Itadori Yuuji is an earnest child. He is straightforward and speaks his mind, wears his heart on his sleeve like it’s the most natural thing in the world, unafraid of getting it dirtied or damaged. He is loud in his joy and excitement, exuberant in his enthusiasm and it’s like being greeted by the summer sun that shines through a window when the blinds are pulled away first thing in the morning – too bright and brilliant yet welcoming all the same.
Yet in his grief, Itadori is quiet. He is as silent as he is loud because he feels too much, cares too much and is willing to carry all of it on his shoulders. He stands hunched over, his shoulders too heavy with his sadness as he mourns for strangers he’s never known with the same weight as if he is watching his grandfather pass away for the second time.
Itadori is small in his sorrow, Nanami notices. Like he wants to make himself so small that the grief can no longer find home in his bones. It is because he feels too much, his heart too full and always just moments from bursting yet Itadori will never close it away, only ever letting people in no matter the price.
Yoshino Junpei’s death carves itself into Itadori like a raw, unclosing wound that will bleed and bleed, wringing Itadori dry even as Itadori pushes Nanami’s hands away, declining the bandages and stitches offered in Nanami’s hands to close the wound because to close the wound – cauterize it and let it heal – would mean to forget.
(“Yuuji’s a good kid,” Gojo had said to Nanami.
He is , Nanami thinks, agrees.
I want to protect him.)
They go on another mission together.
This one is in the suburbs outside of Tokyo, not too far from the city but far enough that they take have to take a train.
Itadori is as excited as Nanami expected him to be. He spends at least ten minutes looking over all the bento box options being sold at the train station and even longer seesawing between two of them because one has an extra generous portion of fried chicken on the side while the other boasts freshly made mochi exclusive to this station’s bentos. Nanami ends up buying both of them, forsaking his own original choice of a croquette sandwich, and they spend the train ride swapping dishes between the boxes with Itadori eating most of the fried chicken and the mochi.
It is, by far, one of the most pleasant train rides Nanami has had in a long, long time.
The curse itself is not difficult to exorcise. Itadori ends up doing most of the work, chasing after the spirit under Nanami’s careful watch.
The sorcerer in Nanami marvels at the speed at which Itadori’s strength continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and thinks that it would not be surprising if Itadori is promoted to Rank 1 within a year’s time. The human, feeling part of Nanami aches for the child that still continues to pour all of himself into helping others, sparing nothing.
The curse is exorcised by late afternoon, bleeding into early evening when the street lamps have begun to turn on but it is still bright enough to see without them. With all the running around Itadori has done, Nanami is not surprised to hear him ask if they can eat dinner now.
“What would you like to eat?” Nanami asks, pulling out his phone.
“Steak!” Itadori exclaims, lightly bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Or hamburgers! Something with a lot of meat in it!”
Nanami huffs, the sound amused. “I’ll see what’s in the area,” he says and has to fight the urge to smile when Itadori cheers.
Nanami finds them a local, family-run restaurant with fairly high reviews on their beef bowls. It is neither steak nor hamburgers but it is something with “a lot of meat in it” – excessively so, he privately thinks, when they bring out Itadori’s beef bowl order. Nanami’s order of a chicken and egg rice bowl – the second highest rated dish at the restaurant – is child-sized in comparison.
“Nanamin, is that going to be enough for you?” Itadori asks, eyes wide with concern.
He scoops out a fourth of his beef bowl into the spare bowl they had given him with his order, sliding it over to Nanami. “Here, have some of mine.”
“That’s alright, Itadori-kun,” Nanami says, pushing the bowl back to Itadori’s side. “I prefer not to eat too much at night, so this portion here will do just fine. Besides, you are still growing and require the additional nutrients more.”
“Well, yeah, but I can always grab something from the convenience store if I’m still hungry. That’s what I do at Gojo-sensei’s place. Or I’ll whip up something quick in the kitchen.”
“You cook, Itadori-kun?”
Itadori beams. “Yea I do! I’ll make you something next time, Nanamin! What do you like to eat?”
Nanami had told him he liked sandwiches, but he hadn’t expected Itadori to actually go through with his promise of food. But Itadori does because he is honest and straightforward and kind in that way, so the next time Nanami is in the area, Itadori ambushes him with bahn mi sandwiches.
“I ended up pickling waaaaaay too many vegetables recently because Gojo-sensei bought back a ton from the market cause they were cheap and in season and I wasn’t sure what to do with all of them but then I remembered you like sandwiches so I was thinking about what sandwiches would taste great with pickled vegetables so I made some bahn mi!” Itadori explains all in one breath, not even winded as he holds up the clear wrap with the sandwiches inside.
“For you, Nanamin!” he says, practically shoving the food in Nanami’s face. This time, Nanami lets himself smile – the expression soft and fond, a quiet thing that he does not care for the world to see but would share with Itadori because Itadori deserves to be given such things.
“Thank you, Itadori-kun,” he says, taking the sandwiches in hand - he can't wait to eat lunch today.
On the overnight train they take back to Tokyo, Itadori falls asleep first. His face is soft in the moonlight, full of the child that he still is. He is quiet in his sleep, his breaths coming out slow and steady and his entire body slouched forward in a position that cannot possibly be comfortable for his neck when he wakes up. He barely moves. He sleeps like he’s bone deep exhausted, fatigue draped across his frame like a shawl lovingly arranged over his shoulders and head.
Nanami sits in the seat opposite of Itadori for all of five minutes before he caves.
He moves to the seat next to Itadori with a barely repressed sigh and with the efficiency of a Grade 1 sorcerer but with the gentleness of a feeling that Nanami is unwilling to put into words just yet, moves Itadori’s head so that it can rest on his shoulder.
The conductor comes by then, and Nanami hands her their tickets to be punched. She takes in the sight of Itadori, comfortably fast asleep against Nanami’s shoulder and smiles, soft and fond, privy to something sweet and secret.
“Your son's very lucky, to have a father like you,” she says.
Nanami sits, stunned long enough that by the time he finds the words to refute her, she’s already disappeared from the compartment.
(Later, in the privacy of his own apartment in Tokyo and late enough at night that he can brush away his thoughts as sleep-deprived delirium, Nanami will admit to himself that he too, is very lucky to have a child like Itadori Yuuji in his life.)