"From now on, Shou Suzuki will be your new classmate. Please give him a warm welcome!"
Curious glances are thrown at Shou, some genuinely intrigued, some more skeptic. They're probably asking themselves why someone joined their class this late but that can be easily deflected by telling them that he moved or something.
"Hello, I hope we can all be friends!" Despite his nervousness, he takes on a confident stance. First impressions are important, that's what Reigen told him.
A chorus of, 'Hello, Shou' greets him and the teacher shows him his seat. He's sitting in the front row, next to a shy looking girl and a seemingly laid-back boy. They seem nice enough, so that's a plus. He gives the two of them a smile and takes out his pencil case.
He isn't in Ritsu's class but he can live with that, they'll see each other on the lunch breaks and after school anyway. And maybe it's for the better that way, maybe he'll be more willing to talk to his classmates and make new friends.
The teacher starts their lesson without much pre-ramble, not wanting to waste any more time and Shou starts listening intently.
It's his first day of school, after all!
"So, why didya come to our class this late in the game?" a boy he didn't have the time to talk to yet, approaches him after their last lesson ended. Shou didn't even notice him walking up to him and putting his hands on the edges of his desk. It made it almost seem like he's towering over him but the casual expression on his face said otherwise.
"I was wondering about that too!" a girl behind him asks.
"Yeah, me too."
Soon, a small crowd forms around Shou, all of them waiting curiously for his answer. Well, he couldn't exactly tell the truth, now can he.
He leans back in his chair, "I moved recently and had to change schools! Nothing too interesting, really." He gives them a small smile.
"Ooh, Where'd you live before that?"
Shou blanks for a second, "Tokyo." Wow, real creative.
"Really?! How was it?"
Shou tries to recall the time he actually went to Tokyo to do a task for his father, "It's honestly not that interesting. There are a lot of shops, though. Oh, and many, many people. It's easy to get lost in the crowd." And lose the person your father told you to follow, he thinks.
"Aww, that's a bummer. I thought it would be way cooler!"
"That could be just me," he grins and gives them a shrug. He honestly couldn't remember much from Tokyo, mostly because he was focused on his mission. Maybe he can visit it again sometime...and maybe with his friends. Going alone would be lame anyway.
"Oh, I have to go!" he remembers, "Sorry, talk to you later!" he quickly packs up his stuff and leaves the classroom. Careful, as not to bump into anyone, he maneuvers his way to the school gate.
In the sea of faces, he can see a familiar purple uniform, accompanied by blond hair.
"Teruki!" he yells out, even though he's almost standing next to him.
The boy in question turns around and finds himself face to face with Shou. After recovering from the surprise, he gives him a small smile, "Shou."
They both lean against the wall next to the gate, a little bit farther away from all the flood of students who are desperate to leave school as fast as possible.
"So," Teruki starts, "How was your first day?"
"Super cool! I can't remember all the names of my classmates yet but they said that it'll take a little time. My teachers seem fine, at least now and I could even follow what they were talking about!" Shou bops up and down, excited to tell him all about his first day, "and during lunch, I didn't leave the classroom because everyone told me their names and our timetable and stuff. They all seem really nice!"
"That's great!" he closes his eyes and nods, "It's always good to have a nice class."
"Yup!" Shou is tempted to sit on the floor but he knows that that'll give him weird looks, "Honestly, not much happened today but I feel like I've just come home after traveling through the whole world. That kind of exhausted."
"Because you had to socialize so much? Or..."
"Or. Well, a bit of both. It's just that I have to be careful that I don't say anything weird or out-of-place and I didn't think that would be such a, uh. Deliberate task. You know, like...such a conscious decision to make. I thought it'll just come automatically."
"Hm, that's-" he cocks his head in thought, "well, I'm sure that it's only temporary. You'll get used to it eventually."
Shou studies Teruki's expression, "You didn't have to watch what you say when you first started going to school?" He doesn't look like he's relating to Shou, so maybe he didn't have the same problem?
"I was thaught out of talking about psychics powers since I was very young, so that was never a problem for me, I guess," he shrugs, "I started getting rebellious after a while, though."
"Ah, I know. Teruki is referring to his 'dark past'," he nods wisely.
Teruki snorts, "Don't call it that. But anyway," he motions towards the wall they were leaning against, "What are we waiting for? We can already go home."
"Duh! Ritsu, of course!"
"Yes. I told him to meet us at the gate," he turns his head to heedfully watch the last students exit the building. No Ritsu is to be seen, though, "He said he could come later. Because of student council stuff and all that."
"Alright, guess we're waiting for Little Brother now, huh?"
Shou nods. Ritsu shouldn't take too long.
And as if he heard him, the very next person to walk out of the school building was none other than the man himself.
"Ritsu!" Shou shouts, the other boy's head turning at his voice. With no hurry in his step, he approaches the two of them.
"Hey," he searches Shou's expression, "How was school?"
Shou gives him a thumbs up, "Really cool! I'll tell you about it later."
Teruki pushes himself away from the wall, "Let's go, you two can talk on the way."
Shou nods and follows his friend, Ritsu right beside him.
"How do you feel?" Ritsu asks him.
"Ah, great. It was just a little too much today, I think."
"You'll get used to it, I'm sure," he inches a little closer, "But yeah, it's understandable. After all, this is pretty new to you." He considers his words for a second, "And tell me if something's bothering you."
"Don't worry too much!" Shou nudges him with his elbow, "But what about you? How was your day?"
"Huh? Like always, I guess," Ritsu shrugs, "Just...today I couldn't concentrate all that well."
Shou raises an eyebrow, "Why?"
"Why?" Ritsu sighs, "Isn't that obvious? I was thinking about you."
"Ah," Shou halts for a second. A blush creeps up his cheeks, slowly but surely tinting his face pink, "That's-" he catches up again with Ritsu and loops his arm around his waist, hiding his face abashedly in Ritsu's shoulder.
"Hey, don't be embarrassed about that! It's normal to worry about someone's first day at school."
"But – still," he presses his nose into Ritsu's uniform, "You can't just – say that."
Ritsu chuckles and softly shoves Shou away, so Teruki and the people around them would be spared of the two of them cuddling in the middle of the street. Speaking of Teruki, he's walking in front of them, texting someone on his phone.
Shou leans in and whispers into Ritsu's ear, "He's probably talking to your brother."
"I didn't have to know that," he looks up, taking in all the colors of the sky.
"But you gotta admit, they do make a cute couple."
"Eh, I don't know about that yet," he sends Teruki a weird look, "And I still can't believe that they've been dating for months and Shigeo didn't tell me about it."
"Well, did you tell him that we're-" Shou stops himself.
It's been only two weeks since they confessed under the weird statue and the two of them obviously like each other but.
"Are we?" Ritsu asks, suddenly a whole lot quieter, "Dating, I mean." His gaze is now locked on the floor, concentrating on a point that doesn't exist.
"I don't know," Shou frowns, "You tell me."
"No, it doesn't work like that," now he sounds a bit frustrated, "It's something both of us have to think about."
"But didn't you ask me-"
"What are you two talking about back there?" Teruki turns around and slows down so he can walk in one line with them, "Sorry, I wasn't listening, I was distracted."
"It's okay, Hanazawa. It wasn't important anyway," Ritsu says, an award-winning smile showing on his face.
It always surprises Shou how good Ritsu is at lying. He considers himself to be a decent liar, even if he dislikes doing it but Ritus seems cunning to no end. If that's a good thing or not, Shou has to think about still.
"Oh but I still wanted to listen! Just continue talking, I'll figure out what it's about."
Ritsu flails for a second. Ah, not all that perfect. Now Shou has to save the moment.
"Did I tell you about the time I went to Tokyo?"
His first few weeks of school went over well. Good even!
No casualties happened and everyone in his class seems to be either nice or tolerable, which is more than perfect – or so Teruki told him. Shou himself doesn't know how a class looks like, even less a perfect one.
He even befriended some of his classmates, one of them being the laid-back boy, Saburo is his name, and the second one being the shy girl that sits next to him, called Maeko.
He didn't even realize that they'd become his friends, not until Ritsu pointed it out to him. And he was right! Ever since talking to him on his first day, they latched onto him, having lunch together with him and just telling him anything that comes to mind. Maeko is always a little quieter, a little more in the background but still present nonetheless, Saburo always tells the craziest stories, most of them probably fake but still interesting and Shou always tries to sneak in a joke or an engaging observation.
It's honestly a weird group they made but they're really nice and fun to talk to. Ritsu often joins them at lunch and at first, his two new friends were off-put by the idea of having a student council member around but they soon grew comfortable with that too.
There were no problems. Or well, until today, that is.
"Look what my mom made me for lunch!" Maeko shows her lunchbox to the two boys. It was the usual, just arranged in a cutesy way, forming little cats and faces.
"Aw, that's cute!" Shou tells her.
"Ha, that's nothing!" Saburo says, "You won't believe what my dad made once. He's a pastry chef and he baked a cake for a wedding and they wanted it to be this big!" he stretches his arm a little to show them how tall the cake was.
"Yeah, sure," Meako rolls her eyes, "Didn't you tell us last week that your father's a famous lawyer that took down a serial killer in court?"
"Anyway, where's Ritsu? Won't he come today?"
"Nah, he has some student council stuff to do."
"Uncool," Saburo shakes his head.
"Exactly," Shou agrees, "But tomorrow he'll be-"
"Hey, are you Shou Suzuki?"
A group of older kids walked up, the tall girl at the front looking down at him in question. Shou could tell that they are third years but that's everything he knows about them. He's seen them hanging around, close to his friends' group spot but he doesn't know their names, their hobbies, nothing. Weird of them to approach him.
"Yeah, he is. Why do you ask?" he hears Saburo say.
"We're not talking to you," she glares at him, "Shou, we just want to ask you something." she shoots a pointed look at the two kids behind him, "In private." The girl shows a charming smile but something about it just wasn't right.
"Huh?" he uselessly asks. He looks at his friends but they seem just as clueless as him. After a bit of thinking, Meako leans into their little group, so only Shou and Saburo could hear her, "Go, we'll stay close. In case something happens."
"Don't worry, I bet they're nice!" Shou tells her.
Meako smiles a bit painfully and nudges him encouragingly towards the tall girl.
"See you later, Shou!" Saburo shouts out, maybe a little too loud.
"Tch," the girl gestures Shou to follow and he trails after her and her friends, his short legs unable to keep up with them. Ah, he's been neglecting his training. Not that he really needs it anymore.
"So your name is Suzuki, huh?" she side-eyes him, voice trying to sound casual, "Pretty common name."
"Yes," he nods.
"Mhm," she hums, "My name is Akane!"
He smiles, unsure of what to say in this situation.
They stop walking at an abandoned corner surrounded by empty classrooms and Shou hops onto the bench there. He stares at the girl in front of him with big eyes.
"You know, I feel like I've heard the name Suzuki recently but ah, I just can't remember where!" she suddenly drops the casual persona and instead tries a dramatic approach, throwing her head back and closing her eyes, "You're probably more attentive to people with your name, so maybe you remember." she cracks open one eye to study Shou's expression.
"I don't know, sorry. Is this what you wanted to ask me?" he cocks his head. That can't be it, right?
The girl sighs. Just as fast she stops the dramatic act as well, fast enough to give Shou whiplash, "Boy, are you dense?" the annoyance on her face is almost enough to make Shou feel a little nauseous.
"N-no," he folds his hands together, "Just – what did you want to talk about?"
She smirks, "Alright, I'll tell you," with more confidence that Shou ever saw on a person (except Reigen, probably) she puts one hand on her hip and continues talking, voice dripping with assertiveness, "You know, ever since you've enrolled in this school, we've been really curious. Just something about you didn't rub me the right way."
"Um, did I do something bad?" he raises his eyebrows. He honestly doesn't know what he did to offend these people.
"We'll get to that," she hums, something that almost sounds like a laugh, "Let me finish this first. We found out that your name is Suzuki."
"And that is relevant, why? My whole class knows my name, that's nothing special," alright, now these people are starting to irritate him a little.
"Let Akane talk!" one of the boys behind her yells.
"Now, where was I. Yeah, your name is Suzuki and that wouldn't be important, wasn't it for a certain TV broadcast from a few months ago. Ring a bell yet?"
"Uh," TV broadcast, TV broadcast. She doesn't mean-
"That broadcast was made by a person called Toichiro. Toichiro Suzuki!"
Shou flinches a little. Ha, that...that isn't good. Absolutely not, "Who was that again?"
"Huh?" her confident expression falters for just a second, before plastering itself all over her face again, "Don't play dumb. We did our research."
"Yeah! That's not our only proof!" a boy tells him, one that is a little shorter than Akane.
"Proof for what?" he asks.
"Like I said. Don't play dumb. You're clearly related to that dude in some way, you can't tell me otherwise."
"Related?" he tries to sound amused, "So then what's your 'proof'?"
Her eyes started to shine at that, "I'll be happy to provide! First, let's get the obvious out of the way. You two – and there's no denying that – look awfully similar. Red hair, blue eyes, same face...you name it."
Being compared to his father to that degree isn't really...comfortable. But as long as the comparison is only appearance and not something like personality, Shou can live with it. Not that his father has a discernable personality, anyway, "That doesn't prove anything. And your whole theory is stupid."
"Well alright, then tell me. Where did you go to school before enrolling here?"
"Uh," Something, Anything, "Black Vinegar Middle School."
Her eyebrow quirks up, expression looking self-satisfied, "The one in Seasoning City?"
"N-no, there are...multiple Black Vinegar's," he can feel sweat rolling down his forehead.
Akane snaps her head towards one of the boys behind her, "Search if there's a Black Vinegar in Tokyo."
"Tokyo? Why Tokyo-"
"One of your classmates told us that you moved here from Tokyo. So your school was obviously there too."
"No search results!" the boy tells them, pocketing his phone again, "And also no schools around Tokyo either."
Damit. "Ha, and what's that supposed to prove?" he stands up to make himself a little bit bigger. The girl is still too tall.
"What I'm saying is," she takes a step forward, looking down on him, "That you didn't go to school because you were busy helping that crazy man with his plans. And you did that because you're related to him." In a sudden motion, she grabs him by his collar, jerking him a little back and forth, "My bet is on son but let's not get ahead of ourselves, huh?"
Now alarmed, Shou tries to break out of her hold. He can't use his psychic powers, everyone's been telling him that using them against defenseless people is bad. Besides, using them now would prove the girl and her friends right. "Hey, l-let go of me," he tells her weakly, trying to reason with her.
"You better tell us what you're planning next. We don't want another freak trying to destroy our city," her cold eyes are searching his face for something, something other than panic.
Where are his friends? Didn't they say they'd stick close? Maybe they alerted a teacher. Yeah, that's smarter than trying to fight people double their height.
"Why aren't you talking?" Akane asks him, voice booming.
"I don't know what you want from me!"
"You're lying! You know exactly-"
She falls quiet when they hear the door of a classroom they assumed to be empty open next to them. Out walks a black-haired girl.
"Ugh, it's that weird girl," one of Akane's friends say.
"Shh, don't be rude!" she shushes them and turns to the black-haired girl, "Hey Kurata, you're like, into conspiracies and stuff, right?"
"Huh?" she looks up, "Yeah. So what?" expression not changing, she eyes Shou for a second.
"Well, I think you kind of rubbed off on me. I have just the conspiracy you need."
"Really?" Kurata quirks up an eyebrow, looking more skeptic than curious, "Has it something to do with that boy you're, uh, holding?"
"Actually, yes! Come here!" she gestures her to come closer with her one free hand, "Doesn't he look exactly like that Toichiro Suzuki guy? The crazy esper man from television?"
"Hm," she gives Shou a good look, who tries to ask her telepathically to help him. Not that he's a telepath, just – can't hurt to try? "Yeah, no. I don't see it, to be honest."
"R-really?" Akane now completely falters, all signs of self-assurance dropping from her face, "You sure?"
"I'm sure," Kurata nods.
"Oh, then I guess..."
"Hey, don't listen to her! We did the research, Akane," one of her friends yells.
"Shut up! Kurata knows what she's talking about," a little softer, she turns to the girl and asks, "Right?"
"Yup." She looks like she doesn't even know what the question was.
Akane clears her throat and lets Shou go, "Sorry about that. You can probably understand my concern, right?"
"I just really love this city and I would hate for another crazy guy to destroy it. That's the reason I got so suspicious in the first place," she laughs a little, "So, sorry!" she flashes him a grin before walking away, her unsatisfied friends in pack.
"What was that about?" Kurata asks.
"Don't know. But thanks for helping me!"
"Uh, yeah, no problem, I guess," she shrugs, "Who's that guy she was talking about anyway?"
Later, Shou meets up with his friends again, the two of them distressed to no end. Apparently, they couldn't follow Shou and Akane because two of her friends stayed behind to prevent exactly that.
"But, but you're alright, right?" Saburo asks, no amount of self-restraint able to hide his worry.
Maeko's even worse, almost tearing up, "They didn't do anything mean, did they?"
Shou holds up both his hands, "Relax, relax. Nothing happened, don't worry."
"You sure?" Saburo's eyebrows furrow.
"Yeah," he smiles smugly, "Just a small misunderstanding. No biggie."
"I'm...relieved," Maeko lets out a sigh.
"Dude, that really scared me!" Saburo grabs both Maeko's and Shou's shoulder, "I thought I had to call my mom! She's a secret agent who works for the government and-"
"Your mom would beat up Middle Schoolers?" Shou snorts.
"Um, no, my mom is nice, thank you very much."
"So she would've sat down and told them that beating up people is bad?" Maeko asks.
Saburo pauses for a second, "Well, I guess..." he shrugs.
"That doesn't seem like something a secret agent would do."
"Oh yeah? How could you know?" he puffs out his chest, proud to have found a loop-hole.
Shou only laughs and Maeko shakes her head in disappointment.
"What? You want to dye your hair?"
A disbelieving Teruki sits across from him by the table, his food laying forgotten in front of him, "Where does that come from?"
Shou almost regrets bringing it up, "What's so weird about wanting to change my hair color?"
He puts down his cutlery, "Well, nothing. I just thought you didn't care all that much about appearance," he studies Shou, "What brought this on?"
Shou fidgets in his chair, "Teruki, do you think..." he leans back and observes the ceiling, "Do you think that I look like my father?"
It isn't really Akane's fault that he's thinking about it. He thought about his looks in length before and he knows that his father and he look similar. Maybe Akane was the catalyst in this but it was mostly brought on by him, standing in front of a mirror as a kid, tracing his hairline, the skin under his eyes, his chin, just to come to the conclusion that he really is his father's son.
Which probably isn't the ideal thing to be.
"Shou, what- no, you don't, you don't look like him," now Teruki looks really worried, "What is this about, Shou? Did something happen?"
He sighs, "Today in school someone said that I look like my father."
Teruki's eyebrows furrow in confusion, "Wait, wait. How do they know who your father is?"
"Um, I didn't tell them, they found out themselves. Oh, but now they don't think that anymore."
"What? I-I still don't understand. Can you elaborate?"
"Is it that important?" Shou shrugs, "Well, today this girl and asked me if I could talk to her in private. She, uh. I don't know what she was on about, really, but she said that she found proof that I and my father are related. And she said that we look similar."
"Oh, but don't worry. This girl, Kurata came and helped me."
"Kurata...you don't mean Tome, do you?"
"I guess. I don't know her full name, she didn't tell me."
"What did she look like?"
"Uh, black hair and...long eyelashes? And she's a third year, I think."
"That sounds like her," he buries his face in his hands, "Now it's only more confusing." He gives himself a few seconds to understand everything before lifting his head again, "So, and that's why you want to dye your hair?"
Shou nods once.
"Not because...you don't like the way it looks now or because you want to try something new?"
He considers the question for a second and then shakes his head no.
"Let's try something else. Do you normally like your hair color?"
"Well..I guess I do."
"Then it's decided," Teruki suddenly exclaims, slamming his hand on the table.
"You don't need to change your hair color. If you like it, you shouldn't have to change it."
"Hey, look. You shouldn't do anything, just because of your father. That's no different than him saying, 'dye your hair for me', right? And you wouldn't do it then, would you?"
If he looks at it like that..."I think I understand."
Teruki smiles, self-satisfied, "So, what will you do?"
"Not dye my hair. I like it how it is!"
"Great!" he celebrates by pouring Shou another glass of coke, "And tell me about that girl later. I'm still not sure what happened there."
"Hey, me neither," he shrugs, "Guess we'll figure it out together."
(He remembers looking at mirrors a lot as a kid.
Every evening he would stand in front of the big mirror in his room and stare at his reflection. He'd stare so long until his eyes started to water and he couldn't make out any edges. So long until he couldn't recognize his own face.
Who was that boy in the mirror? It couldn't be him. That's not what he looks like. He looks different; he looks younger, he doesn't look so tired, his eye bags aren't that big. He looks stronger and taller. But that boy in front of him is weak and exhausted. Weak, even though he trains everyday. Weak, even though he does what no other kid did.
He looks wrong.
And the worst of it? He looks like his father.)
This whole talk about his father made him kind of curious about, well, his father. Ever since he was arrested, he hadn't heard a word from him. And he never tried to contact him again after all that.
The man from the government, Joseph, told him where'd they take his father and gave him a phone number, just in case he ever wants to visit him.
Until now, the paper with the number on it just lay uselessly inside his wallet. But today Shou decided that it collected enough dust.
Shou stares at the crumpled paper. It looks like just any other plain old phone number. Maybe it's a private one?
He takes out his phone and punches in the digits. His hand is slightly shaking but he curls it into a fist and tries to ignore the tremor. He's not even sure if he'll contact his father, there's no need to panic. This isn't a number to his father, this is a number to a government guy who will tell him where his father is and how to contact him. His father will never know that the call happened.
And even if, what will he do? Break out of prison? Nah, his father would never put so much effort into something, just for his son.
Taking a deep breath, he clicks the green icon to call.
Shou panics for a second. He didn't think that someone would really answer, "Hello!" he shouts.
"Who is this?" the man asks.
"I am Shou," when no one answers on the other side, he adds, "Shou Suzuki."
"Suzuki? Y'mean as in Toichiro Suzuki?"
"His son, I'm guessing? Didn't think you'd call after all that time."
"I just-" he swallows. Now or never, "Could you tell me how to contact him, please?"
His mother is cooking something by the counter. Maybe she even told him what it is but Shou couldn't remember. He's too deep in thought.
"So what's been happening in school?" she asks, her eyes not leaving the pan on the stove.
"Uh, not much," except that someone almost found out about his father, "Been hanging out with my friends."
"I'm glad. Your friends seem like very nice people, you know?"
"Mhm," he smiles.
"And when will you introduce me to that boyfriend of yours, hm?" he could hear the smirk in her voice.
"Mom!" he whines, "We're not- I don't know if-" She raises an eyebrow, "We're not official yet!"
"You aren't?" Shou could hear the clicking of the stove, indicating that his mom is turning it off. A second later she sits next to him by the kitchen table.
"No," he says, "I-I don't know. We didn't have the time to talk about it much. I'm still getting used to school and...y'know, having a binding schedule. And he always has some student council stuff to do."
"Well," his mother cocks her head, "I guess...that's a problem. But like I said, communication is key. If you have to plan this conversation for it to work, do that," she puts an encouraging hand on his back, "Look when you have time, look when he has time, and then you talk."
"Hm," he leans against her shoulder, "I'll have to ask him when he's free."
"Sunday is always good. There's no school, so even if one of you isn't free at noon, it always works earlier or later."
Ah, "I can't this Sunday."
"I wanted to tell you this later but..." he fidgets with his hands, "I guess I'll tell you now."
His mother taps her fingers against his shoulders, prompting him to continue.
"Uh, well," there's no easy way to do this, "I'm visiting dad that day."
The tapping stops for a second, before resuming, "You are?" he can't read the tone of her voice.
She sighs deeply, "I...Why now?"
"I couldn't before."
She doesn't question that. Maybe because she understands, "But are you going alone?"
"That's what I was thinking about the whole time," he looks up to see her face, "Would you want to..." he doesn't finish his sentence.
His mother expression changes slightly, something pained flashing on her face, "Shou, I don't know if I- I'm not sure-"
"Mom, it's okay," he tries giving her a smile, "If you can't go, I won't drag you with me."
"I'm sorry, Shou."
"But I really am sorry."
He laughs quietly and pats her shoulder, "It's alright, mom."
"You're not going alone now, are you?" she asks, worried.
"Nope, I just have to think with which person I'm going."
He could ask Teruki, he would definitely accompany him if he asked. Ritsu as well. All of his friends would come with him, no question. Just...does Shou really want them to see his father?
"What about the boy that, um, fought against your dad? Shigeo was his name? I think it'll be good to take him with you."
"Hm." No one's going to fight against his father this Sunday, Shou knows that. He's in prison, probably some sort of special prison, designed only for espers or something. He wouldn't need some sort of 'backing', really. That doesn't mean that having Shigeo with him during his visit wouldn't be comforting. Even more than Teruki or Ritsu, probably. Just because Shigeo won against his father, maybe.
"I...I'll ask him."
Not that he would decline something like this.
"Are you ready, Shou?"
Shigeo gives him a warm smile, one that eases Shou's panic, just a tad. Unable to speak, he simply nods.
The train ride to the remote building was fairly peaceful. As the train rushed past the landscapes, it was easy to imagine how simple it would be. Just go in there, talk to his father, let him clarify some things, and maybe make a new opinion about him and the situation. It was even easier to imagine when Shigeo started talking about his daily life, about absolutely mundane things. Something that gave him a sense of normalcy.
They left the train at the last stop and there was a cab waiting for them, ready to escort them to the building. The driver was eerily quiet but someone who works for the government probably isn't all that into small talk. Shigeo and Shou resumed their conversation but over time, Shou grew more and more silent. He didn't even notice but the panic had been working its way up until it finally made itself noticeable.
They arrived and left the car, which led them to this moment.
"Are you ready, Shou?"
He nods. But is he, though? His hand is tightly grasping the backpack strap and his eyes are stuck on the floor. His breathing isn't quite regular either.
"Are you sure?" Shigeo asks as a precaution. He can't say no now, can he? All that time driving here would go to waste and he doesn't know if the cab driver would be friendly enough to take them back already.
"You don't have to go, Shou." It's weird. Even with Shigeo's quiet voice, Shou never had problems hearing him, even over loud noises.
"I'm going," he finally says.
They approach the grey building and stare at the massive steel door. Or Shou assumes that it's steel.
"Do we need to ring or-"
"Nah, We don't even have a bell." A sudden voice from behind them makes him jump on the spot, Shou taking in a defensive stance, while Shigeo takes his time to turn around, unfazed.
"Oh, it's you!" Shou exclaims, "Joseph! From the government!"
"Yup, that's me," hands buried in his pockets, he slowly makes his way over to them, "I'm just here to let you in and lead you to good old Toichiro. Haven't told him that you're coming yet."
"You haven't?" Shigeo asks.
"And you are?" Joseph quirks up an eyebrow.
"Oh shit, aren't you the kid that beat up Toichiro?"
"I wouldn't say 'beat up'..." a little flustered, he watches his folded hands.
Joseph laughs, "You sure you don't want to join us? We could always use a powerful esper on our side."
"Ow, shoot down right away." with a sigh, he opens the big door, "Well, it's not like the higher up's would approve. You're still a kid, right?" After swiping some sort of keycard against a panel, the steel door lets out a whirring sound and opens. "Or maybe they would approve. Don't know what's going on up there anyway."
"Well that doesn't sound very reassuring," Shou grumbles.
They enter a brightly lit hallway, one that slightly resembles a hospital. Not that it looks like one, the walls and floor are completely grey, just in varying brightness. It's just the sterile, even creepy atmosphere, maybe. Besides one security guard at the door that quickly raised his hand at Joseph's arrival, no other person's around. Their echoing footsteps are like slashes in their awkward silence, making it just even weirder.
No, it isn't the silence that's really weird. It's just this whole situation. How often does a thirteen-year-old travel to a remote prison to visit their father, who is a government secret as well? Not often, he thinks.
He doesn't pay attention to where they're walking and as it seems, Shigeo doesn't either. They both just blindly follow Joseph, hoping that they wouldn't have to find their way out alone. Multiple hallways are stretching in different directions and the signposts hanging on the walls aren't really decipherable for the two teens as well. At one point, they have to walk through a metal detector or something but after that they walk on without breaks.
"Almost there," they can hear Joseph mumble to himself. And voilà, not one minute later they stand in front of a door labeled, 'visitors'. The indoor designer was really minimalistic, huh?
Shou shakes his hands as if he had washed them, "Just before we enter – did my father say something about me?"
"Uh," Joseph blanks for a second, needing time to process that a kid just talked to him, "I guess he did. Like, 'did you hear anything from him'. And one time he asked if you're in trouble as well. We said no but we didn't answer the other questions."
"Oh, okay. Thanks."
Joseph shrugs and turns to open the door, only to look back again, gaze locked at Shou's face, "What's in that backpack?
"Huh?" Oh, he forgot that he took that with him. He opens it for Joseph and reveals its contents. Inside are just two lunch-boxes that Teruki prepared for Shigeo and him, something to drink and-
"That letter. What's written in it?" Joseph takes the liberty of swiping it.
"It's for dad." His mother gave it to him the day before, asking Shou to deliver it for her.
"You know that we have to read it?" he lifts an eyebrow, already opening the letter.
"Uh, I think my mom knew..."
Joseph skims over the words, eyes jumping from one side to the other, his mouth forming the words as he reads them. As he arrives at the bottom, he lets out a whistle, "Looks like our Suzuki-boy's in trouble!" using the letter as a fan, he laughs a little, "I'll give him this later. Can't wait to see his expression when he reads it."
Is it that bad? Shou shrugs.
"Alrighty, now back to business..." he mutters, turning to the door again. With a short 'click', the door opens a crack and Joseph pushes it open all the way, "Come in, boys."
Shigeo shares a short look, his mouth down-turned in worry, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"It's not about wanting now, is it?"
"Yes it is," he simply says.
"Well." Initially, he thought, no, he doesn't want to. He has to, it's just something he must do! But now? 'Wanting' doesn't exactly mean being stocked about what's going to happen. 'Wanting' can also mean being curious. And Shou sure is.
"I'm ready. Let's go."
Shigeo nods briefly, following behind Shou as he enters.
The room is somewhat musty and not really more colorful than the rest of the building. A big glass-wall is separating one half of the room from the other. On his side are two chairs and a small desk attached to the wall. He can't quite see what's on the other side but he can guess that it looks just as bland.
"Let's sit down," Shigeo suggests, "It'll probably take some time until your father arrives."
He sits on the black chair and pulls it a little closer to his friend. "What do you think he's going to say when he sees you?" Shou asks him.
"Huh? I don't really know."
"I think he's going to be surprised. Ha, imagine the look on his face."
"Like, his expression." Shou waves his hand around in a vague motion.
"Hm. He doesn't seem very expressive, does he?"
"Uh," yeah, Shou would know best. Looking at his father was always so confusing, even creepy at times. It looked more like someone painted a face on a mannequin and called it a day. He's never heard his father laugh genuinely and god forbid crying. Not that he can imagine his father doing that. That would be even creepier. Shou can feel a shudder travels down his spine as he thinks about it. "Well, I guess he doesn't."
"But he was very different while fighting, yes." Shigeo leans back in his chair, recalling the memory.
"I don't know if you know that but...I took you with me because you defeated my dad. It's kind of...reassuring, having you by my side."
Shigeo smiles softly, "Thanks. But I didn't 'defeat' your father. Defeat would mean that he came out worse than before."
As if on cue, a security guard on the other side opens the door for a tall man with a boney structure, dressed in an orange jump-suit. Shou can feel his heart-rate quicken and he automatically folds into himself.
"Hello, dad," he whispers.
Shou could only breathe freely again after they left the gray prison and he won't lie, he cried a little. Or, maybe a lot.
Okay, maybe he cried during the whole train ride. But Shigeo told him that it's okay while offering his shoulder as a headrest.
"Crying is good," he'd told him, "It makes you feel better afterward."
Shou only nodded and answered in sobs. It's been a long day, a little too long for his liking, so he couldn't care all that much when the other passengers shot him a weird look and Shigeo didn't mind anyway.
"Do you cry often?" he asked Shigeo between tears.
"No," he answered honestly, "Sometimes I want to but I don't know how."
It's such a weird concept to Shou, not being able to cry when you need to. But he didn't question it any further and instead resumed back to sobbing.
And Shigeo was right about it making you feel better. He had a small headache after crying so much but emotionally, he felt better than ever. By the time Shigeo was walking him back to Teruki's apartment, he was already laughing and joking as if nothing was. Shigeo didn't laugh at his jokes but he could see a small smile appearing every time he found something funny.
At the entrance door, Shou waits before entering, turning back to Shigeo, one last time.
"Um, I just wanted to say that...I'm thankful that you went with me. You really helped me."
"No problem," Shigeo tells him, "You can ask me anytime." He steps closer and pulls Shou into a very light hug, unsure if he's allowed to do so. Shou snorts and puts his arms around Shigeo's shoulders, patting him awkwardly on the back.
He takes a step back and waves, "See you, Shigeo!"
"Bye, tell Teru hi from me."
"I'll do that." he opens the door and enters the stairway. The door closes. It's eerily quiet, especially after all that stress, and all the sounds he makes are even more noticeable. His breathing, his echoing footsteps, the rustling of his backpack as he runs up the stairs.
Hesitating for but a second, he knocks on Teruki's front door. From the other side, he can hear someone scrambling to the door, "Coming!"
The warm light from the living room floods the dim hallway and a pleasant smell drifts out with it. Teruki halts when he sees Shou's face.
"Have...you been crying?"
"Oh," he opens the door wider, "Come in."
He falls onto the green couch and lets out a deep breath, eyes shut closed.
"How was it?" Teruki asks, carefully sitting next to him.
"Ah. Better than I thought, I guess."
"That's good. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Alright," he ruffles his hair, "I'm trying to cook something new, do you want to be my tester?"
"Hell yeah," he exclaims in probably the most excited voice he could manage at the moment. Which wasn't much.
Teruki laughs, "Wait, I'll bring it out."
Needless to say, it tasted amazing.
"...And then my mom went 'boom, boom, tchk, tchk, ratata'! And all the criminals were arrested immediately!" Saburo animatedly narrates, trying to recreate sound effects with his mouth.
" If you mom's really a secret agent, why would you tell us all that? Isn't it, well...secret?" Maeko points out.
"She said I'm allowed to tell you."
"Aha," she says, skeptically of course.
"What about you Shou?" Saburo asks, trying to change the topic, "What do your parents do?"
"Uh." Not good. What's he supposed to tell them? The two of them look expectantly at him, waiting for him to answer. Yeah, he could easily lie to them but- "My dad...is in prison." he doesn't really want to do that.
"Really?" they ask simultaneously.
"Y-yeah." he averts his eyes, instead watching a bug crawl on the floor.
"What- what'd he do?"
"You can't just ask that!" Maeko hisses, jabbing him with her elbow.
"Ouch!" he kicks her slightly, "And we don't know if we're not allowed to say that! Right, Shou?"
He snaps his head back up, "I-I don't really want to talk about it."
"Oh," Saburo looks a little guilty, "Sorry."
"Nah, it's okay." he smiles at them, wanting them to understand that they didn't offend him.
Maeko clears her throat, searching for something else to talk about, "Mr. Hanako is giving us way too much homework, right?"
Saburo and her immediately start ranting about their teacher, Shou throwing in a response now and then. He couldn't really concentrate on the conversation, one question preventing him to do so.
What would his friends think of him if they knew his father?
"You've been really quiet lately, Shou."
Ritsu sits by his desk, his finished homework carefully stored away in his bag. Shou didn't really think that they're going to have that kind of conversation after he waited so long for him to get done. He expected something like...playing video games.
"What do you mean?" he looks up from where he's laying on Ritsu's bed, one hand preventing his book from closing.
"I don't know, you just haven't talked all that much," he turns around in his chair to Shou, a frown apparent on his face.
Ritsu sighs, "That's what I said, yes." He stands up and makes his way to Shou, sitting right next to him. "Is there something bothering you?"
Instead of keeping the book open himself the whole time, he remembers the number in the corner and puts it on the floor. He uses his arms as pillows and thinks what he'll say next. "I guess there is."
"What is it?" Ritsu asks, a little alarmed.
"I'm just...thinking about my father. Or, not directly." he sighs and sits up as well, "I'm wondering what other people would think about me if they knew my father."
"Shou..." Ritsu watches him sorrowful, "But I know your father and I clearly think of you as my – friend!" he hesitates a little at the last word.
"I also had to break into your house to persuade you, so..."
"I don't know if that's what you want to hear but I never thought of you as 'evil'. Yeah, I didn't trust you while we were in Scars Division Base but I couldn't believe that you're purely evil."
"Why? Does there need to be a reason?"
"Well, I'd like to know."
Ritsu smiles, "It's just...something you know. At least, that's how I felt about you."
Wordlessly, Shou buries his head in the crook of his neck and in turn, Ritsu puts gentle fingers on his back, tenderly drawing little patterns into it.
"Ritsu?" he doesn't move from the spot and he hopes that Ritsu won't either.
"I love you."
The fingers stop drawing for a second and instead grasp his shirt. He could feel Ritsu's breath hitching.
"I love you, too," he finally answeres
Shou pulls Ritsu even closer. "That's...that's good."
"Of course I love you, Shou."
Shou laughs a little at that. 'Of course'. Like he couldn't even imagine not loving him. Shou feels the same way about Ritsu, no questions asked.
"Okay, you're my boyfriend now," Shou decides.
"Or should I call you fiancé already? No, no, I only have a green plastic ring and you said that you don't like green. What if I find a blue one?"
"What? Shou, we're thirteen, we're not allowed to marry yet-"
"Duh, that's why you're my fiancé! I can't call you my husband yet!" he slightly pulls away, so he's able to see Ritsu's red face.
"You...how can you say that with a straight face?!"
"Hehe, what else am I supposed to do when I'm telling the truth?" he snatches one of Ritsu's hands and presses a small kiss against his knuckles.
The flustered face Ritsu pulls after that is enough to make him laugh whole-heartedly.