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The mission takes them past Hakone, deep through the winding roads of the green mountainside.

Satoru presses his face to the window of their car, peering into the darkness of the forest around them. "Wow, we're going pretty far, huh?" he says. His breath fogs up the glass and the lenses of his thin black sunglasses. “I thought this was supposed to be a short detour.”

"Not that far," Suguru replies, from beside him. He's gazing out the other window with his chin resting on one hand, propped up against the armrest of the car door. "The village is just at the bottom of this valley."

"Reckon they'll have anything interesting down there?"

"You know we're not here on a tourist trip right?" Suguru aims a pointed side eye in his direction, and Satoru gives him a lazy grin in return.

It’s a side-mission more than anything, a brief pause on their way home after dealing with a Grade 1 cursed spirit further west in Shizuoka. While they were in the area, Principal Yaga had said on the phone, even if it was a little overkill to send the both of them.

"It's a couple of countryside curses. Piece of cake, we prolly won't even break a sweat," Satoru reassures, leaning back to stretch his legs out. Kinda hard in the cramped space of the backseat, but whatever. He wriggles his toes in his sneakers—not quite formal enough for school, but good for curse hunting in. "Might as well make the most of it, right? Let's get souvenirs before we go home."

Suguru squints at him, then shrugs. "Sure, why not. So long as there's no problems with the exorcism."

Satoru lets his grin widen, tipping down his sunglasses to look at Suguru over them. "Course there won't be. Who do you think you're talking to?"

Suguru rolls his eyes.

The car comes to a stop ten minutes later, at the edge of a quaint-looking village. Satoru climbs out of the car, slinging his bag over his shoulders as his hair lifts slightly in the faint breeze, and whistles. They really are at the bottom of the valley here. Mountainous forest surrounds them on all sides and rises ominously into the sky, a viridescent greenery made lush from the cool dampness that lingers in the air. If it weren't for the distant bird song and gentle trickle of a nearby stream, it might've been a little too quiet.

"You take left, I'll take right? We'll be faster that way," Satoru says brightly, but Suguru merely pokes him into marching down the road. "Ouch, okay we'll go together, geez."

They make their way to the first lot of houses, asking around for sightings of the curses suspected to be in the area. People aren't too inclined to speak with them though, looking more confused than anything by their questions. By the third house, Satoru is bored. He tunes out the conversation, letting Suguru talk to the elderly woman with a flower print apron, and peers into the house instead. Looks homely. Well-kept, if a little plain. Nothing like the sprawling halls and interior gardens of the Gojo estate.

"Could you pay more attention?" Suguru hisses at him, nudging a pointy elbow into Satoru's side when they finally leave.

"What's there to pay attention to?" Satoru asks, even as he follows Suguru. Their shoes leave muddy footprints in the road, puddles from last night’s rain still drying. "There's barely anything here! There might not even be a cursed spirit at this rate."

"Then we'll finish the mission early," Suguru says, striding onward. "But we'll make sure there’s nothing here before we go."

Satoru grumbles under his breath. It's true though. There's hardly any residuals around the village—only trace amounts that Satoru's Six Eyes have already picked up and dismissed. Wherever the cursed spirit is, it can't be more than Grade 3.

Still, he follows Suguru until they reach the other end of the village. The last house stands apart from the rest, too far to be part of the main road. There's an old man sitting on the stairs that lead up to the sliding latticed doors, and he eyes them suspiciously as they approach.

"Yo!" Satoru greets, waving carelessly. He feels Suguru's glare like a hot iron poker on his back, and has no doubt that he's tucking away a complaint about Satoru's being rude to his seniors again for later. "Got a moment? We've got a few questions—"

"Are you the sorcerers?"

Satoru blinks, momentarily blindsided. "Yup? That's us. Who's asking?"

The old man scowls. He jabs a thumb at his watch. "You're late! I was told you'd be here an hour ago."

Satoru glances at Suguru, who shrugs back a little helplessly. "Eh. We got delayed?"

"Can't believe they sent a couple of school kids too. What use are you going to be?"

"Hey, hey," Satoru interjects. Alright, he's starting to get a little annoyed now. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants. "If you don't want any help, we can just leave."

The old man mutters under his breath.

"I'm sorry, we can't seem to hear you," Suguru says, pleasantly. Though, Satoru's heard that tone of voice enough times to know that Suguru is running out of patience too.

A sharp nod to the right, and Satoru lets his gaze follow the old man's gesture. Oh, huh. There's a temple there, sitting at the top of a rocky path, partway up the mountainside. Even from this distance, it looks small and untended—made of old, weathered wood that looks half swallowed by moss. A few stone statues sit askew around the building, tall grass having sprung up around them.

Better still, Satoru can finally sense some cursed energy, emanating from the rickety structure.

"Right, now we’re talking," he says, taking his hands out of his pockets and stretching his arms out. He grins. "Let's get to it. Beat you to the top, Suguru?"

"You snooze you lose," he hears Suguru say, and Satoru jerks back when a large floating curse zips past him, Suguru perched on its back with his wide-legged pants billowing in the breeze.

"Hey, wait," Satoru protests, breaking into a run. "Don't just give yourself a head start, you asshole—"

He scrambles up the rocky path, footholds loose enough that he nearly slips a couple of times. The slope is steep and punishing, mostly made of dark pebbles that slide out beneath his shoes, and the occasional buried stone step. It’s a good thing his pants are close-fitting and easy to run in, unlike Suguru’s uniform. Probably why Suguru opted to fly straight up, actually. Satoru sighs and grumbles a few swear words. What a pain.

Suguru is already dismounting when Satoru arrives at the temple entrance, puffing and panting more than he’d like. A familiar smokiness swirls beneath Suguru’s hand, but he waits patiently as Satoru leans over his knees for a moment, catching his breath. He glances up, examining the temple.

"Huh," he says, with a tilt of his head. He stares past the dilapidated doors of the temple, through the rotting wood and into the heart of the shrine. "Surprise surprise, there's actually, what, five of them?"

"They seem pretty low level at least," Suguru agrees. A large, beast-like cursed spirit shifts into being beside him, bristling, its matted fur rippling like water. "Wanna see who can get to three first? Don't destroy them though."

Satoru straightens up, cracking his knuckles. "What, you wanna take them in?"

"Some of us have gotta earn our strength," Suguru replies mildly. "Ready?"

A shadow falls over them, cursed energy amplifying tenfold, and Satoru grins up at the ugly cursed spirit hovering in the treeline overhead.

"Already there," he says, hands halfway to shaping a sign.

They make quick work of the cursed spirits. Satoru takes down the first one with little more than a snap of his fingers, the cursed spirit too vulnerable to defend itself in mid-air. Not the best idea, trying to jump two sorcerers, but no one really expects a Grade 3 curse to be that intelligent. Suguru disappears around the side of the temple, just as the second cursed spirit comes bursting out of the temple doors, splitting the mossy wood. Satoru ducks, activating Infinity as he goes and pivoting on his heel. He's making the hand sign for blue when he hears the low rattling breath of Suguru's kushisake-onna.

Satoru grins; Suguru is taking this seriously then. But it’s too late. The third cursed spirit is already crawling towards him, sliding out of the temple ceiling like a swollen slug.

“Wow,” Satoru comments, sinking back into a defensive stance. “That’s disgusting.”

In the end, it takes less than five minutes to dispatch all five cursed spirits. Satoru is dusting off his hands and adjusting his sunglasses when Suguru rounds the temple, looking a little dishevelled. Behind him, his summoned cursed spirits dissipate like mist. A raised, thin eyebrow tells him Suguru isn't exactly impressed with the gaping hole in the temple wall from Satoru's last blue, but whatever.

Some things can't be helped.

"The door's ruined anyway," Satoru argues, waving at the splintered wood left behind by the second cursed spirit. He's fanning himself with his other hand, overly warm from the brief fight despite the cool forest air. "And it’s obvious that nobody comes up here anymore, if the place looks as run-down as this."

"Someone must've, if there are cursed spirits around." Suguru sounds distracted. He's got his two defeated cursed spirits condensed down to inky black balls, sitting in the palm of his hand. There's a slight grimace to his expression, but he doesn't hesitate to lift the cursed spirits to his mouth and swallow them down, one at a time.

Satoru watches from where he's sitting on the creaking temple steps. It’s always fascinating, seeing the way Suguru swallows the balls with no problem when they’re nearly the size of a palm. He jams his foot down a little harder on his three defeated cursed spirits, holding them in place for Suguru.

If Suguru notices the way his gaze lingers on the slight bob of Suguru's throat, he doesn't say anything.

"How is it?" Satoru asks, when Suguru's grimace deepens. "Feel stronger yet?"

"Don't make me punch you, Satoru."

The irritation in Suguru's voice is half-hearted at best, and Satoru offers him a cheeky grin even as he obligingly lifts his foot when Suguru walks over.

Suguru holds out his hand, palm up, and the cursed spirit on top of the pile streams into another inky black ball, melding over his fingers. Like this, shiny and smooth, it almost looks appetising. In a weird sorta way. Satoru almost asks if he can touch it, just to see what it feels like. Forcing cursed spirits into this form is part of Suguru's technique—not something that Satoru’s tried to do with raw cursed energy, though he suspects it’s not possible. Well, he can’t say he’s jealous exactly, not with the way Suguru describes his technique.

One after the other, Suguru swallows the remaining cursed spirits down. He looks a little uneasy after the fourth one, and he stares down at the last ball pinched between his fingers for a second longer than the last. Then he's tipping his head back and gulping down that one too.

"Eurgh," is all he manages to utter.

"Where do they go, anyway?" Satoru asks, when Suguru looks less queasy. "When you swallow them, I mean?"

Suguru blinks at him. He's got one hand resting on the temple wall, though he's not fully leaning against it. "Don't know. I don't feel them once they get past my throat, they just merge into my reserves, with the rest of my cursed spirits."

"Huh. Was kinda wondering," Satoru says. He looks down as he plucks at his shirt, feeling the cooling sweat against his skin and makes a face. "I don't think I've seen you take in that many in one go."

"I don't think….I have."

There's something in Suguru's voice that makes Satoru glance up. He sees Suguru make a face like he's about to cough or burst out laughing or hurl, and that's when Satoru frowns, a tiny bit of concern creeping into his mind.

"Hey, you okay?" he asks, just as Suguru shakes his head and turns pale—

"Sorry," Suguru says, voice muffled behind the hand he clamps over his mouth. "I think I'm gonna—"

—and promptly bends over and throws up.

Satoru stares, not quite comprehending for a hot second. "Oh. Uh," he says, eloquently. "Shit."

Fortunately for him, Suguru is too busy throwing up what sounds like his entire two meals of the day to pay any notice. It sounds—Satoru wrinkles his nose and winces, as Suguru retches—wow, pretty gross. From this angle, all he can see is the miserable curve and shake of Suguru's shoulders, hunched beside the temple wall, and the way his hair is dangerously close to coming loose and falling over his shoulder.

Nothing for it, he decides. He's already hopping to his feet and rolling up his sleeves before he finishes the thought. Half a step forward, then he's scooping up the ends of Suguru's hair. He twirls the strands around his fingers, resting his hand on Suguru's back while he steadies Suguru's heaving form with his other hand.

"Just let it out," he says, patting Suguru lightly. "All out."

A groan. "You make it sound like I have a choice—" comes Suguru's unhappy, croaky reply, just before a shudder has him lurching forward again, gagging hard.

The motion tugs Suguru's hair away from Satoru's grip, and he idly winds the loose hairs around his fingers again. It feels kinda nice in a way. Suguru's hair is smooth and heavy, twining as easily as silk ribbons in his hand. The sensation is almost enough to distract Satoru from the wet splatter of Suguru's stomach contents onto the grass. It sounds like something catches in his throat, but when Satoru leans over to peek, there’s no cursed spirits coming up out of Suguru’s mouth. That’s good, right?

"Mm, that's it," Satoru says, soothingly. "Watch my shoes though."

"Eurgh, shut up—"

Another dry heave interrupts Suguru, and Satoru rubs his back gingerly. It's not like this is the first time he's seen someone throw up, but it's definitely the first time he's seen Suguru do it. Which is kind of weird. He's always thought Suguru had a rather strong constitution, what with the stoic way he usually swallows the cursed spirits down. The way he does it, like just earlier, lips parting with just a flash of tongue before the curse disappears into his mouth, makes Satoru wonder sometimes, just what they taste like.

The curse, he means. Definitely the curse.

"You done?" Satoru asks, when Suguru stops trembling. He keeps rubbing his back though, gentle circular strokes that Suguru seems to tolerate for now. "Wanna get up?"

A slow nod, then Suguru straightens up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks pale and weary, lips twisting with a faint look of disgust as he steps back from the mess on the ground. Satoru lets go of his hair, a little reluctantly, and pats his shoulder one last time.

"Want some water?" Satoru asks, turning to the bags they'd brought with them.

"Yeah," Suguru says. His voice is rough, hoarse, and Satoru feels both a pang of sympathy and a muted flicker of interest, stirring in his own belly.


Handing over the water bottle, Satoru sits back on the wooden stairs that are too low to be comfortable for how long his legs are, and watches. Suguru rinses out his mouth, walking away to spit into the grass a short distance away. He gargles a few times, expression pinched as though concentrating on not throwing up again, before spitting the rest of the water out.

"Lucky you didn't get any of it on you," Satoru calls, when Suguru glances down and checks to see if his uniform is unscathed.

"Small mercies," Suguru says, shaking his head. His voice sounds almost back to normal now.

"Yup." Satoru draws out the sound. "We didn’t bring spare clothes either. You would’ve had to go back shirtless or something.”

Suguru makes a noncommittal noise in his throat. He walks back to Satoru, tossing the water bottle at him before bending over to sweep his hair over his head. After smoothing it back and tying it back into its usual bun, Suguru looks mostly put back together, if still a little pale. Even his side fringe is in place again, the hair falling forward as Suguru reaches down to grab his own bag.

"What?" Suguru asks when he spends too long staring, and Satoru snaps out of his thoughts.

"Nothing! Nothing. Should we head back? I want my sweets before the shops start to close."

Suguru snorts. "You and your sweet tooth are something else," he says, as they start walking down the rocky path back to the village. "Even if we go, I don’t think I'm gonna be able to stomach much."

"You should at least try something. Or buy some for later."

"When I know you'll buy enough for the two of us?"

Satoru grins widely. "Then we'll have enough for three people."

"You glutton."

When they reach the village, Suguru calls their assistant back, turning away and walking down the muddy road as he relays the mission outcome over the phone. Out of the corner of his eye, Satoru spots the old man glaring at them suspiciously from his house. Satoru turns, planting his heels into the ground and giving him an enthusiastic thumbs up. The old man’s subsequent scowl amuses him enough to chortle to himself, until their driver turns up and Suguru gives him a puzzled look as they both climb into the car.

“You weren’t terrorising that old man, were you?” Suguru says, glancing back towards the village as their car begins the climb back out of the valley. “You know people can’t help it if they’re afraid of us.”

“Who, me?” Satoru says, blinking owlishly. “Never.”

It takes roughly twenty minutes for their driver to get to Hakone Yumoto, and five seconds before Satoru is clambering out of the car and peering into the nearest food stall. He picks up a bag of manju, ones made with brown sugar and delightfully soft, before hopping over to the next shop where he buys a set of honey cheese tarts. Suguru has wandered off on his own, knowing better by now than to stick around long enough for Satoru to drag him from shop to shop. Satoru wonders, briefly, if it'd be nicer to have Suguru with him so he can make him try the different samples as they go, but in the end he just shrugs and makes his way to the next stall.

It's fine. He'll just have to buy enough to share.

"Satoru," Suguru says, looking a little incredulous when they finally meet back up. He’s seated at a little round table, under an awning that shields him from the lukewarm sunlight. There’s a pale green, creamy-looking drink in his hand, with tofu shake emblazoned across the plastic, but he sets it down when Satoru approaches. "Just how much did you spend?"

Satoru looks down at the gift bags dangling off his arms. "Uh, I didn't keep count?"

A faint sigh. "Of course you didn't."

"What?" Satoru asks, a little defensively. He slides into the empty seat next to Suguru, too cramped to be entirely comfortable, and pulls out a neatly tied up box of sweets from one of the bags. It's not like he's ever had to worry about how much he spends, but this really isn't that much, is it? Besides, "I got some of it for you," he adds.

Suguru blinks at him. "For me?"

"Yeah, you know. I figured you might want something sweet after—" Satoru mimes throwing up, and snickers at the light smack he gets from Suguru. "—so, wanna try? The honey cheese tarts taste pretty good."

"No thanks," Suguru says, shaking his head. He lifts his drink to his mouth, sucking through the straw. "Pretty sure this is all my stomach can deal with right now."

Satoru frowns at him, gaze caught on the movement of his lips. "You're picking a tofu shake over a cheese tart."

"It's pretty good. Wanna try?"

"Mmm, nope," Satoru decides. "Can I give you something else though?"

"Like what—"

Satoru leans forward, one fist curled into Suguru's shirt to pull him forward, and cuts his words off with the press of a kiss. He tastes a faint sweetness to his lips, licks at the seam of his mouth for a taste of the drink Suguru had been sipping. Matcha and tofu. Interesting. Over the rim of his sunglasses, he sees Suguru's eyes widen. Feels the soft puff of air as he lets out a startled breath through his nose. Then Suguru jerks away, half a second later, as though he’s just realised that Satoru kissed him.

"You—" Suguru rasps, voice almost as rough as earlier that afternoon. He's got one hand up against his mouth, staring at Satoru’s face—at his lips, he realises—with disbelief. "The hell do you think you're doing?"

"You didn't like it?" Satoru asks, curious. He liked it. That felt good. He'd do it again now, if he wasn't sure whether Suguru would punch him for it.

"I—" Suguru purses his lips. He brings his drink up to his mouth, takes another long sip like he’s stalling for time. His expression makes him look like he's struggling for words. "Didn't you just watch me throw up an hour ago?" he finally says. "I can't believe you kissed me."

"Well, you taste like tofu now. Slight improvement," Satoru tells him honestly, and Suguru huffs a laugh.

"I seriously can't believe you."

"Should I do it again then, if you—mmfph!"

Satoru finds himself abruptly cut off, two fingers pressed against his lips. He feels them drag across his mouth, an almost curious touch, before Suguru withdraws, wearing an unreadable expression.

"No?" Satoru asks, tilting his head when Suguru doesn't say anything else.

"Try again later, and I’ll let you know," Suguru finally says. There's a tinge of pink to his cheeks, gaze not quite meeting his, and Satoru feels his grin widen.

He flicks open his box of sweets, and pops a honey cheese tart into his mouth. "Sure. We can kiss again later.”

Another smack to his arm, and this time Satoru doesn’t even mind.