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Apple Blossoms

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Gojo Satoru, the Bearer of the Six Eyes and Limitless has no soulmate mark.

Satoru hears this as he is rounding the corner to return to his rooms after his classes are over for the day. Today was tiring; the tutors made him work solely on the range of his vision. Control is important, they said, especially with the ancient inherited techniques of the Gojo Clan. Satoru knows he is important, and so he obeys his elders like he’s taught to.

But maybe his tutors expect more from him, he thinks when they keep pushing him even as Satori falls to his knees. He’s overexerted himself. The wooden boards under his knees spin as he huffs, out of breath. The whole room is spinning, even the tutors and the dragonfly patterns on Satoru's sleeves, as he brings the fabric up to his eyes, trying to forcefully block his vision by an opaque obstacle when he loses control of his Six Eyes.

Improvement is required, the Clan Elder overseeing Satoru’s training remarks. Satoru doesn’t dare remove his sleeve away from his eyes and see the disappointment on the Elder's face. Make him stronger, is the last thing he hears before someone is pulling him up. The hands are gentle and hesitant, probably a servant. Thin and long fingers wrap around his other hand lightly to support him, long nails scraping the soft fabric of his robe. Female, young and most likely new.

Satoru recognises everyone’s touch. Rarity of physical contact, he reasons. No one voluntarily wants to touch him, fearful something will happen to the Clan Heir. Satoru is important, after all. Only the caretakers are allowed to touch him, to dress him up and make him presentable every day.

Another thing is: no one can actually touch Satoru. Infinity is always there, surrounding him, covering him, flickering in and out of existence depending on Satoru’s focus on the technique and curse energy output. He’s allowed to work on his Limitless since last year, when he’d turned five.  He can’t maintain it around him but things do slow down the more they are near when Infinity is active. And it is active most of the day; to show his tutors he can control it, that he’s more closer to mastering it than they realise.

Satoru doesn’t see anyone’s faces as he is led out of the training room, but he knows the elders are not convinced of his strength.

He clenches his teeth behind the curtain of his sleeve in frustration. But he doesn’t dare let out a voice of complaint. That would be rude and disrespectful and Satoru is not rude and disrespectful.

Satoru is the perfect heir.

Remembering that, Satoru gently pries his arm out of the servant’s loose grip. He removed his other arm away from his face and blinks at the bright sunlight filtering in the corridor through the translucent partitions. They are passing the gardens, he recognises as the chirping of birds travel in from the other side of the partitions. He dismisses the servant with a gesture of his hand. She bows and leaves, not a word uttered between them. She is to serve him and the other residents of the Gojo Clan. No thanks is required for someone doing their job, his tutor had scolded him once, when Satoru had done just that when he was four and new to the North Wing of the Gojo residence reserved only for the highest ranked members of the Clan.

Satoru focuses his eyes on his feet as he walks to his room. He takes in the peaceful sounds of rustling leaves and frolicking birds coming from the other side. It calms him and grounds him to the here and now. His head is throbbing in pain, as are his eyes. Satoru wants to clench his eyes shut and bang his forehead against the walls. But such behaviour does not suit the Gojo Heir so Satoru restrains himself like he always does when thoughts like this surface in his mind and suffers through the pain silently.

Satoru’s eyes are still at his feet when he is about to round the corner. The sounds of trees and birds change to that of calmly flowing water. He has reached the pond, then. Another corridor and then it will be the residential areas overlooking the front gates of the residence and the sparring grounds which are always empty as only the elderly, the servants, a few low-ranked Clan members in the East Wing and Satoru remain of the Gojo Clan.

That is when he hears it. Muffled voices travel to hi ears as Satoru takes a step to turn the corner, and then halts mid-step. Someone is talking in a hushed voice. Satoru hears his name being uttered and for some unknown reason he retraces his step back. He stands there, still and unmoving, and a sudden realisation occurs to him that he is eavesdropping. On the servants' private conversation, no less.

No, this is not right. He is a young master of a prominent jujutsu clan, the perfect heir, and this behaviour is unbecoming of the Gojo Heir.

Then something about a mark is mentioned in the same sentence as Satoru’s name and hi curiosity is instantly piqued. If there’s one thing the Clan Elders and his tutors are always reminding him will be his downfall, it is his curiosity that is never truly sated until he has dug out all the details about the topic, forcefully if required. His tutors can’t always keep up with his incessant probing in their lessons and often dismiss his queries entirely in frustration.

But here, Satoru is eventually going to get the answers to his unasked questions about this 'mark' if he listens longer. Decision made, he roots himself to his spot, just at the turn of the corridor and hidden from view from the conversing servants.

“The young master lacks a soulmate mark?” A voice exclaims in incredulity and disbelief. Satoru frowns. But his eyeballs are still hurting so he can’t use Six Eyes to see who is speaking.

“That’s right.” This voice, he faintly recognises. The Elders changed some staff that personally attend to Satoru and him only. She sounds like one of the new caretakers.

The first voice—unfamiliar; part of the new staff too, then—repeats as if she can’t quite understand the caretaker's words, “For real? He does not have a mark?”

A rustle of clothes. “No. When I dressed him up yesterday I found it odd. But today I looked for it again and his skin really is bare. The heir does not have a soulmate mark.”

There is something in the tone of her voice that Satoru doesn’t like. It’s those quietly said words, those 'does not' that grate at Satoru’s ears. They are said with something like sadness, something like, like...

...pity, comes the realisation.

Satoru has never been the recipient of the emotion, he has everything the Heavens were generous enough to bestow on him. Yet even at the very young age of six, Satoru recognises the emotion. And he hates it with such ferocity at being directed at him that despite the Elders' clear instructions to maintain peace and poise—of his own and of the residence—Satoru still stomps his sandals loudly against the wooden floorboards as he walks ahead. 

The women startle and bow down respectfully as he comes in sight. All gossip between them has halted, though momentarily, Satoru knows. They will go back to talking behind his back as soon as he is out of earshot. That is why he doesn’t bother to acknowledge their bows and continues to his room on loud feet.

 

 

_

 

 

He does not have a mark?

His skin really is bare. The heir does not have a soulmate mark.

Those words refuse to leave him even as Satoru lays down for the night. The moonlight comes in through the open window of his room, casting the floorboards and the potted plants below it in a blue glow. From his futon on the floor, Satoru cannot see anything of the outside besides the dark of the night, the crescent moon, and the twinkling stars. He does hear the music of the trees outside that line the sparring grounds as pleasant breeze blows softly in the heat of the summer. The floor is cool and the incense burns inside his room to ward off the mosquito attacks that threaten to occur through the open window. Soon the incense will completely burn out. Then Satoru would get up and close the window because he can’t keep Infinity up—weak as it still is—in his sleep.

Or, that is what he would do if he could sleep.

Pity. The caretaker pities him. She has been assigned to attend to Satoru just three days ago and she pities him already. But what is surprising is that it is not because he is still weak or under pressure to be perfect every waking moment. No, the servant’s do not care about their masters' personal matters as long as they do not directly concern them, Satoru has learned this from experience.

But pity is not an emotion Satoru ever thought would be directed at him. He is the Heavens' Sole Blessing, the Honoured One. He is the Gojo Clan Heir, the strongest jujutsu user of this generation, the Bearer of the Six Eyes and Limitless. He is a one in a million case on the earth, a fortune bestowed to the shaman world after centuries of being deprived of a Gojo like him.

There is nothing to pity in that. Satoru has everything.

The heir does not have a soulmate mark.

...does he?

The doubts and the questions don’t leave him even as he falls into a dreamless slumber, the incense burning out and the window left open.

 

 

_

 

 

No one comes to wake Satoru up the next day; they stopped doing that just three months after he’d adjusted to his new living arrangements. He is no longer four and no longer new to the routine that is set up for him by the Elders.

The morning goes by the same as everyday. Except—Satoru doesn’t allow the caretakers back inside after he comes back from his bath. He dresses himself into his cool-coloured Clan robes; he has seen the servants wrap the clothes around him enough times to memorise it move by move at this point.

His skin really is bare, that gossiping new caretaker had said. Satoru does not want to let any of them see him bare again.

He meditates as he waters the several potted plants and bonsais in his room. They are meant to soothe his sight, keep him grounded to the earth when he loses himself in the six directions. Caring for the plants is supposed to help him focus and narrow his attention down to one task at a time. It is a good exercise to gain better control of Six Eyes, the Elders had said when they’d ordered the servants to situate the plants in his room. Satoru admits it really helps him considerably.

After a light and healthy breakfast, Satoru is off to his morning lessons with his history teacher. The man is old, his curse energy so low he can be nothing more than a window. His long beard is more grey than black and his face is folded in several funny wrinkles, not unlike the Clan Elders. But Satoru doesn’t laugh like the time when he’d first seen him at the age of four. He still remembers the pain of the ruler on his small knuckles when he was disciplined for the first time for his rude behaviour.

Satoru sits straight and poised. His Clan robes are stretched around his knees elegantly, just like he is taught. Then, Satoru asks his tutor about the 'soulmate mark' he heard about yesterday with big and hopeful arctic blues.

His tutor looks surprised by his query. Satoru knows it’s not as much because of his sudden interest in the topic as it is about the nature of the question. The man hesitates. He doesn’t look at Satoru as he ponders over the question. Perhaps he is still unnerved by Satoru's eyes even after two years of familiarity. There is nothing Satoru can do about it though; his eyes are important and he is not allowed to hide them from anyone.

His tutor still hesitates to answer. Needless to say, Satoru’s curiosity is piqued again.

But soon, the young heir is getting impatient the longer the silence stretches. He tries to hide the restlessness of his knees and the fidgeting of his fingers, but his teacher notices them regardless. Satoru see the moment the man realises that he is interested in this topic, and is then forced to silently comply when the man decides that the marks are a topic not worth wasting his time over and nor does such a trivial thing concerns the Six Eyes Bearer. The old man proceeds with a new lesson of the jujutsu history about the battle between a Zen’in possessing the Ten Shadows Technique and a Gojo bearing the Six Eyes and Limitless.

Satoru pays attention to the lesson as he reluctantly pushes his curiosity at the back of his mind. The two sorcerers were equally matched, his tutor tells him. Satoru frowns. How can a shadows technique be an equal match to an all-seeing sight and an untouchable barrier? That sounds absurd. But then he learns the Zen'in had a trump card of his own, too. The Gojo was not as strong as his potential could have allowed and so the battle was a draw. The result: both opponents shredded to pieces. The Gojo-Zen'in rivalry was worsened when no winner remained. Satoru vows to himself then that he would not let any mortal limitations hinder his growth or success like the previous Six Eyes Bearer.

One after another class continues. Satoru pays attention to all of them. The personality development teacher teaches him how to have a control over his body language to hide his true emotions from his opponent. Satoru laments her not teaching him this yesterday, before he’d revealed his interest in 'soulmate mark' to his history teacher.

Then comes training with the Six Eyes and controlling his range of vision. Satoru falls to his knees again and swallows down the whimpers as the Elder again tuts in disappointment. The world spins around him but this time he doesn’t allow any servant any chance to assist him up. He gets up on his own, wobbles on his feet and risks falling flat on his bottom as his vision spins and nausea makes itself known at the back of his throat. But Satoru is stubborn and prideful. He grounds his sandals to the floorboards and pushes through a respectful bow to his teachers and the Elder even as his eyeballs and forehead throb painfully at his actions. Satoru is not given any praise for his efforts but he no longer feels weak at not having succeeded in his control so he counts that as a win and walks back to his room.

On the way though, he remembers his question being declined an answer by his teacher and sulks silently for the rest of the day. He doesn’t bother to even him at the servants as they bring him food. They don’t say anything about his unusual behaviour as he eats in silence. All of them are blank-faced and emotionless, sometimes they all look the same like that that Satoru can’t even distinguish males from females.

When he is left alone to revise his lessons, the mark thing keeps coming at the forefront of his mind. His tutor's dismissal of the topic is even stranger. Satoru may be six but his eyes see right through anyone so he’s learned over time how to read the subtle clues in the minute changes in people's expressions and body languages. His history teacher had been nervous when asked about the mark.

Why didn’t he just tell Satoru what it was? It is obviously directly related to Satoru in some way and he should know what it is. Why the secrecy? Why the suspicious looks and swift dismissal? What does he know that Satoru is not allowed the knowledge of?

Curiosity may well be his downfall after all, but Satoru does not regret breaking into the library in the dead of the night.

The library's expanse exceeds even the Elders' huge (but empty) meeting rooms. Satoru teleports inside using Limitless to avoid suspicion. With no one else bearing the inherited techniques of the Gojo Clan to share their knowledge and experiences and guide Satoru, this library is the only thing that helps Satoru understand his techniques better. This is also the place where he’d learned to warp a year ago.

There are sacred texts, Clan secrets, old scrolls about the age of curses and knowledge about jujutsu in every nook and cranny of this place. The Gojo Heir is allowed access to anything from the library as long as the Elders permit it because Satoru is supposed to excel at everything, he is supposed to have as much knowledge about the world of sorcery as he could. A strict rule to this privilege, however, is that Satoru must have permission of both his teachers and the Clan Elders before reading something he is prohibited from, or intentionally kept in the dark from.

Sometimes such rules must be broken to sate his own curiosity and hunger for knowledge, Satoru supposes.

The shelves are tall. Satoru is not above using his Infinity to make up for his short stature. He searches through the several books and scrolls, old and new, through blurred lines and burnt pages. In the yellowed pages of a century old and forgotten book, Satoru finds what he is looking for after an hour of searching.

The writing is neat and elegant. It appears to be the penmanship of a woman’s, but Satoru cannot be sure. He has never seen women in the North Wing who aren’t servants so they are probably not allowed on the higher ranks. If even today they are not allowed to climb on to the higher ranks in the Clan hierarchy then Satoru doubts it was any different a century ago either. Also, Satoru’s own penmanship is far too elegant and flowery for someone titled 'The Strongest' so he is not really in a position to judge.

The author of the book has written about the marks as being a big and important part of their worlds—both the ordinary and the jujutsu worlds. Soulmate marks, they are called. There are beautiful drawings of seemingly random combinations of two things or symbols tangled with each other. Beneath the drawings the writing reads: “A unique mark bestowed by the Heavens to two individuals who are destined to each other by birth. A human soul's other remaining half, their One and Only, their fated soulmate. Two halves of one soul destined to unite at some point in their lives.”

Everyone has a soulmate mark, Satoru reads. Every human soul or any soul resembling a human's has a remaining half of it that completes it. There are several incidents described by the author of soulmates uniting with each other. It sounds so otherworldly how their union is described: the touch of bare skin on skin and a bright glow of the only splash of colour on the identical black marks.

“There has existed no human soul thus far that lacked a soulmate mark. And there is doubt there ever will be one such in the future.”

Satoru closes the book then and places it back on the shelf he found it in.

 

 

 

_

 

 

 

Later the same night, in his room after teleporting back, Satoru lights a single candle to illuminate his room but careful of alerting anyone else who might be awake at this ungodly hour. In front of the full-length mirror, Satoru undresses and throws his robes away carelessly to the side. He scans his small naked body from head to toe. He even uses his Six Eyes on himself. He turns around and back to take in every inch of his pale and smooth skin. He even checks the soles of his feet. And eventually comes to the realisation the Elders had shielded their perfect heir from.

Unmarked.

His skin really is bare. The heir does not have a soulmate mark.

There has existed no human soul this far that lacked a soulmate mark.

Tears sting at his eyes.

Satoru does not have something every human soul on earth has. Someone all-seeing and universe-defying such as him has defied the laws of the universe yet again. Satoru is now The Anomaly to both of the worlds—even more if he wasn’t enough of an anomaly before. He is the only human soul on the earth that lacks the existence of a soulmate mark on his body.

Satoru does not have the other half of his soul.

Satoru is forever incomplete...

The realisation makes his throat close up and suddenly there isn’t enough air in his lungs. His chest hurts, his vision is blurring and he gasps helplessly as his blunt nails scratch against his chest in a futile attempt to allow air in. Satoru cannot see anything, he cannot feel anything besides the pressure in his chest. Maybe he is dying, maybe he wasn’t supposed to know about this for a reason and now he is getting punished for his actions.

Why can’t he breathe?!

A breathless sob escapes him and Satoru gasps in relief as the air finally reaches his lungs. There’s a wetness on his face. He is crying, for the very first time in his short life so far, Satoru is crying. The heir hadn’t wailed even at his birth, the Clan Elders had praised him once, when his father had introduced him to them after he’d turned four and was presentable and trained enough to behave himself in their presence. That was also the last time he’d ever seen his father. Satoru doesn’t even remember what the man looked like as he’s been under the Elders' care ever since.

But now, in this life-altering moment of learning such a tragic truth about himself, Satoru calls for his father. His father who Satoru knows also knew about his lack of a mark, was aware of it since his birth. His father who Satoru knows he is related to and important to even if it is just because of his inherited techniques. 'Father,' call his muffled pleads between sobs because he is all Satoru knows, even after never seeing the man again in the last two years.

('Father' because he does not know if he even has a mother to call out to in distress.)

Satoru sobs into the lonely night and no one hears him. He is a heap of naked limbs and tears and snot on the floor but he still sees everything, even through his blurred vision. And he wishes he could see his other half, his soulmate. He wishes this book is wrong and Satoru is not an unfortunate anomaly to this universal phenomenon. He does not want to stand out more than he already does. He does not want to be alone his whole life, not anymore, not now that he knows he could have had someone out there made just for him, to stand beside him.

To complete him.

But no one hears him. No one hears Satoru, no on ever hears Satoru. They all only care about the young master they are hired to serve or the heir to the Gojo Clan they have to keep a tight leash on lest they be left behind in the rubble of the destruction the void brings.

There has existed no human soul thus far that lacked a soulmate mark.

Am I even human?

At the young age of six, Satoru understands everything yet nothing at all. And he feels alone, so, so alone in the lonely night.

Unfortunate.

 

 

_

 

 

(That night, when Six Eyes locate the assassins heading for the sparring grounds and to his room form miles away, Satoru lets them come as close as they can. Just to see who else notices, just to find out who in this household truly cares.

In the end he is not even surprised or disappointed when he is the one to save himself from yet another assassination attempt. This one was a close one, yet still no one stirs from their peaceful slumber. Satoru understands how it is, then and shows no mercy as he shreds the assassins' limbs to tiny pieces.

Blood splatters across his face, his robes and his room but Satoru learns that day that he is alone in this world, all on his own. That no one truly cares and no one would stand beside him or for him.

They all care about the Six Eyes Bearer and the Gojo Clan Heir. No one cares about Satoru, and Satoru will learn to live with that, in time.

After all, he is incomplete anyway.)