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Of Cold Hands Reaching

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Mob almost forgets to do as he promised to himself. To thank everyone.

It feels different, once he is out of Mogami's mind world and back in his own body again, facing the people he didn't know he was missing for six months. Breaking their usual dynamic seems daunting and weird, so with most of them, he doesn't.

He does hug Ritsu when he gets home. It's a bad idea. They don't really hug much, only very rarely when bad things happen. Hugging his brother seemingly without cause just makes him worry. Mob learns from that and doesn't hug his parents.

He says a few words to the Body Improvement Club. He suspects that they don't really get what he is talking about, but they smile and nod. Then they say thank you back and he doesn't really get it and he smiles and nods.

With Reigen, it just feels like the moment has passed. He should have thanked him on their way to the hospital, but his Master hurt his head and back and seemed somewhat grouchy about it, so Mob decided not to bother him. Then they didn't see each other for some time while Reigen recovered from his concussion. When they met up again, it was business as usual.

That is fine.

Nobody is hung up on anything, so Mob shouldn't be either.

It's not like the last six months were actually real in the first place.


Mob is not a morning person, not by a long shot, but he doesn't need an alarm to wake up anymore. He will sit up, drowsy and numb, and stay there in silence for a moment.

Then his mother will call for him to get up and he jumps a little, every morning. One, two, three hard breaths. He's not alone. The tightness in his chest doesn't quite feel like gratitude, but he decides that it must be.

Get up, brush teeth, shower, get dressed, eat, bend a spoon.

(They bend a little differently now; not just the head anymore but the entire thing, as if the steel frightfully curls away from his fingers before he can even fully close them around it. Ritsu fixes it for him and looks uneasy.)

Walking to school is quiet, now that Dimple helps out at Reigen's office. Sometimes he still follows Mob around in the mornings, chatting inanely at him. Even though Mob mostly tunes out the actual words, he is ‒ grateful ‒ for the lack of silence.

Classes are still frightening. He gets called on by well-meaning teachers trying to push him, to include him, and he never knows the answer.

(Pencils start bending and breaking under his hands now. Ritsu isn't there to fix them.)

He's picked up some habits. Or rather, his old habits got a little more extreme. He's never been good with paying attention in class, paying attention to other students around him, paying attention in general. But spacing out feels more deliberate now, more like running and hiding.

He flinches sometimes, when he answers wrong and he almost feels his face sting with a slap that never happened.

His chest feels cold and tight sometimes, when someone says something to him, or looks at him, or passes by his desk.

And ‒

‒ there is something.

Something sticky and itchy clinging to his palms.

He scratches it and it doesn't go away.

His muscles tremble with the effort of lifting the club's smallest dumbbell. That's not new.

The clenching in his chest is. The scratching in his throat is.

The way it starts to feel like warm, pulsing flesh instead of metal underneath his fingers, the memory of closing his hands around another's neck and squeezing, and watching, something inside him changing, him not caring

‒ that part is relatively new.

He tries to fix the broken and bent dumbbells by himself. It's not perfect, there is a crackling tension he unwittingly pushed upon the objects and he can't get rid of it entirely.

He apologizes to the other club members and they forgive him.

Still. Mob decides to focus more on running than weightlifting for a while.


"Is something bothering you? You know I'm always here to listen."

Ritsu is standing next to the sofa, a glass of water in his hand, watching Mob with an open look on his face ‒ ever so slightly concerned, but not enough to make him anxious about it, his body language relaxed, tone casual, a bit of distance between them so as not to crowd him.

It's a harsh tumble back into old habits that makes Mob's neck prickle, like a pulled muscle. They've played this exact game too often, masks in place on both faces, empty words to hide genuine emotion behind. They should be done with this, after everything, should have both learned their lessons. But here he is, spacing out on the sofa and hurting his little brother. Again.

Walking the well-trodden path of "I'm fine" would be easy and cruel.

Telling his brother what is bothering him would require an amount of introspection first that Mob doesn't think he can pull off within the maximum amount of time one is allowed to think about an answer in this conversation.

So he can't confide in him, exactly, but he can at least stick to the truth. "I don't know how to answer that."

It's not really clear to him if that was a good choice. Ritsu breaks out of his Overly Supportive Brother act at least, so that's something, but now there's a small frown on his face and Mob can't interpret that.

For a little while, Ritsu stands there and watches. Then he walks around the coffee table, sits down next to Mob and exchanges the glass in his hand for the remote. "Is watching a movie okay?"

The frown is still there, but so is Ritsu himself. That's different.

Mob doesn't really watch the movie, just sits there and periodically glances over at his brother when he needs a quick reminder that he is, in fact, not alone.


(Weekends are the hardest. Nobody yells for him to wake up and the silence stretches on for too long as he sits on his futon, staring at the wall and racking his brain for a single reason to get up and get dressed. He does, in the end, because nobody is hung up on this and he shouldn't be either.)


Master Reigen takes one look at him as he enters the office and even though he was just walking to the window to close the blinds, he immediately changes direction, a flourish of exaggerated movements as he pretends to have been heading towards the exit right from the start. Dimple is floating overhead and looks after him with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, hey Mob," Reigen greets him with an odd note of surprise in his voice. He puts a hand to his brow, dramatically shaking his head and pulling a face of sudden realization. "I had a feeling I forgot about something! I'm actually closing early today, so you can head right back home. Guess you came out here for nothing, what a shame."

He rushes past him, his hand softly patting Mob's shoulder and then suddenly swiveling him around on the spot so he's facing the door again. Grabbing his coat and scarf and then yanking the door open, Reigen turns and looks at him expectantly.

Mob stands frozen in the middle of the office, confused and a little dizzy from following his Master's erratic motions. His eyes have been unusually tired lately.

"Master, didn't you say you needed more clients after taking so much time off?"

"Of course I did, and of course I was entirely correct about that at the time," Reigen says, rolling his eyes and pushing Mob through the door so he can close it behind them. "But! We got some good business these last few days ‒" Dimple makes an incredulous little 'tch!' sound at that ‒ "and I'm feeling a bit worn today, this weather is giving me a headache, so we can close early this one time." He drops the keys back into his pocket and turns towards Mob once more, taking the time to shoot up a quick glare at Dimple.

Mob doesn't know what that's about, but it's a pretty normal kind of interaction for those two so he doesn't ask.

Reigen unnecessarily adjusts the green scarf around Mob's neck, tugging on the ends a little and picking off a few specks of dust with his fingertips. "I have to remember to take a break every once in a while, you know? Especially after that whole concussion thing. No point pushing myself when I'm only at half capacity."

"But business hasn't been that good lately," Mob says, still quite unsure about what's happening.

Dimple zips through the air and ends up between Reigen and Mob, right up in the latter's face. "Stop asking questions and just recognize an opportunity, Shigeo," he says, voice lowered conspiratorially. "No work for you today! You get to laze around, play video games ‒ maybe take a nap? The possibilities are endless!"

Oh.

Mob's fingers reach up to his eyes all by themselves, very lightly touching the skin underneath that has become rather dark lately. He didn't think anyone would notice that.

It's just a little hard to go back to sleep after waking up to silence and an odd sense of everything being unreal in the middle of the night. Mostly he just sits there for some time ‒ he has no idea how long exactly ‒ or he gets up to wash his itching hands.

He looks past Dimple and up at Reigen. "I'm sorry you have a headache."

Reigen bends down a little so they're at eye level. "Oi," he says softly. "Don't trouble yourself with that. We all need to make sure we take care of ourselves. So I'm going home and getting some sleep. Actually, I should take a few days to recuperate. I'll call you when I need you again."

They walk to the bus stop together, which they never do unless they went out to eat beforehand. Now Reigen even waits with him for the bus and only turns back around, Dimple following along by his shoulder, once Mob sits safely inside.

Reigen walks back towards the office instead of his apartment.

Mob only realizes that once he gets off at his stop and stares at the sky for ‒

‒ an unidentified amount of time.


Ritsu looks up at him from the entrance to the kitchen, that little frown back on his face. Mob walks past him to quickly wash his hands in the sink. "The office closed early today," he offers a mumbled explanation for why he's home already. Instead of being surprised or asking more questions, Ritsu just nods.

"You can get some sleep then," he says. "Do you have any homework left for tomorrow? I could take a look at it for you."

"Oh," Mob makes, walking up to his room with Ritsu trailing along behind him. "That's alright. I'll do it later."

His brother stands in the doorway. Mob pauses in the middle of his room, setting down his bag and then absently rubbing a hand across his forehead. He quickly stops. It's better to avoid the feeling of skin under his palms.

This feels wrong, it's not how he decided to do things from now on. He is making everyone uncomfortable again, even though what he really wanted was to make sure he would appreciate everything good he has. It seemed such an important thing at the time. His mind shouldn't have that much trouble staying focused on it, right?

He has always had trouble with paying attention to the right things.

"Ritsu," he begins, so quietly that his brother has to lean forward a little. "Thank you. I'm grateful."

That's the right thing to say, isn't it, theoretically? That's what he wanted to tell everyone when he got back. But Ritsu's face is slowly drifting back to the empty and calming expression that he's used for years to deliberately put Mob at ease. The expression that has its roots in fear more so than anything else.

Mob clenches and unclenches his hands by his side, makes sure to keep them open enough so his fingers don't have to touch his own skin. He just washed them, he can't go and do it again already, it'd look weird.

"I mean," he starts again, an almost desperate attempt to explain himself better, to make the words seem less empty, less like the ones they've used for so long to build walls between them. "People don't have to be nice, I guess. So. It's good to have so many who are. I'm lucky."

He imagined that this would feel better to say, but he was in a different situation back then. Now it's just dragging something inside him to the surface that he doesn't want there, thoughts and images that belong to six months that only passed in his own head and that he should be done with.

When he looks up, his brother's hands are balled up into shaking fists, a dark glint in his eyes.

"Who was mean to you? What did they say?" he asks.

"Um. I don't remember everything. He talked a lot," Mob says, a little surprised at the turn this is taking. "That's not what I was trying to say."

"Yes, thank you, I'm grateful for you too. Who was it?"

"I don't think you'd know him."

"Please tell me anyway."

Mob is confused. It seems Ritsu is the one having trouble with paying attention to the right things this time. "I didn't mean to talk about him," he clarifies. "I just meant to say thank you."

The way Ritsu's shoulders slump a little and the dangerous fire in his eyes is being replaced by a silent but resigned plea is another weird detail of this conversation that Mob doesn't want to try and analyze. "Alright," Ritsu mumbles. "Thank you as well. Really."

Mob's next exhale is almost loud enough to count as a sigh. Everyone he says this to seems to miss his point entirely. Why else would they say thank you back, that doesn't make sense. Especially not for Ritsu.

There is a pause.

"Did you ‒ want to eat something?" Ritsu then asks.

Mob shakes his head. "No, thank you. I'll try to take a nap now."

"Okay!" His brother's answering nod is unusually eager. "I'll leave some leftovers for you. Please get some rest."

He closes the door behind him almost soundlessly and Mob can tell by the muffled sounds of his footsteps down the stairs that he's already trying to be as quiet as possible.

His head swims a little. He doesn't really want it to be quiet. That's the problem isn't it, the silence when he wakes up that makes it impossible to tell which world he is stuck in right now.

Before Mob lets himself drop down on his futon, fully dressed, he turns on the radio. Mixed with the very faint noises of Ritsu busying himself in the kitchen, it's a nice little setting to fall asleep to.

He sleeps through the rest of the day and the following night. When he wakes up by himself again in the morning, his finished homework is stacked neatly on the desk.

Somehow, he feels even more tired than before.

His hands are itching again.