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first love, late spring

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ASK M: WHERE DOES HUMAN CONNECTION BEGIN AND END?

I am not a love advice column. Do not send me more of these.

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There is, I believe, a special kind of masochism in asking for life advice from someone who has a track record of having very little faith in humanity. I do say that with admiration, however, so to the subscriber who sent over an anonymous email asking me very detailed questions regarding my genuine thoughts on love and relationships — fine. I’ll indulge you. It is Christmas, after all. But before you proceed, remind yourself what this newsletter is. If you come to your senses and realize you should have asked someone more willing to provide kinder sentiments, I am certain our delusional idol fan friends over at the Boogie Woogie blog would be happier than I am to entertain your need for romanticisms. 

Still here? Suit yourself. I know why you sent me your questions. I know what you want me to say. You’re waiting for me to wax philosophical about the nature of human connections the way I do the shape of the soul. You want me to admit, in my own disparaging way, that love is the answer, that love is inherently good. You want me to provide you with logical paths towards proving this. Unfortunately, human connection is far less complicated than discussions of the body and the soul, and you are fooling yourself if you think it is not. 

Of course you can try to ask the same broad questions about both. Where does it begin? Where does it end? What makes it what it is? What makes it good? What taints it? What decides the shape it takes? But while it is useful to ask the world around you these questions when conceptualizing the soul, it does not ultimately do anything in terms of understanding human connection. 

You might disagree. But I believe it is human hubris to think that emotions must stand the test of countless interrogations in order to prove its existence, much less its strength. I am going to take a wild guess and say that you asked me all those questions because you are going through a rough patch in your love life. You might be looking for a sign to keep going. You might be looking for a sign to step away. In that case, you are better off consulting a tarot reader or downloading an astrology app. 

Because let me tell you this: this will not be the first or last time that you will look, and if you look right, you will find without fail that those signs do not exist. All you will have every time is the feeling that is already in you — and if you do not like what you see, then I do not think that is a problem you should ask the broader universe to fix for you. Do not ask for substantiation when it is your confirmation bias that you want to stoke, and certainly do not expect me to offer you platitudes about the nature of what you are feeling. 

If you have been long subscribed to my newsletter, and it seems that you are, then we can agree on one thing: human connection is the easiest way to find out how flawed you are, and how flawed other people can be. If you think this simple truth renders your grasp on your emotions hazy, then it is not your love that is weak, it is you. It is you, cowardly and afraid of your own feelings. People are flawed. We both know that. Everyone knows that. Love or any other kind of connection does not and will not ever eclipse that fact. 

I also gleaned from your email that you are conflicted about whether love must be selfless. Must it be kind? Must it be patient? And — how does that awful passage go again — must love never envy, never be proud, never be self-seeking nor easily angered? When you are hollow-hungry, then, when you reach out for a person in hopes of satiating that hunger — is that no longer love? Does possession equate to connection? Can loving another person mean wanting to consume them so nothing in the world can touch them anymore and they will be safe right where your heart is? I do not know. I do not care. 

In fact, to sanitize love, for me, is to erase the truth of how the people doing the loving and the people being loved can never be sanitized. If we suppose that the lover and the loved are both flawed, then what is there to ensure the love between them will not be the same? And what decides that this flawed love must contain none of the flaws of its originators in order to stand in front of a jury? 

Do not get me wrong, either. There is a decisive line between harm and love. The whole point of this newsletter series is to prove and share my belief that people will always be more inclined to harm than to love. And I acknowledge that this is the part you are worried about, anonymous reader. I know you are concerned because there are people who disguise their harm and selfishness under the label of love, and people who misunderstand their own capacity for either. I cannot say whether you are or are not one of those people, though I am willing to wager that if you are worried about it, it is more likely that you are not.

All I am able to say, from my own outsider perspective on it, is that if love exists in any pure form, it will be founded on understanding. Not a perfect one at that, but an attempt at empathy. For the other person, for yourself, for who you are to each other. But I also know that the moment you make contact with another person, nothing will unfold according to plan. Nothing. Human connection is, ultimately and in whatever form, a recipe for disaster, and it is this quality that makes clarifying it such hard work. 

So let us revisit those broad questions from earlier. I said it and I will say it again: human connection is far less complicated than discussions of the body and the soul. Do you know why that is? Because tricky things like love, in all its shapes, take all the questions you want to ask the world about the nature of human beings and simplifies these, untangles these, until the only world you need to confront is the one that exists between you and another person. It is not a matter of what defines the universal picture of love and what makes it worth sustaining. It comes down to the space between you and the person you love, care for, hunger for, and whether you are willing to ask yourself and them, not me or another newsletter and certainly not the universe: Where does our love begin? Where does it end? What makes it what it is? What makes it good? Is that enough? Will I be enough? Will you be enough? Will we be enough together? 

Do not, however, mistake answers to these for clarity. Do not think of these as your be-all and end-all, because here is a little spoiler when it comes to being in love with someone: You are always at the beginning. 

And, if you are very, very lucky, you will forever continue to always be at the beginning. 

 

 

Megumi is aware that there are a minimum of six things he could be helping with right now, both as an upright civilian and the brother of the bride, but as he makes his rounds across the wedding venue, watching various hired crews set up chairs and camera tripods and violins, he finds that he doesn’t really want to do anything except stand in a corner and wait for his restlessness to drop from its crest. 

In any other situation, he might have already had someone descend upon him and pump tea and subjective wisdom into him until he stopped biting his nails. It’s the burden and the luxury of being raised by a world of people instead of the mainstream-average unit. Today, though, he’s alone. Tsumiki is getting ready in her hotel room, circled by Nanako and Mimiko and all the other bridesmaids; Getou must be in his own hotel room, going over his script for the day after banishing Gojo; and Gojo, in exile, could be doing anything from sneaking cake pops out of the catering team to trying his hand at a pre-wedding conversation with Tsumiki’s fiancé, less out of any paternal leanings and more because he knows that Toji would have tried no such thing. This leaves Shoko and Utahime, who have morning lectures to teach, and Maki and Mai, who have morning lectures to attend, and who will not be arriving with a single other Zenin in tow. 

It’s less a roll call in Megumi’s head as it is as an automatic mindmap, a list of individual names that are never just that when it comes to the people around him; one name inevitably leads to another, and every person is connected to someone else somehow. A map of relationships domino-stumbling into each other, where a list of family members that might have been a hierarchy of emergency contacts for another kid becomes a web of interpersonal connections that Megumi, all his life, has been at the center of.

Dwelling on this leaves him, all of a sudden, hyper conscious of his current alone-ness—and how rare it is, how unused he is to it. For someone so comfortable in solitude, he never quite mastered it when it isn’t self-inflicted. He stands in the empty hall, at a loss, before he realizes there’s at least one person he’ll discover to be unoccupied with anything today. The same person who won’t give him tea, whose wisdom is at best designed to infuriate him, and who exists simultaneously as the founder and the sole exception to the network of people that he calls family. 

He finds Toji smoking in the parking lot, leaning against someone else’s car like he’s seconds away from either hotwiring or hotboxing it to escape the wedding one way or another. But he won’t actually leave, because while Toji and Tsumiki’s relationship is far from deep, it is much, much farther from cold, and Megumi knows that although Toji won’t say a single fatherly word to her tonight, he would, at some point, move Tsumiki to tears with whatever unexpected wedding gift he’d gotten her. 

Still, Megumi can recognize his own tension on his father. Toji isn’t obvious about it, a kind of idle lethargy to even the way he’s tapping his foot, but Megumi has seen him at his most ridiculously unfazed—and this is the reverse of that, something determined in how much he isn’t fidgeting. Megumi doesn’t say anything as he goes to stand parallel to him, settling against the car beside. 

It’s freezing, colder than usual even for a December afternoon. Megumi rubs his hands together in an effort to channel his jitters to another part of his body. It’s a dead giveaway of how on edge he is, but it’s not like Toji wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise; he has a keen eye for Megumi’s discomfort, for better or for worse, from the mundane to the inarticulable.

But all Toji says, after a long pull of his cigarette and a longer exhale, is, "Promise me that when it’s your turn, you’ll do it in the summer. Somewhere sunny. Outdoors." 

Megumi’s first thought in response to this makes him wince. Too reflexive, he thinks, too certain of something that might not even have deserved a present, much less a future. He pushes it aside. As much as he can, at least, for something so intrinsic that there’s nowhere for it to hide in his brain.

"It’s not good to frame marriage as a when instead of an if," he says out loud. "It reinforces the harmful cultural expectations of needing to marry someone, anyone, at some point, and contributes to the—"

"Megumi." Toji flicks his cigarette. A smattering of ashes falls from the tip. "Shut the hell up." 

Megumi looks at the ash on the ground and shuts the hell up. 

This, too, is rare enough that Toji goes still. From his periphery, Megumi sees his father’s hand stop mid-air, cigarette around half an inch from his mouth, and just stay there, hovering for a moment. He’s quick to slide back into motion, but again, Megumi knows when he’s been transparent. 

"Where’s your boyfriend?" says Toji. "Why isn’t he here charming the shit out of the string quartet?" 

"We had a fight." Megumi’s breath mists in the cold, curling upwards until it’s indistinguishable from his father’s cigarette smoke. "On Christmas Eve."

A big one. A bad one. Toji scoffs. 

"So?" 

"So," says Megumi. "I don’t think he’s coming." 

The thing with vulnerability is that it doesn’t really feel like that for him when it’s around Toji. Not out of any romanticized notion of a parent’s innate understanding of his child, but because their relationship has been built on frankness so direct that it’s almost dry. Toji has planted plenty of questionable habits and reflexes in Megumi, most of them unintended, but beating around the bush has never been something they did to each other. It was never necessary, to begin with, because nothing feels the same kind of fragile as other vulnerable things do when it’s just raw honesty in the end, stripped of everything that could have complicated it. Megumi won’t bat an eye at telling Toji what he had for breakfast; he doesn’t now, either, as his father studies him, probably honing in on the apprehension that Megumi knows is etched on both corners of his mouth right now.  

"Yuuji will come," says Toji. 

Megumi doesn’t look up. "What makes you say that?"

Toji drops his cigarette onto the asphalt, crushes it underneath his shoe. 

"I know I would," he says, "if I’m getting free food." 

 

 

It’s started to snow outside. Small, thin clumps that hardly resemble snowflakes, sticking to the window and melting into slush as they slide down the glass. Yuuji tries to track one damp streak with the tip of his index finger, but his skin ends up squeaking across the surface and he winces, looking over his shoulder to see if the sound had bothered Nanami. 

There’s no sign that it had. Nanami continues pushing his bread knife across the fresh loaf of bread that Yuuji had brought him as an apology for dropping by without warning—even though this is not the first time he has, nor likely the last, and Nanami has never told him off except for the one time, a few months ago, that Yuuji had ended up waiting for him to get home in the cold for hours. Bringing bread from Nanami’s favorite bakery three blocks away is at this point more tradition, as routine as Yuuji’s unpredictable coming over, than anything conciliatory. 

If Yuuji believed more in the strengths of his relationships, he would say that they both find comfort in it. But that feels too big an assumption to make, and too big an emotion to assign to someone else in the same depth that he himself is feeling it, so he settles for dwelling in the wave of happiness that he feels as Nanami brings the sliced bread and a homemade jar of jam over to the coffee table. 

Smaller, provable emotions—emotions he can find in the present, in the immediacy of a good moment—are harder to convince himself out of. Finding happiness as it’s happening to him is much easier than convincing himself that something in the past or the future is better or worse. When it comes to feeling emotions deeply, it helps, Yuuji has found, to cut them into smaller pieces, and to find spaces to breathe in between. 

"I was debating whether to ask why you are dressed for a funeral," says Nanami, walking back to the kitchen counter to retrieve two mugs. It’s much too late in the day to be having breakfast and much too early to be having post-dinner comfort beverages, but he leaves a mug of steaming hot chocolate in front of Yuuj. Then he nods at where Yuuji had left the black jacket of his two-piece suit draped over the arm of the couch. "But I remembered that the last time I saw Gojo-san, he insisted on telling me all about the wedding you’ll both be attending. Rather smug, he was." 

"Smug? Gojo-sensei?" Yuuji had taken over Nanami’s old, peeling couch enough times, ever sprawled across its entire length, that it remains stubbornly molded into its Yuuji-shaped dent even as he sits up. He crosses his legs under him as Nanami takes the one-seater to his right, eyes sharp on how Yuuji crinkles his pants. "Why smug?" 

"He seems to be under the impression that you coming to the wedding means you’ll be part of his family soon, and that I’ll soon be losing you to him by virtue of that." 

Yuuji’s eyes widen. "No," he says. "You’re still my number one, Nanamin, I swear." 

Nanami levels him a flat look. "Please don’t play into his teasing, Itadori-kun. Affections are neither exclusive nor hierarchical to begin with." 

"Yeah, but—" Yuuji picks up a spreader knife and has to fight the urge to gesture with it. The last time he did, Nanami had given him a lecture on knife safety, as if he was concerned Yuuji hadn’t already learned not to run around the house with one. "I just wanted to reassure you, I guess." 

"I don’t need reassurance."

"You sure? Because if you’re worried I’ll start seeing Gojo-sensei as—"

"Itadori-kun," says Nanami. "I don’t need reassurance." 

Having spread two thick layers of jam onto an open-faced slice of bread, Yuuji folds it in half and shoves it into his mouth. As he chews, grumpy about it, he says, "I can’t look Gojo-sensei in the eye ever again anyway." 

"Talk or chew. Please pick one and stick to it," says Nanami, but it’s more out of habit than serious admonishment. He’s slower in his rituals, more careful as he spreads jam to the very tips of his slice. "Why can you not look Gojo-san in the eye ever again?" 

Yuuji swallows. The bread is soft and fluffy, the jam the right balance of sweet and citrusy, just as Nanami likes it, but it still doesn’t go down easy. 

"I just can’t," he says, flopping onto his back with a whine. "God, it’s all such a mess, Nanamin. I don’t even wanna go to the wedding anymore. I’ll just feel like crap and if I feel like crap, there’s a chance I’ll make other people around me feel like crap. Who needs that at a wedding? I don’t even know if I can look Megumi in the eye and he’s the reason I was invited. I don’t know if he’ll want me there. It’s fair if he doesn’t. It’s his sister’s wedding. I also don’t know if she would want me there. I don’t know anything. I don’t wanna exist anymore. I don’t wanna have feelings. I wish I was dressed for my funeral but I don’t even know how to do the tie that comes along with this get-up and if I go into whatever afterlife there is and see my grandpa there, he’ll yell at me for spending money on a whole suit and not wearing every single piece—" 

"Breathe," says Nanami. His knife only hesitates for half a beat to make sure Yuuji does breathe, before it’s back to sliding smoothly across the bread. "Megumi?" 

"My boyfriend. Ex? Was he ever even my proper boyfriend—No, that's unfair. I don’t know. Thinking about our relationship is making my heart hurt," says Yuuji. His voice is painfully hoarse, and talking feels like a blunt razor is scraping the inside of his throat. He continues anyway, "No, I think it’s my head hurting. It might be both. This is all my fault. I got carried away when I said I wouldn’t and it’s so stupid because this could have been avoided and I know that for a fact because it has been avoided but I had to go and be a yearning, lovesick, brainless dumbass—"

"Itadori-kun." Nanami dusts crumbs off his slacks as he stands. "I am going to give you a moment alone to sit with what you are feeling. When I return, we will talk about it."  

Yuuji deflates with a sigh. "Sure. Fine. I know." 

As soon as Nanami has disappeared upstairs, he grabs a cushion and squeezes it with all the frustrated energy he would have otherwise channelled into a scream. He could yell, could shriek until his voice runs out, and Nanami would not hold it against him, but it’s one thing to do that in his own apartment under the watchful, unforgiving gaze of his cat and another to disrupt the quiet of Nanami’s loft. It’s one and a half floors that Yuuji has associated with calm and security from the moment he first stepped into it as a freshman, and while he had never been good at contributing to this, he’d rather implode from his own internal screaming than ever threaten the peace so shamelessly. 

He sinks his face into the cushion and breathes like that, counting and counting until he hears Nanami return. He doesn’t expect to look up and find him with two neckties in hand, already halfway down the front hall. 

Over his shoulder, he tells Yuuji, "Please stand with me over here, Itadori-kun."

It isn’t a question. Yuuji pushes himself off the couch to follow, frowning when Nanami hands him one of the ties and nods at the full-length mirror in front of them. "Follow my lead." 

It’s strange seeing his mirror self, looking small and unsure and much younger than his age as he stands next to Nanami. There’s a moment where he feels like a teenager all over again, giving up on following a YouTube tutorial on the day of his grandfather’s funeral and going to the crematorium in his hoodie instead. There’s none of that frustration as he watches Nanami, who’s methodical about even this, each movement measured and easy to follow. Raise the collar, slip the tie around it, wide end crossed over the narrow end, tug, pull through the loop.

The loft is quiet, nothing but Nanami’s level, unhurried breathing in the space around them. Yuuji finds himself following the same rhythm with his own inhales, focusing on the heavy fabric in his hand as he tugs one last time. 

"Don’t tighten the knot too tightly just yet. You can do that later," says Nanami. His arms drop back to his sides; Yuuji’s do the same. "Well done." 

Yuuji stares at the tie on his reflection, the knot loose but uniform. "Thank you, Nanamin," he murmurs. And because that’s too heartfelt, too close to what feels like remnant teenage grief, he adds, "Now I really am ready for my funeral." 

Nanami sighs. It used to sound a lot wearier, that sigh, but somewhere in the past two years, he’s learned to adapt to Yuuji’s worst jokes even if he never learned to find them funny. "Do you feel calmer?" 

Yuuji nods. "Little bit." 

"Good." Nanami’s gaze lingers once, unfaltering in that split second, before he turns away. "Go grab your jacket. We’re heading out."  

"Wait—what?" says Yuuji, but he goes to do as he’s told, frowning at the plates and mugs on the table. "But the food—"

"I will clean up later." Nanami slips on his jacket in one smooth motion, shoes somehow already on. He waits, unruffled, as Yuuji scrambles to keep up. "We’re going for a drive." 

Yuuji crouches to tie his shoelaces. "To where?" 

"That depends."

"On what?" 

Nanami props open the front door. "On everything you choose to tell me during the drive." 

 

Chapter Text

To look back more than two days before Tsumiki’s wedding is a struggle, one without much point to it at that, but if Megumi must, he’ll jump back to the first weekend of December and start with the sweater.

The only problem is that to start with the sweater missing from the floor is to erase everything that led to the missing sweater—and to the scratched floorboards, to the unevenly painted wall, to the slot of late morning sunlight peeking through a rip in Itadori’s blinds and beaming on the bed where he’s little more than a half-asleep mound. 

To start with the sweater missing from the floor means this is where everything comes back to: a morning-after in Itadori’s apartment, not even the first of many of them, Megumi looking for a sweater that he could swear was just here before he’d fallen asleep first the night before, all while Itadori swings between falling back asleep and trying to scroll down his phone through bleary eyes. To start here means nothing else came before—which is not true, not at all, could never be true when being around Itadori is an ever-evolving process, a lifetime’s worth of epiphanies. 

But this is, Megumi supposes, where he wants to plant his flag. On a sweater, and the fact that it’s nowhere to be found in Itadori’s bedroom. 

Standing barefoot and cold in his undershirt, three weeks before everything implodes, Megumi frowns.

"Hey," says Itadori, perfectly earnest from under the blankets despite the sleepy rasp in his voice. "It’s not good to start your morning with a frown."

He’s rubbing one eye as he sits up, and this part, Megumi has learned to anticipate. He gets up before Itadori every time, and it’s always him watching—watching Itadori come awake, bit by bit, slow but sure. Megumi never gets tired of watching. Even if some days Itadori might take a little longer before padding out of bed with a blanket wrapped around him, or if some days Itadori mumbles through half-assed justifications before falling back asleep—Megumi doesn’t mind. He never minds. Sometimes, he even thinks this is the reason he keeps coming back, that he keeps doing this with Itadori. These glimpses of the Itadori that exists between dream and waking life, of the Itadori that is untroubled and at-ease in sleep, of the Itadori that wakes up, sometimes, to Megumi watching him, and doesn’t even hesitate before giving him a smile. Like it’s reflex, like it’s a given. 

He smiles now, too. He looks sleep-warm in his laundry-worn Dragon Ball shirt, and he’s so stupidly pretty it makes something in Megumi ache. 

He ignores this. Ignores Itadori. Ignores everything. 

"Where’s the devil?" he says instead.

"What?" 

"Your cat. Where is he? He must have taken my sweater."

"You think Sukuna took your sweater? In the middle of the night?" Itadori flops back onto his side, taking the duvet with him until he’s cocooned once again. "He’s probably in the living room. He likes to sit in the sunlight around this time." 

"Why? To photosynthesize?"

Itadori rolls over. There’s a grin there, twitching in the corners of his mouth. "That’s not very future vet-sci major of you to say, Fushiguro."

If Megumi looks at this for too long—at Itadori on the bed, smiling a smile that Megumi put there—he knows he’ll want to join him for the rest of the day. But they don’t do that. It’s unspoken at best, and maybe Megumi gets certain privileges for being part of Itadori’s social circles beyond this arrangement, but there’s Megumi staying the night, and then there’s Megumi staying in bed with him all morning. There’s a line there. He doesn’t know what it looks like, or who put it there; he still knows it exists somewhere between those two points. 

So he leaves the room altogether.

There isn’t much space in the apartment to circle, but he takes two turns past the dining table—which had been shoved up against the wall during the move-in process and never pulled back—before he thinks to look for Sukuna under the couch.

Itadori’s fond of saying that Megumi is the only person Sukuna likes, that there’s in fact a ridiculous amount of loyalty and attachment there, but between Itadori’s indiscriminate tendency towards praising every single person he encounters and the fact that he doesn’t seem to have a grasp at all on how truly horrible his cat can be, it doesn’t mean much to Megumi. 

It doesn’t mean much now, especially, when liking Megumi hadn’t stopped Sukuna from ripping into his sweater. He sighs as he crouches in front of the cat, who has clearly been at this for a while, sitting on the shredded sleeves of what was once Megumi’s pristine Tennen crewneck.

Megumi considers the merits of lecturing Sukuna, of trying to hammer into a cat why he shouldn’t be going around eating sweaters. But Megumi has the suspicion that Sukuna is well-aware of what he shouldn’t be doing, and that this is exactly why he does what he does—to be a shit-stirrer in absolute boredom, or to satisfy a bottomless sadistic streak that Itadori refuses to be convinced of. 

It’s because you’re a dog person, Fushiguro, he would say, sage even if Sukuna was deciding to pee on another cat right behind him. 

Already wide awake and heavy with resignation, Megumi deposits the torn sweater on the couch and pads over to start the kettle. 

Itadori’s kitchen fits two people at best, a necessary sacrifice when his old roommate graduated and he had to move out of their two-bedroom and into the first place that allowed pets from hell. Itadori and his cat in a studio apartment would have been disastrous, and so the obvious choice had been this tiny one-bedroom tucked between the other student maisonettes in Shinjuku, where the entryway had been replaced altogether by the kitchen to give everything else room to breathe.

This also means that when Itadori slides out of the bedroom—outright slides, his 100 yen store bunny slippers bought for this specific purpose—and finds Megumi in the kitchen, standing in his way to the bathroom, he leaves a light, absent-minded brush, a skittering touch, on Megumi’s waist as he walks past. 

Megumi doesn’t react. Once upon a time, he would have held his breath, would have tensed in some way, but these days, he’s learning, knowing to give less of himself away as the enormity of what he feels begins to mutate.

Itadori stops in the doorway of the bathroom. "Can you—"

"Already done," says Megumi. "How many—" 

"Two bags in the Baby Yoda mug, and—" 

"Yes. I know. Two—" Megumi inhales, prepares himself. "—glob-globs of milk." 

Itadori beams, overly pleased as he always is by this. He raps on the open bathroom door on his way in. "Thanks, Fushiguro, you’re the best!" 

Megumi, again, doesn’t react.

The rest is autopilot. A mug each for both of them, taken from the lowest row of the cupboard. One humongous bathtub of a mug for tea that Nanami had brought Itadori back from his last not-a-sabbatical; a smaller mug for Megumi’s black coffee, placed under the single-cup maker that Itadori had gotten about two months into them doing whatever it is they’re doing. 

They hadn’t talked about it, this coffee-maker. No here’s a surprise gift from Itadori; no thank you from Megumi. To this day, Megumi doesn’t know what to make of it. 

He’s just about to close the cupboard when he sees a mud-green cup in the corner of his eye. He stops, looks long and hard at the way it sticks out among Itadori’s sea of pastel mugs, and, without conscious thought, reaches over to take it out. 

It’s small, weighing hardly anything in his hand. A bit misshapen near where a handle should be, some round dents around the rim that fit perfectly to the edges of Itadori’s fingertips. Megumi can’t even be ashamed of knowing this for a fact; he’s too fixated on how unexpected this one cup is, how he doesn’t quite know how to reconcile its existence with everything else that has been an unfailing part of his morning routines here in Itadori’s apartment. 

The water stops in the bathroom. After some banging around, Itadori emerges bright-eyed and makes a beeline for the living room. 

He doesn’t touch Megumi this time. 

Megumi’s left to keep staring at his hand. "Did you make this?"

"Make what—oh, the cup? Todo wanted to try this workshop," says Itadori. "I did pretty good, didn’t I? I made that one for Yuko as a little gift for her new job at Disneyland, but she decided to just keep it here so she has something when she—" He breaks off to gasp. When Megumi looks, Itadori has collapsed to his knees, on the floor, next to Megumi’s torn sweater on the couch. "Oh, no, Sukuna, you didn’t.

It’s impressive that he sounds both scandalized and endeared, but there’s a cold knot in Megumi’s chest, sinking syrupy-slow to his gut. "You made this for Ozawa?" 

"Yeah! She’s been coming over a lot recently—" 

Itadori stops.

There’s a long stretch of silence. 

Itadori’s hand, which had been trying to coax Sukuna out from under the couch, goes still. 

And so—to look back more than two days before Tsumiki’s wedding is a struggle, one without much point to it at that, but if Megumi must, maybe he isn’t being fair to start with the sweater, whether or not something came before. Maybe he should start with the cup, and the way that he feels, in this moment, very, very ill. 

"—we haven’t—we’re not doing any—it’s not like that," Itadori’s saying. He’s not moving at all. "We’re not doing anything. But we have a class together and—"

"It’s fine. You don’t have to explain," says Megumi. He sets the cup back down in the cupboard, closes it with a click. The next words are easy to pull as he puts tea bags into Itadori’s empty mug, the detachment in them more practiced than anyone’s nonchalance should be, "You know I don’t care at all." 

Itadori nods. His hand falls to his lap. 

"Right."

The kettle starts wailing. 

 

 

Itadori never asks Megumi to stay. Itadori never asks anyone to stay. But Megumi knows most of the people that Itadori has gone home with have at least stayed the night at some point. He saw traces when he was over, the first couple of months: a stray hair clip in the bathroom that never found its way back to its owner, a baseball cap hung on the coat rack that was gone the next time Megumi swung by. 

He didn’t dwell on these. Doesn’t let himself dwell on these, still. This is the key to keeping what he has with Itadori going—to not think about it too much, to accept that regardless of anything else, he’s carved out a solid distinguishable bubble in Itadori’s life and that this, by all intents and purposes, is enough. Megumi doesn’t covet. He doesn’t possess. He doesn’t hoard. It isn’t in his nature, either, to try and cope with any perceived lack; the driving need is instead to make sure that this lack doesn’t exist at all. 

And to make sure that he doesn’t start seeing his relationship with Itadori as a lack, it’s in his self-interest to not overthink it. 

But it occurs to him in the middle of a three-hour lecture, mid-0.5mm scrawl on MUJI notebook paper, that he might have been nursing some kind of superiority complex about the coffee-maker. The permanence of it, the way that it is, in so many levels, a more tangible fragment of his presence in Itadori’s life than a lost accessory. An explicit invitation to be in Itadori’s life to the extent that he is—something that, he’s horrified to realize, he’s been unconsciously thinking of as his and his alone. 

That’s almost as bad as deluding himself into thinking Itadori’s affection towards him goes beyond friendship. It means he assumed no one else was ever going to get that same invitation. It means that the shock he’s feeling right now—the shock he’s been feeling all throughout breakfast with Itadori, unable to stop thinking about the god-forsaken cup—is his body being appalled that someone else could occupy the same space in Itadori’s life that he can. 

The realization is so distressing that Megumi stops writing for the remainder of class.

When he leaves the lecture hall, dazed, he pulls out his phone to find a missed call from his sister, fifty-two messages to his club group chat, a new book recommendation from the Giant in the Clouds newsletter, a YouTube link from Gojo that he slides away at once, and—the only thing that distracts him from the fact that there isn’t a single notification from Itadori—a message from Nanako. 

All it says is: u better be coming tonight

No emoji, no punctuation. The last message before this one is from seven months ago, in early May, a question about Golden Week plans that Nanako had ended up calling him for instead of waiting more than twenty minutes for a text reply. 

Earlier this year, Gojo had told them both that he was proud of how far the two of them had come from their frosty middle school bickering; these days, according to whatever statistical data Gojo had gathered on a whim, Megumi and Nanako are able to hold a civil conversation for at least one dinner every two months, with minimal pointed barbs and zero outbursts. But while Gojo might be more distinguished than most university professors, even at his age, Megumi doesn’t trust this particular thesis, and he’s immediately on guard as he texts back.  

Of course I am, he says.

Nanako’s response is automatic: good

He sends back: ?

There’s no reply. 

The Gojo-Getou 6LDK home is in Yushima, a fifteen-minute walk that Megumi usually takes from the University of Tokyo’s campus in Hongo. Today, he opts for the subway, sparing 210 yen to cut only six minutes off a trip he can do in his sleep. He spends the entire time reading and rereading the same Tachibana Takashi paragraph, unable to shake himself out of his trance long enough to register anything. 

Unlike Tsumiki, Nanako and Mimiko, who all moved to different prefectures after high school, Megumi had decided to stay exactly where they had grown up. He lives in the same apartment he had for all his teenage years, alone in it for as long as Toji is overseas somewhere—which, in the first place, is always. Megumi goes to the same 24-hour marts and reads in the same rooftops he broke into in high school and takes the same five-minute walk to Edogawabashi Station whenever he wants to go somewhere, and in the beginning of each month, he and the others visit Gojo and Getou for a catch-up dinner. He’s never wanted it different.

Tsumiki had asked him, when he told her he was going to Todai for college, if he really was okay spending at least four more years at home. She’d been away in Kyoto for two years by this point, living a life separate from Megumi’s world—but he hadn’t wanted nor needed that for himself, and he told her so. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already had the freedom that a different person his age would have wanted to dedicate their college life to. Toji had no concept of strict control; so long as Megumi wasn’t getting himself killed or in debt or giving himself debilitating trauma, he could fight whoever he wanted, stay out as much as he wanted, live his life however he wanted. And although there were plenty of other adults in his and Tsumiki’s life, all of them were students up until their late twenties, poring away in graduate research and, later, professional academic work. As a byproduct, Megumi has never seen adulthood as something separate. He’s never believed in clean-cut delineations of life stages, and hadn’t seen the point in moving and leaving behind what he had already formed routines around if he didn’t have even a smidge of lust for a different life to begin with.

The whole time I was living in the countryside, Kugisaki told him once, drunk and introspective the way she always gets when it’s three in the morning and it’s taking both Itadori and Megumi to walk her home, I was just longing to be somewhere else—be someone else. You ever felt that kinda longing?

No, Megumi hasn’t. He’s never longed to be somewhere else, as a child in Saitama or a teenager in Tokyo, much less longed to be someone else. He’s never yearned for changes in his routine, never actively sought them out for novelty’s sake. Not out of any need for rigidity or stability, either, because even he would get sick of that, but simply to have a reliable flow to go with, a methodical contract with the universe that he can trust to be fair so long as he keeps up his end of the bargain. Treat good people well, keep an open mind when necessary, stand strong on his own values otherwise. 

Somewhere amidst all of that, too, was a rule to never let another person sway him from rationality wherever rationality should be prioritized—but then the same universe he’d microengineered to fit his worldview had thrown him Itadori Yuuji at a party Megumi shouldn’t even have been at, pink hair and pink cheeks, unable to keep himself from hysterical laughter even as Kugisaki was introducing him to Megumi. They’d bickered about the best popcorn flavor right in front of Megumi, Itadori sarcastic and brazen and stubborn and so quick to defensiveness when he started losing the debate, and it wasn’t love at first sight, not even close, but Megumi had felt something. A tug, maybe, as cliché as that is. A pull, as soft and easily imagined as the first time Itadori kissed him, losing all the insolent high school bite that Megumi had attached to him from their accidental first meeting as he asked, is this okay? 

There are times Megumi wishes someone had warned him—warned him that, for better or for worse, he was doomed the moment he allowed that first point of contact. Itadori exists so much, in so many places, in so many forms, that his primary way of existing is in motion, in connection to someone else. To be involved with him is to tap into that web of existence—and to feel something about it, about Itadori. 

Months later and Megumi himself is part of that web. They’re friends, somehow: Itadori comes along to Megumi’s bookstore trips and forms enthusiastic opinions on which new essay collections to get; they go to newly opened food places together and Itadori, after delivering on his promise to read more about it, keeps up with Megumi’s dry commentary on gentrification; Itadori brings him to see a rerun of a movie he watched the first time and thought Megumi would like—and if that’s not possible, if timing is more difficult because of exams or papers, Itadori comes to visit him in Bunkyo, sitting next to him at a Todai library while they work on their separate things before Itadori eventually cracks and forces Megumi to go on a walk. They’re friends-friends, and Megumi doesn’t need to be held at gunpoint to admit he feels an unhealthy amount of attraction to Itadori on top of that, but it’s not like he needs anything more than what they have now. Underneath it all, existing with Itadori is nice as it is, comfortable and intuitive, though at times Megumi wonders if it might be because they never touch on the deeper things, never cross emotional lines, by virtue of the fact that Megumi is private as a brand and Itadori can be private for reasons that he always jokes himself out of. 

But the more Megumi allows himself to think about the cup—the more he lets himself accept how it makes him feel like he’s swallowed mouthwash—the more he gets caught up on the immediacy of all this, and, worse, the more he starts wondering if this is a sign that something has deepened beyond where he could keep track of it. 

He’s always been sure that, if nothing else, when it comes down to a choice, he would choose to keep the small, inane things—Itadori splattering their table with shaved ice because he didn’t eat all of it off his spoon before gesturing with it, or Megumi taking a break from schoolwork to send Itadori a Spotify link of a song from the study playlist he’s using that day—no matter what ends up happening to their nights and mornings together. 

When the day comes, for example, that he can no longer press Itadori against a bed and kiss him until he feels all the built up stress from everything else leave their bodies, when he can no longer chase the tension out of Itadori’s expression by finding some way to make him go content in Megumi’s arms—once someone inevitably comes along and woos Itadori like no one else has before, once Itadori falls in love fast and hard and stays like that for the rest of his life, loyal and generous and kind and madly in love because that’s just how he is, making cups for other people—

Megumi is fine with it. He should be fine with it. He never set out into what he has with Itadori with expectations that would lead to anything but fine. 

To not be fine, in fact, is to be unnecessarily greedy—and a greedy prick at that, because he trusts Itadori to end up with someone who makes him feel nothing short of loved and happy, and that’s not something Megumi will wish to keep from him, ever. So if that someone is Ozawa—who is lovely enough, polite and reserved the one time Megumi met her, who has given Megumi zero reason to feel this sick over the thought of her being the one to have a lifetime of mornings with Itadori—

Megumi’s thoughts slide to a halt when he opens the front door of the Gojo-Getou home to Nanako waiting in the entrance hall. 

They look each other up and down. 

Nanako’s expression is just short of self-satisfied, a step away from smug as she hooks her finger into her phone’s ring holder and twirls it next to her head. Megumi knows that she’s standing on the higher step to be able to look down on him—which in itself is nothing new, but if Nanako had taken the time to plan out even the psychological tactics of how best to confront him, then it doesn’t bode well for what’s about to happen. 

"Hey, Megumi."

"No," Megumi replies, and walks back out. 

He manages a simple turnaround before he’s face-to-face, this time, with Mimiko. She stands like she’s been waiting this whole time to block his way, hands on her hips and feet wide apart to maximize her coverage of the two-foot long walkway back to the main road.

Megumi can still shoulder his way through her with ease, but the fact that they both know that and she’s doing this anyway leaves him highly aware that Mimiko is capable of tripping him as he walks past, with Nanako’s phone likely ready to record behind him. 

It’s a frustrating level of childishness. It is. Megumi is already tired. Yet it isn’t as if he expects any more—or any less—from people that were raised so firmly under Getou’s care. Where Gojo had been a loose guardian figure to Tsumiki and Megumi growing up, an undeniable presence that simultaneously refused to be heavy-handed in his responsibilities to them, Nanako and Mimiko were all Getou, and they were proud of it.

Case in point: when Megumi steps to the right, Mimiko steps to her left. 

A car whooshes past, way above the speed limit.

Megumi goes the other way. Mimiko follows. 

They continue like this for several seconds before Megumi says, "Mimiko."

"Megumi." 

"Come on." 

"Sorry," says Mimiko. She doesn’t sound apologetic at all. "We need to talk to you." 

"Sit in the living room," Nanako calls over from behind him. "Quickly. While everyone else is still busy."

As they all shuffle into the house in a military line, Megumi sandwiched in the middle, he reminds himself that Nanako has a habit of pursuing things she has no chance of nailing, always too quick to believe that whatever she has to offer will be enough for a solid bargain. There’s a high possibility that whatever she and Mimiko have to talk to Megumi about is less incriminating than they’re acting like it is, or even that all these dramatics will turn out to be out of boredom.

He isn’t comforted by the thought. 

The house is silent beyond their shuffling into separate couches, not even a trace of laughter or clanging tableware. It’s a sure sign that Gojo isn’t home yet, so Tsumiki and Getou must be enjoying the peace over tea somewhere upstairs, oblivious to Megumi’s impending cross-examination. 

"How have you been?" says Mimiko. 

Her smile is sweet, the question sincere, but Megumi folds his body into the farthest end of the couch and says, "Just cut to the chase." 

Nanako and Mimiko exchange a long glance. Mimiko shifts her eyes downwards, towards Nanako’s phone. After a moment, Nanako nods. Megumi wishes for death. 

"We know you’ve been seeing someone, Megumi."

Had this been anyone else, Megumi would think he misheard. But it’s Nanako, and all he can do is look vacantly back at her.

"What?" he says. 

"It’s no use trying to deny it." Nanako places her phone, screen up, on the table. "We have proof."

A line this melodramatic could only be rehearsed, and there’s a sense that Nanako is bottling up the momentary feeling of being in a pretend procedural drama, but Megumi can’t appreciate it when his brain is going on overdrive trying to process what he’s looking at.

Nanako’s phone is on full brightness. It almost hurts to look at. Onscreen, there’s a grainy screenshot of someone taking a selfie with a friend. Harmless, even cute, if not for the fact that when Nanako taps twice on a corner of the screenshot, zooming in, there’s a slightly pixelated Megumi and a slightly pixelated Itadori making out in the background, somehow recognizable, with all the abandon of two people who have long since forgot where they were.

Megumi is lightheaded by his next inhale. And warm, so warm. He has never seen nor imagined what he and Itadori look like together, and seeing it makes him burn with a momentary wave of self-conscious awareness. Tactility is hard enough when he’s not working out of instinct and want, when it’s not Itadori initiating and guiding, but this—this is as if someone had photographed a candid fragment of Megumi’s desire and it happened to be the parts that are humiliating, the part that he channels into the physical because anything else is too much more.

"How do you even—" he says, and it’s the most shaky he’s sounded in his life. Nanako looks delighted. Mimiko slaps a hand, hard enough to be audible, over her mouth. "How do you have this?" 

Mimiko doesn’t lower her hand. "A friend of my classmate’s boyfriend who has a younger sister with a girlfriend that goes to Sodai—" She breaks for breath. "—posted this on her Instagram story."

"And what," says Megumi. He didn’t think it was possible to feel this hot out of pure embarrassment. "You’ve been waiting until today to accost me? This is from weeks ago."

"You would’ve dodged it if we messaged you," says Nanako, and there it is: the full extent of her self-satisfaction, left to take over her face. Her and Mimiko’s thousands of Instagram followers will call it pretty; Megumi thinks it’s absolutely foul. "Besides, Gojo’s been complaining about how boring these catch-up dinners have been on your side. He told us to dig around. About time we embarrass you for something because nothing ever seems to happen in your life."

Megumi hasn’t scoffed at anyone since he was still beating up middle school delinquents and leaving them in neat piles. He does now. "You’re vile," he tells Nanako. "Nefarious. Actually iniquitous." 

"Words I don’t even understand can’t hurt me. Not that you had the power to, anyway," says Nanako, laying her nails out flat in front of her and examining them. "Now, then, Megumi. Details." 

"There aren’t any."

"Oh, please—"

"Nope." Megumi stands. "I’m not listening anymore."

He’s unsteady on his feet, and he hates that his brain is quick to supply him with a memory from the night before, of letting himself slump against Itadori just to listen to his soft laughter vibrate through both their bodies, to the singsong cadence of his voice when he says, hey, let’s just sleep, okay? You’ve been working so hard.

And shit, okay, this kind of hurts right now—the memory prickles in a new way, in this situation, with everything he’s trying his best not to need to unpack. Remembering the sound of Itadori’s heartbeat as Megumi fell asleep against his chest, the occasional hand running through his hair—it’s a pang inside his body waiting for permission to reverberate. In the backdrop of also remembering the cup and The Coffeemaker Epiphany, Itadori’s tenderness suddenly stings, bad and insistent enough that right now, Megumi would like nothing more than to yank his heart out of his ribcage and leave it a problem for another day. 

"Megumi?" says Mimiko. 

"I’m not seeing anyone," he repeats, flatter. "End of conversation."

Distracted, he moves to leave—

—and almost crashes against his sister. He hadn’t heard her coming down, and he registers her presence with difficulty, having to pull himself out of his head as she smiles at him. 

"I thought I heard voices," says Tsumiki. "What’s going on?" 

She tiptoes, trying to squint past Megumi. He shifts to stand in her way out of reflex, hoping that he covers the phone still resting on the table. But Tsumiki spots it without problem, both hands rising to cup her cheeks as she gasps. 

She bulldozes past Megumi to pick up Nanako’s phone with exaggerated care, her eyes glittering like she’s looking at one of Megumi’s baby photos instead of damning pixel art of him, weeks away from twenty, sucking someone’s face.

"Oh gosh, Megumi," she says.

Megumi looks up at the ceiling and counts to five. When he finds himself still a hair’s breadth away from screaming, he counts to ten. 

"I’d like to not be perceived anymore," he tells the room. "Can we do that? Can we arrange for that? Can we contact a physics expert who can—"

There’s a jingle of keys from the front door, and then footsteps are dragging, heavy and obnoxious, down the hall—until Gojo’s there, face breaking into a wide smile like he’s found them gathered to throw a surprise party for his birthday this Thursday. But they all spare him a half-glance at best, with varying degrees of disinterest. 

His smile doesn’t waver. "What’re we lookin’ at?" 

"Megumi’s boyfriend," says Tsumiki, heartfelt. 

"Megumi’s boyfriend," says Mimiko, sheepish. 

"Megumi’s boyfriend," says Nanako, triumphant. 

"Oh," says Gojo. "Yuuji?"

Megumi goes rigid. 

He gawks at Gojo, who walks past him, whistling, like he’s not there. 

Gojo takes off his sunglasses, leaving it resting atop his head like one of his overpriced skincare headbands, all so he can make a show of joining Tsumiki in peering at Nanako’s phone. 

"Yuuji?" Nanako’s already gesturing for Mimiko to pull out her own phone. "What’s his last name?" 

"Don’t—" Megumi starts.

"Itadori," Gojo chirps. Mimiko doesn’t waste a beat before starting to type. "He’s a second year film major at Waseda. He got in on an athletic recommendation for the basketball team. Works part-time at the—a bookstore in Ikebukuro, was it, Megumi?"

Megumi grits his teeth. "That was seasonal. He doesn’t work there anymore." 

"Hold on," says Tsumiki, looking like she’s wrestling with her disappointment in Megumi on an existential level. "Why does Gojo-sensei know all of this and we don’t, Megumi?"

Megumi meets Gojo’s eyes and, slowly, drags his thumb across his neck. You’re dead, he wills his eyes to say. Gojo gives him nothing but a wide grin. 

Out loud, Megumi says, "I don’t even know why he knows all of this." 

Gojo waves a hand. "News travels." 

"From whom exactly," says Megumi. "Please tell me."

"Maki. Yuuta. Mai, too, with hard-earned gossip from Aoi. And my old underclassman Nanami’s a stellar source once you get him in the mood to start monologuing about Yuuji," says Gojo, ticking the names off his fingers like he hasn’t just listed a spectrum of people scattered across different schools in Tokyo. "Really, Megumi, you can’t expect to have been seeing someone for five months now without me hearing about it. I’m almost offended." 

Nanako and Mimiko look up at the same time. 

Then they turn, once again in unison, to Tsumiki, who’s now staring open-mouthed at Megumi. 

"Five months?" she says. The rest of them all wince. "You’ve been in your first relationship for five months and you haven’t thought to bring him home?"

Megumi pushes back the need to groan, just barely. "If you would listen to me—"

"Have you even gone to greet his family?" 

"I—"

"Oh, no need to worry about formalities like that." Gojo throws himself backwards onto a couch and crosses his spindly legs. "Yuuji’s an orphan. Like, totally. Not a single family member left." 

Megumi jerks, eyes widening as he turns back to Gojo. But Nanako snaps her fingers over and over until Megumi looks at her, as if he’s a puppy she’s training to shake her hand. 

"Invite him to dinner right now," she says, only it’s more a demand. "We wanna meet him."

Megumi can’t help it; he scowls, forgetting everything else for a second. "To dinner? Our dinner?" He jabs a finger at his sister’s direction. "You’ve never even asked Tsumiki’s fiancé—"

Nanako rolls her eyes. "Because she doesn’t go around hiding him from us!" 

Megumi opens his mouth to fire something back, anything, but Tsumiki narrows her eyes at him—and, blaming some of his remnant instincts from middle school and the way they respond to seeing Tsumiki this upset with him, he finds himself compelled to close his mouth.

"I have to get him a seat," says Tsumiki, a deep sigh in her voice. "You should tell me these things much, much earlier, Megumi."

It takes Megumi a long beat to understand. When he does, he has to sit, choosing his words very earnestly, bordering on a plea, except it comes out as:

"There’s no way I’m bringing him to the wedding." 

He’s rewarded with complete silence. 

None of them move when the stairs start creaking under footsteps. They all turn to the doorway when Getou shows up in a Rilakkuma apron. He has a butcher’s knife in his hand. 

He raises both eyebrows, looking at each of them in turn. Nanako snatches her phone from Tsumiki and begins typing with vigor, refusing to make eye contact with Getou.

Getou—who smiles. A benevolent god looking upon the idiots that comprise his Eden. "Explain the chaos in the air, please." 

No one dares speak. Nanako’s full concentration is on her phone.

"Megumi is an asshole," Mimiko finally tells the quiet of the room. Gojo snorts, all attempts at stifling his laughter abandoned at the first sight of Getou. "Toji-san and Gojo-sensei have raised a fuckboy." 

Getou’s smile remains tranquil. 

"Well," he says. "Nothing surprising about that, is there? Parental figures projecting wish fulfillment onto their child?" 

Megumi grabs the nearest cushion—Gojo, half a couch away, doesn’t stop him—and buries his face in it. 

"Hey," says Gojo. "When can I tell Nanami that we’re having Yuuji over?" 

 

 

Megumi isn’t quite sure how the rest of the afternoon happens. 

He knows he’s physically present for it, because Getou picks him and Mimiko out and shepherds them upstairs to do the rest of the dinner preparation that he and Tsumiki had gotten started on—and the next time he comes to, there’s white stew in the pot and Nanako is telling him, waving her phone in the air, that Itadori is on his way.

"How," he might have said, before thinking to scroll through twenty-nine unread messages from Itadori in two hours, each one more in crisis than the last.

"Instagram," Nanako might have replied, as if that explains anything. 

At some point on Megumi’s way out, Gojo corners him in the entrance hall to say, "Don’t look at me like that, Megumi. I didn’t even say a single lie—right? If I did, all you have to do is go in there and explain." A pause, cheery even in silence. "Though I guess you’ll have to pick up Yuuji first and get him to explain with you, huh?" 

Megumi waits until he’s tied both his shoes before telling Gojo, expression and voice equally empty, "I need you to be very, very aware that I am prepared to put my life savings and Dad’s entire network of connections into ensuring that the biggest humiliation of your thirty-whatever years of life happens in front of the videographer at Tsumiki’s wedding, and that they play the clip before every single lecture and press interview you ever give from here on out." 

With that, he slams the front door behind him and sets out for Yushima Station, where he finds Itadori already waiting outside, skateboard tucked under his arm and a paper bag idly hanging from the hook of his index finger. In his other hand, he’s on his phone, smiling down at it.

It occurs to Megumi, with startling certainty, that he’s never seen Itadori in the sunset. It’s an odd thing to realize with this much clarity, and so abruptly out of nowhere, but he stands there and looks at Itadori in his familiar cream hoodie and his familiar green coat, at his familiar smile, so close to laughter even in a place this public, at the familiar way he stands and the familiar way he’s holding his phone and even the familiar way his eyes move down the screen—except all lit up, today, in unfamiliar blades of orange filtered past the silhouette of the subway station—

Oh, Megumi thinks. That’s new

But it’s a shallow, deeply impermanent thought, because Itadori looks up, shifts in the light, and there—in the way his smile changes, softens in recognition, at the exact moment he spots Megumi—is nothing but gentle familiarity. 

"Hi," says Itadori, as soon as Megumi’s close enough. 

"Hi," says Megumi. 

They blink at each other. The ground shakes, just a tiny, miniscule bit, so slight it could have been imagined, as the subway train rushes out of the station underground. 

"I’m sorry," Megumi blurts out. "I don’t know what—"

"Oh, no, no—don’t apologize." Itadori is already shaking his head, a grin in place. His laughter gets so visible on every part of his face, even when it’s not released out loud; it’s all still there, in his mouth, in his eyes, in the slight red of his cheeks. "Your family is funny, Fushiguro." 

"They’re not my family," says Megumi, out of habit. It stopped being true almost a decade ago, and Itadori doesn’t even do him the courtesy of believing the lie.

"Yes," he says. "They are." 

"Yes." Megumi sighs. "They are." Refusing to be awkward about the mere act of turning in place, he starts walking east. "We’re going this way."

Itadori falls into step beside him. "We’re taking the long route back, aren’t we?" 

"Shut up. Of course we are." 

Itadori bursts into laughter, no longer able to keep it in. Dangling from his hand, the paper bag rustles. "Okay, so, what’s the game plan?" he says. "Or—actually, what’s the situation? Nanako-san didn’t—"

Megumi balks. "Nanako-san?" 

"She told me to call her that." 

Megumi’s mouth works for several moments, failing to find the words to convey his horror. "It’s been two hours. I think I missed a few steps here." 

"Uh." Itadori scratches his neck with his free hand, his phone tucked away from sight. "So this is what happened, right? She DM-ed me on Instagram like, ‘hey,’ with the smiling purple devil emoji and I was like, ‘hey?’ and she was like, ‘Are you Megumi’s Yuuji?’ And I—I was—I said—" He makes a noise that’s trying its best to be a giggle, but sounds closer to the nervous groan that it is instead. Megumi has to put conscious effort, even through the sinking feeling in his stomach, so that the corner of his own mouth won’t quirk up in response. "Uh, I think I said, ‘What?’ and she straight up was like, ‘Are you the Itadori Yuuji who’s seeing Fushiguro Megumi?’ and—okay. This is the part that’s probably my fault. I didn’t know she’s your—whatever she is to you, but she’s family and I should have taken that into consideration, I know, and—"

"Itadori," says Megumi. He wonders if it’s appropriate to snag on Itadori’s hand. He thinks about it, lets the urge pass. He keeps his hands to himself. "What did you say?" 

Itadori grimaces. "I said, ‘I guess—I guess I am seeing Fushiguro Megumi?’—And Nanako-san was like, ‘Sick. Are you free to come for dinner?’—and I just— I’m sorry. I just—I didn’t know. I had no idea. I was in class and I didn’t know what could possibly be going on and I panicked, sort of, and you weren’t answering your texts—"

"You could have said no," says Megumi. "To dinner." 

"But she used the smiling purple devil emoji." 

"So?"

"So," says Itadori, "that’s, like, a threat. Like, ‘don’t make me use the frowning purple devil emoji’ or something." 

Once, this kind of reasoning might have given Megumi the beginning of a headache. It still might, from someone else. On Itadori, it’s so endearing it hurts.

"You know she thinks—they all think—that we’ve been dating seriously for five months now," says Megumi, "right?"

Itadori almost stops walking. Almost. There’s an aborted step, enough to have made anyone else trip, but Itadori lands the next step more smoothly, and the next, until it’s as if the half-trip didn’t happen. "Sorry, what?"

"What did you—" Megumi shoves his hands into his pants pockets, realizes that this feels more unnatural, and stuffs them back into his jacket. "What did you think?"

"No, I just—I figured they found out about—you know—what we do," says Itadori, with much more grace than Megumi would have, "and wanted to interrogate me about my intentions—"

"Why would they do that with someone I’m only sleeping with?" 

Itadori does stop walking, this time, just for a second. He blinks rapidly, several times, then, once again, moves forward.

It’s only then that Megumi realizes how he sounded.

"Wow," says Itadori, the joking edge only half convincing. "That was ice cold." 

He finishes this off with a smile, meant to placate. The same tightness from this morning reforms in Megumi’s chest.

When a wide SUV appears down the street, they both shuffle and stop between two parked cars. They wait for the SUV to pass in silence. 

"Sorry," says Megumi, glancing sideways at the SUV’s rear lights reflecting off Itadori’s eyes. "I phrased that badly. I’m not—"

"No, I was joking, too. It’s fine," says Itadori, even though it clearly isn’t fine, even though something hasn’t been fine since this morning and, looking at him, Megumi realizes they both know it. "I just—I wanna know what we’re doing here, you know?" There’s another pause, shorter yet worse than the first. "What I’m getting myself into, I mean." 

They resume walking. 

They’re about five minutes away from the house, and Megumi doesn’t have a plan, and there’s no time to do anything but admit, "I was just hoping that—I don’t know. I bring you in. We explain. Together, now that Nanako’s roped you in. And they never bother you again." 

Even as he says aloud, careful and level, Megumi knows how bad a plan it is—but Itadori’s face turns thoughtful. "How did this happen again?" 

"Someone who knows someone posted something on their Story," says Megumi, "and we just happened to be in the background."

Itadori takes a second to follow. "We?"

"Us. You and me. Us two." 

"Doing what?" 

"Making out." 

"Oh." 

"Yeah." Megumi, face burning once again, doesn’t look at Itadori. He doesn’t know what he would do if he finds Itadori looking much the same. "I didn’t mean for it to spiral out of control. I really didn’t. It’s just that—Gojo-sensei, who—"

"Gojo-sensei?"

"Yes. Gojo-sensei." 

"You know Gojo-sensei?" 

"Yeah—he—" It’s Megumi that stops walking this time—stops right in the middle of the street, replaying every detail that Gojo hadn’t been afraid to reveal about Itadori earlier. "How do you know Gojo-sensei?" 

"Oh—uh—" Itadori suddenly can’t look at Megumi. He takes a deep breath, then launches off, rapid-fire, "You know Nanamin? My Nanami-sensei? He and Gojo-sensei were in school together. And like, I was waiting outside Nanamin’s house once, and I had no idea he wasn’t gonna be home for hours because I just sorta showed up—uh—unannounced? And Gojo-sensei happened to be dropping off something outside Nanamin’s place and he just—found me. Waiting. And was like, ‘You know Nanami’s not gonna be home for a while, right?’ and I told him I didn’t know—but then he asked if I wanted to wait with him at this new crepe shop down the street and—"

"No," says Megumi. "You did not actually go with him. Itadori—no. You did not."

"I did. I mean—it’s Gojo Satoru. He’s kinda famous—" 

"You’re not even in physics." 

"I don’t have to be in physics to appreciate a famous person," Itadori shoots back. "Like, if I see Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking—"

"Stephen Hawking is dead. Has been dead." 

Itadori looks stricken. "Shit—really?" 

"Itadori." Megumi breathes in, out, in, out. "What did you talk about with Gojo-sensei?" 

"He asked me for my life story and all that, basically. So I—I tried to answer his questions as best as I can," says Itadori. "But you—um—you happened to text me at some point, and he saw your name on my lockscreen—" 

"I texted you?" 

"Yeah."

"So this was—"

"Late September? Early October?" says Itadori. Megumi can’t tell, with both their faces half in shadow, but Itadori might be turning red. "He asked me who you were, and at first I tried to be vague, but I don’t—I don’t know how I ended up telling him everything—"

"Everything?"

"Not in detail, he was just—who is this young man, what does he mean to you—he kept asking questions," says Itadori, voice also shrilling. "And he never told me he knew you—"

"He never told me he knew you, either!" Megumi balls his hands into fists, grits his teeth so hard he locks his jaw. "He was the one who came in there earlier making it sound like we’ve been dating for—"

He stops short. He stares at the ground. 

He stares until Itadori has to nudge him back to the side of the road to make way for an incoming car. 

"Fushiguro?" Itadori tries, uncertain. 

Megumi thinks back, with cold dread, to Gojo’s glee, the melodramatic flair with which he’d taken advantage of the situation. Besides, Nanako had also said, Gojo’s been complaining about how boring these catch-up dinners have been on your side. He told us to dig around. About time we embarrass you for something because nothing ever seems to happen in your life.

Then he thinks back to Gojo saying, I didn’t even say a single lie—right? If I did, all you have to do is go in there and explain.

Megumi hasn’t felt irritation this acute in a long, long time.

For the second time that day, he has to sit, walking backwards to a parking bumper so he can plop down on it. 

Itadori doesn’t hesitate to join him, setting both his paper bag and skateboard down so he can press himself against Megumi, an immediate balm to the beginnings of Megumi’s bad mood.

Above them, with the sunset near full-dark, the last light post in the street comes on. 

"Fushiguro," says Itadori. "Uh. Are you okay?" 

"Fine," says Megumi, as automatic as it is deadpan. "Why?" 

"Nothing," Itadori answers as quickly. "I know this is a separate situation, but you’ve just—you’ve been really out of it since this morning—and—it’s because of me, isn’t it?" 

Megumi turns to Itadori, who’s rubbing the back of his neck, as if trying to get warmth back into it. It’s a charming habit of his, a boyish one that Megumi can never help but fixate on, but this time, it makes him freeze.

Itadori knows. He knows that he’s placed Megumi off-kilter all day for the sole, silly reason that he made a cup for someone when this whole time Megumi was apparently thinking he was special for having a coffeemaker at Itadori’s place and—

"You’re mad about the sweater, aren’t you?" says Itadori.

"Huh," says Megumi.

"I—uh—I know I should have said something sooner, maybe messaged to make sure we were okay, but I didn’t wanna bother you until I’ve gotten this—" Itadori plucks his paper bag off the ground and offers it over. "I don’t know if it’s the exact same, but—yeah."

The staple on the bag comes away in one light tug. All Megumi can see is dark fabric as he reaches in, and even he doesn’t know if it’s the exact same as the one he had, but it’s a brand new cotton crewneck, soft to the touch and a little cold. 

Megumi looks at Itadori—who’s fidgeting, he realizes, shifting his weight from one side of his body to the other without pressing too much against Megumi. The nervousness is bare on his face, and all Megumi can think about is how much Itadori must have been agonizing over this all day, during breakfast and lunch and class, thinking he was the reason that Megumi has been so goddamn unhinged today.

"Itadori," he says. "I’m sorry."

Itadori makes a choked-off noise, as rife with alarm as it is concern. "What—why?" 

"I think Gojo-sensei might have gotten you involved in a scheme to embarrass me." 

Megumi goes over it in his head another time. Nanako, Mimiko and Tsumiki definitely don’t know. None of them are good enough actors to fake all of that—but Gojo had known this whole time, and he won’t be able to keep a secret from Getou. There’s something else here, an ulterior motive that couldn’t have been planned, but Megumi is far too weary to try and dissect the inner workings of someone who got his Ph.D at 22.

"Is there something embarrassing about just sleeping with someone?" 

Itadori’s tone remains mild enough as he asks this, but there’s a challenge underneath, pushing it past a rare show of guardedness. 

"What?" says Megumi.

"Is that the embarrassing part? Admitting that it’s only physical?" 

"No," says Megumi, as firm as possible. "They don’t think that. They won’t think that." 

"Oh," says Itadori.

He keeps his gaze downwards, pulling his knees close. 

Megumi, seeing this, hugs the paper bag to his chest.

"If you and I were in a serious relationship, it would be my first," he finds himself saying. "There’s just some attachment there, from my family. Something to celebrate. So the embarrassing part—" He has to take a deep breath here. "—is getting them invested and then having to walk back in there and tell them they were wrong."

The night before Tsumiki left for college, she’d asked Megumi, Are you sure you won’t be lonely while I’m away? And at sixteen, he’d heard lonely and parsed it as alone—at which point the easiest answer had been no, of course he wouldn't be lonely. What a bizarre question, even, to ask someone who had at least twenty people to call in an emergency. Tsumiki leaving him alone in the apartment won’t change the fact that Gojo and Getou are a subway ride away, won’t change the fact that Toji, even if he acts like he works on his own time and everything else is secondary, would come back at any sign that Megumi needs him home, and won’t change the fact that Gojo’s entire network of people—friends and enemies and people-he-thinks-are-friends-but-are-enemies—are all a phone call away for everything from unnecessary exam help to needing a new weed dealer.

Not that it’s in Megumi’s nature to be lonely in the first place, even if he hadn’t had all these people. To be lonely is, by design, to be aware of an element that you think you’re missing. To be aware of the lack of something that was once there, maybe, or to succumb to yearning for something you could have but don’t. It’s why loneliness and homesickness are nearly the same emotion, why they often go hand-in-hand; it’s the result of one’s removal from a state of being, whether that state of being is tied to a location or tied to the presence of another person. And people like Megumi—who don’t erratically fluctuate from one state of being to another, who try their best to remain secure in what they are and what they are not, regardless of what they do lose—don’t experience loneliness. Not Megumi, at least, in the way people expect him to. 

The human connections that he was raised into are enough, have always been more than enough. But there are times that people around him act like they aren’t, like they shouldn’t be. In high school, it was always Tsumiki saying, You should put more effort into getting along with your classmates, Megumi, or Nanako telling him, You should at least try dating. No one’s asking you to be head over heels in love. Just try responding to one of those letters. And though Megumi knew they meant well, that these are primarily harmless ways of urging him to expand his social world, his teenage self had sometimes felt it was a direct attack on his ability to be self-sufficient.

He doesn’t believe that having a significant other can cure loneliness or boredom any more than any other close relationship can or cannot, nor does he believe a romantic relationship should be about how a person can fill up a hole in your life. That feels like doomed logic, like a dynamic destined to fail from the get-go. And what is the point, really, in investing in failure for what will ultimately be a temporary reprieve from issues you should have been dealing with internally? 

As he waits for Itadori to respond, though, both of them stewing in what he said, Megumi thinks he understands his sister. Whatever cluster of emotions Tsumiki must be feeling right now, weeks away from being married and finding that Megumi has been in his first relationship for five months, is the product of the same instincts that had her asking, years ago, if he would be lonely when she leaves. It’s protection, of some sort—certainly not one he needs, and misguided in the values they’re rooted in, but he knows it’s her way of checking in for both of them. 

"You’ve never been in a relationship before?" says Itadori.

Megumi startles. They’ve both been quiet for too long. "That’s your takeaway?" 

"No, it’s just—you’re you, Fushiguro." 

"I’m me," Megumi agrees, and cradles the paper bag even closer.

A small car passes by, rushing past them with a muted whoosh

Itadori follows it with his eyes. 

"I won’t mind, you know," he says. "To pretend, just this once."

Megumi opens his mouth. Nothing comes out.

There’s silence. A silence that strikes Megumi, glancing at a suddenly contemplative Itadori beside him, as the specific kind that follows the end of a vinyl record, or a long playlist, or a three-hour long radio show. When music becomes so entrenched in his perception of the place—his room, the library, a car in a long drive to Osaka—that hearing it stop feels like waking up from a shallow nap, a silence so abrupt and noticeable that it feels like a realization in itself to relearn how to perceive something without the same background sound that’s been playing for hours. 

When Itadori turns back and finds Megumi looking right at him, his eyes widen in sharp, open surprise. He looks away at once. 

"I just mean—it would suck for you, wouldn’t it, to have to tell them?" he says, the fastest that Megumi has ever heard him talk. "More than being embarrassed about having to tell everyone the truth—it would just feel overall bad to tell loved ones that are so happy for you that they’re actually wrong about what they’re feeling happy about—am I making sense? I’m—" 

"I’d have to tell them at some point." 

"True. Yes. Exactly. Right. ‘Course." Itadori knots his hands together around his knees. "If you wanna tell them now, I totally support it and I’ll be in there with you to back you up the whole way through. Unless you want privacy with them. In that case, I can go home now—"

"What about the other option?" 

Itadori glances at him. 

Megumi glances down at himself.

"What other option?" says Itadori. 

Megumi can take it back. It’s not too late at all to take it back. He’d said it the moment he thought it, a hypothetical that doesn’t need to be any more than that.

He’ll go in there and tell everyone the truth and endure Gojo’s hyena-laughing in the background, and if Itadori chooses to come along, everyone will treat him as they would have in any other situation. Megumi will never live it down, but it will be fine in the end because everything else will go back to how it was before Nanako had brought in that screenshot like their monthly dinners were a show-and-tell—

Except he remembers an unfamiliar cup in a familiar cupboard and the way he thought, somewhere deep in the back of his mind, selfish and childish yet sincere, that this can’t be here; this is mine. A selfish, childish, sincere undercurrent to his thoughts that returns now as he looks at Itadori in the shadow of a streetlamp, sees the way the dim light falls over his eyes, and wants so bad that it hurts to breathe in his next inhale. 

"What if I want you to be my boyfriend?" says Megumi.

Itadori, to his credit, doesn’t let the surprise stay on his face. It flashes past, and then pulls back, replaced by a smile. "Your fake boyfriend, you mean?" 

No, Megumi thinks. It’s a sudden, traitorous thought, no less true for it, and for a moment, he holds his breath and stares at nothing. He can hear his heart beating more than he can feel it, a rush roaring louder than it should in his ears. No, each heartbeat says. No. Not that. I want what you won’t give anyone else. Give me what you haven’t given anyone else. 

But he says, more steadily than he anticipated, "Yes. My fake boyfriend." 

Itadori is still for a long second. Doesn’t breathe, doesn’t move, doesn’t even blink.

Then he unlaces his hands to stand, unfolding his knees and getting up in one fluid motion. Megumi tilts his head upwards, turning against the light to see Itadori’s face. 

His gaze is unfocused, his expression wiped clean.

"Then," he says, "like I said—I won’t mind."

The words come fast, and Megumi has to take a second. "Just like that?"

"Not ‘just’—I’ll commit to it." Itadori makes a face. "Have a little faith."

"That’s not what I—It won’t be just this one time. My sister’s getting married later this month, and she’ll insist to have you as a guest, and I don’t want to subject you to everyone—"

"I can do it." 

"Itadori—"

"It’s Yuuji."

"What?" 

"Yuu-ji." Itadori doesn’t look at him, eyes on his skateboard as he kicks it upright. He picks it up, tucks it under his arm. "If we’re gonna walk in there with me pretending to be your boyfriend, it’s not Itadori anymore."

Megumi squares his shoulders, at once defensive and flustered. "You go first, then." 

"Megumi," says Itadori, no beat lost to hesitation. When he sees Megumi’s expression, he raises both eyebrows. "What? Nothing I haven’t called you before. And it’s not like you’ve never called me Yuuji." 

"Yeah, but that’s different. I’ve never—not when—" 

"Not in daylight? Around other people?" Itadori pretends to peek down the street. "Just us right now in the semi-dark. Not too different if you ask me."

Megumi narrows his eyes. "You’re enjoying this." 

"Of course I’m enjoying this. It’s a milestone!" says Itadori. "C’mon. Your family’s been waiting for like half an hour now." 

Megumi flicks his gaze away.

"Yuuji."

It comes out a half-mumble. Itadori shakes his head. "One more time." 

"I don’t trust that—"

"Just once more. Promise. Then we’ll shake on it."

Megumi exhales. "Yuuji," he repeats, with more conviction, and holds out his hand. When Itadori moves to take it, though, he retracts it at the last second, letting it hover instead. "Hold on. You know I feel legitimate concern about putting you through everyone in my family, right? Don’t shake this unless you understand that—" 

"I know." Itadori, without taking his eyes off Megumi, snatches his hand from the air. His grip firm, he shakes it twice. Then he breaks into a grin, much more genuine this time. "This is pretty funny." 

Megumi lets Itadori pull him to his feet. "What is?" 

"We’re shaking on it. After everything, we’re shaking on this." 

"It was your idea to—" says Megumi, only to break off when Itadori releases him.

Neither of them step back. They stare at each other, near chest to chest, and neither the silence nor the closeness is new, but this, standing close to Itadori and letting the full weight of what they agreed to settle in, is the most foreign their togetherness has felt to Megumi since the first time they met.

A memory from months ago returns to him and, reflexive, his eyes flicker down to Itadori’s lips. 

Itadori notices. Of course he does. It’s as much reflex when he leans in, a slight forward movement and an even slighter tilt to his head—and stops, blinks, pulls away. 

"I guess, yeah," he says, already starting down the street. 

Megumi takes a second before following, a looseness to his limbs. "Yeah what?" 

Itadori looks over his shoulder. His smile pushes high at his cheeks.

"I guess it was my idea."

 

Chapter Text

"He had me in the first half," says Yuuji, blinking as Takada piles yet another series of strawberries onto his plate. "He really did. So I had to clarify and make sure he meant fake boyfriend—and he said yes, then I—"

"Let me guess." Nobara wraps her hand around her fork and digs it with gusto into her pancake. Yuuji winces. "You were still immediately like, Of course, absolutely, I’ll do it, Fushiguro. I’ll be your friend and your friend with benefits and your fake boyfriend.

Takada makes a soft humming noise. Yuuji, who met her twenty minutes ago, can’t tell if it’s in agreement. 

The three of them are in a European bistro close to Yoyogi Park, in a Shibuya backstreet tucked between towering apartment buildings. Yuuji has been in this neighborhood before with Junpei, and a few times with only Nobara, but today he’s here with both her and her crush’s twin sister’s secret idol girlfriend, being interrogated over pancakes that he’d much rather be telling Nanami about right now. 

He’s not quite sure how Nobara and Takada even became friends, but when he’d gotten home two nights ago and panic-texted Nobara about the fake relationship disaster he’d allowed to unfold in less than three hours, her only reply had been: ur coming out for breakfast on monday. 

"—tell me how those don’t cancel each other out and somehow make a real relationship. What makes thinking about kissing him a fantasy when you can just do it?" Nobara’s saying now. Yuuji can tell a part of her relishes the drama of yelling at someone over expensive breakfast food at eight in the morning, and he has half a mind to wonder if the reason she avoided angrily messaging him about this all weekend was to maximize her ammunition for today. 

Takada hums again. "You need to have more shame, Itadori-kun. There’s merit in playing hard to get sometimes, don’t you agree?"

Meekly, Yuuji admits, "I almost kissed him, too. Almost." 

"Yup, there we go." Nobara tears a forkful of pancakes and shoves it into her mouth. Chewing around it, she snaps, "What did we say? No fucking shame."

Takada adds one last strawberry, delicately, to the top of Yuuji’s untouched stack of pancakes. 

He’d thought at first that this was out of consideration, but watching her clear out every single piece of fruit on her pancakes between his and Nobara’s plates, he’s starting to wonder if the public’s beloved Takada-chan might be a pancake purist. 

It’s a small wonder in itself that he’s sitting in front of her and not behaving like an overexcited puppy. Half of it he blames on how he feels like he’s been coerced into some kind of Zenin family tree support group. A third point to the other two, where between Nobara, who’s still only able to express her feelings for Maki through admiration-adjacent declarations even though she starts sobbing over how deeply she likes her after one tequila shot in her system, and Takada, who met Mai at a photoshoot once and hadn’t since let go no matter what their careers threw at them, he sticks out as an unhealthy middle. One foot much farther in the door than Nobara’s is, considering he’s able to kiss Fushiguro at all, and yet so far from the committed relationship that Takada and Mai have managed to carve out for themselves. 

"Do you not like the food, Itadori-kun?" says Takada. 

She has a way of smiling that appears, at first glance, as vacant as it is pretty, something practiced about the glossy beauty that’s on the surface—until Yuuji gets over himself and meets her eyes head-on, and the focus in them sharpens into precision as she studies him in return. From there, it’s hard not to notice her disconcerting exactness with everything: the way she picks up her fork, the way she brings a piece to her mouth, even the way she sips. 

It makes Yuuji want to be careful, too, with how he moves and what he says, only what comes out is, "Oh—no, no, no, the food is great! The crisp texture with the sweetness of the maple syrup makes for a—uh—good? mix?—plus the fluffitude is just so—"

"She’s teasing you. This isn’t Shokugeki no Souma." Nobara’s expression clouds. "You haven’t even touched your food. What the hell are you going on about?" 

Yuuji closes his mouth.

Takada reaches over with her own knife and fork to start slicing his pancakes into neat triangles. "You know, Itadori-kun? You got the person you like to be your boyfriend. I think that’s commendable." 

She looks up at Yuuji through her lashes. He’s not immune to how pretty she is, not at all, but this is, somehow, terrifying.

"My fake boyfriend," he manages to eke out.

"And?" says Takada. "You had your chance and you took it. That’s something to be proud of, don’t you think?"

Nobara scoffs. "It would be if it would actually change anything." 

It stings to hear, more than he always expects it to, but Yuuji nods. Twice more than necessary, with vigor that leaves his neck sore. "Exactly! Me and him, we’ve been doing this for so long. If he was ever going to develop feelings for me, he would have by now." 

He waits for Nobara to sigh and agree in her own gruff way, because although she is a lot of things, full of layers that at times contradict, she is first and foremost honest to herself and to others, and Yuuji loves her for it a ferocious amount. 

Except Nobara just stares at him. 

"That’s not even remotely close to what I meant, you dumbass stick of butter."

"I—" As a reflex, Yuuji holds up a hand, bracing to reply. "Nobara."

"What?" Nobara raises her chin, ever defiant. "Go ahead. Let’s hear it. I’m not afraid of someone whose roast game is at ze-ro."

She has a point there, too. They both know it. So—partly because Yuuji has long learned to pick his battles when it comes to Nobara and partly because he feels like anything more he has to say about Fushiguro Megumi is undetachable from the dangerous knot in his throat—he starts shovelling pancake triangles into his mouth. 

"Gross," Nobara mutters, but there’s an unsettled underlayer to it as she and Takada watch. "Yuuji—"

He shakes his head.

Nobara meets his eyes.

Slightly teary eyed from how much he’s chewing, Yuuji gives her a thumbs up and a nod.

Then he swallows, pierces his fork through three layers of pancakes, and does it all over again.

Nobara sighs, a huff that reminds Yuuji of his grandfather, and he knows he’s given her all she needs to know. He can tell her outright, probably, that his chest is a pot with only so much space for emotions, a pot that feels the same full as it does empty, and if he starts thinking about Fushiguro any more than he already has in the past weekend, choking down pancakes between two girls who both have their separate ways of showing tenderness towards how he’s feeling, he’ll definitely start crying.

Emotions like this, though, Nobara can always pinpoint even when she can’t dissect it.

She slides over her iced latte.

Yuuji feels immediately bad, seeing this, because the problem isn’t the food or the Fushiguro situation or even that he’s not sure if he has the money to be sparing for these pancakes at all. It’s that he's five days into December and he hasn’t woken up one day yet without feeling like a Matryoshka doll missing all its smaller selves. The problem is that he feels hollow inside in a physical sense that echoes, and in an emotional sense that feels, at times, like even the bitter parts of a mango cheek, more skin than meat, being scraped away. 

It’s not as if he doesn’t know what an imminent breakdown feels like; he knows that some sort of episode is about to come in the next two weeks, creeping somewhere in the back of his mind when he looks at the light snow falling and feels so overwhelmingly empty it makes him want to vomit, or when a familiar name messages him you around? at 11 P.M. on a Wednesday and he finds himself so saddened by the thought of waking up next to someone the morning after and having to be a person around them that he’d rather be lonely and alone that night. 

And the bigger problem at the core of all these big problems is that feeling like this makes Yuuji not want to be in his own skin, makes him want to shed it for a moment and exist as something that cannot be perceived and touched and yet can still be loved, be taken care of, feel without those feelings making him feel suffocated. 

But he has to be a person, has to take this body and the skin that covers it to school, to work, to practice, to meet up with people who do make him happy even if they can’t take the feeling away—which takes him back to feeling bad now, sitting next to Nobara with the sense that he’s not doing enough of a good job at feeling better for her.

Yuuji only lets himself breathe properly when he’s wiped his plate clean, not a single pancake or ham or drop of syrup or strawberry left behind. There might be tears prickling at the far corner of his eyes, but he’s blinked them away by the time he finishes chugging down the iced latte in one go.

He sets down the empty glass. "I am fine. This is fine. I got myself into this situation and I will survive it somehow. I always do," he says. "And it’s fine to just go with the flow sometimes, right? I’ll savor what I can and endure past what I can’t." 

There’s a moment where Yuuji believes what he’s saying—actually believes every word, the reality and the possibility in each of them, the stupid power in faking it until he makes it. But then that split second of confidence ends, reality catches up, and he deflates.

"I’m still kinda hungry," he tells the table.

"You haven’t even digested any of the shit you just ate—" Nobara starts, but Yuuji’s already twisting in his seat to get someone’s attention for a menu.

When he turns back around, already doing mental calculations for his remaining budget, Takada is dabbing a paper napkin on the corners of her mouth.

"Well," she says, and she sounds so deeply disappointed that Yuuji frowns. "Boys are just fine when they’re kind of idiots."

"Not these ones." Nobara bites into a strawberry, hard, but she places a hand on top of Yuuji’s and squeezes even harder. She lets go in the next breath. "Trust me. Not these ones." 





And now Yuuji’s here, fresh out of a two-hour breakfast and shaking his leg in the waiting room of a small office in Kichijoji. It smells like someone’s doing laundry in the basement underneath, and he’s spent the past five minutes trying to decide if he’s comforted by how it brings him back to his first year in Waseda, sitting in wait on one of his dorm building’s washing machines because someone had prematurely chucked out his clothes the week before. 

The receptionist, a middle-aged lady with curtain bangs and a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes, is talking quietly into the phone. Every now and then, she would type into a mechanical keyboard, and the lack of a discernible pattern in this is making Yuuji antsier than he already is.

He’s only here because Nanami had sent him an email last week with a voucher attached and nothing at all in the message except click the link to redeem. Yuuji, trigger-happy, had clicked to redeem. It had taken him to a form, which he filled out only because trying to exit the tab pulled up a small window that said Leave site? Changes you made may not be saved—and if there’s anything that being in university had instilled in Yuuji, it’s fear of not clicking cancel when he still could have. 

He doesn’t even know what this office is, much less what the voucher is meant to be for. When he’d texted Nanami about the email, all he’d gotten was: Oh. I didn’t realize they’d be sending it over so early. It was meant to be a Christmas gift. And at this point, after he’d already handed his phone for the receptionist to scan and taken a peppermint candy from the bowl on the desk, he’s too afraid to ask what he’s been signed up to. 

Besides, he trusts Nanami more than he trusts himself, so he stares at the landscape painting on the opposite wall, at the dubious proportions of its two overlapping mountains, and lets himself be numbed by the small noises of the waiting room—keys, clock ticking, a door creaking upstairs—until his phone vibrates in his hand and he jerks so hard in his seat that the chair releases a loud creak. 

The receptionist glances at him. 

He shoots her his best apologetic smile. 

Sheepish, he turns his phone over, expecting it to be a message to one of his group chats—but the notification slides away to open an Instagram DM.

It’s from Nanako.

hey yuuji

Yuuji sits up straight.

He clears his throat, realizes he won’t even be speaking out loud, and types out two rapid-fire messages.

nanako-san !! hello !!

what’s up? 😁✨

listen

i didn’t get to ask u this the other night when we met

bc he wouldn’t let me get u alone for one damn second

but does megumi take care of you

like

does he take u on nice dates and give u nice gifts and all that

does he treat you well

Yuuji’s stomach flips. 

He swears there’s a part of him that reverts to teenage giddiness when it comes to Fushiguro, and he’s so distracted by the fluttering that threatens to rise to his chest that he’s late to noticing Nanako’s typing bubbles return.

you know what

now that i think about it

i’m guessing the answer is no 

oh no he does !!

he does he does

uh huh

nice try

like what

"Oh man," Yuuji mutters.

His first night as Fushiguro’s fake boyfriend is a blur at best, most of it lost to panic after he found himself under the scrutiny of three more faces than he expected. On top of kicking himself in the head for proposing the pretend relationship idea at all, he’d spent the remaining walk to dinner steeling himself for Nanako and Gojo alone; he’d been unprepared for the other three, whose attention, while much more gracious, had been no less intense, following Yuuji in their own small unignorable ways as he navigated his way through tangents about everything from the best topping at Go! Go! Curry to the validity of the constitutional monarchy. 

As far as interrogations go, though, he’d endured worse at breakfast with Nobara and Takada; Getou had been so mannerly that it counteracted every time Gojo toed the line between cheeky and brash, Mimiko had been there to reword Nanako’s words for her whenever she saw Yuuji struggling to answer at once, and for each time Tsumiki tried to be alone with Yuuji, Fushiguro was there, physically stepping between them. 

He hadn’t noticed that Fushiguro hadn’t left him alone at all—but he believes it, looking back at what he can remember and finding Fushiguro next to him in every memory. Refilling his water and his plate for him, pressing himself farther to one side of the couch to make sure Yuuji isn’t sitting on the split between two seat cushions, even quietly redirecting the spotlight towards someone else the moment he feels Yuuji fidgeting. 

Fushiguro is wonderful at that, at quiet acts of kindness that remind Yuuji someone is paying attention to him, to what he’s doing, to what he is or isn’t saying. He isn’t extravagant about it—and he doesn’t need to be, considering the nature of his and Yuuji’s relationship is built primarily upon what they are not—but it’s in how he’ll come to Shinjuku in between classes just to watch one of Yuuji’s games, in how he’ll visit Yuuji’s workplace with a cupcake and a gacha toy as a reward for surviving a holiday shift, in how he stays later than he has to some mornings so Yuuji can skip his first alarm and sleep a few more minutes without worrying.

Of course he treats Yuuji well. He has, from the first twenty-four hours they’d known each other. Yuuji has never known a Fushiguro Megumi who hadn’t taken care of him, who hadn’t been patient with him even at his most gruff, who hadn’t paid him attention even when Yuuji wasn’t expecting anyone else to have been. 

It’s how he knows, better than anyone, that it’s simply how Fushiguro is. 

Yuuji’s phone vibrates three times before he snaps out of his train of thought. He looks down at his hand.

His screen says there’s an incoming call from Fushiguro Megumi.

He almost drops it as he scrambles to answer. 

"Hello?" 

"Is Nanako bothering you again?" says Fushiguro, voice immediate over the line. 

"Bothering—no, jeez, no." Yuuji is never prepared for how low Fushiguro can sound over the phone, and it doesn’t help that there’s a familiar rasp to it today, creeping in where his sentence tilts up to a question. "No, no, she’s not bothering me at all."

"Are you—why are you whispering?" 

"Uh. I’m not in a place where I can talk loud." 

"I can call you another time—"

"No," Yuuji cuts in, voice rising. The receptionist looks at him again, her gaze pointed this time. He raises a palm in apology. "I can talk. But not loudly. Just—you know—imagine I’m playing Silent Library on Gaki no Tsukai and enjoy some Itadori Yuuji ASMR for now."

Then, because he doesn’t know how to end this sentence, he punctuates it with a haha. Not a laugh, which would have been embarrassing in itself, but the actual syllables ha-ha, staccato and nervous, which is ten times worse.

Fushiguro doesn’t say anything.

Yuuji leans back until his head hits the wall behind him. His limbs feel weak. "How d’you even know I’m talking to Nanako-san?" 

"I just woke up to thirteen messages from her talking about how I need to be nicer to you." 

Yuuji allows himself a groan. "Crap." 

There’s rustling on Fushiguro’s end. A blanket being pushed aside, maybe, or a sweater being slipped on. Yuuji hasn’t been to Fushiguro’s apartment, always him coming over and never the other way around, but while he has nothing to attach to the sound, Yuuji knows how it is to watch him get out of bed. He’s always doing it, always the one left half-asleep in bed and watching Fushiguro get up, get dressed, put his armor back on for the world layer by layer. 

"What’s the context for this?" says Fushiguro.

"She’s just—" Yuuji looks around, as if there’s anything here to report what he says back to Nanako. "She’s asking about us." 

"What about us?"

"If—You know."

"I don’t think I do." 

"If—if—She wants to know if you’re treating me well." 

Yuuji pushes this out in a continuous garble, eyes fixed back on the landscape painting. If he concentrates hard enough, he can picture a silhouetted figure climbing up one of the mountains. A poorly doodled Sisyphus without a boulder, so that when he reaches the top, it’s him that slides all the way back down.

And splat, he goes, landing back to the bottom of the mountain.

"Am I?" says Fushiguro. "Treating you well?" 

Yuuji darts his eyes to the side, at the doorway, then up at the ceiling. "Fushiguro, you’re not—"

—my real boyfriend, which is an incredibly nuanced truth, but Fushiguro says, "Megumi." 

"What?" 

"You call me Megumi now." 

"Right. Yeah. Megumi." Yuuji’s voice dips, without proper thought, into an even lower whisper. He feels at once self-conscious for it. "Um—yeah, you treat me well. That’s not even a question. I was just thinking about something, so I couldn’t reply to Nanako-san at once, and—yeah."

"Are you free today?" 

"Me?" Yuuji, for a full second, can’t remember a single thing he has left to do today. But he glances around the room and remembers he has this appointment to get through, whatever it is, then his sound design class at noon, then a four-hour shift at the store he works at near the Waseda campus. "I’m free after work? At around 7:30?" 

"You have a shift today?" says Fushiguro, a touch of alarm in his voice. "We can do tomorrow instead, then, if that would work better—"

"No! No, no, no." Yuuji waves once for each no. "Wait—what are we doing? Are we doing something?"

Fushiguro mumbles his own reply—a three-sixty so unexpected that Yuuji bursts into a giggle. He’s ready for it this time, when the receptionist looks at him. He gives her a peace sign and a wink. She gives him an empty gaze in return.

"Sorry, what was that, Megumi?"

More mumbling. 

Yuuji thinks he catches surprise somewhere.

Brightly, he says, "It’s supposed to be a surprise?"

Fushiguro’s exhale is heavy. "Yes. Is that okay? It’s a surprise that can be tomorrow, too. Or any day that works best for you."

Tomorrow would probably be better, knowing how exhausted Yuuji gets after a day as full as this one, but it’s rare enough for Fushiguro to ask him to go somewhere without being prompted by something else in their conversations, much less for it to be a surprise. Going to different universities means that most of their meet-ups are intentional but day-specific; they’ll never bump into each other on campus, or happen to have time in between classes to go to the same library or coffee shop or study group together. It’s either one of them was already going to Akiba for something that day and mentions it offhand in a text with a feel free to come along, or there happened to be an event so stressful for one—a big game, a presentation—that the other already knew to cut out some time that day to make the short trip over. And sometimes Yuuji would banish his own overthinking and invite Fushiguro outright to a movie or a new restaurant, but it simply doesn’t happen vice versa. 

So this is a sudden rush for Yuuji, a thrill that leaves him with more motivation for today than he had dragging himself out of bed this morning. 

"Today works great, I’m excited." He leans forward again. "I think I’ll have to go home and check on Sukuna first but—"

"I can do that, if you’d like," says Fushiguro. "I can swing by your work and pick up the key from y—" He stops short. It’s silent on his end for a long while, nothing past breathing and the faint creaking of floorboards. Yuuji waits, thrumming with energy now. "Would that be uncomfortable? It would, wouldn’t it? To have me alone in your apartment—"

"Won’t be uncomfortable at all! I trust you." Yuuji chews on the inside of his cheek. "That would kinda help me a lot, actually?"

The guilt is quick to chase after this, an over-awareness of whether he’s talking like he would to any other nice friend or he’s giving into some level of audacity here. But Fushiguro is already speaking, "I’ll be at your work around 6:30, then—"

"Itadori Yuuji-kun?" 

Yuuji looks up. Fushiguro also cuts himself off.

There’s a man standing in the doorway just past the receptionist desk, hands in the pockets of an oversized cardigan. He looks delighted to see Yuuji, a broad smile on his face. 

Out of instinct, Yuuji smiles back.

"I have to go," he tells Fushiguro. "But I’ll see you later?"

"Yeah. 6:30." 

"6:30," Yuuji parrots, smile lingering as he jumps to his feet. 

At least the man mirrors his expression, taking them through introductions with the mannerisms and cadence of a kindergarten teacher. "My name is Haibara Yuu," he says over his shoulder. "It’s really nice to meet you, Yuuji-kun." 

Following Haibara down a hall of closed doors, Yuuji takes a second to figure out why the name is familiar. "Nanamin’s Haibara?" 

"Can’t say I’ve been referred to as that before," says Haibara, with a laugh that borders on a chuckle, "but yeah, I guess I am that. Though I think it would be helpful if you stopped thinking of me like that in your head." 

He ushers Yuuji past the first open door, closing it right behind him as they both step into the office. 

It’s half the size of the bedroom that Yuuji had in his old apartment with Junpei, just big enough to fit an L-shaped wooden desk, a file cabinet and two checkered armchairs clustered on either side of the smallest coffee table he’s ever seen. Plants sit across the windowsill in mismatched hand-painted vases, a couple flourishing a lot more in mid-December than the others, while a pile of books and folders, stacked indiscriminately between each other, leans against one of the desk legs. It is, despite everything, a neat cross between a fairytale godmother’s living room and the corner cubicle of Yuuji’s freshman year counselor from Waseda’s financial aid office, and with his fraying cardigan sleeves and fuzzy socks, Haibara stands at home at the center of it all. 

"Feel free to sit anywhere, Yuuji-kun," he says. "Would you like some tea?" 

"Um—yeah, I’d love some. Thank you." Yuuji plops himself on the armchair closest to the door and sinks right into it. Slightly distracted by the softness, he adds, "Also—helpful?" 

"Yes." Haibara walks over to a small cart in the corner of a room, where a transparent electric kettle sits next to two tins of tea and an array of overturned mugs. Yuuji recognizes one of the tins as the same one Nanami brought him back from his last trip. "Nothing you tell me will ever leave this room. It won’t go back to Kento—or anyone else. So it might be helpful to not think of me as a friend of someone close to you, because that might stop you from divulging things to me that you might to someone that you think would be more objective—or maybe it would be helpful to know that I am trusted by someone you also trust. I suppose it depends. I imagine Kento brought you to me first only because he won’t give you to someone he doesn’t trust five hundred percent." 

Yuuji frowns. The armchair is so soft. "Trust to what?" 

"To take care of your feelings, for one." When Haibara switches on the kettle, it lights up, a circle of red beads underneath the water. Yuuji gasps. "Which I hope to do, if you’ll let me. Or—to more accurately phrase it—if you think I’m the right person for it. If you choose to commit to this for the long term, of course, I might, in better conscience, have to refer you to another therapist—"

"Hold on," says Yuuji. "A therapist?" 

"Is something wrong?"

"No, no, that’s very cool—you’re cool—I’m just—Sorry, I’m confused." Yuuji sits up, the softness of the armchair forgotten. "A therapist? For me? Or—like—what’s happening?" 

Haibara’s hands are careful as he places two teabags into separate mugs. It reminds Yuuji of Fushiguro, the diligence in something so insignificant. "You seem surprised, Yuuji-kun." 

"I’m very surprised." 

"Why is that?" 

"Because—because I’m okay?" Yuuji winces. "That sounds bad. I meant—I live a nice little life and—like, yeah, I go through some hard times but they’re nothing weird for a student? And I always bounce back?" After a brief breakdown every now and then, Yuuji doesn’t say, but his occasional need for catharsis feels like a pretty healthy compromise as far as struggling with life goes. When Haibara doesn’t immediately say anything in reply, though, Yuuji continues, stammering over a few words in his haste, "The last time I saw a therapist was when my grandpa died. And I totally understand why I needed to see someone back then but—it’s been years. I’ve kind of—moved on? Like, obviously, I think about him and I wanna do justice to his memory and I loved him a lot and I always will and I visit Sendai for him as much as I can, even when it’s not his anniversary, but—" He runs out of a breath, and pauses for a deep inhale. "I don’t have feelings about this stuff that need to be taken care of like this, is what I’m saying."

"Like this?" 

"What?" 

"Taken care of ‘like this’? Feelings about ‘this stuff’?" says Haibara. His smile is warm, but Yuuji’s shoulders, when he straightens them on reflex, snap taut. "What do you mean by those?" 

The water in the kettle starts bubbling with urgency. It continues to bubble even as the kettle clicks, the lights turning from red to blue. 

"I just think—" says Yuuji. "I could be doing worse, you know? I’m a little offended that Nanamin would even—or no, not offended, I appreciate that he thought of me for this. So much. I do. But you know, it’s like—I really don’t know how else to put it but—confused. I’m just confused."

Haibara appears to think this over as he pours water into the mugs. Bringing them over to the coffee table and smiling wider when Yuuji murmurs a thank you, he says, "Okay. Let’s go back for a moment. You said you don’t have feelings about ‘this stuff’ that don’t need to be taken care of. Do you have feelings about other stuff that might?" 

"I—I’m really not sure?" Yuuji cradles the mug, blows on it. A wisp of steam curls away. "I—I feel a normal amount of feelings? Or—that’s not true. I can be very emotional. But it’s not like a level of concern, I don’t think." 

"What counts as a level of concern?" 

"When it’s getting in the way of daily life—I guess? It will be a big problem for me if all I wanna do is stay in bed and not do anything. Not that that’s—it’s not something I’d judge anyone for, of course." Yuuji’s trying his best not to fidget, worried he’ll spill the tea. "But at that point, I will understand if Nanamin thinks I need therapy. I’m not even anywhere close to that, though. I sleep in sometimes, and there are days when I don’t wanna get out of bed. And I’m tired a lot. But it’s never—it’s not a problem. When I say I get emotional, I just mean that I cry and laugh easily and I can get competitive or petty or whatever. But still, in the bigger scheme of things, I have people I love and people who love me, and that’s enough. I struggle sometimes, yeah, but they pass and I get by with it and everything else. It’s the Ferris wheel of life and I’m not unhappy with it at all." 

Haibara retrieves a notebook from his desk, opening it to a neat page before settling into the opposite seat. He begins to write, too small and too far away for Yuuji to read. Not that he wants to. He’s a little scared about what Haibara could be writing, could be thinking and saying about him. 

"People you love and people who love you," Haibara echoes. Yuuji nods. "Can we talk more about that?" 

"Oh—um. I just meant that—I’m very lucky in my friendships." 

"Define lucky."

"Lucky as in—" Yuuji begins, then blanks. 

He looks down at his mug. Haibara hadn’t put anything in his tea, and he can see when his reflection frowns back at him.

Lucky as in whatever he lacked in blessings in terms of family as a teen, he gained in friends as soon as he moved to Tokyo. Or—whether it’s waking up to find that Junpei had brought him a blanket and tucked him in when he fell asleep in the middle of watching a four-hour movie for class, or being dragged off to a week-long onsen trip in Kyoto when Todo found out that Yuuji would be staying in Shinjuku for Christmas his freshman year, or having an exam on the day that Kinokuniya was doing a limited release of a special volume of a manga he likes, only to find out the next day that Nobara had gone to line up four hours early to get him a copy just because she was "in the area anyway"—lucky as in he gets to experience the sort of kindness that brings his heart close to imploding. Lucky as in he has people that care about him, even when he doesn’t believe in its permanence, and especially when the conversation gets a lot more complicated once he starts letting himself think about things he deserves and things he still needs to earn. 

"Lucky as in my friends are really great and I love them all a lot," says Yuuji, which is an absurd oversimplification, but it’s all that he has it in him to articulate. "I always wanna try my best for them."

Haibara scribbles for a while. "What do you mean by that?"

"What do I mean by what?"

"You always want to try your best for your friends."

"Well, yeah—they’re my friends?" says Yuuji. "And I really wanna work to be deserving of all this love they keep showing me. So I do. I think I do? I try to, at least."

He thinks it sounds neat and final, like that, but Haibara’s smile is unreadable. "To be ‘deserving’ of their love?" 

Yuuji tightens his hands around the mug, unconsciously, until it starts to burn his palms. He jolts, loosens his hold. "Yeah? What about it?" 

"You mentioned earlier that you want to ‘do justice’ to your grandfather’s memory. Do you feel that you have to earn people’s goodwill towards you?" says Haibara. "Or just your friends’?" 

"I—I—uh—I—" Yuuji has to set his mug down on the coffee table. He looks around the room, wondering how everything got here so fast. He can’t hear himself think through the blood rushing up to his head. "Is there a difference? Is there a good answer and bad answer? Red pill, blue pill? Also, I don’t really have anyone else? So I don’t think there will be a difference?"

"Don’t really have anyone else?"

"My friends are the people in my life. There’s no other kind of person—I don’t have family left—and that’s fine, right, before you say anything, it’s fine. My point is—I have people, and those people are my friends, and I love them so much," says Yuuji. He shrugs. "I don’t know about earning, necessarily, because I think most people deserve even a little bit of goodwill, but in my case, isn’t it just natural to wanna be the best version of myself for my loved ones?" 

Haibara writes a few sentences down. His pen hovers, for a moment, before he scratches a stroke across. An underline, maybe, or a check. "Your family, you said?" 

"Oh—right. Yeah." This part, Yuuji is an expert at. He lets out a steady breath. "So I never knew my parents. I was raised by my grandpa all my life. Then he got sick when I was in middle school, and he passed away some time before I graduated high school," he recites, a tried and true speech he’s gone through many, many times. It’s not devoid of feeling, but there isn’t much to it, either. Simple fact. An occasional after-echo of his teenage self’s grief at best, in some versions, for particular kinds of conversations, but none today. He smiles, hoping to reassure Haibara. "But it’s all good. Cross my heart." 

Haibara picks up his mug. He doesn’t take a sip, tugging absently instead at the thread on the tea bag. "Let’s switch gears for a second, then. Do you have a significant other?" 

Fushiguro flashes through Yuuji’s mind. In the privacy of a confidential meeting, he says, "Nah." 

"Do you have someone you’re in love with?" 

Yuuji’s so startled that he laughs—once, at first, but it collects more on its way out, until it’s full-fledged laughter shaking his entire body. He slaps a hand over his mouth, a few nervous giggles slipping past, before he chokes out, "That’s—what?" 

Haibara’s smile returns. Yuuji can’t tell if it’s out of concern or if his own laughter is contagious. He hopes it’s the latter. 

"Is there something funny?" 

"No—it’s just—" It’s starting to hurt Yuuji’s lungs, the laughing. "I wasn’t—expecting—the question—" 

He bursts into more involuntary laughter, burning through his chest—and he has to place a hand against himself, breathes in and out until the laughter starts to peter out from under his hand.

No one’s ever asked him this before, is all. He has responses prepared for nearly everything else—his ideal type, any crushes he’s had, even the one half-relationship he had in high school—and he has no problems offering these unprompted. But being asked if he’s in love is so removed from all of those that it’s ridiculous, and—

"I’m sorry," he says, more wheeze than voice, "but can we skip this one for now?" 

"Of course," says Haibara, automatic, but he notes something down. "Can we go back to the language you used to describe receiving your friends’ kindness? Or do you need a second?" 

"No, no, I’m good, I swear. Sorry." Yuuji drags a thumb across the corner of his right eye. "Man, uh, how do I put this—I don’t ever wanna be the kind of person that just takes, if that makes sense? Because then I’m scared that a time will come when that’s all I’m gonna do, especially from people super important to me." He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "That, and I also don’t want someone’s efforts for me to go to waste."

Haibara sips his tea. "What does ‘going to waste’ look like?" 

"I just think that—my needs? They can be a lot sometimes. I know that and it’s not like I’m ashamed of them. They can just be—much," says Yuuji. "So when someone comes around and they wanna meet those needs, I wanna at least make it worthwhile for them. I don’t want someone I love to have done something for me in vain—and I know that’s dramatic when it’s things like getting me a burger from the place they part-time at or getting me out of bed for a workout because he knows I’ll regret not doing it later—but that stuff piles up, you know? I’m made up of the people who care for me. I’m me because of the little and big things that people do for me. I’m the way I am because there are people that make my life worth living the way I do. I’m not gonna throw any of that away. No one deserves that." 

Haibara is quiet for a while. He doesn’t write, he doesn’t sip, and Yuuji’s synapses start firing away, going over what he said and picking it apart for anything that could have been offensive. 

He’s in the middle of convincing himself stuff might have been too vulgar a word choice when Haibara says, "Yuuji-kun?"

Yuuji sits at attention. "Yes, sir." 

"Was there a time," Haibara begins, "when there wasn’t someone around to meet your needs?" 

He says this so lightly, so impossibly gentle with every syllable, that it cushions the blow of Yuuji feeling like he’s been slapped. 

"Oh," he says, with effort. "Well, yeah. Of course." 

It’s quiet, far under Haibara’s breath, when he takes a deep, level inhale. "Can you take me through that time? What was it like for you?" 

Yuuji’s jaw feels very, very numb. He’s only just noticed now. "It’s not really like—" he says, except it doesn’t feel like his mouth forms it properly even though it sounds correct out loud. "There’s no set time period in my life, I don’t think? But it was probably the worst in high school, after Gramps died." 

He cringes the moment it’s out of his mouth, as much reflex as the need to smile. He gives into both, stretching both sides of his lips into a toothy almost-grin. 

Haibara writes something down. 

The thing is, it’s difficult for Yuuji to look back at what he had and didn’t have in high school with whatever framing he’s capable of now that he’s years removed from it. Everything was a need in those years: the need for a hug was on the same level as the need for a job, and the need to be sad and angry and petulant about the cards that the universe had dealt him came hand-in-hand with the need to save any bitterness for another time because he had serious adult shit to take care of and he didn’t want his grandfather checking in on him from the afterlife and seeing the kid he raised lose days to whining and crying. 

It wasn’t that certain needs were ignored, just that some were prioritized over others out of necessity. 

In a lot less words, he tells Haibara this. 

"What about now, Yuuji-kun? How do your teenage self’s needs manifest for your current self?" 

"I told you, it’s definitely not as bad!" says Yuuji, sprightly. "My world is a lot more full these days. I still worry about stuff that I did back then—like, money and school—but I don’t feel—it doesn’t feel the same anymore. For sure. Yeah." 

He nods to himself, for good measure. 

"Then those exact feelings you had as a teenager," says Haibara. "Do they come back?" 

"Sometimes? I don’t know?" Yuuji makes a face. "There are just times when I think—or, I feel—okay, no. Let me start over." He gestures across the room, a vague sweep of both arms, though it quickly devolves into him flailing his hands around with no direction. "I feel like, sometimes, I need a little bit more love than others do. Than even I do on any other day. Like, you know sometimes you wake up feeling super dehydrated? And it’s not like there was a nightmare you can remember or that you just didn’t drink enough the night before. Sometimes, you just wake up feeling so dry. And—that’s me, some days. I just need more water sometimes. A lot more water than what I’m usually getting. So—I don’t know. It doesn’t feel so much like my needs aren’t being met so much as my needs have days where they’re little gremlins that need a bit more food. But there’s only so much food available, and there won’t exactly be enough to feed this weird new level of hunger that pops out every now and then. That sort of thing. Nothing bad. I’m never starved. Just a little hungrier than usual some nights. But—I feel like I already said that? Did I already say that?" 

Haibara notes a few words down onto his page. 

"Do your needs scare you, Yuuji-kun?" 

Yuuji scratches his cheek. He mulls it over for a few beats. "I just think that—it’s like—I can’t let myself have an appetite for too much? Because then I’ll be constantly hungry for just that. And again, I don’t think anyone deserves that. I don’t think anyone deserves to have to constantly feed someone." 

Haibara doesn’t answer at once, but his eyes are focused as he studies Yuuji. 

"What do you do, then," he says, "on nights where you feel hungrier than usual?" 

"I go out with friends?" 

"And if your friends are not available?" 

"Ah." Yuuji looks at the ceiling, lips pursed, and debates for a second. Realizing there’s no way around it, he replies, point-blank, "In that case, I find someone to spend the night with."

Haibara frowns, too, and Yuuji knows the euphemism isn’t lost on him. He prepares himself for an adult spiel, something about responsibility and safety, but all Haibara says is, "Why the escalation?" 

"Sorry?" says Yuuji.

"On difficult nights that your friends are available, is their presence enough?" 

"Yes. Definitely."

"But when they’re not available, why is the Plan B—?"

Haibara lets the question hang in the air. 

It takes Yuuji a while to pinpoint where the escalation is. 

"Oh." He smiles and fans the air with one hand, a helpless instinct to soften what the real answer is. "That’s just because I wanna be touched. And you don’t touch a non-friend the way I wanna be touched when times are hard, really—" He grimaces at his own wording. "—unless it’s on the complete other end of the spectrum. If you catch my drift. Or—I mean, I guess some people do—like those ones that stand in the park and hold signs up like ‘Come get a free hug.’ I’ve always wanted to do that." 

Haibara writes in earnest, a dip to his eyebrows now that wasn’t there before. "The last thing I want is to put words in your mouth, Yuuji-kun, so please feel free to clarify what I’m about to say next," he says, waits for a nod. "But do you mean that there are nights you look for someone to sleep with so you can—justify getting a hug?"

"Pretty much, yeah." Yuuji takes a second. Haibara lets him have the second and more. "Oh—hm—that does sound a bit not-great." 

It’s a little funny, being psychoanalyzed into realizing the lengths he’ll go to just to not fall asleep alone, but it’s neither novel nor earth-shattering as far as epiphanies go. To say, too, that all Yuuji ever meets up with people for is the physical touch they can give is an underestimation of how much he does enjoy getting to meet new people and learning fragmentary details about their lives, about separate worlds he likely won’t ever be part of beyond the one night—and he won’t call it self-destructive, either, because he knows his limits, knows when he’s not in the mood, knows when something is only bound to make him feel worse. 

Seeing it framed as a coping mechanism, it does feel silly. But it works when Yuuji wants and needs it to, and that’s more than he can say about most of his attempts at playing fixer-upper in his own life. It’s also one of the few things in his day-to-day that’s not susceptible to fantasy, to idealisms. He’s not in it for any grand ideas about love and romance; at the end of the day, it comes down to the simple, complicated, comforting, painful fact that he wants, more than anything, more than an eternity of love or devotion that he certainly won’t get from a one night stand, more than someone validating whatever feelings had not gotten attention back in high school, more than any and all of that, Yuuji just wants to be held. 

In the silence of the room, he allows himself a quiet laugh. 

He stops short when Haibara closes his notebook, setting it down on the coffee table with his mug. 

"Yuuji-kun," he says. "Can I tell you something?" 

"I—sure?" says Yuuji. "Yeah?" 

"Thank you," says Haibara, as if Yuuji’s the one doing him a favor. "Whatever you decide to do after this one meeting and however you choose to process our conversation, I need you to hear me out on this one thing, alright?" 

Growing wary, Yuuji nods. His palms feel clammy, his hands on the verge of shaky, and it’s such a specific sensation from childhood, feeling such coldness on his fingertips and nowhere else on his body, that he’s thrown back, for a moment, to signing the hospital papers twenty minutes after his grandfather’s time of death was called. 

Haibara leans forward, eyes locked on Yuuji’s, and his voice, when he talks again, is the most serious he’s sounded all morning. His volume doesn’t waver, but the shift in tone shakes Yuuji into listening. 

"Your needs are not a lot, Yuuji-kun. There might have been a time when you felt, genuinely, like they were—because they were a lot for you. Of course they were. There was a time that you had to handle all those thoughts and emotions that no one should have had to handle all by himself, much less at that age. And they brought you a lot of difficult feelings that, it appears to me, you’re projecting onto what you don’t want to impose on someone else. Am I fair in saying all of this?" 

Yuuji means to shrug—but again, he nods. There’s an unflappability to Haibara that he doesn’t know what to do with, much less how to respond to. 

"But the harmless things you might need to feel okay? The things you need to feel like a person on difficult days?" Haibara continues. "That’s not something for you to ever be sorry for. That’s not something you have to earn, either, nor something you have to constantly work to deserve. Everyone has a baseline when it comes to what they need, and it’s different for each person. That doesn’t make one worse than the other." 

Yuuji turns his hands over on his lap, stares at the unexpected paleness of his own palms. "I know," he says, fishing out words that seem bizarrely foreign to him right now. "Like—rationally? I do know that. But I still—I don’t wanna wring someone dry with my baseline, no matter how valid it is." 

"I understand, and I deeply appreciate the amount of empathy that led you to that caution," says Haibara. He pauses to pick his words, though it might also be that he’s giving Yuuji space to breathe. "Of course there will be times when another person has their boundaries, may it be your friends or a significant other or even someone you’re only getting to know. But my hope is that you will also grow to feel comfortable with your own boundaries, whichever end of the threshold it may lie, whether too much or too little, and that you’ll be able to have conversations with these people in your life where you can trust each other to discuss and respect those boundaries if ever they need to be brought up." 

Yuuji doesn’t understand. He can't really do anything but say so. 

Haibara’s smile is patient. "Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to wring yourself dry for them," he tells Yuuji, the softness of his voice making no secret of the gentle scolding that this is. "I know that there was a stage in your life where you might have needed nothing more than to be surrounded by people, and the fact that there wasn’t anyone there—all of that built up and up and up until now, when you do have people, and all you want, perhaps subconsciously, is to give what you couldn’t give before."

"Is that so wrong?" Yuuji mumbles. 

It’s a strong word choice, he knows, one that Haibara takes his time deconstructing. "Seeing it as right or wrong would be unfair on my part, I think," he eventually says, with maturity that frustrates Yuuji a little. "My perspective on it is—giving love all the time could be so exhausting for you as well. Maybe thinking about earning love in the terms that you do is what’s wringing you dry, and you think the way you feel when you give so much all the time is what your friends feel when they love you and take care of you." 

Yuuji attempts another nod, but it’s a limp jerk of his head, a slight tilt that doesn’t do justice to how there’s a sharp knot poking at the top of his throat. It hurts to swallow, but if he doesn’t, the knot threatens to find its way to his lungs—or, worse, out in his voice. It’s the second time today that he’s come close to crying without actually giving into it, but he feels his body’s rejection more right now, cocooned in a small office without the excuse of being in public. 

"Yuuji-kun," says Haibara, after a long stretch of silence that he seems a lot more comfortable with than Yuuji is. "We might not know each other very well, so forgive me if this is not a statement you feel comfortable with me making—but you come across to me as someone with truly so much care and love to offer. It doesn’t mean, however, that you have to give all of it all the time just because a part of you might be scared that you’ll face another period where you won’t have anyone to give it to." 

Yuuji can’t look him in the eye anymore, but he can feel Haibara’s gaze on him, still unwavering. It makes him feel like a child sulking at the dinner table, so he settles his hands on his knees and straightens his back. 

Haibara waits until Yuuji meets his eyes again. "You had to develop all these coping mechanisms when you were younger, and they may have been good ones at the time. They might have worked well for what you needed in that moment to keep it together, to feel okay and functional in the context of the situation you’re in. But coping mechanisms like these aren't necessarily meant to be permanent," he says, with grave finality. "So if you take anything away from our conversation, it’s this: sometimes, the most we can do is to take care of ourselves and each other, nothing more and certainly nothing less. It’s alright to love carefully. Whether it’s loving your friends or finding ways to care for and listen to yourself, there can be fierceness in loving quietly. It’s alright to just listen, to take your time, to breathe and nurture yourself with what you need. It’s alright to let yourself be loved in the moment." Then, as if he and Yuuji have spent the past hour having a perfectly average conversation, he smiles. "Okay?" 

Yuuji doesn’t have any vivid memories of his old high school therapist intact, nothing at all that he can remember from how those conversations went, but he can’t imagine feeling as laid bare then as he does now, as drained. Haibara’s words aren’t the life-changing, earth-shattering pieces of advice they might have been meant to be—they don’t land where Yuuji wants them to, nor register as much more than the way his stomach feels like it’s given away from a drop in height—but Haibara’s firmness does snake its way into the back of Yuuji’s mind, settling and floating like dust in the air, as stubborn and somber as the part of him that wants to resist accepting them.

Quietly, he says, "Okay." 

Haibara lets him off easy from there, gesturing for Yuuji to finish his tea. He seems to understand something in the ensuing silence; he doesn’t ask any more questions, nor open his notebook back up, nor attempt to discuss the logistics of having more appointments. This way, it feels like the tail-end of just another one-off conversation with Nanami, or even Todo in one of his philosophical spirals, albeit with a severity that Yuuji would not have expected out of an emailed voucher. 

Right before Yuuji leaves, Haibara calls his name.

Yuuji stops with one hand on the doorknob. 

Haibara gives him yet another one of his smiles, only it feels personal, this time, his eyes sparking briefly with an emotion, sincere yet painfully adult, that Yuuji sees on Nanami, sometimes, when he’s listening to one of Yuuji’s rants. He’s never been able to parse it, what it means and what about him in those moments calls it to the surface, but while it’s no more readable on Haibara, the familiarity of this one smile pulls a returning one out of Yuuji. 

It falls, a little, when Haibara says, "You’ve done really, really well, Yuuji-kun. I’m incredibly proud of you for taking your younger self to where he is now." 

Yuuji’s grip on the door knob loosens. Haibara notices, his gaze flicking towards Yuuji’s fingers, but he turns away, his own hands slipping back into his cardigan. "I just wanted to tell you that. Get back safely, okay?"  

Yuuji doesn’t know how he responds, if he even thanks Haibara properly. He leaves the office with his ears ringing. 

 

 

Fushiguro drops by the shop at exactly 6:30. 

One moment Yuuji is busy behind the counter, pushing in the bearings on a custom board order and humming to an old Japanese TWICE track playing overhead, and the next Fushiguro is there, palm already out. 

Dazed, Yuuji digs the keys out of his pocket and hands them over. Then Fushiguro is gone without a word; Yuuji stares at his back and only registers that Fushiguro’s ears are pink after the glass doors have closed behind him.  

He figures it must have gotten a lot colder outside since he was last out there. 

But Fushiguro is no less stoic when he returns after seven to find Yuuji already waiting outside. Around them, Shinjuku is in full Christmas technicolor swing, assorted lights and decor scattered across trees and billboards and storefronts with the crystalline asymmetry of a snowflake. In Tokyo, Yuuji has found, distance feels refracted during the holidays; the busker rapping a Sky-Hi song, somewhere behind them, filters as closely into his ears as the carols from the neighboring store, and the heat of a passerby’s open cup of coffee lingers as much against Yuuji’s cheeks as the smell filtering out of a bakery’s open automatic doors. 

Even the heat coming off Fushiguro’s puffer coat feels all at once there as he stands two steps away and gives a status report on Sukuna. He refers to the cat food as nourishment with an odd sort of emphasis, voice low, and it’s such a singularly Fushiguro thing to do that Yuuji can’t help but break into his broadest smile of the day. 

"Thanks for the mini-presentation," he says, dry, "but you know we usually start with a hello and a how was your day?" 

"Hello," says Fushiguro, dutiful, eyes everywhere but on Yuuji. "My day was alright, I think."

With that, slipping his fists deep into his coat, he starts walking.

"What—Megumi, come on." Yuuji jogs after him, his exhale puffing out his cheeks. "I’ve been at work for hours. I don’t want ‘Alright, I think’—even if it was alright, you think. You gotta expand. Gimme something."  

Fushiguro levels Yuuji a sideways glance, adjusting his walk so they fall in step next to each other. "I did nothing today except sleep in and go to class," he says. "I woke up, I had coffee, I read for about an hour, I went to class for the next four, got a copy of a book that a newsletter recommended the other day, went to your work, then to your apartment, fed your familiar, and now we’re here. Sorry to disappoint." 

"Okay, okay, sure, but what’s a highlight? What’s the name of the book? Have you started reading it? Do you like it? Was your coffee good? Did anyone start a devil’s advocate debate in class?" 

"This is the highlight of my day," says Fushiguro, with the same matter-of-fact certainty. Yuuji turns to him in surprise, and he must notice, no way he doesn’t, but he doubles his steps like he hasn’t said anything worth attention. "Don’t ask me anything else until we get there. And you’re not allowed to say ‘please.’ That word is banned." 

"Huh?" Yuuji keeps up without trouble, weaving past a group of haggard salarymen. "I’m not allowed to ask anything at all?" 

Fushiguro sighs. "You just did, technically." 

"And I didn’t burst into flames," says Yuuji. "So what gives?" 

"Can you manage complete silence until we get to where we’re going?" 

"Wait, but I—"

"Ita—Yuuji. Just go with it."

Yuuji sticks out his tongue, but he does heed Fushiguro’s request, sticking to quiet in the entire walk to Harujuku Station—though only because it isn’t until they’re standing on the platform, waiting for the train going towards Shinagawa, that the answer he needs even occurs to him. 

"Oh, I see," he says, unable to help his smirk. "You’re just dying to tell me about the surprise, aren’t you? One word and you’ll break, huh?" 

Fushiguro makes a show of turning to watch the train pull in from the far end of the station, face blank.

"You know I’ll try guessing the whole way there, right?" says Yuuji.

"I do know," Fushiguro mutters. "I was just hoping you won’t be able to keep it up for an entire hour—"

"An hour!" Yuuji loses his whistle to the low rumbling of the train as it stops in front of them. "It will take an hour to get there?" 

Fushiguro bites down and drags a thumb across his mouth like a zipper, but there’s an openness to his eyes that’s as much confirmation as it is permission to keep guessing. 

Yuuji grins. 

He tries to take it seriously, cradling his own chin with one hand as he thinks, but caught underneath the expectation in the way Fushiguro hovers close to him, he ends up throwing out indiscriminate guesses for nearly ten minutes—Nishi-Nippori! Rikugien Garden? Hama Rikyu? Tokyo Tower? No, wait—Ueno? Are we going to eat teppanyaki?—until they transfer to a new train at Ebisu and Yuuji’s mind wipes itself clean. Fushiguro, for his part, endures this in stride, leaning on the same pole as Yuuji for the entire train ride and sometimes sparing a small shake of his head or an almost-smile—which, really, as they board a train heading towards Shin-Kiba, is just shameless amusement at how wrong Yuuji is being. 

"All done guessing?" he asks, when two minutes of silence aboard the new train have passed. 

"No—hold on," says Yuuji. They’re in the car right before the train operator’s, with enough room to leave space between them, but somehow Fushiguro had sat right next to Yuuji, his shoulder a familiar press of touch even through all the layers. It’s hot between them, jarring against the rush of cold winter air that rushes in whenever the doors open, and Yuuji doesn’t know what to do with his hands. "Just because you’ve lived in Tokyo for a lot longer than I have—"

"You’ve been here for two years," Fushiguro points out, "and your only guesses so far have been areas in the Yamanote line. You do know there are other—" 

"Yes, I know," says Yuuji, except his mind is still empty and Fushiguro is looking at him with such open focus. "I can figure this out."

"Or you can just go with the flow like I said."

"Megumi. I can do this. Gimme a sec." 

Fushiguro leans back. 

Yuuji crosses his arms. "Okay. You got this, Yuuji," he mutters to himself, closing his eyes. "You came from Ebisu. You’re on the Saikyo Line."

Beside him, Fushiguro makes a soft noise, almost a laugh, and lets this happen. Yuuji relaxes; it’s an odd, stupidly specific thing, but he has a soft spot for this, for experiencing Fushiguro with his eyes closed. In the right kind of night, it feels like a separate consciousness, unfolding in response to this different version of Fushiguro—though only slightly different at that, because all things Fushiguro are slight until they’re not. When Yuuji’s looking right at Fushiguro, watching him, drinking him in, he likes him for his pretty eyes, for his careful hands, for when he looks a sleepy kind of serene while watching the rain, for when he looks an intense degree of determined over winning at an arcade game. But in the dark, when he can’t see Fushiguro even when he squints, or when he’s so tired he closes his eyes long before Fushiguro climbs back into bed beside him, Yuuji likes him for all the things he can’t see, for the slight brushes of a knuckle against his cheek, sure, and for the occasional hand brushing hair back from his face when Fushiguro thinks he’s asleep, but for moments like this, too, when Yuuji can feel Fushiguro’s laugh more than he’ll ever see or hear it with his eyes open, when his awareness zeroes in on where their arms and legs are glued against each other, when Fushiguro’s voice comes through, right by Yuuji’s ear: 

"You can stop guessing if it’s hurting your head." 

Yuuji swats a hand in his general direction. "My head is fine," he says. "You’re cutting into my zone. My mind palace."

Fushiguro’s body shakes with another breath of a laugh. "And what is your mind palace saying?"

"It’s saying that if I assume we’re going all the way to Shin-Kiba Station, that narrows it down—actually, no, that doesn’t narrow it down at all." Fushiguro snorts. Yuuji swats at him again. "Shh. But okay. Yurakucho. Rinkai. And—"

He breaks off when Fushiguro catches his hand. There’s a pause, as if realization is late to catch up to instinct, but instead of letting go, he traps Yuuji’s hand between his own palms with a click of his tongue, settling it down on his lap in a loose hold.

Yuuji opens his eyes, stares down at where Fushiguro’s cradling his hand. It’s not fair to call it surprise, the feeling that flickers into place when he sees where Fushiguro’s fingers have curled easily around his. It isn’t a foreign image, much less a foreign sensation, because Yuuji knows how Fushiguro’s palms are warm where his fingertips are cold, knows where the jut of his thumb is a perfect crook for holding Yuuji’s wrist in place, knows the feeling of security inherent in any sort of touch from Fushiguro, and it’s a little silly to fixate at all on something this mundane, but Yuuji stares anyway. 

Distantly, Yuuji finds it funny, too, that he would go to such far lengths just to have someone’s skin on his as he’s falling asleep, anything to curb the alone-ness he sometimes feels nibbling away at him in gradual increments, but this—if he looks at it for much longer and lets his mind fall down the rabbit hole it so badly wants to sky-dive into, if he sinks into the mindlessness of how careful Fushiguro is about touching him—is enough to make him want nothing else. 

It takes him too long to remember what he had been about to say. 

"Megumi?" 

Fushiguro’s looking down at their hands, too. "Yes." 

"I don’t mean to get my hopes up in a weird direction and kinda make you my partner-in-crime in self-inflicted disappointment if I turn out to be wrong," says Yuuji, surprising even himself with how conversational he sounds, "but are we going to Disneyland?" 

There’s no response. 

They both stare at their joined hands. 

"No," Yuuji breathes out. "No way we’re going to Disneyland." 

"I didn’t say we were," says Fushiguro, but he’s back to keeping his eyes valiantly away even as his grip slides farther around Yuuji’s hands. 

Yuuji wills himself to focus. "Tell me straight-up that we’re not going there, then." 

"I… can’t tell you that, either." 

"Megumi." Yuuji tilts his body so it’s easier to face Fushiguro. "If we’re not going to Disneyland and you don’t say so right this second, you will break my heart and my soul will start—" He takes a solemn breath. "—spiraling in frozen fractals all around—"

"Don’t—" Fushiguro looks around the subway car. Yuuji doesn’t. "Why are you singing—" 

"—and one thought crystallizes like an icy blast—"

"Yuuji—" 

"—I'm never going back—" Yuuji breaks for air. "—the past is in the past—" 

Another pause for deeper breath. Fushiguro is looking at him with the same horror Yuuji felt the one time he saw Sukuna cat-parkour his way to the top of Nanami’s Christmas tree.

"Let it g—"

One of Fushiguro’s hands rises to slap over Yuuji’s mouth. Yuuji silences himself under his palm.

"Fine," Fushiguro bites out. "Yes. Fine. Happy? We’re going to Disneyland." 

Yuuji squeaks—or tries to, the noise burying itself far inside his mouth. He considers licking, just to be difficult, but Fushiguro releases him, leaving him to whisper, "Holy shit. You’re taking me to Disneyland? Really? At 8 P.M?"

"Is the time important? I wanted to take you to when—" Fushiguro stops. "I thought we could avoid the day crowds." 

There’s giddiness bubbling to the surface from somewhere deep and shameless in Yuuji’s stomach, and he should temper it before he gets carried away, before he starts misinterpreting anything, but he can’t help but brighten, tugging at the hand in Fushiguro’s and flopping both their arms around in the process. "We’re going to Disneyland, Megumi!"

"Yeah." Fushiguro smiles, slight and absentminded but very much there. Seeing it sends a pleased thrum through Yuuji. "We’re going to Disneyland." 

"If I’d known," Yuuji gushes, "I would’ve insisted we go on the weekend instead." 

"Why? Is there a weekend performance you want to see?" 

Yuuji shakes his head so hard it leaves him dizzy. "So my first time at Disneyland would have been the entire day with you."

It’s too honest of him, maybe, but Fushiguro latches onto something completely separate. "It’s your first time going? Ever?" he says. His expression contorts—and, as quickly, fades into calm as he ducks his head. He doesn’t appear conscious of it, when he slides his fingers through Yuuji’s. "I’ll bring you another time, then." 

Yuuji examines their hands, too aware of how comfortably Fushiguro’s thumb rests across his knuckles, and tries to will away the warmth settling on his face. "That’s an expensive offer, Megumi. Didn’t know I unlocked that sponsorship tier." 

It’s a semi-successful joke, in Yuuji’s opinion, but Fushiguro doesn’t bat an eye. "You’re already on our annual Family & Friends pass. It’s not a problem." 

"I—" Yuuji frowns. "What?" 

"This wasn’t part of my original plan for today," says Fushiguro, as though that’s the part in question. "But Nanako reminded me we have the pass, and it was just one quick call to sort it out after that—" He stops, growing visibly conscious of how his words have started to quicken. Yuuji keeps blinking at him. "And there’s no one else I’d want to take to Disneyland. So." 

It’s never deliberate, never meant to induce the effect it ends up having, whenever Fushiguro says things like this. When it’s him on the receiving end, he never seems to recognize Yuuji’s honesty for what it is, more keen to accept it as teasing, and while Yuuji doesn’t think this is Fushiguro teasing him in return for those moments, he’s still quick to mollify his heartbeat, to remind himself that Fushiguro’s brand of kindness is a strong enough emotion on its own, that it need not be more. 

Swift and helpful at the heels of this thought, too, Yuuji registers: Nanako reminded me we have the pass

"Ah," he says. He tries to laugh, feeling ridiculous, but it comes out more anxious than he’ll ever mean it to. "I completely forgot about the situation with Nanako-san—oh, wow, wow, this is embarrassing."  

He tries to take back his hand, but Fushiguro adjusts his hold the moment he feels it slipping, all without looking up at Yuuji. "Embarrassing?" 

"No, I just—I thought—It didn’t occur to me that you asked to hang out because of the conversation from this morning," says Yuuji. His hand goes limp and helpless in Fushiguro’s. "Which—I told you. You don’t have to worry about that. You do treat me well. Not that it would matter or anything—or—no, that didn’t come out right. Of course it matters. But—" 

His words die halfway up his throat, stuttering into silence, when Fushiguro starts rubbing his thumb against the dip of Yuuji’s hand. He’s scrutinizing Yuuji’s hand like there’s something interesting in the bump of Yuuji’s knuckles, in the weeks-old scar from Sukuna right on the curve of the wrist, like it’s not a hand he’s held so many times before, though never like this, not in public, not for this long, not for no tangible reason. 

"I’ve been meaning to ask," he says, "but did something happen?" 

It takes several tries of firing brain signals before Yuuji’s mouth decides to open. "Happen?" 

"Today. Did something happen?" 

Yuuji hesitates. He ate pancakes with his best friend, met an idol, redeemed a Christmas voucher for therapy, managed not to cry during that one hour, listened to isolated noises from war movies in class feeling he should have cried, went to work wishing he took advantage of the situation and had a good cathartic cry, and now he’s here, heart in his hand and hand in the palm of the boy that feels at once like a bruise that won’t heal and the only salve that can soothe it. 

"Honestly, what didn’t happen today," Yuuji manages, eventually. It’s not untrue. He shakes his head at the concern naked on Fushiguro’s face and offers a half-grin. 

Fushiguro tightens his grip around Yuuji’s hand—a crushing hold for all of three seconds—before letting go completely. Yuuji expects Fushiguro to recoil as he always does, never one to push, but Fushiguro tells him, steadily, "You know you can talk to me about things happening in your life." 

The surprise here is easy to swallow, easy to make compact. Yuuji lays his newly freed hand flat on his thigh. "Do I not? You’re the one who doesn’t tell me and Nobara anything." 

Without hesitation, Fushiguro says, "Don’t deflect." 

"You can’t tell me I’m wrong," Yuuji continues. "I feel like I only know half-things about you."

"Still deflecting." 

"Like, I know you technically still live with your Dad, but whenever I ask, you always have the apartment all to yourself. Where is he? What does he do?" 

"And still deflecting," says Fushiguro. "Answer my question." 

Yuuji sighs. "Nothing bad happened, necessarily," he says, the instinct to reassure winning over anything else. "Just—Long day. Work was so busy with people looking to buy gifts, I felt like I was barely awake in class—but I had a really good breakfast, and I got an early Christmas gift from Nanamin?" 

Instead of replying, Fushiguro looks him over, serious and unabashed, and it’s like being in front of Haibara again. Since leaving that office, Yuuji has felt over-conscious of everything he’s said about himself—some kind of delayed, remnant reaction, he’s reasoned, from an hour of having someone as unassuming as Haibara isolate even the smallest of his word choices and somehow unpacking the life out of it. 

It isn’t like Yuuji expects Fushiguro to do the same thing, but he sits still anyway, pinned in place by how intently he’s being looked at. 

"What can I do?" says Fushiguro. "To make your day better?" 

There’s a childlike earnestness, to the way he asks, and it’s enough to break Yuuji’s heart. It’s always enough to break Yuuji’s heart, when it’s Fushiguro asking. Always enough to break Yuuji, when it’s Fushiguro. 

He reaches over with his hand, still warm from being held so tight, to poke Fushiguro’s cheek. "Disneyland or not," he says, "I feel better now that I’m ending my day with you, Megumi." 

Fushiguro doesn’t move away from Yuuji’s finger. "Do you mean that?"

He doesn’t know, how much Yuuji means it. It makes Yuuji feel, for the span of a breath, devastatingly lonely, to know that there are feelings he can feel this strongly and still hide, that if he keeps doing what he’s doing, Fushiguro truly will never know how close to a confession it had been for Yuuji to say, two nights ago, I won’t mind. To pretend, just this once

The loneliness passes. He smiles. 

"I do," he says. "Are you kidding? It’s Disneyland." 

 

 

Staring at the dark sky through the glass roof of the World Bazaar, tipping his head back as far as it will go, Yuuji realizes he had no concept, prior to this moment, of ever going to Disneyland on any day but a sunny midsummer weekend. 

He’s spent all his childhood wanting to go, the way most kids spend all their childhood wanting to go, and in those fantasies, he imagined melting ice cream and floating balloons, untied shoelaces and Mickey Mouse headbands, his small hand in his grandfather’s. He’s imagined this so much, in this exact rendition, that it has the quality of a vague memory when he replays it back in his head now, and though grief doesn’t often hit Yuuji out of nowhere, the imaginary nostalgia of this fabricated near-memory, complete with background traces of his grandfather’s grumbling, comes close. 

Christmastime just does that to people, Yuuji thinks. Occasional blinks of a vague sadness alongside a vague happiness, the line growing hazy between the two when the holiday atmosphere always feels a touch removed from what places and people are for the rest of the year.

It doesn’t help that the World Bazaar looks unreal right now, lit up as it is by a string of lights tracking the silhouettes of each storefront, running all across without break like glowing icing on connected gingerbread houses. At the intersection between Main and Center Street, a Christmas tree towers over the crowds, its own lights tied to lit-up garlands that flicker in varying patterns every now and then. It’s mesmerizing, how it looks like a Christmas movie set from Yuuji’s vantage point, only it’s too deliberate, too pretty, that it hurts, inevitably, to look at it in full. 

Fushiguro had left Yuuji installed in a corner of the World Bazaar with strict instructions not to go anywhere or else it will take forever to find you, I just know it will. He’d flipped, in his own Fushiguro way, when Yuuji let it slip on their way out of Country Bear Christmas that he hadn’t eaten since his ginormous breakfast, and within the next ten minutes, Yuuji had been left here, fingers hooked into the straps of his backpack like a lost high schooler as he waited for Fushiguro to return with food before they head home. 

Alone in his corner, the day is starting to catch up with him, too. Not just breakfast and Haibara and class and work, but the past three hours of hopping around Disneyland, with Fushiguro taking advantage of their FastPass to heed Yuuji’s every request, even if it meant going to Space Mountain simply because Yuuji said he liked how the lights on the roof danced to the rhythm of the Christmas music they’re playing. It’s the most spoiled Yuuji has felt in his life, and it’s a forgiving kind of exhaustion that washes over him now, watching the old-fashioned clock above a nearby cafe tick closer to midnight. 

Most of the people left in the World Bazaar are couples idling around to wait for the last parade of the day. Not that Yuuji has seen many children at all, this cold, this dark, this late in the day, even at Disneyland. If anything at all, he’s seen enough couples dressed up for dates in pristine matching coats and cute novelty hats that he can’t help but feel underdressed, though it’s charming to watch it all from a distance now as a Karashima Midori song croons from somewhere close by. It’s a romantic fantasy he didn’t realize he had, this moment, an approximation of an evening one step away from dreamy, where he can stand in this corner and know he’s here with Fushiguro, just like all these people are here with their partners, all of them waiting. 

Had he been anywhere else, it’s heady enough of a feeling to fall asleep to. But then: 

"Boo," someone whispers in Yuuji’s ear, and he’s shoved forward, hard. 

Yuuji stumbles several steps into a half-run. "Ow," he hisses, "what the fuck."

He whips around as soon as he catches his balance—and finds Ozawa Yuko giving him a peace sign a foot away. 

She’s wearing a yellow blouse with big sleeves and a long blue skirt, her short hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and it’s only the oddness of seeing her like this, in a color palette he’s never seen her wear in all the years they’ve known each other, that reminds Yuuji she’d gotten a seasonal job less than two weeks ago at one of the table service restaurants here in Disneyland. 

"Jesus, Yuko," he still grits out, because they’ve long since gone past the point of forgiving middle school playground bullying in favor of pleasantries. "What the hell?"

Ozawa smiles. "Sorry," she says, somehow bashful. "But that’s what you get for not telling me you’d be here tonight."

"Sure, okay," says Yuuji, already weary, "but in my defense, I didn’t know I’ll be here tonight. Megumi wouldn’t even have told me we were coming here if I hadn’t guessed—"

"Megumi?" says Ozawa, loud enough that Yuuji speedwalks over to shush her at once. She parries him off with ease. "Fushiguro Megumi? Are you on a date with him?" 

She’s trying to communicate with her eyes. Yuuji tries the same. It doesn’t go very well, and he has to say, "No. Maybe. I don’t know. We’re hanging out. He’s being cute. I don’t know. It’s chill." 

"You’re at Disneyland with him," says Ozawa, still under her breath. "In December. What about that is chill?"

"Well, for one, it’s December." 

Ozawa flicks his forehead. 

"Yuko." Yuuji slaps a hand over his head, though there’s no real pain. "Stop hanging out with Nobara." 

"I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did that," says Ozawa, sincere despite herself. With an apologetic frown, she reaches up to pat the hand Yuuji has on his forehead. "You’re on a date with the guy you like, huh. They grow up so fast."

"Does everyone just know that?" Yuuji mutters. Ozawa laughs, a soft sound that brightens her face. "I had breakfast with an idol this morning and even she knew." 

"You don’t exactly make a secret of liking him, Yuuji-kun. You can be so enigmatic about the strangest things, but never the person you like." Ozawa pauses. "Wait, which idol?" 

"Not important." Yuuji lowers his hand back to his side. The Karashima Midori song has ended, replaced by something with a long guitar riff for an intro, and gone is the sense of being boneless and drowsy, nothing here but a low grating that reaches his teeth. "If I’m so transparent about it, how come he doesn’t know, huh?" 

Ozawa tilts her head up at him. "Does he not?" 

"If he did, I would know for a fact this is a date, wouldn’t I?" It’s a bit impudent of him to say, Yuuji knows, but he’s reached, in the past ten minutes, the kind of delicate, fine-grained mood that he doesn’t want to ruin by thinking too hard about Fushiguro’s occasional inscrutability about their relationship. "And we’ve done so much stuff like this before. Just not—here." 

He says this for the sake of saying it, but as it settles between him and Ozawa, it strikes him as indisputable. He hadn’t even reacted when Fushiguro asked him to hang out today, where the surprise had been the only part out of the ordinary about being asked; Yuuji had known at once to find space for this in his day, because everything else was secondary to the certainty of wanting to spend time with Fushiguro even if he had to drag himself sore and on the verge of crying out of his shift. 

It’s sobering, the amount of power that this lends Fushiguro. The capacity for selfish taking that it encourages in Yuuji, too. To know he hadn’t even thought to say no to seeing Fushiguro because it’s been two days since they last were in the same space, two days too long and two days too empty, and Yuuji needed more than wanted to see him no matter what. 

He slumps to the ground with a groan. He hears Ozawa follow, her skirt rustling and her dress shoes clicking. 

"Aren’t you sleeping with him?" she says. "Regularly?" 

Yuuji jerks his head in a semblance of a nod. 

"And you’re good friends, too?" 

Another nod. Talking against his knees, he blurts out in one breath, "I’m also kind of pretending to be his boyfriend in front of his family because of some random person’s Instagram story and now I’m on their annual Disneyland pass thingy." 

This, somehow, is the thing to get Ozawa to gasp. "You’re on Friends & Family Pass level with him?" 

"I don’t know how but yeah?" says Yuuji, looking up. He finds Ozawa’s eyebrows knitted together. "And now he’s getting me food because I haven’t eaten all day. Can you believe?" 

"The audacity to make sure you’re not starving," says Ozawa. She laces her hands together, as if in prayer, and regards him for a moment. "Yuuji-kun, I say this as nicely as possible, but aren’t you just in a relationship at this point?" 

Yuuji wants to melt into the fake cobblestone underneath him. "That’s what Nobara said. She said all these—whatevers—cancel each other out or something. Or add up. I don’t know math." 

"I agree with her." 

"No—No, Yuko, don’t," Yuuji whines. He lets his head fall forward in defeat. "Fuck. He asked me earlier if he’s treating me well. He asked me what he can do to make my day better. He brought me to Disneyland. He’s getting me food. I like him so fucking much." 

Ozawa can’t help her smile; it spreads, kind and empathetic, across her face. Yuuji has always liked this best about her, how she wears pleasant calm like she does her heart on her sleeve. They dated once in high school, technically, a long-distance relationship that was more emotional than most other physical relationships Yuuji has had in college. But they don’t tell anyone in Waseda, because calling Ozawa his ex-girlfriend feels like a drastic overestimation of what they were and certainly not enough to warrant the assumptions and teasing they might prompt. It’s more accurate to say that they were both dealing with shit at the time, and that they needed someone else’s emotions to be there, and this is not the same, at all, as being in love. 

He wonders if Ozawa’s thinking the same thing, or at least a version of it, because she says, tugging at a thought that was more feeling than words in Yuuji’s head, "Like, huh."

She keeps her voice mild, and Yuuji matches it, if muffled, "Hey, now, don’t imply complicated things, Yuko." 

Still smiling her small smile, Ozawa reaches out with both hands, places them gently on either side of Yuuji’s face. 

"You know I won’t if I didn’t trust you to get it together," she says—and squeezes without mercy. 

"Ow, ow, ow, ow," says Yuuji. Ozawa doesn’t let go. "Yuko—"

"This is ridiculous, Itadori Yuuji," she tells him under her breath, somehow both stern and kind about it. "Just be straight up with him. Everything that could be happening already is happening, what can fall flat at this point?" 

His whole face hot and stinging, Yuuji paws at her hands. Ozawa holds on for another moment, only to pull away so abruptly that he stumbles forward. He finds his balance right before he barrels into her, but she’s not even looking at him, her gaze wide and fixed sideways as she stands. 

It leaves Yuuji squatting alone on the ground, hands stretched out in front of him, as Ozawa straightens in front of an impassive Fushiguro a few steps away. 

"Fushiguro-san," she stammers out, with a slight, graceful, unnecessary bow. Yuuji had been fixated on that grace, once upon a time, and as he watches Fushiguro mirror the movement, he has to ask himself if he might actually have a palpable type beyond the answers he likes to feed his teammates. "It’s been a while." 

There’s silence. As Fushiguro looks back up, a paper bag balanced on the crook of one folded arm, his expression recomposes itself, as if something else had been in its place while his head was dipped away from sight. Yuuji doesn’t like it when Fushiguro tries to be unfathomable; he can be, unbelievably so most days, but it’s never by design to this degree, and never so blatant around Yuuji. 

He rubs his cheeks as he stands, looking between Fushiguro and Ozawa. "Um. Yuko works here."

"You mentioned that," says Fushiguro. His voice sounds the same as it always does, pitch and tone even, yet something has been stripped off it in the after-echo. "It slipped my mind. Congratulations on the new job, Ozawa."

"Thank you." Ozawa waves, an aborted, flustered gesture towards somewhere behind Yuuji. "I work over at Hokusai. I could have gotten you a discount for food, if—"

"That’s very nice of you to offer," says Fushiguro. "Maybe another time." 

More silence. Far down Main Street, a small group bursts into a shrill collective laugh.

"Well, I—" Ozawa gestures some more. "I just came over to say hi. My co-worker’s covering for me anyway, so—I better go and help close up." 

"Wait, I didn’t even get to ask you how you’re doing—" Yuuji starts, but Ozawa, back turned to Fushiguro, shoots him a sharp glance. He stops talking, blinks his eyes wide. She does the same, neither of them really communicating anything more now than they were earlier, before she mouths, you’re so stupid. It’s another Nobara-ism, misplaced on Ozawa’s face, and as he watches her go, he files this away as a point of conversation for the next time he sees either of them.

Then it’s just him and Fushiguro again, and Yuuji feels, for some reason, guilty. 

All Fushiguro says is, "Let’s find you somewhere to sit." 

They don’t end up far from where Yuuji had been waiting, sitting on either end of open seating for two and sharing a paper container between them in complete, uncomfortable silence. A loaded one, too, on Fushiguro’s end, his eyes as far away as it had been two nights ago, curled into himself on a parking bumper until Yuuji had offered a solution to the misunderstanding with Nanako. 

There’s no palpable misunderstanding this time, nothing for Yuuji to unfurl. It’s just him and Fushiguro, and while it’s Yuuji’s job, usually, to decide when the quiet isn’t working anymore between them, it’s never been this stiff, serrated silence. 

It’s Fushiguro, much later, that breaks first. He doesn’t say anything, not a word, not even a breath too loud, only reaches out as soon as Yuuji starts nodding off on the first of their three subway rides home. A hand on the back of Yuuji’s head, running down his nape to rest his thumb on the pulse point. A slight tug, enough to give Yuuji space to resist it—but Yuuji won’t, ever, even in silence, say no to the immediate warmth of being guided to lean against Fushiguro’s shoulder. He falls into shallow sleep like that, and again on the second trip, this time with Fushiguro’s arm curled loosely around him.

When they get off at the last transfer, Fushiguro doesn’t hesitate to take Yuuji’s train with him. And—oh. By the time they’re walking from the station to Yuuji’s apartment, he’s wide awake. 

"You don’t have to stay over," he finds it in him to say only when his building has sprouted into view not far down the street. "Really. I know your Tuesdays are packed." 

Fushiguro’s expression passes through confusion to realization, a second where the implication clicks. Or Yuuji thinks it does. Fushiguro seems to have something else in mind, something else buried in the muted swing in his voice when he asks, "Would you be okay falling asleep tonight if I don’t stay over?"  

"Ah—yeah," says Yuuji. Self-conscious, he starts fiddling with a small rip in his jacket sleeve. He’s only noticing it now, and against his better judgment, he tries to stick his pinky in. It slides through. "Yeah. I think so." 

"You think so?"

"Yes," says Yuuji, and means it. "Yes, I will be." 

"Then I’ll go back after I drop you off." 

"I’m all good now, I can walk in myself—"

"I know," says Fushiguro. Yuuji glances over as they walk up to the front door of his building, finds Fushiguro’s eyes watching his fingers. They flick upwards when he notices Yuuji looking. They stay there. "But I want to walk you all the way home." 

How Fushiguro says things like that with such finality, Yuuji will never know. He slides his pinky out of his jacket sleeve, stares at the gaping rip it leaves behind. It’s Sukuna’s doing, he decides. It’s either him or grip tape, and grip tape won’t make this kind of tear. 

Yuuji reaches the front door first. Fushiguro stops a step behind him. 

Neither of them are surprised when Yuuji tugs at Fushiguro’s sleeve, as much of it as he can reach, and kisses him. 

Soft, is what he means it to be. But soft is only possible because Fushiguro makes it possible, because he holds Yuuji in return, guiding him close, like soft, too, is what he means to be.

"Do you feel better?" he murmurs against Yuuji’s mouth, hand reaching up to touch his jaw. "Even a little?" 

Yuuji tightens his hold on Fushiguro’s sleeve. "I meant it when I said I feel better ending my day with you." He smiles—tries for one, at least. "Disneyland or not."  

Fushiguro doesn’t smile back, but he rests his forehead against Yuuji’s for a moment, something unconscious about it. "I’ll take you wherever you want to go as many times as you want if that will make your bad days better. Just say the word. Disneyland or not," he says, quiet. He tilts his head, plants a light kiss against Yuuji’s cheek. "Text me if you can’t sleep." 

Yuuji isn’t quite aware of what he says in response, just knows something comes out of his mouth, his lips still sensitive from too fleeting a touch, before he’s looking at Fushiguro wait for him to go in.

And—god, it’s so easy for other people to say he likes Fushiguro, and it’s easy, for him, to hear it. Yes, he is transparent, to the point that all his friends have referred to Fushiguro as the guy Yuuji likes far before it was even actually true. It sounds cute, even, like a fun thing that Yuuji nurses on the side. And maybe it is, maybe it is something he relishes to a shallow degree because liking someone can be fun. He hasn’t liked someone since Yuko, if he even liked her the way he prefers to remember he did, hasn’t had enough space in his heart since he was a teenager to feel an emotion as ridiculously innocent, as paper-flimsy as it is insoluble, as being lovesick. But Yuuji feels like he’s long since catapulted past that stage here: like doesn’t even begin to cover the five months he’s spent feeling every possible emotion about Fushiguro Megumi, and like is an unjust fit of a label when it’s the only dividing line that exists between a daydream about Fushiguro and reality. Like doesn’t fit with how kissing Fushiguro is the easiest and hardest thing in the world, and like doesn’t fit with how Yuuji feels like he’s breaking apart when he has to be the first to step away and be the one to leave.

Walking into his building in a daze, he thinks it’s unfair. It’s unfair that his world these days is much bigger and much kinder than he would have imagined for himself as a teenager, that he’s learning, most days, to accept that better is all he can ask for. Then Fushiguro Megumi comes along, keeps coming along, has come along from the beginning with more steadiness and trust and care in him than any stranger should have for another, and suddenly, better was more than the little things that Yuuji only learned to be satisfied with because it’s more than what he had before. 

Suddenly and unfairly, better is what Fushiguro gives him—without fail, without hesitation, from a kiss pressed to his nape when he stirs awake from a dream in the middle of the night to the coffee that he leaves in front of Yuuji the morning after—and better is everything. 

Does Megumi take care of you? Does he treat you well? Nanako had asked, and Haibara, just minutes after her, Do you have someone you’re in love with?  

The answer to both, inseparable from each other, is yes

"Fuck," Yuuji tells the empty lobby.

He’s bursting back out the building’s front doors before his brain can sit in the need to do it, blinking fast against the harsh blow of cold air. 

Fushiguro’s not far down the street, hands in his pockets and back to Yuuji. Yuuji has this one second—this one breath of only looking at Fushiguro, one breath that doesn’t need to lead into anything else if he just stops moving right now—but he can still taste that brief loneliness from earlier, the helplessness of having feelings no one will ever know about, the lonesomeness of feeling this deeply about someone, an emotion so real and present and urgent, and never telling them. It’s a nasty, acrid aftertaste, and he can’t stand the thought, more than anything, of letting it linger over his mouth’s memory of kissing Fushiguro. 

"Um—" Yuuji skids to a halt halfway down the street. "Megumi—"

The alarm on Fushiguro’s face as he turns around would be funny, maybe, once this moment has become a memory left alone in the back of Yuuji’s mind. It’s the most bare his face has been all day, not a single thread of emotion left taut. 

"I’ll only say this once," says Yuuji, more breathless than he should be, "then you can choose what you wanna do with it, okay? For me, it won’t change what I agreed to do until Tsumiki-san’s wedding, and it doesn’t have to affect anything in—in what we do beyond that. It’s your call. All of it. I just need to tell you. Okay?" 

Fushiguro doesn’t hesitate to nod, though the movement of his head is a careful one, and—fuck

When Yuuji had met Gojo Satoru last October, seated starstruck across from him in a newly opened crepe place that still held the distant smell of the tea shop it was before, he’d had no qualms waving at Fushiguro’s name on his phone and admitting, for the first time, I like him a lot. I don’t know why yet, but I do. I really do. 

It’s a memory tinged with embarrassment now, knowing that Gojo hadn’t just been acquainted with Fushiguro but had been his emergency contact since he was ten—and there Yuuji had been, clueless as he poked at his melted whipped cream and let loose an emotion he hadn’t even yet understood beyond its presence, simply because it had felt good, so painfully good, to finally say it to someone without them putting the words in his mouth first.

"Did you know that the last time you slept over was the first time you let me hold you?" says Yuuji, with that same joy-ache, so many months later. Not the same words, not at all, and yet that feeling amplified. He doesn’t watch or wait for understanding to fall over Fushiguro’s face. He’s not really doing this for either of them to understand. He’s not really doing this to be understood. "I wanted to cry. You just—You fell asleep on me, Megumi, and I wanted to cry. And there’s just—there’s so much shit to unpack from that, and I probably should have done that before I brought this up at all. But you were just—asleep there—and it’s one thing to feel safe in your arms but it’s another thing altogether to just hold you and realize that if I could make this moment a place that you can return to whenever you need—I would." 

Yuuji’s mouth tastes like salt, as if the bitterness of the realization that preceded this has found its way into transfiguring into an emotion even more raw than its predecessor. And—between the pancakes and the tea and the Disneyland everything—Yuuji is so sick of not knowing how to feel feelings without drowning in them, without having it stick to his skin, without longing for moderation that his body so badly wants to reject after being too intimate with lack. 

He still continues. He doesn’t know what else to do but let it all find its way out.

"All of this is just a super roundabout way of saying that I have very, very strong feelings for you, and not just—okay, I don’t wanna say ‘not just as a friend’ because I do have strong feelings for you as a friend. I also have strong feelings for you as everything else that we are. I just—I—" Might really be in love with you, but that’s an impossibility to get out of his mouth. He takes another breath instead. "I like you so much, Megumi, for real, and I’m really sorry that—that I have to say it. I know it’s a lot. Maybe if I liked—" Loved, loved, loved. "—you less, I would have done this another way. I know that what we have can be complicated but it’s still always, always, always good and this is—this is not a thing you do when things are good. I’m not asking for anything else except for this second right here, being able to say all this bullshit that I’ll probably hate myself for admitting tomorrow morning. But—impulses, am I right?" 

Fushiguro’s eyes are wide. His mouth has parted, but there’s no sign at all that anything’s coming out. That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. It might be for the best, even. Yuuji feels like he’s just vomited his heart and they’re both looking at it disintegrate between them. 

So, knots in his ribcage, heartbeat in his throat, he shoots Fushiguro a pair of finger guns. 

"Uh—yeah," he says. His eyes might be a little wet. "Okay. That’s all. Good night. Get home safe. Text me when you do. Thank you for today. See ya." 

Later, Yuuji will wish he didn’t run back down the street, that he’d done an easy, self-aware walk back, given himself enough room for a fantasy where Fushiguro calls after him, even if it’s to yank them into the worst case scenario. 

But regret catches up faster than any tangible else, and Yuuji has disappeared back into the heat of his building before he could make the mistake of looking back over his shoulder. 

 

Chapter Text

December 06 · 02:37

I—Hi. Is this going? Do I just talk after your voicemail message ends and—it goes? I’m just—I’m calling because—I know you said to text you when I get home, but I wanted to hear your voice. I guess I wasn’t expecting you to not—You’re probably asleep. I hope you are. Yeah. Alright. Sleep well, Yuuji.

December 08 · 11:23

—the hell am I doing? I don’t know why I’m—I—I’m reading an article about quokkas for class and it made me think of you. Made me think it would make you smile. I can—I can just send it, right? I can just send it. Ignore this voicemail.

December 08 · 13:45

I still haven’t sent it. I think I’m scared you won’t open my text. It’s one thing if you read it and not respond, but if you don’t open it at all, when I know you open all your messag—I’m not sure. I don’t know. This is stupid.

December 10 · 03:31

Did you mean it? No, I’m sorry. Of course you meant what you said. But the way you said it? No, that sounds even worse. You left the other night without me giving me the chance to say anything, and—that’s fine. I just really want to hear your voice. We don’t have to talk about what you said. We could, but we don’t have to. I just—This is the longest I’ve ever gone not hearing from you at all and I—I don’t know. I should sleep.

December 10 · 22:19

So I—I’m not—I’m a little—You can probably tell but—I just have to tell you that—last night—last night, I dreamt that I met you in high school. It didn’t really feel like a dream. It wasn’t anything extravagant, either. Maybe that’s why it felt real. Like a memory from a different life. You were out on the track field, surrounded by people. I was just watching. Just a passer-by. You looked at me once, then you went back to talking with your friends. You had a yellow hoodie on. You were so bright in the sun. Then I woke up, and there was so much sun in my room, but you weren’t—Anyway. It got me thinking. If parallel universes are real, then there’s one out there where we meet much earlier in life. But I wonder, do we give something up in that universe? If we met much earlier in that one, if I met you when we were fifteen, is there a possibility that we have a lot less time together there than we do in this universe? Is there a universe where we’re so young when we meet but we lose each other not too long after? Is that a morbid thought—Hold on, I’m trying to think like you. If we were having this conversation, we’d probably argue a little about how if there are universes where we meet, there are universes where we don’t. If there’s a universe where you save my life, there’s a universe where you take it. If there’s a universe where I save your life, there’s a universe where I take it. That one’s definitely morbid. But I don’t disagree with this hypothetical argument I’ve given hypothetical you. I do think there must be universes where we don’t meet at all. I do think there must be universes where we hurt each other somehow. I’d just argue because I don’t want this universe to be one of those. I’d argue because I hate to think of a universe where we d—

December 11 · 17:22

I heard from the twins that you hurt yourself skating yesterday afternoon. God, Yuuji, I don’t care if it’s just a scratch, you better not be going to work or class or fucking practice if—It better be just a scratch. I’ll kill you if it’s anything more—

December 12 · 08:12

Todo told Mai that you’re doing okay—but I still just—I don’t know why I keep leaving these voicemails. I wanted to check in and wish you luck on your presentation today. I hope I got the date right. But I—I really—I really mi—Yeah. Okay. Bye. 

December 12 · 23:52

Do you remember that time you made me and Kugisaki do an exercise for your set design class with you? You had a list of these specific feelings that your prof made you take down—you and Kugisaki laughed so much about it—and we had to list stuff that we associated with each one and build an imaginary set from there. You were really good at it. The list said something like "opening your eyes for the first time at the top of Mount Takao" and you immediately started listing off things even though you’d never been up there. I remember listening to you and thinking about how hard it is to build a place for another person. Not just to describe it, but to build it in a way that lets someone find their place in it. For it to be a place to fully exist in, a place to return to. That’s the wording you used, I think, so many nights ago. You said—you wanted to take one moment between us and make it a place I can return to whenever I need it. And right now, I’m thinking—if anyone can figure it out, if anyone has figured out a way to build a moment, a feeling, into a place meant for coming home, it’s you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a coffeemaker or borrowed keys to your apartment or your arms. It’s you. 

December 13 · 00:00

Call or text me whenever—whenever anything. Whenever you want to. Whenever you need to. Whenever you’re ready. I’ll be here.

 

 

"Welcome to The—" Kugisaki’s voice, flattened by how much cheer she’s trying and failing to force into it, drops right into relief as soon as she spots Megumi. It shows on her face for a blink, just as soon replaced with exasperation by the time Megumi has reached the counter. "I can’t believe—Fushiguro, I told you he’s bled more from his damned cat than he had from this stupid injury—"

"That’s not why I’m here," says Megumi. He slides his phone, screen up, towards Kugisaki. "I didn’t even know you’d be on shift." 

Kugisaki doesn’t pick up the phone, refusing to interrupt her vigorous typing into the tablet behind the counter. Her fingers land so hard that the stand it’s propped against shakes, and Megumi keeps his expression stony as he waits, sparing half a prayer to the customer that has Kugisaki so frustrated. 

Two bouquets stand on either side of her, one of them wrapped and tagged and the other still far from half-finished, more a collection of flowers in the same palette than the gradient-bright arrangement Megumi knows it will be before the night is over. The fact that Kugisaki is alone in the shop working the administrative side and helping with the bouquets at the same time means that the orders are farther above average than they already are on a normal day; she doesn’t even seem to notice or care that there are dark-pink petals stuck against the brown of her hair and her apron, busy gritting her teeth at the tablet. 

"Damn it, I hate working here during the holidays. Who looks at midwinter and thinks to get something from a flower shop? Not single people, let me tell you," Kugisaki mutters. She drags Megumi’s phone closer with two fingers, but it’s several more seconds before she even reads it. "What kinda occasion is this for?" 

"A wedding reception." Kugisaki’s gaze snaps up to him, and Megumi adds, determined to not allow an opening for any other line of interrogation, "My older sister’s getting married on the twenty-seventh." 

"You have an older sister?" says Kugisaki. She spares Megumi a dirty look when he only shrugs, but she doesn’t pause in copying the order number off the email open on Megumi’s phone. She pulls up a window on her tablet. "Fushiguro Tsumiki? Says here she already had a few appointments with Fumi about what bouquets she wants." 

"I’m just here to confirm they’ll be ready before six p.m. on that day," says Megumi, a lazy rewording of the message Getou had sent him. "And to double-check whether someone has to come pick them up while the wedding is happening or if they’re getting delivered." 

Visiting the florist was originally Nanako’s errand to run, one point in a long list of bridesmaid duties, but in the past twelve hours, it’s been passed across multiple hands, collecting more non-wedding-related errands along the way until they all reached Megumi in one clump, the only option left in their circle because Gojo, despite his multiple doctorates, could not be trusted with the life-or-death undertaking of getting charcoal instead of coal for his own barbecue grill. It’s a small blessing that Kugisaki is working at Megumi’s last stop of the day; he doesn’t think he has enough social energy left for retail small talk, even if Kugisaki’s lack of desire for it doesn’t necessarily mean Megumi’s safe. 

Kugisaki whistles now, squinting at the tablet. "Is this Hachioji as in Ukai Toriyama? Your sister’s having her reception at Ukai Toriyama? What does Yuuji think about th—"

Megumi isn’t sure if it’s worse that she breaks off so cleanly, words dying right at the syllable like realization stopped her thoughts altogether, or if he’d prefer it if she continued and allowed him to act, at least, like Itadori hasn’t been ignoring all of his attempts at talking. But Kugisaki doesn’t bother looking apologetic, something defensive about even the way she refuses to meet Megumi’s eyes. 

"Do you know?" says Megumi, only because he doesn’t have to elaborate. 

"Of course I know," says Kugisaki. The wary sharpness in her eyes remains, but there’s no lack of care there, either, for Megumi’s situation. "I haven’t been bringing it up with him, though. Have you talked at all since?" 

"No." Megumi looks down at his shoes. "It’s been a week." 

Everything he knows about how Itadori’s doing, he’s gotten in fragments directly from Kugisaki or indirectly from Todo. It’s the only way he can be certain, on a rational level he has to keep pulling himself up to, that Itadori isn’t harboring any bitterness towards him. If he did, his friends and Megumi would all know. Anything on the spectrum of anger from simple annoyance to full-blown irritation isn’t an emotion Itadori ever holds back on, and Megumi can’t imagine Itadori will ever choose being passive-aggressive in silence over the chance to vent or snap back in a conversation. He also can’t imagine Kugisaki and Todo would be as indulgent as they have been with assuring Megumi that Itadori is alive and well and not in fact bleeding out from a scratch across his arm if Itadori wants nothing to do with him at all. 

But he also knows that it’s a testament to how unused he is to being separated from Itadori that he’s entertaining the possibility of anger at all. Had this been last Wednesday, he would have brushed it off, would have been able to talk himself out of leaving yet another voicemail, would have reminded himself that Itadori clearly hadn’t planned to tell Megumi all of that and needs his own space to process it. Days later, separated from Itadori for much longer than they ever have been since they met, he’d endured teasing from both the Zenin twins and Kugisaki just for any crumb of news about Itadori, had left a lengthy rambling voicemail under the wrong assumption that his edible hadn’t yet hit, and, as of today, has given into entertaining even the most unprovable of scenarios. 

It’s embarrassing, in retrospect, but Megumi has long since motorbiked past the point of caring about even that. He just wants something, some kind of lead or morsel so that he can stop being the person that was confessed to and then left to aimlessness right after. 

"You know," says Kugisaki, typing once again into the tablet, "I’ve been dying to talk to you about that." 

"Disneyland?" Megumi waits for a nod. "About Ozawa?" 

"What? No—what? What about Ozawa?" 

"Nothing. Nevermind." 

Kugisaki taps her tablet one last time before passing a glare over Megumi. "You weren’t subtle with Disneyland, you know. It sickens me how not subtle you were. You probably think you were being clever—which you were. I’ll give you that. But you were not subtle." 

"I don’t know what you’re talking about." 

"Taking Yuuji to Disneyland in the middle of the holiday season. At 8 P.M. Knowing full well that’s a time where only couples go. Come on. Are you trying subliminal messaging?" 

"Apparently," says Megumi, "I didn’t need to." 

"Fine. Okay." Kugisaki tosses him his phone. He catches it one-handed. "So we’re going down that route. Don’t say I didn’t give you an out."

"I don’t want an out." Megumi watches, face blank, as Kugisaki wraps both arms around the unfinished bouquet. She’s immediately dwarfed by it as she hauls it up, but she’s steady on her feet in making her way to the door behind the counter. "I want confirmation about my sister’s bouquet." 

"I’m waiting for Fumi to message me back," Kugisaki calls over her shoulder. "She knows the situation better. Calm your ass down." 

She disappears into the next room. 

It’s another minute before she pops her head back out, scowling at Megumi like he should have already known to follow. 

He has to duck to enter, almost tripping down an unexpected half-step onto the pea gravel of the indoor greenhouse. He pauses at the doorway, eyes widening in surprise at the assortment of blues, pinks, greens and reds tripled in number from the arrangements and pots in the main store. Flowers that are all unrecognizable to him past the difference of one to the other, but nevertheless stark and startling coming off a December evening spent outside.  

Kugisaki is set up on the lone wooden table in the middle of the chaos, reappearing from behind her bouquet with a pair of shears. 

"Fushiguro," she says. "You know it’s kind of fucked up, right? That you’re going around looking that mopey and asking about Yuuji when you’re not even sure what to say to him?" 

Hesitant, Megumi steps into the greenhouse. "How do you know I’m not?" 

"Because if you were, you’d be reaching out to him a lot more. Not doing the bare minimum to listen to your impulses then thinking that’s enough for him to eventually come to you." 

"Are you saying it’s bad for me to give him space?" Megumi doesn’t blink even as Kugisaki brandishes her shears, snipping twice at the air between them. "Because I think you’re crediting me with a lot more capacity for agency than I actually have."

"Buddy. Your track record with Yuuji speaks for itself," says Kugisaki. "You’re the type to not give a shit about a full-on brawl even if people were beating the shit out of each other right in front of you, but if you take that exact same scenario, not a single thing changed, and involve Yuuji, even if he was just watching, even worse if he’s in the fight—you’ll be out there deciding it’s your responsibility to intervene and make sure he’s fine." 

That’s not fair, but Megumi doesn’t have it in him to hash out why. "I think you just called me a bad person." 

Kugisaki rolls her eyes. "No, you’re plenty good. Not disgustingly good like Yuuji, but you’ve got a solid moral compass on you," she says, a hint of distaste crawling into her voice. She clears her throat. "No, no, what I’m calling you is subjective and impulsive when it comes to Yuuji. You can be so passive about the weirdest stuff—then it involves him, and suddenly you’re in other people’s workplaces skulking around like a kicked dog waiting for your owner to let you back into the house." 

Megumi narrows his eyes. He can’t tell if Kugisaki means to hurt him, or if she’s going for what stings thinking that the cut it inflicts would be more shallow than how it does feel, right now, as he approaches her table. "I’m waiting for confirmation." 

"And I will let you know the moment that confirmation comes in, sir," Kugisaki bites back, with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Jeez. Dealing with people like you was so much easier when people caught feelings for Yuuji and not the other way around. So, so, so much easier when he had no interest in relationships and just rejected people nicely." 

Her voice has dipped again, enough that Megumi knows none of this is for him. He watches her lay out a series of flowers in front of her, arranging and rearranging them in a row, waits until she notices. "Has he done that a lot? Reject people?" 

"Of course he has. It’s Yuuji," says Kugisaki, flat like she doesn’t also regularly call him a potato, and has once, on record, told him he has no chance of being popular. "It’s never serious, though. People develop crushes on him at best. They ask for a date, explicitly—" At this, she glances at Megumi. "—and he turns them down, always offers to be friends. It works. Works better than it ever would have otherwise, in cases like Yoshino." 

Megumi starts. "Yoshino Junpei?"

"How do you think they met?" says Kugisaki, dust-dry. "My point is, lonesome people gravitate towards Yuuji, but that means it’s rarely ever more than a temporary infatuation. Nine times out of ten, they’ve never met anyone like him before and just really, really like having him around—which works fine for everyone even with him as a friend. He’s not an intense rom-com hero type of guy, after all." 

There’s a separate thesis here, somewhere, waiting to pounce from beneath the nonchalance that’s barely hiding it in the first place. Kugisaki likes listening to herself talk and can do so for hours—Megumi found this out very quickly and has since found comfort in it, even more when it’s her and Yuuji having conversations that never end because they keep finding new tangents to spiral down—but there’s a mulish restlessness to her today, a kind of tension waiting for release that she doesn’t seem to want, either. It leaves both of them on edge, renders Megumi feeling like he’s waiting for a drop of water to fall on his forehead, cold and unexpected, at any point now. 

"What is he, then?" he says. "If not a rom-com hero?"  

"One of those stupid boys that are made for people to have their first ever crush on from the ages of thirteen to fifteen," says Kugisaki, matter-of-fact, as if this is supposed to make perfect sense for Megumi. When she looks over and sees that it doesn’t, she scoffs. "Come on. The boy who notices you did your hair differently? The boy who sits next to you and forgets his textbook once so you have to share and he tells you that you smell nice or that you have cute handwriting? The boy who saves you from a stray basketball in gym class once and then you start getting flustered thinking about holding his hand because you’re like fourteen and having a crush is fun and sweet and sparkly and not really about love yet? He’s a safe answer, too, always, at girls’ talk—"

"You’re writing an entire shoujo manga here." 

"That’s it." Kugisaki points at Megumi like this is a philosophical breakthrough. "Yuuji’s a shoujo manga character. But not the hero. He’s the second lead. He’s made for the flutter-iness that doesn’t really progress past that. He’s—what’s a good example—the childhood friend that walks with the heroine to school and calls her by her nickname. Maybe she likes him in the beginning, maybe he’s liked her all along, but he never really makes her feel the same intense feelings that the infuriating man-child of a male lead does. He’s too sweet, he’s too patient, too nice." 

Megumi doesn’t disagree, entirely, but he thinks back to how Itadori’s vicious slams against the whack-a-mole machine at Disneyland had gained in ferocity as the rounds went by, thinks back to how he’d started whisper-screaming at it until Megumi dragged him off, and—He disagrees a little, and it isn’t a bad thing at all. "Is he?" 

"No, but that’s what Yuuji is to other people on the surface. Makes me sick." Kugisaki gathers a fistful of flowers, snips an inch off their stems in one go. Megumi winces. "I get it, though—He’s safe to like. He’s a first love archetype if you don’t dig too deep or spend actual time around him when he’s being a brat. Don’t tell me that’s not why you got snatched up, too." 

With his foot, Megumi slides out a stool from under Kugisaki’s table. He regrets taking a seat as soon as he does; he feels very small, trapped under both the bouquet and Kugisaki. "He was hardly a first love archetype when I first met him." 

"What are you talking about? Can you not try to be cool? I fully introduced you to each other and your eyes went—" 

"I noticed him before that. Kind of hard not to see the guy yelling in the middle of the room with Todo Aoi," says Megumi, growing careful when Kugisaki’s eyes whip up to him. "He was playing a drinking game. Wearing a basketball team hoodie. Firing insults at the guy he was up against." 

Good ones, at that. Juvenile, but sharp-edged enough to dig and maybe impale if Itadori had truly wanted them to. That was one of the first things Megumi had thought to himself, with a onceover that had lingered for too long on Itadori’s frame, poised to throw a ping pong ball: that Itadori Yuuji spoke, for better or for worse, without care for what he was saying, yet somehow said what he needed to in the moment anyway. 

It will prove true for everything else about Itadori, later on—will show itself in how he throws himself into situations and leaves the thinking for after, if at all, will show itself in how haphazardly he lives his life, as if long-term is never an option and all he can do is string together whatever he has at any given moment until it works. Megumi hadn’t learned that yet, though, the first month into knowing Itadori. He’d been attracted to Itadori in those early days because of his recklessness, because of the infallibility that comes with that recklessness. Itadori seemed to live with such abandon, only saved—or at least Megumi thought—by an inherent luck. It didn’t matter that he could always be baited into a dare, could always be provoked into an argument, could always be invited out to somewhere even when it’s a bad idea—he made it work somehow, a juggling act that never faltered because Itadori matched its momentum by sheer force of being himself. And Megumi had been the passerby who couldn’t help but be intrigued, who couldn’t help but want to examine for himself how true that facade was. 

He startles alongside Kugisaki when the storefront bell rings, a tinny noise that travels to where they are. He watches her huff and stomp back to the store, voice melting into painful cheeriness as she greets what sounds like a customer picking up the finished bouquet. It leaves him to stare at the wooden table in front of him, unseeing. 

Kugisaki isn’t wrong. Itadori was safe to like. He has, on the surface, all the brightness of a fire but none of its capacity to sear and burn, has all the gentleness of candlelight and none of its potential to grow into a house fire. 

But Megumi knows that isn’t all true. He’s been allowed brief glimpses of everything else in between. And that, the current Megumi is magnetized by. The multitudes that make up Itadori, the dimensions, the layers. The three sixty every morning after. The snark on the other side of his sincere sweetness. The surprising, unsettling maturity behind every moment of childishness. 

Part of the initial allure was getting close enough to inspect those contradicting layers—until those contradictions just added up to the Itadori Yuuji that Megumi knows, until it’s too late and he’s looking at Itadori from mere steps away, seeing his lips move, trying to process words formed by a mouth that he had just kissed. Until it’s just Megumi, watching Itadori not as a multi-hyphenated collection of everything he is but just as a boy Megumi’s age, in all the impossibility and simplicity of that. Until any contradictions that existed there before are no longer separate, no longer parallel to each other, no longer small things to pick out and cherish every time he’s allowed access to a new one. Until it’s just all here, right in front of Megumi, every single bit of what Itadori is and isn’t bare in his eyes as he says, I like you so much, Megumi. 

Resourceful, then, is how Megumi would describe Itadori. Financially, socially, physically, intellectually, emotionally. Never deliberate in that resourcefulness, either. It’s not the luck that’s inherent to Itadori; it’s a tendency to know how to navigate his limits and ensure he doesn’t get people involved in them, no matter how misled he might be in that. It’s likely why he turned down all those people, why he offered to be friends, why the friendships worked. It was never anything else, to begin with, and Itadori must have known it. 

"Oh," says Megumi, when Kugisaki returns, even more petals stuck to her apron. She sweeps a hand past them, but doesn’t snag a single one. "That’s what you were trying to get at. I’m one of the lonesome people who gravitate towards Yuuji." 

Kugisaki gapes at him. "The fact that it took you this long—"

"You think it’s temporary infatuation on my part?" Megumi interrupts, the edges of the question dagger-sharp in his rush to get it out. Kugisaki’s eyes flash, more guarded instinct than anything else, and Megumi lowers his voice. "After five months of this?" 

Kugisaki resumes her position behind the bouquet, hands on her hips. She thinks for a while. Megumi can hear her tapping her foot, restless. 

"If it’s not temporary infatuation," she says, matching Megumi’s tone syllable by syllable, "then what is it, Fushiguro? Can you even tell me?" 

It’s not meant to be a challenge, but Megumi still sits there like it is, staring hard into the deep burst of red in the middle of the bouquet in front of him. 

"I don’t care if you keep this up with Yuuji for five months or five weeks or five years. I don’t care if both of you think that what you have going is good as it is. I don’t care if you, Fushiguro Megumi, seem the most whipped of the bunch," Kugisaki continues, when Megumi holds onto his silence. "That doesn’t mean shit to me. I care that Yuuji loves like an unhinged maniac and he happens to like you more than he’s ever liked anyone in his life, probably, and I care that you’re also a really good friend of mine, which makes you the absolute last person I wanna see break my best friend’s heart." She shrugs, a motion at once violent and solemn. "But you didn’t hear that from me."  

Out in the street, far, far behind Megumi, a car honks. Once and it’s gone, the echo lasting longer than the sound itself. 

Refusing to deflate in the stiff silence, Kugisaki picks her shears back up. She softens as she does—as much as Kugisaki can soften—something indiscernible to Megumi catching up to her. 

"Look," she tries, her voice kinder if no quieter, "I do know you’re fond of Yuuji. Anyone can see that. I know you two have had a lot of fun for almost half a year now. I know I can trust you to take care of each other, and I’ll also kill Yuuji dead if he proves me wrong in any of this." She sighs. "But if any and all heart-breaking bullshit can be avoided by you just rejecting him now? I’m not so nice or romantic that I’m gonna tell y’all to try it anyway. Maybe I would, if it was with anyone else." 

Kugisaki doesn’t say it, just lets it hang implied between them, so Megumi does it for them both. "But not with Yuuji." 

"Not with that idiot, no." Kugisaki snorts. "He’s so far gone about you that he won’t even realize if you’re also one of the people he’s better off not being in a relationship with. He’ll take anything." There’s a low hum from the pocket of her apron. She pulls out her phone with a sigh. "And I also don’t want you committing half-heartedly to him, of all people, and believing the whole time that you’re not. You don’t want that, either, for yourself or for him. Am I wrong?"

She taps through her screen one-handed without putting down her shears, leaves them pointed at Megumi.  

"No," he says. "You’re not wrong." 

Kugisaki doesn’t look up from her phone. "Sort yourself out, Fushiguro," she says. "Don’t think that time and vague feelings of care and understanding and affection and all that nice bullshit automatically makes a good romantic relationship. You can have all that and not be able to sustain any of it for another five months, all because you forced a shift where you shouldn’t have. I love getting to tell people I told you so, but don’t make me that person here." 

There’s a second, a minute change in pitch, where it doesn’t sound like she’s talking about Megumi and Itadori at all. It could have just as easily been imagined, but very few things are, in moments of vulnerability from Kugisaki. She never talks about her childhood and her parents, just as Megumi and Itadori never talk about theirs, but they all know the unpleasant parts are there. It’s there in how Megumi has spent all his life being told to seek out connections beyond the ones he’s been given. It’s there in how Itadori has done nothing but seek out those connections. It’s there in how Kugisaki approaches connections with older figures only when she can stubbornly fixate on the respect she feels for them. It’s even right here, for all three of them, in how this conversation had to happen at all. 

Megumi understands that, and it’s the only thing to stop the heaviness creeping into his lungs from terraforming into a lump that he’ll carry for the rest of his week. 

"I know," he says. "I’m doing my best to sort it out." 

Kugisaki turns to him, half of her face washed out in the light bouncing off her phone screen. She holds his eyes for a long breath, then locks her phone. There’s concern for him, too, in her eyes, much more than she’ll ever voice. 

"Fumi just sent a confirmation email with final prices and delivery times to your sister," she says. "Is that cool? Or do you want me to print out a copy, too?" 

"No, the email’s fine." Megumi stands. The stool crunches against the pea gravel. "Thank you." 

Kugisaki shows him back to the main store, shedding petals in their wake. It’s gone fully dark outside while they were in the back room, leaving behind a different city than the one Megumi had been mapping out all day, and they both frown out through the glass. 

"Don’t catch a cold out there," says Kugisaki. "Don’t want you getting sick before you can take Yuuji to Ukai Toriyama."

Megumi blinks in surprise, but Kugisaki is already walking back into the greenhouse, leaving him alone in the store.





The call comes in before Megumi even makes it past the first page of his book.

He tosses it to the side in his haste to answer, swiping nearly as soon as he registers the first kanji of Itadori’s name. 

"Yuuji?’ 

"Hi," says Itadori, all reflex on the other end—and Megumi’s breathless at once, the physical awareness of how much he’s missed hearing Itadori preceding even the realization. "Hi, Megumi. Um. I have a question." 

There’s a strange shakiness to his voice, something off about the dips in between the words. It snaps Megumi right back into focus, pulls him to his feet with nowhere to go. "Is everything okay?" 

There’s a long pause. 

"Yuuji? Are you okay?"

"My food spilled on the tracks," says Itadori, muted and small. "I tried looking up what I’m supposed to do now—does someone come to clean it up? I didn’t mean to spill it. It was securely in the takeout bag and then—I just—I don’t know what happened—"

There’s a burst of static, whatever noise Itadori makes distorting into itself over the line. Megumi’s free hand clenches into a fist, nails digging into his palm. 

"—and I—this is bad, isn’t it?" Itadori continues, in a tone that’s anything but conversational. There’s a bad feeling in Megumi’s chest, cutting cold and sharp as soon as he realizes that Itadori is hiccuping in between sentences, and that the shakiness in his voice is genuine panic. "I’ve never really seen anyone spill food on the tracks. I’ve never seen anyone with food, ever, on the subway. Am I supposed to call someone? Will this cause an accident?" 

"No," says Megumi. "No, it won’t. You’re fine. Yuuji—where are you?" 

The breath that Itadori takes on the other end is all Megumi needs to hear for confirmation. It’s more sniff than exhale, even as Itadori continues to talk like normal, "I’m—I’m at Harajuku Station. I’m coming back from work? And I wanted Yoshinoya, right, because they have those deals this time of night, but my food—is just—Why has nothing been going right this week? I don’t get it. School, work, skating, me with you, now my food—"

Itadori’s voice breaks, splits right mid-word and into total silence. It’s so new, so wrong, so unlike anything Megumi has heard from him, that he’s out of his bedroom before he can even think to move.

"Hey," he says. The clock in the living room reads 10:49 P.M. "Can you step out? Get some air?" 

It takes a while, but Itadori eventually says, voice tight with the force of trying to keep itself stable, "Air sounds good." 

Megumi tucks his phone against his shoulder, one hand reaching out into the darkness of his entrance hall to grab the nearest coat. "I’m coming to you. Is that okay?" 

He braces himself for any attempt at you don’t have to, any blatant lie resembling I’m fine, steels himself to insist, but Itadori breathes out on the other end, a slight rustle that sounds like a sigh right in Megumi’s ear. "Okay."

Megumi spends the ride over afraid that Itadori will change his mind at some point, that he’ll be gone by the time Megumi arrives, but he gets to the station and finds Itadori at once—easy to spot standing outside, hands in his hoodie, stare blank and fixed on the ground. He looks dog-tired, his entire body folded into itself in a way Megumi has never seen before. 

When he looks up, it’s with a heaviness—to the set of his shoulders, the corners of his eyes and his mouth, even the way his hair falls flat—that leaves Megumi’s chest feeling dense, as if his body is reacting to seeing Itadori like this by pushing his insides together, compacting until it becomes hard for him to breathe as well.

Everything disappears as soon Itadori spots him, packed away out of habit, but as Megumi comes closer, the tiredness remains, too carved into Itadori’s cheeks and under his eyes to fade with the rest. He’s been crying, his waterline still damp with tears that haven’t been blinked away—or tears that were never shed, it seems, with no other sign of wetness on his face. 

There’s so much Megumi can say, so much he can ask. But between them, words have always been Itadori’s domain, and all Megumi can offer, a block in his own breathing, is warmth. 

"Come here?" he says, the best he’s able past the roaring of his own heart in his ears. 

It’s devastating, how Itadori’s face crumples at the upturn in Megumi’s voice. He breathes out, unsteady, before he’s in Megumi’s arms, curling right against him with a hiccup so bad it shakes his whole body. It takes a while for Itadori to give in, still trying his best to calm his own exhales, face in the crook of Megumi’s neck as he shudders through each one.

When he gives up and starts crying, when the audible wedge in his throat breaks past noise, it’s so silent that Megumi wouldn’t know at all, wouldn’t be able to even strain to listen, if not for the wet trails against his collar and the occasional breaks for sharp, quivering inhales.  

Megumi rests a hand on the back of Itadori’s head, cradling Itadori against him as he waits it out. They stay there, pressed into the shape of one another; Megumi stares back at anyone who dares look too long, makes sure to fold himself firmer around Itadori. He thinks he might be shaking, too, and if he considers the rest of his body too much, he’ll find himself weak-limbed, his own fingers trembling. 

There’s a story, somewhere in Megumi’s family tree and beyond, about the one and only time Gojo and Getou had stopped talking to each other. Megumi might have been too young when he first heard it, or old enough to know the nuances of the situation but still too unattached to the people Toji had left them in the care of whenever he had to fuck off somewhere else. Megumi had still figured Tokyo wouldn’t be a permanent thing, that this was an arrangement that would inevitably end with him and Tsumiki returning to Saitama, that there was no benefit to indulging the adults that were suddenly around them all the time, a twenty-year-old Gojo not least of them, whose idea of being their secondary guardian is making his irritating opinions known about their movie choices. 

Megumi hadn’t cared about the story, not really, trying his best to squint at the wall-to-wall bookshelf in Gojo’s home—the ladder to which he hadn’t been yet allowed to climb—while Tsumiki tried to weasel more information about Getou from Shoko. By then, Getou had been a strong presence without actually being around, a staple in conversations about Gojo without it ever being purposeful on anyone’s part. 

It had been less that Megumi listened that day so much as he had been subjected to Tsumiki and Shoko’s conversation, with nothing else to hold his attention in the room besides the books and the wisps of indoor smoke from Shoko’s cigarette, filtering out the open window to a sticky, late summer evening. Gojo was supposed to be looking after Megumi and Tsumiki, but he’d gone off somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, pulled to an emergency that Megumi knew was real because it was the only instance, to this day, that he’d seen Gojo’s face look like that. None of the bravado the world had taught him through the privileges he’d never lived without, none of the breeziness that Megumi had never really bought on someone with such underlying tension to his every movement like Gojo had. It had been pure, open alarm on his face, concern that no other emergency will ever replicate again, and when Megumi looks back to this memory, he wonders if it was this same alarm, and the rarity of it, that had Shoko showing up so soon, taking over babysitting duty without asking a single question. She just stood in the hallway with her textbooks stuffed into a struggling tote bag as Gojo rushed out of his own house, and she wasn’t kind or excited, exactly, around Tsumiki and Megumi, but she’s always been his favorite of everyone. The calm way she talked to them, in particular, not quite like they were adults but like they were children that she recognized weren’t comfortable with being too young all the time. 

It might be the only reason Megumi remembers her voice so well from that evening, even if he doesn’t remember much of the conversation. Tsumiki must have known something he didn’t—which was fine; she’s always been much more interested in what came before her and Megumi, all those childhood and high school histories that didn’t matter to how Megumi simply used their move as a way to delineate his life between Before and After Tokyo—and she’d taken advantage of Shoko’s disgust about her schoolwork to distract her with questions. About who Getou was, about why they heard so much about him but never saw him, about the argument that left it so that Gojo stopped eating whenever Tsumiki tried to ask after it. 

Shoko hadn’t offered her own stance on the situation. That much Megumi can remember. Even at that point, she hadn’t taken sides between Gojo and Getou. But when Tsumiki asked her if Gojo would be okay, Shoko had told Tsumiki, without hesitation, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’ll be more surprised if he is

Megumi can recall, too, the total silence that followed that. He has a vague memory of looking up from where he’s lying on the couch to see Tsumiki’s face, in time to watch it fall as she realized Shoko had given her cold honesty. 

It may have been more for Tsumiki’s sake, then, more Shoko seeing that she was on the verge of tearing into this teenage girl’s idealism, that had her continuing at all, scattering ashes out the window with a tap against her cigarette, wrist propped on the sill. 

"Being apart is hard, sure, but it’s a matter of communication, patience and endurance. Those are doable things, if you ask me, and they’ve made a total mess of that already," she’d said, neither concession nor reassurance, just an attempt at softening the truth. "But watching someone important to you go through shit right in front of you? Just sitting there not being able to do a single damn thing about it? Having to watch, knowing you can’t make it right for them? Please. That’s more than enough to make Gojo Satoru break. He doesn’t know how to live with something he can’t brute-force into being a solution. Don’t be surprised if he comes back tonight with his tail between his legs, is all."

And it’s not a thought Megumi has often, nor one he even likes to acknowledge, but there are moments like now, feeling more breakable than Itadori does in his arms, where he can’t help but think he bears more signs of growing up with Gojo than he’s been honest about. He’s his father’s spitting image, he knows, and he's always believed his worldview is more Tsumiki than anyone else both in what it is and what it isn’t, but in the cracks between those are small instances that make Megumi consider now if, among everyone, amidst everything he’d picked up from all the people around him, he’d learned to define strength and weakness by what he saw of them in Gojo.

So he smoothens out the way each breath travels through his body, finds calm instead of panic in wanting to be strong for Itadori. He doesn’t know, not even the slightest clue, what the right thing to do here is. He’s never seen anyone like this, much less Itadori; it’s never been this constant flow of damp tears on his neck, never been this trembling that wracks through Itadori’s entire form and makes him smaller than he should ever, ever be. 

Having to watch, knowing you can’t make it right for them? Please. That’s more than enough to make Gojo Satoru break. Except once upon a time, on a sticky, late summer night, Gojo hadn’t returned with his tail between his legs. He’d returned looking younger than he had when Megumi first met him, as if, just as Tokyo divided Megumi’s life into a Before and After, that line existed for Gojo in the form of Getou. 

It will be three months into Tsumiki and Megumi’s stay in Tokyo before Getou enters their lives, with him Nanako and Mimiko, but all of them would stay for good, would stay until Megumi stops being able to remember what it was like at all when he and Tsumiki crashed into Gojo’s world during the only blip in it where he didn’t have Getou. All of them would arrive and never leave, and most of it because, contrary to what Shoko expected, Gojo Satoru hadn’t broken. 

Megumi refuses to as well. Not with Itadori. Not with Itadori’s heart pumping right against Megumi’s, so much and so hard that he’s not sure anymore whose heartbeat is whose. He stays still, stays brave, because it’s all he can do beyond watch. 

He feels more than hears it when Itadori crosses the threshold over to calm. He loosens his hold at once, gives Itadori room to breathe, but stops the moment he feels hands tighten into fists around the back of his own coat. Itadori breathes against Megumi, each inhale more sure than the last, like he’s counting them, waiting until they fill up what they should before releasing each one. 

It’s a practiced routine. Far, far, far from the first time this has happened, then, if Itadori has had time to find what works best for him and to do it like this, focused and almost methodical. 

The realization splits Megumi’s heart in half. 

"Did you know," Itadori mumbles, "that you’re still wearing your pajamas?" 

Megumi hadn’t noticed. He doesn’t dare let go of Itadori to check. "Am I?" 

"Yeah, they’re very cute." Itadori moves, mouth brushing against Megumi’s neck as he turns his head. "I love the little poodles." 

Megumi doesn’t know what about it sends warmth rushing through his face—maybe it’s the way Itadori says cute without stumbling over it, or the way he says love with so much enthusiasm even through the watery rasp in his voice. It’s painful, the fondness that it triggers in Megumi, pulling itself out from underneath all the dread, underneath all the worry.

"Thanks," he manages, allowing himself to brush his fingers through Itadori’s hair. "They came with poodle-shaped bath bombs." 

"What?" Itadori lifts his head to pull away, though Megumi’s hold around him doesn’t let him go very far. "Since when do you use bath bombs?" 

The surprise in his eyes is moonlit-bright and real, only they’re still red-rimmed, still wet at the corners, and Megumi forgets being calm for a second and presses a thumb under Itadori’s eye, wiping at what was once there. 

"I don’t. They’re still unused," he says, voice distant to his own ears. "You can use them if you want." 

Itadori’s laugh, too, is real if hoarse. "Are you offering to give me bath bombs?" 

He leans his cheek against Megumi’s palm—and god, god, god, Megumi missed him with a pain that phantom-bleeds across his skin. "No, I’m offering to take you home so you can use the poodle bath bombs," he says. Itadori’s mouth parts into a soft oh. "If you want."

It’s all open on his face, how much Itadori wants to say yes, how much he thinks he shouldn’t. It comes with a pang of unexpected hurt for Megumi, seeing that hesitation—even though he knows it isn’t personal, that it isn’t him that put it there. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he can hear bits of Kugisaki’s voice, more tendrils of sound than words, but he can’t recall what he promised her, if he promised her anything at all. 

"Yuuji," he says. "Stay with me tonight. Let me take care of you. Please." 

It’s almost calculating, on his part; he knows Itadori is a different kind of susceptible to directness like this from him. But it’s the same for both of them; this is the weakness, and the particular way they attach this to what the other needs, that ties their relationship together. Whether it’s with the vulnerability of you can come home with me and the simplicity of Itadori saying please no matter what about, anything they request directly of each other comes back to I need you; please be here. It’s a language of its own, that need, the way they can fulfill it for each other. 

Only this time it’s Megumi saying I need to be here for you. Please. 

Itadori looks down. The rest of his body slumps with him, shoulders and eyes and mouth all dropping. Megumi, for a beat, thinks he’s done it, he’s crossed the final line somehow in pressing where he shouldn’t have, but Itadori says, "I feel so breakable, with you, sometimes." 

It’s so quiet that Megumi almost misses it. When he registers it—registers it enough to take it apart inside his head and put it back into the unspoken question that it is—the answer comes easily. 

"You’re the least breakable person I know," he says. "I know you can handle yourself. I know you can take care of yourself. But so can I, and you’ll still never let me handle things by myself if you can help it."  

"Because you don’t have to," Itadori protests. An especially weak one, for him.

"Exactly. We don’t have to." Megumi lets himself hesitate for all of a second before brushing a kiss against Itadori’s temple. He’s rewarded with a shiver, traveling to the tips of Itadori’s fingers as Megumi slips his hand through them. "Let’s go home, Yuuji." 

 

 

It occurs to Megumi, standing in the middle of his kitchen beating eggs in a bowl, that this is the first time he’s had someone outside of his family over at his apartment. 

It renders the place foreign, like he has to see every nook and corner in a different light because it’s Itadori’s eyes passing over them. So closely, at that, reading the spines off books piled on the coffee table, tracing the kitchen utensils hanging from hooks next to the stove, even inspecting the texture of the bathroom rug. Itadori’s curiosity isn’t childlike so much as it is hungry, as if Megumi’s home is something for him to consume, something to satiate him if he looked enough. 

They leave the bathroom door open as Itadori curls into himself in the bath, knees pulled to his chest and his forehead resting against them. Megumi keeps to the side of the kitchen that’s the closest, leaving himself room to glance up from the omelette he’s making at any point and see Itadori counting his breaths. It doesn’t hit any lighter now than it did earlier, seeing this, but Itadori looks up when he feels Megumi’s eyes lingering and gives him an honest thumbs-up. 

He doesn’t smile, though his eyes do brighten, and it’s enough for now. 

Itadori eats the omelette rice slowly. He talks in between bites, appalled that Megumi doesn’t know the story of how the kidnapping of a famous poodle from the 1950s—his name really was Masterpiece, Megumi, I’m not messing with you—made it to the top of American news. Itadori’s storytelling will never be anything but animated, and there’s no lack of energy as he goes through impressions of Russian counts and 50s era models, his voice back to being his own, but the sleepiness catches up as the clock ticks closer and closer to three in the morning. 

By the time they get ready for bed, Itadori brushing his teeth with one of those small dinosaur toothbrushes they give out at the dentist because it was the only one Megumi could find in the linen closet, he’s back to drained and subdued. 

His eyes close as soon as he settles in bed. It’s Megumi that shifts them closer, makes sure Itadori slots better against him, still bath-warm and slightly trembling. He doesn’t know which one of them the position is for. 

"You can keep reading," Itadori whispers against Megumi’s collarbone, trailing off as he falls right asleep. 

Megumi turns the lamp to the dimmest setting he can still read in, listening to Itadori’s breathing. He feels the exact moment Itadori gives into deep sleep, his body slipping into a different kind of weight against Megumi. Across the inside of his forearm, there’s a healing splash of a bruise and a smattering of scars from where Itadori, according to Todo, had skidded down a ramp last Saturday.

Absently, Megumi traces the edges of the bruise with a fingertip. Itadori sighs but doesn’t wake. 

Megumi tries to focus on the words in front of him. 

I said to him, Do you believe in ghosts? Truly? 

I do, he said, for how can it be that the body is master of the spirit? Our courage, our heroism, yes, even our hatreds, all that we do that shapes the world—is that the body or the spirit? It is the spirit. 

One-handed, Megumi turns the page. It’s not the first time he’s had to do this, Itadori’s head pillowed on his other arm. Sinking in the familiarity of this closeness, it’s like the past week never happened, Itadori’s presence chasing away anything and everything that stemmed out of his momentary absence. 

The body fails and falls. But the body is not the truth of what we are. 

Somewhere deeper in the apartment, the building’s ventilation system starts up, a low rumbling that creeps through the walls. Itadori stirs.

"S’nice," he garbles into Megumi’s sweatshirt. "Sleep like this." 

If he hadn’t called Megumi—if he hadn’t spilled his food, maybe, even—Megumi might have been asleep hours ago. If the call hadn’t come in, Megumi would have read this same book alone in this bed before the clock even struck midnight, and he would have woken up the next morning thinking about how it’s been another day beyond a week since he had any shred of Itadori. 

Megumi has never deigned to define his life through losses and abundance, through what he has and hasn’t, but he came the closest he ever has, these past few days. More than he was being honest with himself about, now that Itadori’s right here, bringing with him everything that Megumi didn’t really stop feeling even while he was gone. It’s jarring. It’s perfect. It’s terrifying. 

It’s not wrong to echo sentiments about how people don’t know how much they can miss someone until that person is gone, until they’re left with only the space that the person used to occupy—but in the dim light of his own lamp, casting shadows on the most unclouded Itadori’s face has looked all night, Megumi would argue that the reverse can be true, that someone being gone can be at times much easier than having that person return, flesh and heart and everything that an empty person-shaped space could never be, for better or for worse. 

Megumi slips his hand over Itadori’s back, rubbing circles until Itadori’s breath levels out once more into deep sleep. He always falls asleep so simply, so carelessly, like even sleep is something he dives into. 

The page reads: How would I love you, my lovely boy, if you had no body? 

Is it my body that you love?

And how can I say to him that I sit watching him while he sleeps, while his mind is quiet and his lips silent, and that I kiss him for the body I love? 

I cannot divide you, I said. 

Megumi stills, lingering on the bottom of the page. Beside him, on him, over him, Itadori sleeps. Mind quiet. Lips silent. A body Megumi has kissed. A person Megumi once tried to divide into the contradictions that comprise him until he realized there was nothing, at all, but the sum of all those parts.

He finishes the chapter before turning off the light. He has to reach far to do it, and again, Itadori stirs. He whines, a muffled noise from the back of his throat, and twists himself around Megumi. 

Despite himself, despite everything, it makes Megumi smile. He takes in his first real, proper breath since the call from Itadori came in, waits for it to fill every crevice of his lungs, waits for the heaviness around his eyes to drag them shut. 

Even then, every nerve touching Itadori’s body stays sharply aware of that connection, a buzz that finds a cocoon in the back of Megumi’s mind as he thinks, over and over as he falls asleep, I cannot divide you. 

 

 

Megumi wakes up three times.

Once, at around five in the morning, to what he thinks is a bump in the kitchen. There’s a moment where he’s sure he’s in Itadori’s apartment, his brain immediate in chalking up the noise to Sukuna creating a ruckus in the living room. 

Then he hears a faint click. Megumi blinks drowsily at his own ceiling.

But Itadori is a warm weight on top of him, comfortable and motionless as he sleeps, and even a potential home intruder would have to try harder for Megumi to want to move. He’ll question his self-preservation instincts another time, when having them won’t get in the way of ensuring Itadori gets his sleep right where Megumi can check for it himself.

He wakes up a second time to a slot of faint sunlight falling over the room through a gap in his curtains. Itadori has sat up, rubbing his eyes and pushing the covers off himself. 

Bleary, Megumi finds a corner of the shirt he’d lent Itadori and bunches his fingers around the cotton. His arm is numb. "Where are you going?" 

Itadori’s hand finds its way to Megumi’s, clumsy and burning-hot as he squeezes. "Bathroom."

"Time?" 

Yawning, Itadori paws around for his phone. "Just a bit past nine. You can still sleep in. I’ll be back." 

"Come back quickly," Megumi replies, through a thick haze of sleep, before he’s gone again.

The next time he wakes up, the sunlight has sharpened into a harsh yellow, and he’s alone.

His first instinct is to reach across the bed. Itadori’s side is cold. 

Megumi rolls over to check his phone, already far awake. No text messages from Itadori. No calls. Just a string of notifications that even noon on a Wednesday is too early for. 

He flops onto his back—and chokes on air when he hears a metallic bang from the kitchen, then Itadori’s laugh, reedy and rich with surprise. 

It filters itself down, petering out until Megumi has to struggle to make it out, before another voice says, "You gonna help me with these any time soon, kid? Because this was your idea and yet you’ve done fuck-all except laugh—"

Megumi’s out of bed and slamming his bedroom door open before Toji can finish his sentence. The sunlit kitchen smells like fried batter and warm, freshly cooked rice, and he finds his father by the stove, unfazed as he meets Megumi’s eyes. 

Save for the tongs in his hand, he looks every bit the same as the last time they saw each other two months ago, when he’d come home to sleep for a week straight, get a haircut, smoke three nights in a row with Megumi so he can pester him about questions that would ultimately go unanswered, and remember only when he’s about to leave for the airport again that he was long supposed to transfer over tuition money for the fall semester. He might even be wearing the exact same long-sleeved shirt. 

Neither of them say hello to each other. Toji snaps his tongs once and returns to whatever he’s cooking. Megumi tracks the sudden silence to Itadori, seated on the dining table with a row of onigiri in front of him, dressed in his clothes from yesterday.

His eyes are wide. "Did I wake you?" 

"No, I—No, not at all," says Megumi. It comes out gruff. He clears his throat and hesitates in the doorway of his own bedroom. 

Itadori frowns at him. Toji doesn’t bother to look.

Cutting a narrow, dirty glance at his father, Megumi decides, heartbeat still pounding from his earlier panic, that Itadori is his priority. 

"What are you doing?" he says, clear and conversational this time.

"Making you lunch!" Itadori scoots over to the neighboring chair as soon as he sees Megumi walking over to him. He’s surrounded by bowls: rice, seaweed, water, salt, sugar, tempura shrimp, all of them arranged around a plate of five shockingly perfect rice triangles. "Or—making lunch, period. But I thought I’d try to make food for you to eat between classes so you can sleep in a little more before your first one." 

"Try to?" says Megumi, lowering his voice when he does feel his father’s eyes tracking him across the apartment. "You’re doing a great job." 

He’s rewarded with a smile as Itadori finishes shaping the rice between his hands, laying it out flat in front of him to reach for the shrimp. There’s no molder in sight, and Megumi stares in awe at the triangle as he sits down. 

"Thank you!" Itadori nudges Megumi with his shoulder, smile widening when he gets an automatic nudge back. Megumi can’t help a small half-smile of his own, seeing it. Out of relief, more than anything, his chest unknotting at the innocent, genuine looseness to how Itadori is moving. If Megumi looks hard enough, he can still see traces of redness around Itadori’s eyes, swelling that not even time and the most vigorous scrubbing can take away, but the taut pull in his shoulders and around his mouth have faded. "I’ve been making these for an hour now and I think I might be improving even more as I go." 

Megumi’s smile flips. He counts the onigiri again in case he made a mistake. "Not that I’m not impressed," he says, "but you’ve been at this for an hour and you’ve only made five and a half?" 

"Uh," says Itadori. He drops his voice, too, if only to say, "Your dad keeps eating them." 

Megumi whips his head forward to glower at his father—who starts whistling, carefree and irritating, as he lowers a batch of shrimp into the fryer. He opens his mouth to snap something, but Itadori takes the chance to slip in the tempura shrimp he was holding, giggling when Megumi’s forced to close his mouth and chew. 

"It’s okay, Megumi. We bought a lot of stuff. I can always make more." 

"We?" Megumi swallows. "Bought?" 

"Yeah, your dad came in around five in the morning, apparently," says Itadori, softening his voice even more. "He was really annoyed that you barely had any groceries in the fridge, so when I bumped into him on my way out of the bathroom, he told me we were going out to buy some." 

"He—You went grocery-shopping? While I was asleep?" 

"I—yeah. Sorry." Itadori nods, sheepish. "He didn’t really give me a choice." 

He finishes his onigiri, wraps it carefully with seaweed, and it’s only him handing it over with another smile that stops Megumi from scowling again at Toji. "You should have woken me up." 

"But you were sleeping so well, Megumi," says Itadori, with the nerve to pout. "I didn’t mind. It was super fun! Your dad said I could buy anything. So we just got all sorts of things I thought you might like."

Megumi levels a pointed look at Itadori as he chews, and lets that speak for itself. 

"You two done over there?" Toji calls, poking at the sizzling shrimp in the fryer with his tongs. "Because look, Megumi, I’m not asking for much, but a proper introduction would be good." 

Megumi waits until he finishes the onigiri in his hand, though it’s unlikely that the wait is making his father any kind of uncomfortable. Very few things do, none very much, and as far as the sliding scale goes, Megumi’s petulant chewing probably doesn’t come close to direct conversations with his children about either of his ex-wives. 

Still, it’s more than nothing. "You dragged out a stranger to get groceries with you," says Megumi, "without thinking to properly introduce yourself?" 

"The stranger was wearing my son’s clothes," Toji replies, bored, "and obviously stayed the night in the same bed. I’m being considerate here by not getting ahead of myself or labeling it for you." 

"Bullshit." Megumi turns to a reddening Itadori. "And you," he says. "You just went with a strange man who was in my apartment without introducing yourself?" 

"He—uh—he looked like you? And he was like, ‘is my kid still asleep?’ so I—I thought I connected the dots? Did I not?" Itadori stammers out. "The groceries seemed like—they were a very pressing concern." 

"The groceries were a very pressing concern," Toji agrees.

Megumi sighs. 

Beside him, Itadori is trying his best not to be expectant, easing rice into a loose shape between his hands like it’s his only concern. It’s in stark contrast to all those days ago, where he’d waited next to Megumi in the foyer of the Gojo-Getou home and stood casual and prepared while Megumi introduced him as his boyfriend; he hadn’t reacted at all to the oddness of hearing that word attached to their relationship, from Megumi’s mouth no less, just weathered Tsumiki and Nanako and Gojo with whatever natural charm always manages to leak out of Itadori’s tendency to have his foot in his mouth when meeting new people. 

There’s none of that here, just Itadori doing everything short of humming to act as if he doesn’t care where this conversation goes. It’s only when Megumi looks closer, sees that Itadori has bitten down, slight and absentminded, on his bottom lip, that he realizes Itadori isn’t waiting to be introduced as Megumi’s boyfriend this time. 

A week later, he’s bracing himself for Megumi’s rejection, in whatever form it might come in.

Megumi would rather dunk both his hands into the frying oil than prove him right. 

"Yuuji," he says. Itadori flinches, but follows Megumi’s half-hearted wave towards Toji. "This is my shitty father. Dad—this is my boyfriend, Itadori Yuuji." 

Itadori startles, a little, against Megumi, all while Toji pops a fried tempura shrimp right out of the tongs and into his mouth without a hint of surprise on his face. 

"Oh, right," he says, around a mouthful. "The boyfriend. I forgot Tsumiki messaged me about that." 

Itadori bows as far as he can with the table in front of him, some secondary instinct kicking into gear. His ears are pink. "It’s nice to meet you, sir." 

Megumi tugs him back. To his father, he says, "I’m surprised you didn’t forget about the wedding altogether." 

"I’m leaving right after," says Toji. "But of course I’ll be at that damned thing." He slices a glance Itadori’s way. "Will you, Yuuji?" 

Itadori turns to Megumi. He looks sincerely lost. "Um." 

"He will be," says Megumi. His hand is still on Itadori’s arm. "Does Tsumiki know you’re back?" 

"She’s coming over in two hours to catch me up on whatever the hell is happening with the ceremony." Toji squints at the clock above the TV. "Probably more like an hour now, since I told her your little boyfriend’s here, too." 

Megumi freezes. Itadori looks between him and Toji. 

"You—" Megumi sputters. "Why would you do that?" 

Toji points at Megumi’s face. "That," he says, flat as ever. "Don’t get riled up now. It’s not your problem. You won’t even be here by the time she arrives. You have class." 

He shrugs at Megumi with all the undeserved apathy of someone who obtained this information secondhand. Itadori’s still looking between them, something like amusement sparking in his eyes. 

Megumi rubs a hand against his temple, pressing hard. It’s been less than ten minutes of being around his father and he already has the beginnings of a migraine. "You can’t possibly think I’m leaving Yuuji with you, much less you and Tsumiki." 

"Oh." Itadori perks up. "It’s fine." 

"See?" says Toji. "He says it’s fine." 

"I say it’s not fine." 

"And what, you make decisions for your boyfriend?" Toji pulls out a round of shrimp out of the fryer and whistles. "That’s not very nice of you." 

Megumi grits his teeth. "I’m skipping class." 

"What?" Itadori looks at Toji, as if waiting for him to interject, but of course he doesn’t. "No, wait, don’t do that, Megumi, I—I was gonna make you lunch and everything."

"I’ll eat it here. All of it. Whatever you make." 

"Whatever you make," Toji mocks, walking over with a full plate of tempura shrimp. He’s wearing a blue apron that Megumi didn’t even know they had. "Disgusting." 

As he moves back from setting the plate down, his hand passes over the onigiri. On instinct, Megumi parries it away. 

Toji doesn’t even blink before retaliating with a slap against Megumi’s hand. 

There’s a beat. Itadori opens his mouth to offer something, but Toji reaches for the onigiri again, deliberate from the way his eyes flash, and Megumi doesn’t hesitate to smack his father’s hand away with a loud thwack

"Stop taking my food," he bites out. "Go make your own." 

Toji raises an eyebrow. "I’ve been helping make half of it while you were dead asleep—"

"They’re still not yours," Megumi snaps. "Yuuji made them for me. Not you. Me. There’s rice right there—" 

"Listen, kid, we all gotta pull your own weight here—" 

"Interesting, because it looks like you’ve eaten more than you’ve cooked." 

"Well, excuse me if I’ve just got off a thirteen-hour flight and found that my son has been living off nothing but rice and eggs and miso—"

"What about it?" 

"—oh, wait, that’s right. Those are the only ingredients you can cook with—"

Toji hears it first, trailing off in such a rare moment of open-faced surprise and confusion that Megumi, too, is forced to look at him with the same expression. It’s only a second later that he traces the look on his father’s face to the fact that Itadori is laughing—bent in full-fledged laughter that comes from his lungs and shakes his body, leaving him pink-faced with beads of tears in the corners of his eyes. He’s trying to wipe them away with the back of his hand, only to keep missing as his body folds yet again as another round of laughing hits. It’s the only sound to fill the apartment, loud and crystalline and impossibly full. 

It doesn’t take long before all he can make are wheezing noises, clutching his chest and resting his forehead against the table as he tries and fails to catch his breath. 

"I’m sorry—you guys are so—" He manages to wheeze, slumping against Megumi. "—really funny—" 

Stunned, Megumi’s first instinct is to fold an arm around Itadori, patting his back like he’s trying to calm a baby. Between them, Toji snorts first—and it’s not a laugh, nor even a smile, but it’s an unexpected crack in both of their expressions, perfect replicas of each other’s, when they make eye contact. 

"Okay, okay," says Itadori, still breathy, "I’m done now." 

"No, whatever, keep going." Toji turns away first, leaves Megumi with the ringing echo of Itadori’s laughter bouncing around in his chest. "Great to know there’s someone who appreciates my wit around here now." 

 

 

When Tsumiki arrives at 2:30, she finds Megumi washing three piles of dishes alone in the kitchen, resignation on his face and sleeves pushed to his elbows. 

In the living room, the couch has been pushed against the wall to make space for Itadori and Toji’s game of paper basketball—which is mostly just Toji tearing through sheets of seaweed in between goading Itadori into taking shots from different corners of the apartment. 

If Itadori even tried to refuse or say that being a college-level basketball player does not necessarily translate to talent at throwing paper balls, Megumi hadn’t heard it. He’d blinked, cleaned up all the plates, and the next thing he knew, a paper clump the size of a billiard ball was flying right into the laundry basket that Toji had balanced on top of the TV rack. 

Megumi made a mental note to check where his father had emptied the laundry he knew had been in there last night. 

"Ah, Tsumiki-san, hello!" Itadori yells across the apartment now, before sending a paper ball over the air in a neat arc and into the basket hanging over the door out to the balcony. 

Tsumiki claps in the middle of taking off her coat. Megumi doesn’t bother to field her attempts at small talk, aware that Itadori’s more than capable of handling himself this time. He keeps his attention on the sink, dutiful and meticulous, looking up only when Tsumiki comes over to join him.

"Oh my," she says, knowing to keep her voice hardly audible. Without Megumi having to ask, she reaches for the dish towel and starts drying the wet bowls that he’s finished washing. He’s always found it more therapeutic to wash and rinse each dish one by one, something Tsumiki always scolded him for back when she lived here; she doesn’t today, keeping her eyes curious and bright on the mess in the living room. "You trust Toji-san to be alone with him but not me?"

She tries to look serious as she says this. It lasts for all of three seconds before she’s laughing at the look on Megumi’s face. "I’m kidding. I know you had no say in that."

When Megumi glances at the living room again, he finds Itadori and Toji in conversation, both squatting on either side of the basket. Itadori looks contemplative, eyebrows scrunched up and chin on the crook of his hand as he nods along and offers short answers. Megumi would be nervous if it was anyone else, but whatever back-and-forth his father had cemented with Itadori in one trip to the supermarket feels like something he can rely on, can trust on Itadori’s behalf. It doesn’t knock away the underlying, stubborn protectiveness he always has about Itadori, even worse after last night, but looking at his father’s face, at the traces of unreadable emotion that sparks in his eyes every now and then, the instinct to take care of Itadori feels like something Megumi can share with him in the meantime. 

"You know, when we were kids," says Tsumiki, burying her voice with a rattle of bowls as she sets them one by one in the cupboard, "I thought I’d never learn to figure out what you’re thinking or feeling. Who would have thought there will come a time when I won’t even doubt it one bit?" 

Megumi turns to look at her. "What does that mean?"

"The way you look at him, even when you’re not near him." Tsumiki closes the cupboard with a muted click, retrieving the dish towel in the same movement and starting to dry all over again. "I’ve seen you soft, but not like this." 

She pauses right after, as if she expects Megumi to deny or contradict this, cushion the gravity of it somehow, but his softness for Itadori has never been in question. It’s one of the few things he’d recognized for what it is early into their relationship. That softness, he saw in everyone around Itadori from the first second of knowing him—in Todo, in Kugisaki, neither of whom wore softness with the same brazen approach they had for everything else yet did so around Itadori—and it had been easy for Megumi to process it, to name it. But allowing it was a separate issue altogether, one that he fought until he couldn’t anymore. 

"I wasn’t always," he says. "I used to be a lot more cruel with him, I think."

"Cruel? You?" Tsumiki stops moving. She frowns. "Cold, you mean?"

"No." Megumi turns on the faucet, watching as the water chases down the soap suds. "Cruel."

Itadori won’t say so, much less agree. He likely has no concept of it at all. He might even argue with Megumi if he heard him say this, considering he talks about Megumi with an almost hard-headed conviction that Megumi has perfected a specific kindness towards people, an earnest ability to take care of others that stems out of a worldview more mature than Megumi himself thinks he has. It’s not that Itadori idolizes these qualities in Megumi, either, because Itadori seems to reserve that kind of boyish respect for people like Gojo, who Megumi has learned can do no wrong in Itadori’s eyes by virtue of nothing more than the fact that he has a Wikipedia page, or people like Nanami, whom Itadori adores for reasons that run so deep it can at times, according to both Yoshino and Kugisaki, put all of his other relationships to shame. 

If anything, it might be because Itadori hasn’t placed Megumi on any kind of higher pedestal that renders him so reactive to whatever limitless well of kindness he sees in Megumi—and why he seems to have no idea at all, not even an inkling of suspicion, that Megumi might have his own reasons for acting the way he does towards him. 

It’s your call. All of it. I just need to tell you, Itadori had said. I like you so much, Megumi, and I’m really sorry I have to say it. I know it’s a lot. Maybe if I liked you less, I would have done this another way.

He has no idea. No goddamn idea at all. 

"I can’t believe you two don’t even go to the same school," says Tsumiki, a sparkling laugh in her voice, "and that you met at a party only because you had to track Maki down for class notes." 

Megumi blinks, having to struggle to remember that his family had been treated to a simplified version of his first meeting with Itadori, five months ago now, at dinner the other day. Not every detail was included, but every detail that had been is true, with Gojo nodding along the whole time like a self-satisfied fact checker. "What can’t you believe about that?" 

"Just—don’t you ever wonder what would’ve happened if you didn’t go to that party? If you didn’t miss the class?" 

"Of course I do," says Megumi. "But does our first meeting have to be grand?"

"Nope." Tsumiki smiles. "You look at him like it was, though." 

Megumi pulls the faucet lever shut. Tsumiki leaves it at that, humming an upbeat song under her breath as they finish up, but her words stick like taffy to the roof of Megumi’s mouth. It’s one of her romanticisms, he knows that, but he still can’t help but dwell on it, trying to parse what she means, if she meant anything deeper than surface-level fondness at all. 

When he returns to his room half an hour later, dressed and ready to leave for class, he finds Itadori barefoot and cross-legged on his bed, eating ice cream from a bowl and reading the back of the book that Megumi was reading last night. 

He looks—a realization that starts idle but hits Megumi hot and hard—like he’s lived here all his life.

He jumps when he notices Megumi hovering in the doorway, spoon slipping out of his mouth. "Oh my god." He pops the spoon out altogether. "You scared me." 

Used to the silence of an empty apartment, Megumi had gone the entire way from the bathroom without questioning the sudden stillness. He looks over his shoulder at the bare living room, the couch pushed back to where it once was, then back again to Itadori. "Where did they go?" 

"Your dad went out to the balcony to smoke and Tsumiki-san followed. Said she had to talk to him about the wedding," says Itadori. "I figured I should give them space for a bit." 

Megumi swings one last look over the apartment, at the kitchen and living room untouched now by everything that had filled it earlier, before stepping into the room. "I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded if you were part of the conversation."

"Is that sarcasm?" 

"Why would I be sarcastic about this?"

"True." Itadori hums. He slips his spoon, a little too careful, back into the bowl. Then he frowns, picks it back up, taps it against the ceramic with a soft clink. Megumi waits, walking over to his cabinet to pull open a drawer while Itadori chooses his words. "Your family’s really sweet, Megumi." 

Megumi pauses in the middle of rifling through his sweaters. He doesn’t turn around, but something must show in his shoulders, because Itadori rushes to continue, words crashing together, "I mean—oh man—I know that all I’m getting is a glimpse of what you have to actually live with, so maybe I’m not being fair—but I just—everyone in your family’s been really nice and funny. Every single one I’ve met so far. Which isn’t everyone, I know—but—I’ve just been really happy with the—you know. It’s been kinda scary but also a lot of fun." 

He’s quick to spoon out the rest of his ice cream and use that as an excuse to stop talking, eyes flitting away as soon as Megumi looks at him. They keep this up in complete silence, less stifling for Megumi than it appears to be for Itadori, who insists on dragging his spoon against the cleaned bowl, over and over, until he gives it up and places it on the bedside alongside Megumi’s book.

He still jerks when Megumi says his name. "Yes?" 

"We don’t talk about these things, usually—" Megumi has to put conscious effort into steadying his voice. "But a few weeks ago, Gojo-sensei told me—he said—he mentioned something about your family?" 

Itadori doesn’t take long to register what he means. "Ah," he says. "It’s not like it’s a secret or anything, though? I always thought you’d already figured it out and I’d just make it weird bringing it up out of nowhere." 

Megumi ends up tugging out the first sweater on the pile. He nudges the drawer closed with his hip. "No, I—I had no idea until he mentioned it." 

"It’s cool." Itadori traces an invisible outline on his knee, dragging his fingertip across his jeans. "I know it sounds bad out of context, like I had to lose and mourn three people—but—you don’t really grieve someone you didn’t know? And I didn’t know my parents. Losing my grandpa was hard, but—It really is fine, overall." 

The laugh he drags out is nervous but sincere. It does sound fine, but the kind of fine that had to be toiled for, that had to be earned. The kind of fine that hadn’t come easy. The kind of fine that came in exchange for something else. 

Afraid he’ll look too long, too wrong, at Itadori’s expression, Megumi buries his own in the fabric of his sweater as he slips it on. 

Who was there for you then? he wants to ask. How do you feel about all of this, now? What do you do when the death anniversary comes around? Were you sad—no, of course you were sad. What did you do with all that sadness? Were you able to have space to feel all of it? 

He pushes his arms out into the sleeves. "Holidays," he croaks out. "What do you do during the holidays?" 

"What do I—wow, good question. Uh. Let’s see." Itadori squints up at the ceiling. "I spent Christmas with Todo in my first year. Junpei and his mom also invited me for Golden Week a lot before, just so I wasn’t alone in our apartment. And I have Nanamin, of course. Oh, and—you know Death Painting?"

"The bar?"

"Yeah! The brothers that run it are really great to me, so I’ve done New Year’s Eve there a couple of times now." Itadori grins. "It’s not like I’m alone or whatever. I have people. I have Todo, Junpei, Nobara, Yuko. I have Nanamin."

"And me," Megumi finds himself saying, faint and without thought. "You have me." 

Itadori’s smile widens. "Now, I do. I didn’t have you last year." 

Just as quickly as he says this, the smile drops—not out of sight, but it fades out of his eyes, leaves his mouth a small, uncertain thing, like he’s afraid he said something false. 

For a moment, Megumi thinks he’ll say it, that Itadori will call it presumptuous or wrong or selfish to assume he’ll have Megumi next year, too; instead, Itadori pulls on his own fingers, setting his hands down on his lap, and once again tries his best not to look like he’s expecting anything. 

Megumi, the need even stronger now, doesn’t want to indulge that. 

He shuts the door, listening to the way it sucks out all the noise in the room. 

Then, before he can hesitate, before he can wait for the urge to fade into something easier to compartmentalize, he walks over, pulls Itadori in with a hand on his chin, and slots their lips in an open-mouthed kiss only possible through Itadori’s surprise.

It’s uncomfortable having to lean over to do it, but none of it matters as soon Itadori makes a soft, unidentifiable noise in the back of his throat, hands rising without hesitation, thumbs on either side of Megumi’s cheeks as he kisses back. 

It should be frustrating, really, how much better Itadori does this—how a slight tilt of his head is all Megumi needs to forget where they are, what his intentions are in the first place—but it feels as dizzyingly good as it always is, the kind of intoxicating that leaves Megumi boneless. 

He tastes like ice cream. Megumi gets on the bed, licking into Itadori’s mouth to chase the sweetness.

Where everything else about Itadori is defined by his unpredictability and impulsivity, his body is made of constants, of things Megumi has memorized long before he even realized he wanted to. Itadori kisses him now like he kissed him five months ago, even climbs onto his lap like he did back then, warm-cheeked yet pliable yet forever leaving Megumi room to pull away at any point, as if he hadn’t been in charge of all of this, hadn’t been the terrible, terrible force behind everything Megumi never wanted to learn about himself, from the moment Itadori decided he wanted Megumi.

Because here is the start of the story that the people around them know: Megumi once partnered with Maki for a cross-year elective, making the mistake of thinking that working with someone he knew, even better that she was not only his relative but also his upperclassman, would make the workload easier on him; it landed him instead in the middle of Kugisaki’s Wednesday night birthday party, irritated as he hunted Maki down to the heart of a campus that wasn’t even theirs. He would never find Maki, and in her place would encounter Itadori first, loud next to Todo and conspicuous even under the dimmed lights, flushed and pretty enough for a lingering glance or three or five but too obnoxious for anything more, then Kugisaki just a bit later, back then an essential stranger that Megumi had met only enough times to feel almost chastised crashing her birthday party with no more than a monotone greeting. 

Oh, you know what, she’d said, thrusting her cold beer into his hand, You’re the perfect nerd to settle a debate. Hold on. Stay there. And so Megumi had held on and stayed there in his corner, exasperation beginning to drown out irritation, and Kugisaki had returned less than a minute later with a sullen and defensive Itadori, both of them eager to convince Megumi that this or that popcorn flavor is better. 

He hadn’t cared. They knew he didn’t care. And by that time they’d been at it for three rounds of rebuttals, looking back, Kugisaki might have also known she had no chance of winning with Megumi judging. She made it clear yesterday at the flower shop that she saw the way Megumi had looked at Itadori that night; she must have seen the way he folded, heartstrings with him, the first time Itadori had smiled for real, clearing away all the brattiness that had been on his face, wiping off everything that had stopped Megumi from staring for too long just an hour before. Megumi is all kinds of immune and all kinds of resistant to all kinds of things, but not even he had been prepared for seeing Itadori up close and so much more personal than a stranger should be, the way he refracted to a whole different person than Megumi thought he was. 

Even then, though, especially then, interest had been all it was. The story goes that Itadori had kissed him first, that he had been the one to ask Megumi to come home with him that night. Both are true. But Megumi had only gone home with Itadori all those nights ago after he’d found him on his way out, sitting alone in the front porch of the building. Knowing Itadori the way Megumi does now, he hadn’t been drunk enough, not even close, to not have made it home safely, but the Megumi back then hadn’t been able to make it past three steps away before he was turning back, Itadori’s one smile imprinted on the back of his mind and rendering him too aware of the absence of it when their eyes meet. 

To this day, this is what he blames for why he had said, Do you live close by? I’ll walk you home.

Looking back, Itadori must have read something else in Megumi’s offer. He’d said yes far too easily, had been as happy to lead the way as he was confused when Megumi brought him home, lectured him sternly about hydration, and left the moment Yoshino had opened the door. But they kept this out when they told everyone the story at dinner—born out of an unspoken agreement, because without Megumi leaving, the situation speaks for itself, constructs its own love at first sight narrative. But it hadn’t been love. If it was, if it had been that quick and obvious, not even Itadori would have let five months of it pass. 

He won’t be holding back the way he is now, adjusting himself in Megumi’s lap but still letting him set the pace—letting him, letting him, always letting him, all kinds of responsive and all kinds of unresistant to all kinds of things as Megumi flips them, pushes Itadori to his back on the bed, just to kiss him deeper.

"Megumi—" Itadori tries to say. Megumi doesn’t let him, swallowing his name right out of Itadori’s mouth like it’s something he can taste if he tries hard enough. 

It was a week after they met that Megumi tracked down several books to a store in Ikebukuro and found Itadori on-shift there. Megumi hadn’t been in the best mood, yet again because of life and Maki and school, and Itadori spent twenty minutes weathering Megumi’s snappish rant about the books he needed and why, smiling his little smile and nodding the whole way through—and somehow that had only knocked Megumi farther off-kilter, until he had to sigh and mutter, Do you just smile at everything people say? 

Well, Itadori had replied, cheerful without missing a beat, I’m currently working and you’re a customer. 

So if you’re not currently working, you won’t smile? 

That depends. Wanna come back later tonight if you’re free and see if I still do? 

A line like that should not have worked, but it had, and Megumi was back in the store empty-handed by the evening. It had been resentment in his chest right then, and for the handful of times that came after—resentment for the smiling Itadori from the first August night, resentment towards himself for allowing a second night, then a third, a fourth, until they both lost count. Resentment, too, for how the rest of their evening went that day, with Megumi coming home with Itadori and staying, this time, because he had been stressed and irritated from everything, had been keen for something to pick apart, and Itadori had been there, equal parts snarky and eager to please yet impossible to reconcile as a person in perfect balance between those. 

Wasn’t so bad, was it, Itadori had said after, pressing a kiss to the inside of Megumi’s knee. A guy like you has to let go sometimes, Fushiguro

Megumi had taken too long to come down from the burst of heat and endorphins. Are you offering? 

Maybe. 

And Megumi still doesn’t know why he did, but he’d managed to say, through the lack of breath in his lungs, If I say yes, I don’t want you to ever expect anything from me, Itadori.

Like what? Itadori had replied, blunt and almost amused. You’re pretty and you obviously want to break me a little. What else is there? 

What else is there, Megumi thinks now, as he slips a hand under Itadori’s shirt, eager to touch skin. What fucking else is there but this body—this body and the ways that Megumi has had to learn to be soft with it. It was never his default, never his starting position. It was something he had to grow into, and not because anyone told him to or expected it of him, least of all Itadori himself. 

Megumi had been cruel, once, had been fascinated seeing Itadori cry under his touch, had stuck around in that first month because a subconscious part of him had struggled to reconcile all the sides to Itadori that he kept seeing. He’d poked and prodded and watched and waited more than he has with anyone else, and Itadori will never call that cruelty, but Megumi has no other word for how he had seen this infallible boy, had felt himself crack under one smile fast and easy, and he’d wanted to peel it all away until he saw what was underneath. 

And he had. He had seen what was underneath. And he knows, more certain than he is about anything else, that he’ll give up a limb, a life, a soul, to ensure Itadori never has to cry like he did last night—even though he knows that’s not possible, even though he knows for a fact that Itadori wears even his vulnerability with strength when he can no longer fight it. 

There’s a moment, every time they do this, when they cross the threshold from heated to burning, where Itadori will pull away to breathe for a second. It’s often accompanied by movement somewhere else, as if Itadori is afraid to give Megumi the wrong idea otherwise—a turn in their position most times, or arms snaking around Megumi’s neck until Itadori’s hands lock loosely behind his nape. This time, Itadori lays his right hand flat on Megumi’s chest and pushes, slight and kind, until Megumi pulls back. He doesn’t let him go farther than a handspan away, his other hand finding its way to the side of Megumi’s throat and keeping him in place over himself. 

Megumi knows what Itadori is about to say. He lowers his head to brush his lips against Itadori’s throat. "If you even try to apologize for last night and the night before that, if you try to even ask me to pretend they never happened—"

Itadori’s laugh vibrates through his pulse. "I’m giving you an out here." 

"You and Kugisaki," says Megumi, sliding a hand up Itadori’s torso, slow and deliberately light against skin because he wants to feel Itadori squirm, "really are the same person, sometimes."

"What’s that mean—" Itadori tries to say. "—I’m serious—"

"So am I." Megumi kisses the juncture between his neck and jaw, smiles when Itadori’s body twists. "And if I’m right about what you wanted to say, I’m going to have to ask you to be quiet—"

"Megumi—"

"—and just let me kiss you."

"S’not very nice, Megumi."

Itadori sounds indignant, but there’s a smile against his lips as Megumi raises his head to catch his mouth again. 

It’s probably true that Megumi has never truly understood lack, in terms of love. He’s never had a baseline that wasn’t met. Not really. His existing one wasn’t greedy for anything to begin with. There are people in his position who have had to fight for attention growing up in big families, but not Megumi; all that he’s learned from growing up with so many others around him is that he never has to resort to greed. There are always options, always alternatives, and not a single kind of love is better than the other. 

There’s so much irony, then, he’s always thought, in how anyone who looks at him and Itadori side by side will have confidence in believing that it’s Itadori who’s more likely to push for too much. But at the end of the day, here is a boy who’s had years to hoard with no one around him to give to, and here is another, who’s never learned to want because there was nothing and no one to have to take from—until now, until this, until them. Away from the rest of the world, one takes a lot, lot, lot more than the other, and that person isn’t Itadori. 

Megumi doesn’t covet, doesn’t possess, doesn’t hoard until he does, drinking in everything he can get knowing even back then that Itadori will give and give; he just never thought it will ever reach the point where it won’t be enough, that he can take everything and still want more on top of that. 

It’s a near-whine that pulls itself out of Itadori’s throat when Megumi pulls away. 

"Yuuji." 

Itadori looks up at him. "Hm?" 

It doesn’t take much more for his eyebrows to knit together, mouth parting out of concern as Megumi stares down at him. His eyes search for something wrong, an unconscious reflex that’s so achingly Itadori, everything else forgotten the moment he thinks there might be something off with Megumi. 

He reaches up to touch Megumi’s face. "Hey. What’s up?" 

His lips are red, his cheeks flushed, his eyes wide, and Megumi knows, knows, knows that he’s not the only person who has seen Itadori like this, not even close to being the first or only person to have touched Itadori the way he has. But looking at Itadori beneath him, knowing now that it’s him Itadori likes more than anyone or anything else, Megumi suddenly can’t stand it—can’t stand the thought of anyone else having Itadori like this, even worse the idea that he could reject Itadori right now and he would smile and accept it, would somehow find a way to keep going as always until he finds someone else. And then Megumi would have to watch, would have to know that he could have had Itadori for as long as he’s allowed, but didn’t, because—

Because what? 

He’s so far gone about you, Kugisaki had said. He’ll take anything. And I also don’t want you committing half-heartedly to him, of all people, and believing the whole time that you’re not. 

As Megumi listens to his own heartbeat pounding inside his ribcage, he thinks: how could there possibly be anything half-hearted about this? 

"Date me, Yuuji," he says. "For real." 

Itadori’s arm slackens in surprise, his palm sliding down Megumi’s face. "What?" 

"I know you heard me." 

Megumi refuses to hesitate or even soften, keeping his eyes right on Itadori’s and daring him to look away. He doesn’t, but his gaze goes unfocused, something in the way he’s looking at Megumi shaking loose and liquefying into unreadability.

There’s a knock on the door. That alone is an easy giveaway that it’s Tsumiki, and slowly, Megumi gets off Itadori, tugging him along to a sitting position. His mouth is still parted, eyes still hazy, and Megumi keeps his gaze steady on him even as he says, "You can come in." 

The door cracks open a slit. Tsumiki peeks inside, her smile staying in place even as she takes stock of the room and—very visibly—understands what she had interrupted. 

"Sorry," she says, sincere even as her smile widens to a sheepish grin, "but I just wanted to pop in and say I’m heading out." 

Itadori snaps out of his daze with a jolt. He clears his throat, turning to look at Tsumiki. "We’ll walk you to the station, Tsumiki-san."  

"Oh, you really don’t have to—"

"No, no, it’s okay." Itadori’s already scrambling to get off the bed, rumpling sheets in his wake. "Megumi was getting ready to leave for class anyway—right?" 

Megumi keeps looking at him. Itadori doesn’t look back. "We’ll be out in a second, Tsumiki." 

This, too, Tsumiki understands at once. In his periphery, Megumi sees her smile once more at Itadori before closing the door gently behind her. 

Fleeing to the corner of Megumi’s room, Itadori starts fiddling with the draw cords of his hoodie. 

Megumi takes his time moving to the edge of the bed, as close to Itadori as possible without standing. He waits again.

"Why would you say that?" Itadori eventually manages, and he sounds so shattered that Megumi stills. "You can’t do this to me out of nowhere. It’s unfair." 

Megumi fights the reflex to narrow his eyes. "Why? How is it any different from you sprouting that on me the other night?" 

"I—" Itadori stares at Megumi, eyes wild, like this is ridiculous. "Because that was true."

"And what about this isn’t?" 

"You’re not—you don’t—" 

"Yuuji." It takes a lot to not absorb Itadori’s frustration into his own voice, but Megumi succeeds somehow. "Is this not what you want?" 

"Is that why you said that? Because it’s what I want?" 

"No, I said that because it’s what I want." 

"Megumi." Itadori holds up one hand, palm as surprisingly steady as his voice. "I am begging you to just—can you—If this is because I was all sorts of messed up last night, and you just wanna do something with what I said before—I—Don’t do that. Don’t be that person. You’re being mean without even meaning to and I can’t—I can’t handle that right now. Not from you." 

"I didn’t ask because of that," says Megumi. "I meant what I said. It’s a simple yes or no, Yuuji. That’s it." 

Itadori throws his hands up in the air. He lowers them back down almost at once to clutch at this hair. "Why the hell would it be a no?" 

"That’s not a yes, though." 

"Oh my god," says Itadori, in a voice trying so hard to be sharp but unable to reach it. "Yes. Obviously, I wanna date you. Piece of shit pretty boy thinking I’d say no when I said all of that the other night with my whole damn chest—" 

"And you ignored me right after." Megumi holds out a hand. Itadori’s grip on his hair loosens, as if even Megumi’s movements are surprising to him right now. "We still have to talk about that. You’re not off the hook." 

Itadori’s cheeks are a dark, warm pink, whether because he’s flustered or actually angry, and he looks so dazed, so befuddled, that he doesn’t seem to register that he's taken Megumi’s hand until he’s pulled forward. 

"Yuuji," he says, an unintended prayer under his breath. "Be my boyfriend."

"I—" Itadori breathes out. He fights it, multiple expressions flashing through his face, not a single one less shaken than the other, but something ultimately cracks and he tightens his grip on Megumi’s hand. "Yes. Sure. Of course. Yes."

"Yes, sure, of course, yes, you want to be my boyfriend?" says Megumi, blood racing through him when Itadori doesn’t hesitate to nod. "We’re clear on what I mean, right? I want you to be my boyfriend. Only mine."  

Itadori’s confusion gives away to a frown. "Are you shaming me right now?" 

"What—no," Megumi rushes to say, heat flooding his own face. "No, I just—I wanted to hear myself say it." 

That surprises Itadori, a half-laugh bubbling to his throat before his expression morphs into something fainter. But he allows it to stay, and allows Megumi’s touch to skitter up his wrist. 

"Jeez, Megumi, I hate how cute you are sometimes," he murmurs, and the open fondness is so unexpected that the realization it comes with—that Itadori might have been holding back on how he talks to Megumi, this whole time—implodes inside Megumi’s brain almost as soon as it registers. "Yes. Only yours. Officially or whatever." He makes a face. "What a weird thing to say. Definitely need time to process that." 

Megumi straightens. "Without ignoring me?" 

"Yes." Itadori makes a breathless sound, though a proper laugh now. "Without ignoring you—"

"Hey, lovebirds!" Toji yells from outside the door, followed by a muted hiss of Toji-san, no. Itadori jerks. "Tsumiki is out here withering waiting for you two." 

Megumi rolls his eyes, but he moves to stand. "Does he have to be so dramatic?" 

"You get that from him, huh—" Itadori bursts into a deep, helpless laugh when Megumi pokes him again and again, merciless, on his side. "Oh, god—stop—you know I’m ticklish there—"

"That’s the point—"

"Did you two hear me," Toji bellows again, "or are you—"

Megumi yanks open the door to see his father sitting on the couch, impassive like he hadn’t just been talking loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Tsumiki, right next to him, is trying her best to stifle her weeping laugh against her hands. 

Itadori skips past Megumi, sliding his way into the living room. "We’re ready to go!" 

Toji quips back something cutting that Megumi doesn’t quite hear but knows his father doesn’t mean. Itadori replies, and even his voice seems quieter all of a sudden, a touch removed from everything else, as he looks over his shoulder to smile at Megumi. 

Mine, Megumi thinks, and for once, doesn’t scold himself for it. 

Chapter Text

You fill your cat’s tray with enough food to last him for two days before leaving your apartment at 5 A.M. You warm up, go to strength training, have a non-bistro breakfast with Todo and three other teammates, barely make it to class in time, attend a two-hour team meeting about the next day’s game plan, manage to wow at a four-hour practice to finalize those plays in action one last time before the game, then it’s off to trying not to fall asleep at your evening class, warm in a fresh hoodie and hair still damp from your post-practice shower. 

In between, you keep up with group chats, coordinate a time to help at Death Painting, play lectures through your earphones at twice the speed as you stretch, try your best to hydrate when food proves too difficult right after playing, and fight the urge to text Megumi that you miss him because it hasn’t even been a day since you last saw each other and the last thing you want is for your relationship to not even make it to the weekend.

But you crack after class, messaging a quick, hopefully unoverwhelming imy to Megumi—who responds, in record time, with I’m coming over.

When you arrive home, you find him waiting outside your apartment. Someone recognized him and let him in, he says, and you make a mental note to thank whichever neighbor it was before you throw yourself at him. 

You’re caught with neither thought nor trouble, just Megumi knowing where to place his arms to support both your weights even as he’s pushed back hard against the wall. You think you mumble a proper I missed you into your kiss, but you’re too drained, near delirious with exhaustion, that you don’t even know how you end up stumbling through the door. 

You know how this goes. He asks you what you need. You tell him. You ask about his day. He offers a one-word answer. You try to press for more. He says there aren’t any. You look back at your own day and don’t know how that could be. 

But he knows how to distract you, and he holds you like he must know he’s the only one you want at the end of a day like this, like he must know he occupies a space in your head no one else does. 

You’ve always been sure you’re the type of person who won’t treat nor find a romantic relationship drastically different than you do your closest friendships. A significant other should be a friend first, above all, and though it might be a different love, love is love in the end. Neither kind is more important than the other, and you know that you can give love in both forms to the same extent, with the same loyalty and devotion. It’s all you know to do. 

Sure, there were times you figured every now and then that it would be nice. Just as it was nice to sit so close to him at the Todai library sometimes and know how you must look to people who don’t know the truth. But it’s to stroke ego, that label. It wasn’t a necessity. You yearned, yes. You fantasized. But you were certain there wouldn’t be a difference otherwise. You knew how you felt about him. You knew that you thought about him when other people touched you. You knew the depth of how you felt, and that slapping on one change for the sake of semantics would not have changed any of it. You had him in your life. You just had to keep him there. That’s it.

So you said yes when he asked you to pretend to be his boyfriend. It wouldn’t have mattered. It wouldn’t have changed anything for you. 

And you still believe all of this. You do. But three days into shaping a defined relationship with Megumi and he’s pushed you into intoxication so singular and intense that you know it must be impossible to get this from anyone or anything else in your life. You feel immediately ridiculous for thinking it, because the only adjustment was exclusivity and a label that didn’t even matter before. It shouldn’t feel this thrilling, this dizzying. It left you dazed when you heard him introduce you as his boyfriend to his family, but knowing it for a fact now is so incredibly different. It goes straight to your nerves, makes you feel absurd for not wanting this. You never realized how much it would matter to have someone to call your own—and how it would feel to know this as he kisses you now like he’s been given a particular kind of permission that you didn’t realize he ever needed. 

You still haven’t even talked about this new relationship, not really. You know he won’t bring it up first. You don’t want to, either. You don’t even know how to start a conversation like that. 

It should speak for itself, what you are. 

 

 

In bed, he stares down at you and sees everything you don’t want him to see.

Long day? 

The longest, you say, lighthearted even as you come down and sink right back into the exhaustion rattling your bones. Always the longest.

He can tell. He shifts you so that you’re pillowed against him. He leaves a kiss against your hair. It’s nice. So nice you feel like snapping in half. 

The Waseda-Keio game is tomorrow, he says. 

It’s fine! It will be fine. I have a good feeling about it. You pause. That actually reminds me—uh—there’s no pressure at all or anything, but it’s a home game?

You’re so focused on making sure you still sound casual, nonchalant, that you don’t even ask the real question. But he understands. 

I’ll be there

Wait—really?

You look surprised. I’ve been to your games before.

As a friend! But now I get to play and be like wow, my—um—my—

You can’t say it. 

Boyfriend, he finishes for you. 

Yup. That. 

He looks at you expectantly. 

You try again, even though it’s harder than he’ll ever realize. You try again, because there are so few things he lets you do for him, and when he asks, it’s everything to you.

Now I get to play and be like wow, my b—my boyf—my boyfriend is watching.

He doesn’t light up, exactly, because he’s careful about even that. But he smiles, small and well-hidden if you aren’t so fixated on his pretty face. 

Good job.

You force a frown you don’t mean. What am I, a puppy?

That would explain a lot. I’ve always wanted dogs. 

You push against his shoulder with a laugh, but you’re so wrapped around him that he doesn’t budge. Dogs, plural?

A white one and a black one. 

You think about it. You try not to spiral into a fantasy of you owning two dogs together. 

You can always get one first and get the second later. 

I wanna get them together—but I can’t get one anyway. My building doesn’t allow pets. 

Someday, then! When you move out. 

Maybe. If I ever move somewhere else. 

He says this with such finality that it surprises you. It’s not the first time you realized this, but even with your half-addled brain, it’s a fresh wave of alertness when you’re confronted once again by how little you know about him. 

You know small fragments, so many of them that they’re hardly insignificant, can read him in your own right. But he never tells you anything—and that’s fine. Or at least it was. It’s odd, from a significant other, but then you feel horrible for thinking that. You’ve always known he was quieter, more private, more passive. 

But still.

Hey, Megumi?

Sleep. You can barely open your eyes.

Just one thing, I promise. Or—two things, actually. 

What is it? 

Uh, you still haven’t answered my question about what Toji-san does for a living. Why is he always away?

I don’t know.

Huh?

I don’t know what he does for a living. He didn’t always do it, whatever it is. But it earns him a lot of money, apparently.

You search his voice for resentment, but there’s none. You’ve seen them together, he and his father, seen all the trust under the surface of their bickering and occasional flares of bitterness. You think you understand, why he’s never learned to be the type to show he cares through anything but small acts of tender service. You press yourself even closer.

I see, you say, even though there are ten other questions at the tip of your tongue. And Gojo-sensei?

Dad knew him from before. So he moved us out here to Tokyo so someone can check in on us whenever he’s gone for a long time. Not that Gojo-sensei was good at that. The man can’t even buy his own groceries.

From before where, you want to ask. Instead, you grin. Is this why you can’t cook?

He jerks away from you. What?

You smile. He’s weak to that, you think. He softens so easily at the smallest smile from you. 

Your dad opened my eyes to the truth. You do only know how to cook eggs and rice, and barely.

You ate my omurice just fine.

You’ve had years to perfect it. Though I guess I fear not the man who has cooked 10,000 egg dishes once, but I fear the man who has cooked one egg dish 10,000 times—

I can’t tell if you’re complimenting me or not.

Keep going. About Gojo-sensei.

Yuuji, it’s late.

It’s midnight.

And you have a game tomorrow. Don’t waste energy on asking me useless questions.

He doesn’t say it meanly. He says it like he believes his life couldn’t possibly be interesting to you—and that upsets you a little.  

They’re not useless, Megumi, you say. 

Wasteful, then. 

You want to keep protesting, to turn it into a healthy debate if need be, but he tugs the blanket over you. Conversation over, just like that.

You should be sleeping. 

Wait, we didn’t even talk about you—

I told you, my day was fine. I’m fine. Sleep.

No, but—

We can talk tomorrow.

Promise?

Sleep, Yuuji.

 

⊹ 

 

Your last game of the year is also your best of the season so far. Your brain quiets itself, your body listens to everything you tell it to do. You manage all the threes you try, you rack up defense. Todo, not a shred of well-intentioned disappointment on his face, claps you on the back so hard that you black out for a millisecond—and he has his odd methods of pushing you to your peak, but you trust him to never lie about anything you could do better, and this is when you know for certain you did well. 

Nobara comes with Megumi. When you told her about dating Megumi, all she’d said was: of course, not one bit of inflection to it. It worried you more than you’d like to admit, so it brings you a fervent kind of happiness now, seeing them together, even as they swing violently from complete silence to frowning at every second word the other says. They flank you on the way to the post-game party, both of them somehow grumbling at each other despite giving you the exact same lecture about not drying your hair well enough from your shower.

You smile and admit you were too excited to get out and see them—which has them looking away, too taken aback to reply. Nobara recovers first, and Megumi takes her lead, both of them determined to return to scolding you about the risks of getting sick with wet hair out in the cold. It reminds you of Nanamin’s own brand of affection, this kind of worry as a love language, and not for the first time, your heart swells with the knowledge of how lucky you are. 

You have to disentangle yourself from them at the actual dinner. You still can’t drink, under Coach Yaga’s watchful eyes and with the championships left in the new year, so you pop open a bottle of Ramune and make your rounds. 

What you want, really, is to collapse into bed and sleep late into tomorrow. It’s a Sunday, and you can watch a movie over a video call with Junpei, can give Yuko a quick call about your class together and make sure her part-time job is still going well, can even drop in for dinner at Nanamin’s because you know he doesn’t have much time to cook for himself with exams due for submission around this time of the semester. Until then, sleep and rest sounds nice. Sleep and rest and Megumi—who, on the other end of the room, has been accosted by Todo. He has a look on his face you haven’t seen before, so dark and crumpled and childish that you laugh in the middle of your conversation with one of your teammates. 

Then you remember where you are, what you’re supposed to be doing, how close yet so far you are from your bed. 

Who’s that with Todo? your teammate asks. 

My boyfriend, you say, and immediately wishes you hadn’t. You think saying it to Megumi the night before—and hearing him say it to his family twice over—would have primed you better for saying it for the first time to someone else, would have undressed the word until that’s all it is. A word, a collection of letters no more different than any other one. And you don’t regret saying it because you don’t like it. You do. You like the weight it leaves behind in your mouth, the promise, all the connotations, everything it says about you-and-Megumi and Megumi-and-you, no longer for yourself or other people to guess about. No, you regret it because saying it out loud strings along with it the worry that you’ll wear it out, that there’s only so many instances you can say it before the number of times you’re allotted runs out. 

Underneath that, looking away from Megumi, you wonder why this feels so much more temporary than before, why it suddenly seems so much lighter, so much easier, when you didn’t have a word for what you were at all. 

 

 

Parties after big, important games—especially ones that have been won—are a learned art, almost. You were taught early how to navigate them because Todo had taken you under his wing two days into being in the team and told you there was something to navigate in the first place, that there is an intricacy to it. To know if you’re going to bow low and proper to someone, if you’re shaking their hand, if you’re going to be accepting a noogie or a fist bump. There is an underlying social politics to varsity sports that you know will follow you if you do go onto the B. League, but it isn’t as if that intimidates you anymore. You got into Waseda because you were good enough in high school to get a recommendation for whatever sport you chose. You got to stay in the team because of hard work. But you got to be where you are—right now, in this moment, accepting congratulations after congratulations until your pink-faced thank yous start sounding weird—by answering two questions. 

The first time had been as a teenage all-around athlete from Miyagi in an interview with Coach Yaga, interrogated why, of all the sports you’re good at, you would choose basketball at Waseda. It had taken a while to break your superficiality, even longer to get you to admit that underneath all your rehearsed job interview answers, it all boils down to the fact that basketball, among all your options, was the team sport you need. You’d been seventeen going on eighteen, only a few months away from high school graduation, a little bit lonely and plenty full of grief, and while you’d liked running, while you’d had fun playing catcher, neither track nor baseball gave you the same guarantee of being part of a collective the way that basketball did. So you said so, had offered your own selfishness as reasoning for selflessness towards the team—and a month later, you got your acceptance letter.

Another few months after and you’d meet Todo, would be asked the same question he threw at every single incoming freshman and be the only one to answer correctly. In some ways, his was the first relationship you learned to accept out of the knowledge that it was the trustworthy kind of transactional. Friendship with Todo was unconditional once earned, yes, but he would also be the last person to let you take too much or too little. Todo knows himself, knows what enough should look like. You trust and appreciate that, more than anything. You’re endlessly thankful for it, too; you wouldn’t be a starting player as a second-year if not for Todo’s stubborn and melodramatic form of patience in ensuring he doesn’t graduate without leaving you securely at the top of the roster. 

By the time you circle back around, he’s still with Megumi. They look deep in thought now, both of them, but before you can pretend to simply happen to wander over, Nobara shows up at your side. 

Does your sports posse know you brought your boyfriend?

Team. The word you’re looking for is team.

I think I’m gonna stick to sports posse.

Yeah, okay, Miss Darbus. 

And that is why you’re the only film major I can stand. Nobara raises an eyebrow. Well? 

Uh. One of them knows now. And Todo. 

One of them? Is it Number 11? He’s looked dumbstruck since you talked to him. You slept with him once, didn’t you? Severe lapse of judgement, I think. 

What? The teammate who asked you who Megumi is. It takes you a second to realize what Nobara’s implying. Oh, no, no, he doesn’t have feelings for me like that.

How do you know?

He said so.

Nobara flattens a look your way. She points, shamelessly, at Megumi. That one also claimed that he didn’t have feelings for you like that. And he’s your boyfriend now

You’ve been asking him about his feelings?

Ew. No. Maybe. No. 

You just said—

A lady doesn’t do shovel talks, if that’s what you’re implying. Nobara tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, smug. I left that up to Todo. 

At your look of horror, she wags a finger. 

I’m kidding. He’s probably apologizing for calling Fushiguro’s ideal type boring when it was you all along. 

There’s so much to unpack there. You settle for: How does he even know Megumi’s ideal type?

Long story. It happened at the twins’ party. Ask me again when I’m shit-faced. 

You sigh. I wanna get out of here. 

No one’s stopping you. Also, I want pizza. Let’s go get pizza. 

Nobara, you whine. I can’t leave.

Why the fuck not?

I gotta socialize—and stuff. 

You already did! 

I still can’t just leave. It’s kinda rude.

Excuse me? Rude? You literally won a game for them. 

This is a team sport. 

Nobara groans. I bet Fushiguro would support pizza. 

You light up. You two can go get pizza! I’ll come over after I’m done here.

Yuuji. When your best friend and your boyfriend both wanna get out you of something—

Hey, don’t play that card. 

I will play whatever card I want, thank you. Jeez, you’re obviously tired. You obviously also want pizza and maybe one can of beer. You’re not gonna die alone just because you rubbed a teammate the wrong way once. Your coach isn’t gonna kick you out of the team either for indulging once after working so hard. 

I know that. I’m not that bad. 

Fair. You do stay true to your little shit self when you can. But bad enough, still.

You sigh a second time. Give me half an hour, then we’re going. 

See, I’d take that, but that’s also a compromise because you don’t wanna upset me, either. 

You both know she’s right. You chug down the rest of your third bottle of Ramune. So you’re not taking it? 

No, I am. I really want pizza. 

 

⊹ 

 

Megumi kisses you differently, these days. He kisses you urgently, like there’s something he wants to prove as soon as possible, but carefully, like he doesn’t want to acquaint himself with that something too intimately. 

You hadn’t even suspected he’d been holding back at all. Anything with him is always so good, always the right kind of so much, but if you’ve learned anything these past few days, it’s that there’s even more under the surface, and fragments are leaking out. He marks you, takes his time pulling out the noises he particularly likes now that he has every excuse to do what he wants without practice or games in the near future. He talks more. Before, as if he’d received permission for honesty even he hadn’t realized was there; during, but that might just be a gradual change scattered across five months of learning what gets you to unspool faster; and after, though never about himself, always you, just you. 

It feels like he’s trying to devour the part of your life he doesn’t see, though it’s as gentle and quiet as everything about him is. If you try to scrutinize it, to pull apart his questions until the real ones come to the top, it’s as if he resents that other life, the world he’s not in. Not resentment against you, though—against himself. As if he measures your need for other things as insufficiency on his part. 

And that, in turn, feels like your fault. So you tell him about your day and make sure he knows how much you think of him. He doesn’t tell you anything back, but he shows his own side of thinking of you, all there in the small good luck messages and the gifts he sometimes has with him, and you really want it to be enough. 

Why wouldn’t it be enough? You like him with all of your stupid still-beating heart. You don’t need more. You refuse to ruin the one unexpected dream come true you’ve had with your gluttony. You refuse, more than anything, to get in the way of someone else’s needs just because they don’t satiate yours. Your grandfather taught you better; give goodness, receive goodness. 

But in the back of your mind, not for the first time, you question how sustainable that is. How much one person can give without another giving back; how much one person can take without another taking in return. 

A transactional relationship isn’t necessarily a reciprocal one. Is love still love, then, if it doesn’t feel like love? 

You hate yourself at once for this train of thought. Of course it feels like love, though you don’t even know if that is how Megumi feels. His care feels like love the way that any kind of care feels like love. It means the person is watching, observing, keeping track. It’s attention as love and love as awareness. 

It’s a lot. It’s enough. 

At the end of the day, the fact that he’s here is all you need. 

 

 

itadori yuuji (◕ ‿ ◕)

um 

ozawa yuko?

you sure have a lot of audacity (◕ ‿ ◕)

hell yeah

but wait what are you talking about

you dare call me to ask about my job (◕ ‿ ◕)

and not even mention that you have a boyfriend now (◕ ‿ ◕)

OH

oh 

ohhhhhhhh

unbelievable (◕ ‿ ◕)

please stop using this thing

it’s haunting

i think it’s cute :(

wait you two weren’t dating at disneyland right

or did you lie to me 

I WOULD NEVER

debatable 

HEY

no we weren’t dating at disneyland

hmmm 

well i hope he knows now that he doesn’t have to be jealous

he has nothing to worry about

jealous?

hold on i don’t think i’m following 🤔

no i’m just thinking about disneyland

what about disneyland

yuuji (◕ ‿ ◕)

oh no it’s back

he got really jealous at disneyland remember

i didn’t know what to do

and you weren’t helping ( ̄~ ̄;)

bro you gotta spell this out for me because

i

do

not

comprehend

a single thing

you’re saying

i don’t think that’s my job, actually

but reassure him, okay? 

i don’t want him to feel awkward around me

 

 

No basketball for the remaining days of the year doesn’t mean you don’t still have other things to do. There’s one more week of school, brunches to go to, movies to see, shifts to catch up on. Amidst all of it, Megumi takes the same spot in your life that he’s always had and builds a checkpoint out of it. A charging station, a place for both of you to breathe in the in-betweens. 

You go on the same dates that used to be dates-that-aren’t-dates. A new restaurant, a quiet handful of hours at the library, a late-night rerun of an old movie where it’s just you two in the theater and you can freely tear up and rant to him about the goodbye scene in Roman Holiday. A couple of early evening runs through the bookstore you met at a second time, cherishing a rare moment of listening to him talk at length about why Murakami should stick to fiction. 

He holds your hand. You hold his. 

Life goes on. 

 

 

I am so tired I want to hibernate through the rest of winter, he says over the breakfast you made him. He’s looking at it a little in awe, and you’re so distracted by this, by how much blatant appreciation there is in his eyes for this tiny gesture you’ve done a million times before, that you take a moment to register the confession in what he said. 

You think about it. Funny you should say that, because up until recently, I thought that when animals hibernate through winter, that meant they literally sleep all the way through

He’d been about to slip his chopsticks in his mouth. He pauses. Define recently.

Huh?

Up until when, exactly.

Like—uh. Last night. 

His mouth twitches. And have you been waiting all morning for the right time to be upfront about this with me?

You rub the back of your neck, sheepish. Yeah? It seemed like a big bomb to drop so early. 

He tries, he really does, but he can’t help his quiet laugh, and hearing it means you can’t help your laugh, either—so you two sit there, in your dining table for two that’s been shoved up against the wall since you moved in, biting back laughter at each other like giggling children in the morning sunlight. 

 

 

nobara i can’t do this anymore

can i just text him ILYBIDKHTTYAIDEKIYLMB

oh

uh

no i got this i understand this

hold on

I Like Your Body In Da Kingdom Hearts

what’s TTY? 

titty?

...

And I Definitely Expect

Kaleidoscope 

In 

Your

Left Mouse Button?

🤨

okay so obviously that won’t work

yeah no shit

okay but actually

he doesn’t know you feel the l-word?

i don’t know ??

yuuji

what Do you know about this relationship

okay first of all ouch

second of all Ouch

i thought you confessed

i’m pretty sure i never said l*ve

i thought it

but i didn’t say it

ur hopeless

both of you

i know that much

he’s not answering my calls damn it

DON’T CALL HIM

also he hasn’t been answering my texts either

okay ?

and why are you not in a breakfast place crying to me abt it

shut up

that’s your coping mechanism not mine

and thank god for that

i hate you

anyway it’s alright!

it happens sometimes with megumi

a bit worrying but nothing weird or unusual 😊

 

 

Megumi isn’t the best at being around people. You’ve always known this. There will be days he stops answering messages altogether, taking a breath away from the world, will drop right out of it as if he never existed. 

It’s his own kind of exhaustion talking. Being a person genuinely drains him, sometimes, and he needs to withdraw for a bit, to find the peace and quiet and order that the current world around him won’t give. Once, way before, you tried to barrel your way through it. To send him multiple messages, memes and songs and inane texts, to get him to reply. You’ve learned better since—learned that adding more to it makes it worse, learned to wait for him to come back. 

You didn’t understand it, and still don’t, but it’s not too different, you think, from the way you break sometimes. You cry it all out until you don’t feel on the verge of cracking anymore; he retreats and recharges before he could ever even crack. 

So when the next week begins with no notifications from him, you try to stomp down on your anxieties, to understand him the way he understands you. 

You wait. 

 

 

It hits you like a punch against your jaw, when you realize there’s relief there. Relief at the distance, at the silence. Relief at the chance to exist without feeling that specific vulnerability you only feel around him, because he always sees too much of what you’re protective, ashamed, resentful of. Too much of you.

This only lasts for half a day, however, before the other side kicks in. It’s guilt first, striking you cold in the middle of class. Guilt about liking the momentary space between you two, guilt for having needed this without even realizing. Guilt that you’re validating what you suspect he’s afraid of—that you’re feeding that contemplation he gets in his eyes when you’re telling him about your friends. 

But this one idea mutates, twists into itself until it’s fear, all of a sudden, that he’s feeling the same relief you are. That this relief, on both your ends, is the beginning of the end. That it had been wrong, after all, to confess. That you should have listened to the nausea you felt after, the nausea that stopped you from answering his calls because you know you’ll take too much once you do and he might give it all without thinking it through.

Then, from all of these, you are certain for an entire second, with no basis to it but the anxiety telling you there is, that the reason you spent so long not confessing, the reason you two spent so long not being in a relationship, was because somewhere in the back of your mind, you might have already known, might have already been too certain to attempt otherwise—

—that it would be a mistake. 

 

 

Itadori-kun. Nanamin looks up from where he’s been perusing the same newspaper column for the past fifteen minutes, a cup of coffee cradled as close to him as possible without placing his pristine cream sweater in danger. Please tell me I didn’t just see you slap your face.

Yeah. Uh. Just needed to snap out of something. Sorry. 

There’s silence. You’re having tea outside, in Nanamin’s backyard. Uncontrolled greenery and sunlight. December cold.

Itadori-kun, he says again. How was your meeting with Haibara? 

Meeting is a strange word to use for something that’s stayed with you the way it has, ever lurking somewhere in the back of your mind, never enough to do much but still always there, as if reminding you that it can do more the moment you let it. It wasn’t bad, therapy or whatever it is you call a one-time conversation that stripped you down to your heart, but you’re not sure if that means it’s good, either. 

But this—the kind of rationality that makes you certain that not-bad never equals good—activates thoughts you don’t like, don’t want. Not right now. Not when things are good. With your life. With your friends. With Megumi.

Did my question make you uncomfortable, Itadori-kun? 

You startle, shake your head. And because it’s Nanamin, after all, you shrug. 

No—I just—I don’t know yet.

He nods. Returns to his newspaper. Okay.

The silence returns, just like that, as if someone had physically pulled it back over you two like a blanket. 

You pretend your tea needs stirring. 

Say, Nanamin, do you have something I can—

You can give my Klimt jigsaw puzzle a try. It’s under the living room coffee table.

You’re already standing. How many pieces? 

A thousand. It should take you a while.

Hell yes. 

 

 

Your fall down the ramp last week hadn’t been your worst, far from it, inconsequential compared to the splotches of bruises you used to get when you first started skating, but as you brace yourself against one end of a half-pipe that Tuesday evening, knees bent, you can’t stop thinking about it. 

The problem with each bad fall is that it’s always freshest, even more when the gap between each starts getting longer. When you get it a lot, your skin gets tougher, or your body acclimates, learns to brace itself well for the pain, to relax as you fall so you don’t break anything. But you eventually forget even that, and when it happens again—skin tearing, the burn of friction against your forearm, an awareness in the back of your mind that if you land badly you won’t be able to get back up—it’s a sensation so fresh and unexpected it’s like you’ve never experienced it before. 

And it stays with you the next time, reminds you that there was pain before there was the ease of maneuvering a board around like an extension of your feet. That hard-earned things are hard-earned things for a reason. 

It’s the same fear with him, you realize. That’s one thing that has definitely changed. Labelling the relationship has amplified the fear of losing him, has pulled out the worst of your hunger for him and all the terror that comes with that. 

You know it’s one of your lifelong fears speaking. You remember how you said yes to Yuko’s confession in high school because it was something to latch onto after losing someone. You remember visiting your grandfather, never a minute late, afraid that the next time you leave school beyond your usual, you’ll arrive to find his bed empty. You remember, even, reading Fullmetal Alchemist in middle school and, ridiculously, being confused by the way it throws out promises of immortality as if the Philosopher’s Stone isn’t finite in the end, as if its illusion of abundance doesn’t come with a cost that far outweighs a product that ultimately has its own end. How can a creature ever feel immortal and powerful, you used to think, if it also knows its life source will run out at some point, that there will come a time it will no longer heal them? Isn’t to be subject to limitations, however higher that threshold might be, the same as mortality in the end?

You were never afraid of a permanent end when you and him were only doing this without a label, without any definition of what you cannot do. Now, you’re terrified you’ll overextend, that you’ll overdo something somehow. You’re almost scared to want, even though that’s all you know to do and even more so with him, even though you need him as close as possible and all he seems to want to do is give to you. 

It’s not right.

You need more moderation. More control. 

Itadori-kun. How was your meeting with Haibara?

You don’t trust things that are abundant. You don’t trust things you didn’t fight tooth and nail for. This doesn’t feel deserved. It doesn’t feel like something you can allow yourself to indulge too much in. The moment you indulge is the moment you forget things given easily are also things taken easily.

It’s alright to let yourself be loved in the moment. Okay?

It’s really, really not right. 

You take a deep breath and tip your body forward down the ramp.

 

 

Published in Red Scale · December 20, 2022 ★

[Image cannot be loaded]
Illustration by Nishimiya Momo (@nishimomo)

A Modern Icarus
by Kamo Noritoshi

Hello. My name is Noritoshi. You may know me from my occasional posts on the Boogie Woogie blog, which started with its founder (and, unfortunately, my roommate for four years now) accosting me at breakfast for opinions about the aesthetic miscellanea of various idol groups — music video set design, stage outfits, album cover art — and somehow evolved into a monthly post breaking down one of these elements. But as we approach the new year, I have taken it upon myself to clarify that I am not a fashion major, nor an art major, nor a design major. My passion lies in bio-architecture, about the ways architecture is at its best when it reflects things made in nature and in our bodies. But in a broad sense, I study — simply — architecture. 

With that said, I have made this Medium account to talk not about stage backdrops or whether a dress is conducive for dancing, but about all the design and architecture around us, shaping our world and our lives, that we fail to notice. 

The idea for this account came to me as I was writing my senior thesis on the history of bean-shaped pools. I’ve always found them rather eccentric, and beautiful in that eccentricity, so much so that I almost began ranting to my roommate about them. But I remember how troublesome it is when he’s the one ranting about idols to me — and so I have decided to be the better man and start a blog of my own, just as he once listened to my advice in freshman year and started Boogie Woogie. 

But I find now, halfway down this doc, that I do not want to talk about bean-shaped pools. Instead, I want to talk about the skateboarding culture that arose from the draining of the earliest versions of these pools, during a drought in California in the 70s. 

I have a special appreciation for skateboarders. Or rather, I have a special appreciation for the appreciation that skateboarders have, in turn, whether or not they know it, for architecture. Without getting into the early beginnings of the skateboard, because I profess to not know as much about it as I do the pools that gave it its purpose, the earliest skateboarders saw a beauty in the drought-drained Los Angeles pools of the 70s, shaped like mung beans and paved with smooth concrete that varied in depth through round edges. Empty, smooth and round as they were, they were perfect for skateboarding. Skating on them, I imagine, was like surfing a wave. Skating down an arc would have generated enough momentum as the contemporary skate ramp. A skater would have been able to go up and off a wall — and, in a single moment, be in flight. 

This image kickstarted the skateboarding fad in America, and later, perhaps across the world to us. Children saw what the older kids were doing and wanted to fly as well. And this is the argument I am making in my senior paper: that bean-shaped backyard pools ushered in the birth of the skateboarding revolution. 

But it is the visual image of the skateboarder in flight over a pool that has stayed with me. Lately, I’ve started thinking of it as a modern Icarus painting. Skateboarding here in Tokyo isn’t quite as disruptive and messy as skateboarding everywhere else, but the beauty is the same. One of my roommate’s teammates is a habitual skateboarder, and watching someone whose small frame I am usually used to seeing bulldoze past people on the court gracefully throw himself in the air and land back like nothing makes me understand fully what those children in the 70s must have been seen in early skateboarders. 

I think it fitting that architecture acted as a helping hand to something as borderline choreographic as skateboarding. Although it is easy to think that architecture arises to serve the people — and this is also true — it is often correct to say the opposite. That architecture, like skateboarding, like us people, is a product of its own environment. We live our lives in service to and in surveillance of each other. We grow and love the way we only know how. 

And those skateboarders in 70s Los Angeles: they found a way to make do, to make the best of what they had. Their search for fun during a drought never needed, I would argue, to reach the point of inventing its own culture, and years down the line, even its own Olympic sport — but it did. It did because those young boys found an appeal in skateboarding that nothing else could have given, and why would one leave the sky once he has reached it?

While I am certain skateboarding is not for me, chaotic and noisy and at times violent as it is, I can also understand on a primal, molecular level why someone would work beyond the extent they can and should—why someone would risk, would endure, would adapt, again and again—to learn to touch the sun.

After all, what wouldn’t we all give to know and feel, for that one scratch of a lifetime’s moment, that we are weightless and beautiful? 

 

 

"Itadori!"

Yuuji startles, tripping over his own board and almost sending it—and himself—sliding down the ramp. He kicks it upright, tries to play it off while he searches the skatepark for the source of what he’s sure was Okkotsu’s voice. 

He finds Inumaki and Orimoto first, both of them balanced and sliding side to side on their own boards. She’s giggling at whatever story Inumaki is signing rapidly to her, his hands and fingers moving through the air with vigor even as his face remains serene, but she glances over when she feels Yuuji looking. Without a word, she points all the way across the skatepark, at Okkotsu, looking mortified and weary—

—next to Gojo Satoru. 

They’re beckoning him over. 

Yuuji swears under his breath. He goes. 

Okkotsu meets him on his way back, the line of his mouth settled on something much, much more grimace than smile. "Sorry, Itadori," he says as soon as he’s close enough. "I didn’t mean to summon him, I—I didn’t even know we all knew each other." 

That seems to be a pattern, recently. Yuuji shoots for a laugh, falls just short of one that doesn’t give away the helplessness of his confusion. Okkotsu, who goes to the Tokyo Institute of Technology and only stumbled into Yuuji’s life because he and his partners frequented the same skatepark, at least looks empathetic. 

Gojo has set himself up on a bench at the edge of the skatepark, near-sprawling over more than his socially acceptable half of the seat. Wearing a black coat that looks like it costs more than Yuuji’s monthly rent and working his way through a five-pound bag of gummy bears, he looks indolent and insolent and a distant cry from whatever tier of adulthood Nanami has managed to unlock with one less year of life.

Sincerely, Yuuji tells him, "In another life, you would’ve been the number one host in Japan, Gojo-sensei." 

"Never too late to try, I say." Gojo cracks a grin, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, but whatever relief could have been found there disappears when he scoots over to pat the remaining space on the bench. "I saw you on Yuuta’s Story and thought I’d pop in."

"You have Instagram?" Yuuji’s face twists. "No, of course you do. How d’you know Okkotsu-senpai?" 

"He’s a relative," says Gojo, as though that explains anything about this situation. It also neither confirms nor denies Yuuji’s budding suspicion that Gojo became an academic to have a secret network of eyes across the city, growing his gossip domain across all the major universities in Tokyo by collecting undergraduate students, underclassmen turned fellow professors, and the people within the seven degrees of separation between these two categories. Yuuji can’t even hazard a guess how it was for Fushiguro to grow up in this, and, looking back to their sleepy conversation some nights ago, how this loops back to whatever history Fushiguro Toji has with Gojo, if at all. "You’re a very difficult person to track down, Yuuji. Never where people say you will be. Always off somewhere else multiple times in one day. A different person with you each time."

Yuuji doesn’t really know what to say to that. He sits down without responding, too wary to even spare an unthinking reply. Contrary to what Fushiguro grumbles about, he’s past his starstruck first impressions of Gojo; he vibrates now with the particular tension he gets whenever they have to be alone in a setting where there’s very little else to do but talk. It seems so deliberate, scenarios like these, even if the first time was accidental and the second incidental. A high-profile Smart Person like Gojo Satoru doesn’t just happen to wander into a place and stay there without thinking about why he should, no matter how stupid the motive—and he certainly would not be swinging by a rooftop skatepark all the way at a mall in Odaiba for no real reason. 

Gojo, unfazed by the silence, continues to grin. "So! How’s school?"

"Um." Yuuji knots his hands together, as close to his body as possible. "Good? I’m out of motivation for the semester but it could be worse—"

"And basketball?" 

"Great. We’re done with games until next month. Year. Next year."

"You on break, then?"

"Technically? Like, I still have to go to training once a week and keep up with everything but sports tend to get quiet around exams and the holidays. So yeah, I guess."

"Spending a lot of time with Megumi?"

"Ah," Yuuji mutters. "There it is." 

Gojo either doesn’t hear him or pretends not to. "You know, Yuuji, I’m hurt." 

Yuuji pushes back a sigh, but the sound that comes out is a near replica. He slides his board under his feet, leaves one resting on it. "Go on, then, Gojo-sensei. Tell me why you’re hurt, since you came all the way here to let me know." 

Gojo doesn’t hesitate to reply, so glum that it’s genuinely difficult to tell how much of it is dramatics. "I thought we were being perfectly honest with each other about what you and Megumi were doing, then I find out that you are actually dating?" 

It’s an odd, open-ended non-question to deliver with the precision that Gojo does, and Yuuji’s only reflex is to try a smile and hope it isn’t as crooked as Okkotsu’s attempt at one. Gojo slides his sunglasses lower on his face, gaze sharpening with the expectation of an answer that, to Yuuji, is yet another piece to add to the list of things he and Fushiguro need to talk about. 

"A lot can happen in two months, Sensei," he says.

"That’s true!" Digging a fist into his huge Haribo bag, Gojo pops a small handful of gummy bears into his mouth. Chewing around it, he says, "Seems like a lot did happen in two months." 

"Yup." Yuuji nods. "Exactly. A lot did happen in two months."

Fushiguro told him that Gojo must have some ulterior motives for sending Nanako loose after his love life and turning it into a family event, but Yuuji—listening to Gojo speak now with the airiness of someone who has no idea what he himself had set in motion yet believes that he does—is disappointed to disagree. He might not know Gojo as well as Fushiguro does, doesn’t even really know how to be around him when it’s in a context like this, but as much as Yuuji wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, to assume that there’s some kind of emotional strategy at play in how he’s kept Yuuji’s feelings secret this whole time and tugged the strings when the chance arose, he just really, really thinks that Gojo thought it would be funny to watch him and Fushiguro stumble and fumble with what they are not—and that’s that. 

He takes the chance to buy himself time when Gojo offers the bag to him, grabbing a fistful himself and eating one by painful one in silence.

"That was your cue, Yuuji," Gojo still tells him, "because the last time you and I had a little chat, you were positively lovesick, all puppy-eyed and yearning—"

Yuuji’s face flushes red and hot, but he gestures to his chewing mouth instead of answering, as if one gummy bear makes it too full for him to talk.

"—yet at dinner, you and Megumi were so generous about telling everyone how you met and—ostensibly—how you started dating." Gojo whistles. "I knew better, though. You’re not dating, you two."

"Oh." Yuuji swallows the last gummy and meets Gojo’s eyes, dead on and with ease that surprises even himself. "We are, though." 

Gojo studies him. Yuuji doesn’t recoil. This goes on for a minute too long, then Gojo says, voice tacky-sweet like he can good-cop Yuuji while wearing expensive black at a skate park designed for broke and aimless teens and twenty-somethings, "C’mon, Yuuji." 

"I am so serious, Gojo-sensei." 

"Who confessed first?" 

"I did. But it was Megumi who asked me out after a week." 

"When did you last go on a date?" 

"Last weekend."

"To where?" 

"Nothing fancy. I thought we could both use a walk through Hama Rikyu." 

"If you had to bake Megumi a cake for his birthday, what would you make?" 

"I—what? I don’t—I won’t bake a cake-cake. I’ll try to do something like—like coffee cake. No, a crumb cake. A cinnamon one, maybe. Not too sweet, goes well with either tea or black coffee." Yuuji trails off, losing himself for a moment in a sincere plan to bake a cake before recalling his situation. "What kinda boyfriend tag is that question from?" 

Gojo waves this off. "Have your friends met him?" 

"Yeah, ‘course. One way or another." 

"What do they think of him?" 

Yuuji blinks, too taken aback to be asked for a second that he can’t even string together the beginning of a response. "Huh?"

"What do your friends think of Megumi?"

Barring Nanami, every significant figure in Yuuji’s daily life has met Fushiguro at least twice now, and while no one else comes even close to having the same depth that Nobara’s friendship with him does, not a single one of them batted an eye, either, when the space that he occupied in Yuuji’s world began to grow beyond the original plan. It’s a broad range of interactions at that—the simplest of them being Ozawa, who’s never had to hold more than a five-minute conversation with Fushiguro, and the worst of it being Junpei, who had been vocal back when he was living with Yuuji about his complete inability to be around Fushiguro in any kind of setting—but even these are not products of disapproval. Junpei has made it equally clear that though he’ll never be able to relax around "the likes of Fushiguro Megumi"—which, in itself, is a heavy-layered statement that Yuuji isn’t sure Junpei will ever be comfortable enough to talk about—he does in fact support Fushiguro’s presence in Yuuji’s life. 

So Yuuji can be confident in saying that his friends like and welcome Fushiguro, but Gojo is already running with the momentary silence and parsing it as victory. 

"You’re not very good at lying, Yuu-ji."

Jesus. Yuuji doesn’t know what he did to deserve this conversation. 

"And you’re not very good at bluffing, Gojo-sensei," he says, "because I haven’t said anything false."

Gojo throws his head back and laughs. 

Yuuji pouts at this, unsure if he’s being belittled for telling the truth. "Megumi and I are dating. We weren’t when you and I last talked, sure, and obviously we haven’t been dating the full five months everyone at dinner assumed we were—but we never said so in the first place," he says. "Honestly, Gojo-sensei, the only thing you should be worrying about in my and Megumi’s relationship is the part that’s your fault." 

He adds this lightly, maybe a touch too familiarly—and winces when Gojo’s eyes flash. The laughter that was there remains, no less sincere as it melts into amusement, but the sideways cut of Gojo’s gaze is, somehow, more confrontational than it should be.

"My fault?"

Yuuji looks away. "I—I mean—" 

"Now I really am hurt, Yuuji. Who possessed you to be able to talk to me like this?"

"Oh—um—I didn’t mean for that to be—" Yuuji doubles back out of instinct, because he does respect Gojo, even if it’s closer these days to his vapid respect for idol Takada-chan than his respect for Nanami. But then he thinks about Fushiguro sitting on that parking bumper, about his frustration over someone else’s excuse to have harmless fun, and finds enough honest if childish defensiveness in himself to regain his footing. He shrugs, breathes out a small laugh to cushion what he’s about to say as he lifts his eyes back up. "I just—You only wanted to embarrass Megumi. That’s really bad, Gojo-sensei. What Megumi wants to keep under wraps is up to him. You know he never says anything unless he has to, even when he’s thinking it, and you know that he just lets things happen to him sometimes, so wasn’t it super mean of you to put him in a position where he had no other choice except to talk about private things one way or another?"

Yuuji’s aware that he’s scolding the man that partially raised Megumi himself, and that there’s no small amount of hypocrisy on his part, either, but the protectiveness that finds its way into his voice is real. 

Gojo digs around for more gummy candy. The bag doesn’t rustle at all, untouched by his wrist and forearm, and Yuuji has to wonder if even all the noise from earlier was calculated. But that, again, feels like overinterpreting someone as prone to unthinking whimsy as Gojo. 

He makes Yuuji wait, silent for long enough that Yuuji has no choice but to sink into the embarrassment that chases after his attempt at a lecture. Then: 

"So, okay, let’s say you two are dating—"

Yuuji groans. "Which we are."

"—how’s it been for you?"

"What?" 

"How’s it been for you, dating Megumi?" 

"Good," says Yuuji. "Great. Obviously." 

"Uh-uh." Gojo shakes his head. "You can be honest with me, Yuuji. Promise I won’t tell a single soul."

Yuuji highly doubts that. He has the feeling that Gojo tells his partner everything; he’s seen them, watched them, looked away from them when he caught them in the middle of a conversation that, while about nothing more than scheduling for one of the third floor rooms to be repainted, had felt curiously loaded. Not in the way that inside jokes are loaded, or that even coded fake niceties hide a ridiculous amount of talking shit, but loaded in how even the simplicity of it has weight for an onlooker. As if the absurd mundanity of it is learned and earned, and as if there is no difference between that learning and earning. 

It makes Yuuji, in this particular moment, insecure in a way he immediately resents. "Did we—me and Megumi—do we seem like we’re having a bad relationship?" 

"You tell me." Gojo tosses a gummy bear in the air, catches in his mouth. Another day, it might have made Yuuji gasp; now, he winces again. "Said it yourself. Megumi’s very passive. Not particularly proactive. Even when he’s thinking something, he doesn’t say it. Even when someone gives him a once-in-a-lifetime out, he doesn’t take it if he’s still fine where he is. He’s a little spoiled that way, growing up surrounded by people who didn’t really have a choice but accept and understand and go along with him being the way he is," he continues, and Yuuji thinks there might be a rare undertone of self-reflection there. Then he clicks his tongue against the back of his mouth, and this dissipates. "But Yuuji, Yuuji, Yuuji. You shouldn’t spoil Megumi, either, you know." 

"I’m not—" Yuuji frowns. "I’m not spoiling him. If anything, he spoils me." 

"You said Megumi asked you out?"

Yuuji nods.

"How did he confess?"

"He—" Didn’t. Yuuji stares down at his board. "He just asked me to date him."

"You’re okay with that?"

"Why wouldn’t I be?"

When Yuuji looks at him, Gojo has both eyebrows raised. "You and ambiguity in relationships aren’t quite a good match, I think~"

"Ambiguity was all I had before, Sensei," says Yuuji, a truth he’s only willing to own up to because Gojo already knows—and would not hesitate to weaponize it against him if it came down to it. "S’fine. Really. I’m okay with how he is. I think we get each other just fine."

"See," says Gojo. "Spoiling."

Yuuji presses his foot down so hard that his skateboard slides to the side. He steadies with the edge of his other shoe. "Okay, like—I don’t see why I have to go out of my way to prove—"

"It’s not you that has to prove anything. It’s Megumi."

"Well, he doesn’t need to prove anything to me."

"Hey now, Yuuji-kun, let’s not sound too self-satisfied about a statement as naive as that," says Gojo—and it isn’t an undertone this time, the knowing edge to his voice. "You don’t wanna force Megumi into saying what he’s thinking? Noble of you. But you’ll have to force some things out of him. Otherwise, you’ll get nothing."

"Megumi," says Yuuji, "doesn’t give me nothing."

It would be easy to mock his defensiveness for someone like Gojo, who already moves and talks like everything about him has been self-designed to mock the world as a default. But he doesn’t, locking onto Yuuji’s eyes with something that—if only just barely, and out of what would be compassion on anyone else—skirts condescension. 

"By whose standards? Yours or the universal public? Because last time I checked, it’s you and him in this relationship." 

The back of Yuuji’s throat is sticky with sugar from the candy. "So why are we talking about this, Gojo-sensei?" he says. "What d’you want from me? Is this some kinda test?" 

Gojo, surprisingly, appears to think this over. He rolls a gummy bear between thumb and forefinger, squeezing. "Don’t want our little Megumi making some familiar mistakes, is all."  

He says this in a perfect singsong, like one of those nursery rhymes that Yuuji only realized ends horribly far into his middle school years and only after one has been stuck in his head enough times, looping again and again, that the lyrics register past the tune.

With this, the only thing he can spare is the courtesy of looking away from Gojo. "Why talk to me and not him about this, then?" 

Gojo chuckles, a strangely undeliberate noise. It’s answer enough. 

They both look up at a loud clatter not too far away, a narrowly avoided collision next to one of the stair sets. Yuuji turns his head in time to see one of the boards flying against a nearby handrail, and while it’s not at all like Yuuji’s last incident, he still relives, for a blink, the fresh after-sting of that fall, feels his healing bruise throb anew on his forearm.

"Runs in the family, huh," he can’t help but say. "The not-talking." 

Gojo turns back to him. "Is that your answer to my question?" 

"No," says Yuuji. He shrugs. "It’s just—" Too good to be true. I feel like I know everything but nothing about him. It feels like I’m taking advantage of him. I feel like nothing is enough. I feel like everything is too much. "It’s different, being with Megumi. That’s all." 

"Well," says Gojo, but doesn’t continue.

Yuuji expects him to keep pressing, to question the half-answer, but all Gojo does is roll closed the top of his bag of gummy bears. Stuffing it under one arm with one hand and propping his sunglasses atop his hair with the other, he stands.

The first thing Yuuji notices is that there’s a humongous white flower on the side of Gojo’s black coat. The second is that this is the most serious Yuuji has ever seen him.

"Listen, Yuuji," says Gojo, casting a long glance across the skate park. "I actually came here to ask for your help."

Yuuji straightens from his slouch. "My help?"

"Yes. Help I can only trust you to give, and I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell anyone else until—well, ever, ideally, but for now let’s say until the time is right."

This is also the most serious he’s sounded in whatever few snatches of conversations Yuuji has had with him, his voice so low and conspiratorial that Yuuji finds himself adjusting his own tone.

"What is it, Sensei?"

Behind Gojo, the sky is broken into odd splotches of different colors—fitting, acceptable, if the entire expanse of it was only that shade, yet instead all the pinks and oranges and yellows of what should be a proper sunset don’t quite match, as though someone had splattered the right paint colors across a canvas but hadn’t thought to blend.

"You see, Yuuji," says Gojo, "I don’t know what to get Megumi for his birthday."

Yuuji stares at him.

In disbelief, in resignation, and somehow, in no surprise. It takes him a while to find what he wants to say.

"You’re kinda awful, Gojo-sensei." 

 

 

Yuuji is sure his next breakdown has come early when he leaves the storage room at the end of his shift and catches sight of Fushiguro on his way past one of the back aisles.

It’s a momentary glimpse in his periphery, and he takes two slow steps back, prepared to be wrong and disappointed—but it is Fushiguro, examining a wall rack of custom board designs in the back of the store like it’s a curated array in an art gallery. 

Yuuji gasps. "Megumi!" 

Fushiguro looks like he came straight from his last class of the day, backpack still hanging from one shoulder. His concentration melts into softness the moment his eyes light on Yuuji, a layer dropping off.

Any other time, it would be enough to make Yuuji’s heart soften in turn—but today, he’s distracted at once by the splotch of maroon underneath Fushiguro’s coat. 

Yuuji’s speedwalking over to make sure he isn’t recognizing the hoodie wrong before he can even realize it looks like he’s charging his boyfriend. 

When he does notice, it’s because Fushiguro blurts out, "I’m sorry."

Yuuji slows to a stop in front of him. "What?" 

"For being radio silent." Fushiguro clears his throat, and it’s how Yuuji knows this apology has been rehearsed. Possibly in front of a mirror, most likely written out in a Notes app first and edited to the word choice level. The mental image makes Yuuji’s chest swell with fondness, despite everything. "It’s been really busy with preparing for the wedding and there’s this dinner on Thursday and—"

Yuuji can’t help the beginning of his smile as he tugs Fushiguro into a kiss, both hands on the collars of his coat. It’s instinctive and automatic when they relax at once against each other, Fushiguro’s words dying as he leans into the kiss.

Equally at once, the deep-gutted feeling of guilt returns to Yuuji, the drop of his stomach unwilling to let him forget that there was a point in the past forty-eight hours where he was almost relieved about time away from Fushiguro. It’s a kinder, more concentrated guilt now, but a guilt unignorant of how especially horrible he was for it, how ridiculous, when listening Fushiguro’s well-prepared reasoning for being MIA is enough to wipe all traces of it. He regrets it all in this moment, clearly and badly, and he decides it had to have been stress talking when it occurs to him, right now, how much he’s missed this. How much he’s missed Fushiguro—his heartbeat so close to Yuuji’s, his particular warmth, the smell of his cologne underneath the sharpness of the cold on his clothes, his hand rising to the small of Yuuji’s back, how low his voice gets when he whispers like he does when he says, pulling away, "The CCTV cameras are right behind you." 

"So what?" says Yuuji, but he lets go, smiles a smile that keeps getting fed by relief at how happy he is to be able to give it to Fushiguro. "You look really nice in my hoodie, Megumi." 

Fushiguro’s ears turn pink in seconds. 

Half of the thread-loose Roman letters of Waseda University Basketball Team, embroidered across the maroon fabric, is hidden under the coat—but Yuuji would be hard-pressed to not know his own varsity hoodie by sight, a yellow-bright emotion blooming past his lungs the more he looks at it, thrilled and delighted and all sorts of giddy. 

Smile finding its way without help into a grin, he reaches to touch Fushiguro’s right ear, finger sliding down on the shell of it until he gets a shiver—before lifting his thumb and squeezing Fushiguro’s earlobe, hard. 

"You don’t gotta apologize for being busy with other things, dummy," Yuuji tells him, and hates, in the back of his mouth, that there’s still a sour aftertaste to saying this, an awareness of what he had allowed himself to feel just a day ago refusing to go away. He releases Fushiguro’s ear. "I’m good. I’m fine. I’m a self-watering plant! Plenty of sunlight and nutrients for me to soak up, y’know. I promise you don’t have to worry about needing your own time."

Fushiguro averts his eyes, mouth parting without anything coming out. He’s successful at maintaining this for all of three seconds before he has to look at Yuuji again. 

He mumbles something.

Yuuji tilts his head. "Sorry?" 

Fushiguro’s hand returns to the small of his back and presses close, firm and intent, what it can. 

"I missed you." 

Yuuji blinks. 

"Oh," he says, as pitchy and stuttering as the way his heart sings. He recovers at once, though not without heat flooding his whole face. "I missed you, too, Megumi." 

"I—You—" Fushiguro doesn’t let him go, only pushes Yuuji closer against him. Half of it seems to be unconscious, but Yuuji glances up and finds that Fushiguro’s trying to hide how his expression is struggling with a handful of almost-emotions—before it settles into a genuine frown. "Why are you red? You say it all the time—" 

"Yeah, but—" says Yuuji. "Like—you know, you—"

Trapped in Fushiguro’s hold, he finishes the thought in his head first. It sounds unnecessarily confrontational the more he loops it for himself, no variation on I want you to tell me more about how you feel about me that doesn’t sound needy, that doesn’t sound off and misplaced when it’s their first face-to-face conversation in two days and it’s not as if Yuuji can’t extract an answer from the fact that Fushiguro is here at all, in Yuuji’s hoodie, hand on him like he, too, doesn’t understand why they would ever want distance. 

So Yuuji shakes his head, snagging the hand that Fushiguro has on his back and tugging him, their fingers weaved together, to the back door of the shop. Fushiguro goes without question, no stranger to this route. He doesn’t visit Yuuji at work as much as he used to since the transition from the bookstore job in Ikebukuro to this skate store—but he knows the place well enough, has dropped by for closing enough times, to know where the back exit is with his eyes closed.

Still, knowing doesn’t stop him from visibly tracking what’s changed since he was last in these storage aisles, gaze catching on shoebox labels and rolls of grip tape, the snowboards that just arrived this morning, even the collection of jackets and scarves that hang on hooks by the employee entrance—all without his eyes ever straying too far, finding their way back to Yuuji in the next breath no matter how many times his attention gets caught by something else.

He’s been doing that forever. Even before everything. Even before the first time. Ever staring, his eyes doing all the work of giving Yuuji a window into Fushiguro: who he is, what he likes, what he likes about Yuuji, if, back then, he liked him at all. Fushiguro’s particular brand of quiet curiosity is at once singular and contradictory, and Yuuji has always loved that most about getting to watch him; he doesn’t say much of what he thinks, but the thoughts are there, his attention as designed and earned as it is naturally warm. 

Like the way a saucer embraces the tea cup it’s been created to match, Yuuji had thought the other day at Nanami’s. Molded to be the way it is, controlled by a potter, but no less full of care in that. It’s never wavered, this quality. Never changed, in all five months Yuuji has known him. And it’s fine. He loves this about Fushiguro, full-stop, has loved it from the second he walked Yuuji to his door and told him, evenly, quietly, to make sure to drink water. He’d been floored at the time, had found it even a little offensive, but he was smiling by the time he followed Junpei inside. He hasn’t stopped smiling about it since. 

But—but a wisp of a voice in the back of Yuuji’s mind also knows there’s no transition here. Nothing for him to latch onto as tangible proof that there was ever a point that attraction—an easy yes to an even easier come home with me—changed into the depth of what Yuuji himself feels for Fushiguro. If the care he receives is—as he’s believed all this time—the same care anyone else will receive. 

Again, always, the guilt is right on the heels of a thought like this. Fushiguro cares for him. Fushiguro is his boyfriend. What more is there to want? What selfishness informs the need to be the only one when he is the one that’s here, with him, beside him? 

"Kugisaki told me." 

Yuuji jumps in the middle of pulling his scarf off one of the employee hooks. He whips around to train wide eyes at Fushiguro. "What?" 

"Kugisaki was the one who told me that you’re working today." 

Fushiguro reaches over to take the scarf himself, something absentminded about how he wraps it around Yuuji—thick fabric looped once, fluffed up so the wool cradles Yuuji’s face, two fingers slid under to make sure it won’t choke him. His eyes move with his fingers, checking his handiwork like a tailor taking measurements. 

Once he’s satisfied, he starts searching the hooks until he finds Yuuji’s own backpack. 

Teacup and saucer, Yuuji thinks. Attention and care. Love. 

Silly. He feels silly for doubting this. He has to breathe out a laugh when Fushiguro maneuvers him around to put the backpack on, the two of them crowded around each other in the narrow hallway. 

"Y’know, Megumi," he says, but dutifully slips his arms through the straps, "I can do this myself just fine." 

"I know," Fushiguro murmurs behind him, close to his ear. "I want to do it." 

Yuuji feels more than hears him move to open the back door. Both of them recoil from the rush of cold wind, but Fushiguro steps out into the snow-spattered ground in the back of the store first, holding the door open. 

He waits until Yuuji’s hopped down next to him. "Do you have plans on the 24th?" 

The back exit of the store opens up to a small lot, barricaded on one end by a net fence and nothing on the other side where it leads to the main Shinjuku street. There’s not much to the space: it’s the width of six cars side by side and the length of three, yet it barely fit four when some part-timers in the neighboring H&M tried last month. It’s lit by only two dim streetlights on either side, and Fushiguro stands right in the middle of them, face as much in shadow as it is bare and hopeful in the artificial white light. 

It reminds him of the night before dinner at the Yushima house. Narrow, curving street. Shoulder to shoulder on a parking bumper. Cars punctuating every conversational beat, every emotional beat alongside it. 

No, Yuuji almost says, I don’t have plans. Except guilt, child-like and persistent, isn’t something he feels about Fushiguro alone.

"Only in the afternoon," he ends up telling the snow-covered ground. "I promised someone last year that I’ll pop in for Christmas Eve again this year—and I owe him a lot for last time, so—I—yeah. I kind of have—plans." 

"I see." 

Yuuji looks up, but the expression that meets him is neutral at best. "You see?" 

"No, just—that makes sense," says Fushiguro. He reaches out to fluff up Yuuji’s scarf, fingers brushing against his cheeks. "Christmas, then." 

He doesn’t say it with any sort of gravity, either, steady and firm, but it still makes Yuuji’s chest tighten. 

Without thinking, he extends his pinky finger between them. "Christmas Eve and all of Christmas, Megumi," he says, Ozawa’s texts in the back of his mind, "I promise I’m all yours." 

Fushiguro’s face works to maintain its neutrality as he stares the pinky down—but he caves in less than a minute, softening with a half-laugh of his own and reaching out to complete the pinky promise.  

That brings back the smile to Yuuji’s face, gentling when Fushiguro gestures him closer, tugging on their entwined pinkies, to kiss his forehead. 

Face hidden under Fushiguro’s, Yuuji says, "Hey, Megumi." 

"Hm?"  

"Y’know I like you, right? So much." 

There’s silence. Yuuji’s heartbeat quiets with it.

But no stillness follows. Fushiguro releases Yuuji’s finger so he can cup what he can reach of his cheeks, thumbs against his cheekbones.

Gently, he squeezes. 

It’s difficult to speak when his cheeks are being pushed together, but Yuuji manages. "What?" 

"You know, like this," Fushiguro begins, and he says it as gently as he’s holding Yuuji, readying, steadying himself. 

Yuuji holds his breath. 

"You’re so cute I can’t stand it." 

Yuuji huffs. But the shove he pushes against Fushiguro’s chest is light and fond, and there’s a smile almost around Fushiguro’s mouth as he catches Yuuji’s hand—

—just as he slips backwards on the snow. 

Yuuji tries—he really, really does—to steady them both. But they end up tumbling against each other, the snow hardly any cushioning as they both trip over the other’s legs and slide, quick and sudden and cartoonish, to the ground. 

The impact against the ground is nothing compared to a fall off a skidded board, even lesser next to a collision on the court, and Yuuji’s immediate priority is Fushiguro. "Shit—Megumi—" He scrambles to his knees, checking what he can see and reach for so much as a scratch. "Sorry—Are you—"

"I’m fine," Fushiguro sighs, and he does seem to be fine, unscathed as he lowers himself flat on his back against the snowy asphalt. He grunts. "Owie." 

Yuuji stops moving. "Owie?" 

Fushiguro’s squinting at the dark sky above him. He tilts his head to look at Yuuji, black hair stark against the snow as strands fan around his head. "What?" 

"Did you just say owie?" says Yuuji. He crouches on his knees, arms bracketing either side of Fushiguro’s body, to shift closer; he ends up climbing slightly over Fushiguro to peer at his face with a grin. "You have a wittle boo-boo, baby?" 

Fushiguro groans again. "Get off me." 

"Want me to kiss it better?" 

"Shut up," he mutters, but he wraps an arm around Yuuji’s waist and pulls until Yuuji collapses half on top of him. 

Lying on the snow, Yuuji’s skin smolders with something he’s not actually feeling—a phantom burn from the layers of fabric just barely touching him. Burning from the cold of the snow under the left side of his body, burning from where everything else is attuned to Fushiguro’s body heat. 

Fushiguro, who’s still looking at the sky. 

It’s his eyes. His eyes that give him away to Yuuji. His eyes that let Yuuji know when his mind is somewhere not quite far, not quite distant, but still a place Yuuji can’t reach. Like now. Like—it sometimes feels—always. 

But it isn’t always. Fushiguro comes back to him, eventually, every time. 

"Gonna say something poetic about stars?" says Yuuji.

Fushiguro blinks—upwards, then at Yuuji. His mouth quirks up. "We’re in the middle of Tokyo." 

It starts as a snort, startled out of Yuuji, but then he’s laughing from deep in his lungs, long and cathartic and necessary. He laughs until that breath runs out. He laughs until the next one runs out, too, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. 

And he laughs and laughs until Fushiguro leans over to kiss all the laughter out of his mouth.

 

 

There’s another dinner on the 22nd, a quarter for Fushiguro’s birthday and three-quarters for Tsumiki and her fiancé. It’s catered this time, trays of food set up on one of two glass dining tables in the Yushima house, and Yuuji spends so much of the beginning of the night overwhelmed by the choices that he forgets to do any actual eating until one of Gojo and Getou’s doctor friends, a woman with long, straight hair and near purple eyebags, notices him lurking and starts a plate for him. 

For most of the night, Fushiguro is nowhere to be found, stolen away by Tsumiki’s fiancé twenty minutes into their arrival. He hadn’t gestured for rescue nor even gave any indication he would need any, so Yuuji had pretended to wander as far away as he can until he found himself as far away as he actually can be, somewhere on the fourth floor with Okkotsu, a lone family guest this time, and Zenin Maki, who see-saws between bullying Okkotsu for being horrible at sports to giving both him and Yuuji sincere tips at self-defence. 

Around half past seven, Fushiguro finds them all sitting on a king bed, cross-legged in a circle of three. They’re in one of the guest bedrooms—huge, the entire thing the size of Yuuji’s apartment, but unadorned and, according to Maki, one of the smaller rooms in the house that Gojo and Getou doesn’t know what to do with now that Nanako and Mimiko have moved out and neither of the Fushiguro siblings need to stay over at all. 

Yuuji can’t help but think this is a little lonely, and it stays on his mind even as Fushiguro hovers in the doorway, frowning at the three of them. 

"What kind of conference is this?" he says.

"Planning a heist," says Maki, at the same time that Okkotsu says, "Helping Itadori hide from Gojo-sensei." 

Fushiguro remains in the doorway. 

Maki pats the bedspace between her and Yuuji. "Come join us, Megumi." 

It always leaves Yuuji a strange, wistful bundle of amused and mystified, watching Fushiguro interact with people from his own world, a glimpse into what Yuuji never hears about. He weathers Okkotsu and Maki like they’re older siblings, wearing a milder version now of the weariness he had around his father, ever the long-suffering youngest whenever he’s around family—but with affection, and with consideration that, while rough-edged, has softness at its foundations. 

Yuuji can’t remember if he coveted that at any point. He doesn’t think he did. Maybe he’d been sure, for as long as he’d had Fushiguro in his life, that this same consideration was given to him as well, and that he understood from the beginning how special it is to be part of Fushiguro’s world, how much of a luxury it is in itself to be in it.

Yuuji knows he could have done something at any point. He’d confessed the night after Disneyland because everything had come to a boil and he was nothing if not stupid and impulsive when emotions get the best of him and love was suddenly so much bigger than like—but those emotions had been there, lurking and present, for so long that he knows he could have done a proper confession the moment he so chose in those five months. He knows, too, that while part of him not doing just that was because he’d been terrified, walking friends with benefits cliché and all, at the thought of ruining what he and Fushiguro had, had been terrified of giving up the luxury that he already felt so lucky to have and be able to call his own—the bigger part had been because a rejection didn’t just mean losing Fushiguro. It also meant having to someday blink and confront the fact that, despite all his certainty otherwise, despite what kindness Fushiguro did give him, Yuuji might have still been an outsider to Fushiguro’s world this whole time.

And he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t subject someone who already had such little space in their life to him and his space-sucking needs, even if only in the form of a confession. Because being Yuuji’s friend is one thing. Being his Plan A, always and forever and again and again, is another awful, awful thing altogether. 

He’s not sure why he’s even thinking about this right now, with Fushiguro right here. 

It isn’t until Maki and Okkotsu stand and he has to blink up at them that it hits him how much he’s dazed his way out of the conversation. But they don’t seem to think anything of Yuuji’s flightiness—which means he must have been himself enough to look like he was paying attention—patting him on the head and the shoulder each on their way out, a sharp side-grin and a polite beam each.

Fushiguro is more observant. 

"Maki-san has an Aikido match tomorrow," he says as soon as the door has clicked closed. "Okkotsu-senpai offered to walk her home." 

Yuuji pretends to stretch his legs, unfurling them from their cross over the bed. "She accepted?" 

"No. But he’s going anyway." 

Yuuji laughs, deciding he might as well lie down. His spine complains as he does, bent for at least half an hour now, and he pulls it taut—counts to five—before releasing it. He groans. 

Fushiguro’s eyes are heavy on him, simultaneously tracking the arch of his back and one breath away from asking Yuuji what’s wrong. The knit of his eyebrows struggles with this, eventually reaching out to press a hand against Yuuji’s stomach and push his body back down—and Yuuji takes the time to beat him to conversation, sliding his hand over his own torso to slip them into Fushiguro’s. 

"You look tired, Megumi."

Fushiguro keeps steady eye contact. "I am." 

"Did Tsumiki-san’s fiancé say something bad?" 

"No." Fushiguro spends a moment to rethink it, but he moves to lie on his side, facing Yuuji. "Turn around." 

Yuuji does, shifting to his side. He isn’t surprised when Fushiguro wraps himself around his body to spoon him, forehead finding its way against the crook of Yuuji’s shoulder. He breathes out for a few moments.

Like this, he murmurs, "I hate it when people bug me about how I feel." 

Their position is nothing complicated, nothing even particularly close relative to all the ways they’ve been together, but this—Fushiguro lying right next to him after only two hours apart at best, voice deep in his ear like he’s hearing it over a phone, their main point of tight contact their entwined hands—suddenly feels so intimate that Yuuji wants to peel off his skin to feel more of it on the muscle, on the bone. They always seem to be like this, these days: lying next to each other, forever side by side at the end of the day, though never face-to-face like that.

"Wait, sorry—" Yuuji punches out when Fushiguro’s words finally register. "—what?"

"He’s a good guy. I just hate it when people ask too many questions. And he did."

"Oh," says Yuuji. "That’s what you meant. Why do you hate it?" 

"I never answer with enough of the nuance I’m thinking, and it’s just—frustrating, even when they mean well." Fushiguro shifts closer, torso against Yuuji’s back. "Why are you hiding from Gojo-sensei?" 

"I’m not—" Yuuji’s throat tries to giggle or gasp. He can’t distinguish it past how he almost chokes on air. "I’m not actually. Okkotsu-senpai was—It was an inside joke. Gojo-sensei hunted me down to Skygarden after he saw me on Okkotsu-senpai’s Instagram Story."

"What?" 

Fushiguro lifts his head. Yuuji’s too comfortable to look over his shoulder and meet his eyes. 

"I know. Decided to come all the way to Odaiba to try to hound me." 

"About?"

"About pretending to be your boyfriend."

Fushiguro’s hands tighten around Yuuji’s stomach. "But you are my boyfriend."

"No—yeah. Now." Yuuji presses his cheek against the bed, the sheets soft and silky and expensive against his skin. "Yeah, but he was—he was like—But he didn’t know that, right? So I had to go all kindergarten teacher on him, like, no, Sensei, one plus one is not five. Just because we weren’t dating the last time we talked doesn’t mean we’re not dating now. Stuff like that." 

Fushiguro is quiet for a while. But he returns to where he was before, mouth on Yuuji’s nape. "We need to stop showing up on other people’s Stories." 

"I know." Yuuji laughs again. "Oh, and get this, he asked me to—"

He breaks off, Gojo at the skatepark with his ridiculous gummy bears flashing like a personalized ad warning in the back of his mind.

"Asked you to what?" says Fushiguro, voice vibrating through Yuuji’s body.

"I’m not supposed to tell you until—like, ever, but I was still gonna wait until he gave his gift to you—" Yuuji fidgets, but Fushiguro pins him in place. To the wall he’s facing, he says, "Catch my drift, Megumi. C’mon. So I can pretend I didn’t have to say it." 

A beat of silence. 

Then, flat and coarse as unused grip tape: "He asked you for help to get me a gift." 

"Bingo."

"Unbelievable."

Yuuji manages a proper giggle without choking this time. "I swear it got fun after a bit! Though Gojo-sensei’s a little wasteful with money, isn’t he?" 

"Always has been. It’s nasty and exorbitant," Fushiguro mutters. "Where did you go?" 

"Ginza." 

"You? Shopping for gifts at Ginza?" 

"Hey, I wasn’t buying a gift for you. I already had one—" Yuuji stops. "Oh." 

"You got me a gift?" 

"Of course I got you a gift, Megumi—what the hell." Yuuji means to huff, but it comes out as the laugh that it is. He wiggles when Fushiguro pretends to tighten his embrace. "I’m not giving it to you until later, though." 

"When you’re going home?"

"Yes."

"So you can run away after giving it?"

"Maybe." 

"No," says Fushiguro. "I want it right now." 

"Megumi—"

Without waiting for an answer, Fushiguro sits up, climbing over Yuuji to search the floor. "Did you bring a bag?" 

Yuuji rolls onto his back. "You can be such a kid sometimes." He fakes a sigh, even while his heart pitter-patters with fondness—and nervousness, too, as he points at the puffer coat hanging on the hook behind the door. "Pockets." 

Fushiguro’s gentle in stepping off the bed, but his movements are purposeful in searching. When he retrieves a small cloth bag, bulbous and soft from the two items it’s carrying, it’s with a rare slowness that he opens it. Not quite his usual kind of painstaking. Shy, so shy, in how careful he’s being.

Yuuji sits up, heartbeat banging against his ribs. "I know it’s not much, and I know it’s more a gift for us, but—yeah." 

They’d caught his eye at a boutique in Shibuya, waiting for Nobara to finish trying on a summer dress discounted for the winter. A pair of plush keychains, one black puppy and one white, the size of a pool ball each and the exact opposite texture. Yuuji had picked one up and been entranced by the softness until his conversation with Fushiguro about getting dogs someday had returned to him. By the time Nobara returned, he’d already bought the keychains. 

It occurs to him now that he should have thought it through, put a lot more effort in for the first birthday gift he’s ever giving Fushiguro, or at least not relied on impulse. 

Fushiguro stands silent and still, having picked up the black plush keychain and raised it to eye level. 

Yuuji bites down on his bottom lip, fights the urge to chew. "Megumi?"

Fushiguro’s eyes take their time rising to meet his. "One of them is yours? One for each of us?" 

"I—yeah," says Yuuji, stuttering when he realizes that Fushiguro’s gaze on him is openly soft, fond. "It’s—um—a little bit childish, huh?"

Fushiguro shakes his head. "What’s wrong with that?" 

"Hey. You’re supposed to say it’s not childish." 

Yuuji watches, still half-worried, as Fushiguro picks up the other plush, too, leaving it nestled in the cloth bag over one palm. 

And then—perceptibly, palpable for anyone albeit small as ever—he smiles.

Struck, still-hearted, Yuuji quietly asks, "You like them?" 

"I do," says Fushiguro. "I really do." 

His voice is as gentle as his expression. What’s left of Yuuji’s heart gives away with it. 

It feels like the night after Disneyland all over again, his emotions thread-bare and worn to the most vulnerable it’s ever been towards Fushiguro. He’s grateful for it when Fushiguro returns to the bed to kiss him, burying what Yuuji’s sure would have been a worse, more humiliating blurted-out confession than the last. 

"Thank you," Fushiguro murmurs between them.

Yuuji smiles. "You’re very welcome." 

 

 

At eight, the two of them come back down to join everyone else, intending to segue to a goodbye that Fushiguro suddenly seems to be restless for. 

But they end up spending the rest of the night in a storage room next to the kitchen, heat all over Yuuji’s skin. Fushiguro isn’t very merciful about it—and it’s fine, that’s fine, Yuuji can’t even pretend it isn’t, pushed between the crook of two shelves of ingredients that he’s sure no one in the entire house but Getou has ever touched—but the door has no lock and he can get distracted with a kiss alone, so he focuses on being as quiet as he can and lets Fushiguro thank him how he knows best.

The only way he knows how, sometimes. The enormity of what he’s feeling always in his hands the way the enormity of what he’s thinking is always in his eyes. 

At some point, Fushiguro murmurs his name against the hollow of his throat. 

"Hm?" 

"About the 24th," says Fushiguro. 

Yuuji hums again, loose-limbed and brain-loose. "Wanna come with? It’s fun opening up a bar, and I won’t leave your side, I promise."

Fushiguro hesitates. Instead of answering—though it’s a no; Yuuji knew and knows it would be a no—he lifts his head to kiss Yuuji, hard and gentle and searing and hardly brushing all at once, like a kiss is not what he wants his mouth to be doing. 

Yuuji pulls away. "Hey. Let’s spend Christmas Eve and all of Christmas together, okay?" 

Fushiguro’s mouth is still poised to say something. It falls shut. 

After a long second, he says, "Okay."

And dips his head back down.

 

 

Life goes on, again.

 



Are you still helping out on Saturday? 

 

ofc !!

i’ll be there 👍🏻

 

 

And on, and on.

 

 

"Nii-san." Yuuji raises his glass to the light. "Is there absinthe in this? It’s green."

"Why would there be absinthe in that?" says Choso. "Give me one reason I would ever give you and your new friends absinthe, Yuuji." 

"Because you want us to have a good time?" 

"You can have a good time with water." 

"This obviously isn’t water."

"Just bring the drinks over to them, please."

Yuuji sighs and picks up the tray. 

Death Painting, despite the name, is as homey a bar as a bar in Ikebukuro can be, not far from the bookstore Yuuji used to work at and right above the art studio that Choso used to rent with three others he met at the Ebisu Atelier d'Art. The studio is all his now, and so is the bar, though only because he lent his name to its lease and lent the title of the first sculpture he sold to its name when his younger brothers started the business three years ago. 

Eso and Kechizu run it mostly by themselves, a once hole in the wall restaurant that they somehow managed to maximize into the jazz spot it is now, but once a year on Christmas Eve, Choso takes over so the two can have an evening before the holiday rush between Christmas and New Year’s. They’d both stayed in the bar last year, knowing Yuuji is spending Christmas Eve with no one else but them, but they’re nowhere to be found tonight, off on their own and content to know Yuuji will be around to help Choso handle the bar for the start of the evening. 

Except the bar opened two hours ago, fireplace-warm and with Tarika Blue crooning from overhead, and somehow Yuuji has made friends with a pair of students from Todai after taking their drink orders. They’re both literature majors, and this is what Yuuji chalks it up to when it starts to dawn on him that the two might be the anxious type, though in ways that Yuuji can’t help but find fun to be around, with Kasumi hesitant and stammering but well-opinionated once given permission, and Nitta ready to offer a counter-question to everything Yuuji says. 

They’re both here to kill a couple of hours: Kasumi is waiting for her boyfriend to get out of class, Nitta for his older sister to get out of work. Death Painting is the only place open right across the street today from where the older Nitta works, their one choice to wait at, and when they admitted earlier that this wasn’t the kind of place they would usually hang out, Yuuji had stuck around longer than he should have to assure them they’re in good hands, pulling up a seat from a neighboring table at some point and bringing their drinks himself so neither of them would have to go up to Choso themselves. 

Somehow he’s back at the bar now, ready to return with a third round.

Looking back, Kasumi might have just panicked about how to interact with a stranger by the bar. But it’s too late to disentangle himself from them, and he arrives with the drinks to a sheepish, overly grateful chorus of thank you s. 

He sits down, catching the tendrils of the conversation he missed as he disperses the drinks across the table.

"—the cutest dog plushie keychain," Kasumi is saying, tugging at one edge of her sharply cropped bangs. "I wanted to ask him where he got it but I—You know. He’s—Yeah." 

"Fushiguro Megumi is actually rather nice," says Nitta. Yuuji jerks. "Though I guess he’s intimidating to approach." 

"Wait, sorry—" Sitting sideways on his chair, Yuuji leans forward against the back. "Fushiguro Megumi?"

He shoots for casual and falls just short, but Nitta doesn’t notice. "This person who goes to our school," he explains to Yuuji. "Miwa’s been obsessed with a dog plushie he has but she can’t go up and ask." 

Yuuji didn’t know Fushiguro has started using the keychain, and he can’t help but smile wide at the thought of a plush puppy hanging from Fushiguro’s utilitarian vegan leather backpack. "Cute."

"Right?" Kasumi brightens. "I knew he must secretly like cute things—like—like puppies and plushies and kids’ shows and—" 

"Yeah, secretly." Nitta frowns. He picks up his cocktail but doesn’t do anything else with it, staring down at the green liquid like it has the answers he needs for a question as profound as: "Why is he using a plushie keychain out of nowhere?" 

"Maybe," Yuuji volunteers, "his significant other gave it to him." 

Kasumi gasps, turning from Yuuji to Nitta and twice back with wide eyes. "Arata-kun, do you think Fushiguro-kun might have a secret partner?" 

Nitta places his drink down. He shakes his head. "I doubt it. Highly, highly doubt it." 

Yuuji’s smile falls a little. To cover it, he picks up the melon-sweet drink that Choso had given him. "Why? You never know." 

"No, Itadori, listen—Fushiguro? The guy has never been in love," says Nitta. "I’m in the same year as him, right, and we have a class together this semester. We had to talk about some Lauren Berlant work in a seminar, and when we got to talking about ideal types first, he told our prof that he has no personal preference—"

"Oh no," says Kasumi. "Tsukumo-sensei wouldn’t have been satisfied with that."

"Exactly." Nitta nods. "She was like, but what kinda people have you liked, Fushiguro-kun? And he looked her dead in the eye and straight up said, word for word, I have never liked anyone in my life.

Yuuji stops moving, his glass still to his mouth. He lowers it back down.

He thinks he hears Kasumi sigh. He can’t tell, through the sudden rushing in his head, if it’s wistful or resigned. He misses what she says, too, heartbeat in his ears, until she taps the spot next to his hand on the table and says, "Itadori-kun?" 

"Do you know Fushiguro Megumi, Itadori?" says Nitta. 

Slowly, Yuuji nods. "Yeah. He’s my boyfriend." 

There’s silence across the table, so deafening that it cracks through the film over Yuuji’s ears. In a blink, both Kasumi and Nitta have nothing but pure horror on their faces, hands to their mouths, eyes blown. 

"Oh my god," Kasumi chokes out.

"We are so sorry," says Nitta. "Holy shit."

Yuuji shakes his head—for them, for himself. "No, I—I totally get what you mean," he says, somehow perfectly nonchalant even as his mind takes too long to clear. "The dog keychain’s from a store in Akiba, by the way." 

He says it in an attempt to strain the embarrassment out of the stuffed air, but the horror just seems to build on Kasumi’s face, more and more of it matching the redness of her face. 

It’s Nitta, first, who pushes his untouched glass towards Yuuji. Then he’s standing. "Please take my drink, Itadori. I’ll be back." 

With that, he runs to the bar and, impressively, manages to speak to Choso without once averting his eyes. It leaves Yuuji alone with Kasumi, who also pushes her drink over with both hands like a ceremonial offering.

"I’m so sorry, Itadori-kun—I didn’t—I didn’t know. I was saying things that I should have known would be rude to say in the event that you did happen to be Fushiguro-kun’s boyfriend—which you are—and I should have known—and now I’m—"

"It’s really fine," Yuuji tries to interrupt, because Kasumi is speaking faster and faster. "I—uh. It’s fine. You can take the drink back—"

"No, I insist." Kasumi bows, low enough for her forehead to almost touch the wooden table between them. "And Arata-kun’s drink as well. On us." 

"I can’t—I don’t really dr—"

"Please. Take our apologies."

"It’s really not that serious," says Yuuji, but he brings the glasses closer because Kasumi looks like she’s about to pass out. 

He doesn’t drink often, by choice and by instruction, doesn’t get drunk often nor easily, either, but four drinks in and he feels hazy, like life and his existence has soft vignetting. Drinking, however much, always brings him a little too close to wanting to melt and cry, and he wonders if there’s something to be said there in how the tears linger, ever just under the surface, waiting for when he lets his guard down against them.

He wonders, too, when that had started being like this. Sure, he tears up easy, gets lost even easier in emotions when watching movies—but crying comes only when it has to. It doesn’t have to right now. And yet. 

He thinks again that he’s lost it when, at the start of an Uematsu Takao piece he only recognizes because of Choso, Fushiguro materializes at the corner of their table. 

But he isn’t seeing things, and he lifts his head as Kasumi and Nitta both startle and stumble through hellos like they weren’t just talking about Fushiguro. It’s Kasumi, surprisingly, who does most of the talking, though Yuuji is suddenly too sleepy to pay attention to the specifics of what she’s saying. She’s explaining the situation at full, unnecessary length, he thinks, something about meeting him by chance and not knowing "he’s your boyfriend," and Fushiguro isn’t stopping her, hand reaching out to touch Yuuji.

He thinks it’s to stroke his hair—but Fushiguro’s hand settles on his nape, a limp weight that renders Yuuji abruptly conscious of how he’s still slumped over the table, his forearms and elbows to the wood like he’s drunker than he is.

But he’s only hot and tired, everything else vivid and understandable past the softness of everything sensory. He gets up to his feet fine when Fushiguro taps for him to, and he holds a full, coherent conversation with Kasumi, Nitta and Choso each on his way out, Fushiguro a silent partner next to him. 

It’s only when they reach the sidewalk right outside, Yuuji’s heated face grateful for the cold, that he realizes the silence feels wrong. 

Then they start walking through Christmas Eve Ikebukuro, past multitudes of people in scarves and beige coats and berets, and everything is swimming in a haze of color by the time it occurs to Yuuji—through a second epiphany that he can’t even evaluate for validity through how thick a process it suddenly is to make his brain work—that Fushiguro’s silence has felt wrong like this for a lot, lot longer than tonight. 

He doesn’t say a single word to Yuuji on the subway ride to Shinjuku, head ducked and hands in his pockets. He might as well be sitting a seat away, might as well be a stranger. He’s stewing, simmering, and in the silence, Yuuji with him. 

But Yuuji still wants to be wrong about all this, wants badly for this to be his anxiety talking. 

As they approach his apartment building, he finally says, "How d’you know where I was?"

A step ahead, Fushiguro doesn’t look at him. "Nitta’s Story." 

"Not another Instagram Story," says Yuuji, a joke that doesn’t land at all, Fushiguro’s eyes firm on the ground ahead. 

"You’re drunk."

"Only a little bit. I’m walking and talking fine."

"You don’t drink."

"On Coach’s orders, not me not wanting to drink." Yuuji can work with this. Deescalate somehow. He can. "I was literally drinking when we met."

"You don’t drink this much."

"Yeah, but I—Did the two explain?"

"They did. Just because they offered doesn’t mean you need to have drunk all of it." 

"I couldn’t just reject their literal apologies, Megumi." 

"Yes, you can," says Fushiguro—and it isn’t quite snappish, but it’s a near, near thing. "I just don’t get it."

"Don’t get what?"

"Why do you always have to go somewhere and make yourself the center of attention?" 

Yuuji blinks. 

At the last crossing before they reach his street, he finally catches a look at Fushiguro’s face, dark and crumpled—and no, Yuuji can’t work with this. 

Upset. Fushiguro is upset. Not at him right now, never at him when it comes to their relationship, but there’s frustration radiating off Fushiguro, with nowhere else to go but towards Yuuji. Up close, Yuuji can see face-to-face the edge to Fushiguro’s eyes, can feel the heat off him—not warmth, nothing comfortable and familiar—but heat that comes off the way Fushiguro shakes, both hands in loose fists.

He doesn’t look angry. He doesn’t look accusatory.

Bare-faced under the shifting blinks of the pedestrian lights, he looks nothing but hurt. 

Yuuji almost forgets to walk when the light turns green. 

Everything else, he does in autopilot: the whole rest of the walk back, Fushiguro a step behind this time; inputting the code to his building; unlocking the door; checking the cat food tray by the kitchen. It’s empty. He refills it. Sukuna is nowhere to be found. 

Probably sleeping on Yuuji’s bed. Yuuji wishes he was, too. 

He gets a drink of water. 

Fushiguro hovers in the living room. He stands by the window, fists in the pocket of the coat he’s still wearing and a hundred words waiting to be said in how his mouth has remained stubbornly closed the whole walk here.

When it opens, it’s to quietly say, "It came out all wrong, how I said what I said."

Out of the chill now, Yuuji’s body feels like it’s melting, slow drop by slow drop, a far cry from the usual boneless he feels around Fushiguro. It’s a slower, colder melt tonight, like wax trying to liquify without enough heat, or like a cheap candle losing height to a tiny growing flame and deteriorating into pieces that harden fast on the old wood of a church pew. 

"Not all of it," he says. He finishes his glass, takes the one step from the kitchen to the living room, the two more to Fushiguro, though only close enough to be able to talk. He doesn’t move any closer. For fear of what, he doesn’t know. Fushiguro’s eyes catch on the space between their feet. "You’re upset, Megumi."

"Not with you."

"I don’t care if it’s with me or if it’s with the general state of this deteriorating planet. You’re upset." 

"It’s fine."

Unthinking, Yuuji bites down. The light from the streetlamp just outside his living room window is too bright. He wants to tell Fushiguro to close the curtains. Instead, he closes his eyes and takes a breath and relaxes his face and wishes he was more drunk.

"Megumi, can you just—" He opens his eyes. Sits down on the couch. Fushiguro doesn’t follow. "Let’s not do that tonight, okay?" 

"Do what?"

"The ‘it’s fine’ when it’s obviously not fine." Yuuji’s tone wants so desperately to be friendly and empathetic and welcoming, but he can’t seem to keep the underlying shakiness out. "You’ve been on edge all week."

He said it for the sake of having it stated out in the open—but the gravity of it ricochets back to him when he’s confronted with the echo that lingers. Fushiguro has been on edge for the last couple of weeks, pulled taut and tight without release from the moment he met Yuuji at Harajuku Station difficult nights and difficult nights ago in his pajamas—but looking back, back, back, he has been on edge in all the moments before that, too, all the way to the beginning of the month, sitting under the moonlight and looking at Yuuji with darkened, intent eyes and saying, What about the other option? What if I want you to be my boyfriend?

It’s the same look on Fushiguro’s face now, the same strain to the way he is holding himself so still. Only sharper, more in focus, as if it’s finally found the right lens to make everything as crystalline as it needs it to be. 

"Just tell me why, Megumi." 

"Why what?" says Fushiguro, raising his eyes to finally, finally meet Yuuji’s. "Why I’m upset?"

"Yeah." 

Fushiguro’s voice hasn’t changed in tone, still level, still dangerously polite, still quiet—until he starts, eyes never leaving Yuuji’s.

"Fine," he says, with precision that reminds Yuuji of Takada at the breakfast bistro forever ago, cutting his pancakes into small, sharp triangles. One by one, each slice a deliberate one. "I’m upset because my boyfriend always needs more than what I can ever give him."

Yuuji freezes.

Fushiguro, for once, doesn’t notice.

"I’m upset that my boyfriend has to be everyone’s best friend," he continues, "and would apparently rather stay with a pair of strangers than have a night with me. I’m upset that my boyfriend has so much going on in his life and I have no space in it. I’m upset that the only time I feel like my boyfriend is mine is at night and in bed. I’m upset that I have to share even what I shouldn’t have to." His eyes narrow. "And I’m upset, Yuuji, that I asked you out to have more of you but now I feel like I have so much less."

This last part comes as controlled as it is grim, and it’s the one that stays with Yuuji, finding its way around his windpipe and clutching like it was meant to do that. 

He takes a slow exhale, attempting to dislodge the weight tugged along in his breathing. He fails.

"What does that mean? You asked me out to have more of me?"

Neither of them have turned on the light in the living room, and the only source of it is the mix of moonlight and streetlight collapsing into each other on the floorboards. Fushiguro’s hand leaves a moving shadow in its wake when he presses it to the back of his own neck, gripping it like he wants to stop his pulse from doing what it is. 

"It doesn’t matter now."

Four different emotions rise in Yuuji—but the one that wins, clear and uncontested, is frustration of his own, sparking from where the last remnants of the crawling heat from the bar still creeps over his face.

"No, I think it does." He leans back against the couch. "Yuko said you were jealous at Disneyland. Of her?"

He needs to backtrack, to return to deescalation, but there’s a burst of bitterness already thrumming in full swing somewhere in him, collecting more and more when Fushiguro doesn’t answer at all this time, refusing to bite

"The whole time I was thinking about how much I liked you," says Yuuji, making sure every syllable comes out perfect and coherent, though there’s no vindication in seeing Fushiguro flinch. "Thinking about how I didn’t know how much more I could handle of whatever undefined hell we were doing, and you were being jealous of—of what? What about Yuko?" 

"I thought—" Fushiguro’s hand falls from his neck. "I thought you liked her."

"Sure," says Yuuji, easily but not mildly. "In high school. When have I ever given any sign I like her now?" 

No answer, again, but this time Fushiguro’s dead gaze slides past the couch—and to the kitchen.

Yuuji lifts one hand still frozen from outside to push his hair away from the heat—so much heat—on his face. But the hot crawl triples to burning when his brain flips further back and settles on a late morning in this apartment: Fushiguro in the kitchen, his back to the rest of the apartment and his hands cradling a small handmade ceramic cup.

Yuuji lets his hand drop as well.

"The cup?" he says. "Because I made her a cup? Megumi, that’s like—You know I don’t—"

"I know now. I didn’t—" Fushiguro stops, starts. "I didn’t even think I’d care. Then you offered to pretend to be my boyfriend right after, and—" 

"What does that have to do with—" says Yuuji. It clicks just as soon. "Oh."

The silence, this time, speaks for itself. 

Yuuji thinks: You know I don’t care at all. He thinks: Why would they do that with someone I’m only sleeping with? He thinks: Me and him, we’ve been doing this for so long. If he was ever going to develop feelings for me, he would have by now. He thinks: That one also claimed that he doesn’t have feelings for you like that. He thinks: I want you to be my boyfriend. Only mine.

And he thinks: I have never liked anyone in my life.

Maybe Yuuji should have at least considered it. Maybe Yuuji should have suspected, even once, from how Fushiguro can at times be all doing and no saying, from how he seems to not know what to do with being with Yuuji except crowd his life and his senses when he has no excuse for the smaller things.

"That’s why you wanted to date me?" he finds it in himself to say. His voice sounds foreign. It doesn’t sound wrong. "Pretend or not? You wanted a label because I wanted someone else?" 

Fushiguro looks right back at him. "That’s not what I said."

"No? Because what I’m hearing is that if I didn’t give Yuko a cup to keep here in my apartment for convenience, we wouldn’t be where we are right now." 

"Which is where, exactly?" 

"Don’t—" Yuuji shakes his head, stunned at the hard edge to Fushiguro’s question. "I’m trying to figure out what you wanted from this."

"Why?"

"Why?" Yuuji echoes, incredulous. "Because—Megumi, make me understand. You didn’t want someone else to have more so you—what? You wanted to hoard me? Make sure no one else gets to have me? Because you don’t wanna share? Make sure no one else gets to make me happy?"

He knows he’s not being fair as soon as it’s out of his mouth. Fushiguro will never wish unhappiness on him—and he knows that, but it doesn’t bleed over to the awareness that he doesn’t know if the same can be said for the rest of his questions. 

"No," says Fushiguro, and his voice sounds the same kind of foreign-but-not-wrong, too. Yuuji, for a moment, wonders who these people are, talking to each other right now, voices low and pained and jaws clenched. "No one thing can make you happy, so of course I know no one person can make you happy. I’m not—" 

"Megumi," says Yuuji, softening his voice. It doesn’t work. He can lower his volume, can force his voice into something more malleable, but it will still betray the truth in what he’s saying. "Me wanting you doesn’t mean I won’t need other things, too. Things that you can’t give—"

And that’s okay, he means to add. Things that you don’t even have to give if you don’t even fucking love me, he doesn’t want nor will ever mean to add. Unfortunately and thankfully, Fushiguro’s voice is already rising over his. "I don’t want to be just another thing you schedule into your day because you can, Yuuji." 

"When have I ever?" says Yuuji. "I don’t make my days this busy because I want to—"

"But you do. You do." 

Fushiguro sounds so unflinching, and so curt in this, that the need to apologize is automatic. But Yuuji thinks of his grandfather’s empty hospital bed, of a room only he ever visited, the flowers that were never moved, never watered, probably never even looked at, unless he did so himself—and he can’t bring himself to attempt the half-lie that he’s sorry.

"I know," he begins instead, because this much, he’s sure of, "that I’m not giving enough to you."

But Fushiguro says, "I don’t want you to give to me."

And there is, this time, an icy undercurrent to his voice.

It startles Yuuji cold.

"That’s not fair," he answers out of instinct, and he’s surprised by how fragile it sounds. He clears his throat, gives it another try because he doesn’t know what else to do. He needs to go for a walk. He needs to lie down. He needs to restart the evening. He goes for honesty. "God, I—I don’t know how you feel, Megumi. About anything involving me. I can guess. I can ask small questions. I can try to hear about you from other people. I can even feel like I know you, but that’s not the same as you letting me know you, and I don’t want my boyfriend to be a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle for me to build every single time I feel like I don’t understand him as much as I should."

Fushiguro’s expression doesn’t change, calm and unreadable. "I’m not an emotional person. You think just because you are that everyone else must be, too—but I’m just not."

"That’s not what I meant—that’s not what I—What?" says Yuuji, voice cracking at the last syllable. He’s trying so hard so, so hard to make this conversation okay, harder than he’s ever had to with anyone and anything. He doesn’t know why it’s not working. "I’m just saying that I don’t know what’s enough for you because I don’t even know how you feel about me. I don’t know what you want—" 

"What I want," says Fushiguro, "is for you to just let me take care of you."

There’s a burst of red, out of nowhere, behind Yuuji’s eyes. "And what, you want me to give you a checklist or something? Don’t forget to water your Itadori Yuuji at exactly 9 A.M. today? I’m your boyfriend, Megumi. Before that, I’m your friend. Neither makes me a problem you have to always fix."

"Then what am I supposed to do when you’re feeling like shit?"

"I don’t know? Just let me feel? Be there?" says Yuuji, banging a fist down on the couch like a gavel. The jolt travels up to his arm, his shoulder, his teeth. "Why can’t you let me feel my feelings without needing to solve them?"

"Because I want to make them better for you—"

"That’s not something you can do every time—and that’s alright! Why can’t you be more like Nobara? Or Junpei? Why can’t you be like Nanamin?"

The string of names stabs Fushiguro terribly enough, once each, that it shows bare and open and undeniable on his face, stricken and for a split second sincerely angry—but Yuuji can’t take it back. Not when it sinks in right after how much he means it. How true it is.

Still, he says, "No, Megumi, I’m—" 

Fushiguro shakes his head, everything about him shadowed. Then he does it a second time, taking a breath loud enough that it travels through the apartment.

Yuuji doesn’t know which one of them Fushiguro’s shaking himself off for.

"You always need to be surrounded by people," he tells Yuuji, his naked heart in his voice, and he doesn’t say it like it’s a bad thing—but it still feels that way, in how it reaches Yuuji, in how it forces itself to where his mind doesn’t want anything to ever be. "You always need to be doing five things at once. Always. You always need so, so much to exist, and I just don’t know how else I’m supposed to love someone who needs as much as you do."

Yuuji stills.

His brain, for a full second, shuts down completely. 

It tries to find an immediate response, he knows it does—scrambling around for another joke, a biting answer, a way to latch onto the part of his mind that knows he’s misreading these words somehow even though he knows he heard right—but he can’t even seem to open his mouth, the rest of his body going so stock-still that it hurts the moment he grows aware of the sudden cold still creeping in from his fingertips. 

His mouth, eventually, forms an emotion for him. 

"Please leave."

Fushiguro blinks. "What?" 

"Leave. Please get out of my apartment." 

For a second, it feels good, so genuinely good, part of the sting bleeding out with how sharp the words feel between his teeth. But the catharsis doesn’t stay, leaves his insides feeling shredded through muscle, through bone. Like a scraped mango cheek. Like a hollow Matryoshka doll. Like emptiness sitting at a bistro, watching the snowfall, knowing he agreed to what he did two nights before because he’ll take anything, anything at all, with Fushiguro Megumi. 

"Yuuji—"

He stands. "I’m going to get ready for bed. Please be gone by the time I’m out."

Fushiguro doesn’t protest. Of course he doesn’t. It’s all heartbeats and floorboards and ventilation humming when Yuuji walks to the kitchen, to the bathroom beyond it.

He stops at the door. 

"I love you, y’know," he says. "I’m unbelievably, ridiculously in love with you, and that really fucking hurt, Fushiguro.

He slams the bathroom door behind him. 

 

Chapter Text

On the morning of Tsumiki's wedding, Megumi jolts awake before his alarm.

In the complete darkness of the room, the first thing to hit him is that he’s alone. He pats the other side of the bed as he sits up, urgency thundering through his nerves—before his dream fades and he remembers he’s at home, in his room, in his bed, without Itadori. 

Without Itadori for three nights now. 

Megumi flops back against his pillows, heartbeat still roaring in his ears. He checks the time on his phone: half past five in the morning.

Itadori would probably be awake right now for a run. Hair swept back in the harsh wind, his running jacket zipped over his mouth. It must be even colder outside this early, the air frozen in that bone-deep sort it gets before snowfall, and Itadori will turn the shower to as hot as he can handle when he gets home, then forget to dry his hair properly as soon as he starts having a one-sided argument with his cat while preparing food for both of them. 

Megumi throws an arm over his eyes. 

He hates how easily he can envision himself into this reality: waking up at his own time to the sound of Itadori coming back from his run, falling back asleep to the hum of the shower, rising again at the smell of breakfast and coming awake and into himself as he makes sure to dry Itadori’s hair for him with a warm towel. He hates how much he wants this and only this. He hates that it isn’t the morning he’s having right now.

And he hates that, in real life, he knows he won’t be able to wake up and find Itadori gone on his run without the same dread from a minute ago. 

His alarm rings at six.

It barely sounds before he’s turning it off and sliding out of bed in one go. 

On his way past his door, he reaches out against the backpack hanging from a hook behind it, brushing a finger against the soft corner of the dog keychain Itadori had given him.

It bounces back against his hand. 

He starts getting ready for the day.

 

 

Are you still coming tonight?

 

 

"Your taste in coffee is disgusting."

Megumi doesn’t look at Kugisaki. "So you tell me every single time."

"And I never stop meaning it."

It’s strange being around her this early. Once, she’d come around at seven in the morning while Megumi was still half-asleep over coffee in Itadori’s apartment, but he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her out in actual daylight like this: hair a freshly dyed brown under her beret, her face for once not shadowed in front of him as she visibly fights back a yawn. Sunrise was only an hour ago, and the sky is still a lazy kind of bright above them, taking its time, the sun biding its light.

They’d bumped into each other at the coffee shop. A regular pre-work visit for her; a random choice for Megumi because it had been the closest in his route to the Yushima house and he was armed with ridiculous orders from Getou and Gojo that he wasn’t sure a corner bakery-cafe offered. It hadn’t been a warm surprise, seeing each other, but it hadn’t been cold and tense, either; they’re both still sleepy and not in the mood to talk—so they aren’t, though Megumi wonders how much of the silence is loaded with whatever Itadori had told her about Christmas Eve. Kugisaki doesn’t seem angry at him, but she also hasn’t said anything about Megumi walking with her to work without either invitation or permission. That might be anger in itself, or her getting ready to chew him out. And he’ll deserve it. He’ll deserve whatever I told you so Kugisaki gives him.

If not what happened, then she must at least know the depth of Itadori’s hurt—of which there had been so, so much, not an ounce left for Megumi to guess at that night. All so fresh on Itadori’s face that it felt like snapping someone else’s elbow joint to look at it, and it had dragged Megumi through a cold realization that he hasn’t since parsed beyond the simple fact that he had hurt Itadori to the point of complete rejection. 

He can still replay it at will, the faint trembling of Itadori’s voice, so much heat and gush out of it like an open wound splitting open. Leave, he said, in the same voice he’d used to confess, once and for all, I love you, y’know. 

In another situation, Megumi would be proud of him for it, would even love him for it. That he had stood his ground, that he had been firm in how much he’d been hurt, that he’d had enough clarity to tell the other person to leave him alone. His Itadori, brazen and as sharp-edged as he is earnest, exactly like he was the very first time Megumi laid eyes on him. Only it might have been Megumi who had brought them to that point, Megumi who had left that wound open.

But it had hurt, too, to hear Itadori say all those names—had been the only thing in that conversation, even, to twist inside Megumi like a drill rotating into the easy mortar between two bricks. Except he’s also sure that if it means redoing the night, if it means getting the chance to say what he said after differently, he’ll let Itadori say it again. And again, and again. He hadn’t meant it to hurt. And despite everything, Megumi knows it isn’t Itadori’s fault that it did and does so, so much.

It’s a consuming, paralyzing thought, that he would accept hurt if it means absolution for either of them. That he would allow himself to be defenseless in exchange for as many redoes as he can get, would sacrifice come what may if it means finding closure for the mantra that hasn’t stopped prowling around his head since he and Itadori had started dating: This is what I want to give him. I want it to be love. Please let it be love. 

"Pathetic," he murmurs. 

Next to him, Kugisaki stops mid-sip of whatever foamy coffee she’d gotten and hadn’t stirred before leaving the coffee shop. She licks nothing off her top lip. "You better not be saying that to me." 

"I’m not," says Megumi. When he turns towards the sunlight, he finds the flower shop across the street, two perpendicular crossings away. "Sorry."

Kugisaki doesn’t acknowledge she heard his reply. The lights turn green. They start walking. 

But they reach the other street, slowing in front of another set of pedestrian lights, and she says, "I was wrong about a few things I said last time."

Megumi can’t help but glance at her. She doesn’t look back. "Last time?" 

"I’ve thought a bit about it," she says, "and you never had a crush stage."

"What?"

"You never had a stage where you had a crush on him. You liked him, but you never like-liked him. So. I was wrong. Sorry."

These thoughts are disjointed, mismatched, for Megumi. Two pieces of different wholes, neither of which he can even begin to visualize, and neither of which he’s sure are even meant to connect to each other. 

"I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me."

"I’m not trying to tell you anything." Kugisaki shakes her head. She starts walking first, feet moving the moment the lights signal for her to. In her wake, she leaves, "Just take the apology."

She says this with the same finality that she had told Megumi, too many days ago, that he was the last person she wanted to see break Itadori’s heart.

Megumi doesn’t know who broke whose heart first the other night. He doesn’t think it matters more than the shattering itself, and the pieces Megumi doesn’t know how to pick back up now. 

And from the look Kugisaki gives him as he reaches the other end after her, she thinks the same way. Only that hers is tinged with something else, a strained sigh in her expression that reaches Megumi’s own voice when he tells her, "Accepted, then."

"Good," she says, almost wry until she tries to continue, "I—"

Megumi sees in her eyes the exact second the thought stops. And, seeing her shutter, he empathizes for a moment, sincerely if not deeply, with how complicated it must be, how difficult, for her to have to watch two friends—for they are friends, he and Kugisaki, even if in his mind, she’ll always be Itadori’s best friend, and in hers, he simply Itadori’s—and see them fail so badly at navigating being two separate people.

The last time they were here in this same storefront, Kugisaki had also told him not to get sick—and Megumi had taken that to mean her believing, no matter what happens, that he’d take Itadori to Tsumiki’s wedding. A profession of faith as much as faith can be given by Kugisaki. Faith that doesn’t come now, and faith that Megumi doesn’t resent her for not giving. When it comes down to it, Kugisaki has always been the most grounded of the three of them. Megumi can’t imagine now, in this situation, why he ever thought it was him.

"Tonight," she says, "tell your sister congratulations for me."

There are so many ways she means this. Megumi can’t find the space in himself, not this early, to dissect it. 

He hikes his tray of coffee cups higher. Nods. 

"I will."

 

 

Scattered across all five floors of the Gojo-Getou home is an infinite number of odd items with price tags that have been excused in the name of ergonomics, but nowhere is it more apparent than the shared study on the first floor, which houses a pair of adjustable desks, an overpriced leather chair, memory foam mouse pads, a remote controlled monitor mount, a ventilated laptop stand, a self-inflating back rest—and now, on the desk closest to the window, a custom book holder.

Megumi hadn’t meant to wander in on his way past, but the dark wood had caught his eye through the open door. On a closer look, it’s clipping open a translated copy of Letters to a Young Poet, and right next to it, someone had been writing in Japanese over an entire notebook page, the cream lines of it less pristine with its scratch-overs and margin notes than the freshly bought book it’s working off. 

Struck, all of a sudden, by how invasive this feels, Megumi moves to close the notebook—but doing so leaves him staring at a memo note that he—unfortunately—recognizes from Gojo’s momentary obsession earlier this year with ten thousand yen artisanal memo pads. A lone one had been taped to the cover of the notebook, and against his better judgement, Megumi peers closer at the series of bullet points scrawled and underlined in obvious haste that can only come from Gojo’s thought process.

  • Love good = love difficult
  • (A bit simplistic? Very obvious that love is difficult yet good and good yet difficult)
  • Marriage — not for young people ? 
  • Don’t say it like that *
  • Try: young people beginners at everything; have to learn love from scratch like they do everything else (even me ???)
  • "With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, [young people] must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is — solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for [a young person] who loves."
  • Wait what does learning mean in this context, where is the thought that fuels why someone would have to be alone to love another person
  • Ask Suguru how he defines the use of "learning-time" here
  • See: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard
  • Maybe: more epistolary writers too if able to trick guidance out of Suguru
  • Just ask Suguru

There’s a knock.

Megumi looks up to find Getou in the open doorway, half of his hair tied up in a loose bun and the top of his dress shirt yet to be buttoned. He looks readier for this evening than Megumi will ever feel while he’s still hours away from the realization that by tonight Fushiguro Tsumiki won’t be Fushiguro Tsumiki. It will hit him, he’s sure, out of nowhere, will land like a rock in pondwater and stay there until it feels like it’s always been like that. He’s thought of Tsumiki as his sister his whole life, but he’s never thought of himself as her little brother; he feels it now, though, in how an awful kind of anticipation thrums in him, in how it feels so bizarre, all of a sudden, to have a family member that will be promised to another in a few hours and have her own come next year. Breaking away from their world to start a branch all by herself, stepping out of their large but tight network, even if he knows she’ll keep her promise from years ago not to stray too far. 

"Not that I’m not grateful for you coming over so early to bring us coffee," says Getou, walking into the study with a knowing glance over what Megumi had been reading, "but why aren’t you driving up to the venue with your father?"

"He told me he’s not heading over until right before the ceremony starts." Megumi taps the desk. "Did you make Gojo-sensei do research for your speech?"

"What? No way," says Getou, absentminded as he fiddles with his cufflinks. Once he’s done, his voice drops to conspiratorial, "Satoru convinced himself he’ll have to give the newlyweds a private spiel later and of course he has to academicize the merits and disadvantages of love and marriage this young. I’d be offended by the implications of not knowing these from experience if I didn’t get how he approaches the world like I already do." 

Megumi was about to look away, to return to the note, but at this, his gaze snaps back up. 

Getou’s eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. "But I am offended you think I’d steal from Rilke for Tsumiki’s wedding speech. Do you also think I do that for my articles?"

"No, of course not," says Megumi. Getou’s teasing, he’s found, is trickier than Gojo’s: he can never get a foothold when he’s at the end of it, not even enough to shoot it down like he does Gojo, though he has a petty appreciation for how effective it was in raising the kind of teens Nanako and Mimiko were. "Um—I read your most recent piece yesterday morning. It was wonderful."

"Wonderful? Did Fushiguro Megumi just tell me my work was wonderful?" Getou’s smile transforms into something more sly at the look on Megumi’s face. "I’m messing with you. Not a word you usually use, that’s all. Yuuji’s influence, I’m guessing?"

No sooner has the bite in Megumi’s jaw just loosened when he feels his expression go rigid. Something else must show on his face beside—because Getou’s gaze flicks upwards, immediate and deliberate. Forcing his shoulders to drop, Megumi follows this lead until he hears Gojo’s footsteps upstairs, interspersed with singing that is—Megumi is chagrined to keep finding over the course of his life—disconcertingly good.

"I was just heading out to warm up the car," says Getou, eyes dropping back to Megumi like they never strayed. "Satoru told me he’ll be ready in ten—which means twenty to thirty. Wanna come?"

"Gojo-sensei will whine the whole ride about how we left him behind to lock up," says Megumi, already weary, but he goes.

Getou’s most recent piece had been a lengthy profile of a newly-minted young governor from Kagoshima, personal as it had been critical, empathetic as it had been at times merciless in evaluating him both as a person and as a figurehead of a new generation. Coming from his teenage years to adulthood, Megumi had always found it a mismatch that Gojo’s two best friends were the only two in his life who never meant to be high-profile at anything—and by extension, Megumi had found Getou’s career unfathomable compared to what everyone else around them did. He knows Getou does it well, at times even dangerously at that, and he’s never held any illusions about how difficult it must be for someone to make a career out of criticizing the system that they in turn participated in with their work, yet it’s a dichotomy that Getou navigates smoothly, even if Megumi knows there was a time, years ago, that he hadn’t.

He’s never seen firsthand what that navigation looks like, though. He doesn’t think he ever will. If his father’s refusal to speak in detail about his childhood is a deafening explanation in itself of what it was like, and if Gojo is an open book in how he outwardly and involuntarily wears the dysfunctionality that he’d been raised into as a child prodigy from a prominent family, Megumi finds that Getou’s life story is in the choices made right on the line between sympathy and apathy. 

Born the only child of two members of the House of Councillors, he became press-recognizable at seventeen for being unmoved on the live evening news when his parents were outed in a publicized corruption scandal. He freely admits these days to having been disillusioned with politics from a young age, and through video traces online, he remains on record for reacting, hard and resolute, against "the government that allowed his parents to be what they are." But his actual condemnation came in arcs that span a decade: first through heated interviews snatched by low-tier press outside his home, a teen snapping in controlled anger; then through activism as a student in Waseda, when he snipped his connections to everyone he knew from before and everything he felt they stood representative of, Gojo above all; before finding his way to political journalism despite dropping out of college; then to Nanako and Mimiko, both abandoned at ten years old after the 2011 earthquake; and, much later, back to this house that he now calls home. 

The details in between, Megumi neither needs nor has been privy to. But he has that one memory of Shoko babysitting them, of Gojo running out with that look in his face at what was probably his first news of Getou in years—and it’s enough to at least get a sense of the magnitude of it all, the impossibility.

"Getou-san," he finds himself saying.

There’s a beep from the car, filling the space around them with a shrill one-note noise. It bounces off the walls of the small garage, once an unfinished basement room when Megumi and Tsumiki first moved to Tokyo. In size, very little has changed since, but somehow it had been one of the first corners of the Yushima house to yield to Getou’s long-term presence, the first to carry evidence of his intentions to stay when he converted it into an underground space for his car within the first year.

Getou presses the key again. Another beep, followed by the sound of the car doors unlocking. "Yes?" 

"If you were to profile me for a piece, what would you say?"

"That’s an interesting way of asking me what I think of you." Getou wags a finger when he sees Megumi going for the backseat, nods at the passenger side instead. "You’ve never asked before. I didn’t realize you’ve ever cared."

Megumi doesn’t—and he’s aware that this is a privilege as it stands, to know that he’s supported without needing reassurance on what his family thinks of him. But these days, he can’t help but wish he can read a Wikipedia article on himself, see which parts lead to which footnotes, what the section divisions look like, any way to have a document to consult and make himself make sense. To see himself from the standpoint of someone who approaches people like Getou does in his work, to see which parts of him make him him to others.

No, he’s never cared before. But that before was before Itadori. 

He opens the car door. "I care what he thinks of me."

Getou doesn’t bat an eye at the ambiguity. His smile remains in place as he props open the door on his side. Neither of them step into the car. "Shall I answer from his perspective, then?"

"No. From yours."

"As family?"

"As a journalist."

Getou bursts into laughter. 

He’s often his most sullen the week before a piece is released, when his life is nothing but cycles of traitorous back-and-forths with editors. It’s impossible, however, to begrudge him his stress when all it amounts to is snappishness and a need to constantly have the fridge stocked, and in their younger years, all four of them teenagers—Nanako best of all—had instead perfected the art of knowing when to steer clear of that moodiness and leave the rest to Gojo. But even then, Getou remains more moderate than feral in these moods, and he makes up for anything negative he leaves in the air of the house by being at his most indulgent once an article has been safely released. As soon as it’s secure in itself online, as soon as it’s been sent out in print for good, it takes with it all of Getou’s tension—and it shows now, two days after the Mainichi Shimbun ran the governor article, in how his laughter follows him into the car. 

"You want me to tear you apart? Destroy your sense of self? Leave you so miserable you abandon your career altogether?" says Getou. Then, before pulling the door closed after him, "Kidding! How unethical of me to suggest that’s what I do!"

Following, Megumi gently closes the car door on his side. "If you could please. Dissect me, I mean."

Getou doesn’t look at him, busy slipping the key into the socket of his old Toyota, but he raises an eyebrow. "Sure. Let’s give it a shot, why not."

Megumi stares. "Wait—Really?"

"Yup. Tell me about Yuuji."

"Pardon?" 

"Tell me about him."

"I—" 

"Or you can tell me about yourself from your perspective, but I really doubt that I’d get as much of what I need then than I would if you talked to me about him," says Getou, mild though cheery in a way that is simultaneously nothing and everything like Gojo. "Your choice."

Megumi hesitates, but he does talk—haltingly, with the slow but steady realization that he’s never told anyone everything about Itadori before, not even Kugisaki, least of all Itadori himself. From start to where they are, his words stumble out of him without ever reaching full freedom from all the tension bubbling underneath. The party, the bookstore, everything that followed. The screenshot, the conversation after that, Disneyland. The night and morning punctuating a week of silence, the two weeks further after. And the more important things in between: like how Megumi eats better with Itadori, whether it’s his cooking or they’re out somewhere or they’re having breakfast at his apartment, like how the first time he suspected he might feel so much more about Itadori than he ever had with anyone else was when he saw him talk to a stranger’s puppy and had felt his heart cave out, like how Itadori is so many things all at once and Megumi wants to be everything to and for him—but not like how he had tried to, these past couple of weeks. Not like that, not this twisted attempt to hoard Itadori, who has so much life to live. Except he doesn’t know what else there is, because the need to have him had been too strong to be stamped or pushed somewhere else, strong in degrees that feel foreign now, and Megumi has never meant for the first time he cared for someone like this to be so ugly, so messy.

"You told him," says Getou, once Megumi finishes, "that you didn’t know how to love him. Those exact words?"

Megumi winces. He nods.

Getou sighs. 

"Yeah," says Megumi, muted in the growing heat of the car. "I know."

"You meant it?"

"I—Yes." He wasn’t expecting a follow-up—and certainly not in a tone so casual, nearly nonchalant. "But it doesn’t—It doesn’t mean I don’t—feel that way about him. I want to make him happy. I want him to never have to doubt that I care about him—but apparently I don’t know how to show it in the way he needs. Except I don’t know how else to make it good for him, and—Isn’t making him feel unloved the same as not loving him at all?"

"Loving as an act, you mean," says Getou. "Not love as an emotion. Because it sounds to me like you have the emotion part covered."

Megumi frowns. "I do?"

"You don’t think so?"

"No—I just—I’m not a very emotional person."

"You mean you don’t feel things? Because—"

"No, I do. Of course I do," says Megumi. "But I’m not emotional. Until—Until Yuuji, at least. That’s the problem."

"Nope. Hold on. Go back." Getou rotates his index finger in the air, a rewinding motion. "What makes you emotional here and not other times?"

"With Yuuji, it’s just so—" Megumi flails around for a word for a second, picking and dropping all the choices that pass through his mind because nothing is right and everything is too specific. "—intense. And irrational. And external. Which shouldn’t be anything new with the high-tension people we’re around, but when it’s from me, it’s just—It makes me feel so stupid about him."

The first thing that had struck him as he was leaving Itadori’s apartment, he remembers, was that he didn’t understand it. Not their fight, which gains in clarity the more time he has away from it, nor their relationship, which isn’t something he can regret in whatever form it’s been in his life. But he didn’t—and doesn’t—understand how he could grow up around such a fathomless wealth of emotions—in so many forms and manifestations—and with such an abundance of people to support him, and still be at a loss over how to express himself when it’s his turn to care for and choose another person.

Half of it, he can rationally chalk up to Itadori being the first person he’s chosen to have as much as he is the first person to have chosen—really, really chosen, no obligation or responsibility or existing ties—to have Megumi. In whatever messed up, incomplete ways that they did, they had chosen each other. There was no such convenience as being born into what they have; no such element as accidents or even luck when it comes to the foundation of what they’ve come to be with each other. Going home with each other was a choice; cultivating a friendship beyond that despite going to different schools altogether in a ginormous city was a choice; even dating was a choice they both had to say yes to. And Megumi doesn’t think he can ever conceive of any of these as the wrong decision to have made, only that he doesn’t know what to do in a relationship he chose and chose him right back. Once something is chosen, it’s forever in motion; passiveness and stillness have no room in a relationship built on agency, and maybe it had been foolish for him to believe he could hold onto either when he’s always known that Itadori is himself caught in this perpetual movement.

But even in the aftermath of their fight, Megumi can’t lie to himself and say the helplessness he felt in the last two weeks hadn’t been as intense as he thought it was in the moment. He can still recall how much he’d hated it—a hate so fresh and present it seemed to have its own pulse, and one that Megumi couldn’t have shoved down into anything else forever. He hated how he hated, too. Hated how much it took to carve out a space for himself in Itadori’s life that he feels is his; hated every second Itadori was with someone else that he didn’t know, every second he knew someone else had to be doing for Itadori what he couldn’t. It had less to do with trust or jealousy, for he doesn’t doubt he has every ounce of Itadori’s love and loyalty once it’s been promised, and all to do with the knowledge that Itadori needs so much and deserves every bit of it, and Megumi cannot give it all to him. That even something Itadori had chosen wouldn’t be enough for him. That someone who doesn’t half-live has to settle for being half-loved. Except this, too, like so many things, like nothing else Megumi has felt before, had piled up, and it had eventually been so exhausting, so overwhelming, that he’d taken a break to recharge, to wind down, only to find relief in getting time and space to breathe. 

He felt guilty about that relief. Guilty and terrified. Guilty because being overwhelmed was the precise opposite of what he wanted to be with Itadori. Terrified because he’s always been sure that having a significant other won’t magically change loneliness or boredom, that a romantic relationship won’t plug up a hole that is already there. Yet there he was, ready to go to the ends of the earth to ensure Itadori never feels empty again, even at the expense of what his own guilt and fear left for him. 

"I’ve had some time to think about it," Megumi continues, hardly audible over the hum of the heating system trying to wrestle the cold out of the car. "And I want to—I wish I can keep him in my shadow. I wish he’d just stay put. Where I can make sure he’s okay. But I can’t, and so I feel like—His emotions feel like something I have to fight off of him."

Getou hums. "For example?" 

"For example," says Megumi, "Ever since he called me in the middle of the night, I haven’t been able to sleep well because every time I just keep thinking—What if he calls me again? What if he needs me? And I’m asleep? Or when we’re together, I’d tell him to sleep first so I can watch him. So I can make sure he’s resting. And if he leaves in the middle of the night to go drink something or to go to the bathroom, whatever it might be, I can’t relax until he’s back and asleep again. But then I keep waking up without meaning to, and I have to check that he’s still there, that he’s still asleep and he’s fine."

"And is he?" 

"Yes. But he won’t always be. I know it will happen again. Because he has—He has a—a technique to it? He breathes through it and counts and—"

"He knows what to do when these episodes happen."

"Yes, but—"

"What if the day comes that Yuuji has a really bad night and you just absolutely can’t help him? Maybe he reaches out to a friend, maybe you miss the call, maybe he just can’t calm himself down. Would you blame yourself?"

"Of course."

"Why?" says Getou. Megumi can’t read his tone at all. "Why does it have to be you that helps him every time?"

"Because I’m his boyfriend."

"And?"

"And I might as well as just be his friend again if what I did as a friend is the extent of all I’m doing for him as a boyfriend."

"But you do things with him that certainly mere friends don’t."

"Like what?"

Getou gives Megumi a blank look. 

He returns it.

It dawns on Getou with a visible jolt. 

"Ah," he says, surprised by his own epiphany. "Well. Isn’t that just a tad bit messy." 

He finishes with a slight adjustment to his smile, reaching his eyes with a different light. Megumi doesn’t know how to interpret that, either: if it’s mockery or sympathy, understanding or condescension. It might be all at once, somehow kind altogether.

"What’s messy?" he says. "I mean, everything is, but—"

"You’ve always shared him," says Getou, with neither sharpness nor cushioning to it. "You’ve never felt like you were the one for Yuuji because the things you do with him, he’s always done with other people, too. And now that you don’t share him—You have an interesting way of trying to compensate, Megumi."

It’s a primal reflex, Megumi’s urge to avert his eyes. He does it without thinking to do it, as if he’s been struck. "Compensate?"

"Compensate. You don’t think it’s a word that’s fair for me to use?"

"No, I—" Megumi stops. His hands prickle with a phantom itch. He wants to see Yuuji, to touch him, to apologize. He hasn’t had the courage to reach out since their fight, hasn’t had the courage to even attempt to call or draft a message save this morning. He knows what that kind of person that makes him—but. "I just think that—A lot of people are capable of loving Yuuji. I can give into ego and say that it will never be the exact same form of it that I feel for him, but still. I’m not the only person who can and will make him loved and happy. I’m not the first or last that has wanted to. And yet he chose me. I’m the one he fell for. I feel like—Don’t I have to own up to those feelings?"

"Deserve, then, instead of compensate."

"I—Not exactly. I don’t know. I already think I am deserving. Or I thought I was." Megumi’s chest feels full and hollow at the same time, and it’s difficult to pull in air in how warm the car is now. He reaches for the dial. Getou lets him. "But Yuuji doesn’t treat me like I thought he would. So now—What else is there for me to do when he won’t even let me be what I need to be in his life?"

"Well," says Getou. "Just being there, I imagine, means a lot."

It doesn’t take much, for this to crash against the immediate memory of Itadori’s voice from nights ago, close to begging in how near tears he had sounded without a sign of it on his face. 

"That’s what he told me," says Megumi, low voice reverberant in how abruptly the rush of hot ventilation air dies down. "But that’s nothing."

Getou takes a second, his own silence dense and opaque. "You think being there isn’t enough?"

Megumi shakes his head. "Just being there won’t change or take away what he’s feeling."

"Who asked you to change or take them away?"

"What else is there to do when someone I care about presents a problem to me?"

Getou laughs, brief and so sardonic it approaches compassion, but he’s quiet again soon after, hands loose around the wheel as he taps a vague rhythm on the side. "See, Megumi," he says, "I think the problem in this situation is you."

Megumi doesn’t hesitate. "I know."

"Nuh-uh. You’re not hearing me. You still believe you just have to be doing more, that all will be solved if you’re just better equipped, if you don’t leave room for error again," says Getou, each word cutting but far from cruel. "Which—sure, of course. You’ve already had so much up until this point, all without a label—and now that you do have one, you feel—What? Like that has to be worth something, and if it doesn't feel like it is, you have to make it so? Like you have to be doing more than what you were before you got your little promotion? That you have to be nothing short of perfectly made for Yuuji so he can truly feel like you love him and that your relationship is worth it?" 

It will be callous, from anyone else. From Getou, whose every criticism of the world is also tempered somehow by how razor-edged he is at delivering them, it’s almost relieving to hear. Almost. 

"But the problem isn’t you in the sense that you aren’t enough. It’s that you’re trying to overcompensate towards Yuuji for a problem that isn’t even his." Getou frowns. "Though that’s to be expected, I guess. Mimiko wasn’t kidding that time when she said your father figures have raised you into the kind of partner you are. What did I call it? Wish fulfillment."  

Megumi’s gaze has drifted to the rearview mirror, which presents nothing but the neat stack of storage boxes behind the car. It slides back towards Getou, his eyebrows knitting. "What does Dad and Gojo-sensei have to do with it? I’m nothing like them." 

"Doesn’t mean you’re untouched by the kind of people they are, though. They’re still your guardians, and you certainly don’t get to choose what relationships like that leave with you." Getou leans back, the back of the car seat creaking underneath the sudden push. "Don’t get me wrong. I do respect your father’s strategic resilience in the world, Megumi, but that comes with a lot of issues. Same with Satoru. I’d start by saying they both find it difficult to care about the right things, but saying that also feels a little like I’m not even scratching the surface."

"Gojo-sensei cares about you," says Megumi, and means it with a certainty he’s had since he was a teenager and the closest he’ll ever be to idealism. "And he cares about who and what you care about." 

"He had to learn to. Again, not the emotion part. He knows he can care. He knows what he cares about. But to actively express it is something he has to also actively think about sometimes. And I promise I say that respectfully." Getou sticks out half of his tongue between his teeth. "As for your father—I think he has dysfunctional ways of caring for you. Of deciding what’s best for you, what kind of environment would be most helpful for you to grow up in. And a lot of that, probably, were ones that didn’t involve him. I can’t imagine it was an easy choice, staying around for you and Tsumiki, and that kind of complexity will obviously find its way to you somehow." 

Megumi opens his mouth—but he’s never had to articulate anything about his relationship with his father, and nothing at all, neither thought nor word, comes out. 

He knows that part of this is that his father would fare the same way in his situation. Toji had never been vocal about anything, had been nothing more and certainly nothing less than a steady presence even in his absence. And Megumi had known for as long as he’s been cognizant that nothing is right or complete there, not a single thing, and if there’s anything to hook any affection he has for his father on, it’s the sole fact that he had stayed anyway. That despite all the times they had to move before Saitama, despite all the instructions to hang up on anyone who calls from the Zenin family, despite how he allows Mai and Maki around without ever letting them talk about their family around him—that it meant a lot, for Toji to have stayed as a father. 

For in this, he never wavered. Fucked up he might have been as a person—and that, Megumi has never doubted—but Toji took being a parent as seriously as he can. Not often actively, yet there is significance for Megumi in how no one in their neighborhood knew his name until he was ten because Toji only knew to proudly refer to him as my kid, in how Toji had been the one to teach him first-aid and how to fight because he knew Megumi will do so anyway with or without his help, in how Toji has never called any other place home except the one he has with his children, wherever that may be, whoever might be looking after them there. 

If Megumi wants to be kind, he’ll say that if Toji knew how to give them everything, he would. But he’s realistic more than he is generous towards his father, and what it comes down to at the end of the day, in the lives they do have, is that for someone who grew up without a parental figure and without a place he was comfortable calling home, being able to ensure these things for his children, Megumi knows, is as much everything as Toji knows to give. 

Getou must be on the same train of thought. He waits for Megumi to look back at him, then for both of them to rise out of the quiet they’d fallen into. "I think that Satoru and your father are both very flawed people from very flawed upbringings," he says. Something seems to dissipate in the air with his voice, subdued as it is within the walls of the car. "I think they taught you to be your own critic and not anyone else. I think they genuinely thought that was strength and protection. And I get it. Anyone born into the world that they were raised in would be resistant to the system that allowed the alienation they both experienced, whether it’s through being exalted or exiled. So they raised you without any kind of system, without anything they thought might limit you. And they ended up raising you without certainty and stability." 

Megumi doesn’t try answering this time. He returns to looking downwards, trying to be objective about the validity in Getou’s claim and finding in the knot in his throat that he can’t be.

"I thought you were so clean-cut and proper when we first met. I thought you and Tsumiki couldn’t at all be kids under Satoru’s care. But then he told me you fought around a lot before moving to Tokyo, that Toji had left you and Tsumiki with him because no one knows what you’ll get up to without an adult around—and I remember thinking, Huh." Getou’s cadence turns breathy, laugh and breath packed in the surprise he’s recalling. "This is a working theory, of course, and you’re so young and so unfathomable to me sometimes in a way that the girls never are, but I think what it is, Megumi, is that, growing up, you compensated with the lack of ridigidity in your life by trying to create your own order in the world. Something you can call fair. Trying to find a reliable system for yourself, maybe, because no one gave it to you. So you invent all these subconscious rules for yourself, for the world. Like, say, beating up delinquents in middle school so they fall in line with what you think is right. Or having to be a specific type of perfect boyfriend for Yuuji based on what you think he needs."

In his periphery, Megumi sees Getou move his head—but it’s only to look out the window on his side of the car, at the wall on the other end, once cold, bare concrete before he got around to renovations.

"Part of the thing with Yuuji, too, is because I think you know, Megumi," he says, "that someone staying around and wanting to give is not the same as actually feeling like that someone is giving. Loving someone isn’t the same as doing what they think is best for them. You might know that Toji loves you, or that Satoru does think of you and Tsumiki as his own. You might know, all things considered, that they did their absolute best raising you with whatever emotional tools and worldviews they had. And I think you might also know, subconsciously, that this still wasn’t enough. So you hoard the first person who loves you so openly, in a way you can’t doubt. So you try to find your own code of ethics in how to love another person. So you keep asking him what he needs, because no one ever asked you how you want to be loved. You know you were, but parsing someone else’s love language until you realize it’s one isn’t the same as having yours validated. So you try to validate Yuuji’s and think that’s love and consideration. You think that if you can stuff him into the circle of life that exists in your world, he’ll fall right in line with what you think and believe, and he won’t be touched by the outside world anymore." A pause, an almost sigh that could have just been an exhale. "But I think he just wants you, Megumi. I don’t think he needs you to solve the issue of world peace to make the world an easier place for him to live in. I don’t even think anything else mattered to him that night he called you. You were already there with him."

Getou turns back, shifts in his seat. How he manages to remain so still as he does, Megumi doesn’t know. There’s silence for a long minute, Megumi stewing, Getou choosing his words with deliberation that is audibly as much care.

When he speaks again, in the firm and sharp tenor he uses in interviews, it also comes with the most empathy Megumi has heard out loud from someone older than him, "Bottomline is, I’m not gonna pretend with you and say that the network you were brought up in was healthy. You are very much supported, sure, but that does not make up for the stability that your childhood lacks. Yes, you have all these people around you, and no, none of them taught you to repress all your emotions until you didn’t feel them in any strong capacity—but you learned how to anyway, because you wanted certainty in your life and emotions are the farthest there is to predictability. But I think you do feel them strongly. You do, and now you don’t know how to name them and translate them for another person," he says, certain in a degree that finds its way right to where Megumi hadn’t even realized his chest had begun to tighten. "Whatever best Toji and Satoru were able to give you—It’s still more than fine to wish it would have been different. But I don’t think that difference is something you should be projecting onto Yuuji."

There’s really nothing else to do or say except nod, the weight of his head suddenly too heavy for the rest of his body. But Megumi manages it—only for him to freeze when Getou reaches over to squeeze his shoulder, once and brief, a motion so unexpected that Megumi can’t help but look up in shock. 

Getou shrugs. "No one will fault you for taking your time learning how to love someone without the baggage your upbringing gave you, you know. It doesn’t have to be this urgent." 

His grip lingers, heavy and reassuring, and Megumi feels as painfully small latching onto it as he does when he admits, "But what if someone takes him away?" Small like the first time he realized other children had mothers and he didn’t, not in any form; small like the first time he felt the heartache of being left by someone, once with Toji, a second time with Tsumiki, although he knew in the back of his mind they would both return. You don’t miss that whose absence you don’t perceive as a lack. You don’t feel this small, unless there’s something you want so bad that your body is so much tinier next to the size of that want. "Yuuji—He’s always just moving so much—and I don’t know how to keep him. I don’t want someone else to have him."

Getou’s smile compacts into itself. "That’s not the same as wanting him."

"I want him, too," Megumi replies at once, with urgency that he doesn’t know the source of. It beats in his ribcage, fresh and loud the way hate had been last week. "God, of course I do. More than anything or anyone. More than I ever will with anyone else."

He knows it’s a juvenile thing to declare, that he doesn’t have enough loving under his belt to be able to say this, that he’s the perfect picture of first love naivety in giving into saying this. But Getou accepts and treats it as he would any other fact. "What’s stronger, then? The fear or the love?"

Small, so small. "Does it matter?"

"It might not to you, because you get to have him either way," says Getou, "but to Yuuji, it might."

It’s a deliberately phrased clause, one that Getou doesn’t and will never attempt subtlety on—and it does its job the way his words always do, stilling Megumi like a hand physically pressing down on his heart.

"So to answer your question," Getou continues, lowering his voice, "If I was to write a profile about you, I’d say you’re someone who places your rules upon the world and wholeheartedly believes that it’s the world placing its rules upon you. You don’t want to fail Yuuji? Well, I’m sorry, Megumi, but you will. You will fail him. He will fail you. You two will fail each other. In small and big ways. Especially right now, at this age. Take it from someone who’s been there."

Megumi doesn’t allow a reaction to this onto his face. He doesn’t think it’s his place to—but it’s also oddly didactic for Getou to bring himself up right now, and Megumi can’t let it slide without comment, if only because Getou won’t, either, if the roles were reversed. "You get to say that because you got your happy ending."

Getou chuckles, a sound untethered to anything. "A happy ending that has to be worked for every damn day, though. And a happy ending that we gave up for a good period of time. Jesus. A relationship between me and Satoru would have been disastrous at your age. We didn’t know how to talk to each other. And I didn’t wanna talk to him about anything. If neither of us did anything about that—We won’t be in this car right now." 

"Is that all it is, then?" says Megumi. "Communication?" 

Getou’s laughter peters out, but there is the same lightheartedness to it when he answers. "Not the word choice I’d use, personally, but I guess that’s as good a category as any. From my perspective, it’s—Loving someone is hard work, which is neither a new opinion nor a bad thing, and very often, people say that you have to love yourself before you can love another person. I think that’s bullshit platitude. Or at least a badly worded one. Love as an emotion comes easily when it’s right; love as an act, though—that requires understanding. Before communication, before talking about anything, it’s not so much loving that you have to have figured out as it is understanding. Yourself, what you want, where you want to be with the other person. All that before you can understand them. And then you have to make the call: do we have enough me right now to be an us? Because what good are the words you’re saying, the things you’re articulating, the declarations you’re making, when you’re not even seeing eye to eye with your own thoughts?" 

Getou makes a face at this, but it isn’t for Megumi. "In any case, the world is a cruel place, Megumi, but it isn’t so stubborn and unresistant that you can’t fight back against it when something or someone matters enough. It will yield if you know where and when to push."

Megumi takes this, finds that he can’t ball it up to something more digestible, and swallows it anyway. "But what if I don’t know where and when to push?"

"Then," says Getou, "you just have to have faith that there’s a divinity out there kind enough to give you a second chance to guess. To give you a second beginning. And another. And another. Whether that divinity might be a god, or something like fate—or just plain old love, I guess."

Even with the nonchalance at the end, he delivers this with the stiltedness of someone who once asked himself the same question and is only now certain of his answer. A summation of something bigger than what’s said. A product of what once wasn’t. 

"Hopeful," says Megumi.

"Oh, you know me," Getou responds, lightly, smoothly. "Ever the beacon of optimism."

Megumi would argue that Getou’s occasional nihilism is in itself optimism—but they both jump when the door to the garage releases an obnoxious, hollow thud

Getou’s sigh vibrates through the car. "Years and years and he still doesn’t know it’s a pull door," he mutters, not without affection. "Why the hell would I put a push door in a cramped garage?"

He gestures for Megumi to roll down the passenger’s seat window, ready to call out of it—but Gojo tries again and pulls the door open this time. Unlike Getou, whose suit jacket is hanging in a garment bag in the backseat, and Megumi, who refuses to change out of his cashmere sweater until the last possible minute, Gojo’s already fully dressed for the wedding, his silhouette even longer than usual in expensive black. 

For a moment, Megumi wishes he’ll forget he’s too tall for the doorway and hit his head against it. But Gojo knows to at least duck as he steps gingerly down into the garage. He zeroes in on Megumi, walking over to the open window.

"Me-gu-mi," he says. "Why the hell are you in my seat?"

 

 

It’s only a half-hour drive to the venue.

On the way there, Gojo and Getou get into a debate about "learning-time"—which to Megumi, tuning in and out of what they’re actually saying, just sounds like an exercise in definitions and specifics and how every little thing changes in the bits that are buried within the smallest elements of language. Life and thought. Agreement and disagreement. All because of one word choice, a shift in one morpheme. The difference between not knowing how to love someone and not knowing how to love them. 

Megumi has never liked his words. Once, Toji had asked him, a rare proper question, if he would ever get into academia, if he would ever follow the footsteps of every other adult in his world but his father. And Megumi had never been as sure about his future as he was when he’d said no then. Not for any displeasure towards the work that Gojo does, for which Megumi has more firm respect than often Gojo himself, but because he’s always thought it to be work too reliant on language. On explanation. On certainty. Academia, like Getou’s journalism, feels like a neverending attempt to find words to convey to another person your findings, your theses, your opinions. Having to constantly justify something to a jury, to an industry, to people who have findings and theses and opinions of their own. 

Megumi once believed that things like these came naturally for Gojo because his existence is already a study in justifying itself, in making itself heard and known—and only a bit later in life did it occur to him that this only went as far as the scientific, formulaic side. He had been there firsthand—and young, so young—to watch the consequences of that distinction, to realize how merciless words have been to Gojo in his personal life, never having been tamed, never necessitated the way words on approved papers are.

But listening to him talk to Getou now, the two of them slipping in and out of each other’s way of speaking as they discuss the exact same thing, Megumi thinks of understanding as the baseline of love and of language as the main ingredient of understanding. And how academia is taking another person’s thoughts and adding to it, expanding it, making anti-claims or revisions to it—without those thoughts having been originally yours alone in the first place. 

That’s what saying I love you feels like. As if Megumi is using words that someone originated for him—which he would be, whoever the first person was to say those three words together and mean it like people who say it now do—and as if he’s relying on the sentiments of another person who can’t possibly have felt the exact same collection of feelings he has about Itadori. There are plenty of things, like karmic justice and baggage from upbringings and sunrise and sunset, that he's fine being universal, but it leaves him unsatisfied to know that I love you is one of them. In its overspecificity, as much as in its lack of precision. That all he would have to offer to Itadori to show the depth of what he’s feeling, the depth of what he’s felt only and ever for him, is the same one used by everyone else since the dawn of such an expression. 

He never would have thought his feelings would be seen as silent, as unheard. He thought it had been spilling out of him, to the point of embarrassment at times. But he’s never had a comfortable handle on anything too external, and on words at that. From anyone to him; to anyone from him. Language was a template that never quite molded itself into the right size, the right shape. Language was too small to fit all the things that feel true to him, at times even too big, but never a Goldilocks fit. They hold no authority for him in being this, always falling short or falling past—and so he had no words when the time came that he had to articulate and describe what it’s like to do the falling.

All he had was the overnight epiphany that he was no longer where he once was. That somewhere between here and there, he’d slipped from the stone path he’d been walking on alongside Itadori—and that it hadn’t felt like falling at all, had felt like rising instead. Like an ascension.

Until he looked back down, saw the heights at which he had risen, and realized he’d brought along his inner child instead of Itadori.

Is that love?

If it’s Itadori he cherishes and adores and wants to make happy, if Itadori is everything he wants his everything to be, and yet it’s his inner child he’s up here with, his inner child he’s trying to make things better for—Who is he loving?

And how flimsy are his words next to such thoughts. How lacking. 

Yet they were all Itadori had needed from him. 

 

 

December 27 · 15:47

Hey—um—Sorry. I just saw your text. I’m actually—I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m actually heading over to the venue. I just—I figured I should say that I totally understand if you don’t want me there. So. Yeah. Just let me know if you hear this. Give me a text or something if you don’t want me to come after all. I get it. And I really—I do wanna see you, Megumi. For what it’s worth from my side of things. But—um. I think we gotta talk about a few things that I can’t just leave in a voicema—No, not "I think." I know we gotta talk. And I know we gotta do it in person. This is me stating that and letting you know that this is what I want. Yes. Because that is important to do. Communicating. Yeah. Yup. Okay. I—Alright. Bye, Megumi.

 

 

An hour before the wedding, Megumi leaves his father smoking in the snow to go change. 

They have two suites in the hotel across the street from the venue, each with two standard size rooms. The bride’s suite is silent already by the time Megumi arrives, Tsumiki and her side of the wedding entourage off for photos and a brief orientation before the ceremony, and he has all the urban stillness of a sound-proofed hotel in the middle of Shimomeguro as he sighs his way through putting on his suit. 

He’s in the middle of wrestling with his collar and tie—and whatever’s left of the tautness in his shoulders as the minutes tick closer to the wedding—when he hears voices outside. 

He opens the door to Gojo sitting in the living area across a man with corn-yellow hair, neat above a grey button-down and around an angular face. His expression is neutral, almost impassive, when he meets Megumi’s eyes—but there’s a spark of recognition that has him hiding it with a slight tilt of his head.

"Ah, speak of the devil," Gojo chirps, draped sideways over his one-seater without a care for creasing his suit. "Nanami was just telling me you two haven’t met."

Megumi freezes. 

He knows in the back of his mind that it’s rude to not respond—but his throat has gone dry as he looks around, frantic, searching as much of what he can see of the suite.

But there’s no one else except the three of them.

Gojo’s laugh rings in the room. "Yuuji stayed outside to get some air."

Megumi whips back towards him. "He’s here?"

"Of course he’s here. Nanami drove him over." Gojo waves a hand between them. "Nanami Kento-kun. Fushiguro Megumi-kun. You can see Nanami back out to the street—Right, Megumi?" 

Nanami moves to stand, the picture of calm in that one shift, and Megumi, this time, finds enough decency to bow. "Yes, of course," he says, feeling abruptly and unprecedentedly self-conscious about how his voice comes across. "It’s nice to meet you." 

"The same to you, Fushiguro-kun," says Nanami, with a slow, careful cadence unlike anything Megumi has heard from anyone. Without raising his head, he knows at once that he’s being examined, being read. "You don’t need to show me out. I’d rather not intrude."

"Oh, you won’t be intruding at all!" says Gojo, sunny as ever. "There’s a shorter route out to where you parked. It’s the street that leads to the back entrance of the venue, Megumi."

Straightening, Megumi shares a glance with Nanami, a quick evaluation of whether it’s more cumbersome to yield or to refuse Gojo the satisfaction of knowing he did a good deed for an underclassman—but Nanami sighs first, gesturing Megumi ahead.

They take the elevator from the sixth floor. 

When Itadori speaks of Nanami, he describes him with so much warmth, so much brightness and animation. No filter to it at all, not even the kind that Itadori sometimes has around his friends: defensive and snarky by default around Kugisaki, excitable and rambling with Yoshino, a bashful and childish high school boy around Ozawa, as close to the stereotype of a Sodai jock as he’ll ever be when around Todo and their teammates. A reflection of the environment he met these people in, even if he remains honestly Itadori underneath. But with Nanami, Itadori can’t pretend to be anything but loving and loved and respectful and respected, won’t even overstep in a joke, can’t even sulk about him for longer than three seconds. It’s Itadori’s adoration and trust in its purest form and its fullest bloom, allowed and encouraged without insecurity, warranted to the utmost. 

Adoration and trust that Megumi can never doubt at that, because it’s all there in how Nanami is the only person Itadori uses a nickname for when he rarely uses honorifics around anyone that isn’t a new person or a professor, in how Nanami is Itadori’s first custom speed dial, in how Itadori has accidentally said he’s having dinner "at home" more than once when what he meant was Nanami’s loft, and in how Megumi knew Itadori meant it, the other night, when he’d ended with, Why can’t you be more like Nanamin?

Megumi, unconsciously, had expected someone more like Itadori himself. Nanami is nowhere close. There’s something both assuring and intimidating about his silence—about even his resting expression and his posture—an unreadability and unflappability so secure in what they are and are not that Megumi can’t guess where he stands parallel to it. And now he doesn’t know how Itadori did this with Megumi’s people—with meeting everyone at dinner, meeting Toji so early in the morning, Tsumiki again hours after. Megumi’s been lucky to have known Kugisaki and Todo ahead of time, to have briefly met Yoshino and Ozawa, but that luck had not prepared him for how out of depth he’ll feel in front of Nanami, who notices him staring and looks back at him with all the weight of an adult that, without an ounce of doubt, knows everything about him and Itadori.

Megumi looks away. "May I ask you a question about Yuuji?"

"You may ask. I reserve the right to not answer."

"Right," Megumi tells his reflection on the elevator doors. "Of course." 

"Go ahead."

Clipped. So clipped. Not the least bit cold, but nevertheless clipped. It renders Megumi a kind of child he never fully was: painfully young, readable, fumbling over difficult words that make sense in his head yet feel heavy on a numb tongue. He hates it. He appreciates it.

"I was speaking to Todo—one of Yuuji’s teammates—at a party the other day," he says, "and he mentioned you brought Yuuji to a therapist."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I believed it was the responsible thing to do," says Nanami. "Not to force him into it, but to give him the chance to explore such help, if he’d like."

The elevator opens with a tinny ding. Megumi steps out first, leading the way towards one of the side exits of the hotel. "Such help?"

"Yes."

For a second, Megumi thinks that’s all he’s getting—but he glances sideways at Nanami and finds him contemplative. It’s the same expression Todo had, talking to Megumi about Itadori at the post-game party. He hadn’t said anything Megumi didn’t already know in some way: that Itadori has liked him for a lot, lot longer than he can even fathom, that Itadori has spirals and moments where things are too much, that Itadori is resilient and hardworking and competitive and generous and that all of this makes him a specific kind of social workaholic. But in Todo’s voice, tinged with dramatics as it was, was also gravity backed by his understanding of the Itadori only he, as a teammate, knows and gets to see. 

Nanami has this now, too, except the change in his face strikes Megumi as the expression of someone who has seen every side of Itadori there is. All the multitudes, all the contradictions, all the hard work and the breakdowns, all the cheeriness and sharpness. Someone who knows Itadori well, as a child, as a student, as a young adult, as someone’s friend, someone’s grandson, someone’s teammate, someone’s boyfriend. So well that Megumi’s own feelings don’t even have space to rear its head. He doesn’t know how Itadori had even met Nanami, how they’d come to be what they are a year later, but he’s soberingly aware, face to face with Nanami, that there’s no comparison to family, and especially not chosen ones. 

"Itadori-kun struggles with a lot," says Nanami, with equally sobering delicacy, "and it is very difficult for me, with the responsibility I feel towards him and his well-being, to know all the time what is best for us both. It isn’t my place to speak of what he has shared with me, but I know that his life was too difficult at too young an age. As such, I believe my primary obligation to him is to ensure that he gets to act his age now when he wasn’t able to before."

"So—" The carpet feels like it’s sticking to Megumi’s shoes. "Then—Why—"

He doesn’t know what his question is. Nanami parses it for him.

"I am only one person," he says, and he’s looking at Megumi with respect, with acknowledgement, like he knows what kind of person Megumi is and sees no issue with it—but nothing else. No judgment made here, approval or otherwise. "One who isn’t trained to be careful with Itadori-kun’s sentimentalities the way I often feel someone his age needs. The most I can do is to be there, to remind him he is always welcome to my home and to the resources I can offer him, to provide him with my honest opinion when he asks, to keep an eye on him and make sure that he isn’t carrying it all by himself. Which is of course impossible to do so completely, and as much I have Itadori-kun’s wellbeing in mind, I do not have the means to help him as completely as he needs. I want him to be healthy, and to have healthy coping mechanisms, and me undertaking all of that is not what I consider healthy for either of us. I want him to have space to discover what healthy means from his perspective. I do not consider it my role to define that for him. Hence: guidance in the form of a therapist I know and trust." He stops at the double doors that lead out to the street. "That’s all. Does that answer your question?"

Megumi doesn’t notice he’d fallen back until he stops as well, half a meter behind. The back of his skull feels like an empty cavern.

"It does," he eventually says. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome," says Nanami. "Thank you for walking with me. I’ll be just fine from here."

Megumi tips his head forward in response. When he looks back up, Nanami doesn’t say anything else; he simply nods, turns, and leaves with his silence. 

Silence that rings inside the hollowness of Megumi’s brain as he walks back where he came from, dragging his footsteps heavy and stiff behind him, until he rounds the corner into the lobby—and finds Itadori waiting outside the elevator.

He wasn’t prepared to see Megumi this soon. Megumi can tell that much. He’s in the middle of convincing himself to press the elevator button, it looks like, something tender and skinned-open on his face as he looks up. Something uncertain. Something that wants badly to be certain. 

Still, his eyes turn round and honest when they register Megumi. Not an inch of guardedness, no spark of anger or resentment, swimming instead in an unfair amount of warmth. He’s already dressed in everything, jacket and tie inch-perfect on him, his hair slicked back a little, a tiny questioning smile hovering around his mouth—and he’s so boyishly beautiful that Megumi just looks for the entirety of his next breath, stunned. 

"Oh—Um—Your—" Itadori’s walking over in two strides, reaching for Megumi’s collar—unbuttoned, and his tie still unknotted—only to freeze altogether just as his fingers are about to touch the fabric. He looks up, stricken. "Shit—sorry, I wasn’t thinking—I don’t even know if I should be here—Is this okay—"

He tries to step back, but Megumi manages to catch his wrist in a loose hold. 

He wants to kiss Itadori. He wants a kiss to be alright. He wants a kiss to make it alright. Instead, he guides Itadori’s fingers back to his dress shirt. 

"I want you here," says Megumi. "Please."

Itadori hesitates—but he understands, his fingers both trembling and deft in sliding under Megumi’s collar to button it up first. Conversational but low under his breath, he says, "I just learned to tie a tie like an hour ago. And never on another person. So."

Megumi has never looked at someone this hard, this close. "Did you look it up?"

"No, Nanamin taught me." 

"I see," says Megumi. Neither of them sound like they’re speaking with their own voices. "I… just met him."

"You two met each other?" Itadori lights up—and it’s been a long, long while, too long, since Megumi has seen him brighten this much. He’d come close at Disneyland, but this is a more distilled form of that, the pleasant surprise so genuine. It’s what Megumi has always wanted to give him. "Wait—did he—Did he say anything to you?"

Just like that, Itadori’s expression falls in a blink. No, Megumi thinks. Go back. Don’t look like that. "What do you mean? A shovel talk?"

"No! Nanamin would never—Did he?"

Megumi shakes his head. Itadori breathes a sigh of relief, slipping the knot up to the hollow of Megumi’s throat in one easy slide. It’s a precise fit, and Megumi can tell when Itadori realizes, too, his mouth forming a proud little whistle.

This time, heart swollen to bursting, Megumi raises a finger to tilt up Itadori’s chin—and kisses him, sweet and brief. When he pulls away, Itadori follows, the forward motion subconscious, and his eyes glassy when he comes back to himself, when everything returns to where they are right now. 

Like Itadori coming awake on a morning at his apartment, cocooned in his sheets and immediately in search of Megumi once he remembers the night before. Like Itadori dozing off on Megumi’s shoulder on a subway ride and startling to clarity when he hears their stop is approaching. Like Itadori, Itadori, Itadori.

"I’m sorry," he murmurs. "I’m really, really sorry, Yuuji."

It’s all Itadori’s expression needs to crack in two. 

"Me, too," he says, the words suckerpunching their way out of him. "Megumi, I—I’m sorry. For saying what I said the way I did. I’m so, so sorry."

It isn’t I’m sorry for saying all of that. Megumi adores him for it. He drops his hand at the same Itadori lets him go—the look on his face twisting into something else again as he steels himself. He takes a deep breath.

But he doesn’t say anything.

It’s all want and reflex, when Megumi lifts Itadori’s hand to his mouth, closes his eyes, presses a kiss to the crook of his thumb. Brushing his mouth against heat and pulse and heartbeat. 

"I know," he whispers against warm skin. "Tonight?"

When he glances back up, he finds that Itadori’s expression has stayed cracked open, fragments of so many things sitting like a kaleidoscope in his eyes when they meet Megumi’s. A different kind of fragility to it now than the night of the fight, a determination to the vulnerability.

Megumi loves him. He really, really loves him.

 

 

"Okay," says Itadori. "Tonight." 

 

 

It isn’t that Itadori’s a different person when they arrive at the wedding—but there’s a shift in the light there, a turn to another page. 

He glows differently, Megumi realizes, when he’s surrounded by people. 

Megumi’s right there beside him as Itadori waves at Gojo and Getou and Yuuta and the twins, as he chats with the groom’s side on the other end of their row of seats, as he compliments a flower brooch here and a tie there. Not once does he stray far from Megumi, his sentences unbroken even as he makes sure they’re close to each other while they walk, that they can always reach for each other even when they’re not touching. An assurance, an unspoken apology. 

As Megumi stands and waits and listens to Itadori joke with one of the members of the string quartet, he wonders how he could ever have held this against either of them.

 

 

Itadori tries to hide it, but he’s the first person in their row that the wedding gets to.

He starts tearing up the moment Tsumiki enters—and by the time they’re halfway through Getou’s speech, he’s sniffling, hand to his mouth.

Without looking away from the front of the hall, Megumi finds Itadori’s free hand, closest to him, and holds it like it’s the only thing his hand is made for. 

 

 

Itadori squeezes.

Megumi squeezes back.

For a moment, it’s alright. 

 

 

As they approach the end of the vows, Megumi can’t help glancing at Itadori. There’s emotion in his throat as he listens to Tsumiki’s voice, as he watches her fingers shake, held out for the ring, and looking at Itadori is as much the same thing as giving himself over to this feeling: a meaningful glance, a promise he can’t give.

Attuned to his movements, Itadori looks up at him, a question in his eyes. But Megumi shakes his head slightly, smiles an even slighter smile, and Itadori doesn’t latch onto any through line—but, heart in the silhouette of his mouth, he smiles because Megumi is smiling.

 

 

After the ceremony, they see Toji off to a waiting car.

Itadori hangs back shoulder-to-shoulder with Megumi as they give Toji and Tsumiki a second alone, exchanging whatever thank yous and congratulations are in the language they have with each other. Tsumiki is teary-eyed when she swaps out with Megumi, and Itadori waits with her, too, laughing as he helps her, beautiful in her beautiful gown in this beautiful snow, climb the last few steps to the front of the hotel.

There are no hugs or handshakes or even a see you later between Megumi and Toji. There never are. Megumi feels like there should be this time, still open-hearted from his conversation with Getou this morning—but he doesn’t know where to begin, much less to end, and all he does is hover as his father opens the door to the cab. 

"Stop looking like that," says Toji, hawk-eyed and abrupt. "You and Yuuji will be fine."

Megumi startles. But Toji is already getting into the car, and he’s left to wrap his hand around the knob of the open cab door. 

For nothing, for everything, he tells his father, "Thank you."

He closes the door. 

 

 

With Nanako and Mimiko hijacking Getou’s car for the drive to the reception, Megumi and Itadori end up in the same one as Yuuta and Maki and Mai, both of whom manage to passively bicker from two different ends of the car about everything from Yuuta’s music choices to dressing for the weather.

Even more admirable, though, is that Itadori dozes off in the middle of it. He rests his head against Megumi’s shoulder and stays like that the entire drive, pressed close like he wants to mold himself against Megumi.

The others leave them in the car when they arrive, mumbling about stretching and hunger, and Megumi, in the 7PM darkness, whispers Itadori’s name. 

And no, he really will never get tired of watching Itadori come awake, bit by bit, slow and sure. Whether it’s from the edge of the bed, across a dining table, in the same subway seat—or like this, right next to him in the bright-dark. Everything is worth it in how he shocks into complete wakefulness the moment he realizes where they are, in how he sits up with a gasp to look out the window, the white reflection of Ukai Toriyama’s snow-speckled trees and rooftops glimmering in his mirrored gaze.

"Holy shit."

"Holy shit," Megumi agrees with a small smile.

Ukai Toriyama sits at the foot of Mount Takao, surrounded by dense forestry and a significant blanket of snow, and the wonder doesn’t leave Itadori’s face as they enter, ushered over bridges and streams, through pine trees and stone pathways, past white gardens and Gassho-zukuri with thatched roofs. 

It’s a seven-minute walk to their reserved tea house, hardly anything of Ukai Toriyama’s two hundred thousand square feet, but Megumi holds Itadori’s hand the whole way, their fingers tightly weaved through each other’s. 

 

 

At some point, Mai makes a comment. Itadori fires an automatic, good-natured one back about her and her mysterious girlfriend. Maki snickers. Yuuta chokes on air. 

Listening to all their laughter, Megumi has to bite back another smile.

 

 

Neither of them let go of each other's hands when they arrive.

But the limitless touch breaks Itadori, softens him into the most malleable Megumi has ever seen him. He sits the same close he had in the car when they’re seated at their tables, never detaching himself, as if determined to not have to see himself as a person separate from Megumi.

You and Yuuji will be fine, Megumi loops in his head. You and Yuuji will be fine

He knows what conversation they’ll end the night on. He knows they both know, that despite everything, despite what happened, he and Itadori have returned to the same first page as each other. The same first page they should have started on. 

He knew from the look on Itadori’s face outside the elevator. He knew from Itadori’s tears during the vows. He knew from how Itadori had probably not meant to sleep during the drive at all, had only wanted an excuse for connection. 

Back to the bare bones of what made them what they are.

Half of this touch they refuse to break is pure need. Megumi knows that, too. Pure refusal as the baseline of that need, denial they can still hold onto without an ultimatum yet in the picture.

It doesn’t make it any easier, knowing what they’re both waiting for.

 

 

Yuuta, surprisingly, is the first person Itadori dances with. 

It’s more giggling than actual grace, though Megumi knows they’re both more than capable of taking a waltz seriously, and more spinning than footwork. Megumi waits for any sort of discomfort in his chest, any indication of everything that fuelled the past few weeks, but he props himself next to Mimiko on a wooden railing and watches as Itadori smiles and laughs the whole time. 

Own heart in the silhouette of his own mouth, Megumi smiles because, snowlit and bright-gazed, Itadori is smiling.

 

 

When Itadori returns, dizzy and eyes glittering with laughter, he stumbles back to Megumi alongside the realization that this is the most unburdened he’s looked, expression and body and mouth and spine, since they started dating. 

And—in the ensuing flurry of Nanako sweeping Itadori away into the next dance—that this is the easiest Megumi has been able to breathe since he had opened the cupboard that morning in Itadori’s apartment.

He stands in his corner, rooted to the spot as Nanako twirls Itadori, their hair near white in the glow of the lanterns.

He sinks into his next exhale.

 

 

"This has always been one of my dream places to go to!" says Itadori, in the middle of chugging from a sweet glass that Maki had left with Megumi and that he hadn’t hesitated to give to Itadori after his third return. He talks into it now, words so far under his breath they seem to mostly be for himself. "I think I’ve always wanted to be here."

Not come here. Be here. Itadori’s hair had fallen over his eyes from all the dancing, and Megumi reaches over to brush the strands off his face. 

"Yuuji."

"Hm?"

"What are you thinking?"

He doesn’t think anyone has ever had to ask Itadori this, of all people. He gets a smile as the glass is pulled away, surprised and slight and—Megumi can tell because he’s looking for it—startlingly somber.

Seeing the look on Megumi’s face, Itadori drags his mouth into a proper smile. 

Sincere and sympathetic, this time.

"Right now? That I’m dead sure the rest of my life will have a really, really hard time holding up to this."

 

 

They stand entwined together in a corner during the maid of honor and best man’s speeches. Megumi doesn’t pay attention to them, but Itadori does, expression rising and falling at intervals, and Megumi pays attention to him. 

He’s standing behind Itadori, arm around him—meant to be loose, but Itadori holds it firm against his chest, cradling it as he listens. 

At some point, Megumi’s eyes travel to Tsumiki and her—her husband now, a thought that settles like a mismatched puzzle piece but won’t forever—and he finds them both the same kind of tearful but smiling that Itadori is. 

In the applause following the second speech, Itadori glances over.

Their eyes meet. 

In his, Itadori carries a lifetime of easy mornings and difficult nights. He carries all the emotions he can and has and will feel. He carries everything he can and has and will need. He carries everything Megumi can and will give him, come what may, and everything Megumi cannot and will never be able to. He carries Megumi’s entire world. In all its smallness and bigness, in all its past and its future. 

Consideration, consideration. Be kind. Give good people what they deserve.

When did this all get so skewed?

It’s automatic, the recall of how it had felt to say to a cold, inanimate phone tight in his grip: If anyone has figured out a way to build a moment, a feeling, into a place meant for coming home, it’s you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a coffeemaker or borrowed keys to your apartment or your arms. It’s you. 

As automatic as the recall of how it had felt to think: I want what you won’t give anyone else. Give me what you haven’t given anyone else, and, weeks after that, How could there possibly be anything half-hearted about this? 

And as automatic as the recall of how it had felt to hear: What’s stronger, then? The fear or the love?

Automatic. So much is automatic with Itadori. Even when Megumi looks away, his eyes will return to Itadori without fail. Even when Megumi doesn’t know how to move forward, Itadori does. A north star. An unrelenting compass. The cartographer of everything Megumi has ever and will probably ever know about love.

But those might as well be borrowed words. Sentiments that poets and lyricists must have used before Megumi, and will after. 

All he knows is that he wants to hold Itadori forever. 

He wants to love him forever. 

 

 

One of them says, "Let’s go outside."

 

 

Even close to nine at night, it isn’t as freezing out as Megumi anticipates. There’s warmth between the tea houses, separate groups of strangers leaving heat thrumming in the spaces between them, and he and Itadori cruise past a stone path to reach a bridge overlooking one of the streams. The shallow water is trying its best to move along in the cold, but there’s a white veneer on it as bits of snow fall over and into the stream. 

Itadori still leans over the railing of the bridge to peer closer. Megumi fights the urge to grab the back of his jacket. He won’t fall, not with his grace, and there’s hardly anything to fall into, at this point.

Snow in his hair, Itadori stretches a hand forward, palm up. No snowflakes land as he folds it closed. He smiles anyway. 

"It’s still going. The marshmallow rain."

Megumi comes to stand beside him. Their shoulders don’t touch. It doesn’t feel like separation, tonight.

It’s a moment more before he realizes what Itadori said. 

"The—The what?"

"I—" Itadori’s laugh is shy, hand rising to rub his own nape. "This kind of snow in Tokyo? Doesn’t it look like little bits of fluffy rain? Like those little marshmallows in instant hot chocolate? Except they’re raining down—" He mimics pouring rain with his other hand, fingers opening downwards. He makes a whooshing noise that doesn’t sound like rain at all, lips pursed. "So. Marshmallow rain."

Another while before it clicks, for Megumi. "Marshmallow rain."

"Megumi." Itadori pouts. "Don’t make fun."

"I’m not," says Megumi, but he has to feign looking away to bite back whatever’s trying to bubble its way out into a smile. 

"You’re trying not to laugh," Itadori whines. He’s adorable and endearing and so unlike the snarking version of him from their first meeting, his expression imploring when Megumi turns back to him. And Megumi is hit—sudden and sad and grateful—by how lucky he is to have had all the Itadoris between that August night and this moment, in all the shapes this same gaze has been around him, in all the forms he has been teased and teased in return. "Y’know what I mean."

Megumi relents. "Is that your official weather report?"

Itadori’s next laugh is surprised out of him, going pitchy in delight when an idea visibly comes to him. He takes a few seconds to get ready: face rearranged into a caricature of seriousness, shoulders straightened, hand falling from his neck to clutch into a fist.

He raises it to his mouth and clears his throat. Megumi’s already smiling. 

"Reporting live from Hachioji, I’m Itadori Yuuji! Today, we’re looking at a high of twelve degrees Celsius and a low of four. We seem to also be experiencing intermittent marshmallow rain around these parts of Tokyo—" At this, Megumi can’t rein in a quiet snicker. "—and the skies show no sign of stopping as we move forward this winter and approach the end of the year." Itadori pauses to loop his arm through Megumi’s, his other hand still closed around an imaginary mic that he moves towards Megumi. "Over here, we have a passing civilian who doesn’t seem dressed for the weather. What’s your name, sir?"

He’s so starry-eyed, and there’s never been a version of Megumi who’s been able to resist this, so he leans forward to speak into Itadori’s hand. Their eye contact doesn’t waver.

"My name’s Fushiguro Megumi."

"And Fushiguro-san, how are you handling this snowy night looking as good as you do right now?"

Megumi raises an eyebrow. "I don’t think a weatherman should be hitting on a random pedestrian."

"Ah!" Itadori shakes his head at himself, scolding. "You’re right. Forgive him. He’s new to the job."

"Why—" It’s a full, soft, disbelieving laugh that stumbles out of Megumi this time. "Why is he a separate character all of a sudden—"

It feels unconscious on Itadori’s part, no more than an unthinking reaction to Megumi’s laughter, when he pulls him forward into a kiss. The movement is slight, untangling and return graceful and unhurried—but the kiss isn’t. It’s open-mouthed and hot and far from gentle, not at all like how Itadori starts a kiss. He likes a slow, attentive beginning, building up to everything else his body does, ever in cognizance of the other person’s comfort levels, and it’s Megumi who kisses like this: pressing close, taking hard, fully intent to leave an imprint on both of them somehow, in memory and in every kiss shared with someone else. To have something theirs at the end of it stamped like hot wax, something as undeniable as love that cannot be doubted, or—in so many definitions—like a seal. 

Distantly, Megumi knows anyone can round the corner and see them on this bridge, that they might even be visible to people seated in the back of the nearby tea house. But he finds that he doesn’t care at all, and with a break for breath, he kisses Itadori harder, deeper, feeling their touch on each other—hand on waist, hand on jaw, hand on heart—like a bruising, ever-present hold. 

It isn’t the kind of kiss Megumi wants to be giving. He knows it isn’t the one Itadori wants to be initiating, either. 

Neither of them pull away. 

There was a time, in their earliest days together, when Megumi could still get Itadori out of his mind, when thoughts of Itadori—his smile, how nice and clear his laughter is, how he listens so intently to Megumi even when he doesn’t always understand how much he wants to—could still be held at bay by a documentary, a book, a conversation. Lingering thoughts that weren’t really anything more than a passing observation during a commute, easily banished through distraction, except even then, getting Itadori out of his flesh had been a separate, impossible thing. Not when he touched Megumi with the same easy-minded intuition he did everything physical; not when he understood from the beginning what Megumi himself still hasn’t understood about his own body. And this—the lingering of skin on skin, flashes of a memory where he’s being seen like no one has seen him before—there was no distraction from. There still isn’t, for Itadori seems built to be held by Megumi, back then and especially now, moving around him as if his touch is a life raft. 

Megumi knows he relied too much on that intimacy. On the understanding that came and remains with that. He’d thought that translated over—because Itadori once did seem to read his emotions well, had seen the minute changes on his face before Megumi even felt the emotion that caused it. But he’d underestimated, maybe, how far that will go, and what would happen to it once the feelings began changing. Itadori hadn’t even been able to tell Megumi was jealous at Disneyland, that he’d watched him with Ozawa and felt an unbearable nausea stir in his gut. He’s always been too generous with Megumi in that—not because he doesn’t think Megumi feels as much as he does, which is one entry in an endless list of things Megumi hadn’t phrased well on Christmas Eve, but because he, as in their first month together, doesn’t seem capable of convincing himself that Megumi has intense emotions around and about him. Whether possessiveness, whether love. Whether need, whether devotion.

In the tea house behind them, someone has started playing the piano. A slow, even tempo rising to a swell that envelops the space around them before tinkling into an arpeggio. It wants desperately to be sprightly, but the broken chords sound grave, ancient, on the old keys.

Ancient and worn out like saying I love you, used again and again over time, yet no less singular in what it does as a piano is. 

It’s Megumi who pulls away first, breaking the kiss the next time he feels Itadori run out of breath. He doesn’t move far as Itadori stubbornly drags in an inhale, then another, like breathing is a minor inconvenience he’s upset to be doing. 

His lips are red, his eyes watery, his attention on no one and nothing else but them—and, drinking him in, in the middle of this bridge and the thin trees around them and the snow that falls over from Mount Takao, Megumi feels like a fresh, open, bleeding heart. 

"Yuuji," he says. "Give me a turn."

Itadori’s still dazed. "A turn?"

"Dance with me."

Happiness flashes through Itadori’s face, his eyes widening—but, right after it, even quicker, is guilt. "Shit—I’m sorry for not asking—I didn’t think you’d want to—But no, I shouldn’t have assumed—"

Megumi kisses away the rest of this sentence, moving his lips against Itadori’s until all the urgency from this, from earlier, quiets down between them. Calmer this time, a breath of a kiss. An unspoken apology of his own.

"I didn’t mean it like that," he whispers. "You looked good out there."

On another day, before everything, Itadori would have been pleased above all about this, would have been flustered and joking. Tonight, his stare shines with relief that cuts Megumi. 

"Now I know you’re just flattering me," says Itadori, but he drapes his arms over Megumi’s shoulders and adjusts the space between his feet. And with one slight sway, they’re dancing, nothing else changed. "But thanks, random civilian Fushiguro-san."

Megumi gives him a small smile. It hurts for his face to shape. He pulls Itadori closer by the waist to lean against him, hiding the fall of this one smile at the junction where their bodies are no longer two.

He can’t shake it off, Itadori’s relief. The knowledge that he put the need for it on a face it had no place on, that it was the doubt he let fester in Itadori that had taken what should have been happiness alone and replaced it with a less complete emotion. 

He knows Itadori would tell him it isn’t his fault—or at least that it isn’t just his doing, what they did to each other. With time, he’ll probably believe it. But it doesn’t take away how gut-wrenching it feels to know what happened had been allowed to happen, and that they’ll both carry it with them beyond Christmas Eve, beyond even this night. Just as they both brought their separate selves and the separate things they carry into this relationship; just as it was probably never only them, in the first place, in this.

"Megumi?"

"Hm?"

"Um. What are you thinking?" 

It’s so slow, the way he asks. Afraid, if it isn’t Itadori. Hearing it is a grip around Megumi’s windpipe, a hard press down on it. 

I love you, Megumi is thinking underneath everything going through his mind. I want you. I need everything between that love and that want. And I think I’ll do tragic, drastic, violent things to make sure you get to smile and laugh and wake up slow and warm and comfortable every morning. 

It’s a lot. It’s always been a lot. It wasn’t, then it was. Kugisaki may have been right, in how Megumi had been in class one evening, certain in telling his professor that he has never liked anyone in his life because all he had towards Itadori was attraction, and had woken up the next day to Itadori in the morning sun and found himself in undying love. 

There was never an in-between, or maybe he had just been so new to all this that he didn’t know what was happening until he was on the other side.

But such is how it is with Itadori Yuuji. And nothing will change the fact that it feels like so much, too much, for Megumi—except that tonight, being honest to the bone is a lot less difficult than hearing Itadori sound this doubtful and reluctant when Megumi’s feelings for him is the one area he never should have doubted between them. 

"I’m thinking," he says, "about how much I love you."

Itadori breathes out. "Oh," he says—and I love you still captures so little of what Megumi means, but hearing this, feeling Itadori tremble as the words sink in, he’s immediately sure he should have still said it a lot more than never. "Really really?"

It’s a wonder, how there is as much hesitation in his voice as there is belief. Like he doesn’t trust what his mind tells him—but, more than anything, even himself, he trusts Megumi. 

"Really really." 

Slowly, Itadori tucks his head against Megumi’s shoulder. "Oh," he repeats there, and takes a second, breath shaky. "I love you, too," he says, the words lifted by the sound of the piano behind them and burrowing far inside Megumi. "I love you a crazy, crazy amount, Fushiguro Megumi. I’m sorry you had to hear it first from me the way you did."

Megumi rests his cheek against Itadori’s temple. He closes his eyes. "And I’m sorry I let you go on for too long without knowing for a fact that I felt the same way." 

Itadori shakes his head, soft hair tickling against Megumi’s skin. "It’s okay."

"No, it’s not." It doesn’t feel like enough for Megumi to keep going, feels useless and rambling without ever getting to what he needs to say, but Itadori has started to relax in his hold, and all Megumi suddenly wants to do is pursue his train of thought, clumsy words as they are on a clumsier tongue, "You’re—I think—No, I know you’re my first love. I know I’ve never been like this with anything before. I know I’ve never had subjective feelings this intense. But that doesn’t excuse me not being careful with your heart just because I didn’t know how to be careful with mine. So—I feel—I said it badly the other night. I say a lot of things badly, but especially that. Because it isn’t that I don’t know how to feel love for you. It’s all I have. It’s all I know to feel around you, even when it wasn’t always in this form, even back when I couldn’t name it. But I don’t know how to love you without being scared of you. Of what I feel for you. Of what my body does around you. Of how much you love me. Of how I will drop everything—what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, even all the things I’ve believed up until now—if you need me to. I’ve always thought I handled things just fine, that I’m good at being a person of moderation—then you come along, and you’re—" You’re everything to me. But Megumi doesn’t know yet what it means to be everything to someone and for someone to be everything to him. He doesn’t know yet how to not be terrified of using a word like that for another human being, how to still be a person himself after all of it. "You’re everything I want to be good for." 

Itadori’s breath hitches at this, sharp and visceral—but he doesn’t speak for a long time. Instead, he silently sways them both into the next song, arms never loosening. 

With Megumi’s eyes closed, everything feels as big, as expanded, as it does small and precise. He can feel the cold from the snow around them and the heat from the tea house far behind, can feel the creaking of the wood under his shoes and hear the piano with too much clarity. Yet none of it matters beyond the point where he feels Itadori’s breathing against his shoulder, always finding its way to calm without him. 

"Megumi," Itadori whispers. "Can you say it again?"

Megumi doesn’t hesitate. "I love you."

"One more, please."

Megumi opens his eyes, vision sparking with light in the sudden brightness of a snow-covered forest. He takes a breath. "I love you, Yuuji."

Itadori shifts his arms, hiking them higher and tighter around Megumi. "Thank you."

"For?"

"For loving me."

"I don’t think there was ever any doubt for me that I would," says Megumi. Then, because there’s tautness creeping back into where his hand is touching the bottom of Itadori’s spine, "God—I guess I do sound like a fuckboy with these lines."

Itadori chuckles against his shoulder. Megumi hears the wetness in it and softens. He softens and softens until all he’s left to be is hot, unshaped glass waiting under the hands of a boy who has always had the power to mold him or shatter him. 

He slides a hand towards Itadori’s waist, then back down. Marking the topography of the only body he’s ever loved. "There’s something you want to say to me," he says. "Isn’t there?"

There’s no answer. No movement, no sound. Sudden, horrible stillness, until Megumi says, kindly, gently, "Yuuji?"

Itadori shakes his head.

"Yuuji."

"I don’t wanna do it. I don’t wanna have this conversation."

"We have to."

"Not right now." Itadori tightens his hold on Megumi, steps even closer until they can’t turn in circles anymore. "It’s such a good night and—"

"It’s okay," says Megumi. "It’s alright."

Weeks ago, in this same position at Harajuku Station, he’d wanted to make his voice steadier, firmer, braver, for Itadori. Tonight, he can’t bring himself to be anything but this gaping well of emotion, mellow and subdued and feeling everything despite it. Feeling everything, with Itadori.

Looking back, he might have known the first time Itadori had kissed him that this is the boy he’ll give his heart to. However subconsciously, however minutely, even when he didn’t love Itadori yet he’d known he someday would. Maybe not romantically, maybe not in any way that will lead to what it did, but he’d found himself in Itadori’s life and had been infatuated with the concept of staying in it. Just like all those people that Itadori had rejected, just like everyone who had fallen in some form for Itadori.

Megumi had just thought he’d be able to decide how he does end up loving Itadori someday, that there would be more choice and agency in how he did that loving. That he would be exempt, somehow, or at least an exception, to any recklessness, to any irrationality.

But nothing had exempted him. Not Itadori, not his own emotions. Not possessiveness, not love. Not need, not devotion. And Megumi’s own multitudes might be in how he can feel all this for one person and one person alone, each emotion potent, fervent, from his heartbeat to the fingertips that build all the earnest intimacy for him, yet all of it always for Itadori. Because no matter how many emotions Megumi cycles through, whether he feels too much or too little, he’ll still want one thing at the end of it: to hold his one chosen person gently, to treat him carefully, to see him smile an easy smile that Megumi had helped put there.

It’s been a while, he thinks, since he was able to do any of that.

Itadori doesn’t speak until the piano fades. 

In the space before the next song, he says, "I feel so burnt out, Megumi."

His voice is a quiet, fragmented echo of what it should be. Not a minute passes before Megumi feels him tensing with the need to retract what he said, to apologize—so Megumi presses him closer against his chest, grounding them both in place. 

"It’s okay," he says again. "You can keep going."

Another shake of Itadori’s head. An uneven intake of breath. Megumi wishes he can see his face, but he thinks it will break him, too, the way he had wanted to fall apart seeing Itadori waiting for him at Harajuku Station that night. 

"Whenever I think about us, I wanna cry," says Itadori—though say doesn’t feel quite right. He forces the words out, stubborn against how much he means what he’s saying, half-hiccuping through every word until it flays his voice into someone else’s. "Not like—Not because we fought, or that we fucked up somewhere, but because I don’t know when I started feeling so—so—not me. Or—so much like the self I don’t like that it doesn’t even feel like me anymore. And—coming here, I was dead sure it would be fine. But I was sitting there next to you earlier and—That’s the lightest you’ve looked and the lightest I’ve felt since all of this started. That’s—That’s the Megumi I want you to be. You look so bright and beautiful when you get to relax. I used to feel so good when I can make you smile and I—I don’t want to have taken that away. Because I have. Don’t you dare tell me I haven’t." 

It’s as quiet as last time, when Itadori starts crying. Nothing but beads of warm tears on Megumi’s shoulder, though the difficulty of keeping them like this, of keeping them small and quiet, flings itself into sound nevertheless in how raw Itadori’s voice grows as he pushes on. 

"I’ve always been scared that my feelings are a lot for another person. I still am, right now. I don’t wanna give someone too much of me—I don’t want them to get more than they can handle, y’know? But with you, in the back of my mind, I figured—Megumi will find a way to handle it. Megumi always does. But that’s—That’s what I’ve always been afraid of becoming. I don’t wanna be the person who just takes. And I have been, even when I didn’t wanna be, even when I didn’t wanna notice it. And just—on the way here, I was going over everything and thinking and—Megumi, I don’t want you to be doing all these things. Like not hesitating to come over from one text, or spending the night barely sleeping" Megumi stills. Itadori’s arms tighten even more around him. "—or having to take a break from me because I’m one of the things overwhelming you, or being so anxious about what I’m doing that you were checking a bar’s Instagram location when you haven’t even touched social media in all the time we’ve known each other. Because that’s what all that was, wasn’t it? And that isn’t—I don’t want you to be so worried all the time about how I’m doing. That’s not the place with me that I want you to be returning to every night, that I want you to be calling home." 

Itadori hiccups—and this one is from deep in his chest, a sob just barely fighting not to be one. Megumi can’t do anything but hold him through it. 

"And it’s like—We’ll keep trying to reassure each other. But it won’t work. It hasn’t worked. I want it to work but I know it won’t because I can’t even reassure myself. It’s like we can’t enjoy the good parts because we’re both so terrified of us doing well." Itadori’s voice is hardly above a whisper now, no energy left to fuel it. "And like—I doubted many things, but never that you care about me, Megumi. You treat me so well, too well, and I love you so fucking much—but I don’t know if the fear and emptiness I’ll feel without you is gonna be worse than the fear and emptiness I feel in the spaces between the good moments in our relationship. And the voice that tells me we can still make it work sounds exactly like the one that tells me I shouldn’t have confessed at all when I might not even have been ready to be in a relationship—and I just—I don’t know which one to listen to. I don’t know what to do."

Megumi, somewhere in the back of his mind, appreciates that Itadori doesn’t promise him anything. That he’s honest about this much, even when it’s clearly hurting him to be. He doesn’t say that they’ll wake up tomorrow knowing better, that all those tomorrows will pile up until they are better, someday, than they are tonight. Because he must know, the way Megumi does as well, that knowing or not knowing doesn’t change how Itadori will still need to have school and his job and his extracurriculars, won’t change that it’s so much work to be what they want to be for each other when neither of them have the space, physical or emotional, to do it justice, won’t change that love might not be enough when love is what will bring them to where they are right now, no matter how much work they put into being away from it. 

Do you think, Megumi wants to ask, that we wouldn’t have gotten here if we stayed as we were? Was it really the sweater or the cup or the screenshot or the pretend relationship or the jealousy—or were they meant to get here at some point no matter what, without labels and confessions? But what good was loving another person if the only way it could have worked was without giving each other all of who they are? 

Megumi doesn’t want to think of it that way. He doesn’t want to consider, either, if somewhere out there, there is a Megumi more emotionally equipped for all this, if there is a Megumi whose everything fits better against Itadori’s. For once, tonight, he’s tired of thinking about what he’s feeling, of having to rationalize what can’t be.

But right at the heels of that is the startling realization that, more than just tired, he’s exhausted. Down to his core, to the breaths he has to keep pulling around Itadori. Down to how much he loves him, despite it all, because of it all. 

"I wasn’t ready, either, I think," he says. "I didn’t know what I wanted when I asked you to date me. And you knew. Not exactly that I didn’t know what I was doing—but you felt there was something wrong. Before that, too. After you confessed. That’s why you weren’t answering my calls and messages. You were thinking somewhere that you might have made a mistake, that you felt too much and thought too little. Right?"

Itadori doesn’t answer. 

As always, in silence with Itadori, it’s answer enough. 

Softly, Megumi says, "What now?" 

It’s violent, when Itadori jerks. He doesn’t let go of Megumi. 

"No, wait," he says, and Megumi has never heard him sound so panicked. It burns, hearing his voice so naked. "No, we can—We can still compromise."

"Yuuji."

"No. We can do it. We’ve barely been a couple. We’ll figure it out. Right? There are ways to communicate—"

"Yuuji," Megumi murmurs. "You’re contradicting yourself."

"No, I’m not. I just—"

"Yuuji."

"—I—I can still be better. We just have to work a bit for it, right? That’s how it works—"

"Yuuji—Hey." Megumi wraps his arms around him. He wants to think it’s gentle, that he embraces him with the carefulness he wishes he had from the beginning, but even now it’s a child’s embrace: tight and desperate, needy underneath the steadiness of his voice when he says, "You made up your mind, right? You did. You thought about it. You know where your convictions are. Don’t change them for me."

"I don’t wanna do it. Don’t make me do it."

"Yuuji," says Megumi. He doesn’t know how many times he’s said Itadori’s name tonight. He doesn’t know how many he has left. "Do you have enough space to be who you want to be with me?" 

There’s a pause. The piano notes behind them descend back into nothing. 

Slowly, only once, Itadori shakes his head. 

"Neither do I." Megumi buries his face against Itadori’s neck. Once, he’d asked the universe for what Itadori hadn’t given anyone else—and Itadori had offered it all to him. Megumi will fight tooth and nail to not have to give back any of it. "But I don’t regret asking you out." 

Itadori laughs, a sincere sound that’s at once perfect and clear and breaking into itself against Megumi’s jacket. "I don’t really fully regret confessing, either." 

It’s a bizarre, heartrending thing, to mean a smile that has no happiness at all behind it. Megumi’s mouth forms it somehow. 

"I love you," he says, because he doesn’t know why he didn’t say it more, why he’d been so afraid to misuse it when it’s the only thing he wants to say now. He lets it settle, for himself and Itadori both, waits for the words to breathe for him. Before, "Let’s break up, Yuuji." 

The noise Itadori makes is almost the same laugh as before. He keeps at it, as if urging it to be something else—and it’s just as clear, no mistaking it for anything, when it morphs into a sob. 

"Fuck," he says. "I love you, too." 

When the piano starts back up this time, it’s accompanied by someone’s voice: light, airy, everything that Megumi isn’t feeling. He latches onto the sound, onto the lyrics he can’t quite make out, and it leaves his hand strangely steady as he lifts it, resting his palm on the back of Itadori’s head, patting down the hair there. 

He leaves a kiss on Itadori’s temple. 

"Give me until the end of the song, okay?"

Itadori nods. A slight movement of his head, lost to the way his body shakes as he keeps sobbing. 

And Megumi stays with his arms around Itadori. Like he’s cradling him in bed, in restful sleep. 

At some point, he looks up, gaze steady on the sky. It’s always so bright at night during snowfall, and it’s this white light from nowhere that pulls the first pinpricks of heat from behind the back of his eyes—and he gives into it the moment the first tears prickle at the edges of his eyes. 

He must have been a child, the last time he cried. It feels like someone else’s cheek, this dampness on his face. Nothing big, nothing loud, not even anything at all, really—yet the hurt it brings with it twists inside Megumi like nothing has before. 

He hates it. He hates how it feels. He hates that it’s what Itadori’s body is feeling now, twice over, and for this last time, Megumi still can’t do a damn thing about it. 

 

 

Buried under the sobs shaking through Itadori, endless and merciless, the song lasts forever. 

 

 

It doesn’t last long enough. 

 

 

When everything ends, it takes Megumi two seconds to let go first.

The same two seconds to take a screenshot. The same two seconds to give a room a passing glance and latch onto a Waseda student in the middle of the ruckus. 

The same two seconds to ask, What if I want you to be my boyfriend?  

And to say, Date me, Yuuji. For real. 

It takes two seconds to say I love you for the first time—and just as long to suddenly return to being two separate people, with two separate lives and two separate worlds to go back to. 

 

 

A guy like you has to let go sometimes, Fushiguro. 

Are you offering? 

Maybe. 

If I say yes, I don’t want you to ever expect anything from me, Itadori.

Like what? What else is there?

 

 

"Do we stay friends?" 

"I don’t know if—I don’t think I can be friends with you. It was much easier with other people, but I can’t. Not with you. Not right now. We’ll be back to where we are in less than a week." A smile, cheerless and awful, but Megumi smiles because Itadori is smiling and Itadori keeps smiling because Megumi is smiling. "Give me time, maybe—I don’t know. Then we can—Yeah." 

 

 

Do you just smile at everything people say? 

Well, I’m currently working and you’re a customer. 

So if you’re not currently working, you won’t smile? 

That depends. Wanna come back later tonight if you’re free and see if I still do? 

 

 

"Yuuji—Wait." 

 

 

Itadori—right? From earlier. Do you live close by? I’ll walk you home.

 

 

"Will you get back okay?"

 

 

Oh, good, Fushiguro, you’re still here. Give me back my beer. This is Itadori Yuuji, and you’re gonna tell him he has shit taste in popcorn.

I do not haveWhatever. Fushiguro? Nobara said you’ll listen to us—and y’know what? I’m about to change your life and everything you think you believe. Okay? Hear me out—

 

 

"I will! Don’t worry, Megumi—I’ll be fine." 

 

Chapter Text

Good afternoon to all our listeners! It is 2:37 PM on this sunny March Thursday and you’re listening to JOGV-FM, the only independent radio station in Chiba. That was "Last Peace" by Mukai Taichi and Friday Night Plans. 

If you’re just tuning in — Today’s steady stream of music is brought to you as part of our White Day special. From now until tomorrow morning, we’re taking song requests from all our lovers out there. All you have to do is call us with a moment from your love — whether with your spouse, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your crush, your undefined person — that you won’t forget. 

We’ll be taking calls all day and all night. Tell us your tiny love stories, your epiphanies, the small things and big things you carry with you. 

Until then, here’s Omoinotake with "One Day." 

 

 

The apartment is nice. 

Nicer, bigger, fancier than anything Yuuji has called home in twenty-one years of life, with exactly the sort of shine that he’s always been an easy target for when it’s dangled right where he can touch it. He gasps and coos and points at everything like he’s moving from Sendai to Tokyo all over again, and because it’s part of her job to do so, the real estate agent indulges him, pausing her spiel about Funabashi Arena to point at how the colossal glass windows allow all the mid-afternoon sunlight to flood the living room uninterrupted. 

And it is staggering to see how much it falls on, even more how much Yuuji’s eyes catch alongside it in a single three-sixty. None of the furniture are or will ever be his, but it’s thrilling to see how much can fit into a living room that he can deign to call his own: the longest, softest couch he’s ever seen, a trio of round nesting tables, a rug so huge that avoiding stepping near it leaves him with his back almost to the walls. Beyond it, still touched by the sun, there’s an entire hallway before he reaches the kitchen—which is a room in its own right, no longer the bathroom-sized corner it was in the place he shared with Junpei nor crammed into what should have been the entrance hall. There’s enough countertop space to fit folded piles of all the clothes Yuuji owns, and an oven under the stove, a dual sink. Even the fridge leaves him starry-eyed and impressed with the metallic sheen of its two doors and the novelty of its ice-and-water dispenser; he toys with it as soon as he’s alone, because no one ever said being a prospective home-owner days away from graduating university equals having to resist the urge to play tag with any sensor.

Closer to the front door, too, the unit has a closet specifically for a washing machine and a dryer. Yuuji’s mind is quick to connect the dots: this means no more running to the laundromat in between other things, no more asking to convert bills to coins at the konbini, no more wheedling his neighbor to let him tie a clothesline between their balconies. But then again, the promise of this apartment alone, with all its ridiculous amenities and ergonomics, means no more of so many things, though the realization doesn’t strike Yuuji in full until he reaches the soundproofed bedroom and ends up standing still and dazed in the complete silence, all the sound of the city sucked out with one click of the closed door. 

Until the real estate agent finds him and sunnily asks, as she always does, what he thinks. 

He hasn’t quite mastered this part yet. The apartment they’re in is the second property they’ve visited today and the fifth overall in the past three weeks, and so far he’s had to scratch his head through every debrief, filling in the spaces between his gesturing with um and I don’t know until the agent takes the hint and promises to find him more places. He’s starting to feel horrible about making her hop all across town with him, especially when he’s not sure the conspicuous polish of any new place in a commuter town like Funabashi will ever feel right for someone who grew up too fast sleeping on a futon at the heart of a prefectural capital. Tokyo might have since taught him the luxuries of easy urban access, but it also left him unequipped to deal with moving to a residential community, where everything is a little too perfectly built for quiet living yet never domestic the way Yuuji has learned to define it. 

Home has been a rickety second-floor Miyagi apartment with a grandfather who left it too silent and too big in its smallness too soon. Home has been a cramped two-bedroom on the fringes of Shinjuku with a roommate who never sleeps at night, and an even tinier one-bedroom a few blocks down with a cat who never learned to respect him. Home has been Nanami’s loft and every room Nobara has cycled through in her life, and home, once, hadn’t been a place at all but had been falling asleep next to someone who, even in the worst of it, had never left him cold and unheld. But Chiba isn’t home yet, and Yuuji doubts this will change overnight just by signing his name to a marble-perfect apartment that, in the back of his mind where he never learned to manage thoughts like this, reminds him vividly of a 6LDK house in Yushima. 

He somehow rambles his way through telling the real estate agent that he doesn’t do well with apartments that look too new, "—because I feel bad bringing my cat to places this nice, y’know? He’s, like, really feral and likes to break things when he’s bored, and look at this place—" which is a shameless excuse when he doesn’t even know how much longer he’ll be allowed to keep Sukuna and has already began to mourn the possibility of moving somewhere without a pet he’s had to live his life around for years now. 

The agent, of course, takes this to mean that Yuuji wants something more "rustic." It’s probably nowhere close to what he wants, but since there’s still a substantial part of him that has been conditioned by visits to IKEA to keep viewing more apartments just because he can, potential ownership aside, he beams and admits yeah, sure, that sounds cool, promises to check his email inbox regularly, and walks her back to her office.

There’s no real hurry to catch a train back to Tokyo, so he grabs a melon soda from the first vending machine he finds and follows a small crowd to a nearby shrine. It’s rare, according to the real estate agent, that it gets this sunny mid-March in Funabashi, and Yuuji doesn’t have to look too hard to get the sense that most of the groups mingling around aren’t here to visit Ninomiya Jinja so much as they are taking advantage of all the tree-lined paths in the surrounding area for a walk out in this finite daylight. He ends up following the slow pace of the crowds, unzipping his coat under the slots of sunlight beaming down through the winter-bare trees on either side of him.

He’s had time to introduce walks like this to his daily routines, but there are days like today, and especially in an unfamiliar path like this, where they still feel foreign. Jogs and runs, he can do any day, but walking for no reason nor direction without letting his mind wander has yet to stop feeling unnecessarily complicated. He’d always thought his brain was good at shutting down in the face of all and any physical activity, but he’s found in the past six months that slipping into a one-track state of mind during practice is much easier than how much effort it takes to get through a walk without thinking about the rest of his day, his week, his month. To breathe and exist on autopilot for the space of this one short walk, forbidden by his therapist to multitask in any way at all, even if just to think about what to get for groceries after. It made him feel empty the first few times, this lack of connection and stimulation beyond the ground under his feet and the bite of the cold; it still does, these days, except empty is also coming to mean light, and light is a feeling he’s worked very, very hard to not distrust as much as he used to. 

It isn’t the most, all things considered, because Yuuji can be as stubborn as he can be malleable and it’s not like learning to go on a walk will magically uproot him from years of baggage—but it’s something to do towards that, and if there’s anything Nanami has directly refused to let Yuuji get away without knowing for certain, it’s that learning to trust the slow, excruciating tiny-step-by-tiny-step process of growing up is far from the most unnecessary part of growing into himself. 

That doesn’t make it essential, exactly, but debating stuff like that are for people who have had kinder lives. All that matters to Yuuji nowadays is that he gets to choose how to live his life, even if that agency is to be found in opting for the small literal steps instead of the first train back to his Tokyo hustle and bustle. Because sure, it probably does fuck-all in the grand scheme of things or whatever scale the universe will use to evaluate Yuuji’s life at the end of it, but there has to be merit in understanding that a thing doesn’t have to be everything to be something.

He waits until he loops back to the street he started on, draining his melon soda along the way, before he checks his phone. He hasn’t checked it since arriving in Chiba, still wary about a text from one specific person, but all he finds out of the ordinary is a missed call from only two minutes ago. 

"Did you give my address to Nanami-san?" Junpei asks within two rings of Yuuji’s call back. He sounds winded, out of breath as he always is by the time he reaches his apartment because he refuses to use the elevator to the fourth floor. "I just signed off on a package from Malaysia with your name on it and I need to know I’m not bringing something weird into my home."

"I have a package from Nanamin?" Yuuji brightens, not quite sure if more of the enthusiasm is coming from the idea of a package or of a package from Nanami —until the rest of Junpei’s words sink in, and he frowns. "Wait, what d’you mean something weird? What kind of things do you think I order?" 

Junpei’s sigh rattles through the call. "Not the point. I just wanna know if I should bring this in or leave it out here while I still can or—" 

"No, no, no, don’t leave it!" Yuuji cuts in, urgent and loud enough to attract an alarmed glance from a passing family of four. He slaps on a smile and ducks his head, lowering his voice as he continues, "I gave Nanamin your address ‘cause I wasn’t sure where I’d be living by the time he sent out whatever he wanted to send out? And you’re the only person I know who doesn’t share your place with anyone and—Sorry, I thought it’d be, like, a postcard or something, not a whole package.

"Oh, it’s definitely a package." Underneath the thin huff of Junpei’s voice, Yuuji hears the beep of an automatic lock switching off, then the heavy slide of Junpei’s front door. "But don’t apologize. It’s fine. I just wasn’t taking any chances so I called to ask. Sorry to interrupt your little apartment-hopping date." 

"Date?" says Yuuji, craning his head to check either end of the street before deciding to do his next lap down the way he came. "Dude, don’t be weird about the real estate agent. She’s a super nice married lady—"

"I’m not talking about the real estate agent, dummy. I meant the guy who drove you over there."

"Oh." For half a span of a breath, Yuuji’s brain fails to fire anything at all. "Oh." 

"What?" says Junpei, wary. There’s rustling on his end, something being set down, and when he speaks again, his voice comes clear from much closer, "What did he do? Did he do something?"

"Uh—So. About that situation," Yuuji starts slowly, counting beats in his head as he weaves away from a clump of branches swooping down. He turns into the first street he passes, falling in step behind a bigger group on their way out of the shrine. "Was I dumb to not realize it was supposed to be a date?"

There’s a long pause on Junpei’s end. 

Then, horrified, "You didn’t know?" 

Yuuji winces. "No? I thought we were just going on—A trip to Funabashi."

"Yeah. As a date. Like how you and him went to Akiba together a couple weeks ago as a date. And studied together before that as a date. And kept getting coffee together as dates for a month now.

Yuuji flattens his empty can, still in his fist, and slows in front of a set of trash bins to toss it out. 

"I thought," he says, careful as if to say it too quickly would be to spook Junpei, "that he was just a really good guy."

The noise Junpei makes is the most choked Yuuji has ever heard him sound. "No, you didn’t."

"I did. I honestly did." 

"Wait, so—How did you even—What made it click?"

"What made what click?"

"That he had non-platonic intentions?" 

Yuuji groans. "I don’t know, probably when he told me where he wanted to take us on quote-unquote our next date?"

Junpei doesn’t mean to snort—Yuuji can hear it in his voice that he doesn’t—but it doesn’t take long before it’s a laugh, shameless and guffawing and doing Yuuji’s guilt and embarrassment no favors.

"Junpei," he whines. "Look, in my defence, no one has actually asked me out in two years—"

"Correction, people have tried but you haven’t said yes to anyone in two years—"

"Because I’m not interested! I haven’t been interested and I thought everyone and their roommate in Sodai knew it. I didn’t realize I was giving out signals that I’m suddenly looking for an exception—"

"Yeah, but the poor guy had to spell out his signals for you—"

"I know—"

"—after multiple hints—"

"I know.

"—and he was probably planning to confess properly on that next date, too—" 

"Oh man, stop," says Yuuji, face beginning to burn. He brings the back of his free hand to his cheek, pressing cool skin against the heat there. "I already feel awful. He was so nice about it, too."

He refuses to groan again in the middle of a packed, immensely public street—but the need is there, something long and mortified and primal, and he stops walking altogether, shuffling in defeat towards an empty bus stop shelter, to gather his breath.

"And now you’re all alone in Funabashi," Junpei points out, and Yuuji swears he can hear him biting back a smile, the bastard. But it had taken months of living together for Junpei to feel comfortable being as snarky towards Yuuji as Yuuji knows he wants to be to everyone, and it’s a relief in itself to hear Junpei make light of a situation that otherwise would have been left to crawl, die and rot in the back of Yuuji’s mind. "With no one to drive you to and back." 

"Are you suggesting I should’ve led him on a little longer so I wouldn’t have had to take one train?" 

"Not suggesting. Telling," says Junpei, voice back to distant. He’s moving around in his kitchen, Yuuji guesses. Making late lunch, or maybe brewing a cup of tea before however many pitch calls he has to steel his stomach through today. "So? Where did he say he was gonna take you for his grand confession?" 

Yuuji slumps against one of the pillars of the bus stop shelter, the metal releasing a tinny creak under his elbow. His denim jacket is suddenly too hot over his hoodie, and he tugs at the collar strings as he mumbles his answer. 

"Didn’t catch that, Yuuji." 

Yuuji sighs, a full-bodied sound that rumbles down through his ribcage.

"Disneyland," he says. "He said he was gonna take me to Disneyland." 

Everything quiets, abruptly, on Junpei’s end. 

"Ah."

He is another Waseda student, Yuuji’s age but in the year below, who found his way into the senior screenwriting seminar because he wanted to get the requirements for a film minor out of the way before his last year in his literature program. He, Yuuji genuinely believes, is a good guy, perceptive and kind and warm, matching Yuuji’s enthusiastic rambles about everything from cake to Lord of the Rings to that week’s Jump issue, beat for beat and laugh for laugh. The sort of guy so wonderfully easy to befriend and get to know that Yuuji had inside jokes with him in less than a month of working on a project together, the sort of guy that Yuuji can do nothing productive around because they spend all their time studying with each other giggling and taking turns impersonating someone else in their class, and the sort of guy who reminds Yuuji of all his friends yet resembles none of them because he’s his own happy, glowing bleeding-heart presence. 

It was a natural gravitation towards that presence that had Yuuji accepting all the invitations to get coffee, to go to the library together, even the sudden offer to drive him up to Funabashi for today’s series of apartment viewings, and he hadn’t wanted to overthink it past that, had only wanted to believe he’d gotten much better at just accepting things like these—only to run into a wall when the person offering ended up blurting out something two nights before the Funabashi drive that made him not just good but a great guy, yet a great guy with feelings Yuuji can’t return. 

And rejections, whether in passing for a stranger at a party or deep and involved like it had been for Junpei’s own confession years ago, have never been painless for Yuuji to give, and especially not with Satoshi from Screenwriting, who says Yuuji’s first name like they’ve been friends for years, who sends him memes that leave him wheezing late at night, who always has funny stories ready for Yuuji’s clockwork how are you, and who was so excited about a Disneyland date that he talked about it, giddy and boyish, for an entire five minutes before he realized he wasn’t supposed to. It was meant to be a surprise for next week, he eventually admitted, and Yuuji had been so surprised by so many things all at once that they had both, seated side-by-side with their Slurpees at a 7-Eleven, stared in shock at each other’s expression. 

In the same long, horrible moment that it had taken Yuuji to go through the five stages of processing how Disneyland had once been someone else’s surprise for him, Satoshi’s face had also steadily fallen into realization. And there had been no going back from there; Yuuji can be impulsive and reckless, can be prone to acting before ever thinking, but with one stark exception, he’s always tried not to bring that impulsivity into a relationship. Whether in the case of someone asking for one date, or in refusing one more night with someone who has already developed feelings when they shouldn’t have—he’s always tried to be light-hearted but firm in where he stood with that, and Satoshi, in all the things about him that Yuuji should maybe have fallen in love with, had deserved nothing short of transparency. 

Something more than how, for two years, Yuuji has gotten away with having nothing to offer to people interested except, Sorry, I’m not really looking for anything right now. He’s given the same answer to people he would have taken home just a few months before, to new faces at Waseda pleasant enough to see something in him worth approaching, to even friends of friends who caught wind of a reputation that he didn’t really have the energy for anymore when he had a therapist’s voice in his head unpacking every decision he made that would lead to bad habits of yore. He’s probably lucky that no one has in turn tried, in all two years, to unpack his staple answer, neither to ask what prompted the change nor to ask why not—so it might have been fitting, to have Satoshi from the Senior Screenwriting Seminar be the one to break that lucky streak, looking at their reflections on the rain-stained 7-Eleven glass as he asked, Why aren’t you open to seeing anyone?

Asked nicely, warmly, politely at that, because—Yuuji keeps looping in his head—Satoshi is a genuinely, genuinely good guy. Nice and warm and polite in a way that left Yuuji thrashing in bed that night, frustration scorching. Frustrated that this Disneyland surprise wasn’t the one that came with a realization for him instead, frustrated that Satoshi is everything Yuuji knows he’ll be perfectly compatible with in a long-term relationship, and frustrated, so childishly frustrated, that he knows he can give this relationship a chance now, that there’s space in life for one and Satoshi is everything that can make him happy—and yet won’t for no reason of his own doing. Frustrated that however kind, however pretty, however funny and however perfect for Yuuji someone is, it won’t ever matter because they were doomed the moment they decided to knock at his heart after someone else has built a home out of it. 

Frustrated, too, at how selfish and idealistic a thought this had been to have around someone he was about to reject, knowing at the same time that there must be a parallel universe out there where he doesn’t do it. There has to be, because Satoshi from Screenwriting had looked at Yuuji that night with so much undisguised emotion, not a single thing to be guessed at now that his intentions were out in the open—but it wasn’t the way someone else had looked at Yuuji once, and it will never be because Satoshi is his own person, even in being a match for Yuuji in so many ways, and Yuuji knows that, he does, but two years is a long time to keep searching himself for space to love someone else better than he did Fushiguro Megumi, only to realize every single day in these two years, again and again, that he can’t even imagine ever loving anyone else. There won’t be better, there won’t be worse, because there’s only ever been the one, and what an unfair thing that is to ask of anyone who only wants to love him as a different person. 

So when Satoshi from Screenwriting had asked why he wasn’t open to seeing anyone, Yuuji could only reply with the one thing he still knows to be true about him and Fushiguro: 

Because I’ve already found my person. 

On his end of the call, Junpei has gone fully quiet. No ambient noises, not even a single cupboard door or floorboard or chair creaking under the weight of one movement. It’s palpable over the line, how intently he’s weighing his options before replying, and it reminds Yuuji of the Junpei he first met: equal parts wary and prickly, as prone to distrust as he was eager for any kind of connection. Two years older and somehow even lonelier than Yuuji had been, and that had been all it was at first, just two young adults who have never gotten used to admitting to their loneliness, deciding that one back-and-forth about a horror movie trilogy was enough to ensure it would be fine living together for a few months. But that had been immediate connection for them in the end, and in the background of their tendency to bicker now that they’re older and no longer tiptoeing around stories from high school, all that remains is a quiet understanding bleeding over from those early versions of themselves who may never have thought, years down the line, that they’ll be a lot less lonely, a lot less plagued, and still be friends.

But understanding doesn’t always make the conversation easy to have. Yuuji knows he’s responsible for Junpei’s hesitation—so he rearranges his face and saves him the trouble of deciding if it’s comfort or congratulations, pity or praise, that Yuuji deserves for how he has unfailingly loved the same person this whole time. It would be awful to leave that choice up to someone else when Yuuji himself doesn’t know, has never known, where he himself would stand if he wasn’t the guy doing the loving.

"I have to go," he tells Junpei, relieved when he does spot the bus turning into the street. "So I’ll let you go before we start reminiscing about how you had feelings for me."

Junpei takes a second to snap out of his thoughts. "You’re an asshole," he says, but there’s more relief of his own than heat there. "Every day of my life I am humiliated about once being the cliché infatuated with his roommate." 

Yuuji whistles. "Why? Because I rejected you?" 

"Can you not say that so shamelessly? At least pretend one of us regrets the rejection." There’s a pause, Junpei probably weighing again on whether he should say something that scratches deeper, but what he adds is, "Have a safe dr—I mean, train ride home—" 

"You," says Yuuji, "are the asshole." 

Junpei treats him to a small laugh, subdued but all the more sincere for it. The bus drowns out half of their goodbyes to each other, groaning to a halt a couple of feet past the stop marker. There are only two other people in the stop aside from Yuuji, a pair of teenage girls with matching white and brown sherpa jackets, and he ushers them ahead as he tries to squint at what the letters blinking on the side of the bus are saying. 

He checks the time on his phone. It’s half past four in the afternoon. He’d cleared out his entire day for today’s Funabashi trip, thinking that he’ll be wandering around the city until the evening since he’ll have someone else with him—only now he’s as alone in this unfamiliar city as Junpei said he was, standing at attention while the girls in front of him chatter about streetside ice cream and cherry blossoms and how the vendor stalls have opened up along the Ebi River early this year, weeks ahead of when hanami season usually starts.

He’s tapping his card against the reader before he can overthink hopping onto the bus. 

The doors slide closed behind him while he waits for the beep, and he stumbles towards one of the poles when the bus abruptly lurches forward. 

He braces himself when his hand doesn’t reach the pole in time—but there’s a sudden tight grip on his backpack, pulling him back and steadying him.

"Crap," he starts, an embarrassed laugh creeping into it as he turns around, "thank—"

Everything dies in his throat when he finds familiar eyes cutting into his own, wide and sharpened in surprise. 

"—you," he finishes, white bursting behind his eyes as his vision takes a moment to shake out and back into focus. But he’s not imagining anything, and in his periphery, he sees Fushiguro’s knuckles whiten around the overhead handle that his other hand is clutching.

Breathless, looking straight back at a gaze that hasn’t been on him in two years but remains as heady and searing and startled as it had been the first time, Yuuji says:

"Oh, fuck me."

 

 

‘Sup. My friends call me Tattsun. I’m 27. I’m calling from behind the Denny’s I work at. Uh, how do I talk about this — My moment is a little different, I guess. I had a girlfriend in college, right, and things ended kinda just naturally. She studied abroad for a bit, long distance didn’t work, that sort of thing. We lost touch completely. But I loved her like hell, man. She was my first real love. And so the other day, right, she walked into the diner not knowing I worked there. We reconnected and — And she’s engaged now. Getting married this June. And I’m not calling because I’m upset or whatever. I’m weirdly not. Or — not weirdly. The feelings aren’t there anymore. Or if they are, it’s a different form. I feel like it was a different me who loved her. It’s been years since. 

But that’s the thing. We were drinking coffee and I still remember exactly how she likes to take hers, and she still plays with her rings the same way when she’s thinking and she still remembered every person in my family and — That stuff doesn’t really go away, huh. If you’re lucky and you love someone like crazy, they leave pieces of themselves with you, and you with them. It’s real amazing, the sort of sh — stuff — that stays with you. Aren’t you just made up of the things you get from the people that love you and touch you and all that? I don’t know. I just feel lucky that it was real for both of us, for a time. Obviously, it had to end and we won’t ever get back there — But it was a good kinda loving. A real good love. The kind that changes you forever, even if it’s just how I’ll never cook ramen differently from how she taught me. You know? 

Anyway. My song request is "Wherever you are" by ONE OK ROCK. Happy White Day to everyone listening. 

 

 

"You haven’t been to Kugisaki’s birthday parties." 

"Yeah, no," says Yuuji, reaching out with both hands to take the soft-serve cone that Fushiguro hands over. Their hands don’t brush—though it doesn’t seem to be by design, Fushiguro’s attention intently on making sure nothing drops or drips. "I’ve had to celebrate with her some other way both Augusts. I had a game the first time—" 

"In the summer?"

"Yep. League tryouts." 

They both take a second to thank the elderly lady manning the ice cream stall—Yuuji over the moon to be getting his ice cream, Fushiguro quiet and respectful as his younger self ever was—before starting to walk, their shoulders not enough inches yet and far too many apart. 

"How did it go?"

"The tryouts?" Yuuji scratches a non-existent itch on his right cheek. "It’s kinda hard for me to understand the nitty-gritty of the corporate side of things, honestly? But I signed a contract with the Chiba Jets."

It’s impressive, even to him, how casual he sounds. He searches his voice for rushing, for uncertainty, but talking to Fushiguro holds none of the apprehension Yuuji knows has come and gone in the past two years whenever he thought about them talking again. He’d lived his life across Tokyo on guard for the day he—inevitably, he thought—ran into Fushiguro somewhere mundane: a bookstore, a movie theatre; a subway station, a subway train. Something as sudden and arbitrary as the second time they met. It made more sense than otherwise to encounter each other at some point, living in the same city and having the overlaps that their social circles did, and Sukuna has had to stonily watch Yuuji rehearse his tone and expression in front of the mirror whenever his daydreaming about seeing Fushiguro again got a bit too vivid to not be acted out. 

Not that Yuuji wasn’t aware that the onus to reach out first had been on him, that he had been the one to end it even if it was Fushiguro who had more strength to say the actual words, and that it should then be him to say if and when it was time to reconnect. But for months after Tsumiki’s wedding, it never really stopped being what it was, how he felt around Fushiguro—until months turned into a year, and a year turned into two, and somehow they never bumped into each other in Tokyo at all and yet did now,  in a different city, in a different prefecture. 

None of the scenarios that Yuuji has entertained in front of a mirror ever got to this option, standing riverside under near-bloom cherry blossoms and a sky splotchy with the impending sunset. The bus ride had lasted all of seven minutes, Yuuji fumbling the whole time through how are you and I really wasn’t expecting to bump into you here of all places and I didn’t mean what I said literally, ha-ha, sorry, until Fushiguro had pressed the stop request button for both of them when Yuuji told him, running out of things to pump unfiltered out of his mouth, where he was on his way to. And Fushiguro had gotten off the bus alongside, without invitation nor a single word, leading the way to where a handful of food stalls stood along the few kilometers that make up the Ebi River.

Maybe a double take of recognition across a crowded train, or awkwardness over discounted apples at the grocery store, Yuuji would have known what to do with. Even a drunk overnight mistake had they reunited again at someone’s party, he would have handled with dignity. But walking next to Fushiguro right now—armed with mid-March ice cream and talking as though they’re two friends from high school catching up and not two people whose relationship began on a birthday and ended on a wedding—has been so normal. Neither awkward nor smooth, neither lacking nor overbrimming with emotion. It’s just—here. Existing with Fushiguro. And it’s strange, to not feel like breaking around him. To not feel so unbearably much just looking at him, when this whole time the reason Yuuji had let so much time pass in silence was because he was scared to still find himself two years into justifying why they broke up yet still the same young, fragile him that had once chased after Fushiguro in the cold to spill his guts out onto the asphalt. 

He wonders if time had changed that. Or if it was a natural side effect of growing up, to find himself beside the person he once loved with desire that made him sick and realize two years had been both too much and yet nothing at all. Seeing Fushiguro now, out of the blue and unprepared, doesn’t feel like seeing someone he doesn’t know, but it had still felt different to see him come into focus in the glare of sunlight bouncing off a passing car outside the bus. Like a change in aspect ratio, or like scrambling to figure out if it’s the hair or the sweater that’s different on someone he recognizes. As slight as it is disorienting for the brief second it takes the brain to reconcile the before with the after, the old with what isn’t quite wholly new. 

Because Fushiguro looks the same as he did two years ago. Maybe he’s a little taller, or his eyes are brighter, his jaw sharper, and maybe his mouth no longer seems to pull itself down at one corner when he’s thinking hard, but he still looks like the Fushiguro that had huffed and puffed across a bookstore while Yuuji smiled to himself from behind the counter, and like the Fushiguro that had allowed himself to give in that same night and trusted Yuuji to put him back together with his mouth and his hands. 

But whether he’s still that Fushiguro underneath the surface, and whether that would even matter, Yuuji has no way of figuring out. There’s still a part of him that thrums with the curiosity that his nineteen-year-old self had felt the night Fushiguro returned to the bookstore after Yuuji had been sure he wouldn’t, except that curiosity doesn’t come with greed now, and if he thinks about it too hard, if he digs too deep into how being around Fushiguro is not the same anymore, not at all, it feels like being shaken and rattled until he’s convinced that the sound he’s hearing means he’s empty.

Daily life and the inevitable future are one thing, but Yuuji doesn’t know what to make of this lack of urgency when it’s Fushiguro he’s feeling it around—doesn’t know, really, what to make of what’s happening at all. He doesn’t know how to find his footing because it doesn’t even feel like he’s slipping, necessarily, and he doesn’t know how to find which line he’s at in the scripts he’s drafted in his head for this reunion when ground zero isn’t even where he thought it would be in any of them. He just doesn’t know, not the way Fushiguro seems to, as grounded and steady as he is in the best memories Yuuji has of him, if a little dazed right now in still processing what Yuuji said. 

"You signed with the Chiba Jets. The B-League team."

"You got it." Yuuji lifts his ice cream cone as if in a toast. "Not bad for a guy who didn’t know where he was gonna go after high school, right? Who’d have thought?"

Fushiguro’s free hand rises to his face, covering his cheeks and mouth beneath widened eyes. It’s far from expressive—and yet it is for him, surprise and pride palpable in the patches of red visible through the gaps between shaky fingers. 

"I would have," he says. "I did think." 

"Yeah, right." Yuuji laughs, and means it. He should stop relying on comparison before it gets the best of him, but it’s instinct to think of how the old him would have reacted to this—of how easily his younger self would have preened and beamed, how shallow but no less genuine that reaction would have been. He’s still pleased, now, but the giddiness doesn’t travel to where it once did. It’s more bloom than spark, how warm it feels to be praised. "You don’t have to be that nice just because it’s been a while—" 

"I’m serious," says Fushiguro, oddly determined in how he doesn’t match Yuuji’s tone at all. "Kugisaki can vouch for me. I told her so when I watched your game with her." 

Yuuji pauses, laughter fading into a confused smile. Fushiguro and Nobara have only gone once to a game together, as far as he knows; he remembers it vividly enough to not need to second-guess whether he’s right. Not when he’s held the memory closer than he has so many others, not when it had been the one time, in the entire period they knew each other back then, that Yuuji had been able to point across a room at Fushiguro and tell an outsider to their world, That’s my boyfriend. The one time their relationship had felt like something that existed for others, too, without it being put in place for them to doubt or question. A relationship not for pretend nor under examination, just there for Yuuji to gesture towards and announce in some way: Hey, do you see this? This is the shape of my love. This is the form it takes. It’s real. I have it. Someone has it for me. 

Yet this is also the sort of special-ness that only comes with distance and time and nostalgia, because Yuuji is equally aware that this hadn’t been how it felt at the time. Nicer thoughts, more generous ones, are there for an older him to have, as is the ability at all to look at the emotions that had been bubbling for his younger self and be able to sort through and choose the things that had, at the end of that day and the days that came far after, in fact been honestly good about what he had with Fushiguro. Thoughts and emotions that he’s packaged off somewhere in a specific corner of his mind, tidily but so, so painstakingly over time, and seeing Fushiguro look unfazed now at bringing it up, however indirectly, feels like surrendering to a cold tremor.

Maybe Fushiguro doesn’t make the connection at all. Or maybe it doesn’t matter for him anymore. He’s always been better at compartmentalizing than Yuuji ever could be. 

"—last August?"

Yuuji jolts, whipping towards Fushiguro. "Sorry, what?"

"Kugisaki’s party," says Fushiguro, eyes lingering. "The second year."

"What about it?"

"Why couldn’t you come?" 

Yuuji glances away. "Oh—Nanamin was leaving for Malaysia the same night." It’s an answer that has gotten lighter but not easier for him to say in the months it’s been since, but he succeeds at conversational today. "I wanted to come along for the drive to the airport because it was the last time I was gonna be seeing him for a while."

"Nanami-san is in Malaysia?" 

"Yep. Doing some in-residence work there for a year." Yuuji shrugs. "Maybe more. He really likes it there." 

Fushiguro’s ice cream is in a paper cup, and he pokes at it using his tiny green spoon without eating. "How are you handling it?"

"I’ve gotten used to it, kinda. It’s only a one-hour time difference, so I call him on the weekends when I can." It isn’t the same as being able to drop by whenever he wanted, but Yuuji marvels these days at how he’d been allowed to in the first place, how much patience and consideration he’d been given in his relationship with Nanami. "How’s—um—How’s everyone on your end?" 

"Good. Still mostly where they were two years ago, though Tsumiki’s living in Saitama now," says Fushiguro, and there’s sincerity and thought there that, somehow, wouldn’t have come across if he’d hesitated, if he’d only said fine, if he responded in any way that wouldn’t have Yuuji fighting to rein in his surprise like he is now. "She still asks about you sometimes."

Yuuji swallows a spoonful of ice cream. He doesn’t quite taste it. There’s so much space around them, so much privacy, with hanami here at a much smaller scale than what he’s used to from flower viewing in both Sendai and Tokyo. Less demanding of his senses in how little people there are, how much less food there is to overtake the smell of the blossoms, the lack of stuffiness in the air, leaving him nothing to focus on but the absence of any kind of expression on Fushiguro’s face. "I—Sorry." 

"For what?"

"Just—That can’t be easy."

"To be asked about you when you’re not in my life anymore?" 

"Right." Yuuji jerks his head in what should be a nod but doesn’t feel like it is. "That."

Fushiguro doesn’t waver, his hands steady around his cup as he points at an upcoming turn in the path they’re following parallel to the river. "You look like you’re in pain."

"Huh?"

"Does it make you uncomfortable, me bringing it up?"

"Oh, no, no, no." Yuuji falls back as Fushiguro reaches the turn in the path first, watching as he does a quick run down the slight slope downwards closer to the water. Raising his voice to reach farther, "I just—I’m not sure what the etiquette here is." 

Fushiguro waits for him below. There’s a blink where his free arm twitches forward, as if to help Yuuji down the last steps to stable ground, but it doesn’t go far, falling back to his side just as instinctively. 

"Since when do you care about etiquette in anything?" he says, so dry that Yuuji has to stare, stiff, until he realizes the dryness is in fact Fushiguro impassively messing with him. Yuuji sticks his tongue out. Fushiguro looks away. "How do you and Ozawa talk about your relationship?"

"Me and Yuko? We don’t."

"No wonder," says Fushiguro, still as dry, "that you seem bent on sweeping ours under the rug."

"What—Hey, no." Yuuji makes a low noise, frowning, and nudges Fushiguro hard enough to jostle him out of the asphalt under them. "I hate you. Don’t joke like that. I’m not—I just don’t know how you want me to talk to you and stuff.’

He hasn’t sounded this sulking, this pouting, in a long while, and he can feel how glad his voice is to have this boyish whine seep into it—but Fushiguro’s face coasts towards seriousness, everything else around them abandoned as he catches Yuuji’s gaze and traps it on his. 

It’s cooler, this close to the water, a sharp breeze lifting their hair back from their faces. They’re far away enough now from the ruckus of the stalls and the hanami visitors, a muted blanket over them with nothing but the quiet flow of the river behind them and the yellowing sky above. Fushiguro’s voice floats over clearly, no reverb nor a semblance of a ring to it, as he says, "Do you really? Hate me?" 

It is, suddenly, so honest of him that Yuuji’s thoughts stutter into silence. It comes with an iron-cold realization, too, that honesty, and the horror rushes into Yuuji alongside the guilt. 

"Wait, did you think—Megumi, did you think I didn’t go to Nobara’s birthday parties because I hated you and didn’t wanna see you?"

"It’s a reasonable thing to assume."

"No, it’s not. I—I don’t. I would never. Could never," says Yuuji. Then, because he’s spent so much time wondering and has forgotten just how much until this second, doubt floating up to the surface like it’s Christmas Eve two years ago all over again, "If anything—If anyone can hate the other person here, it’s you—" 

"I don’t hate you," Fushiguro cuts in, simple and curt. And this, Yuuji has no way of ever forgetting: how much can spark in Fushiguro’s eyes when given the chance, how much can be allowed onto the surface when the body cannot do the work for him. There’s too much there all of a sudden, an endlessness to the green locking Yuuji in his place, except Fushiguro shakes his head and doesn’t pause while he finds his way back to the path next to Yuuji, packing something away. "Are the Jets why you’re in Funabashi, then?"

Fushiguro’s tone hasn’t changed, but Yuuji knows—or thinks he knows, even after all this time—what he sounds like when he has resolved to change the subject for good. It makes him pause again, makes him wonder if not that much has changed, after all, even if he doesn’t feel the same syrupy dread in his gut as he did once. 

"Megumi," he begins. "Are we or are we not talking about it? ‘Cause I can’t do this back-and-forth. Not like before." 

"Talking about what?"

"Us. You and me. Y’know what I mean." Yuuji’s ice cream cone isn’t doing well in the wind, and he spends a minute working on it, going over a few attempts at an answer in his head before resigning himself to the fact that he’s never been good at that, never been good at anything in conversation but throwing out the first thing to come to mind, "Do we, like, dodge around the parts that wasn’t just friendship or do we acknowledge that neither of us know how to talk to each other right now?"

Under Fushiguro’s next step, a rock crunches loud and hard against the ground. It takes a second too long for the reply to come. "I’m talking to you just fine."

"Are you?"

"I am."

"Barely talking to your ex about your breakup and then changing the subject is talking to me just fine?"

"It is if I want to know first and foremost why my ex has spent two years being invisible to me only to show up in my city out of nowhere."

They stop at the same time when they reach the tail of the asphalt path, as though video game characters that have reached an alley deadend that they hadn’t seen coming. The dark grey curves upwards and molds itself into a short three-foot wall, at once fencing and a dam for a river that doesn’t even look like it needs it, made of concrete blocks that crunch like gravel under Fushiguro’s hands as he reaches to set his cup down on top. 

"Your city?" 

Fushiguro unbuttons and rolls the cuffs of his corduroy jacket up his forearm, his wristwatch glinting in what’s left of the sun. When he’s done, he looks Yuuji dead in the eye.

"I live here," he says. "I have been for a year now." 

Then he holds firmly onto the wall and hauls himself onto a sitting position on top of it. 

The unexpected rush of the wind he leaves in his wake knocks any capacity to think out of Yuuji. He cranes his head upwards, staring dumbstruck. 

"Huh?" 

"You didn’t question what I was doing in Funabashi?" Fushiguro props his feet against the wall, retrieving his ice cream cup. Around a spoonful, he orders, "Come up here before you miss what I want to show you." 

It takes Yuuji a while to realize where here is, and even longer to figure out how to obey with a cone in hand. He ends up biting it gently between his teeth, tongue cushioning it like it’s as fragile as an egg, though all it takes to lift himself over is a one-handed push hard against one elbow. He feels Fushiguro’s eyes follow the motion, a heated edge to how tangibly it sticks to him, but when Yuuji looks over, adjusting how he’s sitting, Fushiguro has turned away to nod his head forward instead. 

Yuuji’s eyes follow the direction.

He sits up higher as soon as it clicks what he’s looking at, his torso pulled up like it’s attached to a string tugged taut.

"Shit," he says. "Holy fuck, that’s a real sky."

He can’t tear his eyes away as he pats his pockets for his phone with one hand, sure that everything in front of him will shudder out of sight the moment he does. He’s as easy to please when it comes to sunsets as he is with most things, but it’s a thrilling, specific joy to see for himself that every city has its own kind; the deep pink of Sendai will never be the mismatched gradient of Tokyo, and the gold and cobalt blue of Kyoto will never be this yellow to yellow-orange to orange to the deepest, darkest sea of red that Yuuji has ever seen a sky. There’s an apocalyptic stain to the oil painting texture of it all, but it might be for that same reason that it’s so riveting to see it bleeding more and more down the expanse of the horizon in front of them, like an image that shouldn’t be visible to the human eye without the help of technology, of artificiality. 

Yet it is. All for Yuuji’s eyes to drink in. 

It occurs to him, seconds into marvelling at how saturated everything still is through his phone camera, that Fushiguro has been staring at him for a while. In the corner of his eye, he can see Fushiguro’s body facing forward, shoulders only slightly hunched, but his head is turned sideways, drinking in something of his own. 

The only lights around are tall, distant posts curving over the chocolate milk water of the narrow river. As the world gets dimmer around them in the ongoing sunset, they fall deeper into shadow, but what’s left to see of Fushiguro’s face is alight with something akin to recognition when Yuuji finally lowers his phone and looks back at him. 

He doesn’t remember the exact details of meeting Fushiguro for the first time. He knows, vaguely, how their first conversation went. He knows, vaguely, how that night had unfolded. But even Fushiguro walking him home is a blur of laughing and trying to parse this pretty, sighing stranger who hadn’t seemed to care about where the rest of his own night went. Only that. It was the first thing to return to Yuuji when morning came and things were a lot less vague, stringing the pieces of Fushiguro From Nobara’s Birthday Party, whose everything else was a blank for Yuuji except for how visibly he hadn’t cared. How dismissive he had been of seemingly everything, even as he held his shoulders like he carried the weight of something that he hadn’t lived through yet. 

And, beyond the blur, Yuuji only had the one single memory of Fushiguro walking him to his door. Away for the first time from the low LED lighting of the party and the erratic on-off glow of passing streetlights, he had been dark-haired and hawk-eyed and so unbearably beautiful it made Yuuji’s heart clench with a skip that he’ll realize five months later was him being stunned out of his mind. He thinks of that as the foundation of everything he’ll feel about Fushiguro: how he was stunned the first time they saw each other in the light, because here was an untouchable, good-looking stranger whose slender fingers felt cool and good and right on Yuuji’s elbow, and how he was stunned again the last time they saw each other, Fushiguro bright and perfect in his wedding suit, his lips red from the last kiss he’d given Yuuji and his eyes red at the edges from tears Yuuji hadn’t even heard as they let each other go. 

It seems only inevitable, to be stunned a second first time around. Yuuji forgets the sunset altogether in the face of looking at Fushiguro and Fushiguro alone. He thinks—Oh. That’s new. Here’s the boy he once loved, only they’re not quite boys anymore and it isn’t quite the same emotion as the love he once felt, and they’ve always seen each other best in the different angles that different planes of light bring. In the sunset, in streetlights, in a night lamp kept on for Fushiguro while Yuuji sleeps, in the morning after sunlight. And this seeing feels different, yet there’s no other word even now for it except stunned. Stunned at having Fushiguro in front of him again. Stunned at having an again at all. 

Stunned, when Fushiguro says, "The first time I saw this sunset, I wanted to send you a picture."

He speaks so softly, so deliberately. Everything about him with purpose. For once, Yuuji succeeds in sounding the same when he asks, "Why didn’t you?" 

"I almost did. I opened up a new text. Uploaded the photo. Then I saw the last message there and couldn’t do it." 

Yuuji knows what that text looks like, has opened the message box under Fushiguro’s name more times than he should have himself. He can see it in his head without having to think about it, can still remember how it had felt two years ago to see the question mark at the end of Are you still coming tonight?

He sighs. There’s so much clarity in Fushiguro’s reply. In sound, in the staccato words he’s choosing. Yuuji wants to give him the same in return.

"I’m really sorry for barging into your city out of nowhere," he says. "I’ve been hopping in and out with the real estate agent the Jets gave me so they can push me to buy or lease for at least two years and I swear I didn’t know you live here now." 

Silence, long and hesitant enough to make something in Yuuji twist. 

But Fushiguro says, "You’ve never asked Kugisaki?" 

Yuuji shakes his head, too quickly, biting into his ice cream until he’s left with an even plateau of half-melted vanilla soft serve. Nobara would have never volunteered the information by herself first. It was her own burden to handle, navigating friendship between them both, and Yuuji didn’t want to add to it by assuming he had any right to anything with Fushiguro after how their break-up went. 

"Do you—um—" He comes up empty. "Do you like it here?"

Fushiguro hesitates again, though it seems less because he doesn’t want to be honest and more because he’s looking for the right word. "It’s… new."

"Good new?" 

"Is there a good new and a bad new?" 

"Depends on how you feel about something new that doesn’t ever stop feeling like it’s new." 

A corner of Fushiguro’s mouth tugs up. "Wise." 

"Thanks," says Yuuji. "I’ve been seeing someone. Not sure if it will survive the move here, but—Yeah. I owe wise quips like that to her." 

It’s just as quick when the change in Fushiguro’s expression melts away. The almost-smile is replaced by nothing, but Fushiguro’s voice remains conversational. "I see. How is that going?"

"Good! This really great person Nanamin knows found her for me and she’s really sweet and she listens so well and she has all these cool limited edition movie posters at her place and she makes really good tea and—" Yuuji breaks off, realizing that Fushiguro isn’t looking at him anymore. Not at all. "Sorry. It’s really good, I mean. Full stop."

It seems fully unconscious, when Fushiguro crosses his leg over his knee and starts picking nonexistent lint and existent gravel and bits of cherry blossoms off his pants. Like he’s looking for something else to occupy his mind. "With two globs of milk?"

Yuuji stops in the middle of raising his cone back to his mouth. "Sorry?"

"Your tea. Do you still take your tea like that?"

"Oh," says Yuuji. "Yeah, I do. You remember."

"Of course I remember." Fushiguro deliberates again, but what comes out of his mouth is the last thing Yuuji expects, "And is she okay with the keychain on your backpack?"

Yuuji almost swallows a bite of his cone down the wrong pipe. On pure reflex, his free hand fumbles for the backpack still slung over his shoulders. He’d forgotten he had the keychain, though he’s never once taken it off this bag, and it’s a miracle in itself that the surface of the dog plushie has stayed as much a recognizable white as it has in the past couple of years of moving with Yuuji everyday across Tokyo. 

He clutches it as soon as he feels his hand graze the soft material. "Um. She doesn’t know about the keychain—but she knows about you?" 

"You should let her know," Fushiguro tells him, speaking strangely slow. "I don’t want it to cause problems." 

"Why," says Yuuji, "would it cause problems?"

"It’s not ideal, is it, for your boyfriend to still have something he bought to match with an ex?" 

Yuuji lets go of the keychain. His hand drops back against the loose gravel of the top of the wall. 

He stares at Fushiguro.

"A therapist," he says. "I meant a therapist, Megumi. I’ve been seeing a therapist."

Fushiguro’s mouth falls—outright falls—open. He closes it at once, but it’s too late, and Yuuji’s shocked, sheepish laughter bursts out of him, so forceful that it dislodges all the weight in his chest on its way out. He laughs until he knows the laughter has reached Fushiguro, too, nothing but soft embarrassment on his face by the time Yuuji chokes out, "Holy shit—What? You know I don’t date."

At this, Fushiguro can’t help glancing at him; it’s openly involuntary, the whip of his body towards Yuuji. "Still?"

"Still." Yuuji compacts his laughter into a broad smile. "What part about me not being suited for a relationship back then—" 

"No, I know, but—Time has passed. And it doesn’t have to be a relationship." 

"Haven’t slept with anyone, either. Haven’t even tried." 

"Ever?" 

"Ever." Yuuji shrugs. "I know I slept around a lot in second year, but it’s not really for me, that kinda lifestyle." 

"I know," says Fushiguro, only to seemingly startle at hearing himself say it out loud. It goes straight into Yuuji’s chest, the beautiful bareness of his surprise. "I meant—The way you love other people—"

He stops there. Yuuji finds, with prickling surprise, that he doesn’t mind. He takes a huge bite out of his cone, halving it, and chews while he waits for Fushiguro to recalibrate what he wants to say.

"I just thought it was weird, sometimes," he finally continues, with an exhale Yuuji didn’t realize Fushiguro has been keeping in until he hears it sound so shakily forced out now, "that you were so against relationships when I met you. That you still are." 

"Really? You thought someone like me would be a serial monogamist?"

"What does that mean? Someone like you?" 

"Someone—" Yuuji softens his voice so Fushiguro knows it’s not meant to be confrontational. "—who needs so much." 

Fushiguro shakes his head. His throat bobs as he swallows. Yuuji latches onto it. "But you gave me everything you had anyway. You gave me more than you ever needed from everyone else."  

Yuuji squints up at the sky. 

The colors are so much clearer here, if not perfectly, than in Tokyo, and it hurts to look at when magnified in a narrowed view like this as much as it is impossible to look away from. Like looking directly at the sun, or at Fushiguro, or like looking at the remnants of what they had and having to come to terms with the shape it left behind in his life.

"Thank you for saying that," he says. "I really did love you like hell, Megumi. As best as I knew how."

"I know."

"And now I try my best to not have regrets about how we did things." 

"Me, too." 

"Then I guess that’s all I can ask for," says Yuuji, with so much honesty that he feels like he’s splitting in half by giving it away. "Can I tell you something I should have told you before?"

Fushiguro hums, more vibration than noise, pulsing in tandem with Yuuji’s heartbeat. 

He doesn’t pull his gaze away from the sky. He doesn’t know if he’ll be strong enough to continue being as honest as he wants to be right now, if he ends up reading too far into Fushiguro’s eyes. 

"It’s not that I was against relationships," he begins. "I still had fantasies about being in one. Mostly with a faceless person, just for the sake of daydreaming about what it might be like. I was scared to want, though. I figured—I’ve got all these friends and there were still days I felt alone. What if I got the relationship stuff I really wanted, or if I got a more permanent version of the kind of connection I jump from night to night—only for me to find that it’s still not enough? What do I do with all this—" He waves a vague hand over himself, but hunger flashes through his thoughts. "—at that point? Where do you go after a dead end except back where you were? Only this time around I would have gotten a taste of more, and I think that’s worse than not having had it at all." 

He lowers his hand back down. 

"But then—that person in my daydreams became you. And it was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I guess there is such a thing as the connection I’ve been looking for this whole time. I can get it and it will be enough.’ But then that turned into asking myself what enough even is. Am I just gonna take and take from the person that makes it enough for me? And that turned into this big, big, big fear that I brought with me into our relationship."

He smiles at nothing, swinging his legs forward, though he might be imagining the numbness in them. He feels so stiff, all of him so unused because it is untouched.

"At the end of the day, though, Megumi, I think my way of doing things was right based on what I grew up with, and yours was right, too, based on what you believed," he says. "But y’know? Now that I’ve had time to think about it and to not be as scared about how much I wanted you, I think of it this way—Back then, I really, really hated having to be a person with a body. Sure, around my friends, with my team, with Nanamin, I was thankful to have a body that took me places, that let me be there for other people, that can do everything I need it to do—but I hated it for wanting so much. For making it so that all the shit I want also feel like needs. For those two things to be like this—" He intertwines two fingers on his free hand, tight. "—with the way I felt them. But with you, looking back, I was grateful to have the same body I hated. To have this funky little body that can want and feel and be wanted. I was grateful to be a—what’s a good word—a self? Because that self got to experience what it was like to be loved and wanted by you. And I think—I think that sorta gratitude isn’t really something I’d have realized was there with the way I was when we were dating."

Fushiguro’s gaze is lead and iron on him. "And now?" 

"Now," says Yuuji, helpless to the way his tiny smile travels across his mouth, "I can look back and grin and say that it was really damn good with you, Megumi. It really, really was. It might have felt like it was too much and not enough at the same time for the me back then, but as far as loving and being loved goes, it was a really good one hundred out of ten around you, Megumi." He laughs to himself. "So really, you can’t make fun of me for finding it super hard to go from everything you were to me to a date with a stranger. Because whether or not I dated around or was looking for another long-term relationship with someone, you are and were an exception to so many things, and that sort of person doesn’t come around a lot." 

Fushiguro turns away. Yuuji feels it more than sees it, and knows from this that this isn’t rejection. 

Again, Fushiguro takes his time choosing his words—or maybe he’s giving Yuuji time and space to catch his breath. Kindness and consideration, either way. Attention, as forever, with Fushiguro. 

Eventually, he sets his cup down on his other side.

"Was there ever a point," he says, "where you would have turned back?"

It’s far from any of the questions Yuuji would have anticipated if he had the mind for it right now, but the answer is easy, automatic. It needs no clarification, no thinking. 

"Every step, Megumi," he says. "Every step I took away from you that night, I wanted to turn around and take it all back."

"I’m proud of you. That you didn’t."

There’s nothing funny about it for him, but Yuuji laughs again. Sincere enough, aware of how much Fushiguro means what he said, only to trail off when he sees wistfulness take over Fushiguro’s expression and feels a question being pulled along with it. He braces himself. 

"And you? Are you seeing someone?"

There’s a second where it sounds like Fushiguro is about to say something, his mouth opening for breath and Yuuji’s heart seizing with it, but he shakes his head and leaves it there. 

"Damn," Yuuji jokes up at the sky, dragging the word out to chase off the knot around his windpipe. It’s a stark but unsurprising revelation, to realize he doesn’t want it. He thought he could find it in him to keep a straight face and say he’s happy had the answer to his question been a yes—but he can’t. It will hurt. It would have hurt a lot, if Fushiguro had found someone else. It might be childish and selfish, but it would have killed him just the same.

Fuck. It really, really would have.

"That bothers you a lot," says Fushiguro. "The thought of me dating someone else." 

Yuuji freezes. His mouth dries itself out when Fushiguro turns his body towards him, his scrutiny so made-to-match and expectant and heavy even now. "No, I just—I mean, yeah, but I—I thought about it, is all. In one of my fantasies of seeing you again—" 

"Fantasies?" 

"Yeah, y’know—" Yuuji raises one shoulder in a half-shrug, punches out yet another laugh. "Little scenarios in my head. In case we see each other and I’m unprepared. That kind of stuff." 

"Tell me the one you’re thinking of right now, then." 

It’s gone completely dark now, the two of them nothing but minuscule blips on the streetlights bouncing off the river, but Fushiguro’s eyes are brilliant-sharp on Yuuji. To look away feels like admitting something that’s too early for him to confess, so Yuuji drops his eyes instead to the swoop of Fushiguro’s neck, the cut of his jaw, the way he can almost feel the heat there, as if seeing skin is to feel it, too, with how his memories of Fushiguro work. 

It dawns on him, belatedly, that this is the emptiness. The emptiness, the difference, is that his hands are itching to touch. But they can’t. Not right now. Fushiguro used to act like Yuuji was better at words, that Yuuji has always been better at saying what’s on his mind, and it will be true, except being frank is not the same as choosing the right words, as not knowing what to do with his hands now that he and Fushiguro are both bumbling through telling as a means of showing, as a way of saying, This is what my life has looked like while you were gone. I have to tell you about it, because you weren’t there to see it

Yuuji takes a deep breath. 

"So I imagine I see you out on a date in Odaiba with someone, right," he lets himself blurt out. "And we—like—lock eyes across this crowded cafe, like in a movie and shit. Whatever. Sometimes, I go up to say hi to you and the person you’re with. Sometimes, when I’m in a mood, I just walk out of the cafe, straight up. But for either one, after I leave, you follow me, okay? You catch me by the wrist and you tell me not to go, like we’re in The Notebook or something. You tell me it was a misunderstanding. You ask me why I left. And you stand there—it’s always in the rain, for more drama—and you look so—so—so you—and I snap. I tell you to give me another chance. I tell you we’ll figure it out, that everything will be fine this time because it’s us. Because I’ll know what I want this time, and I figure, in the fantasy, that I can work to make you want me again. And that’s it. Cut. Scene." 

As he strings all these together, embarrassing and genuine where his fingers can’t be, Yuuji finishes his cone for something, anything, else to do. Fushiguro watches him do it. Yuuji likes that Fushiguro watches him do it. He likes that Fushiguro still watches him, after all this time, likes that even without bridging the distance, he can feel Fushiguro here. 

But it’s completely silent, completely still, and Yuuji has to move, has to dust crumbs off his hands, his lap. He’s learned to walk in silence but not sit in it, and it’s taking all of him not to open his mouth and say the first thing that makes it out. 

Fushiguro gets to it first.

He says, "Yuuji." 

Quietly, as if this isn’t the first time he’s saying Yuuji’s name today. As if this isn’t the first time he’s saying it to Yuuji’s face in two years. As if it doesn’t feel like a cool hand pressing hard against a barely healing sunburn, for him and his damn eyes to look like the personification of dawn as he moves his wound of a mouth around the name. 

Yuuji has to watch while Fushiguro allows himself a breath, then another, only to give up on it altogether, sighing so loud and deep it’s almost a groan. He moves—to push his hair back, it looks like, but it doesn’t go far enough before he’s dragging the hand down his face instead—and for a moment, Yuuji’s sure he’s fucked it all up, that too honest is too much, until Fushiguro speaks again.

"You don’t think I want you anymore?" 

It’s not accusatory, and it’s neither a question nor a confession, but Fushiguro’s voice is so fragmented by the time it reaches Yuuji that it feels like the end of the skyfall, body hitting the ground, all impact and no recoil. Like the aftermath of pain, all muscle and no blood, all deafening heartbeat in his ears as his body struggles to make sense of what happened where his mind has given up.

But he doesn’t get the chance to reply before Fushiguro sits up, his head moving towards a noise from somewhere distant, echoing indiscriminately through the sky without birds to chase off trees. 

It takes Yuuji a long while to recognize it as the cling and clang of Christian church bells. 

He sits frozen while Fushiguro counts them, then checks his wristwatch. He isn’t looking at Yuuji anymore—and it’s all knee-jerk impulse when Yuuji reaches out, fingertips aiming for soft hair or cool skin. But then Fushiguro looks back up, and Yuuji has to pull his hand back so fast that it crashes against his chest, has to draw out a smile from somewhere, even though Fushiguro’s hesitation is suddenly radiating off him, approaching Yuuji in anxious waves that have him shifting from left to right where he’s sitting. 

He understands at once. 

But he doesn’t want Fushiguro to go. He doesn’t think Fushiguro wants to go, either. 

"I have to be somewhere by seven," says Fushiguro. "It won’t take long." 

Trains should be running until at least two in the morning, Yuuji thinks. He knows he left enough food for Sukuna. He has nothing to do tomorrow. 

But no matter what, even if none of these had been true, he already left once, on a winter night. He wants to stay, this time, this spring. 

"Can I come with?" 

Relief spreads beautifully, discreet but undeniable, on Fushiguro’s face. "Is that something you’d want?" 

What Yuuji wants is to get a closer look. He wants to touch Fushiguro. He wants to see his world. He wants to see Fushiguro’s Funabashi. He wants to build a home here like the one Fushiguro built out of his heart. He wants a lot, all of them muted things in the back of his head and the thrum of his heart where a lot isn’t always much, and all of them Fushiguro. All of them right here, in front of Yuuji, and he’s not letting it leave quite yet. 

He gets up first, pushing himself off the wall and landing hard on the ground below. He holds out a hand. "Can’t think of anything else I’d wanna do in Funabashi." 

Fushiguro takes a moment—but he stares down at Yuuji like he, too, is seeing a different person beneath him, and is glad for it.

Yuuji can tick off on ten fingers all the times he and Fushiguro had held hands. Can see each instance in his mind without problem, from a handful of dates to one subway ride to a wedding night. A sensation he hadn’t realized he’d been so deprived of until Fushiguro takes his hand now. 

Takes it and clutches it, and it’s like falling endlessly through the sky all over again. 

 

 

My name is Itsuki. I’m fifteen. I’m from Yachiyo. Um. The person I like gave me chocolate last Valentine’s Day, and honestly, I didn’t think much of her until she did that, but now, I can’t stop looking at her and watching her. We have a few friends in common, but we haven’t really gotten to know each other yet, but do you ever look at a person and think you’re going to like them someday even when you don’t yet? That’s how I feel about her. It’s not really one moment, but I notice all these things about her — like her hair clip, or like how she has a rabbit eraser at the end of the pencil she likes to use. It’s cute. It’s really cute. It’s been on mind a lot recently, small things like that. It’s like little building blocks. Like I can fall for her if I let myself. And I think I will. It’s only a matter of time. 

But yeah. My song request is "us" by milet, because it makes me think of her, and I think it’s really, really great, to have things that make you think of that one person you like. 

It’s like—Like there’s a thread that connects you guys, except you were the one who tied it between yourselves. 

That’s love, right, the ability to make that thread? A kind of superpowered ability? Magic, maybe?

 

 

Nanami calls at exactly ten. 

It’s around the time they talk during the weekend, though it’s rare that he calls first, and Yuuji rushes to answer in the middle of building a three-tier bookshelf in Fushiguro’s bedroom.

He’d been eighteen when he first walked into Nanami’s loft, a freshman newly arrived in Tokyo and so in need for pocket money that he’d answered a listing for a move. He hadn’t expected to walk into his Intro to Narrative class a week later and find Nanami as the professor’s assistant, still a year away from his Ph.D and two from becoming a proper professor. To this day, Yuuji isn’t sure what Nanami saw in him that had him painstakingly helping with essays more than his allotted work hours should have spoken for, or what about Yuuji had Nanami asking for him whenever he needed furniture moved or built; maybe it was pity, or just his natural respect for anything that resembled hard, honest work, but dominoes fell over each other until Yuuji had his first breakdown in university and the only house he could think to rush to, just a bit hysterical, was Nanami’s.

And when Nanami had welcomed him with a mug of hot chocolate and the best bread Yuuji has ever had in his life, that had been that.

It felt a little too full-circle, then, to be there on the night Nanami left for Malaysia, carrying all these suitcases to the car like he had into the loft all those years ago. Haibara had been the one to drive them all to the airport, and he must have known Yuuji was on the verge of tears the whole time: on the way back, he’d handed the aux cord over and blasted everything to inhuman volumes while Yuuji sniffled with his head out the window like a dog with separation anxiety. Then, giggling good-naturedly, he had taken them to an all-night noodle place and let Yuuji eat all the udon he wanted.

He feels a little mortified about all the dramatics now, but doing it around Haibara had at least ensured that he won’t regret it even long after. There had been much to be said about Yuuji’s dormant abandonment issues flaring up in the face of being left behind by the closest he has to a guardian these days, to family, and while Haibara had been careful not to therapize him outside of the office, especially with their social connection and the fact that he wasn’t even Yuuji’s official therapist, it was still a necessary conversation to have. That yes, Yuuji is happy that Nanami’s in Malaysia, that he’s found a place that doesn’t plague him as much as Tokyo seemed to sometimes, but no, there’s really no rationalizing happiness side-by-side with what had still felt like yet another difficult goodbye.

He still feels the emptiness of their distance sometimes, but tonight, it’s easy to breeze through assuring Nanami over the phone that the package made it safely to Junpei’s apartment. Nanami doesn’t tell him what’s in it. Yuuji doesn’t ask. He believes small surprises are one of life’s biggest gifts. Nanami asks about apartment-hopping. Yuuji admits that he’s still in Funabashi, that he’s with Fushiguro. 

Nanami tells him, just before hanging up, You know yourself best. Make the choice that will make you happy before anyone else.  

Less didactic than it is stilted, like he’s only saying it to be the adult-er adult, but it still has Yuuji flopping, boneless and uncertain, onto Fushiguro’s perfectly-made queen bed.

The sheets have been washed recently, the sweetness of fresh detergent still strong. Underneath it, he can also smell Fushiguro’s shampoo on the pillows, unchanged since the years before; it reaches him with a pang, with a wave of memories that take no concrete form under the sensory punch, and he finds himself letting his shoulders relax just so he can breathe in and out easier beyond the tightening of his chest. 

Resting his head between the pillows, right in the middle of the bed, he curls into himself. 

On the way to the clinic, he’d learned that Fushiguro is doing the latter three of his six-year veterinary science program at the Nihon University branch here in Funabashi. Ieiri Shoko knew a fellow doctor who knew another fellow doctor, and when Fushiguro was given the option to transfer and split his credits between classes and interning at a clinic, he’d taken the offer. 

The clinic was the somewhere they had to be at, a white-walled two-story affair that let Yuuji wander around as much as he wanted—whether to wave at a rabbit waiting to be picked up by its owner or to tear up at the premature newborn kittens that one of the on-shift vets is taking care of—while Fushiguro spent two hours taking notes on reports for his Monday class. He hadn’t seemed all that bothered when he found Yuuji in the break room after, being fed by one of the middle-aged secretaries with both sweet apple slices and stories about what Fushiguro is like at work.

It’s strange, for Yuuji, to devour all of it without the same pit in his stomach that used to be there when he felt Fushiguro wasn’t telling him enough about himself. Less need to possess what wasn’t volunteered, less desperation to take something in return for what is given. It does come with its own sting, knowing all the moments he hadn’t been around for, but it slips beneath the guileless warmth at hearing how much there is to Fushiguro’s life here, all these names Yuuji doesn’t know, all these small incidents from different days, a universe that was all Fushiguro’s without it seeming constrained into a world that will never allow for Yuuji.

He’d been mostly joking when he asked if Fushiguro was also going to show him his place—but Fushiguro hadn’t hesitated to offer dinner, and Yuuji hadn’t even realized they were walking to the apartment and not a station until they’re climbing up the stairs to the second floor of four. There’s no lobby, just a series of silver doors marked with numbers, all of which Fushiguro says opens to the same decent-sized one-bedroom he has, L-shaped and overlooking the residential street behind the building. It’s sparser than Fushiguro’s apartment in Tokyo, without any signs of two other people having lived in it; beyond the bedroom, the Funabashi place only has two neat stacks of taped-up moving boxes, a clean kitchen with two bowls in the dish rack, a pile of books on a coffee table made of polished wood, and a couch, so much more decadent than everything else in the apartment, that Yuuji knows at once must have been Gojo’s contribution to the move.

Fushiguro’s in the kitchen now, manning the stove and probably close to scowling in the most high-quality grey apron Yuuji has seen. He refused any help in making dinner, determined to prove himself for whatever reason and convinced Yuuji would find a way to do all the work. He’s been deep in thought since they left the river, and Yuuji had thought it was wherever they were going that was bothering him—but it’s telling how he can’t look Yuuji in the eye even long after they left the clinic, can’t seem to focus on what he’s doing to the point that he had to banish Yuuji to the bedroom to build a MUJI bookshelf that has apparently been untouched for months.

But it’s nice, listening to the muted clinks and clicks in the kitchen from the cocooned safety of Fushiguro’s bed. It’s nice, having built something in this uncharted apartment. It’s nice, for once, how much quieter Funabashi is than Tokyo. 

If Yuuji allows hope in, he starts thinking it feels like a promise, this nice-ness. Like a look into a Fushiguro Megumi and Itadori Yuuji they could have been once upon a time, in another life. It doesn’t feel like the them that they were, maybe because it’s dinner at eleven and not breakfast, or because it’s the night before who-knows-what instead of the morning after, or because where a younger Yuuji would have found a way to wiggle back singing into the kitchen, the current him just feels uncomfortably aware of all this as things he has never gotten to have. As if he’s looking outside-in to the lives of strangers that are as knowable as they are terrifyingly foreign. 

The bookshelf sits in all its three-tier glory by the foot of the bed now, only a handful of hex key spins away from being done. Yuuji stares at it until his vision blurs, zoning out as his body finally unknots itself from the day. 

He doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but it’s too reminiscent of a memory, too much like lying down, warm from a bath and exhausted from a night of crying, next to Fushiguro. His body recalls it too well, remembers it too adoringly, and he trips into a shallow doze that’s cut brief when he startles back awake to a floorboard creaking. 

He finds Fushiguro standing next to the bookshelf, watching over him with slack eyes and a parted mouth. They both blink at each other, Fushiguro caught and Yuuji bleary—before everything catches up and Yuuji’s sitting, sheepish. 

"Shit, my bad, I didn’t mean to—" 

"It’s alright." 

"Your mattress is super soft. But also firm. Very comfortable." 

"Thank you," says Fushiguro, in that stripped to nothing way that’s as much amused as it is unimpressed. Hearing it, Yuuji indulges himself and slips back down against the bed. "You can keep sleeping. I’m still waiting for the rice." 

Yuuji shakes his head against the pillow. "S’okay. I’m not tired." 

All the planes and angles of his lines tentative, Fushiguro sits on the foot of the bed, too far from where Yuuji’s body ends. "You fell asleep." 

"Because it was too comfortable." 

"Is it?" 

"It’s your bed, Megumi. You don’t think it’s comfortable?" 

"Never thought of it that way." 

Yuuji gives Fushiguro a onceover. Wanting or wanting to find Fushiguro wanting, it doesn’t matter in how there’s no difference right now, in how his ears still ring with Fushiguro saying, You don’t think I want you anymore?

Rolling over to one side of the bed, Yuuji says, "Maybe you should lie down and see for yourself." 

It’s unsubtle and unenticing, probably, but he might die if Fushiguro keeps sitting so close and yet nowhere near. Maybe Fushiguro can tell, or maybe he can’t, but he wastes no time before moving, his sweater shifting to reveal a dove’s wing of a collarbone. 

But that’s not what lingers on Yuuji’s mind as Fushiguro settles beside him, half an arm’s length away. He looks instead at the two square windows on the wall spanning Fushiguro’s side of the bed, at the space between them, at how the bookshelf he just built will probably go there alongside the books scattered in the living room and a lamp much like the one on Fushiguro’s bedside, tiny and square but casting as much bright slivers of light as it is shadows in the corner behind the open door. 

Yuuji finds Fushiguro’s face a silhouette when he tilts his head to the side, cheek pressed against the pillow. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine it’s snow and asphalt under them, that it’s a December night and they’re behind a skateboard store in Shinjuku, with enough time left to prevent their argument from imploding as it did. But again, still, Yuuji can’t regret what he’s sure would have been inevitable, just as the end of their relationship was also inevitable. Good doesn’t mean right. Wanting shouldn’t mean needing. 

Until it did, with Fushiguro. Until, probably still, it does.

"The first place I looked at here in Funabashi," Yuuji finds himself saying, "had this little reading nook. Nice little seat between two big windows, nice cushioning, big enough to sit with your legs out. I stared at it for so long that my agent was dead sure I’m gonna get the apartment just for it. But I was just mad—" He drops his voice to a whisper, conspiratorial and confessional. "—that the only person I could imagine sitting there was you." 

Fushiguro’s eyes aren’t far away tonight, and it doesn’t feel like a bad thing to wait for them to reach Yuuji, inescapable once there and shining with whatever isn’t making it to his face.

"Because I’m the only person you know who reads?"

"You don’t know that."

"I’m willing to bet money." 

"Well, you’re losing that money because I did meet someone recently who reads."

"One person in two years. Impressive. Did you meet at a party and reconnect at a bookstore, too?"

His voice remains flat, but there’s an undercurrent of doubt there. Yuuji shifts onto his side, cradling his own cheek with his palm for warmth that he wants from someone else. Fushiguro doesn’t so much as twitch, but his gaze follows Yuuji, in wait. 

"No, but he did wanna surprise me with a Disneyland date," says Yuuji, and feels immediately like a New Year’s Eve sparkler beginning to flare when Fushiguro’s expression darkens. Good, he can’t help but think. Good, that it’s not just him. Good, because it didn’t always used to be this naked, Fushiguro’s expression, this easy for Yuuji to read. Didn’t used to be just there for his taking. He doesn’t know which one of them has gone better at what. "I had to turn him down, unfortunately."

The weight in that unfortunately must come across to Fushiguro—who frowns like he’s frowning about needing to frown. His forehead smoothens before anything can come close to hovering, but it’s all still there in the quiver of his voice. "Why?"

"Because it’s yours," says Yuuji. No preamble, no hesitation. The sooner it’s out, he thinks, the sooner it goes somewhere or nowhere, the better it might be for both of them. For tonight, for what comes after. "Or at least—As soon as he said it, I immediately thought, ‘No. You can’t. That’s Megumi’s. Megumi will do that. Megumi already said he’ll take me again next time.’ Isn’t that ridiculous?" 

He gives into a smile, because it is ridiculous. Because people aren’t there for others to own and especially not the things they do, and yet Yuuji doesn’t have to think hard to know which parts of him are all Fushiguro’s. Two years hadn’t made a dent out of the space Fushiguro carved for himself; everything that was his is his even now, all these things already promised to him and no one else, from a surprise Disneyland date to a confession, if there had ever even been a distinction in those.  

It’s a fluid shift, a roll to the arc of Fushiguro’s spine, when he turns to his side, too. It leaves his face dangerously near Yuuji’s, his body heat close enough to taste. Neither of them move away. 

"Too much?" Yuuji whispers.

Fushiguro shakes his head, dark hair fanning around his head. 

It’s unbearably careful, how he lifts his hand to Yuuji’s face. To brush hair off his forehead at first, then palm to cheek, heat on skin, touch bursting through Yuuji. Tenfold of the burn from how it had felt to touch his hand alone, with how much more familiar this is, how much more there had been of this to miss in the last two years.

"I know," says Fushiguro, voice low and words sedate, "that it was necessary to have time and space away from each other to grow up. I understand that. I don’t feel any more grown up now than I did before, but I understand why we broke up. I know that I never would have moved here because the me that existed with you back then wouldn’t have wanted to leave you alone in Tokyo for however long. And I know I couldn’t have given you what you have now, and that it was dangerous to want to. But—" Here, the emotion creeps into a slight, momentary crack, far from calm or unhurried. "—sometimes I still ask myself why I said the words that night. Why I let you go."

Yuuji can’t tell which one of them is feeling the unravelling more, gentle-sharp word by gentle-sharp word from Fushiguro. "I needed time to be a more digestible person, Megumi." 

"You didn’t need to be more digestible for other people." 

"I get that." Yuuji puffs out a laugh. "I promise I get it. I’ve worked hard to get it. But I needed to be more digestible for myself, and me understanding that my needs aren’t a lot, that I still deserve love and kindness no matter how bad those needs get—It doesn’t mean that my needs weren’t a lot for you back then. ‘Cause they were. I would have drained you. Loving me was hard work. Don’t say it wasn’t."  

"I know it was hard work," says Fushiguro. "I never thought of that as a bad thing. It was work I wanted to do." 

"Are you saying we should have stayed together?" 

"No. I know we shouldn’t have."

It would have probably hurt a younger Yuuji, how sure Fushiguro’s response is. But it’s relieving tonight, freeing, to hear validation for something he might resent some nights but ultimately won’t ever want to take back. 

"There was a point where I didn’t know how to love you when it wasn’t just hard work." Fushiguro rubs his thumb over Yuuji’s cheekbone. "When I couldn’t be honest with myself about not having it in me to love you through the difficult times. So I know we made the right choice, in breaking up, because neither of us knew how to set the boundaries we needed to."

Absently, Yuuji reaches up to take the hand Fushiguro has on his cheek, to slip his fingers through them and stare down at the ball they make as he holds it between them. 

"But?" he says. 

Just slightly, likely unconscious, Fushiguro tightens his grip. "But I still wish you were around these past couple of years. That we did the necessary growing up together," he says. "Because the hard part wasn’t just Tsumiki or anyone asking about you when you weren’t in my life anymore. The hard part was that you had to be absent from it at all, that I spent all this time missing you, thinking I see you everywhere in Tokyo, and still waiting for you to reply to that one text like I didn’t send it the night we broke up." 

Yuuji’s breath catches in his throat—without sound, all sensation. It’s an easy swallow of air to clear it, but the feeling hovers, crawls, creeps. 

"I’m sorry for being too wimpy to reach out," he pushes through it, through this gauze in his voice box. "I wanted to be different when I saw you next—but then I was just—I don’t know. Different is good. It’s what I wanted. But what if I was too different? What if I was too different and it ended up meaning—what I said earlier." He looks up with a shrug. "That you won’t want me anymore."

Fushiguro’s eyes search him yet never quite stray, mapping Yuuji out with a soft reflection of fluorescent light that leaves him aching. Instead of answering, he lifts himself on one elbow, letting go of Yuuji to twist for the bedside table. After a beat of hesitation, crawling over his shoulders and snapping into nothing as if there’s been a resolution, he slips the drawer open and takes something out of it.

He holds up a black, round item. 

Yuuji slides to sitting, urgent with the realization of what he’s looking at, and takes it in one hand. 

The matching pair to his dog keychain sits in his grip, dark and soft and dangling on its one side the same chain it had when he first bought it. Only, at the end of that chain, is now a short lanyard and a key, both of them glinting in the lamplight.

Softly, giving nothing away if his words aren’t what they are, Fushiguro says:

"That’s the second key to this apartment." 

Yuuji tightens his hold on the keychain before it can slip down in his surprise. There’s weight on his throat, a lump pressing down hard even as he tries to swallow around it, coming alongside a tickling that travels to where the chain is tugging on the skin around his finger. A reminder, an epiphany that wants attention. 

"Megumi," he says. "Why did you move?"

When he turns to Fushiguro, he finds his face stillwater-calm. 

"I wanted something tangible to do. I didn’t want to be the same person you’d wanted to leave." 

"Oh." Yuuji grips the chain on the end of the dog. "Megumi. I didn’t—" 

"No, that’s not—" Fushiguro cuts in with an aborted sigh, sounding all of a sudden like he’s one breath away from biting down on his tongue. "I know. I don’t hold any of it against you. That didn’t come out right." 

There’s another sigh, this time for punctuation where his voice only seems to trail off back into thought. Fushiguro’s hand is planted behind Yuuji, anchoring itself with fingers fisted in the sheets as he angles his body towards him, and it’s such a specific motion, the slight turn of his body, in everything recognizable and new about it. Yuuji had loved it once for how unthinking it is, how much it had been like a plant to the sun, worshipful and devoted—except photosynthesis strikes him now as strangely greedy, a relationship based on need and hunger, helpless towards the light because it’s something to feed on and consume and convert into what the plant needs. 

Fushiguro’s movement towards him now is calmer, in control about not being in control. No more, no less, than the south side of a magnet smoothly and willingly tugged towards the north end of another. 

The realization runs electric along Yuuji’s bones, a hum that catapults towards implosion when Fushiguro’s other hand finds its way to the side of his sweatshirt, his torso—at the same time that his head tips forward, more and more, until it finds where it belongs on the crook of Yuuji’s neck and shoulder. He breathes in the loose embrace, shivering with everything he wants to say but will never allow himself all at once. 

"Help me," he finally murmurs. "I don’t know how I’m supposed to go about this." 

Yuuji’s eyes widen. 

It takes him a while to move, breath trapped while he waits for everything to click, to settle, to soften. Soften until his body feels like liquid, soften into something with no shape, no form, but left to brim over anyway, left to overflow. He reaches out his arms, waits for Fushiguro to come to him, to relax and shift closer. When he does, he pulls him to his chest, unrushed, giving him space to move away. 

Fushiguro doesn’t. He lets himself be cradled, ear to Yuuji’s pulse. 

His own heartbeat feels the same against Yuuji’s. He feels the same, his body fitting around Yuuji’s like it hasn’t changed while they were apart, even though it has, even though they both have, even though Fushiguro back then had only let Yuuji hold him once like this. 

"How ‘bout I start?" says Yuuji, gently. "Does that sound good?" 

Fushiguro’s leaning so hard against him that there’s not much space to nod—but he tries anyway, cheek against shoulder. 

"Okay. Great. Yeah. Alright." Yuuji takes in a deep breath, drawing it out so it sounds lighter than it feels. The keychain still digs into his palm, and he holds onto the sensation, onto the implication of this soft weight in his hand. "So I’ve always known that whether or not we saw each other again, it would be super hard for anyone to come after you. But then two years passed and no one did come close, and there were times I started wondering if maybe I just loved you as much as I did because I was younger then, or if maybe I romanticize us a bit too much nowadays. If, like, my nostalgia and how much I miss you are kinda blowing up how I actually felt about you in the past, to this high point that no one’s able to match in the present." 

A pause for another breath. No counting. No chasing. Like he’s on a walk. Mindless but not breathless. 

"But then," he continues, "I figured that doesn’t really change much. No matter what the reasons are, I still knew—still know—that I won’t love anyone else like I did you. And that’s the part I’m stuck at right now. ‘Cause it’s a good thing, isn’t it? To not love with all that messed-up intensity from back then that had me making kinda questionable decisions. But the thing is, after the Disneyland thing happened this past week, I kinda realized—It doesn’t even matter if it is a good thing that I’m different now. It doesn’t matter if I’m okay trying a relationship now. If I’m healthier and better at setting boundaries and expressing what I need or if I have more space in my life these days for something with someone. ‘Cause it’s like—All the things I need to commit to loving another person with all I have, I gave it all to you and left it with you. It feels cold just thinking about anything with anyone else. And being as okay as I’ve worked hard to be is good for me, really good, because it means I don’t need anyone. I’m good with myself. I’m okay, and on days where I’m not, I know how to crawl my way back. But that also means—It meant me realizing that if or when I do choose to have a someone—I need that someone to be you, Megumi. You or no one else. I don’t wanna settle for being ready for a relationship if that relationship isn’t with you."

They breathe out at the same time, equally deep, equally shaky. It makes Yuuji smile, despite himself. He takes a second to search himself for the fragility of needing to cry, of any signs his body is overbrimming, and finds that he’s surprisingly okay. Trembling and not great, his heart crooked, but okay. 

But he’s not okay enough to not tighten the embrace, to not hug Fushiguro for himself, too. Because it’s been too long, because it was a necessary long, because it was a painful long. 

"What about you, Megumi?" 

The fabric pulls to almost ripping, when Fushiguro closes his hold on Yuuji’s sweatshirt. It takes him a while to find his foothold, breathing in and out several times before, it seems, he finds the kind of careful he wants his words to be.  

"It’s been really lonely without you," he starts, voice level but so, so quiet. "Like being homesick, even though I’ve never felt that way before. I didn’t realize until earlier, when I was watching you beside me and realized that you still walk like you want to be running instead, or that you still can’t hide when you want or don’t want to be smiling because your eyes turn a little honey-colored when you do mean it, or that you still eat like everything, even a 250-yen softcream, is a luxury." Yuuji squawks. Fushiguro smiles, a little, against the hollow of his throat. "It’s like something came back to me alongside you. Something I didn’t realize was gone that badly. Because I really thought I was fine until you did your thing with the sunset and suddenly all I could remember was how, right before Tsumiki got married, when my father told me that my wedding should be in the summer if my turn comes, my first and only thought had been how well that would suit you. How much you would like a summer wedding. And then it felt lonely again, during that minute where I thought you’ve found and fallen in love with someone else, because I was thinking—What if you found your way back to me and all it ends up meaning is that I’ll someday have to watch you get married to someone else?" 

Yuuji has to fight to not make another sound, to not interrupt. He can feel absence return, only they’re touching now and he doesn’t know what or where the missingness is, doesn’t know how it, somehow, doesn’t also feel empty. 

"You asked me if there’s someone. There isn’t," says Fushiguro. "You’re the only person who’s ever touched me. You’re the first and last person I’ve ever wanted. It’s only ever been you. And it hurt to watch you walk away from me." His clutch loosens, hand dropping away as he slips himself out of Yuuji’s arms. He looks grave when their eyes meet, but everything about him is steady, certain, made conscious because there was a time when it wasn’t. "I don’t want to do it again, ever, if I can help it." 

Yuuji doesn’t trust his voice to work if he attempts the same kind of serious. He hasn’t been breathing properly, needing to hear every start and end of Fushiguro’s words, and he catches up now with a gulp of air disguised as a laugh. 

"You can," he says. It isn’t much better, but it finds its way out, and that’s what he needs as a starting point. "You can help it." 

Fushiguro tilts his head forward. "I can?" 

"You can," says Yuuji. Still far from equally serious, but it’s never eluded anyone, when he means something. "I’m right here, Megumi. I’m not leaving you." 

"Tonight, you mean." 

"Yes. I’ll stay." 

"And what if I say I don’t want you to leave me, ever?"

"Oh." Yuuji’s voice pitches fast towards breathless when Fushiguro leans even closer. That’s fine, he thinks. Have me. Have all of me forever. But he says, "Um—I don’t know about ever. I—We have to live our lives, and learning to manage things doesn’t mean the things aren’t totally there anym—" 

"But that’s not leaving me." 

Yuuji takes a moment to understand, his mind hardly grazing anything and fully stumbling through everything until it clicks. 

"Right," he says. His hands find their way against Fushiguro’s shoulders, and Fushiguro brackets him in return with both of his arms, hands as stable against the bed as everything else. "It’s not." 

"It’s not," Fushiguro echoes back, and kisses him.

It used to feel like being anchored, a kiss like this, hard and tight and hot and like the suffocating pleasure of being pinned under Fushiguro. The heat and pleasure remains now, but without the suffocation, without the tightness, just a soft mouth on him—a mouth that has never known anything but his, that still has it learned like no time has passed at all, that leaves him feeling this time, so many years later, like a helium balloon cut free, so strikingly that Yuuji has to dig his hands against cotton because he’s sure for a long second that he must be floating off somewhere. 

But he’s not, and when Fushiguro breaks away, the act of separation somehow benign, they’re both still there on the bed, entwined and needy without the desperation and the hunger that used to define that connection and need. 

"Is this okay?" Fushiguro murmurs, and when Yuuji nods, brain all pudding, he kisses him again, this time gently, making a show of it like he can’t decide how to kiss him beyond wanting to do it. 

And fuck, Yuuji wants both. Wants with so much overbrimming relief—at realizing he does, at realizing there’s even a both. He winds his arms around Fushiguro’s neck and pulls him closer, swallowing up more of that softness, that tender knowing of how his own body works, even in something so bashfully human and benevolent that it goes beyond blind worship and devotion. 

It’s how Fushiguro kisses, Yuuji realizes, when he’s doing it to convince Yuuji and not himself. When it’s not about having to share him with someone else, when it’s not about taking from him what no one else has been offered, when it’s not about having to leave an imprint that no one else has—which, in retrospect, has always colored his relationship with Fushiguro, even from those early beginnings. 

That’s the absence. That’s what’s missing.

That’s the lack of emptiness, in Fushiguro kissing him with nothing else but what he’s feeling for Yuuji. Not about Yuuji, or around him, but for him—and it’s so simple and idyllic and untouched for them that Yuuji feels like he’s swallowing his heart. 

But Fushiguro eventually slows the kiss, shifting his weight away as he pulls back until their lips are only brushing. There’s no hesitation nor apology to it, though Yuuji still doesn’t let him, yanking him back by the collar of his sweater. Fushiguro lets himself be dragged close, kissing Yuuji deep and brief, then again, and again, before Yuuji has to point out, whispering it between them so it sounds like the longing that it is, "You’re holding back, Megumi." 

Fushiguro allows one more kiss before tugging himself out of Yuuji’s pull. "Because we’re not done talking." 

Yuuji pulls away from kissing distance, too, but he keeps his one arm where it is, draped on Fushiguro’s shoulder. "I know." 

Fushiguro studies him. It takes a while, but the observation is pinpoint when it comes. 

"You don’t think it will be any different this time." 

Yuuji winces. "No, it’s not that I don’t think it will. I’m just—" He sighs, lets himself be drawn forward by the waist until his knees are pressed against Fushiguro’s hips. And like this, it’s so right and perfect he can’t think, can’t finish what he wants to say, and he has to track everything to the age-old fear blooming underneath how good it all is—Fushiguro, this bed, this apartment, all its promise. He’s gotten better at managing it. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t show up anymore, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. "I don’t know."

"Do you want things to be different?" 

"Of course I want them to be different," says Yuuji. "And not different as in we’ll stubbornly stick to it no matter what. Different as in we’ll be kinder to ourselves because that means being kinder to each other—"

"I know." Fushiguro is pure heat, in his stare and his body, in his words. "If we both want things to be different, they will be different." 

"It’s not—" Like you to think in terms like that, but Yuuji can’t make claims like this when he’s months and months late to returning to the space Fushiguro has been keeping for him this whole time. "We?"

Fushiguro runs his thumb against the corner of Yuuji’s mouth, his gaze rooted there. "I want to be with you. I want you to stay, tonight and tomorrow and everything that comes after. I want us to be an us." 

He sounds so certain, so trusting, and Yuuji, struck by hearing his own romanticisms from Fushiguro, has to shake his head. Because one of them has to say it, because love and idealism hadn’t solved it all for them once. 

"It can’t be that easy, Megumi." 

"It’s not," Fushiguro tells him, with as much certainty, with as much trust. "It won’t be. I want to give you so much even now. I’ll always want to give you everything you want. But it won’t always be for the best, and I’ll say and do things wrong, and it won’t be smooth sailing any more than it could have been back then even if we were healthier people." 

Both of his hands lower to Yuuji’s waist at the tail end of a thought, and it goes straight into Yuuji’s head. "You’ve gotten better," he manages, light-headed and struggling to not be euphoric even though he knows it won’t matter, even though his answer will be the same even if they had stayed there by the river half a foot apart, "at the saying things part."  

"Have I?"

"You’re not forcing yourself, are you?" 

"I’m not. It’s never forcing myself, when I’m doing things for you." 

Yuuji raises both eyebrows.  

Fushiguro relents with a huff and a frown. "This much isn’t, I mean," he mutters. "I want to try my best for you. It’s hardly forcing myself when I’m just saying the things I’m thinking anyway." 

Yuuji sighs, and then he’s the one kissing Fushiguro this time, catching him with an open mouth and letting himself drown. He can still taste ice cream, and in the back of his mind, he feels unnecessary triumph, feels a surprising amount of pride, in how even as he remembers the memory, he doesn’t feel like the version of him that had once been pushed against a bed, helpless and clueless in love, in what was once also Fushiguro’s bed, bedroom, home. 

He feels more sure of himself, of his compass, of his own thoughts—or at least sure enough to pull away before the heat travels everywhere else, and sure enough not to rely only on feeling. 

Though it doesn’t mean his hands don’t tremble at having to be still. He hooks two fingertips under the collar of Fushiguro’s sweater to stop it from reaching for more—only to recognize it with a start that pushes the heat over anyway. 

"This is the sweater I bought you." 

Fushiguro shrugs. "I also still have your basketball hoodie."

"Megumi."

Fushiguro snatches Yuuji’s wrist, the grip itself loose, and guides his fingers to the throb on the side of his throat. For more skin on skin or for proof of pulse, Yuuji can’t tell, but it’s response enough to everything.

Realizations with Fushiguro used to have the vague silhouette of a puncture wound, as though Yuuji’s body, mind, heart managed some form of resistance before the rupture was allowed. But he doesn’t think he ever resisted Fushiguro, only the idea of more with him; Yuuji had gone with it easily, the beginnings of a crush, hadn’t put thought to it even on days where he felt about to combust from Fushiguro doing something as simple as leaning down without saying anything to tie his unravelled shoelaces for him. There was never resistance about the feeling, only resistance to the concept of wanting to do something about that feeling. Resistance that doesn’t exist in any form now that he’s just an open heart for Fushiguro, everything about this and them irrevocable, and for the first time, it need not be a wound to feel like Yuuji wants it to.

"Better with you has always been everything to me, y’know," he admits. "But I don’t want everything right now. Or—I don’t—I don’t know about everything yet. Thinking about everything and me wanting it still scares me. So I just want a little something, everyday. I just want you to be with me. I just want to be next to you. And I just want us to figure things out together this time. I want us to get to grow up with each other. I want us to give and take, a lot, maybe still too much sometimes, but never only everything to each other. Just some. Something. Somehow. Sometimes. Does that—Does that make sense?" 

"I can do that," says Fushiguro. He’s so sure about all this, and it has Yuuji feeling out of depth, for once not holding the reins exclusively. But being on this other end also feels like skydiving, like free-floating with a parachute, with wings. Like launching off a skateboard and feeling so wonderful in flight that the fear, in exchange, does not matter at all. "I want us to try. If you feel like you’re not ready to think or even want long-term, that’s fine. I understand. But I want us to try. Even if we have to take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute." 

So earnest, so sweet in its seriousness, that Yuuji has to fight not to turn away, to hide what he’s sure is so many dead giveaways on his face. He channels everything instead into kissing Fushiguro again, so much heat rushing to his face that he feels lightheaded. 

"Yeah, I can do that," he finally says against Fushiguro’s mouth. Because of course. Because this is yet another inevitability. Because it’s Fushiguro Megumi and he’s Itadori Yuuji and this is them. "Damn it, Megumi, this is so unromantic of me. I’m so off my game." 

An almost-smile, more felt than seen. "Am I getting in the way of one of your fantasies?" 

"Fuck you. You are." 

"Fuck me, is what you said earlier."

Yuuji pulls away to groan. "You’re so mouthy now." 

Fushiguro’s eyes flash, but he leans forward again for a gasp of a kiss. Yuuji’s caught mid-groan, unprepared, and when he ends up twisting over Fushiguro, the reaction startled out of him, he’s met with a tilt to both of their heads, mouths angled deeper and leaving Yuuji nothing short of buoyant with want. 

It’s mystifying, to know it’s the exact same feeling that his body would have seen as hollowness once upon a time. This sensation of giving-over, this level of trusting his desires enough to let himself feel it.

The thought is what pulls him back to reality, mumbling into the kiss until Fushiguro makes out a word from nothing and immediately stops. Yuuji adores him, so much, so quick, for it. 

"Sorry," he says. "Just—Hold on. Timeout again. I can feel—I don’t think you’re done with what you wanna say, either." 

The same flash from earlier gentles into an unassuming light in Fushiguro’s gaze. 

"Do that more," he says. "I want you to do that more." 

Yuuji frowns. "Stop you from kissing me?" 

"No." Fushiguro exhales, the sort that Yuuji knows would have earned him a flick or a knock to the forehead had Fushiguro not been so blatantly reluctant to let go of any part of Yuuji he’s holding. "I meant—Trust yourself enough to know me. Then trust me enough to tell me if you don’t feel like you do." 

The direct request sticks to Yuuji’s teeth, kickstarts another rush that he ignores in favor of looking straight at Fushiguro. "Then trust me to get to know you. Not indiscriminately, either, but with—"

"With the right boundaries when needed. Yes." Fushiguro looks back, unwavering. "I know." 

"Don’t say that so easily." Yuuji clicks his tongue, as much scolding as it is, maybe, a little in awe. "Promising all these things—It will take time and more time, and—" 

"I’m in no rush. I’m willing to trust the process."

"You’re so—" Yuuji puffs out his cheeks without finishing. Then to be cheeky, to free up space in his expanding lungs, "Like the 76ers and Joel Embiid?" 

But Fushiguro nods. "Yes. Exactly."  

Yuuji blinks. "You know what I’m talking about?"

"Yes," says Fushiguro, with a small touch of annoyance. It has Yuuji grinning, the feeling in his chest yielding happily to a burst of fondness. "Do you think I used to tune you out when you talked about basketball?" 

"Honestly, yeah." Yuuji does get a tug to his cheek this time, but Fushiguro isn’t squeezing anywhere near hard enough for it hurt. "No, wait—Ah, I get it, I get it—I’m taking this seriously. I promise. You want us to trust the process this time." 

Fushiguro’s face returns to unreadability, but enough push remains in his voice to make up for it. "Yes. Because we have time for it," he says. "You believe you’re the product of all the good things in your life, don’t you? And if you want to think the bad things will pile up, then you have to believe the good things might, too." 

Yuuji looks, heart slowing back down as he memorizes the exact expression on Fushiguro’s face. He’s bewitching in this lamplight, at home and grounded even when Yuuji had never needed him to be as a baseline. He knows he would have had Fushiguro in whatever way he can, even in the versions that would have hurt, even in the versions that don’t have this focused conviction to them. Yet here’s Fushiguro as a product of two years of thinking, of clarity, more than Yuuji is a product of his. 

"You’ve always been so smart about dealing with your life philosophies." Yuuji sighs. "But since when have you been the optimist between us?" 

"One of us has to be." 

"It’s not that—" Yuuji shakes his head. "I’m not being pessimistic. I just wanna be careful." 

"Then be with me carefully. I told you that’s fine," says Fushiguro. "Give to me carefully. Take from me carefully. Love me carefully. It’s all enough for me." 

Fushiguro sounds, somewhere in a well-protected corner of Yuuji’s mind, like Haibara once had. And so it feels like listening to himself be laid bare, sitting in a too-soft chair in a small office in Kichijoji with a mug of too-hot tea. Like being seen.

And it doesn’t quite force a smile out of him, but it relaxes his shoulders. 

"I should be saying that to you, too, Megumi."

"You don’t need to. I know." Absently, Fushiguro smooths out Yuuji’s own collar with the flat of his palm, then leaves a kiss against the skin right above it. It’s probably meant to make Yuuji shiver, and it does the job and more. "Is that enough for you? To start on?"

"Man, I’m not winning this, am I," says Yuuji, even as his entire body flutters with the afterquakes of the one shiver. "It’s enough for the start of forever, Megumi. How’s that sound?" 

"Good," Fushiguro whispers, so close against his jaw. "A start is good."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Should we shake on it again?"

Yuuji sticks out his tongue. Fushiguro’s languid as he raises his head to catch this in his mouth—yet the kiss is anything but, firm and deliberate like a signature, a promise. A first step of a kiss. 

There’s a second of hesitation where Fushiguro breaks away first, like what he’s about to do is somehow more intimate than what they’ve been doing so far, somehow unearned yet, but he caves in seconds and brushes a kiss against Yuuji’s forehead.

Yuuji closes his eyes through it and sinks into bonelessness.

Then Fushiguro pulls away. "Now get off me. I think I heard the rice cooker click and I’m not an animal who will maul you before a first date."

"Mouthy," Yuuji points out, but he slides off, watches as Fushiguro lifts his legs over to the side of the bed. "We’ve had a first date."

"To where?" says Fushiguro, deadpan. "If I count to three and we both say what we think is the answer, are you absolutely confident we’ll say the same thing?"

Yuuji flops onto his back, spine bouncing off the bed as his face crumples with confusion. "Does it have to be the same thing?"

"I want us to be able to have an answer we’re sure of. For this, for everything."

"Okay—Sure, but—Why?" Yuuji kicks around, probably undoing at least one corner of the made sheets. Fushiguro watches this happen from the doorway, impassive, but if Yuuji squints, he knows there’s a smile just under the surface, that there’s affection he wouldn’t have latched onto like this before. "You wanna keep kissing me so bad, Megumi! I know you do. Come back here and keep doing it." 

"You’ve gotten shameless, haven’t you." Fushiguro turns around. His voice fades with him to the kitchen. "You’re on my bed, in an apartment that we have all to ourselves. Of course I want to kiss you. I want to do everything to you."

"So then?" Yuuji calls out, groaning as he rolls off the bed to follow. "Why don’t you do that?"

He finds Fushiguro surrounded by counters of messy remnants of his cooking—tofu, scallion, a crooked cutting board, leftover beef flank—and training a flat look on him as he skids into the kitchen. 

"Have some self-preservation, will you?" 

"What, you trying to protect my dignity or something?"

"No way." Fushiguro ducks to unplug the rice cooker. "This is just—It’s not all I want, that’s all."

"It’s not all you’ll have."

There are three big cupboard doors in the kitchen, but Yuuji manages to get the right one at his first try, tugging it open to see neat stacks of utilitarian white plates and bowls. 

"I know." Fushiguro brushes against him on his way to the dining room, as if to placate. "But it wasn’t all I had before, and it still felt that way. I don’t want you to mistake my desires to be smaller than they are this time."

"I—" Yuuji pauses, distracted as Fushiguro takes the plates and bowls from him and starts laying each one out quietly on the table. It’s an unexpected tightening in his chest, seeing all these things laid out for a full, proper, dinner that he didn’t make himself, that someone had made for him. He clears his throat. "What does that mean?"

They sit at the same time, Fushiguro managing to push his chair back without a sound. 

"You’re all I’ve ever and ever will want, Yuuji," he says, "but I want to love you in a way that goes beyond just the hunger. Not just for you, but for me, too. Because there really is so much more. I thought I was choosing right for us back then—but I don’t care anymore about right or wrong, necessarily. I just want to choose us, and I want to do the steps justice." 

Yuuji thinks about it, humming. "I guess we did do all the steps wrong last time," he says. "You walked me home before I even knew where you went to school. I’m pretty sure I also brought you home before I even knew your first name. You introduced me as your boyfriend to your family before we were even actually dating. We attended a wedding before we even hit the one-month mark. But I don’t know if doing the steps right means doing the relationship right." 

"I agree." 

"So then?" 

Fushiguro presses his hands together and murmurs a quick prayer. Yuuji mirrors him, taking the same moment to fully take in where he is: in an apartment in Funabashi, sitting across someone he never stopped wanting to love and who never stopped wanting to love him back with all the tenderness that he hadn’t, once upon a time, been able to have, both of them praying around a meal with warm broth and fragrant stir-fry. 

It reminds him of his grandfather, he realizes. Of the first place he learned to define as home. 

And so maybe it reminds him, too, in these, of how, with faith and time, sometimes things lost might be regained later in other forms. Not as substitution or replacement, but as part of the cycle of the universe as anything else is. Give love and someday receive it in turn, as a wish but not as a rule to live solely by.

"I’m not saying our relationship will only be valid if we do the firsts right this time," says Fushiguro. "I only—What I want is for you to know what you are to me every step of the way. So if that means taking you through each one so we’ll have something concrete, so there will be less for us to doubt, then I think there are worse things than attempting a proper first date."

Yuuji’s hand hesitates on its way to pick up the nearest utensil to his side. "You’ve thought about it a lot, huh."

Completely serious, Fushiguro replies, "I’ve thought about you a lot."

Yuuji blinks—then gasps, a gust of air dragged out of him. Fushiguro rolls his eyes. "What is with this—You’re full of lines, aren’t you!" 

"Just because the true things I say fluster you doesn’t mean they’re lines," says Fushiguro, face falling back to blank. He nods at Yuuji’s plate. "Are you going to eat or what?" 

A spark of anticipation moves through his eyes, brief, but Yuuji catches it with a broad smile.

"No, ‘course I am. I’m gonna eat so much of your cooking that you’ll have to carry me out of this chair after." 

"Stand up yourself." 

Yuuji had been prepared for this exact response. He widens his smile to a grin. "Fine. You probably can’t even carry me anymore anyway."

Fushiguro narrows his eyes, setting his chopsticks down. "Excuse me?" 

"Am I wrong?" 

"I know you’re baiting me. And you know I can carry you just fine when it matters." 

Yuuji shrugs, pretending to take his time stirring his broth. "That’s why I said ‘anymore.’ It’s been two years. I’m a pro player now, y’know." 

Fushiguro sighs. "You’re insufferable." 

"Yes, but consider this—" Yuuji halts for effect. "I missed you a lot." 

This, also as planned, gives Fushiguro pause.

He doesn’t know how to reply, and that’s fine; there’s already so much brightness in this night-dim room that Yuuji feels on the verge of being drunk off it, of feeling like he’s swimming in the light. 

"You’d just have to make it up to me," he says, casual, "by letting me hold your hand all day tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" 

"Yeah, because you’re taking me on our first date out in Funabashi, aren’t you?" 

Fushiguro tries. He really does. But he can’t help his quiet laugh, and hearing it means Yuuji can’t help his laugh, either.

So they sit there, in a dining table for two that’s been left against the wall probably since Fushiguro moved in, biting back laughter at each other like giggling children in the late moonlight. 

"Insufferable," Fushiguro repeats. "But yeah, I am." 

 



Hi. My friends call me Mari. I’m 35. I’m calling to tell you about the moment I knew I would marry — well, my boyfriend at the time but my husband now. We were 25 when we got married, but I knew he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with when he had to go to London for a year after he graduated college. I still had a couple of years left, and while it felt like he was going on ahead without me, while I missed him so much I couldn’t stand it at all, I was also happy for him. I was happy that he was getting to do all these things, even if it’s without me, even if it left me with this loneliness that I only felt when I thought about how he was there and I was here. 

It was tough, but in the end, it also made me think — this had to be love I won’t feel for anyone else. To want the best for someone but want it for myself at the same time, because I love him so much that my best is really my best with him. 

And so — the week he returned to Japan, I told him I was going to marry him. That’s why my song request is "Hikari no hou e" by the beautiful Ayano Kaneko. A song about looking towards the light. I chose it for one of our wedding songs because, in the difficult parts of our relationship, the promise of forever became sort of like this sun in the horizon. No matter the distance or the difficulty, I knew I wanted to be with him forever, and that we’ll have forever someday.

Don’t get me wrong. I think love is about the present. I think love is in the now. But I also think, knowing how young I was back then, that nothing shows more faith in your present self than believing it will have the someday it wants.

And mine did.  

 

 

Yuuji doesn’t call Nobara yet. He texts her the next morning that he won’t be back to Tokyo until Sunday, then responds to her i see, all-knowing and empathetic and judgmental all at once, with a seven-minute voice message catch-up that he knows she’ll demand of Fushiguro via Maki, too. 

Beside him, Fushiguro is still asleep, cheek squished against his pillow and one arm still stretched out where Yuuji had spent all night sleeping on it. It’s new and bizarre, to be the one awake and watching Fushiguro like this, serene and beautiful, eyelashes long and dark and fluttering against his cheeks as he draws in a quiet breath. 

Yuuji has never gotten to see him quite like this, has always been the one left in bed to keep sleeping, and it leaves him with a low-lying kind of difficulty breathing, traveling up his body from his toes to the tips of his lungs, that his younger self would have parsed as discomfort, as maybe even pain. It isn’t contentment yet, this morning, but—watching Fushiguro content himself, at home in his bed with no urgency nor stiffness to his body—Yuuji can’t help but feel like he’s looking at someone he doesn’t know yet but has always loved, and the thought fills him with so much overbrimming warmth that he has to put all his conscious thought into his next inhale. 

But he doesn’t dare breathe even a touch too loud, trying his best to be muted as he browses through the photos his real estate agent emailed over. More listings, another weekend’s worth of looking around. All of them smaller and more wooden than the places that came before it, and none of them a bad fit, but Yuuji scrolls aimlessly, somehow preoccupied by how none of them have bookshelves.

He feels mocked by the one he built the night before, standing proud between the windows of Fushiguro’s bedroom. It had been completed and pushed to its position by the time Yuuji got out of the shower in borrowed clothes from Fushiguro, and it had strayed from his mind until now, where it stands out in his periphery as if daring him to say yes to an apartment that won’t have a place for it. 

"You’re still here." 

Yuuji startles, his phone falling to his chest. He still rubs his cheek like it had been the part hit, smiling at a heavy-eyed Fushiguro. The blinds are drawn, impeding the 8 A.M. sunlight, but Yuuji sees everything with vivid clarity, with sharpness and focus that he’s only ever been on the other end of. "Sure am. I like being here." 

"That looked okay." 

"What did?" 

Fushiguro shifts closer, twisting farther onto his side, muscles shifting. "The apartment you were just looking at." 

"Oh, I wasn’t—They were just listings my agent sent." Yuuji reaches out to brush a hand against Fushiguro’s hair, trying to tuck what refuses to be flattened behind his ear. Fushiguro, still drowsy, hums under his touch. "Sorry."

"For?" 

"I don’t know. It’s like—It feels like I’m being rude by looking." 

"You’re not." Fushiguro’s arm, probably numb, moves down to drape itself over Yuuji’s stomach. It’s all absentminded for now, unconscious, and Yuuji won’t be surprised if a part of Fushiguro’s mind is seeing this as a dream. But his words have weight, have honesty. "I told you. This isn’t leaving."

There’s so many ways to understand that, so many ways for Yuuji to translate that to his own brain, so many definitions and so many kinds of this and so many kinds of leaving that won’t happen. But that’s good, so fucking good, and from the intensity in Fushiguro’s eyes as he finally blinks them both open, he knows it and means it.

"The key isn’t going anywhere, Yuuji," Fushiguro murmurs, sounding more awake now. "I’m not, either." 

Yuuji lowers his hand to squeeze Fushiguro’s ear. Playful as much as it is a marker. 

"I’m staying, too," he says.

Fushiguro holds his eyes, everything coming up to the surface all at once until he blinks in what light there is and all that’s left is—love, maybe, even after all this time. And if not that, love before love. Because that might have always been the foundation of what they are: the loving before loving, the inevitability of falling in love, the rightness of being together and being there for each other. Except with and on purpose this time, even more by choice than it already was before.

"Can we start by staying in bed?" says Fushiguro. 

Yuuji sets his phone to the side. "Are we sleeping more?"

"I am." 

"And what, I’m just your pillow?" 

Fushiguro doesn’t answer, rolling Yuuji over and tugging their bodies against each other. Never close enough, though never apart. 

Yuuji lets himself look, lets himself be leisurely, lets himself raise a finger to brush against Fushiguro’s brow. 

"Hey, Megumi?" 

"No, we can’t go to any of the racecourses later. My old man won’t let me hear the end of it if he hears about you finding horse racing fun." 

Yuuji laughs. "That’s not what I was gonna say." 

"What, then?" 

Fushiguro’s eyes have fallen closed again, and he’s half-pawing at nothing as his palm searches for where the blanket ends and Yuuji’s body begins. 

Yuuji helps him along by snagging his hand, pressing a kiss against the crook of his thumb bone. "Can I hold you?" 

Fushiguro’s eyes crack open halfway, staring right at Yuuji. Seeing. 

Always seeing. 

"Yeah," he says. "Come here." 

 

 

They told me I’m one of the last callers, so I will make this quick but — Hello. Good morning to everyone listening. I am Satoko. I am 62 years old. My moment is — So me and my husband, we have three lovely children, and the youngest just fled the nest early this year. Since then, my husband and I have had a lot of time alone that we haven’t gotten in many years. Last week, for example, we were both doing some spring-cleaning, him in the garden and I inside the house, and while I was in the kitchen, we saw each other through the window. Facing each other, like reflections, so that when he lifted the back of his hand to touch his face, it looked like he was touching mine instead. 

And I thought it was very strange and very beautiful, to be witnessed like that by another person, to realize we’ve been witnessing each other like this for years. He’s seen me since I was young, and I have seen him since he was young, and we aren’t young anymore, but the love — or rather, the seeing — is the same as it was in the beginning. And maybe that’s the strange and beautiful part. Love plus time. Like making bread, or planting flowers before the first frost to wait for the joy of seeing them bloom in late spring. 

What is love over years and years, I thought, if not finding your way back to the strangeness and beauty of being remade, as yourselves and as the parts of you that love the other person? What is love if not a neverending beginning?

My song request is a song from my husband and I’s beginning. It’s by Yamazaki Masayoshi. 

It’s called, "One more time, one more chance."