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the call

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Sleep came to him far easier these days, but Yuuta was still prone to waking up at the slightest sound, which meant he was awake at random hours of the night. In the beginning of their relationship, when they’d first begun to simply sleep next to each other, Maki had quickly realized that her tossing and turning pulled him out of his sleep. On bad nights, she’d wait until he passed out again and then slip into another room. He’d gotten onto her about that, a little more intensely than she’d expected, but she still had a bad habit of moving to the guest room sometimes.

She didn’t want her nightmares to wake him up. After years of being together in every sense of the term, she still couldn’t seem to understand that he wanted her nightmares to wake him up. He wanted to be there for her, even if it meant being forcibly dragged out of his sleep at three in the morning.

Maki wasn’t the only stubborn one when it came to comfort, as Yuuta was finding out.

Parenthood was a very unexpected part of their lives, even if it was one of the few things that they’d talked about and planned extensively. He’d known early on in their relationship that Maki didn’t want to have children. It wasn’t until they’d become serious after graduation that she openly admitted it. Yuuta would never want to admit to being sad about it, but he understood Maki’s reservations and the trauma that came with having a family. He’d accepted it, as he accepted her, thinking that it was perhaps simply not meant for him, not like Maki was.

Besides, he could live vicariously through others. First Gojo, whose kid had been a tumultuous surprise, and then Megumi and Nobara four years later. That had been difficult, Maki upset and conflicted over the idea of furthering the Zen’in bloodline that she’d decimated. That was another reason why she hadn’t wanted to have children. Their blood was cursed, according to her, although he found that a little dramatic. Besides, as he pointed out, she wasn’t even a Zen’in in name anymore.

Nonetheless, while it took some time, Maki grew to love her niece, and so they spent a lot of time with their friends and children. Yuuta couldn’t deny how much he enjoyed playing with them, laughing that he’d take the kids off their parents’ hands to give them a break. He liked kids. They reminded him of his more innocent youth – sickly but happy, close with his sister, then with Rika. Those had been good days, and children reminded him that there would always be light in a sometimes bleak world.

Maki noticed it, of course. Yuuta could lie and even cut off his emotions, but he tended to wear his heart on his sleeve when it came to her, so it didn’t take her much to realize how much he liked being an uncle of sorts.

Yuuta’s heart had dropped the moment Maki rolled over to him in bed and stated, “You want kids.” It had been a while since he’d felt any sort of real fear, but those three words had scared him. He was so afraid that his secret desire would push Maki away.

It had taken some time and a lot of discussion, even a few arguments, although he hadn’t really been the one fighting. It was more like Maki arguing with herself, to the point where sometimes he’d been left confused about what they’d actually discussed before she stormed out of the room. She’d come back a few hours later, cheeks flushed with humiliation, and let him wrap his arms around her. Maki was the strongest person he knew – quite literally – but he loved the little moments when she allowed herself to be vulnerable and soft with him. It was a side of her that only he got to see.

Well, not so much anymore. She was figuring it out. They both were.

In the end and after some much needed therapy, they had agreed to adopt. Maki had been worried that not having a child of his own would disappoint him, but she didn’t want to bear any child of her own – she didn’t want to pass on her own genetic history, centuries worth of bad blood boiling inside her. He thought, perhaps, she was also afraid of what they would inherit – which curse technique, if any at all.

Yuuta hadn’t argued with the decision at all. In fact, he’d loved the idea. After all, Gojo finding him and bringing him to Jujutsu High had felt like an adoption in some ways, how they’d all welcomed him into their little family. If he could bring that happiness to another child’s life, it would be the perfect way to return the favor to the universe.

They had both expected the adoption process to take a while, forced to attend classes and pay an exorbitant amount of fees, and then there was finding a child they could adopt. They’d considered fostering in the beginning. It might not be permanent in some cases, but if anyone knew what it was like to not have a home or a family, it was them. They could make up for others where their own pasts had lacked.

Neither one of them had anticipated meeting a child that would change their lives almost instantly, but fate, as he’d found, had a strange way of bringing people together. It had brought him to Maki, after all, and so many years later, it brought them both to Takumi.

It had been around four months into the transition, the three of them stuck going through a process in order to simply adopt him. Due to his history of multiple foster homes, on top of his supposed “behavioral” problems, they needed to make sure they were a good fit before pairing him with them. Yuuta could understand their reservations, even if they didn’t fully understand the truth themselves, but Maki was frustrated. She hated the days when they had to send him back while they went through this trial run, only having him for a few days at a time each week.

She wanted him with them now . Even worse, Rika was equally frustrated, looking over the small boy in a way that made Yuuta’s heart swell. His girls were always so protective.

It was perhaps Rika nudging him awake or maybe a light pop from the former guest bedroom that jerked Yuuta out of his sleep tonight. His eyes snapped open, but they took a moment to adjust to the darkness, blinking away the sleep out of them until he could focus on the clock. Just a little before four in the morning. Maki was still beside him in bed, turned on her side, curled up in a way that Yuuta found cute. She’d been almost offended when he had told her that, and he smiled now just thinking about it.

Still, something had woken him up, so he waited for a minute, straining his ears to hear through the silence.

That was when he caught it – some sniffling from the other room.

Takumi.

Still light on his feet, Yuuta slipped out of bed without disturbing Maki and then out of the room. He walked down the hallway before stopping at the guest bedroom they’d slowly begun to turn into Takumi’s room. The room was dark, no light peeking out from under the door, but there was movement inside and more sniffling.

Taking a deep breath, Yuuta knocked on the door. “Takumi?”

The sound of movement paused. Yuuta wondered if the boy would try to pass himself off as asleep, but then, in a whimpering voice, Takumi cried, “I made a mess.”

Opening the door, Yuuta found the bedroom darker than the night sky. A blink later, and Takumi’s curse energy burned brightly in the room, so strong that it would’ve blinded anyone else. Even Gojo had furrowed his brow over it, adjusting the blindfold around his eyes. While Takumi didn’t have as much curse energy as them, he had far more than usual, and its defining trait was its brightness, a white so pure that it had taken Yuuta’s breath away the first time he caught a glimpse of it at the orphanage.

Yuuta blinked it away, and the room was plunged into darkness again. “Are you okay?” he asked calmly.

“M’sorry,” Takumi whimpered, sounding skittish, a frightened animal. “I had a scary dream.”

“It’s okay,” Yuuta reassured him, taking measured steps into the room. He could see the boy sitting at the head of the bed, his eyes having adjusted with only the moonlight as the source of light. Takumu had his legs pulled up against his chest, his arms wrapped around them. It was an all-too familiar image that made Yuuta’s heart sink. “We all have scary dreams sometimes.”

Takumi pointed frantically at the ground. “Your feet!”

Yuuta paused, right before lowering his foot, and glanced down. Spread out all over the floor was glass, a lamp toppled over a few feet away. Ah, that must’ve been what had woken him up. The lightbulb had exploded, which sent the lamp tumbling off the nightstand. Upon bending down for a closer look, he could see traces of Takumi’s curse energy crackling around the glass and lamp. It flickered anxiously, much like the boy’s eyes. Gojo had taught him to see residual energy, a talent not all sorcerers could do apparently.

Takumi saw it too. He just didn’t know what it was yet.

Explaining concepts like curses, curse energy, and jujutsu to a teenager was hard enough, but a child just barely over five? They might as well have told him that his cartoons were real. Even harder, most parents soothed their children by telling them that monsters weren’t real. There was nothing hiding in their closet, nothing lying in wait under their bed, nothing scratching at their windows – but that wasn’t necessarily true. Sure, some of it was imagination, but some of it…

Monsters were real. Takumi had seen them as far as he could remember, probably since he was a baby, but unable to explain it, he ended up looking like a problem child, overly anxious and needy, acting out for attention, especially with such a large amount of unstable curse energy that caused destruction around him.

“It’s okay,” Yuuta reassured again, sweeping up the glass as best as he could.

“I didn’t do it,” Takumi insisted, which technically wasn’t the truth. He had done it, with his innate curse technique that Gojo was still trying to help him determine, but he hadn’t done it on purpose. He couldn’t control it. Yuuta could understand that all too well. “I tried to clean – I did, I promise, I’m not bad – but-but…”

With the glass out of the way and lamp back on the table, Yuuta peered at Takumi again, taking in the way the small boy was cradling his hand against his chest. “Did you hurt yourself?”

Yuuta didn’t need to light to know tears were welling up in Takumi’s eyes. “I didn’t do it on purpose .”

It was a big word for a child so young, but Takumi must’ve heard it from other adults in his life. On purpose, on accident – it hadn’t seemed to matter in the end. He’d never lasted longer than a few months in each foster home, shamefully returned each time. He was a mostly good kid, the reports had said, just had some issues, ones that would require people with a different skillset. Needed more attention, more time, therapy. Maki had asked about his biological parents. They’d been told the record was sealed.

Yuuta moved over to kneel in front of the bed, holding out a hand. “Can I see it?”

After a moment of hesitation, Takumi held out his hand, laying it in Yuuta’s palm. There was a cut on one of his small fingers, not a terrible enough, just enough to bleed and hurt. He’d gotten some blood on his pajamas too, dinosaur ones that he’d shyly picked out himself. Scared as he was by many things, he liked big animals. It made Yuuta wonder how he’d react to Rika, but– That was far too much, too soon.

“Wanna see a magic trick?” Yuuta asked.

Like any child, even a strange one like him, Takumi nodded. Yuuta closed his hand over the boy’s, so much larger, quietly in awe over how small he could be. From pictures his parents had shown him, he’d been a very small boy too, often sick, considered weaker than most. Takumi looked much the same, but it was a lie. Sometimes, the larger the amount of curse energy, the harder it was on the person’s body. So much at such a young age was hard for a body to deal with.

After focusing a minute amount of reverse curse technique on their hands, Yuuta opened his palm to reveal Takumi’s hand. “Tada! All better.”

Takumi blinked, mouth open in shock, as he stared at his hand. “The cut is gone!”

“Just gotta clean off the blood, and it’ll be like nothing happened,” Yuuta told him.

Then, just as quickly as his excitement came, it vanished from Takumi’s face, and he curled up in on himself again, scooting back against the wall. “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

“It’s okay,” Yuuta said a third time, patient as ever. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose, and it’s all cleaned up now.”

“No, I made a big mess,” Takumi said, lips wobbling, looking like he might start crying in earnest. “I’m sorry –”

So focused on the broken glass and wound, Yuuta hadn’t noticed something else different about the room. It was easy to get lost in the bright crackling of Takumi’s curse energy, the way it shot around the room away from him, like it was trying to slip through the outlets or find a way to escape. However, now that he was kneeling in front of the bed, he recognized the smell, unable to stop himself from wrinkling his nose as he looked down at the bed, the spot that Takumi had been avoiding.

“Ah. Right.”

Takumi burst upon his realization. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry–”

“You’re fine!” Yuuta cut in quickly, holding up his hands. “Let’s get in the bath, okay? I’ll put everything in the wash.”

Misery practically poured from Takumi as he clambered out of the wet bed. He’d taken off his socks, stuffing them somewhere under the blanket, following Yuuta silently to the bathroom. They worked efficiently, Yuuta drawing a bath and then helping him out of his wet clothes. After he climbed into the tub and nodded that he was okay on his own, Yuuta got to work about actually cleaning the room. He found a new lightbulb, replacing the broken one, and then vaccuumed up the glass. With that done, he stripped the bed entirely – blanket, sheets, and all – and put them in the washer.

He was trying to think if they had a spare bedroom set that would fit the small bed when he realized that he hadn’t heard from Takumi in a while. For a moment, there was a spike of panic, but when he hurried to the bathroom, he found that the boy was still sitting silently in the tub, sullen and blank at the same time. Again, it was all too familiar to him, and Yuuta’s heart ached. He shouldn’t have worried so much though. Rika would’ve let him know if anything happened to him.

“Hey, buddy,” Yuuta murmured, crouching down beside the tub. “You all washed up?” Takumi nodded, but Yuuta noticed he hadn’t touched his hair. Better to be safe than sorry. He picked up a cup. “Can I?”

Once more, Takumi nodded, and Yuuta set about washing his hair. He thought about the way Maki washed his hair before. For some people, sharing a bath or shower might’ve been, well, thrilling, but for them, that had usually been their recovery time. Nothing had felt more intimiate than soaking in hot water, touching each other in soft ways, fingers pressing into sore muscles, helping each other wash off the grime and blood. Takumi was self-sufficient, but Yuuta liked this. It felt…trusting. A good step forward.

“Are you gonna send me back?” Takumi suddenly asked, eyes focused ahead.

Yuuta twisted his lips. “Well, I mean, we have to drop you off on Thursday, but–”

“No, I mean, are you gonna send me back forever?” Takumi asked again. “Like everyone else.”

Yuuta set the cup down, but he reached out, gingerly touching Takumi’s hair. Washed like this, the blond hair laid flat on his head, but it normally stook out everywhere, a complete mess, even a hint of curls in them. It looked so unlike his and Maki’s, and it was temperamental like his curse energy. Maki loved it – loved how soft it was and how it bounced under her fingers. The touch brought Takumi’s eyes to his.

“We won’t leave you – not ever,” Yuuta told him. “If we didn’t have to take you back every week, we wouldn’t. This is your home. Well, we want this to be your home if you want it too.”

“But–” Takumi’s hands trembled under the warm water. “I made a mess. I’m bad.”

Yuuta’s heart leapt into his throat. “No, no, you’re not– You’re not bad, I promise.”

Takumi looked away so shamefully that a flash of anger burned through Yuuta. He hid it, knowing the boy wouldn’t realize the anger wasn’t directed toward him but at all the people who had hurt him. What kind of shit had those assholes put in his head? He was just a kid, just an innocent kid with too much power and not the knowledge or guidance to use it, and people had tossed him to the side again and again. If he could go through Takumi’s records and find all the people that had hurt him–

Wow, Maki was really rubbing off on him – or maybe he’d always been a little overprotective and prone to anger when people he cared about was hurt. He didn’t need to unintentionally curse people.

“I knew a boy that was a lot like you once,” Yuuta said, pulling Takumi out of his sad thoughts.

“You did?”

Yuuta nodded. “Mmhm. He had special powers just like you, really weird and really strong, and sometimes, people got hurt or bad things happened around him, but it wasn’t his fault either. He was scared and alone – and he thought no one would love him ever again.”

Takumi gazed at him with wide, wonderous eyes. “What happened?”

“Someone unexpectedly kind found him and taught him how to use his powers,” Yuuta explained, smiling because he knew that Gojo would scoff at the description. It was the truth though. He would’ve been killed if not for Gojo, who had seen something in him worth saving and nurturing. He was kind, even if he didn’t think it himself. Yuuta saw that in the way he interacted with his own kids, try as he might hide it from the world.

“Did bad things still happen?” Takumi asked.

“Sometimes,” Yuuta admitted sheepishly. “The boy wasn’t that good at using his powers at first.” Those first few months of training under Gojo and Maki, and then later on Miguel, had been brutal, but he’d had to learn fast, growing leaps during his fight with Geto. “But he learned to use them for good and to help people – and most importantly, he wasn’t alone anymore. Because there were people like him that loved him, and he found not only friends but a family.”

Takumi was quiet for a moment, though he didn’t look as sad anymore, more thoughtful if anything. When he spoke again, Yuuta had to lean in to hear him. “M’scared.”

“Why are you scared?”

“‘Cause I want a family,” Takumi admitted. “I see it on TV and stuff – kids with mommys and daddys. And then other kids leave the orphanage or get adopted and I–”

“We won’t send you back,” Yuuta told him. “And we’re gonna give you a family – we can be your family. You don’t–” He scratched the back of his head, a little awkward. It was kind of strange going from childless to having a very aware child in his life, with no chance to ease into it together as they grew, but he was learning. They all were. “You don’t have to call me ‘Dad’ or Maki ‘Mom’ or anything, but, you know, we can be, if you want.”

Takumi gave him a shy smile, a flickering thing. “Okay.”

“Okay.” Yuuta nodded. “Let’s get you dried and changed.”

Once he was out of the bath and dried, Yuuta gave him a change of pajamas. He clambered into them himself, but as Yuuta helped him pull down the t-shirt, Takumi mumbled, “Don’t tell Maki.”

“I won’t,” Yuuta promised, a hard thing to do since he told Maki everything. He knew why though. Takumi didn’t want Maki to know so she wouldn’t be mad or upset. She wouldn’t be, not at him, but it was still his way of protecting himself, making sure he didn’t look like a problem kid to his prospective parents.

However, upon getting him changed, Yuuta realized another problem. He’d never figured out if they had a spare shet of sheets. They had another blanket and pillow he could use for now, but that might be awkward. Even worse, he could sense Takumi’s building anxiety as he stared at his bedroom, the emptiness likely gnawing at him. When Yuuta caught his eyes flickering down the hallway, he tilted his head, prompting the boy to speak.

“I’m scared,” Takumi said. “What if I have another scary dream?”

“What do you want to do then?” Yuuta asked.

With an almost embarrassed look, Takumi gazed down at his feet and mumbled, “I want Maki.”

Yuuta fought the urge to chuckle. Yeah, me too.

“Okay, give me a minute. Stay right here.”

Tiptoeing into their bedroom, Yuuta found that Maki was still asleep, although she’d rolled over to his side of the bed, perhaps a subconscious attempt to seek out his lacking warmth. He climbed halfway onto the bed, keeping a short distance, and touched his wife’s arm.

“Maki,” he said, loud enough to break through her sleep. “Maki.”

The moment he felt her stir, he let go of her and eased off the bed. A second later, Maki bolted upright, one of her hands clenched into a fist, her expression intense without an ounce of sleep in her eyes.

Yuuta held up his hands. “Hey, hey, it’s just me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Fuck.” Maki dropped her fisted hand, unclenching it on the bed. “Sorry.”

Fighting back the urge to reassure her, Yuuta gave her a moment, knowing that Maki was disoriented whenever she woke up. She rarely had good dreams, so he had learned to wake her with a heavy sense of caution, hence why he had told Takumi to wait in his room. Maki would’ve been ashamed and horrified had she unintentionally scared him. It was something they’d been working on in the past few months since they’d decided to adopt, knowing a child might not understand such boundaries.

Once she was settled down, Yuuta said, “Takumi is asking for you.”

Maki frowned. “Why? Is he okay?”

“He, ah, had an accident,” Yuuta settled on saying.

Alarm instantly flashed across Maki’s face, and he had to put his hands on her shoulders to keep her from leaping out of bed. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “Is he–?”

“He’s fine, just a little rattled,” Yuuta told her gently. “He had a nightmare.”

“And?”

“And” – Yuuta let out a breath – “I’m not supposed to tell you.”

Maki’s frown deepened. “What’s that–?”

“But let’s just say I need you to remind me to do the wash in the morning,” Yuuta finished. He gave her another moment, waiting for her to connect the dots. He hadn’t told Maki, not exactly, but she would be worried if she didn’t have some idea of what was going on. He watched as realization dawned on Maki’s face, and she sank on the bed under his hands, nodding to herself. “I think he wants to sleep in here – with you – but he’s afraid to ask.”

It was honestly cute, the way Maki’s brow furrowed. “Why me?”

Yuuta shrugged. “He feels safe around you.”

Taking a deep breath, Maki ran her fingers through her long hair and mumbled, “Okay, okay, let me just–”

“Hey,” Yuuta said, touching her wrist. “You look fine.”

Maki huffed. “I look terrifying to a kid.”

“Not to Takumi,” Yuuta pointed out. “He knows you’ll protect him.”

Once Maki nodded again to let him know she was ready, Yuuta left the room to retrieve Takumi. He was staring at the lamp, the light turned back on, glowing a little brighter than normal. Gojo had warned him that Takumi’s curse energy would be a beacon for everyone to see, except his inherent anxiety drew curses in instead of scare them off like his and Gojo’s. In time, with the right guidance and training, it would evolve. Yuuta rather liked the brightness of it, the way it made everything and everyone shine a little more.

“Okay, buddy, let’s go.” Yuuta scooped Takumi up into his arms. He was still light and small enough to carry, although he seemed as equally unfamiliar with the gesture as Yuuta was. He clung to him though, wrapping his thin arms around Yuuta’s neck and burying his face in his shoulder, allowing Yuuta to carry him into the bedroom. “Dropping off in three, two, one–”

Yuuta let go, and Takumi fell onto the bed with a playful yelp, bouncing on the mattress. They’d opted for a more western style, something completely different from the Zen’in household, though Maki had never said it out loud when they bought this place. Takumi rolled toward Maki, letting her gather him into her arms and pull him against her chest. He snuggled in close, taking in her warmth.

“Your hair,” Maki murmured, smoothing down the strands that had dried enough to pop up. “So wild.”

“M’sorry,” Takumi muttered, his voice muffled by her shirt.

“Did you have a bad dream?” Maki asked, holding him by the back of his head.

Takumi nodded. “You left – and you never came back. And then the monsters…”

Maki let go of him so she could cup his face and lifted it up so they could look each other in the eyes. “We will never leave you behind – never.”

His lips trembled. “Never?”

“You’re our son,” Maki told him, “and we will do everything to protect you and keep you safe.”

Takumi nodded and buried himself into Maki again. She looked over to Yuuta, who had silently watched them the whole time, and then beckoned him toward them. He nodded, climbing into the bed on the other side so that Takumi was between them. His breathing slowed down, and it wasn’t long before Yuuta knew he was asleep once more, safe and sound.

“We can’t take him back,” Maki told him quietly. “We can’t.”

Yuuta smiled softly. “It’s not that simple, you know. There are legal systems.”

“Gojo found a way around that when it came to Megumi, didn’t he?” Maki pressed.

A light laugh escaped Yuuta, blowing through Takumi’s hair. “Now we’re taking parenting advice from Gojo?”

Maki rolled her eyes. “Who needs to take advice from that idiot when you’re already the best dad?”

“No need to flatter me more than usual today.”

Keeping one hand on Takumi’s back, Maki reached out with the other to touch Yuuta’s face. He leaned into her palm, closing his eyes, feeling all the calluses and scars that would never fade away. She had been afraid that her injuries would scare a child, especially one as nervous as Takumi, but despite all his fears, he never blinked at them, just asked if they hurt.

“I mean it,” Maki told him seriously. “You’re an incredible father. I’m…I’m really glad we’re doing this together.” She glanced down at Takumi, who had rolled somewhat onto his back, mouth wide open as he breathed. “We made the right choice. It’s crazy, but I couldn’t imagine him not being in our lives.”

“Me either. He fits.”

He shouldn’t, but he did. That was pretty much the story of their lives.

“You were supposed to be resting all day, doing whatever you want, you know,” Maki pointed out.

“I am doing what I want,” Yuuta shot back playfully.

Maki tugged on his hair, but he only smiled back. “Happy birthday. You’re not much of a bean sprout anymore, huh.”

“I’m a fully grown plant now.”

“Go to sleep.”

Turning his head to the side, Yuuta kissed the edge of Maki’s palm and then laid a hand on Takumi’s head. Getting woken up at four in the morning to clean broken glass and a pee-covered bed might not be the most fun way to start out his birthday, but Yuuta wouldn’t want it any other way. He had friends – and he had a family. That was the best present he could imagine.