The smell of blood was a familiar companion.
The sight of a slaughtered family even more.
And the guilt? That’s always been a part of him.
So he does what he usually does - takes survey of the surroundings, tries to ignore the shame and push back the first stirrings of self-incrimination as he buries another handful of human bodies. He thinks of Sabito, of how he would’ve been able to save them had he been the one alive, before adding another tally to his failures.
And then he looks south, tracks the trail of blood and footprints, and then disappears.
She’s not as fast as her brother at scaling down the mountain, not as built and athletic as he is. Not as warm and kind as her infinitely good nii-chan.
But god, the one thing they did share was their thick head and she will make this demon slayer listen if it’s the last thing she does.
“He’s my brother,” She says, gripping the hatchet tight in her hands. She looks for openings, flicks her eyes at the man with the sword to her struggling brother, desperately reaching out for her, “He’s kind and he’s selfless and he almost died trying to protect our family.”
She can’t feel her feet, can’t feel anything outside of the mind numbing fear that she was going to lose the last good thing in her life.
She’d rather die than watch her sun disappear.
“So help me, if you lay your hand on him one more time,”
Taking stance, she bares her teeth into a facsimile of a grin.
“I’m going to break it.”
He’s surprised to see a human protecting a demon.
He’s even more surprised to see a demon protecting a human.
He’d seen newly turned ones losing themselves to the process, to the insatiable thirst of need and want. He’d seen everything in between, from the gradual change to the aftermath. He’d stopped some before they ate their own flesh and blood. He’d been too late more often than not.
But he’s never hesitated, never failed to take their heads off and that was his only consolation.
What is he doing, was his first thought, staring at the boy with bleeding shoulders and elongated fangs, an immovable mountain standing between him and his sister.
His eyes glowed bright crimson, slitted and sharp and -
Giyuu feels his world tilt.
A memory flashes across his vision - peach hair and silver eyes, a scar on his cheek. He’d been absolutely ruthless when needed, unforgiving in the all ways that counted. But when he smiled, Sabito had always been -
He blinks at the demon, at the creature he’d sworn to kill. Stares at the girl, unconscious and brazen and overprotective of her demon brother, at how alive and whole and uneaten she was.
He locks gazes with the boy, sees pass the veins popping out on his forehead, the unnatural visage of what he’d always classified as a killer and thought -
This demon has really kind eyes.
Urokodaki blinks, once in surprise and twice to see if he’s imagining his old pupil standing in front of him.
Giyuu’s eyes soften and Urokodaki's struck by the lack of bitterness and hatred in them.
“It’s been a while,” He says awkwardly, and then tackles on a hasty, "Sensei." He shifts the girl he’d been supporting on his back with one hand while tugging another person from behind.
A small boy stumbles from his hiding place behind Giyuu’s legs.
Giyuu's lips curl slightly, and it wasn't a smile, because that isn't something Giyuu does often and with Urokodaki no less, but it still breaks his heart to see how sad it is.
“I come bearing news.”
Urokodaki rids himself of these thoughts and slides his gaze to the other occupant.
He then makes eye contact with the glowing crimson eyes of a demon child.
Giyuu interrupts him before he could finish his sentence, “The girl on my back is Nezuko. This,” The little boy’s eyes droop, almost as if tired, “is Tanjirou,” Giyuu then says, “They need your help.”
Urokodaki takes a deep breath from behind his mask and lets it all out in a quiet hiss, “The boy’s a demon.”
Giyuu nods, “I’m aware,” and, as if to contradict his statement, the little boy yawns, burrows himself closer into Giyuu’s haori and purrs.
Urokodaki can’t believe what he’s seeing.
Giyuu makes a face, “I’m in...a bind.”
Snapping out of his stupor, Urokodaki makes a gesture, “Give the girl to me. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, just tired.” Giyuu says, shifting to hand the girl over to him. They do a little graceless tango before he does, not sure where exactly they stood with each other, because its been years and eons and Urokodaki shoulders a price that he can never pay Giyuu back.
The boy, the demon that didn’t even reach Giyuu’s hips, stumbles as Giyuu slides Nezuko off his back and into Urokodaki’s arms. Before he could face plant, Giyuu quickly catches him by the armpits and sets him on his hip.
The boy’s eyes crinkles and he lets out a delighted squeal.
“Huh,” Urokodaki murmurs, “What in god’s name?”
Giyuu’s deadpan almost pulled a chuckle out of him. It doesn’t however, not when he’s reminded that his old pupil is currently carrying a demon boy in his arms.
(Not when he'd lost the right to have something as easy as that with Giyuu.)
“He’s...” Giyuu starts, frowning contemplatively. The boy - Tanjirou - seemed to have gotten over his initial delight and was now electing to use Giyuu’s shoulders as a pillow, “Different. Incredibly so.”
“I’d say,” Urokodaki heads off inside with the other following closely behind after a brief second of hesitation. He sets the unconscious girl down on the futon he hadn’t bothered tucking away this morning, “You're still...alive."
The word carries through the wind like the metal clang of a guillotine.
Something flashes across Giyuu's eyes and Urokodaki quickly diverts the conversation to something a little less traumatic.
"Anyways, how old is he?”
Giyuu stares at him blankly, before accepting the prevarication for what it was.
“Thirteen,” He states as a matter of factly. Urokodaki startles at that, “But he can change his size. He’s small, and I’m guessing it’s to expend less energy and therefore require less... sustenance.”
Urokodaki is the first to break eye contact, and he chances a look at the demon again - the man-eating demon. His eyes had closed shut, face tucked into Giyuu’s neck and little fingers clutching his haori tight. If he didn’t know his old pupil better, he’d say that he’d almost looked fond.
“I injured his shoulder,” Giyuu then adds on, “So he’d need considerably more sustenance to recover.”
They can’t seem stop staring at the little boy in Giyuu’s arms, at evidence that Tanjirou had obviously vetoed the idea of consuming humans in favour of a well-deserved nap.
“And yet, he hasn’t eaten a single person,” Giyuu whispers, wonder and disbelief and something so much more heartbreaking than all of them combined nestled in a single quiet whisper, “Not his family. Not his sister. Not me.”
He then looks at him, tentatively, and also incredibly imploring.
“His eyes were kind when I first saw them,” Giyuu breathes out, and this is the first time in a very long time that Urokodaki has seen anything other than despair in him.
(The first time in a very long time that he'd really looked at Urokodaki with something else to show other than the void in his eyes.)
“They were not the eyes of a demon.”
Urokodaki thinks back on the boy’s crimson eyes, the way he’d looked at him with not hunger, not need, but simple curiosity. It wasn’t an entirely human gaze, wasn’t a gaze that was completely lucid - but the novelty of it is that it wasn’t a demon’s gaze either.
Curiosity blooms in his chest with a ferocity he couldn’t control.
Urokodaki sits cross legged on the floor and pats the area next to him. He then closes his eyes, inhales for five and exhales for seven. When he opens them, he says:
“Tell me everything.”
An older brother turned and a younger sister looking to change him back.
A man whose very presence left an aura of death surrounding their home.
The girl has keen sight and keen determination and an endless affection for her elder brother.
The boy whose kindness and love overcame the hunger of a demon.
“Train her,” Giyuu said, pleaded even - like he didn't expect anything from Urokodaki, didn't expect anything good from him - as they watched the girl sleep off her exhaustion. Her brother laid next to her in a similar futon, tiny and vulnerable but ever so faithful, “I beg of you. Help her - help them. They deserve so much more than a broken life.”
Urokodaki remembers his children - all fourteen of them, dead and gone. He yearns them, regrets his choices but respected theirs, even if it got them killed in the end.
Somehow, he thinks, that if they were here right now, they’d be saying the same thing as his last remaining child.
He cards his left hand in the girl’s hair and swipes the boy’s cheek with his thumb.
He says, “Okay.”