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all the youth i cannot keep

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There is a singular point in Megumi’s life where he can completely say he died.

He finds during this time that there is a difference between having the ability to breathe and to see and to touch and feel the world as raw as it is under his fingertips, and truly crossing between the throat-lined bloodthirst that stems from thorned roses and the conceptualisations of a bruised mouth and learning to truly inhale and exhale. He dubs that definition, rhetorics and poetic as it is, as living. Too untouchable to be confined to the simple syllable of a life as it rolls off his tongue in champagne delicacies and the year of sixteen tucked between his bandaged fingers, but not far fetched enough it can’t be categorised at all. It is so, the remembrance that there is a reasoning to the way a person walks or how they believe and put their faith in things, that people misunderstand.

There is a vocabulary and a library blooming in his mouth that he cannot fathom the universe enough to say, and he does not understand the end until it happens in three ways, as predicted in every future prospect: one, when his passion dies, two, when the love of his life dies, and three, when he dies. He attaches offerings to each, the first as bitter as it is because he’s never quite had a passion, until it leads to the second where he circles the orbiting concept of yearning for a warm morning day and day again. The simple reason is for, for for for— always for, and not ever in the time he’s opened his eyes or slept has it been for himself.

A passion fades with a high mercurial ecstasy that has been nothing but adrenaline drugs in one linear direction of self-destruction and the mourning of something he never quite had, pictures, not lost and not found and even further from the truth that he does not want to pick away at. The second, he doesn’t know how to swallow. He finds it disgusting that that boy, a vestige of a smile, the warmth of a body, had inadvertently swallowed his doom in the form of something not even poetic, but some vengeful spirit that classifies as a too-powerful king roaming his domain and marring his body with his blood. He gulped it down willingly, and yet Megumi does not know how to devour his heart the way he had devoured his soul, and it does not fit in his chest because it is too big and he can’t keep it alive even in the metaphorical bleeding of his tears.

He cannot replace him, and he cannot become him.

It’s a crossroads he’d lay down upon and stare at the purpling sky until it begins to resemble the bruises on his skin, or the shadows trickling from his fingertips as he gave that boy a painless death in all pins and needles and the sealed inevitability of quietly cradling his body and listening to the last of a heartbeat he had tried to trade his own life to keep going. He doesn’t cry, never will, and that is not a relief. It is a broken thing. It is a promise that he is broken, that he is a murderer of his best friend, and that he has no remorse for taking his life like he hadn’t asked him to with a trembling plea and the curve of his lips.

No one sees it like that.

He wishes they misunderstood it in the sense that Megumi has dreaded his every waking hour traipsing through the halls looking for something he will not ever be able to find, but they don’t, and they misunderstand in the way that forces him to bare his teeth and claw out his ribs until they sit thin and crimson slick down his knuckles gruesome and disconnected. They misunderstand in the way that Megumi had enough strength to say a farewell, to be the one to pin a child, a child down and kill him and unforgivingly sob into his neck afterwards like he can apologise to a corpse and nonetheless, a grave.

They misunderstand that Megumi did not shed a tear because his resolve is unbreakable enough not to.

He’ll imagine a world where they met a night before this, a litany of things he can’t say spoken on a rooftop and carried away by the thinly veiled smoke lifted from his lips. He’ll share it with that tangible boy, somewhere around a mouthful of addiction, and let it seep close between them like the ignorance of that curtain over his eyes.

So he thinks:

Ah.

So he thinks:

This was my fault.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Megumi meets him again in another time, in another world, in another life nineteen years into his new damnation.

He is just as recognisable as a half-time youth, a strung out monsoon coloured with the rays of the sun, and Megumi is helpless.

He thinks there was some kind of closure in the bittersweetness of how they ended things, one struggling to live above the depthless ocean, and one buried deep into the heart of the earth. He also thinks it’s cruel, because he did not leave anything behind, not his body, not his things where he threw them all into a fire hours before the coil of his voice dwindled out in a whimper of an ending story, like he could erase himself, like he could give this last piece of a gift that he thought was poured out of him in a selfless desperation. He burns his clothes, his things, each page of each manga, watches it with knees close to his chest with a materialistic glint in sad eyes that clings to the childhood pain of watching fiction dissipate at his own hand.

Sukuna must’ve been a part of him more than he let on, because the next day, his corpse disappears with the dust scattered over the horizon, a shimmering representation of gold-kept flecks showered over a new day.

It is no fucking new day, because he still remembers his crying, and the crumbling pain of picking apart with already ripped open nails each semblance of a relationship he’s ever had in his life.

I think it’s okay if I die.

What?

What?

What?

You can’t. You won’t. I won’t let you.

It’s a crazed admonition, ruined and ugly and with the same rawness of grating teeth and snapping jaws and cracked open bones, and his love was the same, nothing short of self-deprecating and torn apart by the juncture of his shoulder ripped into a river of crimson. Megumi should’ve known nothing ever comes without a price, not that death sentence over his head, and he can’t keep taking without giving from a world that does not pay back its debt and refuses to favour the good after learning its lesson with cherishing those only to be devoured by their own shadow. He shakes his head, then, a million years ago, time slipped past his fingers:

I manipulate people. I force myself into their minds. I’m a monster that tears apart everything they’ve ever known to place a piece of myself in a life that they never chose. But I didn’t choose it either.

Megumi wishes he could’ve cradled him close back then, could’ve held him, but the only thing he remembers doing is pressing him to the bed and kissing him so hard he couldn’t breathe, and now, he wonders if that’s the same thing after all.

He was trying to pull the words out of Yuuji’s lungs into his own, swallowed thick and hard and painful because he’s the reason he’s even saying them in the first place.

Here, nineteen, mind tainted with the lifetime of a living before this one, he finds that he still does it all the same.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Megumi knows him like this now, when it doesn’t hurt to say his name, doesn’t hurt like a blade through his chest kept close to his heart and vulnerability hidden between the vessels of the very thing that keeps him alive—

Itadori Yuuji.

It aches, that will not change, will never change, but he will take what he can get in this clean slate of a world where he can forgive himself for wanting to hold him, in a universe where he lives with no tangible, knowing ephemerality besides the ephemerality of life itself and all the little packaged surprises that come in ribbon-tied gifts and what sacrifices someone can bear to lose. That simple possibility exists transient in his head, a passing thing that comes and goes in his nightmares and dreams until it bleeds back into the past that only he knows of, a hundred steps behind, clinging onto the unchanging constants of a recollection he no longer needs.

It is not necessary, but he keeps it like he keeps him.

Like he needs to mourn his death of another time, because no one else would.

It reminds him of that woman, a wobbling mouth and a name phantom on her lips as she resolves to admit her child was not a person that anyone else would take the time to shed a tear for, but that’s fine, because she has enough to last a lifetime. It also reminds him that that sixteen-year-old with his head bowed and raw from the gritting of his teeth and the bitterness of his gums, still living through the taste of blood, that he was once one of those people. Someone who condemned a person for their actions and left it at the first chance, who pulled the gauze that he had used to painstakingly bandage others over his eyes and live on with the ignorance he both revered and hated. Itadori, with all naivety, all innocence Megumi had once wanted to carve out of him, fascinated by how much he could take before there was nothing left.

And once he realised it, he desperately tried to give it all back.

He does, somewhat. Itadori is no longer quite there when he grapples at the fragments to hand back, and it is only the murmur of his ghost, the boy trapped in the screen of his phone where Megumi put him there he is offering his own body to. He is held captive by the very person who had yanked the very floor from under his feet and bound him to a godforsaken ticking time bomb, forced to learn to smile so he isn’t swallowed whole but also forced to leave it all behind as if that’s easy for someone who is barely mature enough to wrap his head around how much Megumi loved him to the point where it killed them both. The confession lies acrid on his tongue, but it feels wrong to burden this young reincarnation of a person who Megumi didn’t even deserve to love.

He should’ve never met him.

Not now, not then.

And yet—

And yet—

He’s holding him.

There is a context pinned to the way he hooks his chin over his shoulder or the warmth of a back pressed firm against his chest, strands of pink hair brushing over his temple in some reminder that this is Itadori, this, this, this, the curves of his body, the trembling shape of his spine, the shudder slipped past his lips. His voice dips as Megumi slides a couple of fingers under his shirt, some half-whine, some mouthed moments gentle across his skin as he complains half-heartedly but yields to whatever Megumi chooses to do. He lets him, so Megumi hovers over him, breath fanning across his jaw, the weight of legs loosely wrapped around his hips and his palm heated on the contours of his waist, then a thumb over the flushed raise of his cheek.

Megumi doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

“Itadori,” he murmurs, quiet over the cropped line of his hair, light against the very existence between what he remembers and what the boy before him doesn’t. He squirms, of course he does, and Megumi is too attuned to it that he only sweeps a semblance of a kiss across his forehead and runs the grazing of teeth over his ear, lingers there for a moment before retreating entirely into a collapsed frame beside him rolling off the bed and blinking the sleep from his eyes. Itadori cries something indignant, an insult of epic proportions that only he can pull off and only Megumi can ignore unscathed as he walks into the bathroom and suddenly comes to a stop at the two toothbrushes in the cup by his sink.

“Fuck,” he mutters, as coherent as anything he can possibly accumulate into something articulate and mostly perfunctory, crudely fallen over past the knuckles he places to his mouth like he hasn’t seen this a thousand times before.

He remembers buying it, too. Remembers it sheepish between thin fingers, grocery list tight in the other hand, and it had felt then, insignificantly little, but enough to knock the breath out of Megumi’s lungs. Itadori must’ve misinterpreted that expression, the surprise of parted lips and heart thudding behind his ribs because holy shit, what the hell? Is this a friend thing? Is this a ‘ I might need a place to crash so let me buy this and keep it there as a further testimony to our status as bros’? If so, tell him before he gets his hopes up.

Itadori only smiles a wry thing then, apologises in the way he still hears him apologise in the past traces of his memories about the littlest things, like knocking Megumi across the entire damn room on his rush to leap out the window in his embarrassment and coming back not two seconds later to help him up. Like his near-scream when he found out he had burned the pancakes because he was too immersed in the latest edition to his collection of manga piled up in his room. He reaches down to put it back, and Megumi barely realises that he’s twisting him around and yanking it out of his hand in an overly-aggressive manner he probably should’ve done differently because frankly, Itadori looked terrified.

He doesn’t have the courage to endure the shame, so he tosses it into the cart, and promptly speeds away.

Itadori’s laughter still rings in his ears.

He didn’t get this back then. He didn’t get to experience this step-by-step play out that skips a hundred and rewinds a thousand, all clumsy and twisted between the single touch of a boy and the hopeless, heart-in-throat relief that this is what he got. That he is no longer a kid in love with a memory ignoring every bad thing that ever happened just so he could preserve a smile. That he, after nineteen years and a lifetime more, meets him again like this, corporeally, irrevocably, just eighteen, and in all the knowing ways that make up a person not just as a human, but as Itadori.

Itadori, who steps in the bathroom, watching him amusedly as he stands shock-still and effectively broken down into an incoherent mess because of a toothbrush, so maybe he takes pity on him and props open the shower door to turn on the water, reaching in so the cool droplets patter against his palm.

Or maybe he doesn’t, because he’s wearing Megumi’s shirt that falls to his thighs, covering too much and too little at the same time, and Megumi would really like to shoot himself.

He hates him so much.

“You good there?” Itadori asks, voice lilting and inflected to a mischievous string, and his fingers raise at the hem of that fucking— fucking shirt, and Megumi swallows, and Megumi— Megumi just wants to hold him.

Damn it, he thinks, damn it damn it damn it, because the boxers are pooling at his ankles next and he’s grinning, softer at the edges than that boy after Shibuya, even after Yoshino Junpei, who exists now as his best friend and his roommate, and it’s the first time he’s met him, all quiet laughs, that gleam in green eyes as he chats on about whatever movie they’re watching. Megumi had thought, watching him, sitting on top of their old sofa, Itadori’s legs in his lap, stealing popcorn out of his bowl and yelping when he kicks at him that he deserved this. That after everything anyone had ever taken from him, the very least fate could’ve done is let him live like this, happy, normal. Let them both.

Itadori offers a breathy laugh as Megumi reaches toward him and he’s sliding an arm around his neck, light nails on his jaw and at the ends of his hair, shivering when Megumi gently lifts him up, settling him on the sink counter and tilting his face up to meet his mouth. “S’what you wanted?” he mumbles into his smile, pressing into his hips, his exhale faint across his throat. Itadori curls a black strand around his finger, and their teeth clash a little when he huffs, a half-giggle, and Megumi only responds with, “Fucking tease.”

Itadori hums, kisses the corner of his frown and brushes a lash off of his cheek, blows it off his thumb into the low-lit lights of the bathroom. “Maybe.”

He screams when Megumi hoists him up by his thighs, clutching onto him for dear life and shrieking a protest as Megumi walks them both into the shower, warm rain poured down his skin and into the fabric of that shirt and You ass, he says, pouting, sopping wet with hair clinging to his forehead and really—

I’m so in love with you.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Meeting Itadori had gone a little something like this—

Like a decade and eight in an empty rink, laces untied on white skates and whiter knuckles on the edge of his chair, watching a performance of shimmering ice and nothing more than the silhouette that spans across the sides in dim tendrils of something Megumi had once been able to bend to his will. There is a dusty light slanted across the arena, splayed and cut across his trembling fingers, on the silver edge of his heel, flickering over his raw mouth as he mutters something to himself that echoes just enough for him to hear back in the clench of his jaw. Megumi watches, never says anything, presses into the strap of his backpack and tries to force himself out the door.

It doesn’t happen, because Itadori pulls his leg up to his chest then, deftly ties the strings panicked and almost hurriedly, like he’s afraid if he doesn’t finish it quickly he’ll end up kicking them off entirely. He’s wearing skinny jeans and this coat with fur trimmed around the hood, sleeves overlapped near his nails, and Megumi is struck with the realisation that he has rarely ever seen him without red fabric and navy blue pants. He wonders silently when he ever started taking the sight for granted, because somewhere along the way, he had attached that uniform to Itadori’s build and considered it a part of him past all the bare flesh he never hesitated to give.

He stays, nonetheless, stays as Itadori inhales, knowing he shouldn’t even know his name, much less the rhythm of how his heart beats, and stays as he stumbles toward the rink like he doesn’t know how to skate.

Megumi almost thinks he doesn’t with the way he wavers along the circled border, how his grip never leaves the railing as his feet move clumsily along the ice, trembling through it all.

He should leave.

Should, but doesn’t.

He’ll tell himself down the line it’s because he’s surprised, stunned by the way Itadori lets go of the bar, dumbfounded by how his knees straighten and his mouth curves into a quivering smile, and even more so by how easily he glides across the ring, laughing as he drifts through in this precise glissade that only comes with years of practice. It’s a natural thing, every spin, every pivot on his heel in the same way it was natural for him to fight, untamed and unbroken until it became refined into a cultivated fluency, the same thing before him now, a slender boy with the world at his feet and the dignified grace of a flowing figure skater.

It’s beautiful, but not as much as his eyes.

It’s so nice to see you smile.

Megumi hopes that this final end is his true closure, that he will walk out and never interact with him again because if this is what Itadori is like without him, he’d be happy to keep him that way. Hopes his last memory won’t be cradling his body in his arms, but the nimble floating of someone so young to someone still adhering to a playbook that no longer exists anywhere but his head. It’s how he manages to turn around, shift his backpack back onto his shoulder even though it never moved in the first place and step into a replay of a life filled with things he’s already learned before and will learn again.

If Itadori’s love is not one of them, he’ll be okay.

Turns out, fate is cruel.

That’s not new.

He’s diagnosed with a brain tumour.

It makes sense with how many times he keeps seeing the Itadori of his time in his room, pen between his teeth, scribbling down whatever he wants onto Megumi’s desk. He talks, but Megumi never responds, never looks, barely breathes, wondering if this is retribution for remembering, a price for transcending both ages of parallel generations that coexist only in his mind. Sometimes, he can pretend that that world painted in blood in his dreams is just a result of the malignant cells that chip away at his resolve. Sometimes, he can believe that it wasn’t even real in the first place.

Sometimes isn’t enough, never has been, and it comes full crashing into him that the Itadori lingering in his room might as well be just as real as the one he sees sitting in a hospital chair on his way out from his last checkup.

Megumi doesn’t care to die. He’s lived, he’s loved, he’s died before.

So he walks past Itadori, who hasn’t.

This is a choice he makes. It is not something he forces onto himself, not something Itadori forced onto him by pressing his forehead to his and whispering, “It’s okay. You’ll be okay,” as if he wasn’t the one dying, goddamn.

It’s sick. He’s sick. It jabs into the openings between his ribs and tears his chest asunder.

Seeing Itadori— oh, he can never breathe around him.

Kugisaki doesn’t seem to know of his internal struggle, despite the fact that she can still read him the way she could read him an eternity ago and introduces him to one, singular, Itadori Yuuji, chewing methodically on a rice ball and sitting in the cafe next to the window that sets the honey of his eyes aglow. There’s a spread of textbooks in front of him that he scrambles to gather in his arms, cuts his finger on the edge of a paper and hisses and slips it into his mouth, apologising, but Megumi can’t hear it past the static and the image of how Itadori’s arms had once barely been enough to hold Kugisaki and Megumi both. Kugisaki whacks him over the head, forces him into the corner and sits beside him, drink pressed between her palms.

This is the first time he’s spoken to him in this life.

“Hi, so sorry, um,” he unwraps a bandaid from his bag, talking, talking, always talking, “That’s my bad. Sorry, sorry. Hi! I’m Itadori Yuuji!”

I know.

Megumi only stares down at his reflection in the black of his coffee.

“Fushiguro Megumi.”

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

He’s above a highway when he falls for Itadori all over again.

It’s exhilarating, Kugisaki and Maki leaning over the wired fence and the city stretching high and low across the expanse of a horizon, orange-gleaming, lit by the sun, bled back into the dwindling blues of a lavender-mist sky. It’s the cars rolling beneath them, the air pressure loud in his ears, the song on blast filtering through all the tires and the wind, a row of lights traced along the road, the click of a lighter in Yuuta’s hand, Inumaki’s quiet breathing as he sleeps. The tune is resonating and nearly deafening, full-throated, enough to envelop his lungs in its vibration against the concrete floor and press thrumming into his chest. It’s the beat, mostly, sometimes the lilting of a voice that is often drowned out by Itadori’s own.

He’s a teenager, rubbing his palms together, trying to warm his numb fingers away from the biting cold, the juncture of his shoulders bunched up under his thin jacket.

So Megumi takes off his own, until he’s just wearing his hoodie to drape it over him.

“You don’t have to give it back,” he tells him, quiet, so much that he doesn’t think Itadori even hears it over the lyrics he mouths on his lips.

Itadori only nods, jerky, glancing down at the lines of his palm like it’s hit him differently, like there’s something he needs to know besides the way Megumi’s own warmth seamlessly seeps into his bones through something as simple as a mere article of clothing.

“Thanks,” he says instead, even softer, before he breaks out in a grin, red-cheeked, pink-lipped. His knuckles drum against the railing, once, twice, words forming around the twist of his tongue, full of a billion truths Megumi probably already knows. In the end, he doesn’t say anything, resigns to sigh, and it comes out as something thin and inadequate, punctured with the chill of the season. He does kick at the cement block beside his foot as Megumi joins him overlooking the highways, eyes flitting over the rush of cars racing across the streets, down, down, until he can’t see anything but the outlines of tunnels and vivid spray-painted works twirled over the sides.

“Fushiguro,” he finally murmurs, and Megumi jolts, a fizzing out, rose-lettered phase, barely imperceptible. He does not know how to respond, so he only turns to him, takes him in in all pink-haired, gold-eyed, teenage adolescence he can, in the way he wasn’t able to back then. Itadori seems to understand, somehow, because he locks his fingers over the fence, steps up onto the edge and only laughs when he stumbles a little, even though Megumi panics, catching onto his wrist and getting up alongside him as if that would steady him more than it settles Megumi himself. He lets go, recoils, swallows.

“You know what’s therapeutic?” he asks him, not looking for an answer, already has one written across his mouth. He glances at him, cracks a pretty, pretty smile, something bittersweet, a little nostalgic, like the one he wore when they visited Sendai before his death. He gnaws on the inside of his cheek. “What?”

“Screaming out your thoughts to the world.”

Megumi can’t help but laugh, and it’s the most natural thing he’s done in eons.

“How is that therapeutic?”

“It is,” Itadori insists, voice borderline a whine, but he doesn’t even need to try to convince Megumi, because Megumi has always believed what he’s ever had to say. “Listen—” he presses his fingers into his shoulder, uses it as leverage to get on his tiptoes and Megumi shudders at the touch, brain short-circuiting, and he shouldn’t have even been here in the first place, not when he has about a dozen pills to take at home that are not recommended to be downed by whatever soda Maki dragged in the cooler not a meter away. Chemo starts soon. He wonders if he should have the surgery.

He doesn’t think about that anymore, not when Itadori suddenly cups his hands around his mouth, taking in a deep, deep breath and then shouting at the top of his lungs:

“Fushiguro Megumi!”

Megumi freezes.

Maki and Kugisaki’s conversation dies out, but Megumi can’t hear, can’t see past the city lights scattered over Itadori’s skin, the high of his cheeks, the curve of his smile.

The name carries, swept over the city, fuzzy in his ears.

“You try,” Itadori laughs, like he hasn’t just turned Megumi’s world upside down, like he hasn’t just damned him into a lifetime of forever loving him.

Megumi thinks he was doomed either way.

So he turns to the universe, heart in his throat, a declaration on his tongue,

“Itadori Yuuji!”

It’s silent, wide-eyed, surprised, a second that Megumi almost wants to curl up and hide but then Itadori’s lips lift, a little taken aback, beaming nonetheless.

He has no idea what Megumi would do if it meant he got to see that every day.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Itadori keeps this little book around.

Megumi has no clue what it is, not anything besides the familiar imprint of his fingers into the cover and the language of a million unsaid things written into the pages, the ink of his favorite pen, the sketch of some tongue-prodding out at the edge of his mouth, writing, writing, drawing, doodling little markings on the sides that Megumi only manages to catch a glimpse of before he shuts it closed. His handwriting twines under his skin, marked into the marrow of his bones, aches just as painfully as the even curl of his singing, because he’s seen that penmanship not in a journal or in assignments, no, he’s never gotten to see that before this year, but on letters, goodbye letters, sticky notes, grocery lists.

That penmanship has been smeared under the pads of his thumbs more times than he can count, crumpled, thrown into the trash, picked back up, ironed back out.

Here, is it living and writhing and crooked across neat lines and tiny strawberry stickers stuck to the front.

Megumi sits in bed, and amidst all the pillows and under the dim moonlight spilled in through the open window, a bluish tint that permeates through the printed nonfiction of a novel he can’t remember the title of, he watches him all the same, warm lamp light smeared over his knuckles, glasses perched low on his nose, a headphone half hanging out of his ear and a tiny plant nudged against the windowsill. There’s rows of medication in the cabinet, papers tucked into the drawers, consent forms, a rundown of each procedure to extend his lifespan into something he can spend with that boy sitting at his desk, nearly already asleep.

But the survival rate is nearly nothing.

He hasn’t told him.

Megumi’s fingers linger on the chapter, just before he closes it, pressing a thumb into the letters of its name.

How to Come to Terms With Your Death: A Guide.

He doesn’t want to remember how this exact copy was the first thing he saw in Itadori’s room, a million years ago, and a thousand regrets before.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

It comes down to a gamble between wanting to spend the rest of his temporary life with him, or ending it here.

Megumi wishes it were that simple.

He can’t walk up the steps to his classes anymore, and it is the single most frustrating thing he has ever felt in a breathing transiency he has already been denied since the day he was diagnosed. His breath trembles in the air before him, in the night, invisibly trickled from behind his clenched teeth like he’s trying to either swallow it or yank it out before it devours him. He wishes he could see it, wishes the temperature were cold enough so he can have some evidence besides the rise of a chest and the pulse behind the pad of his fingers, something he doesn’t have to actively search for, all-encompassing, white smoke and tilted bitterness lined along his mouth.

He hates how late it is, hates the lie more, hates how Itadori is probably out and about waiting for him to come back, lip trapped between the indent of his nervous biting, betrayed by every second he glances at the clock and dreads every remainder of every minute. He has too much to say to be revealed in something as simple as the forever of a recording, and even more so, he’d rather not haunt him with the ghost of his voice the way Itadori had back in the videos of his phone. Megumi discloses such to the boy with his legs crossed in that uncomfortable hospital chair, the first time he’s ever spoken to him, and most likely the last time he ever will, in both outcomes. Here, he can whisper freely, every truth, every mistake, every secret, because Itadori will take it in earnest, and then trap it behind his ribs tumbling through his fingers.

He is in a hospital bed, half an hour away from this surgery, and pretending that this is only a trip like he tried to get Itadori to believe.

He is lying, lying until he digs his grave and then lies in it, ready for a mouth full of dirt, and a retribution in the form of a closing coffin.

His voice cracks quiet in his presence, and Itadori cranes his neck to the side, and Itadori smiles a sad thing.

“Why am I always cursed to lose you?”

Itadori talks, always talks, but this time, he doesn’t.

This time, he blows out a breath, and tries to compensate for his lack of a response with the softest press of his lips to Megumi’s forehead.

The doctor comes in, passes right through him, and Megumi slumps into the pillow because it’s a reminder that this Itadori is already dead, that he is someone only Megumi can see, that only exists by his side, and most of all, only in his head.

“Is there anyone you would like to say anything to?” he asks.

Tsumiki’s sniffling, muffling her sobs behind her palm, and Megumi can’t help but smile, because every time he sees her, she’s awake.

If anything, if he never does again, at least she will be.

At least Itadori will.

“Yeah,” he finishes. “Can you give me my phone?”

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Yuuji gets the voicemail at precisely one in the morning.

It is under the bright lighting of the gas station, half-way chewing a granola bar, fingers grappling at a bag of chips and fumbling with his phone, trying to balance a bottle of soda in the crook of his elbow and ceasing his humming to the low song playing through the speakers to curse aloud once he sees the name flashing across the screen. He quickly crouches down to the rows of gummy worms and packaged sour strings, setting them down across the aisle and gnawing at his mouth, but he doesn’t pick up in time, and his phone clatters to the floor at his feet as he huffs and tosses all the snacks onto the shelf. He thumbs over the screen, unlocks it, presses the contact and brings it up to his ear, waiting on his toes as it rings, rings, keeps ringing until it dissolves into an automated voicemail.

He frowns, tapping a rhythm along his knees and scrolling into his own voicemail until he finds a single message, at the very top, one minute long, one minute too long.

He blinks, but clicks on it anyways, and listens to it.

“Itadori,” he sounds breathless, running out of time, quiet. A moment passes, two, three.

“I’m sorry.”

Yuuji stiffens.

“I wanted to precede this confession with an apology the same way I wanted to precede the fleeting notion of our relationship with the possibility of nothing at all. I know—” he laughs, “I know this is so fucking inadequate. I know I should’ve— um. Given you more. I didn’t want to tell you that I was sick. Is that— is that selfish of me? I think it is. I have to explain, right? Do you want me to? You could end this here. You could pretend I never happened, that this never happened. Do you want me to tell you that I had brain cancer since the day we met? The exact day I saw you. Isn’t that ironic? I was diagnosed that morning. I’m sorry this isn’t meaningful. I’m sorry I can’t make this last memory something you can cherish.”

Yuuji grips the phone so hard his hand nearly breaks.

“But I—”

“I love you.”

“I love you, will always love you, will never stop loving you. That’s it. That’s— that’s all. I wish I said it sooner, I wish you heard it sooner. I think I regret a lot of things, but if I could’ve done things differently, that’s the one thing I would choose. I could mull over all these infinite possibilities and pick apart the way the world works, or how unfair this is, and curse fate. I could. I could also thank it for giving you to me again— shit. I mean—.. I guess I can thank it for even giving you to me in the first place. If you hate me, that’s fine. If you hate me after I die, that’s fine, too. I’m just praying you won’t hate me if I live, because I don’t know if I’d be able to handle that. I—”

“I would really like to see your face if I wake up.”

A tear slips down his cheek.

“Can you skate for me if I do? I know you gave it up after your grandfather died, but..”

He sighs.

Yuuji pushes a cry between his fingers.

“I know we promised forever.”

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you,” Yuuji whispers, like Megumi would be able to hear him, like Megumi were beside him instead of on a table on the verge of losing his life for a chance he gave everything to take.

“If this is the end, at least I got to spend the rest of mine with you.”

The voicemail ends.

Yuuji rushes out the door, knuckles clenched tight around his phone and he knows that hospital— he’s been to that hospital, he can get there—

But it’s pouring, and he can barely see past the rain, and the road is slippery and highlighted by faint car glow under the soles of his feet, and life was never really fair to him in the first place.

Maybe it’s his fault he wasn’t paying attention, and that briefly comes to mind as he freezes in the middle of the road, ears ringing with that piercing honk as it cuts through his single form in a fear and a dread that only comes ephemeral, once in a lifetime, right before a death.

The car lights flash over him.

His phone hits the cement in blooming cracks and smeared crimson into broken glass, the last twitch of his fingers, the shattered world reflected into rippling traffic lights and vivid hues dipped into the screen, an echo of the wet street and the glittering of colour mapped around the infinity of a name.

He doesn’t smile.

He only begs to any god that he doesn’t see Megumi on the other side.

 

━━━━━━━━━━

 

Megumi does not wake to Itadori’s face.

He wakes.

That is enough of a punishment.

He wakes to a gaping hole in his chest and an absence so large it stifles his lungs with a pain he doesn’t know how to breathe past, with a pain he’d thought he’d become familiar with. He’s held Itadori’s heart before. He’s held his life, his death, his speech, had taken it all in earnest and eagerly because it was the last thing he’d ever be able to do for him, to live it through his own existence. He does not know how to express it into a sentence, does not know how to recall how he had coped back then because he really hadn’t, and he’s lost him three times now, and he can’t help but think this is his punishment for loving at all.

Because he’s only ever loved one person, and it was someone he never should’ve.

This is the thing that makes Itadori human. The things that don’t change, the little vestiges of who he was and who he will be and all that Megumi will never be able to spend with him. He is irreversibly mortal, and Megumi had thought he could be able to transcend such a rule to be able to spend it with him, and preserve him in the way he had tried to preserve him in his memories. He knows what it’s like to live as two boys, just as two boys, and he never thought he’d resent it, but he does, because that’s just more of something he will never be able to keep to himself, so long as that coffin is lowered into the ground, and so long as he knows etched into his skin where his grave is.

He numbly sits in his room, and cradles that little book Itadori always kept around to his chest because he cannot cradle the boy who wrote it. 

Only when the clock on his bedside reads three in the morning can he finally crack it open.

The first page reads:

To the first person that really loved me.

He’s afraid to stain the paper with his tears, but it drips off his chin and onto the ink anyways.

He cuts his finger on the edge turning it, and the red bleeds into manilla, and he does not care.

It is a landscape of a beach, painted in watercolour, the shimmering ocean bathed in gold and warm hues and heated sand and full of silhouettes lined along the shore, Kugisaki, Maki, Inumaki, him.

He stills.

What?

The light smooths over the angles of their faces, shaded in marmalade, in the glittering sun.

No.

No, because that memory and that beach should’ve only existed in the lifetime before this one.

He’s mourned the loss of the past Itadori a million times, now his ghost without the tumour, has wanted to tell this living boy with the softest smile and sometimes tripping over the same words and saying the same things that make Megumi’s heart stop. He had wished he could talk about Gojo-sensei, about the days after his death, about each time he let his shikigami go to wander the earth in case they could find a phantom of his existence dug deep into the soil of the place he once roamed. He had wondered, as Itadori slept, if he could confess it all. Confess his regret for killing him, confess how he tore Itadori’s room apart once he found it empty, confess his grief in the sliding of his back down the door and Kugisaki’s missing eye that seemed to fill with tears anyways.

No, no no no—

He nearly rips it out, flipping, trembling, trying to make sense of his writing, his secrets, every little thing he gave into these broken epiphanies.

In hindsight, the hundredth entry reads, and it traces into Megumi like the trail of a flame, like Itadori had drawn it into his carved ribs with the date of the day they met nineteen years down the line, I think I should’ve been prepared.

Hi, Megumi.

It’s so nice to see you again.

“No,” he whispers. “You couldn’t have.”

But Itadori died, and with him, all of his answers.

You don’t remember me. That’s okay. I’ll remember for us both. I don’t mind.

When you love someone, do you want to die for them, or live for them? Personally, I’m not sure. I think this would’ve applied to our past life more than now, but I suppose it could be entwined with the makings of life, too. I think you fight like hell to live, but if it comes down to it, you would choose their life over yours. I would choose your life over mine. Does that make sense? In this paper, spewing my feelings out over a cup of black coffee that I hate but if I don’t burn my tongue as I scribble this down then it will all come pouring out onto you, you, who shouldn’t be burdened with something you don’t even remember. Maybe you’ll think I’m a lunatic. Maybe if I told you you saved me when I ate a finger you would regret it like you should’ve back then.

But you don’t, and that’s fine. I liked you. I like you so much I don’t think I’ll ever like anyone else as much as I liked you. That doesn’t excuse anything, and I’m sorry for lying. I’m sorry that I dragged you down with me. I should be sorry that I loved you, too, but I’m not. Is that okay? Am I allowed that?

I hope so, because I don’t want loving you to be a crime.

This is no closure.

This—

This is just losing him all over again.

Megumi doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want to. But he will cling to this lifetime the way he clung to the past, and he will forever put his faith in the possibility of them meeting once more.

Because if not anything, then maybe he was always meant to have him, just for a little.

He’ll reread this, years down the line, tomorrow, the next day, to fill the gap Itadori left with what he managed to give to Megumi one last time:

You will forever be my always.