adult intentions - Chapter 1 - revecake - 呪術廻戦 (2024)

Chapter Text

in which fushiguro goes looking for a fight

“good morning 2-b! now, before announcements, i need to tell you all something very important: do not pour laundry detergent into the bleach slot in your washing machine! why, you ask? well…let’s see, it should be obvious, but you know sometimes it’s can be hard to tell-”

megumi zones itadori-sensei out, the man himself leaning back against his desk, already settled into the light rushing and stopping, tangent-filled ramble of homeroom greetings.

at the moment, a heavier insistence pulses through his mind, his chest, settling in his stomach. a reminder.

megumi shifts in his seat, keeping his eyes slitted towards the sunlight burning into his left side.

the reminder is the hard lump, the pocket knife digging into his stomach. the feeling of another sharp thing searching for the soft spot of his throat.

he pretends to stretch, a lull left, a roll to the right, but he doesn’t have to turn to see the eyes on him have not moved an inch.

“—and that’s it,” itadori-sensei claps his hands together, scanning the room. he pauses, and megumi can’t help but be struck by the odd color of his eyes. in the span of the entire first half of his second year, this is the first time megumi meets his teacher’s eyes.

megumi whips his gaze away before anything can register between them.

he needs to focus. focus on the pocket knife. the knife’s edges that knows, intimately, the soft spot below the chin.

“we’ll be passing out class forms next week, so again, please ask your parents in advance before then. now—” itadori-sensei gathers his roll-call booklet and slides open the door, pausing to send one last reckless grin to the class, “i’ll see you all later for calculus.”

amidst the teenage groans of discontent, megumi stands immediately. he paces himself, tucking his hands into his pockets, and listens for the growing steps behind, the fading steps ahead, and he matches them, beat-by-beat—

until he’s turning the corner, and it’s just the echo of his shoes and the rush of three more sets breaking into a violent run.

megumi tucks his thumb beneath the hard line of his knuckles.

when he slams his fist forward-back, there is the distinct impact of flesh and bone. tadashi, the ugly motherf*cker, grabs his face and stumbles in place.

megumi shakes his hand out at the wrist, having come away with a satisfying crack and an even harder sting. the bare recoil against his knuckles rolls back in ripples of worsening pain, but he’s hurt tadashi more, and the pocket knife is still a pulsing reminder, the wooden handle beating a hard hot tattoo against the slick line of his stomach.

megumi tightens his fingers again, and waits.

in retrospect, he should’ve ran.

in retrospect, it seems that jamming tadashi’s nose was a stroke of quick surprise. like they hadn’t expected him to hit as hard, with as much malice as he did. or to have turned around and hit them at all.

they have him now, the two idiots who saw him cut tadashi’s fine leather shoes to shreds right before sixth period. one of them grinds his face into the wall, spitting “fushiguro - you - little - f*cker,” over and over, shouting out such mindless things megumi would laugh at him if his mouth wasn’t swollen shut with thick pulpy blood.

when megumi goes limp, they press him down to the floor, bowed with his stomach twisted against his thighs. his nose ingratiated against tadashi’s dirty slipper.

the other lackey has his thick hand locked around megumi’s wrists. one finger is caught from the rest and bent back, wrenched further and further by the moment.

“here’s your chance, megumi. beg like the little bitch you are and we’ll consider letting you go.”

megumi spits out a glob of phlegm at tadashi’s feet instead.

the hand pushes harder, twists, and there’s a pop! that rings throughout his entire body. the first knuckle of his index finger is a locked, numb mass. fire burns in a wave from his nail all the way to his shoulder. megumi breathes slowly, working to swallow the steady drip of blood from his nose. when his mouth is finally empty again, he bares his teeth, and says the only thing on his mind.

eat sh*t.”

what happens next, all happens at once:

tadashi’s foot lodges itself into his gut. megumi rears back and the motion carries through in double as his elbow strikes something soft that gives way, as tenderly as weak cartilage beneath bone.

a scream and another shout, far but rising in tone, as if rapidly approaching from the distance.

he wrenches his hands free, the knife’s burning handle fitting itself perfectly to the cradle of his palm, and he drives forward with all fingers locked, with the clear intent—

“fushiguro-kun!”

—to miss.

in a mundane day of firsts, this is the first of itadori-sensei’s bright panicked eyes are on him. the first of itadori-sensei addressing him out of roll-call is like this, with one solid hand locked around megumi’s, catching the outstretched blade with his own fingers. the first of megumi’s knife tearing into the junction between his knuckles.

tadashi whimpers. the blade has narrowly shifted to graze just over the side of his sweaty neck. a papercut, while blood pours from megumi’s nose, pounds through his bruised stomach, and trickles from the open slit of itadori-sensei’s fingers.

itadori-sensei breathes in shakily. despite that, the intensity of his urgent smile doesn’t fade. his hand, still clutched around megumi’s knuckles, digging into the blade, bears megumi’s arm slowly down.

he glances around, pale frozen faces, megumi’s shocked swollen own, and exclaims loudly, “well—! fushiguro-kun, looks like you’ve been in a pretty bad fight. why don’t you visit the nurse’s office?”

and like that, megumi finds the pocket knife safely sheathed in itadori-sensei’s bleeding hand; the other locked liked a vice around his wrist. he’s left empty-handed and stumbling after sensei’s broad back, staring up at the messy collar of his worn button-down, and tadashi and the other two are left to stare at his.

they do not take the right turn towards the third-floor stairs, where itadori-sensei should drop megumi off and hand over the knife as the clearest incrimination. bagged and marked with itadori’s blood, another reason to add another red line to his file in the long list of ‘troubled behavior.’

instead, itadori-sensei stops and looks surreptitiously left and right before ducking into the teacher’s lounge. megumi is, of course, dragged in after by his indomitable grip.

“here,” itadori leads him to an empty couch and finally, finally releases megumi. the weight of his palm remains, burning against megumi’s skin. “sit.”

without thinking, megumi simply does. itadori-sensei sends him a small, approving grin and turns to stride into the back room.

megumi sits there in the fugue state of a sore nose, swollen knuckles, dislocated finger, and the pain of pure confusion. he’s not here to be reported and surely, there’s no surprise gaggle of teachers waiting just behind the door to ‘catch’ him, so why—?

the answer comes in the form of itadori-sensei returning with his clean hand curled carefully around a first-aid kit.

he stops in front of megumi, crouching down as he looks this way and that with curious tilts of his head. megumi has no idea what he’s doing, so he stares back blankly, lets itadori look his fill.

“alright,” itadori groans, pushing up to stand again, “not bad, not bad.”

megumi is very lost.

at some point itadori-sensei pats his head very gently as he situates himself on a stool before megumi, legs spread, leaning heavily on his elbows. a finger taps beneath his chin, and megumi jerks up to itadori-sensei’s grip tipping him back down in place. the touch is gentle, just as gentle as the lingering impression on his head, but unflinching, absolutely sure in its intention.

“stay still, okay? i know you’re strong, but…” itadori grimaces, peeling open something that immediately cuts through the air with a blunt, chemical smell. he smiles at megumi, a sympathetic bluff, “this might hurt a little more.”

the cold swipe of the disinfectant pad hurts the most over the bridge of his nose. megumi hisses through the edge of his mouth and itadori-sensei hums low in his throat, his motions growing considerably quicker. the crusted blood at his nostrils, the cuts over his cheeks, all cleaned up with quick, practiced actions. enough to sting, but nothing that purposefully lingers to dig in further, to hurt and see how much megumi is willing to take. the kind clinical nature of it all...is not something that megumi is entirely used to.

when he gets to megumi’s bruised forehead, his touch is tentative, ticklish.

itadori-sensei laughs suddenly, an oddly light sound. megumi glowers up at him.

“well, your hair is already a mess. you’ll have to forgive me for making it worse, fushiguro-kun.” those fingers graze again, sweeping back strands and dancing over megumi’s bruised skin. itadori-sensei cranes his neck so that megumi, without his bangs, is completely bare to the force of his glittering amusem*nt.

megumi frowns and averts his eyes in lieu of a non-answer.

itadori-sensei chuckles, a sound from deep in his throat, and cleans megumi’s forehead with the same gentle, knowing motions.

after the disinfectant is dry and megumi’s entire face seems to be pulled back a size tighter, two warm hands neatly stick down the edges of a plaster at the throbbing center of his forehead.

huh, he never realized he was hurt that badly.

“there you go.” itadori-sensei leans back, crossing his hands proudly over his chest. megumi shakes his head gently, feeling the brush of his bangs fall back into place. the pull of the fresh plaster beneath it all.

“now,” itadori-sensei reaches a hand out, palm open, waiting.

it’s the first time since the fight broke out and was broken up that megumi finds the rough semblance of his voice. “what.” he sounds torn up, defensive, a wounded dog that would rather lick at its own wounds, let them fester and rot rather than ask for help.

itadori-sensei doesn’t seem fazed. he gestures towards megumi’s hand, his torn knuckles, the swollen pinball-sized lump of his finger still curled into the shape of a fist.

reluctantly, painfully, megumi offers his hand, opening one knuckle at a time. still, his grip remains half-gnarled, as if it can’t forget the sensation of a winning fight, of a knife seeking its target.

itadori-sensei wraps his palm around the back of his hand and jams megumi’s finger into place before he can even shout. as it is, he muffles the guttural sound wrenched from his throat a second later.

“sorry, fushiguro-kun,” he smiles sheepishly, the pads of his fingers growing butterfly-light around megumi’s hand again. “it’s always easier when you don’t expect it.”

he splints the swollen joint with a few makeshift popsicle sticks and a strip of bandages. disinfectant creeps through to the bone along megumi’s knuckles and itadori-sensei proceeds to cover them up nice and numb with even more plasters.

at the end of the process, with megumi stiffly bandaged and smeared in disinfectant, itadori-sensei breathes a sigh of relief. then, he glances at the clock.

there’s a moment of muffled urgency, and megumi sharply tracks the shape of the pocket knife in itadori-sensei’s slacks. somehow, his eyes fall upon sensei’s right hand, loosely dangled at his side, the thin skin between his index and middle finger torn open, red and raw inside.

“you’re a good kid, fushiguro.”

megumi jerks up at those words. itadori-sensei is paused by the door, looking back at him with that perpetual smile and something more. he can’t describe it, nor the sensation that crawls up his spine to settle, tugging urgently at the base of his scalp.

“go home. i’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

itadori-sensei flashes him one more uncanny smile, secretive, a burst of sunlight as he slides open the door to the hallway. a hush of dust motes, and he’s gone a second later.

megumi thinks of his pocket knife. he thinks of how itadori-sensei could possibly explain a sudden knife wound on his right hand in the middle of calculus.

he slips down to the first floor, packs away his school slippers, puts on his boots, and heads home empty-handed.

-

on good days, gojo satoru comes home, breezes by the table with some cheap sweets and is back out through the door before megumi can even pretend to ignore him.

it is not often that he stays home from whatever job it is that pays for their apartment in the center of shinjuku—but without a doubt, he has an uncanny sense for megumi’s worst days and he doesn’t hesitate to make full use of it.

there are things gojo just seems to know, and he always holds them above megumi’s head.

“well, well, megumi—look at you,” he has his shades off, pure diamond eyes immediately latching onto megumi’s face. the combination of fresh antiseptic and the full intensity of his gaze stings, pierces and pins megumi with all the clinical interest of a dead butterfly beneath glass.

gojo tilts his head, grinning without blinking. with those white lashes, his curious glee, megumi thinks he always looks borderline manic.

he pointedly avoids gojo’s gas-blue stare.

“another fight? and you’re all nice and patched up too!”

megumi shrugs, throwing his jacket over the couch. gojo turns, folding his hands together with a small clap of delight as he takes in the careful splint binding megumi’s right index finger.

“popsicle sticks, huh, that’s quite ingenious.” he sits with his chin hooked over the back of the chair, skeleton legs stretched out before him. megumi does not turn to meet his eye. gojo simply grins and beckons with his glittering, unyielding stare.

megumi rocks back on his heels, grits his teeth, and slowly, he goes.

gojo takes his hand, and unbidden, the memory of itadori-sensei crouched before him in the same position flashes before megumi’s eyes. he jerks on instinct as gojo’s fingers prod against the splint.

gojo seizes his wrist. “stay still, please.” he shows no restraint in his grip, in his curious cruelty as he tests the bend and give of megumi’s inflamed finger.

“i wonder,” he begins as megumi claws silently at his pants. gojo fixes him with another uncanny smile. “how did you manage all this with just one hand?”

the only answer he gets is a hard, shaky breath, slit through teeth.

“so…” gojo flops megumi’s wrist back and forth, a horribly childish action. “who helped you out?”

in retrospect, when megumi is half-strewn across the bed, staring at the ceiling with the dazed fading fear that always follows from gojo’s blue stare, he does not understand why he lied. why his first instinct was to lie for someone like itadori-sensei.

but in the moment, he remembers the evidence of his crime stored in itadori-sensei’s pocket, you’re a good kid, fushiguro, and he frowns at gojo’s poised smile.

“no one did.”

gojo’s hand tightens around his wrist, his eyes growing wide, the split of his mouth wider. “really, megumi, no one?”

megumi grits out, “no one, satoru.

that seems to do it. gojo’s face ripples in delight, as if there was something beneath his pale skin, glass bead eyes, something else that just can’t contain itself at the sound of his name being forced from megumi’s mouth.

there was no way megumi would call him otōsan; besides he’s too young for that, isn’t he? barely 28 and he’s well-off enough to afford a high-rise apartment in shinjuku with a growing fifteen-year-old; he’s more fit to be young master rather than father. and well, gojo is so formal, megumi-kun isn’t some stuffy old co-worker to him.

so satoru, call him satoru for that sick sense of intimacy that doesn’t belong between them.

“well then,” gojo releases his wrist like it’s nothing, both hands raised in the air as he rocks back against the table. “i’ll just have to take megumi-kun at his word~”

gojo does not touch him often, not casually, not affectionately. megumi suspects it has nothing to do with cleanliness. mysophobia, haphephobia, gojo doesn’t fear so much as he just has a myriad of twisted internal complexes.

megumi backs away, one step, then another, until he turns, walking briskly up the stairs. he tries to keep his pace even, methodical, but when gojo calls after him - “hey, why don’t we eat out tonight?” - he almost trips out of the sheer tension in his body.

when he gets to the hallway bathroom, he locks the door. he scrubs his hands with hot water, soap, waits for the cold water to cycle back and grow warm again, rinse, rinse and repeat, until the cold grip has faded from his skin.

from his swollen mouth, he spits blood into the sink.

for a moment, with raw dripping hands and one finger locked stiffly in place, megumi considers the plaster on his forehead. his face is too dry, too tight, and the plaster is an unwelcome interruption beneath his heavy bangs.

still, gojo hadn’t touched his face; it had been itadori-sensei’s hands instead, two light but steady pinpoints pressing the ends in place. the phantom sensation of them holding him in place ghosts past his cheeks, a figment of the rising steam in the closed room.

in the end, megumi brushes a hand over the spot beneath his bangs and tentatively decides to leave it be.

a well-meaning intruder

to megumi’s surprise, itadori-sensei is the one who corners him the next day right as third-period break begins.

“sensei,” he states bluntly, a carton of sugared milk paused at his mouth.

“fushiguro-kun! how are you feeling?” itadori-sensei smiles, and even the casual action of speaking a name is infused with such unnecessary excitement. megumi can practically hear the exclamation point in his voice.

“fine.” megumi carefully hides the swollen base of his right finger against the seam of his trousers.

they paint an entirely innocent picture; megumi slouched against the vending machine, itadori propped across from him, students passing back and forth with only ever a sideways glance.

still, megumi is suspicious. besides the fight yesterday, he’s been content to lay low under the broad band of itadori-sensei’s class-wide affection.

so, why now? there’s no immediate crackle, no call for megumi on the hallway speakers, and he assumes his pocket knife is still in impromptu confiscation.

so why bother with him now?

itadori-sensei cranes his head innocently, as if megumi was a kitten hiding under a bed and all he needed was an indulgent owner to lure him out. “fushiguro-kun, do you think your parents might be free any time this week?”

it’s hard to say, for many reasons. especially since the definition of ‘parent’ becomes extremely dubious in the context of someone like gojo satoru.

megumi feigns dull disinterest. “why?” he rolls the milk straw between his teeth, feeling the plastic edges fray and cut against his tongue.

sensei’s eyes grow soft, sympathetic, leaning closer as if to share a secret. “i think i’d like to discuss what happened yesterday with your family,”

“—or what?” megumi bites out, cutting viciously into itadori-sensei’s soothing tone. “you’re going to report me?”

“no! not at all, fushiguro-kun.” itadori-sensei crosses his arms, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. he frowns lightly, as if somehow hurt. as if to say you really think i would do that?

and megumi doesn’t know, he doesn’t care, but he sure as hell doesn’t trust itadori-sensei to not intrude on his life any further.

by now, the trickle of activity in the hallways has tapered off as they near the second half of third-period. the silence creeps further up megumi’s back, grating at his already jumpy nerves.

itadori-sensei is still leaning against the vending machine, shoulders drooping beneath his creased white button-down; plaintive, pleading, megumi thinks he looks like a pathetic overgrown mutt.

“sorry sensei.” the bell rings. megumi shrugs, helpless at its shrill call. “gojo keeps odd hours. you’ll just be wasting your time waiting for him to show up.” megumi steps bluntly around itadori-sensei, not bothering to look back.

“just forget about it. later, sensei.”

he squeezes the milk carton into the crumpled space of one closed fist, walking away with a wet clammy sensation leaking persistently into his palm and that same unrelenting attention clinging to his back.

it irks him enough that he slaps at the back of his nape, rubs at the skin there until the irritation from his own palm has replaced the uncanny sense of eyes on his back.

by fourth period, megumi has zoned out the history of militarism, and itadori-sensei and his unnecessary intrusions are long forgotten.

turns out itadori-sensei is not only unnecessarily nosy, stubborn, and thick-skinned. with every deflection, he grows increasingly persistent.

(still, megumi is equally stubborn, if not more teenaged and sullen).

it starts with the small, off-chance greetings: unexpected and in-passing, easy enough for megumi to brush off, brush past.

“fushiguro-kun,”

itadori-sensei speaks his name as the class files out of calculus, bobbing his head at every student. he stops at megumi, in particular.

“how is your head?”

he says it like it could mean anything. he says it with a little smile, not particularly secretive, but a bare murmur from his lips that lets the other students pass without notice.

megumi’s hand automatically twitches towards his forehead. the plaster is already gone, leaving behind a nasty scab that cracks and pulls whenever he absentmindedly mops at his bangs.

megumi deliberates.

he settles for a tentative half-shrug. “it’s fine.” this time, he pauses long enough to watch for itadori-sensei’s reaction from beneath his lashes.

itadori-sensei’s grin seems to brighten even further with genuine delight. “i’m glad to hear that! so about gojo-san’s availability-”

megumi ducks out the door, as quick as he can.

“what is up with you and itadori-sensei lately?” kugisaki says with a bland look, a tone of audible distaste.

megumi silently follows her gaze, craning up and behind his back.

up on the railing, at the block connecting two corners of the school, is itadori-sensei leaning through an open window and waving with the vigor of a wind turbine programmed to spin only at HIGH POWER.

megumi watches him for a second longer. then he turns away.

“dunno,” he says, ripping blandly at another piece of melon bread. it’s too sweet, so saturated the fibers melt into stringy granules in his mouth; but he supposes that’s the exact reason gojo buys such terrible food.

kugisaki's disdainful expression ruins the careful mask of her delicate features. she clicks her chopsticks together, gesturing at the wide distance between her and megumi, drawing the line, making it very clear, their separation.

“he better not think i’m hanging out with you because we’re friends or worse— dating.” she shakes her head, ruffling her dyed hair flippantly. “you're nowhere near my level, fushiguro.”

she continues, and it’s how their relationship works, kugisaki doing all the talking and megumi offering an unsympathetic ear.

“i mean the first time i saw you, i thought you were the kind of guy who would do something sick like light a gull drenched in oil on fire,”

oddly specific and specifically violent, but it’s not like megumi has a better impression of kugisaki either. everytime she strides up to him, making the honor of her company known, it’s always with the excuse that she owes megumi. the moment she’s figured out how to repay him, she promises she’s gone and never looking back.

if you asked kugisaki why, she would roll her eyes, slightly embarrassed but truthfully confess that megumi gave her his jacket when they were the last two stuck at school during an evening thunderstorm. rather rudely, practically throwing it at her without saying anything, but nonetheless; he had gone home, soaked in only a single white shirt, while she had used the starched collar to cover her hair and minimally save her dye-job from running.

if you asked megumi, he’d say bluntly that a lightly damp kugisaki had taken one look at his uniform and demanded the heavier boy’s uniform jacket from him, leaving him there to get helplessly drenched to the bone.

they maintain a ‘relationship,’ so to speak.

kugisaki’s chopsticks remain crossed, petite, and pointed at him. she’s examining him, squinting at him like he’s some particularly infuriating insect.

megumi takes another lackluster bite of his melon bread and lets his eyes wander the opposite way.

“hm, so. you and itadori-sensei?”

megumi tilts his head, idly ignoring her stare. he can feel the bench creak, the air shifting with her high-octane perfume as she leans closer, closer over her own self-imposed line.

“already said, i dunno.” he finally looks down, meeting her eyes blandly. “he’s annoying.”

she huffs, a small tch through her teeth. “don’t give me that dumb look.”

megumi doesn’t know what she’s talking about; his face has barely changed.

kugisaki watches him for a moment longer before scooching back across the perfunctory distance. she scrapes up a lump of rice, pops it into her mouth, and leaves her lips wrapped loosely around the chopsticks, teeth scraping absentmindedly at the edges.

then, she says, oddly pointed and serious, “yeah, but he’s a good guy. you of all people should hear him out.”

she’s gone a second later, packing up her lunch and smoothing down her skirt. kugisaki strides away with her small shoulders, with a prim smile that holds no answers to the question she posed to megumi.

what good would it do to trust someone like itadori-sensei anyway?

“fushiguro-kun!”

megumi pauses, considers feigning complete ignorance, and eventually, turns as stiffly, as unwillingly as he can. the bustle of afterschool life is just starting, where at the same time, the day time classrooms are winding down as they burn with slow afternoon light.

this in-between time leaves them in an in-between space, again, the reluctantly paused distance between megumi and itadori.

“...itadori-sensei.”

itadori lopes up to him, a casual mess as usual. he wears his dark slacks, his white button-down and clipped tie, all quintessential pieces of the teacher’s uniform, but they never sit quite right on him. there’s always too much movement to those clean lines, a brash palm rolling back pristine cuffs, mopping back short hair and then, on its way down, unconsciously finding the time to fidget with a pressed collar. by the end of the day, itadori tends to resemble a miniature whirlwind of rushed, wrinkled fabrics. more cheerful department-store disaster than resident homeroom teacher.

it’s a little ridiculous. megumi stares intently at the extreme skew of his teacher’s maroon tie.

“fushiguro-kun isn’t going to attend any after school activities?”

megumi shrugs. doesn’t give much of an answer besides a close, dull stare.

“i don’t really care about clubs,” he eventually murmurs, still wary that any kind of response could lead to an opening in conversation. the nuisance of being asked after his non-existent responsible parents, who would surely be worried about their son’s troublesome habit of fighting at school, with a pocket knife of all things—

instead, it’s itadori-sensei’s turn to tilt his head with a curious, considering look.

“so fushiguro-kun is usually free afterschool huh…”

it feels distinctly like a trap to answer, but the affirmation slips free before megumi can think too hard on it: “yeah. i guess.”

itadori-sensei suddenly straightens, a nonsensical surge of delight in the fading afternoon light. “good to know!”

again, the literal exclamation in his voice confuses megumi.

itadori-sensei claps him on the shoulder, and megumi almost jolts with the warm weight of the abrupt touch. he’s stuck to the spot, watching itadori’s broad back leave first.

itadori-sensei waves, the usual clipboard he carries fluttering with loose papers in the air. without turning, he calls out a cryptic goodbye: “i’ll see you soon, fushiguro-kun.”

what the hell?

megumi ends up standing in that hallway for an indeterminable amount of time. mere minutes, but his head is buzzing with questions, with suspicions, with that same dread from before, except that was the trap set at his feet and now he’s gone and tripped in headfirst.

eventually, he’s on his way home, taking up his usual space against the bus door, but even as everything falls into its usual routine, his cheek pressed against the stained window, the promise of an uneventful weekend ahead, the only thing megumi looks forward to—the apprehension grows oppressive.

like a thudding pulse it follows him from a lone dinner of leftover rice and stewed fish to bed, where he lays there, head pounding, pounding, pounding into his dreams.

it’s not a warning per say, but megumi tosses and turns, pressing his body into the cold wall in a tight ball.

you’re a good kid, fushiguro.

itadori-sensei’s voice echoes instead like a deafening promise, and try as he might, megumi cannot sleep without the violent reverberation of those words in his empty dreams.

let’s all do our best for megumi’s sake

megumi blinks awake to the echo of the doorbell ringing through the whole apartment.

definitely not gojo. if he was trying to wake megumi on a weekend, then he would surely do so through worse methods.

megumi closes his eyes and waits. his head thrums like a fresh, aching bruise.

ding————

he’s up, ripping away the blanket and padding across the cold floor before the second syllable of the doorbell can dip.

he yanks open the door and the sight of itadori-sensei standing there is literally blinding. early morning sunshine, too early for megumi to ever recall the full brunt of its light, is refracted through the glass panes of the hallway complex.

itadori-sensei is dressed in a white button-down, always creased, a pressed salmon tie and black jacket. the smile he wears is equally glossy and cheerful, as if he had woken up and carefully stepped into a neat skin laid out from the night before.

“i’ll see you soon, fushiguro-kun.”

the concentrated effort of it all makes megumi hide his eyes behind a raised hand. he glowers through his fingers at somewhere around the junction of the man’s tie beneath his collar.

“fushiguro-kun, morning—wow you are definitely not awake! i know it’s very rude of me to show up like this, but you’ll have to agree that i gave you plenty of chances beforehand to make a meeting on your own terms—”

“sensei,” megumi shifts from one bare foot to another, still narrowly avoiding itadori’s stare from behind his palm. “gojo seriously isn’t home.”

“-ah?” this cuts off itadori’s energetic rambling.

“but, i mean, it’s saturday,” the man even checks his watch, as if the logic of weekend time could somehow dictate the habits of one gojo satoru. “i was hoping to catch you off guard.” he pouts, and it’s such a childish action, unconscious and displayed openly with only a slight hint of guilt.

megumi is...stunned, strangely.

“oh? who’s this, megumi?”

the irritant prick of sunlight immediately falls to shadow. cool, sharp shadow and behind black lens, a pair of pale blue eyes.

gojo is an overwhelming man in every sense of the word. he looms over itadori-sensei and megumi in turn, the all-black of his outfit negating any kind of brightness from beyond the door frame.

itadori-sensei is craned back, his broad shoulders forced into a bow, tight and strained and suddenly small under his fitted jacket. megumi idly watches the tiny russet-brown hairs prickle at his nape.

it’s natural for gojo to elicit a strong reaction from people. awe, fear. the odd sensation of being hunted even as you stand in place, still.

and yet, itadori grows bold. “gojo-san!” he holds out his hand, almost striking gojo’s chest, and then seems to think better of it as he dips into a 90 degree bow with his arm still outstretched.

“itadori yuuji, i’m fushiguro-kun’s homeroom teacher.” he rises, grinning brighter, wilder, somehow made even more daring in the face of gojo’s cold, crystal scrutiny.

gojo looks at him through his shades, black, opaque, with a reflection of the blue surface beneath. the morning light filters across his skin, his snow-white hair to make him seem like an unearthly shade. as if he’s only drifted back to some remaining memory of his time on earth and itadori is the one he’s decided to stick to.

gojo smiles. an odd, lopsided expression. “megumi’s sensei, huh?”

megumi holds his breath as gojo tilts his head between the two of them: him, barefoot and chilled to the bone, and itadori-sensei with his empty handshake, still stuck at the open door.

he doesn’t take itadori’s proffered hand, doesn’t complete the formality between adults. instead, he presses his palm to the small of itadori’s back, leans closer to the surprised gasp from the other man’s lips, and walks him in.

“of course. come on in and we’ll talk, yuuji-sensei.”

“...be here?”

megumi huddles on the couch, an eye, an ear perked towards the low voices of adults behind him. one smooth, feigning worry, the other rough, with genuine edges.

“...of course, i’d like it if fushiguro-kun could join us, but as long as you’re here we can discuss,”

megumi draws his feet away from the cold sting of the floor and settles back quietly to listen.

“hm—i want to know about you first, yuuji-sensei.”

an awkward pause. gojo always manages to fluster people, offset them with his own uncanny rhythm. megumi tries to imagine the look in his eyes, guess whether he’s taken his false shades off or not.

“...calculus I to second-years,” itadori replies, just as strong as before, his bold presence at the door, his proffered handshake that was never accepted. but he is hesitant, starting so slow and unsure megumi can’t hear the beginning of his sentence.

gojo lets the awkwardness linger in silence. itadori forges on anyway.

“well, about fushiguro-kun, gojo-san, did you know that he gets into fights…?”

a small exhale, sudden enough to be a gasp or the quiet trail of muffled laughter. “at school?”

“yes, just last week, there was, an altercation between him and three other students.” megumi can hear the pause in itadori-sensei’s low voice. despite himself, megumi finds himself pressing closer around the arm of the couch.

“let’s just say...he wasn’t exactly without fault.”

itadori-sensei stops there; he does not mention the confiscated pocket-knife.

“oh my~,” gojo drawls, the shift of him covering his mouth or drawing closer across the table, “and he didn’t get suspended for it? no wonder i never noticed.”

liar. gojo was the first person to glance over megumi’s first-year bruises, take his swollen hand and proceed to look over every knuckle, every purple joint with demeaning appraisal. tuck your thumbs beneath your knuckles next time, he had said, pressing down on the jarring lump of megumi’s thumb joint to complete his lesson.

itadori draws in another hushed, hesitant breath. “you’re right, he probably would be, but i—i’ve never really believed in punishment as an effective lesson.”

the curl of gojo’s voice is oil on snake scales slick, ever possible implication saturating the air. “oh? and what would you suggest in its stead, yuuji-sensei?”

itadori must be dumb, deaf, or just plain stubborn to not hear the bait in gojo’s words. he continues on. “i want to help him.”

those words are painfully idealistic. naive. obnoxious in their goodwill. megumi listens anyway. across from itadori, gojo does the same thing.

“i know fushiguro-kun doesn’t really have any after school activities, so maybe, i suppose he could stay after some days and take some supplementary lessons - specifically calculus on my part, i’m sure they would help - or even on weekends, there’s a lot of volunteer opportunities i keep track of, and i could take him as a chaperone,” and itadori rambles on and on as megumi’s knees dig into the cushions, as gojo’s crooked smile grows sly.

“well, what i wanted to say is,” itadori finally pauses, and now, even as megumi feels the future of his aimless weekends sink like stones at the end of their parabolic reach, he peeks up over the edge of the couch,

“i’d like to give him something to do, something better than fighting.” the pink spike that is itadori-sensei’s head inclines, formal, the neat 45 degree angle of his scruffy nape bowed across to gojo. “if gojo-san would approve of it.”

megumi makes the mistake of glancing across the table at gojo’s slouched form.

he has that look in his eye, his diamond-blue eyes, past the black shades that are a pretense at best. megumi recognizes that look intimately, the look that gojo wears when he decides he wants to try his best to play at being a person. play at being human—because megumi believes that no one truly human at heart could smile like that. perfectly, with the corner of his lip frozen. perfectly, in how still, how precisely it remains in place.

gojo looks down at itadori-sensei, at megumi, at everyone with those haunting gas-lamp eyes, with his effortless 190 cm—all because he can.

“it’ll be good to have someone like yuuji-sensei look after megumi-kun,” he finally says, breaking the edges of his smile into something jagged, something sharper, and itadori yuuji must be an absolute idiot for beaming back and not realizing the clinical, crystalline configuration of adult intention that takes form in gojo’s eyes. danger in the form of ghastly blue headlights.

megumi doesn’t know itadori yuuji, doesn’t particularly like him, likes him even less for barging into his dull life like this. but somehow, a tightness grips his chest at the sight of itadori-sensei’s guileless smile.

“now, megumi,” and the other smile is turned upon him, no dark shades, only blue eyes, blue threat, inscrutable blue thoughts, “be good for itadori-sensei.”

even though megumi is a good distance from the table, with his ear muffled against the couch cushions and his unruly hair barely peeking over the edge, he hears gojo’s next words as if they were right at his throat. a knife’s edge pointed and at the ready against the vulnerable spot beneath his ear, at the crook of his chin, where if he was cut, sliced, he would surely bleed out.

(this, is another first lesson gojo taught megumi).

“don’t make another mess, okay?”

numbly, he nods against the couch. itadori-sensei cheers softly, “i’m glad, fushiguro-kun,” and gojo looks on with that terrible expression between the two of them.

school-hall gossip

“...that itadori-sensei?”

“what, you don’t think so—he’s, cool, in a rough way.” muffled giggles, the busy anonymity of school hallways.

“no, i mean, don’t you think he’s more like a kid?”

“huh? how so?”

“like, not to say that he’s immature, but he’ll laugh at anything and he’s always talking about nonsense things, you know like those random urban legends or how easy it is to burn eggs apparently…”

“well yeah, it’s really easy to talk to him, even if he doesn’t exactly get it. he’ll hear you out anyway.”

“you’re right, you’re right~” another secretive hush of breath, so caught up in gossip that they knock shoulders roughly with a passing student.

“hey— !” an indignant turn, followed by a quick warning hiss, “stop, wait that’s fushiguro,”

in the end, megumi can’t pretend he wasn’t listening in the entire time.

(“it’s just, i’ve never seen him in the same way as the other teachers. because…no matter what, itadori-sensei would never get you into trouble.”)

“so, again,” kugisaki starts abruptly, brusquely, because they’re never going to talk if she doesn’t take the initiative. god knows megumi would be satisfied just standing there with his dull expression, without an ounce of consideration for how awkward it is for her.

“what is up with you and itadori-sensei?”

megumi snaps out of that dumb daze. he leans back against the windowsill, staring straight ahead at the parallel boxes of doors, sliding panels, another open window through the classroom.

“...what’s it to you, kugisaki.”

what’s it to her? kugisaki fumes on the spot.

“i’m just telling you right now,” she says, crossing her arms so she doesn’t actually do something objectively stupid like try and fight megumi. “no matter how dumb itadori-sensei seems, you better respect him. if he’s trying to help you, and yeah, you definitely need help, fushiguro, then at least hear him out.”

those green eyes slide over, slitted, then shift back, as quick as a hunting dog on the blood trail.

speaking of the hunting dog and the leftover blood trail, itadori-sensei strides by, stopping to wave and say their names like personal blessings.

“fushiguro-kun, kugisaki-kun!”

kugisaki’s temper immediately flares back up, and she stomps after him. forget megumi and his sullen cool-guy brooding; she needs to clear this up after half a year of purposeful misunderstandings already.

“kugisaki-chan, i told you, call me kugisaki-chan at least!”

down the hallway, kugisaki chases itadori-sensei - “eh? but kugisaki-kun fits you so well,” and the fading protest that goes unheard.

megumi watches them for a second longer, kugisaki’s small brown bob barely reaching itadori-sensei’s broad shoulder, and then, he turns away, heading down the opposite direction.

afterschool charisma

he wants to ask many things.

the integral set stares up at him, taunting and unfinished with their looping brackets, f(x)s to g(x)s, and back and forth until megumi’s head begins to spin at the indecipherable codes in his mind.

why did you break up the fight?

how did you know in the first place?

how could you let yourself get hurt in the process?

i don’t understand why you lied; what exactly do you want from me?

instead, he settles on the only concrete thought at the tip of his tongue:

“are you going to give me back my knife?”

itadori-sensei looks up from his grading stack. tuesdays and thursdays; that’s when he grades the monday quizzes and wednesday homework along with an extra load from lower classes. that’s why megumi is here today, stuck in the stifled afternoon quiet with a supplementary calculus set.

itadori taps his pen against the test paper. he gives megumi a kind, pathetic look that already answers everything.

“if i did, would fushiguro-kun promise not to use it against other people?”

megumi glowers from his student’s seat towards the front desk.

“well then,” itadori’s pencil makes a clean mark, and he passes the paper neatly onto the finished stack. he’s back to grading, dismissing megumi with a dip of his head. “fushiguro-kun should keep on working on his supplementary set for today.”

ask me again, and i’ll still give you the same answer.

megumi furiously scratches out two more problems before he gives up. he ends up drawing crude figures of dogs, some white, some that he shades in black with messy strokes, and he spends the rest of the time filling in the details of little dotted triangles on their foreheads that he idly recalls from his better dreams.

when itadori-sensei murmurs, “you may go now, fushiguro-kun,” with a third of his grading stack left and the afternoon turned to low evening outside, megumi slams his paper onto itadori’s desk and doesn’t look back.

“i’ll see you saturday,” itadori calls, a solitary figure cast in the wide, empty glow of the room, and he does not notice the unsteady hitch in megumi’s step.

no, really, the sight of you makes me swoon

gojo takes delight in personally waking megumi for his first volunteer trip with itadori-sensei.

a hand rests over half of his head, cold fingertips pressed to the roots. megumi wakes up, immediately short of breath.

“yuuji-sensei will be here soon.” gojo’s hand moves, a parody of a ruffle except that it’s an action so beyond him, his scope of understood affection, that it comes out more like an aborted pat.

megumi jerks away first. he covers a yawn, even though, under the skin, he is already awake, pulled too tight.

“fine.” he turns, pulling the blankets over his legs, talking stubbornly to the wall. “can you leave?”

a shift, either gojo leaning closer or gojo laughing in that strange way of his, where he makes no sound, but it’s clear—either way he enjoys sitting on the edge of megumi’s bed and watching the boy squirm.

eventually, gojo leaves without a word.

megumi pulls his shirt above his head and sits there, hunched in the fabric’s dark cocoon, thinking, thinking of nothing at all, except of that shifting feeling that’s bothered him all week; the slight degree with which every tuesday, thursday, and saturday adjusts; the strange but haunting prediction that says his life is slowly but surely going to turn inside out one day.

the doorbell rings. ding—

megumi yanks his shirt the rest of the way off and finally drags himself out of bed.

itadori-sensei is dressed just the same as always. white button-down with permanent creases, black slacks, but no misshapen tie today. megumi glowers down at the scuffed points of those dress shoes, the entire way to ueno, to whatever supposedly low-lying street cleanup he’s been forced into.

instead, after a 37-minute-long ride by railway, they walk another 15 to a place even more off the map than megumi had expected (dreaded).

“kairi-san,” itadori-sensei bows, and he’s all soft and hunched over as he takes the old woman’s hands in his. he barely straightens, only to smile at her, still cupping her hands in his. “thank you for having us!”

she turns her wrinkled gaze on megumi, smiling but with a hard line to her jaw that speaks of years of experience dealing with the whims of adolescents.

he begrudgingly tilts his head.

she grins, shaking her hand free to clap itadori’s shoulder, who despite his unbearably steadfast everything, actually sways a little. “well! as long as you’re here to do my extra work for me. besides,” her sharp gaze slides over to megumi again, “it seems like it would benefit this one here more than the actual kids.”

megumi glowers. itadori-sensei laughs, equally bright. “fushiguro megumi — one of my second years. don’t worry, he won’t make any trouble for you.”

any more trouble, megumi hears silently.

“of course not,” she eyes him again with that discerning stare, as if she’s already peeling away his disdainful layers and molding him into something useful, someone he’s clearly not. “fushiguro-kun looks like he’ll learn quickly.”

itadori-sensei quickly bows again, and this time, he catches megumi’s eye secretly. ducked beneath his spiky hair, he wears a gentle, knowing expression. “i’ll do my best as his teacher.”

the annoying sight of itadori-sensei with his crinkled shirt and crossed arms has long disappeared over the top of the overgrown, rancid pool.

megumi, at the sloped bottom, 12 feet deep in leftover sludge and tenuous weeds, takes a moment and stares up, up, up. in his lone, herculean task, there’s only the bright sun approaching midday over the low ueno city skyline. he wonders, bitterly, if gojo is lounging around at home, finally happy to be rid of him on a saturday.

“fushiguro-kun~” itadori-sensei’s voice comes out jovially beyond the chipped tile edge. “are you having any trouble?”

yes, megumi wants to shout, yes everything about this is extremely troublesome!

instead, he blinks, shields his eyes briskly from the sun, and kneels down to get to work.

he works at ripping out weeds, at tearing off the wispy tops and then cursing the stubborn roots sunk deep into fingernail wide cracks. megumi works alone and so tediously for so long that the sound of another pair of hands fighting the overgrown gravel does not register in his hazy brain until he actually turns, and sees—

itadori-sensei, bare-foot, slacks rolled up to his calves, shirt tucked as haphazardly as ever around his elbows. he swipes a dirty hand back through his hair and smiles with a little hint of delighted surprise at megumi’s stare.

“you were working so hard,” he says, and his smile grows wider, bright under the noon sun, “it’s only fair that i help you out.”

“otherwise,” he huffs, loosening his shirt absentmindedly, popping a button down to his collarbones, “what kind of teacher would i be if i let the student do all the work?”

megumi stares. itadori-sensei co*cks his head, unfazed. “i’m right, aren’t i, fushiguro-kun?”

the sight of itadori-sensei’s crumpled white shirt is blinding. beneath the sun, the deep pink shadow cast around itadori-sensei’s neck, creeping down to the exposed skin of his chest, hurts his eyes. the man himself smiles carelessly, and everything, everything about the sky, the sudden stretch of blue without wisps of clouds overhead, the noonday sun and itadori-sensei’s loose white shirt is bright, brighter than anything megumi has seen, brighter than the spark of a gun—

megumi stares intensely and then he is quickly rushing to meet the dim sludge at the bottom of the pool.

“fushiguro-kun!”

“—shiguro-kun?”

megumi opens his eyes to a nice open light, warm and clean. something made for an artificial interior and not the relentless noon hour outside. the world is no longer blindingly bright. he nods forward and suddenly, there’s the shock of something cold pressing against his head.

he blinks down and itadori-sensei blinks up, a pink plastic bottle blocking half his face.

“sh*t—”

megumi jerks away, cursing, and itadori follows quickly, rolling the bottle down to squish against megumi’s mouth.

“hey,” he presses his lips together, and megumi sees it now, itadori-sensei is trying not to laugh at him. his eyes glimmer as he rests his fingers softly around his mouth.

“you passed out, fushiguro-kun.” the bottle is dropped into his numb hands. calpico - super sweet strawberry mochi pink limited edition! the crowded wrapper reads. it’s huge, litre-sized and probably enough to last megumi a week—if he were the type to buy such a thing.

when he opens his mouth, it tastes vaguely of over-saturated sugar. the edge of his lips twinge, cool and damp, faintly sweet.

itadori-sensei stares up at him, still crouched hesitantly at megumi’s feet in a quiet little cafe.

he reaches out, a hand, and it goes nowhere, only pausing steadily above megumi’s knee. “...are you okay, fushiguro?”

megumi nods and the action immediately makes his head swoon; it’s the only way he can describe the feeling, the queasy feeling of his head, heart, and gut all free-falling without end.

itadori sees this, and he pauses again, already hovered, like a careful statue before megumi. then, he asks, as low and calm as possible, “fushiguro-kun, do you often suffer from symptoms of low blood sugar?”

megumi grimaces. no, no that wasn’t the problem — it was the sun shining through itadori-sensei’s clothes, the burst of brightness like a sudden gunshot, but — he settles for an excuse. “not really. i just didn’t eat breakfast today.”

itadori-sensei surges forward, something of a stubborn pout on his face. he’s still crouched at megumi’s feet, and now he’s practically hovering over megumi’s lap. “say, what do you usually eat at home with gojo-san? is it a lot of processed sugar—”

“i mean, sweets are all he buys,”

itadori continues ramble-lecturing, elbows against his knees. “so that’s why! if your body is loaded up with those synthesized high energy carbs all the time, it’s eventually going to have trouble processing normal sugars—” suddenly, he cuts himself off with a gasp.

calmly, very seriously, he asks, “fushiguro-kun, what should we eat for lunch?”

“sensei,” megumi deadpans, “we’re in a pastry shop.”

itadori-sensei droops, his entire body seeming to fold in. then, he looks up, right over megumi’s legs, grinning bashfully, sheepishly, “maybe...just for today, let’s have some sweets and forget about it.”

“oh!” itadori pauses mid-bite, a fleck of powdered sugar on the edge of his mouth, “you said gojo-san buys a lot of sweets. should we get him anything from ueno?”

the idea of getting gojo a gift is extremely distasteful. especially since gojo had specifically slid a few yen across the table this morning, asking for anything special from ueno~, a request megumi had pointedly decided to ignore.

megumi swallows around the dry bite of toasted ham and egg, an actual lunch item they had found on the sweets menu (to itadori’s surprise). and then, itadori-sensei had already paid for their food before he could even attempt to waste gojo’s money.

“nah,” megumi says and he can’t help but let the corner of his lip quirk up, “he only likes shinjuku’s kissaten-type sweets.” serves gojo right.

itadori-sensei is staring at him, staring with surprise, a tiny parted ‘o’ to his lips. “is that so?” he says, but it’s less of him saying it, and more of him smiling with his brown eyes, his entire face soaked in sunshine at megumi.

megumi frowns and he bluntly points at the corner of his lip. “you have something—here.”

“oh--um, thank you!” itadori-sensei scrubs it away and megumi mirrors the movement, turning to glance at an empty table in the pastel decorated corner.

the moment passes quickly, of itadori-sensei leaned softly against the window and smiling at him, out of embarrassment and inscrutable confusion.

itadori-sensei sees him off at shinjuku station, where he is clearly being herded away by the oncoming afternoon crowd. still, he obstinately raises an arm and shouts about how next week, i’ll walk fushiguro-kun back home, promise!

by the time megumi has decided to half-heartedly wave back, “you really...don’t need to,” he’s not even sure itadori-sensei can see him. he quickly drops his hand and exits the railway station.

“this is all you have for me?” gojo cries, scandalized at the half-drunken bottle of calpico - super sweet strawberry mochi limited edition! that megumi drops before him.

“sorry,” megumi says, already up the stairs.

he tumbles into bed, breathes out a long, long breath, and in the odd emptiness that follows, he plugs in his headphones and falls asleep.

unconsciously, he is thankful for the habitual shadows and not the blinding, blinding white of the sun, of itadori-sensei’s flushed skin beneath his shirt.

shall we get along nicely?

“fushiguro-kun! —oh, kugisaki-kun, am i interrupting something?”

“no.” she whips her head around at the word, interrupting, glaring fiercely at megumi as if he had somehow implied their relationship was something more. more than just two people stuck in routine together on occasion of being an angry loser and the only one who can tolerate said angry loser.

“in fact,” she packs together her rice and pickled cabbage combo quickly, briskly. a click of her slim oak wood chopsticks, a delicate adjustment of her skirt hem, “i was just leaving. and it’s kugisaki-chan.”

—she’s gone, without another look megumi or itadori’s way.

“ah,”

itadori stands there, hair rumpled as if from the force of kugisaki’s departure, his hands full with two plastic pastel boxes.

“i’m sorry fushiguro-kun,” he smiles with a wince, “i think i ruined it between you and kugisaki.”

if megumi could roll his eyes any harder he’d be looking at the stairs he’s sitting on. “it’s not like that,” he eventually mutters, deciding that friends is even too much of a likeable term for him and kugisaki.

“well,” and itadori-sensei suddenly takes a seat, right next to megumi on those shallow steps, his long legs bowing out in his crinkled slacks to fit. megumi stares up at him; itadori-sensei only smiles back.

he hands megumi the light blue lunchbox, and the self-assured routine of his actions somehow, somehow stuns megumi enough to simply take it.

blankly, he realizes there are little rabbits embossed onto the cover.

“i’m sure you can make it up to her if you take her shopping,” itadori says, humming as he pops off the sakura blossom top of his own pink box.

megumi doesn’t understand. did he—

“did you...bring me lunch?” his hands flutter, almost unbelievably around the plastic latches of the lid.

itadori-sensei cranes around him, mouth stuffed full and holding the tips of his chopsticks by his teeth.

“fufiguwo-kun fwould eat,”

megumi jerks back, gesturing to his own mouth again with a mild frown, in absolute disbelief. itadori-sensei drops his chopsticks back into his bowl, chuckling, and he swallows.

“melon bread and sweet milk again?”

it’s all that gojo buys in bulk and by default, megumi’s only on-the-go meal option. so he shrugs, one shoulder, a dismissive non-committal stare.

itadori-sensei’s arm reaches over, haphazardly bare beneath his rolled sleeves, and he gently pops off the lid of the box. the light, curling aroma from besides megumi becomes heavy and pungent, an assault directly to his face.

pork, fried with ginger, bits of pepper, mixed with potatoes soaked in soy sauce, all packed next to a side of dense white rice.

itadori-sensei takes another bite of the same dish. “i never got to ask fushiguro-kun what kind of non-dessert foods he liked—” he consciously swallows, loud and big, and megumi blinks with the bobbing motion of his throat.

“so try it and tell me what you think, okay?” he turns and there’s rice stuck between his teeth. this time, megumi stares, nods, and does not point it out.

the pork mixed with the soy sauce gives a too strong, over-salted flavor. there are also some pieces that are cut and fried more thoroughly than others. megumi can’t remember, can’t think much of the days before gojo’s empty high-rise apartment, but he thinks tsumiki was always patient with cutting pork when they could afford it.

she would stand there at the counter on top of her stool and strip away flowery white-pink pieces with their dull cooking knife as the rice cooked on a bare pot for a slow half-hour. megumi would watch from her waist, watch the rhythmic, steady pull of her arm, and find his own fingers tracing the same small motions against her apron.

itadori-sensei’s cooking is strong, rushed, amateur, and over-enthusiastic. but megumi eventually sets down an empty, glistening blue lunchbox. the aftertaste of ginger and pepper stings pleasantly at the back of his throat.

“good?” itadori-sensei casually reaches for the lunchbox as megumi shoves it his way.

itadori stares at him with bright eyes, and megumi hastily turns away.

“...the ginger was nice.”

for whatever reason, itadori-sensei’s resulting laughter makes megumi’s cheeks ache up to his ears with a hot flush.

“i thought so! fushiguro-kun seemed like the type to prefer small, sharp flavors,”

irrationally, the heat only grows, filling megumi’s head, a helium balloon under the pressure of a hot summer’s day. if he stays near itadori-sensei and his random assumptions of what megumi likes and doesn’t like, megumi might just pop.

“thank you, sensei.” megumi stands, tilts his head briskly, and strides up the steps. “i’ll be going now.”

the haphazard sound of plastic-ware falls, toppling, scrabbling against gravel, “—ah, fushiguro-kun, wait, what do you want to eat for tomorrow?”

tomorrow? megumi pointedly ignores that as he pushes past the courtyard doors. if he doesn’t answer, then he won’t have to deal with this foreign taste of ginger lingering in the back of his throat again.

(tomorrow, kugisaki avoids him like he’s caught the plague, so itadori-sensei finds him alone and stubbornly pushes the rabbit-blue box into his lap again.

tomorrow, it’s oil-drenched white cabbage with diced pieces of scallion, and of course, sharp hints of ginger tucked underneath the green leaves. reluctantly, megumi eats it all.

smiling, practically buzzing under his broad shoulders, hunched legs, itadori-sensei shamelessly awaits megumi’s compliments.

“...the ginger was nice”).

-

“fushiguro-kun really likes drawing these dogs, huh?”

itadori-sensei pauses in the middle of the weekly quiz stack; seven questions total, five derivatives, two integrals. megumi works on a supplementary version now with alternate numbers in the same format.

his quiz grade: 2/7. itadori-sensei circles it at the top of the paper and lingers on the sketch of a black dog in the space of the unanswered problems below.

megumi has somehow figured out the integrals before the derivatives again, and now he’s stuck on a log trig function combo, which has consequently led him to doodle another white dog inside the tiny dx sign.

“yeah…” and megumi utters the name that’s stuck with the images of those two wolf-like dogs, black and white twins, weaving like a cycle of light and shadow through his dreams. as natural as his next breath, as if it’s just been waiting to drop from his lips at the right moment, for the right person. “gyokuken.”

itadori-sensei does not look up from megumi’s current quiz, but he pauses, eyes wrinkling to himself. “gyokuken—that’s a very fitting name.” he’s amused, but megumi oddly gets the sense that itadori-sensei isn’t laughing at him. just, laughing, generally enjoyed.

“if fushiguro-kun has the time,” and megumi snorts at that, but itadori-sensei continues, good natured enough to keep smiling, “i’m sure some other students would appreciate seeing gyokuken on their papers—especially since,” he sighs, flipping past another sheet with a scrawl of his red pen, “no one seemed to remember how to find the derivative of a log based sin function.”

megumi co*cks his head silently. itadori-sensei gestures to the finished stack of problem sets next to him, where there is room for one more chair if you slide in just close enough and sit side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow.

megumi rises, heart pounding, and turns in his unfinished problem set facedown.

“sorry, sensei. i need to get home.”

itadori-sensei blinks up at him in the afternoon light. hazy, the faraway glow seeping into his hair and soaking half his face. “alright then,” he smiles, almost sleepy in his resolve, “i’ll see you saturday, fushiguro-kun.”

megumi nods, quickly turning away.

“see you,” he mumbles, leaned back against the closed door, the sunlight through the window hot on his nape.

-

on saturdays, they leave early enough in the morning that the night air still lingers. there are literal spots across megumi’s vision as he wipes away the condensation that has become dewdrops on his lashes.

itadori-sensei laughs. “your lashes are very long, fushiguro-kun!” he’s teasing, just as many people have before (you really look like a girl—living up to your namesake, huh megumi) but on him it’s good-natured. almost appeasing.

megumi doesn’t know how to respond other than to shrug and bat those troublesome, dew-dropped lashes at some point outside the train car.

(tsumiki had always filled his mind with stories about spiders walking their long ticklish legs through his lashes, about whispered curses in the winter that could make his ears fall off in the cold. maybe that’s why he’s kept his hair so long and dishevelled all this time, to cover his ears, make himself mute to those supposed whispers).

he shivers now, tucking them into his shoulders. itadori notices, eyes sliding over to megumi’s thin white shirt, and he looks away at the next tremor.

throughout the train cars, the light filters in and is kept, boxed up in neat, little packages. kaleidoscopic views into different worlds. theirs is dyed a faded indigo, on account of facing the high-rise screens of shinjuku’s corporate skyscrapers. blue, lilac, gold, and when he turns, itadori-sensei’s russet-pink hair is melting into intangible cotton candy wisps.

the city is surreal like this; half-empty train cars, murmurs and indecipherable promises of be home soon from late-night workers slipping onto the early-morning line.

itadori-sensei’s mouth dropping open as he turns against his own shoulder, unconsciously basking in the saturated blue light.

the only reason that megumi doesn’t wake him up, shake him by the shoulder or however else, poke him in the cheek, yell sensei in his ear, is that it’s fun to see him flail at the overhead voice.

no, megumi won’t ever admit it, that he’s somehow gotten used to waking up before the rest of the world on a weekend.

but, well, itadori-sensei surreptitiously pressing away the pink welt on his cheek—it’s not so bad.

this is the last week itadori-sensei wears his wrinkled, unfitting suit to the pool cleanup.

kairi-san yells, “heads-up boys,” a casual second after she’s already turned on the hose and aimed directly for itadori.

megumi, only caught by his ankles in the spray, hides his face behind his hand. through his fingers, kairi-san winks at him.

it’s always too bright at the bottom of this cracked, overgrown pool. the fresh arc of water concentrates the sunlight in tight little drops that fall, fall and burst into refracted rainbows.

itadori-sensei in his white shirt is soaked through, translucent and gently pink.

“kairi-san, if you aim for my student, then we’re really going to have to fight!” he waves a wet fist as he bears the direct brunt of another torrent.

it’s too bright, and megumi has to look away again.

on the walk home, megumi turns his face to the evening sky.

(and yes, itadori-sensei insists on riding with him, walking him home now, all the way from ueno to shinjuku’s residential area, from which he will have to trek back to the city’s huge station again just to make the ride home.

it must be far; megumi has thought about it, but he has never asked the question of where sensei lives).

he’s never noticed before, how the blue fades into the faraway amber-orange, the blazing setting sun. where the distinct shadows of smoke and clouds are solidified on the flat canvas of tall apartment buildings, where the sky is a melting palette of day to night, there are violent streaks the color of itadori-sensei’s hair.

“it’s nice isn’t it?” itadori-sensei hums, tracing a finger along one of those streaks until he’s just pointing, pointing at the endless horizon. in her tough, bemused way of apology, kairi-san had draped his broad shoulders in a torn brown coat from her decade old lost and found collection.

as itadori raises his arm, the huge sleeves drag down his bare arms. chilled from the fresh soak. his tan skin glows a tender, burnt pink.

it is. megumi takes a quick picture.

“yuuji-sensei should come in and sit!” stay, for dinner, and then—after, later into the night, gojo’s sharp smile always says. he stands there, almost easing his arm over itadori’s head as he leans against the doorframe, leaving a very convenient itadori-shaped hole at his side.

itadori-sensei will reply, always with the same unshaking, cordial rejection. “ah, no thank you!”

(megumi is always, strangely, too relieved at his answer).

then, gojo will sigh, act all creepy and dramatic as he pushes a bag of weekly sweets against itadori’s chest, whining with his glasses off, with those unblinking blue eyes latched onto itadori like high-beam fog lights - “i see, sensei must only like his students,” “i treasure my students, but i’m sure their families love them that much more,” “ah, but then what does yuuji-sensei think of their parents?” “well, —”

somehow, itadori is the only person thick-skulled and obliviously patient enough to entertain all of gojo’s banter, to the point that even gojo is, for once, left humming, casually speechless.

“well then!” he turns itadori by his shoulders, palms spreading down, open until they cover the outline shoulder blades and then, with a light push, “yuuji-sensei should be on his way before it gets dangerous at night~”

from beyond the doorway, an incredulous laugh, a hand that waves past gojo’s dark frame.

megumi’s fingers twitch against his chest, open, open, and quickly closed, tucked into his palm, thumb under, because there’s no way itadori-sensei could see him anyway.

“have a good evening, gojo-san. and thank you for your hard work, fushiguro-kun!

itadori-sensei knows somehow. just like gojo, this odd sense adults all seem to have.

but—it’s different.

megumi scrubs the heel of his hand over his face and curls up tighter in front of the tv, concentrating on the mindless blur of pixels for as long, as hard as he can.

dog day

volunteer days go like this now; megumi and the sound of melancholic guitar scratching through his red headphones. itadori-sensei resigned to work at his side with a small smile as he occasionally looks over, to megumi quietly bobbing his head, face unconsciously softened from its usual indifference to something like simple enjoyment.

times like these, with itadori-sensei paused against his scrubbing mop, watching megumi act like the kid he should be, everything is almost easy enough to become ideal, a habit.

today, there is a spike in the lulling rhythm, a stray interruption.

the dog stands at the rim of the pool, and it is so black, a shape so viciously aberrant in its sudden appearance, as if it has fallen from a tear in the perfect blue fabric of the sky.

itadori drops the mop with a wet thump, a quick whisper, an intake of breath that shakes with the sound megumi’s name.

“fushiguro-kun—"

the dog’s lips pull back into a snarling snout, yellow lined with an abraded dark red, and it makes a sound through its teeth, but megumi isn’t scared. he reaches, reaches for the black thing that is blocking out the entire sun—because he can tell, the difference between a fellow stray’s bite and bark.

the sound it makes is like a human scream, and it leaps with clear intent, with only a single direction.

megumi surges forward with open arms and then, he is thoroughly yanked back. a bruising force by his waist, caught at an angle, by the very breath of him.

“wait, fushiguro—!” itadori shouts, buried tightly into his neck, wrapped entirely around him, and megumi is incredulous at this feeling of slipping, of falling back, of falling into a hot, unyielding warmth—

the dog lands before them, and as itadori-sensei’s breath hisses across megumi’s ear, the stray pads forward and butts its head into megumi’s stomach.

“. . . . . .”

itadori-sensei laughs weakly.

his hands twitch where the dog is now nosing with wet huffs, streaking its tongue between itadori’s overlocked knuckles and megumi’s shirt.

“he…” and itadori’s laugh grows into a laugh, an erratic burst of sound that tightens him so naturally, so intimately around megumi’s body that megumi shakes from the waist up.

“he likes you!” itadori-sensei’s arms jostle, playfully, as if he might, what, pick megumi up and twirl him around in celebration.

“sensei,” megumi says, limp and simultaneously so so tense, “please let go of me.”

itadori only laughs harder, high, boyish sounds that come out fast, then hitched, playfully hesitant breaths, like he can’t even believe himself. how much he’s enjoying this.

the damn stray pants harder and buries its huge head into megumi’s crotch.

megumi tugs at itadori-sensei’s locked forearms, but for whatever reason, for all the violence his own hands are surely capable of, he can only weakly pull, pull and then, settle.

at least, he pushes half-heartedly at a head of black fur.

the stray dog is more like a friendly beast, a dumb wolf who doesn’t realize the size of its own teeth, the intimidation of its big bark. megumi presses his hand lightly against its side, and his pale fingers immediately disappear into a smooth sea of black.

the stray is also not a real stray; there is a tarnished golden plate on the back of its neck, which has been turned and streaked and scratched with the sign of wild, desperate searching.

“hey buddy, hey kuro-chi, hey gyokuken,” itadori-sensei runs his hand around the dog’s jaw to ruffle its ear in that rough, frenzied way dogs love, “how did you get all the way from sugisawa to ueno, hm?”

the dog snuffles, barks—!! megumi glares silently at the choice of name.

“hey, fushiguro,” itadori-sensei rambles next in that same coddling, affectionate tone, and of course, of course megumi jerks up like it’s some animal instinct and not standard to respond to the sound of your own name.

itadori smiles at him anyway. his hands still cradling the dog’s massive head. they’re, all three of them at this point, covered in pool sludge, slobber, and the light heat of the sun.

itadori-sensei winks, and even with the glistening sheen of dog drool pulling at his cheek, he manages to make the action seem unfazed. genuine.

“what do you say about making a trip to sugisawa today?”

megumi freezes with his hands drowning in the stray’s infinitely dark fur.

“...really?”

“if fushiguro-kun is up to it,” itadori-sensei says gently as he gives the choice over to megumi entirely.

megumi surges to his feet, and the dog rises on unsteady, excited legs. naturally, to follow him. like this, he can truly gauge the stray’s size. it really is a wolf-like beast, with its huge body wrapping all the way around his knees, its head craned and nuzzling into megumi’s stomach.

he hooks two fingers around the back of its worn collar, and the stray immediately stills, straightens to attention at his side.

“i want to, please. let’s go sensei.”

itadori-sensei grins up at him, a little satisfied ~hehe, and as megumi walks forward, the dog and itadori follow too.

“did you know,” itadori-sensei smiles, with a little peek down at megumi, at the lightly panting wolf-dog trotting along at the boy’s side, “that sugisawa is actually my hometown?”

megumi gives him an inscrutable look, nods, and then glances away to re-adjust his fingers around the stray’s collar.

itadori rambles on anyway, about nonsense, about whatever highschool occult club he had once been a part of, which was only a way to get out of doing track-and-field with an extremely aggressive head coach, and oh—that reminds him of one of the old afterschool rumours about their rugby field that would make all the athletes sick—

megumi listens idly to this small-town chatter as they pass through the origin of all these stories.

apparently, sugisawa is relatively close to ueno, given that they’re both lower working-class districts. from kairi-san’s childcare center to ueno station, 15 minutes, then another 10 minute ride, then—

“it’s better to walk,” itadori-sensei had said, lightly cryptic as they had emerged from the small bustling station.

along the way, itadori points out all the tiny shops, boxed in side-by-side along the crooked wandering streets. there are nail and hair salons right next to family-owned pharmacies, and in front of each one, people that laugh and talk openly for anyone to hear.

throughout the town, telephone poles, landlines weave in-and-out perpetually, and below their cast shadows, among the passing shadows of other pedestrians, megumi walks quietly with itadori at one side and a big wolf-dog at the other.

“we’re going to see ieiri-san,” itadori-sensei says secretively as they turn another uneven corner where the curb doesn’t quite meet the street. he says it like he’s confessing something in the murmur of that name.

“she doesn’t like to be bothered,” itadori winces, “but we’re going to bother her anyway because she’s the best doctor in town. well, physician, but i’m sure she’ll be able to help—anyway,”

makes sense. itadori-sense seems to have a knack for bothering the people that want to be left alone the most.

despite himself, megumi bites his lip and smiles.

“ah. itadori, it’s you.”

ieiri is a woman with sunken, deathly thin skin under her eyes, and otherwise, a pale and perfect complexion. she looks at itadori like she’s only just seen him yesterday and is ready to will him out of sight through the dull lethargy of her stare alone.

“yep, good afternoon ieiri-san! it’s your favorite—”

she blows a face full of smoke into his oncoming bow, and itadori chokes on his greeting.

“you’re still smoking after all these years?” he pouts, eyes watering lightly, “i thought you would’ve quit by now.”

she presses the cigarette to her mouth, two neat pink fingernails against the browned paper. another drag, and the exhale comes out slowly through her nose. her eyes flicker to megumi, but only for a moment through the light haze.

“i did.” she stubs the rest out. “but something about today made me want to go for another one.” she stares at itadori now, with those flat eyes, and it’s clear she’s appraising him from head to toe, looking at how much he’s grown.

she smiles, small and wry. “guess it was you.”

itadori laughs as he does, as he does with everyone and everything, and the way he hunches himself towards ieiri speaks of years of making himself smaller for a person who would appreciate not being talked down to, literally or otherwise. out of habit, she tilts her face up to him too, shoulders lax, like she might pull him in for a hug, a biting pinch of the cheek.

“and, who’s this?”

suddenly, it’s megumi and the stray dog caught under her slow, flat gaze.

itadori-sensei steps in to introduce them, an outstretched hand unconsciously beckoning his way. “fushiguro megumi, and uh, kuro-chin, or—well, there’s no name on the collar, but we found him all the way in ueno—”

“and who is he to you?” ieiri cuts him off. her two fingers, delicate and pointed, press over her lips again, the empty motion of another drag.

itadori gapes between them, caught between smiling and blinking, confused at her sudden change of tone. he recovers quickly, “ah! my student, he’s doing some guided volunteer on the weekends—”

“not you.” she looks directly at megumi.

megumi thinks it over for a brief second.

then, he shrugs, meeting her eyes, “itadori-sensei is itadori-sensei.”

this time, megumi gets his own tiny hint of a smile. “good answer.” a hint of a warning too, sharp, clinical.

from the background, oddly offended, “of course i’m his teacher, what else would i be? are you saying i’m not good enough?!”

ieiri brushes aside the whining, gesturing towards the docile wolf-dog at megumi’s side. “now, let me see kuro-chin.”

again, an exclamation from the background, “i get it, okay, that name is terrible, i’m sorry for coming up with it—"

gyokuken,” megumi murmurs softly, exchanging the collar with ieiri, “that’s his name.”

gyokuken shakes playfully under her grip, and she smiles down at the big dog, whispering back just between the two of them, “very fitting, fushiguro megumi-kun.”

in the end, volunteer saturday ends up going till past sundown. they’ve taken the railway into sugisawa and then back out, back through ueno, all the way into shinjuku city. the map they’ve made today is a confusing one.

ieiri is going to take gyokuken home for a night, just to observe him for a period, make sure nothing suddenly changes in the big wolf-dog’s even temperament.

“she doesn’t look it, but it’s ‘cause she’s actually a sucker for dogs,” itadori harps on the way back, back to gojo's apartment in the busy darkness.

(before: it was the first time megumi has really tried to put up a fight against itadori-sensei. not even when the man first barged into his fight, into his daily routine, with demanding gifts of supplementary calculus sets, homemade lunches, and crack-of-dawn volunteering sessions.

the sunset is fading to dark, and while shinjuku lights never really go out, itadori-sensei wears an old tracksuit, and megumi knows he must be just as cold and tired, plastered with pool grout and dried dog spit.

“sensei,” he grits out, and then stronger, more stubborn as he chases after itadori, already striding off from the shinjuku station platform, “itadori-sensei — i don’t need you to walk me home.”

itadori keeps walking, head tilted back like he’s actually, really listening to megumi and simply choosing to act otherwise. megumi has to pick up his pace, make up for the stilted distance between them, that shortens, lengthens, stop-starts with his own irritated hesitation.

he reaches out, reaches out to do what, what exactly he doesn’t even know, until he’s gripping itadori-sensei’s wrist—and they both stop with that tenuous, swinging pull between them.

megumi stares at him. at the edge of itadori-sensei’s sleeve, his fingers brush onto bare skin, onto the pulsing line of a tendon. he grips down, harder.

“it’s dark now, fushiguro-kun.” itadori-sensei’s gaze does not flicker, not even in the shadow play of shinjuku’s busy street lights. not even with megumi’s hold wrapped entirely around his wrist, middle finger to thumb.

“i’m going to walk you home.”

and as with the rest of their interactions, their first meeting and everything after, megumi falters and gives way to his unyielding smile).

in a day of odd firsts, of momentary interruptions to the new regular—

“it really is late tonight,” gojo sidles up against the doorframe, leaning over itadori with that lazy drawl, “why don’t you come in and sit, yuuji-sensei?”

“thank you, gojo-san,” itadori nods once, decisive, “i will.”

itadori accepts gojo’s offer and with the slickness of gojo’s surprise sliding down his back, he steps past the other man without any hesitation.

“...center in my old hometown. fushiguro-kun was very good with him, to the point i almost thought he was communicating with the dog, aha. really, i think he has an affinity for animals, gojo-san.”

megumi stands, fresh out of the shower, behind the shadow of the doorway. his head is spinning, dizzy from the steam, but itadori-sensei is still here, and his head keeps spinning at the presence of him where he shouldn’t be, where he’s never been before, at night in gojo’s home.

“really,” he hears the sigh in gojo’s voice, a shift like he’s leaning back in his chair. or forward, closer across the table to itadori-sensei. “just call me satoru, sensei.”

“well—satoru-san,”

“satoru, please~”

“satoru,” the rush of breath, farther, faster, from itadori-sensei trying to squeeze his words out before gojo can interrupt him again.

“have you thought about letting him keep a pet?”

“oh, of course.” sly laughter weaves a mocking undertone through gojo’s words. “megumi could sulk in the complex yard and all the birds would flock to him like he was the teenage boy incarnation of a disney princess or something. you’re right sensei, he is just that good with animals.”

megumi can hear the excitement, the hasty moment itadori-sensei thinks he’s managed to win gojo over, the absolute foolishness of his hope on megumi’s behalf. somewhere, in the expanse of his head, the shower steam begins to expand and burn.

“so, a dog wouldn’t be such a reach then—”

gojo must be smiling so sweetly when he says, “nope.”

“—ah?”

“oh, sensei,” there is such a glee to gojo’s voice, and megumi touches the top of his lip, beneath his nose where the burning heat has spread, so much so that the bridge between his eyes begins to ache with sharp, flaring pulses.

“megumi may be good with animals, he may understand their instincts, how to keep them docile—but a child like that? there’s no way he’ll actually be able to take care of them.”

silence. megumi’s finger comes away blurring, dark red before his eyes.

when itadori speaks, he is shaking, raw, openly betrayed by gojo’s jovial tone. “but, why not? fushiguro, he’s a good kid, and i know you’ve seen him, how happy he gets—it would give him so much confidence, i swear-”

“please sensei, not when megumi could be listening.” gojo slides the conversation back his way, so glib, so smooth, so uncaring. “you’ve already taken so much time to clean up his act at school, and for that, i’m truly grateful.”

and this is where gojo lies, always lies, about what exactly, megumi can never say, but it feels like a lie, sounds like a lie whenever gojo tells other adults about his troublesome little foster child.

“you understand right, sensei? megumi’s already made a mess once. for you and for me. it’s better to avoid indulgences like that, for a kid like him.”

megumi slowly, slowly raises a hand to his mouth, covers it. is he still bleeding? what’s leaking out must already be smeared all over his cheeks, his nose, his lips. when he swallows, his stomach goes sick.

“besides,” gojo is smiling now, the large maw of it most likely splitting his face in two, “haven’t you already done enough for him as his teacher, hm, yuuji-sensei?”

megumi forces himself to move again, to walk away, cold feet shifting on tile and bile rising in his throat. his hand remains locked over his mouth, uselessly plugging up his nose.

originally, he was going to see itadori-sensei out, try his best to ignore the cruel curiosity of gojo’s stare on his back. give thanks begrudgingly because itadori-sensei deserves at least that after an impromptu cross-country trip just to indulge megumi’s affinity for fellow strays,

irrationally, he was still thinking of itadori-sensei heading back on the shinjuku line, because in the growing night, who would be there to walk itadori-sensei home,

—but he’s currently too busy trying to breath with half his head stuck in the toilet bowl.

too busy trying to muffle his gagging around that day’s udon mixed with the dull pool of blood, so—

he doesn’t realize, when itadori-sensei is already at the door, gojo’s weekly pastries wrapped up and pushed into his arms, and the man himself leaning over him, his smile a parody of easy affection, his posture, lax intimidation.

he doesn’t know that itadori-sensei looks up, unflinching, into gojo’s blue ghost stare with his wonderfully hard-headed, stupid determination: “i’ll be back next week for fushiguro-kun. see you then, gojo-san.”

gojo watches the man stride away, crumpling the sweets bag to his chest with his poorly hidden righteous anger. he can hear the echo of the toilet upstairs, a loud flush to cover up megumi’s desperate scrabbling and retching against the tiled floor.

gojo keeps his eyes on itadori even as he slides on a pair of black shades, and he can’t control the sudden urge to laugh: “how sweet of you, sensei.”

gunshot impressions; boxcutter scars

gojo had told megumi, when he had first introduced himself at that broken apartment, stained with blood and lingering smoke and even much darker things megumi cannot remember, as someone who knew his father.

someone who knew him…? what does it mean for someone to know his father, now, after everything that happened, megumi had wondered through the bruise in the back of his head.

like a relative if you will. gojo had leaned down, placing a finger over his lips, slipping the black glasses down his nose to show a glint of one blue diamond eye.

as a child, megumi had not replied then, silence implying his acceptance.

but megumi has black hair like ground ink, has his father’s murky green mess of dead eyes. gojo’s hair is a shock of white, despite only being in his 20s, and his eyes, his eyes are things that could never be passed down by blood alone.

gojo satoru has lied to megumi since the day he took him under his care, but—that’s a story for another time.

(despite everything, megumi knows he is still his father’s son).

-

the monday after gyokuken’s rescue and his subsequent breakdown, megumi still can’t help himself.

the school garden is occasionally invaded by rabbits, and he picks up a glowing white stray by the scruff, dangles a piece of grass across its sniffling nose, and then cradles it to his chest. indulgences, easy animal affection.

a child like that?

megumi hugs the rabbit closer, digging his fingers into the pure softness of its fur. he closes his eyes and wills the lilt of gojo’s voice to fade into the schoolyard bustle of noon and lunch.

itadori-sensei smiles with his eyes softened in the sunshine, says “fushiguro-kun” when he finds megumi like a spooked rabbit, and gently lets megumi turn his back to him, cradle around the rabbit with his eyes tightly closed.

today’s lunch is a light, vegetarian affair too. white rice with just the right amount of steam and fluff, stewed tofu and cabbage from dinner’s soup leftovers, and a hint of ginger.

megumi breaks off tiny pieces of cabbage for the rabbit, then nibbles at the rest after the animal wriggles out of his hands and hops away.

eventually, eventually in the slight pungent stink of garden fertilizer and day-old cabbage, itadori-sensei asks, “fushiguro-kun, would you tell me about your family?” he says it quietly, as if he expects nothing but silence in return. as if he was just wondering about megumi aloud.

but what is there to say?

(seemingly, all at once, there is too much, swelling in his throat).

why would he tell anyone after years of forgetting, after years of pretending like he had no father, not someone like toji who gave him ‘fushiguro’ and ‘megumi’ out of a throwaway lack of love.

(he wants to tell itadori-sensei, spill the entirety of himself into those open eyes, gentle voice anyway).

——tsumiki had pulled the door open with her elbows clenched tightly at her sides, and there was a moment, a moment where she had looked at megumi, eyes flashing with a terrible realization that she is 13 and she will have to stay 13 here, in this closed, death sentence of room—

“megumi, run!”

megumi doesn’t know why his father has a gun, if he’s had it all along or if it’s another figment of the darkness that has seeped into their lives, but toji raises the gun like a natural extension of his arm and shoots the howling, pounding men through the door.

the burst of each bullet catches against the wood, delineate scratches that skitter outward, a miniature fire each time, and megumi blinks, blinks, blinks, with the flashes of bright light.

when he is done—

tsumiki lays curled at toji’s feet, and the dead men outside have grown silent, and yet they heave with one big breath. their bodies are a collective mass that moves, still thinking they’re alive with a mistaken exhale, the lingering sensation that they were all beating hearts just a second ago, and it will take a minute and more for them to learn to settle into real death.

tsumiki’s small, pale arms are thrown over toji’s feet, and beneath her shock of black hair, she has long grown still.

toji’s back is hunched, his hands gnarled, his hands that hold a gun above her like he was the one who knocked her down into this stillness. his body is rigid in punishment, in accusation, charred in the strained tendons of his arms—all the signs saying that he might as well have been her killer.

this entire time, megumi hasn’t listened to her. he’s pushed back on his palms, blocked his own escape against the leg of the kitchen table.

toji turns to him, arm raising, raising, as if he might shoot megumi too, but megumi cannot remember the look in his father’s eyes, if he had even been able to look into his father’s eyes under the table, if they might have said something honest to him for once, only,

only that there was a burst of brightness that knocks toji’s head at a broken angle from his neck and megumi slams his own into the table edge—

in the throbbing darkness with the flashing blindness, megumi drops his head into his wet hands, and the only thing he is sure his father has said to him with his broken lip split over his wide teeth is,

“be good, megumi.

later, much later, they will tell megumi that his father was involved in a bad sort of trouble. how the trouble involved megumi too. that gojo was the one party willing to sort out all this trouble, just for him. just for the one poor kid left.

he does not tell itadori-sensei any of this. the after.

instead, he watches the rabbits invading the flower patch, looks the other way, any way that is not at itadori-sensei, and he admits, “i miss my sister.”

and then, guilty, guilty as he can be for having never said this aloud until now, “it feels like it was my fault that my father didn’t stay.”

megumi does not cry, but the intense burn in his nose is a close thing when itadori-sensei hugs him.

“you’re okay,” itadori says firmly, and he must be saying that with his mouth brushing against megumi’s neck, his hair, his hand an open weight on his back because megumi is shaking, shaking, and he can’t seem to stop, especially when itadori-sensei keeps touching him like this.

“you’re okay now, fushiguro,” he says again, and it sounds just like you’re a good kid, fushiguro, and perhaps, what he’s imagined,

a hand in his hair, a warm breath dampening his ear,

played over and over in his dreams—be good, megumi.

when megumi closes his eyes, he wills the hot ache running through his nose to fade, for everything to stop throbbing so warm and tight.

itadori-sensei’s arms loosen slightly, hesitantly pulling away.

there is no reason for megumi to touch itadori-sensei, no reason other than the fact that his teacher should not see him cry. so, for this reason and this reason only, he yanks the man back in, arms locked around his neck, face buried into his shoulder.

itadori-sensei cups his head, the entirety of his palm woven messily through megumi’s hair, and his mouth is hot, slightly soft and wet against megumi’s cheek.

“it’s not your fault.” he says with absolute conviction. “it’s never a child’s fault for what adults decide to do, fushiguro.”

megumi doesn’t say anything, doesn’t make a sound as he holds onto itadori-sensei through monday lunch.

-

the next day, megumi considers avoiding itadori-sensei. just like how kugisaki practically sprints away from him at lunch too.

then, itadori finds him as easy as ever out by the back courtyard doors, two boxed lunches primed in each hand, and it’s futile to even duck away from his eager grin.

they eat (dried mushrooms rehydrated the night before, stir-fried with pork, using leftover fried fat as oil and a tiny cut of ginger), and it’s not like anything has changed really; itadori-sensei doesn’t bring up his induced breakdown, megumi fixates on how chewy the mushrooms are in contrast to the pork.

today, itadori has been scrolling through his phone, back and forth, as if deliberating over some fixed spot on the screen.

he’s never been this preoccupied before, megumi thinks with a strange twist in his gut.

maybe, if megumi was anyone else, he’d lean over and ask what itadori is looking at, playfully tease by peeking over his shoulder too.

but despite having soaked his face into the curve of itadori-sensei’s nape for all of lunchtime yesterday, megumi can’t bring himself to utter a single word.

luckily, itadori pauses and brandishes his phone.

megumi stares blankly. itadori-sensei’s hand hovers, practically vibrating, and oh—he wants megumi to take it.

“here,” he smiles, and this time the expression is tentative. it’s not that megumi would try to snoop — and he’s sure there’s nothing he could find on itadori-sensei’s phone anyway — but nobody offers their phone this readily to another person.

(apparently itadori does. apparently itadori is the kind of person to trust a brooding student who hasn’t talked in his class for a half-year and has only been brought out of his shell as a sort of forced intervention for trying to cut another kid.

small things).

megumi rolls his eyes, but he takes the phone without question.

“i never knew my parents,” itadori-sensei starts, stops, starts again. “and my grandpa died in the hospital when i was a first-year.”

he says these unfortunate facts of life like they are simple, rehearsals of greetings, goodbyes you’d give away to anyone. rainy day, sunny day, a day soaked with hot tears, like blood to the bone. all the same, you wake up the next day and say hello to the morning with a strong front.

“and, that,” itadori’s eyes flicker to the phone, to the piece of his life photographed and offered openly to megumi,

“the only family i have left now is my older brother.”

pictured: a man with such an uncanny resemblance to itadori they might as well be twins. uncanny from the wild cut of his pale brown hair, to the wide set of his eyes, the strong yet natural boy-ishness that remains on his face.

megumi squints closer at the figure, who, in the moment, was turning towards the camera with his mouth set in a harsh grimace.

they may look exactly like each other, but somehow, megumi doesn’t think he’d ever mistake them for the same person.

somehow, from every line of the picture, itadori-sensei’s brother seems meaner. like he was born inherently cruel.

itadori-sensei slides closer, a whispered breath of his slacks on the steps, a casual turn of his cheek, and the points of his fingers dance across the pale skin beneath his eyes.

megumi has noticed before, has kept his speculations silent, but despite his classmate’s occasional remarks about “sensei’s funny birthmarks” — they have always looked more like white crescents, etched into flesh in thin, jagged slices. torn moons.

up close, wrinkled and pulled at the edges, they are surely scars.

“i tell everyone these are birthmarks.” itadori-sensei smiles, and the scars pull upwards with the corners of his eyes. if they weren’t worn and patched over with a dull shine at this point, such an action would hurt immensely.

itadori taps his fingers along the pale slit, one eye closing unevenly, almost in a wink, a telling secret.

“the truth is, nii-san hated me for looking like him.”

his fingers cover the scar, pressing into the marred shape along the edges.

“hated it enough that he took a box cutter to my face to try and change it.”

“ah—” itadori’s brows furrow, and he drops his hand quickly. he smiles, but it’s not exactly at megumi. it’s more unconscious, nervous, as if he’s feeling for his face, for a familiar sensation that he’s here and not bleeding out, ripped open somewhere else.

megumi must be making some kind of expression too because itadori-sensei’s smile recovers with its usual glowing ease. “don’t worry, don’t worry,” he laughs, a sound that grates in the odd space between them, “he doesn’t have that bad of a complex anymore. we’re...adults now.”

and it goes unspoken, that adults don’t do such childishly cruel things like cut each other’s faces off at the barest provocation.

no, they learn to be cruel in other ways.

cruel, like the way itadori-sensei’s brother stares at the person behind the camera, hard dark eyes, unkind mouth.

strange in the way that itadori-sensei takes back his phone and instead, puts on his own smile for the picture, smiles as if he is truly looking at something he loves.

the white cut line of itadori’s tan cheek creases. megumi reaches, thumb poised—

and he rushes to stand, to go because his head is spinning, and he’s sure it must be the noon sun, the fat of the pork, and nothing else.

“fushiguro-kun, wait—”

megumi turns, but he doesn’t back down. he’s one step up, a few more from the door, and the rest of the way to the dull promise of english in the afternoon.

itadori-sensei looks up at him with those wide, russet eyes, pleading. at the base of his collarbone, two of his shirt buttons have fallen open.

megumi looks. looks and looks away.

“i’m sorry if that scared you,” itadori-sensei soothes, and again there’s that tone,

as if megumi was the cat in a tree, the rabbit spooked out of cradled arms. and itadori-sensei cranes towards him, eyes soft, placating as if he would do anything to make a poor child come back down to safety.

(megumi isn’t scared of scar marks or the childhood nightmares behind them. he’s scared of itadori-sensei and his absolute lack of self-preservation).

“i’m not scared,” he says, “but you—sensei, you,”

he bites his shaking tongue instead and rushes to go.

taking inventory

in no particular order, things that megumi thinks about itadori-sensei, in relation to itadori-sensei, in any vague sense of itadori-sensei at all:

“fushiguro-kun,” he says, sliding a freshly graded paper megumi’s way, “the reference sheet for set 5 optimization practice is in my desk, middle drawer, teacher’s room,” and he slides a tiny key over, again towards megumi.

megumi sits at the same large desk now, ducked in itadori-sensei’s large afternoon shadow.

he is close enough to see the synthetic, reflective rim around the coronae of itadori’s brown eyes. in the light of the seeping sunset, sensei wears contact lenses.

and beneath them, the glossy pull of his scars catches golden, orange fire.

“sure.” megumi finishes the tail of another gyokuken, drawn with an absolute, unquestionable accuracy.

a peeking glance. itadori-sensei laughs, heh-heh, two quick exhales of breath, even as he scans down the paper with an automatic speed.

itadori-sensei is someone who enjoys laughing for the pure experience of the action alone. the way he sounds is a clear enough indicator. out of breath, out of tone, high-pitched helium flying higher and higher with no fear of the eventual deflated fall.

megumi passes the paper over, finished twice-fold, 10/15 with a puppy-eyed gyokuken right next to the score. he picks up the key and goes, the metal heat of it beating a little heartbeat against his palm.

itadori-sensei’s handwriting is odd, in that it is at odds with the man himself.

perfectly spaced and perfunctorily slanted, there’s a hint of classical training to his measured scrawl. especially the numbers—the looping nines that are drawn like thin balloons, each 8 parallel to a neighbouring 1, residing on the same invisible borderline.

it’s jarring because it’s very formal, extremely adult. but then, itadori will draw his letters out bigger, comically loopy, when he leaves comments on particularly rough problem sets. good try! don’t forget to evaluate sin(x) before you do the x portion inside!

you got it this time!

please remember...sec and cos-1are not the same thing~

so, despite his nonsensically neat handwriting, calculus papers always come back, a mess of red circles, checks, and blaring encouragement.

“why calculus?” another strange thing to him.

itadori-sensei chuckles, honestly amused. “i know, i know, you’d think i’d be more suited to physical education right?”

sure, itadori-sensei has his broad shoulders, creased white shirts that are always untucked or rolled back in some way or another, and he always walks like he’s holding an invisible race with time.

“actually i,” and he winces, pausing with his pen above another integral, “totally bombed my high school calculus course.”

“and then—again in college. back in sugisawa.” he sighs, good old times, paired with a few bad memories.

itadori’s background is completely nonsensical, and yet, all of it also sounds completely right.

“but i thought that, if i struggled this much then, surely it’s not some easy thing to expect all students to learn within a year. surely, it wasn’t just my problem alone.”

he smiles, unconsciously pausing to bask in the glow from the window outside, from the raucous sounds of athletic clubs gearing up for the full brunt of afternoon practice. then, he turns back to megumi, cheeky and pink, “i guess, it felt right for someone like me to dumb calculus down as much as possible.” dumb, in the kindest way possible, dumb without any deprecation.

he pouts, adding quietly to himself, “though, it does seem like fushiguro-kun is getting an easy way out, grading quizzes instead of taking them himself.”

no, fushiguro should say, i can tell — all you do is help. nonsensically, like everything else about itadori-sensei, it all fits together to make the incongruent man before him.

instead, he scowls and blusters, “that’s entirely sensei’s fault.”

from the baseball field, it’s possible to hear over the racket of metal bats, the punchy sounds of itadori’s sudden laughter.

dog day—2

saturday, on the shinjuku line to ueno city, megumi blinks one hazy eye open to itadori-sensei’s secretive smile.

he peeks over more, but itadori only smiles bigger, his lashes winking in the thin sunlight.

(“to this feeling, i say ’stop,’ if, i, in the high-speed start, go even quicker—but even more so, i can never catch up — so this is mayday—!” )

the busy hum of acoustics and tripping words in megumi’s headphones gives him an erratic feeling, as if he might be dreaming awake.

itadori-sensei leans over his legs, presses his index finger to his mouth as he rests against his spread palm. he looks ahead, entirely relaxed and completely sure of megumi’s gaze on him.

(“anyway, when you awaken from your dream—)

megumi lets the song continue as he dozes off, unintentional and oblivious to his head falling against itadori’s shoulder.

(—what will you see in your own eyes?”)

-

“kairi-san has been kind enough to make an exception for today,” itadori says, just as cheerfully cryptic as his silent gaze back on the train. “so! we’re going to make full use of our free time.”

megumi does not know what he means, and as usual, he tucks his hands into his pockets and follows along anyway. he doesn’t question the ‘free time’ dragged from saturday mornings, saturdays he used to spend alone.

saturdays belong to idyllic busy-ness and itadori-sensei now.

they take the train from ueno back to sugisawa again, and even as megumi squeezes through the uneven streets, tangles himself in the shadows of telephone wires that are too close because everyone here knows each other and every stranger is only a new friendly face; here they are, in this quaint familiar place, and he doesn’t dare hope—

“ah. itadori, it’s you.” ieiri-san nods, “and fushiguro megumi-kun.”

her smile is no less of a deadpan than weeks ago, but she turns, hands primly folded in front of her large white coat. carrying herself, expectant.

“i assume you are here to see gyokuken?”

megumi practically buzzes on the spot, itadori-sensei laughs like he’s pretending to be caught, and they follow her eagerly.

the black wolf-hound kisses megumi with its open maw, with the entirety of its huge, heaving body. megumi topples onto the spare sod behind ieiri’s clinic, and he is crushed even more thoroughly by that wet, panting heat.

gyokuken stinks of earth and that distinct dog-scent; wiry fur and animal enthusiasm, something that is always moving, strangely damp. virile and alive. it’s the same texture of megumi’s best dreams, shiny and slick, comprised of glistening surfaces of black jade.

the tag around the dog’s neck is bright gold now, turning the previous scratches into molten light. megumi turns it around in his fingers, traces the grooves of the fresh engraving, and buries himself into the full-bodied folds of gyokuken’s thick neck. gyokuken returns the action, paws soaking pad prints into megumi’s thighs, nosing a hot huff across megumi’s cheek.

gyokuken is the heat under megumi’s fingers, the pulsing blood inside him. megumi clenches his hands tighter in that endless sea of fur and clings.

clings as if gyokuken was his to keep.

idly, ieiri places her fingers over her mouth. index, ring, room for a lit nicotine stick between. “dog person, isn’t he?”

itadori is looking at megumi, silently watching the boy curl around gyokuken, his small shoulders shaking beneath the roiling mass of black fur, his own wild hair. he’s holding onto the dog like he will break if he turns in towards himself any tighter, and yet he would snap the line of his pale neck anyway if they were torn apart.

“yes,” he says gently, so gently as to not disturb megumi’s fragile silence. “i think it suits him well.”

ieiri admits, toeing her nude heels primly at the line of tossed up sod, that gyokuken is oddly well-tempered. he’s well suited enough to be a service dog, as long as they train him out of his habit of lunging his huge body at people.

“it means that she’s going to adopt him.” itadori-sensei whispers, conspiratorial, a casual hand on gyokuken’s head. he stands at megumi’s side with no care for his fancy dress shoes in the dirt.

it also means, megumi with his ass soaked in the grass and lumps of fresh earth, is allowed to visit whenever he likes.

“and i'm out of the clinic on weekends,” ieiri shrugs, “it’s not a good idea to tow a freshly-found stray around town.”

“kairi-san says we’re almost good to go on the pool,” itadori-sensei grins cheekily, “and i remember a local animal shelter around here somewhere.”

ieiri-san, “so, since you two found him, take some responsibility why don’t you?”

itadori-sensei, “how do you feel about switching our saturdays to sugisawa instead, fushiguro-kun?”

megumi, clutching gyokuken, as he has been this entire time with fingers flexing in and out of black fur, because he has been training himself to let go, to get used to that feeling again, of leaving and letting gyokuken go, as he has done with everything else in his life—

he opens his palms, presses them damp and open against gyokuken’s back. “i can…” his jaw aches around the words. they’re right, they should be so natural as to be ingrained into the faults of his bones, his shadows, his dreams, but megumi has waited too long and now they’re tendered, bruised from how much, how deeply they’ve been crushed inside him.

he digs into that bruise anyway.

“...i can keep him?”

“well—”

“yes!” itadori interrupts brightly. “yes,” he says softer, affirms. he opens his arms, broadly, a wide giving force, “it’s like he’s yours, fushiguro-kun.”

ieiri rolls her eyes, wishing for a cigarette.

megumi smiles, and it hurts; he has never smiled like this before, like his mouth should split open his face, like his cheeks should burn with the intensity of holding such a tight beaming weight beneath his eyes,

but he smiles, as happy as he has ever been, and itadori looks at him.

he continues to look at him, with everything, with his own incredulous expression, and this is all he’s ever wanted.

“thank you, itadori-sensei, ieiri-san.”

ieiri’s face hasn’t changed, but somehow her eyes smile too. “you’re welcome, fushiguro megumi-kun.”

(irrationally, a thought that should not be his own as he watches itadori-sensei’s cheeks push into his scars, but pops into megumi’s head anyway — you too, could i keep you too?).

-

“megumi, what is that smell?” gojo says frankly, peering up at megumi through his black shades.

it’s palpable, the raw lingering musk in the air. megumi hasn’t changed or showered since he got home and gojo proceeded to intimidate-flirt with itadori at the border of their doorway again.

(“no thank you, gojo-san!”

“ah, but it’s such a delight watching you leave too~”

“eh, what do you mean by that?”

“nothing, yuuji-sensei~”).

the heat of gyokuken clings to his skin, thick oil, strange perfume, and rough bristles poke in and out from funny little creases of his body if he even so much as shifts in his seat. megumi soothes his hand down the front of his shirt, and black hairs come away on his palm.

he closes them into a ticklish fist; he wants to stay like this for a little longer.

“i don’t want to shower yet,” megumi says truthfully.

“hm.” gojo doesn’t look up from his computer, doesn’t pause in his rapid work of numbers and complex syntactic language. but there is an imperceptible shift, a twitch in his pale facade.

to megumi, their apartment has never smelled like anything apart from the reminder of himself—stale shampoo and muffled bedding. another reason why, as a mute kid who would only watch gojo flit in and out of his daily life with those unnatural blue eyes, it fit perfectly into his theory that gojo wasn’t human.

tsumiki had told him another story under a cold blue sky, as pale blue as the light of gojo’s eyes. she had told him about monsters called ghouls that could shape themselves into people but were always poor imitations at best. if you looked, if you got close enough, and that feeling in your gut and the shiver down your spine told you otherwise, then you would know—she had tickled his sides then, making him shriek foggy bursts into the air—but she suddenly looked so serious too, megumi had memorized her words just so she wouldn’t have to worry.

gojo seemed to fit every one of those warnings. too tall, with bone white hair dazzling his head, his lashes, and beneath it all, those gas-blue eyes.

when he had touched megumi, odd moments of his palm simply resting on his cheek, not cupping, unable to soothe or hold, megumi couldn’t smell anything.

to him, gojo was simply a constant displacement of air.

if he had anything close to a scent, megumi imagined it to be like the highest layer of atmosphere, ozone and an influx of chemical emissions. existing and yet, inherently unnatural in its existence.

(truthfully, he knows gojo is human. just a terrible, adult one).

so, today he wears gyokuken’s essence of heat and animal enthusiasm on his skin, and for once, the empty room feels, smells alive.

(like itadori-sensei, like dry sunshine and slightly fried cooking oil; a hint of something oddly herbal, fragrant and sharp—from when he had tried to gently pry gyokuken off and instead the dog lunged up at him, pulling megumi in, directly towards the cradle of sensei’s chest. megumi wants to keep that feeling clinging onto his dirty shirt too).

gojo keeps typing. his eyes slide back, almost to the edge of his vision, all white, slitted blue. megumi holds a carton of strawberry milk, drinking it directly before the fridge. there’s dirt smeared across the high of the boy’s cheekbone, and across the knobs of his spine are prints of fresh green and brown.

“well,” gojo comments, “you certainly stink of something animal.”

brotherly intention

“no, look—” megumi jabs his blue pen across kugisaki’s paper, leaving a long tearing streak, “it’s not supposed to be that long of a proof if you just use the sin squared cos squared identity to reduce, here,”

kugisaki hisses, slapping him away. “first of all, i have no idea what you’re talking about, and second-”

she has to shoo away the hand that’s started to write over her own scrawl. somehow, seven lines of desperate jumble has been reduced to about three, moving to the final fourth.

she squints at the seamless logic. sure seems right. she can take it from here.

still, she gives fushiguro her patent glare. “why are you using a pen anyway?”

megumi shrugs, twirling said pen between his fingers. “not like itadori-sensei would take off for it.”

“oh, that’s right,” kugisaki says, practically drawls as to imply something so obvious she shouldn’t even have to say it, “you would know wouldn’t you?”

if megumi was a dog he’d be bristling at her tone. as it is, he simply looks hostile with his messy black hair, a little meaner at the edges. “...what’s that supposed to mean.”

“nothing.” kugisaki shoos him again, hunching over megumi’s co-opted work with a graceful partition of her brown hair. “don’t you have to run off to after school supplementary classes with sensei anyways?”

again, there’s that tone, like she’s in disbelief at how good her own joke is, which is really just composed of a snarky punch line.

and megumi, to his growing frustration, doesn’t get it.

“go,” she sighs, “i’ll stop making fun of you. i can figure out the rest on my own.”

her comments, her seeming knowledge still irks megumi as he follows her command. it’s buzzing up in his head, a light irritant, and he jams the spare key itadori-sensei made for him into the cabinet with absentminded force.

up and down a few more times, he ends up scratching the keyhole, but all the supplies in the teacher’s office are outdated anyway.

today’s set of problems are proving trigonometric identities. megumi dutifully sorts through the folders for the correct reference sheets, glancing at the neat slant of itadori’s handwriting across the tabs.

there’s a folder towards the back, no label, and thin, only one white sheet peeking out towards the top.

megumi pauses, but kugisaki was right. it’s getting towards the end of the semester, and homework, and in turn, grading is growing heavier. somehow, megumi feels more responsible for the latter than the former.

he glances at the clock, and the irritation from before has settled into his stomach—but more unsettled, leaving him at unrest. it pulses urgently, telling him go, you should go.

megumi folds the papers to his chest and slams the cabinet shut.

the classroom door is completely closed, not even the small gap that itadori usually leaves for him or any other students wandering by to bother the youngest faculty member.

the first thing that megumi thinks when he looks through the window is that there is a distortion of the sunset because there are two of itadori-sensei.

then, he remembers. there is absolutely no mistake to it.

itadori’s older brother who looks so much like him that they might as well be twins. or really, itadori who looks too much like him, enough to warrant childhood boxcutter scars that have lasted, long into adulthood.

the older brother leans over the desk, blocking out the spot where megumi would usually sit. his back is to the door, shoulders bound tight in a black suit jacket, hips co*cked in fitted slacks, a streak of red around his belt.

it’s really nothing that megumi hasn’t seen itadori-sensei wear, if not a sleeker, darker adjacent, better money and worse taste.

there, in person, through a bare glass boundary, megumi is absolutely convinced of his harshness. the very way he holds himself is cruel, like he would cut into the space around him with his sharp edges, make the air bleed if he could.

then, itadori’s brother gets up, looms close, closer, and for one second, megumi watches their heads overlap like the palimpsest of the same two images. russet-pink hair, strong shoulders, sharp black, creased white, as if they were one person offset by a lag in colors alone. it’s impossible; for one second, as if they might be kissing.

instead, itadori’s brother rears, turns slightly, the tensed line of his neck, the side of his face, his jaws drawn back into a smile, a snarl, a grimace with sharp teeth.

distinctly, on the back of his neck, are two black lines angling up like knives’ blades from the collar of his suit, carving open to either side of his throat.

megumi can see it all, the preparation for a bite.

the afternoon distorts, the sound of club activities growing shrill from cicada cries, and somehow, the shadow behind itdaori’s brother is growing, becoming something more monstrous than man on the window behind him—

it is the look on itadori-sensei’s face, caught in the internal eclipse of his brother’s image, that scares megumi the most. poised, with wide eyes, bared neck beneath a set of teeth. the instinctual moment, for the rabbit, the mouse, where they should be running and instead, their body has arrested them to the spot.

megumi pushes into the classroom with nothing, nothing but—

itadori-sensei!”

strangely, there are two black marks under the older brother’s eyes, matching the harsh cut of his tattoos. in the same shape as itadori-sensei’s scars.

two uncanny sets of eyes. megumi swears when his pupils move, something in those black stripes does too.

“yuuji,” he says, slowly turning, half-blocking itadori, “who’s this brat?”

megumi is still clutching reference sheets to his chest, now wrinkled, practically folded into the creases of his uniform. he steps closer, a rigid anger in his stomach, turning the direction of his hands to fists.

“sensei has papers to grade.”

in his clenched knuckles is a sensation that almost aches—but like an old wound that has never closed up, if megumi digs his fingers in deep enough, the violence will flow free.

stale blood runs hot beneath the crescents of his nails. “you should go. we’re busy.”

“and i said—” itadori’s brother is taller, and apparently, has the same immediate propensity for violence, “who are you, brat?” he yanks megumi forward by his shirt, nose-to-nose, bared teeth, megumi’s fist already swinging up with his thumb tucked under,

“nii-san!”

and like some sick sense of déjà vu, it’s itadori-sensei’s hand between them, stopping another fight for megumi’s sake. he addresses his brother, but his hand is around megumi’s wrist. warm, with the lightest possible tremor.

itadori-sensei had stopped him the first time because megumi was holding the knife at the throat, the most dangerous priority at the moment. megumi wonders if itadori-sensei is holding him back now because, if he used the same trembling touch on the hand at megumi’s neck, his brother would surely be able to call his bluff.

megumi scowls up at those hateful black eyes and because itadori-sensei chose him, he backs down.

his shirt slips free from those thick fingers, fanning open knuckle-by-knuckle.

itadori immediately yanks megumi behind him. his hand remains locked around megumi’s wrist, and even as it shakes, the twitches growing up itadori’s arm, his grip does not loosen.

“what?” the older brother co*cks his head, circling them both. “the brat,” a jerk of his chin, a feline curl of his lip, “was being rude. wouldn’t even introduce himself.”

“he’s right,” itadori-sensei says softly at first, a whisper megumi hears through their shared grip, then louder, suddenly brasher. “he’s right—we’re at school, nii-san. please don’t pick a fight with my student, or else,”

itadori’s brother is going to bite his face right off. his smile is spread so wide, so close. “or else what, yuuji?”

itadori bares his own teeth. “i’ll kick you out myself, nii-san.”

megumi has never seen itadori-sensei fight, but he knows, from the ease of strength in his shoulders, the way he threw his own hand in front of a knife, grabbed megumi by the waist from gyokuken, he’d be the type of guy who goes in with no thought for how he’ll come out after. recklessly self-sacrificing. he’d never make it.

perhaps, itadori’s brother might actually punch him.

perhaps, they’ve already done this before, many times over.

this time, he barks out hot spittle, laughter that makes itadori-sensei flinch back, jostling megumi’s wrist in his grip.

“your student? the kid’s a straight up delinquent—you’ve really got a soft spot for all kinds of f*cked up, huh.”

megumi’s fist tightens. itadori-sensei’s thumb smooths urgently over his pulse.

“nii-san, please—”

“please, what?”

unconsciously, itadori digs his fingers into megumi’s wrist. “please leave.”

itadori’s brother is cruel, inherently cruel, unnecessarily cruel. he leans in just to make itadori hesitate, to shield megumi even tighter with his body.

tch, fine.”

the held breath between them snaps like a bowstring, itadori’s brother going lax, shoulders rolling back as he tucks his hands into his pockets, leaving itadori and megumi to practically trip into one another.

itadori’s brother runs a hand through his hair, then sets the same heavy grip on itadori’s head. “should’ve just said you were busy, baby brother.”

just like gojo, there’s nothing of intimate knowledge to his touch. he simply grips itadori’s hair, mopping back light bangs, keeps his hand there with fingers curled to make itadori bear its knuckled weight.

one more raking touch, and he steps past them, glancing the edge of his mouth across itadori’s brow. he meets megumi’s eyes then, and he smiles, all teeth, pure malice.

“don’t call me, i’m out for the rest of the week.” he throws a parting hand over his shoulder. “i’ll see you ‘round, yuuji.”

the door opens and shuts for the second time. a rough slamming click.

“sensei...your brother is crazy.”

itadori-sensei immediately falls to apologizing, rambling, turning megumi’s arm over in his hands. none of it makes sense, in tandem, not with sensei’s fingers running over the same red imprints on his wrist, “i’m so sorry, sorry, fushiguro,” if only gramps was still here,” “it’s my fault, that he’s like this,”

“it’s my fault,”

megumi has thin pale skin, he’s always bruised too easily, so he knows which ones are real, the ones that go bone deep and which ones are just accidental bursts under the skin,

“it’s my fault,”

the entire time, sensei’s grip did not hurt him. does not hurt now, with his frantic soothing.

“it’s not.”

megumi stops itadori-sensei’s hands, binds his wrists still between the circle of his own fingers. admittedly, sensei has broader, rougher palms, deft and stubby fingers, but if megumi uses two hands, he can hold itadori-sensei. he can hold him, all on his own.

he looks up, “it’s not your fault, itadori-sensei,”

into brown eyes, the reflective ring around his coronae that holds megumi’s own earnest intentions, and beneath that, itadori-sensei’s quiet devastation.

“i do love him. he’s my only family,” itadori-sensei says, and in this, he is unshaken. megumi holds still as if the very act of him being here, listening, touching itadori-sensei by their overlapping arms, is a violation.

“but i can’t stand him, the way he—” he pauses, a sharp, flickering breath. megumi feels his pulse jack-rabbit jump, and he lets go before itadori-sensei can be the one to break his grip.

itadori rubs his fingers across his eyes, the bridge of his nose, mashes them in so tightly, megumi hopes he doesn’t dislodge a contact. “he just does whatever he wants, whether that involves me or not.” he’s talking directly to megumi now, gathering himself with a painful wrinkle to his brows, but he’s smiling. “so i keep my distance.”

itadori-sensei nods, an empty foregone conclusion.

megumi doesn’t know what to say then; he turns away and so does itadori.

eventually, they get to work, together, in artificial silence. megumi barely concentrates on any of the problem sets and itadori flies through tests without his usual care and method.

“is that what it’s like?” megumi whispers finally, and he feels his own voice. raw, tender, shaken to the core.

“to be an adult?” itadori whispers back, just as quiet, as secretive. he seems to understand immediately, the worries of a child.

“i suppose so,” he smiles with that painful expression again, the one that is made to be vulnerable, forced by a hand, a weight, a collar around his throat and it’s been pulling back and back and back just to see how much he’s willing to bear.

of course, even someone like itadori-sensei is bound to break.

“sometimes you simply let the painful things in your life remain because you don’t know how to deal with them. then, one day you just get used to it and you decide that going on like this…”

this is the first time megumi has seen itadori-sensei’s bright sunshine grin overflow with the bitter salt of tears.

“...isn’t so bad, oh—!” itadori swipes at his own cheek, wrinkling the wet scar beneath his eye. he laughs, laughs for the first time this afternoon, so silly, so tragically unaware of himself, of the world reconfiguring itself at megumi’s feet because itadori-sensei is crying in front of him and he doesn’t know what to do to make him stop.

the world is an unfair place, he thinks without really thinking, reaching over and wiping away a stray drop, for making people like itadori-sensei hurt the most.

“—uh”

“huh—”

“you’re crying,” megumi says as blandly as possible.

itadori-sensei’s watery eyes flicker to the corner, to where megumi’s thumb rests on swollen, softly pulsing skin, the tight edge of his scar.

“so, i am...” itadori smiles at him, sweetly confused, and you, what exactly are you doing?

“don’t cry onto the problem sets,” megumi says, swiping away the last tears, leaking simply from open surprise now. he uses two hands, cupping the swell beneath itadori’s eyes because it’s more efficient this way, to clean him up, to make him stop.

“everyone will ask why there are stains on the paper,” and then people other than megumi would know that itadori-sensei cried, and then they would have to explain about itadori-sensei’s terrible brother, which would mean explaining itadori-sensei’s scars-not-birthmarks, and only megumi knows about that at school,

“fushiguro-kun is so thoughtful.” itadori-sensei is beaming, the dried streaks on his cheeks turned to gold filaments in the evening light. gently, he folds his hands, still bigger, warmer, over megumi’s and again gently, so gently pulls them away from his wet face.

he sniffles, rubbing at his pink nose. “thank you.” he pulls out a packet of tissues, offers one to megumi as a concession.

megumi takes it, soaks his fingers across the rough paper. the scent of itadori-sensei’s tears stings, like steam after a fresh bath, lotion on raw skin.

“it’s no problem.”

itadori has returned to grading papers, all dry now, but he glances over at megumi. “fushiguro-kun really is a good kid,” he murmurs, soft, just to himself.

they stay late into the evening, later than any of the athletic clubs. the sky has long bled out, a fierce setting sun smeared into a burnt umber with only a few dull flares of orange.

outside the school gates, itadori-sensei turns to him in the heavy light. he doesn’t say anything, but he laughs silently, eh-heh, as reassurance.

megumi waves his hand dismissively, go on, watches him go first, watches his white shirt and shadow blur into the roiling horizon—then, he leaves on his own.

if you lose your nerve, then stay, stay again today

perhaps it is the lingering tears and dry exhaustion from the confrontation earlier this week that causes itadori-sensei to be upright one moment and the next, simply passed out against megumi’s shoulder.

perhaps it is the skipping guitar in megumi’s headphones, one ear on, the other skewed at a crooked angle over itadori’s cheek. music that teenage boys push onto others out of pure confidence of their impeccable tastes. and well, itadori was the one who had leaned over megumi’s shoulder and asked in the first place.

itadori-sensei is an adult (25, fresh from a teaching program in sugisawa), but he looks so young, much younger when he is striding up to students, sleeves pushed back to his elbows, calling each one by their names like new friends—

and then at times like these, he is not too young or an out-of-place adult, but simply exhausted for his age.

itadori-sensei has never fallen asleep on megumi before; unlike the multiple times megumi has done so, which he does not remember and of which itadori continues to remind him. doting smiles after megumi wakes with warmth impressed in pink seams to his cheek.

perhaps that’s why megumi looks down at itadori-sensei’s face, lax, smooth, and utterly vulnerable, and he does not wake him up.

they pass out of ueno while the afternoon is fading brightness, then to shinjuku, and then—even then, megumi stops the looping playlist on his phone and he does not wake itadori-sensei.

he has never ridden this line any farther than shinjuku to ueno and sugisawa. the cityscape changes minutely as they circle shibuya, passing through harajuku, then into roppongi in minato. it’s the sky megumi watches the entire time, how it changes into glowing darkness as the seats across from him empty.

the wide window reflects him through the blur of lights, the sprawl of his legs, his white shirt, and itadori-sensei draped across his shoulder.

at one point they must hit the end of the line. the train map flashes with the little dot starting in the reverse direction, and megumi silently counts the stops.

at kabuki-cho, megumi wakes itadori-sensei by nudging him off his shoulder. before he’s fully upright and blinking, megumi slips the skewed earphones back around his own neck. they are warm, so very warm.

“fushi-fushiguro?” itadori-sensei coughs, clearing his throat of something dry because he’s slept this entire time with his mouth open, with the soft spot of his throat dug into megumi’s shoulder. he’s frantic, the lights blurring across his face, glistening on the pink of his lower lip.

“what time is it?”

“dunno,” megumi keeps his gaze relaxed, at the edge of itadori’s jaw, “you fell asleep a while ago.”

crap—” itadori whips his head around at the glow of the train riding through the darkness, the bruising shadows already coming back to his eyes. “i think i missed the line back to asakusa-”

asakusa?

“sensei, you live in asakusa?”

itadori’s wide eyes grow even wider. he slaps a hand over his mouth, but the damage is done.

in terms of a railway ride, asakusa is right next to ueno, but a 37-minute one-way trip to shinjuku.

“why…” megumi’s mouth is moving around silent tensions, trying to find the right words for this that aren’t harsh, that aren’t selfish accusations, why are you wasting your time like this, why didn’t you tell me sooner,

frustrated, he bites out, “why don’t you just ask me to meet you at ueno on saturdays?”

for one second, itadori-sensei seems sheepish, actually repentant. then, he’s immediately stubborn. “because i’m your teacher,” he crosses his arms, sleep stuck to his lashes, pink imprints on his slightly uneven cheeks. he’s trying to stare megumi down even though he’s frazzled and half-awake.

“because fushiguro-kun shouldn’t have to travel alone.”

he says this like it’s the natural conclusion, he and fushiguro are teacher-and-student, and so, everything he does, he does for fushiguro because he should.

he’s such a child, megumi thinks, such a child in his attempts at pure goodwill, it’s infuriating. even more infuriating is that he’s surely going to fight megumi about walking him home even though he’s already missed the ride back to asakusa and actually, it’s all megumi’s fault for staying still just to feel itadori soak into his right side for hours on end,

the train stops with a smooth announcement overhead.

megumi jumps up, and itadori-sensei, blinking, fumbles after him. “fushiguro, ah—wait,”

megumi spins and hugs him abruptly, loops his arms around itadori-sensei’s neck, presses up on his toes so that his shoulder muffles against itadori-sensei’s dry gasp.

the doors open with a small alert.

megumi whispers in his ear, “thank you, itadori-sensei. it’s really dumb that you travel all the way to shinjuku to pick me up. next time, i’m going to meet you in ueno.”

he makes it through the doors at the last minute, leaving itadori to flop back on his seat, gaping after him.

take a hint, don’t leave me in the rain

even though they argue about it — back-and-forth across the week, brief stops and starts in passing hallways, an obstinate case brought up over graded papers that is met with equally obstinate silence — the issue is never settled.

the weekend is forecasted to be soaked in rain. an early shower, cold enough to allude to winter.

gojo comes in as megumi is paused, his arms tangled in a shirt, trying to wait out the chills on his naked back.

“yuuji-sensei said—hey, hey, i’m not looking, okay~ not much to see anyway,”

megumi stops flailing, glares, pulls the rest of the shirt past his head, settles the cuffs over his elbows with a neat two-fold.

gojo angles his face away, blank black shades, that perpetual amusem*nt twisting his lips. he dangles his phone loosely by his ear.

“no volunteer today. yuuji-sensei doesn’t want his precious student catching a cold. besides,” he smiles, eyes sliding behind his glasses, inscrutable movement, “what’s the use of cleaning a pool in the rain?”

that’s right, the pool. they haven’t gone back to volunteer in ueno for a while now, with the exception being kairi-san strong-arming them into lunch.

megumi shuffles around in his pajama bottoms, toes curling over one another. today, he woke up bleary-eyed, a fresh yet tight sensation rising from his stomach into his lungs into his throat. the warning of rain, and he was right.

and now gojo is telling him that he can’t see itadori-sensei. megumi frowns, fingers at his waistband. itadori-sensei told him this because gojo has his phone number.

“i’m going out anyway,” he decides.

gojo co*cks his head. the phone tilts between his fingers, an unsteady ricochet, down, down, and suddenly up. “really. where, in this weather?”

megumi grabs his pajama pants with both hands, brusquely turning around, “yeah—do you mind?”

gojo laughs, dances around the corner, phone tossed lightly by his ear - “kids these days”- as megumi strips roughly, pulling on whatever is draped at the foot of his bed.

he hears, “don’t forget an umbrella,” and gojo must really be laughing at him because what good would an umbrella do in the force of this storm?

for that taunt and that taunt alone (gojo has itadori-sensei’s number, itadori-sensei gave him his number and itadori-sensei texts him), megumi sprints onto the shinjuku-ueno line with only his hot, throbbing head as cover.

he takes the local bus from ueno to sugisawa, trods through the town with its crisscrossing telephone lines, and then, he jumps the fence of ieiri-san’s empty clinic to the sod-soaked yard.

gyokuken hasn’t quite kicked his lunging habit, but he has learned to hold back more, digging his front paws onto megumi’s thighs as he bites sloppy kisses across megumi’s chin.

gyokuken, hey—” megumi says, rain wetting his face, dripping from his lips, “it’s just us today.”

gyokuken barks. happy, sharp assent. he dances on his hind legs, slides his paws to knead and pull at megumi’s stomach, and megumi goes with a little huff of breath.

he wraps his arms around the wolf-dog’s neck, “just you and me,” as he watches rain stretch beyond the porch rafter with hard, blazing eyes.

the rain does not let up. but eventually, megumi has to be the first to let gyokuken go. the dog wags his tail and strains against the short, leather tether ieiri has fit loosely to his neck.

“next week, buddy,” he says, tipping his head down to meet gyokuken’s wet nose. the endearment comes out in the echo of itadori-sensei’s voice, and with some obvious bitterness, he adds, “maybe next week, itadori-sensei will come too.”

the ride back is almost empty and completely soaked in grey. there are a few downtrodden businessmen, who are just as wet as megumi, their eyes the same flat color as their drenched suits.

two guys sitting across from him laugh and snicker loudly. college students judging from their casual clothes and the way they wear their newly turned adult age through the ease of cruelty. one of them has his phone out, angled casually toward megumi’s track of muddy footprints.

there’s a tense crick in megumi’s neck that pulls all the way to his wrist, the tendons of his fingers. it’s hard to make a fist from the cold, early rigor mortis setting in like an imitation of necrosis, but he wants to, wants the bite of heat against his palms to remind himself of anything else, anything other than the bitterness of holding gyokuken alone, his fur glossy and oddly synthetic in the rain, anything other than-

(gojo has itadori-sensei’s phone number).

itadori-sensei is not here.

megumi makes a half-fist and tucks it under his thighs, bears it down with the heat and bone of his own body until he is numb from the wrist up.

— when he opens the door, there is a disorientating moment where he is watching his shoes stick to the scratched linoleum, grey water sinking, pooling, and the bright white light above.

then, he realizes there is a stranger in his home.

(someone who is more of an immediate stranger than gojo’s displacing presence).

out of nothing but habit, a habit of being introduced to too many friendly strangers, he bows slightly.

“fushiguro megumi,” the woman with glasses says, chilly but not outwardly unkind. she almost resembles ieiri-san, clinical in her curiosity. “or really, i suppose it should be zenin megumi.”

“megumi,” gojo’s lips move, form a plain line that presses, tilts, could be the shape of a smile, but he is cold as cold can be when he says, “take another walk.”

zenin. megumi walks, backs up, stumbles over his own puddle. he is too wet, too thin and sharp to be drowning like a dead rock tossed into an ocean, but there is a crashing downpour outside and if he goes out again, it is too likely that he will be swept away.

there is nowhere else for him to go.

the zenin woman watches him, waiting for him to choose. gojo folds his hands over his mouth, and in the blank white light, he is truly inscrutable behind his black glasses.

no matter what he does, megumi will be a child, running because an adult told him to go, to get out of sight. he will be scared, and he will still be a child because he does not know what to do.

megumi, already drenched from the storm, runs out into the flood and rides the railway from shinjuku to asakusa.

somewhere, in asakusa, itadori fumbles with an old umbrella and walks to the station with an odd tugging sensation from the leaking sky above.

itadori-sensei is vibrant in a yellow hoodie, blue jeans speckled with rain all along the calves, and he wears big glasses with thin, frameless edges. they’re wet with miniature snail trails running across the lens.

he looks young, he looks—

“fushiguro-kun?” itadori-sensei whispers, quiet and breathless in the wet chill. “what are you doing here?”

he tilts the umbrella over them, the bench in the open area of the station, and a tiny shower slips down megumi’s chilled neck.

he jolts upright, looking into itadori’s wide glasses, the lens connected by a thin strip of gold.

“i…i can’t go home right now.”

megumi’s head drops, his hair limp and plastered to the sides of his cheeks. a steady drip-drip of rain hits his shoes. his feet hurt in a distant way, where he cannot feel them, where he cannot imagine standing on them, feeling the weight of himself and carrying it any further.

itadori-sensei does not say anything, just stands there, his umbrella tilted over megumi’s head and funneling more stray droplets down megumi’s back.

megumi navigates the foreign shift of bones, disjointed knuckles in hands, clenches one over the other. his wrists strain from the way he bends his fingers toward himself. he does not look up to see the damp disappointment in itadori-sensei's eyes again.

“sorry, sensei. it’s your day off, you should—you should go.”

drip-drop. drip-drop.

“i’ll be gone soon. don’t worry.”

the rain is a deafening murmur outside, fading the world into a haze of mindless static.

that’s why the mutter, the whisper that comes under the breath is so easily dismissible as the noise of the next train sliding in with a wet hiss:

ah,

it can’t be helped, why can’t i just leave things alone?”

“come on.”

megumi is hauled up by one arm, the steady drip of water down his neck, his back, now arching cleanly overhead.

sensei’s voice is hard. “we’re going home.”

he says home as in his home, his apartment somewhere in asakusa that megumi should not know the location of, but he says it like tsumiki would when she was angry but worried, when she would drag megumi home from playgrounds that weren’t for kids his age, marked with open shattered glass.

(if dad doesn’t kill you first, i will

come home, anyways).

megumi’s feet hurt and he limps on anyway, clinging to the warmth under the umbrella.

itadori lives in a tiny apartment in downtown asakusa, 4th floor, where the couch is crowded 83 cm from the tv, a samsung 165 cm screen that seems to be the only expense taken in this one-room space.

everything else is a mess, papers spilling from the miniature coffee table onto the couch, beneath the couch. there is collectible clutter, there are things, and even as itadori-sensei balances five misshapen cups away from the kitchen table that is only just a step from the living room—it all feels like a home.

itadori-sensei comes back, drops a towel on megumi’s head.

“bathroom is right down the hallway,” he gestures, a co*ck of his hip, an edge of yellow and blue that megumi follows to the short distance behind him.

“okay.” megumi breathes out, leaning on his knees, hands curled limply before him. “okay. just give me, a second.”

megumi is cold, and the part of his legs, right above his ankles where the bone feels the most fragile, the most exposed, the most brittle, he aches so much he does not want to put his feet to the floor. he does not want to move ever again, he does not want to walk out into the rain and away from here.

itadori’s hands press around the towel, and megumi shakes.

they muffle the sound intermittently, a roar, then mute, then roar again. they ruffle his head, scratching roughly around the ears, down his chin, following the path of his soaked neck.

then, they still. itadori’s thumbs fitted to the soft crook of his jaw; megumi with his hands outstretched half-way, like he could wrap his arms around itadori’s waist, pull him in completely and rest his pounding head against his stomach.

instead, itadori bends down, a tiny exasperated smile. his fingers smooth back the edge of the towel, trace the lines of megumi’s strewn hair. megumi peers up at him, small and wet and pathetic and wanting, into those eyes in golden frames.

“you’ll have to borrow my old clothes though.”

he comes close, close enough for their foreheads to bump, for their noses to brush, just like how megumi would let gyokuken greet him, open enthusiasm with wet eskimo kisses—

and itadori-sensei hugs him.

megumi turns his head, his damp cold nose into itadori’s neck, and somehow, somehow, he has to swallow down his perplexing disappointment. down his throat, pooling into the center of his stomach, it tastes like a deluge of grey rain.

megumi shivers in the long black turtleneck, red hoodie with a white stripe that’s turned pink from wash and stain and wear. they’re big on him, loose around the shoulders, waist, but short around the wrists.

the warmth of itadori-sensei’s old clothes is stifling, makes him blink, stiff, sleepy, and oddly itchy in his own skin.

he touches the dry space under his ears, shifts in itadori-sensei’s sweatpants against the seat, bare-assed because there’s no way he’s borrowing underwear too—

itadori sits across from him, sipping from another funny cup. a tiger with a squished nose, the handle its looping, striped tail.

megumi has his own cup, cylindrical, plain and blue. boiling hot water.

“i’m an old person okay,” itadori-sensei had said, blowing lightly before setting it before megumi. the steam had fogged up his glasses, a momentary blindness, before it was wiped away, back to sensei’s gentle stare.

there’s a laptop open before him, a stack of papers to complement the scattered collection across the apartment. itadori-sensei hasn’t done any work for the past hour.

he sips again, teeth paused at the curved rim, looking out through the one-panel window at the grey sky.

megumi tentatively warms his hands around his own blue plastic cup.

the storm has settled into a constant downpour, a hush that is almost rhythmic in its intensity.

“fushiguro-kun made it through all this huh?” a quirk of his lips, a kind, inside joke, “you’re just as tough as gyokuken then.”

megumi laughs, quiet and stifled, and itadori-sensei grins, finally turning to his laptop with those glistening, gold-framed glasses.

later, when megumi is idly watching an anime and itadori keeps glancing up from his own work to make fanfare for the action scenes, there is a light chime from his phone.

with a sudden focus, itadori-sensei mutes the tv. he turns to megumi, a quick gesture of his head, hand on his phone, still facedown.

“that would be gojo-san.”

the rainwater in megumi’s stomach roils, slick and surging.

at the door, itadori-sensei facing out, megumi facing in, megumi stands there, hunched, hands still buried in the huge, loose pockets of the borrowed hoodie.

“...i’ll,” he struggles for a moment for a proper goodbye and thank-you. in the end, he can only find a lame continuation.

“i’ll bring sensei his clothes on monday,”

“it’s alright, keep them,” itadori interjects quickly. smiles broadly as his hand rises, like it might land on megumi’s head, tousle his half-dry hair. instead, he motions broadly, “red suits fushiguro-kun too!”

megumi stares at the ground, the line that separates his soaked boots from itadori-sensei’s bare feet.

there is a hesitation about leaving for the both of them.

itadori looks both ways down the hall, erratically, as if searching for someone else—or rather, wary of anyone who might be watching.

he presses something quickly into megumi’s cold hand, wills megumi’s fingers to close into a fist.

he folds his own fingers there too, clenching around them. “in the future...,” he murmurs, and they’re both looking down, at this one piece of paper hidden by the nesting doll layers of their hands, “if you need anything,”

he pats megumi’s knuckles one last time. “just…just don’t hesitate.”

he hugs megumi, and it’s just a brush of arms around shoulders, the quick rasp of his cheek, but it’s enough for itadori to step back and close the door first.

megumi goes home in a shock, with his left hand locked in a fist, with an old umbrella propped above head.

itadori yuuji

080-923-0019

that is how he writes itadori-sensei’s contact into his phone, the idiosyncratic characters of 虎 and 仁 staring back at him in the dark. tiger and benevolence, almost antithetical in their pairing.

it’s strange.

but it would be strange too to have a contact under his phone that’s just ‘sensei,’ right?

(stranger in the first place to have sensei’s phone number. to have sat in his apartment with his hands on your head, your face, your neck, and he would’ve touched you too on your skin, if it weren’t for that towel).

besides, the name makes sense, nonsensically, perfectly for someone like itadori-sensei.

that’s the thought that reassures megumi, settles the dark pulse in his gut, and he falls asleep with his phone still stuck on the bright screen of itadori yuuji’s contact card.

15th christmas (and i’ve learned what it means, to hold my loneliness constant at your side)

a week before christmas, gojo stands at the door in the 2 am pallor of morning, swaddled in a tan fleece coat, blue scarf, a silver suitcase in hand.

for anyone else, such an image would be sleek, an advertisem*nt for men’s fashion that catches your eye during a mindless scroll.

to megumi, he only sees the long coat, the shock of ghostly blue below white. in the bare, dark morning, gojo seems to be missing an important piece of human skin, a joint that should connect the rest of his body to his covered head.

he is a floating pair of blue eyes that turns, flickers, finally focuses so softly on megumi. “i’ll be going now.”

he doesn’t say anything more, doesn’t try to touch megumi with a cold hand that would rest on his head, even though megumi stands there, hunched and waiting.

he doesn’t ever say i’m going to spend christmas with someone else or i’m going so i don’t have to spend christmas with you.

no, only i’m going to leave and thus, leaving behind a shiny black debit card as compensation on the table. gojo’s version of a red envelope for the new years.

there is more than enough in that small rectangular cut in the form of boundless, electronic currency, but after gojo leaves, megumi picks up the card and turns it over, front-to-back, back-to-front.

he keeps flipping it over in the lack of light, but it simply remains shiny, black—empty.

-

itadori-sensei’s phone number is a constant nudging presence at the back of megumi’s mind. a heavy uncomfortable weight that megumi is reminded of time and time again, every time he shifts to a different side on his bed.

the reminder pulses like a knot, a bruise at the base of his skull, but megumi can’t make sense of it. what he is supposed to do with it.

he spends the first day holed up in his room. then, the couch seems like a better alternative because there are no stairs between him and the bathroom. with the lights off all the time, it’s too easy to slip in and out of sleep whenever his eyes close.

sometimes, intermittently between those naps / sleep / dreams, he eats. it’s ramen for a while, until he starts feeling the distinctive pull of his guts in his throat every time he dry heaves over the toilet.

there is a jar of fermented bean curd that megumi had bought so long ago from a run-down chinese market. he hadn’t liked the strong, stinky paste, but gojo had liked it even less, so it had remained, curdled and rank at the back of the fridge.

megumi picks it out directly from the jar, sucking lumps from the tip of one chopstick and then pushing the gagging force of it down with stale rice.

it is the 23rd when he scrapes away the last misshapen cube for breakfast. he washes the jar, watches the swirl of red and brown chunks go down the drain, and he deliberates.

— sensei

another pause. megumi digs his bare feet into the cushions, curls his thumbs in-and-out of his palms, and continues with that hard, hot, painful reminder pulsing at the back of his head.

are you spending christmas with your brother?

the response is immediate, practically simultaneous, as if itadori-sensei could sense his hesitation. as if he was acutely aware of megumi, two districts away, lumped on the couch, waiting, waiting for some kind of reply.

fushiguro-kun, have you eaten yet?

the reminder flares, so bright and sudden, megumi’s head lolls against his shaking palm.

if not, please come over.

through his fingers, his erratic fingers that are bruised from the force of tension, a mundane adrenaline, megumi texts back:

yes ok, see you soon sensei.

-

megumi knocks on the door, phone in his pocket, in the wide lint-ridden pocket of itadori-sensei’s red hoodie.

(itadori had texted him the address of course, but megumi remembered the entire way, the railway line from shinjuku to asakusa, the single open bench, and the weaving, concrete path that had been stained by rainwater that day).

“come in! it’s open--”

itadori-sensei sits under a kotatsu, all of him swallowed up by the spill of a quilted orange blanket. he wears a traditional styled jacket, the kind that hangs big around the arms, drapes loosely from shoulder to shoulder to allow the stiff robes beneath to sit properly, if one chose to go for the whole getup.

itadori’s flushed face peeks out from the blue jacket, the orange kotatsu, and megumi’s mouth short circuits.

“i brought…” he gestures at the hoodie, towards himself, “your clothes,” he finishes lamely.

itadori smiles, eyes slipping into hazy slits. “ha-ha, so you did.”

he flaps a wide arm, raising the kotatsu quilt with a long, heavy motion. megumi can feel the heat brush up his legs, wind through the holes of his hoodie, settle in the throbbing pulse of his cheeks.

“come on,” itadori-sensei repeats, wiggling the dark gap of overwhelming warmth, “come on in~”

and megumi, beckoned by the same pink heat on itadori’s face, has no way of turning him down.

the kotatsu is warm, feverishly warm, delusional enough to make everything boil over into a dream.

in reality, itadori-sensei feels even warmer, and this, makes it clear enough to megumi that he is not spiraling into listlessness on his couch in the darkness again.

“i tend to run hot,” he says, laughing sheepishly as they bump ankles, elbows, by the sink. megumi wears a pair of pink fuzzy slippers; itadori goes barefoot beneath the hem of his sweatpants.

megumi passes itadori a wet dish-

(the evening’s dinner was light, stock miso soup and pickled cabbage with rice. ‘sorry, it just happens i’m out of ginger,’ itadori-sensei had said, but still, it was the best thing that had settled in megumi’s dry stomach for a while).

-itadori’s hand touches his, softened from the damp steam, bare and tender at the strong points of his wrists, his knuckles.

megumi watches, the white towel, white dish, tan skin, then asks, “so, why the kotatsu?”

itadori-sensei glances at him, a playful smile. another joke that will soon reveal its punchline to megumi.

“i don’t suppose fushiguro-kun would like to sleep on the couch?”

megumi drops the dinosaur mug, and it clatters with a hollow, silvery sound on slick tin. oh— he’s staying the night.

he’s going to celebrate christmas with itadori-sensei.

he swipes a soapy knuckle across his face, and the remaining trail burns like a hard blush.

“...no, the kotatsu will be fine.”

itadori-sensei laughs, heh-heh, and in one smooth motion, reaches for the fallen mug and dries the wetness beneath megumi’s eye with his thumb.

“sleep well, fushiguro-kun.” his hand remains affectionately for a second more. “we’re going to have an early day tomorrow.”

yuuji’s (last minute!!) shopping list:

  • clear broth stock, spicy
  • beef slices, lamb? (maybe more lamb would be more suited*)
  • GINGER
  • beancurd sheets, medium-firm tofu
  • mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms
  • lettuce (from kanade-san), bok choy (from daisuke-san), nappa cabbage (from ichiro-san)

-find a red or blue scarf (red would suit well*)

megumi is awake at 2 am on the 24th. he’s slipped in and out of fits, startling himself against the floor, the dusty rasp of the kotatsu blanket over his cheek.

he’s awake and he shifts his palms over to the floor beyond the circulating boundary of heat, where it’s a shock of cold. megumi pulls himself sideways, lays there on his elbows, and watches the pale bone of itadori-sensei’s profile on the balcony porch.

he listens to the inscrutable messy language of argument.

itadori has shed the big kimono-style, kotatsu ready, overcoat. he’s in a pair of flimsy sleep pants that fall unevenly around the ankles, a thin shirt that presses to the curve of his back, then, lower, deeper shadows, lower. in the winter moonlight, his bare nape, a slice of his shoulders, they all look so lonely.

itadori’s mouth moves; a hand comes up to cradle around his elbow; he tenses even more towards himself.

the unsettled line of his white mouth makes him look like he’s hurt, like he’s been hurting for a long time, and in the stilted moonlight of christmas eve, the immensity of the held pain is finally sweeping over him.

the shaking breath he releases into the night is reminiscent of the one day ieiri-san had decided to smoke. adult indulgences.

he hangs up soon after (yuuji—! —asshole), and megumi has to fumble and pull himself back under the kotatsu.

still, with the quilt up to his nose, heart flashing pulses of waiting heat over his eyes, itadori remains outside in tense, hurt silence.

it’s a long time before megumi’s lashes flicker to his cheeks, and his breath reluctantly slows.

it’s even longer before the balcony door slides open, cautious hands, light feet. they pause in the thin space between the couch and the kotatsu, and gently, reluctantly itadori tugs the blanket away from megumi’s pink nose.

-

when they are awake, both of them properly aware of each other this time, itadori-sensei claps his hands on megumi’s shoulders, peers with the top of his nose barely over megumi’s upright hair, almost rising onto the balls of his feet as they both look into the mirror.

“i’m late, but happy birthday, fushiguro-kun!”

megumi nods, a bob of his messy hair. “thank you, sensei.”

itadori looks contemplatively through the screen of black spikes. “sixteen feels so long ago, but…” he tests a hand just above them, and like static, they follow imperceptibly, “whenever it was our birthday, gramps would give us our yearly haircut,”

until he couldn’t any longer. itadori-sensei smiles wistfully at megumi’s wide-eyed expression anyways.

“fushiguro-kun, would you like a haircut?”

megumi stares at himself in the mirror, dark eyes, pale skin, so thin he can see the miniature burst of green veins, red capillaries from the damage he’s done to himself. the hair that has crept over his ears for the past few years is black, so thick as to be oppressive.

he thinks, he’d like a change.

(tsumiki’s stories about curses causing frost-bitten ears shouldn’t scare him as much they used to).

he nods towards itadori-sensei’s bright eyes, his own shorn bangs, in the mirror.

“yes please.”

shopping on the morning eve of christmas day in asakusa’s local neighborhood market is a massacre.

the only experience megumi has had with provincial towns was in sugisawa, and the uneven streets had always been open.

in asakusa, he’d actually get trampled—if it weren’t for itadori-sensei’s hand around his wrist. there are oba-chans shouting out prices, gesturing crudely at the two of them, and itadori-sensei neatly barters with and fends them off.

“it’s not too bad is it?” itadori says, gathering a huge bag of mushrooms. he says this in the huge, milling crowd of people that press in-and-out, in-and-out, but he’s glancing up-and-down, up-and-down, at megumi’s newly shorn locks.

megumi touches the back of his neck. his ears feel exposed, oddly big, but he’s not cold. in fact, “i like it,” he states boldly.

itadori-sensei’s eyes catch on the clean line of his jaw once more. “i’m glad, i’m glad,” he laughs.

in the midst of the morning massacre that is their shopping trip, there is only one moment that megumi loses itadori-sensei.

megumi is rearranging a bag of nappa cabbage with the bound package of meat that is slowly seeping through its white netting. he turns in front of a tiny department store, sighing, and itadori is gone.

“sensei?”

there is a whimpering sound amidst the crowd, coming out small and distant like a hurt stray, like a lost child.

megumi tries again. “itadori-sensei?”

“here!”

itadori appears, clutching something to his chest, and the hiccup at the top of megumi’s throat resolves itself with something like a muffled cry.

itadori smiles, sheepish for no apparent reason.

he takes megumi’s wrist again, circles it loosely in hand, and megumi forgets why he had been so scared in the first place.

-

itadori-sensei is warm. so warm under the kotatsu, both of them splayed in that bubble of heat like bloated, oily whales.

itadori-sensei is falling asleep, his short lashes fluttering like pink scratches across his cheek.

they have not done the dishes, have not emptied the tin hot-pot and its thick soup into another bowl for frozen morning stock. tonight, they will fall asleep under the kotatsu, and they will not touch the dishes for hours on end.

“fushiguro-kun?”

“mm,”

another short breath. megumi stares openly at itadori’s closed eyes.

“did you like the hot-pot?”

“yeah,” megumi’s hand steals over that gap between them, flat on the floor. it doesn’t go anywhere, simply stays aimlessly. “the lamb was really,” an accidental hiccup, “...really good.”

itadori startles in his half-doze. “i knew it!” he blinks, eyes hazy, cheek smushed against the floor. “i knew fushiguro-kun would like the lamb,” he repeats, softer, somehow brighter, glistening with a pink, satisfied flush.

like that, he falls asleep with megumi’s palm barely brushing against his cheek.

(there are two times megumi knowingly crosses a direct boundary. two times he acknowledges the strange impulse that roils like a worm in his gut, the dark thing that he does not think he should put words to.

the first, is the file cabinet in the teacher’s office. the little metal piece of heat that fits into the center of his palm, and of course, the key hole in itadori-sensei’s desk.

from the folder with a single sheet of white paper, he learns that itadori-sensei is 25 years old.

megumi sees the 10 digits of his phone number, and by the time he has scanned twice through the thin file (a teaching license from sugisawa, no parents - one brother, an apartment in asakusa), it’s all too easy to commit everything like numerical sequence to memory).

-

on christmas day, it is really in the evening, the bright, frigid night that they celebrate.

“merry christmas, fushiguro-kun!” itadori says and proceeds to wrap a small, red scarf around his neck, tucking it up to his newly bared ears.

megumi buries his mouth into the fleece, mumbling with cotton, with yarn muffling his tongue, “sensei, i don’t have anything for you,”

“that’s alright,” itadori gets that smarmy, self-satisfied look on his face, “fushiguro-kun is just a kid after all.”

it’s not demeaning, never demeaning coming from itadori-sensei, but for once megumi wants to protest, what does it matter, if i’m a kid, if you’re my teacher. what does it matter, when you’ve been good to me despite being an adult.

instead, he reaches out, wraps his words selfishly around his tongue for another gift:

“call me megumi.”

“it’s just...there’s no need to be so formal,” he amends, “not like this.”

itadori pauses, a little part to his lips. his eyes give something away, but it’s gone in the next second.

“alright,” he acquiesces, a soft compromise, “megumi-kun.”

itadori-sensei does not offer megumi the same casual freedom. call me itadori, without the ‘sensei.’

call me yuuji.

in megumi’s cell phone, it reads, itadori yuuji, 080-923-0019, and megumi silently repeats those digits, murmurs the shape of those characters to himself. he tells himself, enough, it is close enough.

the light show in asakusa literally pales in comparison to shinjuku’s metropolis scene. most of it is a neighborhood effort, miscellaneous patterns and colors hung by each family that cast the cramped streets in a dancing patchwork.

“just wait, new years is really when asakusa gets good,” itadori says, and that means megumi is going to stay another week, two entire weeks with itadori-sensei.

he chases the feeling of his heart running out of his chest with a kick on the tiny penny board (a gem found in itadori’s apartment clutter), and itadori picks up his jog, half-protesting as he follows.

they don’t talk often as they walk-and-ride, not as megumi slowly coasts past with the red scarf by his ears, his hair brushing cleanly across his forehead. itadori-sensei will laugh casually as he does, greet friendly strangers like family, but otherwise they continue on, almost side-by-side on this christmas night.

the last time megumi had done this, a walk on christmas, a walk with someone as intimate as family had been with tsumiki. and his father.

(toji is set on a 10-pack set of cigarettes. there’s a discount for the cheap brand he likes at the store set 800 meters from their little concrete bust house in shibuya.

it’s snowing heavily that day. toji goes; tsumiki follows—megumi follows.

for a 10-year old megumi, the deep spotless layer of white is still a wonder in this dirty world. he’s laser-focused on the huge, dragging sinkholes that his father’s footsteps have made. he huffs with each of his own steps, watching his boots sink down in slow motion, and it’s frustrating, frustrating that he can’t match his father’s weight, can’t clear the same big, destructive path—

tsumiki drags on his hand, glaring. “come on, cut that out megumi. dad is gonna leave us behind.”

obstinately, megumi stretches his leg out into another footprint, lodges himself there.

tsumiki’s eyes grow sharp, shallow and mean in the way that 12-year-olds are learning to be.

she jerks megumi off the beaten path entirely.

“hey, megumi,” she leads him by the hand to the nearby river, sloped and stagnated beneath the high railway.

“do you wanna see if you can skate on the ice?”

it’s the first time megumi has seen something so wide become so still, so crystalline quiet at its surface. he digs his fingers into her hand, braces himself, and heaves his feet over the bank.

it’s fun for a little while, his boot soles leaving solid scuffs across the ice. tap-tap, tap-tap, the sound is clear like chimes, the ones he can hear distantly from other homes in the summer.

then, tsumiki lets go.

megumi carefully settles his handprint into the snowbank and keeps scrabbling, tapping away.

“hey, megumi,” she starts again, tentatively, an edge to her voice, as if she’s unsure of what she’s even asking,

“wanna see if you can stand up too?”

megumi does, spins around unsteadily to her bright, feverish eyes. she claps urgently, mouthing, jump, jump, jump,

so megumi does, and the moment his heels land, there is a crack that makes tsumiki’s pale face split in horror, in a tiny scream,

megumi, no—!

a hard hand yanks him up by the scruff of his jacket.

megumi is not too big to hold, has always been much too small, too much bone and black hair and big eyes. but toji is not someone who holds his kids, no matter their size, their sickliness.

on christmas day, in the layers of snow that bury shibuya’s downtown gutter trash, toji hikes megumi up on his shoulder, and continues his trek forward for his cigarettes.

“kids,” he mutters, “if they want to go for a dive in the ice, might as well give me rope to tie around their waists first so i can fish them out later.”

“dad, dad, wait,” tsumiki blubbers, running after them, her own miniature footprints slipping backwards in the snow. “i didn’t mean it, i didn’t think megumi would actually—”

toji swears, something megumi cannot remember and definitely could not repeat, and he grabs her flailing hand, hauling her along too.

megumi remembers clutching onto toji’s flat bangs, kicking against his chest just to hear the echo travel from toji’s ribcage to the oof of his frosty breath. later, buried into his hair, tsumiki’s tears had soaked down his brow.

toji’s heavy hand on his head had been obnoxious and so very warm).

there is no slipping on and breaking ice in asakusa. there is not even any snow, only cold and slightly dampened gravel.

in comparison to that memory, this is the best christmas he’s ever had. itadori-sensei remains at his side, lagging and catching up at a steady pace, but they don’t touch.

it’s the best christmas he’s ever had, and yet he shakes at the gaping maw inside him. it opens its emptiness further, and megumi is confused, by the absolute-ness of it, by the foreign sensation pushing against his ribs and asking, has this simply existed inside him this entire time?

the end of the year is an infinity of distance between him and itadori, which is to say, where they could cross, overlap, shoulders, a brush of knuckles,

but they don’t.

megumi slides by on the borrowed skateboard, itadori hums at the provincial string of lights, and the overwhelming loneliness spanning from megumi’s stomach to his throat keeps them nicely apart.

(still, itadori-sensei runs hot. he is warm enough at his side, enough like this for megumi).

-

(the second time, it had been in itadori-sensei’s home, under the kotatsu, right next to him where they had fallen asleep together. megumi leans over itadori, whose head is tossed haphazardly back against the couch, a hand thrown lightly over his chest.

megumi looks and looks and itadori-sensei does not wake up in the humming warmth that megumi feels between them.

in his looking, megumi gets close; he does not know why, but he traces the box-cutter scars under sensei’s eyes, every imperfection pulling at his tan skin. lightly, there are the palest fading freckles across the bridge of his nose.

he leans in close, both of his elbows bending, bracketing itadori’s head, and then— he jerks away. cocoons himself in the kotatsu, an undeniable accusation pulsing in his throat).

tonight, christmas night, megumi sleeps under the kotatsu alone.

he wakes to the sight of the sky at 5 am, he wakes alone, and the shadow of pink light through the dim clouds is a looming giant. the room glows inside, naturally apocalyptic, a disaster on the edge of conception.

megumi wakes on the brink of new years to the burning sight of the sunrise, and it feels like the world is ending.

16th new year (and i have discovered how capable i am of great love and even greater disaster)

“megumi-kun, do you pray?” itadori had asked over long rice mochi and sweet coffee. megumi would take his a little more bitter, but he doesn’t bring this up since sensei’s mouth pulls just as sweetly when he sips from the cup.

“...well, not pray as in strictly for a religion,” itadori goes to correct himself, “more like, is there anyone you want to pray for?”

neither toji nor tsumiki have marked graves.

“i want to visit my sister,” megumi says anyway.

“alright,” itadori-sensei says, “let’s go.”

they take an empty bus to sugisawa, megumi in itadori-sensei’s red hoodie, the gifted red scarf, and itadori-sensei in a grey-streaked kimono that somehow fades yellow in the morning light.

“megumi-kun would look very handsome in one too,” itadori contemplates, but he scans megumi’s bright red outfit with an approving grin, “but i think the red is enough good luck for the both of us.”

megumi ducks his head against the window, and he does not concentrate on the way itadori-sensei’s legs shift beneath the tight robes during the entire ride.

he buys a white lily, lilium candidum the tag reads in gold embossed font, for tsumiki.

at the columbarium that holds the ashes of itadori’s grandpa, megumi lays down the lily by it’s stem against the holly-combed wall and attempts his own version of prayer.

“megumi-kun,” sensei’s hand lands delicately on his shoulder, “should i…”

megumi shakes his head. he doesn’t know what he will say to a tsumiki from five years ago, but somehow, he doesn’t think he’ll mind itadori-sensei hearing any of it.

the way tsumiki talked to him as a kid was always through stories, curses, folktales. it was the way they understood the world and its nonsensical cruelty against children.

so, cast against the brick wall, megumi tells her his own versions from his dreams.

gyokuken are a pair of jade hounds, revolving yin and yang, made in the shape of one hand split at the center to be the jaws, the thumb propped up as the ear.

nue is a re-interpretation of the classic yokai, this time with an owl’s body and the armored face of a vicious monkey. he casts it in the shape of outstretched hands, laced at the junction of his palms.

then, because tsumiki’s life stopped at 13, he curls his fingers back in the shape of long ears, looping one index finger around the other for its round head. these ones are just rabbits, jumping, escaping over a little wall to distract the wolves.

behind him, itadori-sensei snorts.

he doesn’t know what to say after that. in the end, he mumbles, “i finally cut my hair, onee-san. i don’t think your curses will make my ears freeze and fall off anymore.”

he turns, and itadori-sensei is crouched there in his wooden geta, watching megumi so gently. he looks like he might say something that could make the both of them cry.

instead, he opens his mouth and starkly, bluntly jokes in new year’s light: “never pinned you for a sis-con, megumi-kun.”

megumi can’t believe him, and even more, he can’t believe what comes out of his mouth next.

“shut up. sensei is the one with the massive brother complex.”

itadori’s eyes go wide, blinding surprise in the clear morning light, and laughter spills from his open mouth. he sways, falls on his ass, and chokes, chokes on his hiccupping giggles.

megumi cups his mouth, the pounding heat rising and bursting into funny sounds against his palm too.

f*ck,” itadori openly swears, then slaps his mouth “oh sh*t,” and then gives up entirely. “f*ck, that was too good—”

“sensei,” megumi says gravely, as seriously as he can with his stomach jumping with a twisting, hurting, pleasurable ache, “you can’t curse in front of dead people like that,”

itadori falls onto his elbows and howls with laughter. megumi ducks his head into his knees, and he has to press his hands over his eyes, his cheeks to stop his face from splitting in two.

later, later when they’ve wiped away tears from terrible jokes about loved ones, megumi leaves itadori-sensei to pray to his grandpa’s ashes alone.

(“i’m sorry, megumi-kun, but just give me a few minutes with gramps,” he had smiled, and with the red streaks beneath his eyes, it was as if he was really crying).

when he meets megumi again, the skin of his eyelids is just slightly more torn up, irritated with the imprints of harsh fingertips.

megumi pointedly looks away.

itadori swipes his knuckle through his lashes one last time, before he puts on a smile that pulls too tightly at his cheeks.

“so, megumi-kun, shall we ring in the new year?”

now, after half a year, megumi realizes that itadori-sensei does this as a stand-in for strength. his smiles, his overwhelming brightness are fragile, false things.

megumi nods. he does not call itadori-sensei on his bluff.

-

asakusa is famous for its temples, its procession of tiny portable shrines on any holiday that calls for prayers with a gift of a few tossed yen.

megumi supposes this is what itadori-sensei meant about asakusa getting good for new years. the temples ring with inharmonious echoes as everyone lines up for the chance to bless their own wishes.

“please, let gramps into heaven, i know he’s been hammering at those gates for some time now,” itadori-sensei chants lightly, eyes closed, his usual wide grin stifled into something small, adoring.

megumi lets himself secretly smile too, crouched at itadori’s side.

“and also please fortify nii-san’s liver so it doesn't give out. god knows that dumb asshole drinks too much now that he works at a place with easy access to liquor.” itadori-sensei frowns immediately, and megumi’s expression adjusts, an unseen darker shade of his.

“...at least, let him be healthy,” itadori supplements softly, so softly, he might be begging. megumi looks away, an ugly tightness twisting his throat.

the sour discomfort clears as itadori continues at his normal bold tone again, a prayer for the gods and whoever else might like to listen in.

“anyway, please bless all my students. even if they don’t seem like it, they’re all very hardworking! maybe give them a little boost in their grades for luck, especially in math, ah-ha. i hope the entire faculty can keep on working as smoothly as possible and that nanami-san will get the promotion he deserves, and…”

his voice grows quiet again. a small smile flickers over his lips, as if treasuring the silent words inside his mouth for a moment more before he intends to release them.

“i hope gojo-san will take good care of megumi-kun. please, if nothing else, let him be happy this year.”

i will, megumi thinks, unbidden, the calm shock of lulling waves before the storm, i will if i can keep you by my side.

then—then, he realizes what it was he wished for and the aftermath of the storm that crashes into him makes him taste blood.

itadori-sensei keeps praying for him in ways that he would never pray for himself, in selfless ways megumi has never even learned, and megumi is ready to stop him, to close his mouth and viscerally tender words with his hands, with his own mouth too, and megumi wants, wants in every inconceivable way, because he has never wanted anything like this before, not like this with the knife’s edge of desire lodged in his gut, cutting, twisting and pushing his own feelings into his mouth.

the feeling is so inconceivable that he sits there stock still on his haunches — and he is ready to die because he could kiss itadori-sensei on his still-moving lips and——that means

that means—

that means—

his life is as good as over.

“thank you, kamisama.”

the temple bell tolls three times in deafening answer.

“hey, hey, what’s with that look on your face!”

there’s a hand touching his brows, pulling him up from his hunched position. itadori-sensei grins down at him, all bundled up in his orange scarf, plain grey-streaked yukata, pink-cheeked and flushed with the ringing in of the new year.

“i’m sorry i didn’t pray for something more substantial, like um, maybe an actual dog, but...” his fingers smooth out and megumi, in his stricken state, follows the movement. the same steady touch that cleaned the wounds from his face, patched him together with a plaster on his forehead, a makeshift popsicle splint for his finger. itadori-sensei has always touched him with the same gentle intent—and for that megumi hurts.

itadori’s smile grows, so easily appeased. “i think it’s best we start small, right?”

start small, start small. megumi repeats the words, impressing them so far deep inside him that he might even start to believe them.

start small, a fight and a confiscated pocketknife. volunteer saturdays, sneaking visits to gyokuken under gojo’s blue eyes. megumi running in the rain, megumi in itadori-sensei’s home. megumi curled up under the kotatsu, wide awake and breathing in the warmth of itadori-sensei’s body next to him.

start small and stop here, christmas and new years—the culmination of megumi’s feelings all beginning and ending here.

itadori-sensei is not someone who lies to his students. but megumi knows the truth. the real truth of asking for absolute happiness from itadori-sensei, who is already at his limit, who has already provided the entirety of everything megumi has needed.

(but megumi wants all that—and then, more).

with itadori-sensei smiling innocently at him, with his fingers finally touching megumi and erasing every trace of loneliness from the new year, megumi has never been more scared.

the fact of the matter is: he is in love with itadori-sensei, and he has never felt himself more capable of pure and utter disaster than at this very moment.

“...happy new year, itadori-sensei.”

“mm!” itadori’s hand is on his head. reassuring, affectionate. a teacher and student, and now, just two people at a temple and nothing more between them.

megumi presses his lips together, so hard he can feel them go white, and he leans into the touch anyway.

“happy new year, megumi-kun!”

adult intentions - Chapter 1 - revecake - 呪術廻戦 (2024)

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