Most university students in Tanjirou’s position wouldn’t be up yet.
From the viewpoint of their many friends and classmates, he was actually extremely lucky. The inevitable struggle associated with the dreaded date when the online course registration opened was only compounded by last-minute website crashes, time conflicts, and concurrent classes that had to be taken together. Time slots that happened at noon were the first to go. After that were the evening ones. If you had the guts to sleep in or go out on the day of course registration, then it was a VIP guarantee ticket to be stuck with all the morning blocks.
Considering that his siblings were the ones who set the alarm, Tanjirou remembers thanking them for trying to ease his life at least a little. He worked two part-time jobs on the weekend and some evenings so getting the extra time to sleep-in a little felt like heaven.
Which is why, six-thirty am and before the sun was even up, Tanjirou felt bad about wasting all of their efforts.
He couldn’t help it though! One look at his roommate’s completely morning schedule combined with his stress-filled countenance was enough to send Tanjirou over the edge in worry. The least he could do was ensure that the other got a proper breakfast every morning rather than whatever sugary drink he would otherwise purchase at the coffee shop while rushing to class. Dormitory life wasn’t easy and Tanjirou wasn’t about to fall into the habit of microwave food and take-out. It wasn’t a waste—and anyone who tried to convince him otherwise was promptly ignored.
A rush of peach blossoms wafted into his nose. “...Tanjirou?”
There he was. Tanjirou turned around, half of a rice ball ready in his hands to face the owner of the voice that he already loved (?) hearing every day. “Zenitsu, good mornin-!” He stopped.
Clad in pajamas, sleepy half-lid golden eyes peered back at him. Partly in annoyance but mostly still stuck in a daze, short-cut cropped hair that usually bunched up was tangled in knots of yellow fluff. It reminded him of how Hanako or Nezuko’s hair would coil in loops after playing outside. The usual nervous spark to his scent was gone, replaced by the peaceful ties of sleep and settling into a sweet aroma of his mother’s favourite flowers. Tanjirou didn’t know how to describe the way the dulled light from sunrise filtered through the curtains just to bathe the person in front of him in warmth as anything other than homey.
Tanjirou dropped his spoon.
Surprisingly, the soft image wasn’t ruined when Zenitsu oscillated between glaring at him and the cutlery on the floor. Unfortunately, in his sleep-riddled state, it came off as more of a pout from an angry kitten (Tanjirou really liked cats). “Why are you up so early? You only have afternoon classes! Did something happen?! W-Wait, d-did I mix up the schedules?! Did I miss my first lesson?!”
The exclamation was enough for Tanjirou to snap out of before Zenitsu noticed his brain-dead stare. The blond was loud in the morning. It kind of reminded him of Rokuta when he’d screech at ungodly hours of the night. Or maybe it was more like the sun peeking out from between two blinds and hitting your eyes as a way of welcoming you to the new day. “No, Zenitsu...! You didn’t mistake the schedules. You’re up at the right time. You still have forty minutes to get there. It’s okay!”
“FORTY MINUTES...?!” Well, that didn’t work. Despite Zenitsu’s erratic movements, red eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the way that his sleeves were slightly too long for him, engulfing his fingers into tiny cloth paws. It was cute, just like Shigeru. “I was supposed to get up TWENTY minutes ago! Now I won’t have time to triple-check my bag! I still need to make food and shower. Oh my god! This day is already going to be a disaster. I just knew it would turn out like this!”
The blond ignored him, racing into the door that split off his room from the small living area. The hatch had a little welcome plaque with sparrows on it. “Chuntaro...! Please don’t tell me that you pooped all over you cage AGAIN! I told you to do it just before I clean it, NOT RIGHT AFTER!”
“Ah, forget it!” There was the sound of blankets thrown about and wardrobes being open. Tanjirou could already imagine what was obscured from his sight by a wall. It was every high school student’s worst-case scenario of what it would be like living in a dormitory. Zenitsu screamed again. “WHERE ARE MY GLOVES?! OH MY GOD, I FORGOT THEM AT GRAMP’S HOUSE!! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME! I’M GOING TO DIE!”
Tanjirou cautiously stepped closer to the room in worry, knocking on the wood. “Zenitsu--”
The door slammed open inwards. Almost like he didn’t even see his roommate, the blond scurried out with a bundle of clothes and about three assortments of different bath towels in his arms. He whammed the entryway to their shared bathroom closed only to practically rip it open off its frame again a mere second later. “SHAMPOO...! WHY IS MY SHAMPOO ALREADY EMPTY?!”
His scent was really souring. “Zenitsu--”
“Is this a prank?! Did Kaigaku—OH MY GOD! HE DID!” Tanjirou was cut off for the third time. He felt a significant twitch in his brow, caused by the bubbling annoyance as Zenitsu rushed past him again to shove his luggage open. But almost as soon as it was born, it died out when he caught the after scent of salt in the air. “Why would he—ARGH! I knew it! I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle this! He told me to go to university in twenty years when I grew up and he was right. I’m going to miss my first class, fail the exam, get kicked out, t-then Gramps will...!”
Tears, Zenitsu was crying.
Something came over him then. Maybe it was his eldest brother instinct to comfort when someone was in trouble. Maybe it was the image of that sleep-riddled blond with eyes radiating sunlight rubbing at his eyes in frustration and despair. Tanjirou wouldn’t have known then. But it was enough motivation for him to step forward and take Zenitsu into his arms in a comforting hug.
His roommate reacted almost instantly, flinching slightly. “What... Tanjirou-?”
“Shhh,” this was something he did that comforted his siblings a lot when they were upset. Sure enough, he felt shaking cloth shoulders slump the slightest from where one of his palms rested as his fingers drew comforting circles. “Calm down. You’re okay. You can do this.”
Zenitsu hiccupped past his tears. Slowly but surely, it may’ve been five minutes, the bitter tang of hysteria calmed back into a peaceful serenity. It was nice. Tanjirou decided right then. His leg was beginning to fall asleep from their position on the carpeted floor but that didn’t change his sentiment.
Tanjirou only knew to let go when he felt the body encased in his arms shake again but this time in giggles. Two orbs peered up at him when sand-like lashes parted. It was like joy was flowing out of him and it couldn’t be held back, spilling off of him in rays of light. “What the hell...? We just met a week ago but you’re already doing this for me. There’s absolutely something really wrong with you.”
He was just like sunshine.
The final blow, the finisher to Tanjirou’s poor heart, was the smile that Zenitsu sent his way. The sun probably had something against Tanjirou for when it hit him again, golden eyes shone with both fading tears. “Thank you.”
Tanjirou wouldn’t have been able to stop it even if he wanted to (he didn’t). Just like that time when Hanako was sick, he felt the overwhelming need to protect light fire in his heart. He couldn’t control his other hand that slid up from its spot on the blond’s shoulders so to cradle the back of his head. Treasuring that smile, that ray of sunshine that he saw, he leaned forward enough until his lips touched warm skin like a leaf falling in a pond.
It was over before either of them knew it. Zenitsu reached up, touching his forehead in between two stray strands of blond locks from where Tanjirou kissed. It didn’t take long for his entire face to burn. “Wh-Wha-WHAT...?!”
And Tanjirou, the genius behind all of this, stood up abruptly to whip around and exclaim. “I made breakfast for you! Let’s eat first then we can go shopping for some new shampoo later!” His ears were red. Zenitsu rubbed his eyes so to confirm that it was the trick of the light but it wasn’t.
Needless to say, Tanjirou began waking up at six-thirty every morning. He thought it was because he liked helping people and Zenitsu was no exception. He convinced himself it wasn’t also because he wanted just one more glance at the sleep-riddled expression of his roommate radiating like sunlight every morning. It obviously wasn’t getting just one more whiff of peach blossoms that highlighted the rest of his day and filled his heart with energy. But if he voiced any of that out loud, it’d be an outright lie.
There was one time when Tanjirou slept in.
It was a Monday because of course it was. He’d just returned from overtime at a local restaurant after there were one too many late-night patrons and he couldn’t bring himself to leave his co-worker and friend Genya by himself. It was well past midnight by the time he crashed in his mattress with his work clothes still on. But Tanjirou was a stubborn guy. He still remembered to set his alarm for six-thirty as always. He swears that he did.
Yet he still overslept. It’s possible that he didn’t hear it or that in his fuddled state, turned it off when it rung without any recollection of doing so. But the fact of the matter was that by the time Tanjirou woke up that day, it was already almost lunch and he only had an hour to get to his first class.
Dragging himself out of bed, he flopped his feet into fluffy slippers. Not aware that his leg had fallen asleep, he tumbled to the floor like a ragdoll. Despite sleeping longer than he’s ever had since starting university, he’s never felt so un-rested. Gawking at his white ceiling (and poster above his desk of famous doctor Tamayo that Nezuko gifted him) for a good minute, Tanjirou finally found it within himself to muster up enough power to head to the bathroom. From his peripheral, he could see where Zenitsu’s door was wide open and the room was empty.
It was storming outside.
Bloodshot eyes blurred with crust. He went to wipe away the sleep from them only to drop his toothbrush—face down and affectively forcing him to wash it and reapply the paste, into the sink. While brushing, stiff arms underestimated the location of front teeth and ended up nearly lodging the soap-covered bristle into his nostril. Getting dressed, Tanjirou stubbed his left pinky toe against a bed leg (ouch!). And as he fried some vegetables to take to class with him, he accidentally tipped the pan over with his elbow while reaching for the salt.
Tanjirou stared at the ruined peas on the tile. He felt a headache coming on.
Walking through the doors of his history class, Inosuke was the first to greet him with crossed arms and a huff. “Gonpachiro, guess what happened to me yesterday!”
“I got picked by the soccer team!” The boar-man who refused to take off his mask until the exact second classes start laughed boisterously. “It was a piece of cake.”
“Tanjirou,” Kanao was the one to look up from her notebook in concern. “Are you okay?”
The addressed sighed, supporting his head with both arms. He glared as hard as someone like himself who couldn’t hurt a fly could glare at the poor blackboard eraser sitting innocently on the teacher’s desk. Tanjirou had never felt so tired in his entire life. Yet, he knew he wasn’t capable of lying about the reason why. “The sunshine didn’t come today.”
“Oh... I suppose it has been pretty rainy out.”
Not sure how else to address the issue, it wasn’t like she could somehow will the weather to change, Kanao returned back to reviewing her notes with an apologetic smile. Lectures started not soon after. Professor Urokodaki wasted no time in diving right into the new content without a single stutter in his demeanor. Although strict, he ended all of his class with Kahoot quizzes where students could vote for the correct answer through their phones. After each lecture, their performance was ranked based on number of correct answers and time it took to complete. In hindsight, it was actually an ingenious idea since it got students like Inosuke to actually pay attention.
While Tanjirou usually scored the highest, his phone dropped three times in that class alone and he couldn’t find himself to focus. His thoughts kept drifting to what Zenitsu ate that morning. His fingers cooled and stiffened in trepidation over whether the other had a breakdown and Tanjirou was too selfish to be awake and comfort him for it. His brain kept conjuring images of how blond hair would stick up adorably this time—
Before he knew it, the end-of-class review ended with him in last place. Tanjirou got up from his seat with a sigh after apologizing to Urokodaki from his spot in the front row. The old man simply nodded at him, handing Tanjirou his assignment back from last week. He made to get up from his seat and leave when someone charged into his back and head-butt him from behind.
“MONJIROU...! Stop mopping about your crush already and get your act together! I focused hard this time around to beat you but you didn’t even try. Are you throwing in the towel?!”
Tanjirou choked on his spit. “W-Wait. What did you just say, Inosuke?”
Inosuke huffed. “I told you to get your act together! Give me more of a challenge next time.”
“S-Sorry, I will and I promise.” The hanafuda-earring boy shook his head. “But I meant to address the part before that where you said I had a crush. What makes you think that?”
“Oh, your crush...!” Inosuke always had a loud booming voice. While no one in their friend group usually minded, at that moment, Tanjirou felt awful about hating that fact. Several heads looked towards them in curiosity. However, one smile from Kanao who was also listening in had everyone back to minding their own business again and piling out of the room. “I just had a feeling!”
Tanjirou’s entire face went rouge. He felt especially horrified as thoughts of the previous few weeks, what Zenitsu was doing to his heart flashed in his head. It made sense. Why he felt the need to make the other happy all the time. It wasn’t completely platonic to want to bury his nose in someone’s neck and breathe in the scent of blossoms in the morning. Tanjirou sure didn’t want to do that with anyone else. But was it really true? And if it was, was it that obvious? Had Kamado Tanjirou been neglecting all of his siblings’ hard work to get him an easier schedule, for a crush? “What do you mean...?!”
Oh, those were famous last words.
“You have this grossly happy aura about you recently. Plus you were giving off the same vibe as those birds in my yard that blow up all their feathers to impress a potential mate. Now you’re all mopey like an alpha wolf that lost a fight to claim an omega.” Kanao covered her mouth with a hand as if to gesture ‘oh my.’ Tanjirou yelped. But for all of his embarrassment in the world accumulating into this one moment, Inosuke already looked bored of this conversation and like he’d rather move on. “Just hurry up and get better already, dammit!”
“Is it true, Tanjirou?”
The addressed tried to escape the conversation by picking up his bag and meandering his way out of the room. However, the curious glance of Kanao had his guilt snapping not even a few seconds later. “I-I DON’T THINK SO...!” His face twisted, eyeballs veiny and mouth shaping into a scoff while his cheeks inflated. It had Kanao look at Inosuke in question.
And Inosuke, who’d known him since high school, totally abandoned all pretense of having Tanjirou’s back in this situation. “That means that he’s lying.”
Kanao’s expression only seemed to grow more pleasantly surprised by the minute. “Congratulations, Tanjirou. I hope you two will live happily ever after.”
At that, Tanjirou promptly walked right into the door frame.
His day didn’t end there, unfortunately. Now sporting a bandage from where he nearly broke his nose, a sticky bag from when he accidentally spilled the entire contents of his juice box onto the floor, and seven missed calls from his second job that phoned in for a last-minute shift, he scrambled into the department store with his uniform on backwards and that headache stronger than ever.
“Took you long enough...!” Akaza barked at him unnecessarily from his spot in the adjacent cash register. “What’s with the outfit? If you don’t hurry, I’m going to tell the big boss that you were late and out buying cigarettes!”
Tanjirou was just so done with this day. “Akaza-senpai, with all due respect, I’d rather die than cover for the cigarettes you steal from the rack every Tuesday.”
The older man shut up after that.
It was close to midnight again when he found his key card and struggled with the doorknob to his shared dormitory. Despite the plight in his head caused by being compared to a bird, he set his alarm again. Despite the ache in his limbs from the effective worst day of his life since starting university, Tanjirou couldn’t help but lament ah, I probably can’t see Zenitsu tomorrow either.
But he was wrong. Making his way into the room, what he faced wasn’t a dark corridor with silence so palpable that it rung in his ears. Instead, there was a lamp light on beside the tiny living room couch. The distinctive scent of an old book being turned coloured Tanjirou shocked. It was only second to the sight of familiar dandelion-like hair. He dropped his keys. “Z-Zenitsu...? Don’t you have an early class tomorrow? You shouldn’t be up late.”
Like a bolt of lightning, it felt like the taller of the two simply blinked and Zenitsu was already upon him. “I shouldn’t be up late?! Excuse me if I don’t think you’re the right person to tell me that! Waking up so early every morning just to make breakfast for us when you work until THIS TIME, you’re unbelievable, Tanjirou!”
“Did...” Tanjirou blinked, feeling overwhelmed. “Did you wait for me to come back just to say that?”
“SO WHAT IF I DID, HUH...?! DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY LOGIC?!” And there he was again, yelling at Tanjirou with eyes glaring so sharply that they could cut. They reminded him of lightning strikes that illuminated the sky when the sun felt like hiding behind anger. “I thought it was weird when you weren’t around this morning so I figured I’d stay up and find out what time you got back every night. I expected late, but NOT THIS LATE! The buses aren’t even running! My eyes are so droopy they feel like they’re going to fall out. This isn’t normal, this definitely isn’t normal!”
“I’m... sorry?” That was all he could manage to say.
“ARGH-!” As if a cord snapped, rage faded to make way for exasperation. “Please, why do I have to deal with this suffering? This shouldn’t be my problem. I didn’t ask for a roommate like this...!”
That hurt more than it should. Some ringing pain that spelled rejection in big bold letters tied his lungs closed. Tanjirou felt it deep inside of him but, he was the eldest son and couldn’t let it show. It didn’t matter that wishing him good morning every day became a necessity for Tanjirou even more than the need to see that the sun has truly risen. It didn’t matter that being forced apart from the blond suddenly felt a lot more suffocating than it should. If that’s what Zenitsu wanted then... “Should I file a request to change rooms?”
There’s a pause. Tanjirou can almost feel the gears turning in Zenitsu’s head.
“I NEVER SAID THAT!” His friend’s head snapped up. “Stop thinking that it always has to be you who does everything! I can cook too, okay?! If you just asked, I could’ve stayed up late once in a while and shared dinner with you so then you can sleep in during the mornings! All it takes is a little bit of thought to realize that we could’ve alternated every other day or switched each week. It’s not like I need a good breakfast all the time, you know! They say dinner and lunch are also very important. You need AT LEAST three meals yet you’re neglecting all those others just to be A MORON!”
Zenitsu is cut off suddenly when the sensation of his wrist being grabbed colours his face pink. Tanjirou has his palm held in the gentlest way possible, with touch as soft and kind as his very sound. Amber eyes gleamed as the man owning them stepped closer. There was a burst of affection rising up in his chest. Tanjirou knew that and felt his instinct take over. “Zenitsu, do you really mean that?”
When his roommate didn’t recoil back, Tanjirou counted that as a win. The revelation from earlier, the revelation of his possible growing feelings, makes his next action more purposeful. Tanjirou wasn’t thinking of ever really acting on them. It was just a shallow crush. But as the sight of that rounded skin warmed by pink from below golden orbs glowed like cherry blossoms under the sunlight, he found himself throwing all resolve out the window.
So Tanjirou crouches down the slightest to land the sweetest peck against his right cheek. His nose brushes against blond locks for a split second and he can’t help but revel in the scent of citrus kicked up by the small motion that made this entire day seem brighter.
If Zenitsu’s cheeks glow fiercer, if he screeches and proceeds to smack his hand against Tanjirou’s own face a couple times, then perhaps he is a bit of a moron for only laughing in response.
Welcome back, my sunshine.
As soon as his first semester is over, his parents start insisting on the phone that at least someone in their family take the four hour commute on the highway to visit him. The suggestion had Tanjirou tearing up. They wanted to assure that he was looked after but at the same time, gave him enough space to truly get settled in. They really were the best mom and dad that he could ask for. Even as Tanjurou Kamado had to slowly make his way into the elevator on his wheelchair with Kie pushing him behind and Nezuko nearly bumped into a trolley while they avoided several other students looking to return home for the weekend, Tanjirou couldn’t be any happier.
When the eldest son of their family beeped his royal blue card and flashed the entryway with a flourish, his dad whistled while his mom and sister clapped and giggled. “It’s sparkling! I’m quite impressed, Tanjirou. I know you love to clean but I wasn’t sure if the luxuries of dormitory life would convince you to live in a pigsty-”
“Your father thought you’d greet us at the door with piercings and black lipstick.” Kie cut in.
“D-Dear...!” He laughed. “You’re exaggerating.”
“Oh, someone here was all right.”
Tanjirou wasted no time in seating his family by the small table. He poured milk for all of them, careful to hand the lightest plastic cup to his dad while Nezuko and Kie sported glassware. His little sister was the first to break the comfortable silence. “So nii-chan, where is your roommate? I hope we’re not intruding.”
“Not at all! He’s out buying groceries since it’s his turn to cook tonight.”
Kie smiled pleasantly. “That’s nice that he’d do that for you. I hope that the two of you aren’t eating too much take-out or frozen foods. A warm home-cooked meal is what’s best for keeping your minds fresh while studying. If you ever need some extra meat or vegetables, we can bring some over.”
“Thank you, mom.” Tanjirou really meant those words. He doesn’t think he could’ve ended up where he was if it wasn’t for all the support his parents gave him. The boy found himself a seat a little ways away from them in a chair against the wall. “That’s not necessary though. Zenitsu is almost as good of a cook as me. We agreed on seared salmon tonight and casserole with bacon stuffed in crescent rolls tomorrow morning. He usually handles dinner every first day and I take breakfast every second day.”
“What about studying?” His father pipes up, hand twitching as he set the cup back down on the counter. “I hope it isn’t too loud around here.”
“Oh! Zenitsu and I have a study schedule on the refrigerator so we can let each other know when the other has a big exam coming up. We always check before inviting people over.” He gestures to the machine where sure enough, a calendar was posted with different coloured markers inking its pages. They could only assume that the green was Tanjirou while the orange was his roommate. If one were to squint, which the Kamado family did, they could spot a few motivational notes pinned up with little flower magnets.
To the asshole who I shall not name because he keeps leaving sandwiches for me: this is ridiculous. We are adults, not children. Please take responsibility for your actions and consider my health. I will get FAT! Stop buying me stuff!
To Mister Turkey and Caesar Sub: never <3
Look in the fridge.
I am not eating this entire tub of frozen yogurt by myself D:
Now you know how I feel. Walk a mile in my shoes and SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!
Nezuko raised a brow and—oh, Tanjirou recognized that look. “Sounds like nii-chan already planned on settling down with this boy.”
“It- It’s...” not like that. But ah, that’d be a lie. Flashes of what happened with Kanao and Inosuke assaulted his poor mind of that rock bottom moment. It’d be a lie that Tanjirou would obviously give away so he pursed his lips with a pout, opting to change topics instead. “WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE BATHROOM TOO? I found these really nice shower curtains at the store!”
Kie and Tanjurou share a knowing look but let their son go for the day.
The next hour is pleasant. Kie fussed a bit here and there about the decor. Nezuko poked and prodded at the various pieces of furniture. When Tanjirou brought out his step ladder to show them another part of the room higher up, his father pat him on the head affectionately. It was nearing late afternoon when Tanjurou had to excuse himself to the accessibility bathroom. Kie was quick to volunteer to supervise him from outside the door lest something happened.
That left Tanjirou and Nezuko alone in the former’s room. She made herself a seat at the edge of his bed, blinking in slight surprise when she noticed the face of Tamayo on the wall. “I gave that poster to you as a joke. I can’t believe you kept it.”
“Anything from Nezuko will be something that your nii-chan cherishes!” He sat down beside her.
His little sister laughed at that. It wasn’t an uproarious one like Inosuke’s or an overflow of bubbly happiness like Zenitsu’s more than it resembled a dainty and quiet one. “Oh no. I’m sorry. I should’ve gotten you something better then. Here, I brought this for you to make up for it.” Reaching into her pocket, she produced a cute little wrapped package in pink patterns.
“Ah, you didn’t have to! Thank you.” Tanjirou took the gift with a beam on his face. Carefully unfolding the package so to not rip the paper, he found that smile growing wider when he revealed a scarf of checkered green. It looked to be a new and improved version of the first one that she had ever sewn. “It’s beautiful. Nezuko, you’ve improved so much!”
“Oh, stop. You know I’ve been practicing a lot--”
There was a knock that interrupted them. The sound of his bedroom door opening followed soon after. “Tanjirou, I didn’t see anyone outside so--” Zenitsu cut himself off as he froze at the sight of the girl in the room. Like time stood still, all three of them stared at each other. Pink met gold, then gold met amber, before straying back to pink. A single breath, Tanjirou is pretty sure it’s Nezuko’s, sounds between the three of them. Then, like a dam was broken, Zenitsu screeches.
“I’M SORRY...! When you said that you were going to bring family over, I didn’t think you meant a girlfriend or fiancée! OH MY GOD! Did I ruin a moment? DID I STOP SOMETHING FROM HAPPENING?! You were off about to make out with a pretty girl and I interrupted it—ARRRGH!”
It was like the blond wasn’t sure what out of four emotions to feel: embarrassment at seeing such a cute woman, horror at catching his roommate in the act, anger that Tanjirou kept this from him and would get married before him, or hurt. Just, hurt. Quick as a bolt, Zenitsu slammed the door shut again. There was a shuffle of bags being dropped off on the counter. It’s followed by a squeak resembling the poor stressed boy’s voice. “I’ll leave you two alone now! Uh, feel FREE to make as much noise as possible! TANJIROU, WE ARE TOTALLY TALKING ABOUT HOW MUCH OF A SLY BASTARD YOU ARE LATER--”
The front gate creaks and clicks to indicate that he’s gone. There’s a moment of nothing. Tanjirou is sure he’s able to count to four as what exactly happened is still processing in his mind.
Nezuko shoots up with the worst glare Tanjirou has ever seen from her. “What are you doing, nii-chan?! GO AFTER HIM!”
That seems to be all the encouragement that the eldest brother needs. He’s out the door and chasing after his roommate by the time he reaches eight. He can smell the blond in his long trench coat and yellow scarf boarding the elevator as he counts to thirteen and before he can see him. It’s with great disdain that Tanjirou tries to catch up but the inevitable ding indicating that he just missed the closing metal doors sends his core into a fleeting winter.
Abandoning all logical thought process, Tanjirou shoots himself down the stairway that’s a few doors down. Yes, it’s seven flights. Yes, he has to beat an elevator to get there but he somehow manages. The lingering scent of peach in the hallway on the first floor is the only clue he gets that Zenitsu isn’t far. Tanjirou crosses past the lobby without looking once at the receptionist and jogs out into the muddy fall weather in only his slippers. Heart in his throat and gulping in air, he eventually spots the blond, his sunshine, trekking uneasily on the sidewalk.
Tanjirou doesn’t waste any time. He’s caught up within seconds and grabs onto the other’s wrist with gasping breaths. “Z-Zenitsu...!”
The addressed turns around. Tanjirou feels his lungs freezing over when he can catch a whiff of the beginning of tears clouding golden eyes. It’s not the normal way that Zenitsu cried when he was stressed or worried. There’s an emotion that he can’t read at all in there, but all Tanjirou can interpret of it is that he doesn’t like it and never wants to see it again. Zenitsu is quick to blink them away. The blond whips his head back forward to stare at a tree. The fact that he tries to hide them only fuels the aggravation in Tanjirou’s gut further.
“Tanjirou, what are you doing?” His voice was weirdly steady.
“What am I doing...? I came to get you. It’s not a family dinner without you.” His own callused hand gives Zenitsu’s a light squeeze. He hears the other take a deep breath, as if psyching himself up for something, before his roommate faced him again, sad aura (almost) completely gone.
“YOU BASTARD!” Zenitsu moves to smack him in the head. The exclamation is loud just like Zenitsu always is, but Tanjirou can’t help but see the rain obscured by haphazardly drawn rays of sun. “So you’ve been skipping around enjoying university life in la-la land with some girl this entire time, HUH! That’s how it is, I see! All those times you went out to study or work, you were actually sneaking out to meet her. How inconsiderate of single people like me to not take your schooling seriously! THIS IS AN IMPORTANT TIME, TANJIROU! OUR FUTURES ARE BEING DECIDED. BEING A STUDENT IS REAL BUSINESS, YOU KNOW!”
And suddenly, a lot about Zenitsu made so much more sense to Tanjirou.
Zenitsu flinches back, still glaring. “Sorry doesn’t cut it, buddy! Mourn properly for the sins you’ve committed and reflect seriously--”
“I’m sorry that you have to hide your true feelings like this all the time.” That cracking sound of teeth hitting teeth as his friend shuts up into dead silence is chilling, but it gives Tanjirou the vantage to continue speaking. “That girl is Nezuko. She’s my little sister. I love her but not in that way, not the same way that I feel for you. Neither of you can compare to each other. I don’t find your personality annoying at all so please don’t try to push me away with it anymore.”
As Tanjirou lifts their joined hands, Zenitsu’s own pale and delicate fingers held gently in his own rough palm, he can feel that the both of them are shaking. Still he doesn’t hesitate to plow forward by placing an apologetic and comforting kiss on the other’s knuckles. They’re soft under his lips, just like how he’d imagine bathing in summer would feel like. “I promise that nothing that’s been happening between us these past few months is a lie.”
When Zenitsu lets his tears fall properly this time, Tanjirou offers his arms and a shoulder for the other to sob in. He learns that day that when Zenitsu is truly hurt by something, he’s a really silent crier.
It’s Tanjirou who kisses Zenitsu first.
Contrary to what he thought first kisses were like as painted by media, it wasn’t a gigantic affair or a contest of screams in the rain. It was actually pretty mortifying how it happened. By then, they’ve known each other for a whole year. It seemed natural that when the second semester ended and it came time for them to part ways for the summer that they agreed to stay roommates. Tanjirou didn’t like to think of how Zenitsu was a year above and he’d probably be left alone in his final last months.
No, scratch that. He really didn’t like to think about it.
Especially not right after the two of them just recently reunited after three months without the other’s presence. Sure, they kept in touch. Phone calls turned into frequent video chats that had to be abruptly cut off when one of them took a vacation somewhere. Those were some of the most difficult weeks that Tanjirou had to go through. He missed his family and loved being with them again, but it felt like he only just got a taste of sun only to have it ripped away. Now everything was great again. Now, Tanjirou could finally rest assured that his mornings no longer had to be dull and he could see the cute crinkle in Zenitsu’s eyes again.
It made sense that the first order of business before school started was to buy supplies. The two of them left the bus and gazed up at the IKEA building that stretched wide and housed a variety of new furniture. Tanjirou just wanted a new desk lamp. Zenitsu needed a replacement sliding compartment on his desk. They also wanted a new coffee maker. That was it. But after the thrill over seeing each other had died down a little, they both disclosed their shopping lists. In that second, it was like the single brain cell they shared got shocked by waves from outer space. Suddenly, both cracked wide smiles and they shot each other the same excited look.
With no words exchanged, it was somehow agreed upon that a trip to IKEA was needed.
“Considering that we live in the same space, both occupy the kitchen, and agreed to split the bill, I will listen to your opinions on what you think is best.” Zenitsu starts eloquently from between one modern-style bedroom display and a shelf of dishes. Even in the bright lights of an IKEA, his hair shone radiantly like strands of gold. “With that out of the way, it’s my coffee maker.”
He interrupts Tanjirou before the other can burst out laughing. “I’m serious, Tanjirou! I know what your tastes are. We are not and I repeat NOT getting a coffee maker with a checkered pattern. You’re the very best at cooking, but you’re virtually blind in four dimensions when it comes to making coffee! You know that stain on the ceiling? Yeah, you thought I didn’t notice it?! It appeared there right before our old coffee maker magically broke and YOU had the dorm to yourself!”
“There’s nothing wrong with checkered!” Despite the statement, the addressed looks down in shame. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be! I seriously thought that someone broke in and stole something. I almost had a heart attack, you know!” Zenitsu is about to begin on another tirade but, seeing red eyes looking glum, he stops. He screeches in a way that would crack the glass next to him if it were any higher. “UGH! This is so not worth the trouble! Why do I have to deal with this all day?! Okay, FINE! We’ll get the checkered one from the ad that you liked.”
“DON’T HUG ME. I’M STILL MAD AT YOU!”
It was a half-hour later as they sported a checkered-patterned coffee maker and a checkered-pattern desk lamp—oh, what has Zenitsu’s life become-- that Tanjirou voiced his need to go to the restroom. He felt a little insulted when all the blond said in response was “don’t go into one of the displays. I swear I will be so embarrassed and abandon you right there if you do.”
Tanjirou huffed, glaring at the back of that (sun-like) head. “Have more faith in me, Zenitsu! I won’t embarrass you like that.”
“Oi, please worry more about the repercussions of how that would embarrass you--”
“I’ll give you a text message when I’m done. We can decide where to meet up then! Just keep looking around by yourself, okay?” And Tanjirou hurried out of there before he could hear the end of that rant, too distracted by his more urgent matters. The bathroom is far, practically on the other side of the building and wedged next to the baby displays and toys. Tanjirou feels a little triumphant when he successfully locates the male and female stick figures. See, Zenitsu? You don’t have to worry at all! He hurries to the correct room.
When he emerges back out, he wipes his wet hands on the hem of his green plaid hoodie before taking his phone out from his pants pocket. Pressing the on button, Tanjirou waits.
Then, with mounting horror, he realizes that his phone is dead.
Zenitsu had just pinpointed the perfect desk with a sliding compartment the shade of pale yellow and with a triangular pattern on it, when the intercom above blasts at nearly full volume.
“Agatsuma Zenitsu, your child is waiting for you in register 5.” The voice rings over the entire IKEA store.
The blond marches there and sure enough, he finds his roommate seated pathetically on a bench with a fifty-cent ice cream in his hands. Tanjirou smiles sheepishly. He waves but nothing can dull the flames of rage that spewed from Zenitsu like poison. “TAN-JI-ROU...!”
“I can explain.” He tries to defend himself.
It doesn’t work, especially not when the poor man feels his shoulders being grabbed and shaken with an intensity that burned of a thousand suns. “SO THAT’S HOW IT IS, HUH! I ALREADY HAVE A CHILD TO TAKE CARE OF BEFORE I GET TO EXPERIENCE THE PLEASURES OF BEING MARRIED OR EVEN GETTING A GIRLFRIEND! This is ABSOLUTELY YOUR FAULT! I’ll never forgive you! TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, TANJIROU!”
“I-I’ll take responsibility. I pr-promise!” Tanjirou managed to sputter out past the dizziness in his skull caused by the motion. “I’ll buy you an ice cream, Zenitsu! I’ll buy you two ice creams!”
“ARE YOU TRYING TO BRIBE ME?! I don’t want your charity! I’m not your baby brother who can forget things at the sight of sweets!”
And now even Tanjirou was starting to get frustrated. “Tell me what you want, then! What am I supposed to do to make it up to you?!” He doesn’t know what was coming over him. Maybe it was shame for getting lost in an IKEA store. After all, he was supposed to be the eldest brother. He had to be the one to look out for his siblings if they lost their way! Yet here he was as a twenty year old man, forgetting to charge his phone this morning because he was too excited to go out with Zenitsu again and needing the other to pick him up like a child. It was a careless mistake. He was reckless. Normally, he would’ve never been able to live it down.
“I want you to REPENT, DAMN IT! Think long and hard about what you did wrong and come back to me with a well-thought out answer!” With yellow hair splayed every-which way in telltale sign that Zenitsu was about to flip a table, he radiated the energy of a meteor about ready to strike earth’s atmosphere.
“Fine...” Tanjirou huffed, the foreign feeling of aggravation fizzling the slightest. Maybe it was Zenitsu himself doing this to him. He thought the past year would be one of the worst of his life. Being separated from his family and high school friends, having to say goodbye to the neighbourhood pets, moving to a new place with no one to support him; of course he had to be responsible. He couldn’t let his family worry. He couldn’t slip up so badly like he just did. He couldn’t be reckless. It made sense that Zenitsu would be so mad at him. “I’m sorry for embarrassing you after I just promised that I wouldn’t. I should’ve checked that my phone wasn’t dead before leaving the apartment. If it really troubles you that much, you can just abandon me here next time.”
“...Ugh, give me that.” Zenitsu groans, grabbing the stub left of the ice cream cone in his roommate’s fingers to chuck it in the garbage. “I don’t care about you embarrassing me, Tanjirou. You’re an idiot. I’m aware of that. If you want to get lost in fifty more IKEA’s on the way back, I guess I’ll just have to bite my tongue and come get you each time.”
Yet. With Zenitsu, he wasn’t the oldest brother anymore. He didn’t have to watch his behaviour at every turn. He could make mistakes like breaking the coffee maker or getting lost in a store or buying too many sandwiches because he was caught up in his own happiness.
And. And Tanjirou had never felt more thankful that he had someone to pick him up when he made said mistakes.
Maybe one more reckless mistake wouldn’t hurt. So, Tanjirou blurts out.
“I love you.”
Zenitsu halts but only for one hot second. “Are you making fun of me?”
It was a way out. Zenitsu was giving him a way out. They’ve been dancing around each other for so long that it came as second-nature to do so. However, Tanjioru doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he utters a quiet “no.”
That stops the blond in his tracks. Tanjirou’s voice being barely audible alarms him. This is the quietest that Tanjirou’s ever been but for the sake of Zenitsu’s poor ears, his pounding heart combined with mounting horror over what he just spilled out was louder than any sound that ever came from him.
“Y-You weren’t supposed to hear that—not like that, I mean.”
He pictured better. The bare minimum was that he could at least take his crush as of one year on a proper date. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Yet here they were in the middle of IKEA, children screaming about pizza around them and floor wet with cheap diluted tea, having this conversation now.
But Zenitsu didn’t care. Crouching down to where Tanjirou was now slumped against his hands, elbows on both knees, the flush on his face and crinkle in his yellow brow are unmistakable. They face each other at eye level. The absolutely brilliant smile he sends Tanjirou’s way past eyes cloudy with emotion has the brunet falling in love all over again. He’s laughing. The sound and scent from him is absolutely music to Tanjirou’s senses. “You’re impossible, Tanjirou... Confessing now? I don’t know what goes on in that brain of yours.”
“You.” Tanjirou says it confidently even though his cheeks burn hot.
“Oh my god.” Zenitsu recoils back, face no better and feeling light from the level of flattery. “Is this what I signed up for? Is this what it’s going to be like from now on? I can’t believe it.”
“Zenitsu, you just implied that you want our relationship to change.” And even though Tanjirou suspected it, it felt good to have it come straight from the target of his affection’s mouth. “Does that mean... you feel the same way?”
“D-Don’t make me say it again--!”
That was the tipping point for Tanjirou. He couldn’t wait any longer. Without any more need for words, Tanjirou jerked forward and captured those pink lips as his own.
They’re warm. Even though it’s not much other than a simple touch, it’s like an electric shock left them both paralyzed. The sensation of the other’s breaths hitting hot against the spots in his mouth where they’re not connected set his stomach ablaze in a bright flare. Zenitsu hesitantly brings a hand up to his shoulder. Tanjirou feels like he’s going to spontaneously combust when one finger slowly creeps up to play with the chain of his hanafuda earring. When they separate, there’s a sheen of moisture colouring their mouths from where the other was just moments before.
Touching foreheads, amber tangling with gold, both fire and lightning let out mirthful laughs.
When they make it home that night, a flip is switched within Tanjirou.
All of the pent-up frustration and urges that he had to just hold the blond suddenly spilled out like water breaking from a dam. They still just barely crossed the threshold and the door clicks shut behind him. That was his cue to engulf Zenitsu in a hug, both arms wrapping around his waist to bring their bodies flush together. The lighter voice squeaks. “T-Tanjirou...?”
“Is this okay?”
The question in combination with concerned red eyes relaxes Zenitsu’s shoulders. He feels like laughing again for ever being startled. Right, it’s just Tanjirou. Because it’s just Tanjirou, for one of the first times in his life, he feels content. No panicking; no stressing; no fear; just serenity. He turns around so he can playfully rest a palm against the taller boy’s face, tracing the scar on his forehead with careful fingers before lightly pinching his cheek. “Of course it is.”
The utter peace that’s on Zenitsu’s face, shining bright like an angel and immersing their living space in morning is all the permission that Tanjirou needs. He leans forward again, his heart skipping a beat when he has Zenitsu meet him halfway. Yellow eyes fall shut in tandem with his own. And when his vision is obscured, it’s like his sight opened up to a whole new world where he could only feel.
There was no common sense, just feeling; just Tanjirou and Zenitsu and all the points in between where they touched. To feel and smell the scent of blossoms and citrus invade his senses. He seeks out the aroma, tangling his own callus fingers in blond locks while using the new leverage to push the kiss deeper. Their noses bump the slightest. Both part a hair’s width from each other in annoyance to adjust the angle, but they’re on each other again by the next breath.
It takes the blond’s back gently bumping the edge of the counter for them to offhandedly note where they are. And Tanjirou, being Tanjirou, shifts the one hand that is firmly wrapped around Zenitsu’s hip further up so that his forearm would take the blunt of the damage. The thoughtful gesture only has his roommate giggle appreciatively, smiling into the kiss with blissful sighs. It’s adorable. Tanjirou has never heard something so adorable in his life. He wanted to hear more of Zenitsu’s sounds. So without thinking, he curls the fingers that he has running through gold strands to gently tug at the blond’s ear.
The effect is immediate. They both realize that the appendage is Zenitsu’s weak spot for he crumbles forward, weak in the legs and further into Tanjirou’s embrace. His scent grows heavier in a way that Tanjirou has never experienced but welcomes for how much more enticing it is. The tickle of hanafuda earrings jingling by his chin and jaw has the blond giggling again much more drunkenly this time. That causes them to part again but it doesn’t deter Tanjirou. He compensates for the space by landing sweet yet wet little pecks against the side of the blond’s mouth, amber eyes blinking open to watch his sunshine laugh and fill his heart with each exhale from his lungs. This continues until the giggles die down enough for their mouths to reconnect with all the affection they both held.
But Zenitsu lets his guard down. For when Tanjirou feels soft lips separate against his own in a whispered moan, he swipes his tongue sideways against Zenitsu’s staggering breaths. For a moment, it touches his lover’s own in contact that left both of their hearts stuttering from static.
That did it for him. Zenitsu let out an ‘eep’ before pushing Tanjirou’s mouth away with the palm of his hand. With his free hand, he covers the ear that his boyfriend was fondling just seconds before. Akin to getting hit by a train, all of the embarrassment and anxieties that he failed to feel before resurfaced as an obtrusive blush and a fearful squeak. “W-W-W-W-Wa-WAIT...! Th-This is the first time I’ve ever done this! It’s weird, it’s definitely too much!”
Tanjirou is also flustered from his spot where the lower half of his face was covered by a shaky hand. Still, the gleam of adoration is unmistakable from within ruby eyes. It’s like a hunger was awoken deep inside of him. Tanjirou already knew that it was the kind of hunger that would never be truly satiated. “It’s okay. It’s my first time too.”
“I DON’T BELIEVE THAT! This can’t be your first kiss! That’s impossible, that’s incomprehensible. Why would you wait so long to kiss someone?! You would attract so many girls so easily, you know! Please consider my poor inexperienced self in all of this. It’s scary! I don’t know what’s happening!”
“It’s not scary.” Tanjirou gently took the hand that was still wedged against his face down, cupping the wrist so to litter his fingers with butterfly kisses. “Don’t worry. I’m here. I’m not leaving you.”
“And I’ll wait for you if you’re not ready either.”
This was it. This was how Zenitsu was going to bite the dust. With steam coming out of his ears and heart beating so loudly that he felt that it might burst out of his chest, his death was only a matter of seconds away. “Wha- Are you implying that you are?! Don’t make this into a competition! I’d rather die than fall for that trick!”
Tanjirou laughs. It’s an unattractive snort filled with ecstasy. It shows on his face as the brightest beam that he’s ever worn, smile so wide that it forces his eyes close. Arms still so ready and waiting to love this boy with all his might, they shot his body upward so then his and Zenitsu’s noses almost touch.
“Nothing. I just love you, Zenitsu.”
Most university students in Tanjirou’s position wouldn’t be up yet.
From the viewpoint of their many friends and classmates, he was actually extremely lucky. Considering that his siblings were the ones who set the alarm, Tanjirou remembers thanking them for trying to ease his life at least a little. He worked two part-time jobs on the weekend and some evenings so getting the extra time to sleep-in a little felt like heaven.
Which is why, six-thirty am and before the sun was even up, Tanjirou felt a little bad for wasting all of their efforts.
What he didn’t feel bad for was when the warm body next to his was the first to stir. Within the darkness of their now shared room, there was a yawn and a scratch of nails over a cotton shirt. A shift in weight on the bed and blankets being discarded are enough to make Tanjirou’s own ruby eyes slowly pry themselves open.
He saw Zenitsu. Outlined by the faint rays of light, his boyfriend was peering down at him with the most loving glance that made Tanjirou feel like the luckiest man alive. Wanting to welcome the morning with equal affection, he struggled with the cramps in his arms in order to lift himself up on his elbows. Watching this, the blond giggled. Then, with a flush to his cheeks, Zenitsu surged forward to grab the collar of Tanjirou’s pajamas. Before he could react, he felt warm and pink lips meeting his own in a soothing kiss.
Tanjirou felt his day illuminate with his sunshine.