At long last, Reigen pulls the van into the same parking lot where he picked up the kids that morning. Or, actually, yesterday morning. The first light of dawn peeks over the horizon. Once he registers this, he asks Mob, “Did you tell your parents you would be out this late?”
Mob fishes his cell phone out of his coat pocket and frowns at it. “Oh, I didn’t realize we were gone so long.”
Reigen sighs. “Do any of your parents know where you are?” In the rear view mirror he gets nothing but blank stares. “Okay, well. Hurry home.”
Mob hops out of the passenger seat. “Thanks for driving us, master.”
The rest of the kids echo a chorus of “Thanks, Reigen-san” as they file out of the back. Is there one less kid than he started with? Figures. He’ll deal with that after he deals with the rental car damage fees.
The telepath is the last one out. As he slides across the bench seat toward the door, he says, so quietly Reigen almost misses it, “I think you’re overreacting.”
Reigen startles, looking at him through the mirror. “Wait, what do you mean?”
Takenaka swings his legs out of the car door, but Reigen reaches his arm back to block his exit. “No, no, no. Not so fast. What do you mean?”
“You’re overreacting,” the teenager says again.
“What you’ve been thinking about all night.”
“You don’t know what you’ve been thinking about?”
“Of course I know, I just want to make sure you know, mister telepath.”
Takenaka finally meets his gaze in the mirror, narrowing his eyes at him. “That guy, Serizawa? You asked him out for New Year's and he said no, and you’ve been sulking about it this whole time. Ring a bell?”
Reigen feels the beginning of a cold sweat under his arms. “Okay, a few things. I didn’t ask him out… not on a date, or anything. I don’t like how you phrased that. I asked him to get a drink with me. As friends. He’s my employee.”
“Furthermore, he didn’t really say no, he said he was busy. That’s an important distinction. He had something else going on. It happens. I totally understand.”
“And, I have not been sulking. Am I disappointed? Sure. I wanted to spend time with him outside of work. Am I completely torn up over it? No. I’m an adult, I can handle rejection. And, uh. It wasn’t rejection. As I said. It’s not personal. I’m mature enough to understand that.”
“Sure.” They're both silent for a few moments, until Takenaka says, “Can I go now?”
Reigen twists around in his seat to face him. “Hey, Takenaka,” he begins carefully. “If you wanted to swing by the office sometime, and… 'help out with a client,'" he leaves his meaning implied, not that subtext is required when talking to a mind reader, "I would be willing to pay you for your time.”
The telepath levels his gaze back at him, unfazed. “I don’t read people’s minds for money. It’s unethical… and really boring.”
“I’m not asking you to do that.”
“I won’t do it for free either,” Takenaka adds.
“Hey, stop reading my mind!”
“I literally can’t!” he says, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “I wish I could, believe me! You are so loud and so annoying!”
Reigen lets that one roll off his back. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. “What if you just… stopped by the office. For ten minutes. Got a quick read on the situation. And gave me either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. That’s it. Not a full account of every thought going through his head, just a simple… yea or nay. That’s all I’m asking.”
“I’m not gonna do that.”
“Hey,” Reigen says again in a cautious tone. “Takenaka…”
The teenager shakes his head. “No, I know what you’re going to—”
Reigen forges ahead anyway: “I think that you want to use your powers to do something useful. Your whole life, your powers have been nothing but an annoyance to you, but you can use them to help other people. You have a strong sense of right and wrong, and I respect that—it’s really impressive considering how easy you could have it if you chose to take advantage of people. But you don’t have to ignore your powers. Tonight, you used them to make Tome really happy. You made her dream come true. You didn’t have to do that, but you did. Didn’t that feel good?”
Takenaka crosses his arms, looking at the floor. “Okay, fine. But that’s different than… finding out whether or not your crush likes you back. Kurata couldn’t talk to the aliens on her own. You could just ask him.”
Reigen squirms in his seat a bit. “No, I can’t.”
Takenaka snaps his head up to look at Reigen, back to exasperation. “Why not?! God, you people are all so…”
“You people?” Reigen repeats incredulously.
“It’s not that different being a telepath! I still have doubts and… insecurities, or whatever. People think one thing and say something totally different. I try to tune it all out, because it just gets in the way.”
Reigen nods thoughtfully. “Okay. That makes sense. I shouldn’t have asked you to do something like that. I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable.”
Takenaka shrugs. “I know you are.”
“Well. I still wanted to say it.” Reigen turns in his seat to face forward again. He claps his hands back on the steering wheel. “I have to return this car now, and that’s probably going to be a whole thing, considering the… crash.”
Takenaka hops out and pauses with his hand on the door. “Hey, Reigen… Obviously, it’s hard to tell from just your thoughts because it’s your impression of him and that’s not reliable at all, but, for what it’s worth… I think you should just tell him.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Reigen doesn’t really buy it, and Takenaka knows it, and Reigen knows he knows. But it was a nice gesture nonetheless. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year.” Takenaka slides the door shut and walks off down the street, hands in his pockets.
By the time the car is returned and Reigen has given up arguing with the insurance agent, it’s a little after 8am. He ends up at a cafe near his apartment, nursing a coffee that’s not nearly strong enough. Phone in hand, he looks at Serizawa’s entry in his contacts and their limited and strictly professional text history: I’m running late, sorry; I’m picking up lunch. What do you want?; Where are we meeting the client?
Reigen starts typing out: Do you want to
He stops, backspaces, and hits the call button instead. It rings for a long time, but just when he’s about to lose his nerve and hang up, Serizawa answers in a groggy voice: “Hello?”
“Oh, no, did I wake you up?”
“Um. Yeah.” Serizawa laughs a little. “Do you need something?”
Reigen drops his head in his hand. This was a mistake. “No. I’m sorry. This is weird, just. I’m at breakfast, and I was wondering if you’d like to join me?”
“I’m happy to wait a while, but… yes, I’m there now.”
“Okay. I’ll head over.”
“Yeah, breakfast sounds great. Just give me a bit to get dressed.”
Serizawa arrives thirty minutes (and two cups of coffee) later. There’s a distinct shadow of stubble across his jaw and the darkness under his eyes is more pronounced than usual. But he still looks far more presentable than Reigen does.
And Serizawa notices it too, when he slides into the booth and unwinds his scarf. “Did you sleep at all last night?”
Reigen shakes his head. “No, I haven’t even gone home yet.”
Serizawa’s eyes widen. “Were you with the kids all night? What happened?”
“We met some aliens,” Reigen says with a shrug. Somehow, it’s the last thing he wants to talk about right now.
“Are you serious?” Serizawa’s face lights up. “That’s amazing!”
“Yeah, yeah, we got on their spaceship for a bit. They gave one of Mob's friends a rock. I gave them my shirt.” Reigen can’t bring himself to use a tone that goes beyond mild disinterest; he feels guilty seeing the excitement on Serizawa’s face.
“Wow. That’s incredible.” Serizawa’s smile fades a little, his eyes softening with concern. “You seem pretty tired though.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Mob could tell you more about it. It was just… kind of stressful, trying to keep track of all those kids, and drive them up into the mountains… I ended up crashing the rental car into some trees, so I got hit with a big damage fee of course, and… god, I think the aliens kept one of the kids? There was a lot going on.”
Serizawa’s eyebrows furrow. “I’m sorry, what? One of the kids got abducted?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Ugh.” Reigen drops his head onto the table. “I’m so tired.”
Serizawa is quiet for a moment. “Well, they’re friendly aliens, right? They’ll bring him back.”
“Mhm. I hope so.” He lifts his head again, self-awareness hitting him like a load of bricks. “I’m sorry, I’m… acting super crazy right now. I haven’t slept in twenty-four hours. Anyway, how was your night? How was that party with your school friends?”
Serizawa blinks a few times. “Well, it wasn’t a close encounter with extraterrestrials but it was fun. I was up pretty late, too.”
“Need something to soak up the hangover?” Reigen slides a menu toward him.
Serizawa laughs as he picks up the menu. “Maybe a little.”
“Wild party?” Reigen asks, willing his voice to sound casual and not overly invested.
“No, nothing crazy, just stayed up too late. Drank a bit too much.” Serizawa smiles guiltily. “But I made it home fine and got to sleep in my own bed for a few hours, so not too bad, right?”
Reigen’s pulse is pounding in his head, almost like he’s hungover. “Yeah… I know how that goes.” He winces at his own words; weird response, but not much worse than anything else he’s said so far this morning.
They order breakfast and the food finally gives Reigen something to do besides say strange things.
“To the new year,” Serizawa says, raising his mug of coffee.
Reigen clinks it with his own. “To the new year.”
“You should go home and get some sleep,” Serizawa says suddenly.
Reigen startles and looks up from his half-full plate where he had been staring for… some indeterminate amount of time.
Serizawa looks equal parts concerned and amused. “I think we lost you for a while there. Sleeping with your eyes open?”
Reigen shakes his head, fighting to stay alert. He's exhausted nearly to the point of nausea. “Sorry. Are you ready to head out? We should get the bill…”
“I paid already.”
Reigen blinks, looks around. The bustle of the restaurant around them seems distant, murky. “What? When?”
“A few minutes ago.” Serizawa stands up and offers his hand to Reigen. “Come on. Do you want to get a cab?”
“No, no, I live really close.” Reigen takes his hand and pulls himself up. “Thanks.”
“Don’t forget your coat.” Serizawa grabs his coat off the bench and holds it out to him.
Reigen accepts and pulls it on.
“I like that coat,” Serizawa says mildly, while Reigen struggles with the buttons. “You should wear it more often. It looks good on you.”
Reigen doesn’t have the bandwidth to process that right now, so he just mutters, “Thanks. I like your scarf.”
Once they’re on the street, Serizawa asks him, “Which way is your apartment?”
Reigen nods his head in the right direction and starts walking, Serizawa trailing him. “Are you following me?”
“Okay.” They walk the couple blocks in silence. It's almost unbearably bright, the low January sun glaring off the cement, and it's all Reigen can manage to put one foot in front of the other. When they reach his apartment, he stops and turns to Serizawa, swaying a little on his feet. Or at least, he thinks he's swaying. It's hard to tell. “One of the kids was a telepath.”
Reigen rubs his eyes, frustrated that he has to explain this. “One of the kids. That’s how we talked to the aliens. He’s a real telepath.”
“Like, mind reading?”
“Yeah.” Reigen is quiet for a moment, staring at him. “Hey… Serizawa.”
“Do you want to get a drink with me sometime? I don’t know when. Whenever you’re available, I guess. I’m free… any night this week.”
After a beat, Serizawa says, “I think I’m free Wednesday or Thursday, but let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay?”
Reigen nods. “You should bring it up tomorrow because I might not remember this. Or think it was a dream, or something.”
Serizawa chuckles. “Okay, I will. Are you good?”
“Yeah. Happy New Year.” Reigen turns around and starts up the stairs.
Serizawa calls after him, “Happy New Year.”
Reigen notices that Serizawa waits until he reaches his door and gets it successfully unlocked. Reigen kicks off his shoes and falls into bed. He sleeps for the rest of the day, not waking up until after dark.