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The heat wave that rolls over Tokyo in the wake of the Satozakura incident is absolutely brutal. Yuji takes to sleeping on the floor because it’s cooler than his futon; Gojo informs him that Kugisaki has been grumbling about her supposedly waterproof makeup sweating right off her skin, and that even Fushiguro’s hair appears to be wilting like a neglected houseplant.

Gojo tells him a lot of stuff like that. Stupid little details, the kind of everyday stuff Yuji’s missing out on since he’s, y’know, presumed dead and all. He thinks his teacher is trying to be kind, in his weird way.

He’s been trying extra hard recently, it feels like—not that he’s going any easier on Yuji in training, nothing like that, but there’s something different about the whole vibe between them. Like Gojo is making an active effort to soften his edges around him or something.

And Yuji appreciates that, he does. Appreciates the training more than the kindness, to be honest, because if there’s one thing he’s learned from this last week it’s that he never wants to lose someone like that again. He already worked hard, but now he works harder. He trains and practices and (doesn’t watch movies to improve his focus, Gojo hasn’t been making him do that anymore, and Yuji is stupidly thankful for it) basically pushes himself until he’s ready to drop.

And then he goes back to his stiflingly hot room and lays down on the cool floor, every muscle in his body screaming in exhaustion, and he doesn’t sleep.

It’s just as well, he figures—annoying, for sure, but maybe his body’s trying to protect him from his brain. Every time he’s closed his eyes this past week all he can see is—

Mahito, wait—

You’re just as much a fool as they are—

Sukuna, get out here, heal him like you healed me—

Yu…ji…?

His eyes snap open, his body jolting like it’s ready for a fight. A cold sweat that has nothing to do with the heat has broken out over his skin.

He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t sleep.

It’s better that way.

.

Yuji’s been told he’s kind of a workhorse. He can push through most things. A broken limb or two? No problem. Swallowed a cursed finger and now there’s a demonic asshole living rent-free in his head? Cool, fine, he can work with that. Pretending to be dead while his teacher tries to figure out which of his other teachers wants him dead for real? All in a day’s work.

As it turns out, though, even Yuji has his limits. And apparently training in jujutsu sorcery nonstop with exactly zero sleep over an extended period of time…well, that’s the limit.

In the end it isn’t even Gojo’s mild concern (masked as cheerful sarcasm, of course) or sideways glances that does it. Instead his entire body gangs up on him, says okay, idiot, we’ve had enough of this, and just shuts down the second he’s horizontal.

He opens his eyes to nothing but black.

On some level Yuji already knows he’s asleep, and even that faint awareness is enough to fill him with a healthy sense of dread. He knows what to expect from his dreams by now. It’s not a good time.

Worse now, since the things he sees in nightmares are still stubbornly true when he wakes up.

“All right,” he says to the darkness. “Let’s get this over with.”

Things don’t seem to be happening on their own, though, so Yuji shrugs and starts walking. The direction doesn’t matter; it’s all darkness anyway. Finally he comes to a place where the sun is shining, if barely—if he squints he can see the telltale pink and gold that marks a sunset.

He looks down and his heart falls through his shoes. This place is familiar.

He’s standing at the top of a wide set of stairs, the kind that lead down to a walking trail or a dog park. In front of him is the sea, the sunset frozen in the distance, like a picture taken and pinned to the wall. This scene is another thing that really happened, recently enough that Yuji still remembers it in excruciating detail.

If his dream is really trying to copy his memories, he knows who’ll be waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

Part of him wants to freeze in place and never know. Part of him wants to stay rooted to this first step until he wakes up again.

But none of that is really Yuji’s style, so instead he straightens up and starts going down the steps.

It takes longer than it probably should—time stretching out like taffy, the way it does in dreams—but eventually he makes it to the bottom. The sun hasn’t moved at all. There are no other people anywhere as far as he can see.

It’s just Yuji and the dead boy sitting on the last step.

Junpei doesn’t look at him. For a second Yuji wonders why, if this is supposed to be Itadori Memory Theater—they’d had some real bonding moments out here, plenty of guilt fodder for his asshole brain to torment him with—but then he focuses, really focuses, and finally realizes what’s different.

Junpei’s wearing that jacket. The one that belonged to his mom. The one he started wearing after she died, after this scene, after—

Yuji takes a deep breath and sits down on the step next to him. Looks like the only way out is through.

“’Sup?” he says casually.

Junpei flinches even at that much. His chin is in his hand; he’s still looking away from Yuji, hunched in on himself, hair covering half his face so Yuji can’t even begin to work out what his expression might be. Oh well. Yuji leans back on his arms and looks up at the sky, which is still blue above him and always will be.

“I wanted to come back here sometime, y’know,” he says, letting his mouth run without much input from his brain. “Seemed like a cool place to hang out. And, I mean, the theater’s right there. We could’ve gone to see something awesome and brought the rest of the snacks down here to, like, discuss. I liked talking movies with you the first time.”

The only time, he doesn’t say. He decides to risk looking over again.

This time Junpei is looking right at him. Staring at him, more like, disbelief written all over his face.

“What’s wrong with you?” Junpei blurts out. “Why are you talking to me like we’re friends?”

“Because…we are friends?” Yuji squints at him. “I mean, we were, I guess. Technically. Since you’re—”

“Dead,” Junpei says flatly. “Because I was an idiot and trusted someone when I should have known better.” His fingers twist in the fabric of his pants. “I tried to kill people, remember? I tried to kill you.”

Yuji shrugs. “I didn’t die, right?”

Junpei makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. “That’s not the point.”

“Seems like the point to me. Anyway, if it makes you feel better, you didn’t actually manage to kill anyone.”

“It doesn’t,” Junpei mutters, looking away again. “It doesn’t make me feel better.”

His hand drifts up toward his bangs for a second before dropping back down. Yuji remembers the one glimpse he’d caught of the skin underneath—cratered like someone had used his face as an ashtray, the skin exposed when Junpei bent down to fish Human Earthworm 1 out of his DVD pile—and his own fingers twitch.

“Guess I can’t really blame you,” he says. Junpei snorts.

“I thought you were the noble jujutsu sorcerer who didn’t want to kill anyone. Something about the sanctity of life or whatever, right?”

Yuji doesn’t say anything to that. An uncomfortable memory is playing out in his mind in fast-forward: that night in the high school, watching Mahito transform Junpei in front of him, swearing he’d kill that fucking patchwork curse with his own hands. He’d meant it, too. He doesn't remember the last time he’d said something and meant it that much.

“That’s what I thought,” Junpei says, completely misinterpreting his silence. “Mahito…well, it makes sense that he was the one to kill me. I guess you could say we bonded over knowing that one life doesn’t really mean much.” He lets out a bitter laugh. “Mine obviously didn’t.”

“It meant something to me,” Yuji says.

That at least gets Junpei to look at him again, even if Yuji still can’t read his face.

“What happened to me?” he blurts out. “After I—”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t need to.

Now Yuji’s the one who really wants to look away, almost as much as he really doesn’t want to talk about this, but it doesn’t matter what he wants because he’s not a coward. He started this total mess of a conversation and he’s going to see it through. He clears his throat.

“Your body wasn’t, uh—in great shape, after everything,” he says. Understatement of the year. “We couldn't exactly let the cops handle it. Apparently there’s people jujutsu sorcerers can call for that stuff, people that make it all…” He waves his hands around. “Y’know. Go away.”

“Sounds like The Matrix,” Junpei says, like he can’t help himself. Yuji almost grins.

“I know, right? Anyway, Nanamin wanted to call them first thing after, um.” He winces. “After we cremated you, but he came around. I didn’t want them—”

I didn’t want a bunch of strangers handling you when they had no idea who you were and probably didn’t care, he doesn’t say. I thought you deserved someone who did know you, at least. I thought I owed you that much.

“I ended up burying your ashes,” he says in a rush, fixing his eyes on a point somewhere over Junpei’s shoulder. (Apparently he can have this conversation or look Junpei in the eye like an adult; he can’t do both.) “So you don’t have to worry about that. I put you with your mom. You don’t have to worry.” He said that already. His throat feels tight. “You don’t have a grave marker or anything yet, though. Sorry about that. But officially you’re still a missing person, so there wasn’t much I could—”

“You did all that?”

Something in Junpei’s voice makes Yuji meet his eyes again, not that he has any better luck figuring out what that face is supposed to mean. Junpei mostly just looks confused.

“I told you already,” Yuji says. “We’re friends.”

Junpei’s frown deepens. He opens his mouth to say something else—

—and then Yuji is staring at the ceiling from the floor of his room, blinking in the early morning light and sweating through his pajamas. His alarm is blaring from his phone, and for a second Yuji fantasizes about smashing it.

He doesn’t, though. He takes a deep breath, turns off the alarm, and rolls over to start the day.

.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t the first time Yuji’s lost someone. It’s not going to be the last time either, not if he stays a jujutsu sorcerer—hell, even if he somehow became normal tomorrow and turned into a salaryman like Nanami. Living means losing people. That’s just how it is.

Gojo sat him down after everything at Satozakura went down, went off on this whole little speech about how sometimes you can’t save everyone, even if you give it your all.

“And that’s okay,” he said, breezy even though the conversation was anything but. “It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Sometimes it helps to know you’ve saved even one life, and you, Itadori, might’ve just saved dozens. So don’t let one person outweigh all the others.”

Yuji looked at him suspiciously. “That’s pretty harsh, sensei. Aren’t teachers supposed to set a good example?”

Gojo just waved him off. “You’ve got plenty of other teachers for that! I’m the fun teacher, remember?” He paused. “And also the one who’ll tell you the way things really are, even if no one else will.”

Yuji had appreciated the effort, and the honesty. He still does. It means a lot, especially from someone who obviously doesn’t have a lot of practice making people feel better.

Sometimes you can’t save everyone, and that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s not the worst advice.

But, see, Yuji knows that already. Even if he wasn’t living in a shonen manga scenario himself, he’s read enough of it over the years to know that noble intentions are all well and good, but sometimes life just sucks anyway. Sometimes people get hurt or die and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Obviously it hurts more, that the person he lost was someone he already considered a friend. Junpei had been given a shitty deal and had shitty luck, and in the end Yuji hadn’t been able to help him. That should basically sum up his current regrets. If it did, he thinks he’d probably be able to process everything and move on like he’s supposed to.

But there’s this weird feeling he has, like he’s missing some bigger picture. Like something’s stuck in the teeth of his thoughts and he can’t get it out. It’s distracting. He can’t get himself to properly grieve what’s happened because he can’t stop poking at—whatever it is. Wondering what the hell he’s not seeing.

He still can’t manage to sleep through the night.

.

The next time Yuji blinks his eyes open in the darkness that means dreams, his first thought is, huh, guess I passed out again. His second is, that’s probably not super healthy.

His third thought is, wonder if Junpei’s here again?

He gets up and starts walking again. It feels further this time—though it’s pretty hard to tell when everything is just featureless shadow—but eventually he makes his way back to the stairs by the water and the boy dressed in black.

Yuji’s heartbeat picks up. This time he doesn’t hesitate to jog down the steps.

“Hey,” he says cheerfully, plopping down on the bottom stair. “You’re still here.”

Junpei looks at him sideways. “It’s not like I have anywhere else to go.”

“You don’t?” Yuji looks at him for a second. Then he reaches out and pokes Junpei’s shoulder.

That gets him a glare. “What—”

“Oh, cool.” Yuji grins. “I didn’t know if you were, like, incorporeal or something.”

Junpei rolls his eyes. “I’m not a Bruce Willis kind of ghost.”

“I don’t even know if you’re a ghost at all,” Yuji points out. “Figured it couldn’t hurt to check.” Jujutsu sorcerers deal in curses, after all. He doesn’t know anything about souls.

He leans back on his hands and looks out at the water. “So, what do you do when I’m not here?”

“Why would I do anything when you’re not here?” Junpei sighs. “I’m a figment of your imagination, aren’t I?”

Yuji hums thoughtfully. “You think?”

“It makes more sense than the alternative.”

“Which is what?”

“That there’s…more, I guess. After we die.” Junpei gestures to their surroundings. “That this is apparently what my afterlife looks like.”

“Really?” Yuji tips his head back to look at the blue patch of sky over his head. If he imagines the sound of water lapping near their feet, he can almost pretend that they’re in a movie instead of a frozen photograph. “It seems pretty nice to me.”

“It is nice. That’s the problem.”

“Why does it have to be a problem?”

Because—” Junpei takes in a slow breath. Yuji’s noticed he does that, sometimes, when he’s trying not to snap. He wonders how often Junpei had to breathe slow around other people, squashing down his feelings for the sake of avoiding attention.

He doesn’t want Junpei to do that around him. He decides to press a little.

“Because why?” Yuji asks.

“Because I don’t deserve it,” Junpei snaps. “Okay? I don’t deserve any of this. I don’t deserve to be talking with you again after everything I did. I don’t deserve to have this when my mom—” His voice cracks. “She should be here, not me. I should’ve just disappeared after Mahito was done with me.”

There are tears on his face now, coming faster than he can wipe them away. Yuji’s never been great with crying people—he can never seem to find the words to make them feel better—but he wants to make this better. God, he really wants to make this better.

I didn’t know if you were incorporeal or something.

Oh, he thinks, oh, right.

He reaches over and pulls Junpei into a hug. People have told him he gives good hugs, at least, and Junpei’s worked up enough that he doesn’t fight it.

“Fuck,” he says, muffled, into the now-damp shoulder of Yuji’s shirt. “Fuck! Why didn’t Mahito just kill me the second he realized I could see him? Then maybe my mom wouldn’t have—” His voice breaks again. “Why couldn’t I even die right?”

There doesn’t seem to be a good answer to that, so Yuji doesn’t say anything. He just holds on tighter while Junpei sobs into his shoulder and tries not to think about anything at all.

It doesn’t work. The thought he can’t quite wrap his mind around is getting closer now, like a picture slowly coming into focus. Yuji can almost make out the shape of it.

Not now, he thinks firmly. Right now he wants to be here for his friend the best he can. Something about Junpei crying had kicked the air out of his lungs even in the middle of their fight at the high school; he’d dropped everything back then to hear him out and take his hands and try to understand. Even then, he’d wanted to make it better.

And then everything had gone completely to shit.

Well, there’s no one here to interrupt them now. No cursed spirits trying to pick a fight; no Mahito to put his hands on Junpei and turn him into something he wasn’t; no Sukuna to laugh in Yuji’s face when he begged for one thing, just one goddamn thing—

I’ll do anything, you can do whatever you want with me, just heal him—

Yuji bites his lip hard enough to draw blood. That’s all over and done with, he reminds himself. And maybe he has no idea what this is—dream or hallucination or afterlife—but at least it’s giving him the chance to do what he couldn’t before.

Junpei is still crying. Yuji doesn’t let go.

.

He fixes his sleep schedule some after that. He doesn’t always dream—and when he does, Junpei’s not always there—but it’s getting easier. When they do meet up (what a weird way to think of it), things feel easier between them, too. They’re managing to have longer conversations. Junpei meets his eyes more often.

He wonders what Gojo would say if he found out Yuji’s been having conversations with a ghost, or whatever Junpei is supposed to be. Would that be a “get this kid therapy” thing or a “get this kid an exorcist” thing? Can Domain Expansions get into a person’s head like this?

But it really doesn’t feel fake. Any of it. Yuji knows he has a pretty good imagination, but even he’s not good enough to dream up a whole person. He suspects a Junpei he’d made up in his head would be less of a pain to talk to. And if Domain Expansion is a possibility…well, if someone is watching him inside his own head, all they’re learning about is his immaculate taste in movies. (Not the adjective Junpei had used, but whatever.)

It might not matter anyway. Gojo “accidentally” let slip that he’ll be reuniting with his friends from Jujutsu Tech soon, something about an event they’re hosting with a sister school in Kyoto. It sounds like fun, and honestly Yuji really misses Fushiguro and Kugisaki—even if he’s a stick in the mud and she’s kinda terrifying, they’ve both had his back from day one. It’ll be good to not be dead anymore. Good to move forward.

But he doesn’t know how coming back to life will affect his time with someone who’s definitely very dead. Yuji wasn’t in the Occult Research Club for nothing; even if that fall day is somehow Yoshino Junpei’s afterlife, he can’t help wondering how long he’ll have access to it once he’s rejoined his actual life.

If he’s moving forward, doesn’t that mean he’s leaving someone behind?

.

“No, seriously, picture it—”

“I am picturing it,” Junpei says, obviously trying not to smile. “It’s a bad idea.”

Yuji ignores him. He holds his fingers out in front of him to illustrate his point. “Right there. Like, right above the ocean. Giant movie screen.”

“That’s called a drive-in,” Junpei says. “Which this is not.”

“Why not?” Yuji demands. “If it’s your afterlife, you should be able to renovate it however you want!”

“It’s not like I chose this place. I don’t have any great memories here; it was mostly just somewhere to sit around that wasn’t the house.” Junpei’s eyes darken for a second. Only for a second, though. “Mom used to get on me about going out sometimes. She said I’d turn into a vampire otherwise.”

Yuji nods sagely. “Your mom was a genius, and also you’re wrong. This place is awesome. You’re seriously telling me you don’t have a single good memory here?”

Okay, fine, maybe he’s fishing a little.

Junpei looks at him for a second before getting really interested in the button of his jacket.

“One, I guess,” he says.

“Oh yeah?” Yuji grins, warmth spreading in his chest. “Lemme guess—was it after I pantsed your teacher?”

That surprises a laugh out of him. “Maybe?”

“I mean, the face he made was pretty memorable,” Yuji says. “Like—”

He does his best impression, really puts all his skill into it. He’s a champion at making stupid faces, and Junpei is laughing again, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth, and for a giddy second all Yuji can think about is how nice he looks when he laughs. The apathetic mask, the hard shell Junpei built up to protect himself—all of that falls away, and he just looks like what he is: a kid Yuji’s age, a nerd who loves horror movies, just enjoying himself with a friend.

He should look like this more often. Yuji wants him to keep smiling. No, that’s not totally it—he wants to be the one putting that smile on his face.

Junpei turns to him, lowering his hand, his eyes still sparkling a little, and abruptly Yuji feels like he’s been punched in the stomach.

(Actually, he’s intimately familiar with the feeling of being punched in the stomach. This is way more disconcerting.)

“Hey,” he says before he can think about it, “can I try something?”

“Huh?” Junpei blinks. “I mean—yes? I think?”

“Okay,” Yuji says. His heart is pounding like he’s about to start a fight. Shit, maybe he is. He leans closer to Junpei and adds, seriously, “If you don’t like it, you can hit me.”

Junpei’s eyebrows go up. “What—”

Yuji leans over the rest of the way and kisses him before he can lose his nerve.

Something—in his brain or maybe in his heart, he’s not sure which—finally clicks into place.

A second goes by. Another second. Junpei’s mouth is soft, and he hasn’t shoved him away or hit him, so Yuji figures that’s a win. He pulls back. They both must’ve closed their eyes at some point; Junpei’s are still closed, his face the same color as the sunset in front of them. Yuji’s heart gives a single, painful thud.

Junpei opens his eyes. He looks dazed. “You—” The look sharpens into confusion. “Why are you crying?”

What?

Yuji frowns. “I’m not—”

He is, though. He doesn’t realize it until he blinks and the tears start rolling down his face and they don’t stop.

“Yuji?” It’s the first time Junpei’s used his name since they ended up here, and he says it carefully, like he’s trying not to spook a baby deer. “Are you okay?”

Yuji opens his mouth to say yeah, for sure, sorry for being a weirdo and crying right after I kissed you, but the words don’t come out.

Instead a horrible, strangled noise wrenches its way out of his throat, and to his horror Yuji realizes he’s about to start ugly crying. There’s nothing he can do about it: between one breath and another he’s sobbing, trying to muffle the sound in his arm and failing spectacularly at it. He cries harder than he has since his grandpa died.

Maybe, he thinks, trying to breathe, this is just everything catching up to him at once. He hasn’t cried once since Junpei was killed, too preoccupied with that nagging thought that there was something missing in his mourning. Like he’d lost something he didn’t know how to grieve.

Now he knows, and it fucking sucks.

He’d wanted them to be friends. He’d wanted to get to know each other better, wanted that shining image in his head of the four of them—Yuji, Junpei, Fushiguro, Kugisaki—taking on the world together as Jujutsu Tech first-years. He’d wanted Junpei to know what it was like to be surrounded by people who would have his back, to be safe in a place that would make room for him. Yuji already knew he’d wanted all that.

But now he thinks he’d also wanted this—wanted this closeness, wanted to tuck Junpei’s hair behind his ear before he kissed him, and he hadn’t even known he could want any of that until it was too late.

Junpei doesn’t try to touch him. (Yuji is pathetically grateful for that, since people touching him when he’s already a mess just make him more of a mess.) But he does pull a travel-sized tissue packet out of nowhere and wordlessly passes it over.

“Thanks,” Yuji mumbles, taking the tissues and blowing his nose. He feels pretty gross.

“No problem,” Junpei says, apparently unbothered by said grossness. “I always keep some with me. There would—people used to put things in my locker. It got messy, and if I had any stains on my uniform then the teachers would make a scene.”

“Yeah, well.” Yuji sniffs. “Literally everyone you went to school with sucked.”

“I mean, that is why I tried to kill some of them.”

It’s a pretty dark joke, but at least it sounds more like a joke now than otherwise. Yuji’s started to think Junpei just had a messed-up sense of humor to begin with.

When he’s gotten his shit together again, he looks over to find Junpei watching him, his expression wary.

“So,” he says. Hesitates. “What was that about?”

Yuji clears his throat. He’s never been burdened with an overabundance of shame, but all the same, the back of his neck is starting to heat up.

“Sorry,” he says.

“That’s…’sorry’ isn’t really what I want to hear right now.” Junpei’s gone slightly pink again. “No one else looked at me the way you did,” he admits. “I thought it was—that maybe it meant we could be friends.”

“We are friends,” Yuji says, feeling like a broken record. “Doesn’t mean we couldn’t’ve been whatever else, too. Friends who kiss each other sometimes.”

That gets Junpei to crack a smile, though it doesn’t last. “You’re kidding, right? We didn’t know each other that long. You would’ve gotten sick of me sooner or later.”

For once Yuji doesn’t say what he’s thinking, which is I think I might’ve been a little bit in love with you, though. Even to him that sounds kind of crazy.

“I don’t think so,” he says instead. Junpei shakes his head.

“I would’ve hurt you,” he says. “You wouldn’t have deserved that.”

Yuji makes a face.

“Okay, you want to know what I think?” He doesn’t wait for a response. “I think you have this fixation on what people deserve. And I think you hate yourself even more than you hate everyone else.”

Junpei looks like he might be getting pissed, but Yuji keeps going. He’s had a lot of time to think about this, and right now he’s feeling a little raw. “But if you wanna do it that way, then fine. You didn’t deserve any of the shit that happened to you. You didn’t deserve to be bullied by those assholes at school, you didn’t deserve to feel alone like you did, and you definitely didn’t deserve to get dragged into Mahito’s mess.”

Junpei flinches. “Like I said, he and I agreed—”

Yuji groans. “Junpei, I swear, if you start talking about how ‘nobody’s life matters’ again I’m sorry but I might have to kick your ass.” He looks him dead in the eye, wanting to make sure he’s getting his point across. “I don’t care if you think your life was worthless, all right? I told you before, it was worth plenty to me.”

“We’re not going to agree on this,” Junpei says flatly.

“Oh yeah?” Yuji retorts. “Then you think your mom’s life meant nothing?”

“No,” Junpei snaps, his hands curling into fists. “But mine didn’t, and you can’t convince me it did, so just—stop trying.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “Please.”

Yuji kind of wants to keep arguing, because honestly it’s easier than dealing with everything else. He’s opening his mouth to fire back, even—but then he stops and takes a breath, because he thinks maybe Junpei’s just as twisted up as he is. No matter what he says, it’s obvious he doesn’t really believe the garbage Mahito told him, or that he told himself.

He’s just hurting. Hurting, and trying to punish himself because he still thinks he deserves it. And Yuji can’t change that, even if he talks until he’s blue in the face.

“You can think whatever you want,” he says at last. “But just so you know, no matter how shitty you think you are, I’m still—I’m glad I met you, okay?” He swallows hard. “I really wanted us to be classmates, y’know.”

Junpei says nothing.

.

They sit together in silence for a while. Yuji doesn’t know if ghosts can get tired, but he for one is pretty exhausted by all the feelings he’s had to talk about today.

It doesn’t matter how tired he is, though. There’s still one more thing they need to talk about.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep finding you here,” Yuji makes himself say.

Junpei turns to him. “What do you mean?”

Yuji explains the whole “fake-dead” situation, its imminent end, and his own theory about this place and his proximity to it. By the time he’s finished, Junpei is nodding slowly.

“That makes sense,” he says. Yuji squints at him.

“Does it?” he asks. “I feel like it only makes sense to you because deep down we’re the same flavor of weird.”

Junpei looks thoughtful. “You could be in a kind of…liminal space, I guess. Maybe it’s because of everything that’s happened recently, or because of the fake-dead thing, or even the Sukuna thing.” He pauses. “Either way, I don’t think you’re wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was the last time we were able to talk like this.”

Yuji has to swallow twice before he can make words work.

“Oh,” is all he manages. Junpei looks away.

“It’s probably for the best,” he says. “I’m guessing it would be hard to move on with your life if you’re still—if I’m still around like this.”

Yuji huffs out a laugh. It sounds shaky even to him. “You say that like it’s gonna be easy to move on if I can’t talk to you anymore. Like I can just flip a switch and get over it.”

Junpei shrugs, still not looking at him. “You will get over it, though. That’s what people do.” His eyes drop down to his hands. “You’ll forget me, and that’s fine.”

“Hey,” Yuji cuts in. “Look at me.”

Surprisingly, after a second, Junpei does. His mouth is pressed into a thin line, like he’s biting his lip. Like he’s holding something back.

“You really think I’ll just forget?” Yuji asks. “Did I seem like that kind of person to you?”

Junpei opens his mouth and then closes it. He sighs.

“No,” he says. “I know you’re not that kind of person.” Then, “It might be better if you were, though. People who don’t care seem to have an easier time.”

“Yeah, well.” Yuji shrugs. “I don’t really care about easy. And anyway, I couldn’t forget you even if I tried.”

That’s true, and it’s not just because of whatever he’s just figured out about his own feelings. It’s not just because for the first time, Yuji was forced to watch a friend die in front of him.

It’s because he vividly remembers the rage he’d seen in Junpei’s eyes back then, the helplessness—the despair he was driven to, all because of curses and power struggles he’d known nothing about. That expression, Yuji thinks, will stay with him for the rest of his life. He’s felt a fire in his gut ever since. A new sense of conviction.

It’s not enough to save people from the monsters. He wants to keep malicious curses like Mahito from ever touching people’s lives in the first place.

Otherwise, there’s always the chance that he’ll fail again. Yuji isn’t arrogant; he’s strong, sure, but he’s not All Might or Superman. He can still lose the people right in front of him if he isn’t careful. Junpei’s death had beaten that lesson into his heart.

He knows it won’t ever leave him.

“I wanted it too,” Junpei blurts out, interrupting his thoughts.

Yuji blinks. “Huh?”

Junpei’s face is flushed, but he doesn’t clam up.

“I wanted to be your classmate too,” he says. “If I could’ve changed anything, other than keeping my mom safe—it would’ve been that.” Yuji sees him swallow. “You saw me. Even the first time we met, you knew I hated my teacher and you did something about it. You didn’t act like you felt sorry for me, or like I should’ve been above hating him; you did something.” The corner of his mouth pulls up. “That’s the kind of person you are. And it’s going to make you a great jujutsu sorcerer.”

Something about the way Junpei’s looking at him makes Yuji’s throat go dry.

“Can I,” he starts, but the words don’t make it out of his mouth.

Junpei grabs onto the front of his shirt and pulls him in and then they’re kissing again, harder than before. Yuji feels like his fingers might leave bruises on Junpei’s arms (if he wasn’t dead, if this wasn’t the second and last time). Junpei opens his mouth, moves his fingers to Yuji’s face, and Yuji shivers even though he’s sweating through his pajama shirt. He feels like he’s melting. He feels like he can’t breathe.

He doesn’t want to let go.

Something is pulling at him though, tugging at his peripheral vision. Peripheral brain? Is that a thing? He tries to ignore it but it’s insistent and annoying as hell. Somewhere in the distance he thinks he hears his alarm—an old anime theme. He usually loves that song. Right now he hates it.

His eyes burn when they break for air.

“I’m not gonna forget,” he says again, his voice a croak. “I’ll come back and put a grave marker down for you someday. I promise.”

Junpei kisses him again, short and sweet. His expression is fierce when he pulls back.

“Give them hell for me,” he says.

Yuji opens his mouth

.

He wakes up alone on the floor of his room, his alarm going at full volume. Yuji turns it off in a daze.

It’s cooler in here than it has been in ages, the heat wave finally breaking. He’s got “special training” today, he remembers. Something Gojo is putting together to make his return from the dead even more of a surprise. Yuji’s pretty suspicious about the whole thing, but it’ll probably be fun even if it does get him decked by one or both of his classmates.

He’s going to be alive again. Officially. He’ll get to participate in the exchange event, probably meet and compete with some cool people, and that’ll be fun too. And after that he’ll go back to fighting curses and trying to track down Mahito. He’s going to make him pay for everything he’s done.

Yuji has a lot to do. He thinks he’s ready for it, ready to rejoin the rest of the world.

Maybe not right this second, though. His throat is tight and his eyes are still stinging and—yeah, maybe he needs a minute. Just one more minute.

He throws one arm over his eyes and lets himself shudder apart, as quietly as he can.

The storm doesn’t last long this time. When his breathing evens out and his eyes are dry, Yuji finally gets up. He rolls up his futon, gets dressed, and slides his phone into his pocket.

Give them hell for me.

“I’m heading out,” he says to the empty room.

There’s no answer, but Yuji didn’t really think there would be. He takes a deep breath, rolls his shoulders back, and leaves the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.