At one-fifty in the morning, Megumi is the only customer in the convenience store.
There’s an old Utada Hikaru song playing from an overhead speaker, more drumbeat than voice under the humming of the commercial refrigerators, but the boy sitting behind the counter, who hadn’t even glanced away from his copy of Shonen Jump when he welcomed Megumi into the store, hums along like he can hear it perfectly.
His voice carries itself down the aisles, try as Megumi might to not pay attention to every lift and dip in it. He feels on edge, alert and tense in that specific way that he only ever gets in a fight against an opponent he knows nothing about, yet around him, the convenience store cannot be more mundane, more silent and still, as he grabs whatever he can bring back with him to school. The first-years will whine and tease him for hours if he doesn’t bring them anything back, though he can’t imagine they’ll be too ecstatic, either, about receiving the same snacks they can just as well buy in a Tokyo convenience store.
By the time Megumi finds it in himself to approach the cashier, the Utada song has faded into silence. Outside, the drizzling from earlier has moved into raining in earnest, the steady pattering drowning out whatever song follows.
Behind the counter, one foot propped on his chair and his left arm resting against it, Itadori Yuuji is engrossed in his Shonen Jump. He’s clutching each end of the magazine as if pulling the two-page spread flatter will push him closer to being in the scene, and it’s the familiarity of this level of immersion, the undeniable Itadori-ness of his open-faced reaction as he flips the page, that finally, finally slaps Megumi with the reality of what he’s doing.
His next inhale doesn’t come at all, knotting itself into a gnarl in his throat. He opens his mouth to try and force it in or out, anything to stop it from becoming painful, and he grips a bag of honey chips into one fist to ground himself, to tear his attention off the way that the shock travels swift and deep and reaches his head in a white-hot burst behind his eyes—but the crackling only serves to drag Itadori out of his distraction.
"Oh—shoot," he hisses, the sound of his voice a serrated blade twisting into Megumi’s side. He’s scrambling to his feet within seconds, the Shonen Jump left on the counter to snap closed at the spine. "I’m so sorry, crap, here, I got it."
Megumi thought he was prepared—he steeled himself before coming here, had even run through at least five different scenarios to help condition his psyche and soften the blow of seeing Itadori again—but none of that preparation works now as Itadori folds himself over the counter to take everything from Megumi’s arms.
He’s taller. Just slightly, no more than a handful of centimeters since the last time he and Megumi stood this close. He continues talking, tone easy and joking—an extended apology, it sounds like, the long-winding kind that Itadori tended to default to in the face of scolding. Once, over a stolen spoonful of Kugisaki’s latte foam while she was still trying to take a picture. Another time for Megumi, after Itadori had watched him look for a sweater in his closet before he finally admitted, an hour later, that he’d in fact been hoarding several pieces of Megumi’s clothing for two weeks already because he didn’t know how the school’s washing machine worked.
He hears echoes of those moments now, but none of Itadori’s actual words get through the way they should, filtered out by a gauze over Megumi’s mind. It’s difficult to breathe, and all Megumi can seem to do is focus on pulling each breath and stuffing in a new one in its place, a manual kind of breathing that only funnels its way into the ache in his lungs.
It’s in the middle of scanning the last bottle of green tea that Itadori properly looks up. Eye contact with him is a physical, unexpected shock, a crunch of imaginary static snapping through Megumi and leaving his hands twitching at his sides.
"Hey." Itadori blinks, wide and earnest. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
The tea sloshes backwards in the bottle he’s holding. Megumi focuses on this until his vision steadies.
"No," he says. "I don’t think so."
Itadori squints at him some more. "What middle school did you go to?"
Megumi manages not to glance away. "Nowhere near here," he says. It comes out curt—but that’s good. That’s what he needs. "I’m not from Miyagi."
Itadori whistles. "What brings you to Sendai, then?"
Half-truth: "School trip."
"Where do you go to school?"
Itadori rattles off the total without looking away from Megumi, but Megumi doesn’t look back this time. He hands over a handful of bills in silence. He waits for the receipt to print in silence. He watches Itadori put the items in a bag in silence. Itadori’s gaze crawls over him, flitting from the bag to the cash machine to Megumi, until it peels itself off to squint out the glass doors of the store instead.
"Hey," he repeats. "Are you gonna go back out there?"
Megumi keeps his eyes fixed hard and resolute on the counter. Mistake. This was a mistake. All he’d wanted was another look, a glance to make sure for himself what he couldn’t last time. No more. No less.
This is so much more than what he wanted, and in being that, so much less than what he wants.
"It’s raining crazy hard now," says Itadori.
"Your uniform’s already damp."
Itadori hands over the bag. Megumi takes it, barely breathing, careful not to let their fingers touch. He doesn’t even notice Itadori duck behind the counter; it’s with rare surprise when he looks up, automatic and unthinking, to Itadori reappearing a second later holding something long and black.
"Here," he says, and takes Megumi’s free hand to push the thing against his palm. It’s a mindless action, as absentminded and void of any deeper intent as the way Itadori pulls back behind the counter, but Megumi’s so stunned out of it for a moment that he folds his fingers without meaning to, skin prickling from where it had touched Itadori. "You don’t have to give it back or anything! No use protesting, either. I’m not getting off until seven in the morning and it will be all sunshine by then. Just take it. Don’t want you getting sick out there."
Megumi stares at his hand until the black lump starts looking like the collapsible umbrella that it is. He stares at the bag in his other hand. Then, finally, he allows himself to stare at Itadori.
His hair’s been trimmed recently, cut close to the skin above the tips of his ears. It makes him look younger under the jagged scar across his forehead, leaves room on his face for a sincere, easy smile and frames a spark to his eyes that Megumi hadn’t seen stay around this vivid and this long since the Shibuya incident. In this one smile, he looks like the Itadori from far, far before, before Sukuna and the Yoshino Junpei case and Shibuya and everything else that followed. The Itadori in the convenience store now is the closest that he’s looked to the fifteen-year-old Itadori standing out in the track field of his Sendai high school in the summer of 2018, throwing a shotput like a baseball and beaming in victory at the heart of a crowd of classmates, not a single idea that in a few hours his grandfather would be dead and he would be the vessel of an all-powerful curse.
He looks, guttingly, like the Itadori that existed before Megumi, reincarnated now in this Itadori that continues to exist after.
"Thank you," Megumi squeezes past the sharpness digging into his throat. He clutches the umbrella tighter. He doesn’t have it in him to protest. He doesn’t have it in him to be here at all. He thought he did, but it’s not the first time he has overestimated himself around Itadori. "Have a good night."
He turns around, Itadori’s eyes heavy on his back. That’s a specific, unchanged sensation; Itadori has never been good at masking his staring, for better or for worse, for whatever reason, but the pull of his lingering gaze on Megumi is a different weight altogether now from a stranger.
"Wait," says Itadori. "I do know you."
Megumi stops. His body locks halfway into a step, foot coming down heavy and robotic as everything underneath his skin grows cold and frozen.
He looks over his shoulder.
Itadori smiles as he snaps his fingers. "You were at the cemetery last month, weren’t you?"
The disappointment is unsurprising—but it still comes with an abrupt wave of nausea, stabbing Megumi right between his ribs and missing his heart by inches. It grazes, leaves a light scrape that stings much more than a strike right in his chest.
He needs to breathe. He needs to vomit. He needs to leave.
"—I recognize your back! I think I bumped into you leaving while I was visiting my grandpa—"
"Must have been someone else," says Megumi, somehow pushing the words out normal and even past the bitter aftertaste in his mouth.
"Oh," says Itadori. "Are you sure—"
"I’m sure." None of Megumi’s limbs feel like they’re his. He tilts his head forward, tears his eyes off Itadori. "I’ll be on my way now."
He allows the closing of the automatic doors to sink whatever Itadori says in reply, if he says anything at all. It’s coming down hard and loud, and Megumi pops open the umbrella once he’s sure he’s out of sight from inside the store.
He makes it down the street and into the nearest alley before he empties his stomach.
On paper, the first visit was an accident.
An administrative mistake by one of the new auxiliary managers, who saw an opportunity when she noticed that Megumi was scheduled for a mission in southern Miyagi on the same day that someone else was slated to report on Itadori Yuuji. By then, it had been half a year since Itadori was a student at Jujutsu Tech, marking a full one since he swallowed the first finger, and in a world that needs so badly to find new footing after the war, to be assured that everything that needs righting has been righted, monitoring Itadori was no more nor no less complicated than a passing exorcism of a Grade 4 curse.
It had been an opportunity to be more efficient. Just someone trying to get her job done. It hadn’t made sense to send two separate people for missions in cities less than two hours apart by train, and so, by accident, only one was sent.
But outside of paperwork and logistics, everyone knows, including Megumi himself, that accident wasn't a perfect label when he’d had plenty of chances to explain the situation. It would have taken no time at all to point out why he hadn’t been assigned to both missions in the first place, to point out that none of the remaining Tokyo Jujutsu Tech students that had been around during the war were ever scheduled to check in on Itadori. Punctuated it with eye contact, maybe, left that to speak for itself. He could have even given the auxiliary manager a nudge in the right direction, could have informed her that the technical reason they write down every month against him and the others is the same one they used to bar them as witnesses in Itadori’s trial: conflict of interest. Far too legal yet far too insufficient, and an auxiliary manager, however new, would have known how little leverage something like that held next to how short-staffed they were, would have been able to put two and two together without Megumi voicing anything himself.
Piecing together understanding from scraps was as close to considerate as the jujutsu world is capable of right now, after all, unintended though that consideration might be. Logistically, the jujutsu world cannot trust the same people who advocated for Itadori after Shibuya to not do the same now even when they shouldn’t; underneath that, however, there are also those who understand, even if they don’t empathize, that it’s one thing for children to know curses and corpses and the rotting taste of death that glues itself to the air around both, and another to wrestle with a living ghost, blood and boy, flesh and heat, yet a phantom echo of a person.
But the people left from that old world are few and far between, and Megumi’s silence was all it took for his assignment to be finalized. He would get a world-weary, conflicted earful about it after, but at the time, he’d finished his first mission in one hour, spent another one shutting down all and any of his mind’s attempts at overthinking, then taken the train from Shiroishi to Sendai.
He’d tracked Itadori to the address provided on the mission brief, catching him on his way out and managing to make discreet, casual work of following him to a nearby flower shop. Even with no cursed energy left at all to him, Itadori was difficult to lose, conspicuous with his pink hair and white t-shirt as he weaved past streetside storefronts to say hello to the elderly women selling produce and skewered food. Voice pellucid and sunny, addressing everyone by name and promising to come back another day to buy something, Itadori’s cheer had been so convincing that Megumi himself hadn’t even realized he was visiting on the exact day of the anniversary until Itadori, bouquet of chrysanthemums in hand, came straight from the florist to the cemetery.
A lifetime ago, Kugisaki had visited Sendai and had been betrayed to find it so metropolitan, bearing little resemblance to the countryside she grew up in and the on-the-fringes background she thought she and Itadori had in common—but this time, that July, Sendai had still been a noticeable touch cooler than Tokyo, less of the sticky humidity of too many people in every given corner and more expanse of sky to breathe above them as Megumi watched Itadori clean his grandfather’s grave, one careful pour of water after another.
Megumi hadn’t had to stay. All he needed was confirmation that the sixteen-year-old civilian Itadori Yuuji remained a non-threat, and he’d gleaned as much within five minutes of following him: the old Itadori would have pinpointed a sorcerer’s presence within that time frame, but this Itadori hadn’t even reacted to a fly head wrapped around the shoulder of a young man waiting at a bus stop, and where Itadori would have once been an easy, happy target for Megumi’s divine dog, he was now untraceable, as invisible to it as an inanimate object would have been.
But Megumi was unable to help staying to watch from a distance as Itadori prayed quietly in the light of the sunset, half of his face hidden in the wisps of smoke coming from the candle and incense in front of him. It was the most serene Megumi had ever seen him, and combined with the realization that this side profile was the closest he’d been to seeing Itadori’s face in full since March—it had been too much, all of a sudden, and Megumi had left before he could have the chance to see any more.
At the time, he called it discipline; he came to do his job and he’d done it, and anything more could not be justified. Now, newly aware that in his ache he’d been so careless that Itadori had noticed him leaving, had been able to observe enough to remember Megumi from his back alone—now, everything about seeing Itadori at the convenience store fresh in his mind, he knows it was cowardice.
The first and only thing Kugisaki says when Megumi opens his bedroom door to her the next morning is, "You’re a massive idiot, Fushiguro."
Her black leather eyepatch is at odds with her pastel blue pajamas, but she makes a severe figure in the doorway nevertheless, arms limp on her sides but hands curled into fists. In them, they hold all the scolding Megumi knows he needs and deserves, but she won’t voice any of it out loud. They never did get into the habit of talking about Itadori in anything but loaded single sentences and even more loaded silences, always with understanding neither of them can articulate but remains stuffed in the in-betweens. Even when Itadori was around; epecially when he wasn’t. So Kugisaki’s anger speaks through her eyes, just as her grief had once spoken through the soundless trembling of her bottom lip, and Megumi lets her have this—because it’s what they do, what they’ve always done, and losing Itadori a second time hasn’t changed any of it.
Megumi leaves the door open behind him. His legs feel like they’re chained to the floor, light if stilted on the lift but lead-heavy and impossible in any attempt to move either one forward, as if all his body wants is to stand in one place until he’s swallowed whole by his own shadows, splashed as they are across the floorboards from the early morning sunlight sneaking in. They lengthen and contract as he makes his way to the bed, waiting, taunting, understanding.
"How did you find out?" he says, voice still hoarse from retching and disuse. He’d gone through two bottles of green tea on the train back, trying to wash out the acid in his mouth, but no amount of chugging had treated the tenderness of the walls of his throat, nor dissolved the bitterness that continues to poke from the back of it. "It’s barely been an hour since I got back."
Kugisaki hesitates in the doorway, casting a long glance down the hall behind her. But Megumi’s only neighbor for at least three blocks of dorm hallways is long gone, and Kugisaki seems to take a long moment to remember this and process it anew all over again. When she does, she loosens her fists, weariness taking over the stiffness of her arms.
"I went to the kitchen just now to get water and saw the snacks you got for the first-years. The receipt says his—the cashier’s name at the top," she says. She glances up to catch Megumi’s eyes briefly, before she juts her chin out the other way, at once pitying and defiant. "I tore it into pieces and threw ‘em all out, don’t worry."
Next to the foot of Megumi’s bed, a suitcase lies open under a folded pile of clothes. He’d been meaning to pack for two months now, but all he’d been able to do so far is empty his drawers of its neat stacks and move them to where he can stare at each one on the floor. He sits on the edge of his bed and starts sorting through the nearest pile.
When he looks again at Kugisaki, he finds her face bare. It’s all there: the part of her that disapproves, the part of her that continues to mourn, the part of her that understands, even the part of her that thinks it both unfair and awful that Megumi saw Itadori. But to call any of these out onto the surface is to confirm that Megumi can only recognize these emotions because he feels them, too, in some part, so instead, he says, "Why?"
"Why did you tear the receipt? You don’t have to hide it. They know I went to see him," says Megumi, quietly. "Though I guess actually talking to him wasn’t part of the mission."
"The mission? They made another mistake?"
"No. I volunteered for it this time."
Kugisaki’s silence is a jagged thing, her voice even more so. "You volunteered."
"And they just let you?"
"No one else was available," says Megumi. "And I was doing another mission close by. Like before."
"Fushiguro," says Kugisaki, all warning and no bite.
Megumi starts dividing the pile of clothes on his lap onto two stacks laid flat across the bed.
The assignment this time had in fact been nowhere near Sendai, farther west instead where the Ou Mountains loomed over Miyagi. Reports of supposed high-level curses gathering in a makeshift group, immediately proven untrue when Megumi sent his shikigami through the area and found three Grade 3 curses at best, left to feed off local cattle farmers and wander the fire-scorched corner of the mountain that they were born in. It’s always like this, nowadays; small frustrations fuelling small curses, easily if tediously exorcised.
Megumi tries not to think too much about what it means. He’ll be the last person to believe in any real possibility of long-term peace, and while the world around him right now is a far, far cry from the one he nearly died in less than a year ago, he refuses to find comfort in the difference. To do so feels like a disservice to the people who didn’t make it in one piece to the After, treating their injuries and deaths and Megumi’s own baggage as little more than collateral damage. To do so, too, is to abandon the last remaining threads of his belief in any kind of universal justice; whatever of it he still has faith in is hard-earned on his part, more a product of him seeking out and maintaining order and fairness where he can than anything intrinsic to humanity, because there’s no shaking off the knowledge that this was what he had been doing a year ago, and it hadn’t been enough to keep people alive and unharmed. You can’t believe fairness into existence when the system never allowed for it in the first place, and no amount of remaining goodness will make this world worth forgiving for all that it has taken from Megumi.
He looks up at the sound of a click. Kugisaki has stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, hand pressing against the wood and staying there.
"How did he look?"
Alive, Megumi thinks. "He looked like the old Itadori."
Kugisaki presses harder, enough that the door protests under her palm. She doesn’t let up, her mind somewhere else altogether. Faintly, she replies, "Good."
Megumi doesn’t say anything. He keeps separating his clothes into the two stacks, and when he finishes the current pile, he picks up a new one.
He’s almost halfway when Kugisaki moves, dropping her hand back on top of her forearm and resting her whole body, this time, against the door. It creaks under her weight. He wonders what she’s trying to push back against.
"Crazy, isn’t it?" she says.
"We knew him for nine months. Seven, really."
That’s it, Kugisaki doesn’t add. She doesn’t have to. It speaks for itself, the emptiness of it, the imbalance. All of that for and with Itadori and his presence in their lives didn’t even make it to a year. All of that gained and lost and gained and ruined in the time it takes to create life.
"Do you ever wish he didn’t come b—" Kugisaki begins, but can’t continue. This happens a lot, these days; she lets questions trail off, stops mid-sentence whenever she gets too close to saying a name that’s now engraved on a fresh tombstone across the country, brakes on a thought altogether when she realizes she has to commit to the gravity of it. She sighs, a strangely watery sound that doesn’t show at all on her face, and pushes off the door. "Hey, why the hell are we doing this again, Fushiguro?"
Megumi smooths over a crease on the shirt he’s holding. It doesn’t stay. "He’s not dead this time."
"God, that’s what I’m saying," says Kugisaki, and on someone else, it would have been a solemn, quiet confession. On her, it’s admonition and apology rolled into one spike-edged clump as she stomps over the window. She props it open with an almost violence, all the while talking, "Sometimes, I think—sometimes, it’s just—It was kinda better the first time around, you know? Grieving over someone you knew for two weeks before they died? That’s kinda—that was easier to digest. What was I even mourning then, really? I barely knew him. Right? But dead people—that’s one thing. There’s no nuance to death. You die and if you’re lucky, you’ll forever be dead and stay fucking dead to the people around you. So why can’t he just—why can’t he just be dead?" Her voice catches. Megumi, as always, pretends not to notice. "Better yet, why can’t he just be alive? But not alive like that, alive like—like, why can’t he just be here? Goddamn. Did he have to be such an idiot about even this? A little consideration here would have been great. Were we not his friends?"
Here, her frustration drops low and at once into irritation, as if the depth of her emotion offends her, even angers her. That anger, though, she feels for both of them; anger isn’t an emotion Megumi has the luck to feel with the blood he has in his hands, and anger isn’t a reaction he gets to have when he’s never even learned to process the guilt and responsibility that has, from the moment he let him swallow that first finger, colored his relationship with Itadori.
At the end of the day, grief doesn’t come in seven stages for jujutsu sorcerers. There’s no space for a time-informed process when it comes to something so intrinsic to the job you do and the life you lead, so you sink into the shades of the one you do best—anger for Kugisaki, guilt for Megumi—and stick to that for the rest of your life, for all the people you’ll lose and the lives you could have had but never will.
Even grief, in that sense, is a learned technique—until that grief is necessitated by a loss that doesn’t quite classify as one, and suddenly, everything Megumi should have learned to compartmentalize and process in his own way cannot be applied. To mourn a death is one thing, to exorcise what should be dead but isn’t is another, yet to exist in between and not even know it—where’s the room for grief in that?
Good, Kugisaki had said just now. Good that Itadori looks like his old self. Good, because Itadori is alive and breathing and no longer the vessel to a curse. Good, because he’s right there, in Sendai, in his old high school, in his own childhood home.
Except Itadori isn’t here—here where he used to be, here in Jujutsu Tech, here with Kugisaki, here beside Megumi—and Megumi doesn’t think that the gaping emptiness he feels when he thinks about this can be anything else but grief.
There’s a very, very specific Tantalusian cruelty in taking someone away and giving him back, only for him to go, once again, and stay as a half-presence, a life dangling right in front of Megumi, by his own volition never for him to reach. But there’s as much cruelty, too, in how Megumi had saved Itadori, lost him, got him back, and then, somehow, at the end of it all—out of nothing but the same selfishness that had him saving Itadori in the first place—forbidden him the simple compassion of dying.
"It’s not his fault," says Megumi, "that he’s not dead."
Kugisaki stills against the open window, leaning out of it, a slight wind touching the strands of her hair that have fallen over her forehead. Megumi can’t see her face, can’t see what expression she’s making, and can’t read the layers to her voice, either, when she says, "It’s not like you meant to curse him."
"Does that make it better?"
"Guess not." Kugisaki crosses her arms over the sill, props her chin on top of it. "And I didn’t say it wasn’t your fault. You’re allowed to have that guilt. I’m not gonna take even that away from you."
Her voice is firm and clear, but there’s a vestige that rings in the wake of a passing breeze, rendering her clarity aware of the mass of the silence it’s speaking into, holding no idealisms about how, less than a year ago, she wouldn’t have been able to speak this softly and still be heard when Itadori was right next door with his own window open, music and chatter and background movie dialogue even when he’d been at his lowest. Not something she’d experienced for herself, because it was only Megumi who had the privilege, the burden, of having Itadori right next door, of having him attempt conversations from their open windows instead of just coming over through the door—but a scenario that’s so torturously Itadori that it doesn’t take much, doesn’t even need a mourning imagination, to conjure.
But in this is a division that Kugisaki doesn’t hold against Megumi the way she doesn’t hold anything against Megumi. He gets to have that guilt, she means. He gets to have something. He gets to feel something else than grief, gets to stew in something else than what he lost. He gets to feel agency, gets to feel responsibility, gets that burden-privilege of being able to imagine things would be different if he did things differently.
It isn’t better, and it isn’t closure, but it’s more than Kugisaki’s nothing. She doesn’t have anything she can call hers, when it comes to Itadori. She’d been unconscious through the first days of the aftermath, and had woken up to Itadori’s complete absence, everything finalized and nothing left for her to process everything through: no grave to visit and rant at for catharsis, no last memory to willingly loop, not even a single scrap of anything that had been in Itadori’s room. No guilt, because she had been nowhere near the site when it happened. No nightmares, because her last interaction with Itadori had been before they all separated, a punch of a smile before he’d said take care, okay? Not even anything to attach to that, because Itadori hadn’t promised her anything; he hadn’t said, I’ll see you later, hadn’t even spared a joke about going back to that Chinese restaurant the three of them like once all this is over. He’d believed and accepted that he would be a dead boy before the night was over. Megumi had, too. They’d given Kugisaki the consideration of not pretending otherwise—yet, in retrospect, hadn’t afforded her the kindness of getting to reject this consideration.
The first time Kugisaki visited Megumi after the March 20th incident, her scars still fresh under bandages and gauze, she’d taken one look at the neighboring room—seen it in all its bareness through the door that Megumi hasn’t had the strength to close since he had to clean it out a second time—and said, the emptiest he’ll ever hear her sound, Fuck you. You should have waited for me.
"You and him," Megumi tells her now. "If you meet again someday, I’m sure you’ll be friends."
Kugisaki doesn’t even look at him. "What kinda bullshit is that?"
"I mean it. If you did the monthly check-ins—"
"I can’t. I won’t," says Kugisaki, not quite as snappish as she wants it to be. It sounds exhausted. They always sound exhausted, nowadays. "I know what I said, but—I’m not so selfish that I don’t want him to stay where he is."
Megumi stands. "Okay."
"He’s safe. That matters a hell lot more than anything else."
"Okay," Megumi repeats, then a third time, for himself, "Okay."
Kugisaki takes a while to realize. When she does, she finally raises her head. There’s an apology there—one that she bites back. She knows Megumi agrees. She knows they’re on the same page, always, at least, about Itadori.
Instead, she asks, "Need help packing?"
"No," says Megumi, but he cuts a sideways glance at the stacks of folded clothing he’s left across his bed. "Choose a pile."
"The one on the right," Kugisaki doesn’t hesitate to reply. She moves to close the window, as if she’s heard enough from the silence of the wind. "Help me trim my hair later."
Megumi is tired. He should sleep. He needs to sleep. He can’t remember the last time he slept through the night.
"Okay," he says.
The new first years had been wary of Megumi when they entered the school. Not in the way they were wary of Kugisaki for being Kugisaki, or wary of Okkotsu for being a special grade, but wary of the once-in-a-generation badge that Megumi wears. Intimidating upperclassmen might be a universal concern—but having one of those upperclassmen be raised and mentored by Gojo Satoru, only to be the one to kill him, is not.
In some ways, Megumi hadn’t minded the distance he used to have with the first years. Hadn’t minded that they struggled to see him past the technique he inherited from a clan whose name he doesn’t even carry, hadn’t minded that they remained conflicted over whether to respect him as a sorcerer or avoid him as a murderer. He hadn’t minded, either, when one of them finally gathered the courage to ask him about it, had maybe even found some release in being able to see it from the lens of a child who hadn’t been there.
Because the truth is that Gojo’s death had been easier to swallow than most others. It had been a more palatable death for both of them, even if it hadn’t been for the rest of jujutsu society. No less difficult for it, no less haunting, no less sickening—but only for Megumi, because being the one to come out alive from that fight left him short of ten years old again, small and more lost than he’ll ever admit to anyone, even if he’ll think back later to Gojo’s last expression and wonder if that was relief, after all. If, in the end, Megumi had given Gojo the death he wanted. If, maybe, Gojo had known, from the moment he first saw Megumi’s shadows manifest and remembered the history between their two bloodlines, that this was how he was going to go: at the hands of the new generation he fostered with such faith if not sensitivity, at the hands of the boy he’d orphaned and yet allowed to grow up believing in handmade justice, at the hands of a child who was never really a child—at least not the way Itadori was a child up until he couldn’t be anymore. If, maybe, the only time Gojo Satoru truly, truly believed in this world was in his last moments, knowing he was leaving it more on track towards what he’d always wanted to see it become than it ever was in his lifetime.
And it was this smallness that Megumi had taken to what should have been Itadori’s last moments, small heart in his small ribcage pounding unbearably as Itadori asked him one last time, his smile as sincere as it had been the first time he died, Hey, Fushiguro, you sure you don’t regret saving me?
Itadori Yuuji had been in Megumi’s life for nine months, not even a year but enough for so much to change, but the answer has remained the same from the first night:
I told you, didn’t I? Never. Not once.
All of it happens in less than a day.
By jujutsu society accounts, Itadori Yuuji, freshly sixteen, a curse-human hybrid and vessel for a human-turned-curse, born of a woman who should have disappeared in the tail-end of the Meiji era, dies on the eve of his own birthday on March 20, 2019. His heart stops beating, completely and undeniably, and Sukuna with it.
The next morning, Itadori Yuuji, freshly sixteen, a human who would have been marked ordinary if not for the bizarre, total lack of cursed energy, wakes up in a Tokyo hospital with false memories about a car crash—and witness testimonies to back it up, from pedestrians who suddenly had reasons to be where they couldn’t have been to classmates in Sendai, who all have memories of continuing to go to school with Itadori and claim to know he was going to Tokyo for his birthday to attend a Shonen Jump exhibit.
It’s the most widespread use of Itadori’s ability, and its last.
Whatever had been sealed throughout Itadori’s childhood before he swallowed the first finger disappeared overnight. The curse part of him died; the human remained. It shouldn’t have happened, in that there should have been no division at all, in that Itadori should have been born and died equal parts curse and human—but Megumi had gotten in the way of that at the Goodwill event when he said, haze-minded and bleeding out and frantic about losing Itadori again when they’d just gotten him back, I’m gonna kill you if you die.
And Itadori, ever indulgent, yet to realize the authority of words with such finality, had replied, Then I guess I can’t die.
Megumi should have known better. Attaching himself to a walking death sentence was awful enough of an oversight; to make a promise like that with someone whose entire presence in his life was built upon the fact that he would ultimately die—it was stupidity, in lack of thought, and outright dangerous, when said with the gravity that Megumi had infused it with. In a world where people choose their last words for a reason, where people don’t have the luxury of letting emotions run amok when it’s the very thing that fuels cursed energy, it was careless and nothing short of a death sentence on its own when Megumi had thrown out a threat and Itadori had accepted it, easy and unthinking, like a condition. Like a pact.
Like a binding vow.
A vow that they kept throwing out between them—during the Goodwill event, in Shibuya—not realizing what they were feeding to it. Not realizing what restrictions they’ve placed upon themselves, upon each other. Not suspecting it at all until Itadori couldn’t stay dead, until the last residues of his ability had nowhere else to go but yield to the pact and place Itadori in a reality where his life never had a deadline.
An alternate universe his mind had created for itself and others to justify the continued existence of his soul, a parallel world that exists right next to without ever touching Megumi and Kugisaki’s.
They still don’t know what this means for Itadori, for Megumi. Just as the jujutsu world once had its doubts about keeping Itadori alive, it has its doubts now about trying to kill him again. They don’t know how far Megumi’s curse on him goes, what will happen should he die again, and they won’t risk it, not right now—which isn’t to say they won’t risk it in the future, but the only thing that matters to Megumi and the others at this point is the work that goes into ensuring that the right now they worked hard for is cemented as the future.
Okkotsu, at least, is unwavering in keeping Itadori monitored but untouched. It had been him who found Itadori at the hospital, who had to stand there while Itadori looked him in the eye and asked him who he was. Eyes round and innocent and sincere, Megumi always imagines for himself, confused and maybe a little tired the way he had been when Megumi had tracked him down to the hospital the day they met.
Sometimes, Megumi wishes that it had been him instead. He wouldn’t have hesitated. He wouldn’t have thought for a second to pretend to be a stranger in return. The whiplash would have been too present, much stronger than any other question, technical or moral. As much as Megumi wants to believe he’d have been more composed, more responsible, the truth is that whenever he allows himself to imagine seeing Itadori in that hospital bed and looking at him like he was a stranger, he doesn’t think he would have cared about things like how or why or what the right thing to do was. Not right then. Not when Megumi’s technique almost gave new life to Sukuna just the night before, not when the only thing that stopped it from doing so was killing Itadori. Not when Megumi’s body, battered and scarred and bruised, ached to hold him safely, to know with absolute certainty that he was warm and alive and unharmed and that he really hadn’t killed Itadori a second time.
It would have been so easy, too. To remind Itadori, to tell him everything without stumbling over a single word. But Okkotsu had other things in mind, because while Megumi felt responsible for Itadori, while he hadn't once been unaware of his own role in Itadori’s life being the way it was, it wasn’t the same responsibility that Okkotsu felt. Megumi’s desire to keep Itadori safe was tinged with more selfishness, with more blind personal want, with more need and less regard for a universe that hasn’t shown him much kindness in the first place. Okkotsu had things that he had to be the new authority for in Gojo’s absence—things that, ultimately, required the difficult choice.
There was no one to put up much of a fight. The people who are left had nothing to support their side: Itadori had been a vessel once, but he was nothing now with neither Sukuna nor memories nor even cursed energy, empty and of no use for either saving nor execution. And Megumi doesn’t hold any idealisms about that; he knows that even this blank slate version of Itadori would have been killed if the pact between them wasn’t steeped in such risk and mystery, and if Okkotsu hadn’t been there to make the case not to—if Okkotsu and Mrgumi hadn’t been the ones asking in the first place, days after saving their world from collapsing inwards and wiping itself clean. Itadori’s life was a favor that could be spared, a cost-benefit analysis that lost its appeal and necessity when someone weighs out the balance and strips away the ease of justifying the murder of a boy who doesn’t have memories of the crimes anyone could crucify him for.
Long after the debates and the proceedings, Megumi was left with the things that he hadn’t said when Okkotsu informed him of the ruling.
He hadn’t said, No. You can’t do this to us. He hadn’t said, Let me see him. Please let me see him. He hadn’t said, I need him. He needs me. And, most of all, he hadn’t said, the truest and most damning one of all, the most childish yet the most irrevocable, the reason they got there in the first place, I can’t lose him again. You can’t take him away from me.
And how stupid, how utterly ridiculous, when Itadori’s existence had been for Megumi to lose from the very beginning, and had never been his to hoard.
With that, he also had the one thing Okkotsu hadn’t said—the one thing Okkotsu never would have said to him, never would have even thought with sincerity, but what Megumi still understood to be rational and true: You and Gojo-sensei already kept him once. You kept him when you shouldn’t have. Maybe that wasn’t the right choice.
Was it compassion, then, in the end? To award Itadori with a second chance at the life he was forced to leave, to allow him to continue in blissful unawareness of every single thing he had gone through in the last almost-year? To take everything away from him—all the people he met, all the things he learned, yes, but does any of that matter anymore in a normal world devoid of everything that had and will continue to hurt him? Was letting him go also protecting him? Wasn’t this also keeping him safe?
It might have also been its own kind of consideration that Megumi was kept out of the loop after the decision was finalized. But although no one told him the specifics of what was happening to Itadori—not what cover story they gave him about the crash that didn’t happen, not what time he would be leaving back for Sendai, not what he did or did not question—it wasn’t this nor any kind of strength that prevented Megumi from trying to find out more. It was, above all, an internal voice wondering if to let all this happen also meant protecting Itadori. And nestled at the core of this was a reminder that this had always come first, hadn’t it? From the first night, Megumi had only wanted to keep Itadori alive.
This—living a teenage boy’s normal life in his hometown, getting to grieve his grandfather’s death and attending occult club meetings as if he hadn’t lived with a curse inside him for months and months—is safe and alive. This is Itadori happy and unburdened.
This is a life that would have been impossible for an Itadori that was still at Megumi and Kugisaki’s side. What right does Megumi have to claim he wanted Itadori safe if he was also the kind of person who would let his feelings propel him out to the remaining members of the few clans left and blabber on about how they shouldn’t let Itadori go?
Because vow or not, Itadori had kept his own promise. He hadn’t died on Megumi again. That should be enough.
It should be.
It really, really isn’t.
"You went again?"
Megumi looks away from the window overlooking the empty courtyard to see Okkotsu in the doorway of the kitchen. "Senpai," he says. "I didn’t know you’d be back here this week."
"For a bit." Okkotsu hovers in the doorway a second longer before stepping towards the kettle. He yelps when he touches it, but goes about preparing tea for himself like nothing happened. His shoulders look taut, but Megumi doesn’t think he’s ever seen Okkotsu Yuuta without tension in his body even if it isn’t on his face. "I’m off to Kyoto tomorrow to talk to Todo."
Megumi turns back to the window. "What does he think?"
"About Yuuji’s situation?"
"Same as Kamo. Same as before," says Okkotsu, which, from the brief pause that follows, he must know is more assurance than it is an answer. "How was it?"
"I handed in my report last Monday. There shouldn’t be a problem."
Okkotsu sighs. "That’s not what I meant."
For the next minute, the kitchen is silent, nothing but the soft tear of a tea packet, the clink of a mug and the thud of a kettle being lowered back to the stove. Megumi feels Okkotsu move more than hears him, and looks at him through his periphery in time to catch him leaning against the counter, his own expression hidden, as he says, "Did Gojo-sensei ever give you the 'love is a curse' spiel?"
"No." Megumi picks up his own mug. It’s almost empty, not much more than dredges of black coffee left to stick to the bottom. "He gave me the 'you’ll always die alone' spiel, though."
"Same difference, if you ask me."
There’s a beat, both of them sitting in the loaded truth of even a joke like that, then they huff at the same time—not quite a laugh, but a breath shared in the face of both the reality and the irony.
Megumi finds himself asking, "What do you think, Okkotsu-senpai?"
He gets a hum, as if Okkotsu knew he was going to ask. "Genuinely?" he says, his voice mellow in that tone that sounds nearly always hesitant. "My take is that if you have someone who can help you sleep easier at night, even after everything, I don’t really think that’s the sort of thing you let go."
"Your subjective feelings?" Megumi asks, mouth dry with the echo of all those months ago that Gojo sensei had said the same thing to him.
"Yeah." Okkotsu shifts, moves to check his steeping tea. "My feelings as an everyday, average person."
Megumi raises his head. "And your feelings as a sorcerer?"
Okkotsu slants a glance towards Megumi as he picks up his own mug. There’s the smallest of half-smiles, which he lets Megumi watch fade back into his usual somberness.
"One more, Megumi," he says on his way out of the kitchen. "I’m letting them give you just one more time. Please make it count."
In the end, Megumi hadn’t really had that much time with Itadori. Just stolen moments that could have been much, much more, and often, Megumi wonders if that’s the part that makes it all ache so much—all the ways that he came so close, and yet ultimately didn’t get to grasp. All the ways his body knows little more than to amplify what it felt once, to distort and exaggerate in an attempt to cope with the impossible, unachievable desire for more.
He used to think he was good with pain. It doesn’t get any easier, having it inflicted on him, but everything that comes after, his body has gotten used to. Once the gash is there, bleeding, once his head has recovered from the spinning upon impact on concrete, it’s just a waiting game, a process of evening out his breath and counting in his head until his head clears past the pain and his body can take care of the rest.
He’s never been the most careful with his body, never spared too much thought on ways he can avoid it getting hurt more than it needs to. The body is secondary, never the most pressing thing in a situation, and with it, pain is also incidental, an extension of something to ignore and consider as one would ignore and consider any other element in a fight. He leaves it to his own devices, trusts it to move as he’s trained it to and to heal as it always does, even if it takes longer on some occasions, even if it never fully heals in others.
But pain that makes Megumi bite down hard on his jaw—until it bleeds, until it bruises—is different from the pain that slithers, that haunts without taking corporeal form, that never quite goes away because it’s insidious in its specificity. The kind of pain that the body can’t find a way to heal through cell repair, the kind of pain that the brain can’t pinpoint enough to acclimate to.
He doesn’t know why he keeps expecting different. He doesn’t know why he keeps expecting to wake up one day and just be better, as if Itadori is a cut he’s waiting to heal and not an absence that will forever ring in the abandoned crevices that it highlights across Megumi’s life. He’s never as prepared for it as he always believes he would be, the hard pang that rattles up his throat and through his teeth whenever his body remembers Itadori—truly, truly remembers, not just passing thoughts or snatches of something that reminds Megumi of him, but heat and warmth and imaginary sounds that beat with the force of muscle memory. Nothing here to need to imagine or visualize, just a feeling that comes to the surface without warning, without prompting, most often at the point of waking, of remembrance, other times in the middle of the afternoon when he still finds himself considering going over to the room next door to see why it’s been so quiet. The edges of these sensations so sharp, so keen to pummel Megumi against the cold remembering that always follows, and each instance ends with a blow to the gut that leaves him needing to vomit.
It’s no different that October, seven months after Itadori, when Megumi sorts through a small box under his bed, untouched since March, and feels bile in his throat when he finds what he’s looking for.
That night, he grips it in a fist and goes to knock on Kugisaki’s door.
She’s awake. Of course she is. She opens the door just a crack the way she used to when it’s Itadori knocking, suspicious, and it’s sobering how even now, months later, there’s still a second where the recognition and the disappointment has to take its time returning when she finds that it’s only Megumi.
He doesn’t waste a second before raising what he’s holding. She takes it without a closer look, and the same conflict as before, as ever, runs through her face when she realizes.
Her voice is stable. "How do you have this?"
"Kept it while I was cleaning out his room," says Megumi. "I knew they weren’t gonna give him a single thing back—so."
"Oh," says Kugisaki. In her hand, she holds Itadori’s old phone like it weighs the world. For them, maybe it does. "What, have you been hoarding some of his things this whole time?"
"Just this." Megumi takes a step back, away from the door. It’s hard to breathe, all of a sudden, between them. "I don’t know the passcode—but I charged it tonight and I thought—I thought you’d know."
"Why, because I was always nosing around his business?"
Megumi shrugs. He can’t bring himself to resent how much better Kugisaki sounds than him. "He in yours, too."
"And mine." Megumi steps back again. He has to put conscious thought into the movement, his body not happy to listen. "I’m leaving early tomorrow. I’ll let you do with that what you will—"
"No, wait." Kugisaki pushes the door open, tightens her palm around the phone. "Do you wanna—do you wanna invade his privacy together?"
Despite it all, Megumi sighs. "Do you have to phrase it like that?"
"Or not. I can do it myself."
But Kugisaki leaves the door open behind her, just as Megumi left the door open for her last month—and he goes in, his first step into her room since the last time he was here in February, hearing voices on his way back from the kitchen and finding Itadori helping her dye her hair.
It’s so much darker, tonight. Only one lamp on at the dimmest setting. No back-and-forth from the bathroom. No slot of sunlight.
Kugisaki sits on the floor, back to her bed, so Megumi does, too. The steadiness fades as soon as she powers on the phone, hands starting to shake, but Megumi respects the lack of hesitation in each motion.
Watching her trembling lower lip, Megumi realizes, with no small amount of apology, that he should have given the phone to her a long time ago. Given it to her when she’d told him they should have cleaned Itadori’s room together; given it to her the first time he realized he had more of Itadori in his head than she did in her hands. Given it to her when he came back from his first visit to Sendai; given it to her after the second. Because she won’t ever be in Megumi’s place, won’t ever be in a cemetery watching Itadori from a distance, won’t ever be in a convenience store seeing his smile flit into place under fluorescent lights—and that’s as much of a burden-privilege as the alternative.
"I fucking hate him," she suddenly says, her voice dropping to something so small that Megumi’s heart drops with it. "He’s not in any of these."
It takes his eyes a second to adjust to the light of the phone, and another to accept that they’re both looking at Itadori’s photo stream. Kugisaki’s right; she scrolls upwards, through dozens of photos, and most are of her and Megumi—inane shots, distant shots, close ups that Megumi hadn’t realized were even taken—and the rare ones that aren’t are of other students from Tokyo and Kyoto alike, of empty scenery, of food. A documentation of a life, a daily journal of a photo collection, except Itadori is nowhere to be found. Not in group photos that Megumi knows exist in a version with Itadori, not in restaurant snapshots of noodles and sushi and steak, not even in the endless videos of them in karaoke bar darkness, or somewhere in Roppongi, each clip recognizable from the thumbnail only because the memories are fresh all of a sudden, each moment that hadn’t been dedicated to being a sorcerer so singular and distinguishable that Megumi’s mind has no problem pulling the attached memory to the surface.
Kugisaki, too, palpably recognizes everything without trouble—and this brings Megumi a relief that he hadn’t even realized he needed reassurance on. He was sure that his own memories of Itadori are untainted, but he hadn’t considered that this certainty also had its own limits until now, faced with tangible proof that he and Kugisaki both remember Itadori as well as they believe they do.
She slows when she hits photos from August: snapshots of a stranger around their age, of Nanami reading the newspaper in the sunlight, of a multitude of videos trained at a TV screen in a dark room, Itadori’s hand gesturing from a corner of the frame like he’s talking to himself. These go on for several hundred videos, each one five to ten minutes long, something dedicated about what is very clearly commentary about what’s happening onscreen. There’s too many of them for Itadori to have been doing it for himself—or maybe he had simply been that lonely, training and watching movies all by himself while Kugisaki and Megumi mourned him in their own ways. Or as if Itadori had meant to show these to someone. To them. But never got around to.
Kugisaki realizes this at the same time that Megumi does. She locks the phone, plunges them back in the dim-dark, and has to take a breath.
Megumi waits. All of him feels numbed by anesthesia, not even any kind of prickling at the nerves to alert him to what has fallen asleep. Instead, he feels heavy and limp. Useless. Helpless. Dead weight inside his own body.
The weekend before the execution, they’d all slept next to each other in Itadori’s bed. Ostensibly accidental, just a late night where a movie none of them could focus on anyway ran on for too long. Megumi had felt it on Kugisaki first, the heavy reluctance to go; they’d shared one glance over Itadori’s head, had at once seen in each other the goodbyes they should be saying in this situation but never would. Itadori had been stubborn about normalcy, and sometimes Megumi wonders if that was him trying to construct a real-fake memory for himself. A memory that’s contextually fake, holding nothing of the average teenage night it would in a different world—but real enough, more importantly, to have actually happened. Megumi had felt this numb that night, too. This helpless.
When Kugisaki unlocks the phone again, the photo app pulls itself back down near to the bottom of the stream. It places her hovering thumb right over the last video that Itadori had taken on this phone. It zooms open on the screen and plays without sound: a shaky shot looking for something across a sandy beach, struggling to focus. Megumi recalls this day without trouble, remembers the half-hour drive that Itadori had single-handedly coaxed one of the assistant managers to allow them. One week left, he’d kept saying. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, please? It’s in a week.
They’d been to the same beach once before, with the others, but Itadori hadn’t let up on wanting to go that same weekend, just him and Kugisaki and Megumi. It was the most focused his smile would be in months, the fullest and sweetest—and stronger people have failed to deny him in the face of that sunlit honesty. A relief at that, because it would be his last request. Itadori had meant it to be, counting down to his death, to the day of the execution, but couldn’t find it in him to call it anything but his birthday.
He had been filming the first time they all went to the beach, too. Megumi remembers Kugisaki turning away from Maki to demand where Itadori had gone, remembers his own momentary near-panic when it takes him more than a second to locate Itadori. But he’d been there, a handful of feet away, recording them. Already distancing himself; already far too aware of the finite quality of every memory he would share with others, a truth that would only worsen later once Itadori found out about his own abilities and began to question the nature of all his relationships.
In a way, they already lost Itadori to that realization. Part of him, at least. Itadori bounced back from plenty of things no one else could have, proved himself resilient over and over again even when he didn’t have to, but Megumi knows half of Itadori never recovered from recognizing what his ability did to the people around him. His own kind of non-corporeal pain, to have to keep questioning the sincerity of all the people on his side, to find himself rendered alone by the very ability that should have ensured he always had people around him. Lonesome. Lonely. Solitary save for a curse’s voice deep inside his head.
In the end, he’d chosen to die without being surrounded by people. Or maybe choice was too generous—only that there was an element of selection and acceptance in how he knew he wanted to die at Megumi’s hands, just the two of them in the middle of the rubble. He’d smiled then, too—had, for the first and last time, abandoned every ounce of a facade in front of Megumi to offer a smile so young and terrified that Megumi would have dropped it all in that moment if Itadori hadn’t taken his hands, trembling fingers against trembling fingers, and said, Go ahead. Thank you, Megumi.
No platitudes this time. No live a long life, no take care. Just a smile and a thank you and a first name he’d never said before but had deliberately carried in his mouth that night, as if he believed with all his still-beating heart that it was a blessing to die by the same hands that had saved him.
But before that, a lifetime apart, had been this one afternoon at the beach. Nothing to it but calm and sand and winter sunshine, and it jars both Megumi and Kugisaki when she gathers enough of herself to click on the sound button and catches Itadori mid-laugh in the background of his own video. It’s a soft thing, that laugh, clearly not meant to be heard by anyone else. In the video, he’s filming Kugisaki and Megumi as they walk a handful of steps ahead, having a mostly one-sided argument too far away to be in the video—but still close enough for Itadori to catch it. He laughs a second time, so loud this close to the phone, and then, conversational to himself, like a secret between him and—who? Sukuna?—he says, "Don’t make me leave them."
The end of the sentence breaks, Itadori’s voice shattering. Next to Megumi, Kugisaki’s breath hitches. When their mirrorselves in the video turn around, conversation forgotten once they realize Itadori had fallen back, Megumi knows that they both remember the smile they’d gotten in that moment, that when the video ends, it’s because Itadori had locked the phone, had jogged after them, between them, always between them, with no sign at all of how his voice had fractured in the video.
It’s no help, knowing.
"Fuck," says Kugisaki, something imploding as she slams the phone against Megumi’s chest. He takes it without a word, lets her just as wordlessly curl into herself, folding her knees to her chest. "Fuck you, Itadori Yuuji," she mutters under her breath, and muffles the rest of her litany of fuck yous against her pajamas.
Each of her syllables wetter than the last, even if she won’t show her expression. A wedge, long formed in Megumi’s throat, begins to mirror that wetness—until he feels heat prickling at the top of his mouth and the back of his eyes.
But there are no tears. Not even now.
The phone is lead-heavy in his hand. Unthinking, he drags a thumb to steady it—and accidentally swipes into the notes app that had been left open this whole time. He freezes.
The last entry, still open on the screen, is titled: grocery list :)
It’s dated to Sunday, March 17th.
- need to buy more of that strawberry drink b4 kugisaki realizes i stole her last one :/
- fushiguro’s been eating more sweet things lately even tho it’s not his type so maybe i should grab some more of those semi-sweet chips for him
- i won’t really get to watch movies ever again with them huh
- so ok no snacks 4 me but i’ll get a bunch for both of them
- oh and buy more ginger!
- so fushiguro can easily make those meatballs
- it might be hard to eat for the first couple of weeks
- now i’m really worried about who’s gonna cook for them when i’m gone
- oh man should i stock up a lot
- but i don’t wanna leave behind too much bc i don’t think they’d want that either
- i’ll get a lot of snacks! they can eat it together
- proper food too. that’s important.
- it might be a while too before they can go grocery shopping
- i’ll buy enough for a few meals
- fushiguro prefers food that’s easier on the stomach after a fight but kugisaki likes heavier and greasier things to get her energy back up hmmmm what can i get them
- i just want them to eat well
- i want them to be well
- no that’s not true what i want is to live through this wednesday and cook and eat with them
- i really don’t wanna leave them
- i don’t wanna go
- i wanna stay here
- i wanna be here
- i wanna cook and eat with them and be with them
- but i can’t. so.
- it’s fine. don’t be scared now yuuji haha
- as long as it’s in fushiguro’s hands. it will be fine. and it’s okay. it will be okay. he and kugisaki will be fine.
Kugisaki had gone still beside Megumi, and when he glances over, he finds her reading, too, the tears at the corner of her eyes glittering for a second in the light of the phone. She blinks these ones away, drags the back of her hand across her face.
"Sometimes, I think—" Megumi starts and regrets it at once, but it’s too late to take it back. "Itadori would have spoiled the first years."
"Oh, one hundred percent." Kugisaki scoffs. "He’d bring them to our restaurant. For the free dessert."
"Pay for too many hours at karaoke."
"Bring them to see horror movies every weekend."
"He’d be obnoxious about them calling him senpai."
"And tell them to come knock at his door literally any time if they’re hungry so he can cook for them."
Megumi shrugs. "We took advantage of that, too."
"Yeah, but he was always so grumpy about it, the fucker."
"You were making him fry chicken for you at 3 A.M."
"Whatever. Not all of us get to just pop on over next door to check if he’s still there—"
Kugisaki’s voice dies.
Megumi doesn’t know much about comforting another person, but he at least knows better than to leave her sinking alone in the depth of that silence. "He would have understood if you knocked and left," he says. "Or if you asked to just sit in his room for a bit."
"Is that what you did?" Kugisaki snorts. "Getting him to cook for me is so much better than asking to sleep next to him."
"Because it was always all over on your face, stupid."
Megumi lowers his head back until his nape rests against the bed. "I just needed to hear his heartbeat."
"I know." Kugisaki sighs, and it sounds like she’s sighing for both of them. "I still can’t believe I gave you the benefit of the doubt for as long as I did."
"Benefit of the doubt," says Megumi, an echo he doesn’t have the energy to drag out further than the murmur that it is. "For what?"
"Just—" Kugisaki takes her time replying. She doesn’t move, but her breathing rises and dips, unspoken questions and difficult answers trying to reconcile with each other. "I always just thought you had a soft spot for him," she says. "Or like—You just spent a little more time with him than I did before what happened at the juvenile detention center. And I kept thinking that even after he came back, that it was a questionable little crush, or, like, you just didn’t know how to cope with losing him the first time so maybe it’s a little bit more than a crush now. But then—when they released me early after Shibuya and I went to wake you both up—and—just—that first time I saw you asleep together, I thought—what the hell, since when can Fushiguro look like that?"
Kugisaki’s inhale is shaky, as if it’s her emotions that are being splayed open between them.
"And it wasn’t the same after that. Everything you did after Shibuya—I think it shocked me to realize—fully realize—that you weren’t just infatuated or whatever. It wasn’t even gentle or sweet, what you obviously felt for him. And then I had to watch you both just get more and more fucked up about that the closer we got to his—to the—to March. Keeping secrets. Being so damn horrible at protecting each other. But scared, always so fucking scared, about losing each other when you both know that day will come sooner or later." She tips her head up to blink at her ceiling. "So. I don’t envy you that much, Fushiguro. I don’t envy you all the baggage you have now, either. I don’t envy what you fell in love with, and how badly."
It should have surprised Megumi more to hear it. He’s never said it, even in his head. But he knows it’s true, the way they all know it’s true. Gojo had known, too, and even Okkotsu confesses to have suspected from the first time he saw them together. Everyone but Itadori made no secret of it, never even tried to dodge around the depth of Megumi’s stupidly irrational feelings—but that was by design and not ignorance. Itadori knew. He just never would have allowed anyone to be in love with him if he could help it, forever aware of the limitations of his remaining time. Megumi should have been, too.
Sometimes, he wishes that love felt more poetic for him. Purer, even. Younger. The kind of love he used to wish he believed in, the way he could have, were the circumstances different, truly, deeply believed that love was for good people, for kind people. Selfless and unconditional, gentle and good. But he doesn’t have the luxury of idealism, least of all romanticism. Not when all he knows is a love that comes after a realization, a love that comes after the epiphanies intrinsic to loss. Love after Tsumiki. After Gojo. After Itadori. He can never seem to appreciate what’s there until he feels its absence, can never seem to experience love, whether romantic or familial or platonic, that isn’t attached to fear.
He doesn’t know yet a love that doesn’t come hand-in-hand with intimate knowledge of what it’s like to lose that person. There’s no real room for tenderness when every realization of love is prompted by the loss that preceded it, by rage and grief and an acute sense of weakness. Any shred of love at first sight with Itadori was already tainted by fear and urgency and blood, love at second and third and fourth sight no less better.
The closest Megumi has come to admitting he was in love was thinking, I want to be selfless for you, wholeheartedly believing that to be the same as I love you. But the need to be selfless is by nature already selfish, and maybe, in the end, all Itadori and Megumi did was reap the rewards of what they had and hadn’t allowed themselves.
"It never would have happened," he says. "It’s not like I have any illusions about what kind of life we would’ve had together. There was never any room for that from the beginning. I knew that. He knew that. There were no alternatives."
"This situation is a kind of alternative." Kugisaki moves until her shoulder presses, hard, against Megumi. She pulls away just as soon, but the unshakeable strength in the gesture lingers. "But how’s that feel, huh? Saying it out loud?"
"Doesn’t feel any different than keeping it to myself, honestly."
Kugisaki glares. Weak, but there. "Asshole."
She stands first, face slipping in and out of shadow in the light of her lamp. She doesn’t offer to help Megumi stand. He wasn’t expecting her to. He hands her the phone, but it’s not until he’s almost at the door when she says, "Thanks. For this. Or whatever."
Megumi twists the knob open. "Sure."
"Fushiguro." Kugisaki takes a long, deep inhale, audibly braces herself. "If—if you get the chance to talk to him tomorrow—"
But she doesn’t finish. She doesn’t seem to know how to. She closes her mouth.
"Don’t worry," says Megumi. "I’ll say a proper goodbye this time."
It isn’t pity, or even kindness. Kugisaki knows that.
"I’m not worried." She goes to turn off her lamp. "But yeah. Go do that."
Itadori told them only once about Yoshino Junpei. Not to talk at length about what happened, but to cut into a heavy silence at dinner, two days after the baseball game against Kyoto, by telling a sweeping, joking story about his and Ijichi’s quasi-mission to gauge Yoshino’s involvement with what they’d later learn was all Mahito’s doing. Itadori brought them through it step by step over hotpot, with painstaking attempts at comedic timing, talking about how he had to go undercover, how he had an entire plan with Ijichi that involved flyheads and a choreographed rescue, and how it all ended up in spectacular failure and with Itadori meeting Yoshino’s mother.
At the time, both Megumi and Kugisaki indulged the torn edges of his story by making fun of him, both of them sure they could have at least succeeded at a mission this simple and regimented. Megumi recalls this with unexpected vividity now, sitting on a bench a handful of feet away from Itadori Wasuke’s grave when he hears:
"Ah. We meet yet again."
—and watches his own simple and regimented plan disintegrate in front of his own eyes.
It’s five in the afternoon, the sky is dark with the slight drizzle coming down, this is Megumi’s fifth overall visit to Sendai since his first mission to retrieve Sukuna’s finger and his last in this lifetime, and his original plan—to pass by the convenience store Itadori works at later tonight—falls to unusable pieces when he looks over and finds him no more than two meters away, wearing a grin and the same yellow hoodie Megumi met him in.
"I thought you weren’t from here," he says, coming over to stand next to the bench like it’s perfectly normal to see a stranger he’s encountered three suspicious times now sitting in front of his grandfather’s grave. He’s holding another umbrella, the same black as the one he’d lent Megumi, and he moves it over until it’s covering Megumi, too. The rain taps against it, quiet and insistent above them. "Did you know my grandpa or something?"
Megumi blinks, blankly, at him.
This—this is even farther from the plan than all three visits before had been. He’d meant to drop by the store, evaluate Itadori’s current state, return the umbrella to him, look his fill one last, sentimental time, however difficult, however brief, and leave without anything else. It’s a staccato, rigid plan that should have worked just as the Yoshino plan should have worked, but Megumi supposes, with what almost, almost feels like fondness, that nothing ever pans out like that, from the silly to the life-altering, with Itadori involved.
"No," he manages to say. "No, I—I was just passing by."
"Dude. Come on. You gotta give me something here or else I’m gonna start assuming you’re stalking me. And don’t tell me you weren’t here last time. I know it was you. I won’t mistake you and that uniform for anyone," says Itadori, as if that, too, is an acceptable thing to say to someone he doesn’t know. But it’s fair, although delivered with a tactless conversationality so familiar on Itadori that Megumi’s weary sigh comes genuine and unprompted. "What’s your name, even?"
He hesitates. "Fushiguro Megumi."
"Mine’s Itadori Yuuji!"
I know, Megumi nearly says, like an idiot. "This is your grandfather’s grave?"
"Yeah. He died last year."
"I’m sorry," says Megumi, and finds a sliver of immediate relief in being able to say so.
It had occurred to him earlier on the trip over, months too late, that of all the condolences and apologies and non-confessions he’d said over the last few months, he’s never once said anything to Itadori about his grandfather’s death. And that was perhaps unfair, perhaps unkind, to have ever assumed that the difficulty of being thrust into a world Itadori never would have known of otherwise eclipses the simpler, more human difficulty of losing a family member. Megumi had figured earlier, watching skies and buildings rush past from the bullet train, that the closest he’ll get to amends, aside from telling this Itadori the sorry he never did before, was to pay his respects to the man who raised him.
Just his luck, then, that even the split-second choice to visit the cemetery before the convenience store would still lead him to where he is now: touching distance away from the person, the boy, whose grave he should have been visiting.
"S’cool! Learning to move on and all that," says Itadori, grip shifting on the umbrella. He slaps on a smile. "So. Fushiguro Megumi-kun who is maybe not my stalker. Why are you sitting here in the rain?"
"I—" Megumi begins, but then Itadori does sit next to him without invitation, so close out of nowhere and nothing—and the breath is punched right out of him, as if his body has abruptly forgotten the mundane ease of breathing in how attuned it is, all of a sudden, to where Itadori’s body could almost be connected to his.
Oblivious, Itadori lifts his umbrella higher.
"You?" he prompts.
Once, in a fight in Shibuya, Itadori had called Megumi a bad liar. It was a passing, teasing, matter-of-fact comment, and he was right in that Megumi had never had reason to lie about anything and never learned to—except Itadori was also the person who taught Megumi how to want to lie, who taught him to keep secrets in the misled name of honoring the fragility of their relationship. That was the biggest mistake of all—the lying, the keeping secrets, more than any real, concrete saving they ever did for each other—and it is still a testament to that fault, maybe, that Megumi lies with such lack of guilt now, an excuse finding its way out with unthinking ease.
"There’s someone I want to say a proper goodbye to," he says. "He’s buried here in Sendai. I don’t know where. I’ve been—looking around."
If Itadori is surprised by the bluntness, it doesn’t show past how stricken he is from the answer itself. "Oh—shit. I—sorry. Crap. Oh god. I can—uh—"
"No, but—I can help look around here? I have some time to kill. What’s his name?"
"I can’t tell you that."
"Fair. Stranger danger, I guess." Itadori’s exhale is contemplative. Megumi is trapped between wanting to keep staring at him, to look and look until he can’t anymore, and yet unable to stand the sting that ratchets through his chest at each minute movement from Itadori—how he knits his eyebrows, how he scratches his temple, how he doesn’t once stop making sure the umbrella still covers Megumi. "You know he’s in Sendai?"
"For a fact." Megumi settles for looking. He’ll regret it, if he looks away right now. "He’s from around here. They brought his body back after he—After."
"Oh," says Itadori. He lights up. "How about—have you thought to like—I don’t know, go to the municipal hall or something? Or wherever? Give them his name? There has to be a registry somewhere."
"I would," says Megumi, "but today’s the last time I can come here. Not much time left."
Always so quick and open, Itadori’s expressions, even in how they shift from one to the other. The pride at proposing a solution whips into surprise in the span of a blink, ever so guileless. "Why, you leaving the country or something?"
Megumi jerks his head in a nod.
"What—oh, I didn’t actually think—" Curiosity now, eyes round. "Why are you leaving?"
"Following in my upperclassman’s footsteps for—for a school exchange."
"I’m leaving at the end of this month."
"And you absolutely won’t be able to come back here to look again?"
"No," says Megumi. "This is my last chance."
"I mean—when you get back—"
"No," Megumi repeats. "This is my last chance."
Any other time and he would have glanced away, blinked, looked back. He doesn’t today. It is a kind of hunger, how his eyes take in Itadori, drinking him in the way he should have, again and again, while he could still do it everyday.
"Sorry," says Itadori. "That’s—that’s not an ideal situation to be in, huh."
Megumi has to spare a breath that could have, in another life, been a laugh. "No. It isn’t."
"Wanna talk about it? Stranger to stranger?" says Itadori. It takes him two more blinks before he seems to realize what he said, then he blinks some more, as if trying to shake himself out of a train of thought. "No pressure—It’s just. You must miss him a lot."
It isn’t a question, and Megumi doesn’t attempt an answer. But Itadori keeps looking back at him with the same expectation that he perpetually has, in every version of him Megumi has ever known, and Megumi decides he can be much, much stronger another day.
"I do," he says, evenly. "I lost him once before this, so I thought I’d be more prepared for it when the time comes that I lose him again, because I already knew what it would feel like, but it’s—there’s no real preparation for that sort of thing, I guess."
His voice is so stripped, muted and bare, that he wouldn’t have blamed Itadori for looking away. But he doesn’t, only looks long and hard and empathetic at Megumi. "Was he sick for a while?"
"Something like that."
"My thing with my grandpa was the same. Like—when someone’s sick, terminal, the process of losing them is so dragged on that you think you’re gonna know how it feels when the process isn’t a process anymore. But you don’t. Loss is loss."
Itadori’s eyes are soaked in understanding. It’s awful to look at.
Megumi still manages to nod. "It helped that I had some kind of direction the first time," he says. "Something to train my energy towards. But now I miss him more than I could have believed. Preparing for it wasn’t enough. I don’t know why I thought it would be. Now it’s—I’m finding nothing is enough—not what’s there, not what’s missing. So. I don’t know."
It’s the most disjointed his thoughts and feelings about Itadori have been. It’s also the most frank he’s gotten about all this.
Itadori doesn’t offer much else this time except another solemn, barely audible, "I’m sorry."
"It’s not your fault," says Megumi, and means it more than this Itadori will ever know.
"Do you—" Itadori stretches his legs out in front of him. Crosses them, uncrosses. He’s thinking so hard that the umbrella slips down his grip, but he catches it—and seems to make up his mind as he does. "Do you wanna try a thing with me?"
Megumi doesn’t realize he’d been fidgeting until he stops moving altogether. "Try what?"
"Like, pretend I’m—I’m him. Or something. I talk to my grandpa’s grave a lot. It’s kinda therapeutic. But you—you don’t have a grave to talk to." Itadori sees the shock on Megumi’s face—so swiftly dropping in place that Megumi doesn’t have the chance to disguise it—and reads it as something else. He holds up a palm meant to placate. "I won’t say anything! Or do anything. I just know it can help sometimes. It’s not good to bottle all of that stuff up. Other emotions, I’d get, but not grief. And you might as well do it with a stranger, right? If you don’t wanna burden your friends with it."
Only Itadori, is Megumi’s first thought. Only Itadori would offer a stranger such an absurd compromise and make it, somehow, sound sensible. Only Itadori wouldn’t leave a situation like this alone, to just accept that while there are things he can do, it didn’t mean he had to do them. Only Itadori, so ridiculous yet at times so perceptive, can look at Megumi like he is now and get him to entertain an idea for the sole reason that it taps so much more into what he wants and needs than any facade of rationality he wants to maintain.
Still, he says, "I can’t do that to you."
"I’m good," Itadori answers at once. "It’s the least I could do."
"Just—" Itadori flashes a thumbs up with his free hand. "You know. I came here to interrupt your grieving and can’t even offer a proper solution. So. Here you go."
Megumi can’t resist the need to debate that. "It’s not your responsibility to offer a solu—"
"Fu-shi-gu-ro." Itadori cracks a grin when Megumi quiets, blissfully ignorant to the way that he has stopped Megumi’s heartbeat just by saying his name. "Just go for it. See what comes out."
He nudges Megumi’s knee with his own. Megumi fights the need to freeze, has to force himself to latch onto that fleeting touch and find enough warmth in it to mutter, "You’re insufferable."
There’s a lightness to Itadori now, Megumi realizes, that hasn’t been there since before the juvenile detention center. In the lack of tension in his shoulders, in the light in his eyes, in the animated way his face moves like he doesn’t have to think about it anymore.
There are times, even these days, when Megumi resents Gojo for not telling him and Kugisaki about Itadori. If only because they have no way of knowing who to blame for the Itadori that returned to them, of knowing if Itadori had lost parts of himself in dying and having to come back to life or if those parts had still tried to hold on until the Yoshino incident. Because a different Itadori had come back to Megumi on the first day of the Goodwill event—and he’d let it go then, had let it fade next to the more important reality of him being alive, even when he could tell with a glance that Itadori didn’t smile as loosely as he used to, didn’t even carry his body as he used to.
He could tell with the same length of a glance now that this Itadori had regained that ease of smiling, of breathing, of living. And it isn’t much; it doesn’t bring back his grandfather, it doesn’t make him any less or any more alone than an average high school boy would be. But the fact that he is an average high school boy is worth a lot to Megumi; he tries to focus on this as he searches himself for the words he won’t be able to say otherwise.
"I guess," he starts, "that I wanna tell him—"
"No, no." Itadori frowns. "You gotta act like you’re talking to him. This isn’t an interview. I’m not even here."
Megumi levels a glance at him. "I thought you weren’t gonna say anything."
"Right, sorry—" Itadori tries to puff out an apologetic breath. It comes out a giggle. Hearing it shatters something inside Megumi. "But just trust me on this."
It’s like talking to the version of him Megumi had. The Itadori that lived next door and used the school kitchens more than anyone else and fell asleep curled into himself on Megumi’s bed even though he promised a million times before that he wouldn’t do it again. The Itadori that apologized whenever he sent Megumi skidding across the wooden floor of their training room, the Itadori that laughed right after and said, sorry, sorry, but that was a really bad fall.
Maybe that version of Itadori had been an average high school boy, too, as much as someone can be a sorcerer and a first-year at the same time.
"I miss you," Megumi finds himself saying first, tendrils of memory-Itadori’s laugh falling in echo with the giggle from this older, realer self. "I miss you," he repeats. "I really, really miss you."
Itadori, this time, doesn’t react. And Megumi really can’t look at him anymore, can’t think and talk and look. He’s never been able to do all three around Itadori, had always been afraid that he’ll be too honest, spill too much of his heart.
There’s at least less of that fear now and more of the need to say what he’s feeling without defaulting to the disarray of admitting: I miss you. Please remember. I don’t want you to remember. I need you to be safe. I also need you back. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.
"I miss you," Megumi tries again, recentering himself, "and even though I blame myself a lot more for what happened, I’m also upset at you for leaving the way you did. Even though we’ve always known you would leave like that, even though you were the only person to not have believed in any kind of other option. We would have turned the world upside down to find a different ending for you the moment you said the word. Though—I guess you never would have. We knew that, too. Our mistake was to wait for you to say anything."
Even as he talks to a hypothetical Itadori, it’s difficult to kick away the awareness of how close the real him is. How physically here he is, how impossible a moment this is. So Megumi closes his eyes, allows himself a memory of sitting next to Itadori like this after Shibuya, shoulder-to-shoulder and watching Kugisaki, in all her frustration and determination, retrain herself in using her hammer with one eye. Their conversation then had been one in an endless list where they were both aware of how they’d almost lost each other, except it went both ways this time: Megumi newly aware that things will never, ever be the same again, no matter what the higher-ups decide to do with Itadori, and Itadori stewing in the memories he shared with Sukuna about Shibuya, all the lives lost and, for better or worse, the one life—Megumi’s—saved.
I’m glad you’re still here, Fushiguro, he’d said then.
And Megumi, holding both the void and the universe in his mouth, had said, Me, too.
"That’s why," he murmurs now, "I wish we talked to each other more. Which I know is a selfish thing to say because neither of us wanted to talk to each other more about what we should have. I should have talked to you about it when the fing—when I learned that those things have started to resonate. I should have trusted us more to have been able to figure it out instead of me wanting to shield you from things that I naively believed wouldn’t have been able to hurt you as much if I got in the way. Because that was impossible. There was no saving you. And I wish I knew that sooner. I wish I spent more time being properly beside you and less time trying to be a hero for you when I’ve always known I wasn’t one. I lied to you without meaning to, when I said I didn’t mean to be a hero. A subconscious part of me did. I thought I was doing it all in the name of a universal goodness, but I just—I just wanted to save you. You and your stupid savior streak with me and my stupid savior streak. And look where that got us."
Itadori, next to him, shifts. Megumi opens his eyes, but doesn’t glance over. He looks at the grass instead, at all the graves in neat rows ahead of them. None of them, right now, are Itadori’s.
"But—even then," says Megumi, "Even though I’ll trade so much for another chance—I still won’t ask for a parallel world where I never met you. Is that terrible, knowing what happens exactly because we met each other?" He exhales. "But I’m trying to be better at not apologizing for meeting you. I know you wouldn’t want me to. I also know that—yes, there are a lot of things I’m sorry for, but most of all, more than anything, the apology that it all comes down to is that—"
It doesn’t take long for his voice to shake, not enough effortful breath put into it. He takes a moment to wait for it to steady itself. Itadori remains silent and still beside him.
"I’m just really, really sorry," says Megumi, "that I loved you in silence."
He stops, drowns in that pause for a second. Saying this—just the one sentence that he’d said without thinking, only to be faced with the harsh severity of how true it is—jostles something in his brain, rearranges it until everything else is falling out with more clarity than he’s ever felt them:
"It’s not fair because I didn’t have enough time to love you while you were still around. It’s not fair because I’ll have all this time to keep loving you," he says, voice dipping down to a near childish certainty. Not quite desperation, at that, but he feels so young, confessing: "I hope—I hope your last moments with me were good. That last week. Those last nights. I hope your last memory of me was as good as something like that can be. I hope you knew that even then, even in the last second—that I loved you. That you were everything to me. That it killed me, that last time. To see you there, to know that the only thing that will bring you peace is for me to lose you."
It isn’t guilt speaking, this time. That in itself feels like absolution.
"I hope that where you are is as safe and happy as I want to believe it is," he continues. "I hope you’re loved and taken care of. At the end of the day, that’s what matters the most to me—to those of us that love you and always will. So—"
Live well. Be happy. But it will become a curse, like that, and cursing Itadori once is once more than enough. So Megumi traps the words far down his throat, and with it, indulges for a moment in a life where he can say them and mean them without making it a burden for either of them.
But that’s only possible in a life less liminal, less bittersweet, less empty. A life where he’s allowed to seek much smaller pieces of healing. A life where he can freely want to lay his head on Itadori’s lap while he flips through a book of essays, one summer day’s attempt at pretending that this normalcy is something they’ve always had. To want to feel Itadori’s absentminded fingers on his hair, knuckles sometimes brushing against his forehead, his cheek, his jaw. A life where he’s allowed to spiral too far and start letting himself think of things like forever and permanence, if even for a moment; where he can want that eternity, however impossible, so long as it’s something he has the simple, simple luxury of daydreaming about.
Remember me, Yuuji, the child in the back of his head says. Come back to me. And I’ll tell you everything you weren’t here for. You’ll fill my life with everything I missed in yours. We’ll start over, you and I. Just two boys this time. Two boys in love. Two boys who didn’t get to be boys together.
Out loud, he says, a final statement for himself and all the Itadoris that have ever existed for him, "I would do so many things differently, but I’ll still love you in every version. In every universe. In every life. That’s all."
When he comes back to himself, to this body, the first thing he realizes is that the rain has stopped.
The second is that Itadori is sniffling.
He and Kugisaki cry the same. Quiet, something defensive about it, even if the nature of that defensiveness differs.
Megumi’s voice is the gentlest he’s sounded in his life. "Why are you crying?"
"Man, I don’t know—" Itadori’s laugh is watery. "You must have loved him a lot, huh?"
Megumi opens his mouth. He keeps his eyes on Itadori. "So much," he says. "Much more than I realized while he was around."
Itadori lowers his umbrella, still open, to the ground. His hand is trembling, and he looks at it, confused, before folding it into a fist. "I’m sure he knows," he says. "Wherever he is now. Whatever afterlife."
Megumi wants that, so badly, so naively, to be true. "You think so?"
"I think love transcends lives." Itadori nods, sniffs. "He must know."
"Then," says Megumi. "If he knows, that’s all I can ask for."
There’s a split second where Itadori seems to clue in on something he doesn’t expect, a brief, brief moment where his expression splinters as the gravity of Megumi’s words settles on him differently—but there’s nothing there to serve as foundation, no memories to fuel an epiphany, and he only looks away, down at his fist, struck by something he’ll never be able to pinpoint or name.
Megumi saves him the trouble. He reaches to his side, where he’s left the borrowed umbrella lying next to him on the bench instead of using it. "Here. I was going to return this to you if I happened to catch you at the convenience store."
"Oh," says Itadori, collapsing his other umbrella before taking this one gingerly. "You didn’t have to—"
"Now I have two umbrellas and it’s not even raining anymore." Itadori laughs to himself, but he sobers up just as quickly, smile fading. "Thanks.
"That’s my line." Megumi stands. He can feel the weight of his heart beating in his chest, can feel the way it tries to pull him back down, to leave him grounded and tethered to where he was. The same weight he felt all those months ago, watching Itadori slump over Gojo and hearing, Are those your personal feelings?
Yes. Always yes.
"Thank you," he says. "For the umbrella. And for listening to a stranger."
Itadori shakes his head, but says, "Sure. Yeah."
The wet grass leaves small, dark stains on Megumi’s boots. Itadori’s sneakers, no longer the red ones he used to wear, are untainted.
Megumi looks him over. One last time. Just one more. Ridiculous, boyish, bright Itadori Yuuji. Tenacious, self-sacrificial, kind Itadori Yuuji. No cursed energy today. More human than most. So painfully, beautifully human. So unshakably Itadori, even now. Megumi loves him so much.
"You’re going?" he asks Megumi.
"I have a train to catch."
"Right. You’re from Tokyo." Itadori stands, too. He leaves the umbrellas in the space between where they were both sitting. One wet and open. The other dry and twisted around itself, pristine. "Uh. Bye, Fushiguro. Take care—and um—good luck. With everything. Wherever you’re going."
Megumi wishes he could have smiled. It might feel better, that way, for that to be the last thing he leaves Itadori with. He’d tried to smile, too, that night in March, and had succeeded in a small one, even as Itadori had touched his cheek, warm even in looming death, and thanked him.
Now, Megumi raises his hand instead, in hello or goodbye or thank you, and nods.
It’s a luxury in itself, he knows, to be able to choose his goodbye this time, to be able to turn away and know that he chose to do it. Just as much as it is a luxury to still be able to imagine a lifetime of lying next to Itadori Yuuji. A lifetime where he does remember. A lifetime of peace. A lifetime of a quiet mind and an even quieter heart. A soul at rest because there’s nothing to want, nothing to be on guard for, nothing to fear. A soul at rest because the entire world it circles around is right there, just as this after-version of him is right here, tactile and warm and smiling and not only safe but safe with Megumi.
But when it comes to Itadori, it’s always been a soul for a soul.
And if Itadori gets to keep his soul and his life, then that has to be the same as Megumi having his.
He wants to think he also chose not to look back this time. But there’s an unignorable fear there, a rejection of all the more he knows he could and would want, sitting right next to the part of him that will always, always want to just hold Itadori, if nothing else.
But it’s good that he can’t. That he’s only ever been able to do it once.
It makes it much easier, though no less painful and not without regrets, to walk away.
Everyone tells Megumi the same thing in the days leading up to him leaving.
Come back in one piece, they say. Come back with all of you.
Kugisaki doesn’t. She knows much better. She follows him as much of the way to the car as she can, huddling into herself in the cold. She doesn’t hug him, doesn’t jerk her chin at him, doesn’t give him a goodbye.
All she tells him, resolute and vulnerable and helpless and brave and stubborn like it’s not only him she’s saying this to, is: