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climb past the moon

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The text comes in while he’s in the middle of teaching class.

“Okay, no fair,” Nobara immediately says, eyes zeroing in on his pocket where the loud ping cut through his (admittedly poor) explanation of channeling positive cursed energy into reverse cursed technique. “If you can keep your phone on in class, I see no reason why we can’t.”

“Kugisaki,” Megumi begins tiredly, just as Yuji lets out a vehement, “Yeah!”

Megumi squints at him and Yuji coughs guiltily. “I mean, Kugisaki, obviously Gojo-sensei needs to keep his on. You know. In case something goes wrong.”

“And? We’re sorcerers too, what if we’re needed?”

“Well, usually Gojo-sensei tells us about that sort of thing—“

Satoru decides they can work out the rest of the argument by themselves and takes the opportunity to dig his phone out from his pocket. It’s not odd to be interrupted midway through a lesson, so he’s half expecting to see a date and a location, a brief description of the curse he’ll be exorcising, and a few satisfying zeroes at the tail end of a yen sign. Maybe he’s not particularly looking forward to it, since he did just get back from a week-long trip, but—

—but it turns out, that’s not it at all.

He can proudly say there’s only been one moment where his heart stopped beating in his chest and his blood ran cold, and that was when Fushiguro Toji kindly shoved a blade through his throat and left him to bleed out in the dirt. A close runner-up would be mere steps outside a classroom, listening to the indecipherable jumble of words coming out of Yaga’s mouth, but the words on his screen right now easily knock the breath from his lungs and steal the top spot in scarcely a second.

Yo, Satoru.

It’s not funny. It’s not even remotely funny, so whoever thought it would be a good idea to text him off of a six-months-deceased Geto Suguru’s number has another thing coming.

A small, obtrusive part of his brain needles him about why he’s still got that contact saved in the first place, but even if he were to delete it, he’d recognize the string of numbers in an instant. Something must show on his face, because the kids are quieting down and exchanging glances as they shift in their seats to face him.

“Um, is something seriously wrong?” Yuji asks.

“Yeah,” Nobara says, slinging an ankle over one knee. “What’s with the face? You look like your mother just died.”

There’s a beat of silence followed by a simultaneous groan of Kugisaki, but Satoru’s still processing. It really shouldn’t knock him this far off-kilter, but there are a dozen possibilities swarming through his brain and several of them make him feel like throwing up. Just a little.

“...Did someone actually die?” Megumi asks hesitantly after his lack of response drags a bit too long, and Satoru forces himself to swallow and meet their gaze.

Whatever this is, it can’t be anything more than a prank. Suguru is dead; he knows because he killed him, and even after that Shoko confirmed it, and then—

“Nah,” he finally replies, and surprises himself by breaking into an easy grin. Well, he’s had practice. “Nah, I think it’s just some prank text. Surprised me a little, that’s all.”

He slips his phone back into his pocket. Nobara and Yuji exchange a mischievous glance.

“A prank text?” Yuji asks. “Prank ‘em back, Sensei.”

“Catfish them,” Nobara suggests, and Megumi buries his head in his arms to hide his snort. Satoru chokes a little.

“Whoever it is probably knows who I am already,” he manages to reply, mouth chalky. Whoever’s trying to pull one over his head, that is. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure I get them back.”

Except that’s not what happens at all. The minute class is over, he shoos his students out of the classroom to meet the second-years for physical endurance training, then yanks his phone from his pocket and slides down against the wall, furiously tapping the screen. His messaging app opens up. The text from Not-Suguru sits there the same as before. Two words. Innocuous.

Yo, Satoru.

Who the hell? He can’t imagine this to be any of his coworkers. Sure, they may find him annoying and tiresome at times, but none of them are insensitive or foolish enough to text him under the guise of being his long-dead and mass-murdering best friend. Could it be from a potential assailant? Someone trying to throw him off guard, make him doubt? How stupid. He finished Suguru off with his own two hands.

So then why are they shaking?

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he tells himself, scowling, just as the classroom door slides open and Shoko walks in with a loud, “Ah, Gojo, I wanted to ask—”

Then she spots him and pauses. “Why are you sitting on the floor?”

He looks down at himself. It’s not because his legs feel like jelly, or anything. “Uh. It’s comfortable?”

Shoko squints. “You look like you’re going to be sick. Something the matter?”

“I’m fine,” Satoru begins, but Shoko is already walking over. She folds herself neatly onto the floor beside him, tucking her lab coat underneath her to keep her pants clean, and leans over to peer at his screen. He resists the urge to jerk it away and instead tilts it toward her for easier access.

Shoko is silent, but Satoru watches as her eyes flit from the message, to the contact name, to the date while her eyebrows steadily climb higher. Finally she looks back at him.

“A prank?”

“That’s what I thought,” he mutters, and turns off his phone. The screen blinks to black. “I don’t know who, though.”

“A trap, then,” Shoko decides, lacing her fingers together. “Have you tried calling the number?”

He hasn’t. If he does, and someone answers—

They’ll have found some way to replicate Suguru’s voice, of course, which naturally means he’ll have to kill them. That alone is as good a reason as any to navigate to info and press the call button.

They both tense automatically when it begins ringing. Shoko, for all her usual placid-faced calm, is stiff at his side as his phone rings once, twice…

..and then the call is declined.

They turn to look at each other. Shoko raises an eyebrow.

“A trap,” she surmises.

“Definitely a trap.”

“What are you gonna do?”

What is he going to do? He probably shouldn’t ignore it. If it really is a trap, someone trying to impersonate Suguru, then they’ll have to be taken care of. And if it’s someone playing a stupid, mindless prank—

His mouth thins. Who is this, he taps out, and presses send. Shoko leans forward a little, resting her elbows on her knees.

Almost immediately, a typing bubble pops up. Satoru wishes it didn’t cause something in his chest to twist and tighten, but it does all the same. Cell phones weren’t nearly as advanced the last time he texted this number.

It’s Suguru, comes the awful response. And then, thanks for replying.

Satoru stares at his phone screen. A laugh bubbles up out of him, awkward and strained. What the fuck, he thinks. What is going on? Whoever is laying this trap out must think he’s exceptionally stupid. His thumbs return to the keyboard with vindictive displeasure.

Funny, since I remember killing you.

“Gojo,” Shoko says over his shoulder. “It’s not worth it. Just ask what they want and handle it from there.”

She’s telling him not to get worked up, is what it is. He’s not worked up! He’s not even mad. He’s perfectly calm, actually.

Typing bubble. Then, Funny. I remember that too.

Satoru sees red.

“Alright!” he decides cheerily, and stands. His joints make a sound like popping corn kernels and Shoko shoots his knees a semi-concerned look. “I’m gonna go kill them.”

Shoko stands after him and jogs a bit to catch up with his stride out of the classroom. “How are you going to find whoever this is?”

“The special radar I use to sniff out bullshit,” he replies brusquely, sliding the door frame closed behind them.

“Then you’d be turning in circles,” comes her muttered reply, and it takes him a second to work out what she means.

“Hey.”

“Shouldn’t you see what they want?” Shoko continues in lieu of an apology. Satoru grunts.

“Clearly they wanna lure me out somewhere,” he says. “And...I don’t know, try to kill me, I guess. It’s not the first time. Don’t worry too much, Shoko.”

“Right, but,” she’s rolling her eyes, jogging again to keep up with his brisk pace. “You need to get a location, first.”

He’s saved from admitting fault by another loud ping from the cell phone in his hands that has him fumbling it with the speed he jerks it to eye level. Another text from the imposter: Can we meet?

Can they meet. Yeah, they sure fucking can. Satoru scowls as he jabs out a reply.

Sure, gimme a place and time. He taps send, then pauses. Though a phone call would save us the trouble, hm? Any reason you didn’t answer mine?

This time, the typing bubble doesn’t appear right away. Satoru scoffs and presses the power button, sending his screen black, and Shoko tugs on his sleeve to slow his warpath.

“Are you antagonizing them again?”

He flaps a hand dismissively. “Of course I’m not.”

Why does everyone automatically pin the blame on him? If anything, they’re the one doing the antagonizing. He’s going to make sure they thoroughly regret it, obviously. Shoko looks doubtful.

“Just don’t get yourself in over your head,” she says, cautionary, and Satoru slows down to narrow his eyes at her.

“Are you worried?” he asks. “About me?”

He doesn’t remember the last time anyone was worried about him. That never really needs to happen. If Shoko suspects he’s losing his cool because Suguru is somehow, but not really, involved, she should really re-evaluate her impression of him.

Instead she sighs like she’s tired of him. “I know you can take care of yourself. That’s not what I mean. I just think that this is a very forward and bold method of trickery that I doubt anyone believes you’ll actually fall for. It’s weird, admit it.”

Okay, yes. That much is obvious, which is why he’s going to go in with a cool and collected head on his shoulders and very systematically hollow purple the imposter out of existence, because—

—really.

This is not something to joke about.

“Whatever they’ve got in mind, I’ll handle it,” he says decisively, just as another text appears on his screen.

It’s a string of numbers. Huh. Satoru blinks at his screen before realizing that rather than random numerals, what he’s seeing is a set of coordinates. Shoko lifts herself up on her tip-toes to read the message herself.

“Plug those into the GPS,” she suggests.

He’s about to do just that, but then the typing bubble reappears. Then it disappears. And reappears again. Over and over, for nearly a minute, before a single, short message appears in an oval of gray.

Tonight at midnight. I’d rather we talk in person.

Well, if that’s not shady and suspicious as hell. Why?

A pause, while he waits.

So you can be sure it’s me.

His eye twitches a little. Whoever they are, they’ve got nerve. “Shoko, don’t expect me to bring back a body for you to take apart.”

“Damn,” she replies, sounding entirely bored and unsurprised. “Well, it can’t be helped.”

“Can’t be,” he agrees, and copies the coordinates to paste into Google Maps. It takes a moment, but when the red pin finally situates itself, he can’t say he’s shocked that they land him in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in a wooded area that is...briefly he taps a few buttons. Yeah, around three hours away from the school. An easy journey if he teleports, less so if he makes Ijichi drive him. Lucky for Ijichi, he's not in the mood to hassle him today. Not anymore at least.

“Alright,” he says, saving the location and pocketing his phone. “Shoko, I’ll be occupied tonight. Lie if anyone asks where I am. And not a word to Yaga about this. He’s expecting me at a meeting tonight but just tell him I’m visiting my sick grandmother or something.”

“You don’t have a grandmother, but sure,” Shoko agrees easily. “I was going to invite you out for dinner and drinks tonight with Ijichi. I suppose he’ll be happy to hear you’re not coming.”

“Hm?” That gives him pause. “Why? I’m a delight to be around.”

Shoko opens her mouth, and then studies him like she’s making up her mind about something. 

“Nothing. No reason. Never mind.” She shakes her head. “Go deal with our fake.”

“Fine. I’m going.” Satoru frowns. “Tell Ijichi he owes me dinner for this.”

“Tell him yourself when you get back,” Shoko says, and flicks him with a manicured nail.

Waiting for nightfall is an agonizingly slow process when you’re counting down the minutes.

Satoru goes home after bidding goodbye to his students and spends an hour aimlessly watching the news cover a minor earthquake that happened off the coast of Nankai. He chews through a container of takeout around the time it starts to get dark, and a pint of strawberry ice cream after that. He doomscrolls through climate change twitter. He checks his bank account—satisfyingly full. He paces.

Finally, he can’t wait any goddamn longer and teleports out the front door. Fucking hell. He could be out at dinner with Shoko and Ijichi, pretending to get drunk off of lemonade, but instead he’s stuck dealing with this—this inconvenience.

It turns out it’s easy to lose all sense of direction at night, when the only landmarker is a lonely stretch of road lined by forest that looks exactly the fucking same for miles. Satoru’s grateful for both the full moon that illuminates the sky in a looming circle of silvery light and his phone, which kindly prompts him southwest after he teleports himself a half mile off course from the marked coordinates. Whatever; it’s harder to be accurate when he’s never visited the destination in question.

It’s not quite midnight yet, but he’d been too keyed up to put it off any longer. He tells himself it also has to do with leveraging the element of surprise for himself except that would imply that he’s capable of being surprised by a cheap trick in the first place.

He’s not. There isn’t much that surprises him anymore.

Which is why when he glimpses the first flicker of a familiar cursed energy signature on a grassy cliff overlooking the road, his heart doesn’t jolt in his chest. It continues to beat steadily as he pulls the blindfold from his face to see a figure swathed in dark clothing sitting placidly atop the hill, knees pulled to their chest, and it does not speed up he lifts his hand from his side, middle finger and thumb connecting in a motion he has performed a hundred times. From this distance, Purple will take out a large scoop of forest along with the imposter. There won’t be a scrap left behind.

And then, as if sensing him there, the figure turns their head.

For the first time in over a decade, Satoru falters. The cursed energy building at his fingertips dissipates like mist.

Geto Suguru meets his uncovered eyes through the thicket of trees. He looks the same as he did on the day he died; dressed in his ridiculously hypocritical monks’ garb, hair half-swept up in a bun while the rest spills in a wild thicket around his shoulders, crescents below his dark eyes smudged purple. Hands clasped at the wrist. Oil-black gauges glinting in the moonlight. Exhaustion tugging the corners of his lips.

And across his forehead, with surgically neat precision, a row of stitches.

Oh, you’re kidding, Satoru thinks stutteringly, what the hell.

It’s him. It’s undoubtedly him. Six Eyes tells him that, but so does something else that is so intrinsic as to be undeniable. An irrefutable truth, set before him.

The time they wordlessly hold at each other’s gaze is only a second or two but it feels like minutes. Hours. A whole goddamn lifetime playing behind Satoru’s lids where he’s powerless to do anything but stare, reeling in shock, and if someone wanted him to catch him off guard in that moment he’s not sure he could have reacted fast enough to stop it.

Suguru’s mouth twitches, exhaustion mixing with amusement. He lifts a slow hand.

“Yo, Satoru,” he says, an echo of an old greeting. Satoru’s phone sits heavy in his pocket.

“I—”

What is wrong with him? He can’t even form words. “You—you.”

“Me,” Suguru agrees. He looks tired. Face too wan, cheeks too gaunt. Maybe he’s not really there; maybe he’s just a leftover shade of the Geto Suguru in his memories. Maybe Satoru drank one too many red bulls. “Wanna come sit?”

Approaching is simultaneously the easiest and most laborious thing in the world. He steps over low foliage until he’s in the clearing, and then it’s a matter of placing one foot in front of the other until he’s only half a meter, a quarter meter away, towering over Suguru and blocking out the moon. Suguru pats the spot beside him.

“Sit, sit.”

Dumbly, Satoru sits.

“It’s been a while,” Suguru says. He smiles faintly. “You doing okay?”

“I—” Like an idiot, he still can’t speak. Satoru swallows hard and tries again. “I’m fine. How are you alive?”

At that Suguru leans back on his hands, eyes returning to the sky. The moonlight on his skin washes him out, makes him look waxy. “...That’s a loaded question. Can’t we do small talk first?”

Satoru stares at him, feeling his heart pound in his chest. Here is Geto Suguru, the man he killed over six months prior, alive and breathing an arms length away. Gazing at the moon like they’re on a fucking midnight picnic, all nonchalance and unbothered looseness. Like they’re sixteen again and doing their damn best to get underneath each other’s skin. Something thunderous and heavy thumps the inside of his skull like a drum.

He’s missed him.

“No, we can’t,” he says, voice too loud for his own ears. He barely registers reaching out until his thumb is pressed against the raised stitches sewn into Suguru’s forehead and Suguru jerks away like it’s instinct, eyes going wide. “What happened to you?”

For a long moment it’s quiet. Satoru takes in the sight of him—whole, unharmed, limbs back in place like Satoru hadn’t blown them off himself, and something in his veins burns like relief. He can’t even be bothered to wonder why he feels no shame in it.

Then Suguru exhales. He lifts a hand and catches Satoru’s wrist where it’s still raised to his face, and Satoru doesn’t fight it. The grip is solid. Alive. He’s alive.

“I’m not—” Suguru begins haltingly. “Fully me. Anymore.”

Satoru’s eyes flit to the stitches and Suguru casts his eyes away in confirmation.

“You were brought back,” Satoru guesses, brain slowly rebooting. That’s it; neuron to neuron.

Suguru nods. Any foolish hope that he is somehow absolved of the guilt of his best friend’s blood on his hands goes up in smoke, though in a way it was what he wanted. He doesn’t think he could have withstood hearing about Suguru’s death from someone else. “How?”

“A sorcerer’s technique,” is what Suguru replies, and grimaces. He ghosts his fingers along the row of stitches. “They cut my head open.”

Satoru can’t help but recoil. Yeah, he’s heard worse, seen worse, done worse, but this is Suguru. Suguru on some dissection table, Suguru’s corpse being picked apart. What the hell. It’s his fault in a way; it wasn’t as though he hadn’t been warned all his life about corpse desecration. His clan had measures in place from the time he was a child, readying for the day he died.

Sorry, is what Satoru wants to say, I’m sorry, it’s my fault, but his mouth is dry cotton and anyway, Suguru is still talking.

“They’re old, centuries old, and they’d planned for it—it’s their brain in here right now, not mine, but they wanted my body. Because of you.”

“Because of me,” Satoru repeats, frowning. Suguru reaches to his side—the other side, where Satoru can’t see, and picks something up. Something small and cube-shaped, compactly wrapped in paper seals. He sets it down between them wordlessly.

Prison Realm is a relic that has not been seen for centuries. It has been so long since its last appearance that several claim it’s nothing more than a fabrication, but Satoru has been well aware of its existence for some time. He turned it into habit after his first defeat—taking stock of things that could hurt him and destroying them, because no one was ever supposed to get the drop on Gojo Satoru again.

He doesn’t need an explanation for the rest.

“Obviously, I couldn’t let that happen,” Suguru says conversationally, though he refuses to meet Satoru’s eyes. “It wasn’t easy to retake control, you know. I’m expecting a thank you for my efforts.”

“Thank you,” Satoru blurts, and Suguru flinches. Silence falls again and for a while they sit unmoving, Suguru’s gaze fixed elsewhere. For all his nonchalance he is—different. Not as bold as he pretends to be.

“Don’t fucking thank me,” he finally mutters, after a minute has come and gone. “What’s wrong with you?”

You did the impossible for me, is what Satoru wants to say, you came back from the dead to save the person who killed you. Instead he says, “You literally just told me to.”

“Yeah, but—” a helpless gesture, “I didn't really expect you to do it.”

Satoru mirrors his position, pulling his knees to his chest and clasping his arms loosely around them. “What did you expect?”

“You to kill me,” Suguru admits, and this time he meets Satoru’s eyes. “I thought by now you’d have learned to stop hesitating.”

That’s...cold, if he’s being honest. Does Suguru really think that? He’d hesitated for an entire decade, all because of him. He’d hesitated at the very fucking end just for one last chance to speak like they’d spoken before. Just for another minute of conversation like it could make up for ten years of silence. When he doesn’t respond, something like guilt settles into Suguru’s expression and he reaches for him before stopping halfway.

“Sorry,” he says, and winces. “Like I said, I’m not—entirely me. Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Satoru assures him hurriedly. Cold or not, Suguru should not be the one apologizing; this time it’s Satoru’s turn to look away. The road below is lonely and quiet; not a single car has driven by in all this time.

“I gained control a day ago,” Suguru says, clearly switching topics. He gestures to his head. “They were—planning to observe you here, at this spot. Watch you fight a special grade curse they were working with.”

“Oh,” Satoru says simply. He glances around. “What happened to the curse?”

Suguru coughs. “Well. I ate it.”

“You ate it?”

“Yeah. It tasted kinda like hot sauce.”

“For real?”

“For real.” Suguru lifts his shoulders and drops them, jerky. “There’s a few more, by the way. They’re dangerous. They’re intelligent like people, so keep an eye out.”

“Yeah, okay,” Satoru replies, processing. “Yeah, I will. Shit.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He drops his head onto his knees, skull thunking against bone. “Just, what the hell, man.”

“Oh,” Suguru says, and laughs, brittle. “Right. I’m sure this is a lot.”

“That’s an understatement.” His chest feels tight. “I can’t believe you texted me.”

“I didn’t think I should call,” Suguru replies almost sheepishly. “Thought it would just make you mad, so texting was the safer bet.”

“I mean,” Satoru says, muffled. “Your first text could’ve said something more than ‘Yo, Satoru.’”

Suguru is trying not to laugh. He can hear it in his voice. “Sorry. I’m still—a little foggy, I guess. Feels weird being alive again.”

“Just, fuck you.”

“Okay, that’s fair.”

“Fuck you.”

“Satoru, okay.” There’s a hand on his shoulder now, tentative. Satoru doesn’t do anything, just draws in a shaky breath and feels the hand slide higher until it rests at the base of his neck, carding through his hair. He closes his eyes. His throat is tight like he wants to cry, which is ridiculous, because he didn’t even cry when he killed him. How is he going to cry now when Suguru is beside him again, breathing? Alive? Alive?

“Um,” Suguru clears his throat. “Do you want a hug?”

Yes. It’s embarrassing how much he wants one.

“No,” he says aloud, too loudly. “I’m not crying, just so you know. I'm fine.”

“Okay,” Suguru says slowly. “Sure. What if I wanted a hug?”

“I would say, tough luck,” Satoru replies, and immediately contradicts himself by opening his arms and yanking Suguru forward. It’s an awkward hug, with their bodies angled strangely and their knees knocking together, but suddenly his eyes are hot and leaking and an admittedly pathetic sniffle broadcasts itself right into Suguru’s ear. Great, he’s crying. It’s a very small comfort that the next breath Suguru himself draws in is an unsteady rattle.

“I’ll be honest,” Suguru says, sounding a little choked. “This is not how I envisioned tonight going.”

“Yeah, me either.” Another tiny sniffle, but even the mortification is not enough to make him let go just yet. “Thought there’d be more murder.”

“So did I.”

“I am not gonna kill you again,” Satoru warns him, and Suguru breathes warm air into his neck.

“I never said I wanted you to,” he mumbles into it. “Just that I expected you would.”

“You expected wrong. Which you do a lot, actually.”

“I don’t want to hear this from you right now,” Suguru mutters, and digs a hard chin into the soft spot between his collarbone and his neck.

They are both behaving uncharacteristically ridiculous, Satoru thinks, but in this moment, in this spot where there is no one else to witness it, he doesn’t care. He should probably disentangle himself from Suguru, or at least grind his own chin into Suguru’s skull in retribution, but decides against both. He’s not so sure how sturdy those stitches are.

There’ll be hell to deal with later, probably. Definitely. They can’t stay on this hill forever. People will demand explanations; there are still a host of unanswered questions. Still a full story he needs to wring out of Suguru when he doesn’t look like he’s been to hell and back.

But they’ll get to that, eventually. Suddenly, they have time.