What changes is this:
Geto Suguru does not say, how arrogant. He does not say, kill me if you want, there’s meaning in that too. He does not look at Gojo Satoru with unfamiliar indifference and he does not assume that he won’t understand.
Suguru says, “But, you felt it too, right Satoru?”
“When?” Satoru replies just to buy time, as though the memory of that day doesn’t hold his skull in a vice grip. The knife had struck hard and buried itself deep.
Suguru smiles and waits. The pull of his lips is both foreign and familiar, painful in the way it stretches his muscles taut. His skin looks like wax. Satoru studies his expression and thinks, ah, so it was gradual, so gradual that it became normal.
“I felt it,” he admits, and takes a step closer. The gap between them feels like a gaping chasm; if he doesn’t close it soon then Suguru will slip away. People walk by, eyes elsewhere but ears always open, and he wonders what they must think of what he and Suguru discuss in the middle of the busy sidewalk.
Suguru exhales and it sounds like relief. He looks happy —how long has it been? Years vanish from his face. Satoru thinks, it shouldn’t be possible for someone to take this much joy from three simple words.
“Honestly, I was worried it was only me who understood,” Suguru says, expression like the sun, and Satoru greedily soaks it in. “I can’t stand it anymore. I hate them. You get it, right?”
The truth is, Satoru does not care enough to hate anyone. He only cares enough to love someone, just one, one person. That’s what he tells himself, and he’s struck then by a deep selfishness.
It’s fine, he thinks, it’s fine if I let myself have this one thing—
What changes is this:
Geto Suguru does not assume Gojo Satoru won’t understand. Gojo Satoru does not correct him in this. If he has to feign his hatred to bridge the rift that’s grown between them, he will do it. In another universe, he might have thought twice.
In this universe, Suguru asks, “Will you come with me?”
Satoru doesn’t even hesitate.
“You what?” Shoko exclaims over the phone when he calls. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m not,” Satoru says, pressing his lips together. Did he make a mistake? Maybe. “I went with him.”
Suguru is in the hotel shower, rinsing away layers of afternoon sweat. Satoru rubs the back of his own sticky neck and wishes desperately for a change of clothes. He’s out of cash. Everything he’d had on him had gone towards paying for barely a day’s stay.
Shoko’s exhale crackles over the line. “Wow. Okay. And you’re what, going to help him murder people?”
He shrugs uncomfortably, then remembers she can’t see it. He’s killed people before; they all have. It’s not really murder in and of itself that’s the problem. “Well—I mean—Shoko, do you think it’s healthy?”
“Healthy for him to murder people? Are you serious?”
“No! Yes. Wait, okay. Like, me going with him. You know I noticed he wasn’t doing well before? And, I didn’t really say enough back then but now he’s really happy that I’m here, and…”
“Gojo,” Shoko says. “You can’t just kill people because it makes Geto happy. Do you even hear yourself?”
“Well, I didn’t say that.”
“Are you going to?”
“I mean…” he hedges. “I might? I don’t know. What if they deserve it?”
She snorts. “Do you think the law is going to care if they ‘deserve’ it? You’re a sorcerer, if you kill non-sorcerers, then you’re a Curse User.”
“Fine,” Satoru replies in frustration, tapping his nails against the empty wooden dresser. Neither of them brought along any clothes. Suguru’s travel bag is somewhere else. He hasn’t told him where yet, and Satoru hasn’t asked. “Then I guess I’m a Curse User.”
“Oh my god, you are serious. You’re nuts.”
“I don’t want to be a bad friend,” he hisses into the line, because Suguru’s shower is cutting off which means he might hear him through the walls. Normally he would call himself the perfect friend, but clearly he isn’t if Suguru went this long without confiding in him. He came so close to losing him altogether. The thought makes him shiver.
“So what about me?” Shoko demands, a last ditch attempt to shed some sanity on the situation, probably. “You’re both gonna leave me here by myself?”
“...Nanami and Ijichi are still there.”
“Yeah. Because of Haibara.”
“Oh.” He winces. Suguru had been closer to Haibara than he had been, and he knows he’d taken it hard. He can only imagine how Nanami must feel. “You’ll have Ijichi?”
“Gojo, I can’t believe you,” Shoko says, sounding thoroughly exasperated. “Actually—you know what? I don’t know why I’m surprised. Just...see if you can convince him to come back, alright?”
He sits on the edge of the bed, picking at the stiff linen. “Yeah.”
She sighs through the phone. “Take care of yourself.”
“Yeah. You gonna tell Sensei anything?”
“Hah, no way. I’m totally clueless here, don’t know a thing.”
Satoru can’t control his grin. “Thanks. You’re the best.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“Fuck’s sake, Gojo, hang up.”
They check out of the hotel later that day, after borrowing a laptop and ordering every essential they could think of to an address Suguru insists is safe. Then they return the laptop back to the lobby where they’d found it. Hopefully the snoring man they’d lifted it off of won’t notice the dip in his bank account for a while.
“So what now?” Satoru asks as they step outdoors. His hands aren’t shaking, but he thinks Suguru’s might be. His long hair is finally dry from his shower, loose around his neck. “Are you wearing the same clothes?”
Suguru plucks at his sweater. “I changed my underwear.”
“Look, all I have are the outfits I packed to take with me to that shithole village, and one of them is covered in blood,” Suguru says, sounding somewhat defensive. “It’s fine, I’ll figure out a way to wash them after we get to where we’re going.
“And where is that?” Satoru asks, lifting an eyebrow. For all his beaten hero bravado earlier, Suguru suddenly seems incredibly nervous.
“Well,” he begins hesitantly. “There’s something else I still need to tell you about.”
And that’s how Satoru gets acquainted with a pair of traumatized twins who barely make it past his knee in height. Suguru leads him into an empty warehouse with a broken lock and crouches beside them to whisper something soft, placing a gentle hand on their heads while Satoru stands in the background and gapes.
“What is this?” he hisses when Suguru finally stands, turning to look back at him. “Suguru, you didn’t tell me you kidnapped kids.”
“I rescued them,” Suguru snaps, then shoots the girls a reassuring smile. They cling to each other harder. “They’re sorcerers. That village was treating them like animals.”
Satoru stares, incredulous. “But you left them alone in a dump like this while you wandered around Shinjuku? What kind of caretaker are you?
Suguru glares, but it’s laced with a twinge of uncertainty. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Clearly in over his head. The problem is, so is Satoru.
“I don’t know how to take care of kids,” he tells Suguru insistently. “How are we supposed to raise them? We don’t have any money. I left my card back at the school. And my family’s going to cut me off the minute they figure out I’m gone.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Suguru replies, and then his eyes harden with determination. “We always do.”
“Are you scared?”
Satoru pauses. Looks at him. Really looks at him, from his freshly clean hair to his slightly stale sweater to the disappearing bags under his eyes. The line of his jaw as it tightens. He inhales.
“Bastard,” he mutters on the exhale. “No way. We’re the strongest.”
Life is not easy and raising two kids on minimal funds is the worst job in the world. This is what Satoru discovers and it pains him to no end.
“If I knew this is what leaving with you would be like, I would have stayed at the school,” he groans, and luckily Suguru knows him well enough not to take serious offense to that.
Still, the dynamic has shifted. Things have changed. It will take some getting used to, Satoru thinks as he watches Suguru peel clementines for the girls in the apartment they’ve broken into. Once upon a time, Suguru wouldn’t have dreamed of doing something like this. Now he doesn’t care, because it belongs to a ‘filthy fucking monkey’. His words, not Satoru’s.
And yet somehow Suguru appears more at ease now than he has at all this past year. Satoru doesn’t like that it took him so long to notice something had been wrong. He’d caught glimpses but it’s truly apparent in the way that Suguru now moves with his previous grace, shoulders unburdened. His eyes smile whenever he catches sight of Satoru.
Did he give validity to Suguru’s beliefs by agreeing to come along? Him, who is in no way a good representation of right and wrong?
He sits at the kitchen table and flicks idly through the apartment owner’s mail while the scent of citrus fills the air. The girls creep around with wide eyes and sticky fingers, meekly holding up their bowls for Suguru to place another piece of fruit into. They’re more comfortable around Suguru than they are with him.
“Suguru,” Satoru says when they wander back out of the kitchen to sit on the sofa with their knees tucked to their chests. “Can we talk?”
Suguru looks at him. His hair is tied up loosely. Wisps hang around his face.
“Sure,” he says easily, and rinses his hands. Then he comes to sit beside Satoru at the table. “What’s up?”
The way he neatly crosses his ankles is familiar. His voice still carries that gentle cadence. He is exactly the same, and yet they somehow ended up here, living in a stolen woman’s apartment and hiding from the law. Satoru’s never felt more unsettled in his life.
“I just…” he waves his hand vaguely. “What we’re doing. You think it’s worth it?”
Suguru stares at him, surprised. Does he look like someone who just a few days ago killed over a hundred people? Satoru studies his face. He looks healthier. There’s an eyebrow hair that’s sticking slightly out of place. Without thinking he licks his thumb and smooths it down.
Suguru doesn’t jerk back, but his eyes widen a fraction further. “Satoru?”
“What are you doing?”
“Fixing your eyebrow. Do you think it’s worth it?”
“Was fixing my eyebrow worth it?”
“No, the other thing.”
“Oh.” Suguru picks up the woman’s discarded water bill, sliding a finger under the flap and tearing it open. “Yeah, I think it is.”
Satoru studies him closer. “You’re not mad that I asked?”
Suguru looks back at him. He rolls his eyes. “Seriously? I’m not gonna flip out if you question me. I thought about this a lot, you know.”
“What did you come up with?” Satoru asks, and Suguru straightens up.
“It’s not fair,” he says simply, laying the water bill down on the wooden surface. “It’s not really about the lack of gratitude—do you think I care if I don’t get a thank you because none of them can even see what’s killing them? But they keep creating them, Satoru, and we don’t, but we’re the ones dying. People keep dying. Haibara died, Riko died. Those girls in there—they were going to die.”
He can get that. Really, he can. What Satoru doesn’t understand is how the hatred has burrowed so deep that Suguru can only look at non-sorcerers and see ugliness. How anyone has the emotional capacity to hate that much. He doesn’t think he’ll ever grasp it.
He keeps his mouth shut, because he’s uncertain. He doesn’t want Suguru to doubt him too and slip out in the middle of the night so he can disappear for good. He says, “I see.”
“And, I didn’t think you’d come with me,” Suguru continues. He’s grinning sheepishly now, rubbing the back of his neck like he’s reluctant to admit it but pleased all at once. “I know you’re not ready to jump into this the way I am, I can tell. I’m not expecting you to do my work for me. There’s other options. I just—”
He pauses. “I thought I’d be on my own.”
“Like I could leave you on your own for two seconds. You’d miss me too much,” Satoru says automatically, as though they haven’t been apart more often than ever this past year. Force of habit. At least Suguru is taking to the teasing again.
“I was prepared to leave you, you know,” he retorts wryly, raising an eyebrow. Satoru reaches out and pushes his thumb against it again. “Hey, quit—is it still out of place?”
“Yup,” Satoru lies. He sits back in his chair, pulling his hand away when Suguru jerks his head to bite it. “What’re we gonna do for money?”
They make do.
Suguru starts a cult. Satoru picks up another couple kids. Shoko calls him again months after their first conversation and asks why he hasn’t changed his phone number.
“I mean,” Satoru says with a shrug, watching Megumi chase Mimiko and Nanako around with a worm on a stick in the backyard of their newly acquired house. They’re shrieking. Tsumiki is reading beside him on the porch steps. “What’s anyone gonna do? Track us down and fight me?”
“You’re insane,” she tells him conversationally. “Do I hear kids?”
“Yeah, we adopted.” He reaches over and tugs lightly on a lock of Tsumiki’s hair. “There’s four of them.”
“Congrats on the marriage.”
“Thanks, Suguru proposed and it was so emotional I cried.”
“Did he really?”
“No,” Satoru sighs. “He started a cult.”
“Oh, shit. I thought you said he was ‘healing’.” There’s a squelch in the background. She must be in the morgue.
“Well, healing is a very loose term.”
“It’s really not. Crap. Hold on, I just got squirted with urine.”
Something clatters over the line. Satoru listens to her swear and highers the volume so Tsumiki can hear it. It’s pretty funny, so he doesn’t know why she looks at him reproachfully over her book.
“Look,” he tells Shoko when she comes back to the phone, lowering the volume again. “This hasn’t been super easy. The cult’s mostly for money—it’s a religious cult, actually, and he exorcises people if they pay him. Plus there’s a bunch of bigwig chairman and CEOs and people who bring in cash. They used to be part of that Time Vessel Association thing.”
Shoko whistles. “Damn, you’re working with those sick fucks?”
“Not working with them, just milking them for cash. Geez, Shoko.”
She snorts. “Still weird, considering the history between you guys.”
“Ugh, gross,” he replies, wrinkling his nose. “Don’t make them sound like an evil ex.”
Shoko’s quiet for a good six seconds. “One day I’m going to dissect your brain so I can figure out where the root of that stupidity comes from. Is Suguru any less murderous yet?”
“Uhh.” Satoru glances at the girl beside him. “I think he likes Tsumiki even though she can’t use Jujutsu. Well, maybe he just tolerates her.”
“Oh, she’s Megumi’s sister.”
“Uh,” he says again. “Remember Zen’in Toji? The assassin that nearly killed us?”
“Get out.” Another squelch. He wonders which poor shaman’s corpse is taking the brunt of her surprise. Hopefully no one important. Suguru would gut him for that thought.
“He was going to be sold off to the Zen’in clan,” Satoru tells her. From the grass, Nanako starts wailing as the worm lands in her hair. Tsumiki shuts her book and climbs to her feet. “I’m a nice, considerate person, so I intervened.”
“You’re a nice, considerate nothing, Gojo. Take this seriously. You’re going to end up with a bloodbath on your hands.”
Right then and there, he elects not to tell her about the man Suguru already slaughtered a month ago—Sonoda Shigeru, the representative of the Time Vessel Association who’d ordered the hit on Riko. He’d called him up to the stage and then crushed him flat with a curse, spraying blood and gristle everywhere. It hadn’t made Satoru feel any sort of fulfillment or satisfaction—mostly disgust, when some of it splashed too close to his feet.
He clicks his tongue as he watches the kids play. Megumi’s pouting as his sister scolds him, his stick confiscated. They’re all going to need baths.
Satoru’s not cut out for this. He only just turned eighteen last month.
“You’re right,” he sighs. “I’m not nice. I might send Megumi the school’s way eventually. He doesn’t like me. Plus Tsumiki would be safer there too.”
“You think he’d kill her?”
“He killed his parents, Shoko.”
“Yes, but you know how he felt about his parents.”
Satoru drums his fingers against the wooden porch. “I know. Still.”
A sigh over the line. He wonders if the news is disappointing, if she’d hoped Suguru might make an exception. If there was still something left of the kind boy she met in her first year. There is, but when he’s around certain people it’s harder to see it. “Whenever you think is best, then. I can give Sensei a heads-up whenever you need me to.”
“That’d be good. Thanks.”
As he soon finds out, Satoru does not enjoy wearing hakama.
“Suguru,” he mutters, eyeing himself in the full-length mirror. “This isn’t...it’s not super comfortable.”
At the other end of the room, Suguru adjusts the strap of his gojo-gesa. How he’s wearing so many loose layers of fabric is unfathomable. “You can’t go in a hoodie and jeans, Satoru, we discussed this.”
“It’s so stifling,” he complains. It makes him look cool, which he enjoys, but the rest is unwelcome. He prefers slimmer fits without fabric flapping around his legs the way Suguru likes it.
Suguru passes him a plain black haori. “Put this on too.”
“Can’t I just wear a suit and tie?”
“You’ll look out of place next to me.”
“Not if you wear one too.”
“I’m the leader of a religious cult,” Suguru says pointedly. “I have to dress the part.”
“What if I pretend to be your bodyguard?”
Suguru turns around and studies him from head to toe. “You look nice like this, though.”
“Oh.” Something in Satoru’s brain short-circuits at that. He looks down at his gray hakama and black kimono. “Wait, you think so?”
“Yeah, you look all regal.” Suguru’s speech is slightly muffled now from the hair tie he’s got between his teeth as he gathers a section of hair into his usual up-do. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
Too late, Satoru can already feel it inflating like a hot-air balloon. He glances back at the mirror and gives himself another critical stare. The haori brings it all together. He really does look regal. “Wait, where’s my deodorant? My pits are going to reek under all this fabric.”
“Hold on.” Suguru finishes tying up his hair and digs through his own dresser before tossing Satoru an unopened package. “I got this new kind the other day, it’s an anti-bacterial spray. It works pretty well.”
“Nice, thanks.” Satoru tears open the packaging and gives it a sniff. Then he shrugs off his haori and wriggles an arm awkwardly through the neck of his kimono while Suguru frowns, likely irked by the fact that he’s messing up his clothes. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”
“You’ll make us late,” Suguru mutters, checking his phone. “C’mon, seriously.”
“I’m done, I’m done.” He spritzes it another few times before tossing it onto the bed and hurriedly readjusting his collar. “Does it really matter if we’re late? It’s not like this is a friendly meeting.”
“I mean, the outcome’s going to be the same regardless,” Suguru shrugs. “But I’d rather we look like we know what we’re doing. Coming in late leaves a bad impression.”
“Or it could work as a power move.”
Suguru snorts. “Or it could piss them off and we won’t get their money.”
Satoru rolls his eyes, following Suguru out of the bedroom. “They’re going to be pissing themselves from the start. They won’t say no.”
“The sooner we get there, the sooner we finish.”
That shuts Satoru up. They double check to make sure the kids are all accounted for, remind them not to open the door for anyone, and step outside. Suguru summons a curse.
“Get on,” he tells Satoru with a jerk of his head.
“I prefer public transportation, honestly.”
“Shut up and get on.”
He shuts up and gets on, sitting side-saddle on the curse to avoid ruining the pleats of his hakama. Suguru shuffles on after, his own posture awkward from his bulky clothing. Satoru laughs. “You need a better flying curse.”
“I know,” Suguru grumbles, smoothing his gojo-gesa as the curse takes off. “This one’s fast but it’s clumsy. There’s this one giant bird curse I’ve been hearing about, I think I’m gonna go take it.”
“What kind of bird?”
“Pelican. We’d sit in its mouth.”
All in all, the meeting takes twelve minutes after they arrive. Two for introductions to happen, three for Suguru to make his appeal, one for the screaming to die down after Satoru flicks his fingers and pops a man’s skull out of existence, and six for the checks to get written. They leave several million yen richer, a business deal under their belt, and considerably bloodstained since Satoru forgot to account for the arterial spray.
Well, Suguru’s bloodstained. Satoru rarely turns off his infinity these days.
“I just got these dry-cleaned,” Suguru mutters, holding up a fistful of his robes. “This is way too inconvenient.”
“At least they’re black,” Satoru replies distractedly.
Suguru makes a noise of agreement. “Sure, but they’ll start to stink if I don’t wash out the blood.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
“I might just get a new set. We have enough money for it, anyway.”
“Maybe I’ll get ten new sets. Super pricey fabric, too.”
“I also ate the rest of the caramel cake you left in the fridge,” Suguru continues, shooting him a weird look out of the corner of his eye.
Satoru blinks. “What? Oh. That’s fine.”
Is Suguru telling him so they can pick up more? Maybe they can stop at the store on their way back. But Suguru is squinting at him like there’s something wrong.
“Are you okay?”
Satoru looks back. “Huh? Yeah, why?”
“Nothing. You seem…” he trails off, then shakes his head. “That was Purple, right? I’ve hardly seen you use it.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s super destructive so I try to limit it. It’s what I used on Megumi’s dad actually.”
“Wow. Don’t tell him that.”
“I wasn’t going to!”
“Just checking.” Suguru’s smiling a little. “Seriously though, are you okay? You look a little off.”
“Yeah, I’m good.” He’s thinking about what it felt like to kill that man, actually. If he’s being honest, it didn’t feel like much. Like stepping on a spider or an ant, only realizing when you see the smear on the bottom of your shoe. Would it feel the same way with all non-sorcerers? The old lady at the street stall who sells them fruit? The little boy who rides down their street on his bike? Tsumiki?
The obvious answer is no; he knows those people, he’s formed a connection with them. He sneaks a glance at Suguru. Would it all feel the same to him?
“Let’s pick up something for the kids on the way home,” he says instead, gesturing for Suguru to bring out his curse. “Man, it’ll feel weird to walk into a shop dressed like this, though.”
“Other people do it,” Suguru tells him. “It only feels weird because you’re not used to doing it.”
“And it doesn’t feel weird to you because you are used to doing it.”
Suguru snorts. “Just act confident and you’ll be fine. Actually, just act the way you always do.”
“Cool and sexy?”
Satoru laughs, short and startled as the curse swoops into the sky. Suguru reaches out and steadies him by his forearm with a warm hand.
Ten months after Suguru says will you come with me and ten months after he agrees, Satoru kisses him.
He doesn’t mean for it to happen. It just simply does, fueled by impulse and years and years of this desire he never knew existed until that very moment. Slotting his lips against his right then is suddenly the most natural thing in the world.
It happens like this: they walk onstage. A crowd amasses below, shifting uneasily as they stare up at them. The last of the Time Vessel Association, brought together under the guise of a religious gathering to celebrate the longevity of the revered Master Tengen. Satoru stares out at their faces, trying to figure out if any of them appear familiar. He hadn’t really been in his right state of mind as he’d held Riko’s body that day.
“I’ll handle it,” Suguru whispers to him, just before he flicks on the mic. “Don’t worry.”
“Who’s worried,” he breathes back. Suguru huffs in amusement.
“Thank you for gathering with us today,” he speaks into the microphone. “We’ll get started shortly.”
The crowd whispers among themselves. Likely, they’ve grasped that something isn’t quite right. Suguru smiles, charming and beatific, and raises his hand.
His voice rings out across the cavernous room, magnified by the microphone. The crowd stills. Suguru halts and looks at him, eyebrow lifted in a silent question.
“Wait,” Satoru tells him again. He catches Suguru’s wrist and lowers it. The bubbling rift in space behind him closes. “I’ll do it.”
“You’ll do it?” Suguru echoes. His eyes search Satoru’s face. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah.” Whatever it is—self-affirmation, a test of resolve—it doesn’t matter. He’ll do it. It’s as simple as that. The surprise hasn’t left Suguru’s face just yet, but he nods and steps back, wrist breaking free of Satoru’s grip.
“Okay. Go ahead.”
He doesn’t bother making an announcement the way Suguru had. He leaves the mic in Suguru’s hands and walks forward, rapidly calculating range and the size of the room and the number of people there. He lifts his arms.
The crowd surges back, and then they disappear.
It’s utterly silent in the dome. Then a series of wet splats as torsos hit the ground one by one, followed by the soft shaaaaaah of rain pattering against dirt. The stink of blood is all at once everywhere. A faint red haze fills the air.
“Damn,” he says, walking forward and pausing at Satoru’s side. “Just like that.”
Just like that indeed. Satoru waits for the feeling of catharsis, but it doesn’t come until he turns towards Suguru and meets his awestruck gaze, freckled with blood and wide open. Satoru’s face is, as always, perfectly clean.
“The view’s that way,” Suguru teases breathlessly when he notices, thumbing a drop of blood off his nose. “C’mon, you’re missing it.”
“No I’m not,” Satoru says, and leans in.
Suguru doesn’t hesitate the way he thought he might. He surges forward just as eagerly, lips colliding with Satoru’s and pressing against them clumsily. It’s the first time Satoru has ever kissed anyone. It feels like it’s the first time Suguru has ever kissed anyone himself.
It’s messy. The blood on Suguru’s skin smears onto his own, Infinity finally lowered. It’s long since cooled but it scorches all the same as Satoru reaches up and grips a handful of Suguru’s hair. Suguru inhales sharply.
“What,” Satoru murmurs against his mouth. Suguru responds by burying his fingers in Satoru’s own hair, nails scraping a line over his scalp.
They break away when they finally run out of air, faces inches apart. Suguru’s cheeks are flushed.
“I didn’t expect that,” he laughs, and Satoru’s cheeks go warm in response. Suguru knocks his forehead into his. “I didn’t say I minded.”
“You’re crazy,” Satoru says, releasing the grip he has on Suguru’s hair and robes. He can feel himself grinning as he gestures towards the room full of mangled bodies. “Seriously, you’re insane.”
Suguru shoves his shoulder. “I’m not the one who leaned in, idiot.”
“Well, you’ve officially received the death penalty,” Shoko tells him over the phone the next time he calls her. “Nice job.”
“Oh, for real?” He scratches his cheek. “Crap. Oh well.”
“What did you expect? You killed over a hundred people.”
“You don’t sound angry.”
Shoko is silent for a long, long time. Satoru has to double check to make sure she hasn’t hung up. “Shoko?”
“Well, I’m glad I’m hiding it so well, Gojo. Did you want me to be angry? There, I am angry.”
Her voice is eerily detached. It’s unsettling, the way Suguru was unsettling when he walked and talked and sat beside Satoru the same as always when just days before he’d been an echo of his old self.
“Shoko,” he says uneasily.
“I have to sit here and take this shit, you know.”
His stomach pinches. “I’m sorry.”
“Sure,” she agrees, without a drop of emotion. “You’re sorry. Apology accepted.”
“I didn’t mean to leave you behind. But Suguru—”
“No, I know,” Shoko says. “No need to explain. I’m cutting my losses. It comes with the job, so I’m used to it.”
Satoru can’t find the right words to say, so he stares at the wall instead. Maybe he should hang up.
“If you were ever thinking of bringing us those kids, it should happen sooner rather than later.”
It’s strange, the thing they have. An odd little family, with far too many children and far too few responsible parental figures. Suguru’s the most reliable, but even he’s no father.
“You’re like a big brother,” Mimiko tells Suguru, nose wrinkling. Then she looks at Satoru. “And you’re just. Weird.”
“I’m the fun uncle,” Satoru protests. Megumi sticks his finger in his mouth and makes a retching sound. Satoru wishes he knew what he ever did to the kid to make him hate him this much—shouldn’t he view him in some sort of savior light? Didn’t he rescue him and his sister from the horrible fate of being treated like tools and garbage? It’s rude.
“I guess I’d rather be a brother than a dad,” Suguru shrugs, accepting his role easily. “I’m not that old, I’m just nineteen. Wait, Satoru, do I look like I could be a father?”
“Yeah,” Satoru replies. “You’re getting crow’s feet.”
“Haha.” Suguru rolls his eyes, but Satoru knows if he peeks in the bathroom later he’ll see him prodding the corners of his eyes for invisible wrinkles. He’s so concerned with appearances lately. “I’m not the one with white hair.”
Satoru runs a hand through it and strikes a pose. “All natural, baby.”
Megumi’s face is hilariously disgusted. He hops onto the couch beside Suguru and pokes his bicep. “Hey, hey, get control of your...”
He doesn’t really seem to know what to refer to Satoru as, so he just ends up gesturing to all of him. “That.”
Suguru snorts out a laugh before hiding an impish grin behind his hand. “My that. He’s such a weirdo, right?”
“Hey,” Satoru says, disliking the fact that he’s being picked on by both his best friend and his seven-year-old charge. “Be more polite to me, like your sister is. Where is Tsumiki, anyway?”
Megumi shrugs, digging under Suguru’s thigh for the softcover book he’s partially sitting on top of. Suguru shifts to let him pull it out. “Playing with Nanako in her room. I don’t know, some dumb girl game.”
“Girl games are fun,” Satoru says, wiggling his eyebrows, and Suguru throws a pillow at his face. Then he turns to Mimiko.
“Mimiko,” Suguru says. “Go call your sister, okay? You two need to go get your laundry from the dryer.”
Mimiko heaves out a long, dramatic sigh, and hauls herself off the couch. “Okaaaay.”
Satoru watches her go, then turns to Suguru and sets the pillow down in his lap. “The dryer isn’t finished, you know.”
Suguru waves a dismissive hand as he digs for his phone, flipping it open. “It’s fine, they can wait in there for a few minutes for the clothes to finish.”
Suguru looks up from his phone. His eyes catch Satoru’s. And then his face shifts, so subtly it’s almost impossible to tell, but Satoru knows he understands what’s being communicated.
Megumi lifts his head from his book, eyes flickering between the two of them like he can sense something isn’t quite right. His hands curl a little tighter around the edges of the book, crinkling the paper. And then the dryer buzzes in the background. Suguru’s face returns to normal.
“Oh,” he shrugs, and goes back to his phone. “There it is.”
The kitchen counter is cold against the small of his back as he leans against it. There’s a draft coming through the window behind him even though it’s closed; they still haven’t been properly sealed.
“You don’t like her,” Satoru says. There’s a thing that hasn’t changed; he confronts Suguru just as easily now as he used to back then. Suguru’s shoulders twitch in preparation for a fight. He’s filled back out over the months, body rippling with tight muscle.
It’s been over a year, after all. He’s far removed from the hollow-cheeked, baggy-eyed person he became during their third year.
“Don’t like who?” Suguru asks evenly, turning around and closing the refrigerator. The kids are watching a movie in the room over. If they keep it at its current volume, they won’t hear a thing.
“Tsumiki,” Satoru replies. He narrows his eyes. “Suguru, I’m not kidding. You better not touch her.”
He supposes he’s been waiting for this. Suguru has never outright said it but it’s implied every time Suguru’s hands grow bloody and his smile turns raw. Every time he grimaces when someone brushes by him in public, the way his body tenses and his lips thin.
Suguru doesn’t immediately reply, and something unfamiliar settles in Satoru’s stomach. Dread.
“Listen,” Suguru is saying. The peach in his hand gets set on top of the counter, rolling a bit before it bumps against the backsplash. “Satoru, listen to me.”
“I’m listening,” Satoru snaps. “I haven’t even done anything yet.”
“Just making sure,” Suguru says. He folds his arms and leans back against the granite. Non-threatening posture, as though it makes much of a difference. “Look. Of course I don’t hate a little girl.”
Satoru feels some of the fight flicker out of him. He frowns. “I can tell by the way you look at her sometimes.”
“It’s not about that,” Suguru exhales. From the living room, Mimiko and Megumi begin arguing over the blanket. “It’s about the vision I have for this world.”
Satoru can’t help it. His lip curls.
“Wearing those monks’ robes is getting to your head, huh?” he sneers. “Look at you, talking about your vision.”
“Hey,” Suguru says, hackles rising again. “You know what I set out to do. What happens if I start making exceptions? We’ll never make any real progress. The point is to only leave those who can’t birth curses—”
“Well it’s a fucking shitty plan!”
The voices from the living room go quiet. The movie continues to play in the background, animated battle cries and clanging weapons echoing through the house. Suguru’s eyes go hard.
“Satoru,” he says coldly, in a tone he hasn’t used before. “Get out.”
“No, fuck you!”
“If you can’t handle it, you can leave!” Suguru nearly shouts. The living room is still dead silent. “Take him and his sister and go!”
Satoru sees red. “How fucking stupid are you? They’ll hear you!”
“They’ve already heard, dumbass!” Suguru steps forward, hand twisting into his shirt. “I’m not the one who started yelling!”
Satoru bares his teeth, presses a palm against Suguru’s chest. “Get your hands off me, Suguru.”
“Are you going to leave?”
“Then no! I know you don’t even want to be here, I know your heart’s not in this like mine is. If you took it seriously this could’ve been over months ago—”
“Quit being petty,” Satoru snaps. “I’m not leaving you. Do you really think I would’ve given up my old life if I was going to leave this easily? You think I would’ve killed that roomful of people?”
“You did that because they’d personally wronged you, I’m not fucking stupid. Who else have you killed since then?”
“Sorry I don’t just go offing people I see on the street!”
“That’s not my point! You don’t even want to do this, do you think I want to try and force you? Convince you?”
“That’s a shit point.”
“Well, we clearly don’t see eye to eye.”
He shoves Suguru away, curling his hands into fists at his sides. “Yeah, ‘cuz we always agreed about everything before.”
“This is different!” Suguru cries angrily, throwing his hands into the air. “This isn’t about some stupid video game or a fucking—I don’t know, coffee flavor.”
“So you admit you’re being an extremist!”
“I didn’t—you—how did you even jump to that?”
They both freeze. Slowly, Satoru turns around to see Nanako peeking her head around the corner, shoulders hunched. Suguru’s expression goes through a myriad of phases before settling on guilty.
“Hey,” he begins.
“Do you want us to go to bed?” she says, so quietly it’s practically a whisper. “We can turn off the movie.”
They exchange looks. Asshole, Satoru mouths.
Suguru winces. He walks forward until he’s beside her, then crouches down and places a gentle hand on her head. “You don’t have to go to bed. I’m sorry, Satoru and I got loud. He was being an idiot.”
Oh, that’s a blatant falsehood. Satoru fumes, but keeps his mouth shut. No need to traumatize the already traumatized kids.
Nanako shakes her head. “We can turn it off. It’s okay. Tsumiki said she’s tired anyway.”
At the angle he’s standing, Satoru can see the way Suguru’s mouth pinches. He ruffles Nanako’s hair again. “If you’re tired, that’s fine, you can go to bed. But if you want to finish it, Satoru and I are done talking. I can pop you guys popcorn?”
She shrugs, still worrying away at her lip with her blunt front teeth. Suguru stands up, patting her back. “Go back and start the movie again, I’ll bring it to you.”
“Okay.” And she creeps back out, whispering for Megumi to press play.
Satoru eyes him as he turns to the cabinets, rifling around for a loose bag of popcorn. His posture is still tense, but whether he’s upset with himself for scaring the kids or with Satoru for what he said, it’s hard to tell.
“I’m not leaving,” Satoru repeats for good measure, and watches Suguru’s spine go rigid.
But then he breathes out slowly, without turning around. His shoulders relax.
“Fine,” he says.
They curl into bed that night, backs to each other. The kids take up two bedrooms alone and the third is furnished with a queen-sized bed. It would be a hassle to buy another, Satoru had said, and so they never have. This one is more than large enough to accommodate the both of them.
The curtains are partially drawn back as Satoru slips beneath the comforter, filtering in moonlight. It catches on specks of dust and the lenses of his sunglasses sitting on the nightstand. Satoru reaches out and angles them the other way so he doesn’t have to see his own reflection. Then he closes his eyes for good measure.
“It’s not like I want you to leave,” Suguru mumbles, just when Satoru thinks he might fall asleep. “The reason I’m doing all this—it started with you.”
He opens his eyes to stare at the far wall. Suguru’s robes are draped out over the back of a chair. “You should go to sleep.”
“I mean it. When Zen’in said he killed you—”
“—and when I saw the puddle of blood I really thought—”
“—you died. It was the worst moment of my life.”
Satoru focuses on his own breathing. It’s loud in his ears, blood roaring where his head is pressed against his pillow.
“I know I’m not as strong as you, okay? You can protect yourself better than I ever could. But I don’t want you to have to worry about protecting yourself anymore—or any of us, really. We shouldn’t have to.”
The stillness of the house hangs over them like a smothering blanket. Satoru strains his ears and hears Megumi cough from the bedroom farthest from theirs.
“How is it that you hate them so much?” he asks.
Suguru inhales softly. “How is it that you don’t?”
“I don’t know, I don’t hate anyone.”
The blanket shifts as Suguru curls his knees closer to his chest. His heels brush against the back of Satoru’s legs. He says, “Maybe you should send those two away, then.”
Satoru stares at the open closet door. “Who?”
“Megumi. His sister.”
“Her name’s Tsumiki.”
Somehow, that’s the response that drives it home. Satoru reaches out to fiddle with his sunglasses, knowing they’ll need to be cleaned of fingerprints tomorrow morning.
“Fine,” he says.
The concession sits strangely in his mouth. It tastes like losing something.
Their little family whittles down from six to four.
Megumi doesn’t cry when Satoru says he’s taking them to live at the school, but it’s a close thing. He hugs his backpack of belongings tightly and sniffles, eyes dry through sheer force of will.
Tsumiki doesn’t bother holding back. She hugs Mimiko and Nanako and bawls, and they bawl in return, messy tears and snotty noses and the most torn up expressions Satoru’s ever seen. They don’t understand why they’re leaving, and neither Satoru nor Suguru can tell them.
“Can they visit?” Nanako asks between sobs. Suguru looks stricken and Satoru realizes he isn’t going to be able to answer. He speaks for him.
“Maybe,” he offers uselessly, unwilling to lie and unwilling to refuse them. “We’ll have to see.”
It doesn’t appease them in the slightest. They hug Tsumiki tightly and Megumi’s eyes grow glossier the longer he watches, until finally he’s sniffling uncontrollably as tears dribble down his cheeks.
“Come on,” Satoru tells them, so he doesn’t have to see it anymore. He wants to explain to them that it’s for their own good—that he can’t possibly leave Suguru but they can’t possibly stay, not for it all to work. That they’ll receive a better life at the school anyway, at least until Megumi is fifteen and starts work as a sorcerer, unless he chooses to do something else. He won’t be encouraged to; the shaman world is painfully understaffed.
Instead he takes their hands and they walk to the train, boarding along with several curious passengers who eye the two crying kids with slight discomfort. Suguru stands far back, Mimiko and Nanako sobbing into his legs. None of them wave.
Shoko’s the one who meets them at the arrival station, perhaps because Yaga trusts he won’t hurt her. Satoru wouldn’t have hurt anyone they sent, but he supposes they can’t know that.
“What a mess,” she observes when they unboard. She’s grown taller. And she’s wearing heels. Her hair is a little longer, too. “Are you happy now?”
Satoru rubs the back of his neck. “Seriously?”
Megumi and Tsumiki have stopped crying but their cheeks are streaked with salt and their eyes are red-rimmed. They stare at Shoko with trepidation, hands clinging to the end of Satoru’s jacket like they’re afraid to let go.
“What do you think?” he bursts out. “This isn’t ideal, but it’s the best way.”
She snorts. “You mean for you. For Geto.”
“I mean for all of us.”
She stares at him like she doesn’t know him, then. Perhaps she doesn’t.
He kneels down, peeling their fingers loose from his clothes. “It’s alright. You’ll be fine, okay? Shoko will help you out.”
Tsumiki’s lip quivers. “Why do we have to leave? Is it because he hates me?”
Satoru’s breath halts in his throat. He hadn’t realized she’d picked up on it. “Suguru—he doesn’t hate you.”
They all wait for his answer. Shoko, Megumi, Tsumiki. Satoru swallows.
“It’s complicated,” he lies.
They fall into a routine.
Suguru collects money and curses. He collects followers, too, people who share his ideals the way Satoru doesn’t, and he might have been envious except Suguru makes it very clear that Satoru is his first, no matter what.
The girls grow older. They stop asking why and start asking how— how many should we kill, Master Geto, what’s the best way to do it? They ask him sometimes too, but he teases them and gives them all the wrong answers and eventually they stop.
Satoru’s routine feels more like stagnation.
He works at the fruit stall with the old lady during the summer, helps her unbox and carry in fresh pickings. It’s mostly because he’s bored. Sometimes he looks at her as she fusses over her apples and thinks, you’ll be dead anyway if Suguru’s plan works out.
He doesn’t actively work towards Suguru’s plan and he doesn’t actively work against it. There’s no joy in it; he takes pleasure in the ecstatic expression on Suguru’s face when he comes back successful from an endeavor, not from the river of blood he leaves in his wake.
Because as dull as he finds the idea, he still loves Suguru. There isn’t a single thing in the world that could make him despise him, and he thinks that even if Suguru committed the worst atrocities possible he’d care for him all the same.
So he occasionally kills curses and occasionally sells fruit, and Suguru occasionally kills people, and at the end of the day when they collapse beside each other in bed, breath mingling, Satoru pushes it all aside and kisses him. Oftentimes, Suguru tastes gross, so he’s developed the additional routine of mouthwash and hard candy and strong coffee to chase the bitter flavor of curses away.
“How many have you eaten?” he murmurs against Suguru’s chest one such night, listening to him breathe. Suguru shifts, fingers tapping lightly against Satoru’s skin.
“Today? Four,” he replies, a hint of disgust in his voice. “In total I’ve collected a little over three-thousand.”
“It isn’t enough?”
“Not yet.” Suguru exhales softly, breath fluttering against Satoru’s hair. “A lot of them are weak. I’m thinking of going after some of the Special Grades.”
“That’ll be dangerous.”
“You can help, if you want.”
Satoru rolls onto his back, throwing an arm out so that it lands on Suguru’s face. He can feel Suguru smiling into the crook of his elbow. “Of course I’d come.”
Suguru smokes. It reminds Satoru of Shoko, sitting on the windowsill of his room against a brilliantly orange sky, the tip of her cigarette glowing cherry-red. Hair falling into her dark eyes.
Smoke spirals lazily into the air, mixing with the sunset. Satoru sits beside him. It’s been a long time since he’s spoken to Shoko. Three years since he saw her at the station, two since their last phone call. It hadn’t connected; he’d dialed her and it had gone to voicemail.
“Megumi got picked up by the Zen’in family,” he tells Suguru. Suguru inhales and breathes out a hazy puff that curls back around behind his ears.
“Really,” he says quietly.
“Nothing I could do this time,” Satoru shrugs, though the motion feels tight. “Not unless I brought him back here. He’d never go anywhere without his sister, though. She ended up going with him.”
“It’s a shame.”
The silence between them is filled with the acrid smell of cigarettes. Satoru leans into his sleeve and drops his head sideways onto Suguru’s shoulder. His clothes smell good, like detergent. He makes a note to check which brand they’ve been using so he can buy it again.
“Wonder if he hates me now,” he sighs. Suguru stubs out his cigarette and drapes a loose arm around Satoru’s shoulders. It’s warm tonight. It’s summer again.
He waits for Suguru to say something, but it never comes. Perhaps that’s a little relieving; anything Suguru might have to say on the situation is not anything he wants to hear.
He might die for Suguru, if it came to it.
There’s no turning back anymore. He’d erased that chance ever since the day he chose in Shinjuku, renounced everything in exchange for another minute, hour, decade. What’s left is to stumble blindly forward with the reassurance that no matter what, Suguru will be by his side.
“How fucking unhealthy,” Satoru whispers to himself on the roof one evening, sprawled out on his back. There’s not a star in the sky.
He isn’t stupid; he’s self-aware. To plunge headlong down this path is a decision he made for himself. Even still, he doesn’t know what kind of person that makes him.
Certainly not a good one.
“They said it’s my job to kill the two of you,” Megumi tells him when Satoru sees him again. They run into each other outside a mall in Shinjuku, ironically. Satoru feels a bitter twist of deja vu. Megumi’s gone and grown up well, sixteen years old and brimming with cursed energy. There’s potential there. A lot of it.
Satoru looks him up and down, taking in his new Jujutsu Tech uniform. He remembers when he and Suguru wore those just the same, proud of their spiraled buttons and cocky like no one else. Megumi is not cocky now.
“Why are you telling me this?” he asks, a smile playing on his lips. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll kill you myself?”
Megumi is not cocky, but he is smart. His arms fold. “You won’t. I know you won’t. I just thought it might be fair if you heard it from me.”
Satoru laughs. “I raised you for over a year, remember? I’m a little hurt.”
Megumi looks at him then, expression strangely detached. “You know what I thought back then?”
He humors him. “What?”
“That you weren’t a bad person.” Megumi’s eyes are hard as slate and twice as cold. For a moment, Satoru sees Zen’in Toji in his place, cursed tool in hand. He remembers who Megumi has been raised by for the last six years. “I wanted to believe it. You were the first person to help me. But you knew what Geto was doing and you knew the way he thought of my sister. You could’ve stopped him. But all you did was send us back to the people you pretended to rescue us from in the first place.”
“And now? What am I?” Satoru asks, genuinely curious. He sticks his hands into the pockets of his jacket, letting the action provide the illusion of safety.
“A passive person,” Megumi replies. “I think that’s worse.”
He sees himself through Megumi’s eyes, then. Empty platitudes, a shell of kindness hiding a writhing mass of rot. A golden apple filled with worms. His arms around Suguru at night as he kisses away the stench of blood and tells himself it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.
If Suguru had healed, perhaps Satoru had not. Perhaps he’d only sacrificed himself and become complicit. He’s not passive, he wants to demand. He’s just stuck. But maybe there’s not really so great a difference between the two, not as great as he’d assumed. The smile on his face feels brittle.
“It’s not like I wanted it to come to this,” Megumi tells him as he turns away. He’s not strong enough yet and he’s alone, but he has others waiting for him somewhere. “I can’t save everyone. I’ve had to accept that.”
Satoru watches him go. It would be so easy to lift his hand, summon his technique, put a hole through him the way he put a hole through his father. End it all right there, eliminate the threat before it becomes one. Keep himself safe. Keep Suguru safe.
He doesn’t move.
“Megumi,” Satoru calls after him. The boy looks back, still breathing, a question in his eyes. “When the time comes, don’t hesitate.”