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How to be a Good Boyfriend

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When a distinctive tap sounds by the window, Zenitsu assumes it’s the wind. There’s a storm out after all. It’s only natural to think so. Or, more accurately, it’s only natural to pretend that you do when you’re given the choice between staying wrapped up under the Kotatsu and enjoying your dinner with friends or journeying to your next death trap.

“New mission…! New mission…!”

This works for all of a blissful forty seconds before the tapping gets more persistent and the Kasugai crow opens its yap. Sure enough, one very soaked talking blur swoops into the room. Before anyone had any time to react, its wings sprayed water in every which direction and on top of their food like a dog. Inosuke is evidently not very happy. “Hey, you dumb bird, are you trying to pick a fight?!”

“New mission…!”

Zenitsu felt like choking. “We have a new one already?! We just got back yesterday!”

“That’s not my problem, caw!” Little know-it-all was just mad that he wasn’t nearly as cute as Chuntaro. To his utter horror and almost like he read his mind, those beady eyes were aimed straight at Zenitsu next. The blond in question flinched back. What, what was he going to do? Did his ability to talk extend to executing the weak who offended him too? “Also, Zenitsu Agatsuma has a letter. Letter for Zenitsu Agatsuma…!”

Tanjirou, the only reasonable one of the group, lifts an arm for the creature to land on before looking to it in question. “When would you like for us to depart?”

 “Tomorrow bright and early in the Southwest direction. Reports of a snake demon in the Southwest direction eating the young who wander after dark…!”

No. No way.

“T-TANJIROU!” Zenitsu screeches at the same time that Inosuke cheers in the background. “This is definitely, most certainly and one hundred percent a BAD IDEA! Did you know that snakes are carnivores that swallow their prey WHOLE AND SLOWLY KILL THEM WITH STOMACH ACID?! I don’t want to become a snake, I’m too young! They’re one of my seven greatest fears. IN FACT, IT’S THIRD BEHIND SPIDERS AND JELLYFISH! Are we really going to go?!?! I’m seriously going to die!”

“When you die, can I have all of your portions at dinner?”

Tanjirou, who was about to reply to idiot number one, switches priority to idiot number two. “Inosuke!”

“It’s okay, Tanjirou.” Oh, those must be tears running out of his eye sockets. Half of him is terrified while the other half so very proud. “Inosuke actually asked this time. He’s trying so hard to be better!”

“Moron, caw!” The Kasugai crow was merciless, jumping off of the brunet’s shoulder to peck menacingly at frayed gold locks. “At least read the letter someone spent time to write for you before dying, moron!” This was not how Zenitsu pictured spending his evening, news of death coming the next day and a crow’s foot shoved in his face where a rolled-up piece of paper was tied. Gingerly unraveling it, the talking bird finally seemed satisfied enough with Zenitsu to retreat back out the window. 

The words written on the page were the last thing he expected. In hindsight, maybe he shouldn’t have read them out loud for everyone to hear.

You are invited to Jigoro Kuwajima’s wedding.

Considering the circumstances, Zenitsu thinks his scream of horror is justified. “WHAAAAT?”

Inosuke is on his feet with his swords out in a second. “Huh?! What happened?!”

But alas, Zenitsu is too far gone in his despair: pretty much how he is for about sixty percent of his life. “At his age…? Even Gramps got married before I could?! THIS IS A CRUEL WORLD! This isn’t fair. This is discrimination! Are girls into old men?! I have so many questions.”

Completely missing the point, Tanjirou seems delighted. “Wow, congratulations!”

“The heck is a wedding? Can I beat it up?”

That statement is wisely ignored as Tanjirou goes to pick up the poor piece of paper that was dropped in the shock of the situation. Scanning the top of the page, he finds the target information almost immediately. “It says that the ceremony is next week.”

Zenitsu pales. “N-No, I’m okay. I think I’ll stay with you guys-”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Zenitsu. From what I’ve heard from you about your master, you two are really close! It’s not often that you can share such an amazing moment with a family member.”

“Y-You know wh-what!” His voice raises an entire octave while his lungs felt crushed in memories of those months of training. “All of a sudden, I feel like going on a mission! Preferably one involving a snake demon with a mouth the size of my entire body that can swallow me whole so I can die a nice, peaceful death.”

Inosuke chooses that moment to laugh boisterously. “HAHAHA, you’re terrified! So this wedding thing is an opponent after all. Guess it’s time for me to kill it!”

“No one’s killing anyone or dying here!” Poor mother hen Tanjirou.

Zenitsu, unfortunately, does not die on the mission the very next day. On the contrary, compared to other adversaries they’ve faced, it was really anti-climatic. The boar-masked child of them charged ahead at the sight of glowing eyes behind a shed. Before Zenitsu could even really blink or comprehend being afraid, it was on the ground and dead within one shot.

“You bastard!” Yelling in the middle of the night next to a dumpster probably wasn’t a good idea. “That was my chance to bite the dust!”

“Oh suck it up, Monitsu.”

Unlike other journeys they’ve been on where their work remained unnoticed, this town in particular was adamant on making the three Demon Slayers (plus Nezuko) feel right at home. Families thanked them well into the night. They were given free residence at the best house on the block, and stalls lined the streets to celebrate not having to walk past dusk in fear anymore. In the main intersection was the event of the night: a ring where men and women everywhere could test their wooden swordsmanship skills in a haphazard tournament. With the many broken lanterns and torn toys on the ground, they could only assume that evening festivities were an important tradition around these parts.

Seeing as Inosuke did all of the work, he was the center of the party. Offers of flowers and food kept coming and the boy didn’t hesitate to dig in like it was his last meal. Basically, it was how he ate all the time in any context.

“May she rest in peace.”

Donning his own mask and plate of food, Tanjirou stood aside. Watching the families who weren’t so lucky praying to the gravestones never got any easier. But past their grief, he saw that sliver of gratitude that no more deaths had to befall them.

It was sometime between Inosuke switching to the fighting ring and the last firefly departing from the grave that Tanjirou noticed a flash of yellow in his peripheral. Aside from a candy stick in his mouth, Zenitsu seemed completely oblivious to the festivities around him. Golden clothed shoulders were hunched and eyes aimed at the ground as he stalked away.

Was he really that upset?

Without a second of hesitation, Tanjirou followed after him.

It wasn’t his place to interfere. He knew that. But all he wanted to be sure of was that everything would be okay. This level of fear was beginning to exceed how Zenitsu tended to act. There was the possibility that his master was truly someone he was afraid of. In that case, Tanjirou wouldn’t stand for anyone forcing Zenitsu into going. He wasn’t naïve enough to think that all families were like Nezuko and him.

He stopped exactly twenty feet away when he saw his friend browsing a shelf in a corner-store. Wood pieces of various lengths were shaped perfectly into poles that ended in the shape of a handle. The familiar silhouette of Chuntaro sat from atop a blond nest of hair, chirping its approval. After a minute of speaking with the owner, the boy pointed to the one on the highest shelf, a walking stick made out of peach wood and with the kanji for ‘love’ engraved on its side.

Tanjirou couldn’t help but gasp.

Even from here, he could tell that it was beautiful. But more than that, the sight of the genuine smile adorning Zenitsu’s face as he wrapped it up in furoshiki cloth very nearly took his breath away. Not just because of the action, or because the moon above seemed to hit him perfectly, but when his melodious scent was free of stress, smelling peaceful and sweet.

His first instinct was to come out of his hiding spot and (?) whisk the boy away in his arms until that happiness and scent of adoration were imprinted in his memory. His second more rational and thankfully dominant instinct convinced him to run off and pretend that he hadn’t seen or more importantly smelt anything.

Breaking down past two alleyways, he finds himself smack in the middle of the celebration for Inosuke’s fifteenth undefeated match. It didn’t take long for the Demon Slayer to spot him in the crowd. “FINALLY…! There you are! Fight me before I fall asleep from how easy this competition is.”

“A-Ah, sure th-thing…!” The boar mask lowers to regard him suspiciously.

“Did you get in a fight or something, Gonpachiro?! Your face is all red!”

Tanjirou felt like dying on the spot. “Sh-SHHHH! Not so loud, please, Inosuke!”

Thankfully, the other dropped the topic. In the face of receiving a challenge to battle, Inosuke had a tendency to forget everything else. Tanjirou felt horrible about taking advantage of that when he stepped into the ring, but that guilt was instantly crushed when he felt his stomach being tackled and sent nearly flying out of bounds. The figure of Nezuko carrying a goldfish cheered for them in the sidelines even as their bout inevitably ended in a tie.

“DAMMIT!” Inosuke still wasn’t happy with that, rubbing his boar mask in the spot where he was head butted and barely avoided losing consciousness. “I want a rematch.”

“No rematch.”

The three end up retiring for the night when Nezuko begins yawning in place of taking in everything that she could set her eyes on. Crossing the threshold of the hot springs inn they’re staying at, he settles her inside her box before anything else. Call Tanjirou a sap, but he would always be willing to hum a quiet lullaby to her. Just like their mother used to, his sister is out like a light within seconds.

That’s around the time when they hear the sliding door open to the sight of their third party member. Most noticeably was that he was carrying a way higher number of packages than Tanjirou remembers last seeing him with.

He sets his face into a smile. The previous events that he had only recently managed to put to the back of his mind resurfaced once again. “W-Welcome back, Zenitsu…! Oh, wow. You sure were out late-! Where d-did you get those bags from?”

Zenitsu stares at him blankly. Then, he crosses the distance between them in a chilling silence. Before Tanjirou can really react, he feels his cheeks being pinched apart. “WHAT’S WITH THE WEIRD EXPRESSION, HUH…?! You’re really bad at lying and even worse at sneaking around, you know!” As if he’d ever be able to ignore Tanjirou’s sound if it was even within a mile radius. But Zenitsu has and always will keep that to himself. Stretched face is only relieved of the pain when his assailant switches attention to the objects between his arms. Zenitsu makes quick work of tossing one package to Inosuke and handing over two to Tanjirou. “Here, these are for you guys and Nezuko-chan.”

The two recipients of the gifts make eye contact first in surprise before opening their gifts, one tearing it apart while the other is careful not to ruin the wrapping. Guess who is who? Zenitsu almost let out a snort at how different they are. Soon enough, both Inosuke and Tanjirou are left holding a male yukata in the air, its material of the finest silk and a shimmering pattern of cherry blossoms over blue and brown. Each of them came with a headpiece of crystals embroidered on fake petals dyed in a stunning gradient of blue and attached to a branch.

Wait… seriously?

Even Inosuke seemed speechless.

Tanjirou feels his vision blurring. “Ze-Zenitsu, this is way too expensive for me to accept-”

“Don’t give me that! I had the money saved up so it’s fine. They’re Gramps’ and his fiancée’s favourite colours and what everyone is wearing to the wedding ceremony. Maybe I went a little overboard with the material and brand but who cares? What am I going to do if you two show up in rags or if heaven forbid, Inosuke comes shirtless?! Don’t blame me if Gramps kills me after that!”

…Did Zenitsu not realize what a big deal this was? From his demeanor, he really didn’t. In fact, from what Tanjirou could pick up, this wasn’t the first time he had done something like this.

To both their shock, it’s Inosuke who pips up next. Tanjirou was really glad that they managed to explain what a wedding was to him the night prior. “We’re invited too?”

“Of course. You guys are my family- OH MY GOD! Inosuke, are you crying?!” Sure enough, they could pick up a stream of tears spilling out from beneath the boar mask. “NO! Stop it! Stop it right now, it’s so freaky seeing that from you!”

“SHUT UP! It’s not like I’m touched or anything, you cheese stick!”

Zenitsu might’ve shouted something back. They might’ve even gotten into an argument over who would look more ridiculous dolled up and walking Kuwajima down the aisle, but all Tanjirou could do was silently knock on Nezuko’s box, everything else fading into white noise. The girl awakens with one drowsy eye. However, all signs of sleep disappear when she peers down at the clothing in curiosity.

“Nezuko, your nii-chan is sorry that he can’t always buy nice clothes for you.” He loves their family, knows that his father and mother had more than enough love to compensate, but they weren’t always the most-well-off.  Especially after their family shrunk to a size of two. “But we have friends now. We’re not alone anymore. Let me braid you hair tonight, just like old times, okay?”

When she beams, Tanjirou feels ever more proud to call her his sister. “MMHM!”

-U-U-U-U-U-

Everyone has a different heartbeat.

Sometimes when around others they care about, the beat changes. It could quicken, it could get slower, or adopt a different rhythm entirely. Even when feelings and circumstances about that person changes, maybe they cheated on you or stabbed you in the back, the sound doesn’t often completely alter its chords. They were like emotions in that kind of twisted way.

Inosuke, for instance, always had a heart that spoke of fight and excitement. He never stopped wanting to aim higher. His beat that bled out dominance around Zenitsu faded into more of a reluctant rivalry as soon as Tanjirou walked by. The most surprising was the faintest hint of guilt when it came to Nezuko, probably caused by the memory of nearly killing her when they first met. It was unfounded of course, as Zenitsu knew from Nezuko’s heartbeat that she never really resented him for it at all.

Tanjirou’s was more difficult to decipher. He was kind to everyone and it showed in his sound. Back then, the tempo only really changed when around Nezuko. It was shortly after meeting that he noticed a shift in how he sounded when around Inosuke and himself. That seemed obvious. But what was truly frustrating was when Tanjirou couldn’t seem to settle for one sound when around Zenitsu.

It started as reluctance at first, reluctance and not outright disgust, he couldn’t fathom why. However, it then morphed to gratitude. Zenitsu waited for the day that it would change again and sure enough, disappointment was the next sound assigned to him. Hearing such an awful tinge to such a wonderful sound given off by one person almost caused Zenitsu to want to leave, rather than wait for Tanjirou to abandon him on his own. But before he could act on it, the beat settled into a mixture of amazement, reluctance again, and something else that he’d never heard before. It got to the point where Zenitsu just simply couldn’t read him at all.

With the days that the trio spent walking, it was a wonder that Zenitsu had so much time to dwell on such strange thoughts. The peach orchard that he used to live at was still a few hours away. They were just about to cross through a neighboring town when an absolutely awful stench stopped all of them in their tracks.

Racing out of the forest, they all stop at the sight in front of them. It was like a scene from his worst nightmare (among two-hundred and fifty-five of them but who’s counting). His jaw drops at the houses, benches, toys, food, and even wagons left abandoned on the streets and growing a sickly amount of mold. The epidemic reached even the houses, rotting away half the structures and leaving families stranded in the cold.

A woman runs up to them, relief on her face. “Oh, thank goodness! Are you demon slayers? Our town has been terrorized by a mold demon for weeks now and I don’t know if we can keep surviving.”

“REALLY, MOLD…?!” True to his exclamation, Zenitsu hurries to clutch at Gramps’ wedding gift in panic. “Sure, pick a day when I’m carrying half my life savings in an easily targetable form to show up, will you?! I’ve heard stories about this, Tanjirou! It’s a bad omen! It’s a sign that the great God doesn’t want this! We’re going to show up to the ceremony a day late, bloody, and in rotting-”

Tanjirou promptly smacks him. He doesn’t bother to listen to Zenitsu’s responding protest in exchange for turning to the lady with reassurance. “Don’t worry. The two of us will take care of the demon!”

Zenitsu is just about to screech again but stops. “HUH…?! Two…?”

Inosuke laughs confidently, crossing his swords. “You heard the guy, Zensuki! Take all our stuff and go ahead without us. Kentaro and I are more than enough for this demon.”

“By the smell, it does seem like the opponent is weak and doesn’t know how to control their powers.” Tanjirou ends the sentence by helping to gather the wedding clothes in a neat pile and handing them to Zenitsu. “Besides, you can get some quality time with your master before we show up.”

Soft, too soft, Tanjirou’s smile was way too soft and the way their fingers brush should not make Zenitsu want to tear up. He does anyway. In a bit of a daze, Zenitsu watches as his friends are ushered into a deeper part of town for the investigation. Nezuko’s box sways in a familiar way on Tanjirou’s back as the two become smaller on the horizon. It feels wrong. So often he had been left behind that it now felt like he was doing the exact same thing on the other end. Now it seemed like he was abandoning them.

It’s okay to cry and run away, but don’t ever give up.

Zenitsu breathes in then hollers. “Y-YOU GUYS BETTER NOT DIE, OKAY?! IF YOU DON’T SHOW UP WITHIN TWO DAYS, I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU!”

“GOT’CHA!” It was Tanjirou who yelled it back. Of course it was that idiot.

He wasn’t completely alone, he realized as Chuntaro chirps from above and lands back in his favourite spot on Zenitsu’s head. “…Just the two of us traveling by ourselves again, huh Chuntaro?”

“Chun!”

“I already miss them too.”

Preparing for a much quieter last leg of his journey, it’s unexpected how nostalgic he feels. The forest that he used to hide in all the time, the path that rich travelers and their really attractive daughters would pass on a daily basis, and the sounds of nature around him changed so much yet still remained exactly the same. A family of ducks nearby had a new generation of ducklings. A few new houses were built that he’d never seen before. Most notably, as he spotted a peach orchard in the distance, the trees thrived and stood even taller than they did before, almost as if growing alongside Zenitsu.

Which is why the first thing that happened as he entered the property shouldn’t have been as much of a shock as it was.

“AAAAAAAHHHHEEEE, WHAT THE HECK?!”

A rope trap by his feet sends Zenitsu screaming through the air until he’s hanging upside-down from a branch in the garden. Poor Chuntaro flies in circles around him in panic. A pit of dread opens in his gut as the telltale laugh that he’s heard so many times sends him flinching and flailing in fear.

Damn Gramps…!

He’s crying. He’s seriously and honestly crying right now! “Gramps, how could you…?”

Not feeling cruel enough to leave him there, the old man gets to work on lowering him back down. “It’s all part of your training!”

“TRAINING…?! I thought I passed when I got through the Final Selection?! I didn’t come here for this!”

“Oh but the training never ends, Zenitsu! Don’t think you can get very far as a Demon Slayer if you fall for something stupid like this!”

Zenitsu is about to respond with a very clever retort that would convince his dear and loving Gramps into stopping this nonsense when he lands face-first in the dirt. It doesn’t take him long to scramble back to his feet. He spat whatever got lodged into his mouth out. Whipping around in frustration, he stops at the sight of him.

“Gramps…?”

The great and mighty Thunder Pillar Kuwajima never did come off as frail in any way. Despite his height and needing assistance to walk, he was about as spry as any other youngster on the street. Those years that he spent on Zenitsu were proof of that. But now…? A few measly months later…? Now the hunch in his back seemed more pronounced than ever, forcing his shoulders in a slouch that he never had before. Now the face was sunken on a man who Zenitsu always thought would scare off wrinkles with a single grin just as he fights off demons and naughty children. Now his eyes were tired like he hadn’t gotten sleep in weeks, no longer sharp with the quick wits known to come from a Pillar.

For the first time in his life, Zenitsu realizes that his Gramps is dying of old age.

That that’s a thing that can happen.

Noticing the silence, Kuwajima wastes no time in knocking the boy in the head with his stick. “Don’t give me that look, boy! How many times do I have to tell you to call me ‘master’? And why don’t you ever write to me, huh?! I can’t even get a letter from my own student.”

The familiar tough love doesn’t stop the tears from gathering in yellow eyes. “But Gramps…! Y-You’re…!”

The shorter of the two finally softens. He leans in, encasing his adopted grandson in his arms. That seemed to be permission enough for the dam to break and Zenitsu to bawl his eyes out. But for once, Kuwajima doesn’t lecture him for it. “Look at you, becoming a demon slayer. I still think you’re a little shit who needs a lot of work, I’m going to kick as much into you until the inevitable day that I can’t, but you’re actually growing.”

Suddenly, it made a lot more sense why the wedding invitation was so secretive. Gramps didn’t want the other Pillars to know about the engagement party. Kagaya Ubuyashiki would’ve made a huge celebration out of it, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Like someone who is about to die musters up the last of their strength to resist one more time before perishing, Gramps wanted a quiet rebellion against the fiends taking the last legs of his life.

When the sobbing finally ends, it’s probably been a good five minutes. Zenitsu was always like a human fountain in that way. Kuwajima doesn’t waste time in shooing his student inside for some tea. Unraveling Zenitsu’s travel package on the table, he’s a bit surprised at the extra pairs of yukata. “They’re for my friends. They’ll be here in the next day or two.” That’s the only explanation that he gets but it’s all Kuwajima needs to breathe a sigh of relief.

He truly hopes that the pathetic little boy who only ever attracted a bad crowd finally made some genuine friends. He shakes his head, putting the cloth away for sake-keeping in a cupboard. “Speaking of your little friends, have you seen Kaigaku around?”

The blond pauses for a fraction of a second. “I-I haven’t, sorry.”

“I wonder why. You two were so close.”

Oh, not this again. Kaigaku was always the favourite between the two of them. Gramps thought the world of him and thought the world of their little family which is why whenever the older one taunted, bullied, and harassed him, Zenitsu kept his mouth shut over and over. It’s… best if Gramps stayed oblivious to Kaigaku’s true nature. Of course it is, right? “We just drifted apart. Do you know if he’s coming?”

“No.”

And Kuwajima sounded so depressed at saying so that Zenitsu couldn’t help but shove the wedding gift into his waiting hands. “Presents…! I bought a present for you. Only for the best master in the world…!”

It’s easy for his Gramps to forget the conversation after that.

That night at dinner is when Zenitsu finally meets his old man’s fiancée. Similar to Gramps, she’s a short woman looking to be on the cusp of death but none could mistaken the glint of happiness and life within her whenever she look at Kuwajima. He feels a little guilty when the most prominent thing he can detect is that her sound is of similar base to Tanjirou’s but not quite as harmonious.

The lady by the name of Ringo fawns over Kuwajima’s shiny new walking stick as soon as she’s done fawning over Zenitsu. She pinched his cheeks to oblivion and cooed about how cute he was like a grandmother would. Never experiencing that before, he couldn’t help but tear up a little. By the time Zenitsu finally gets the chance to nurse his face, he’s already learned that she’s an apple farmer who met Gramps through trading with his peaches.

It- It was kind of amazing. They decided to marry in order to make the most of the time they had left.

Ever the sharp one when it came to his adopted student, Kuwajima snorts. “I know what you’re thinking, Zenitsu. It probably would’ve been better if we met sooner, right? Huh, well let me tell you that I don’t regret a thing. Imagine if we met sooner and had an entire lifetime together, but she was killed in the crossfire because I was the Thunder Pillar? Dwelling on the ‘what if’s and ‘maybe’s won’t get me anywhere.”

Zenitsu blinked. Wow. His Gramps really thought this one through, didn’t he? Not only did he seem older in body but strangely he also seemed older in sound and soul as well.

“What is it?” Kuwajima narrows his eyes.

“N-Nothing…!”

Ringo chimes in with an amused laugh. “The boy is contemplating how much getting married to me is changing you for the better, the poor thing.”

“I’d REALLY appreciate it if you two stopped reading my mind! I’m seriously going to cry!”

He’s ignored. “For the better…?! Please, I’m the best thing that ever happened to you and you know it.”

“Whatever you say, Kuwajima…”

“Listen here-” They’re cut off from their argument by a burst of laugher. It’s an embarrassing sound in Zenitsu’s opinion. Nothing but a single genuine snort escaping his mouth only to be quickly covered by his sleeve, he could thank the heavens that Tanjirou and Inosuke weren’t here to see it. He didn’t even know what came over him, just the singular feeling that sitting here at the dinner table with Gramps and his fiancée felt right.

Ringo smiles. Reaching across the table, she piles more leaf greens onto the teenager’s plate. “Enough about your stinky grandpa’s love life. What about yours?”

If Zenitsu had ever done a one-eighty in emotion as quickly as he did then, he would give himself a trophy. What was once contentment and joy in his heart quickly morphed into blue horror near his eyes and red embarrassment by his cheeks.

Knowing his student’s bad track record, Kuwajima intervenes. “Why do you want to know, dearie? Don’t tell me that you’re one of those gossiping types.”

“Oh, that isn’t it at all!” She chuckles from her spot at the table. “Listen here and listen well, Zenitsu-kun. This may be hard to believe but I used to be a shut-in, barely going out at all except to pick apples and visit the grave of my adopted granddaughter. She lost her life to a disease only after turning eighteen.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be! But I can say that she was my one love in life for a long time before that. I never found a man that I wanted to be with. All of my friends had moved towns or gotten amazing jobs travelling the world. After she passed away, I thought that falling in love with life again was impossible. Well, look at me now! Rambling on… but meeting Kuwajima has changed everything.” Here, his gramps coughed into his napkin, a blush rising to his face. “He knew how awful I could be sometimes, how I’d close myself off but he never gave up despite that. He stuck with me through everything. The world that’s been graying for over forty years suddenly looks colourful again.”

“I guess what I’m saying is that I’d love to see that fulfillment brought to as many people as possible, just as it did for me.”

What was Zenitsu supposed to say to that?

He couldn’t. Because he never really thought of it that way.

Despite proposing to every other girl and trying to get together with anyone who would give him the time of day, the actual implications of what falling in love meant left him baffled. Girls were pretty, they were a cute face, two chests, two thighs, and smelled nice. Who wouldn’t want to marry and snuggle a really beautiful girl?

But here Gramps and Ringo were, marrying long past their primes where cute faces were wrinkled with age and bodies tiny and frail, looking at each other with much more love and support than all of the other girls Zenitsu tried to be with combined.

Of course he wanted to experience it.

Zenitsu always thought his life was worthless, that he’d die any second. He always thought that anyone would do. But that wasn’t it. It couldn’t just be anyone. It had to be someone who saw all of his worst sides and all of his best sides and stuck by him anyway. Someone who would reprimand him without abandoning him. Someone who doesn’t mind that Zenitsu is weak and can’t protect them, as long as he didn’t give up, as long as he came back to try again. Someone who was equally flawed and just as frustrating but Zenitsu wouldn’t change for the world. Someone who could maybe love him back.

But anyone who really did make Zenitsu feel that way would never think of him like that-

Zenitsu flinched.

…Why?

Why did Tanjirou pop up in his head just then…?

“I see!” Ringo gains a twinkle in her eye. “So there is someone…”

For the life of him, Kuwajima looks the most shocked out of all of them. “Wait, really…?”

He panics. “This is a m-misunderstanding, see-”

“ZENITSU!!!” When his Gramps stands up suddenly in a motion that reminded Zenitsu of when he was upset, he couldn’t help but instinctively recoil back with a whimper. But unexpectedly, Kuwajima suddenly goes in to grab his shoulders. Zenitsu couldn’t have ever predicted the teary and happy eyes aimed his way. “Really? Is it true? I get to watch my student and adopted grandson fall in love for real? None of that damned teenage hormone crap? Oh, heavens! I didn’t think this would happen soon enough for me to witness it!”

Because he’s useless and weak, Zenitsu can’t find it in himself to deny at all. His mouth runs faster than his mind can catch up. “Ah, y-yeah! It’s true. I am seeing someone.”

“How long…?”

How long had he known Tanjirou? Wait, WAIT! Why was he thinking of him again- “A few months.”

“A few months…?! I think I’m dreaming. You’ve been dating for that long and nothing has happened?”

“Wh-Wha- What do you mean nothing has happened?! Who do you take me for?!”

Kuwajima is relentless as he plows on with zero hesitation. “I take you for a dolt whose girlfriend could stab you in the back with a pitchfork and leave your guts spilled out in a well to die and you’d still bring flowers to the next day.”

“SO GRAPHIC…?! WHAT THE HELL!” And why the hell was Gramps even thinking Tanjirou would ever do such a thing?! He knew it was illogical to be upset and Zenitsu was the one making the completely mismatched connection but he couldn’t help it, dammit!

“Zenitsu, you’re sure you haven’t double-checked your wallet? Are you missing anything? Some lint, a rice snack…? Anything…?”

As if Tanjirou could ever steal anything from anyone! “Oi, what are you implying about my wallet?”

“What about another guy? Is she seeing another guy behind your back? Zenitsu, I told you that when a significant other does that to you, you can’t just put up with it-”

And that was the final straw for him.

“GRAMPS, THAT’S ENOUGH!” The outburst has the rest of the room dead silent, but the adrenaline in Zenitsu’s bones doesn’t fade in the slightest. “Tanjirou would NEVER do that! He’s not that type of person and I wouldn’t have stuck by him for so long if he was so shut up!”

A single breath sounds at the table.

That’s all it takes for Zenitsu to let out a pathetic ‘eep’ and slam his hands over his mouth. Oh my god. Oh my god, OH MY GOD! While his mind was racing, he forgot the topic of discussion and focused completely on defending Tanjirou. Of course only someone like him would make such a mistake. Useless, dumb, weak Zenitsu…!

He’s cut off from his thoughts when Kuwajima coughs and excuses himself for a glass of water.

It’s only Ringo’s hand on his shoulder that reminds Zenitsu that she’s still here. She looks at him apologetically. Not that she needed to for starting this conversation; it was entirely because of how Zenitsu and his Gramps played off of one another that the situation got so out of hand. At least, that’s what he thought. “I suppose I should get going and let you two talk it out.” And in a much softer voice, she whispers. “If that old geezer gives you a hard time, feel free to stay over at your auntie Ringo’s place. Okay, dear?”

Huh, wait, what? Talk about what…?

It’s long after she leaves and Zenitsu is left sitting there contemplating his life decisions that he realizes that his Gramps still hadn’t returned from the kitchen. He wants to run away. He really does, but what good would that do? He could only come clean and tell him the truth.

Slowly, Zenitsu slides out from the table to go look for his teacher. It doesn’t take long until he finds the old man hunched over the sink. “Gramps…?”

“Zenitsu… despite how much you screamed and cried, you were actually a pretty quiet child.” A sniffle is all it takes for him to realize with a start that his grandpa is crying. “You weren’t quiet in the traditional way, heaven knows that when it struck you with lightning. But when it came to what you actually thought of yourself? You were silent.” Not being able to take much more of this, Zenitsu goes to grab a clean cloth from the counter so to wipe off Kuwajima’s tears.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you defend yourself against me so passionately. I’m proud. This person has changed you for the better. I really do get to watch my grandson fall in love before passing this world.”

Zenitsu freezes.

No, he definitely can’t tell Gramps the truth now.

Not with the man who always wanted his own family to the point of taking a stray like Zenitsu in looking at him like his grandson, looking so much happier and more satisfied with his growth than he ever has before. After all, who knows how long Gramps actually had to wait until someone fell in love with Zenitsu? Probably forever. Maybe it was impossible. If Gramps had a normal grandson who properly trained and didn’t cower or scare potential mates away, everything Zenitsu wasn’t, he would’ve been able to experience the joy of doing a good job at raising one. He would’ve been able to experience being a grandfather one last time before passing away.

And who was Zenitsu to take that away from him?

Grabbing his walking stick from the dining table where it was haphazardly left, Kuwajima gives him one last affectionate whack on the head in thanks before addressing him again. “Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ll take care of them tomorrow.” It’s all he says before heading off to his room for sleep.

I’m sorry, Gramps…! I’m sorry, Tanjirou…! Zenitsu internally wails that all he can do to alleviate the guilt is wash the dishes anyway. A tap by the windowsill, those seemed to be the death of him recently, was what brought his attention away from his self-brooding.

“Chun.” The sparrow looks at him in pity.

“D-Don’t glare at me like that! It just happened, okay?!”

But the fact of the matter was, if this was going to work out, Tanjirou and him had to pretend to be a couple.

Zenitsu didn’t know whether to be mortified or strangely embarrassed at the thought.

Chapter Text

It was easy to push aside his worries for the first night. After all, more often than not and despite what Inosuke thought, slaying a demon required more than just taking a sword out and slashing at it. The investigation and witness accounts themselves could take hours, then there was locating and trapping the demon enough for battle. The fight itself was often after dark or in a secluded area. It was common for factions to stay the night afterwards rather than opting to set out again so soon.

But when the next evening passes without a single boar head or hanafuda earring in sight, Zenitsu starts panicking.

He panics while washing the laundry, causing the contents of the wash basin to slosh around and utterly soak Chuntaro who was helping to collect pins. He had to promise the livid sparrow extra corn so to save his eyes from being pecked out.

He panics during dinner when Ringo stops by to check that everything is all right. Deciding to stay completely quiet was the lesser of two evils, despite the two looking at him funny. Sorry again, Gramps…! But Zenitsu would rather not start spilling made-up worst-case scenarios about how his supposed boyfriend was probably dead in a ditch with his brains sucked out and covered in mold by now.

He panics past lights-out. Evidently, that’s not a good combination with sleeping. As the clock strikes twelve, Zenitsu counts that it’s been almost a day and a half now and there was still no sign of Tanjirou and Inosuke.

What were those guys doing? Did they really let a low-rank mold demon get the best of them? That was more of Zenitsu’s thing. Maybe they were caught off guard and tied up somewhere. Maybe there were hostages. Maybe Tanjirou, Nezuko, and Inosuke are the hostages. And how horrible would that be? The demon would start by rotting their clothes as a threat to get what it wants. Then if they were generous, move onto smaller limbs. Each hour promised another figure or toe incinerated into nothingness. It was easy to switch attention to the face next, watching their opponents’ expression freeze in terror as eyes slowly had the life sucked out-

Zenitsu is shooting out of his blanket and clambering for his blade before the thought even finishes.

“I know there’s still a few hours left before they promised to get here, Chuntaro! I’m going anyway!” His companion, bless his heart, hurries to pick a peach as a mid-road breakfast for them. By now, it’s sunrise. He only notices when he slides the door open to have its rays blind him. This setback only lasts a single second as Zenitsu makes to sprint down the path.

“Trying to run away from your master again, hm?” Kuwajima appears out of thin air behind him.

Zenitsu screams.

“PLEASE DON’T KILL ME, GRAMPS! I’m not running away, I SWEAR! It-It’s just- my friends were on a mission and promised to be here by now. I can’t just leave them behind!” And he is telling the truth this time. The revelation that this is one of the first times that it isn’t just an excuse crosses his mind. Kuwajima raises a brow in disbelief. He sighs. Lowering himself from the rock, Zenitsu is shocked when all he feels is a gentle shove for him to move forward.

“Go then.” His Gramps grins. “You better keep your head high and bring them back safe and sound.”

Peeking out from behind two sleeves, Zenitsu can only manage a shaky, “yes, Gramps!”

Thankfully, he doesn’t get very far. Crossing the pond at the outskirts of town and about less than an hour down the path is when he hears it: a heartbeat that sang of blue skies accompanied by a gentle harp playing between every breath. Zenitsu feels like collapsing on the spot. They were here. Tanjirou, Inosuke, and Nezuko were here, keeping their promise to the very last hour.

Zenitsu may have activated his Thunderclap and Flash in his haste to get closer to the sound. He wouldn’t have known or bothered to think if he did but after a single blink, his sight was obscured by a familiar haori of checkered green. It took the fabric scratching against his nose for him to realize that he had practically tackled the other to the floor. “TANJIROU, I’M SO SORRY!”

Inosuke, who was mumbling half asleep and a few meters behind on the road, sprung up with his swords in the air. “mU-HUH?! SQUARE UP, TEMPURA DEMON…!” Only to halt when he realized it was a dream and there was nothing to worry about but a sobbing yellow blob.

Tanjirou, only just registering his arms full of his crying friend, sat up from the crater made a good few feet behind where he stood just a second ago. “H-Hey…! Zenitsu, it’s okay! We’re okay! Everything’s fine. What’s wrong?” Oh, Tanjirou… Such a kind person! Already forgiving Zenitsu despite not knowing the horrible thing he did that warranted groveling was something only he would do without batting an eye. Little did he know that it just made him want to bawl even more. “Come on, Zenitsu. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”

And that’s how Zenitsu found himself explaining the culmination of his life’s misery in the form of recounting what happened at the dinner table that night, out in the middle of nowhere and three pairs of shocked eyes staring down at him. He says three, because he could hear the hum of Nezuko’s own curiosity echoing from inside the box. Awkward.

When he’s done, it’s silent. For all that is good in the world, Inosuke looks like he was forced into watching a play that he’d rather sleep than pay any attention to. Finally, agonizingly, and reprimanding, Tanjirou smacks him lightly on the head. “You should tell him the truth.”

“I KNEW IT! I KNEW YOU’D SAY THAT!”

“-Is what I would normally say.” For the life of him, there was that sound again, that sound that Zenitsu couldn’t hope to decipher playing a symphony within Tanjirou’s soul. The look in ember eyes was the most unreadable that he’d ever seen them. “But I think this is really important to you.” To his surprise, Tanjirou smiles, gentle again. “You’re doing this for your master and grandfather, right? I think that’s really kind of you, Zenitsu. Of course I’ll help you out.”

…Huh?

Before Zenitsu could respond or comprehend what just happened, the third member of their party speaks up. “Oi, Tantaro and Zenuski, are you done over here or what? I’m starving.”

He turns his attention to Inosuke. Of course he does; it’s way easier than trying to confront the utter emotion and power behind red eyes. “I’m serious here, Inosuke! You can’t tell anyone that Tanjirou and I aren’t actually together.”

“Only if you give me your portion at dinner.”

“WILL YOU DROP THAT ALREADY?!” He leans forward, meaning to continue retorting, when the slight tingle of hanafuda earrings lightly touching his cheek has Zenitsu start with the horrific realization that he was still in Tanjirou’s lap. He wanted to jump away and apologize again, he really did, but is left speechless when arms circle around him instead.

He’s- He’s being lifted? Carried, Zenitsu instinctively clings to the body beneath him until he’s lowered back onto the ground. It was stupid. It was so stupid how the moment only lasted at most five seconds, yet he could feel all of the world’s sunshine trapped within the one single action. It isn’t until his feet are firmly planted in the dirt that Zenitsu realizes that it was Tanjirou who held him so gently. Finally, green plaid arms let go of him.

Zenitsu tries to identify that emotion in his heart as something other than disappointment.

It doesn’t last long when by the next breath, Tanjirou pulls forward once again to intertwine their fingers. The light brush of the other’s thumb on his palm is what finally snaps Zenitsu out of it. “Wh-What are you doing…?!”

“Oh, I’m holding your hand.” Curse you, Tanjirou! He’s saying this while looking like he’s simply talking about the good weather over a cup of tea. The weather was not good by the way. The sun was already so hot that Zenitsu felt like melting! “That’s what couples do.”

…Was he dying? What he seriously dying? Maybe Zenitsu was wrong and his life wouldn’t end with a twelve-legged demon guzzling his brains out. He didn’t think it was possible to kill with kindness but if anyone could find a way, it would be Tanjirou Kamado. Seeing as his now boyfriend wasn’t complaining, the group continued on their trek down the path. Zenitsu could pick up pieces of conversation between Tanjiou and Inosuke but, in his panic, most of it went through one ear and out the other.

Still- were they seriously going to hold hands the entire walk back? Is that really what couples did? Zenitsu didn’t know. But… it felt nice.

“Kentaro, your face again-”

“I-Inosuke, please… keep quiet!”

He was told many things by many girls, one of which insisted that it was normal that the suitor could only hold the hand of a lady after he bought a gift for her dying father. (Why her dying father would want a pearl, Zenitsu would never know.) It made sense and he didn’t mind it. But how much of that applied here? What was the difference between those relationships and this one that would put Gramps’ mind at ease? All Zenitsu knew was that this was different. That walking with Tanjirou, holding his hand, felt to be a gesture of a higher plane that Zenitsu’s emotions escaped his body to rejoice in. It was beginning to hurt his head.

The rapid buzzing in his veins only subsides when the group hears a crash not too far away. Tanjirou, thankfully or tragically lets go of his hand in exchange for investigating the source. It’s only when the haze fades from his mind that Zenitsu realizes that they just barely crossed the town border. It takes another second to realize that on the ground was a very still Ringo. “Auntie!”

Crates litter the dirt around her, split open and spilling linen and scrolls. To his utter relief, the older woman breathes a sigh. “Zenitsu-kun…? Is that you?” Despite that, she is unable to move from the shock.

Tanjirou wastes no time in rushing to her aid. Hurrying to remove Nezuko’s box, he whispers so not to alert her. “Yes, he’s here. You’re okay, miss. What is your name? What do you remember about what happened?”

“I…” She stutters, pausing when she feels herself being lifted onto the boy’s back. From her peripheral, she can gather a strange boar man and her step grandson gathering the objects back into the boxes. “I’m Ringo. I was just on my way to getting my wedding trousseau painted… on a wall screen, yes! When I happened to trip and fall… oh goodness! How long have I been here?!”

“It’s still early, Ringo-san. How about your breakfast…? What did you eat?” Tanjirou presses on, unhinging his sword from his waist in order to use as a seat for her on his back. Zenitsu could only watch, using every inch of his willpower not to be utterly taken by how kind Tanjirou was. How Ringo and Tanjirou’s sounds synched so easily. People with the same base tended to get along. It made it difficult when Zenitsu’s own sound was so off-beat and ugly compared to everyone else’s to tell who he was supposed to click with.

Their conversation eventually lulls into more peaceful chatter about cherry blossoms. By then, Inosuke has Nezuko strapped to his back as well as one of the crates underneath an arm while Zenitsu carried two. The group makes the small trek back to where they could see a peach orchard in the distance.

“Oh, please excuse me!” Ringo suddenly gasps in horror. “I never even asked for your names.”

“That’s all right, miss. You suffered a pretty bad fall.” Tanjirou smiles up at her. “I’m Tanjirou Kamado, and our friend is Inosuke Hashibira. I’m guessing that you already know Zenitsu?”

The woman gasps, even more ashamed of herself. “Oh my…! What a handsome young man. You sure know how to pick them, Zenitsu-kun.”

“A-AUNTIE…!” But she only guffaws in response. Oh no. Zenitsu takes it back. This embarrassment was not worth making Gramps happy.

When her laughter finally dies down, she speaks again. “I’m so sorry that your first impression of me has to be when I’m clawing my way on the ground. Not very lady-like, huh?”

Tanjirou is about to respond, probably with something utterly and irrevocably Tanjirou-like, when the familiar sensation of having his stomach lodged in his throat hits Zenitsu like a log. Inosuke, who was a step ahead, trips over an invisible thread and is sent nearly face-first into the dirt if he didn’t reach out one arm to careen himself into a somersault a safe distance away. The world slows down when the floor suddenly gives out from under them.

No, not one of Gramps’ traps…! The net that flies over only confirms it. Zenitsu wasn’t sure what came over him. All he could remember was being able to see every millisecond play out before him. A blaring voice in his head screamed about how Tanjirou and Auntie were in danger. Underneath that screech was the mortifying realization that his friend couldn’t use his sword, that he’d probably land in some way to minimize the impact on those around him.

So Zenitsu uses his legs, pushing both of them out of the way just in time before the ground can completely crumble. Tanjirou barely manages to land on his feet outside of the pitfall. Disoriented, he spins back around. One second, he could detect adrenaline and worry spilling off from behind him in waves. The next, the pure scent of blooming peach blossoms disappeared. It doesn’t take him very long to realize what happened.

“ZENITSU…!” He lowers the older woman on the ground, ready to jump in himself until he’s stopped by the dust cloud settling. The panic retreats when his eyes pick up that his friend is just fine… if tangled in a net and lying back-first at the bottom of a hole is fine.

A laugh sounds from behind. “Well done, Zenitsu! You passed!”

“I PASSED?! WHAT THE HELL, GRAMPS!” In this situation, isn’t it usually Tanjirou who would be tested by the boyfriend’s family? Gramps seriously had his priorities messed up, dammit! The boy in question could only stare, dumbfounded at the scene before him.

“You remembered the nature of trap number 398 and acted accordingly to save the incapacitated and elderly.” At this, Kuwajima swings out a thumbs-up. “Very nice.”

“You scared us half to death! And who are you calling elderly?!” Ringo was evidently upset.

“A-Err, I didn’t mean it, sweetie…”

A few feet away, Inosuke sparkles from beneath his mask. “What a cool old guy…!”

After setting Ringo on a mattress to rest from her fall, Kuwajima is quick to offer tea as way of apology. Scratch that, he’s quick to apologize to Tanjirou and Inosuke, leaving Zenitsu on his own to patch up his wounds. That old fart.

“You must be the famous Tanjirou I heard so much about! From what Ringo has told me, you were the sweetest and strongest young man she’s ever met. ” He squints, nearly causing Tanjirou to step back. Please stop being creepy, Gramps. Zenitsu feels like crying from second-hand embarrassment. “Not bad on the eyes either, huh? Now how did someone like you end up with Zen?”

This was totally unfair! Gramps was supposed to be overprotective of him, not purposely talking bad about him to convince Tanjirou to break up with him-! Ah, not that they were actually dating but still! Zenitsu is just about to call the geezer out for his bullshit when Tanjirou beats everyone to the punch. “That’s an easy question, Kuwajima-san. It’s because Zenitsu’s amazing.”

What.

Zenitsu read into it further.

Thump-thump-thump… He wasn’t lying.

Tanjirou smiles, expression genuine in every definition of the word. “I’m very grateful to travel with him by my side every day.”

And suddenly, that rush in Zenitsu’s nerves from before returned at full force. Like he was being embraced by sunshine. It took a second for him to realize that this wasn’t the first time he felt this way, especially around Tanjirou. For someone as wonderful as him to make him feel that way, maybe Zenitsu wouldn’t mind traveling with him by his side every day either.

“Ugh!” Kuwajima laments. He clutches his heart. In that second, he looked to be just a regular and sweet old man. “Ever since you got back, Zenitsu, I’ve been a huge sap. Maybe it’s just old age getting to me but I do miss having you around. It’s been so quiet in the house. Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore with Tanjirou here. I’m glad.”

The night before, he could tell that there was still a tinge of disbelief and suspicion colouring his Gramps’ sound black. He’s always had a deep sadness permeating from him and Zenitsu felt no better for making it worse. But now, it lessened to a dull gray. It felt easier for Gramps to be happy. And for that, Zenitsu had no idea how he would ever thank Tanjirou. So instead, he opts for what he does best. “How about you worry about nearly giving me a concussion not even ten minutes ago, Gramps…?! Please don’t ever do that again! I IMPLORE YOU!”

The old man drops the façade to yell back. “Who do you take me for, BOY?!”

“As my loving and caring Gramps who would never want to see harm done on me…?”

“HA, in your dreams-!”

And if Zenitsu doesn’t notice how fondly red eyes peer at him, doesn’t know that the other could pick up on his gratefulness from the soothing tide in his scent, that would be Tanjirou’s little secret.

Despite the fall from earlier, Ringo is up and about a mere few hours later at the smell of food in the rice-cooker. Inosuke was the designated peach-picker, swinging from branch to branch to choose the ripest selection for the sauce. The boar child was in a good mood and Zenitsu had an aching suspicion why as lunch rolls around. All five of them are seated at the table. Sure enough, the blue pupils of a certain boar mask are regarding him expectantly as soon as food and prayers are done.

Miserably but admitting defeat, Zenitsu slides the entire portion of his eel onto the other’s plate. Inosuke doesn’t hesitate to dig in, not even bothering to utter a thank you, that bastard. His rate of chewing was probably not as messy as when there was just the three of them eating but still a far cry from the rest. Ringo blinks, judging the exchange. She wasn’t a big fan of any young man skipping out on his meal. She’s just about to ask when Tanjirou, without any pretense, plops his own eel in Zenitsu’s bowl.

 “Tanjirou-”

“It’s fine. We’re in this together, right?”

The blond gives him a look. “You idiot. It should be like this then.” As if to demonstrate, he slices the meat perfectly in half before placing the portion on the left back on his friend’s plate.

The woman can’t help it. She coos. The two both hurry to withdraw from each other, cheeks flushed as if they were stuck in their own bubble and forgot that anyone was watching until now. “Oh goodness, you’re so cute together! I can’t believe I have such adorable grandchildren.” Cute wasn’t a word that Zenitsu was used to adults calling him. Obnoxious and annoying was more accurate. “Tell me, when is the wedding?”

Zenitsu can feel his head exploding and the blinking ‘a problem has been detected and your brain has shut down’ sign flashing before his eyes. At the same time, Tanjirou tilts his head, confused beyond belief. “It’s in three days, isn’t it?” NOOOOOO- Tanjirou, that’s not what she meant, you idiot! You moron-! Please mourn over how your stupidity keeps you safe from this godforsaken level of embarrassment!

“Hey, lady…” Thankfully, Inosuke interrupts before the conversation can derail any further. He’s been doing that a lot lately, unintentionally saving Zenitsu from several bad spots. He can only promise himself to appreciate his friend more. Ever the one to seek attention from grandma figures, Inosuke pips up with his mouth full. “If you think those guys are cute, I can be even cuter, right?! Anything they can do, I can do too! I’m cute, right?” Pieces of rice fly.

“Adorable.” Zenitsu drawls sarcastically. Oops, there goes his promise.

“Oh, Inosuke-kun…! Of course, I can’t leave you out. You are absolutely precious as well! Your skin is so fair. I’m quite jealous.” The man in question laughs boisterously. “But from what I can see from your body, you’re quite focused on muscle-training, am I correct? I recall that there was this one recipe that promotes growth…” The exchange from there kicks off, with Ringo blathering on about food and the latter listening intently. It’s like that for a while. The clinking of cutlery accompanied their two voices in a way that made Zenitsu’s heart feel warm.

Eyes glinting between mouthfuls of lunch, Kuwajima lightly coughs to bring the attention of the remaining occupants of the table back to him. “So Tanjirou. I noticed when I saw your uniform that you’re a Demon Slater as well. Who was your master?”

“Urokodaki-san is my master in Water Breathing but I use Dance of the Sun God.”

“You don’t say…?” To both their surprise, Gramps sets down his chopsticks to regard Tanjirou seriously. “You wouldn’t happen to be Tanjuro Kamado’s son, would you?

Tanjirou really can’t be blamed for nearly dropping his bowl. The way his breath cut off could be picked up from a mile away. “H-How do you know my father?”

“I thought I recognized those earrings.” At this, the older man gestures to his left ear where the hanafuda swayed with every movement. “That’s quite the legacy you’re carrying, boy. It’ll be an uphill battle for you but,” here he hits Zenitsu’s leg with his walking stick, causing him to choke on his rice, “at least you have my Zen here to bug the shit out of you every step of the way.”

“GRAMPS…!” Zenitsu gasped between hits to his chest to dislodge the food.

“I must admit, I implied some pretty bad things about you when Zenitsu first told me that you were in a relationship with him.” Kuwajima lowers his head in apology. “Seeing how quick he was to save you from that trap earlier today and how urgently he ran out of the house this morning, I can tell that isn’t the case now. For that, I apologize. You’re genuinely important to him, important enough for him to get his act together.”

At hearing that, Tanjirou beams. Cheeks glowing hot, for some reason he felt way happier than he had any right to feel. “Oh, i-it’s not a big deal! I understand that you’d be suspicious of me at first. It’s an honour to meet a former pillar like yourself and to receive your blessing.”

Zenitsu wants to die. He really does. It’s like Gramps just signed his hand in marriage off to Tanjirou and Zenitsu wants to die. The world has some mercy on him for he’s given a full minute to recover before that cursed hand slipped into his again. He speaks lowly so only the two of them would hear, trying to feign anger. “You monster. It took you exactly three hours to win over Gramps. It took me three years.”

Tanjirou pauses from where he switched to his left hand to eat and laughs. “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Auntie was wrong. The calluses on the other’s palm weren’t cute at all. They spoke of a burden so heavy that Zenitsu couldn’t even fathom to digest, of the many lives the other had saved while disregarding his own. Yet as the creases of the other’s palm fit perfectly against his own, as the table devolves back into the warmest chatter and atmosphere of love that Zenitsu’s ever experienced, he couldn’t help but wish that part of it wasn’t fake. Maybe it was because in this moment, it didn’t feel like their relationship was pretend at all.

“Thanks, Tanjirou.”

The addressed hummed. There was no need to thank him, that’s what Tanjirou honestly thought. With that rare scent of happiness rolling off of his companion like it was natural, like it wasn’t a treasure for Tanjirou to subtly memorize, that in itself was enough of a blessing. Not able to stop himself if he even tried (he didn’t), he gave Zenitsu’s fingers a reassuring squeeze. When the other smiled, intertwining their fingers, it was so easy for them to fall into the habit like it was what felt the most right.

-U-U-U-U-U-

The days pass much like that; in a full house of food and friends. At one point, Nezuko left her box while the three are preparing for bed in their shared room. With her new clothes in her hands, it’s easy to guess what she wanted. After changing and braiding her hair with the branch, the four of them spent the next hour rehearsing for the wedding as if Nezuko were the flower girl. It was nice and sad at the same time. Because the actual wedding was outside and during the day, she couldn’t attend the real thing.

She wasn’t upset about it, however. Running up to all three of her family, they were caught off guard when she suddenly increased her size just so she would be able to give a gigantic simultaneous hug to all of them. Later, Tanjirou had recounted that their parents loved to annually renew their vows. Even after his father passed, their mother still continued the tradition by his gravesite. Apparently it was one of Nezuko’s favourite events, and it was great that she didn’t have to miss a year.

Zenitsu was touched, sobbing. Inosuke himself set about screaming about how they were going to rehearse again, much to Nezuko’s delight. It helped them prepare for walking Ringo and Gramps down the aisle too so none of them protested about the late hour.

Time flew. It felt like he simply blinked and it was suddenly the night before the wedding ceremony. Of course, it wouldn’t be Gramps if he didn’t overwork his student to the bone. Zenitsu swung down, his wooden sword swishing through the air as he practiced. This lasted for a whole hour before the screeching began. “You’re making me work so hard on my vacation?! SO CRUEL...!” He hopes his words could reach Gramps from wherever he is inside the house. They don’t.

Despite Zenitsu making a big show out of it, the biggest rock lodged into his head that refused to leave wasn’t actually the training. It wasn’t the crushing pressure of having his master around again to kick some sense into him.

It was Tanjirou.

He has done nothing but prove just how well he could get along with people no matter their background or premonitions. A few of the neighbors who were close to Gramps and Zenitsu had visited to wish them happiness, only to practically fall in love with the idea of Tanjirou dating him. It wasn’t surprising to Zenitsu, really. He kind of pictured Tanjirou as being the sweetheart of the town he grew up in and the type of guy who gathered allies everywhere he went. Sometimes the blond wondered if any of the townsfolk found it weird that he was with a guy like Zenitsu- what was he rambling on about. Of course they did. His endeavors and failures with relationships weren’t exactly a secret around these parts. He could detect that many of them were waiting until the inevitable moment when the same thing would happen with Tanjirou. He saw the way some of the younger girls their age, many of which Zenitsu used to chase after, eyed him like a snack that they couldn’t have but soon would.

Try as he might to see it from their perspective, Zenitsu can’t even begin to comprehend the way they thought of him. It was obvious from their sounds. But trying to picture Tanjirou as nothing but a cookie, metaphorically of course, freed by ripping apart its wrapping paper then devoured and thrown in the trash was completely unfathomable. Not- Not that Zenitsu even had the ability to do that, of course! He’d, He’d just have to make sure that whoever Tanjirou does end up with doesn’t do that to him. Right- he’d make sure this mystery person loved him just as much as Tanjirou loved them back. Obviously…!

“…Tired?” The sudden second voice has Zenitsu screaming and dropping his sword. He was too caught up to notice that the very person he was thinking of magically appeared by his side. Without even knowing it, Zenitsu got lost in his thoughts. The repetitive motion allowed his mind to wander despite the soreness in his arms.

Turning to his friend like a deer caught in headlights, Zenitsu squeaks. “Y-Yes…?”

Tanjirou doesn’t seem affected, only concerned. The only indication was the slight downward tilt of his mouth, uprooted by that influx of sorrow emanating from Zenitsu. “Kuwajima-san said and I quote ‘aiy, let the brat turn in early this time, it’ll be my gift of mercy to him since tomorrow is a big day.’”

“That’s Gramps all right.” Zenitsu cringes back from the bad impression, “was that really necessary, Tanjirou?”

“After the first time when you didn’t believe me, I guess?” He sounds so innocent that Zenitsu can’t help but hold back a laugh. And that, Tanjirou was doing a lot of that to him recently. Zenitsu didn’t consider himself a very happy person. About seventy percent of his emotions were fear, sadness, anger, or some weird combination of the three. The other thirty percent was only the thrill when he was out chasing a girl. However, ever since their farce began, the other seemed to be able to draw just a simple sound of joy out of him.

Zenitsu is sure that that mystery person would be very happy as well.

He makes to grab his sword off the ground when, like a pin dropping, Tanjirou suddenly steps forward. All Zenitsu can register is two arms pulling him in. He blinks, and golden eyes find themselves buried in a layer of cloth over someone’s warm chest.

And then, and then the world stops. The sound was so close now. What was once a vast sky augmented to Zenitsu’s ears and became a spring- no, a summer peaking out when the seasons change. Birds chirping in the distance, the splash of a stream fully defrosted and carrying fish, and fireworks indicating the start of a festival all sent Zenitsu back to the happiest memories of his life. When he was small and things like having no power or friends didn’t matter.

How could one person sound so alive? That’s what Zenitsu was tempted to ask but managed to shove the urge down. The arms around his waist felt like a safe cage that he never wanted to leave. It’s only when he feels a scarred forehead lightly touch his blond tuff of hair that Zenitsu even realizes what is happening. “T-Tanjirou?!”

The other shushes him, his position by his ear helpful. “Second floor, window close to the edge… we’re being watched.”

Sure enough, the familiar sound of Gramps could be picked up alongside the distinctive breathing pattern when one is trying to spy.

O-Oh, right.

Pretend- they’re pretending.

Still, this is too much for him! If Tanjirou holds him like this, it feels like they’re actually-! Like they’re actually…!

“I like your family. They really care about you, Zenitsu.” His thoughts are cut off by the softest of whispers. Tanjirou speaks as if he’s barely making a sound. But with the other’s pounding heartbeat next to Zenitsu’s ears, it might as well have been yelled.

“…Do you think Gramps knows we’re faking it?”

“Nah. I think he’s just worried. That’s what it smells like to me.” Right. More like Gramps had no idea that Tanjirou had a keen nose so it appeared that he hugged Zenitsu while they were alone because he just felt like it. Zenitsu can hear the satisfaction practically radiating from Kuwajima from the little room he had left to comprehend a sound that wasn’t Tanjirou’s.

He should be mad. Livid that the world would let Tanjirou so close when he should’ve reserved it for his mystery person, but he isn’t. Just for the orchestra that was his Gramps and just for the memory of being able to listen to Tanjirou so closely, he can’t find it in himself to regret being held like this.

The silence between them is comfortable. So obviously Zenitsu had to ruin it by opening his big mouth. His earlier thoughts spill out of his mind like a tidal wave. “…How is it that you’re so good at this anyway?”

The other seems to be barely listening, lifting one hand to run through short golden locks. The action seems to kick up a second more subtle aroma of citrus that Tanjirou didn’t know he had. He felt he needed mercy from somewhere lest Zenitsu’s scent gets even more enticing. “Good at what…?”

“You know what I mean; this couple stuff.” Zenitsu is sure to keep his voice low even as exasperation rocks his core. He ignores the shiver that the other’s fingers petting his hair cause him to feel. “Don’t tell me that you have a lot of experience with girls?! Do you have someone waiting at home for you? Just how much do you know?!”

Tanjirou frowns. Ah, wait… No-! Now the summer was dulling. Why were the leaves falling? Stop! “No. I’m just copying what my dad did for my mom a lot when they were alive.”

“O-Oh.” Shit. Way to go, useless and dumb Zenitsu…!

“Don’t apologize. You didn’t know.”

Zenitsu wasn’t having any of that. “Oh now I have to apologize! And don’t say I don’t have to! I’m sorry. Th-That’s so touching, Tanjirou, and here I am being a jerk.”

“It’s okay.”

It’s not okay. Not if the continuing wilting of leaves by his heart is any indication. Zenitsu rushed to think of a way to cheer him up. It was him who forced Tanjirou into talking about his family when he clearly didn’t want to. It… It only makes sense that Zenitsu does the same for him, right?

So taking in a breath for courage, Zenitsu tears down his own walls. The walls who kept his worst thoughts to himself. “Gramps was the one who took me in and trained me. I used to practice here all the time.” He clammed up again. This was difficult…

Tanjirou blinks, slowly comprehending the direction of conversation. It was hard for his mind to stay clear with the scent of spring so close to his soul. “Oh right. You told me about your debt when we first met.”

“I-I didn’t have any parents. I kept trying to get this girl to like me, but it turns out that she ran off with all of my money to be with another guy. I th-think I had it coming, though. In case you haven’t noticed, I have that kind of punchable and hated personality.” The blond breathed. It was the first time he ever vocalized how he really thought of himself. Somehow, his shoulders were lighter after doing so.

“Zenitsu-”

He continues anyway, to prevent the sound of Tanjirou from becoming any colder. “That’s when Gramps took me in. It’s so weird, but maybe having just that first person believe in me was all I needed. I started to believe in myself too.” When he hears a bit of the storm clearing up, Zenitsu feels himself relax the slightest bit. With the worst of it over, he adopts a more sarcastic tone. “He probably just wanted a student to pass down his sword style. Breath of Thunder isn’t a very common technique.”

There’s a pause then, as if the two needed time to breathe. Finally, Tanjirou speaks up. “Sounds like fun.”

“Fun…?!” Here, flashing back to all of his misfortunate, Zenitsu can’t help but smack the idiot a few times. No matter how awkward it is from their position, he still manages to land a few whacks while his other hand was planted firmly on Tanjirou’s shoulders. “Urgh! Why the heck are you so hard-working and optimistic? It pisses me off! And the training was hell! It doesn’t help that I’m weak and useless unlike you!”

Tanjirou manages to fend off the hits with his own free arm, sending him an exasperated look. “You aren’t weak, Zenitsu.”

“Uh huh…” He says, even though the serenade near his ears speaks of anything but insincerity.

“No, really. You’ve protected me so many times before. I’m not just talking about the pitfall trap. Maybe you don’t remember all of it, you don’t think it’s a big deal, or you weren’t physically there but trust me on this.” Even as Zenitsu cowers, Tanjirou doesn’t hesitate in looking him straight in the eye, their connection almost electric. “You’re strong, one of the strongest people I know.”

The familiar giddiness of being appreciated overcomes the blond then. Really, Tanjirou was a saint, maybe a dorky angel from heaven. A feeling of being genuinely happy, of having this summer play a symphony by his heart doesn’t allow him to think that being anywhere else could possibly be better than where he is now. Cursed feelings-! “Th-That’s too much, Tanjirou! Did you think complimenting me would cheer me up or something, you bastard?”

Wait. What feelings…?

“Ah, you cheered up.” The statement does nothing but cause Zenitsu to bury his face in a neck hidden behind hanafuda earrings to hide the flush by his cheeks, but both knew that it was too late for that. “…Zenitsu?”

Oh.

“Tanjirou,” the voice responds, suddenly so quiet. “What would you do if someone told you they love you?”

The other’s breathing hitches. Before Zenitsu can start worrying about why, they form words.

“Depends on who… maybe tell them that I love them back.”

Whoever that someone was, Zenitsu knew they would be really lucky.

.

Neither of them had noticed that Kuwajima had long stopped spying on them.

Chapter Text

The morning of the wedding is absolutely stunning.

A lot of it is in thanks to Chuntaro, surprisingly. While Zenitsu, Tanjirou, and Inosuke had helped, it was the tiny sparrow that had a knack for making hanging up modest decorations of lanterns and flowers a lot easier than it should’ve been. The flowerbeds grown to frame the walkway from the village to the pond were planted by several townsfolk a few days prior. It’s that fact combined with the large but still controlled gathering of guests exuding bliss mingling by the benches that has Zenitsu realizing just how many people loved his Gramps.

They couldn’t have felt more at peace as they passed the tiny wedding arc made of tree branches. Bundled up in their yukata that shimmered in the sunlight, multiple people waved when they enter. One family’s twin girls giggle as they pick out frogs jumping in the water. Another man, possibly the only one in attendance with clothes more expensive than theirs, is silently padding his eyes out with a cloth.

Inosuke looks around, strangely excited despite having to keep his boar mask off and not being able to stay half-naked. There’s a first for everything. He makes a show of snatching one of the offered flower crowns of tiger lilies to slide on his neck like a medal. “Today’s the day, huh?! I hope these bastards enjoy all the work we put in!”

“You’re the one who kept complaining what a waste of time it was to weave all these flower crowns!” Despite Zenitsu getting overworked, the brush of Tanjirou’s callused fingers in his hair as the other chooses and places a loop of dandelions on his head doesn’t fail to bring that familiar pang to his chest. He avoids looking where he knows amber eyes are gazing at him and- dammit! It sucked, OKAY?! Everything sucked whenever Tanjirou would so much as pay attention to him! It’s been sucking ever since last night when he realized- Zenitsu blockades his train of thought off but knows it’s futile. “And the neighbors helped out too. Don’t take all the credit!”

“No need to be jealous, Sumiritsu.” Inosuke lets out a mighty breath, crossing his arms and huffing himself as he faced the sky like a boar baring its fangs. From his peripheral, the blond can hear wind chimes mingling with Tanjirou’s chuckle as he goes to pick out his own flower crown. It echoes in his body like the fire in a cold winter night. “My flower weaving was twenty- no, FIFTY times better than yours and you know it!”

-that he was irrevocably in love with Tanjirou Kamado. Zenitsu felt a part of him snap. “I WAS THE ONE WHO TAUGHT YOU!”

“And I’ve already surpassed you. What’s your point-” The teen is rudely cut off when a splash of something cold soaks the lower half of his body. He doesn’t register it at first, vision turned to a girl their age with a dainty hand over her mouth as she stared Inosuke down. An empty cup of some type of juice is flipped upside-down on the grass from the impact.

Recognition colours Zenitsu pale.

No, no, NO, NO, NO….!!

“O-Oh my, I’m so sorry!” Lying, she’s lying. Just as the conclusion crosses his mind, hazel sight rests on the familiar mop of golden hair. He flinches back, as if physically assaulted by the fake essence of surprise overcoming her face. Tanjirou frowns, good mood lowering when the scent of flowers flowing from his friend sours. “Zenitsu, is that you?”

“HEY…! We weren’t done talking yet.” Inosuke tries to make himself known but fails when the woman with hair down her waist and a pretty bow steps forward. He huffs, agitated. “I’M TALKING TO YOU HERE! You think your pathetic little apology is going to cut it?! Don’t ignore me!”

He doesn’t get his request, especially when Zenitsu gulps so loudly he’s sure that the entire world can hear and laugh at him for it. “H-Hi, Mia-chan…! It’s been a while. You- You look great-” Just as attractive and cute as ever, too~! Would you still like to hang out some time? But that statement lodges itself in his throat quicker than he can form the thought. He can’t say it, doesn’t want to anymore. The lull of the stream within Tanjirou’s soul keeps those words firmly planted.

…What was wrong with him?

She giggles, something that once caused Zenitsu to beg for her to do it again now make him dread this entire conversation. “You never change.” The words, for some reason they sounded venomous. They did their work, striking a chord within Zenitsu that he didn’t like. “Remember how you used to follow me around? It felt just like yesterday you were laying your jacket on the ground for me to step on, or taking me out to all these places!”

More like she went into the buildings by herself after commanding Zenitsu to stay outside, parading around in the jewelry he gifted to her. He wanted to believe in her. He still does, so he pushes the fear caused by uncertainty of what exactly was happening down. He does it despite her breaths playing an interlude of distaste in his ears. “Of course I remember! How h-have you been?”

She hums. It’s when eyes rake over to Tanjirou that Zenitsu feels himself tensing up again. But then, all of a sudden, her pitch changes. “I’ve been thinking, actually. I wanted to apologize for how I treated you back then.”

Zenitsu blinks, finding it so much easier to push the doubt aside. The malice in her music couldn’t have meant anything. He must’ve been mistaken! “Really…? That’s so nice of you, Mia-chan. You don’t need to though, certainly and most definitely not! Don’t worry about it.”

“I want to, though.” At her smile, Zenitsu feels every part of him that was strung up on the display crumble in relief. He didn’t think he was ready to face a girl for a while. The pretense of how he either should or wanted to act had been blown into smithereens with Zenitsu left to pick up the pieces. He still found her pretty. Maybe even beautiful; but now her beauty seemed dull in the face of the endless summer that hummed every time Tanjirou so much as breathed. “And you must be Tanjirou! I’ve heard so much about you from around the village.”

“Yes, I am.” Please, Tanjirou. For the sake of his own sanity, don’t bring Zenitsu back into the conversation! He’d rather disappear and become an insignificant bug on someone’s shoe. The message is somehow sent when his friend steps the slightest bit forward. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Twirling a piece of hair around her finger, Zenitsu turns his eyes away from the telltale glint of lust in her pupils and suffocating sound of heat emanating from her skin. It must be his imagination. The day was hot and the children around them were sweating buckets. The sun must have just gotten to her. “Likewise…! I hope Zenitsu is treating you guys well. I know he whines and cries a lot. It must be a huge burden to bring him around on missions.”

The blond nearly flinches. Tanjirou tilts, the crackle of fire by his chest igniting. “That’s not for you to judge, miss.” And- And is it dumb that Zenitsu’s heart skips a beat at that? It’s a warning to back off. He isn’t sure how he feels about this at all.

Inosuke crosses his arms. The thumps of boiling blood accentuated his impatient stomps on the grass as he continued to send death in the form of a glare into the back of the girl’s head. Zenitsu, too, feels on edge. It’s warded off slightly when Tanjirou, pure and sweet and way too good for him Tanjirou makes a point to stand closer to him than normal. It was a habit formed from the past few days and something he did a lot, but the action went far in calming Zenitsu’s nerves.

Without even thinking about it, he leaned into Tanjirou’s side further without asking permission. And he didn’t need any. The routine was so ingrained in their memories that all Tanjirou does in response is wrap an arm around his shoulders to bring him closer. Suddenly, the resonance of fireflies on a warm night was back and Zenitsu loved- craved it.

Mia eyes the exchange briefly, her smile dropping. “You’re right. It isn’t.” But she plows on anyway. The term foolish rings in Zenitsu’s head- and honestly, how dare he think such a thing about a girl?! The person he was from a month ago would’ve thrown himself off a bridge for it. But no one was worth throwing himself off a bridge for when the promise of warmth of happiness had his arm wrapped around him like this. “We’re not talking about just being friends though. Between you and me, between someone who’s dated him before and you, who’s dating him right now?” She sneers. He just really wants her to go away- “He’s gross. He’s ugly, always cowards away, and is a huge pervert to boot. He’s a waste of tim-”

“FUCK OFF, LADY!” They all jump. The voice of Inosuke rings around the yard. The boar-less child stomps forward, shoving the girl aside to move in front of Tanjirou and Zenitsu. “I thought I said that we weren’t finished talking yet?! Before you ramble on about your opinion which frankly none of us give a shit about, what are you going to do to pay me back, HUH?” He gestures to his sticky yukata then. The sight is a little humorous at first. Never did anyone think to ever be able to witness Inosuke of all people getting upset over some soaked clothes. It was pretty funny in Zenitsu’s opinion until Inosuke opened his mouth again, this time addressing Mia while pointing straight at him. “These were the clothes that my family, the guy you’re back-talking, gave me, you smartass! Unless you want a blade stuck in your gut, I suggest YOU MAKE UP FOR IT!”

The responding silence is deafening. No longer is there any chatter of food and afternoon celebrations around them. It takes Zenitsu a good three seconds to realize that everyone at the wedding is watching them. That woman Mitsuki who had five children from four blocks down, the delivery boy, even the local bakery owner- they’re all watching Zenitsu’s pathetic life crash in a train wreck. Varying tones of disgust or sadness assault his ears, ruining the warm atmosphere from just minutes before. Oh my god. I’m so sorry, Gramps…!

Finally, Mia, shocked but not yet down, scoffs. “Just ask him to buy you a new one.”

If Zenitsu blinked, he would’ve missed it. But in what seemed like a lapse in time, Inosuke had charged forward so quickly that no one could’ve stop him from tackling her into the pond like a raging bull. It takes a moment for her to emerge from the mud. Gasping, clothes ruined, and a frog jumping into her lap, she screams.

Zenitsu feels like fainting. What the HECK is even happening right now…? Maybe this is a dream? Yes, that’s perfect! PLEASE BE A DREAM! If I can wake up in a nice futon to the sound of Gramps yelling at me to get off my butt, I promise to train hard from now on! The rest of the guests scramble to help her out. But he doesn’t notice anything but a gentle hand guiding him away from the chaos. When he’s seated in one of the chairs at the furthest corner of the venue, Tanjirou next to him, Zenitsu buries his face in his hands. “We’re dead.”

Those fingers rub soothing circles on his back. It plays like hot ocean waves across his skin. “We’re not dead.”

Zenitsu groans. “We are. It’s my entire fault. Inosuke’s going to be hated by the town. We’re g-going to be kicked out of my own gramps’ wedding! E-Everyone’s going to leave. I ruined everything.”

“No,” Tanjirou is adamant. Shifting his palm forward, rough fingers caress the side of a tear-streaked face before stopping at his chin. The touch is a drum strumming his skin. Tilting Zenitsu’s head upward to make eye contact, he says with conviction. “It’s her fault. Inosuke did the right thing. We aren’t going to be kicked out. Nothing is ruined.”

His optimism was a double-edged blade. Sometimes it served as an up-lifter on the battle field, providing everyone with the much needed encouragement to win some other way. Other times, it was a nuisance of blind faith. Zenitsu thoroughly believed this time was the latter. “Tanjirou. You don’t get it. I was the one who stalked Mia-chan for days. I really was being gross and perverted around her, groveling for her attention. Not to mention how many times I ran away whenever a demon was nearby. She thinks of me as a burden because I really am one-”

“It’s her loss.” He says it so simply, so honestly, that Zenitsu can’t help but recoil back. “You aren’t gross. You can be a pervert but you genuinely care how girls feel and if they’re happy. You do run away sometimes but- but you never give up. Those things make you who you are. And uh,” Tanjirou makes as if to look away but changes his mind at the last second. He takes a breath. The melody that still remains a mystery to Zenitsu’s ears plays like an orchestra for him to listen to. The thumb that the blond can feel brushing against his chin shifts. “Zenitsu, I think you’re beautiful.”

Huh?

Tanjirou… do you really mean that?

Zenitsu knows that he does.

All he can do is hide his face back behind his sleeve, heart beating a mile a minute in affection. The smile creeping up behind wet palms threatened to split Zenitsu’s face open and he was glad no one had to see it. Being praised by Tanjirou never did fail to trigger this reaction. However, this time, it felt so much more different. “Y-You’re impossible, unbelievable…!”

Tanjirou laughs. Reaching out to stroke blond locks, he’s careful of the halo of dandelions that made Zenitsu look and smell like light itself. “We should buy dinner for Inosuke later.”

The other snorts and mumbles past the mess that is his face. “He’s going to eat us out of house and home.”

“I guess we’ll all go homeless together then.”

They don’t know how long they sat there. Everything around them feels like white noise. At one point, Mia’s mother had informed them that she would be paying to have Inosuke’s clothes cleaned and dried before the ceremony. Another guest, one of the twin girls from before, slipped a mochi snack to the both of them in secret. The telltale sign of Gramps and Ringo finally arriving after hours of make-up resonates throughout the yard as everyone rushes outside of the gate to greet them.

Zenitsu feels horrible when he still can’t muster the energy to stand up and greet his Gramps. There is some consolation when he’s not the only one to stay behind. Chuntaro flutters to his shoulder, giving him a soft chirp. Tanjirou greets the small sparrow, content in staying exactly where he was.

Because the world hated him and was convinced it had to give Zenitsu a heart attack every hour (which was pretty normal for him), it doesn’t last. The horror that they weren’t alone rings in his stomach when a cough sounds from somewhere across from them. Oh no. Why can’t she just leave us alone?! Should I bribe her? Tell Gramps? What will it take for her to go away?! Zenitsu didn’t understand.

Mia was hard-headed if nothing else. Marching up to Tanjirou again, hair soaked from being washed and nerves frayed, she speaks in a hushed tone this time. “I refuse to believe it. It’s ridiculous that someone like you would be with that thing instead of me. Tell me the truth. Are you and Zenitsu really dating?”

He doesn’t think much of the question at first. It was close-ended. All Tanjirou had to do was utter a measly ‘yes.’ Even Zenitsu could do it! But when he feels the muscles of the boy next to him tense up, that familiar tone of stupidity in his veins, and that weird expression begin taking form, Zenitsu uses every ounce of his energy to jump in front of Tanjirou.

Blocking the other from view, Zenitsu is shocked that he’s angry. Not at Mia, not at Tanjirou, but at himself for letting it get so far. If she won’t stop hounding Tanjirou, then he’d have to protect him. “YES…! YES, WE ARE DATING!” The familiar sensation of his heart rate picking up as a psychological way to cope with lying shakes him to his core. And Zenitsu’s never felt more hurt by it. But then he remembers birds chirping in the trees. He remembers the melody of summer fireworks playing in his heart as butterflies flutter between his veins. He remembers being held like something precious for the first time in his life. No matter what, these feelings for Tanjirou were real. “But even if we weren’t, guess what? I can fall in love with whoever I want to and I can be loved by whoever chooses to so it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!”

“None of my business…? Since when did you ever say no to me? I’m just trying to save a poor soul from the likes of you!”

Zenitsu feels the conflict ramming against his brain like a battering ram. The side of him that valued his friends, valued Tanjirou and Inosuke and Nezuko, clashed with the part of him that wanted to cower at her outburst and revert back to complimenting and giving her everything she wants. But for once, the former wins. “You-YOU’RE NOT HELPING ANYONE BUT YOURSELF! We didn’t date! It was only you putting me down for WEEKS just to make yourself feel better. If you want to do that then FINE but I’m- I’m not putting up with it anymore! Don’t you ever drag Tanjirou and Inosuke into this!”

For all the noise that littered his head, it suddenly vanishes.

She gaps at him. Her brain blanks, finally stepping away. A few more staggered steps back is all the running start she needs to take off through the trees. Zenitsu breathes, feeling the familiar sparks of electricity flowing in his limbs. Then, he collapses back on the bench, completely spent.

“…Zenitsu?”

The addressed turns back and nearly falls over from the utter adoration colouring Tanjirou’s face. Ignoring the second skip in his chest of the day, he gives the other’s forehead the biggest finger flick he could manage. He takes it back. This guy wasn’t good at this dating stuff at all. “I can’t believe it! You played so well as my boyfriend for days but that’s what trips you up?”

“Sorry.” Tanjirou, at least, seems really embarrassed.

“You’re too honest to survive, Tanjirou. Sometimes you have to lie, you know?” The other looks skeptical much to his utter annoyance. “OKAY THEN! I’ll give you a nice GOOD EXAMPLE RIGHT NOW! You’re in a forest and see a mushroom on the ground, pick it, and cook it because you’re starving and haven’t eaten in eleven days. Then a mushroom demon traps you in its cave the next day and asks you where his mushroom babies went. WHAT DO YOU DO THEN?”

“…I say that I ate them?” Zenitsu knocks him in the head.

“EXACTLY! Then I have to come in and GET YOU OUT OF THERE because you were too dumb to just LIE! You’re troubling me a lot like that, you know! What if I DIE TOO?! Oh my god…!” Zenitu stops when the other suddenly grabs his hand, pulling him back enough to lightly and affectionately bump shoulders.

“I know.” Tanjirou smiles, his sound like a summer campfire and eyes gentle as the sand on the nicest beach. “Thanks, Zenitsu.”

Zenitsu’s face reddens, feeling like he could just faint. Yet he still allows himself to be pulled in, refusing to release his friend’s hand until they were forced to be separated. He does so when some little voice in his head laments. This may be the last time you can ever hold Tanjirou’s hand again. So he clutches on as long as he can.

Yeah, having these feelings really sucked.

They inevitably were, unfortunately. Tanjirou and Inosuke were asked to be bride’s mates by Ringo almost as soon as she met them. Not having any living relatives, her only explanation was that she couldn’t help but fall for them and their energy on sight. So there they were, dressed in their blue and brown yukata of cherry blossoms, donning special headgear to indicate their status as well as umbrellas to shield the bride from the sun. The Tsunokakushi covering most of her head was pure as snow. They stood a little ways down the path, prepared to walk her down the aisle to the applause of the crowd.

Where else could Zenitsu be but by his Gramps’ side in the meantime? Wedding band resting in his pocket in preparation to pass it along to him during the ceremony, it was so weird seeing Gramps as a fine man with his new walking stick and cherry blossom pattern haori. Despite his efforts to stay focused, old habits die hard. Kuwajima drifted, sight scanning the crowd every once in a while for a familiar head of blue hair.

Zenitsu grabbed his shoulder by the third time, shaking his head. “This is your day, Gramps.”

And that was enough. Kuwajima grinned. “You’re right, boy. Now when’s that old coot coming?”

Eventually, the bridal party became visible from behind an overgrowth of trees. Ringo stood proud despite needing to cling onto Inosuke for support. The response is immediate. Many townspeople were touched and gave her a standing ovation while she waved. Zenitsu could only make eye contact with Tanjirou as he marched down the aisle, flushing red when the other waved at him.

He tries not to think of the implications behind their shared look.

By the time they reach the altar, the audience has managed to settle down. The vows are short. Gramps and Ringo were never one for speeches, but the words they did say truly mattered.

“Faithful partner for life,” Kuwajima starts, grinning like he did so many times after trapping his grandson right where he wanted him, “and pain in my backside, welcome to the craziest last years of your life.”

Ringo doesn’t hesitate to quip back. “In sickness and in health, for how hopeless you are in everything, I promise to love and cherish you.”

Zenitsu’s never been more proud to pass the wedding band to his Gramps before the two exchange rings to the applause of the crowd.

“I now pronounce you man and wife!”

Kuwajima hands a cherry blossom branch to her. “Care to do the honours, sweetie?”

“Only if your bones are too old to do it yourself.” Ringo jokes before accepting the branch. Then, she crouches down carefully while clinging to her groom’s mates again and lowers it into the pond. As she goes to join her now husband to watch it float away, the sun has finally risen fully in the sky. It’s beautiful. When the musician playing the stringed instrument strums a magical tune, that’s when Zenitsu feels the dam holding back his tears break.

But if Tanjirou used his umbrella to hide a golden face from view and his sleeve for him to bury his sniffles in, then everyone else was left none the wiser.

-U-U-U-U-U-

The next day came too quickly. The five of them split off in a spot half a mile away from town. Back in their Demon Slayer uniforms, Tanjirou’s Kasugai crow is already parroting about heading East from above when it’s time for farewells. Kuwajima and Ringo are piled into a horse and carriage with a driver reminding them of their destination. It was a town not too far from here, perhaps one mountain away, with a perfect little hot spring resort for their honeymoon.

It felt surreal. Everything was over.

Ringo pulls out a bundle of lunch boxes. “I made them myself this morning for you to take on the road. Please eat well, boys.”

Inosuke grabs the meals, eyes shining. “I got it, Auntie Ringo! Damn it, why do the good have to leave…?!”

Kuwajima doesn’t waste time in addressing Tanjirou. He holds a hand out with a grin. “Good luck with finding out more about the Dance of the Sun God. You better treat my boy right, you hear?”

The addressed grabs the offered handshake with a smile. “Understood, Kuwajima-san! Thank you so much for the opportunity to meet you.” Meanwhile, Zenitsu hangs in the back, blocking the path of his ears from Tanjirou’s sound.

They did it. The wedding was over. They were going their separate ways. But most importantly, they successfully fooled everyone into believing that Zenitsu Agatsuma and Tanjirou Kamado were dating, together, and in love.

He was scared. The idea of hearing what Tanjirou would sound like to him from this point onward terrified Zenitsu. It isn’t until the carriage doors begin closing that the blond snaps out of it. Pushing his worries aside, he finds the power to sprint forward and tackle his Gramps in a hug. He’s a Demon Slayer now. Who knows when they’ll see each other next or if both of them would even be alive?

Gramps, he’s going to miss him. The man returns the hug, eyes watery again when they cling to each other. Overwhelmed by the emotions, Kuwajima can’t help but belt out his next words like a horn. “ZENITSU, I’M PROUD OF YOU, OKAY?!” He screams this, nearly causing the boy in question to screech in surprise at the volume. A flock of geese disperse from a nearby tree. That’s how loud he was. But for all it was worth, the next words were chillingly quiet in comparison. “Keep fighting. Never give up, and hold tightly to that boy you love.”

How ironic of a thing to say was that?

As the carriage disappears in the horizon, the three of them waving even as the couple could no longer see them, Tanjirou doesn’t take his hand in his.

As they walk to their next destination, warm shoulders don’t bump against his in silent offer of leaning his side against the other. Tanjirou doesn’t even stay close, opting to keep ahead a few paces.

They set up camp for the night after a full day of walking. Zenitsu excuses himself to talk a stroll. When Tanjirou doesn’t follow him, doesn’t hold him in the dead of night before telling him to be careful, doesn’t whisper in his ear and laugh, the numbness intensifies.

It was like the entire past week between them never happened.

“Chun.” Chuntaro flies above his head, looking at him with concern.

“Stay behind, okay?” Zenitsu requests of the sparrow for one of the first times ever. He usually didn’t like to be alone. That statement was multiplied when it was at night and dangerous. When the bird shakes its head, the blond emphasizes. “Please.” Thankfully, Chuntaro gets the message. The small creature flutters back to the campsite in a miserable cloud.

Rounding around several boulders and when he’s a good distance away, just at the border of where he can barely hear the sounds of his friends, he stops in a clearing where the stars are the most visible. Closing his eyes, Zenitsu finally listens.

Gone are the summer gardens and chirping cicadas that he’s come to know for the past few days. Missing are the ocean waves on a sunny day, an echo that he seemed to be able to pick up no matter how far away the other was. In its place, the sound of that same clear sky from before echoes back at him.

And, and he can’t help it okay?! He’s a crybaby. He doesn’t care about whatever Tanjirou told him while riding the coattails of their fake relationship. He knows he’s still useless and ugly and gross. He’s still a coward. He’s a coward who fell in love with his friend and someone who he could never have. And now, it felt like he just lost a piece of the sun in his life.

So he cries. He bawls in that way that everyone finds so obnoxious and loud and annoying. He wants to shut up, he really does, but he can’t. He knows he shouldn’t be this affected but, feeling the dirt scratching at his fingernails, he does. It’s his fault anyway. It’s his own fault for aiming his affections so high and for someone way out of his league.

The tears dry eventually. It takes a while but they do. By then, the sky is darker and the sounds of the forest have shifted. Wiping his soaked face, he was so disgusting, he lies facing up and observing the twinkle in the sky. Taking deep breaths, he tries to calm his pained heart.

UOOO!

Zenitsu screams. He scuffles backwards, continues doing so until his spine hits a tree to face his assailant with panicked limbs. “N-Nezuko-chan…?!”

The girl looks at him innocently from across the clearing. She’s back to her old clothes, but some part of the blond feels himself calm when he notices the blue-dyed branch still tangled in her hair like she refused to wear any other headpiece. It wasn’t an illusion. She was really here. Slowly, as if not believing what was happening, Zenitsu crouches closer. “What are you doing here? Wait, does your brother know where you are?! You-You’re not here to CONFESS TO ME, ARE YOU?! Hang on, HANG ON! I’M NOT READY! I CAN’T DO THIS, I DEFINITELY CAN’T DO THIS!”

Nezuko looks unimpressed and, in a huff to express all the frustration in the world, throws a pile of peppermint leaves on him.

The blond nearly screams again but stops in utter confusion. “…What was that for?”

“MM…!” She stomps her tiny feet on the ground, waving her arms around like they were on fire. “UU-oOO!”

“Are you hurt?” She shakes her head. He tries guessing again when she twists her body into an imitation of Japanese kanji that Zenitsu can barely read. “Four words…?”

She nods her head, proud of her work. As if a sudden brilliant idea crossed her mind, clawed fingers are quick to snatch a twig off of the ground. Finding a flat patch of dirt, she makes quick work of sketching two crude-looking stick fingers in the dirt. Realizing she drew them too far apart, the long and wavy line she traces next to connect their arms looks almost horrifying.

It reflects in Zenitsu’s face as he pales. “Freaky long-limbed demon…? WAIT, is there one around here?!”

UUFN!” …Whatever that meant. But Nezuko exuded the sound of disgruntlement so he could only assume that wasn’t it. Deciding on how to fix this, she settles for drawing hanafuda earrings on one before outlining chopped hair on the other.

“OH! …oh…” Zenitsu stares. He stares and stares but no matter how much his mind picks it apart, he can’t reach any other possible conclusion for what she was trying to say. So he sighs. “Listen, Nezuko-chan. That whole thing with your brother and I… uh, he was helping me out. You were awake when I told him. You’re the one I…” Love, but that seemed like a word his heart could only reserve for another. “-like, remember? It was just pretend. PRETEND, okay?” The lines escape his mouth but at this point, it sounded more like Zenitsu was trying to convince himself.

Nezuko does nothing but shake her head.

“No? What do you mean no?!”

“MMUO…!”

No as in no, it wasn’t pretend? That’s a funny one, Nezuko-chan! Count on you to be pretty and funny!”

The girl throws her stick in the air in frustration. More like nearly chucking it at a tree, but Zenitsu chooses to ignore that.

“I really appreciate it, you know!” He really does. She was such a sweet girl. He was glad she and Tanjirou had each other. “But the idea of Tanjirou liking someone like me is impossible. He was faking it because he’s a nice person. Let’s just move on from it.”

Nezuko wasn’t having any of it, it seemed. Deciding not to waste any more of her time on words, she disappears and reappears from behind him like a demon on the wind. Before Zenitsu can even comprehend what she’s doing, she has two hands firmly planted on his shoulders and is pushing him back in the direction of the camp.

“AAAAAAIIIEEE…?! Wha-HEY…!”

They stop a fair ways off from the clearing where he can spot smoke and almost smell the scent of food from dinner. He can barely make out the two figures of Tanjirou and Inosuke beside the flames and calling out Nezuko’s name. Considering their position in the dark, the two don’t spot them in return. Instead of bursting through and announcing their presence like Zenitsu thought, Nezuko very swiftly pulls him behind a bush of- was that peppermint? There seemed to be a lot of it growing around for some reason.

When the girl gestures to her ears, Zenitsu picks up on what she’s suggesting and immediately finds the entire thing ridiculous. Sure, with his hearing and from this distance, he’d be able to pick up conversations like they were right next to his ear. However, Tanjirou would sense them right away-

Peppermint bush…

Oh.

The realization that Nezuko had somehow planned all of this comes too late for the girl quickly sneaks off to another direction. He waits a moment and sure enough, she emerges from behind a tree across from him, much to the relief of both boys who were frantically wondering where she went missing.

Tanjirou races to her first. “Nezuko…! Oh thank goodness. I thought something bad happened to you.” The girl huffs and he laughs. A jingle on the wind. It never ceases to amaze Zenitsu how Tanjirou was able to understand exactly what she was saying. “Yes, I know you can take care of yourself but don’t worry your nii-chan by disappearing without telling him, okay?”

Inosuke puffs out. With his demeanor, he was acting like he did all of the work. “Well of course! I knew she was fine the entire time!” Despite the bravado however, Zenitsu can tell by the slowing beat of his heart that he’s relieved. It’s followed by a predictable yawn. With the adrenaline worn down, the boar child began settling down by a log for the night.

He waits another few minutes. Soon enough, Nezuko crawls back to her box silently before coming back out with a bundle of blue and brown. She settles next to him, handing him the clothes.

Tanjirou blinks, finally recognizing the item when he goes to pat her hair. “Oh, right. I guess we should ask Zenitsu what to do with these, huh?” Then, he runs callused hands through the fabric, a warm noise buzzing from him. “We’ve never owned clothes these nice before. It was really kind of him to get them for us.”

Idiots. Obviously they could keep them. More than once, Zenitsu has been careless with money when it comes to spending on others. The only difference this time was that the people he spent it on were worth it.

That doesn’t seem to be what Nezuko was looking for from her brother, when she goes in to lightly punch Tanjirou’s arm repeatedly.

“Ow, ow…! What’s wrong?” He drops the stick that he was tending the fire to in order to address her.

“MMFO.”

And just like before, Tanjirou seems to understand her right away. Zenitsu is shocked. Whatever Nezuko had said has the boy blushing bright red from his cheeks all the way to his ears. He’s never seen that expression on him before; not since they met, not when they were pretending to be together, not even when the other held him. Are these the kind of faces Tanjirou makes when no one but his sister was around?

“N-NEZUKO…!”

MNMN!

“I know… okay?” He sighs, resigning himself to his fate. Suddenly, Zenitsu feels his own heart picking up in his ears, increasing in intensity when the next phrase hits them. “But it wasn’t real. In case you haven’t noticed, Zenitsu only likes girls.”

Nezuko shakes her head furiously.

“You want me to try to confess anyway?” Wait, confess? Confess what…? What was Tanjirou talking about? Please, Zenitsu needs a second- no, a minute- no maybe a few days to calm down! Evidently, the world does not give him a few days when that clear sky opens up and shines like a summer again. Just a peek, but Zenitsu can hear it. “I don’t think I should… he’s an important friend to me. I’m not going to ruin that because he thinks I’m… gross for feeling this way about him.”

“Would you rather tell him, get rejected, and move on with no regrets?” Tanjirou jumps a little as a voice pips up from the body that he assumed had long fell asleep. Inosuke still has his eyes closed but he’s as loud as ever. “Or would you rather be a dumbass coward who lives wondering what could’ve been? Regretting sucks. That’s all I’m going to say- BUT YOU NEVER HEARD IT FROM ME, DAMMIT!”

Zenitsu wants to cry. He really does.

Nezuko and Inosuke…!

And Tanjirou too…?

He does what he always does. He runs away.

It’s more accurate to say he crawls away, silent as an ant on the ground and not stopping until he’s a fair distance off again. He looks up. His vision feels hazy. With blood running a marathon in his head, he can’t help but think the worst. “That… wasn’t a dream, right?”

Just a dream that Tanjirou maybe could’ve liked him back, that he was powerful, that he could protect people. Any second, he would wake up and find himself useless and alone again, right?

Maybe. But. But Zenitsu didn’t want to run away anymore. He couldn’t give up.

Even if it was a dream, and there’s a high possibility that it was, he had to take that chance. If there was any that he could hear that endless summer playing a symphony by his ear and have the other embrace him once more, he’d take it.

Tanjirou was worth it.

So steeling himself for the worst, Zenitsu makes the trek back to the other boy with shivering nerves. By then, Tanjirou is the only one still awake and just about to put the fire out. At the sight of him, he scrunches his nose cutely, making Zenitsu’s heart do crazy things again. “Zenitsu, why do you smell like peppermint?”

The blond blinks. It wasn’t a dream. Feeling his vision blurring, he laughs. “I do, don’t I?”

“Oh no, are you okay?!” Worry emanating from the kind boy, he steps closer. “Zenitsu, why are you crying? What happened?” Tanjirou is cut off from his worry when his friend suddenly falls forward and into his chest. Before he can push the other away and inquire further though, yellow-clad arms are quick to wrap around him in a vice grip hug.

Tanjirou’s breath hitches. Beneath the peppermint, blossoms of spring seep into his senses again. Citrus plays at the edges of his tongue like he could almost taste it. And suddenly, it was so easy to feel his resolve to stay away crumbling. “Z-Zenitsu…?”

“You gave me a hug like this before, Tanjirou. It was really nice. I want to return the favour.”

“You d-don’t have to force yourself. Your grandfather isn’t watching us-”

The blond sighs, feeling the other’s heart by his ear. Oh. So that’s what that mystery sound, the one reserved only for Zenitsu and Zenitsu alone, was. “I don’t care. You sound good.” When Tanjirou doesn’t speak, doesn’t move to complete the second half of the hug, he continues. “My Gramps isn’t stupid, you know. He’s a former pillar. He can read me like a book. If…” Zenitsu feels the urge to clam up but, remembering that night they spent close and whispering secrets, he doesn’t. “If he saw something between us and believed it, then… then at least, on my end, it was real.”

There’s silence. No reaction at all, not even from Tanjirou’s melody. With each second that passes, Zenitsu feels himself stiffening. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he misunderstood. Maybe he just ruined one of the best friendships that he’s ever had-

Tanjirou laughs. His soul is free of all worry and replaced by a glow of ecstasy that Zenitsu can only compare to shining morning dew after the rain just cleared up. Still, that’s not enough for him to stop from pulling away with a screech. “HEY! I’m tr-trying to bare my soul here! DON’T LAUGH!”

“Sorry, sorry! It’s just…” Tanjirou almost lets out another belt but stops when he sees the tears beginning to build up behind golden eyes again. He reaches out, brushing his thumb against the wetness before it can fall. “You said so yourself that I’m not capable of lying, right? How do you possibly think I could’ve faked having feelings for you this entire time?”

And the worst part was, Tanjirou made a really good point. It was so obvious yet Zenitsu missed it like an absolute moron. He felt like screaming in frustration. Zenitsu almost does. He tries but is stopped by the brush of lips on his own like the sun’s rays peeking out from behind a cloud.

Suddenly, it’s silent. For the first time in his life, he can’t hear. He can only feel the rush of love threatening to spill out from every inch of him. He wanted to run around, declare that he was in love with Tanjirou Kamado at the top of his lungs to anyone who would listen and without a single care. How could he not? The weather was sunny, the shade of the trees and rustling of branches all felt amazing in his ears caressed by the utter music that was Tanjirou. All thoughts of what was happening and how this was supposed to go are replaced by finally getting the chance to lightly kiss him back.

When they pull apart, amber eyes gaze upon him half-lidded. What was once the scent of peach blossoms and a hint of citrus that he couldn’t get enough of brightened. Dandelions, daisies, primrose, cosmos of many colours, it took him a while to finally understand that Zenitsu’s scent was like an entire garden. It was a garden that would never end. Tanjirou is the first to speak, palms on either side of the blond’s face like he was a treasure. “You smell like happiness.”

Zenitsu definitely screeches this time, jumping back.

“…Too much?”

“What do you THINK?”

But Zenitsu couldn’t help but agree when that beautiful sound, the one reserved for him, reverberates from kind and gentle Tanjirou without any barrier holding it back. That emotion strengthens when Tanjirou chuckles. When he grabs his hand, landing another sweet peck to his cheek, Zenitsu listens again.

And he hears happiness.