He ran his fingers through the fur, occasionally catching on small burrs or bits of sap. Lightning was a rather sad looking dog. He was supposed to be a pedigree Shiba Inu, but right now he was matted and timid. His owner, a petite older woman called Nakamura, had brought Lightning in to Spirits and Such to remove a curse.
The breeder had sold the dog to the woman for cheap, claiming that the beast was doomed to never win a show. Lightning was too ill-mannered, too unrefined for competition. Nakamura hoped that Reigen could work a miracle and make the dog presentable.
Honestly, in Reigen’s opinion, the poor thing wasn’t cursed, just gross. He didn’t think the breeder was respectable at all if the way the dog had initially shied from his touch was any indication. Well, Lightning was in Reigen’s care for the moment and he would do his best.
Reigen’s hands moved up to the dog’s face, cradling it in his palms. Orange and white fur smushed together forming fat, full cheeks. “Who needs a bath? You do, Stinky-chan!” He dipped his forehead down, touching the top of the pooch’s head. “Who’s stinkies? So stinkies,” he cooed.
A pink tongue lolled out of Lightning’s mouth; his beady eyes unafraid. Yeah, Reigen was already making some progress. He heard the familiar click of a camera phone going off.
Reigen glanced over his shoulder to see Tome aiming her phone and watching him with a bored expression. “Are we going out on a job or pet-sitting all day?” she asked.
“This is a job, Tome,” Reigen reminded her, taking to his feet. “And the first step is getting Lightning a bath.”
He glanced down at the dog, face serious even if his voice wasn’t. “Do you want a bath? Do you want a bath?”
The dog’s tagged waggled back and forth, a little uncertain. Reigen took this as a sign. He waved his arm dramatically. “To the groomers!”
Lightning was a dream to walk, he stayed right by Reigen’s side as he led his merry crew to the dog groomers. When other dogs barked, he ignored them. Reigen wasn’t sure if this was Lightning’s normal behavior or he was still being timid; only time would tell.
Reigen felt a bump at his elbow. “He’s not tugging at all,” Serizawa said once he got Reigen’s attention.
“Right?” Reigen said, “from what Nakamura said I had expected a terror, but Lightning’s a good boy.”
The dog actually seemed to strut a little at the praise. The walk to the groomers wasn’t a far one and luckily, they were able to get Lightning in right away.
While waiting at the groomers, Serizawa got a message for a job nearby. “Do you mind if I go?” he asked Reigen.
Reigen waved him off, never taking his eyes off his magazine. “I can wait here by myself if you want to take Tome.”
The teenager perked up at the offer. “Yes!” She grasped onto Serizawa’s arm. “Let’s go, let’s go.”
Serizawa shook his head at the girl’s antics. Once outside, Tome released Serizawa. “Did you see how Reigen was with that dog?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s so goofy.”
The ESPer raised an eyebrow. “And?”
She was taken aback by the response. “It’s just uh—” Tome cleared her throat. “He doesn’t normally act like that.”
“Right,” Serizawa said, his voice sage. “It’s nice.”
The teenager grew quiet, letting Serizawa’s words settle over her. After a while she admitted, “I guess it is.”
They met up with Reigen back at the office after the job. At his side was a freshly groomed Lightning, looking pleased as punch with himself. The dog’s fur shone under the office lights, his tail was puffy and regal. He knew that he was, in fact, a very good boy.
“I’ve been working on some basic clicker training,” Reigen said. He clicked the clicker and gave Lightning a treat.
“He didn’t do anything,” Tome said.
“I’m getting him used to the association,” Reigen said. He walked to the other side of the room, turning his back to Lightning and repeated the click. Lightning received another treat.
Serizawa slowly nodded. “I see, you want to cue him to the click.”
Reigen tapped the side of his head. “Exactly.”
“Are you just going to stuff his face?” Tome teased.
“No,” Reigen said. He reached out to scratch Lightning’s head. “He’ll get more intensive training but that’s later. Now,” he grabbed a squeaky bone-shaped toy, “it’s play time.”
Lightning’s whole demeanor changed. Back arched, butt in the air, he wriggled like he was about to explode. Reigen tossed the bone and it was all over. Lightning pounced, teeth sinking into the rubber. A terrible eruption of squeaks and squeals filled the office.
Tome’s eye twitched at the noise. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “I’ve got homework to do.”
“Okay,” Reigen muttered, barely paying attention.
Serizawa chuckled under his breath. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good luck,” Tome said and exited the scene.
“Do you want me to take him home?” Serizawa asked. “I’ve got a little more room at my place.”
Reigen knew this to be true from the nights he had stayed over. “I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
“Well, I thought you’d be coming too,” Serizawa teased.
Reigen gave him a sly smile. “I see how it is, a weeknight sleepover,” he said. “I’ll pick up some things after work and we’ll come by.”
Reigen and Lightning stayed for more than just one night. It was three straight days of clicker training, ear tugging, full body scratches, belly rubs and playtime interrupted with the occasional exorcism or massage. Lightning was growing adjusted to being handled, a must for a show dog. He also seemed to be a much happier than when he came in.
Each new trick learned elicited delight from Reigen and a small knowing smile from Serizawa. The older man watched as Reigen trained Lightning, giving the dog much needed attention. He had never seen Reigen so cheery. On occasion, he would take pictures on his phone to remind himself that Reigen could smile that way. Only one thing concerned Serizawa, how Reigen was going to take it when Lightning left.
It was evident even to Tome that the dog was growing as attached to Reigen as Reigen was to Lightning. Parting would be devastating to them both. In another story, Lightning would have been gifted to Reigen as a reward for his hard work and dedication but there was too much money and too much breeding at stake. He was a show dog, destined for the ring.
Lightning returned to Nakamura; a woman relieved at the changes in her charge. She eagerly took to Reigen’s suggestion at clicker training. “He seems to like it,” she said. Nakamura knew that a happy dog was a cooperative dog.
“He’s going to be a champion Nakamura-san,” Reigen reassured her.
“Someday.” She looped the leash around Lightning’s neck. “I can’t thank you enough, Reigen-sensei.”
The blonde’s face held an expression Serizawa had seen time and time again, a pleasant façade reserved for all of their customers. “It was all in a day’s work.” Once Lightning and Nakamura were out the door, Reigen’s face slipped, his lips thinned, his eyes and shoulders drooped.
“Are you going to be okay?” Serizawa asked.
“Sure,” Reigen said, voice small, “it’s just a dog.” He sighed. “I don’t have room anyway.”
Serizawa didn’t either. Just a few days crammed in with Reigen and Lightning told him that. Still, it had been nice to pretend, if only for a little while. He threw an arm across Reigen’s shoulder, drawing him in for a quick hug.
“I don’t have room either,” Serizawa said, kissing Reigen’s temple, “but maybe someday we will.”
“We will,” Reigen repeated, the words rolling off his tongue. “Is this a sideways way of asking to move in together?”
Serizawa was cryptic. “Maybe.”
Reigen chuckled under his breath. “It’s at least something to look into.” And to look forward to. He might not have been able to keep Lightning, but he knew that there was another dog out there just for him. One that he and Serizawa could have together.