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movement vi.

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With hands reaching for each other, their bodies surrender to gravity. Yuuji and Megumi collapse into a mess of tangled limbs and wild heartbeats. The bed catches their fall. Perfectly made sheets unravel within seconds. A hurricane of unbridled affection rages through their bones, sparking warmth at their fingertips.

Bright, light-hearted laughter fills the bedroom. The sound muffles as Yuuji buries his face into a pillow. He shakes with joy while Megumi scatters kisses. Lips brush over Yuuji's temple, cheek, neck, and shoulder.

With each kiss, Megumi feels Yuuji's laughter dancing across his skin, warming everything in its path, and reaching deep inside. Yuuji's love blooms wildflowers. The flourishing garden proves that Megumi's more than skeletal remains of a decaying forest. Ever since Yuuji unearths Megumi's heart, he cradles it safely in his hands. 

"Megumi!" Another fit of laughter takes Yuuji. Happy tears gather at the corner of his eyes. Molten browns melt into crescent moons. "You're making me laugh so much-" Yuuji wheezes in sheer delight. "Fuck, my ribs hurt-"

"Where? Here?" Megumi kisses the boy's chest, right over his heart.

"Oh, my god." Yuuji covers his face with a sleeve. Scarlet rushes onto his cheeks. "Who the Hell gave you the right to be so freaking cute?"

"I'm not cute. You're the one who's cu-"

Yuuji covers Megumi's mouth with his hand. Megumi marvels at how easily his boyfriend gets flustered. Curious to see if Yuuji will blush harder, Megumi kisses his palm. Sure enough, Yuuji darkens another shade, and lets out an incoherent sound. Megumi's laughter stifles against familiar palm lines.

"You're impossible," Yuuji huffs. But there's more fondness than exasperation coloring his voice. Yuuji kisses the back of his own hand. Lips curve into a grin. Softly, he whispers, "I love you."

Megumi's hidden smile reaches his eyes. Unlike the sharp, steel gaze Megumi shows to the world, Megumi's eyes are kinder when looking at Yuuji. Gently, Megumi guides Yuuji's hand away. "Love you too."

An invisible thread tugs at their souls, and draws their bodies in closer. Eager lips meld together. Heavy weariness slides off their Atlas shoulders. Sharing a soft sigh, they teach other how to breathe.

Yuuji curls his fingers into the catastrophe of dark locks. He adores how fluffy Megumi's hair dries after a shower. Raven strands twine around his fingers. Always silky, always defying gravity. Light bleeds through the spaces between Yuuji's fingers, and paints rivulets across Megumi's cheek. Entranced, Yuuji traces along the edge of soft shadows. Once Yuuji reaches the corner of Megumi's mouth, Megumi kisses his fingertips. They trade warm smiles with light reflecting in their eyes.

Megumi rests his hand on the side of Yuuji's face. A calloused thumb brushes over the cheekbone. Megumi touches the mark where Sukuna's eye would open. Some claim these parts to be condemned, unholy, and monstrous. Rather than avoiding these parts of Yuuji, Megumi gives them just as much love. Megumi kisses each mark, then finds his way back to those eagerly waiting lips. The kiss pours honey and liquid gold and promises into mouths yearning for something sweeter, something that won't crumble into ash on their tongues. 

"Yuuji--"

The syllables brush across Yuuji's lips softly. Adoration and reverence shape the sounds. When Megumi murmurs his name, Yuuji's heart sings and throbs at the same time. Yuuji wraps his arms around Megumi, fingers lacing on the back of his neck. There's no resisting the urge to kiss Megumi some more. Yuuji wants to feel that smile against his own, so he never forgets. His back sinks into the bed of deep blue blankets. By now, the fabric carries both of their scents.

Megumi brackets Yuuji with strong arms. In this moment, Megumi is the fortress keeping Yuuji safe, and Yuuji is the hearth keeping Megumi warm. Under the focus of Megumi's intensely fond gaze, Yuuji feels more heat rise onto his cheeks. Yuuji covers his face with a sleeve paw. 

In quiet awe, Megumi watches light vermillion cascade down his partner's neck. It's ridiculous how adorable Yuuji can be. And he does it without being aware. That easy boyish charm, and resilient golden heart surface naturally.

Tonight, Yuuji wears one of Megumi's shirts. Simple white. Collar askew. Few buttons left undone. The shirt's loose on Megumi, so it practically drowns Yuuji. After the first time Yuuji borrowed a sweater, he wears more of Megumi's clothes. Megumi leaves his wardrobe open to his boyfriend. Meanwhile Yuuji gives Megumi his softest hoodies and favorite flannels. In their lives of mayhem and bloodshed, any small comfort is a blessing.

The undone buttons reveal lovely collarbones. Megumi kisses each one. Even with the sleeve over Yuuji's face, it's easy to see glimpses of his burning blush. When Yuuji calls Megumi's name, the sound muffles. But the pure notes of affection still reach Megumi. It gives his heart a reason to stay above ground rather than six feet under. Megumi sneaks a kiss onto Yuuji's hair, then another on the corner of his smile.

Laughter. Joy. Safety. Warmth. Love.

This is what Yuuji deserves.

Megumi wants to give all of that to him.

After a kiss to Yuuji's cheek, Megumi slips out of bed. "Wait here one sec."

Curious, Yuuji sits up. "What is it, babe?" He watches his boyfriend cross the room, and open a desk drawer.

"A surprise."

"Is it...for an occasion?" Yuuji's mind races a mile a minute, frantically flipping through a mental calendar. It's not their anniversary, or a holiday. Did he forget another important date?

"Love, I can hear you thinking all the way from here." Megumi glances over his shoulder. There's a hint of an amused smile. "Relax. You didn't forget anything." Megumi turns his gaze back to the drawer. "I just wanted to surprise you. That's all."

"I-- What?" Yuuji's voice strangles. He fights the impulse to throw a pillow at Megumi. "Who taught you to be such a romantic?"

"No one." Even with a simple exhale, the sound of happiness carries in Megumi's voice. "I don't need to be taught to love you. I just do it."

Yuuji's hand reaches for the pillow. Instead of hurling it at his absurdly sweet, devoted boyfriend, Yuuji hugs the pillow to his chest. Maybe this will calm his elated heart that's performing aerial flips. At least, Yuuji isn't the only one who's flustered. He sees red touch Megumi's ears. Squeezing the pillow, Yuuji smiles into the fabric.

After rummaging through the drawer, Megumi finds what he's searching for. He goes still except for fingers brushing along the object's contour. With a slow inhale, Megumi closes the drawer, then returns to bed.

"The other day when I was running an errand, I saw this, and thought of us--" Megumi clears his throat. Shyness flickers as his eyes dart elsewhere. "Yeah. Here." Megumi passes over a black case.

Chest seizing with warmth, Yuuji sets the pillow aside. The square black case fits in his hand. Yuuji's heart pounds almost deafeningly in his ears. He holds the opposite of Pandora's box. Rather than all of the universe's suffering trapped in this box, Yuuji feels the warm pulse of everything good. "Megumi, what-..." Yuuji's voice trails off as he opens the lid.

Matching pendants.

One silver. One gold.

The pendants are small, thin rectangles. Each one is engraved on the surface. When touching side-by-side, the engravings create a radiant starburst. It resembles the North Star that Megumi points out at night. With a smile in his voice, Megumi takes Yuuji's hand, and guides his finger along the dark skies. It's breathtaking how Yuuji stands under the same sky all his life, but everything looks extraordinarily new with Megumi by his side.

"Oh--" A tsunami wave crashes into Yuuji, and renders him breathless. Tears burn the edges of glimmering brown eyes. For a boy who fights monsters with his bare, clenched hands, Yuuji feels that his skin is too rough, too damned to hold something so precious. It's reminiscent of holding Megumi's hand, or exploring the rest of his body. But as Yuuji touches the engravings on the pendants, the ugliness swarming under his skin hushes into silence.

Out of habit, Yuuji lightly gnaws at the inside of his cheek. But tears don't recede. His fingertips lightly brush over the gold and silver. "They're so beautiful." Yuuji's lungs don't feel vast enough to hold all this overwhelming joy. Colors and shapes glitter as Yuuji blinks through tears. "Thank you, Megumi."

"I'm glad you like it." With a relieved smile, Megumi kisses Yuuji's forehead. "You can choose which one you want."

After a thoughtful moment, Yuuji takes the silver pendant. His eyes flare with thrilling, bright light. "This one!" Yuuji declares with a proud smile. "Because the moon was out on the night you protected me!"

A torrid ache swells in Megumi's chest. Oxygen rushing inside fuels the inferno. Rib bones tremble. The ache crescendoes with a whirlwind of emotions. Their first encounter used to haunt Megumi, trapping him in bed with guilt-fueled panic attacks. If they didn't meet, if Yuuji wasn't trying to protect Megumi, if Yuuji didn't eat Sukuna's finger, if Yuuji didn't trade his life for Megumi's---

Yuuji spends sleepless nights with Megumi, teaches him how to breathe again, and whispers, 'I will always choose you. Over and over. I'll never regret you, Megumi.' The tormenting memories and anxious questions blossom into something kinder. With Yuuji laying beside him, Megumi doesn't incinerate in the sweltering crucible of his own mind. Instead he forges the resolve to swear his life to this boy, to do everything in his power to protect him, to give him a reason to smile.

Megumi touches the side of Yuuji's face. "We protected each other." His body still carries scars from that night's battle. Megumi doesn't regret a single mark.

Leaning in, Megumi kisses his partner softly. Yuuji lets out something between a content sigh and breathless laughter. Megumi adores the gentle vibrations.

Yuuji pecks Megumi's cheek, then holds out the pendant. Amber lamp light catches on the silver. Reflecting rays give the pendant a brilliant shine, and ward away nearby shadows. "Can you help me with this?"

"Of course, love." Megumi takes the thin, yet strong chain. He reaches around Yuuji's neck, and clasps on the necklace. 

While playing with the pendant, Yuuji grows more radiant. Yuuji wonders if there's something supernatural infused into the silver. But there's no need for magic here. Megumi's love is already more than enough, electrifying Yuuji's neurons one by one, igniting him with the magnificent force of a supernova.

"I love it!" Beaming, Yuuji throws his arms around Megumi. He nearly tackles his boyfriend onto his back. Lips brush over the curve of Megumi's ear. "Just like how I love you."

The words are whispered like Yuuji's happiest secret. But it's a secret the entire world knows. Whether it's a smile just for Megumi during a meeting, or Yuuji shouting his affections for Megumi across the street-- Yuuji loves Megumi loudly, boldly, proudly. In his own way, Megumi screams to the universe that he's in love with this boy-- kissing him in the middle of a crowded street, standing before him in the crossfire of battle, and declaring, 'He's my partner. I'll follow him anywhere.'

Megumi turns his head to steal another kiss. "I love you too." He holds out the matching gold necklace. "Can you put this on me?"

"Yeah!" Yuuji takes the jewelry. Excitement glows in summer sienna eyes. He latches it onto Megumi, then gasps with a smile. "It looks so good on you!"

Megumi thanks his boyfriend with a kiss. He feels the gold charm between his fingers. Once the pendant falls against his chest, a sense of returning home reverberates. Megumi caresses Yuuji's cheek with the back of his fingers.

A quiet moment passes while Megumi indulges in relearning Yuuji. Every curve, every angle, down to the fibre of his being-- Megumi wants to capture it all in memory. Yuuji feels so real, so alive. As Yuuji leans into his hand, Megumi feels that garden burst with vibrant wildflowers, spilling over the edges, yearning for more daylight. Megumi's voice barely rises above a whisper, but the words still ring clearly.

"I'm so grateful that you exist."

Yuuji's heart abruptly halts. But tears continue to well in his eyes. So does the shade of red sweeping over his face. Heart and mind clash. Yuuji's body can't decide whether to cry or laugh. In the end, Yuuji melts into a wrecked mess of emotions. "You- I--! Fushiguro Megumi--!"

With a flustered outcry, Yuuji pins Megumi on his back. Megumi lets out a startled, yet delighted laugh. Grinning playfully, Yuuji straddles his boyfriend, and leans in closer. Megumi's eyes fall shut. The air between them crackles with glowing embers. As their lips touch, a wildfire erupts. It's both vicious and gentle in nature. The fire scorches away dead thorns, and beckons the boys home.

Megumi's hand glides under the back of Yuuji's shirt. White fabric ripples and falls over Megumi's forearm. His palm runs over strong, honed planes of muscle. As Yuuji presses flush against him, Megumi feels that beloved heartbeat. The kiss deepens. Yuuji reaches under his partner's sweater. Worship sears through every caress. Megumi's breath hitches. He leans into the welcomed warmth of that palm.

A phantom tremor sparks at the ends of Yuuji's fingertips. Once realizing Yuuji's tracing his scars, Megumi kisses him harder. Silently whispering, 'It's okay. I'm here. I'm with you.' Unlike Yuuji whose wounds can heal with Sukuna's help (if he feels like it), Megumi's mortal as any other human. Megumi doesn't remember living in an unmarred body. Ghost lines. Fractured spiderwebs. Endless remnants of mutilation. There's no beauty in this wreckage. Yuuji feels the scar tissue on Megumi's torso. Jagged. Twisted. Spreading like a lightning strike splitting the sky open. A near fatal wound.

Megumi holds Yuuji closer, kissing until their lips almost bruise. Slowly, the tremor in Yuuji's hand quells. He melts against Megumi. Yuuji's sob dissolves into breathless laughter. Megumi smiles into the kiss, just to get a taste of that innocent joy. This love coursing through them is purer than water, and its depths run infinitely.

The kiss breaks once lungs demand air. Megumi's eyes remain closed while he catches his breath, and lets go of the albatross around his neck. Megumi plays with tufts of soft hair. His breathing matches the rise and fall of Yuuji's shoulders.

A voice shatters the silence.

It's a voice that belongs to neither of them.

"You know this isn't going to end well, right?"

Even in the darkness of closed eyes, Megumi knows who's speaking. The question is simple, yet shakes him to the core. Those words grow talons, curling around Megumi's organs in a vice grip, scratching at his body from the inside. The poison in his veins multiplies tenfold. His fingers itch with the compulsion to claw at his flesh, and dig out hordes of starving parasites. Megumi draws in a measured breath, then opens his eyes.

His gaze is returned by four piercing red hues. 

"Hello, Sukuna."

"My kitten is polite as ever," Sukuna drawls in amusement. One arm rests easily over Megumi's chest. He props himself up on the other elbow. Fingers languidly play with locks of wild midnight hair. "And sweet. Romantic. Devoted." Sukuna's dark nails trace the sharp jawline. Vermillion eyes flicker. "You're too good for that puppy. Even he knows it."

Once reaching Megumi's throat, Sukuna draws an invisible horizontal line. How easily Sukuna can slit the boy's neck with a single nail. But Megumi's pulse doesn't jump even the slightest. With something more lethal than a knife on his throat, Megumi chuckles.

"I'd say it's the other way around." Megumi grins wryly. "Yuuji's too good for me."

"He's weak." Sukuna's nail presses just enough to spark a flicker of pain. But not enough to break skin. "And without me, he's nothing."

"He's strong." Megumi doesn't break his gaze away. "And Yuuji has always been more than enough."

Humming, Sukuna scrapes at Megumi's throat. The scratches are mere whispers against pale skin. On most people, not even a shadow will be left behind. But within seconds, red lines raise in the aftermath. The red vanishes over minutes. No evidence. No crime scene. After discovering how Megumi's skin is highly sensitive, Sukuna draws and writes on him almost obsessively. It's even more fascinating than lacerating the boy's flesh, and marring him with permanent scars.

Sukuna etches constellation lines on the expanse of Megumi's throat, shoulders and clavicles. Red lines raise to compose monsters and fallen heroes. With his eyes on Megumi's pendant, Sukuna asks, "Why do you love him?"

Quiet pours into the bedroom. Megumi already knows the answer. But he's curious about why Sukuna's asking these questions. It's bewildering when Sukuna isn't seeking to amuse himself by fucking over Yuuji and Megumi. There's no spiteful, ulterior intention here. Just...genuine confusion?

Ochre light casts abstract shadows upon the walls and ceiling. Megumi studies their amorphous contours. "I used to not understand why I love him," Megumi admits honestly. "I lived by a very strict set of rules."

Sukuna quirks a brow. "Such as?"

"Don't get emotionally invested," Megumi recites matter-of-factly. He may as well be reading from a memorized handbook. "The less I feel, the less everything will hurt."

"Everything? What's everything?" Sukuna scoffs with eyes narrowing. Fingers drum an impatient arpeggio on Megumi's collarbone. "You're being quite cryptic tonight."

Megumi laughs. It hardly conceals the fragile cracks in his voice. "Everything as in--" He strains a smile at the bedroom shadows. The heaviness in his chest begins to calcify. A reservoir of unshed tears simmer behind Megumi's eyes. "When you lose someone. When you can't save someone."

Silence trickles into the space between them. Like an ocean tide, it steadily rises until washing over everything. Anyone else may be unnerved by Sukuna not seizing every chance to hear himself talk. This is a golden opportunity to sink venomous fangs into Megumi's wounds, and gnaw at tired bone marrow. Poorly done sutures fall apart to leave Megumi exposed.

But over time, Megumi and Yuuji learn that Sukuna has moments of just listening. Revealing so many cards to the King of Curses may be a death wish. Sukuna already has the means to slaughter them. Perhaps he's biding his time. Or perhaps Sukuna has a caricature of a heart.

Megumi traces the dark markings on Sukuna's body. He can draw them from memory. So can Yuuji. When he's with Sukuna in the Malevolent Shrine, Yuuji maps out the lines and curves. Subtly, Sukuna leans into the touch.

After returning to the first traced line, Megumi rediscovers his voice.

"I've lived by these rules for so long. It's hard to remember any other way of existing." The dark curve on Sukuna's chest leads Megumi to the silver pendant. "But the rules were destroyed when Yuuji crashed into my life." Breathless laughter shakes Megumi. There's not a single resentful note. Only awe and fondness. "Everything I lived by didn't work anymore. I was thrown back to square one."

"Isn't that frustrating?" Sukuna keeps his eyes on Megumi, even while the boy's looking at the pendant.

"Oh, sure. Relearning how to experience real emotions-- or more like, learning how to let myself feel again, that it's okay, that I'm strong enough for it--" Megumi exhales shakily. "It was fucking Hell." Shaking his head, Megumi's smile grows. "And it's one of the best things that happened." Subconsciously, Megumi plays with his own pendant. The smooth metal warms between calloused fingers. "Yuuji reminded me that I have a heart. And that having a heart isn't weakness."

"Not when it's your heart." Sukuna rests his hand resting over Megumi's chest. A rough edge serrates his voice. "Often I wonder how your heart would beat in my hand."

Sukuna can literally pry apart Megumi's ribcage, and rip out the vital organ. It's so close to reality that Megumi can viscerally imagine his bones splintering, his insides avalanching onto the ground, his entire being unraveling into raw, glistening carnage. Sukuna can torture and murder Megumi in countless creative ways. Anyone else would cower in fear, or at least, bare their teeth.

Megumi laughs.

It's not ugly, sardonic laughter. It's warm, bright, and full of life. The rich sound softens the audience of shadows, and invites a gentle, kind atmosphere.

Sukuna appears startled, then confused, then halfway towards fond, then settles for being grim. His hand remains on Megumi's heart. The sheer heat of Sukuna's palm almost burns Megumi. But it doesn't compare with the firestorm of emotions in crimson eyes.

"You really want to waste your love on him? One way or another, he's going to die."

The words lack any mocking snarl. For once, Sukuna doesn't sculpt his words to be cruel. He's only stating a cruel truth. If not anything, there's incredulity bristling at the edges of Sukuna's voice. His fingers curl into Megumi's shirt, digging into the fabric, almost stabbing him.

Megumi blinks. He feels a phantom tremor reminiscent of what he feels from Yuuji. As Sukuna grips tighter, pain flickers across Megumi's skin. He doesn't fight it. He breathes through it. Just like how he breathes through the overwhelming grief climbing out of his graveyard chest.

With an unfading smile, Megumi whispers, "I know Yuuji's going to die."

Megumi knows. Everyone knows. Even Yuuji knows. The suspended execution is borrowed time. Whenever Megumi looks at Yuuji, hears his voice, or even thinks about him-- Megumi grows more aware of the invisible guillotine hovering above.

He doesn't know which is worse: being haunted by the loss of a loved one? Or being haunted by that approaching, inevitable end?

Will it be tomorrow? A week from now? Three years later?

Today?

Megumi exhales. 

He doesn't fight the sob that chases after air leaving his lungs.

"This--" Megumi touches Yuuji's matching pendant. "--will never be a regret. I'll always choose him." Megumi smiles through the rising wave of tears, and the piercing thorns of grief. "After Yuuji dies, I'll still love him."

Sukuna's gaze darkens. Vermillion incinerates into a black void. His nails threaten to tear apart fabric. "Humans say that loss of a loved one is worse than any physical injury."

"Yes." Megumi's hand drifts down to Yuuji's chest. Right where Sukuna tore out the boy's heart. Megumi closes his eyes. His mind vividly replays the spliced film reel of Yuuji collapsing. Dying. Megumi still feels the echoes of Yuuji hitting the ground deep in his chest. "I've been through it."

After Yuuji's death, the world doesn't merely tilt on its axis. Everything within Megumi halts-- except pain. When the sun falls below the horizon, panic attacks and night terrors paralyze him. During daylight, Megumi runs on auto-pilot. He clings onto the armor of stoicism, and throws himself into work.

Only rarely does Megumi's heart flicker to life. Such as when Megumi offers a shoulder for Kugisaki to lean on, and lets her silent tears dampen his uniform. Or when Megumi pays his respects to Yuuji's grandfather. He kneels before the framed photo, and apologizes for not protecting his precious grandson. Sometimes, Megumi doesn't feel he can stand up, or even lift his head to look at the photo. Tears stain the ground. Megumi grieves only with spirits and shadows bearing witness.

Even after Yuuji returns, the hauntings don't end. It's not Yuuji's fault. It's the nature of trauma-- merciless, insatiable, unforgiving. There are moments when Megumi watches Yuuji, and a freight train of grief slams into him. Obliterates all of his bones. Replays memories of Yuuji dying in the past, and conjures ways of Yuuji dying in the future. Even while Yuuji's alive in the present, Megumi mourns.

Earlier today, Yuuji excitedly chats with Gojou and Nanami. Laughing loudly, drawing shapes in the air with his hands, smiling so damned bright. Cynicism slides off Gojou, and leaves room for a sincere, genuine grin. Nanami's hard edges soften, and fondness warms his gaze. That's just what Yuuji does-- he helps people feel comfortable with themselves, so they can experience joy again.

Megumi watches from afar, forgetting how to breathe as he thinks someday he'll never hear Yuuji's laughter, or see Yuuji's gesturing hands, or find his missing charcoal sweater on Yuuji, or think of Yuuji while browsing the markets, or feel the warmth of Yuuji's surprise back hugs, or wake up next to Yuuji in the morning.

The world blurs as Megumi furiously blinks back tears. He doesn't dare to breathe when an inhale might break into a sob. As Gojou and Nanami catch Megumi staring, they give silent, pained looks. Standing beside him, Kugisaki touches Megumi's arm.

But nothing wounds like the moment Yuuji sees Megumi. Yuuji's entire being lights up with a smile. It's a smile that screams boundless adoration and love. While shrapnel pieces of Megumi's heart chip away, he returns the smile. Yuuji tackles him with a hug. His laughter scintillates like sparklers during summer nights. Megumi embraces him tightly, and silently pleads for no traitorous tears. He doesn't want Yuuji to see him shadow boxing against ghosts that can't be exorcised.

This boy is so brave, so compassionate, so beautiful. Megumi loves him more everyday. And everyday Megumi is closer to losing him.

But next time, Yuuji won't come back.

Sukuna's eyes show no remorse. It's tempting to tear out Yuuji's heart again, and pulverize it within his clenching fist. Or if not something so fatal, then maybe scratch an ugly line down Yuuji's face.

"You're more in love with the boy than when he first died." Sukuna catches Megumi's throat in his hand. It's not a choking hold. Only a steady grasp. His thumb presses over Megumi's pulse. "Can you survive losing him again?"

Megumi looks right at Sukuna. As Megumi smiles, tears brim the ocean hues. "I'm not running away from Yuuji. Or giving up on him." The declaration isn't only spoken to Sukuna. But to the universe Hellbent on setting odds against two boys in love. "He's worth the pain. The heartbreak. The grief." With his whole heart, and a shattering sob, Megumi says, "Yuuji is worth everything."

Finally, tears spill over. Megumi can breathe again. Vulnerability washes over him to soothe third-degree burns. The light in his gaze doesn't diminish. It flares brighter.

"I don't know what kind of death Yuuji will face." Megumi tries to memorize the boy's heartbeat under his palm. "All I know is that he won't die alone. I'll be right there with him."

A hand reaches towards Megumi's face, and brushes away his tears. Megumi blinks in surprise. Sukuna lingers for a fleeting moment. Like passing shadows, crimson eyes and dark marks recede.

The hand on Megumi's face presses upon his cheek. Silently, slowly, Megumi's heart unravels while watching Yuuji surface. Raw anguish strickens Yuuji. Cascading tears fall to burn onto Megumi's face. Hard, ugly sobs shake Yuuji's body. His voice collapses under the immeasurable weight of heartbreak.

"Megumi, I--" A sob strangles Yuuji's vocal chords. Guilt ruthlessly wracks him. His other hand grips tightly at Megumi's shirt. The golden pendant catches in his palm, fingers threading around the chain. "I don't want to hurt you."

Megumi isn't sure if Sukuna purposefully made Yuuji listen to the conversation, or if Yuuji chose to do it. Before Megumi has a chance to say anything, Yuuji gasps on another sob. It echoes the sound of a fist slamming into his abdomen, or a blade piercing between rib bones. Yuuji struggles to breathe while swallowing rusted nails. Broken glass cuts at the inside of his mouth. There's no room for air. Each failed inhale floods withering lungs with corrosive acid.

The staggered rhythm of Yuuji's breathing careens towards hyperventilation. Even a potential panic attack. Hushing him softly, Megumi catches Yuuji's wrists. Megumi gets erratic brown eyes to lock with his.

"Yuuji, breathe with me."

Megumi sets the pace of every inhale and exhale. Slow and steady. Just like how Yuuji breathes with Megumi when his anxiety spikes. It takes Yuuji a couple of tries until the skipping gasps smooth out. Gradually, Yuuji's lungs return to a relaxed pace. His heart doesn't feel like it's going to implode from overdrive. As exhaustion bulldozes over Yuuji, he collapses against Megumi.

"I'm sorry-" Tears escape through Yuuji's tightly closed eyes. Earthquake tremors rattle his bones. "I'm sorry, Megumi--" Another anguished sob runs ragged. "I'm so sorry-"

Megumi kisses his partner's temple. "You have nothing to apologize for." He dries Yuuji's damp face gently. It's a struggle to steady his voice while pain holds Yuuji hostage. "This isn't your fault."

"And it's not yours either." Yuuji holds Megumi's face in his hands. Although Megumi tries avoiding his gaze, Yuuji forces his partner to look at him. "I need you to know that, Megumi."

Tears melt everything in Megumi's vision with a Gaussian blur. It's almost impossible to see Yuuji. Megumi suffocates from a maelstrom of harrowing emotions. Grief. Anxiety. Heartbreak. Terror. Guilt.

But all of that pales in the light of Yuuji's heart. His compassion, his devotion, his love lacerate deeper than any wound. The built-up, festering poison begins to seep out. Megumi leans into his partner's touch. One by one, his fingers circle around Yuuji's wrist.

"I love you." Megumi presses a kiss onto Yuuji's hand. A stray tear trickles down into the heart line. "I'll always love you."

Yuuji chases after the tear with his lips, then kisses Megumi softly. "I love you too. Gosh, Megumi, I love you so fucking much, I--" He laughs. Despite trying to keep his voice warm, the laughter sounds too brittle. Yuuji rests his forehead against Megumi's. In a barely audible voice, he confesses, "I'm scared."

Megumi doesn't think his heart can break anymore tonight. But nothing pierces like a loved one gasping that they're afraid. Helplessness mutates into rage then burns out into despair. Megumi can hardly breathe. He can't even let out a noise. 

But Megumi can still reach out, and rest his hand on the side of Yuuji's face. Enough tears leave his eyes for Megumi to see his partner clearly. Yuuji takes his time kissing Megumi's fingertips. With a kiss to each finger, the anguish builds and overflows from Yuuji.

"I used to be afraid of only dying," Yuuji confesses between heavier sobs. "But now I'm scared of leaving you. Again. And having you go through so much pain. I-" Yuuji buries his face into Megumi's neck and shoulder. A sob bleeds through the sweater. Shaking hands grasp at Megumi. "I don't want to die- oh, god, I-- I don't want to die--"

Megumi doesn't feel his own tears anymore. He spends most of his life contemplating death. Megumi goes to bed terrified of the arriving sun, and wakes up fighting to stay alive.

And here's Yuuji-- wanting so badly to live.

There are words Megumi will not say out loud:

It's not fair.

It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not fucking fair. Why does someone good as Itadori Yuuji have to suffer? To die? Why couldn't they meet sooner? Why couldn't they meet under kinder circumstances? Why is the end already so near?

"I want-" Yuuji sobs into the pulse in Megumi's neck. Fingers curl into his shirt, clutching so tightly that skin stretches taut white over his knuckles. "I want to live longer with you."

Megumi rests his hand on Yuuji's cheek. While wiping away tears, Megumi presses his lips against soft hair. He doesn't say how there's always the chance that Megumi will die first. In their line of work, living to see tomorrow is never guaranteed.

But when Megumi sees the wavering in terrified brown eyes, he knows Yuuji has already reflected on this. Megumi isn't the only one that's haunted. He catches a few more tears, then whispers:

"Today, we're together." 

It's a phrase that's grown into a mantra. They gasp the words while holding each other at night, bodies shaking from unrelenting anxiety and nightmares. They shout the words after running in the rain, finding shelter under a store's awning, lacing fingers tightly, breathless laughter ringing in their ears. They burn the words into each other's skin, hungry mouths mapping out stars with love bites, trembling hands grasping at hope, reminding each other and themselves that they are here, they are real, and they are together.

With a smile, Yuuji echoes the words back. He tries to keep the smile. But reopened wounds bring out more tears. Megumi kisses him before Yuuji can apologize. Tears are welcome here.

Megumi pulls Yuuji into his arms. Despite how drained his body feels, Yuuji cries harder. Megumi tightens the embrace. His hand draws slow, soothing circles on Yuuji's back. Megumi murmurs three words. Along with Yuuji's name. It sounds reverent and adoring as ever.

Between sweet words, Yuuji catches the faintest tremor in Megumi's voice. Yuuji means to kiss him gently. But Yuuji surges in violently, his heart demanding him to pour love into every fracture, every wound, every atom in this stunning, courageous boy.

Amidst the collision of their lips, Yuuji discovers that his name tastes pure on Megumi's tongue. Yuuji kisses Megumi deeply, fiercely. When giving love, Yuuji's an untamed force of nature that grows more chaotic. Heavy, smothering armor casts aside. Seeking hands discover pure skin that's been buried under metal and blood and grief.

Starving for anything Yuuji will give, Megumi parts his lips as an invitation. A broken sob spills into Megumi's open mouth. Megumi softens the razor edges by returning the kiss. Tears catch at the corners of their mouths. They don't shy away from the sharpness. Just like how they kiss harder, almost brutally when surviving another battle. The metallic copper of blood is familiar in their lover's mouth. But so is the light sweetness of milk tea, the gentle vibrations of laughter, and something that's uniquely them.

Yuuji burns a blazing path down his partner's jawline, then his throat. Megumi's breath stutters. Dilating pupils swallow the sea storm hues until there's only a thin ring of vibrant color. His fingers curl into the crisp white of Yuuji's shirt. Megumi struggles to keep his eyes open. He jolts at Yuuji's tongue flickering across his skin. White hot affection stakes claim on Megumi from the inside, and exterminates the parasites in his veins. His heartbeat quickens to a hummingbird tempo.

"Yuuji."

"Yeah, babe?"

"Mark me." Megumi guides Yuuji's head closer. His exhale fractures with yearning. "I want them to be seen. Pleas-"

Megumi's voice chokes when Yuuji attacks his throat. Surrender has never felt so kind. Yuuji dives in violently, mouth clamping onto soft skin. His hand cradles Megumi's head to hold him steady. It's just the right kind of possessiveness-- blistering hot at the edges with tenderness at its core. Growling, Yuuji claims the precious pulse in his partner's jugular vein. Every subtle move strikes Megumi intensely, reaching into his soul, reminding him that he's not hollow, he's not a living cemetery, he's infinitely more than what haunts him.

Opening his eyes, Megumi's blood runs cold. He sees the guillotine. Its lethal blade gleams tauntingly.

Yuuji grabs Megumi's face, and turns his partner's gaze towards him. An electrifying fissure shoots down Megumi's spine. He sees deep, rich darkness swallowing beloved browns. He sees the lamp light catching at the ends of Yuuji's hair. Pink strands burn gold. The light leads back to Yuuji's eyes scorching with fierce protectiveness.

That defiant gaze has ensnared Megumi, since the first time they fought for each other. It shouts a war cry against the notion of fate and star-crossed lovers and tragedies. Such ideas have no place here. Ghosts and guillotines lurk in Megumi's peripheral, but by gods-- he can't take his eyes off this boy.

"I'm here." Yuuji kisses Megumi with every intent of rendering him breathless. "I'm right here with you, darling."

That precious name undoes Megumi even more. His shaky sob grows into shy laughter. Yuuji grins while watching Megumi blush so pretty. More pet names follow with kisses. After pulling off Megumi's shirt, Yuuji worships the bare skin with his gaze, his lips, his hands. Megumi gasps at how alive he feels in his own body.

While creating marks, Yuuji is absolutely brutal. Harsh lips, grazing teeth, stifled growls. Love bites bury the battle ground of scars. This ferocious affection is only something Megumi witnesses, and it enthralls him to no end. He bares his throat in silent plea for more. As Yuuji hungrily kisses under his jaw, Megumi curls a hand in rose gold locks. He hisses out colorful swears in-between Yuuji's name and endearing phrases.

Every word, every touch, every atom of Megumi sparks a live wire in Yuuji. Oh, how Yuuji wants this boy. He wants Megumi to look only at him. Not at Death that hovers behind Yuuji's shoulders. He wants to protect Megumi. But too often when they embrace, Yuuji sees a single arrow piercing both of them.

'We can burn the world down for him,' Sukuna murmurs in Yuuji's mind. 'Make sure nothing hurts him again.'

Yuuji buries his face into the strong, broad chest. His hands follow the contour of Megumi's sides, then rest at clusters of scars. 'That's tempting, but--' Gaze flickering up, Yuuji sees Megumi smile softly. Yuuji leans in to kiss him. 'The world can still be a beautiful place. I want him to see the sky tomorrow.' As Yuuji deepens the kiss, he feels Megumi's fingers draw shapes on his back. They perfectly align with where Sukuna's marks would appear. 'And you too, Sukuna.'

In Yuuji's mind, Sukuna falls silent. A sudden wave of emotions rush over Yuuji. Tears well in his eyes. Yuuji laughs breathlessly into the hollow above Megumi's collar bone. He revels in the few tears that escape.

After sculpting rouge blemishes onto Megumi's skin, Yuuji follows up with tenderness. His tongue soothes the delicious burn by tracing the edges of marks. A few playful nips sneak in. The onslaught of affection melts Megumi into oblivion. Shades of deep crimson paint down Megumi's neck, spilling over his collarbones, touching his shoulders. 

"Megumi--" Yuuji tilts his head, and bares his throat. "I need you-"

Swiftly, Megumi pins Yuuji on his back. Power and elegance charge the fluid motion. Megumi viciously catches Yuuji's neck in his mouth, and rips out a sob. The human language crumbles until Yuuji can only gasp Megumi's name. Megumi drinks in every cherished sound.

Without taking his mouth away from a blossoming mark, Megumi deftly undoes the remaining shirt buttons. White fabric parts to reveal toned muscles and graceful lines. His gaze drifts to Yuuji's open, vulnerable eyes. Megumi wraps a hand around that scarlet painted throat.

Looking right into Yuuji's eyes, Megumi says, "You're so fucking beautiful."

Yuuji's eyes widen. He feels each word brand onto his skin, along the five points of Megumi's fingers. Another kiss devours Yuuji's wrecked voice that's halfway between a sob and his partner's name. Megumi spreads touches with his lips and hands. An inhale sharply cuts Yuuji. A realization dawns on him: Megumi remembers every place he's been wounded. 

Tears blur Yuuji's gaze. Light and darkness dancing on the ceiling melt together. Yuuji isn't a stranger to people seeing him as an overdue expiration date. He's an object, a weapon, a sacrificial lamb. Not a human being. Not a person. The label 'Sukuna's vessel' leaves people's mouths more than his birth name.

But as Megumi marks above his heart, Yuuji grips his name like a life line. 'Itadori Yuuji,' he whispers inside. 'Yuuji.' His voice grows louder with fearlessness. 'My name is Itadori Yuuji.' Every mark etches Yuuji's name deeper.

Yuuji's fingers tighten in midnight hair, encouraging Megumi to ruin him with more crimson. Lightning white explodes as Megumi's mouth strikes his neck. The grazing teeth sinks Yuuji into bliss. Yuuji caresses the rise and fall of Megumi's vertebrae. 

Teeth tear away from Yuuji's throat, so Megumi can kiss his wrist. Megumi takes his time painting Yuuji's forearm with hickeys. Faint bite marks accent the rouge. Every now and then, Yuuji stares too long at his hand, agonizing over whether it's actually there or not. It was mercilessly hacked off, then regrown.

But what about the rest of this body? Is he truly here? Is he alive? Is he real?

Or is this a cruel joke?

How do ghosts know that they're dead?

'You're here,' Megumi sears the truth into Yuuji's skin with a love bite. 'You're real,' another blemish spells out across the veins of Yuuji's wrist. 'You're alive,' whispers the mark blossoming over his heart. 'And you're loved,' Megumi promises with a smile against Yuuji's lips.

Somewhere between trading marks, Megumi feels an index fingernail on his skin. Curves. Lines. Shapes. Symbols. Megumi wonders if Yuuji's aware that Sukuna is marking him too. He muses on what Sukuna is writing. It's an unknown language. At least, Megumi recognizes the patterns of constellations.

The only repeated gesture is a horizontal line across the back of Megumi's throat. Continuing the invisible line from earlier. Completing the circle. Just like how Sukuna drags his nail on Yuuji's throat when he fully takes over.

Megumi's train of thought breaks as Yuuji calls his name. His first name used to be an empty, dead thing. But Yuuji's voice brings it to life. Megumi worships a sensitive area right under Yuuji's jaw. As Yuuji melts, he lets out a symphony that Megumi gets too carried away by.

"Oh-" Megumi's breathless while taking in the sight of Yuuji. "That's-" His thumb brushes over the newest mark. Not even Yuuji's uniform collar and hood will conceal that. 

"I want them seen too." Grinning, Yuuji tilts his head to show more of the love bite. He's absolutely preening.

Megumi lightly kisses the mark, then a dozen more. Giggling, Yuuji tries to hide his face. Fits of laughter break out as Megumi aggressively nuzzles his boyfriend. Yuuji plays with the golden pendant hanging around Megumi's neck. 

As if sharing another happy secret, Yuuji whispers, "I still like thinking about our future." His smile brings out the light in brown eyes. "I can even see it!"

"Yeah?" Megumi laughs softly, then kisses that adorable dimple. "What do you see?"

"Pancakes!" Yuuji answers with a cheerful nod. "I'm making you pancakes in the morning. Well. Kinda." Grinning sheepishly, he ducks his head. "I'm not that great at flipping pancakes-- But that's okay! You'll help with that part, right?" Yuuji gives Megumi a hopeful look.

"Of course. Can't have you spilling pancake batter all over the stove." With his signature deadpan, Megumi emphasizes, "Again."

Megumi's expression breaks into a smile when Yuuji playfully shoves him. With growing laughter, they wrestle for fun. Yuuji throws a pillow at his boyfriend. Megumi easily punches it across the room. He pins Yuuji's wrists down on the bed, and showers him with kisses.

"What else do you see?" Megumi brushes his nose against Yuuji's cheek.

"I see us helping people. Making the world a little safer," Yuuji answers with a warm smile. "And oh, maybe we even help train some students! Y'know, when we become badass upperclassmen someday. And..." Yuuji's eyes dart away shyly. Quieter, he admits, "I see us going on more dates."

Megumi runs his hand through Yuuji's hair. "Who says we can't go on a date now?"

Yuuji blinks. "Babe, it's almost midnight."

"Not this exact moment." Megumi laughs in endearment. "We're off this weekend, so maybe then?"

Ecstatic, Yuuji's eyes brighten. "Really?!" He flops on top of Megumi, pinning the other boy on his back. Yuuji's chest heaves with a delighted wheeze. "You and me-- a date?"

"Mmhm." Megumi goes from giving headpats to scratching behind Yuuji's ear. "Long overdue for an actual tour of Tokyo. And don't worry, I won't surprise you with a decrepit building full of curses."

Yuuji laughs. The innocent sound is brighter than the lamplight. They melt into easy, comfortable silence. Yuuji touches Megumi's face, tracing over the cheekbones, committing everything to memory.

"And--" Yuuji inhales slowly until his lungs fill. "I see something else."

Yuuji reaches for Megumi's left hand. He runs his thumb over the ring finger.

Megumi stares in stunned silence.

"I know, I know--" Yuuji laughs under his breath. "We're young, but-" His eyes soften and burn with light at the same time. "We fought for each other. We protected each other. And we're gonna keep doing that. What I know for sure is that I want you by my side, Megumi." Yuuji seals the words with a kiss on Megumi's ring finger. "What I see in the future is us. Together."

Someday, Itadori Yuuji is going to die. 

But in this moment, hope burns so strongly that it quiets the raging terror. Roaring white static doesn't rupture Megumi's ears. All he hears is Yuuji and their matched breathing.

And if Megumi listens a little closer, he can hear the sound of laughter as they explore the city, sleepy good mornings in a new apartment, and whispered three words against matching rings. Throughout this breathtaking symphony, Megumi sees Yuuji smile. It brightens that magnificent, defiant light Megumi fell in love with.

Megumi rests a hand on the back of Yuuji's neck, and draws him in closer. "I see that future too." He strokes over warm, scarlet painted skin. "I love you, Yuuji."

"I love you, too, Megumi." Yuuji rests their foreheads together. "Endlessly."

Megumi lifts their clasped hands, and kisses Yuuji's ring finger. "Infinitely."

As tears grow into laughter, they meet each other in a kiss. Silver and gold pendants touch, burning brilliantly together.