Title: A Teachable Moment
Fandom: To Aru Kagaku no Railgun | A Certain Scientific Railgun
Rating: U
Summary: The special lesson for the Level Upper students wasn't an official Academy City project, in any sense of the word.
Notes: Written for [personal profile] moontyger for Parallels 2013. (Also on AO3.) Spoilers for the full Level Upper Arc, and perhaps a tiny bit of the Big Spider Arc. (Imagine, if you will, that this scene takes place at some point around the same time as the Obligatory Swimsuit Episode.) Additional notes are at the end.


A Teachable Moment

The smell of grilling meat was thick in the air, and Komoe's mouth was watering at the thought of the first savoury bite of the beef tongue that was sizzling right before her eyes. She was the first one at the yakiniku stand, but the others wouldn't mind if she started on dinner without them. She was a little early, and they were seldom late -- well, one of them was seldom late. The other generally could be trusted to show up at some point, late or not. But as she watched the smoke rising from the grill, she heard the crunch of sneakers on gravel, and turned to see one of her two dinner companions walking up to the stand.

'Hi-hi!' she chirruped. 'You're just in time for the next round of orders.' She leaned back on her stool, craning her neck to try to peer down the road. 'Where's your partner?'

'Cleaning several cans of strawberry oden off herself and her uniform,' Yomikawa said, as she slid onto the adjacent stool. 'She'll be along in a bit.' She slumped forward onto the slab of wood that served as the bar, and gestured wearily at the vendor. 'Beer, mister, and make it the largest one you've got.'

The vendor grinned. The ladies were all good customers of his, and he knew it wouldn't be the last bottle he'd open for them this evening. 'One large beer, coming right up.'

Komoe wrinkled her nose. 'Should even I bother to ask?'

'Couple of knuckleheads thought it would be fun to empty out one of the vending machines and use the cans to take potshots at the security cameras outside their high school. We got there just in time for the grand finale: a half-dozen cans, blam-blam-blam.' Yomikawa pointed her thumb and index finger, forming a mock pistol, and jabbed it in the air like a sharpshooter picking off a series of targets. 'Even a Level 2 Aero Hand can get a halfway decent speed going, if he really tries. For once, Tessou being a slowpoke saved her from getting one right in the side of the head.'

'But not from getting its contents all over herself,' Komoe said.

'That's about the size of it -- oh, thanks.' Yomikawa took the full glass of beer that the vendor passed to her, and downed half of it at a single swallow. She set it down with a clunk and started to refill it from the bottle. 'By the time we'd booked 'em, she was starting to drip all over the floor. Smelled like a convenience store had exploded on her. I told her to take a shower and bag up her gear for the laundry before she joined us.'

'At least she'll be hungry enough to dig right in by the time she gets here.' Komoe beamed as, right on cue, the vendor slid the plate of grilled tongue in front of her. She picked up her chopsticks, but paused before she could select the first piece. 'It's actually not a bad thing that she'll be late. I wanted to talk to you about an idea I had earlier today.'

'Mm?' Yomikawa sounded interested, but distracted, as she took another gulp of beer. 'What's on your mind?'

'Order something first,' Komoe said. 'It's bad to think on an empty stomach.' And for precisely that reason, she turned her attention to her plate.

The tongue was delicious as usual, seared to a perfect chewiness. By the time she had finished her order, Yomikawa was just accepting a plate of chicken with scallions, and Komoe decided that she might as well place her next request before turning to more business-like matters. 'Mister, I'll take some pork belly, please!'

'You got it,' the man said cheerfully, and stopped just long enough to wipe the sweat from his forehead before he added a new helping of raw meat to the grill.

As the pork belly started to cook, Komoe opened her purse and took out a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it, ran an eye down the list that was printed on it to confirm that everything was in order, and folded it up again before she pushed it over to Yomikawa's end of the bar. 'Take a look at this list and tell me what you think.'

Yomikawa hastily finished the skewer she had been eating, then set her chopsticks aside and picked up the paper. She unfolded it and read it, squinting a little against the smoke from the grill and the dim lighting of the stand. Within moments, her squint had narrowed into the beginnings of a suspicious frown, and by the time she reached the bottom of the page it was almost a scowl. 'These are all Level Upper kids,' she said, once she had read through the list a second time.

'I want to hold a class with them,' Komoe said, keeping her tone nonchalant. 'Probably on Sunday, so it doesn't interfere with those who have Saturday morning school or clubs.'

'Class?' Yomikawa's eyebrows went up, though her frown stayed firmly in place. 'You mean like a makeup session?'

'Something like that. It'll be about as long as a normal classroom day -- there'll be a lunch break, but they'll have to stay through the whole thing.' Komoe let her feet dangle from the edge of the stool, jiggling one foot against the other. 'Though I like the sound of "special lesson" better. It sounds more like an extra class period, and less like a punishment.'

'Call it whatever you want, but I still don't get why you'd want to run one.' Yomikawa tapped the paper. 'Every student on this list is back at their old power levels now, as far as I know. And there's at least one here who's under disciplinary action for crimes committed after using the Level Upper.' Her tone had turned stern, slipping closer to what Komoe thought of as her command voice, which sounded equally at home on the school sports fields as it did in the Anti-Skill training grounds.

Komoe shrugged. 'Some of them used their new powers to commit crimes,' she said. 'Some of them didn't. Why is that?'

Yomikawa gave her a flat look. 'Are you seriously expecting me to answer that?'

'No. But we should be seriously thinking about it all the same.'

Yomikawa opened her mouth, then shut it again, and stared down at the single skewer of chicken that remained on her plate. In lieu of having anything better to say, she picked up her beer and sipped it. Her frown had turned pensive. Komoe, feeling that her point had been made, was happy to go back to her own meal, since the vendor had just served up the crispy pork belly she'd asked for. For a few minutes, they ate in silence, Yomikawa picking at her food and Komoe crunching away heartily beside her.

'So what do you plan to do in this lesson?' Yomikawa said at last, once she'd almost run out of beer to sip. 'Go over the usual Power Curriculum stuff?'

Komoe swallowed a final bite. 'These students wouldn't have needed the Level Upper if the Power Curriculum was helping them develop their Abilities naturally. I'll take the standard lecture materials and give them a few tweaks of my own.' She wiped her mouth with her napkin, and added, 'And of course, you'll do whatever you need to do for the afternoon session.'

Yomikawa had been listening, swirling the last half-inch of beer in her glass, but she almost let it slip from her fingers when Komoe's words sank in. 'Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Since when did I say I'd get involved in this?'

It wasn't an immediate refusal, which in Komoe's eyes meant that the battle was already half-won. 'I can lecture at them all I want, but just talking to them isn't going to help them understand their Personal Reality any better,' she said, matter-of-factly. 'There's a physical block in there as well as a mental block, this idea that they can't go beyond their existing limits to really develop their Abilities.'

'Some of them were obviously able to get past that physical block at some point, though,' Yomikawa pointed out, tapping the list again.

Komoe nodded. 'Exactly. They did it once, but they might not know how to repeat it. They need someone who can help them push their physical limits, not just their mental ones. So I need someone who specialises in, shall we say, the physical side of things.'

'I don't know anything about that, really.' For the first time, Yomikawa's voice lost some of its natural confidence. 'I mean, I help out with the System Scan tests, but most of my training's been about how to stop people from using their Abilities, not about how to encourage them.'

Komoe said nothing, but jiggled her foot a little faster, as if that was the only hint of impatience that she would allow herself to show.

It didn't take long for Yomikawa to figure out that her fellow teacher wasn't going to budge on this argument. Finally, she huffed out a resigned breath. 'All right, all right, what d'you want me to do? It'll probably take me a couple of days to get the right forms together, but I can -- '

'This isn't a formal experiment,' Komoe said, cutting her off. 'It's not part of the Power Curriculum setup. I'd very much like to avoid the usual methods if at all possible; that's half of what got these students into this mess.' More than half, if she were honest with herself, though it would be harder to explain that to Yomikawa. 'We're just there to encourage them to do their best.'

Yomikawa's eyes flickered down to the list again. When she looked back up, she seemed less perplexed, but more cautious. 'Why are you doing all of this?'

'Call it "professional curiosity".' Komoe's mouth twitched in a smile that in other circumstances might have been described as deliberately cutesy. 'Say what you will about Kiyama Harumi, but she did something that no one else had managed to do before, and did it on a grand scale. I don't want her hard work to completely go to waste.'

She had kept her tone light to match her smile, but levity had apparently been the wrong approach, because Yomikawa's face darkened.

'Hard work?! Like hell it was.' Yomikawa clenched the list in her hand, crumpling the paper, and her voice dropped into a furious hiss. 'She exploited these kids. Every single one of them. What happened with the Level Upper had nothing to do with wanting to improve their Abilities -- she all but admitted that she didn't give a damn about them!'

'So why not show them that there's someone around who will give a damn about them?' Komoe said, unfazed by Yomikawa's anger. Anger was good; it meant that she'd made the right decision in coming to Yomikawa with this idea in the first place. 'Who isn't just going to let them slip back under the radar again? If we let them go on thinking that the Level Upper was their only hope for improving their Abilities, they'll just give up.' Her own expression suddenly went grim, nothing cutesy at all about it now. 'Or worse, they'll get desperate enough to look for something that might be even more effective than the Level Upper -- and believe me, you and Anti-Skill do not want to deal with some of the possibilities I'm thinking of.'

This time, it was Yomikawa's turn to stare at her friend in silence. The teachers who volunteered for Anti-Skill knew quite a bit about the less-than-pleasant aspects of life in Academy City. The Level Upper had been a case in point, albeit an extreme case, and they both knew that Kiyama Harumi wasn't the only researcher in the city who might have a pet project that could spiral out of control. But Yomikawa wasn't tapped into the same networks of the Power Curriculum Program that Komoe was, and they'd been friends and colleagues for too long to take each other's concerns lightly. If Tsukuyomi Komoe was openly warning her about other potential problems within the system, it might well be fatal to ignore it.

'I want them to put their bad experiences to good use,' Komoe said after a long moment, all hints of joking gone from her voice. 'They might not be Level 5 material, but we can't ignore that there's more potential in them than anyone else thought possible. And we can't let them ignore that, either.'

'No, we can't,' Yomikawa agreed. A wistful look seemed to cross her face. 'And I think...I think I've got an idea that might work out.' She folded the list along the creases, smoothing out the wrinkles she had left on the paper. 'Can I keep this? I want to run a few of these names by the doctors who were treating the kids, just to make sure that they've all got clean bills of health.'

'Absolutely.' Komoe raised a hopeful eyebrow. 'So...does that mean that you're in?'

'If anyone comes after me for this,' Yomikawa said warningly, 'I'll tell them that you assured me that everything was strictly on the up-and-up.' The corner of her mouth quirked, in the barest touch of amusement. 'But yeah, sure, count me in.'

'Then this calls for celebrating!' Komoe waved her hand high in the air, even though there was no chance that the yakiniku vendor would fail to see her sitting right in front of him. 'A bottle of sweet potato shouchuu, mister, and a double order of tripe!'

Yomikawa groaned. 'If you're getting tripe, then I'll definitely need some of that shouchuu to cope with the smell.' A noise caught her attention, and she turned her head to look down the road. 'And speaking of odd smells -- hey, Tessou! Move your legs!'

The vendor had taken out fresh glasses and was opening the bottle by the time Tessou Tsuzuri finally jog-trotted up to the stand. 'So...so sorry I'm late!' she gasped, bowing perfunctorily before collapsing onto the vacant stool next to Yomikawa. Her already dismayed face fell even further when she saw the half-empty plates in front of Yomikawa and Komoe. 'Oh...oh, dear, are you finished already?'

'We're just starting, Tessou.' Yomikawa dumped the rest of her bottle of beer into her glass, and shoved it over next to Tessou's elbow. 'Get your order in, and finish the rest of this beer while you're at it. You're falling behind enough as it stands, and we've got shouchuu still to come.'

'What? Oh, right!' Still flustered, Tessou grabbed for the beer, and only just managed to avoid spilling it right down the front of her clean shirt. 'Uh...um...what have you already ordered? I guess I'll have the chicken thighs -- no, no maybe I should start with the wings -- or maybe -- '

Yomikawa drew a breath, preparing to give Tessou an earful for being so indecisive, but Komoe redirected the situation by flagrantly stealing the last skewer of chicken off of her friend's plate.

Later that evening, when they would all be full of alcohol and grilled meats, their earlier conversation would seem hazy and far away. But for now, Komoe was content to enjoy both the moment and the pilfered yakitori for the fleeting pleasures they were, before she turned her mind to business once more. Even though she and Yomikawa could hardly expect to make up for all of Academy City's shortcomings, they might be able to show a few struggling students that someone still had faith in them, no matter what the System Scans and school rankings said. One teachable moment was all they needed -- and between the two of them, she was sure, they stood a very good chance of creating one.

Notes

Komoe-sensei and Yomikawa-sensei have a much larger role in the greater Raildex universe than they seem to have in the Railgun side of canon, and I always imagined that if anyone would have the compassion and drive to put together the special lesson for the former Level Upper students, they would. I only wish I could have given Tessou-sensei a larger role here, apart from being covered with (ick) strawberry oden and subsequently scolded by her Anti-Skill partner. But I'd like to think that she encouraged them, once she heard about their ideas, and approved of the whole plan. Many thanks to [personal profile] moontyger for the prompt!


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