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Liar Liar

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Walking side by side again fills Reigen with an overwhelming and aching sense of nostalgia. It’s not the only thing he feels but he could sooner endure all the tortures of enhanced interrogation than put a name to it. He doesn’t get to see Mob often anymore; The boy who wandered into his life nearly a decade ago, upending and altering the course of it forever, had grown up right before his eyes and, before he could even process it, headed off to another city to attend university, leaving Reigen in the wreckage.

He does a fair job of keeping the emptiness he feels suppressed into the back of his mind, but feeling that gaping void at his side refilled when Mob accompanies him on a job now and then when he’s home on vacation brings the reality of how lonely and purposeless he feels with Mob gone back to the forefront of his mind. Seeing Mob these days is agonizingly bittersweet and the hollowness he leaves behind lingers like weeks-long withdrawal. Spending even a fraction of his valuable vacation time that he should be spending with friends and family with him instead is something Reigen appreciates, although he would always performatively protest Mob coming to see him despite feeling like a starving man turning away a warm meal. Mob often volunteered himself for helping on jobs now unlike when he was younger, irritated when Reigen would call him out on a job when he was preoccupied. He wonders if he feels nostalgic, too–maybe even misses him a little.

It’s for the best if he doesn’t, Reigen knows. This is all what he wanted, after all–for Mob to move on, go off to college, meet new people, experience new things, move on from his dead-end crush on his washed up old con man of a teacher fourteen years his senior. There’s not a day that goes by that the moment Mob first confessed to him doesn’t replay in his mind. Reigen had turned him down as bluntly as he could in his mortification upon Mob triggering the realization in him, oblivious until that very moment–that Reigen felt the same. He knew he had to say it with conviction. Break his heart. Lie.

I don’t feel that way about you. I never will. I’m sorry.

Mob’s face at those words is etched into his mind. It wasn’t shock or surprise or heartbreak, simply resignation and acceptance. Mob had been expecting that answer fully and wholeheartedly, and somehow that left Reigen feeling more gutted than if he had been genuinely expecting reciprocation. Reigen has told a lot of lies in his life but none haunts him more than this, not even all the years he feigned being a psychic so that he could take advantage of the powers of a young boy to feel any sense of purpose in his life–of being needed and respected. Loved , his mind supplies against his will.

Reigen can’t believe that his heart has the audacity to feel a twinge of hurt at the idea that Mob really is moving on from him, building his own life without him in it and would soon, slowly but surely, leave him behind for good to survive only off the dying flame of his memories of him.

It’s always a little otherworldly having Mob with him when he’s home from university for a visit, like a specter that will vanish into smoke if he were to reach out and attempt to touch it. He doesn’t dare, though. He knows the one that haunts him is flesh and bone.

“Shishou, are you sure this one is actually a spirit?” Mob asks, pulling Reigen out of his thoughtful lapse into silence. Shishou. He knows by now he’ll never break Mob of using the term but it always lances through him, equal parts nostalgic fondness and grief for the gulf between them. He dug it himself, he has no right to grieve.

“Seems to be. They’ve been having problems for a while, something about the spirit making people behave or speak unusually,” Reigen explains. “Doesn’t seem to be anything that could happen through natural means.”

Mob just hums in response and falls silent again. He’s certainly become more assertive with age but he remains not much of a conversationalist. Reigen is fond of the little reminders of the boy he used to be, so different yet still just the same. He still catches himself habitually looking down sometimes when Mob’s voice draws his attention even though they’ve been near the same height for several years now.

They arrive after a short walk, it’s a large place, seemingly an older multi-family residence on an acreage, and the people living there are being plagued by a spirit that’s affecting their speech in various ways. It doesn’t seem to be a dangerous spirit, perhaps just a mischievous one.

“Not to worry, sir. We’ll have this under control in no time. My assistant and I will take to exploring the residence to pinpoint the spirit’s location, and then, will perform the exorcism,” Reigen says with all his usual self-assured bombast. He had lost some of his theatrical spark with clients over the years but he guesses having Mob with him really does have him feeling nostalgic, reacquainting with the pieces of himself that Mob unknowingly keeps with him. The man expresses his gratitude and gives them free access to the entire residence, and Mob and Reigen take to exploring.

“Feel anything, Mob?” Reigen asks him.

“Yes, I can sense it. I don’t think it’s in the house, though. I think it may be somewhere on the premises outside,” Mob tells him.

“Alright, let’s go check it out,” Reigen says, leading the way. Mob’s senses point him to a large outdoor building–whether it used to be a barn or some kind of shrine he’s not sure, the internal architecture has been mostly stripped leaving beams and boards littered on the floor where they’d decayed off of the building.

“Careful with your powers in here, this building looks frail,” Reigen says. Mob nods and spreads his aura, searching for the spirit.

“Over there,” he says, pointing to a heap of debris in the corner, and when the spirit realizes it’s been caught, it leaps out and reveals itself, an undulating thing with too many mouths and sets of eyes.

“Who are you?” it asks them.

“We are Reigen Arataka and my assistant, Mob. We are psychics and we’re here to exorcise you,” Reigen explains.

“Psychics?” the spirit scoffs. It flares up in anger and Reigen regrets opening his mouth. He sees Mob’s hand lift out of the corner of his eye, but not quickly enough–one of the fallen beams is hurtling toward them.

“Shishou!” Mob exclaims and Reigen is knocked away with so much force it expels all the air from his lungs. It wasn’t the beam, he realizes when he lands roughly halfway across the building–it was Mob flinging him out of the way with his power. He looks up in time to see Mob rolling across the room like a ragdoll, having taken the full force of the beam.

Mob! ” Reigen cries out to him. He’s not getting up. Reigen staggers to his feet and approaches the spirit. He knows this doesn’t work but it’s all he has to buy Mob some time, the spirit attempting to go for his fallen body.

“Halt!” he says, holding up a hand to the spirit. “You will not harm my assistant. Now you’ll be dealing with me.” Reigen says with as much threat as he can manage. He reaches into his inner coat pocket, grabs a fistful of salt, and hurls it at the spirit. The spirit howls in anger for a moment before pausing.

“What kind of joke is this?” it seethes. Reigen swallows, praying Mob will come around in time. The wind is knocked out of him for a second time when the spirit painfully pins him to the floor, hanging over him, gaping maw full of too many teeth and strings of ectoplasm dripping onto Reigen like saliva. “You… You’re a–” The spirit erupts into an ungodly screech, the multicolored spectacle of Mob’s power filling Reigen’s vision, almost blinding. The weight lifts off of his chest and the spirit’s form dissipates into a colorful burst of particles.

“That it?” Reigen asks, rising to dust himself off, downplaying just how certain he’d been for a moment that he might die. “That was pretty underwhelming, guess it was a weak one after all.” Reigen gives him a stiff little pat on the shoulder. “You alright, Mob? That thing really nailed you.”

“Yes,” he pants, looking rattled. “Are you?”

“Yeah, fine,” Reigen says. “Let’s go tell the clients it’s taken care of.” Mob nods and follows after him.

“You… you’re no esper!” a shrill, small voice comes from behind them. They both turn to see a small spirit floating in the space the larger one had been looming over them before, looking fairy reminiscent of Dimple but red in color.

“Hah? Mob, I don’t think you finished him off,” Reigen says, pointing at the little floating wisp of a spirit.

“You’re a liar… a liar and a fraud!” the ghost cries out.

The spirit rushes Reigen before Mob can react.

“Ah, Shishou!” Mob exclaims, stretching out his hand and evaporating the spirit right in front of Reigen’s face. The spirit dissipates into wisps of red smoke, wafting past Reigen’s face. He sniffles a little before bringing up a hand to fan the air.

“Jeez, a little quicker on the draw next time, Mob. What was that about?” Reigen asks.

“Are you alright?” Mob asks, looking a little concerned.

“Hm? Yeah, fine, he didn’t touch me. He was pretty weak, right? Nothing to be concerned about,” Reigen waves him off.

“Spirits can be unpredictable,” Mob warns.

“It’s fine, Mob. You’d sense if anything were amiss,” Reigen reassures. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. We can go out for a bite to eat before you head off back home, what do you say?”

Mob huffs, but nods with a small smile, seemingly abated for now.

 

 

Reigen glances up when he hears the door to his office open, expecting a client but instead seeing Mob come through the door.

“Mob? I didn’t think you were coming here today,” Reigen says, confused. It’s the day after their exorcism and it had been the only time he was expecting him anytime soon. “Shouldn’t you be spending time with your friends and family while you’re here?”

“Nobody was doing much today,” Mob responds, closing the office door behind him. “I thought I would stop by.”

“Well you’re always welcome, but you shouldn’t waste your vacation hanging around here,” Reigen waves a hand at him. “I’m expecting a client soon but I don’t have much else lined up today.”

“I don’t mind,” Mob says, seating himself on the couch.

“If you say so,” Reigen responds with a roll of his shoulders. He has a fairly good guess as to why Mob insists on spending so much of his vacation time hanging around him, but Reigen very conspicuously avoids the topic. Mob had been merciful enough to not bring it up in the past year or two and he isn’t about to go stirring around that hornet’s nest just for confirmation he’d rather not have. If maintaining the veil of normalcy in their relationship fails it’s all over.

Mob suddenly stiffens and looks in Reigen’s direction, eyes wide.

“Shishou, have you felt anything strange since yesterday?” Mob asks, eyeing him.

“No, why do you ask?” Reigen says, a finger stroking his chin in thought.

“I sense something. It’s faint, but…” Mob says.

The opening of his door catches his attention, cutting Mob off mid-sentence. This time it’s the client Reigen had been expecting. It’s a short older woman, feeble and noticeably distraught, ambling her way into the office.

“Welcome, ma’am. Please have a seat,” Reigen greets, motioning for her to sit in the chair in front of his desk.

“Shishou…” Mob tries for Reigen’s attention again.

“Sorry, Mob. Not now, you can tell me later,” Reigen brushes him off, turning his attention back to the client. “Please tell me what sort of problem it is you’re having.” He can see Mob falter out of the corner of his eyes, wanting to continue, but he doesn’t try to interrupt again.

“Oh, thank you, I’m so grateful you’re willing to listen. I’ve seen three other psychics already but none of them would believe a word I said,” she explains. “They don’t believe that my issue is supernatural.”

“I always take my clients seriously,” Reigen says with an exaggerated smile. “I’m positive I can solve your problem.”

“Thank you, thank you,” she takes Reigen’s hand, shaking it in gratitude.

Reigen sees Mob watching him unflinchingly, somewhat unnerving, as the woman relays to him what she’s been experiencing. It sounds like more of the usual, the feeling of a heavy weight burdening her body, nothing one of his “massages” can’t fix. Reigen nods as he pulls a flier out of his drawer, placing it in front of the woman.

“These are the courses we offer, I think all you need is the basic course to sort out your problems,” Reigen says, pointing to the cheapest one on offer.

“Really? Oh, that’s wonderful,” she responds, clapping her hands together in delight.

“Yes, if you’d come with me this way we can get started,” Reigen says as he stands from his desk, motioning her back to the massage room. He leads her back, feeling Mob’s eyes following them. Once the door is shut behind them Reigen begins lighting some incense and gathering up his supplies.

“So what is entailed in this course?” the woman asks.

“Oh, just a simple massage,” Reigen answers. He freezes, the salt and oils dropping out of his hands.

“I beg your pardon? A massage?” she balks. Reigen turns around sharply, his hands flailing in panic.

“Yes! Wait, I mean, yes, it’s a completely normal massage!” he yells. His hands come up to his face, as if they might find some physical reason why his mouth isn’t working properly. He slaps his cheeks with both hands.

“I… I thought you were going to take me seriously!” the woman cries out.

“I am!” Reigen defends. “I take all my clients very seriously!”

“Then why are you bringing me back here for a massage?” the woman asks, hand clutched over her chest and turning away from him, emphasizing how appalled she is.

“Because you’re not possessed, you’re just old and need a massage!” Reigen explains, growing frantic. He claps a hand over his mouth.

“Well I never-!” the woman replies. “Is this how you treat all of your customers? Who do you think you are?” Reigen is afraid of what’s going to come out when he removes his hand from his face. He gathers himself, takes in a breath, carefully plans the words he’s going to say. He exhales, steeling himself, preparing the seriousness of his tone. He straightens his spine and takes off his hand.

“Ma’am, I am a complete fraud and a con artist,” he says straight faced. He buckles immediately.

“What on earth are you playing at?” the woman asks him, still angry but equal parts baffled now. “I am taking my business elsewhere, and to think I had thought that you would be different.” Reigen panics as she begins to storm off and opens the door with a sharp bang against the wall. He follows after her, hands waving frantically.

“No, wait, ma’am! I’m sorry, come back!” Reigen calls after her, running out of the massage room. He can see Mob watching them like a deer caught in headlights out of the corner of his eye.

“Absolutely not, I won’t stand for another minute of this! You have wasted my time and I will not be made a fool of!” she turns to scorn him, jabbing her finger in his face. He lurches backwards before it takes out one of his eyes.

“I swear, I can’t explain,” Reigen says. He shakes his head. “I mean… I really can help you, you’re just not possessed!” It’s not what he means to say either. What the hell is going on? The woman balks.

“You’re the worst psychic I have ever visited, at least the others had the decency to turn me away from the start!” she says, turning to leave. Reigen is at a loss for words, and lets her this time. The door slams and the office suddenly goes still and quiet save for the fading echo of her footsteps storming down the stairwell. Reigen stays frozen in stunned silence until Mob stands from his desk to approach him.

“Shishou… what on earth just…” Mob asks, cut off by Reigen turning to him making the gravest face he’d ever made in his life. He grabs Mob by the upper arms, shaking him.

“Mob… I can’t lie,” he says severely. Mob looks no less confused.

“Lie about what?” he asks, rattled from Reigen’s shaking.

“About anything!” he shouts, letting Mob go to throw his hands up into the air. “When I open my mouth to say anything it’s like I can’t control what comes out!” Mob considers for a moment before awareness piques.

“It’s what I was trying to tell you earlier. I can sense something on you. It’s very faint, but… I think that spirit from yesterday may have left some kind of trace behind on you,” he explains.

“Sense something? Why didn’t you just come out with it!” Reigen cries out. “So you should be able to get rid of it, right?”

“I don’t know… I can try,” Mob says, unsure. He stretches a hand out to Reigen, palm flat in front of his chest a hair’s breadth away. Reigen’s impulse is to jerk away but he lets Mob probe into him with his power, and it’s an odd feeling. Reigen can faintly feel it spreading through him, filling up his chest. It catches on something and Reigen’s breath hitches. He can’t help but flinch away.

“What was…” Reigen asks, startled. Mob looks just as shocked.

“Shishou… it’s a curse. I’m sorry, my power can’t do anything about this,” he says, lowering his hand and his head, looking in despair. “The only option is to play them out or, if there’s a trigger to dispel it, figure it out. If Dimple were here he might be able to do something but I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Curse?” Reigen exclaims. “You have to be kidding me, a curse? What the hell am I gonna do, I have several clients already booked today!”

“I’m sorry,” Mob repeats.

“Well, where’s Dimple?!” he asks, hands tangling in his hair. “Always around when you never want him…”

“I don’t know,” Mob laments. Reigen sighs, all the heat leaving his tone.

“I doubt he’d help anyway. He’d probably think this is a hilarious dose of karma,” Reigen says with a bitter little laugh. “Guess he’d be right.” He goes quiet for a moment to think and find his resolve. 

“Let’s confirm the theory, at least…” Reigen ponders out loud, stroking his chin. He snaps his fingers. “Ask me something.”

“Ask? Um…” Mob says, taking longer than he should for such a simple request, put on the spot. Reigen smears his hand down his face as he waits. “While I’ve been away for college… Do you miss me?”

“Excruciatingly,” Reigen says, making an odd strangled noise when he does. “Why would you ask me that?!”

“Is that true?” Mob asks, eyes going wide.

“You’re supposed to ask me something both of us already know the answer to!” Reigen cries in absolute despair, hands gesturing wildly in Mob’s face.

“Oh… um…” Mob says, thinking again. “Are you a psychic?”

“No!” Reigen shouts. It takes him a moment before his brain catches up. “Shit! I really can’t lie!” Both hands go up to cover his face and he staggers to his couch, collapsing with his head in his hands. He’s absolutely floored with disbelief. He’s been an atheist all his life but God is real and he’s come to collect Reigen’s dues, he’s sure of it now. An ordinary person may have begun to wonder what they’d done to deserve it, but Reigen doesn’t have to. He hears the soft sound of Mob’s footsteps approaching him, stopping a couple feet shy of him.

“Is that really so bad?” Mob asks him. Reigen scoffs. Mob–so virtuous, effortlessly. He’d never understand the plight of sinners.

“It is when you’ve built your entire life, your career, around lies,” Reigen says, miserable.

“It shouldn’t last long, or maybe we can figure out the trigger to break it, if there is one,” Mob tries to reassure.

“And until then?” Reigen asks. “What am I supposed to do about the clients I have booked today? None of them sounded like they needed any real exorcisms.” Mob goes quiet for a moment.

“I could try to handle the clients, if you want,” he offers. Reigen slowly looks up at him.

“Mob… you would be a horrible liar,” Reigen responds. Mob actually has the audacity to look a little hurt by that comment. Reigen sighs, exasperated. “I can’t ask you to lie for my sake.”

“I can try. I’ve been watching you do it for years, so…” A factual observation–he knows there’s no heat behind it but he feels that burn. Outrageous. It’s an absurd scenario, having a guy that’s probably never lied as long as he’s been alive trying to run Reigen’s business–a business he built entirely off of lies. It’s remarkable it’s stayed afloat this long, though psychics with actual power like Mob and Serizawa bolstering it played just as much a part as Reigen’s power to pull bullshit out of thin air.

“Really, I can’t ask that of you. I’m pretty much always flying by the seat of my pants, and you’re not great at thinking on the spot,” Reigen says. “No offense.”

“I think I could do it. Do you have anything to lose?” he asks.

“Mob, you struggled to even think of a question to ask me a second ago,” Reigen points out.

“I want to help you. Please let me,” Mob says with newfound conviction. Reigen has to admit, Mob is determined and doesn’t often fail when he’s really dedicated to a cause. He sighs in defeat.

“Alright. Alright, fine. What other choice do I really have?” Reigen huffs a laugh, resigned. “Okay,  Mob. Let’s get you up to speed. I’ll do my best to give you some advice, and I’ll do whatever I can on the sidelines. I can tell the clients that you’re taking the wheel for the day. Since that client was a bust we have a bit of time until the next one gets here.”

“Okay,” Mob says with a firm nod.

Reigen gestures him over to his desk, having him sit in his chair. He does his best to talk Mob through his basic thought processes when dealing with clients and coming up with creative solutions unique to their problems. Mob seems a little overwhelmed, but he remains steadfast in his desire to help Reigen no matter how uncomfortable or uncertain he feels. Reigen feels like a complete heel having Mob lie for him but he’s not sure what else to do.

“Think you can handle all that?” Reigen asks after giving him the gist of it. 

“I, uh… I think so,” Mob says, seeming uncertain. Reigen hums.

“Wanna give it a test run?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ll pretend like I’m a client and you try to help me with my problem,” Reigen explains, moving to sit in the client chair across from Mob.

“Oh, alright,” Mob says, placing his hands on the desk with his fingers laced together, trying his best to look professional and composed. God, this is never going to work.

“Okay,” Reigen says, taking in a sharp breath. When Mob doesn’t say anything for an uncomfortable stretch of time, Reigen prompts him. “Go on, then.”

“Oh! Uh… Welcome. What sort of problem are you having?” Mob asks.

“Well, my whole life is a lie and I’m living a hell of my own making and I’m having to have my former student fourteen years younger than me bail me out.”

“Shishou…” Mob says, unamused.

“Shit…” Reigen says, realization hitting him. “Didn’t think this one through.” Mob blinks.

“You weren’t joking?” he asks. Reigen sighs and drops his head into one of his hands.

“Alright, nevermind, we’ll just have to hope for the best. The next client should be due soon,” Reigen says, looking at the clock on the wall.

Right on time, the client arrives–another older woman around her sixties. Reigen deals with the greeting and tells her to have a seat in the client’s chair.

“Welcome to Spirits and Such, ma’am. My student is helping me out today, so he’ll be helping you with your problem under my guidance,” Reigen explains to her, stepping a few paces behind the chair so he can covertly gesture to Mob if need be.

“Oh, alright then,” she says, turning toward Mob with an expectant look on her face. Mob swallows and gathers his nerves, and Reigen can’t help but brace himself.

“Welcome, ma’am. How can we help you?” he starts. Good, good.

“Well, I have been having some problems at home…” she starts, wringing her wrinkled hands. “I’ve been hearing strange noises in my house, like something is inside the walls.” Mob nods, motioning for her to continue. “I hear noises, like skittering, and horrible thuds and bangs from upstairs. I think the neighbors are being haunted as well. I often feel as if I can’t breathe.” She clutches at her chest.

“Well, ma’am, it sounds like…” Mob starts, looking toward Reigen with a desperate look on his face. Reigen tries his best to sign at him, wiggling his fingers to mimic the skittering of bugs and scissoring his fingers above his head like antennae.

“Bugs?” Mob says. Reigen slaps a hand over his face. You’re not supposed to say it, idiot!

“Bugs?” the woman echoes. “My home is perfectly clean, I’ll have you know. I’ve never had an insect problem!” Reigen shakes his head wildly, gesturing like a stereotypical ghost this time.

“I-I mean… ghost bugs,” Mob says. Reigen blanches. This is a disaster.

Ghost bugs?” she repeats. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” 

“Yes. Ghost bugs,” Mob doubles down with conviction. 

Say something with enough conviction and people tend to believe it , Reigen had told Mob as he was tutoring him in how he deals with clients. Mob appears to be putting that into practice now. 

Reigen thinks fast on how he can salvage this. He remembers he has a can of bug repellant in one of his cabinets. He gestures for Mob to stall, praying for the best. Mob looks mortified to be left to his own devices.

“Yes, they, um…” Mob starts. “Bugs, they… they also have spirits. They can become vengeful when people step on them.” Reigen is in agony overhearing this conversation, but he has to work with what he’s got. He can’t believe he’s now teaching Mob how to lie to people. God, what a shishou. He slaps a blank adhesive label over the can of insect spray and begins to quickly scrawl his own words on it.

“Is that really true?” she asks, then begins to think out loud. “I guess that would explain why I’m not seeing any bugs, but…”

“Yes, that’s right,” Mob confirms. “It’s, um… a fairly common problem.” Reigen sees Mob craning around to look at what he’s doing, desperate for Reigen to jump back in to mitigate the damage.

“And we have exactly what you need to solve it,” Reigen says as he scribbles the final words on the label. He prays this will work. He walks over to Mob and places the can in front of him, watching Mob read over it.

“Spirit Repellant,” Mob reads out loud, the words “spirit” double underlined by Reigen. Mob turns the can over and reads it. “You spray this around all the baseboards in your home, and the spirits will be repulsed. Imbued with spiritual power and purification salts.” He looks up at Reigen, an incredulous look on his face, and Reigen offers him a thumbs up.

“It’s really this simple?” the woman asks, taking the can when Mob offers it to her. “Well I… I suppose I can give it a try.”

“Money back guarantee,” Reigen adds.

“Well, alright then. Thank you so much, if this doesn’t work I will let you know,” she says. Reigen finishes up the pleasantries and leads her out the door, bracing himself against it once she’s gone and rubbing at his temples.

“I guess that didn’t go as horrible as it could have,” he says. “If we can get through this day without anybody else storming out I guess we can’t call that anything but a success.”

“Did I do alright?” Mob asks him, looking sheepish. Reigen sighs through his nose and smiles at him.

“Yeah, you did alright,” he praises. “Not too bad for your first time lying to someone.” He mentally kicks himself.

“It’s not easy. You always seem so confident,” Mob says.

“Years of practice,” Reigen says with a wry smile, but all he really feels is shame. Having Mob doing his job for him uproots all the shame he’d left long-buried in all his years of doing this, having gotten used to the feeling and trying to focus as best he can on just helping people no matter the means. What the hell have I done with my life?

The rest of the morning goes well enough, Mob getting used to the general flow of dealing with customers and better at interpreting Reigen’s gestures with bits of critique from Reigen between clients. He’d long since dropped the act of being Mob’s “Shishou” despite his stubborn insistence on continuing to use the term, but it felt like he had taken up that role again. He felt an odd mix of pride and shame seeing Mob developing his people skills while also learning to effectively lie to people. He’s fortunate that Mob has grown up into a good enough person that he likely has no real need or desire to lie to people under normal circumstances. Reigen wishes with consuming intensity that he knew how that felt.

It all goes fine until Mob is wrapping up with a client–he’d taken up to doing that as well now, getting a bit more comfortable with handling people. She seems absolutely charmed by him and Mob is glowing from the flattery. He really never changes in some ways, Reigen thinks as he watches him. He wonders if Mob still carries some remnant desire to be popular from his adolescence.

Reigen sees her out and she says her goodbyes to Mob.

“Your student is doing a wonderful job, you should be very proud,” she says to Reigen, patting him on the arm. “And such a handsome boy, too.”

“Yes he certainly is,” Reigen’s tongue betrays and he has to restrain the full body jolt that follows.

“Have a good afternoon, boys. Thank you so much,” she says as she leaves, shutting the office door behind her. Reigen dreads having to turn to face Mob, hoping it had rolled off him as an offhand comment. Someone being handsome can be acknowledged without being attracted to them, after all. Right? The hope is dashed when he turns to a red-faced and wide-eyed Mob.

“Another great job, Mob!” Reigen says with a bit more volume than intended, attempting to head off Mob before he can open his mouth. “You’re really getting the hang of this. Looks like I made the right call leaving this place to you in my will.”

“Wait, what?” Mob asks, his embarrassment forgotten. Reigen realizes what he’d just said and swallows. He forgot he had never told Mob about that.

“Well…” he starts, scratching at one of his cheeks. “Remember the train I got stuck on?” When Mob nods, he continues. “I sort of… lost it and wrote a will and left this place to you in it.”

“Oh…” is all Mob can say. It’s obviously a heavy thing to consider. “I had no idea.”

“Yeah…” Reigen rubs at the back of his neck. “You may not want it, but… I couldn’t think of anybody else who might.” He sighs, then steps toward Mob to give a gentle squeeze to one of his shoulders. “You’d be good at it. Really. You could turn this into an honest business, make it everything that I couldn’t.”

“I don’t know, Shishou. There are lots of real psychics in the world,” Mob says, looking up to meet his eyes. “I think this place succeeded because of you.”

“Nah,” Reigen says with a bashful roll of his shoulders. “I’m just a washed up old con man.”

“That’s not true,” Mob says with a confidence that takes Reigen aback a little. “You help people. You helped me. Saved me. It wasn’t the powers you pretended to have. It was you.” Reigen doesn’t know what to say–he’s never been good at accepting such sincere compliments about himself, ones he feels can’t be farther from the truth. Despite that, it fills him with warmth against his will.

“Thank you,” is all he decides to say. He wonders if Mob realizes how much he’s saved Reigen too.

The rest of the day goes by smoothly, and by the end of it, both Reigen and Mob seem frayed and exhausted. Reigen collapses onto the couch and Mob settles next to him, and they take a bit of a breather as the last client leaves them.

“Good job, Mob. Thanks for helping me out today. I have to admit I was skeptical at first but you really managed just fine,” Reigen says.

“I’m just happy that I could help,” Mob says, his tiredness evident.

“Why don’t I take you out for some ramen as thanks for saving my skin? My treat,” Reigen says to him with a clap to his shoulder.

“Okay,” Mob responds, getting up and following behind Reigen as he locks up the office.

Reigen takes them to a bit nicer of a place than they normally go to, usually small stands open to the outdoors, figuring Mob deserves at least that much for helping him out. They sit down across from one another in a small cozy booth, lit warm red by the overhead lanterns.

“Feel free to get as much chashu pork as you’d like,” Reigen offers. Mob gives him a small smile and a quiet thanks for the generous offer, although he still orders a modest amount in comparison to Reigen when the server comes to their table to take down their orders. Reigen heaves a dramatic sigh when she leaves them with their drinks, releasing a little of the tension of the day.

“Man, talk about a nightmare. Almost laughably poetic, when you think about it,” Reigen mulls over the curse. “Maybe I should start believing in a higher power because it seems crazier to believe this wasn’t intentionally designed to finally have all the years of lying for a living come back to bite me like this.”

“You help people,” Mob says, playing idly with the paper from his straw. “I don’t think you did anything bad.”

“Lying is always bad, Mob,” Reigen says, leaning his head against the wall behind him, sitting sideways in the booth. “And I’m taking peoples’ money for it.”

“Everyone leaves you feeling happier. You help people with their problems,” Mob tries to reassure, shrugging a little. “If their stiff shoulders are massaged by you or a masseuse, does it really matter?”

“Maybe not,” Reigen says, eyeing him sideways. “But I’m a failure of a Shishou if you learned to feel that way about lying from me.” Reigen sighs, rubbing at his hairline with his fingers. “Sorry, Mob.” He drops his hand, giving Mob a weak but fond smile. “I’m lucky you’re a good kid. Being anything but honest was never something that even occurred to you.”

He can see Mob fidgeting out of the corner of his eye, drawing into himself a little, clearly flustered.

“You’re not a failure,” Mob chooses to deflect with. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without your influence.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” Reigen says with a dry smile.

“I mean it,” Mob says, much more firm, finally raising his head to give Reigen a hard look. Reigen always forgets just how cutting Mob’s gaze can be, like his eyes can see straight into him. He always recedes, feeling like the loser in some kind of stand off he didn’t realize he was taking part in. He knows not making eye contact won’t spare him, like the sense of protection a blanket offers to a child with monsters writhing out of the closet, but he looks away anyway. He doesn’t want to be seen by Mob.

Like a brief flash of flame, he goes out, reverting back to his meek demeanor. Reigen swallows thickly, feeling awkward, conceding to Mob with his silence. He can tell Mob is stewing over something–his body language has been on edge. They’re both on edge. The nature of this curse has Reigen feeling like he’s one wrong step away from disaster at any moment. He has an idea, one he tries not to entertain, but this day was dawned to bleed Reigen dry, so he’s not surprised at all when Mob cuts the silence.

“So you, um… What you said before, to the client…,” Mob starts, hands fumbling below the table. “You really think that I’m handsome?”

Reigen goes stiff, two fingers splayed across his lips, desperate not to open them. He knows he has to play this off any way he can, but he feels like he’s playing Russian roulette with his tongue.

“Of course,” he starts, cautious, trying to sound as casual as possible. “You’ve grown up a lot. Bet you’re really popular with the girls at college, eh?” Deflection was the only tool he could think of, steering the conversation away from his accidental admission of attraction to his former student.

“No, I don’t think so,” Mob says with an awkward shrug. “I don’t know. I’m not really interested in getting a girlfriend anyway.”

“Thank god for that,” Reigen says, eyes going wide the moment the words leave his lips. He goes tense, his stomach rolling, afraid to glance over at Mob. Mob’s eyes are nearly as wide as his, though for the most part he just looks confused.

“Thank god?” Mob echoes. “Didn’t you encourage me to try to get a girlfriend?”

“I mean, I…” Reigen’s throat feels frozen, he knows he has to speak, he can’t avoid it. He swallows, wishing it would take the words he doesn’t want to say with it, dissolve them in his gut. “Focusing on your studies is important. Shouldn’t get distracted, you know?”

“I guess,” Mob responds, sounding a little disappointed. “You always told me it was part of the normal college experience. I don’t think it’s for me.”

“That’s alright,” Reigen says, still internally reeling, but grateful Mob accepts the bait. “I didn’t really have a normal college experience either.”

“You didn’t?” Mob looks up at him, expectant. “You seemed like you were speaking from experience.”

“Nah,” Reigen admits. “I’ve never even had a girlfriend.” He blanches at his own words. He had been so focused on avoiding one admission that he had dropped his guard on other things his tongue could betray him with. Reigen glances at Mob to see his jaw practically on the table. Shit.

“You…” Mob starts, astonished. “Never?”

A cold bead of sweat rolls down the back of Reigen’s neck. He’s in complete disbelief that he let his guard on his tongue slip. He bit down on it, half tempted to bite through.

“I’ve gone on dates, Mob,” Reigen growls out. “Just… never anything that went beyond that.” Reigen’s fists are clenched hard enough to feel the short tips of his nails digging into his palms. This is humiliating.

“But… why?” Mob asks. “You always seem so good with people, it’s hard to imagine that you’ve really never…” Reigen sighs, weary, resigning himself to the admission. There was no escaping it.

“I’m good with clients. Acquaintances,” Reigen explains. “Putting on an act for people is easy.” His expression falls more somber. “Really connecting with them, truly being yourself with them, is hard.”

“I never realized,” Mob says quietly. He wonders if Mob was coming to the same realization Reigen had long ago, tried to bury–how alike they really are. Mob had surpassed him, he knew. Mob was better at really connecting with people. He never had to try to be anything but his authentic self.

“You can’t build a relationship on a foundation of lies,” Reigen says, a little off-handedly when Mob lapses into quiet thought. “Masking your true self isn’t an option.”

“I don’t think it’s like that,” Mob replies, looking up at him. “Who you really are shines through whether you want it or not.” Or seeps out through the cracks like sludge, Reigen can’t help but think to himself. “I admired you for your kindness, not because I thought you had powers.”

“Well, I’m glad you feel that way, at least,” Reigen breathes out. He really wishes this topic, this day, this life would just end already. He’s keenly aware of how close this topic has him teetering on the verge of admitting the greatest lie he ever told, was still living to this day, completely to Mob’s obliviousness.

“You’re a good person. You could connect to people in that way. If you wanted to,” Mob says, and his awkward attempt at encouragement makes Reigen crave non-existence. Reigen knows that he’s capable, and he desperately wishes he didn’t.

“Yeah,” Reigen says simply, sighing through his nose.

“Do you… not want to?” Mob asks. Kill me, Reigen thinks.

“I do. Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?” Reigen answers, trying to divert as best as he can. It’s the only defense he has left.

“Maybe,” Mob starts, pausing for a moment. “I just thought someone like you wouldn’t have much trouble mingling with other people if you really wanted to.” 

“Maybe I don’t,” Reigen says through gritted teeth, desperate for this topic to end. He feels it, he knows how dangerous this is. He can’t bear it much longer.

“But why?” Mob asks, agonizing in its innocence.

“Because I’m already in love with…” Reigen cuts himself off, a hand clapping over his mouth. His heart is hammering, his flight instinct running wild. Coming to dinner with Mob was a mistake. He had to have known better, but he never imagined how unfortunate the topic of conversation would have become. On a day like today he really should have known. This, like everything else, was all his own fault too–he had been the one to deflect Mob’s question and bring this topic up. Always digging his own grave, he’d created an unscalable pit hundreds of feet deep. Something burns oddly in his chest, he doesn’t know what it is. He hazards a glance at Mob who, mercifully, seems to realize just how petrified Reigen looks. He feels like he’s going to be sick.

Another small mercy comes in the form of their waitress delivering their bowls of ramen, oblivious to the odd atmosphere. She bows politely and takes her leave. Reigen has no idea who she is but he wishes she would come back, not leave him alone with himself, with Mob.

The savory steam from the ramen wafts up into his face. It’d normally smell delicious but he can’t say it inspires his appetite. His stomach is still rolling with dread and unease. He forces himself to slowly eat his ramen, instinct to never let food and the money spent on it go to waste overriding his queasiness, his pace more on par with Mob’s than his own usual inhalation. They eat in relative silence, and it feels odd, unlike the meals they normally have together where Reigen fills the air with warm and friendly chatter. He no longer trusts his mouth to do anything but breathe and intake food. He only glances up at Mob once through the duration of the entire meal, regretfully. He can tell Mob is thinking hard about something. He prays to an assortment of gods in hopes one of them might be real and will listen to his prayers that he’s not thinking what Reigen thinks he’s thinking.

When Mob finishes eating, Reigen pays their bill and takes the remainder of his unfinished ramen home in a to-go bowl nestled in a sack draped around his wrist. It was a first for him. They leave the restaurant, the air heavy and vibrant orange and stiflingly humid.

“Shishou, I, um,” Mob finally breaks the silence. Reigen’s heart is in his throat. “I don’t really feel comfortable leaving you alone while you’re cursed.” Reigen turns to face him.

“It’s just a simple little curse, right? Nothing to be concerned about,” Reigen says with a roll of his shoulders. He hoped this would all be over by tomorrow morning–twenty four hours, that’s what the cliches in ghost stories always say.

“I don’t know,” Mob responds, hand clenching in his t-shirt over his stomach. “Curses are dangerous and unpredictable. I sensed something before, while we were eating. They can change or worsen when you least expect it. We don’t even know how to break this one.” Worsen. If the curse left him dead it would feel like a kindness.

“Should just last a day, shouldn’t it? Isn’t that how the old cliches go?” Reigen says, flapping his free wrist. 

“This isn’t a ghost story, Shishou,” Mob chides. Reigen supposes he’s right. “I just.. I feel like it would be better if…” Mob stops, swallows. Reigen knows what’s coming, he can practically see the middle finger from God bursting through the clouds. “If I stayed with you. In case anything happens.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Mob,” Reigen says, his throat going dry. Allowing Mob to come with him was akin to sealing his fate. He knows there’s no avoiding what will unfold as a result. “Trust me, I’ll be fine. If anything happens I can give you a call.”

“But what if you can’t?” Mob pleads. “Curses can turn quickly. Please, Shishou.” Reigen feels guilt-stricken when he sees the worry on Mob’s face. Mob knows these things better than he does, after all. Laughable that he calls himself the professional here. He breathes sharply in through his nose and holds it for a beat.

“Alright,” he breathes out. “But you have to promise me something.” He turns to Mob, giving him as serious a look as he can manage, gesticulating with his hands to emphasize the gravity. “You have to promise not to ask me anything else. Understand?” Mob seems to consider this hard for a moment. Reigen can read the question in his eyes. Why? What are you hiding? He doesn’t ask it.

“Okay,” Mob finally agrees.

“Okay,” Reigen echoes. He still knows this is a bad idea, but he also knows he can trust Mob to keep a promise. It’s an underhanded tactic, he’s taking advantage of Mob’s fidelity, but he can’t relent any other way. “Let’s go, then.”

He leads Mob to his apartment, feeling not unlike an animal walking to slaughter. At least animals don’t have to be cognizant of what lies at the end of the road. To think that today felt like any other day when he got out of bed–wake up, have a morning cigarette, shower, head to the office, go out for an exorcism. He was envious of the version of himself that existed twelve hours ago, oblivious to how the day before him would twist into some kind of alternate dimension of torments pulled straight from his worst nightmares and greatest sins. Leading Mob to his apartment to stay the night was not how he could’ve dreamt that any day in his life would go, and he tries not to overhear the conversation Mob has on his phone with his little brother about where he’s going to be staying for the night. Ritsu is, appropriately, displeased. Mob tries to reassure him and it starts to sink in that Ritsu must know. Mortifying.

He pulls out his keys and unlocks the door when they arrive, silently inviting Mob–god, Mob– into his apartment. He pointedly tries to go on about his personal getting-home rituals without thinking too hard about it. He slips off his shoes, loosens his tie, hangs up his jacket, and puts away his leftovers. Having done all that he looks back to see Mob still no farther than a few steps into his apartment, quietly looking around. He glances at Reigen and seems to read the question straight out of his head.

“It’s smaller than I thought it would be,” he observes. Reigen feels a little indignant. “More simple, too.”

“Hey, don’t be judgmental,” Reigen says. “I try to keep my services affordable, you know.” 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Mob sputters. “It’s just different from what I thought.”

“Well, what did you think?” Reigen asks, genuinely curious.

“I don’t know,” Mob says. “I think that’s the thing. I didn’t really know what your private life would look like.”

Reigen shrugs, moving to sit on the end of the bed, motioning for Mob to make himself comfortable. He elects for the couch.

“I don’t have much,” Reigen finally says. Mob looks like he considers this for several beats, silent. His mouth opens to say something briefly, but gently snaps back shut.

“What is it?” Reigen asks.

“I don’t know,” Mob repeats. “I guess I just realize how much I don’t know.”

“Mm,” Reigen hums. “I did tell you that before, didn’t I?”

Years ago, before a red-faced Mob with hands wrung tight. You don’t really know me, Mob. He had insisted otherwise, but Reigen knew all the things Mob didn’t know. Mob couldn’t possibly understand from his perspective. They were mentor and student, boss and employee. Mob was his closest friend, of course, he knew he had to admit that, but there was so much of him Mob had never seen.

Why won’t you let me, Shishou?

Because you’re just a kid, he had answered. He knows if Mob were to ask him that question today the answer would be wildly different.

Because I’m a coward.

He knows Mob knows him better than anyone. It scares the hell out of him.

“I guess you did,” Mob says, his hands folded politely in his lap. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. I always wondered so many little things. What your apartment looked like, what tv shows you might watch, what you eat for breakfast and dinner when we’re not eating together. I wondered for years, so it’s just… strange to not have to wonder anymore.” Reigen feels wrong-footed and exposed, like Mob is reading more into it than he’s letting on.

“It’s just an apartment. Not a big deal is it?” he asks, scratching at his cheek.

“No, I guess not,” Mob says, sounding a little embarrassed. “Sorry for being weird.” Reigen sighs and goes to say something before Mob cuts him off. “And I’m sorry for imposing like this. Thank you for having me.” He bows his head. “I know that you didn’t really want me here.”

“It’s… inappropriate,” Reigen says, almost relieved he can say it. It’s the truth, after all. “But I appreciate you looking out for me, all the same.”

“I know,” Mob says. “I’m sorry.” He goes quiet and mournful. Reigen doesn’t have to ask what he’s apologizing for this time. Mob hasn’t brought up his feelings in quite some time, having been soundly rejected, but Reigen knows they’re still there despite his best attempts to shatter them. He knows Mob has to let it go at some point. He had figured it would only take a month when he first rejected him, and when that didn’t happen, another, and then another. Months stacked into years and Mob seemed no closer to putting it behind him, although he seemed to be better at hiding it. Their interactions had felt unburdened for a long time, neatly masking what lay beneath like a skin on sour milk. He knew, he always knew, but he allowed things to continue, unable to let the rope go for Mob’s sake–he had dragged Mob in with him. Selfish.

“You don’t have to keep apologizing. It’s all my fault this curse is as big of a deal as it is. If this curse had hit you I doubt you’d even know it,” Reigen says in an attempt to bring in some levity, but it’s feeble. He feels low enough to acquaint himself with the dust mites.

“I’m happy to help. You would do the same for me,” Mob replies. “Have done the same for me.”

“You were my student,” Reigen says with a fond smile. “I’ll always look out for you. You shouldn’t be trying to dig the grown man out of the hole he dug for himself.”

“I’m in college, Shishou,” Mob mutters. “I’m an adult too.”

“I know you are,” Reigen says, a little wistful, a little sad. “It’s hard to accept sometimes, I guess. And old habits die hard.”

“I just wish you would respect me as an adult.”

“I do. I’m sorry,” Reigen apologizes this time.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re just doing it to keep me at arm’s length.”

Mob had always been fairly dense, as far as social situations are concerned, but Reigen recognizes how much more perceptive he’s become over the years–another hallmark of adulthood. He mentally curses.

“I guess you’re right,” he says, then recoils. Their conversation had flowed so naturally that he had nearly forgotten about the curse for a brief moment. He feels Mob’s eyes cut to him for a brief moment when he says it before refocusing on the fists balled tight in his lap.

Mob goes silent for what feels like a long time to Reigen, but is in reality probably no more than a minute. He swallows around the lump that’s reformed in his throat. He had wondered for a long time if Mob had finally overcome his feelings for him but he feels it now like a third party suffocating and ominous between them in the room, felt but unheard. This was a mistake, his brain reiterates.

“I won’t ask you, you know,” Mob says, breaking the agonizing silence. “Even if I hadn’t promised I still wouldn’t ask you. I don’t want to hear you say something you were forced to say.” Mob pauses for another few seconds, his lip held between his teeth. “I remember the advice you gave me. That sometimes we have to sit aside how we feel, the things we want, for the greater good.” Reigen’s stomach turns. It feels even worse now, filled with ramen. “I just wonder if you were talking to yourself too, is all.”

Reigen doesn’t say anything. He can’t say anything. Opening his mouth would be an admission. His silence is an admission. He’s pinned like a specimen for display. He wonders what the label would say. Reigen Arataka. Liar. Coward. Creep that fell in love with his student.

Say something with enough conviction and people tend to believe it,” Mob echoes him from earlier in the day when Reigen doesn’t reply.

He realizes now he had unwittingly read Mob his playbook. Had he been naive to believe he could take this all the way to the grave? He doesn’t know, but to have failed feels like the most spectacular failure in his menagerie of them. He clenches his jaw tight, hands fisted in the bed sheets under him.

“I need a smoke,” he finally says, voice wavering and thin and so alien to even his own ears. He stands, takes his tie all the way off, doesn’t care where it drops. He takes off his belt, untucks his shirt, grabs his cigarettes, and heads for the balcony.

“You smoke?” Mob asks.

“Questions,” Reigen warns, more as a cautionary reminder than anything. He knows it hardly counts. “I used to. Guess I fell back into the habit after you left. I quit for several years when we met.” His tone goes wry, tired. “Didn’t want to be a bad influence. Second hand smoke kills, you know.” He steps out onto the balcony, leaving the door behind him open.

He takes out a cigarette, laying the pack beside him on the railing. He lights it up and takes his first drag, letting it wash over his senses. He holds the smoke in his lungs longer than he normally does, exhaling. It’s all the relief he can hope to get right now and he clings to it like a lifeline.

He doesn’t look up when Mob quietly joins him on the balcony, leaning his arms on the railing a few feet away from him, giving Reigen as much space as he can. He’s not sure if it’s because of what he said about the smoke, but he doubts it.

“I’ve always wondered why people do that,” Mob says after a while, Reigen’s cigarette halfway burned through.

“This better not be the day you decide you’re going to try it and find out,” Reigen says. He can feel Mob glancing at him every now and then, lingering when Reigen exhales. He doesn’t want to think about why. “That’s just a roundabout way of asking a question, you know.”

“Sorry,” Mob mutters. “I won’t. It’s just another thing I didn’t know about you.”

“Sometimes the things you find out about people you think you know aren’t so nice,” Reigen says through a veil of smoke. “I did tell you that, too.”

“I know. I don’t think you’re bad for it,” Mob replies. “I just wish I could’ve known more about you.” Reigen ponders this for a moment as he flicks the ash off his cigarette, watching it drift to the concrete a story below.

“You either would have fallen deeper or grown to hate me,” Reigen finally says, distant and somber. “Maybe I was afraid of both.”

“I couldn’t hate you. I could never hate you,” Mob replies, the conviction in his tone making Reigen’s chest ache. He knows it’s true. He wishes it wasn’t, maybe things would be easier if Mob had that in him.

“Yeah,” he says simply. He doesn’t know what else to say. Mob doesn’t seem to either, fixing his gaze on the parking lot below, his fingertips pressing hard into the skin of his arms.

Realization hits Reigen square in the chest with the force of a freight train. He’s all but exposed now and there’s no taking it back. He had been fighting to prevent it for so many years, holding onto the hope that he could preserve what had already begun to turn rancid. It had always been a fool’s hope but he had given into it completely. If he’d only excised it from the start–too late, now it’s spread through all his organs, wound its way around his heart. What they had is now broken irreparably.

“Mob. I think, after tonight, this…” Reigen starts, having to pause to keep his voice in check, making sure it doesn’t waver. “I don’t think you should come to the office anymore.” He can’t bring himself to look at Mob but he hears the distress in his voice. It guts him.

“What… why?” Mob asks, turning to face Reigen, one hand clenched on the railing.

“This has gone on for long enough. It was never going to be forever, but… it was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?” Reigen says, a ghost of a smile on his face. He kept the hand holding his cigarette draped across his brow, hiding his eyes from Mob, the forgotten cigarette trailing smoke into the evening air, nearly burnt out. “I tried to keep you from wasting your time on me, but I did a pretty bad job of that. I didn’t realize I was doing that whether I’d rejected you or not. Selfish…” He gives a withered little huff of a laugh. “I guess I was holding on too.”

“It wasn’t a waste…” Reigen almost feels envious at the way Mob doesn’t fight the quiver in his voice. Mob, so honest, unencumbered. “No matter how, you’re worth my time.”

“Not like this, Mob. Holding your time hostage, depriving you of real relationships… it’s despicable,” Reigen spits the words.

“You didn’t do any of that. You didn’t do anything wrong, you know,” Mob offers, fisting his other hand in his shirt. “It’s not your fault that I feel like this. It just… happened.”

“Maybe not. I could’ve done a lot more to nip it in the bud. I’m sorry I didn’t,” Reigen laments. He still can’t bring himself to look at him.

“You think you can do that now…” Mob chokes on his words. The sound breaks Reigen, the tears he’d been fighting finally welling in his eyes. “I’m sorry I feel this way. I’m sorry…” Mob is crying in earnest now, wiping at the tears that spill with clenched fists.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. Don’t apologize for that,” Reigen says, unable to hide the waver in his voice now.

“Then you don’t either!” Mob cries out. Reigen’s entire body goes tense. A tear slips, and he knows Mob can see it underneath the veil of his hand. Ridiculous that he was trying to hide even now. When Reigen doesn’t say anything, the words lodged like a splinter in his throat, Mob continues. “I tried to get over you… I tried. I’m sorry.”

“I did too,” Reigen grits out, the words ripped from his throat against his will, bloodless but no less excruciating for it. His hand moves down to cover his mouth now, uselessly–it was too late. The tears break free of Reigen’s restraint. “ Fuck .” He can’t see the face Mob is making, he doesn’t want to know.

“Shishou,” Mob says breathlessly. Reigen can hear the soft steps of Mob’s socked feet approaching him, quicker than he has time to react to, and suddenly Mob’s arms encircle his torso. It’s awkward in this position, hugging him from the side and burying his face into Reigen’s shoulder. He can already feel the droplets caught in Mob’s eyelashes seeping through to his skin. “Don’t turn me away, please. You will suffer too.” Reigen’s breath was trapped in his lungs. He was afraid to exhale, knowing it would rupture into a sob. His throat burns, he can’t hold it forever and when it spreads to his lungs he surrenders and chokes out a sob. Mob’s weight on him makes him stumble sideways and he twists in his grip, catching himself in the corner of the balcony railing. They’re chest to chest now and Reigen bows his head into his shoulder, mirroring Mob. Mob had grown to be about equal height with Reigen and their bodies slotted perfectly together like this, like Mob had grown to fit him. He doesn’t want to think about how right it feels, like a matching set of interlocking pieces, cut only for each other.

He still can’t bring himself to return Mob’s embrace, one hand gripping the railing behind him and the other draped over the side, cigarette resting between two fingers, burnt down to the filter. He’s surprised he has enough mind to feel a little guilty when it drops from his hand and down into the parking lot below. Something burns in his muscles, they feel like they’re drawn tight even though he’s fairly sure he isn’t tensing, like he’s having to resist movement. The same hand shakily rises, coming to rest on the back of Mob’s head, and the pain subsides. His fingertips sink past the cool jet black of his hair and into the heat of his scalp. He’s ruffled Mob’s hair so many times, fleeting and playfully affectionate, but suddenly the contact with the skin hiding underneath the inky black curtain of his bowl cut feels so intimate. It’s shorter in the back, soft against his fingers.

Reigen tries to calm himself and steady his breathing, as inviting as it is to sob into Mob’s shoulder, letting out years of anguish and need. Why is he still holding back? There’s nothing left. Mob knows. He may not have spelled it out, but he knows that he knows. Severance is truly his only option left to protect Mob. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do in all his sad, lonely thirty three years of life and he knows however many remain will be even sadder and lonelier for it. He doesn’t care–if his own pain is the price for a better future for Mob then he’ll pay it. Reigen raises his head from Mob’s shoulder, craning his neck to focus on the sky instead.

“I’m sorry, Mob,” Reigen says, his voice coarse. “This is for the best. You just have to believe me.”

“Shishou, can I ask you something?” Mob mutters into his shoulder. Reigen can’t help but huff a bitter laugh.

“You may as well at this point, right?” Reigen replies.

“When you picture our relationship in your mind, what do you see?” Mob asks. “What do you envision that makes you so afraid?” Reigen ponders it for a few quiet moments, but he knows it doesn’t really matter either way. He can only say the truth.

“I don’t deserve you,” he admits. “That’s all, really. You deserve to be with someone as spectacular as you are. You flew by me long ago.” Reigen’s fingertips are stroking idly against Mob’s scalp now, the warmth of it spreading into his fingers. He had always wondered what it would feel like to have Mob’s warmth against him and he dimly realizes how cruel it is to come to know it now. He wishes he’d never known. “I don’t have anything I can offer to you.”

“How can you say that?” Mob says, clutching like a vice around Reigen’s waist. “Isn’t that for me to decide? You’re enough, just as you are. You’ve always been good enough.” Mob rubs his face into his shoulder a few times, hair tickling the rim of Reigen’s ear. “I don’t know who, or what I would be without you.” Reigen sighs, squeezing his eyes shut. Tears threaten to well again.

“I’m honored that you think that, Mob. Really, I am. To have been someone you admired, it’s the greatest honor I’ve ever achieved in my life. I mean that,” Reigen tells him. “I admired you too. You gave me purpose when I had none.” Reigen sucks in a breath, holds, reluctantly moves to push Mob away from him so he can look at him properly. Mob looks like a wreck and he knows he’s no better off, his normally straight edged fringe in disarray, his knitted brows peeking through the slats, his eyes glistening. “But you’re not meant for me, not like this.”

“Pushing me away isn’t the only option,” Mob says.

“What’s the alternative? I should have done this a long time ago, really. Things never should have gone this far,” Regen says, eyes downcast.

“You could give this a chance. I’ve already pined for you for years… Is there anything to lose at this point?” Mob offers. Reigen doesn’t really know anymore, if he’s being honest–and he has to be.

“I can’t take any more of your time. I’m sorry,” Reigen says, squeezing his shoulder and letting his hand drop. “You can do better than a washed up old con man like me.” 

“You’re not a con man,” Mob says, exasperated. Reigen squeezes his eyes shut.

“Con artists are terrible people. You said that to me once. That really stuck with me, you know,” Reigen says, his voice tight. “I was sure when you found out about me, you…” He can’t finish the sentence. “Dumb, right? That there was a time I thought you might never find out. Maybe it was all dumb. Lies will always catch you up.” Mob sucks in a breath and holds it for a moment, releasing it when he looks like he’s gathered the words.

“You lie to people. You’ve lied to me. But through those lies, you’ve managed to help so many people. Con artists don’t do that. They hurt and manipulate and scam for personal gain at the expense of others. You’re the one suffering for your lies,” Mob explains. He makes eye contact with Reigen and Reigen can’t hold it. “I guess that’s why I can’t fault you for it. I was saved through your lies too, after all. We wouldn’t have ever met without them.”

“I know,” Reigen concedes. “I told myself that too. But now… guess all this just brought it back to the surface.” He pauses, trying to re-steel himself. “I’m glad I met you. I really am, even if I wish it had been under more honest circumstances. You gave me so much I had never had before. But if letting you go is what’s best for you now, then… I’m willing to do it.”

Mob’s face contorts into sadness. Seeing Mob like this always takes his breath away–he’s normally so unemotive, but now he wilts like the rare spectacle of a night blooming flower.

“Please, Shishou,” Mob pleads, slumping forward to rest his forehead on Reigen’s chest again. “I love you. I love you.” Reigen makes a strangled noise and his hand flies up to his mouth. He can’t let the words escape. His fingers dig into the skin of his cheek, sealing his mouth like a welded plate of iron.

Mob had never said those words to him before. He had implied, and Reigen had feared, but he never confirmed the dire depth of his feelings after Reigen’s rejection. Reigen had always hoped, heavy with denial, that Mob’s feelings didn’t run that deep, hoping he had cut it off in time before it reached that sort of severity. Reigen feels something searing in the center of his chest–threatening and unfamiliar. He had felt this at the restaurant too, much fainter. It doesn’t feel like normal heartburn or heartache. Holding back the words feels like he’s depriving himself of oxygen. Had Mob been right? Was there something else to this curse? He hears Mob gasp, distantly, and feels his warmth leave him.

“Shishou!” Mob calls out. “What is it, are you alright?” When he no longer has Mob’s support, Reigen drops to his knees. He can’t draw a breath. Something squeezes his heart like an iron fist, molten and crushing. When he can’t breathe his hand leaves his mouth and he retches, hands bracing on the pavement. 

“Reigen Shishou! Hold on…” He feels Mob’s fingertips on him, right over his erratic pulse, right where it burns the most. The feeling that spreads through him is tingling and cool, it fills his lungs and spreads through his ribs. Finally the clinching in his chest relents, and Reigen draws breath after what feels like an eternity. He’s gasping for air, slumping back, painfully hitting his head against the metal bars of his balcony. He brings up a hand to clutch at his chest, at the point where Mob’s fingertips had been just a moment before. He feels the last of that sensation leaving his chest through that spot.

“What… the hell was…” Reigen says through gasps.

“Are you okay?” Mob says, still distressed. “The curse, I felt it flare up, so I… I tried to suppress it.”

“Yes, I’m… I think I’m alright now,” Reigen says, rattled. His vision is still spinning and he stretches out one of his hands to look at it, watching his fingers warble and spin.

“I knew it,” Mob says quietly. “I knew there had to be more to this curse.”

“Guess you were right,” Reigen admits, letting his head loll back against the bars, gathering himself. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”

“It’s okay, I’m just… glad that I can be here to help,” Mob says. Reigen finally meets his eyes, having to look up slightly at Mob from his kneeling stance.

“Thank you. I’m glad that you’re here,” Reigen says, feeling a little awkward. He surprises himself and looks away, still feeling exposed.

“Are you?” Mob asks, seeming surprised himself. Reigen huffs at him.

“I literally can’t lie to you right now, Mob,” Reigen sighs out.

“Oh… right,” Mob responds, fidgeting with his hands. Reigen can’t help but weakly laugh.

“Idiot,” he says fondly.

“But still, I wonder,” Mob begins to think out loud. “Will this really go away on its own? If it can be triggered like that, then there may be a trigger to release it as well.”

“Maybe. Only time will tell, I guess,” Reigen says, rubbing at his temples.

“I’m afraid, though… What if it worsens if we don’t figure out the trigger to break it in time?” Mob asks.

“Dunno,” Reigen responds, too exhausted to really consider. It could open a black hole in his ribcage and swallow him up from the inside for all he cares at this point. It’s a vastly more appealing option than the hunch he has about what, if anything, could break it. Only one thing made sense. He squeezed his eyes shut. “I just want to lie down for a while.”

“Okay,” Mob concedes. He reaches out to help Reigen up and he stands on shaky legs. He’s grateful for Mob’s support because he definitely couldn’t be carrying his own weight without it. Mob’s hand rests around his back til they’re inside the apartment, making the few steps to Reigen’s bed. Mob shuts the door and Reigen collapses into a heap on his bed, draping an arm over his eyes. His body shifts when Mob’s weight settles onto the edge of the mattress, but he never makes a move to touch him, just sits there quietly.

“I’ll, um… I’ll sleep on the couch. You probably want to get some rest, right?” Mob asks him.

“Yeah,” Reigen sighs. The weight of their earlier conversation still sits heavy between them, but Reigen can’t bring himself to address it right now. He feels like the energy has been drawn out of every last corner of his body. His limbs feel like lead and the temptation to fall asleep in this position is strong, his legs still hanging off the bed. Mob apparently senses this, because he feels his hands gently scoop his calves up onto the bed, rotating him to lay properly. He then feels Mob’s power envelop him, lift him up off the bed just enough to get the covers out from under him and drape them over Reigen’s body. He feels gross, still sticky with dried sweat and in his work clothes, but the effort of showering and changing is too much.

He can vaguely hear Mob as he pads around the apartment, the squeak of the springs in the couch as he sits, or lays, Reigen doesn’t know. Would he sit up to watch over him? He hopes not, he doesn’t want Mob fretting over him and losing sleep.

He has to fight the relentless replaying of their conversation in his head, shutting it out as best he can. He’s so tired, more tired than he’s ever been. His last thought before sleep envelops him is of Mob’s forehead pressed under his chin as he mutters into his chest, speaking straight to the heart.

I love you. I love you.

 

 

When Reigen’s eyes blink open some time later, they’re met with the expanse of his ceiling.

Warm fingers splay across his chest, familiar. Instead of resting there like they had before, filling him with relief, they snake downward. It’s then that he notices the weight across his pelvis.

“Shishou,” Mob whispers.

He knows this is a dream. His dreams of this nature with Mob are always lucid in that way, too far from reality for even his dreaming self to believe–so willing and ready to believe anything. He wouldn’t bat an eye if he were to encounter animals speaking in human tongues or long-dead relatives brought back to life. This–no. He would never in his sane and waking mind allow this to happen.

Mob moves and Reigen grunts at the pressure over his hips. The pressure isn’t quite right–Mob shouldn’t be this heavy, should he? He nearly wants to give into the temptation to rut up into it–dreams like this are a rare indulgence–but he finds he’s unable to move. He attempts to flex his fingers, wiggle his toes, but his body is completely leaden. He can’t even look down to properly see Mob, but he doesn’t have to when Mob leans up to hover over him, consuming his field of vision like a shadow. His form is so heavily cloaked in black he can barely make out his features. All he can see are those eyes, knowing, penetrating.

“Shishou,” he repeats. “I love you.” Reigen’s breathing hitches, stops. He doesn’t panic. Mob is here, he’ll take care of him. He always does.

Those fingers continue their meandering but just when they drift low enough to reach his waistband, they begin drifting back upward, resting over his heart again. They begin to sink with no sensation into his chest.

“I love you,” he repeats again and this time, it hurts. Reigen tries to speak, but he can’t, his throat is unmovable. Whether it’s the curse or the comfort of the sanctity of his dreams compelling him, he doesn’t know, but he tries to respond. The words are lodged in his throat and he can’t breathe, can’t swallow around them. Distress starts to set in, those fingers, searing points of heat slipping past the barrier of his skin, reaching in to take what belongs to them.

“Shishou,” he says again. Reigen thrashes his head, but it’s all the movement he can manage. Mob’s voice sounds so real, so close, pulling at his consciousness.

“Shishou!” Mob cries again, distress apparent this time. When Reigen’s lungs finally start to work again–unsettling, how long he was content with being unable to breathe–he wakes, jolting and gulping for air. Mob’s fingers have left his chest but he brings his hand up and feels the remnants of his power leaving him like it had earlier, dissipating out of his skin.

“Shishou, are you okay?” Mob asks him. Is he? He doesn’t know, his grasp on reality is tenuous as he tries to achieve actual lucidity, not the type in his dreams where Mob’s weight is settled across his hips. He shakes his head, tries to properly look at Mob.

“I don’t… know,” Reigen says, still hazy. Something in him yearns for those fingers on his skin again, the only comforting thing he’s felt all day. “Mob…” He says it pointlessly, breathlessly.

“What?” Mob asks, concern evident in his voice. He’s still leaning close to Reigen, attentive. He’s so close, Reigen wants to obliterate that gap, fill it up with his presence. He realizes he’s not thinking clearly, he’s desperate, delirious, cursed. The rope of his resolve has been whittled away to its last strand.

“Mob…” he says again, pitifully, almost a sob, his teeth gritting. “I think I get it. I think I understand. This curse, what I have to do… fighting it is… not good.” 

“Fighting it?” Mob echoes him. “What are you fighting?” Mob reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder, supporting Reigen as he struggles to lift himself off the mattress, leaning closer to Mob. Reigen feels like he could break down sobbing again. He makes an odd, strangled noise, and looks up at Mob. He can’t imagine what sort of face he must be making given the one Mob is making in response to it.

“I’m so sorry, Mob,” Reigen says, utterly broken. The final strand snaps–he lurches forward, and their lips connect.

Mob takes in a sharp breath through his nose. Reigen doesn’t know if this is Mob’s first kiss or not, but he has to assume. He seems to have no idea what to do with himself. It’s fine, Reigen doesn’t either. This was never even supposed to happen. Maybe if he were allowed the foresight he would’ve done something more reserved, more chaste. Something that communicated to Mob Reigen’s gentle fondness, all the years he spent admiring and loving him from afar, a care so deep he was willing to suffer in silence for the rest of his days for his sake. Too long, too much–a person’s will can only be stretched so far, and Reigen’s has ruptured.

He begins to wonder vaguely as his tongue finds its way past Mob’s parted lips if the curse has something to do with this as well. The curse hadn’t allowed him to lie with his tongue, he figures it makes sense he couldn’t lie with his body either. He remembers the ache in his arms, didn’t understand what it meant at the time, but now it seems to make sense. This curse was going to spill everything he kept inside right at Mob’s feet, leaving him neatly gutted. His mouth still tastes of ramen and smoke and Reigen hopes Mob doesn’t care.

When Mob whimpers and pulls back, gasping for breath, Reigen can physically feel his body mourn the loss.

“Shishou,” Mob says breathlessly. He can’t seem to say much else and Reigen can’t help but pursue, mouth pulled to Mob’s throat. He really has lost complete control of the thing. When Mob tips backward onto the mattress, Reigen follows, kissing along his neck.

“Shishou, you,” Mob sputters when Reigen’s tongue comes out to run a line up the side of his neck. “Wait!” Mob’s fingers contact Reigen’s chest again, powers reaching into him. Reigen immediately seizes, lifting away from Mob with a gasp. He pulls away from Mob’s hand and clutches at his chest, panting.

“Mob… shit,” Reigen says, his other hand coming up to rub his face. “Fuck, I’m sorry. This curse, I think it… it’s affecting my body as well.” An acidic tidal wave of guilt bears down on him.

“It’s okay,” Mob says, his breathing as heavy as Reigen’s. “I, um… I just didn’t want you to do anything you might regret.”

“Yeah,” is all Reigen says. He can’t believe this. Mob goes quiet but Reigen can’t bring himself to look at him to read what he could be feeling right now. He can’t even do that for himself.

“Do you,” Mob starts, quiet and nervous. He swallows. Reigen watches the bob of his throat, wishing his mouth was still there. “Want me?”

“Yes,” Reigen says with no hesitation, doubles over with how intensely he feels it. “God, yes.” Mob looks away, flustered.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind as long as it’s not just because you’re cursed,” Mob replies. Reigen can’t help but huff a bitter laugh.

“All of this is because of the curse, Mob. I never…” he says, pausing, having to fight back the rising lump in his throat again. “God, it wasn’t supposed to go like this.”

“I’m sorry,” Mob responds, his tone sad now. “I’m sorry this happened against your will. But, if you want, we…” Mob hesitates as he rises from the bed, meeting level with Reigen’s eyes. “We can try to make the best of it.” His hand gently touches Reigen’s, and Reigen looks down at it. He feels pathetic and ashamed having his feelings come to light like this. It’s an unmitigated disaster, the kind that leaves ghost towns because there’s no building back. He considers Mob’s offer.

The problem with this curse, as Reigen has found, is that Reigen is torn in two different directions. He wants Mob for himself, to hoard him like wealth meant for the world but kept away in the clutches of a greedy dragon. He wants to push Mob away, let him go to find happiness with someone just as kind and radiant and ready to step into adulthood alongside him. Both statements are equally true. He still doesn’t know the answer and the curse doesn’t seem to either. He almost wishes it would’ve given him an easy answer to the messy tangle of his own feelings, but it hasn’t. What does he really want? He keeps waiting for the universe to give him an answer, but he knows, cold and unfeeling and unbiased, he will only be met with silence. There’s no higher power that will show him grace for his virtuousness or smite his misdeeds. The choice is still left entirely in his hands where morals and desires are caught in an endless war.

Here Mob is, surreally, in Reigen’s apartment, in his bed, a fingertip’s reach away, offering up his heart and his body on a silver platter–something worthy of only kings or gods here for the taking for someone as lowly as him. He’s turned his nose up at the rare gift of Mob’s genuine love for him for years. He knows to what end, and he still thinks that end is worthy, but now, with it all laid out in the open, he doesn’t know what to do.

“Shishou,” Mob says when Reigen doesn’t respond. “Will you let me show you?” He’d always been so sure which choice was the right one to make, that he would do the right thing if ever presented with the opportunity. He swallows, he’s still half hard and cursed and he knows what answer his body wants to give. Desire isn’t righteous.

“Show me,” Reigen finally replies.

This time it’s Mob that closes the space between them, kissing Reigen in earnest. He had been overwhelmed before, understandably, but now Mob’s own hunger takes front and center and he returns Reigen’s twofold. It’s Reigen’s turn to gasp in surprise. He’s honestly impressed by the way Mob’s kisses can seem both shy and desperately needy at the same time, but it’s so Mob and Reigen can’t get enough no matter what a mutually uncoordinated mess they make. Mob tips Reigen back this time and straddles his thighs. When Mob leans forward to continue kissing he gasps when their hips align–it seems to be purely unintentional on Mob’s part and he flinches away.

“S-sorry,” Mob says, embarrassed. Reigen feels a little less awkward about being half hard at least, seeing as Mob is too. The wave of need that rolls through him hits him so hard he nearly chokes with the force of it.

“It’s alright. Come here,” Reigen reassures him, not able to hide the slight amusement in his tone. Leave it to Mob to get embarrassed about something that seemed like a given in this situation.

Mob moves back down to meet him and Reigen takes the opportunity to slide his tongue behind Mob’s teeth again. When their hips inevitably realign due to the position, Reigen savors the way it feels to have Mob gasp against his mouth. It reminds him so much of his dream, and this time he can actually move, rut gently up into the pleasant weight of Mob on top of him.

“Shishou,” Mob says his name airily, parting from Reigen to echo his movement from earlier, peppering feather light kisses along Reigen’s neck. It feels strange having Mob taking the lead–Mob should be the one being pampered and revered–but he can’t help but indulge in Mob’s touch, lavishing in it. He cranes his neck back, closes his eyes, and breathes out a sigh that stretches out into a groan when Mob’s kisses turn more mouthy–tentatively closing his mouth to suck at the point where his neck and shoulder meet. What Mob lacks in experience he always makes up for in earnestness and determination. He’s sure that in his eagerness Mob is going to leave marks but he can’t bring himself to care. Maybe Dimple will finally stop harassing him about being a sad sack that can’t get a girlfriend when he sees the mark peeking above his collar, assuming he finally met a woman desperate enough to have him. 

He wonders if Mob has imagined this for as long as he has–clouded with much less shame, he assumes. Reigen only allowed himself to think of it in dreams and temporary lapses of sanity–he lacks the ability to process how surreal it all is that it’s happening now. Alarm bells should be ringing in his skull but the divine heat of Mob’s mouth on him leaves them mute.

When Mob eventually leans up it’s to reach for the buttons on Reigen’s shirt, unbuttoning from the top, his hands shaking. Reigen tenses, holding his breath momentarily. When he undoes the last button he slips his hands under, spreading apart his shirt, his hands sliding down either side of Reigen’s ribs. Mob takes in the sight–not the first time he’s seen him shirtless, but seems as awe inspired as if it was. His hands move down to squeeze the narrowest point of Reigen’s waist, pressing his fingers in, and Reigen squirms. Reigen starts feeling a bit sheepish when Mob doesn’t do much but roam his hands over his body for a few quiet moments–more studious than wanting.

“What is it?” Reigen asks him.

“Sorry,” Mob apologizes, embarrassed. “I’ve seen your body before but I was just thinking that I never thought that I would get to see you and… touch you like this.”

“Guess that makes two of us,” Reigen can’t help but laugh a little.

“Yeah,” Mob ends off with, lowering himself back to Reigen’s body, planting a kiss right in the center of his chest, and his heart jumps like it wants to rise up to meet it. He continues kissing and mouthing at him–less hungrily but no less adoringly. Reigen didn’t think he would ever feel worthy of it no matter how many times it might happen in the future. In the future–God, he couldn’t fathom this as a regular occurrence, it felt too unreal to be anything but a fleeting taste of something forbidden and tomorrow he’d be in the gallows.

As nice as it feels, Mob seems to be stalling, unsure of what to do with himself from here. Reigen would probably be in the same boat, leaden with guilt, but the curse compels him forward. Reigen’s arousal is no less nagging and his body is screaming for more. Mob gasps when Reigen’s hands meet his shoulders, inverting their positions.

“Can’t have you doing all the work,” Reigen says, rolling up his sleeves to get them out of the way. He sees Mob swallow. “You deserve to be the focus here, just relax.”

“But,” Mob starts to protest, but he’s cut off by Reigen moving to lift his shirt, letting it bunch with the slide of his hands up Mob’s torso. He’s a bit surprised, all things considered. He knows Mob still works out some but he doesn’t have much muscle definition to speak of. He’s slim and smooth and beautifully pale, but Reigen can feel the fruit of Mob’s labor firm beneath the soft layer of fat hiding it–some remnants of the doughy figure he had in his early adolescence, all stretched and prettily smoothed out. Mob looks away, seeming terribly anxious to have Reigen’s eyes appraising his body. He’s worked so hard, he certainly deserves to be praised.

“You look amazing,” Reigen compliments, a little too honest, maybe, but he hopes it soothes Mob’s nerves. Mob turns an even deeper shade of red, impossibly, and mumbles his gratitude.

Reigen dips his head, kissing the center of his chest just the way Mob had done to him. He rises back up to his neck, laving it with his tongue, and his hands worm their way under the folds of his raised shirt to find his nipples. When he begins working his fingers over them, Mob gasps and squirms.

Shishou! Wh-,” he gasps.

“Hm?” Reigen hums. “Never touched yourself like this before?” He gives them an experimental pinch and Mob arches his back, shakes his head. The feeling obviously goes straight south because Mob finally has the nerve to roll his hips up into Reigen. Reigen groans and leans up to kiss him, returning the friction.

“God, Mob,” Reigen breathes out. His eyes squeeze shut for several seconds, relishing in the slow grind of their hips. When he opens them he sees Mob’s hair has begun to float, power unconsciously seeping out of him. Reigen can’t help but run his fingers through it, like moving his hands through sea grass. It’s beautiful like this, he thinks, being able to clearly see the knit of Mob’s eyebrows. When Mob opens his eyes they meet Reigen’s, glistening red, deep red–had his eyes always been red? They shine like fire opals, brimming with all Mob’s usually repressed emotion. Reigen feels spellbound. His chest tightens and he finally surrenders to what the ache of the curse wants of him.

“Fuck,” he says, voice wavering. “I love you.” He breaks, eyes tearing. “I love you so much.” Mob’s eyes widen and shimmer, like he’s been waiting all his life to hear it. He doesn’t have a chance to respond when Reigen’s mouth swoops down to cover his in a heady kiss. Suddenly Reigen’s chest feels light, and he knows then that the curse has dispelled. The words lodged in his throat have come free and finally he can breathe. He wonders if Mob feels it too, but he doesn’t care enough to think about it right now. All he wants is Mob and he can’t bear the friction much longer, desperate for touch. He parts from him, they’re both panting and overwhelmed and carried away by the current of their emotions.

“Mob, I’m…” Reigen says, fingers drifting toward Mob’s waistband. “Is it alright?” They pause there, at the ready the moment permission allows. Mob hesitates a little, but no more than a beat, and nods his head.

“Yes… please,” Mob says, fists clenching in the sheets below him. Reigen doesn’t waste much time obliging him, undoing the button and zipper on both their pants and lowering the hem just enough that he can take them both in his hand at once. They gasp simultaneously, rolling together against Reigen’s hand, and he begins to stroke them both. He knows neither of them will last for very long, too overcome with feeling–just the fact that this is Mob is enough to have Reigen teetering, no physical stimulation could compare.

He nestles his forehead against Mob’s shoulder, craving closeness, the kind he’s never had in his life, arching his back just enough to leave space for his hand between them. Mob’s hands encircle him, one clinging to his shirt and the other in his hair. Reigen can feel the tickle of Mob’s hair, still defying gravity. His aura blankets them both and he can feel it tingling against his skin, raising the hair on his arms and making his own hair feel featherlight, like being underwater without the threat of fluid filling their lungs. It’s an otherworldly sensation and Reigen can’t fathom being the one Mob has blessed with this embrace. It’s all too much to process, everything is too much, and he breaks out into gasps into Mob’s shoulder, not realizing that his breath had been hitched for so long.

“Mob, Mob ,” Reigen gasps out grittily against his shoulder. Mob’s back arches and his chest meets Reigen’s, his hips subtly moving in time with the stroking of Reigen’s hand. 

“Shishou, I’m,” Mob cries out desperately, Reigen can tell he’s close already, just as overwhelmed as Reigen is, too much to last.

“It’s alright, Mob… Let go,” Reigen says against his neck, planting a kiss there. His other hand finds one of Mob’s that had dropped to the sheets, interlacing their fingers, anchoring them both. Mob squeezes his hand when his release hits him, almost painfully, and Reigen can feel him spill between them. He strokes Mob through his release, letting him ride it out, hoping it feels as good as he deserves. This was all very frantic and spontaneous but god he wants it to be good for him, he deserves at least that much for lowering himself to the touch of someone like Reigen. Mob is a gasping mess next to him, nuzzling into Reigen’s hair, and Reigen stills his hand when he’s sure Mob is spent, leaning up to look at him, looking into those stunning scarlet eyes.

“Feel good?” Reigen asks, voice still husky with need. He hadn’t quite gotten there but Mob was all that mattered right now.

“Yes,” Mob sighs out, like he’d never been more certain of anything. Reigen gasps when suddenly he feels Mob’s hand encircle him. “You deserve to too.” He starts to stroke him, almost immediately matching the pace Reigen had set to get Mob there.

“M-Mob!” Reigen gasps, shudders. He folds back down against Mob, hips lurching forward, forehead pressed into his chest. He squeezes Mob’s hand, their fingers still interlinked, and god he’s close. Having Mob’s hand on him is too much and he feels his release quickly spike low and searing in his belly.

“Fuck, Mob !” Reigen cries out as release takes him, wracking his body. He rolls into Mob’s hand, riding it out, and Mob squeezes him just right, the intensity taking his breath away but for all the right reasons this time. Reigen shudders and lifts his head to crush their mouths together one last time, riding out the tail end of his release, and Mob gasps so delectably. They part, and Reigen nestles his head into his shoulder for what feels like the hundredth time tonight, like it’s made a home there, and they stay like that for a long moment, catching their breath.

When Reigen gathers himself, reluctantly, to rise up off of Mob, he nearly chokes at the sight, pale expanse of his stomach covered in both their–

“Uh, h-hang on, I should get you something to clean up with,” he says, panicked–that image will be burned into his head so permanently he thinks they might find it etched into his skull when they dig up his grave in a few thousand years. Mob catches his wrist before he can get up.

“It’s okay, Shishou. I’ve got it,” Mob says. He floats a stray cloth over to them, and it’s then that Reigen notices that a lot of things in the apartment were floating–near everything, actually. He’d been so enraptured with Mob that he hadn’t even noticed. Mob seems to suddenly realize and feel embarrassed.

“S-sorry, I’ll put everything back. I didn’t mean to,” he apologizes.

“It’s alright. Just try not to break anything,” Reigen says fondly. He watches everything as it slowly floats back into place, relatively where it should be. He plucks the cloth out of the air and cleans them both up, collapsing into a heap next to Mob after he does. Mob rolls so they’re facing each other and his eyes widen in realization.

“The curse… when you, um… I felt it dissipating. Is it gone?” Mob asks, reaching his fingers out to Reigen’s chest, spreading his power through him searchingly.

“I dunno. Ask me something?” Reigen says.

“Do you really love me?” Mob asks him and seems surprised at his impulse as his fingers retreat to cover his mouth. Reigen feigns consideration.

“Hmm… No, I don’t think so,” he says. Mob’s eyes go wider, back to their normal near-black. Reigen wants to see them light up in red again.

“You… you aren’t still cursed, right?” he asks. Reigen laughs.

“No. I’m not cursed,” he reassures. Mob breathes a little sigh of relief, but he goes quiet and meek again.

“Can you say it again?” he asks. Reigen gives him a sad smile now, reaching out for Mob, encircling him with his arms and burying his face in his mussed hair–too much to say it straight to his face.

“I love you,” he mutters into it. Mob takes in a breath like it’s the first time he’s heard it.

“I love you too,” Mob answers, burying his face into Reigen’s chest and tightly returning his embrace. Reigen sighs into Mob’s hair, ruffling it with his breath.

“Seems I had to let out my biggest lie to dispel it,” Reigen thinks out loud. “I’m sorry I told you I didn’t feel the same. I felt like I had to.”

“It’s okay. I know why you did it,” Mob whispers, clutching at him tighter, pulling at the fabric with his fingers. “You were willing to quietly hurt because you thought it’s what was best for me.”

Reigen still thinks it might be. The tangle of emotion in his chest is still ugly and gnarled and he doesn’t have the energy to begin unraveling it now. He’s not sure if the process has already begun or if it’s only wound tighter. He wants Mob more than anything he’s ever wanted in his life, but he doesn’t know if he can ever give Mob as much as he deserves. Trying might not be so bad. Mob has always pushed him and inspired him to better himself and his life, he supposes it’s not so different now.

“Get some rest,” Reigen eventually whispers into Mob’s hair, planting a kiss on the crown of his head. “I’m still exhausted.” He only feels Mob nod against him, but he doesn’t move, seemingly content to fall asleep where he is. Reigen shifts a little to get comfortable, and they drift off together, the void next to Reigen warm and full for the first time in his life.

 

 

When Reigen rouses some number of hours later, it’s thankfully light, but only barely. The sun hasn’t risen yet so it must be in the very early hours of the morning. Reigen tries to move, but something stops him–arms draped around his waist.

Right. Mob.

He holds back a groan, not wanting to disturb Mob, the night’s events assaulting his senses like a series of battering rams. It’s too early to process and too heavy to go back to sleep with, so he carefully untangles himself from Mob–he seems to be a heavy sleeper, thankfully–and rises from the bed. He takes a bathroom break and then goes out to the balcony, grateful to see his cigarettes hadn’t blown off the edge of the railing where they’d been forgotten. He pulls one out and lights up, taking a long drag. His shirt is still open from the night before and the cool of the morning feels good against his skin. It reminds him of the way the cool soothe of Mob’s powers felt when it reached into him, well beyond the reach of the air.

It’s incredible to think how quickly years of resolve had been undone. He wants to feel guilty, nothing but guilty–and he does feel guilty, god does he ever–but it’s been eroded away by how much it kills him to think of never feeling Mob’s touch again. What’s that old phrase, once they get a taste for blood–

“Good morning,” he hears behind him, Mob’s voice raspy from sleep. Reigen is lanced with the thought of how much he wishes he could hear it every morning. He turns to face him, leaning his elbows on the railing.

“Morning,” Reigen replies. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“It’s okay,” Mob says, shaking his head. He fidgets nervously. “How, um… are you feeling?” Reigen rolls his shoulders, nonchalant.

“Fine,” he lies. Old habits–only free of the curse for a few hours and asleep for most of them.

“I just hope that you don’t feel guilty,” Mob says, looking off to the side, rubbing at one of his arms.

“I don’t know,” Reigen admits, huffing a dry laugh. “Just wish I could’ve at least taken you on a date first.” It’s a dark joke but Mob blushes anyway. Reigen swallows thickly.

“Can I ask you a question?” he asks after a heavy pause.

“Sure, but I can’t promise you an honest answer anymore,” Reigen jokes. He falters when he sees Mob’s completely unamused expression, apparently not in the mood for Reigen’s dark attempts at levity. Damn, if looks could kill. “Yeah. Go ahead.”

“How long would you have gone without telling me?” he asks him, looking him straight in the eyes. Reigen knows it’s a silent demand for a straight answer.

“Forever,” Reigen says. Mob takes in a sharp breath, a perplexing expression coming across his face. He looks both wounded and guilty at the same time.

“I won’t force you, you know,” Mob finally says sadly. “It doesn’t matter what happened. If being in a relationship with me would hurt you, then… Just tell me if you don’t want this, and I won’t bother you about it any longer.” Reigen considers it for a long time.

The offer is on the table, and his choice has to be made. Take it or leave it, the time is now and he knows however he answers will deeply alter the course of his life forever. A life with Mob–adoring, dedicated, the center of his universe for the past almost ten years of his life. The one who he needed the most, who needed him the most. He’d changed and shaped Reigen for the better and now Reigen feels like his shape is incomplete without him. Letting him go–to find someone else, someone who can stand equal with him and offer to him what Reigen can’t. Someone his age, that he can proudly take home to meet his family, maybe a girl he can start a family with–Mob would make a good father, he’s sure of it. Can Reigen really deprive him of that possibility? Mob is still young, he has so much life ahead of him, fourteen years less than Reigen has ineffectually meandered his way through. He doesn’t know if it’s right to take those years for himself, but when he thinks of coming home to his apartment, small, empty, without Mob’s warmth in his bed to fill the yearning void of loneliness in his heart–a void cut only for Mob–he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to carry on with life after indulging what he’d been starving himself of. He’s well acquainted with what his life looks like without Mob as a constant in it and Reigen never feels the hollow ache of loneliness more profoundly than when he knows he won’t see Mob again until his next break. He knows he’s been pondering for a while, leaving Mob hanging for an answer. He takes another drag of his cigarette, planning his answer for when he exhales. He holds it for longer than he means to.

“You’d really be happy with an old man like me?” he asks through the smoke. Mob’s face lights up.

“Yes,” he says. “ Yes .” Reigen sighs, smiles.

“C’mere,” he says, spreading his arms to invite Mob into them. Mob rushes him, knocking the wind out of him when their chests collide, his spine roughly hitting the railing. Mob bows his head and mutters an apology and Reigen inhales the gentle scent of Mob’s hair. Reigen’s own scent has started to mingle with Mob’s and it makes him feel something indescribable.

“I still don’t think I have anything to offer you. You may figure that out yourself one day, and if you do, that’s okay. I’ll just appreciate the time I have with you, however it ends,” he explains to him. Nobody else will ever love Reigen like this. He knows. He’ll never love anybody the way he loves Mob, either. This is once in a lifetime and he wants to take it into his hands, just the way he did when he’d first accepted Mob into his life all those years ago.

“That’s enough. You’re enough. You don’t need to offer me anything else,” Mob says into his chest.

Reigen doesn’t believe him, but he guesses that he doesn’t really have to, in the end. Mob believes it and no matter how Reigen resists it won’t make it any less true to Mob.

“Well, it’s all I have, so,” Reigen says, bringing his arms to wrap higher around Mob’s shoulders, careful with his cigarette. “I guess it’s all yours.”