He rises like the moon in gold and goes to the door, sliding back the panel, slipping through the gap.
Mob lies still, listening to him leave, the futon blankets heavy on his body, unfamiliar. The others breathe in gentle tandem, deeper than they do when they are awake; Ritsu near his ear, sounding so much like home. Reigen was on Mob’s other side until his restlessness drove him up and out. He was being as quiet as he could but Mob himself was only half-asleep to begin with, listening to him turn this way and that. Sleeping in a strange place is never easy for him anyway.
Besides, he can’t help but linger on Reigen’s tone from earlier. Mob is not a great reader of mood but still… he rarely hears Reigen snap like that. He’s usually so good-tempered, shrugging off insults like he’s bulletproof, that it’s unlike him to sound so defensive and hurt. Mob admits he’d been sort of glad the others had shot down Reigen’s childish demands for a pillow-fight at the time but now he wonders if maybe they might have been a little kinder about it. He hadn’t said anything. He wishes he had.
He sits up, feeling for the inn haori folded next to his pillow. He shrugs it on as he stands, stepping silently over Ritsu and then sprawling Teruki, picking his way across the room. Serizawa is at the end, curled up towards the wall. Mob feels a little bit annoyed with him for some reason – just a tiny bit, he couldn’t really say exactly why – and does his utmost not to stir him as he winches open the panel and slides his body through. Dimple scoots out through the gap just before it closes.
“Where you going, Shigeo? Sneaking off to the onsen by yourself?”
“Looking for Shishou,” Mob replies. “He came out here.”
“Probably he’s sneaking off to the onsen,” Dimple amends, floating next to Mob’s shoulder as he walks.
“Maybe,” Mob says wearily.
“What are you going to do if he is? Get in next to him? That’s kind of awkward, don’t you think?”
“I don’t see why. I just want to talk to him.”
“Eh?” Dimple grins. “You feel sorry for him, huh? He sure acted all sulky after getting denied the chance to get his ass kicked by teenagers.”
“I wanted to ask him about today,” Mob says. “I feel like he didn’t tell us everything.”
“I guess he didn’t want to worry you,” says Dimple, who is not an entire asshole. “Still, humans sure are weak. He was only in there for a few hours and he looked terrible!” Or perhaps he is an entire asshole after all.
“I suppose to him it was days and days.” Mob holds up a glowing finger towards the spirit. “I can tell you’re not going to be nice so please go away.”
Dimple rolls his eyes. “You gotta stop acting like that guy’s a charity case,” he grumbles. “You’re way too soft on him, Shigeo.”
Mob lets his power flare a little and Dimple shoots off through the wall without a backwards glance. Reigen can, of course, spar verbally with Dimple with ease but Mob just doesn’t want the interruption or distraction. He crosses the main room with its low table, clear of the feast of delicious local fare that Reigen missed, and heads towards the small balcony. He knows Reigen is out here, following the footsteps of his aura, and sure enough he sees him on the wooden seat beyond the panels, his face turned away towards the snowy grounds beyond. Mob slides the panels back with his powers and stands in the threshold, waiting for Reigen to acknowledge him. Reigen turns his head at the sound, looking a little irritated – maybe he wanted to be alone – but his expression softens when he sees that it’s him. He smiles.
“Hey, Mob. What’s the matter? Can’t sleep?”
Mob shakes his head. It’s not exactly a lie. “I’m guessing you can’t, either, Shishou.”
Reigen snorts. “Hardly surprising, is it? I slept nearly all day.” He moves up on the seat, pats the space next to him.
Mob takes the invitation, stepping out onto the balcony. It’s noticeably cooler out here, with big windows that don’t do much to keep out the icy air. Beyond, the snow is still coming down, silent flakes spiralling out of the sky like falling stars. Reigen is watching them again, his cheek resting on his fist. Mob sits next to him, putting his hands on his knees, the yukata worn and grainy against his palms. Reigen is dressed exactly like him, his slender collarbone peeking out from beneath the crossover of fabric. Mob doesn’t know why he notices this. Perhaps it’s that this Reigen – the real one, solid of body – looks infinitely better than the Reigen they rescued earlier that evening. Mob didn’t show it, of course, but actually he’d been a little alarmed by how awful he looked. It made him feel guilty and neglectful for not attempting to wake him, for not being more pressing with Serizawa’s vagueness, for not asking Dimple to go inside his body and check he was okay. He’d known that he was tired and had taken it at face value that he was just sleeping, nothing weird about it. In retrospect, of course it was weird. He hadn’t even woken up for dinner; Mob had never seen Reigen miss a meal in all the years he’d known him. He’d been preoccupied, hadn’t he? He should have known better that Reigen was in trouble.
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, looking at his feet in their plain tabi.
“Oh, don’t you start apologising too,” Reigen groans, patting him on the head. “I’ve had Serizawa practically grovelling all evening. Honestly, I thought for a moment you were him coming out for Round Four.”
That explains the flicker of irritation on his face. It also explains – perhaps – why Mob feels a trace of annoyance at Serizawa too.
“I’ve said it’s fine, it’s not like he was being intentionally malicious,” Reigen says. A pause. “Or stupid. If nothing else, I hope he’s learned something from all this.”
“You’re not angry?”
Reigen smiles lazily at him, gently, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “I can’t get angry at a newbie, can I? And after the life he’s had, I understand why he behaved the way he did. I mean, his last boss was Suzuki. Imagine questioning him.”
“You tried to punch him in the face,” Mob reminds him. “Then you outright lied to him.”
“That was to save you.” Reigen scratches his cheek. “Well. There was an attempt.”
Mob stares harder at his feet, at his big toes separated from the other four. “That’s what I mean,” he says softly. “I… didn’t even try. I wasn’t thinking about you at all.”
“Eh? What are you talking about? You did save me, Mob.”
“Only because you sent Serizawa to get me.” Mob hunches his shoulders. “I didn’t think it was strange you were sleeping for so long. I didn’t even try to wake you.”
“Well,” Reigen says, then stops. He’s quiet for a moment, exhaling. Perhaps he didn’t allow himself to think about this until now, either. At length he speaks again. “I guess I brought that on myself. I stayed up until three in the morning making those stupid trip guides. That’s why I fell asleep on the train. That wasn’t your responsibility.” He shrugs. “Besides, I was trapped. Who’s to say I would have woken even if you’d shaken me or shouted in my ear. You guys brought Serizawa and I all the way here without us waking up, after all.”
Mob frowns. “…I guess,” he mumbles. He feels Reigen rub at his head again, kind of rough, but he doesn’t mind.
“So don’t apologise, okay?” Reigen says. “It’s nobody’s fault. We came here looking for a curse, after all. We found it, we dealt with it, we’ll get paid. All’s right with the world – even if I didn’t get my pillow fight.”
Mob hadn’t expected him to bring that up on his own; it seemed like a sore spot, being rebuked after such an earnest proposal. Now that he considered it, Mob didn’t think he’d ever seen his shishou express a desire to be physically playful. Maybe he was really good at pillow fights and wanted an easy victory – though Mob didn’t think Teru would be an easy opponent to take down. Or Ritsu, for that matter. …So actually the chances of Reigen winning a pillow fight against four espers was pretty damn low. He must have known that Ritsu and Teru would likely beat him to near-death, which meant the only reason he had suggested it… was because he wanted to have fun. That made sense, didn’t it, when you considered that he’d spent so long trapped in that parallel world all alone. Now Mob felt so bad that he hid his face in his sleeves.
“What’s the matter with you?” Reigen nudges him.
“I feel bad about it,” Mob says bluntly, truthfully, muffled by his sleeve.
“About what? The pillow fight?” Reigen laughs. “I was only joking, jeez. Kind of pathetic, isn’t it? A grown-ass man taking on a bunch of fourteen year olds. I’d have wiped the floor with you. Obviously you turned me down.”
But his tone still sticks with Mob; sharp, hot, stinging with rejection, if only for a moment. Maybe he’s over it now, maybe it doesn’t matter to him anymore – but it was there.
“Ritsu was rude to you,” Mob says.
“Your brother is always rude to me.”
Mob draws himself up. “I-I’ll scold him in the morning,” he says firmly.
Reigen laughs – and it really is a proper laugh this time, not laid on for Mob’s benefit. “Sure you will, Mob.”
“I will!” Mob says crossly – although hearing Reigen laugh warms his mood a little.
“Okay, okay. You’re braver than me. Just promise to let me watch.”
Mob frowns, knowing that Teru will stick around to spectate, too. “I don’t think Ritsu would appreciate an audience,” he says doubtfully.
Reigen grins. “See? You’re too hung up on what other people think. You’re much too kind to tell anybody off, least of all your little brother.”
“But he was rude,” Mob mutters.
“Mob, I’m twenty-eight years old. I’ll get over a thirteen-year-old making a mean comment, I promise. Besides, I get it. I don’t like telling people off either. That’s why I didn’t yell at poor Serizawa.”
Mob breathes out. “Maybe you should yell at me.”
“Ugh, Mob, we went over this. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s over, anyway. No real harm done.” Reigen stretches. “It’s not like my physical body was affected.”
“Mm,” Mob agrees, trying not to think too much about how gaunt and exhausted he’d looked when they got to him. His skin had been ashen, his hair matted, his body thin. Mob had never seen him unshaven, unkempt, unprofessional. He’d never seen him in such despair. “How long were you there?”
“I don’t know. I lost track. There was no day or night.” His voice is a little more distant now. He doesn’t look at Mob when he speaks. “It felt like weeks.”
Mob hesitates. He’s never told Reigen about Mogami’s nightmare world, the one he was trapped in for six months; at least not fully, he knows he’d be upset, and Dimple has sworn not to spill. So he could be honest now. He could tell him, he could trade his trauma for his own, he could say I was alone and you were alone but it’s okay now because we’re not.
But his nerve fails him. Maybe one day, even if the time is not as ripe as this, but not now. He’s not ready. He knows Reigen isn’t, either.
“Were you scared?” he asks instead, his voice as soft as the snow. He’ll be okay with it if Reigen doesn’t want to answer.
It takes him a moment. He’s facing the window and Mob can see his reflection, the movement of his mouth, backmasking.
“Yeah,” he says quietly. It’s all he says, his head dipping, the heel of his hand pressing to his mouth.
Mob shrinks, clasping his palms together. He hadn’t expected him to be honest. Reigen is not a bitter person, he doesn’t hold grudges, and somehow this is harder to bear than him being angry. His hurt at being ridiculed for wanting a pillow fight is the most he will lash out about this. In time, Mob knows, he will act like it never happened, like he doesn’t even remember. He’ll lie to himself, to everyone, and say he wasn’t afraid.
“Mob.” Reigen straightens, looks towards him. He’s pulled himself together already, Mob has no idea how he does it. “That isn’t your responsibility either, okay? I don’t want you to worry about it – or about me. I’m fine.”
“Thanks to you.”
Mob doesn’t argue. He knows he can’t win. He sighs, nods, starting to feel a little sleepy. He leans his head against Reigen’s arm. He smells of the soap the inn uses to wash the yukata.
Mob yawns. “A little.”
“Go back to bed. You didn’t sleep all day like I did. You need to rest.”
“In a minute.”
Reigen isn’t a parent: he doesn’t nag or threaten. He seems glad of the company, letting Mob draw up his legs and snuggle against him.
“There is something I’d like to tell you,” he says after a while. “Or… well, I suppose asking you would be more professional.”
“Mm?” Mob murmurs, closing his eyes.
“It’s okay, it can wait until we get back. It would be better to do it in the office, anyway. We can go through it all properly.”
Mob doesn’t really have much idea what he’s talking about but he nods. “Okay, Shishou.”
“…I agree with you, by the way.”
“You said earlier you were glad we came. Despite everything… I am, too. This place is beautiful, our client is happy and it seems like you all had fun. That’s good enough for me.”
“Hanazawa-kun said thank you for inviting him,” Mob says sleepily. “And Ritsu enjoyed the onsen.”
“I’m glad. We’ll thank our host properly in the morning.” Reigen prods his cheek. “You’re falling asleep, Mob. Go back to bed.”
Mob pushes his finger away, wriggling under his arm. He’s not usually so cuddly, especially not with Reigen, but right now he wants to be close to him, feeling the slow thrum of his pulse through his borrowed yukata. “I’ll stay with you until you’re tired,” he says softly.
Reigen exhales, backing down, most unlike him. He puts his hand on Mob’s scalp, gentler this time, rubbing at his hair.
“Thank you,” he says. “I’m going to sit here a little while longer. Go to sleep if you want, Mob. I’ll be here when you wake up.”