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His lips preyed upon his neck, playing like hands to a piano, his fingers gingerly tracing the curvatures of his stomach, sliding dangerously towards the waistband of his boxers. Shigeo's face was burning, but that was nothing to the utter lack of oxygen entering his system. His ragged, desperate breaths made it easier for him to shudder, but harder to keep his mouth shut.

Static raced up and down his spine, an indecisive surge of electricity with no clear destination, as he arched forward, succumbing to the cold skin invading every nook and cranny of his being. His mind was a blurred concoction of thoughts assembled midway, his face burning a marvelous shade of crimson from embarrassment.

He wondered what kind of face he was making, and he wondered how practiced the hands exploring him, and the tongue examining him were. How incredible, Shigeo found himself musing, that a single person would be capable of reaping moans and horribly humiliating gasps from his throat.

And for a moment, Reigen tensed, his hand drawing nondescript circles on the fabric over his stomach, in perfect sync with the withdrawal of his lips from Shigeo’s neck, eyes drifting downwards. “Oh?” the older male began, his tone gone from suggestive to ludic.

“Y-you stopped,” Shigeo pointed out as though it hadn’t been obvious enough, swallowing down a gob in his throat with his breaths beginning to deepen. His gaze followed Reigen’s line of sight, making it just in time to catch his boyfriend lifting the hem of his shirt up to his chest. The younger male’s heart hastened into agitation, butchering solid sentences into stutters. “Wh-what are you - ?”

I should have taken a shower first, after all?

“Your stomach,” Reigen spoke, his lips upturned into a sly grin, “wasn’t shaped the way I thought it would be.”

“Eh? What were you expecting?”

“A six-pack, probably.”

“Eh?”

Reigen barked into laughs, presumably amused by the look on Shigeo’s face (whatever that looked like, the boy would never really know, but that made it all the more mortifying), only to calm down five seconds later and descend back into normal speech. “No, no, I think I’d be really jealous if you had one of those!”

Shigeo gave himself a once over, scanning the muscles he’d shaped over years of daily exercise and jogs. His biceps would never pass as bulky, and the curves down the insides of his legs were almost non-existent. In fact, Shigeo was lean even for what others dubbed as an athletic body. How his master had expected his abdomen to be seemed far more than a dream, and anyone could have guessed there wasn’t anything special about it just by a single offhanded glance.

“Do you think I should work out more, then, Master?” asked Shigeo softly. If he was never going to be the perfect lover for him, he was sure he would never really move on from a break-up so traumatic, and cutting ties with Reigen was never in his plans either. The only choices he was provided were to become the best significant other, or to leave.

Shigeo wasn’t taking the latter for an answer.

“I didn’t fall in love with you because of how you looked, you know.” Reigen fell quiet, using up all of his silent seconds staring back at Shigeo, the burning in his gaze palpable in the air. “Although,” he paused to peck his lover’s abdomen, planting a kiss right above the belly button, sending an onslaught of tingles down Shigeo’s lower half when he lifted his gaze to lock eyes again, “I think you’re perfect just the way you are.”

Shigeo could feel the layer of tears glossing over his eyes.

He was right.

He definitely wasn’t taking “leave” for an answer.

The burning in his chest approved of it.

“By the way, Mob - ”

“Yes, Master...?”

Reigen licked his lips with an avid tongue. “It’s Arataka, for you.”

Shigeo had forced his eyes to open in the fear of wetting the bed. Another one.

It wasn't the first time he'd ever had a wet dream, but all the same, Shigeo woke up to shallow and ragged breaths, his lungs far from catching up to the beating of his heart. His lower regions were warm - dare he say, hot - and he could feel the blood from his systems rushing to the member encompassed in his boxers in swift courses through his veins. Shigeo's eyes were lost in the white ceiling, his face of vanilla pallor; he wasn't even going to pretend how profusely he'd been sweating.

God ,” he whispered under his breath, twisting slowly to his right to relieve the stiffness underneath the covers. No way was he ever going to reach down to help it, especially not after that dream. Who knew what he could have done to the man beside him? He decided to wait it out. Not that he had a choice. He couldn't ask Reigen to do anything; he would rather die with an erection than die in humiliation for waking and asking his boyfriend to tend to his silent wanting.

Shigeo studied the back of Reigen's head, eyes examining every tuft that glowed in the morning light pouring through the blinds, admiring the dazzling gold that made him want to close his eyes and drift back to sleep. He loved the mornings - usually the ones when he didn't wake up from dreams that showed him just how filthy he was - if that meant he got to wake up to a sleeping Reigen next to him.

Shame, though. He just had to toss towards the wall, his back to Shigeo. He couldn't see his face, nor admire his relaxed features in the honeycomb lighting, but he supposed he was lucky enough to not have found that sight before him that early.

His mind replayed the dream at the silent wish of seeing Reigen’s sleeping face, and Shigeo curled into a ball back under the duvet as his skin began to burn a deep shade of red. He wished wet dreams disappeared as quick as his nightmares did. He was fortunate enough to not have found Reigen awake, or that could have meant hell for him.

What would he have replied if Reigen inquired about the reason of him being unable to leave the bed?

Shigeo considered rolling off, escaping from Reigen's vicinity and fleeing to the bathroom, but he thought that would only risk the possibilities of Reigen staying asleep. Hence, he remained glued to the mattress, trying to convince himself that his morning wood (Shigeo was desperate over believing he was far from aroused) would be gone in two minutes at best as it usually did, hoping Reigen would cease to wake up the whole duration or that would put all waiting to waste.

Still, thought Shigeo, groggily rubbing an eye as he clicked his tongue, I wish he finished what he started.

Not that Shigeo was more than certain, but at the back of his mind recurred a voice saying all his wet dreams had branched out from what had actually happened, and somehow the same memory was haunting his dreams almost every night. Shigeo would look down at himself, scan the places his master had explored with his hands, grow a little heated from his thoughts, and a little aggravated in reprimanding himself for such want.

After all, his imagination was allowed to run free - Reigen had left him midway when Shigeo’s anticipation was cranked up to its highest intensity, but had never really done anything beyond pecking his stomach, and the latter had only been executed once.

What kept haunting him in his sleep had happened two weeks ago. It's been that long, and Reigen had shown zero signs of ever repeating the events engraved in Shigeo's mind. How infuriating it was just by thinking about it, but Shigeo couldn't do anything. He couldn't ask Reigen to tend to his sexual wants as he’d continually reiterated. It was as if he'd lost the chance to do so fifteen days back.

Not that he's ever thought of doing anything about it. Shigeo was content spending time with him and little did it matter to him whether his wishes were to come true or not. The bottomline was they were together, having no intention of severing their ties. Shigeo wanted to make sure Reigen wasn't his first , he wanted to secure that Reigen was his only.

Still, he couldn’t help but think there was a palpable reluctance Reigen had tried to shove down when he was touching him. He was too afraid to inquire. There was a part of him that didn’t want to know at all.

Shigeo hadn’t realized he was nuzzling his face against Reigen’s hair until the older male tensed his shoulders and shifted his position. Did I move on impulse? Shigeo pondered, withdrawing his head. Had I fallen back asleep?

Reigen rolled over to face him. His disheveled mien made him look more lethargic than not; his eyes screamed a torpid haze that blanketed over half the dark orbs his heavy lids could reveal. The next full seconds were warmer, with their breaths splayed against each other’s skin given the little to no distance between their noses, as both had quietly spoken through their locked gazes.

“Good morning,” Reigen spoke in an undertone, his voice husky from a good ten hours of silence and possible snoring neither had heard. Shigeo had an unspoken weakness for Reigen’s morning voice, from the way it would crack on occasion against his will, to the manner he would try to avoid minding it. Staying over for the night only meant he’d have the highlight of his day pummelling for the kill hours too early. If only he could stay in Reigen’s apartment with him permanently, he probably would die from a heart attack on a daily basis.

“Good morning, Master.”

His eyes closed in perfect sync with the furrow of his eyebrows. “A-ra-ta-ka,” he urged, stressing on every syllable of his given name. “We’re alone, so it’s fine.”

Shigeo stuttered out an apology before adding on, “I’ll get used to it. I-I promise.”

Arataka sighed through his nostrils, leaving Shigeo to watch as his features relaxed, the wrinkles that fell between his brows disappeared. His boyfriend’s eyes fluttered open the moment his lips began to draw closer and closer…

...and stopped a hairbreadth away from colliding into Shigeo’s.

Instead, Arataka cupped the younger male’s chin and pulled it south, granting himself ease as so he could press a quick kiss to Shigeo’s forehead before retreating into his initial position, but only this time, allowed himself to close the gap between their noses. Arataka’s lips quirked into a smirk as his half-lidded eyes ignited the blood in Shigeo’s face. Annoyingly, teasingly so. “What’s wrong?” he jeered softly. “Thought I was aiming for the lips, weren’t you?”

“N-not at all,” Shigeo stumbled over his words. Who wouldn’t have thought that in my situation? He could feel the heat rise from his torso to his neck, navigating its way to intercept what already had been burning on his face. Not that he disliked being tricked that way, but he most certainly didn’t like it either. Reigen Arataka might as well have been the world’s craftiest jerk  there was to exist, if only he wasn’t Shigeo’s favorite human.

His heart couldn’t rest inside his chest - he felt as though it would one day break through his ribs in an enthusiasm that made it look like it was searching for the One Piece. Arataka entangling his legs with his hadn’t done anything to slow it down, and as if it wasn’t embarrassing enough, the pounding from his upper body might as well have made the bed thrum in its agitation. Shigeo cursed the idea of Arataka hearing how fast it had raced. That was basically feeding him material he could tease him for.

“You’re making quite a face though.” Arataka’s thumb brushed the corner of his lips, sending a wave of static down Shigeo’s spine from the renewed skin contact. The only thing he could ever be thankful for was the fact that his body hadn’t gone betraying him by letting out a whimper. To Shigeo, ‘whimper’ was a varying spelling of ‘humiliation.’ “Someone’s awfully red. Might want to tell me the reason, Mob-kun?”

It was probably just him, but Shigeo felt as though the bed was burning beneath the two of them when the younger male couldn’t find the words to reply. Arataka’s grin widened - and the man had no intention of hiding that whatsoever - as he added on: “Three.”

Chapter Text

Summer mornings dawning on Seasoning City had always been one of the most splendid sights. The sun had left no building unkissed by its light, coating rooftops of its luster, looking more and more like buttered plains by the second. Shigeo watched as the buildings moved swiftly in and out of his vision, almost garnering himself a headache when the train plummeted into the dark of a tunnel before returning his so-adored cityline. Given a fraction of a minute, he and Reigen would have to get off the next station, disappear into the semi-busy crowds, and meander into the working suburban.

When a throated grunt had stolen his complete attention, Shigeo's eyes drifted with zero resistance towards the man beside him. Reigen - no, Arataka - held his flip phone in one hand, scrolling through what might have been his messages, frowning deeply at the screen as though he had received a job offering for his own office. With the light from the window right behind them getting reflected off Arataka's hair, Shigeo was more than tempted to squint.

He didn't.

He couldn't.

This view was better by a hundredfold.

His tie’s a bit… untidy today . And it indeed was.

The pink fabric laid over his chest had loosened to its own accord, but with his master too occupied by whatever it was that he had been reading, it appealed to Shigeo that he hadn't even noticed. Or at least not yet.

Staring had never really been part of his plan, and the moment Arataka reared his head, as though the younger male had gotten caught in his peripherals, his heart shot up to his throat, his lips curled inward to form a single thin line on his face. “Y-you, uh,” Shigeo stuttered, whipping his head away, frowning internally at his voice for failing him. He cleared his throat, wishing that would compensate for something - anything. “You grunted. Master.”

Shigeo hadn't meant to look at the stranger sitting on the seat opposite his. When he caught the attention of the very same person, whose face he couldn't process any faster to register, he turned to look at the person beside them, only to attract his attention as well. In the frantic search for something else to look at, Shigeo resorted to the window and whatever blurred mess he could gaze at on the other end.

“Mob.”

The panic from his dilemma had wired his head to respond in place of his voice, only to have an index finger sinking into the soft fat lapped on his cheeks the moment he turned. Arataka’s lips curled into a triumphant grin. “I’m not gonna pretend I didn't see that,” he told him abruptly before withdrawing his hand. “Four.”

Shigeo's lips downturned into a pout, slumping against the seat. “Your necktie loosened,” he pointed out at last, hanging his head low enough to pass as napping, albeit knowing there wasn't time for one. Shigeo just needed to gather his bearings, preferably without looking at Arataka. Getting his thoughts together certainly hadn't included dislocating his heart.

It didn't take long for him to realize his hand had moved north, feeling the cheek Arataka had poked. As far as he was concerned, Shigeo had only ever watched people drill fingers into faces of pre-schoolers, not exactly high schoolers in their third year.

Just who do you take me for?

“Your tie loosened.”

“For real?”

It took the effort and resistance for Shigeo to not throw a scowl at Arataka.

“Shige, you’re frowning,” noted Dimple, floating over to the esper’s side in the latter afternoon. Out spurted his arms only for him to cross them. Shigeo fell back against the reclining chair and let out a huff. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing,” Shigeo answered, his voice no louder than a whisper. “It's nothing.”

Dimple grunted. “The truth?”

Shigeo didn't bother replying.

“Whatcha up to? Trying to pick a telepathic fight with Reigen or, what?”

Shigeo tipped his head back and closed his eyes. He wasn't ignoring Dimple, but neither was he in the mood to respond to a near-accurate question. Maybe he was asking for a fight, though. He didn't know.

Dimple didn't seem to mind. He was quick to read the mood, unlike him, and continued on with his one-sided conversation. “Well, no use trying to do anything like that now. Guy’s too busy exorcising ,” Dimple added, making it known to all about his air quotations.

You're not wrong , Shigeo quietly agreed, eyeing Arataka from across the office. Their client had come in about half an hour ago, complaining about heavy shoulders and the like, and Arataka had been swift to take up the offer. Producing his ever so beloved bag of salt - and wherever he wedges that in, as the younger male was completely aware there weren't any pockets inside his coat, Shigeo would never know - Arataka hadn't wasted another second and immediately hopped to work. Perhaps it had been the sudden entrance of a new client, breaking the habit of whole afternoons without customers to serve, perhaps it had been just that to surge in waves and waves of adrenaline into his system. The more Shigeo watched him, with every rise and fall of his chest, the momentum of his every downward swing, the more he was reminded of a robot with newly-placed batteries. Although, he wasn't going to lie - Arataka looked too frantic to just pass as an Android.

Every movement had looked so animated, had he videotaped it and paused on random moments, he would never reward himself a still frame, even if he tried.

“Hey, Dimple,” Shigeo began, turning to the floating ball of green aura to his right. “Do you think he’d want to have sex with me?”

His friend hadn't even looked a tad fazed. Dimple. Classic Dimple. Instead, his lips had stretched from ear to ear, his gaze flickered back and forth between Arataka and the male in front of him. “Sex? That guy?” he hesitated, feigning bewilderment in such a way that his mockery was palpable. Assisted with jazz hands, Dimple let out a bark he attempted to stifle. “No way in hell.

Shigeo would have agreed. Dimple’s claim would have been more convincing had the spirit known what Arataka was like at home.

“I just think nothing special’s happened since we got together.” Shigeo was well-aware that words had gone and spilled out from his mouth the moment he unlatched his jaw. For the moment, he didn’t care - not that he didn’t want to, he just couldn’t see the point in trying to hide anything when he was blatantly horrible at lying. He side-eyed Dimple, and reassured himself that he was talking to a friend, one that he could word out his honest thoughts to, one that would undoubtedly return the favor by providing what he could. Dimple was chatty for a wandering spirit, sure, but Shigeo had always admired his quick wit and even quicker tongue, especially now that he’d gotten out of his way to talk to him and ask what was wrong. The psychic only thought it was alright to share, even if the mere topic of sex somewhat pried his mind into action.

Shigeo drew a deep breath. “I don’t want to be seen as a child. The fact that he can’t even touch me already tells me he doesn’t see me as a man. There’s absolutely nothing happening between us, and - ” he paused to breathe, never expecting the fall in his volume in his continuation, “ - I just don’t want him to get rid of me. Like he used to say over, and over, and over, and over.”

And it hurts when I know I’m still trailing behind him like a lost puppy.

“Sometimes I wonder if he actually did mean to make me leave, even though a larger part of me says he wants me to stay. With the way we are now, I’m left… confused. Am I ever going to be an adult to his eyes? Or will I stay a child he has to dote over and tease?” He closed his eyes. “Those things… those things never came to me when I first found out about how I felt. It’s unfair, even. I don’t understand why I’m only thinking about these when we’re finally together.” Not good , Shigeo told himself, feeling the onslaught of tears rising to his sockets. Not good, not good. “It’s almost like I’m subjecting myself to a break-up so early into the relationship. I’m bad at this, Dimple. I’m really, really bad.”

“I-I don't mean to intervene,” spoke a new voice that turned gears in Shigeo's memory, immediately recognizing it as Serizawa’s as he padded from his table to settle into the next couch, “and I don't know what he's like when you’re alone. I don’t have anyone that finds me particularly attractive either - ”

“I find you particularly attractive,” Dimple said bluntly.

“Thank you.” Serizawa, in his mess of a necktie and tousled hair, creased clothes and half-polished shoes, had his cheeks dusted in a light pink tinge; Shigeo found himself smiling at that. The presence of that same smile had made him realize his tears had glossed over his eyes in a thin layer, in which Shigeo had hoped would pass as nothing now that his mood had been relieved of the bitterness.

Dimple’s face contorted into a grimace and flew on over to the man’s face, studying him with a gaze that made the younger psychic feel relieved he wasn’t positioned on the same couch. “Do something about your hair, though. Geez.”

“I’ll comb it later,” promised Serizawa. Shigeo spotted a bead of sweat trickling down the side of his face. He had to keep himself from snorting. When the older man had taken notice of him looking, his shoulders tensed, before he cleared his throat and slowly drifted back into his conversational stuttering. “W-well, what I was trying to say is… c-couples move at their own pace. And I know, I-I truly know that Reigen-san loves you.”

“Stating the obvious, Serizawa-kun.”

His volume fell from a three to a one. “I didn’t think Kageyama would, erm, take it into account. I-it was what I could get from what I overheard.” Serizawa sighed - a visible attempt to relieve the tension built up from his muscles - before chiding himself to look at Shigeo in the eye. “Reigen-san’s just bad at relaying his feelings.”

Dimple chuckled, agreeing in the backdrop.

“Is it my fault?” Shigeo asked, uncertain as to just who he was talking to. “Does he think about what face he’d make for me… or something?”

The spirit bounded into Shigeo’s vision. “Just how many men do you think he’s gone out with, Shige?”

Serizawa hummed in agreement, a newfound charisma in what Dimple had laid out for the three of them to consider. “Th… that's a good point. Kageyama-kun, you might be his first.”

Shigeo chewed at the inner walls of his cheeks. He didn’t feel special - he was aware of his number of girlfriends in the past - but he would be lying if he said his heart hadn’t thrummed to life in his chest. Maybe… just maybe, that could be the case. Contrarily, as if on cue, his mind had replayed the dream that’s been haunting him night per night, and immediately did Shigeo’s mood sail downward in plummeting speed, souring just as quick as it had been lifted.

He clutched the hem of his shirt, almost reconciling whatever feeling Arataka had built up at that moment Arataka had left in mid-air. He didn’t act so new to it in the beginning, though. Had he been held with hands that were far from practiced, Shigeo was sure even he could tell. He was just worried about how it ended there.

Somewhere along the way, Arataka hesitated, and progressed nowhere else with him. And if things do move forward from here, I want to be part of that reason.

“Ever tried to ask him straight to his face?” Dimple inquired, consequently shrugging. “Doesn't look like things’d be that bad after you put it out directly.”

“That's too straightforward,” Shigeo swore he heard Serizawa whisper, but even if he hadn't, he couldn't deny the look he was shooting at Dimple from behind and the more or less terrified aura it carried along.

Shigeo’s eyes drifted to the floor as though the unswept dust had just become the most interesting specimens in the world. “It would make me look desperate.”

“You sure you aren't just horny, Shigeo?” And only then did Serizawa let out a squeak to hush the spirit in doubtful reprimanding.

Shigeo would never have realized he was fiddling with his thumbs until he paused from doing so. Dimple's question resounded through his system, clouding over his thoughts until his mind went muddled. He couldn't say for sure; he just wanted Reigen to stop touching him in his dreams because it built up the frustration the moment he woke up. And Kageyama Shigeo was supposed to be a morning person. But now that a third person had finally put it out into words…

“I’m not,” he declared. “I just want him to see me as an adult, just like hi - ”

“Ever tried seducing him?”

Dimple-san ,” Serizawa pressed on, almost pleading the green ball of light to stop. Shigeo didn't blame him.

“Serizawa, I need you to take care of the bill.” Arataka's voice, although new to the conversation, would never have fallen foreign to Shigeo's ears. His eyes swept over the older psychic and his tensed shoulders, and drifted on over to the man throwing on his coat by his table. He's done? Shigeo hadn't meant to stare a second time, but he found himself eyeing the client, studying her as she slapped off specks of leftover salt from her shoulders, wearing a renewed smile of what seemed like ease tugging at chapstick-coated lips.

“Thank you so much, Master Reigen!” she cried in delight, stretching her arms over her head as she hopped over to pay the fees. “I feel absolutely better!” And to that did Arataka offer a smile.

A pink top and an A-line of a darker shade, lipstick reddish by only little percent… he wasn't going to be surprised if she had sauntered outside carrying a parasol. And that parasol would have been pink as well! His eyes trailed downward and stopped at her chest. Her palms were probably too small to ever cover her bust - not to mention something of that size.

Shigeo frowned. They look good together , the psychic thought, his gaze drifting between Arataka and their new client. Why does he look so natural near her?

He frowned even deeper. The fact that this woman, too attractive by aura and by physique, could easily clinch at Arataka's heart had she flirted enough, left a bitter taste in Shigeo's mouth.

“Are you open on Tuesday next week?” queried the woman.

“As long as you come by around the same time, definitely,” Arataka smirked, pulling out a drawer.

“Oh, you!”

Shigeo forced himself to turn away. He had enough of this.

You should stop considering getting breasts, too.

With a sigh, he relieved the pressure pressing against the interior walls of his lungs. He felt stupid, leaning heavily against the rest of the reclining chair.

What are you even thinking?

“You aren’t going to pounce at her, are you?” Dimple had stayed so silent he almost forgot about him.

“I’m not.”

“Good.” The spirit turned away. “The face you’re wearing completely opposes what you just said, though.”

Shigeo held his face in a hand - a frail attempt at trying to arrange it. “Don’t tease me, Dimple.”

“I’m being serious. You look like a lion at the brink of bounding for prey. Whatever it is you’re thinking, you probably should stop.”

I already have, though.

“Jealous?”

Shigeo’s gaze gravitated to meet Dimple’s. He couldn’t read the look he provided him. The fact that his friend had asked something so plain-spoken made him tear his eyes away. Shigeo felt afraid, for once. Dimple’s eyes were drilling holes into his very soul. “I’m not.”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Not.”

“Serizawa beat me to it, regardless of what you tell me now,” Dimple mused, chuckling to himself - or perhaps, the ceiling, judging from the direction he faced. “Reigen-san’s horrible to conveying his feelings. Idiots usually do that, and that master of yours is the greatest example in the twenty-first century. So chill, kid.” He paused to gesture a thumbs-up at Shigeo, and grinned. “It’s gonna be alright between you. Give it some time. No need to speed things up. Ain’t that boring with him, don’t you think?”

It’s not. Shigeo smiled. But I’m never assured if he feels the same way about me. I want to grow up. Faster.

“Yeah,” the ravenette responded, “it isn’t at all.”

Shigeo had missed the client leave the office, and had almost done the same to Arataka had he not blinked a second time. “Mob,” the elder male called, fixing his necktie as he slipped out the door, “could you step outside with me for a bit?”

 

Last day of Pride Month, let's go with ReiMob!

Chapter Text

Ever since their consultation office had begun to grow in population - since the arrival of Dimple, to be more precise, the psychic had noticed about how long it’s been since Arataka’s ever lit one stick up inside the room. At the moment, however, Shigeo couldn’t spot the pack of cigarettes protruding through the fabric of his master’s pockets, so it had been safe for him to presume he wasn’t going out for a smoke.

It hurled him into a mental guessing game with himself, but it was one that hadn’t stayed silent for long.

“Where are we going?” queried Shigeo, who had tailed Arataka as they trudged down the stairs to the ground floor of the building.

Arataka produced his phone, flipped it open, then wedged it back into a different pocket. His head reared towards Shigeo, and as his lips stretched into half of a smile, he answered, “Coffee.”

“You seem awfully happy about that,” the younger male noted, averting his gaze to fidget with the lobe of his ear. My heart's alive again. “What's the occasion, Master?”

“Nothing important. I just thought Serizawa needed a cup. Probably two, if he's that desperate for it.” Arataka slammed a fist into his palm at the arrival of the idea. “That's it. We're buying him two.”

A split second decision, Shigeo commented to himself, eyeing Arataka from behind, watching his steps, unconsciously walking along to the rhythm his master had set. His gaze darted around the street, observing attentively if there had been anyone to notice the leg movement he had begun to synchronize. When there had been none, he quickly returned to quietly trailing behind Arataka. More like a eureka moment, if anything. A fond sigh escaped his lips, eyes upturned to the messy excuse of blonde hair in front of him.

I can't say I hate it, though.

Fifteen days ago, he was staring at the same tousled hair in front of him. Sure, the whole morning was more or less an alternating system of crying, then calming down, then screaming at the top of their lungs. They were lucky enough to not have any of Arataka's neighbors to complain about the noise. Shigeo had hoped, still, that none of them had ever heard anything. Asking would be too risky, and their answers would have gone inconclusive.

In the early noon, however, Arataka had taken it upon himself to bring him back home, apologize to his parents for forcing him to stay at his apartment for the night (even despite Shigeo’s resistance), and then rent a car as so he could bring him to where he was supposed to meet Ritsu and the others.

Shigeo couldn't help but think every action Arataka took over the matter was at least a little bit more than far-fetched. His parents hadn't even afforded the time to react when his master groveled in apology; they were just as much of a stuttering mess as Shigeo was, in frail attempt of opting Arataka to pick himself up.

Shigeo was certain he mentioned that his parents were aware of his stay. If he hadn't, he was sure he relayed the message over and over until he and his master had left the complex. Neither had spoken to each other since. The silence was bothersome for once, even for someone as quiet as Shigeo, resulting to him finding the initiative to start a conversation.

Shigeo despised small talk of all things. He was aware they were supposed to be lengthy chats that failed miserably, and given that he was opening his mouth just for the man to his left, evidently occupied with driving, he made a mental note to make sure he would let the conversation live longer.

“So - ”

“Master - ”

The two of them had fallen into an embarrassed silence, save for the distant revving of the running engine. Shigeo had glued his lips shut, not knowing what to do next. So much for saying he despised small talk; he couldn't even start a proper conversation. He side-glanced at Arataka, only to find the older male’s lips stretched into a thin line, before shying his gaze away. I made the atmosphere awkward.

“I’m sorry,” Arataka apologized.

“Likewise,” Shigeo breathed out.

Another silence had seeped like an entire river in between them, raging on for a good ten seconds before his master had been able to make it dissipate into nothing. “You go first.”

I forgot what I was supposed to say .

Shigeo chose not to admit that for his own well-being. “You didn't have to rent a car just for me,” he spoke, no louder than a whisper. His mind had already played the image of him ramming his head on the glass window to his right until he bled.

“I'm not doing this just for you. I have somewhere I have to go to today,” Arataka reasoned, irking the younger male within a fraction of a second.

He couldn't recall what Arataka had been wearing; he couldn't muster the courage to steal another look long enough for him to register his clothing. Thoughtlessly, Shigeo retorted, “Liar.”

Arataka hummed a response that forcibly made his gaze gravitate towards him. He watched as his features softened, his gaze captured by whatever he was looking at outside through the front glass, his lips stretched into the tiniest hint of a smile. Shigeo hitched his breath in his throat as he made out the words from Arataka's moving lips, “Maybe you're right.”

The ravenette’s heart thrummed in his chest, circulating warmer blood through his systems, his pale skin slowly moving into a rosier hue. He felt himself sink into the cushions, feeling more at home than he ever had been his entire existence.

[54%]

“If you don't have plans,” Shigeo began, “you could have just told me.”

“You'd reprimand me the whole car ride, and I know you better than anyone. Guess I hadn't made that much of a convincing argument, after all, to have you see through that lie.”

I wish I knew you better.

Shigeo grinned. “Come with me.”

And this is my chance to learn more about you.

Arataka frowned, taking a long curve to the left. “Mob, you don't need an adult to take you out on an amusement park. Plus your friends would have less fun with me. I think you're okay by yourselves.”

Shigeo slumped.

Then breathed in through his nostrils.

Then exhaled against a cage of teeth.

“Until I find them,” Shigeo suggested, locking eyes with Arataka for the first time that afternoon, “would you accompany me?”

[53%]

“...Mob, I’m wearing sweatpants.”

“I think you're cute in your tracksuit.”

Arataka threw his head back to bark out into laughter. As soon as he had calmed down, his face had fallen into a neutral smile. “You're not even a bit embarrassed about having a grown man like me tailing you?”

Shigeo shook his head. “No.”

Arataka scanned him skeptically, but the younger male had made sure to put every ounce of his eagerness into his expression, whatever face he had made. Alas, with a sigh, Arataka gave up and leaned back against the rest of his seat, only to adjust after his back had hit the clasp of a seatbelt he didn't buckle. “Fine,” he agreed, scratching the side of his head, “but only until you find Ritsu and the others.”

[67%]

Shigeo smiled. “It's a date, then.”

“You're terrifying, Mob.”

“...eh?”

“For you to release words like that so easily,” Arataka mused, shaking his head. Right before Shigeo opened his mouth to apologize, the older male had smiled in his direction, a full set of teeth on display just for him. “I can't even find it in me to dislike the straightforwardness.”

Two seconds into a sincere staring contest and Arataka immediately fled his gaze, turning back to the road. Whether he did that for the safety of the two of them, or he was shying away, Shigeo would never know. “Sorry,” the younger male heard him stammer under his breath.

Shigeo bit his lower lip to stifle a laugh. Regardless, a snort had dribbled out of his throat in sync with the tensing of his quivering shoulders from the restrained giggles. He caught Arataka steal a glance right before he added on, “It’s not funny, Mob.”

[71%]

“My bad.”

Shigeo smiled against the palm of his hand.

[74%]

The beginning of the ride was hell for the two of them. Shigeo had never ridden a Ferris wheel, and neither had Arataka. The moment the rotation began Shigeo felt his fingers curl into balls on the cushion by themselves, eyes shut tight and turned down to the square glass panel that took up most of the space of their gondola’s floor area. He swallowed a gob, peered an eye open, only to close it quicker than he could look. Shigeo didn’t have a fear of heights; he just felt a little dizzy.

That was all.

I feel like throwing up . Shigeo cursed himself for not bringing a paper bag with them. There he was, thinking a ride like that would actually be anything but scary. Does Master have one…?

Arataka wasn’t doing any better, much to Shigeo’s surprise. If anything, he was mirroring Shigeo from the opposite cushioned bench, the only difference being his eyes left wide open, burning holes into the fiberglass he positioned his feet on. Shigeo gulped, preparing himself to speak, but the more he dawdled, the more his saliva tasted like vomit. He couldn’t unlatch his jaw.

It was a horrible decision to insist they ride.

“This… isn’t so bad, a-after all,” Arataka spoke, flicking his gaze up at the male across him. “You look a little pale.”

You should speak for yourself, Master. Shigeo clamped a hand over his mouth. Any longer inside that cab, his stomach was going to burst.

“O-oi, Mob, are you - ?”

[99%]

Arataka’s first instinct must have been to rush over, but the momentum of his first step had left the entire gondola to sway drastically, rocking back and forth as though the world had been about to face the first few signs of Armageddon. Shigeo’s every ounce of gastric acid had disappeared into nothing when his heart dislodged itself from within his ribcage as so it could leap to his throat. Arataka had already tripped over and held on to the younger male’s bench, staring maniacally down at the whirring world below them.

Power surged in the form of warmth that travelled from Shigeo’s chest to his fingertips. His right hand snapped up to the sky, bending the metal capsule to his will. In a fraction of a second, the gondola was caked in a region of crystalline blue aura, slowing to a stop without hindering its own rotation.

Shigeo lowered his arm, his eyes drifting towards the frozen man on his knees. “Master,” he began, unable to hide the ragged breaths he had garnered from his surprise, “are you alright?”

“Sorry,” Arataka breathed out, keeping his head hung low. Shigeo understood; had he jumped up the same way, he would have avoided his companion’s gaze as well. “My purpose... backfired.”

“No, I think it's on me. I was tense.”

It was - he’d be lying if he were to say his heartbeat hadn't hastened when Arataka stood. A part of him was afraid he'd fall through the glass, another was overwhelmed by thinking he had wanted to sit next to him. Shigeo had tripled Arataka's momentum, and what a stupid outcome that came out to be. He had left the both of them scared of falling through the floor, one of them evidently more breathless than the other. And it definitely wasn't Shigeo.

“...do you feel still feel like throwing up?” Arataka queried between pants, forcing himself to slow the rise and fall of his chest.  Shigeo swore he heard him mutter under his breath a quick and almost silent, “Holy shit.

“I-I think I’m okay.”

Arataka nodded once, then twice, before getting up on quaking knees and on his rubbery legs, eyes barely taken off the glass floor. “That's… good. I’ll be sitting back down on my bench again.”

You say that but you're not moving at all, Master, thought Shigeo. His fingers flexed out on their own, balling into a fist in the hem of Arataka's shirt. He shifted to his right, moving further away from the older male in a passive tug. “Master,” he began, “I don't think the capsule would outbalance if we sit on the same side.”

Arataka wordlessly obeyed and settled into the space his student had set out for him. The gondola rocked but only lightly that time, enough to take out every ounce of tension left from both of them.

One second of silence.

Two seconds.

Three.

Four.

“We're…”

Shigeo blinked once at him. “Yes, Master?”

“We're,” Arataka repeated, before dissolving into silent peals of laughter. What once had been a hung head had only been thrown back, a jaw unlatched to bark out into the air.

Shigeo didn't get what was so funny.

“What?” he asked. When his master hadn't replied, Shigeo's face contorted into a grimace. He demanded, “ What ?”

“W-we're,” Arataka panted, wiping a tear that wasn't there. His once pale face had flushed back into color, and his breathlessness was beginning to cloud his skin in reddish tint. “We're hilarious. We're too tense to ever be on rides in the first place. We - !” Arataka fell short after accidentally nudging Shigeo in frail attempt to physically calm himself down. In half a second his face had offset. “Ah, my bad, Mob.”

[100%] E A S E

What? The ravenette’s lips quirked into a smile, parting to reveal his teeth against his own will. And Shigeo was not one to smile with teeth. The next thing he knew, he was cackling, perhaps not as loud as the man beside him had, but his entire body had been left to tremble in horrible restraint in keeping sound from ever getting reverberated from his throat. Despite his efforts, nothing fruitful had ever come for him. Shigeo kept laughing into his fingers, not long before barking through the gaps.

“Is it really okay?”

Shigeo slowly began to calm down. He ran a hand through his fringe, brushing the middle portion to the side as though it would reap anything, as if his hair wouldn't flip back over his forehead. “What is?”

Arataka’s eyes were lost outside the window of their passenger car. Shigeo decided to follow them, only to have his features to relax at the spreading of a new view as the ride picked up only little on speed, on altitude. Hues of orange, yellow, pink and blue splashed across the sky, and beyond the sun-bathed suburban were what Shigeo made out to be mountains. Beyond those was the next city over.

It would be nice to see buildings outside of Seasoning , he thought, peering over the silhouettes the dying sunlight presented just for him, but no such luck was available for a Ferris wheel that couldn’t be as large as the London Eye (which the older male had been grateful about for various reasons, as Arataka had expressed repeatedly before getting on). The cab he and Arataka had taken hadn’t even reached the summit yet.

“We never found your friends,” Arataka muttered, but Shigeo could hear it loud and clear. “I feel like I wasted your time for one hell of a day.”

“You didn't,” pried the ravenette.

“I still feel like I did.” Arataka’s hand wandered north to fiddle with the lobe of his ear. “Is it really okay? Tell me, Mob.”

“It is.” It was a really good day.

Arataka nodded. Shigeo, however, wasn't dumb; it was excruciatingly obvious that the older male had been pretending to sound convinced. He would have been tricked into believing it, though, had Arataka locked eyes with him the whole duration of his speech.

Arataka was hopelessly in love with averting his gaze.

Shigeo wanted to take full percentage of his attention.

Shigeo wanted to make him rear his head just for him.

Shigeo wanted to kiss him if that was how much it took for him to believe he wanted to be with him always, that days with Arataka were never tedious because his heart was always racing against an invisible force, that he was worth every diamond in existence.

'I would travel to the stars and back for you, Mob-kun!’ was what the man next to him had screamed the night prior. What could Shigeo have done just so he could make Arataka feel the same thing he did when he heard those thoughtless words spill from an unfiltered mouth?

“Thank you,” Arataka spoke, deciding he should have been the one to break the silence that time, “for picking me. I keep thinking about your confession, and the multiple times I’ve turned you down in less than two hours.” His shoulders shook in silent chuckle. “It's heavy on the chest, to have you acting this way towards me when you're clearly the student I’ve been looking after for years on end, but I can't say I’m not happy.”

I wish you would look at me when you say those words, though. As if on cue, Arataka spun to offer Shigeo a smile he had resorted to after the energy used for that weak a chuckle abandoned him. “I really wonder what makes me so attractive to your eyes.”

“It's not just me,” Shigeo murmured.

“What?”

He hesitated, forming a thin line with his lips before uttering a quick, “Nothing. Go on, Master.”  A twinge of pain had struck his chest. Perhaps Shigeo really had fallen for the densest person closest to him, perhaps this entire time Ritsu and Dimple really were right when they told him just that. How on Earth did this man never notice the manner of swooning the female clients had done over him? Shigeo felt like throwing himself out of a window - maybe it never really did occur to Arataka that he would ever have admirers!

Never mind that, Shigeo chided himself, letting him know he has at least one is my job now. Not to mention that he wasn't any better for assuming he, the wimpy little kid that came nearly unnoticed in middle school, had garnered himself any admirers after the election in his second year.

“Well, there isn't anything to say. That's it. I’ve already said what I wanted to know.” He leaned back against the rest of the bench without breaking eye contact. “So, why me? You used to be so head-over-heels for Takane Tsubomi, and I think there are way too many distinct features between us.” His voice fell when his eyes flickered away. “Evidently.”

“You were always amazing to my eyes, Master. I’ve always looked up to you. Always.” Shigeo fiddled with his fingers, only for him to notice how badly he was already shaking in his seat. He breathed deeply, then exhaled. He had to calm down if he was ever going to convey his emotions properly. Maybe, just maybe, in the end Arataka would believe him without a second notion. “I think I already told you this this morning, but if I were rejected by you instead of her, she never would have tried to help.me back up on my feet. I’m grateful for her waiting for me and all, but I can't erase the train of thought wherein I would never see her waiting for me after a rejection.” Shigeo locked eyes with the man beside him for a brief moment before immediately shying away. He's looking at me properly. “Unlike you.”

“I’m still thinking about that, too.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Arataka nodded, cupping his chin in thought. “So, to clarify,” he gestured the same hand into a check mark, “you began to like me right after?”

“Ah, no, it wasn't that quick, I was just - !” Shigeo held his face in his hands. “That part was confusing, wasn't it?”

“It sort of was,” Arataka admitted. The ravenette could almost picture him nodding. “But don't you get embarrassed now! You made it this far. I'm forbidding you from backing out.”

Shigeo complied by first uncovering his face, breathing in a whistle through his closed teeth. “Right, of course,” he began. “I… I actually don't remember how I realized it. It was like, one day I wasn't in love with you, the next I was? It's… it's weird. I couldn't even be honest with it to anyone.”

“Same.”

“Pardon?”

“I couldn't be honest with it to anyone either. I didn't realize I had someone I was actually  interested in only recently.”

Silence. One of which both of them could understand the reason fairly well. There wasn't much to say, but Shigeo was glad they came to a similar thought in the past. With ease in mind, he took it upon himself to break the atmosphere’s current mood.

“I wanted a proper label for us only recently, too. It's silly - a little bit childish, sure. Corny, if you want it or… sappy.”

Arataka could no longer hold back a bottled remark. “I’m not talking to Merriam-Webster, am I?”

Shigeo snorted in response. “No, no.” He sighed, retracing where he left off. “The thought of doing something to the bridge I have that connects me to you scared me. It still does, even now. I thought, if I were to spring out that I wanted to level up with you - ”

“That's a cute way to put it, Mob.”

“ - I would either be breaking that bridge apart, or make it sturdier, which reminds me of something I thought you were thinking - it never occurred to you that making it sturdier would be a good thing.”

Arataka visibly froze.

“Master,” Shigeo continued, grabbing for a hand he had expected to be warmer, “please allow me to stay with you and make it stronger for as long as it takes.”

Chapter Text

“And yours is - ”

“Black.”

“What?”

“What?”

“O-okay.” Arataka blinked at him once, then twice. He spun on his heel to leave and enter the shop, only to hesitate and walk back towards Shigeo. His face remained befuddled. “Wait, how long has it been since you liked your coffee black?”

“It's been a while,” answered Shigeo thoughtlessly, hoping he could lie through his eyes. Five seconds since his decision could pass as “while,” couldn't it? “Is there anything wrong with a new taste?”

“Of course not, there's definitely nothing wrong. I... just expected you to pick something creamier.”

Shigeo couldn't see what face he was making, but he hoped his eyes hadn't sparkled, looking at Arataka in deep admiration. To think that the blonde would guess exactly what his taste was, Shigeo was mind-blown. He must have observed him that much, and it came to the younger male as quite the surprise.

I want him to see me as an adult.

Black. It was definitely black. Shigeo wasn't a kid anymore; it was time for him to up his game. His mission was to show Arataka that he was growing into an adult - no, scratch that - that he was already an adult. He wasn't disregarding what Serizawa-san had only told him, of course, and he was well on his way to rebelhood, but it wasn’t as if he could help it. This was what he wanted in the first place after all.

Are you sure you aren’t just horny, Shigeo?

He wasn’t horny. Horny wasn’t the word that settled it. He didn’t want to be sent to bed so quickly (although he had constantly thought about it unconsciously), having sex was one of his lesser predicaments. What mattered to Shigeo was knowing the reason behind why he stopped, and what better way was there than showing a different side of him - one he might have conjured just for the situation - to Arataka?

If Arataka were to view him as an adult, it wasn’t going to be judged upon how he took on initiative, or how calm he would remain in situations (and really, some adults don’t even do either). Shigeo had to be, dare he say it, sexy for naturally enticing and savvy blonde Reigen Arataka.

And that, by itself, seemed more than a challenge already.

Shigeo never would have been able to tell Serizawa or Dimple any of that. It was a little bit more embarrassing than not. He decided to keep it to himself and Google.

And so Shigeo decided to not make his situation any harder than it already was. He was not the best liar in town. Had he talked some more, he would have spilled everything in stutters and broken statements. In order to avoid further inquiries regarding his renewed coffee tastes, Shigeo gave him a dismissive nod and waved him off. “I’ll wait here.”

Lucky for him, Arataka decided not to go any further into the topic all the same. Shigeo let out a sigh of absolute relief. Now he was given time to contemplate what black coffee tasted like.

 

Black coffee was definitely not like what Shigeo had thought. It was black, sure, but it had been bitter. Very bitter. He couldn't complain; this was the coffee Arataka had bought for him. Paid for him.

But that didn't erase the fact that this new sensation had bothered him direly.

He wasn't sure how the coffee shop had prepared it. He couldn't tell if they had put in sugar or not. Had they prepared the coffee themselves with their own coffee maker (which had broken down a couple of days back) at the office, Shigeo would have furiously taken to adding on cream or sugar or anything that made his coffee any better than it had tasted. But no, life was harsh for the Kageyama son, and he couldn't add in sugar when take-out coffee had a plastic lid that held on to the mouth of his cup as though it had been hard glued.

So he remained reclined on the couch once more, “sipping” little to no coffee at the accentuated rectangular opening of the lid. The one good thing about it was Arataka not noticing Shigeo’s utter regret as he had busied himself with the fax machine.

One of the many bad things was that the people who were not to observe a slight behavioral and possibly aural difference had not covered everyone in the room. For instance, there was Dimple, who hovered in head level next to Shigeo, his eyes burning holes into his systems. Perhaps he hadn't meant to, but Shigeo could very well feel as though he was under eager examination. Alas the spirit had queried the only question anyone who knew Shigeo well would only ask, “Since when did 'ya start getting black?”

[33%]

How Dimple managed to identify from the smell, Shigeo would never know. He was inwardly, however, in awe at the abundance of his friend’s skills.

“It's been a while, okay?” Shigeo answered, closer to growling if anything. He nipped at the corner of his lips, huffed in frustration, and continued on, his voice mildly quieter. “Stop asking already.”

Dimple nodded in absolute comprehension in a way that terrified Shigeo to the core. “Trying to impress him, aren't you?”

The ravenette could feel the cup in his hand shrink and curl only slightly, but his hand hadn't moved an inch, couldn't even dare to furl into a ball. Shigeo paid no attention to the crystallized aura that circumscribed the object in his hold. “Doesn't matter,” Shigeo muttered, his voice small.

“It matters.”

“How come?”

“You're looking at Reigen like it's his fault. Of course it matters.”

Oh. Shigeo never realized that he had a firm biting hold on the lid until he felt his muscles lax and his teeth parted. His eyes trailed down to menacingly size up the cup without having to scrunch up his features. No use hiding it from Dimple when he clearly read him like a book.

His one attempt to look cool just had to be over coffee. He tried not to sigh at that.

This seems quite familiar .

Now that he had been capable of recalling, he'd done similar things with Tsubomi-chan in the past. Shigeo was head-over-heels for her, as far as he knew. Back in middle school he had tried his damnedest to be noticed by the whole campus’ teen idol whose smile could multiply the prickling heat of the sun by a tenfold. Hard, yes. Shigeo's efforts included joining the body improvement club, and with him being anemic and all, there wasn't much to say about him in the beginning. He had himself running for the position of president once as well, but knowing Shigeo's sheer lack of confidence in front, there wasn't much to say about him either.

It didn't matter whether Tsubomi had taken notice of him or not now; his efforts had gone quite to waste after he'd upped and confessed. Now here he was, making a new image for himself, for his master, in the hopes that he would grow into a decent adult any time soon.

“Ah, that's right,” Arataka mused to himself, slapping the working fax once on the surface, earning himself a beep he had paid no attention to, before turning to Shigeo, “Mob, you don't have to turn up tomorrow.”

Shigeo, relieved of his pretend sipping duties, lowered the cup and wiped his lips with the back of a free hand. “I don't?”

“We've been having less hectic days lately, not to mention we’ll be open for business starting 12 noon tomorrow. Plus, it is your summer vacation, after all. I prefer taking less of your time. It's your third year in high school, yes?” Arataka weaved around the bookshelves and made his way to his desk. “Better make the most of a vacation.”

[34%]

The younger male had done his best not to frown at that. If there's anywhere I’d like to be, it's where you would be. He lifted the cup and drank this time, shelving inner complaints to the back of his mind as he ignored the bitter warmth that permeated his tongue.

[26%]

Given an extra three seconds, it occured to Shigeo that he had nothing to be upset about. What he did have, however, was time for studying - and that particular type of studying had absolutely nothing to do with schools or his collegiate exams. Master Reigen said it himself, it was his summer, after all.

I’ll be extra productive while I’m away, Master , he promised only silently, resorting to eye contact as though there was any way for him to communicate with Arataka without opening the mouth. And I’ll claim my points when I return.

The game. Shigeo promised himself that upon his return he would earn himself points to overthrow his master from his throne. He’d certainly take him seriously after then, wouldn’t he?

That’s right - in order to challenge him, Shigeo had to step on the same level he was at. He was going to view the game the same way Arataka had. Shigeo wasn’t going to accept anything but a victory.

[37%]

As if I have chances against Master anyway.

Who am I trying to fool?  

 

All eyes had followed Arataka as he let himself out of the room that afternoon, and once they were certain he'd gotten far enough, Ritsu was the first one to speak up. “You… like Reigen-san?”

Shigeo nodded, his eyes glued to the floor. He wasn't sure if he was ever going to be able to meet anyone's eyes soon - after all, he already had a rough time trying to admit it to himself, and there he was, making a public confession of his feelings for Arataka who, incidentally, had exited the area right before Shigeo could even read what face he was making.

“I don't think it's one-sided, though,” stated Shou, who sat with crossed arms and legs at the other side of the sofa. “It doesn't take a fucking genius to realize Reigen has the hots for - oof!”

“Language,” Ritsu hissed.

“Japanese,” Shou hissed back. “You didn't have to elbow me that hard.”

“Kids these days, sheesh,” Hanazawa mused, placing a dramatic hand over his chest, earning himself an eye-roll from the younger Kageyama brother and the receiving end of Shou's you're-just-a-year-older logic - both of which he had completely ignored. “So, what do you plan on doing, Kageyama-kun? Are you pursuing him?”

“Him liking me back seems too far-fetched,” Shigeo reasoned sheepishly, holding his face in his hands. “I don’t know. I'm still confused.”

“You not believing me is far-fetched,” Shou interrupted. Ritsu smacked him upright the head, making sure his boyfriend would bite his tongue in the process. The aura being exuded by Shigeo's younger brother was enough reason for him to ignore the wailing in the backdrop.

“We can't jump to conclusions yet,” Dimple offered, “and that's going to leave a good mark if Shigeo believes in an assumption.”

And in truth, Shigeo himself was not rather fond of assumptions. He knew that much.

He lowered his hands. “Well, I never really thought of,” Shigeo's voice fell from a four to a negative one in volume, “dating.”

“That's no good,” Dimple chided.

“I don't even know if he likes me back.”

Shou sprang up, evidently finished with his role of playing the beached whale. “That's what I’m trying to - !”

Ritsu pushed the orange-haired’s head away, heaving an aggravated sigh. “Enough from you.” He looked at his older brother, and smiled - one that only his eyes participated in, but Shigeo had found a depth to his sincerity in a way that it had granted enough ease to last him a month. “Nii-san, please think about this thoroughly. I’ll support you through and through.”

Ritsu…

Hanazawa threw his head back and let out a hearty laugh as he walked over and slung an arm around Ritsu’s shoulders, shoving his knuckles into his head in the process. “Kageyama-kun has such an adorable little brother! I could watch you two all day!”

“Get off.”

The fact that everyone had Shigeo’s back stuck with him for a while. He didn’t expect them to react that way, given the age gap, given their relationship, given the fact that he and Reigen didn’t have a lot of things in common, or the fact that his master could reel in women into the office without him ever wanting to, or noticing. Shigeo never thought of being supported by the people around him, including Serizawa who had offered a pair of thumbs for him - one of the minimalistic gestures he himself was guilty of doing as well - and that had enlightened his mood for the night, even when Ritsu and the others had to go, even when Shigeo still had to run an errand for his mother and pick up the groceries. Things were going awfully well in Shigeo’s mind.

For once, ever since realizing he’d been harboring feelings for his master, his chest felt light.

But of course, that ease was short-lived.

 

[08:07PM] Master: i need yuo

 

When Shigeo received the message, he wasn’t really certain as to how he would reply. He physically froze as he pondered for reasons behind Arataka’s text, realized he had been keeping the automatic doors to the convenience store open, then hurried over to one of the benches outside.

It wasn’t like Arataka to summon him this late.

Shigeo waited for a minute.

Then two.

He went back inside the store to buy a box of milk. Three.

Arataka hadn’t followed up a message to correct the evident typo the way he usually did like he was racing Shigeo into doing it (as if it would ever occur to the younger male that he had to do it himself, that would be entirely ill-mannered) and that worried him. Within the three minutes he had been waiting, Arataka might have been fending off a monster that was too strong for its own good.

His skin prickled at the thought, his stomach floating in his brain. And then he received the next message.

 

[08:11PM] Master: Might this be a friend of Reigen-san?

 

Shigeo felt his heart stop.

 

As he continued to follow the directions the bartender - as the man who had Arataka’s phone claimed to be - sent him, the suburban seemed all the more alien to him, if not vaguely familiar. Everything was bathed in faint neon lights that came soft reflected against concrete and pavements, as though the entire street had been making frail attempts at rivalling the overpowering darkness. Crowds from downtown visibly simmered into pairs streaming left and right, some in linked arms, some in interlaced fingers, some kissing in alleys but not as hidden as they ought to be.

So this is the hotel district , mused Shigeo to himself, keeping his eyes to the path he was taking. The ravenette had never been there before - of course, he had no reason to. It wasn’t as though bar hopping and one-night hotel stays were his thing.

Nonetheless, somewhere ahead, past the fourth intersection, he’d have to take a right, walk straight, then he’d easily find himself at his destination, assuming the bartender wasn’t lying to him, or Shigeo hadn’t been so distracted by the things he saw in the new neighborhood that he might have long ago passed his stop.

To think that Reigen Arataka would be in one of these places, Shigeo couldn’t sit still with it in mind. First, he wasn’t in favor of grabbing a random woman from a certain shady business only to spend a night with her and discard her the day next. Second, he wasn’t in favor of imagining Arataka doing exactly that , when it was now clear to him and his friends that Shigeo had grown a crush. And that hurt to the hilt.

Shigeo held one side of his head with a hand, the other holding his grocery bag. He clicked his tongue and brusquely glared at the road ahead. I need to stop thinking about this. Master is fine - unconscious, perhaps, but fine. Or at least, he liked to think so.

He swerved a right and walked on.

Seriously , Shigeo began, why does it have to be him?

 

[08:34PM] Shigeo: I’m inside.

 

The first thing that greeted him was the strong stench of beer and the stronger urge of throwing up. Shigeo had never been fond of alcohol, he’s never tried in the eighteen years of his life, and there he was, trudging down the narrow paths of a bar, weaving around people to navigate himself to the counter.

Oh, how he wished he looked at the sign outside first.

He charged in there all willy-nilly, frustrated at himself, and he had never expected a population of people inside. Honestly, places like that truly did look smaller from the outside.

When a bartender with a phone in hand hailed him over, Shigeo’s footsteps hastened, in sync with the lighter breaths and the discernible rise and fall of his chest. “Mob-kun, wasn’t it?” asked the man from the other side of the counter. The bartender was probably around fifty or forty, with white streaks intermittent in his blanket of black hair, dressed in a vest over a long-sleeved shirt. Soft greenish grey orbs viewed him through golden rims, along with a smile that wrinkled the corners of his eyes. To have seen someone look at him this kindly made Shigeo feel warm inside. Somewhat. It felt as though it had been so long since he’d seen daylight.

“Yes, Sir,” Shigeo answered, bowing curtly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He handed Shigeo the phone. “And Reigen-san is your master, am I wrong?”

“No, Sir. I work for him at his consultation office.”

“I’m glad I was able to contact the right person, then.” The bartender nodded gesturing for Shigeo to follow. His gaze tailed the direction he was pointing at, and at the end of the counter was Reigen Arataka himself, face buried in his folded arms placed promptly on the tabletop. “He’s been like that for a while.”

Shigeo’s feet seemed to move on their own as he approached his master, settling into the high stool next to his. “Master, it’s Mob,” he began, laying a hand on the curve of his back. The blonde didn’t jerk, let alone, respond. Shigeo shook him gently, only to no avail.

“Weak to alcohol,” declared the bartender, rejoining him.

Shigeo had zero knowledge about alcohol, or the percentages written on the labels, or  the different types of liquor he’s never even heard of, but at the moment, after an extended period of biting his tongue in thought, he came out and asked, “How many drinks has he had?”

“Three, four glasses. That’s two or three glasses more than what he’s usually here for.”

“He comes by often?”

The bartender shrugged, grabbing a glass off the cupboard. “His last visit was in May, I think. Been a while, can’t remember the exact date. Didn’t expect him to go drunk this time, though. He’s usually so responsible with his drinks. I didn’t even know he was this weak to alcohol until now, too!”

Same here , Shigeo muttered to himself, rubbing circles on his back. I didn’t know he drank either.

His new acquaintance leaned over the counter top and gestured towards the blonde. “Do you think you could take him home, Mob-kun? If it’s not that much trouble, that is. I could dial a cab, but I’m still a little bit weary about - ”

“Leave him to me,” Shigeo assured him, pocketing Arataka’s phone. “He’s what I came here for, after all. Thank you for taking care of him. I hope it wasn’t much trouble for you, either.”

The bartender could only return Shigeo’s smile. “Have a safe trip, then, Mob-kun.”

Chapter Text

Shigeo hadn’t realized he had fallen asleep until he woke up rubbing at his eyes on the sofa. Someone had draped a pink blanket that was evidently sizes too small over him while he was out cold, he came to realize when he sat up.

What was he dreaming about again?

He couldn’t remember. Oh well.

“Ah, Mob, you’re awake,” spoke Arataka from all the way to his desk. Shigeo nodded in acknowledgement. This is his doing , thought the ravenette as he clutched the fabric over his lap before beginning to fold it, isn’t it? Or so Shigeo figured it was, he was never able to confirm. It hadn’t mattered all that much to him.

Well, perhaps it did.

A little.

What averted his attention from this mystery was the sudden urge to look out the window behind Arataka’s desk. The sky had gravely darkened from the last time he’d remembered. How long was I asleep? Shigeo wondered, rubbing his eyes with the insides of his palms. He couldn’t have slept the remaining afternoon away, could he?

Upon getting up from his seat, Arataka stretched his arms, reaching for the ceiling. Shigeo watched as his body went rigid when Arataka had straightened it to its fullest extent, quivering before yawning into the back of his fist. The older man’s eyes drifted towards the next wall, and Shigeo’s gaze meekly followed. “Now that Mob’s awake, I could use some popsicles right about now,” he announced. “You good for one, Serizawa?” Serizawa was a man of few words and had only decided to nod, passively returning his things back into his bag. When Arataka’s eyes travelled towards Shigeo, however, the younger male had already known the question: “And you, Mob?”

Popsicles. It didn’t give much for an adult feel compared to the gamble he’d played earlier with black coffee, and Shigeo would have said no, had Arataka and Serizawa disagreed into getting one or two for themselves. Both were capable adults he looked up to, leaving him to only think he hadn’t wanted to be left out nor complain. “That’d be fine, Master.”

In the end, Shigeo got a chocolate, treated by none other than Arataka, regardless of how much he had insisted on paying for himself. His eyes studied whatever the wrapper had to unveil within its annoyingly-difficult-to-open plastic compositions. If he could remember correctly, the last time he had ever gotten one of those was primary school and that had definitely been with Ritsu. Nostalgic enough.

Given that Shigeo had wandered off a few meters away to throw his garbage, he had allowed Dimple access and the distance to float on over - creepily, stalkingly, and it almost always came as a surprise whenever a ball of neon green would fade into existence right next to Shigeo. Dimple’s silence as a spirit was indeed a terrifying feature. “Shigeo,” he began, whispering although the other two had been far enough to over hear their normal volumes, “now’s your chance.”

“Chance?” queried a puzzled Shigeo. “Chance for what?”

The spirit produced his index finger and gestured to his own head - assuming fireball-type ghosts like Dimple actually had heads, then that was where he had only pointed to. “Use your imagination.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Think of the popsicle as Arataka’s Arataka. ” Shigeo’s head had blown a fuse at those words, uncertain however as to which part his features had begun to heat up - whether it had been the odd censoring he would only ever hear from elementary kids or the message Dimple had been trying to convey, he couldn’t tell. Possibly both. Most likely both. His shoulders tensed when Dimple added on something Shigeo hadn’t wanted him to, especially if he had accompanied it with a smirk, “Surely you’ve heard of what a blowjob is. You want him to see a different side to you? This is a chance you’re never getting ever again.”

It had never occured to Shigeo that such an idea would pop into existence. He didn’t want to do it for more than enough reasons; at the top of the list were the fact that they were in public, and the fact that it had been humiliating enough as it was. Shigeo did not like basking in the attention of those around him all because of pulling off this one particular stunt.

‘Couples move at their own pace,’ reminded Serizawa’s voice in his head. There was that, too - the note his co-worker had left for him, telling him he didn’t need to change because of a flirtatious client, that Arataka had loved him all the same although unvoiced.

Strange. The more Shigeo thought of what Serizawa had told him, the less he felt convinced by those words. The more he pondered, the further away his voice had seemed until it had vanished from mind completely, leaving nothing but the goal he so clearly needed to achieve.

Had he wanted Arataka to treat him as an equal, he wasn’t going to sit back or sprawl on the sofa for hours on end. No, no, no. None of that.

Get it together, Shigeo , he chided, shaking himself awake. He scrutinized the now slightly melting surface of the supposed frozen popsicle and swallowed a gob down his throat. It was weird, truly, to finally be able to view something from his childhood as the unseen male reproductive organ of his lover (and surely Arataka’s wasn’t embedded with a stick, was it?) just as Dimple had asked of him.

To be fair, Shigeo didn’t know how the process of taking it into his mouth worked. Was he supposed to lick the tip, the length, and - God forbid - the stick, he didn’t know! How was he supposed to know? Dimple wasn’t any help until he raised his voice in feign shock, “WOW, SHIGEO, YOU SURE EAT YOUR POPSICLE REALLY WEIRDLY!”

“O-oi, Dimple - ”

Shigeo’s heart thrummed to life, like an engine revving inside his chest. That had done the trick; Shigeo was in mental panic with no time to check if Arataka had reared his head to see. I’ll do just… whatever happens , he told himself as if it could lend him at least a little assurance that he could pull it off, slowly bringing a quaking popsicle towards his mouth. Can I possibly get a point from this? 

Arataka ran over, with every step rivalling his own heartbeat. 

“Mob, let me get a taste.”

Shigeo was dying from the humiliation he hadn’t yet been awarded as the man he had been working under for years in the same office had raced him to his own popsicle and bit off the head. He watched grudgingly as Arataka chewed his stolen portion and swallowed. “That was good . I should have gotten a chocolate instead of that minty watermelon thing. Horrible, horrible creation.”

Shigeo’s eyes darted to the now visible end of the stick that peeked out from the frozen chocolate containing most of its body. He hitched his breath and in his mind, squeaked out, Th… the head. Nothing, and absolutely nothing had been a more petrifying sight than the one in his right hand.

Dimple’s face contorted into a grimace he directed at Arataka as he swiftly glided through the air as though he had all the means to spit at the man’s face. “You really want to move to a younger age bracket, don’t ya?” the spirit scoffed, earning a conspicuous series of fake coughing from Arataka. “I knew you were desperate but I didn’t know it was this much.”

Rude .”

Could I have possibly gotten a point if I had done it efficiently? 

 

[9:19PM] Shigeo: i'm sorry for falling asleep at work

[9:20PM] Master: that's not something you should be apologizing for

[9:20PM] Master: quit being so hard on yourself. it's okay. your energy stock has its moments too

 

[9:23PM] Shigeo: good night.

[9:23PM] Master: sleep well, mob

 

Sometimes I wish you’d know when not to spoil me. His hand flicked his phone away as soon as he had locked it, the device scuttling away on the carpet, preparing itself to be stepped on in the morning.

Shigeo sat in the dark of his room. Not that he was feeling any overwhelming sadness that could only be expressed by hitting the switch and closing the lights, but he wasn’t feeling any empowering happiness either. He sat on the edge of his bed, his head held in his hands as he reminisced the first time he had ever kissed Arataka.

And no feelings had flowed back into his systems even as he recalled.

Two weeks into dating and Shigeo had never received a kiss on his lips since the day they established a relationship. He hated himself for forgetting how he tasted and how he smelled when there was no gap between them. Shigeo, who should have been cherishing every moment with Arataka, had incidentally forgotten the thing he described as static.

If he plugged his finger into an outlet on the wall, he probably would remember. Better yet, kissing it himself. But the price to pay was his own life and he wasn’t sure if he could handle such a risk. He disregarded much of a vacuous idea.

Either way, their first kiss hadn't come the way Shigeo had always imagined it. Sometimes Shigeo would question himself and ponder if he had actually done the right thing during that time. He didn't know.

He couldn't understand why Arataka had even agreed to go out with him - he didn't remember why he had insisted on staying despite his restrain, despite every influential cry Arataka let out. A series of pain, one event after another, within two hours of the same morning, and Shigeo was to blame for most of it. The worst part was not knowing just how much he had inflicted on Arataka.

Shigeo tossed himself over the bed and placed the ball of one of his wrists over an eye, the other left staring at what should have been his ceiling. If he still thinks about it the way I do , he thought, does he, perhaps, remember the promise I made him?

A stupid question, when clearly Arataka was far wiser than Shigeo - if the latter could still recall, why couldn't Arataka? Shigeo wanted to give himself a mental slap, and his lips, that truly had not wanted to smile, crept into a grin at his own stupidity. Of course he remembers.

Shigeo was supposed to teach him.

In fifteen days, he had done nothing. Spending occasional nights at Arataka's, and sprawling on reclining chairs, and getting teased in the morning… not that he had waited for Arataka to initiate it, but Shigeo wished they could talk about themselves and how exactly they would move forward as a couple. It would certainly save him the trouble of overthinking. He couldn't do anything, however, not even a single peep about the official 'them' and that was still around the first half of Shigeo's uselessness meter.

Well, Arataka isn't doing anything wrong, Shigeo chided, chewing on the walls of his cheeks. The only wrong he's ever been doing was sending Shigeo away because he couldn't face his emotions properly (not that he liked thinking about it, but Shigeo constantly thought of what could have happened if he had left when Arataka told him to never come back to work) but ever since he'd expressed a mutual interest in Shigeo, Arataka had never really done anything similar from before. Putting aside the fact that Shigeo occasionally stayed the night, things were shifting back to normal the way they did before, back when neither of them regarded each other as a lover, let alone, a crush, - back when master truly meant Master, and student truly meant Mob the psychic.

It was love, so he thought. Shigeo could never call it romance, certainly. There was nothing he could be selfish about in a relationship, so it had to be love. Ego was the main distinction, after all, and Shigeo had never been able to observe that any recently in Arataka, which only proved he hasn't done anything wrong.

Is it still love when he can't see you as an equal? When right now you're relying on him, still?

That threw him in for a slur of thoughts, permeated with his own lit frustration from when Arataka had approached his sleeping at work with a cool demeanor, when surely employees do not sprawl out in offices and employers do scold wrongdoings. He wanted, amongst everything, to be of help and use to Arataka, and in his mind flashed anger at the fact that so far, he had done no progress, he couldn't even turn the tides on Arataka with the little game he set up for them. He wished he could; it would make a great first step. Shigeo wanted the next point to be his and slowly, he would close the gap between them.

Shigeo slowly rose to his feet, only to make his way through the familiar path around his bed and to the light switch. The room was bathed in a newfound brightness that initially stung, but the pain had subsided before he was able to register it. Inside the crevice between the closet and the floor peeked out his phone’s camera, glinting in the fluorescent. Shigeo hurried to grab it before pacing back to bed.

He had a whole day to rethink it all, to come up with a strategy, to learn what it was he had to. He could do it - he was certain.

From the bedside table he grabbed for the leather bound booklet and the pen next to it. How long had it been since he'd last written, he couldn't recall, but he was breaking the streak only then.


[Google Search: seduction ti|         ]

Chapter Text

Shigeo snapped his booklet shut the moment Hanazawa's footsteps grew heavier from behind him until the latter had finally walked into view, waving a bottle of tea in his face. “You didn't have to treat me,” Shigeo murmured, earning himself a chuckle from Hanazawa.

“I’m in the mood right now; you can't stop me, Kageyama-kun.”

But you're always treating me. Haven't you realized? He frowned, but decided not to say. Shigeo placed his journal on the bench on the side farther from Hanazawa, before turning back to remove his bottle cap and drink. “Thank you, anyway.”

“Don't mention it.”

Personally, Shigeo thought he got themselves a good spot for a break after an hour's worth of jogging. At the other end of the park sat the fountain, one Shigeo had never seen until then, somewhere hidden beyond an arc of trees, circumscribed by around four or five lanes of benches, ten on each orbit. As if they weren't lucky enough, the vending machine wasn't far from where they sat.

The fountain looked old, from its cluttered looking surfaces to mossy walls and floor. It was a shame Shigeo had never seen it in its heyday, he was sure it would have looked absolutely mesmerizing in the night. He closed his eyes and in his mind, scrubbed the moss from their places, refurbished the now breaking cement, and watched as streams flowed from an unknown underground source, circulating through the main tubes cased in the middle, and fell back down to the ground crystal clean. Yes, truly, it was a shame it had not been the sight awaiting him as he peeled his eyes open.

“How’re you and Reigen-san doing?” Hanazawa asked out of the blue, reeling Shigeo from his thoughts. The blonde swivelled his bottle cap closed before lifting a wrist to wipe his mouth. “You look like you’re deep in thought. Something the matter?”

“We’re… not the definition of fine, really,” the other male began. His hand made its way towards his notebook, clasping it as though he had needed anchoring through the use of a journal he had always kept in his room. Why he brought it during a jog with Hanazawa, he never quite understood, even after convincing himself he wouldn’t afford the time to read either way.

He drew a breath and shrugged his hesitation off, telling himself he could trust the friend beside him. After all, if there was anyone who encouraged him into pursuing Arataka, Hanazawa would be at the top of the list. Not to mention, Hanazawa had his roster of girlfriends in the past. Surely he could understand him. It’s worth a try . “Things aren’t going forward between us.” Shigeo bit his lip. “I think that’s my fault.”

“Hey, hey,” Hanazawa replied, nudging him, “that’s not your fault - ”

He cut him off, “It is.

Hanazawa threw his arms in the air. “It could be Reigen’s!”

“It can’t be!” Shigeo raised his voice, instantly regretting it as he returned his gaze to the ground. His thumbs fiddled with the water droplets beginning to form on the bottle he warmed with his own hands. Speaking in a far more hushed tone, he added on, “It just can’t. I don’t do anything for him, I never initiate skinship, I-I don’t… I don’t know. Arataka doesn’t see me as an equal.”

“He said that?”

“No, I just feel so.”

“You never know until you ask.”

“Well, I can’t just ask him out of the blue. It’ll come off as obvious, and he’ll definitely tell me the answer that he knows would make me feel better, even if that means lying to me.”

“Okay, true.” Hanazawa pressed a finger to his lip in consideration. “So you want to get this relationship to level up?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll start by becoming his equal?”

“Yes.”

“That reminds me a lot of us. I used to want to be your equal, too,” said Hanazawa, breaking into a chuckle. He wiped at a tear that was never there. “But of course, you’re way above me, power-wise. Anyone stupid enough to challenge you into a psychic battle is a complete goner.”

Shigeo grappled his own face. “Does that mean I really can’t be able to catch up to him, after all?”

“I never said that, alright? Look,” Hanazawa paused to hook an arm around Shigeo’s shoulders, pressing his arm against his torso, “we became friends, and that’s enough to let me know you’re regarding me as a person like you, ‘kay? Now, I’m willing to do anything to help you put your relationship into gear. I’m pretty sure my years of experience would be of some assistance to you. Just let me in on the details or ask questions or just, anything. I won’t judge you and I’ll lend just as much as I know.”

“If-if it’s not that much trouble, I - ”

A smile tugged at either corner of Hanazawa’s lips, his teeth brought out by the dim pastels of the early morning sky. “You have my word.”

Shigeo withdrew from Hanazawa’s hold and produced his phone from his pocket, scrolling through the tabs he had left on from last night. Another hand retrieved his booklet from his other side. Gulping down his own embarrassment, he drew a shaky breath before looking Hanazawa straight in the eye.

“This is everything I had harvested from the internet last night.”

“Stop there. Let me read.” Hanazawa’s fingers closed on the top of Shigeo’s phone, pulling it out of the other boy’s hold to read in convenience. The two fell into a short-lived silence that the blonde had broken by making discernible hums and grunts as his eyes skimmed tab per tab. After what seemed like ages, long enough for Shigeo to drink a little more than half of his drink, Hanazawa marveled out a comment, “Wow, now that’s a lot of tabs.”

“Five minutes into reading, and that’s all you have to say?”

Hanazawa broke into another grin. “It might just be me, but I think I finally understand where your little brother’s sarcasm stems from.”

Shigeo pouted.

The taller male handed him his phone back. “So, in other words,” Hanazawa’s eyes ignited, “you're trying to look and act sexy for Reigen-san. Am I wrong? You don't look too happy.”

“It's amazing how you can release those words so easily,” Shigeo mused, his tone barely feigning enthusiasm. He slumped over his lap and reached for his feet, rubbing circles on his running shoes. “How does it feel to be naturally good-looking, Hanazawa-kun?”

“Ooh, I think I just fished myself a compliment there.” When Shigeo didn't reply, Hanazawa took the opportunity to add on, “Well,” he cleared his throat, “I can't really tell what it feels, but I’m most certainly just human, like you - ”

“Master started a game,” interrupted Shigeo, leaving the other male to fall back, silent, lending him both his ears, both of which Shigeo was grateful to have. “Every instance someone makes the other blush, he gets a point.”

Oh.

“Oh?” Shigeo frowned at him.

“Pieces are falling into place, is all,” Hanazawa marveled. He grinned slyly, narrowing his eyes at him. “You haven't scored a single point, have you?”

Shigeo's voice died in his throat. Never had it occurred to him that it would be more humiliating - so much more than if he had degraded himself with the same words. He gripped his notebook and shoved it down his pull-over pocket. He was too preoccupied basking in a loss Hanazawa, of all people, reminded him that he could only imagine the other male resisting his bottled laughter, even timing when his lips would rip open to bark at his demise.

I deserve it anyway.

But Hanazawa didn't laugh when Shigeo thought he would. Now all Shigeo could think of was make sure he would, he could care less about the disclosure of how the blonde felt about his situation either way, because expressing felt more relieving and hiding meant there was something he didn't know. He definitely was not fond of the latter.

He realized that on that day.

Shigeo lifted his gaze, frantically searching for his eyes, but even as he convinced himself, Hanazawa's lips were not ripped apart to bark out into laughter, but instead, there was a smile - it was soft, consoling, and it screamed nothing but empathy in the gentlest way the oceans in his eyes could.

“I’ll help you,” he finally told him. “I told you, didn't I? I’m going to help put your relationship into gear.” The two of them were quiet the next few seconds, only for Hanazawa to break it by snapping, “Stop staring at me like that! What do you want me to say?”

His palm collided with Shigeo's face, snapping out of his trance he couldn't recall getting into. I was staring? “I-I-I didn't… I don't want - there's nothing I expected you to say o-or - ”

“So stop,” he urged, withdrawing his hand only to pat him on the head. “And God, Kageyama-kun, chill the fuck out.”

Shigeo pushed his arm away, earning himself a dissatisfied grunt from the other male. Sheepishly, he muttered, “I expected you to laugh.”

Hanazawa struck himself on the chest, just right above his heart. “Do I look that cruel? That's blatantly honest of you!”

“No. No. Just… I deserve getting laughed at. It's got nothing to do with you. You're too kind a person.” Too kind for your own good, even. He ran a hand through his bangs - a habit he had developed over time - and sighed. I don't know why you keep helping me. “My situation just happens to be laughable.”

Shigeo was responded to with a frown. When Hanazawa averted his gaze, he continued watching him as he lifted a hand, producing the index and pressing the pinky into his lips as though he were talking through a phone. “911, yes, hello, my friend has major pessimist problems,” began the blonde, side-glancing at Shigeo, then continued, “Yes, he thinks being unable to make his partner blush makes him an unreliable significant other, and he thinks I’m an asshole because he expected me to laugh over it. Yes, yes, he said this situation was laughable.” Hanazawa pulled the phone away from him and sassed, “Excuse you, Kageyama-kun, the person on the other end is very kind.”

Shigeo was smiling before he could realize it. And not long after that, Hanazawa's little game of pretend had ended by itself after he gave it away by mirroring the smile he was being offered.

“Thank you, Hanazawa-kun.”

“You better be. Grab that notebook and your pen; we're writing shit down.”

Chapter Text

The moment he walked into the building, it occurred to Shigeo that he was wearing nothing but an oversized shirt and beige jeans. Suddenly he felt a little less presentable than he should have looked.

Shigeo ended up coming to the office that afternoon, but not entirely for work purposes. In his hands, as he stood in the hallway, was the Tupperware his mother lent him, and inside that were a good six slices of watermelon she asked him to bring when he headed out.

The gold plate on the door bore holes into Shigeo. Arataka told him he didn't have to show up that day, given their lack of customers on heated summer afternoons, but Shigeo decided to avoid thinking of going back and telling his mother an excuse to not be there at all. He won't be mad when he sees me, will he? He wasn't so sure.

Shigeo turned the knob, and the door swung open inwardly. Lo and behold was Arataka on the opposite side of the room, sitting by his desk, shoes on the table, a third of a cigarette held between his fingers, and a dispersing billow of smoke that emanated from his mouth. When they had locked eyes, Arataka acknowledged him by raising both brows and greeted: “I thought I told you not to show up.”

Did you not want me around so badly?

“You did,” Shigeo replied, stepping in and subtly kicking the door shut before walking over to his boyfriend. He watched as he shoved the cigarette down an aluminum plate to kill the fire and withdrew his legs. Only then did Shigeo take notice of a velvet necktie that swung from around his collar and over the folds of his coat. “Mom told me to bring watermelon.” His eyes scanned the room before adding on, “Serizawa and Dimple are - ”

“I sent all three of you on a day-off,” he explained briefly, lacing his fingers together. “Apparently one of you doesn't know what day-off means.”

Shigeo pouted at the remark. “Then why are you here?”

Your day-off, not mine.”

“You need a break, too.”

“Yes, and you need to sit down.” Arataka gestured him to the chair reserved for clients sitting right next to the desk across his seat with a downward flick. “Sit down, tower.”

As soon as the younger male did, Shigeo slid the plastic container on the table, pushing it towards his master's direction. “I didn't think I’d be coming in today, so you don't have to pay me.”

“Probably won't have anyone come in any time soon either.”

“Mom told me to bring you guys slices. I didn't expect you to be alone.” Shigeo scanned his surroundings one more time, as though he couldn't believe the first time he had done so. It truly was just Arataka that day. He proceeded to open the plastic container, revealing watermelon slices that had looked just as fresh as he had seen before he left home. Scattered across the Tupperware floor were ice cubes, and Shigeo had never been so tempted to fish out and wolf down a watermelon before. The heat outside the office was enough to murder him, but all he could think of was the watermelon rind larger than the average cut he'd usually gotten, as though it had been befitting of his long fingers.

“Been a while since I’ve gotten this place to myself, hasn't it?” Arataka chuckled, picking out a slice for himself following after Shigeo. His eyes drifted around the room, bouncing around the empty walls, studying whatever he could, softly smiling to himself. “This brings me back.”

To think he would smile over that, Shigeo felt at ease. His shoulders that he had discernably tensed relaxed, as the smallest hint of a smile began to pull at his own lips. He watched as Arataka bit into his watermelon. “I haven't seen you smoke in here for a while, too,” the younger male pointed out, before taking a bite.

Although he had learned this in pre-school, Shigeo had always been in awe of the water in watermelon, and every bite had usually kept him off guard, stunned. The moment he sank his teeth into the red content, he felt as though he had bitten off a cut of mush - but watery mush that was cold and by no means disgusting. The taste, although not as sweet as any other fruit out there, had done its job of keeping Shigeo in a constant want he could only satify by continuing his eating, and the temperature of the succulent red juiciness had soon permeated through his skull. Watermelon would always be his kind of fruit - the taste subtle, the way or serving always cold… if only they weren't so expensive outside its harvesting season, Shigeo would make sure he had a slice at least twice a week.

Settled across from each other, the two of them had continued to eat in silence. Shigeo had learned to get used to it - dinner with Arataka was usually just as quiet that way, in comparison to that with his family which was almost always loud and energetic. His father had always played the comedic relief, his mother always the one to shush him, whilst the brothers sat across them, answering questions whenever interrogated, or even bringing up topics whenever they felt the need to.

Arataka was different, Shigeo had come to observe. His lips would only part when he opened his mouth and accepted food, and his eyes would only flicker to Shigeo on rare occasion. He wasn't one to talk over eating - the topics only ever came before or after. Interjections came once in a blue moon. But as far as Shigeo could remember, he wasn't always like that. In middle school, when he treated him to, say, ramen, Arataka was undoubtedly noisy. I wonder what happened .

“To?”

Shigeo lifted his gaze, only to find his master frozen looking at him expectantly for an answer. “What?”

“You said you were wondering what happened. To whom?”

Did I say that aloud? Over time, Shigeo had developed a silent want to never initiate a conversation over food, regardless of what kind of meal. There he was, however, doing just that. Of all days. Of all times. Of all the people he could have shared the watermelon with.

But there was no excuse he could tell, no excuse to become his salvation.

“You never talk over food anymore,” Shigeo began, eyeing a drip of juice from the area he had last bitten, “and it bothers me because you were usually boisterous over our meals together. I realized this ever since…”

Arataka wiped at his mouth with the back of his palm, coughed then grunted, “Since?”

Is this worth sharing? Shigeo pursed his lips in thought, mentally conflicted. Had he stopped then and there, it would arouse suspicion. Either that or Arataka would leave him be.

“Since?” Arataka repeated.

Shigeo, although hesitant, answered in compliance, “July seventh.” What could he have told someone as demanding as the man before him? The truth. It left a sour taste in his mouth after releasing those words, but a burden had been lifted off of his chest, making him feel by the littlest percent better. Shigeo had taken to telling the truth more often, because hiding had caused him enough pain, over and over and over.

Arataka, on the other hand, began internalizing the words Shigeo had told him. His brows raised at the ravenette, eyes lost in thought and forgetfulness, and only until moments later did his features soften and relax. “Ah,” was all he could tell him.

“Do I possibly have anything to do with it?” Shigeo queried, just to grant himself ease.

“No.”

“May I know the cause, Master?”

“I can't talk when I’m alone in my apartment, of course.”

Shigeo's brows furrowed. “But you eat with me.

“It's hard to explain, Mob.” Arataka bit off a part of his second watermelon slice, swallowed, then added on, “Look, it's embarrassing. I’d rather not say. But if you start a conversation over food, I’d be more than glad to reply.”

“Then tell me the reason,” Shigeo pried. “Is it so embarrassing that you can't tell me?”

“Yes.”

He insisted. “Tell me.”

Arataka sighed, putting down his slice on the table and slumped back against his chair. “Not giving up, are you?” Shigeo hadn't responded, but instead had scrutinized his eyes, anticipating the answer that would soon - very soon - crawl out. First came yet another sigh from the older male before he added on with a frown, “I think I talk too much.”

Shigeo blinked.

Arataka blinked.

Silence.

“Well?”

“That's it?”

“I know. It's stupid, isn't it?”

Shigeo took the final bite off his third slice before putting the empty watermelon rind back into the container. Arataka was two munches away from catching up. “I don't think you talk too much.”

“I do.”

“Does it matter?”

“What does?” Arataka threw in his last rind.

“You and your excessive talking.”

Arataka cut in by breathing out, “You don't have to rephrase it that harshly.”

“It shouldn't matter if you don't bother anyone. So, why care?”

“So you're not bothered?”

Shigeo frowned. “No? I’m not. I know I’m not. I wouldn't be curious about this if I liked things better this way. I was afraid that I was the cause, that I’m boring and that I’m not worth the time or just - ”

“I like being with you,” Arataka assured him. “How I’m feeling probably has something to do with you - ”

“What?”

“Hold on, I’m not done. Anyway, I said probably, because you're with me most of the time and you're bound to get tired of my voice at some point.” Arataka threw his head back and let out a short-lived laugh. Shigeo couldn't get what was so funny. “That's how I feel. But if that's fine by you - ”

“It is,” Shigeo agreed.

Arataka trailed off, hesitating to continue. He blinked once, then twice, before sheepishly looking away, “I’ll make sure to add that back into our regimen, then.”

Shigeo smiled. I’ll see him talking over dinner, then.

When Arataka straightened up, deciding he couldn't slump over his chair as long as he used to, Shigeo caught sight of red juice at the corner of Arataka's mouth - perhaps something his sleeve hadn't been able to wipe off. He wasn't particularly bothered, he could call it cute if he found it in himself to bring it up, but he was utmost certain a small drip of missed watermelon juice was capable of bringing shame to him. That being said, he hadn't wasted a single second to point it out. “Master,” he called, gesturing to one of his own lip corners, “you missed a spot.”

Arataka wiped at the wrong end.

Shigeo quickly produced a handkerchief from his pocket and reached out, leaning forward to dab at the spot himself. Then froze. Arataka's face wasn’t far, but neither was it near for a kiss - and Shigeo had only come to realize how mindlessly he had lurched forward to tend to him. His eyes flickered down to his lips and a strange pang of pain struck his heart.

He lowered his arm before he could recklessly do anything else. “Here,” he began, handing the piece of fabric to him, “y-you can use this.”

Arataka quirked a suspicious brow and slowly took the handkerchief. “Uh-huh. Thanks. I’ll wash it before I return it to you.”

Shigeo responded, but he himself could not fathom whatever syllable he had spouted at Arataka. He watched as he wiped at his lips, carefully going along the line in between before eventually reaching the crease at the corner. Arataka folded the handkerchief before sliding it into the pocket inside his blazer. Shigeo even watched as the other male had lifted his gaze and regarded him oddly, asking for all that it was worth, “Why are you standing again? Did you want something?”

Shigeo looked down, shoved aback with the disbelief of him being on his legs - but indeed he was and had Arataka never pointed it out he never would have noticed until later. His gaze gravitated back towards Arataka's, but his mouth was dry when it opened, only for him to close it back again. But I don't want anything! Shigeo chided, unknowing what he could have said if he found his voice. What could I possibly - ?

His pupils found Arataka's lips, and Shigeo shut his eyes tight. No.

“Well, if you don't want anything, sit back down,” Arataka scolded him, crossing his arms on his chest.

“Yes, Sir.” Shigeo settled into the chair in one fell swoop.

The older male clicked his tongue. “Sheesh, you're tall.”

“...sorry.”

Arataka sighed, added on something he didn't catch, before proceeding to close the Tupperware and set it aside on Serizawa's empty desk.

Meanwhile, Shigeo's eyes were drawn to the floor, silently wishing the ground would open up and swallow him whole then and there. What was I thinking? His fingers drummed on his knees, his legs systematically quavered in their restlessness. He couldn't even gather his bearings for this thoughts had already scattered from one place to there. A slight panic had already built up, making him afraid that the next thing he would say the moment he opened his mouth was…

“...can I kiss you?”

A hand clamped over his mouth, his brain screaming in reprimanding. What was he doing, he didn't know for sure, but he deserved a beating more than anything if that meant it would pull him together. Did he hear me? Arataka didn't. He knew he didn't hear. Did he?

He doubted Arataka heard. He was too far away.

Or was he?

Don't look up, don't look up, don't look up.

Shigeo looked up, flabbergasted and influenced by his own curiosity, only to have himself wish he never owned a heart in the first place, if that meant he wouldn't hear it ringing in his ears. Arataka was standing right there , mid-lowering his body into the rolling chair, eyes locking immediately with his, blinking for all that it was worth.

Shigeo knew he was done for.

“Kiss,” Arataka began, almost amused as he stood. Shigeo's heart resonated in his throbbing head as he watched the older male weave around the table, sauntering closer towards him. “Is this supposed to compensate for how I teased you yesterday morning?”

Shigeo didn't respond. He couldn't find it in himself to tell him they hadn’t done it recently.

“Plus, I just smoked. Will you be alright? No carninogens, no second-hand smoke transferring?”

Shigeo stuttered out a response he once again could not understand for himself. The next thing he knew, Arataka was pushing him back to slip between him and the table.

“Nervous, aren't we?”

“...no.”

“Oh, good, you replied. Finally,” he rolled his eyes, ending with a chuckle that quickly trailed off. He paused to loosen his tie. “You suggested this, so you know. I’m just going along with it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Master.”

Shigeo earned himself a flick on the forehead. “Arataka,” the other corrected, placing his arms up on the taller male’s shoulders. Sighing, Arataka continued, “You don't have to be so terrified of something you suggested. You want to do it or not?”

“I… I do,” Shigeo answered, swallowing a gob down his throat, lifting his own arms, slowly placing his hands on Arataka’s sides.

“Those would be my ribs. Lower, Mob.”

“R-right.” What are you doing, Shigeo? He moved his hands down, passively feeling Arataka's torso to find himself gingerly wrapping his arms around his waist, sinking his fingers into his blazer. He drew a shaky breath, trying not to break eye contact with Arataka. “Um, right. Shouldn't we, uh, lock the dock - err, door? Lock the door. Yes.”

Silence.

“Master - ?”

“Why don't you start us off this time, Mob?” suggested Arataka, Shigeo's question sailing over his head completely. “Go on, take the reins and let me follow your lead.”

Shigeo was bewildered. Ever since they began dating, Shigeo had initiated absolutely nothing. And here he was, asking if he could kiss Arataka, but it had never occurred to him that he'd have to lean forward first. And although he knew Arataka would always intercept him, the fear of having his lips unreciprocated haunted him. Despite all of this, despite every reason Shigeo could have told Arataka then and there, the only thing that's ever absconded his mouth was: “What?”

Arataka laughed. There was no other response Shigeo had received but a soft tired string of laughter that hung in the air for a little less than five seconds. Arataka proceeded to grabbing the center knot of his tie, tugging it down even farther, enough to let it fall to the ground if he effortlessly swerved once. “I hope you like watermelon,” eventually uttered the other male before grabbing a fistful of Shigeo's collar and pulling him closer without even a second to breathe.

And there, in a moment frozen in time, every other kiss they shared had lost all value. The same mind that told Shigeo he wore a baggy shirt was the same mind that told him nothing else ever mattered just as much as what he could feel. Shigeo's body felt as though it was on fire, and in a desperate battle for air, his lungs hadn't gotten the oxygen they so clearly yearned for, but even the loudest voice in his head couldn't find it in itself to tell him he needed to withdraw and breathe. The world around them dispersed - Shigeo could no longer hear the hum of the AC, or the vehicles that drove past outside.

Watermelon . A hint of cigarette. But neither could he bring himself to hate. Shigeo's fingers tightened, then lost all hold as they danced along the curves of his back, admiring the perfect posture he couldn't dare see. His mind was a slur, and his thoughts were in utter turmoil.

Arataka decided to break the kiss by pushing against his chest, and there they panted against each other, warm breaths splayed on reddened, almost swollen lips, eyes barely kept open.

The older male patted him twice on the shoulder, urging him to look up at him. Shigeo found Arataka unbuttoning his blazer with one hand, gesturing to his lips with the other. “Open your mouth a bit more.”

He stood frozen as he ripped his tie off of him completely and grabbed hold of Shigeo's neck from behind. There's something off. “Was unbuttoning, erm, necessary?”

“What do you mean if it’s necessary? Are you ready to be held responsible for me losing a couple of buttons?”

He’s looking at me properly. His eyes are narrowing at me.

Shigeo didn't need a kiss to feel his heart rise to his throat. He nodded in false understanding. Truth be told, Shigeo had believed Arataka was implying something, and if this time, if things had gone the way they should have weeks ago, Shigeo would have no qualms about how Arataka viewed him from then on.

Don't keep your expectations up, though , he reminded himself, just in time for Arataka to launch himself back at Shigeo once more, meshing and colliding misaligned lips.

This had been the first time Arataka's ever gone for a second time right after the first. Not that Shigeo's applied that many things from when he asked Arataka to teach him how to kiss, but one thing had come clear to him - the shorter male had waited for a timing, the way a verse was put on hold, waiting for the instrumental to loop around four times before the lyrics came.

And then an idea had come to Shigeo. A stupid one, in fact.

Whether he was bold enough to carry it out or not had never occurred to him. All his mind could tell him was a single, “Go for it.”

 

“You really shouldn't wait for him,” Hanazawa advised. “I like how you're already thinking that. That's progress by itself, but probably not enough.”

“Mm… probably.” The ravenette fidgeted with the hem of his jacket sleeve. Probably not enough.

“Listen, Kageyama-kun, if you want things to move forward between the two of you, it's about time you stop thinking you're still useless. How do you convince him you're reliable when you yourself can't think that?”

Shigeo hadn't bothered replying.

“Moving forward takes courage, of course. If you want it, you’ll have to hit the gas pedal yourself.”

 

Learn to believe in what you can do , Hanazawa's voice recurred.

He placed his hands on Arataka's chest, momentarily feeling his heart pump inside before sliding them down to his stomach, girthing his waist, roughly pulling him closer to him, earning himself a grunt against his lips in the process. Shigeo counted every movement, putting himself in his master's shoes, timing when he'd have to open his mouth the widest he could go in a kiss, and slowing everything down by carefully changing the pace from the urgency and hunger Arataka had set for them, to a little bit faster than sensual, although it had gone against the tingling of his body.

He could feel Arataka's eyes peel open; he could feel the curiosity prying to roll up his lids to see. Shigeo decided to go with it, and if Arataka could be quick enough to realize the signal for himself, he'd have enough time to not be surprised.

He found himself looking at a half-lidded Reigen, smiled curtly, enough to leave his partner thinking up of a reason for disturbing their session, and without another chance to breathe, in a fraction of a second, softly bit at the heart of the older male’s upper lip. He felt Arataka's breath hitch, his shoulders raise, and Shigeo plowed him down on the table the moment his guard went down.

Sorry, Master. Just a little more.

Arataka had struggled against the pin he held him down with. Perhaps it had been from the exhaustion of trying to break free, or from the kicking of legs Shigeo had spread apart to get him sprawled on his own work desk, but eventually, the younger male watched as his furrowed brows finally began to relax, and his hands came frantically  grasping his clothes and hair, and frail attempt at conversation came out as nothing but audible muffled moans that near-stiffened Shigeo's ears.

Closing his eyes, Shigeo brushed aside Arataka's fringe, later resorting to cupping his face with a hand, carressing his right cheek with a thumb, passively catching the older male’s ear between his middle and index fingers.

I’m going to cry.

Of course, the best moments could only end so soon. After what seemed like a minute - Shigeo could never tell, he couldn't have taken note of the time during a kiss - Arataka had grappled Shigeo's face with the same hand that used to run its fingers through his hair, and pushed, accompanied by the words, “Bad Mob.”

“Ow,” was all Shigeo could manage as he backed a few steps to grant his partner space to get up, but Arataka hadn't let go of his face.

He slowly loosened his hold, but before Shigeo could even register anything in the newfound light, Arataka added on, “Ah, shit, the door!”

Shigeo had fallen into a mild panic, wishing the world could give his heart a break or just take it away completely, before whirring his head to locate the person that was supposed to come in in less than a second. What could he have done to fix the two of them up from their disheveled mein? When Arataka's blazer had fallen unbuttoned and his tie sat messily on the ground, ignored? What could the customer have thought they were doing?

But a second passed.

Then two.

Three.

“Master, there's no one there - ,” and Shigeo was stopped short, when lo and behold right behind him, lying like a mess on the table was Arataka, whose hand grappled his face twice as tight as he had with Shigeo's, skin tinted with a reddish hue that reminded him of watermelon.

I’m seriously going to cry.

It took Arataka a while to open his eyes and realize Shigeo had been looking on for a good few seconds already, enough to let the poor boy let tears pool in his eyes, undecided on how he should have felt. He received a quick kick from Arataka, but overwhelmed as he was, he couldn't feel a thing.

“Idiot!” cried out the older male, now covering his face with both hands. “You're not supposed to look!”

Shigeo sniffled in the absence of falling tears and smiled. “One.”

Chapter Text

The pungent smell of beer and alcohol had congested his nasal regions, enough for him to be rewarded a headache. Shigeo was more than relieved to finally escape from the closed space, at long last in contact with oxygen after a deprivation for God knew how long, but even as he walked the streets supporting Arataka, he swore if he closed his eyes he could still feel the laughing and loud incoherent singing ringing in his ears.

Shigeo was fully aware he was not okay, and he could only stagger with Arataka's weight against him for so long in that condition. He resorted to taking a break in the now emptying hotel district, and the young male had never been so thankful for a random bench sitting vacant between two street lights. Setting him down, Shigeo earned himself a dissatisfied grunt from Arataka, but nothing more as he watched his master drop his entire body onto the wooden surface, eventually lifting his legs as so he could sprawl out on the lengthened seat. His eyes were peeled half open, but a haze had clouded over it, making it harder to judge. Half-asleep? Shigeo couldn't really tell.

“Should I call a cab?”

Arataka frantically shook his head in response, a little bit exaggerated for a negation, but what did he know about drunks? As far as he knew, and if anything, as far as he knew about what he'd learned from television shows, they tended to be more honest without full grasp of whatever they were doing, and either they were at their most violent or most vulnerable. Arataka was certainly inclined to the latter. But nonetheless, at least Shigeo as certain he could hear him just fine.

He sighed, pulling Arataka's legs back to the ground, reeling the poor zombified man into a forced sitting position. At that point, his eyes weren't even open as if his lids had grown heavier by the second, and with a weak frown, leaned against Shigeo and sluggishly spoke into his shoulder. “What the fuck… why would you do that?”

“You look like a mess. Get yourself together, Master,” he reprimanded him. Turning back to his phone, Shigeo clicked his tongue and grimaced at the LED of his screen. Were you never aware of how weak you are to this?

Arataka shoved him once in the cheek - weak, but enough to keep Shigeo on guard for further slurred and groggy attacks.

“Master, stop - ”

“Don't patronize me!”

“I'm not.

Shigeo frowned at him, only to find his master mirroring his expression before breaking into a chuckle, evading the younger male’s gaze and beamed back up at him, “Don't look at me like that! My heart feels like it's going to - hic - explode!”

Shigeo rolled his eyes at him, somewhat regretting he had paid more attention to some inebriated man next to him more than what he should have been doing with his phone. He hit up contacts, then made his way through a short list of people he actually knew, dialling Ritsu. After the first three rings, his brother’s voice came through the receiver: “Nii-san, where are you? It's getting late, I was about to go and look for - ”

“Hotel district,” Shigeo replied, “I picked up Master Reigen from a bar.”

Ritsu hadn't replied for a while, as if internalizing what information had been laid out for him. At last, he clicked his tongue and said, “You should have let him be.” He paused to sigh. “I knew I should have tagged along you for groceries. I’m sorry, Shou just - ”

“It's okay. We're okay.”

Shigeo side-glanced at Arataka, finding the man sitting upright this time, his eyes turned up to the sky, watching him just as his body rocked back against the bench rest. He stifled a laugh right after the loud thud. He's probably not okay , he mused to himself, and I’ll never see this scene unfold before me ever again.

“ - Nii-san? Are you still there?”

The ravenette turned back to the street, distracting himself with the building on the other side. “Y-yeah.”

“So?”

“What?”

Ritsu sighed. “Should I go get you two a cab?”

“That's another problem. Master doesn't want to get one.”

Shigeo was never able to see his younger brother, but judging from a fairly audible click on the other end of the line, his mind had already played an image of his face contorting into a frown of utter negation.

“Shove him,” instructed Ritsu, recovering from this thoughts. “If he whines, you can shove him into the ca - but that would cause trouble for the driver, wouldn’t it?”

“Mm.” Shigeo couldn’t have felt more relieved after being told to shove his master into a taxi. Much more, coming from his own brother .

Judging from your answers so far, I’m guessing he can’t even walk. Nii-san, I know you like him - ”

“He’s still my master,” Shigeo cut in, feeling his lips move faster than his mind ever could. He didn’t want to hear the rest of the sentence - his admiration and possible infatuation had nothing to do with their current situation, and the sole fact that he was capable of harboring feelings for someone he had called master for years on end terrified him, still. “I’m not doing this for that; I’m doing this because I can’t leave a drunken man in that bar by himself.”

He didn’t leave me when I needed him, either. He could have thrown me away at any day, he could have let me rot, he could have never saved me. Shigeo could feel arms wrap around his shoulders and a warm sympathizing voice making tears pool in his eyes as it told him, “You did good, Mob.” He could feel the same hands steer him away from the scene of an untouched park and back towards the heart of Seasoning City, now reduced to nothing but rubble under his own unconscious wrath complete with everything but control. He could have done anything but stay, wait for me, and help me stand after a fall I knew was coming - rejection.

And it was why Shigeo had found it far too easy to forgive despite having himself deceived repeatedly by the same person. Call it extortion if you will, with Arataka practically earning because of his powers, but the one who expected him at the edge of that park, the one who fought through the storm, the one who grabbed him by both shoulders to shake him back into his senses was the one who constantly lied to the naive him, but in turn, made him - no - allowed him to grow into a better person, taught him that he, too, was human. Like him. Like everyone else. Had he not stopped him then, Shigeo would have killed Tsubomi with the blanket of a disaster he dragged along him and perhaps he never would have found peace in his heart - or perhaps he would have ended his own life before he could even accomplish anything in life.

It was hard to imagine that it was the same man next to him, beaming up at the stars for a second go, a bright smile beginning to take possession and pull at his lips. Not long after, Arataka caught him staring, and the smile he once had offered for the vast universe transcending over them was now showcased just for him. “You’re looking at me again,” he tittered. “You must really like me!”

“I-I do not ,” Shigeo protested.

Arataka turned away, smirking to himself. Had it not been for the splash of red hue across his face because of the alcohol, Shigeo would have been convinced Arataka was playing pretend just to weasel a confession out of him. Not that he could point out a reason for Arataka to do so, of course.

Only then did he realize his attention had been diverted once more, where to his left was his hand, clasping his phone close to his ear, Ritsu still in-call. “Are you still there?” Shigeo queried softly, his voice no louder than a whisper.

“Mm, I heard him speak before I could, so I wasn't talking for the while you two were conversing.” Ritsu's voice trailed off. Before Shigeo could call him out again, his younger brother added on, “I wanted to apologize for the rude presumption. I hope you're not mad at me, Nii-san. You're just too kind. I don't like you being treated like a doormat.”

Shigeo couldn't tell, but he had hoped Ritsu could easily feel the smile seeping through his voice. “It's okay, Ritsu.” I'm more than fortunate to have you as a brother.

“I’ll go tell Mom about the situation.”

“Will she get mad at Master for this?”

“I wouldn't know.”

“But you? Are you mad at him?”

Arataka sprung up from his right flank, sluggishly inching closer to his side. “Who’s mad at me?” interjected the older male.

Shigeo ignored him, putting the phone on his right ear instead.

“To be honest?” Ritsu began. “A little. For drinking recklessly, mostly. And having you at his top contacts. Someone as talkative as him should have more friends, don't you think?”

The older ravenette snorted. “Right.”

“I’ll see you later, then?”

“Mm. I’ll get home as soon as I shepherd him to his apartment.”

“I’ll be active for updates, then, Nii. Take care on the way.”

“Thanks, Ritsu. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Shigeo pocketed his phone as soon as he had ended the call. He slumped against the bench, looking up at the sky to see if the stars truly looked as majestic as Arataka's expressions had depicted them.

The sun is a star. The moment elementary school taught him that, Shigeo was more than flabbergasted. Real traumatizing feat, really, to know that the blinding ball of fire overlooking the world as they knew it was a star . Other children had begun protesting, but Shigeo had taken to looking out the window amidst the chaos and debates, wondering if he could catch a glimpse of the sun and see the similarities.

And then he was there, beaming up at the sky littered with lights that seemed to twinkle back at him - lights that looked so small when observed from the earth, but were actually far more colossal. To think there was more than a million suns out there, seen and unseen… Shigeo hadn't tasted nostalgia like this in a while.

When was the last time he'd ever sat himself down outside to look up at the stars? Shigeo couldn't remember. Ever since school began to corner him into hectic schedules, there was very little time for kicking back and relaxing.

No use thinking that, of course. Shigeo would wake up the next day, and it would be summer.

“Beautiful,” began Arataka, robbing Shigeo's gaze before he could even realize his head had reared at the very sound of his voice. “I could watch all night, really. Hic.

“You're not even looking at the sky anymore, Master,” Shigeo laughed.

Arataka chuckled back at him, finally turning his eyes up to the heavens. “I know.”

You're weird, Master. “We should get you home before you realize you’re with me at, erm,” Shigeo’s eyes danced around the empty streets, “a hotel district.”

“Do we have to?” whined the older male, throwing his head back as though it was heavier than he could lift. “I wanna stay longer!”

“No, you don’t. You passed out in a bar and now we’re outside in the cold of night - ”

“Agh, my body feels hot!”

“Exactly why we need you home soon.”

Shigeo turned to his groceries, double checking if things were safe for locomotion. He hadn’t wanted a single egg broken by the time he got home, let alone, his master’s apartment. He shuffled things around, rearranged the disturbed positions, lifted the bag, and nodded to himself in approval. That should probably do it.

The moment he turned back, however, Arataka had begun undressing. He had made it as far as unbuttoning his blazer completely and was progressing through unlacing the tie around his neck as quick as half-asleep drunks could go within a little less than ten seconds - which wasn’t fast. At all.

“Master, what are you - ?”

“Guh! Damned thing won’t - come - loose!” Arataka cursed, tugging his tie in all directions, in desperate attempt to get it off of him, adding on force and power with every stressed word. “Agh, fuck it all .”

The moment his hand laid on his belt next, Shigeo couldn’t let himself suffer watching any further. Crystallized blue aura held the buckle, fixed the now ruined knot of his tie, and wrapped his blazer back on him - all done with a single gesture of Shigeo’s index finger, taking Arataka completely by surprise. Just when his master lifted his narrowed gaze, Shigeo grimaced at him, “We’re going home. Now, Master.”

“It’s hot ,” repeated Arataka. His fingers proceeded to unbutton his tuxedo once more, only to no avail - the buttons could no longer fit through the holes for an exit. “What the actual fuck - ?”

“It’s hot, you claim,” Shigeo began, “but that’s all on you, Master. It’s relatively colder without alcohol in my systems.”

You try!”

Shigeo was having none of that. “It’s hot, you say, but that doesn’t immediately mean you strip in the middle of a street, when anyone can walk around this or that corner, or this or that alleyway.” He ran a hand down his face. “Now, Master, tell me, can you walk?”

Arataka crossed his arms. Stubborn, aren’t we? “Of course, I - hic - can! What the hell do you take me for? H-how old do you think I am? Three? I’m three hundred , fuck you.”

Shigeo began to smile. He could no longer figure out the ways of how alcohol could truly alter someone’s thinking, but this rare sight unfolding in front of him made him want to pull out his phone and hit record. When Arataka took notice of the smallest hint of a grin on his student’s face, his voice began to grow in volume as he cried out, “The hell are you laughing at?”

He shook his head. Shigeo couldn’t possibly grow the nerve to raise his voice against him, drunk or not. “It’s nothing, Master. Let’s get you home.” He bolted to his feet only to squat in front of Arataka, his back to him. “Hop on. Please.”

Arataka contemplated for a while before finally deciding to hesitantly wrap his arms around Shigeo’s neck, his legs looping through Shigeo’s arms and around his torso. “Just so you know,” the man started as the younger male lifted him off the ground, “I can walk.”

“I know,” Shigeo answered, surprised at how light Arataka was. He’s always thought a glutton like him would weigh so much more. Does he ever eat anything at home? “You’re going to be distracted by something as simple as a fire hydrant, though, thus spending another full hour admiring how red it is. I’m only taking precaution. I’m sure you can walk just fine, Master.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Mob?”

You did good, Mob.

“No, Master.”

Arataka snuggled against him, nuzzling his face in the crook of Shigeo’s neck. Shigeo would be lying if he were to say he hadn’t felt a surge of static down his spine, alongside the sudden urge to drop his master off of him. “You said it was cold,” Arataka complained, “so why the fuck is it warmer this way?”

“The air, Master, I was talking about the air. It would be easier for the two of us if you remove your head from…” He fell short on words the moment he began to wish he had only imagined Arataka licking him once.

“Does that disturb you?”

Shigeo could feel his face beginning to burn. “Yes, Master.”

Arataka hummed in thought, then shrugged in surrender. “Okay.”

The two of them had then succumbed to a silence occasionally disrupted by passing cars and night-owls enjoying the Friday night with a stroll to their favorite places, but even the small streams of people in the heart of the city had evidently begun to wear thin. Shigeo couldn’t tell what time it was, but knowing there were less people eyeing them, he could fairly well say they were fast approaching ten in the evening.

Arataka had always told Shigeo he lived rather close to the bus station where most apartment complexes were located on that side of town, and needed no directions to the said place. There were barely any people exiting or entering their homes, but as far as the eye could see, there was not a single unit left unlit. Shigeo found this rather interesting, yet then again, Arataka was still behind him, nestled quietly on his back, which meant he hadn’t spotted which apartment could have been his. Upon arrival at the ghost town of a station, he had found out Arataka had fallen asleep, and even though he hadn’t liked to, he gently shook him awake.

“Master,” he squeaked, “we’re almost there. Could you tell me which building you live in?”

Arataka withdrew his arms to rub at his eyes, and Shigeo could feel him peering over his shoulder right after, scanning the neighborhood of one large building next to another. He swore he heard him mutter to himself, “Where do I live again?”

Shigeo had no choice but to trust his directions. The next few minutes were spent like how a horse would have done it, especially with Arataka’s unsure directions (and Shigeo was most certain that the drunk man had intentionally played him) going along these lines:

“Uh, take a left - no! Your other left!”

“It should be somewhere around… there! Mob, Mob, forward!”

“Dedicate to your heart, Mob! Steer right!”

“Actually, I think we went past it.”

Multiple times did Shigeo think he didn’t have all night, multiple times did he think Ritsu was beginning to blow a fuse from the other side of town, but eventually at some point he thought all of his walking around, being instructed with the most outrageous demands, had paid off - that particular point being the time Arataka had officially made up his mind and familiarized the first building they ran past.

Room 28 on the fifth floor had no light pouring through the windows.

Weeks later, Room 28 on the fifth floor still had no light pouring through the windows.

“Dedicate to your heart,” said Shigeo, tailing closely behind Arataka as they made their way through the corridor.

“What?”

“Uh,” Shigeo snickered, “take a left.”

What left?” Arataka looked around, troubled and confused, not having a single idea as to how he would ever take a left in a narrow hall, when in that direction there were only windows. Flabbergasted and evidently stressed, he widened his eyes at the taller male in anticipation.

Shigeo made sure to keep their gazes locked as he corrected coldly, “Your other left.”

“Are you being passive aggressive with me?”

Shigeo shrugged as he wove past the older male, trudging towards the door with the golden plate that read: REIGEN. In his mind, he unlocked the knob, and strongly believing he could open the door without the aid of a key, he clasped the sphere that protruded out the wooden panel and twisted.

The door swung inwardly with ease.

Arataka clapped him once on the back. “You're getting better at lock picking. It's scary.”

“Erm. Thank you, Master. I suppose.”

“So what was the deal with the left-right bullshit you were spouting a while back?”

Shigeo could feel the smile creeping up and tugging at his lips. He managed to refrain from succumbing. “Those were the directions you gave me to find this place the first time.”

Arataka eyed him skeptically. “But I was drunk.”

“Mmhmm.”

“...oh.”

“Right.”

Oh. ” Shigeo pulled him inside before toeing his shoes off. Arataka followed in earnest. “I can't believe you’ve never brought this up before.”

“Too many things happened the day I intended to tell you, so it slipped from my mind completely. Just now, it came as a random thought. Nothing special beyond that, Master.”

“It's something special to me, though! And boy, do you hate my first name a lot, or what?” Arataka mused, shoving his and Shigeo's pairs of shoes side-by-side on a shelf. He lifted his gaze and glared. “Tell me the whole story.”

How old do you think I am? Three?

Shigeo bit his lip before he could bark out laughing. “You'd never look me in the eye after this, Master. I think some parts are made to be kept direly secret.”

“That wasn't a request, Mob.”

He sighed through his nostrils in surrender. Stubborn, aren't we still? “Of course it wasn't, Master."

 

- - -

Thank you for 300 hits!

Chapter Text

“Master!” called out Shigeo, as though it would cause any major differences. He hadn't reacted in time, not even quick enough to use his powers - mostly because he'd been walking for God knew how long with groceries and baggage in the name of Reigen Arataka, and yes, Shigeo was exhausted - so there laid his freight of a master, passed out on the doorstep the moment they entered his apartment. He quickly toed off his shoes and removed Arataka's as well, before lifting him in a bridal carry. First you strip in the streets, and now you pass out in halls. The difference between a right-minded you and an alcohol-induced you is remarkable, Master.

Shigeo smiled. I’m not complaining, though. This doesn't happen every day, after all.

Perhaps it had been from Shigeo's steps, or the swaying he couldn't control as he walked, but the moment he had gone past the living room, Arataka's body stiffened in his wake.

“Get me down,” croakily demanded Arataka in Shigeo's arms as he peeled both eyes open slowly, “you piece of - ,” he paused to reach out an arm, fondling the younger male's cheek with a weak thumb, “ - have I ever told you you're beautiful, Mob?”

This truly is something that doesn't happen every day. Shigeo's face was visibly on fire, and from below his chin he could feel Arataka's quaking, but not of the cold, neither of a seizure - he was chuckling in his hold, chuckling at him. He couldn't help but feel a little bit more petrified for what was to come. Admitting it to himself that he was in love with a person was one thing, but to be accepting open flirting from that particular person, as if from the very beginning he knew this was what all his efforts would amount to, was another and it terrified him even more. He was not taking advantage of his situation. Shigeo would not allow that.

“You're red,” Arataka added on. “It's cute.”

His personality changes from the instant I turn away from him. He's starting to resemble him now - the original him. He chewed on the inner walls of his cheeks as if it would do anything to relieve the building temperature of the blood in his face. Stay calm, Shigeo.

Truly, he thought he was going to die then and there.

He was lucky enough to have found the bedroom. To be fair, the apartment wasn't that large, but with Arataka consequently injecting compliments Shigeo had never even imagined of receiving, it felt like it was his longest walk of the evening.

He lowered him onto the bed, only for him to roll on his stomach as Shigeo straightened himself. “Master, do you still feel hot?”

“While you're around me, of course it's gonna be really hot. My chest is burning, and it hurts - all thanks to you!” Shigeo would have let it pass. Oh, how he wished the statement had been purely sarcastic.

It wasn't. At all.

Arataka had offered him a smile that drove past the boundaries of sincerity, and something had twisted inside of Shigeo, something, somewhere, was in unrecognizable pain and the longer he looked at Arataka, the more he became aware of it. He disliked that - despised it in such a way he wanted to banish it for good.

‘My chest is burning and it hurts - all thanks to you!’

Does that mean… he’s feeling the same twist? Shigeo clutched his chest, grasping the fabric above his heart, and for a moment, he felt as though he had come into contact with where it hurt the most. It was a bad habit of his to grab at his heart during situations of unease and he did it because he’d seen Arataka do it multiple times in the past. His eyes drifted towards the man sprawled out on the bed like a mess in front of him, wondering, Can he tell?

“Hmm, what’s this?” Arataka queried. “Falling for me, too, Mob-kun?”

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Shigeo told him sharply, pondering whether his tone and the slight raise of his volume were enough to convince someone just as cunning as ever. As he spun on his heels to leave, he instructed further, “You better be dressed in a more comfortable selection of clothes when I return, Master.”

Stop toying with me. My feelings are real.

If you flirt with me even further,  I might just lose -

Shigeo’s phone slipped through his fingers, pummeling towards the center of the toilet bowl. In his mind, he had already seen the sequence of events, from the moment his phone hit the ceramic, breaking the camera, before sliding down the slope and splashlessly entering the bowl of water at the lowest level.

With a hitch of his breath and an extended arm, the phone froze mid-air, carried by nothing but his own aura, blanketing the device the way a field stuck to a nucleus. Shigeo fell to his knees, reaching out for his phone and holding it close to his chest. How… did it slip?

Shigeo clutched the side of his head. “Get it together,” he whispered into the air. “What were you thinking?”

 

[10:29PM, 07/07/18] Ritsu: Will you make it back in time? The last train’s ‘til 11.

[10:37PM] Shigeo: not sure, i’ll let you in on the updates later

 

Shigeo began to hand wash the towelette, scrubbing an inch of its life off. Keep flirting with me, and I might just do something I’ll regret later. He turned the tap on, rinsing the cloth to rid it of soap residue. He really had no time for this, but neither did he feel like exiting the bathroom only to march back into the bedroom and meet him.

It hurts, Master.

Arataka might as well have a dab of that alcohol to fade away, and whether Shigeo's solutions were the most painfully obvious or most obviously painful for measures to be taken, was a question beyond him, but either way there wasn’t anyone to scold him - all he could do was trust himself and do what he thought would be for the best.

He bet Arataka, if he was conscious but couldn’t grasp full control of his body, would have inwardly told him that.

He bet that thought, however, would never occur to the Arataka rolling on the floor when Shigeo mustered up his courage to return to the bedroom with the wet towelette. If he remembered correctly, he set Arataka down on the bed, not the carpet, and with the instruction of dressing out of his work clothes.

“It’s hot!” he moaned, punching the floor, unaware of Shigeo’s presence by the doorway. He began kicking out of spite, squirming around like a worm under the attack of an army of ants until finally rolling to face the entrance, where his quiet student loitered. Shigeo watched the rise and fall of his chest, his breathlessness adding on to the red hue creeping from his neck to the very tips of his ears. “Why are you standing there?”

Must I keep returning to find you in a completely different personality each time, Master? He wasn’t going to complain; he’d rather have this man yelling at him than flirting. “I got your towelette,” Shigeo told him bluntly as he entered the room, only to settle next to the exhausted male on the floor. To have Arataka running low on the energy to keep resisting made things easier for him. He handed Arataka the folded face towel. “Please hold this for me, Master.”

Shigeo began to work. His efficiency would deteriorate the moment Arataka regained another bar of energy. He hoped this exhaustion would last for the whole night; at the very least the man would have to sleep well.

“M-my bad, Master,” he sheepishly apologized, realizing that the slits were still smaller for the fasteners to fit. I’m looking like a fool in front of him now. “I forgot to readjust the holes.” His fingers were shivering as he proceeded to undo the buttons of his blazer, enough for him to pause every couple of seconds to curl and uncurl his hands to keep himself from shaking. It’s weird to not be scolded after a series of mistakes. Not to mention , his eyes stole a quick glance at the blonde man’s face, he’s gone awfully quiet.

Upon unfastening all the buttons of his blazer, Shigeo wordlessly pulled him up from the floor and cast him onto the bed, supporting his back against the headboard as to grant himself ease in undoing his tie. He could have ripped this apart earlier , Shigeo thought, nipping at the foreskin of his lips as he began to gently swinging the knot side-to-side. I couldn’t have let him do it. This tie, he paused to study the shade of pink, looks exactly like the one he wore when we met.

“You're quiet,” Shigeo noted, but no reply escaped Arataka's lips. He wasn't even facing him, and by the time Shigeo lifted his gaze to look, Arataka buried his eyes into the cold towel and appeared more or less as though he were sulking. Shigeo decided to leave him be.

Or so he did up until he had to remove his belt next. Shigeo swallowed a gob down his throat before reaching for the buckle - he hesitated for the most part, thinking how dangerously close he was to doing something he shouldn't have been - waking the sleeping man only to whisper, “Ah. That tickles.”

“I-I-I'm so sorry, Master.” Shigeo immediately withdrew. He couldn't do this any longer. If the butterflies in his stomach wouldn't kill him, his heart would. “P-please… work on the belt yourself.”

“Oh? Were you about to prey on this poor sleeping and vulnerable ,” he placed a hand over his chest, another to cover his mouth in feign shock, “body of mine, Mob-kun?”

“O-of course not,” Shigeo denied, grabbing the towelette from him before drawing closer to his face. He breathed heavily through his nostrils in frail attempt to gather his bearings. I preferred it when he was asleep. He reached out the towel, and right before wiping at the side of his face, Shigeo muttered a barely audible, “Excuse me, Master.”

He already knew trying to free him from the girth of his belt was dangerous enough as it was, Shigeo was afraid he'd misplace his hands by mistake, let alone, allow his eyes to linger on places they shouldn't have. He couldn't trust himself - not the version of him where he was horribly maladroit when nervous, where he was easily distracted by anything and everything. He wanted to slap himself for near mindlessly doing such a task either way.

Shigeo wiped at his forehead, the sides of his face, under his eyes, over his lips… and repeated. He hoped he hadn't exerted so much force all because he wanted to violently scrub that smug smirk off of him. Every now and then he had to remind himself that his goal was to get rid of the stench of alcohol, all so he couldn't wake up in the morning smelling that first thing.

But that goal he held in mind made him want to scour his face with detergent. Arataka completely reeked of alcohol. If only he could fit him inside a washing machine, Shigeo probably could already have done it ages ago.

“If you don't mind, Master,” he murmured, “it's about time you stop smiling at me. I don't know what's so funny. I-it’s distracting.”

You're distracting.”

Shigeo carried on his duties, apathetically eyeing his master. He could hold out just a little longer, then he could go home, explain everything through text for him to read in the morning. “Do I look that horrendous, after all?” He didn't care, he couldn't even recall why he told him that. If he could maintain a conversation as he dry-cleaned Arataka's face and arms, Shigeo would pay less attention to the destructive locomotion he kept hidden in his chest.

It felt very odd to be in his master's bedroom, with Arataka sitting open and weak to anything. Very odd when he was leaned closer, as though he disregarded the concept of personal space. And by overthinking so, he provided himself fuel to make his skin tingle, his breaths shallow.

All the while, there was Arataka without a single pang of care radiated off of his face. He was laughing, snorting, slapping at Shigeo’s hands from time to time, claiming the towel was cold, that it was ticklish, and complained childishly, almost indignantly but the laughter that he would always insert at the end had been a dead giveaway.

You’re never this happy lately , Shigeo thought to himself. It was true - he hadn’t seen him laugh like that in a while, and the younger male had always been concerned because he could do nothing to bring it back. So much for being able to differentiate love and romance, he was useless even so. He couldn’t walk up to Arataka and simply ask what was wrong, he’d be mistaken for someone prying into someone else’s private life. He couldn’t walk up to him and give an immediate answer either, as not all problems were fathomable by someone like him , who still needed advice from his peers before doing most of the things he had to do.

He couldn’t even understand or figure out the reason as to why he had to go out drinking so recklessly. Shigeo was sure he was aware of how weak he was to alcohol. He’d lost count as to how many times he passed out on him that night.

“Why would you ever do this to yourself?” Shigeo asked, frowning at Arataka’s fingers as he proceeded to clean the gaps between them. If alcohol truly could allow a person to open up, Shigeo intended to make use of it, even for just that one question. “You’re bad at handling drinks, even the bartender knows that. And here you are, a mess in your own home, with me tending to you because you can barely get on your feet. What drove you to go this far?”

Arataka’s smile hadn’t faded but instead, grew even wider. He threw his head back and chuckled into the air, before sluggishly turning back to Shigeo. “You’d hate me for this, Mob!” he exclaimed, close to a quieter howling. “I mean - agh, I’m the worst at this department. It’s hilarious! Really.”

“So…” Shigeo began to fold the towel to temporarily place on the bedside table. “There really is something that’s bothering you at the moment, isn’t there, Master?”

“Of course there is,” Arataka answered, a little bit too proud for someone claiming to have a problem. “It's just - ”

“Just?”

Arataka barked, bundling his hair in frantic holds. “I can't explain! It's just,” he paused to look at him, “I haven't even been attracted to anyone in so long but when I look at you - ”

Shigeo's breath hitched.

“ - I feel so jittery and everything just changes,” Arataka concluded, only to cry out even louder in attempt to curse the gods above, “Ah, fuck it all!” His eyes trailed back down to Shigeo, and they weren't the same dark orbs that had used to eye him sincerely, or the ones that screamed arrogance into their clients’ souls. They were a wild pair of irises, and they were burning holes into Shigeo's very core, scrutinizing him, tempting to bring out a voice that was never there. His eyes exuded an anticipation, a flood of want for Shigeo to speak after what he was to say.

He's going to ask me if I like him, isn't he? The ravenette swallowed a gob down his throat, fidgeting with the hem of his cardigan. I’ll… have to tell him the truth?

“Have I ever told you you were beautiful?” alas came the question, catching the poor younger male off guard, igniting the blood underneath his shell of skin.

Arataka was looking at him properly, and Shigeo had to bathe in a humiliation of being watched as a red blush erupted from the warmth in his chest, clambering up his neck and invading his face.

“U-um, Master - ”

“And you're really really kind, too.”

“But - ”

“Your clumsiness is adorable !” The older male, whose eyelids began to grow visibly heavier, cupped his hands on either side of his mouth and shouted, “God, talk about charm points !”

“M-Master, I - ”

“You're cute when you blush.”

That was the last straw.

Shigeo bowed and mustered out a squeaky, “E-excuse me, I-I-I need to, uh, return the towel to the, er, b... bathroom! Yes!” His hand had swiped the wet fabric off the desk before he spun on his heels to leave.

Arataka's words were becoming more and more slurred again, just like they had the first time they met that night, and his head swayed in all directions possible. Shigeo was even impressed he could still comprehend what he had been trying to convey, and how he could have miraculously kept his head up throughout most of the conversation.

He had, however, more matters to deal with.

Get it together! Shigeo chided himself. You're supposed to help him, not this! And as if on cue, Shigeo's chest had once more awaken into pulses of pain, enough for him to want to stop his own breathing. You're toying your own feelings now. Is that what you want?

He wished he hadn't understood a word Arataka said. He wished the drunk man had succumbed to his grogginess the moment he collapsed by the doorway. If either of that had happened, Shigeo couldn't have been dying from embarrassment and the guilt clawing at his throat for ever trying to take advantage of his master's situation.

You're cute when you blush.

Shigeo had to resist his own hands from shielding his face. Forget the guilt, there was the humiliation of being showered compliments, and actually feeling happy for hearing them. There was the humiliation of believing what he said, and there was the humiliation of curtly beginning to find truth in an assumption.

Have I ever told you you were beautiful?

There was nothing, clearly, between the two of them. What was I thinking?

Shigeo was an idiot for falling for the words of a man he couldn't even call half-awake. The heat that had once permeated across his features began to seep into his eyes, and this onslaught of tears, wrung with an aching heart and burning, oxygen-deprived lungs, had told him he was going to repent for his sins.

But when I look at you, I feel all jittery.

Shigeo clicked his tongue.

And everything changes.

He couldn't wait to get home.

What happened next had come all so unclear, so fast he wasn't even able to register. Just when the world had fallen into a blur, everything had suddenly come back into detail. Shigeo could no longer only see the color of the light in the hall as there unfolded before him was the doorframe and the printed designs of the wallpaper sitting across the room. He recalled leaving, he recalled taking a step towards the exit, and there he stood frozen.

No.

He would never have wanted to stay frozen. Not Shigeo, not in that situation.

He was being anchored, and as though his numbness had come to a complete stop, he could finally feel the fingers furling around his wrist, and his eyes had naturally gravitated towards what had sat patiently behind him - Arataka, breaths deepened probably from his own surprise, with an arm flexed out and a hand restraining the younger male from ever exiting.

“You're… not leaving, are you?” Arataka asked.

Shigeo couldn't reply. His plan had been to leave the moment he returned the face towel. His plan had been to run away before Arataka could transcend back into his right-minded state. He was no longer comfortable with the man who took his master's form and began vocalizing words he would never find Arataka saying. Things would have been easier if they had all been a spirit’s work, but sadly Shigeo was most certain an exorcism wouldn't be of any help for ridding someone of alcohol.

“Mob,” added Arataka, “you’ll come back. Won't you?”

Shigeo decided to go with another excuse to get him by. “Master, I believe you should be resting. It's getting late.”

“Stay with me.”

What?

“Please, just for a night!”

“You're drunk, Master.”

Arataka shook his head, and slashed at the air in an exaggerated gesture. “I don't care! I’m asking for one night, is that so hard to ask?”

Is this real?

“I'm afraid I can't allow you to have me, Master.”

I'm not falling for it.

“I'm not asking you to have sex with me, dammit.” He released his hold on Shigeo's arm and buried his face in his palms. “Is that how you think it is?” The two of them fell quiet, only to have Arataka emerge his face for showcase, his eyes rekindled with a softness Shigeo hadn't seen in a while. The violent air-slasher in him had once again dispersed into invisible clouds of air, abandoning a body that had learned how to plead through gazing.

“I’m not asking you to do… anything of the like, you know?” He smiled and drew a deep breath only to release it. “Reconsider, Mob! I just need a night I could share with someone.”

Shigeo didn't know how to respond to that. He studied him, studied the bed, studied the room. This entire apartment, he had kept to himself for himself.

I just need a night I could share with someone.

Shigeo shut his eyes. I can't possibly believe you, can I?

“I’ll… think about it, Master,” he blurted, and Arataka broke into a wordless and toothy grin.

 

[07/07/18, 10:59PM] Shigeo: im sorry for making you wait but i don't think i can come home tonight

[10:59PM] Shigeo: it turns out i can't leave him like this

 

What am I doing?

Shigeo curled his fingers around the doorknob and breathed as normal as he thought normal people would go. In his mind, he was already drowning in a panic he couldn't escape from, and his hands were shaking. He wasn't particularly terrified; he just didn't know why he ever considered such an odd offer.

The person he adored, drunk as he was, had asked him to stay the night, with the promise of no violating him or his body. Shigeo was a sucker for his eyes, and as though he had fallen victim to hypnosis, his throat had cracked out a yes without him thinking it through.

He was sure Ritsu was blowing up his phone, and Shigeo's precaution was to turn it off. He wasn't so sure if he had done the right thing; it didn't matter that much anymore, seeing as Shigeo knew it in himself that he never really could do the right thing most of the time.

He entrusted the next chain of events to whatever kind of god watching them from above, rigging their entire story like a sitcom interlaced with a flood of angst and drama coming from an inwardly overdramatic teenage boy. Shigeo hoped for the best.

The moment he slowly opened the door, he had seen Arataka in bed, tossing and turning, dissatisfied even with the reduction of his blazer and tie. Shigeo didn't blame him. He, too, felt hot in his own school uniform, but he couldn't empathize - he had Arataka to worry about.

 

“I told you that ?” Arataka asked, holding his head in his hands as he dropped his chopsticks on the table. “Oh, God, I’m this close to jumping out of the window but you and your wretched psychic powers are going to hinder me from ever committing suicide therefore backing me into a corner of no escape. Is there a way to die where you can't stop me?”

“No.”

“Even by hanging?”

“I can carry you if you kick off the chair,” Shigeo stated as though he was reading from a book. “I don't require psychic powers for that.”

“I am regretting my life decisions,” he sobbed, much to Shigeo's enjoyment.

“Mm. I recall telling you some things were meant to be kept secret, Master.”

“Remind me, Mob, why did I ever ask to hear the full story?”

“Because this is the first opportunity we’ve gotten to hear it out?”

Arataka sighed.

Shigeo grinned.

“Are you continuing?”

The younger male took a scoop off his rice bowl and placed it into his mouth. “If it makes you that uncomfortable, I’ll stop, Master.”

If Shigeo closed his eyes, he would recall how everything had folded out after entering the bedroom a third time that night. He recalled how much he had quivered as he meandered through the room, avoiding any object as much and as robotically as possible, before making it to Arataka's side. The whole time he'd approached the older male was eyeing him closely, almost listlessly.

It didn't matter to Shigeo; he'd wanted his energy to deplete for the last time after all. Though, if he were to say the eyes scrutinizing him weren't bothersome and hadn't left his skin prickling, Shigeo would be lying.

Shigeo recalled how Arataka begged to face him, after his cold-hearted good night greeting which clearly wasn't enough for either party. He recalled how he reluctantly turned, only to lock eyes with the elder male, hearing his first words go, “You finally looked.”

He looked like he was going to tear up.

Shigeo could still feel a hand brushing his cheek. He could feel his heart pounding against the mattress enough to make it reverberate towards Arataka. He remembered realizing how close their noses were from touching one another, and he remembered how the blonde laced his fingers through his for the first time.

If he blocked out all sound from his ears, he could hear the conversation go on loud and clear in his head:

“I would travel to the stars and back for you. I'd nyoom to outer space just to compare how bright stars are and conclude you're beyond measure relative to them.” Arataka lips pulled into a grin - childishly, almost in a giggling feat. “They're nothing to what you are to me! I’ll fight them!”

“Them...?”

“The stars, Mob!” he rolled his eyes. “Keep up!”

“You… Can't fight the stars, Master,” Shigeo told him off, never knowing what he was supposed to say, but most certain that he had to say something - anything. Every pore in his body ruptured into heat waves, knowing a Plebian like him hadn't deserved such words, yet there he was, settling into a bed face-to-face with the person where his love issues had all stemmed from.

Inwardly, he still believed what Arataka told him were lies. He didn't want to believe they were true. He didn't want to wake up in the morning with tears pooling in his eyes and think, “Ah, what a dream.”

He wanted it to be real so badly.

But things just felt so out of reach, so fake, so anything but palpable. It saddened him. If he was to feel everything in a single night and feel abandoned and alone the next day, Shigeo would much have preferred never experiencing a thing from the very beginning.

How do I even know you're telling the truth?

“You look sad.”

“Don't worry, Master. I’m fine.”

“Are you?”

Shigeo smiled, but as he forcibly stretched the ends of his lips, the more it had appeared staged. Would he even bother realizing that for himself? Really, he just wanted this night to get over with. “Yes. Thank you for the care.”

Arataka squeezed his hand. “Don't mention it, mm…” he trailed for to give way for a yawn, “‘kay?”

“When do you plan on letting go?”

“I don't,” pouted the older male. “Do you want me to?”

“I don't,” imitated Shigeo. Arataka's sleepiness had concocted with the alcohol in influencing him, and his speech grew all the more watery by the second. He should sleep soon.

Shigeo could just slip out in the morning, explain the situation when they met at the office. Yes, yes, he could do that. “Master, I think - ”

“I like you.”

“What?”

“I like everything about you,” Arataka added on, moving away tufts of Shigeo's hair to tuck behind his ear. “I like you smiling, I like you around me, I like seeing you work your hardest. I like… every little thing.”

The friendzone, thought the younger male, for a second time.

Shigeo smiled. Never in his entire life had he found stretching his lips so heartbreaking. He'd always imagined confessions were heartfelt, but all Shigeo could feel was poison seeping out of Arataka's mouth, slowly creeping into his veins, circulating throughout his body. “Thank you, Master.”

“Don't you like me back?”

“That's… something else, Master.”

It's light along my tongue, so why is it so heavy on the chest?

“You don't look happy.”

“But I’m smiling.”

“You're not.”

Breathe.

“Do you like me back, Mob-kun?”

Shigeo couldn't find the words to reply. He was sure, if his lips had parted, a sob would find its way out of his throat. His mind was so close to believing it, so, so close…

Is this an assumption, too?

And suddenly, smiling wasn't so hard anymore. His chest ruptured with warmth - it wasn't a hellish kind of ignition, nor was it bereaving his lungs of oxygen, but instead, much to his surprise, he was home. He had let go of all thought, he gave little to no care to all the things that he had used to die thinking about. There was no control over his pulse, or the hand that clamped over Arataka's, but there was only the older male's voice recurring and echoing in his skull, screaming into his being: “I like you.”

“What does that make us, then, Master?” Shigeo queried. He had never wanted tears to harbor in his eyes, but at the moment there was no helping it. He was happy , for the first time throughout this entire endeavor. Happiness , and it felt like he hadn't tasted it that way before - it was a first for an awfully long time. “Does that mean, we're… together?”

“W-we are, of course!” he yipped, but only as enthusiastic as his lethargy could allow. Arataka was interfered with a yawn and his head heavily sank into his pillow. “Give me a morning kiss in the morning, then.”

So this is the feeling of being overwhelmed.

“Of course, Master.”

“I can't wait to see you in my dreams again.”

This is real.

Arataka gently grabbed for Shigeo's hand, bringing it up to his lips and pressed a quick kiss to his knuckles before resorting to a slow and dying motion of tracing circles over the back of his hand. “I’ll wake up, then reunite with you when the sun comes.”

No one lives in this same moment aside from the two of us. How can this not be real?

“Good night, Master.”

Shigeo watched as Arataka's lips twitched into a small smile all before his hand had limped, but nonetheless still holding on and connected by the pulse, enough to reassure the younger male that he was, indeed, right next to him.

Somehow, Shigeo closed his eyes, I feel at ease.

But two weeks later, quickly coming on to three, in the same bathroom where he had washed Arataka's face towel, Shigeo was not at ease.

Chapter Text

 

Shigeo glared at his own reflection. Did he look the part? He couldn't tell. What made an adult that he didn't have?

He probably shouldn't have gone for a try so soon, neglecting that it was in fact nighttime and there wasn't a need for him to show Arataka a shirt he didn't even own. Aren't I too excited?

Hanazawa told him that morning he should be growing used to wearing slim-fit shirts, as Shigeo had a wardrobe that usually just revolved around tops that were at least two sizes larger. “But you don't have to wear them all the time,” Hanazawa noted, “since even I’ve grown used to your baggy shirts. They look nice on you, either way. It won't be Kageyama Shigeo anymore if you give up on your more comfortable clothes. Let's just say the slim-fits are made to complement your body without making it look too desperate of you that you work out. So, uh, maybe wear these when you're going out?”

“I haven't even worked out that much anymore, though.”

“Says the person who just ran over six laps in half an hour.”

And so there was Shigeo, in the same bathroom where he had washed his master's face towel, gawking at his own reflection wearing one of the plain grey slim-fits his father no longer used.

Really, the longer he stood there staring at himself, the more he realized how comfortable his oversized shirts were. Sure, the “slim-fit” lived up to its name - it was neither too large or too fit, it didn't cling to him like second skin, but Shigeo felt less air brushing his chest, and it felt as though the cotton had cocooned his warmth, returning his body heat to its source like a new definition of narcissism.

This wasn't the best decision for sleeping wear, Shigeo thought, attempting to loosen the collar, later using it to fan himself. I should have brought extra shirts.

Thinking cotton would spare him the summer night heat was the greatest betrayal his brain had committed.

Should I borrow a shirt from Master, after all? Shigeo sighed, running a hand through his scalp, catching sight of sweat in tiny revulets streaming quickly down from his hair. He lifted his layer of fringe, revealing a thin group of strands now matted to his forehead. The only thing he was grateful for was the fact that he brought a barrette pin, or he would have sweat blood the entire night long, not to mention he was to sleep next to Arataka. Shigeo cursed his perspiration glands.

He moved a hand over his stomach, feeling his own muscles as if doubting their presence. They weren't anywhere close to what the fourteen-year-old him had envisioned when he joined the Body Improvement Club - there weren't any evident chiseled lumps of muscle protruding, nor were there any perfectly curved and angled biceps that shaped his arms, but he had most certainly grown to be more fit than way before. Perhaps there weren't any rock-like lumps but there was at least a hint of them under his shirt, and his waistline allowed himself to categorize as borderline thin. Shigeo didn't know the standard, but as far as he could tell, he was a growing male with quick metabolism, his fat hopefully in the right places, and he was most certainly not malnourished.

He had strong hopes that Arataka would at least view him as attractive. The signals were always mixed; he couldn't tell. Even if he asked, Arataka would most probably weasel himself out of the hot seat with a snap of his fingers. Like magic.

What a cunning man.

An annoyingly cunning man.

As if on cue, in the silence of his four-walled sanctuary came the disturbance of three consecutive knocks, a terse silence, and a door-muffled, “Mob?”

Shigeo, surprised as he was, had his voice dying before it could even clamber up his throat. Arataka added on, “Mob, I’m coming in.”

The doorknob turned after two quick jiggles, and the door creaked open, revealing what used to be a peering eye that now became a full head popping out between the gap. “Everything okay in here?”

Shigeo cleared his throat. “Y-yes, Master.”

“You're clutching your stomach,” Arataka noticed, and with his lips, gestured to the hand Shigeo held over his abdomen. “Does it hurt?”

“Ah, no, this is nothing. Nothing to worry about.”

Arataka hesitated, then nodded in what seemed more or less like false comprehension. “Alright, then. I’ll be in the bedroom. Don't take too long.”

When the door closed shut, Shigeo released a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

He didn't even notice the shirt.

Moments later after further contemplating, Shigeo decided to rip his father's top off of him, hurling it into the laundry basket, and trudged back into the bedroom as is, only to find the older male on his bed, eyes glued to the tablet he usually kept in his bedside drawer. Arataka looked up from a heated round of Candy Crush to acknowledge Shigeo, then frowned. Shigeo raced him into explaining and entered the room, making his way to the closet. “The other shirt got uncomfortable.”

“Let's say it was,” Arataka retorted, “but that doesn't mean you can walk around this household naked from the waist up. You’ll catch a cold.” And with those finishing words, he rolled on his stomach and went back to his game.

Shigeo grinned to himself. “Can I borrow one of yours, then, Master?”

“One of mine?”

“A shirt.”

“Of course , you can borrow a shirt, Mob. You know where they're at. You don't need my permission.” The last time I hadn't asked for permission I got to steal a point from you, was what Shigeo had wanted to say but his lips stayed zippered as he pulled out a drawer, and filed through the bottom of the stack of folded clothes. Arataka added on, “Though, I don't think you’d like what you’ll find.”

“Why not?” He rummaged around the bottom layer of Arataka’s house shirts, only to find one of his own - a plain white cotton with black owl prints down the torso, avoiding the sleeves. Did I leave this the other day?

“I’m surprised you're playing dumb with me,” the older male huffed. “Don't you like your tees a couple of sizes larger?”

Taken by surprise, Shigeo whipped his head towards him, albeit greeted by an unmoving master with his back to the ceiling. He knows?

“Seriously, it keeps surprising me that you’re still able to find shirts larger than your size. You already have broad shoulders, and yet shopping districts can still offer even larger clothing - that's amazing.” Arataka lifted his gaze and rolled over once more to face Shigeo mid-game. “Well, I guess there are people like - why are you looking at me like that? You haven't even started changing.”

He was broken out of his trance and snapped back towards the closet. Of course he’d notice , thought Shigeo, Master knows me more than anyone. He proceeded to bundling the hem of his new shirt into his fists, and as he slid the fabric up his arms as so he could lift it over his head, he froze. Arataka knew Shigeo better than anyone. If that was the case, was Shigeo the person who knew Arataka the best, as well?

“I don't even know a single thing about you,” said a character in every shoujo manga Shigeo read (he used them solely for research purposes). That line had usually spilled from one of the main characters’ mouth, Shigeo was sure.

And there was something that followed after it. It was either a reply or an add-on.

What was it again?

Oh, right.

“Let's end this.”

Shigeo shook the thought of it away. No, he wasn't going down that path. Not on the day his plans on turning tables against Arataka had finally commenced.

Plus he had a plan B. Ever since he found out that a lack of communication and a getting-to-know-each-other stage was actually really common for break-ups, Shigeo would be lying if he said he wasn't afraid. And so, in his little notebook, along with everything else he had picked up online, he listed every fact he knew about Arataka, beginning from the last page to wherever it brought him.

Now that he was allowed access to sleeping with him almost on a night to night basis, Shigeo had completely lost count of his Arataka Trivia List. If he didn't look like a scientist studying a lab rat, he didn't know what else he could compare himself with.

Shigeo threw on the shirt and straightened the unironed fabric, only to have his efforts rendered useless when he crept into bed next to a cussing Arataka. Resisting a smile, he spent a good fraction of his time (also see: the time he didn't consume to admire his lover or praise him as he carried on with the heated game ) quietly marvelling at the fact that he now had his official side of the bed. Like they were married.

And he would get up to do chores in the morning. Like they were married.

And he would cook for him in the -

Shigeo couldn't cook. He knew that much, but he was definitely learning, although 90% of the time he’d be wishing cooking was just as easy as the tutorials on YouTube.

“Don't you usually play when you're sleepy, Master?”

“I do,” Arataka answered without looking up from the screen. “Playing helps me fall asleep faster.”

Not tonight, evidently, Shigeo chuckled. You're too fired up to even shut your eyes. He didn’t continue with the conversation, and neither did Arataka, who was too invested in his third round that night to pay the younger male that much attention. Shigeo didn’t mind as he fell into a comfortable silence, lying on his back to his left flank. After all, every now and then Arataka would let out a celebratory whoop, overwhelmed by his own triumph to forget about the person next to him, and Shigeo’s lips would curl up into the happiest beam.

That was until around level 107 when Arataka ran out of turns in the first thirty seconds of the game and had never felt that strong an urge to ever throw his tablet before. Shigeo resisted the laughter he bottled in his throat and leaned against the older male, accompanied with patting as a precaution. “There, there, Master.”

“Don’t patronize me, Mob,” Arataka told him off, recovering from slamming his head on the mattress, before locking the tablet’s screen and sliding the device underneath the pillow the way he did when he was too lazy to put it back into his drawer. Shigeo had used to offer his services, whether through physical or psychic means, but the older male had always refused. He didn’t bother asking this time around; Arataka had already tucked it in his not-so-secret hiding place.

“My apologies, Master.” Shigeo relaxed against his own pillow, in frail attempt to veil his smile behind a hand, despite the fact that Arataka had already caught sight of it and was currently grimacing at him as if that would do anything to shut him up.

“Stop it,” he whined, joining him with a defiant huff. “ You try.”

“Oh, I wouldn't dream. If Master can't do it, neither can I.”

Arataka responded by flicking him once on the forehead.

“Ow.”

“Don't get cocky,” Arataka knitted his brows against the trembling of his lips as he forced them into an ominous smile. “You just got a lucky point out of me this afternoon, is all. Isn't that where this is stemming from?”

Shigeo denied with a low growl in his throat. “Not really.”

Arataka's features relaxed as his lips pulled into a genuine grin. “Liar. Your eyes are screaming otherwise.” He reached for Shigeo's hand and right between their chests began to trace circles behind it, gingerly moving over the visible veins, massaging sores Shigeo never knew he had. “I’m points ahead of you, though. Make sure you catch up, hmm? Mob-kun.” He sang his name in two mere syllables, making sure his lips had participated in its enunciation the way they should have.

Shigeo felt a shudder run down his spine. Someone capable of ever making a tune out of his name was inhumane - he almost lost a point just watching his lips move. God . Save him. “I-I’ll find another opportunity,” he challenged, inwardly relieved to know his body hadn't betrayed him by setting a flame to his shell of skin. Although there wasn't denying he stuttered. He made it, but barely. “You’ll see.”

Arataka hummed a reply, interrupted by a yawn that Shigeo's body had imitated at the sight of it. The older male’s shoulders quivered in muffled chuckling behind his cage of teeth and closed lips, right before he pressed a quick kiss to the ravenette's knuckles without even peeling a single eye. “Good night, Mob,” he bid.

Shigeo never took notice of the tension in his chest cavity until Arataka had gotten rid of it. He smiled, closing his eyes, squeezing Arataka's hand once but refraining from letting go. The older male showed no complaints. “Good night, Master.”

I was acknowledged, thought Shigeo to himself, yipping away like a child now that his voice was incapable of reaching his throat from fatigue. Over and over today, I was acknowledged. Finally.

But his thoughts were quickly interrupted by the same man he had just ended the conversation with. Arataka croaked his name lazily, tugging on his arm as though beckoning him to scoot closer. Shigeo was in no position to refuse. He complied.

“Yes, Master?”

“Ah… well.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, no.” The bedsheet beneath them scuffled. “The kiss earlier, I was thinking about it and I realized something.”

“Oh…?” Shigeo wasn't sure if he was capable of listening on. Although he had wanted to, desperately so, his consciousness was slowly drifting away with every beat of his heart. He could feel it. He'd be out cold in three more seconds.

“You'd make a great top, Mob.”

What?

A wave of electrons had purged on the fatigue eating away at his brain and Shigeo’s eyes snapped open, a newfound heat sending his cheeks aflame from his neckline. Alas, his eyes refocused on the close-up view of his lover lying next to him, but his eyes weren't closed like they were supposed to - his dark irises bore holes into his soul, and his lips curled up with mischief. If Arataka had been feigning his own sleepiness this entire time, Shigeo wouldn't have thought it was impossible, but there was an issue at large.

“As if,” Arataka retracted.

He got me , cursed the younger male, unable to help relieve the boiling blood beneath his skin. He got me!

Arataka inched closer with a single huff and grinned smugly at him. Shigeo, speechless in his own position, watched as his eyes scrutinized his entire being, from the way he batted his lashes to the way his dark orbs flickered between his own. He watched even as Arataka’s tongue protruded through now parted teeth only to wet chapped lips, slowing as he moved sensually over the upper. It wasn't impossible for Arataka not to observe where his eyes were.

“Like what you see?” he queried softly, and Shigeo had never wanted to die in embarrassment before. His scent invaded his senses, and the younger male’s eyesight shadowed in on no one else but the man teasing hell out of him.

Arataka's laughter thrummed to life behind sealed lips. Given little to no distance between their bodies, given their entangled legs, Shigeo could feel his body shake, influenced by the happy tremors the older male channelled both directly and through the means of a bed. But no, that hadn't made him happy at all. Shigeo was frustrated and humiliated - there was no better mash-up for misery.

“Five,” concluded Arataka, reclosing the four-point gap between them.

Chapter Text

Shigeo made sure to wake earlier than Arataka.

The night prior he skimped out on washing the dishes mostly because the older male insisted on leaving them with the promise of doing it the next day. As if Shigeo would let him do as he wished. Either way, getting up at five meant he had time to prepare the rice, rid the sink of their used utensils and plates, and if he was lucky, see if his cooking practice had been of any assistance to his betterment. After all, his first attempt had failed miserably and not only had his omelette burned to a crisp but Shigeo had also made a mess out of… well, everything.

He cringed at the memory. He didn't even get a chance to clean up after himself properly.

So there he was, in desperate attempt to compensate for it when Arataka was supposed to be asleep.

His alone time had only lasted, however, right around the third to the last dish he had to rinse, when two arms wrapped around his waist and a warm chest pressed against his back - both of which the younger male had not been prepared for. Arataka buried his head into a frozen Shigeo's clothes.

“You scared me,” he whispered, aghast. He expected the older male in at least an hour more.

Arataka grunted in response, locking his own fingers together on Shigeo's stomach like a belt.

He sighed against a smile and proceeded to rinse the plate at hand. “This would have been so much more romantic if only you were four inches taller, Master.”

“Short jokes,” scoffed the blonde, “I love them. Very original, Mob.” Arataka's foot collided with Shigeo's shin, harvesting a yelp from the younger male's mouth, but it was one that had frail attempts at wiping the grin off his lips. “I thought I told you last night that I’d be doing this today.”

Shigeo didn't feel like telling him he wanted to be useful to him. That only meant exposing his ulterior motive. He decided to coolly go with, “I called dibs first.”

Actually, no, Shigeo took it back. It sounded better in his head.

The only lucky thing about his disaster of an attempt to sound cool was Arataka paying it no mind and accepted it as part of casual speech. “You don't have to work so early, then.”

Suddenly , having his back turned to Arataka seemed all so gratifying. Master's too kind for me to take . The ravenette’s insides melted and twisted at the thought, and inwardly he smiled, although his lips were having difficulty curling up in participation, afraid of ever getting caught by the man behind him. “You don't need me in bed every morning, do you, Master?”

“Do you think I’d kiss a pillow?”

Shigeo's heart - he had only realized Arataka was close enough to hear it. Bearing the sudden epiphany had done nothing to help slow it down. He swallowed a gob down his throat, hoping that it would throw his pulse off even just for a moment. “I-I’ll be done in a couple more minutes, Master.”

He hadn't seen what kind of face Arataka had put on behind him as he huffed in response, unlatching his fingers over Shigeo's abdominal region, leaving the younger male borderline relieved and disappointed. The cold of the room washed over his back once more in the absence of his master's hold. He watched as Arataka wordlessly shuffled towards the fridge, running a hand through his morning hair twice before resorting into a three-second ruffle. He yawned, blindly reaching for the handle and prying the door open, greeted by an unsightly brightness he had to squint at. Shigeo closed the tap, only to find himself giving his lover his undivided attention, up until Arataka had alas produced Shigeo's milk carton before frowning and said, “You wouldn't say no to this, right?”

Dirty trick.

Shigeo laxed in defeat and began drying his hands on the kitchen towel, all the while Arataka's grin scrutinized his entire being. The younger male hadn't even tried to pretend he hadn't noticed as he went to fetch themselves their respective mugs, one for Arataka’s coffee, the other for himself.

The two had settled across each other on the table, with Arataka pouring in hot water to make up three-fourths of his cup before reaching for the jar of coffee powder on the countertop right behind him.

“Master,” called Shigeo, popping open the lid of his milk carton.

“Hmm?”

“Would it be fine if I were to stay tonight, as well?”

“It's fine. Just ring your house number so they know.”

I know that , Shigeo thought, on the verge of replying so but only to reject it given the next few seconds. He wasn't going to let his mood be soured so early in the day. Not to mention it made him look like a child demanding to be an adult.

Which wasn't Shigeo.

Shigeo was an adult demanding to be an adult. They were different things.

Right.

“After this, let's have breakfast.” Arataka clinked the coffee remnants off his spoon before setting it down to lift his mug. “I’m cooking today.”

“You don't have to!” Shigeo snapped, blurting, warranting an enigmatic look from the older male. Now I’ve done it. His eyes drifted towards the ceiling, leaving mere flickers at Arataka just to check on what kind of face he had made. “I-I mean, you… don't have to?”

Arataka blinked in recovery. “You don't have to trouble yourself.”

But that's my line!

Shigeo’s eyes turned to the floor, his shoes now the most interesting thing in existence. He fiddled his thumbs and in a softer tone, asked, “Is this because I can't cook?”

“What? No, that's not it - ”

“At least let me be of assistance to you then!”

[56%]

There. He said it. More like shouted, much to Shigeo's embarrassment, but nonetheless, he was frustrated enough to not feel comfortable and keep shifting in his seat. “I want to help.”

When Arataka hadn’t replied in the next three seconds, his front teeth drilled into his lower lip, gnawing at the foreskin. I should apologize for raising my voice. Not that Shigeo meant it, but a part of him knew full-well of the prices to pay when giving way to overwhelming emotion. And that had happened quite a number of times in the past.

Shigeo drew a shaky breath, but before he could even open his mouth to speak, Arataka considered, “Well, if you're that insistent…”

The younger male’s ears perked up at this.

 

“Been a while since we’ve had egg.”

“Mm.”

“The last time was…?”

“Seventeen days ago?”

“Pretty nifty with dates, aren't we?” chuckled Arataka, prepping the square pan as Shigeo beat the egg from beside him. “It's been seventeen days, then. Drunk off my ass, I didn't get to eat with you the last time, huh.”

“It's fine,” Shigeo answered, grabbing the jar of salt from the second drawer to his left. He frowned at the dreaded memory. “I didn't know oil worsened hangovers, either way. I was being stupid.” Even with the benefit of the internet, I refused to look it up and just went with it. Stupid, stupid. Shigeo knew it wasn't too late to scold himself over a disaster.

Arataka broke him from his thoughts by pulling their sides together, a firm hold on his waist as Shigeo's hip connected with his abdominal region. “Self-deprecating,” he marveled, briefly pressing his cheek against the younger male’s shoulder. “You're not stupid, stupid. ” Shigeo had to stand by and watch as Arataka began to bark laughing at his own generated pun.

Shigeo had to remind himself that this was the man he was seeing. Right there.

Calming down, Arataka proceeded, withdrawing his arm. “Jokes aside - oh, God , I fear my own genius sometimes - you were trying to help me.” He paused to flex a finger, letting go of the pan’s handle to put his left hand into use as he pointed to the ceiling, his chest puffed out in pride. “The thought matters most, Mob!”

Shigeo had to remind himself that this was the man he was seeing, that this same man was also the one he addressed as Master , the second father he had clung to since primary school. Although casual conversation like that was something that existed between only the two of them, Arataka would seep back into the tone walled between him and his clients, him and his subordinates, him and… Mob, his psychic student.

Well, not that Arataka was the only one guilty - Shigeo hadn't stopped addressing him as his master, either.

“ - Mob.”

Shigeo blinked. “Master?”

Arataka’s furrowed brows uncoupled as he wrinkled the opposite ends of his eyes. “That was the sixth time I called your name. Do you like hearing it that much?”

“What? N-no, that’s not it.”

He dismissed the question with a wave. “I’m teasing. You just delved into deep thought mid-conversation.” Arataka turned back to the square pan, now brushing oil over the surface which sizzled almost immediately upon contact. “Something the matter?”

“No,” Shigeo spoke in an undertone. “Nothing.”

Arataka hummed, as if contemplating. Shigeo watched his hand move the brush over the hot metal, tracing the edges and consequently painting the surface area in practiced horizontal strokes. Air bubbled beginning from the corners, moving down towards the center in the absence of patterns. Without looking up, Arataka lifted his right hand, bobbing four fingers down twice as a gesture to approach whilst holding his brush with his thumb. “Mob-kun, bowl please.”

Shigeo did as commanded, earning a barely audible thanks as Arataka took the white ceramic bowl from his possession and poured in what looked like a fourth of the initial total volume. “I don't have the same spatulas they use on TV, but Ma had always used the usual one. If it can fold, it can work, she used to say,” Arataka told him, and Shigeo could only nod, tasting the egg through its wafted smell. I hope I added just enough salt.

“Should we add in the nori seaweed, Master?”

“Ah, good note! Hurry, Mob. It's almost getting cooked around the middle.”

Shigeo spun on his heel and grabbed the container they left on the table, the cold temperature it had been awarded from the fridge dissolving into water droplets over the Tupperware's surfaces. Popping the lid, he handed Arataka a sheet of seaweed for him to place on the center of their squared omelette. Soon enough he was folding the egg into a rectangle a fourth of its original size, pushing it towards the upper side of the pan.

“Mob, you try,” Arataka motioned him to stand in his place as Shigeo took the spatula from the older male, gripping the handle like a stress ball. If I screw this one up, I’ll destroy what he started , thought the ravenette, taking a side-glance at his master. I don't want to mess it up for him.

I don't want to be incompetent.

Arataka's instructions followed as soon as Shigeo stood before the pan: “Pour in the egg, just enough to cover the remaining surface area. It's okay if some seep beneath the cooked omelette. It’ll be covered up anyway.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Fold it now.”

“We're not adding the seaweed yet?”

Arataka shook his head, a hand on his hip, observing the egg with a heavy gaze he couldn't break. “No, let's alternate it.”

Shigeo made sure he'd grant himself ease lifting the folded omelette by repeatedly shoving the spatula head beneath it, lining its underbelly, or withdrawing and sliding it back under at a different area. Arataka had already done him the favor of folding it for him the first time - if there was anywhere Shigeo could mess up, it was definitely making the perfect pleats. Now all Shigeo had to bother himself with was rolling the cooked egg over the newly spread mix, guided by the shape Arataka already set for him.

The only thing he was thankful for was actually knowing this recipe, sparing him the energy to exude the aura of the kitchen idiot. Unlike the first time he'd stepped into Arataka's kitchen.

“Does your mother still make you bento?” queried Arataka.

Shigeo quietly hissed at the question, stupefied. Great, he had to burden himself with the dilemma of lying or telling the truth. He cursed at that, telling himself he was unseasoned as a fabricator. The last time he'd ever lied was two days ago, and he despised the outcome of such a decision. If he told Arataka the truth, would he laugh at him? If he told him a no, how would he have responded?

“Mm,” managed Shigeo, trying his best not to put any further thought into the matter. He rolled the omelette over once. It's fine, isn't it? Even office workers have their mothers to cook their bento for them. Ritsu has his bento cooked for him, too. Shigeo rolled it over again. It should be fine. “She does.”

“Must be nice.” Arataka softly smiled, but his lids sagged in nostalgia and a flash of what looked like sadness - one Shigeo dreaded to see, one he couldn't tolerate.

Master's mother is… still alive, isn't she?

Shigeo knew he had to weigh his options properly. The topic had turned direly delicate. One wrong move and Shigeo might as well have ended up dead. What were the words he should have been saying? Should he be telling him anything at all? Would that be for the best? Would apologizing for the loss help?

“Do you miss her?” he queried, flipping the omelette for the last time before dragging it back up towards the upper side. His eyes flickered towards Arataka for a fraction of a second just to check, before returning his gaze to their soon-to-be meal. “Your mother, I mean.”

“Of course I do. Although the old hag hasn't rang me up for the past couple of days, I can hear the constant nagging and doting when this house turns too silent.”

Shigeo grinned. So she truly is doing well. I'm glad. “Once I get the hang of this,” he started, “we’ll see if we can take bento with us to work for lunch. If that's fine with you, Master.”

Arataka chuckled and for the first time turned away from the stove to lean heavily against the counter. “It's an opportunity to be spoiled, Mob. I’ll gladly take it any day.”

Shigeo grabbed the bowl of beat egg and began to pour the third batch. “Do you ever mind my staying, Master?”

“Hmm? No, not at all. I’m glad having you around.” Something twisted in Shigeo's chest. “Plus it beats having cup noodles and convenience store rice balls for every meal. In the process, I’ll know you're eating well, too. It's a win-win situation.”

When Shigeo didn't reply, Arataka took the chance to add on with a small laugh, “Well, of course, you could be eating better at home. I'm not the best cook, we're both learning, and my knowledge is rather limited if you ask me.”

“I won't be denying anything, Master. I think all you said are true.” Shigeo produced a sheet of seaweed and carefully placed it on the center of the pan, right below the cooked roll. “But I’d like to emphasize one thing.”

“Oh?” He sounded amused.

Shigeo turned to face him and beamed softly, “I’m glad I get to see you eating proper meals, as well.”

The younger male hadn't realized until later that Arataka's gaze had long ago abandoned the stove, and before Shigeo could even turn to him, the older male already had his eyes glued on the ravenette as though anticipating him to look back.

[58%]

Chapter Text

Ah, I relied on him again.

Shigeo refrained from sighing at his plate, given that Arataka was close enough as to take notice, warranting the younger male the attention he hadn't yearned for. Don't get him wrong; he had enjoyed every second of cooking with him. Things were fine up until Shigeo had gone halfway into finishing his meal, then paused the moment something began to conflagrate in his lungs.

Why does my heart feel heavy? He didn't know for sure, but truly he was scared of being correct. His eyes studied Arataka, which, not long after, had attracted the other man’s gaze to lock with his. Arataka raised both brows, visibly speeding up his chewing to swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and queried, “What's wrong?”

“Nothing,” grumbled Shigeo, reverting his attention back to his egg roll. Arataka’s huff of a response was inconclusive, but no more was said afterwards.

[59%]

Shigeo's phone blared to life, buzzing wildly from his pocket, and the younger male bolted from his seat a second too quickly. Arataka had his mouth fall open, on the verge of speaking, and Shigeo knew all too well that he'd garnered suspicion.

His unease was showing, and the relief of getting an intervention of a call had raged onto the surface with a boom.

“I have to take this,” Shigeo cut Arataka off, producing his phone from his pocket and jogged off towards the direction of the exit, leaving the older man with an empty seat across him. With every step, relief surged into his bones, the tension once there abandoning his body in the form of chills.

The next thing he knew, Shigeo was standing in the hallway outside Arataka's apartment. He figured he'd overdone it, but he held his preferences for keeping it safe.

“Kageyama!”

Shigeo retracted from the receiver, rubbing at the affected earlobe with a pained smile his friend couldn't have seen. “You're rather lively today, Hanazawa-kun.”

The blonde chuckled. “Thank you, I get that a lot from you.”

You called at such a perfect timing .

“What's going on?”

“It's about Reigen-san.”

Shigeo’s eyes drifted towards the door, checking if Arataka had quietly snuck behind him, peering through the crack, eavesdropping to satisfy his curiosity. When he found out he wasn't anywhere to be found, Shigeo reverted his attention back to his phone. “What about him?”

“Do you think he likes cats?”

Cats? Shigeo mentally queried, puzzled. What does this have anything to do with cats?

Before his voice could get through, Hanazawa added on, “I know, you're probably wondering why I’m asking, right?” That's amazing, Hanazawa-kun. “I’m going downtown today, you see, and a sudden thought came to me like a blessing. Ah, I feel like a prophet. Go get me a shrine, Kageyama.”

“Erm, Hanazawa?”

“Yes?”

“Cats?”

Oh. Right.” He cleared his voice then proceeded, “So, get this: cat ears. ” Shigeo could see his hand gestures, and the arc of sparkles that faded into existence from the way he sang his 'sudden thought.’

The ravenette wasn’t completely enlightened, but a part of him hesitated about asking. There was something… ominous coming his way - clues from Arataka’s hypothetical liking of cats, and cat ears, whatever Hanazawa meant. He had a few ideas, but never in his entire life had he wished to be wrong so badly. His gut compelled him to end the call, and he would have done so if it weren't rude. He shelved the train of thought at the back of his mind and put his doubts to no regard. Shigeo softly asked over a shaky breath, “What about,” his eyes flickered around, scanning the empty hallway, his vocal pause he tried to compensate through deliberate coughing, “er, cat ears?”

“If you think Reigen’ll like them on you, we should go buy some. Bet you’d look cute wearing them, so the sudden thought felt gratifying to have come to me.”

Shigeo choked. “What?”

His best friend completely ignored his spluttering. “Are you free right now? First train comes in the next hour, so you might want to hurry. Let's meet at - ”

“Wait, wait, I didn't agree to this!” In his mind, Shigeo was yelling at the top of lungs, blurting all he could have at the moment, but his throat had failed him miserably - perhaps for good anyway, knowing Shigeo wouldn't have done so in truth. The words spluttered out of him in almost the same manner as he would have imagined, but the volume dropped to a subzero, coming out as desperate whispers, sounding almost as though he were breathless and panting.

“What's wrong?”

“W-wear them, you say!”

“They're meant for wearing, yes, I know. Don't you like them?”

His voice died in his throat. Shigeo was glad to not have taken the call inside. His cheeks flamed wildly in a way he hadn't wanted Arataka to see and claim a point for. “Don't,” he began, trying to bring his words out of him, “don't you think they’d make me… look younger? The, um, opposite effect?”

“Gravure models beg to disagree,” Hanazawa chuckled in quiet satisfaction. “Ever heard of gap moe, Kageyama?”

“Yes, but this just seems… off the charts?”

“So you're saying you want a lingerie to go with that? Oh, you naughty naughty - ”

Shigeo cut him off with a jarbled lump of syllables which were supposed to morph into no. At the moment, it hadn't occurred to him that such a word to display his denial perfectly had existed.

“Cat ears are good for plays, too. Just saying.” Shigeo didn't know what a play was, but he was far too shaken to even try and inquire. When the ravenette didn't reply, Hanazawa added on, “Come on. If this fails you can always just give them back to me, then we can come up with a different idea that could go well with your tastes. And hey, maybe even succeed with it. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?”

Shigeo was too busy nibbling on his lips to reply.

Please , Kageyama?”

He drew a breath he hoped hadn't resounded through the other end, and nodded to himself. Hanazawa promised to help him. The practiced, knowledgeable Hanazawa offered himself to help him with such a shallow predicament. He was in no position to reject him. Shigeo trusted him completely.

“Master… prefers dogs.”

[62%]

“I take that as a yes, then. I’ll see if I can find some dog ones - yikes, they sound pretty scarce from the sound of it. There's gotta be something from the shopping district… guess I’ll go scouting for a while.”

“If you can't find them, it's okay,” Shigeo assured, leaning against his phone. “Please don't try to walk all over the city for me, Hanazawa-kun.”

“Oh, hush. Don't worry about me. I’ll call you later.”

“Bye.”

And just as the call had ended, the door behind him clicked open and Arataka came into full view, his brows furrowed. Amidst an atmosphere whose temperature dropped beyond freezing, for a moment, Shigeo thought giving a small wave would explain everything.

“Why are you outside?”

“Hanazawa called.”

“Jesus,” Arataka grumbled, scanning the hallway before reaching for Shigeo's hand. “How private was that talk for you to drag yourself out here? Get back insi - you don't even have shoes on! Aren't you cold?”

“Not anymore.” Shigeo softly smiled, squeezing Arataka’s hand as he let the older male led him back into the apartment. “You didn't have to look for me.”

You're a doting father through and through.

[63%]

When Hanazawa burst through the door to the Spirits and Such Consultation Office that afternoon, Shigeo felt his soul abandon his body through his sweatpores. “I found the greatest revelation to man!” announced the blonde.

Arataka spared him a glance and remained typing away on his keyboard. “Good afternoon to you, too, Hanazawa-kun.”

“You're loud today,” Dimple grunted and Serizawa could only smile in the backdrop.

“Thank you, I try my best.” Hanazawa turned to the ravenette's direction and grinned. “You ready, Kageyama?”

“‘Ready’?” inquired Dimple. “What are you two up to?”

Shigeo found himself on his feet, straightening the creases in his shirt and grabbed for his handkerchief left tossed over the couch. Opening his mouth to ask Arataka permission to leave, he caught him - or at least, for a fraction of a second - openly staring at him, before returning his gaze to his laptop, as if pretending Shigeo hadn't seen. A smile attempted to creep, but Shigeo had done all he could to restrain it. Undoubtedly, the younger male was usually the one studying him for hours on end, conscious or not.

But Arataka's case was understandable this time - Shigeo hadn't let him know he'd be going out that afternoon.

He approached his desk, just in time for Arataka to clear his throat, with [no] intention of making it obvious that he had been anticipating his drawing near. “Master, would it be fine to take a leave this afternoon?”

“Hmm?” Arataka pulled his eyes from the screen to face Shigeo. “Of course, Mob. You know it all too well that you don't need my permission for your affairs. Good grief, you must really like asking.”

Shigeo wasn't, not even in the slightest, deceived by any of his words. “Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“The last time I didn't ask for permission you - ”

Arataka interfered with a cough and an uneasy smile. “Text me when you're on your way back, okay?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Alright, time’s up!” announced Hanazawa, whom he, for the life of Shigeo, had never known approached from right behind him. The blonde grappled his shoulder and offered him a smile, a cue to leave. “Let's get going, shall we, Kageyama-kun?”

“Mm.”

“I’m taking him away now,” Hanazawa bid the office, looping his arm through Shigeo's before dragging him out of the room. The ravenette caught Arataka's eye right as he disappeared into the hallway. “So that's the Reigen you're trying your best to impress?”

Puzzled, Shigeo queried. “What do you mean?”

“No goodbye kisses? Goodbye hugs? Goodbye I love you’s? Not even a cute little take care for you to carry when you're away? I’m a little bit disappointed.”

That's because he's not like that. Shigeo scratched the back of his head, tailing behind Hanazawa as they worked their ways downstairs. Somehow, a part of him felt a little embarrassed, knowing he wasn't any different from Arataka in terms of being showy towards the significant other, when simply grabbing his hand felt more strenous than not. Now that he's been able to contemplate even more thoroughly regarding the matter, Shigeo came to realize he’s never been showy towards anyone, with the exception of Ritsu whom he could hug easily whenever the situation called for it. “Is it bad?”

“To be honest?” Hanazawa hopped towards the last step before turning his torso and locking eyes with the ravenette. “I’d call it unhealthy.” Shigeo’s lungs were heavier in half a second. Unhealthy, he said. Their eyes were no longer in contact when Hanazawa added on, “But that's probably not right, too, given your personality. I’m not sure about Reigen either, with the fact that he's exceptionally chatty and good with people, but if the two of you are the same in preferring things quiet, then the I love you’s go right by wordlessly, right? Like, of course you’re taking care, because you're making sure you come back to him safely.”

It's quite like that. Yes. Shigeo’s lips curled up in a smile as he joined Hanazawa at the step. “Hanazawa-san is very knowledgeable, isn't he?”

Hanazawa seemed pleased hearing so, and no more was said after that, leaving their conversation to fall quietly into an exchange of smiles.

 

“This took a while to find,” spoke the blonde as he led Shigeo down the second aisle, right in between two long shelves of make-up products Shigeo couldn't name, where at the end waited a fraction of a wall lined ceiling to floor with animal ear accessories - some cats, some rabbits, and much to Shigeo's surprise, some distinctively dogs, intermingling with the group - clipped individually to a metal netting. “Went through every shop just to find this in the end. Dog ears are rare, I told you!”

Can this actually work?

There was an aching in his chest as Shigeo quietly scrutinized the black pair of dog ears clipped along the bottom left of the wall. Can I actually do this?

Hanazawa must have noticed his looking when he unclipped the eyed pair and presented it closer for Shigeo. “Try them on, then!”

“I-I’m not sure if I can do this,” blurted the ravenette, hesitating with his palms now blocking Hanazawa from sight.

“Come on, we made it this far for you to back out now. I’ll wear them on you so I can save you the trouble of wearing them yourself. How's that sound?” Shigeo couldn't tell what was wrong. He couldn't tell what truly scared him. He couldn't tell why he didn't feel like doing it in the end. Nonetheless, he nodded, earning a fond sigh from Hanazawa as he clipped on the ears for him. As if he could hear his thoughts clearly - either that or Shigeo was voicing out his thoughts unconsciously - Hanazawa guessed, “You're probably just embarrassed doing something like this and I think that's understandable. You're worried whether it looks good on you or not, whether he likes it or not. Uneasy…  anxious, aren't we?”

Shigeo never would have guessed the way Hanazawa had. That… might just be the case.

“Now look up for me, I want to see your face.”

Shigeo hesitated once more but at the moment he could only trust , and there was nobody he could trust more than Hanazawa. He lifted his head, but his eyes merely grazed over his best friend’s like repelling and similar poles of two magnets.

Hanazawa, on the other hand, was busy squealing in delight, and the longer he went, the more Shigeo wanted to bury himself alive. “You are simply adorable , Kageyama-kun!”

It took on the opposite effect, just as he had thought that morning. Shigeo felt like ripping the dog ears off of him in one fell swoop. Having Arataka to see him in such a presentation, the younger male might as well have died then and there.

“Oi, oi, don't make that face!”

You're chuckling. “You're making fun of me now,” he told him bluntly, making a gesture to remove the hair clips on his head.

“No, no, no, don't!” Hanazawa grappled his shoulders and began leading him back into the make-up aisle, where every three feet was a mirror glued to the top of the shelf and Shigeo was finally given a chance to see it himself. “Look.”

If Shigeo hadn't known they were accessories, he would have almost believed it. His hair and the dog ears shared the same shade of black and blended well by appearance. He hadn't known what kind of magic Hanazawa had done to have been able to hide the metal clip parts that would have given it all away.

But they looked real. All so real.

Then Shigeo's eyes drifted towards his face, studying the twisted and flustered curl of his lips, as though he were unable to portray whatever emotion built up in his chest - which was true; not even he could make out what face he should have been making. Across his cheeks were traces of pink, dusted all the way up to his ears. So that's how I look like when I blush? Shigeo found himself asking. With a frown, he revised, Don't I blush too easily?

Hanazawa had broken him from his thoughts when his fingers dug deeper into his shoulders, his grip growing tighter. He wasn't anywhere far from Shigeo's height - the last time he had checked the blonde was taller by a centimeter - so locating his eyes through the mirror weren't much of a difficulty, though given that this particular reflection could only cover Shigeo's and one of Hanazawa's.

Shigeo had noticed this one visible eye was staring with utter depth as if Hanazawa was drowning in thought without losing hold of his focus. He praised that concentration of his remarkably, but at the moment, Shigeo knew there was something wrong, especially when things fell quiet in between them.

“Hanazawa - ?”

“You look…” the blonde’s voice trailed off as his grip all the more tightened, though not enough to cause any subtle pain, “adorable.”

Shigeo took it as the last straw, rearing his head to face his best friend head on. “Is there something wrong?”

Hanazawa let go the very second he turned to look. “Of course not,” he assured, taking a step deeper into the aisle. “Now, let's see if we can get you a collar, shall we?”

It's nothing that heavy after all, thought Shigeo with a relieved sigh as he quickly followed after him, taking off the dog ears. I’ll make sure he talks to me when things escalate for the worse. “Hanazawa-san is very knowledgeable,” he reiterated with a small laugh. Now that I think of it … “Ah, perhaps, is there a special someone on Hanazawa's mind as well?”

The blonde took quite some time to reply. “There is,” he told him without looking back. “They're very special. That's right.”

Shigeo had always thought of Hanazawa as the embodiment of popular. Every Valentine's, he became the very reason why girls of all grades flocked to their classroom, and the main person most of their male classmates had wanted to slay out of jealousy. Shigeo had his fair share of chocolate as well - maybe two or three would end up inside his locker - but Hanazawa’s was a share beyond counting, and the blonde was able to manage all of them so perfectly, perhaps from experience built from the past years.

To know that Hanazawa was able to choose someone from that abnormally large flock of gifts, Shigeo could only smile to himself, the same way when he found out about Ritsu officially seeing Shou. It was a shame that the ravenette had never been able to ask about it sooner, but now that he was aware, he’d be able to support him fully.

“They must be amazing, then,” he mused aloud.

“They are.”

When they fell into a comfortable silence en route to the counter, Shigeo concluded with a soft, “I’m happy for you, Hanazawa-kun.”

 

[05:17PM] Shigeo: i'm on the way back

 

[05:17PM] Master: Office?

 

[05:17PM] Shigeo: apartment

 

[05:18PM] Master: Okay. Great. I’ll see you later.

 

Taking off his earbuds, Shigeo pocketed his phone and scanned the hallway. It was the rush hour, and people were well on their way home; finding someone from the same floor returning to their room wasn't big for a surprise. It was inevitable, if anything.

And so he had to be careful, especially knowing he had never grabbed hold of Arataka's key, nor had he ever asked for a duplicate.

Shigeo’s fingers closed around the knob, ready to turn and find it unlocked.  

Then he froze.

“That sounds great!”

“Do you really think so?”

“We should have dinner out today. Had you told me earlier, we could have gotten off the shopping district instead.”

Shigeo recognized one of those voices. A resident from room 26, if he wasn't wrong. Not particularly the woman, but he was sure he knew the professor who was supposed to live alone, or at least, up until the time Arataka introduced him.

“Ah, isn't that Kageyama-san?”

Right. Arataka introduced him. Of course he knew him.

Shigeo turned to face Yamamoto-sensei, whose disheveled hairstyle, not to mention the intermittent white strands, made him look ten years older. Linked arm and arm with a woman in her early thirties or late twenties, he waved over at him, and Shigeo returned the gesture with a soft smile, bowing in acknowledgement of the professor's companion. The ravenette utilized an extra few seconds studying her - from her light make-up, her messy bun, and the blazer whose creases were more evident than not.

Yamamoto-sensei turned to her and began, “Ah, let me introduce you two. Ai, this is Kageyama-kun.”

“Good evening,” Shigeo greeted.

“Hello there,” beamed the woman - Ai. “It's nice to meet you, Kageyama-kun. Do call me Midori. I moved in around a week ago.”

“Ah.” He sported a smile he desperately prayed not to look awkward. How… do you respond to this again? “I see.”

The professor’s eyes lit up at realization, his eyes screaming a horrible shade of How could I have forgotten? as he turned back to her and added, “Kageyama-san here is Reigen Arataka-san’s student. That's why he visits rather often.” He lifted his gaze for reconfirmation. “Isn't that right, Kageyama?”

“Yes.”

Midori brightened. “Wow, it must be such an honor to be working under him. You must go on so many field assignments with him, huh, Kageyama-kun?”

“Y-you know him, Ma’am?”

The woman laughed behind a hand. “Oh my, how polite! Please, please, just call me by my name.”

Shigeo’s cheeks began to heat up.

“Ai-chan had seen Reigen-san on TV before, that's all,” Yamamoto-sensei chuckled. “He's actually very popular, but the gentleman never believes me. It's rather funny.”

I always knew he was popular. Shigeo's eyes were always on Midori’s chapstick-coated lips, but the words she released had no longer resonated in his ear canals. I always knew he could reach out to different kinds of audiences. Always. Always. I always knew he could do it. There was no sound coming from anywhere - there was no distant traffic, there was no laughing couple in front of him, there was no humming of the air conditioner, and there was no beating of his own heart.

I always knew.

Always.

Always.

His popularity.

His fans.

And the way he never knew about them.

But I knew how much he wanted them.

I always knew.

“ - yama-kun, I’ll see you around,” bid Midori with a gleeful wave for the last time, before disappearing into their apartment. The door shut, along with the quieting laughter that emanated inside.

How long had he been standing there?

Shigeo’s smile faded into a frown as he turned the knob, effortlessly unlocking its interior clockwork as he trudged inside the apartment, clutching the paper bag in one hand against his chest.

Calm down.

[79%]

 

[05:34PM] Master: I’ll be coming home around six. Should I buy ramen for dinner?

 

[05:39PM] Shigeo: ok

 

You're too easily swayed , reprimanded Shigeo, holding his head in his hands, so keep it together before you lash out at the wrong person again.

 

“Try cussing, Kageyama.”

“What? No.”

“Come on,” insisted Hanazawa, putting his bottle of tea down next to him. “I know you're gonna do it eventually. You might as well do it in front of me now.”

“No.”

“Adults cuss a lot. Reigen cusses a lot. I know you’ll be influenced anyway.”

Shigeo hid his face in his palms. “I can't do it.”

“Even your little brother does it,” Hanazawa added. “The younger Kageyama can release a flurry if he wants to. Never piss him off. I’ve learned my lesson. Shou has, too.”

I don't understand how it feels so easy for you to do it, really. The ravenette lowered his hands, only to grip his kneecaps. Why does cussing sound so easy when you do it?

“Come on. Just once. Then I’ll never ask this from you ever again.”

“...no.”

“So how do you ask Reigen what you want from him if you're too scared to say anything? Don't you think if you're too polite he’ll always have his way with you?”

Shigeo bit his lower lip. Master would never do that.

“Don't tell me you’ll be as crisp as you are now in bed, Kageyama.”

“Fine, I get it! Stop harassing me.”

“Oh?”

Shigeo visibly shrunk, evading Hanazawa's gaze. Out of habit, he quietly piped, “P-please.”

Hanazawa burst out laughing, barking into the air with butchered words and wiping tears at his eyes. “ Please ,” he reiterated, clutching his stomach as soon as he had calmed down. “Oh my Lord, I love you! You're the purest little thing, I swear. It's not a wonder why Reigen-san had taken a liking to you.”

Shigeo was quiet. There was nothing left for him to say.

“On a serious note, Kageyama-kun,” Hanazawa compensated, grabbing his shoulder with a firm hold, “you should probably do it once in a while. Sure, it does nothing but escalate fights, but sometimes… sometimes it's the indication you mean something. It's the indication you’re feeling an emotion you can't leave alone. It's like crying but… I don't know. It's just like that, I guess. So try, unless you want to go full a hundred percent with your powers again. Might help relieving the inward pain.”

Help relieving it, he said .

“I’ll… see if I find your advice useful in the future.”

“Oh, believe me, you will.

Shigeo chuckled. “Thank you, Hanazawa-kun.”

 

[81%]

“Fuck!”

Chapter Text

“Fuck!” Shigeo cried into the empty and dark halls of Arataka's apartment. His hands worked their way up to his ears, clamping over them to cancel out his own voice, but what he was saying was no longer a matter. He just didn't want to hear it cracking, or he’d find himself sobbing into his shirt again. To make matters worse, he hadn't moved an inch away from the closed door behind him, albeit thankful he was inside.

“Fuck it all!” Shigeo cursed another time, his hands, now long abandoning his ears, balling into fists shaking against his sockets. “What are you so upset about anyway? Dammit, I can't understand you at all!”

Consequently, all things around him were quiet, save for his heavy breaths and a pumping heart he dared calm down.

[76%]

That did feel better , he thought, though a little less than amused as he hauled himself back to his feet. Shigeo had an extra hour and a half to think about his life decisions, and he'd started by flicking the lights on. He clamped a hand over his mouth, unknowingly increasing his grip on his jaw. His mind had yet to internalize the fact he had cried aloud not one but three swear words in a row.

My head hurts.

 

[05:41PM] Shigeo: i followed your advice about swearing

 

[05:41PM] Shigeo: it helped

 

[05:41PM] Shigeo: i didnt expect the scieence behind it though

 

[05:42PM] Teru: what got you so mad??

 

[05:44PM] Teru: i'm glad it helped you,, i knew you could do it~~

 

[05:44PM] Shigeo: (*ゝω・)ノ Thanks!

 

[05:44PM] Teru: o((*^▽^*))o

 

[05:45PM] Teru: have you tried them on yet??? lEMME SEE HOW YOU WEAR THEM PL S

 

[05:45PM] Shigeo: i havent even gotten them out of the bag yet

 

[05:45PM] Teru: BOO

 

[05:45PM] Teru: (*`ω´*)

 

I’m sorry, Hanazawa-kun.

He pocketed his phone and gripped the sink with both hands, refraining them from ever veiling his face from his reflection on the mirror.

I can't send you a picture.

Shigeo burned holes into the image Arataka's bathroom mirror projected for him, watching the uncomfortable writhing of his lips and the slow creeping blush across his face. He hunched over the ceramic, turned his eyes to the empty sink now cradling his shadow, then back at the mirror.

Yes, it was still him, and no matter how many times he'd try to deny it, he was still the eighteen-year-old clad in dog ears and a belled collar whose chime did nothing to relieve the ignition of blood in his face - just like his reflection depicted. Hanazawa told him this look would only ever work if he showed enough pride of wearing the accessories, if he acted as though these were a part of him and he was embracing his “seductive” nature.

But God, there wasn't anything seductive about his flustered state, was there? It was why Shigeo was inclined to appear cute, if not ridiculous.

He wanted to die.

Be buried alive for all he cared.

How on bloody Earth would Arataka ever turn red over this ?

Take them off, ordered his brain, and Shigeo had never felt so desperate to comply. Just as he had lifted his arms to remove his left dog ear and jingle his bell in the process, his actual ears perked up, picking up a sound he wished weren't real.

Footsteps - loudening with every clack against the floorboards, loudening with every shaky pathetic breath Shigeo sucked in from that moment onwards.

Is he home?

But he didn't hear the door open. He was sure he would have heard at least a creak!

Did I lock the door?

Wait - God - he didn't know. Arataka would never have come in quietly. He would have announced his arrival.

Or would he?

Shigeo ripped off both hair accessories in one swift motion, grunting at the loss or two or three strands of hair. Careful as he tried, his hands were nimble although quivering terribly as they worked around the lock of the collar. He held his breath the moment he freed himself, the bell chiming at his agitation. Shigeo threw Arataka's medicine cabinet open, shoving his 'costume’ behind a line of pill jars with labels that blurred as he despondently tried to hide the remnants of this whole get-up.

And alas, he made it, albeit messily, and the footsteps stopped the moment he had secured the cabinet shut. Shigeo was not going to waste another second waiting for Arataka to jump at him and ask why he was loitering about in the bathroom - no, no, no. He paced towards the door and pried it open, expecting Arataka to be standing by gawping at him as he raced him into finding the other.

But the older male wasn't there.

“Master?” called Shigeo, eyes scanning the still empty hallway, the thumping absent as if it never existed in the first place. He tried calling out again, “Master Reigen, are you home?”

[77%]

I'm going mad.

Shigeo pulled his bowl fringe back with a barrette pin, clipping what he could bundle towards the center of his scalp, before proceeding with segregating Arataka's laundry. Should I be blaming the dog ears?

He picked up a green shirt the older male must have used the other day and shoved it into his plastic bag. If he finished up in five minutes, then headed straight to the laundromat without another second’s delay, he could probably handwash the uncolored ones before Arataka got home.

Shigeo hoped doing the chores would keep his mind off the evening’s earlier incident. He had done the dishes (which were a mere composition of two plates and four glasses plus a spoon), dusted the furniture in the living room, beat an inch of the carpet’s life in the balcony, swept remains of dirt and other particles that they intermingled with, and was currently about to do the laundry - all of which he had accomplished a little over an hour. At that point, Shigeo should have been able to revitalize.

Should have, if only the image of him getting caught wearing his dog ears and collar had already gotten rid of itself by swivelling down the drain like soap residue. It didn't, and Shigeo couldn't push his luck even if he had any.

He figured he could reward himself with a glass of milk after. Maybe that would be enough to help him recover.

Shigeo frowned. On second thought , he formed a thin line with his lips, never mind. Of course it wouldn't work. He'd be stuck fearing distant footsteps from then on.

The only good thing it all amounted to was the fact that Shigeo wasn't swayed into buying a lingerie. Now that… that would have been enough to warrant suicide.

Shigeo hid his face in the button down he had in hand, groaning and resorting to indiscernible whimpers, veiling his flaming skin from no one in particular. The sudden thought made him want to never lift his head again, and drowning in shame as he already was, Shigeo couldn't help but think, What if?

What color would have brought out his skin tone the best?

How would he have looked if he wore something like red lace?

Semi-transparent?

What kind of face would Arataka have made if he caught him wearing something so revealing in his bathroom?

Would he have liked it?

Shigeo shrunk into a smaller ball, still clutching the used shirt to his face. Oh my God , he pleaded his ominous imagination, stop.

His mind, however, succumbed to no one and in defiance projected the same dream he couldn't magically reel from his head even if he fell to his knees and begged.  

In the darkness his eyelids now set for him, Shigeo closed his eyes tighter as Arataka began to fade into view, the silhouette of his torso hovering just above his. The ravenette's hands travelled north, linking behind the older male’s neck as he slowly brought him down for a kiss, sensually moving into the same rhythm. Arataka straddled him with practiced although trembling thighs pinning him on either side, and in one quivering breath, Shigeo lowered his hands, carefully clambering down to his cheeks with fingers scissored by his ears, before he closed the gap between them once more even messier than the first.

“Take it off,” growled Arataka, breaking the kiss to breathe warmth into the younger male's ear. “Shigeo, take it off - all of it.”

The little to no distance between them allowed access for Shigeo to smell him, from small whiffs to long internalizing breathing in of what he had to offer.

Would he have made this kind of face? Shigeo wondered when the older male straightened, following Arataka's eyes and the occasional flash of hunger beneath his knitted brows. He looked on as his tongue drew one slow circle around the opening of his mouth, wetting his lips as if they weren't already coated with his saliva, tightening Shigeo's chest the more he prolonged his staring. Arataka's hands began to pull at the bundled hem of his shirt, throwing it over his head and disposing it wherever on the floor.

This part wasn't as stupefying or embarrassing, he came to realize - Shigeo had wanted him to finish what he started from square one, after all. If only he had from the beginning, I wouldn't be going out of my mind doing things for him to take a hint.

“Couples go at their own pace,” Serizawa’s voice told him, but Shigeo brushed it off just as naturally as breathing. After all, how long was he supposed to tolerate the fact that Arataka could not at all view him as an adult? The moment he realized this was a problem in need of a solution, Shigeo addressed it to him, but did anything happen? Regardless of Arataka's statement about how the older male acknowledged him otherwise, were his actions by any means coherent to his words?

No.

Shigeo would hate him for it if only he hadn't become a person he never wanted to lose. And so now he'd have to be stuck trying to show the problem, rather than telling , which, in truth, was a whole lot harder than what he had initially envisioned.

Arataka's hands were shaking, but they were warm against Shigeo's bare chest. His eyes were half-lidded, glazed over with what looked like longing as they stared the younger male down. “Shigeo,” he mouthed, leaving Shigeo to barely make out the words he spoke. Although Arataka sat arched above him, Shigeo's ears were clouded as if they were severed by a wall of water between them - an inhibition to the clarity of sound that dared enter his systems, an indicator that this make-believe world was not to last long.  

Would he have made this face?

The scene began to crumble, shifting into a setting with a brightness that threatened Shigeo to blindness. The younger male's eyes were glossed over with the remnants of a daydream, his vision quickly regaining focus as he studied the once blurred ajar door, where there stood Arataka, lower jaw fallen to the floor, hand on the knob, and a face redder than the lips he bit in Shigeo’s trances. Or that face?

Once his mind had gathered its bearings within the next three seconds, Shigeo realized four things:

First, this part of the dream had no action whatsoever. Shigeo would have declared it lifeless if not for the painfully realistic and impeccable detail on Arataka's face - and really, it would have gotten him a blush point, but Shigeo wasn't entirely sure if this counted. He’d have to ask the real Arataka. He knew the rules; it was his game.  

Second, the setting looked accurately real. Wasn't this the bathroom?

Third, he was on the floor, seated nicely with a bag of colored laundry to his right and one of Arataka's button down shirts he used for work pressed tightly against his nuzzle. No wonder the air smelled like his master.

And fourth - Shigeo did his best not to widen his eyes at the epiphany - this was not so much of a dream, as it turned out.

The couple stared at each another - one more visibly stunned and dumbfounded than the other. Arataka's mouth was agape, as though midway calling out and stood frozen ever since.

Shigeo was the first to break out of their playing statue game. He nonchalantly lowered the shirt and returned it to the laundry basket along with the uncolored pieces of clothing, before picking his separate bag from the floor, coolly making his way towards the door without missing a step. Just as he wove around the older male, Shigeo grunted a soft, “Don't pretend I didn't see that,” claiming his second point, and he trudged down the hallway, praying to whatever god watching on in thanks as soon as he had disappeared from view.

He couldn't believe he managed to do all of that without giving anything away, like biting his tongue or stumbling over his own feet.

Arataka had just caught him sniffing through his laundry, hadn't he?

God , Shigeo slammed his head into a wall. He hissed at the wave of pain, but he put it to no regard. You’re perverted, Kageyama Shigeo.

Shigeo had quickened his pace as he approached the stairwell. As soon as he realized, he was running, three steps at a time, until he found himself wheezing at the ground floor, hunched over his knees, taking shallow frenzied breaths that barely made it to his lungs. He dropped Arataka’s bag of laundry next to him and let himself curl into a ball, taking his legs into an embrace, in frail attempt to get his thoughts together.

When the hall turned out to be not as empty as it had been initially, Shigeo heaved a quiet sigh through his nostrils before picking himself back up, Arataka's laundry with him in the grasp of a curled fist, but had he closed his eyes Shigeo would have easily mistaken his exhaled breath for fire.

What does he think of you now? Shigeo pondered, eyeing Arataka's clothes spinning through the glass of Washing Machine No. 5. He watched in earnest as they turned over each other, looking as though they’ve turned to mesh, working around in a clockwise direction then back every after a five-second hum. His legs felt dead as he crouched, and somehow he hadn't felt a want to waltz back into his apartment. Not yet. He didn't know what face Arataka would offer for him.

Walking back to Arataka's apartment, however, Shigeo opted to look at the brighter side of things, and attempted to take a more optimistic approach. He had successfully woven around a situation where he knew he would have fallen embarrassed, and he had in fact claimed his second point since he committed himself to winning this game.

All good things. Really. And Shigeo ought to be proud.

He held the doorknob, hearing the vague hum of the AC from inside, and drew a shaky breath. It's all okay. He turned the knob and let himself in. It's all okay. It's good.

Shigeo slowly padded back towards the direction of the bathroom. His master ought to be in his chambers by then, and the younger male had not a sliver of intention to face him just yet. He'd have to douse himself in water in the hopes that his humiliation would come washing along the drain.

Good grief, this day was tiresome.

Shigeo held the knob to the bathroom and slowly turned it, only to nearly drop the bag of laundered clothes. Lo and behold was his master, body facing the sink, eyes locked with his own in the mirror, head decorated with the dog ears and neck embraced snugly with the collar. In the younger male's peripherals, he had spotted that the medicine box was ajar and sneering down at the last few ounces of Shigeo's dignity.

Arataka should not have opened that damned excuse of a wooden box, let alone, still be inside the bathroom.

And Arataka should not have looked his way before Shigeo could come up with a split-second escape plan.

“These yours, Mob?” asked the older male, letting go of the sink and raised his hands near his face, imitating a clawing gesture. This man had in all ways erased the earlier evening's incident, but Shigeo had already slammed against the limits of his awe. “How do I look?”

[84%]

Arataka laxed, closing his eyes with a grin. “God, I look ridiculous. These are cute, though. Where'd you get these?”

[85%]

“If you'll excuse me for a moment, Master.”

“Eh? What are - ?”

Shigeo swung the door shut and spun on his heel, leaning his back against the panels and broke down into a ball on the floor. He gripped his face, the sight of Arataka in dog ears burning images into his mind and setting his skin aflame.

Shigeo resorted to covering his face with both hands now, deciding one hand was never going to be enough to shield his expression and all the emotions it portrayed. 

Oh my God.

Chapter Text

When Shigeo heard a bird squawk from nearly thirty yards away, he heaved a sigh, and put down his pen as his eyes searched for the creature out the window of his classroom. Not that it mattered to him, Shigeo was no bird fan to begin with, but he knew that by the time he would take notice of the most unimportant details in his surroundings, he was hauled back into the afternoon lethargy. And it would take some time until he could get himself out of it.

Simply put, it meant he was done being a student, and air began to expand from within the hollow shell of his skull, compelling his jaw to unhinge for the largest yawn he had executed thus far. He needed a break, preferably anywhere but this rundown place and his desk, maybe somewhere quiet like a library or the comforts of his room, or somewhere comfortable like...

Hi , Reigen's voice spoke into his ears, his face flashing once in his head, and in his eyes the ravenette saw the surprise sinking into his irises, downplayed by his response at Shigeo's tripping and landing on him, like his boss was the world's most renowned cushion.

Master's office . His face flushed with the warmth of familiarity, but the thought had properly embedded into his brain moments later and his eyes snapped open, his heart in agitation at the reawakened sentiment of shame and humiliation. Shigeo thought he had gotten over the incident.

So he thought.

He had also thought he had grown out of this little crush he had on his master. He had thought this was but over with, and his mind had already processed how awful it was to be in love with Reigen.

Reiterated, so he thought.

These feelings, Shigeo came to realize, had passed unnoticed for a while. But ever so often when Shigeo laid in bed at night he would find himself wide awake, and feel himself fall over and over in his mind's eye, landing on Reigen every time, hearing that measly hi enough to almost despise it. He had hated that the memory remained vivid and haunted him whenever possible.

The male shook his head. Enough.

What would he think of you thinking of him in class? Shigeo wondered, chewing the insides of his cheeks. The smallest hint of a smile tugged at his lips, growing gradually into too compelling a force enough for Shigeo to lift a hand to his nuzzle, eyes back to the board and the teacher whose words he couldn't register.

You're in your third year, Mob , he could already hear his master say. Isn't it about time you focus better on your classes like never before? College exams are coming up, too, aren't they?

Shigeo's thoughts fell bleak when his master's face dissipated in the mental image he had formed. His heart sank to his stomach, and suddenly his airways were knotted, limiting his breathing almost to small gasp-like inhales. Shigeo liked to think he was denying every ounce of attraction he held towards Reigen, but he knew the pressure that welled in his chest cavity, and he knew it too well.

His anxiety sprouted from the thought of confessing.

And a part of him knew he had to get his feelings straight.

Then get them across to Reigen in the hopes that he would allow himself to reciprocate.

“And I'll be straight up rejected all over again,” Shigeo chuckled quietly, hoping he hadn't sounded that crestfallen to himself. He could recall how heavy of a toll it was on him when Tsubomi-chan rejected him, and he knew he never would have gotten over it without Reigen's support.

Now he was supposed to confess to Reigen himself, but if the ending had gone much more devastating, who would save him? Surely not Reigen.

And maybe Shigeo would never get over it.

It occurred to the ravenette that he was gambling far too much on wanting a more intimate relationship with his master, and he knew everything would never be the same after a single confession. An all or nothing result, but Shigeo still most certainly didn't want a measly nothing.

Should I not do it, after all?

But he knew he'd forever stay pining for the man if he left these feelings unspoken. Shigeo knew more than that, and this dilemma was strangling him and clawing at his organs more than it should.

The sound of the ringing bell impeded and tore Shigeo away from his thoughts. The room fell into an orchestra of chatter and shuffling, with students left and right weaving out of their desks and preparing for their leave. Shigeo took a moment to scan them, eavesdrop on a few plans he might never have, watch on as groups of males and females flocked together, everyone simply clad in the same smiles and they wore it like a part of their school uniform. He could see bags being unhooked from tables, writings on the board diminished into scattered powder forever part of the mass of dark green paint, and a thin stream of students thickened into crowds as they exited the school building.

“Head over to my place! Mom's cooking today.”

“I heard the new crepe shop by the station opened yesterday.”

“Really?”

“Wanna go before we ride home?”

“Sasuga, you coming?”

“Ah, about the sleepover next week… I'll just hit you guys up on LINE.”

Shigeo closed his eyes, slumping against his seat, and threw his head back as if to face the ceiling. At the end of the day, he would always be alone, no matter how great of a bond he formed with the people who shared the same classes as him. He wasn't part of any clique, and having his afterschool part-time job and three years’ worth of observation, he wasn't sure if he had ever wanted to be part of anything at all.

Though having a friend from class always around him sounded ever so intriguing.

Must be great, Shigeo mused, downplaying a growing envy.

“Kageyama-kun,” called out a new voice, and Shigeo's thoughts came perturbed once more. His eyes fluttered open only to find Hanazawa's face hovering above his, beaming down at him with a smile. The blonde raised a hand in greeting. “Yo.”

Shigeo quietly hummed a reply. “Nice seeing you here, Hanazawa-kun. Are you ready to leave?”

The blonde's eyes flickered to the side. “Err, about that…” Hanazawa positioned a palm on his nape. “I still have practice after this, and I thought I'd drop by to let you know.”

“Oh.” Shigeo drifted his gaze towards the clock at the back of the room.

“You should be going ahead then.”

As they had discussed over LINE, Shou was arriving home that day, and Hanazawa had managed to talk Ritsu into letting him and Shigeo to come with him as he picked his boyfriend up from the airport as soon as class had ended (Shigeo had certainly not forgotten about that). The ravenette could already see the waiting hall, his brother seated impatiently at one of the benches, only to jump to his feet at the sight of Shou, bounding towards the boy he hadn't seen in the longest time, his face screaming a yearning to fling himself at him. This was a private moment for his younger brother, and now that he could think about it clearly, he decided being there with him wouldn't be the most respectful relative to Ritsu and Shou's privacy.

Alas, Shigeo shook his head. “No, I don't think I'll go.”

Hanazawa lifted a brow. “Flaking out, Kageyama-kun?”

“I think I'll head on over to work.”

“Hmm,” the blonde hummed in thought before breaking into a grin and shrugged. “Alright then. I suppose I'll have to meet our lovebirds after club.”

“Sorry,” muttered Shigeo.

“Don't be. I'll text Ritsu for you.” Hanazawa made his way towards the door. “We'll be crashing at the office later, though. See you then, Kageyama-kun!”

But Shigeo's mind had already drifted off without having to see Hanazawa join the growing crowd shuffling down the corridor. All he could see by then was Reigen Arataka in all his glory across his laptop at his office desk, glancing up once with the words, “Oh, it's you, Mob.”

And if summer meant spending every day at this office, well… maybe never having any plans at beaches or friends’ houses or crepe shops might just be the best thing to ever happen to Shigeo.

And deep into summer vacation, Shigeo was working on his homework on Arataka's bedroom floor, his only motivation being Arataka's gaming music: the Candy Crush background and the intermittent jingles whenever his master had scored. Ever since he had gotten into advanced classes in high school, summer vacations no longer felt like vacations at all. His schedules were jam-packed, and how he could still do part-time at Spirits and Such was surprising, even to the boy himself.

I need to finish up soon. Shigeo's fingers danced across his calculator, setting a final stress with a loud clack at the ‘equals’ button before reaching for his pen and jotting his answer down into paper. Eyes flickering to his side where in his peripherals he could see Arataka at the edge of the bed, Shigeo quietly muttered, “I really need to finish up soon.”

The sooner he did, the sooner he could join Arataka in bed.

“Was that a complaint I heard?” Arataka queried, unable to look up from his screen.

No. Shigeo snapped his gaze back to his notebook and located the next question he was to answer. I wasn't looking at him. I wasn't.

“Somebody could use a break, probably.”

“Not yet, Master.”

“Determined, aren't we?” Arataka mused, followed by a silence that lasted until the older male took note of his written output and every question Shigeo was tasked to answer. “Hang on, is that physics?”

“Yes, Master,” Shigeo replied thoughtlessly.

“Man, that takes me back.”

 

A 1.60-m-long steel piano wire has a diameter of 0.20 cm.

 

Shigeo held his pen tighter as he scribbled in his list of numericals under his labeled given. He prayed to whatever god watching that his penmanship could still pass as legible.

 

How great is the tension in the wire if it stretches 0.30cm when tightened?

 

Shigeo wrote in: ∆L = 0.30cm

 

Breaking him from his thoughts, Arataka's finger popped into his line of sight as it gestured towards the digits he had only jotted down. Shigeo never would have realized he held his breath all throughout his note-taking. “You surprised me,” he gasped out, voice no louder than a whisper.

“Aren't you going to convert that?” His master tapped against his paper before withdrawing.

Shigeo met Arataka's gaze, brows knit together. “Why do I need to - ?”

And the epiphany struck him like a bus.

The ravenette scanned the fourth question for a second time, and his eyes halted at the metric symbol he had foolishly overlooked. The world stopped spinning, the walls seemed to tower over, the ground spread to swallow him, and Kageyama Shigeo was flipping a table in his mind's eye.

Fuck.

He might have been doing this for the first three numbers.

Idiot!

“Zero point… double zero thirty meters,” Arataka added on. “Crap, I loved high school physics.”

Shigeo hauled his bag towards him and rummaged through the front pockets for his correction tape. He knew he should have used a mechanical pencil instead. Dang it, Shigeo.

The ravenette asked bitterly with no intention to hide his tone's dryness. “I take it you've always passed?”

Arataka snorted. “Nope. I barely made it. Always screwed up during converting.” He locked eyes with Shigeo with a grin. “I take it you don't wanna screw it up either?”

The ravenette closed his fist around his correction tape, slowly running the white layer over his most frustrating mistake. This way, with the white ink covering his sorry excuse of an answer, he couldn't just act like it never existed. It would forever stay there to remind him of an error Arataka, of all people, noticed for him.

 

∆L = 0.0030m

πr 2 = (3.14)(0.0010m) 2

 

“Round to the tenth or hundredth?”

“Tenth,” said Shigeo, flexing his fingers to grab his calculator.

Arataka furrowed his brows in thought. “Three point one times ten raised to six,” he cut in. His eyes lit up as he corrected himself, “No, no, no - raised to six - NEGATIVE six. Three point one times ten raised to negative six.” And alas when the older male's features came down creased with content, he curtly albeit frivolously added on, “Square meters.”

Did he just -

Shigeo gawped at him, thoughts butchered into unfinished sentences.

Mentally?

And he could never believe this man had failed high school physics over plain conversion error. Arataka was a genius, and it terrified Shigeo to even pick up his calculator to confirm his answer. A part of him could tell he wasn't wrong.

The younger male blinked himself out of  a trance. “Err, double checking to be sure. I hope you don't mind, Master.”

“It's all good.”

 

= 3.1 x 10^-6

 

Arataka scooted over to view the screen for himself. “So?” Shigeo could already see his master's metaphorical tail wag. “Answer?”

“You're a monster,” was all Shigeo had managed to return as he rotated the calculator for Arataka to see. Never before had the third year been so astounded by anything. How careless did Arataka have to be to fail physics over conversion?

It was then Shigeo realized, in the midst of Arataka pumping a fist in the air and beaming at the ceiling, that he could no longer hear his master's Candy Crush music in the background.

No matter what he does he's always so… brilliant. Shigeo compelled his lips to smile fondly before Arataka could catch him frown.

In comparison I'm still so...

“I still got it, after all!”

Shigeo held his pen and wrote the numbers down. “And so you do,” he spoke, opting for a cheerier tone.

When his voice had failed him, Shigeo heaved a happy little sigh to compensate, staring at Arataka with eyes he hoped cooperated with the feeling he forced out to relay.

Incompetent.

Chapter Text

“You’re leaving the soccer club?”

“Mm,” Shigeo hummed in response, eyes downcast as he fiddled with the lid of his water bottle. “It was fun being around the team, and I’m glad you made me try joining, Hanazawa-kun, but,” he lifted his gaze to lock eyes with the blonde, “I just don’t think this is for me.”

Silence washed over the club room, compelling both males into wallowing in it as uncomfortable as they could. Hanazawa was the first to break it. “Well, truth is I don’t want you to leave. I know you do great here.”

Shigeo impeded. “Flattering, coming from the team captain.”

Snorting, Hanazawa joined the ravenette on the bench and offered him a small smile. “But if you feel like leaving, I suppose it’s something beyond my control, and having you in constant discomfort is beyond my list of wants, Mob-kun. I can’t try to convince you.”

“You’re not mad, are you?”

“I will be if you stop working out with me.”

This time, Shigeo grinned, and with a head hung he quietly piped, “Thank you, Hanazawa-kun.”

Shigeo’s reason for his resignation after only ever being a member for a month was never because of any physical reason. He slowly came to realize that he was no good at time management without the aid of the people around him, and thinking he could train himself into doing better, he decided he could use a reduction of elements in his daily activities, and that the soccer club was at the top of the list of things he could sacrifice.

Either way, it wasn’t as though he had joined the club because he was truly into soccer. Hanazawa had managed to coax him into doing it, and Shigeo submitted on a whim.
But he wasn’t going to give up on training his body either, which was why at seven in the morning, taking advantage of the space he could use if he moved the coffee table next to the couch, Shigeo had already gone through most of his daily regimen in his master’s living room. The night before was a mess, with the ravenette barely being able to keep his frustration down when it kept boiling up over one question after the other. And working out had usually helped calming him down.

That morning was part of that usual.

“Mob,” called Arataka, hindered in his step with a yawn before he could reach the coffee table, weaving around the younger male in the midst of his curl-ups. He gestured to the glass of milk he brought in with him before lifting his own mug to his lips.

“Thank you,” managed Shigeo, bracing himself as he hoisted his torso back into the air to curl towards his knees and slowly leveling himself back down to the cold of the floor, breathing, “A hundred and sixty-six.”

“Jesus, you’ve been at it for that long?” Wiping his lips with the back of his hand, Arataka set his mug down with a loud clink before he could join Shigeo on the floor. “That won’t do. You’re shaking.” He crawled towards his feet, pinning Shigeo’s toes by his palms as he faced the ravenette and watched on as he lifted himself off the ground. Arataka counted for him, “One hundred and sixty-seven - how the hell are you still alive? - one six eight, one six nine…”

In honest truth, Shigeo could already feel the fatigue sinking deep into his bones, and the tremors that emanated from deep within him remained no mystery to him at all. Though overwhelmed with exhaustion, the revulets of sweat that disappeared into his shirt told him he was doing a good job, and he might as well finish what he had planned for himself.

Perhaps being too hard on oneself truly is a bad thing.

Especially when it all boiled down to exercise, Shigeo came to realize.

Arataka fixed himself, positioning his knees on Shigeo’s toes where his palms should have been to contribute better at anchoring, and with both free hands held the ravenette’s knees together like binding string. “One seventy-three, one seventy-four,” he continued, grunting. “I don’t think this many curl-ups are good for you, Mob.”

“I beg to differ, Master.” Not to mention, these are supposed to improve abdominal muscles. In other terms, his eyes drifted anywhere else but Arataka’s, abs . And quite so, as much as he despised to admit, his dream from the other day remained traumatizing him whenever his mind blanked. He cursed his own head. “I find this enjoyable.”

One seventy-six - not saying you don’t find it fun, but - one seventy-seven - in what world can this ever be called fun, Mob?”

Shigeo's eyes glinted with the arrival of a split second idea.

“This one.” With the smallest hint of a grin, Shigeo hoisted himself off the ground frivolously as though every ounce of dead weight on his chest dissipated into thin air, and landed a kiss on Reigen’s cheek before propelling himself down with his own momentum. The bliss of another point veiled a haze over his thoughts as he watched a stunned Arataka’s skin light up in a deepening hue of pink. “ Three.

 

“God, I could love you until the day I die!”

“Who told you you could declare your love for me so publicly?”

“Why? Does it appall you, Shigeo?”

Shigeo?

“No. In fact I find it highly endearing!”

“Should I do it more often, then?” Arataka challenged, pacing towards Shigeo with his fists clenched.

Shigeo swallowed a gob down his throat and drew a heavy breath, preparing to raise his voice and yelled, “Well, maybe you should !”

That afternoon, Shigeo had already begun reconsidering if his claiming a third point was anywhere near a good thing, especially with Arataka’s face right before him, nostrils flaring and brows knitted, and his master himself at his throat, just the same Shigeo was at his.

He had called on an argument, a desperate race to the next claimed point, voices raising in volume and intensity with every thrown sentence riddled with what truly felt like anger to Shigeo. This had started off passive aggressive, bickering with little compliments intermittent, and the ravenette could not at all pinpoint how their own competitiveness had evolved so much as to become anger. With how things flowed from then on, Shigeo could one day mistake an I love you for an insult.

In the end, neither of them had claimed to see the other blushing.

The only way they could have gotten one another to turn red was their ultimate lack of breath and the throbbing vein in their respective temples.

“You two should honestly get a life,” Dimple reprimanded, zooming between the couple, eyes flickering between the two. “This game is pointless! You two won’t get anything if you win, but you’re both ready to burst into flames and engage into some dumbass argument Serizawa and I do not want to see. Be ashamed of yourselves, for Pete’s sake.” The spirit side-glanced at the other employee present behind his desk. “Back me up here, Serizawa.”

“Y… yes,” Serizawa promised, but that had been the end of it.

Arataka cocked his head in Dimple’s direction and marveled, “Although it makes me very happy to know you’ve understood the mechanics of our little game here, you’re wrong about one thing, my friend. We do  have a prize.”

Dimple raised a brow at them. “Uh-huh.”

“Bragging rights,” Arataka said at last, and for the first time that afternoon Shigeo agreed with his master, nodding in the backdrop. Bragging rights, after all, meant Shigeo could win and shove it in his master’s face, and to the young male, that was enough for him to live on in peace.

The green spirit had never wanted to be an inch close to involvement, but somehow as he produced his arms from his mass of ectoplasm to pinch the bridge of his nose, he had appeared to be the most worked up about it. “Why don’t you two pay each other with a point, then?” Dimple suggested. “At least get this game somewhere, save up in the process. Whoever has more coins by the end of the month wins.”

Both Shigeo’s and Arataka’s faces lit up in investment.

“I like this idea,” said Arataka.

“I second it,” said Shigeo.

The two exchanged looks and produced their respective wallets. Arataka was the first to speak up. “Three hundred yen for a point then.”

“Four,” urged Shigeo.

“Ohoho,” Arataka smirked, “ someone knows business. Fine, I'll speak your language.  Five.”

Before the ravenette could protest and slam him down with his suggestion of six, Dimple interfered with a retort. “Start at a hundred, you two. God, it’s like I’m watching over children ‘ere.” In Shigeo’s eyes flashed a hint of pain, but the ravenette decided not to say anything about it as Dimple floated on over to Arataka and told him off, “ Especially you. You’re better than this, Reigen.”

Arataka shrugged it off and made his way to his desk, just in time for the office phone to ring, the sound so shrill Shigeo could still hear it even as his master had spoken into the receiver. “Ah, it's Bessho-san,” he recognized, turning his back to everyone. “Is there anything we could help you with again?”

Dimple tailed Shigeo as the ravenette made his way to settle into the couch. “Care to explain yourself?” queried the spirit, expectation gleaming in his irises, fingers drumming on his arms. Shigeo produced his phone and averted his gaze. He couldn't face Dimple - not after the debacle he'd brought upon himself and  the office. Dimple sighed to break the ice cold silence, and proceeded, “Weren't you supposed to be acting like an adult?”

“I know,” Shigeo groaned into his palms, holding his head with his hands. “It got out of hand. It's my fault.”

“Don't give me that.”

“But it's not like Arataka's to blame.”

Dimple grunted. “Though he did start this game with no ulterior motive.”

“Dimple,” Shigeo warned.

“Take the blame as a couple. You trying to take it by yourself won't make you anywhere near an adult. You're doubling the damage on yourself, and you're too dense to see it.” Dimple shot him a scrutinizing look. “I'm betting my ass you're putting yourself down on a daily basis if you can't get a point.”

This time, Shigeo didn't reply.

Dimple opened his mouth to continue, only to be intervened with Arataka sauntering over, papers in one hand, his phone in the other. The spirit quirked a brow at him. “What's it this time, Reigen? Gonna compliment Shigeo on his hair?”

“Funny, because I would ,” Arataka bit back, rolling his eyes in dismissal. Shigeo lowered his hands to watch his master cock his head towards the direction of the door, ordering, “Get up. We're going.”

Shigeo complied and stood. “Where to?”

“Boiled Egg Prefecture.” Arataka rolled his papers into a single scroll and stashed it away into his coat. “Bessho-san, if you remember the client from last January who called about the poltergeist at the public bathroom - ”

“Urgh,” Dimple shuddered, clutching his arms. “I’m getting war flashbacks.”

“ - called for a friend of his who lives in the next prefecture. Guy bought a barn recently, claims it's haunted,” Arataka finished. He eyed Dimple. “Why don't you come with?”

No ,” the spirit sternly replied. “If this ends up in me getting my face shoved down a toilet by some loser again, I'm not going. Plus, Serizawa could use some company.”

“I… I'll be fine,” Serizawa piped.

Dimple glared at him. “ Serizawa could use some company ,” he reiterated. The psychic at his desk fell quiet.

Shigeo had not been with Arataka during their trip to the park's public bathroom, but given Dimple's solid reluctance to go, he could make a fair guess the toilet he got shoved into was not of the most fragrant.

As Shigeo followed his master out the door, Dimple reminded from behind him, “Don't you go proposing to each other in front of your client now.”

“We won't,” Arataka assured him. “Bye, Mom.”

And with that, the couple disappeared into the hallway.

 

He knew they were arguing pettily, and he knew they were supposed to be yelling in boosting anger and riched adrenaline, but -

He called me Shigeo.

And Arataka had never done so before until that afternoon at work.

Shigeo took a side glance at Arataka, before averting his gaze once more to stare at his own reflection in the window. He caught his lips abruptly twitch into a smile, and his mind fled into its most delusional state.

Shigeo .

Shigeo.

Shigeo.

He simply adored the way his master pronounced his name. At some point before then, Shigeo had once wondered if Arataka had actually forgotten his first name.

“But he certainly doesn't disappoint,” he marveled.

“You were saying something, Mob?”

Astounded, Shigeo whipped his head and whole-hearted attention back to the man beside him. “I-it's nothing, Master.”

Arataka quirked a brow at him, staring him down with suspicion painting his irises, holding his chin with a hand. No. Much to his demise, Shigeo couldn't turn, thus left to wither internally as Arataka's lips upturned into a cheeky grin. “Six.”

“Dang it.” Shigeo jerked his head back in withdrawal, and Arataka was chuckling from his seat, even as the younger male had decided to turn his back to him once more to look out the window. “I'll pay you when this is over.”

“And so you will,” Arataka sang in triumph.

The bus was practically empty, save for the old lady sitting up front, a middle-aged man sitting two seats away from them, the driver, and the two whom had claimed the backmost area. Shigeo hadn't found this odd, though most of the buses he had taken to school, if he wasn't on a train, were packed to the brim enough for the passengers to be mistaken for sardines. Arataka mentioned Boiled Egg Prefecture was no place for tourists, unless they were into rundown shops in the heart of the city, and, quote unquote, a whole lot of nothing.

Shigeo couldn't disagree. If this place had at least one good onsen place (which to Kageyama Shigeo was the basis of a good tourist destination), he should've gone here every Golden Week with his family on their insistence.

Just as Shigeo had caught the words NEW  YOLK CITY written in bold letters on a sign, Arataka nudged the ravenette lightly on the ribs. “Here's our stop.”

Shigeo had honestly never been so pitiful of anything unanimated.

Their stop was an expanse of land mulling over the utter lack of rain and anything green, as though the trees had discussed to purposely huddle together all around the perimeters, avoiding the lot completely. The same went for the weeds, as Shigeo had not noticed a single blade of grass as far as the naked eye could see. He made a mental note to never come back here without a watering can.

The only breath of fresh air he could see apart from the palette of dry colors were the worn down barn standing an acre away, and subsequently, as the young male hadn't noticed him at first glance, the expectant face of their current client whose name Shigeo couldn't remember. He drew out a breath of relief for not commenting anything about this sad Shutterstock model for drought, and how bad of a choice it was to buy it - but it wasn't as though Shigeo knew a single speck on real estate. He left the judging to the owner himself to work out.

Their client was a skinny man well in his mid-forties, wearing a cotton shirt and jeans with a towelette worn haphazardly around his neck. Shigeo caught a few tufts of dark brown hair that peeked out beneath the base of his floppy hat.

“Muzushiro-san, I believe,” Arataka started, taking the client's hand and shaking it once before withdrawing. “Pleasure to work with you.”

“Likewise, Sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Bessho recommended and spoke rather highly of you! Oh, goodness. I haven't caught your name.” Muzushiro-san removed his hat, revealing a mop of curly hair and a fringe matted to his scalp with sweat. How long had this guy been in the sun? “You must be...?”

“Reigen Arataka, from the Spirits and Such Consultation Office.” He gestured to Shigeo, cueing him to bow in greeting and the younger male followed quickly. “This is Mob, my boyf - ” There was an unnerving silence that washed over Arataka for a span of a second, enough for him to internalize his mistake and think up of a proper retaliation. “Sorry. Acquaintance. He will be assisting in the exorcism if ever necessary.”

“Very nice save, Master,” Shigeo complimented softly but loud enough for only Arataka to hear, earning himself a kick in the shin. “Ouch.”

“This is your fault,” hissed the older male.

Shigeo smiled. Cute.

Muzushiro hadn't seemed to take notice, much to Arataka's relief, his mistake or their private banter. “I will assure you your efforts will not be in vain. I've seen floating pitchforks and splattered blood on the outer wall when it wasn't there the time I came in.” He cast his eyes down to recompose himself and lifted his gaze to face them once more. “I never went in ever since. Please follow me to the barnhouse. I can assure you it will be worth investigating.”

Shigeo nodded. “Please do lead the way.”

As soon as their client had spun on his heels to go, Shigeo proudly declared, “I believe I have my fourth point.” He succumbed to a short fit of chuckles as he fell into step with Arataka. “Master, it's time to take your hands off your face now.”

Arataka groaned, the yearning for retribution seeping through his tone as he yielded in defeat. “I can't believe I gave away a point for slipping.”

“I'm surprised, too, honestly.”

“Do you want to be slapped, Mob?”

“I do not, Master.”

“I'll pay you later.”

“And so you will.” The two of them treaded a couple of meters in silence before the ravenette could query on, “You sounded like you did it before, though. Introduced me to someone perhaps?”

Arataka snorted. “Since when you were so observant? Geez.” He placed a hand on his nape for a light massage. “I had to tell my mother about you. She called last night, asking about things - you know how doting mothers are - but I may or may not have mentioned you were in the bedroom when I requested her kindly to end the call soon. I was wondering if maybe it wasn't the best time to introduce you as a boyfriend.” He barked out in laughter once. “I’ve been thinking about it the whole day. I'm pathetic that way.”

Shigeo blinked as he let it all sink in. “Oh.”

So his mother knows about me?

The ravenette froze in step. Something felt off. His skin crawled, decorating itself with goosebumps in the mercy of the afternoon sunlight, and his vision seemed to double from light-headedness.

Was it just him or was the ground shaking?

“Mob?” Realizing the younger male was no longer walking by him, Arataka turned to search for him and meet his eyes. “Anything wrong?”

“I think,” Shigeo extended an arm, his palm to the roof, “it knows we're here.”

Chapter Text

Muzushiro-san offered to stay outside when Shigeo and Arataka entered the barnhouse, to stay guard and keep an eye out for things, promising to let them know if he saw anything odd. Shigeo didn't blame his reaction done in fear. He'd dealt with spooked clients before. This wasn't the first time.

And Shigeo knew fear from the very core of his heart.

The barnhouse appealed to Shigeo as visually aesthetic from the interior, with streams of sunlight beelining through the roof's fishbone beams - the only solid support he could see - and tattered shingles, bits of hay peppered across the ground leading to stacks gathered at the far corners, and the indoor two-cubicle stable with its red withered doors aged with grime at their creases. A tractor sat facing them from the right side of the room, one headlight missing to leave an empty socket, keys protruding out of the cab door ignition, and the exterior coated in a thick blanket of dust.

He noted two rusting pitchforks by the entrance, one of which toppled over the other. A third pitchfork stood upright and thrusted into a stack of hay at the back wall.

I can't sense where the energy is coming from.

“Feels like a movie,” Arataka noted in an undertone, scanning the setting before his eyes lit up in a silent and participatory laughter. “A horror movie, at that. I get why spirits would want to stay here.”

Shigeo hummed in agreement. It's eerie , thought the male, recalling the light tremors from outside just a while before. Perhaps trapping the spirit inside the barnhouse hindered it from continually making a scene to scare them off, sure, but Shigeo hadn't freed himself from the goosebumps that kissed his skin, or the unnerving feeling that there were eyes from a space beyond them, prowling carefully in the manner a predator would, staring them down in scrunity and waiting for an opening to attack.

“Master.”

“Yes, Mob?”

“If you were a spirit,” he began, pausing his scanning to turn to him, “where would you be hiding?”

Arataka quirked his brow at him and his lips cracked into a smile. “Well, that would be where you wouldn't be. You pose a large threat, so I'd be looking for - ”

In grand epiphany, Shigeo supplied and finished the sentence, “A secret hideout.”

His master shrugged. “Or that, yeah.”

The ravenette caught his head in a hand and proceeded to massage his temple. A spirit so strong it would be able to hide itself. Shigeo spun a three-sixty, examining the area clearer, taking a closer look at the dreary walls to see if, perhaps, there was one important detail he overlooked. It couldn't have escaped before I could set out a barrier, could it?

Shigeo shook his head. No, he chided himself and drew a breath only to let it go, I know it's here.

“Mob! Come here!” Arataka hollered from a distance. Shigeo hadn't even noticed the man once beside him walk off towards the tractor and crouched in front of it, head hung to view underneath the vehicle. “I think I found something you might like.”

The younger male jogged over, mimicking Arataka's position, and hitched his breath. “Isn't that - ?”

“It's a lid.” Arataka drew a rectangle in the air - an imitation of the large board that stood out much too much amongst an algorithm of long wooden panels. “There’s a room beneath us. Hurricane safe room, maybe? Previous owners’ earthquake precaution?”

A trap. Shigeo figured so as he stood to move away the tractor enveloped in his same aura, pushing it back far enough to expose the lid fully. “The spirit is threatened.”

“You are pretty terrifying, Mob. Gotta give you that. Any spirit staying in your vicinity would be foolish,” Arataka chuckled, dusting his knees to join him in standing. “It’s trying to lure us down, isn't it? Still think we should follow?”

Shigeo chewed the interior walls of his cheeks and frowned. “I don't know.”

“Hi there.”

Shigeo's breath hitched in his throat.

 

[94%]

 

“Master!”

Shigeo grabbed both Arataka's shoulders and propelled themselves to the side, backs hitting the floor in one loud thump. In a fraction of a second the lid popped off, whizzing down their previous position with a speed high enough to saw a body in half. Close. Too close.

Once the projectile slammed  into the wall and killed off its own dire momentum, he helped Arataka as the two of them scrambled back upright, shooting him a look that commanded his urgent exit. Leave it to me.

Arataka nodded once in comprehension and took off for the door.

Shigeo held out an arm, fingers flexed and at the ready, and backed away slowly, covering for the older male and blocking their side with a forcefield.

The spirit was definitely taking its time. It exited out of the now exposed hole, ectoplasm a dark foamy mass that erupted from the underground room and extended in all directions. Shigeo could make out a thumb-shaped figure sticking out of the expanse of inky darkness, its two blank white eyes glowing in a fit of rage as it studied the ravenette.

“He-hello,” Shigeo greeted. “It's nice to meet you.”

The form proceeded to take on a more elaborate shape in silence. The male took this as a signal to continue, “Were you the one who talked earlier?”

The ectoplasm cocooning the thumb figure began to melt into thin air at an accelerating pace. A response ? Shigeo pondered, opening his mouth to attempt carrying on a conversation but stopped immediately as he gawped at the spirit's final form.

The stray shadow of what looked like a child's stood by the tractor, eyes glowing white almonds and burning holes into Shigeo's soul. The esper shuddered in the drop of temperature in the room, skin crawling at an even more uncomfortable manner. With his years in service of exorcism, Shigeo grew all the more easier to empathize with all the spirits he dealt with. He could easily get into their minds and have a taste of what they were feeling or thinking before their death.

With such a helpful skill he developed, he figured it would make it easier for him to engage less in battle and more in talking, just like he did with people, because he was well-aware they, too, could understand if he tried enough. He wanted them to stand by themselves, to voice out what kept them rooted to the earth, and to ascend into the next level of existence, even if it required his genuine assistance.

By then, he was trying to battle a child.

And ever since stepping into its territory, all he'd ever felt were goosebumps and a faster heartbeat; both of which he had labeled nothing from the start.

Fear. Shigeo stepped closer, and the shadow's eyes narrowed. It's afraid of me.

 

[96%]

 

Arataka began rapping at the door, shaking the panels by the handles, and cursed the whole barnhouse in a raging fit. “Damn it , it's locked from the outside!” The man peered through the gap and shouted at the top of his lungs. “Muzushiro-san! Muzushiro-san, get us out of here!”

In internal panic, Shigeo drifted his gaze towards Arataka, making a motion to ruin the door in pieces if he had to, but before he could even lift a finger to shoot out a ray of energy -

“Eyes here, maybe?”

Shigeo couldn't turn fast enough.

 

[97%]

 

The spirit launched itself at him, sending the ravenette reeling back all the way to the wall with an audible thud. Sharp pain erupted in his chest, leaving the esper wincing as he curled into a ball on the floor, desperately attempting to get himself back on his feet. Dark spots danced before his eyes, his head light.

I let down my guard . Shigeo watched as the dark mass sprinted for Arataka, dust in its trails, and his heart sank to his stomach. Move, Shigeo!

 

[98%]

 

Arataka had never been more grateful to be standing near a pitchfork.

His hands furled around the handle of the closest one to him, and he spun in time to thrust the pointed ends down into the spirit's chest cavity.

Being in the field of exorcism as a non-esper had its perks. One of them was learning properly which spirits he could sucker-punch and which he couldn't so he could make himself look like less of a fool. Most of the time he was admittedly winging it, even as he tried to kill a spirit with a damned pitchfork , and even as that pitchfork passed through the ectoplasm like stabbing the air and absolute nothingness.

At least he tried.

The only thing he accomplished in that pitiful attack was leaving the spirit to stop immediately in its tracks to stare at his weapon, then at him as though asking, “Are you in your right mind?”

Arataka should have been dead by now, but by God was he a lucky man. Up until this point, anyway.

 

[100%]

 

Shigeo's aura enveloped the shadow in crystalline blue and white and restrained every movement it could ever make from then on. “Eyes here, maybe?” he growled, flicking his wrist to shoot the spirit at himself like a projectile before he bounded towards it, leg extended on first contact for a kick.

The spirit crashed to the floor, breaking through the wooden boards with a sound that fell far too satisfying to Shigeo's ears.

He wasn't done with it yet.

On the other side of the room, as Arataka fell to his knees shaking in relief, the doors to his left opened and through the crack popped out Muzushiro-san's head. Arataka's fist felt so light, so numb; the only thing that could possibly cure him was colliding his knuckles into this damned client's cheek.

“Reigen-sensei!” cried Muzushiro. “How in tarnation did you two manage to lock the doors from outside?”

“Locked the doors from outside?” He let it sink in. “So you… never heard me yelling?”

“You were yelling?” the client questioned, bewildered. His eyes flickered at Shigeo, only to find his gaze lingering there in pure horror. Arataka couldn't blame him; he wouldn't be able to see the boy flailing a spirit around on the daily. “ Oh my Lord, is that how exorcism works?

What a wild misunderstanding. He figured the spirit must have manipulated something about the sound proofing - what a helpful skill, he must say. Arataka drew a breath to relieve the tension in his muscles as he stood up. “Isn't it a great thing I never punched you the moment I saw you?”

“D-did you say something, sensei?” Muzushiro queried without taking his eyes off of Shigeo.

Arataka knew that feeling rather well.

He grabbed the client's shoulder in assurance and smiled. “Leave it to Mob,” he told him. “He does a damn good job at this.”

But from across the room, Shigeo had already lost some of his resolve as he kept flailing the spirit around the barn. He was fully aware that the aural shield he held the shadow with was cracking, and it took in more damage by the second, leaving the spirit, annoyingly so, unscathed.

“You make me so jealous.”

You don't know what you're talking about ! Shigeo snapped. You're trying to get into my head, that's all there is to it. He slammed the spirit back into the tractor, shattering the windshields and heavily denting the hood, only to lift it back up, enraged that this sorry excuse of ectoplasm had never weakened by a bit. Shigeo's legs pushed against the ground and he pummelled himself into the air, closing in on the spirit, realizing just how small he was compared to his size.

How old did this kid die?

The only reason he hadn't erased it from the surface of the earth yet was because he didn't get a slice of information out of it.

And Shigeo, from the innermost core of his heart, had never felt pity for a spirit this way - he'd never come face-to-face with a child's soul before, let alone, one wreaking havoc in the human realm.

“I've never enjoyed anger this much ever since I haunted this place. I am happy, Shigeo-chan. Keep fighting with me.”

“You could not call me that.”

“Why not?”

Shigeo girned, a vein throbbing on his temple. This kid.

“Where does this anger of yours come from ?”

The esper frowned at him. “That's something you should be telling me.”

“Eh? But I'm more curious than you are! After all,” the spirit paused to grow a solid glowing smile, sending sickness to coil in Shigeo's stomach, “you haven't lost anyone important to you.”

His aural shield shattered completely like glass, crystals of psychic energy breaking down into shards and disappearing mid-air, but Shigeo remained paralyzed with the laughter of a child running through his mind, echoing against his skull's halls, almost compelling him to lift his hands to his ears and plead the voice to stop.

“At least , the spirit's smile grew wider when he turned away from Shigeo, only to land his gaze on Arataka from across the barnhouse, “not yet.”

 

[???]

Chapter Text

When Shigeo's eyes fluttered open, he found himself sitting on the floor of a vast whiteness, and not even a meter away positioned across him was a skinny boy about nine or ten with tan skin and dark hair in a crew cut, scrutinizing him with brown eyes screaming dispute.

No.

His very aura was yelling bloody murder.

“I take it you possessed me?” Shigeo was the first to break their silence.

“No,” he replied. “I didn't do it on purpose. You teleported in front of me before I could lay hands on your friend. You forcefully made me possess you. Now I'm stuck here with no way of escaping even if I lose to you in combat!” The boy's voice quaked, eyes now glossed over with sheer hopelessness, his own aura a stranger to himself. “I wanna go home, Shigeo-chan.”

A twinge pinched from within Shigeo's chest. To think, just a while back, he had done numerous futile attempts to render this same boy to a state of unwill by throwing him around a barnhouse. Somehow, that didn't sound that good.

Shigeo took a deep breath and asked him calmly. “Why did you have to scare off people?”

“I'm sorry.” The spirit hung his head low. His shoulders tensed, and Shigeo watched as he quivered in front of him, doing his best to not sob out the rest of his explanation. Nonetheless, he was breaking down, and the esper had no way of resisting approach as he found himself crawling towards him. “I… It's not like I wanted to-to hurt people. I just wanted - I wanted to protect my home!”

Shigeo stood on his knees in front of him now, taking the boy into his arms, and the spirit gladly reciprocated. No distance between them, and Shigeo had realized how badly he shook in his hold, the guilt in his heart making him lift a hand to rub circles on the child's back. Maybe I shouldn't have thrown him all over the place ?

“Good call, Shigeo,” he could already imagine Dimple say.

“A group of thieves,” began the spirit, audibly swallowing a gob down his throat between sobs.

“A group of thieves...?” queried Shigeo, helping him supply his words to finish. He had a good guess of what supposedly took place. With a softer voice and a hand on the back of his head, he  asked on, “What happened?”

The child withdrew slowly, rubbing his eyes, and Shigeo saw years of regret living in this poor boy's soul, as though the very act of calming himself down had been done ever so repetitively he had already grown accustomed to it. “They killed everyone,” he continued, forcing it out of himself. “My father hid me in the safe room, told me not to go anywhere, and I obeyed.” His eyes watered once more and he raised his cracking voice, “I foolishly obeyed!

“I could have done something - I-I could have grabbed a knife off the shelf and fended for them when they couldn't, but I stayed in place, in fear I'd lose my life, but when the police found me and pulled me out… when my parents were hours ago stabbed to death, I wished the robbers had found me and ended my existence then and there.” He looked up at Shigeo with connecting brows and absconding tears, crying out, Just why did they have to spare me? They could have looked for me, and a slash in the throat would have done enough.

“I don't have powers like you do, Shigeo-chan, and I didn't have the courage to do anything because I was afraid. Haunting, haunting our barnhouse was the only way I thought I could show my parents I could have protected them, because even... even as they died I was so useless .”

Useless.

Something twisted in Shigeo's chest as he laid the boy's head on his shoulder, and he felt as though he could cry, too.

He knew a thing or two about being useless, honestly.

“I could have saved them,” he wept, wrapping his arms around the esper and grasping his clothes in the desperate search for support. “ I just could have -

“Shh,” Shigeo soothed, drawing circles on his back with a finger in hopes he would calm him. This boy was bereaved of his parents at this age, and although he was a spirit old and aged with power, no matter how one could look at it, he would always be a child whose line of thinking was overwhelmed and riddled with his loss. Shigeo decided this was too delicate a talk even for him to do, but no one needed a chat more than this boy did.

Slowly, he drew a breath and continued, “Don't you think you've done enough? You've protected this house even as you left for the afterlife. Who could ever tell you you're still weak? Or,” he paused to recompose himself, “useless? When as a spirit of such young age you're putting out enough resolve to get yourself by? When you're still grieving the loss of your parents and taking the blame for it? Aren't you doing enough for them?”

Shigeo held him tighter in a short squeeze. “When your father told you to hide, you did. They hid you because they wouldn't stand the thought of losing you. And you stayed in hiding until everything was over just like your parents wanted. You're the reason they ascended with ease. Now as a spirit you're protecting your home. You've done everything you could. Never call yourself weak.” His words resonated through himself, as though his own mind doubted Shigeo was talking.

“Am I worth being proud of?”

“And so much more, yes.” Shigeo bit his lip. “Trust me.”

When the esper pulled away, the spirit's face had been lighter beyond the runny nose, the puffy eyelids, and the snot that streamed out his nostrils. Shigeo caught the smallest hint of elation orchestrated with relief gracing his lips.

No, scratch that - the spirit was turning translucent.

He's free now.

Shigeo put on a smile. “I hope you're ready to see your parents now.”

“I am. I have been for a while.” With a weak chuckle, the boy bowed his head and spoke for a final time, “Thank you, Shigeo-chan.”

But even then as he faded in front of him, his voice was distant, almost warbly and muffled, as though a curtain of water divided them.

The esper hauled himself back on his feet and waved. “Have a safe trip.” And with those words, the spirit dissipated into the air, the ghost of a smile lingering before the ravenette as he lowered his hand back to his side.

Never call yourself weak, Shigeo told him, and a part of him wished he could tell himself that, too.

 

I told my mother about you.

He woke up on his bed at home.

What time it was, he couldn't tell as the lights in his room remained inconclusive and there were no windows for him to look out of. Stirring from lengthy rest, Shigeo groggily sat up, cursing under his breath when his shoulders seemed to reel him back down onto the mattress, when his stomach turned over itself in desperate need of sinking into the soft beneath him. He absolutely despised fatigue; somehow it had managed to tail him like a puppy whatever he did.

Worked? Fatigue.

Rested? Fatigue.

If mere breathing would someday reap equal exhaustion, Shigeo wouldn’t even bother to be surprised.

His legs were light enough to defy gravity, arms so weightless he couldn’t feel them there. How long had he been knocked out?

Shigeo retraced everything that built up to the very moment the barnhouse spirit had vanished, looking back like flipping through the pages of a book as though he had missed a paragraph. In his mind’s eye he could see Reigen Arataka in all his glory thrusting a pitchfork into ectoplasm.

He stopped when his head began to throb.

Arataka . Shigeo held his head in a hand before proceeding to thread his fingers through his hair. I hope he’s alright.

“I had to tell my mother about you,” he recalled him say, and Shigeo’s heart sank to his stomach. This time he had given up on resisting his body’s gravitation towards the mattress, and allowed himself back into the comfort of his pillows before curling into a ball beneath his duvet with a long low groan.

He hadn’t gotten a chance to think about it properly until then.

Now his thoughts assembled one after another, asking questions and pretending he could provide himself answers. Shigeo had never been in any relationship before, but throughout his eighteen years he had fed off enough TV series and shows, waiting for that one day he himself could experience heartbeat skipping and hand holding.

Now he knew holding hands for long made for clammy palms, and they’d have to be cut short to save himself the embarrassment.

Now he knew pindrop silence never existed with Arataka in his vicinity (or not, as Shigeo could admit his thoughts were monopolized with his master’s most heart-agitating moments whenever he felt lonely).

And now he could identify a few good reasons as to why Arataka’s mother wouldn’t ever approve of him.

Maybe not the age difference , and Shigeo was against dwelling on the subject. He was of legal age, and that made him tread on the safe side. Plus Shigeo knew other couples with a larger age gap, so surely he could set this factor aside.

Couldn’t he?

But they’d never seen each other before adulthood.

Shigeo gnawed anxiously at his own lower lip. Finding this inadequate, he proceeded to bite his comforter, only to withdraw over the accident of letting his tongue touch the cloth. He decided comforters only ever felt good on the skin, not exactly taste buds.

Or she could be homophobic. Shigeo couldn’t recall if Arataka had ever mentioned telling her he was male, and Arataka had a history of female exes alone.

Though 'Mob’ didn't sound like a girl's name at all.

Things weren’t looking so bright for him, after all. Here he was, recovering quickly from a spirit possession, only to be struck in the face with the repercussion from ever knowing Arataka’s mother was aware of his very existence. Shigeo pulled his legs closer to his chest and furled into a tighter ball.

There were always thoughts he and Arataka weren’t compatible as a couple, and although he had constantly done everything he could to keep them shelved at the back of his mind, they were flying out of order and beyond Shigeo’s reach, making known of their presence by wreaking havoc in his head.

I’m no good.

Shigeo closed his eyes as the mattress swelled beneath him. In his quest to seek peace in the dark that held him and in his lonesome, he could feel himself withdraw as his head began to fill with internal wars he couldn’t settle.

Then a knock came at his door, and Shigeo was instantly freed from his thoughts.

“Niisan,” called Ritsu from the hall, “I’m coming in.” Shigeo turned in time to catch his brother enter his room and close the door behind him.

“Ah, Ritsu, I’m glad to see you.” Shigeo lifted a hand to his neck and felt his Adam’s apple, in awe at how his voice had croaked. Recovering quickly he sat up as the younger male settled himself down at the edge of the bed. “How long had I been out for?”

Ritsu shrugged. “You were already out cold when Reigen-san brought you in, so who knows really?”

Shigeo hummed in thought, and the brothers succumbed to a comfortable silence. It felt like a while since they were alone like this together, and Shigeo was willing to take every chance he could get to talk to Ritsu. With a head still in tatters and a mouth easy to run off, the elder male blurted, “Ritsu, have you ever dealt with homophobes?”

Shigeo’s head was spinning. He did it. He actually asked it. But his heart hammered against his chest heavily in its agitation, clear enough for him to know it would want to break free. As he waited through three seconds of an overwhelming silence, he averted his gaze from his brother and added on, “How do you… deal with that?”

“From whom did you receive this backlash and since when? Why have I never heard of this before? Is it someone from school?”

“No!”

Ritsu winced at his brother’s exclamation.

“N-no, I mean, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to raise my voice.” Shigeo dropped his gaze to the blanket, taking side-glances but could never make it to standing Ritsu’s narrowing gaze. Recalling his younger brother’s capability of murdering if he’d ever been done wrong, Shigeo decided to reason out. “It was a random thought. No one’s sent me any form of hate,” he deadpanned.

“No one has random thoughts like that.”

“I… I’m fine being no one.”

“You better make sure you aren’t lying, Nii.”

Shigeo fidgeted with his thumbs under the covers. “I’m not.”

Much to Shigeo’s relief, Ritsu dropped the talk, shook his head in dismissal, and changed the topic, “How are you feeling?”

“Better, I think. I feel weak, still, but I can report to work tomorrow, I’m sure.” Ritsu squinted at him, and huffed in disbelief. Befuddled, Shigeo raised his gaze to look him in the eye and queried. “Did I say something wrong?”

“You know you’re running a fever.”

“Yes?”

“And you’re telling me,” Ritsu pauses to flex his fingers in a let-me-get-this-straight hand gesture in between them, “you want to work tomorrow?”

“What did I say?” Shigeo mumbled under a breath.

Ritsu frowned, drew a breath, and released the building pressure in his chest. Shigeo wanted to say his little brother had not subtled out, not even a drip of relaxation in his features, but decided against saying it aloud, afraid it might have sounded better in his head as is. The younger male finally spoke up, “I really wouldn’t recommend that, Nii-san. You aren’t allowed to get out of this bed until you feel like flying.”

The older brother almost made a face.

Ritsu must have seen a hint, and opened his mouth to protest further, until another couple of knocks came to interfere at Shigeo’s door, consequently followed by their mother’s voice. “Shige, are you awake?” The door creaked open, revealing two raised brows for Ritsu. “And you’re here, too.”

“Mmhmm.” Ritsu took this as a signal to go and stood.

Their mother softened her gaze when she looked back at Shigeo. “I’m glad you’re looking better, Shige. Reigen-san’s here to see you.”

What?

“Master Reigen? Here?” Shigeo repeated in utter disbelief, resisting the urge of ever returning to his duvet to cower, curling his toes then releasing built tension. From the doorway, he could see Arataka a little ways behind his mother, and Shigeo’s heart thrummed to life from the encasement of his ribs.

No.

No, he wasn’t ready.

Shigeo had collapsed mid-exorcism, and ever since waking up all he’d thought about were the events before they’d entered the barnhouse. He’d worried about his mother’s disapproval, some possible homophobia, and yet he’d never thought about Arataka’s personally taking him home.

Oh, the trouble he put his master through! Shigeo let himself fall back onto his pillows again.

Now he was supposed to face Arataka. Maybe he should have just stayed asleep. Too late to be thinking about that now, though - Ritsu and their mother had already shown themselves the exit, and Arataka’d already shut the door.

He watched in inward horror as the older male sat himself next to him in bed. Looking closely, he noted the gloss of exhaustion that layered his eyes, and the tinge of dark beneath them. Arataka’s hair lacked its golden luster in the light of the room, as though he’d aged ten years in a matter of hours. Something pinched inside Shigeo’s chest.

Guilt, he suspected.

“How’re you doing?” Arataka asked, brushing aside portions of the younger male’s hair to tuck behind the ear.

“Good,” Shigeo managed, freezing up as Arataka extended an arm and felt the ravenette’s forehead by sliding a hand underneath what remained of his fringe. Cold , he thought, closing his eyes until Arataka withdrew his palm. “And… you, Master?”

“Why should you ever ask about me, Mob? You’re literally in bed right now.”

“Maybe because I… care about you?” His tone was suggestive, opting to get the correct answer, but when Arataka didn’t reply, he took it as the cue to end the conversation.

And the two surrendered to a silence that washed over them.

Shigeo hadn’t noticed the paper bag he put on the bedside table until Arataka grabbed for it and began to rummage inside, only to produce a Koolfever he had obviously just bought from downtown. Shigeo quietly studied as he ripped off the outer bag, then the laminate film, keeping his lips zipped as Arataka proceeded to apply the gel pad on his forehead.

“I could have done that myself,” Shigeo grumbled in an undertone.

“Let me do things, Mob,” shushed Arataka, moving his hand to pinch his cheek. Shigeo moaned in protest, and the older man offered him a small smile in exchange. His features softened though traces of his fatigue remained; the way his eyes painted themselves a certain gentleness that branched out to Shigeo made it look as though the sobersided Arataka he'd known had never existed.

And quite suddenly, just as quick as his softness coursed through him, Arataka had withdrawn immediately, subdued by startle. “Why on Earth are you crying?”

Shigeo pressed the balls of his palms gently onto his eye sockets. “I am not ,” he denied, only to give it away with a sniffle and the gradual downturn of his lips as he resisted a loud cry from his throat.

“Like I'm believing that.” The older male leaned in closer, in futile attempt to get himself leverage at removing Shigeo's hands from his face. Feeling a sob bubbling out of his voice box Shigeo retreated under the duvet, leaving  only his folded fingers and knuckles out for Arataka to talk to. “Oi, what's wrong?”

“Thank you for this.”

“For what ?”

“Everything,” supplied Shigeo, peering out of the comforter's hem. “I made you go through so much trouble today, so please let me repay you.”

“It was technically my fault. I dragged you along today, and you got possessed on my watch. I would have died if not for you.” Arataka's panic visibly dissipated from his brows and eyes. “Now get out of there and let me repay you , you stubbornness incarnate.”

“No,” Shigeo drawled, retreating once more into the duvet.

Out. ” With one swift tug, Arataka deprived the ravenette of his sole protection from confrontation. Shigeo let out a whine he muffled with zipped lips, shielding his face with his arms now folded, palms facing his perpetrator. “Damn you, Mob.”

“Bullying is bad, Master.” Shigeo turned over his stomach and curled away from Arataka.

“Oi, come back.”

“No.”

The older male sighed in defeat. “Will milk stop you from sulking?”

Shigeo froze and fell quiet.

“Well?”

He peered over his shoulder and asked softly, “Do you have any on you?”

“Paper bag.”

“I'll take it.”

As Arataka busied himself with reaching for the bag and shuffling through it, Shigeo pulled himself back up, rubbing his eyes for any tear residue and wiping his cheeks for traces of an abrupt break down. He must have looked like a mess, he figured, sniffling once. I just had to cry, didn't I?

“Here.” Arataka held out a small milk carton, straw already pushed in. He must have noticed Shigeo's eyes light up at the sight of the small cartoon cow on the exterior design when he added on, “I made sure to get you Moosume.”

...I'm not going to cry.

As Shigeo flexed his fingers to grab the carton, Arataka withdrew the milk box, holding it as far as he could away from him, and with another hand grappled the ravenette's face from under his chin, pressing his thumb against one side, the rest of his fingers on the other. “Seriously,” he sighed, studying Shigeo closely, “tell me what I'm doing wrong.”

“You're not doing anything wrong.”

“Your eyes beg to differ.”

Give me what's rightfully mine, Arataka.

He quirked a brow. “And if I don't want to?”

Taking full advantage of his currently loose tearducts, Shigeo closed his eyes tight, and dipped his head. A tear seeped out into the surface and smoothly fell off his chin.

“You win, you win. Good grief.” No longer panicked, Arataka broke out into a smile and handed him his milk box. Shigeo recovered quickly from his second weeping episode, though this time more staged than the former, wiping his left cheek and received the straw end through his mouth. “Jesus, who taught you to be this terrifying? I didn't raise you this way.”

Shigeo bit the straw and without withdrawal, imitated Arataka's earlier tone to grumble, “Damn you, Master.”

Arataka feigned shock. “You didn't.

“I'm calling it quits.”

And with those words, the two of them rendered to a fit of chuckling, and to a comfortable silence did they succumb at the very moment of mental tranquility.

“I'm glad you're safe, Mob.”

Chapter Text

I let myself out when you fell asleep. I was afraid of waking you up just to say goodbye.

Take your pills if you still don't feel any better yet. Let me in on how you're doing, and don't be forcing yourself to work because I can and WILL take you home if I have to.

I don't know what time you'd be able to read this, but I'll just assume it's morning.

Good morning, Mob.

 

[11:47AM] Shigeo: i have a phone

[11:47AM] Shigeo: you have my email

[11:48AM] Shigeo: you also have the line app, i checked

[11:48AM] Shigeo: were facebook friends

[11:48AM] Shigeo: youre usually on the office's twitter and you follow my user

[11:48AM] Shigeo: you needed an excuse to write me a love letter didnt you

(Read at 12:03PM)

 

“Niisan,” greeted Ritsu with a soft smile, patting the seat next to his, “have lunch with us. Is your appetite back?”

“It is. Thank you, Ritsu.” Shigeo looked over at his parents from across the table before he sat himself down, and their mother left briefly to get him a plate. As soon as she got back, however, something kept nagging at the back of his head, even as he scooped himself rice like everyone else, even as he got himself his rations of fried shrimp and miso soup like everyone else.

Everything at the table was quiet save for the clinking of utensils against ceramic plates.

“Is there something on my face?” he finally asked, flickering his gaze between his parents. Shigeo turned his attention on Ritsu and said, “And you're avoiding me. Did something happen?”

Their father was the first to speak. “So,” he began, and although he wore the same smile he did, Shigeo could sense a hint of reluctance in his tone, “we didn't know you and Reigen-sensei were seeing each other.”

Flinching, Ritsu dipped his head lower, and from across the table, their mother elbowed her husband once on the ribs, quickly whispering something Shigeo didn't catch through a case of closed teeth, but her widened eyes and clenched jaw were enough signs for him to tell it wasn't anything positive.

I’m done for. Shigeo's heart sank to his stomach, and inwardly he wished he stayed in bed even if it meant he had to feign illness. Just now he was dealing with Arataka's mother's possible disapproval, and now he had to deal with his own family's.

I can't take this.

 

[22%]

 

Everything's happening too quickly.

 

[25%]

 

What action do I take?

 

[26%]

 

Think, dammit. Think!

 

[28%]

 

Their mother sighed, and with eyes soft as they were, she told Shigeo almost in a stressing tone, “I wish you had told us sooner, really. We could have at least insisted Reigen-san more to stay for dinner.”

Ritsu looked up at his brother and sheepishly apologized. “I'm sorry, they weasled it out of me last night. I felt backed into a corner.” He hung his head again. “I'm sorry, Nii.”

 

[10%]

 

“You're not mad?” a stunned Shigeo asked. “Seriously?”

Their father burst out laughing. “You'd think I'd be mad?”

“But earlier, when you started the topic, you - ”

“I wanted you to start off the conversation, Shige,” their mother said. Glaring at their father, she added on, “A certain someone had to cut in and ruin it for me.”

Their father shrugged. “The silence was unbearable.”

They’re not mad. Relief flushed back into Shigeo's veins, and he never would have realized he hitched his breath until he began breathing properly again. I must be dreaming.

Their mother tore her gaze away from her husband to look at both brothers from across the table. “Listen, you two, the only time I will ever step in is when you end up seeing drug addicts or serial killers. I will always, always support both your decisions. You're both free to do as you like, and your father and I won't ever attempt to stop you.”

“The woman said it,” chuckled their father in the backdrop.

She continued, “So yes, I do wish you felt more comfortable about telling me sooner!” She landed her gaze on Ritsu and made sure to make eye contact. “ Both of you.” This time, she raised her brows at her plate, preparing a spoonful of rice to receive with her mouth and said, “Now it makes sense why Shigeo's always at Reigen-sensei's apartment.”

At that moment, everything had come flashing in Shigeo's mind: Arataka wearing the dog ears and collar, Arataka catching Shigeo with his nose planted into his laundry, kissing Arataka during exercise, sharing the bed with him, doing chores with him, and nearly doing it with him.

Shigeo nearly choked himself in his place, burning an incredible shade of red.

Their mother gazed over at Ritsu and deadpanned. “And your brother was being more or less obvious about his own sexuality.” She scoffed, “Your genius hiding isn't much genius, after all. Neither of you can hide from me for that long. I'm your mother.

When a flustered Ritsu hadn't lifted his head and kept his face buried in his palms, Shigeo placed his hand on his back in consolation. “You told them about Shou, too?”

“Niisan - !” the younger male hissed. His brother peered over at his older brother with an eye near quivering in sheer horror.

Too late, as it seemed, their father overheard and cut in. “So it's Shou , huh!”

“Oh, God, no,” Ritsu murmured under his breath.

Shigeo immediately recognized his mistake in a panic. “I am so sorry - ”

“No, it's alright. I sort of deserve this.” He finally withdrew his hands, though his gaze retained fixation on the table. “I told them about Reigen-san. We can call it quits.”

Their father cleared his voice as if to call for attention. “Ah, Shigeo, are you meeting Reigen-sensei this afternoon at work?”

Shigeo swallowed the ration he had only put in his mouth and nodded. “Well, maybe at his apartment. I might get to Spirits and Such late, might be closed when I show up, too.”

“Could you send him our thanks for last night?”

He nodded again.

“Oh, and ask him out to dinner with us next time to repay him! We'll set a date, won't we, dear?” He sought his wife for approval before returning his attention to Ritsu who had only just begun eating again. “Ritsu should invite this Shou-kun, too.”

Wordlessly, Shigeo stood and fetched Ritsu a glass of water when the younger Kageyama brother began coughing his heart out of his throat.

 

[12:33PM] Shigeo: did i just get a point from that

[12:35PM] Master: no

 

Page 67: RA TRIVIA \(owo)/

 

  • He has breakfast after coffee. Coffee takes around fifteen minutes. After a meal, he smokes in the balcony.
  • Breakfast

 

 

Page 22: CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK ( www.xxxxxxxxx.xx.com )

 

Page 17: Arataka is

 

Page 4: serves 2 - 3 people.

 

That should be enough skimming for a day. Not that he'd ever read anything with all of his attention. Secretly he enjoyed flipping through the pages without a particular reason.

Or perhaps there was one: the sense of accomplishment, he figured, as taking a daily run-through provided him a chance at basking in his own productivity.

Shigeo snapped his notebook shut as he found himself at Arataka's door, eyeing the gold plate by the entrance and the kanji of his master’s name embedded in it.

What use is there to productivity with writing notes when I can barely put them to use? Heaving a sigh, Shigeo entered Arataka's apartment, and shutting the door behind him and taking full advantage of his master's absence, he decided he'd start his afternoon visit with a clean-up.

For the rest of the day, Shigeo found himself busy just as he intended. Any leftover dishes were washed and dried, the sink was sparkled clean, the living room and bedroom carpets were dusted and left out to dry, the stacks of laundered clothes Arataka had brought down to ruin in his drawers were rebuilt, and by five in the afternoon, Shigeo was deep into vacuuming the dust off of the mattress.

By six in the evening, when the entire apartment had provided him a day’s worth of satisfaction, Shigeo turned down the lights in the bedroom and eased himself into the sheets, childishly thinking he might as well warm it up while Arataka had still been out. He brushed his cheeks against the cool pillow covers, letting his weight bring the bed to a creak, and exuded his weariness like an aura.

Idly, Shigeo waited it out to abandon him completely. He felt as though he rode a cloud, and oddly enough, the sky wore the perfume of his boyfriend's scent. Arataka's smell filled his nostrils, enough to knock him out into an out-of-body experience (which, to an esper, was easier to do in comparison to cleaning out an entire apartment in a single afternoon), and Shigeo smiled. Having the bed to himself like this was the closest he could get to hugging Arataka for the absolute longest while.  

Or at least, he could pretend so by falling asleep from the way Arataka's scent alone induced him and whisked him away to Dreamland.

Wondering if his master would mind his falling asleep as he was, Shigeo produced his phone to check the time, prepping up to set an alarm.

Then the apartment door jiggled, and Shigeo's mind snapped back awake. He's home , the ravenette thought cheerily, locking his screen in the dim lighting of the room and sliding his phone face down onto the bedside table . He heard the door swing closed, clicking in confirmation, followed by a thud or two then what might have been his boyfriend clearing his voice. Arataka's light footsteps were intermittent with the constant hum of the room's AC and disappeared completely when Shigeo heard the shower open. Warring against the new overpowering sound was Arataka's singing voice bouncing off the bathroom walls in an echo, following the melody of a song Shigeo had never heard of before.

The lyrics he had furrowed his brows to discern turned out to be non-existent from the very beginning, as it had soon occurred to Shigeo that Arataka winged it and bridged mumbled mispronunciations with humming at a maintained volume. Shigeo chuckled softly, and even as his feeble laughter dissipated, his smile kept still. Cute .

The ravenette closed his eyes, turning on his side, letting his mind float adrift with Arataka's voice.

He didn't realize he actually fell asleep until he bolted out of his position to sit up, only to find the lights open, and Arataka was gawping at him from across the room bare naked from the waist up. His hair clung matted to his head and the strands that stood out, an evident aftermath of cursory towel-drying, harbored revulets of shower water waiting full accumulation before dropping off. Shigeo suddenly took notice of how collected he looked then and there on Arataka's bed, just as collected his mind was, yes.

Which in simple statement, was not .

Shigeo looked like he had launched himself into a pit and crawled out without the aide of a rope - nor psychic powers for that matter - given the tousled hair, unkempt clothes, disoriented mind, and quite the disheveled everything. It was hell in the younger male's skull, and the thought of Arataka's nakedness being shielded by a measly towel was most certainly no incendiary.

And out of the blue a moment of epiphany gleaming in their eyes impeded on the tensing silence washing over them.

“You're red,” both males spoke up in unison.

And both fell quiet again.

“Seven.”

“Five.” Before he could even register and evaluate how immature it was, Shigeo grabbed for a pillow and hurled it at the other male. I probably shouldn't have done that.

“Ow.”

“Throw on some clothes, Reigen.”

Oh my God, such disrespect.” With a hand on where his towel overlapped itself, and another accusingly pointing at Shigeo, Arataka narrowed his eyes and retaliated, “Let me tell you this - your face is burning because of me . Never seen a half-naked man before?”

“Likewise,” Shigeo snorted. “Never been seen in a towel before?”

“I was surprised!”

“But my shoes were in the doorway.”

“It would help me see them if you didn't stash them away immediately to the shoe rack.” Arataka returned the pillow by launching it at Shigeo's face, earning a quick ow from the ravenette. Shigeo sat quietly still with his face planted into the pillow which at impact felt like a sack of cement. “Stay here, then. I'll change in the bathroom after I get my clothes.”

“Won't be necessary.” Recovering quickly, Shigeo cast aside the pillow, inwardly thinking to hell with the bed arrangement he had properly done and the sheet straightening he himself had ruined, and slid off the bed, his direction to the door. “I'm cooking anyway.”

Arataka - now clad in spandex shorts and a white tee, much to the younger male's dismay - joined Shigeo in the kitchen moments later, just in time to catch the ravenette closing the microwave lid with a click. “You feeling any better?” he asked, and in Shigeo's peripherals he could see the older male attempting to lock eyes with him, but with a functioning microwave in front of them and Shigeo's gaze cast upon its surface picking up on temperature, there was not much space for him to stoop towards.

Not a question you should be asking someone you threw a pillow at but okay.

“Mm,” Shigeo hummed accordingly. “Wouldn't be here if I wasn't. My parents also wanted to thank you for dinner last night.”

“You're honestly doing so much for me. And God, I mean so much. My drawers are rearranged, the bathroom's in tip-top shape, and we already have rice!” You'd already noticed the bathroom was clean and you never expected me to be in your room , was what Shigeo thought to say, but decided against it. Arataka proceeded with his praise, “I haven't checked the living room yet, but I'm pretty sure you're behind that, too. You fainted during a job, and ran a fever you're currently recovering from, and you left this entire apartment spotless despite so. Buying your family dinner is nothing.”

Taking responsibility like the father figure you’re living up to be.

It was quiet for the next few seconds until Shigeo cut through the silence, equipped with every intention to change the topic. “You should have woken me up to tell me you were leaving.”

“I did leave the note.”

The ravenette’s quirked a brow. “You mean the love letter?”

Note ,” urged Arataka. He crossed his arms and turned to lean heavily against the counter. “You’re not upset about it, are you, Mob?”

“No.”

Arataka’s eyes made it seem there was more to the argument than what had been spoken thus far, but when the microwave dinged at the success of reheating the dish he’d made at home, Shigeo took it as a cue for dinner, and the two of them settled around the table.

Shigeo had never cooked karaage in his life, and although he had never once doubted the cooking shows he looked up online, he was relieved to have his mother barging into the kitchen unannounced. Properly opening the stove wasn’t something Google could teach him, after all. And his mother remained of assistance all throughout, never once attempting to take over the pan and spatula. Nice of her, really. And thoughtful. He and Ritsu ought to come up with a better Mothers’ Day gift next year.

“Did you cook this, Mob?”

Shigeo nodded. He laced his fingers together from under the table and shifted in his seat.

Here was to hoping he wasn’t sweating profusely.

Shigeo watched in internal suffering as Arataka cut off a portion of a slice, lifting his chopsticks to his mouth and parting his lips. In great and nervous anticipation, the younger male swallowed a gob down his throat and hitched his breath, shrinking with every inch the karaage gained towards Arataka’s taste buds.

“Will you stop that?”

Shigeo’s shoulders tensed. He turned his head away in compliance. “Y… yes, sorry.”

“Thank you.”

No problem. Shigeo’s gaze drifted back towards Arataka.

And alas, the older male was already chewing, and Shigeo watched Arataka melt as a haze fell over his now lit eyes. Relief coursed through Shigeo’s veins as he heard Arataka swallow only to announce, “I love it!”

Shigeo’s lips began to pull at the corners. “I’m glad you think so, Master.” He eyed the older male’s plate as Arataka feasted away, and his smile remained plastered on his face. Arataka’s usual rice rations couldn’t even stand a third in comparison to that night’s. So much for the ‘old man’s diet’ Arataka had been so proud of following; his body had already committed itself to the action of eating much, much more.

And Shigeo played a part in it.

In the moment they locked eyes, Arataka returned the smile.

 

“Are you free tomorrow still, Mob?”

“Yes, Master.” Shigeo closed his book, and failing to curl up from his position on the reclining chair, balanced it on his chest, head turning to search for Arataka across the room. He found him plugging the TV in. “Did we get another exorcism job?”

Arataka flinched as he straightened himself. “Err, not quite.”

The ravenette raised a brow in befuddlement, turning to his side. Forgetting he had only just placed his textbook on his chest, he retrieved it from the possession of the floor. “So… what’s up?”

The older male’s body seemed so rigid, Shigeo noted, and as though knowing full well that he would notice, Arataka compensated with a nervous chuckle. Shigeo pursed his lip and furrowed his brows in near-impatient anticipation.

“After what happened yesterday, I sort of thought, you and I could use a break.” He paused to look at him, only to retract his gaze again. Somehow his little facade of a grin looked all the more sheepish. “I mean, we’re always at work, and now you passed out on a job, and your vacation’s nearly over, and I know - I know you’re studying for college exams - ”

“Maybe get to the point, Master?” suggested Shigeo.

“Let’s go on a date. You and me.”

The air inside Shigeo’s chest began expanding from the inside, pushing against the walls of his lungs and his ribs, the pressure enough to warrant internal bleeding and rupture his torso completely from within.

 

[35%]

 

Arataka added on. “There’s a restaurant I’ve wanted to check out for a while now, and of course, you’re allowed to decline if you’re busy, it’s a day off from work anyway - ”

“I’ll go!” Shigeo exclaimed, startling both of them. Realizing his mistake, he shrunk back and cut down on his volume, repeating himself, “I’ll go.”

Arataka blinked once, then twice. On the third, he had finally snapped out of a daze and Shigeo watched as his face melted back and softened his features. “Um, great. We’ll leave in the morning, maybe catch the fourth train, I suppose?”

 

[38%]

 

For once in Arataka’s eyes, there was no shield of arrogance or pride he could hide in; somehow the younger male could believe it was relief he had provided him all by confirming his schedule was free.

Inwardly, Shigeo had been yelling still.

“I hope I don’t oversleep, then,” Shigeo chuckled, downplaying his ecstasy.

And when the morning came, Shigeo - much to his dismay - woke up to find out he overslept.