Satoru is nine years old the first time he sees him.
He’s sitting there, so casually as if he is in his house; legs dangling from the porch of the east wing, his head tilted up, his eyes lost in the sky as the shishi-odoshi echoes rhythmically in the background.
Satoru blinks as he remains still in the outer corridor of the west wing. Is not every day that there’s a visitor in the Gojo household, especially one so young and one that stands like a sore thumb in both appearance and dress code.
Soft pink, messy hair, and dressed in a school uniform and a hoodie. The boy contrast too much against the usual dark colors of the shamans that visit the mansion. He doesn't look like one of them either.
The visitor blinks and turns to him as if he’s felt his eyes. It takes a second, but then he grins wide and waves as if he’s seen a long time friend.
Satoru doesn’t return the greeting. There’s no acknowledgment from him other than a dispassionate stare.
The boy cocks his head, his grin has dimmed to a small questioning smile, but he doesn’t look discouraged.
Satoru finally tears his gaze away from him and keeps walking forward, leaving the stranger behind.
A week passes by and the boy is still in the mansion, always at the end of the east wing, sitting on the porch or walking aimlessly in the corridors. It feels as if he’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He walks around as if he’s lost but still not knowing where his destination is.
Never has Satoru in his short years been annoyed at his ability to see it all. But there he is, right at the other side of the estate; sliding doors and corridors in between them but Satoru is still able to feel him.
There’s something inside the boy that Satoru knows it’s not human, a looming shadow that doesn’t belong in the mansion, a cursed thing. It buzzes annoyingly at the back of his mind like a disgusting fly.
It pisses Satoru a little bit off. His presence is disruptive.
He wants him out.
It’s after a month that Satoru’s presence is requested by his father. It’s a rare occurrence considering that the head of the Gojo family spends most of his time out of the house. Usually, dealing with other shamans and being a curse consultant of sorts for the big shaman schools.
The scarce times that he is at the estate, he favors spending his time among old books, family relics, and cursed objects rather than interacting with Satoru.
Satoru himself doesn’t have a problem with that, actually.
“That boy,” his father begins. He’s looking out of the window giving Satoru his back. “He’ll be staying with us for a long time.”
It's an announcement that comes a little too late, but Satoru keeps quiet. He only blinks in response as his father continues, “As the most powerful shaman family in Japan, it is our duty to handle these sort of inconveniences.”
Yes, that’s the proper word, Satoru surmises.
“Why is he here?”
At Satoru’s inquiry, his father bristles, “Because the rest of the shamans are useless.”
Satoru deems that to be a clear and resolute answer so he doesn’t ask any further.
Sakura, Satoru thinks, his hair is almost the same color as the Sakura petals.
It takes a month and a half for him to grown used to the annoying buzzing at the back of his head. It doesn’t make things any less annoying, but is now a little more tolerable.
Sakura—as Satoru has named him due to lacking other forms to refer to him other than the usual ‘boy’ or ‘him’—is around the corner. It’s the first time he comes to the west wing. It's the first time he comes near Satoru's porch.
It’s not his presence or the noise—because he is unnecessarily loud when walking—but the smell that it gives Sakura away.
Faint as it is, the smell of peaches reaches Satoru’s nostrils. He refuses to breathe in deeper, refuses to believe that someone that has annoyed him since the first day he intruded his home can smell this good.
“Oh?” Sakura says, his head peeking around the corner of the porch. “Hello!”
Satoru doesn’t raise his eyes from the heavy and old book he has on his lap. He doesn’t regard the other presence with another action that’s not a slight disgusted twitch of his nose. The lack of response is clearly not an invitation, but Sakura has decided to take it as one. He walks up to him as the aroma of peaches wafts through the air.
“That’s a big book you got there,” Sakura leans forward, interested. He hums when he gets no acknowledgment. He tries again, “Can you really read something that old and complex?”
The condescension prods Satoru to reply. “Such a dumb question. Of course, I’m reading it.”
“Oh, so you talk! It’s the first time I hear your voice.” Sakura is not offended by his rudeness. He grins, rests his arms on the porch's floor, and props his chin on top of them. Satoru is sitting a few inches away, annoyed at the closeness. “I thought you didn’t talk at all.”
“I don’t see the benefit of talking without a purpose.”
Sakura pouts. “That’s not cute.”
Satoru doesn’t reply to that even if the silence is charged with the expectation that he breaks it.
Sakura sighs loudly. “You’re too serious for a kid. And here I thought we could talk and become friends.”
“I don’t know why would you think something like that.”
“Because! There are only stuck-up grown-ups here. We’re the only young people in this big house.”
Satoru turns a page, then adds, “I still fail to see how our ages could make you believe that.”
Sakura moans lengthily in disappointment. “You’re mean for a kid.”
“You’re dumb for your age.”
“I'm fourteen,” Sakura says as if that would make a difference.
“My point exactly.”
Sakura springs to his feet, turns his head to the sky, and wails pathetically, “Is everyone in this goddamn house stuck up rich asses? Give me a break, God!”
“You’re annoying. You’re disrupting my reading. Go away, Sakura.”
Sakura turns to him. “What did you call me?”
Satoru doesn’t show it, but he’s berating himself for letting himself be caught up in the moment and call him that out loud.
“Did you name me Sakura?” Sakura asks, and before Satoru has time to reply, Sakura quickly adds with a smile, “Forget what I said. You’re cute.”
Satoru blinks. He has been named a lot of things in his life; the descendant of the Gojo family, the strongest shaman to be, the bearer of the six eyes, but cute…
Cute is a novelty.
It leaves him momentarily speechless. He's staring at the words of the page he's on without reading them.
“Still, I’ll introduce myself,” Sakura continues. “Hello! My name is Itadori Yuuji. I’m fourteen years old and I’ll be living in this house for a while. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Satoru still doesn't lift his head and sees from the corner of his eye that the greeting comes with a bow that is too dramatic to be considered polite. That is an obvious jab at the ‘stuck up rich asses’ that Sakura—now Itadori Yuuji—called the people in the mansion.
“Itadori Yuuji,” Satoru repeats, slowly as if he is testing the thread of sounds rolling out his tongue.
Itadori Yuuji nods, pleased. “Yes. You can call me Yuuji!”
“I don’t want to.”
“Oh, okay… You can call me Sakura too. That’s fine. I think it’s cute.”
Satoru’s eye twitches, and finally, he gives in and lifts his face to meet Itadori.
Satoru’s nose is a couple of inches away from Itadori’s. He wasn’t aware of how close they were, too preoccupied to look uninterested that he didn’t notice Itadori had stepped closer.
The surprise doesn’t last much, but it is enough to make him widen his eyes and flare his nostrils unconsciously while their position lasts.
“You finally looked at me,” Itadori says, victorious with a crinkling smile.
Satoru does the first thing it comes to his mind. He slaps his face away.
“Ouch!” Itadori whines, cradling his reddening cheek with his hand. “That was a mean slap for a tiny hand.”
“Don’t get too close to me. You reek.”
“Eh?” Itadori raises his eyebrows and smells the back of his hand, then his armpit—Satoru scrunches his nose in disgust at that—and then looks at him offended. “I don’t reek. I took a bath yesterday.”
“Clearly, that didn’t work.”
Peaches. That’s a good smell, but Satoru doesn’t want to give him the pleasure of knowing that.
“I stand by what I said,” Itadori says. Satoru blinks uninterested. “You’re cute, but mean.”
Again with the cute.
This time Satoru frowns, and before he can say something he feels them.
“Oh, they already noticed…” Itadori says with a disappointed smile looking in the direction Satoru is. “Well, I guess it’s time to run. See you around—” he stops, looking at a loss. He doesn’t know how to address Satoru, but after a moment he smiles again and throws over his shoulder, “–Gojo-chan.”
With that, he runs toward the garden.
Satoru remains there, sitting with the book still open on his lap. A small gust passes by that's shortly followed by two people of the house staff chasing after Itadori.
“Satoru-sama, forgive us.”
“Excuse us, Satoru-sama,” they say with a slight reverence before taking off to the garden. Satoru doesn’t regard them. He’s still processing the name he was called with.
The rest of Satoru’s day passes without any other novelty. He reads most of his book after Itadori was gone, and later on, he works on the homework his homeschool teacher has assigned him. He eats his dinner, takes a bath, and prepares himself for bed.
A perfect routine only slightly disturbed by Itadori’s unprompted visit.
Satoru lies on his bed, eyes wide open and fixed on the ceiling as the words keep ringing in his ears.
“See you around… ”
“Gojo-chan,” he whispers in the dark.
It takes longer than usual, but when he can finally fall asleep there’s a small scowl on his face.
“Don’t call me that again,” Satoru demands as he stands prideful and arrogant, looking down on Itadori.
Itadori is resting on the floor on his right side and propped on his elbow. A half-eaten apple rests in his left hand. He doesn’t look bothered by the lack of a greeting, he merely glances at Satoru and gulps down the bite he had in his mouth.
“Eh? What? Oh! You mean, Gojo-chan?” Satoru scowls. Itadori doesn’t look affected by it. “Did it bother you that much that you came to this part of the house just to tell me that?”
“This is my house. I can go wherever,” Satoru replies petulantly. A clear jab at Itadori’s all too carefree stay.
“That’s true,” Itadori concedes and takes another bite of the apple. He talks with his mouth full. Satoru is disgusted. “But you’ve never come to this side of the house while I’ve been here so… It really should have bothered you.”
Itadori even has the gall to look proud as if he has made a big discovery.
“If it bothers you that much,” Itadori starts as he sits, “You should just tell me your name.”
Satoru doesn’t want to relate to this person—or anyone in general—so he answers firmly, “No.”
“Then how should I call you? Gojo-sama? Gojo-kun? Bocchan? ”
Satoru’s eye twitches.
“Satoru,” he says, yielding not for the sake of acquainting with Itadori but to put a stop to any other ridiculous name Itadori can come up with.
Itadori grins. He’s all rosy cheeks and white teeth it almost makes Satoru’s own hurt. “So, that makes you Satoru-kun.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Eh?” Itadori drops his shoulders. “You’re not happy with anything. What should I call you then? ... Satoru-san?”
Most people call him Satoru-sama. The scarce times his father requests his presence he’s called Satoru. For the people outside the Gojo mansion walls, he’s Gojo-sama. He’s never been addressed like that. ‘Satoru-san’ has an unexpected good ring to it. Not childish as ‘kun’ or worse ‘chan’ and good enough to still conserve the undertones of respect he deserves.
“Oh! You like that one!”
“I don’t,” Satoru replies a little defensive.
“You had this look on your face like you did,” Itadori says before giving another bite to the apple. “It was cute,” he says with his cheeks full. He looks like a stupid chipmunk, Satoru thinks.
“Don’t get too conceited, Itadori.”
Itadori knits his eyebrows together. “Eh? You’re way too formal. Just call me Yuuji.”
“Yuuji-niichan? How about that?”
“I rather eat worms.”
“Satoru-san, you’re not cute at all.”
“You just said I was.”
“That was then, this is now,” Itadori says as if that’s a completely logical explanation.
“Whatever… ” Satoru turns around, ready to leave the premises and put more space between them.
Itadori, of course, doesn’t give him peace of mind until the end and calls after him, “See you around. Satoru-san!”
Satoru presses his lips together in annoyance because… It sounds good. ‘Satoru-san’ sounds better than any other name he’s been called before.
It’s been almost three weeks since he and Itadori first exchanged words.
The people in the mansion already know Itadori is not trying to escape and have left him to his own devices. Which means, that it’s been twenty days since Satoru had known what a peaceful afternoon was since Itadori has taken his lack of avoidance as an invitation. Satoru could study inside his room or choose another place to do it. The house is enormous, and surely Itadori, the newcomer, would have trouble finding him.
The thing is, Gojo Satoru owns the place, and he refuses to hide like a scared cockroach in his own house. It’s a matter of principle. It should be Itadori the one who knows his place.
Still… Neither of those things has happened yet.
What happens regularly is Satoru sitting on the porch, reading. Itadori trying to play a prank on him and failing every time because Satoru feels him coming a mile away. Even when he’s too focused on his reading, he whiffs the faint smell of peaches that reveals Itadori’s presence.
Itadori has grown used to it by now, and apparently, has accepted defeat because all that he does now is greet him with a loud ‘Hello, Satoru-san’ that usually scares every animal in the vicinity away.
Itadori talks and talks. From the senpai he had back at school or Ijichi-san from the Shaman academy who is sent periodically to check on him. To his grandpa who is hardly mentioned but when he is, Itadori’s whole demeanor changes. He becomes quiet and nostalgic.
It makes Satoru feel weird when he looks at him.
Itadori talks and talks, but he also listens. Whenever Satoru talks, Itadori listens in a non-condescending way, hanging onto every word he says. He doesn't regard Satoru as a little kid anymore even if it would be normal because of their age difference. Satoru is pleased about that. Unlike the rest of the house staff that approaches Satoru in a polite but otherwise impersonal manner, Itadori is a novelty.
Satoru is not that sure anymore if Itadori's presence is annoying or not.
People say a routine is built after being constant for twenty-one days.
Itadori’s presence by Satoru’s side has reached twenty-one by that day.
“Don’t you have anything else to do other than bother people and invade their personal spaces?” Satoru asks with no real bite in his words. It's been almost a month since Itadori became part of his afternoons. At this point, there is no frustration or animosity, only well-worn exasperation, the same kind an owner has with a harmless yet untrained puppy.
Itadori is lounging close to him; carefree and unbothered. Satoru had kicked him away two times already because apparently, Itadori doesn’t understand that Gojo Satoru’s personal bubble consists of at least seven feet in diameter.
“I’m still on summer break… I think, ” Itadori quickly adds.
Satoru snorts levelly. “You think?”
“Ah… is complicated.”
Satoru doesn’t question him about it, instead, he returns his eyes to his book. He doesn’t know what expression he has on his face, but whatever it is, is enough for Itadori to interpret it as an excuse to trespass his bubble… again.
“Are you having troubles with kanjis?” he asks.
Satoru grows stiff at several things that take place all at once.
One, Itadori has moved to be right behind him, his face inches away from Satoru's cheek.
Two, an awful fruity smell reaches his nostrils, artificial and too strong that makes his nose itch uncomfortably.
Three, Satoru doesn’t slap Itadori but pushes his face away with both of his hands.
Where are the peaches?, Satoru asks inwardly.
Out loud, he asks, “What is that awful smell?”
Itadori looks like a kicked puppy. “What do you mean? Satoru-san, you always tell me that I smell bad so I asked Ijichi-san to buy me some good smelling soaps.”
Satoru can’t believe it. Moreover, he cannot believe Itadori took what he said to heart.
“Whatever awful concoction you showered yourself with. Don’t.”
“Satoru-san, you’re so hard to please.” Itadori sits back with a pout.
“Why, Itadori? Are you trying to please me?” he asks with genuine curiosity.
“Well… I already told you. I have no one I can talk to. The guys of the house barely talk to me, Ijichi-san doesn't stay long when he visits, and I thought Satoru-san could get to be my friend.”
“So, you’re only talking to me because I’m the only other young person in this place.”
Itadori looks anxious. “No! That’s not what I meant!”
“So, you’re talking to me because you have no other choice.”
“No! Satoru-san that’s not—”
“I thought you wanted to be my friend because you found my company enjoyable, but I see now that the only reason you want to is because there are no other options available.”
“That's not what I—Wait—” Itadori squints his eyes in suspicion. “Satoru-san, are you teasing me?”
He kind of is, maybe his small smile is still visible despite his attempts to hide it.
“You’re so mean, Satoru-san! I thought that you really were bothered about that.”
Satoru blinks, closes the book, and places it next to him.
“Not really,” he confirms. Before Itadori can reply to that, Satoru beats him, “I figured, you’re right.” At Itadori’s questioning tilt of the head, Satoru elaborates. “The people here… They’re stuck up asses.”
Itadori feigns being scandalized. “Satoru-san! That’s the first time I hear you saying something so vulgar.”
“That’s why, you’re not that of a bad company, Itadori.”
It happens in slow motion. Itadori’s lips curve slowly but steadily upward until he shows a white row of teeth. His eyes crinkle until they’re completely closed, his cheeks become a faint shade of pink.
“I’m glad that Satoru-san thinks so.”
Satoru is momentarily taken aback by the sight.
At Itadori’s questioning humming after the stretching pause, Satoru blinks his reverie away, suddenly feeling shy. He picks up the book, opens it on a random page, and sinks his nose in it.
“Satoru-san, I can help you with the kanji you didn’t understand before… Satoru-san? Satoru-san, are you listening? Satoru-san, don’t ignore me! Satoru-san!”
“Are we allowed to enter this place?” Itadori asks in a murmur, trailing after him, shoulders hunched as if he’s a thief fearing to be caught.
“I am.” Satoru walks straight with firm footing. He ignores the pouting he is greeted with when he cranes his neck around to face Itadori.
They’re in the farthest building of the east wing. Farther away from where Satoru saw Itadori the first time. A library of sorts the Gojo family has on their grounds. The place smells like old ink and paper, a smell that Satoru is quite fond of.
Satoru turns to the left. There is a long trail that starts to disappear into the darkness as they walk further away from the door.
“Satoru-san, you’re the one who told me to follow you.”
“And you’re the one doing it blindingly,” Satoru adds, “Shouldn’t you be more cautious?”
“Why would I be cautious of you?” Itadori asks promptly.
“Self-preservation?” Satoru offers.
“Well, I’d understand that coming from someone that’s not you.”
“Somehow, I feel you’d be the type of person who follows a stranger into a dark alley.”
“Eh? Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know,” Satoru turns his face and curves his lips into a small teasing smile, “You tell me.”
Itadori sighs loudly. “You’re teasing me again.”
He is, Satoru won’t deny it. Lately, he finds amusement in doing so. Watching Itadori go from smiling to pouting, from grinning to embarrassed, from surprised to anxious, is something that he’s grown to enjoy without even noticing when it happened.
“We’re here,” Satoru announces and stops in front of a bookshelf. His eyes roam through the books, reading the titles on the spine of each one of them until he finds the one he’s looking for on the tallest shelf. His shoulders drop slightly in annoyance. Not even Itadori with his height would be able to reach it even if he stands on his tiptoes. Satoru's eyes roam the vicinity in search of a step ladder or anything they can use.
He’s taken by surprise when the aroma of peaches floods his nostrils before he's picked up. Satoru blinks and tenses up at the unexpected action. Itadori, unaware of his surprise, sits him on his left arm and holds him close to his torso. There’s a small pleased smile on his face as if he isn't doing anything out of the ordinary.
“Itadori, what are you doing?” Satoru asks slowly as if he's still processing what is happening.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Itadori says and then looks up to where the book Satoru wants is. “I can’t reach and neither can you, but now we can.”
Satoru relaxes and replies, “I’d have brought the ladder.”
“I didn’t see any though.”
Satoru concedes with a sigh. Itadori beams in return. It’s the first time Satoru sees his face from that close. It comes as a surprise realizing that Itadori’s eyes are not light brown as he thought at first, they’re a shade away from being gold.
Satoru blinks his rapture away and says as an excuse, “You have something on your face.”
Itadori doesn’t question him and instead, he closes his eyes and tilts his head, offering it for Satoru to get rid of the something he lied about.
Why is Satoru the one feeling embarrassed when it’s Itadori the one acting like a pampered child? He’s glad that Itadori has his eyes closed because he doesn’t know what face he’s doing. He only knows that the warmth in his cheeks will give away his bashfulness.
With steady hands, Satoru cups Itadori’s cheek and with the other, he pretends to brush something off. Once, twice, even thrice does his thumb graze Itadori’s cheek. It isn’t until that moment, that he notices the small and pale little dots adorning Itadori’s cheekbones.
Itadori has freckles.
“Satoru-san?” Itadori opens his eyes when Satoru’s hand stops moving.
“Itadori has freckles,” Satoru says absently, this time out loud.
“Do I? I never noticed it,” he dismisses as if Satoru hasn't made a big revelation.
Satoru comes back to his senses. He purses his lips and takes back his hands, suddenly self-conscious. He tilts his head to look at where the book is.
“Thanks, Satoru-san,” Itadori says but Satoru doesn’t turn to him when he nods.
Satoru reaches out for the book and pulls it out of the shelf with difficulty. It’s heavy so he holds it tightly against his chest. Itadori shifts his hold to adjust the extra weight and then he lowers him down carefully.
“That’s a big book,” Itadori says as Satoru blows away the dust on it. “Will you be reading that?”
“Eh? Then why—?”
“You will,” Satoru replies handing him the book.
“Me?” Even if Itadori doesn’t look eager to read such an old, big book he takes it into his hands.
“You might be okay with lazing around all day, but I won’t let you become a slacker.”
“I’m not a slacker,” Itadori says grimacing as he follows Satoru back to the door.
“It’s almost November and you’re still not back at school. You either dropped out or they expelled you.”
“Neither of those things happened. It’s… complicated.”
They reach the door. The cold of autumn slaps their faces with a breeze when stepping out.
Satoru closes his haori tighter and he asks, “Does it have to do with the curse inside you?”
“You knew about it?” Itadori is giving him his back, he's closing the door of the building. His shoulders look tense and stiff.
“Anyone with cursed energy knows about it.”
Itadori turns around and looks ashamed. He looks as if that is something he didn’t want Satoru to know. He scratches the bridge of his nose and avoids his eyes.
It’s quite confusing, Satoru thinks. Itadori who never shuts up about anything has yet to address the fact that he’s carrying a cursed thing inside his body. It's not precisely a normal topic to bring up, but after so many weeks together, so much shared time, and so many talks, Itadori hasn't mentioned anything about it. Satoru is still curious as to why that or the fact that he was sent by the Shaman School from Tokyo to the Gojo grounds is. He has the good sense to intuit the reasons behind that. Yet, none of them can be confirmed or denied by Itadori, and since his father is away again, the time has only made Satoru's interest grow bigger.
Satoru doesn’t want to give his curiosity away though. While it’s true that Itadori needs to do something other than laze around all day, Satoru gives him the book as a subtle prodding gesture.
Maybe, he would talk on his own eventually.
“For someone with something like that in them, you are very ignorant about jujutsu,” Satoru says as he walks toward the main building.
“Well, I’m sorry… I wasn’t born in a shaman family.”
“That’s not the topic here,” Satoru says giving a side glance at Itadori who is walking behind him and skimming through the book. “For tomorrow you’d have to have read pages 25 to 112.”
“Those are the basics about jujutsu and—”
“Satoru-san! Wait! That’s too much! I didn't get assignments like this not even at school!”
“Too bad. If you want to ‘hang out’ with me, then read those pages. I’ll be asking questions too.”
Itadori grimaces. “You’d be an awful teacher, Satoru-san.”
Satoru smiles faintly and says over his shoulder, certain, “Why?... I rather think I have the right qualities to be one.”
November is about to end, and the temperature is dropping slowly but steadily with each passing day. It’s not cold enough to snow yet, but they are getting there. That's how in those cold days they move inside one of the rooms of the west wing and spend the afternoon comfortably sitting under a warm kotatsu.
“So?” Satoru asks without raising his face from the homework he’s working on when the pause has extended for too long.
Itadori scrunches his nose and sticks out his tongue, his chin is propped between his index and thumb. “Reverse curse technique is like that, you know? Like negative plus negative is positive!”
“That’s too technical. Try to explain it with your own words now,” Satoru demands.
It takes a pause, this time shorter than the last, before Itadori answers, “So, is like when you’re super angry and that’s the negative energy. And the curse energy you have inside you is also negative, but then you have both things fusing together inside you so what you get when you try to use it becomes positive energy!”
Satoru lifts his head and says, “70 points.”
Itadori drops his shoulders and spreads his arms on the table, whining disappointedly.
“But you are right about the overall idea so here,” Satoru tears one of the pieces of a peeled tangerine and offers it to Itadori who promptly opens his mouth.
“Satoru-san, you’re treating me like a dog,” he complains with his cheek pressed against the table while he munches.
“Positive reinforcement helps individuals to keep learning.”
“I think just now you called me a dog.”
Not a dog, a puppy, Satoru corrects inwardly.
“You definitely are calling me a dog in your mind right now,” Itadori says, squinting his eyes.
Satoru smiles faintly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Itadori hums lengthily, and without lifting his head from the table, he addresses him, “If I read and get to know more about curses and all of that, do you think I could I become someone who can use jujutsu?”
“You don’t seem to be the type to have the ability just yet,” Satoru answers honestly, feeding Itadori another tangerine. “But I think that with time, maybe… just maybe.”
"That's a relief," Itadori says with a grin. "I want to become strong."
There is a pause, then Satoru adds, “I don’t think it’s a matter of becoming strong, but learning the basics at this point.”
“Still,” Itadori says and gulps down the tangerine, “I need to become someone strong… stronger.”
Those bronze eyes are fixed in some lost point of the wall. It’s obvious Itadori is looking at something past beyond it. Something that perhaps is in a past that Satoru is still ignorant about.
“I want to be able to protect people,” he says, almost as if he’s chanting a mantra on autopilot.
Itadori blinks his reverie away and looks at him as if he doesn’t understand the question.
“Because…” he starts, slowly, “If I have this strength to do so, then I should, right?”
Satoru blinks, still not understanding. “Are you saying that the purpose of being strong is to protect other people?”
“My grandpa told me… help people, and that’s all I want to do. I want to honor his last words.”
It takes a short pause for Satoru to break Itadori's smile when he says, “That’s stupid.”
Itadori jerks to sit, his face is contorted in incredulity and a little bit of hurt at his words. Satoru doesn't heed him as he continues, “If someone needs to be saved, then they should be aware of their lack of strength and work themselves so they’re no longer weak.”
“Not everyone is strong. Everyone has different circumstances,” Itadori says, then presses his mouth into a tight line as displeased lines etch all over his face.
“That’s why they should become stronger themselves instead of shoving that responsibility to others.”
“Satoru-san, you’re being too harsh.”
“Am I, Itadori?” Satoru meets his eyes steadily. “What I’m saying is nothing but the truth. Why should the strong protect the weak? That’s not our duty.”
“That cold-hearted part of you,” Itadori says, frowning, “I hate it, Satoru-san.”
Satoru tenses up, his mouth is slightly agape. The words feel like an unexpected punch right to his gut. He’s taken aback to hear those words coming from Itadori… directed at him no less.
It’s ugly; that thing that starts in the pit of his stomach and rises, heating his chest then his throat, wanting out as if it was bile.
Satoru doesn’t even try to contain it.
“If you hate me so much then you should just leave me alone for good.”
This time, it is Itadori, the one that flinches as if hit. His eyes widen as his mouth hangs open. Hurt and dejection are there, twisting his face into an ugly grimace.
“Is that what you want?”
It really shouldn’t be a big deal, but Satoru still doesn’t understand why the words ‘It hate it, Satoru-san’ echo loudly in his ears; provoking him and pissing him off. He doesn’t stop to think about it, he doesn’t want to think about it.
“I told you a thousand times that you should just stop bothering me, haven’t I?”
Itadori swallows and averts his eyes. “I see.”
He stands up, walks to the door, and slides it open. Silently, he lingers there, five seconds at most as if he’s waiting for something, but whatever it is, never comes.
“Sorry to have been a bother all this time,” he apologizes. It feels almost like a goodbye. Satoru’s gut feels too hot, his chest swelled with something that he doesn’t regard, and is not interested in doing so.
Itadori’s words are met with cold silence.
The door is closed, leaving Satoru and a half-eaten tangerine alone in the room.
Satoru can’t sleep that night. There’s something heavy sitting in his stomach. The heat he felt in that cold afternoon is now scorching his chest. He doesn’t want to regard the interaction he had with Itadori as anything more than a bothersome reminiscence. He doesn't even want to call it a fight because that would be giving it enough importance.
It is not.
It’s very simple actually. Itadori was wrong, Satoru is right. If Itadori can’t deal with it, then it’s not Satoru’s problem.
He tells himself that, trying to convince himself and be able to forget it.
I hate it, Satoru-san.
He can't though.
The words ring, dejected and hurt in his ears. Every time Satoru hears them something ugly prickles uncomfortably in his chest.
He’s never had a problem dealing with anyone’s opinion on him, but Itadori’s words are like a disruptive noise that keeps him awake for hours.
That is only the first night.
Then it comes the second night. A night that has darkened a day in which Itadori Yuuji didn’t show up.
Oddly enough, the heat and the heaviness Satoru felt in his chest and gut respectively have changed places. His chest weighs like what Satoru thinks it would feel a thousand brinks. In his belly, lava pools uncomfortably.
The second day without Itadori Yuuji passes by. His routine has gone back to what it was. There are no anomalies, no disruptive sounds, no ‘Satoru-san’ echoing in the corridors or the rooms.
His homeschool teacher briefly points out the dark circles under his eyes. Satoru doesn’t want to admit he’s still unable to rest at night.
Days go by, piling one on top of the other at a torturously slow pace until they become a week. When it does, it brings December with it, and then there is no heat left for Satoru to feel inside his body. Like a bonfire dying after so long, all that remains now are cold ashes.
And it’s until he’s there, lying on his bed on the eighth night, that he finally regards it; the fact that he is miserable and why does he feel so, so hurt?
Because he is hurt, right? It’s no longer anger what he feels. It’s something less fiery, less passionate, but equally aggravating.
It’s the first time he allows himself to think about it. The first time he feels a prickling sensation behind his eyes, yet he’s still proud enough to not give in to it.
Curse, Itadori Yuuji.
Satoru was just fine on his own. Why did Itadori have to come and make him feel so inadequate?
No… He takes that back.
How can Satoru curse Itadori? Itadori doesn’t deserve to be cursed, not by him, and certainly, not by whatever it is that he carries inside his chest. Itadori is a good person, a kind person. Someone who regards Satoru with warm respect and a familiarity Satoru himself didn't know he felt he lacked. Someone whose only fault is being too stupid to understand how the world works for the strong.
Satoru can still feel him in the east wing. Standing still or roaming around but never trespassing the corridor that connects their wings.
He wonders if Itadori also feels like this. Vindictively, he hopes so. It’s not fair that Satoru is the only one feeling like he’s drowning.
It’s the night before his tenth birthday—two weeks after his fight with Itadori—that Satoru finally asks himself…
Was I wrong?
The day is cold, just the same as the ones preceding it were. There is no fanfare for his birth anniversary. There are polite but impersonal greetings from the house staff.
There is no Itadori Yuuji.
The day is slow and tedious. It doesn’t help that his birthday gift from his homeschool teacher is less homework, giving him more free time. Free time that he doesn’t know how to spend anymore because it feels empty and boring.
Satoru is sitting under the kotatsu, cheek pressed against the table, a peeled-off but otherwise untouched tangerine next to him.
There’s a sound outside his door, a clearing of a throat, and then, “Satoru-san?”
Satoru jerks straight, his face twisted in disbelief.
“Hm… Satoru-san? Are you not there?”
Satoru doesn't think twice before he stands up and walks to the door with fast steps. Then, slides open the door violently making Itadori flinch.
It’s different from the heat of that day but is still of the same intensity. Satoru has his mouth open, ready to spill everything that has been inside his chest all those days, ask so many things and be angry at some others.
Why haven’t you come?
What have you been doing all this time?
Why do you seem so unaffected?
Didn’t you miss me?
The words are there, taking form in his mouth, about to roll out his tongue, but Itadori doesn’t allow him to release them. Instead, he shoves a white box into his face, effectively shutting him off.
“Happy birthday, Satoru-san!”
Itadori greets him with a smile; one that only Itadori can pull off. White teeth, rosy cheeks, and bright eyes. It’s the first greeting of the day that comes charged with emotion; candid and warm.
Satoru is angry at the fact that he doesn’t feel angry or hurt anymore.
Itadori doesn’t ask, doesn’t request permission, and intrudes into the room with a distracted 'Excuse me'. He is bold and rude in the same way he barged into Satoru's porch that day when he talked to Satoru for the first time. He sits next to the kotatsu and places the box on top of it. He unties the bow and opens it to show its contents. It’s a small strawberry cake with a little chocolate piece that says ‘Happy Birthday, Satoru-san’. He does all that under Satoru's incredulous eyes.
“Shall we?” Itadori says motioning toward the cake.
“A-are you insane?!”
Itadori flinches, surprised at his outburst. Satoru closes the door and walks up to him. This time he doesn’t care what expression is on his face. He doesn’t care to contain everything he has in his chest anymore. This time he is not in the wrong.
“Why are you here acting as if nothing is wrong?!”
Itadori doesn’t look hurt, but he avoids his gaze. Satoru is not having that and cups his face with his small hands and turns him to meet his eyes.
Itadori slouches. “I thought that this is what you wanted,” he starts, and there are thousands of things already running through Satoru’s mind to reply with, but Itadori quickly adds, “I just wanted to give you space. I knew you were angry back then, and I thought, maybe Satoru-san is right. Maybe I just need to step back a little.”
Itadori licks his lips, “I missed hanging out with you. But I didn’t want to be a bother. I know you always told me that I was, and I knew you weren’t being serious, but that day, it felt like you were. I just… thought that a little distance would be good, but then, Ijichi-san told me your birthday was close and I wanted to see you and wish you a happy birthday and—Satoru-san?”
Itadori stops mid-sentence almost at the same time Satoru’s eyes start to blurry. Before anything else happens, before he makes a fool of himself, Satoru lets go of Itadori and jerks his head to the side.
“Satoru-san, are you—?” Itadori’s question is drowned out by a sniff, and the next thing Satoru is aware of is that he’s being embraced.
Satoru’s breath hitches, he tenses up like a string ready to break but is Itadori’s comforting smell, the welcoming warmth that eases him to relax.
“I’m sorry,” Itadori apologizes. “I thought I was being considerate, but I disregarded how Satoru-san felt.”
Satoru’s arms, which until that moment remained limp at his sides, finally are raised and wrapped around Itadori.
“I thought I was being mature. I wanted Satoru-san to see me as a cool guy, but I think it didn’t go as planned.”
Satoru doesn’t trust his voice yet so the only acknowledgment he gives Itadori is a soft snort.
“Yes, yes… Itadori Yuuji is uncool and a simpleton. I know. I know.”
Satoru takes a deep breath and steadies his voice, “I’ve never called you that. Stop with the dramatics.”
Itadori laughs and finally pulls away.
“But you have thought so,” he claims with certainty.
Itadori couldn’t be any more wrong.
It’s surprising how easy they fall into their routine all over again just a few minutes past their reunion. Yuuji eating with his mouth full, Satoru being disgusted by it, but the difference is, that this time around there’s a smile on Satoru’s face for most of the time.
“Then I had to climb the tree that’s at the other end of the mansion because only then I got reception, so I was joogling on my phone while I was there, hanging like—”
Itadori’s eyebrow twitched. “Yes, like a monkey,” he admits, “So I got like, two or three bakeries close by, and Ijichi-san told me that he didn’t have time to go and buy it. So I was freaking out because if I couldn’t get you a cake then I would have to bake you one,” he explains while he motions with his hands. “Ishida-san, the cook, doesn't even talk to me let alone would have let me use the kitchen. But even if she did, I still didn't know how to bake a cake! It was—Satoru-san is not funny! Stop laughing so hard!”
Satoru’s stomach hurts, but his heart is light.
Fireworks explode in the new year's sky like big, blooming flowers.
December has reached its end and marking it with it, a milestone of six months in which Satoru has known the boy sitting next to him on the porch they met, admiring the fireworks with a smile. The mansion is as quiet as it has always been during the holidays, but this time, Itadori is sharing the birth of a new year with him. Loud, as he always is.
Suddenly, the house doesn’t feel as empty and quiet anymore.
“Woah! They're so big!” Itadori exclaims. “I never got to be this close to see fireworks without fighting for a good spot!”
“The shrine is right behind the mansion,” Satoru explains. “I get to see them like this every year.”
“Lucky! We have the best seats in the house!”
Satoru huffs with amusement.
“It’s a shame we can’t go… To the shrine, I mean. I wanted to pray.”
Satoru knows Itadori is not allowed outside the premises of the estate. He’s too dangerous people say and maybe they are right. It might be unkind of him to think that that’s for the best. Satoru doesn’t have to deal with crowds and he has Itadori’s company to enjoy by himself. That is enough for him.
“What stops you from doing it right here?”
Satoru is only pointing out the obvious, there is no real intent behind his words, but Itadori is Itadori, and the next thing he does is springing to his feet, clapping his hands together two times and closing his eyes.
“God, please let me become a strong person next year.”
Satoru still doesn’t understand Itadori’s wish, but even if he doesn’t understand it, he’s now sensible enough in the way he addresses it. This time around, Satoru is prudent and doesn’t say anything.
“Also!” Itadori adds, “Please let this be the year Satoru-san calls me by my first name!”
Satoru widens his eyes at the same time his chest flutters and looks at Itadori as if he’s lost his mind.
Ah, so annoying, he thinks with no real meaning.
How many times has Itadori taken him aback? Making Satoru feel like he’s the expert in jujutsu and many other things Itadori is ignorant about, but surprising him with the banalest things?
How many times has Satoru gone inarticulate because of Itadori’s words? Honest and hardly given a second thought before being said?
It might be because Satoru doesn’t want to keep losing to Itadori, but also because even if he’s petty enough to have that as the main reason, he has made peace with himself and the emotions Itadori causes in him. That’s why Satoru smiles. It’s honest, warm, but the curved lips are also the slightest bit of teasing when he says, “You’re an idiot, Yuuji.”
Itadori tenses up and swivels to face him.
Satoru’s smile widens one more millimeter when he sees the surprise all over Itadori’s—Yuuji’s face.
Who is the shocked one now?
Then, in a blink of an eye, Satoru is looking at the ceiling. Yuuji's now on top of him, with one of the blindest smiles Satoru has seen until that day. In the background, the fireworks keep illuminating the sky, casting lights on them.
“Yay! I win!” Yuuji says as he raises his fists in victory.
“I don’t see how that's winning,” Satoru says, trying to ignore the loud thumping in his chest as he keeps lying still under Yuuji.
“Well, you said you’d rather eat worms than call me by my name.”
“I said I rather eat worms that call Yuuji-niich— ”
It’s only when the name is halfway through his mouth that he realizes his mistake and quickly covers his mouth with his hand.
“A second win! Yes!” Yuuji celebrates.
“I didn’t call you anything.”
“Except you did!”
“Did—” Satoru bites down the words, closes his eyes, and sighs loudly, exasperated. Yuuji laughs harder as he lets himself flop on the floor next to him.
“Satoru-san,” he calls softly when his laughter has died. Satoru turns to him. Yuuji is smiling softly. “I’m glad that this year I got to meet you.”
Satoru, who is still not well versed in sharing his feelings or being honest, remains quiet. He feels himself growing warm inside. He only gets to nod in acknowledgment. Yuuji doesn’t seem bothered at the lack of words, he’s still beaming.
“If... If I’m still alive by this time next year,” Yuuji says with apprehensive lines on his face. “Let’s go to the shrine and pray together.”
There are many things that Satoru wants to say to that; from the fact that he doesn’t believe in God, or praying, or the fact that he hates crowds, to the fact that yes, ‘Yuuji, you will be alive next year because I’ll make sure you are’. Yet he doesn’t mention any of it.
The one word that conquers all of the others that he had already halfway through his throat, is a very simple one. One that is fueled to be pushed out past his lips when Yuuji intertwines their pinkies together.
“It’s a promise then!”
As they lie there, heads turned to each other, pinkies intertwined and fireworks still blooming loudly in the sky, Satoru understands…
Ah… I like Yuuji.