Megumi has never been here before.
When Satoru moved into this place, Megumi had already graduated.
By then, their communication lines were short texts, separated by days or weeks, scattered lines, well-wishing, vague questions to gauge how the other was doing.
How the other was holding up in the aftermath.
“Do you like the walls?”
“They’re bare. There’s a lot of wood.”
Megumi could’ve said naked. He could say so many things.
“Usually, this architectural firm works with wood and steel. There’s different layers—” Satoru wrings his hands. “Do you want something to drink? To eat?”
Satoru laughs and it’s not enough to fill in the emptiness, the distance between them.
When Satoru moved into this place, Megumi had already graduated but he had Megumi in mind when he went over the initial design plans. There’s a niche for him. There’s one for Tsumiki too. And bedrooms.
“There’s no corners,” Megumi says, tracing the wall he’s closest to with his fingers.
His other hand is in his pocket. He takes long, slow strides.
There’s a large reading room with empty bookshelves Megumi was supposed to fill.
“Easier to navigate for me,” Satoru explains. He taps his index finger to the side of his eye, smiling.
There’s no flinching and no pause.
Enough time has passed that they can speak of it, of its consequences, without a physical response, involuntary and rising like fog from a swamp.
“What time is your ferry?”
“Still get seasick?” Satoru lets a memory tug at the corner of his lips, Megumi holding onto a paper bag, grumbling, angry. His hands used to be small. His frame used to be thin, starved. His eyes used to be scarred with the color of resentment, of abandonment, of mistrust.
Megumi doesn’t reply.
Whenever Satoru starts them off down that road—Do you remember—Megumi stops him, like a train colliding with another. No way out.
The answer would invariably be yes.
Of course he remembers. But if he said so, Satoru would have them with heads turned, trapped in a clean loop where they never leave the apartment in Saitama except to go grocery shopping, one hand for Tsumiki, one hand for Megumi, or to go to the beach, salt in their hair, sand between their teeth.
In that loop jujutsu is inconsequential too, but for entirely different reasons.
In that loop Megumi is still a child. And so is Satoru.
“Nobara visited me.”
“I know. You texted me about it.”
Megumi nods. He bites the inside of his cheek.
It’s impressive, how difficult it is, when they used to be unable not to have constant conversation, know exactly what to say to each other, understand each other with a look, a sound, a bump of the shoulders.
Now, they break for air every three minutes, out of breath, out of practice, out of things to say to each other.
“You sure you don’t want anything?”
“I’ll have coffee.”
They both have learned to play the same game.
In that, there’s their silent understanding, the coordinated language of people who’ve grown up together.
In that, it remains.
When Megumi asks for coffee, Satoru makes a joke about how cool he is for taking it black, how grown up he’s always been, and Megumi says, It’s just coffee, just so Satoru can say, It’s not a staple of the shojo manga lead romantic interest for nothing, Megumi, wagging his index finger.
Like riding a bike, which they learned to do together, it’s something that never really leaves. Muscle memory, carved deep in their organs, shaping the growth of their bones, swaying them this way rather than another.
Megumi walks behind Satoru into the kitchen and watches the ease of his steps.
It’s been years so he shouldn’t be worried, shouldn’t think twice about it, but he’ll never unsee those first steps.
He’ll never unsee Gojo Satoru stumbling, hands stretched out like you do in the dark, as if he could regain balance by touch.
As if he could touch cursed energy, if he was unable to see it.
As if there was anything there to touch at all.
He’ll never unsee that clumsy, slow walk, the trepidation.
Even in nightmares, Satoru always stood tall and his steps never faltered.
Even in the worst of Megumi’s nightmares, he walked with the same slouched ease he always had, crouched to Megumi’s level, held all answers and solutions in the palms of his large hands, the same hands that ruffled Megumi’s hair and held onto Megumi and Tsumiki’s small ones.
It’s an adjustment, he told Megumi months later, when he dropped by for Megumi’s homeroom teacher’s home visit.
An adjustment, the same as people who lose vision in one eye have to make.
Learning the shapes of the world anew.
“I sent you a video of this one, didn’t I?”
“It’s cool to see up close, either way.”
Satoru turns on the burner underneath the glass siphon coffee maker, his most recent pride.
It smells slightly of butane, like a science experiment. Like the science classroom of the normal highschool Megumi was forced to attend and never fit into.
They watch the water in the lower glass bubble with heat, trapped against the glass’s confines.
In the past, sharing silence in a cramped kitchen where they were cooking, making coffee, where they washed and dried dishes with Tsumiki, was done out of familiarity, routine, ritual.
Silence now presses down on the both of them like heated water against glass. The water at least gets to escape to the top part of the siphon.
Satoru laughs his way out.
But that’s a prologue to a memory so he stops himself before Megumi stops him.
“Did you hear Yuuta’s coming back in December?”
“I think so.”
Satoru hums and neither of them bring up the subject of Maki, the way they haven’t brought it up all these years.
“We should all get together.”
“I’d like to see all my students together again,” Satoru says while he readies the ground coffee beans. “Most of them, at least.”
There’s no sour, bitter aftertaste, like biting onto butterbur, when he says it. But its absence is just as choking.
Satoru dumps ground coffee into the glass he’s holding so delicately.
Lodged between the skin of Megumi’s palm is the memory of first blood, the first time Megumi saw him bleed.
He laughed then, too, said, I forgot broken glass cuts skin, with the shard still buried deep into his flesh, blood pouring down, dripping onto the floor, while Megumi held his hand between his own and stained them with Satoru’s blood, unsure of what to do.
Megumi takes Satoru’s hand in his. He opens it to trace the scar the glass left on his palm with his finger. It feels like an electric shock when Satoru shakes his hand free.
“Were you thinking about that time? This glass is borosilicate, it doesn’t break easily. It doesn’t shatter.”
He laughs and he traces the coffee maker with his finger but there’s something shrill, almost frayed about it. Something vulnerable.
“Do you have any others?”
Megumi knows Satoru knows he means other scars, other than the ones Megumi already knows, the ones Megumi’s father gave him, the ones Megumi spent half his life carving like ridges into his brain, like neural pathways.
“Not many. I don’t go around getting stabbed.”
“I want to see them.”
“I think first you should have your coffee.”
Distance is created by pouring coffee, the argentine sound of it coming out of glass.
Megumi takes the cup and leans back against the counter.
There’s two people’s distance between them now.
Satoru stands closer to the sink.
Two people’s distance.
There’s no clock in Satoru’s kitchen and he doesn’t wear a watch. Neither does Megumi. Their phone screens are black and buried in their pockets.
Time must surely pass but no one’s keeping count.
The sugarcubes fizz in the coffee before sinking, one after the other.
Five cups of coffee measure the time that passes, two for Megumi, sweetened with things to tell Tsumiki, when he tells her of his visit, things Satoru gives him one after the other.
“What did you end up doing with the money from selling those shares?”
Megumi sets the empty cup down on the counter.
From the way he’s bracing himself, the heel of his palms on the counter, as if to propel forward, Satoru can tell he’ll say he’s done nothing with it yet, and he’ll say it like a threat, like defiance.
“Coffee’s done. I want to see.”
It used to be he was never wrong, reading Megumi.
His cursed energy swirled like claws around Satoru, his honest sharp frown cut through the center of him, his shadows blotted out everything else. Now he’s always off, same as when he tries to measure the distance between here and there, or turn a corner. Just slightly off the mark, every time.
“You sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“Dinner was enough.”
“That place is nice, right?”
Now he does, push himself forward.
There’s a hand ruffling a child’s head’s distance between them now.
“Fine,” Satoru hangs his head and scratches his nape. His hair’s grown longer.
Maybe if this were another time, he’d ask Megumi to shave it.
Megumi follows him out of the kitchen and into the living room. He sits on the couch with his legs spread open and an elbow on each knee.
Satoru turns his back on him before he starts undoing the buttons of his shirt.
“Most of them are bug bites,” he turns his head slightly over his shoulder and places the shirt on the armchair next to the couch, his back still to Megumi. “This one,” he says and his long fingers graze a scar the size of a palm, of one of his palms. It’s on his lower back, to the right, just above the place where his skin dimples, above the waistband of his pants. “This one was one of the first. A bug bit me. It itched like hell, I didn’t know it’d itch that bad, you know, no wonder Utahime was always complaining, so I scratched it until it bled and then I kept scratching because even like that it kept itching!”
Megumi can imagine, can see it with precision. Skin raw, flesh trapped underneath Satoru’s fingernails, blood drying, forming crusts, gathering in the nails, dying them red.
His brain supplies the images and his soul blankets the missing years, the time between them.
Like this, it’s almost as if—
“And then when a scab formed, it was fun to pull it out. Sometimes I guess I pulled too hard. Anyway, it grew in size.”
“How many times?” Megumi says and has a hard time speaking.
His hand, of its own accord, has been hovering over the scar, the lighter colored skin.
Satoru’s not standing so close to the couch and somehow Megumi’s sitting on the edge of it, trying to get as close as possible to that back without standing just yet.
“How many times did you pull the scab out?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t keep count. It was addictive. I would be thinking about something else, or nothing, and then, fwik, there it went, and it was bleeding again, open. And sometimes I could feel the edges of the wound, like the wound was a little deeper than the rest of the skin, and the edges were round but they felt like lips. It was addictive too, I couldn’t stop tracing them. They were sticky and they stung if I stuck my fingers in too deep but I couldn’t stop, there was something metallic about it, like I wasn’t just touching it but tasting.”
“Did anything other than blood come out?” Megumi has finally touched it.
When he did, he saw Satoru’s skin shiver. He saw the gooseflesh spring everywhere, felt his own skin come alive, his own throat beating.
He has his thumb right in the middle of the scar and his fingers wrapped over Satoru’s hips. His other hand rests on Satoru’s waistband.
“Yeah,” Satoru’s voice is strained. Nothing like earlier when he talked about glass and cuts. It’s unsteady but full of life, rich and thick with air. “Yeah,” he clears his throat. “Some whitish liquid. Sticky too.”
“It was infected.”
If he tried, Megumi’s sure he could fit his open mouth over the scar.
Growing up and until the end of jujutsu, he was satisfied with what they had. Satoru was his in a way he never would be anyone else’s, and that much was enough. He’d engraved the shape of Satoru’s body, the surface of his skin, into the core of his being. He was by his side and had been since he was a child.
That much was enough.
Until it wasn’t.
Until it felt like his blood was mercury and his skin worn leather and his teeth sharp blades made of diamond and the only thing that made him feel okay was when Satoru would put his hand on his back or on his head and say something stupid that made him want to punch him, made him want to grip Satoru’s body so hard they’d melt into each other’s skin and dissolve into the air, into shadow.
And then jujutsu disappeared and with it their techniques, their lives, their world.
Jujutsu disappeared and with it Itadori Yuuji and countless others who were curses themselves and Megumi thought it best if he did that, too, in a different way. Because it wasn’t enough but it had to be, or Satoru would crumble under the weight of all he should’ve done before he got himself boxed and destroyed and came out someone who couldn’t even walk without stumbling.
“You won’t make your boat.”
“I want to see all of them,” Megumi says.
Satoru says nothing to that.
“I’ll make it if I leave in thirty,” Megumi ends up talking again after a moment.
It’s a failsafe he puts in place. The only one he’s ever had, because the only times he’s not been reckless, ready to plunge headfirst into empty pools, was when his mouth throbbed with the wish to smother Satoru’s, to breathe the air out of his lungs.
When Satoru turns around he can see almost exactly the same body he used to see. The scars on his neck, where Megumi’s own father bludgeoned the air out of his lungs, the scars on his chest, the dips of his muscles, the curves of his bones.
Unlike his back, where there were only a couple scars Megumi had never seen, hadn’t existed when it was their world, there’s too many for him to count on Satoru’s chest, on his abdomen, over his ribs, on his arms.
There’s a scar to the right of his navel that spreads its tendrils as if it was looking to expand, connect to others closer.
Megumi touches the edges of it and Satoru laughs, his muscles contracting, which makes Megumi want to touch even more of them, so he does.
“Tea. I didn’t know--”
“That it would hurt?”
“That when it gets burned the skin shrinks like paper being sucked into itself.”
“Did you get these on purpose?”
“Not all of them,” Satoru smirks down at him as if he were still playing a game.
Megumi kisses it, barely places his lips against Satoru’s scar, leans back in time enough to see his muscles contracting, the way his breath catches.
“They’re already healed, Megumi. Can’t kiss ‘em better.”
“I wasn’t there.”
When he laughs another time, Satoru puts a hand on Megumi’s shoulder and it feels like braking, like breaking them apart.
“I’m a completely different person, huh?” he turns around and reaches for his shirt, to put it back on.
At some point, this would’ve been enough.
This was enough.
They shared a bath and Megumi was a child and he didn’t think anything of the way Megumi watched him, pretended he didn’t think anything, pretended he didn’t see, because it was enough, it had to be.
When jujutsu disappeared and took the lives of so many, Satoru didn’t think he still had any grief in him, any mourning, didn’t think he could feel it anymore, not after all he had lived already and up to that point, but he always ended up surprising himself, surpassing himself.
When jujutsu disappeared, this was enough again, because if he showed the core of himself to Megumi and Megumi left him then he wouldn’t be able to exist and so many had died for him to live.
Because that’s what happens.
The ruinous monotony of life chips away like waves at a rock, everything gets crushed under the weight of daily life, in and out, pouring, downpouring, outpouring, coming and going, scratching a scab over and over until you forget and it’s suddenly scar tissue so you need to start all over again and seconds turn into hours, turn into days, and all you have is resentment for the person at your side, wistful for the one that’s not there. And that one, the one he wants to always be yearning for, always thinking of, always in love with, that’s Megumi. He wants that to be enough.
This much is still enough.
It has to be.
“I am too,” Megumi says.
Something in the way his voice comes out has Satoru turning.
When he does, Megumi stands in front of the couch, shirtless like Satoru was just seconds ago, the muscles on his abdomen exactly the way Satoru remembers, the tautness of his skin the same.
And then he turns around and exposes his back to Satoru.
“You drew these?”
Megumi nods, Satoru can see the back of his head, can see the muscles on his back rippling underneath red, and black, and grey ink. All of his shikigami, arranged in patterns, tattooed onto the skin of his back.
“I didn’t want to forget them.”
There was a time when Satoru could picture Megumi’s body perfectly. Every scar, every dip, every muscle. Every single mole, every fold of skin, every one of his hairs. If he were to be shown just a sliver of skin he would’ve been able to tell which part of his body that was, would’ve known it was Megumi.
This Megumi, with tattoos that cover his back and mask years-old scars Satoru had committed to memory, he doesn’t know.
This Megumi has grown away from him, apart from him.
It makes him want to cry.
“It’s beautiful, Megumi!”
He laughs and takes a step so he can touch, so he can trace the outlines of the drawings, perfect representations of Megumi’s long lost power.
“It’s beautiful,” he repeats, lower this time.
There’s a whisper’s distance between them now.
It’s the best approximation to the distance they used to have in which their bodies knew each other perfectly, moved around and into and with each other perfectly.
“When did you get it?”
His hands are still drawing and redrawing all the lines etched on Megumi’s skin.
He wonders if it hurt.
He wonders what it feels like.
He wonders if the pain would be enough, if he covered every inch of his skin.
With Satoru’s hands still on his body, Megumi turns around.
“You won’t make your boat.”
“I will if I leave now.”
Satoru doesn’t say it, but he thinks it.
“But I won’t,” Megumi says it for the two of them. “Can I stay?”
In that, there’s their silent understanding, the coordinated language of people who’ve grown up together.
In that, it remains.
The Megumi whose body was a map Satoru can draw and redraw wouldn’t ask. The Satoru whose skin was a starless sky with two large supernovas Megumi can close his eyes and see perfectly wouldn’t say yes.
He wouldn’t invite Megumi not into the room he had designed, with bookshelves and next to the large reading room, but his own.
And neither of them would say something as obvious as We have to learn each other again.
But they do.