Reigen lived with the belief that everyone held an equal measurement of potential, psychic powers be damned. He believed that psychics were not above humanity; that they were not some “better form” of human, and rather, humans with only somewhat different capabilities. In fact, Reigen seemed to envy runners more than he envied psychics.
They come from entirely different worlds, Serizawa and Reigen. Serizawa doesn’t believe he could ever truly understand him.
Except it’s Reigen’s belief—the belief that all people are equal, that no one is more special than anyone else, that everyone is unique in their own way but in no way more important—that leads him to a perilous downfall.
And, in hindsight, Serizawa should have known.
Because Reigen sees everyone the same, but one. He sees everyone as having worth, as having importance, as being special, with one exception.
Serizawa is not used to exorcising spirits. In fact, Reigen probably has more experience than him. But with Shigeo so swamped with entrance exams right around the corner, it had to be Serizawa. Reigen told him he’d be fine. He’d even gone so far as to jokingly ask “What’s the worst that could happen?”
He has an answer now. An answer and clarity he wishes he didn’t have.
The spirits aren’t very strong, but there are a lot of them. Enough to have Serizawa overwhelmed within the moment they stepped down into the canyon. Spirits with varying strengths and weaknesses, with varying skillsets and tricks up their metaphorical sleeves.
Reigen has literal salt up his sleeves, which doesn’t do much of anything at all. But it does distract some of them while Serizawa takes them out, two by two, unable to exorcise more than that at a time. And a part of that is his fault. Or, rather, his nature. Because he wants to be careful. Because he isn’t used to this at all. Because he wants to make sure the spirits are thoroughly taken care of and can’t hurt anyone again.
There are too many spirits. Too many spirits and not enough exorcists to deal with them.
It was bound to happen. But Serizawa still couldn’t have predicted it actually would.
He’s just exorcised spirit number who’s-keeping-count, and is turning to look over his shoulder towards the shout of his name, but he’s bodyslammed before he can see anything.
His shoulder collides with the dirt and the air is knocked from his lungs. His throat closes in on him, but so do the spirits, and he forces himself into gear and swings an arm, exorcising the two nearest ones.
“Arataka,” he gasps, struggling to get his feet underneath him, “why did you–”
That was the worst case scenario.
That was the worst that could happen.
Because while Reigen was just as human as the rest of them, he was no psychic.
The rest of it happens in a blur, for a time. Not nearly for long enough, but for a time. Serizawa didn’t mean to, but his aura took the reins of the situation and tore through every spirit like a knife through butter.
And it somehow overrides his panic and knows what to do, too, because he presses hands over the gaping wound in Reigen’s side and his aura, trembling and scared, winds tendrils around it and seals it. Temporarily seals it, but seals it nonetheless.
The outburst upsets the sides of the canyon. He barely gets his barrier around them in time before it comes crumbling down, burying them beneath rocks and dirt and dust until no trace can be found.
And now they’re huddled together, occupying as little space as they can beneath the dome of the barrier. Serizawa has an arm wound tight around Reigen’s shoulders and lets him lean into his side and rest his head on his shoulder, because he’d been struggling to hold it up on his own. The front of his shirt is bloodied, with a giant tear in the side of it where the spirit caught him. If the spirit had been aiming for him, he’d probably be dead.
“I wish I could take you to a hospital,” Serizawa says quietly, a pit in his gut. “I don’t know how much blood you lost.”
“Prob’ly shouldn’t mess with it,” Reigen slurs, eyes barely open. His head is a dead weight against Serizawa’s shoulder, and his hands lay loosely threaded in his lap. “I dunno how… precarious it is up there. Don’t wanna risk… bringing down the rest…”
“What else do you suggest we do, then? We aren’t going to have oxygen forever, you don’t have service on your phone–”
“Someone’ll find us,” Reigen answers shortly, and something tells Serizawa that the promise is more than desperate delirium. Even if he is struggling to keep his eyes open. “Someone’ll find us, I know it…”
Serizawa bites his lip, but Reigen doesn’t have the strength for an argument and he doesn’t have the heart to push one.
So they sit, and Reigen breathes. He isn’t very awake, but he’s awake enough to know falling asleep is the last thing he should do. Just before Serizawa shakes him, Reigen has snapped himself awake all on his own, usually with a barely-audible reminder to himself not to fall asleep.
Time passes, and with each painstaking second, the gnawing hole in Serizawa’s stomach grows and continues growing. Reigen’s skin is a shade it shouldn’t be, a pasty color like old white paint. His breaths are measured, but never steady, nor even. He’s never looked more exhausted. Or drained.
The arm around him doesn’t feel like enough, and with minimal hesitation, Serizawa brings his opposite hand to settle over both of Reigen’s. His fingers are cold, and that’s not a good sign.
“… Are your hands really warm or did I just lose a lot of blood.”
Serizawa’s chest is tight. “You lost a lot of blood.”
“Ahhn, makes sense.”
Serizawa nods, but as Reigen’s head becomes more and more of a weight on his shoulder, his mind wanders elsewhere. Relives the previous hour once, then twice, before he squeezes his eyes shut in a sorry attempt to block it from his mind.
It doesn’t work.
He inhales, then swallows, then draws Reigen just a little closer. “You didn’t have to do that.”
Reigen doesn’t ask what he means. “Mmn, yeah,” he slurs, nodding weakly. “That is true.”
He doesn’t seem to get it. Serizawa struggles onward. “You should’ve just let it happen,” he says, voice somewhat sharper than he would have liked it to be. “The spirit wouldn’t have been able to do much of anything, definitely not something like—like this.”
“I knew that,” Reigen says, and his voice is sharp, too, out of nowhere, “but my body reacted on the off-chance that I’d be wrong. I didn’t really… have the chance to… think about it. Y’know. Before it happened.”
And Serizawa should have known, because that’s just how he is. He thinks things through, he can talk himself around just about anything, but when it comes to other people, he often acts before he thinks. Usually he gets away with it. Usually his impromptu plans work to his advantage.
But not always.
Serizawa decides to fight him on it later and instead asks, “How’s the pain?”
“Not as bad as it should be,” Reigen says. A pause. “… That… might not be a good thing.”
“It might be my aura,” Serizawa muses aloud. “I’ve never been good at healing wounds completely, but I’ve learned enough. You still need a hospital as soon as we’re out of here, though.”
“Mm, yeah.” Reigen cracks a weak smile, then smiles and leans into him again. “M’not sure home remedies are gonna be nearly enough this time.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so either.”
“But I’ll be fine.” Reigen shuts his eyes, not to sleep, but to rest. “Thanks for the… aura, stuff.
Serizawa manages a feeble but genuine smile in return. “Don’t mention it,” he says, and lets himself rest his cheek on the top of his head. “It’s the least I could do. Thank you.”
“Mm, for what?”
So much, really. So much Reigen doesn’t know. So much that it’d be hard to pin it down with words of any sort, of any magnitude. So much. Everything.
But that can be saved for later, too. When he has time to express it. For now, he shakes his head and murmurs, “Y’know, stuff,” and somehow, Reigen understands.
It’s Shigeo who finds them not too long after, calling their names and finally lifting the fallen rocks and debris with barely a flick of his wrist. He’s clearly distressed, and Serizawa only realizes now that it’d been the outburst of his aura that led him here, but he can explain that later too, now that he knows “later” will indeed come.
For now, they bring Reigen to the hospital.
Reigen sleeps more than anything else, once he's been admitted and taken care of. The doctors were in a frenzic state of panic for a while, because by the time Serizawa reached the hospital with Reigen tucked securely and close against his chest, the wound had torn itself open, regardless of Serizawa's aura, and was bleeding again.
Serizawa didn't want to let him go, didn't want to leave him in the hands of strangers at a time like this, when Reigen's breaths were shallow and he couldn't so much as lift his head. But he reminded himself that they, although strangers, were the only people now that could help him.
So he let them take Reigen away, and when they told him to wait, he didn't put up a fight.
Shigeo goes home before late, primarily because Serizawa told him to. Reigen would be alright, now. Serizawa promised that he'd look after Reigen and keep Shigeo updated should a new development arise. Shigeo begrudgingly agreed, thanked him, and now Serizawa is alone.
The doctors take Serizawa back at what has to be very early the next morning, after a long, agonizing night of sitting, wringing his hands together, and waiting for something to happen. The doctors explain on the way that Reigen is still weak, still in pain and still very hurt, but out of the woods.
And Reigen is exhausted, pale and unable to open his eyes more than a sliver, but he smiles when his eyes meet Serizawa's, and it's a smile that he can't help but return.
The doctors don't know when exactly they'll be discharging him, but they are hopeful. Say he's hopeful himself, that he's ready and raring to go, which is a good mentality to have. So long as he doesn't strain himself before he's ready.
"We might be able to release him within the next couple of weeks, granted his condition doesn't worsen," one of the doctors tell him when he inquires. "We're still keeping an eye out for infection, but I'd say it's unlikely for it to develop this late in the stage."
Serizawa drinks it in, nodding.
"That said, he can't be left alone for several weeks after discharge," the doctor goes on. "We stitched it up, but it'd be dangerous if it reopened."
"I can stay with him," Serizawa says without thinking. "I'll talk to him about it first."
The doctor nods, and the days in the hospital pass by slowly. Reigen is never very awake for any of it, though he noticeably perks up whenever Shigeo or the other kids visit. Serizawa doesn’t realize it at first, too caught in the light that springs into Reigen’s eyes whenever they visit, even if for a short time, but after the third or fourth visit, he begins to realize just what a toll it really takes on him. Just how much of that perkiness is just a front to keep them from worrying.
That isn’t to say he isn’t over the moon to see them, because he definitely is. But as far as outwardly expressing it goes, he’s doing it for their sake. To further push and attempt to prove his promise of being alright.
And of course Serizawa knows, and Reigen knows that he knows, because when the kids wave goodbye and the door shuts behind them, Reigen immediately shuts his eyes and leans back into the hospital bed, dragging in long, deep breaths. He’ll sleep for several hours afterward and won’t try maintaining the front until the next time they drop by to visit.
He’s even put up fronts for doctors and nurses before, pushing himself in the hopes that they’d discharge him sooner if he could somehow prove to be alright. They saw through it, of course, but in Serizawa’s case, there wasn’t anything to see through. Because when it’s just the two of them in the room, with nobody else, Reigen lets himself be vulnerable.
And Serizawa takes advantage of these moments.
"You still look pale," Serizawa says gently, scooting the chair just a little closer to the bedside. It’s evening, now; the kids (specifically Teru and Shigeo) had left mere moments ago at prompting by a doctor. "How do you feel?"
Reigen has had some time to recover by now, and he isn’t nearly as out of it as he usually is after a visitor, but he’s still out of it. Still exhausted. He hums under his breath and lifts an arm to drape over his eyes.
“M’not sure right now,” he rasps hoarsely. “Just… I dunno. Tired. Mainly tired.”
Serizawa nods. “Yeah, I’m sure. But,” He changes his tone, tries for a somewhat more optimistic one, “you don't look nearly as out of it as you did before. That’s good.”
“Mm, yeah,” Reigen murmurs back, nodding weakly. “I don’t feel as out of it, either.”
“Glad to hear it.” Serizawa waits a bit to see if he says anything else, and when he doesn’t, “Are you still in pain?”
Reigen draws in a deep breath, and it hitches in his chest about half-way through. He winces. “M… Moderately,” he responds quietly. “S’not so bad, though. They’ve got me pretty medicated.”
Serizawa nods. Reigen's fingers are still cold, and they probably will be for a while longer, but he's getting help, now. He'll be okay. And that's all that matters.
Serizawa wakes in the middle of the night with the distinct knowledge that something specific had woken him up.
He sits up immediately, blanket slipping from around his shoulders. It takes a moment longer than it should before he recognizes his surroundings. Reigen’s apartment, in the living room. He’d brought his own futon over here with the mindset of keeping an eye on Reigen, per doctor’s orders.
Reigen had been sleeping on the couch. But the couch is empty, now. Still warm, but empty.
There isn’t an answer--at least, not something he’d been meant to take as an answer--but he hears a slight rustle in the kitchen, something that would’ve flown completely over his head if he hadn’t been explicitly listening for it.
He gets his feet beneath him and rushes down the hall, until he finally turns the corner into the kitchen.
He hadn’t known what he expected to find, and he’d been prepared for the worst, but his heart still stammers and lurches at the sight of Reigen seated on the tiled floor with his back pressed flat against one of the lower cabinets, arm shielding his face. He’d left the kitchen lights off, but the moonlight streaming through the window over the sink illuminates just how pale he’d become. He’s almost as pale now as he’d been when first injured.
“Arataka--” Serizawa hurries over this time, keeping his voice low. He kneels on the tiles close to Reigen’s side and lets his hands hover by him anxiously, not quite sure what to do. “What are you doing up?” he gasps, voice only somewhat louder than a whisper. “You shouldn’t be stumbling around on your own, especially not in the dark.”
Reigen dodges the question, in a poorly veiled way. “Didn’t wanna wake you up with the light,” he mutters, dropping his arm back down to his side. His expression is tight, and the smile he cracks is tighter still. “Guess that was counterproductive, though, huh…”
Serizawa sees through it, though. Reigen can hide things fairly well, in a way that not many people could see through, but in this moment, Serizawa does. He sees through all of it.
With a long breath, he reaches out and lets his hand settle on Reigen’s shoulder. Reigen blinks at him.
“I’m staying with you for a reason,” Serizawa says, and he doesn’t mean to be harsh, really, he doesn’t, but he also really, really needs Reigen to get it. He needs Reigen to understand. “I want to help you through this. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Reigen averts his gaze, choosing to look instead at Serizawa’s hand on his shoulder. He blinks slowly, guiltily, and Serizawa’s chest burns.
Reigen lifts his head, just enough to allow Serizawa’s gaze to catch his and hold it. He takes a moment to think, squeezing Reigen’s shoulder. Against his better will, he finds himself breaking the eye contact, staring down into the space between them instead.
“You’ve… You’ve done so much for me,” Serizawa begins quietly. “Since the day we met, you always tried your best to be there for me. To--To understand. Even when you couldn’t, even though we come from different worlds, you tried your best. And you used what you found to help me as best you could.”
“So,” Serizawa interrupts, “that’s part of the reason why I want to do this. Why you--why you shouldn’t feel guilty for accepting my help. And… the other reason…” He takes a pause to catch his bearings, to think the words through one last time, “... is because you’re my friend. And because your life isn’t worthless, or meaningless. I’m… not entirely sure where I’d be, really. Without you. So, please… let me at least do this.”
He finally, finally gathers the courage to raise his head and meet Reigen’s eyes again. Reigen stares back at him, with no discernable expression at all.
Now it’s Reigen who turns away sharply, but he brings his hand up towards his face and digs the heel of it into his eyes, one at a time, with a hoarse, shaky laugh. “I don’t… know how to respond, to that.”
Serizawa smiles as a warmth blossoms in his chest. He squeezes Reigen’s shoulder again. “That’s alright. You don’t need to. As long as you remember it.”
Reigen chokes something of a laugh and shoves him, not hard enough to push him away but hard enough to make sure he really feels it. “Y-Ya damn sap,” he stammers, voice wobbly, but Serizawa can hear the smile in behind it, clear as day, and he laughs softly, too.
“I mean it,” he says amidst it. “Everything I just said, I meant it.”
“Sap,” Reigen says hoarsely again, only this time he bonks his head on Serizawa’s shoulder and leaves it there. “Literally the sappiest-- stop laughing, I’m serious-- Katsuya.”
“No you aren’t.”
Serizawa laughs, Reigen laughs, and that’s how they stay for what feels like hours after, until the laughter turns into stillness, and the warmth remains caught between them.
It’s only now that Serizawa comes to realize that they’re still indeed on the kitchen floor, and that there’s a reason why.
“Arataka, why were you up?”
“Oh.” Reigen leans back into the cabinet again, but he’s paler than before. If that was even possible. “I… forgot to take the pain meds with dinner.”
Serizawa’s eyes blow wide. “Oh--oh--” He’s already on his feet, crossing the floor in long strides until he reaches the spice cabinet, where they’ve been storing Reigen’s medications. “Why didn’t you say someth--have you been in pain all this time--”
“I’m sorry,” Reigen interrupts, which is probably a good thing, because Serizawa isn’t sure he would’ve been able to stop otherwise. “I’ll speak up about it next time. Promise.”
Serizawa has heard Reigen lie before. A lot, in fact. On more occasions than he could count. More times than he could count. But this isn’t one of those times.
He fills a cup with water and brings that and the pillbottle back to Reigen's side. "I'll hold you to that," he says, setting the cup down long enough to open the bottle. "Now, here, take this."
Reigen thanks him and does.
Serizawa offers to sit up with him until the pain meds kick in, which could be anywhere between fifteen minutes and a few hours. Reigen clearly doesn't want him to at first, but in the end, he lets him, and Serizawa is clearly but quietly elated.
The couch isn't nearly large enough to be able to comfortably fit both of them, so they end up on Serizawa's futon, close together and at peace. Reigen's breath wheezes more than Serizawa would have liked, but they're steady, now. Shaky, sometimes hissed when the wound is especially painful, but steady.
Just like before, Reigen's head finds itself against Serizawa's shoulder again, but not out of necessity this time. This time, it's more out of comfort. And Serizawa lets him, and returns it by wrapping an arm around his shoulders, too.
A stretch of calm, gentle silence comes and goes.
"Thank you," Reigen murmurs softly. "For… For what you said, earlier. That really--it--it meant a lot."
"Of course," Serizawa replies readily, smiling. "And, thank you, too. For who you are."
Reigen muffles another accusative but endearing "Sap" into Serizawa's shoulder, and Serizawa laughs.