Violence and harmony, an arduous mix for anyone but the esoteric group of specialists wherein modern occultism clash daily with archaic traditionalism. Hell, Kentou would even go so far as to argue that even with years of seasoned practise under his blade, preserving momentary peace and humanity in his life is like capturing sand in his hands. It is easy to be fooled by the peachy weight, but it trickles past the crevices of his fingers all the same.
Though, he supposes, should there ever be anyone to master such art in a manner so lacklustre it could even be pinned down as inane, it would have to be his senior who—for reasons he seems keen to withhold—had just tagged along in one of his overnight solo missions.
Overnight. Solo—Alone , in the city of Hokkaido, miles and miles away from the curse cesspool back in Tokyo that endlessly births curses with no inhibition nor compassion for the Millenia’s sorcerer shortage.
“I can practically see your fuses short firing, Nanami.”
“I’m thinking,” Kentou murmurs against the rim of his glass. He sips the crystal liquor bit by bit, as though prolonging its consumption can somehow fool his brain into letting its reign on his sobriety go.
Gojou hums beside him, twisting this way and that on the bar stool. “That’s never good.”
Nanami’s lungs are sure to collapse before the sun would set, he presumes, with the number of sighs that have escaped him since they stepped off the train.
“Has anyone had the pleasure of telling you off recently?”
“Nope,” Gojou says after a minute of consideration.
“Good. Then let me be the first.”
“Hey now,” the man coaxes with a raise of his arm, “I’ll bite. Whatcha thinking about?”
“Your uninvited presence.”
At this, Gojou claps his hands and rests them onto the bar, slightly knocking his pink drink to the side. Kentou’s eyes flit worryingly at the inevitable mess, but Gojou’s hand darts out just in time to save it from toppling over. He twirls it in his hand like wine as though the seven-eleven disgrace of a diabetic-inducer the bartender poured into the glass would ever hold a candle to such fine alcohol.
Kentou’s frown deepens. Gojou uprights himself.
“How sweet, you can’t take me off your mind.”
If looks could curse, Gojou would be one hell fo a creature to exorcise. Thankfully, they do not and Gojou spins around in his stool sans harm to go back and nurse the atrocious juice he paid nearly six-hundred yen for.
“Why did you come, Gojou-san?” sighs Kentou after a moment’s pause. He pinches the bridge of his nose, cursing under his breath when the migraine’s grip on the side of his head worsens.
It has been a long day, an excruciatingly long one and Kentou wants nothing more but to let his body soak in water that should scorch his pale skin yet soothes it instead. Of all the things he’d like right now, prying his senior open for truths Kentou shouldn’t even be concerned about is not on the list. Over his drink, he fixes Gojou with a stare.
His eyes are entirely covered up by that obnoxious blindfold the man picked up a few years back, but Kentou can still feel them boring holes into his soul.
He thinks that if they were bare and candid, the purple pendant bar lights vibrating gently from the open mic’s bass’ thrum would tint those cerulean icicles into lilac. At twenty-seven, he is no more immune to Gojou’s infamous (“shoujo” as Ieiri would comment) eyes than he was at fifteen.
Maybe just a little bit more, blindfold included.
Everyone inherited or dragged into the abysmal realm of Jujutsu sorcerers will know two truths set in stone; (one) that their future is constantly in peril and; (two) that Gojou Satoru is the strongest sorcerer alive. As luck would have it, to grow and practice under the same tutors as the most powerful accomplice one could achieve is a gateway to their foibles and clews.
Kentou knows, for example, that to defeat Gojou’s technique (an impossible feat his senior had challenged their juniors with) he is to find the moment at which Gojou is weakest, carving him inside out mentally to lower his physical barriers.
He also knows that when Gojou’s serious, in the few occasions he has been forced to show his hands, his wintry brows will sow together at the centre of his nose bridge and that his eyes dim into an almost navy hue.
It would darken to purple in this bar, he thinks.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘heal thyself’, right?”
Kentou blinks, pausing to collect the right words as Gojou sways the glass in his hand. “Is this about the Puppet Maker?”
“No,” Gojou mutters, shaking his head, then resumes a tad bit louder, “I mean this whole sorcerer thing. Dealing with cursed energy is basically cursing yourself because we’re taking on shit jobs that make us feel like… shit.”
“You mean like accumulating curses within ourselves?”
Gojou takes a sip and Kentou catches the slight sloshing noises from his mouth and he struggles to hold his grimace. To think this man was his senior. Honestly. Gojou starts again after a deep sigh, “Even if you get used to it, it still makes you want to get hammered, doesn’t it?”
“You’re drinking juice.”
“I wasn’t exorcising,” grins Gojou from his seat, swirling the glass between his lean fingers. “I don’t have to get drunk.”
Kentou regards him once then turns away, drinking the gimlet before it loses its chill. “Sure.”
Gojou laughs, it echoes and melds into the acoustics of the rock ballad their live entertainment is performing.
“Nanami, you’re compassionate, you know?”
“What are you doing.”
“You…can put your feelings apart, but that doesn’t mean you’re invincible, you’re just better at controlling it. An adult who knows the harsh ways of the world but continues to soldier on. That’s why I think Sake is such a drug for our hearts.”
“Are you done?”
“I’m trying to be nice.”
Kentou’s piercing gaze flies over to his companion. Those violet eyes stare back at him, flickering with the gentle swaying of the bar lights ahead. They’re alone, lacking Gojou’s trademark snigger to accompany them. A low exhale escapes him as he lets the man continue.
“The fact that humans birth curses left and right means my precious students will one day have to face these evils themselves.”
“Because they’re sorcerers,” Kentou mutters.
It is a universal fact that the world is unfair. Injustice reigns in every corner of the planet, seeking refuge in even the smallest of children and the wisest of parents. It makes no sense, but life is just irrational like that. He has accepted this long ago, moons before he returned to the college after the series of epiphanies that have shoved him closer and closer towards the precipice of his life. Then and there, he had to make a decision: to die a child or to live as an adult.
Kentou made his decision.
And Gojou knows this, knows his junior’s capabilities and fortitude are far superior to most of the colleagues he works with and the higher-ups he takes orders from.
“We’re practically veterans, don’t you think? We’ve been at it for years and look at us. Teenagers, these new kids I’m teaching, they’re quite sensitive, you know? Impressionable. One heartbreak can poison them entirely.”
Kentou swigs the remaining gimlet in three gulps, setting the bottle down on top of the bar and nods in acknowledgement when the bartender swoops it away.
“Isn’t that your job as a teacher? To deal with such poisons that could be left in children’s hearts?”
“It is,” agrees Gojou gently. He waves the bartender over and orders, “Cinderella for two, thanks.”
The bartender nods and chirpily jots down their orders before taking his leave at the same time Kentou musters the most deadpan look he can and bites, “Please tell me they’re for you.”
Before Gojou could reply, the bartender places the two cocktails in front of the two men and bows. Kentou doesn’t watch him dash off, eyes glued on the citrus beverage in front of him. Gojou quirks one snowy brow before taking a sip of his glass. Kentou lifts the drink to his face, catching its ridiculously sweet scent at first waft, before closing his lips on the rim’s edge and drinking.
It’s not even alcoholic. It’s a mixed juice.
Kentou has never wanted to punch a man more than now. It must show on his face because Gojou turns on his stool, facing away from the man and towards the back bar as he resumes his unnecessarily long monologue.
“There’s a kid I want you to meet.”
“Fushiguro?” the name is distant but not unwelcome. Over the past decade, he has seen glimpses of the Gojou’s ward, so to speak, here and there around the college but never quite free enough to linger and acquaint.
Gojou shakes his head. A few long locks fall over his eyes. Kentou thinks he should get it cut.
“No, no. Itadori Yuuji, I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”
Silence consumes him. He’s not a stranger to the whimsical requests Gojou asks of him throughout their careers, and surely Gojou is only a human being and so despite how professional he may be such a devastating loss is bound to haunt him, but—and Kentou means this with feeling—what the fuck?
“I heard he died,” murmurs Kentou under his breath.
“He’s hosting the King of Curses, can you believe? He’s on an entirely different playing field than that puppetry idiot we dealt with earlier.”
Kentou’s eyes find the mocktail by his hand. Its golden mist is an aura of condensation, barely clinging onto the glass with the heat of twenty different conversations taking place in the same room. He is never fond of sweet things, he thinks bitterly, but he takes a swig all the same.
It’s overwhelmingly saccharine on his tongue and fades into a muted bitterness only citrusy fruits possess. It tastes like a happy ending.
“I’m also really busy,” states Gojou, azure eyes rapt on the oblivious blond, “so any chance I get to talk to you without being interrupted is kinda valuable.”
Kentou scoffs before he sets his glass down. “I appreciate the compliments, but I value regulation more than most people and I don’t know what sort of expectations you’re holding for Sukuna’s vessel—”
“No,” interrupts Gojou. The corner of his lip twitches and his eyes are turbulent. “Not Sukuna’s vessel. Itadori Yuuji. A kid. That’s who I’m talking about.”
The bite is deserved but Kentou, ever the rationalist, begs to differ. “Surely he’s in no position to have two separate identities.”
Kentou sees the moment Gojou’s words die on his tongue—the blaze in his eyes dim once again from lilac to a dark amethyst, settling lips into a straight line as he sags back onto his stool. They don’t speak for a while and more people come flooding through the front door, a pair of salarymen who perch on the stools and order a pint of beer each. Age-wise, they do not appear to be any different than he and Gojou, but whereas the two of them bask in each other’s charisma he and Gojou are frozen spectres.
He takes a sip of the Cinderella. He still doesn’t like it.
“Yuuji’s a really good kid.”
He almost misses it, but it’s there. A whisper brought forth only picked up by the evergreen pretence of his so-called biological clock. It’s silly how easy it is for him to be persuaded when a child is brought into the conversation. It’s even easier when Gojou, King of Deception, does it himself. Though, there are no traces of stratagems in his voice, only fondness.
Gojou’s fingertips caress the glass, it leaves the edges of his fingers swathed in moisture.
Only a couple of seats away, the two salarymen howl in laughter.
A different realm.
“He’s courageous and resolute and he’s a good fighter, too. But he wears his heart on his sleeve and kids like that can hardly survive a heartbreak. Even once.”
A sip. A pause. More laughter and music.
Nothing stays in his head save for the ring in Gojou’s voice, almost hollow if Kentou would allow himself to become as romantic as the mocktail they drink. A heavy sigh makes its way past his lips as he averts his gaze back to the drink.
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“Guide him, teach him as a sorcerer or Sukuna’s vessel.” It’s there in earnest and it’s difficult to ignore it. Any evidence of malice or frivolity is absent in Gojou’s request. Even his shoulders have humbled to a slouch. “As an adult who cares for a child’s wellbeing to entrust him in the care of a proper adult who knows pain best. Someone like you.”
“Did you follow me all this way to charm your way with sweet words?”
“I’ve got a sweet-tooth for a reason,” laughs Gojou as he places Kentou’s drink in front of him. The small cubes of ice have entirely dissolved, and Kentou feels weariness seep into his bones.
“I’m not good with sweets.”
“You’re good with kids.”
He stares at the golden syrupy liquid as though the truth of the world would reveal itself before him at the bottom of the glass. Gojou huffs a small cough of laughter before throwing the drink back and chugging it, triumphantly placing the glass onto the bar with a bang.
“Don’t break it,” warns Kentou as he finishes his drink. “We wouldn’t want to put you on another blacklist.”
He can’t see it, but Kentou feels Gojou roll his eyes behind his cover. “Always the jokester. Say, next bar?”
The invite is tempting, easing the heaviness of sobriety from his shoulders. If he slows his breathing just right, he can almost forget the gore and blood he had to clean up that afternoon.
Kentou shakes his head, fishing for his wallet when Gojou stops him with a hand. Wordlessly, Gojou slips out a few notes before trapping them under the glass. Kentou, still recovering from the generosity, is a few steps behind him when they eventually make it out.
“It’s spring,” recalls Kentou.
The streets of Hokkaido are blue at night, deep and vibrant even in silence. They stick to the main roads to Kentou's gratitude. Whether Gojou knows it or not, curses tend to slink away in the shadows. Low levelled curses can die with a swipe of his blade, but he would prefer not to. It’s his turn, he supposes, in the balance of humanity to choose to turn a blind eye. He can worry himself all-night about how morally correct it all is or he can let Gojou take the lead and steer, sitting in the passenger seat for once.
“Still, I didn’t know it would be this warm,” breathes Gojou as they pass a convenience store.
Kentou quirks a blond brow at the statement and ponders. “Does your technique allow you to forgo thermal sensitivity at will?”
The white-haired man chokes on a laugh before he’s completely sputtering out. Kentou nods in apology as they pass a group of teenagers gawking at them like they’re insane.
“Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know,” Kentou confesses with a shrug, “seems like something you would do.”
Gojou’s still reeling from his high as he answers. His voice is light and soft, trailing after each word like cursive. “I’m a sorcerer, Nanami. Not superman.”
They cross the street and arrive at the riverside. Its alit by white paper lanterns on both sides, glowing their paths. As though it could not get any more scenic, a canopy of pink cherry blossoms blooms above them. Kentou scans his eyes across the scene, registering each huddle of a family or a couple out of habit.
He shakes the thought away. “You could easily be,” continues Kentou.
Gojou snickers as they stroll down the river. It’s beautifully serene, and the usual gravity sinking him to the sludges of second-guessing and immaturity is gone. Like this, they walk as two colleagues almost like the men in the bar. Tiptoeing the fine line between freedom and imprisonment because they should never fully be vacant of their obligations, not even at night or after dinner or after work. Unlike other occupations on this Earth, jujutsu sorcerers will always be jujutsu sorcerers.
But this, Kentou realises, feels like mercy.
His senior’s laugh is breezy and carefree and the early winds of spring comb through their hairs like caresses. The moon is wading across the horizon and rising to the pinnacle of its day. Any virtues and wrongdoings in daylight are rinsed away as nightfall blankets the city.
They are just fugitives in this domain, but it is enough.
Gojou tilts his head from side to side before responding. “I didn’t know you hid jokes under all that grumpiness."
“I am always this funny.”
“Stop that,” the man says in between wheezes of laughter.
The smile is foreign on his lips. He manages to hold it for a few seconds before thinning his lips again. It will suffice, for now.
“If I had known you were this hilarious, I would’ve pestered you a long time ago,” Gojou decides.
It’s futile to resist. Even though he may look like an emotionless wall, Kentou knows boundaries when he sees them and Gojou—like most of the adults roaming the jujutsu college—stacks them high. They’re skyscrapers shooting above ground to intersect with the clouds, far too mighty for any one person to dismantle alone lest they be the architects of said trauma-inflicted construction themselves.
There are words he wants to say, but he knows a simple name could recklessly set off a monstrous earthquake that will rattle Gojou’s defence and cause Kentou to lose his footing with his senior. So, he doesn’t.
Instead, he huffs, “Life is long.”
Acceptance sounds like the coursing water beside them.
Gojou hums beside him but says nothing as they walk past a food stall. Kentou rolls his eyes behind his shades and wonders whether the freakishly long person beside him is a twenty-eight-year-old man.
“Are you hungry, Gojou-san?” he asks despite their Jaga-butter snack earlier. Battling a level one curse did drain him.
Gojou, to his credit, doesn’t jump onto the question with as much enthusiasm one would expect from a child. He mulls it over as if Kentou had asked him of his plans the following day, before concluding, “Famished. I saw a food stall there though…”
“If you’re hungry please go and eat properly. In a restaurant,” intercepts Kentou before the man could finish his sentence. “I looked it up, there’s a Chinese restaurant not far from here.”
“Does that mean you’re joining me?”
His grin is back, snarky and sharp with a glint of charm that Kentou knows would’ve landed him modelling gigs if he wasn’t already so chained to this unforgiving realm. It doesn't matter, anyway.
There are a select few of things he does to keep himself sane after a hard day’s work avoiding any capitalistic mode of production:
Firstly, a drink (this he has done so he cannot justify spending more to feel inebriated). Secondly, a long soak to rid the ache in his muscles (he is ageing, after all.) Thirdly, reading his way through the shelves of books at home (he has fifty-two more to go.)
Getting dinner with his senior colleague is not on the list (but the evening is young and Kentou is surprisingly devoid of acrimony and Gojou, as painful as it is for him to admit it, has been pleasant throughout.)
Gojou stares at him expectantly, a shallow curve on his lips. For once, silenced to politeness.
There is a lot to do. Filing all the paperwork he inevitable has to complete when he’s back in the hotel is no easy feat and reasonably, it would do him well to decline the man’s offer and go home. But isn’t he human before he is a jujutsu sorcerer? Therefore, shouldn’t he indulge himself once in a while?
He lets go of a deep exhale, the debate in his head never-ending until he blurts out, “You don’t have the directions.”
“That I do not.”
“So, it would be rude of me to leave without guiding you there at the very least.”
Gojou blinks before the grin turns wicked on his face, understanding dawns upon him. “Yes, it would.”
“Then I suppose I shall join you.”
“I suppose, yeah. Lead the way, Nanami.”
Violence and harmony are often mutually exclusive in his world, but there comes a few exceptions when they are not. Tonight, for example, is one of those instances. He has wandered off the threshold of disorder and dove into the waves of amity. And even if this, too, shall slip between his fingers like a stream of water, dust particles, or even petals of lilac, then he ought to savour it, right?
Kentou steels himself and nods at nothing, in particular, Gojou doesn’t mind it—too enraptured by the cherry blossom boulevard above them to notice.
Yes, he decides, he should.