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Reigen Arataka wakes up on Sunday, hungover and wishing that whoever has been calling him relentlessly for the past ten minutes would fuck off.

His phone stops buzzing - followed by blessed, blessed silence - before starting up again not a second later. Reigen flops an arm over to his desk, picking the damn thing up (and resisting the urge to hurl it at the opposite wall), glaring blearily at the call display.

KAGEYAMA RITSU, reads his phone screen.

“What the hell,” Reigen mumbles. Ritsu never calls him. Would rather die than call him, actually, so something must be up.

He flips it open, presses accept call.

“What,” Reigen grunts into the phone. Ritsu doesn’t deserve politeness, not at this hour on a Sunday morning.

“Reigen-san,” Ritsu says, voice carefully measured and faking calm quite well. “Do you know where my brother is?”

What the hell. What kind of question is that? “No,” Reigen replies, throwing an arm over his face. If the sun could fuck off too, that would be great.

“Are you sure?” Ritsu presses. Reigen groans in frustration.

“Positive. I took him for ramen last night after work and then he went home.”

“He didn’t come home.”

Oh. Well, shit.

“Why don’t you call him?” Reigen suggests, and Ritsu clicks his tongue as though he thinks Reigen is being particularly dense.

“I’ve already tried that; his phone is off. He’s not with you, is he?” Ritsu asks, and that makes Reigen sit bolt upright, hangover gurgling ominously in his stomach, head pounding.

No. Why the hell would he be with me?”

Ritsu hums, like he doesn’t quite believe Reigen, and the sound crackles noisily through the receiver.

“Look, your brother can look after himself,” Reigen says. “He probably went to an internet cafe or something.”

“Maybe,” Ritsu says, and then hangs up. Reigen stares at the CALL DISCONNECTED message, annoyance flaring up in him.

“Fuckin’ brat,” he grumbles, tossing his phone back onto his desk. He flops back onto his bed, determined to go back to sleep.

His phone starts ringing again.

“Oh, for - what?! ” Reigen demands into his phone, having had quite enough of Ritsu’s bratty behaviour for one day.

“I-I-I’m sorry!” Serizawa shouts from the other end of the line, voice cracking.

“Oh, Serizawa. Sorry, I thought you were Mob’s little brother. What’s up?”

“Well, that’s sort of the thing,” Serizawa says. Reigen can hear the nervous trembling in his voice. “I came in to the office to file some paperwork and tidy up before we open, and, um.”

“Yes?” Reigen prompts, wishing the other man would just spit it out. Christ, at this rate he might as well just get out of bed and pop an advil.

“Kageyama-kun appears to have stayed over?”

Serizawa delivers it like a question, as though he’s not entirely sure what he’s saying, what he's seeing, is real.

Reigen’s headache gets, if possible, even worse.

When he finally arrives at Spirits & Such, Mob is sitting, shame-faced, on the tiny-ass, cheaply made couch Reigen had bought last year in a bid to make the office seem more inviting to potential customers.

“You slept on that?” he asks, barely daring to believe it. His back would be thrown out for a week if he attempted such a thing.

“Yes,” Mob mumbles. He’s clutching a cup of tea between both hands, no doubt brewed by Serizawa.

Speaking of.

“Serizawa, you can go home,” Reigen says, clapping the other man on the shoulder. He’s been hovering like a worried moth ever since Reigen arrived. “Thanks for tidying up.”

“But I haven’t - ”

Thank you, Serizawa,” Reigen says pointedly, raising his eyebrows in a gesture he hopes conveys, just get the hell out of here. Serizawa seems to get the hint.

“R-right! Good work today everyone!” Serizawa screeches, and then does an about-face, nearly smacking himself into the door in his hurry to vacate the office.

“Dimple, go away,” Reigen calls out next. He’s gotten pretty good at recognizing when the little bastard is hanging around.

“Eat shit,” Dimple grumps. He pops into existence over by Reigen’s desk. “I didn’t see you watching over Shigeo all night to make sure he was alright.”

“Sleeping in an office is hardly dangerous,” Reigen drawls, and Dimple rolls his eyes.

“You’re clueless, you know that?” he says, unimpressed, and then floats away through the wall.

“Thank you,” Mob says, which brings Reigen’s attention back to the matter at hand. He grabs the chair usually reserved for clients and swings it around so it’s facing the couch, grabs himself a cup of tea, and then harrumphs his way into his seat, crossing his legs and arms.

“So,” Reigen says. “What’s up?”

Mob looks at him then, and Reigen can see that he didn’t sleep well. Small wonder, what with how shitty that couch is.

“You slept here last night,” Reigen tries again, once it becomes apparent Mob isn’t going to be forthcoming about his night-time habits without a little prompting. “Did something happen with your family? Ritsu said you didn’t go home.”

“You spoke to Ritsu?” Mob asks, and he sounds resigned, a little miserable. He doesn’t answer the question.

“Yeah. He wouldn’t stop calling ‘till I picked up. Said you had your phone turned off.”

“It’s still turned off,” Mob says, closing his eyes. He takes a sip of his tea. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody.”

“Did something happen?” Reigen asks. Something must have happened. Mob wouldn’t have turned off his phone and avoided home if that weren’t the case.

“No,” Mob says. Then, “Well, maybe.”

Reigen waits until Mob is ready to talk. He’s gotten better at reading Mob over the years, knows when to push, and when to pull, and when to simply wait. Now is a time to wait. He has a feeling that if he keeps pressing, Mob will get flustered, and then he’ll retreat back into his shell, and Reigen will have a freeloader living in his office forever because he just knows Mob won’t go home until he gets this off his chest.

“Hanazawa-kun asked me on a date yesterday,” Mob says eventually. Reigen nearly chokes on his tea. “I went for coffee with him after we had ramen last night. He said it was really important, so I didn’t want to keep him waiting.”

“O-oh,” Reigen wheezes, once he’s finished dislodging the stray liquid from his lungs. “He did always seem interested in you.”

Mob nods, and hums a vague agreement. “I told him I’d think about it,” he continues, much to Reigen’s bafflement.

“Why’s that?” Reigen asks. “You two seem like a good match.”

“Hanazawa-kun is nice,” Mob says. Just, nice.

Reigen’s not sure what to make of that. He’s never sure nowadays, not when it comes to Mob.

“He’s not my type,” Mob continues, unprompted, and his countenance is so relaxed, so casual, that he could easily be mistaken for making a comment on the day’s weather. Reigen knows him better than that, can tell that beneath the cool facade he's a jangle of nerves: tight, coiled, and tense.

“Oh?” Reigen hums, and before he can actually consider the next words out of his mouth he asks, “Then what is your type?”

As though that’s a perfectly normal question to ask.

Reigen shakes himself. It is a perfectly normal question to ask. It’s not weird unless he makes it weird.

Mob considers it carefully, as he does so many other things. Eventually he settles on, “Older.”

“Is that so,” Reigen says, careful and measured.

“I think I’m going to tell him no,” Mob says.

“Okay,” Reigen says. That answers none of his questions. “So why did you sleep in my office?”

Mob looks back down at his tea. “I needed to think.”

“You couldn’t have done that at home?” Reigen prods, lightly, so as not to startle him. Mob shakes his head.

“If I had gone home, then mom and dad and Ritsu would have wanted to know where I was out so late, and I would have had to tell them the truth because they can all tell when I’m lying. And then I would have had to answer even more questions about why Hanazawa-kun was asking me out in the first place, and I was just...I was tired. I didn’t want to have to worry about that. I just wanted to think.”

“So you came here,” Reigen finishes, and Mob nods, subdued.

“I used the key you gave me and let myself in. I’m sorry; I know I’m not supposed to do that.”

Reigen waves that off. “Don’t worry about it. I’m actually kind of relieved that you came here. I thought you’d gone to some shady internet cafe.”

Mob looks alarmed at this: his shoulders tense, his fingers tighten around his cup of tea. “I don’t like those kinds of places,” he says. There’s more, there’s always more, but he doesn’t put a voice to it. “I’m comfortable here. Shishou, I've been thinking, and I - ”

The door flies open.

“Lying isn’t a good character trait to possess, Reigan-san,” Ritsu says, an imposing figure in the doorway, before he stomps across the office to shove his chin defiantly at Reigen’s chest.

“What the hell are you talking about,” Reigen says, nonplussed.

“Ritsu,” Mob tries to interject, but Ritsu barrels on, unfettered.

“You told me you had no idea where he was,” Ritsu accuses, jabbing an angry finger under Reigen’s nose, “and I knew you weren’t telling the truth! Where was he? Did he stay at your place?!”

“No!” Reigen defends himself, backing away from Ritsu. The backs of his thighs bump up against his desk. “I had no idea where he was until Serizawa called me this morning!”

“You stay away from my brother,” Ritsu spits, venomous, “and stop lying.”

Ritsu,” Mob says, admonishing, and his tone is hard like Reigen has never heard before, not while talking to his brother. Ritsu quails under it, under Mob’s stoney glare.

“He works for me,” Reigen points out, bewildered.

“I wish he wouldn’t,” Ritsu snipes back. “You’re a bad influence on him.”

“Ritsu, that’s enough!” Mob yells, actually yells, and Ritsu shrinks back, cowed. He stares at the floor, sullen. “And you, Shishou,” Mob says, turning to Reigen, “you aren’t helping. None of this is helping.”

Ah, Reigen realizes belatedly. Ritsu’s jealous.

Wait, jealous? Jealous of what? What does Ritsu have to be jealous of anymore?

“I’m going to be home later,” Mob continues, speaking to Ritsu now. “I have work today, Ritsu, I can’t come home right now.”

“Mom and dad are worried,” Ritsu mumbles to the floor. Mob closes his eyes and sighs.

“I’m sorry about that. I really did just stay at a cafe,” he insists, and Reigen agrees that he’s a terrible liar.

“Fine,” Ritsu says, accepting the lie, though Reigen can see that it’s not easy for him. “You better come home tonight, okay?”

He glares at Reigen, turns on his heel, and slams the door behind him.

“I’m sorry about that,” Mob says. He’d winced when Ritsu slammed the door. “I told him I would be back today before I turned my phone off, but...he must have gotten impatient and looked for my aura.”

“Geez, talk about overprotective,” Reigen grumbles, affecting nonchalance, but something isn’t sitting right with him. You stay away from my brother, Ritsu had said. You’re a bad influence on him.

Well. He can’t argue with that.

“Serizawa-san took a call before he left,” Mob says, and Reigen is grateful for the change of subject. “He said he was going to go do the job after you arrived, but you sent him home.”

“Ah. Did he leave the details, by any chance?”

“Over on the desk.”

The job is a couple of towns over. It looks like a fairly simple case of a poltergeist causing mischief in their client’s family home.

“You up for a job?” Reigen asks, eyeing Mob’s rumpled uniform, the dark circles under his eyes.

“Yes,” Mob replies, draining the last of his tea. He levitates the cup over to Reigen’s desk, setting it down beside Reigen’s own. “I wasn’t ready to go home just yet, anyway.”

Their job that day is about as by-the-book as you can get. The poltergeist haunting the Yamada family is, according to Mob, weaker than the excuse Reigen had given him for not buying him an ice cream from the train station’s vending machine.

“You can buy your own damn ice cream,” Reigen says.

“I’m a student,” Mob shoots back. “And I have a very limited allowance.”

“Fine, I’ll get you one on the way back.”

“Thank you.”

COULD I HAVE SOME ICE CREAM TOO? ” the poltergeist asks, pausing momentarily in its pathetic assault. Mob flicks a finger and it disappears, blinking out of existence.

Mrs. Yamada is overjoyed at the news, giving Reigen and Mob both a wet, lipstick-laden kiss to the cheek, and sending them off with a couple of tickets to a concert Reigen has no interest in attending and a cheque that may or may not bounce. He’s batting 50-50 nowadays. It’s an improvement.

Mob has been quiet throughout the day, quieter than usual, ice cream argument aside. Reigen supposes he must still be thinking. About Hanazawa, about his brother.

Mob doesn’t speak up about it until they’re traipsing back to the train station, after Reigen has bought them both a tray of takoyaki from one of the street vendors. He blows on the ball of dough before popping it in his mouth, trying not to yelp at the molten food burning his cheeks and tongue. He’ll never learn, not when it comes to takoyaki.

“Hey, Shishou,” Mob says, and Reigen makes a show of chewing and swallowing his food before replying, since Mob always complains when he talks with his mouth full.


“Do we have to go home right now?” Mob asks, spearing another takoyaki and nibbling at it, pensive. Reigen is glad he’s already swallowed his takoyaki; he might have choked otherwise.

“Uh,” Reigen says, unsure of which direction Mob is trying to steer this conversation. “Well, we can see if there’s another job when we get back to the office,” he suggests, although he has a feeling that’s not what Mob meant.

“No, I meant,” Mob says, and then stops, unsure. He pulls in a breath, steeling himself. “Sometimes I get to thinking...that I would like to get on a train and go somewhere far away. Maybe not forever, maybe just for a little while, but...I want to go.”

Reigen knew it. He knew it wasn’t quite so simple. The satisfaction of being right sights heavy in his gut, hollow.

“And right now, do you want to be gone for a little while, or forever?” Reigen asks.

“Forever,” Mob answers, beautiful, sad. “Isn’t it horrible? There are so many people here who care for me, who support me, and I wouldn’t have become who I am today without them, but I want to leave them all behind. I’m so selfish.”

Reigen wants to ask, would you take me with you? Would you ask? He would go, he thinks, if Mob asked.

“You’re not selfish, or horrible, just because you need a break and a change of scenery,” Reigen says, instead of voicing any of this. “It’s normal to want to go somewhere different every once in a while, doubly so when you’re stressed out. You should take a trip up to Hokkaido or something, maybe that’ll curb your wanderlust.”

Mob shakes his head, smiling, miserable. “You don’t get it, Shishou,” he says, and because he’s far too kind for his own good, he follows that up with, “but that’s okay.”

Reigen does get it, he gets it more than he’s letting on, more than Mob knows. But if he puts words to any of this, he has a feeling he might end up doing something stupid, like suggesting they take the next train up to Sapporo.

“I heard that the cherry blossoms bloom all the way into May, in Hokkaido,” Mob says. “I think I’d like to see them, one day.”

“We have cherry blossoms here,” Reigen says.

Mob shakes his head again. “It’s not the same.”

“Sure it is,” Reigen says, although he knows it’s not. He would like to see the cherry blossoms in Hokkaido, too. He opens his mouth, sucks in a breath. “How about next year for your birthday we go up to Hokkaido, see the cherry blossoms.”

“I’d like that,” Mob says, and if he walks a bit closer to Reigen after that, Reigen doesn’t comment on it.

There are a couple other jobs for them at the office, but all save one Reigen is fairly certain can be solved with a little bit of massage oil and grated rock salt. Reigen calls the clients back, books them in for a session. Then there’s a haunting at a local park, a pervert who got hit by a car and the driver ran off. The ghost isn’t much stronger than the poltergeist earlier, but Reigen really wishes he hadn’t died with his pants and underwear around his ankles.

He can check that off his list of life accomplishments: saw a ghost dick.

All in all, a pretty good day. Reigen’s fairly certain he won’t end up in the red at the end of the month, if business like this keeps up.

Mob is sitting on the chair usually reserved for clients, and he’s fidgeting. He’s been fidgeting for a while, worrying at the hem of his gakuran, the shiny buttons, the collar. Reigen has been ignoring it - or trying to, really - but Mob keeps sending small, furtive glances at him over his desk, and it’s starting to get distracting.

“What’s up?” he asks, after entering the wrong amount into the spreadsheet and fucking up the entire equation. He curses under his breath, vexed.

“Oh. Nothing,” Mob says, and he really is a terrible liar, but Reigen lets it slide. He’s not in the mood to push.

“Okay, just give me a second here and we can close up and go home.”

“I’m just not sure if I want to go home just yet,” Mob says, and Reigen is a patient man when it comes to his assistant, but even this is pushing it.

“Mob, you can’t stay in my office forever. You’re going to drive up the electricity bill.”

“Where else am I supposed to go?” Mob asks, and he sounds so lost that Reigen tamps down on his annoyance and takes pity on him.

“You can come to my place,” he offers, and immediately wants to kick himself. That was not the responsible thing to say.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” Mob hedges, uncertain, averting his eyes, because even at seventeen he’s a hell of a lot smarter than Reigen sometimes. “It might be better to go to an internet cafe.”

“You hate those kinds of places,” Reigen argues, and wishes he could stop. Stop, before he says something he’ll regret; stop, before he says something he can’t take back; stop, before he makes another bad decision and gets Mob tangled up in his mess of a life even more than he already is.

“I do hate those kinds of places,” Mob agrees.

“Next time you need to get away, come to my place,” Reigen says, feeling treacherous, traitorous. “You can sleep on my couch. It’s not much better than the one here, but I at least have pillows.”

“Can I come over tonight?” Mob asks, and the scattered puzzle pieces that Reigen has been trying to fit together all day are finally starting to fall into place.

“I really think you should go home tonight,” Reigen says, rebuffing him. Hoping it will be enough.

It’s not.

“I’ll go home, if you kiss me,” Mob says, defiant and shaking. He’s sitting ramrod straight, shoulders pulled back and at attention as though he can’t believe he’d just said that. Perhaps that’s the way of it; perhaps the words sprung to his lips, unbidden, unfiltered.

“What about Hanazawa?” Reigen asks.

“What about Hanazawa-kun?” Mob asks back.

If he were a better man, Reigen would laugh him off, steer him in another direction. If he were a better man, he would tell Mob that he’s too young, too impressionable, too vulnerable. If he were a better man, Reigen wouldn’t entertain the idea at all.

Reigen is not a better man.

He tells himself, it’s just one kiss. How bad could it possibly be? Just one kiss. One kiss to satiate the kid’s curiosity, sate his own curiosity. He’s been wondering, more and more often of late, what do those lips taste like?

Against all better judgment and the screeching, critical voice in his head screaming, SEVENTEEN, SEVENTEEN, HE’S ONLY SEVENTEEN, Reigen leans across the desk and kisses him.

Mob sighs into him, soft and pliant, putty in Reigen’s hands. If only he’d thought of this earlier, Reigen muses darkly, he could have gotten Mob to do anything he wanted.

If he were a worse man.

Reigen hopes to god he’s not.

Mob has risen from his chair, meeting Reigen halfway, and one of his hands is clutching at Reigen’s lapel, the other steadying himself on the desk below them. Reigen knows how soft Mob’s hair is, has felt the fine strands between his fingers on more than one occasion whenever he gave the boy a friendly ruffle, so he almost doesn’t feel bad about threading his fingers through the inky sea now, cradling Mob’s head gently, pulling him in closer. Mob is only too happy to oblige.

This is dangerous, Reigen thinks vaguely. He could become addicted to this, dependant on this. Mob’s lips are soft, and his breath is warm, and he makes such sweet sounds when Reigen opens him up and tastes his mouth, his teeth, his tongue.

Mob is sweet, sweeter than the sweetest candy, sweeter even than the plum wine Reigen had for his last birthday. He can taste the ice cream Mob had been eating before he came here. He can taste Mob's desire, burning and desperate and wanting, wanting, wanting. He can taste everything.

Reigen had told himself that one kiss would be enough. He was wrong. If he's not careful, he'll drown in this and drag Mob down with him.

He tries not to think about Mob’s lips, or his tongue, or the soft sigh he breathes out once he pulls away. He tries not to think about Mob’s hair, floating gently around his forehead and ears and settling neatly back into place once he opens his eyes and sees that Reigen has resumed his seat behind his desk. He tries not to think about Mob’s expression, curious and heartsick and wanting, before he schools it into something less telling, less vulnerable.

“Shishou?” Mob says, asks, demands. Reigen cannot give him what he wants.

“Sorry, Mob,” Reigen sighs. “You really should head home now.”

“But -  ”

“That’s what we agreed, right? One kiss, and you go home.”

“Reigen-san. A-arataka,” Mob says, and his name feels like a knife in the gut; personal, searing. “You were the one who told me I should always be honest with my feelings. That I should be more direct. I - ”

“Don’t,” Reigen says, and it’s a warning, clear and sharp, one that Mob thankfully heeds.

“Why?” Mob asks, pleads.

“I can’t,” Reigen says, and tries not to let Mob’s expression shatter him.

“Why not?” Mob demands, insistent.

“I just can’t,” Reigen repeats, hoping it’s enough. It isn’t.

“That’s not a reason,” Mob argues and he’s right, sort of, but only in the most pedantic and childish of ways.

“You’re seventeen,” Reigen tries instead.

“So what? I’m eighteen next month.”

“That’s still - ”

“Still what? Too young? Too immature? Too - ”

“Yes!” Reigen explodes, slamming his hands onto his desk. “You’re too young, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you want.”

“I know what I want,” Mob argues, and Reigen can see that he’s getting angry now, can feel his aura pressing outwards; hot, cloying, overbearing.

“You think you do.”

“Stop treating me like a child.”

“You are a child.”

Mob sits in silence, stung. “You kissed me,” he says eventually, his voice small.

“I know,” Reigen sighs, leaning back in his chair and covering his eyes with a hand. “I shouldn’t have. I'm sorry. Go home, Mob.”

He doesn’t uncover his eyes, doesn’t have to. He can hear the scrape of the chair as Mob stands, the light footfalls as Mob leaves. Mob closes the door quietly, and Reigen is left alone.

Mob’s birthday arrives on May 12th, just as it does every year. Reigen buys himself a 6-pack of beer to celebrate, and goes home alone.

He had been invited out after they finished work for the day. If it were just the two of them, Reigen might have agreed to go along. But he knew the rest of Mob’s friends would be there, and so would his little brother, and he just...didn’t have the energy to deal with that right now.

“Ah, no thanks,” he had declined, faking a smile, trying not to let Mob’s piercing stare get under his skin. “You go have fun with your friends; you don’t need an old geezer like me passing out on you.”

Mob had looked like he wanted to argue, wanted to insist. He hadn’t. He’d simply said, “Okay, another time then.”

So now, here Reigen is: ten at night on a Saturday slurping back some terrible, cheap beer and flipping through the channels to find something interesting and terrible to watch. He hadn’t even bothered changing out of his suit when he’d gotten home, just thrown the jacket and tie over the back of his desk chair, rolled up his sleeves and undone the top two buttons of his shirt. It’s comfortable enough.

He’s not expecting the knock at his door.

He’s not expecting to see Mob through the peephole.

He should ignore it, go back to his terrible beer and terrible movie, but he’s two beer in and kind of drunk, and it’s dark out and Mob is looking pretty unsure of himself, standing out on the terrace, so he opens the door.

“Mob,” he greets, and notices dimly the way Mob’s eyes are drawn to his forearms, his throat, his chest. “Something wrong?”

“No,” Mob answers, snapping his gaze up to meet Reigen’s eye.

Reigen ushers him inside. “Did something happen?” he asks, shutting the door behind them. Mob is peering around his tiny apartment, curious. Likely memorizing the layout, the little details, the plants Reigen has sitting by the window, his bed jammed up against the wall opposite his couch.

“No,” Mob says again. “I just...needed to be alone.”

Fair enough, Reigen supposes.

“Want a beer?” he offers. “It’s not good, but.”

“I’m underage,” Mob hedges. He glances nervously at Reigen’s fridge anyway. Reigen shrugs.

“One beer won’t hurt,” he says. “Unless you’d rather not. No pressure.”

“I’ll have one,” Mob decides, so Reigen grabs a can from the fridge and tosses it over, enjoying the way Mob fumbles with the cold can before getting a handle on it. He tries not to think about Ritsu, last month, yelling, You stay away from my brother, and, You’re a bad influence on him.

Well. Ritsu is right, in this particular case, Reigen will admit.

“Thank you,” Mob says, pulling the tab on the can and giving the beverage an experimental sniff before taking a sip. He pulls a face at the taste, and then takes another swig, determined.

“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it,” Reigen says, laughing a little at Mob’s antics, but Mob shakes his head.

“I was just a little surprised by how bitter it is. I’ve never had beer before,” Mob explains.

Ah. Reigen supposes he shouldn’t be surprised that someone as straight-laced as Mob would never experiment with alcohol before he turned the legal age. He can tick that box off of his defunct moral compass: got my underage assistant drunk for the first time.

Except. Mob isn’t underage anymore, not really. He can’t drink, and he can’t smoke, but he’s eighteen.

He’s eighteen and he’s standing in Reigen’s apartment, drinking a beer that Reigen gave him, and Reigen thinks that he might just be in a little bit of trouble here.

Bad influence, indeed.

“Hey,” Reigen says, leaning back against his tiny counter, crossing his arms, gesturing with the can of beer in his hand. “Why’d you come here anyway? I thought you were hanging out with your friends.”

“I was,” Mob says. “I said I had to go to the washroom.”

Reigen nearly spits out the mouthful of beer. “You ditched them ?” he nearly shrieks, voice cracking on the word ditched.

Mob’s face is red now, an embarrassed, shameful flush creeping up over his collar, bathing his features in a pink glow. “Yes,” he says, sounding wretched. He takes another big gulp of beer. “I told you, I wanted to be alone.”

“On your birthday?” Reigen asks, ignoring the fact that coming to Reigen’s apartment doesn’t exactly constitute being alone. A thought strikes him. “Wait, Ritsu’s not going to come break down my door, is he?”

“No,” Mob says. “I’ve learned how to mask my presence from him.”

Christ. That was fast. Reigen always forgets how quickly Mob can pick up a new skill or trick when it comes to his powers.

“Okay,” Reigen allows, uneasy. He has a feeling Ritsu will know where his brother has gone, once he figures out that Mob isn’t coming back. He hopes this doesn’t bode ill for his apartment door.

“It was fun, for a little bit,” Mob continues. “But then I got tired. I just wanted to be by myself.”

“Why didn’t you go to the office?” Reigen asks, although he already knows the answer to this one.

“You said that I could come here,” Mob answers simply. Reigen did. “I wanted to see you.”

“You just saw me earlier.”

“I wanted to see you again,” Mob amends. “It’s my birthday.” He puts his can of beer on the counter; it clangs, empty, against the countertop and Reigen realizes that he has made a very large mistake, allowing Mob into his apartment. “Thank you for the beer,” Mob whispers, and his breath smells of bitter hops.

He kisses Reigen. Reigen can see it coming from a mile away, from Mob’s hoppy breath to the way his eyes slide closed, his fingers tangling themselves in Reigen’s hair and shirtfront. He knows what Mob is about to do; he lets Mob do it.

Because he’s drunk, because he’s lonely, because Mob is eighteen and he ditched his friends at his own birthday party to come and kiss Reigen.

Mob kisses him, and Reigen lets him, even lets himself kiss back, lets himself touch and taste and feel and stop thinking, thinking, thinking, about all of the the things that could go wrong from this, all of the things he’s already doing wrong.

He never should have let it come to this, never should have given into the temptation, never should have led Mob on until he showed up at Reigen’s apartment on his eighteenth birthday, looking for - for what?

Reigen had been so careful, up until now, up until two weeks ago. Up until he let himself slip. Up until Mob asked him for a kiss. He never allowed himself to linger on those compelling, invasive thoughts, never allowed himself to look for longer than was appropriate, never allowed himself to cave in to what he wants, what he craves.

But he kissed Mob when the kid was seventeen, and he’s kissing Mob now that the kid is eighteen, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. What he’s done. He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.

If they were anywhere else in the world, he could have Mob, and he wouldn’t have to worry. He wouldn’t have to worry about the judgmental stares, the whispered words behind raised hands, the condemnation waiting for him for wanting to fuck his young assistant, under his care since he was only eleven.

He’s only eighteen, they would say. You’re a predator. You’re a monster. He’s only eighteen.

Maybe Reigen is a monster, a predator. Seeking out young boys to suck their life force dry before they’ve even really had a chance to live. Maybe he’s all that they say, and more. Maybe he’s none of these things.

Reigen doesn’t know anymore.

He thinks he understands a bit, now, what has been driving Mob to seek solitude, to seek an escape. To get away.

He’s kissing Mob, and it’s so gentle, so sweet. Reigen can’t imagine doing anything else, wanting to do anything else ever again. He could kiss Mob for eternity, until their planet is nothing but dust and decay and the star they require for their very lives blinks out of existence. He could kiss Mob even beyond that, probably.

“Shishou,” Mob whimpers against his mouth, and Reigen realizes the flush high on his cheeks has less to do with nerves and excitement and more to do with the empty beer can sitting on the counter behind him.

Oh, Christ, he really did get Mob drunk. A couple of lightweights, the both of them.

“That’s - enough,” he manages to say, pushing Mob back so he’s at a more feasible, less kissable distance. “For now.”

“For now,” Mob agrees, easily, and Reigen realizes too late that he’s taking it as an oath, a promise, one that he’s not entirely sure he can follow up on.

“This is bad,” Reigen muses, mostly to himself, but Mob’s eyebrows furrow and he looks like he’s about to argue so Reigen heads that off with, “I can’t send you home drunk. Your parents will kill me.”

“Ritsu’s more likely to kill you,” Mob points out, unhelpfully. He does not deny his intoxication. “I can stay here.”

Reigen’s about to say, Oh hell no you can’t, but the alternative is turning him out onto the street and that would be worse, so he sighs and says, “Fine.”

“I knew you would say yes,” Mob mumbles, pleased with himself. Reigen has the sneaking suspicion that he may have planned this from the start. He lets it slide. It is Mob’s birthday today, after all.

“Want to watch a movie?” Reigen asks. “Right now I’ve got, uh. What the hell was I watching…”

Mob doesn’t seem to care what it was that Reigen was watching, which is probably for the best. It’s a B-movie, with terrible special effects and even more terrible acting. Reigen grabs himself another beer, decides, fuck it, he’s already given Mob one beer, why not another, and grabs one for the kid as well.

Mob accepts the beer wordlessly.

“That’s the last one for tonight,” Reigen says, because as much of a shitty person is, he doesn’t want to get Mob shitfaced. That would just be irresponsible. They have work tomorrow, after all.

The movie is awful. Reigen loves it. Mob looks mildly interested, sipping quietly at his crappy beer. He could reach over, he thinks, so easily. He could pull Mob to his side, sling his arm over his shoulder, let him rest his head on his shoulder. He could do all of these things. He could do none of these things.

Nothing is stopping him. Mob is eighteen, and he’s in Reigen’s apartment, and he came here because he wanted to see Reigen.

Oblivious to Reigen’s internal dilemma, Mob finishes his second beer and places the empty can on the coffee table before listing sideways to rest his head on Reigen’s clavicle, so close to his heart. His hair tickles Reigen’s neck, his chin.

Reigen is the luckiest man in the world, he thinks. Lucky and unlucky, in equal measure. Without thinking about it, really, he reaches his arm over, letting it settle across Mob’s shoulders.

On the television screen, the movie’s heroine declares her undying love to the bland protagonist, and they kiss. He would like to kiss Mob, Reigen thinks sluggishly. Would Mob want to kiss him? Reigen snorts. Of course he would, he already has. That’s the whole reason he came over here.

“Shishou?” Mob asks, sleepy.

“Nothing,” Reigen mumbles.

“Okay.” The word is slurred, and Mob’s breathing begins to even out into that telltale hint of sleep, and Reigen thinks, god, he really is the worst influence.

Reigen Arataka wakes up the next day, slightly hungover, curled up on his shitty, tiny couch in his shitty, tiny apartment, with Mob curled up on top of him, legs tangled with Reigen’s.

Ah, Reigen thinks, this is bad.

He was right; he’s definitely too old to sleep on the couch anymore.

Mob came over, last night, he recalls. They talked, and Reigen gave him a beer - two, beer, actually, his conscience reminds him - and then Mob kissed him. And he kissed Mob, and then told him to stay the night and watch shitty movies and apparently fall asleep on the couch like a pair of geezers.

Christ, this is a mess.

Reigen groans, slapping a hand to his forehead. It does not help his headache.

Mob begins to stir, likely awoken by Reigen’s discontented noises. “Shishou…?” he mumbles, confusion threaded through his sleepy voice, and Reigen thinks it’s cute, it’s adorable, it’s dangerous. He could get used to this too easily, waking up with Mob.

Mob sits up, yawning, stretching out the kinks in his back; Reigen averts his eyes. He can picture the headlines in the paper now - REIGEN ARATAKA ACCUSED OF BEING A CRADLE-ROBBER - and that’s enough to wake him up completely, scrambling back on the couch, putting space between them.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he says, stupidly, and Mob turns to look at him, a frown creasing his forehead.

“You invited me in,” he points out. Reigen did. “And you gave me some beer, and said I couldn’t go home because I was drunk.”

“That would have been irresponsible,” Reigen says, weaker now.

“Shishou,” Mob says, exasperated. “Everything about last night was irresponsible.”

“Did you turn your phone off again?” Reigen asks, instead of acknowledging that.


Reigen sighs. “You better go home, Mob. I’m sure your family is worried sick.”

“I’m eighteen,” Mob says, defiant. “They don’t need to know where I am every moment of the day. Besides, we have work today, don’t we?”

They do. It’s Sunday.

“Do you want to use my shower?” Reigen asks, because it’s only polite. This, of all things, is what makes Mob blush, the red flush creeping gently over his cheeks. Reigen pretends not to see it.

“Yes, please,” Mob mumbles, shy. “Do you have an extra toothbrush? My mouth tastes bad.”

Reigen’s mouth tastes bad too. Fucking shitty-ass beer.

Mob showers and brushes his teeth, and when he emerges from Reigen’s microscopic bathroom his hair is still wet, clinging damply to his forehead, his cheeks. Reigen tries not to stare. Tries not to think about it while he showers himself, brushes his teeth, combs a hand through his own damp hair.

Mob is not quite so furtive in his staring, once Reigen leaves the bathroom. He can feel his gaze, heavy, excruciating, tracing over his hair, his throat, his hips. Hungry, starving.

“Want some coffee?” Reigen asks, busying himself with the old machine. It chugs to life, and the smell begins to waft through the small room.

“Yes, please,” Mob says again, finally tearing his gaze off of Reigen to look out his window, at his plants. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Reigen asks. He pours out two mugs of coffee. “How do you take your coffee?”

“Milk and sugar, please.” 

Of course.

“I didn’t mean to impose,” Mob continues, once Reigen has passed him the sugary, creamy cup of coffee. “It was selfish of me.”

“I told you you could come here,” Reigen says. He blows on his coffee and takes a sip, wincing at how hot it still is.

“Still,” Mob says. Then, apropos of nothing, “That movie was terrible.”

“Yeah,” Reigen agrees wistfully. “It really was. Listen, Mob,” he says. “What we did last night, before we watched the movie? That can’t happen again.”

Mob pauses with his mug at his mouth, a frown creasing his features. “But you said…”

“I know,” Reigen says. “I was drunk.”

“But you kissed me,” Mob persists. “You kissed me back.”

“It was your birthday,” Reigen says, helpless. The excuse sounds flimsy, even to his own ears. “I think you should go on that date with Hanazawa. You haven’t given him an answer yet, right?”

This is the right thing to do, he knows. Turn the kid down, as gently as he can, stop this before it runs out of control and wreaks havoc, claiming casualties.

“I haven’t,” Mob answers, fingers tight around his mug. “I was going to turn him down. I don’t want to date Hanazawa-kun.”

“Why not?”

“He’s not - ” Mob starts, stops. Reigen can guess what he was about to say. He’s not you. “He’s not my type,” Mob says, lamely.

“I think you should go on at least one date,” Reigen insists, insides twisting up. “Just to make sure.”

“If that’s what you think is best, Shishou,” Mob says, flat, empty. Angry, and sad.

“I do. It is.”

“Whatever you say,” Mob says, and Reigen has the distinct feeling that he just fucked up.

Reigen doesn’t know whether Mob actually goes on that date with Hanazawa.

They had gone to work, that Sunday, awkward and quiet, a careful distance of two paces between them.

Ritsu had been pissed, once he tracked down his brother for a second time. Reigen expected that, and as much as he’s always disliked the younger Kageyama sibling, he had to admit to himself that it was kind of a dick move for Mob to ditch his friends at his own birthday party without a word.

Mob, thankfully, didn’t bring it up after that day. And Reigen - well. Reigen is too much of a coward to bring it up, himself.

So May slips into June, and Reigen almost allows himself to relax.

This is a mistake.

“I went on a date with Hanazawa-kun,” Mob announces. They’re in Reigen’s office, preparing to open for business for the day. It’s Saturday, Serizawa is home with a cold, and Mob’s club has been rained out, so Reigen called him in.

“Oh?” Reigen says, playing at uninterested, ignoring the hot stab of jealousy in his gut. He was the one who told him to do it, after all. He tries not to think about Mob and Hanazawa holding hands, kissing. He fails miserably, and feels awful. “How was it?”

“It was okay,” Mob says. Just, okay. “We both decided we’re better off as friends.”

“That’s good,” Reigen grunts, noncommittal, and pretends to busy himself with some emails.

“He’s not my type,” Mob says, almost to himself. “I think he still likes me, though.”

“Of course he still likes you,” Reigen laughs, before he can stop himself. “Everyone likes you, Mob.”

“Do you like me?” Mob asks, and the question is so simple. Piercing, flaying, laying Reigen’s soul bare.

Ah, I’m in danger, Reigen thinks to himself, because Mob has rounded the corner of the desk and he’s standing over Reigen, closing the blinds.

“I - ” Reigen says, and that’s all he has time to say. Mob is leaning forward, leaning down, bracing himself on the back of Reigen’s chair. He presses his mouth to Reigen’s, and it’s soft, hesitant, clumsy.

“I didn’t kiss Hanazawa-kun,” Mob murmurs against Reigen’s lips, and Reigen curses himself for being so transparent, so obvious. Curses Mob for seeing him with such clarity. “I didn’t want to kiss him. I only want to kiss you, Shishou.”

That much is obvious, Reigen would like to say, except Mob is kissing him again, and his cheap chair creaks under the added weight as Mob settles himself astride Reigen’s lap, heedless of the protesting office equipment. It’s a wonder it doesn’t break.

There’s a hunger to this kiss, an urgency that was lacking before, back when Reigen kissed him for the first time, back when Mob kissed him in his dark kitchenette. Mob would devour him, if given the chance. Reigen would let him, probably. He would let Mob do anything.

Danger, danger, he chides himself, pulling Mob closer, wanting to feel every part of him, taste every part of him. Mob’s kisses are heady, intoxicating, and Reigen would kill for them, die for them. He would do anything.

“I like you, Shishou,” Mob murmurs, panting a little, and Reigen thinks that it’s cute, how Mob had forgotten to breathe. “I’ve liked you for a while, ever since I was fourteen. Please don’t push me away again.”

Fourteen. Fourteen. Mob’s been harbouring these feelings for Reigen since he was fourteen. Jesus Christ almighty. Reigen is too old for this.

“Mob,” he says, measured, careful, and Mob blinks, eyes glistening, before looking away.

“I’m eighteen now,” he says. “I turned eighteen last month. You kissed me then, too.”

“I know. I was drunk.”

“But you wanted you. You wouldn’t have if you hadn’t wanted to.”

Reigen can’t fault him there.

“You like me, the same way I like you,” Mob continues, and it’s true, it’s so true, and Reigen can’t deny it any longer.

“I do,” he admits, and that shocks Mob enough to make him look, and his eyes are brimming with tears that Reigen wishes he hadn’t caused.

“I don’t understand. What’s stopping you from doing what your feelings are telling you?” Mob asks, and a tear slips over his cheek, followed by another, and then another, until he has to wipe them away with the sleeve of his gakuran.

“Because,” Reigen starts, and then stops. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea, so many obstacles to consider, so many thoughts and feelings screeching at him to stop this, stop this now before it’s too late, before he ruins yet another life.

“I want this,” Mob insists, and he’s so close now that Reigen could probably count every single one of his eyelashes, should he care to. “I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.”

Youthful aplomb, Reigen thinks. He remembers being eighteen, and thinking he knew what he wanted in life. What a joke that turned out to be.

But Mob isn’t him. Mob is someone entirely different, entirely better, and Reigen is beyond lucky to have him in his life. Mob is eighteen, and he is in love with Reigen; has been since he was fourteen.

Reigen is thirty-one, and he’s in love with a kid fourteen years younger than him, and he’s beginning to find it difficult to find reasons why he shouldn’t just say, fuck it, and roll with the punches.

He never would have gotten anywhere in life if he hadn’t reached out with his own two hands and grasped what it was he wanted, what it was he craved. Something Mob seems to have learned.

“Mob,” he says, and his voice is different now, raw, rasping, completely at the mercy of the boy settled on his lap.

His office phone starts ringing.

Reigen stares at it for a long moment, uncomprehending, before reality - as it so often does - bursts its way through the bubble he’d been living in with Mob, and he realizes just what the fuck he’s doing.

“Shishou,” Mob pleads, and Reigen knows that if he picks up the phone this moment will be over and they’ll be trapped, stuck in this odd, sinuous limbo of wants and desires and can’ts and shouldn’ts until the next time one of them is brave enough to broach the subject. When will that be, Reigen wonders. He’s a coward, always has been and always will be, and if left up to him, the timeframe would read: never.

How much rejection can Mob take before he gives up? Reigen doesn’t know. He’s never seen Mob give up, not when he sets his mind to something.

But Reigen is not Mob. Reigen is Reigen, and Reigen is a coward, first and foremost.

He picks up the phone.

Mob sighs, disappointed, and slides off of Reigen’s lap, retreating to the couch.

“Spirits & Such Consultation,” Reigen recites, airily and cheerily, as though his chest isn’t constricting, as though his stomach doesn’t feel full of lead.

“Thank god,” the voice on the other end says. Male. He sounds panicked. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours.”

Reigen frowns. He’s set up the phone so that it only rings when they’re technically open, otherwise it sends the caller straight to voicemail. He wonders how long this man has been desperately trying to reach him, how long he didn’t notice. “Yes, well, our office hours are - ”

“I don’t care what your office hours are!” the man yells, and Reigen has half a mind to hang up on him for his rudeness, but he barrels on, and what he says interests Reigen enough that he decides to hear him out. “My family has been cursed. If we leave our property, we’re going to die. My father - my father - he said the curse was a load of bullshit and he tried to leave. He didn’t listen, and now he’s - he’s - ”

The man pulls in a shuddering breath.

“My father is dead. I don’t know who else to turn to; every other psychic we’ve called has been unable to do anything, or they’ve gone missing, and I just - I just - I just want my life to go back to normal! Please!”

“You’ve called the right place,” Reigen assures the man, pulling out a pen and notepad from his desk. “May I have your name?”

“Mizukoshi. Mizukoshi Toshihiko.”

“Mizukoshi-san,” Reigen says, “when did you notice the curse had manifested?”

“I...I’m not sure. There’s been some disturbances on our property for the past few years, and they’ve been slowly getting worse, to the point of driving away customers - my family runs a ryokan near Hachimantai, you see, and we have for generations. But it’s gotten much worse than that lately, such that if any member of my family attempts to leave the building we - we cannot,” Mizukoshi finishes, somewhat lamely. “I don’t know how to describe to you the phenomenon that occurs. I can only tell you that if we don’t retreat back inside, we will die.”

“Mm,” Reigen hums, and writes out, Iwate - ryokan - onsen? If he’s going to be dragging Mob out to the middle of god-knows-where to exorcise a curse, he wants to make sure it’s worth the trip. “Iwate prefecture is quite far from our location,” he says, because even if he splurged and bought them shinkansen tickets it would still take hours.

“Of course we would reimburse any travel expenses accrued,” Mizukoshi says, desperation threaded through his words. “And we would offer you a room for the night, on top of your fee. Please, Reigen-san. We are desperate.”

That much is obvious. Reigen writes down, travel & room paid for. “You said that this curse - the part of it that's keeping you trapped inside - is affecting the members of your family. Have any of your patrons suffered the same effect?"

Mizukoshi laughs, high and thin. It is not a pleasant sound. "No. No, it's only us. Not that we have many patrons lately anyway."

“Do you have any idea what could have caused this?” Reigen asks next. Might as well get a head start on figuring out a solution - if Mizukoshi knows anything.

“No, I don’t know, there’s nothing that I can think of that would have made this happen,” Mizukoshi implores. “Please, Reigen-san, you have to believe me. I just want my family to live in peace.”

“I believe you, Mizukoshi-san,” Reigen says, doing his best to honey his words, make them sound soothing. “My assistant and I will take the next available train up to your area. May I get your address?”

Mizukoshi blathers all the necessary details to him, clearly relieved that Reigen has taken his case. Once he’s gotten the address and directions written down, Reigen assures him they’ll be there before dusk and then hangs up the phone.

Mob is still sitting on the couch, gazing at him apprehensively.

“You up for a job?” Reigen asks, determined not to let his uncertainty cause a waver in his voice. He almost succeeds. “It’s in Iwate. We can take the shinkansen.”

“Sure,” Mob says, agreeing easily despite the storm in his eyes, and Reigen feels absolutely wretched.

“Mob,” he tries. “I’m - ”

“We should go,” Mob interrupts, closing the door to that conversation with a definitive slam. “It’s a long way to Iwate.”

Reigen buys them shinkansen tickets. It’s been a while since he’s been on a bullet train. Actually, he can’t remember the last time he’s taken one. Why spend tens of thousands of yen to get to your destination a few hours earlier when you can spend a fraction of that and arrive at the same place? Reigen has always been a proponent of the local train lines and night buses.

It’s different when someone else is paying for it, of course. In that case, Reigen will gladly - gleefully, even - spend the other person’s money to increase his comfort and convenience levels.

Mob is sulking, has been sulking since he picked up the damn phone in the office, and he’s staring gloomily out the window now, watching the tall concrete buildings fade away to smaller houses, and then farmland, mountains in the distance.

“Our room will come with a private onsen,” Reigen remarks, scrolling through the ryokan’s webpage. Mob steadfastly ignores him. Fine. “A personal TV, free non-alcoholic beverages up to ¥1000, and a traditional bathroom. Wo-ow.” He sounds bored, even to himself. “I wonder if I can swing for some free beer. That guy sounded pretty desperate.”

“You’re a lightweight, Shishou,” Mob says, the first words he’s spoken since they left the office. His eyes are still trained on the window. “Don’t overindulge.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Reigen mumbles, chin in his hand.

The rest of the train ride is made mostly in silence. Reigen takes a short nap, and when he wakes up he buys himself and Mob a couple of bento boxes for lunch from the passing saleslady's trolley. Reigen throws in a bag of milk candy for Mob, too. They eat, Reigen takes another nap, and before he knows it he's being shaken awake by Mob at their transfer point, shuffling off the shinkansen and blinking up at the station signs to find their next platform.

Their next platform, as it happens, is nearly empty.

“Not many people going to Hachimantai, huh,” Reigen observes, stifling a yawn behind his hand.

“No,” Mob agrees. He’s peering down the tracks, as though the train will suddenly appear if he just keeps looking for it long enough.

"You know," Reigen tries, because the silent treatment is getting old, and he’s starting to get annoyed. “I’ve heard that Hachimantai is super volcanic. The onsen will probably be sulfuric. It will probably stink.”

“That’s okay,” Mob says. “Sulfur is good for your skin.”

“Mob,” Reigen says, frustrated. That at least gets Mob to look at him. “Would it help if I said I was sorry?”

“Sorry for what, Shishou?” Mob asks. He turns back to the tracks. “You’re just doing what you think is best.”

“This isn’t easy for me either, you know,” Reigen bites out, and then bites his lip. “You just don’t understand - ”

“I understand perfectly fine, Shishou,” Mob says, and his tone is clipped, hurt. “You’ve made yourself clear.”

The train arrives at the station then, and Mob boards it wordlessly, Reigen following after, wishing things were different.

The Mizukoshi family ryokan sits neatly at the base of one of Hachimantai’s many mountains. It’s located a ways away from the small town clustered around the singular train station, and the area is lush with June foliage and dense forest. Reigen steers them towards the bus stop outside of the station; they may be in Iwate, but the June humidity is already starting to make him sweat, just by standing still. There’s no way he’s walking five kilometres uphill in this weather. He would probably die.

The inn itself is a beautiful piece of architecture: old, traditional, and very obviously haunted. Even Reigen, bereft of psychic or spiritual powers, can sense it, the cold, prickling sensation on the back of his neck a warning as soon as he steps off of the bus.

“There’s something here,” Mob says, peering up to the ridge of the roof, adorned as it is with elegant woodwork. “It’s very cold,, I think, but I can’t pinpoint its exact location. It’s like it’s everywhere at once. I’m having difficulty finding the source.”

Reigen sighs. So much for an open-and-shut case. “Looks like we’ll have to do some investigating, then. Unless the Mizukoshi family can point us in the right direction.”

“I doubt it,” Mob says, in that innocently blunt manner of his. He begins climbing the stone path to the front entrance, leaving Reigen to follow. “I’m sorry, Shishou, I know you wanted to perform the exorcism tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep with this curse hanging over the area. Could we do it tonight?”

“If that’s what you think is best,” Reigen says, and Mob, ahead of him, nods.

“It is,” he confirms. “Whatever caused this...well, I can just feel a lot of pain. Whoever cursed this place was very unhappy.”

Mizukoshi Toshihiko and his mother are waiting for them at the entrance to the inn, looking drawn and pale, garbed in black. For Mizukoshi’s father, Reigen recalls. He wonders idly what they did with the body, and decides he doesn’t really want to know.

“You must be Mizukoshi-san,” Reigen says, extending a hand. He wonders if they’ve been waiting at the door for them all day. Mizukoshi shakes with him and he turns to bow slightly to his mother. “My condolences for your loss,” he murmurs, and then straightens up.

“Who’s this?” Mizukoshi asks, turning a critical eye to Mob. “I was under the impression that you worked alone, Reigen-san.”

“I did mention that I would be bringing my assistant with me,” Reigen reminds him. “I hope this won’t be an issue - he’s invaluable to my work, you see.”

“Of course not,” Mizukoshi blusters, obviously afraid to lose face. “You will both be given access to any part of the inn you require.”

“Good, good,” Reigen says, and then pulls out his notepad. “Now, I know we already spoke over the phone, but I just wanted to ask a few more questions…”

Mizukoshi and his mother are, as Mob predicted, completely useless at providing any valuable information to Reigen. He allows them to shuffle off back to their rooms once he’s exhausted all avenues of questioning, and when he turns he finds Mob staring down the opposite hall.

“I don’t like this place, Shishou,” he says. “It feels awful in here.”

“Someone cursed the place,” Reigen replies. “Of course it feels shitty. Might as well go find our room before we start looking around.”

“Oh,” Mob says, as though he’s just realized something. “I didn’t bring an overnight bag.”

“Me neither,” Reigen says, starting down the hall, waving at Mob to follow him. “If this is a ryokan worth its salt, we shouldn’t need one. C’mon.”

Their room isn’t difficult to find. It’s on the first floor - private onsen, and all that - and Reigen notes the distinct lack of other patrons in the building as they pass the common room and dining room.

“Looks like everyone’s been scared off,” he muses, shoving their room key into the door. Small wonder, with the way this place feels. Giving him the heebie-jeebies.

Their room is nice. The genkan is spacious, the room beyond even bigger; the air smells of clean tatami, and Reigen can spy the large bathroom through an open door to his right.

“Nice,” Reigen whistles, slipping off his shoes and padding across the room. He slides open the shoji door to their private onsen, nodding in satisfaction.

Mob is standing in the middle of the room when he turns back, sliding the shoji door closed behind him. He’s kneading his bottom lip between his teeth, shuffling uncomfortably from one foot to another. “I don’t think you should go out there again,” he says worriedly, eyeing the shoji door warily.

“Hm? Why?” Reigen asks, kneeling to access the room’s mini-fridge. He curses internally at the price tags attached to the alcoholic drinks.

“It gives me a bad feeling,” Mob says. Reigen straightens, considering.

“Your bad feelings are usually right,” he concedes, and Mob sighs a breath of relief. “Do you think the curse has something to do with the onsen?”

“I don’t know,” Mob admits. “Maybe. It’s hard to tell. There’s so much - hate, and despair, here. It’s making it hard to concentrate.”

“Yikes. Must be some powerful stuff.”

Mob nods. “It is,” he agrees, eyes cast down to the tatami below his feet. “I think something horrible happened here, Shishou. Please be careful.”

Reigen claps a hand on Mob’s shoulder, making him jump. “I will,” he promises. “I was going to suggest we split up, but…” 

Mob shakes his head, insistent. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I thought not. If this curse really is as bad as you think it is, I don’t stand a chance. Geez, how have the Mizukoshis been living with this for years?” Reigen wonders. He’s been here for all of an hour and he’s ready to crawl out of his skin to get away.

Mob laughs, a hollow, fragile sound. “They’re trapped here,” he answers. “Remember? Mizukoshi-san’s father died trying to leave.”

So he did.

They begin their investigation back at the lobby, poking and prodding through the various empty rooms - both traditional and western - the inn has to offer. Mob has a look of concentration on his face, one that Reigen hasn’t seen in a while.

“This room feels heavier than the others,” Mob says. Sweat has begun to bead along his temple, sticking his hair to his face. They’re in one of the traditional rooms on the first floor, big enough to accommodate a family of four or five. “I think we should look around. Tell me if you find anything strange.” He starts examining the artwork on the tokonoma, so Reigen slides open the shoji door to the room’s private onsen. He steps out onto the cobbled flagstone, mindful of his socked feet, and looks around. The area is similar to the one attached to his and Mob’s room, enclosed by a sturdy bamboo screen, enveloped in the soft, dappled light of the evening filtering through the trees.

The door clacks shut behind him, and Reigen is about to turn around and yell at Mob after they agreed to stick together, but something strange, something intangible catches his vision out of the corner of his eye, and the words die on his tongue.

At first he thinks he must be imagining her, just a trick of the dying light through the awning of foliage, but when he turns to face her head on she’s stubbornly refused to disappear, so Reigen has to look at her, even though he wishes he didn’t. His breath begins to puff out in plumes in front of him, and Reigen thinks it’s weird that the temperature outside has dropped so drastically in the middle of June.

“You can see me.”

And so Reigen can.

She’s not human, Reigen can tell that much. She must be the spirit haunting this place, then. Cursing it.

She sits submerged in the onsen’s pool, water rippling entreatingly around her shoulders, and her hair, dark as night, flows freely in the water around her, ebbing and flowing with the breaths she pulls in and exhales. Her eyes are blackened pits, hollow, and yet when she looks at Reigen he feels seen, laid bare, cornered.

She is beautiful, all things considered.

“Ah. Hello,” he tries, in the very slim chance that the spirit is a nice one.

She wails, and the force of her anger, her sadness, her despair is so strong that Reigen is nearly brought to his knees by the weight of it.

“Who are you?” the spirit demands. “Why are you here? Have you come to get rid of me? Ha! Have they sent you to exorcise me? They wouldn’t let me go in life, but now that I’m dead they want me gone? Who - are - you?”

“Reigen Arataka,” Reigen answers easily, ignoring the sweat beginning to bead on his nape. This could go very poorly if he doesn’t choose his words carefully. “I’m not a psychic. I can’t exorcise you.”

“Liar,” the spirit hisses. “I can smell it on you. You reek of spiritual energy.”

Reigen looks down at himself, confused. He’s fairly certain he hasn’t awakened to psychic powers, but he’s never been able to detect a ghost before it’s revealed itself before - 

Oh. Oh shit.

He recalls, inopportunely, the kiss he had shared with Mob earlier that day, in his office. The boy must have transferred some of his power to Reigen again, whether by accident or on purpose he cannot say. He hadn’t realized, hadn’t felt any different except for, well, this. Seeing this morose, weeping, embittered spirit.

“Oh, uh, well, I’m just borrowing this,” Reigen blusters. His hands are moving, gesticulating wildly, and he struggles to calm himself, calm his hands. Flailing appendages won’t help him here. “And I’m not strong enough to even consider exorcising you, so - ”

Why - are - you - here.

“I - ” Reigen stammers. What would Mob do in this situation? Mob would try to understand. Mob would look at this woman and see something entirely different. He would feel sorry for her, probably. He would talk to her. “What happened to you?” Reigen asks, perhaps more bluntly than he would have liked, definitely more bluntly than Mob would have worded it, but he can feel the spirit’s aura, cold and razor-sharp and tragic, pressing in on him and it’s making it hard to think.

The spirit barks out a laugh and slowly, horrifyingly, stands so that she is no longer submerged in the putrid, stained water of the onsen pool. She is completely nude; pale as the snow with ink-dark hair, and the black, gaping maw of the twin gouges along her forearms are stark, immediate and noticeable. They’re leaking. Water, Reigen observes, and blood.

“You see,” she says, noticing Reigen’s eyes on her weeping wounds. “You see me. You see what I did to myself. My marriage was one of misery. Every day I bore the brunt of his frustration, his rage. Every day I wished for his death, wished for my death. I wanted to leave. I wanted to get out. They didn’t let me. I had no other choice.”

“Who didn’t let you?” Reigen asks.

“My husband. His family. Ah, Toshihiko, I curse you. I curse you, I curse you!” The spirit clutches ragged fingers to her skull, moaning and whimpering, agonized. The water in the onsen swells with her increasing distress, threatening to spill over the lip and onto the flagstone tile.

“Mizukoshi-san is your husband?” Reigen asks, warily, internally cursing the man himself. He doesn’t know what’s happening, my ass. “Why didn’t you kill him instead and run away?” he continues, perhaps stupidly, but the spirit seems to find this amusing, throwing her head back and barking out a gurgling laugh.

“He hired you to exorcise me, didn’t he,” she says, accurately. Her eyes, dark, empty, and sad, swivel, knifelike, to Reigen. “You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. He didn’t even tell you who I am, did he? Oh, Toshihiko, I curse you!”

“Why did you kill yourself?” Reigen demands. “Why did you end your own life?” Mizukoshi’s wife stops wailing her curses and turns to fix him with a piercing, empty stare.

“I cursed him. With my dying breath I cursed him. I hate him; I despise him. Him and his family, all of them can suffer. Suffer as I suffered; die as I died.”

Reigen isn’t psychic. Never has been, probably never will be. He’s okay with that. But even he knows that the curse this woman placed on her husband’s family is strong, bound with the essence of her life, her death. Her blood sealed the deal; as long as she exists, their clients will never know peace. And yet - 

“I wanted to leave,” the spirit sobs. Her hair clings to her exposed body, dark as the wounds cut along the lengths of her forearms. “I wanted to get away. From him, from all of it. He wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t let me.” She holds her arms out to him then, wrists up, beseeching, and the water, copper-red, gushes forth from the jagged gashes. A torrent, a waterfall, overflowing the edge of the onsen, flooding the stone.

Strange, Reigen thinks, that the water has begun to lap at his ankles when they’re outside.

Ah. Shit.

“Mob,” Reigen calls, or tries to; the words have barely scraped themselves past his throat when he finds that he can’t speak, can’t breathe. Water bursts forth from his mouth, his nose, tinted red. He vomits the foul substance, tasting of copper and sulfur, and the force of it is enough to bring him to his knees before the onsen, the spirit. So beautiful, so sad, so full of hatred. He never should have come out here alone.

Reigen isn’t psychic. Never has been, never will be. His words are his weapons, and talking fast won’t save him from such a spirit born of loathing and malice, water and blood. Ha, that’s rich, even coming from him. His words can’t save him now, anyway; he can’t speak. He can’t breathe.

“My husband wouldn’t let me leave,” the spirit howls, dragging herself over the edge of the bath, pitiful and misshapen. Her hair swirls with the eddies of water, now up to Reigen’s elbows, braced as they are on the stone below him. Her wrists are gaping, a mess of skin and flesh and bone and water, water, water, blood. “I just wanted to leave. I just wanted to leave.”

She’s next to Reigen now; he can see her pale face and those dark, empty eyes through his spotting vision. He vomits another stomachful of bloody water, heaving painfully until he’s sure he’s empty, and then heaving some more. He can’t breathe. He might die.

The spirit reaches out and grabs his arm; he loses his balance, falls to the side, almost completely submerging himself in the bloody water. She holds him afloat, adrift, cradling him to her bosom, tender as a lover.

“You want to leave, too,” she croons, even as Reigen struggles fruitlessly to pull himself from her grasp. If he can get away, if he can get to the door, he thinks he might be able to pound on it with his last remaining strength, tear through the shoji, anything, before he dies. He can’t breathe. He can’t think.

“You want to leave,” the spirit repeats. She tears at the sleeve of his jacket, and the fabric gives easily under her fingers, leaving his arm bare. “I can sense it, I can feel it. You’re like me. Let me help you.”

Reigen wishes he could scream, wishes he could tell her she's wrong, she's wrong, that what she's sensing isn't him at all but Mob's lingering feelings bleeding through his borrowed aura, but he can't speak. He can't breathe. He can't think. His vision is going dark.

Mizukoshi's wife brings her nails, now sharp and terrible as claws, to the soft spot at the inside of Reigen’s elbow.

I’m going to die, Reigen thinks. I hope Mob isn’t watching.

It hurts terribly, when the spirit digs her fingers savagely into his arm. It almost hurts more than his lungs, bursting with the desperate need for air. He would scream, except for the water and blood in his mouth. He screams past the water and blood. He screams. He doesn’t want to die.

The water recedes, the fingers recede, the spirit recedes. Reigen wonders why - she was so close to killing him, after all - but that doesn't matter, not anymore. He’s sopping wet, sprawled across the flagstone, and he’s bleeding, but the water is gone, and he can breathe. He can breathe.

Reigen gasps in the air he so desperately needs, nearly vomits again, curls up onto his side because it hurts so badly. He can feel Mob beside him, feel his oppressive aura - hot, angry, frantic - and when he cracks open an eye the spirit is a mangled, flayed shadow of a creature, thrown wretchedly over the side of the pool, limp. A ragdoll under the immense power flaring from the esper beside him.

“You want to leave, too,” she cackles, crackles, broken. Her hair is an inky sea, billowing darkly in the red water.

“No, I don’t,” Mob says, and with a small, fluid motion, he exorcises her.

Reigen’s arm is a mess. He heaves himself into a sitting position with the other one, nearly falls over backwards from the exertion of it, but Mob has knelt beside him, anchoring him with a steady hand around his shoulders. He heals Reigen without a word - Reigen wonders dimly when he learned to do that - and that’s when Reigen notices what has happened.

“You should save your 100% for something more important,” Reigen wheezes, a play at lightness. He hasn’t seen Mob lose control like this in a long, long time. Years. Funny that this should cause it.

“You are important,” Mob says, and his tone of voice brooks no room for argument, so Reigen doesn’t. Mob’s hair is swelling gently over his forehead, his ears, his nape. It’s mesmerizing. Reigen wishes he had the strength to reach up and run his fingers through it. He’s never felt Mob’s hair at 100%. He wonders what it’s like. “I’m sorry I was so late. By the time I understood what was happening I couldn’t leave the inn without throwing up water, and by the time I figured out how to break through the curse she was already - ”

“It’s okay,” Reigen breathes, trying to wave it off. He doesn’t want to think about what she had been about to do. “I - uh, well, I could only see her because I had some of your power. I should have come to get you instead of trying to take care of it by myself. My own fault.”

“My…” Mob says, brow furrowing, and then, in understanding, “oh.” His face is red now, a faint flush colouring his features. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

“Mob,” Reigen says weakly, and Mob finally looks at him. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Mob pulls in a breath, steadying himself. “Yes. You’re okay.” He helps Reigen to his feet, somewhat shakily, and leads him back into the inn’s room, away from that damned pool and the lingering stench of blood. He surprises Reigen, then, by enveloping him in a tight embrace. Reigen grasps at the back of his gakuran, burying his nose in Mob’s shoulder. He wonders when the boy got so tall, to be able to do this without needing to bend over double.

“Shishou,” Mob says, his breath ruffling through Reigen’s hair, warm and sweet and alive. “Arataka.” He breathes Reigen’s name like a prayer. Reigen shivers at the sound of it. “Can I give you more of my power?”

“Yes,” Reigen says, the word muffled by Mob’s gakuran. “Please. I’m about to pass out.”

He almost expects Mob to pull away and kiss him, almost wishes he would, but Mob simply bends his head and presses his lips to Reigen’s hair, soft, gentle. The transfer of power is just as delicate, Mob’s intoxicating energy flowing smoothly into Reigen until he feels less bone-achingly tired, rejuvenated enough to stand on his own.

He doesn’t. Stand on his own, that is. He remains leaning against Mob, loathe to break away, loathe to do the responsible thing, the right thing. He doesn’t want to, he thinks, childish and petulant. He wants to stay here, just for now. Maybe forever.

“Was that Mizukoshi-san’s wife?” Mob eventually asks.

“Yes,” Reigen answers. Sighing, he extrapolates himself from Mob’s arms, scrubbing at his eyes with his sleeved arm. Mob lets him, stepping back himself, back to that careful, safe distance. “She wanted a divorce, but Mizukoshi and his family refused her. She killed herself to curse them. To suffer as she suffered. To - to die, as she died.”

“Poor Mizukoshi-san,” Mob sighs, and Reigen knows he does not mean Toshihiko. “She must have felt so alone. I wish we had been able to speak with her earlier, before the curse drove her mad. Maybe we could have talked to her.” Reigen was right. Mob would have seen her through a different lens, had he been the one to stumble upon her: a broken, grieving woman, driven to madness by her husband’s abuse, his family’s abuse. Perhaps, if Mob had been the one to talk to her, things would have been different.

“I tried,” Reigen says, and Mob looks at him, surprise gleaming in his eyes. “I asked her what had happened. I tried to understand her, but I guess I couldn’t. She tried to kill me, after all. I didn’t even ask her for her name.”

“Still,” Mob says, quiet, reflective. “I’m glad you tried.”

“And I’m glad you were able to break through the curse without it killing you. It already killed Mizukoshi’s father, remember.”

“I remember,” Mob says. “I suppose now that her spirit has been exorcised the curse will lift.” He doesn’t sound like he particularly cares whether it does or not.

“Maybe,” Reigen says, remembering her torn-up arms, the water and blood gushing forth like a natural spring. “She cursed them with her blood. That’s some pretty serious stuff, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes. I suppose it is,” Mob agrees blandly. “They may be trapped in here for a little while longer, until the last of her essence fades.”

Reigen is finding it difficult to feel sorry for the Mizukoshi family, the circumstances being what they are.

“Do you want to know why I turned Hanazawa-kun down?” Mob asks. He’s fiddling with the edge of his sleeve, not looking at Reigen.

Yes, Reigen thinks. No, Reigen thinks. I already know why, Reigen thinks. “Why’s that?” he asks.

They’re back in their room; their futons had been laid out while they were poking around the inn, investigating, exorcising. A traditional dinner for two had been laid out on the table for them, long-cold now. Reigen has no appetite, anyway. Maybe he’ll wake up in the middle of the night, ravenous, but for now he’s content to let it sit.

Mob pulls in a breath, steadying himself. “He has these expectations for me,” he says, “as an esper. It feels like he’s always guaging himself against me, comparing himself to me. I don’t like that. I don’t want my partner to feel the need to do that.”

“I have expectations for you, too,” Reigen points out. This was not the answer he was expecting. He doesn’t know what to say, what to do. He has no script to follow.

“You expect me to come to work and do my job. That’s it,” Mob says, with feeling. “You’re not like the rest of them, Shishou.”

“Ouch,” Reigen jokes.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know. I don’t want psychic powers, anyway.”

Mob huffs out a laugh. “That’s what I like about you, Shishou,” he says, earnest. The compliment almost makes Reigen blush. He can feel the sweat beading along his hairline, his nerves beginning to fray under the weight of Mob’s words. “Hanazawa-kun has so many great expectations of me, and so does Suzuki-kun, and so does Serizawa-san, and so does Ritsu. It feels like everyone expects me to be someone, or something, that I’m not. Something greater than I am. You’ve always let me”

Reigen wants to yell, You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re so wrong, but he can’t find the words. He can’t find the courage.

“It began to feel like I was suffocating, under those expectations,” Mob continues. “And that scared me. It scared me, to feel so ungrateful to them, after all they’ve done for me, but I felt like I was drowning, and the only way that I could break the surface and get to air was to get away from it all.”

Reigen can relate. He had felt similarly once, before he quit his dull, stifling office job. He had run away, and he had kept running, and running, and running, until he had been forced to stop. Until Mob had forced him to stop.

He hadn’t ever been truly happy, until he stopped running.

“I get it,” he says, and Mob looks at him then. Reigen almost can’t bear the weight of that stare, so full of hope, so full of anxiety, so full of love. “But part of being an adult is facing those feelings head on and dealing with them before they consume you. Not by running away to Hokkaido,” Reigen adds, because he can see that Mob wants to argue with him. “Have you told Hanazawa-kun or your brother about any of this?”

Mob looks to the shoji door, shamefaced. “No,” he admits. “I didn’t know where to even begin. I didn’t know how to say it so it wouldn’t hurt them.”

“Sometimes you need to be hard on the people you love,” Reigen reminds him, and Mob nods, miserable.

“I remember,” he murmurs. “It’s just...difficult, sometimes.”

“Most relationships worth having sometimes are,” Reigen says sagely, and without an ounce of self-awareness. Mob shoots him an entreating look before turning his gaze to his lap.

“That’s why I’m trying so hard,” Mob says, and Reigen realizes too late that he’s no longer talking about his brother and his friends. “You’re worth having, Shishou.”

He can feel the embarrassed, pleased flush unfurl over his cheeks, his ears, his neck. He can see that Mob has seen it, that Mob is embarrassed by it as well. A droplet of sweat runs down Reigen’s temple.

“I want,” Reigen says. “I want to be worth having.”

“You are,” Mob insists, leaning forward on his knees, covering Reigen’s fists - clenched, worked into the fabric of his trousers - with his own hands, gentle, soothing.

“Look at me, Mob,” Reigen says, wretchedly. “I’m thirty-one, and you’re eighteen, and I’m - ” He doesn’t want to say it, because saying it will make it something real, something tangible, something that can’t be taken back.

“I love you,” Mob says, because Reigen is too much of a coward to say it himself.

“I wish you wouldn’t,” Reigen says. I wish he wouldn’t, Ritsu had said. You’re a bad influence on him.

“But I do,” Mob insists. “You know that I do.”

Reigen does. He knows only too well.

“I’ve loved you since I was fourteen,” Mob says, and now his eyes have begun to shine under the overhead light, and Reigen is so, so proud of him for having the courage to lay his soul bare before him, when Reigen can barely choke the words out himself.

“I know,” Reigen croaks. “What kind of teacher would I be, to take advantage of that?”

“You didn’t, though,” Mob says, gentle and patient. “You knew, all along you knew. You didn’t kiss me until I was seventeen, and only because I asked.”

“I shouldn’t have,” Reigen says.

“I’m glad that you did,” Mob returns. A tear traces its way over the swell of his cheek, the curve of his jaw.

Reigen buries his face in his hands, ruined. Mob is gentle, so gentle, as he pries Reigen’s fingers away from his face, as he replaces Reigen’s hands with his lips, soft and warm as a sunshower’s rain. He kisses Reigen’s tears away, and then he kisses Reigen, and Reigen no longer has the strength to tell himself he doesn’t want this, hasn’t wanted this all along. No longer has the strength to tell himself to be responsible, to do the right thing.

He’s only ever wanted this; he’s only ever wished he didn’t. He’s so tired.

“I love you,” Reigen whispers, and it feels freeing, to finally admit it out loud. To finally say it. A weight lifts from his shoulders, one he has been carrying for too long, and without it he finds that he can breathe, he can gasp, he can cry.

“I’m sorry, Arataka,” Mob says, pulling him close to his chest, and the use of his first name just makes Reigen cry even harder. “I didn’t know I was causing you so much anguish, so much pain. I’m sorry.”

He holds Reigen until his trembling settles, and then holds him a little longer after that, just because. Reigen is grateful.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Reigen says, once he is able to, past the lump in his throat. “You aren’t the one who hurt me. I was hurting myself, because I couldn’t face the facts, and I thought I should be better than that.”

“Are you still hurting?” Mob asks.

“No, I don’t think so,” Reigen says, and it’s true, as true as it can be.

“I’m glad,” Mob says, and Reigen kisses him. He kisses Mob like his life depends on it, and maybe it does, because kissing Mob feels good, and it feels like something he can’t spend the rest of his life without. He thinks, dramatically, that he may die if he never gets to kiss Mob again.

“Shishou,” Mob breathes against his skin, breathing him in, exhaling his essence sweetly over Reigen’s cheeks, his lips. “Arataka.”

Reigen finds himself on his back, Mob settling astride his hips, and he wonders if this is it, the culmination of years and years of restraint and frustration and longing, of wanting.

“I love you,” Mob says, pressing his mouth to Reigen’s mouth, his throat, his chest, fingers easing him out of his ruined jacket, his ruined shirt. “I love you, Arataka.”

“Mob,” Reigen says, and Mob looks up at him, eyes dark and wanting through his lashes. “You have beautiful eyes,” Reigen blurts, and Mob blinks, surprised, before he dissolves into giggles against Reigen’s chest.

“Thank you,” he says. “That’s very kind of you to say.”

“You know what I meant,” Reigen complains.

“Do I? Maybe I want to hear you say it,” Mob teases lightly, and then he’s removing his gakuran, his undershirt, and Reigen’s mouth goes dry.

“I love you,” he says, embarrassment flushed high on his cheeks, “but I didn’t bring anything for...this.”

“That’s okay,” Mob assures him. “I just want to be close to you.”

“Oh,” Reigen says, a little disappointed, but then Mob starts fiddling with his belt buckle, and the meaning behind his words becomes clear. “Oh.”

The Mizukoshi family, as it turns out, are able to exit the inn with the exorcism of Toshihiko’s wife complete. Reigen pushes his horrid client out the front door the next morning with little care for his well being; if the bastard chokes to death on water, well. That’s his own fault.

Mizukoshi Toshihiko yelps as he hits the flagstones, turning furiously to Reigen and puffing himself up fully and indignantly.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he demands, scrambling to his feet, trying to hide his scraped and bloody palms. His mother hovers nervously in the front door, but makes no motion to help her son stand.

“Curse is lifted,” Reigen replies, dispassionate, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his trousers. He looks a little ridiculous, he knows, his sleeves lopsided as they are, but he can’t bring himself to care. His arm still aches, and as good a job as Mob had done on it, the spot Mizukoshi’s wife had dug into is still angry and red. He wonders if it will scar.

“If you think I’m going to pay you after you’ve physically assaulted me - ”

“Listen here, Mizukoshi-san,” Reigen cuts across him, stepping forward so that he’s nearly nose-to-nose with the man. “I don’t give a goddamn fuck about receiving payment from some shitstained toerag like yourself. Your wife and I had a conversation about you last night, and she had some very interesting things to say.”

“Bullshit,” Mizukoshi bites out tersely. Sweat has begun to bead along his forehead. “My wife died years ago - ”

“Your wife killed herself because you and your family refused her a divorce, even after the abuse she had suffered at your hands,” Reigen interrupts smoothly and loudly. “She cursed you - and rightly so - to suffer the same pain as she did, and I wish you had choked to death on water before you thought to call me. The only reason we exorcised her today is because the curse drove her mad, to the point of indiscriminate killing, and as much as I would have loved to leave her be and let the curse do its work, I can’t allow innocent bystanders to die because you monsters don’t know how to be decent human beings. You’re lucky I don’t go to the police - I know about everything you did to her.”

Mizukoshi is looking very pale now. He stumbles back from Reigen, trips over the uneven flagstone, and falls heavily, knocking his head soundly on the hard stone. He does not move after that.

“Toshihiko!” his mother shrieks, finally ungluing herself from the doorway. She fusses around her unconscious son frantically, and Reigen takes that as his cue to get the hell out of dodge.

“Let’s go, Mob,” he says, feeling tired, and Mob follows him wordlessly down the stone path.

They catch a bus that brings them back down the mountain, through the forest and the quaint little town, and drops them off at the train station. They don’t say much to each other during the ride. What else is there to say? This case has left a sour feeling in Reigen’s stomach, and he imagines Mob is feeling much the same.

The train station is about as empty as it was the previous day. Reigen is grateful for that. They make their way to the single platform the station has, and they wait for the next southbound train.

It’s a good thing Reigen brought his credit card with him. He’s going to be out four shinkansen tickets by the time they get home. Mizukoshi never paid him back for the first two.

“Would you let me leave?” Mob wonders. He’s staring down the tracks, northward. “If I wanted to go.”

“Yes,” Reigen says, though he wishes it were otherwise. Before, not too long ago, really, he would have convinced Mob to stay. Not anymore, though.

“Would you go with me?” Mob asks. “If I left on a train, and never came back?”

Yes, Reigen thinks, In a heartbeat.

“Maybe,” he says instead. He wouldn’t mind a vacation up to Hokkaido, just the two of them.

“I don’t even know what I would do. Where I would go. I just want…”

Reigen understands. Being eighteen, and wanting everything. That insatiable hunger, that devouring anxiety. It seems so long ago, now.

“Do you,” Reigen starts, stops. He doesn’t know what he wants to say, how to word it. “Do you feel trapped with me?” he tries again. He thinks about the spirit. Her empty, sad eyes, her flowing wrists. The water that threatened to drown him, consume him.

“No,” Mob says, simple and honest, and even though Reigen knows that this is true, feels the relief swelling in him like a wave breaking over the shore, he wishes it were otherwise. He wishes Mob wanted to leave because of him. It would make things so much easier.

Things, as it turns out, are never easy when it comes to Mob.

“You can leave, if you want,” Reigen says. “You don’t have to stay with me forever. There’s so much out there.”

“Would you go with me?” Mob asks again, and Reigen can tell that it’s different from what he meant before. An offer, a proposal.

“That depends. Where are you going?” Reigen asks. Mob chances a glance at him, and then looks away, shy.

“Wakkanai, maybe,” he murmurs. “I’ve never been to Hokkaido.”

“You can see Russia on a clear day,” Reigen recites, remembering the guide book he had read on Hokkaido all those weeks ago.

“Why don’t we go right now,” Mob suggests, and Reigen isn’t sure whether he’s joking or not until he chances a look at Mob’s face, open and earnest and longing.

“Right now?” Reigen repeats, glancing up at the train schedule behind them.

“Yes,” Mob says. “We could go to Wakkanai. We don’t have to tell anyone.”

“Mob,” Reigen says.

“Just for a while,” Mob pleads. “It doesn’t have to be forever.”

Their train rolls up to the station then. The doors open. No one gets off. The carriages are empty.

“It’s the wrong season for cherry blossoms,” Reigen muses. He’s never been to Wakkanai. It could be fun.

“That’s okay,” Mob says. “Seeing Russia will be more interesting, probably.”

The train doors hiss as they close. The train grinds away from the station; Reigen and Mob are still on the platform. Mob watches it disappear around the bend, consumed by the dense foliage of the forest.

“The next train heading north is in twenty minutes,” Reigen recites, examining the schedule board. “We’ll probably have to stay overnight somewhere.”

“You should have let Mizukoshi-san pay you before you threw him onto the ground, Shishou,” Mob says morosely, eyes still on the tracks, and Reigen laughs.

“Mob,” he calls, waiting for him to turn around before saying, “call me Arataka.”

Mob’s face turns a bright, cherry tomato red. “W-why?” he stammers, and Reigen has to resist the urge to kiss him right there on the train platform. He could, no one would see. No one else is there. Just them, and the forest, and the mountains stretched to the heavens behind them.

“Well. You’ve already used it a few times before, and you’re eighteen. Plus, we’re kind of running away together. It would be weird if you kept calling me Shishou. Unless you don’t want to,” he adds, more self-consciously than he would have desired, but Mob is shaking his head and smiling a small, pleased smile.

“Arataka,” he says, bashful, and it sounds so sweet coming from him that Reigen almost wants to cry.

He does kiss Mob then, steps forward and takes his face into his hands, presses his mouth to his, wanting, wanting, needing. Mob sinks into him, sighs into him, clutches to Reigen’s lapels as though his life depends on it.

“Arataka,” Mob murmurs against his mouth, so Reigen kisses him again, and again, and again.

He can picture the headlines in the news - REIGEN ARATAKA ACCUSED OF KIDNAPPING BARELY-LEGAL ASSISTANT FOR NEFARIOUS MEANS - and the inevitable fallout from literally everybody he knows.

“What are we doing, Mob?” he asks, laughing a little, feeling silly. “We can’t go to Hokkaido. You have school tomorrow.”

“I know,” Mob says back, and pulls away. He’s smiling too, sharing the joke. “But it’s nice to pretend, sometimes.”

It is. Reigen used to play pretend, back when he was a kid. When he was bullied and had no friends, he could pretend that they were all just jealous of him for his amazing looks and incredible charm, not to mention his quick wit and incredible intelligence. It helped, back then. It stopped being quite so helpful, as he got older.

But still. It could be nice to pretend.

“Are we going to pretend that we haven’t, that we aren’t,” Mob begins, unsure of how to word it. He pulls in a nervous breath. “Are we going to go back to how things were?” he ends up asking.

“No,” Reigen says. He’s tired of pretending, at least on that front. He’s standing on a precipice, has been for a while now, and he’s finally ready to take the plunge. “Not unless you want to.”

“I don’t want to,” Mob breathes, and he must be happy, Reigen thinks, because his hair has begun to lift off of his forehead, gentle as the morning waves against the shore.

“Neither do I,” Reigen says. He reaches out, over to Mob, and takes his hand, squeezing his fingers tightly. They stand that way as the northbound train arrives at the platform, doors sighing open, and then shut. They stand that way as the train wheezes away from the platform; they stand that way until the next southbound train takes its place. Reigen gives Mob a gentle tug, and they board the train to go home.

It’s nice to pretend. Pretend that they’re not heading back to Seasoning city. That they’re sitting on an empty train that’s headed north as far as it can go, and then some. Wakkanai or bust.

And maybe it’s the emptiness of the train carriage, or maybe it’s the transience of the afternoon sky slipping quietly into dusky reds and purples, or maybe it’s just the distance from home, but Mob reaches over and threads his fingers through Reigen’s. He rests his head on Reigen’s shoulder; his hand is warm, pressed tight and close, and Reigen thinks to himself that it wouldn’t be so bad, if they stayed like this forever.