In retrospect, Reigen supposed it was the natural progression of things as he inhaled a deep lungful of smoke, ignoring the tight, strangling in his chest and exhaling, measured and slow to avoid the hacking cough that wanted to follow. He didn't want to wake him.
Serizawa would be disappointed if he found out. Or maybe he had and his innate politeness kept him from prodding at the sore spots.
There were so many.
Maybe he knew how difficult it had been lately. That this was the only thing that stopped the trembling in his fingers, the panic welling up in his throat like blood, cloying and thick.
Maybe he was angry and waiting for the right time to confront him.
To ask why he wasn't enough.
Even though he was worth everything and so much more.
Reigen lifted dull eyes to the moon, a cat's claw hung in a dusty gray sky, took another drag, and choked, muffling the noise in his elbow and flicking the cigarette off the balcony in a practiced motion, following the ember as it was swallowed up in shadow.
Maybe he should tell him.
Like most bad habits, it had started innocently enough, previous wont making it too easy to slip back inside this old skin of his (had he ever even changed?). He'd worked late one night in an effort to distract himself from the visions of Tome, sick and small and collapsed on the floor, struggling under the weight of the curse just knowing him had wrought, when he found the half-crushed pack in the desk drawer. He’d been plagued with nightmares, avoiding sleep when he could and lying awake at night beside Serizawa more often than not.
Just one, he'd justified.
Just one to take the edge off, settle his racing mind some, let him slow down and soothe his ragged nerves.
Even stale and bitter, the resulting buzz was familiar, calming the static, the racing thoughts, and it let him just be in the moment, in the cool air above the city, above it all. Just for a little while. Enough to try and sleep and hope that tonight would be different.
He hid the pack.
It started with a cough, something small and seldom, mostly in the early morning, and Reigen chalked it up to his not so new custom. This wasn’t a symptom he was unfamiliar with. In fact, he had kissed it goodbye after abandoning the routine of taking part in his addiction. It had been no simple thing, giving it up, but the worry in Mob’s eyes and Serizawa’s gentle chiding whenever he so much as glanced toward the neatly shelved boxes, had encouraged him. Now, the disgrace that came with keeping it from everyone was wearing on him, compounding the guilt he already carried heavy in his chest. But he pushed it down, compacted it into a tight, pulsing tangle that made it easier to contain.
He didn’t want them to worry.
With the new success of Spirits and Such, Reigen found it much easier to get lost in paperwork, spending hours each day plowing through it and providing Tome with enough filing to hopefully stay out of trouble. The headache behind his eyes and the tickle in his throat was distracting him today and the woody thunk of a cup of tea landing at his elbow made him jump, inspiring a fit that made his ribs ache.
“Ah! Sorry, sorry, here, it’s not hot.” The ceramic was thrust into his hand, cooled to a temperature he could stand, and in between trying to draw a full breath and sip slow, Reigen appreciated how much Serizawa cared about his quirks. “Better?” He nodded, too winded to speak, and focused on the cool rush of air, in and out, until Reigen felt he could stand.
“Where’s Tome?” Rubbing the back of his head, he glanced around, blinking heavily when the room spun around him.
“It’s been hours since she left.” Serizawa stood in front of him, taking up the whole of his vision, and only his carefully constructed persona kept him from staggering back from eyes searching and filled with worry. “Are you feeling alright?” The concern in his gaze threatened to undo him, and Reigen swallowed, mouth dry but quick to console.
“Just a cold.” He clapped a hand over Serizawa’s shoulder as he moved by before the older man could reach for him, squeezing a bit with fingers strengthened by years of massage to reassure. “I’m fine.”
He’d bought another pack.
Using cash so it wouldn't show up anywhere in the middle of the night like some, some. Well he was, wasn't he?
And the guilt was suffocating. Why was he hiding from the people who loved him? (Why did they anyway?) Reigen walked slowly home, closing his eyes against the chemical calm rushing through his blood. God, he was pathetic, he shouldn't be doing this. Hiding from people, hiding from sleep. He should talk to someone, Serizawa would want to help.
Why couldn't he let him?
Because he would leave. If he knew. If he knew just how awful he truly was, he would leave and never look back. Reigen knew he had a penchant for being too much. Too much and yet never enough, and he couldn't risk losing this man. Even if it meant selfishly holding him back. After all, if Reigen knew how to do anything, it was to be selfish.
The chill in the air made him cough and he rubbed sore eyes with cold fingertips after scuffing the cigarette out on the sole of his shoe. He should eat something. Couldn't remember the last time Serizawa had made sure he'd had lunch. Could only remember lying to him about eating takeout last night at the office. The thought made his stomach roll. Tomorrow. He would eat some toast and talk about the unseasonably cool weather and kiss Serizawa before they headed for the train.
Just like he did every morning and his bottom lip trembled.
Because he didn't know how many more mornings there would be.
Slipping into the apartment, Reigen stood in the dark. Listening to the sound of Serizawa snoring lightly. It was late. Or early. But he brushed his teeth, and showered quickly, scrubbing the scent of smoke and shame from his hair, his fingers, his face, and slipped between warm sheets to curl up behind, safe and hidden against Serizawa’s broad back.
He didn't sleep.
He needed to quit.
Reigen found himself getting winded just walking across a room and their trek to the train was becoming more difficult everyday. He just couldn't seem to get enough air and breathing too deeply made him hack painfully. Serizawa plied him with hot ginger tea every morning, sweetened liberally with honey to soothe a throat sore from coughing, and dry toast, mouth pressed into a thin line whenever Reigen tried to deny his ministrations.
“You’ve got to eat something.” He would say. And Reigen would laugh, light and airy, cup his face and pluck that stern expression from his face with a kiss before he could suggest staying home from work.
“You’re always right, Katsuya.”
Today the walk seemed exceptionally long and Reigen lagged behind, feigning nonchalance with his hands in his pockets and pretending to look into shop windows as he tried and failed to breathe. His chest felt full and heavy in the February damp, and he couldn’t hide the whistling pull of air into lungs that just didn’t want to cooperate with him. He sagged, bracing himself on the glass. Everything was gray at the edges, bones too loose in his ill fitting skin, and it was almost a relief as everything began to fade.
“Arataka!” Reigen jerked upright, lightheaded, under the impression Serizawa had been calling his name for a while now. “‘Taka? What’s wrong? You’re so pale.” His face was too close, he was pulling him closer, examining him and checking for a temperature. “You feel warm. How long have you been feeling this badly?” Reigen didn’t know. A day? A week? A month? Forever? How long had it been?
“I’m fine, just tired. It’s a cold, nothing serious.” He batted insistent hands away, holding them in his own when they made to check again, tugging him forward. “Come on, we’ll miss our train.”
In retrospect, Serizawa really should have seen it coming.
But he was an adult, and Serizawa was confident Reigen would tell him when he was ready, knowing the conman was more likely to rely on deflection and tactics than truth when he felt cornered. Until then, the esper would provide stalwart support. He would let the man keep his secrets for now, until exhaustion caught up with him and he allowed Serizawa in.
He couldn’t deny that he was frustrated, telling his mother so during one of their phone calls. If he would only let him help, tell him what had him so upset he couldn’t sleep at night, what had him stretched as tight as a bowstring. How could they have anything more meaningful if they couldn’t even speak to one another?
“I love him, but he doesn’t trust me.” He lamented. “If he did, he would tell me, wouldn’t he?”
“Trust can be a terrifying thing.” Serizawa knew that, had lived that, hadn’t he?
“What can I do?” Emotion thick in his voice and he swallowed, rubbing the tears out of his eyes as he listened to her advice. “He’s so.” He made a noise out of dissatisfaction. “So closed off.”
“Be patient, Katsu. Be there, be reassuring.” Serizawa sniffed, clutching the phone with both hands. “He’s scared of something. He’ll tell you when he can.”
“I’m frustrated.” Reigen paused outside their door, frozen stiff by the sound of Serizawa’s voice drifting through the wood and barely able to breathe. “I love him, but--”
He stumbled back, hand held tight over his mouth to stifle himself.
He’d messed up so badly, put so many in danger, put children in danger, and now his inability to just explain what was going on had put the only bright thing in his life in jeopardy all because he was so busted, so broken, so selfish, he couldn’t even love right.
“What can I do?”
Nothing. It wasn’t his responsibility. Reigen was the one who’d made it all go wrong. All wrong. All wrong so quickly. The only thing the esper could do was leave. That was the only thing that made any sense, that would make it all go away. If he went away--
Reigen ran down the steps so quickly he almost tripped, the intense ringing in his ears deafening him, focus pinpointed on one thing. Run. Get away. He couldn’t breathe, chest tight and hot and burning from lack, throat working and heart pounding such that he thought for a moment he would die from it. Desperate, he swung himself into the alley between the buildings, legs too weak to keep going, knees colliding hard with the filthy concrete. Gasping, choking, pressing hands roughly against his ears, against the bell tolling so loudly, and rocking forward and back until he could reach into his breast pocket, trembling so badly he could barely light up.
Too deep. He couldn’t stop, retching with force enough to send him down on his hands, back arching like a cat, stomach clenched so hard he hurt. When he was finally finished, he scrabbled away from his own sick, not much more than the tea he’d had for lunch, sweat and tears streaming from his chin into the dust. His shoulder blades collided with the wall and Reigen curled up as small as he could, hyperventilating, panicking, thoughts whirling, and he couldn’t help himself, bit down hard on his knuckle until the pain cleared his head. Until it cut through the screaming, until the taste of iron flooded his tongue, it’s bright tang a balm so soothing he could think. Could calm down.
It was okay. Everything was okay.
He was okay.
He would just have to be better, do better. Hide it better. He could do that.
He could do that for Serizawa.
The next few days were a blur and Reigen put on his best mask, making an effort to eat before Serizawa asked him, resting beside him at night instead of wandering the city, joking with Dimple and ribbing him just enough. He’d thrown away the half-empty pack in the alley and he wanted nothing more than a smoke, familiar need thrumming in his bones.
Currently, he was sitting at his desk, chin resting in his hands as he watched Tome file papers and bug Dimple for more details on the local spirits.
“You don’t need to know any of that.” Reigen chimed in, “it’s dangerous enough without you looking for trouble.” He closed his eyes against the persistent cough, hacking into his mask, knowing it didn’t sound good and wasn’t getting any better. It kept them both up at night now, all the syrup and tea in the world useless in the face of it.
“Better than catching whatever you’ve got.”
“She’s right, you look terrible.”
“Oi! I don’t pay you to comment on my appearance!”
“You don’t pay me at all, conman!” Dimple shot back, but the lack of vitriol made Reigen wince. He didn’t need to be coddled or pitied, and he hid his discomfort in more paperwork, tapping a mountain of papers together in a neat stack and dropping them with customary flair into the file bin.
“Aw, come on.”
The warmth of the office was soporific and Reigen found himself lulled by the banter between the pair working so diligently, so tired he could feel his head starting to nod, asleep before his temple hit the desk.
When Serizawa returned from an exorcism, it was in time to stop the duo from taking a marker to the man’s face.
“Tome, it’s late.” He patted the top of her head. “Dimple’s going to make sure you get home, okay?” She nodded, glancing behind Serizawa at the auburn head pillowed on the blotter, before she was out the door. The esper sat on the edge of the desk, just running fingers through Reigen’s hair and listening to his congested snoring. “You idiot,” said fondly, with a sigh. Things had been better lately, Reigen seemingly back to his old self, but Serizawa still worried; he'd been under the weather for a while now and it didn't seem to be getting any better.
Gently, Serizawa tried to rouse him, concerned when wakefulness came with difficulty. He’d been keeping tabs on the fever but now it seemed to have risen sharply, and he stroked his face, murmuring low and encouraging him to open his eyes, smiling softly when his nose wrinkled up.
“That’s it. We need to get you home and into bed.” Heavy lids painted beneath with dark shadow struggled apart and he sat up slowly, glancing around with something like fear in his expression. “‘Taka?” He jumped back as Reigen lurched to his feet, catching him before he tumbled head over heels.
“Gotta...gotta make it...to, to the woods…” Ah. Glad he’d sent Tome home already, Serizawa braced the man in his arms as he tipped forward into his collarbone, struggling to push him away, resisting the help he was trying to give him. It was like he was trying to escape, breathlessly muttering things Serizawa didn’t understand, but it didn’t take much to keep him there until he began to collapse, until the esper was the only thing holding him up. Pressing him close, he palmed his forehead while he wheezed, panting, skin pale and clammy. He was burning up, quaking, under his hands.
“Hey, hey, shhh, take it easy.” Minutes passed, the only sounds in the office Serizawa’s sweet affirmations and Reigen’s struggle to breathe, until the younger man finally recognized who was holding him. His eyes went wide, hands fisted in his jacket, tears welling up and spilling over. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Please stay, please, please.”
“I’ll do better, I, I, I promise.” He followed him as he sank to the floor, apologies tumbling from his mouth until he was gasping, chest heaving and looking frighteningly close to losing consciousness altogether as he clung to Serizawa. “I promise, jus’ stay...please…” Confused, the esper wrapped him up, embracing him as tightly as he dared, hushing him gently and rubbing his back.
“Okay, sh, sh, shh, I’m not going anywhere, ‘Taka, ‘Taka, listen, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” He cupped his face in both hands and pressed their foreheads together, looking into his dazed eyes, willing him to hear his words. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Bundling the smaller man up in his jacket, Serizawa laid him out on the couch, propping his head in his lap, and watched him sleep. Whatever that outburst had been, it’d taken anything and everything Reigen had left and the esper had been shamefully grateful when those frantic eyes rolled up behind fluttering lashes if only because it stopped the pleading in his voice.
Where had he gotten it in his head that Serizawa was leaving him?
Either way, he needed to get him home and put him to bed and insist he stay there until he was well. It wasn’t ideal, but if closing down Spirits and Such for a couple days meant they could figure all this out, so be it. Reigen had been working himself into the ground after the encounter with that curse and his subsequent romp in the taboo forest, sleeping poorly (avoiding sleep?) and unwilling to talk about it. It was no wonder he'd fallen so sick. Serizawa called a cab, hefting Reigen carefully and wondering if it might be better to take him to a clinic, get him properly checked out, when a weak grip on his button down made him pause.
“Can we g’home?” Barely there, the whisper was muffled in the fabric of Serizawa’s shirt and he hummed an affirmation, dropping a kiss on his too-warm temple. They had medicine at the apartment. If he could get him to take it, sleep would be the best thing for him.
In the back of the car Reigen blinked sleepily, shivering intermittently with his head nodding on Serizawa’s shoulder. He paid the fare before pulling Reigen out of the car, holding him steady when his knees threatened to give way and tugging his coat tighter around him to ward off the frozen night air. He still coughed, deep and wet, wavering on his feet before Serizawa scooped him up and bore him up the stairs and into the warm dark of the apartment.
The earlier panic was gone, replaced by something unsettling he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and Serizawa would have thought the man was drunk had he not known better. He looked up at Serizawa with a befuddled expression after being deposited on the side of the bed, head lolling and trying ineffectually to help divest himself of his clothes and into something light to sleep in.
“I know, and you are.” He cupped the side of Reigen’s face with a large hand, ruffling hair damp with sweat before pressing his lips to the top of his head. “I’ll be right back with some water so you can take these.” Reigen looked quizzically at the pills Serizawa dropped in his hand, head tilted like a sparrow. When he returned, the man was lying on his back, staring blearily up into the ceiling. “‘Taka?”
“Mm?” Sitting beside him, Serizawa levered him back up and made to pass him the glass before realizing both his hands were empty.
“Where’d they go, love?” He swept warm fingers over cool palms. “Did you take them?” Confused, Reigen shook his head, pulling away to feel around in the quilt, smiling crookedly when he tried to hand Serizawa the medicine triumphantly.
“Foun’ em for you.” Chuffing softly, the esper curled Reigen’s fingers around them, holding him in place to kiss his brow again, praising him gently before making sure he took a full dose.
It was early. Too early for sleeping, but Reigen wasn't going to last much longer in the state he was in. Cajoling, coaxing, Serizawa tipped another glass of water into him, hand wrapped around the fever-weak grip (“I’ll help,” he’d said), supporting his weight and dotting soft kisses upon all the over-warm skin he could reach as Reigen leaned against him. The esper knew he liked the attention, was quietly affectionate at his best and downright starved for touch when his defenses were low.
“Mm, Katsu…m’tired…” carried on a wheezing exhale as he turned his face, burrowing beneath Serizawa’s jaw and grabbing at his pajama shirt before coughing roughly against the back of one hand. He could feel the struggle it was to catch a full breath, the hacking unproductive and painful if the muscles strung taut under his palms were anything to go by, and Reigen groaned low, slipped lower. Serizawa caught him before he could tumble over the side of the futon, tugging him close and easing him down onto the pillows while smoothing a sheet over the both of them. “S’cold…” the shivering tugged at the esper’s heart and he allowed Reigen to press himself impossibly close, hot forehead tucked against a collarbone.
“I know, I know.” Soft and slow, Serizawa rubbed circles between trembling shoulder blades, traced the narrow seam of his rigid spine until he began to relax, medicine and exhaustion spiraling him gently down. “Try and sleep.”
Restless tossing and turning woke Serizawa just hours later, Reigen’s hoarse whisper cutting through the fog of sleep blanketing the esper.
“T’Tome, s’okay.” A rough gasp, the small of his back arching off the futon, shuddering, panting, sweat darkening his temples as he contorted, whining softly and fisting clawed hands into the sheets. He collapsed, shivering hard, and Serizawa shifted him into his lap, running fingers through his bangs. God, he was still so warm, no wonder he was having nightmares.
“‘Taka? What's wrong?” Even though he knew. He knew and Reigen’s exhaustion made so much more sense. He hadn't even thought to ask how he was after the curse. Reigen had seemed fine; busy, but fine, strong in that untouchable, confident way he always was, and Serizawa realized that maybe he just hadn't been looking hard enough. That maybe he'd taken that strength for granted.
“Jus’...jus’ drive a little faster…” brows knitting together he blinked sluggishly up into Serizawa’s face, confusion clear even in the dark of the bedroom. “Katsuya? Are we in the hospital? Are you okay?” Struggling, he tried to sit up and failed, “the curse…”
“No, no, we're home. Everyone is safe.” The shortness of breath and pallor of his skin worried him, as did the unfocused gaze staring upwards, somewhere off to the right. He tried to catch it but it slipped over him like water over a stone.
“She's safe.” A huff, relief, and the coughing started up again but there wasn't enough left in him to put much behind it.
“M’glad. Better me than Tome.” Serizawa froze, fingers paused on his cheek, sure that he hadn't meant to admit that aloud, as Reigen began to doze off again, eyelids heavy and the space between blinks less and less.
“‘Taka, no, please don't say that.” He couldn't stop himself, curling around the man in his arms and holding him close, breathing in his scent, the incense that clung, feeling him warm and alive under his palms.
“S’okay, shh, s’okay,” Reigen patted his arm in an uncoordinated attempt to soothe Serizawa’s own distress. “I deserved it, s’okay because, because Tome is safe. She's okay, Ka’suya.” Clumsy, Reigen pressed a kiss into his neck, then another, slow and unsteady, murmuring slurred reassurances that only made the hurt run deeper and Serizawa’s guilt grow stronger. When he’d woken up in hospital, Dimple had informed him that Reigen was missing, that he’d left the office with nothing more than the small, precious seeds of a plan. The relief when he’d come to the room that night, wan and worn and weary, but so happy to finally know for sure that everyone was okay, had been heady but he hadn't thought to ask beyond. Hadn't thought to ask how he'd come to that conclusion so quickly.
Had he been planning to come back at all?
“Ka’su?” Reigen was still rubbing his arm, jerky and arrhythmic, like his limbs wouldn't cooperate with him, and Serizawa swallowed down the conversation he wanted to have. This wasn't the time, he needed to rest, to get better. Then they could talk.
“You're right, love,” He resumed stroking his face, “it is okay.” A crooked grin flitted swiftly by and Reigen finally stopped fighting the sleep he so desperately needed, eyes drifting shut as he relaxed.
Serizawa gasped awake, dripping with sweat and suffocatingly hot with Reigen curled against his chest, limbs molten bands of liquid iron intertwined with his own. The esper clapped a broad hand over Reigen’s forehead and recoiled, fear gripping his lungs in a tight unyielding fist at the skin blazing and dry under his palm. The man was far too warm, far, far too warm, burning up, away to nothing at all.
Normal humans weren't meant to burn this brightly.
“‘Taka? ‘Taka, wake up, love.” Frighteningly limp, infinitely small and horribly pale against the sheets, Reigen shifted with Serizawa’s careful jostling. When there was no response he found it almost impossible to swallow past the lump in his throat and shook the smaller man in earnest, begging, pleading. “‘Taka, please, wake up.” Nothing, and Serizawa began to panic, aura picking up small objects around the room; a forgotten mug (Reigen had given him that), the clothes they shed last night, spare yen tipped out of pockets ready for washing. Gathering him close, he cradled him in his lap, tears stinging the corners of eyes fixed to that awful flush high in his face. Frantically brushing back auburn bangs, Serizawa whispered promises into the twilight dim of their room, patting his cheek in one last ditch effort and finally rewarded with the flickering of eyelashes, the whites of his eyes glowing in the dark.
Unwilling to let go of his precious burden, Serizawa focused on pulling his phone towards them, dialing 119 and cursing the time he'd wasted in panic, the time it was taking someone to pick up. The signaling click unleashed a torrent and tears dripped off his chin and onto Reigen’s parched skin and still he wouldn't move.
“He won't wake up!” Choked and stifled, thick with fear and worry and a thousand other things.
“Try and stay calm, I’m going to help you.” At the strong voice on the other end of the line, Serizawa shoved all else aside. “Tell me what's going on.” How she even understood was beyond the esper because he couldn't understand half of what he was saying himself, words a jumbled, hysterical mess of crossing syllables. She asked for the address and Serizawa gave the wrong one, his mother's, before correcting his mistake. “Good, that's good, emergency services are on their way.” He nodded though she couldn't see it, petting Reigen’s cheek, his hair, praying to every being he knew, please, please, please. “I know this is scary, help will be there soon, can you move him to a shower?” Another nod, keening when he finally remembered it was just the two of them and there was no one to see. A shaking affirmation. “Turn it on, lukewarm, not too cold.” He followed her instructions doggedly, determined, swallowing the fear, shoving it aside. Fully clothed, they sat beneath the spray, Serizawa pressing a cool cloth against the galloping pulse in his neck, against each wrist, alternating for an eternity with the ghost of a stranger’s voice murmuring encouragement from the phone hovering just out of reach. The sob that slipped free at Reigen’s sluggish attempt to move away from the water was a broken thing, caught between dizzying relief and overwhelming love. Serizawa leaned over him and pressed their foreheads together, rocking gently, tears like rain indistinguishable from the gentle fall of the shower.
“‘Taka…’Taka…” each mention of his name punctuated with a soft kiss brushed against his racing pulse point. A bare sliver of honey brown was visible, glazed with fever and vacant, and Serizawa pressed trembling lips over his brow.
“Sir, you need to open the door for the paramedics.” Pulled out of the haze of relief, Serizawa could hear a persistent knocking at their apartment door. “It's okay, let them in.” Only luck kept the door intact and if Serizawa was in a better state of mind he might have been impressed by how they took the door nearly flying off its hinges in stride, calm and efficient as they asked him questions, separated them gently and lifted Reigen onto the gurney, wrapping him up against the chill outside. A blanket over Serizawa’s shoulders made him jump and he tore his eyes from the prone figure enshrouded in white (why did it have to be white?) to glance wide eyed at the EMT.
“Do you want to ride with him?” Numb. Shivering delicately, but he wasn't cold. Was just numb as the man tugged on his arm, gestured to his shoes, waiting until he remembered how to slip them on and shut the door behind them.
The ride was a blur. Sodium glare casting shadow and darkness across Reigen’s features, hideous yellow splashed over his face like neon paint and Serizawa shuddered, taking up his hand, worrying his cold, lax fingers, and avoiding laying eyes on the mask fogging unevenly with his labored breath. Instead, he fixated on his beautiful hands, his blunt nails, hoping beyond hope that the blue tint beneath was a trick of the light.
Something was wrong. He felt wrong. Heavy. Sick. Nauseated. Reigen tried to move, shift against the surface soft and yielding, but to no avail.
Voices. Voices he recognized, voices he loved but his mind struggled with their names. And he tried so hard to answer, to reassure, they sounded worried.
“-came to check up on you, he didn't look right to me.”
“He wouldn't wake up.” Trembling, small. That voice wasn't meant to sound so scared and Reigen fought his own self again. If he could just open his eyes, his mouth, use that silver tongue for something good for once.
“I turned the shower off.”
“His fever was just so high.” A touch, small and cool brushed against his temple.
“And now?” He tried again, managed to swing one leaden arm up towards the thing strapped over his face, missed, felt a painful tug. If he could just remove it, maybe then he could speak, tell the voices he was all right.
“Shh, He’s awake.” His hand was caught up, lips pressed against limp knuckles, gentle and soft, and the frustration of being unable to reassure them slipped down his cheeks. Careful fingers smoothed them away, drifted to his head, stroked slow. “Hush now, you need to rest.” The rhythm was soothing, and Reigen forgot what he was trying to say, to do, let the quiet sounds and familiar touch ease him down into the deep and dark. “I’m here.”
Pneumonia. And a bad case of it.
After describing Reigen’s slow decline over the last month and a half the doctors suspected it had started with a cold and been exacerbated into bronchitis. When he’d continued to ignore the symptoms it had been enough to land him here. Once he’d come around, woozy, but with his fever finally under control, Serizawa was able to release the breath he hadn’t even known he’d been holding by turns and if he cried over the hand clasped in both his own, well, there was no one around to see.
A few days of intravenous antibiotics saw Reigen awake again, unfortunately with a not uncommon side effect.
“Yes, what is it?” Even though the esper already knew, had already been told a dozen times before on previous visits. Had been teased mercilessly by Dimple and he made the ghost swear not to tell Reigen by threat of exorcism.
“C’mere, gotta tell you a secret.” He gestured, clumsy, nothing left of his usual grace and charm, beckoning him close and clutching at his lapels to press his ear against his chest. The sound of Serizawa’s heartbeat always made him grin dopily and he sighed in contentment when the esper ran a hand over his head. “I’sa secret. You can’t tell.”
“I won’t, cross my heart.” And he drew one over Reigen’s back, smiling gently at a drunken giggle.
“I love you.” At his confession, he became shy, pushing his face into his jacket and loosening his grip in favor of winding his arms around Serizawa instead. “S’much. S’much, Ka’suya.” Typically, he’d fall asleep shortly after, worn out by his admission, and Serizawa would card slow fingers through his hair, and kiss the top of his head, before settling him back in the bed.
“I love you, too. Idiot.”
Reigen felt wiped out, utterly empty and, even though he’d been sleeping all day until his discharge from the hospital, he wanted nothing more than to fall into bed after stumbling out of the taxi and struggling up the three flights of stairs to the apartment.
“‘Taka?” Are you feeling alright?” Reigen was winded, panting, and he could see the concern in Serizawa’s face clear as day. “Don’t try and lie to me.” He’d been firm on that lately. With good reason, the conman supposed.
“Mhm, jus’...catching my breath.” Totally normal. The nurses said it could take over a month to regain his strength. He’d been so stupid. What if something happened and he couldn’t--
“Hey now, none of that.” Hands on his face, checking his fever and grounding him, navigating him surely away from his thoughts. “I can hear you over thinking.” He couldn’t deny that truth and was startled further by a sweet kiss on his forehead. “Let’s go to bed.”
Properly dosed and tucked between the sheets, Reigen burrowed his way flush to Serizawa’s broad chest, sighing deeply and unable to sleep in the deafening calm.
“How--” he began, stilted, silver tongue failing him spectacularly because he was so afraid of the answer. Wind gusted outside the window, the only sound, and Serizawa kept his silence, somehow knowing exactly what Reigen needed in this moment. “How can you stand to be with me, after all the secrets I keep? After I put Tome in danger like that? How can I trust myself not to,” he swallowed past the tangle of emotion in his throat, forced the rest of what he had to say out of his lungs before it could strangle him. “Not to ruin this?” He jumped when Serizawa began to stroke him softly, running a gentle hand down his neck, between taut shoulder blades.
“It’s frustrating sometimes.” He began slowly, carefully. Taking the first steps down this path they would hopefully travel together. “Especially when you feel you can’t talk to me.” A gentle press of his lips against his hair. “I want to help. I want to be there for you when you feel this way. How can I do that?”
It was as if the esper had run kind hands over his soul and discovered all the cracks, mapped each fissure carefully and instead of tearing them open even further, had poured endless love in. Filling him up instead of emptying him out. Giving so freely of himself, so openly, Reigen felt limitless faith and assurance.
“I.” Reigen paused, curled up to hide his face, was quiet for a long while, focusing on the rhythm of Serizawa’s hand on his back. “I don’t know.” And it was true. He didn’t, and he waited for the rejection he was so sure he deserved.
“That’s okay.” Reigen’s eyes widened in the dark, breath quickening and tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. “We can figure it out together.” He relaxed into Serizawa’s arms when they folded him up, exhaustion sweeping in like the tide with his relief. “And if you can’t trust yourself, you can trust me until you can.”
More recovery fluff!
“How’s he doing?” Familiar voices buoyed him up, tucked in and warm on the couch, wrapped in sleep’s cotton wool softness. “Has he eaten anything?” A warm chuckle followed the questions, answers followed when it ceased.
“Alright, tired, and not much.” The sound of Serizawa puttering around their tiny stove was comforting and opening his eyes seemed like too much effort when he was so, so tired. “He’s been sleeping a lot. Fever’s gone back up some but the doctor said that’s all normal.” Reigen faded a bit, slipping under the steady waves and missing whatever came next; Dimple’s voice close to his ear made it feel like he was bobbing like a cork, up, down, in, out, drift, doze.
“--time you took his temperature?” And the small hand over his forehead was cool and nice and removed too soon, replaced with the esper’s broad palm smoothing through his sweat-damp bangs and it was easy to shift low again, even if their conversation centered on him.
“Just a little while ago; 38.7” Hissing between his teeth, Dimple made a noise of concern but Reigen couldn’t comprehend the number. Right now, to him, it had no meaning, and he was just a stray fragment of weed being tugged out with the tide. Tumbling along with words like flecks of sand and shell.
“Dimple came for a visit.” Rudely, Serizawa began manhandling him into a seated position, kissing the bridge of his nose sweetly when Reigen protested.
"Mff…" Cupping one hand at the nape of his neck, Serizawa pressed their foreheads together and Reigen could almost feel the frown it was so powerful. Blinking heavy lids open, he fixed the esper with a woozy stare, lips quirked up to one side into a lazy smile.
"He was worried, don't tell him I told you. He made me promise not to." Though Serizawa’s tone was light, his expression was one of concern and Reigen slung heavy arms loosely around his shoulders before nuzzling his way against his throat.
"Worrying too." He could fall asleep again here, with his love's pulse echoing in his blood, bundled up in his warmth. "M'okay."
"I don't like how you sound." Leaning in closer, Reigen draped his full weight like a wriggling scarf, lips just brushing the shell of Serizawa’s ear.
"Never bothered you before." It was unfair, and with half closed eyes the conman registered the red hot blush sweeping over a flustered face. When he laughed, it turned into a coughing fit that made his chest ache as he doubled over Serizawa’s lap. Warm hands ran over his back until he was able to breathe again.
"I meant the whistling. The doc--" Reigen cut him off, pushing away to slump against the arm of the couch and shiver.
"I know what they said." He didn't have enough breath in his lungs to argue properly and this was a fight he had yet to win. "Don' like it."
"You didn't deny it."
"I'm going back to sleep."
"Maybe you wouldn't be so tired if you could actually breathe." Throughout the whole conversation, with Serizawa’s voice poised on the edge of a cheerful smile, the esper had been setting up the machine. And now, he pressed the mask into Reigen’s hand with another kiss between his brows, psychic abilities taking care of pouring the medicine into the appropriate spot.
"I'm not wearing it." Petulant and moody, like a small child, Reigen crossed his arms. He didn't like things strapped to his face; it made him feel claustrophobic.
"You know the drill."
"Stay?" Face coloring, Reigen didn't know why he'd said it, it wasn't like he was a kid or needed Serizawa there with him, but his gaze turned soft and the following kiss was apologetic and sweet against his cheek.
"I'll be back soon." Gentle, tucking the blanket around his waist and running fingers through his hair. The reassurance was comforting despite his embarrassment. "Just need to finish dinner." Ruffling his hair as he passed, Serizawa tossed his final word over his shoulder. "And you're going to eat it."
Bitter and strong, the taste of the mist settled heavy on his tongue and Reigen resisted the urge to quit, knowing if he did Serizawa would be upset with him. They'd talked some, about what had led to all this, and his old habits were hard to break. But he knew, adamantly and completely, that he wanted to be his best for Serizawa. And if this was part of it, so be it. Breathe, hold, release; the rhythm and sound overplayed by Serizawa humming off key was soporific when combined with the cozy quilt. He hadn't been lying when he'd said he was tired, would nap forever if anyone would let him, and soon found his head nodding, the hand holding the mask dropping to his lap only for him to force both back into place. One eye closed, then the other, it was too much effort to keep both open at the same time, Reigen focused on following the directions set forth by meddling doctors.
Breathe, hold, release.
Aerosolized medication flooded his lungs, eased the struggle, stopped the wheezing. But both his eyes were closed now, head tipped back and body relaxed. One last attempt to pry his eyes open and it was futile.
Rounding the couch, Serizawa sighed at the sight of Reigen so thoroughly asleep, medicine going everywhere except where it needed to be most. Flipping off the little machine, he shifted gangly legs to the side to sit beside him and tugged his pliant body close.
"Nng…dinner? Already?" Sleepy and slurred, Reigen tried to look up at him and Serizawa commended the momentary cross-eyed effort. The kids had come for a visit yesterday with stories and snacks and enthusiasm, and while he was so happy to see them after being confined to bed for so long, it took more than he had yet to give.
"Not yet." Serizawa propped him up on a bent knee, pillowed his head in the crook of his elbow. "Why? Hungry?" The grimace was no surprise; appetite had been hard to come by lately and chuckling, the esper cupped his jaw, brushing a thumb across over-warm skin. "Don't think this is getting you out of eating something."
"Tyrant." An exhale followed by a beat of silence, then, timid: "Sorry…jus'so tired."
"It's alright. Go to sleep for a little while, 'till we get this dose finished." When no answer was forthcoming, Serizawa flicked on the machine, holding the mask suspended over his slack face. In the hospital, the oxygen mask had agitated him, he was so confused and disoriented. And now Reigen didn't want anything to do with them. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing at all, and he switched with his powers so he could stroke his head softly, keep track of his temperature. As much as he wanted to call the hospital again, he knew he'd get the same answers. Time and rest. Real rest, plenty of breaks and naps for a while. All of what they were experiencing was normal. But it was so hard to see Reigen like this (small, unmoving, unable to be woken), listless, exhausted, the circles under his eyes like crescent shaped bruises they were so dark.
When the course finished, Serizawa settled into the quiet, the soft, clear breaths from the man in his lap, and caught himself smiling. It was easy like this, when they could speak to each other, and Serizawa knew his affection made it easier to turn a blind eye to Reigen’s self destruction. They needed to watch out for each other. His thoughts were interrupted by a catch in Reigen’s chest, small at first, then hacking strong enough to rouse him, bleary and so uncoordinated that Serizawa had to shove him forward.
It was punishing; damp and deep and interspersed with attempts to snatch a full breath, the sound like drowning, and Serizawa handed him a tissue, rubbed his back, the seam of his spine rigid and tense with the ache, the crackling under his hand a physical thing. Reigen spat into the paper, the part of his face he could see screwed up in disgust and ears red with embarrassment. And, as always, Serizawa was both marveled and so, so worried. How could he breathe at all with lungs packed full and wet? With trembling fingers Reigen cast the mess into the bin next to the couch, almost half full, and fell back against Serizawa.
"One of these days I'm not going to catch you."
"Liar." He tucked his hands under each arm, hugging himself as he tried to catch his breath, and Serizawa hugged him too, tight and just a little desperate. It was common for him to hide the side effects of the treatments. But they would stop soon. "Maybe if you didn't catch me all the time I'd learn some lessons." A wry grin, shallow and pale, as he twisted around to look at him before resting against his broad collarbone. Reigen wasn't asleep, Serizawa could tell by inhale, exhale, and he matched his rhythm, waiting until the tremors subsided, pointedly ignoring the heat soaking through his clothes. The esper pressed his lips to the top of his auburn head.
"You need to eat, love." A sigh. Frustration. Resignation.
"For me?" Another kiss, cajoling. "Please?" Already the bones in his back stood out; he'd mapped each one at night to remind himself that Reigen was still here. Another. "I slaved over the stove for you." Rewarded with an undignified snort of laughter and Serizawa smiled against his crown. "Two minutes," making sure he was comfortable, brushing gently through his hair, softly kissing his hot forehead, "it should be warm."
Simple, homemade, a bit of broth with flakes of bright white fish for Reigen to sip, something Serizawa hoped would sit well. The younger man leaned against his shoulder as they watched the evening news and Serizawa counted victories in the mouthfuls of rice he fed him between swallows. This vulnerability was new and for Reigen, terrifying. To trust like this, fully, completely, to rely on someone in true moments of weakness, was to be open and raw, and neither had many opportunities to practice. The first days back from hospital Reigen hid how bad he truly felt until Serizawa found him in the tiny bathroom struggling to stand from where he'd collapsed from dizziness.
"You don't need to hide from me 'Taka." He'd said when Reigen was tucked firmly into the futon where he belonged and they were lying face to face in the dim. "I want to help. Let me?"
"I." Quiet, silent and Serizawa wouldn't have know he was crying but for the tears slipping over his fingers as he cupped his cheek. "I shouldn't be." His mouth twisted up tight and crooked, with lips pressed thin and no noise escaped.
"What, love?" Long minutes passed as Reigen tried to control himself and failed. "It's alright." Soothing, soft, patient. Gentle, reassuring kisses, thumbing tears from hot cheeks. He would wait forever for him if he had to.
"So much trouble." The smallest voice. A hidden face. Shaking apart at such fragile seams.
"What if I like your brand of trouble?" No answer save for arms winding their way around him and shuddering breath against his skin.
Dirty dishes in the sink for tomorrow morning and nearly two mugs of tea in Reigen, they got ready for bed. Serizawa brought a book, some reading for school, intending to catch up, and Reigen took the opportunity to lay with his head in the esper’s lap, already struggling to keep his eyes open.
"Read it out loud?" Serizawa carded fingers through damp bangs.
"Alright." Though he knew already the conman wouldn't last five minutes.
He kept reading, low and quiet, long after Reigen had been pulled out to sea.