It’s late. Or early. Satoru doesn’t really give a shit; he’s only up at this hour when things have gone badly wrong, and this time gives a new definition to the phrase.
He looks down at his shirt. Wet, smeared with shiny snot. He could go home and change, but he doesn’t. He wants the wetness against his chest, the memory of hot tears soaking through his shirt. The rage is exhilarating.
He has to get the information he needs out of Yaga’s office, but that’s not hard. The old man keeps his passwords written down on a piece of paper taped behind a sepia photo of Jujutsu Tech’s main pagoda, taken circa 1890. Satoru grabs it and unlocks the computer, then skims through the drives until he finds what he wants. He locks the computer again and replaces the picture, then leaves.
He arrives in nearly the same instant in a Tokyo apartment. The lights are off but he doesn’t need light to see; like a cat he navigates easily through the cramped living room and into the bedroom. Switches on the light and stares down at the man who jerks awake on the bed.
No. The piece of trash that jerks awake on the bed.
“W-w-what – Gojou Satoru?”
Gojou strides in and sits down on the edge of the bed, crosses his long legs casually and smiles. “Morning, Doctor.”
“What are you doing here?”
Satoru leans back, palms braced on the mattress, leg kicking out. “You know, I never wanted to be a teacher. I don’t really like kids, and they don’t really like me. Classroom lectures on cursed energy and occult history? Bo-ring! But the one thing I really, really didn’t want was responsibility. I’ve got enough of that as a sorcerer – oftentimes I decide who lives and who dies. You think I need the responsibility for raising children? No way!” He leans back and laughs.
“I don’t –”
“But you know what?” He turns and looks at Hiroyama. “I would slit my throat before I ever touched one of them. Because once someone’s under my protection, their life is more important than mine.”
The doctor, now sitting up wrapped in his blanket, goes white. Satoru reaches up and tugs his blindfold down for the second time that night. Crosses his fingers, and lets his domain unfold. “Unlimited Void.”
He stands up and the bed disappears; the doctor hovers as stars shoot past, their colours like light split through a prism. Satoru walks over to him, stares down. Hiroyama is breathing hard, sweat running down his face. His eyes are snapping back and forth frantically, overwhelmed by input.
“And now, scum,” says Satoru, “you fall.”
The ground drops out beneath Hiroyama and he tumbles down, screaming, into the infinite void. Satoru watches calmly, hands in his pockets, as the man falls through space, writhing in absolute terror.
For Satoru, the time that passes is about two minutes. For Hiroyama, it’s years. When Satoru recalls his domain the doctor is lying slumped in his bed, shuddering and drooling. He reeks of sweat and urine. Satoru leans in, voice low.
“Don’t worry; I’ll see to it that your license is revoked. No one will ever come to you for help again. From now on, you’ll be the one at the mercy of others. Assuming I remember to call an ambulance for you. Otherwise you might just starve to death here, and wouldn’t that be tragic.”
Hiroyama’s eyes roll back, body trembling.
Satoru gives him a wink. “Bye, scumbag.” A moment later, he’s gone.
His mind is operating at full-tilt, whirring so loud he can’t relax. He’ll have to tell Shouko – no way Yuuji will be able to have regular medical exams after this – and maybe Yaga. Yuuji will have to give him permission; he hadn’t been in any state to deal with questions like that last night. And then there’s his other two students; what if Hiroyama assaulted them? Yuuji was the only one with a recent med exam, since he missed it earlier in the summer, but they could have gone to the doctor for any number of scrapes and bruises and been molested. Should he try to get Yuuji counselling? Hell, should he get counselling? He just dropped a rapist in a bottomless hole and watched him lose his marbles.
Satoru sighs and closes his eyes. It’s going to be a long time until dawn.
He texts Nobara and tells her lessons are cancelled for the day; after all Megumi’s in the infirmary and Yuuji’s in no shape to be concentrating on abstract lessons. Betting that Yuuji probably won’t want to go down to the caf for breakfast he makes a quick trip to the nearest conbini and picks up a melon bread, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, some salmon onigiri, and a carton of orange juice. Just the kind of breakfast a healthy growing boy’s mother would never let him have.
Satoru is not here to be anyone’s mother. Although he does look good in a skirt and apron.
Instead of teleporting to the dorm he walks, the late summer weather sweltering. The cicadas are in full swing, the dragonflies thrumming by overhead like little jets. It’s peaceful in the country, quiet. Satoru hates it.
He climbs the stairs to the first-year boys’ floor, a stable of five rooms occupied by only two boys. He passes Megumi’s empty room and stops outside Yuuji’s door. Raises his hand and knocks.
“It’s me~” sings Satoru, pushing the door open. “I brought breakfast!”
Yuuji has already put away his futon and dressed in casual clothes – t-shirt and canvas shorts. He’s got a broom and a garbage bin and is sweeping up the smaller fragments of his desk. “Oh, hi Sensei,” he says, leaning the broom up against the wall. “How’s Fushiguro?”
“Dunno; haven’t been to see him yet. We can drop by later. Yeah?”
Yuuji runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah. I need to apologize.”
“You don’t –”
“I don’t want him to know,” snaps Yuuji, looking up at him. “If you’re really gonna get rid of – of him, then Fushiguro doesn’t need to know anything.”
“That’s your choice to make,” says Satoru mildly. “As for Hiroyama, I’ve already dealt with the situation.”
Yuuji blinks. “Really?”
“Yes. Do you want to know how?”
The boy looks down at the ruined desk, at the garbage bin, at the dusty broom. Satoru can practically see the gears of his mind turning. Finally, he looks up. “You promise he won’t ever work as a doctor again?”
“Then I don’t need to know. I don’t want to know – I just want this to be over.”
Satoru nods, padding into the small dorm room. Unlike Megumi’s anally clean room Yuuji’s is comfortably messy, with a hoodie lying here and some manga there, posters of famous actresses and singers on the wall. Young; innocent.
Satoru feels a sudden unexpected flare of rage; he crushes it ruthlessly. “Last night was a start. But I don’t think you should just expect everything to be suddenly okay. Trauma is tricky, Yuuji; it’s like a curse with lots of heads that pop up in places and times when you least expect them. Locking it away isn’t always the best answer.”
“How do you deal with it?” asks the boy suddenly, earnestly. Satoru stiffens slightly, shocked.
“Well, yeah. Yaga-sensei said that sorcerers have to deal with situations where people die, where their colleagues die. You’re the strongest sorcerer – you must’ve dealt with some tough shit.”
Satoru sits slowly on the floor, tossing the plastic bag of conbini food to Yuuji, who catches it. “I think it’s good to talk,” he says finally, after some consideration.
“Who do you talk to?”
What is this, 20 questions? Satoru frowns. “Well… Shouko, for instance.” It’s not entirely untrue, he did once get drunk and cry on her shoulder after his favourite drama got cancelled.
“Sensei… no offense, but I kinda think you’re lying.” Yuuji leans back against the wall and opens the container of hard-boiled eggs. He pops one into his mouth and eats it whole.
“Look, I’m not a good role model. I started too young and saw too much and never learned to deal with it properly, and now I’m the kind of twisted guy everyone needs but no one really wants around. So do what I say, not what I do, okay?”
Yuuji considers. “Can you teach me that infinity thing?” he asks, finally.
“That? No. It’s an inherited technique in my family. It’s not something you can learn. Why?”
Yuuji pops the other egg into his mouth; chews, swallows. “When you did it… it made me feel safe. Like nothing could ever touch me.”
Satoru pauses. Then, movements easy, he reaches out and pats the floor beside himself. Yuuji comes over and sits down next to him, bag of food in his lap. Satoru raises his hand, palm outstretched. “Here,” he says. And, when Yuuji doesn’t move. “C’mon, put yours out.”
Yuuji raises his hand and pushes it forward. Satoru lets the barrier of Infinity spring up between them, so that the harder Yuuji presses the stronger he’s repulsed. “You’re right. Like this, no one and nothing can touch you. And I can understand why that would appeal, right now. But ultimately… being cut off from the world isn’t a boon.” He drops Infinity and Yuuji’s palm meets his, skin warm. Satoru curls his fingers between Yuuji’s, clasps their hands together. “Better, right? Human touch is important, Yuuji. Caring about other people is important.”
“Sensei… is this another do as you say, not as you do thing?”
Satoru sighs. “Eat your melon bread,” he says.
“Hey man,” says Yuuji while Satoru stands back and makes chit-chat with Shouko, both of them paying more attention to the two boys than each other. “I’m really sorry about last night.”
“No; it’s my bad. I shouldn’t have come in and woken you up like that. It’s just… you were screaming, you know?”
Yuuji gives a fake smile. “Yeah, I know. Bad dream. And it was still lingering when I woke up, and… bam. You really okay?”
“Yeah. Ieiri-sensei patched me up last night. She’s going to let me go this afternoon.”
Yuuji gives a relieved sigh. “Great. I’ll make it up to you. We’ll do a movie night or something. Okay?”
Satoru, sensing that their conversation is finished, heads for the door. “C’mon Yuuji. Leave the poor helpless invalid be.”
“I am not –” begins Megumi, but Satoru’s already out the door.
They sit in silence for a few minutes, Yuuji draining his can of coffee and then hunching over with his arms between his knees. He draws a line in the dirt with his toe, kicks a stone. “You don’t have to worry about me, Sensei. I’m doing way better now.”
“Well, they pay me to worry about you, so they might as well get their money’s worth,” says Satoru lightly, sipping more slowly at his own coffee. “You know that I won’t do or say anything without your permission. But I think there are a couple of things that should be done.”
Yuuji’s breathing is audible, just a little stiff. “Yeah?”
“First, I should tell Shouko. She’s in charge of your medical treatments, and also securing temps when she can’t be here. She needs to know.”
The boy takes a deep breath. Then: “Okay. What’s the other thing?”
“I think you should talk to someone with more experience.”
“What, like a shrink?”
“Mm, a counsellor maybe. We have a couple on contract here, to deal with traumatic incidents.”
“I dunno, Sensei…”
A brainwave strikes Satoru, and he straightens slightly. “Well, there’s always Nanamin. He might be able to provide some advice. I know he’s been to a counsellor a few times.”
“There’s nothing shameful about it,” says Satoru gently.
Yuuji colours. “No, I know,” he mumbles, running his thumb around the coffee can’s opening.
“You could choose what you wanted to share, of course, but he is entirely professional. He wouldn’t tell anyone.”
There’s a few moments of silence, the wind rustling the tree branches and the distant sounding of the class bell. Then: “Okay. I’ll talk to him.”
“Good. I’ll give him a call. And if you need me…”
Yuuji looks up, gives him a small smile. “I know how to find you,” he says.
There’s a sigh from the other end of the line. “I’m on the clock, Gojou-san. Now is not a good time.”
“I’ll make it quick – just the way you like it, right?” he says, tone dripping with suggestion. Nanami is silent, and he drops the teasing. “I want you to talk to Yuuji.”
“Something happened. I’m not at liberty to say what, but he should probably seek counselling. Maybe you can convince him. I’m not exactly…”
“A great role model?” suggests Nanami, gravely.
“Well, something like that.”
“I’ll call him.”
“Sooner the better,” says Satoru. “And in person.”
“This afternoon, then.”
“Great. Keep up the good work, Nanamin!”
The line goes dead.
He shuts the door and sits down in the creaky wooden chair provided for visitors; Satoru sits back and balances his pen on the side of his hand. “I talked to Yuuji,” the younger sorcerer says, unnecessarily.
“He told me what happened. And he agreed he should probably talk to someone with training – he wasn’t explicit about it, but he conveyed that he didn’t want to end up damaged like you.”
Satoru freezes for just an instant, then unfreezes with a breezy smile. “Well, that’s smart of him. Don’t you think, Nanamin?”
“He also said,” continues Nanami, ignoring this, “that you took care of the bastard who did it.”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re suggesting,” says Satoru, mock-indignant. “I’m not a murderer. I just dropped him through infinity for a couple of minutes. He’s a vegetable,” he adds, shrugging.
Nanami just nods, which shocks Satoru a little.
“I’ve given Yuuji the information for a counsellor I trust, and offered to connect him unofficially.”
“Good. Anything else? Or did you just come to see my pretty face?” asks Satoru, smiling cheerfully.
Nanami looks at him for a minute, serious as always. “I’ll just say this once. Gojou-san, if you wanted to talk to someone, it’s not too late –”
“Oh, let’s not make this about me. My life isn’t any more tragic than any other sorcerer’s, and I’m perfectly happy to treat my pain with sugar and alcohol.”
“We watch people die,” says Nanami, unexpectedly. “The people we fail to save die horrible, gruesome deaths. That failure has costs.”
“And I’m glad you’re dealing with it so healthily. But as for me, I’d rather just let it all roll off my back. You know me, Nanamin. Nothing can touch me.”
Nanami stands, face heavy. “I know,” he says, and walks out.
Just met w/teh counsellor. Set up to do sme talking, like u said. Thx Sensei.
Satoru opens a reply, hovers his thumb over the keyboard, then closes it.
He goes back to his doom-scrolling.