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Tanjiro tilts his head as he watches Zenitsu and Inosuke on the other side of the pond.

The signs are small, tiny, insignificant, and he’s not sure when he started noticing them, but now he can’t stop doing it.

It’s like finding the two pieces of an oatmeal cookie that got split in half and then realizing that they fit.

That, strangely, they fit.

Two such opposing personalities shouldn’t fit that well, but maybe it was said opposition which helped. Yes, that must be it…

Inosuke is doing push-ups. With one hand. Every time he does ten on one side, he switches hands in a swift motion and does ten more. Then, he switches back. He’s not wearing the boar head. It was lying next to him. Was, until Zenitsu grabbed it with both hands, complaining at how ugly it was. Inosuke had thrown him a murderous glare, but hadn’t said anything and had continued with his exercises.

Then, Zenitsu had produced a brush out of nowhere and had started carefully brushing the dry fur in Inosuke’s mask.

At the beginning, both Inosuke and Tanjiro from the other side of the pond had been surprised, but none had said a word. So now, Zenitsu carries on with the task of meticulously brushing the beast’s head. His golden eyes frown slightly as he focuses on his labour. His small hands stroke the pelt to make sure that it’s unravelling nicely. His fingers handle the object with almost adoration, as if he was aware of how valuable it was for Inosuke.

Inosuke says nothing. He keeps exercising and his skin sweats, letting salty droplets fall onto the garden floor. The sun bows in the sky, casting over them a benevolent mid-morning light. The trees surrounding them gracefully sway their branches and leaves when the wind blows, almost lulling them. Some birds come down here and there every once in a while. Some of them descend to drink from the pond, as if they knew that none of those humans were a menace to them.

(Even Inosuke seems to lose his intimidating aura when he spends too much time near Zenitsu).

Half an hour later, both friends conclude with their tasks. Inosuke finishes exercising and Zenitsu is done brushing. After that, the electric demon slayer throws a glance at Inosuke as he stands up, and Tanjiro can almost read the blonde’s mind.

“Can I brush your hair now?”

It’s not the first time that Tanjiro sees that question written in the boy’s eyes, but, just as in other occasions, Zenitsu doesn’t dare ask it. Inosuke stretches his arms and Zenitsu delivers his treasure, not before remarking that he’s at least tidied it up, although it’s still an aberration.

Inosuke barks a laughter and gives him a small kick, while he’s still sitting, on the thigh. But it’s a soft little kick, as if he was afraid of actually hurting him. Then he goes wash up.

Before that, Inosuke walks by Tanjiro.

“Look” he says. Tanjiro looks up at him. He asks what with his eyes. “Look at what Zuzizu has done, he says he’s tidied it up” and he proudly displays the boar head, as if Tanjiro hadn’t watched the scene with his own eyes and as if Zenitsu hadn’t added that last part about it still being abhorrent.

“It’s Zenitsu, Inosuke.“

”Who?“

Tanjiro smiles. Inosuke shrugs and leaves. Then, some moments later, Zenitsu approaches and sits next to Tanjiro.

“What did Inosuke tell you?”

“That you tidied the boar up.”

“And I did, did you notice?”

Tanjiro smiles.

“But it’s still hideous, should we wait ‘til he gets distracted one day and bury it in the woods? Or throw it into a river?”

“I think Inosuke would get really sad.”

Zenitsu looks up at the sky and sighs, as if it was really disappointing for him to not be able to get rid of the animal head. But Tanjiro knows that he didn’t really mean it, because the news that they can’t get rid of Inosuke’s boar head is not new to any of them. None of them wants to see Inosuke with a broken heart, however that could look. With those huge, expressive eyes he has, that would probably be too moving of a vision.

“It would be better if we could always see his face” Zenitsu observes after a moment, moving a hand in the air, as if to clarify the thought, the brilliant proposal. Tanjiro sees said thought floating in the air and analyses it.

It would definitely be better. Inosuke has an interesting face and funny expressions. Tanjiro has caught himself wondering how Inosuke’s face looks in the middle of a fight more than once.

He felt a bit weird because of those thoughts, but now he realizes he might not be alone. He doesn’t notice Zenitsu watching him by the corner of his eyes.

Later into the night, they sit to have dinner together. The woman in charge of the inn serves them some local dishes of great appearance that Inosuke devours with the savageness of a hungry tiger, while Zenitsu eats slowly, bite by bite, so calm, as if one had to devote a respectful amount of time to each bite.

Tanjiro notices what Inosuke seems to enjoy more from the meal and takes some of that out of his own plate to give it to him, before Inosuke himself takes it.

Inosuke stares at him for a bit before eating it. He closes his eyes when he does, as if enjoying it more. Zenitsu watches the whole scene before doing the same thing that Tanjiro did.

Inosuke stares at Zenitsu for an even longer time than he did at Tanjiro before proceeding to also devour his offering.

And Tanjiro smiles.

When they go to sleep, Tanjiro starts walking towards his futon, but before he makes it there, Inosuke runs past him and tosses himself at the place that was his.

Tanjiro looks at him.

“Inosuke? Do you want to sleep there?”

“I AM going to sleep here! Get your own place!”

“Actually, that’s Tanjiro’s place” Zenitsu intervenes. “Are you suggesting that Tanjiro sleeps where you have already left pieces of your mop? That’s disgusting.”

“It’s just hair” Tanjiro answers, shrugging, and he turns to talk towards Inosuke’s futon. “I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure?” Zenitsu asks again, squinting his eyes. “No, wait! Someone as noble as you shouldn’t have to suffer because of this oaf. I’ll do it. I’ll sleep there.”

Tanjiro turns his head to look at him.

But then he smiles and nods.

“Alright.”

So that night Tanjiro sleeps wrapped in Zenitsu’s sweet perfume.

Zenitsu sleeps amongst Inosuke’s night-colored bangs.

And Inosuke sleeps hugging the pillow where nights before Tanjiro’s head rested.

The next day, all three of them wake up in a really good mood.

Chapter Text

The first time Tanjiro feels Zenitsu’s fingers dive into his burgundy hair, he startles. He gets goosebumps and, as the tiny finger tips massage his scalp, almost leaving strategic little electric strokes in it, Tanjiro notices, from the interior of the thermal bath, Inosuke’s moss-colored eyes closely watching them. He’s got a serious look, maybe… curious? Interested.

Tanjiro tenses.

“Is something the matter?” Zenitsu asks, as if what he was doing was very normal. There’s only a white towel covering his naked body, as there is also one covering Tanjiro’s.

“Eh…” Tanjiro can’t take his eyes away from Inosuke, who, either way, after a while stops staring at them and starts swimming a little in the pool. Tanjiro swallows. “Should we get into the water?”

“Yes, but how does this feel? I’m trying to give you a relaxing massage.”

Tanjiro isn’t sure how that’s supposed to be relaxing, because he feels very nervous. He can’t stop staring at his third friend, who goes back and forth in the water, apparently trying to ignore them. Tanjiro nervously twitches his fingers between his knees.

“Thank you, Zenitsu” he chooses to say.

At last, the fingers move away. Zenitsu pops in front of him and gives him a bright smile that blinds him for a moment. He’s left voiceless and with a dry mouth. Before they manage to do or say anything else, a fuming Inosuke appears in front of them, dark hair sticking to his shoulders and dripping over his carved torso. He grabs each of them by the wrist and pulls them violently towards the water. They have no more option than to get into the water after him.

Later that day, Tanjiro stops to carefully ponder on what had happened, while Zenitsu and Inosuke argue about something and annoy each other. Tanjiro swallows, his eyes travelling to them.

On one side, golden hair, made of sun, of morning dew, of dawns. Sweet eyes and a friendly, happy face.

On the other side, a dark mane, made of velvety skies and night songs. A wild and energetic expression.

Tanjiro doesn’t have a clue as to when it happened.

When did those two become so tremendously important to him.

And he ruminates on that idea during the following days, trying to decipher what his two friends mean to him. From the beginning, the connexion between the three was palpable. Yes… Zenitsu had decided even without knowing him that he was a decent enough of a person to make fighting to protect something that he cared about worthwhile. With Inosuke things had been a bit bumpy at the beginning, but after a short time together, the boar boy had started to follow him like a loyal comrade, which was unexpected in someone like him.

Either way, it’s plain evident that both have found their way into Tanjiro’s life. They have settled into him, finding some space next to the planet-sized area that is occupied by Nezuko.

Nezuko is his star, that he knows, the light in his tunnel, the sparkle behind his eyes and the energy of his smile.

But next to her burns Zenitsu’s sun and irradiates Inosuke’s moon.

Strange, Tanjiro thinks. It’s strange that his friends provoke such… overwhelming feelings in him.

After some days, they finally leave the inn to go towards their next mission.

Chapter Text

Inosuke barks.

Tanjiro could say that he barks when someone pushes Zenitsu and, even though the blond apologizes (despite the fact that it hadn’t even been his fault in the first place), the guy who had pushed him still yells at him.

It’s then that Inosuke comes in between the two and barks. Or maybe he doesn’t bark, but he makes quite a similar sound, just as wild, animal-like and aggressive as some sort of warning, and the man, staring at him from head to toe (looking at his well-toned chest, his two swords and his boar head), seems to suddenly change his mind and, blowing as a horse, turns to leave.

Tanjiro throws a glance at Zenitsu after that happens and he can see that deep longing in his gaze as he stares at Inosuke. Inosuke, on the other hand, just looks at him, then looks at Tanjiro and, without another word, resumes walking.

Tanjiro scratches his head, but smiles.

Step by step, he thinks when he contemplates his two friends, baby step by baby step.

Baby step by baby step they approach each other. Eventually, there will be no distance left between the two.

It’s a couple of months afterwards that they stay at an inn within a relatively big city and Zenitsu falls asleep before the other two, because he’s the one who ended up more beat up after the last fight they had those days.

So, Inosuke and Tanjiro end up alone, awake, outside the inn, and they calmly gaze at the night sky and the full moon as they listen to crickets crooning and some ululating now and then.

Inosuke has removed the boar head and put it aside. He’s sitting with his legs balancing over the edge of the wood and his hands resting behind his back. Tanjiro is next to him with crossed legs. The summer breeze is slightly warm and sleep has already hypnotized them, but, for some reason, none of them moves.

They remain silent for a long while. After some time, Inosuke finally turns to Tanjiro and says something.

“I don’t like it when he gets hurt” he confesses. Tanjiro looks at him sideways. He knows –they know– exactly who he’s talking about.

“I know” he answers. Inosuke growls and, with something of a bad mood, he spits:

“When it happens, I start feeling something here” he points at his belly, “like fire or acid. It burns. Then it twirls around and comes up, it gets to my chest, where it hurts even more, as if I was going to break, and then I feel like destroying everything.”

He pauses briefly. Tanjiro calmly listens to him.

“I know” he repeats. Inosuke lowers his hand. He squints. Then he asks:

“Doesn’t the same thing happen to you?”

Tanjiro remains silent for a moment, staring at him with surprise. Then he looks away.

Yes, of course the same thing happens to him. But it happens to him with them both. He can’t stand seeing any of them getting hurt, the same way he can’t stand seeing anyone hurting Nezuko. That same feeling that Inosuke describes, he knows it very well, he’s had to placate it plenty of times in order to remain calm and prevent himself from doing something stupid. In order to prevent his emotions from getting the better of him.

“Tell Zenitsu” he proposes instead of answering. Inosuke blinks.

“What?”

“Tell him…”

“No.”

“Okay” he doesn’t fight it, he doesn’t have the energy to do it. Inosuke stares at him for a while before taking his eyes back to the sky and, after a few minutes, they finally go to sleep.

Inosuke regularly steals Tanjiro’s or Zenitsu’s beds, but only after they have already used them.

The other two have now grown used to it.

Secretly, Tanjiro revels in it when it happens, because then he has the chance to be lulled to sleep by Zenitsu’s sweet and soft aroma or by Inosuke’s intense and fiery one.

Chapter Text

One day, Zenitsu wears lotion. It’s a lotion he’s bought in the city and it smells like honey and vanilla, as if his usual scent wasn’t already sweet enough.

Inosuke sneezes.

Tanjiro is forced to swallow hard, because his mouth is watering. The scent of honey reminds him of the traditional candies that were made in his village during the spring festivities.

“Do I smell good?” When Zenitsu asks it, Tanjiro feels his face turning multi-coloured and he doesn’t even know why.

“Yes, very good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Inosuke says it tingles his nose.”

“Inosuke likes to tease you.”

“Yes, but are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Zenitsu stares at him for a moment. His cheeks suddenly turn red, which intrigues Tanjiro. He sees as his lips part to say something, but then they close tight.

“Are you okay?”

Zenitsu reacts as if he had just been caught red-handed when Tanjiro makes that question, which confuses him even more. Zenitsu turns red as a poppy flower. In the other room, they hear Inosuke sneeze again. The electric slayer lowers his gaze.

“Do you… d-do you like the way I smell, Tanjiro?” he stammers. Tanjiro blinks slowly.

“Yes” he answers and, shrugging, he adds, “always.”

A pair of wheat-coloured eyes ascend to look at him again. Tanjiro smiles. Zenitsu is adorable.

However, for the sake of Inosuke’s mental (and pulmonary) health, Zenitsu later informs them that he’ll only wear the lotion for special occasions. Tanjiro is glad.

He can’t live literally drooling for his best friend every day.

A couple of days after the whole lotion incident, Inosuke is the next to seem interested in knowing Tanjiro’s opinion in regards to his personal aroma. Although Inosuke, as would be expected of him, is way less subtle about it.

That day, they’re camping by the side of the road when, without saying a word, the boar boy stands up right after he’s finished eating and runs off. Zenitsu yells after him that he shouldn’t be doing physical effort right after eating, but as usual, Inosuke ignores him. He comes back almost an hour later, completely soaked in sweat. By that time, Zenitsu has already gone to sleep and Tanjiro is making a quick revision of their provisions. Inosuke arrives and throws himself next to him, staring at him.

Tanjiro slowly raises his eyes and blinks.

“What is it?”

Inosuke frowns, almost as if he was angry that Tanjiro wasn’t able to read his mind. Without saying a word, he drags himself even closer to him. Their knees are pretty much touching each other. Tanjiro only watches him in confusion. Inosuke growls and leans in towards him, invading his personal space so much that Tanjiro can actually see his own reflection on his big green pupils. The water slayer softly inhales, trying to remain calm. He can’t help, of course, breathing in Inosuke’s strong scent that scatters around his nose and his respiratory tract, intoxicating and savage as if it was an actual mountain entering through his nose, filling him with dangerous avalanches.

He gulps. He shivers. He wants to move his hands. Towards Inosuke. And his arms and his torso and his lips and his guts. His chest makes a revolution.

He slowly notices a smile that appears in the boar boy’s lips. A smile that is equal parts satisfied and amused.

“You also like the way I smell” he declares, victorious, with a voice that seems designed to caress Tanjiro’s ears and thoughts. Tanjiro wants to squeeze him in his arms and he hates him a little bit in that moment.

“Inosuke, you could have found that out without all this trouble” he informs. The victorious smile disappears.

“Hah? How?”

“By asking.”

“I don’t have to ask” he states stubbornly, “I got my own answer.”

Tanjiro laughs a little bit, but a sudden motion brings Inosuke’s face so close to his that they’re pretty much breathing in the air that the other lets out their nose and mouth. Tanjiro blushes furiously. He swallows Inosuke’s breath and that is almost as intimate as…

“I-Inosuke… go to… go to sleep… I’ll stand the first guard…”

“Uhum.”

Luckily for him, Inosuke obeys, but not before having recovered his victorious smile.

Chapter Text

Tanjiro and Inosuke learn about Zenitsu’s 17th birthday by mere chance. It happens when they see the thunder slayer stop in front of a sake stall and start arguing with the seller, who seems to be eager to kick him out of there.

“But I have turned 17 today!” The boy complains, just as Inosuke and Tanjiro are coming to stand at both of his sides. The man looks at him with an irritated expression and then he throws a glance at the other two.

“Not even your grandma would believe that, if you want to buy sake at least tell your older friends to get it for you!” He demands, pointing at the two newly arrived. That ticks Zenitsu off.

“WHAT OLDER FRIENDS IF THEY’RE YOUNGER THAN ME.”

They end up dragging a fuming Zenitsu away from there. The boy lets out curses and insults under his breath, very fitting for his supposed new adulthood. In an attempt to calm him down, Tanjiro suggests they go grab something to eat.

The tallest of the three finds some chicken and vegetable skewers and, with them in hand, the group of friends goes to sit by the river that runs close to the village. Zenitsu devours his skewer with unnecessary violence, almost as if he wanted to release his anger on it. Inosuke, after watching him for a bit, proceeds to try and eat with even more ferocity than him. From the other side of the now older boy, Tanjiro throws them a bemused glance before turning to stare at the river.

The wheat-coloured light falls lazily over the crystal-clear water. The blue and orange sky with touches of indigo reflects among the rocks and the moss-covered edges of the river basin. The singing of the currents that run from side to side sprinkles their newly started conversation. Zenitsu is now complaining about being considered old enough to kill demons, but too young to drink sake. Inosuke just growls every now and then, his mind probably more focused on the possibility of going to buy some more skewers. Tanjiro smiles appeasingly at his friend.

“Maybe it’s better this way. We don’t know how we might get if we drink” he tries to reason. But Zenitsu only snorts.

“And we’ll never know if we don’t try! Who’s that old man to tell me what I can and can’t do?!”

“Come on now, Zen…” but Tanjiro’s next attempt at soothing his friend is interrupted by Inosuke’s exclamation.

“That’s enough!” He shouts, now himself annoyed. “I’ll go get that damned sake if that’ll make you shut up!”

He stands up all of a sudden, not waiting for an answer, and with huge strides he makes his way to the market. Zenitsu and Tanjiro watch him leave in silence, until they see him disappear, and then they look at each other.

“Why didn’t you tell us that it was your birthday?” Tanjiro asks, drawing on the fact that Zenitsu has finally stopped his blabbering.

The other boy blinks.

“Oh… well… I didn’t think it was an important piece of information” he shrugs. Tanjiro frowns slightly.

“Why wouldn’t it be important?”

“Why would it be?”

“Because it’s your birthday!”

Zenitsu shrugs again.

“I never celebrated any of my birthdays.”

“…”

Tanjiro stops himself right on time, just before asking him why. He’s almost certain he knows the why. Zenitsu told them before. He’s an orphan. In fact, it’s already good enough that he at least knows the exact date of his birthday. Tanjiro also avoids asking him if it’s the real date or if he just made one up.

“But this is your 17th birthday” he manages at last to find something to say. “It’s important. Now you can be considered an adult.”

“It’s not like that’s the best thing that can happen to anyone, right?” The other answers with a small smile. Tanjiro smiles back and reaches up to shuffle his hair, a terribly affectionate gesture that, in the past, used to be reserved only for his brothers and sisters.

“To me and Inosuke it is important. Not only this year, but also the years to come. Your life continuing, that’s what’s important.”

Tanjiro hears himself talking and he’s not sure of what he has just said, but he sees Zenitsu’s expression become serious and his enormous golden eyes engulf him. A slight blush makes its way into his cheeks. Then, Zenitsu turns his face away.

“Before” he says after a moment, “you said that we don’t know how we might get if we drink” he turns again to look at him. “What made you think that I was going to share my sake with you, child?”

Tanjiro laughs and pokes him in the arm, making Zenitsu smile too.

“I would be an irresponsible adult if I let some kids like yourselves drink!”

“What kids? I’m taller than you.”

“By like half an inch!”

“So? That is half an inch of additional wisdom, maturity and adulthood.”

“Right! If we follow that logic, then the day that Inosuke is taller than us, we’ll have to accept that he’s the wisest, the most mature and the most adult-like.”

They stare at each other for a moment.

By the time Inosuke is walking back, he catches the other two bursting in laughter. The boar boy watches them and takes his time to decide to finally interrupt them.

When he arrives, Inosuke has come with what he promised. He carries in his hands a not-too-big bottle of sake.

“Here” he throws it at Zenitsu, who barely manages to catch it in the air, falling short of dropping it. Zenitsu throws him a murderous glare, but he slowly mellows when he remembers that, in fact, Inosuke has brought him exactly what he wanted.

So now he smiles. He smiles, but then he realizes that the other two are just staring at him, with some sort of mesmerized expressions on their faces.

“What’s wrong with you guys?” He asks. Tanjiro snaps back to reality, as if he had just been snatched away from a dream.

“Are you… going to try it?” He then questions, trying to recover from the effect that seeing Zenitsu’s luminous smiles always provokes in him. The latter nods cheerfully.

“Of course! I’m not going to waste my opportunity now that Inosuke has gotten it!” He proceeds to open the small bottle. “And, just so you guys can see how kind I am, and only because you’re in the company of a responsible adult, I will let you try a bit, too.”

Half an hour later, the three of them are lying down on the grass, feeling dizzy.

Zenitsu is, no doubt, the one who has ended up in the worst state. He drank more, and he’s also smaller and skinnier. His body has less mass to distribute the alcohol through. So, his cheeks are red and his eyelids are half-closed. He gazes up at the sky, vast and already dark, full of stars. After a moment, he raises a hand and points a finger upwards.

“Your hair reminds me of the sky at night, Inosuke” he says, his voice soupy. Inosuke, now without the mask, blinks, but doesn’t answer. Tanjiro intervenes.

“And yours reminds me of the sun in the mornings, Zenitsu” he can’t stop himself from saying. “You two are my days and my nights.”

Zenitsu turns his head in his direction. He stares at him with some sort of unconcealable adoration in his gaze, as if he was seeing one of the most glorious stars that hide in the firmament descend and take a human form, eyes and hair the colour of wild cherries.

Slowly, Zenitsu slides one hand over the grass, trying to reach Tanjiro’s. However, before he manages to do it, the act is interrupted by another unexpected motion.

Inosuke suddenly appears in their midst, throwing himself on all fours in the space that separates them. Still lying down, they jump in surprise and stare up at him. Inosuke looks back and forth between the two, frowning, as if he was focused on trying to decide what to do next. Then, raising both hands, he cups with one of them Zenitsu’s face and with the other Tanjiro’s.

He plunges down first over Zenitsu and licks his lips. Then he straightens and he now descends upon Tanjiro, proceeding to do exactly the same.

Now, he gets up and, as suddenly as he did everything else, he lets out a euphoric scream, goes to pick up his boar mask, puts it back on and runs off.

Zenitsu and Tanjiro watch him go. Then they exchange looks.

And after that they laugh.