Here where the dust settles, Nobara’s hands find these:
- Itadori Yuuji’s left shoe, somehow more intact than its owner;
- The small of Fushiguro’s back as she props him up, too hurt to stand on his own, with Itadori on his other side;
The sun rises to the end of the jujutsu world. There is a pain on the left side of Nobara’s ribs sharper than the knife that had pierced her thigh, and the way her arms wrap around the frame of Maki’s broken, bloodied, breathing body is a healing not even Shoko can concede. Imperceptibly, she thinks Maki is shaking in her arms, a tremble almost unnoticed in the slight breeze. Or maybe she’s the one who’s shaking, with the force of being alive.
“Maki-san,” she breathes, into the crook of Maki’s neck. They are both well-known for the strength they each carry, and the ways with which they carry it. Nobara uses that strength now, to pull Maki flush against her body. Pain in her ribs be damned. “Maki-san.”
In the wake of a dying world, Maki laughs into Nobara’s hair, a sound airy with pain and more beautiful than the pink of sunrise. The rest of the universe seems to quiet in its sound. Whether this is true or not bears no meaning to Nobara, who feels the vibrations of Maki’s laugh against her chest, and desires nothing more, or less.
There’s a phantom ache in her side that’s annoying her today. Fushiguro seems to notice it, like Fushiguro notices everything.
For the past two years, every other weekend or so, she finds herself here: wedged between Fushiguro and Itadori, watching a movie or playing Smash Bros or video calling Gojo sensei. They spend more time in each other’s apartments than they do go out; Tokyo has lost its allure to Nobara, and there are train stations in Shibuya that Itadori still can’t bring himself to enter, but it’s fine, like this. Over the past two years, they’ve found themselves here— by each other’s side without need, or necessity. Simply alive, and simply together.
Nobara knows it’s some near-miracle they all survived. Most have called them lucky, many call them cursed. Nobara calls it neither— there is no luck in losing loved ones to a war, and curses died when jujutsu did. She calls it what it is— they are alive and they are together. There is no other meaning to it.
Fushiguro shifts and puts a pillow in his lap, a silent invite. Nobara takes it, laying down to alleviate the pain, and Itadori says nothing when she puts her feet up on his legs, too immersed in the movie playing on the laptop screen. The palm of his right hand rests gently against her ankle. His thumb rubs absentmindedly over her skin.
During lunch, Fushiguro asks, “How’s Maki senpai?”
Nobara smiles. Itadori has been really getting into cooking lately, and every time she visits he comes up with some new concoction that tastes like heaven in her mouth. Something else that feels like heaven: every morning she wakes, and Maki is in bed beside her, snoring. Or she wakes and Maki is sitting by the window, drinking coffee. Or in the kitchen, burning the apartment down. She thinks this could be called a miracle. Maki, she means.
“Good,” Nobara says, taking a bite of her food. Itadori’s really been nailing these recipes lately. For the most part, what she says is true. “She says she can’t wait to kick your ass again.”
It’s a habit, she figures, or some way to cope. Every month or so they spar in the extra room in Nobara and Maki’s apartment, where Maki spends most of her days, anyway. They have all spent some chunk of their youth learning to survive, Maki more than most. Fushiguro too. A body trained to fight its whole life is a hard thing to shake off. Nobara supposes it’s a good thing, for their bones to remember, without the added weight of curses long dead and gone.
Nobara doesn’t care about all that. More than anything, she likes this: the look on Maki’s face when she throws Fushiguro over her shoulder is wicked and triumphant, her skin sweaty and glowing. Nobara has always had an affinity for beautiful things. There’s nothing in the world more beautiful than Maki in power.
Fushiguro grimaces, like he’s seeing the same memory as her but without the poetry, and with all of the pain that comes with losing to Zen’in Maki. Nobara grins. Seeing Fushiguro getting his ass kicked is fun, too.
“You should bring her here, sometime,” Itadori says, half of his face covered in rice grains. Nobara wonders if he forgets sometimes, that there’s no longer an extra mouth on his cheek to steal his food. “She can try my carbonara!”
From the open window, a gentle breeze flutters the curtains, sweeps the scent of spring into the room. The ache in her ribs throbs just a little, and Nobara’s grin softens, something too quiet for lunchtime. They’ve been around each other long enough that it goes unnoticed by neither Fushiguro nor Itadori, she knows, but they’ve been around each other long enough that they know not to comment on it.
“Yeah,” Nobara says, taking a sip of the tea that she had brewed. It still ends up too bitter for her tastes, but she, too, is getting better at such mundane things. “Sometime.”
Home, even when she was little, has always meant this: the house is dark in certain rooms, and there’s always some noise coming from the TV or the radio or the whir of the washing machine. Back then, it had been because her father always forgot to change the lightbulbs, and the house never quieted because Nobara was graceless and energetic and had to keep up with all her favourite anime after school. Now, she likes to think she’s much more graceful, though she still has her favourite shows she tunes into— but the noise is mostly to keep her occupied. The dark, on the other hand, is for Maki.
Night has fallen, and there’s no noise in their shared apartment. Maki must already be sleeping. Quietly, gracefully, Nobara slips off her shoes and makes her way to the bedroom, where she finds, there, something more beautiful than Maki in power: Maki at peace. The body beneath the blanket shifts with every inhale, every exhale. Sometimes, quiet like this is all Nobara needs.
She almost doesn’t want to move. She knows Maki will wake if she does, knows no amount of grace can save Maki from her body’s own pre-determined, lifelong setting: to be prepared for a fight at every turn— to not recognize peace. Of the two of them, Nobara has always been the angrier one. She has been angry for Maki for years. She remains angry still.
Nobara does move then, when she deems it useless to stall any longer. One day she will master the art of Maki’s peace. Today, she simply smiles when Maki shifts in bed, turning to her.
“Welcome back,” she says, gentle as she does, when it’s dark. Nobara leans forward, and presses her lips to Maki’s forehead in greeting. Maki smiles, blurred in the moonlight. “How were Megumi and Yuuji?”
“Good,” Nobara answers, quiet in the night. A hesitant moment, then— “Itadori wants you to try his carbonara, sometime. Y’know, at his place.”
Maki’s smile is so, so fucking beautiful. Nobara’s heart is anchored to its moonlit pull.
“Sure,” she says, though they both know there’s a lack of truth. “Sometime.”
Nobara’s mouth softens in the night. They both know sometime isn’t anytime soon— like Itadori with Shibuya, and Nobara with Tokyo, there is a piece of the world out there too drenched in blood for them to bear. For Maki, it’s the whole of it. Mai’s sword is still in the back of their closet. There is no clean world, for Maki, without Mai in it.
“Go back to sleep,” Nobara murmurs, gentle into the strands of Maki’s hair. Maki nods, closing her eyes.
She knows Maki won’t sleep until Nobara is in bed beside her. Still, she moves as silently as she can, through the moonlit room: sheds her clothes, wipes off her makeup, stores away her earrings. Nobara knows the dark well enough by now, with how it shrouds Maki’s peace. With how it helps her forget, what Mai had looked like walking into the sea.
The bed dips beneath her weight when she slips in. The way Maki’s arms wrap around her frame as she lies down makes her anger dissipate, if only just a bit, enough that Nobara sighs into Maki’s skin. Maybe this can be peace, she thinks, Maki flushed against her side. They are both alive and breathing. They are all just trying to cope.