someone needed only three, four hours of sleep to recover.

But if there was no bodyguard with her, Teru thought he could use that to his advantage.

“You have any plans?” he asked catching up with her by the checkout.

“Lunch.” She smiled sweetly and without hesitation paid for the cologne worth forty-thousand yen. “Or brunch, actually.”

“Brunch?”

“Yeah, it’s a thing. A good excuse to eat something. And your plans, little Teru?”

“Lunch. Or brunch, actually.”

“Great, it’s on you.”

“What?” Teru frowned. Chihiro turned to him and shoved a bag into his hands, sparkling with glitter. Teru peeked inside. There were the cologne and the samples. “W-what?” he asked again, suddenly scared of the value he was holding.

“That’s for the last time.” Chihiro tapped her nail against the countertop. “As an apology, right? I don’t know what’s going on – with you buying the same cologne as Shimazaki, I mean – but it looks like it’s important for you, aaaand I don’t have any other ideas on how to make it up to you, so. But lunch is definitely on you. Or brunch, actually.”

“But forty-thousand…” Teru peeked inside again, trying to comprehend the only lucky moment he'd been given in this time that had been dominated by bad karma. Of course, he was going to accept the gift and her apology (although that part could have been more emphasized, in Teru’s opinion). His ass was almost saved. Now he just needed to buy a shirt and everything would be alright.

Then again, the smashed cologne and burnt shirt were the result of the night before last in the club, so Chihiro buying stuff for Teru wasn’t even a “kind gesture”. It was a “necessary gesture”, a way to save her face.

Not that Teru forgave her.

“Okay, I only have to check a few more boutiques and then we can go find something to eat,” he said, his fingers clenched around the bag and his thoughts lost in picking shops he wanted to see.

“What do you need from the boutiques?”

“A shirt for Shimazaki.”

“No questions.” Chihiro shook her head. “I mean, I have a lot of questions, but I’m nice and not nosy at all, you know?”

Teru glanced at her, not believing her at all.

***

Brunch changed to lunch, as Teru’s assumptions turned out to be true – Chihiro didn’t give up and instead asked him hundreds of questions. And as soon as she learned what crimes Teru had committed on Shimazaki’s shirt and cologne, she decided that Teru couldn’t just go home like nothing happened, and that he should buy an apology gift too.

Teru almost had a stroke when he heard about buying Shimazaki a gift. Despite that, two hours later he stared at the additional gift bottle of cologne, one this morning he hadn’t planned to look for, let alone buy.

“He’ll like it,” Chihiro said, her mouth full of pasta. They were sitting in one of the cheapest restaurants not far from the mall. The interior of the place was supposed to be reminiscent of Italy, and the menu offered too many spaghetti dishes. For some reason, Chihiro chose to eat there and nowhere else.

“I don’t see any other options,” Teru answered, picking up his salad with his chopsticks. “He can’t be picky about gifts.”

They fell silent for a moment, busy with their food and mobiles. Teru peeked at the GPS – Shimazaki was still home, probably he'd already woke up and was preparing breakfast – or lunch, to be exact. Supposedly he’d have tonight off… Which was understandable after pulling such a long shift.

Teru glanced at Chihiro, who was excitedly texting someone. She didn’t look too tired after this all-night party.

“You said your dad doesn’t let you go anywhere alone,” he decided to mention. Chihiro loudly gulped down some pasta, then gracefully dabbed at her lips with a napkin, not looking up from her phone.

“Did I? Hmmm…” She tapped a few more characters and finally put her mobile aside. “Who said I’m alone?”

“That’s nice of you trust me but…”

“Don’t be silly,” she cut Teru short.

He didn’t have to look around to know there were no bodyguards nearby – certainly not in the restaurant – no one had stalked them inside, and here it appeared all of the customers were busy with their food. There was an option that someone watched them from the roof, but on the other hand, Teru and Chihiro spent most of their time indoors. Unless…

Teru glanced over the walls and ceilings and found a few security cameras. He looked back at Chihiro. She smiled and leaned her cheek against her folded hands.

“Fear not,” she said. “They aren’t here to harm you, but to protect me.”

“Hatori was the weakest of all of them,” he muttered, “I don’t know how he's supposed to protect you.”

“You shouldn’t be worried about it, you know?”

Teru managed to hold her gaze for a little longer. “A daughter of a random businessman has two espers of the Super Five as her bodyguards. Coincidence?”

“I thought I explained it already.”

“Back then we weren't talking about an esper from the wanted list.”

Chihiro frowned and leaned forward. “I have no idea what you mean,” she hissed, “But I get the impression you’ve got some hidden agenda again.”

“And what am I supposed to think, if you're hiring someone like Hatori?” Teru leaned back in his chair, his eyes not leaving the girl. He pondered briefly if he should message Joseph about Hatori – Hatori would most likely cut off any communication Teru might try to have with the government. “Don't you know you could be arrested for hiding a terrorist?”

“I don't think you...”

Teru's gaze snapped to the side and focused on a crack running up the wall. Chihiro huffed.

“I don't think you’re dumb enough to act on this kind of thing,” she finished. “Think about it.”

“Someone who is willing to help Shimazaki and Hatori is either stupid enough to not be afraid of the police and the government, or they have a huge influence,” Teru remembered Joseph's words. Apparently, the old man was right.

“Do you know how many times people have tried to threaten me?” he sighed, unimpressed. “It gets boring after a while.”

“I'm not threatening you.” Chihiro leaned back in her chair too. Teru glanced at her to be sure of his speculations – she didn't look angry or stressed, but rather neutral and a bit confused. She didn't spare him a look in return. “I'm just... warning you. I've heard you had a fight with one of my bodyguards...”

“And I won without a problem.” Teru shrugged.

“There are guys better than him around me.”

It had been a really long time since Teru had to stop himself from bursting into laughter. This conversation – and Chihiro's approach to Teru – was ridiculous because... because she didn't know. She didn't know anything – about Teru, his level, who he had fought in his life. Damn, probably the funniest thing was she didn't know he was an esper – she hadn't said a word about it. Her naivety was funny. So what if her bodyguards were strong and bad, bad, bad – almost merciless – if after only meeting Teru they probably wouldn't be able to get up for days?

It was funny, really funny.

“If you say so,” Teru answered after a while, not hiding a smile.

“Teru.” Chihiro sighed deeply and rubbed her temples. “I don't know if you have a superhero complex or if you're bored with your life and you need entertainment or what, but...” She waved her hand. “But maybe give up on this. You've got all the answers you wanted, and you're still nagging us.”

“I had all the answers I wanted.” Teru wondered for a moment if Chihiro really didn't know about the whole mess around Hatori and Shimazaki. It was likely. “There are a few new questions and it'd be heartbreaking to leave them without answers.”

“As you wish.” She sighed again, now resigned. “Then ask away, but not me, because I won't say anything.”

“You won't or can't say?”

“You should go.”

Teru nodded. He could stay and press the girl more, but now he was at least certain that whatever shady operation she was working on – she wasn't a boss – she was too little sly and she hesitated, acted too carefully. If it all depended on her, she would have got rid of Teru right here, right now, but she didn't even try to manipulate him, except for this one time during their whole conversation.

Or she was just pretending to be an innocent girl.

“Nevertheless, I had fun today,” Teru said, looking for receipts in the gift bags. “Do you have something to write with?”

Chihiro frowned but she reached into her purse, and after a moment of rummaging around, she found an eyebrow pencil – one of the cheapest, as Teru recognized.

“If you ever want to meet,” he began as he scribbled down his phone number. “Or talk, whatever, just call or text me.” And he handed her the paper. Chihiro took it with hesitation, read the digits a few times, then looked at him back, even more confused.

“Seriously?” she asked. “I mean, okay.”

For a moment Teru thought she’d crumple the receipt and throw it away pointedly, but instead, she folded the paper and hid it in her wallet.

“Good luck with these,” she said as a goodbye, nodding at the gift bags. Teru thanked her coldly, paid for the food, and left the restaurant, his thoughts wandering not around Shimazaki and his reaction to the cologne and shirt Teru had bought him, but around Hatori, who was somewhere nearby, right at his fingertips.

***

Teru was ready to message Joseph to say “I know where Hatori is,” but there was no point if Joseph wouldn’t receive it. Teru was sure Hatori would be keeping an eye on him now. He wasn’t so naïve to think otherwise. He wondered if the ex-Claw esper was intercepting all the calls made to people from the government; if not, Teru could simply borrow a mobile from someone else – even from Shimazaki, who probably didn’t let his friend check his phone. The idea sounded good to Teru, but he was certain it’d cause a conflict between him and Shimazaki, if- when Shimazaki would learn about the intrigue.

The best option was to use Ritsu’s phone, at the earliest opportunity. Teru figured that government security was at the highest level, especially if they managed to secure something like the chips they gave to the Super Five.

On the other hand, Teru had to ask himself a question – for the hundredth time – why the hell was he supposed to do Joseph’s work? Teru had agreed to take care of Shimazaki, only Shimazaki, and not to look for Hatori. Not to mention that once Joseph heard about them working together, he’d interrogate Shimazaki, who would just tell Hatori to hide better, to burrow further in his hiding space.

The most reasonable option was to wait until Hatori exposed himself more. Teru didn’t like this idea, but there was no other choice if he wanted to do it right… If he wanted to search for Hatori – and he didn’t want of course. But the plans invaded his thoughts, making him consider that maybe he should search for the man, since he had an opportunity.

No. No way. He was too busy. Shimazaki consumed enough of Teru’s life, and instead of causing less trouble over time, with each passing day, Shimazaki only stirred up more and more things.

Teru had promised he’d leave Shimazaki alone for some time and wouldn’t spy on him or ask questions about his work. But after today’s meeting with Chihiro, Teru couldn’t stand aside and pretend that Shimazaki’s lies didn’t frustrate him. How could this jerk tell him that Chihiro was his boss and that they both weren’t doing anything bad? These lies were so obvious that Teru had the impression Shimazaki was treating him like a stupid kid who would believe anything.

From the very beginning, Teru knew (of course he knew) that Shimazaki worked for someone shady. At least now he had some evidence to not believe his innocence and he could confront Shimazaki… If the man was home, first of all.

Silently, focusing on his tasks, Teru unpacked the shirt and cologne and put them in their places in the closet and bathroom, trying to ignore the absence of Shimazaki. He didn’t want to check the GPS – maybe Shimazaki had lost Teru’s trust but he wouldn't let himself panic. It was unhealthy. And ridiculous. This guy could wander around the city as much as he wanted and Teru shouldn’t stalk him.

All the same, Teru barely stopped himself from calling and telling Shimazaki to come back home to talk to him about Chihiro and Hatori, right now, while Teru was riled up.

Lost and uncertain of what he should do, Teru sat on the bed, holding the cologne he had bought as an apology gift on his lap. He stared at his mobile and considered his options – calling or at least checking the GPS. He tried to think up excuses for Shimazaki – or rather for his own paranoia – maybe the man went to the grocery shop or to meet with someone... Although if the second option happened, Shimazaki would have probably bragged about it, he was always so excited about seeing someone.

But maybe he wanted to keep it secret this time. What if he teleported to meet with Hatori?

Teru's fingers furiously slipped over the mobile screen and tapped the icon of the GPS app. The map of Seasoning City loaded slowly, then zoomed in on the red dot with Shimazaki's name. Teru held his breath. According to the GPS, Shimazaki was still in the apartment.

Alarmed, Teru lifted his head up and looked around the bedroom. Shimazaki wasn't here nor nearby – Teru didn't feel his aura. There was no wallet with the man's documents, or his shoes or the jacket he'd worn lately, but his phone laid on the table.

“Shit!” Teru sprang to his feet, knocking the cologne from his lap, and dialed Joseph. He was done with this bullshit.

Shimazaki came back the second Teru put his mobile to his ear. The quiet “zap” of teleportation sounded louder than the dial signal. The aura overwhelmed Teru's and he almost forgot to hang up. He shoved the phone into his pocket.

“Where have you been?” he asked shrilly as Shimazaki entered the room like nothing bad had happened, like he didn't disappear.

“To buy cigs.” Shimazaki shrugged.

“To buy cigarettes, just like that,” Teru snapped. He shook his head and laughed nervously. “Yeah, sure. Give it up, okay?” He approached Shimazaki and blocked his way to his mobile on the table. “Why won't you tell the truth?”

“The truth?” Shimazaki tilted his head to the side. Teru waved his hands.

“That you just saw Hatori.” Teru folded his hands and kept his gaze on the man. He wasn't a fool, he wouldn't be deceived by Shimazaki's feigned confusion.

“I don't know what you mean. Why would I need to see Hatori, first of all?”

“To talk about Chihiro? Or about your boss? Who knows.”

“But...”

“No.” In a second Teru's hand was in the air, in a silencing gesture. “Don't even try. Chihiro isn't your boss, I know it.”

“You're doing it again,” Shimazaki sighed and smiled, but it didn't help the situation. He patted Teru's head, a gesture Shimazaki often repeated when he was short on arguments. “I don't understand. What's in this little head of yours again? I can't leave you for a moment and you...”

“Don't make me into an idiot!” Teru slapped his hand aside. “I talked to Chihiro. I know Hatori is her bodyguard too. And you... you suddenly disappeared and the GPS signal froze, but when you came back...”

“You have access to the GPS?” Teru almost missed how sharp Shimazaki's voice became.

“Are you deaf?!”

“What a hypocrite.”

“You're a... What?” Teru frowned.

“Now I should really try to kill you.”

“W-what?” The question barely passed through Teru's throat. He stepped back when Shimazaki approached him. The man followed Teru through the bedroom until Teru's back hit the balcony door. Shimazaki stopped two steps away.

“I should try to kill you,” he repeated. “Just like you tried to kill me when we accidentally read the messages you sent to Shou.”

Teru clenched his fists. “It's not the same situation.”

“And what's the difference? You think you're better than me or something? You think you have a right to spy on me because I used to be a criminal?”

Teru chewed on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from yelling. It wouldn't do him any good. Apart from that, it was true that he had the right to spy on Shimazaki; it wasn't as if Shimazaki was totally innocent!

“Don't change the subject!” Teru hissed.

“I will because your accusations are unfounded. Moreover, you're stalking me like you have a right to my whereabouts or some shit.”

“You know why I'm doing this.”

“Because you're worried?” Shimazaki's smile was crooked. “Sounds more like you're obsessed with me. Or you're bored. Or maybe...” he lowered his voice and put his hands into his pockets. “Someone told you to spy on me.”

Teru swallowed, tried to ease his nerves. He was cornered, like he always was when they argued. But this time Teru felt as if he was this one in the wrong, who wasn’t letting Shimazaki live his life, who was too observant, too ridiculous, too petty. But reason was on Teru's side – it told him, screamed at him, that his feelings were wrong; that Teru had only spied on Shimazaki because he had to. Shimazaki wasn't as in the clear as he thought he was.

“Shimazaki, it's logical that no one would trust you,” Teru began slowly. He wasn't sure how he should talk to the man in this situation, and the painful way his aura dug into him only disturbed Teru more. “You know...”

“I do.” Shimazaki's voice was sharp again. “It doesn't change the fact that a brat like you should never even dream about controlling my life.”

“I let you stay with me,” Teru hissed, stepping from the balcony door. He raised his hand and started counting on his fingers. “I helped you look for a job and getting into your old apartment, I trusted you and your new boss, and you...” He pointed at Shimazaki. “You lied to me like I'm an idiot.”

“Are you hurt I lied to you?” Shimazaki caught him by his wrist and clenched his fingers when Teru tried to yank his hand free. “Or are you frustrated because spying isn't working out?”

“The latter,” Teru thought: because he’d never accept the first option. Never ever.

“And which answer would make you tell me the truth?” Teru asked, forcing himself to smile.

“And when will I get an answer from you?

“You want an hour of truth? Maybe served with tea and cookies? I'm ready.”

Shimazaki's lips twitched, as if he wanted to say something, but he remained silent.

“You start.” Teru tried again to yank his wrist out of the grip. Shimazaki shook his head. In a flash, he twisted Teru's hand to his back and pressed him close to his chest. Teru gasped in pain, clenching his teeth, and struggled. “Let- let me go!”

He didn't like it all. It reminded him of their first weeks living together and those terrible moments, when conversations had failed and changed into arguments, louder and louder, and then they’d eventually changed into...

Teru lifted his head and looked at Shimazaki, searching for anything that could deny his feeling. He didn't find it. Shimazaki remained unimpressed, and his face didn't betray any emotions – anger or disappointment. For a moment Teru, felt a stupid hope that he was wrong, and that nothing bad would happen...

But then Shimazaki's aura swirled, and the world lost its shape and reality. The ground under Teru disappeared for a second. He clenched his fists when his feet landed on soft soil.

He didn't have to look around to know they were by the ruins of Claw's 7th Division facility.

 

Chapter Text

The uprooted trees, ramshackle walls, and plowed up ground, according to wanderers who came across the ruins of Claw's 7th Division facility – were the result of a fight between monsters and a bald man, who won by a single punch. Not many knew the real reason behind the bad state of this part of the forest – which was Teru losing control over his powers a few weeks earlier. Not many had enough power to destroy this place even more.

All they needed to do was to move. Teru wanted to move, but pain shot up his back as he tried to get up. All he could do for now was squeeze his fists and look around, and the latter brought him enough ache to make him give up searching for Shimazaki. Blood – his own, unfortunately – ran down his neck. Scratches on his knuckles and knees burned as if touched by fire. All of the bones in his body seemed to be cracked or crushed to dust.

Teru had seen worse. In reality, this fight hadn't left him as damaged as some of the worst ones. He wet his chapped lips and swallowed with struggle. Sand creaked between his teeth, and the taste of soil brought up memories of too many lost battles. At least it was different now – of course, Teru was barely conscious, without a chance to continue fighting, On the other end of the path, by the branch of a blown up tree, sat Shimazaki, as tired and sore as Teru. In the light of the sunset, Teru thought he saw a stream of blood running down the man’s face but, in the sunlight, he wasn’t sure if the red was real. He didn’t know which option he preferred.

He also didn’t care whether Shimazaki could keep fighting or not. He just wanted to go home and forget about this squabble.

He closed his eyes in the hope it would help him in recuperation. White spots danced under his eyelids and made him nauseous, swaying his conscience like a storm would sway  lousy boat in the middle of the sea. It didn’t look good. Teru couldn’t rest.

He opened his eyes again, just when Shimazaki tried to change his position to something more vertical – on all fours at first, then up to his legs, supporting himself on the branch. Teru didn’t have the strength to respond. He sat up, the pain in his back and hip reminding him of all the well-aimed blows he took, then got up, tripping three, then four times. He eventually managed, until nausea seized him, and bent him in half. Teru stumbled, barely keeping himself from throwing up. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Shimazaki’s shoes, tottering his way, stirring up dust clouds.

“You lost,” Teru heard Shimazaki say, his voice raspy. “I don’t know why… Why do you even…”

“I got up,” Teru cut off, as if the view of him on his feet wasn’t sufficient proof. “That means I didn’t lose.”

“Yet. Give up, kid. I don’t wanna kill you by an accident.”

“Coward. You grew…” Teru tried to stand up. He didn’t throw up, thank God, but his spine flared with pain, and he couldn’t hold back a frown and a groan. “You grew soft.”

“You preferred when we fought until you passed out?”

“I preferred when you went all out.”

Shimazaki choked back a laugh, trying not to breathe too deeply. “Teru, you idiot. You know the rules.”

Of course, Teru did. They’d agreed on them before the fight: the one who wouldn’t be able to get up would answer the other’s questions. Neither had said they needed to beat each other to unconsciousness, but neither of them had planned to lose, either. Neither of them wanted to reveal his secrets.

“You should’ve known better,” Shimazaki muttered when Teru put more distance between them before starting the next round.

“You should break my legs if you wanna win.” Teru spat to the side, trying to get rid of the sand from his mouth. He still felt grains between his teeth.

Shimazaki smiled and rubbed his neck. “Maybe I’d have a chance… but I know you enough to say you’d keep fighting by walking on your hands.”

Teru overcame the pain and bowed slightly, accepting the compliment, and then attacked.

He was aware the direct attack would give no effect. Shimazaki was able to predict too much. No matter if it was a feint or a real attack, Shimazaki always knew, just like now – when Teru dashed at him, leaving behind clouds of dust. Shimazaki only followed him with his blind sight.

Teru looked around, noting all the elements he could use in another attack, and marked them on his mental map with huge crosses. The psychic powers barely lit up in his hands, and he felt Shimazaki’s aura moving behind him, chasing lazily, speeding up with each step.

Teru halted, turning back to face his opponent. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes for the only moment he allowed himself. A second was enough to cut off his surroundings – the ruins, Shimazaki, the world – and create a being in his thoughts. A heartbeat later, he felt his power leave him and formed a clone, strong and solid.

Teru glanced at it: something he’d never done during a fight. Usually, there was no time or possibility to check if everything was alright with his ally, not when an attack could follow right after. Today, Teru was tired. He wasn’t sure if everything would go according to plan. The clone was shaken, yet ready to act. It stared with anticipation at Shimazaki, who was waiting for Teru’s move.

In most cases, attacking with a clone hadn’t brought the results Teru wanted. He remembered it, bouncing off the ground and darting at Shimazaki, zigzagging. Shimazaki could tell the difference between the clone and Teru, and had never fallen for that. Yet now, when the Terus were a few meters before they’d reach the man, Shimazaki raised his hands, and as if in slow-motion, Teru saw his opponent take a swing at the clone. A yell of triumph blurred out Teru’s common sense. He was ready to accept victory, and readied himself to ask first questions…

Shimazaki shifted his weight onto his other foot and aimed. Teru gasped in surprise, but dodged the punch. Shimazaki’s fist only brushed against his cheek.

“That was weak,” he heard when he backflipped. Landing on the hard ground made the pain shoot through Teru’s body again, making him take a few precious seconds to recover. His head spun – but he managed to correct his plan. Shimazaki had never told him how he knew the difference between Teru and the clone. Was it the difference in power level? Or could Shimazaki ‘see’ the organs inside a human?

The thought creeped Teru out, and he shivered.

Beside Teru, the clone waited for new commands, unsteadier than before. If Teru wasn’t so beaten up, he would lend it some more psychic power, or even create more clones – maybe some other time, if there would be any.

They attacked again. Shimazaki shook his head and prepared for the next punch.The world blurred with the speed, leaving only Shimazaki in view, and the streak of the clone alongside Teru as they crossed paths again and again.

Five meters. Three. One. Shimazaki disappeared.

Teru turned around, and in a split second pinpointed the man. He threw his hands up, releasing psychic energy bombs that Teru left in shreds when he attacked. The clone sped at Shimazaki, led by Teru’s commands and the other’s yells, but before it reached its destination, Shimazaki disappeared again.

Upwards. Teru jerked his head up and noticed him far away, among the trees, standing on the topmost branch.

“He’s not attacking at all,” the clone said.

“He wants to tire me out,” Teru answered in his thoughts. He waved his hands in a gesture only he understood, and with a quiet “puff”, the clone disappeared. Cold sparkles danced above the place where it had been, as power came back to Teru. Even after getting rid of his ally, he didn’t feel any stronger.

He could blow this forest up, tumble all of the trees, turn shreds of the building into specks of dust, make Shimazaki fall to his knees – it was as easy as breathing. The energy inside of him, strangled, unvented for weeks, amped up by all the frustrations and stress, was itching for a fight, to be used. Its sparks danced on Teru’s fingertips, gnawed on the skin like hungry pent-up wild animals. But Teru knew he shouldn’t be doing it; it’d leave him beat up, and he’d lose. Knowing Teru’s luck, Shimazaki wouldn’t get even a scratch.

Teru had to use a conventional way.

“Coward!” he yelled at Shimazaki. “All you can do is run away.”

“I’m only using one of your tactics from back then.” Shimazaki leaned back on the branch and tucked his hands into his pants’ pockets.

Teru recalled the fight in question. “It was only one time!”

“But you almost won.”

Teru snorted, frustrated. “I’m glad you finally learned from the best.”

“Define ‘the best.’”

“Not Ryou Shimazaki, for sure.”

Something in Shimazaki’s aura and stance changed, growing relented. Teru frowned, trying to notice anything that could betray the man’s focus or foreshadow his attack.

Instead of that, there was another answer: “It’s so nice when you call me by my first name. Can you repeat that?”

"Idiot. Dumbass. Moron,” Teru snapped in his thoughts, each word focusing more on Shimazaki than on the burning on his cheeks.

“Come and make me.”

Shimazaki disappeared. Teru reflexively dodged, backed away and ran towards the densely growing trees.

He felt Shimazaki’s aura before he appeared in a new place – a few meters above the ground, to Teru’s left. Teru dashed, jumped, bounced off a branch and, propelled by his powers, aimed at Shimazaki, with energy flaring in his hand. He swiped, his other hand preparing an air whip. Shimazaki was there, his back to Teru, and for a few heartbeats it seemed he was unaware of the attack.

Something inside of Teru cracked. Needles pricked his arm, then his shoulder-blade, then through his spine. The pain flooded his mind. Teru gasped, and his psychic weapons vanished into thin air.

He began to fall.

He couldn’t fight against merciless gravity. He couldn’t use his powers, wake them up, or make them work. Instead of logical thoughts, his mind was full of pricking and tearing. Teru screamed in his mind, frightened – not because of losing, but because of the ground, coming closer with unusual speed.

“I’m done,” Teru thought before the sight of his body, crashed and motionless, took over his imagination.

Shimazaki’s arm wrapped around his waist.

The world disappeared and appeared again. The fall to the ground was short and left Teru breathless only for a second. When Teru heaved himself up, Shimazaki was already a few steps away.

“I thought you wanted to win,” Teru called.

Shimazaki shrugged. “Who’s gonna take care of you if you break your spine?”

Teru dusted down his pants and hoodie and arched his back until he heard it crunch. He could still fight, if he didn’t overdo it.

He rushed into another attack, this time on the ground. Psychic power flared in his hands again, and shreds and rods flew just behind him, in a tactic known by both Teru and Shimazaki. Shimazaki didn’t move from his place, but raised his arms to defend. Finally – finally! – he wasn’t teleporting away.

An empty “thud” rang out when Teru’s fist met the resistance of Shimazaki’s barrier – hard as walls in Sakurai’s Sealed Chamber. Teru threw at it his whole arsenal – two, three blows at the time, crushing it, distracting the man. Between the blows, Teru saw drops of sweat streaming down Shimazaki’s face. He smirked. Without further thinking, he intensified his attacks, using more of the surroundings, ignoring the pain growing in his body. He couldn’t rest now, not when…

Shimazaki stepped back, and then everything happened too quickly.

Shimazaki let go, tired out, and backed away more and more. He didn’t speak a word, focused on defending as much as Teru was focused on offense. Neither of them noticed they’d moved from the trees to the insides of the ruins until they reached the edge of a floor – and only when the ground moved from under Shimazaki’s feet did they break the fight.

Shimazaki staggered backwards, waving his hands frantically. In the last moment before the fall, Teru caught him by his shirt and pulled him in. Once they’d regained their footing, Teru jumped back to put a distance between them, but during the spin, he tripped over, and plummeted down the slope of collapsed walls.

His head, arms, hip, knees, elbows, forehead – everything hit the unevenness, shards, tiles, and glass, as Teru fell through floors on his way to the bottom... It felt like years, ages, all of them painful. Teru tried to grab whatever he could but, his hand slipped, wet from blood and sweat. He fired his air whips up to hold onto something, but the power went out every time his body was battered by something. Lights flickered before his eyes. He almost lost hope of reaching the bottom.

It all ended with a crash. Rods stuck out of the ground around the place he fell in, circling Teru like a cage.

He didn’t move for a long time, too confused. Pain rang through every part of his body, from top to toe. He struggled for every breath, his lungs pricking and the dust suffocating, unconsciousness trying to overcome him as well. Struggling, he managed to turn onto his back. Red instantly covered his view, and added an unnecessary color to the sky of the sunset, spread high above the cracks and holes in the floors. Teru let time pass, calming, accepting the pain, sorting his thoughts.

Only after minutes of silence did he say only one thing: “I can still fight, you jerk.”

Shimazaki appeared a few meters to Teru’s right, wobbled for a moment, then finally limped in the boy’s direction. Teru heard the shuffle of his shoes, heavy breaths and groans of pain, but couldn’t feel sorry for him.

“Teru, damn it.” Shimazaki stood beside him, bent in half, embracing his abdomen. “We’re done. Let’s go home.”

“You give up?”

“You’re messed up, kid, and barely breathing.”

“I told you I can still fight.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Wanna bet?”

“I’m waiting.”

“Gimme five minutes.”

Before Teru closed his eyes, he saw Shimazaki lean on a wall, and then everything went dark.

He didn’t know whether he fell asleep or lost consciousness, or how long he was out for.

“Hey.” Shimazaki’s voice came out of the dark, and with it, a nudge.“You lost.”

Like the flick of a switch, something in Teru changed. His pain and fatigue disappeared, replaced with burning determination.

“Teru, don’t…” Shimazaki didn’t manage to finish before air whips closed around his arms. Teru gritted his teeth. He knew his tactics. He knew the other esper would try to run away, so he swung his legs and tripped him up. A hollow thud and a cry of pain filled the darkened ruins, telling Teru Shimazaki hadn’t teleported in time. He jerked to get up, but felt a grip on his ankles. Shimazaki cursed under his breath and pulled the boy closer, dragging him through the debris and rods on the ground.

“Teru, you damn…”

Teru bounced off the ground and shifted onto his back, then swung his legs to kick Shimazaki again. He missed.

“Fucking…”

Teru ignored the curses. Psychic energy flamed on his fingertips, ready for the next attack, casting light on both espers. Teru broke off when he caught sight of a drop of blood trailing down Shimazaki’s face – tired, bruised, reddened. His hair was a mess.

“Selfish…”

Something pressed down on Teru’s legs. He looked down. Shimazaki had pushed his knees against Teru’s thighs, trapping him. There was no way out.

Teru’s sight traveled back up – all the way to Shimazaki’s chest and ripped,useless, tight-fitting shirt, scratched arms and neck that seemed like the least important consequences of the fight, but still sent a shiver up Teru’s back.

The glow of psychic energy grew in Teru’s hand, and he made out more details – two splits on Shimazaki’s lips, a cut above his eyebrow, a scratch across his cheek, patches of blood mixed with dirt covering fair, usually spotless skin, drops of sweat running down his face. Shimazaki looked he could fall apart at any moment, but it was Teru’s – and only Teru’s – doing. Such a view after the battle was like a prize, and even if Teru would lose – he hadn’t lost, of course – then Shimazaki’s state would wash away the bitter feeling of defeat.

Yet, something was missing, something like frosting on the cake, with a cherry and a pinch of sprinkles, painful enough to make Teru choke. His hands darted up to embrace Shimazaki’s neck, pull him closer and…

Shimazaki caught Teru’s wrists in time and held them against the ground, unaware of the broken tiles scratching his skin. Teru yanked his hands, too mildly to make it feel like real defiance.

“Let go,” he hissed. In an answer, Shimazaki clenched his hands and leaned in, this time not saying a word.

Just like that one time in the alley, Teru was trapped – again – and confused – again, but this time not by Shimazaki’s proximity and a squeeze in his gut, but by the stillness. The man did nothing, as if what he had in his arms was of no use.

Teru twitched uneasily, trying to get more of Shimazaki’s attention, to make him move even the slightest. It had no effect.

“C’mon!” he yelled internally. “What are you waiting for?!” His body screamed too – hurt and tired, and longing – demanding – intimacy with another human, preferably the one who had him pressed against the ground, who felt so out of reach.

“Coward!” Teru’s voice betrayed both his clamor and cry for attention. “Do something!”

Shimazaki finally moved. He wet his lips and took a shallow breath. He didn’t smile.

Teru decided to use the last idea he could think of. “Goddamnit,” he hissed. “Don’t be like that, Ryou.

Shimazaki leaned in, closer and closer. Excitement shouted over Teru’s common sense. He closed his eyes, waiting for what he deserved.

Shimazaki rested his head on Teru’s arm, and went no further. Teru blinked, confused.

“Ry… Hey?” He fidgeted. “What’s happening? Shimazaki?”

Shimazaki hissed, tensing his arms. Then, before Teru could react, he started to tremble, as if muffling a laugh or a cough, but the sounds didn’t give Teru any implications of what was wrong. Curling up, he let out shivering breaths.

“Shimazaki! Let… Shit!” Teru tried to yank his hands free. Shimazaki clenched his fingers around them so strongly, Teru thought his bones would break. “Let- let go! It hurts!”

Finally, Teru managed to break his wrists free, but Shimazaki clutched his arms around him and hugged him, tigh as a treasure – or rather, like the last thing he owned that someone was trying to steal.

Teru gasped, smacked the man’s back, and tried to kick him away. He grasped his shirt by the sides. He was lost, without any idea as to how to get out.

Shimazaki’s skin sparked, hot under his fingers, burning.

“Shimazaki, what’s…”

Shimazaki’s hiss interrupted him, as he pressed his face into Teru’s arm, wet and sweaty.

“What’s happening?” Teru tried to look at his face, but all he managed to see was drops running down Shimazaki’s neck and cheeks. Panic rose within him. He couldn’t lose it. He had to stay calm. Someone had to stay calm here.

“O-out… Take it out,” Shimazaki stammered.

“What… What ‘it’?”

“This, for… fuck’s…” Shimazaki’s hands flew to his nape and started to scratch, digging his nails into the skin to get to his chip. “Fuck! Take this shit out!”

“No, wait!” Teru didn’t have time for cold calculating, but he knew getting rid of the chip would lead to something worse. “Stop it, leave it!”

One hand covered Shimazaki’s nape, and the other reached to his pockets, searching for his phone. Squinting against blinding light, fingers shaking, he tried to dial Joseph. His fingertips slid on the screen, smearing dirt and blood, opening unnecessary apps, selecting wrong numbers, failing to act as they should. He slammed his hand against the ground in desperation, trying to calm the shivering. Biting his lip, he tried to find Joseph’s number again.

He found it, finally.

One, two, three dial signals, centuries passed, worlds and humanity collapsed and were created anew, but Shimazaki was still trembling, now blazing-hot to the touch, cursing everything, his mother and Teru included.

For a moment, Teru thought he heard him sob. Deep within, rage fought to take over him. "Easy, Teru,” he thought. “It’s gonna be okay, all is gonna be okay.”

Finally, after what felt like millenia, Joseph picked up. “I hope it’s something important,” his voice said from the speaker.

“Turn it off!” Teru cut him off.

“Are you with Shimazaki?”

“Yes! Turn it off!”

“Calm down. Where are you?”

Now it was Teru who was starting to tremble. He barely stopped himself from smashing his phone against the wall.

“In the ruins of Claw's 7th Division facility,” he snapped.

“Where is that?”

“I don’t know! To the west… No! To the east… North-east, about ten kilometers from Seasoning City.”

“The hell are you doing there? I told you, he can’t leave the city.”

“Shit! Yes, we know! We just forgot about it, okay? Turn it off!"

“And what are you doing there?” Joseph seemed unaffected.

“It’s not important.”

“What. Are. You. Doing. There?”

Teru groaned. He didn’t have time to explain everything to Joseph. This guy wasn’t his mother, first of all. Secondly, Shimazaki was doubled up in pain, and this took precedence.

“We argued,” Teru answered, hugging Shimazaki closer to him. “And teleported here to fight and…”

“Did you win?”

“W-what? It doesn’t matter! Turn it off!”

“I can help you out, kid.” Teru heard the amusement in Joseph’s voice. It was the last warning, before what happened three seconds later.

Shimazaki gasped sharply, choking on air. He pushed Teru away and sat back, his posture tight as a string, hands clawing at his neck. Then came the loudest and the most agonized cry Teru had ever heard: shooting through his mind, remindeing Teru of a horror movie he’d seen, where a man had been skinned alive.

Teru’s heart stopped beating, and the whole world stopped moving. Despite the inner composure he had managed to develop these last few years, he didn’t hold back.

“TURN IT OFF!”

Everything went silent and still – Shimazaki, Teru, Joseph, the surroundings.

The phone blinked and shut off. Shimazaki’s hands dropped, still shaking with every sob, less frequent now. Hunched over, he leaned towards Teru. Confused by the sudden change in literally everything, Teru embraced him tightly.

”The hell happened?” he thought. He didn’t dare ask Shimazaki. “Are you alright?” he checked instead, hand stroking his back.

“No.”

“Let’s go home. Can you do this?”

“No.” Shimazaki’s voice trailed off. Teru sighed. A drop of sweat teased his eyebrow; he wiped it, and only then noticed how sweaty he was. Turning on his phone was no use – it didn’t even flash.

“You need to get it together,” Teru whispered. “I can’t call for a taxi. It’s just a small teleport, you can do this. Just stay awake, please. Shimazaki?”

He shook him by his arms. The night was dark above the trees. Not even a shred of light reached the bottom floors of the facility. Teru didn’t know what condition Shimazaki was in after the encounter with Joseph, and the thought alone of lighting the space to check it fueled up his fear.  After his last outburst, he thought he had filled the forest with combustible energy, and now it was as if one spark could blow everything apart. The voice in his head told him he was exaggerating: they weren’t lying by an enormous landmine. Teru didn’t believe it. He preferred to not to risk it.

“You know,” Shimazaki said after a moment, his voice weak, “he shouldn’t be doing that.”

“He overdid it.”

“I mean, Hatori.”

Oh. Everything clicked perfectly. It was logical. Teru should have known better from the very start – cutting the dial, ending Shimazaki’s suffering… no one else could do that.

“I bet he betrayed his position now,” Shimazaki muttered, letting Teru go and trying to sit back. Teru’s hands slid down the man’s arms to his palms – still shivering, but less than before.

“We need to use it and go back home,” he said.

“I know. Gimme a moment.”

Teru would have loved to give him even two moments, if he wasn’t afraid that Joseph would take back control over everything and torture Shimazaki further.

With his back still aching, he managed to get up, but as soon as he stood, he learned of new spots on his body that would need treatment – his left foot, the right side of his chest, both arms, the back of his head… All of those were either bleeding or scratched, too painful to be ignored, not to mention the sticky dirt and mud that were covering him like a second skin.

Teru felt disgusting. He needed to wash away this fight, and forget all about it.

“I’ll go shower first,” they both said in unison.

Teru huffed. “I know you’re barely standing, but it’s my apartment, and I have the right to use the shower first.”

“You’re a bigger sadist than Joseph,” Shimazaki rebutted.

“That’s right. No one said living with me would be easy.”

“We can shower together if you want.”

Teru sprang back. “Idiot!”

“Oh, hey,” Shimazaki tried to sound innocent. “I don’t mean anything nasty, okay? I just want to save time and…”

“I don’t believe you. Shhh! Quiet! Shut up! Let’s go home.”

“Eh, sure, fine, as you will. Come here. I’ll try to teleport us.”

Teru felt a movement beside him, then heard a muffled groan. Groping around, he found Shimazaki’s hand and leaned in, hitting his nose against his chest.

“Well, I guess we are done fighting here,” Shimazaki sighed, putting his arm around Teru’s, embracing him. The hug was returned, fists clenched around Shimazaki’s shirt, in fear that teleportation would quarter them or worse, split them up.

“We will find a new place.” Teru snuggled his face into the crook of Shimazaki’s neck. “And maybe, we will finally learn to put on shoes before teleporting out.”

They shifted uneasily. Teru had grown used to fighting barefoot on hard and rough terrain, but buying new socks was draining  his wallet of money.

“Teru?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”

That was his third “thank you” – the third that he’d really meant. The first  had been after meeting Joseph, when Shimazaki had decided to leave Teru’s parents alone and apologized. The second was when Teru had wrangled his way into Shimazaki’s old apartment. And the third – this was now. Third time’s the charm, as was said, a magic number and all.

Teru wasn’t sure how this ‘magic number’ would help him. Threes were strange numbers, he’d noticed a long time ago.

“No big deal,” he answered quietly.

The feeling of teleportation tugged. A second later, Teru felt a familiar material under his feet – the carpet in his bedroom.

Reluctantly, he took his hands away from Shimazaki’s back, shying away. The plan for tonight was simple – take a shower and get rid of the dirt. Then, maybe, he would sleep, if he was uninterrupted. Teru tried to think of that more, and not about hugging Shimazaki, so his thoughts wouldn’t wander. He definitely didn’t want them to wander. Shimazaki had hugged him too, of course, not only during teleportation but also after it, for a long time – too long.

Teru could feel Shimazaki staring at him, examining. Almost palpable, like a warm breath on his skin, he sensed the man’s ESP drilling into his aura, scanning. He didn’t like it, but not because he didn’t want Shimazaki to look at him. He didn’t like it, because he couldn’t return the stare.

The room was flooded in the pleasant darkness of the late evening, and although the light from the street lamps outside could reach the highest floors, it wasn’t enough for Teru to see much around him. A car dashing down the street flashed up its lights, for a brief second illuminating the room. Teru saw bruises, scratches, and other reminders of the fight on Shimazaki’s neck and clavicles. He didn’t dare look higher.

He bit his lip when Shimazaki’s hands wandered down from his arms to his waist, following its shape. The hands finally stopped by his hips, embracing and trapping Teru – not by an assertive hold but rather by the only fact of being held.

“Teru?”

Shimazaki’s voice cut through the silence like a katana sliding through skin, leaving behind a deep mark. After that, there should be a reaction – a sort of a scream of pain against the cut, but here, there was nothing. Teru couldn’t answer. A foreign fear was holding his his throat. Maybe it was just too much for him – the closeness of Shimazaki, the darkness, the stillness and the late hour. They were both tired, too, after the fight and that would be a reason for potentially rash actions and words… Shimazaki didn’t have to hold him for so long, nor speak a word. They didn’t even have anything to talk about.

Shimazaki’s wait for the answer was palpable – just like his ESP, which didn’t subside at all. Minutes, hours, days seemed to pass before Shimazaki spoke again, this time a little bit less patiently.

“Teru?”

He reached towards Teru’s face and carefully brushed the hair from his forehead, his fingertips soft against dirty skin. Teru’s heart raced, and the world seemed to slow,shrinking down from the globe to only the room where the two espers stood.

“Teru.”

Shimazaki’s fingers caressed Teru’s cheek and slid down to his neck, leaving a warm path, scratching, reminding him of the bruises. Finally, the hand rested on his nape, at same time as Teru looked up.

Cars drove down the street, one after another.Strips of light illuminated the room, and with it, Shimazaki’s face. A slight smile marked his chapped lips, breaking the illusion of a poor guy who’d just lost a battle.

“Maybe you think you’ve won?” Teru asked him in his thoughts. He forced himself to look away, fearing, deep in his heart, the intense blackness of the eyes staring at him.

“Teru.” Shimazaki stroked his nape in a calming gesture. “My star…”

Everything was how Teru wanted it to be, and it surprised him – far from the rest of the world, in an embrace, focused on each other. It was how he’d dreamed of it, how it was supposed to be. Of course, it was in the aftermath of  a tiring fight, but now they could focus on their deep, secret and untold desires, tiny gestures, whispers...

“My sweet…”

Shimazaki cupped Teru’s face.

“Little…”

He leaned closer.

“Star.”

Teru closed his eyes and clenched his fists around the man’s shirt, waiting and waiting for the touch of Shimazaki’s lips. He held his breath, feeling Shimazaki’s warmth against his skin. He ignored the noises from the street, so as to not to forget – even for a second – about Shimazaki, his fingers digging into his cheeks, hard muscles pressed against his body, the confident silhouette towering over him, which could easily take control.

Tiptoeing, Teru pushed his luck. A quiet chuckle and Shimazaki’s heart remaining calm raised the  alarms in Teru’s mind, but they were ignored just like everything else, unimportant, intruding.

“Teru, you little liar...” Shimazaki’s lips moved against his. “You do want to kiss me after all.”

His hand caught Teru around his waist. Teru tried to jump back, but Shimazaki held him close.

“Let me go!” Teru hissed, trying to push him away as far as he could, but Shimazaki held him by his chin. The hand around his waist trapped him, and Teru had no chance to escape. He jerked in the hold, once, twice, with no effect.

“Are you sure you want me to let you go?” Shimazaki asked.

“That’s what I’m saying!”

Shimazaki took his hands off, and Teru pushed him away, almost tripping. Turning on his heel, he marched to the bathroom, too loudly and too aggressively. “Don’t run, don’t run!” he repeated quietly to himself, not sparing a glance at Shimazaki.

He swallowed the bitter taste of anger, cursing, cursing, and cursing everything again, pretending the mirror above the sink didn’t exist. He didn’t think he would be able to look at his reflection without smashing it into pieces.

He showered, wishing he could forget that Shimazaki had ever held him in his arms.

***

The same time he stepped out of the the shower, he heard the melody of his phone, hidden in the pants he’d tossed into the corner of the bathroom.

Teru took it, then unlocked the screen. The mobile had turned itself on somehow with the battery charged a few percent – as it had been, before something – or someone  – had turned it off.

A new text from Joseph was on the screen.

 

 “I want to see you both, tomorrow, at eleven. Don’t be late. Here’s an address.”

 

Below was the name of a street and a city, far from Seasoning City.

“It could be Hatori pretending to be him, to be honest,” Teru thought.

Despite the questions and suspicions he had, he answered with a short “OK.”



Chapter Text

Teru got used to silence – no matter if he shared it with Shimazaki, or he was alone at home. Over the last few weeks, the paranoia that had gnawed at him had disappeared. Before, he had been petrified when Shimazaki was quiet for too long, as it could mean that he was bored and could start a fight, just for fun. Now, these thoughts were absent, replaced with a suspicion that the reason for Shimazaki’s silence was that he was keeping secrets.

Like tonight, for example.

Just once, Teru had allowed Shimazaki to smoke inside, but only in the kitchen. They sat at the table, waiting for the other to start the explanations. Neither of them wanted to. Neither of them had lost today’s fight… or, technically, both of them had lost. After Joseph had intervened, they hadn’t had the strength to continue.

The conversation had to happen anyway, just like they had agreed. Instead of conversation, there was silence.

Teru clenched his fingers around his glass and stared at the water. A question he had asked a few minutes ago remained without an answer.

”What is Chihiro doing, and why do you two need to protect her?” had been the first question of the series, the easiest one Teru had prepared. What Chihiro was doing couldn’t be legal, otherwise, Shimazaki would answer. Teru waited. He didn’t press Shimazaki. Lately, he had pressed on him too many times and it hadn’t given him any decent results. However, with every passing minute, Teru was running short on patience. The kitchen clock’s tick-tocks rang in Teru’s ears, as if replacing the answer Shimazaki should give.

Shimazaki squashed the cigarette in his ashtray and sighed briefly. Teru let his sight fall to the man’s hands – scratched, and still a bit dirty, just like the rest of his body. Teru hadn’t patched him up, not after Shimazaki had tried to kiss him again. He didn’t deserve it.

Shimazaki sighed again and straightened, then leaned his arms against the table.

”Here we go,” Teru thought and bit his lip.

“You were right,” Shimazaki said, playing with the pack of cigarettes. “I lied to you. Today… yesterday… What time is it?”

“After midnight.”

“So, yesterday I wasn’t out just to buy the cigs. But I didn’t see Hatori either. I… I wanted to tell you a bit later but you started asking all these questions all of a sudden and…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Teru interrupted. “Just tell me, where have you been?”

Shimazaki found his glass of water and played with it for a moment, then put it aside. He cracked his joints.

“At an estate agency, to sign a contract,” he said. “I found a place to live. I’m moving out next week.”

Teru didn’t like this answer.

***

The Japanese Department of Surveillance of Unnatural Cases was located a few hours from Seasoning City – on the outskirts of a village that had three buildings at most. The place was too suspicious for Teru, and the only presence of familiar auras calmed him down. If Shou and Serizawa were also there, they had to have been called by Joseph himself, and not by Hatori in disguise.

“I wonder if he invited all espers from the City,” Shimazaki muttered.

Teru shrugged, staring at the building in front of them. A gray block stood heavily on the horizon, soiling the view with its simplicity and ugliness. In Teru’s opinion, the architects hadn’t cared about creating anything pretty, but had just focused on quickly building the walls that would hide dangerous espers from the world.

“Well, if he called you and Serizawa, I assume he called your other friends too,” Teru marched on. The cold wind swept over him, making him hunch. “I wanna be home quickly, so don’t cause any problems.”

“It doesn’t depend on me. I don’t even know if they’d let me go home.”

“Why?” Teru turned to him. Shimazaki tilted his head and curled his lip. A painful cut prevented him from smiling too widely.

“If I won’t say anything helpful about Hatori, they could keep me as bait,” he said without a grudge or any anger. “That’s what I would do, if I were them.”

“Maybe it would be better for them to let you go and keep an eye on you? They wouldn’t need to feed you or listen to your whining.”

Shimazaki laughed.

“I hope they will let you go,” Teru continued. “I don’t feel like spending hours on a train.”

“I will use that as an argument.”

Teru expected the inside of the building to be just as uninteresting as the outside. He wasn’t wrong – it was simple and boring. Its white-painted walls and excessively polished floors made it look sterile. It smelled of chemicals, and smoke – a combination too strange for a place that resembled the interior of a hospital.

Teru looked around and scanned further with his aura in the hope of locating Joseph, but the man was nowhere to be found. There was almost no one at all nearby – except for a janitor who told them to go upstairs, to the top, to the sixth floor. The elevator wasn’t working.

With each passing step, Serizawa and Shou’s auras pushed against Teru’s harder and harder, and with each passing floor, Teru noticed more employees – busy, gray, common. No one paid attention to them, although he could still hear Shimazaki’s complaining amongst the noise of conversations and footsteps. Teru was relieved they were ignored; they didn’t need to be seen by anyone.

“The last floor,” he said, taking the three last steps in one jump. He didn’t wait for Shimazaki, who was scrambling up the stairs and panting, and rushed along the row of doors. “I don’t see Joseph. I wonder if he’d be here.”

“Maybe they have sealed rooms?” Shimazaki prompted when he caught up.

In a split second, the auras of Serizawa and Shou shrank, almost disappeared, leaving behind a barely palpable track. Teru dashed in their direction, concerned they were taken elsewhere, by someone who didn’t want them all to meet. They were still there – sat by the bright-red door, Serizawa hunched and nervously clenching his backpack, and Shou bored and scrolling something on his phone.

Teru squeezed through the crowds and reached them, leaving Shimazaki far behind again.

“What a surprise.” He sat across Shou and smiled at Serizawa.

“You sayin’?” Shou didn’t even look up at Teru.

“It’s nice to see you too, Hanazawa.” Serizawa waved at him faintly, forcing a half-smile in return. He looked good, better than weeks ago, and not as uncomfortable in his suit as he had looked before.

“Can’t be said about a certain someone else...” Shou nodded at Shimazaki. Only when the man came closer did he lock his phone and look up. His lips twitched to smile. “Shimazaki. You’re prettier than ever.”

Teru felt a prick of pride. He let Shimazaki sit next to him and waited patiently for him to say his greetings.

“So, what are you doing here?” He didn’t want the silence to last too long. He was happy to have familiar people around so he wouldn’t have to wait with Shimazaki alone for gods know how long.

Shou didn’t answer. It took a moment for Serizawa to notice that he should be the one to speak. “I got a call from Joseph and he told me to come here with some other esper.”

“Are you watching him?” Teru asked Shou.

“No way, man. I just agreed to come here. I’m not his nanny.”

“You’re the one who needs a nanny,” Shimazaki muttered.

“Shut up,” Teru snapped. “How long are have you been waiting?”

“An hour or so.” Shou shrugged. “Joseph took Minegishi over there,” he said, nodding at the red door. “And he hasn’t come back yet. He didn’t even say how long it’s gonna take.”

Shimazaki fidgeted. Serizawa cleared his throat and stared at the ceiling, his fingers clenching around the straps of his backpack. Teru barely took his eyes off him, wondering why the two of them were so nervous at only the mention of Minegishi.

“How about that fourth one?” he asked.

Shou huffed and shrugged again. “Shibata? Dunno, don’t care.”

“Then…” Teru recalled all the espers from Seasoning City he knew of, and frowned. He looked at Serizawa. “Who’s watching over you three?”

“W-what do you mean?” Serizawa was no less confused than Teru.

“Who’s spying on you,” Shimazaki explained, bored. “And telling Joseph when you don’t help old people cross the street?”

Teru rolled his eyes, although Shimazaki wasn’t far from the truth. “Nevermind. Maybe I misunderstood Joseph.”

“You think Joseph wouldn’t handle them?” Shou asked, his smile crooked. “Not all of them are so problematic. I bet it hurt,” he added, looking at Shimazaki and brushing his cheek – the same place the man’s face was swollen and scratched.

"You wanna learn yourself?", Shimazaki rebutted, and so began a back-and-forth argument.

Teru stopped listening to them. He wondered if anyone was keeping tabs on the rest of the Super Five. Shou was right – they didn’t cause as many problems as Shimazaki did and probably avoided doing anything shady. Giving them guards was useless.

Teru envied his friends. Up until now, he thought that they’d had to watch over ex-terrorists too, but no. He was the only one. The tool. The loser.

He thought about quitting. Shimazaki would move out soon anyway, so spying would get more difficult. Moreover, there were more and more questions and obstacles to face, and Teru didn’t want to be a part of it. He wanted to rest – to go to his favorite cafes and cinemas, to spend hours on social media, to buy girls presents and sweets, to get lost in dates. He missed all of it.

“Katsuya, don’t be so quiet,” Shimazaki whines. “I need your moral support!”

Serizawa didn’t answer, too focused on his nails. He ignored Shimazaki when he tried to start a neutral conversation too – distant, withdrawn, as if he was deaf.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Shou used the silence to his advantage, and spoke.

“Tomorrow?” Teru thought of his plans for this week. They hadn’t arranged a date for the next training session yet. He had to remember that.

“No? We talked about it.”

“‘We?’”

“Ah.” Shou’s face brightened up in understanding. He fidgeted and avoided Teru’s stare. “Right. Sorry.”

“One-on-one training?” Teru wasn’t mad. He couldn’t make himself feel mad or to feel anything else. Indifference seized him, and didn’t subside after Shou nodded. “Nice. Have fun.”

Teru sighed, quickly getting rid of Ritsu from his thoughts. He didn’t want to – he shouldn’t – think about him. What for, if that made him feel worse?

No, screw Ritsu, screw it all. Screw it, screw it, screw it…!

“Are you two dating?” Teru asked.

Shou darted a look at him, surprised. Redness covered his cheeks and ears. “No!” he yelled, too harshly in Teru’s opinion. “No way, no. Ritsu’s cool, yeah, but, you know… Uh…”

Yeah, Teru knew. He didn’t need any more explanations. Ritsu wasn’t interested in anyone. Ritsu was boring. Screw him.

“Nevermind, Suzuki.” Teru smiled, despite the anger that tried to resurface from beneath the indifference. He felt himself boiling, but he couldn’t lose his composure. There was no reason. Ritsu wasn’t worth it. “Just tell me when you have the next training session. If Ritsu wants to meet, it’ll be the three of us.”

“Sure I will! Just now… Ummm...” Shou fidgeted again, then shuffled his feet. “Yeah.”

Teru didn’t care why they hadn’t invited him this time. He’d wasted his time for nothing if they couldn’t appreciate his attention. He wouldn’t be thinking about it. He had enough problems.

How often did they meet? Were Teru’s efforts all for nothing because these two had their own training sessions?

He would not be thinking about it.

”Why am I so upset about it?” Teru thought. He didn’t care about Ritsu, after all – he’d wanted to play with him a bit, then make him fall for him. It hadn’t worked… again.

He would not be thinking about it. He had other problems.

Fine, Ritsu didn’t want to meet with him and Shimazaki would move out soon. Everything would be back to normal, to the state it had been in before the fight with Claw. Everything was moving in the direction of helping Teru to get his life back. Now he needed to make his own step forward – and quit spying on Shimazaki.

Teru made the decision – he’d tell Joseph he wasn’t going to help him any longer. Joseph should understand. After all, Joseph had been the one who’d asked him to keep an eye on Shimazaki. He could find a way to keep going without him.

The decision made Teru feel better, calmer. He felt hope again – for real this time – that he’d be back to normal again soon, and then he’d spend time on doing what he loved.

Everything around him that had annoyed him a moment ago didn’t matter any longer. Shimazaki, that damn jerk, lied to him all the time? So what? It’d be over soon, so it wasn’t a big deal. Teru would even take care of his bruises once they’d come home. He had nothing to lose.

“Are you working today?” he asked.

Shimazaki sniggered. “If they won’t jail me then, yeah, that’s what I planned to do tonight.”

Teru was free that evening. What a perfect moment to call a few girls.

“You’re working?” Serizawa muttered.

“Someone made me.” Shimazaki nodded at Teru.

Shou laughed briefly. “Don’t tell me you need a nanny who’d tell you to go to work,” he said. Teru decided he liked him – even more so, when he felt Shimazaki’s aura pricking in annoyance.

“How long are we waiting?” Shimazaki changed the subject. The other espers glanced at their watches. An hour and a half had passed, spent on conversations and mocking, but Minegishi still hadn’t come back from wherever Joseph had taken him. Teru didn’t like it. If someone who wasn’t involved in the situation was being interrogated for so long, then how many hours would they spend talking with Shimazaki? No one had told him he’d be there for half a day…

He shouldn’t have even been here at all. He wasn’t even a part of this mess around Hatori, just a mere passer-by.

“I’m gonna go for a smoke,” Shimazaki decided. Teru was about to answer, when the squeak of an opening door disturbed him. An aura – unsteady, shaking, harsh, closing its claws around senses – spread through the hallway. Teru recalled the esper whose presence it resembled.

“Toshi, my dear!” Shimazaki was already up and making his way to Minegishi, who stumbled from behind the door, his legs giving up under him. Two soldiers followed him, geared up and ready to act at any time. They glanced at Shimazaki, and pointed their guns straight at him.

“Fuck off,” Minegishi struggled to say.

Shimazaki froze half-way. He tried to cover up his confusion with a smile. “That’s our Toshi,” he turned to Teru, and presented Minegishi with his hand. “If he's cold to you, that's just his way of being kind.”

He couldn’t see the glare Minegishi gave him – warning, and psyched up to kill, if necessary. His aura sharpened, covered with countless thick thorns, sticking against any espers’ barriers. He clenched his fists.

Carefully, Teru stood up to prevent Shimazaki and Minegishi from fighting. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Serizawa laying his backpack aside and getting up too, glancing at his old friends.

“Get moving,” one of the soldiers barked, poking Minegishi’s back with his rifle. Minegishi listened and slowly turned back, his feet barely leaving the floor when he walked.

“You can’t…” Shimazaki choked out. Minegishi faced him again, his hair slightly moved by his sparking psychic powers. Windows rattled against their frames. Teru leapt to Shimazaki and grabbed his arm.

A soldier stood between the ex-Claw espers, barring Minegishi’s way. “Get moving!” he repeated. None of the espers noticed as the lawn in front of the building changed into a bush in a blink of the eye. They did notice Minegishi’s aura, however – so dense and taut it felt like it’d blow apart walls and windows.

“For your own cursed sake,” Minegishi hissed, “if you know anything about Hatori, say it.” He blinked a few times, then unclenched his fists. His aura subsided, but it was still taut. “We are sick of it, get it? Let us… You idiots… Egoists…”

He was motionless for a moment, waiting for Shimazaki’s answer, growing calmer and steadier. Eventually, when no one spoke, he turned on his heel and went on, not sparing a glance at Shimazaki or Serizawa.

Teru followed him with his gaze, feeling Shimazaki’s aura change with every breath – into a harsh texture, prickling against his skin. Glancing at the man, he recognized a frown of determination. Teru clenched his hands around his arm.

“Calm…”

He didn’t manage to finish, when Shimazaki tried to yank himself free from the grip. The air swirled from the collision of their auras. Teru barely managed to hold Shimazaki in place, when he tried to break free again to run after Minegishi.

“Leave him alone!” Teru snapped. He noticed Shou and Serizawa getting ready to help him. He appreciated it, but he could deal with it. He had the experience, thank you very much.

The parquet snapped under Teru’s and Shimazaki’s feet, giving up under the impact of their psychic powers. Lamps swung above their heads. Webs of cracks ran up the windows.

“Calm! Down!” Teru gathered all strength he could and pressed at Shimazaki. The man wobbled backwards and with a loud rattle, fell on a bench. He growled, eager to attack again.

“He doesn’t want to talk to you,” Teru said fixing his jacket. “Let it go for now.”

“He didn’t look well,” Serizawa added. “Whatever they did to him wasn’t pleasant.”

”Damn, almost as if he was a terrorist or something,” Teru thought. Then said aloud: “You see for yourself. Try another time, when he’s not looking like death.”

“They’re still looking for Hatori,” Serizawa went on. “They ask us about him sometimes. Nothing scary, just a few questions and that’s all. But… But they’ve never called us to come here. Moreover, Minegishi…” He looked at the direction where Minegishi and the soldiers went. “This must be difficult for him.”

“Not my fault,” Shimazaki snarled. “If Hatori wanted, he would talk to him.”

Teru frowned and looked at him, then at Serizawa, and finally caught Shou’s stare.

Shou snorted. “They liked each other,” he explained. “A little more than the others in Claw. And Joseph knows it, so I guess that’s the reason they talked to him for so long.”

Teru breathed a sigh of relief. At least Joseph had a reason to keep him there for so long. Still, he hoped to be home as soon as possible; he really wanted to go out with his friends and not waste his life in some suspicious building.

He felt Joseph’s aura and heard his footsteps before he saw him. Joseph came down the corridor, and not alone – he was accompanied by a stocky, suited man, his tie tight around his neck. A vastly receding hairline and thin hair betrayed his age range, but his eyes were too cold for a typical old man. Other than that, his suit was neat, without a wrinkle. On any other day, Teru wouldn’t have spared him a look – he was more than bland.

“Serizawa and Shimazaki,” Joseph greeted with a grimace. “Good morning, I guess. I hope you waited long enough.” He nodded at Shimazaki and smiled. “You look like shit. I think it’s the best thing I’ve seen this week. Shou, Serizawa, come with me. We will be done in three minutes.”

A moment later, only three of them were left in the corridor: the old man, Teru, and Shimazaki. The latter followed Serizawa with his blind sight, his expression tense.

“Let’s go,” the old man said, opening the door further. “We’ll wait for him inside.”

As they passed the threshold, Teru felt his psychic powers and barriers disappear. Shimazaki hesitated, searching for Teru’s hand with his own.

They entered into another corridor, as clean and mysterious as the rest of the building. The countless unlabelled doors they passed by didn’t look any different from each other, but the old man didn’t seem lost. He stopped by one of them.

“We’ve got a few specialists over here,” he said pushing the handle. “They need to change your chip.”

“Wonderful,” Shimazaki muttered. “How are they going to do that?”

“Is the old one broken?” Teru chimed in.

The man nodded. “You wonder who did that?” he asked. “Though, I bet you already know. It was reckless of him. Very reckless.” He opened the door and waved, welcoming. Waiting inside were staff, dressed in doctor’s gowns, busy with something on a countertop by the wall. A few soldiers accompanied them. A smear of red connected the surgical bed and entrance, but Teru decided to not to mention it.

“I think Shimazaki will manage on his own,” said the man.

“You ‘think’ so?” Shimazaki frowned.

“The others didn’t have many problems.”

“Except they couldn’t stand on their own?”

“C’mon,” Teru whispered, nudging Shimazaki with his elbow. “Let’s be done with that.”

Just as he expected, Shimazaki whined, but decided to listen.

The man closed the door behind him, then made his way up the corridor. “Come with me, we need to talk.”

Teru reluctantly followed him. He could trust him, right? This man worked with Joseph so he couldn’t be bad…

He tried to cheer himself up, but common sense threw negative scenarios at him. Why would he need to talk with him now, when Joseph wasn’t around? Where were they even going?

Teru halted after a few steps, seeing him open the next door.

“Come, come, don’t be scared,” the man coaxed, switching the lights on. “And close the door behind you.”

Teru wasn’t scared. He was far from being afraid of an old man. He could handle him if he had to. The room they entered wasn’t even that scary. It had no reasons to be scary – one of the walls had a window, and behind it, Teru saw an interrogation room. It meant he was on the right side of the glass – so he couldn’t be scared.

“So,” the man huffed, sitting heavily on a chair by the window. “It shouldn’t take them long. Depends if Shimazaki will be nice with our doctors. They’ll come here later. Sit down, boy.” He nudged an empty chair with his foot. “You’re Teruki Hanazawa, do I remember right?”

Teru nodded and took up the place. He looked briefly around both rooms. Cameras, mics, a seal drawn on the floors. He looked at the man back when he spoke again.

“At first, I’d like to ask you a bit of a personal question. Joseph is… quite persuasive in his actions, especially when it comes to Claw. So, I think there won’t be any friendly conversation.” He pointed at the interrogation room. “Do you want to see it? Or do you want us to go somewhere else?”

Teru bit his lip, trying to find a catch in his question. He had seen Shimazaki in a bad state so many times, he could adore his bruises in all their glory... So why wouldn’t he stand seeing this interrogation?

“I have nerves of steel,” he answered. “I’ve seen a lot of action and horror movies, so it won’t be disturbing.”

“You say so?” the man laughed. “Fine, as you wish. But I warned you.”

Teru readied himself to witness the worst, including Joseph ripping Shimazaki’s arms out. It couldn’t be that bad though, right? Joseph wasn’t a madman, but only… a really vicious cop or something like that, Teru hoped.

“I’m Ishida,” the man finally introduced himself. “Does that ring you a bell, Teruki?”

“No.”

“Oh, nice. I’m glad he could keep his mouth shut.”

“Who…?”

“Let me be the one to ask questions.”

Teru gritted his teeth. Maybe he wasn’t in the interrogation room, but he was being interrogated. Was it legal? Didn’t they need his parents’ permission?

“I thought it was about cooperation,” he said.

Ishida tilted his head and smiled. “To some extent. I can’t answer all of your questions. All right. So.” He sat more comfortable in the chair. “How much do you know about Shimazaki’s job?”

“I talked about it with Joseph already.”

“I want to hear it from you.”

“Do you even use this information? Or am I doing it for your amusement?”

Ishida looked at him sharply, making a shiver run down Teru’s back. “Why are you so unpleasant, Teruki? Did we hurt you? Kids these days, oh my.”

Teru played repentant. “No, I’m sorry.”

He continued. He’d realized he didn’t like talking about the results of his spying. He hadn’t learned much – only that Shimazaki was protecting random espers, who happened to have their business in Seasoning City. He spent his nights in clubs, restaurants, and other similar places.

“I see.” Ishida interrupted him. “And what is he doing in the daytime?”

“Looking for an apartment, I think.” Teru rubbed his arm and shuffled his feet. The chair was uncomfortable and he wished he could get up and start wandering around the room, but the conversation held him in place. “I’m at school at that time, so I can’t spy on him.”

He heard the clang of a door opening. Joseph entered the interrogation room, of course with a cigarette between his teeth.

“Do you have any idea where he plans on living?” Ishida went on. It seemed Joseph hadn’t heard them.

“No, he didn’t tell me anything. He has a lot of… necessities.”

“No wonder. Ask him. This information could be useful.”

“So you can put cameras there?”

Ishida laughed. “I didn’t think of that, but I will prompt Joseph.”

Teru cursed quietly. He hoped this man was joking.

A movement caught his attention. Joseph raised his head, staring at the door. Teru followed his sight and clenched his fists, digging his nails into his skin.

Two soldiers dragged in Shimazaki, who couldn’t stand on his own. White light in the room emphasized the paleness of his face. Fresh stains of blood marked his arms and neck. On his nape, there was a patch, already dirtied with redness.

Teru’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t want to be there.

“Tell me, Teruki,” Ishida tried to get his attention back. Teru hardly managed to look at him. “What do you know about Hatori?”

Teru hadn’t said anything about the last esper of the Super Five. The fact that he still worked with Shimazaki was the most important information he’d learned during his spying, but...

“You know something useful about Hatori, don’t you, Teruki?” Ishida smiled. The cold disappeared from his eyes. “If you do, don’t tell anyone...”



Chapter Text

”If you know, don’t tell anyone,” rang in Teru’s ears as he was sat across Joseph in the interrogation room. Shimazaki, placed at his left, was barely conscious, way more beaten up and bruised than he had been two hours ago, when the conversation had started.

”This is messed up,” Teru thought, keeping Joseph’s tired and bored stare.

“Do you know something new about Hatori?” Joseph asked playing with a lighter and tapping it against the table.

Tap. Teru knew, but Ishida told him to be quiet.

Tap. Teru would be in trouble if Joseph learned that he lied.

Tap. If Teru said what he knew about Hatori, Joseph would rough Shimazaki up again for keeping secrets. Of course, Shimazaki hadn’t told anything him during his interrogation. Of course.

Tap. Teru didn’t want to think of why he wouldn’t be able to stand seeing Shimazaki being beaten up more.

Tap. Teru didn’t want to think of why he couldn’t stand seeing Joseph interrogating Shimazaki.

Tap. Teru knew he shouldn’t be sitting there.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“No.”

Joseph nodded and lit up his cigarette. “Then why did you argue yesterday? What made you two fight outside the City?”

“Nothing specific.” Teru shrugged. “Clash of personalities.”

Shimazaki snickered, then winced in pain. At first, Teru didn’t know what had made him laugh until Joseph explained: “At least you two agreed on the same version of events.”

“Does it matter?” Teru muttered.

“No, I was just curious. How often do you fight?”

“Sorry but…” Teru felt a prick of irritation. He tried to shush it, but his hunger and fatigue didn’t help it. He couldn’t hold back his sharp tone. “But is there a reason you’re asking all this? Because I shouldn’t be even sitting here. I’m not a suspect.”

The corners of Joseph’s lips twitched. Other than that, he was unmoved.

“How often do you fight?” he asked again.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it does.”

“Less than before,” Shimazaki said weakly.

“Oh.” Joseph raised his eyebrows. He pointed at the espers with his cigarette. “You two are pals now?”

“No,” Teru answered sharply. It took him a second to calm. “We just… earlier, we argued mostly because Shimazaki was hiding. And now… As I- we said, it’s a clash of personalities. Anyway,” he spat. “It would be hard for me to like him after this whole time.”

“True,” Joseph nodded. “Do you want to talk to me in private?”

Teru bit inside of his cheek. He had to tell Joseph somehow that he wanted to quit spying, but he didn’t want to give Shimazaki the impression that there was something wrong. Still, it was the only chance he had to end his troubles.

“N-no, but… He…” Teru swallowed and looked over at Shimazaki. “He doesn’t look good. Are you sure he’ll be able to teleport me home?”

“You know I’d love to keep him here.” Joseph let out a puff of smoke. “But someone insisted on letting him go.” He glanced pointedly at the window, then waved at the soldiers waiting by the door. “Take him to the medical room and tell them to fix him somehow.”

Without a word, the soldiers took Shimazaki by his arms and escorted him out. Once the door shut behind them, silence took over the room again.

Tap.

Teru looked up from the table. Joseph was playing with the lighter again.

“Did you learn something about the espers I told you about?” Teru didn’t plan on quitting without learning anything. He hoped his work hadn’t been in vain.

“A bit, but we aren’t giving up yet,” Joseph said reluctantly. “I can’t share information with you yet.”

“It’s not fair,” Teru hissed. “I stick my neck out for you and do what I can, and you don’t even want to share your information. It can help me, you know?”

Joseph held his stare. “Can’t help the rules.”

Teru backed down. He wouldn’t win against Joseph and his stupid ‘rules.’ There was no cooperation between them – null, zero, nichts. Moreover, there were more and more questions. Ishida was working against his co-worker – and the government, most likely – and he didn’t want to explain himself either. Teru had asked him why he couldn’t share any information about Hatori, but, of course, there had been no answer. Everyone knew something, but no one wanted to share it with Teru. He felt like a rat in a labyrinth, watched over by scientists, excited over the results of their experiments.

“I wanna quit.” Teru straightened up and looked firmly into Joseph’s eyes. The man raised his eyebrows and leaned forward.

“‘Quit’?” He laughed. “Are you serious?”

“And why wouldn’t I? Shimazaki’s moving out soon and he’d be harder to spy on, and.. And I don’t get any support from you.” Teru twisted his lips. “I don’t even know if you appreciate my help.”

“Oh my god, Teru.” The man ran his hand down his face. His laugh annoyed Teru more than Shimazaki’s. “Should I pat your back for everything you’re doing? Or maybe clap my hands?”

“That’s not what I…”

“Listen,” Joseph sighed. “Of course we appreciate your help. You’ll get a diploma if you want. And you can quit if you want, I won’t stop you.”

A moment of silence ensued. Joseph took another cigarette.

“But think for a second,” he went on. “You quitting doesn’t look good. Not to mention we won’t be able to find anyone who’d be as close to Shimazaki as you are.”

“Why should I care?” Teru snapped. “It’s your job to find out who he’s working for and you were the one who asked me for help. And now I’m quitting, simple as that.” He folded his arms. His reasoning was logical. He couldn’t understand why Joseph didn’t get it. Every human with common sense would give up spying on Shimazaki.

Joseph didn’t look convinced. He smoked lazily, staring at something behind Teru, a hint of a smile on his lips. Suddenly, he laughed and shook his head.

“There’s a rule,” he began. “If you agreed on helping, you need to carry on or accept some conditions of quitting.”

“What do you mean?” Teru frowned.

“You can reason your decision however you want.” Joseph waved his hand with the cigarette. The smoke left behind abstract shapes. “But we will take it as changing sides. We’d need to keep an eye on you, just like we do on Shimazaki.”

Teru squeezed his fists. His psychic powers sparked under his skin, but it didn’t find an outlet. It couldn’t find it, repressed by the seals on the room.

He had to stay calm. He couldn’t lose it, otherwise, Joseph would grew suspicious. He stared at the red spots on the table, trying to find a way out of this situation.

They couldn’t spy on him; it was illegal. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he just wanted to get his life back, and that was all. Joseph didn’t understand it. What an asshole.

What about turning Joseph and Ishida against each other? He could tell the former that the latter had forbidden him from speaking about Hatori? It would leave them distracted, fighting with one another, and Teru would have a chance to run away…

...but only if he’d be sure Shimazaki wouldn’t get hurt in the process. He had a new chip under his skin, and Teru knew it was supposed to be better than the old one.

So – no, it was not a good idea, even if Teru knew he shouldn’t care about Shimazaki.

How about stopping doing his best? Agreeing on continuing, but not actually spying? In the worst case scenario, Joseph would be disappointed, and eventually dismiss him to stop wasting his own time and energy.

That was the best solution had Teru thought of so far.

“I will keep on spying,” he said bitterly.

Joseph nodded. “I will be in your city next week. Let’s meet in Cafe Cafe Cafe on Sunday at… hmm.” He checked his watch, as if it was supposed to help him arrange a meeting. “Five in the afternoon. I hope to hear concrete information then.”

Teru nodded, anger squeezing his throat. He wanted to smash this place to pieces.

“I’m done. You can go home.” Joseph stood up. “Shimazaki is in the room across the corridor.”

Teru didn’t look in his direction, focusing on keeping his powers down, as they threatened to tore seals on the room apart. His jaw hurt from gritting his teeth, and his hands were shaking. He wanted to be home; he wanted to take out his frustration on something, or someone.

His eyes prickled from holding back tears. Only two hours ago he had been relieved he’d be done and free. He had been so naïve.

***

“You’re not eating,” Shimazaki pointed out. Teru twitched, no longer pondering, and poked the rice with the spoon. Finally, after ten minutes of sitting down at the table, he started eating.

Shimazaki stared at him in silence, studying his aura and posture. Teru was neither shining nor flaming, as he had been lately. A muffled halo surrounded his silhouette, shrunken, barely noticeable. Shimazaki had seen Teru in that state many times – the last one had happened many weeks ago. Shimazaki was proud of himself that he hadn’t been making it happen lately, but now, he didn’t know why Teru was like that today.

“You look worse than me,” he said. Teru hunched over and didn’t answer.

Shimazaki didn’t press further. Teru wouldn’t say anything anyway – he was too proud to say what had hurt him… or he didn’t want to share it with Shimazaki specifically. Understandable.

***

Teru had agreed to take care of Shimazaki’s bruises and make him look like a decent human. After all, Shimazaki couldn’t let Chihiro see her bodyguard messed up, especially not today.

“Make some space,” Teru demanded quietly, standing by the bed. He was holding a box, most likely full of bandages and ointments. Both of them had their own collection of spare dressings, though Teru’s was bigger, as Shimazaki had noticed. He, on the other hand, was fine with a basic medical kit.

Shimazaki moved further onto the bed. “Just try to make me look the most decent as you can.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Take off your shirt.” Teru’s tone and aura didn’t betray a hint of excitement or shame. ‘Take off your shirt’ – it was like a typical instruction from a typical doctor, sounding as if nothing had ever happened between them.

Shimazaki was eager to take it off, even when pain sparked in his right arm and left side when he tried to free his head from out of the collar. He wasn’t sure if he’d manage at work tonight. Treatment would help him survive and make it less painful, but Shimazaki knew he needed a few days off to recover.

He could only dream about days off. His bosses’ schedules were too busy lately. On top of that, Shimazaki had the move coming. What bad timing.

Teru opened one of the ointments and a herbal smell spread around the room. He grabbed Shimazaki’s arm and put the calming balm on one of the biggest scratches. Shimazaki was brave, not even twitching when he felt cold on his skin. At least Teru’s touch was rewarding him for staying calm.

“I guess it’s the last time you take care of poor old me.” Shimazaki tried to start a conversation, using whatever he could come up with. Since they had come back, Teru hadn’t cheered up. His aura was still distant, and silence and mutters were his only answers to questions. “Unless you want to visit me… Although my apartment is at the other end of the City.”

Annoyingly enough, Teru didn’t answer. He spread the ointment along Shimazaki’s arm and rubbed it in with slow, circular strokes.

“Or you can drop by for lunch or something.” Shimazaki didn’t give up. “I bet you’ll miss my cooking.”

Teru bent down, and his aura heated up for a brief second. Shimazaki almost missed it. “I’ll rather throw a party once you move out,” he muttered.

“Perhaps.” Shimazaki shrugged the arm Teru wasn’t taking care of. “But it’s hard to believe I didn’t grow on you these last few weeks.”

“You wish.”

Of course Shimazaki wished. Shimazaki had no doubts that he liked Teru, and he’d thought they’d started to get along. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he read into it too much.

“You know, I was thinking…” Shimazaki tilted his head, giving Teru easier access to a deep cut on his neck. “I don’t really know this city. To be exact, I don’t know where I can buy furniture and stuff. I could use some help.”

“That’s a good excuse to talk to Serizawa or Minegishi.”

Teru was right, but Shimazaki didn’t feel like seeing them now. He preferred Teru’s company this time. He’d have lots of other chances to get in touch with the rest of the Super Five, in contrast to Teru.

Shimazaki wanted his company, to have him beside him. He knew he shouldn’t. He knew Teru wanted to get his life back, to regain peace and quiet, but Shimazaki also knew that once he’d move out, there’d be something missing in his daily routine.

He sighed deeply. “Tell me I’m wrong, but I have an impression Joseph told you a few things.”

Teru held his breath. His aura moved, then tensed, motionless, as if turned to stone.

So there was the problem.

“Your mood drastically dropped once you’d spoken to him,” Shimazaki added. “Hm?”

“Show me your face.”

Shimazaki obeyed again. Teru reached into another box and rummaged in it.

“Do you want me to talk to him, and tell him to leave you alone?”

“You leave me alone. Lean in.”

Shimazaki leaned in. Teru caught him gently by his chin, and Shimazaki felt a touch of softness brush on his cheek. He smelled powder.

“Does he know you’ve got nothing to do with that?” Shimazaki pressed on. It wasn’t alright that this government freak had tried to tangle Teru up in this mess. This kid had happened to be in the wrong places at wrong times – that was all. Why would he know anything about Hatori?

...Except that Teru had met Chihiro and asked her too many questions, but that was only because he was too stubborn to give up.

“Just say a word and I will kick his ass, Teruki.”

Teru’s fingers clenched around Shimazaki’s chin.

“Who exactly is Ishida?”

The question surprised Shimazaki. They hadn’t been talking about Ishida, dammit, but Joseph. Why was he he even asking about him?

The touch of the brush disappeared, but Teru didn’t move back.

Shimazaki wet his lips. “I don’t know him.”

“He was the one who was with Joseph.”

“His name was Ishida? Good to know.”

“I think he knew about Hatori more than Joseph.”

“It’s not our problem. Don’t worry about it.”

“Shimazaki…”

“Teru.” Shimazaki interrupted and leaned back. His patience was wearing thin and he was afraid he’d lose it if the conversation went on. “Didn’t you want to go back to your life? Wasn’t it what you wanted since I… I… I barged in?” He waved his hands. “Why do you keep on…”

Shimazaki pinched the bridge of his nose Teru’s stubbornness was almost masochistic and completely unhealthy – and alarming on top of that.

“Teru, you have a chance… Just…” Shimazaki hid his face in his hands and sighed deeply. He had told him to give up countless times, to no avail. Shimazaki couldn’t understand it. Teru hadn’t fallen for him, it was obvious. Maybe it had taken too long for Shimazaki to understand his own feelings, but he wasn’t so stupid as not to notice how Teru felt about him. An aura betrayed its owner’s feelings, no matter how well the esper was trained to hide it, and Shimazaki was better at reading auras than anyone.

An obsession was out of the question. Teru didn’t love… hah, didn’t like him. Teru had no right to like him. He’d kissed Shimazaki, and still wanted to kiss him, but that was it – a physical desire, nothing more.

Shimazaki understood that. Sometimes the world was like that.

“Teru,” Shimazaki started again. He found Teru’s hands: warm, scratched, smelling like herbs. “Promise me something.”

Teru looked up at him and waited, not saying a word. His aura brightened up – and it was now at its lightest since coming home. It gave Shimazaki hope that Teru would be fine soon.

He wanted to hug and kiss him. But mostly – to hug him.

“Promise me,” he went on. “You’ll finally take care of yourself once I move out.”

Teru and his aura shivered, but after a short burst, they slumped again, almost disappearing from Shimazaki’s view.

“Stop it,” Teru hissed. “Stop talking about it over and over and… UGH!”

“Talking about what?” Shimazaki frowned.

Teru’s hands tugged at his, so he let go. He turned his back to Shimazaki and began collecting the ointments and cosmetics back into their boxes.

“That you’re moving out! You’re not helping. This is not helping. This It’s only gonna make things worse.” His arms rose, then fell slowly, shivering. A clatter sounded out: something had been dropped. Teru growled, but let it stay on the floor.

“You want…” Shimazaki started unsure. He lowered his voice to a whisper, feeling like he was telling the biggest secret in the world. “Don’t tell me you want me to stay. Or… Or do you…? But… Just a moment ago…”

Never mind. Teru never changed his mind. He was a good actor, who’d only recently started playing by his script. Something had shifted in these past few days, something Shimazaki had missed… He had been so absorbed in his problems, his work and apartment, that he’d had the right to miss it.

Still, nothing made sense. Teru didn’t like him. Then why…?

Teru got up and onto his knees. He approached Shimazaki, sniffing quietly, his movements hesitant and cautious.

Shimazaki didn’t understand. He scanned Teru’s moves and tried to learn his intentions, but all the predictions were too absurd to be true.

Teru ignored his confusion. He leaned his hands against Shimazaki’s knees and when he didn’t get any reaction from him, sat on his lap. He embraced Shimazaki’s neck and snuggled his face into his arm, still not answering the most important question Shimazaki had ever asked.

His warmth, the soft touch, the harshness of bruises and wounds, the ridiculous smells of shampoo and soap, teasing breaths and his aura – that damn oily aura – all devoured Shimazaki’s senses and narrowed the borders of his world to Teru’s figure. There had been a few times when Shimazaki had felt Teru’s body pressed against his, but it had never been on Teru’s own initiative. Shimazaki hadn’t counted the situation in the club with Chihiro, of course.

The unprompted hug further confused him. He could barely make himself move despite it, but still put his hands around Teru’s waist, and hugged him back, as tenderly as he could. He didn’t know how to act.

Shimazaki didn’t understand, but he took comfort in the fact that Teru was no less lost than him.

***

Later, Teru sat on the balcony staring at the floor. He was considering going back inside, when Shimazaki walked in. He didn’t approach. Instead, he huddled up by himself, against the wall, trying to save as much warmth as he could. He had wanted to get some fresh air while Shimazaki was preparing tea, although he hadn’t bargained on the weather being that cold.

“You’ll get sick,” Shimazaki said, handing him a cup. Teru embraced it with his hands, feeling its heat spreading over his skin. Good, he thought: it should keep the sickness away. It didn’t matter that everything around him was freezing, piercing, testing his resistance…

“I’ll get you a blanket,” Shimazaki interrupted his chain of thoughts. Teru nodded and after a moment, accepted the thick material Shimazaki draped around his arms.

“Thanks.” Teru’s lips moved by the edge of the cup. He didn’t dare drink it yet. “Don’t you have work tonight?”

“Maybe I do.” Shimazaki tasted his coffee. “But you know it’s hard to get rid of me if I want to stay.”

Teru looked at his face carefully. He had ruined the powder he’d put over his bruises; the unwitting outcome of the breakdown Teru had in Shimazaki’s arms. He’d need to fix it later… if Shimazaki wanted him to. He didn’t seem to care much about it now. He didn’t seem to care about anything, to be exact – neither about the cold, nor about getting ready for work. He was just sitting there, waiting to hear what Teru wanted to say.

Teru, on the other hand, wasn’t sure he wanted to spill his sadness to him, but everything was overwhelming him – spying, keeping secrets, working alone against gods knew who, living without his parents, and thinking about Shimazaki and Ritsu instead of anyone else. He wanted to go back in time and delete everything that had happened in the past few weeks. He’d make other choices. After the fight between Kageyama and Suzuki, he’d have decided to stay with his friends and wouldn’t gone back home on his own. It would have changed a lot of things.

He couldn’t go back in time. Now he was at a standstill. He had no one to complain to, no one who would understand and who wouldn’t be worried (like his parents) or eager to use it against him (like Ritsu.) He needed someone who would just… be there to listen. Shimazaki fit that criteria, somehow. He was a jerk, but of all the people Teru knew, he was the best to cry to.

Although, Shimazaki didn’t know Teru was working for Joseph. He’d learned Teru had access to the GPS map and Teru believed it was one of the reasons they’d had their last fight. He would rather not know how Shimazaki would react when he heard the rest of his story.

“Promise me,” Teru began, “that you won’t get mad.”

Shimazaki smiled, amused, and shook his head. “I’ll try to understand your point of view.”

“Hm.” Teru put his cup against his lips again. The tea was still too hot. It made him remember he wanted to pick up working on cryokinesis again, just like he had been on his breaks between teaching espers from the Awakening Lab.

Getting away from Joseph’s claws was the most important thing to do now, though. What an irony – now it was not Shimazaki who was causing him trouble, but the one who was supposed to be saving him.

Teru took a deep breath, gathering all the strength he had to tell his secrets.

“Joseph asked me to keep an eye on you.”

A pause. Shimazaki straightened up and sighed, but didn’t say a word. Teru really wanted him to interrupt him. “Thought so,” would be the best answer. “Thought so, you aren’t as nice and concerned as you kept on saying,” and such would be an unnecessary add-on.

“He… He knew you wouldn’t turn into a decent human like the rest of your friends,” Teru continued. “And he hoped you’d show him where Hatori was.”

“And what exactly did you tell him?” Shimazaki asked, his voice full of fake amusement. Teru leaned towards him, trying to feel his aura. He didn’t find anything. It seemed Shimazaki was really trying to not to give away his true feelings.

“I told him you’re protecting Kobayashi and Chihiro. And that they’re espers. That’s all.”

Shimazaki nodded. “And that’s why you let me stay?” He guessed, a smile still plastered on his lips. “So it would be easier for you to spy on me?”

Teru wished he could lie and say it was something different – that it was because he liked him, felt lonely or just wanted to help him to get back to living a normal life. Telling lies and beautiful words hadn’t been a problem until now, but suddenly, Teru felt like he’d lost the precious ability that had helped him to go through his days.

He didn’t answer Shimazaki’s question.

“I wanted to quit today,” Teru finally said, then sipped his tea. It was sweet, too sweet. Shimazaki had become an expert at making him tea, just how he liked it. “But he said… he said if I quit, he’d take it like I’d gone to your side.”

“That was to be expected.”

“That was to be expected,” Teru repeated bitterly in his thoughts. He hadn’t expected to find so many secrets in his search, or that he wouldn’t get any support from Joseph, or that one day Ishida would appear and tell him to be quiet about Hatori. After all, Joseph was the “good guy.” There had been no signs of things going that way.

“Why did you want to quit?” Shimazaki asked. Teru bit his lip. He couldn’t tell him that he hadn’t managed to.

“It got batshit crazy,” Teru decided to say. “Everyone knew something but didn’t tell me anything, or help me, or... and I don’t have time to chase my own tail, ugh. And then, Ishida, he…” Teru frowned. Suddenly the situation with Ishida sounded even more absurd. “He just appeared, like a snap of your fingers, and told me to keep quiet if I know something about Hatori. Shimazaki…” He looked up at the man. Shimazaki turned away from him, leaving Teru with a view of the bandage on his nape. “Is Ishida… No, he’s not a criminal, is he?”

Teru put his cup aside and grabbed Shimazaki’s arm, trying to get more of his attention. His thoughts sped in different directions, catching clues on their way. A few puzzle pieces started to fit together, creating a small part of the bigger picture of the situation.

“Shimazaki.”

Shimazaki didn’t even flinch.

“Shimazaki. You and Hatori…”

Shimazaki finally turned back to him. He smiled slightly, encouraging, as if to a kid who was en route to solving a mystery.

“You and Hatori,” Teru whispered. “You work for Ishida? You work for the government?”

Shimazaki spread his arms. “Bingo.”

Teru understood less and less.



Chapter Text

Shimazaki had felt, deep in his bones, that the help he had received from Teru had a second, mysterious and tricky meaning. After all of these troubles Teru had had with Shimazaki, there was no way he would let him stay at his place only because of his good heart. It was obvious, and so was the reason it didn’t break Shimazaki’s heart – he had expected that turn of events. He wasn’t naïve; maybe disappointed but not surprised.

And the spying? Shimazaki had let Teru play this game because he’d been certain the kid wouldn’t learn anything useful. That would also have given him the opportunity to reveal Teru’s real intentions… but that had happened faster than Shimazaki had thought.

Teru worked for Joseph. And now he had to face the consequences of his rash decisions, as Joseph had turned out to be a son of a bitch – something that no one could have ever predicted.

No one – except for someone who knew life and people better than a middle schooler playing the role of a hero.

“But Shimazaki, you have to listen to me.” Teru followed Shimazaki’s every step as he was preparing to leave for work. He didn’t know the meaning of privacy, as Shimazaki guessed when they headed to the bathroom.

“Shimazaki, if I want to stop working for Joseph and you’re working for Ishida, then… Right? Yes. Then it would be better for Ishida to convince Joseph to let me go, right?”

“Right,” Shimazaki nodded. He wasn’t surprised that Teru had sprung out of the self-pity hole so quickly to claw his way out of this situation. He was only a teen, but wasn’t letting any moment of weakness stop him, or just trying to reduce such moments to an absolute minimum.

Shimazaki reached for his cologne, finding a familiar shape among other familiar shapes. He frowned when the bottle turned out to be heavier than a few days earlier. He smelled the spray. Everything seemed to be alright so far; he’d picked the right one. Shimazaki hoped Teru hadn’t pulled a joke on him.

“Then give me…” Teru’s voice trailed off. In the corner of his psychic vision, Shimazaki noticed him retreat from the bathroom and hide behind the corner. “Then give me Ishida’s number. He owes me a favor anyway.”

The cologne wasn’t a bomb or thinned with water, Shimazaki learned as the scent fell on his skin. Suspicious.

“I can’t,” he answered, fixing his hair. “Privacy law.”

He heard a frustrated whine. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Not only no one tells me anything useful, but I also have to chase my own tail and pretend I understand everything. Tell me...” Teru stepped aside as Shimazaki passed by. His aura sparked like it was struck with a match. “Tell me, is Chihiro working for the government too?”

“I’ve told you enough already.”

It was both enough and too much – Teru shouldn’t have found out that Shimazaki and Hatori were government agents. This information was so top-secret that even Joseph had no idea about it. Shimazaki hoped Teru could keep it for himself, otherwise they all would be screwed... Besides, everything Shimazaki’s group had worked on so hard over the past few weeks would be all wasted because of that, too.

“You should help me from time to time, you know?” Teru kept following him. “For example, give me some information… Nothing even important, but something I could give Joseph!”

“Are you asking me for help?”

“What? No! Never. I’m negotiating. Otherwise, I’d need to tell Joseph about Hatori, or he’ll think I’m hiding something.”

“What's in it for me?” Shimazaki opened the wardrobe and read with his fingers the labels hanging from the shirts’ sleeves. He found his favorite one – or he hoped he’d found it. The material was strange, stiff, and it didn’t smell like the laundry detergent he’d recently used, but its distinctive, oval buttons were right where they should be, as were the trimmings sewn along the hems of the shirt.

“‘What’s in it for me?!’” Teru repeated, shaking his head. “Are you really asking that now? Did you forget that you owe me one? Or two? Or a hundred?! For all this mess you put me through, for…”

“It was weeks ago.” Shimazaki took the shirt from the hanger and slipped his arm into the sleeve. A sudden, sharp pain stung his skin. “Ouch, shit!” He yanked the material and felt a small and long object under his fingers… a needle?

He tried to take it out, to no avail.

“Can you…?” Shimazaki huffed and waved the arm with the shirt. Teru held his breath and came closer.

“It’s just a pin,” he answered, his voice shaken. “Sorry, I must have missed it. Sorry, sorry… And now, it’s gone, it should be alright now.” The moment he said that, he jumped backward, putting a bigger distance than before between them.

“An assassination attempt?” Shimazaki muttered, carefully putting on the rest of the shirt. He didn’t find any more pins inside.

“I would use something more effective.”

“What’s next then? Nails in my shoes?”

“Or a toad in your coffee.”

“Hm…” Shimazaki put his tie around his neck, stopping himself from checking whether the fabric had any needles in it too. “I don’t know what would be worse.”

“Yeah. Hey!” Teru rested his hands on his waist. “Don’t change the subject. I’m serious, let me talk with Ishida again. It won’t hurt you! Tell him I figured out you worked together or something… He can’t blame you for someone else’s genius, right?”

It wasn’t the first time Shimazaki had fought against Teru’s stubbornness, and he could bet his head the boy wouldn’t give up. He would probably follow him to work today, this damn kid.

“I’ll talk with him and let you know, okay?” Shimazaki asked by the door, his jacket in his hands.

“Fair enough.”

“Fair enough,” Shimazaki thought bitterly. That’s all he could get out of him today – a bit of peace and quiet. He fixed his shirt and tie, then took a deep breath. He was ready for one of the most important evenings in his new life.

“But talk with him tonight,” Teru added. “I will be waiting for you.”

Shimazaki rubbed the corners of his eyes and forced out a short laugh. He lingered with the answer until he put on his shoes. “I don’t know what time I will be back.”

“It’s fine, I’ll be up.”

“Sweet dreams, Teru,” he muttered softly.

Before he teleported, he noticed the sway of Teru’s aura.

***

“You look horrible,” Chihiro muttered into Shimazaki’s ear. Shimazaki knew she didn’t want anyone to pay him more attention, trying to play down the state he was in. It would only serve against them; a good bodyguard should appear unbeatable – no matter if they were all fine, or with countless bruises hidden under make-up.

Shimazaki believed Teru had covered his wounds as much as he could, and hoped Chihiro was the only one who wouldn’t fall for the disguise.

“Thanks.” Shimazaki smiled, despite his split lips hurting. He put in an earpiece, tossed the cable behind his arm and gave its end to the girl. “Help me with this, would you?”

“I don’t wanna see you all beaten up, you know?” Chihiro plugged the cable into the transmitter and tugged on it slightly, making sure it wouldn’t disconnect. “Who did that to you?”

“Teru.” Shimazaki put on his suit jacket. “And Joseph,” he thought.

“I knew it.”

She passed by Shimazaki, taking her place in front of the group, which she looked to inspire with her attitude that day – proud, well-mannered. Chihiro’s steps were confident, deliberate, loud with the clicking of her heels. She bowed and smiled, humbly thanking for the compliments she received, yet keeping her distance from everyone around, as it should be.

All of the nights they had spent in the clubs and other strange places had brought them to this – to the third floor of a restaurant called “Lavender Wave”. Today’s meeting would be different than from previous ones – without the alcohol and partying, instead all serious and calm. Chihiro and Shimazaki had to adapt to that. Especially Chihiro.

“And you look dazzling, my dear,” Shimazaki said.

Chihiro glanced at him, her brows furrowed. “Don’t even try. You’re too old for me. Are we going?”

Shimazaki bowed slightly. “Please let me…” Not waiting for her answer, he passed by her, opened the door and led the group to dining room number four. It wasn’t the first time Shimazaki had been here, so he didn’t have to trouble himself with remembering the layout of the building – instead, he could focus on guarding his people. There were nine of them, including Shimazaki – Chihiro, three other bodyguards, a lawyer, an accountant, and a random girl who was there only to be a pretty decoration, smiling to the trading partners. The last person wasn’t present physically, but located hundreds of kilometers away, peering at them through security cameras.

“Nozomu, are you there?” Shimazaki asked. A short static noise preceded a familiar voice.

“Yup. I see you.”

Shimazaki used his ESP to look around the floor. Cameras protruded from each corner of the ceiling in the hall and every room. No-one had changed anything, nor taken anything down or repaired things since last time. Very good.

“You really look like shit,” Hatori laughed. He was eating something and wasn’t even trying to hide it. It was so easy and simple for him – staying buried somewhere far away, with his feet on a desk, ready to blow someone’s mobile up with a twitch of his finger if they got too daring.

“Lemme hear that a few more times and I’ll start believing it.” Shimazaki stopped by the next door and took a deep breath to help himself relax.

“Ryou,” Hatori hummed. “We are almost done with this shit.”

Shimazaki smiled. Peace and quiet were almost theirs for the taking. All they needed to do was to survive tonight.

He pushed the handle and walked into the room. Chihiro was just behind him, wary but smiling, no less sure of the success of their mission than Shimazaki and Hatori.

The door shut behind the accountant and the other girl. The group and trading partners exchanged greetings. Chihiro stepped aside as the first, heading to the table and taking her place. Shimazaki followed her with his ESP, still cautious about people standing at the other side of the room.

“I suggest we deal with it right away,” Chihiro said. The chair creaked under her weight. “So we can celebrate the start of our cooperation.”

The contractors were uptight; especially the one Chihiro had danced with the whole night last time.

“We didn’t think,” one of them started stuttering, “you’d be the one signing the documents.”

“Please don’t worry about it,” Chihiro smiled, coyness in her voice. “My mother and I represent the same interests, as most of you gentlemen, know.”

“Well, to be honest,” the other one interrupted, a tall and heavyset one, as gray as his companions. “We hoped to see your mother personally.”

“Maybe some other time. Please sit down.”

“It’s a shame.”

Shimazaki sighed, annoyed at his dreams of a calm evening being ruined in a split second. Apparently he had asked for too much.

He foresaw the men reaching behind the lapels of their suits and taking out guns.

He foresaw them aiming at Chihiro.

He lunged at her. Pain shot up his spine and for the first time in his life, he thought he might fail tonight.

With his arms locked tightly around Chihiro, they fell down to the ground, missing the bullets only by a whisker. A yelp followed, then gunshots. A scream. More gunshots, even more screams. Someone tried to yank at the door. Someone hid under the curtains. The furniture was thrown aside, their loud thuds surrounding Shimazaki and Chihiro. The girl cowered underneath Shimazaki, pressing her hands to her ears.

Shimazaki looked around. Her bodyguards took aim at the contractor’s bodyguards, before the contractors disappeared from the field of Shimazaki’s vision. Chihiro’s assistants hunched against the walls, screaming.

There was no other option, Shimazaki had to prove himself. First, he needed to teleport Chihiro somewhere else, to a safer place.

With his ESP, he scanned the rooms around them, and the hall. The other clients of the restaurant were rushing to the stairs and elevators, leaving the lounges empty. Shimazaki noticed a good corner by the end of the hall – something that looked like a storage room. He strained his powers.

Another shot, and glass shattered into pieces.

Shimazaki looked around confused. He didn’t manage to teleport. They still were in the same place.

“Do something!” Chihiro yelled straight into his ear.

He tried again. No effect. The noise, his sore body, the shots – all of this hindered his actions, making concentrating impossible. That was bad, bad, bad , BAD . Shimazaki’s heart throbbed. Its sound jammed his thoughts. What to do, how to help, damn it?!

He saw one of the assailants turning towards them with a flash of determination jolting through his gray aura.

“Nozomu,” Shimazaki growled.

“Busy,” the voice on the other end answered. “Cutting off the police.”

“Fuck.”

Shimazaki hugged Chihiro closer and tried yet again to teleport, but this time to a closer destination. He found a perfect place – behind a knocked-over table, by the body of one of their bodyguards.

He managed it.

They fell onto the floor, losing their breath for a moment. Shimazaki felt something wet beneath his palm.

”I hope it’s not blood,” he thought, but then Chihiro’s quiet groan, and the smell told him all he needed to know.

“Shimazaki! Move your ass!”

He had been so fed up with this week, and now, these guys had attacked, as if they’d known one of Chihiro’s best bodyguards was tired. Incredible.

Shimazaki shook his head. He tried to cut himself off from the surroundings and focus on teleportation, protecting Chihiro and getting rid of his opponents.

“Do something! Move your ass!” Chihiro repeated like a mantra, replacing the sounds of screams and gunshots.“Do something, you idiot. Move, you idiot.” She was shaking. Do something, move. Do something, move.

Shimazaki gritted his teeth. He had to do something, to move.

He got up to his knees, locating the first of the enemies he had to eliminate – he was a few meters from Chihiro, and if he wouldn’t be busy shooting someone else, he would most likely aim at the girl.

‘Don’t kill anyone’ was one of the hardest rules Shimazaki had to obey for this job, maybe the hardest in his life. It’d be way easier to snap everybody’s necks and be done with it – but no, he couldn’t do that, otherwise, his reputation would be in ruins. He had enough trouble, anyway.

In a snap, Shimazaki appeared by the opponent, and with a strike to the side of his neck, sent him to the floor. Wasting no time, Shimazaki launched to the next bodyguard.

After a few heartbeats, five unconscious men lay on the ground, their buzzing auras spoiling the surroundings like stains on a tablecloth.

Shimazaki dusted himself off. “What a rotten weekend,” he muttered. The whole fight had lasted only a dozen seconds, but getting his shit together had taken a minute, or even longer. That fact made it take first place on his list of the worst battles in his life.

“What the fuck?!” Chihiro leapt to her feet. She noticed the contractors behind the curtains and rushed at them. “What the fuck just happened?!”

Shimazaki caught up with her and put a hand on her shoulder, ensuring she stayed within his barrier.

“Explain yourself!” She flicked the drapes aside and kicked one of the men. A howl resounded. Another man cried.

“It-it-it was…” he stuttered.

“Take them to the table! Jesus, they won’t let me work in peace.” Chihiro turned on her heels and ran back to her place. Shimazaki barely kept up with her. Her aura pricked his senses like an annoying headache, spiking into his skull – as it always happened when she was so furious, it felt she could blow the world up.

Behind their backs, the bodyguards yanked the contractors onto their feet and pushed them to follow Chihiro.

“Documents!” Chihiro demanded.

“In a briefcase, over there.” The crying man pointed at the corner of the room.

“Fetch it! Move, move!”

“Are you alright?” Shimazaki used the moment of silence to ask.

“I don’t know,” Chihiro muttered, cleaning up something – plaster? glass? – from the chair and pulling it nearer the table. “We’ll see later. God, such audacity… Faster!”

The contractors sat on the opposite side of the table and with their shaking hands found the documents in the briefcases. Papers spilled onto the ground. Someone wept.

“Stop slacking off!” Chihiro slammed her hand against the table. Almost everyone in the room twitched. Only Shimazaki was unmoved, smiling a little with sympathy. “I’ve wasted too much time already! Are they signed?”

“Y-yes!” the braver one, not crying, answered. “The chairman couldn’t come today because… because…”

“Because he is on a trip, where we sent him. I know, goddamnit! Give me this.” Chihiro seized the documents from the man’s hand and started reading them. With each paragraph she went through, her aura eased and drew back, clinging to her skin, and eventually disappeared after a while.

“Finally a normal approach,” she hummed. She reached into her purse and without spending too long rummaging, she found a pen and a stamp.

Shimazaki breathed out a sigh of relief. There was no chance something would go wrong now. The chairman – or rather ex-chairman – was on a trip, whatever was in the documents pleased Chihiro, and no one was around to disturb the night again.

“You’re useless,” Shimazaki whispered into the mic, his words reaching only Hatori. He checked the others in the room. The bodyguards were still unconscious. The rest of Chihiro’s group slowly calmed down and approached the table to take up their places next to the girl. The prettiest girl couldn’t ’t manage to act by the script, and instead, sat there, unmoving, staring at the hole in the wall.

The accountant took the documents Chihiro signed and started reading them.

The wounded bodyguard made it onto his feet – barely, but he didn’t seem like he would die any time soon, even if he was lying in a puddle of blood a moment ago. Maybe it wasn’t blood. Maybe it wasn’t his blood. Never mind. He was alive and that mattered the most.

“Sorry,” Hatori answered. “People started calling the police, I had to cut them off. The restaurant is deserted, you’re the only ones there. Just don’t stay too long.”

“We’ll replace the whole management,” Chihiro said. “And maybe we’d leave some people as they are, but after today’s…” She waved her hand. “And you two! I’d kick you to the other side of the globe.”

“We were told to do this!” The crying man tried to defend himself.

“Of course you were told!” Chihiro huffed. “And what else could you say now?”

The contractors were quiet after that. A rustle of papers and the scrape of the pen told Shimazaki the girls were still signing the documents. He assumed Chihiro was already thinking up some sort of revenge on the people behind today’s attack. According to the plan, everything was supposed to have gone smoothly – just like many times before. Apparently, someone hadn’t liked their company being handed to a stranger.

Chihiro’s silhouette shivered. She froze in hesitation, then went back to signing.

“Someone managed to call for an ambulance and the fire department,” Hatori said suddenly. “You’ve got five minutes. Do you have a mess over there? Did you kill someone? I hope you didn’t. How do you feel about that?”

“Awful,” Shimazaki muttered, the corners of his lips twitching into a smile. He had to be serious, for once.

“Are the documents all right? After all this fight and all?”

“Mhm.” It was weird for Shimazaki too – first, they’d tried to kill them, and after they didn’t succeed, they’d decided to continue the first plan. Chihiro had to have noticed it as well.

“Did you inform your employees already?” she asked. The contractors exchanged glances.

“Not yet,” the crying man answered. “We planned to do it tomorrow after… after everything would be settled.”

”Or after everyone would be dead,” Shimazaki thought.

Chihiro looked at them askance and gave the accountant the last document. “Then expect guests tomorrow.” She flicked her hair back. “Or rather, new management. I’d offer a toast but I only drink with friends.” She stood up – the glass under her chair screeched – and made her way to the door. ”Goodnight. Shimazaki.”

Shimazaki nodded to the other bodyguards and dutifully caught up with Chihiro. The door had only just closed behind them when she turned to him and poked his chest.

“The hell was that?!” she hissed. Shimazaki swallowed and smiled as sweetly as he could. The wound on his bottom lip flared with pain and he felt a drop of blood gathering there.

“Exhaustion,” he said. “Overworking.”

“Bullshit!” Chihiro marched through the hall. “How long did it take you to put them down? Way too long! They almost shot me!”

“They wouldn’t.” Shimazaki shrugged. “You were within my barrier.”

“Within your… Listen here.” She turned again. “You’re teleporting me home and I don’t want to see you until you patch yourself up, understood? And no later than Wednesday. I need you, okay?”

Shimazaki wanted to argue with her, to tell her that he was able to protect her, but she’d seen his “ability” herself. Well, at least while he was on “sick leave”, her boss wouldn’t send her to attend important meetings, or into suspicious places. They couldn’t afford any reckless moves now, not after today.

“Shit, I have a run in my stockings.” Chihiro scoped her legs as they waited for the elevator. “Bastards.”

“You’ll buy new ones.”

He wasn’t startled by her sharp glance. They went into the elevator, and as soon as the door closed Shimazaki asked, “Can I?” and took Chihiro’s hand. They teleported away, into her house on the outskirts of the city. Their heels clicked against the floor, and the girl instantly stepped back and started unbuttoning her shirt.

“Is my mother home?” she asked. Shimazaki scanned the building, then the neighborhood.

“No. There’s no mother nor anyone else in here.”

“At least she won’t be asking for details. You’re free to go. But remember!”

“I do, I do. I must rest.”

After they said their goodnights, Shimazaki disappeared.

***

Shimazaki decided to postpone going back home…

Home? Or rather Teru’s apartment? When had he started calling this place ‘home’? Most likely in the past few days; he hadn’t even noticed it. If someone asked Shimazaki if the place was his ‘home’ and gave him a second to think over his answer, he would deny it – he didn’t feel comfortable there, not as much as in his old apartment – but the fact that he had to think about the answer at all gave away his true feelings. Teru’s apartment was somehow his home.

How sweet, eww.

Either way, Shimazaki decided to postpone going back home. He teleported to one of the streets in the city center and found a group of people whose state of mind he liked – tipsy and frisky. They were in a club, without a doubt. Shimazaki made his way to the building, passing by drunk men and careless women. It seemed like all the people from Seasoning City had decided to spend their last hours of the weekend there, not giving a damn about the working week that awaited them. They were brave, or simply stupid, to work tired and with a hangover.

Shimazaki used to be like that too. On so many occasions, he had picked up a mission for Suzuki or had met with Very Important Espers not long after a party. He couldn’t let himself to be so nonchalant in his new job, but since Chihiro had told him to take a rest…

Shimazaki went into the club, nodded at the bulky man watching the entrance, and strolled between tables, focusing on getting to the bar. Today he didn’t have special alcohol needs – beer please, paying with a card, thank you. He thought he’d love to drink himself stupid if that would help him relax after the day’s events, but he was a responsible and decent man – yes, of course – and getting wasted by himself didn’t fit the image of the person he was trying to be.

He didn’t feel like spending this night with a company, he thought with sadness, noticing two women were staring at him. It was nice of them, but even if he was in the mood for flirting and all that, his sore body wouldn’t let him dance or have another kind of fun with them.

He sipped his beer, and it made him remember he hadn’t eaten for the past few hours. It looked like the universe was giving him a chance to get drunk after all…

No, that was a bad idea. Chihiro had sent him home and made him take a few days off, and he knew he should be grateful. Still, days off meant spending time with Teru, or alone with pervasive boredom.

Shimazaki dragged his hands down his face and sighed. He couldn’t live like that any longer – alone like a loser.The only people he talked with on a regular basis were only his boss, a kid, and a guy located hundreds of kilometers away. Shimazaki had to – really had to – talk with the rest of the Super Five, even if they could start a fight with him. They were pissed off. Shimazaki had expected that from the very beginning.

“Okay, who should I talk to first…?”

Shibata was nowhere to be found. According to Hatori’s information, he wandered from place to place looking for a job, but disappeared from the radar quite often, and for a long time. Weeks ago, Shimazaki had had no problems picking his aura up. Now, for the last one and a half months that Shimazaki had been in the city, he hadn’t sensed him once. Shibata had to be in Seasoning City, right? They had all been ordered to live there…

Maybe, they would find each other by accident. Shimazaki didn’t miss him that much – there was too wide a gulf of... hmmm… intelligence between them. Still, Shibata belonged to that small group of people Shimazaki liked to drink with.

Minegishi… Well, yeah, he would totally choke Shimazaki at the earliest opportunity. It was only a matter of time before Shimazaki would try to talk to him again, but he wasn’t ready for that yet. If he wanted to see Minegishi, he had to be ready to answer questions about Hatori – where had he been, what was he doing, how was he feeling, why, when, who, and so on. Minegishi wouldn’t believe it if Shimazaki told him he didn’t know. He knew that Shimazaki knew. Besides, Minegishi of all people deserved to know absolutely everything about Hatori.

Serizawa was the last on the list. He felt like the easiest to drag into a conversation, no matter how reluctantly he’d replied to Shimazaki’s chit-chat earlier today. He’d eventually fold, snap and respond. Shimazaki was certain of that.

”So!” Shimazaki decided, finishing his beer, ”tomorrow I’m going to see this Reigen guy and I’ll talk to Serizawa. Perfect plan.”

If this Reigen guy would let them talk. If this Reigen guy didn’t think Shimazaki had some negative influence on Serizawa, or something like that.

Shimazaki noticed one of the women who had been watching him stand up and dance her way to the bar. He didn’t want to talk with her, nor with anyone else. He wanted peace and quiet.

He tilted the glass once more, making sure he’d finished his beer and left his place, the club, and finally the street. Shimazaki teleported home – oh, no, wait, to Teru’s apartment. Yes .

***

Teru wasn’t asleep – Shimazaki knew it as soon as he appeared in the hallway. The boy’s aura pulsated calmly, less regularly than it did when he was sleeping. It shook when Teru noticed Shimazaki was back, but he didn’t move, other than fixing his blanket on his arms and squeezing himself into a corner, up against the wall.

”Ah, right. I promised him that I’d talk to Ishida,” Shimazaki thought, wincing with pain when he leaned over to untie his shoes. He stumbled into the room, almost tripping over the doorstep and carpets.

No, he hadn’t talked to Ishida yet, damn. Not only did he not have time or energy, but Ishida also wouldn’t pick up at such a late hour. Shimazaki hoped Teru was smart enough to figure it out himself. What a stubborn brat.

“God, everything fucking hurts.” Shimazaki took a few more steps, narrowing the seemingly never-ending distance between himself and the bed. His muscles were on fire, his bones ached, the stitches on his nape yanked on his skin, a drop of sweat ran down his back. On top of that, Shimazaki would have to sleep on a hard, cold floor, padded only by a thin, old blanket.

“God, what an awful weekend.” He took off the jacket and dropped it onto the chair. He unbuttoned his shirt and pants, noticing he hadn’t given back the mic and earpiece he’d used to talk to Hatori. Maybe no-one would know it was missing.

To be safe, he pulled the batteries out and put them aside, in case Hatori wanted to eavesdrop. The guy was alone in a cubbyhole, with only memes and porn for company, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Hatori spied on anyone he could out of boredom.

Sleep, sleep, sleep. Shimazaki, lumbering heavily, reached the bed, then kneeled down to find his pillow and blanket. They were absent. He tried once again, a bit further, under the bed and nearer the window. Nothing again.

He frowned.

Teru hunched.

Shimazaki hesitantly put his hands on the mattress and felt familiar material and filling. He reached further up and found his pillow.

Oh?

Oh.

OH.

Shimazaki felt like crying with happiness. A night in a bed, a night in a bed after such an awful weekend. How wonderful, how amazing! Nothing better could have happened to him.

He grabbed his pillow to fix it – imagining himself waking up tomorrow all rested and merry – and then something heavy fell on the mattress. Shimazaki felt the box – small, square, wrapped up.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Teru snorted. “Cologne,” he said, angry that he had to say anything at all.

“I don’t get it.”

“It’s for you.”

“Why?”

“No reason.”

Instead of arguing and seeking out the truth, Shimazaki longed to put his head on the pillow and sleep, but he couldn’t. This strange gift had woken him up. A gift from Teru? Given without a reason? Suspicious. Not to mention it was with along Shimazaki’s blanket and pillow being on the bed, and…

No, Teru didn’t invite him to act. No. What a stupid idea.

This new cologne and the strange state of the shirt and the old cologne… Something was wrong, and Shimazaki was too tired to think of a decent explanation for this. Thinking at this hour? No way.

“Does it have something to do with my other cologne and the pin in my shirt?” he asked, tearing the wrapper around the box. Teru was quiet for too long.

“Yes.”

Shimazaki waited for a further explanation.

“I burned your shirt by accident,” Teru answered so quietly that Shimazaki had to lean in to hear him. “And I dropped the bottle with your cologne.”

“Oh.” Shimazaki swallowed. “Then… How…” He shook his head. It would be better for him to not to know how Teru got the money to buy his cologne. He was surprised enough that Teru had bought it at all and even owned up. That was new.

“You didn’t have to.” Shimazaki took out the bottle and checked the smell. “I… Yes. I like it? I like it. Thanks. I mean, thank you.”

Teru answered with a hum. Shimazaki put the cologne on the floor – he would take care of it in the morning – and slipped under the blanket.

Warm. Cozy. Soft. A bed was a very good thing, definitely.

“Now I think I have a new favorite cologne,” Shimazaki said, smiling and snuggling into the pillow. His muscles relaxed and the pain subsided slowly. The doziness didn’t take long to take over Shimazaki’s mind. Through the haze, Shimazaki noticed Teru’s aura flash. It calmed down only after a few breaths.

“Whatever,” Shimazaki heard.

“Teru?”

“Hm?”

Shimazaki turned his head to him. “Can I hug you?”

A sharp inhale, clenched fists, a shivery exhale, an attempt to relax. Teru wet his lips, focused on something that wasn’t Shimazaki – he tried to contain his aura as it swayed and floated above the bed. He managed after a couple of tries.

“Mhm.”

It was the best ending to the shitty weekend that Shimazaki could ever dream of. After the all-night shift in the clubs, the murderous fight with Teru, the meeting with Joseph, another difficult shift… In his whole life, Shimazaki had never seen such chaotic and tiring days. But – he came to the conclusion as he embraced Teru and pressed to his back – if every weekend would end up like that, Shimazaki could deal with way more annoyances. A war could destroy Japan, or even the whole world, if only Shimazaki ended his day feeling that warm body against his, hearing the rushed heartbeat, and falling asleep next to this special someone who didn’t want to see him dead.

Chapter Text

All those romantic scenarios where couples hugged in their sleep and started the morning rested and happy were bullshit. Teru noted this thought down, and tagged it with “remember this for the future” – just in case he forgot about the pain in his arms and back that woke him up. He couldn’t admit that the warmth surrounding him, and the pleasant weight of Shimazaki’s arm on his waist made his awakening sweeter; no. He focused on only the pain. It hurt when he hadn’t imagined it to, and Teru wondered what other lies idealized romantic movies had instilled into people.

He opened his eyes, still heavy with fatigue, and awkwardly looked up to see as much as he could. Feeble sun beams were lighting up the room. That could only mean that the day hadn’t started for good yet. Teru didn’t hear the rush or noise of the streets either – and that was typical for a morning on a working day.

He closed his eyes, relieved. He didn’t have to hurry. He could rest a few more minutes and charge the batteries of his sore body and tired mind to the very end, even if he knew it wouldn’t help him much. Going back to sleep after being interrupted and waking up again rested was also bullshit. It wouldn’t work, not when Shimazaki was beside him.

Shimazaki moved in his sleep, purring. His hand tightened around Teru’s waist, as if sensing the boy would get up soon. If Teru had to choose between staying in bed and preparing to leave for school on this rainy Monday morning, he would pick the former, or rather, he would like to be made to pick the former.

”I'm sorry for being late,” Teru imagined a scenario of excusing himself to the teacher. ”But a terrorist didn’t let me get up. He said he’d kill me if I won’t stay.”

Kill, or kiss to death.

Frightened, Teru’s eyes snapped open. His body blazed, from tip to toe the fire most intense on his waist – exactly in the place where his and Shimazaki’s skin met – and on his arm, surrounded by the man’s breath.

Teru didn’t dare think about his groin.

Well, after all, in romantic movies couples would start the day like that, right? Smiling, cuddling, kissing, saying ‘good morning’. But that was also bullshit. More and more bullshit. Smiling? Cuddling? That wasn’t their style.

Teru peeked behind himself, and noticed Shimazaki smiling.

Damn.

He looked away, biting his lip. After a couple of heartbeats – frighteningly loud heartbeats – he peeked again. Shimazaki had a really pretty smile.

Pretty…

Charming, that was. It fit him and added a lot of points to his appeal. That was the biggest problem here – Shimazaki was too hot.

On the other hand, why not use that? Shimazaki’s job was shady, but he hadn’t hurt Teru for a very long time. Teru didn’t count the last fight they had had – that had felt more like a sparring that had gone out of control, but neither of them had wanted to severely hurt the other.

Of course, Teru couldn’t forget what Shimazaki had done to him before he had handed him over to Joseph – it would be stupid to forget it so easily. The scars were too fresh and the whole situation was too messy. But...

Carefully, so as to not to strain his sore body, Teru turned onto his other side, facing Shimazaki. The man sighed in his sleep and tried to move his arm from Teru’s waist, but the boy clung to him.

“You awake?” Teru asked just in case, nonetheless hoping he wouldn’t get a response. Shimazaki didn’t have to get up yet – he could sleep off the past weekend. He had an opportunity to stay in bed till noon, unlike Teru.

But asleep, he didn’t have an opportunity to kiss someone, right here and now… unlike Teru.

The question – did Shimazaki want to be kissed? After all, this could have changed after he had heard Teru was spying on him for Joseph. Anyone would distance themselves or turn away after such a betrayal. On the other hand, Shimazaki had acted like nothing had happened, which was strange – or maybe he had pretended that everything was all right, but in reality, he held a grudge.

Teru knew he shouldn’t care, but he did, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make himself ignore it. He had to accept his complicated feelings and thoughts. He knew he wouldn’t get rid of them, he had experience with that, and he’d dealt with it long before Shimazaki had appeared in his life. Teru only needed to wait, and they would go away eventually. Nothing lasts forever, not to mention that Shimazaki would move out soon, and they wouldn’t talk as much then as they did now.

The feelings had to disappear, by necessity. Shimazaki and Teru would have their own lives, dreams, and problems that would make them forget about each other. Teru would finally be back to living his way…

...a lonely way, in a silent, empty apartment, where no one would be waiting for him, where he’d have no one to talk to in the evenings. Cooking, cleaning, shopping; all of that he’d be doing alone.

Did he really want everything to go back to normal? Like, literally everything ? If he stopped spying on Shimazaki and gave up training with Ritsu and Shou then, yes, he’d have more time for his school friends, and himself, again. But returning to his old life meant completely erasing Shimazaki from his history, and it was impossible after spending the last couple of weeks together. Most events and memories from that time would stay with Teru forever. The only thing he could do was to harvest as many sweet moments as he could, so they would drown out the fights and quarrels.

It couldn’t be that difficult, against all odds.

Teru held his breath and scared he’d wake Shimazaki up, gently brushed the man’s hair off his face. He tried to not to touch his skin; they were more than close enough.

“You know,” he whispered. “I think you found your new place too quickly.”

Shimazaki didn’t reply, fortunately.

Teru swallowed. He didn’t know what else he could say, besides agreeing that this situation was complicated, and he didn’t quite understand his own desires, but felt that Shimazaki knew about how lost he was and understood it, without asking for explanations.

“How about staying for a bit longer? A few days, for example?” he went on, still whispering. He was a brave boy – not afraid of challenges and fights, but nothing in the world would make him repeat his words when Shimazaki was awake. It wasn’t a matter of courage, no, no. It was common sense – he couldn’t let Shimazaki use his words against him later.

“Teru, you little liar, you do want me to stay after all.” That’s what he’d say, that jerk – a similar version of the words he’d spoken after their last sparring, when Teru couldn’t run away from him, when he’d waited for the kiss.

  “You do want to kiss me after all.”

     ”You do .”

“You do want to kiss me. You do want me to stay.”

       ”You do , you little liar.”

  ”Liar.”

YES. Teru did want Shimazaki to stay, Teru did want Shimazaki to kiss him. Did he have to repeat himself? His thoughts were filled with his desires, silently screaming, echoing through his whole body. Shimazaki was an idiot if he hadn’t noticed it yet, and needed Teru to use actual words.

No, Shimazaki wasn’t an idiot. He had noticed everything already. He just wanted to hear Teru confessing his feelings.

But that couldn’t happen. Common sense, right?

“Otherwise, one day I’ll move in with you,” he said at the end, letting him know he’d not accept any objection. He didn’t have time for quarrels, after all.

The end of the morning’s stillness was near. In a minute the alarm would go off with its annoying music, rushing Teru to begin the day. Using his powers, Teru tugged at his phone and turned the alarm off before it could ring and wake Shimazaki up as well.

Time to get ready. Teru wasn’t ready to get ready. This week shouldn’t be much worse than the previous one, he thought, but the meeting with Joseph, and Shimazaki’s move were the darkest events in Teru’s calendar. If he could, he would happily sleep through those days, pretending they didn’t happen.

He could only dream about it. He had to face these experiences and come out of them stronger. That meant he had to get up!

Teru looked back at Shimazaki, hoping it would lift his mood. Shimazaki was smiling slightly.

Damn.

Teru didn’t want to think too much. He turned his gaze away before he’d let himself act impulsively and kiss…

NO! No, no, nonono.

Gently he pushed Shimazaki’s hand away and escaped from the bed.

On his way to the bathroom, Teru used his powers to pull his clothes to himself, mentally repeating a plan for that morning: hygiene, breakfast, school, hygiene, breakfast, school… He bravely proceeded with his routine and didn’t think about Shimazaki, his lips, smile, and hands. His coffee was drunk, and the meal eaten without leaving any harm on Teru’s body and mind – a rare moment of peace won with effort. He was ready to pat himself on the back and congratulate himself for his success – all he needed to do was pack his books into his school bag and leave, only that: follow one track and not be distracted by anything.

Teru glanced around the room, checking that he hadn’t forgotten anything, and his gaze landed on Shimazaki’s shirt hanging from the back of the chair.

Teru’s heart skipped a beat. He stepped back reflexively, then leapt to the chair and snatched the shirt to take a better look.

Blood covered the sleeves as if Shimazaki had waded in it – it reached up to elbows and left spots on back and collar. Teru searched for the pants – and found them on the floor, their legs darkened with dirt too – and the blazer, which was in a similar state as the shirt.

“Shimazaki?” Teru called weakly. He turned to the bed, clenching his fingers around the bloodied material. “Shimazaki.”

Shimazaki muttered in his sleep and turned onto his back. Only after a while, he rubbed his face and shakily sat up, propping himself up with his hand.

“Wha’ happnd?” he garbled out. Teru noticed the blood on his undershirt and forearms. He could bet he had some stains on his hips too, after a whole night of hugging Shimazaki. He shuddered.

“Whose blood is it?” he asked, shaking the shirt. There was a long moment of silence as Shimazaki tried to gather his senses.

He turned his face to the boy. “Not mine.”

“Yeah, I guess!” Teru snapped, then lowered his voice in case a neighbor heard them. “Whose is it, then?”

“They shot one of our bodyguards.”

“Shot- What? What the hell? Shimazaki, damn it!” He rushed to the bed and grabbed Shimazaki by the arm. “Is this what your work for the government looks like?! It’s not normal!”

Shimazaki tilted his head and frowned, clearly trying to come up with an answer. “You know, Teru… If they didn’t shoot, the other side wouldn’t need a bodyguard. That’s the job.” He shrugged. Teru stared at him, unable to decide which question he should ask next. Is this happening every night? Did you kill someone? Does Ishida know what this looks like?

He gave up and didn’t ask anything, instead moving his gaze to the shirt. “There’s blood all over the sleeves,” he muttered. “Same with the blazer and pants. This guy must have been shot really badly.”

“From what I noticed, he managed.”

“Change your job.”

Shimazaki leaned in. “W… what?”

“Find something safer to do.” Teru waved his hands, frustrated. “Something that won’t require us buying new suits and shirts.”

“But they pay well.”

“Sure, because cologne for forty thousand yen is more important than your health.”

“Teru…”

Teru folded the shirt sharply, accidentally smudging blood onto his jacket. He cursed under his breath, then threw the material onto the floor. With his hands free he could hide his face, resigned.

“We’ll talk when I’m back,” he sighed, and ran to the bathroom to wash away the stains. To his relief, he didn’t have to waste much time on it, and came back shortly to grab his school bag. “Change the sheets later. And take a shower! Jesus, God!”

Shimazaki didn’t answer. The silence accompanied Teru on his way to the door. Once it slammed behind him, he growled, frustrated.

That was a shitty start to the week.

***

Ignoring his past as a terrorist, or his horrible character, Shimazaki was a decent man. He could keep himself clean, take care of a sick person, and so on. Maybe he’d stumble from time to time, but he could blame typical human lameness. For example, if he hadn’t been so dead tired last night, he would have taken a shower or at least tossed his dirty clothes into the laundry bin. Hah, he would have done the latter anyway if he’d remembered the bloody mess.

But he hadn’t, and Teru had noticed, and got mad. It had been quite nice of him. Of course, no one liked to wake up to their name being called sharply, then facing awkward questions with an aura whipping their own, although if all that was caused by concern…

Maybe after all, Teru did like him? How else was Shimazaki supposed to explain that? Not to mention they’d hugged through the whole night… Shimazaki was ready to think it had been a dream, though the soreness of his body – worse in some parts than it had been before going to bed – gave away the fact that he’d slept in one position, holding Teru close. It was a nice detail after the disastrous events that had happened at work, and it made Shimazaki’s insides twist pleasantly.

Shimazaki leaned his back against the cold wall and slid down into a sitting position, checking if there was enough space for him between the door and shower with his hand. It took a few tries before he managed to spark a flame from his lighter. He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. Yeah, yeah – he’d promised he wouldn’t smoke inside, but it was freezing cold outside and Shimazaki was too lazy to put on a coat. The stench would lift before Teru came back from school, and maybe he wouldn’t even get mad about all this, knowing that Shimazaki would move out soon.

He didn’t want to move out, to be honest. He’d got used to this apartment, its layout, and smell. He was prepared to sleep on the damn floor, if it meant he could stay – even if his common sense was yelling at him to leave as soon as he could, lest he go crazy.

Teru was giving mixed messages, and Shimazaki wasn’t sure whether he wanted him to stay or not. One moment he’d yelled at him to move out, and made plans for a future without Shimazaki, and two minutes later he’d said to never talk about this again. He was a strange boy, really, unused to his desires, living in complete denial.

He hadn’t answered Shimazaki’s “Do you want me to stay?”. Teru’s reaction wouldn’t change his decision, but it would shed some light on the mess. There was no other choice but to ask him a few questions when he came back from school. They were supposed to have a Serious Talk anyway.

It was incredible how their Serious Talks had replaced Life-Or-Death,-Or-At-Least-A-Few-Broken-Bones-And-A-Blackout Fights. It was kind of weird – they should have given up on talking a long time ago, and just waited until they went their separate ways. Instead, they’d asked questions and sought out the truth, as if it would change anything, as if they couldn’t live without understanding the other person.

Still, no matter what had happened before, Teru had left to go school, and couldn’t disturb Shimazaki in carrying out the plan. Yesterday, he had decided to met with Serizawa, and he wouldn’t cancel that meeting. There was nothing else to do today anyway, and he had to pass the time somehow.

Shimazaki stubbed out the cigarette against the wall of the shower stall and threw it into the toilet, ready to face his old friend.

***

”Do you think Serizawa is working today?”

Teru stared at the message from Shimazaki, trying to find a hidden meaning. What did he need Serizawa for?

“Aren’t you scared of Reigen? Last time I had to literally drag you to the office,” Teru tapped out the answer and continued to write down the function on the board.

It was taking Shimazaki too long to reply. Teru smirked, and to top his message off, he sent him a smiling devil emoticon. If he was lucky, the phone would be able to describe it to Shimazaki.

He got no reaction.

***

“Brat,” Shimazaki spat, shoving his phone into his pocket. He shouldn’t have asked him. He’d just teleport near this Reigen guy’s office and learn whether Serizawa was working today by himself. He didn’t need anyone’s help.

He teleported into an alley and casually headed to the main road to join people strolling to the city center. If he remembered correctly, Spirits and Such was a few hundred meters further, in a multi-storey building. He would notice Serizawa’s aura, anyway, and that would help him to get to his destination.

As it turned out, Serizawa was working today, like an exemplary citizen. His presence in the neighborhood contrasted with his rocky power, that shook once Shimazaki stepped into its reach. The nearer Shimazaki was, the harder it was for Serizawa to keep it still – he wandered around the office, stumbled, sat down only to get up after a moment, and so on. It was nothing new for Shimazaki – he had seen him in worse states than that, although months ago, Serizawa had had fewer reasons to be anxious about meeting Shimazaki. Now any reason could set him off – for example, not knowing what Shimazaki wanted from him.

Shimazaki rubbed his neck, scanning the office upstairs with his ESP. He didn’t want to go there. He didn’t feel like standing in the same room as Reigen, even if the man had turned out to less scary than Shimazaki had first thought. Yet, the mere thought of him made Shimazaki shiver, and if Serizawa hadn’t been working at Spirits and Such, Shimazaki would never have come here. The single one-to-one meeting he’d had with Reigen was enough, and they’d both had a task to accomplish – to write Shimazaki’s resume. Back then, Shimazaki had chosen the right moment to visit the office, being careful to not to come face-to-face with Serizawa. Now he would gladly change the scenario.

Well, anyway, he couldn’t just stand here – in the hallway – like a scarecrow. He had to get it together and face whatever waited for him up these few steps. They wouldn’t beat him, right? They had no rights; he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Shimazaki was a hundred percent certain of that, yet he still struggled to climb up the stairs, his steps growing heavier and slower. He didn’t want to go there, he really didn’t, but he had to break the chain of bad luck that made him spend most of his time with people who had no clue about the existence of espers, or were too annoying, asking about his blindness over and over. On top of that, with each passing day, meeting new people was growing harder with the expansion of the list of things Shimazaki had to hide or not speak about.

Did he have to do it today, though? In such a state of mind and body? How about postponing it till tomorrow?

He stood by the door, his hand ready to grip on the handle. He was too close to accomplishing his plans; it would look really stupid to turn back. He’d been through hell to get there, stressed his ass off, and it was just a meeting with Serizawa. It wouldn’t be cool.

A deep inhale. C’mon, Shimazaki, just go in. Even Serizawa had lost his calm by now – and though a thick barrier surrounded him and prevented from reading his emotions, Shimazaki was certain about his state of mind. They both didn’t move for a few seconds, waiting for the other to move first, wondering what he had planned.

Reigen remained in his spot, totally unaware of the battle of courage between two espers. With little luck, he wouldn’t notice Shimazaki coming in if he finally decided to move.

No! Let’s go! Let’s be done with that.

Shimazaki gripped the handle and at the same time, the mobile in his pocket buzzed. He ran his other hand down his face, and despite his determination to pass through the doorstep, he stepped back and picked up the phone.

He didn’t manage to say anything before he heard Hatori’s voice. “Ryou, we’ve got a bigass fuckup over here.”

“What now?” Shimazaki leaned his back against the wall and rubbed his eyes.

“Chihiro’s disappeared.”

***

Serious Talks were in dead last place on a very long list of things that Teru wanted to do on Monday after school. Yet, one was waiting for him, and Teru, undeniably, had asked for it himself. He didn’t plan on going home so soon and wasting another day without a single pleasant thing happening. No, no, he’d suffered too much lately to happily run to his apartment to argue – no, wait – to talk with Shimazaki.

For that reason, he’d joined his classmates to check out a new cafe that had opened near their school. They’d said it was “cool” and “cute”, and “cheap”, and in complete alliteration, the cafe sold more “confectionery” than “coffees”. Teru didn’t care that much. He just wanted to spend time with his friends, zone out, and in general, forget about Shimazaki and the mess around him- them.

He couldn’t have it, of course. Karma had shown enough mercy to put not Shimazaki, but Ritsu before him. He was in the cafe, too – alone. Teru sensed his presence before he crossed the street and Ritsu noticed him, as well. A light, calm wave of his aura welcomed him before it subsided to its source – which could only mean Ritsu wasn’t angry or anything like that. How nice of him. Very diplomatic.

“I will be back in a moment,” Teru said to his friends as they took up a free table, and approached Ritsu, settled in a corner of the cafe. Ritsu didn’t look up from the book he was reading, only nudged the chair opposite him with his foot.

“I thought you had training today,” Teru said, taking off his scarf and sitting down in the offered place, on the very edge.

“Shou canceled last minute because he had stuff to do,” Ritsu answered. He closed his book and looked at the counter, slowly scanning the cakes and cookies on display. “What’s up?”

“Alright, as always.” Teru smiled.

Finally, Ritsu glanced at him and raised his eyebrow, staring at the scratches on his face.

“I didn’t make those,” he muttered.

“You aren’t that talented.”

Ritsu squinted.

Teru didn’t sweat. “Are you here alone? Without your brother?”

“How observant. And you…” Now Ritsu glanced at Teru’s company. “I won’t hold you back.”

Teru nodded – more at his thoughts than Ritsu’s words. He was now fully certain of his assumptions – the younger Kageyama was neither interested in him, nor liked him. Nothing had changed during their training.

Teru hadn’t tried hard enough. He had to accept his defeat- Defeat? No, it was not ‘defeat’. He should have phrased it differently. He had to accept Ritsu was so stupid that he didn’t appreciate the attention Teru had given him. Oh, well. Teru had given him so many chances, and no-one else before had, not even Shimazaki. Incredible how ungrateful people were sometimes.

“You’re right, I won’t be disturbing you.” Teru folded his scarf and smiled. “Say hello to your brother from me. I should have fewer problems soon so I will be able to visit him.”

“You can text him, but fine, I will.”

That was all. Ritsu didn’t even stop him, nor did he ask, “Won’t you visit me ?”

Teru got up. “Hanazawa,” Ritsu called, as soon as he did.

Teru’s heartbeat froze. (Damn, how hard is it to get rid of the last crumbs of unwanted feelings?)

“Yes?”

Kageyama swallowed, shifting the book from one hand to the other. He waited for a moment, – a moment that lasted too long – staring at the table with his empty gaze.

“Sadly”, he said. “I won’t have time for training anymore.”

Silence filled Teru’s world. Of course – of course! – he’d decided to give up on Ritsu and take care of his life, forget and so on. But Ritsu’s words hurt his pride and left another scratch on Teruki Hanazawa’s tired form. Rejected? Again? What an idiot, sweet God.

Teru was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the rest of Ritsu’s words – explanations for sure. Teru didn’t care.

“I know,” he interrupted, smiling. “I understand. I don’t have time for jokes, too.”

Ritsu stared daggers at him.

Teru could go back to his friends – there was nothing for him here. “See you, Kageyama.”

“Yeah, see…”

A wham interrupted Ritsu. Everybody in the cafe jumped, scared. Glasses clinked. A napkin holder fell from the counter, and right behind it, a tray full of cutlery. The cashiers exchanged looks, then glanced at the door, and before they could start to explain the noise, a shriek rang out.

“It’s my place!” A man in the other room yelled. The door of the staff room slammed open, its handle hitting the wall and leaving a deep hole there. “It’s my place and I won’t allow…!”

Something interrupted him. Someone’s strong arm threw the man into the cafe space, now visible to the cashiers and customers. The man was short, lanky, and unpleasantly familiar.

Teru sat down again in the chair opposite Ritsu and tried to stay unnoticed.

The man whined. With difficulty, he got to his legs, looked around the cafe, and rolled up the sleeves of his ragged shirt.

“I won’t let you dupe me!” He growled to someone behind the door and rushed there. The strong hand jostled him away again.

“Screw off!”

“We had a deal!”

“Fuck off, I said!”

The man jumped to the doorway again, but stepped back, grappling with a jacket thrown at his head. Some customers jumped back when he almost fell on their table.

Teru bit his lip. He should intervene – grab this guy and get him outside – but he didn’t want to stand out.

Someone else did it first. A stranger came in from the staff room, grabbed the man by his clothes and dragged him outside by force, ignoring his yells and epithets.

The customers in the cafe followed them with their gazes, worried and alert. They stayed silent a long time after the door closed behind the men. The squeak of a chair disturbed the silence, but no one dared to speak, glancing at each other and their orders, uncertain whether they should finish eating or run away.

One of the cashiers took the lead in raising the atmosphere.

“We’re very sorry about this situation,” she said with a soft voice. She waved at a tray of pralines and smiled sweetly. “As an apology…”

Teru didn’t listen to her, staring at the door. He’d seen him – just a moment ago, a guy kicked out the same creep who had hit on him some time ago in the club. So it used to be his place, huh?

He glanced at Ritsu, who only shrugged in return. Teru didn’t expect any information from him anyway, but something told him he should follow the creep and ask him a few questions, out of pure curiosity. After all, they’d both spied on Shimazaki and Chihiro, so maybe he knew more than Teru.

Leaving Ritsu and his friends behind, Teru left the cafe and dashed in the direction of quarrels and yells. They were coming from behind the corner. Two men were struggling in the shadow of the buildings – one of them towered above the other, and was giving blow after blow, making the screams quieter and quieter.

Teru finally decided to act. Air whips rushed at the larger guy and wrapped around his arms, making him yell in surprise. Teru sent him upwards, over the cafe’s roof, and tossed him through open windows into an apartment in a building across the street.

Teru ran up to the creep and grabbed him by his clothes. The creep hissed but didn’t struggle when Teru pinned him against the wall. Dim light let him see the blood dripping down the man’s face.

“Don’t hit me!” he cried. His eyes widened when he recognized Teru. “It’s-it’s you. Don’t hit me!” He cried again, more miserably.

“One time was enough to waste my powers on you,” Teru muttered. He shook him. “What’s going on here?”

“He… They… Let me go!”

Teru took his hands off the man and wiped them against his pants, not looking away when he slipped down the wall to sit. The creep sniffed, rubbed his face, and noticed more blood on his shirt. He cursed.

Teru repeated his question.

“They took my place!” the creep answered. “It’s this bitch’s doing, I can bet!”

“I will be standing here until you tell me what the hell is going on here,” Teru growled. “As long as I don’t lose my patience earlier.”

The creep spat blood at the side, then hissed again. “Yeah, sure. Ugh. So, like, today they just came to my tea shop and told me they are taking my business over.” He raised his hands. “And in one-two-three, they changed the whole interior! Then made a grand opening! Balloons, party, discounts! Can you believe it? They threw away my precious teas, tore down all the wallpaper and put up new stuff, kicked out the staff… In two hours they were all ready! As if they had all this planned before! Listen, kid.” He tried to catch Teru’s hands but Teru stepped back, not hiding his scowl. “You need to help me.”

“No, I don’t,” Teru answered weakly. Of course, he didn’t have to help this guy, but seeing the blood on his shirt reminded him of that morning. Dirty Shimazaki and his clothes… Teru frowned. “Why did you follow Chihiro?”

“Chihiro? Chihiro! That bitch!” He spat again. “She planned all this, I knew you can’t trust her! She wrapped Dammann around her finger and that idiot agreed to kick me out!”

“And who’s that now? This Dammann.”

“A chairman, of course.” The creep looked at Teru askance. “I thought you knew what she was doing since you followed her too.”

“A chairman.”

“Yeah, a chairman. And my friend. Kinda...” He hummed. “A good pal of mine. We drank sake together once, that’s all. He let me run a business of his. Kind of. You won’t understand…”

“Franchising?”

“Yes! Oh god, you’re so smart, really. Hey, do you maybe want to work for me when this all calms down?”

Such problems didn’t interest Teru, but the information he got helped him grasp the situation. Chihiro was influencing chairmen of companies or co-partnerships to… To do what? To let her run their business? It seemed so. She had some qualifications after all.

“Okay, thanks.” Teru turned on his heel. “Good luck.”

“What? Wait!”

Teru ignored the creep and ran down the street. He didn’t feel like going back to the cafe. He was in the mood to return home and talk to Shimazaki. He had a feeling more and more puzzle pieces were coming together.

He understood more too.

***

Anxiety chased him home. Running turned out to be too slow, so he jumped onto a building’s roof and used his powers to dash. Freezing wind swept across his face and hands, foreshadowing a cold or something worse, but Teru didn’t care. He could fall apart the next morning and not be able to get up – it didn’t matter, really. He just needed to get to his apartment quickly.

He noticed the roof of his block and held on, trying to catch his breath. He didn’t like the bad hunch that was nagging at him. He also didn’t like the view of his kitchen: the lights were on. It could be Shimazaki who had turned the lights on by an accident, or they had guests.

Teru wasn’t in the mood to have guests. He dashed on.

He’d barely put his foot down on the other roof when he was hit by a wave of an unfamiliar aura. The world swirled before Teru’s eyes.

“What the hell?” he growled, covering his eyes. He reached out to the aura, trying to identify it. The strange power sparked in collision with Teru’s, then subsided for a moment only to return to shapes, harder to catch. The esper in Teru’s apartment didn’t move, as if they had nowhere to run away.

A few seconds later, Teru was on the balcony of his place, with his powers opening the door from the inside. He charged in and ran to the kitchen, turning on all the lights on the way. The aura pushed against him, trying to disappear, which now seemed to be impossible.

It had to be a powerful esper, on the same level as Shimazaki or even…

The next name flew through Teru’s thoughts, and the guest appeared in the kitchen doorway. Teru halted and sized the man up. A weak body. Mousy hair. Glasses. A ragged sweater.

Blood on his hands, sleeves, and pants.

“Hello,” he said, trying to smile. “You’re Teru, right?”

Teru glanced above his arm, at the table and floor. He noticed a scalpel, and even more blood, blood, blood…

“Shimazaki told me lots about you,” the guy went on. He raised his hand to shake. “I’m Hatori Nozomu. Nice to meet you.”




Chapter Text

Plaster came off the wall, dusting Hatori’s head. He struggled with the air whips wrapped around his arms and neck, desperately trying to break free.

“L-listen,” he stammered between painful whines, spitting out blood. He thrashed around, until he was facing Teru standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “I’ll explain everything, Teru…”

“We aren’t on a first-name basis,” Teru snapped and tugged at the air whips, dragging Hatori through the bedroom – along a floor littered with splinters of furniture, plaster, and pillow feathers. The fresh blood stains contrasted against the light-green carpet, another proof of the unequal fight that had taken place.

“Hanazawa!” Hatori shrieked. He clung to the carpet, hoping it would save him from being sent flying at the wall again. “Listen, it’s, it’s…”

“Where’s Shimazaki?” Teru asked him for the fifth time that evening. Instead of answering, Hatori had talked about something unrelated, and as a result, there were a few new cracks on the walls in Teru’s apartment. He didn’t care if more of them would appear because of Hatori’s stupidity – his apartment had been in a worse state weeks ago.

“Yes! Let me speak! I will tell you now, I promise!” Hatori struggled again when Teru tried to lift him up. “In a drugstore to buy some dressing and shit! He should be back soon!”

“Finally,” Teru muttered. He let Hatori go and with a thud, the man fell on the floor. “But we’ve been talking for fifteen minutes already and he still hasn’t come back.”

“Well, you can check him on the GPS.” Hatori heaved himself up and dusted his sweater off, his hands leaving red spots on the material. “I sent him off to buy just a few things. We don’t have time to waste, you know?”

Teru frowned and lowered down the soundproofing barrier he had put up around the apartment. He looked around his bedroom. He’d make the ex-Claw espers clean up there – Teru didn’t plan on doing it himself. After all the trouble they had put him through, they could do that, at least. On top of that, Shimazaki had invited Hatori in here, without asking or warning Teru. It was his fault.

“We didn’t have time to contact you.” Hatori made his way to the kitchen, keeping his distance from Teru. “To be honest, we thought we’d have left before you’d come back, but something went wrong. Sorry about that.” He waved at the blood on the table and floor and started checking inside the cupboards, undeterred by Teru’s presence. Finally, he found what he’d been looking for – he raised his hand triumphantly, clenching a rag, gave it a wetting, and cleaned up the blood stains on the table and floor.

“Are you out of your minds?” Teru asked. “You two just decided that you’ll come here and…” He rubbed his temples and sighed.

“W-well. It’s not like we don’t know each other, right?” Hatori laughed nervously. “How long has it been? A month? Or even more.”

“Better shut up.”

Hatori did shut up. He sat down on the chair, staring at Teru, his fingers drumming against his knees. Teru, barely paying him attention, pulled out his phone. He’d been fed up with all this for a long time – and he’d repeated this more often than his most used pickup lines. Now he could solve his problems with a single dial. He didn’t want to wait for Shimazaki and his explanations – he’d had enough time to say something, and he’d wasted his chances.

Teru scrolled down the list of contacts and tapped Joseph’s name. No signal. He glanced at Hatori.

“Sorry.” Hatori flashed a crooked smile. “But I can’t…”

Psychic power burst in Teru’s hands, ready to be used to force Hatori to stop interrupting. He could even kill him if he needed to.

“H-Hanazawa, wait, no!” Hatori jumped in his seat. Teru didn’t plan on listening. He stretched out his silencing barrier once again, pondering what he should use later to clean the blood off the walls, to finally…

Shimazaki’s aura stormed into the apartment, most intense in the hallway. Teru pulled back his powers and ran to the door, thousands of questions and curses crowding his mind. ”What the hell were you thinking? Are you crazy? There are no explanations for that! You idiot, you moron, you…!”

He bumped into Shimazaki by the bathroom, feeling a strong grip on his arms.

“They kidnapped Chihiro,” Shimazaki said, before Teru could ask the first question. “We didn’t have any other place to meet.” He let Teru go and moved to the kitchen, leaning with his hand against the wall and his feet shuffling, barely leaving the floor.

“I bet you did!” Teru turned around and gasped. The wound on his nape was bleeding – it had already soaked through his jumper and jacket, ruining the clothes with dark spots. “W-what… Wait! Don’t tell me you…”

Shimazaki sat down heavily at the table and tossed a paper bag to Hatori. Scissors, needles, bandages, a few vials with something inside – that was what Teru noticed when Hatori laid them out.

“We don’t have much time to explain,” Hatori said, reaching under the chair and picking up a box Teru hadn’t noticed before. “But don’t worry, everything will make sense.”

“You have /enough/ time,” Teru said through his teeth. “Shimazaki.”

“They kidnapped Chihiro,” Shimazaki said again. “And they’re somewhere outside the city now. We have to find her or we’re fucked.”

“Who could it be?”

“Huh?” Hatori looked at him from above, holding the scissors in their packaging. “Enemies, who else? Those we protect her from. Logic, right?”

“For example, from the chairmen of the companies she’s taking over?”

Hatori and Shimazaki froze for a second.

“Yeah, for example,” Hatori coughed. “Well, they have the right to be pissed, let’s face it. Hey, you found only one dose of this anesthetic?” Hatori examined one of the vials. “Then, Ryou, who’s gonna get it? You or the rat?”

“What a stupid question.” Shimazaki looked at him with his blind, tired sight.

“Right. I don’t think it’d work on our sweet little rat. But it’s fine! I’m all prepared for this! I just knew everything went too smoothly to be real.”

Teru crossed his arms across his chest, looking at one, then the other, and trying to understand the purpose of the rat in the situation. He turned to focus on Hatori as he finally unpacked the box and pulled out a cage, the size of two palms. The stench of an animal that hadn’t been taken care of for a long time filled the kitchen, before a quiet squeak sounded out from the cage. When Hatori put it on the table, the rat tried to turn around between the walls, but there wasn’t enough space to do it. It used the chance it had to let its tail slip between the bars and rest on the tabletop.

“I should make a photo book,” Teru muttered, his lips twitching in disgust at the sight of the emaciated rat. “Ugh, two months under one roof with a terrorist.”

“Don’t panic,” Hatori said; Teru wasn’t certain whether he’d said it to him or the rat. Hatori pulled out another plastic packet with a syringe inside from his backpack, and using his teeth, he took the cap off the needle.

Teru looked away. “Is it necessary? Why are you doing this anyway?”

“They kidnapped… Outside the city,” Shimazaki said, his voice hoarse, and pointed at his nape. “We need to pull this shit out and give it to the rat.”

“This chip has a temperature change detector,” Hatori explained. Teru dared to look up at him and the rat. The pet was lying calmly, breathing steadily. “If we pull it out and leave it like that, we’d alarm Joseph. Get it?”

“He does. He’s a smart boy. And don’t worry, he won’t call Joseph or anyone else, he’s not that heartless. Right, Teru?”

Hatori and Teru exchanged looks. Neither one answered the question.

“Just don’t make a mess,” Teru muttered, looking over at another syringe – this one intended for Shimazaki. It was madness, and he didn’t want to take part in it. He’d gone through enough trouble because of Claw’s espers.

Teru backed off to his room and sat on the bed, listening to the sounds of the streets. He should have run away, or at least knocked Hatori out and called Joseph. Ishida be damned, just like the fact that they all worked for the government. He could have been done with all of these problems. He wished, prayed, and begged for peace and calm, but with each passing minute he believed less and less that someone up there would listen to him. There was no other solution but to wait.

If he wanted to speed this up, he would need to help Shimazaki and Hatori, wouldn’t he? They wouldn’t be able to do it on their own, Teru felt, since they had already lost Chihiro off their radar. How had it happened, anyway? Who was so sneaky enough to outsmart two espers from the Super Five?

Teru came back to the door, hesitantly peeking to check what was happening in the kitchen. He would never make himself take part in an operation on an animal, despite not being a pet lover. He felt uneasy at the mere thought of it. Even the sight of a bruised Shimazaki didn’t compensate for it.

Luckily, Hatori was already leaning above Shimazaki and putting stitches on his nape. The rat was in the cage again, bloody spots on its fur. It was still breathing.

“I’m going with you,” Teru announced. Shimazaki twitched and almost turned to face him, but Hatori hissed at him in warning.

“It’s not your business.” Hatori adjusted his glasses and pulled the suture for the last time. He tied it off dexterously, as if his job was nothing but dressing wounds and putting stitches.

“Maybe he practiced it on his rats,” Teru thought, and a shiver ran up his spine. “What a weirdo.”

“Nozomu,” Shimazaki muttered, lifting his head up and gently touching the dressing on his nape. “Be realistic, for damn’s sake. It’s not his business, but these guys will crush us.”

Teru tilted his head, watching Hatori cleaning up the table again. The ex-Claw espers were white as a sheet, and barely able to stand on their own. It wouldn’t be long before they’d collapse from exhaustion.

It had to be even worse than it looked, if even Shimazaki had admitted his weakness.

“Yeah, and after all that he’ll give us away to Joseph.” Hatori put the cage on the chair and sat on the table.

“I don’t give a shit, man!” Shimazaki rubbed his eyes. “Ishida could have told Joseph about this mess and not expected us to hide everything and be all mysterious, like… like...“ He waved his hands. “I don’t care. Let’s go before the anesthesia stops working.”

“Alright.” Hatori looked at Teru with no warmth. Teru shrugged. Sure, Hatori could try to get rid of him at the very first opportunity – or that was what Teru’s paranoia was saying. He didn’t plan on thinking about it, though. Hatori, was below the lowest level for him as an enemy.

“I caught Chihiro’s last signal in Glass City.” Hatori unlocked his phone and started looking for something. “It’s about sixty kilometers to the west.”

“We were there before,” Teru interrupted, and turned to Shimazaki. “Do you remember that one time we argued about Edano? When you tried to threaten me you’d do something to him?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Shimazaki was still caressing the dressing.

“You teleported us into the middle of the city. A park, a playground… I think you chose the place at random. We left such a mess behind that it was in the newspapers.”

“Fine, I remember now.”

“And then,” Hatori resumed his topic, looking at the other espers doubtfully. “Her signal disappeared. I think they threw away her phone. I checked the street cameras and I found them going north. Then, they disappeared again near the mall. If I had more time, I’d find them again, but…”

“But we don’t have time at all.” Shimazaki stood up, almost tripping over, and nodded at Teru. Teru approached him quickly, feeling deep in his guts that these two miserable adults wouldn’t be the ones to save Chihiro. Everything was up to Teru, again. The others were so useless…

The three espers teleported to Glass City.

***

Shimazaki’s stamina was, in fact, shitty. Hatori’s was even worse. Teru had long left them behind when he ran in the direction of the mall – the place where Shimazaki’s powers had failed to take them to. Shimazaki hadn’t managed to muster enough strength to teleport them further into the city. On top of that, he’d had to rest for a moment, before following Teru.

They looked for Chihiro blindly, only having the camera recordings to go on as evidence. As Shimazaki had said, her aura was almost undetectable, except when she was under strong emotions – and even then it didn’t reach far, but only four or five meters.

Teru stopped by the entrance to the mall and untied his scarf, breathing deeply. His lungs burned from running too fast for too long, and he has to suppress his coughs. He hoped he wouldn’t get sick. It would only make things worse.

He scooted out of the way of people leaving the mall and stood by the wall, waiting for the other espers to catch up. He still couldn’t feel Chihiro’s aura. They’d need to look further, split up even – otherwise, they would never find her.

“Teru, goddamnit!” Teru jumped up, scared, when Shimazaki teleported beside him. The man didn’t hold back a cough and had to lean against a wall to not to collapse. “You were supposed to help us, not do it on your own!”

“I still can’t feel her,” Teru replied. Hatori joined them a moment later, his mobile already in his hand.

“Give me a second,” he panted. Teru let him work. In the corner of his eye, he noticed pictures from cameras switching on the screen – a shop, a parking lot, a toilet, another shop and its back room, shops, shops, shops…

He looked at Shimazaki again, who was trying to calm his breathing and coughs, almost giving up and falling. Teru reached out to him and touched his forehead. Shimazaki was burning, and it wasn’t a surprise for Teru – after such a run. He hoped Shimazaki wouldn’t get sick too.

“I’m fine,” Shimazaki muttered.

“How did it even happen? How did they manage to kidnap her?”

“Hatori was drained after the fight with Joseph.” Teru had to lean close to Shimazaki to hear him. “Just like me, heh. They knew when to hit.”

“As if she didn’t have any other bodyguards.”

“I guess they killed them.”

”I guess they killed them,” He’d said it indifferently, as if it was a common thing for him. One person killed here, another killed there. Teru shivered.

“Found her!” Hatori jumped towards them and showed Teru the view from the camera – a few men were standing around a couple of people sat by the wall, Chihiro and… Kobayashi? “A storage room behind this tea shop, ground floor.”

“You didn’t say anything about this other guy.” Teru wrinkled his nose.

“I didn’t know! How was I supposed to?”

“Kobayashi?” Shimazaki asked. “Fucking great. We’ll convince Chihiro to lie for us, but there’s no way Kobayashi will do this.”

Shimazaki and Hatori shuffled their legs. Hatori started pondering about a way to avoid troubles at the hands of people Teru wasn’t involved with.

“What’s worse, by the way?” Teru interrupted. “That they got kidnapped, or that you had to ask me for help?”

“We’re fucked anyway,” Shimazaki sighed. “Let’s go already.”

Despite it being late on a work day, the mall was full of people. The espers fought their way through crowds with their elbows and curses, leaving behind a trail of insults yelled at them – mainly directed at Hatori. Women were more eager to forgive the rush of Shimazaki and Teru.

“It’s always like that,” Hatori complained. “People take it out on me instead of on Ryou.” He pushed open the heavy steel door that led to the the back corridors, and they slipped inside before anyone noticed.

“Didn’t security see what happened on the cameras?” Teru asked, running down the hall.

“Maybe they did,” Hatori replied, a few steps ahead, leading the way. “Maybe they aren’t watching it, but only recording. No idea. For now, they shouldn’t bother us. I took care of it.” He slowed down and pointed at the door in front of them. “There. Five men, Chihiro, and Kobayashi.”

Teru felt Hatori’s aura scanning the rooms around them It brushed against him, too, most likely targeting his mobile.

“They have electronics with them,” Hatori said, before Teru could make that comment himself. “And guns, I bet.”

“I suspected that,” Shimazaki sighed. “Cut off their communications and stay back. Teru?”

“Yes?”

“How well does your barrier deal with bullets?”

“Ricochets whatever hits it.”

Shimazaki winced. Teru understood the scowl – ricocheting meant that someone could get hurt, and that they had to double down on defense. Teru wished his barrier worked like Shimazaki’s, able to stop everything that hit it.

The train of thought made Teru remember that he had broken Shimazaki’s shield during their last two fights in the ruins of the 7th Division’s base. He still didn’t know if he was able to rebuild it, and – if yes – how long had it taken.

“Okay.” Shimazaki rubbed his hands. “We bust in, I’ll cover Chihiro and try to take her away, and you take care of the rest.”

”You’ll ’try’” Teru thought. It didn’t sound optimistic. In the worst case scenario, everyone except Teru would fall over dead or get hurt. In the best case… Teru didn’t have any idea. If he was fighting alone, he would have been able to deal with this without a problem.

“Maybe just wait here?” he asked.

“No! Let’s go!” Hatori decided, rolling up his sleeves. He adjusted his glasses and huffed, determined. “We fucked this up, and we will fix it.”

Teru didn’t have any questions.

They moved on. Shimazaki went first, Teru just behind him. With a twitch of his finger, Hatori opened the electronic lock that secured the door.

“Good evening!” Shimazaki greeted, kicking the door wide open, exposing the confused faces of the kidnappers to the world. Teru noticed Chihiro and Kobayashi, sitting by the wall, barely reacting to their entrance.

Shimazaki teleported straight to them. His barrier enclosed the three of them, and flickered in the light of the ceiling lamps. The kidnappers, after three seconds of hesitation, reached for their guns. Teru readied his psychic powers. Shots rang out.

Teru endured the bullets ricocheting from his barrier, and didn’t even blink at those that were aimed at his face. He let his air whips slide down his hands. They attacked the kidnappers to disarm them, and wrapped around their bodies. Then, Teru knocked the men against each other. Not sparing them a glance, he tossed them to the other end of the back room, into the storage racks. 

“Fire!” One of the three remaining kidnappers yelled. Teru turned around and noticed him trying to put out a tongue of flame that had started burning his suit. 

”Hatori,” Teru guessed by the smell of burning plastic. He didn’t allow himself to get any more distracted, and he quickly, he took care of the other man, who had been running towards Shimazaki, brandishing a taser.

By the wall, Chihiro shook the cable ties off her hands and clung to Shimazaki, yelling something Teru didn’t understand. Kobayashi didn’t move. As he drew closer to the kidnapper, Teru noticed a bloody stream dripping down his face.

He tossed his opponent at the wall, and immediately heard a snap. Another short circuit set more clothes on fire, busying the last man. His yelp of surprise was cut short as Shimazaki swooped in. The two kidnappers – who were ablaze just a second ago – hit the floor, both unconscious.

“Getting here was more stressful than the fight,” Hatori muttered. Teru looked around, noting Shimazaki and Chihiro’s absence. “Looks like we need to choose one of them to interrogate.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know who’s behind it.” Teru turned to him.

“We don’t. Someone ratted about Kobayashi.” Hatori circled around the opponents, his pace as confident as if he’d just defeated all of them himself. “Chihiro and Kobayashi shouldn’t know about each other. This whole thing is a sensitive issue.”

Shimazaki returned, his hair messed up. The sleeves of his jacket were slightly burned.

“She’s safe,” he said, and nodded at Kobayashi. “Did you check on him?”

Hatori shrugged. “I didn’t like him that much anyway.”

“Same.”

“You’re both so annoying!” Teru growled, approaching Kobayashi. He checked his pulse: faint but stable. Teru pushed his head back. Blood dripped from a cut on his eyebrow and left stains on Teru’s fingers. He hoped he wouldn't catch anything off him.

“You need to take him to the hospital,” he said. “Maybe he has a concussion or something. Are you listening?” He looked up at Hatori and Shimazaki, who’d turned their back to him, and were leaning over one of the kidnappers.

Something moved in the corner, at the other side of the room, barely noticeable. On autopilot, Teru activated his powers, and air whips flew around his hands.

“Shimazaki!”

Shimazaki turned around, his gaze not landing on the danger Teru had noticed. Teru gritted his teeth. He sent air whips at the now-awake kidnapper, who was reaching for a gun.

“Barrier,” Teru thought – too late. From behind his back, where Shimazaki had run to, a shot rang out. Shimazaki cursed.

Then the world burst into brightness.

Chapter Text

Teru’s psychic powers flowed incessantly. Streaks of electric light escaped his body and lashed against the walls and racks. They circled the storage room and – swallowing up their own trails – grew in strength and brightness.

“What the fuck?!” Hatori yelled, hiding behind Shimazaki’s back. Shimazaki didn’t like the scenario that was taking place around him – he had gotten through it once, and once was enough.

“Teru!” he tried to outshout the deafening noise. He raised his hands, covering himself before Teru. The boy’s silhouette stood out starkly against his surroundings, as if he was the only light in the universe, swallowed up by the darkness. Shimazaki knew there were other lights, other espers, somewhere, but Teru’s outburst dulled their presence, not allowing him to see anything or anyone else.

Shimazaki’s head started to throb from the pressure of the psychic powers gathered around him. He had to move, to break Teru out of the trance – otherwise, Teru would raze the mall to the ground and bury them alive.

 He dared to take a step. Reacting wildly, a bullet of Teru’s energy shot at him. Shimazaki didn’t dodge, and a bit of his barrier broke from the force of the strike. Teru shuddered violently. Amongst the noise, Shimazaki heard a sob.

“Everything’s alright!” he called to him, aware that it could happen again with every step he took. “I’m gonna be alright!”

“Shit, Ryou…” Hatori whispered, clinging to his back. Shimazaki looked around and noticed someone lying by the wall – a body, unconscious, but alive. They were luckier than the rest of the people there – five gray, breathless men sprawled on the floor. In the air, the smell of tea and herbs mixed with the heavy stench of blood. 

”He’s going to kill us.” Shimazaki’s legs buckled. Only Hatori pushing him onward kept him moving.

Crack. Another bullet hit his barrier. Shimazaki staggered and took a deep breath, as if about to jump into deep water.

Another step, then a crack – and a hole in the barrier. Shimazaki’s ESP died for a second. ”It’s getting dangerous,” he thought, shivering. A few meters were left – too many, as he calculated. The closer he got, the harder Teru’s subconscious hit, defending its owner. In three or four steps, Shimazaki’s barrier would be dust.

“Walls!” Hatori yelled. “They’re going to collapse!”

“Hold on!” Shimazaki choked out, before he felt Hatori’s hand around his waist, and they teleported closer to Teru. Shimazaki could barely close in – his powers had to squeeze through Teru’s barrier like through a slit in a stone. Usually, Shimazaki had no problem appearing inside Teru’s barrier – he’d just work his way around the walls, easily pretending they didn’t exist, but not now.

Shimazaki lost his breath. Teru’s powers screeched in his head, hounding him and making him step back. Hatori didn’t let Shimazaki give up. With all of his energy, he pushed him again, straight into Teru’s arms.

Shimazaki grabbed Teru with his hands, and with that, half his remaining barrier shattered.

”Punch him,” Shimazaki thought. ”It helped that one time in the forest.”

‘Punch him’? Punch defenseless Teru? *His* defenseless Teru? Hurt his little star? No, never, not for the life of him or anyone around.

Still, Shimazaki had to act and wake him up somehow – otherwise, his little star would kill him, He had only one idea. Maybe, it was risky and incredibly stupid, but nothing else came to mind in this hopeless moment.

Teru’s lips were as Shimazaki remembered – thin and soft, now tasting like tears instead of chapstick. They parted slightly, invitingly or with shock – Shimazaki wasn’t sure which version was true. He cupped Teru’s face, kissing deeper and hoping Teru would notice and wake up. Hatori’s fingers clung to his jacket. Teru’s powers still swirled.

“Teru.” Shimazaki broke the kiss and leaned his forehead against Teru’s. “Teru, breathe. Teruki.”

Another bullet struck him, and he almost collapsed. The last bit of his barrier fell.

“Ryou, it’s not working!” Hatori panicked.

Shimazaki clung to Teru like there was no tomorrow before his knees hit the floor. The grip on his jacket disappeared. Pictures flashed before his ESP – an aura full of lines and cords, violent movements, a flash.

Darkness.

***

 Shimazaki was only unconscious for a moment – Hatori, yanking on his jacket so hard he almost tore it, woke him up.

“We have to get out of here, Ryou!” he heard. “Shit, five fucking dead guys. We weren’t supposed to kill anyone!” His voice broke. He left Shimazaki and ran to Kobayashi, whose aura was barely shining. “Oh god, he doesn’t look good too. Ryou? Ryou, we can’t lose him!”

Shimazaki rolled onto his stomach, hissing in pain – in the last few minutes, his wounds after his sparring with Teru and meeting with Joseph had reopened, crushing his breath. He gritted his teeth and heaved himself to his knees. Hatori’s voice echoed in the back of his awareness as he made his way to Teru, lying among the debris, boxes, and herbs.

Teru was still, but alive; unconscious, most likely knocked down by Hatori. It was good enough – they’d had to stop him somehow. It wasn’t Shimazaki who had hit him, and that was most important.

Shimazaki grabbed him by his arm and teleported them away, for a moment – a really short moment – leaving Hatori alone with Kobayashi.

When he was back, Hatori’s aura was shivering anxiously, but he didn’t ask any questions.

***

Teru felt pain – first burning, spreading throughout his side, then another – clutching his temples harder and harder, threatening to crush his head like an egg. For a second, Teru wanted it to happen. At least, he wouldn’t be suffering any longer.

Suddenly the pain let up. Teru cried out in relief. He turned onto his back, noticing something was shackling his movements. He reached out, and touched, and recognized a duvet, but the material and filling wasn’t familiar. His heart leapt, and he tried to look around, seeing only pitch-blackness – unfamiliar too, as he knew the darkness in his room like the back of his hand. In his apartment, the night was never complete – light, coming from various sources, broke the darkness, and Teru could at least make out the shapes of his furniture.

Teru wasn’t home. The too-soft mattress bending under his body, and the intensity of dust floating in the air made him even more certain.

Holding back a painful groan, Teru sat up. Except for the beating of his heart, he heard nothing. It terrified him – the silence made him remember those nights when he would wake up after a nightmare, covered in a cold sweat, calling for his parents, the ticking of the clock as his only answer. He’d scan his apartment with his powers to make sure no one dangerous was hiding in the shadows, and he had never found anyone.

He tried to do the same now – he let his powers flow and thought of lighting up the room, illuminating the place where he’d woken up and shedding light on the state he was in.

Nothing happened. Teru blinked and tried again.

Nothing again. His powers were stuck, like water behind a closed valve, and they didn’t budge, no matter how many times Teru pushed.

Teru shivered, his hands clenching, with pain, at the duvet. His heart raced, dulling a trembling call he didn’t hold back:

“Shimazaki?”

There was tumult to his right, behind the wall. The door creaked, and Teru noticed a weak streak of light on the floor. It disappeared when Shimazaki stepped into the room.

“Teruki, oh god, finally.” Teru heard his steps coming closer, and he reached out towards them. Shimazaki caught him by one of his hands, the other checking Teru’s temple, cheeks, and neck. “You were unconscious for a few hours. How do you feel?”

Teru wet his lips and cleared his throat – it was dry as a desert and he barely managed to ask for something to drink.

“Where are we?” He asked after Shimazaki filled his request. “I can’t see anything.”

“In my old apartment.” Shimazaki took the glass from Teru and put it on the floor. “The lights are off so we don’t catch anyone’s attention.”

“I want to go home.”

A moment of silence. Shimazaki sighed. “In a moment.” He put his hands on Teru’s arms and nudged him, getting him to lie down again. Teru obeyed, made himself comfortable amongst the countless pillows, and let Shimazaki cover him with the duvet. His eyelids felt heavy, and his thoughts were slowing down, as if the last few minutes had tired him out.

“I can’t use my powers,” he said weakly. To prove it, he tried to use them again and failed. His head pulsated with dull pain.

“And you don’t have an aura.” Shimazaki sat on the bed. “Hatori said that boss… That Suzuki was like that too, but he was back to normal quickly. Don’t worry about it.”

“Why aren’t we at my place?”

“It’s safer here. Don’t ask, just trust me.”

Teru closed his eyes, and tried to recall the events before the burst of his powers and blacking out. He remembered a gunshot, and his side hurt – he had gotten hit then. He felt the dressings on his hip.

“It’s just a scratch,” Shimazaki said. “You won’t even have a scar if you take care of it.”

“How about the others?”

“They are fine,” Shimazaki answered – too quickly, in Teru’s opinion, but he didn’t have the strength to comment on it. “You trashed that storage room a bit, that’s all.”

When Teru had lost his powers for the first time, he had razed down a forest within a hundred meters, but he had been tired after the fight, and the strength of the powers he had used just before the outburst had been weak. It had been different this time, in the mall – Teru had felt that the power flowing through him was greater than ever. He couldn’t catch, nor even touch it. He had stood petrified in the middle of the storm, generating chaos and destruction, completely aware of everything that had happened around him, and despite being deaf to all calls and blind to all gestures, he had felt every time that Shimazaki’s barrier had broken and fallen. He could remember the coldness of his tears on his burning cheeks. He could remember…

Teru’s tiredness gave up and disappeared.

“You kissed me,” he said. He paused and gasped. “What the hell…”

“I had to wake you up somehow.”

“And you thought that was going to work? You idi…” He gritted his teeth. “You could’ve punched me.” He rubbed his hurting cheek; he guessed Hatori had caused it.

“Stop joking. I couldn’t do that.”

“As if I’m gonna believe you.”

Silence. Shimazaki leaned above him and caressed his face. Teru let him touch him, and after a moment he snuggled into his hand.

“You grew softer,” he whispered.

“Is that bad?”

“I didn’t say that.”

With his free hand, he found Shimazaki and stroked his wrist, recalling the familiar scent of cologne. He closed his eyes, even if he still couldn’t see a thing.

Shimazaki moved closer and brushed Teru’s hair back. He felt his temples, and followed the paths of his eyebrows and the dark circles under his eyes, just with his fingertips, worried any rougher a touch would hurt Teru.

“I realized,” he said softly. “I’ve never taken a closer look at your face. Can I?”

Teru nodded, then added shakily, “Yes,” surprised that Shimazaki had asked at all. Usually, Shimazaki didn’t ask. Usually, he just took, like back then in the alley, for example. And later… Later, he could have done something too, without Teru’s consent, but he hadn’t.

"He could have done,” Teru thought and shivered. Since Shimazaki had moved in, he had had so many chances he hadn’t used.

“You take care of your skin, don’t you?” Shimazaki asked.

Teru nodded. No one ever commented on that- ah, no, it had happened once.

“You’ve got so many cosmetics. And all of these bottles...,” a male voice laughed heartily in Teru’s memories. "Shame there's no lube. We could make use of that…”

Freezing claws sank into Teru’s heart. He tried to shake the memories off and focus on Shimazaki and his touch instead. The man’s fingertips marked their warm presence on Teru’s face – first on his cheeks, then under an ear, and followed the shape of his jaw to the other cheek again. His brushing movements then traveled up – to Teru’s forehead – and along the hairline.

“You’ve got a high forehead,” Shimazaki muttered.

“Bushy hair suits you.” The memories wouldn’t leave Teru. “You dye it, right?”

“You trim your eyebrows?”

Teru nodded again, hesitantly.

“Bushy hair, bushy eyebrows… Typical, they go together.” Teru hadn’t liked that comment, just like he didn’t like his eyebrows.

“I’d ask you what the color of your eyes is, but I wouldn’t get it anyway,” Shimazaki laughed softly.

“Cornflower.”

“Hm?”

Teru twitched when he felt a touch on his eyelids. “Someone… Someone told me they were just like a cornflower once.”

“I know nothing about cornflowers. I need to catch up.”

Teru’s lips – Shimazaki studied them for the longest time and without a word. Teru resisted the temptation to bite him and leave a small mark. Shimazaki’s body was covered in bruises, but most of them weren’t made by Teru. Such a state was unacceptable and screamed to be changed. One day – Teru promised himself – one day when Shimazaki recovered from them, Teru would make him his again.

The touch grew firmer. Teru parted his lips and swallowed, wondering what Shimazaki’s plans were. He could trust him, right? He hoped so. Although… Although…

They’d saved Chihiro, and Teru knew about Hatori and their shenanigans with the chip. They didn’t need him and he knew too much. On top of that, Teru couldn’t resist now too – without his powers, he was defenseless against two espers from the Super Five.

Teru’s heart raced. He found Shimazaki’s hands and held them, trying to sit up.

“I want to go home,” he said weakly.

“Shhh.”

Shimazaki caught him by the wrists and pushed him back into the pillows, holding him tight.

“Shimazaki, let me go.” Teru tugged with his hands. He felt Shimazaki’s breath on his cheek, then the brush of his lips on his forehead.

“It’s safer here,” Shimazaki whispered. “We won’t go there until you get your powers back. Don’t be afraid.”

Teru would never admit before himself or any god that he was afraid. His body was shivering, his heart racing and breath uneven, but it didn’t mean anything. He wasn’t afraid, no. He was lying in the lair of a beast, trapped, without a chance to escape. But he wasn’t afraid.

“Let go.”

Shimazaki let his hands free but didn’t move back. The touch of his lips disappeared for a brief second and Teru considered pushing him away (“I won’t make him angry, right?”), but Shimazaki leaned in again, and cupped his face gently to explore it again – with kisses this time. His temples, cheeks, eyelids, jaw, temples again, cheeks again, eyelids, jaw, over and over again, missing Teru’s lips every time.

Teru’s body burned under the duvet, just like on summer days when the AC in the apartment was broken. Teru could solve it easily – toss the duvet aside – but he couldn’t act. For now, he decided to accept the burning as punishment for letting someone charm him.

Again. He was naïve again. How many times would he lose his head for someone he shouldn’t? Was it his fate? Maybe he should accept it and treat it like a fact, like the sun rose every morning, or that almost no one was better than Teru, or that only exceptional cases could turn him into a mess?

Teru clutched his hands around Shimazaki’s shirt and held him close. Shimazaki’s breath teased him and made him wish he could tear off every item of clothing on Shimazaki’s body, to give him the special treatment he deserved.

“Teru?”

Teru didn’t answer; only sighed at the wet kiss on his neck. He tilted his head to let Shimazaki leave more kisses. Under his ear or jaw, or on the side – wherever Shimazaki wanted.

With one of his hands, Teru caught him by his hair and tugged lightly. He wouldn’t let him go. He wouldn’t miss such a chance. They could have it all now – at night, in a quiet, abandoned place, whose walls would keep secrets under lock and key. They were far from reality, the rush, and everything that could concern them.

Without a chance to run away.

Teru held his breath when Shimazaki’s lips lit up a particular spot on his neck. A too-sweet shiver ran down his body and forced him to squeeze his thighs together and tug at Shimazaki’s hair again – this time forcing Shimazaki apart from him.

“No?” Shimazaki tilted his head. Teru guessed he had laid down a while ago – he felt the weight of his side on his hip.

“Y-yes.” Teru swallowed. “Yes. Just…” The words were stuck in his throat. How was he supposed to say that he didn’t expect his reaction to be like that? His neck had been kissed too many times, but not in this particular spot – a little under his ear, exposed, easy to reach, the effect of it being touched like lighting a fuse at the end of an explosive full of sparkles.

Not finding words or explanations, he pulled Shimazaki back to him and buried his fingers into his soft hair. Strands of hair tickled his cheeks when Shimazaki kissed his neck again, a tiny bit below Teru’s now favorite spot, avoiding it on purpose.

“You know, my little star.” Shimazaki took one of Teru’s hands and interlocked their fingers. “We are lucky.” Another kiss, on Teru’s cheek this time. He pressed his hand against a pillow and caressed it with his thumb soothingly. “We are lucky the duvet is between us. Otherwise, I dread to think what would be left of this place.”

Sparks stirred up Teru’s spirit. He pushed Shimazaki away. “We will see!” his thoughts screamed. "Don’t make promises!”

Teru sat up underneath the duvet, determination driving his movements. There was nothing that could stop him now – not when he had a chance to get what he wanted. And even if Shimazaki ran away – like now, when he was backed away, trying to put more distance between them – Teru would catch him and never let go.

He wouldn’t let him run away this time.

Determination pushed him to act, and the blockade that had fallen upon Teru’s powers broke. The room lit up, sparkles tailing Teru when he followed Shimazaki. On all fours, and on a too-soft mattress, the chase was difficult, but Teru wasn’t one to give up easily.

“Teru, wait.”

There was a creak, and Shimazaki’s back hit the head of the bed. His aura flicked against Teru’s – not sharp and biting as it was when he was angry, but soft and pleasant to the touch, reminding Teru of tapioca in bubble tea. He wanted to dip his hands in this aura.

“You’re still a coward,” Teru hissed, climbing onto Shimazaki’s lap and clutched at his hands. “But it’s nice to see you running away when you have a chance to get what you want.”

“It’s called common sense.” Shimazaki managed to break free from the hold as Teru leaned in to try to kiss him. He grabbed onto Teru at arm’s length, his grip strong around Teru’s elbows.

“I can be your common sense.” Teru huffed. “Fuck common sense.”

Shimazaki twitched, and his grip tightened. “You’re gonna regret it.”

“It’s not your problem.”

Shimazaki pushed him. Teru’s back hit the soft duvet, and before he could react, Shimazaki kissed him.

There was no fight for domination. Teru easily submitted to Shimazaki, just this time. Shimazaki didn’t say anything – in the chaos of rushed and greedy kisses he preferred to touch than to speak, just like Teru, who focused on Shimazaki’s hands sneaking underneath his shirt. He broke the kiss and felt a nibble on his uppe r lip, like Shimazaki was showing discontent that he’d parted from him. But Teru didn’t leave him out of spite – he just needed to catch a breath, like he always did when Shimazaki stood, lay, existed too close to him.

He realized Shimazaki wanted him to be out of breath – Shimazaki kissed him and nibbled, and kissed, and nibbled, again and again, and again. A barely-there lick flicked over a bitten spot, making Teru gasp, but before he could react, he was kissed again – this time deep and long, making Teru red-hot. The blaze, like it was creating a smoke, left Teru breathless, as if Shimazaki wanted to be his only source of air – as if Shimazaki wanted to be the only world that ever existed for him.

Skilled hands explored Teru – his chest, sides, and belly, led by twitches and paths of muscles. Teru let Shimazaki do what he wanted, praying deep inside that he wouldn’t learn how fast his heart was beating from the sensations of the cold fingers looking for the next fuses to ignite.

Those same hands had broken his bones and spirit countless times, and they could do that again, without a problem. To press, break, hurt – it was as easy as that. Teru sighed and nestled further into the touch, his fingers clutched in Shimazaki’s hair and holding him close, not letting him run away if he wanted to.

Shimazaki purred and smiled into his lips. Sure, Teru could hold him close, but Shimazaki managed to break the kiss anyway and grazed his teeth against that particular spot on Teru’s neck. Teru twitched and moaned quietly, and tried to squeeze his thighs again, but felt Shimazaki’s knee between his legs. He didn’t know and didn’t want to think how close Shimazaki was to his crotch. He preferred to live in ignorance – and the best way was to turn off the thinking and let the kisses and touches be the only things that mattered. He lifted his hips and slowly, hesitantly rubbed against Shimazaki.

Blinding sparks burst within Teru – and Shimazaki, too, clearly – as they gasped in unison and froze, confused about what had just happened. Shimazaki shook it off first and moved his leg away.

What a sadist! Teru wanted- demanded   to be touched . He lifted his hips again, but there was nothing to rub against. He could call it a crime.

Shimazaki, unbothered, continued kissing – down Teru’s neck, his collarbones, arms. Teru’s t-shirt got in the way, and they quickly got rid of it, throwing it gods knew where. Teru sighed in relief, feeling the coldness of the room on his skin, and clutched at Shimazaki’s hair even harder, as his kisses marked their presence lower and lower on Teru’s body. His chest, ribs, belly… dangerously close to his groin. Shimazaki’s hands followed the kisses, held Teru’s sides possessively and wouldn’t let him move.

Teru was thankful – if not for the grip, he would have run away himself, most likely. Or would he stay, maybe? He didn’t know, the mixed feelings were tearing him apart – his mind was telling him to run away, and his heart and body screamed at him to stay. He would stay, of course – he had to! After all, he was the one who had taken the final step, so there was no going back now.

He parted his legs, making more space for Shimazaki, and bit the back of his hand, overwhelmed by the kisses and Shimazaki in general. He knew, with every minute it could only get worse- better- more.

Shimazaki’s lips brushed against his cock, and sparks burst into his view again. He jerked his hips and yanked Shimazaki by his hair, gasping. Shimazaki waited patiently, until Teru relaxed, soothing him by caressing his sides and not saying a word.

It took a few seconds before Teru regained his composure – or a bit of it, anyway – and loosened his grip, letting Shimazaki do what he wanted. He breathed in and out, in and out; his hard cock wouldn’t soften at all, but at least Teru wouldn’t suffocate. In and out. In and…

Even through the pants Teru could feel Shimazaki’s breath – calm, shivering. Irritating. Soft. His lips followed the shape and curves stretched under the material; the touch, yet again, slow and prolonging and tortuous, eliciting muffled moans and gasps from Teru, making him push his hips further into the touch. Shimazaki’s hands took care of his legs – they held Teru firmly under his knees, before one of them ran up his thigh and up to his belly, looking for the rim of the pants.

“Can I?” Shimazaki whispered, tugging at the material. Teru nodded, swallowed, and nodded again, this time more eagerly.

It took what felt like centuries before Shimazaki undid his belt, button, and zipper. Without any rush – Teru couldn’t believe that Shimazaki had managed to stay calm – it came to the last part, and Teru obediently lifted his hip to help him. The bed frame creaked.

“Ryou?”

They leapt away from each other. Shimazaki fell onto the floor with a loud thud, and Teru rolled to the edge of the mattress and pressed his face into the pillows. For a moment, he heard nothing but the beating of his heart.

“Bad time?” He heard Hatori. “Yeah, bad time. Sorry, but it’s important. Or… At least more important that…” He trailed off, embarrassed. Shimazaki stood up, after some struggle, careful and distant.

“You said that,” he snapped. “The hell you want?”

The sound of steps – Hatori’s, then Shimazaki’s – faded away when the espers walked away, to the other room, leaving behind the doors wide open. Teru sighed in relief and mumbled. He was still hard and it called for attention – for a caress of hands, lips, whatever! He squeezed his fists, keeping them close his face. He wouldn’t touch himself, not when Shimazaki was only a few meters away and could be back at any time.

No, he wouldn’t jerk off. Teru wanted Shimazaki to take care of it. That’s why they’d gone through all of this, right? Gods, damn Hatori and his stupid problems, why did he even…

“We lost Kobayashi,” he heard suddenly. “They tried to resuscitate him and all, but his injuries… Uh…”

Teru sat up slowly and turned to the doorway. Only a faint street light, cascading into the other room, lit it up, but it let him see the silhouettes of the espers. Shimazaki was dragging his hands down his face.

Hatori shifted from foot to foot. “It’s because of him.”

“I know!” Shimazaki snapped again. “I figured, okay?” He added something in a whisper, something that only angered Hatori. His aura exploded and electric needles whipped Teru’s skin.

“Don’t cover for him!”

“I don’t. I just think rationally.” 

Shimazaki fell silent and started pacing around. Teru used the break in the conversation and redressed himself, the kisses and touches long forgotten.

“Okay, let’s try this,” Shimazaki began as Teru approached the door. “You’ll take it on…”

Hatori gasped. “Excuse me?! Are you out of your mind?!”

“Shut up and listen. It’s better to tell them you didn’t manage to protect him than get all of us in trouble, right? I’ll talk to Chihiro and try to make her lie for us.”

“You’re crossing me out. You know they’ll try to hunt me down. They’ll… they’ll…”

Shimazaki teleported beside Hatori, caught him by his arms and shook him lightly. “I will hide you somewhere until it calms down. A month, maybe longer, depends on how long finishing this task will take me. Maybe we fucked up today, but we were doing great, right? And that’s what matters.” He leaned closer to Hatori. “You have to take it on. I can’t lose the bosses’ trust. Especially not now. Otherwise, everything will go to shit.”

Hatori sniffed and pushed Shimazaki’s hands away. “I promised Toshiki I’d meet him this week.”

Teru clung to the door frame, straining his ears. He noticed Shimazaki turning his face towards him, but it was already too late to pretend he didn’t eavesdrop.

“It’s dangerous,” Shimazaki muttered.

“But I have to! Or he’ll never speak to me again…” Hatori fell silent for a long moment, lost in his thoughts. Shimazaki offered him a cigarette, and he accepted it, smoke filling the room. Only when he’d smoked half of it did he speak again.

“Fine, have it your way. Though, seriously, it shouldn’t be like this. It’s not my fault he fucking died there! It’s not even our fault he got kidnapped, ugh!”

“I know, but…”

“Shut!” Hatori poked Shimazaki’s chest. “But in return, you’ll help me see my Toshi, alright?”

Shimazaki started to pace again. The sound of his steps echoed between the ruined walls and filled the disturbing silence. Teru used the chance, and returned to the bedroom, venturing deeper to find his phone. The screen blinded his eyes, used to the darkness, and it took some time before he could manage to check the time. It was past midnight. He had no reception. He’d expected the latter.

“Fine,” Shimazaki said finally. “When exactly do you want to meet him?”

Teru didn’t hear Hatori’s too-quiet answer. It took a while before he could hear him again. “Do you really think Chihiro will be on our side?”

“She owes me one. Anyway, I don’t think she noticed…” Shimazaki waved his hand in Teru’s general direction. “Before we teleported. It’d make everything easier.”

“Better make sure.”

“I know how to deal with it, thank you,” Shimazaki hissed harshly. A shiver ran down Teru’s spine – Shimazaki’s irritated tone reminded him of those worse weeks, of sharing the apartment.

“And watch your little brat,” Hatori snarled. “I bet he’ll try to turn me in.”

“Don’t you think you’d be safe in the government’s jail?”

“Fuck off.”

Teru clenched his fists, stopping himself from storming into the room and saying – screaming out – all of his thoughts on the situation. Hatori had a grudge against him, even though Teru had helped them save Chihiro. Sure, it hadn’t gone well with Kobayashi, but it didn’t mean that Hatori had the right to blame him for anything.

“Watch your little brat.” Teru gritted his teeth, remembering the words. He’d be an idiot not to tell Joseph about a few things he’d heard just now, and no one – even Ishida – would stop him.

“You need to come with us to put this chip back,” Shimazaki said.

“I know. I wouldn’t leave my little sunbeam with you.”

“You and your goddamn rats…”

Teru heard steps. Shimazaki’s aura – sharp and delicate at once – brushed against him. He looked up at him, searching for any clue concerning his attitude towards him. With no light around, he only managed to recognize the fatigue in his slouched posture.

“How do you feel?” Shimazaki asked. He brushed his cold hand against Teru’s cheek and let Teru nestle into it and come closer.

“I’m fine. We can…” Teru wet his lips when Shimazaki put his other hand on his arm. “We can go back if you want to.”

“Did you take your stuff?”

Teru nodded, and after a heartbeat, they were back in his apartment.

“I need to take care of a few things,” Shimazaki informed, putting more distance between them. “Maybe I’ll be back in the morning… I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

“Wait.” Teru caught his hand. Of course, Shimazaki could run away anyway, but Teru believed the touch would stop him somehow, or at least, it’d carry more weight than a short word. He didn’t want Shimazaki to leave him now – in the middle of the apartment, destroyed by the fight (Hatori was supposed to clean it), with a rat in the kitchen and blood on the floor and walls. He didn’t want to be alone now. He didn’t want to be alone ever again.

That was that. The thought clicked into place, and Teru finally understood himself – he’d fallen for Shimazaki to fill the void left by the feeling of loneliness. Add to that typical thirst and there it was – a recipe for disaster. It was just masochism, begging for the company of someone whom he couldn’t stand earlier. Maybe it was also a matter of getting used to each other and having someone to be just his at home? There was also the curiosity – how would it feel, to kiss him and sleep with him, how would his presence affect Teru?

There were so many questions and puzzles, but Teru was certain now – if he’d satisfy his curiosity and wean himself off him, everything would go back to normal. Teru knew it; he’d gone through it once, but he didn’t want to remember it at all.

 Yet, the situation was so similar that the connotations had to hit at some point...

“What’s wrong?” Shimazaki interrupted his thoughts.

“Uh, umm...” Teru blinked a few times, getting back to reality. “I mean, yeah. We still need to talk, just like we agreed to in the morning.”

“We will. But now, I have a small fire to put out.”

“I know. But you will be back, right?”

“Of course I will.” Teru heard a tired smile in his voice. “Go to sleep.”

Shimazaki took his hand from Teru’s grip and held him in an embrace, his arms tight around him. He kissed his head, shortly and fondly, and before Teru could react, he disappeared.