“What”, Toji says, fridge door wide open, “the fuck is this.”
“That”, Shiwoo says, turning over a page of his newspaper, “is a cauliflower.”
Toji snorts. “Looks like a brain.”
“You would know”, Shiwoo replies, raising an eyebrow.
He really would. Shiwoo chops and cooks the cauliflower that night and Megumi helps him with the seasoning while Tsumiki sets the table, and it does not look like a brain that much anymore.
Honestly, there was a time when Megumi really thought that Shiwoo was his father. The man certainly showed up at their door way more frequently than Toji did, and often had groceries with him instead of appearing empty-handed but for a cigarette pack and a lighter.
“Pay the electricity bill”, he demanded, one time, slamming the door in the man’s face immediately after, because honestly, what good was it to have the fridge full if they could not keep it on long enough for the vegetables not to rot.
The electricity had turned back on two days later. Tsumiki was suspicious of grocery man because, she insisted, at least cigarette man slightly looked like Megumi, while grocery man did not.
“I bet he is a pervert”, she would say, and Megumi would scroll his shoulders.
“If he gets off by giving us food, just let him”, he would answer, avoiding Tsumiki’s hand trying to slap his head for using crass words.
What he wouldn’t say was: my shadow has been moving weirdly for a while, but I just learned that I can actually manipulate it and I think I could probably strangle that man if it came to it . He had tried enveloping the kitchen in his shadows once and Tsumiki had not batted an eye. Somehow he did not think she would believe him.
It did not matter. The fridge was kept semi-full, and grocery man had never even tried to enter their house.
“Why do you even worship that Tengen vegetable”, Toji had asked, after Riko Amanai had been killed. Setting the bounty, admittedly, had been a stupid idea. Toji liked a challenge but he did not like money being swept from under his nose. Well, not really from under his nose. The horse race had been too compelling for him to leave his hideout (his horse had almost won, truly, he would be a billionaire by now if he just changed professions and started shooting horses instead), but really, fuck Yuki Tsumiko and her complete lack of morals. At least Toji did not pretend to fit in with the jujutsu world. He was a man of principles.
“Same as you. I get paid”, had said Shiwoo, shrugging, and then he had pointedly taken Toji’s cigarette away from his lips and stubbed it into the ashtray. Toji was not one to waste smokes like that but he could hardly protest as Shiwoo pushed him towards the bed. He liked smoking, but he liked fucking more.
After, Shiwoo had asked him: “So now that you do not have the money, how are you going to keep paying for your cigarettes and your kid’s food?”
“Clearly”, Toji had said, “I am going to bet on the right horse”.
Shiwoo had snorted.
“That’s your kid, you idiot”.
And so, Toji had learned that his kid, the kid of an invalid, of a reject, of a shunned-out failure, had acquired the Ten Shadows.
Shiwoo had said, with a technique like that, you can have the Zenin eating out the palm of your hand. Turns out, he was right. He met with Naobito and for the first time in years his scar did not throb when he looked him in the eye, and told him there was no contract anymore.
“Since he is so precious”, he told Naobito, “I am calling the shots”.
After all, the longer he kept Megumi, the longer he could keep extorting money from his oh so sweet family.
The old man was basically spouting flames from his giant nose when Toji had left with a generous sum of money in his pockets.
Then he had gone to his house.
“Kid”, he said to the squirt who had opened the door, all suspicious eyes and fierce scowl, “We won the fucking jackpot”.
Fuck blessings. He had really gotten the winning horse.
Megumi had not protested immediately, because cigarette man, or, his father, apparently, had arrived with a bunch of cash and gotten them take-away. But, the day after, he had asked: “Where is grocery man? He knows how to pay the bills. Also, we need new shoes”.
And so cigarette man had snorted, made a call, and then grocery man - Shiwoo - had taken Megumi and Tsumiki to the mall and let them choose whatever they wanted. As Tsumiki was looking at backpacks, he had turned to Megumi and said, winking: “Nice dogs”.
Megumi had blinked, then snarled at him: “What, you think I was going to let you take us wherever you wanted? They can get you down in an instant”.
“I know”, Shiwoo had said, “Keep it up”.
And then he had bought the shoes and the backpacks, clicked his tongue at Megumi’s trousers that were too short over his ankles, at Tsumiki pulling the sleeves of her jumper so to better cover her arms, and got them new clothes as well.
Megumi had learned about the Zenin that night, Toji looking at him proudly.
“So you are blackmailing them”, he had said.
“It’s called extortion”, Toji had answered, stubbing out his cigarette.
“Okay”, Megumi had shrugged, “Extort money for a better house, then”.
So now they cook roasted miso cauliflower in a pretty swell kitchen.
The circumstances of meeting Gojo Satoru again are slightly different to what Toji had originally planned.
He opens the door one day and the Gojo kid is standing there with a grin and a bag of sweets in hand.
“I heard you got the Ten Shadows with you, Fushiguro Toji”.
Toji huffs. “They really gossip a lot during those clan meetings, huh?”
“I wouldn’t know”, the Gojo kid says, “I never listen.”
But he had listened enough to know this.
“Why are you interested?”, Toji asks, and the Six Eyes sparkle behind dark sunglasses.
“I like strength”, he says, simply, and then proceeds to offer Toji free tuition at Jujusu Tech, with the clausole of him being responsible for training the kid.
“Can you even do that?”, he asks and Gojo smiles and says, I am the strongest, and I can do whatever I want.
“Besides, old man Naobito would be incredibly pissed off”, he adds, smirking. That is a really fucking good point, as far as Toji is concerned.
Well. Toji is not about to turn down a good deal.
At this point, Megumi is pretty used to weird men coming in and out of his life. He doesn’t even know what Toji, his father, cigarette man, whatever, and his weird partner-in-crime-and-in-the-bedroom grocery man Shiwoo did for a living before apparently using him to get money out of uncle dearest. As far as Megumi is concerned, as long as he and Tsumiki get food, and clothes, and a place to stay, it doesn’t really matter.
So he is used to weird men. Yet Gojo Satoru, not a man, a teenager, a kid who acts younger than him, is the weirdest of them all.
“Show me what you got”, he says, smiling, eyes bright, and Megumi calls his dogs, and then directs his shadows towards Gojo’s mouth to wipe his stupid grin off his face.
“What are you doing?!”, he asks, annoyed, and Gojo just grins harder and says: “Blocking you, of course”.
Megumi snarls and then throws himself at Gojo with everything he has. Which, he discovers, is apparently not much against him.
“It’s fine”, Gojo says as he pats his head and puts a plaster on his knee, “I’ll train you”.
In the span of two months, Megumi can summon three more shikigami, and can now use his shadows not to touch Gojo, never that, but at least to amortize the fall when Gojo throws him to the other end of whatever training ground they are using.
At the beginning, when Toji had told him about this new deal, he had expected Gojo to barge in everyday to train him. Tsumiki had been worried, and told him that if he was really that powerful, maybe he should rebel, and they should run somewhere far away. Megumi had no such fantasies. If Toji, who had no cursed energy, could keep a whole family in check, then he was powerful. The aura of the white haired guy had been something else all-together. So he had slipped into Tsumiki’s bed, and made shadows for her on the wall, and told her: “It’s fine, Tsumiki, I don’t mind. Maybe they’ll take me out of school, but you can still go. The food is good here”. Tsumiki’s hand had been soft on his hair as she had replied: “But how can I look out for you if we are not in school together?”
But Gojo, Megumi quickly learns, does not show up on school days. He comes on weekends, and trains Megumi all day, and then brings him back to his house, lets him bathe, and then ushers him and Tsumiki out to the city. They go see films, and they go karaoke, and Gojo pays for everything and lets Tsumiki try on his sunglasses.
“Don’t you have friends?”, Megumi asks, one day.
“Sure”, Gojo says, “Want to meet them?”
Megumi shrugs, and that’s how he meets Ieri Shoko.
“Is he tormenting you?”, Ieri asks.
“It’s fine”, Megumi says, “But I am surprised he has friends at all”.
Gojo laughs loudly and claps his hands. “Megumi, you are so funny! Come on, order dessert for us”.
Megumi doesn’t, as usual, but Gojo does, as usual, and makes sure to order one more for Tsumiki.
“Do you only have one friend?”, Megumi asks, paper bag swinging in his hand.
Gojo’s lips curl in a smile, but Megumi thinks it looks a bit like when his father grimaces and thumbs at the scar on his mouth, absentmindedly, like it still hurts, still aches.
“Yes”, he says after a beat, “I only have one friend”.
“Do you have friends?”, Gojo asks him a week later.
Megumi thinks, my classmates have no idea of what it means to skip a meal, and I am constantly with you on weekends, and I have to worry about becoming as strong as I am apparently worth to keep the money coming. Then he thinks about Gojo’s promise to bring him and Tsumiki to Dome City that weekend.
“Tsumiki is my friend”, he says, kicking his feet.
“Do you only have one friend?”, Gojo asks him, mocking.
Megumi looks him in the eyes and says, slowly: “Yes, I only have one friend”.
Gojo smiles at him so bright, and squeezes his hand hard when they get on the train back home. Megumi usually takes his hand away immediately but today he lets Gojo swing their arms together all the way back home.
“Don’t you think it’s weird, that he always takes the kids out?”, Shiwoo says one night.
Toji takes a drag of his cigarette. “Saves me the trouble to pretend I want to”, he says.
Shiwoo shakes his head. “You could stand to care a bit more.”
Toji is not afraid to admit he has no clue how to talk to Megumi and Tsumiki. Megumi’s gaze somehow feels like it carries more judgement on him than the entire Zenin family’s, and for some reasons, he thinks he would actually care about the verdict. Tsumiki is suspicious of both of them, fiercely protective of Megumi, and had once told him, eyes on fire, that she would call the police if Megumi ended up hurt in all this jujutsu bullshit. The notion is laughable but Toji had appreciated her determination.
If the Zenin ever taught him anything, it is how not to raise kids. He has no idea of how to do it, though.
He stubs his cigarette out. “They have fun with him”, he says, thinking, I don’t know how to let them have fun with me, and then rolls over in bed and carries Shiwoo with him and the conversation is over.
It’s a habit they got into as soons as they started living by themselves, when they were still hoping for their parents to come back, counting the days to their return. They would leave their spare key outside, under the welcome mat, so that if someone was to come back, they would always be able to open the door.
Shiwoo finds the key one night and scolds them and tells them it’s not safe and to never do it again.
Tsumiki looks a bit sad, but Megumi says, ignoring the fact that they have moved, maybe mum wouldn’t find the key, but, he tells her, she could knock. There is always someone home these days.
They don’t put the key back under the mat and even though Megumi sometimes wakes up in the dark, sitting up, heart beating, imagining the sound of doors opening and closing, the day after Toji is always eating his disgusting cereals in the kitchen, the smell of smoke constant but reassuring in the air.
One day, when he is around twelve, Gojo tells him, frustrated, watching him try to exorcise Orochi without success: “It’s like you are not even trying. Who are you doing this for? Think about that”.
Megumi doesn’t think he has felt this angry in his entire life when, admittedly, he has a lot of things to be mad about. He snaps: “I am doing this to bring food to our plates, something you wouldn’t understand a thing about”.
Gojo blinks. “So you are doing it for Tsumiki”, he says.
“Who else for?”, Megumi snarls, “I have no else that I trust”.
“Not even me?”, Gojo asks, pouting. Megumi has not seen him for a while. He looks tired. Megumi knows Gojo is the strongest and he knows he is always on missions, running around the country. Sometimes he disappears for weeks, but, Megumi realises, he never worries that he won’t show up again, each time with a different souvenir.
“No”, he scowls fiercely, and Gojo smiles at him.
“Megumi, let’s just go for dinner”.
Gojo was away all December and January so they pretend they are celebrating both their birthdays, in February. Tsumiki runs to the waiter to ask for candles and then the whole restaurant joins them as they sing Happy Birthday and the waiter takes their dessert off the bill. They run out of the restaurants giggling and giddy with the triumph of their fake celebration and getting free cake for no reason at all.
Toji knows the kid is fighting at school but he lets him be. He is not familiar with the feeling of being so wanted people want to buy you off, but he has lost enough money on horses to know that betting on someone means making them carry all your hopes, and dreams, and duties.
The fighting gets worse after Tsumiki and the kid always comes back with scraped knuckles. One day Megumi arrives home with a black eye and Toji knows that it was not by accident but he goes along with the pretense.
“Kid”, he says, feeling awkward, like he did not hear Megumi’s strained sobs echoing in his room the week after Tsumiki fell asleep, “do you do hand to hand with the Gojo brat?”
Megumi looks at him under his swollen eye and shakes his head slightly. This is also a lie but Toji just says: “Want me to teach you?”
The kid is good but he is better. He ends up trapping him against his chest and Megumi trashes around and hits him with his fists and Toji just keeps holding him in the closest thing to a hug he knows, and pretends not to feel his shirt getting wet.
He makes eye-contact with Shiwoo as he comes back home. Shiwoo gives him a thumbs up and Toji gives him the middle finger. Asshole.
“Do you ever feel just empty?”, Gojo says, with his bandages still on.
Megumi hums non-committedly and watches Gojo splayed on his bedroom’s floor. It’s a school night but Megumi has been skipping school so often, he doesn’t care.
“Megumi”, Gojo says, “Do you?”
Megumi crawls towards him, sets Gojo’s head on his lap and pushes it up so he can undo his bandages. They are disturbing, he is used to seeing Gojo’s eyes, if only through his sunglasses.
“I am training for nothing, now”, he says, and it’s as good an answer as any.
Gojo’s blue eyes appear as he continues untying his bandages.
“I killed someone today”, Gojo says, looking up at him. “He was my best friend”.
Megumi runs his fingers through his white hair and says: “I thought you only had one friend”.
“I used to”, Gojo says, smiling at him, sad, but smiling.
“Me too”, Megumi answers, and then he closes Gojo’s eyes with his fingertips and strokes his hair until his breathing gets a little bit easier.
Shiwoo eyes the Gojo brat suspiciously in the morning but Toji just eyes Shiwoo instead and hands him a cigarette in a universal ‘calm down’ gesture.
Gojo stays at their place the whole day. Shiwoo cooks his cauliflower and Gojo says, it looks like a brain, and Toji meets Shiwoo’s gaze and sees the slouch of Gojo’s shoulders and doesn’t say, you would know. News travels fast in the jujutsu world.
Megumi sets the table and they eat all together in complete silence and it’s a bit of a farce but the food is good.
The day after, Megumi tells him he will move to Jujutsu Tech before the year start.
“It’s easier”, he says, “I will be training anyway”.
“Okay, kid”, Toji says, “No need to get all red”.
Megumi blushes even more, then hovers around him a bit longer.
“What is it, spit it”, Toji says, annoyed. It’s not like the kid is shy.
“Can I”, Megumi starts, then closes his mouth, starts again, “Can I bring the spare key?”
Toji snorts. “What, you want it hanging to a fucking necklace? Just take it”.
Megumi nods, grabs the key by the entrance and scurries away. Weird kid. Everything Toji has is because of his technique and he still tip-toes around the house like he does not belong. He sighs. Jujutsu Tech would have done nothing for him but maybe it will be something to his kid.
They set up things in his new room together, by which he means, he puts a silly polaroid of him, Tsumiki, and Gojo on his nightstand - they had taken it in Shibuya, in one of those boxes where you can add decorations to the pictures, Tsumiki had liked it so much - and Gojo observes him opening his single luggage sitting on his bed.
“Do you like it here?”, Gojo asks, smiling.
“I have to clean”, Megumi says, smiling back.
Gojo laughs and grabs him by the waist to tickle him and calls him a brat and Megumi feels something like belonging.
They are always together, they have been for years, so it’s only natural, Megumi thinks. They are laying on the grass in the field near the training grounds watching the stars and Gojo says:
“You know, this is something you should do with your partner”.
“Yes”, Megumi says, “What’s your excuse?”
Gojo laughs and turns his head to look at him and his eyes sparkle.
“Megumi”, he asks, “have you ever had a crush on someone?”
Megumi turns towards him too, hands under his head, looks at Gojo’s bright eyes and bright smile, at his hair that is always so soft under his fingers and his hand that is always outstretched for him, and says, heart thumping in chest: “Never”, then adds, “You?”
Gojo smiles even brighter and answers: “Me neither”, and he takes Megumi’s hand, and squeezes tight, and Megumi squeezes right back and looks up at the sky.