Amanai Riko dies from a bullet to her head.
When Satoru finds her body, slack on the ground of those Star Religious assholes' headquarters, he remembers how to rage.
There’s the impact that caved her skull in, the crown of her head sundering apart. There’s the dry spray of blood tarrying on her skin.
Amanai was a kind girl. Amanai was a child. Under that numb wave of anger — of sorrow and guilt and all his regrets — Satoru wanted to hunt down every single motherfucker responsible for this and bash their damn brains in. Do what they did to her and leave them where they lay.
You're Satoru, says Suguru, right?
Suguru doesn't share the same sentiments.
There are non-shaman cultists in the group, he says. There wouldn't be any meaning in that.
So Satoru holds her in his arms and hangs his head. Suguru is late.
When they drag themselves through the star cult’s building with the deadweight of Amanai’s corpse between them, limp and lifeless, no one is around. It is quiet, silent as the soil that Amanai will be buried under.
Satoru does not get drunk.
When he was seven, he had snuck into a small liquor store in a deserted neighbourhood. It was at the prime morning hour of nine, which meant that the rare person entering the store was either already intoxicated or severely worn at the edges. Which then meant the cashier was allowed a longer smoke break.
Satoru quietly blasted open the back door lock and sidled in between the aisles. It was easy to slip by the cashier's line of view through the window, hunching and crouching. All this because Satoru was just itching to understand what the heck all the adults were gushing about.
Well, he'd thought, let's see if this is better than candy, and grabbed a random bottle from the lower shelves where he could reach.
When he managed to smuggle it out to the nearest park, Satoru took a small sip, and immediately spat it out, coughing.
Adults have no taste, he decided.
Satoru does not get drunk.
When he was thirteen, some older college students stopped him while he was passing through a park, and had grandly offered sips of their bottle of shochu.
Hey there, one of them said, motioning for Satoru to near. Come on, I swear it’s good. This boy's eyes, though, were watching him like a shark. Hungry for some kind of prey. At the spiny age of thirteen, Satoru already knew the implications of that gaze.
Why’re you hesitating, another one said, laughing, cheery, their face beet red. You scared, kid? Satoru remembers thinking, stupid regular weak ass humans, before he snatched the bottle from their hands and, out of sheer pride and stubbornness, chugged three fat gulps of the liquid.
It's really a stroke of luck that he ran into an old lady near the park. She'd seen him stagger, and — without asking — hefted him up on her shoulders and asked him for the way home.
Satoru remembered how her hands shook with his weight, wrinkled and worn and spotted with age. But she never let him down, all the way up till the end.
Satoru does not get drunk.
When he was sixteen, Utahime had invited Shoko to a karaoke bar.
With Utahime's temperament, Satoru had always found such joy and ridiculous, childish, selfish high ground in frustrating her, vexing her, teasing her, boiling her blood. He'd insisted that he and Suguru tagged along, much to Utahime's horror; and when she grudgingly relented, Satoru made sure to push all her buttons until she yelled and threw things at him the whole way there. Shoko and Suguru merely stood back, serene smiles on their faces.
Then Shoko had offered him a pint of beer.
Satoru only found out the next day, drowned in headaches and nausea and the desire to die, that Utahime had been thoroughly delighted at how incapacitated he was the entire night.
“You were genuinely entertaining,” said Shoko. “I've never seen Utahime that relaxed around you.”
“Tell me nobody took a video,” Satoru groaned.
“I'll show you later,” whispered Suguru.
“It was wonderful,” Shoko cooed. “You were a mess. Never took you for a sad drunk.”
“I was not sad!”
“Gojo, you were clinging to Getou the entire night, sobbing about how unfair it is that his hair is always smooth and silky and yours is just a white rat's nest,” said Shoko, “which I agree with. And then you cried about how stupid it is that he's so popular. And then about how all the girls kept fawning over him. And then—”
“Alright, I get it,” said Satoru.
“Don't pout,” said Shoko. “It’s not like Getou minded.”
“How could I,” said Suguru, looking like he was silently laughing. “Satoru just brings me so much joy when he's drunk.”
What friends. Satoru petulantly slouched against his seat and kicked the chair back, as far as he could tip it. What friends. Instead of bringing him back to the dorm, they all kept him there the whole night for their own entertainment. Shoko and Suguru claimed that it was too precious how needy and attached he got, what with the begging and complaining and proclamations of camaraderie. Apparently it was too endearing an opportunity to pass on.
“Otherwise I would have taken you home,” Suguru explained, smiling.
Satoru huffed and leaned further back, lower and lower and lower and lower, until Suguru’s hand reached over to balance him.
Therefore, Satoru does not get drunk.
Three instances in his life are enough to conclude that Gojo Satoru simply cannot handle his alcohol. Two of those events are sorely embarrassing: there is little recollection of what he said, blurry memories of what he did, and a shit load of eyewitnesses making fun of him. Satoru would like to think that he has enough gall to not be irked by these sorts of things, but the irritation comes nonetheless.
This is why, when he next followed Utahime to a karaoke bar, Satoru limited himself to only one sip of any alcoholic drink, much to Mei Mei’s disappointment.
This is why, at sixteen, when Suguru and Shoko bought sake to accompany their dinner together one night, he had refused even a single drop. Bad for his bowels, he's said.
This is why, now at seventeen, Satoru has only ever been drunk twice in his life.
“You're no fun,” says Shoko.
“Shoko,” says Suguru, “don't peer pressure him.”
“You think Gojo can be peer pressured?”
“I can be anything you want me to be,” says Satoru, cheek against his hand. He hopes the grin he's flashing them is salacious enough; which it likely is, seeing as Shoko is rolling her eyes, and Suguru is coughing.
Satoru has only ever been drunk twice in his life. It's foolish otherwise. He is 1) a lightweight, 2) does not see the appeal of the burning acrid taste of alcohol, 3) the friends he keeps are straight up mean, and 4) his strength is impaired if he's under the influence.
Therefore, Satoru does not get drunk.
(Then what happens is this: Amanai Riko dies from a bullet to her head.)
It’s not like Satoru doesn't have the empathy to spare.
That’s probably the greatest misconception about him, he thinks, from the straight and narrow eyes of the public. Gojo Satoru: hater of righteousness, contemptor of the weak. He will turn you into ashes and relish in the sound of fire and brimstone in his ears. Didn't you hear? This boy was laughing during the fight with the Sorcerer Killer, crazed and high from pride. Every bit his namesake, truly the brilliance of his clan.
But when Gojo Satoru held Amanai's corpse in his arms, he remembered how to rage.
“I heard from Yaga-sensei,” says Shoko the day of, when they are all back in their dorms. “Are you both okay?”
“I mean,” says Satoru, and can't even finish his sentence.
They had just come back from the morgue.
The metallic cool of autopsy tables, the buzzing of fluorescent lights, the clean smell of the dead— all of it was draining him. It was a little anticlimactic, if he’s being honest, and some part of Satoru was horribly, selfishly relieved when Amanai's weight was lifted off his arms. He didn't want to see her blood on his hands anymore.
Satoru expected Yaga to reassure them that they'd done all they could. Expected to see that resigned, calm gaze he has whenever something dire has happened. What Satoru didn't expect, when they returned with the hem of his clothes soaked red, was for Yaga to be waiting for them at the entrance with a bag full of food.
I've heard of that man from the Zenin clan, Yaga said, voice gentle. There isn't much else you two could've done. And then he went on a tirade of something else; something risible like strength and intent and all the liability that comes with, but the words were muted in Satoru’s ears. All Satoru did — all he managed to do — was watch the weight of those words settle on Suguru's shoulders, slumping them down. He wondered, vaguely, if there was a proper way to feel about this.
Go see Shoko again, said Yaga, after he noted their silence. You both look like you need it.
So here Satoru is, sitting on Shoko's windowsill overlooking a garden. The clouds are rolling in over the sky, shrouding the setting sun, and Satoru can tell that soon enough it will begin to rain.
“We'll be okay,” says Suguru.
Satoru glances over to where Suguru is slouching back against the wall. There's a ridiculous amount of composure in his stance, although his fingers are toying with the buttons of his uniform, fiddling. Like he doesn't quite know what else to do with them.
Shoko seems to see this too, because she offers him her cigarettes.
“We'll get cancer anyway, statistically,” she says, when Suguru stares a beat too long, “if we live long enough.”
“Well, don't encourage it,” says Satoru. And then an affronted, “Hey,” as Suguru pulls one from the pack.
Suguru smiles at him and shrugs.
“Feels like an appropriate time to start.”
Which is an incredibly dumb explanation to give, but Satoru doesn't know how to respond to it. Amanai died from a bullet to her head and Suguru was the only one there to witness it. And here Satoru is: seventeen and feeling like he's caught on the knife-edge between youth and whatever comes after. So all he does is stare at the cigarette clamped tight between the jitter of Suguru's fingers, at the cherry glow of it sizzling when Shoko lights the fire. He stares as Suguru takes a drag.
Satoru’s throat itches for a drink, then.
“That girl,” says Shoko. “Didn't she have a caretaker?”
“Yeah,” says Suguru. “We never found Kuroi afterwards.”
“Ah,” says Shoko.
Outside, it starts to rain. Droplets drumming against the earth, a torrential downpour.
If only this were the only thing you would miss, Amanai, Satoru thinks, watching as the water stains dark the asphalt on the school grounds, breathing in deep the smell of the earth. They had gone to search for Kuroi, or at least salvage what was left of her in the hopes that it could be redeemable somehow, but in the end it fared them no better.
“Our future missions won’t be worse than this, Suguru,” Satoru says quietly, quenching the low rise of guilt in his throat. He leans his cheek against his palm, affecting ease. “We're the strongest, aren't we?”
Suguru only glances at him, the cigarette dangling from his lips, and makes a non-committal hum. It is only when Satoru scowls — rattled and offended at the response — that Suguru smiles warmly and walks over to ruffle his hair.
It's pouring out now, the whole world green. Hemmed in by the flood, Satoru watches as Suguru lights another cigarette.
Two more, and then three.
(We'll be okay, says Suguru.)
They were right: their future missions are better.
The thing about it, though, is that Satoru has been going on them alone lately.
Well, he thinks, it can't be helped. Three months after Amanai's death, Satoru is on his way to becoming the strongest. Perfecting his self-recovery reverse technique, infinity always active. He can complete any mission by himself, really. No thrill like the thrill of adrenaline in his veins, of reigning victory over those so hideously weak it bores him. He can go on missions alone because he will always complete them. Because he will always succeed.
Every bit my namesake, truly the brilliance of my clan. Gojo Satoru was born and the world's balance was tipped right off of its—
“You know,” says Yaga, one day in his office, “I didn't think it could, but your power is getting to your head even more these days.”
“That's what I keep telling him,” says Suguru.
“Hey!” says Satoru, rounding on him. “Why are you siding with sensei now?”
“Because you have to be careful,” says Yaga, pressing his pen to the new doll in his hands. “They're calling you the strongest jujutsu sorcerer out there, you know. It won't only be curses that are out for your blood.”
“As they should.” Satoru smiles, crossing his arms and tipping up his chin. “I don't see why that would be an issue, sensei. It's not like I'll deny the attention.”
“Did you not hear my point,” says Yaga.
“Did you not hear your point?” says Satoru. “I'm the strongest out there!”
It was half meant as a joke. Which means Suguru will detect the half seriousness of it, so Satoru looks over at him, expecting a disdainful scoff at the remark—
But there's an odd expression on Suguru’s face. It's clouded with an emotion Satoru doesn't quite understand. Too light to be resentment, too dazed to be anger, but he can probably guess—
“Oh?” says Satoru, grinning. “Are you jealous?”
Suguru blinks out of it.
“Please,” he says, kicking Satoru lightly in the calf. “As if. Who would be jealous of the likes of you?”
“Oh, Suguru is offended,” says Satoru, slow and giddy. “Don't be sad, you have plenty of other enticing qualities. One or two of them.”
“One or two more than you then,” says Suguru.
“Second strongest isn't even a bad title to have,” says Satoru, fluttering his lashes. “It has a nice ring to it. But if being first loser ever gets too much to bear, I can always comfort Suguru, hm?”
“Can you leave,” says Yaga.
“Don’t get so cocky,” says Suguru. “I can always beat you in close combat, you know.”
“I mean,” says Satoru, “if you like holding me down that much—"
“Get out,” yells Yaga.
(We'll be okay, says Suguru.)
So he says. But Satoru has started to notice something strange.
There is this one mission they're assigned on together, two months after Amanai's death. It’s one with three Special Grade curses. The curses are large, grotesque. The curses are strong.
But they aren't strong enough, Satoru thinks, a manic light in his vision. Satoru hears the crack of their bones, breaking in the way twigs don't: muted, dull, as if there's grief in the marrow still. And oh god, he relishes in it. In that thrill again— one strike after another, each impact tearing their remains into rags, the adrenaline coursing through him, electrifying.
Then he looks at the scene of carnage after, and comes down from his high.
There's one civilian casualty. They didn't get to her in time— the body is strewn over the ground, her skull caved in and her flesh peeled back, bones uncovered like chassis underneath the smell of all that wet raw meat. Compared to the size of the blood splatter, Satoru feels small, dwarfed in the spill.
And when Satoru turns to look over at Suguru, Suguru is staring straight at her, eyes like the eye of a slaughterhouse animal, hands frozen at his sides.
Suguru flinches. Almost unnoticeably, but Satoru catches it.
“Ah, my bad,” says Suguru, tone unnaturally light. There's something off about the colour of his voice. Like it has too much breath, maybe, or too little. As if it's both meters away and miles off. “She just looks young, that's all.”
(We'll be okay.)
It's not as if Suguru's loud and boisterous to begin with, but it's noticeable that he's been quieter.
Three months after Amanai’s death. Suguru is more solemn, more absent. It shows in the dazed, empty gaze he has sometimes; in the way he works the tense muscles around his jaw, dragging his feet forward just to keep moving. He has been exorcising, and ingesting, and exorcising and ingesting and ingesting and ingesting and—
“Are you okay?” Satoru asks one day, when they're both sitting on the rooftop to their own dorms. Watching as the recumbent light of eventide settles across the horizon.
“I'm fine,” says Suguru. “Just stress, that's all.”
“What kind of stress,” says Satoru, pressing his finger to the space between Suguru's eyebrows, “would give you this kind of frown?”
Suguru laughs and swats his hand away. “What are you, a mother hen?”
“I just don't want you to wrinkle, what if you get even uglier?” says Satoru. “Your fangirls would be out of a job. Tragedy of the century! You will never be approached by any of your stalkers again.”
Suguru smiles. “Well,” he says, tilting his head, “that just means you get me all to yourself, no?” And his grin widens, playful and roguish, when Satoru punches him on the arm. (No, Satoru is most definitely not blushing, thank you for asking, the sun is just especially warm on his cheeks today).
“Seriously though,” says Suguru, once Satoru has regained some semblance of control and stops thrashing at him. “I'm good.”
Satoru clears his throat (and no, he is still not blushing, shut up). “You sure?” he says. “Suguru doesn't need to cry on my shoulder or anything like that?”
“What the hell do you take me for.”
“Weak,” says Satoru, and laughs when Suguru swings a leg to aim a kick at his chest.
They haven't been together much lately. Their missions have been separating them often, sending them away. It's for efficiency, says Yaga. Convenience. Satoru guesses that that's some awning of a praise on how strong they've both become, but it still disappoints him that he hasn't been able to spend much time with Suguru. They're always exhausted after a long day, always assigned to go places the other has no business of being in.
A small inkling of his intuition says, then: This isn't a good idea.
But when Suguru pinches both of Satoru's cheeks and stretches them wide, scolding him in fake anger with their laughter sounding over the rooftops, Satoru remembers: We'll be okay.
But four months after Amanai's death, Suguru doesn't get better.
He's withdrawing, Satoru realizes, a strange sort of unease scraping at him, low and simmering, scratching at his gut. Suguru closes his door earlier in the night; keeps his smile perfunctory. Satoru notices the way he lugs himself through the day as though there's nothing in it except duty, plodding like a lone mule, his head down.
“Are you okay?” asks Satoru.
“It's just stress.” Suguru flicks Satoru on the forehead. “Satoru shouldn't worry.”
Five months after Amanai's death, Suguru doesn't seem to be eating properly. Soumen, one of his favourite dishes, would be left with scraps sometimes, discarded with whole portions uneaten. He says it's just a lack of appetite due to — no points for guessing — stress.
Satoru doesn't really know what this means. Maybe, he thinks, hands braced on his hips, watching as Suguru once again bids them goodbye and calls it an early night, maybe it's because of all the ingesting, and exorcising, and ingesting, and—
“Why,” says Yaga, “are you constantly requesting to go on missions with him? I thought you'd like no one holding you back.”
“Aw, shucks, sensei,” says Satoru. “I know it's easy to have complete faith in your prodigy's abilities, given how fast my advancements have been in this past year alone! I appreciate all forms of flattery. Even I tremble at the innate talent I possess—”
“Dear god,” says Yaga.
“—but I don't like spending time alone,” Satoru says, half a truth. “It can't be helped.”
Satoru watches as Yaga cards his fingers through his own hair, looking like he's aging in real time. It's odd to see him this conflicted. It shouldn't be that hard, should it, to rearrange some students' assignments so that it benefits said students' health? Satoru cannot see what the damn dilemma is.
“Satoru,” says Yaga. “You know it's not up to me, don't you?”
They still don't get assigned on missions together. Some of the higher-ups' wishes, is all Yaga says.
So Satoru has a brilliant idea.
It's one of those particular nights when all three of them are free. Those rare, occasional times when their missions aren't too demanding the day of, aren't too early the morning after. Satoru has a brilliant idea, and decides to do something about it.
Suguru’s room is just one door down from his— it takes no time to get there. Two, four, six, eight knocks before Satoru's impatience gets the better of him and he wrenches open the door. It wobbles wildly in its frame as he shoves it out of the way.
Suguru is on the other side, hand hovering inches away from where the knob is supposed to be. He's dressed in the usual sweatpants and white shirt, hair left undone over his shoulders.
“Satoru,” he says, startled.
“I have a brilliant idea,” Satoru declares.
Suguru stares in astonishment for a few moments, and then squints suspiciously. “...I'm not helping you light anything on fire.”
“No, not that,” says Satoru. “Although— maybe a bit later— but anyways, the point is that I came here because I have an ingenious idea that will help cheer you up.”
Suguru crosses his arms and leans his shoulder against the wall, eyes holding a wry glint of glee. Satoru tries — very hard, in fact, admittedly — not to focus on the wild flutter of a pulse visible over the collar of Suguru's shirt, the strands of hair falling into the flush of his face.
“And what,” asks Suguru, a corner of his mouth tilting upwards, “do I need cheering up for?”
“Go out with me,” says Satoru.
“Go out with me,” Satoru repeats. “It's a nice night, so you should get outta your room and go out with me. We can go to karaoke, or a bar, and I can drink!”
Suguru still doesn't move.
“...I'm hilarious when I'm drunk, aren't I?” says Satoru. It's starting to be a little disconcerting, how frozen over Suguru is. It's a natural conclusion to come to, isn't it? Or did Suguru forget what he said, what with Satoru brings me so much joy when he's drunk? “We can invite Shoko too, and maybe Utahime and Mei Mei, if they're up for it. Which I doubt they would be, wet blankets and all.”
And then he beams, expectant.
There's a look of shock on Suguru's face, there for a few moments before it gradually subsides. Changes into what Satoru can only describe as a — huh — cautiously neutral expression.
“You want me to...” Suguru begins, then trails off.
“Go out,” Satoru repeats, blinking. “Did you knock your head too hard during a mission?”
“Rude,” says Suguru, still in a slight trance. Satoru watches, curious, for a few more seconds before Suguru seems to gather himself and sighs. Pushes himself off the wall, and scratches the back of his neck in— what, is that embarrassment? Satoru can't quite place it, because the way Suguru is eyeing him is too measured, too bolted.
“I just thought…” says Suguru quietly. “Ah, well. I can't. Not tonight.”
“Why?” Satoru frowns. “You said earlier that you were free.”
“Well, yes,” says Suguru, “but I'd rather... stay in, to be honest.”
He doesn't know how that can be the wrong thing to say. Surely there's only so much tact that can be missed in one word — a genuine question — so he doesn't know how that can possibly be the wrong thing to say. Yet apparently it is, because Suguru's expression shutters closed.
“Do I need a reason?” Suguru's tone is clipped.
“Why are you cranky?” says Satoru. “Come on, it'll be fun! We don't even have to do anything exhausting. And I'll drink! You've been cooped up inside for too long.”
“Satoru,” says Suguru, a warning in his voice. “No. I just need some rest alone tonight—"
“But you've been saying that for the past months!” Satoru protests, and shit, he can feel his composure slipping, the words unspooling in his mouth without any reign. Why the shit does Suguru have to be so fucking difficult? They can pretend all they can, but it's getting pretty damn clear that— “Something's been off lately. You know that, right? You've been acting weird but you keep saying you're okay, and obviously something's wrong.”
“Don't tell me it's just stress!”
Suguru's expression closes off entirely.
Satoru knows, in some corner of his mind, that this is unfair. Knows that this is childish and an imposition, but it feels like Suguru is just hoping that he would simply get it if the issue is left lying there long enough. As though it's some game of chase. What did you fucking expect me to understand, oh, I get it, you don't need to explain, no problem?
But the way Suguru looks at him now is cold. His glare is icy, distant in a way it's never been before. Satoru almost wants to take it back.
“How hard is it for you to accept,” says Suguru, terribly even, “that I just want some space from everyone right now, including you?”
And then he shuts the door in Satoru's face.
The hallway is silent, devoid of people. Satoru stands — shocked frozen — with his eyes trained on the door and fists clenched tight at his sides. Calm down, he thinks, calm down, shit, because the entire wall will be crushed down if he doesn't stop himself.
“What the fuck,” he blurts out.
The door doesn't answer him. Neither does Suguru, eerily silent in his room.
The unease scrapes at Satoru again, clawing low. The fucking nerve. There's a pit of dread gashing through him now, seething, because you don't just watch your friend pull away like that and pretend things are okay, do you?
Why would you want some space from me, Satoru thinks, fraught, why would you pull away. A tiny part of him feels pathetic that it's always been Suguru reeling him in, grounding him down. Someone Satoru can recalibrate to. But clearly, when it comes time for Satoru to watch him like no one else does, watch him to make sense of things, it doesn’t—
Satoru shoves his hands in his pockets and kicks at the grout beneath his feet. Ah, dammit, he wasn't planning on getting drunk without Suguru there, without Suguru even anywhere near, because that is his friend, his best friend, his only friend, but why would you want some space from me, why are you being cold, and god, Satoru does not get drunk but—
“I need a drink,” he says.
“Oh?” says Shoko, as she walks by. “You coming?”
Apparently Shoko had already made plans to go out with Utahime and Mei Mei, before he even had the chance to ask her.
“Without me?” says Satoru. (He smothers down the image of the door slammed in his face. There is no need for that right now.) “And here I thought we were all friends! You are too exclusive.”
“Excuse me,” says Shoko, “we're exclusive?”
Satoru grins. “I bet they're happy to have me along.”
“Well,” says Shoko.
Apparently it took a bit of persuasion — to no one's surprise — for Utahime to agree to Satoru joining them. (It made him scoff in amusement when he heard it. He's an absolute delight to have around, please, especially when Utahime is so easy to vex.) The final convincing nail, according to Shoko, was her claiming that she found Gojo sulking outside of Getou's room, tail wagging and everything, you won't be so cruel as to reject that, will you Utahime, and okay, that was a tiny bit offensive.
“Where's Getou though?” says Shoko, peering around Satoru as if the man in question will materialize at any moment. “Is he not coming with us?”
Satoru shrugs, as naturally as possible. “I tried to convince him, but he said he’s busy tonight.”
“That’s surprising,” says Shoko, “that he refused you.”
Satoru doesn't reply.
“...All right,” says Shoko. She's fixing him with a clinical gaze now, the same kind of look she has when she draws a knife through a corpse’s skin just to wait for the blood to leak. It's the way she regards most everything, really. He won't have any of it. “Are you—?"
“Utahime and Mei must be waiting,” says Satoru. “Don't we have a taxi hailed for us?”
She sends him a withering stare. It probably means something along the lines of please, you idiot, and Satoru darts a quick glance off to the side, whistling.
But Shoko is Shoko. Cavalier like always, as casual as a shrug. All she does in the end is smile, and put her foot forward.
They make their way to Ginza.
The taxi pulls up at the entrance to a bar. Lupin, a long way from where they came from. The building is nestled on a narrow street a little ways from the district centre, the pavement cracked at the edges, sparse with people.
He hangs behind as they climb out of the car, the glow of streetlights spilling across them as they march towards the bouncer. Satoru tunes himself out of the conversation, the idle voices of the three women in front of him a static in his ears, and thrusts his hands in his pockets out of the cold. It's a gorgeous night out, which makes it even worse. The horizon is stained by city lights, only a few stubborn stars flecking the dark expanse of the sky. The December air is cool and crisp when he inhales.
Well, to hell with it, he thinks. If Suguru refuses to come out, then that's his loss. It's not Satoru's business to dwell over, nothing he can—
“You're uncharacteristically quiet,” says Utahime.
Satoru shoves his thoughts away.
“Hey now,” he drawls, grinning at her over the frame of his glasses. He can see the moment she regrets her decision to turn around and address him, from the way her face falls. “Do you miss hearing my voice that much? I swear I'll make it up to you by never leaving your side tonight, hm?”
Utahime looks horrified.
Satoru bites back a laugh. “Utahime,” he sings, closing the distance between them and bending down to face level with her. “What is this! Are you so floored by my charms that you are speechless? Is this you being shy?”
“I'm going to be sick,” grumbles Utahime, looking like she's tasted bile.
“How cruel,” says Satoru. “And here I am, making all the effort.”
“Leave her alone, Gojo,” says Shoko, though she looks like she's secretly enjoying it. “Stop giving people reasons to dislike you and get your ID out.”
They're fake ones. The bouncer doesn't even look twice. He glances at Satoru and Shoko — up and down, bored and calculating, most certainly knowing that they are in no way over twenty — and motions for them to enter.
Oh, Satoru thinks, wincing, holy shit— because it's a sudden onslaught of senses. There's the immediate thudding bass of the music, the stale stench of alcohol; it’s almost blanching, the humid heat of the crowded bar. The whole place is overcast in an orange glow from the lanterns above, filled full with people laughing around the rim of their drinks. Polished floors, leather seats on the bar stools. It takes some effort to navigate around the bodies to reach one of the booths.
“We colonize a table and order a round of neat spirits,” says Mei Mei, winking at him as they settle into their seats: her and Utahime on one side, him and Shoko on the other. “That's how we get the night started.”
“Are neat spirits sweet?” asks Satoru.
“Wow,” says Mei Mei. “You really are seventeen.”
“It's been a while,” says Satoru, defensively sulking. “Does alcohol have a positive impact on your mood, or a negative one?”
Mei Mei smiles.
She calls for the waiter. Who, suspiciously, is by their side in a subhumanly short amount of time. Mei Mei tells him something — their voices drowned out low by the incessant chatter all around, Satoru can't hear them well — and the waiter then nods, leaves. Satoru watches him cut across the glossy floorboards, dodging past the mill of people. Even from this distance, he can feel the body heat of everyone in the room, warm and balmy and so nauseatingly doused in alcohol that he almost wants to retch himself.
“Congrats, by the way,” says Mei Mei, after the waiter is out of earshot, “on being promoted to a Special Grade sorcerer.”
Satoru huffs. “I mean,” he says, leaning his cheek on his palm, “honestly, I think they should've done that earlier.”
“Take a compliment, would you,” Utahime mutters.
“I had my money on Getou being promoted before you, y’know,” says Mei Mei, smiling, “despite your reputation. Getou and his charming, nihilistic smile can turn most anything.”
Satoru blinks. “Nihilistic...?”
“Don't take me seriously.” Mei Mei grins, showing teeth. “It's just how he comes across. You know how it is. That cryptic, mendacious face of his.”
“In words we understand, please,” says Utahime.
“Lying,” corrects Mei Mei.
Satoru’s fingers twitch. Ah, he thinks. How pathetic. He had come out here half to spite Suguru and half to haphazardly distract himself, but now he's even surprised at how tense he is. So tense that it's a wonder he doesn't bite through his own tongue, or crush the table into shards.
Any mention of your name, and—
“Gojo,” says Shoko. “Do you know who the other Special Grade sorcerer is?”
Satoru steels himself. He catches her eyes, and it's that same look again, that draw of a knife.
“Who does it matter,” he grouses, and waves his hand dismissively. “I heard she just fucks around taking trips overseas anyway.”
“Tsukumo Yuki,” says Utahime, arms folded across her chest. “Come on. At least respect your equal.”
“What for,” says Satoru.
Utahime frowns and makes as though to answer, but the waiter comes over then with a tray of their order. Heaped full of mandarins, lime, and salt. Four clear glasses. Two bottles of differently labeled drinks— one of which seems to be some kind of wine, if he judges the colours and brand correctly.
Mei Mei elegantly pours a bottle in a long arcing stream over the four glasses, filling them up to two inches above empty.
Then she looks at Satoru. “More?”
“As much as I am personally on the road to alcoholism,” says Shoko, “don't encourage him, Mei-san.”
“Hell yeah,” says Satoru.
Mei Mei sends Shoko a smug smile — which Shoko returns, of course, with an unbothered tilt of her head — and pours half an inch more in one of the glasses. Satoru practically yanks the drink toward him when she's done (fingers still itching, dammit) and takes a long pull from it.
Then almost spits it out.
“Too much?” Mei Mei smirks.
Satoru coughs out the taste, bitterness malingering on his tongue. Oh my god, this shit is burning, how can anyone enjoy this. “Mei,” he whines, feeling like he's hacking out his own larynx. “The fuck— fuck is this? Is this some kind of liquidized fire?”
“Twelve-year-old Yamazaki whiskey,” says Mei Mei. “So yes.”
Satoru swallows a few more times and figures out how to breathe again. Even the pungent smell of this poison is burning through his nose, that flaring, sapid warmth. He watches as Utahime cuts a slice of a mandarin and wedges it on the rim of her glass; watches as Shoko takes a small sip, and then another. The pool of warmth in his stomach is really permeating through him now, and jeez, as much as he enjoys being the life of the party, there's not much he's in the mood for tonight, especially when Suguru is not—
Satoru chugs the remainder of his drink.
“Another,” he mumbles, pushing the glass toward Mei Mei. “Gimme.”
“Someone had a bad day,” says Utahime, raising her eyebrow. “You realize this is 43%, right?”
“Just give me anything that'll put me right to sleep,” says Satoru.
“Make sure it's something you'll wake up from though,” says Shoko.
“Let him make mistakes,” says Mei Mei cheerfully. Which, coming from her, means that Satoru is on the road to collosally fuck up, but at this point none of anything matters. He slumps against the wooden table and filters out whatever Utahime is saying to Shoko; something about a technique she's been seeing, an article she's read. It sieves through his ears like interstellar noise. It's not like he'll remember anyway, come morning.
Then something sharpens at the back of Satoru's senses.
He turns around.
There's a man seated at a booth in a far corner of the room. He's surrounded by a flock of friends— three of them, or maybe four, if you count the guy completely knocked out with the empty beer cans strewn around him. They're all pressed in neat suits and jackets, probably smelling like the plastic opulence of brightly-lit office spaces. Humans, non-shaman. Looks about mid-twenties.
There’s one man there that has been staring at Satoru, focused and furtive. But even when Satoru raises his head to meet his gaze, the man doesn't wince, or shy away, or evade the admission. He just blinks back at Satoru, slightly surprised, before smiling and giving him a sly wave.
Satoru tugs his glasses down an inch, and winks.
“Oh?” comes Shoko’s voice beside him. “Are you interested?”
“It's just harmless flirting,” says Satoru, silently laughing as the man turns a faint shade of pink and frantically looks away. “A little noncommittal fun. It's not like it means anything.”
“...It doesn't mean anything to you when you flirt?” says Shoko.
Satoru smirks. “Why do you ask, Shoko,” he says, and oh, huh, he's starting to slur a little, isn't he. “Do you want to see me make out with a guy?”
“Oh, sure,” says Shoko, “I want to see you make out with a guy.”
He hears the emphasis and glances at her. Shoko turns away instantly — quickly as if in avoidance — but he still manages to catch the easy curve of her smile under the orange bar lights.
It isn't as if he won't, Satoru thinks, dragging back the half-full glass of whiskey Mei Mei has just poured him. There's never any idea so abject he wouldn't try, never anything so potent that he would toe the line. He's Gojo Satoru after all.
But it’s just that— hooking up with men, or other men, other than— the idea of it—
Satoru downs another glass.
“Slow down there,” says Shoko.
“You know,” says Mei Mei, and Satoru feels the relief palpable through his skin when she continues with: “I ran into the two first-years the other day. Nanami and Haibara, was it? One of them needs a haircut, I think.” She cracks something like a smile, a wry corner of her mouth curving upward at the disdainful look Utahime shoots her. “Anyhow, they were telling me about this mission they had with a third grade curse. Some lore of the land. Apparently they got there a few minutes too late, and about seven people had the upper half of the bodies missing.”
“Yikes,” says Satoru. Shoko elbows him.
“They shouldn't be assigned on cases they're not ready for,” says Mei Mei. “Whatever the higher-ups are thinking, it's a waste of money. Losing sorcerers right now would be a terrible investment.”
“Say that a bit gentler, would you,” says Utahime.
“It’s poor gambling?” offers Mei Mei.
Utahime cuts her a look that’s somewhere between exasperation and reproach, but says nothing to it. Only twirls her drink around in small circles, the wine sloshing to its brim.
Satoru empties the glass in his hand. (Did he fill another one already? He can't recall.)
“Mei's right,” he manages out. “There's no way the first-years will say no to the case, also.”
Because it’s that thirst to prove yourself, Satoru thinks, his stomach burning, gut pooled with heat. That drive to be saviour. Jujutsu exists to protect non-jujutsu sorcerers, but what a fucking mindset. It's destructive, this vision of shamanism to shield the weak. Placing your faith in something less than sturdy, something so malleable to its own wiles that it's bound to break somewhere down the line. How fucking silly. Believe that you are righteous and you'll think yourself a victim, when everything goes wrong.
(He needs to tell Suguru—)
Laughter rings from the far corner of the room. Satoru groans and covers his ears.
“Hitting you now, huh,” says Mei Mei.
Satoru glares at her.
He really can’t understand how all three of them have such placated, sober expressions still. Not even a slight tinge of pink on their cheeks to indicate any alcohol consumption.
Yet here he is: all his senses zeroing in on noise, hearing decibels too loud at the bar. The dim drone of conversations — of too many different voices chattering, clanging, cackling, competing with the background music — is constantly honing in on him, rising and falling in volumes that Satoru can't control. It's rather nettlesome, if he's being gracious; really fucking annoying, if he's being honest.
Not to mention his intestines are on fire.
“They are not,” says Mei Mei, sounding amused. “Don't be dramatic.”
Satoru bonks his face on the wooden table.
God, he's drunk out of his mind. Or is he? Satoru's not sure how else to explain the thudding of his heart, beating too loud to the bass. This isn't panic, is it? He can still feel the strange man's eyes on him, can still hear Suguru's words, see Suguru's frown—
He thinks someone is saying, Jeez, this is different from the last time he's drunk. That's Utahime, probably. He's not sure. The smell of alcohol is making it hard to breathe now; making him lightheaded. Satoru feels like everything is tinted orange, blurred at the edges. Blood on his hands.
(There is also someone watching him.)
“I think,” he says, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“I swear, Gojo, if you vomit on my jeans,” Utahime begins.
“Whoever,” Satoru says, then hiccups, “whoever chose this— this bar sucks.”
“You think neat spirits are sweet,” says Mei Mei. “Your opinion is invalid.”
“Seriously, if he vomits all over the table,” says Utahime. And then she says something else, but he doesn't catch it. He's too drowsy, too sleepy. Warm with the burning liquid in his stomach, in his throat, cheeks heated.
Satoru can see Mei Mei's mouth moving. He listens to what she says. Hears it, understands it, and forgets it the next moment.
“Oh, wait,” says Shoko. “Hey, Gojo. Don’t pass out—“
—the night, Mei-san. So what the heck are we going to do with him then?
Well, for one, we'll wake him up and—
Dump him into the trash.
—lug him back, I suppose. He's really out cold. Gojo? Gojo, hey. Gojo. He's not responding.
It's fine. Leave him. We'll slap him awake later if we need to.
...You sound concerningly eager for that.
(There is someone watching him.)
It's a scratch, an unaccountable itch in his teeth. Someone is watching him.
—get him to drink with us more often.
“Nah, I've had enough of this,” comes Utahime's voice. “Let's call Getou here.”
“Didn’t Gojo say he’s too busy tonight?”
“No.” That's Shoko. “I know how to convince Getou to come.”
Satoru waves his hand. His mind is still addled, muddled with sleep, but he has to warn them. Has to tell them.
“Oh hey, he's awake again,” says Mei Mei.
“Suguru wanted… wanted to be alone tonight,” Satoru mutters, lifting his head up from the table. Under the dim, dusky bar lights, everyone looks fuzzy. Surreal. Red, a little. The lanterns above him seem to be shifting shapes, a mirage in the trick of light. “He won't come.”
(Someone is watching him.)
“Wanna bet?” says Shoko.
Satoru looks at her.
It’s an odd smile she's wearing, he notes groggily. Knowing, private, as if she's in on a joke that Satoru ought to have been in as well.
But before he can think of what it could mean, she turns on her phone, types something into it, and flashes him a grin that is— near sadistic?
“And there he goes again,” says Utahime, before it fades to black.
Someone is watching you.
A loud burst of laughter erupts from the left. Satoru opens his eyes, awoken by the sound, and glances up beneath the curve of his glasses.
There are four men clutching their stomachs, bowled over in laughter, hacking out their lungs in mirth and—
His eyes accidentally catch one of their gazes. That same man from earlier, staring very suddenly, precisely at him.
Satoru stares back, bleary, until...
(I just want some space from everyone right now, including you.)
The next thing he knows, Satoru is out on the sidewalk.
He blinks hard. A couple times, just to make sure it's not an illusion.
“Huh,” he says, when the road before him doesn't disappear. It's a familiar stretch of pavement, brisk with passersby who are casting him odd looks, but Satoru can't place where this is. No one he knows is around him.
It's a difficult, filmy task to try and refocus the swimming vision in front of him. It's fine, he tries to tell himself, except he's not sure if his mouth is forming the words. No matter. Satoru unbuttons more of his shirt to allow for a cool waft of wind and stumbles toward a dim alleyway a few paces ahead. Leans heavily against the brick wall, and slides gracelessly down to the ground.
(Has someone been watching him?)
There’s still so much nausea. He doesn't know how long he’s laid on the ground for. It could have been seconds, or minutes, or hours— but eventually he's aware that someone is approaching. The footsteps are light, sedate.
“There you are.”
For all that his eyes allow him to see, Satoru is too tired to stay conscious. The awareness comes to him in veils: patchwork flashes of sounds and colours, so muzzy he feels like someone has stitched him together high.
“That boy was so desperate to find you,” comes the unfamiliar voice. “I'm lucky I got to you first.”
When Satoru gathers enough energy to lift his lids, he's face-to-face with the man from earlier.
Human, mid-twenties. Whiffs of fragrant smoke lingering on his suit. He's kneeling, and ah, god, Satoru is too inebriated to be awake now, too drained to attempt dignity. There’s not an ounce of will left in him to move a muscle.
“Such pretty eyes,” the man murmurs, and his hand is stretching out toward—
Satoru turns on his infinity, and passes out.
No, no, I can explain!
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please don't kill me! I didn't mean anything by— I'm sorry, wait please please please please—
When Satoru comes to, he's pressed against something warm.
His mind is still woozy. Unsure of what to make of it, Satoru shifts his body a little— and oh, it isn’t some illusion.
There has only been one other instance in his life when he'd been carried on someone's back. A pair of hands that shook with his weight, wrinkled and worn and spotted with age. Satoru was too young to understand the human affection it came with. I can walk by myself, old hag, he'd said. Though that had only made her laugh.
It felt like a hug then. It feels like a hug now.
“Suguru,” he mumbles.
“You're awake, you fucking idiot,” says Suguru.
Suguru has both arms wrapped under the back of Satoru’s knees, supporting the weight and holding him in place. His hair is untied and undone. Judging by the way Suguru isn't even catching his breath, it must not have been long since he started carrying Satoru on his back.
Satoru lifts his head. He doesn't know how long he's been out for, disoriented, but he's on school grounds now. The moonlight is filtering through a riot of green above him, milky white in the night. He can taste the fresh, cool wind tickling his skin; can hear the calm susurrus of foliage stirring in the breeze, in the dark, rustling in as Suguru trudges through the cobblestone path leading down to their dorms.
It's also soothing to breathe in the scent of Suguru, to feel his warmth against him. But Satoru won't tell him that.
“How are you feeling?” asks Suguru.
“Like shit,” Satoru murmurs. “My head's like puddle. Pudding.”
“You're an idiot.”
“Did we take a taxi home?” It comes out much more quiet and slurred than Satoru intended. The drowsiness is still there, albeit smothered. His entire body feels warm. “Put me down. I—”
“If you could walk the talk,” says Suguru, “I wouldn't be here.”
Satoru untangles one arm from around Suguru's neck to thwack him lightly on the side of the head. Suguru doesn't even react. Reasonably unfazed, given how frail Satoru feels right now.
“When did you,” Satoru says, then hiccups. “What happened?”
He can feel Suguru tense, his arms gripping Satoru’s legs like he's gearing up to smash the asphalt underneath them to ashes. It's such an instant reaction — knee-jerk and startling — that Satoru hastily ransacks his memory, scouring backwards through the bar, the heat, the whiskey and its burn, the empty alleyway…
“There,” he murmurs, “there was a guy, wasn't there?”
Suguru’s voice is strained. There's a note of fear there that Satoru hasn't heard in a long time, hasn't heard since the time Fushiguro Toji skewers a sword through him.
And— well. There has to be some narcissism in the way Satoru feels now. Some pitch of ego in the happiness roiling in him. He thought Suguru had grown wary of him with the remnants of their fight, or worse, that it had scared him away. But the fact that Suguru is here now, carrying him, refusing to let him down— it's careening something warm in Satoru's chest. We're still friends, he thinks, feeling a little silly. I'm still Suguru's friend.
He’s tempted to ask once more for an explanation, why were you upset, but Satoru senses that it might be like inviting a statue to breathe. That the man in front of him might only go under.
So all he asks is, instead, “What happened to that guy?”
Another beat of silence.
“...Did you kill him?” says Satoru, half a tease.
“Of course I didn't fucking kill him,” says Suguru. Satoru is caught off guard by the razor in his tone, unable to see Suguru's face. “I broke his fingers and broke his— punched him unconscious. Even though I really wanted to kill him, you fucking dumbass, because there would be a fucking good reason for it.”
“Oh,” says Satoru, surprised. “You're angry.”
“No, I'm not,” snaps Suguru.
Satoru laughs despite himself. The sound carries through the stonewalk, light enough for the wind to cart.
“Suguru worried for nothing,” he says. “I had infinity turned on, you know.”
“I knew that,” says Suguru, “but still. Your shirt was unbuttoned, and when I saw him I thought—”
He clamps his mouth shut. Satoru waits for an elaboration, a few moments and more, but it doesn't come. The grip Suguru has on his thighs is tight.
“It's whatever,” Satoru says lightly. “I wouldn't’ve cared if you killed him. One fewer scumbag monkey in the world, right?”
Suguru doesn't answer; just stomps forward as belligerently as possible with the entire weight of Satoru nuzzled on his back, the lines of his shoulders taut with intent.
Satoru can't recall much of what happened. He remembers wisps; sudden hot streaks of a flash of detail, like the jumble of empty bottles, the smell of balmy heat, the taste of salt. But how did he get to the alleyway on his own? Where did everyone go? He finds it hard to believe that they would just up and abandon him like that, even with the sea of hatred Utahime must harbor for him.
And the fact that Suguru is here, just the two of them— how much of a testament is that?
“Why did you come?” Satoru whispers, his lips brushing against Suguru's ear. Suguru stiffens. “I thought you didn't want to go out tonight.”
“Shoko texted me,” says Suguru, sounding a bit strangled.
“Shoko texted you,” Satoru echoes. He vaguely remembers it. “What did she say?”
“I don't think you need to know.”
“Come on, humour me,” says Satoru, tightening his arms around Suguru's neck. It's easier for the words to spill out now, the coherency coming back to him even though his head is still feather-light, still drowsy. “You wouldn't deny an invalid his request, would you? This is, like, a very important question, Suguru, because we had a fight. A fight! We never have fights, real fights, y'know. Not the ones. Where we go outside and beat each other up.”
“Can you please,” says Suguru, “just pass out again.”
“This is where I would normally say ‘make me',” says Satoru. “But I would, uh. Rather not.”
Suguru goes quiet. Not in the way of his usual scrutiny, but in a suspended pause that is nearly uncharacteristic. There have been a lot of these hesitations lately, Satoru thinks, lurching a little as Suguru almost stumbles over a rock.
“I,” Suguru says, after a few moments. “Well. Shoko lied. She said you were hurt.”
Satoru blinks. “Oh.”
“She would've been fucking right, though,” says Suguru, raising his voice, “if I didn't find you. Why would you go to the washroom and then just teleport out of there without telling anyone?”
That nearly topples Satoru back.
The recollection flashes through his mind then, images piecing together. Shoko typing something into her phone, turning it off, grinning sadistically. Him waking up after just to feel a horrid churn in his stomach, that urge to retch. Him staggering to the bathroom. And then — well, apparently, probably in an attempt to get home — teleporting straight to an unknown street.
“Oh my god.” Satoru feels laughter bubbling up his throat. “That's what I did.”
“Don’t you dare laugh,” Suguru grouses. “Do you know how shitty it was for me to run there, not find you in the washroom, and have to search for you everywhere because nobody knew where the hell you’d run off to?”
Satoru rests his head on Suguru's shoulder and starts laughing, so hard he doesn't know how to stop himself.
“Glad someone's finding the humour in it,” Suguru says drily. Which only serves to send Satoru into another fit of laughter, guileless, helpless, a little painful— lasting so long that by the time he finishes his stomach has gotten sore.
“Are you done,” says Suguru. Satoru finds himself smiling in spite of it.
“That’s debatable,” says Satoru. “Though I gotta say, I'm a little offended that Shoko managed—” hiccup “—managed to get you outta your room.”
“It doesn't matter, does it,” Suguru says quietly, so low Satoru almost misses it amidst the flurried leaves. “I came for you.”
Satoru smiles and buries his nose in the back of Suguru's neck.
Amid the silence that falls between them then, comfortable and light, he can hear the sounds of dead leaves crunching underfoot, the occasional owl hooting, calling them from yards away. It doesn't take long — just the time of an incense — for the familiar staircases to come into view.
They reach the entrance of the dormitory.
It’s silent inside the hallways when they enter. Satoru has no good way to judge the time by, but he imagines that it must be past midnight now; early, but late enough for Yaga and everyone responsible to be asleep. Suguru walks slowly down the aisle, arms still firm, still not complaining, and the sound of his footsteps is impressively non-existent. In an uncontrollable urge to rattle this status quo, Satoru swings both legs back and forth. It stumbles Suguru's footing slightly, rocking them backwards.
“I'm going to drop you,” Suguru warns.
Satoru smiles. “You won't.”
They make it to Satoru's bedroom. Suguru fumbles in his pocket for the spare key that he has and clicks into the lock. The door swings open, a rush of wintry air cooling their faces from the open window.
Despite his earlier protest, Satoru doesn't quite want the warmth of Suguru's back to leave him just yet. He clings onto Suguru, arms like an anchor around those set shoulders, and remains quiet as Suguru kicks the door closed behind them and walks gently towards the bed. It's the furthest point in the dormitory— away from the door and the draft below it, closer to the window with its piecemeal portion of the sky.
“I assume you can take it from here,” says Suguru, his tone more playful than reprimanding when they reach the edge of the bed. He stands with his back to it, and when his hands release around Satoru's thighs, Satoru flops ungraciously down to the sheets, a marionette with its strings cut loose.
Ah, damn. He has less energy than he thought he did. Head still dizzy, heat still gliding in his gut. God, okay, expanding his reverse technique to combat inebriation has to be ordained as his next project.
“I'll get you some water,” says Suguru, and then he's out the door.
Water. Satoru swallows back the taste of whiskey still on his tongue. Right. Anything to keep the marges of his vision from collapsing unto itself.
Satoru raises his chin to the open window above him. Feels a cool breeze cresting over the sill. There is the smell of wild trees and flowers, the patches of moonlight flickering on his ceiling, swaying with the branch. Careful with the wind.
It almost makes him sad.
If you care about him, why don’t you just—?
“Here, water,” comes Suguru’s voice as he returns. “Get up and hydrate, idiot.”
“Is it Amanai?” Satoru blurts out.
Shit, he thinks immediately after. So much for giving space. Shit. “Sorry, sorry, nevermind,” he rushes out, a small claw of panic in his neck. He doesn't peek at Suguru's face. Doesn’t quite dare to look, eyes trained resolutely on the latticework of moonlight above him.
Then Satoru feels a hand on his shoulder.
When he looks up, Suguru is angling a glass of water toward him, expressionless.
“Satoru should drink,” he says softly.
And something overtakes Satoru then. Something childish.
Be it impulse or delirium or a byproduct of being piss-blind drunk, but something overtakes his inhibitions. He hooks his heels around Suguru’s legs and yanks him forward, and Suguru tumbles down with a surprised yelp, landing with his back on the bed sheets, the water splashing carelessly over Satoru's shirt.
Satoru flips them over— and in a second he's sitting on Suguru's stomach, holding him down, both knees locking him in place. In a remiss corner of his awareness, Satoru hears the shattering of glass on the ground, breaking sharply into shards.
“What the—" Suguru begins.
“I tickle!” Satoru cries, and he does— jabbing his forefingers on either side of Suguru's waist relentlessly, not letting up even while Suguru jerks and almost elbows him in the face.
“Ow!” Suguru exclaims, in between painful laughter. “Fuck?! For god's— stop, ha ha! What are you—”
Satoru points a finger to Suguru's nose and presses down, until the sight becomes so hilarious that it manages to contain the ache in his chest. (Because there's something constricting there, left painful ever since Amanai's death and growing still with Suguru's distance in the past few months.) “Look,” he says, smiling, “Suguru isn't stressed now.”
Suguru slaps his hand away, a frown creasing over his brows, but his mouth is still quirked up in a smile. “You're a kid.”
Satoru grins. “It's the whiskey.”
“Yes, well, good on you for using that as an excuse. Real mature.”
“You love me anyway,” says Satoru, and then rests his entire weight on Suguru.
Suguru goes rigid.
Satoru’s hands are splayed on Suguru’s chest. It’s how he can feel that everything has gone still. But it takes several seconds for him to register that it’s a reaction linked to him.
Suguru's eyes are wide, startled like he's been caught in the headlights, his entire body gone stiff. Even his hands, which have been thrashing frantically before, are somehow frozen on either side of Satoru’s calves.
Satoru stares, blinking in surprise, uncomprehending— before he shifts slightly and feels it.
“You’re,” he says out loud, “you’re hard.”
Satoru is perched half an inch away from being directly on Suguru's groin. He can feel the heat of Suguru’s erection, warmer than any other parts of their bodies, the touch of it light against the curve of his ass.
“Sorry, I,” Suguru stammers. He jolts his hands up, hovering a movement away from Satoru’s thighs as if unsure if he should touch, and one of his legs seems to be bending up, and—
In a moment of haste or haze — whichever it is — Satoru shifts down, backwards. A slow drag of his hips until he's directly on top of Suguru's crotch.
He hears Suguru's breath hitch.
Satoru’s fingers are trembling where they’re grasping weakly at Suguru’s shirt. The only thing separating his ass from Suguru's cock is the fabric of their pants, thin and tight and much too hot.
“Satoru,” Suguru chokes out, “what are you doing?”
The air is too thick to breathe. Satoru's heart thumps wildly in his chest, his own cock straining against his pants at the sensation, mind going haywire under the hankered gaze Suguru is directing at him. And Suguru's pupils are blown, chest rising and falling at a pace that Satoru finds bizarre to be seeing here, now, outside of training and on Satoru's bed in the dark, underneath the canting moonlight.
Satoru wraps his fingers around Suguru’s wrist. Guides it toward the bulge in his own pants.
Suguru’s mouth falls open, one of his legs unconsciously twitching. He doesn't even seem to be breathing at this point, but it's hard for Satoru to tell when the warmth of Suguru's hand on him is setting all the nerves in his body aflame.
“Satoru,” Suguru says hoarsely.
Satoru does not get drunk.
Satoru does not get drunk, but now he is, and Suguru doesn't want some space from him like this, Suguru’s not pulling away. And so — in a hazy whim — Satoru leans down until their noses are inches away, the process causing his own crotch to rub against Suguru’s— and Satoru has to bite back a moan.
“If you fuck me,” he says, shakily, breathlessly, “would it help?”
Confusion flashes over Suguru's face. Momentarily, before a cloud of comprehension flits over and his expression turns stony, almost furious.
“Oh,” Satoru stutters out, “no, I didn't mean it like—"
Suguru lifts his hand and covers Satoru's eyes.
Satoru barely has any time to react — heart thundering in his chest, shit, god, oh god, mind fraying at the seams at the sudden action — before Suguru grabs his arm and tugs and pulls him down and—
—Satoru crashes face-first onto his shoulder.
“Ack,” he yelps, except it's muffled by Suguru's shirt, inaudible. And before he knows it, before he can even so much as hoist himself back up, Suguru wraps one arm around Satoru's shoulder and places the other on the back of Satoru's head, as gentle as glass.
“If Satoru thinks that I would take advantage of you while you’re drunk,” Suguru murmurs, sounding a mix of something inexplicably sad and amused, “then you can go fuck yourself.”
He's suddenly, thoroughly aware of his legs still sprawled atop Suguru, of Suguru's knee lodged in between, of the fresh smell of clean linen, the body of heat of being too close. A part of him tries to protest, no, really, it's not what I meant, but it seems like such a petty objection to raise when Suguru is so steady against him. Satoru shouldn't worry, Suguru would probably say anyway. We'll be okay.
Satoru closes his eyes.
Drowsy and weary, pressed against something warm, Satoru doesn’t know if it is eiderdown or muscle he's clutching onto. Only hears their breathing and the fluttering leaves outside, marking time by the slow beat of his heart.
“Sorry,” he mumbles.
Suguru chuckles. “I know you too well by now for you to apologize.”
A protracted while of silence, as Satoru thinks that maybe he has gone and overdone himself again. I’m not cut out for this type of thing, he thinks. Gojo Satoru, contemptor of the weak. Emotions may be his only fault, if any.
“It’s not just Riko.”
Satoru turns to stare at him.
“It’s not just Riko,” Suguru repeats. Opens his mouth, then closes it.
Satoru waits for more, but the silence between them draws.
“Have you been ingesting too many curses?” he tries, tentative. “Is that it?”
“Probably,” Suguru murmurs. It doesn't sound completely convincing, like a lie you tell when you think you can't be helped.
But Satoru cannot push.
“I bet it tastes like shit, those curses,” he says lightly, nuzzling his nose against Suguru's shoulder. “Or— not like shit. I’d imagine they taste like that Kyoko college principal's beard.”
Suguru lets out a sound that's almost a laugh. “Like a cloth that's used to wipe up vomit.”
“Oh, gross.” Satoru makes a face. “That's marginally better. See, maybe this is why you have trouble eating lately. Can't imagine barf as a delicacy.”
Suguru smiles. “Right,” he says, and Satoru suddenly feels his head being patted. The touch is so gentle, so tender that it almost splits his entire soul in two. “Maybe I'll explain it to you one day when you're sober, hm?” Suguru continues, a tinge of amusement in his voice. “For now, Satoru should sleep.”
“But,” Satoru protests.
“What,” says Suguru, “do you want to talk about this while you're drunk and I’m… like this?”
Satoru can't help it. He laughs. The sound is light, almost pure.
“You won’t remember this tomorrow anyway,” says Suguru, so quiet and fond that Satoru almost mishears.
“Hey,” Satoru chides, “apparently the whiskey was 78%.”
A smile tugs at Suguru’s lips, his fingers carding slow through Satoru’s hair. “How dangerous. The strongest sorcerer alive is a liar.”
I won't lie, Satoru thinks. Not with you. Because in all the years that Satoru has been honoured to live, Suguru has always been the only good thing in a room full of edges. Responsible to a fault. This world of horror they’ve fallen into, and yet he has always been the sort of person who can go on with his morals unscathed, who can go on believing in values still. Someone you can always look up to, who checks twice to make sure he doesn't look down on you.
We have time, Satoru thinks, stretching out over Suguru’s bare arm and running his thumb in small circles, feeling the cool of his skin. Surely we will. There will be years and years ahead of them, whenever it's right and whenever he's ready. Suguru will never let him down, all the way up till the end.
“Don’t go,” Satoru whispers. “Stay with me until morning.”
Suguru's chuckle is quiet.
And as Satoru's awareness closes in, drifting into a dream, he can feel the soft fabric of a blanket drawn gently over him.
“Go to sleep, Satoru.”
Somewhere far away from them, he thinks he can hear the faint song of cicadas among the cool draft of night winding around them. And with Suguru's heartbeat in one ear and the wind in the other, Satoru closes his eyes, and folds everything away.