It might be cocky of Satoru to assume nobody’s on his level, but to be fair, usually nobody is, and neither of his new classmates look like a particularly large threat. One of them has bangs streaking down in his face (which probably shouldn’t count as a weakness, but Satoru’s always been judgmental, so it is), and the other hasn’t said a word since they started class except to make fun of him. “You’re sparring today,” says Yaga after leading them outside. “No techniques allowed. Shouko will face the winner.”
Bangs (Suguru, whatever small part of Satoru’s brain that decided to have human decency reminds him, you’ve been in class with him for three weeks now) nods with a polite smile. “Are you ready to go?”
“Are you ready?” asks Satoru, because frankly, Suguru’s bangs are distracting him so they have to be even worse for the owner himself. “You don’t want to tie your hair back or anything?”
Suguru squints at him. “My hair is tied back.”
“Yeah, but you still,” Satoru motions over his own face, “you know.”
“I don’t, actually,” Suguru replies, but the way his mouth slants into a grin suggests otherwise. Satoru scowls for a moment before deciding it’s not worth the fight.
“You just might want to pay attention to detail there,” he says vaguely. “That’s all.” Suguru’s eye twitches. Satoru revels in it.
“You aren’t exactly the neatest either,” Suguru points out, leaning forward and ruffling Satoru’s hair so that it sticks up everywhere. Should’ve used infinity , Satoru curses silently as he smooths everything back down, ears heating up.
Out loud, he just says, “It’s short, so it doesn’t get in the way. Yours isn’t.” Suguru opens and closes his mouth before looking away.
Yaga clears his throat, and they both step back with quiet apologies, readying their weapons. “Do we just go on three, or — ” Satoru begins to ask, but Suguru’s already launched himself forward, blade in hand.
Satoru feints sideways before lunging toward him, and Suguru dodges easily before sweeps his foot out and knocks Satoru down so that he’s flat on his back. He presses the dull side of his dagger against Satoru’s throat, and the cool metal feels strangely refreshing. “I win,” he murmurs, smug. “It was barely even a fight, too.”
His bangs are touching Satoru’s forehead. They’re close enough to kiss, now, if Satoru were insane enough to lean forward and push his neck into the blade, which, honestly, he might be. “Oh,” he says aloud. He sounds like an idiot but he can’t find it within him to care, not when Suguru’s above him, lips parted, illuminated by the light of the sun behind him in a way that makes him look as if he’s glowing.
Suguru leans back, throwing the dagger in the air and letting it spin twice before catching it by the hilt. “Don’t underestimate me again,” he says with a wink that feels more like a threat, and he walks back to face off against Ieiri, leaving Satoru on the ground wondering why his heart is racing all of a sudden.
The exorcism they’re sent off to do is in a small but busy town. It’s charming like animated films often are, Satoru thinks, bustling with stall shops and flat rooftops and the type of unhurried atmosphere they’d never find back in the middle of Tokyo. “It was way too easy, right?” Suguru asks as they finish clearing out two Grade Ones. He glances over at Satoru. “They could’ve probably sent one of us.”
“Yeah, but now we have spare time.” Satoru stretches his palms upward, grinning when he feels Suguru’s eyes on him, discerning. “We should have fun with it.”
“Oh, no,” says Satoru, shrugging wholly unconvincingly. “What a big city. I think we might be lost.” Suguru laughs into the palm of his hand. Satoru wants to lean over and swallow it.
“Might as well explore while we’re here,” replies Suguru blandly, and Satoru beams.
They spend around ten minutes walking in silence, comfortable and relaxed in a way that makes Satoru feel like someone’s building a dam around his heart, blocking in all his feelings until they’re ready to explode through his ribs, out of his chest, onto the street for everyone to see. Satoru inches closer until their hands collide with every step, and when they do, Suguru looks away, his cheeks stained a bright crimson. “Let’s go in here,” he says, pulling his arm away from Satoru’s as he points toward a shop lined to the back with ugly printed shirts.
Satoru wrinkles his nose. “You want those?”
“I want to look,” says Suguru, tugging on Satoru’s sleeve. “They’re cute.” Like you, a disgusting, sappy part of Satoru’s brain answers, but he tamps it down. Suguru nudges him forward. “Come on.”
After a few minutes of searching (Satoru keeps making fun of the patterns too loudly and Suguru keeps pinching him to get him to shut up), Suguru holds up an orange button-down with hibisci printed across it. “Should I get it?”
Satoru almost says no on impulse, but Suguru looks shy, somehow, devoid of whatever confidence usually settles across him as easily as it does Satoru. “Yeah,” he says instead, for some reason feeling a little breathless. “The orange’ll look good on you.”
Suguru’s grin goes sharklike as he holds up a cool blue shirt with a pink camellia pattern. “Get this, then. We can match.”
“Gross,” says Satoru, sticking his tongue out, but after Suguru wiggles it as he moves it closer, he sighs. “Okay, fine, but I’m not wearing it.”
“We’ll see,” replies Suguru, somehow both airy and skeptical.
Satoru rolls his eyes. “We should get one for Ieiri too.”
“She’ll hate it.” Suguru picks out the brightest pink zebra-patterned one they have. “I’m gonna wrap it with a huge bow and see if she’ll start yelling before she even opens it.”
When Suguru smiles his eyes crinkle so that they look like they’re closed. Satoru wants to drop a kiss to each lid and then his mouth, soft and sweet and full of all the things he can’t bring himself to say. “You get me,” he says instead, and when Suguru gazes at him, fond, he can’t help but think whatever they have now is enough.
Satoru isn’t good at being tender but he tries his best for Suguru, especially at times like this, when Suguru goes out on a mission alone and comes back with a gash along his face and two bloodied arms. “You should’ve watched out on your left,” he murmurs, poking his tongue through his teeth as he wraps gauze around Suguru’s wrist. “It’s your weak side.”
“You told me already.”
“And you didn’t listen.” Satoru’s voice comes out harsher than he means it to, clatters against the tile of the bathroom floor like it’s breaking glass, so he soothes it with his touch, gentle against Suguru’s palm. “Next time we spar I’m gonna go for it.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Suguru stares down at him through heavy lids and dark lashes, and Satoru wonders how it’s fair that he gets to look beautiful while his face is coated in blood. “I’ll just beat you again.”
Satoru snorts. “I’ve been going easy on you.”
“Sure you have.” Suguru’s breath catches as he finishes talking. It echoes across the room: gasps upon gasps of quiet pain repeated into silence. Satoru rubs his thumb along Suguru’s own, feeling the calloused ridges of their fingers against each other, trying his best not to notice how well they seem to fit.
Suguru wipes a stray eyelash off his own cheek, drawing Satoru’s attention to his cheekbones and then away just as quickly. He stares at the floor for a moment before making eye contact again. “It’s not as bad as it looks. Really.”
“Yeah, well, it looks pretty bad.” Satoru’s voice vibrates low in his chest. He sounds hollow with the kind of exhaustion nobody except Suguru’s ever been able to pick out. “This is so much blood, man. It’s gross.”
Suguru tilts his head to the side, an expression flickering across his face Satoru can’t quite read. “You’re worried about me,” he says finally with a small, lopsided smile.
Satoru clicks his tongue against his teeth. “You shouldn’t look that happy about it.”
“I can’t even be a little touched?”
“It means you’re not doing your job right,” says Satoru, singsong. “If this happens again I’m gonna go on all your missions to babysit, since my skills are obviously a little more honed than yours right now.” Suguru rolls his eyes.
“Just because you’re almost in the retirement home — ”
“I’m only three months older,” Satoru snaps. Suguru laughs, bright and clear, as Satoru finishes bandaging his hand. Satoru wants to drop his mouth to his knuckles, kiss them softly like a proposal, a promise. He just rests his chin against them, making sure not to use too much pressure. “Be safer next time,” he says.
“I will,” Suguru promises, cupping Satoru’s cheek with his other hand and smiling, incredibly luminous, when Satoru leans into it. “Stop stressing out; it’s weird.”
Satoru sticks his tongue out. “Don’t be an idiot, then,” he replies, but his heart sings all the same.
Lately, the only time Satoru can get Suguru alone is when he’s doing his hair. “You can’t even braid it right,” Suguru complains, tilting his head forward as Satoru combs through a particularly stubborn knot. “I don’t get why you’re so obsessed with it.”
You never talk to me anymore, so this is all we have, Satoru thinks, something acrid rising in his throat and threatening to spill out. “It’s not like I’m growing my hair out,” he replies, easy and bright as always. “And I need to practice on someone.”
Suguru’s eyes narrow. “Why would you need to practice braiding hair?”
“I don’t know; I like being good at things. Maybe I’ll have a kid someday and they’ll want me to,” Satoru says, and Suguru laughs so hard that he’s torn between being mildly offended and grateful to see a smile again at all.
“You? With a kid?”
“I’d be a good parent,” Satoru argues, mostly just to see Suguru laugh harder. “I can cook. I can — I can read those parenting books and figure the rest out.”
Suguru’s grin is blindingly bright in a way Satoru’s never been this affected by before — maybe because these types of smiles are becoming increasingly hard to get out of him. Satoru feels as if he’s falling apart and then being pieced back together every time he sees it. “You can barely read a two-page paper,” says Suguru as Satoru threads his hair into a single thick braid, shiny and sleek. “How are you gonna get through a whole book?”
Satoru scowls. “I could get through it if I wanted to.”
“You wouldn’t want to,” replies Suguru easily. “Ow, god — be gentler with my hair.” Satoru just snickers.
“I might want to. If the kid wasn’t annoying.”
Suguru raises an eyebrow, still smiling. “If it’s your kid, they’re gonna be.”
“Yeah, yeah, shut up.” Satoru leans forward as he clips Suguru’s bangs back with a Hello Kitty hair clasp, beaming fondly at his handiwork and then pausing when he realizes how close they are. Suguru’s lips are parted, just barely, and it reminds Satoru of the first time they sparred. He’d been in love with him back then, too, he thinks, and that just makes everything hurt more now.
“You look good,” says Satoru. Suguru’s ears burn a pretty red, but he doesn’t look away.
“Thanks.” His eyes are dark enough that when Satoru stares at them for too long he feels like he’s drowning, especially now, when he can’t bring himself to move backwards. In a universe where he was just a little braver, right now is when he’d ask: can I kiss you?
Instead, he remembers how quickly they’re drifting and leans back. “Wanna get pizza later?” he asks, too fast and too casual. Suguru clears his throat.
Satoru nods and keeps working on his hair, but with every movement of his hands he can’t stop himself from thinking I love you, I love you, I love you.
Satoru should’ve caught onto the warning signs, but he didn’t, so now he’s here after his best friend went on a murder spree. “Trying dumb stuff that you know isn’t gonna work,” growls Satoru, “is as meaningless as it gets.”
Suguru looks eerily calm. His undereyes are purple. I should’ve noticed, Satoru thinks, as Suguru says, “It’s possible for you, right, Satoru?” People pass around them easily, and Satoru wonders how they can’t feel him crumbling, everything slowly coming apart for good. “If it’s possible for you,” Suguru continues, “can you really go around telling people it’s impossible?” He leans forward, the ten feet between them suddenly feeling like an eternity. “Are you the strongest because you’re Gojou Satoru, or are you Gojou Satoru because you’re the strongest?”
“What the hell are you saying?”
“If I could become you,” says Suguru, “then this foolish ideal would be perfectly plausible, don’t you think?” Satoru wonders if Suguru’s about to ask him to come with him. He wonders if he’d say yes.
Instead, Suguru sighs. “I’ve decided how I want to live. So now I’ll do what I can for the sake of it.”
Part of Satoru wants to confess, something like a final I’ve always loved you, but he thinks Suguru knows — and more importantly, he doesn’t think it’ll shake him out of it, because even if Suguru loves him, he resents him now, and that’s created a gap between them that can never be filled.
Part of Satoru wants to ask if Suguru loves him back, but he can’t ask something so frivolous now, not when Suguru’s about to leave for good, not when the next time they see each other, they’ll be enemies, not when his entire world is shattering. Besides, he knows the answer: an easy yes , but hearing it will make everything worse.
Part of Satoru wants to run up to him and kiss him goodbye, at least, take him into his arms just once and let him know that he’ll always be here, even if Suguru can’t do the same. That won’t help anything either, even if it might ease the ache steadily building in his heart, something he suspects won’t leave for the rest of his life.
Instead, he prepares himself for what he has to do — stretches his arms out, shutting his brain off — poises, ready to strike —
“Kill me if you want,” says Suguru in monotone, not bothering to turn back. “There’s a meaning to that.”
Satoru’s always had a selfish streak. He supposes letting Suguru live is just it rearing its ugly head once more.
For the second time in his life, Satoru’s frozen in place, and for the second time in his life, it’s because of Suguru — though this isn’t Suguru, he realizes, just a moment too late, because his soul isn’t thrumming with the same rhythm it always did around him, right up until the moment of his death. “Who are you?” he demands.
The Suguru who isn’t his smiles. “Getou Suguru, of course,” he answers. “Did you forget? How sad.”
Satoru’s head hurts. There’s so much cursed energy around him and so little of his own that it feels suffocating, like he’s thirteen and a curse detector and friendless all over again. “Your body,” he manages, “and even your cursed energy…” He heaves in a breath. Not-Suguru looks amused.
“My six eyes tell me you’re Getou Suguru,” says Satoru. “But my soul knows otherwise.” His voice pitches up, frantic and loud in a way he hasn’t gotten since he was eighteen. “So hurry up and answer. Who the hell are you?”
Not-Suguru laughs, takes his best friend’s scalp off as if it’s an accessory, taunts Satoru with his mistakes, his sentimentality, his humanity, everything he cultivated under Suguru’s endless friendship and tried so hard to keep as tribute. When Satoru tries to call Suguru forward (one desperate plea, one last hope), it works for a second before Not-Suguru’s in control again, smiling like he’s planned this out too. “That’s never happened before,” he says, looking unbothered, and then he explains the mechanisms of the soul as if to rub it in that Suguru really is gone.
“Let’s just get this over with,” snaps Satoru, unsure if Not-Suguru can see through his bravado as easily as Suguru could. He feels as if he’s sinking, the weight of all the energy and his decisions pushing him further toward the seal until he falls in. “This is uncomfortable, and I’m not enjoying looking at you two, either.”
Satoru’s faced with Suguru’s smile, easy and slightly tilted. “I’m enjoying the view myself, but I suppose you’re right.” Not-Suguru leans forward. “One more thing,” he says, staring with Suguru’s dark eyes, strangely cold. “He always wanted to do this, so I’ll let you have a parting gift.”
Before Satoru can say anything, Suguru’s kissing him ( Not Suguru, he reminds himself, desperate, not Suguru who loved you ), and it’s soft and soothing because it’s Suguru’s body, Suguru’s mouth, Suguru’s hands on his face, just as warm and familiar after all this time. Satoru turns his head to the side, and Not-Suguru raises an eyebrow at him. “What? Wasn’t as good as you thought it’d be?”
“You — ”
“Close gate,” says Not-Suguru airily, and then Satoru’s alone, a reminder of what he could have had lasting bitter on his lips.