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all these salmon and you decided to catch feelings

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The soft thunk of Maki’s battleship against the map is drowned out by Panda’s screech of excitement as it ultimately lands on the most expensive property tile in the game.

 

“YES! BOARDWALK!” Panda crows, as Maki huffs in irritation. “Pay up, Maki!”

 

Maki swears furiously under her breath but rifles through her slowly diminishing stack of cash to hand off a chunk of bills to Panda.

 

“You know, I think we should play with real money one of these days,” Panda muses, and Maki gives him an absolutely withering glare. “Up the stakes a bit.”

 

“I’ll kill you.”

 

Panda squawks in protest as Toge grabs the dice from the center of the map.

 

The three of them usually hang out on weekend nights, watching crappy horror movies or playing board games or holding competitions for increasingly stupid tasks -- who can stuff the most Oreos in their mouth, who can hold their breath the longest, who can drink the most hot sauce without needing water (Toge is proud to say he won that one).

 

Usually, there’s a fourth person with them. But Okkotsu Yuuta left over a year ago and somehow, Toge’s brain still hasn’t got the memo, because he feels his best friend’s absence like a phantom limb every day, off-kilter and awkward like the sensation of putting your foot in the wrong shoe.

 

Toge shakes his head and tries to return his attention to their messy Monopoly match. It’s unfair to his friends who are present and here for his brain to be constantly drifting to someone else oceans away. Panda is still arguing with Maki about something-or-other again; Toge idly tosses the dice as he listens to them go back and forth.

 

He ends up with snake eyes, and he snorts a little at the irony as he moves his little metal terrier forward. He’s about to land on the same square as Maki did, and, not wanting to pay the Boardwalk fee and also not above cheating, takes advantage of Maki and Panda’s continuing squabble to plop his token right on the starting square instead.

 

“Kelp,” he blurts out, interrupting the bickering, which has progressed to Maki threateningly brandishing a slipper at a frantically backtracking Panda.

 

“Oh, hey, it’s my turn, would you look at that,” Panda shouts, loudly and exaggeratedly, and Maki levels him with a look of utter loathing as he reaches for the dice.

 

As Toge collects his 200 and Panda busies himself with positioning his token, Maki’s scowl redirects itself to Toge.

 

“Did you skip to start?”

 

“Bonito flakes.”

 

Her scowl deepens. “Are you lying?”

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge lies.

 

“Because I could’ve sworn those dice said two and I know that would’ve landed you on Boardwalk.”

 

“Tuna mayo.”

 

Maki is unimpressed. “You know the glasses are just for curses. I have twenty fucking twenty vision, asshole.” She clears her throat. “Hey, Panda --”

 

Toge is saved from Maki snitching and Panda’s impending ire by a short series of raps on the door. Instead, they all share looks of mirrored confusion -- it’s nearly 1 AM, late at night; surely the other students are all sleeping, and Gojo isn’t one to knock so much as barge in the room if he isn’t just teleporting directly to your location.

 

When no one answers the door, the knocking continues, a little louder this time. Maki frowns again and stands up to answer it.

 

“Itadori, if that’s you, I’ll kick you into next week --”

 

The rest of Maki’s sentence dies on her lips. Curiosity piqued, Toge cranes his neck to see their mysterious nightly visitor hidden behind Maki’s silhouette. 

 

His jaw hits the floor, not that anyone can see it under his collar.

 

“Ah… um, I’m back?” Okkotsu Yuuta laughs sheepishly, and Toge’s world rights itself again.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

rice rice baby changed title to “BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN”.

 

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ...really?

rice rice baby: huh did someone say something

(the zenin bloodline ends with me disliked this message)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: WOW

rice rice baby: anyways

rice rice baby: did u guys see how fucking tall yuuta is now

rice rice baby: he used to be smaller than me???

rice rice baby: im the shortest in our year again :////

Panda Express: P sure youve always been the shortest

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

(the zenin bloodline ends with me liked this message)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: HAHAHAHA

the zenin bloodline ends with me: is that why youre so cold all the time

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yknow cuz heat rises

rice rice baby: im fucking anemic, asshole

the zenin bloodline ends with me: sorry what was that? i couldnt hear you from down there

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: 🙄🙄🙄BACK TO WHAT I WAS SAYING

rice rice baby: yuutas got to be like

rice rice baby: what

rice rice baby: 180 cm?????

rice rice baby: someone hold me😩

the zenin bloodline ends with me: “someone” just say yuuta. we know

rice rice baby: go shit yourself <3

the zenin bloodline ends with me: you have cursed speech baby not text!!

Panda Express: I’ll hold you if u want

(rice rice baby loved this message)

rice rice baby: when no one got me…i know panda got me

Panda Express: Ily bro

rice rice baby: ily2

(Panda Express loved this message)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ew

the zenin bloodline ends with me: im leaving

Panda Express: I’ll just add you again

rice rice baby: actually yes, please leave

the zenin bloodline ends with me: man you want to get beat up so bad

rice rice baby: what can i say im a masochist😌

(the zenin bloodline ends with me disliked this message)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: die.

 

---

 

Yuuta falls back into their lives seamlessly, like a missing puzzle piece. Gojo is overjoyed at his ten-times-removed (or whatever) nephew’s return to the country, and even more gleeful at seeing the rest of his students’ reactions -- Maki, Panda, and Toge all berate him heavily for keeping Yuuta’s homecoming date a secret, like he did with Itadori’s Jesus Christ-ass resurrection.

 

The first years (sans Kugisaki, who has made good on her promise of never forgiving him for unintentionally robbing her of a field trip to Kyoto) are all starry-eyed over his arrival as well. Itadori is enthusiastic as ever, especially after bonding with Yuuta over being on the jujutsu elders’ hitlist. Fushiguro pretends to act cool and aloof, but Toge can tell that he too is excited to have his favorite upperclassman back at Jujutsu High.

 

And the second years, of course, are all elated beyond description. Panda had shed messy tears of joy into Yuuta’s shoulder when he showed up at the door that first night. Maki isn’t much for emotional outbursts, but even so, her eyes had seemed just the slightest bit watery behind the glasses. And Toge can’t remember the last time he’d cried -- but as Yuuta had enveloped him in a full-bodied hug, frame so large he engulfed Toge entirely, he felt that familiar sting in the corners of his eyes again.

 

Being with Yuuta is so easy, and it’s second-nature, the way the routines of their daily lives shift ever so slightly to accommodate the other once more.

 

So easy, except for one thing: Toge can’t stop thinking about how tall he is now, how broad he’s become in the year apart. He’s always thought Yuuta was kind of cute; like a puppy, in that nervous, blushing, bumbling kind of way -- but he thinks maybe “cute” isn’t the right word anymore.

 

They’ve both outgrown their previous spiky hairstyles, but while Toge’s makes him look like a stereotypical pretty boy according to Maki (“And I mean that in the worst way possible,” she had clarified), the way that Yuuta’s smooth black locks fall loosely around his face, emphasizing the sharp angles of his cheekbones, the intensity of his eyes --

 

Yuuta is hot.

 

Toge’s going through about five different gay crises at once and it’s all Yuuta’s fault. The way that he towers over all of them now (except for Panda) isn’t helping.

 

He copes with his newfound predicament in the only way he knows how, which is to say, not at all. Like a moth to a flame, Toge finds his gaze following the other teen everywhere he goes -- in classes, when Yuuta tediously rolls together kneaded erasers, a nervous habit that hasn’t changed from their first year; on missions, when Yuuta’s aura spikes so dramatically it makes all the curses they’re fighting stop in their tracks and makes Toge’s mouth dry up without saying a single word.

 

During training, when Yuuta swings and slashes his sword like his hands were born to hold the blade, his movements somehow both elegant and wild all at once. This is both Toge’s favorite and least favorite watching-Yuuta pastime -- favorite, because of how insanely attractive the other looks when he’s in fight mode; least favorite, because of how Toge’s rationality and common sense melt into a useless puddle at the image of a breathless, sweat-soaked Yuuta.

 

Toge watches him now, sword making a sharp clang everytime it clashes with Maki’s polearm. Panda and Kugisaki are here with him, too. Kugisaki always watches from the sidelines when Maki and Yuuta fight, for reasons not unlike his own: the girl fanatically cheers for Maki like she gets paid for it and openly voices her disdain whenever Yuuta does manage to land a win.

 

Today seems to be a good day for Maki, though -- or maybe it’s a bad day for Yuuta. Perhaps it’s the stifling summer heat -- it’s hot enough that Toge has ditched his usual high collar, snake seals on display in the burning sun.

 

Broiling temperatures or otherwise, Yuuta seems distracted, off his game; he’s constantly reacting a split-second too slow, and against someone like Maki that basically means you’ve already lost. Kugisaki’s voice rings loudly through the field when Maki knocks Yuuta on his back for the third time in a row.

 

“YEAH MAKI, GET HIS ASS! THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR WINNING GOODWILL, YOU MCR-WANNABE BASTARD --”

 

“I’m telling you, that’s misplaced anger,” Panda comments, but Kugisaki is either ignoring him or unable to hear his words over her own deafening shouts as she fist pumps the air.

 

“Salmon,” Toge agrees, though privately he thinks it’s kinda funny, especially when Yuuta gets up and faces their way with the most adorable confused expression that is entirely at odds with his imposing physique.

 

As Maki laughs at Kugisaki’s antics, Yuuta hikes his shirt up to wipe the sweat from his brow, revealing an expanse of lean muscle underneath. Toge has the sudden, inexplicable urge to lick his belly button.

 

Why, Toge bemoans his own thoughts, shaking his head as if to clear them and then mentally slapping his own brain for being so unrepentantly horny. He grabs his water bottle and chugs, feeling his throat bob up and down with every gulp, emptying half of the container before setting it back down.

 

“Thirsty?” Panda asks.

 

“Salmon,” Toge replies miserably.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

rice rice baby: google search how to get in some1s pants without inciting the wrath of his childhood fiance in the form of a special grade cursed spirit

Panda Express: Slap his ass and if he looks upset after the fact say it was a prank

rice rice baby: great idea in theory, but may i emphasize the “cursed spirit of his childhood fiance” part

the zenin bloodline ends with me: why dont you just.. talk to him?

rice rice baby: why the fuck woudl i do that

rice rice baby: also, easy for u to say when kugisaki worships u just for breathing

the zenin bloodline ends with me: god youre stupid

the zenin bloodline ends with me: do you even know why yuuta was fighting like such shit today

rice rice baby: cuz it was like 500 degrees?

rice rice baby: i even took my mask off it felt like an oven

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yeah.

rice rice baby: ?????

Panda Express: OHHH

rice rice baby: what

Panda Express: I get it

rice rice baby: GET WHAT

rice rice baby: TELL ME

the zenin bloodline ends with me: no dont tell him i want to see him suffer

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: panda

rice rice baby: my bro

rice rice baby: my bestie

rice rice baby: loml

Panda Express: Well

the zenin bloodline ends with me: panda i’ll get gojo to find you a zebra to punch if u don’t tell him

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

(Panda Express loved this message)

rice rice baby: WTF

Panda Express: For real?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: for real

Panda Express: Sorry bro🙏I’m sure you can figure it out on your own

(the zenin bloodline ends with me liked this message)

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: FUCKING ASSHOLE

rice rice baby: IM STEALING UR SKIRT AGAIN

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ...

the zenin bloodline ends with me: “again”?

Panda Express: Dude…

 

rice rice baby left “BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN”.

the zenin bloodline ends with me added Toge to “BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN”.

 

the zenin bloodline ends with me: BITCH

 

---

 

“You’re drooling.”

 

Toge averts his gaze from where Yuuta’s standing off to the side, discussing something with Gojo, to shoot Maki the most seething glare he can muster with only half his face showing.

 

“Bonito flakes.” You can’t even see my mouth.

 

“I can see it in your eyes,” she retorts, then coughs under her breath, “simp.”

 

“Salmon roe,” Toge scoffs.

 

“Do not bring Nobara into this.”

 

“Yooo!” Gojo calls out, suddenly right in front of them. Yuuta tags along slightly behind, a sheepish look on his face.

 

“Gojo,” Maki acknowledges with a wrinkle of her nose.

 

“Kelp.”

 

Gojo claps his hands excitedly. “We got a mission! First-grade curse -- of course Yuuta can handle it, but I don’t want my precious relative going in without backup! Now, who --”

 

Maki shoves Toge forward before Gojo’s even finished speaking. “He can go,” she declares. “I don’t feel like exorcising today.”

 

Toge narrows his eyes at the obvious lie; Maki loves beating the shit out of curses. “Bonito --”

 

“Awesome!” Gojo cuts in. He ruffles Toge’s hair unnecessarily, entirely ignoring his weak protest. “Yuuta’s got the details, he’ll fill you in. Good luck, kids, try not to die!”

 

With one last grating hyena cackle, he’s gone.

 

Toge huffs and half-heartedly attempts to pat down his hair as he turns to address Maki. “Tuna mayo.”

 

“Idiot,” Maki snorts. She “playfully” punches him in the shoulder and Toge hides his wince. “I’m doing you a favor. Go get your man.”

 

“Mustard leaf,” Toge argues.

 

“Here’s a hint,” she replies, tugging him inwards so they’re cheek to cheek, whispering in his ear. “Take off the mask.”

 

What? Is she telling him to… curse Yuuta? What?

 

“Ready to go, Inumaki?” Yuuta asks right then, much closer than before.

 

Toge opens his mouth to respond but Maki speaks for him instead, pushing him forward again like she did in front of Gojo.

 

“He’s all yours,” Maki smirks. Toge scowls at her and her smirk only widens.

 

Yuuta looks between the two of them with mild confusion, too polite to ask what’s going on.

 

Toge takes pity on him. “Mustard leaf,” he offers, bumping his shoulder against Yuuta’s -- though with their height difference, he doesn’t quite reach his shoulder.

 

Minutes since last gay thoughts about Yuuta’s growth spurt: 0.

 

Yuuta smiles down at him, and, ugh, that level of brightness should be illegal. “Yeah, let’s go.”

 

“Remember what I said!” Maki shouts after them. Toge flips her off as Yuuta looks back and forth in befuddlement.

 

“So -- uh -- you and Maki seem closer,” Yuuta ventures as they head towards the school gate.

 

“Salmon.”

 

They are close, always have been. As much as they joke around about wanting to kill each other, Toge knows Maki has his back the way Maki knows he has hers -- multiple shared near-death experiences will do that to you.

 

Yuuta is quiet for a little while after that. Toge comes to the conclusion that he’s waiting for some life updates on his friends he hasn’t seen in over a year, and gladly provides, saving the juicy romantic bits concerning their new hotheaded junior for the end.

 

“Oh, Maki and Kugisaki are together?” Yuuta wonders in surprise.

 

“Salmon,” he repeats. Granted, they aren’t official (yet), but they might as well be with the amount of lovesick stares and very unsubtle flirting between them Toge has to endure on a daily basis.

 

“That’s great,” Yuuta sighs in relief. Toge looks up at him curiously, and he quickly adds, “I’m really happy for them, Maki deserves it…”

 

Toge nods in agreement. He knows Maki hasn’t had the best social upbringing, considering her exile from her clan; truly, none of them had -- Toge, with his cursed speech that made him an outcast the same way Maki’s lack of cursed energy made her; Yuuta with the whole Rika thing. And Panda was… well, Panda. All things considered, actually, the sentient cursed doll was probably the most emotionally stable of them all.

 

Yuuta begins to explain the mission, noticeably more animated after learning about Maki’s love life. When they exit the gate, Nitta is waiting for them, leaning against her shiny black car.

 

She looks up from her phone as they near, no doubt sensing the overwhelming presence that makes up Okkotsu Yuuta. Yuuta smiles and waves hello and Nitta smiles back, expression morphing into confusion when she sees Toge beside him.

 

“Two of you?” She ruffles through pages on her clipboard. “This curse isn’t that --”

 

“Gojo wanted me to have backup!” Yuuta squeaks, cheeks pink.

 

Nitta regards him skeptically, and Toge knows she’s wondering why on earth a special-grade sorcerer needs backup from someone ranked below him. Her gaze briefly flickers back to Toge before settling back onto Yuuta.

 

“Whatever,” she shrugs. “Get in the car.”

 

Yuuta hurries to the backseat, ears still slightly red. Toge raises an eyebrow at the offbeat behavior as he follows behind.

 

“Buckled up?” Nitta asks from the driver’s seat. Yuuta nods, then verbally confirms it, and Nitta slams the gas.

 

They wind up at some abandoned mall, and Nitta takes the time to set up a curtain for them, saying to call if they need anything, before immediately driving off.

 

“Kind of reminds me of our first mission,” Yuuta comments, sounding fond.

 

Their first -- oh, yeah, Toge remembers, the two curses at Hapina Shopping Center.

 

“Cod roe,” Toge adds. Hopefully there won’t be any surprises this time.

 

Yuuta beams at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not as weak as I used to be!”

 

God, Toge knows, he has spent the past month of Yuuta’s homecoming ogling his best friend’s glow-up in terms of both physique and cursed energy.

 

“Salmon,” he responds while surreptitiously pulling his collar up, embarrassingly affected by Yuuta’s blinding smile.

 

They don’t have to wait long for the curse to show up, a translucent, amorphous blob with a singular red eye that drips out suspicious black goo like tears. When the questionable substance hits the floor, it sizzles and erodes through the linoleum tiles.

 

Toge is pulling down his collar to tell this fucker to get crushed, but Yuuta stops him with a hand on his wrist.

 

“I can do it,” Yuuta assures.

 

Toge furrows his eyebrows up at his taller friend, but doesn’t protest.

 

“Tuna mayo,” he mutters as Yuuta draws his katana.

 

Yuuta nods in understanding. “Yeah, got it, avoid the slime.”

 

And then he’s leaping forwards, cursed energy radiating off of him like crashing waves; one second he’s standing besides Toge, the next, looming over the bloodied carcass of the curse he just sliced in half.

 

His speed always takes Toge by surprise. Aside from Maki, and now Itadori, Toge’s used to being the fastest one in the room -- he can even keep up with Toudou from the Kyoto school, if he tries -- and when they’d first met, Yuuta had been, physically, one of the most pathetic creatures he’d ever encountered.

 

A skinny, frail, wisp of a person -- and Toge will forever maintain that Yuuta had been shorter than him back then, and the only thing giving him extra height was his taller hair -- always getting knocked on his ass during training, eating everyone’s dust on the track field.

 

Now, Yuuta’s shot up at least six inches (Minutes since last gay thoughts about Yuuta’s growth spurt: 0) and packed on at least a six-pack and he’s sure that if he tried to race him now, Toge would be the one getting left behind.

 

“Well,” Yuuta grimaces, and the sound jolts Toge back to reality. Yuuta frantically shakes off excess blood and slime from his tattered sword before the thing disintegrates entirely. “That was gross.”

 

Toge has a congratulatory salmon! on the tip of his tongue, but even as his mouth opens to form the word, an instinctive dread fills him from head to toe. The curse’s body isn’t disappearing, like it should have when Yuuta sliced it. Far from it. It’s…

 

Run away!” Toge shouts instead, and the words burn coming out.

 

Yuuta is spurned into a sprint against his own will, and not a second too late, as the spot where he once stood meets a flood of fresh black slime and the ground crumbles away to nothing. The curse’s two halves have reformed into separate bodies like some kind of freaky mitosis, menacingly floating after them, dripping goo and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

 

“Inumaki!” Yuuta cries in distress as he bodily picks up his classmate while on the run from the decidedly not exorcised curse. “Are you okay?”

 

I should be asking you that, Toge thinks haphazardly.

 

Instead, he faces the curse, and commands, “Don’t move.

 

The curse freezes in place, and Yuuta slows to a stop; Toge takes advantage of the brief lull to gulp down some cough syrup. He winces at the ache in his throat -- side effects of cursing someone with as much cursed energy as Okkotsu Yuuta.

 

“I’m sorry!” Yuuta wails. “It’s my fault -- I sliced it in half, I didn’t think it would regenerate…”

 

Toge pats his shoulder. “Mustard leaf.”

 

“You’re hurt because of me…”

 

“Bonito flakes.” Toge shakes his head insistently. It’s okay. 

 

Yuuta sniffles, clearly not buying it, but refrains from pressing the issue.

 

“So how are we supposed to exorcise this, anyway?” Yuuta wonders instead. “I can’t use my sword, and if it keeps multiplying every time we hurt it…”

 

Toge has a stupid, terrible, absolutely brilliant idea.

 

“Kelp, salmon roe, caviar.”

 

Yuuta stares at him, wide-eyed. “No,” he refuses. “You can’t do that, that’s too dangerous.”

 

“Bonito flakes.”

 

It’s the only method Toge can think of that might actually work, without just increasing the number of curses they have to fight. Yuuta could easily utter the command himself, but Toge knows he doesn’t have the precision or accuracy to ensure a direct hit without the curse spreading elsewhere. 

 

“Even if it doesn’t backfire, it’s going to rip your throat apart!”

 

Toge shakes his head and grabs Yuuta’s hand to press against his neck, feeling his calloused fingers tense as he does so. “Tuna mayo.”

 

“I… Well… Are you sure it’ll work?”

 

“Salmon.” I trust you.

 

Yuuta gulps. “Okay,” he stammers. “Okay.”

 

Toge nods his head towards the still-frozen curse. He doesn’t know how long his speech will last on it, and it’ll be easier to finish off if it’s staying in place.

 

“Mustard leaf?” Are you ready?

 

Yuuta swallows and nods and encloses both hands around Toge’s throat.

 

Toge takes a deep breath, gathers all the cursed energy he has inside him, and lets it out in one single word.

 

Die.

 

The curse extinguishes in a cloud of liquid smoke and Toge feels his throat shred itself and stitch back together simultaneously. Each gash that forms is followed by waves of healing energy, so immediately that Toge almost feels no pain at all. Yuuta’s essence swirling around inside of him feels like the most heavenly cup of nectar, a million times more soothing than any cough syrup, and Toge kind of wants to just let him go on forever.

 

They’ve got to report back to Nitta and return to school, though, so once his throat feels sufficiently stable, he pats Yuuta’s arm twice. Yuuta drops his hands and whirls to face him.

 

“Are you okay? Was that okay? Are you hurt --”

 

“Salmon,” Toge interrupts hoarsely, a small smile on his face. I’m fine. Thank you.

 

Yuuta breathes out, relief palpable in his features. “I’m glad,” he offers tremulously.

 

Toge chugs some cough syrup even though his throat feels fine, just as a precaution, before readjusting his collar back into place. “Tuna mayo.”

 

“Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

 

On their way out, they’re jumped by a smaller curse that Yuuta effortlessly blasts to nothing.

 

Toge frowns. “Cod roe?”

 

Yuuta sighs. “I guess that was the curse we were supposed to exorcise. Just our luck…”

 

Nitta is already waiting for them when they exit the curtain, looking extremely frantic and distressed.

 

“You guys! Oh my god, you’re okay, thank god,” she babbles. “I’m so, so sorry, there wasn’t supposed to be that special-grade in there --”

 

“Salmon roe.”

 

“It’s fine,” Yuuta translates. “Don’t worry about us, we handled it.”

 

Nitta groans and pulls at her hair. “The higher-ups have some nerve, pulling this shit again…”

 

“Well, they never did like me,” Yuuta chuckles self-deprecatingly.

 

“That’s not an excuse.” Nitta shakes her head. “C’mon, let’s get you guys back.”

 

Toge is about to head for the car when Yuuta grabs his arm, stopping him in his tracks. 

 

“Um, actually, Gojo asked us to do some shopping for him first.” 

 

“He did?”

 

“Tuna?” This is news to Toge, too.

 

“Yeah, he, uh, he really likes the mochi from this place nearby,” Yuuta stutters. “He wanted me to bring some back for him.”

 

“I see,” Nitta says, miffed. “Leave it to Gojo to make his students run his errands for him. Lazy bastard --”

 

Yuuta laughs awkwardly.

 

“Do you guys need me to drop you off or anything, at least?”

 

“It's fine, it’s within walking distance,” Yuuta answers in a rush. “Thank you though, Nitta.”

 

“Salmon.” Toge relays his gratitude as well.

 

Nitta looks between them and squints at Yuuta one last time before heading back inside her car.

 

“Take care, you two.” The engine groans, rumbling to life. “Call me if you need a ride back… but I guess you won’t,” she adds.

 

Yuuta flushes slightly as he and Toge both wave goodbye to the auxiliary manager. When the car disappears into the distance, Toge turns to Yuuta, inquiring.

 

“Cod roe?”

 

“Ah.” Yuuta’s flush intensifies; Toge tries not to think about how good it looks on him. “No, Gojo didn’t actually ask me to get mochi for him.” He averts Toge’s confused gaze and scratches the back of his neck. “I just wanted to spend some more time with you.”

 

Toge fervently ignores the way his heart throbs at the admission, something new fluttering to life inside his chest.

 

“Is -- Is that okay?” Yuuta nervously asks, when Toge is too busy freaking out to respond. “I should’ve asked first --”

 

“Salmon,” he reassures. “Tuna mayo.”

 

Yuuta graces him with a soft smile then, so saccharine Toge can almost feel his teeth actively developing cavities.

 

“Hey, are you hungry?” Yuuta asks. “I kinda am.”

 

Now that Yuuta’s said it, Toge is suddenly aware of how empty his own stomach is. That cursed command at the end took a lot more energy out of him than he thought.

 

“Salmon.”

 

“I think it’s still early for dinner, but I saw a crepe stand somewhere on the way here.” Yuuta hums as he leads the way down the street; like moth to flame, Toge follows.

 

The crepe stand Yuuta mentioned ends up being not a stand, but an entire cafe, decorated all over with frills and ribbons and a pastel-marked chalkboard menu sitting outside boasting sugary names for sugary confections. The interior is even cuter and pinker, if that’s possible. Rose colored tiling, a flowery wallpaper, various prints and posters featuring adorable little animal mascots enjoying tea and cookies.

 

The sunny Saturday afternoon has the place relatively packed, and keeping in tune with the overall mood of the cafe, every single patron is part of a pair -- a package deal. If the concept of Valentine’s Day could be condensed into a physical space, he thinks this might be what it looks like.

 

“What do you want?” Yuuta asks, perusing one of the laminated plastic menus sitting on the counter.

 

Toge surveys his options. Everything sounds like it would kill a medieval human on the spot.

 

“Tuna,” he decides, pointing at something called “Berry Berry Love Bomb”, a buckwheat crepe stuffed with chocolate ganache, Nutella, powdered sugar, whipped cream, and freshly chopped strawberries and raspberries, with a vanilla scoop and a maraschino cherry on top.

 

Yuuta nods in understanding and catches the cashier’s attention to order.

 

As Yuuta parrots their requests to the very pink and frilly employee, Toge watches with growing unease the countless couples seated all over the room, sharing foamy drinks and sundaes and feeding each other bits of cake and pastry.

 

He’s not exactly a prude, far from it -- but being in such a lovey-dovey establishment with Yuuta, just the two of them alone, is making him irrationally flustered, and annoyed that he’s flustered. Anyone looking at them now would assume they’re a couple just by association. Toge feels his heart pump erratically and his blood run hot and cold at the idea.

 

Unbidden, his mind pulls up a vision of him and Yuuta sitting at one of those gaudy, doily covered tables, his hand reaching over the intricate bouquet centerpiece to coax a piece of strawberry shortcake into the other’s mouth, leaning over to kiss the stray cream off of his lips --

 

What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck --

 

“For here or to go?” the cashier is saying, when Toge returns to reality, furious at his inner thoughts.

 

Before Yuuta can respond, Toge tugs on his sleeve. “Cod roe,” he mutters, a note of urgency bleeding through his otherwise neutral tone.

 

Yuuta seems a bit startled at his insistence, but he nods to the cashier.

 

“To go, please,” Yuuta politely requests, and Toge breathes out a silent sigh of relief. The cashier dutifully punches in their order, and when Toge tries to offer up his wallet Yuuta waves it away and insists on paying, because he’s nice like that. 

 

As they wait for their food, Yuuta starts rambling about how he read reviews online for this place and apparently they make the best crepes in the district -- but despite Toge’s best efforts to pay attention, he finds himself continuously distracted by the sheer amount of PDA surrounding them, overwhelmingly aware of his own position next to Yuuta and how the atmosphere of the cafe is making their outing feel disturbingly like a date.

 

Very unhelpfully, his brain conjures up image after image of him and Yuuta displaying increasingly couple-like behavior: holding hands, sharing drinks with one straw, playing footsie under the table like the juvenile teenagers they are.

 

This could be a date, if you wanted, his brain offers.

 

Toge begs his brain to shut the fuck up. He has enough on his plate without adding feelings to the mix.

 

“Number 43!” the cashier calls out.

 

“Oh, that’s us,” Yuuta remarks, and Toge watches his back as he strides towards the counter to pick up their order.

 

When they finally exit the cafe, Toge experiences about three seconds of reprieve from the cloying, sappy ambience inside, before --

 

“Look, the cherry blossoms are falling.”

 

Toge internally groans. As if he hasn’t been tortured enough by romantic connotations already.

 

Yuuta turns to him, eyes sparkling with excitement, before his mouth drops in a cute little “o”.

 

“There’s something on your…”

 

Toge freezes as Yuuta’s fingers glide gently over his hair and come away holding a delicate pink petal.

 

“Got it,” Yuuta beams at him, bright and dazzling, and Toge’s heart trembles in its cage.

 

Jesus fucking christ. Toge immediately whirls around and starts walking to hide the enormous blush rapidly unfolding on his face.

 

“Wh -- Inumaki, wait for me!” Yuuta cries out, quickening his pace, and his long, long legs catch up to Toge in no time at all.

 

 

If Toge thought he had it bad before, then he has it absolutely fucking horrible now. 

 

Ever since the double exorcism at the mall and the stupid fucking crepe cafe, Toge’s inner gay delusions have evolved in the worst way possible. To his complete and utter dismay, he has surpassed fantasizing about Yuuta’s body, and moved onto daydreaming of a domestic life together with their two adopted pet cats.

 

It is, again, all Yuuta’s fault. It wasn’t enough that he had to look like the exact form of Toge’s ideal guy come to life; no, the annoyingly tall prick also had the nerve to be so sweet and kind and charming that Toge had virtually no choice but to fall for him. The day he’d spent with Yuuta after their mission together had filled him with equal parts joy and fear -- happy to have Yuuta’s company all to himself, and scared of just how goddamn happy he was. 

 

Scared of how quickly he was falling, unsure when and if he’d ever land.

 

Ugh. This… attraction to Yuuta was so much easier to deal with when it was purely physical and all Toge wanted to do was jump his bones. Now, well -- Toge definitely still wants to do just that, but now he’s emotionally, romantically invested; now he also wants something terribly tender, something that starts with L and rhymes with dove -- something he’s too afraid to voice outside the confines of his own mind, and even then, he’s never put a name to the word.

 

He still has the pictures from when he childishly made them enter a photobooth, after Yuuta kept taking sneak shots of him. Going in with the intent to tease, and coming out being the one who got flustered instead.

 

He doesn’t know where Yuuta keeps his photostrip, but Toge’s copy sits in the top drawer of his bedside table, tucked in a corner safe from scuffling. He’s looked at it so many times now the images are practically burned into his eyelids -- not that he needs it; his brain chooses the stupidest things to commit to memory and apparently that entire ordeal is one of them.

 

The epiphany had crept up and struck him at the end of the day with the force of a bullet train.

 

Do you… want to do this again sometime?

 

And Toge had thought, miserably: I want to do this every day for the rest of my life.  

 

Even now, as he sits cross-legged on Maki’s bed, venting about his boy problems, Toge both wishes (and hates that he’s wishing) he was with Yuuta instead, on another… 

 

Well, Toge tries really, really hard not to call it a date. But that’s what it felt like, and deep down that’s what he wanted it to be -- a date.

 

“That was a date.”

 

(And also, Maki keeps saying it is.)

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge refutes, both to be contrary and to squash down his pathetic hopes before they bite him in the ass. After all, Yuuta had never outright said the word date even once that whole day.

 

“Let me get this straight,” Maki starts, setting down her milk tea boba to steeple her fingers, “he lied to Nitta to bring you to some cutesy cafe, and then you guys took gay little candids under the cherry blossoms?”

 

Toge grimaces at her blunt phrasing. “Cod.”

 

“Come on.” Maki rolls her eyes and leans back into her chair. “Who else have you ever done any kinda shit like that with?”

 

“Salmon,” Toge argues. Literally you, today. He takes a loud, obnoxious slurp of his matcha smoothie for emphasis.

 

“That’s not the same,” Maki hisses, throwing a pad of sticky notes at him, and it’s only thanks to Toge’s sharp reflexes that he manages to dodge. “I only went with you for the couple’s discount. Who else was I gonna bring, Panda? And I definitely didn’t waste my phone storage taking pics of your stupid face.”

 

“Mustard leaf.”

 

“Whatever. Look, I’m just saying, that’s textbook boyfriend shit --”

 

Toge chokes on his drink at the word “boyfriend” and Maki cackles at his distress.

 

“Bonito flakes!” he accuses, irritated, once his lungs have air in them again. Maki laughs harder.

 

“Okay, but honestly,” she starts, after her gleeful mirth at Toge’s expense subsides, “I think he really is trying to date you, dude. Just let it happen.”

 

“Tuna mayo,” Toge says mournfully.

 

“I swear to god --”

 

“Salmon roe.”

 

Maki sighs, long-suffering, pinches the bridge of her nose. “I don’t see the problem. He obviously likes you.”

 

“Bonito flakes.”

 

“No, he definitely does. And what do you mean, you can’t?”

 

“Mustard leaf…”

 

“You’re joking.” Maki palms her face. “I can’t stand you.”

 

Toge shakes his head. It’s not a joke, it’s a genuine fear. Up until yesterday, he’d been operating under the guise of a purely aesthetic attraction, and now he has to contend with the fact that he has unmistakably, undeniably, caught feelings --

 

Toge thinks he’s the last one equipped to deal with emotions. (Minus maybe Fushiguro. He’s pretty bad too.)

 

It’s not so much that he doesn’t want it, because he does (unfortunately). It’s that he’s afraid of making himself vulnerable, giving his heart away without knowing whether it’ll be cherished or crushed. The thought terrifies him as much as it thrills him and his fear is compounded by the uncertainty of knowing how Yuuta feels, murky waters of reciprocation he cannot see through.

 

That, and…

 

Toge finishes up his smoothie with one final slurp and tosses the empty cup in the wastebasket, before pulling his legs up to hug his knees. “Tuna.”

 

Maki twists her mouth, unimpressed. “You’re not actually worried about Rika, are you?”

 

“Bonito flakes. Caviar.”

 

“Counterpoint -- he doesn’t even wear the ring anymore.”

 

Toge scowls. It’s not like that means anything, maybe it could just be a signifier that their bond has strengthened enough for Yuuta to no longer need a physical object to channel her energy.

 

This time, the pad of sticky notes hits its mark.

 

Bonito flakes,” Toge grumbles again, rubbing his forehead. What was that for?

 

“You were thinking something stupid, I could tell.”

 

Toge throws the sticky notes back at Maki, aiming for her glasses, but she effortlessly snatches them from the air. Well, what did he expect from someone who could catch a bullet shot at point-blank distance -- there’s athletic, like him and Toudou, and then there are freaks of nature like Maki and Itadori.

 

“If you’re just gonna keep moping for no reason, then leave.”

 

Toge pulls down his collar to childishly stick his tongue out. “Tuna mayo.”

 

“You are so not funny,” Maki hisses. She stands from her seat, presumably to walk over and bodily pick up and throw Toge out of her room, when they’re interrupted by three sharp knocks.

 

As it is, she settles for wrinkling her nose at a smirking Toge and heading to open the door.

 

“Yuuta,” she says in surprise, and Toge’s smirk slides off his face.

 

“Hey, Maki,” comes his soft, gentle voice. “Is Inumaki here?”

 

“Yeah, you wanna see him? Come on in.”

 

There’s the soft thud of shoes on the floor as Yuuta switches out of his sneakers, and Toge feels his heart rate rising the closer he approaches.

 

Man, feelings suck. 

 

“Inumaki,” Yuuta greets. His hair is tousled and windswept and he looks so beautiful it’s unfair.

 

Toge offers a weak kelp in reply.

 

As Maki plops back down in her chair, Yuuta digs a hand around in his pockets and unearths a bottle of Toge’s preferred cough syrup brand.

 

“For you,” Yuuta adds, holding it out, as though it needs confirmation, like Toge isn’t the only jujutsu sorcerer who regularly drinks this stuff. “I picked it up after the mission.”

 

Right, Yuuta had accompanied the first years on their exorcism trip today, in place of Gojo who oftentimes simply could not be bothered with carrying out his responsibilities, and has only gotten worse with the return of his special-grade student.

 

“Salmon,” Toge thanks, and grabs the bottle to re-pocket it, a jolt of electricity coursing through him when his fingers briefly brush against Yuuta’s.

 

There’s a stretch of silence, where Toge fidgets, and Yuuta fidgets, and Maki’s mouth pinches like she’s being force-fed a raw lemon.

 

She clears her throat loudly, breaking the quiet. “Okay, I actually have work to do, guys, so…”

 

Yuuta starts slightly at her exclamation. “Ah, sorry, Maki! I’ll go now.” Yuuta rubs the back of his neck in sheepish apology as he heads for the door. “Good luck with your work,” he adds as he slides back into his sneakers.

 

Maki turns to face Toge again after Yuuta leaves. “That means you too, shrimp.”

 

Toge makes no move to leave.

 

“No, really, I’m not listening to your bullshit pining anymore.” She waves a hand at him as if batting away an annoying fly.

 

“Kelp,” he sighs melodramatically, heaving himself off the bed.

 

“Holy shit, you’re dumb. I keep saying he’s into you, how do you not see it?”

 

“Tuna mayo.”

 

“I’m serious,” Maki insists, and her tone does indeed sound more serious, “just go for it. You’ll like what happens next. Promise.”

 

“Bonito flakes.”

 

“When have I ever lied to you?”

 

Toge pulls a face. Maki actually hasn’t ever lied to him -- lying just for the drama and chaos of it all is more of a him and Gojo and Panda thing.

 

And that’s the problem, is that if what Maki’s saying is true, if there’s a chance Yuuta does like him back -- then Toge is one misstep away from provoking Rika’s special-grade wrath and fury, his exposed heart hanging on the line in all senses of the word.

 

(Oh, and he’ll be a homewrecker, too. Sort of. Is it still called a homewrecker if the other party is dead and only remains on this plane of existence as an eldritch curse?)

 

“Stop thinking stupid shit and get out of my room.” Maki thwacks him on the head with her notebook and Toge finally leaves, grumbling all the while.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

Panda Express: So is the name just gonna be like that now

rice rice baby: yes

rice rice baby: unless yuuta hauls ass outta the country again

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yall kiss yet?

rice rice baby: no im shy👉👈

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ….

Panda Express: Do you want me to follow you guys around with mistletoe i can totally do that

the zenin bloodline ends with me: its not even christmas???

Panda Express: Time is a human construct

rice rice baby: im good panda but thanks<3

Panda Express: Anytime<3

the zenin bloodline ends with me: hey what if i added yuuta to this chat

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: NO

Panda Express: 🤔

rice rice baby: STOP

the zenin bloodline ends with me: hmmmmm

rice rice baby: NO!!!!!!!!!!

rice rice baby: DONT U FUCKING DAREE

rice rice baby: [voice_message_201815031616.mp3]

Panda Express: Oh my god

the zenin bloodline ends with me: YOU

the zenin bloodline ends with me: DID YOU REALLY JUST SEND A VOICE RECORDING CURSING ME NOT TO ADD HIM

the zenin bloodline ends with me: i was just joking LMFAOOOO

the zenin bloodline ends with me: DUMBASS

rice rice baby: UR SO EVIL I HATE U

the zenin bloodline ends with me: [Screenshot_201815031619.jpg]

the zenin bloodline ends with me: my fingers on the add button

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: STOP

rice rice baby: [voice_message_201815031620.mp3]

the zenin bloodline ends with me: SHUT UP

the zenin bloodline ends with me: I CANT BELIEVE YOU FELL FOR IT AGAIN?

 

rice rice baby removed the zenin bloodline ends with me from “BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN”.

Panda Express added Maki to “BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN”.

 

Maki: wow

Maki: you can dish it but you cant take it huh

Panda Express: Oh my god maki you already destroyed him, you don’t need to keep going

rice rice baby: i hate this fucking family

 

---

 

A week after Toge’s not-date with Yuuta finds the Tokyo students huddled around a screen playing some old horror flick. Toge, Yuuta, Maki, and Kugisaki have taken over the couch, with Kugisaki half in Maki’s lap and looking endlessly smug about it. Itadori and Fushiguro sit on pillows on the floor in front, though Itadori dozed off about three shitty plot twists ago and Panda, too, has fallen asleep, snoring loudly in the single armchair.

 

Toge isn’t really one to be affected by scary movies, heavily accustomed to jumpscares and dim lighting and the like from watching too many horror game streams and true crime documentaries. Yuuta, on the other hand, can sometimes be frightened by his own shadow. As the protagonist on screen slowly creaks open the door to the basement, Yuuta’s hand finds Toge’s and squeezes tighter and tighter out of fear and anticipation, while Toge’s heart pounds for a completely different reason.

 

Gojo teleports into the room then, right in front of the television -- right as the door fully opens, and whatever lurking terror that jumped out remains hidden behind their teacher’s six-foot-plus frame.

 

“Yo!” he greets cheerfully, and nearly everyone in the room groans.

 

“What the fuck, Gojo?!”

 

“God dammit --”

 

“Bonito flakes!”

 

Gojo just laughs. “How are my precious students doing tonight?”

 

Maki throws a piece of popcorn at their teacher that harmlessly bounces off the infinity barrier. Kugisaki follows suit, pelting Gojo with assorted goldfish crackers.

 

“Ooh, I love goldfish,” Gojo says, and proceeds to catch all of them in his mouth. “Thanks.”

 

Fushiguro sighs, exhausted. “We were in the middle of something. And you’re blocking the TV. Move.”

 

Gojo takes a pause from catching goldfish to press a hand to his chest in fake offense. “Megumi! Is that any way to speak to your beloved teacher?”

 

Fushiguro rolls his eyes and doesn’t respond.

 

“Hi, Gojo,” Yuuta greets, the most positive hello by far; probably the only one unbothered by their movie being interrupted -- on the contrary, he looks relieved to have the spooky tension broken.

 

Gojo beams at him. “Yuuta! So polite! This is why you’re my favorite.”

 

Maki throws another piece of popcorn at him. Kugisaki never stopped throwing the goldfish in the first place.

 

“Well, anyways, I have a special mission for you guys!” Gojo sing-songs, and Toge can practically hear the tilde attached to the end of the sentence. He’s probably winking, too, not that anyone can see it under his mask.

 

Fushiguro glares at him. “It’s 10 PM.”

 

Special mission,” Gojo repeats. “Who wants it?” He makes a show of surveying the room -- Panda is slumbering away, Itadori is snoring -- there’s an impressive spot of drool on Fushiguro’s shoulder from where his head keeps falling against even when Fushiguro tries to push him off.

 

“No,” Kugisaki states flatly when Gojo’s gaze falls on her.

 

“Don’t worry Nobara, wasn’t gonna pick you anyways!” Gojo laughs.

 

“The fuck is that supposed to mean --”

 

“Toge! Maki!”

 

Maki heaves a groan of exasperation that Toge deeply sympathizes with. Gojo pretends to scrutinize the rest of the students, before locking onto Yuuta, and the way the older boy is still clutching his hand in a vice grip. Toge tries not to squirm under the man’s analytical gaze.

 

“And… Yuuta!” Gojo concludes. “You three are going to go to the convenience store down the street and exorcise the curses that keep rotting all the food there!” Gojo waves a folded up envelope in front of him. “Details inside!”

 

He continues waggling the envelope until Maki pockets it with considerable grumbling.

 

Gojo grins. “Have fun, stay safe --”

 

And with a clap, he’s gone.

 

Kugisaki tears at her hair in frustration. “What is his problem? Why does he always do this shit? Is this funny for him? Does he think he’s funny?!”

 

“Yeah, Gojo thinks he’s hilarious.” Fushiguro looks and sounds on the verge of collapse. “Well, the movie’s ruined. I think I’ll just go to bed.”

 

“Hang on, take Itadori with you.”

 

Fushiguro scrunches up his nose. “Why do I have to be the one --”

 

“He drooled on you, so --”

 

As the two conscious first years devolve into bickering, Maki, Yuuta, and Toge each head to their respective rooms to change and grab their weapons, or in Toge’s case, his cough syrup. They meet back up at the school entrance where Maki opens up the paper to read their “special mission” notes. Toge watches her eyebrows furrow at first, then shoot up, then drop to impressive, nearly perfect 90 degree angles.

 

“This is a fucking grocery list.

 

Yuuta sighs. “I can’t say I didn’t expect it.”

 

“Salmon.”

 

Maki rolls her eyes before walking ahead. “Well, might as well get this over with. Looks like Gojo left us cash in here too, I think it’s a lot more than we need. I’m gonna keep the leftover,” she adds. Yuuta is too nice to argue and Toge doesn’t care enough to try.

 

The store is close by, barely a ten minute walk. It’s still open despite the late hour, a neon-green 24-H sign blinking away on the nameplate. Most of the stuff their teacher has asked for consists of various candies and pastries, with a few requests for instant noodles here and there.

 

“How does Gojo live like this,” Maki mutters in disgust, staring at the basket that is filled to the brim with junk food; Toge thinks it’s a bit hypocritical since she has more or less the exact same taste. “And where the hell is Yuuta? We need to check out.”

 

Yuuta returns at that moment, bearing two wrapped rice balls and a bottle of Tabasco.

 

“Tuna mayo?” Toge asks, curious.

 

“Your favorite.” Yuuta smiles warmly. “I remember.”

 

Maki coughs pointedly. Toge feels blood rush up his neck, thankful that the color is hidden under his high collar.

 

After checking out and paying, Maki seems to be in a decidedly cheerier mood; if the amount of cash she was given as change had anything to do with it, Toge would not be surprised. As they walk back, Toge notices that Yuuta seems to be carrying most of the bags. Toge holds his hand out expectantly, silently offering to take some of the bags from Yuuta’s grasp.

 

Yuuta looks down at his hand in surprise, then smiles. He shifts the bags in his left hand, but instead of giving them to Toge, he transfers them to his other side, and grabs Toge’s hand with his own instead.

 

Toge freezes as if he’s been cursed by his own speech. What.

 

“Uh, you -- you get cold easily, right?” Yuuta blurts. “And I kinda run hot, so…”

 

Yeah, you are hot, the perpetually thirsty part of Toge’s brain agrees.

 

“... Salmon,” Toge affirms out loud, his own voice sounding strange to his ears.

 

Up ahead, Maki stops walking when she realizes the other two are no longer directly behind her.

 

“The hell’s the holdup? I wanna get back and sleep --” she catches sight of their intertwined hands and her eyebrows fly into her hairline once more.

 

Not a word, Toge tries to communicate telepathically. Not. A. Word.

 

Maki doesn’t comment, but she does level him with a piercing, calculating look. Toge flushes, and at the same time, he feels Yuuta’s hand stiffen in his.

 

Still, Yuuta doesn’t let go the entire way home.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

rice rice baby: hypothetically

Panda Express: Is this about yuuta?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yes its about yuuta

rice rice baby: HYPOTHETICALLY

rice rice baby: if u offer ur hand to help someone carry grocery bags and he moves all the bags to the other hand and holds ur hand instead what does that mean

the zenin bloodline ends with me: dude.

Panda Express: ...No words

the zenin bloodline ends with me: how are you this stupid

the zenin bloodline ends with me: HE LIKES YOU.

rice rice baby: do u have audiovisual evidence of him stating this personally

the zenin bloodline ends with me: man shut up

the zenin bloodline ends with me: and for the love of god PLEASE put him out of his misery and kiss him already this is unbearable

Panda Express: Wait… you still havent kissed

Panda Express: Wow

Panda Express: I actually feel bad for yuuta, he makes it so obvious

rice rice baby: im TRYING

rice rice baby: its KIND OF HARD when the guy you like has been ENGAGED SINCE CHILDHOOD to a SPECIAL GRADE CURSE that MAY KILL YOU IF YOU BREATHE IN HIS DIRECTION THE WRONG WAY

the zenin bloodline ends with me: sounds like an excuse to me🙄

Panda Express: Yeah i really dont think you need to worry about rika

Panda Express: He broke the curse first year, remember?

rice rice baby: ok but the ring

the zenin bloodline ends with me: the one that he doesnt wear anymore?

Panda Express: ^

rice rice baby: damn didnt know it was bully toge day

Panda Express: Bro were trying to help you out here, youre the one who isnt listening

the zenin bloodline ends with me: wow, panda said something smart for once

Panda Express: Wtf rude?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: seriously though toge if you dont feel comfortable kissing him or whatever you dont have to

Panda Express: (We know you want to tho)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: but PLEASE get it through your mushroom ass head that yuuta genuinely does like you

rice rice baby: doubt

(the zenin bloodline ends with me disliked this message)

(Panda Express disliked this message)

the zenin bloodline ends with me: and without any of the holdups or curse baggage that you wont shut up about

the zenin bloodline ends with me: AND!!! stop using rika as an excuse to avoid confronting your feelings xoxo💅

rice rice baby: did u really just say xoxo💅 wow kugisakis rubbing off on u huh

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yeah my GIRLFRIEND is rubbing off on me because im not some pathetic loser whos too scared to step outside their platonic comfort zone!!!!

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

rice rice baby: FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU

the zenin bloodline ends with me: die mad

the zenin bloodline ends with me: (and single)

(rice rice baby disliked this message)

Panda Express: ...I think i just witnessed a murder

 

---

 

Spring break rolls around, Yuuta is still devastatingly attractive, revoltingly sweet, and Toge is sick to death of yearning.

 

He can’t decide whether he should be feeling delight or dread when Gojo declares an all-expenses paid, weekend trip to Okinawa for the Tokyo students, informing Toge and Yuuta of their shared hotel room assignment with what Toge just knows was an awful wink under the eye mask.

 

“Wow, I wonder what you could possibly do that could fix this,” Maki deadpans, when Toge comes to her to complain again about his romantic troubles after Gojo’s sudden announcement.

 

Toge pouts from where he’s sprawled out on her bed, hugging the enormous cat plush she’d gotten on a recent arcade date with Kugisaki.

 

Maki and Kugisaki… They’d finally stopped dancing around each other last week, and even though the new relationship has drastically cut down on Toge’s “bother Maki” hours, he’s truly, genuinely happy for them. He sees the besotted, lovestruck way that the first year looks at Maki and thinks there’s no one else better deserving of such absolute devotion.

 

He’s happy for them, despite the faint envy he feels for their partnership, something he longs to have but is too scared to take.

 

“Tuna mayo?” he wonders, voice slightly muffled by the way his face is squished into the cat’s ears.

 

“How’d we get together?” Maki raises an eyebrow. “Straightforward and healthy communication, that’s how. You know, with words? Those things?”

 

Toge lifts his head up from the cat plush, scowling, thoroughly unimpressed.

 

“If you’d just stop to have one conversation with him about this you’d be cuffed already, just saying.”

 

Bonito flakes.

 

“You know I’m right.”

 

Toge huffs petulantly and doesn’t respond.

 

“Look,” Maki starts, brightening with an idea, “why don’t you tell him on the trip? You’re rooming together, aren’t you?”

 

“Salmon roe.” Toge wrinkles his nose in displeasure.

 

“Why not. It’s the perfect opportunity.”

 

“Bonito flakes. Tuna.”

 

“Then don’t come crying to me when Yuuta gets picked up by some random hot Okinawan chick ‘cause you were too pussy to ever make a move,” Maki snaps. 

 

Toge flinches involuntarily at Maki’s words, a wave of ugly, unwarranted jealousy crashing over him at the thought of Yuuta with a nameless and faceless figure, with someone who isn’t himself.

 

Maki’s eyes soften. “Hey, it’s okay. That wouldn’t actually happen, Yuuta likes you too much to fuck around with anyone else.”

 

Toge really, really wishes that were true.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

the zenin bloodline ends with me: has anyone seen my swim trunks i cant find them

the zenin bloodline ends with me: @rice rice baby

rice rice baby: ??????? no

the zenin bloodline ends with me: you sure?

rice rice baby: man just cuz i took ur skirt that one (1) time doesnt mean im responsible for every missing item of clothing wtf

the zenin bloodline ends with me: you seem really defensive

rice rice baby: I DONT HAVE THEM

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ugh whatever

Panda Express: Why dont you ask kugisaki?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: wow

the zenin bloodline ends with me: you were actually right, they were in nobaras room

rice rice baby: we get it ur in a relationship🙄

the zenin bloodline ends with me: we get it youre single🙄

Panda Express: Guys.

 

---

 

Toge should have expected Gojo had something hidden up his sleeve when he announced he was taking the Tokyo students to Okinawa. People like Gojo don’t just do nice things for the sake of being nice.

 

Currently, said students (minus Yuuta, who’d disappeared to the bathroom) are frozen comically in shock as they see their Kyoto counterparts stroll into the hotel breakfast.

 

“Gojo didn’t… book us in the same hotel, at the same time, on purpose, right?” Itadori mutters, eyes darting between Mai and Maki, the former who thankfully hasn’t yet noticed them, the latter who looks nothing short of murderous. 

 

Everyone shifts their gazes over to their teacher, who is busy wreaking havoc upon the breakfast setup, grabbing food with his bare hands, sometimes taking one bite and putting it back on the tray.

 

A despairing silence falls among the group as they collectively decide that, no, Gojo absolutely did this on purpose.

 

Their suspicions are validated when they witness Iori running into the white-haired, black-masked menace himself.

 

The Kyoto teacher’s face adopts an expression of surprise and utmost irritation. “You --

 

“Me?” Gojo grins.

 

Why are you here.

 

Gojo rubs his chin pensively. “Why are any of us here, really --”

 

“I told you my students were going to Okinawa this week, specifically so you wouldn’t go the same week.

 

“Aw, always such a joykill, Utahi-meeee,” Gojo laughs, sing-song. “I brought someone for you, so don’t complain, okay?”

 

Iori narrows her eyes, mouth opening to deliver some more verbal abuse, but it’s cut off by Gojo’s loud shout of “SHOKO!!!”

 

Shoko materializes with a cup of steaming coffee and a mouth full of omelette.

 

“‘Sup, ‘Hime,” she nods.

 

“Shoko!” Iori looks caught between excitement at Shoko’s appearance and disgust at Gojo’s continuing presence.

 

“I got it, I got it, I know when I’m not wanted,” Gojo says, fake mournfully.

 

“Do you actually.”

 

Gojo flashes a cheeky little peace sign before disappearing. Iori smiles more genuinely after that, and Shoko’s perpetual lazy grin curves upward. The Tokyo doctor maneuvers a hand over the small of Iori’s back, sliding it into the back pocket, and the two walk away, disappearing in the breakfast rush.

 

“... Holy shit,” Itadori mumbles.

 

“Salmon.”

 

“We saw that, right? We all saw that?”

 

“They’re definitely fucking,” Maki decides.

 

“Who do you think tops? My money’s on Shoko.”

 

Fushiguro twists to face Kugisaki with absolute outrage in his eyes, though the effect is dulled by his flaming cheeks. “That is incredibly inappropriate --”

 

“Shut up, virgin,” Kugisaki shouts over him, and the scarlet hue of his face triples in intensity.

 

“Hey now, let’s not virgin-shame,” Itadori says, attempting to placate, though his words appear to only further embarrass and anger the black-haired teen.

 

While Toge picks away at his ham-and-cheese (woefully sauceless -- there’d been no bottle at this table, and he was too lazy to get up and find one), the first years descend into agitated bickering, obnoxious and loud and very much them.

 

Maybe a bit too loud. The Kyoto students catch sight (or sound) of their table, and soon after, a disdainful, haughty Zenin twin is approaching them, flanked by Toudou and Kamo, the effect not unlike that of a movie star and her intimidating bodyguards.

 

Maki’s eyes immediately narrow when she sees who’s coming over. Toge thinks he actually hears Kugisaki growl.

 

“Mai,” Maki spits, full of vitriol.

 

“Maki.” Mai’s tone is equally acidic.

 

“Brother!” Toudou shouts, and his exaggerated excitement obliterates the Zenin tension like a wave crashing over a sandcastle. Itadori responds with equal enthusiasm as he jumps out of his seat and bumps his proffered fist.

 

Kamo looks on disapprovingly with pinched lips. “Bold of Sukuna’s vessel to be out vacationing.”

 

Itadori deflates minutely at the jab, but Toudou rises to his defense. “You got something against my bro?”

 

Toge hides a smile in his cup of orange juice.

 

Yuuta returns then, sliding back into the empty seat next to Toge, setting down an unfamiliar bottle of hot sauce in front of him.

 

“Sorry, I know you prefer Tabasco,” Yuuta says, apologetic, “I think they only have this brand here though.”

 

Toge manages to choke out a grateful “salmon” amidst the pounding of his heart, which is suddenly loud in his ears.

 

He wishes Yuuta wasn’t so nice and thoughtful sometimes. He’s making it really hard for Toge to resist doing something astonishingly stupid, like slamming him against a wall and shoving his cursed tongue down his throat.

 

As Toge drenches his ham and cheese toast in more hot sauce than necessary, distracted again by his own traitorous, gay thoughts, Toudou catches sight of the newest arrival to their table.

 

“OKKOTSU!”

 

Yuuta jumps in his seat. “Y-Y-Yes?” he sputters, as he turns to the source of the noise.

 

His eyes widen when he sees who shouted his name.

 

“Toudou? What are you doing here --” He frowns, now seeing Mai and Kamo, and after another searching glance, the rest of the Kyoto students sitting at a table across the room. “Iori brought you guys to Okinawa, too?”

 

Mai gives him a withering look. “More like your moron of a teacher found out about our trip and decided to copy us.”

 

As Yuuta flounders to answer, Toudou’s booming voice cuts through once more.

 

“I’ve been waiting to fight you ever since last year’s Goodwill!” He grins, teeth bared, resembling a shark. “Square up, Okkotsu, it’s about to go down.

 

---

 

Toudou’s version of a fight this time translates to an aggressive round-robin beach volleyball tournament.

 

He manages to rope in the rest of the Kyoto crew into his shenanigans by pure virtue of being annoying, and the Tokyo students all follow after. They split up into teams of two -- Toudou insists on pairing up with Itadori, leaving an irritated Fushiguro with an equally irritated Kamo, as Kugisaki had immediately ran to partner up with Maki.

 

The rest of the pairs consist of Mai and Nishimiya, Miwa and Muta, and Toge and Yuuta.

 

“Have you ever played beach volleyball before?” Yuuta wonders curiously, as they watch the Maki-Kugisaki duo thoroughly decimate Mai and Nishimiya.

 

Toge hasn’t actually played any kind of volleyball, but he did see an episode of Haikyuu! once, and he figures that’s close enough.

 

“Salmon.”

 

“At least one of us will know what he’s doing, then,” Yuuta laughs.

 

He and Yuuta win their matches for the most part, mostly thanks to Toge’s own reflexes; Yuuta wasn’t lying when he implied he had no idea what he was doing. With the exception of a close loss against Maki and Kugisaki, their record is spotless by the time they face Itadori and Toudou.

 

Toudou grins toothily again. “You ready?”

 

“Salmon.”

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Yuuta responds weakly.

 

Itadori shoves a fist under the volleyball net and waits for both Toge and Yuuta to bump it.

 

“Let’s have a good game, yeah?” Itadori smiles.

 

Unsurprisingly, it ends up being their hardest matchup. Toge feels himself short of breath only three minutes in as he runs and dives and jumps on the unforgiving sand, chasing after the plastic ball. At least it’s not Itadori and Maki both on the same team; that combination would just be downright embarrassing to go up against.

 

Toge thinks, by the time Itadori slams the last spike into the sand past Yuuta’s feet (who turns to Toge with a sheepish grin, hand on the back of his neck), that they’ve put up a decent fight, all things considered.

 

Toudou laughs as he and Itadori share a high-five. “Looks like I win this time, Okkotsu!” He shifts his victorious grin to Toge. “You.”

 

Toge raises an eyebrow, points to himself, as if saying, me?

 

Toudou nods. “You’re a lot stronger and faster than I expected, man!” He strides over and claps Toge on the back, and Toge stumbles slightly from the force.

 

“I don’t get to see you in action a lot, since you mostly just sit back and talk, but you must be pretty toned, huh?”

 

Toge blinks at him. He can see almost every single one of his pearly white teeth. “Salmon.” I guess.

 

Yuuta clears his throat loudly beside him. Toudou looks a little confused at first, but soon enough the grin returns to his face, and he’s walking away, yelling something about popsicles.

 

It’s a good idea, actually; Toge’s sweating buckets from the rounds of beach volleyball, and he’s turning to Yuuta to ask if he also wants to get popsicles, but the taller boy speaks before he can.

 

“I’m gonna talk to Toudou about something,” he mutters, distracted, before giving Toge a small half-smile. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”

 

Toge watches him leave, trying not to feel bereft.

 

What kind of business does he have with Toudou? Toge sighs as he lays down on one of the beach towels that Maki and Fushiguro had spread out on the sand.

 

“What’re you moping about this time?”

 

Toge turns his head to face Maki whose hands are busy constructing an elaborate sandcastle. For once, she’s unaccompanied by her shorter, louder girlfriend.

 

“Mustard leaf?”

 

“We were playing chicken. I got bored, but Nobara’s still going at it. I think she hates Mai even more than I do sometimes,” she adds, a note of affection in her voice.

 

Toge looks to the shoreline to see Kugisaki sitting atop Itadori’s shoulders, engaged in battle with Mai on top of a very disgruntled Kamo. Fushiguro sits a little ways away, book in hand, enough distance between him and the waves to protect the pages from getting soaked.

 

“So, what’s up with you? Lover boy not giving you enough attention?”

 

Toge glares at her. Maki grins and pulls out a few bills from her beach bag.

 

“If you aren’t doing anything, can you get me a Sprite from the vending?” She waves the bills in his face. “You can get something for yourself, too.”

 

“Tuna mayo.”

 

“I’m busy.” She gestures at her two-story sandcastle with a miniature moat.

 

Toge rolls his eyes, but grabs the bills and gets up to walk towards the vending machines anyways.

 

“Thanks, babe!” Maki calls after him, cackling. Toge flips her off, and she laughs again.

 

The nearest vending machines are positioned outside the public bathrooms. As Toge approaches, he hears conversation from inside, words becoming clearer the closer he gets.

 

“You meet any hot girls overseas, Okkotsu?” comes Toudou’s distinct baritone from behind the bathroom door.

 

Yuuta’s polite, timid chuckle floats through the air. “Ah, no, um, I think Rika’s the only girl I ever…”

 

Toge stops in place just before turning the corner. A cold chill courses through his body despite the heat.

 

Toudou doesn’t sound deterred in the least. “Any hot guys, then?”

 

Silence. Yuuta doesn’t say anything.

 

“I see how it is! Man, you’re boring,” Toudou roars with laughter. “I bet you’re the type who marries their high school sweetheart. You fall for one person, and never look back, huh?”

 

The chill in Toge’s blood turns glacial.

 

“W-Well --”

 

“You are!” Toudou crows. “Bro, you are such a stick in the mud. At least you can put up a good fight --”

 

Toge walks away before he can hear any more.

 

Stupid, he thinks to himself, and to his horror, he can feel his eyes stinging. He’d expected this -- of course Yuuta would be too deeply entrenched in the bonds of his childhood love, too respectful and kind and committed to ever give his heart to anyone else, attached to the one he’d promised his forever to at eleven. Toudou had only confirmed what Toge already feared and knew. 

 

So why did it hurt so much?

 

Maki frowns when she sees him return empty-handed to their spot on the beach, and belatedly Toge realizes he’d completely forgotten to get her Sprite.

 

“The fuck, where are --”

 

Toge doesn’t know what kind of face he’s making, but apparently it’s pathetic enough that Maki’s demeanor immediately softens, and her tone smooths to a gentler cadence that Toge rarely hears.

 

“You okay?”

 

Toge shrugs. “Cod roe.”

 

Maki’s eyes fill with something like pity. Toge looks away.

 

---

 

Private Message: maki

 

maki: how are you?

You: fine

maki: you suck at lying

maki: do you wanna talk about it

You: no

maki: thats fair

maki: do you want me to beat him up

maki: i can

You: thanks but please dont

maki: okay :/

maki: let me know if you change your mind

You: ok

 

---

 

Toge isn’t moping, he’s not, he’s just… prematurely mourning the loss of the boyfriend he’ll never have due to said boyfriend being too hung up on his former childhood romance to ever look at anyone else, that’s all.

 

Maki pats his shoulder comfortingly as Toge reaches for his third mini cup of Ben & Jerry’s in an hour.

 

“My offer to go beat him up still stands.”

 

“I’ll join in!” Kugisaki pipes up.

 

Toge has spent most of the remainder of the Okinawa trip in Maki’s (and consequently Kugisaki’s, by association) company. He’s not avoiding Yuuta per se, but it hurts to look at, talk to, and be near him right now, so apart from the roughly seven or so hours of sleep they share as a result of being in the same hotel room, Toge hasn’t spoken more than two or three words at a time to the older boy since they all played beach volleyball together that first day.

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge mumbles through a bite of strawberry cheesecake ice cream. Thank you, but, again, please don’t beat him up.

 

“No promises,” Kugisaki grins, digging into her own carton, and Maki rolls her eyes at her girlfriend’s proclivity for needless violence, but she’s smiling.

 

They’d gone on a food run earlier today, raiding the convenience store nearby for rice balls, potato chips, and of course all flavors and shapes of ice cream: cartons and sandwiches and mochi. “The post-breakup ritual,” Kugisaki had declared, reverent, despite the fact that Toge hadn’t even been in a relationship to begin with. Mostly he thinks she just wanted to eat ice cream.

 

“It’s kinda --” Kugisaki starts around a mouthful of banana split. Maki nudges her with a shoulder, and the shorter girl swallows down the bite before continuing.

 

“It’s kinda weird,” Kugisaki continues, turning to fix Toge with a thoughtful look, “I always thought Okkotsu liked you.

 

Maki nods fervently in agreement. “Same. He’s so obvious about it.”

 

Toge’s shoulders slump inwards and he prods miserably at his ice cream.

 

Kugisaki seems alarmed at the gloomy turn of mood. A brief, conflicted emotion flashes across her face, before she grabs a tuna mayo rice ball from the table and chucks it Toge’s way.

 

Toge catches it with one hand and his hands automatically start removing the plastic wrap. Kugisaki’s gotten up to dig through her suitcase, which she rifles through for about a minute before unearthing a little black box and some familiar looking controllers.

 

“Wanna play smash bros?”

 

---

 

Private Message: maki

 

maki: so ive been thinking

You: dont hurt urself

maki: stfu im trying to help you out here

maki: ive been thinking

maki: and i feel like this yuuta thing is all just a big misunderstanding

You: how

maki: i mean first of all its like. glaringly obvious how much he likes you

maki: even if youre too dense to see it

You: oh yeah OBVIOUSLY. he likes me

You: thats why he said all that stuff about rika being theonly one for him.

You: obviously

maki: 🙄🙄you are IMPOSSIBLE

maki: anyways

maki: second of all

maki: yuuta looks mad depressed lately and theres a 100% chance its because youre avoiding him

You: maybe he should go pick up some hot okinawan chick like u said then🙄

maki: OH MY GOD

maki: I WAS JOKING

maki: THAT WOULDNT ACTUALLY EVER HAPPEN

You: yeah cuz hes too hung up on rika

maki:

maki: i would love to study your brain you make the most insane leaps of logic

maki: can you try to talk to him, at least

maki: it sucks seeing you both so down

You: no promises

maki: i can and will blackmail you into this

You: ur evil

You: ugh ill talk to him when were back at school

(maki liked this message)

You: its hard to be around him right now

maki: i know

maki: im here for you if you need anything though

maki: panda, too

You: yeah

You: thanks

 

---

 

Toge usually stays up unreasonably late watching random Youtube videos, conspiracy theories and mukbang streams and whatnot; passing out in the middle of an oddly satisfying slime compilation at an unknown hour of the night and waking up to sunlight peeking through the windows and a dead phone battery. These past few days, though, he’s taken to tucking himself in by 10 PM, purely to have an excuse for evading Yuuta’s company, despite the fact that he won’t actually fall asleep until much later.

 

They’re flying back tomorrow, at least. One more restless night of sleeping in close proximity to the guy he likes who can’t ever return his feelings, and Toge can go back to moping in his dorm room in Tokyo instead of moping in a five-star hotel in Okinawa.

 

Toge rolls himself into a blanket burrito, so thick as to nearly be suffocating. Only the very top of his head is visible from beneath the sheets. In twenty-four hours, he’ll be doing this in the privacy of his own room, without Yuuta’s constant presence only a meter away, taunting him with what he can’t have.

 

“Inumaki?” comes Yuuta’s soft, inquiring voice, when he eventually re-enters the room.

 

Itadori had dragged Yuuta to karaoke tonight, alongside most of the rest of their group, and some of the Kyoto party as well. Toge knows this because he was supposed to go too, and backed out last-minute to hang with Maki and Kugisaki instead without letting Yuuta know (since the other teen would only join him if he did).

 

Toge doesn’t answer Yuuta this time either, continuing to feign sleep.

 

There’s a slight movement in the mattress when Yuuta sits down on the edge. An intake of breath, and Toge wonders if he’s going to speak, but the silence stretches on loudly between them.

 

“Good night,” Yuuta whispers finally, anticlimactic, and the mattress shifts back to normal when he stands up.

 

Toge hears the soft pad of footsteps as Yuuta crosses the room and climbs into his own bed, and the melancholy beating of his heart that aches to follow.

 

His heart is really overreacting for a guy he’s only liked for not even a full month, Toge thinks, sullen. Seriously -- it should not be that deep.

 

Maybe it’s more than like, his brain suggests, and he stomps on that thought, shreds it up, kicks it under an imaginary mental rug.

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

Panda Express: Okay

Panda Express: I’ll just say it

Panda Express: Did something happen bt toge and yuuta?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: yes

rice rice baby: no

Panda Express:

the zenin bloodline ends with me: dont listen to him hes lying

rice rice baby: no im not

Panda Express: Dude youve barely left your room the past week :(

Panda Express: And yuuta looks really sad too

Panda Express: Is everything okay?

rice rice baby: yes

Panda Express: You are a really, really bad liar

the zenin bloodline ends with me: toge overheard some convo between yuuta and toudou and now hes convinced yuuta hasnt/will never move on from rika

the zenin bloodline ends with me: and, PERSONALLY

the zenin bloodline ends with me: i think its just a huge misunderstanding

Panda Express: Wait what

Panda Express: Yuuta really said that?

Panda Express: Thats … weird

Panda Express: It doesnt fit his actions at all

the zenin bloodline ends with me: right

the zenin bloodline ends with me: i think toge just heard shit out of context and his fruity little brain took it the worst way possible and ran

rice rice baby: im sorry but wtf about “rikas the only girl i ever liked” is unclear?????

Panda Express: Well for one, you arent a girl

rice rice baby: irrelevant

rice rice baby: toudou asked him about guys too and yuuta didnt say anything

rice rice baby: so not only is he forever hung up on rika

rice rice baby: he doesnt even like boys to begin with

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ok hands down thats the stupidest thing youve ever said and youve said a lot of stupid shit

rice rice baby: i didnt say it i typed it

(the zenin bloodline ends with me disliked this message)

Panda Express: I have to agree with maki there’s no way yuuta is straight

Panda Express: Have you talked to him about it?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: obviously not lmfao

rice rice baby: theres nothing to talk about

Panda Express: Uh

Panda Express: I think theres a lot to talk about

Panda Express: Actually, wait

Panda Express: If youre so worried about rika why dont you ask gojo?

rice rice baby: ...why the fuck would i ask gojo about anything??????

the zenin bloodline ends with me: normally id agree with you

the zenin bloodline ends with me: but panda has a point

the zenin bloodline ends with me: gojos the only one other than yuuta who knows anything about his curse

the zenin bloodline ends with me: who knows, he might be helpful for once

rice rice baby: ill pass

Panda Express: Its either him or yuuta

rice rice baby: how about neither

the zenin bloodline ends with me: YOU SAID YOUD TALK TO HIM WHEN YOU GOT BACK

rice rice baby: i changed my mind

the zenin bloodline ends with me: if you dont talk to at least one of them im gonna throw your switch in the lake

rice rice baby: u r so dramatic

the zenin bloodline ends with me: [IMG_201802041225.jpg]

rice rice baby: w

rice rice baby: WHAT THE FUCK

the zenin bloodline ends with me: you should know by now i dont do empty threats

rice rice baby: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU

rice rice baby: FINE ILL TALK TO GOJO!!!

(the zenin bloodline ends with me liked this message)

(Panda Express liked this message)

rice rice baby: PUT MY SHIT BACK IN MY ROOM

 

---

 

Toge can’t believe his life has come to a point where he is asking Gojo of all people for advice.

 

Relationship advice, no less. And isn’t that hilarious, considering Gojo’s last relationship ended with an infamous breakup outside a KFC that was followed by jujutsu society plunging into shambles, as Gojo and Getou promptly made their personal romantic baggage everyone’s problem.

 

He’s kind of regretting this already.

 

“Rika?” Gojo questions, as he makes a show of organizing the months’ worth of ungraded papers on his desk. “What about her?”

 

Toge rolls his eyes. He knows Gojo must know what he’s talking about, there’s no way he doesn’t, given the size of his shit-eating grin -- he just wants Toge to suffer through the shame of explaining his predicament.

 

“Salmon roe. Tuna mayo.”

 

“Well, we all saw it happen. Yuuta set her free when he broke the curse.” Gojo purses his lips pensively. “I can’t imagine he still feels bound to her or vice versa in any way. At some point, you need to let the dead move on, and it’s been a long time since Rika was alive.”

 

Toge fidgets under his collar.

 

“So basically,” Gojo adds, and the shitty grin comes back full force, “Yuuta’s single, and I think he definitely wants to mingle, if you know what I mean.”

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge mutters distastefully and heads for the door to the backdrop of Gojo’s wheezing laughter. This was a terrible idea. Panda and Maki are fucking liars and traitors.

 

“Wait,” Gojo calls out before he can leave.

 

Toge turns around, hand inches from the door.

 

“I know you’re worried about Rika, and nothing I say will change that.”

 

“Salmon roe.” Yeah, you aren’t helpful at all.

 

Gojo sniffs exaggeratedly. “You’re so rude, Toge.”

 

Toge rolls his eyes. Get on with it.

 

“Why don’t you just ask Yuuta about her?” Gojo continues. “If you hear it from the bearer of the curse himself, that should ease your worries more than any outside party could.”

 

And, well… it’s true, that all of Toge’s anxieties could be solved by simply talking to Yuuta -- he’s just been too afraid to ask, afraid of hearing an answer he won’t like.

 

“Between you and me,” Gojo adds, as if reading his mind, and Toge wouldn’t be surprised if he actually was, “I think you’ll really like the answer.”

 

“...Kelp.”

 

Do you really think so?

 

Gojo smirks. “Ask him and find out.”

 

Ugh. Toge rolls his eyes again as he reaches for the door once more.

 

“You guys grow up so fast,” Gojo fake-sniffles behind him. Toge leaves quickly before he has to witness any more of his teacher’s melodramatics.

 

When he exits the building, he bumps into, speak of the devil -- Okkotsu Yuuta.

 

It’s his fourth time seeing him this week, the last time having been two days ago, when he was out running on the track; he’d looked up after maybe his seventh or eighth lap, made direct eye contact with the approaching special-grade sorcerer, and promptly left the track field after a stiff “kelp” of greeting.

 

Yuuta greets him with a timid, hopeful smile -- a smile Toge absolutely does not deserve after giving him a weeklong cold (lukewarm?) shoulder -- but Yuuta smiles at him anyways, because he’s Yuuta; kind and thoughtful and caring, always thinking of others.

 

Always thinking of Toge, he realizes. Remembering his rice ball preferences, getting him cough syrup and hot sauce without being asked, holding all the grocery bags in one hand so he can hold Toge’s with the other.

 

The throat medicine he gave him before the Okinawa trip weighs heavily in Toge’s pocket as Yuuta glances down to meet his eyes.

 

Just go for it, Maki’s words from last month echo in his head. You’ll like what happens next.

 

“Inumaki --”

 

“Salmon roe?” Toge finds himself interrupting. Do you want to come over?

 

Yuuta looks surprised at the sudden invitation after days of (relative) silence, but takes it in stride. “Sure,” he smiles again, bigger this time, shy and sincere; Toge can feel the warmth of it wrap around him like a soft blanket.

 

Here goes nothing, Toge thinks, as he leads the way into the darkness of his room.






Toge is taking Maki’s advice and going for it.

 

Kind of. If “going for it” means inviting the object of your affections over, preparing to confess and clear the air and instead blurting out a suggestion to watch some crappy anime live action because you chickened out at the last minute and Fullmetal Alchemist was the first title that came to mind -- then yeah, Toge is going hard as hell.

 

“This is nice,” Yuuta hums as he climbs onto Toge’s bed, watching him pull up a pirated version of the aforementioned movie. “I feel like we haven’t been able to hang out together as much lately.”

 

Yuuta doesn’t bring up the obvious fact that the blame for their recent lack of contact lies with Toge alone, nor does he question Toge about why he’s been so distant -- he simply looks happy to be in Toge’s company again.

 

It makes Toge’s chest feel unbearably tight.

 

“Salmon,” Toge agrees, after a beat, and presses play.

 

The two of them lean back against Toge’s pillows, side by side on the bed, shoulders and thighs touching, the glow of his laptop screen the only light source in the otherwise dim room.

 

Truthfully, Toge can’t find it in him to pay any attention to the movie at all, even though he had suggested it. He’s far too distracted by Yuuta’s presence beside him, and rather than the actors on screen he finds himself studying the taller boy’s profile instead, drinking in the sight like a glass of cold water after having intentionally deprived himself of the view for days.

 

The smooth, obsidian locks that frame his angular face, that Toge desperately wants to run his fingers through. The slope of his nose, sharp and handsome, that Toge fantasizes about accidentally bumping with his own during a clumsy first kiss. His lips, soft and pink and slightly parted, downturned now in concentration.

 

Because Yuuta is actually watching this god awful movie. Because Toge suggested it, and Yuuta treasures every random thought and word and idea that comes out of his mess of a brain -- and doesn’t that just make Toge’s heart squeeze something tender, the unnameable four-letter feeling bubbling in his chest, shy and sweet.

 

He’s still staring at his lips when Yuuta suddenly turns to face him.

 

“Hey, isn’t this the same actor who --” Yuuta cuts off when he sees that Toge is already looking his way.

 

Toge glances up to meet Yuuta’s eyes a beat too late. They’re dark, they’ve always been dark, and in the gloomy lighting they look darker still -- but right now they seem dark with something else entirely.

 

He notices those eyes flicker downwards, almost imperceptibly, to where his mouth hides under his collar, and Toge can’t help but do the same, gaze drawn like a magnet to Yuuta’s supple lips, so unlike his own chapped ones. In the background, Edward Elric shouts something about philosopher’s stones, but it’s nothing more than a buzz in Toge’s ears, and Yuuta doesn’t take his eyes off of him for a second.

 

It’s painfully obvious that neither of them are watching the movie anymore.

 

Toge should say something. Anything. But once again, like the time in the photobooth, he’s struck utterly speechless: caught in the paralyzing spell of Yuuta’s smoldering gaze, rice ball code words failing him as Yuuta slowly, hesitantly, reaches one trembling hand up to pull down his collar, exposing his face in its entirety, seals and all.

 

Toge swallows, and watches Yuuta watch his throat bob. Watches Yuuta’s face lean in ever closer. So close they’re almost touching.

 

He wants to shrink the distance between them to zero. He wants their noses to bump, clumsy and inexperienced, as they kiss for the first time. He wants to explore every single centimeter of the 180 that comprise the boy he likes --

 

The boy who likes someone else, he remembers, has promised himself to another years and years ago. But even as Toge feels his flight instinct activating, telling him to run before he gets hurt, Gojo’s annoying, grating voice rings through his mind:

 

Between you and me, I think you’ll really like the answer.

 

Fullmetal Alchemist continues blaring in the background, a reminder of Toge’s initial failure to talk. He won’t chicken out again.

 

Toge pulls away, but this time, without the intent of leaving. Still, he almost regrets it when Yuuta’s face falls, nearly comical in how discouraged he looks -- but Toge has to do this, has to make sure, clarify with 100% certainty he won’t be tainting the longest and most precious bond of Yuuta’s life if he gives into his feelings.

 

Yuuta springs back too, a curtain of shame pulling his pretty mouth downwards.

 

“I -- oh my god, I’m so sorry, I thought -- I thought that --” Yuuta gulps and his gaze darts across the room nervously, to the walls, the floor, anywhere but Toge. A cute blush stains his cheekbones; absently Toge thinks red is a fantastic color on him.

 

“Salmon.” It’s fine.

 

Yuuta looks slightly less panicked at that, if still forlorn. Toge bites his lip anxiously before gathering the willpower to voice his next concerns.

 

“... Rika?” Toge finally asks.

 

Yuuta’s despondent expression morphs into confusion. “Rika?”

 

“Mustard leaf. Tuna mayo.” 

 

Yuuta blinks at him in surprise. “You heard that?”

 

Toge feels his face heat up, but he keeps his gaze steady, and nods.

 

“Salmon roe.” You said… Rika was the only girl you ever liked.

 

Confusion further saturates Yuuta’s expression, eyebrows doing something complicated and funny. “Yeah. The only girl, ” he agrees. “But you’re not… a girl,” he finishes, a bit awkwardly.

 

The implications of that statement has Toge’s breath evaporating in his lungs, but he doesn’t dare to let himself get his hopes up just yet.

 

“Tuna mayo?” he presses. And Rika’s not mad?

 

“Oh,” Yuuta chuckles nervously. “Well. Actually --”

 

Rika chooses that moment to materialize into being, huge and ominous and threatening, and immediately Toge starts seeing his life flash by before his eyes. As a shitty PowerPoint slideshow of his best and worst moments plays through his mind, the special-grade before him, with a creaking, guttural groan, opens her gaping maw that has incinerated many a curse to dust.

 

Toge kind of wishes he just kissed Yuuta if he’s going to die anyways.

 

“Rika loves Yuuta and Yuuta loooves Toge, so Rika loves Toge too!” she announces jubilantly, and Toge squeezes his eyes shut, ready for the end --

 

Wait, what.

 

Toge opens his eyes again, disbelieving, just in time to see Yuuta groan and cover his face. It does little to hide the flush that has now spread to his ears. 

 

“Thanks, Rika,” he mumbles from behind his hands.

 

Rika shrieks happily and disappears back into the depths of Yuuta’s cursed subconscious as Toge tries and fails not to freak the fuck out.

 

“...Tuna,” he croaks, finally. His face is so hot he thinks he could fry an egg on it at this point.

 

You really like me?

 

Maki, Panda, and Kugisaki had all said it, even Gojo had sure as hell implied it -- but Toge never believed them, neck deep in an ocean of his own denial.

 

“Well, you heard Rika,” Yuuta says glumly.

 

Toge shakes his head, and maybe it’s selfish of him, but he wants -- needs -- to hear it from Yuuta himself. “Bonito flakes.”

 

“You want me to -- fine,” Yuuta sighs. “Yes, I like you. I’ve liked you for ages. Ever since --” he swallows, steels himself to continue. “Ever since our first mission together, I think.”

 

Their first mission -- but that was…

 

“Salmon roe,” he mutters, dazed. That long?

 

Yuuta chuckles self-deprecatingly. “I never said anything because I was too nervous.”

 

Toge feels dizzy with the revelation that Yuuta has been experiencing for over a year, what he himself had only realized a month ago.

 

“Tuna mayo,” he whispers, reaching out to grasp one of Yuuta’s larger hands -- still slightly quivering from nerves -- in his own.

 

I’m sorry I kept you waiting.

 

“Salmon.”

 

I like you, too. I like you so, so much.

 

(Maybe more than like.)

 

Toge bites his lip again, swallowing down all the words he wants to say back but can’t. All the words that Yuuta still understands anyways, because out of everyone Toge’s ever met, no one’s ever understood him as deeply and intuitively as Yuuta does.

 

“Fuck,” Yuuta says, voice sounding somewhat strangled, eyes shadowed over with something Toge feels in the pit of his belly. They keep flicking to his mouth, the cursed seals adorning his lips, and finally, finally, Toge understands what Maki was talking about when she kept telling him to take off the mask.

 

“Can -- can I --” Yuuta doesn’t get to finish whatever he was about to ask, because Toge is pulling him down and crashing their mouths together.

 

For all that Toge’s imagined kissing Yuuta (and he has, countless times, in many varying contexts), the fantasy can’t even begin to compare to the real thing. Kissing Yuuta makes him feel like they’re the only two people on earth; everything and everyone else fades to nothing with the sensation of Yuuta’s lips on his. Kissing Yuuta feels like the first day of spring and the first snow of winter, it feels like a summer rain and an autumn breeze, every season at once. Kissing Yuuta feels like the homecoming after a storm, curling up against the kotatsu and letting the warmth encase you absolutely from head to toe.

 

Toge never knew kissing could feel this good. It’s so good that he almost wants to cry.

 

Soon enough, the slow, sweet slide of their lips against each other transitions into something needier, hot and heavy and desperate. Yuuta groans into him like a dying man whose last wish is to taste the inside of his mouth -- and who is Toge to deny him? He parts his lips and Yuuta eagerly dives in, licking into every corner and surface like he’s trying to map it all out with his tongue. Toge brings a hand up to run through Yuuta’s hair like he’s been wanting to -- it’s rougher than he imagined, and when he pulls, Yuuta moans deliciously against his teeth and the sound makes him feel delirious.

 

“Inumaki,” Yuuta pants, biting down hard on Toge’s lip, hard enough to draw blood, and this time Toge suppresses a groan of his own.

 

“Bonito flakes,” he protests.

 

Your tongue’s in my mouth, call me by my name.

 

Toge,” Yuuta says it like a prayer, and the sound of his name on Yuuta’s lips sends a rush of heat through Toge’s entire body, brimming with need and want and another four-lettered feeling.

 

“Toge,” Yuuta repeats, reverent, and he sounds equal parts overjoyed and incredulous, like he can’t believe this is happening.

 

Yuuta,” Toge breathes into his mouth in return, and Yuuta keens and kisses him even harder.

 

“I love it when you say my name,” Yuuta murmurs between kisses, voice low and husky, and it stirs something deep in Toge’s gut. “I love that it’s the only one you ever say.”

 

Toge hadn’t even noticed that. But it’s true, he’s never called anyone by name before -- anyone except for Yuuta.

 

Maybe he also caught feelings ages ago.

 

Toge’s fingers tug harder where they’re nestled in raven tresses, and it only spurs the other teen on, Yuuta attacking his mouth with renewed fervor, vigorously sucking and biting and Toge can taste his own blood on Yuuta’s tongue but he can’t even begin to bring himself to care.

 

He’s not sure how long they make out for, but at some point the lack of oxygen starts feeling dangerously fatal, and he tilts his head back to take a gulp of fresh air, their lips separating with an obscene sounding pop that makes Toge’s cheeks glow, incandescent.

 

“I lied,” Yuuta rasps, “earlier, when I said I liked you.”

 

His blood freezes in his veins, panic and confusion clouding his mind, but it’s a false alarm, because --

 

“That wasn’t right. I don’t just like you,” Yuuta elaborates. “I love you.”

 

Toge’s eyes widen to saucers, and he feels a full-body blush warm him up at how easily Yuuta says the word that Toge’s been shying away from all this time.

 

Love --

 

“I think I’m in love with you.”

 

Love, that’s the word that Yuuta uses, love, not like. And not even just love, but in love … 

 

Toge swallows, dizzy with emotion, heart expanding almost painfully.

 

“I think I’ve been in love with you for a long time.”

 

Bullseye, knockout, one-hit KO.

 

Toge is dead on the ground. Toge’s never felt more alive.

 

“Sorry,” Yuuta whispers, when Toge continues to stare at him, breathless and speechless, the organ in his chest fluttering madly like a baby bird aching to take to the skies. “Was that too much?”

 

Too much. Toge could laugh -- it’s the complete opposite.

 

I don’t think I could ever get enough of you.

 

Toge responds with an incoherent whine and a kiss on the lips. Yuuta sighs pleasantly into it, reciprocates by peppering Toge’s face all over with little pecks and playful bites, before moving down to his neck, licking and biting and sucking at the pulse point, and Toge’s breath hitches audibly but he’s too wound up to be mortified.

 

“You don’t have to say it back,” Yuuta hums, intent of reassurance in his tone but all it does is excite Toge further when the words vibrate against his throat. He twists a hand in Toge’s hair, teeth descending again to graze upon Toge’s clavicle. “I just needed to tell you.”

 

Toge whimpers, and he thinks it’s a little unfair that Yuuta is telling him all these things while sucking hickeys into his skin and Toge can barely think through the feverish haze in his mind to properly answer.

 

“I can wait. I’ve been waiting a while,” Yuuta confesses into his collarbone; he peeks up at him from below with doe eyes, looking so thoroughly enamored it makes Toge feel embarrassed, “but you’re worth waiting for.”

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge mutters hoarsely as the organ in his chest jackhammers wildly against his ribcage, something undoubtedly blossoming inside. You can’t just keep saying things like this.

 

Yuuta returns to Toge’s face then, satisfied with the number of bruises he’s left, and lovingly presses their mouths together again.

 

“Why not?” Toge can feel Yuuta smiling against his lips.

 

Because you’re going to make me fall in love with you, Toge thinks, childishly, petulantly, as his heart thrums so fast it almost feels like it isn’t beating at all.

 

But no, that’s not right. Because it implies that Toge hasn’t already, isn’t already…

 

In love, he realizes. He’s in love.

 

For all that he was terrified of naming that four-letter word, when he finally does, he feels as light as a feather, airborne and drunk on glee, the seeds of emotion in his heart finally sprouting like a garden in bloom.

 

And maybe, he ponders vaguely in the back of his mind -- maybe that’s why it only took a month for him to wholly and completely fall for Okkotsu Yuuta, because he had been in love with him all along.

 

I just needed to tell you.

 

All of a sudden, he understands how Yuuta was feeling just a few minutes ago, because now that he’s accepted it in his mind, he’s consumed with the desperate urge, the desperate need to shout it out. As if his love  -- love, Toge thinks, and how utterly, ridiculously happy he feels saying that word now -- is threatening to physically burst from his chest if he keeps it inside any longer.

 

So instead of answering Yuuta’s question, Toge cups his stupid, gorgeous face in his hands, stares directly into those inky eyes, pools of black so deep, Toge thinks he could and would gladly drown in them.

 

“Toge --?”

 

“I love you, Yuuta.”

 

It’s weird. It’s new, foreign, strange; words leaving his mouth that are neither curse nor rice ball ingredients. It’s exciting and wonderful and Yuuta turns the sweetest shade of red hearing it; Toge never wants that color to leave.

 

Wide-eyed, Yuuta ducks his head into the crook of Toge’s neck as he wraps around him in an impossibly tight hug. “You can’t just say stuff like that.”

 

“Tuna mayo?” Toge teases, amused. Weren’t you waiting for me to say it back?

 

For all that Yuuta was so eager to express his feelings, he sucks at being on the receiving end. The thought makes Toge feel hopelessly fond.

 

“I wasn’t ready,” Yuuta moans.

 

Toge feels a smile stretch his mouth so wide it almost hurts. Giddy and lightheaded, he rests his cheek down onto the back of Yuuta’s head, who’s still hiding away in his neck, and presses a kiss into his hair. Yuuta melts at the attention, and he burrows even deeper into Toge’s skin.

 

“Yuuta. Yuuuu-ta. Yuuta,” Toge croons, loving the feel of the name on his tongue, nuzzling into his hair. “Yuuta, I love you.”

 

Yuuta finally resurfaces.

 

“You’re so mean,” he complains, bright red, avoiding eye contact. “I hate you.”

 

Toge’s smile grows even bigger. 

 

“Salmon roe?” Really? I thought you just said you were in love with me?

 

Yuuta colors vermilion, cheeks a painting at this point. “You’re -- you -- ugh.

 

He dives back into his hiding spot amongst the juncture of Toge’s neck and shoulder, and Toge can’t help but laugh, bright and joyful and weightless.

 

Just go for it. You’ll like what happens next. 

 

Yeah, Maki was right. He did like what happened next. 

 

---

 

Group Message: BIG DICK IS BACK IN TOWN

 

the zenin bloodline ends with me: congrats on finally getting your man @rice rice baby

Panda Express: DUDE!!!

Panda Express: I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!!!!!

Panda Express: I’m so happy for both of you!!!!

rice rice baby: djdhdksjsjskd;’;@”@#;🍙😳🐟🍙🤬🐠🤬😩🤡👽😪😈💩🤡😈👿👌🤑✌️🍙

Panda Express: Bro keysmashed so hard he started speaking emoji

rice rice baby: IT HASNT EVEN BEEN AN HOUR HOW DID U ALREADU FIND OUT

the zenin bloodline ends with me: just saw yuuta leave your room looking like he met god, doesnt take a genius

the zenin bloodline ends with me: also his neck is like.

the zenin bloodline ends with me: completely purple???

the zenin bloodline ends with me: are you an animal or something

Panda Express: Damn toge get it!!

Panda Express: WAIT I RESENT THAT ANIMAL COMMENT

rice rice baby: oh my god

rice rice baby: I TOLD HIM TO WEAR A SCARF

the zenin bloodline ends with me: forget a scarf, he needs a full face mask

the zenin bloodline ends with me: his cheeks? of all places?

rice rice baby: he did it to me first those were for revenge :/

the zenin bloodline ends with me: ahhh makes sense

the zenin bloodline ends with me: hes obsessed with your snake tats

Panda Express: Maki you never found me a zebra to punch for hiding that from toge :(

the zenin bloodline ends with me: get over it

rice rice baby: HA

rice rice baby: serves u right for breaking the bro code

Panda Express: But i was a really good wingman wasnt i?

rice rice baby: wingman wtf

rice rice baby: what did u even do

rice rice baby: if anything maki was the wingman

Panda Express: :(((((((((

the zenin bloodline ends with me: nah fuck that

the zenin bloodline ends with me: i want no responsibility attached to me for whatever levels of gross pda you two are about to unleash

rice rice baby: wow…. homophobic much?

the zenin bloodline ends with me: i have a girlfriend.

 

---

 

They go on another date, a real one this time.

 

Yuuta brings him to the movies because there was a new installment in Toge’s favorite shitty horror series that he wanted to see. When they arrive, Yuuta gets cold feet, trying (and failing) to convince Toge to watch some sappy romcom instead, and after the first jumpscare which results in Yuuta spilling their popcorn bucket all over the ground, he ends up spending the rest of Human Earthworm 4 hiding his face with one hand and squeezing Toge’s to death with the other.

 

Toge finds it all horribly endearing.

 

“That was awful,” Yuuta complains, as they exit the theater, credits rolling.

 

Toge agrees. The fake blood was so garishly red and thick it resembled ketchup more than anything else, and the acting was atrocious even for Human Earthworm standards -- Toge has no idea how any of the dialogue in that movie got greenlit. It was an absolute shitshow from start to end, and Toge loved every single appalling minute.

 

Though it’s clear Yuuta means a different type of awful than Toge does, judging by his pale and sweaty skin as they’re walking outside. Toge squeezes his hand comfortingly, and Yuuta shoots him a tiny, grateful smile.

 

The sun hangs proudly in the sky today, not a cloud in sight, and its unforgiving rays coupled with the lack of wind makes the air hot and muggy, Toge quickly working up a sweat even after two hours in the air-conditioned theater. He pulls down his collar to rid his lower face of the extra, needless heat, and it’s then that he sees their saving grace, an ice cream stand sitting in the shade of a tall oak tree.

 

Toge tugs on Yuuta’s hand to grab his attention.

 

“Ice cream’s a good idea,” Yuuta agrees, wiping sweat off his forehead.

 

They head over to the little booth, which turns out to sell gelato instead, as the owner persistently corrects. Toge couldn’t really care any less, it’s all the same to him, but Yuuta stammers and apologizes for mixing the two up.

 

Once again, Toge is amazed at the dichotomy of his special-grade boyfriend: able to strike fear in the non-existent hearts of the most powerful curses with just his mere presence, yet so charmingly flustered and nervous dealing with regular-ass people.

 

“I’ll have the hazelnut ice -- gelato! The hazelnut gelato,” Yuuta stutters. “Toge, what about you?”

 

Toge surveys the array of various ice cream/gelato flavors, then taps on the glass. “Tuna.”

 

“Dark chocolate for him, please.”

 

The shopkeeper hums approvingly and busies themself filling up their cups. This time, Toge slaps down a wad of bills before Yuuta has a chance, smirking at the cute frown on the taller boy’s face.

 

“I was gonna pay…” Yuuta mourns as they stroll through the park the gelato/ice cream stand had stood guard at.

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge dismisses. You can pay next time.

 

Yuuta’s eyes light up. “Next time?”

 

Toge stops walking to stare at him disdainfully. “Salmon roe.” We’re dating, idiot.

 

Yuuta’s face glows with elation. “I know. I’m just really happy,” he admits. “I still can’t believe it sometimes.”

 

Toge feels his own cheeks warm up at Yuuta’s sappy response, so he starts walking again, picking up the pace. Yuuta follows along effortlessly, like the long-legged bastard he is.

 

“Do you remember,” Yuuta starts shyly, when they wind up sitting down on a park bench to finish their frozen treats, “when we went to get crepes that one time after our mission? I really wanted that to be a date.”

 

Toge blinks at him, spoonful of gelato-ice cream halfway to his mouth.

 

“Bonito flakes.” No way.

 

“I did,” Yuuta insists. “I even read some articles about what to do on first dates the night before, only I got too nervous and didn’t actually ask you out…”

 

Toge feels winded, like he just received a Maki-punch to the gut.

 

“Caviar? Tuna mayo?” The fuck? Why didn’t you?

 

“Like I said, I was nervous.” Yuuta scratches the back of his head sheepishly and looks at the ground.

 

Man. Maki was right; they really could’ve been dating this whole time.

 

“Salmon roe,” Toge gripes, turning his head. If Toge pouts and no one sees it, he didn’t really pout.

 

“You could’ve said something too…”

 

Mustard leaf.

 

“Yes, well, now you know Rika doesn’t hate you.”

 

Toge muses on that for a second. Quite the opposite, actually, Yuuta’s curse has somehow taken a liking to Toge, has begun coming out to defend and protect him the same as she does for Yuuta. It had been quite a surprise on their last mission, though Yuuta hadn’t seemed surprised at all.

 

Rika herself appears to have strengthened, too. When Toge asked Yuuta about it, he had started a long, rambling explanation that ended with the words “grows stronger the more love I feel --” before Yuuta colored pink and abruptly stopped talking.

 

It’s flattering, Toge guesses, that Yuuta loves him so much it powers up his already-overpowered special-grade cursed spirit. Also aggravating, because the notion makes Toge fall a little further in love himself. He’s not sure how much longer he can keep falling.

 

A pleasant, comforting silence stretches between them as they both chip away at their gelato. When Toge reaches the bottom of his cup, he glances to his side and sees that Yuuta still has over half of his own ice cream remaining.

 

“Salmon roe.” Gimme some. 

 

“You’re so greedy.” Still, Yuuta doles out a spoonful of his dessert, and holds it up to Toge’s mouth.

 

“Say aahh.

 

Toge rolls his eyes. Since they’ve started officially dating, Yuuta insists on feeding him at any given opportunity; outwardly he acts like he can’t stand it but he’d be lying if he said it didn’t make him just a little bit giddy.

 

Toge dutifully opens up, waiting for the delivery, but it never comes. Yuuta pulls the spoon back and sticks the whole bite into his own mouth, laughter in his eyes; Toge’s mouth drops further open in shock and offense.

 

Bonito --”

 

His protests are cut short when Yuuta cups his face and presses their lips together. Toge can taste the sweetness of hazelnut on his tongue when it breaches the entrance of his mouth.

 

Toge continues the kiss for a few more seconds before pulling away.

 

“Tuna mayo,” he grumbles, but he’s not displeased.

 

Yuuta laughs before offering him an actual bite of his ice cream this time.






Sometime after an impromptu picnic lunch but before sundown, Yuuta’s phone rings.

 

Bonito flakes. Bonito flakes. Bonito --

 

Toge manages not to choke on his (read: Yuuta’s, since, once again, he’d finished eating first and seized possession of his boyfriend’s remaining food shortly thereafter) chicken katsu sandwich, but it’s a close thing.

 

Yuuta quickly silences his phone, declining the call -- from Toge’s point of view he can vaguely make out the beginning of Gojo’s name on the screen before it goes black.

 

“Cod roe.”

 

Did you really make my voice your ringtone.

 

Yuuta turns red. “Uh, um, maybe?”

 

Toge coughs pointedly.

 

“I -- okay, yeah, I did,” Yuuta mumbles, redness reaching his ears. “If it makes you uncomfortable though I can change --”

 

“Bonito flakes,” Toge interjects. Don’t you dare.

 

Yuuta raises his eyebrows in surprise, then smiles down at him, tender and adoring.

 

“Tuna,” Toge scoffs. You’re such a sap.

 

“You like it.”

 

Toge rolls his eyes but doesn’t bother refuting, because, unfortunately, yeah, he does like it.

 

So when they’re walking back to the train station, hand in hand this time, and Yuuta points out another one of those cutesy decorated picture kiosks, turning to Toge with wide, hopeful eyes, pleading something about how we didn’t get to decorate them last time -- all Toge can say is salmon.

 

“This brings back memories,” Yuuta intones cheerfully as they slide into the cramped booth.

 

The first time Toge had found himself in a photobooth with Yuuta, he’d been confused and unsure, newly realized feelings fluttering about haphazardly in his gut with no route to follow.

 

Now, he knows with absolute certainty the nature and depth of his emotions. Now there’s a map for his love, and the destination sits smushed next to him in the scarce seating of the kiosk.

 

The camera flashes off, once, twice, three times; they do peace signs, hand hearts, even Toge’s signature bonito flakes, arms-crossed gesture.

 

The timer is counting down for their fourth and final picture. Toge already knows what he wants to do.

 

“What should --” Yuuta starts, and Toge pulls him down by his shirt collar and swallows the rest of his sentence.

 

The camera goes off. Toge pulls away, and is delighted to see Yuuta painted crimson.

 

This time, they actually decorate the photos; Yuuta insists on slapping cat ears and whiskers on Toge’s face so Toge does the same to him with dog ears. After many heart stickers and lipstick marks and sparkle effects, they hit print, and climb outside the booth to pick up the photostrips.

 

Yuuta immediately slots his into the back of his clear phone case, where it joins the first one they’d taken all those weeks ago. Toge takes a longer second to admire their pictures and editing.

 

Especially the last one. Yuuta’s eyes are wide open in surprise, and to Toge’s unending glee, the camera has captured perfectly the scarlet hues of his blush.

 

“Ready to head back?” Yuuta asks.

 

The redness has mostly faded from his cheeks now, leaving only a faintest tinge of pink.

 

“Salmon,” Toge affirms.

 

Toge misses the saturation immediately, but at least he has the picture, and that blush will never fade.

 

And anyways, he thinks, as he grabs Yuuta’s hand this time and watches roses bloom across his cheeks, there will be plenty more chances to fluster him in the future.

 

They have all the time in the world, after all.







 

 

EPILOGUE:



“Itadori!” Yuuta cries, panic bleeding into his voice. “Are you okay? Where’s Fushiguro?”

 

A hacking cough answers him. “I got ‘im,” Itadori wheezes, hobbling up from the wreckage of smashed cement with Fushiguro hanging limply from his arms. “I’m fine, but Fushiguro’s unconscious --”

 

Yuuta runs to his position, Toge following closely behind.

 

“He doesn’t seem to be injured anywhere,” Yuuta inspects. “Just exhausted.”

 

“Oh, thank god,” Itadori sighs in relief, some of the panic in his eyes ebbing away.

 

The curse they’re fighting doesn’t seem impressed at the lull in action. With a piercing howl, it lunges forwards --

 

Blast away!

 

Another inhuman scream breaks the air as the curse knocks back through a dozen concrete walls. Toge coughs, feeling blood coat his mouth, but the feeling only lasts briefly as Yuuta instinctively brings a hand up to heal his throat.

 

“Kelp,” Toge starts. “Salmon roe. Caviar.”

 

“You sure?” Yuuta asks.

 

Toge nods. The curse they’re fighting is powerful, most definitely special-grade, because the higher-ups are always lying out their asses. With Fushiguro out of commission, it’ll be even tougher work as they simultaneously have to fight the curse and protect their passed-out junior. Itadori, for all his enthusiasm and brute strength, honestly isn’t much help unless he awakens Sukuna (something everyone would rather avoid); the curse has proven annoyingly resistant to physical attacks.

 

“Rika,” Yuuta asks, and Rika unfurls into existence, threatening, intimidating, and endlessly powerful.

 

“Yuuuuta,” she croons. “Tooogeee.”

 

Toge will never get used to this, but Rika’s affection is vastly preferable to her ire.

 

“Hi, Rika,” Yuuta smiles. “Can you watch over our underclassmen for us? Me and Toge are gonna try something.”

 

Rika grins, baring all her terrifyingly sharp teeth, as she manifests a megaphone into Toge’s waiting hands. “Yesssss.”

 

Itadori watches with no small amount of confusion as Rika protectively curls around him and Fushiguro, and as Yuuta and Toge step forwards in tandem to approach the recovering, fuming special-grade. Toge’s previous command seems to only have angered it.

 

“Mustard leaf?”

 

“As I’ll ever be.”

 

Yuuta wraps his hands around Toge’s throat. Toge holds the megaphone up to his mouth, positioned dead-on the target.

 

The curse screeches in fury as it barrels towards them, millimeters, milliseconds away -- 

 

Toge takes a deep breath.

 

Die.

 

The explosion rattles the whole building, as such an enormous mass of cursed energy disintegrates into nothing in an instant. Toge has a coughing fit, not because of the command, but rather due to the giant cloud of dust now floating in the air, unsettled by the exorcism.

 

“All good?” Yuuta asks, concerned, even though Toge knows that he, with his uncanny, cursed sense, can definitely tell his throat is fine. But he asks anyway, because he’s Yuuta after all, always prone to worrying about his loved ones.

 

Toge pats him on the arm. “Salmon.”

 

When they return to Itadori and Fushiguro, the latter is still conked out, and the former’s jaw has dropped so low Toge is worried about the amount of dust he is unintentionally ingesting -- though considering the boy’s eaten who knows how many of Sukuna’s ancient, wrinkly fingers by now, dust is probably a nonissue.

 

“Holy shit!” Itadori yelps excitedly. “That was so -- so -- you were just like, DIE! And it exploded, holy shit, that was awesome! And healing him at the same time -- just --” Itadori shuts his eyes and squeals. “So cool!”

 

Yuuta looks taken aback by the barrage of compliments. “Ah, thanks?”

 

“Tuna, tuna.”

 

“I can’t believe Fushiguro was out for the whole thing,” Itadori crows. “He’s gonna be pissed when he wakes up.”

 

“Don’t aggravate him too much,” Yuuta says weakly.

 

“No promises!”






Itadori excitedly recounts the story in the hospital wing when Fushiguro regains consciousness. He sits in an adjacent chair with Kugisaki across from him, Yuuta and Toge at the foot of the bed. A half-eaten pepperoni pizza lies across Fushiguro’s blankets, slowly diminishing in size as the four of them chew away.

 

“And then, Inumaki was like, ‘DIE!’ and the curse just,” Itadori spreads his hands, mimicking an explosion, “boom, gone! And the whole time, Okkotsu had his hands on his neck to heal him so it wouldn’t hurt his throat.”

 

Fushiguro nods pensively. “That’s a really smart team-up. It practically makes Inumaki invincible.”

 

Kugisaki flicks her gaze briefly towards the team-up in question, then back at the pizza box as she reaches for another slice.

 

“Sounds --”

 

“-- so cool, right?!” Itadori interrupts.

 

“-- gay as fuck,” Kugisaki finishes, and Yuuta chokes. Toge slaps his back until his coughs subside.

 

Kugisaki pays them no mind, thoughts already elsewhere as she digs into the cheese and pepperoni. “Hey, do you think Maki would do a combo move with me?”

 

“Salmon.”

 

“You’re right,” Kugisaki nods, in the middle of chewing. “I’ll ask her about it later today.”

 

Itadori perks up at the discussion of combo moves and whips to face Fushiguro, beaming. 

 

“Let’s make up a combo move too!”

 

The ten shadows user flushes considerably. “What --”

 

“You don’t want to get left behind, do you?”

 

While Fushiguro splutters incoherently, Itadori continues to badger him about their “epic combo attack”. Itadori grows increasingly excited and animated the more he talks, and Fushiguro’s face gets increasingly redder the closer the other boy gets.

 

In the commotion, Kugisaki grabs the last slice of pizza before Toge can think to take another.

 

Toge turns to Yuuta expectantly.

 

“Always so greedy.” Yuuta tears his slice in half and gives the bigger one to Toge.

 

“Love you too,” Toge responds as he stuffs his mouth with pizza, smiling as Yuuta’s cheeks bloom a shade of red to rival their junior’s.