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and the rest is rust and stardust

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The room is a small and sad-looking thing, made even more cramped by the presence of these foreign men with the thick muscular shoulders and the expensive-looking watches – but for some strange reason Megumi is not afraid.

An old man approaches him, footsteps making no sound – just silence. “Hullo,” he tells him, his voice cool but with a hint of reverence to his tone.

And Megumi stares back, considers him.

“Who the fuck are you,” the child finally says solemnly, in reply.

The man in front of him immediately grimaces, muttering about a damn you Toji, what the heck is wrong with you before he softly, hesitantly, pats Megumi on the head.

“Naobito,” and when the boy makes no sound of recognition, adds, “Zenin Naobito.”

“Oh,” Megumi says, and because he is an intelligent child he shuffles a little bit closer to the shaman and informs him, “I’m a Zenin, too. Does this make us related?”

Naobito – rough, old, unused to being gentle with children – peers back at him, equally curious. “Yes,” he answers, after a long while, “I suppose we are family.”

The word (family is a word is a noun is defined as the basic unit in society) echoes in this dingy corner of the apartment, tucking itself into the mouldy bookshelves and behind the pale-yellow curtains that line the living room windows. It doesn’t belong here, and it hangs heavy – the sound mixing in with the downtown city air. The men behind Naobito shift, uncomfortable at the unfamiliar word, and even Megumi himself looks slightly disturbed, with his cheeks puffed out in evident unease.

 

(Megumi is not afraid, but he is lonely – was lonely, until that white-haired man started visiting him in the nearby park – and the concept of family makes him very confused.)

 

Naobito disregards everyone else’s discomfort, however, typical of men who have been in power for too long. He walks towards the dark-haired boy, just as smooth and noiseless as before, and offers to give him another head pat.

“May I?” the man finally asks, a wrinkled hand hovering in midair.

After a few seconds the child acquiesces, and tilts surprisingly soft curls towards the older man. “I’m not a dog,” Megumi grumbles under that heavy hand.

“I know,” Naobito easily agrees with him. “You’re a Zenin, and that is honestly worse.”

 

And so this is how his life changes – in the goddamned god-spurned god-sickened room of apartment 203, with the floorboards missing in some places, and with the clan head’s fingers carded through wild and unruly hair. This is where zenin Megumi ends, and where Zenin Megumi begins.

“Pack your bags,” Naobito orders firmly. “I’ll pick you up at six.”

That is not nearly enough time, to say goodbye to the weak kitten Megumi pets at the park – Tsumiki, he recalls naming that quiet unassuming thing – and to Satoru-san, who only gets to visit irregularly – Can’t help it if I’m busy and in-demand! the man boomed once, shoving three candies inside his mouth. But I’ll always come back, Megumi!

 

But regardless he nods his head, tiny hands clutching his threadbare shirt. Naobito smiles at him, the gesture coming off as awkward and stiff, but it’s the same smile Toji gave him in his kinder moments. It is an awfully big world out there, and Megumi remembers his dad slurring about dozens of other little Zenins, with their own little Zenin versions of fucked up and upset.

(“Was there a happy Zenin?” Megumi asks, tongue sticking out as he carefully doodled a small burger at the back of an old newspaper. “Like, at all?”

“Hmm,” Toji hums, sniffing at his beer. “I dunno kid, but for your sake I hope there is.”)

 

Megumi packs his things as soon as Naobito leaves their apartment, the roar of his car briefly lighting their neighborhood in eerie brightness. He does not have much, but soon he will have enough. This is one thing he picked up from Satoru-san, who told him to hold on to hope, hold on regardless.

 

He glances at a nearby clock. Two hours before he gets picked up. So: Megumi slowly opens his bag, grabs all of his loose change, and makes a slow trek outside to buy a goodbye present.

 

 

Satoru-san, the boy writes an hour later on the most expensive paper his few coins can buy, papa did not come back, but it seems like I have a new family now.

To the you, who made one kid feel less lonely.

 


 

Cities away from Megumi’s shit apartment is Gojo, who grips his phone tightly with one white-knuckle-gripped hand.

What do you mean there’s a new Zenin clan kid?!” the teenager says shrilly, and for once his friends can’t find it in themselves to make fun of him. They both stare wide-eyed at the news.

“I apologise, Satoru-sama,” a meek voice speaks hesitantly over the phone. There are people shouting in the background, and the sound faintly visits their classroom.  “We only found out just now.”

Gojo noisily exhales at that, his free hand tapping an incessant rhythm on top of one of their school’s wooden desks. “And I’m expected to fight him or something?” he groans, already feeling annoyed at the recent development. “Assert my dominance over the new kid?”

“No, Satoru-sama,” the man on the phone tells him. “The new person Zenin-sama welcomed into the clan possesses the prized Ten Shadows Technique, and their clansmen are preparing to hold a hunt for his hand in marriage–”

The servant’s voice drones on and on and on, a dull background noise that does nothing to calm down Gojo’s uncharacteristic twitching. He sees his friends frown at him from their seats, concerned, and the teenager gives a huff at that. Assholes, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care. It is standard practice in their society to take the gold in them and hammer it into something sterner, into super soldiers that can withstand high-strength steel – but Gojo knows that at the end of the day they are still more flesh than metal. There is rot in the air, in this stinking jujutsu-obsessed community, but even then even then he is sure that underneath the decay they are still humans, and if you scratch them enough they will bleed.

“Stop,” he barks into the phone. While the Ten Shadows Technique is indeed special, Gojo doubts that it’s enough to hold his interest in this new mysterious person. “The name,” he asks, so that he can file it inside his head and immediately forget it. “What is it?”

There is a soft shuffling of feet from the other side, followed by a reverent whisper of Zenin Megumi, what a lovely boy, and, well.

It is a different story, now.

 

 

There’s a loud screeching sound as Gojo stands up, parts of his chair splintering at the sheer force of it.

“Satoru,” Getou says somewhat cautiously. This is the first time he’s seen him so delighted, so mad – so feral. “Oy! Satoru!”

None of his words get through Gojo, however. The man is barely listening to anyone at this point.

“Prepare a kimono for me,” he murmurs into his phone lowly, dangerously, his blue eyes one bad tide away from a sudden maelstrom. “You mentioned a marriage hunt, yes? Tell them clan heir Gojo Satoru will participate.”

There’s a surprised and shaky reply of Y-yes, accompanied by a chorus of Hey Satoru what the fuck was that and What the heck is going on but the teenager pays them no mind. He lightly pats his pocket, where he carries a note decorated in childish handwriting, and hums.

 

Megumi, Gojo had written there a day later, once he discovered him missing, gone, a wisp of a boy with sooty lashes and nimble hands. Sometimes family is more than the blood you are born into.

To the you, who gave the current me meaning.