Chapter 1: Sing Along, Mockingbird
Keep holding on
When my brains tickin' like a bomb
Guess the black thoughts have come again to get me
Sweet bitter words
Unlike nothing I have heard
Sing along Mocking bird
You don't affect me
~Korn, Coming Undone
“Good morning, Reigen-san. How are you today?”
The words come from a nurse holding a clipboard, one who is stationed at Reigen’s bedside. She’s the only spot of color in the entire room in her baby blue scrubs—except, that is, for the red scratches lining Reigen’s arms. She looks him over once, twice, taking note of the hands that Reigen has forcibly relaxed at his sides. The cuffs—soft but sturdy—keep them down. Down near the bed, down and useless.
A cockroach crawls leisurely up the sweep of the nurse’s bangs, just above the block of morning sunlight hitting her face. Voices hum in the distance.
Reigen snaps back in time to see the nurse taking note of the way his eyes went unfocused, scribbling a few words on her clipboard. When she looks back up, Arataka flashes his best grin. It’s wide, made mostly of teeth, with an added crinkle in the eye to make it more authentic. “I think I’m ready to get these cuffs off now,” he says.
With a slow, deliberate breath, Reigen blinks heavy eyes into focus on the face hovering in front of him. Ah. Serizawa. What…?
“I was just asking how you are today, Reigen-san. Are you feeling all right?”
It takes a moment for Reigen to orient himself. He’s sitting up, feet on the floor. Right hand, left hand—both free and unrestrained. Slowly, sluggishly, the memory—flashback?—of his time in the hospital fades away, leaving behind a low curl of nausea in the back of his throat.
Ah. He hasn’t had one of those in a while.
No time to dwell on it. “Good morning, Serizawa,” he says, stretching both hands into the air with a fake yawn. The nausea doesn’t quite go away—it just settles into a low hum in the pit of his stomach. “You took me by surprise. Feeling fine, just haven’t had my coffee yet, which, as you know, is a very important building block in a pseudo-psychic’s day. Can’t do anything without it. Really do need that caffeine boost to function, eh?”
Serizawa eyes him doubtfully. Reigen resists the urge to nonchalantly kick his feet up onto his desk. “…You look a little off. Did you sleep well?”
Sleep? Not much, actually. He spent the night in bed, annoyed about the fact that he was still awake but unable to do much about it. Happens more often than he’d like to admit. But that’s neither here nor there, and certainly not what Reigen wants his best employee to be focused on right now.
Reigen flashes a grin, the same grin that he used to flash all the nurses at the hospital, leaning back in his seat in order to spring to his feet. Serizawa steps quickly back, out of his way. “I slept like a baby, Serizawa! Stop fretting about it already; we have an appointment with that wardrobe spirit to attend to. It’s time to go! Chop chop!” Clapping his hands, Reigen starts to move toward the door.
Following a beat behind, Serizawa hums softly. “Are you… are you sure—?”
“Oh, and we can stop for coffee on the way!” Reigen throws over his shoulder. If he just so happens to cut Serizawa’s question off, well, that’s okay. The answer is implied, anyway. He’s sure. Always is. One hundred percent.
Reigen leads the way out of the building and is one hundred percent certain that a little cafe food will cure the nausea still coiling within him.
Chapter 2: Cut Me Open
Taking real artistic liberty with the hospitalization here. If there are major inaccuracies… just chalk them up to the fact that he’s in a small town hospital that doesn’t have a real psych ward.
Cut me open and tell me what's inside
Diagnose me 'cause I can't keep wondering why
And no it's not a phase 'cause it happens all the time
Start over, check again, now tell me what you find
~Bring Me The Horizon, Avalanche
“You have to, Reigen-kun.”
He shakes his head, hard and then harder, no.
“They’ll make you feel better. The doctor says so.”
He grits his teeth until they hurt, pressing his tongue against their backs.
No! He refuses! He doesn’t want to be fed things that make him sick, doesn’t want to hear them laughing behind his back as they watch him like some science experiment. He can’t go through this again, not again—he doesn’t want this, no no no.
The nurses, two of them, sigh and advance.
Reigen’s strength lies in words, in subtlety and tact. He’s taught himself to be an effective wordsmith, to soften the blunt edges of his clumsy tongue and weave stories instead. As of right now, however… even imploring, begging, pleading have done nothing to stop the nurses from advancing on his bed. It’s as if his words fall on deaf ears, as if they are immune to every charm he’s created himself to have. His words have failed… and soon, too, does his fight.
It’s just a matter of seconds before their hands are all over him. They hold him down and the needle appears and then he’s floating, numb, as they maneuver him like a ragdoll. The pills on his tongue are tasteless, weightless, with the sedation. He can’t feel the water that he knows he swallows back.
A blink, and then they’re gone, their jobs done. Reigen floats, staring down at his bare wrists. They always take the restraints off when he’s sedated like this… and he always knows that he should do something about it, that he needs to do something about it, but he never does. His limbs are too far away to make himself throw up the meds—he couldn’t make himself get up if he tried, and boy has he tried. He’s stuck. Frozen. No matter what he does. It’s restraints or it’s sedation, he’s trapped here forever either way.
His head falls sideways against his pillow, and he barely feels the coarse fibers against his cheek. Muted, foggy… he’s so foggy, so…
Reigen rattles himself out of his own head at the call of his name, clearing the mental fog with one firm shake. He flexes his hands, once, twice, just to get the feeling back into them, but—the feeling was never gone, now was it?
“…Reigen-san,” the voice prompts again.
“…Eh?” Reigen says in return. Less than eloquent. Serizawa has obviously noticed, as well, seeing as his lips are puckering into a pout. Reigen internally winces.
“You were doing it again,” Serizawa points out.
That he was. He’s been doing it all day—losing himself for moments at a time to memories of events he thought long behind him. This is the second time Serizawa has caught him in the act. Reigen sighs, brushing a hand through his hair and dragging it down his cheek. The coarse strands, the slight sheen of sweat on his skin… all of it feels extraordinarily vivid after the sedation in that flashback.
Serizawa, Reigen realizes suddenly, is watching him very closely.
“Ah, Serizawa, that reminds me!” Reigen lies, slapping a hand down on his desk. He glances about for something to distract the man. All he needs is a few minutes, so he can think unsupervised. What to do, what to—oh, he has just the thing! He turns to his employee with an apologetic smile on his face. “Could you go into the back closet and find me the file on that cloud spirit?”
“The aka shita?” Serizawa asks. “But we closed that case last we—”
“There’s just something I need to double check,” Reigen reassures him, surreptitiously sliding said file further under the pile of papers on his desk. Serizawa gives him another look—not quite suspicious but in a similar vein—and then gets up to do as asked, leaving Reigen alone in the main office.
Reigen immediately hunches over, his face falling into his hand. Where is his head today? Not on his body, that’s for damn sure—he hasn’t spaced out this bad in… has it really been four years? Longer? Not since the early days of Mob’s internship, when he last switched meds, at the very latest. It’s been a while.
It’s been a while since he’s felt this bad, too. The nausea has grown relentless in the past few hours. It’s bad enough that he forewent lunch in favor of nursing some supposedly soothing tea, tea that he is starting to expect to see again in the very near future. He won’t be able to keep this from Serizawa for much longer.
A part of him doesn’t want to—a part of him wants to give in and let Serizawa know, to let Serizawa comfort him like he knows the man would. Serizawa is a kind man. He wouldn’t… he just, he wouldn’t do anything Reigen asked him not to. But there’s another part, a smaller but more insistent part, telling Reigen to keep his damn mouth shut before it comes back to bite him in the ass, that it doesn’t matter how good a person Serizawa is because in the end good people, kind people, can still do bad things. Good people can still hurt you.
That part is currently winning.
Chapter 3: Keep These Feelings
Sick, sick, sick.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In these times of doing what you're told
Keep these feelings, no one knows
What ever happened to the young man's heart?
Swallowed by pain, as he slowly fell apart
He needs to open his mouth.
It’s not a desire. Not something he particularly wants to do. It’s not a demand, either—not something that someone else’s insistence has moved him to. What it is, right here and right now, is an imperative. An ironclad biological functon. Reigen needs to open his mouth.
Still, he refuses. He presses his tongue against the back of his teeth and forces himself to swallow slowly and deliberately. He cannot, repeat, cannot let himself appear vulnerable. He cannot let the nurses know he’s sick. Sick from the meds they give him. Their plan is to weaken him, to wear him down and isolate him from the others and take away the last freedoms that he has, and he can’t let them know that it’s working.
“Good morning, Rei—”
“Good morning to you, too!” he blurts, forcing the words out before anything else can follow. He swallows again, feeling the spit collecting on the back of his tongue. He’s not sure how long he can keep this up, especially as the nurse frowns down at him.
It’s just until she leaves, he tells himself. Only the moment he thinks those words he realizes how wrong they are—because even when she leaves, the cameras will still be watching. The bugs, the bugs—that’s why they call microphones and hidden cameras bugs. It’s because of the hivemind, the hill. If he wants to go under the radar, he can never let his guard down.
As if in response, his stomach turns and he has to swallow again. The nurse—she’s noticed. She’s growing suspicious. He has to fake it better, he has to do better—with an internal whine he schools himself into a relaxed posture, pretending that nothing is wrong. Sitting perfectly still, carefully arranged in his bed to seem like he’s simply lounging around, he presses his tongue against the back of his teeth and fights, fights, fights the vomit back down.
God, why does he keep doing that?!
“You’re not afraid to be vulnerable,” Reigen says to himself, in response to the flashback.
“What?” Serizawa responds, glancing up from his work.
“Nothing!” Reigen sings. When Serizawa looks away again he winces, sinking deeper into his chair and all but hiding behind his laptop. Ugh! Why is he like this?!
The answer is clear, too clear to avoid, though he’s definitely been trying to avoid it. He’s weak. He’s scared… and he can’t shake the illusion, the delusion, that someone is out to get him.
He’s with it enough to realize that it’s paranoia talking. If the threat were real then there would be evidence, and he’s been through the office enough times in this lifetime to know that no one has ever bugged the place.
Though maybe, now that he’s thinking about it, he should check again? Like, things could have changed since the last time he swept the office, right? A lot has happened. He’s not just being paranoid, he’s being practical. This is what a practical person does.
…No, no, he’s not going to do that. If they have bugged the place and he finds the bugs then they’ll know he’s onto them. He can’t show his cards like that.
Just like he can’t let anyone know how bad he’s feeling. See? He was right all along. It’s safer to do it this way until he figures out a way to prove there’s no danger. Right? Right.
With that decided, he returns to his previous game of pretending to do paperwork while really trying not to puke all over everything. It’s a challenge, for sure, but he manages to hold out until Tome arrives a little after their lunch break.
The good news is that Serizawa has picked up on the fact that Reigen doesn’t want to talk and immediately distracts Tome with aliens. The bad news? Despite Serizawa’s newfound social-savviness, the office is small, and there are now twice as many people here to witness Reigen’s torment.
And torment it is. What started as vague nausea has progressed to a very insistent upset with undertones of impending vomit. It’s taking everything in him to breathe through the nauseating waves, to swallow back everything that wants to come up. His shirt is sticky with flop sweat and that alone is making him want to crawl out of his skin. His stomach hurts. He’s feeling very much like coming to work was a mistake, and he’s really, really not sure how much longer he can hide this.
“Wow, you look… worse than usual.”
Reigen glances up from the spot on the carpet he’s been staring at for the last half an hour. Tome has paused on her way past, a stack of files in her arms. Does she look concerned? Or calculating? Or… or both, maybe? Is that possible? He can’t tell. Whatever the case may be, he needs to keep his cool. Rebut her comment and say that he’s actually not looking worse than usual, thank you very much. He’s got to keep his cool.
That is, unfortunately, taken off the table when all that comes out is a gag. He slaps a hand over his mouth, forcing himself to swallow for the thousandth time.
Serizawa has crept around to his side and Reigen doesn’t know when that happened. “It’s okay, just let it up,” the man says kindly, holding out the trash can, but Reigen can only shake his head. He can’t. He can’t.
Serizawa’s brows furrow in worry. “Reigen—” he starts.
Reigen doesn’t mean to speak over him but he can’t help it—he doesn’t have much time and he needs to get this out. “Go away,” he bites. He didn’t mean it to come out that harsh, either, but it’s out now. He nearly vibrates with horrid anticipation, a thousand stray thoughts pumping through him. Things like he’s going to refuse and he’s in on it and god why can’t I trust someone just this one damn time?
Thankfully, he doesn’t have to. It seems as if Serizawa has gotten the hint. With a look that Reigen can’t quite decipher, he leaves the trash can next to Reigen’s desk and guides Tome from the room.
Thank god. Not a moment too soon, Reigen leans over the trash can and—yup, there it is, in all its vomitous glory. Yuck, yuck, and yuck.
With a groan, Reigen heaves again. Then again. And then, with the willpower he once learned in a hospital room, he forces the tension in his middle to relax. He’s okay. He’s fine now. He won’t vomit again. He’s not weak, see? He’s fine.
He says it out loud, just once, to make sure the bugs that may or may not be there can hear him, hear the resolve in his voice.
And then he hears something else, through the thin door of the office. It’s Mob’s voice, on speakerphone. Reigen has dialed the kid up so many times that it’s unmistakable to his ears.
“—usually Reigen-shishou who calls me,” he’s saying.
“Yes,” comes Serizawa’s voice, hushed and secretive. Why secretive? What are they up to?
Reigen bites on his tongue to focus on Mob’s voice. “Is something wrong?” the kid asks.
Serizawa hums. “Ah. Yes. Um, could you—I hate to bother you but do you think you could—um, come help us out?”
Reigen blinks, trying to make sense of the wording. ‘Help’ them out? What are they planning to do? Put him back in the hospital?
Oh no. They’re going to put him back in the hospital. Reigen can’t—he can’t let that happen, he has to—has to—
With one decisive movement, Reigen launches himself across the room and clicks the lock on the door.
So you may have noticed... I've updated the chapter count... this is because I want to keep the chapters somewhat short and cover more ground with the flashbacks. If there's something in particular you'd like to see in a flashback just let me know!
Chapter 4: Stuck Inside
You can't see because you don't know
You're caught below, beneath your own shadow
Stuck inside, half alive
Do you ever stop to ask yourself why?
~Nothing More, This Is the Time (Ballast)
The nights are long. So long. With no movement except for the occasional soft footsteps of the night nurses walking the hallway outside, there’s nothing to distract him, nothing to stop his head from dropping onto his chest.
—one long, multi-jointed black leg creeps out of the darkness, followed by another, and another, and on their heels comes a massive, hairy body, one segment … and then another… led into the light by a pair of massive, yawning pincers soaked in a clear, lethal venom that drips, drips, drips—
Reigen jerks upright again, blinking gummy eyes in the darkness. His heart pounds—but no matter how close he listens, how hard he looks, there’s nothing in the darkness with him. Nothing except for the nightmares, that is.
Shifting a little under his thin blankets, Reigen runs a hand through his hair. He’s so tired—he hasn’t slept in god knows how long. It’s safer to stay awake during the night, but the toll of sleeplessness is… a lot. He keeps nodding off during the day, startling himself awake at the sound of the nurses approaching, and sooner or later they’re going to see him, catch him—sooner or later he won’t be able to help it and the bugs will find their way in.
They always, always do.
By the time Reigen refocuses himself, fifteen minutes have passed. The others are quiet outside. Mob has arrived and, without further ado, he marches straight into the Spirits and Such office. The lock is no challenge for him and his powers. Reigen could smack himself for thinking that would work.
Instead, he falls back into his chair, crossing his arms and tilting his head back. He puts on a very welcoming—and very fake—smile, plastering it on over the clammy sweat and the shivers and the unrelenting nausea. There’s nothing he can do about the fact that he’s already thrown up—no way to hide it now—but he can at least hide how he’s feeling after the fact.
“Mobbu!” he says. “Long time no see!”
Mob nods a greeting, setting down his school bag. Following meekly on his heels trail Serizawa, Tome, and Dimple. Well… Serizawa is meek. Tome, Reigen is pretty sure, physically cannot act meek without experiencing great pains. She instead has a haughty expression on her face, not making eye contact. She’s hiding something. Concern, maybe. Or maybe, more likely, it’s hatred. Hard to tell. Dimple, meanwhile, saunters in like he owns the place. He goes to hover above the wastebasket, eyeing Reigen all the while. Reigen does not like the look on that shifty little face.
“Hello, Reigen-shishou. Have you caught another stomach bug?” Mob asks, distracting Reigen from his analysis. He’s blunt and to the point… no different than any other day, and Reigen has never had reason to suspect him before. But the others… they were conspiring. He knows they were.
Reigen looks from Mob to Serizawa to Tome, calculating just how much to give away. Does he let them know that he knows? Knows what? He’s not sure what he knows. Does he let them know he suspects, then? Does he give himself away?
He can’t show his entire hand, he decides. Just one card, to test the waters. “Will you all leave me alone if I say yes?” he asks carefully, pretending nonchalance. He is calm. He is collected. He’s just a man asking for privacy.
Mob looks back at the others, as if seriously looking for an answer. Serizawa and Tome shake their heads in sync. Mob turns back, fingers tapping his thighs. A frown puckers his face. “Um… personally speaking, I think you should just tell the truth.”
The truth, huh? Reigen raises an eyebrow. The truth is that he isn’t really sure what’s wrong with him. A few hours ago he would have said yes, of course it’s a stomach bug. A few hours before that, he would have insisted that nothing at all was wrong. Now, however… now he’s starting to think something else is amiss. Something to do with them.
He can’t let them know he’s onto them, however. “Then yes, fine, I think I’ve caught another damn stomach bug,” he says, faking a pout. “Take the rest of the day off, all of you, and just… go away. Leave me to my misery, already.”
Serizawa, damn him, is not convinced by this. “Are you sure it isn’t your appendix?” he asks, piping up for the first time since Mob’s arrival.
Reigen nearly forgets the fact that he’s suspicious as he snorts. If this really is a ruse to get him to the hospital they’re going to have to do better than that. “Yes,” he says. He doesn’t have to fake the certainty.
“But are you sure?”
“For the love of—” With an exaggerated roll of his eyes, Reigen undoes the button of his suit jacket. He tries to take it off in one swift motion but instead manages to get the damn fabric caught on his spindly elbows, and by the time he gets a start on his shirt buttons Serizawa has figured out what he’d doing and is covering his eyes as if to preserve Reigen’s innocence. Reigen, who has no innocence, just keeps stripping until his chest and stomach are bare, shucking his undershirt to the floor and exposing the various scars on his front.
Mob and Tome lean in, curious, as he prods at a small mark on his own stomach. “Look. Appendectomy scar. Are you satisfied?” he says, tone falling short of the dismissal he intends it to be. The reality of it is more of a nauseated croak. He glares harder, hoping no one will call him out on it.
He then decides that no one gets to call him out because he’s ninety percent sure he told everybody that he had appendicitis as a psychosis-riddled college kid. It was part of his big truth bender. Remember that one time where he shared his entire life story? Yeah. That.
Serizawa has the decency to look embarrassed, revealing that yes, he did, in fact, forget this particular tidbit. Tome, on the other hand, is ignoring Reigen completely in favor of poking a finger at the scar on his stomach. He slaps her away.
“So… you’re all right?” Serizawa asks, at long last.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Reigen says, with a smile. “It’s just a little bug or whatever. I’m fine.”
The others don’t look very convinced, but when no one argues he decides that he’s won.
Chapter 5: Whispering Voices
Reigen gets an idea.
Too many shadows whispering voices
Faces on posters too many choices
~Pet Shop Boys, West End Girls
“It’s a conspiracy,” the man says. He’s sitting in the corner of Reigen’s room, and Reigen isn’t sure when he got there, where he came from, why he’s here. He isn’t sure of a lot of things, really… but what the man says makes sense, so he nods along.
“It’s aaall connected,” the man says next. He draws a circle in the air with his two pointer fingers, touching them together at the apex. He’s a smart man—he seems to know exactly what Reigen is thinking, voicing those thoughts aloud. Reigen nods again.
“The bugs, the nurses… all of it,” the man says.
“You know the hill?” the man says.
Reigen nods, nods, nods. “Of course I do,” he responds.
“Then you know they’re all under it’s control,” the man says. His clothes are dark, but Reigen can’t quite pick out a color. Are they brown? Black? That dark navy blue that reminds him of his distant father?
“The hill,” the man continues, ignoring Reigen’s probing eyes, “Is the center. The heart.”
“The heart…” Reigen echoes back. He frowns. “…Where do you find the heart?”
“It’s inside a person,” the man says. “Always a person. Find them and you’ll find the heart.”
It makes sense. Reigen has never trusted something more than he trusts this.
“The heart,” the man repeats.
Reigen looks away.
“The heart,” the man repeats.
And he looks back.
“Find the heart, Arataka,” the man says, but there is no man. The room is empty. The chair he was sitting in doesn’t even exist—there is nothing in that corner of the room except white, white walls.
Reigen’s stomach drops out. Where—where did he—?
Was he ever really… there?
“Find the heart, and you kill it,” the voice of the man who was never there says.
Reigen shakes his head. Hard, then harder. “No,” he croaks, breathing picking up. He scans the room, all the corners—nothing, no one. He’s alone. This is wrong. That voice—that voice is wrong.
“You’ll kill it, won’t you?” the voice says.
Reigen twitches, goes to put his hands over his ears, but his wrists are restrained. The best he can do is hunch up, his head between his shoulders, shaking his head no. Because the voice is wrong, so very wrong, and he’s not going to—he’s not going to kill someone just because—because of some voice telling him to—
He’s not sure. The man might not really be there but the hill, the bugs—those seem so real. But then, so did the man. So did the man…
“You’ll kill it, won’t you, Arataka?” the voice asks again. All Reigen can do is moan because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. What’s real? What’s not real? The bed he’s sitting in, the blankets, the restraints? Anything? Is he even here, does he even exist?
He sits in the maybe-bed. His maybe-hands shake. He stares all around him at the maybe-room, listening to a voice that he isn’t sure isn’t there, and he doesn’t have a goddamn clue.
Their attempts to get him to the hospital become more and more transparent as the afternoon wears on. At one point, after he’s tried and failed to keep down the rest of his tea, they even say it outright.
The office has been closed since Mob’s arrival. They’ve been at an impasse for just about the same length of time—Reigen refuses to go with them, and they refuse to go without him, so they’ve all just settled in for the long haul, staring over Reigen’s desk at each other. And long it’s been—Reigen keeps going in and out of flashbacks, and every time he comes back the sun has moved a little further up the wall, the giant fiery sphere sinking down past the horizon at his back. He’s not sure how much longer he can take this before he screams.
Tome… she’s the one who voices the ‘concern’, from the far corner of the room where she’s stationed herself to ‘watch over him’. “I think you should go to the hospital,” is what she says, four hours in.
“Or at least urgent care,” Serizawa says quickly on the heels of that, while Mob bobs his head along in agreement. Tome and Dimple hover in the background, staring and staring and staring.
They’re trying to break him. They’re trying to break him. They’re…
…Reigen swallows for the millionth time, forcing himself to stop repeating the thought. It’s safer in threes, he knows that, but they’re on to him now. He can’t let them hear him. He can’t let them hear him. He can’t—
More forcefully this time, Reigen refocuses on the group in front of him. His eyes are bleary, his face sweaty, and he knows—he knows he’s not doing well. They’ve respected his personal space so far but he knows that won’t be the case for much longer. They’ll have orders—orders from the hill. Orders to put their disgusting hands all over him, to lift him bodily from his seat and carry him to the hospital like ants carrying a shred of meat ripped from a rotting carcass, sweet with decay.
What can he say to keep them at bay? Gotta talk fast, Arataka. Tick tock.
He licks his lips. Chapped, pale. That’s how they looked the last time he was in the little bathroom in the back of the office, anyway, when he looked at himself in the mirror after splashing some water on his face and found a ghost looking back. He can’t go on like this—he hasn’t been able to keep down liquids. He’ll dehydrate before he can get away, and then he’ll be too weak to get away when they grab him. Maybe that’s their game. A waiting game.
A waiting game… hm. That gives him an idea.
“Hold that thought,” he says, raising a finger. Then, with mechanical movements—is he acting normal? Have they caught on?—he stands from his seat and walks himself to the bathroom.
He doesn’t lock the door. The lock won’t stop them—he’s learned that lesson. The only thing he has on his side here is time; the time it’ll take them to realize he’s gone will have to do. There’s a squeak as he turns on the faucet like he’s on autopilot, turning and turning until it’s on full blast. To cover the sounds of being sick, he reasons. Then he turns to the minuscule window and starts to pry it open.
Chapter 6: What Did They Say?
A moment of clarity.
Hot summer streets
And the pavements are burning
I sit around
Trying to smile but
The air is so heavy and dry
Strange voices are saying
(What did they say?)
Things I can't understand
It's too close for comfort
This heat has got
Right out of hand
~Bananarama, Cruel Summer
The hospital runs on a schedule. There’s a rulebook for when the meds and doctors and therapy come to him. Tight. Controlled. So the moment the nurse walks in on the quarter hour instead of the half hour, Reigen is on high alert.
She has a plan—he can see it in her smile. What it is he has no idea, but he knows he isn’t going to like it. He waits for her to speak, apprehension slowly building into a cold, point blank panic.
“It’s time to get you out of your room,” she says.
“No, I’d rather not,” he says back, keeping his tone conversational. She smiles and comes to the side of the bed, reaching for his wrist, as if she didn’t hear.
He wants to pull away. Flinch back. He doesn’t want her to touch him—he’s wanted to get out of the soft cuffs for days now but not like this, not like this at all—
“It’s okay, hon. We’re just going to walk around a little bit, get you some exorcise,” the nurse says. She’s wrong, she’s lying—the bugs have her under their control, but Reigen can’t see a way out of this short of biting the hand that falls insistently on his shoulder, and he can’t do that because they’ll retaliate with needles and drugs and he can’t, he can’t, he can’t. He needs to be awake, aware. Being awake and aware, ready to fight, is better than being sedated, where the bugs can crawl right into his open mouth and he has no means to stop them. Being awake and aware is better than any alternative.
He lets the nurse guide him to his feet. Lets her walk him to the door. Then he stands nervously in front of it, his tongue curling around words that he can barely hear his heart his pounding so loud. “This is a safe place, this is a safe place…” he says, again, again, again, as if saying it enough times is enough to make it true.
The nurse turns to look at him, an eyebrow raised. “Hm? Did you say something, dear?”
“No, nope! Didn’t, ah, didn’t say anything!” he says, and his hands twitch at his sides. She’s giving him that Look and he smiles until her eyes fall away, still chanting under his breath, moving his lips as little as possible as he shapes the words.
Then she opens the door and the words fall away, swallowed up by the scream trying to scour up the back of his throat. He chokes on it, so sudden that he can feel his eyes bulging out, stare locked on the view outside his room.
It’s bugs. Only it’s not just bugs—it’s so many bugs that he can’t see the walls, the floor… even the ceiling, the lights, are covered. The writhing carpet in front of them is so thick that when the nurse steps forward the bugs cover her foot right up to the ankle. She turns back to smile comfortingly at him and he can only watch in frozen terror as the swarm begins to rise up her scrubs, all the insects climbing up and over each other in their haste to cover her legs, her stomach, her shoulders, her smiling, grinning face—
Face drenched in sweat, hunched over the toilet, shaking from the gut-clenching fear—it’s a memory it’s only a memory for god’s sake Reigen get it together—Reigen casts a glance around the room, lingering at the closed door. The faucet is still running, the window now open, but he’s stuck here. His stomach revolted the moment he got a leg up on the sill, forcing him back, as if it were alive and aware and wanted him to stay. Something inside of him is ringing with klaxon bells, a warning he feels he needs to heed, but he’s just spent fifteen minutes throwing up nothing much with a side of bile and he aches.
There’s also the matter of the others in the next room over—if they’ve caught on yet, if they’re running low on patience, if the hill has told them to move, then he’s caught caught caught and he won’t be able to get away.
These thoughts… these thoughts about his associates, his supposed friends, are setting off another set of alarms, too distant and fuzzy to really focus on. Until, that is, he lifts himself away from the skin-warmed porcelain and cracks his head against the bathroom counter accidentally.
The pain is clarifying. Sharp and concise, it clears away all the messy half-formed fear thoughts like a judge’s gavel clearing away unnecessary chatter in a courtroom. Suddenly, inexplicably, it comes to him: these are symptoms. Something must be wrong with his meds—did he take them last night? The night before? Anytime this week?
God, he can’t remember.
It’s with shaking hands and an even shakier grin that he goes back into the office. He’s freaking out, he’s dimly aware of that, but all he can think to say about it is, “I can’t remember.”
Their stares all land on him, tempting the paranoia to rise again. “Remember what?” Tome asks.
Reigen pushes past her to Serizawa. Serizawa. His good friend, his best employee, the person he spends most of his time with. If anyone would know it would be Serizawa.
Only Serizawa shakes his head. “Sorry, Reigen-san. You usually keep that pretty private.”
Fuck. Fuck. Reigen slaps at his own cheeks, eyes flitting this way and that. Who can help him, who can—?
Reigen raises his hands, that grin still stapled to his face even as sweat starts to bead at his temples. “Dimple—Dimple, my buddy, my sweet, sweet fr—”
Apparently freaked out and trying not to let on, the green blob backs off into the corner of the ceiling, out of reach. “What do you want?” he asks from there.
Still grinning, his eyes pleading, Reigen beseeches, “I need you to pop into my head and find the last time I took my meds. It’ll only take a minute. Please.”
For a moment Reigen thinks he’ll say no, but then Dimple sighs and floats forward again. “Hold still,” he gripes, though Reigen is hardly even breathing at this point, and makes to enter Reigen’s head…
…Only to be flung right back out again with a flash of light and a loud crack!
“Whoa, what the heck was that?!” Dimple demands, pointing an accusing finger at Reigen. Reigen gapes, stunned. He doesn’t—he doesn’t understand, what—Dimple should be able to get in—?
It’s then that he recalls a moment of panic earlier in the afternoon, sitting in the back closet and stuffing as many spirit tags as he could fit into his pockets to ward off just such a possession. Damn paranoia. He begins to rid himself of fistfuls of spirit tags, pulling them from his pockets and letting the crumpled paper fall to the floor, muttering all the while, “Ah, sorry about that. I was a little freaked out earlier—”
Tome snorts. “That’s putting it lightly.”
“—But it’s fine now! Go ahead.”
Dimple is more hesitant this time, and maybe he has a right to be so, because just like before there’s a flash of light and a loud crack and the spirit is flung away.
Reigen’s smile is starting to slip. He’s losing his cool, and fast. The nausea is starting to build again, so frustratingly intense that he feels close to tears, but he needs to figure this out. He turns all his pockets inside out, looking for more spirit tags. “Okay, okay, so I missed one in here—somewhere—” he says, getting more desperate by the second. He just—he needs this. He can’t remember the last time he took his meds and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be clearheaded and he can’t justify scaring his friends because he slipped up somewhere and—
“You’re bleeding,” Serizawa says softly, putting one gentle hand on Reigen’s shoulder. The other hovers near his hairline a moment before he slowly reaches forward to brush Reigen’s bangs back. “Reigen-san…”
Reigen deflates, letting his desperate hands still. He knows that tone of voice—that please stop before you hurt yourself just-barely-there plea. “Fine, it’s fine! Doesn’t matter!” he says, swallowing heavily. It’s not fine, his stomach is on precarious ground and he can’t have much time before the paranoia will be back, but for now he’s in the moment and he can come up with a plan. He can do this. Something easy and simple, something like… ah! “I just have to go take them now! I just have to—to get through this. Get through this and then I can go home, take my meds—make sure I take them this time—and—”
Do you really think it ’s that simple?
—he opens his eyes into morning sunlight, streaming in through the balcony window. He’s seated on his couch, cross-legged and with his hands in his lap, crossed at the wrists. His body feels as close to completely neutral as he’s ever felt it—no aches, no pains, not even an itch itching at him to scratch. He’s never felt quite so blank before.
It takes him a moment to figure out why that feels so wrong.
“I was sick,” he says aloud, patting a hand over his midsection as if that’ll clear things up. “I was… I was sick? Why don’t I feel sick—?”
And then, on the tail of that—“How did I get home yesterday?”
And then, most importantly—“Did I take my meds?”
He stands, turns. The livingroom is just as he left it, empty. His bedroom is the same: empty. And the pill bottle on his nightstand—he grabs it, twists off the cap and—
Empty, empty, empty.
“But… did I take them?” he asks aloud.
The empty apartment has no answer for him.
A little longer of a chapter! It just worked out that way, haha. Hope you enjoyed it!
Chapter 7: Like a Poison in my Brain
Things become clear, and they are worse than previously assumed.
I'm freakin' out
It's like a poison in my brain
It's like a fog that blurs the sane
It's like a vine you can't untangle
I'm freakin' out
~The Jonas Brothers, Paranoid
Reigen folds his limbs close to his body, arms crossed and knees drawn to his chest. He licks his lips and glances around the room—it hasn’t changed much in the past few seconds, but he does it all the same. It’s just people… gathering… surrounding him… blocking all his exits… reading his mind… and waiting… waiting to grab him, pin him down, and—
“Hello everybody! Welcome back to those of you who have been here before, and a hearty ‘glad you’re here’ to anyone who’s new!”
The psychiatrist pauses there, and with those words hanging serene on the air her eyes fall on Reigen.
He freezes, caught caught caught like a dear in the headlights, sweat starting to gather under his arms. There is nothing good about that gaze. He can feel it like a physical hit, the sadistic curve of the smile of a predator with its prey in sight.
She knows what he’s thinking. She knows that he knows.
A shiver works its way up his spine. He’s trapped. Trapped. Trapped. Always trapped. Trapped. Trapped. He knows their game—they play with their food as long as it’s entertaining, and when it’s not entertaining any longer, well…
Well. Reigen forces himself to take a deep breath. If it’s entertainment they want, he can certainly make this entertaining enough to last a lifetime. He’s got enough words to fuel a few good tales. Arataka locks eyes with the psychiatrist, opens his mouth, and—
The phone is ringing. Reigen realizes this on his third pass around his apartment living room, hands in his hair and an empty pill bottle sitting on the table in the center of the room. He’s losing his mind, he’s pretty sure. He hasn’t lost time like this since his Big Break back in college, hasn’t had paranoia this strong since the psychic cleanse incident. He’s losing it, he’s lost it, he’s—
Are you going to answer that?
The thought is there and gone so fast he barely even registers it as a thought. Just there and gone, a blip in his brain. More importantly, the phone is still ringing, and yes, he’s definitely going to answer it. He’s going to answer the hell out of it. Just as soon as he stops hyperventilating.
It takes him a good few minutes to get himself under control. He’s missed the call by then, damnit, but just as he’s checking the call history to see who it was his phone starts to vibrate again.
It’s Serizawa. Reigen answers. It takes him a moment to focus on the voice on the other end rather than the buzzing in his ears, but he manages it and—
Feeling a little off, are we?
—he can decipher enough to discern that Serizawa is checking in on him because he’s, ahem, thirty minutes late for work and he was sick yesterday, does he perhaps want to stay home today? Serizawa can take care of the office for a day, it’s no problem, don’t even worry about it, okay Reigen-san?
“I’m not—I’m feeling a little off, but I can come in, I can come—”
“No, no, if you’re not feeling well you should rest. It’s okay to take some time off once in a while—”
“—oh, no, that’s not—I’m fine! The issue isn’t—”
“—just rest and—”
“—I’m feeling like I could run a marathon, actually—”
“—take it easy for—”
“—not that I plan to—!”
“Relax for a bit,” Serizawa says, at the same time that Reigen goes, “What are we talking about again?”
Serizawa sighs, and goes back to his original query. They go on like that, talking in circles, for what seems like forever before finally settling on a compromise—Reigen will come in at lunchtime, leave at an appropriate time to head home, and only take in-office cases between. If they were in the same room they’d have shaken hands on it, but they’re not so verbal agreement will have to do. Serizawa then says goodbye using a tone that clearly means he thinks that Reigen needs to take more vacation days, which is hilarious, because Reigens do not take vacation days. Not Reigen Arataka or his mother before him, and certainly not Grandma Reigen. It just isn’t done—
Pity that you can't just ask Grandma Reigen’s spirit for the answer to this pill riddle, hm?
—just like Reigen isn’t going to waste the hours before lunchtime resting or some other nonsense that Serizawa seems to think he’ll waste his time on. He needs to get to the bottom of this, and he needs to do it now. It’s just a pity that—wait. Has that thought crossed his mind already? He’s not sure. He feels like it has, but he can’t quite tell. Huh, is it that time already? Seems so. Time to play his favorite game—deja vu or paranoia?
With that, Reigen promptly descends back into muttering to himself, pacing and pacing and pacing around the room, trying to figure out what’s going on and where he went wrong and what, exactly, led up to this—this—clusterfuck of a situation—
Less of a clusterfuck and more of an entanglement if you ask me.
Reigen has had half a lifetime to learn the difference between constructive, benign, and intrusive thoughts. The thought he just had, the one about entanglement? That was none of the above.
Reigen stops stock-still in the middle of the room.
There is something there.
Something inside him.
A demon, or a ghost, or—or—fuck, something. A hallucination, hopefully, but Reigen knows by the growing dread in his chest that this is nothing like his normal hallucinations. He swallows, reaching out for the place that the strange thoughts emanate from, prodding at it until…
You certainly caught on fast.
Reigen jumps, wincing. The voice is—it’s—louder, more solid in his head. Like it’s coming out of hiding, leisurely splitting away from his thoughts the same way that warm molasses oozes from a pan. The dread in Reigen’s chest floods outward, turning everything it touches to ice as the voice becomes clearer and clearer word by word.
“Who are you and what do you want from me?” Reigen says aloud, the words tripping themselves on their way out his mouth.
You caught on fast … but not fast enough.
“Answer me, devil!” Reigen says, reaching for the salt in his jacket pocket. What he’s going to do with it—dump it over his own head? Eat a handful?—he has no earthly clue, but he’s suddenly struck dumb by the thought that he needs to do something, anything—
The words drift from his mind, the fog encroaching against his will. He struggles to string together a single coherent thought, growing more and more desperate moment by moment. His brain is mush, his tongue useless in his mouth, the world around him beginning to grow hazy and distant. The only thing clear is the laughter, ringing and ringing and ringing and—
YEET. Not my best chapter but it gets us somewhere, and I really want to get to the next one ;D
Chapter 8: Got Demons Inside Me
The demon has some fun.
I got demons inside me
So I'm faced with a choice
Either try to ignore them
Or I give them a voice
~Mike Shinoda, Crossing a line
There is always something going on at the hospital. Even when Reigen himself starts to grow more stable and less agitated he finds himself drawn into the drama that crops up all around him.
He wakes early to the sound of shouting down the hall. Someone is screaming about the walls closing in. He gets up to investigate in the dim lighting, standing in his doorway. The window behind him lights his way, the full moon a beacon in the darkness.
The hallway outside is full of hospital staff trying to sedate a woman. Reigen knows her, distantly—he tried to have a conversation with her a few days ago. She just kept talking about the Prime Minister’s direct orders telling her to go to Okinawa. Reigen nodded along because heck, why not?
She doesn’t deserve to be manhandled like she is. He raises his voice to the staff to tell them to take it easy on her.
Reigen looks around. The woman is gone. The hallway is gone. He’s sitting down at… where is he, where…? Why is he holding a plastic fork? What…?
He’s half finished with a meal that he doesn’t remember starting. Is this his food? Where did he get it? Is it safe? He contemplates the bite of rubbery eggs in his mouth before slowly lowering his head to spit them out. One of the nurses gives him a look but he just smiles back. He doesn’t finish his meal.
He’s got group today. Just after breakfast. He’ll go down there and—
“—have to… to…”
He trails off, the words lost. Fifteen faces surround him, watching. Waiting. The bugs—just shadows on the floor for the most part, keeping to themselves in the corners—skitter at the edges of his vision. He knows, in a cerebral way, that they’re hallucinations. All the same he flinches and pulls his feet up onto his chair.
“Care to finish your thought, Reigen-san?” a different nurse asks.
Reigen shakes his head. “Lost it,” he laughs, leaning back in his seat, arms wrapped around his knees. “It’s the full moon, got me all mixed up.”
“The full moon is over,” one of the other patients comments. Reigen jerks, twisting around as if he’ll be able to see the moon from the talk room they’re in, but there are no windows and it’s daytime, anyway.
The others watch him as the paranoia rises in his skin. Are they victims, too, or are they in on it? Do they mistrust him as much as he mistrusts them? He doesn’t know.
There is always something going on at the hospital.
Always something going on.
It's been a long time since I could play with someone like this.
“Play—?” Reigen starts, only to choke. His stomach, previously fine, heaves so suddenly he nearly inhales the vomit, barely managing to lean over before it floods up his throat and out his mouth. He sucks in a breath and his stomach heaves again and the voice, the thing inside him, starts to laugh hysterically and—
It has control. It’s had control. For how long, Reigen isn’t sure—all he knows is that this is very, very bad.
Look what I can do! the spirit crows, and Reigen winces, waiting for whatever it is the spirit is up to. He waits, and waits, and… nothing is different.
Reigen takes an experimental sniff. Nothing. He can’t smell the day-old cologne on his collar or the vomit on his lips.
Oh, and this!
Reigen smacks his lips, flitting his tongue out. No sour notes of stomach acid—no gently-used food, no spit. Is that his… sense of taste missing?
What do you think?
It’s baffling and freaky as hell, he’ll admit that, but it’s nothing really… malicious? What is this things game?
Not dramatic enough for you, I see. The spirit giggles, as if it’s made some inside joke. Reigen doesn’t understand until, all of a sudden, his vision goes black.
He yells aloud, hands flailing out in front of him, waving around. He sees nothing. He’s completely and utterly blind, and the thing is giggling again, and he realizes all at once the mistake he’s made.
This thing is… it’s inside of him. It has access to everything he thinks, has been listening to everything that has crossed his mind in the last however long it’s been there. It knows everything.
…He has to get to his phone.
Oh, we can ’t have that.
In an instant Reigen’s hands go numb, pins and needles and nothingness crawling up his wrists to his arms. He misses his pocket by a long shot, the sound of his knuckles hitting the wall ringing beyond the blackness of his vision.
Fine, then. Be like that. He’ll just navigate by sound.
Reigen yelps and the noise cuts out halfway through. It’s as sudden and complete as a short circuit, sound and then silence. He calls out, feels the vibrations in his throat but there’s nothing accompanying them no matter how hard he pushes. He’s yelling and there’s—there’s nothing.
Fuck. FUCK. Maybe someone has heard him—he’s not exactly being quiet right now—
I wouldn't get my hopes up.
No, no, no, no, no—
The numbness soars up, shooting through the long muscles of his upper arms and into his shoulders, crawling its way across his upper chest. He screams louder, pushing the vibration as far as he can before—
Nothing, nothing, nothing. His throat, his jaws, his tongue—all dead to him. The numbness continues, swallowing down whole parts of him from the chest down until…
He has nothing. He is nothing. He is weightless, sightless, soundless, nothingness.
Chapter 9: Something So Pleasant
I remember when
I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space
~Gnarls Barkley, Crazy
When the exhaustion comes, it hits like a truck going ninety on the freeway. One minute he’s keeping watch, staring staring staring at the door to make sure nothing untoward gets in, and the next he’s barely holding his head up. It’s weeks, months worth of exhaustion coming down all at once and he’s powerless to stop it.
He sleeps. Like the dead, he sleeps. The nurses rouse him for breakfast and he manages to stay on his feet long enough to stumble into the shower afterward but then he’s back in his bed.
He doesn’t wake again. Not even when the nurses come by for lunch. He’s too far gone. They leave him be. He’s out, barely surfacing long enough to eat the occasional meal and and take the occasional bathroom break, for three days.
He thinks he dreams sometimes. Just a little, just flickers of motion in the darkness. It’s like he’s underwater, so deep down that the light barely reaches, surrounded by an inky blackness with the shadows of monsters roaming far enough in the distance to brush away with a sweep of his hand. He breathes in and the water flood his lungs—breathes out and it streams past again. And then again—in, and out. In and out. In… and out… until the rhythm feels like nothing at all.
The nothingness is terrifying. At least at first. It’s not just blackness—it’s the absence of light. It’s not just silence—it’s the absence of sound, so complete that he doesn’t even have the sounds of his own body in his ears. His heartbeat is entirely absent and that, more than anything, drives the fear up to unspeakable levels.
After he comes to terms with that, however, the nothingness begins to get very, very boring.
This is where he would, he supposes, start to hallucinate if he were in a conventional sensory deprivation chamber. He’s not supposed to go in those things because of his mental illness—not supposed to provoke his overactive mind. The fact is, however, that this isn’t that. It’s something supernatural, some nether-space built from ectoplasmic residue and the concept of malice. He’s trapped in the mental equivalent of limbo. A place where, it turns out, not even his hallucinations go to play.
There is nothing. And in the nothing is Reigen, also nothing. He is nothingness inside nothingness inside nothingness. It’s an interesting sort of puzzle, determining what he is if he is, in fact, void. Void with a train of thought. Fascinating.
You can come out of time-out, now.
Reigen could have rolled his eyes. He’s about to retort when his senses flood in all at once.
It’s overwhelming. It’s the feeling your eyes get when you go from a dark room into direct sunlight except all over his body. His tongue tastes too strong, his breath is abrasive, his blood is too loud.
How did he manage to live like this?
Careful now, the demon says, a warning lilt to it’s voice.
“Careful of wha—?” Reigen starts, only to wince at the volume of his own voice ringing inside his skull. Even though he’s speaking normally it sounds like a roar in his head, echoing back and forth in all the fluid-filled spaces and aerated holes that make up his ears and sinuses and god knows what else. He claps both hands to his ears, barely managing to stifle a moan, but that doesn’t help, either, because he can still hear the blood pumping through him and goddamn if it doesn’t sound like ocean waves battering the lonesome craggy shoreline.
This is stupid. So, so stupid.
And it’s all the demon’s fault.
Luckily, the demon itself is preoccupied at the moment, riffling through Reigen’s memories. Reigen can sense it in the back of his mind, plucking at one synapse after another. He breathes slowly, trying to adjust to the sight/sound/feel/taste/smell of having a body again. He’s nearly there, he thinks, when the demon reaches the end of ‘memory’ and starts prodding at something else.
What happens when I do this?
“Do what?” Reigen says, wary. The demon doesn’t respond. It just continues to poke and prod, until…
There’s a mental jerk, like a small electrical shock going off inside him, and the previously bare floors are suddenly covered in bugs. Reigen yelps, instincts driving him up off the floor like it’s lava. He finds himself on his small kitchen table, staring down at the sea of writhing critters in horror.
Another jerk, another shock, and the bugs disappear. Reigen waits to see if they’ll come back, but it seems that he’s safe for now. He relaxes a little, letting his lower legs dangle off the edge of the table.
Jerk. Bugs. Jerk. No bugs. Jerk. Bugs. Jerk. No bugs. Jerk…
Reigen winces as the bug swarm parts for a hunched figure, curled over a whittled black walking stick. It has a hood drawn up over its face, and gnarled grey hands that twitch unnaturally. Even though Reigen knows this is a hallucination—he knows, he knows—he can’t help but start to inch backwards on the table, eyes locked on the figure. It seems to stare without eyes, empty gaze forever locked on him.
Reigen swallows, staring back. “You got it out of your system now?” he asks, waiting for the next mental jerk.
Oh I think the fuck not, the creature says instead. Reigen gets the distinct sense that it’s watching him as he watches the hooded figure. This is fun!
It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real. Reigen knows it’s not. It’s nothing but random synapses firing in his brain. Still, his voice shakes as he says, “You won’t get away with this for much longer.” He stares at the figure planted in front of him, waiting with bated breath for it to fucking move like he knows it will.
The demon chuckles. You think?
Reigen nods emphatically, never breaking eye contact with the figure. “Uh-huh. The moment Serizawa senses something is off, you’re done for.”
“Yep. You wouldn’t make it half a step inside the office before getting exorcised.”
He’s gambling. The thing inside of him can clearly see his plan—if he can get them to Spirits and Such, then Serizawa will realize that something is off and the demon will be exorcised. He’s betting on the fact that this thing has enough pride to do it anyway.
It takes its time thinking it over. As it does, Reigen gets the distinct impression that a grin is spreading across whatever constitutes its face. He swallows again, shaking where he sits, waiting on its verdict.
It comes in a wave of laughter. Watch me, the creature says. Then it takes over completely, all at once, leaving Reigen with nothing but a flimsy connection with his various senses. Reigen watches as the thing pushes forward to the edge of the table with his own hands, swings down from it with his own legs, moves forward with his own feet. He grunts inwardly in revulsion as he and the demon step together into the massive swarm of insects coating the floor, but there’s nothing he can do about it. They pass by the hooded figure, its covered eyes following them all the way across the room. Then they’re out the door, foot in front of foot on their way to Spirits and Such.
I like this chapter. I keep messing with it, though, so I think I need to just... get it out into the world.
I'm not okay, I got a baseball bat beside my bed
To fight off what's inside my head
To fight off what's behind my meds
~Mother Mother, It’s Alright
He has to. He has to. He has to… but god would he rather do literally anything else.
It’s shower time. Reigen stands in the shower stall, fully clothed, and scratches at his oily hair, pulling the dry towel down over his face. Not all the way. Not far enough to obscure his sight. He needs to be able to see the drain, after all. He glances back for just an instant—the nurse is still standing there, waiting. She frowns, gesturing for him to get a move on.
It’s like a scene from a horror movie. The protagonist knows that everything is wrong, but can’t convince anyone around them. Reigen is the lone wolf, the survivor—he knows that the monster is waiting in the sewers. Watching, waiting… it’ll stay hidden until its prey is aaall alone and then WHAMMO it’ll come through the drain and snap it’s jaws closed and swallow them up.
Just like the bugs. They’ll come crawling up from the drain. They’ll come, they’ll come, they’ll come—
And Reigen will be swallowed alive.
Reigen grits his teeth, forging onward. It’s a matter of staying vigilant, staying the course. He’s sweating, his entire body tensed in preparation. He can do this, he can do this, he can—
The hand comes out of nowhere, and Reigen flinches back so hard that he nearly topples off the side of the bed.
“Easy,” the doctor says, like she’s talking to a startled horse.
Reigen grits his teeth harder, harder, until he fears they’ll crack apart inside his mouth. He could smack himself in the face. He can’t let them know that he’s on to them, he can’t let them—can’t let them—he just—he can’t—
The hand comes again, and this time Reigen is ready for it. He breathes as normally as he can, pretending that he’s not interested in the limb’s descent toward his near-bare stomach. The dressings over the surgical incision are so white, so white—he watches as nimble fingers begin to pick off the tape and peel them back.
A thick swallow betrays him as the incision site comes into contact with the air. His hands twitch, the restraints shifting. He looks up at the doctor and he knows she knows. She knows.
She smiles and he waits for her to tear open the stitches, to expose his tender insides, to let the bugs inside him…
…if they aren’t there already.
Blink, blink, blink. Reigen shakes his head, blinking open gummy eyes. He’s falling apart, his head is getting muddy. Everything is swimming around him. His hands shake, his mouth… he swallows. He’s not sure how much longer he can do this.
It’s becoming like a pressure inside of him, this thing that needs to come out. He can hardly breathe for how it presses up against his lungs. He’s sick, he’s falling apart, he’s—just—ugh—
He swallows back a retch, the third or fourth in the last five minutes. And then, as if it’s tired of his stalling, the vomit comes, cascading from his mouth with hardly a warning.
Oh, god. Oh, god. This is bad, this is—
His thoughts are cut off by another torrent, splattering onto the thin blanket over his lap. His restrained hands jerk upward. He’s not sure what he’s trying to do, exactly—cover his mouth? Attempt to shove the vomit back in?—but whatever it is he can’t. He can’t.
He’s trapped. Vulnerable. He’s losing his goddamn mind—
—And still the vomit comes, wave after wave after wave.
Reigen surfaces for a split moment, gasping air like he’s been underwater. Each flashback is like a punch to the gut, the pain folding over into more pain and more pain and more pain. He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know what’s going on.
“Is that all you’ve got?” he asks, taking a step forward. He looks around wildly for a street sign—seventh street, he’s close to the office. The thing inside him rolls, as if contemplating bringing up another flashback.
Except… before it can… he sees Serizawa. Just down the street, walking right toward him. He must have been aiming to meet Reigen in the middle between his apartment and the office. Reigen can’t help it—his gut soars with relief at seeing the face of his best employee, his best friend.
Only to wince as he comes to a sudden stop.
You really thought I ’d fall for that?
Oh, no. “Fall for what?” Reigen asks aloud, ignoring the way the woman next to him frowns and moves away from him.
The spirit, or demon, or whatever it is doesn’t say anything else. It just grins in Reigen’s head. Reigen tenses. No, no, no—they’re so close, so close, this can’t be the end—
He’s too busy struggling at first to realize what, exactly, his body is doing. It’s Serizawa’s frantic voice that brings his attention to it—to his left foot, first, as it pivots on its heel, and then the right foot, stepping forward, and then left again, crossing over from the sidewalk to the tarmac.
“Arataka! ARATAKA!” Serizawa screams, all in a panic, as Reigen’s body takes its first step out into traffic. Reigen can hear the words, and he can see, feel, what his body is doing, but he can’t—he can’t stop, no matter how hard he tries, no matter how frantically he claws at the thing in his head. He defaults to screaming in his head, just wailing as loud as he can, a shrill melody that begins to blend in with the sound of car horns blaring, so close.
Far, far to close.
Reigen turns his head and has just enough time to spot the bus bearing down on him before his vision goes black.
GETTING TO THE GOOD PART NOW. >:D