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The alert message in Reigen's e-mail pulled Reigen's attention away from the forum he'd been reading on proper nutrition. Apparently eating out every night at ramen stands wasn't good for his health, but he didn't exactly own a deluxe kitchen. Maybe he should at least cut eating out to only whenever he ate with Mob.
He clicked over to the tab containing his open e-mail. This was his first client of the day, though the past week had been fairly steady, if uneventful. Maybe this one would be the real deal for once. At the very least it would give him something to do.
To Whom it May Concern,
I need the help of a psychic! I recently agreed to foster a 14 year old, but now I'm worried he may be possessed. He's really a good boy, but he hasn't responded to me ever since I picked him up. At first I thought he must be ill. I hear change could do that, so I brought him to several specialists. Medically, there's nothing wrong with him, but he simply refuses to eat and he only gets up to use the bathroom. Then he just goes back to lay in his bed all day and night. This has been going on for so long that if something isn't done, his health may really be in danger! I'm not very wealthy, but we can work out a payment plan with the rates you have listed on your website. Please, you are my last hope.
It seemed his day would remain uneventful. A fostered teenager in a new home? No wonder he isn't eating, he's probably depressed. I wonder if his parents died or if he was abandoned, Reigen thought, noting that the boy in question would be Mob's age. He should bring him along, since talking to yet another adult would probably just make him more drawn inward than help him open up. Besides, Mob had a way of disarming people despite his lack of social finesse.
There was no signature as to who left the e-mail, but there was a phone number and address listed below the body of the e-mail. Weird how people would freely give out personal information like that but wouldn't want to give out their full name. Maybe they thought they'd be able to trace them through e-mail anyway if he planned anything malicious. Or maybe they were just old.
"Oi, Mob," Reigen announced, and with a flourish he wrote the address down onto a slip of paper. "Looks like we're going to make a house call." He opened his flip phone as he stood and dialed the number. "Ah, yes! Hello, I received your e-mail..."
The client that had sent the e-mail turned out to be a rather active and upbeat elderly woman. She probably went on more jogs on a weekly basis than Reigen had in his life. And ate better, too, by the looks of her kitchen. "I'm so glad you responded so quickly. I thought you might be too busy to take my request in time," she said as she led them through her house. Luckily it had only been a quick train ride to a nearby district rather than on the outskirts of town.
Reigen decided not to tell her that he simply had no other clients. "Your e-mail stated that this was a time-sensitive issue," he responded smoothly. "It was only natural I give you priority. The dead aren't going anywhere unless I make them, after all, but possessions are dangerous and should be handled promptly." He'd sound almost professional if it wasn't complete bullshit. The client, however seemed to buy it.
"And not a moment too soon, I'm afraid. He's become even more lethargic from the malnutrition. He used to greet me whenever I'd come in the room but now he barely makes the effort to give me a glance," she said.
"So was it death or abandonment that placed him into foster care?" Reigen asked, wanting to get it over with now so he wouldn't have to ask later.
"Death, which is usually easier to cope with than abandonment at this age, but reactions vary I suppose," she answered. Then she turned to Mob. "I didn't realize you'd be bringing a child with you." Her words were surprised, but not unkind.
"Ah, yes, I apologize for not mentioning it on the phone. This is my disciple. He's here to observe and learn. I assure you he's very well behaved, don't pay him any mind," Reigen said, signaling non-verbally that Mob should greet her.
"Nice to meet you," Mob said, deadpan as ever, though he bowed politely as he spoke.
"You as well. I'm sure Yuuto will be delighted to meet you. A child might make him more receptive and brighten his mood," said the woman, returning the bow out of habit.
"Yuuto?" Reigen asked. She hadn't mentioned the name before.
"Yes, that's his name. He's just in here," she said, pushing open a door to a warm looking den and entering. She went over to Yuuto's bed and kneeled beside it, her voice gentle as she addressed him. "Come on, Yuuto, don't you want to meet the new people I've brought to help you?"
As they entered the room, Reigen stopped in his tracks at the sight of their client. He'd been expecting a depressed teenager suffering from the loss of his parents. He hadn't at all been prepared for this. He could see now why this had been so urgent.
"Yuuto is... a dog," Mob said bluntly.
Their client Yuuto was not a 14 year old boy, but was in fact a 14 year old black Kai Ken purebred, a rare breed even in its native Japan.
"Of course he's a dog. What else would he be?" the woman laughed. She beckoned them to come over, and it lifted its head out of curiosity as Mob approached. Reigen stayed where he was.
"He won't bite. As I told Reigen-san, he's really a good boy," the woman assured Mob. Mob was not afraid - his face emotionless as usual - and he extended a fist for the dog. The dog sniffed him briefly, glanced at Mob, and then laid his head back down. "I suppose he could be depressed after losing his owner so abruptly. He'd died of a severe seizure, you see. He had several on a daily basis and Yuuto had the ability to sense them. He was assigned to him to detect them and sit with the man while he rode them out. Sadly, his heart finally gave out during a particularly bad one but even then, the dog stayed with him until the ambulance arrived. You see, we don't really have the money for a professional behaviorist to help Yuuto get over his depression if that's the case, especially not with only a year left of his lifespan. I'm afraid if it's not possession and he is merely depressed, we're out of options and he may need to be put down for good. That's why I contacted you."
Reigen didn't answer her. His hands shook as he tried to compose himself. Mob found himself obliged to answer for him.
"I'm sorry, but I don't think your dog is possessed," Mob said in as apologetic a tone as he could manage. "I don't sense any spirits around him at all."
"That's a shame to hear," the elderly woman shook her head solemnly, clearly concerned for the dog despite only having him for a few days. "Maybe he really will need to be put down..."
"Don't listen to him!" Reigen announced suddenly, clearing his throat with a renewed confidence. "He's still just a student. I can sense at least 3, no 4 spirits surrounding that dog!" He pointed at Yuuto for emphasis. His newfound vigor made even the dog look up at him.
"Shishou, I really don't sense any-" Mob started but Reigen wouldn't hear it.
"Exactly! They're so powerful that they're able to disguise themselves so well you can't see them. That's why I'll be taking on this case alone," Reigen exclaimed, gesturing to himself.
"That's wonderful news!" the woman said.
"Ah, of course, I may need to spend the night here for a few days. The spirits I'm sensing are definitely very strong and will only increase in strength at night. I'll need constant vigilance and to be with him 24/7 if he's to be possession-free."
"But I can't possibly afford an hourly rate with that kind of-" The woman was interrupted as Reigen waved dismissively at her.
"I'm much more flexible than that. You said we could work out an agreement on payment. How about in lieu of an agreement you just cook for me while I'm staying here and... helping Yuuto?" he offered. He was determined to take the job and help this dog even if it meant closing his office. "Mob, you can take the weekend off. Consider it an unpaid vacation. I'll be staying here until Yuuto's condition improves."
"Please, stay as long as Yuuto needs," the elderly woman said, bowing repeatedly in gratitude. She was more than happy to let Reigen stay if it meant Yuuto would get better. "I would be honored to have you as a guest in my home. You're very generous."
No, he just likes dogs, Mob couldn't help but think to himself. At least he'd have the weekend off.
For the next several nights, Reigen barely left the dog's side, only getting up to use the bathroom or take Yuuto out. Otherwise, he was next to his bed on the floor. The first day, the dog remained listless and refused to get up. This didn't phase Reigen's attitude and he stuck with speaking to him in a soothing voice and giving him the kind of attention a depressed dog might need. He didn't use the obnoxious baby talk most people used on animals when he addressed Yuuto. He talked to him as though he really were a 14 year old kid. He told the dog little anecdotes, read to it, and talked to him about his previous owner, just to reassure Yuuto that he wouldn't be going anywhere.
"It must be tough losing someone close like that," he'd say gently, keeping his own attitude positive and kind. Dogs react to and reflect human emotions, and Reigen would use that to his advantage. The woman had told Reigen the previous owner's name and whenever Reigen brought it up, the dog would perk up a little. Reigen rewarded these signs of joy with praise and affection. Unfortunately, they were short lived and soon the dog would return to moping. When Reigen would eat the dog showed no interest in food, so Reigen decided to wait until the next day to try anything but calm talking. He slept in a futon on the floor next to the dog's bed to show him he would still be there in the morning.
The second day, Reigen tried introducing several toys to the dog. A few of them got a positive reaction out of Yuuto, and Reigen would reward him for it accordingly. He even got the dog to play for a few minutes with one particularly tattered looking rope - a favorite, apparently. Reigen tried to accompany praise with treats, but it seemed the dog still wouldn't eat, no matter what it was. Yuuto still did not like going outside and his age meant that walks would be short. At least Yuuto was still drinking, even if he wasn't eating. Reigen spent the night next to him again. In the night the dog moved from the bed to sleep at the foot of Reigen's futon.
It was on the third day, when Reigen was eating breakfast, that Yuuto finally showed interest in food. The woman had been letting Reigen eat his meals in the den on his own next to Yuuto so he wouldn't have to leave the dog's side. They always consisted mostly of foods that were safe for dogs. Each meal, he showed Yuuto each of the foods he was eating in case the dog decided he wanted some.
"Oh, and it looks like we've even got some... some kind of meat. Actually, what is this some kind of pork?" he asked more for the benefit of Yuuto than for his own. He took a bite of it and chewed slowly. "Ah, no it's beef, actually! Really good quality stuff, too. I feel a little guilty being brought meals like this. It's almost like I'm the patient. Or you are and I'm eating your hospital meals," he laughed. It was then that Yuuto nudged his hand, the first time he'd displayed this kind of attention-seeking.
"Oh, do you actually want some of this?" Reigen asked, trying to contain his excitement that the dog might finally be coaxed into eating. He picked some up and fed it to Yuuto, who gratefully took it. He pat the dog's head, praising it for eating. "Here, have some more. I'm not that hungry anyway and you need it more."
At first the dog wouldn't eat unless Reigen hand-fed him, but after a few more morsels, it was practically in Reigen's lap trying to lick his plate. "Hey, come on now, you don't want to make yourself sick eating too much of this stuff after not eating for so long. It's too rich for you," he chided, voice still gentle as he lifted the plate up and out of the dog's reach. It was to this scene that the elderly woman was greeted as she entered the room and nearly dropped the tray of tea she was carrying.
"You finally got him to eat!" she exclaimed, setting the tray down, her eyes welling with tears.
"Of course. We should introduce small portions first, with a few bits of extra protein to encourage the behavior, but I think the worst is behind us," Reigen said, getting up to help her with the tea.
The dog wagged its tail and followed Reigen. Then, upon seeing the woman, he went over to her in greeting, sitting down at her feet. It was still old and malnourished, but it was a significant improvement to days before. The woman knelt down and hugged Yuuto, tears beginning to fall from her eyes. "He's never greeted me like this before. How can I repay you?"
Reigen laughed as he poured the tea for them both. "Well, you can make more of that beef for a start. Yuuto stole most of my breakfast."
It was that night that Reigen felt Yuuto would finally be able to handle him leaving. Besides, he needed to open up office again. He got up a little earlier every morning to take the train to the elderly woman's house to see Yuuto and reassure him that he wouldn't be left alone again. The dog was delighted to see him and the woman reported that he'd been moping since Reigen had left. He stayed for an hour and then headed out to open up his office for the day. Then, after he closed and Mob went home, he came to visit again, with Yuuto looking a little less abandoned when he came around.
He made a habit of these visits for a full week. Then the next week, he only came once a day. Then every other day. He narrowed it down every week until he was only seeing Yuuto once a month. And eventually, Yuuto didn't need him at all anymore. He'd made a full recovery and was now an active, happy, and playful dog. His personality had returned, and it was all thanks to Reigen's careful attention.
Every month the woman would call Reigen to let him know how Yuuto was doing. She had apparently gushed to friends about his skills as a pet psychic as he had many customers come in with pets due to her word of mouth. It more than compensated for having essentially worked for free.
It was a whole year later when Reigen received the call.
"It's Yuuto," was all that greeted him. It was the elderly woman, except her voice wasn't upbeat or cheerful as it usually was. It was tearful and immediately he knew something was wrong. "His condition's worsened."
"I'm on my way," Reigen said. She didn't need to say anything else. He knew it was inevitable with the dog's age and size, but that didn't mean it wasn't going to hurt.
Yuuto would need to be put down.
When he arrived, the elderly woman greeted him politely and quietly let him inside. She explained the situation to him. He'd been diagnosed with cancer the past month and his condition had rapidly deteriorated since. Putting him down would only be a merciful act at this point. They wanted to do it before the cancer became too painful for the dog to live with.
Despite his poor condition, Yuuto was delighted to see Reigen, and got up to greet him. The dog's movements were stiff with old age and exhaustion, and it was clearly tired.
"Hey, boy. Glad to see you remember me," Reigen greeted, his voice gentle as it always was when he spoke to Yuuto. He scratched behind the dog's ears, trying to memorize the feel of its fur under his hands. He knew that by the end of the day, Yuuto would be gone.
The dog went over to its bed and took a frayed rope, bringing it back to Reigen. "You really like this one, don't you?" he asked, smiling. He was glad he was good at hiding how he felt. The elderly woman was not as well-versed.
"He sleeps with it every night. Treats it like it's his baby. It's the only toy he has left from his last owner," she explained, her voice unsteady.
"Oh? That explains why you reacted so well to it when I was trying to get you to play. Seems like you're too tired for tug of war now, though. That's okay. You know I always let you win anyway," he said, letting the dog do most of the pulling, weak as it was. "So what's on the agenda for today? I freed up my schedule." His attention was on Yuuto, though the question was for the woman.
"We were going to let you spend some time with him for a while, then give him a big, unhealthy meal. We even had a special dog cake made just for him. And then, after that, we... Is when we'll..." She couldn't finish her sentence. She wiped her face, which was red and blotchy from obvious past crying sessions. "I'm sorry. This isn't the first dog I've fostered, but it never gets any easier."
"Don't apologize. If it ever got any easier, I'd have to ask you why you're still doing it," Reigen assured her, finally glancing at her. His emotional restraint was for her benefit as well as Yuuto's. "How about a short walk and then I read you the book you liked when I first came here, huh, boy? That should give your owner here time to make dinner."
He spent the day with the dog, which somehow made the whole process harder to bear, with the looming task ahead of them. Yuuto was blissfully unaware of his fate that day, but to Reigen it was a constant presence. He even debated running off with the dog once or twice, but he knew that wouldn't do any good. You couldn't run away from cancer. Being put down was the only way for Yuuto's life to end peacefully.
The smell of sizzling meat greeted him when they returned from their second walk that day. "Look, Yuuto. Your owner made yakiniku. I wonder how she knew it was my favorite," he told the dog as he unclipped his collar. Yuuto went over to the counter where the meat was sitting and jumped up, its paws on the side. It didn't dare take any from the counter, though it could easily reach it. "Looks like it's your favorite too," he laughed when the plate was placed on the floor for him to eat at his own pace. Today, he wouldn't have to beg. Later, Reigen freely gave his own portion to Yuuto. He wasn't hungry anyway.
Watching Yuuto eat the cake made for him would have been funny if it weren't so sad. It was then that his foster caretaker broke down and had to excuse herself from the room, leaving Reigen and the vet who would be administering the euthanasia shot. The vet assured him the whole process would be painless. Yuuto was quite literally being put to sleep. Forever.
Yuuto rested its head in Reigen's lap as the shot was administered. Reigen didn't stop petting him the entire time. He didn't stop speaking to him either, his voice never cracking as he did. He told him about Mob, about clients, about his favorite foods and eventually ended up repeating himself because he ran out of things to say. He was still petting him when the vet told him Yuuto was gone.
He continued to keep his voice steady and he kept a brave face for the sake of the old woman as he bade her farewell for a final time. It wasn't until he was alone in the privacy of his own apartment did he let himself cry. He'd known that once he started, he wouldn't be able to stop.
When he opened up office the next day, his eyes were bloodshot and red and his voice was hoarse. He prayed that the day be merciful and he have no clients. He couldn't afford closing the place, but that didn't keep him from hoping no one would come in. As luck would have it, no one came in but Mob, and Reigen was relieved that Mob didn't ask what was wrong, though he did notice Mob glancing in his direction fairly frequently. It seemed he already knew what happened. Mob could be more perceptive than Reigen gave him credit for sometimes. When he got home, he couldn't keep himself from breaking down again.
The next couple days were a repeat of the first. He'd keep a steady facade when facing clients. Mob didn't ask him what was wrong. When he got home he'd cry until he tired himself out. By the end of the week he found he had no more tears to shed. He felt drained and he had the worst headache of his life when he finally fell asleep.
The next morning, he felt surprisingly refreshed and lighter, somehow. He still felt sorrow, but he thought that his grief was starting to fade.
His day went fairly smoothly, with a polite client who'd actually made him smile for the first time in a week, even if it had been a fake one. He was able to focus again so he had been browsing recipes on his laptop when Mob spoke up.
"Shishou?" Mob asked, looking over at him.
"Hm?" Reigen answered, not looking up from his computer.
"That dog is still following you."
Reigen's eyes darted to Mob, who was staring at him, just as plain-faced as ever. "What dog?" Reigen asked cautiously.
"That one, that's sleeping by your feet," Mob said, pointing in the direction he'd indicated. "I thought you were ignoring him, but I guess he's too weak for you to see."
Reigen followed the direction of Mob's finger to the floor. At first there was nothing, but it seemed that the spirit gained strength at finally being acknowledged by Reigen. It was just enough strength for it to be visible. It wagged its tail and stood, licking Reigen's hand. It went through him, but the memory of it was strong enough that Reigen could almost feel it.
"Yuuto," Reigen said, confused at first, but then melancholy as it dawned on him that the dog was actually a spirit. When he continued it was in the gentle voice he'd always used around the dog. Only this time, it wasn't so steady. "I don't understand." He glanced from the dog spirit to Mob and back again. "Why are you still here? I'm sure your Master would love to see you. You don't have to hang around me anymore."
"He's been following you around all week. Not just at work, either," Mob explained. It was why he'd been glancing over at Reigen all week. He'd been making sure the spirit was just as benign as it looked. Now that he knew it was Yuuto, he knew an exorcism wouldn't be necessary.
Reigen's shoulders shook with the beginning of a sob as he tried to restrain himself. He wasn't having much success. He got out of his chair and crouched so he'd be eye level with the dog. "You're a good boy, Yuuto," he said. He reached to pet the dog spirit and his hand went right through. He didn't mind. He remembered what his fur felt like. He felt tears stinging his eyes despite his best efforts to stop them. He didn't like to cry in front of Mob. Yuuto licked Reigen's face, an attempt to cheer him up, though again he went through him. It was then that Reigen realized why Yuuto had been following him. It seemed the dog didn't want to pass on until he was sure Reigen was okay. He had wanted to stay by his side while he grieved, just as Reigen had done for him.
"Go home to your master now," Reigen reassured him with a smile. His voice definitely wasn't steady now. "It's okay."
Yuuto stared up at him for a moment, as if making sure, and then he slowly faded, his tail wagging happily as he went. Reigen reached up to wipe his face. And he thought he didn't have anything left.
"Are you okay, Shishou?" Mob asked, his voice monotone, but Reigen knew him well enough to detect the concern.
"Yeah," Reigen said, standing up and giving Mob a smile. He almost couldn't believe he was able to genuinely smile again. "He wouldn't have left if I wasn't."