Shigeo winces and sucks in air through his gritted teeth.
“Sorry, Mob,” Reigen sighs with an apologetic laugh, dabbing the antiseptic-soaked cloth on Shigeo’s nose some more. “Don’t want this to get infected. I’m almost done.”
The boy is straight-faced again, giving his master a nod of understanding, only expressing any of his discomfort (barely, at that) when Reigen presses a little too hard.
After their job dealing with several-too-many urban legends, the two of them (plus Dimple, but he wasn’t present for the train ride) had returned to Seasoning City with haste. Especially since Shigeo came out of it with some nasty scrapes on his face while running from the “Dash Granny.” Especially since the boy had gotten scared. Reigen doesn’t remember ever seeing Mob legitimately frightened before that. He didn’t like it. Not at all.
They had sat on the train in complete silence, only broken a few times, when Reigen had to grab Mob’s hand and quickly reprimanded him for reaching up to touch his scrapes.
This silence is echoed now in the office, no words being exchanged between the two of them while Reigen makes sure Shigeo’s wounds are cleaned and bandaged if need be. Though it’s not unusual for the two of them to sit in comfortable silence, especially here in the office, (sometimes they’d spend almost entire days without a word said to one another, Reigen waiting for a client to walk in and Shigeo either staring off into space or struggling with some homework), but… today Reigen can’t help but feel the tension in the air, threatening to strangle him half to death.
“Thank you, Shishou,” Shigeo breaks the silence, running his fingertips over the bandage across the bridge of his nose.
“No problem at all. What kind of master would I be if I sent you home with injuries?”
Shigeo presses on the bandage, wincing.
Reigen pulls the boy’s hand away and sits down beside him. There’s a long, long moment full of unspoken questions. Shigeo breaks the silence again. “That was just a normal old woman, right?”
“Yeah. Damn, she was fast. Wonder if she’s ever run any marathons,” Reigen ponders aloud, trying to break the awkward atmosphere with some light-hearted banter. It doesn’t work as well as he’d hoped; Shigeo looks down at his hands, resting on the tops of his thighs. He clenches and unclenches them, bunching up the fabric of his jeans with the motion. Reigen watches, an icy feeling brewing in his chest.
Tell-Tale Sign that Mob is about to Explode #1: He’ll appear distant and distracted. Reigen’s noticed that he has a tendency to let things stew--one unpleasant thought mingles with another, and then another, until he’s blown things way out of proportion, and that’s when the situation turns disastrous.
Reigen hasn’t seen many of Shigeo’s so-called “explosions” (they seem to happen when he isn’t around to stop them), but he knows they’re not good--even destructive--if he happens to be bottling up something negative.
“What’s bothering you, Mob?” Reigen breaks the silence again, inspecting the boy’s stagnant face for any sign of an expression at all. Tell-Tale Sign that Mob is about to Explode #2: His disinterested facade will fall. Reigen doesn’t really understand why Shigeo represses his emotions the way he does, but he does know that when they get to be too much for him he has trouble extinguishing them as well as he usually can--and it almost always shows in his face.
He watches Shigeo’s features expectantly. He looks everywhere but at his master, his brow is furrowed, and his mouth parts and closes periodically as though he has something he wants to say but can’t or doesn’t know how.
“If that really had been the Dash Granny,” Shigeo begins, his voice no louder than a whisper. “I could have died, Shishou.”
Reigen feels sweat begin to bead on his forehead. Is he finally calling him out on being an irresponsible master? He knows he shouldn’t be forcing a fourteen-year-old to face deadly evil spirits on a day to day basis, but he always thought it was better off this way, almost dying with his master there to make sure nothing goes wrong, as opposed to him almost dying without adult supervision. He’s at a loss for words other than a shaky and feeble, “I didn’t know that bothered you.”
“Even though I spend every day training, I wasn’t fast enough to outrun an old woman.”
That’s a relief.
Reigen lets out a relieved sigh disguised as a chuckle. “Don’t worry about that, Mob. Like Dimple said, it’s not a competition.
“Maybe not, but,” Mob sighs, pausing and pressing on the bandage on his nose again. “I feel like I haven’t improved at all. I still can’t run for a long time without passing out or feeling like I’m about to.”
“That’s why you have to keep training, Mob! Don’t see this as a failure, see it as, uh… motivation! To keep training!”
Reigen is, unfortunately, going nowhere with this. He can’t say that he doesn’t relate, feeling like you haven’t grown at all despite your best efforts, he just doesn’t know how to get across to his student that that’s okay.
“I know it can be… disheartening--” Reigen begins, but stops when Shigeo lets out a small cry of pain. He grabs the boy’s wrist, pulling it away from his face, where his pressing had made the wound start bleeding again and show through the bandage. “Mob. Please stop.”
“I…” Mob says, staring off in no particular direction. “Sorry, Shishou.”
This must be bothering him more than I thought, Reigen thinks, brows furrowing in sympathy. He helps Shigeo off the desk, though he doesn’t need it, ‘cause god, he’s gotten so tall, and keeps a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Shigeo looks up at him with a particularly familiar sparkle in his eyes.
“It’s okay to… not be okay,” Reigen says with faux-confidence. “Alright? Don’t worry about it.”
The sparkle dies, but Shigeo still smiles a small smile and nods in understanding. Reigen takes his hand off the boy’s shoulder and he walks towards the door, putting his hand on the knob before turning back towards his master. “Thanks, Shishou.”
Tell-Tale Sign that Mob is about to Explode #3: He’ll pretend like everything is fine. It’s your job to know that it isn’t.
Shigeo closes the door, and Reigen is left alone, feeling no less tension in the air and wishing there was something to fill the silence.