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Riddle Me This, Mob

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Shigeo ‘Mob’ Kageyama is very good at listening.

He wasn’t always.  It used to be that his mind would wander at any opportunity, getting him in trouble with teachers when they found out that he wasn’t paying attention to their math problems like he was supposed to be doing.  It would cause the whole class to laugh at him when he couldn’t find the answer to a simple equation.  Embarrassing, though not as embarrassing as the fact that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer correctly even if he happened to be paying attention.  It was a problem.  Wandering minds, Mob learned from such experiences, meant getting in trouble, and trouble seemed to find Mob a lot growing up.  It wasn’t just teachers calling him out on zoning out—it was also older kids trying to pick on him, and his emotions bursting explosively from his chest, and his baby brother getting caught in the crossfire when said emotions ignited his psychic powers, and—

Anyway, Mob is good at listening now.  Very good.  So good, in fact, that his discount counseling office (open six days a week!) is what you could consider a booming success.  He has a decent roster of repeat clientele, and he gets enough walk-ins to fill most of the spaces in between.  None of them are even very concerned about the fact that the license hanging behind his desk came from an unaccredited university, which is just the cherry on top.

Speaking of clients.  Mob leans a little further away from the ashtray on the bookshelf at his back, hoping to distract from the cigarette he tried to put out too hastily, which is still smoking gently.  The chatter from across the desk does not cease.  It does not waiver.  There is absolutely no indication that the kid sitting in front of him—are all ten-year-olds this verbose?—is going to stop any time soon.  The only pauses he’s had so far are when he stops to describe a word he can’t quite remember, his accent mostly Japanese with just a hint of English still hidden in his vowels.

…Has Mob mentioned yet that he’s good at listening?  Because he is.  The green balloon of a spirit floating at his side, on the other hand…

“Jeez, talk about a chatterbox.”  Dimple-san is staring down at the head of strawberry blond hair like it’s a fascinating species of worm.  Very unprofessional.  Good thing that no one can see him except Mob.

“Hush,” Mob breathes, then jumps as the kid leans forward suddenly, the river of words diverting itself to ask a question.

“Who are you talking to?  Do you have a bluetooth?”

Ah.  Hm.  Usually Mob tries to downplay Dimple-san’s presence, seeing as mysticism and spiritual inclinations aren’t generally what people look for in a therapist, but Mob doesn’t intend on keeping the kid on as a client.  He doesn’t take on children’s cases.  It’s just not his thing.  So, in his usual monotone voice, he tells the truth, which is: “It’s a spirit.”

The kid squints, quieting down for a moment that stretches much too long in the wake of all the words he’s spoken.  Mob sweats in his turtleneck.  Finally, the kid shrugs.  “Can’t be that strong of a spirit if I can’t even see it.”

Dimple-san puffs up, his ectoplasm whipping about like a wind-sock in a storm, and Mob can’t help it—he finds himself smiling.  A small smile, sure, but it’s there.  And it’s there as the kid shrugs again, returning to whatever topic he was on previously.

The conversation goes on from there.  And on.  And on.  Mob likes to think that at this point in his life he’s getting better at filtering out what’s important and what isn’t in what people say, but maybe he’s not as good as he thinks he is because it’s been half an hour and he still hasn’t discerned a point in the kid’s rambling.  He walked into the office with the demeanor of someone who had a purpose, but Mob is getting more and more sure as time goes on that he misjudged and this is a prank somehow.  He just has to figure out… well, how.

“Anyway, that’s when I said that some salt would protect her.  Which was, um…”  For the first time the kid falters.  Really falters.  Not ‘looking for a word that’s just on the tip of his tongue’—he’s stopped for good, voice fading into the sound of the white noise machine in the corner.  He’s not looking at Mob anymore, instead picking at a hole in the knee of his elementary school uniform. 

“Go on,” Mob encourages, leaning fractionally forward.  Dimple-san rolls his eyes, but keeps quiet as the kid fiddles and fiddles and fiddles and finally says…

“It was a lie.  I lied to her.  It made her feel better but it was still a lie.  Does that… does it make me a bad person?”

There it is.  This visit is not a prank, after all.  Mob takes a deep breath, pushing air carefully out through his nose as he studies the kid in front of him.  He sees pale, European features—fair hair and dark blue eyes that are looking down, refusing to make eye contact.  He sees gangly limbs, wiry muscles—thin wrists with scrapes that must have come from playing outside somewhere that wasn’t very forgiving.  He remembers the accent in the vowels, the search for words, and… what he has in front of him is a kid who came from somewhere very different from this, who has worked hard to find a place where he fits in, who still, after everything, isn’t quite sure if he really belongs. 

Mob knows very intimately what that’s like.

He never meant to turn this into a real session.  He intended from the beginning to do the bare minimum required to turn the kid back around and send him out the door and back to his parents.  He can’t seem to help himself, however, when he leans forward and says…

“The worst people in the world are capable of good acts, you know.”

The kid folds his arms across his chest.  He’s still not looking up.  “Yeah, but that doesn’t answer my question, now does it?”

Mob breathes out, then leans forward and rests his hand on the kid’s shoulder.  “It does.  In a way.  Everyone has the potential for good—even the worst of us can turn our lives around and come back into the light.  What I mean is… people are neither good nor bad permanently.  Being good is about wanting to be good, about trying hard and doing what you can to be better today than you were yesterday.  We’re all human—we make mistakes.  But when we try to be better…”

“…That makes us good?” the kid asks.  His eyes have found Mob’s, now, lit up like he’s experiencing an epiphany.  Mob nods sagely, hoping that the kid has found what he’s looking for.  It’s fifteen minutes until his next scheduled client and he wants to get his paperwork in order before she arrives.  Besides, he’s given the kid some pretty hefty ideas to turn over—that must be enough for now, right?

It seems to be so as the kid slips down from the chair he’s perched in, straightening his shirt and pulling the strap of his bag over his head.  He’s quiet, contemplative—what Mob said must be really resonating with him.  Mob stands, more than ready to lead him to the door so that he’ll never see him again, when the kid pauses. 

Ah.  Mob has a feeling he’s about to regret ever letting the kid into the office.

“Can I… um, can I come back tomorrow?” the kid asks.  “I can—I can help out around the office!  Like, sort your papers for you and make tea and stuff?  Would that be okay?  I’m good with people, so—”

Well, this isn’t good.  Mob is winding up to let the kid down gently when his five o’clock appointment arrives, several minutes early.  She stares down at the kid. 

The kid smiles back with a charm that most ten-year-olds lack.  “Please take a seat, Mr. Kageyama will be right with you!” he says, bowing slightly as he says the words.  The client smiles, instantly at ease. 

Which is… wow.  Mob has never seen this particular woman smile before—the most he can get out of her is a slightly less pinched look.  He stares down at the kid, who has started spouting a full-blown resume of clubs he’s been in and babies he’s sat and god knows what else.  Like an itch, an idea starts forming in Mob’s mind.  A bad idea, he’s already positive—but an idea nonetheless.  “Yes… come back tomorrow,” he says.  And it is so.