Content Warnings: eye horror and mentions of canon typical violence and trauma.

“Leaving already?”Dominic’s fingers paused only for a moment as they fastened the buttons up the front of his shirt. He glanced at Satoru’s reflection in the dresser mirror before him, but didn’t answer the question. Though the unease failed to show on his face, his fingers faltered when working their way around the buttons on the back of his clerical collar.“You need help?”At this, Dominic couldn’t suppress the small chuckle that bubbled from within him. “You did a well enough job unbuttoning it last night. Rest your hands,” he said, voice low and tone mildly sarcastic. His smile died on his lips as soon as it’d bloomed. It was too foreign a gesture for him to maintain.Satoru tilted his head as Dominic turned to face him now. The man was tall with wide shoulders and incredibly dark eyes. His hair was neatly combed and his clothes were pristine. Some would question how an outfit could spend a night in a pile on some floor without at least a piece of lint or hair caught amongst the threads the following morning, but Satoru knew Dominic well enough to know the man had been up the last couple of hours picking the specks off the black fabric painstakingly before slipping into them. As was expected of a man living hand-in-hand with his neuroticisms.“See you next Sunday?” Satoru’s tone was casual as he allowed himself to lay back into his pillows, hands folded at the back of his head. His white hair was a messy mop on his head, some strands caught on his equally snowy lashes.“God willing.” Dominic disappeared into the bathroom for a moment, returning with his work briefcase in hand. He gave Satoru a curt nod, shifting the case awkwardly back and forth between his hands. “Take care of yourself until then, Satoru.” His eyes were downcast. “I’ve been feeling unease about this coming week.”“Ah, you feel uneasy every time you gotta go. Y’just don’t wanna leave, huh?” Tone playful, Satoru did very little to hide his toothy grin. Blue eyes followed Dominic as he wordlessly made his way to the door of the studio apartment. The door creaked open. Satoru’s lips shrank into a smile. Cold.“Goodbye.”The door closed.

The sun had just cleared the horizon, shining out onto the city below it. Satoru kicked his legs out over the edge of the building roof he was temporarily occupying, holding his cellphone up to his ear. The people below him either continued on their way down the sidewalk or joined the slowly growing crowd outside of the fast food establishment he was perched on. Their gazes were all fixated on the ominous entrance of the building, on the pitch black windows, the oppressive energy surrounding the perimeter.“We have some officers on the way now to disperse the crowd to allow you the freedom you need to work,” Kiyotaka reassured on the other line. “The restaurant has been in this state since yesterday night it appears. We have no witnesses as everyone who was inside and anyone who has entered following the incident has not been seen since. We assume they are trapped inside or …” A pause. “We have reason to believe a Special Grade Curse is involved. Are you certain you want me to bring the three to assist?”Satoru pursed his lips, still swinging his legs out casually. “Why wouldn’t you? They’re gonna encounter one sooner or later. Besides, I’ll be here! There’s nothing to worry about,” he chirped. “Now, hurry up. I’m getting bored.”“But-” A dainty finger tapped on the end call button before Kiyotaka could finish his sentence. Satoru tucked the phone away into his pants pocket, hand now raising to his chin as he began to contemplate his strategic options.Maybe a burger and some fries after all this is said and done …

“So, if you think about it, Broly- OW!” A long winded ramble from a particularly energetic blonde met a sudden end, delivered by an elbow to the ribs and a harsh “Will you quiet down and pay attention? You cut off Mr. Ijichi!”Yuji pouted at Nobara when she finalized her scolding with a emphatic show of her tongue. He didn’t respond, instead closing out of the video he’d been showing Megumi on his phone and rubbing at the sore spot on his side. Three sets of eyes now focused on the gaunt fidgety man in the driver’s seat.Kiyotaka, semi-flustered by the earlier interruption, now spoke between glances at the three students seated in the back via the rearview mirror. “Right, well. As I was saying, Gojo will be meeting the three of you at the location of your next assignment.” He pursed his lips, almost as if forcing them shut - keeping himself from dispelling something he shouldn’t. “We have very limited information on the situation. Our target is inside of a fast food establishm-”“Which one?” Yuji sat up and clasped his hands together in enthusiasm.“Yeah, which one?” The stickler had now lost her professionalism when faced with the possibility of a juicy burger as a celebratory post-assignment treat. Nobara leaned forward in the middle seat, hands on the back rest of both the passenger and driver’s seats. “Is it Yoshinoya? Taco Bell? Ringer Hut? McDonald’s?” One could practically see the mental directory of every nearby eatery mirrored in her eyes.Yuji chimed, “Yeah! Is it McDonald’s? Is that where we’re going?” He bounced in his seat, poking his head up over Nobara’s to look at Kiyotaka.Beside the two, Megumi leaned his head against the window and peered out at the passing cityscape. The scenery reflected in his dark eyes. “Let Assistant Director Ijichi finish what he was saying,” he sighed.Nobara and Yuji didn’t entirely relent, both staring at Kiyotaka in eager silence.The elder resumed his rundown. “We have no knowledge on what our target looks like. We sent scouts inside to surveil the building, but have not heard back from them. All we know is that, from the outside, it is absolutely silent and pitch black within the McDon-”“Yeah! It’s McDonald’s!”“Oh dear.”

The crowd was gone by the time the car pulled up to the curb outside of the restaurant. Yuji’s face was pressed to the window, peering out at the building with a look of wonder. At least until Nobara reached around him and opened the door, knocking him out onto the sidewalk.“I said move!” the girl urged, stepping out over him and promptly approaching Satoru. The teacher stood by the entrance, elbow resting on the door handle. His other hand was in his pocket. He greeted the trio as Megumi mimicked Nobara in stepping out of the car and over Yuji. There were a couple of police officers seemingly on standby, more focused on keeping curious pedestrians from approaching the scene than the three teenagers now grouped before their mentor.“If you wanted to treat us to lunch, you coulda just said so!” Nobara grinned, placing her hands on her hips and swaying them to one side. Her shoulders rose along with the corners of her lips.Satoru laughed. “Anyway,” he started, cheerily ignoring Nobara deflate. “We got ourselves a heaping case of who-knows-what going on in there.” He pointed over his shoulder at the door behind him. “I’m gonna need you three to stay on your toes. Since it’s a small location, we won’t be needing to split up. Keep close and let me take the lead.”Yuji’s hand popped up before Satoru could turn to enter. With his hand on the handle, the white-haired man turned his head in the boy’s direction. “Yes?”Looking nervous, Yuji asked, “How come you’re coming with us?”It had been a few months since Yuji and Nobara joined the school. Since then, an immeasurable number of things had happened. Certainly enough to warrant more than a few therapy appointments to come to terms with it all. Despite the sessions, Yuji had been struggling to reconcile himself with Junpei’s passing, his indirectly having to end human lives due Mahito’s actions and his lapses in memory because of the centuries old demon now cohabitating his body. Y’know, typical teenager things.Having lived his experiences, Yuji was aware enough to acknowledge there was something off about the situation they were walking into. Satoru wasn’t typically hands on about his lessons unless there was something to be worried about.It wasn’t that he was scared. It was just … Fuck it, he was scared. But not for himself. Yuji glanced to either side of him nervously, first at Nobara and then at Megumi, before downcasting his gaze. He felt his heart sink, images of Junpei’s distorting and twisting body as Mahito made of him what he wanted flashing in his mind.“This ones potentially a Special Grade. I’ll be the main attraction on this. You guys are my back-ups. I want you to prioritize anyone inside who may need help while I take on the Curse.” Satoru’s response came as little relief. The idea of seeing more people butchered by these creatures made the inside of Yuji’s palms begin to sweat. Fighting off the nerves starting to bubble at his core, the teen nodded his head and narrowed his brows in fierce determination.“Any more questions?”There was silence.“Let’s go.” Satoru turned back towards the door, swinging it open and stepping inside.It wasn’t until he had completely entered the building that he could make anything out. Well, anything that there was to make out. Satoru stopped walking after a couple of steps. Much like could be seen from the outside, the inside of the McDonald’s was pitch black. It wasn’t just a lack of light. Satoru reached out to his left, barely making out the shape of a wall. It was as if everything had been coated in a thick coat of black paint. A veil of shadows. And within that void there were … eyes? Thousands of them. On every surface. All looking at him.His own physical eyes were concealed behind his blindfold as they often were. He relied on his Six Eyes to make out the room all around him. It helped that the Cursed Energy seemed to be tucked into every nook and cranny of the restaurant. It was like a heat map. There was something odd about it, however. It was powerful, but so stagnant. Like a cold glass of water someone forgot on a countertop, a ring of condensation forming heavily around it on the surface.The bright red eyes taking residence in the shadows peered out at him as he took another step. Everything about this felt off. Tilting his head downwards, he could see the outlines of the presumed victims on the ground. The eyes only seemed to form around them. He also took notice that with every step, they’d move to avoid being stepped on. He even found himself stuttering steps, as one would do to avoid tripping on a pet cat. He crouched beside the closest victim to him, relieved when he could feel their labored breathing against the back of his fingers. It was so quiet, it almost felt dangerous to speak. “Guys.” He began to turn towards the three. “Start to-” He stopped, eyes widening only for a moment before they narrowed. Nobara, Megumi and Yuji laid in a pile collapsed over one another, now joining the prior victims on the floor. Well, that explained the silence.Satoru eyed Yuji for a moment, wondering if his loss of consciousness would bring forth Sukuna. After about a minute, he figured not. “Alright no more messing around,” he sighed, standing from his crouching position. “Show yourself.” He rose a hand, expecting a confrontation.Had the eyes encircling him just widened? Were the shadows enveloping the restaurant the Curse themself? Nothing was happening. Starting to feel antsy, Satoru stepped towards what he made out as the counter. He placed both hands on it, taking in the view beyond. He could make out several other people scattered around the floor, likely employees. But no Curse.Sniffle.His ears perked. It was coming from behind him. Had one of the fainted regained consciousness? Aggravation welled within him. He turned, keeping his focus low in search for any movement among the unconscious. Not even a twitch.Whimper.There. On the other side of the dining area was a figure, just barely visible. They were occupying a corner table. The cries must have been coming from a hostage. Satoru instinctively began to approach, preparing himself for a quick and easy exorcism. Although there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger to inhabiting this environment, he was still concerned for his students. He needed to end this soon to ensure that they and the other inhabitants were given the necessary help. “You’re done,” he said as the creature came into view.“I’m sorry!”Satoru paused.A teenager sat before him, head bowed. Their hands clutched at the edge of the table. Their hair, in twists, fell over their eyes. On the table in front of them was a partially melted sundae. They wore a large t-shirt layered over a longer sleeve striped one and denim shorts, all articles of clothing were grimy. They wore sneakers, scuffed and muddy. Odd but present regardless, was a perfectly round golden halo floating about a foot over their head. Satoru wanted to reach out and touch it but the teen's pleas brought his attention to the more serious situation at hand. “Please … I didn’t- I didn’t want this! I didn’t!” Their shoulders shook with every cry. They trembled, frightened sobs escaping quivering lips. "It was an accident! I promise!"“Let’s talk.” Satoru sat in the seat across from them.They looked up, vibrant red eyes peering at Satoru through their glasses. One of the lenses was shattered. “T-Talk?” they asked, fingers loosening their grip on the table.“What’s your name?” Satoru asked, propping his chin up onto the palm of his hand. The eyes inhabiting the surface of the table all moved away to avoid contact. Some eyed him with suspicion while others were wide with wonder.There was a moment of silent hesitation before the answer. “J-Jasper.” Their tone was subdued, embarrassed almost.Satoru tilted his head in a show of curiosity. “What are you?” Something about Jasper’s energy was unlike any Curse he’d dealt with before. In fact, it was closer to … Satoru dared a quick glance towards the three still sprawled over by the entrance. “And what did you do to everyone here? My students are pretty strong, y’know? I’m surprised they’re in the state they’re in.”A confused blink of Jasper’s eyes caused a few tears caught on their lashes to break free and roll down their freckled cheeks. “I don’t know,” they cried, visibly distressed that they didn't have an answer. They wiped their wet upper lip on the back of their hand. Their gaze was undecipherable as they observed the man that sat opposite to them. “I don’t know," they repeated, voice cracking midway.“Why are you here?”Jasper buried their face into their hands as they began to weep again. It seemed the surprise they had initially felt over Satoru’s actions had faded and they were falling back into their prior mindset. Broken and tired, they wailed, “I don’t have anywhere else to go!”Tapping his finger to his chin in a show of thought, Satoru replied, “I can think of one place.”There was no immediate verbal response from Jasper. What could they say? Their hands fell from their face, revealing an expression of defeat. They let them fall to their lap, resting limply. Satoru leaned forward in his seat, one hand pressed onto the table top. It was as he extended his other hand out towards them that Jasper closed their eyes. In acceptance of their fate. Their absolution. They said the only thing that came to mind, with conviction, hoping death would alleviate the guilt they drowned themself in; “I’m sorry.”“I have been wanting to get a good look at this thing since I first spotted you!”“O-OW! W-What-What’re you doing!?” Jasper yelped as Satoru took hold of the halo levitating over their head. Their head twisted around on their neck in whichever which direction Satoru tugged the ring. “St-Stop!” They scrambled to their feet when the man pulled them out of their seat by it. With an unintentional swing of their arm, they knocked their sundae over across the table.All at once, the black veil that once covered the walls began to shrink away. Light flooded the room as the darkness peeled itself from the hanging overhead lighting. The shadows vanished from the windows, revealing a rather concerned looking Kiyotaka who’d long since been attempting to peer inside. Those that had been previously inhabiting the restaurant, the scouts that had been sent earlier that dawn and the three stooges over by the entrance were all unveiled. The sounds of foot traffic and cars outside and the machinery and cookware in the kitchen were now distinguishable.Satoru couldn’t tell if this diminution of power had more to do with his touching Jasper’s halo or Jasper becoming distracted because of his touching their halo. He didn’t particularly care. He was just relieved things had gone back to normal. He took in the small shadow beneath Jasper with some curiosity. Several eyes stared up at him from that darkness for one final look before they closed. Something about them unsettled him, which was quite uncommon an experience. He couldn't help but be intrigued.“You don’t have any control over this ability of yours, do you?” Satoru asked, finally stepping back from them.Jasper didn’t reply. They just protectively gripped their halo and stared back at the Sorcerer, looking wary. Their lower lip quivered, set into a pout.Satoru’s lips cracked into his typical grin before he turned and began to make his way back towards the main door. “C’mon, kid!” he said, gesturing over his shoulder for Jasper to follow. "Let's get outta here before the clean-up crew gets here and gives us trouble!"Jasper didn’t move, hands still on their halo. They were visibly skeptical. “W-What do you mean? Where are we going?” they called out, knitting their brows.“I said I knew a place for you to go, didn’t I?” was their answer. “Now, let's go!”

Content Warnings: suicidal ideation, smoking, mentions of dissection, childbirth, death and trauma.

“You seem distracted.”Yuji’s head perked up at the words, snapping out of the trance he’d slipped into. He twiddled his thumbs nervously, face reddening upon being caught lost in his thoughts. His head lowered apologetically. “Sorry, it’s just been a weird day,” he said with a frown.“How so?” Dominic sat on the plush sofa chair across from Yuji, legs crossed and elbow leaning into the armrest.The words seemed to be taking a moment to form in Yuji’s head but Dominic was patient, staying quiet as the other sorted things out mentally.All around them was silence. The room was relatively bare, only ever used for Dominic’s consultations with the students. There was a desk but he wasn’t sitting at it. Instead, his seat was closer over by the window only a few feet from the couch Yuji was seated. They had a nice view outside, with the pavilion on full display. It burst with the pink color of the cherry blossoms, which had only just recently come to a full bloom.“We went on a mission really early in the morning. There was a Curse in a McDonald’s,” Yuji paused, lips pursing. “Gojo told us that the Curse could be a Special Grade and that we would be his back-up. Nothing else, really.”“How were you feeling about going on the mission?” Dominic asked.It was embarrassing to admit that he was scared, even more so to say it out loud to someone, but lying to the man was pointless. He was there to get help, lying would only sabotage that - but wearing his flaws and weaknesses on his sleeve for the world to see wasn't something he was used to. He didn't want to burden anyone. Yuji shrugged his shoulders instead, blowing air into his mouth so his cheeks puffed out. He didn't know what to say, where to start. He kept fumbling his fingers.Dominic didn’t speak. He simply waited, observing the other with a stoic demeanor.“I was nervous,” Yuji settled. “I can’t help but think about Junpei before every mission now. What if Nobara or Megumi are next to follow? Every time I’m going to fight, I can’t help but wonder if that’s the time I’m going to over-estimate myself. I ask, ‘Will I be able to protect my friends?’ I’ve been nothing but lucky, but luck runs out eventually, doesn’t it?” He scratched behind his ear, feeling the anxiety start to creep at the vulnerability that came with expressing himself. He felt weak for having these thoughts. A part of him wondered if he was the only one plagued with this penetrating fear. “When we stepped foot in that shop today, it all kind of … happened.”“What do you mean?”“My fears came true in a way,” Yuji mumbled, leaning forward. He rested his elbows on his knees and crossed his arms. His shoulders rose, expression falling. “We didn't die obviously, but we were left completely powerless. If it hadn’t been for Gojo, we’d still be stuck there.”“Stuck at the McDonald’s?” Dominic asked, gaze intrigued.Yuji looked thoughtful. “We walked in and the first thing we saw was just … eyes.” Picturing them in his mind made him feel nauseous. He sat back up now and gestured all around them. “Everywhere. It was all dark except for these red eyes, and the moment we looked into them …” He motioned between his own eyes and Dominic’s. “Nothing.” After a small flourish of his hands to demonstrate his experience, or rather lack thereof, he let them drop into his lap. “It was just ... nothing.”“Nothing?” Dominic echoed. “As in you blacked out?”Yuji shook his head. “No, I was still awake. I … couldn’t think things, though. I couldn’t feel anything, see anything, hear anything. I thought I died.” His face twisted up but he quickly lowered his head so Dominic wouldn’t see. “I thought we all died.”“And when you came to, did you come to any conclusions on your feelings about the experience?” Dominic asked.Yuji kept his head down. “Not right away but I’ve been thinking about it … all day.” His voice was low, shaking. He sniffled, reaching a hand up to his face to rub at his eye with his uniform sleeve.“And?”“If that’s what it feels like to die, I kind of liked being dead.”There was a moment of silence, gifted so Yuji could collect himself, before Dominic spoke, “These emotions you’re experiencing are all perfectly normal when taking into consideration your circumstances. You’ve gone through several traumatizing experiences already with little recovery time between them. You’ve experienced loss and hurt. We’ve been over grieving exercises and have worked our way towards finding closure, but at the end of the day we will always be works in progress.” He paused, thinking. “The important thing to take away from this in particular is that you and your friends all survived. It was frightening. It was awful and jarring. And here you are, sitting before me. One beat closer to becoming a polished blade.” He flashed a quick and tiny smile when Yuji perked his head up to look at him. “Death is inevitable, Yuji. All we can do in life is do everything in our power to ensure that when we do pass away, we do so at peace.”Brows furrowed, Yuji asked, “At peace?”Dominic gestured towards the center of his chest, “At peace with ourselves,” and then to Yuji, “at peace with others,” and then around him, “at peace with the world.”“What do you mean?” Yuji mumbled followed by an awkward laugh. “Like being a good person?” He grimaced when his grandfather’s dying wish surfaced in his mind.With a deep nod, Dominic said, “Precisely. Be good to the world, to others and …” He paused, motioning towards Yuji.“Myself?” the teen asked, pointing towards himself on instinct.Once again, Dominic nodded his head. “You’ve done so well at giving to others. You’ve risked your life for the sake of the world. Your devotion to your friends, your acquaintances, to strangers; it’s admirable. However, sometimes we need to focus on ourselves.” His lips were set into a small frown now, more concerned than scolding. “You’re still a child, Yuji. Take some time to enjoy your adolescence while you still have it. Make everything of every day. Spend it with those you love. Eat your favorite foods, listen to your favorite music. When your day to pass on does come, you’ll leave indebted to no one, not even yourself, because you gave all you had.”Yuji smiled.

The room was silent save for the low buzz of the overhead lights as Shoko reviewed the several page diagnostic attached to her clipboard. Her fingers combed through the documents seamlessly, occasionally stopping so that her eyes could quickly absorb the text and charts on them.“All vitals seem normal. Halo aside, kid’s as physically human as human gets,” the doctor said, eyes not moving from the papers as she filed through them. “Can’t really tell you much else unless you want to make a generous donation to science and let me poke around their insides.” She finally rose her head, flashing Jasper a grin.Jasper sat on the edge of one of the examination beds. Their hands were folded on their lap, squeezing tight. They tensed at Shoko’s words, but forced a nervous smile when the medic spared them a playful little wink and added a, “Just kidding.” in a little sing-song intonation. They didn’t look too convinced that she was. They couldn’t untense, fingers interlaced in a white knuckle grip.Satoru was sitting sideways in his chair, balancing it on its two hind legs. His expression was pensive, lips set into an exaggerated frown. “I see, so is your guess that they’re a Sorcerer then?” he asked, drumming his fingers on the backrest of his seat. “Or some kind of … hybrid?” He recalled the Cursed Womb: Death Paintings the academy had in their possession, but quickly dismissed the thought. No, that was impossible. They couldn’t have missed any of the Wombs when they were collected, could they? And they were currently still very much in the school’s possession. Was there another occurrence of a woman birthing Cursed Spirits?“Can’t say,” Shoko sighed. “I don’t really have much information to work off of. You won’t let me perform any intrusive tests aside from a simple buccal swab and I have no family history to reference.” She narrowed her eyes at her clipboard. “So I don’t know how you expect me to gather any other information given these conditions.” The pen in her other hand drummed against her temple as she seemed to lose herself in thought. She mumbled under her breath, though those words were more or less incomprehensible.“Mind leaving us for a bit, Shoko?” Satoru asked, letting his chair drop back onto all its four legs.The request seemed to bring the doctor out of her thoughts for a moment. She looked at him, then at Jasper before turning her back to the two. She left the clinic wordlessly, fishing a pack of cigarettes from her lab coat pocket on her way out.Jasper stared after the medic as she disappeared through the double doors to the clinic. Once she was gone entirely, their eyes darted towards the only other person in the room. “She … She was kidding about p-poking around my insides, right?” Their words rattled out of them like a skateboard sent rolling down a flight of stairs.Satoru didn’t answer right away. First, he stood. An aura of intensity seemed to fall over him. His lips were pressed into a fine line, fists clenched at his sides. “It’s not her you should be worried about,” he said as he approached Jasper. Simultaneously, he pulled the blindfold he so often sported up on his face so it sat over his hairline like a headband.Shrinking where they sat, Jasper peered up at Satoru as the man stood barely a foot away from them. They said nothing, throat swollen shut with fear. Their eyes were wide.At their reaction, Satoru suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh, I’m sorry! Don’t worry about me either. I meant the higher-ups in the academy. They’re a bunch of old farts and wet blankets,” he said with a dismissive hand wave. He tilted his head as he now got a good look at the anomaly seated before him. An expression Jasper couldn’t quite decipher crossed the teacher’s face as the man took them in. “Y’know,” he said after a few minutes. “you look a lot like someone I know.”Jasper didn’t say anything, unsure of what to respond.“Well, someone I knew,” Satoru corrected himself before pulling his blindfold back down over his eyes again. “Either way, I just wanted to get a good look at ya.” He didn’t move from where he stood, slipping his hands into his pockets. He was silent now, a question was forming on his lips but he lacked the courage to ask it. Why was he hesitating? He never hesitated. Instead, “We’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place, kiddo,” he said.Jasper looked confused.“You’re a danger to society,” Satoru said, turning away from Jasper. He walked over to the bed opposite of them, sitting on it so that they faced one another. “We can’t let you roam around on your own getting into trouble, especially without uncovering the secret behind what you truly are.” After propping his elbow onto his thigh he let his chin rest in his palm. “Those people back at the restaurant will make a full recovery but it will take months of rehabilitation.” He pointed up at the side of his head with his free hand. His finger made a circular motion. “Your technique fried their brains.”At this, Jasper lowered their head. They chewed their lips raw. Guilt, they radiated guilt. The apologies welled up within them. They shut their eyes tightly, resigned to eternal atonement.Satoru pursed his lips. “You’re awfully willing to die,” he said. “Even when I first found you earlier today, you thought I was gonna kill you, didn’t you? And you were just gonna let it happen.” He waited a moment, almost as if pondering if his next question was insensitive. “Do you want to die?”“I just d-don’t want to hurt people,” Jasper said finally. It was a strangled cry but the words were spoken with conviction. They looked to Satoru. Though tears immediately began to form across their waterline, their brows furrowed with a look of assurance. “If … If I have to die, I’m okay with that! If it keeps others safe from me!” Their hands pressed to the center of their chest in a show of earnestness. “T-Today … was my first time ever doing something like that and … i-it was an accident.”“I believe you!” Satoru insisted, gesturing for the teen to settle down. “Listen, I want you to become one of my students. If I can help teach you how to control this ability, then you won’t ever hurt anyone again. It’s a win-win.”Jasper gaped at Satoru, too stunned to form words. “Student …?” they echoed eventually, genuine surprise gleaming in their eyes.“Granted, I do have a hard time understanding what your … techniques are all about, but I’m sure we’ll be able to figure it out along the way,” Satoru said, feeling a bit irritated with the reality that Jasper, at least for now, was an enigma. Even to him. Not knowing wasn’t something he was accustomed to. He didn’t allow the irritation to show, keeping his tone pleasant and expression cheerful. It would be pointless to take out this frustration on Jasper. They were just a kid. Or well, he figured they were. There was also the unlikely chance this was all some sort of convoluted set-up. Some kinda- Ah, no. That was the paranoia talking, surely. “Is that something you’d be interested in?”With a pained grimace, Jasper now lowered their head. “I would only burden you,” they mumbled.“We’re all burdens to someone or other,” Satoru grinned. “Nothing wrong with that.”Jasper smiled.

Content Warnings: smoking and mentions of trauma.

The sting of hot tea on Dominic’s lips did very little to stop him from drinking greedily from his thermos. The Sorcerer made his way down the halls of the school, exhausted from having spent the evening sorting through some paperwork taking care of the school's newest addition’s admission process.The building was quiet and dim, most of its inhabitants having turned in for the evening. For Dominic, it was hardly all that late. It’d been decades since he’d known the feeling of more than a quarter hour’s worth of sleep; even long before all this Sorcery bullshit became a major factor in his life. He drank as he walked, carrying his briefcase in his other hand.“Headin’ home?” came a voice from down the hall.Dominic didn’t stop walking but he did lower the thermos from his lips. “Yes,” he responded in his deadpan intonation.“Want company?” Satoru popped up beside him, matching his stride.“No,” Dominic responded, eyeing the other man in his peripheral.The two stopped at an intersection of halls near the main entrance to the building, now joined by a third member of the Sorcerers - Kento. The blonde had been coming in from the outside, looking rather devastated at the unfortunate circumstances that had brought him to the very moment he'd now become a part of.Dominic and Kento exchanged nods of acknowledgement.Satoru cracked a grin. “What a grand coincidence!” he chirped, interlocking his fingers and bringing his hands up to the side of his face in a show of endearment. “I actually wanted to have a chat with the both of you about this new kid of ours. I’m sure you’ve heard about them by now!”There was no answer from the other two, only stares.“Not all at once,” Satoru joked, gesturing for the perfectly unresponsive men to settle down. He now set his hands on his hips. “Have either of you met them yet?” he asked.“No,” Dominic was the first to respond. “I have an introductory meeting scheduled with them tomorrow morning but I’ve yet to meet them.”Kento shook his head. “I haven’t either,” he said.It was hard to gauge what Satoru was thinking or feeling, what with his stupid smile and casual posture. A cover the other two recognized all too well but were far too tired to try to decipher. “I see,” he said. “Well, let me know what you guys think of them when you do meet them. They seem like a good kid.” His lips pursed and hands dropped to his sides. “Anyway, have a good night! Get some rest!”With that, Satoru was gone.The remaining two looked at one another, a sudden air of awkwardness setting in over and around them. It took a certain degree of emotional constipation to so tenderly spend tired evenings after work in one another’s arms and then hardly exchange a word in public settings - but both were oddly satisfied with the situation as it was. It’d always been a comfortable soundlessness for them; or at least it was on the days Satoru didn’t barge in with his phone in hand and demanding they watch a video of someone falling or a cat doing something silly. It was nice to have those small moments of serenity with Kento. Whether they were sitting and quietly enjoying their lunches together in Dominic’s office or -Kento was the one to break the silence. “Goodnight,” he said with a polite nod and half-wave.Dominic stood there, watching him disappear down the hall before he turned the opposite direction and left the school grounds. The tea was doing very little to energize him. He was dragging his feet, eyes lidded with exhaustion. It was an awful way to feel, especially with the impending failure that would be his attempt to sleep once he got to bed. His only company home were the streetlamps and the sounds of passing cars; at least until he turned his first corner.Slowing to a stop, Dominic’s grip tightened around the handle of his briefcase. His index finger extended, the tip of it pressed to the latch on the case. He didn’t look over his shoulder despite being fully aware of the presence behind him. If he could look more tired, he would have. He mustered up the energy to say the only thing he could think to say,Leave.

“Knock knock!”Satoru spoke the words in time with each rap of his knuckles against the open door to the clinic. He entered the room, the knocking really just being an announcement of his arrival rather than a request to enter. It was vacant.Crossing to the other side of the room and passing through the other set of double doors located there, Satoru entered Shoko’s office.The woman had propped herself on the sill of the large sole window in the room. Her back rested against the frame. Her left foot was on the edge, leg bent. She held a cigarette between her index and middle finger, her wrist resting on her knee. What was left of her right leg hung down off the sill. The scars from the below-knee amputation were neat and methodical. On the desk against the wall by the window was her prosthetic, placed neatly in a corner out of the way for her to easily climb back into the office when she was done smoking.“Takin’ a break?” Satoru asked, grabbing the back of her rolling chair and turning it towards him. He straddled it, setting his elbows on the back rest.Shoko looked away from the view outside and towards Satoru. “Yup,” she said. Her hands moved towards her residual limb, fingers pressing against the sore skin. “It gets pretty tender after too many hours of standing.”A silence settled.Shoko turned back to smoking her cigarette now.“What did you think about Jasper?” Satoru folded his arms on the back rest of the chair now, resting his chin on his arms. “I got them all settled in their room last night. They were kinda nervous about class this morning, talking about how the others were gonna hate them. I don’t think they will though.” He pursed his lips. “Even if they did, it might help them grow a bit of a backbone.”“Hm,” Shoko hummed, acknowledging what Satoru was saying but not letting herself be pulled from her own thoughts.Satoru let a couple of minutes go by in silence before he started getting antsy. His legs bounced on the balls of his feet. “Tell me what you’re thinking,” he insisted.“You already know what I’m thinking,” Shoko mumbled.Satoru started to laugh, raising his head. “I know I’m all powerful but I’m not psychic, Shoko!” he insisted. “Can’t actually read your mind.”Shoko flicked the cigarette butt out the window and turned her body in the sill so that she was facing Satoru. “Why didn’t you kill them? It would have been a mercy.” Her voice wavered.Satoru’s expression sobered. “That’s kinda messed up, don’t you think? They’re just a kid,” he argued.“You know exactly who they are, Satoru,” Shoko said.“There’s no proof of that,” Satoru countered with a shake of his head. “and even if that were the case, even if they did belong to her, then what’s the harm in taking them in and under our wing? They’ve had it rough, obviously. We can show them just how good it is over on our side. Imagine how much it'd piss her off.”An accusatory finger rose towards Satoru. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea just how much damage an infiltration could cause?” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m covering for you but we can’t risk the safety of the school and everyone in it for the sake of one kid.”“Covering what exactly? We have no evidence that they are who we think they might be,” Satoru sighed. “Nothing but a hunch. You want to kill a kid over a hunch?”Shoko lowered her finger, snatching her pack of cigarettes off her desk and retrieving another to smoke. She fished her lighter out of the breast pocket of her lab coat. “Do whatever you want,” she muttered. She turned her body back into her earlier position in the window and took a long drag from the cigarette. “You always do anyway.”Satoru grinned.“Can you do me one favor?” Shoko kept her head turned away as she spoke, smoke leaving her mouth with every light verbal exhale. “Just … keep an eye on them. You have too much faith in others to be good. If they were to turn against us … If she were to come back, it might be too late to save anyone by the time you get a chance to react. I might not be lucky enough to get away with just a missing leg next time.” Her tone was dry. Sardonic.“You’re awfully depressing to talk to sometimes,” Satoru mumbled, grin gone and eyes rolling. “but I already planned to. I’m not worried about them betraying us. I’m worried about them accidentally losing control again.” He scratched at his chin, brows furrowing in thought beneath his blindfold. “I’m planning on helping them get a good handle on those emotions of theirs before we move onto any actual combat training.”Shoko nodded her head in understanding. “Dominic’s helping?” she asked.“Yeah, he should be in a session with them right now,” Satoru mumbled. He could feel himself start to get antsy again. Was it Shoko’s words that struck him with this sudden paranoia? No, no. He had been feeling this way since the check-up the day before, when he first laid eyes on his new student. He rose a hand to his face, pressing his fingers to his eyes through the fabric of his blindfold. “You sure know how to make a man feel sick to his stomach.”“I pride myself on it.” A pause. “Are you gonna check on Dominic?”Satoru was standing now, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket. “Well, you’re kind of driving me up the wall so I might as well!” he said in a huff. He pulled out his phone, searching for Dominic’s phone number in his contacts. “Look, I’ll give him a call and he’ll answer and be annoyed at me but we’ll know everything’s fine. I’m sure he’s fine. I’m sure they’re both fine.”“Mmhmm,” Shoko hummed. She didn’t bother looking at Satoru.The phone rang and rang and rang once more before going to voicemail.Satoru hung up the call, gripping the device tight. “I’ll see you around, Shoko.” The words were bitter, still hanging in the air after he’d left the room.

Sweating. God, were they sweating. Jasper tugged at the collar of their shirt, hoping any bit of air making it in would help them cool off.It was so hot outside. It was the kind of weather outdoorsy folk would claim was perfect for hiking or swimming or whatever - but a homebody like Jasper only suffered with every passing sweltering second. With a quick swipe of their hand across their forehead, they temporarily alleviated the problem. They wiped their now-damp palms on the legs of their new uniform, a black pair of overalls layered over their black high-neck jacket; simple but comfortable. Too bad they were gonna soak right through the fancy new clothing within the first twenty minutes of breaking in.“Morning!”Jasper nearly jumped out of their skin at the energetic greeting. They quickly stood from the steps they’d been sitting on and turned towards the source of the voice. “M-Morning,” they mumbled, keeping their head down. They could make out a pair of bright red shoes out of the corner of their eye.Seemingly confused at Jasper’s reaction, Yuji popped his head right into their line of sight by ducking down and peering up at them. “You okay?” he asked, earnest concern in his eyes. His hands were propped on his knees, head craned on his neck at an odd angle to properly look up at the other teen.Jasper recognized Yuji immediately from back at the incident the previous morning and felt fear pool within them. “I … I’m sorry,” was all they could work out. It’d kept them up all night last night knowing that they’d be now working alongside the three students of Satoru’s they’d so grievously harmed the day before, but no amount of practicing apologies and reparation could ultimately prepare them for the eventual face-to-face encounter. Would they hate them? Would they be mean to them? Would they hurt them?“Sorry for what?” Yuji asked before straightening back up. He then eagerly added, “You should pick your head up, y’know? It’s kinda weird talkin’ to you all crouched over! I’ll throw my back out like that!” He rubbed at his lower back exaggeratedly to prove his point, adding in a laugh in hopes it’d help make Jasper lighten up.Jasper did as Yuji asked, raising their head but it was apparent they were fighting tears. They repeated, “Sorry!” Their voice was a bit louder now, frantic. They clutched their hands in front of them tightly. The words they’d practiced saying all through the night were lost on them now. It was embarrassing.Yuji was joined by Nobara and Megumi, both standing on either side of him. The three looked at the teen that stood before them with varying degrees of bewilderment.“What’re they freakin’ out about now?” Nobara grumbled, eyebrow arching high on her forehead.“Um,” Jasper finally began to say. It came out as a small croak as they fought through the tightness in their throat. “About yesterday, I’m-”All three senior students began talking over each other - one dismissive, another forgiving and the third annoyed. Finally, the loudest of the three took over the conversation by stepping out between Jasper and the other two. “Let it go!” Nobara shouted. She locked one hand on her hip and used the other to point at the newcomer. “What happened, happened. You’re with us now, right?” She gave Jasper an urging look.“With you?” Jasper asked, glancing between the three of them.“Yes, as in you are joining the school, aren’t you?” Megumi clarified, taking a step forward so he was back at Nobara’s side. His brow was quirked in a show of skepticism. “Gojo told us you were joining the school to get a better handle on your technique, so that makes you one of us now.”Yuji popped up between Nobara and Megumi, throwing both his arms around his friends’ shoulders. “You lost control! It happens. The most important thing is that no one got seriously hurt. The second most important thing is that you’re here to make sure that never happens again.” He cracked a grin. “So let’s all try our best, alright?”Color filled Jasper’s cheeks at the weird and overwhelming sensation swelling within them. A few blinks in disbelief sent a stream of tears down their face. They nodded, however, grateful at the generous reception. “Th-Thank you,” they said, raising their hands to wipe their face. “I’ll work my hardest!”“Jasper.”Dominic had been approaching, but once all eyes shifted towards him he slowed to a stop. The four teens all stared in his direction for a second before the three already familiar with him offered their salutations.“Welcoming our newest student, I see,” Dominic said with a tone of amusement, giving the trio an acknowledging nod. He then honed his gaze on Jasper. “It’s time for our appointment. It won’t ...” He paused when meeting the teen’s eyes. “be long.” He finished the sentence in a softer tone, far more distant. Though nothing apparent altered in his expression, keeping its usual stoic appearance - something in his eyes deadened. It lasted a fraction of a second; long enough for an adolescence’s worth of memories of acquaintances past to flash through his mind.Jasper looked from the teacher to their classmates, shooting their newfound friends a timid smile before approaching the counselor. “Nice to meet you,” they greeted, nervously toying with the buttons on the front of their overalls.“The pleasure’s mine,” Dominic replied absentmindedly, staring at the other for a moment longer before turning and making way towards his office. He couldn’t find words to say to them the entire walk over or even after they were sitting in his office facing one another. It was a stressful stillness.Things were starting to get awkward.“You-You needed to speak to me?” Jasper said finally, desperate for the staring contest to end. They’d been trying for the last couple of minutes to avoid looking at Dominic, having taken in the bare walls and desk and skimmed the titles of the books on the bookshelves before finally settling with peering out the window and down at the pavilion. They could see Yuji, Nobara and Megumi from there. The three were interacting with three other students, or at least what looked like two students and a bear. They were amidst a second glance to confirm the panda wasn’t just a trick of the light when Dominic finally broke the silence.“How are you adjusting to this new environment?” Not the question he wanted to ask but he couldn’t jump right to it. He was seized with apprehension, almost preferring living in ignorance to the awful horrific possible truth.Jasper turned away from the window and smiled politely. “Everyone’s been so kind to me!” they said. “I … I can’t help but feel undeserving of it all.”“What makes you feel undeserving?” Dominic asked, crooking his neck slightly.A pensive look crossed Jasper’s face. They had the answer at the forefront of their mind but would never dare speak it out loud. Instead, they rushed to come up with something else. “I-I guess I’m just not used to all this.” They settled.“Used to what?”Jasper shrugged slightly, struggling to find their words.“Kindness?”Jasper’s eyes widened momentarily before their face twisted up into a look of distress. They didn’t answer, quivering lips pressed tightly together.“I want you to feel comfortable with me,” Dominic assured in a soft tone. He was observing Jasper closely, brows knitted in a show of concern. “I won’t ever pass judgement on your thoughts or feelings. My purpose is to help you overcome emotional obstacles that come with living through your current situation.”Nodding slowly, Jasper mumbled, “I-I understand. I just … don’t usually talk about how I feel.”Dominic’s lips twitched into what could possibly be deciphered as a smile if one looked hard enough. “Talking helps vent out emotions we bottle up. Sometimes, we don’t even consider how silly some of our fears and anxieties may be until we speak them,” he said. “and telling me how you feel honestly will help me better accommodate and help you resolve any internal conflicts.”Jasper nodded again, this time with a tiny bit more confidence. “Thank you!” they gushed, lips trembling still as they smiled.Dominic stared at Jasper, taking them in with a slight look of disbelief. He gave a little shake of his head, almost as if to snap himself out of a derailing train of thought before finally just asking what he’d been wanting to ask since he’d first laid eyes on the teen. “I apologize if this brings up any painful memories, Jasper, but could you tell me a bit about your parents?” His words were firm but blink and one’d miss the unease on his face.Jasper's smile died on their lips. They instantly began to panic, body tensed and eyes wide. They didn’t want to say no but they didn’t want to talk about their parents. The tips of their fingers dug into their knees. Their jaw clenched and they inhaled sharply through their nose.The reaction brought Dominic to retire his request. Instead, he extended a hand towards Jasper and gestured for them to calm. “I apologize for my over-stepping your boundaries and acting in self-interest.” His words were so cold and somewhat, still felt so penetratingly genuine. It was something in his dark eyes, a glimmer of sincerity. Of understanding. He lowered both his hand and his head. “You just look like someone I knew.”Those words brought Jasper back to sitting on the examination bed in the clinic the day before, Satoru standing before them with his blindfold pulled up and away from his eyes. Those cold eyes inspecting them, searching. They didn’t untense. They couldn’t. The panic wouldn’t leave them. “Mr. Gojo said th-that too …” they mentioned before shaking their head. “I think it’s …” They shut their eyes. “I-I think it’s coincidental.”Now experiencing his own revelation, Dominic recalled Satoru’s words the previous night. Something about all this was leaving him with a bad taste in his mouth. “Surely,” he said with a nod. “Let’s change the topic then. Tell me about yourself. I’ve heard nothing but good things.”“I-I don’t know what to say,” Jasper mumbled. Their fingers were still digging deep into the fabric of their pants.“What do you like to do?” Dominic asked.“I don’t really have any hobbies.”Dominic furrowed his brows. “There’s nothing you’d do after class? Any clubs or sports?” he asked.“I didn’t go to school either.” Jasper was hanging their head, staring down at their lap. “Just stayed home.”Dominic fell silent. He could feel his phone vibrate in his pocket but he didn’t move to check it. The vibrations were the drawn out repetitive ones signaling an incoming call. After a moment, he asked, “What did you do at home?”Jasper’s grip on their knees loosened. “I can play piano,” they said. Their fingers drummed against their leg almost as if they were playing the instrument right then and there. Just a few notes before balling up into tight fists on their lap. “I’d do that a lot. I tried to learn other instruments but I never got as good as I got at piano.”“I’m sure with enough practice you could have been,” Dominic mused.Jasper drew their arms in towards them, folding them over their abdomen. They leaned forward a bit, almost as if curling into themself. They were grimacing. “Can I ask you something?” They didn’t look up at Dominic as they spoke, staring numbly at the coffee table in the space between them. They looked tired.“Of course.”“Do you believe in God?”Again, Dominic’s phone began to vibrate in his pocket; a second call. “What makes you ask that?” He ignored the device yet again, studying the teen sitting on the couch in front of him.Jasper gestured towards their own neck, meaning to reflect Dominic’s roman collar. “You’re a priest, right?” They looked unsure of themself as they finally brought their eyes up to look towards their counselor.“I am,” Dominic nodded. “Wouldn’t that answer your prior question?”Jasper was quiet.“Who taught you how to play piano?” Dominic asked. “Did you learn by yourself?”Silence.“Have I upset you?”Jasper shook their head quickly, desperate to quell any fears or suspicions that they were troubled; to reassure Dominic that he hadn’t been the cause. It hadn’t been him. It was never anybody else. It was always them. They were the one that struggled to keep a firm grip on their emotions, on their reactions. They were the one that took everything too personally. They were the one who victimized themself, over and over again. They wanted to but they couldn’t speak. The earlier conversation about honesty and understanding during these sessions was gone from their mind. They only feared burdening others with the overwhelming everything always building up within them.Dominic rose his hands now, speaking as he gestured. “If you have trouble communicating verbally sometimes, I can teach you how to speak with your hands,” he spoke the words as he signed them. “There’s another student here who makes good use of this system and would love someone to practice with.”Jasper looked a bit stunned, surprised that Dominic was still pressing on to help. They nodded their head.“We’ll end our session here,” Dominic said. He stood from his seat. “I’d like to start seeing you once a week but our conversations don’t have to be limited to those sessions alone. If you ever need to speak to someone, my door is always open.”Jasper took a moment to collect themself before also standing. They nodded again, looking distracted trying to recognize the warmth filling their chest.Dominic walked Jasper towards the door. “I understand this is all a big change and that it may be very overwhelming but we are all here to support you and the others through all of it,” he said, hand resting on the door pull. “Good luck on your first day with us.”Jasper stood there for a moment, staring up at Dominic with an expression of both awe and anguish. Thoughts raced through their mind at a speed that made them feel mindless. Without thinking, they moved closer to their counselor. They wrapped their arms around the man’s waist, hugging him tightly for just a second before letting him go. “Thank you,” they said, head hanging low. The halo floating above their head bowed with them.Caught entirely off-guard, Dominic nodded and quickly insisted, “Of course. Right. No need to thank me.” He forced himself to untense, having stiffened so much at the contact he thought he might have pulled something. “Now, go on.” He opened the door.“There you are!”Satoru standing on the other side startled the two. Jasper squeaked and bounced once on their heels but Dominic refused to let it show on his face. His eyes narrowed. No more surprises for today.Jasper stared up at Satoru when the man planted both his hands on their shoulders. “We’re getting ready to start class! Let’s go,” he chirped, looking particularly excited. “Don't worry! We’ll start ya off easy!” As he began to usher his new student from the room, he turned his head towards Dominic. “Maybe Dom will stop by if he has the time and teach us a thing or two!”Dominic slid the door shut.“Don’t mind him. He can be a bit of a sourpuss.” He heard Satoru say from the other side of the door. Dominic rolled his eyes, fishing his phone out of his pocket on his way over to his desk. He sank into his office chair, fingers gliding and tapping their way across the mobile’s touch screen. He pulled up the calls he’d missed during his session, brows furrowing at the sight of the contact name. His eyes darted towards the closed door.Satoru Gojo.

Content Warnings: pregnancy, smoking, offscreen amputation, alcohol and threats of violence.

It was late. Rain drummed against the window of the cramped little office. That and the sounds shuffling paperwork were the only things that accompanied Shoko that evening. It was late and she was tired, though it was difficult to assess from what exactly. Her exhaustion sabotaged her thoughts. At some point, she’d caught herself dozing off with her chin propped up onto the palm of her hand. That was when she’d decided it was best to just head home and catch up on some much needed sleep.Something was gnawing at her mind as she tidied up the mess of folders and binders on her desk. Something was off that night. It was an odd sinking feeling that she had once been there before. She attributed it to the fact that she often found herself spending late nights cooped up in her office rummaging through case files and paperwork, and she let sleeping dogs lie. Déjà vu or whatever.Grabbing her satchel from where it hung off the back of her desk chair, she made for the door and entered the clinic’s main examination room. The lights were still on, though flickering. Likely due to the bad weather outside.It was as Shoko made for the main double doors leading to the exterior school grounds that she sensed a second presence in the room. She stopped abruptly, sneakers squeaking against the linoleum floor.“Tabi?” Was she dreaming? Trapped in a long repressed memory? She lost her balance, reaching back to the wall behind her to keep herself from falling. A small spike of fear shot up within her, twisting her stomach into knots. “What are you doing here?” She forced her tone to keep firm, stern.The other girl had stepped out from the shadows, still wearing her uniform despite her recent expulsion from the school. Her eyes were dark, haunted. There was something about the way she walked that unnerved Shoko, so calculating with every step. Her mind seemed elsewhere, her gaze vacant. “I thought you were my friend,” she said finally.This was so uncharacteristic of her. Since when did Tabitha give a shit about friendship? Out of her peripheral, Shoko could see she was only a couple of feet away from the exit. She wondered if she’d be able to outrun Tabitha if she decided to run for it. The stairs up to the ground level would likely be a problem for her, cigarettes be damned.Before Shoko could say anything, Tabitha’s fingers pinched the fabric at the bottom of her uniform jacket and button-up shirt, lifting it enough to expose her belly. It was firm and protruding slightly, much to her ex-classmate’s horror. “It worked,” she said proudly. Her smile was tired. “They’re in perfect health.”“You’re fucking nuts. That thing is gonna kill you,” Shoko bit out, balling her hands into tight fists and holding them at her sides. Her back was still pressed to the wall. “And I am your friend … or rather I was. That’s why I told them about your psycho science experiment. I didn’t want you to die.” She pulled the corners of her lips back and pressed them together as she willed herself not to get emotional. “You can’t just-”“You can’t tell me what to do!” Tabitha’s shriek was piercing. She pounded her fist down into one of the examination beds. The metal legs of the bed creaked, nearly breaking from the impact. “No one can tell me what to do.” Her voice was quiet again, although it wavered with feeling. “I’m not a mindless drone. I’m me.” She took a step towards Shoko which instinctively made the medic in training back up into the wall behind her yet again. “That’s what separates me from you, from Satoru, from Suguru and the others. I live for the sake of myself and no one else.”Shoko’s expression remained deadpan as she watched her old friend prattle. She forced herself to keep calm, knowing the time to choose between running or dying was coming soon. “We do think and act for ourselves. Within reason. You decided to prioritize your wants above everyone else’s safety. You needed to be stopped.” Her tone was dire.At this, Tabitha burst into laughter. It was heartfelt and loud. Then, she asked, “And you think I can be stopped?”Enough of this shit. Shoko turned, sprinting for the double doors. She threw her full weight into them, making them swing back and slam into the walls of the corridor on the other side. She took the steps up two at a time. The rain made the outside smell like wet concrete. It trickled down the steps, as the roof over the steps which jutted out of the ground and formed a small sheltered entryway, didn’t actually really do much to keep the rain out. She could make out the starry night sky at the top of the stairway. Should she scream for help? She couldn’t hear Tabitha behind her. Maybe she’d decided to just let her go?Shoko felt a firm grasp around her right ankle. Her eyes widened.Oh, fuck.Violently thrust back into consciousness at her desk, Shoko nearly fell out of her office chair. Her hands slammed down onto the surface of her worktable in an attempt to steady herself. She was trembling uncontrollably in her seat, a cold sweat coating her body and making her shivers intensify.The whole world felt as if it was shaking with her.Once she regained the ability to move voluntarily, she snuck a hand under her desk and gripped her right knee. A dull ache surged where the rest of her leg once had been, almost as if the nerves within her flesh were still coursing through the prosthetic she wore to take back what’d been once taken away all those years ago. She leaned back into her chair, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder towards the door to her office in a show of paranoia.No one there.Relief.Shoko turned away from the door again, now clutching her knee in both her hands. Her face twisted up and she inhaled sharply. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she whispered under her breath. She curled into herself, practically cradling her leg. Her heart was still racing in her chest, threatening to burst from her body.“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” It was all she could say. A feeling of anger, of mourning, of regret, welled up within her and she finally just let herself break down. “Fuck you. Fuck you.” Tears fell from her eyes, dotting the fabric of her pants. “I hate you.” The thundering storm raging outside did well in drowning out her cries.

Passersby hurried down the sidewalk along the outdoor seating of a quaint newly opened cafe, eyes only ever straying from the paths in front of them to glance at the only person seated at one of the tables. Not so much because of the dress she wore that had cost her double their mortgage or even because of her loud and obnoxious phone conversation. It had more to do with the vile energy radiating from her that did nothing if not fill them with dread. The glances only ever made it as far as a peripheral glance her in her direction, too afraid to risk accidental eye contact.“I had the weirdest dream last ni- Excuse me!” Tabitha interrupted herself to stop her waiter from stepping away after bringing her drink. She pointed towards the glass with a look that would make anyone think they’d just served her rat poison. “Did I say no ice? Why isn’t there any ice in this? Remake it for me.” She gestured impatiently for the waiter to take the glass, continuing her tirade once they did. “Don’t just dump ice in it as it is, the drink’s already at room temperature and it’ll make the ice melt quicker than a chilled drink. Idiot.” She watched the server hurry away before turning back to her call.“Hello? You still there? Ok. Anyway, these new ritzy places opening up around town think they can get away with mediocre service at their prices. You give them clear instructions and they just do whatever they please. That’s not how these things work. I pay, you serve … Now, what was I saying? Oh, right! I- Hey!” Furious at a second interruption, this time by a figure she noted out of the corner of her eye reaching for the only other chair at the table aside from her own, she slammed the palm of her hand on the tabletop to grab their attention. The silverware jingled from the vibration. “Hey! You can’t just go around sitting at a stranger’s … Oh … Roger, I’ll call you back.”Click.After setting the phone down on the table before her, Tabitha leaned back into her seat and crossed her legs. She picked up a silver cigarette case from right beside where she had set down her phone, sliding a single cigarette out from within. She lit it with a lighter built into the case before setting the case back down on the table. Her movements appeared casual, careless and remiss but something about the way her eyes pierced the man now sitting before her evidenced her true feeling. Caution.“You never could do anything right, could you, Suguru?” Tabitha exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Even die.”Suguru smiled. “You haven’t changed much yourself,” he said.“That’s not true, I’ve gotten way hotter,” Tabitha corrected with a showy raise of her brows. She didn’t look at the waiter when they returned with her fresh drink and an ash tray. She did, however, pluck the drink right off the table as soon as it was set down and take a deep drink. “Now, I’m assuming you didn’t go through the trouble of hunting little ol’ me down just to join me for lunch. What do you want?” Her expression, much like her tone, could cut through a concrete block.“Would I be wrong in assuming you and I have always shared similar interests?” Suguru’s question was as poised as the way he perched himself on the seat opposite to Tabitha. Hands folded in his lap and head tilted only slightly to the side in a show of genuine intrigue.Tabitha laughed and in the same cackling tone asked, “Fucking Satoru? Killing people?”Suguru didn’t respond, only smiled.Tabitha stopped laughing, now looking annoyed. “What then?” She then pointed up to her forehead, circling her finger as if to gesture to the neat stitching across Suguru’s own forehead. “And what’s with the Franken-whatever get-up?”“You really haven’t changed,” Suguru said with a small chuckle. “Truth is, I’ve been keeping an eye on you as of late and I think we could be helpful to each other in accomplishing our goals.”Quirking a brow, Tabitha didn’t speak. She only drank and smoked, eyes never leaving Suguru.“I’ve been in contact with other allies who share the same mentality as myself and have been formulating a plan to accomplish our ultimate goal,” Suguru explained himself assuredly. “If we all cooperate, things may very well work out in our favor.”Tabitha ashed her cigarette on the floor, making no use of the ash tray brought to her by the thoughtful waiter. Now growing impatient, she said, “Well, get on with it. If you still remember anything about me, then you’d know I’ve never liked your stupid little bush beatings.” She signaled for him to go on, and to go on quickly.And go on quickly, he did. “I have a way to deal with Satoru Gojo once and for all.”Tabitha was about to take a hit off her cigarette but stopped short of the butt making contact with her lips. She was quiet, a million unspoken thoughts racing in her mind. She stared at the man sitting before her with a stone cold expression though, very well hiding the foreign sinking feeling in her chest. What was it? Not a bad feeling, just weird. Was she nervous? Unlikely.“I think with that being said you understand why I’m here.”“And you really think all this scheming and plotting of yours will work?”“I know it will.”“And you trust me?”“Oh, absolutely not.”Tabitha’s lips twinged with amusement. She took a drink from her glass, finishing off what was left and then gesturing for the waiter to fetch her a refill. “What makes you think I still harbor any resentment for Satoru? You think my pride is so frail that I’d cling to a petty high school rivalry for 20 years?”“Truthfully, yes. However, I think there are other reasons you’d want to join me. Or rather, one specific and more recently formed reason - which is why I’ve sought you out now, rather than months ago when I first started this project of mine.” When the waiter approached with Tabitha’s refill, Suguru politely requested a glass of water.“Oh?” Tabitha took one last hit off her cigarette before flicking it off onto the sidewalk. “And what is that?”Suguru rose a hand to his face, index finger pressing to his chin and eyes rolling up in their sockets coyly. “You lost something precious to you a few days ago, didn’t you?”Tabitha tensed, eyes narrowing.“Where do you think that little lamb has wandered off to?”Tabitha sat up in her seat abruptly. The glass in her hand began to grow cloudy, cracks in the glass forming webs all around it. Suguru could see her jaw clenching and unclenching.“And what do you think they would do to them upon learning of their lineage? Upon learning of the truth of their Cursed conception?”Suguru moved his head a quarter inch to his left, allowing him to dodge the glass Tabitha launched at him. He also scooted his chair back, observing everything that once inhabited the table scatter across the pavement when Tabitha flipped it over. His eyes followed her as she snatched her purse from the back of her chair and stormed off down the sidewalk, fishing her car keys from inside her bag. He wouldn’t be surprised if her heels blew holes in the concrete with every stomp.The waiter stood by the broken table with Suguru’s glass of water in hand, staring after the woman with a look of shock and defeat. They didn’t even seem to consider the possibility of hounding her for the bill. They looked to Suguru now, who merely shrugged before standing and hurrying off to pursue the ill-intentioned lunatic charging her way down the block. At least she made good work of parting the crowds before her so he didn't have to bother squeezing his way through people after her.“Tabitha,” Suguru called after the infuriated woman. “This isn’t very wise. This isn’t the same Satoru we knew 20 years ago, nor is this the same school. I’m afraid you likely wouldn’t survive a one-man siege on the institution.”“And I’m not the same person either of you knew 20 years ago.” Tabitha stopped at the driver’s side door of her car, forgetting to unlock it and yanking on the handle with an intensity that dislodged it from the car entirely. She stood there now, gripping the metal piece in her hand and seething. She stared up at Suguru with an intensity that’d make any man crumple to his knees - but Suguru merely smiled.“Let us be smart about this,” he urged.Tabitha’s murderous gaze only intensified.“Believe me when I say, I harbor nothing but the purest of intent. We’ll purge the wolves of Jujutsu Tech and we’ll shepherd your lost lamb back home.”Tabitha’s shoulders rose and fell with every deep and calming breath she forced herself to draw in. Her eyes remained narrowed, suspicious and hostile. She clenched her car keys so tightly, they bore into her skin.“Once that’s done, the following phase of my project will commence. Nothing you would have any involvement in, and you’ll be free to simply live out the rest of your life knowing Satoru will never again be a problem to you and that your family will be safe.”Tabitha took a firm step towards Suguru, bloody finger pointing up at him. “Don’t you think for a fucking second you can manipulate me,” she growled. “I’ll entertain your stupid little game, but if anything happens to Jasper … I will rip both you and Satoru’s heads off and make them kiss my ass.”A chuckle. “Understood.”

Content Warnings: blood, mentions of trauma and declined mental health.

“I didn’t even hit them that hard! I gave them time to duck!”Jasper held their face in their hands, blood pooling from their nose and into their palms. They tried to speak, to reassure everyone that they were okay but they were shaking so hard they couldn’t get any words out. They stared down at their hands. Everything was fuzzy, their glasses having been knocked clean off their face and vanishing somewhere in the training grounds.“Hey, Jas! You okay?” Yuji had crouched beside his classmate after his extended hand had gone unnoticed.Megumi chimed in from where he stood beside Nobara, hands in his pockets, “Pinch your nose and lean your head forward. It should stop the bleeding.”Jasper didn’t quite react, not registering the advice given.Yuji looked from Megumi to Jasper before reaching out his hand and pinching their nose for them. He grinned at them when they shot him a startled glance. “Don’t worry, I know she packs a mean punch! You’ll get the hang of dodging and countering with more practice,” he said in an eager tone.“You didn’t have to go that hard on them,” Megumi muttered towards Nobara as the two idly stood by.“I didn’t!” she argued, now raising her own fist. “C’mere. I’ll show you exactly what I did!”Megumi ducked as Nobara swung, again and again. The two soon found themselves circling Jasper and Yuji, engaged in their own weird little version of tag.From a short distance, Satoru observed the four with a frown. Not for a second had Jasper’s technique triggered. Not an ounce of Cursed Energy flowed from this kid. Granted, Nobara wasn’t lying when she claimed not to have come at them at maximum power - but considering Jasper’s frail state of mind, he had hoped that it would have manifested as a reflex. Did they need to be in a greater state of duress? Or were they lying about it being entirely out of their control? Were they allowing themself to get pushed around during these sparring matches to establish themself as a non-threat?No, that was Shoko’s psycho paranoia talking. He was supposed to be the one that had faith in Jasper. He was sure that they would figure out the mystery behind their technique, it was just a matter of when and how. He was sure that Jasper had good intentions. He was sure that everything would work out fine for them all. There was no point in worrying.“You okay, Jasper?” Satoru called as he finally approached his students.With Yuji’s help, Jasper’s nosebleed had stopped and they had managed to stand. They nodded towards the teacher, though their expression told him quite the opposite. They said nothing, downcasting their gaze as they took their glasses when Yuji held the pair out to them. Thankfully, the preexisting crack on one of the lenses didn’t seem to expand, though the frames were now a bit scuffed from skidding across the concrete.“What’s a couple of bumps and bruises on your way to betterment?” Satoru grinned.Megumi momentarily stopped beside Yuji, opening his mouth to say something (probably snarky) but cut himself off just in time to duck out of the way of yet another one of Nobara’s assailments. The redirected strike hit Yuji instead, which brought about a domino effect that quickly devolved into the three chasing each other around the training grounds with intent to maim.“I don’t like this.”Jasper’s words caught Satoru off-guard. He turned his head away from the dueling trio and towards the teenager standing before him. They were staring down at their hands, skin still smudged with their own blood. The front of their jumper was also stained, though it was hard to tell against the black fabric. Satoru’s lips twitched before he asked, “Don’t like what?”“Fighting,” they replied rather quickly. “I don’t want to anymore.”“You know this isn’t a real fight, right? It’s just training,” Satoru insisted. “Nobara can get a bit intense sometimes but I promise she wasn’t really trying to hurt you.”Jasper’s fists clenched at their sides.Satoru felt his heart race. Was this it? Would Jasper lose control? Or would they … No! He needed to get it out of his head that they were potentially malicious. It was starting to have a negative effect on his relationship with the damn kid. He didn’t move. He kept his mouth shut. Just watching, antsy.“I’m gonna go to the restroom,” Jasper mumbled, unclenching their fists and turning away.“No.” The word left Satoru before he could stop himself. He sucked in his cheeks awkwardly when Jasper turned to look at him with a puzzled expression. “Just kidding, go on!” He laughed, motioning for them to continue on their way.As he watched his student disappear into the school, he couldn’t help but internally admonish himself. What the fuck had he been about to do? Trigger some kind of psychotic break in a fifteen year old? Push them into violence? Into lashing out at him? And for fucking what? Just to see what they’re capable of? This was starting to get out of hand.He needed help.

It was that time of day where one didn’t know if it was yet late enough to be called morning or early enough to still be called night. The sun was still a few hours away from peeking out over the horizon and Dominic was buried up to his neck in paperwork, reviewing the materials he would be going over in all of his classes later that day. He sat at one of two tables in the staff breakroom, having opted for this workspace instead of his office since the breakroom had both a bathroom and a coffee maker readily accessible to him. The fact that he was on his seventh cup of coffee and third bathroom trip that night lead him to believe he’d made the right decision.On the verge of a migraine as he stressed over how exactly one went about teaching and counseling high school students for nearly thirteen hours a day and six days a week, the man took a momentary reprieve from the harsh light of his laptop and the tiny text on the stacks of documents and books piled up around him and shut his eyes. Just as he felt himself start to lose consciousness (thanks to the soothing circles he rubbed into his temples), the door to the room slammed open and shot him straight back up in his chair."Knock knock!"He went about typing away at his keyboard as if he had never stopped, expression impervious, pretending he hadn’t even noticed someone entered the room.“I’ve been looking for you!” Satoru shouted, raising his index finger to point right at Dominic.Ah, there was that migraine.“I’m busy,” Dominic mumbled, practically hiding behind his laptop. What was Satoru even doing up at this time?Satoru noisily dragged a chair over to the table Dominic occupied, turning it so the back of it was facing away from him and then straddling it. “C’mon! Hear me out! It’s about the new kid,” he insisted, drumming his hands in a nonsensical rhythm on the back of the chair in an attempt to garner Dominic’s attention.“Can’t this wait?” Dominic glanced at the time before glaring at Satoru. “It’s four in the morning.”“So? It’s not like you’re sleeping,” Satoru pursed his lips. His brows quirked beneath his blindfold.Dominic stared at Satoru, too exhausted to bicker on. He relented, “What is it?”Satoru folded his arms overtop of his chair, propping his chin onto his stacked forearms. “Jasper’s not really taking to training,” he said. “I don’t really wanna push them to fight but this is a problem considering their circumstance. They can’t even defend themself. If they can’t exorcise …” There was a pause and Satoru leaned back a bit in his chair, holding onto the backrest and drumming his fingers against the metal. He was always so fidgety, as if the world wasn't moving as fast as he wanted it to. Not finishing his previous sentence, he moved on to the next, “The folks in charge aren’t gonna wanna just let them walk. Hell, I wouldn’t want to let them go off on their own anyway. They’re unstable and dangerous. Not to mention that they’d have nowhere to go.” He was talking himself in circles and feeling the metaphorical walls close in on him. The conversation with Shoko a couple of days ago was weighing on his mind. It was like a fucked up game of Snake where a wrong turn would end with him biting himself in the ass.“It’s unsurprising that the child refuses to partake in your violent buffoonery, given that they show signs of trauma,” Dominic muttered, staring blankly when Satoru turned his head to face him directly. “Not all who are hurting lash out at everything around them, some recede into their shells, to safety, finding other ways of achieving their closure. At times even satisfied with existing within their own fragmented perception, never seeking remedy.” Eh, this was getting personal. He anxiously grabbed his coffee mug and finished the now-cold beverage just to have something to do other than talk.Satoru waved towards Dominic dismissively, now adding, “Yeah, yeah. I know, Mister Redemption and … what was it? Atonement?”“Repentance and absolution,” Dominic corrected under his breath.“Yeah, ok. Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you could take the four under your wing just for a mission … or two. At least until Jasper maybe finds their place here. I think they might like your approach to exorcisms. And hey, maybe the other three can learn a different way to handle Curses.” Satoru didn’t sound all too convinced on the last half but he wanted Jasper to make friends, figuring they’d help keep them grounded during this shaky stage of their life. If they all went together, it could help bring them all closer … or drive them apart because of their extreme differences. God damn it, he was doing it again. Stop thinking, just talk.No, but this was good for other reasons too. Maybe Dominic would pick up on what Shoko and himself had picked up on. Or maybe he won’t. He didn’t say anything after his first session with Jasper, so that was comforting. Maybe this was all in their heads; just paranoid thoughts clouding the judgement of a couple of stupid overworked losers who never really got a chance to grow up. But Dominic was smart, right? Dominic would know. He would tell them. Maybe Jasper didn’t actually look anything like her. Maybe it’d just been a really long time since they’d last seen her. Maybe it was all just one big fat fucking pile of coincidences. Maybe. Just maybe. FUCK! Stop thinking, just talk! Just-“Have you lost your mind?” Dominic argued, raising his hands towards the stacks of paperwork he was sorting through. “You can’t possibly expect me to take on your job as well as mine!”“It’s fine! I’ll help! We can share your current workload. I’ll take up some more of your boring and nerdy shit and you’ll take up some more of my cool and fun shit. Besides, being out and about instead locked up inside might help you destress … You seem a little wound up.”Something about the way Satoru spoke sometimes made him sound like a patronizing asshole dickhead … and he was, but it didn’t mean he was wrong. Dominic had been wanting to try and get around to teach the students his own style of exorcism but a lack of time always made that an impossibility. It would be dishonest for him to reject the offer, even if he did want to wipe that smug little look off of his face.“I’ll accept but if I see you fooling around instead of doing as you should be, the agreement is over.”“Fine! So, starting today?”“Alright. I should finish sorting all these lessons into my planner within the hour so I’ll get your share of work to you when I’m finished. We’ll use the rest of this week as a trial and decide by the end of it if we should continue or if it’s a pointless endeavor.”“What a coincidence! We already had plans at the end of this week anyway. Efficient, as you like it, eh? Killing two birds with one stone. Here’s to hoping that some fresh air will liven you up a bit before our rendezvous!”“Shut up.”

They were going to be late. Jasper curled into themself under their blankets. They had lost track of how long it had been since their alarm rang that morning. Instead of getting up and ready, they only burrowed deeper yet into bed. Sleep had not come that night and so they found themself exhausted and sulking. The daylight from outside creeping into their room seeped through their covers. They shut their eyes, in hopes that if they managed to close their lids firmly enough everything around them would just stop. Their face still hurt from the day before, skin swollen and tender. They didn’t want to sit through class. They hadn’t ever been to school before. It was embarrassing to realize they couldn’t even read some of the things in the work they’d been assigned, that they never had the answer to any questions asked. They were so stupid.Between their failures, both regarding academics and Sorcery, how long would it be until everyone gave up hope in them? A sudden dark pang at the center of their chest quickly made them jerk into an upright position, eyes wide and breathing heavy.No, no. They couldn’t do that. Not again. Everyone here had been so kind to them, so helpful. They’d only ruin everything if they caved into that darkness. The memories of their lies to Satoru back at the McDonald’s the day they had met haunted them. The first time this happened? Such bullshit. It had taken everything in them not to lose themself these last few days. They were working hard to prove themself. They had to show everyone that they had made the right choice in trusting them, that they had potential. Value.“Hey, Jas! Everything okay in there??” Yuji’s voice at their door shocked Jasper right out of bed. They nearly fell to the floor in their panicked scramble. He sounded alarmed. Had he sensed what almost had been? Would he tell?Before apprehension could seize them, Jasper swung the door open. “I’m fine!” they squeaked, squinting their eyes to better see Yuji, only now realizing they’d left their glasses on their nightstand in their tizz.Yuji’s brows were furrowed for a moment before he seemed to just take Jasper’s word for it and shake off his earlier concern. “Right, well. We just got word that Mr. Weon is gonna be taking us on a mission later today and that Gojo canceled classes this morning so we’re free until after lunch! Wanna come hang out with us?”“Mission?” Jasper mumbled, rubbing the sleep out of their eye.“Yeah! Like an exorcism.” That was about the extent of Yuji’s explanation. His mind moved on to more important things at hand, “Megumi, Nobara ‘n’ me are gonna go grab a bite to eat together now so I thought maybe you’d wanna come with us.”“Oh,” Jasper wasn’t sure what to say. “Okay.” Eh, good enough.“Awesome! I’ll go tell the other two! We’ll wait for you out by the entrance!! Don’t be long!!” The words were barely all out of his mouth by the time Yuji was already turning a corner down the hall. Jasper watched the blurry blonde disappear before turning back into their room with a nervous sigh.Why did they accept the invitation??Well, it would have been rude to decline!!But stillJasper did their best to keep their conflicting emotions at bay as they rushed to get dressed. They had a couple of outfits to wear aside from their uniform, which they were more than grateful to Satoru for having purchased for them. They didn’t give the clothes much thought, content with them fitting and not standing out, but ensured they had their glasses on before they rushed out their bedroom door.The restaurant wasn’t crowded. It was a weekday morning, so most people were at work or school. Though the group of four did get some glances laced with suspicion from the staff, they just plopped themselves in a booth and dug into their meals.“Why do you guys think Mr. Weon’s gonna be exorcising with us this afternoon instead of Gojo?” Nobara asked with a mouthful of burger.Yuji’s expression twisted up into one of frustration. “I don’t wanna talk about school stuff!” he whined.Megumi looked pensive for a moment. He didn’t even seem to register Yuji’s plea. “I don’t ever recall Mr. Weon going on any missions in the whole time I’ve been at school. I’m assuming he’s a capable Sorcerer, or else Gojo wouldn’t send him on a mission with us, but in the case that he is, why not have him out on the field instead of teaching us boring school stuff or trying to pick our brains?” He took a drink from his soda. “They always complain that we’re short on Sorcerers but they’re wasting man power.”Entirely disenchanted by the conversation of internal political affairs taking place at Jujutsu Tech, Yuji turned his head toward Jasper, who was quietly sitting beside him and busying themself with dipping their fries into ketchup. “Do you like Naruto?” he asked.“What’s that?” Jasper quirked their head.At this, Yuji gasped. “What do you mean?!” he cried out.“Stop yelling,” Megumi scolded, nudging Yuji with his foot under the table.“How do you not know what Naruto is?!”Jasper felt their face redden with embarrassment. They didn’t answer, just eating a fry instead.Yuji inhaled deeply before wrapping his arm around Jasper’s shoulder. “It’s a kickass TV show! After class today, we’re gonna watch it together!” he insisted with a wide smile. “It shouldn’t take us long! It’s only like 200 episodes … and then you have Shippuden …”“200 sounds like a lot …” Jasper mumbled, looking alarmed.“It’s really not!” Yuji insisted, arm around Jasper’s shoulders tightening with enthusiasm. “We’ll zoom right through them, don’t worry!”“Um …”Nobara reached out and drummed her hand against the table to garner the attention of everyone sitting at it. “What do we do after this, guys? We still got a couple of hours before we’re due back at school.”“Hit the movies? I mean, the theater’s right across the street?” Megumi suggested with a casual shrug.“Oh, good idea! There are some really good ones out right now!” Nobara grinned, speeding up getting through her food to get to the cinema all the faster. “Can you check the times on your phone?!” She asked after choking down the last couple of bites of her burger.“Just wait ‘til we get over there,” Megumi grumbled with a roll of his eyes.Yuji’s arm around Jasper went slack and his expression sank.Jasper glanced up at him, noticing the shift in demeanor, but didn’t say anything. What could they say? It’d be weird to interrogate him on his sudden mood drop in front of the others. Besides, what if it was something personal? Something he didn’t want to talk about? Best to just go on as if they hadn’t noticed a thing.After the teens finished their food, they tidied their table and (responsibly) dashed across the street to line up outside the ticket booth. While they waited, Nobara gushed over their movie options. The one she seemed to be most excited about was some sort of renaissance mermaid love story, but it hadn’t really seemed to catch anyone else’s interest. Megumi only half listened to her, scrolling through his social media on his phone beside her.“Do you like movies?”Jasper asked the question after the line had moved ahead a few people and Yuji had stayed rooted to where he stood on the pavement, staring off down a side alley of the building. Jasper really didn’t want to upset Yuji unintentionally by asking him if he was alright or nudging him on to talk about something he might not be comfortable with, so it was the best they could do.A grimace crossed Yuji’s face and he scratched at the back of his head awkwardly, taking the few steps forward so that he was now standing behind Nobara and Megumi again. “Yeah, movies are cool,” he mumbled. “I just haven’t seen one in a long time.”“I think there’s an arcade next door,” Jasper said as they stepped up beside him. “Would you rather go do that?”Yuji brightened up at the offer, the relief in his eyes only doubling when an eavesdropping Nobara was quick to take Jasper’s invitation as a challenge. “Oh? You like arcade games?” she taunted. “Let’s go then! Let’s see how good you are!”“I didn’t say I was good …” Jasper tried not to argue but settled with entertaining Nobara’s provocation if only because it made Yuji smile.Megumi mindlessly followed the three away from the cinema line and into the arcade, wherein Yuji immediately and excitedly carted him off towards the racing games in the far corner.The arcade was loud, but most of the noise came only from the machines. The only other people there aside from them four was the attendant texting on their phone at the front desk and a woman with her toddler son trying their luck at a crane game. “I need to go the restroom real quick,” Jasper told Nobara as she searched for a game for them to face off in. They fumbled their fingers nervously. “Just … look for a game in the mean time, okay?”“Yeah, yeah,” Nobara waved them off, still looking for a stage worthy enough of their grand battle.Jasper made their way through the dim arcade towards the bathroom, just wanting to splash some water on their face and cool their nerves. This had been their first hangout with … friends? in their entire life. They figured things were going relatively well but paranoia and anxiety couldn’t help but form at the back of their mind.After entering the bathroom, Jasper walked to the last sink along the row and turned the faucet on. They cupped the cool water in their hands, just letting it run through their fingers for a moment, before taking their glasses off and lowering their face closer to the spout.It seemed that the others liked them. If not liked, then at least tolerated them. Nobara was basically inviting them to play a game with her afterall. You wouldn’t do that with someone you had disdain for, right? Maybe. It wasn’t like they had ever had any friends. They weren’t exactly the most knowledgeable person when it came to interpersonal relationships. For all they knew, Nobara, Megumi and Yuji all wanted them de-“EEP!” Jasper squealed when they straightened up and spotted the reflection of someone standing behind them in the mirror - grinning from ear to ear. They turned towards the person and pressed as far back against the sink as physics would allow them.When the person took a step closer to them, their knees buckled and they collapsed to the ground. They shoved themself as far into the corner beneath the sink as they could, hugging their legs to their chest. They couldn’t do anything other than cower, too fearful to confront ... well, anyone, but much less someone that would do something like this to a stranger and think it was funny. “Wh-Who are you? What do you want?”Ah, and this energy. It felt like home.A seed of dread took root in Jasper’s heart, flowering within them.“A friend,” Mahito smiled and extended a hand.

Content Warnings: canon typical violence, panic attack, threats of violence, alcohol and mentions of trauma.

"I had that dream again.""Did anything differ this time around?""I was able to run.""And what do you think that means in terms of your progress?""I’m not sure.""Think on it and we'll discuss it next session.""Every time I have this dream, I become myself a little more. The first time I had it, I was watching from a distance as if eavesdropping on it all. After a few more times, I was in my own body but too afraid to move or speak. This last time was the closest to what really happened that night.""What would you say differs between this last dream and reality?""...""If you don't feel comfortable saying it to me, you don't have to. Just acknowledge it in your heart and mind. We must not bury the truth if we're searching for closure.""I ... I-"The slamming of the door as it slid open cut Shoko off. Both her and Dominic tensed in their seats, startled by the sudden intrusion. Upon spotting Satoru, Dominic's eyes narrowed. "We are in a session right now. I wont have you barge in and ... What's happened?" His cold and harsh tone dropped when he registered the panic the other hid under layers of playful affectation."Dominic!" Satoru chimed, his voice betraying the typhoon of emotions swirling at the pit of his stomach. He managed a smile at the frazzled therapist, hoping to cement to both doctor and patient that he was fine. Everything was cool. He'd handle it. But much like a baby bird taking flight far too early, he plummeted. The words came out tired, miserable, stressed, pained; "I need you."Keeping his usual reserved demeanor, Dominic stood. He kept his gaze fixed on Shoko. "We will continue upon my return. Please, forgive me," he said quietly."It's fine. Come get me when you're back. I’ll be in my cave," the clinician said with a dismissive shrug.After retrieving his briefcase from atop his desk, Dominic followed Satoru out of the office and down the hall, paces set at a brisk walk. "You were supposed to be teaching class. Why is that not the case?" Dominic asked as the two turned a sharp corner. His chiding intonation had returned to him."I overslept so I just canceled class for the day," Satoru answered in a grumble. "Yuji asked to leave campus with Nobara, Megumi and Jasper. He said something about getting breakfast and hanging out around town before the assignment with you. I figured it'd be a fun bonding experience for the four of them but ...""But?""I dont know!" Satoru laughed now, if only to keep himself from ultimately losing his mind. "I don't know what's going on! An entire city block is fucking gone."Dominic stopped walking, dress shoes rooted to the hardwood floors. "Satoru," he called."We need to go!" the other Sorcerer urged, stopping a few feet away before turning angrily. "There's no time for this!"Hand extended towards the other, Dominic said nothing else.Satoru grit his teeth, hands balling into fists at his sides. "Dominic, please," he urged. He forced his tone to steel itself, stern and demanding.Dominic remained staring. Waiting.Drawing a deep breath, Gojo neared and held out his own hand towards Dominic's. Their fingers struggled to connect, infinity between them. Another, steadier breath and their digits managed to inch just little bit closer."Ground yourself," Dominic whispered.Satoru’s face twisted up, eyes shutting tight beneath his blindfold. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled. He was trying but it was fucking hard. It was hard to let himself feel vulnerable now of all times but he understood that this was why Dominic had chosen now to implement this little exercise. It was the not knowing that was driving him up the wall. Were there any deaths? They still knew so little about Jasper’s ability, it was hard to gauge the full spectrum of consequences that came with it. Was this even Jasper’s doing? From the explanations given from officials, it sounded like it could have been any number of things. He’d be lying if he said his mind hadn’t immediately leapt to Jasper being the cause of this all. Was that unfair of him?Maybe … Maybe there was one big reason he’d been so full of uncertainty about Jasper. Something that hadn’t anything to do with their power … or her - and everything to do with feelings he kept buried deep deep deep inside him. Ones he had never wanted to confront again; but would inevitably have to, if he ever wanted to be able to offer Jasper the help they needed.So that was that, then.With a deep exhale, Satoru finally allowed their fingers to intertwine. His grip was tight on Dominic’s hand, almost as if he was afraid he’d fall away into nothingness if he let go. Fear … Apprehension … Anxiety … Such unfamiliar sensations. Ones he didn’t normally have to deal with, and had been nothing but bombarded by as of late. And yet, despite the emotional drainage, here he stood with his one and only fail-safe absent. Just a hand, a loving hand, a caring one, in his. He clung to it, desperate. It manifested so physically, so tenderly. With that, his mind began to clear. His thoughts grew coherent. The surge of emotion narrowed to a trickle. “Okay …” he said quietly. “I’m okay now.” He was himself again.A hint of a smile appeared on Dominic’s lips before he released the other and continued on their way. “Come on,” he said.Satoru drew his hand close to him, curling his fingers into the center of his palm and extending them again. He restrained the corners of his own lips from curling upwards, instead quickly turning and keeping pace with the counselor as they rushed down the school corridor.At the end of the hall was the main entrance to the building. Kiyotaka stood at the doorway, holding the doors open for the two and motioning for them to hurry. "We've got a car ready!" he called.Upon reaching Kiyotaka, Satoru grabbed hold of the collar on his blazer before he could turn to lead the way over to the running vehicle awaiting them outside. His other hand grasped Dominic's in a white knuckled grip, their fingers interlaced once again.Before anyone could utter a word, they were gone.

"They're humans! Even worse, Sorcerers! How could we be working with them?!""It's a temporary arrangement.""This is likely a trap! You're being foolish enough to prance right into their hands; and to risk everything by bringing all of us along with you? You're not taking this seriously at all.""Believe me when I say they have far more to lose than I do if they were to betray us.""But-""They are not associated with Jujutsu Tech and haven't been in decades ... Not to mention, they are not all human. Mrs. Capricien and her kin share vastly different views than the ordinary Sorcerer.""But-""We may be unsure of her ulterior motives or her loyalty to us. However, there is one thing we are certain of and that is that she is the one person who harbors an unrivaled hatred for Satoru Gojo.""I'd beg to differ!""Don't lose your head, Jogo.""Is that supposed to be a joke?!"The knock on the large ornate door came three times, firm and loud. Suguru lowered his hand to his side. “Just behave. I’d like for us all to get along as well as possible to facilitate our goals,” he cautioned. “You aren’t going to want to get on their bad side, Jogo. I strongly advise you let me do the talking.”A deep scowl crossed Jogo’s lips. He shifted his gaze to Hanami, who’d been walking alongside the group in silence. They didn’t seem to have anything to say, stoically observing the other two bicker.“Where is Mahito anyway?” Jogo shifted his gaze back over to Suguru. “Shouldn’t he be here as well?”“I sent him on a bit of a recon mission but he hasn’t come back. We don’t necessarily have the time to wait around for him but I'm sure he'll find his way to us. If we’d taken a moment longer, we’d be late,” Suguru responded, voice dropping when he heard commotion come from the other side of the door of the unnecessarily large home they stood before. "and I don't like running late."The door opened and a man appeared in the doorway, grinning goofily. "Long time no see, Rūru," he greeted. "You look good! It's been what? Twenty years?" Despite his playful tone, his eyes were glinting with guile.Suguru's fingers curled into his palms, forming a tight fist. A struggle. His hands were concealed beneath the sleeves of his robe so it went by unnoticed. "What it has been is too long, Roger," he chimed."Last I heard you got chopped right in half," Roger gestured a slicing motion with his hand. "or something like that. Might've been exaggerated.""Must have been," Suguru mused.The man at the door moved aside now, allowing enough room for the small group to enter. "Come in! You all must have come a long way," he said, practically bouncing with joy. He closed the door after Dagon, looking absolutely elated at the sight of the creature.Jogo eyed Roger with suspicion, wrinkling his nose at the stench of human."Make yourselves comfortable!" Roger grinned at him in particular now.Jogo narrowed his eyes."Not too comfortable." Tabitha stood at the end of the narrow hall, arms crossed. Her voice cut through the air like a hot knife through butter. Her eyes locked on Dagon, who had been curiously inspecting a small shelf along the wall displaying decorative glass vases. "Come into the dining room." She turned, gesturing them to follow.Jogo glanced around at his surroundings as they walked. Everything was perfectly decorated, not a speck of dust on any of the knick-knacks or tables set about. It was such a large house, who had time to skip around and dust everything? A group of recluse freaks, he supposed.As they filtered into the dining room, Jogo noticed two others already sitting at the refectory table in the center of the room. They looked late into their teens or early into their 20s. At first glance, indistinguishable from the average human - but their energies were overpowering. In fact, he didn't think he had taken a breath since entering the house. The entire home was filled with an unbearably repressive aura. Being in the same room as Tabitha and the other two was enough to make him feel drained. Roger was so plain, that in of itself seemed to carry its own eeriness.Tabitha and Suguru took their seats at either end of the long table. Roger sat to Tabitha's right. The other two previous inhabitants were occupying the two seats to her left. Jogo sat to Suguru's right and Hanami, his left. Dagon was left be, free to wander the fancily carpeted floor as they continued to explore all the interesting little doodads on display.Suguru's eyes wandered towards the two seated on Tabitha's left. He hadn't quite expected them - but giving it deeper thought; Jasper couldn't have been the Cursed child that had brought about her expulsion from Jujutsu Tech twenty years ago. Was it one of these two then?"This is my oldest, Desmond." Tabitha seemed to have read his mind. She gestured to the boy first. His hair was locced and just long enough to fall into his eyes. The sides and back of his head were shaved. His face and ears were covered in piercings, a short stubble growing along the acne scarred skin of his jaw. His eyes were glued to his phone, not at all entertained by the company that'd just shuffled into the room. It was when looking at the phone in his hands that Suguru noticed he was missing fingers."This is my second oldest, Minerva." She gestured to the girl now. Her hair was curly like Tabitha's, reaching her jaw and decorated with a pink headband. Unlike her sibling who's outfit was dark and grimey, her clothes were mostly pastels and with nary a wrinkle in sight. Her eyes were her most predominant feature, a pink and white spiral blooming from her pupil and branching out past her iris and covering her sclera. She was sitting upright in her chair, a beaming insincere smile on her lips."It's a pleasure to meet you," Suguru said with a polite nod of his head."It's so awesome to meet you too, Mr. Geto!" Minnie chirped.Desmond glanced at him but turned back to his phone.After a clear of his throat, Suguru motioned to both Curses sitting at either side of him. "These are Jogo and Hanami," he introduced and then turned his head towards Dagon, who seemed entranced by a taxidermied Blue Marlin hung up over one of two entrances to the dining room. "and that is Dagon. We’re missing a few others but they were tied up in outside affairs and couldn’t make it.""I caught that and mounted it myself!" Roger spoke to Dagon, almost too enthusiastically. "Ain't it neat?"Dagon looked towards him quizzically.Jogo scoffed but said nothing."Now, that introductions are out of the way," Tabitha said. "Tell me what your supposed plan to put an end to the nuisance and bring Jasper home is." She looked at Roger. "Bring me a glass of wine.""But I wanna hear the plan," Roger whined but pouted and relented when Tabitha glared his way.Suguru watched Roger leave, shoulders slumped and sulking, before going on to speak. “We’ve managed to come up with a plan to seal Satoru Gojo using the Cursed Object Prison Gate’s Boundary. Granted, it will take a decent amount of preparation but,” He paused, a small smile creeping on his lips. “if things work in our favor, he’ll be out of our hair forever.”With a loud sigh, Tabitha snapped, “There’s no guarantee of that.”“Of what?” Suguru asked.The annoyance on Tabitha’s face only intensified. “That he’ll forever be locked in that box. I want him dead for that reason exactly. I want him ground into powder so I can brew coffee out of him every morning. I want him eviscerated so that I can have Roger stuff him and sit him over my fireplace. I want to use his bones as a back-scratcher, his skull to drink my wine out of.” Roger returned midway through her spiel, brightening back up as she rambled about her atrocities. He practically had hearts in his eyes.Tabitha took her wine from Roger, setting it down on the table after a deep drink.Jogo found himself staring at Tabitha, itching with a curiosity on what exactly her history with Satoru had been. Among Curses, it was easy to understand why their hatred for him burned strong and true – but what had Satoru done that wronged this woman? What had he done that pushed her to so passionately demand this brutalization? He glanced towards Desmond and Minerva, both looking entirely unphased by their mother’s stipulations.“As long as the Prison Realm remains in our possession, there is nothing to worry about,” Suguru assured. “Perhaps it’d make a nice paper weight around the house.”“So, it’d be like a little ant farm with a population of one?” Roger asked, making a rectangular ant farm-shaped gesture with his hands. “That’d be fun, Tabi! We could shake him up whenever we want!”Tabitha motioned for her partner to settle down. “So, that hypothetically takes care of Satoru. What about Jasper? How will we bring them home?” For the first time during the conversation, Tabitha seemed a bit antsy. She took another drink from her wine, forcing her nerves to cool.“The Kyoto Goodwill Event is in two weeks,” Suguru said.Tabitha quirked a brow.“And we have an in.”

The lights of the bathroom flickered. The sounds of beeping, computerized gun fire and upbeat pop music all filtered in from the arcade. Jasper was curled on the floor, hugging their legs to their chest in an ironclad grip. Mahito stood before them, sporting his usual cheeky grin.When he took a step forward, Jasper found themself yelling. "Just stop! Please, just get away ..." They were a bit taken aback by both their tone and the words falling from their lips but it seemed the fear had spiked their adrenaline enough that they simply lost their filter. "Don't touch me! Just go!" Their eyes kept darting towards the door to the restroom, wondering if they’d be heard over the noise outside."You're awfully skittish, Jaaaas," Mahito laughed. He let his hand drop to his side and settled for crouching down in front of the cowering teen instead. He propped his elbows on his thighs. “I’m sorry I startled you earlier. Let’s start anew.”Immediately, a question formed in Jasper's head. "How do you know my name?" Even if Mahito claimed his approach had been well-intentioned, there was something about him that made alarms go off in their head. He felt like a nightmare come to life. Their eyes once again darted towards the entryway to the bathroom. Please, Kugisaki …. Itadori … Fushiguro … Anyone ..."We- Hey!" Mahito noticed Jasper's wandering gaze and swung his head into their line of sight. "Hey, now. You're not thinking of running, are you? We only just started chattin'. We got loads more to talk about."With a shake of their head, Jasper cried, "I dont want to talk to you!"Mahito gestured for Jasper to calm. "Hey, I’m not here to hurt you. I’m sure your mommy dearest wouldn’t be too happy with me if I did and I don't need Geto on my ass ..." he said with a casual shrug of his shoulders. “So if you make this easy for both of us and just do what I say, then there won’t be a need for me to make you do what I say. Get it?”Jasper's heart sank, too distracted with Mahito’s initial words to pay much attention to anything else he said. "M-My mother?" they echoed. Their face tingled with a numbness that only ever accompanied a debilitating anxiety. Shivers ran all throughout them. Their stomach twisted into painful knots. “You’re involved with … my mother?” It was hard to believe. Their mother barely spoke to her family. Who was Mahito to her?Mahito nodded his head absentmindedly, pleased at least that he seemed to have managed to get responses from Jasper that weren’t just demanding he leave. "Yeah, Geto is actually meeting with her as we speak. I was supposed to go too but I thought this would be much more fun. Also, she's kinda scary, ain't she?” He tapped his chin in thought. “No wonder you split ... Though, she does have a big …" He stopped talking if only to gesture to his chest now, pouting his lips in an exaggerated model pose."Shut up!" A rage Jasper was unfamiliar with surfaced and they found themself digging their nails into their legs. Their red eyes flickered for a fraction of a second to a pitch back. A powerful oppressive sensation burst from them, nearly knocking Mahito back had he not braced for it.At this display, Mahito looked delighted. "Jeez, you're mean … Fine then, as you wish. Chat over. Now,” he reached a hand out, grabbing Jasper by one of the straps of their overalls. “show me your power," He dragged them out from under the sink with ease. "and I’ll show you mine."Jasper yelped, sneakers squeaking against the tile floor in an attempt to keep themself from being pulled from their corner. They fought back tears of frustration, hands gripping Mahito's wrist tightly when the Curse lifted them into the air. "H-Help .." they whimpered, eyes on the door. Their throat was tight with overwhelming emotion, smothering their pleas. Their fingers desperately tried to pry the fingers off of their clothes and break free."You're calling for help? You'll put your friends lives at risk to try and spare your own? How awful!" Mahito laughed as he spoke, bringing Jasper in close to him. "Go ahead! Call for them. Let's see just how strong those you call your friends are."Jasper bit down on their lips, expression panicked. Their fingers tightened on Mahito's wrist.Mahito's grin hadn’t for a moment left his face, "You're too easy."With that, they were in the air. And as soon as they realized they’d been thrown, their back was already crashing through a stall door. They landed on the floor space in front of the toilet, a broken pile. They instinctively curled up, gasping for breath as all the air in their lungs had been knocked out of them upon impacting with the plywood door."You're pretty good at suppressing your Cursed Energy. You're practically human!" Mahito stepped over the crumbled remains of the stall door and reached down towards Jasper. "Save for this," he said, clasping the glowing ring still hovering above Jasper's head in one hand and pulling it upwards.Jasper grasped onto the toilet paper dispenser to quickly rise with the halo as if Mahito were yanking around a limb, head bending and neck twisting with its tilt. Tears rolled down their cheeks freely and their eyes shut tight in an attempt to conceal a pained expression. They wanted to scream for help or for Mahito to stop or just scream for the sake of screaming – but they didn’t. They just let it happen, too afraid that the others would hear them and get dragged into this."Why won't you use your technique? You did it before. At the restaurant! I heard all about it! Should I keep talking about your mommy? Will that do it?" Mahito's grin only seemed to grow wider, distorting his face. Hands still twisting and turning at Jasper’s halo with a merciless force, it was almost as if he was trying to tear it from them and wear it himself. His eyes were bright, reveling in his own fun little sadistic game. "You're only making this worse for yourself.""STOP!!! Stop it!!!" Jasper wailed now, hands snapping over Mahito's in a desperate attempt to get him to release their halo. "Why are you doing this?!"An amused laugh left Mahito as he pulled Jasper from within the stall and swung them into the row of sinks parallel. They hit the marble counter-top and then immediately slunk to the floor, hugging their arms tightly to them as pain rang out through every inch of their body. It hurt to breathe. "If you're not going to show me your technique willingly, I’ll have to make you."Jasper's expression untensed, eyes wide and blank as their mind raced. Their heart was pounding in their chest. What now? Mahito said he wouldn't hurt them too much, seemingly just enough for them to activate their technique, but triggering it would hurt those around them. They couldn't let that happen, but how would they get away from all of this? There was no guarantee they'd be able to control it if it did take over. It’d been the case every time. They'd renege on all of their promises to everyone. They'd fail.“You lost control! It happens. The most important thing is that no one got seriously hurt. The second most important thing is that you’re here to make sure that never happens again! So, let’s all try our best, alright?”Yuji's words echoed in their head.Jasper began to bawl."Don’t cry! This’ll be over quick," Mahito had knelt before Jasper while they wept. His hands pressed to the sides of their head, fingers entangling in their hair. His own technique activated. “Hide it as much as you like, your soul will show me your truth.” A victorious look was displayed on his face, but only for a second. For the first time since engaging Jasper, his smile dropped entirely.Jasper felt a rush of their own Cursed Energy surge through them, like water breaking through a dam. With a final helpless scream, everything around them both went black.

Content Warnings: canon typical violence, sensory meltdown, threats of violence, suicidal ideation, derealization and mentions of trauma.

Teleportation was simply not something Dominic would ever get used to. Of course, it would help if he had more than a second's notice before being subjected to it but that would be asking too much of someone as self-absorbed as the Gojo family heir. The priest swayed on his feet as Satoru released his hand and took several hurried steps forward."Could you warn us next time?" Dominic muttered, trying to calm his churning stomach. Kiyotaka had frozen where he stood beside him, expression petrified as he stared straight ahead.At the silence, Dominic turned his head to look at Satoru, noting he had also stopped dead in his tracks. He now shifted his gaze towards the scene before them, feeling his heart start to race.A familiar shape but on an astronomically unfamiliar scale had converged on the city block. Dominic stepped closer to the massive sphere, only to stop when Satoru urgently motioned for him to do so. "Don't get any closer ... It's a Domain," he said. He bowed his head, brows knitted in deep thought. "It was always a Domain.""Can Domains even be this size? And so easy to enter?" Kiyotaka asked, recalling Satoru and his three students just waltzing into the McDonald's with nary a struggle during their last mission. "It's unheard of!"Satoru shook his head. "Entry to Jasper's Domain is guaranteed to any because escape is impossible," he explained. "If you focus on reinforcing the outside of your Domain to prevent penetration, you risk weakening its interior and vice-versa, but if you entirely give up your outer security, your Domain will become inescapable.""You're certain this is Jasper's?" Dominic asked. "It seems rather ..." He chose his words carefully, even if Jasper wasn't around to hear. "Domains in of themselves are very advanced techniques and require a large amount of Cursed Energy ..." He allowed himself to trail off, knowing the other would know where he was going with this."Yes." Satoru's tone was grim. It seemed the last time Jasper called forth their Domain, it'd been exemplary of their power under restrains, likely on their end. A droplet of water from a tap that hadn't been closed tightly enough. Something changed this time, their technique activated under different circumstances. Someone had knocked the spigot straight off the wall. "I want you both to come with me, but do me a favor and keep your eyes closed. I want to test something."Dominic, without question, grasped the back of Satoru's jacket, ready to follow him into the Domain but Kiyotaka shook his head. "I saw what happened to the victims the last time!" he argued, eyes wide with fear. "I don't want to end up like that! I can't!""Stop being such a baby," Satoru laughed, reaching back and grabbing Kiyotaka by the wrist. "Just keep those eyes closed!" Without an ounce of hesitation, he swung him into the black sphere before them."Wa-" Kiyotaka's voice cut off as he vanished into the darkness.The remaining two stared for a second, waiting for something to happen."You think he opened his eyes?" Satoru asked."Will you just go already?!"

Nothing. There was nothing. Yuji attempted to test his vision by waving his hands back and forth inches from his face but it was to no avail. He couldn’t make them out in the dark. Hell, he couldn't even feel them. The misfires in his brain weren't allowing him to perceive anything happening both around and within him, as if someone had powered him off. It was a horrifyingly familiar feeling. It was happening again. It was hard to think. It was happening again.He took a deep breath. Or tried to? He couldn't feel his mouth, his throat, his lungs. He felt devoid of everything, everything but his mind, and even that he couldn't be too sure of. This was agonizing. He was wrong in comparing this to death during his session with Mr. Weon. This was worse than death. Infinitely worse. Had he been trapped here longer than last time? It sure felt longer. Where were Megumi? Nobara? Were they experiencing the same thing he was? Jasper ... Why? Why? They had all been having such a good time."Enough of this." A voice. Was that real? Ah, whatever. This was hopeless. "Extention."Feeling came to him in waves. First, his fingers. Then, his arms, his torso, his hips. Finally, his legs, his feet. Sukuna fought the instinct to open his eyes, instead giving himself a moment to take in the energy around him. He could sense Fushiguro a few feet away from him, slumped in the seat of a racing game. Kugisaki had collapsed in front of a beatemup. Where was that other brat? The weak little creature trying desperately to keep up the charade of humanity? He wouldn't be able to see unless they were taken care of.Since the incident at McDonald’s, he had formulated a few theories on how to get around Jasper’s technique. His first guess was that it affected only those making direct eye contact with the eyes lurking in the shadowy veil that surrounded them, and seeing that he was currently in control of his recently acquired vessel – he’d wager he was right. He felt excited and curious. Just what exactly was Jasper?Sukuna stood.He’d witnessed Jasper in the few interactions they’d had with Yuji and they didn’t seem like they’d put up much of a fight. He was always rather resourceful in getting whatever information he wanted out of people anyway. He couldn't kill them, he forced himself to remember. He had made a binding vow, and as much as it irritated him - it'd be too heavy a price for him to indulge his sadisms.Time to move. He only had one minute.It was dead silent. Not even the arcade games made a peep, seemingly drowned out by the darkness that had now shrouded them. Everything around him essentially being draped in a blanket of Cursed Energy made it easy for him to get around. He made his way towards the back of the arcade upon remembering the twerp running off to the bathrooms earlier.Wait.Stopping in his tracks suddenly, Sukuna focused on the very slight breeze he'd just felt. Someone was running past him. He lashed his hands out, a few thick curls of hair just barely escaping his grasp. "You!" he boomed, causing the other to squeak in fear."Itadori?!" Jasper fell back against one of the games, the attached gun used for shooting in it dug into their bruised back. "H-How're you ...?" They trailed off, now taking in the strange markings that'd appeared on their friend's face with a puzzled expression.How was Jasper hiding their Cursed Energy so well? Especially when it's output was currently spanning a several hundred foot radius around them? Was it because their technique also worked to camouflage them? Couldn't be ... They were always like this. They were always as indistinguishable as a leaf in a tree, a raindrop in a storm, a pebble in a riverbank. "What the fuck are you?" Sukuna snapped, reaching for them again.Jasper ducked out of the way, almost losing their balance as they crouched low to the ground. They stared up at Sukuna, in silent horror, for just a moment before turning and darting off towards the door."Do you think you can outrun me?" With an amused laugh, Sukuna lurched forward in pursuit, bursting through the glass door that'd just closed after his target. "Sight or no sight, I can smell your cowardice. You reek of it."Jasper kept running, fighting against the shrieking voices at the back of their head begging for them to stop, to give up, to curl up on the ground and wait for death - if not because their struggles were in vain, then because it hurt so fucking much to keep fighting.But they were too afraid, too afraid to die.A set of strong arms locked around Jasper's waist, sending them crashing to the ground. They would have screamed when their face made contact with the concrete but every bit of air in their lungs had been knocked from them for a second time that day. They tried to claw their way out from under Sukuna, fingernails threatening to crack from the strain. Their glasses had finally met their match, now broken in half on the floor a few feet away. Blood spouted from their nose and mouth, making it hard to breathe.The eyes that lurked in the shadows began to close one at a time as the curtain of darkness finally began to fall. Sunlight shone down on them. Birds were chirping."What kind of abomination are you?" Sukuna had turned Jasper over onto their back, eyes cracking open when he sensed their technique faltering at last. He grabbed them by the chin, gnarled claws digging into soft skin. "Killing you would be a mercy.""Just do it then!" Jasper cried, both hands on Sukuna's as his grip on their face tightened. They couldn’t think straight. Everything hurt too much and nothing made any sense. “Kill me!” The world would be better off.A laugh left Sukuna. "I'm not known for my mercy.""Then let me go!" Jasper was shouting, frantically trying to push Sukuna off of them but failing miserably."Answer my questions," Sukuna demanded."GET OFF!"For a moment, Sukuna was perturbed but quickly recovered. A foreign sensation had just coursed through him, sending a shock up his spine. His eyes narrowed as quickly as they had widened. He opened his mouth to speak but felt a sudden disconnect. As if someone unplugged a television set while it was still on. His eyes drooped, the detailed markings on his skin disappearing as Sukuna lost his control and Yuji regained it."Jas ... per ..." The words were ragged, exhausted. Yuji fell forward, collapsing onto Jasper and having once again lost consciousness.Jasper began to scream, trying to get Yuji off of them and panicking when they found themself too tired and injured to manage the task. Their face felt itchy from the blood now drying on it. Tears rolled freely down their cheeks. All the injuries they'd accumulated in the last hour started to catch up to them, making their cries intensify."Yuji! Jasper!"Satoru vanished from beside Dominic and Kiyotaka further down the street, now reappearing beside the downed teenagers. He crouched beside the two, pulling Yuji up into his arms and immediately checking for his pulse. "What happened?" he asked Jasper. His tone was stern.Jasper rolled onto their knees, trying desperately to wipe their face clean with the sleeves of their shirt.“What happened?” Satoru repeated, tone more demanding."Don't overwhelm them," Dominic advised, finally reaching the three. Beside him, Kiyotaka was calling for assistance on his phone to tend to any wounded.Without thinking, Jasper forced themself onto their feet. They started to run but only managed a few steps before Satoru appeared before them, blocking their way. "If you don't tell us what happened, then how can we help you? Do you think running will solve your problems?"Jasper's hands clamped over their ears and they shut their eyes tight. They hummed one long and loud hum, doing their best to block out any other stimuli.Satoru was about to extend a hand to them but Dominic was quick to verbally reprimand him from where he knelt beside Yuji. "Don't touch them, Satoru. Give them a moment," he said.Though he was hesitant, Satoru let his hand rest at his side."I've found Nobara and Megumi!" Kiyotaka shouted from the entryway of the arcade. "They've also lost consciousness but are breathing and uninjured!"Dominic looked relieved. "Yuji also appears unharmed," he noted.Satoru didn't abandon his defensive posture.After a few moments, Jasper's hands shifted to their face. They cried into them openly, fingers desperately wiping at their eyes and cheeks. "I c-can't see," they sobbed. "I-I ca-can't see."Satoru took note of the pieces of Jasper's glasses strewn a few feet away from him. "We'll get you new glasses," he reassured. "You'll be able to see then."Jasper slowly lowered their hands from their face, peeking at their teacher with a timid and teary-eyed expression."Let's get back to the school and sort everything out together, okay?"A slow nod.Dominic sighed in relief, now slowly turning his head away from the scene to take in their surroundings. This wasn't anything like the previous incident. There were several hundred people on this city strip - working, shopping, commuting, eating; and they were all now scattered across the floors inside all of the affected buildings and the pavements outside. Cars had rolled into one another, the people inside having also lost their lucidity under Jasper's technique.This was a problem."I'm in trouble … Aren't I?" Jasper's voice brought Dominic out of his thoughts. He looked towards them, frowning.Satoru scratched at the back of his head, pursing his lips in thought. "Look, I'm gonna be realistic and tell you that if you did this on purpose, we need to have a talk," He then dropped his hand and started to turn, now gesturing for Jasper to follow. "but if this is all a big misunderstanding; which I’m sure is the case, then nothing's going to happen to you. I'll make sure of that. Now, come on. The sooner we get this all taken care of, the sooner we can all go get some dinner."Jasper took a moment, trying to process everything they were being told. There was mild disbelief in their eyes, unsure of whether or not Satoru was being deceptive. Their own anxiety and shame convincing them they didn't deserve the empathy they were being shown - even if it was all an act. Overwhelmed with emotion, they hurried forward and took hold of Satoru's hand in a tight and needy grip.No sooner did their fingers wrap around Satoru’s than he yanked himself free. A startled expression crossed his face, as he cupped said hand in the other and brought it close to him. Jasper’s touch lingered on his skin, making goosebumps of shock and anxiety rise on his forearms.“Satoru?” Dominic called, having missed the exchange while distracted with Yuji.Jasper’s face had paled and their knees buckled.“How did you …”Jasper collapsed.

What could one say to put a God at ease?Dominic sat quietly in his seat, hands folded in his lap and head lowered. Satoru was brooding before him, making a show of pacing up and down the hall outside the clinic like a caged tiger. What had him so worked up? Was it just a teacher concerned for his students? Was it the knowing he was going to have to deal with an earful from the higher-ups over this? Or was it something else? Dominic didn’t know. They had found themselves in a rather tricky predicament, one with too many questions and too little answers. Satoru was at a loss for words for once. He just kept running his hands through his hair and sighing in exasperation. When he finally did break the silence, it was only to ask, "Why is she taking so long?""I'm unsure." Normally, Dominic would be able to read the other Sorcerer at a glance - but he'd shut down. He was static. "Why don't you sit and tell me everything on your mind?""The thing on my mind is, 'Why is she taking so long?'" Satoru repeated, this time with a laugh and in a playful intonation.The joke missed.Dominic gestured to to the seat beside him. "Come. Sit. Talk to me." His voice was soothing, like the tapping of light rain against one's window late at night. "Tell me what's bothering you."Satoru noticed the priest's hand was shaking as it hovered over the padded cushion of the chair. He turned away from him, fingers itching at his scalp under his blindfold for a minute before removing it entirely. He rubbed at his eyes, then used his fingers to push his hair out of his face. "It's fine. Don't worry about it." His tone was firm.Dark eyes lingered on the Sorcerer for a moment before turning to the watch on his own wrist. "I should go then. I still have that mission to take care of," he said quietly."I sent Kento."Tensing, Dominic's expression twisted up in a show of genuine confusion. "Why?" he asked, voice wavering.The door to the clinic opened with a creak, Shoko stepping out from within and peeling latex gloves off her hands. "Alright, they're all set. I want to keep them under observation over ..." She stopped herself, sensing the tension that filled the hall. Her eyes darted from one to the other before awkwardly resuming. "... overnight. They're all resting right now so you two should go do the same."Mood suddenly elevating, Satoru chirped, "Is Jasper awake?" He had slipped his blindfold back on and jammed his hands into his jacket pockets. A dopey inoffensive smile was plastered on his face. "I'd like to talk to them."Shoko shook her head. "They are not. However, I used that to our advantage and took some blood samples for further analysis.” She ignored Dominic’s disapproving look. “I’m sure whatever we can learn from that might be able to help us better accommodate them.” She rose her eyebrows at the therapist, knowing he’d have little basis to argue that at least. Her lips quirked when he rolled his eyes. “All four are stable. Jasper is the only one sustaining physical injuries, so there's no ruling out this was an instance of self defense … Did you see who could have done this?”“Sukuna was in possession of Yuji when we arrived on the scene,” Dominic recalled. “Could it have been that Sukuna took over and attacked Jasper, therein leading to them activating their Domain as some sort of survival instinct?”The idea seemed ridiculous enough to Satoru to make him burst into laughter. “Yuji’s got a pretty good handle on his situation by now. I doubt he would have randomly lost control while just out and about town,” he argued.His arrogance made Dominic's blood boil. He glared. “What do you think happened, then?”Tapping his chin in thought, Satoru ventured his own guess, “Jasper worked themself up into a panic attack or something and that activated their Domain. Upon Yuji losing control of his own body, Sukuna took it. Things escalated from there, what with Sukuna being an evil jerkass and Jasper being the only thing around for him to torment.""Thing?""You know what I mean."“There could have also been a third party involved that we're not yet aware of.” Dominic's eyes were narrowed, hands balled on his lap. “We know Jasper has no experience in handling Curses. Them being attacked, even by a lower level Curse, might’ve been enough to cause them to activate their Domain."Shoko pursed her lips. "We'll sort it out when they come to, I suppose," she mumbled. "Now, both of you go. It's getting late." She pulled her phone from her pocket to verify the time. How was it only 6 PM? "Okay, well ... It's not that late but you two should head out anyway. It's gonna be a while before any of the kids wake up and you've had a really busy couple of days."There was stillness, as if the two were contemplating her request. Satoru piped up first. "You don't gotta tell me twice!" He waved to the two using both his hands and, without giving them a moment to react, he vanished."I just did tell you twice," Shoko sighed exasperatedly to no one in particular.Dominic stared at the tile square Satoru'd been standing in, still tense."You look like shit, Dom." Shoko walked over, taking the seat beside him and comfortably leaning back against the rest. She crossed her arms over her chest.A small laugh escaped Dominic, though it was weighed with scorn. He began to relax. "Appearances aren't always misleading," he said quietly, cold smile on his lips dying with every word spoken. He hung his head now, staring at his shoes. "As you mentioned a moment ago, this has been a very stressful week." After a pause, he added, "I wouldn't want to trouble you with my problems."Shoko nudged him with her elbow. "Isn't that a bit ironic?" she mused.Dominic's head perked, eyes shifting towards her. "I suppose it is ... I've never given it much thought ... Who does a priest confess to? Who advises the counsel?" His fingers fidgeted, wringing into one another and twisting. He dropped his head again. "Satoru and I agreed years ago that it would be best if I didn't go on missions, for our own personal reasons. When he asked me to take the students on one ... I felt more confident in myself than I ever had since taking up Jujutsu Sorcery." His face twisted up but he rubbed at his eyes before they could cloud. "Him sending Kento instead has made me feel incompetent ...""You're overthinking things." Shoko insisted. "He probably kept you here because he wanted you to be with him.” She didn’t seem all that convinced by her own words but it sounded better to say than the only other thing that came to mind.Dominic's was also unconvinced. "I don't believe that's the case," he said in a low voice. Satoru would have simply told him he wanted him there had it been. She was wrong. He had kept him busy and distracted with the hopes he'd forget entirely about the mission and Kento could smoothly fill in for him. But why had he been so eager to send him on one earlier, even after the long conversations shared between the two coming to mutual agreements that Dominic stick to clerical work? Was he that much more confident in the abilities of mere children over his fellow colleague? Or ... He shook his head, grabbing his briefcase from under his seat and standing.Shoko was eyeing Dominic, biting her tongue.Despite having stood, he hadn’t yet taken a step to leave.“Maybe it’s …” Light brown eyes wandered towards the black leather attaché in his grasp.“He shouldn’t have asked me then!” The words came out both louder and harsher than expected, Dominic’s voice echoing in the empty hall. His free hand clamped over his mouth, surprised at his own outburst. His other hand kept a tight and shaking grip on the handle of his briefcase.Before he could say anything else, Shoko interjected, "You're both insufferable."Silence settled in the hall. The two stayed rooted to their spots for a few minutes."I apologize for burdening you with this. I'll see you tomorrow for a continuation of our session." With that, Dominic turned and hurried away.Shoko stared after him, lips pursed. "See you."

Content Warnings: suicide attempt, suicidal ideation.

"It's not much but we make do."Heels clicked against metal as Tabitha descended the staircase into the massive underground bunker below her home. The bright lights revealed a perfectly kept sparring area, a large swimming pool and state of the art exercise equipment. There were a few doors along the walls, implying separate rooms housing who-knew-what."You humble yourself," Suguru insisted, eyes soaking up the scenery. "What a curious little home you have here."Roger was walking closely behind him, annoyingly close. "I built this place for Tabi from the ground up. All by myself!" He made an expression akin to a child who had finished assembling their first Lego set. "Took me like ...""Six months." Tabitha finished the sentence for him, shooting a sour look over her shoulder. "It should have only been one but he kept having accidents."The betrayal was evident on Roger's face. He decried it with a drawn out and whiney, "Aw. Why'dya have to go and tell him that?"Minerva was quick to cut in, hopping down the steps after her father with her hands on his shoulders as if forming a conga line. "Didn't you nail your hand to a wooden beam? Also, you fell into a whole slab of wet cement and mom had to smash you free with a hammer! Also-""You weren't even alive for that ..." Roger grumbled in a glum tone. "Don't say it like you were there."As they arrived at the bottom of the stairs, the group dispersed. Roger raced Minerva over to the sparring grounds while Jogo and Hanami inspected the exercising equipment and Dagon shyly approached the swimming pool. Desmond remained at the top of the stairs, sitting on a step and entranced with his phone.Before Suguru could get too engrossed in his surroundings, Tabitha gestured for him to follow her, pulling him from the others and leading him towards one of the many doors lining the walls. He made a mental note to remember it was the third from the left. "We should discuss things more in depth, privately," she said. "Your friends are unpleasant to look at and though Roger's a doll, I could do without his interruptions." As the words left her, a burst of air paired with the loud sound of an explosive came from the training grounds. "Don't mind them. They get too into their matches."Suguru tried making out the father-daughter duo but the explosive had formed a big enough dust cloud to conceal everything but Minerva's loud and pitchy "NO FAIR! DO OVER!".'We shouldn't be here.''Ah, not you again. You already gave me enough grief at the door.''You're in way over your head with her.'The sound of a door opening brought Suguru's attention back to Tabitha. He cautiously followed her into the room, noticing her tuck the door key into the lacey breast of her dress. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the sudden dim lighting before taking in the luxuriously decorated office space around him. They were first met with an elaborately crafted painting of the woman of the house and her family which hung on the wall behind her hardwood desk. Smaller photographs, all perfectly posed and pristine hung in the space all around it. He found himself looking back to the oil painting, taking in each of the five members before pausing on Jasper.'You're sick.''How are my plans any worse than what you spent your living days doing? How are they any worse than your own when you still lived to dream of plans?'"Sit." Tabitha's demand snapped him out of his own mind.Suguru walked over to the leather chair facing the desk and took a seat. He didn't say anything, expecting Tabitha to step over to her desk and take her own seat facing him but tensing when she instead remained standing."I hope you don't mind, I've been sitting too much today," she smiled."Of course."The click of heels against hardwood floors marked slow steps, fingers gliding across the desk surface. He noted the nails on said fingers were all perfectly manicured and painted a dark red. Eyes trailed up her arm, soft skin but toned muscles housed within. He finally locked eyes with her, they were flames - burning viciously. "So, let's dish." Her tone was upbeat, almost oblivious, though the look she was giving him was smug and self-assured. Like a child ready to tell their younger sibling the true identity of Santa Claus."Dish?""Y'know, gossip.""About?""You.""What about me?""Who the fuck are you?"'I told you. She saw right through you.''Shut up.''I'll bet she's known the whole time and brought you somewhere she knew she'd have the upper hand before risking confronting you ... and you walked right into her trap. Idiot.'Suguru didnt answer Tabitha right away, hands folded in his lap and staring straight ahead. He projected calm. "I'm afraid I dont quite understand what you mean," he said."I thought I phrased it rather simply. Don't really know what's confusing you.""What gives you the impression that I'm not myself?""Oh, I believe you are yourself but I don't believe you are Suguru Geto.""I'm at a loss on how I could convince you otherwise."'You're so bad at this.'Tabitha circled around her desk now but still kept her distance from Suguru. She leaned back against the edge of the table, gesturing as she spoke. "I'm not mad about it, y'know? I'm just curious ... about who is pulling the strings on this tragic excuse for a puppet."Suguru eyed her, keeping a placid expression on his face. At the base of his neck, disappearing into the collar of his yukata, veins protruded - evidence of a fight, a struggle for dominance. His hands clenched in his lap."Or should I say, who is fighting to keep their grip on said strings?" Her smile widened. "I don't think I've ever had a man fight so fiercely to be in my presence." She set her hand on her desk and leaned into it. "You can tell me the truth. It'll make no difference either way. I don't really care what you've done with Suguru or his corpse. In fact, I'd get off on seeing the look on Satoru's face when he sees what you've made of his boy toy."The silence persisted.Tabitha pouted now, dramatically pressing the back of her hand to her forehead and leaning her head back. Her eyes shut as she pretended to choke back tears. "And here I thought we could be friends ..." She sat up suddenly, face sobering from the previously exaggerated grimace she wore. "Well, friends who had no trust or affection for each other." She smiled again, this time with a warmth that'd melt a candle. "But friends, regardless."Suguru cleared his throat, before finally breaking his silence. "You know, Mrs. Capricien ... You're very strange."With a shrug and a gleeful laugh came Tabitha's song of a reply, "Oh, you have no fucking clue!"

Keys jingled in Dominic's hand as he turned the lock on the door of his apartment. He pushed the door open, tossing a quick and paranoid glance over his shoulder before entering his home and shutting the door after him. He leaned against it, letting his briefcase drop to the ground by his feet.A deep sigh left him.What a nightmare. The higher-ups had yet to call either him or Satoru in to discuss what had happened earlier that day and while he greatly doubted that they were going to simply overlook this situation, it did come as a relief that he would be able to at least get a nap in before the inevitable dressing down. He tried to push his worries out of his mind, hoping he'd be able to quite literally leave his problems at the door. No Shoko, no Satoru ... Even his concerns regarding the children would have to wait. Just for tonight.Creak.Dominic stiffened, eyes darting towards the entryway leading to his kitchen. The light was on. He knew he hadn't left it on this morning. He wanted to call out but his throat tightened up, rendering him speechless. Should he just leave? Call the police? No! He was a damn Jujutsu Sorcerer. He could very well protect himself. Was it Satoru, trying to make up for his dickheadedness earlier? He doubted it. He always conveniently left making up for Saturdays, the day before their weekly rendezvous. So, maybe it was ... someone else ...The thought made anxiety bubble in his stomach.Forcing himself to finally take a step forward, Dominic braced for the worst. His eyes remained locked on the entryway. He tried to steel himself, fists clenched though heart indecisive."I told you not to come back here, Rog-""Mr. Weon! Where've you been? It's so late!"Feeling the muscles in his shoulders untense at the scolding welcome, Dominic almost felt like crying from relief. Instead, he blinked. Confused. "Oh ... What a pleasant surprise ..." His voice regained it's soothing and calming tone, no longer harboring it's prior antagonism."Well?? Where've you been??" Nanako was sitting at the kitchen table, snacking on some cookies she had certainly not found in his cupboard. It seemed the girls were making use of the weekly stipend he'd been giving them.Mimiko was standing by the kitchen counter, having just made some tea but pausing her pouring to turn and look at Dominic with kettle in hand."I've been getting home rather late this week. I apologize," he said quietly. "I would have planned better had I known you were coming by." He noticed the sour expressions on their faces and felt unease resettle in the pit of his stomach. "Is everything alright?"Now that he thought about it, the sisters hadn't come by at all this week, which was quite out of character for them. What could they have possibly been tied up doing? Maybe and hopefully finally considering the request he made of them at the end of their last conversation ... but something in his gut told him they hadn't given joining Jujutsu Tech a second thought since the day he brought it up. They were confused kittens who came by to leave a dead rat at his doorstep."That man who stole Mr. Geto's body ... He's been talking to a woman," Mimiko said with her back to Dominic again. She poured the tea out into three cups, adding an absurd amount of cream and sugar to two and leaving the third as is. "We don't know who she is, though. She's got dark skin and really curly hair ... Gold eyes ... She dresses fancy. Mr. Geto never told us about anyone like that before."Attempting to hide his lightheadedness from the head rush at the sudden mental image of Tabitha fucking Capricien, Dominic half-stumbled towards the kitchen table and leevered himself into the seat beside Nanako. He placed his hands on his lap, clasping them tightly in one another in hopes that it would hide their trembling. Could he even remember what Suguru and Tabitha's relationship had been like? He had worked so hard to bury his memories to dull the ache they carried with them. Now, he stood, shovel in quivering hand. Would he take the first dig?Everything was always a competition with Tabitha. If you didn't measure up, she'd cast you aside. You were less than trash, than a bug, dirt. You didn't exist. At least trash was tossed away. Bugs were crushed or swatted. Dirt, stepped on. There was love in that acknowledgement, as much as there was hatred. If you fell below her expectations, she simply saw right through you. If she saw a challenge in you, she'd make you a target.Suguru was someone who never entertained her mockery. While Satoru fed her fire, meeting her head-on with every whim, Suguru would fall back. Was it because he felt he lacked somewhere? Did he think it wasn't a confrontation worth pursuing? Did he even have anything to prove? He'd always just laugh it off. It annoyed her, of course, that she could never seem to get under his skin - but she did. Oh, she did."It's not at all surprising," Dominic said at last, expression tired. He realized immediately he should have kept his mouth shut, but by the time it dawned on him it was already too late. He didn't even have time to truly process the memories resurfacing, emotions bound tight to them.The girls immediately perked. Mimiko spilled some tea on the floor in her rush over to them. Nanako slammed her hands onto the table, chair legs screeching as she stood with a sudden jerk."You know who she is?!" they asked in unison.Shit. He needed to backtrack. But how? He kept calm. "I misspoke. Mr. Geto wouldn't talk about someone he didn't know, now would he?" It was a very close sidestep but it worked. Kind of?"You're a sucky liar," Nanako chided as Mimiko turned to clean up the tea she spilled.Dominic's lips twitched upwards in a show of mild amusement. "I'm afraid it's quite impossible for me to lie." His hands had finally stopped shaking so he casually reached for his tea cup and took a sip. "Thank you, Mimiko, for the tea. It's very good.""Stop tryna change the subject!" Nanako whined beside him, throwing herself back into her chair and crossing her arms over her chest in frustration. "How will we ever get Mr. Geto's body back if you won't help? You promised you would."Dominic took another drink from his cup, a deeper one as his mind raced for a response. But what was there to say? What could he say?"Mr. Weon! You promised ..." Mimiko echoed, the arm she had wrapped around her stuffed rabbit tightening its hold.After a moment, Dominic set the tea cup down and lowered his gaze. "Please, understand ..." he started but wasn't allowed to finish."No! You promised!" Nanako hands were balled into tight fists. "You just said you weren't a liar, right? So, you can't go back on your promise! Tell us! Who is that woman?"Mimiko, who so often acted as her reactionary sister's mediator, was staring at Dominic intensely. Passion burned in her eyes, lips set into a frown of determination.Raising his hands in a gesture that beckoned the two girls to calm, it took everything in him not to beg. "I have had a very exhausting few days. I did not lie to you when I told you I would help you lay Suguru Geto to rest. Not only because it will help you two receive peace but because of my own burdening attachments and sentimentalities regarding the man." He stood. "I can't talk to you about her and you ... under no circumstances are to approach her. You two ... get ready for bed ..." He swallowed dryly. "I'll speak to the woman. Okay?" He looked from one teen to the other and then back. "Okay?" His tone grew stern."Okay," Mimiko said, exchanging glances with her sister."Fine," Nanako relented with a roll of her eyes.With that, the two exited the kitchen and headed down the hall towards the apartment's spare bedroom, leaving Dominic with a quiet, "Goodnight, Mr. Weon" on their way out.Dominic leaned forward in his seat, setting his elbows on the tabletop and pressing his face into his hands. His mind raced. This was so stupid. He was so stupid. He'd dug himself a hole not even the all-mighty Satoru Gojo would be able to rescue him from ... not that he'd even want to after finding out about the circumstances under which said hole was dug. He wanted to cry, but he didn't. He rubbed the tears out of his eyes with his palms. He clenched his jaw to silence himself. There was no room for him to emote. It was unhealthy, yes - but he had people relying on him.If he crumbled, so would they."What's troubling you, pretty boy?" A pair of muscular arms wrapped themselves around his shoulders as the whispered words left lips pressed ever so tenderly against his ear. Goosebumps rose on his forearms. His heart began to pound away in his chest. A cold sweat washed over him. But he did nothing to fight away the embrace.In fact, he leaned back into it. "Everything," he mumbled, barely suppressing a tired laugh. "There isn't a single thing that isn't troubling me."Roger nuzzled the side of his head into Dominic's. His eyes were closed, relishing the contact. "I'll destroy it all then. I'll break it all apart and make it stop ... for you." He was mumbling, keeping quiet as to not be overheard by the girls in the other room."And how will you accomplish such an impossible task?" Dominic had closed his own eyes, feeling himself start to doze in the comfort the warmth that radiated from Roger provided.Roger circled around Dominic, now kneeling before him. He took the other's face into his hands firmly, peering up at him with a mistified expression. "You let me worry about that," he grinned before stealing a chaste kiss. He laughed upon parting, pressing their foreheads together. "I thought those kids were never gonna go. You should clear up some space in your pantry! I nearly wrecked everything in there tryna get in before they spotted me."Dominic leaned back now, slipping out of Roger's hold. "You shouldn't even be here." His tone had grown cold suddenly. He had pulled himself out of his momentary bliss, now grounded in reality.Roger frowned, hands resting on Dominic's lap. "Aww, what's wrong? What'd I do?" he asked, looking up at him with his signature kicked puppy visage.With a sharp glare, Dominic cut through his bullshit. "If anyone saw you, it could ..." He paused for a moment. "It could endanger those I care about.""And you! It could endanger you! I know! That's why I was suuuuper careful," Roger nodded. "You can't expect me to just stay away though! I love you!" He tried to reach up and clasp at Dominic's face again but his hands were promptly swatted away."What is Tabitha plotting with Suguru Geto?" He didn't want to quite give away that he knew Suguru wasn't at all himself. First, he wanted to gauge just how much information the other would be willing to give up at first press.Roger dropped his hands and pouted his lips. "Just tryna get Jas back home, tha'sall." He withstood Dominic's intense staredown and accompanied silence for a few seconds before he caved and added, "And they're gonna umm ..." He scratched at the top of his head. "put Satoru in an ant farm.""An ant farm? What do you mean?"Throwing his hands up in infantile annoyance, Roger shook his head and argued, "I don't wanna talk about this stuff!" He took firm hold of Dominic's shoulders, peering into his eyes and openly begging. "Tabi misses you, even though she won't say it. You should come over for dinner some time. It'll be fun. Minnie and Des have grown up so much since the last time you saw them!""Keep your voice down.""Dom, please!"With a deep sigh, Dominic relented, "Fine. I'll find time to stop by in my schedule. Just go home now. I'll call you tomorrow."Roger nodded his head, looking satisfied.As the other stood and began to make his way out, Dominic felt a static fill his mind. He clenched his fists in his lap, staring down at his paling knuckles. Each footstep towards the kitchen doorway that Roger took echoed within him."Want me to stay?""Yes.""Let's go to bed then.""... Okay."

Waking the first time was disorienting. It hurt. They felt a visceral desire to throw up and heave. A migraine tore through their head, rendering them temporarily sightless. Their bruised ribs made breathing painful. Their face was still swollen and aching. The only thing they could recall before losing consciousness again was a firm grip on their wrist and the words, "Oh, they woke up.""Mr ... Gojo ..." The mumble barely made it past swollen lips. They wanted to apologize, to tell him the truth of what had happened that day - but their exhaustion had too strong a hold on them. They slipped.The darkness was welcome. It was the only place they ever felt safe, whether it was a physical enclosure of shadow or the curtain of black within their own mind."I get it. I don't deserve a home but it doesn't mean I don't still long for one." Who were they even speaking to? "I'm ... human, aren't I? Aren't these human emotions? Human thoughts?"The all too familiar red eyes began to appear all around them one by one, unblinking. Was it them they were confessing to? "I just wanted a family. I wanted to fit in." They felt as if they were floating in this sea of nothingness. "I wanted friends. I wanted to be normal." They curled into themself, hugging their knees to their chest. "I wanted to be something ... to someone ... to anyone." Were they crying?"You’re with us now, right?""Kugisaki?" Jasper's head perked. They looked around them but no one was there. Just them and the spherical ocular prison around them."Gojo told us you were joining the school to get a better handle on your technique, so that makes you one of us.”Their head lowered again. "It doesn't! It doesn't make me one of you! You guys are different. You're stronger ... You're better than me. People like you. They trust you. I only ever hurt people ... hurt them and run away.""Let’s all try our best, alright?”"I don't know what to do, Itadori! I'm sorry! I hurt you! I hurt everyone! I ran from my family because I didn't want to hurt people but I've only hurt more than ever! I ... I've done bad things! I'm a horrible person! I don't deserve any more second chances! You'd all be better off without me."The eyes were relentless in their vacancy, merely watching the pitiful teen writhe and sob. Observing them as one would a parasite on the slide of a microscope.They knew what to do. They'd done it once before; a core activation of their technique. Last time, they'd slept so long their mother had to fit them with a nasogastric tube to prevent them from malnourishing or dehydrating themself to death. Would they survive this time? Hopefully not. This would be the end. All they needed to do was close their eyes."Just ... let me sleep. Forever.""AH!"A sudden very real grasp of both of their shoulders yanked them back into reality. Had it been them that shouted? No. It was-"Sorry! You scared me!" Yuji was laughing as he spoke, releasing Jasper's shoulders and plopping back into the chair he'd placed beside the bed. "You looked like you were having a nightmare so I figured I'd wake you up ... Are you okay?" His smile shrank a bit when he noticed the sickly expression on the other's face."I-I ..." It was hard to speak. A cold sweat had broken out all over them, making them shiver uncontrollably. Was this real? "I-I'm fine ... Just a bad dream."Yuji nodded, dropping his gaze towards his twiddling thumbs for a moment before saying, "Sorry for what happened before. I didn't know he'd take over and try to hurt you."The memory of the markings covering Yuji's face and the sudden drop in voice came back to them. Their eyes widened in confused realization before they shook their head. They wanted to tell Yuji that it was fine, that there was nothing to apologize for and not to worry about it but they couldn't find words to say. They were struggling to process their thoughts and emotions, so they settled for gripping their bed covers in tight fists and pouting.Noting the troubled look on Jasper's face, Yuji did his best to explain. "I have a demon living inside me ... His name is-""Sukuna."One of the strange little triangular markings below Yuji's eyes had parted suddenly. A red eye now resided within it, staring at the bedridden teen. Below it on Yuji's cheek a mouth had formed, grinning wide enough to expose sharp fangs. The logistics of how this worked was something to worry about another day."O-Oh," was all Jasper could manage."You remember me, don't you, freak?" Sukuna chuckled. "I still got some questions for you." Before he could open his silly little mouth to say another word, Yuji clamped his hand over top."Sorry, he's kind of a dick - but anyway, I brought it up because I think me losing consciousness let him take over yesterday ... I wanted you to know that wasn't me and that I'd never want to hurt you. If that ever happens again ... just run away from me as fast as you can.""O-Okay ..."Yuji dropped his hand. Both Sukuna's eye and mouth were gone. "It's kind of like ... Kurama.""What ... What's that?" Jasper's hands had released their blankets, fingers now fumbling between one another.With a slap to his forehead, Yuji recalled, "Oh, right! You haven't seen Naruto! Well," He stood, pulling his phone from his sweatpants pocket. "We can watch it on my phone! It's not like you're goin' anywhere any time soon. You got some healin' up to do!" He kicked off his shoes, starting to climb onto the bed. "Scooch over!"Face reddening, Jasper did as they were told. "I-But-Um!" They sputtered. "A-Are you allowed to be here? I-I ... I'm in trouble and all, aren't I?" Their heart pounded in their chest but not for any familiar reason. Why were they sweating so much? What was this itchy sensation in the pit of their stomach? Why did their cheeks ache? They wiped their damp palms on their bedsheets, staring at Yuji with a bewildered expression as he sprawled out onto the gap of mattress they'd freed up for him and excitedly searched for a site for them to watch the anime on once he was settled."I mean, I dunno if you're in trouble. The higher-ups are pretty mean but I'm sure Mr. Weon, Ms. Ieiri and Gojo are all vouching for you," Yuji shrugged, not looking away from the screen. "Either way, I'm not mad at you or anything so ..."Jasper downcast their gaze, brows furrowed. "But why ...? Why aren't you mad?"Yuji looked away from his phone at last, expression puzzled. "I dunno ... Ms. Ieiri told me it was all a big mistake, that you weren't trying to hurt anyone. I didn't really think much else of it after that." He pursed his lips."It was! It was a mistake!" Jasper blurted. Their eyes had widened, almost frantic. "Someone attacked me!" They furrowed their brows in thought now, trying to rifle through that day's foggy memories. "He ... never told me his name ..." They shook their head slowly. "but I remember he had ... stitches on his face," They pointed a finger towards their own face, gesturing towards where they remembered Mahito's stitching being located. "long silver hair and ..."Their voice faded to silence when they felt an unexpected and intense ire burst from beside them.Yuji had sat up suddenly, gripping his phone tightly in his shaking hand. His eyes wide in stunned disbelief. Mahito had been in just the other room from him and he hadn't had the slightest clue. Mahito had attacked yet another one of his friends and he was too busy playing stupid video games to notice. His ears were ringing, face numb with rage. He had been so stupid. So careless.This was all his fault."I'm sorry."Jasper's whisper brought Yuji back to reality. "Huh? Sorry for what?" he asked."I've made you cry.""Huh?" Yuji's hands sprang up to his face, feeling an unexpected wetness on his cheeks. He quickly wiped the tears away on the back of his jacket sleeve. "No! This isn't ... This isn't your fault! It was ... I just ... I think I know that person. His name's Mahito and he ..." Did he dare say it? Saying it just made it feel so much more real. Saying it hurt so fucking bad. "He ..."Jasper bravely extended a hand towards Yuji, placing it over the other's. Both were shaking, albeit for different reasons. "How about we watch that show you like instead?" Their voice was low, unsure and they were fighting back their own desire to cry - but they were doing their best to pull the other out from his mental spiral. "We can talk more about this stuff later."Yuji's face softened, a quivering smile formed on his lips. "Yeah ... Alright." He looked back down to his phone. His own cheeks reddened at the sight of Jasper's fingers gently resting against the back of his scarred knuckles.Jasper quickly retracted their hand, laying back and pulling their covers up to their face to avoid Yuji noticing just how flustered they were getting.Yuji's fingers grazed the spot where Jasper had just been touching on his hand, momentarily wondering how long it'd been since he'd been on the receiving end of an affectionate touch before pushing the thought out and laying beside the other teen.Holding the phone up for them both to watch, Yuji hesitated to press play for just a moment. "Hey, um ... Jasper?" He didn't look at them, nor did he really wait for a reply. "Thanks ... for ... y'know ... Yeah." He pressed play.

Content Warnings: arson, manipulative behavior, and threats of violence.

The halls outside the clinic's observation rooms were quiet and very dark, lit only by a couple of old dim wall lamps. This was both a good and a bad thing. Good for keeping a low profile, bad for people who relied on their vision to ... y'know, get around.Oh well. She'd manage somehow.There was only one door of the five with a clipboard in the holder mounted on the wall beside it, which confirmed her suspicions that Itadori, Kugisaki and Fushiguro had all received their final assessments and been discharged. It only made sense. The last she heard, they had all been in perfect physical health. She expected nothing less of Satoru Gojo's pupils. Dominic would likely be taking over to ensure the stabilization of their fragile mental states after their brief encounters with the curious little creature that was Jasper. This ultimately made her life so much easier.After a cautious glance over her shoulder and down the hall she'd come from, she snatched the clipboard from its spot and flipped through the pages attached.It took a bit of effort because of the low light, but she managed to read what little info was listed. Tsk, tsk. Jas. What are you getting yourself into? They're gonna make a guinea pig out of you. Most of the fancy medical jargon Shoko had spun on and on about for several pages was all a facade to hide the fact that she didn't know what the fuck the deal with this new kid was or how to even approach handling them and their situation. Normally, the medic would shrug it off and call it a day but the higher-ups were likely breathing down her neck for answers. This was the best she could do. It was cute.PENDING DNA PATERNITY TEST RESULTSOh no. Not cute anymore.Lowering the clipboard, she did her best to still her racing heart. That would be a problem. And a pretty big one at that. This could bring about chaos. War. It could end Jujutsu Tech itself. Obliterate Tokyo, destroy Japan, tear through Asia, splinter the planet. Nothing'd be left - Curse nor Human. Tabitha's wrath would stop at nothing. She did little to hide the excited grin that spread across her face. "Oh, Ms. Ieiri. You have quite the death wish, hmm?"After setting the clipboard back in place, she took a moment to think. Tabitha wouldn't be happy if she just left those samples behind, even if she did return with Jasper. But it'd be awfully suspicious if both Jasper and the samples went missing the same day she came back from her trip, wouldn't it? She supposed she could plant seeds that they'd run off on their own and taken the samples themself. It could work. If she went by entirely undetected that night, she could even stop by for a visit the next day and pretend she had arrived then instead. Ugh, what a pain. She was going to have to be fast.Her footsteps were silent as she hurried back down the way she'd come. She had to grab those samples first. Jasper was momentarily bumped down to second priority. Knowing them, they'd only be a nuisance if she brought them along to ransack the analysis lab.Speaking of which, where was the lab again? It'd been so long since she last visited these damn crypts ... No, wait. Navigating the halls fell to the responsibility of muscle memory as she turned this and that corner. Guess it hadn't been that long after all. Or maybe she'd just been up and around every corner of this school far too many times in all her years there ... No, no. Definitely just her expert and youthful memory coming in handy yet again.The analysis lab was unlocked which wasn't an uncommon thing. Shoko often lost her keys, and so this was an easier alternative. After all, the school was so well-protected, the likelihood of anyone with ill-intent entering and managing to cause any serious harm was down to 0%. Well, 0.00000001%.It's not that she wanted to cause any serious harm. It was just ... Well, it was complicated.She entered the room, stopping at the center of it. DNA samples are kept where exactly? Somewhere cold? She walked down the furniture lining the walls of the room, opening and closing cabinets and drawers until she came upon a stainless steel freezer stashed in a far corner."There you are."She opened the door with the tip of her boot before she crouched, rifling through the trays inside - thankfully, all labeled with the individual's names.Fishing out the tray of vials marked "JASPER", she promptly began to stuff the small plastic containers into the pockets of her cargo pants. Blood, buccal swabs, even hair. Man, was she being obnoxiously thorough. Just how many tests were you planning on running? She set the empty tray back inside the freezer and shut the door, letting out a tired sigh.Was that all though? Her eyes momentarily darted towards the fancy computer across the room from her ... Ugh, this was so annoying ... Would it be too much of a pain to trash the entire Jujutsu Tech DNA database? Yes. Yes, it would be. Would she be essentially destroying centuries worth of DNA information regarding every Jujutsu Sorcerer involved with the school? Also yes. But would she be willing to do it for Tabitha? ........... Fuck no. She was already risking enough as it was. This'd be a bit much. If Shoko kept a back-up of everything, her hard work would be for naught. Why even bother?Despite her dismissal of the idea just moments ago, she fell into a momentary pitfall of thought. She needed to do something. Allowing this information to fall into the hands of the higher-ups or staff at Jujutsu Tech could heavily interfere with her and Tabitha's end-goals. Manicured nails drummed rhythmically on the freezer door handle, the little hamster wheel in her head turning at mach speed.She noticed some conveniently stacked jugs of something in the far corner of the room, and committed at last. It was going to have to get done, and she would just have to make do. It was for the greater good, after all. Kind of. Probably.Practically giddy, she hurried over and grabbed hold of two of the large bottles. She uncapped them both and approached the computer like a vulture descending on it's prey. With a flick of her wrists, she dumped the contents of the containers out over the tech. A strong but familiar scent reached her nose. She glanced at the label on one of the bottles for confirmation. Ethanol.An even more devious plot hatched in her head.Ah, but she'd have to be quick. So quick. She needed to get herself and Jasper out of there before anyone noticed.After setting the emptied jugs down onto the desk, she reached into the front pocket of her jacket and withdrew a matchbox. The motion was so swift, it was almost entirely unnoticeable. Strike and flick. The flames went up instantly, lighting up the delighted grin on her face.Backtracing her steps, she found herself approaching Jasper's door once again. The smell of smoke and heat of fire hadn't yet reached the hall of the miniature inpatient ward, but that didn't mean she had time to traipse around at her leisure. There was no room for hesitation or distraction. She needed to snatch Jasper up and get them both the fuck outta dodge. She turned the door knob and entered the room, taking long strides over to the bedside and reaching out to shake the teen awake. Her heart sank upon realizing there was nothing but bedsheets and pillows to grab at."Jasper?"Her left hand blindly reached for the lamp on the nightstand, flicking the light on. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the brightness. All color drained from her face when she found the bed empty. Her mind raced. Did they get discharged sooner? Where were they? With the higher-ups? No, not at this time of night. With Shoko? What would she even be doing? Did they run away? Maybe they were back in their room? Something caught her eye. Claw marks on the mattress. What the fuck is this?"Yuki?"Turning suddenly, Yuki forced away her instinct to attack first and ask questions later. If she was too on the defensive, she'd look suspicious. A pleasant smile spread across her lips when her eyes met with the familiar drowsy pair belonging to Shoko Ieiri. Her hair was in disarray and she was rubbing at her eyes tiredly with her free hand while her other kept her crutch under her arm to keep her balance. She hadn't even had time to get her prosthetic on, it seemed. Just rolled out of bed and rushed over - but why?"Shoko!! Long time, no see!!" Yuki chirped, clasping her hands together and bringing them up to her face. "Swung by to check out that kid everyone's talking about but it seems I just missed them." She tilted her head in a show of curiosity as soon as she ended her sentence. "What're you doing up? Shouldn't you be at least two sleep cycles in?" Her tone was light, joking.Shoko's brows furrowed. "Everyone's talking about Jasper?" Her voice was groggy and words were slow, mind still trying to catch up with the exchange.With a dismissive wave of her hand and a laugh, Yuki assured, "Mostly just marveling at the newest addition to Jujutsu Tech!" She folded her arms over her chest. "Word travels pretty fast, y'know." She shrugged. "Did they get discharged early or something?" She threw a casual nod in the direction of the empty bed.Dark eyes followed the gesture. "No ... They weren't discharged ..." Shoko's voice was barely above a whisper. Her face sported a sickly shade as realization began to dawn. "Did they run away?! I need to-" She cut herself off, head turning towards the hall.Ah, shit. Was the fire already starting to travel?"Smoke. There's smoke!" Shoko's voice grew frantic. She didn't waste a single other moment. "We need to get out of here!" She began to hurry down the hall, heading towards the double doors leading to the main clinic. "We need to get help! The whole clinic'll burn!"Sighing, Yuki began to follow - stopping only for a second when she spotted a note that had been placed on the nightstand by the bed. She stepped backwards to it, snatching and giving it a quick once over before crumpling it and stuffing it into her pocket.She left.

RING. RING. RING."Hmmmmphh, why'dya got an alarm set so late, pretty boy??""I don't. Someone's calling me.""Who is?""Just keep quiet." Dominic tossed his comforter off him and onto Roger, muffling anything else he might have said. He moved over, now sitting at the edge of his bed, taking his phone from his nightstand and tensing at the sight of Shoko's name on the dimmed screen. His heart began to pound. It was 3 AM. Had something happened with Jasper? A painful knot formed in the pit of his stomach."Who is it?" Roger stuck his arms out from under the blankets, wrapping them around Dominic's waist and attempting to pull him away from the edge of the bed and closer to him. "Let's go back to sleep. It's so la-OW!"Dominic stood, apologizing for the elbow to Roger's eye despite how intentional it may have been. Only his outline was visible in the moonlight seeping in through the bedroom window. "Don't speak a word," he looked over his shoulder at the man in his bed, gaze smoldering.Roger nodded, knowing that if he misbehaved he'd end up spending the rest of the night sleeping on the porch steps."Shoko," Dominic answered. He was unable to say much else, immediately cut off by frantic shouting on the other line. "Is every-""THEY'RE GONE, DOMINIC! Jasper must have run away!! A-And the clinic is on fire! We checked the other students rooms and they are all missing! ALL OF THEM! I don't know what to do! Please, come to the school!"Though his heart was racing, Dominic steeled himself. "Panicking won't help the situation." It was so out of character for her, but this week had been hard on everyone. The re-emergence of a past long since buried had rattled everyone's nerves. It was a surprise they weren't all in hysterics at this point. "I'll be there as soon as possible, just remain calm until then. Have you contacted Principal Yaga?""Yes! He's the one that checked on the students. He's sent his dolls to search for them anywhere they could possibly be within school grounds before we expand search efforts.""Have you tried calling any of the students?" Dominic was dressing as he spoke, balancing the phone between his ear and shoulder."I have. No answer.""Okay. Understood. We'll figure something out when I get there. Have you called-""DOM!"Dominic's head perked up at the sudden all too recognizable voice shouting for him from somewhere in his apartment, blood turning to ice in his veins. His eyes widened before darting towards Roger, who had already dressed and was climbing out the window. His second thought was the girls, but immediately reassured himself that they could very well sleep through anything and wouldn't be bothered by the inconsiderate shouting.There were footsteps down the hall, growing louder. They stopped suddenly. Waiting on something? No. Lighter steps away from the door. What was going on? Dominic's attention turned to Roger one last time when he heard a whisper across the room, "Don't forget about dinner, pretty boy." He winked.Dominic grimaced."Are you still there?" Shoko called, still on the line.The doorknob to his room turned.The window closed."I'll see you at the school." He hung up.Why doesn't anyone knock?

Fingers entangled in hair, legs wrapped around bodies, chests rising and falling. Satoru clung to Kento as tight as one could, eyes shut in dreamy bliss. He'd been surprisingly quiet all night. So worked up. Disconnected. But he'd unwound now. They could almost just drift off to sleep as they were now."He just gets on my nerves sometimes!"Almost.It seemed the silence was only representative of an internal monologue that had worked Satoru up into an outburst. Kento kept his eyes closed, arm around his partner's shoulders. "Who does?" he mumbled, not exactly sounding all that interested."Dom," Satoru answered with a purse of his lips. "He acts like I'm some kind of monster. I might not be the greatest person in the world but I'm trying, at least!" The hand he'd been resting on Kento's chest balled into a fist, brows knitted in frustration on his forehead.With a shrug, Kento mused, "Dominic holds us to relatively realistic expectations. Could it be you're not behaving as kindly as you think you are but believing your actions are justified has blinded you to that?" His arm dropped so that his hand was at Satoru's back, fingers drawing invisible patterns across his skin.Satoru's eyes snapped open only to narrow. "What did I do that's oh-so villainous then? I offered the kid a place at the school, didn't I? I've been trying to teach them how to harness their Cursed Energy, haven't I?" He sat up abruptly, face twisted up into a furious pout. "Just bringing them in despite their questionable past and unknown intentions is pretty damn generous of me!""I wouldn't know about any of that, but despite what you have or haven't done - what exactly are you expecting out of Dominic to make you feel like less of a monster? Shouldn't you just feel satisfied with having helped?""I dunno! A 'Good Job' would be nice!""Are you serious?" Kento's eyes opened, the dark circles around them now more prominent. "Are you a toddler?""I have my reasons to be wary of Jasper, okay? That's all it is. Dom thinks me keeping my distance a little is like ... evil or whatever." Satoru made a sour expression, crossing his arms over his chest. "I think we're all allowed to be cautious around Jasper, especially after ..." Goosebumps rose on his skin. His heart hammered in his chest. A cold sweat broke out over him. He didn't let his anxiety show on his face, however - keeping his annoyed expression. He wanted to finish his sentence but the events from earlier that afternoon played over and over in his mind. His words caught in his throat."After this afternoon?" Kento asked. He sat up as well, leaning his back against the headboard of the bed. "Listen, Satoru. In the end, what happened today was unacceptable but it wasn't Jasper's fault. It was yours."Satoru's face fell, genuine shock in his eyes. "What?"Kento gestured towards him. "Dominic had left you in charge of the students and you neglected your duty. You let them all go off on their own, despite, as you said, not knowing Jasper's past and intentions." He shook his head, gaze disapproving. "You were at fault.""Of course it's my fault. Why not just blame me for everything then?" Satoru clambered off the bed in a huff, snatching his clothes from the floor. That's not even what I was talking about! he thought. He wanted to scream. "Junpei dying, Yuji becoming Sukuna's vessel, Tabitha and Suguru going batshit, Dom not going on missions, Shoko losing her leg! Just pile it on then!" He turned to Kento, gripping his clothes in both fists. "Anything else? Any personal grudges to get off your chest?"Kento rubbed at his eyes tiredly. "There's nothing you can do to take back past actions, all you can do is clean up the mess they've left in the present and do better next time." He began to ease himself back into bed again. "But if you want to indulge in your theatrics and self-pity, then feel free. I, unlike Dominic, won't entertain you."Satoru started to laugh, shoulders dropping. "You're no fun at all, you know that?" He sighed deeply, lowering his gaze. "We found out more about Jasper today, so I guess it wasn't all for nothing." His expression was dark as he started dressing."And what was it that you learned?" Kento was now under his blankets, head on his pillow and starting to doze.There was hesitation. Satoru clenched his blindfold in both hands, staring at it. The blue glow of Cursed Energy from his Infinity radiated from his fingers, small wisps permeating the air around him. Voicing it would only make it more fact than speculation, wouldn't it? He shouldn't bring it up. They didn't really even know for sure. This would be rumor mongering. Their secondary experiment had yielded the same results as the incident in town, however. What other proof did they need? His palms were sweating. "They can-"RING. RING. RING.Satoru's eyes darted towards his phone, set next to both his and Kento's usual pocket items - keys, wallets, and the like on the nightstand. Kento didn't move from where he laid, arm folded over his eyes.Approaching the table, Satoru felt anxiety flare in his stomach. His skin prickled.Why's Shoko calling me so late? What the fuck? What the fuc-"Are you going to answer or not?" Kento sounded annoyed.Satoru snatched the phone, answering at last before pressing it up to his ear. He said nothing and nothing needed to be said, as Shoko went ahead and started screaming without the usual prelude of formalities anyway.Something about a fire? Wait. Jasper was missing? No. All the kids were missing. Was he having a panic attack? He wasn't sure. His emotions were cycling so quickly, he was feeling lightheaded.Without thinking, Satoru tossed his phone towards Kento before vanishing from where he stood. As the room disappeared from around him, he fought away his dread. He felt like he was buffering, his mind struggling to process what he'd been told. Gone from their rooms? The clinic was burning down? Jasper was missing? Did they do this? Set fire to the school and escape, taking their classmates with them? With their ability, it'd be an easy enough task to render them all unconscious. Or did they all go willingly? Was this the plan all along? Was this an unfair assumption to make?He was on solid ground again but he wasn't back at Jujutsu Tech. Where was he? He really ought to pay more attention when he teleported. A sudden but familiar surge of Cursed Energy from behind him made him immediately realize just where his panicked mind had taken him."DOM!" he shouted, pulling his blindfold on.He started taking a step forward, towards Dominic's bedroom but instead backtracked over to by the door. He stopped right beside the briefcase placed beside Dominic's worn dress shoes. The energy he'd sensed a moment ago pulsated strongly from within the case. Why was she so agitated? Because she sensed him so near and Dominic so far? Should he reunite them? He slowly reached for the handle before recoiling. No, Dominic wouldn't like it if he did. Hell, she wouldn't like it if he did.Standing and sticking his hands into his pockets, Satoru snorted, "Mean old bitch." He gave the briefcase a nudge with the tip of his shoe before storming off down the hall, ignoring the case's sudden and violent rattling as it tremored furiously."Hey! Wake u- Oh. You're up." Satoru took in the space around him upon entering Dominic's bedroom. Something was off. Something was extremely off.Dominic stood at the center, half-dressed and looking alarmed. He seemed caught off-guard."Was someone else here?" Satoru asked, brows quirking beneath his blindfold.More sputtering, now tense and frantic. This time, however, he managed at least a few words, "Aren't there more important things to be worrying about?" They were harsh, aggravated. Great. He was still mad about earlier."Fine, whatever. None of my business," Satoru chided with an unseen roll of his eyes. "Let's go then."Dominic let out an annoyed huff before finishing buckling his belt. He stormed past Satoru on his way out of the room, yanking his hand away when the other tried to grab for it. "You should have gone on ahead to the school instead of here," he said, walking over to the front door to put his shoes on.Satoru's face twisted up, hands clenching in his pockets. "Why are you acting out? I didn't do anything to you!" he hissed, tone indicating hurt. He followed after the other, tempted to further snoop around the apartment."Nothing," Dominic stopped moving like an animatronic stopping mid gesture, one shoe on and hands pressed against the wall for balance. His head was hanging. "You didn't do anything. Sorry. It's misdirected anger." He sighed. "Let's just go. I'm worried about the students."Holding back the pleased expression that threatened to spread across his face at his successful emotional wearing down of the other, Satoru nodded. He waited for Dominic to put on his other shoe and grab his (now unmoving) briefcase before taking his hand, fingers laced, and vanishing them both from the apartment.

Sleep was usually difficult. Jasper always found themself too overwhelmed by the millions of fears and anxieties buzzing around in their head to doze off properly. On an average night, they'd shift and shift until their body would give out from exhaustion. But tonight. Tonight was different. There was something else keeping them wide awake, all hope for a wink of sleep gone.They were hyperaware of Yuji's arm slung around their waist; his head burrowed into the crook of their neck; his leg tossed over theirs - as if snuggling up to a teddy bear. They could hear his every breath. Slow, relaxed, not a care in the world. On occasion, he'd readjust, bringing himself closer against them. He'd fallen asleep somewhere into the 20-somethingth episode of Naruto and had been clinging to Jasper ever since. Any attempt they'd made to wiggle away was met with an aggravated groan and incoherent grumbling.It was hard for Jasper to think of reasons why this made them feel ... so weird. It wasn't an uncomfortable feeling, it was just something they'd never quite experienced before. They found themself daydreaming about holding hands with Yuji, holding him close ... Maybe even sharing a kiss. Just thinking about them all now made them want to melt into a puddle. And in the end, despite all of these foreign sensations and newly developing emotions, they didn't really want Yuji to move away. It was like getting on a scary ride at the amusement park or rolling down a hill. It was excitement they were living for once, and not fear.They had only ever shared a bed with their parents, on the many late nights they'd been woken by nightmares of the glowing red eyes they'd been burdened to coexist with. Even then, they would often just wedge themself between the two only to have their mother turn her back to them and their father accidentally give them a good elbow to the head.They glanced at Yuji, his face lit by the faint glow of their halo. Their cheeks ached."What're you looking at?"Jasper tensed.The small triangular markings on Yuji's cheekbones had split yet again, revealing two glowing red eyes. Yuji's lips had spread into a grin.Jasper said nothing, their terror keeping them frozen in place."Are you gonna answer my questions now?" At their lack of response, Sukuna resumed his pestering. "You afraid your little cuddle party's gonna come to an end if you speak? This dipshit's a pretty heavy sleeper so don't you worry about waking him.""N-No!" Jasper hissed, flustered by this sudden interrogation given their earlier thoughts. They sunk deeper into the firm mattress, acting as if they were preparing to sleep. "Will you just leave me alone? I don't like you very much." Their words were muffled as they brought their bedsheet up over their face.Sukuna laughed. "You're fuckin' rude, y'know? You should be a lot nicer, especially to me. You don't have the goods to back up the tough act. I'd crush you.""If I'm so weak, how'd you lose control of Itadori yesterday?" The words just came out, much to Jasper's shock and horror. Was it the exhaustion catching up to them? They couldn't remember the last time they'd actually slept. Maybe they were just tired of Sukuna being a generally unpleasant nuisance especially considering that their last encounter involved him shredding their face on asphalt. This wasn't good. Maybe they lucked out and he hadn't heard them through the bedsheet?The blankets were yanked from Jasper's grasp, a clawed hand grasping them around the throat and pinning them to the bed. They squirmed, fingers trying to pry the hand away.Or maybe not."Do it again then. Since you're so strong. Do it just one more time." Both of Itadori's eyes had opened but they glowed Sukuna's familiar deep bloody shade of red. Sensing their desperation made goosebumps rise on his skin. "You can't, can you? You have so much of this vile, corrupted energy flowing through you but you don't have a clue what to do with it all."Jasper's hands snapped up towards Sukuna's shoulders now, trying to push him away and alleviate the immense pressure on their neck. Their lips formed words but no sound came out. They kicked their legs out, desperate to free themself."What demented conception cooked up a creature like you? Did someone Frankenstein you to existence in a lab? Or did your harlot mother get tired of human c-"Sukuna's hold loosened as a wave of Cursed Energy burst from his target and left him disoriented."DON'T TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER!"Sukuna wavered for just long enough for Jasper to scramble out from beneath him. They practically leapt towards the foot end of the bed, heart thundering. They turned to face Sukuna, hugging their knees to their chest. Their eyes had lost their own gleaming red shade, now a solid pitch black. They trembled where they sat. Yuji's advice to flee when presented with the beast that possessed him gone from their mind.The demon knelt across the bed from them, hunched over. His hand dug into the spot where Jasper had once been. His claws tore through the plush material. His grin was spread ear to ear, eyes wide with excitement. "Is that all it takes?" he breathed. He moved closer towards the other, very slowly - like a predator stalking cornered prey. "Me mentioning your mommy?"Jasper inched back, dangerously close to the edge of the bed. Their breathing was labored, shaken by their terror. With a blink, tears fell from their eyes."I wonder just how much power is inside you," Sukuna extended a hand towards the teen. "I bet you could bring this shithole of a world to an end - but you're just an precious little baby, aren't you? You don't have a bad bone in your body. What wasted potential."Jasper couldn't move, closing their eyes tightly when they felt one of Sukuna's sharp claws graze their halo. To his surprise, it began to split as flesh would when presented with something sharp."I'll just have to make you bad.""Stop ... P-Please.""Um, hello?"The door to the room had cracked open, a pair of heads poking inside and peering at them. A small bright light poured into the room, bathing the room in light while simultaneously making it hard to make out exactly who was crowding the doorway.Jasper, who had turned their head to look towards the visitors, immediately turned away and shut their eyes when the harsh light made them sting."Oh, God! Gross! What are you weirdos doing?!" came Nobara's voice. Megumi opened the door further and lowered his phone. His companion had shielded her eyes, face scrunched up in disgust and aggravation.Jasper looked back towards the two again, and then to Sukuna to find him no longer there. Just a drowsy and confused Yuji, still on all fours and finger on their halo. The wound had healed. He moved his hand away and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to gather his bearings."N-Nothing!" Jasper squeaked at last. It hurt to speak. Hell, it hurt to do anything. They still hadn't recovered from the day before. "I just- We- Uhhh-" They scrambled for an explanation. "Itadori was having a bad dream!""Oh," Nobara quirked a brow, eyeing the two. It was obvious she didn't believe them but didn't seem to care enough to pry."What're you guys doing here?" Yuji asked between yawns. It seemed he was finally starting to grow more awake and aware. He shifted off his knees so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed instead. "It's the middle of the night ... right?" He searched for his phone, lost somewhere in the sea of blankets to answer his own question.Megumi beat him to it, checking on his own phone. "It's 2 in the morning." He rose his gaze from the screen to look back at the two before him. "We're going swimming by the bridge with Toge, Maki and Panda. C'mon.""Awesome!" Yuji shouted, leaping from the bed and searching for his shoes.It was as he was tying them that the three all turned their heads to look at Jasper, making them tense. They hadn't moved from the bed, still hugging their knees go their chest and sitting precariously balanced on the edge of the mattress."Aren't you coming?" Yuji asked.Jasper floundered. "I-I didn't know I was invited," they admitted."Hey!" Nobara shouted from beside Megumi, making him flinch and give her a dirty look. "We've been over this! You're one of us now. Cut the humility charade and get your shoes on!""O-Okay!"

The night was dark, not a single star lighting the sky. The moon was hiding behind dense clouds. Only the flashlights on their cellphones lit their way as they climbed downhill towards their chosen spot by the river. A bridge located nearby, a passage for cars and pedestrians over the river, made a good diving spot as Maki and Nobara demonstrated within minutes of them donning their swimsuits. They needn't worry about anyone bothering them. The streets were dead, most people tucked away for the night at home."Do you know how to swim?"Jasper's head perked up, eyes shifting from the river to the teen crouching beside them. They'd sat by the shore and away from the others, feet dipping into the cool water, not wanting to be a bother to anyone trying to have fun. "Um ..." They glanced away from Yuji and towards their congregating classmates. "I-I've seen people do it." Their sister and father had always splashed around in the pool back home but they'd always been far too scared to join them, only ever daring to sit on the ledge and wet their feet. The two would always egg them on, insisting they join their fun and even splashing them at times - but it'd usually end with them crying and their mother scolding all three for annoying her."What kind of answer is that?!" Nobara shouted with a laugh, pulling Jasper from their thoughts. She was standing further down the riverbank with her own feet in the water, Maki at her side with her arms crossed and brows quirked.Yuji waved her off before reaching the same hand down to Jasper to help them stand. "Ignore her! I'll show you how!" he reassured.Taking it with some uncertainty, Jasper was on their feet before they could give the swimming lessons any second thoughts."You're gonna drown the poor kid," Maki laughed, her arms now around Nobara as she guided her into deeper water. "and I'm off lifeguard duty tonight!"Jasper's gaze lingered on Maki's hands, gingerly placed on Nobara's waist as the two girls kicked and splashed at the water the further into the river they delved. Their heart raced, glancing towards Yuji's hand - still holding theirs. Was this normal? Did friends normally touch like this? Ah! Was their hand sweaty? It felt sweaty. Oh no. Was worrying about whether their hand was sweaty making it sweatier?An unfamiliar voice from behind made Jasper turn, eyes widening at the sight of the massive panda towering over them."Don't you worry about a thing! Chief Executive Lifeguards Panda and Toge will make sure you're safe!" Panda had set his paws on his hips, lips curling back to shape a terrifying grin. Beside him was Toge, sporting a dead-eyed stare and an accompanying thumbs up."U-Umm ... Thanks," Jasper replied, glancing between the two."You're doomed!" Another shout from Maki, followed by a loud splash and laughter.As Panda himself charged into the water with Toge and Yuji at his heels, Jasper's gaze wandered towards Megumi. He sat on his own further up the hill.With a quick glance to make sure the others were distracted with their roughousing, Jasper broke away from the group and made their way up the knoll. They did their best to not to trip over any grassy patches or holes, relieved when the worst of the walk was just a small stumble. Nerves struck when Megumi shifted his focus from the waterscape to them, eyes narrowed."What?" He spoke as soon as Jasper was close enough to hear him without him having to shout. His tone was blunt.Jasper tensed, starting to fumble their fingers. "Y-You seemed lonely." They regretted the words, quickly correcting themself. "I-I mean, I just ... thought I'd come and say hello ... W-We haven't formally met, I don't think."Megumi rolled his eyes before looking back towards the river. "Well, now we have," he muttered."How come you're sitting here by yourself?""I'm watching our stuff." Megumi gestured to the blanket he was sitting on.Jasper's eyes dropped to the items scattered around the blanket. Backpacks, shoes with corresponding socks stuffed into them, phones. "Oh ... Well, if you wanna take a turn in the river, I can switch with you." Their hands shook at their sides. The tension was making a knot form in the pit of their stomach. Did Megumi hate them? Had he not forgiven them like the others had? Was he mad at them?"Take care of Yuji."Jasper's stomach twisted and turned. "What do you mean?" they asked, genuine confusion in their voice.Megumi hung his head, pursing his lips. "Yuji is a good person. He's gone through a lot ... and he has faith in you. Don't betray that faith." He looked back up at Jasper now, frowning. "It'll hurt him."Static overcame Jasper's mind, thoughts racing so quickly they couldn't make sense of them. Their face grew numb. They felt pins and needles in their hands and feet. Their heart sunk. "I wouldn't! I won't!" They fought away the anxiety that threatened to stifle their words. "I don't want to hurt anyone, not just Itadori!" Their hands rose to their eyes, itching them as tears began to form.Somewhat unprepared for such an emotional reaction, Megumi did his best to perform his damage control. "U-Um .. Just calm down ... It's fine! I just ... He gets into shit all the time because he cares too damn much about everyone." His hands rose to his head, pushing his hair out of his face and sighing loudly. "It's not that I don't trust you ..." He made a face. "Well, I don't but I want to."There was nothing but silence as the two stared at each other, the minutes crawling by."It's okay," Jasper said at last. "I can't lie and say that it doesn't hurt my feelings but I understand why you don't trust me ... All I can really say is that I'll work really hard to earn it back!"Relief glimmered in Megumi's eyes. His lips set into a gentle smile."Guys! What are you doing?!" Yuji had ran uphill towards the two. "Let's go get in the water already!"Megumi narrowed his eyes, once again motioning towards the items scattered around him. "I'm watching our stuff!" he argued.Yuji looked at the items and then back up to Megumi. "Who's gonna take it? There's no one around! Don't be lame! Let's all swim together!" He signaled for Megumi to stand, hands moving quickly to match the urgency in his voice."Fine." Megumi stood now, yanking his shirt over his head and dropping it onto the blanket. He wore a plain black binder underneath. It looked a little worn. "Let's go."Yuji brightened up, immediately dashing back off towards the river. Megumi took a step forward but stopped when he noticed Jasper hadn't moved to follow."You alright?"Jasper stood rooted to their spot, hugging their arms to their chest. "Um." They lowered their gaze. "Do I have to take off my shirt?" they asked.Megumi shook his head. "Nah, as long as you don't mind it getting wet." He thought for a moment before adding, "You can change into my shirt when we're done if you want to so you don't catch a cold."Visibly relaxing, Jasper smiled."You might wanna take your glasses off though. It's not gonna be fun looking for them at the bottom of the river, and they're brand new too, right?""Oh! Okay!" Jasper nodded, taking them off and crouching to set them onto the blanket. They stood back up, still not moving otherwise. Their head was turned towards the river but their eyes were blank, not registering anything. "Ah ..." Their face grew red with embarrassment.Megumi sighed loudly before nearing them, taking their hand in his in a huff and guiding them along the way. The two soon rejoined the others by the water, oblivious to their vibrating phones back uphill.

Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, transphobia (dehumanizing degendering) and mention of miscarriage.

“We believe you understand why we called you here.”Ah man. Would she get chewed out if she lit herself a cigarette? Probably. The higher-ups were such sticklers about everything. She was surprised they hadn’t yet demanded she take her hands out of her pockets and stand up straight. With a grimace, Shoko muttered, “The fire? The kids running off? Me smoking in my office? I dunno.” The hand in her right pocket fiddled with her lighter nervously, thumb turning the wheel lightly enough not to cause a spark.“Let’s start with what’s of utmost importance. The fire. Any theories on who could have started it?”“Well it wasn’t Jasper if that’s what you guys are thinking,” Shoko said pointedly. “They have the other students as an alibi. I don’t really know who it could have been, however, but it’s obvious it’s someone on staff. All our currently enrolled students were at the river. Jujutsu Tech staff are the only others with the clearance to roam school grounds. So, unless someone managed to get through Tengen's barrier, I dunno who else it could be.” Her expression was thoughtful for a moment, recalling her encounter with Yuki that night. She was an oddball so it wasn’t as if her presence was entirely out of character but the coincidences of it all didn’t sit right with her. “The only other person I had seen in the clinic that night was Yuki Tsukumo.”“What was Ms. Tsukumo doing in the clinic?”After taking a moment to remember as much as she could of what Yuki had told her when she’d entered Jasper’s room in her sleepy haze, Shoko answered. “She told me she had heard rumors about Jasper and came to check them out herself.” She didn’t really know the other woman well enough to know what she was capable of but she wasn’t entirely comfortable pointing fingers either. Maybe she had done all of this and maybe she was just a Special Grade Sorcerer interested in learning more about a potential Special Grade Sorcerer. Frankly, that was none of her fucking business. The idea of getting on Yuki’s bad side made her anxious.“Do you believe Ms. Tsukumo was responsible for the fire?”Shoko quickly rose her hands and gestured for dismissal. “I don’t know about any of that. I’m just telling you what I saw.” Her tone had grown largely defensive, shaking her head and pursing her lips.“Always the fence sitting with you, Ms. Ieiri.”With a shrug of her shoulders, Shoko wryly replied, “It’s how I’ve gotten this far.”“Do you know where Ms. Tsukumo has gone since the fire?”Dropping her hands, she did her best to dig up any detailed recollections of the last hour. She had been so preoccupied with contacting Principal Yaga, Dominic and Satoru that she struggled to remember much or anything of Yuki. But after some straining of her burnt out braincells, her departure surfaced at last. “Something about a hotel.” Shoko recalled Yuki rambling about being tired from her trip and wanting to have a long hot bath and a good sleep before leaving to some ritzy hotel she had failed to catch the name of. “To be fair, it was about 4 AM by the time we managed to get into contact with the students.”“Noted.”Shoko waited.“Do you have a back-up of all the information on the computers that were destroyed in the fire?”Shoko nodded. “I do.”“Excellent. We’ve done well to leave the medical department in your hands.”Shoko’s lips quirked into a performative smile before dropping again. “Thanks.” Their compliments didn’t particularly mean anything to her. She’d rather a spike in her paycheck than the worthless little back pats.“We will start rebuilding the clinic this upcoming week, once the investigation of the area concludes. Thankfully the fire didn’t spread too much, though we have received confirmation that everything in the analysis lab is unrecoverable.”Once again, Shoko shrugged. “Oh well.” She wasn’t particularly attached to her workspace. Hell, part of her wished it would have spread to her office so that she could have had it entirely rebuilt and redecorated. Her mind filled with the spreads on those home renovation magazines she flipped through on her lunch breaks. Dreams of mahogany desks, warm lighting and ceiling-high filing cabinets haunted her. Speakers built into the wall so she could play ambient rain noises while she worked. A bumped-out window seat for her to take her smoke breaks at instead of having to balance on the sill. She was filled with yearning. Maybe she could at least get some rolling stools for the new analysis lab instead of those awful plastic folding chairs.“Would you know of anything in specific within the lab that this person could have been targeting?”The beautiful furniture she would have gotten in a better timeline faded into obscurity as she was brought back to the conversation. “Nope,” she said with a shake of her head. “Though it seems the computers were what were most charred to shit out of everything in the room. It’s apparent that that’s where the fire originated before it spread out to the rest of the room so maybe something on the computer was the target?”“But taking into consideration that back-ups of the information on the computers were a possibility, why go through the trouble of destroying them at all without also destroying the back-ups?”“Couldn’t tell you.” Shoko rolled her eyes. Was this meeting just going to be her standing around and answering stupid questions? Unless … Wait. Did they think she did this? Hey, as much as she wanted that workspace renovation, it wasn’t worth the trouble that’d go into sabotaging important DNA samples and Jujutsu family history. Well … Maybe … No! Wait! They absolutely weren’t! Her brows furrowed. But why would someone target the computers if the information on them could have easily been backed up? Her heart began to race.“Have you taken any DNA samples from Jasper?”Pulled from her thoughts, Shoko pondered the answer to the question before replying, “Yes.” She could already hear both Dominic and Satoru bemoaning her admission but the higher-ups were probably gonna request that she do it anyway. There was no point in keeping it quiet. “They were destroyed in the fire but I can take more tomorrow. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”"What are your opinions on Jasper joining Jujutsu Tech?”Was this a trick question? Her puzzlement was evident on her face. “Um, they seem fine.” She rose her shoulders awkwardly. “They’re a nice kid.” She scratched at the back of her head, wracking her mind for anything else to say. “I haven’t really spent much time with them. I feel pretty much the same way about them as I do any other student.”“Despite their questionable past?”“Don’t we all have questionable pasts?” Shoko asked lightheartedly, her laughs slowly dying off at the memories of making Satoru help her doctor her medical degree. “But anyway. Uhh, I don’t really think anything of that. Mr. Weon determined they’ve gone through some shady shit in the past so it’s not really a surprise that they’re kind of closed off and wary about interacting with strangers. Maybe having friends and adults looking out for them will get them to open up? Who knows. I’m not a psychologist.” Or a doctor, really, she added mentally.“Have you performed a physical examination on Jasper yet?”"No, they were very uncomfortable with the idea when presented with it so I didn't push.""We request that you perform one."Shoko felt uneasiness build in her stomach. "Why? No one else in the school has been forced into one before. Why is that changing now?""Because we need you to determine if this creature is in fact human or not.""Their initial bloodwork proved for a fact that they are human.""Are you going against orders, Ms. Ieiri? It's so unlike you.""I'll see what I can do. I'm not going to force them to do anything." Her tone was firm."Interesting."Shoko's gaze warily shifted around her."Perhaps someone else should take a look at Jasper then. What with your perversions and general disrespect for your superiors. You-"“Perversions?” Shoko blurted, eyes wide and face reddening in disbelief and anger."Yes. We are well aware of your relationship with Tabitha Capricien prior to her expulsion. Now spending your evenings with Utahime Iori, are you? Satoru Gojo and Suguru Geto were rather close back then, hmm? Quite the Romeo and Romeo story. And then there's Mr. Weon who just never could seem to make up his mind about where his sick interests were more satisfied. Going as far as to bring with him that mongrel of a Sorceror all those years ago. Good riddance. What was his name?"Shoko was quiet. What the fuck did any of this matter? They were just trying to hurt her. She wondered if this was brought up in their meetings with Dominic and Satoru. Picturing the latter telling the higher-ups to shove it made her feel a little better."Nevermind that. The point is that the twisted hedonism your little friend group has indulged themselves in is making these children confused. Look at what it's done to Megumi Fushiguro."Shoko snorted, "Life is making them confused, as it does with every teenager. It's got nothing to do with who I'm fucking in my free time.""Watch it, Ms. Ieiri."Shoko bit her tongue, still clearly agitated but trying to calm herself down for the sake of bringing this conversation to an end as soon as possible."Let us move on. Have you heard the rumors regarding the possibility of Jasper's relation to Tabitha Capricien?”These sharp turns in conversation topics were disorienting her. She downcast her gaze, unsure of what to do or say. “I guess I have?” she settled at last. She felt like throwing up. “I’m not sure what you want me to say about that.”“You do have Ms. Capricien’s DNA information, do you not?”Shoko nodded. She wobbled on her feet, starting to feel lightheaded.“So we should be able to reach a definitive answer to those rumors sometime soon, correct?”“Yes.” She gave up on nodding for the time being, thinking it might succeed in knocking her over. For whatever reason, she hadn’t really considered just how truly horrifying the results of this DNA test would be. What would happen to Jasper if their mother was confirmed to be Tabitha? What would happen to the school? It’d been insane enough to allow Sukuna’s vessel in, but at least in that case both Yuji and Satoru had some semblance of control over the situation. But if Jasper was here, that meant they were either acting as a spy for their mother or they had truly run away from her … and that meant … she’d be soon to follow.“How would you feel if Ms. Capricien was confirmed as Jasper’s mother? Given the pain she’s inflicted not only on the school, given her betrayal of our basic morals and ethics, but on you as well?”Was she hyperventilating? The idea of Tabitha making a sudden reappearance after all of these years made her feel like her body was about to collapse into itself. The last they had ever really heard of her was that she had escaped. Not alone, but with her little lapdog of a boyfriend. Roger. After nearly killing her, after nearly killing Dominic and after nearly killing Satoru. Every single night, as she dozed off in bed, she always wondered if she had let them all live on purpose. What was the point? Because she thrived off of their hatred of her? Because she got off to the fact that they would never forget her?“Ms. Ieiri?”“It’s unfair to force children to bear the weight of the crimes of their parents.” The words came out as a mumble. Maybe that’d be her own little way to avenge the trauma Tabitha had brought upon her. To assist in raising her child in a loving and stimulating environment. Getting them to love it there more than they did her. “Jasper wants to be a good person, that much I do know. That already puts them leagues above Tabitha Capricien.”“Fair enough. We'll start work on rebuilding the analysis lab as soon as possible. We look forward to the DNA results.”"Ok.”"Farewell, Ms. Ieiri."

"We believe you understand why we called you here."Dominic did his best not to let the apprehension show in his face but it wasn't every day the higher-ups called for a meeting, not just with him but with Shoko and Satoru as well. Not at the same time, however, much to his disappointment. Satoru could talk himself out of anything. Shoko could hold her own. Him, not so much on both accounts. Part of him suspected this was on purpose. A strategic choice to call the three in individually before they could preemptively plan what to say or not say."I'm afraid it could be for a variety of reasons." His response was honest. He kept his gaze centered on the gap of floor between his two shoes, too intimidated by the situation to raise his head and dare glance around him. "I'd rather you just told me than I guess.""Let's begin with our most newly presented issue."Dominic waited."You've lost sight of the students tonight. Explain this.""They've been found," he interjected. "and were immediately reprimanded but it wasn't anything outside of typical teenage misbehavior. Sneaking out and the like. It is a Friday night afterall. They're now in their rooms, sleeping, and will have to do extra Jujutsu work over the weekend as punishment.""Is misbehavior typical to you?"Dominic had to force himself not to roll his eyes. "That isn't what I meant. It's typical for teenagers in their age group to grow rebellious and do things like this but it's up to us, their mentors, to keep them from straying too far while also having the leniency to allow them to still experience the ... joys ... of adolescence.""Very well."A silent breath of relief escaped him."There are rumors that Jasper is the offspring of ex-student and enemy of Jujutsu Tech, Tabitha Capricien."His solace was short-lived. Just the mention of Tabitha was enough to make his hands start shaking. He clenched them at his sides to still them. "There are," he replied with a grimace. If he wasn't asked a question, he wasn't going to answer it.This clearly wasn't well received. "How do we know this isn't the Curse-hybrid she impregnated herself with 20 years ago, the cause of her expulsion?"A laugh of disbelief threatened to burst from inside him. Were they serious? They knew why this wasn't the same child. Granted, they didn't know he knew but it was still a stupid question regardless. "Firstly, we have no confirmation on Jasper's family history." He conveniently left out that Shoko was working on a paternal DNA test. "If we consider the likelihood that Mrs. Capricien is their mother, Jasper is a teenager well under 20 years old. It's impossible that this is the same child." Dominic continued. "Even under the assumption that Tabitha carried a Curse-hybrid fetus in her womb for five years," He bit back calling said assumptions what they were. Asinine. "I still don't see why that matters."Some laughter encircled him, low enough that it was apparent that the entities around him were making somewhat of an effort to stifle themselves but loud enough to demonstrate they didn't truly care to contain themselves. "You don't see the issue with us allowing the ... offspring of a deranged terrorist to join our institution?"Nostrils flaring, Dominic rushed to answer. "As I said, the rumors that Jasper is her child are unfounded." He reiterated, ignoring the 'deranged terrorist' comment. "And in the case that there is a relation, I don't see why this means the school should turn them away. We still took Megumi Fushiguro into the school despite the horrors committed by his father, did we not?""Do not compare a member of the Zenin family to a ..."Dominic's heart was in his throat."an outsider."He pressed on, doing his best to stay level-headed. He steadied his voice, speaking softly but with resolve. "Jasper does not appear to have any desire to return to their life before the school and their abilities are unlike anything I've witnessed before. They could prove to be a valuable asset to us.""Since you've brought up the topic of this creature's abilities, provide us a verbal report on your experiences downtown yesterday. We've heard Mr. Gojo's already but we'd like to hear yours. A formality, if you will."There was so much he wanted to say but it was all caught in his throat. It was unlike him to be so contrarian, especially with his superiors but was he just supposed to allow them to dehumanize Jasper? Either way, was discussing the events of the day before where they would try to trip them up? Would Satoru have told them that Jasper had managed to interfere with his Limitless? Or that they had tamed Sukuna? Fidgeting, Dominic wracked his mind for an answer. This was obviously all a tactic to scramble his mind up enough to get him to loosen up his tongue and say more than he intended to. He couldn't let them win."Whenever you're ready." The reassurance was anything but."Mr. Gojo teleported Mr. Ijichi and myself downtown upon news reaching him of the situation. Once we-""Which was?""Pardon?""What was the situation as far as you knew?""An entire city block is fucking gone!" Satoru's panicked shout echoed in his head. He cleared his throat nervously. "That we had lost visibility on an entire public city block. Once we arrived, we confirmed that a quarter of the downtown square had been enveloped in a dark mass - presumed to be Jasper's Domain, as Satoru recognized it from the incident at McDonald's. Its unprecedented interaction with its surroundings made it unrecognizable as a Domain until this second incident.""And what followed that?"Dominic internally rolled his eyes as he recalled Satoru launching an unwilling Ijichi into the Domain. "Mr. Gojo, Mr. Ijichi and I all entered the Domain at Mr. Gojo's request. He instructed us to keep our eyes closed and this prevented us from losing consciousness. It seems that the Domain's ability is only triggered when eye contact is made within it.""Eye contact with Jasper?""No.""Then who?""Well, Satoru explained the shadows that covered everything within the Domain were filled with red eyes but I haven't seen its interior myself for obvious reasons.""What followed?"This was going to get tricky. "The Domain fell while we were searching for the students and we found both Jasper and Sukuna, who was at the time in possession of Yuji, fighting." He paused for a second before correcting himself. "Well, more specifically, Sukuna was attacking Jasper while Jasper fled. He likely took control of Yuji when Jasper's Domain made him lose consciousness." Okay. He handled that well enough. Kind of."And then?""Sukuna lost control of Yuji, who proceeded to lose consciousness again." He danced around telling them of what occured with Satoru and Jasper. "Jasper also lost consciousness shortly after. We took them and the other two first years to the clinic, though Yuji, Nobara and Megumi were all cleared later that same evening.""How did Sukuna lose control of Yuji?""I don't know." Dominic's response was unfortunately both genuine and disingenuous, enough for him to squirm around telling the higher-ups the nature of Jasper's technique. He didn't feel confident in the information he did have and he wasn't comfortable with telling them. The thought of what the higher-ups would be willing to do to and with Jasper and their ability sent shivers down his spine.Silence. For minutes. Were they doubting his honesty? Unlikely. They knew his circumstances. They just didn't like the answer. Either that or they were using the tension to their benefit, trying to get him antsy enough to say more. Had Satoru told them? He wondered."Is it known what caused Jasper to activate their Domain?"Dominic shook his head. "Not yet but I will discuss it with them tomorrow before their detention work. I know full well it wasn't a malicious or antagonistic act. They wouldn't want to harm anyone.""You seem to have an immense amount of faith vested in this unstable ..." "Thing." A second of the higher-ups chimed. There were chuckles. "Are we sure it's human? Ms. Ieiri must have been mistaken."Dominic didn't answer right away, head spinning. He said all he could think to say. "I was once an unstable thing myself."Increased laughter made his breath hitch. They were mocking him. He tossed a nervous glance towards one of the doors nearest to him. What was he searching for? Compassion? Mercy? He dropped his gaze again."Pardon my forwardness but I feel I've proven myself useful to the school after all these years," he pressed. A million impulse thoughts came to mind but he swallowed them like a dry pill. He couldn't fuck this up for Jasper. Submit, submit, submit. Things will work out. "If we provide Jasper a healthy, educational and loving environment, they are sure to gain control of their ability and benefit not just the school but all of humanity as well.""How are we to trust your word? You might have biased interests."Dominic's brows furrowed, genuine puzzlement on his face. "Biased interest? I'm not sure I understand what you mean." Because they both came from troubled homes? Because they both had insane mothers? He racked his mind. Had he been giving Jasper more importance than the other alums? Surely not. Maybe a bit more attention but only because they were new and frankly, needed it. Had the other students felt neglected by him?"Well, you're both foreigners. You've always been rather insistent that Jujutsu Tech brought in stray Sorcerers from overseas." Another added snidely, "And look how well that worked out for us after Ms. Capricien's attack on the school.""A foreigner?" Dominic sputtered, raising his head and looking incredulous. "I was born in Japan. And I'm not one for assumptions but Jasper's grasp on the language indicates that they've lived here at least a majority of their life. While Tabitha did come from overseas, Suguru Geto turned his back to Jujutsu Tech soon after.""But you aren't Japanese."All of his words had fallen on deaf ears. Dominic felt his face redden, for once there was anger building within him. "I don't see what this has to do with anything. It's a rather ignorant observation to make. My mother was born here, as was I.""And your father?""What is that of any importance?" Dominic's voice was shaking. He didn't even know who his biological father was, so what did they know."No need for hysterics, Mr. Weon."Dominic's lips quivered in frustration. His nostrils flared. They'd succeeded in getting under his skin, and for what? They had asked all their questions. hadn't they? Were they just trying to hurt him?"Speaking of your mother,"Oh no. Dominic's empty right hand clenched, the handle of the briefcase that often accompanied him was not present. He'd preemptively left it in the office. "I'd rather we didn't." Their sentence hadn't yet found its end, but it had still somehow managed to drain the life from him. He'd become a mere ember, ground into non-existence by the heel of a shoe."Your demeanor is unseemly. Perhaps this unprofessional relationship you've developed with Satoru Gojo over the years have been a bad influence on you. Although ... knowing your past, you never really were much of a good person yourself, isn't that right?""I apologize.""It's not very becoming of a man of Faith and counsel, a man bearing the Curse of Perpetual Repetance, to be so difficult.""I apologize.""Seeing that the sole reason that you were allowed to join Jujutsu Tech in the first place in lieu of your original death sentence is because of your mother's monumental contributions to the school - we'd recommend you stop treating this place with so much familiarity and more like what it's supposed to be for you. A prison.""I apologize.""As if it wasn't bad enough that we had to admit the failure son of a talented Sorceror. You had the audacity to stuff away the Curse of your actions in a briefcase and sit behind a desk instead of attempting to fill her role. The one you took from us."Dominic broke at last, tears falling from his eyes. He kept his expression blank, mind buzzing. Was he going to faint? "I apologize." He felt like a broken record. "I will work to better satisfy your requests." No. No. He didn't want to. He didn't want to do it. After a brief pause, he choked out a feeble, "I only ask that you give Jasper an opportunity to grow."There was silence. Were they contemplating privately? He would have been nervous if he wasn't so tired. Too exhausted to feel. He just wanted to go home. What time was it anyway? It felt like he'd been there hours. He wanted to go home."We'll concede under one condition."Dominic said nothing."Starting tomorrow, you're back to fieldwork."

“We believe you understand why we called you here.”“Nope! Haven’t a clue!” Satoru shrugged his shoulders, rocking impatiently back and forth on his feet. “But if you could speed it up, I’d appreciate it! Got plans soon.” He slipped one of his hands from inside his jacket pocket, throwing a glance at the watch on his wrist. “Real soon.”The irony of him checking his watch with his blindfold on seemed lost on the higher-ups. Either that or they were just a bunch of sourpusses. He was willing to bet it was the latter. There was a tense silence before the superiors in title gave in. “The students went missing tonight. How do you explain this?”Satoru rolled his eyes. “We found them, didn’t we? What’s the problem?”“They shouldn’t have gone missing in the first place.”“Shit happens.” Satoru shrugged again. “It’s fine now and we’ll try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Of all the things that had him riled up these last few days, this meeting had been the least of his worries. It was more of a formality, really. He’d give them five minutes, just to be nice. He’d already set up his exit strategy, having lied about his plans. He figured that telling them the truth, which was that he didn’t think a back and forth with these useless geezers was a good use of his time, would only make this conference longer and more annoying than necessary. Not that it was necessary to start with.Oh crap, he’d forgotten to consider it was probably dawn right now. He supposed plans at 5 AM were totally plausible, right? Maybe he could go grab some breakfast with Dominic and Shoko once they were all done here.“Alright. Moving on.”Heh, this was gonna be a piece of cake.“What of admitting the offspring of ex-student and criminal, Tabitha Capricien, into our school?”Satoru tensed, brow raising high on his forehead. Were they trying to trick him? Did they truly know the identity of Jasper’s mother? Or were they trying to get him to give up what he knew by pulling a bluff? If that was their goal, he didn’t know how to politely tell them they were shit out of luck. He still had no hard evidence for Jasper’s lineage. Shoko had been working on a DNA test but her analysis lab had been burnt to a crisp. Not like he’d tell them the results anyway. “I brought in a kid that needed a home. A Sorcerer that needed a home. I don’t know about anything outside of that,” he said.“But you are aware of the suspicions regarding Jasper’s background, aren’t you?”Ah ha! They didn’t know shit. Satoru scoffed, “I’m too busy a guy to sit around and listen to gossip.”“We have it on record that most of your time at the school involves listening to gossip.”Satoru cracked a grin, “I’d like to take a peek at these records of yours and see what other pointless little character notes you keep about me in them.”“Careful, Mr. Gojo. We’re still due respect.” The speaking tone grew more authoritative. It seemed he’d hurt their feelings. This was devastating news.Satoru removed both his hands from his pockets and rose them in a show of surrender. “My bad, I’ll behave,” he insisted. He dropped his hands to his sides. “My point is that I really haven’t paid much attention to what people have been saying about Jasper. I’ve been more focused on learning more about them and investigating their technique instead.” This was a half lie because he absolutely had been clinging to every word said about the newly-admitted student spoken within earshot of him – but he usually didn’t want the higher-ups sticking their noses in his business, this situation even moreso than others past. If he acted like he was concerned about Jasper’s background, they’d just use this to try and fear-monger the rest of the staff into thinking they were a genuine threat. And although he wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t, he wanted to make that determination himself and before they were made a target and ended up ostracized over mere speculations.“Now that you mention their technique. Tell us more about it. We know you’ve had the opportunity to witness it firsthand twice.”With a sneer, he gave in and decided to be a little more generous than planned. He figured that if he dressed himself up as enough of a clown, he could get away with telling them just enough to get them off his back. He sure as fuck wasn’t telling them that Jasper managed to cancel out his Infinity. “Well, I didn’t pay too much attention. I was distracted making sure the general public was alright,” he smiled a helpless silly little smile. “I don’t know what Jasper’s base technique is but we do know they have the ability to activate their Domain, which is what we’ve experienced at both the McDonald’s and at the incident downtown.”“Explain Jasper’s Domain.”Groaning in a show of annoyance, Satoru acted as if he couldn’t be bothered. “It’s all dark, lots of glowy red eyes. If you look at ‘em, they put you down for a nap.” He stopped himself from gesturing to his blindfold, instead smoothly transitioning his hand up to his hair to casually brush some back. If they figured out on their own that this flimsy piece of cloth was what saved him from getting downed, then great, but he wasn’t gonna hand that information on over to them.“Those who have been affected by this Domain will need months of rehabilitation. Describing it as a simple nap seems like you’re downplaying their experiences.”With a dismissive bounce of his shoulders, Satoru iterated, “I’m sure anyone who gets caught in a Domain that isn’t a Sorceror would be in a similar situation. It’s an unfortunate event but Jasper’s here to keep that from happening again.”“Any information to share with us on why this has happened not once, but twice?”Had he ever asked Jasper what had upset them at the McDonald’s? He probably should have done that. Eh, he didn’t want to come off that incompetent. “We’re chalking it up to inexperience controlling their Cursed Energy and releasing it during high stress moments. We’re still investigating further into the situation downtown, however, as we have our suspicions they may have been attacked then. We haven’t yet had a chance to question them what with everything going on tonight.”“Returning to the topic of Domain Expansion. It requires both experience with and an immense amount of Cursed Energy. Do you believe Jasper may be feigning ignorance in Sorcery in order to infiltrate Jujutsu Tech?”Satoru froze at this, his heart pounding in his head. It was as if his own internal dialogue all week had been thrown in his face. But they didn’t get it. Jasper had enough energy to make their Domain several hundred feet in diameter but if any Sorcerer tossed a glance their way, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue just what they were capable of. There was no Cursed Energy coming from them, even his Six Eyes didn’t detect it. He could when it was in use but they were entirely devoid of it otherwise. As if they weren't a Sorcerer at all, just an average human trapped in a whirlpool of Cursed Energy. “The levels of Cursed Energy one has isn’t always something one earns with hard work and determination, though it’s entirely possible. Some of us are born powerful.” The corners of his lips quirked at this before he remembered he was talking about Jasper and not himself. “I don’t think they know they’re activating their Domain Expansion, or even what a Domain Expansion is. It’s become an instinct to them when in dangerous or stressful situations.”“Could it be you see yourself in this child, Mr. Gojo?”Tremors of anxiety tore through him. Now where did that come from? His introspective monologue the day before about confronting his fears and anxieties through helping Jasper; facing his own humanity, his mortality; bringing down that wall he’d built up around himself, it all came back to him. How brave of him then. Brave? Or naive? Stupid, more like. He crammed all that shit away into a tiny box at the back of his head and locked it. “No,” he bit out.“We’d hope you weren’t picking favorites. That’s not a very good approach to teaching.”Satoru furrowed his brows. Had he been picking favorites? He didn’t really think so. Despite all the insanity this last week, he hadn’t spent much time with Jasper at all. It was more or less the same amount he’d spent with the others anyway. This was just another one of their jabs. Another failed and pathetic attempt to get under his skin to add to the pile. “For once, I agree,” he snorted.“Answer us this, Mr. Gojo. Twenty years ago, Tabitha Capricien was expelled for subjecting herself to fecundation with the DNA of a Cursed Spirit. How do we know that this isn’t that same child from all those years ago?”Satoru’s face twisted up. “Jasper’s still a kid.” He didn’t want to speak the real truth. They knew why. They were the ones who’d given him the orders. Why were they playing stupid? The memories of that night made him feel lightheaded. He glanced down at his hands, feeling his skin crawl. For a moment, a flash of red bathed them. Sticky, shiny. He quickly buried them back into his pockets. It was just a trick of his mind. “So I’d probably check my math on that if I were you. The timeline doesn’t add up.”“We don’t have any information on what a pregnancy of the sort would entail or what kind of creature would come of it. Perhaps Jasper ages slower than a human? Or maybe the fetal development of a creature like it would take longer?”“Maybe if you hadn’t expelled her, we woulda found out.” His tone had lost all of it’s earlier lightness. He was cold, reserved, distant. “Oh well. Too late for that now.” He didn’t want to think about Tabitha. He didn’t want to think about that night. In fact, he was done with this. How long had it been? He was too scared to remove his hands from his pockets again, so tense he didn’t think moving would actually be possible.“Our point stands. How do we know this isn’t the same child?”Satoru pressed his lips together, refusing an answer.“Whenever you’re ready.”His hands formed tight fists.“Mr. Gojo?”His jaw clenched.“Didn’t you have plans soon? You’ll be running late if you don’t hurry.”They were angry because they hadn’t gotten the information they wanted about Jasper from him so they were taking it out on him. For a moment, he thought about Shoko and Dominic and wondered how they fared against these tactics.“I supposed we could just read the report given t-”“I terminated the pregnancy.” The words didn’t feel like they had left his mouth, but he knew he had spoken them out loud because the higher-up he’d cut off stopped speaking. “I put a hole right through her belly.” Why did he feel so numb? Did he not care about what he’d done? No, he did. He had nightmares about that night almost as often as he did the day he killed Suguru Geto. Was this what he was put on this planet for? To kill those he loved? “With my fist.”“Taking into consideration your reconfirmation of what occurred that night, we will dismiss all suspicions of a relation between Jasper and Tabitha Capricien for now.”Satoru nodded. Was he even paying attention to what they were telling him? His ears were ringing.“Ms. Ieiri will start in-depth work on analysis on Jasper’s DNA samples once the clinic is rebuilt. Thankfully, she had back-ups of most of the information lost in the fire.”Shit. Had Shoko told them about her testing Jasper’s DNA? Or had they requested it of her on their own? Whatever. He didn’t care to give it anymore thought or concern. “Okay.” They could talk it over pancakes and coffee once they were all done with their meetings that morning. “Cool.” His stomach growled.“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Gojo. You’re dismissed and free to go on about your busy day.”

Content Warnings: minor canon typical body horror.

The scent of cooking food permeating through the cafe did very little to quell Satoru’s hunger. He busied himself with sucking his birthday cake flavored milkshake up through its straw, eyeballing the waitress over-top his sunglasses every time she walked by them with a tray full of food for another table.What had he ordered again? Oh yes, the pancakes. So sweet and fluffy. With vanilla cream and fresh strawberries overtop. He should have ordered something on the side. Maybe some sausage or bacon, something savory to compliment the sweet goodness of his tooth-rotting starter.“I think we need to talk about the meetings.” Shoko’s sudden words snapped Satoru out of his starvation-induced daydreaming. She was fumbling with her silverware, internally bemoaning whatever law prevented her from smoking indoors. Normally, she could ignore the urges – but they had just finished going through the worst work evaluations in the history of Human Resources, so this was a special case. “Just so we all know … everything. We should do it before Utahime and Kento get here.”“I think not,” Satoru argued. “I think we should all just have a nice breakfast and talk about anything but the meetings!”The two exchanged looks of disdain before both turning towards the third party at the table.Dominic had been entranced, staring over Satoru’s shoulder out the window beside their booth. His tea, untouched, cradled in his hands. It was raining heavily outside. The occasional rumble of thunder accompanied the dark clouds. People hurried past the front of the shop, hiding under their umbrellas or donning raincoats. He was lost in thought, not having paid any mind to his colleagues’ conversation.Satoru threw a curious look out the window. Upon finding nothing of interest, he turned back to Dominic and waved a hand in his face in an attempt to capture his attention. “Are you even listening to us?” he asked, sounding offended.Blinking himself out of his stupor, Dominic gave Satoru a stern look before trying to gather his thoughts. He took a deep drink from his beverage, mind chugging to life like a train engine. Eventually, he lowered the mug. His movements were slow, as if he were second guessing every little thing he did. “I apologize.” It came out in a mumble. The words didn’t even feel real to him anymore. “I’m a bit disoriented but I’ll do my best to pay attention now.”A suspicious look crossed Satoru’s face, both brows raising high on his forehead. “Okay, well … Tell us what you talked about in your meeting!” he demanded, ignoring the sudden antagonistic glare Shoko shot his way.“I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about it!” she argued.“I changed my mind!”Lost for words, Dominic did his best to remember. Simply trying to was enough for him to develop a migraine. “I think the first thing discussed was the students going missing last night. I told them we agreed to assign them extra work over the weekend as punishment and they seemed satisfied by that.”“Oh, I told them to fuck off when they brought it up,” Satoru snickered.Shoko snorted.With a disapproving look, Dominic continued, “They asked me about the incident downtown as well.”Satoru nodded, “Yeah, they kinda asked me too but we didn’t talk about it long.” He had started eating his milkshake with a spoon, taking a mouthful of the creamy sugary mixture before asking, “What else did you talk about? Did they mention me at all?" He grinned at the idea.Dominic tensed. Could he get away with a twist of the truth ... ? He really didn't want to talk about the meeting overall – but he knew Satoru would egg him on for more information later if he avoided discussing the matter now. One way or another, he’d get what he wanted. In this case, the truth was in no way malleable. “You came up,” he finally admitted in a mutter.With a curious quirk of his brow, Satoru dug deeper, "What'd they say?""That our relationship is unprofessional. That I have had a negative influence on you." Dominic had to put effort into keeping his tone as impassive as it usually was as he said this. The prospect was ludicrous. Enough to spark anger in him. He had been the one who'd kept Satoru's head above water after the loss of their friends - even when it resulted in his own drowning. Was loving their God to a fault a sin in their eyes? Likely so. Gods were to be feared, not loved, weren’t they?Satoru’s grin dropped.“What about me?” Shoko asked.“No,” Dominic said. "They didn't mention you at all."She leaned back into her cushioned seat, looking relieved. The expression didn’t last long as she recalled the higher-ups' incendiary comments about her own personal life. “Well, you weren’t the only two accused of having unprofessional relationships. These idiots basically called me and Utahime heretics.” She rolled her eyes.Satoru looked puzzled as he glanced between the two. It came as no surprise that this scrutiny hadn't reached him.There was a weird comfort for Dominic in knowing he hadn’t been alone in his romantic and sexual life being picked apart. The solace faded quickly. He frowned, distressed at the thought of this problem only growing worse down the line. “I see,” he mumbled.Satoru hadn’t seemed to find exactly what he was looking for yet in his pursuit of information, it seemed. “What else did you talk about? You were in there forever!” he leaned his chin on the palm of his hand, quirking his brows in a show of curiosity. Beneath his guise of oblivious coy gossip remained genuine, heartfelt suspicion.Dominic sighed shakily. The emotional exhaustion was beginning to get to him. Maybe he should have just gone home after the meeting ended. He was afraid of mentioning the higher-ups bringing up his and Jasper's races. Would his colleagues agree with what they had to say? Would they be indifferent about it? Or angry? “We discussed Jasper.” He’d keep it to himself, at least as best as he could.Shoko nodded her head in agreement. "They brought up Jasper with me too. They want that DNA test ..." She paused, turning her face to hide her grimace. "and they want me to perform a physical on them. Jasper declined when I first brought it up to them so ... I'm going to need you guys to help me convince them to agree to it. Just talking about it like this makes me feel weird, but I don't know what else to do."Dominic and Satoru began speaking over each other, the former outraged while the other casually agreed. They then both looked at one another."Shoko shouldn't be forced into this and neither should Jasper," Dominic argued.Satoru rolled his eyes. "It's just a physical. What’re you worried ab- Oh! Hey!" He stopped himself mid-sentence when he noticed Kento and Utahime at the entrance of the diner. He stood and waved both his arms over his head to catch their attention. He then motioned to the table in invitation for them to join. Once Kento made a gesture of acknowledgment, he sat back down. “Alright, let’s talk about something else now.”Dominic stared at the other, lips quivering. "I have no doubts that Shoko would be performing a standard, inoffensive medical examination but it's invasive and could be traumatic if undesired and I refuse to participate in the manipulation of a child to accomplish this." His hands were balled into fists on the table."The higher-ups aren’t gonna let up on this. Sometimes it’s best to just give them what they want. It's fine. Leave it to me if you don't want to do it," Satoru snickered. Was he being selfish? Yes. He didn’t give a shit about what the higher-ups wanted. This was about what he wanted. And he wanted to know more about Jasper. He made a dismissive wave to Shoko in an attempt to erase the look of concerned skepticism on her face. He tossed a side glance at Dominic, gaze icy. "I'm used to being the bad guy."The bad guy? Dominic’s heart began to thunder in his chest, matching the stormy weather outside. His hands were shaking, palms clammy. What a fucking cop out. He stood abruptly, stepping out from the booth just as Kento and Utahime approached. They stopped a couple of feet away from them, not entirely surprised by the spectacle. "The only thing you’re used to being is a fool." He pointed accusingly towards Satoru. "No one matters to you but you."Satoru blinked, words caught in his throat. His lips moved but no sound came out of his mouth – not even a sputter, not a choke. His face reddened, though his expression remained stony and unaffected."Dom-" Shoko tried to mediate but he made a face that humbled her."I'm tired of playing along with your games. Tired of enabling them. Maybe I have been a bad influence on you after all.""You-"Dominic was halfway out of the restaurant when he turned back towards the table again. "Oh, and I'm back to fieldwork starting Monday." The words were bitter, resentful. They formed a noose around Satoru's neck, tightening with every step Dominic took out of the diner.

The AC in the Jujutsu Tech common room was a God send, especially to the fatigued group of teens collapsed on the floor of it. The polished hardwood was nice and cold, functioning as an ice pack for their sore muscles. It had rained all morning, only for the sun to make its appearance at full blast and leave them to work on repairs around school grounds while surrounded by a veil a humidity thick enough one could cut through with a knife. They'd been given an hour long lunch break but they were now fifteen minutes in and not a single soul had moved an inch from their resting positions.Somehow, Yuji still summoned the energy to speak. "When Mr. Weon said we'd be doing extra work, I thought he meant Jujutsu work. Not this." He put his paint-covered splinter-filled hands up for emphasis.Nobara, draped across all three cushions of the communal sofa, chimed, "Don't they hire maintenance people to do this kind of stuff?"Sitting on the floor with her back against the same couch, Maki countered, "Did you see the state of the shit we had to fix up? The last time anyone did any clean up around here was probably the last time a student fucked up. Everyone else thinks they're too good to lower themselves to the work of laborers." She had her arms crossed, head resting back and sharing the cushion with Nobara's."The place must've been spotless when Gojo was a student then," Megumi snarked.Yuji's head perked off of Megumi's lap, joining the others in a good laugh.In a farther corner of the room, Toge at last broke focus away from the game he had been playing on his phone. He opened his text to speech app, typing furiously for a moment before pressing play, "Does anyone know what to do for lunch? Should we order in? We've only got 40 minutes of our break left." He gave the massive panda napping beside him a hard nudge to rouse him from his slumber."I'm up. I'm up." Panda grumbled, rolling up to a sitting position as his paws rubbed the sleep from his eyes."We can order in but no fast food!" Nobara whined suddenly, voice muffled slightly as she burrowed her face into the sofa cushion. "I'll break out if I keep eating that garbage!"Yuji, having mirrored Panda in sitting up, argued, "What'd you mean? You're already all broken out!" He pointed to the center of his forehead. "Right here." His hand moved to the tip of his nose. "And here."Megumi took hold of Yuji's hand to stop him just as Nobara propped herself onto her elbows and shot them both a heinous expression. "Stop. Focus." He said, now raising his phone for Yuji to peruse a food ordering app. He relaxed when the other took the mobile and began to merrily scroll through."I want pizza," Panda said, drumming his paws against his belly."No pizza!" Nobara howled, sitting up on the couch.Toge typed onto his phone, locking eyes with Nobara as the app's speaker read his words out loud, "Then order your own food.""I think we can all come to a compromise that makes us all happy," Nobara's tone changed as she crossed her legs and folded her hands over her knee. "We just need to be more diplomatic about it.""Or you can order your own food," was Toge's response.Nobara's face reddened. "Will you stop being so damn difficult, you little freak?!" she shouted, now jumping out of her seat. Beside her, Maki rose her head and glared tiredly between her two bickering fellow classmates. "I'm trying to make it easier for all of us! If we all order together, everything gets here at the same time so no one feels left out!"Lowering the phone that had so efficiently distracted him mere minutes ago, Yuji pointed out, "I think you're just trying to get out of paying your own lunch! Every time we all order in together, you always go to the bathroom and never come back right when we're splitting the cost after we're done eating!""W-What?! Why are you so focused on my bathroom habits?! Weirdo!" Nobara deflected, face flushing."He's right," Megumi added."I don't think you're getting outta this one," Maki mused dryly. She gave her girlfriend a half-heartedly sympathetic look. "You did kinda set yourself up."Toge just barely contained his laughter as the chaos he'd incited only seemed to grow. However, with his prior determination to get their lunch ordered in a timely manner now forgotten, he reopened the game he'd been playing on his phone and unpaused it."Um, excuse me."The arguing teens resumed their exchange, every other word increasing in both volume and hostility."Excuse me!"Maki reached a hand up, grabbing a fistful of the front of Nobara's jacket and yanking her down into her seat. Before Nobara could redirect her anger towards her, she gestured towards the fidgety figure that had entered the common rooms.She turned her head, the others following in suit.Jasper was holding a large pot in their hands by the handles, oven mitts protecting their hands from the heat of the metal container. "I made lunch," they said quietly. "for all of us." Their words were shaken by their nerves, cheeks glowing redder than a hot iron. "I-If you guys want to eat it, of course. You could just get something else if you'd rather." They dropped their gaze to the pot, growing increasingly anxious in the temporary spotlight."Of course we'd love to eat your food!" Yuji shouted as he stood. He hurried over to Jasper's side. "I'll go grab plates for everyone! Thanks, Jas!""Jas?" Jasper echoed as the blonde rushed off in search of dinnerware. "Wait! Bring bowls! Not plates! And spoons!" they shouted after him before turning on their heels to look at their other classmates, who'd began clearing space at the chabudai at the center of the room.Maki patted the center of the sturdy table. "Put the pot right over here. Is there anything else you need us to get for you?" she asked.Doing as she said, Jasper shook their head. "No, no. I'll just go grab one more thing and then we'll be ready to serve when Itadori comes back with the bowls," they insisted. They couldn't fumble their fingers due to the oven mitts so they ended up in an odd display of mittened hand-wringing."I told you to just call me Yuji!" Yuji shouted, making Jasper squeak in surprise, as he reentered the room with a stack of bowls in his hands."That was fast," Nobara cheered, already having reserved her spot at the table.As Yuji set the plates, Jasper left and returned with a plastic container to place beside the pot. Once everyone was seated and waiting, they knelt at a corner of the table between Maki and Yuji. They then unlidded both the pot and container and explained, "I made soup joumou along with some beef patties to either eat on the side or take with you so you could snack on the rest of the day." They sounded a little more firm in their words, practically ecstatic at the positive reception of their lunch. "I-If you pass me your bowls, I'll pour you your share. I hope you like it.""What's soup joumou?" Megumi asked, holding out his bowl for Jasper as they filled it with the pot's contents.Jasper thought for a moment before replying, "A soup that's got squash, carrots, cabbage, pasta, potatoes ... umm ... and some other stuff." They couldn't quite recall the entire ingredients list but that was more or less the gist of it."Who taught you to cook, Jasper?" Panda asked as Jasper served him his plate."I cook all the time with my sister," Jasper replied. They grimaced before correcting themself, "Used to.""You have a sister?" Maki asked as they now poured hers."And a brother," Jasper mumbled. "but we don't get along as well as me and my sister.""You must miss them!" Yuji mused, wincing when Megumi gave him a hard elbow to the ribs and gestured for him to shut up. He bit his tongue upon noticing Jasper's watering eyes. "Oh, Jas! I'm sorry. It's gotta be a sore subject." His brows knitted on his forehead in a show of genuine remorse. "I didn't mean to."Jasper quickly shook their head, at last pouring their own bowl and taking a seat. "It's okay!" They reached their fingers under their glasses to wipe at their waterline. "It's just complicated, I guess."A firm grasp on their shoulder made Jasper's head perk up. Their eyes followed the hand up to Maki's reassuring gaze. Their heart ached. They then glanced around the table at the others, who'd paused their eating to impart their own looks of affirmation. They looked back to Maki, lips quivering."We all got complicated family situations. We get it," she said.Jasper's lips formed an unsteady smile.Yuji bumped shoulders with them, making them now turn to look at him. "We've kind of got our own little family here in a way. So, at least there's some comfort in that, right?"Jasper nodded, too overwhelmed by emotion to speak."Alright! Enough with the waterworks!" Nobara shouted, banging one hand on the table and raising her bowl with the other. "Let's fuckin' eat!""Here, here!" Maki seconded, raising her own bowl.A chorus of "Thanks for the food!" rang out before everyone turned their attention to the meal before them. There was nothing else to be heard but the sound of birds chirping outside and the noisy slurping of hearty soup. Jasper found themself simply holding their bowl in both their hands, looking around at each individual at the table with them.A foreign sensation welled within their chest. Acceptance, at last. They took their spoon.

"What're you doing?"The sudden voice at the window would have startled Minerva had she not long since sensed the remnants of Mahito's Cursed Energy drawing nearer to her. It was very faint, akin to the smell of a room at night after someone had applied perfume in it that morning. So faint, she'd initially thought he was a low level Curse - but no. Something had happened to him that dragged him to this low. She couldn't be bothered to care what. The girl continued to peel potatoes in the sink, not looking up at the devious creature perched in her sill."Hellooo~" Mahito held one of his hands out towards Minerva's face and wiggled his fingers in further attempts to garner her attention, dropping them and cupping his face in a show of angst when she continued to ignore him. "Lame," he sulked. His playful smile was replaced with an exaggerated insincere pout. "You suck."Finally looking up, Minerva snapped, "Will you be quiet?!" The knife she'd been using to peel the starchy vegetables was pointed threateningly at the unwanted visitor. "Who even are you? One of that old man's lackeys? I didn't see you at the meeting.""I'm more like an ally of his. The others are the lackeys," Mahito insisted. He then extended his hand to her once again, this time for a handshake. "I'm Mahito. It's nice to meet you."Minerva eyed his hand for a moment, her eyes twitching with thought, before dropping the knife and clasping palms with him in a single abrupt motion.Mahito's friendly smile dropped as his body moved in accordance with her tugging him in through the window. Without intention or desire, he climbed in, using his feet to scale the brick exterior wall and free hand to grasp the counter and lever himself onto it. His mind was spinning, but not out of fear - out of excitement. His heart raced, eyes wide and grin returning to his lips, doubled in size.The moment she released his hand, he dropped off the counter and onto the floor, promptly sitting up and looking from his hands up to her with a charmed expression. "How'd you do that?" he asked."Don't think you can get one over on me," Minerva snorted. She was still on guard, knife back in hand. "I can tell you have a touch activated technique. You're weak, so even if you did manage to activate yours before I did mine, you wouldn't be able to do shit in the state you're in.""I'll have you know, I'm not at my usual level of strength right now," Mahito replied, pushing himself onto his feet so he towered over the girl. "Once I finish recovering, you won't be able to scramble up my brain and do that again."Minerva had since gone back to peeling potatoes, showing great disinterest in continuing this dialogue. "If you're not gonna help, then leave," she mumbled.Tilting his head, Mahito peered over Minerva's shoulder at the stack of peeled potatoes in a bowl on the counter. He then looked at the couple of potatoes unpeeled awaiting inside the sink. "What are you doing?" He drew nearer to the peeled potatoes, sniffing them and wrinkling his nose at the earthy scent."Making dinner," Minerva huffed. She took a second, larger knife out from a drawer and then held it out to Mahito handle-first. "Here, take it. Cut the ones I've peeled into cubes."Warily, Mahito took the knife. He inspected it for a moment before taking a potato from the top of the stack in the bowl. "Cubes? So, like little squares?""Yup."Mahito stared at the vegetable in his hand for a moment, setting it onto the counter after some contemplation. He slammed his hand onto it, fingers having reformed into what looked like the intersecting wiring on a tennis racket. He cut through the potato with great success, though his resulting shape was more rectangular than cubed. He rose his hand, inspecting his handiwork with a proud smirk, before looking towards Minerva. "Done."Minerva turned her head to snark but stopped herself when she realized he actually had completed the task .. somewhat. "It's not perfect but it'll do," she muttered. Her eyes observed the hand that'd completed the task, almost as if memorizing every detail about it, before pointing at the rest of the potatoes in the bowl with her knife. "What are you waiting for? Do them all."Grinning, Mahito picked up one after the other. The pile of cubed potatoes on the counter grew with every one. He cut them at different angles, different speeds, in awe at the different shapes he got. He cut the same potatoes several times over, marveling at the differently shaped, shrinking pieces he got every time. This was different from his usual routine. "This is fun!" he mused just as he finished with the last of the bunch. "I wanna do more! What's this for anyway?""I told you already," Minerva chided. She handed him the potato she'd just peeled. "It's for dinner.""What's dinner?" Mahito asked, taking his time working through the spud.Minerva peeled the last of her batch, working meticulously but quickly. "Humans usually eat three times a day. Breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and dinner at night. It's night time so I'm making dinner for me and my family." She paused for a moment before adding, "You can join us if you want to."Mahito furrowed his brows, leaning his elbow on the counter and propping his chin onto his palm. "I don't need to eat," he pointed out. "Wouldn't it be a waste?""Neither do I," Minerva countered. "but I like spending time with my family." She looked like she wanted to say more but she instead started gathering and tossing out all the peels from inside the kitchen sink.Curiousity peaked, Mahito leaned closer to the girl. "What are you?" His gaze held scrutiny. "You're just like-" He caught himself. Mr. Geto had told him not to mention to anyone his activities the last few days. He played it off by redrawing focus to her. "Your energy feels off. You're definitely not a Curse but you're not just an average Sorceror, are you?" His cheek was pressed to the side of her upper arm. Her skin felt soft, like silk. He slowly rose his head, so the tip of his chin was resting on her shoulder. He peered up at her, mismatched eyes through snowy lashes.Minerva sneered down at her hindrance, eyes full of disdain. "You're such a little creep." She spoke through gritted teeth.Mahito's hand, now back to its usual shape, snapped up to his own neck, fingers tightening around his throat. His grin widened at this. "You're fast! I like you!" he laughed, growing more and more strained with every chuckle as his grip grew tighter. Veins bulged on his forearm. "I hope we get to play more together.""Gross. You're so weird.""There you are, Mahito."The Cursed Spirit was suddenly repelled from Minerva. Not with enough force to knock him to the ground, but he did stumble back a few feet. He didn't look towards the doorway, instead staring at his hand as he curled and uncurled his fingers."I apologize if he's made himself a nuisance to you, miss," Suguru gave a slight bow of his head with his apology. He then motioned for the Curse to join his side. "Mahito, come along. There are things we need to discuss."Minerva turned her body to fully face Suguru before Mahito could walk over to him, her back pressed against the counter. "Wont you all join us for dinner?" she asked. Her head tilted, expression unreadable. "I know your friends don't have to eat but you're a human, aren't you? You can tell us all the fun stories of what going to school with my mom and dad was like."Suguru didn't falter, giving the girl a firm nod. "Of course we will join you for dinner. How kind of you to invite us." He waved his hand in Mahito's direction. "I will give the fair warning that some of us aren't entirely housebroken."Mahito didn't understand with this meant, not that he was paying attention in the first place - now distracted with inspecting the decorative fruit in a nearby glass bowl."That's okay. Neither is my dad," Minerva shrugged. A bit more relaxed, she turned and reached up into the cabinets to withdraw a pot from within. She began filling it with water. As Suguru began to make to leave, she spoke again, "Hey, Mr. Geto. Why do you hate Mr. Gojo so much?" Though her voice was layered with an innocent naivety, something about it came off artificial enough for a marble of wariness to form in the pit of his stomach."I can't say I do," Suguru replied. "He's simply an obstacle to me."Minerva closed the tap, now moving the pot over to the stove. "And what are we to you?" She turned the knob, setting the burner to a medium heat and leaving the pot to boil.Mahito dropped the plastic banana in his hand back into the bowl, looking between the two with a look of curiosity."Steps, I suppose," Suguru responded. "Help in accomplishing my ambitions."Minerva turned to face Suguru once again. She didn't say anything, almost as if she was waiting for him to say more than he'd already said."What am I to you, miss?"Minerva seemed to take a moment to respond, scrutinizing every inch of Suguru with her gaze. She seemed to be committing him to memory. He began to wonder if that had something to do with her Jujutsu technique or was just a quirk. Something about the way she looked at him was so detached. He felt meaningless in her stare. Insignificant. At last, she spoke with a smile, "A man."With a chuckle, Suguru replied, "Quite the observation.""Quite," Minerva chirped. The pot behind her began to bubble. "I'll call you when dinner is ready."

Content Warnings: emetophobia, suicide baiting, alcohol usage leading to inebriation, implied child abuse, unsuccessful sexual coercion.

The apartment was still. The only sound came from the cartoons playing on the television in the guest bedroom. Nanako and Mimiko, who'd at one point been entertained by the colorful animations on-screen, had long abandoned interest and took instead to perusing the nooks and crannies of the unembellished apartment.Dominic had returned from his work meeting far later than expected and had been in his room presumably sleeping since. The sisters had already eaten breakfast, washed up and spent a miserable amount of time playing games on their phones. There was nothing better to do, so why not snoop? Not that there was anything all that interesting to find in the priest's home. Everything was so bare in comparison to interior decor they'd seen on TV or in magazines. Not a picture frame or decorative object in sight. Nothing personable. It was clinical. Flipping through the bookshelf full of books on meditation and psychology and poking around underneath the couch cushions for lost change was boring but it was something to do.It was when Nanako crouched beside Dominic's briefcase that Mimiko broke the silence. "What are you doing?!" she whisper-hissed, eyes widening in shock. "Don't touch that!"Nanako looked over her shoulder at her sister. "Shh," she hushed before turning back to the briefcase. Her hands were placed over both the combination locks on either end along the top of it. The Cursed Energy surging from within made shivers race down her spine. Whatever was in there was strong, and she wanted to see what it was."He asked us to never touch his briefcase!" Mimiko pleaded, nervously glancing towards the closed door opposite theirs at the end of the hall. "If he catches us, he'll get upset!""He won't. Mr. Weon never gets angry." Nanako laughed at the idea. She made a face, mimicking Dominic's demeanor. "Young lady, I beg you don't go touching my belongings." She wagged her finger at her sister with every word. A cheeky grin followed.Mimiko wasn't at all entertained by the performance but she didn't want to argue. She stood at a distance from Nanako and the briefcase. Her arms tightened around her plush rabbit, growing more and more anxious as the other girl resumed fiddling with the locks."Well, aren't you two just precious?"Both teens jumped at the voice manifesting as if from thin air. The apartment was so quiet, it was impossible to confuse the sound for anything else. It was the voice of a woman, sickly sweet and warm. Something about it struck a chord within them, made them ache with longing. It made them feel small again. Mimiko ran to her sister's side, falling to her knees beside her and embracing her tightly. Their heads were swiveling on their necks, looking around for signs of anyone else in the home. Confusion and apprehension grew when no one seemed to be there."I'm right here, darlings."The girls snapped their heads towards the briefcase. Nothing about its outward appearance indicated change, still looking like a boring old beat-up work briefcase. Its levels of Cursed Energy had remained stagnant as well. They were unsure if the lack of change was concerning or reassuring."Where are your parents?"Nanako narrowed her eyes at the question, trembling hands still tightly clasping the briefcase. Her lips quivered, a response caught in her throat. Mimiko's grasp around her sister loosened and she lowered her head, looking stricken with grief. Neither girl answered."Oh, I see ... Poor things. Every child deserves to feel the loving touch of a mother."Silence."What are your names?""Mimiko," Mimiko squeaked, almost eager. "and Nanako.""Don't tell her anything!" Nanako scolded her sister before looking back at the mysterious case with suspicion in her eyes. "Who are you? Why are you in Mr. Weon's briefcase?""Oh, it's quite the long and boring tale ... but I suppose I could share it with you. Why don't you be a dear and let me out first? ... I'd love to see you both in person." There was a small laugh, friendly and charming. "I could tell you the story as I brush your hair ... We could go get lunch ... go shopping ... take a trip to the beach ... and then when it's all over, I could tuck you into bed at night." It was as if with every pause she was giving the girls a moment to picture this life of familial mundanity; the life of love and stability they'd dreamed of.It seemed Mimiko didn't need to hear much else. She was entranced at the invitation. She extended a hand towards one of the combination locks. Her other arm remained bound tight around her stuffed toy rabbit, her heart pounding against the plush material as she held it to her chest.Before she could press a finger to the dial, Nanako snatched her hand and squeezed tight. "I have a bad feeling about this," she whispered, tone dire. It wasn't as if she didn't also long for a mother. It wasn't as if the offers hadn't tempted her. But it was all too good to be true. She had been reckless in bringing her sister into this. "We should go back to the room.""You were the one that wanted to open it in the first place," Mimiko argued in a disappointed mutter. "Those things she said we could do sound real nice. It'd be like having a mom, a real one.""She's trapped in here for a reason!" Nanako argued."Lovely girls, I can clear everything up if you just let me out. It's so cramped and dark in here. I miss the sun."The internal conflict within Nanako was apparent on her face. She was still gripping her sister's hand tightly. Her heart told her to trust this creature but her mind called the very consideration of it absurd. Try as she might to think clearly, her brain felt scrambled and overwhelmed. All she could really envision was a life with her sister and this faceless woman. All of those things she mentioned they could do together, were they lies? Or was she being genuine? It would be just like the time before Mr. Geto ... Tears were filling her eyes, fogging her vision. After a long moment's deliberation, she at last released Mimiko and placed both her hands over the combination locks. "What's the lock code?" she asked the entity, tone betraying her nervousness."Zero ... One ... Seven ... Four."Nanako turned the dials accordingly, fingers quivering with anxiety at every click. She could feel Mimiko's hands clutching at the sleeve of her shirt. Both of them jumped as the latches flew open the moment the last digit of the unlock code spun into place. Nanako quickly pushed both her sister and herself back, the two tripping over themselves to scramble to their feet.The briefcase burst open with a loud clatter. The Cursed Energy pouring out from within was oppressive. It was dark, vile. Nothing like what they'd sensed from it just seconds ago. It rendered both teens immobile. They only clung to one another and gaped, rooted where they stood, realization dawning too late that their trust had been misplaced.The voice spoke again, devoid of all of its earlier charm. It resembled the venomous hiss of a serpent; the shriek of a mountain lion; the mocking call of a hyena. "You just wanted a mommy, didja?" A cruel laugh. "One that won't lock you up and beat you like the last did? That's so pathetic! I love it! You thought what you experienced back then was bad?" Two large, taloned hands burst from within the open case. The cracked, filthy claws bore holes into the hardwood floors. "Let me show you a mother's true love.""GIRLS!"It was as the creature made to lurch out of the briefcase that Dominic's voice rang out from behind Mimiko and Nanako. He sprinted down the hall and took a defensive stance in front of the teens, facing the creature in mid escape attempt. His eyes were wide, hand extended before him in a halting motion.Words left his mouth but they were impossible to decipher over the enraged screeching that emanated from within the briefcase. As if struck, both hands snapped back into the briefcase. It shut suddenly, the clasps snapping back into place. The dials spun on their own, eventually stopping - one seven one six.Nanako and Mimiko both rushed to Dominic's sides as the man collapsed to his knees. Blood dribbled from his nostrils and down his lips, staining the front of his shirt. His face was swelling as if he'd been struck, skin bruising deeply and spidery veins of red forming in his eyes. He didn't seem to be paying much attention to the girls as they clung and wept and apologized. His eyes were hazy, body aching. He was struggling to gather himself."Mr. Weon! Are you okay?!" Mimiko shouted in her panic. "We're so sorry! So so sorry!"The man didn't react much beyond a stern instruction. "Go to your room. Both of you." The words carried with them only exhaustion, no scorn or resentment. His voice was hoarse, as if he'd been up all night screaming. "We'll discuss this later."Nanako pried her sister away from the priest, tearfully tugging her down the hall towards the guest room at his request.At the close of the door, Dominic allowed himself to fall forward onto his hands, palms pressed to the cold wood floor. He drew in a desperate and deep breath, ragged and stinging against his aching throat. It was then that he grew aware of the taste of metal in his mouth, feeling his split skin along the inside of his lips with his tongue. Blood pooled on the floor as it continued to openly stream from his face."You always ruin my fun. I wasn't going to hurt them."Wearily looking towards his briefcase, he growled, "Shut up." He tried wiping the blood off his face with the back of his fist but only ended up making a bigger mess of it. "I'm sick of you. I'm sick of all this." Despite the rage he felt, he was too tired to project it. His words were lifeless, broken."You've brought this upon yourself.""I said shut up.""You could only placate both sides for so long. You never really were all that smart. What will you do when you get found out?""What does that have to do with this?""Because you're lashing out. Look at how you're treating me, how you treated the girls.""I didn't do anything wrong!""Are you scared you won't be good enough to fill my shoes? That you'll forever live in my shadow?""I don't want to be anything like you.""I can promise you that even after the day you decide to shed the burden of what you did to me and dispel this Curse, there will always be a piece of me inside you. And that piece will be the only bit of worth you'll ever bring to this world."Dominic's face grew red with ire, hands balled into tight fists. Tears fell from his eyes as he wailed, "You're wrong!""What are you gonna do? Kill yourself?"He was so tired."Oh, can I watch? How would you do it?"His gaze remained locked on the briefcase, hatred burning in his dark eyes."Oh, my little prince. Why are you looking at me like that?"Bile worked its way up Dominic's throat, forming a puddle on the floor before him. When was the last time he'd eaten? He couldn't remember. He felt lightheaded. His face was numb. The world around him was spinning. It was like being trapped on a merry-go-round."Are you done with your tantrum?"Dominic pushed himself off his hands, sitting back onto his folded legs. Drool and blood coated his mouth, tears still springing from his eyes. The occasional hiccup stifled his very low sobs. He said nothing. What could he say? What was left to say? He took a deep breath, it shook with feeling.It was then that his phone began to ring. It sounded as if it were miles away, though it was just in the other room on his nightstand. He couldn't move. His legs felt like jelly beneath him. He felt frightened and weak and vulnerable and hurt. He hugged his arms to his chest and shut his eyes, doing his very best to calm himself."Stand and clean yourself up. You have work to do."As if on instinct, he did as he was told. He was on his feet before he realized it. He pressed a hand to the wall to keep himself from losing his balance. The realization of the horrific mess of blood, drool, vomit and tears on himself and the floor came upon him when he accidentally left a red palmprint on the white hallway wall. He jerked his head around to look over his shoulder towards the guest bedroom, panic etched on his features. Were the girls alright?He was only just starting to gather his thoughts when her voice called to him again."Hey, Nicky."The nickname made goosebumps rise on his forearms."Never forget. Mommy loves you."

The sudden presence of someone at the doorway of her office did well in derailing Shoko's spiraling thoughts. She had given up smoking at her window, tired of having to walk back and forth between her desk and the sill every few minutes. Instead, she left it wedged open as she chainsmoked at her desk, using an old coffee mug as an ashtray and a fan to keep the smoke from wafting into the building. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when she sensed eyes on her. She played off the panic and pretended not to notice the visitor, instead absentmindedly flipping through the paperwork at her desk. Her eyes were lidded with exhaustion, her only sleep in the last day having been an hour long nap at Iori's place after breakfast the day before.A knock on the open door. She barely reacted, unsure if it was her fatigue keeping her from moving or her fear. Had word reached Yuki about the higher-ups doubting her allegiance to the school? Had she found out it was her who'd planted said doubts? Would she be angry? What was there to be angry about? Unless she was, in fact, hiding something. But in that case, why wouldn't that make her her primary target? Though it would be noteworthy if something happened to her right when these suspicions arose, so maybe she'd be fine."Pardon me, Shoko," Dominic mumbled in his second attempt to garner her attention.Relief filled her at the sound of his voice. Finally, she turned her chair to face him, putting out her cigarette as she did. "What is it now?" Her expression quickly shifted from one of feigned annoyance to dismay. "Holy shit, Dom. You look horrible." The words escaped her like air out of a balloon.His face was still swollen and bruised. A myriad of blue and purple had bloomed across his mouth and nose. His eyes were bloodshot, nearly shut from the inflammation. His normally neatly combed hair was a messy mop on his head. His shirt untucked, shoelaces untied. Not knowing how to respond to her reaction, he simply stood there."What happened?""I'll be fine. I was wondering if you-""That's not what I asked you.""I just had an accident this morning."Shoko's eyes darted towards his briefcase. The hand clutching the handle was shaking. It tightened its grip at her dubious glance. She bit her lip, ruminating pushing the subject."Please, I don't want to talk about it." It was weird, asserting a boundary for once but he felt like Shoko was one of few people in his life that would respect that. "I'll be fine. I promise."After a drawn out sigh, she nodded and leaned back into her desk chair. "You were wondering if I?" she asked, segueing him in to finish making his earlier request instead."If you wanted to continue our session from Friday."Shaking her head, Shoko muttered, "Not really. I don't really even remember what we were talking about ... but I did want to talk you about something else. Entirely unrelated." She gestured towards the door. "This is secret. Shut the door." As he did, she added, "You can't tell anyone about this."Dominic's brows furrowed. He took a seat on one of the spare folding chairs, setting his briefcase down on the floor beside him. He didn't say anything, anxiety welling at the center of his belly. His fingers fiddled on his lap.Shoko wheeled her chair closer to him, so much so that their knees were interlocked. She leaned towards him, mumbling, "I haven't seen Yuki since the fire." Her brows rose in a show of audaciousness."I don't understand," Dominic replied."Isn't it weird that Yuki appears at the school the very same moment a fire breaks out in the ward? I caught her in Jasper's room. She said she just wanted to meet them but why in the dead of the night and not just the next day?" Shoko's eyes widened more and more with every word leaving her mouth. Both her hands clamped on Dominic's knees now, clutching them tight. "Just a pile of coincidences? Or?"Dominic frowned. "What does Ms. Tsukumo stand to gain from setting the ward ablaze?" he asked, not looking all that shocked and aghast at the implications. Was he too tired to feel anything? Or did he just not care? "And what would she do with Jasper? They're powerful, yes, but their ability is entirely out of control. They'd be useless to anyone who wanted to make use of them.""So there are some gaps in my thinking but it's not completely impossible, right?""What isn't?""That she has something to do with this! With the fire! With ... With Tabitha!"Dominic grimaced at mention of Tabitha, "How exactly does she of all people factor into this?""Look, just keep an eye on her," Shoko dodged the question. "and Jasper. Don't leave her alone with them. Please."Dominic lowered his gaze, still fumbling his fingers. Hesitation formed a storm in his heart. This conversation was getting out of hand. It was overwhelming. This wasn't what he had come for. His eyes darted towards his briefcase. The once so-talkative entity residing within it stone silent. She knew what had to be done, as did he. But could he live with it? This would only be the first step down a heinous and wicked path. Would there be forgiveness at the end of it? Would he be able to turn back?"Please. If I'm right about this, it could endanger the students." Shoko's plea brought him out of his thoughts, for better or worse.Swallowing his self-contempt, Dominic resolved himself. He took her hands in his, touch delicate - as if afraid of hurting her. "Forgive me." Their eyes locked.Shoko was unable to get a single word out. A frazzled expression took over her as she blinked her eyes and looked around her. She pulled her hands loose, running her hands through her hair in attempts to collect herself. "Sorry, I'm a little spaced out today. What were we talking about?" There was frustration in her voice, as if just barely remembering something right at the tip of her tongue.Dominic downcast his gaze again. "I asked if you wanted to continue our session from Friday."

"You seem out of sorts."Those words worked to ground him. The couch he sat on felt solid, the ground beneath his feet was firm, the air around him was cool. Dominic blinked, coming to the realization he'd been staring unmovingly at a wall for the last ... He looked at the time on the wall clock in the breakroom; thirty minutes. Time had felt insignificant for him then. He could have spent the entire day dissociating in the breakroom if uninterrupted. He turned his head to look towards Kento, who was leaning back against one of the worktables, tea mug in hand. He'd been so unpresent he never even heard the man enter the room. "I a-" He caught himself, clamped his mouth shut and smothered the words that would have been. He fell silent for a moment before relenting, "I suppose I am out of sorts.""Is everything okay?"With a nod, Dominic mumbled, "It's just been a very long week.""Not to sound insensitive but your face is ..." Kento's voice faded as he struggled to find a polite adjective. "Different.""I know. I just had an incident this morning." Dominic grew all too aware of the briefcase on the floor by his feet, his dark eyed gaze piercing holes into the scuffed leather exterior. "But that's all been settled now."Taking the hint, Kento changed the subject. "I've never seen you around here on Sundays. I always figured you were off doing something ... priestly." He snorted. "So stumbling upon you here at random was a shock. You're usually rather particular about sticking to your schedule.""I just came in to check on Shoko. We didn't have a chance to finish our session on Friday. Following that, I conversed with Principal Yaga regarding my meeting with the higher-ups yesterday. I've somehow found myself here after I was done with that. Not entirely sure how or why."A comfortable silence filled the room.Dominic could feel himself sinking into the couch cushions, eyelids heavy. Footsteps made him jerk back awake.Kento paused in his approach, raising a reassuring hand. "May I sit?" He used the same hand to gesture to the spot beside Dominic."Yes."The two nestled against one another wordlessly as soon as Kento settled into the seat. After snaking his free arm around Dominic's shoulders, he crossed his legs and took another deeper drink from his mug. He enjoyed the small view of the blossoming pavilion they had from the breakroom windows, the peaceful quiet that came over the room, the herbal scent of his hot drink, the warmth radiating from the man he held close - before he spoke again. "When's the last time you've gotten any rest?"Smothering a sarcastic laugh, Dominic did his best to answer. He had gotten some sleep the day before but it had only really been an hour or two of semi-lucidity. However, his head felt as if it would split right down the middle if he dwelled too long on a satisfactory response. With a defeated look, he replied, "I slept a couple of hours yesterday afternoon.""A couple of hours more than usual," Kento said in a bemused tone. He wasn't necessarily in the position to chastize. Sleep was a foreign concept to most Jujutsu Sorcerers. "Try not to overdo it."Shifting a bit, Dominic turned his head to look at the other man. A light shade of pink filled his high cheeks. "Kento," he breathed.Kento rose his head, met Dominic's gaze and gave him everything he needed.A sigh of relief escaped Dominic before he leaned in closer, pressing their foreheads together. "I-" He began to speak but his phone suddenly vibrating in his pocket cut him off. He retrieved it, looking down at the screen with disdain. It was an unknown number. His frown deepened. "Please, excuse me," he mumbled, disentangling himself from the other and rising. He made sure to take his briefcase with him, answering the call as he opened the door and stepped into the hall. He felt Kento's eyes follow him out."DOM! Are you okay?!" Roger's voice on the other end of the call made his heart leap. "I've been so worried about you! When are you coming to dinner? You promised you would!""W-What did I say about calling me?" All the tension that'd melted away from him moments ago built right back up. His shoulders grew as stiff as concrete, his hand shaking as he clutched his phone to his face.Roger whined, "Not to do it ... but I was super worried!" His tone was insistent, pleading, though very apparently relieved that he was able to get in contact with the priest. "Are you working today? I thought you had Sundays off."After a couple of calming breaths, Dominic muttered, "I just stopped by to do something quickly. I'll be leaving shortly." He paused, lips pursing. "As for dinner ... I don't-""No! You promised, remember? Come tomorrow! Minnie'll make your favorite! You can meet all the guys!"Dominic's reeling mind slammed to a halt - but a chaotic halt, like the kind you get when you slam your car brakes while driving through a rainstorm. "The guys?" he sputtered - and then he remembered Suguru. Well, "Suguru". Nanako and Mimiko had mentioned spotting him meeting with Tabitha. Just what had this meeting extended itself into? His heart was thundering in his chest."Yeah! It's a surprise!" Roger chirped, not catching the alarm in Dominic's tone. "You'll see when you get here.""I don't know.""Please!"Time left to consider and contemplate drew to a close as Kiyotaka turned into the very same hall, thumbs tapping away at his phone screen as he absentmindedly made his way towards the breakroom. Dominic felt ice in his veins. "U-Umm, I-I ... Umm," he tripped over his words, mind racing for an out."Dom, please."The words just came out. "Fine. Yes. Tomorrow at eight." He hung up."Mr. Weon," Kiyotaka greeted with a shaky smile. "I hope you're-" He stopped himself once he finally tore his eyes from his phone to look up at his colleague. "Oh! Are you alright?""It's just been a long week," Dominic answered tightly. There were plenty of delightful little details about his appearance that incited these reactions from his coworkers, but it was likely that the main shock was that due to his mostly doing clerical work, it wasn't often he was seen battered and bruised. The kinds of injuries he was sporting certainly didn't help. A Jujutsu Sorceror stumbling about with a missing limb or their intestines trailing at their feet was a common sight. He really didn't look like he'd been hurt on the job. It, in all honesty, looked like he'd just been mugged."Oh, I see," Kiyotaka mumbled. "Well, tomorrow is the start of a new week! Let's hope this one is better."Dominic didn't say anything right away, waiting until the other awkwardly started to turn back towards the breakroom door to speak. "Mr. Ijichi," he called, locking eyes when he turned his head to look back at them. "Regarding my mission tomorrow, could you please leave the paperwork with the details on my desk before you leave today?""Of course!""Did Principal Yaga mention Ms. Ieiri spotting Ms. Tsukumo in the clinic the night of the fire?"Kiyotaka opened his mouth and then promptly closed it, suddenly standing very straight and lowering his phone. "The ... " He started to speak but stopped himself, shaking his head as if internally arguing with himself over what it was he'd just been trying to say. "I'm sorry, Mr. Weon. I can't believe my inattentiveness. What did you just ask me?" He looked ashamed, having tucked his phone into his coat pocket as if blaming it for his negligence."I asked if you could please leave the paperwork with the details on my mission tomorrow on my desk."

The bar was rowdy. Well, rowdier than usual. People tripped over themselves to get to the counter, loudly yelling over one another about work, dating, hobbies, family or whatever else. A couple of tables were discussing the incident downtown from a few days ago, conspiracies and whatnot. Judging by the number of drinks littering tables and the service staff milling about, it must've been a rough week for everyone.Satoru sat in a far corner of the venue, toying with the little umbrella that came in his fruity drink. The music and chattering and the sports commentating on the overhead TVs was making his head spin. It could've also been the several cocktails he'd guzzled a mere few minutes into arriving. Who was he to not thoroughly enjoy the dedicated bartender's hard work? It'd be a disrespect to the craft. Also, he wasn't some lightweight. What were a few drinks, moderately paced? Between gulps, he would steal glances over the top of his round black-out glasses at the front door.Dominic was late. Or at least, it felt like he was. He hadn't checked the time in a long while and he worried he lacked the coordination to operate a small technological device at the moment. Would he even come? He always came. No matter what. It wasn't as if this had been their first argument.Unease kept Satoru from sitting still for a second too long. When he wasn't drumming his fingers on the table, he was bouncing his leg up and down. He was crossing and uncrossing his arms. He was running his fingers through his hair. So what if he didn't show? He was replaceable. Just like Tabitha and Suguru had been. Just like Kento would be.He didn't care. Why would he? Why should he? He was used to this by now.It was as he stood to go settle his tab that he felt a familiar energy fill him from his the top of his head to his toes. It was as if he'd been enveloped in a warm blanket. He shuddered, grasping the edge of the table to keep himself steady. His head was spinning. Okay, maybe he overdid it just a tiny bit on the drinks. He plopped back down onto the cushioned seat, hanging his head as he felt the wonderful, comforting energy thrumming through him. Cold sweat formed at the nape of his neck. The relief that pierced his aching heart was almost too much to process. He felt like crying.Strong hands grasped his shoulders. He looked up, a crooked grin on his lips. "Y'know, I thought you weren't gonna come," he mumbled. "I shoulda known better. I'm stupid for that.""You are." Dominic's grasp loosened enough so that he was just clutching the fabric of Satoru's shirt.Satoru was surprisingly quiet for once, but that had more to do with him struggling to make any sense of his jumbled thoughts than him genuinely not having anything to say. When he finally did speak, it was words so foreign to him, Dominic might've thought he misheard had they not been so close together. "I'm sorry." He swayed forward in his seat, the top of his head pressing to the other's chest. "I was being a piece of shit yesterday.""Are you drunk already?" Dominic's hands moved from Satoru's shoulders to his face, cradling his cheeks gently in his palms and guiding him to raise his head. He looked amused."Nah, I got high tolerance," Satoru shrugged smugly, his words slurring together in an incomprehensible mess. "Everything does feel kinda blurry, though. Y'think I'm coming down with something?"It was as Dominic was about to answer that Satoru snuck a glance at him. He reached up, pulling his glasses off as if to convince himself of what he'd seen. "Whadda fuck happened to your face?" He leaned forward, squinting his eyes as he scrutinized the injuries."Don't worry about it," Dominic reassured, moving his hands from Satoru's face to his shoulders to keep him from falling out of his chair. "I'll tell you about it another time, okay?"The sensory nightmare that was the bar around them worked in Dominic's favor, forcing Satoru to redon his glasses in addition to shutting his eyes. "Oh man, I really do think I'm coming down with something," he grumbled.Masking his relief with a look of skepticism, Dominic shook his head. "I doubt it," he replied. "It's unlike you to get sick." Cupping Satoru's face in his hands once again, he used the tips of his index fingers to push the legs of his glasses so that the lenses slipped down the bridge of his nose. "Let's give you a check-up, just in case. Look up at me, if you can."Though hesitant at first, the other did as requested of him. Brilliant blue eyes peered up at Dominic. He was almost afraid to meet them - but he did. He forced himself to. Goosebumps rose on his forearms. It felt, at that moment, as if they were the only two in that room. And maybe they were.He knows. Ah, that's right. He was there for a reason. He needed to focus. But of course he knows. Why would this come to a surprise as him? Shoko mentioned it countless times to the both of them. His heart was pounding so hard in his chest, he thought for a moment the world around him was tremoring. He couldn't waste another second. He was almost done. He just needed to drop the anchor. "There's no redness in your eyes." Then, he drew a deep breath. "Do you recall Ms. Ieiri mentioning seeing Ms. Tsukumo in Jasper's room in the clinic the night of the fire?"It was as if Satoru mentally glitched, something in his mind trying desperately to locate the memory that'd just vanished. There was a struggle, moreso than any of the others. It couldn't be the infinity, could it? Satoru's soft skin against his hands were indicative that it wasn't active then. Was Satoru just that much stronger than him? Maybe he was just drained after all the prior uses? Running on fumes? Part of him worried he was getting sloppier with every use of this warped technique, that Satoru would notice and strike him down right then and there, but he forced himself to remain level headed. Everything would be fine."Hah?" Satoru called, still managing to sway in his seat despite Dominic's firm grasp on his head. "What'dya say?"Words faltered Dominic for a moment. He swallowed down his rising anxiety, hoping the other wouldn't notice his trembling fingers. "I said there's no redness in your eyes." He cleared his throat, one of his hands shifting from Satoru's flushed cheek to his forehead. "Let's check your temperature." He waited a moment before dropping his hand and shaking his head. "No fever." His other hand now moved to the other's chin, thumb swiping across his bottom lip. "Open your mouth."Satoru dropped his chin and stuck out his tongue, struggling to keep from laughing when Dominic slouched and craned his neck to get a good look at his throat."Hmm, no swelling," Dominic noted before leaning closer to the other Sorceror. "You seem fine." He pressed their foreheads together. "I think you're just drunk.""You wanna head out?"The question paired with a lecherous stare made color fill Dominic's cheeks. He quickly regained his composure. "Are you in need of someone to tuck you in?" he quipped, lips twitching.Expression souring, Satoru yanked at the front of Dominic's shirt. "You know what I mean! I wanna f-mmph!"Dominic's hand clamped over the other's loud mouth, muffling the rest of his crude shout. Eyes had darted their way but quickly lost interest when all he had to offer them was a weary and apologetic look. Upon releasing Satoru, his eyes lost their helplessness. "You're in no state. Let's go get you into bed," he grumbled, starting to help him out of his chair."But-""I don't want to hear it." Dominic cut him off, not the slightest bit interested in engaging this dialogue. Pulling one of Satoru's arms around his shoulders and wrapping his own around Satoru's waist, Dominic managed (with just a bit of trouble) to pick up his briefcase with his free hand. "I can stay the night but we're heading straight to sleep."Satoru lost the fight in him surprisingly quickly. He fell silent as Dominic covered his tab and then lead him out onto the sidewalk, tugging him towards his apartment building a few blocks down the road. The sun had since gone, clouds hiding the moon from sight. Only the streetlights lit their way. As they left the shopping district and entered the residential area, the number of people on the sidewalk decreased until it was just the two of them.A few times, Dominic stopped to see if Satoru needed to throw up but he was dismissed every time.After about ten minutes of fumbling with his keys, Satoru managed to get the front door of his apartment open. He immediately yanked the both of them towards the bed, and though Dominic followed him up to it, he didn't allow himself to get dragged along onto the soft mattress. He stood firmly and pried the other's fingers from his clothes, sighing when Satoru flopped over with a whine and a bratty kick of his legs."C'mon! I wanna feel you!" Satoru groaned, propping himself onto his elbows. His glasses had fallen from his face at some point. White hair fell into his eyes, hints of the shimmering blue peeking out playfully between tufts. "It's been a whole week. Don't you wanna?"With a tired sigh, Dominic countered, "None of that matters. You shouldn't have had this much to drink in the first place." He hesitated in setting his briefcase down. Should he just leave? He didn't want another argument. He just wanted to sleep, or at least try to.Satoru lunged forward, arms tightly winding around the other's waist. Almost as if he'd read his mind, he shouted, "Don't go!" It was a pleading yelp."Your neighbors will call the police if you yell like that," Dominic warned. He was hardly surprised by the outburst. The calm and collected Satoru Gojo was a laughable myth. Their God, his God, was a scared little boy. Like him. So frustratingly human. Naive, selfish, moody little children. They'd never gotten the opportunity to grow up, never had the chance to be kids. He closed his eyes when Satoru didn't let him go. His head was pressed to Dominic's chest, listening to his heart beat.Dominic ran his hands through Satoru's hair, fingers entangling in the messy mop.This prompted Satoru's second attempt to keep him from leaving. "Don't go, okay? It's fine. We don't have to do anything." He began to cry, turning his head to hide his face in Dominic's chest. "Just lay down with me. I don't wanna be alone." His shoulders were shaking from the struggle of getting the words out. "I'm sorry. Are you still mad at me? I'm sorry. Don't go, okay?"It was so strange for Satoru to apologize, to take personal responsibility. It was oddly reassuring to hear him say he was sorry. It was a sign that he was growing, working on himself. He was doing better, not just for himself but for them. "Okay," Dominic breathed.Satoru rose his head, eyes wide and glossy with tears. "Promise?""Yes," Dominic reassured. He then set his hands over Satoru's shoulders, gently unraveling his arms from around his waist. "Let's go to sleep.""Ever?""Ever?" Dominic echoed in confusion. He furrowed his brows. "What do you mean?"Satoru at last succeeded in dragging Dominic into bed with him. The other man was careful not to land on him, instead using his hands to guide himself onto the spot beside him. "Promise you won't ever go." The words were still slurring into one another. "Promise. Say it before I fall asleep.""Satoru," Dominic started, feeling anxiety well up in his chest. "I-""I know. I know what it means for you to say it." Satoru was laying on his back, staring up at the ceiling. His eyes were lidded and hazy, cheeks still wet with tears. "Say it or leave now." He had lost all his earlier flurry of emotion. The storm had dwindled to a light rainfall.Dominic's face twisted up for a moment before he rose from the bed. "This is cruel," he muttered. "This is a cruel thing for you to do to me."Satoru snorted, a deeply cynical look taking over his face. "You're just upset I've beat you at your own game," he grumbled. He turned his head to look over at Dominic, who stood at the bedside."Game?" Dominic echoed. "Do you think this is a game to me?"With a roll of his eyes, Satoru fell back into his inebriated silence. "I dunno how to put it," he confessed before raising his hands to his head. He gripped fistfuls of his hair. "But it's like ... " He paused before letting out a breath of surrender. "I dunno."Blinking hard to disperse the tears now forming in his own eyes, Dominic reached up and began to fumble with the collar of his shirt.Satoru perked his head up, eyes widening when the other's fingers worked their way down the buttons down the front of his shirt. It was as Dominic moved to his belt that Satoru caught his hands. "What're you doing?!""I don't know how else to show you what I feel for you, how else to prove it. This is what you wanted, wasn't it?" Dominic tried to jerk his hands free but Satoru's grip on his wrists was shockingly ironclad. "I can't promise you I won't ever leave! What if you keep hurting me like this? Do you think I exist to be your pin cushion?" His tone and volume rose. He felt like he was losing his mind. "I don't know what you want from me! I don't know what anyone wants from me!""Stop. I'm sorry." The words felt rehearsed, and this was when it dawned on Dominic that it wasn't accountability Satoru had learned after all. It was far worse. "Let's just go to sleep, okay? I'll stop."Dominic couldn't even muster the energy to sigh. He nearly collapsed onto the bed and closed his eyes, falling asleep before either of them could get another word in. The last thing he remembered before slipping into his deep, dreamless slumber was the smile on Satoru's lips and the feeling of his arms binding tightly around him once more.

Content Warnings: mentions of a drunk driving accident resulting in death.

"You did exceptionally well, Mr. Weon."The disembodied entities that were his superiors surrounded him, represented by their respective shoji screens. He was here again, the call for him formed a boulder of anxiety at the pit of his stomach - but the air around him was different this time. These people, who only ever seemed to request his presence to belittle and break him, were genuinely pleased with his work for once. Still, a seed of doubt formed in his mind. Was it really his work they were satisfied with? Or was it his submission to them?Despite this, he allowed himself to bask in his sole moment of reprieve.Dominic's shoulders dropped, a breath he felt he'd been holding in for an eternity escaped him. "Thank you," he replied, trying not to allow the flurry of emotions churning in his stomach to show on his face. "Thank you very much." It was embarrassing just how desperately he craved their validation. Any validation."Are you looking forward to your fieldwork today?"Dominic nodded, "Yes." He opened his mouth to say something else but promptly shut it."Go on."There was a moment's hesitation before he relented. "Mr. Gojo had requested for me to take over on a mission with the students on Thursday but the mission never came to fruition for me due to the incident downtown. Kento Nanami went in my stead." He paused, hands clasping his briefcase in front of him tight. "I wanted to put in a request to take on fieldwork since but hadn't the time.""How delightful to hear. Mr. Ijichi has gone ahead and left all information regarding the mission on your desk. He will still be at the work site to ensure everything goes as planned. We're sure you will handle it with the same amount of responsibility and grace as you did your task yesterday."He could hardly believe the words he was hearing. He blinked hard, dispelling the mistiness in his eyes. Red filled his cheeks. "Thank you," he said, giving a quick and grateful bow of his head. "I will do my best." Why was he feeling like this? Was he clinging to any recognition he got in a desperate attempt to rid himself of the guilt that plagued his heart? That although he had turned his back on everything he believed in, at least someone had shown him the slightest bit of acknowledgement at the end of it all?"Your success with Shoko Ieiri and Kiyotaka Ijichi came as no surprise. But Masamichi Yaga and Satoru Gojo were both a very welcome shock to us all."Dominic downcast his gaze. What was he to say to that? That he was happy to betray the trust of his friends and colleagues for the sake of empty kind words? That this came easy to him? No. This hurt him. It hurt him deeply. Not just because of his strong conscience but because that was the penance that accompanied use of this power. Pain, inflicted upon you and those around you, leaving scars on your psyche that would never leave.This was fine, though. He chose the pain over the alternative. Acclimating oneself with this Technique wasn't in one's best interest. Once it stopped hurting, once this became easy to do - one would be too far gone. Unsalvageable."You show your mother's tenacity. You hold her same grace in taming the lion that is Satoru Gojo."At this, Dominic froze. There wasn't a single word just spoken that sat right with him. His eyes darted towards the briefcase in his hands. It remained silent, though he sensed something from it. Something familiarly wicked. "Excuse my forwardness but what did you mean by that?" An uncomfortable tightness filled his chest."We've no time to elaborate. The time for your mission is closing in and we still have another, more important matter to discuss. Perhaps a conversation with your mother is overdue."Heart pounding in his chest, Dominic scrambled for anything to say. He wanted to plead that they address it. If he didn't now, he would have to wait until later in the afternoon, after the mission to discuss it. Did he just hear a laugh leave his briefcase? No. He was just imagining things. He was being toyed with once again. "Okay." His voice was hoarse."We are certain you have many questions regarding the tasks assigned to you yesterday and while we typically aren't ones for clarification, we have decided to offer some enlightenment as you both will be working closely together from this point on."Dominic furrowed his brows. "Us both?""Heya, Dom!" From the darkness to his right stepped out Yuki Tsukumo, smiling cheerfully and hand up in an energetic wave. She didn't look nearly as surprised to see him as he did her.Dominic felt goosebumps rise on his arms, a cold sweat breaking out over him. He looked quickly away from her to the ground. "I don't understand," he muttered. His mind was racing. It now occurred to him that he had never felt the need to question the orders he had received to erase any memories of Yuki's presence at the clinic the other night. How sick. How pathetic.An arm wrapped around Dominic's torso. He tensed so much so quickly that he saw stars. Yuki cracked a grin, hugging him to her side. She pressed her cheek to his shoulder. "No need to be so shy! I know we haven't formally met yet but I think we'll make a great team." She gave him a squeeze. "Don't you?"No answer came from him."You must understand three truths, Mr. Weon, without contest."He didn't look up when the higher-ups spoke to him, feeling himself gradually grow more and more overwhelmed with frustration. Words were a near impossibility. His head was spinning. His throat felt tight. "Okay." His voice was so low he wasn't even sure if he was actually speaking."Tabitha Capricien is alive and well.""Okay.""Jasper is her child.""Okay.""Ms. Tsukumo is working as our double agent, keeping an eye on Ms. Capricien’s movements while fostering a false alliance with her and feeding us any and all information she can get from her regarding her plans."Oh God. Oh fuck. Did she know? Did she know about him and Roger? Did that mean the higher-ups knew about Suguru? About the other kids? He needed to warn Roger. He needed to skip town. Where was it Kento wanted to retire to? Malaysia? Sounded great. He'd buy the tickets that night. "Okay." He felt like he was going to be sick. "May I ask a question?"A pause. "Go ahead.""If you're certain that Tabitha Capricien is Jasper's mother, then why bother DNA testing them?""You will know when the time comes."Dominic smothered a sigh.Yuki uncoiled her arm from around him, giving him a hard pat on the back. "Good luck today!"Oh, right. The mission. "Thank you.""You've done well, Mr. Weon. Keep it up."

Hands dug through tissues, spare change, perfume samples and candies in search for keys. Desmond had snuck off as per his usual routine and Tabitha and Roger were busy entertaining their guests downstairs, leaving Minerva to her own devices. Since she was the only one that got any damn work done around the house these days, she figured she'd make use of this bit of downtime and take a trip to the grocery store."BOO!"Mahito did little to startle her, even as he lunged out of the coat closet with his arms in the air. He dropped them to his sides in disappointment when all she offered him was a curt look before going back to rifling through her purse."It might've worked if I couldn't pick up on your Cursed Energy from a mile away," she said. "Maybe next time.""I'm that strong, huh?" Mahito grinned from ear to ear. "You can pick up on my power from that far away?""It's a hyperbole, dummy," Minerva sighed dramatically. Her look of disdain was quickly replaced by one of victory when she finally fished her keys out of her purse.Mahito tilted his head to the side in a show of curiosity. "What's that?" he asked."Keys?" Minerva quirked a brow."Not that!" he shouted with a cross of his arms and a deep pout. "That other thing you said. A hyperwhatever."Minerva's lips curled into a tight and judgmental purse. "All that time spent hiding in closets and crawling around in the backyard could be better spent reading a book." She paused her chastizing to scrutinize Mahito's annoyed demeanor before going on to explain, "It means I was exaggerating when I said I could sense you a mile away. I didn't mean it literally.""Oh." Mahito didn't hide the disappointment on his face, visibly deflating. He didn't dwell on it, however, already moving onto the next thing. "Where are you going?""To do some shopping." Minerva answered. She opened the door, sunshine pouring into the hall. She smiled at the feel of the warmth on her skin. "Do you want to come with me?""I dunno. Maybe," Mahito said as he followed her out the door. He took his own turn in soaking up the sun, clasping his hands up over his head in a big stretch as he walked. "What're you buying?"As she made her way over to her car, she ran through the list of essentials in her mind quickly as if reconfirming with herself before she answered. "Mostly food. Cooking oil, manyòk, parsley, bell peppers ..." Her words were quickly interrupted by her own laughter as she broke out of the recitation just in time to see Mahito sitting in the driver's seat of her car. "Get to the other side! You're not driving!" she demanded amidst a fit of giggles.As he defeatedly clambered over the center console to get to the passenger seat, Mahito whined, "I bet I'd drive really good if you let me.""Too bad we'll never find out!" Minerva quipped, sliding into her rightful seat. With a turn of the keys in the ignition, the car roared to life and with it, the radio. A flurry of pop beats and high pitched shouts boomed from the speakers, bringing an ecstatic toothy smile to Mahito's face. With a flick of the wrist, the music volume doubled as the car sped off out of the driveway and onto the stretch of road heading downtown.The energetic music and beautiful Tokyo sights did plenty in keeping Mahito complacent. Sure, he was smudging her passenger window with his stupid face and hands and he refused to wear his seatbelt but at least he was quiet.The grocery store wasn't all too busy that morning, which diminished the number of odd looks Minerva got as she seemingly chatted to no one in particular. Not that she really minded the looks. It just meant people would stay at a preferred distance."Don't just touch things unless you're going to buy them. It's unsanitary," she scolded, wrestling a mango from Mahito's hand. She inspected it closely before putting it into her shopping basket with a shrug."This is so boring though!" Mahito yelled. He viciously eyed an elderly woman nearby perusing the cantaloupes. "I hate her. She sucks. This is lame. I could kill her right now and she wouldn't even see it coming. What a dumb old lady.""She hasn't done anything to you. Leave her alone," Minerva scolded, absentmindedly checking a pack of strawberries for visible soft spots through the plastic.The old woman tossed a nervous glance her way before picking up the nearest cantaloupe and hurriedly waddling to her shopping cart further down the aisle.Smirking smugly over the departure of his feeble opponent, Mahito turned his attention back to Minerva. "Can we do something else? Shopping isn't as fun as a thought it might be." He perked up at an idea. "I went to an arcade the other day! I didn't get to play any of the games, though. Can we do that?" He hit her with the saddest, bug-eyed kicked puppy look he could muster when she looked his way."Fine but not for long," Minerva relented, lips forming a genuine smile when Mahito hopped about in gleeful celebration.After entrusting a delivery man employed by the grocery store to deliver her purchases to her home to avoid anything spoiling away in her hot car, Minerva lead Mahito on foot to the arcade that popped up in a search on her phone's GPS for any near her. She kept one eye on Mahito and the other on her ebay search for kiddie leashes as they made their way.Upon spotting the familiar colorful blinking sign atop the building, Mahito couldn't control himself. "THERE IT IS!" He shouted. He burst into a sprint, slamming open the arcade's freshly replaced double doors much to the one employee at the front's shock and horror. He ran to the flashiest, loudest game in the entire venue, hopping up and down and pointing at it for Minerva to see. "This one! I wanna play this one! Are you listening to me?!"Minerva was not, instead exchanging some of her cash for tokens at the available machines near the entrance. Once she had a handful of them, she turned and looked around for her perpetually manic friend, who was both fortunately and unfortunately for her not very hard to find. "Remind me to never take you to a library ... or the movies ... or anywhere," she snorted as she fed the necessary number of tokens to the machine he occupied.He immediately got to playing, not even remotely entertaining her joke-veiled insult. His finger mashed at buttons, making his character kick and punch. He yanked the joystick left to right, making her lunge and dodge."She's my favorite character in this game," Minerva mused as she observed the other play. "Doesn't get as fleshed out as the others though. No surprise there, she's the only girl in the series.""I like her boobs," Mahito leered."What were you doing at an arcade anyway?"The question and sudden topic shift caught Mahito entirely off-guard. "Whatd'you mean?" he asked, still thumbing at buttons furiously."At the grocery store you told me you were at an arcade a few days ago but didn't get to play. Why weren't you able to?"It took a moment for Mahito to recall the conversation had. "I was busy," he answered aloofly, pretending as if he hadn't an ounce of focus to spare her.Minerva circled around him, taking the Player Two spot at the machine and adding the tokens needed for her to join the game. "What were you busy doing?" she asked, taking control of Mahito's opponent and quickly leveling the playing field.Face twisting up in frustration, Mahito's movements grew frantic. "Uhh ... The boss asked me to keep an eye out on ... your sibling. Whatever their name is," he answered, careful not to spill any of the truth of the events that unraveled that day. It wasn't entirely a lie. He had been sent out to spy on Jasper. Things had just gotten ... a bit out of hand. Geto had been very unhappy upon finding out about his behavior then and warned against telling anyone else, especially any members of the Capricien family. 'It would cause hostilities and we still need them,' he had said. Whatever that meant."Jasper?" Minerva looked alarmed, the momentary distraction allowing for Mahito to pull her character into a flurry combo of attacks. She broke out of it swiftly, returning the favor. "Jasper was at an arcade?""This arcade, I think. I'm pretty sure this is the same one," Mahito nodded. "They were here with ... Ummm ... I dunno. Some kids." His stomach leapt at the memory of Sukuna's vessel at this same game. He didn't hide the malevolent little smirk that formed on his lips, but Minerva was too focused on her sibling to notice the sinister expression. "They all were just playing games together. They looked like they were having a good time."Minerva's hands stopped moving altogether. They clasped over her chest and she shut her eyes tight, lower lip quivering.Once again taking advantage of the distraction, Mahito went for the KO. He put his hands up in celebration of his victory, cheering loudly before noticing his opponent frozen in her somber stance. "What's wrong with you? Cheer with me!" he demanded.With a deep exhale, a smile crept on Minerva's lips. "Sorry. I'm just ... really happy." She dropped her hands."Uhh ... You just lost so I dunno what you're so happy about.""Will you shut up?"Before the two could start to bicker, they both tensed. A surge of Cursed Energy overcame them both. It was a measured aura, one of warning, coming from someone who knew exactly what to do with it. A serious threat had entered the arcade and taking only a fraction of a second to weigh their odds, Minerva did the first thing that came to mind. She grabbed Mahito by the front of his shirt, yanking him into a nearby photobooth. He immediately tried scrambling out, excited by the Energy in contrast to Minerva's wariness."What're you doing?!" he hissed when she splayed out her arms to keep him boxed within the booth."Keeping you from doing something stupid!" Minerva snapped back."You scared?" Mahito wrapped his arms around her shoulders, giving her a taunting jeer. "Didn't take you for a wuss.""I'm not! If we attract attention like that to us, my mom'll be pissed."Mahito rolled his eyes. "Aren't you tired of doing what your mommy tells you to do? Don't you want to put all your training to use? What even is the point of all of that work?" He was speaking into her ear, winding a wisp of her curly hair around his finger. "Are we just supposed to hide in here like a couple of cowards until they decide to leave?"Minerva's face twisted up in a show of frustration. Slowly, she began to lean forward, cracking open the curtain to get a good look at the source of the earlier Energy. Mahito pressed his cheek to hers, peering through the crack as well."Aoi Todo, Mai Zenin, Noritoshi Kamo, Momo Nishimiya, Kokichi Muta, Kasumi Miwa." Minerva recited their names by heart, eyes wide. She ignored the strange look Mahito gave her and added, "Us two versus six of them. Noritoshi and Momo have long-range attacks. I don't know if our touch based techniques will have any effect on Kokichi's Mechamaru. They've probably already sensed the both of us.""You're overthinking things," Mahito grumbled. "Who's the strongest there?""Aoi Todo. The big guy," Minerva muttered, eyeing him with some skepticism."Leave him to me then!""No," Minerva once again took him by the shirt to keep him from springing out of the photobooth. "I'll deal with him and once I do, it should even things out in our favor. I have a plan so follow my lead."Mahito grinned.

The day was cooler than it had been lately. The recent rainstorms were to blame for that, not that Jasper was complaining. They'd never in their entire life been outdoors as often as they had been since joining Jujutsu Tech. It was definitely going to take some getting used to. The chillier weather was a welcome treat.As they took in the large abandoned parking garage before them, shivers shot through their body. There was an unnerving atmosphere spilling out from within the building out onto the street. It came in waves, crashing at their feet as if they stood at the shore of a stormy beach. They snuck glances at their classmates, noting their determined and confident expressions. Not wanting to be the odd one out, Jasper forced themself to don a brave face."Allow me to run the details of the mission by you all," Dominic called for attention, standing at the middle of the half-circle formed by the students. "Please, pay close attention." Kiyotaka stood beside him, switching between flipping through papers attached to his clipboard and thumbing at his phone.Before the rundown could begin, Yuji's hand shot up into the air. "I have a question!" he shouted."Can it wait until the end?"Yuji lowered his hand, bearing a hangdog look. "I guess so."With a sigh, Dominic resumed. "This parking garage belongs to our client. There have been complaints of a childlike apparition causing car accidents when people try to park, along with claims that the driving ramps become maze-like and disorienting." He reached out to Kiyotaka, taking a sheet of paper held out to him. He turned it so that the students could get a proper look at the printed newspaper article pinched between his fingers. "Now after some research, we've learned that four years ago, a father and his daughter were driving down this road. The father was intoxicated which lead to him crashing into the pay booth at the entrance of the garage. Both perished in the crash. We believe this resulted in a Vengeful Spirit." Dominic paused to gesture to himself. "Which is my specialty." He handed the paper back to Kiyotaka."Speciality?" Jasper shut their mouth as soon as the word escaped them. "Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt."Dominic nodded towards Jasper, doing his best to offer a reassuring look. "It's alright. I believe that in addition to you, Yuji and Nobara have also not learned of Specialty Sorcerery so I will explain briefly for the three of you." His expression grew warmer when Yuji flashed him a delighted grin. "There are four kinds of Sorcerers in Jujutsu Society. Eradicators, Tamers, Caretakers and Special Grade. Eradicators are Sorcerers like Mr. Nanami, who take on Cursed Spirits who stem from unnegotiable sources, typically phobias. Things that can't be reasoned with as they are formed from a part in the human mind lacking logic. Only primality.""So, they're like animals?" Nobara asked. "You just gotta put them down?"Dominic's expression twisted up into a look of discontent. "The higher-ups feel it is a waste of time and resources to find more humane ways to handle the situation, so yes." He downcast his gaze. "Tamers are Sorcerers like myself. We specialize in Vengeful Spirits, usually born out of a tragic and violent circumstance. We can use our techniques to communicate with the Spirits and assist them in reaching absolution.""Being an Eradicator sounds cooler and way less complicated," Nobara grumbled. Beside her, Itadori nodded in eager agreement. With a dismissive shrug, she added, "What's the point of the chit-chat? They're the ones causing trouble in the first place. None of the Curses we've come across yet have even given us a second to get a word in. How do you," She rose both hands to do air quotes, "'absolve' something that doesn't want absolution?""Empathy is an important trait to carry when working as a Sorcerer. Cursed Spirits, like us, didn't ask to be brought into this life. They deserve understanding. They are, at the end of the day, born from us." Dominic spoke lowly but firmly, brows knitted in a plea of understanding.Megumi, Nobara and Yuji all exchanged looks, missing the look of catharsis that crossed Jasper's face. They clutched at their shirt, right over their heart, feeling it pound against their knuckles. Their eyes locked with Dominic's for a mere second before they nervously forced their gaze away. They chewed on their lips, their teacher's words echoing in their mind."Something to keep in mind is that you can't become a Special Grade Sorcerer unless you master being an Eradicator and a Tamer!" Maki stepped forward now, pointing to Dominic. "Mr. Weon doesn't like eradicating so he can't. Mr. Nanami doesn't like absolving work, so he can't. Yuki Tsukumo and Satoru Gojo are two of twenty Special Grade Sorcerers, meaning only them and eighteen other people in the entire world mastered both!""What're you doing here anyway?" Megumi grumbled.Nobara gave him an intense look. "She can be wherever she wants!" she hissed."That's what I was gonna ask earlier!" Yuji yelled pointedly. He then added in a lighter tone of voice, "I thought us first years went on different missions than them."Inumaki held up his phone for the others to hear his text-to-speech app. Panda, as usual, stood at his side. "Mr. Weon is the only Tamer that doesn't work abroad and he wasn't accepting fieldwork until today. We've never seen a Tamer work so we don't want to miss this," the robotic voice read out, making Nobara and Yuji fawn."Is that true, Mr. Weon?!" The two shouted, nearly tripping over each other as they neared the man.Dominic blinked, looking just as surprised. "I-I suppose it is," he said, though he sounded unsure of himself. He glanced at Kiyotaka beside him, as if searching for confirmation.Kiyotaka mirrored his surprised. "Were you not made aware of this? After your mother's passing and your resignation to clerical work, there weren't any Sorcerers left here who could properly teach methods of Taming.""What about Sa- Mr. Gojo?" His cheeks reddened, not at his misnaming, but at the distressing realization that he had majorly let down the next generation of Jujutsu Sorcerers through his own fear of incompetence.Kiyotaka gave Dominic a look. "Mr. Gojo did Taming work when he was a student out of obligation but it's shocking to me that you didn't know he never accepts Taming missions."Dominic shut his eyes tight, inhaling deeply before turning back to face his students. He had known that Satoru didn't like the missions. Not that he wasn't doing them at all. And no one had a problem with this? No one had thought of bringing this up to him? They'd just allowed him to live in his bubble while the world fell apart? While the students learned only to hurt? "I don't want to waste any time. If there are no other questions, let's begin." Determination overflowed from within him, seeping through his pores. He was done being a coward. A failure. He'd do right from then on, and he'd do it his way.As the group entered the parking garage, Kiyotaka waved his goodbyes at them, staying by the empty pay booth. "Good luck! I'll be waiting for you all here!" he shouted.Yuji gleefully waved back, whining when Nobara yanked him by the shoulder of his jacket and forced him to face forward and focus on the task at hand."So are Vengeful Spirits like ghosts?" Yuji asked as they made their way up a crumbling staircase."I guess there are some similarities. Humans who meet abrupt or violent ends at times may leave spiritual residue that festers and becomes a Vengeful Spirit," Dominic explained, keeping his spot at the very front of the group. "They will attach themselves to places ... or even people.""Like Yuuta and Rika?" Maki asked, following closely behind him."Who's that?" Nobara asked, brows raising."Friends!" Panda added. "They-""Someone's here." Dominic interrupted, raising his hand in a request for silence.They all turned their attention towards the empty second level of the parking garage. Some debris from the abandoned building littered the floors but nothing they could see seemed to be present. However, they were all mindful of the restless Cursed Energy growing as they walked further across the lot. It was as they took a few steps further into the lot that Megumi spoke, "Look out over the railing outside. We're not on the second floor."Yuji and Nobara neared the railing, both taking in the shocking several levels of height between them and the ground. "Maybe this is what those people were talking about," Yuji mumbled as Maki and Panda joined them to taking a look themselves. "When they said they were getting disoriented."Jasper kept close to Dominic, half-tempted to cling to his shirt sleeve. They felt nervous. Their classmates carried themselves with so much confidence, they couldn't help but feel vastly inferior in terms of ability. If anything happened to any of them just now, what would they be able to do to protect them? "Guys, maybe you should stay away from the railing," they squeaked, figuring that at the very least they could make use of their paranoid fears to try and rein the others away from reckless behaviors.A childish giggle carried by a cool breeze made the students all quickly regather back by their teacher. It seemed to come from right before them, although nothing had visibly changed."Could it be the kid from the accident?" Nobara asked.Dominic didn't agree or disagree, keeping his eyes ahead. "This is why it is crucial for Tamers to know of any tragedies that may have occurred on the premises so they prepare for who to make contact with," he explained. "It's possible this is the child from the accident I mentioned earlier.""If it's a kid then there shouldn't be a problem exorcising them!" Nobara looked rather pleased at the prospect of another completed mission. However, she shrank a bit when Dominic gave her a cold look over his shoulder.Maki threw an arm around her girlfriend, bumping their heads together. "A true Tamer never aims to exorcise a Vengeful Spirit. Only seeks to rehabilitate it. That's why a lot of Tamers are Curse Users.""Rehabilitate it?" Nobara asked, looking skeptical."In my ideal world," Dominic spoke, making the teens glance his way. He was standing facing them, briefcase clutched in front of him. "we all coexist.""They're the ones trying to hurt people!" Nobara argued."Are they?" Dominic asked."Yes," Yuji jumped in, resolute. His expression had morphed into one of grief-stricken anger. Beside him, Jasper tensed. They didn't move, almost as if any slight gesture would draw the worst kind of attention their way. They downcast their gaze, hiding their own anguish."I see," Dominic mused. He turned suddenly, the sound of sandals clapping against the cement from behind him quickly growing louder as the one bearing them approached at an alarming speed. There was a flash of black in his peripheral as a small figure leapt towards him, a shrill and excited shout escaping her mouth."LET'S PLAY!" The young girl stopped herself in mid-air, her long black hair catching up. She sported it over her face, ensuring no one could get a proper look at her. At the lack of reaction from the group, she leapt back several feet and began to shyly twist the ends of her hair around her fingers."Hello," Dominic greeted, kneeling so that he was level with the young Spirit. "What's your name?"Sheepishly shifting from one foot to the other, the girl's finger fiddling only grew more frantic. "You're not scared?" she whined, sounding disappointed. "Why aren't you scared?""What is there to be afraid of?"A sudden shriek from the child startled the teens behind Dominic. "ME!" Her voice strained from the force she put into it, her Cursed Energy bursting forth from her tiny body and forming cracks on the garage floor. They spiderwebbed out towards the group, stopping right before Dominic. The teens all grew defensive, assuming fighting postures. However, they grew perplexed when their teacher didn't move from where he knelt.Extending a hand towards the Cursed Spirit, he spoke, "Why don't you tell me what's upsetting you? I can help you."Wind picked up, blowing towards them from over the Spirit's shoulders. Some debris flew up at the group, but the small rocks and dust did very little to deter any of them. She grew more upset at this. "No! Go away! If you don't want to play then leave me alone!" Her hands were balled into tight fists at her sides. "Go away! Go away!" The bursts of air grew more intense but still did little in thwarting the Sorcerers."Mr. Weon! This is a waste of time!" Nobara shouted. "Just exorcise her and be done with it! Any of us could do it! She's weak."Jasper felt words form, fall away and reform in their mouth. They wanted to beg for her sympathy. They wanted to get her to understand. But how? What could they say? Megumi beat them to it, "We're here to learn about Taming, Nobara. If you find this boring then pursue Eradicating, but you'll never become a Special Grade Sorcerer without mastering this.""But-""Be quiet and watch!" Maki cut in now, visibly annoyed. She clasped Nobara's shoulder tight, nodding ahead of them. "Even Yuji is paying attention for once."At this, Jasper turned their head to Yuji, who was standing close at Dominic's other side, eyebrows furrowed as he watched the interaction between Sorcerer and Spirit. They inhaled sharply, turning their head to the situation at hand just in time to catch a name in passing."Hibiki." The girl was practically twisting herself into a pretzel of diffidence. "That's my name.""That's a very pretty name," Dominic said. "You said you wanted to play, didn't you? What did you want to play?"Hibiki grew alarmed, extending her hands in a gesture that begged they stay back despite no one approaching. "NO! I don't want to play for real!" She gestured in a more frenzied manner back to the stairwell. "I was just sayin' that! Now go away!"Dominic frowned. "I see." His eyes never seemed to leave her. "Why is it you want us to leave?""Because! You're stupid! And ugly!" Hibiki shouted, voice echoing throughout the garage. She grasped handfuls of hair, yanking them downwards in a show of frustration. "Now, get out of here!""She's a brat!" Nobara barked, stamping her foot.Unexpected to everyone including himself, Dominic burst into laughter at the petty insults. He gathered himself quickly, wiping away a small tear at the corner of his eye with the knuckle on his index finger. "I suppose I am," he settled before bursting into a sprint straight towards the shocked young girl. The smile was gone from his face, a look of sheer intension taking dominion.Before Hibiki could react, he managed to catch her over his shoulder and narrowly avoid the tumbling ceiling above them. He set her down upon setting foot on stable ground but kept his arm extended to his side so that she stayed behind him. A beast towered between him and his students. It'd broken through the level above them, likely upon sensing intruders and now swiveled its head about in search of prey, back arched, mouth drooling and eye bloodshot. It sat on its haunches but barely kept balance, using its knuckles to steady itself. Its face was distorted as if someone had torn apart and rebuilt a human face several times over. Its watery eyes looked around it, finally settling its hungry gaze on the group of teens."She was-" Yuji started, only to be cut off by Megumi. "protecting us."

Content Warnings: body horror, minor gore, and canon typical violence.

"Let's watch the scene again!" Roger sounded excited, voice tremoring with emotion. They were close to a big breakthrough - a grand evolution of power. "You've got the loud bit down but you're missing the most important thing." He turned away from his daughter and towards the large flat screen TV on the wall before them. With a press of the rewind button on the remote, still frames flashed on the screen as the disc returned them to an earlier point in the story; the gore and viscera was undone, the terror and fear had yet to come. Roger let the movie play for a few seconds, allowing for the protagonist to sense her attacker behind her. He paused just as she turned. "It needs to be real. You have to feel it. If you don't, it'll look rehearsed."Minerva took in the look of unmitigated horror on the woman's face. She practiced furrowing her brows like her, quirking her lips like her, squinting her eyes like her - before she stopped and turned her head towards Roger. "I don't understand," she muttered. "She knows she's filming a scene in a movie. How is her fear real?"With an urging point towards the TV, Roger persisted. "Don't you see it in her eyes? The vulnerability? The screaming is pointless, she knows that. It won't stop the knife coming down on her - but it's all she can do." He took hold of her shoulder. "She might not be scared of the killer or the knife because she knows that he's an actor and it's a prop - but she's pulling from real fears. It's not the killer or the knife, it's what they represent to her.""I still don't get it," Minerva sighed, growing agitated."What scares you, Minnie?" Roger crossed his arms. A half-smile dressed his lips.It took a few moments but eventually Minerva shrugged her shoulders and said, "Nothing, I think."Roger burst out laughing. "Oh, yeah? I remember a certain little girl climbing into her parent's bed in the middle of the night because she had a nightmare that a giant spider was trying to eat her.""I was five," Minerva bit out, nostrils flaring.Roger didn't answer, clutching his sides as they cramped up from his guffaws.Spiral-eyed gaze returning to the TV screen, Minerva contemplated. "Mom says fear is weakness," she mumbled. "Even if it is to gain some kind of advantage, wouldn't tapping into personal emotional vulnerability for the sake of sincerity leave you ... exposed? Won't opening yourself up to feelings like this weaken you?"Roger scratched at the back of his head. "Listen, everyone's got fears. Even me. Even your mom. Fears don't make you weak, they make you ... well, you." His eyes were narrowed in concentration, seemingly putting all his focus into his words. "Your mom can say all she wants that she has no fears, that's bullshit. It's just ..." He paused, pursing his lips."Just?" Minerva urged, eyes gleaming with interest.Roger laughed again, though this time it was more a gentle chuckle than his earlier roar of laughter. "I don't really know. I kinda forgot the point I was trying to make. Maybe I shouldn't've tried to sound smart." He rose the remote, pointing it towards his daughter. "Either way, I think you got some kinda idea in your head so let's try it again." He pressed play. "Action."The bunker was gone, replaced with the dim interior of the photobooth. The tranquility of her home was gone, replaced by upbeat chiptunes, children excitedly shouting over one another, the emulated sounds of gunfire, cars racing and spaceships taking flight. Roger was gone, replaced by another slimy but charming little bastard.Mahito had been staring at her, face twisted up with both impatience and confusion. "So, what's the plan?" He barely got through the sentence before Minerva started to shriek.It was a guttural bonechilling scream, enough to make one's blood turn to ice in their veins. She stumbled out from inside the photobooth, tearing the curtains from their rod on her way out. She was tripping over her own feet in her desperation to flee. "HELP ME! PLEASE!" Tears fell from her eyes, her hands trembled as they outstretched to those who would help her. Her saviors. "THAT THING IS GOING TO KILL ME!"Eyes immediately darted her way, patrons too shocked by the sudden display of distress to immediately investigate the cause of it. Neither fight or flight kicked in quite yet as the small crowd struggled to assess the situation. This gave Mahito the time he needed. His limbs began to expand, fingernails growing and sharpening and hardening. His skin stretched, yielding to the sudden bulging and contortion of his muscles. As he doubled and tripled in height, the photobooth gave in to the expanding mass within it and broke apart. He fell forward onto his palms, proceeding on all fours. His hair grew with him, falling over his face in matted and unkempt chaos. His face became feline in form, drool stringing from his maw as his mismatched eyes twitched in the direction of those around him. He inhaled deeply, the excitement festering in his stomach sending chills up his spine. He then lunged forward, eyes glowing with delight.The tremor of the ground with every leap forward he took helped fuel Minerva's performance. She couldn't help the glee that bubbled within her at the sight of the spectators scrambling over one another towards the exit. Using this chaos to their advantage, they'd certainly win. And yet, there was a budding seed of doubt in her mind. She was displaying fear, right? She sounded just like that woman in the movie, at least to her own ears, but was she feeling it? This couldn't be what fear felt like. This felt too good. Her targets stood in front of her, unmoving pillars of strength and confidence amidst the sea of terror and fear all around them. They didn't seem nearly as shaken as she hoped they'd be. She extended her hands towards the one front and center. Aoi Todo, wearing his concern on his face as plain as day. He took hold of her, only to quickly guide her behind him, moving surprisingly delicately. The others at his sides were forming a barrier around her. Success!"You'll be okay, miss," Aoi promised, turning to face Mahito as the Curse skidded to a halt right before them. "I'll make sure this beast won't hurt you.""It's not him you should be worried about," Minerva was beaming now, all prior feigned fear and panic gone from her. She had leapt up, arms wrapped tight around his neck. She propped her chin on her arm, legs cinched at his sides. "What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?"Try as he might, he could not follow his own demands to react, to throw her off, to run, to do anything but stand there and stare. He couldn't even speak. He had become a passenger of his own body. His Cursed Energy was a raging fire but hers was a thick quilt, smothering his flames to cinders.Mai was the first to move, drawing her gun. She would have succeeded in blowing a hole in the back of Minerva's head if a playful kitten hadn't intervened. Just as her finger curled around the trigger, Mahito's paw swiped at her, sending her crashing through the protective glass top of a pinball machine. The gun went off, the Cursed bullet blowing a hole in the arcade ceiling before the gun skidded off into the shadows of the now mostly empty arcade.It was as the Jujutsu students began to react that Minerva maneuvered Aoi out of the way, making him leap to his right towards Miwa and Mechamaru. She moved them just in time to dodge Noritoshi's Convergence, the beam of solidified red blood cratering the floor where Aoi once stood. Upon landing Minerva lost his balance, forcing him to roll forward and back onto his feet. She grunted under his weight as he rolled over her, repositioning herself on his back to keep herself from slipping.She didn't have much time to get comfortable. Mechamaru took a powerful swing towards Minerva's arms in an attempt to separate the two, but Aoi's hand caught him, stopping him right before he was able to make contact. The blades along the side of his mechanical arm sliced into his classmate's calloused palm.Minerva hid the pain reflected in her own palm well. Well enough to mock, "Whoops! You'll kill your classmate at this rate!" She caught a glance from Mechamaru over her shoulder, shifting Aoi suddenly so he turned at a 90 degree angle, just in time to catch the blade of Miwa's katana. The sharp edge nearly severed his thumb off.Fuck! Why did you catch it, idiot?! Minerva mentally castigated herself, biting down on her lips to keep from yelping at the stinging pain in her own finger. She stole a glance at her hand in a fruitless attempt to convince herself it wasn't real. 'Dodging needs to become an innate reaction for you. It doesn't make you a coward, it makes you smart.' Roger's advice echoed in her mind, making her heart fill with sorrow. He'd be so disappointed in her."Todo! I'm so sorry!" Miwa's shout snapped Minerva out of her thoughts. Terror filled the Jujutsu student's face upon realization of what she'd done. "I'm so-""Miwa!" Mechamaru shouted but it was too late.Using Aoi's vice grip on the sword, Minerva pulled Miwa close enough to her to get his usable fingers around the collar of her jacket. She swung her around, sending her slamming into Mechamaru which therein sent both of them flying back into the nearest arcade cabinet. The machine gave into their weight and momentum, collapsing into itself.Minerva looked towards Mahito, rolling her eyes at the sight of him dangling Mai upside down with her foot in his mouth. Wholly uninterested in the display, she turned away from the pathetic scene, instead searching for Momo and Noritoshi. Shit, where'd they go? To get help? Or hiding in the shadows waiting for us to drop our guards?"Lost track of them?" Aoi asked in a breathy laugh.Shit.Minerva silenced her thoughts. "Hm? Lost track of who?" she asked. She had been so enthusiastic about entertaining Mahito's violent cravings that an irritating downside to her technique had slipped her mind; which was to say just how deep the connection between her and her puppets went. Full access to her thoughts and emotions wasn't too much of a hassle for her, albeit uncomfortably invasive. However, the fact that Aoi was now able to talk was cause for concern. Him determining her attacks as she planned them and warning his classmates would prove itself a problem. How her Cursed Energy was this low so soon, she didn't know but in her attempts to keep him from overhearing her thoughts due to the link they presently shared, she forced herself to put off worrying about it. Or anything, for that matter."Your mind went so quiet all of a sudden. Your thoughts were racing just a moment ago. What happened? Don't want me to know you're panicking?" Aoi chuckled. "You're too distracted when you fight. You need to work on your focus.""Feeling cocky enough to give me pointers?" Minerva sniffed.The conversation was cut short when a hand grasped a fistful of her hair, jerking her head back in an attempt to yank her off of Aoi. Her arms tensed and kept their hold, though a painful crack resounded from her neck from the sudden strain. "Let go of my fucking hair!" she screamed before Mechamaru could get a word in. The sensation of the intrusive fingers gripping her curls and pulling made her skin crawl. "Don't touch me! Bastard!" One of her hands released Aoi and instead grasped Mechamaru's wrist, careful to avoid cutting her own fingers on his exposed blades. It was a stupid decision to halve her Energy into trying to control two puppets but she couldn't think of any other way to get Mechamaru to release her. Please, she thought. Please, work.Nothing.Fuck!Minerva refocused on Aoi, making him spin suddenly and reach for Mechamaru's head with his less seriously injured hand. She could feel the pinching of hair being plucked from her scalp at the sudden motion. Fingers clasped around the front of the robot's face."Your efforts are futile," Kokichi's voice came from the voicebox within the Cursed puppet's mouth. "You will lose.""Eat shit," Minerva growled, throwing Aoi's arm back and dislodging the faceplate from the robot's head. Wires tore, screws sprung loose. Mechamaru's hands blindly reached upwards, as if searching for its face. She made Aoi duck low, sweeping his leg under the other's and knocking him off balance. As soon as he was on the floor and before he had a second to react, she put Aoi's foot through his chest. The brightly colored tiled floor beneath them splintering from the force.Minerva didn't take a second to gather her thoughts, instead once again looking around her for any other attackers. A sudden burst of wind hit her, almost succeeding in peeling her off of Aoi's back. Her nails dug into his skin as she fought to hold on, grimacing as she in turn felt the clawing in her own chest."I get it now. The only reason you haven't drained all your Cursed Energy yet is because when you attack, you're using mine. Am I right?"Minerva didn't answer, bracing herself when she finally spotted Momo circling above them while perched on her broom. A second burst of air followed a whip of her broom, once again causing Minerva to cling onto Aoi with all she could."Oh, is that a birdy?" For once, Mahito's voice came as a relief. He leapt towards them, attention diverted from the unconscious teen he'd had in his clutches. His massive paws swiped at Momo, who was just barely managing to dodge each one. "Just the perfect treat for a kitty cat like me!"Momo snorted. "I don't think you've ever seen a cat before!" She took to flying in a fast and teasing circle around his head, occasionally sticking her tongue out. Her eyes, though, they'd wander towards Mai across the room. Worry shown in her eyes as she continued playing the role of mischief maker."Look out!" Minerva shouted just as, from his hiding spot behind some vending machines, Noritoshi sent out another dangerous beam of Convergence.A hole opened up in Mahito's head and at first Minerva had thought Noritoshi succeeded in hitting his mark but as the skin, muscle and bone all began to regrow she realized he had willed it to allow the attack to pass through. The blood beam, however, blew a hole through the wall by the front desk, where the attendant hid curled up behind said desk.With a scowl, Noritoshi sprinted out from his hiding spot, searching for another vantage point. As Minerva moved to follow, a strong grip on Aoi's ankle prevented her from doing so. She looked down to see Mechamaru, having dragged itself over to them, fingers clamped on Aoi's leg. Frustrated, she swung his leg back, giving Mechamaru's head a hard enough kick to dislodge it from its body, sending it spinning somewhere into the arcade."Stop fucking around, Mahito!" Minerva ordered before clapping Aoi's hands together.Now replacing her was a disoriented Noritoshi.Behind a row of arcade machines, Minerva took a moment to clear her head. Mahito could deal with Momo and Noritoshi in the meantime. It had become overly apparent that he wasn't even close to using his full strength. He could end this whenever he wanted to ... so why hadn't he? Was he having fun? Was she? Stopping her thoughts proved more difficult than anticipated. It was like trying to keep a tide from rising. Water slipping through her fingers, overwhelming her and washing her away. She closed her eyes, suddenly very aware of how much she was shaking."Scared? I can feel your heart racing against my back," Aoi broke the silence. "You know, I could've taken control back at several points this whole time. You get so preoccupied about everything going on that you get all jumbled up and forget about you." There was a pause. "Not in that you don't protect yourself. You've been doing pretty good on that end. You just forget about you, as a person. You lose control because you let yourself get distracted by and concerned about things that're irrelevant."

Minerva's expression grew cold. "Is this little critique meant to serve as a distraction then?" she asked. "If you could take control back, then you would but you haven't so you can't. There's no use in lying. For the time being, we are one in the same. In the same way you can feel my feelings and hear my thoughts, I can do the same with you." Her lips curled into a diabolical smile. "Did you really think you'd succeed in making me feel inferior to you? Afraid of you? You're not as strong as you think you are. If this is the strongest your school has then it's had a massive downgrade since the last generation of Sorcerors."Aoi's eyes narrowed. "Who are you? No, actually. What are you? You stink like a Curse but you're not one, are you?"Opening her mouth to respond, Minerva had no time to get a word out. A gunshot went off, making her flinch. She tried to make Aoi move but he didn't, at least not the way she wanted him to. He turned his head to look over his shoulder at her, grin spread wide on his lips.She stared at him, surprise apparent, before looking up towards the wall of arcade games in front of them. Mai stood over them, expression dark as she kept her gun aimed, finger still on the trigger.The pain came all at once. One of her arms fell limp at her side, the Cursed bullet having torn apart a chunk of her shoulder. The limb clung on by shattered bone and torn muscle. She didn't look at it, instead fixing her gaze on Mai. Her other hand clung pointlessly to Aoi. She had lost control of him and her Cursed Energy was now too weak for her to regain it. Was this fear? This helplessness stirring within her?Mai adjusted her aim, dead-on with the center of Minerva's forehead.A bitter smile crossed Minerva's lips. "Don't miss this time," she teased, keeping her gaze locked with the other girl's.Mai scowled."Mai!"Momo's shout came too late. Like a bull on a rampage, Mahito plowed headfirst into the arcade cabinets Mai was standing on, toppling them over onto Minerva and Aoi and sending Mai crashing into the metal holding bars of a dancing rhythm game.Things came in chaotic glimpses.A crushing weight over her, squeezing the breath out of her lungs. When she opened her eyes, all she could see was a screen full of distorted pixels dancing inches from her face. Her attempts to get the gaming machine off of her were futile, too exhausted to do anything other than gasp and groan in pain. She couldn't feel her legs.As soon as it'd come, it was gone. Air filled her lungs as she was freed from the weight, taking this moment to roll over onto her side and clutch at her injured shoulder. Her eyes shifted upwards, expecting Mahito, but confusion filled her when she saw Aoi looming over her, the large machine in his powerful grip. He was shouting something at her but the ringing in her ears drowned any noise out.As if being propelled with the grace of a toddler learning to walk, Mahito barreled into Aoi, sending him crashing through the drywall separating the bathrooms from the main room.Minerva extended a hand towards the Curse, too disoriented to feel much of anything. Her head was spinning, eyes unfocused, throat dry. She felt like crying. They'd lost. This sucked. Mahito's mouth enclosed around her waist, she felt him retract his fanged teeth into his gums to avoid piercing her. As he made his escape from the building with her still in his grasp, she managed one last look towards Aoi, who stood in the hole he'd made in the wall, staring coldly after them.

Content Warnings: body horror, minor gore, and canon typical violence.

An angry screech pierced the morning air. Clouds of dust and debris billowed around the massive Curse as it made way through the crumbling building. Its amorphous deep green yellow speckled body was slick with a thick putrid slime, leaving a trail on the ground as it used the bulking humanoid arms at the front of its body to drag itself across the pavement. It headed further up the car park, traveling surprisingly quick. The intruders seemed to be of no interest to the Vengeful Curse, instead its vivid yellow eyes rolled about in their sockets searching for something else."Everyone, stick together!" Dominic's order fell on deaf ears. He tried his best not to look exasperated as the teens split up, some taking cover while others searched for vantage points. He took cover behind a nearby beam as the Curse traveled past him, drooling and snorting as it aimlessly wandered up to the next level.Dominic's attention was divided when he felt a tug on the back of his shirt.Hibiki was hanging her head. "Please, don't hurt my daddy," she whispered. Though he could not see her face through her thick long bangs, he could hear the tears in her voice. "He doesn't mean it. He's just sad."Realization dawned that their assumption that she had been protecting them was in fact wrong. She was protecting him. "Of course," he reassured. "We're here to help. I need you to stay somewhere safe while we work though, okay?" He did his best to offer the young girl a comforting smile, though the reminder that he'd be doing this while looking after unexpectedly contrarian teenagers made it waver.The child lingered for a moment, shifting from foot to foot, looking hesitant; before she eventually nodded and vanished into the shadows."Yuji! Don't!"Megumi's cry stole back Dominic's focus. There was little time for observation and strategy. The priest sprinted forward upon spotting his unruly student leaping down towards the Vengeful Spirit from a loose overhead beam. A powerful blue surge of Cursed Energy formed at the knuckles of his clenched fist.The Curse turned suddenly with shocking speed and dexterity given its size, jaw unhinging as it moved to bite at him.Yuji resumed his attack regardless, face contorted with determination - however, he was successfully intercepted by his teacher, who tackled him around the waist and out of the way of the jagged toothed maw as it clamped shut. The two landed near the railing along the building's edge, Dominic using his own body to shield Yuji from the impact as they bounced and rolled."What was that for?!" The teen was quick to push away from his teacher, looking both confused and frustrated. "I thought we tamed the other one already? How're we supposed to tame this one when it's just a monster?" He rubbed at his head, wincing when his fingers grazed a tender spot. "You said before that some Curses can be tamed and others can't! How is this one that can be?""Mr. Weon! Yuji! Are you guys okay?!" Panda had run over to the two of them, Toge and Megumi on his heels.Dominic had sat up, winded from the landing. "I am pleading with you all to listen to me." Just what in the hell was Satoru teaching these kids? There was no cohesion. They acted impulsively and refused to follow instructions. They were bullheaded and rebellious. They were- Oh. He sighed loudly. "We are working together on this. Our goal is not to exorcise the Curse, but to tame it. If there are two, we will tame both. If one can not communicate, we will find a way. If we attack it, it will only escalate the situation which will in turn make the Curse more difficult to tame.""But-""This isn't up for debate! If you refuse to follow orders, I will send you down to wait with Mr. Ijichi!" Dominic didn't remember the last time he'd raised his voice towards a student. In fact, he didn't think there had ever been a time. But the situation was starting to get out of hand. He couldn't fail at this. He couldn't. Call him selfish but it was important to him that he didn't. "Please, Itadori. This will be an important lesson for you." He softened his voice now, brows furrowed as he pled.Yuji downcast his gaze, frowning deeply. His head perked back up when he felt Megumi's firm grasp on his shoulder. The two exchanged looks; one of reassurance, the other troubled. "I'm sorry," the blonde said after a while. "I'll listen."The ground shook suddenly, caused by the creature's trailing tail knocking over cement pillars as it vanished around the corner."It's not attacking any of us," Megumi recapped as he dropped his hand, simply observing the Curse as it left their line of sight. "It only seems to become violent when engaged first. It keeps ... sniffing? At least, I think it is. It might be looking for something."Dominic stood, dusting off his clothes and picking up his briefcase. "Let's follow it closely and observe. It's good that it's not hostile but, as Itadori pointed out, it not being able to speak presents us with some difficulty," he said. "However, that's never stopped us before." He nodded towards Toge, who widened his eyes in response."I can use my Shikigami to lure it somewhere where we can corner it and you can ..." Megumi's voice trailed. "talk to it? We know it can't speak but can it hear? It has eyes but can it even see? I never really considered a Curse's physiology before." He frowned a bit. "It doesn't seem to have any spatial awareness, the way it keeps bumping into walls and knocking things over. Either that or it doesn't care."Panda interrupted, "Since it engaged when Itadori attacked it, do you think it reacts when it senses Cursed Energy?""That would make sense considering when it first appeared was right after the Cursed Spirit girl used some of her Cursed Energy to try and get us to go away," Megumi replied, fingers drumming at his chin in thought. "If that's the case then I can definitely use my Shikigami to lure it somewhere. We would just need to think of how to tame it once we have it where we want it.""Leave that to me," Dominic nodded. "Try and lead it up to the roof. We'll have more space and visibility. Let's-""Hey, teach!" Maki called out from further up the parking garage ramp, awkwardly scratching at the back of her neck. She wore a look of vexation, her other hand gripping tightly the hilt of her sheathed katana.Dominic looked her way."Notice anyone missing?"

The pillars offered good enough cover. Well at least they did when the gross slimeball Curse wasn't knocking shit over. Nobara kept low, eyeing the creature as it pulled itself up the parking garage. Could it not sense her? With a roll of her eyes, she dismissed her own curiosity. Obviously not. It was a brainless monster. It was just set out to kill, to hurt, to destroy.Narrowing her eyes, Nobara moved to step out but a sudden grasp of her arm made her turn. She'd raised her hammer defensively but lowered it when she faced Jasper. "Don't sneak up on me, you idiot!" she hissed before yanking her arm out of their grasp. "And don't touch me!""I-I'm sorry!" Jasper squeaked, hands up in a show of surrender. "B-But I ... I think what you're doing is wrong!" Just speaking the words caused a wave of anxiety and nausea to overcome them. They had mulled over the confrontation the entire time they'd been following her, trying to work up the nerve to be honest. "Why choose to kill when you can have mercy?"Nobara grabbed at the front of their overalls, the fabric caught in her tight fist as she pulled them closer to her. "You don't have as much experiences with Curses as we do so I'll cut you some slack but you need to stay out of my damn way," she growled."No!" Jasper blurted, expression still stricken with terror. "I-I won't let you!" With a hard shove from their classmate, their back hit the cement pillar behind them. Though the show of aggression rattled them, it didn't stop them. "Please, Kugisaki! We can tame the Curse together! No one has to die!"Pointing a finger towards the beast, Nobara barked, "That thing isn't sentient! It's not like you or me! It doesn't have feelings or thoughts! It barely has a life! It only wants to hurt and kill people! People we care about! Are you gonna let it?!" She then jabbed her finger into Jasper's chest. "'cause if you are, you're in the wrong line of work!"Jasper's words were caught in their throat. They fiddled their fingers, eyes wide and misty. They could prattle on for an eternity in their attempts to reason with her but they'd be wasting their breath. It didn't matter if what they said made any sense, she didn't want to listen to them."Stay out of my way if you're not going to help," Nobara growled before turning to face the Curse again, tightening her grip on her hammer as she neared it. Her Cursed Energy filled her, bubbling up from the rage in her chest. The nails she clutched between her fingers dug into her palm from how tightly they were held.As her Cursed Energy grew, the Vengeful Spirit turned to face her. One of its hands rose, knuckles scraping against the ceiling above it, before crashing down towards her. Its limb broke through the level, sending a pall of rubble and debris up into the air.Jasper rose their arms to shield their face. "Kugisaki!" they cried. "Are you okay?!"There was no verbal response but Nobara's sudden re-emergence from the cloud of dust came as an answer. She readied her hammer to take a shot but a sideways swipe of the Curse's arm made her readjust her strategy. She ducked low to the ground, the wind from the power of the arm swinging so closely overhead sending her hair and uniform billowing."Kugisaki!""Shut up already!" Nobara was screaming at Jasper now, rolling to the side and regaining her footing in time to avoid a second attack.The Curse screeched, growing frustrated.At last, Jasper caved to their fallback. "I'm getting Mr. Weon!" They wiped tears from their cheeks onto the sleeves of their long-sleeved undershirt.Nobara looked bewildered. "Are you fucking ki-" She stopped herself. Her eyes widened upon seeing both the Curse's hulking arms coming down on her a second too late. Her knees buckled. Move! Idiot! What's wrong with you?! Her mind went blank.The last thing she remembered before everything went dark was a face full of slime and arms around her waist.It didn't last long. In the moment it took for someone to break through the surface of the ocean and take a breath, Nobara awakened. She blindly reached around her until she finally felt another form beside her. Her fingers brushed against neatly coiled twists and immediately recognized Jasper. She grabbed at their shirt again, giving them a hard shake. "What did you do!?" she yelled. They were unresponsive. She blinked hard, trying to get her eyes to work and when nothing changed, her anger turn to panic. Was she blind? Was Jasper dead? Were they both dead? Was this her fault?She couldn't sense the Cursed Spirit any longer. She wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing yet. She wrapped her arms around Jasper's waist and hoisted them up. "C'mon, let's get out of here," she mumbled as she wrapped their arm around her shoulder and grabbed tightly onto their waist."I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."Nobara stopped in her tracks, looking around her once again without success. The voice sounded farther away but it was growing closer. The apologies uttered growing more and more frantic. She reached to her holster, searching for her hammer but found it missing much to her aggravation. It seemed she would just have to figure another way out of this. "You should probably wake up now," she said to Jasper. Even if they were useless in a fight and although it might be pathetic to admit, she really didn't want to be alone right now. Wary about calling out for her teacher and classmates out of concern that it'd call forth whatever was roaming about crying and whining, Nobara kept her focus on finding an exit."I'm so sorry. Please, forgive me."The person the voice belonged to was definitely traveling, getting closer and closer to them, despite Nobara making an effort to move away from them. She was unsure that she'd be able to defend both herself and Jasper in the pitch dark if something attacked them, and that uncertainty was starting to eat away at her usually steely nerves.As she went on, she was starting to feel that no matter how much or how long she felt she walked, she was not making any progress. After what felt like an eternity of aimless staggering, she gave way into her trepidation. She clutched Jasper closer to her side. "Is this you? Did you do this?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. "Whenever something weird happens lately, it's got something to do with you." Talking helped a bit, even if the conversation was one-sided."Sorry," Jasper groaned, startling her. On instinct, she released them and they fell to the ground with a pained oof."You scared me! I thought you were dead!" Nobara yelled down at the spot where she presumed Jasper laid. Her angry tone hid her relief. "Where are we?!"Red. There was bright red suddenly, all around them, in the form of eyes. She winced, her own eyes having adjusted to the dark, but kept her wits about her. She looked all around them, feeling her skin crawl under the scrunity of a thousand gazes, before looking down, now able to make Jasper out in the dim glow. "Are you doing this?!""I don't know!" Jasper yelled, overwhelmed and disoriented. "Just ..." They shut their mouth but allowed themself to finish the thought in their head, be quiet. After a moment to gather their bearings, they pushed themself up onto their feet. "This is ... my thinking room." They didn't take a moment to take in their surroundings. This place was immediately familiar to them. A home."Thinking room?" Nobara asked, brows furrowing."I come here when I feel overwhelmed. I go to sleep in the real world and just stay in here and think," Jasper mumbled. Did other people not having thinking rooms? Or did they call it something else?"You're telling me that we're in some crazy alternate world in your weirdo brain and our bodies are asleep in the real world while there's a Curse running around destroying the place?""No," Jasper replied bluntly, too tired to emote."What, out of everything I said, was wrong?!"Jasper pointed across from them, where a body was knelt and curled into itself. It was hard to make out who it was, shadow cast over them. They certainly weren't wearing a school uniform, their day clothes tattered and stained with blood. Their mangled hands clutched at tufts of thinning hair. The apologies that had once been chasing Nobara around this strange prison had become a chant, a low rumble escaping their guest. "The Curse is here with us too," they mumbled."H-Huh?" Nobara turned, wide eyed. "But-"Jasper walked passed her, approaching the stranger."Where are you going?!" Nobara begrudgingly followed after her classmate."To talk to them," Jasper shrugged.Nobara wanted to shout, to call them dumb, to stamp her foot and demand that they cut all this shit out. But she didn't. Instead she stayed close to Jasper's side, crossing her arms to keep from fidgeting her fingers.As they drew closer, a man came into view. He seemed startled by them, raising his head with a gasp. One of his eyes dangled from its socket, his face swollen and bloody, skin split. His legs beneath him were mangled, bone and ligaments exposed. Tears leaked from his one functional eye. He rose his hands pleadingly towards them. "I'm so sorry! Please, understand!" He cried, speckles of blood flying from his lips."Why are you apologizing?" Jasper asked, maintaining a safe distance.The man's arms fell limp at his sides and he hung his head, a wave of shame and humiliation washing over him. "My daughter. My Hibiki. She's ..." His voice faded. "and I'm the reason for it. I'm a fool!" His voice grew louder, echoing all around them. "A murderer!"Jasper looked to Nobara, who's expression was difficult to read. Her lips had curled back into a judgmental sneer but her brows had furrowed. It was hard to decipher whether this was a look of compassion or disgust. She met Jasper's gaze before shrugging. It was obvious she was uncomfortable."It can't be helped. I'm a horrible father. As I was a horrible husband." The man's hands rose to his face, making more of a mess of the blood and tears on his cheeks. "Just end me. It's what I deserve."Jasper's eyes widened as they cried out, "Your daughter is still alive ... kind of." They nervously twiddled their fingers. "You have an opportunity to apologize to her yourself, to make things right.""I don't deserve such mercy," the man yelped. "I don't deserve anything but death!""Will you shut up?!" Nobara barked.Both the man and Jasper gaped at her, shocked."Listen, I know it's a lot easier for you to sit and cry about your mistakes instead of actually doing anything to fix them but you're being given a chance to make this right!" Nobara's hands had balled up into tight fists. "There are people out there who've done way less worse things than you and aren't given this same opportunity, and you're just gonna throw it away?! Because you feel sorry for yourself?!"The man didn't respond, only stared up at her.Jasper cut in, anxiously tugging and twisting at the straps of their overalls. "I know what it's like to feel shame after messing up ... I've been doing a lot of that myself lately ... but the least you can do is learn from it and be better." They lowered their head. "What's the point of punishing yourself for it for forever? The people who you hurt won't ever get their closure and you'll stay the same.""You're right ... I know you're right ..." The man recoiled into himself, hands clasping the sides of his head. "But what's the point of it all? What does it matter if I get better? Look at me ... My family is already broken. I'll never get it back!"Nobara's hands snapped to her hips and she leaned forward. "Your daughter is still out there! Yeah, you're all roughed up but you have a chance to fix things with her! A ..." She paused, face twisting up for a moment before she finished in a quieter tone. "A second chance at life.""Things won't be the same but they'll be better than they are now. We'll make sure of that," Jasper smiled. "We're here to help you, after all.""Help me ...?" The man echoed.Around them, eyes began to close one by one.Jasper's knees gave out beneath them but Nobara caught them before they hit the ground. "What's going on?" she asked. "Jasper?"A blinding light overcame them."Nobara!!"Relief came over her as the smell of the old decrepit parking garage filled her nose. The sound of her teacher and classmates calling for her and Jasper reached her ears. Comforting arms helped her sit up. "Ahh," she groaned as she opened her eyes. "Will you quit shouting?! I'm fine!"Itadori was clinging to her side, eyes wide and watery. "We couldn't find you or Jasper or the Curse anywhere!" he yelled, too riled up to mind her request for volume moderation. "And when we did find you, you were both knocked out! We were so worried!"Nobara didn't get a chance to reply."Jasper isn't responsive. You all return to the school immediately and take them to Ms. Ieiri," Dominic called. Beside him, Megumi was carrying their unconscious classmate on his back. The priest did well in masking his concern, keeping his stoic countenance. "I'll stay and find the Cursed Spirit.""Uh, teach! There's no need for that," Maki called further down the ways.All eyes went to her before shifting to Hibiki beside her. In her small hands was a palm-sized creature. A much smaller version of the Curse they had previously witnessed. Its small sluglike body was curled up in her palm, eyes blinking up at the group staring at it."Thank you for helping my daddy!" Hibiki beamed.Dominic blinked, looking rather puzzled, before looking at Nobara. "You tamed the Cursed Spirit?" he asked.Nobara puffed out her cheeks and rolled her eyes. "Well ... Jasper helped ..." she muttered. Her murderous look intensified when Dominic smiled at her. "It was no big deal! Whatever!" She swatted Itadori away from her when he moved to give her a congratulatory hug."Let's get you all back to the school. We can talk about what happened more in depth after we get you and Jasper checked in with Ms. Ieiri." Dominic resigned himself to postponing his curiosity.Nobara sighed, glancing around at her classmates as they all followed Dominic out towards the parking garage exit. She stood, dusting off the back of her skirt."Ms. Sorceror."Nobara's head perked up, quirking a brow at the young girl that stood before her."Thank you again!"With a grimace, Nobara awkwardly tucked her hair behind her ear. "It's ... fine. Just stay out of trouble and do what Mr. Weon tells you to do, alright?""We will! Promise!" Hibiki insisted before hurrying off to catch up with the others.A sudden hand on her shoulder made Nobara tense, but she quickly relaxed when she saw Maki at her side. "Hey," she mumbled, starting to feel exhaustion creep up on her."You did good," Maki smiled, snaking her arm around her shoulders and ushering her along over the shattered lot floor. "You feelin' alright?"Nobara's mind raced for an answer. Was she feeling alright? She was still shaking a little. Her nerves were in knots. She was still trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. Jasper's thinking room, the man behind the Vengeful Spirit, Hibiki's display of gratitude, talk of mercy, subjugation and violence. It was overwhelming, but there was no use in concerning anyone with the convoluted diatribe in her mind."Yeah," she answered. "Just tired."

Content Warnings: minor violence, threats of violence, implied lesbophobia, minor mention of incest and pedophilic grooming.

A glance at his phone's homescreen told Dominic he would just barely have enough time to get ready for his plans that evening. But that would only be the case if he sped through his current engagement. After a quick glance over his shoulder at his company - two freshly tamed Curses and a particularly irate student, he resigned himself to running late. Fashionably so, some might say. Roger would get over it. He was lucky he had agreed to go at all."Hey, mister!" Hibiki left Nobara's side and rushed ahead to match his pace. She kept her head down, skipping over cracks in the pavement. "What's this place you're taking us to like? You said it's gonna be our new home but ..." Her voice trailed a bit as she mentally reworked her words, nervous about sounding rude. Eventually, she settled, "Is it a nice place? Will there be friends?"Dominic looked down at the girl, a faint smile on his lips. "You'll be staying with some acquaintances of mine. They run a sort of ... care center for curious creatures like you and your father. You'll be in very good hands."Speeding her own stride to catch up to them, Nobara angrily cut in, "But why did you drag me out here too? This place gives me the creeps!" She gestured around them at the mostly deserted backroads they appeared to be wandering aimlessly through. They hadn't seen another person for several blocks now. Even wildlife, like birds or squirrels were gone. The world was bathed in the deep orange glow of the setting sun. It was unnerving ... and more importantly, "Oh, and me and Maki had plans!" She crossed her arms over her chest in a show of irritation but softened her face a bit when Hibiki skipped into her line of sightWith a look of reproach, Dominic replied, "There are some people I want you to meet. I'll cover your cab fare back to the school so you won't return too late. I appreciate you coming with us."Nobara rolled her eyes but bit her tongue. She slowed her step, letting the others walk ahead of her as she busied herself with thumbing at her phone.A surprisingly deep and rumbling voice joined the conversation. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I cant help but wonder why we were spared." Hibiki's father, still cupped tenderly in her hands also had his share of concerns, it seemed. His eyes all pointed up towards Dominic, narrowed - not necessarily with suspicion, but wary. "Why gift us mercy after all the trouble we'd already caused?" he asked. "We've seen what your kind does to Curses like us." A couple of his eyes turned to look towards Nobara when she scoffed. "You and your students were on different pages on how to approach the situation. Why not follow their path? It would've been easier for you."Dominic looked at the small creature, frown etched deep on his face. "I don't particularly enjoy violence," he said quietly. "My students see enough of it as it is. I wanted to teach them something different. Had it been another teacher, then perhaps things wouldn't have ended as peaceably but it was me. Think of it as fate. You have a purpose yet to fulfill in this life.""Yay! Yay! We got a purpose!" Hibiki cheered, hopping up and down and raising her panicking father up into the air. Her sandals clapped against the concrete with every jump. "Didya hear that daddy? How about you Nobi? We got a purpose!" A choir of cheers echoed from her, the power of her voice fueled by her excitement appearing to tremor the ground beneath them - cracks in the cement growing bit by bit.Before Dominic could ask the child to settle down, Nobara chimed in. Her brows rose high on her forehead as she echoed, "Nobi?" She was unsure of what to make of the nickname.Hibiki laughed and nodded eagerly. "Yeah! We can be Hibi and Nobi! The super girls! Like magical girls but way stronger! And cooler!" She paid no mind to her father's pleas that she be careful as she spun in circles and leapt around the puzzled teen. "We gotta have our own theme song!" As one would expect, a vocalization of the rough draft of said theme song immediately followed.Dominic watched them fondly for a moment, not missing the strained smile twitching its way onto Nobara's lips - before angry shouting from further down the street shattered the moment of tenderness. He quickly turned his head down the way, looking alarmed. The road was lined with abandoned shacks, rundown and decrepit - and those structures were only present because they existed prior to the instatement of the barrier keeping those without clearance out of the area. So the arguing could only be coming from one location. A bit further down the road from them was a dead end and to the left of it, an open iron gate. Just past the gate was the path leading up to the Care Center.Keeping his nerves in check, he gestured for Hibiki to settle down. "Keep calm and quiet. It seems there's someone else here." Someone who isn't supposed to be here, he added mentally. He could count on one hand the number of people who had clearance to visit the Care Center and he could think of no reasons for any of them to be here right now. As they approached, it was easier to make out the screaming match."Look, dude. I ain't gonna tell you again to get the fuck offa our property before I rip you a new asshole!""Is that a challenge? Why don't you try making me get off of your property? Or wait - Is it even your property? My family wrote the check that purchased the land.""Last I checked, the name on the deed is Satoru fuckin' Gojo so eat shit. Isn't there an inbreeding convention in town ya needa get to? Fuck outta here already!""Hello?" Dominic called at the gate. He could make out two people down the path, standing at the entrance of the rough-looking house. One was his point of contact, Aiden - a rugged foul-mouthed crusty punk bastard who helped run the Curse Care Center. The other was Naoya Zenin.Both heads turned in his direction and in that very moment Dominic concluded it was too late to turn tail and avoid dialogue with the most irritating person in present Jujutsu Society. Hibiki was hiding behind him, holding her father in one hand and clutching the back of his shirt in the other. Nobara stood at his side, arms defiantly folded over her chest.A look of unconstrained delight came over Naoya. "Well, will you look what the cat dragged in! The Priest of Absolution himself! Who did you pardon this time, Father?" he laughed, lips split into the widest shit-eating grin he could muster. Beady eyes flickered from Nobara back to Dominic. "Oh, spending your free time with school girls now? Gojo ain't doin' it for ya anymore?"Though his jaw was clenched so tight, cracking a molar became a genuine concern, Dominic kept his mind clear and his objective resolute. He firmly grasped Nobara's arm when she made to storm towards Naoya. "Listen to me," he said. He looked down towards Hibiki. "Both of you." He drew in a sharp breath. "We're going to walk over. As soon as we're close enough, Hibiki, you rush inside the house. Ignore him and anything he says, alright?" He kept his voice calm and kind, quiet enough so that Naoya wouldn't overhear but loud enough for her to understand the instructions clearly. “Nobara, don’t say a word to him.”"Oi, Priest! I'm talking to you!"With a deep breath, Dominic began walking. Nobara kept pace with him, walking right beside him. One her of hands had extended behind her, holding Hibiki’s hand tightly as they made their way.Just as Naoya moved his head to try to peer behind them, Dominic addressed him, “What a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Zenin. And a surprise. As far as I know, the only Zenin clan member permitted at the Care Center is your father.” And even that is simply a formality, he thought, with some bitterness.Almost as if he'd read their mind, Aiden reached behind him as they approached. He slid open the exterior door of the home just in time for Hibiki to sprint inside. She clung to Nobara’s hand until the very last moment. Before Naoya could steal a glance inside, the door slammed shut.Smug aura now replaced with deep-seeded irritation, Naoya set his sights back on Dominic. “Who do you think you’re talking to, kinslaying bastard?” His nostrils flared, eyes wide with anger. “You’ll show me respect. I’m not some snot-nosed brat you can boss around.” His gaze shifted over to Nobara, studying her for a moment before realization dawned. “Ah, I know you. You’re the d-” A baseball bat interrupted his sentence.Unfortunately, it missed his face – caught by his hand. The rusty nails driven through it made good work of his palm, however. He turned his head towards Aiden, who clutched the handle of the bat. The man was hardly affected by the piercing gaze of the Head of the Hei. They both stood there, almost as if waiting for the other to make the next move.“Mr. Zenin. I have business to attend to with Aiden. If you would,” Dominic gestured towards the path, catching the look of agitation on Nobara’s face. He was surprised that she was following his instructions thus far. Despite his fighting it, he couldn’t help but feel some semblance of pride well in his chest. He kept his focus on deescalating the situation. “Perhaps one day we could set up a tour for you to look around,” Yeah, right. “but we’re currently busy.” He took a calculated risk. “Surely your father wouldn’t appreciate one of his respectable sons causing trouble at one of our very important Curse Care Centers.”Naoya sneered. Deeply. “Oh, fuck off,” he bit out before storming down the path. He went out of his way to aggressively brush shoulders with Dominic on his way out. “This isn’t over!” he called out in a sing-song tone, flashing them a big wave as he walked.At the sound of the iron gate slamming shut, Dominic allowed his shoulders to sink. He gave Aiden a curt nod and then gestured between both him and Nobara. “Aiden, this is one of my students, Nobara Kugisaki. I’d like to take the time to talk to you both about some of my ruminations regarding her ability and growth as a Sorceror.”Aiden glanced towards Nobara but she seemed distracted, glaring off down the path.Placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder, Dominic gestured towards the door to the house as Aiden opened it. “After you,” he said.She looked at him, words danced on the tip of her tongue but she lacked the nerve to speak them. She gave a quick determined nod before she entered.

"There's never anything good on," Utahime grumbled as she fruitlessly flipped through the TV channels. Eventually giving up on her search, she cast the remote aside and turned her head to look at her girlfriend. "Do you just wanna go out for lunch or something?" She glanced at the clock on the wall before correcting herself. "Or dinner, I guess. Linner? Dunch? We're kind of in that weird in between sp- Are you listening to me?"Shoko was entranced, staring out the living room window. She was undoubtedly lost in thought. The side alley outside wasn't all that interesting save for two cats fighting for scraps of food and an old woman hanging her laundry out to dry."Everything okay?"With a blink, she was back. Shoko looked at Utahime, nibbling at the inner corners of her lips. "Yes," she said quietly. She held a stoic expression before giving up and flopping back against the couch cushions with a look of exhasperation. "Okay, no. Not really." She rose her hands to her face. "I don't think I can handle going out right now. Can we order in?"Utahime quirked a brow. "Sure ... My treat ..." She fished her phone out of her pocket, opening up a food ordering app. She stared at it for a moment before turning her gaze back to Shoko. "In exchange, you gotta tell me what's on your mind."Narrowing her eyes, Shoko argued, "I'll order the damn food then." She tried grabbing for the phone but Utahime held it out of her reach."You don't have to talk about it but I'd like it if you did," Utahime said. "I'm way better at listening to you talk than Dom." She paused, tapping her chin before adding with a smug smile, "I'm prettier too!"Shoko laughed but the joy was quick to fade. She hugged her arms to her chest, smile replaced by a deep contemplative frown. It was a difficult subject. Even during her sessions with Dominic, she always kept her recollections vague and disconnected. As if she hadn't been the one experiencing them, but someone she knew. As if she'd merely witnessed the events from another room. "I've been having a lot of nightmares lately. I keep reliving the day ..." She hesitated. It felt like speaking her name outloud would bring everything back in a way worse than the way it'd been haunting her at night. "the day I lost my leg." She internally chastized herself for her cowardice. "Jasper is a good kid. They don't deserve to get wrapped up in all this bullshit.""Were you able to get Jasper's DNA samples again after the fire?" Utahime asked.With a tired nod, Shoko replied, "Yes. I took them earlier. They over-exerted themself during a mission, so they were brought in unconscious. I just helped myself to collecting the samples before they woke up." She grimaced. "I just-" She cut herself off, shutting her eyes tight and letting out a long breath through her nose."What're these geezers even gonna do after they confirm who their parents are?" Utahime grumbled with a roll of her eyes. "Sentence the kid to death? For crimes they didn't commit?" She scoffed, reaching an arm around Shoko's shoulders and pulling her close to her side. "You guys are doing the right thing giving them a second chance at life."Leaning into the embrace, Shoko felt her worries start to melt away. She moved herself closer against Utahime, slipping her arms around her waist. She kept her eyes closed. "I agree that we're doing the right thing ... but part of me feels ... scared by it all. Like we're luring the fox to the henhouse." Fragments of that night all those years ago came back all at once. The clap of thunder, the smell of wet cement, a hand around her ankle. A sharp pain spread through her residual limb, causing one of her arms to unravel itself from around Utahime to clasp at it. Her face twisted up with pain and determination. "We can't let anything happen to the school. To the students."Utahime's hand settled over Shoko's, squeezing tight. "Look, if anything does happen, we're more than ready for it." She took hold of Shoko's chin with her other hand, making their eyes meet. She felt the other flush against her touch. "I won't let anything happen to you."Shoko leaned forward, giving Utahime a chaste kiss. Once she broke it, she pressed their foreheads together. Seemingly at random, she burst into laughter, echoing words directed at her a few days ago, "What twisted hedonism."Pulling apart to give Shoko a disgruntled look, Utahime shouted, "Eh?! What's that supposed to mean?!"With another chuckle, Shoko ran a hand through her hair, pushing her messy bangs out of her face. "The higher-ups had some shit to say about us dating at our meeting on Saturday," she mused. "They said we were a ..." She rose a finger to her chin as she recalled the exact words. She gave up. "It was that, I think. A twisted hedonist friend group." She laughed once more before falling back against Utahime, who appeared to be steaming at the ears. "They were talking about the lot of us. I suppose all of our dating histories are pretty messy and intertwined." She pulled Utahime closer to her, relishing her rage-fueled warmth, as she dramatically added, "What has the world come to? A bunch of whores and heretics are running Jujutsu Tech!"Utahime didn't laugh, entrenched in her frustration. "I'm sick of those old farts in charge! There's always a problem with them. If it's not 'cause we're gay, it's because we're women," she sneered. "Yaga is useless. Gakuganji and the Kamo and Zenin clans support it. Gojo's head is too far up his own ass to notice or care. This place sucks." She pursed her lips in thought, suddenly brightening up and bouncing excitedly in her seat as an idea came to mind. "Let's start our own school. I know my kids will follow. We might be able to get some of the teachers to go. Dom and Kento, maybe. Y'think the Tokyo kids would come?"With a pensive look, Shoko considered, "Maybe. If we get Gojo to leave with us ..." She then shook her head quickly, as if snapping herself out of a daydream. "If not, I doubt it. I don't think it'd work out without him too ... I'd be pretty worthless as a teacher. I don't really have that uhh ... charm, you and Gojo have with kids and my Technique is pretty useless in a fight. I-""Hold up!" Utahime angrily cut her off.Memories of the last time Shoko had dared to bring this topic up resurfaced in her mind and she instantly lamented ever making the comment. She bit her tongue, a sigh of surrender escaping her.Utahime sat up, forcing Shoko to sit up as well, and firmly grasped her shoulders. "Your Technique is not useless in a fight. You just let yourself get trapped in that mentality back in school and haven't gotten over it since!" She gave her a single earnest shake before adding, more intensely now, "This school would fall apart without your Technique as it is! There’s no doubt you’d be among the Special Grades right now if you worked on expanding on your ability instead of relying on your same tired old tricks.”It was near-impossible to argue with the other woman. Not exactly because she was right, but because she was too damn loud and Shoko was too tired to get into a shouting match. She sighed again, dropping her shoulders. “Look, can we just order something to eat and drop the subject? I’m gonna go to the room and take a nap while we wait on the delivery. You can keep watching TV.”A disappointed demeanor fell over Utahime. She let the other go reluctantly. “Yeah, alright,” she mumbled. Before she could even reach for her phone again, it began to ring. It was a loud obnoxious tone Shoko had forced her to pick so that she’d stop dodging calls. Despite its persistent beeping, she hesitated in answering. Her annoyance had turned to dismay.“Everything okay?” Shoko asked, still sitting beside her.Instead of replying to Shoko, Utahime answered the call. “Mr. Gakuganji?” There was a moment of silence before her face lost its color. Her knuckles grew white from her grip on her phone. “I’m on my way! I’ll be there shortly!” She hung up the call, staring down at her shaking hands in disbelief for a minute before she forced herself to stand.“Hey, is everything okay?” Shoko repeated, her concern more apparently bleeding through her words.It felt like an eternity went by with them both frozen where they were. A war raged in their minds, racing thoughts, panicked fears. Utahime at last spoke, words stilted, “Something happened with my students.”

It was dark.Minerva awoke feeling smothered. She had been dressed in wool pajamas, had the weight of several blankets over her and was coated in a thick layer of sweat. Her curls were sticking to her face, the fabric wrapped around her body was damp. Even her breath came out hot. And yet, despite that, she still felt cold. Very cold. So cold she was quivering."You awake?"In her dreary haze, she was struggling to do much other than shift around on her plush mattress and groan in discomfort - but at the sound of a voice, she jerked up to a seated position, eyes searching for a source.She didn't have to look far.Mahito was sitting at her bedside, cheek cupped in his palm, elbows on the mattress. She could just barely make him out thanks to the dim glow of a nightlight in one corner of the room. His previously bored expression had been replaced with one of excitement."What's happening?" Minerva asked. She felt delirious, as if she were dreaming. With the same speed she had sat up, she crumpled back down. She rose shaking hands to her face in attempts to clear away some of the sweat. "Where am I?" It was as she moved her arms that she realized her shoulder had been mended, not a mark left on her. She was too tired to process it beyond grasping at where there had once been a gaping hole in her body."I patched ya up!" Mahito grinned, giddy with pride. "I fixed your arm after that girl exploded it." He scratched at his chin, now leaning back in the fluffy pink butterfly chair he'd propped up beside her bed. "Your mom said you have a ..." He paused, trying to remember the word. "fever? Told me to stay away. She was real mad. Said she'd skewer me if she saw me near you." He sat up, puffing his chest out victoriously as he added, "Good thing she's too busy setting everything up for that fancy dinner of hers tonight."Minerva blinked slowly, Mahito's words dancing in circles around her. "You'll get in trouble if she sees you here," she mumbled when she finally got the gist of the situation. "You're also very annoying. So leave." The idea of missing the dinner was devastating her. Maybe if she got enough rest, she'd feel better by the time the table was set.Mahito laughed, drumming his hands merrily on the mattress. "But everyone else here either wants to kill me or is boring. You think I wanna spend time with my loser boss, a potted plant and a lava head?" He scoffed at the mere concept before quickly shifting the topic. "Hey, what's a fever?"A loud sigh of exasperation escaped Minerva. "It means I'm sick," she muttered. "I probably went into shock after my arm was blown off and then healed so soon after." Ugh, how embarrassing. And in front of Mahito of all people. As if he didn't already think too highly of himself. The idea of him looking down her would have filled her with immeasurable rage if she hadn't been putting all of her focus and energy into seeing straight and sounding coherent. "It could happen to anyone," she added with a vain sniff. Her teeth began to chatter midway through her sentence, leading her to burrow herself further into her blankets. This was both in attempts to remedy and hide this show of weakness.A look of confusion crossed Mahito's face as he struggled to understand what any of what she said meant. "Are you cold?" he asked, reaching out to touch her.Retreating deeper into her pile of blankets, Minerva whined, "Stop. Don't be weird." Despite her attempts to squirm away, he continued to reach after her. A look of annoyed defeat crossed her face when he finally managed to plant his palm against her face."You feel so hot!" Mahito gasped. "But your teeth are clacking away!" His expression shifted with every sentence, from shock to suspicion to intrigue. "But humans do that when they're ... cold, don't they?" He tapped his chin in contemplation before smugly arriving to his conclusion. "Are you faking it? You're lying for special attention, arentcha?" A sinister smile crept onto his lips.Minerva didn't answer, instead closing her eyes as a wave of nausea and dizziness struck her. Her chest tightened but she kept her breathing steady, worried that if she started gasping for air she'd throw up."Hey?" Mahito called. "Stop being so dramatic!" He stood, pressing his hands into the mattress space beside her. "C'mon! Let's do something! I'm bored!" He shook the bed impatiently, irritated at the perceived theatrics. "Take me for a drive in the car again! I liked that!"Minerva couldn't find the energy to respond, eyes still open but lidded with exhausted delirium. She curled up, breathing labored as she clung to consciousness.Mahito's grin began to fade. "Hey ... Say something," he ordered. He grabbed her shoulder, warmth radiating through her thick stuffy clothing. "Minnie?" He wasn't sure what he was feeling. This ... trepidation was foreign to him. Was he worried? Why would he be? If she died, he could just bring her back, right? He could fix her ... right?"Mahito, please ... I don't feel well ... and I don't want to miss dinner tonight. It's important to me." Minerva spoke at last, just barely getting the words out. "If you can keep quiet, you can stay ... but if you don't stop talking, I'm gonna be the one that skewers you." It was an empty threat, yes, but she was hoping that maybe for once, Mahito would just take the hint and do as requested of him.Giving his options little thought, Mahito climbed into the bed beside her. She was too tired to say anything about his dirty bare feet. He burrowed his way under her blankets, deciding right at that moment that he actually quite enjoyed being near her ... particularly when she was radiating a cozy warmth. He looked surprised when she scooted closer to his side, her forehead resting against his shoulder, but wasn't opposed. He tilted his head, placing it over hers. She felt like sunshine against his skin."Why didn't you kill any of the students back at the arcade?" Minerva breaking the silence was strange given her pleas just a minute ago, and her topic of choice was even stranger. She seemed to be stumbling over her words - tongue tied, making him wonder just how lucid she was. "You could've killed them all if you wanted to ... but you didn't."Mahito pursed his lips. What did it matter? With a roll of his eyes, he asked, "Did you want me to?"At this, Minerva stirred a bit. She drew in a deep breath, cold air filling her aching lungs. Had she wanted them to die? They surely wanted her dead. And they'd have succeeded in killing her if Mahito hadn't stepped in. Her hand went over where her shoulder injury had been, gripping the joint tightly. Her skin was smooth, perfectly reformed. "I don't know," she answered honestly. "I don't think about death really. It's kind of scary to think about, isn't it?" She wanted to turn her head and look at him but everything felt so heavy, as if she was wading through water.Scary? Was death scary? He'd never really stopped to give it any thought. He'd never felt fear before, had he? Was that what he had felt just a few moments ago? Or was that something else? But what was there to fear? Granted, he supposed that humans had a lot more to lose when faced with death but for Curses, death was not permanent. He wondered if it was possible for Minerva to die given her enigmatic biological state. Did she even know? Her injury earlier had not begun any kind of healing process by the time he'd gotten around to fixing it. Would she just have bled out? "Hey, do you-" He stopped himself, having raised his head a bit to peer down at Minerva only to find she'd fallen asleep, her cheeks wet with tears and nose runny.Mahito dropped himself back against the pillow, closing his own eyes with a sigh of surrender. Only the thought of death keeping him company as he waited for her to wake.

Quiet. It was so quiet. And so dark.It seemed that Nanako and Mimiko had not yet come home for the day - though Dominic was starting to have doubts they would ever return after yesterday morning's events. His heart sank at the idea of never seeing them again. The sun had long since set. He supposed there was no point in assuming the worst, and if they did end up coming back, he'd want to have dinner ready for them. It was going to be difficult to explain that he wouldn't be staying to eat with them as he still had his ... meeting to attend. Nanako would likely have a snide remark up her sleeve for him. His lips twitched a bit, a smile trying to form but quickly dissipating as reality and denial dueled in his mind. Were they truly gone forever? Without a goodbye? Did they think he was dangerous? Cruel? Ah, he should get started on their dinner. If it were up to them, they'd be eating instant noodles and candy every night, he thought.And yet, he just stood there. In the unlit hall, hands at his sides, fingers bound tight around the sturdy handle of his briefcase. His head felt like static, thoughts buzzing so quickly they were difficult to make sense of.The day came back to him in fragments, as if he was peering through a kaleidoscope. He felt accomplished, albeit exhausted. The mission had gone surprisingly well, though a bit rocky at first. Kento had even bought him some treats from his favorite bakery to congratulate him on the success. He had assisted Nobara in taking steps to furthering her Jujutsu Sorcery career. He had managed to make it through an entire workday without having to deal with Satoru’s Gojoisms. How long had it been since he’d had a nice day?A voice cut through the silence, smooth like a hot knife through butter. It was as if she’d sensed his contentedness. "Congratulations. You did a good job today." A pause. "But then again, you've always been good at doing what you're told. What all did you really teach those kids anyway? They don't respect you. No one does."Visceral rage welled up inside him. It churned his stomach, sent goosebumps up his forearms. The sense of self-fulfillment was drained from him. He was worthless again, meaningless. Empty. With a swift and sudden movement, Dominic sent his attaché hurtling down the corridor. It hit the wall at the very end, one of the corners busting a hole in the cheap drywall before the case hit the floor with a clatter."Tsk tsk. You've always had such a temper. Your landlord's not gonna be happy about that. Better it patch it up quick."Dominic was rooted to where he stood, shaking hands rising to his head. He clutched bunches of his hair, closing his eyes and inhaling deep. He needed to keep a level head. The girls would be home any minute and the bruises and swelling on his face were only now beginning to fade."Are you crying again? You're so quick to throw your own pity party. What are you even crying about now?""I'm not crying!" he retorted, dropping his hands from his head but clenching them into tight and angry fists at his sides. One thing grew overwhelmingly present in his mind; the meeting with the higher-ups that morning had yielded plenty of new information, all of it equally horrifying but there was one thing that had been clinging to his spirit all day like a fabric pill to an old wool sweater. The words came up out of him like vomit. "What did you do to Satoru?! Tell me! Right now!""Oh, you've been thinking about this all day, haven't you?"Dominic ignored her question, pressing for answers of his own. "We both heard what the higher-ups said this morning. You need to tell me the truth, mother. Or I ... I'll ..." He was nearly hyperventilating, entire body shaking with emotion. His words formed a tangled web in his mouth."You'll what? Go on. What will you do?"Dominic swayed on his feet, hand pressing to the wall to keep himself steady. He took a moment to regain his composure. "Was Satoru your student?" he asked after a long silence. His voice was low again, restrained."Yes."With a disbelieving and disconnected nod, Dominic followed up with his next question. "Your absences from home ... You were off ... teaching him?" His tremoring had extended itself to his voice. An "absence" was a polite way of putting it. It was more like a reprieve. For him, at least. It seemed that a respite for him came at a steep cost for others."Are you jealous?"Dominic felt his skin crawl. "Answer my question!" he demanded."Yes. I was his mentor until the day you killed me.""Why hasn't he told me this?" The next words came in a rush, tripping over himself to get them out. "After all these years? Why has he never told me about you being his mentor?""That's something you should ask him. My question for you is-"Dominic cut her off, his distress rising with his voice. "He would have told me! Did you erase his memories of you? Of what you did?""I did not. You should know all of this. I don't understand why you don't. Maybe if you'd drop your whole 'beast of burden' act and put your power to good use, you'd have a clue of what was happening around you." Derailment. "You could have the world in the palm of your hands if you wanted, do you know that? Our family has been closely bonded to the Gojo clan for centuries. Do you know why that is?"Her words were barely registering in his head."I don't care.""Nevermind the Gojo clan. Nevermind Satoru." Deflection. She was starting to panic. "Why don't you remember any of this, Nicky? You knew. You should remember. You're worrying me."Dominic's eyes narrowed. She had to be lying. How could he have known if no one had told him? Had someone told him? Had he forgotten? Had she made him forget? "I don't care for this conversation anymore. I'm tired of this." A sharp pain spread through his head and he visibly winced. "Stop!" His hands rose to his temples, the ache in his head persistent."You-""I quit." Ah, those words again. Did he mean them this time like he did the first time he spoke them? Or would they be as meaningless as the countless other times that followed? "I'm turning in my resignation tomorrow morning and I'm exorcising you upon their request for me to turn you over. I'll return to the seminary and never have anything to do with you or this school again." Seminary? No, he'd cause them too much trouble. There would be only one true way out of this, but he was too afraid to voice it. Would anyone even care?Silence fell over the room and for once, he felt like he'd won. Was this what it felt like to be in control?"You'll abandon your duty? A second time?""I owe no one but myself allegiance. I've been playing this game ... for so long. It doesn't matter how I choose to play it, the only way to truly win is by stepping away from it all together." A second sharp pain shot through Dominic's head, as if a bullet ricocheted off the inside of his skull. His knees wobbled. "I've long since learned how to block your attacks. I've built a wall too tall for you to climb and too strong for you to break down." He rubbed at his eyes, trying to rid himself of the stars that filled his vision. "I'll never let you in." I'll never let anyone in."I haven't done anything." Redirection. "I asked you a question earlier, about the Gojo clan. I want you to answer it.""I said I don't care!""You will answer me.""I don't know. You know I don't. You're using that as leverage to condescend to me.""Do you know why you carry my name and not your father's?""No.""Why your father left us? Why the higher-ups detest you? Why they spared you after what you did to me? Why Satoru loves you? Why he hates you? Why you killed me? What purpose this seemingly pointless never-ending game has? Do you know anything, you stupid boy? Do you think anyone but me has the answers to these questions?!"Dominic sighed. It was drawn out and tired. He approached his briefcase, slow but steady. Crouching down beside it, he picked the case up by its handle. He stood it up before him, running his hand overtop it in a soothing motion. "You're afraid. I understand. The end is drawing near for you. I will take no joy in ending you. I have nothing but pity and resentment to feel for you." He brought the briefcase closer to him, cradling it in his arms, pressing it to his chest. "There are many questions I have that won't ever be answered and I must and will find closure without them.""Don't kill me, Nicky. Please."A low hum escaped Dominic, monotonous at first before wavering into the sweet melody of a lullaby. He closed his eyes, warm tears rolling down his cheeks. His fingers caressed the smooth leather exterior of his briefcase. His song of farewell was quiet, private, carrying with it both grief and enlightenment. He just needed to get through dinner tonight and tomorrow, it would all be over.

Content Warnings: dissociation, hallucination, suicidal ideation and alcohol.

A rich floral aroma filled the luxurious bedroom as Tabitha misted her perfume over her chest and neck. For the last hour, she sat in front of her vanity, admiring her reflection. The surface of the little workspace was littered with esthetic products, accompanied by a half-full wine glass teetering on an edge. She set the fragrance bottle aside, raising her hands to her hair and pushing the tight curls out of her face. Her make-up had been flawlessly applied, amber eyes practically glowing with the complimentary golden shimmer on her lids. Her contour was strong, defining her square features. Her eyebrows sharp, her lashes long.She was almost done.It was as she reached for her lipstick, crimson in color, that a voice broke her entrancement. It called her name, just barely loud enough to be heard over the aria pouring from her antique gramophone. She turned away from the mirror, looking towards the bed where Roger lay sprawled."Yes, pet?" Her voice was as sweet as huckleberries. Despite her fury earlier in the day over Minerva returning home to her in tatters, it seemed that three and a half glasses of wine and a hot bath was all that was needed for her to calm again.A small price to pay.Roger stood from the bed, quickly crossing the room and stopping beside her. He knelt, his hands taking hers tightly. "Let's go on a trip somewhere," he said, a charming smile on his lips.Soft fingers worked soothing circles into his calloused palms. "What are you on about?" Tabitha purred, caressing touch traveling up his arms. "We have so much in the works now, my love. The rest of this year is going to be very busy for us. We can't just up and leave. Especially not without Jasper."Leaning into the touch, Roger sank his head onto her bare thighs. He closed his eyes as she ran her fingers through his hair, locks still damp from their bath together. "There's a lot about all this that don't make a lick of sense to me, Tabi." He grimaced, hurting just from voicing his doubts. "I feel like you've lost sight of things." As soon as the words left his mouth, he began to ramble - desperate for his concerns to be seen as just that, concerns; and not condescension or cynicism. "Look, give me an hour and I'll have Jasper back home. I know Pretty Boy wants out too. We can all just leave this behind us and start fresh!" His smile returned to him, this time desperate, pleading, helpless. "We can go visit your gran in the islands. It'll be fun."Tabitha sneered at the mention of her grandmother but she chose not to address it. She instead took Roger's face into her hands, making him raise his head and meet her gaze. "My main goal is reuniting our family. I will never prioritize anything," A pause. "or anyone over Jasper," Another pause. "but we've had a golden opportunity presented to us and we'd be fools not to take it."Eyes wide, Roger argued, "You're risking everything! Our home, our children ... yourself." With a blink of his eyes, tears streamed down his cheeks. "Is it all worth it? Look at what's happened to Minnie! I'm just scared!" He clasped her hands against his cheeks. "You think we're the only ones who've grown stronger after all these years?" He drew in a deep and shaky breath. "If nothing mattered as much as Jasper did then they'd be home already!" He struggled getting the next few words out but he did, albeit in a whisper. "I feel like you're keeping me in the dark. There's more to all this, isn't there?"Raising her brows, Tabitha turned away from her lover to snag her wine glass and take a drink from it. Was she stalling or was she working up the courage to be vulnerable? Eventually, she spoke, "This isn't just about Jasper anymore. You know that. What are you so worried about?" She turned her head away. The lights of her vanity cast a shadow over her face, cloaking her expression."I'm worried about you!"Tabitha glared his way and opened her mouth to retort, face twisted into a look of severe disdain, but Roger quickly cut her off, raising his hands in a plea for her to let him finish. "And I know you hate it when I do!" he insisted. He paused for a moment, contemplating his next words. "I just ... think the people involved in all this mess ... don't hurt the way you do. Not Suguru. Not Satoru. They don't care." A pained expression crossed his face. "We have everything we could ever want, Tabi. Let's get out of here."Tabitha stood, effectively pushing Roger backwards onto his hands. She stepped away from him, heels tapping against hardwood. She circled around, clearly ruminating her response. She was impossible to read. His gray eyes watched as she paced about the room like a caged tiger."Tabi!" Roger cried, pushing himself back onto his knees. "What's left for us here?! What're you hoping to gain from all this?"Tabitha turned now, eyes alight with a ferocity that shook him to his core."Justice."

Dominic could only hope that the storm clouds gathering in the dark sky and the distant roll of thunder was anything but a foreshadowing of things to come. This day had already dragged on, unbearably so, and now he felt as if he was on his way to a neverending night. But be it tempest or otherwise awaiting him, he had long since learned to uncross his fingers and ready his umbrella. Weathering the downpour had become a pastime.Ironically enough, he'd forgotten his actual non-metaphorical umbrella at home in his rush to make it to dinner on time.The cab ride was almost entirely silent. Had he allowed himself to, he would've nodded off in the back seat to the muted ambient melody around him. The gentle tap of rain on his window; the occasional squeak of the windshield wipers; the low rumble of the car engine; all lulling him to sleep. His buzzing thoughts kept him restless though, eyes bloodshot and lidded as they peered out at the bustling city.It was late and a weekday but people were still roaming the streets, likely trying to finish up their errands before the storm set in for the rest of the evening. He watched them, talking, walking, smiling, shopping, living. He watched them, and he envied them.On his lap, his left hand opened and closed over and over and over, unused to the emptiness. To the solitude. It was strange not having her around to berate and humiliate him every waking moment. It made him look forward to his plans the following day all the more. It'd be so quiet. Forever.Despite the anticipation, every time he thought about it, a pang of sorrow struck his heart. Part of him would miss the students, Shoko, the girls, even Roger. It didn't feel fair. Not for himself or most of anyone involved. He wondered if they'd blame themselves. For a split second, part of him relished the fact that his decision would hurt Satoru. He was quick to reprimand himself for such a thought, however, sinking into a deep pit of shocked guilt.This all had culminated in his descent into heartlessness. It was so unlike him to feel like such a monster. But he was so frustrated, so tired of constantly filtering his thoughts and feelings. Did this decision even have anything to do with Satoru? Maybe. Probably. Was it cruel of him to admit it? He dueled with himself, part of him wanting Satoru to mourn and hurt and ache over it. The other half of him wanted him to learn and better himself and move on and grow the fuck up.Would they try and cover it up, he wondered. Lie that he'd been killed in action to try and save what remained of the pathetic legacy of the Weon family. Not for his sake, but for hers.This was too much to deal with right now. It was overwhelming, so much so that he could cry right then. He forced himself not to think, distracting himself by mentally calling out whatever they drove by at random to occupy himself. To think about anything other than tomorrow. Stranger, shop, car, road, rain, clouds, darkness, darkness, darkness. He felt as if he was sinking."Pardon me, Father."Dominic's head perked up. His hand rose to his clerical collar, feeling disoriented. He didn't speak, merely making eye contact with the driver through the rearview mirror."Rivers are endless mazes. You might lose your way if you aren't careful."A haziness overcame him. "Excuse me?" he wanted to say but couldn't muster the energy. He kept his eyes locked on the other man's through the reflection. Looking away was an impossibility, as if he'd lost all motor function. All he could do was stare on, helplessly."What will you do? Will you swim to shore and end your voyage? Will you weather your uncertain future? Will you turn and attempt to find your way back home? You've come this far. There was no one to see you off."Tears sprung from Dominic's eyes. He tasted copper on his tongue. It felt as if an eternity had gone by in silence. "Who are you?" He spoke at last, voice broken and shaken."Pardon me, Father?"The world returned all at once. Dominic looked around him, heart pounding in his chest. He took in his surroundings, grounding himself, before he turned to meet the driver's confused gaze, too tired to feel embarrassed. Had his exhaustion driven him to the point of lunacy? Had his mind finally crumbled to dust? He shook his head, running a hand through his hair in an attempt to self-soothe. "Nevermind. I apologize."The drizzle had become a downpour by the time the cab pulled up to the mansion. Even then, Dominic took his time going up the steps to the front door. He was soaked to the bone as he stood underneath the overhang. A puddle formed and grew at his feet. His hair was matted to his face. His clothing clung to him. Chills bloomed from within him, making his teeth clatter. The cold was penetrating and he gave himself into it, let it shake him. All he could hear was the curtain of water on asphalt. All he could feel was a hollow painful ache.It took him a while to realize he hadn't knocked and when he went to do so, the door escaped him. Instead, a pair of arms wrapped tightly around him. He recognized Roger's smell. A smoky warm scent. Like a fireplace. Like cinnamon. He sank into the embrace, closing his eyes.

One might not recommend finely chopping vegetables while fatigued and faint, but Minerva wasn't really one for following suggestions. Someone had to make dinner and although Roger could have very well taken the reins on that endeavor, she wanted to do it. She had already wasted the entire evening away lounging around in bed. She wanted to prove she didn't need to be coddled. She wasn't some weakling. She could handle herself. 'I love that about you. Stubborn like your mom,' her father often told her."You're really making quite the mess."Minerva nearly jumped out of her skin at the unexpected intrusion. It was then that she became aware of the bloody mess before her. The cutting board was speckled with red, even the onions she been dicing were tinted with a faint pink hue. She'd seemingly knicked her fingers several times, evidenced by the blood pooling in her palm. Had she been that lost in thought? How had she not felt them?No time to fret about that."Who are you?" Her grip tightened on the knife but she kept her expression placid as she turned to face the stranger. "Are you a friend of Mr. Geto's?"The blonde smiled, ponytail swishing as he tilted his head. He was sitting on the countertop across from her, swinging his legs out in front of him. His hands rose to his cheeks as they filled with color. "Oh, a pretty girl wants to know my name?" he gushed. "I'm Haruto!" He started to extend his hand towards her for a shake but stopped himself when he remembered her injuries. A devious glint sparked in his eyes. "Want me to kiss it all better?"Face contorting into a look of sheer repulsion, Minerva pointed the knife warningly towards the hindrance. "I'll scoop your eyes out of your head and serve them to your boss," she growled. Despite her feverishness, she stood steady and strong. Her gaze intense. Only a slight tremor in her hand, easily mistakable for a show of rage, was the sole tell of her debilitation."H-Hey now!" Haruto laughed, raising his hands in surrender. "I was just tryna be polite!""Minnie!" The door to the kitchen swung open, giving way to Mahito as he ran into the room with his arms flailing in excitement. "You're awake!" he beamed at her, expression immediately souring upon seeing Haruto. He didn't seem to notice or care for the knife Minerva was clutching. "What're you doing in here?"Haruto sniffed, arms crossing over his chest in indignation. "You guys are awfully rude!" he shouted, irritation growing when Mahito ignored him and instead approached Minerva."You're bleeding!" Mahito shouted, gesturing to her injured hand. He reached towards it but backed off when the knife in Minerva's hand made a target out of him instead. A cheeky grin spread across his lips when their eyes met. "You're just hurting yourself so I'll heal it, arentcha?"A groan of frustration left Minerva and she plunged the knife into the cutting board beside her. It stuck, piercing through the wood and into the counter beneath it. A dizzy spell caused her knees to wobble but she forced herself upright. "You two are insufferable!" she shouted, storming off towards the door to leave and find band-aids.Mahito trailed after her and Haruto shortly after him, both sporting goofy but short-lived grins.It was as Minerva reached to push open the door that Tabitha entered the room, causing her to back up into the two doofuses shadowing her. "M-Mother!" she called out in surprise. Her hands clasped in front of her, nervously wringing her fingers.Tabitha, donning a spectacularly embroidered floor-length low cut dress and her fifth glass of wine for the evening, entered the room. Her steps were measured, stopping as soon as the door comfortably closed behind her. She took a drink from her glass as her eyes scanned her surroundings before they finally settled on her daughter. "Why are you out of bed?" Her words were cold.Haruto and Mahito had shrunk away behind Minerva as the girl fumbled her words. "I was trying to get dinner started," she said at last, downcasting her gaze. This was when she caught sight of her frumpy appearance, smoothing down the front of her fleece pajama shirt. "I was gonna change after I-""Go to your room, Minerva. Your father will handle dinner. You're only making a mess of things." Tabitha gestured to the trail of blood leading up to where Minerva stood. "You're still sick and weak. Is this how you want to represent your family?"Minerva's eyes widened, and without another word she left the kitchen. Her hands had risen to her face, unintentionally smearing blood on her cheeks in attempts to hide her tears.Tabitha's attention then turned to the two nuisances standing before her. "If I see either of you two near Minerva again, I will make you wish I was kind enough to kill you."Haruto didn't need to be told anything else. He nodded frantically before turning and sprinting towards the pantry, figuring he was safer hiding out in the bunker until dinner was ready.Mahito, however, didn't run. His smile hadn't wavered, looking impish."Did I make myself clear?" Tabitha stepped closer to him until only small gap was left between the two. They were eye to eye.Mahito laughed, genuinely and heartily, before he conceded. "Crystal!"

"This is absurd!" The miniature volcano at the top of Jogo's head bubbled with his shout. His hands were clenched into tight fists, up in the air as he voiced his furious disbelief. "A dinner party! A dinner party! Can you believe this?!"Haruto glanced his way, busying himself with belly-balancing on an oversized beach ball. He shrugged his shoulders. "We gotta wait for that big fancy event at the school to happen before we can do our plan anyway. What's it matter if there's a dinner party?" Nearby, Dagon splashed about in the pool, a wave consequently coming down on the blonde and sweeping him away.Jogo's irritation only grew when the water rained down by his feet. "Hanami! Control this buffoon!" he barked, stamping his foot on the floor.Looking up from the thick leatherbound book in their hands, Hanami sighed, "It's a waste of time, I agree but hardly worth this spectacle." They turned their attention back to the weathered pages."Why Geto thinks we need to form any sort of alliance with these humans is beyond comprehension! Beyond reason, even!" His eye flickered from one to the other, demanding consensus. "Is it not offensive to you that he thinks so lowly of us that he's partnered up with these ... these ...""Will ya shut up already?" Mahito stood at the top of the bunker steps, eyeballing the group below. "If you're so tough and strong, then why're you here? To socialize?" His eyes glistened with mischief.A petulant scoff left Jogo as he waved dismissively towards the other Curse. "I wouldn't expect you to understand, what with your bizarre fascination with that weak little freak." He crossed his arms, a vain look on his face. "But you know what they say about birds of a feather."Mahito hopped over the railing of the stairs, landing on his feet only a few yards from Jogo. He was crouched, metal paneling below him dented from the impact. "She's not weak. I've seen her fight," he chirped, wry smile plastered on his face. "Really fight.""She almost died; fighting school-aged children, at that." Jogo snorted, shaking his head. "A human's a human. They'll never come close to our power.""But didntya lose to Gojo?" Haruto countered between laughs. He'd perched himself on the pool ledge, wringing water from his hair.Before Jogo could retort, Mahito piped up, "She's not human."This captured the attention of all within the bunker, eyes locking on him. Hanami was the first to break the silence. "Did she tell you something?" they asked.Mahito shook his head, placing a hand over his chest. "No, but I know it. I could sense it in her soul, when I healed her." His lips split into a jagged grin. "It's corrupt and vile. She's in-between. A fucking abomination. Just like Jasper - but Jasper's power is ... different." He turned his head away, trailing into a ramble of his own. "She's not as strong as them but she's structured the same. I wonder why." His fingers curled into his palms, gripping at the front of his shirt. "Why?""Whaddya mean she's in-between?" Haruto asked, quirking a brow."You met Jasper?" Jogo barked. "When?"Mahito opened his mouth to respond but promptly closed it. He turned suddenly, eyes narrowing. Quickly, his hand rose and pointed towards a vent across the room. It was hanging ajar, the cover hanging in midair."Hey! You peeping on us?" he shouted.Everyone turned, save for Dagon who remained blissfully swimming about in the pool.As if a curtain of invisibility fell away from him, Desmond appeared. He held the vent in his hands. "I was just on my way out. Didn't want to interrupt your ..." He gestured towards them all with a sheepish grimace. "meeting ... or whatever."There was an awkward silence now. Long and painful.Desmond began to move towards the vent again.With a whip of his arm, Mahito's limb stretched all the way out and across to the vent, fingers spidering out and covering the exit. "How much did you hear?" he chirped.Rolling his eyes, Desmond snapped, "Look, I don't give a shit what you freaks are plotting. My family can handle themselves." He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm gonna make some things clear for y'all though." His grip on the vent tightened as he pointed it at Mahito. "I dunno what you did to Jasper but if my mom finds out you two were even in the same room, you're as good as dead. You think she's protective over Minnie? Wait 'til she finds out you laid a hand on her Golden Child."He snorted, then gesturing towards Jogo. "The worst thing you can do is underestimate someone, especially someone you don't understand. You thinking my sister, or anyone in my family at that, is weak is a reflection of your own incompetence."Jogo sputtered, eye growing wide. He looked to Hanami, who kept their attention on Mahito and Desmond.The vent swung around to gesture to the group before him. "You're all way the fuck in over your heads here. I hope you know that. You're better off backing out now 'cause soon enough you'll all-" He caught himself. He scoffed, laughing to himself as he shook his head. "My point is, you don't know what the fuck you're getting yourselves into.""Let him go, Mahito," Hanami said after a moment. "Let's not start any trouble."Mahito didn't move, at least not right away. His eyes burned holes into Desmond. Slowly, his arm began to retract into itself, regaining its usual shape. "Thanks for the warning," he purred.With a roll of his eyes, Desmond left."What was that about?" Haruto mumbled, a perplexed expression on his face.Jogo sneered, looking something vicious. "The ramblings of a brat," he spat venomously.As the others returned to their debate on the productivity of this evening's plans, Mahito's mind wandered. His eyes never left the vent, heart thundering with exhilaration. In over our heads, huh? he thought. How delightful. He beamed.

The storm outside had only grown with every passing moment, lightning striking violently and thunder building up from a gentle murmur to a persistent roar. Wind caused the perfectly manicured trees outside to dance, branches tapping incessantly on the windows. The mansion had been overcome with the scent of herbs and spices, enticing enough to make even a Curse's belly twist with desire. Roger had holed himself away in the kitchen some time ago, shooing away anyone who interrupted his work.Suguru made no rush of going anywhere, taking his time as he wandered down the hall towards the living room. His curiosity had been stroked by the oddities shelved along the walls, all emanating varying degrees of Cursed Energy. A porcelain hairbrush, a pair of cracked beige leather gloves, a small set of metal-worked animal characters and more strange little trinkets. It was as he reached a hand to open what looked like a music box that he caught movement in the corner of his eye.A figure sneaking its way over to the staircase.He was at Mahito's side in a heartbeat."On your best behavior," Suguru chirped as he firmly grasped the scheming Curse's shoulder and directed him away from the stairs. "Leave the girl alone. She needs rest and it has been requested of you not to come near her again."Mahito's eyes widened before they narrowed, gaze sharp as a dagger as he looked back over his shoulder at the stairs. He allowed himself to be pulled down the hall and towards the living room, lips giving way to a displeased scowl. "This is boring! I wanna go play Smash with Minnie!" he whined. The hairs on the back of his neck stood when Suguru's firm grasp on his shoulder became a vice grip on the back of his head. Fingertips dug into scalp."Mahito," Suguru smiled. "This is your only warning."Mahito yanked himself away from the other, storming off towards the kitchen to presumably take the latch in the pantry down to the bunker. He didn't look back as he left, an angry flush transcending his cheeks and spreading down to his shoulders.Suguru's eyes followed him until he was out of his line of sight before finally continuing on his way towards the living room.'Not even your allies have respect for you. Some leader you are.'A chuckle. You are severely mistaken if you believe this is a partnership. These people are merely my pawns. They, like you, are all expendable.The conversation was cut short when a pair of arms attempted to wrap themselves around him, making him quickly lean away from the welcoming embrace. His surprise didn't show on his face as Yuki Tsukumo stood before him, arms crossed and brow quirked."Yeesh. I know it's been a minute since we last saw each other but I figured we were at least somewhat familiar, eh?" She chided. Her perplexed expression was quickly replaced with a devious smirk. "It's very nice to see you again. It's been what? Ten? Twenty years?" She rose her hands, feigning counting her fingers."Right," Suguru said stiffly, maddeningly put off by the fact that he hadn't sensed her approaching. "You startled me."Yuki laughed heartily. "You're gonna wanna keep your guard up 'round these parts, Rūru!" she teased, leaning over to dig her elbow into his side but missing when he casually side-stepped her. Something about her tone made his chest tighten.Nostrils flared. Did she think Geto Suguru incompetent? She wasn't exactly off the mark but to be compared to such a fool never failed to get a rise out of him. He supposed it was unavoidable. "Thank you for the advice." Insincerity dripped from his words. He eyed her with some skepticism and she returned the stare, hers playful and mischievous.Another presence in the hall made him break the eye contact, bringing their tense moment to an end. The energy now pervading his senses demanded Suguru's attention, though he remained hyper-aware of Yuki as she left to the next room. Once he was sure she was gone he turned to face the newcomer, a grin splitting his lips.Looking his antithesis, Dominic stood at the bottom of the stairs. He was disheveled. His hair wet, dark circles ringing his eyes. The clothes he wore fit lengthwise but had clearly been intended for a heftier body. His shirt hung off him like laundry on a clothesline. His pants were belted snugly. He was barefoot. It seemed the rain had caught him and Roger had played dress-up."I was hoping you'd make it," Suguru greeted with a polite nod.Dominic's eyes were downcast. He said nothing, fingers twisting into one another before him."You're trembling. Could it be the cold? Or something else?""I feel sick," Dominic said at last. "I might be coming down with something." He tried to take a step towards the living room but Suguru didn't move out of his way. "Can you move?" The kindness oft found in his tone was gone. In fact, any and all emotion had been drained of it. "I'd like to go sit in the other room until dinner is ready."Suguru moved but pursued the other down the hall. "I was hoping we could talk more." He walked slowly, hiding his smirk when Dominic subconsciously matched his pace."What about?""Well, your involvement with our operation here for one."Dominic stopped in his tracks, turning so suddenly that Suguru was genuinely caught off-guard. "There is no involvement on my behalf!" he barked. Despite this newfound nerve, he couldn't bring himself to meet Suguru's eyes. Only because he knew it wouldn't be Suguru looking back at him. Just this impostor. "I'm here as a ghost, a specter, a corpse." His hands had balled into righteous fists. "Your delusion is insurmountable if you believe I would ever take part in whatever deranged plot you've all cooked up.""Why are you here then?" Suguru quipped.Dominic deflated instantly. To say goodbye. The words danced in his mind but he didn't dare speak them. "I ..." His throat tightened.He was met with patience."I don't ..."Further down the hall, the kitchen door swung open. Out from the room swaggered Roger, a dazzling suckling pig on a well-dressed platter and a million dollar smile on his face. He opened his mouth, a loud and heartful melody escaping him,"Dinner's ready!"

Content Warnings: suicidal ideation, alcohol, choking, attempted kidnapping.

The thoughts were never-ending, buzzing through his mind with such speed and frequency they began to resemble the hum of a bee. They were difficult to decipher, overwhelming. They dizzied him. The only thing that granted him any semblance of peace of mind was that tomorrow would be the end to these thoughts. No more of this sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, no more dread. Just an eternal dreamless sleep.As much as he tried not to overthink his plans, he continously found himself having to rein in his ruminations. He wanted to focus on the dinner, on the conversations all around him. He hadn't seen some of these people in years. And, in a circumstance of bittersweet irony, this would be the last he'd see of them.Had he even missed them?His heart ached in his chest."You seem distracted."Dominic jolted up in his seat, looking to the source of the voice. He met eyes with Yuki, who had called out to him from where she sat beside Tabitha across the table from him. She looked smug, aerating her glass of wine in one hand and resting her other hand delicately over Tabitha's.His apology was stuck in his throat. He was sick of of speaking the damned words. Only a foul taste in his mouth remained every time they rattled out of him. However, this left him with nothing to offer her but a cold stare in response."Oh my! What did I do to deserve such a scary look, Dom?" Yuki chirped."That little look of his brings back so many fond memories."He heard Tabitha's voice but he couldn't bring himself to look at her. He lowered his head."Oh? Like what?" Yuki asked, but the rest of conversation fell to murmurs.Beside him, Roger took hold of Dominic's hand and squeezed. "You don't look so good, pretty boy. Maybe you'll feel better once you eat." He spoke softly, his words falling over Dominic like a warm blanket. "When was the last time you ate something?""I don't remember," Dominic mumbled."Hey! That's not good!" Roger scolded, moving his hand up to the priest's shoulder in attempts to get him to look up at him. "Please, eat. I cooked this meal with Tabi and you in my heart." Despite his worry, he wore a tender smile on his lips.It was as Dominic reached a shaky hand towards his fork that Tabitha spoke to him. A hush fell over the table at the question, all eyes shifted towards him - varying degrees of interest and animosity reflected in them. Even Roger seemed to shrink away from him. The decision to stay behind in Jujutsu Tech all those years ago came crashing down onto his shoulders."How's Satoru, Dominic?""He-""Look at me when you're talking to me."First, his eyes went to Roger, searching for reassurance - but he found none. The other man had turned away from him, fiddling with his own cutlery. Of course there would be no comfort to find there. He had been the one that had turned his back to them in the first place, and for what? What had he made of himself after all this time?Nothing. He remained the dog of Jujutsu Tech, with Satoru Gojo tightly gripping the leash around his throat.Finally, he looked towards Tabitha. His cheeks filled with color as he met her gaze. Her eyes penetrated him, wrapped around his heart and squeezed tight. It was hard to breathe.The words came out all at once. "You're not going to ask about Jasper?" He felt disconnected from his body, dissociative. It was suddenly very difficult to move, like a talking doll with dying batteries. Her presence was smothering. He sensed Roger risk a glance his way. Was he surprised at his callousness? Mortified?Something changed in Tabitha's expression. It sent chills down his spine. Her lips twitched, words dying as quickly as they formed on them.A voice came from the other end of the table. "We're all certain you've been looking after our beloved lamb with the utmost care and attention." Suguru sat in the chair opposite to Tabitha. Jogo and Mahito sitting on either side of him, one guarded and the other entertained. "Since you brought them up, is there something you feel you need to share about them?""They're doing another paternity test on them," Dominic responded immediately. He glanced towards Yuki, who was taking a snide drink from her glass. "Ms. Tsukumo's destruction of the clinic could only stall such a matter for so long." He paused, contemplating his words. "Why burn down the clinic in the first place? Are you afraid of the school finding out that you're their mother? Or ... is there something else you're hiding?" He looked back to Tabitha again, this time with resolve.Tabitha snorted and rolled her eyes. "They already know Jasper is my child," she replied with a nonchalant gesture over to the woman to her left. "Yuki told them this after informing them she torched the clinic under my orders. The paternity test is them coming up with tangible proof of my relationship to them to provide the others in the school without revealing Yuki is acting as a double agent."Dominic's expression twisted up into a look of confusion. "You know she's working for them?" he asked."Of course I do. I know everything," Tabitha smiled.Yuki leaned forward in her seat. "I'm playing double-double agent, dummy!" she chastized before downing the rest of her wine. "I thought you were smarter than this, Dom. How disappointing." She tsked, shaking her head in a show of disapproval.Dominic scrutinized both women before simply downcasting his gaze, hands rubbing at his temples in an attempt to tame the headache blossoming at the back of his head."Jogo's got a question!" Mahito's sudden shout drew everyone's attention. To his left, Dagon was using their tentacles to pick at the crunchier bits of pork off their plate, guiding the meaty pieces into their mouth below them. "He was just telling us all about it down in the bunker!"Jogo looked up from inspecting his own meal before him, alarm morphing into irritation. "Wha-" He started to argue but Mahito promptly cut him off."Remember! You were saying this was all one big waste of time!" Mahito's volume didn't drop, voice echoing through the dining room. He leaned his chin on the palm of his hand as he grinned across the table at the other Curse. "You were asking what the point of all this was! You don't remember?"Jogo's eye narrowed. "Yes! I did say that. What of it?" He sniffed, smoke leaving his nostrils as the miniature volcano as the top of his head bubbled. "I do believe this is all a waste of time. We should be strategizing. Not whatever this nonsense is." He gestured to the table."We already have a strategy, Jogo." Suguru exchanged looks with Tabitha. "There is no need for any more strategization. This meal is a meal of celebration." He rose his wine glass. "To our victory."Tabitha rose her own and nodded, taking a drink as she cast a stony look towards Jogo when he didn't toast.Instead, he fumed. "What? Why weren't we told this?" he demanded, rattling the silverware on the table with a bang of his fist. "I refuse to be looked down on!""Well, now you're asking for too much!" Mahito laughed.Before Jogo could erupt, Suguru gestured for his attention. "The plan is that, when the time comes, you will all do as myself and Ms. Capricien tell you." He gave a courteous nod in the other's direction. Once again, he spoke up before yet another outburst, "That is, if you want us to succeed in our endeavors.""I don't take orders from humans," Jogo growled."You will," Tabitha called out from her end of the table. "Or we withdraw our involvement and Yuki will tell Jujutsu Tech everything you're planning so we can watch you two tear each other apart from the sidelines.""Go on then! I'm hardly threatened by the lot of you!" Jogo barked. "You think you're of any importance in this group? In this world? You petty little bitch! You're a smudge."Roger stood suddenly, chair flying back into the fancy mahogany chest lining the dining room wall. A dark look crossed his face, eyes flickering with a familiar fiery glow. Veins throbbed on his neck, nostrils flared. All of his usual playfulness was drained from him. His Cursed energy had spiked suddenly, no longer the palpable little drone it'd been known to be. He stood before them, a demon. Puffs of smoke escaped his mouth as he retorted, "Watch your fucking mouth." Those were the only words he spoke. They were the only ones he needed to speak.Jogo gaped, eye darting between Roger and Suguru. His mouth shaped words but nothing came out, hands gripping tight the arm rests of his chair."Behave," Tabitha purred, though how much she meant the demand was arguable. She leaned forward, reaching a comforting hand up to his chest. "Not now." Her voice was soft like velvet. She nudged for him to back down. Beside her, Yuki had propped up in her seat, instead eager to see them come to blows.Suguru rose his hands in a show of surrender. "I apologize for my guest's foolish behavior. There's no need to ruin this dinner with violence." He looked at Jogo when the other opened his mouth once again to argue. "I won't repeat myself."Mahito snickered when Jogo begrudgingly clamped his mouth shut and glared down at his plate.Now setting his sights on the devilish Curse, Suguru chided, "Mahito, retire to the bunker. You've caused enough trouble tonight."Eyes widening, Mahito pointed an accusatory finger towards Jogo. "But-""Go now. I won't stand for this unruliness."With a scowl, Mahito relented, leaving his plate untouched as he stood and stormed out of the room. His parting words, "Eat shit."Suguru looked towards Tabitha, mirroring her impish smirk.Roger took his seat, eyes still viciously locked across the table on Jogo.Jogo returned the stare, a look of puzzled agitation boldly reflected in his eyes. He folded his hands before him, nudging his plate away in a refusal to partake in the dinner.It took a moment but Roger's friendly demeanor returned to him. His smile returned to his face, picking up his fork and knife. He looked around him as he motioned towards his food with his utensils, a cheerful demand escaping him as he did."Dig in then!"

Mahito could still hear the light conversation in the dining room from the hallway. He walked with his hands clasped behind his back, humming an offbeat tune as he peered up at all the fancy paintings hung along the wall. As he thought about returning to the bunker, part of him pondered Desmond. The look of smug defeat on the Sorceror's face intrigued him. As if the warning had been for naught, as if amused by the pointlessness of it. Just what was Tabitha planning? What did Desmond know that they didn't, and did Geto know? Mismatched eyed dared a glance towards the staircase before he tossed a cautious look over his shoulder towards the dining room. As fun as it would be to track Desmond down and force him to answer his questions, Fortnite with Minnie sounded like a much better time.Devilish smile spreading wide on his lips, Mahito made quick work of the stairs, grabbing onto the banister and leaping up to the second story of the house. It was darker up there, only a couple of dim wall lights lighting his way - but he didn't need clarity to find her. He could sense her, sense her always. He beamed as he sprinted down the hall, wondering for a moment if he was just imagining that she was growing farther and farther away from him.As he reached the door, Mahito just barely contained himself from slamming it open. Instead, he picked a stealthier approach. He cracked the door open, the low light of her nightlight lighting up his wide grin."Miiiinniiieee~" he called out in a sing-song tone. He pushed the door open the rest of the way, throwing his other hand up in the air in a show of excitement. "Don't get scared! It's just me!" His arm dropped when he received no response. Closing the door behind him, Mahito neared the bed. "Hey! Are you sleepin'?" he called. He felt a pang in his chest. Minerva wasn't there. He knew so, but he still yanked back her covers. He stared at the empty matress, brain scrambling for a reaction. What was this feeling he was getting? A weird sick sensation twisting his stomach into knots? He didn't like it.A small gust of wind was the next thing to capture his attention. He looked across the room, spotting one of Minerva's bedroom windows ajar. He rushed over to it, brows knitted with curiosity. His hands pressed to the sill, goosebumps rising on his forearms at the foreign residual Cursed Energy left on the wood. A little hum left him, lips twitching in mild amusement.He searched the night for a sign of the intruders and brightened up when he found them, climbing over the tall iron gate surrounding the home. Two teen girls - but Minerva was nowhere to be seen. He could still sense her, however. She was with them.Leaping from the window, Mahito doubled his arms, connected by a thin layer of flesh. It captured the air, allowing him to glide across the yard and towards the gate. He immediately detected their panic. His grin widened."Mimiko!"The hands on Mahito's two front arms clasped around one of their legs, pulling her from the gate with ease and flinging her into the bushes. She crashed into the shrubbery with a pained grunt.The blonde, hoisted at the top of the gate, rose her phone towards him but he reacted quicker, sending an auxilary third hand stretching out towards her as his other two kept the other girl at a safe distance. Instead of knocking the phone out of her hand however, his fingers bound themselves securely around it and pulled it close to him. This is where he felt Minerva's energy radiating from. He inspected it however, unsure of how or where she was being kept. He rose his hand to smash it-"STOP! YOU'LL KILL HER!"Mahito froze, unsure of whether the girl was being truthful or not. Deeming the other girl useles, he released her and focused on the blonde, extra arms retracting back into him. He chose not to take his chances on destroying the phone, lashing out his free hand and grasping blondie around the throat. He pulled her down from the gate but kept her suspended, hand tightening around her neck. "Release the technique or I'll squeeze until your head pops off." His chipper demeanor greatly contrasted the brutality of his words."Nanako!" came a shout behind him. He turned, prepared to defend himself but it seemed someone had beat him to it."Now, girls. This dinner is for adults only. It's far past your bedtimes." Suguru was tightly gripping Mimiko's wrist, keeping her from activating her technique. She clung tightly to her Cursed rope. The man glanced over to the phone in Mahito's protective clutch. "Breaking into the homes of strangers and kidnapping good young girls that respected their curfew, as well?" He gave them a disapproving shake of his head."Shut up!" Nanako choked out, face growing deeper shades of red with every passing moment due to the continued pressure around her neck. She kicked her legs out towards Mahito in attempts to get him to let her go, growing more and more desperate as she began to feel her consciousness fade.Suguru looked towards Mahito. "Release her," he ordered. He pushed Mimiko towards her sister when he did, the two crashing into one another before toppling to the ground. "They're too pitiful to kill." He watched them with a cold detachment. "Although I can't help but wonder how they came upon this gathering of ours."Toying with the phone in his hands, Mahito began to grow agitated. "I don't care about none of that!" he argued. He showed Suguru the device, gesturing towards it urgently. "Tell them to let Minnie outta here!""You've grown quite attached to this girl," Suguru mused, plucking the phone out of the impatient Curse's hand. He glanced back towards the girls again, giving yet another small shake of his head. "but we'll discuss that another time." He looked over his shoulder at the house, frown on his lips. "We have another very important guest joining us soon and I don't want you girls ... interrupting." He rose a hand, a small flicker of light forming in his palm. The light quickly faded, now forming a dark orb. From within crawled a creature resembling a grasshopper, growing in size with every sickening crack of its shell until it stood taller than even its master. He neednt speak a word, the creature leaping towards the girls.It took hold of their shirt collars with its taloned feet, yanking them up into the air as its wings flapped rapidly."Screw you!" Nanako shouted, trying to tear herself free."You shouldn't lie, by the way," Suguru called out to them as the two were carried away. "Has Mr. Weon taught you nothing in your time with him?" He rose the phone, snapping it in half. There was a crackle of electricity and a small puff of smoke, Minerva appearing in what looked like a cloud of static on the ground before them. She was unconscious, sweaty and frumpy. He tucked the broken device into a pocket within his sleeve. "Carry her inside and retire to the bunker. Until we can speak privately, stay away from her. This relationship you've both developed won't bode well for our plans."Mahito grabbed Minerva, tossing her over his shoulder after ensuring she was alive and well. He had begun to make for the house but stopped abruptly at Suguru's demands. "Our plans?" he asked. "Or your plans?""You're such a clever little creature, Mahito," Suguru smiled.With a roll of his eyes, Mahito resumed his way back towards the house. "By the way," he called, casting a final look back at Suguru. He pointed up at his own face. "You're leaking."Suguru's brows furrowed as he rose his hand to his cheek, feeling the wetness pouring forth from his eyes. His smile spread wide. "How sentimental," he said to himself. "How pathetic." He cast one final look back towards the girls just as the three disappeared into the obscurity of night and shadow.

"Pardon me." Suguru's voice was hardly noticed over the overlapping chattering at the table. While Haruto seemed deep into conversation wth Yuki's chest, Hanami and Jogo exchanged few murmurred comments. Roger had busied himself convincing Dominic to finish the meal on his plate before Dagon found a way to sneak their tentacles down the table to snatch whatever they could off of it once they were done clearing Mahito's abandoned food. Everyone, distracted. Well, almost everyone.Only one set of eyes seared into him as he made his way back over to his empty seat. He glanced towards Tabitha, catching her amber gaze. Before he could make himself comfortable, she gestured with her index finger for him to come over to her.He did, hands clasped in front of him as he did. He hunched beside her. His long hair slipped from his shoulders and formed a curtain of black, almost as if it were granting them privacy from all the others at the table. He waited for her to speak, but she didn't. "We had a small problem come up but it has been taken care of," he said with a courteous nod. "Nothing to be concerned about."A delicate hand traced up the side of his throat, stopping at his jawline. He felt himself tense. He turned his head to her, keeping their eyes locked. Tabitha scrutinized him, as if he were an insect splayed beneath a microscope. "Good boy," she smiled a red wicked smile.Suguru felt a shudder ripple through him. "Did you want me to send the Curses away while we have our meeting with Dr. Amajiki?" he croaked after what felt like an eternity of silence. Her hand was still cradling his face, warm and comforting."Yes," Tabitha purred. "I want to keep it to the bare essentials.""Of course." Suguru hesitated to move away for just a second but managed the resolve to do so. His cheek suddenly felt very cold as he made his way back towards his seat.As he was settling back in, Tabitha turned her attention to Roger. "Go and start setting up the gazebo for dessert," she told him, extending her hand to his and clasping it tight before letting go. "Make sure you set the lights to medium glow and use that gorgeous plate set we got on our trip to Venice with the purple and red flowers on them."Roger nodded his head, quickly taking her hand before it could get too far away from him. He planted several kisses along her knuckles before standing. He began to leave but stopped abruptly. "You wanna help me, pretty boy?" he asked with a fond look towards Dominic.Before the priest could answer, Tabitha cut in. "Leave him here." She drank her wine, gesturing her free hand to Roger's now-empty seat. "We have some catching up to do."A momentary look of defeat crossed Roger's face as he glanced nervously between both his lovers. "O-Okay," he relented before completing his half turn and leaving the dining room. He hung his head on his way out, feeling Dominic's eyes burn holes into his back."Dominic," Tabitha called, once again motioning to the empty seat beside her. "I won't ask you again."With a shaky breath, Dominic switched chairs. He kept his gaze downcast but could see her holding her hand out for his in his peripheral. With some reluctance, he clasped it. Her thumb caressed his knuckles. It was a strangely comforting gesture, easing the tension built up in his shoulders. He squeezed, almost as if afraid she would let go."Show me Jasper," Tabitha murmurred. "I want to see for myself that they're safe."Dominic's head perked up, taken aback by the request. His eyes had widened, mouth hanging open for a second before he managed to compose himself. "You want me to show you?" he asked, still in disbelief. It was difficult to process, that Tabitha would allow herself to be in such a vulnerable position for the sake of ... well, anyone. It wasn't as if he would ever ... He could never ... For a fraction of a second he wondered whatall would become of this decades long feud if Satoru's actions all those years ago had been erased from her mind. He resented himself for the idea but he couldn't help but reason that perhaps, this would bring peace of mind to Tabitha. This was when he realized he was being spoken to, dark red lips mouthing words his head was not registering. He forced himself to calm down and listen."Show me," Tabitha urged. She was searching his face for his eyes but he kept them turned away, ashamed, embarassed.Slowly, Dominic mustered up the nerve to meet her gaze. His heart was racing, throat tightening. His words failed him so he simply nodded, drawing in a deep breath before he allowed Tabitha in.Eyes of ember and those of charcoal met. The memories came in clouds of smoke, rising and curling around them. The first time he'd ever seen Jasper; the recollection of the day came with a sensation of intense apprehension. The day of the blackout downtown; a pang of fear and anxiety. The night they and the other classmates had snuck out to go swimming; the panic, and then the relief that followed when they turned up at last. Up until the last time they saw one another; determination ... and pride. He willed his memories of his interactions about Jasper with Satoru to the back his mind, out of Tabitha's reach. Then, he shut her out again. They were back in the dining room.Quickly dropping his gaze to his lap, Dominic kept his mouth shut. Was she angry? Her hold on his hand had slackened. He braved a glance at her and felt shock strike him as he caught a glimpse of her tear-stained features. "Tabitha ..." Her name slipped from his lips, a gentle breeze - barely enough to make candlelight flicker. He tried to squeeze her hand but she wrung her fingers free, reaching for her wine. He grabbed her wrist, surprising even himself. "Tabitha." His tone was firm this time. She gave him a wild expression, keeping very still, as if his touch had frozen her in time."They seem happy." Tabitha's words were stilted. She gave up her wine, dropping her arm to the table. Her fingers curled into her palm, forming a tight fist. His own hand carefully moved from her wrist, fingers tenderly tracing her fingers with his."They are happy and safe," Dominic reassured, though he was starting to have his doubt that this reality all but comforted her. "And they love you."Tabitha snatched her hand away from Dominic's in a brusque motion. Fingers splayed, she pressed her palm to her chest. Her eyes shut."Please, understand. Jasper is a good kid. All of the students in school with them are. Perhaps a bit misinformed but they can be taught, they can do better and be better than us and those before us. I don't know what you're planning, Tabitha, but they will all inevitably get dragged into it." Dominic was all but begging, voice trembling with emotion. He was leaning over the table, trying to keep his volume down so that others wouldn't be tempted to eavesdrop. "Please, show mercy. Don't involve them with this feud.""Mercy?" Tabitha's voice had lost its humanity. She stood abruptly. "You want me to show mercy?!" she barked. All heads turned towards her. Yuki looked distressed at Tabitha's outburst. All other eyes appeared curious, entertained even. He recoiled, pressing back against the rest of his chair and turning his face away. She didn't seem to mind, or even notice, the stares. "Where was their mercy for me, Dominic?!" Tears of rage had crested her waterline, flying from her face as she shouted."I-""Tell me!""Tabi-""Where was his mercy for Jasper?!"Dominic felt the blood drain from his face. "What are you talking about?" he blurted, eyes growing wide. "Jasper? What do you mean by that?" His heart was pounding in his chest. When she didn't answer him right away, he looked towards Yuki who seemed to be cycling through expressions, and then towards Suguru who hadn't dropped his coy smile the entire dinner. His head was spinning. "Tabitha, what did you do?"Tabitha had reined herself in, picking up her glass and aerating it before finishing its contents. She licked her lips, savoring the sweet flavor. She wasn't looking at him, or anyone. Her eyes were fixed on the empty glass in her hand."Tabitha ..."She looked at him, expression cold."What did you do ...?"The doorbell rang.

Content Warnings: alcohol, threats of violence, child death mention.

The storm had quelled, almost as if the skies themselves had parted way in the clouds just for their gathering. The night air was chilly enough to form mist at their lips with every word exchanged. They sat at a circular table at the center of a gazebo, lit by the dim strings of light spiraling the ceiling above them. Half the table was unoccupied, both Tabitha and Suguru having excused themselves earlier to greet whoever had rung the doorbell - presumably the person who would be taking the third empty seat.On either side of Dominic were Roger and Yuki; the former who had spent the last ten minutes or so casting worried glances in his direction and the latter who couldn't look more bored with her current company."What's on your mind?" Roger broke the silence, giving the priest a subtle nudge with his elbow."Nothing, for once," Dominic mumbled. He had grown tired of thinking, having given up the daunting task of reason after having every one of his thoughts that night derail into chaos. "It's quite pleasant."Roger frowned. "I just wanted tonight to be nice for you ... for us." He spoke in a disheartened mumble. "I thought maybe getting everyone together woulda been fun."Dominic couldn't help the look of disbelief that crossed his face. He almost started to laugh but was quick to rein himself in, not wanting to hurt the other's feelings. "Roger, sometimes the past is better left alone. It's like a family heirloom, kept safe on a high shelf, away from curious hands for fear of it shattering. You and Tabitha keep looking for ways to pry it from that safety, while the rest of us have simply accepted it as part of the decor." He kept his head bowed as he spoke, elbows on the armrests of his chair and hands folded on his lap. "Why keep fighting for it?" His eyes closed. "Just leave it be.""You weren't wronged," Roger blurted, chair scraping against the wooden floor of the gazebo as he jerked in his seat to turn towards the man beside him. "It's easy for you to let go."A foreign feeling sparked within Dominic. A rage he kept buried deep, so very deep. "Wasn't I?" His voice trembled. "Aren't I?"Roger's brows knitted, a look of mournful regret replacing his earlier defensive demeanor. "Dom ...""Blah, blah, blah." Yuki interrupted with a roll of her eyes. "You two are so dramatic." She reached across the table and grabbed a bottle of wine near what was presumably Tabitha's plate. She pulled the cork out with her teeth and then filled her glass greedily. She gestured with it towards Dominic. "Let's be real, if you were really over the past then you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't be at Jujutsu Tech either. Or even at the seminary. You'd be halfway across the world living your best life, maybe in a cozy little cabana by the beach." She tilted her head mockingly. "You haven't accepted the past as a forgotten dusty little knick-knack on a shelf. You carry it around in a fucking briefcase."Dominic's eyes widened as he fought for something to say, anything to say - but words were lost on him. He just stared at Yuki, and she stared back, impish."We just want to make things right," Roger mumbled.No, you want to get even, he thought but his was a pointless fight. Dominic resolved himself to silent admonishment.Feeling smothered by the tension, Roger reached towards the middle of the table, lifting a metal cover from a porcelain plate to reveal a cake; their dessert that evening. "Your favorite!" he announced, hoping it would lighten the mood. He smiled a feeble smile at the priest.The red velvet cake was beautifully sculpted, a lovely menagerie of fruits atop it. It forced resurfaced memories of better days, years in his life where he had once felt optimistic about his future. The last time he'd had a bite of a cake like this had been the last time his life was in order. It brought tears to his eyes. What better send-off was there?"Thank you," Dominic mumbled and all at once he felt himself sink up to his neck in guilt. Roger was trying so hard to keep this night from falling apart. He'd put so much thought into even this minute detail. It made him sick, sick with hopelessness. It only really cemented that things would never be okay between any of them. There was too much pain. He'd never be able to reexperience that brief happiness from all those years ago. The closest he had was a mouthful of cake, sweet aching nostalgia. Dominic swallowed the lump in his throat, raising a hand to rub at his eyes.Roger wasn't entirely sure if the reaction was positive or not so he antsily watched the other, brows rising high on his forehead, almost pleading."I'm sure it will be as delicious as the last time I had it, if not more," Dominic said at last. He looked to him, lips trembling. "Age has likely only steeled your talent in the kitchen." His stomach ached and it began to really dawn on him that it had likely been far too long since his last meal."Apologies for the delay."A voice brought the moment to a close.Three pairs of eyes met another three and while Yuki and Roger cheerfully greeted the approaching company, Dominic only felt his blood turn to ice in his veins.Accompanying Tabitha and Suguru was a silver haired man, wearing an elegant suit and a charming smile. A familiar face, one that struck a chord long abandoned within him. His chest tightened, the world around him spinning."Father," he breathed."Someone you know from the seminary?" Roger inquired, looking from one man to the other."No," Dominic replied numbly. "My father.""You told me you didn't know who your dad was," Roger said, casting a look of confusion towards him."I don't."With a courteous bow of his head, the man politely introduced himself, "Dr. Engel Amajiki." He took the seat between Tabitha and Yuki when it was offered to him. "I am hardly deserving of the title Mr. Weon has bestowed upon me this evening, but it still is ever so pleasant to see him again." He gestured towards Tabitha beside him. "Mrs. Capricien and I had a chance encounter shortly after her expulsion from Jujutsu Tech ... and we've kept in touch since.""Nothing with you is by chance," Dominic muttered."You don't know me well enough to say such a thing," Engel chirped before leaning forward to peak over the edge of the table to the floor by Dominic. "Where's your mother?""She's indisposed."Engel quirked a brow.Dominic was quick to backtrack. "How exactly did you two meet?"Supressing a laugh, Engel dismissed him. "Let's not sour such a wonderful meeting with morbid details. Instead-"Tabitha cut him off. "After Satoru murdered my baby, Dr. Amajiki was the one who found Roger and I. He kept us hidden until I ..." She seemed to meditate on her words. "recovered." It grated her nerves to admit to the moment of weakness, draining a glass of wine soon after the confession.In an active attempt to hide his shaking, Dominic balled his fists on his lap. "He's the one that's put these ideas of revenge in your head?" He spoke venemously. "You allowed him to brainwash you?""Careful," Tabitha warned, suddenly looking vicious. "If I cut out your tongue, how will you taste this brilliant cake Roger's made for you?"The threat did not silence him. "I thought you smarter than that." His lips quivered."Stop it," Roger scolded, frowning deeply. "He saved Tabi's life. He ..." He dropped his head, brows knit in a show of sorrow. "He saved Jasper's.""What do you mean by that?" Dominic demanded, turning his furious gaze to Tabitha when Roger denied him a response. "Your ambiguity, it's been on purpose. I understand that much." He stood, demanding the attention of all sitting around him. He was met with coy smiles by all but two. Roger gave him a despondent look while Tabitha's was stony and cold. "But I won't stay here another second if I'm not told the truth. You admitted earlier that Satoru hurt Jasper. When?" Neither Jasper nor Satoru recognized one another prior to their meeting the week before. He didn't even know that they were Tabitha's kin. Did he? No, he didn't. He would have told him if he even suspected such a thing. "Tell me the truth! I want to know.""You already know the truth," Tabitha replied nonchalantly."The timeline doesn't make any sense! That night was over twenty years ago! Jasper is still a child," Dominic argued with a shake of his head. The smug looks on Engel, Suguru and Yuki's faces made his skin crawl. Was this a joke to them? No, he was the joke. "It's impossible.""As stated, Satoru succeeded in his task of ending Jasper's life that night," Engel sighed. "I assisted Tabitha in recovering what was taken from her.""How?""I have my ways," Engel reassured with a crooked smile. "That much, you know."Raising his hands to his face, Dominic drew in a sharp breath. He couldn't bring himself to say another word, head spinning."It took a few years," Tabitha said at last. "Jasper spent that time an embryo, any development frozen. Cursed ..." She paused, eyes punching holes through him. "infinitely.""Until I was able to find a way to break them out of their stasis," Engel at last relented. "By the time they finally began to develop, Mrs. Capricien had already brought two more precious lives into this world. This is why your timeline doesn't add up." Engel reached before him as he spoke, taking hold of the pastry knife and cutting into the dessert before him. He set the first generous slice on to Tabitha's plate. "It would be dishonorable for me to say I did all the work. That child lives because they nobly fought for their life. Had they surrendered, not even the grace of God would have been enough to wretch them from the hands of death."A calming hand placed itself on his forearm, willing him to settle down. "We saved our baby," Roger said earnestly.Dominic looked from him to Tabitha to Engel and then back to Roger. His anger began to simmer down. Though his mind reeled, his heart ached. What was he to do with this information? Did Tabitha expect him to play a pawn in her seemingly eternal game of chess with Satoru? After years of denial and fence-sitting, was this when he was supposed to pick to pick a side? "This is all too much to process," he admitted at last. His eyes followed Engel's hands as the man continued to casually portion out the cake. "This is ... too much." He sank back into his chair, defeated.A sliver of cake was set on his plate before him. He looked up to find Tabitha herself placing it."Then eat," she smiled.

Sinking into the plush cushions of the living room couch, Dominic felt himself slip. He could hear distant chattering as goodbyes were exchanged in the main hall of the mansion but couldn't make out any of the words said. His fingers mindlessly traced the seam of a throw pillow as he stared out a window into the black night. He wondered how late it was. This day had drawn out for what felt like an eternity. He had long since lost track of time.Approaching footsteps roused him from his listless state, dark eyes meeting the source. He found himself faced with the ghost of a friend long past. A ghost that'd spent the night haunting him."You look tired," Suguru mused, standing before him.Dominic managed a laugh, dry and lifeless, but said nothing in return."Are you angry?"Was he? Dominic ruminated on the question. Anger took energy, something he couldn't find it in himself to summon. He was just drained. He had nothing to give, to feel. "I don't know. I don't think so," he mumbled. He reached up to his face, fingers pressing into weary eyes."How do you feel now that you know the truth?"Incessantly itching at his face, Dominic uttered, "There's still much more you're hiding from me. All of you. I know that much." He grimaced. "I can't say I blame you given my state at only being told some of it ... although, I can't go as far as to say I've overreacted." The truth about Jasper was one thing but crossing paths with his father of all people and learning of his relationship with those he thought friends, primarily Roger, had felt like a twist of the knife. He moved his hands from his face, staring at them as memories clutching photos of the man he'd found as a curious child in his mother's room flooded into him. The helplessness he'd felt knowing he'd been abandoned to exist with his mother's heel at his back by whom he knew was the only other person who knew of her true character made his stomach churn. "How do you know Dr. Amajiki? You knew him before his chance encounter with Tabitha, correct?""What makes you say that?""A gut feeling," he mumbled."You know, you never look into my eyes when you speak to me."The change of topic caught him off-guard. He lowered his hand, letting it fall limply at his side. "It's a habit. I tend to avoid eye contact with everyone," he said quietly, dark eyes following the intricate pattern on the rug covering a majority of the hardwood floor in the room. "I don't do it on purpose.""I think you do. Are you trying to make yourself seem like less of a threat?"With a quirk of a brow, Dominic dared a glance up at Suguru's face - registering his sly smile, crooked brows, a protruding vein branching his throat. "What?" He'd sat up, hands anxiously clutching at the fabric of the couch.Suguru neared him, every step calculated, before leaning forward. One of his hands steadied him, perched on the arm of the couch. "Your technique only activates when meeting a person's eyes, correct? You never grew past that that stage, did you? Could it be that you never meet a person's eyes because you're aware they fear what you're capable of?"Heart in his throat, Dominic tried to argue, "I wouldn't-""Oh, but you did. Didn't you? You have. Many times."He felt dizzy. "This isn't fair." The words left him in a whine, vision blurring as tears formed in his eyes. He despised this cursed gift, one weaponized against those he cared for by those puppeteering him. His autonomy had been stripped at an early age. He was one of many soldiers, bent and twisted and used by people he felt nothing but scorn for. But what else could he do? Run? Oh, how he wished the solution was that simple. He rose his hands up weakly, grasping fistfuls of the front of Suguru's yukata. He neither pushed nor pulled at him, only clung to him - desperate. "You don't know me. You're ... not ..." He bit his lips.Suguru leaned closer, until their foreheads met. The tips of their noses grazed.Dominic felt his mind go to static, eyes widening before easing into a close. This man felt like Suguru, he smelled like him, he sounded like him. Would it be so wrong to just pretend? He felt a hand at his cheek, goosebumps rising on his arms at the caress. He could feel Suguru's breath on his lips."You could answer your own questions with such ease. A mere glimpse and you could get all the answers you're seeking. Are you afraid?""Yes," he blurted."Let me taste it."Dominic kissed him, desperately, miserably. He pulled him closer, wrapping an arm around the back of his neck as the kiss lost its chastity. He could taste his own tears as they rolled down his cheeks and over their joined mouths. He felt teeth on his lips, hands at his chest, a knee digging between his thighs - a third hand ran through his hair, startling him. He pulled himself from Suguru, holding him at arm's length before he turned to look to his side."How fun," Tabitha smiled, fingers gently gliding from his hair to his jaw. When exactly she'd siddled up beside him was lost on him. Her soothing touch was not unwelcome, even when her palm pressed to the side of his neck. He bid her to sense his quickened pulse, to demonstrate to her he was human; fragile.A recurring theme that night, words failed him. He felt vulnerable, as if his body were splayed open on an operating table. Suguru's lips pressed to the other side of his neck, sending a tremor of need down his spine. He gasped, hands once again raising to his face. "Wait," he pled in distress. "Give me a moment."Their warmth left him.Dominic ran his trembling fingers through his hair, some strands sticking to his sweaty forehead. It was setting in, just how in deep he was. It was impossible to decipher the surface from the ocean floor.A pair of arms wrapped themselves around his shoulders from behind. Yet another presence gracing him. He tensed, tilting his head back to find himself staring up at Yuki - but someone else was with her. Or rather, part of her. "What's wrong, teach? You lost all that fire you had this morning." Two voices left her mouth, overlapping one another but speaking in perfect unison. He rose his hands to her face, fingers tracing over the terrifyingly familiar markings on her cheeks. The skin along her cheekbones slit and parted, a second set of eyes peering down at him."This is insanity," Dominic breathed. "Lunacy.""And yet you're still here," Sukuna grinned.Standing suddenly, Dominic moved away from the couch. He paced, wringing his hands in a panic. "I should go," he said. "This isn't right. This is too much.""Pretty boy."Ah, at last. His safety blanket. Dominic leaned into Roger's embrace as soon as it came to him, fingers digging into his back. "This is wrong. I'm wrong. Aren't I?" he cried."Nothing about you's ever been wrong," Roger reassured as he cradled him. His strong arms were a comfort. He felt safe. "Why'dyou say that?""Wanting this." His words were muffled against Roger's shirt. He was too embarrassed to lift his head from where it rested on Roger's shoulder, shutting his eyes tight. "I'm sick.""Why sick? Because this want is coming from you? If it comes from love, how can it be sick?" Roger leaned away but kept his arms clamped tight around the other.Dominic pulled himself from him, breathing stilted, and stared at him. His instinct was to allow his mind to flood with self-doubt, with reproach - but he disallowed it. He wouldn't silence his heart this time. It'd been long overshadowed by rationality. A rationality that had kept him so very repressed and destitute. So hungry. Craving. His gaze morphed, from meager to resolved before he turned to look at the den of lionsand gave himself in to the slaughter.

Content Warnings: loss of consciousness and threats of violence.

"So where exactly is this place?""I'm not sayin' anything else! I already told ya more than I should've!" Nobara's shout rang out through the pavilion, causing the small mob surrounding her to spring forward to cover her mouth. Hands gave up their endeavor when she bared her teeth."Keep it down! Someone'll overhear!" Yuji insisted instead. He headed the group, sticking his hands into his pockets and giving a pout."It's just weird that we've never heard of this Curse Care Center before," Maki added with a cross of her arms. "Why hide something like that? Especially when it could really be of benefit to Tamers-in-training like Megumi." She gestured to her cousin. "Something fishy is going on here."Nobara shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know! They didn't tell me why I can't tell anyone. Just not to," she grumbled. "but you can't bring it up or else they'll know I told you. Mr. Weon said I'm the only student that knows.""So you need to ask him then," Megumi argued."What?! Why?" Nobara shook her head dramatically. "What if I lose my special privileges for snooping?" With a flourish of her fingers, she brought her hand to her chest and stuck her nose in the air. "Maybe Mr. Weon saw something in me that he just didn't see in you guys.""Of course, it goes to her head right away," Yuji sighed."Of course," the others added in unison, all crossing their arms and giving her varying stares of disapproval.Nobara stamped her foot on the ground, fists clenched at her sides. "What is that supposed to mean?! You guys sound jealous!""Well, I'm glad you got this opportunity," Jasper chimed in at last, fidgeting their hands. They'd kept quiet until then, hesitant about picking sides. "That must mean Mr. Weon wants you to pursue Taming, doesn't it? Or that he at least sees potential in you to do so." They offered a cheerful smile. "That's exciting ..." They then glanced at their other classmates, shrinking a bit at their looks of skepticism. "I think."A grin spread wide across Nobara's lips. "See? Why can't you all be a bit more like Jas? They actually support me. Unlike the lot of you." She wrapped her arm tightly around their shoulders, almost immediately growing a sickly pale and sinking to the ground before Jasper could even manage a word of protest."She forgot you do that, huh?" Panda tittered, nearing her to give her shoulder a nudge."I didn't mean to! I didn't expect her to touch me!" Jasper wailed, hands raising to their face in a panic. "Should we take her to Ms. Ieiri?!""It's fine!" Yuji reassured with a dismissive wave of his hand. "She'll bounce back quick!"As predicted, Nobara jerked right up, rubbing the back of her head and casting an irate look in Jasper's direction. "Stop doing that!" Her shout drowned out Yuji's self-congratulatory, "See? I told you." She pointed an accusatory finger their way. "How're we supposed to work together if we can't even touch you?" She swatted Panda away from her as she stood back up on her own."I'm sorry! I'm trying!" Jasper insisted. "I'm just not sure how it all works yet.""Give it a rest, Nobara," Megumi scolded with a roll of his eyes. "You should know better by now anyway."Jasper looked nervously from one to the other, cheeks filling with color. Immediate confusion dawned on them at the reaction, causing them to drop their gaze and hug their arms close. They broke into a sweat, hoping the others didn't pick up on their private moment of dismay."Whatever! Maki, let's go! We don't need these idiots to train."Maki sighed, giving her classmates a half-wave before following her girlfriend across the pavilion and towards the main building."You're not getting any training done lounging around in the common room!" Panda shouted after them as he pursued the two with Toge perched on his back. "Quit lying, slackers!"An awkward silence fell over the three remaining students."What do we do now?" Megumi asked, glancing at the other two. "I'm kind of over training for now. Should we get lunch?""Let's go to the woods!" Yuji suggested with a shout of excitement.Following his finger with his eyes, Megumi took in the trees encompassing the Southwestern corner of the school grounds. "Yeah, alright," he shrugged, taking the lead as he headed towards the dense brush. Yuji had begun to follow for just a moment, before noticing the third member of their group had stayed behind. "Everything okay?" he called to them. "You comin'?"Jasper had been looking back towards the school, twiddling their fingers and chewing on their lip. Goosebumps had risen on their skin. They looked distracted, haunted even. They drew in a deep breath before turning back to Yuji and nodding. "Yes, sorry." They flashed an anxious smile before hurrying forward to catch up to the two.

"I see you're hard at work today."Satoru nearly jumped out of his skin, quickly turning away from the window to face Kento. He was fast to steel himself, cheery smile twisting onto his lips. "Sneaking up on people is rude, y'know?" he teased, tone lighthearted.Kento's gaze pierced through him, broke his Infinity to pieces. It made him feel vulnerable, nervous. He had to remind himself that the Kento he was seeing was through the chaotic scope of his Six Eyes. He reached up to his face, adjusting his blindfold pointlessly to soothe his unease. When he heard the other speak, Satoru felt his anxiety spike once more. "It's not like you to be caught off-guard." His voice was layered in detachment but a shimmer of concern gleamed beneath the surface, like spotting a coin on the ocean floor.The two stood in silence, occupying most of the hall in the school's main building. Kento had just been on his way to the break room to have lunch when he'd spotted the other staring out into the pavilion with an intensity that threatened to shatter the glass."You're so punctilious," Satoru grinned.Kento flashed a snide look. "I see the word of the day toilet paper was a good investment on behalf of the school." He started to turn to leave but stopped himself, instead looking out the window in the direction Satoru had been gazing in just in time to spot Yuji, Megumi and Jasper roaming about in the distance. He then looked back to Satoru, who'd been giving him the ugliest quivering lipped pout a person could muster, and sighed. "What's on your mind?""Dom didn't answer my calls last night," Satoru whined."I'm sure you'll get to see him at some point today," Kento replied dryly, taking a moment to observe the other before pushing further, "That's not it though, is it?"Another tense silence fell over the hall."If you don't wish to talk about it, I'll go.""Wait!" Satoru insisted, hurrying forward so that the two stood face to face. He struggled for a moment, trying to parse his thoughts before finally relenting, "The mission yesterday went well, I heard."Kento quirked a brow. "And that bothers you?"With a grimace, Satoru continued to fumble, "I wouldn't say it bothers me." He thought for a moment. "More like intrigues me or ... confuses me." Yeah, sure. That was it. "Megumi decided he wants to be a Tamer." He crossed his arms, a loud and annoyed breath escaping him. "He didn't even tell me. I found out through Yuji. He also told me Dom was trying to get Nobara to take up Taming too." He laughed incredulously. "So are we not getting any Special Grade Sorcerors in the next round of graduates? Just a bunch of wimps, holding hands and singing get along songs?"Now raising both brows, Kento inquired further, "Tamers are a necessary part of the school."Scrutiny filled Satoru's face. "Are they, though?" He shrugged in an exaggerated gesture. "We've been without any for how long? And things have been fine.""Are you feeling left out?""They are my students," Satoru sniffed. "I feel like I should be somewhat involved in these kind of decisions.""They are also Mr. Weon's students now that he's back to fieldwork," Kento clarified. "You do understand that much, correct?"Beneath his blindfold, Satoru felt his eye twitch. Nostrils flaring, he whined, "Yeah! I know that!" His arms folded over his chest. "It's just a little ridiculous, isn't it? Do the higher-ups think he's better than me or something?""He certainly follows instructions better than you," Kento snorted before finally starting to walk down the hall towards the breakroom again. "The higher-ups likely see him as more dependable than you.""Is that really a good thing, though?""It is when the lives of children hangs in the balance."A laugh escaped Satoru. He even clapped his hands together at the hilarity. "You think the higher-ups care about the students? Don't make me laugh!"Kento stopped and turned suddenly, eyes narrowed. "No, they don't care for the students. They see them as nothing but cannon fodder. As subjects. As servants. As pawns. They don't care at all for them." His words were like an ice pick to the brain. "But we do." He tilted his head. "Don't we?""Yes," Satoru nodded, although his blindfold kept his rolling eyes out of sight. "That's not-""So we need to all work together to look after them."Satoru couldn't hide his annoyed expression. Or rather, didn't care to. "I feel like this conversation derailed. My point is that Dom is too much of a pushover. It wasn't a problem when he wasn't doing fieldwork, but now that the higher-ups got their little toy back, can we really trust-" He stopped himself, feeling his blood run cold.The two men turned their heads suddenly, looking down the hall in time to catch Dominic as he turned and walked away from them."You think he heard me?""Shut up, idiot."

The closet was dark and cramped. Dominic had wedged himself between a plastic storage bin and the wall, hands clutching at his hair. His eyes were shut tight, tears springing from them. "Idiot, idiot, stupid, stupid," he hissed at himself. Of course, Satoru had never believed in him. It wasn't as if he had truly expected him to in the first place, but to badmouth him to his colleages was something he had never thought him capable of. But why? Why had he thought that highly of Satoru fucking Gojo in the first place after everything he'd done?No, no. He couldn't let Tabitha brainwash him. He needed to stay levelheaded. Satoru ... He had his reasons. He had to have had. He wasn't some bloodthirsty lunatic.But even then, why had he said those things about him, to Kento of all people?"Why are you so upset? Aren't you going to kill yourself anyway? What does it matter if he thinks you're worthless? You've brought this upon yourself. He says you're untrustworthy and he's right, isn't he? Or are you going to tell him where you were last night?""SHUT UP!" Dominic screamed, kicking his leg out at his briefcase. The tote fell over with a clatter. "SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" He lurched forward, slamming his fists down onto it as sweat, spit and tears flew from his face. Her laughs resounded in his head. "I'LL KILL YOU!""Dom?"Dominic looked up suddenly, like a startled animal. The door to the closet had opened, Shoko standing at the entrance. He remained where he knelt, arms now limply resting on his lap. His hair was a messy mop on his head. His face glistened in the sunlight cracking through the window behind her. "Hello," he greeted numbly."What the fuck is going on?""I am having a rough day.""Get out of the storage closet, Dom.""Okay," he mumbled. He pushed himself up to his feet, grabbing onto onto the shelves to keep from losing his balance. "I'm sorry. I've just been out of sorts these days.""What's with the turtleneck?"Hands raising to his neck, Dominic rattled out a nervous laugh. "I forgot to do laundry." He was, unfortunately, not struck dead right then and there because he had, in fact, forgotten to do his laundry - albeit not necessarily being the reason for the change in wardrobe. His fingers dug into collar of his shirt, into the bruised skin hidden beneath it. "Oh, wait," Dominic now extended his hands towards the closet in a half-hearted attempt to get his briefcase.Shoko shut the door before he could. "Go home," she bit out at him. "Get some rest. Now."No, no, no. But his plans. He wanted to resign. He wanted to die. He needed to. Didn't he? Why? He felt like throwing up. "But I-""You're a mess! Look at you!" Shoko was speaking in a whisper hiss, not wanting to attract the attention of anyone lurking corners. "Please, just take the day off. I ..." She looked conflicted for a moment. "I have a favor to ask you ... and I'd rather you weren't in the middle of a psychotic break when I ask you.""What is it?" Dominic asked, dropping his hands to his sides. He swayed on his feet, eyes fighting to stay open. "What do you need?""Are you fucking kidding me?" Shoko cried. "Go home!""I'm sorry," he insisted. "I just- I feel like-" He fought with himself. "I feel like I'm losing my mind."Shoko reached up, rubbing at her face in frustration. "You can't work like this. I'll file paperwork for you to go on medical leave," she said quietly. "I heard everything went so well yesterday. What's happened since?""A lot," Dominic admitted, but that was all he could say. "but it's fine. I'm fine. There was just ... something I needed to do.""And what is that?"A shaky breath left him. "I was going to resign," he admitted at last, although he kept his plans following that to himself. "I don't think I'm cut out for this and I think everyone knows that."Shoko stared at him, at a loss for words."I am sorry if I've disappointed you." He didn't know what else to say."Can I ... make a suggestion?" Shoko asked after a grueling silence.Dominic hesitated but eventually relented and nodded."How about taking a trip?""What?"Shoko tucked some hair behind her ear, dragging her finger through the locks. Her gaze averted. "I know this is the worst timing but ... Utahime needs help with her students. I don't know if you heard but they were blindsided by some Special Grade Curses the other day and she's had some trouble getting through to them." She sighed. "I was hoping you could help ... and maybe going to Kyoto would benefit both of you. You'd be able to distance yourself from ..." A grimace, "all the bullshit here and also help take care of things there."An odd peace came over him quite suddenly. His brows furrowed."You can stay at her place. She has a spare room. It's probably a big ask but I know she'd be very grateful ... and I would be too."Maybe getting some distance would help him clear his mind a bit."I don't know what's going on with you, Dom, but I don't think resigning is going to make all your problems go away. Maybe if you give yourself some time to think away from all this, you'll feel better."Resigning had only really been half of his plans that day but bringing that up would only make this situation worse. He took the other in; the dark circles around her eyes, her troubled frown. His stomach twisted and turned as the realization of his selfishness fell over him. Was it really in him to turn his back on those who needed him? Perhaps when believing that people needed him was itself such a tough pill to swallow. He bit his lip."So ... whadya say? Will you help us out?""... Okay."

It was a beautiful day out. Birdsong filled the woods. Sunshine broke through the branches above in shimmering rays, creating golden patterns on the dirt path. Gentle winds made the branches quiver, an orchestra of trembling leaves joining the avian melody. Jasper walked slowly, staring up at the flickers of light that illuminated their way. They were taken with the scenery ... or perhaps trying to distract from their intimidating company."It's pretty, ain't it?"Jasper perked up, looking at Yuji. "Yes! It's very pretty." they said with a laugh, shaking with nerves as they suddenly became very aware of how closely they were walking to one another. They glanced ahead at Megumi, who was leading the way. They added, a bit more absentmindedly, "I've never gone on a walk through the woods before." Memories of their mother shouting at their father any time he suggested taking them camping with him and his sister resurface in their mind. They could still recall the feel the wood of the door against their ear; there was talk about them being too sensitive, too timid, too dangerous. Stop, they had heard their mother say suddenly and then a creak. The door was ripped away from them.They were in the woods again. They dared a glance at Yuji, wondering if he had picked up on them spacing out."You didn't really get to do much before, huh?" Yuji frowned. "It must've been pretty boring."Guess not.Thinking about home hurt; their head and their heart. "I always found something to do," they replied. Puzzles, cooking, piano, gardening, painting. All rather lonely endeavors as their parents and siblings always seemed busy with something or other. The few moments they spent together were moments they treasured, as stressful as they were at times. "It's very strange," they started before clarifying, "The drastic change, I mean. I haven't had time to think about much of anything since I got here. Before, it was all I did, get lost in my own thoughts. It's kind of nice to have a quiet bit of time like this again.""Well, don't get too used to it," Megumi called back to them. "The Kyoto Exchange is coming up soon. We have to be ready for it.""What exactly is that?" Jasper asked. They'd heard about it in passing with no clear details but it seemed a rather important event.Megumi slowed to a stop as they reached a small clearing by a brook. He leaned against a tree, crossing his arms over his chest. "The Kyoto students will be arriving in Tokyo and we are going to be going up against them to test our skill. It's meant to build comraderie between the schools but everyone gets pretty comptetitive."A ball of anxiety formed at the pit of their stomach. "Against them? Like a fight?" they asked, looking to Yuji in confusion only to recieve a shrug from him in response."This is the first time I'm taking part in it too," he confessed with a puff of his cheeks."There will be different kinds of tests but yes, for the most part they will be testing our physical abilities. The tests change every year, though, so I can't tell you for sure what they're gonna have us do," Megumi explained as he stared off into the trees. "You should probably get as much training in as you can." He glared at them both when Yuji grinned, as if he'd sensed it. "Both of you."Jasper nodded but still looked troubled. "The other students, they're strong?" they asked."Yes," Megumi answered simply.Yuji had approached the stream, crouching down to watch the water pass. "I'm sure we'll be ready when the time comes! We just gotta stay focused." He smiled back at Jasper reassuringly. "Yeah?"Jasper stared at the other, feeling their heart skip a beat. "R-Right, yes, of course." They fumbled their words, face radiating an uncomfortable heat.A sudden tug on their arm startled them. They stared in disbelief when Yuji pulled himself up with their hand as a support. Goosebumps rose on their arms as shock filled them. Yuji hadn't seemed to notice that he'd touched them without getting every ounce of energy he had drained from him, evidence by him playfully jumping over the stream and calling for the other two to follow.On second thought, Yuji had touched them many a time before without being affected.A weird sinking feeling formed in the pit of their stomach.Neither Jasper nor Megumi moved from where they stood, both watching Yuji as he vanished into the trees before exchanging looks.Anxiety filled Jasper as Megumi fitted them with a suspicious scowl. He began to follow their classmate, also clearing the brook with a jump."Wait!" Jasper called after him, running through the water instead. The river splashed up at them, wetting the legs of their pants and filling their sneakers. "I-I don't-""I don't care." Megumi didn't look back at them.Jasper slowed to a stop, hugging their arms to themself as shame filled them. Tears prickled their eyeline. "Okay, sorry," they relented, although they spoke the words so quietly they didn't think Megumi had heard them.They were soon left alone, the woods growing dark as the sun above took cover behind ominous clouds.

Content Warnings: sensory meltdown, derealization, gore and blood.

Anxiety tremored through Shoko in shockwaves. It grew so intense she had to clench her jaw to keep herself from throwing up. A head-spinning nausea ripped through her, like the kind you'd get driving over a sudden steep dip in the road. Her mouth felt dry, tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth. Smoking a bowl before work that morning had been a poor life choice but, at this point, it was just one more to throw on the pile.She was being spoken to but her heartbeat was pounding in her head so loudly, she couldn't make any of the words out. All she could process were those all too familiar ominous doors floating in the darkness around her. Encircling her like vulture and prey. "Could you repeat that?" Her words left her in a tongue-tied mumble."We wanted to wish Mr. Weon a good trip before he left but it seems we missed him. You see, his little mind tricks make it quite difficult for us to initiate a meeting once he's off school property."Shoko was toying with the ends of her hair, winding the strands around her fingers and subconsciously pulling them from her scalp. "That's good to know," she replied absentmindedly."Pardon?""You could just text him," she detracted. He's probably gonna leave you on read but whatever. Did these geezers even own phones? With a shrug of her shoulders, she added, "He's likely still on the train. He crashed at my place last night and left just a couple of hours ago. I'm sure he'll get back to you once he's settled in at Ms. Iori's."There was some silence. Deliberation perhaps? She wasn't entirely sure what they could be discussing. It wasn't as if Dominic was running away. In fact, they should be grateful she had resolved him to stay. Not that she'd done it for them anyway. Aside from using him as a punching bag, Shoko wasn't actually all that sure why the higher-ups were so determined to keep him around. She, on the other hand, very much needed him to stave off Satoru's antics."We also called you in because we wanted to thank you for finally getting that physical examination of Jasper submitted. A pleasant surprise that everything came back quite normal but a relief to us all nonetheless."Right, yeah. Normal. She grimaced. "Is that everything you needed to discuss? I've got a lot of work to do today.""Yes. Have a pleasant day."The darkness cleared around her, like a fog lifting, and she was in her office again. She let out a long and loud sigh, collapsing into her chair and rubbing at her face. She recoiled quickly, realizing now just how much of her hair she'd tugged off her head during the meeting as the bunch clung to her fingers. She rushed to get rid of the loose strands, brushing them off into the trash can under her desk.'Sorry to put you in this position, kid, but you're gonna have to pick something for me to check off on this box, yeah?'Her own words echoed in her head. She could still see Jasper's look of confusion before realization dawned and they tearfully effused their gratitude. How awkward. It was the only way she could manage to keep the higher-ups and Jasper happy ... and her conscience clean.It wasn't as if she'd wanted to do this stupid exam anyway. It was intrusive and uncomfortable for both of them. She felt herself grow frustrated as she tried and continued to untangle the hair from her fingers. It was for the best anyway that they kept the higher-ups in the dark about ... well, everything as much as possible."Have you seen Dom?""EEK!" A squeal escaped her as she jumped in her seat, banging the back of her head into the bottom of her desk. She turned briskly, glaring daggers at the pest that was moping at her doorway. "Knock!" she barked as she sat up, smoothing the front of her lab coat.Satoru did and then stared at her expectantly."He's on sick leave," she lied and his lips pressed into a deep frown. "He wasn't feeling well so I sent him home.""That's not true," Satoru replied, closing the door behind him. "He's never gone on sick leave before.""What do you want me to tell you?""The truth. Is he avoiding me?"Shoko did not flinch."Look, he overheard me and Kento yesterday ..." Satoru paused, eyes rolling in his skull as he metaphorically scrambled for cover. "Kento was saying something about him not being cut out for fieldwork and I agreed. He got all upset about it and I haven't seen him since."Shoko snorted, turning away from him and towards her desk. She wasn't sure what to make of the situation. While she believed Kento Nanami was brutally honest enough to say something like that, she didn't think he believed Dominic wasn't cut out for fieldwork. "Look, you've been sulking around the school ever since Dom was told to return to the field. You wanted him out of your way, didn't you? You got that."Satoru's face contorted in a look of great offense. "Out of my way? Why would you put it like that?" He shook his head, now binding his arms tightly over his chest. "You don't know what you're talking about. Dom was the one who didn't want to return to fieldwork in the first place. When I asked him to come back after he left to the seminary, he said he would only come back if he didn't have to do it.""And why was that, hmm? Why did he leave in the first place?"Satoru fumbled his words. "Well, I ... I'm not sure." Before Shoko could get another word in, he threw his hands up in exasperation. "Forget it! Talking to you is like talking to a brick wall!""Because I'm not telling you what you want to hear?""Whatever!" Satoru turned to the door, slamming it open with a viciousness that caused the knob to crack a hole in the wall."Stop dragging me into your bullshit, dickhead!" Shoko shouted after him."I said whatever!"Shoko sighed, staring back at the door with a frown. Her mind was racing, hands shaking. What was this she was feeling? It wasn't exactly the angry rush of adrenaline one would get after a fight. Was she feeling ... scared? Her residual limb began to ache. Something inside her was twisting and turning, making her feel sick. Her eyes moved to the hole in her wall before she turned her attention to her paperwork.Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

"What does it even do?"Jasper looked up from the video Yuji had been showing them on his phone and towards Maki, who was pointing at the halo above their head. They glanced upwards but their halo tilted with their head and moved out of sight. It was when they reached up and touched it that they even remembered it was there and gaped at the question, feeling their face grow hot as all eyes in the room went to them. "W-What do you mean?" they sputtered."Your halo. We were wondering what it does. Why do you have it?""Nothing, I think," Jasper replied, wide eyed and insistent. "I don't know. It's always just hovered there.""Can you make it do anything?" Nobara chimed in, sprawled on the couch beside her girlfriend. "Like can you pull it down over your head and wear it like a hat?" Her hands motioned over her head, acting out the words she spoke. "Or throw it like a frisbee?"Slowly, Jasper shook their head. "I've never really tried to move it from where it is but it hurts when other people yank at it," they explained, albeit very hesitantly. To them, it was like asking to dislocate a joint. Why try to move it? Perhaps it was this kind of mentality that made them feel so much like an outsider at home. Their family had always pushed themselves far past their limits, always in pursuit of knowledge - of mastery. They'd always ran from progress. It was terrifying to witness what their family was capable of. It wasn't anything they'd ever wanted to do ... not there ... or here. "It's kind of like when someone pulls on your arm." Their brows furrowed thoughtfully, staring down at their hands as they curled their fingers into their palms.This only seemed to draw more interest."Wait, so you can feel it? Like if someone touches it?" Panda asked with a tilt of his head. Beside him, Toge was typing furiously into his phone. "What does it feel like anyway?"Jasper downcast their gaze. Memories of Mahito throwing them around the bathroom the week before sent tremors of fear and anxiety throughout them. The bruises still lingering on their skin ached. "I don't know how to describe it but nothing special," they replied, flinching when Yuji suddenly reached up to grab it. He seemed to stop himself, however, when he noticed his classmate's reaction. The two shared a look, awkward and far too long, both relieved when Toge's text-to-voice interrupted it."Does it drain people's Cursed Energy when they touch it like when they touch you?"Faltering, Jasper fought with their words. Chills raced down their spine when they now remembered Sukuna. The mental image of one twisted grin replaced another. They could feel him dragging his claw across their halo, splitting the delicate flesh on it and drawing blood. "Maybe? I don't know." All of this attention was making their heart race. They wished they had better responses. Something more interesting to say, if only to stop the questions, but even at home, they'd always felt like an enigma. As if those around them never really knew what to make of them. At least there they were largely left unbothered, lonely as it was. There had been more direct contact with their halo in the last couple of weeks than they had experienced their entire life - and no one had suffered the consequences of touching their skin. It hadn't been until now that they truly realized. "I think people can touch it and not be affected like they are when they touch me directly." Something told them they'd regret the admission. They rose their hands to their cheeks, desperate to hide.There was silence."Well, who's gonna touch it?" Nobara cut in at last. "Feels like we can get answers to most of our questions pretty easily.""You do it then, if you're so inclined," Maki snorted with a roll of her eyes."No way!" Nobara shouted with a shake of her head. She sat up and nudged the other girl. "You do it!"Yuji rose his hands, calling for attention. "Wait a minute! No one's even asked Jas if they were okay with it!" he argued, frowning deeply. "I don't think anyone should touch them without asking first."Looking to him, eyes wide and watering, Jasper only just barely contained their gratitude. They had suddenly grown so very aware of the floating ring above their head it made goosebumps rise on their forearms. Their hands had balled into tight fists in their lap, tension building in their shoulders - but the words in defense of them had helped begin to ease them."Well?" Nobara snarked, and all eyes were back on them. They clenched their jaw.If they said no, would they grow suspicious of them? Would they give up on them like their family had? Sweat formed on their brow. "I just ... I don't think ..." They fumbled their words, promptly drowned out by a shouting match."It's not that big a deal!" Nobara insisted, only to once again be deflected by Yuji."Calm down, will you? They don't want to!""Maybe we can do it when Mr. Gojo is around in case anything goes awry," Panda suggested, hoping to quell the argument. He looked to Megumi for help but the teen averted his gaze and kept quiet."What's the worst that could happen?" Nobara rolled her eyes."To be fair, we don't know what the worst that could happen is," Maki said with a purse of her lips."Even if Gojo was around, we still shouldn't be treating Jas like a zoo exhibit," Yuji barked.At this, Nobara gestured towards them, "What's the point of them being here if not to learn more about their technique and what they're capable of? If they're never gonna do anything that makes them uncomfortable, then they'll never make it as a Sorcerer! They won't make it anywhere!" She scowled. "We've all been pushed beyond our limits here, but they're allowed to skirt on by without actually doing anything, why?"A silence fell over the group again, but it was short-lived. It was when Yuji looked towards Jasper again that a gasp escaped his mouth."What the fuck?" Maki called out but the words went unregistered by Jasper. They'd clutched their head, glasses having fallen from their face and to the floor. Their eyes were shut tight, tears springing from them and rolling down their cheeks. Above them, their halo had split and thorned - forming a spiked crown, slowly turning and twisting in the air. It began to bulge and contort."Sorry. I'm sorry." The words left them like a chant, a prayer. "So sorry. I'm so sorry.""Jas?" Yuji called but he was unable to reach them. "Are you okay?"A blinding flash of light and a cacophony of crashes filled the room, bringing the students to their feet. Everything moved so quickly it was hard to do much of anything before it was over. There was only damage left behind to assess, environmental clues to what had happened in less than a blink of an eye.For one, the table at the center of the common room had been splintered to pieces. There were several scorching holes in the walls, floor and ceiling. Jasper's halo was no longer over their head, but instead across the room in Yuji's hands. Blood seeped from his hands, palms punctured by the thorns. He looked surprised, as if he had no recollection on just how he had gotten there. Behind him, was Megumi, equally as taken aback by the state of affairs.Jasper opened their eyes, slowly lowering their hands from their head. A miserable resignation fell over them as they took in the damage they'd done and then looked to their classmates, guilt and shame filling them at their shocked expressions. You could have killed someone, they castigated themself, wiping at their wet cheeks with shaky fingers. What could they say to remedy this? Was there even anything they could say?"THAT WAS SO COOL!" Panda shouted now. "How did you do that?" Toge hopped in place next to him, clenched fists raised in a show of excited celebration. "Can you do it again?!""Do you even know how you did it?" Nobara asked warily, not quite yet dropping her guard."No," Jasper croaked. "I didn't do it on purpose. My head just got fuzzy." They looked up as Yuji approached them, still clutching the halo. Their face grew hot as he leaned towards them, releasing the ring and staring in awe as it retook its place and resumed hovering. Gradually, the spikes withdrew and it reformed back into its usual appearance. "You're hurt," Jasper called out weakly. "I hurt you. I'm sorry."Yuji looked down at them, offering a smile. "I'm fine," he reassured. He set his bloodied hands behind his back. "I've definitely had worse."Jasper just barely contained the urge to reach out and embrace Yuji, instead hugging their arms to themself. "Thank y-" Yuji instead lurching forward and wrapping his arms around them brought a swift end to their thankful cries. A small laugh left them, quickly morphing into a surprised squeal when the other leaned back and lifted them off their feet.With a clear of her throat and a roll of her eyes, Nobara gestured to the two. She sniffed, "Okay, well. I guess we got the answer to the one question but-"Maki stood abruptly, grabbing her inquisitive girlfriend by the sleeve of her school jacket. "Hey, let's go listen to music in my room. I'm bored.""But-""We'll figure it out later."

"You never did like long trips."The train out of town was strangely empty. A mother and child sat directly before him, the younger of the two playing on a loud portable game console. A salary man occupied the seats a few rows ahead of them, reading a newspaper, and a couple hid themselves at the back of the car, lost in one another. Dominic had brought books to read on the several hours long trip but couldn't get himself to open them. He just stared blankly at the back of the seat in front of him. His hands were folded and resting on his lap. He'd set his briefcase on the seat closest to the window, propped up on two of the thick books he'd intended to read."You hated getting all dressed up, the packing, the crowds, the sitting still, the walking, the noise of the station, being away from home." A pause. "But you always behaved, though. Despite everything you ever thought about how bad you felt, about how you were scared or tired - you never complained and did what you were told."Dominic closed his eyes, inhaling sharply. He twiddled his fingers, digging his nails into his skin."You're happy now. Try as you might to block me out, I can sense it."Eyes opening, Dominic cast a dark look at his briefcase - the source of this tormentful voice. "Happy is a bit of an overstatement ... but perhaps the train was never the problem," he uttered, voice a low grumble."Yes. Everyone else is the problem. Back then it was me. Now, Satoru. All you do is blame others for your feelings."Dominic stared at the case, mind rushing for an answer. The reminder that there were, in fact, other people within earshot made him keep his mouth shut tight. He didn't look away, however, hoping his stern gaze would somehow bring this conversation to a close."You've propped me on your books, so I could see the view."With a grimace, Dominic allowed himself to settle back into his seat comfortably. "It's a long trip," he sighed. He looked ahead, tensing suddenly when he was met with the face of the child in the seat in front of his, elbows propped on the headrest of the seat and staring at him. He rushed himself for something to say, settling with a meager, "Hello."."Is it a trip you want to end, Father?" The boy was blank faced as he spoke. The voice that left him, didn't quite suit him. It was too mature. "Do you find comfort in it?""I suppose I do," Dominic replied absentmindedly. Was this it? Was he too far gone? "Everyone finds some semblance of solace in escape."The child was unblinking. "And you think running will remedy things?" he asked.Dominic shook his head, slow and deliberate. "Not at all. I learned that much the first time," he said, his words heavy on his tongue. "Who are you? We've met before, haven't we?"At this, the child grinned.In Dominic's coat pocket, his phone began to vibrate for perhaps the hundredth time that day. He pulled the device out, staring down at Satoru's name listed as the caller. His thumb worked its way over the power button, hesitating for a moment before pressing and holding it there until the screen went black. He slipped it back into his pocket, turning his attention back to the child, who was now picking his nose and looking disoriented.Goosebumps rose on his skin as an unsettling eeriness set in. He glanced at his briefcase, finding its silence odd. He could still sense her presence from within. Did she know this was happening? Was this her doing?With a deep breath, Dominic willed himself to calm. He closed his eyes. This was fine. Everything was fine."Priest."He opened his eyes again, startled at the unexpected presence of someone beside him. It was the ticket inspector - but she was blank faced, holding her hand out to him. He glanced back to where the child had been but found him gone, his mother having caught his attention by offering him snacks from within her purse. He stared at them through the gap in the seats, feeling himself break out into a cold sweat."Do not lose your way," the woman at his side spoke. "It's the only thing you truly have.""I don't understand," Dominic said, unable to keep the fear and trepidation from showing in his eyes. Was this a Curse? Why was it tormenting him? Should he attempt to tame it? Could he tame it? The air was heavy. It was getting hard to breathe. "What do you want from me? I have nothing to give you." The words left him in a tired mumble.A laugh, growing in intensity, escaped the woman. She grasped onto his seat, bellowing out her raspy howl until she was screaming in elation. Her appearance grew disheveled, hair falling into her face from the neat bun on her head. Her expression was contorting, twisting unnaturally. Her hat had fallen off and vanished somewhere under the seats. Her face was deepening in color, - pink to red to purple. Veins protruded on her neck, becoming more defined with every mocking shriek of a cackle.And in a blink, it stopped. The woman was now standing straight and giving him a look of puzzlement, brows furrowed tight. Her hand was extended to him. "Ticket?" she asked, in a tone that indicated she'd spent quite a while repeating herself to him.Robotically, Dominic withdrew the ticket from his breast pocket and handed it to the woman. It was only after she punctured it and handed it back that he realized he had been crying. He waited until she handed the ticket back and continued on down the aisle before he reached up and wiped at his wet cheeks. His fingers trembled against his skin. His head was spinning.He never did like long trips.

The room was dimly lit and dingy. There was an odd smell to it, like that of damp old wood. The floorboards creaked with every step Satoru took as he pushed his way through what seemed like an endless curtain of doll parts, all hanging from the ceiling. Wooden arms, torsos and legs all dangled around him, clattering against one another as he passed. Unlike the state of the room itself, the doll pieces were in perfect condition. As if someone had cleaned and polished them that very day.God, that smell was driving him crazy. What a weird place. He hated every second spent there but this was one in a handful of people who could resolve his ... problem. The alternative was those obnoxious geezer higher-ups and he had already spent far too much time with them than he was happy with these last couple of weeks.Finally finding himself in the small clearing that was Principal Yaga's office, Satoru cleared his throat loudly.The man was sitting on the floor, leaning over a low table and painstakingly painting eyes onto an unfinished doll head. There were a menagerie of paint tubes scattered across the surface of the table, a palette splattered with an assortment of colors teetered on the edge as he alternated his brush between painting and dabbing for more product. He either didn't seem to notice Satoru or didn't care to acknowledge him."Yaga," Satoru called, taking a long step closer to him. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Did you hear about Dom?"Masamichi grunted."You approved his little vacation?" Satoru circled the table now so he was standing before the man. "I don't think it's fair of you to let a teacher go on leave when we're shorthanded enough as it is."Another grunt."You know, I remember a time when I used to have respect for you," Satoru chided, approaching until he felt his shins graze the side of the table. "Do you have any idea what's going on in your school?"Masamichi muttered something but it was too quiet for Satoru to make out."What?"Louder now, "You're in my light."Satoru pulled up his blindfold and turned to look back at the lamp nearby him. Though the light was dim, it still made Satoru wince. He turned back to Masamachi, verifying with his own eyes that he was, in fact, casting a shadow on the other man. His lips twitched into a despondent smile as he pulled his blindfold back over his eyes. "You're pathetic," he growled before disappearing from where he stood."Kento!"The Sorceror had been in the middle of pouring himself a cup of coffee, nearly dropping both the coffee pot and his mug at the sudden appearance of his coworker at his side. He angrily set the pot down and turned to face the other. "What now?" he hissed.Puffing out his cheeks, Satoru grumbled, "If you're sick of me just tell me and I'll give you space." His head dropped dejectedly. Amidst his theatrics, he used his Six Eyes to do a preliminary scan of the break room to ensure they were alone.A pebble of guilt formed in Kento's stomach. "No, I apologize," he sighed with a shake of his head. "I just ..." He stopped himself. Why waste his time on an explanation Satoru would not listen to or care for? "Nevermind. Is everything alright?""No!" Satoru burst out. He dropped to the ground, crouching low and wrapping his arms around his legs. "I feel like shit! Dom hates me! I said all that fucked up shit about him yesterday and now Shoko said he's on sick leave! I'm the worst!" His shout resounded in the small break room. It was as if everything left him in one breath, his hysterics doubling with every word. "If he hates me, I'll die! I can't live with that! I can't! I hate that! I hate it! I can't-""Satoru!" Kento barked, bringing the tirade to a stop.Meekly raising his head, Satoru pulled his blindfold down so it hung around his neck. Tears fell from his eyes. "I should apologize," he whispered. "That'll fix everything, yeah?"Kento gestured for him to calm. "Listen to me. You need to settle down. You are worked up. Maybe what you need is some space from one another," he said quietly. His next words, he hesitated on verbalizing but forced himself to. "I feel like you two have developed an ... unhealthy ... codependent relationship." This wasn't news to anyone but Satoru. Even Dominic knew the deal. This is just how things had been since they were all students. Ever since Suguru and Tabitha had left them. "Take the day off. Go home and get some rest.""Home," Satoru echoed."Yes," Kento nodded. "Do you want me to come with you?""No, no ... I'll go myself," Satoru insisted. He wiped at his eyes, though he couldn't seem to stop himself from crying. "You're right. I should go." When had been the last time he'd gotten any sleep? He couldn't even remember what day of the week it was. Every thought he had now was racing so quickly, he struggled to make sense of any of it. "Thanks." He vanished before Kento could say anything else.The hall was dark and empty. Satoru stared at the spot where Dominic usually left his shoes and briefcase. Nothing there. He couldn't sense the priest or his briefcase anywhere there. Sick leave, my ass. He turned his head, taking in the rest of the apartment. Everything was as it usually was, so neat and so tidy. So fucking perfect.Satoru stood, starting to make his way through the small apartment. With every step, his sadness turned to anger. Of course, he lied. He wasn't sick at all. Then where was he? Did Shoko know? He scowled, grabbing a bookshelf and toppling it over. The ground shook below him, books sprawling across the room. He knocked another over and then flipped over the coffee table. Why was everyone so intent on hurting him? Did they want this from him? Did they want him violent and angry? He was breathing heavy. He tore photos from the walls. Every movement came accompanied with a flash of red. He destroyed until he no longer recognized himself.It wasn't fair.This was all Jasper's fault. That kid had driven a wedge in his life. That kid brought back Tabitha. That kid fucked up Shoko, fucked up Dom. That kid brainwashed his students. That kid ruined everything.Suddenly, his arm was in her again. He could feel her cling to his school jacket. Blood poured out of her belly. She was so soft and warm inside. He could see her face, eyes wide and full of hate. So much fucking hate. But she was so soft. Blood was coming out of her mouth. It gushed as she rattled out his name. Her hands moved up to his face. He let her rot away his flesh, blisters and postules forming on his cheeks and spreading down his throat. He kissed her.Ah, where am I?He was in the apartment again. His arm was buried elbow deep into the living room wall. His lips were pressed to a framed watercolor of a lily. An ... amaryllis. He laughed. Had he lost his fucking mind? He slammed his forehead into the painting. The glass shattered and it fell from the nail it hung on, clattering to the floor. He pulled his arm from the wall, turning to face the room and taking in the chaos left in his wake.Man, Dom's gonna be pissed.It was in the silence that he heard something.A television.Satoru dropped his hand to his side and slowly approached the hall again. Was Dom there? No, no. He would have sensed him. Who the fuck ... ? He neared the two bedroom doors at the end of the hall, looking from Dom's door to the guest room. The sound was definitely coming from the latter. He grabbed the door handle but hesitated in turning it.“Dom?” he called out but received no answer. He opened the door.

"If you're waiting for me to thank you, you'll sooner die standing there." The words were like a shot to the heart.Megumi was sitting on the edge of his bed in his pajamas, thumbing mindlessly at the controller of his game console. He stared straight ahead at his television, keeping watch in his peripherals but otherwise completely ignoring the thousands year old demon that had taken over his boyfriend's body lurking about his bedroom.Sukuna chuckled, having been looking through a stack of CDs haphazardly placed on a shelf. "You sure make it hard to be nice to you, kid," he snorted as he shoved the plastic cases back where they'd been with a clatter. He inspected a dusty plastic succulent plant next, turning it over and poking curiously at the plastic leaves. "The tough guy act would be endearing if I didn't find it so pathetic. I could kill you at any moment. I could kill everyone in this so-called school. I wouldn't even break a sweat."With a roll of his eyes, Megumi refused a response."Have you thought my offer over at all?" Sukuna asked, losing interest in the decorative knick-knacks and turning to face the teen. He crossed his arms, leaning his shoulder against the wallspace near the TV. "It came with an expiration date, y'know."Megumi hesitated, scowling when this caused him to lose health in his game. He paused it and looked towards the demon. "I already said no," he bit out, face flushing with anger. "So, will you fuck off already?""But you didn't mean it when you said it."More hesitation. Megumi looked down. "It doesn't matter how I feel about them. Yuji is right. Jasper isn't some science experiment for people to gawk at. Just leave them alone." He rose his head again, eyes narrowing. "Leave me and Yuji alone. No one wants anything to do with your bullshit.""Where's the fun in that?" Sukuna asked, grinning a sharp toothed grin. "It's a simple ask. You want to know more about them too. It's eating you up inside." He gestured to the controller in Megumi's hands. "Why not push a few buttons and see what you can get out of them? I'm willing to bet that they know more than they let on.""I said it doesn't matter what I feel. They're a person. Not a toy."Sukuna's response made goosebumps rise on his arms. "To you." He stepped closer to the teen, stopping when he stood and took up a defensive posture. "I know some things about Jasper that could interest you." He began to approach again, stopping when the two were only inches apart. "I could share that with you, if you do what I ask - which isn't much, by the way.""If you know so much, then why do you need me?"At this, Sukuna grimaced. "I don't know everything about them. Together, we can sort out these puzzle pieces - and that way, you don't have to involve your precious boyfriend." He gestured to himself - his own hostage. "It's the only reason you still haven't completely shut me down, isn't it? You don't want blood on his hands." He smiled. "If you don't leave me any other way, then ..." He allowed himself to trail off, a menacing chuckle instead escaping his lips. "I'd have to do it myself.""Yuji told me," Megumi snapped, fists clenched tight at his sides."Told you what?" Sukuna asked. His smirk shrunk.Megumi stayed firm. "About your Binding Vow with him. You can't harm anyone while you're in control," he sneered.Sukuna's eyed widened before he all-out burst into a laugh. "You think ..." He gasped for breath, taking hold of Megumi's shoulder in an uncomfortably tight grip. After a minute, he managed to collect himself - wiping a tear from the corner of one of his secondary eyes. "A Binding Vow is only as strong as those making it." His hold on Megumi's shoulder tightened further, claws piercing through the fabric of his shirt and digging into his skin to further demonstrate his point. "This brat's got a long way to go before he measures up to me. Breaking our vow won't kill me. The worst it'll do is give me gas." The words came out in a snicker, cold and mocking.Gritting his teeth, Megumi refused to give Sukuna what he wanted. He kept his chin up, eyes narrowed, shoulders squared - defiant. This came at a cost however. His fear kept his voice trapped in his throat. His heart was pounding in his ears. Was this true? Well, there had to be some semblance of truth to what he was saying. The gashes on his shoulder were evidence of that - but if it was true ... why didn't Sukuna just perform his little test on Jasper himself? He couldn't care less about how it'd emotionally affect Yuji or him so why? His mind raced."I can smell your fear," Sukuna purred, leaning closer. "You can't hide it from me.""I'll do it," he said at last, in a strangled cry. Megumi dropped his gaze, shame and humiliation filling him.Sukuna tilted his head. "Hmm? What was that?""I'll fucking do it!" Megumi barked, tears prickling his waterline."It's a deal then," Sukuna quipped before laughing once again, his chuckles fading as he relinquished control of Yuji's body.When the blonde went slack, Megumi caught him before he hit the ground. He pulled him onto his bed, breathing heavy as the throbbing in his shoulder intensified. Blood streamed down his arm, staining his clothes and bedsheets. "Fuck," he hissed, raising his other hand to wipe the sweat from his brow. It was then that he noticed how much he was trembling. He clenched his fist, face twisting up in disappointed anger. He felt sick - but what else could he do? No one but Gojo was a match for Sukuna - and he had been uncharacteristically absent from them for the last couple of weeks. There wasn't anyone else he could go to without endangering them.In spite of himself, he began to cry. He sniffled as he wiped at his face in frustration, unintentionally smearing his blood over his eyes and cheeks. He tried to gather himself but it was too little too late. He curled up beside Yuji, clinging to him and trying to keep his sobs muffled enough as to not rouse him.Fucking coward, he thought to himself until he could no longer find the strength to keep his eyes open.