The Building Process

Rating: G

Words: 3,100

Warnings: implied animal abuse.

The Building Process

Running the scam Reigen’s planned wouldn’t be so hard if Mob wasn’t such a good boy. He’s one in a million in terms of kindness; he deserves none of the stress he navigates through, and certainly not to have Reigen take advantage of his abilities to gain in popularity and keep his business afloat. A few weeks after their first meeting and after Reigen has decided to give the boy some pocket money, because he can’t leave his services unpaid but he can’t fully employ a kid either, Mob comes back to the office with blood on his face and a filthy cat in his hands.

Reigen can barely recognize that it’s a cat at all. The thing’s fur is soaked with dirt, as if it has taken the time to specifically bathe in juice leaking out of garbage bags. One of its ears is chipped from battling other cats—or from some human’s petty cruelty, he thinks with unease—and it has all of its claws out.

There are scratches above Mob’s left eye, dangerously close to his eyelid, that have wept enough blood over his temple and nose to look worrying. The cat rasps an awful meow upon seeing Reigen and digs its claws into the skin of Mob’s forearms, where it opens easily and spills wet and warm.

“What are you doing,” Reigen asks rather than moving from his petrified spot by the door.

Mob looks up, eyes bright, mouth downturned. “Some other kids were trying to bother it.”

Reigen doesn’t want to sigh in disappointment, really, or yell at Mob. “All right,” he says. It’s easier for the moment to just make sure Mob doesn’t catch anything nasty from those scratches.

Mob releases the creature inside the office. Reigen expected it to leap off every piece of furniture and ruin the fabric of his couch and armchairs, but all the thing does is limp slowly to the farthest corner under his desk, until it’s out of sight, and let out another pathetic growl.

“Will it be okay?” Mob asks in a small voice a little while later. He’s sitting on top of the desk so Reigen can reach his face more easily.

“Are you talking about your face or the cat?” he replies.

But it’s easy to guess, even before Mob nods slowly toward the other side of the desk where the cat is still hidden.

“It needs to be taken to a vet,” Reigen says, wiping the blood off of Mob’s face. He winces when he disinfects the small cuts, but Mob doesn’t flinch at all from the burn. “I can’t keep it.”

Mob looks downward. He’s very still.

“Can’t take it either, I’m guessing?” Reigen questions in a flat voice.

It’s hard to stay annoyed, though. Mob looks the way a regular person would while hearing about the death of their closest family member, and his lips are shaking ever-so-slightly, as if he’s only barely repressing sobs. Mob doesn’t really sob that Reigen knows of, but it’s disconcerting nonetheless to know that the possibility is here.

He rubs the back of his neck, where it aches a little, like it does every day. “I’ll see what I can do,” he mutters. And then, because Mob doesn’t look especially cheered up—”Finding a potential will be a piece of cake next to exorcizing demons.“

The words feel like rubber on his tongue, but the glint of hope they light up in Mob’s eyes is worth the lie.

The cat becomes a regular fixture at the office.

Reigen takes it to the vet that first night, almost immediately—it’s cheaper to get a cat tested for diseases than it is to have Mob tested, and a lot less dangerous for himself too. He’s not sure what Mob has told his parents about Reigen exactly.

The visit ends up costing more than he makes in a week, because the cat is just too damn filthy. The woman at the vet’s office washes the thing and doesn’t flinch at any of the cuts she must have gotten. She feeds it afterward, and takes a few hair and blood samples, that she then spends two hours analyzing in a backroom.

“I don’t see anything wrong with her besides how malnourished she is,” she says conversationally. “I’ll have the final results tomorrow or Wednesday.” She’s been looking at Reigen with something akin to admiration in her eyes, and it makes him feel a bit crowded in his own skin—he doesn’t very much enjoy other people looking up to him for being kind or noble.

He’s not saving this cat out of the goodness of his heart. He just doesn’t want to make Mob more miserable, so the boy can keep doing his work for him.

Still he takes the cat back into a box he rents for the occasion. She is mostly white, with some reddish spots of fur that under all the dirt used to look like so much filth. She doesn’t look a lot better now than she did then. Her ear is still lace-like from all the holes and tears in it, and her nose has a discolored patch on it that looks like a burn scar. She’s missing three claws that the vet woman assures him will regrow somewhat in time. Her fur is parsed with bald spots and she is skeletal.

She’s very probably the ugliest cat Reigen has ever seen.

Still he buys a litter box and cat food on top of the money he spent on getting the animal checked, because he was foolish enough to tell Mob he’d find her an owner, and so he will.

Of course, it’s not that easy.

The few clients he gets pay badly when they pay at all. The cat gathers a few amused looks and, for some, generates more money, but the reverse is also true, and a week after Mob has brought it in, Reigen hasn’t found a person to adopt her.

“What will you do, Master?” Mob asks him quietly one day after his school hours. He’s sitting cross-legged in the middle of the office and trying to tempt the cat out of hiding with red yarn, but the cat is only hissing at him from her hidden spot under the couch. Mob doesn’t look extremely deterred. He pushes the string of yarn forward.

“Reading people’s emotions is indeed harder than just the exorcizing of evil spirits,” Reigen replies, scratching his chin. His lower back is aching again, but he’s trying to resist the urge to go lie down for now.

“So she’ll never find an owner?” The boy’s eyes are huge on his face and glowing like something is pouring light on them from the inside.

Mob, Reigen thinks, is a frighteningly moving child.

“Don’t worry!” He exclaims. “I, the great Reigen Arataka, have already found a hint.”

As usual, this is enough to sap the sadness out of Mob. The expression on his face doesn’t change, but he goes back to trying to gaud the cat into playing. Reigen doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the cat is probably too wary of humans by now to ever play with one—unless she is taken care of by a specialist.

Reigen can’t keep the cat forever.

He knows that. He doesn’t have the money for it and he doesn’t have the room—he’s a bit allergic to the fur, and he spends most nights sleeping on the lumpy couch of his office, which means that he’s both in pain and blowing snot out of his nose all night long. The cat is ungrateful and he doesn’t have the patience it takes to rehabilitate a wild animal. Her leg has been getting better; her bones jut out of her skin less glaringly; she has started clawing fabric off the couch and armchairs and peeing in her box instead of the floor. But he can’t keep her.

The solution comes from Mob—and, he’s loathe to admit, from the cat herself. He’s taken to giving her a new name every time she shits inside his shoes. Right now it’s Filth, the next day she will probably be Garbage. He doesn’t call her that in front of Mob, but it does help to keep things spiteful.

The client Reigen is meeting is an old man with no hair but with an impressive mustache. His scalp is gleaming in the office’s muted light as he shakes a little on his ratty armchair, and behind him Mob is sitting cross-legged, back turned to the room, hands busy waving a brand new cat toy in the interstice between the floor and the bottom drawer of Reigen’s desk. Reigen glances at him but doesn’t call.

He hums, he shakes his head, he presses his index above his lips. “A poltergeist, you say.”

The man nods his shiny head nervously. “Yes. Stealing things from all over the house.”

Reigen takes a moment to look at the man a little better. He looks frightened and lost and very old, but he is dressed impeccably. Reigen doesn’t usually get rich clients—what little pay he gets is almost as often in the form of coupons, items, and favors as it in money—so this is a surprise. But the man looks confused most of all.

“Do you have any family?” Reigen asks with a deep frown.

“Yes,” the man replies, his smile vacant.

He’s probably being robbed by a relative.

Well. As long as he can pay, it’s none of Reigen’s business, really.

“Very well,” he says darkly, and gestures slowly with a hand as if to encompass the entirety of the office around him. “I will exorcise your poltergeist.”

And then he stops talking, because the cat is levitating.

She looks absolutely terrified. Her claws are out so far that her paws look ready to break apart, her chipped ears are lowered, and she’s hissing continuously, only breathing in so she can growl and meow even louder. Reigen is about to glare at Mob and somehow try to convey to him that he should let the cat down, but before he can, the old, rich man in front of them lets out a great cry and stands up.

Reigen hadn’t realized how used he’s gotten to things flying off when Mob is around.

“Uh,” he says.

“Is it possessed?” the man cries. He looks like he’s trying to fuse with the wall he’s taken refuge against, and his entire face looks sweaty. Reigen has never seen a shinier head in his life.

“It’s just—” he starts, but then he closes his mouth.

He looks at Filth. He looks back at his client.

He crosses his fingers in front of his face and hides his mouth with them. “Yes,” he says, in as deep a voice as he can manage.

His client gurgles.

“By a very powerful goddess,” Reigen adds. He can feel Mob looking at the side of his face intently, but thankfully, he doesn’t drop the cat from her terrified flight. “I welcomed her into my office because she is currently trapped in this weakened body, and I swore to help her find a home.”

“A home,” the man says shakily.

Reigen bows his head. “A home,” he rasps out.

He looks up and through his fringe so he can get the pleasure of watching the man’s face turn from red to grey to a little more human-like. “A home,” he repeats.

“Should anyone welcome her into their abode—” Reigen pushes himself up, palms gripping the sides of his armchair as tight as he can—”they would be granted very many favors, as well as immense protection from the occult.“ The man has stopped staring at the cat and is staring at Reigen instead. Beside him, Mob is walking slowly to the still-airborne creature, and is waving the toy in front of her face. “Granted that she be treated with the utmost care and respect,” Reigen adds.

He can request this at least, for Mob’s sake if not for the cat’s.

“Could she get rid of my poltergeist?” the man asks.

“Without a doubt,” Reigen answers.

He sees the man’s decision on his face long before he utters, “Then I will take her. Absolutely.”

It’s always satisfying when things line up like this.

The man pays him extremely well, considering that he’s just signed up to take care of a wild street cat who will probably do more damage to his abode than his poltergeist ever did. But Reigen says nothing, only takes the payment and allows himself one second to gauge the thickness of the bills in his palms before storing them into a drawer of his desk. Mob lets the cat down slowly. She stays petrified on the ground for a moment before he grabs her and hoists her into his arms, and strangely enough, she doesn’t do anything to attack him.

It’s a long walk between the office and the man’s old house. It’s a big place with an even bigger garden, overflowing with greenery even under the falling snow that makes it look sugar-coated. Reigen walks between the main gate and the door to the house proper, where a younger man greets them. He takes a look at Reigen’s client, at Reigen himself, at Mob holding the white cat—and promptly turns his back and leaves.

Reigen clears his throat loudly. “My pupil will now bring the goddess inside to get rid of the poltergeist,” he declares.

“Don’t I have to do anything else before she accepts me?” the man worries.

“No need. She knows you will take great care of her.” And the man nods at that, earnestly, so the last of the tension in Reigen’s guts relaxes. “Mob?”

Mob nods, and walks inside.

It’s only a few minutes before he comes back, and Reigen spends them facing the house, head down as if in prayer so that the picture will be more convincing. He doesn’t think it absolutely necessary, but it pays to be prudent, and the man is mimicking him now anyway, halfway into a bow because anything more looks like it will hurt his back.

“It’s done,” Mob’s voice says suddenly.

Reigen masks his instinctive jump backward with a cry of what he hopes sounds like professional satisfaction. “Excellent! We’ll leave you to it, then.”

He grabs Mob by the shoulder and walks out of the garden. The plants seem a little suffocating around him despite how cold the winter air is on his face. He feels like his scarf is trying to strangle him to death, so he unties it, but the feeling doesn’t pass until they’re well away from the man’s house.

“Great job today, Mob,” Reigen says.

Mob nods quietly. He’s a little out of breath, because Reigen was walking so fast earlier. “That poltergeist wasn’t very strong.”

It takes a second for Reigen to understand what he’s talking about. When he does he lets out a high-pitched laugh, almost like a giggle, and coughs. “Was it?”

“Mmh,” says Mob. He doesn’t look troubled in the least.

They make it back to the office by nighttime. Reigen invites Mob in for hot cocoa, that he has taken to buying alongside his coffee supplies. The boy sits down on the couch and drinks quietly and doesn’t stop staring at Reigen even when Reigen burns his tongue on coffee and jumps back with a yell. It’s like nothing can surprise him.

“How did you know, Master?” Mob asks once Reigen’s coffee has cooled down enough that he won’t hurt himself drinking it.

“Know what?” Reigen replies tiredly.

“That she wanted a home.”

“Every animal wants a comfortable place to live,” he declares, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Mob ponders this for a moment in silence. His face shows no emotion but he might as well have a permanent line marring his forehead. He looks younger than he is, but he feels a century older. Reigen still isn’t used to that. Maybe it’s a psychic thing.

“It’s just,” Mob says. He pauses. “I couldn’t tell what she wanted, exactly.”

“It’s okay, Mob. Not even you can talk to animals.”

But Mob shakes his head vehemently—”Not the cat. The spirit.“

And Reigen chokes on his coffee again, and spits a good portion of it out onto his couch—he turns his head opposite Mob’s direction at the last moment because his brain will not allow him to spit on a child no matter how serious a danger he’s in. What, he thinks. “Urgh,” he says.

“Did she tell you directly?” Mob continues behind him, eager and childlike. “She wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Mh,” Reigen replies. “Yeah.” He wipes his mouth clean of spit with the back of a hand. “Indeed.”

Mob seems satisfied by his answer, because he doesn’t speak anymore. There’s only the sound of his heels hitting the couch softly as he swings his legs back and forth.

Reigen swallows and breathes deeply.

It is a bit frightening to think that Mob knew there was a spirit attached to the cat the entire time and never showed it in any way—simply assumed that Reigen knew, and had decided to ignore it. Maybe he ignored it because he figured that was what Reigen wanted.

He’s going to have to polish his act if he wants this charade to keep working. Pretending that nothing is here until Mob shows sign of something being here is obviously not a viable plan. Business has been slowly coming again since Mob joined him, but he can’t afford to just let himself rest now, and he can’t afford to let Mob know the truth.

Or maybe Mob already knows. Maybe he’s just that good at hiding that he does, the way he was at hiding that there was a spirit in Reigen’s office all this time.

Reigen smiles tightly at that.

No, he doesn’t think Mob knows the truth. He doesn’t think Mob has it in him to manipulate and lie like this, the use of his powers over people non-withstanding—Mob doesn’t deliberately use them on people, not maliciously, and he has been studiously avoiding using them since he met Reigen at all. At least where Reigen can see it.

It’s easy to remember Mob coming in with a cat in his hands and blood on his face and remember how willing this boy is to put himself between spirits and people just because Reigen asks him to.

Mob really is a good boy. Reigen just wishes that he wasn’t, because maybe things would be less complicated that way.

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