Reigen Arataka put his phone down on the desk and turned his chair to look out the window. The last time Mob had failed to pick up three of his calls in a row was – well, that was behind them, anyway. But before that, he had been in real trouble, rescuing his brother from Claw.
“Hmmph, well. He still hasn’t learned to ask for help, has he? Fortunately, I pay attention to details.” He pulled on his coat and went to the door. “Having a good plan is the key. I’ll just go see – Ritsu?”
Mob’s brother was on the other side of the door, his hands clenched by his sides and tears on his face, and something in Reigen’s chest went numb. The boy took a breath, but instead of words, a choking sound left him, and one hand went up to cover his face.
“Okay, Ritsu, okay,” Reigen said, kneeling and putting his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “You have to tell me what’s going on, or how am I going to help, eh? Okay, okay.”
“He’s gone, nii-san’s gone. I think our parents – I think that they – He fell asleep at the dinner table last night, and it was weird, but when I woke up this morning he wasn’t anywhere and Mom didn’t care –”
Reigen blinked rapidly. “Hush now a minute while I think,” he said, and belatedly gave Ritsu a soothing smile. Maybe there’s an un-paranormal explanation. The simplest is often the truth.
“Did Mob use his powers yesterday?”
Ritsu gave one final hiccup and took his hand down from his face. He breathed deeply through his nose and sighed, then twitched away from Reigen’s hands. When Reigen recognized Ritsu’s usual disapproving frown, he smiled genuinely in encouragement. “There’s the Ritsu I know.”
“Never think that you know me,” Ritsu said, as coldly as he could with a stuffy nose.
“You got it. Now give me the facts. We’ll figure out what to do about your brother.”
Ritsu breathed deeply again. “I don’t think he used his powers – he doesn’t like to use them,” he added, like Reigen wouldn’t know. “And I would have felt it if he’d gone all out. That’s the only thing that makes him tired enough to fall asleep. And, he wasn’t tired. Before dinner I mean. Or even during dinner. Then he faceplanted in his food. I… I thought it was funny, but then he snored. Dad took him upstairs to his room, and I checked on him before I went to sleep. I thought… maybe his math test two days ago… but he wasn’t tired!”
Reigen frowned at the floor. “And then this morning?”
“I couldn’t find him anywhere, and he left everything in his room. House key, phone, ID. And Mom …” Ritsu bit his lip. While it was hard for Reigen to forget the boys were children, because they were so much shorter than him, rarely did he see Ritsu so afraid.
“What did she say?” he asked, and was surprised how angry his own voice sounded.
“I asked her whether she’d seen him go out, and she said he was going to spend some time with his friends from school. Then I asked her why he hadn’t taken his phone, and she said he must have forgotten it. Then I asked her why he hadn’t changed into fresh clothes, and she said he had, but she looked like she was lying to me. Why would she lie to me about this, Reigen-san?” The boy had tears in his eyes again. “So I checked his dirty laundry. The clothes he wore yesterday weren’t there. And then Mom caught me, and yelled at me for being weird and looking through my brother’s dirty clothes, and she… she…” He put a hand to his cheek, staring at nothing. “She hit me.” He blinked a couple of times while Reigen’s stomach clenched painfully. “She said she was tired of our mind tricks, and started yelling, she was so scary,” he was crying again, “and I just ran, I ran as fast as I could here. I don’t even know why. What can you do?”
“Ritsu,” Reigen said, but didn’t reach out to comfort him – Ritsu’s back was too stiff. Instead, he got up off his knees (with an embarrassing amount of creaking and cringing which he hoped Ritsu, through his tears, did not witness) and gestured for him to come inside. “I’m going to make some tea. Do you want any?”
Ritsu forced himself under control again, but nodded.
“Take a seat, get comfortable. I’ll make tea. And a plan.” He sighed. “We’re going to need a little help.” He filled the kettle, got out two cups, and looked around the room. “Where the hell is Dimple?”
Ritsu looked up and around. “Dimple?” he called tentatively.
“He usually shows up as soon as I’ve said I need help,” Reigen muttered.
But the boy on the couch perked up. “Maybe he’s with nii-san!” Reigen paused, then nodded.
“That would be lucky for us, if he can come back and tell us where Mob is.” The kettle burbled, and he poured the tea. “In the meantime, I’m going to tell you what I think has happened, and you can fill me in on any details I'm missing. Okay?”
Ritsu sipped his tea. “This is good,” he said quietly. “Thank you.”
“Ah,” Reigen said, and looked out the window to inhibit any delighted expression. “It’s nothing.”
The simplest explanation he could come up with, or rather, the easiest explanation, was that Mob had been tired, perhaps repressed his exhaustion, and then got up early to wander around the city due to some external psychic disturbance. He was perhaps putting some ghosts to rest, with Dimple for company, and he’d be back home later. Unfortunately, he was not really a forgetful sort of person, and would not have left the house without his key or phone. The easiest explanation also didn’t effectively handle Kageyama-san’s outburst or lie about the clothes.
Perhaps Mob’s powers make her uncomfortable. Perhaps she saw him leave so early in the morning, talking to Dimple about exorcising demons, and it set her on edge. Perhaps she was tired. Perhaps even now she felt bad for striking out at her youngest son, and hadn’t had a chance to apologize before he left.
But Reigen remembered his brief conversations with Mob about his powers and his parents, and his mind put together a more complicated explanation to fit all the facts as well as his intuition. It was an ugly thought, and Reigen decided immediately not to burden Ritsu with it. But he didn’t think it was within his ability to convince Ritsu that his parents were entirely innocent, either…
“What I think,” he began ponderously, “is that someone has taken your brother, in order to use his power for themselves. They drugged Mob by putting something in his food for dinner last night. And then, as he slept, they stole him from his room. Hence, he did not change his clothes.” So far so good.
Ritsu’s eyes were dark. “But –”
“Why was only Mob’s food poisoned, you ask?” Reigen said with a flourish of his fingers. “That is a simple matter. These people who stole your brother are controlling your parents’ minds, and it is for that reason that only Mob’s plate had the sleeping drug!” He grinned fiercely at Ritsu, hoping the twist would stick. It could be true, after all. “So all we need to do now is discover the identity of the people who brainwashed your parents to drug and kidnap your brother – and they will lead us to him! Hah!”
Ritsu stared at him blankly. It was a different kind of blankness than the blankness he got from Mob: Ritsu was striving very hard not to give Reigen a reaction. Then the boy’s eyes dropped to the floor. “Don’t you think it’s more likely that my mother, who has feared nii-san even longer than I have, would have done this purposefully to get rid of him and the complication she thinks he brings to her life?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“Do you think she would, Ritsu?” said Reigen softly. “Your own mother?”
Ritsu flushed and clenched his fists. “After… after I got hurt all those years ago, she would pet my hair and tell me that when I felt threatened by him, I could just tell her and she’d make it go away. And that if she wasn’t around, I should call the police. I don’t think she loves him. And now that I can bend spoons too, she doesn’t hug me.” He wrapped his arms around himself, glaring at the floor. “Thinking about it now, I think she hasn’t hugged him … in a long time.” He exhaled. “She was so angry this morning…”
Ritsu’s phone buzzed.
“It’s my mom,” he said, staring at the screen.
He didn’t answer it, and they both waited for it to finish ringing and go to voicemail.
“What if she’s going to do the same thing to me?” the boy whispered.
“That’s it,” Reigen said with finality. “Time to go.” He stood and took Ritsu’s empty teacup from him.
“What? Where?” A startled pause. “Do you know where nii-san is?”
“No, but I’m going to get some psychic help. That’s our best bet for finding your brother, and since Dimple’s not around, we’ve gotta branch out a bit. Contact some friends.”
“Like who?” Ritsu said, trying to keep up with him as he strode around the office, pulling his coat back on and finding his phone and keys still in its pockets.
“Hanazawa Teruki, from Black Vinegar Mid. And, if we can find him, your pal Suzuki Shou. If we need to, we can get an audience with Shoudou-san. Probably.” He gritted his teeth. But to find Mob… before anything worse happened… he could probably do anything, including go see that backstabbing lowlife and ask for his help.
“Hanazawa… and Shou,” Ritsu said, with – was that wonder in his voice? “Either they can help us find him, or, if they’ve been taken too… maybe…”
Ahah yes, then maybe your mother isn’t a culprit at all. Reigen forced another smile. “In any case, it’s time for some recon. Can you contact Shou-kun? I’ve got Hanazawa’s number. We’ll meet them at X Park at noon.”
Ritsu hurried along behind him with his eyes glued to his phone, typing quickly, as they zipped down the sidewalk heading east. “Noon?” he asked distantly after a moment. “That’s hours from now.”
“It’s going to take us all a bit of time to get there.”
Ritsu thought about this for two seconds. “Where are we going?” They turned a corner and crossed the empty street at a diagonal. “Back home?!” Ritsu answered himself, and the note of panic made Reigen slow down, and then stop. He turned to Ritsu and again lowered himself to the boy’s height, and he did reach out and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You won’t be going in with me. In order to get more information, I’m going to pose as a government official looking for your brother, but I don’t want you there, like you brought me there. It’ll throw off the atmosphere.”
“You’re so full of shit!” Ritsu yelled, tearing away from him. “You think you’ll get away with that? You think you can con anybody, just because my brother believes everything you say?”
Reigen was startled enough that he couldn’t answer for a second. “Ritsu.” What part of this did he need to say first? “Ritsu, listen to me, very carefully. It has been a long time since I thought I could get anything past your brother, and it may be that I never could.” He sees, briefly, Mob’s hopeful eyes all those years ago at their first meeting. He had been so small. “Mob knows … exactly who I am. And so do you.” He sighed. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not good at what I do. People hear what they want to hear, and as long as you set the atmosphere, they’ll go along with whatever story you tell them.” He sighed again and ran a hand through his hair. “This is my ability, you know? I think it’s why, even after he saw through me, your brother still hangs around me.”
“Because you lie to people? You really do think nii-san is stupid.”
“Because I use it to help,” Reigen said quietly.
“You use it to make money.”
“Well, a man’s gotta eat.”
Reigen grunted and stood. “You came to me, didn’t you? For help.”
Ritsu didn’t seem to have an answer for that. “What do you think they’ll tell you?”
“They don’t have to tell me anything. I want to see if Dimple’s there, and I’ll get a look around Mob’s room. And then we’ll meet Hanazawa and Shou, and we’ll find Mob, and we’ll rescue him, if he needs it.” He gave Ritsu another encouraging smile.
“I’m sorry,” Ritsu said, bitterly. “I know nii-san trusts you. I just don’t know why.”
“Hmm,” Reigen said. “I think it’s ’cause I trust him. Lucky for me, that’s enough.”
The door opened, and a haggard woman stared out from a darkened hallway. “Kageyama-san,” Reigen said, bowing. “My name is Furugawa Takeda, from the Investigative Bureau on Paranormal Activity. I’ve come to ask some questions about your eldest son. Do you have a moment?”
She gasped, then quickly widened the doorway and stepped aside for him to enter. “Has he given you much trouble, Furugawa-kun?” she asked as he passed her.
His heartbeat did something funny.
“Ah,” he said calmly. “Yes,” he said, though his voice cracked. “And no,” he finished, more or less in control. He took a deep breath through his nose. “He’s been fairly c-cooperative, though the energy readings we’re getting are… quite high.”
What the hell.
What. The. Hell.
“You don’t have to be nervous, our youngest son is not here right now. We are safe from them,” she reassured, putting a hand on his arm. He did not pull away, though it was a near thing.
“Yes, I was concerned about how open you were on the topic. Though I suppose, since you contacted us –” he paused, waiting for her to correct him.
“—that … uh, that you are simply quite clear-minded about this whole business.”
“We are so grateful for your help, Furugawa-kun,” she said as they walked into the kitchen. “He has been a curse in this house since his birth, and I was at my wits’ end.”
“F-fourteen years with one like him must have been d-difficult.” Reigen wanted to throw up. He had not prepared for this. This lie had worked too well.
Ritsu… How was going to tell him this truth? That’s a problem for later, Arataka, he thought, shoving the information into a file-drawer in his mind and slamming it closed.
The boys’ mother was still talking, mentioning the spoon-bending and the books falling from shelves and their car levitating while they were on the road. “I feared for my life, I really did,” she said, pressing on his arm again, her eyes damp. He gave her a sympathetic nod. “And then, when he nearly killed our Ritsu, you know – that’s when we first asked for help from the government. I am curious, though, what took you all so long to institutionalize him? I would have thought – ”
“Paperwork,” Reigen said tersely. “Actually, ma’am, I’m here to search his room.”
She was surprised by this. “What for? Sir.”
He waved a hand. “I’m sure you understand: procedure, ma’am. We need to go through his belongings for any psychic residues.”
“Residues?” She looked horrified. “You mean he could still affect our lives, from so far away?!”
“Well…” Think, Arataka, think! How can you use this? “He isn’t that far away.”
“Temura-kun said he was taken to the capital!” She was scary, when her terror got the better of her. “You said we’d be safe!”
“Kageyama-san, please calm yourself,” he said in his best massage-therapist voice. “He is, of course, in our facility in the capital. But to a person like your son, that’s actually hardly –”
“Don’t call him that!” she hissed, then put a hand over her mouth and turned away. As Reigen waited for the red haze to clear from his vision, he heard her mutter, “I thought the capital would be far enough away, but he’s too much. He’s too much of a monster to—”
“Don’t—” he said before he could stop himself.
There was an uncomfortable pause, and Reigen thought he might strike her. Find the character again, Arataka. Mob needs you to do this right.
“Don’t. Burden yourself. Worrying about him. And his. Powers,” he managed, slowly and deliberately, and she turned back to him, hope in her eyes. “That’s why I'm here, after all. To put an end to this.” He couldn’t smile at her, but she found reassurance in his cool expression, and led him upstairs to Mob’s room.
There was nothing there. She left him alone after a few moments of stoic silence as he scanned the walls, but Dimple did not appear to him. He noticed that the laundry hamper had been emptied. The bed was sloppily made – no, it had been made neatly, but then someone had slept on top of the blanket.
He checked the window ledge, but couldn’t see any marks of a break-in. Unlikely, anyway. The mother would have let them in through the front door.
He stopped by the little desk. A notebook from school was perfectly aligned with the front of the desk. A single pen lay atop it, and Reigen took it. There was also, curiously, a trio of stones toward the back on the right, and he took those as well.
Then he went back downstairs and asked Kageyama-san for Mob’s phone and ID. “They have the most link to him, since he had them with him all the time.” She acquiesced immediately and finally, he bid her goodbye and left the house.
He met Ritsu at X Park just before noon. He was sitting idly on a swing.
“Did you find anything?” the boy asked.
I, Reigen Arataka, do not know what to say. Mark the day.
“Yes, and no.”
Do I lie to him? Can I?
He can’t go back to that house.
“What does that mean?”
He’s still so small.
He can handle it.
Mob will hate me for telling him.
God, I need a drink.
Then, more from memory than consciousness, his own words came back to him: It’s okay to run away.
“It means I didn’t get any leads, but I did get his phone and a couple of things from his room.” Reigen emptied his pockets into Ritsu’s hands. “Maybe you can sense something?”
Ritsu tapped the pen on his ear and temple, staring into the middle distance. Then he rolled the rocks around in his fingers. Finally he took the phone and rapidly typed a passcode to open the home screen.
“You know Mob’s passcode?”
Ritsu shrugged. “He doesn’t mind.”
Reigen’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he got it out to check his messages while Ritsu scrolled through Mob’s recent calls and texts. Reigen had a message from Hanazawa that he was on his way to their location, and felt relieved.
“The pen is just a pen,” Ritsu was telling him. “He hadn’t made a call or message since yesterday morning, when I was with him.” Reigen tilted his head expectantly, and Ritsu met his eyes. “Yes, the rocks are… weird. I didn’t know he had them.”
“What does weird mean?”
“They feel…” Ritsu frowned, his eyes narrowing, and he stared at the stones in his palm. “They feel dead.”
Reigen blinked. “They’re rocks.”
“Yeah… it’s kind of like…” Ritsu struggled. “Like they’re not there, psychically.”
Reigen blinked again. “They’re rocks. Are you telling me rocks are psychic?”
“N-no…” Ritsu said, but he was obviously uncertain. “I think…”
He tipped his hand, and the rocks fell into the sandy dirt at their feet.
“Ah,” said Ritsu. “Yeah.”
“I’m still lost.”
Ritsu rolled his eyes. “They fell.”
“They weren’t supposed to. I was reaching for them, trying to hold them with my power. But they fell anyway. It was like they didn’t exist in the same universe as my power. They just phased through each other.” Ritsu bent down and picked them up. “Where did nii-san get them?”
“He made them,” said Hanazawa Teruki, and Reigen and Ritsu whirled around to see him walking through the park gate, his hair windswept and his hands in his pockets. “Kageyama-san showed me the first one a week ago. There are three now?” He peered into Ritsu’s hands. “Interesting.”
“But why would he make these?” Reigen asked.
Hanazawa pursed his lips. “Surely you’re aware of how much he dislikes his power?”
Ritsu looked as surprised as Reigen felt. “I know nii-san doesn’t like using his power, but what would be the point of… oh. You think he could?” He stared at Hanazawa in amazement, and Reigen was lost.
Hanazawa nodded without breaking eye contact with Ritsu. “I think he next wants to try making his house and his school psychically invisible. He doesn’t want a repeat of what happened at my school, I think.”
“He can really do that?” Ritsu breathed. “I’ve never heard of anyone doing such a thing.”
“Me neither. Your brother’s pretty crazy,” said a voice above them, and they looked up to see Suzuki Shou floating on his back a meter over their heads.
Reigen suddenly had a thought. “Can he maintain this when he’s unconscious?” he asked Hanazawa, pointing to the rocks. The boy’s brow creased.
“I don’t think so.” His eyebrows went up, and, at the same time as Ritsu, he said, “He’s awake!”
“Do we know any telepaths?” Shou asked, touching down.
“None that could help. But I think I can sense him,” Hanazawa said.
“Well, I can’t,” said Ritsu sulkily, and Hanazawa startled. Then he threw a reassuring arm over Ritsu’s shoulders, and the younger boy stiffened and glared at the ground.
“I can’t either right now. But when you’re close, you can tell his aura, can’t you? You’re brothers, after all. That’s all I meant, brother-kun,” Hanazawa said calmly and kindly, and Reigen mentally applauded him, because Ritsu was relaxing his posture and nodding.
Shou looked thoughtful. “Hey Ritsu, maybe we could set up a relay sensing system for his aura, to extend the range of our powers?” And this was Reigen’s chance. As Ritsu and Shou put their heads together and began to draw in the dirt, he tapped Hanazawa’s shoulder and drew him a little away.
“I visited the Kageyamas, which is where I found the stones and Mob’s phone,” he whispered. “I also discovered that he’s being held by the government in the capital, but Ritsu can’t know I know.”
Reigen decided Hanazawa would help him protect Mob’s little brother; in fact, he was sure of it. “It was their mother who facilitated Mob’s disappearance. I don’t want him to know.”
Hanazawa’s eyes went very wide, and Reigen almost tried to backtrack – he was only a boy too, after all. A wind picked up around them. He put a hand on Hanazawa’s shoulder. Slowly, the wind eased, but Hanazawa was breathing very quickly. “Okay, we’re going to find him, Hana—”
“But he can’t go home,” the boy said, with conviction. “His brother shouldn’t either. Where will they go?”
Reigen huffed. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. We’ll deal with that once we’ve got Mob back.” He tapped his fingers over Hanazawa’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow at him. “And we will get him back, okay?”
Hanazawa nodded. Reigen thought, These boys are far too serious. It’s not just Mob. Perhaps seeing ghosts makes them more introspective?
“Why did you tell me?”
Reigen made a face. “I was hoping you could … ‘have’ the lead the capital, somehow? In a way that Ritsu would believe. But you’ve gone and told him you can’t sense Mob’s aura…”
Hanazawa was smiling slightly. “There’s a way to do this, Reigen-san.” And he moved back towards Shou and Ritsu, looking down at their work. “Yes, this looks good. Shall we each try to – oh no, I see. Well then, let’s do this! I’ll face north.”
North, of course, was the direction of the capital.
Ritsu asked, “Do you really think this will work? These arcs of power, they’re sketchy at best,” he said, sliding a pointed look at Shou, who shrugged and flung his drawing stick into the trees.
“Oh, well, we should be able to maintain power streams of this strength – their waveforms shouldn’t matter too much, once we get it going,” Hanazawa said blithely, while Reigen worried that he would give their game away. But Ritsu nodded and faced southwest, and Shou took the southeast corner. Reigen said, “Uh, should I step back?”
None of them answered him, but a wind picked up around them, and Reigen stepped back to keep dust out of his suit. The boys seemed to be very still despite the flapping of their clothes and hair. Hanazawa, after about 30 seconds of this, shouted and stumbled forward, covering his face with his hands. The wind died, and Ritsu and Shou wiped sweat from their faces before turning to Hanazawa.
“You’ve got him?” Ritsu rasped. Reigen wished he had a bottle of water.
Hanazawa lifted his face from his hands and stared at Reigen, then blinked at Shou and Ritsu. “It worked,” he said, a little too surprised.
“Duh,” said Shou. “Where is he?”
Hanazawa looked back at Reigen with wide eyes and nodded just a fraction. “The capital. His room is dark, and he’s hungry.”
Ritsu started walking toward the park gate, and Hanazawa and Shou were quicker to understand than Reigen was. “Hold on, Ritsu,” Shou said, jogging after him. “We should plan – ”
“We can plan on the train. If you’re coming with me, come now.”
“Ritsu,” said Reigen in his most pretentious adult voice, and to his shock the boy stopped and looked back at him.
“What?” Ritsu said. “Are you going to tell me to stay out of it? That this is an adult matter, let adults handle it? Save it. He’s my brother.”
Reigen actually had been about to tell him that as the adult, he was responsible for all of their safety. His eyes met Ritsu’s gaze head-on. He opened his mouth.
His room is dark, and he’s hungry.
Hanazawa had really seen Mob. Their minds had touched, if only for the briefest of moments. He glanced at the blond boy and saw that there were half-rings under his eyes that hadn’t been present when he had arrived at the park. And then he caught Reigen’s gaze and nodded, striding to where Ritsu still waited for an answer.
“You’re right,” Reigen told him, and caught up to all three boys. “You want to go by train?”
Hanazawa and Shou looked to Ritsu, who stared at Reigen. “You’re coming with us?”
“Of course. It’ll look suspicious for three boys to go all the way to the capital by themselves when they should have school tomorrow. You need me for cover,” Reigen advised smoothly, but Ritsu shook his head.
“You really care about him, don't you?”
That funny thing happened in Reigen’s chest again, and he worried it might be early signs of heart failure. He really should start eating better and exercising more. “Yes, I do,” he said.
The boy stared at his shoes, at the leaves by the sidewalk, at the sky, and then pressed a wrist to his eyes and sniffed. The others stayed quiet, though Reigen saw Hanazawa, with a sly grin and a pointed look, silently encourage Shou to comfort Ritsu. Shou flipped him off, and Ritsu put his hand down.
“It might actually be helpful to have you along,” he said, and smiled tentatively at Reigen, who felt light enter his throat and descend to lodge in his ribcage. “Since you have experience pretending to be a government agent, and all.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Reigen said, hoping he didn’t sound breathless. “We can take the C-Train to the capital. There’ll be one leaving every half hour from X Station.” They continued walking, and Hanazawa smirked when Shou threw an arm around Ritsu, regaling him with his most recent run-in with his father’s employees. Reigen lagged a little behind, watching the boys interact, making sure Hanazawa’s haunted look didn’t get worse, and also, yes, reveling in Ritsu’s acceptance of him.
It’s not every day you win a big battle, Arataka, he thought, and then he stuffed the self-satisfied feeling in a tiny box in the corner of his mind, to take out later for perusal.
The train was packed, and the two-hour trip became three with the many residential stops they made on the outskirts of the capital itself. All four of them had to stand. They weren’t very close to the city center station, however, when Hanazawa tugged on Reigen’s sleeve and motioned to the others to draw close. “I think we’re getting further away,” he said, watching Ritsu, who pursed his lips, closed his eyes, and nodded quickly.
Shou slid around them toward the door. “Okay, we’ll get off and go on foot. I’m pretty familiar with the city, just tell me where you feel him closest.”
“Hold on,” Reigen said. “Uh, h-hrm. I think we should check with the government. They have a psychic agency, you know, that you have to register with as an adult practitioner. So let’s head there.”
“How is that going to help us?” Ritsu asked, annoyed. “They’re just bureaucrats!”
“Aha, but –” Reigen scrambled, “but, the psychics there can tell us where to look! They’ve probably registered the people who took Mob, and the list of ESPers isn’t long – we’ll easily narrow it down –”
“Or we can just go where he is. We can sense him ourselves.” Ritsu was first off the train, and didn’t wait for the others as he headed for the exit, but then he whirled around just before the turnstile, his ire back in full force. “Going through all that would just be a waste of time!”
“Listen, we don't know what we’re dealing with,” Hanazawa said, and glanced at Reigen before continuing. “At the very least, the psychics might be able to back us up.”
Ritsu ground his teeth. “We haven’t needed back up before.”
Hanazawa bowed his head. “We always had Kageyama-kun, before.”
All four of them were quiet, and Shou scuffed his shoe on the concrete.
“Augh! Fine!” Ritsu finally said, turning on his heel and marching out of the station, and the others were quick to follow. Reigen whipped out his phone and googled ‘investigative bureau paranormal activity japan’, and discovered that the group was actually called the Federal ESP Agency. After a bit of scrolling and clicking through government-maintained user interfaces, he found the address and plugged it into his map.
They were walking along quiet city streets for only ten minutes before Ritsu tapped Hanazawa on the shoulder and said, “I think we’re getting closer?”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
They kept walking, and then Shou said, “D’you think the government has him?”
Ritsu tripped and caught himself. “Why… why would…”
Shou lifted his hands and tried to backtrack. “I mean, maybe, y’know, your brother’s so strong… and they wanted to…”
“Register him!” Reigen interjected, smiling.
Ritsu threw out a hand, grabbed Reigen’s arm, and spat, “Stop smiling. Stop trying to lie to me to protect me. I’m not nii-san, Reigen. I don't need you to manage my emotions, because I’m not him. So quit it.”
And that was it: Reigen lost his temper. “You think I manage his emotions?” he said in an even voice, but his smile was gone. “Your brother is perfectly capable of doing that himself these days. All I want is for him, and for you, to be happy.” He rolled his eyes skyward. “Fate seems to have other ideas, but I’m trying, Ritsu. I really am. And I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to do everything within my power to keep you two happy and safe.”
“Shut up!” Ritsu shouted, his fists shaking. “Tell me the truth!”
“Ritsu, he has—” Hanazawa tried.
“No,” Reigen said quietly, holding Ritsu’s gaze. “No I haven’t.”
Should have realized. Should have told him from the start.
This was always going to hurt.
“Your parents asked the government to take Mob away from them.”
Ritsu didn’t blink.
“So that’s where he is. He’s at a government facility in the capital. Which is why, as we get closer to it, you can sense him. He’s there.”
Ritsu’s eyes filled with tears, but his furious expression didn’t change.
“We’re going to get him out.”
The tears fell.
“And then I’m going to take you home.”
All three boys stiffened.
“You’re gonna what, now,” Shou asked, dangerous, but Reigen at once realized the misunderstanding.
“To my home. You can stay with me.”
“Really?” Mob said from the corner.
“Really,” Reigen said, his expression softening as he looked up and met his pupil’s eyes.
Mob smiled, and his stomach growled, and Hanazawa and Shou started yelling. Ritsu bolted past them to crush his brother in a hug. Shock swept Reigen as his conscious mind caught up with his emotions to remind him that Mob wasn’t supposed to be here – weren’t they on their way to save him?
“You came to save me, Ritsu?” Mob was saying, staggering a little under his little brother’s embrace, and then the brothers really did fall to their knees when Hanazawa and Shou piled on. Reigen, five meters away, also crashed onto his knees – quite painfully – with relief, and he had to put out one hand to remain upright. Mob was smiling faintly and blushing a little, with Hanazawa’s hand on his hair and Shou slapping his back, and Ritsu’s face buried in his neck. “You were all looking for me?”
“Where the hell were you?” Ritsu cried. “I didn’t kn-kn-know what to do to find you – and Mom and Dad were s-so weird—”
Reigen brushed water from his eyes just in time to see Mob’s hand on Ritsu’s back tighten into a fist. Then he took a very deep breath.
“Mom and Dad are afraid of us, Ritsu,” he said.
After several seconds of stillness, Ritsu nodded.
“I know you don’t like Shishou very much,” Mob continued calmly, and Ritsu shifted a little to glance back at Reigen, his expression unreadable. “But until we can find another place to stay, let’s stay together with him.”
“Finding an apartment for you shouldn’t be too difficult,” Hanazawa piped in. “Kageyama-kun is nearly a high-schooler now.”
Reigen started sweating anxiously. Having the boys live with him would put a strain on his finances, but he could handle it. Where would they get the money for an apartment by themselves? Ritsu would have to get a job, and Mob would … Mob would have to leave Spirits and Such for something that paid better. He was starting high school in the fall. 1000 yen a week wasn’t going to cut it anyway.
Mob was looking at him. His expression was dull again, no smile or blush, but somehow Reigen could tell he felt apprehensive.
“Is it really okay, Shishou—”
“Don’t ask stupid questions, Mob,” Reigen said very quickly, and much more harshly than he had wanted. He pushed himself up onto his feet, slapped the grit off his slacks, and slid his hands into his pockets like the capable adult he was. “Of course it’s okay. You can stay as long as you need.” His eyes flicked over to Ritsu and held there as he said, “I really mean it.”
“Okay,” Ritsu said, nodding and shrugging out of group hug. He held out a hand to Mob and lifted him to his feet. “That sounds good. Okay.”
“Really?!” Mob said at the same time as his stomach growled, very loudly.
“Lunchtime,” Hanazawa sang, swinging an arm around each brother’s shoulders and beaming at Reigen. “Ramen, on me, for a successful mission!”
“Wahoo!” whooped Shou, punching the air. “This way!”
Ritsu pulled out from under Hanazawa’s arm to catch up to Shou, and Mob leaned his head on Hanazawa’s shoulder very briefly in thanks. Reigen felt an irrepressible, extraordinarily sappy smile wend its way onto his face, and since none of the boys could see, he let it stay all the way to the ramen shop.
They climbed up on the barstools and Reigen found himself on the end, Hanazawa between him and Mob. It wasn’t too bad; he could see Mob just fine now that Hanazawa had lost that ridiculous wig. Once they’d put in their orders, Ritsu asked Mob furtively how he’d escaped.
“Oh, ah. The government ESPers are pretty weak, I guess. I just hid from them and made a lot of holes in the walls to try to find the exit.”
“Were you… Did they hurt you?” Hanazawa asked, trying to sound nonchalant and failing.
“No, not really. I woke up because I was hungry, and they didn’t feed me breakfast. The only interaction I had with them was when one of them came in this morning and asked me my name and age and address and… other stuff.”
They were all quiet as they were served their bowls. Before eating, Ritsu asked, “Other stuff?”
“Mm. Yeah.” Mob looked ever-so-slightly uncomfortable.
“About Mom and Dad?”
“Um. Yes, a bit.” He scooped his noodles, likely in the hope that Ritsu would stop talking and eat. Hanazawa and Shou took his lead.
“Reigen-san says they asked the government to take you away,” Ritsu said, without picking up his spoon or chopsticks. “Is that true?”
“Is it true, nii-san?” Ritsu repeated, glaring at his food.
Mob put down his chopsticks, turned a little in his seat, and pulled Ritsu into another hug. “Yes,” he answered, dull-voiced, against his brother’s hair.
A wind picked up, blowing at their napkins, and Reigen took a moment to figure out it was Ritsu and not Mob. “There, there, Ritsu,” Mob said, rubbing his brother’s back. “There, there.”
“Huh,” Shou said after a gulp of broth. “Hanazawa, you seem to be the only one here with decent parents.”
“Yeah right,” Hanazawa said with a high laugh. “Mom’s too busy working to notice anything I do, and Dad left three years ago, right after he found out about my powers. That’s why I already live in an apartment. I was already taking care of myself – this way I don’t also have to follow her stupid rules.”
“You have an apartment?” Ritsu asked. “But… you would’ve only been twelve years old!”
“Mom’s in real estate. It wasn’t too hard for me, back then, to convince some of her goons to let me sign a lease.”
Reigen had already set down his utensils in preparation to say something infinitely ridiculous, so he hesitated, and then picked up his water glass and drank instead. Only Mob, it seemed, noticed this.
You don’t have room for four boys in your apartment, Arataka. Hanazawa and Shou are making ends meet. Mob and Ritsu have no one and nothing right now. Focus.
They finished their ramen and caught a late afternoon train back to Seasoning City. Hanazawa and Shou both hung around helping the brothers pack some belongings from their parents’ house into bags and levitate them out the window while Reigen again played the part of the government agent to distract the adults. He fed them a lie that Ritsu had been caught too, and that both boys would be out of their hair for the foreseeable future.
The mother, surprisingly, burst into tears at this news, and her husband put his arms around her to comfort her. “Where did we go so wrong with them?” she wailed. “What did I ever do to deserve this as a mother?”
Reigen was very happy to leave them.
They walked to his apartment with the luggage floating alongside. Mob had had to go back twice, having forgotten his toothbrush the first time and his spare gym clothes the second time. Both times he returned looking even more grim, and the atmosphere of the group took a serious downturn as they drew closer to Reigen’s apartment. Hanazawa and Shou did their best to lift spirits, by commenting on how many cheap, good restaurants were in this part of town, and how much closer they were to both the middle school and the high school. It wasn’t until Shou teasingly mentioned how awesome it would be to hang out with Reigen-sama on the weekends that the mood lightened, when Ritsu twitched and growled, sending Mob into a fit of giggles. Reigen couldn’t even get mad, then.
They got the bags inside and Hanazawa and Shou said goodnight and left. Reigen shuffled things around in his spare bedroom, laying out the futon and tidying in small ways. He didn’t use the room except when his mother was visiting, so thankfully there wasn’t much to do. The boys lined their bags up along the walls of the room and looked down at the futon.
“Well, I’m on the couch. Mob, you’re in my room – unless you want it, Ritsu –”
“Wait, what?” both boys asked at the same time.
He pretended not to understand, hoping they could take the hint and accept the offer. “Today was pretty exhausting, wouldn’t you say? So I'm gonna hit the sack—”
“Shishou, I will sleep on the couch—”
“No, no, you absolutely will not, Mob.” He sighed. “Tomorrow you have to go to school, and that couch is too lumpy for a boy still growing.”
“But Shishou, tomorrow you have to work too—”
“Which, as an adult, I am perfectly capable of doing after a night of sleeping on a couch. Now, if you want to pull my futon in here to sleep with your brother, we can certainly –”
Reigen put his hand on his pupil’s shoulder, and noted that Ritsu had withdrawn from them and was staring at the floor with wide eyes. “No back-talk, young man,” he said, with a tiny, teasing smile. “It’s just for one night. We’ll pick up another futon at a store tomorrow, and you can set it up wherever you please.”
Mob bit his lip, but then his face relaxed, and he turned to look at Ritsu. “Okay with you if I sleep in here too?”
Ritsu looked very startled and blinked at Mob and then at Reigen. “I’d like that,” he eventually said, weakly. “Reigen-san…”
Ritsu turned to him, his face frozen and his eyes unable to meet his, and then he bowed, very low.
“Oi, whoa, kid—”
“Thank you very much!” Ritsu said. “Th-thank you. Thank you for being a good person, as nii-san always said you were. You don’t know us, you aren’t related to us, but you’d do all this for us anyway. I… thank you. Thank you.”
Reigen frowned, while Mob smiled serenely.
“It’s just obvious,” he said finally, and Ritsu looked up. “You say we’re not related, but you’re Mob’s brother. And I may not know you very well, but now… I like to think…” His voice cracked and he tried to clear his throat. “I like to think I know Mob, and Mob knows me, and – well. What I said before is still true. And if I don’t help you, where would you go? So you see, it’s obvious, really. There’s no other choice for me.”
Ritsu slowly unbent and then took the two steps toward Reigen, and then… very tentatively… he hugged him. It was brief. Reigen had only just enough time to get over his shock and put one hand on Ritsu’s back before the boy was stepping away again, shaking.
“Come help me move his futon, Ritsu,” said Mob, taking his brother’s hand. Ritsu nodded and swiped at his eyes.
Reigen went into his living room to stand by the couch and took a couple of deep, steadying breaths, his hand over his heart.
I should probably call Mama. She’s going to lose her mind when I tell her she’s got grandkids.