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no one is what they were before

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“Oh, I will be cruel to you, Marya Morevna. It will stop your breath, how cruel I can be. But you understand, don’t you? You are clever enough. I am a demanding creature. I am selfish and cruel and extremely unreasonable. But I am your servant. When you starve I will feed you; when you are sick I will tend you. I crawl at your feet; for before your love, your kisses, I am debased. For you alone I will be weak.”
― Catherynne M. Valente, Deathless

*

The moment those bright blue eyes landed on her, Utahime knew she was in trouble.

She skidded to a halt just a few feet before him, her heart skipping a beat under his gaze, but he stayed incredibly still, almost serene in a sense. It was foolish to think that way. Only danger could be written in the stars when he pulled the black band away from his eyes, and she could see it in them now. He must’ve seen the fear in her own eyes because the corners of his lips tugged upward into the facsimile of a smile.

“Hello, Utahime,” he greeted, almost fondly. “It’s been a while.”

Utahime forced herself not to react, somehow keeping her voice steady. “Hello, Gojo.”

As far as she was concerned, it hadn’t been long enough. (Or maybe it had been too long, that old familiar yearning for him echoing traitorously in the back of her mind.) The last time she’d seen him, she hadn’t been focused on the blue of his eyes so much as the red of blood everywhere. Why she had been one of the few spared was beyond her even to this day, but she was never given the chance to ask him.

She doubted he’d be so considerate a second time around.

Gojo tilted his head. “Did you miss me?”

Of course I missed you, her mind screamed.

Out loud, Utahime managed a simple, “No.”

He laid a hand over his heart. “Still eager to shoot me down. And when I was so happy to see you again. How cruel.”

Truth be told, she didn’t think he actually cared. If he had, he wouldn’t have left the way he did, leaving her nothing but devastation and a hole carved into her heart that felt the same size as the hole in the earth he’d created with his technique. Nothing had been the same since then. He was gone for so long, appearing randomly like a tornado of destruction only to vanish into thin air again. If he truly gave a damn about her, she didn’t think he’d be here now.

After all, everyone knew that no one survived meeting Gojo Satoru. If a sorcerer crossed paths with him, they started counting down the last seconds of their life. Utahime wouldn’t be foolish enough to think she was any different.

“What do you want?” Utahime asked tensely. It felt pointless, but other than keeping him talking, she didn’t know what else to do. He’d always enjoyed talking. Maybe she was prolonging the inevitable, but she’d do anything before getting on her knees and waiting for him to end it.

“I wanted to see how you were doing,” Gojo said.

Utahime’s fingers twitched at her side. “Come to mock me about how I’m still weak?”

“Well, you’re certainly not strong enough to stand against me, especially on your own,” Gojo pointed out with a laugh. For such a casual comment, his words struck her in the chest. No, of course she wasn’t. She hadn’t been strong enough back then and she definitely wasn’t now. Compared to him, her growth was at a careful crawl, and even then, the higher-ups didn’t expect much from her. No one did. The only reason she’d survived when so many others had died was sheer luck and maybe even pity on Gojo’s end.

He preferred to kill the strongest, after all. Leaving her alive didn’t affect him at all.

“Still following those idiots, I see,” Gojo continued, sighing in disappointment. “I almost didn’t come; it was too easy.”

Utahime furrowed her brow. “What?”

“Oh? You didn’t know?” Gojo took one step forward, and Utahime jumped back. That smile was at his lips again, but this time, it was cold. It didn’t even come close to reaching his eyes. He’d smiled mockingly before he turned, but the current disconnect unsettled her. “They used you as bait to bring me out into the open. I’d call it clever if I hadn’t anticipated it.”

It was true that she didn’t typically get assigned missions like this, but the sorcerer ranks were admittedly running ragged, so she’d assumed they had no other choice but to bring her on. Both Gojo and Geto had done a good job at thinning out society; their targets were mainly powerful and influential civilians or cities, but taking out the strongest jujutsu sorcerers was a part of the job as well. It didn’t matter what Shoko did to repair their damage; she could only do so much with her reverse techniques, and Gojo didn’t leave much behind to save.

If the higher-ups had really assigned her to this in an attempt to capture or kill Gojo, then they had signed her death certificate without even telling her, and she’d walked into it willingly.

Her heart sank into the pit of her stomach. “If you knew, then why are you here?”

“I told you,” Gojo replied. “I wanted to see you.”

In another time, that might’ve made her heart flutter. She would’ve folded her arms across her chest, turned away from him, and insisted with blushing cheeks that she didn’t care, but on the inside, she’d be giddy with excitement. Instead, she felt her heart sinking further, her stomach turning uncomfortably. When Gojo wanted to see people, it was never for a good reason. Megumi still wouldn’t talk about the last time he crossed paths with him, and Utahime doubted she would be any different if he let her live.

Because that was the key point – if he let her live. He could erase her from existence with a simple snap of his fingers before she could even retaliate or scream.

“Is that it then?” Utahime asked, the shakiness in her voice betraying her. She tried to swallow down the fear, but that unsettled feeling sank into her bones. “You’ve seen me. You can leave now.”

“No need to be so hasty,” Gojo told her. “We’ve got some time to kill.” His eyes flickered to the old house behind them. The windows were partially boarded up, the front door swinging open and banging against the wall in the wind. “The higher-ups didn’t lie to you about a job, but I finished it for you.”

Utahime startled, her eyes widening. “Gojo, you didn’t–”

“Oh, come now, Utahime, you don’t think I’m that much of a monster, do you?” Gojo teased. He waved a dismissive hand in the face of her horror. “Besides, Suguru is so soft when it comes to children. It might’ve been easier to kill the kids, but he was insistent on bringing them to our side. We couldn’t let those bastards snatch up two potential special grade sorcerers and their pet curses.”

Ah, then that meant Geto was here too – or least he had been at some point. For all she knew, Gojo had teleported them to wherever they were hiding and came back here when he’d sensed her curse energy. She’d gotten better about hiding it from other sorcerers, but there was only so much she could hide from him and his Six Eyes.

Gojo considered her, his expression going blank again. “You’re afraid.”

“Of course I’m–” Utahime bit her lip and reared back, her eyes dropping from him to the ground. It was a mistake to look away – god knows what he could do in a single second – but that old sense of humiliation crept back. He’d always known how to embarrass her or make her blurt whatever was on her mind. “You’re not an...easy person to deal with, and your track record isn’t exactly hopeful.”

He took that moment of weakness to appear right in front of her. She jerked back, but then he caught her by the wrist, pulling her forward so that she crashed into his chest. Tilting her head back, she stared up at him, struggling not to shiver under the cold gaze of his. There was nothing in those eyes – absolutely nothing that she remembered, nothing she’d loathed and secretly adored. It frightened her more than his grip on her. He could probably feel her heart thumping madly with their chests pressed together.

“Let me prove you wrong,” Gojo finally said.

The words were so unexpected that the fear swelling like a balloon popped, and she openly gawked at him in confusion. “What?”

“Come with me. I’ll prove you don’t have to be scared of me.” Still holding her wrist with one hand, Gojo gently trailed a finger up her neck, resting it just underneath her chin. This time, Utahime couldn’t fight back the urge to shiver, and she closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath. There was no scent of blood, not like she last remembered on him when he let her go.

She swallowed, but it didn’t help the constricting feeling in her throat. “I can’t– I–”

“You’re wasted on them,” Gojo told her, leaning over so he could murmur into her ear. “They might have thought you important enough to use as bait for me, but they don’t know the half of it. They don’t know you .”

When she slowly opened her eyes, she found his face closer to hers now. His eyes were so beautiful even when cold, absolutely mesmerizing. She thought to look away but couldn’t. Hell, she could barely breathe, and a part of her thought her pulse might’ve stopped in this moment. How many sorcerers got this close to him? He usually ripped them apart before they could even come close to laying a finger on him, their deaths so callous and impersonal.

This felt like anything but that.

“I can’t do that,” Utahime told him, even though she knew it might mean her death. People didn’t just say know to Gojo Satoru. Who was she to defy him?

Afraid as she was of his reaction, he didn’t seem angry. Disappointed, maybe. She caught a flicker of it on his face before he stood upright and let go of her wrist. He took a step back, a frown tugging at his lips, and she swallowed again. Her mouth was so dry. She couldn’t read him at all. Was he going to kill her since she’d turned him down? Would he simply leave? She didn’t know, and that minute of silence frightened her more than his hold on her.

“Suguru said you would make this difficult,” Gojo sighed.

Utahime held onto her wrist. “Have things ever been easy between us?”

“No, you’re right about that.” Gojo tapped his finger against his cheek and then held out his hands in front of himself. She tensed but then furrowed her brow when he angled himself away from her. She was positive that he was about to unleash his technique, and while he could probably strike her even from that angle, it didn’t make sense with him so close. “I didn’t want it to come to this.”

Without thinking, Utahime took a step forward, only stopping when he glanced back at her. “What are you doing?”

“You were bait, remember?” Gojo pointed out. “How many sorcerers do you think are out there, hm? How many do you think they spared to capture me?” Horror slowly encased Utahime as the terrible realization dawned upon her. The moment it did, Gojo smiled again, genuine humor glimmering on his face. “Enough to overwhelm me, definitely, but not enough that they won’t lose their main force. That would be devastating.”

Any sorcerer out there would be killed. She didn’t care what plan they had. Behind that smile was a rage she hadn’t caught onto before, something he’d been hiding just barely under the surface. He was furious with them – with the higher-ups, with jujutsu society, maybe even with her. He hated that they’d thought to use her as cannon fodder in order to capture him. And shouldn’t that make her hate them too? How many innocent men and women had they sacrificed so far? How many lives had been lost on both sides?

Gojo looked back toward the force. “I wonder if Megumi is out there. I can’t see him standing idle, no matter what he was told.”

“Wait–” Utahime tried to rush toward him, but she couldn’t get her body to move. She reached out to him, but he was too far. He had always been too far, always just out of her reach, so far beyond anyone else in the world, save for maybe Geto. He’d been Gojo’s grounding force, and when he had left, well… Gojo didn’t have much left to tether him to the world. Utahime couldn’t be that person, and Shoko had been too wounded herself to try.

And then it all went to hell, and they lost everything. She lost him.

“Maybe he’ll survive,” Gojo mused as he began to charge up his technique. Purple – he was going for purple, red and blue light crackling in the air between them.  “I hope he does. I’d like to see him again.”

“Stop!” Utahime shrieked, and the world seemingly halted around them.

Without even realizing that she’d moved, Utahime found herself grabbing onto one of Gojo’s forearms, the crown of her head pressed against his bicep. Her fingers dug into his black sleeves, clinging to him tightly as her entire body trembled. She couldn’t stop herself from shaking, pure terror soaking her to the bone.

“I’ll– I’ll come with you,” she managed weakly. God, it was so weak. He’d always teased her about that, even after they’d graduated. She closed her eyes in an attempt to stop a flood of tears, but a few slipped out anyways, dripping onto the dirt at her feet. “Please, just… Don’t kill them.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Gojo asked her coldly. “I could kill them and take you anyway. There’s nothing stopping me.”

Please,” Utahime repeated, her voice bordering on begging. Did he want her to get on her knees? She would do it if it appeased his ego enough. “I won’t fight. I won’t even try to escape. I’ll– I’ll listen. I’ll try to understand.” Instead of falling to the ground, she lifted her head to look at him and reached up to touch his face. “Take me with you.”

Gojo hummed thoughtfully, the air crackling with dangerous energy. “You’re just saying that to save them. You don’t want to actually come with me. You’re only sacrificing yourself.”

“Maybe,” Utahime replied. “Maybe I’ve been with them too long. Maybe you can help me see.” Her hand slid around to the back of his neck, her fingertips brushing through his hair. “I lied. I did miss you, but you’re right as well. I’m scared. Show me otherwise.”

As he stared down at her once more, Utahime was almost positive he would shove her away from him and decimate the forest. Memories of that day two years ago flashed in her mind – the screams, the explosions, the breaking of concrete and metal, and then nothing but silence. She would’ve been caught in his devastating power had he not grabbed her by the back of her shirt at the last second.

She couldn’t stand to see something like that happen again. It really would destroy her, even if she wasn’t hit directly.

“Gojo, please, leave them. They’re not worth it.”

He let out a breath. “They’re not, which makes it so easy to just–”

“No,” Utahime cut in. “I want to go. I want to be with you. Please.”

After another long few seconds of consideration, Gojo slowly released the energy he’d been building up previously. With the lights gone, they faded into the darkness of the forest again, the sun having fallen behind the trees. He dropped his hands, and his body relaxed, a tension she hadn’t caught onto bleeding from him.

She didn’t have time to relax, not when he turned to face her and cupped her face in his hands. A smile lit up his face, bright and genuine. It reached his eyes and more. “I knew you’d see the truth and change your mind.”

It wasn’t like she’d had much of a choice, but Utahime didn’t argue with him, not when he pressed his lips against hers so sweetly. For a moment, she could pretend like everything else had been a nightmare, and she was experiencing something she’d only dreamed about in embarrassment. How many times had she imagined kissing Gojo even after they bickered and he teased her? Here she was now, holding onto him as his lips molded against hers. It could’ve been beautiful.

And then his grip on her tightened slightly, and he bit down on her lip, not hard enough to make her bleed, but just enough to make her flinch and remember who he was. This wasn’t the Gojo she had fantasized about. This was someone else, and with that one action, he made it known that she wasn’t just giving herself to him.

After all, she had asked – and he would take her, whether she knew what that all entailed or not.