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There’s a big white cat sitting in Suguru’s windowsill.

It must have smelled the whitefish tempura he’s frying this afternoon, sizzling in hot oil and crisping up golden brown. He’d opened up the window to help air the smell out of his cottage, turned his back for one minute to check his rice, and came face to face with a very large, fluffy feline moments later.

“Hello,” Suguru says, surprised. The cat stares back at him, tail swishing. For some reason, it’s wearing a tiny pair of dark, circular shades. Suguru takes a careful step forward, praying he doesn’t startle it. “Did someone put those on you?”

Slowly, he extends his hand towards the windowsill to let it take a sniff. The cat leans in without hesitation, soft pink noise nudging against his skin with a faint wetness. It’s very friendly. Maybe it’s someone’s escaped pet.

He keeps his hand suspended as its soft, rasping tongue furls out to scrape at the pads of his fingers. Suguru snorts. “Tastes good, huh? I bought that fish from the farmers’ market this morning. It wasn’t cheap.”

“Mrow,” the cat says, and he swears it looks pleased. It’s hard to tell behind those strange shades.

“What’s up with those, anyway?” Suguru mutters to himself. “They can’t be comfortable. Here, I’ll get them off for you.”

But as he reaches for them, the cat intercepts him with a big white paw and pushes his hand slightly to the left so that it rubs against the side of the cat’s face instead. Suguru pauses, shocked, as the cat lets out a low purr and sets its chin on top of his fingers.

“Oh, you’re definitely domesticated,” he laughs, scratching gently at the underside of its jaw. It tilts his head to give him better access, and he notes that it isn’t wearing a collar. “You don’t want the shades off? Weird, but okay.”

It must belong to someone nearby, Suguru decides, since its white fur is immaculate and it doesn’t look like the type of cat to go trekking through the woods. Then again, the closest home is half a mile off. He’s pretty secluded out here, but he prefers it that way. Less people, less noise.

Less curses.

There are the occasional few that still roam the woods. A few years back, there was an exceptionally bad one after one of his neighbor’s homes burned down and her misery permeated the air until it came together in a thick miasma. Suguru had tracked it down, exorcised it, and swallowed it whole. Aside from that, the worst he sees are flyheads and the occasional Grade 4.

Still, anything could easily pick off a cat like this if it were left to traverse the forest by itself. Suguru works his fingers into the cat’s thick fur and taps his chin in consideration.

“Maybe you should stay here today,” he muses out loud like it can understand him. “I’ll ask around tomorrow to figure out who you belong to.”

The cat’s purring steadily grows louder as he scratches behind its ears, butting the top of its head into his palm. “Or maybe you prefer me, huh? I wouldn’t mind that.”

He’s never really kept pets, aside from the goldfish his parents got him as a kid, but Suguru’s always liked animals. Obviously he can’t keep this one since it clearly belongs to someone else, but now that he’s living alone there’s nothing stopping him from getting a big, lazy, sunbathing cat of his own. Something to keep him company way out here.

“Are you hungry?” he asks, retracting his hand and fighting the urge to immediately put it back when the cat makes a forlorn sound. “There’s leftover fish in the fridge.”

The cat leaps daintily off his windowsill and onto his counter as Suguru turns towards his refrigerator, pulling it open and easing out the fish inside. He’d been planning to fillet and freeze it a bit later, but it won’t hurt to shave off a small piece now.

“Off my counter,” he tells the cat as he carries the fish to the cutting board. “I cook there. Who knows what you’ve stepped in?”

The cat, predictably, does not get off his counter—it’s visibly interested in smelling the fish—so Suguru scoops it up under one arm and sets it down on the floor. It goes easily, hanging loosely in his grip like it’s used to being handled. Suguru shakes his head at it. “I know you’re only using me for food.”

Still, he picks up his sharpest knife after rinsing his hands and slices easily into the side of the fish, careful to avoid cutting too deep and hitting bone. It’s already been descaled, but he peels away the skin as well in case it’s too chewy for the cat to handle. Then he begins chopping it up finely. The animal in question is winding eagerly around his legs, staring up at him from behind opaque shades and getting white hair all over his pants.

“I just washed these.”

“Mrow.”

Shaking his head again, Suguru pulls a plate out of his cupboard and gathers the minced fish onto it before setting it on the floor. The cat noses over to it right away and the sound of quiet chewing joins the sizzling oil from his stove. Suguru crouches beside it and runs the back of his wrist along its fluffy spine a couple times before standing to check his frying fish.

It’s nicely browned and popping with grease, so he reties his apron and picks up his straining spoon. The glass plate beside his stove gets lined with a layer of paper towel to soak up any excess oil. On the back burner, his rice is still simmering quietly and he leaves it alone for now.

His parents always tell him he should open up a restaurant when they come to visit. Suguru doesn’t think his cooking is good enough for that. And his parents don’t come by often anymore anyway; the journey out to the country is long and with each passing year it’s getting harder for them to handle.

He should really stop by and see them more often, he thinks sheepishly as he gently shakes a piece of fish in the strainer. But the city is such a dingy, curse-ridden place. He doesn’t much like it. The only time he travels there is when he’s on a job, and only if it’s paying a good sum of money. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

“It’s nicer way out here,” he muses out loud, chasing the last few pieces of battered fish through the hot oil. Then he glances over his shoulder. “What do you think?”

But the plate is empty, and the cat is gone.

The old printer flashes with a message as it slowly chugs out a sheet of freshly inked paper, still hot from the machine. ‘Low on ink’, it reads as Suguru catches the sheet before it slips off his desk. ‘Check cartridge’.

“Stupid thing,” he mutters, even as he jabs away at its buttons. “I just refilled it.”

With black ink, of course, which is what he uses to print off most of his documents. But apparently it won’t work if he doesn’t refill his color cartridge at some point, because his printer needs cyan, yellow, and magenta to print in black and white for whatever frustrating reason. The town here doesn’t supply it—he’ll need to order some in the next couple days.

The heat from his printed off sheet is quickly leached away by the coolness of his desk and hands as he carries it to the kitchen, lazily scanning it. There’s a fair bit more he hasn’t printed off, mostly to spare his wheezing printer, but it’s not essential to have in hard copy. What’s here is what’s most important.

 

Gojo Satoru.

DOB: 1989 DEC 7

AGE: 23

HGT: 190 cm

WGT: 82 kg

Hair: WHI

Eyes: BLU

 

Most of it is basic descriptive information, listed out neatly beside the little square image. Suguru skips over it for now and skims to the print at the bottom of the page.

 

Status: Curse User. Subject to execution in accordance to Jujutsu Regulations, Article 9. See Section 4, Clause 13.

*Reward: ¥100,000,000

———————————

*See Stipulation 6, pg. 12

 

Stipulation or not, it’s an insane amount of money. The information sheet goes up on the kitchen wall beside his window. Suguru tacks it there with one of the shiny star stickers he still has in his drawer from an impulse purchase three years ago and studies the picture of the man printed onto it.

He’s very...striking in appearance, the way quite a few sorcerers are. His height itself is already outlandish; he probably sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowd. His hair is like wispy dandelion fluff, stark white and tufting up all over the place. His supposedly blue eyes are covered by round shades. Suguru squints at them. Huh. What a funny coincidence.

He doesn’t normally take on jobs like these. Yes, he’s a freelancer because it pays well and it’s easy work, most of the time. But Suguru won’t just do anything.

See, his parents hadn’t been very thrilled to discover he could see curses, mostly because they couldn’t. They thought he was disturbed for a while, so Suguru left to a boarding school and ditched class often enough to finally figure out what the hell he was and that he wasn’t the only one.

He’d met another sorcerer while cutting class, bumped into her at a shopping district because they were both chasing after the same curse. She assured him he wasn’t crazy and that there were options for people like them. Two schools; one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, where they could study and learn and train to develop their techniques in order to become shamans and save a whole load of people.

Suguru called bullshit.

Ingesting curses for the rest of his life and calling it his career wasn’t exactly his idea of fun. Sure, it had given him a thrill at first—especially once he grew skilled enough to start eating the stronger, nastier ones—but doing it solely for the sake of others? Without break or gratitude?

Hard pass.

So when middle school graduation rolled around and the woman offered him an enrollment form, he’d torn it up and thrown it away. Didn’t even let himself consider it. The prospect held no calling. He stopped bringing up what he could see to his parents and they stopped looking at him like he disgusted them. That in itself was relief enough.

And then he’d gotten found out.

Not by his parents, but by others who kept an eye out for individuals like him. His technique was on the rarer side, apparently, and the fact that he could consume and control any curse so long as he was strong enough was a source of appeal. People he didn’t know reached out to him in private, offering money in exchange for exorcism services. It smelled shady. He’d taken the offers anyway and came out a fair bit richer.

But he’s pickier, now. Suguru’s got enough to sit back on for a bit, and he’s not very keen on the idea of killing people.

He doesn’t even know if he’s taking this job. No one had reached out, but he’d come across it through his own sources and printed off the details. The paper hangs there as an option, an opportunity if the circumstance ever befalls him, but it’s a stretch. This Gojo shaman is supposed to be exceptionally strong, after all.

He’d previously been a student, the details read. But then he’d graduated and gone off the grid for several years before resurfacing recently and openly slaughtering three bigwigs of jujutsu society. After that, several old cases resurfaced and were linked back to him. The man had been busy during his time away.

Suguru can’t lie. The killing doesn’t really bother him, despite his personal distaste for it. He’s well aware, even from the fringes, that the whole fucked-up business of shamanism is run by a bunch of old croaks who scarcely know which direction is up anymore. Senile bastards, for the most part, delusional off power. He can’t blame a young sorcerer with even more power for growing sick of their shit and offing the lot of them.

Still.

It’s a lot of money.

But, well, the probability of Gojo Satoru miraculously wandering past his doorstep is slim and Suguru isn’t going to go chasing after him. Not when several firm eggplants sit in his basket, begging to be cooked.

It’s a spinoff of a mediterranean recipe this time—baked eggplant, brushed with olive oil and salt and browned at a high broil. Coined potatoes arranged underneath in a pan and topped with slices of tomato and rings of onion. Ground beef fried with garlic and spices. Slivered almonds, toasted in butter on the stovetop.

He mixes together tomato paste and water, shaking spices and salt into the blend before pouring the liquid on top of the pan of vegetables and meat. A blast of heat meets his face as he opens the oven. He’ll make the rice as it cooks, and then—

“Mrow.”

Suguru pauses in front of the open oven, pan still in hand. He hadn’t left the window open just for the cat. He hadn’t.

“Hi,” Suguru says as he sticks the pan in and turns around, unable to hide his smile. “So you came back, huh? The fish was that good?”

It’s still wearing those silly shades. Suguru leans against the counter and lets it go through its routine of sniffing his hand before rubbing its jaw all over his fingers. He’s glad it’s back. The thought of it roaming the woods in the dark, lost, had plagued him even as he sat bleary-eyed at his computer with the sound of his old printer coughing in the background. But it looks just as clean and well-groomed as yesterday, so someone must have taken care of it.

“I guess I should check if you’re a boy or a girl, huh,” Suguru says. The cat pauses in pushing its head into his hand and Suguru takes the opportunity to lift it up off the windowsill. “Oh, so you’re a boy.”

“Meow,” the cat says, looking perfectly content hanging there in his grip. Suguru slowly presses it to his chest until he’s cradling it like a baby. The cat nudges its head into his neck and Suguru melts. It’s so damn cute.

“Do you want a name, too?” Suguru asks as he carries it over to the pan he’d used to fry his beef on the stove. There’s a bit of leftover he hadn’t used for his dish. He’s pretty sure it’s safe to feed it to a cat, although he’s not sure how much it’ll like it when it’s been spiced. “Feels weird not calling you anything. Sorry if you already have one.”

He’s never named anything in his life. He supposes he could name his curses, but honestly most of them look pretty gross and he isn’t keen on accidentally forming an attachment. They’re just tools he uses to keep monsters in check. Not exactly Suguru’s ideal pet. Picking up a shallow dish with his free hand, he spoons some of the beef into it.

“How about...Taro?” he asks hesitantly, setting the cat down and crouching beside it as it starts to eat. The rice can wait for a bit. “It’s not super creative, but I think it’s a popular name?”

As expected, the cat doesn’t express much of an opinion on the name Taro. Suguru isn’t very enthusiastic about it himself. “Okay, not that. Uh…”

Wow, he’s really bad at this. Maybe he can name it after a manga character he used to like or something. But ‘Sasuke’ and ‘Ichigo’ don’t seem fitting for a cat like this. He raps the side of his head.

“How about Goku?” he tries. He’d been obsessed with Dragon Ball as a kid. Vegeta had been his favorite, but for a cat name it just sounds dumb. Not that Goku is much better by any metric.

But the cat looks up at him for a moment, eyes alert, like it’d understood. Suguru straightens a little, heartened. Maybe that’s already the cat’s name and Suguru’s miraculous at guessing. “You like Goku?”

The cat licks its mouth. Then it sneezes.

Suguru wrinkles his nose in disgust at the tiny chunks of ground beef that fly from its mouth. He’d just mopped this morning.

“Gross,” he sighs, getting to his feet and wetting a paper towel at the sink. “Guess that’s a no. Maybe I’ll figure something out later.”

“Mrrr,” the cat burbles as Suguru slaves on his hands and knees wiping up ground beef, and leaps onto his counter. Of course it does. He clicks his tongue in exasperation and reaches for the half-eaten plate on the floor, but pauses as a jolt of motion catches his eye.

Up on his counter, the cat stands frozen. Its tail is held stiff and erect and from this angle it seems like it’s staring at something on his wall. Suguru frowns. Maybe there’s a bug? He rises and the cat’s whole body tenses. “Hey—”

It leaps for the open window. Suguru stumbles forward, caught between surprise and bewilderment as its fluffy rear disappears over the edge of the windowsill, but by the time he leans over his sink to peer outside the cat has disappeared again. It’s shockingly fast for such a big creature.

There’s the tiniest bit of indignation and betrayal flaring within him, which is ridiculous because it’s a cat, but maybe he really is a little hurt that the cat might just be using him for food. Why’d it get spooked? There’s not a bug in sight. Absently, he presses his thumb against the peeling sticker holding the wanted poster to the wall as he cranes his neck out the window. He thinks he sees a faint flicker of white fur disappearing into the trees.

“Seriously,” he grumbles, setting the plate of beef into the sink. “You didn’t even finish your meal.”

He lingers there for a few minutes longer, waiting for any sign that the cat might reappear, but it never does. Suguru sighs and turns away to start his rice.

Apparently cats are not supposed to eat garlic.

He discovers this after a cursory search online the next day and his stomach turns when he remembers the garlic infused beef he’d fed it yesterday. Oh god. Did he kill it?

It hadn’t finished its plate, and the effects are more disastrous in large doses, so maybe it will be fine. Suguru really hopes it will be fine. It’d be awful for it to return to its owner’s doorstep only to drop dead a day later, killed by his attempt at kindness. He buries his head in his hands and tries not to despair too soon. Maybe it will show up again in the next few days, perched on his windowsill like nothing ever happened and meowing incessantly until he feeds it. He’ll be more careful next time.

If there is a next time.

Great.

He distracts himself instead with the fact that there’s work to be done. A repeat client reached out late last night about a curse in Okinawa. It’s been haunting an aquarium on the island for several years now but lately the disturbances have been picking up in intensity. People have started getting hurt. The client has enough invested that he’s willing to pay an extra dollar to get it exorcised.

Normally, a flight from Hakone, which is where he lives, to Okinawa, would be nearly a three hour plane ride. Transportation by curse, however, brings it down to only one.

Suguru does his best to banish the cat from his mind as he prepares to leave that evening, gathering up a few cursed tools for safe measure. There’s nothing he can do if the cat never comes back. Besides, it only ever visited him twice. There’s nothing to say it would have kept coming back even if he hadn’t fed it garlic.

He cleans up the remains of today’s meal, which is really just leftovers from yesterday’s dish, and quickly brushes his teeth before securing his wallet and summoning his fastest flight-capable curse. It slithers around him as he steps outside his home and he gives it a cursory pat on the head. “Time to go.”

He doesn’t need to speak his instructions; he lets his intent flow from his mind and the curse immediately takes off with him on its back, writhing up into the darkening sky.

By the time he arrives in Okinawa, the aquarium has long since closed for the evening. While it’s a little less advantageous to fight curses at night, it also means that the area is cleared of people—even security has been told to take the night off. Suguru’s client meets him at the entrance, waving a hand as he descends from the sky. Suguru waves back and leaps off, curse dissipating into black smoke. As promised, a curtain has already been cast. All he has to do is walk in and resolve things.

“Glad you could make it on such short notice,” his client tells him. He’s a middle aged man, slim and tall with a bit of stubble. Goes by Shimizu, though it’s most likely not his real name. “This curse is a nastier one.”

“You mentioned it seemed vengeful,” Suguru clarifies.

Shimizu nods shortly. “Like it’s lashing out. Probably born as a result of someone’s death. Looks kinda like a young girl.”

Suguru grimaces. What his client is telling him is mostly a rehash of what he’d sent in the email, but it always feels odd taking those types of curses in. Maybe he’ll just exorcise this one instead of adding it to his arsenal.

“Got it,” he says, feeling the weight of his cursed tools in his jacket. “Any other last minute info I need to know?”

“Should be it,” the man says. “Good luck. I’m clearing out. Don’t forget to send confirmation when you finish.”

Suguru shoots him a thumbs up and pushes open the aquarium doors, stepping into the dim space. He came here once before with his parents a long time ago, on a sightseeing trip when he was a kid. It looks much smaller than it had back then, with the lights off and everyone gone.

His footsteps echo in the empty building as he traipses past tanks of water and display cases. There are a few displays that are still lit up with artificial light, casting a shimmering wave pattern across the ground. It’s somewhat eerie. Suguru releases a slow exhale to relieve some of the building tension.

The curse has been sighted most often further in, near the larger aquatic tanks on the ground floor. It’s reported to induce panic, crippling anxiety, and an intense sense of inexplicable dread among visitors. On one notable occasion it even cracked the glass of the whale shark tank, nearly flooding the aquarium with water and thankfully docile marine life. Basically, it’s leeching both money and customers, so Suguru’s job is to neatly clean it up.

He pauses when he reaches the repaired tank. The shadow of a whale shark darkens the ground below him as it swims slowly by, eyes wide open in its sleep. Suguru lets out a low whistle at the sheer size of it. Then he turns around, back pressed to the glass, and waits.

He doesn’t have to wait long. A faint scratching echoes a few meters away as the curse approaches, sensing the faint aura of cursed energy he’s putting out to lure it in. Suguru straightens up slowly, hands relaxed at his sides.

“Hey,” he says, voice bouncing around the empty space. “I know you’re here. Why don’t you come on out?”

The scratching stops. For a moment, it’s dead silent. Then a pitch black void of a hand wraps around a fish tank several meters away.

“There we go,” Suguru murmurs. The pressure of the air around him is increasing; he can already feel the effect of the curse settling into his nervous system, steadily pumping adrenaline through his blood.

“I-I-I,” the curse stutters. More of its body slithers around the tank. It’s a strangely empty figure, cut out of something like the night sky. A silhouette of a girl shudders before him. Behind her, a thick whip of a braid twitches around like a rat’s tail.

“Easy,” Suguru says with a smile, even though something about the girl feels off. Shimizu’s hunch was probably correct. She must have been a human before she died. A sorcerer turned curse.

“Ki—” the curse rasps. She takes a staggering step. “He k-k-killed—”

Whoever ‘he’ killed, she can’t seem to finish saying it. Suguru readies himself as she lets out a wail that nearly bursts his eardrums and lunges.

Rainbow Dragon bursts to life in front of him and blocks her path with the length of its body. Then it twists its head around and rushes her with a gaping maw. She shrieks and twists to avoid its blunted teeth, the weight of the air growing thicker. It feels like there’s a crushing force above his shoulders. It’s hard to breathe.

There’s something lashing at her fingertips like flexible claws. They rip chasms through space as she brings her arm down, and Rainbow Dragon doubles back to protect him. Suguru summons a lower level curse to block what makes it past and gasps when vestiges still tear through. The weaker curse dissolves with a whine and he’s struck with a horrible sensation of emptiness. It’s like it’s hollowing him out, tearing through the essence of what makes him himself and leaving him blank. Overwritten. He can’t even explain it.

The curse makes a sound like a gasping sob and Suguru jerks in a breath of air, shuddering. Fuck, that’s awful.

“K-killed,” she gasps out. Her voice is like a hundred grating nails. Suguru summons another curse—

“—Satoru.”

—and freezes.

“What?” he asks stupidly, like she can understand him. “What did you just say?”

It’s not that Satoru’s an uncommon name. It just seems awfully coincidental. Sorcerers are the only humans that can become curses after death. Gojo Satoru is a curse user that kills sorcerers. “What did you say? Satoru killed you? Gojo Satoru?”

“Ahhh,” the curse moans, clutching the outline of her head. “W-went swimming. He said— run.”

Suguru runs, because she’s coming in swinging again. Whatever the hell she’s saying, he can’t make heads or tails of it. It’s weird enough that she’s sentient enough to form sentences. Most curses can’t speak coherently unless they’re higher level and even then it’s rare.

It’s not even that she’s very strong. But her aura, and the awful feeling she emanates—it’s like he’ll never feel happy again. She must have died with regret, whoever she was. Suguru will only be bringing her relief by exorcising her.

Still, the longer this drags out, the worse the feeling becomes. Suguru ducks behind a display and inhales deeply before summoning one, two, three more curses. It’d be easy to fuse them together and hit her with his maximum technique, but minimizing property damage is unfortunately part of his contract.

The first curse cuts across her path and Suguru watches her falter as he tilts his head around the display. Two others whip around her arms and ankles, binding her in place, and the last unhinges its serrated jaw. Suguru grimaces.

“Wait,” he mutters out loud, and his curse halts.

She’s struggling, body flickering against the sinuous curses holding her in place. He’s won at this point and she must know it, because the outpour of negative energy suddenly increases tenfold. God, this feels bad, and not only because of her technique.

“Who killed you?” Suguru asks again. He’s not sure why he’s so intent on figuring it out. It wasn’t part of his job description; it’s been years since she died. Predictably, her only answer is one of those wheezing sobs.

He sighs. There’s another way to potentially find out. Taking in curses like these often gives a glimpse of memory—not all of it, not even always what’s most important. Just a brief peek into their history; sometimes a summer day, a blue sky. Someone’s smiling face. It always feels intrusive.

Suguru places his hand on her quivering head.

She goes as quietly as a breath of air, absorbed into his technique. Then he lifts the orb to his mouth and swallows it, mouth burning from the acridity. Instantly, images flash through his mind.

A boy, tufted white hair and round shades. Young, exceptionally tall. There’s a woman wearing a maid’s uniform, eyes crinkled at the corners. The sensation of a kiss on his forehead. And then a man with a scar curved cruelly across his lips aims a gun and fires. Crack —a starburst of white shatters his vision.

Suguru’s eyes shoot open and he gulps in air, heaving. The curse is gone. His own curses hover around him, awaiting his next order. He wipes the trail of sweat streaking down his forehead and calls them back.

Then he releases the girl from himself. She reappears before him, mute and settled now that he’s asserted control. He stares back at her, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

He sort of wishes he hadn’t done it.

“Sorry,” he says quietly, and carefully reaches into his jacket to ease out a cursed tool. It feels more humane, at least, than letting one of his curses tear her apart.

A good chunk of his earnings from this job gets spent on a pricey slab of fatty tuna.

Another portion goes to his parents, who are settling into retirement and could use the extra money. The rest gets divided between his savings and this month’s bills.

Cases like these never fail to bother him afterwards. Suguru makes sure he clears his schedule for the next few days but he still gasps himself awake the night after, remembering the sensation of a bullet blowing a hole through his skull. It’s hard to fall back asleep after.

The tuna is a decent distraction. He buys it two days after the girl’s exorcism and busies himself that afternoon with prepping it for sushi. It’s a costly cut of otoro, barely a few hours out of the ocean.

Pulling up a stool beside the counter, he spends the next few minutes sharpening his knife while his otoro slab sits on the cutting board, pink and glistening. It’s the best piece of fish he’s purchased in a while; he’s going to savor it.

Sunlight slants in through the window over the sink as Suguru sits, gently testing the edge of his knife with the pad of his finger. Definitely sharp. He rinses it under cold water before wiping it on his hand towel and adjusting his cutting board. He’s just about to angle his blade into the fish when a faint scratching noise catches his attention.

It’s coming from outside his window.

Suguru’s head shoots up so fast, his neck cracks. There, on his windowsill with half its body hanging off thanks to its sheer girth, is the cat. Still meticulously groomed. Still wearing those round shades. And it’s looking at him like it’s offended the window is shut today.

Suguru’s laugh is a mixture of amusement and relief. So he hadn’t managed to kill it off with that garlic-infused beef. Thank god. He sets his knife down and pushes the window open, simultaneously extending a hand for the cat to sniff and rub. Except the second the glass is no longer in the way, it makes a beeline straight for his tuna.

“Hey! No,” Suguru shouts, diving for it. He intercepts the cat with his forearm and catches it in his other hand before it manages to chomp down. The cat lets out a meow of protest as Suguru imprisons it in his arms, intent on defending his tuna with his life.

“You run away, and then you come back to steal my food?” he snaps, aware of how ridiculous he’s being. “I worked for this, you lazy bum. And you’re definitely not starving.”

The cat doesn’t seem to appreciate it when he pokes it in its side, because it bites his finger. Suguru curses as its needle sharp teeth dig into his skin.

“Dumbass, do I look like a meal?” The cat is too busy gnawing on him to pay him any mind. Suguru shakes his hand to dislodge it. “You can’t even eat raw tuna anyway! You want mercury poisoning?”

That’s what all the cat owner accounts cautioned against, at least. After he’d surfed the web for them the night of the garlic incident. For two hours.

“Mrow,” the cat says pitifully, turning its head to eye the tuna with a mournful gaze. Suguru doesn’t dare set it down.

“Don’t make me throw you back outside until I’m done.”

It lets out another dragging meow. More of a yowl, really. Holy shit, it’s dramatic. Suguru puts it gingerly back down on the windowsill and nudges its rear. The cat turns back to stare at him, looking positively scandalized.

“I can’t cook with you jumping for the counter every ten seconds,” Suguru tells it. He feels a little bit bad, but annoyance wins out. “You need to either go away or wait politely until I find something else for you to eat.”

The cat winds around his arm and leaps for the counter again. Suguru snatches it out of the air and sets it firmly on the windowsill, and it gives him an accusatory stare from behind those absurd shades. Suguru returns it with a hard look. “Don’t you dare try that again.”

Naturally, the first thing it does when he lets it go is try again. Fed up, Suguru plucks it up from the countertop, claws scrabbling against the polished wood, and pulls open the cabinet door beneath it. “You know what? Fine. If you aren’t gonna listen then I’m putting you in jail.”

“Meow,” the cat says in alarm, right before Suguru pushes it inside and shuts the door, leaning against it with his legs so it can’t get out. It’s quiet in there for all of two seconds before the cat lets out the loudest and most pronounced yowl yet. It sounds like it’s crying. Suguru blanches. Oh god, he’s a monster.

He can just cut the tuna really fast and then let it out, right? Just a few minutes while he slices like his life depends on it, and then he’ll set it free. He can do this. He’s not a monster. It’s not his fault his kitchen entrance doesn’t have a door.

“Myaaaaaaaah,” the cat cries sorrowfully, like it’s dying. Suguru feels the blood drain from his face as he picks up the knife and starts slicing, exchanging neat cuts for speed. If his otoro comes out a little raggedy, it’s fine. The only one eating it is him.

Does this count as animal abuse? Locking a cat in a dark cabinet for five minutes? Don’t cats like dim enclosed spaces? His cousin’s cat used to sleep in the laundry chute all the time. Surely this cat can handle it for a little while.

“Myaaaaaaa—”

Suguru caves.

“I’m so sorry,” he babbles, dropping to his knees and pulling the cabinet door open. The cat looks back at him, ears flattened. God, he’s betrayed its trust. “Please don’t hate me.”

Slowly, he reaches for it with a faintly trembling hand. The cat watches it approach until it’s five inches away and then bolts. It leaps past his arm, hops onto his back, and uses it as a springboard to launch itself onto the counter. Suguru stands up in time to see it snatch the largest slice of otoro between its jaws and hurtle out the window like a rocket.

“Hey!” he yells, immediately indignant. “That’s cheating!”

Well, maybe it’s more like well-deserved payback. He did lock it in a cabinet, after all. Suguru glares out into the woods at the cat’s retreating form, disappearing into the trees like a furry little ghost. Bastard. He picks up his knife again with a scowl, eyeing the tuna he has left.

But he doesn’t bother closing the window.

A sharp inhale. The sound of a gun being cocked back. Bang! A bullet fractures his skull.

Suguru bolts upright on his couch, breathing heavily. Cold sweat pools at the base of his spine and makes his palms clammy; he has to take a moment to calm down and catalogue where he is.

It’s still light outside, golden hour setting in as the summer clock ticks closer to evening. He’d lay down on his living room couch after dinner, not intending to fall asleep, but he must have drifted off at some point. His laptop sits open beside him, screen now dark. Stupid of him to fall asleep with it on considering what he’d been researching, but it’s not like anyone ever bothers him way out here in Hakone.

Suguru sits there and breathes until his sweat dries. Then he reaches out and pulls the laptop back onto his lap. The screen lights up after he taps a few keys, and the content he’d been scanning pops back up.

It’s just—he can’t stop thinking about that girl. The curse appeared around seven years ago, which is likely around the time that she died as well, but who she was and how she died is unknown.

Well. It was.

The sensation of getting shot in the head is unsettling enough to disturb his dreams almost every night. The face of the man who shot her is fuzzy, but he knows at least that it wasn’t Gojo Satoru who killed her. He had appeared in her memories though, so he’d somehow been involved. He was wearing a school uniform, Suguru’s pretty sure.

If it was back in his student days before he’d gone rogue, then he’d most likely been trying to protect her. Maybe the girl had been a student at Jujutsu Tech as well. A mission gone wrong, perhaps?

Suguru sighs, tapping his touchpad. Why it’s bothering him this much, he can’t say. Maybe it has something to do with the paper hanging up on his kitchen wall and his own damn sense of justice. But until he figures out the identity of that girl, he’s at a roadblock.

Which is why he’s now parsing through records of Gojo Satoru’s past assignments, combing through them for anything that might possibly be a match. They were easier to get ahold of than he expected—might have even been leaked by the people at the top themselves—but he’d still had to make use of several of his connections to get his hands on them. There’s a staggering amount of information, even though what he has almost certainly doesn’t cover every assignment Gojo Satoru has ever completed.

It’s slow-going work. He’s more likely to fall asleep again before he finishes combing through them, but maybe—

A quiet scratching sound catches his attention from the kitchen.

Suguru freezes mid-stretch. One hand comes to rest on the top of his laptop, prepared to snap it shut, while the other flares with cursed energy. Is someone in his house? Shit. He’d forgotten to shut his window. There’s even more scratching, something clicking against a hard surface, and then:

“Meow?”

The tension leaves him like a taut chain let loose. Suguru exhales, a quiet huff of amusement making it past. “In here, dumbass.”

There’s a pause. Then a soft thump as the cat leaps from the counter to the floor, nails tapping against the wood as it pads towards the living room. Suguru cranes his neck to see it turn the corner, white tail held high like a model strutting across a catwalk. His lips twitch. “Very bold of you to come strolling back in here like you own the place. I’m still mad at you for eating my tuna.”

“Mrrr,” the cat rumbles as it approaches the foot of the couch. With one neat wiggle of its butt, it leaps onto the cushion beside him and rubs its head almost immediately against his arm. Suguru grins, reaching out and running his knuckles along the top of its head.

He can admit he’d been hoping it’d come back. He was afraid he’d scared it off forever after locking it in the cabinet for a grand total of sixty seconds, but here it is as affectionate as it had been before it left. It’s still a nasty cheat for making off with his fish, but Suguru supposes he can forgive it just this once.

“You can’t be hungry again already, can you?” he asks it, scratching beneath its chin. “It’s only been a few hours since you ate that giant piece of tuna.”

His cousin’s cat never ate that much, from what he remembers. And since the cat in front of him doesn’t appear to be dying of starvation, it’s probably not looking to be fed. Actually, with how it’s rubbing all over him, it’s more likely in the mood for attention.

“Well, c’mere,” Suguru shrugs, and lifts it onto his lap, pushing his laptop further down his legs. The cat goes willingly, head turning towards his still-open screen so that the files reflect off its shades. From this angle, Suguru can see behind them; there’s a pair of stunningly blue eyes, crystalline and very wide. Not for the first time, he wonders why it wears glasses. He’s never heard of a cat that needed prescription lenses, but there’s a first for everything. Maybe its eyes are overly sensitive to light.

Frowning, he opens an internet tab as the cat settles into his lap, kneading its paws against his thighs. ‘Can cats wear glasses’, he types up, a little amazed that he hadn’t thought to look this up before. Several links pop up. He clicks on the first one. Huh, there is a company that makes prescription glasses for cats and dogs. How funny.

“Sorry for trying to take them off, then,” he tells it, patting the base of its spine. The cat’s tail twitches. “They still look funny.”

“Mrrr.”

“Sorry, they look dignified.”

It purrs, a low rumble in the back of its throat. Suguru’s lap feels very warm. He can already feel himself getting drowsy as he adjusts his arms around the cat’s bulk, settling his hands back onto his keyboard. Closing his search tab, he goes back to the files he was perusing earlier and resumes reading, minimizing the reports that don’t align with the memories he’d caught a glimpse of.

The cat’s head stays facing his screen as he scrolls, half lulled by its purring and the fading sunlight. His living room grows dimmer the deeper Suguru searches and his lids grow heavy along with it. Gojo Satoru had certainly been a busy man. Well—child, since the majority of these are from his student years. Suguru doesn’t envy him.

He’s halfway to sleep when he finally finds it. A third of the files have been sorted through and he’s skimming the next when his eyes catch the out of place phrase.

Mission failure.

Suguru pauses, suddenly wide awake. He blinks several times at the two unfamiliar words in this sea of reports. It’s the first report to be marked as such. In his lap, the cat has stopped purring. Scrolling back to the top, his eyes latch onto the heading.

 

Report on Star Plasma Vessel Retrieval and Escort

Submitted 2006 Aug. 15

Prepared by: Yaga Masamichi

Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical College

 

“Shit,” Suguru breathes, suspecting that this is what he’s been looking for. An escort mission—a failed one. He continues reading.

 

Overview

The head archivist of the Department of Interior Jujutsu Affairs, Kitagawa Koichi, requested this report detailing the three-day escort of Amanai Riko [SPV, Inc. 6; deceased] to the Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical College preceding her merger with Barrier Deity Tengen (set date: 2006 Aug. 12). The escort was initiated by Gojo Satoru, TMCTC Second Year on 2006 Aug. 10 and came to an end on 2006 Aug. 12 before completion of the merger due to termination of the SPV by Zen’in* Toji (deceased). An autopsy was performed by Ieiri Shoko, TMCTC Second Year Head Doctor in training. See pages 4-6 for the preliminary report.

 

Ah, Suguru thinks, face falling. Slowly, he scrolls down to the final few pages of the report where the preliminary autopsy has been attached in slightly grainy detail.

Cause of death, it reads. Close range gunshot wound to head.

The memory flows through him again, vivid and shocking. Suguru closes his eyes and breathes, trying to let it pass. It’s deeply disconcerting that a memory that isn’t even his is affecting him to this extent.

Movement in his lap jerks him from the white-hot burst of light searing the backs of his lids. Suguru opens his eyes to see the cat staring up at him.

“Sorry,” he murmurs to it, lifting a hand to its head. “I’m fine.”

It lets out a quiet noise, a mournful sort of meow, and Suguru startles. It sounds, for lack of better word...sad.

“Hey,” he begins, wondering if it somehow sensed his mood. “What’s the matter?”

The cat lowers its head briefly, staring at the screen. Then it stands and turns in his lap until its head rests against his chest. Suguru doesn’t dare budge.

“Hey,” he whispers again, staring down his nose at it. Slowly, slowly, he lifts a hand and runs it down its back. It leans into him harder, and he can see its eyes are now shut behind its shades. It doesn’t start purring again even when he rubs the top of its head in the way it especially likes. “I killed the mood, didn’t I.”

The cat doesn’t move and Suguru sighs, reaching around it to readjust his laptop. He reads through the rest of the report, stomach turning a little when it describes in detail the injuries sustained by Gojo Satoru before he experienced a miraculous revival. It’s thoroughly unsettled by the time he gets to the scant description of Amanai Riko’s death and corpse recovery. No one had been with her when she died.

The end of the report is the worst, commenting on the potential of a new vessel that they’d had their eyes on in case the girl hadn’t worked out. Like she’d been nothing more than a contingency plan, her death an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

No wonder Gojo Satoru went off the rails later on if this was what all that sacrifice amounted to. Suguru doubts he would have handled an injustice like that any better; just the thought fills him with a certain uneasiness.

He tabs out of the report and types Zen’in Toji into his search engine, unsurprised when it yields very little. Suguru clicks between links for twenty minutes before he finally finds a picture of the man in the online yearbook of some unknown public high school. He’s smiling in the photo, younger than he had been in Amanai’s memories, but the same scar still curves up his lips. Suguru reaches up unconsciously to touch his own forehead, thumb tracing over the bone that had been shattered.

It’s enough to confirm it, in any case. He shuts his laptop with a tired sigh without bothering to close any tabs.

“There’s your answer,” he says to himself, tilting his head back to rest against the back of the cushion. There’s a growing crack in his ceiling from the seasonal rains that he needs to repair. “Now what?”

The living room is mostly dark by now, the light of his laptop gone. The last of the sun’s glow slowly fades beneath the horizon while the muted chirp of the crickets beneath his back porch blend into background noise. Suguru quietly lifts the cat off his lap and gets up to close his kitchen window.

He pauses by the sink, staring at the dark square of paper hung up on his wall. Gojo Satoru’s shock of white hair stands out like a beacon on the page. Below it, the cash reward is a nearly sightless smudge.

Suguru sighs. His heart hadn’t been much in it anyway.

The cat is sitting on the couch when he comes back, head raised like it’s waiting for him. He traipses over to the sofa and lowers himself gently back onto it, suddenly too tired to walk to his bed and change into something more sleep appropriate. He’s sure he’ll regret sleeping in jeans when he wakes up tomorrow, but right now the couch and its only other occupant are far too inviting.

“You can sleep here too, if you want,” he tells the cat, realizing that with the window shut, he’s locked it in anyway. “Here.”

Suguru scoops it to his chest as he lies down, noting its easy pliancy. It doesn’t squirm at all when he adjusts it higher above his stomach; it just curls in on itself and wraps its tail around its nose. Suguru can’t help but smile at both the sight and the warm weight on his chest.

“Where do you keep coming from?” he murmurs sleepily. The cat exhales, a quiet little snuffle. He wonders why it’s so comfortable with him. Why it doesn’t just go home, where it’s clearly taken care of and fed. Why it chose Suguru.

But in the end, it’s a cat, and he can’t expect any answers. Suguru brushes a hand over its back before adjusting his arm over his stomach to block the night chill, and for the first time, simply accepts it.

Sunlight filters in through his open curtains early the next morning, bright and glaring against the glass. Suguru winces and throws his arm over his eyes, hoping to block out the harsh light and catch another few minutes of sleep, but his shirt sleeve grazes against something soft. There’s something heavy on his chest. Oh, right.

Rubbing away a bit of sleep crust, he cracks open an eye. The cat stares back at him, paws folded beneath its sternum and black shades unforthcoming. Suguru’s lips quirk up. “Morning to you, too.”

He hadn’t really expected the cat to stay there the whole night. Maybe it couldn’t leave through his window, but he’d thought it might have migrated to another spot on the sofa—or maybe to his bed—by the time he woke up. Instead it’s still here, sprawled lazily on top of Suguru with its tail sweeping slowly back and forth across his stomach. The weight of it probably kept him from rolling off the sofa in his sleep, since he normally gets tangled up in his sheets like a sea turtle caught in a fishing line.

“Are you hungry?” he asks it, and the cat jerks its nose away from his face. Oh right, morning breath. He likes to blame how bad it sometimes gets on his curse-consuming habit. “Sorry.”

Shifting his arms beneath its bulk, he carefully lifts the cat off of him and onto the floor. It immediately pads towards the kitchen, turning its head back to him with a meow that lilts up at the end, like it’s asking a question. Are you coming? Suguru grins, sitting up on his couch and stretching. His legs are a little stiff; he can feel crease marks at the backs of his knees from his jeans.

Really, he wants nothing more than to change his clothes, brush his teeth, and take a shower, but he can hear the cat nosing around the kitchen already and knows it’s impatient for him to hurry up. He can cook it something small and let it back out first. Suguru’s not feeling much like breakfast right now anyway.

“Cats can eat scrambled eggs,” he tells it as he enters the kitchen, snapping his fingers when he sees it walking on top of the counter. The cat looks at him and freezes before jumping back down and curling around his legs innocently. “I looked that up the other day. Apparently they’ll make you fat if you eat too many of them, so don’t get used to it.”

The cat meows, still slinking in and out of his legs as he reaches into his cabinet for a frying pan. “Quit it, you’ll make me trip.”

The eggs he has are from one of his older neighbor’s chickens. He visits her every couple weeks to check up on her and she sends him home with a couple dozen eggs each time, freshly laid and still warm. Suguru pulls one out, trying to remember whether it’s okay to feed cats butter, before deciding to play it safe and digging around his cabinet for olive oil. Pouring a spoonful into a frying pan, he turns the heat on low and leans into his counter to regard the cat waiting patiently at his feet. The way it’s staring up at him makes him feel like it’s a little too aware of everything that’s going on. He snorts.

“You know, sometimes I think you’re smarter than the average cat,” Suguru says to it, nudging it lightly with a socked toe. “You’re so funny, you act like a person.”

The cat’s tail swishes lazily back and forth as it opens its mouth and lets out a wide yawn. Shaking his head, he turns back to the pan and neatly cracks open the egg. It sizzles as it meets hot iron, edges turning white. Suguru picks up a wooden spoon and gives it a gentle stir, breaking the yolk.

“I don’t mind living alone,” he continues, mostly to himself. “Really, it’s not so bad. But I don’t mind when you visit either.”

The cat meows and he looks down at it with a slight quirk of his lips. “I guess I like animals more than people. Eh, who knows. Maybe I’ll get sick of you eventually when you eat me out of my home.”

He leaves the egg just a little runny, soft enough for the cat to chew easily, and slides it onto the white dish he’d given it last time. It makes an eager noise as he sets it down and crouches beside it, running his hands through its long fur and pursing his lips at the amount that comes away with it. There’s cat hair all over his shirt, actually. He’ll need to buy a lint roller or risk it ending up in his food.

“If you want to stay, you can stay,” Suguru tells it quietly, hand still settled on the cat’s spine. Its nose is buried in egg. “No one’s ever come looking for you. Even if they take care of you and clean you up, they don’t seem like they love you all that much.”

Great, now he’s projecting onto the cat.

Get a grip, Suguru, he thinks as he stands up and carries the egg pan over to the sink. The cat’s probably got a loving home somewhere that lets it outside and gives it the freedom to do what it wants. Treats it like a child with no curfew. Doesn’t worry all that much if it disappears for a night and doesn’t show back up in the morning. Aaaand, he’s right back to projecting.

Cranking the water tap to high heat does wonders in ridding the pan of oily egg residue as he scrubs, skin turning red under the water. He’s more or less used to the heat by now, Suguru thinks, which is one perk of living by himself, however pathetic it may be. So he doesn’t need anyone to tell him how to do his chores, so what? So he’s making a decent living off of freelancing? So he’s got power and talent and little of the expected responsibility?

“Agh,” Suguru snaps, and tears the information sheet off his wall with still-wet hands. The cat jerks its head up at the loud noise, startled. There’s bits of scrambled egg on its maw.

“Sorry,” he tells it apologetically. Setting the now clean pan into the dishrack, he stares down at Gojo Satoru’s face before crumpling it up into a ball. Again, the cat’s ears prick at the sound.

“You want to play with it?” Suguru asks, waving it around. “Go ahead. Not gonna do anything with it anyway. It was stupid.”

“Meow,” the cat replies almost hesitantly, but its head is following the crumpled sheet as it licks egg from its whiskers.

“I mean, I’m not some do-gooder,” he sighs, leaning back against his counter. “I turn down jobs if they don’t pay enough. I know there’s supposed to be this obligation to help people, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that. I’m selfish. But it’s not like I’m gonna kill some guy.”

“Mrow.”

“I mean, what were the chances I’d even find him? Maybe I could if I put a bit of effort into looking, but it’s a pain and it’s not worth it. Besides, he doesn’t deserve to die. Well actually, I don’t know that. Is it weird if I feel bad for him? Not on a personal level, since I don’t really know him, but—oh no. Do you think I’m forming some kind of parasocial relationship?”

The cat looks back down at its plate of half-eaten egg. Suguru waves the paper around to recapture its attention.

“I feel like I’m investing way too much time in this guy,” he admits. “To what, satisfy my own curiosity? What’s the point?”

He tosses the paper to the ground. The cat reaches up and bats it out of the air, sending it skittering underneath his small table set. Suguru makes to start for it, pauses, and decides it’s not worth his effort.

“Just forget it,” he sighs. “I dunno what my deal is. Maybe I’m just getting mad on his behalf. Thinking about how it could’ve been me or something, if I never tore up that enrollment form. I don’t have it in me to deal with all that rotten shit.”

The cat’s gone back to eating its egg, nosing around the plate for the last few morsels. Suguru smiles wryly. It doesn’t have a care beyond where to find its next meal or get its next head scratch. He’s a little envious.

He should probably let it back out soon, too. If not to go home, then to at least let it do its business since it’s been cooped up inside without a litter box all night. Suguru reaches over and opens his window, glancing back at it as it licks its face clean and washes itself with a dainty paw.

“You can leave whenever you like,” he tells it, half-hoping it will stay. “I’ll leave the window open for you.”

The cat halts its grooming and looks at Suguru. Suguru watches it back, holding his breath. Then the cat wriggles its rear and leaps onto the counter, picking its way behind the sink and hopping onto the windowsill. So it’s leaving after all.

He picks up its empty dish from the floor and sets it into the sink as the cat looks back at him over its shoulder. Suguru gives it a final pat on the head and its tongue pokes out to lick his hand, raspy against his skin. Then its legs tense and it leaps out his window, trotting off towards the woods.

“Come back soon,” he calls after it, and tries to ignore the sudden swell of loneliness as its tail bobs out of sight.

Suguru is not lonely.

He’s not. He has everything he needs right here in his little house in Hakone: a quiet town at the base of the woods, neighbors he doesn’t have to see too often, fresh food, and relatively modern technology with decent-ish internet service. He uses curses for transportation so he doesn’t have to pay car insurance and makes good pay as a freelancing sorcerer without needing to worry about writing reports and all the other junk that comes with working professionally. He gets his recommendations off the dark web and through his regular clients, and to be honest he’s doing quite well.

But lately he finds himself growing restless. The workouts he does to stay in prime curse-fighting shape suddenly aren’t enough to burn his sitting energy, and as the weeks go by he spends more and more of his free time twitching around the house looking for something to do.

The cat comes by every couple days, and that helps. Suguru realizes he still hasn’t come up with a name for it and gives up on trying; he’d just confuse it if it already has one. Whenever it’s there, he gives it something to eat and spends a few hours either playing with it or letting it sit outside with him while he works in the garden, which it seems to like. The cat stalks around and chases mice while Suguru pulls weeds out of his tomato patch and mixes fertilizer into his soil.

It’s whenever the cat leaves that the feeling of boredom strikes. He hates watching it go, disappearing through the trees and filling him with the uncertainty that it might not come back. Suguru wishes, selfishly, that it would just abandon its old owners and stay with him permanently. The thought of getting his own cat isn’t even appealing anymore—childish as it might sound, he wants this one.

His free time is spent thinking up ways to bribe it into staying and scouting out potential exorcism jobs in his area. Privately, he keeps track of updates on Gojo Satoru as well, although it seems that his recent activities have halted and sightings dropped roughly a month ago. It’s just idle curiosity. Wherever he is, Suguru hopes he’s doing alright.

And it’s on a Saturday that he finally relents and considers the fact that maybe, possibly, he’s the tiniest bit lonely.

The revelation strikes him as he’s transferring one of his tomato plants to a new patch while the cat curls up in a sunny spot on the grass, asleep. He pauses and leans back on his haunches, wiping the dirt on his work pants.

It’s lying there peacefully, nose tucked into its tail. With the way the sun reflects off its stark white coat and the green grass offsets its fur, it might as well be a runway cat. Smiling to himself, Suguru picks up his phone and snaps a few pictures.

His gallery is embarrassingly full of cat photos at this point. Anyone scrolling through would think it belonged to him—and perhaps think him a little obsessive, too. Suguru can’t be bothered about it. Not when he’s already started thinking of this cat as his own, despite it clearly belonging to someone else. It’s not like it’s wearing a collar.

Really, he thinks, tucking his phone away, any responsible cat owner should want to know where their beloved pet disappears to for hours, if not days on end. Suguru certainly would, if it were his.

Which it might as well be at this point.

He bites his lip.

If he follows it, he thinks hesitantly, he can at least figure out where it stays when it’s not with him. See who it returns home to at night after it’s exhausted the day with Suguru. Maybe even convince the owners to give it up, since he’s the only one who gives a damn about it. Right?

The cat yawns then, stretching its back in a long arc before getting lazily to its feet. It meanders over to Suguru and nudges its head under his dirt crusted hand, smearing soil all over the top of its ears. Suguru shakes his head, scratching behind them despite the fact that it’s just getting the cat dirtier. It never seems to mind, anyways.

“Mrrr,” it rumbles, lazy from the heat. It rubs itself along Suguru’s leg one last time before turning tail and trotting towards the woods. It’s leaving again, Suguru realizes, and his breath catches.

What better time than the present? He doesn’t even have to confront the owners today—probably shouldn’t when he’s got dirt streaked across his chin—but if he can just find out where the cat lives, then he can go on his own time. Figure out a way to persuade them. He can even pay them, if that’s what they want.

But by the time he’s made up his mind to follow, the cat has already vanished beyond the trees. Suguru curses and sets down his tools, rising to his feet and starting after it. If he doesn’t hurry, he’ll lose it entirely.

He steps past the tree line and studies the ground, frowning. The cat is nowhere in sight, but there’s a small, worn animal path that’s freer of bushes and low-growing foliage than the rest. Since it never seems to get any brambles caught in its fur, Suguru suspects that’s the path it takes.

He picks his way along it, pausing every now and then to push low-hanging branches out of the way and to unsnag his pants from poking twigs. It’s definitely not a path intended for a person. Suguru chews his lip, hoping it won’t be too late by the time he reaches the end. He still hasn’t caught even a glimpse of the cat’s bushy white tail, and the woods are only growing denser.

Shoving another branch out of his way in growing frustration, he pauses. Maybe it would be easier to search from above.

Summoning a curse would have probably been the smart thing to do from the start. Suguru berates himself for his own stupidity as a rift opens up behind him and his lithe, flight-capable curse slithers out. It settles on the ground so he can climb atop its back, then ascends a good three or four meters into the air—out of the range of the lowest branches, but still within the canopy.

“Well, this is easier.” He’s pleasantly surprised by his extended range of sight. The curse cuts slowly through the air as Suguru scans the dead leaves for a furry white body slinking noiselessly across the forest floor.

It’s not until he’s approaching the edge of the woods, where the trees peter off before the path into town, that he spots it. It’s a good fifty meters out, padding its way towards the tree line, and it doesn’t seem to have noticed him yet. It must belong to someone in town. Suguru urges his curse closer, slowly as so not to startle it.

He’s still twenty meters away when the cat finally stops. Suguru pauses, curious, and watches as the cat turns its head left and right like it’s checking for something. He’s considering calling out to it—but that might distract it, and then it might not lead him to its home—when the cat suddenly gives its head a hard shake.

The sunglasses topple off its face. Suguru’s mouth drops open in an ‘o’ of surprise. And then the cat is—

—suddenly no longer a cat.

His stomach bottoms out.

A man rises into a crouch from the cat’s former position, dusting off the knees of his all-black ensemble. A man with stark white hair and a pair of stunningly blue, crystalline eyes. He reaches forward and picks up the pair of fallen sunglasses, tucking them into his pocket.

“Holy fuck,” Suguru says out loud, unable to stop himself.

The man jerks around, eyes widening and arms going slack at his sides. His mouth drops open in a perfect imitation of Suguru’s. Suguru really cannot fucking believe this.

“Shit,” Gojo Satoru says.