Tanjiro talked a lot.
You would think that after such a devastating battle in the swordsmith village, he would want nothing more than to rest and recover his strength as quickly as possible. That’s what Tokito and Kanroji did. That’s what Giyuu would have done were he in the same position. Instead, Tanjiro refused to remain still.
For someone still too injured to even participate in the Pillar training, Tanjiro moved quite a lot. He tracked Giyuu down like a hound, sniffing him out with an absurdly keen sense of smell. It seemed that no matter where Giyuu went, Tanjiro was there to torment him with a smile. Greeting him incessantly every day and proceeding to follow him around until the sun set.
Even on the days when Giyuu did not leave his home, when he simply stayed in and made himself some tea to somehow make peace with the fact that he now has a little gremlin of a child following him his entire life, Tanjiro still followed him. Quite frankly, Giyuu didn’t know what to do about it.
Sometimes, Tanjiro would enter Giyuu’s room. Sometimes, he would bring fruit as an offering. Sometimes he only brought his presence and constant chatter. Sometimes, Tanjiro would simply sit outside the shoji and prattle on about his day, about what his friends did, about pointless things that he somehow made to sound exciting.
Being in Tanjiro’s presence was tiring.
It was taxing.
The third day of Giyuu’s personal hell was one of those days where Tanjiro simply remained outside the shoji where his shadow would dance from the candlelight and create interesting shapes. Giyuu sat cross-legged in his spartan room. The only sign of life was the futon pushed to the left, furthest from the door, where he could have optimal movement if someone ever broke in. The steaming teapot he carried from his kitchen sat on the floor. Giyuu nursed a cup of tea idly.
Tanjiro remained outside his room, voice carrying clearly enough that Giyuu could hear the joy in his voice. No doubt, if he opened the door, he would see a smile on Tanjiro’s face. Giyuu kept the door closed, and watched the shadows dance as Tanjiro waved his arms around animatedly. When the sun got too high, the shadows would move from Giyuu’s door to the tatami. Tanjiro would carry on as though he hadn’t been talking for hours, and Giyuu would pretend to ignore the boy’s too-bright existence. His too-lively monologues.
Why would someone as vibrant as Tanjiro want to spend time with Giyuu? It made no sense.
“-and then, Zenitsu just left while I was getting attacked by the crow!” Tanjiro laughed, carefree. The sharp breath he took afterwards was the only indication that he was still injured, that several of his bones were broken and that he technically shouldn’t be moving around quite so much. “He’s doing great, I think.” Tanjiro took a breath. Giyuu could only imagine what it must be like, talking through all his injuries. “Even though Zenitsu sounds scared all the time, I think he’s trying his best to complete the Pillar training. I just know that he’s going to do amazing, and that he’s only underestimating himself.”
There was warmth in Tanjiro’s voice. Admiration. Gratitude. Empathy. It was rare, finding someone in the Demon Corps with a heart that remained untainted by the horrors they had to face. So many of them had been lost to anger, to rage, to hatred; like Sanemi, like Shinobu. Some had been gripped with fear like the unlucky few in the Kakushi, unable to look even the weakest of demons in the eye. Others drifted away in their grief.
A ship being toyed with on a turbulent sea, thunder and lightning booming overhead, fog obscuring the horizon. Not a single port to be found. The open space of Giyuu’s room seemed to stretch on forever. The sea in which he was lost in, the waters where his soul was doomed to drown.
Oblivious, Kanjiro continued to talk. “Zenitsu and Inosuke have been telling me a lot about the new special training. It sounds really difficult, but I can’t wait to recover so I can join them!” Tanjiro was sunlight, trying to pierce the dark clouds that hung over Giyuu’s head. A beacon.
Giyuu took a deep sip of his tea.
“When are you going to join the training, Giyuu-san?” Tanjiro shifted, his shadow moving ever so slightly. “I mean, you are a Hashira.”
As if Giyuu had any right to call himself that.
“You’re one of the best fighters I’ve seen, so I’m sure that you’ll be amazing!”
As if Giyuu’s status was anything but good fortune and the sacrifice of someone who deserved his position more than he did.
“Training won’t be the same without the Water Pillar, don’t you think?”
As if Giyuu deserved that title.
The shadow by Giyuu’s door moved. Instead of moving away, or leaving, as Giyuu would have liked, Tanjiro shifted closer. Not quite touching the shoji, but close enough that Giyuu could see hints of red hair through the paper. Tanjiro stretched out his injured leg and rested his head on his good hand.
“I’ve been sending letters to Urokodaki-san,” said Tanjiro. Good for you , Giyuu thought. The last time Giyuu had ever set foot on Mt. Sagiri were the days following the final selection. He has yet to see Urokodaki-sensei’s face for years. Tanjiro likely bled his life into ink, wrote down every minute detail of every insignificant fight. Giyuu could imagine Urokodaki-sensei reading each one of Tanjiro’s letters, his fears for yet another pupil’s life assuaged, if only momentarily.
If only Giyuu could write back to that mountain as often without feeling nausea crawl up his throat. Even the infrequent reports he managed to send made bile rise in his throat.
I wonder how sensei’s doing . It’s good that Tanjiro maintained contact. No doubt, Urokodaki-sensei cared for Tanjiro. His sister, too. Urokodaki-sensei loved his pupils dearly. As though they were family. “I’ve been telling him everything that happened recently.” Tanjiro’s letters were sure to liven up a bleak mountain. “Even about Nezuko. Especially about Nezuko, actually. Urokodaki-san is thrilled that she walk in the sunlight, now!”
Nezuko. The demon girl. Tanjiro’s sister. It felt almost surreal that the same two children he’d spared two years ago were the same two warriors who had fought for the Demon Corps. It was hard reconciling the boy who had cried and begged Giyuu to spare a demon’s life and the battle-hardened slayer with scars on his hands. It was hard thinking of Nezuko as a demon when she had been willing to burn in the sunlight just so Tanjiro could save a pair of swordsmiths.
The Kamado siblings were special.
It was a shame that Tanjiro wouldn’t become the Water Pillar.
He’d be a better one than Giyuu ever was.
The hand holding his cup tightened, his other hand balling into a fist that he dug into his thigh. Even the calming scent of chamomile did nothing to soothe his nerves. His vision was swimming. Ah, this was a shitty time for all the grief and guilt that he’d spent so long hiding to bubble up. The familiar burn ached in his chest, and Giyuu had to focus on the way his own chest rose and fell, on his breathing. His hand trembled.
Not that it was noticeable. Just the barest of vibrations so infinitesimal none but a Pillar would notice. Even then, they had to be paying close attention. They had to have watched Giyuu’s every move, notice the way his head was bowed, his back tense. Noticed the way his eyes strayed around the room, looking for the exit from an uncomfortable situation. Noticed how his cup trembled.
But then again.
None of the Pillars ever looked at him that closely.
Giyuu picked a spot on his tatami and stared. He narrowed down the stitches in the mat and willed authority back to himself. Willed his breathing to return to normal. Willed the darkness creeping in his vision to fade away. Willed the onslaught of sadness, of regret, of guilt, to stay their claws and wait until Tanjiro had gone home. Giyuu can’t afford to have an attack in front of another slayer. He won’t. He refuses. His hand continued to tremble.
“I think that we’ll go back to Mt. Sagiri when this is all over. I want to see Urokodaki-san again and thank him for everything he's done for us. I’m sure that Nezuko will want to do that too! I can’t wait for her to meet Urokodaki-san.” The hellfire ravaging his chest was still there, still burning, and Giyuu can’t quite see anything past the black spots in his vision. He was still breathing somewhat normally. The hallucination hadn’t started yet, Giyuu wasn’t wheezing. He was still in control. He could remain in control. Control. Control.
Tanjiro’s voice grew wistful. “Maybe me and Nezuko could stay there.” He would look at home on Mt. Sagiri, Giyuu thought. After everything he’s been through, he deserved a peaceful life. And Urokodaki-sensei would certainly appreciate the company. He would be ecstatic to have both Tanjiro and Nezuko come back to Mt. Sagiri, to have two of his children return alive. To have his children come home.
So many of his children never came back home. So many of his children lay dead in the fields of the Final Selection, left to be consumed by demons. Their spirits would never be able to rest, to know peace.
Urokodaki-sensei would never again see those children’s smiling faces, hear their laughter. He would never watch them bring him misshapen onigiri with an apology and an insistence that he take a break. Urokodaki-sensei’s children were dead.
Giyuu looked up.
Sabito sat across from him, fox mask split in half and hung around his neck. He was smiling, but his grey eyes were tinted with sadness. A wraith. An illusion created by Giyuu’s distorted mind in a desperate wish for Sabito to have survived. It would have been better if Sabito was the one who lived through the final selection.
Giyuu should have died in his place.
“It’s not your fault, Giyuu.”
Giyuu dropped his cup.
Hot water splashed over Giyuu’s legs, on his torso. All the training in the world couldn’t prepare him for the way pain gripped his heart, sent his breathing into disarray. He knew. He knew that one way or another, the hallucination, the phantom, the thing that keeps showing up in the corners of his vision would manifest eventually. It had always lingered at the edges of his vision, tortured Giyuu with the knowledge of its presence. It was there, silent and still, but there, driving Giyuu mad every day. He should have known it would have appeared again.
But to think that it would sit in front of him, before his very eyes, allow him to see a face that had haunted every nightmare and every daydream. Speak with Sabito’s voice. Have Sabito’s eyes. Mimic the smile of one Giyuu treasured so dearly.
“Shit. Shit shit shit.”
Giyuu can’t take it.
“I’m sorry Giyuu-san, but I’m coming in!” Tanjiro announced. Not a second later, the shoji opened and Tanjiro limped in. Eyes alert, sword drawn and held aloft, ready for battle, despite his injuries. Ready to fight an invisible enemy. Fuck. He would have made a better Pillar than Giyuu ever could. Fuck. Fuck.
Sabito’s phantom did not stay. It had vanished in the split second Giyuu took his eyes off of it. All Tanjiro could see was Giyuu at his weakest.
What a sight he must have been. Confused. Disheveled. Lost. Eyes constricted, unsure of where to land. His hands shaking, desperate for a sword, for a demon, for an enemy to fight. For something to hit. Something to focus on to make the pain go away. The teacup laid in pieces on the floor. Tea spilled everywhere. Giyuu can’t feel the burns on his legs when his heart was hammering in his ears, blood rushing to his head, tears threatening to shatter the veneer of stoicism he’d cultivated so long.
He can’t breathe.
He can’t breathe.
Tanjiro sat beside him. “Are you okay?” How pathetic. Giyuu can’t have someone younger than him worry, especially since Tanjiro himself was still injured. Tanjiro had the same keen senses as Urokodaki-sensei. Briefly, Giyuu wondered if Tanjiro could tell. If Tanjiro could smell the guilt, the sadness. The resentment for surviving when Sabito didn’t.
If Tanjiro could tell just how much Giyuu hated being alive, then he didn’t say.
For someone who had been talking ceaselessly the moment he sat outside Giyuu’s door, Tanjiro was uncharacteristically silent. Curiosity swam in his eyes. A desire to poke, to dig deeper, unearth everything ugly that Giyuu kept tucked away. But he remained quiet. Thankfully. Giyuu didn’t know how he could collect himself if Tanjiro started to talk.
It felt like an eternity when Giyuu finally managed to speak, voice hoarse. “Please leave.”
For a brief moment, Tanjiro didn’t move. Giyuu was contemplating locking himself in the kitchen. There was a window there. If Tanjiro insisted on pursuing him, Giyuu could slip out and run somewhere. Somewhere Tanjiro won’t be able to catch him. Tanjiro may have a devilishly good sense of smell, but he was injured and Giyuu was fucking faster.
“Alright.” Giyuu turned. Tanijro sheathed his sword, maneuvering with his injured leg in consideration and went for the door. “Say, Giyuu-san,” he said, a contemplative look on his face. “When me and Nezuko return to Mt. Sagiri, do you want to come with us?”
“What?” Giyuu hated his voice, how it wavered, how it overflowed with emotion. He hated it.
“Do you want to come with us to Mt. Sagiri? I think Urokodaki-san would like it if you visit-”
Giyuu can’t go back there. He can’t come back pretending that everything was okay, that he wasn’t at fault for the death of Urokodaki’s star pupil. He can’t go back to that too-quiet mountain with Sabito’s ghost following him around every corner, bedeviling Giyuu’s dreams. He can’t return to that special spot on the mountain, the one with the fallen log surrounded by wildflowers. That place where Giyuu would spend hours alone sifting through his thoughts only to have Sabito ambush him with a tray of misshapen onigiri and demand that he take a break.
He can’t go back.
Tanjiro looked at him sadly. He opened his mouth and Giyuu prepared to run.
But Tanjiro shut his mouth, pursed his lips, and limped out the door. The uneven sound of his gait grew quieter and quieter until Giyuu was once again alone.
The day after the Final Selection, Giyuu had walked home with bandages wound around him and his face wet with tears.
He still remembered it. Every detail of Sabito’s death was etched into his memory, burned and seared and immortalised. Urokodaki-sensei welcomed him home but he hugged Giyuu a little too tight and his shoulders trembled a little too much.
Giyuu, a demon slayer so useless he couldn’t slay a single demon in the final selection, survived. To think that Sabito, leagues better than Giyuu, was dead. Devoured by a demon. Sabito sacrificed his own life to save countless others. To save Giyuu.
(Giyuu had never hated himself more.)
While waiting for his own blade, Giyuu spent as much time as he can away from his teacher, away from everything. He wandered the mountain. He retraced his steps, found his way up to the peak along the trail of spikes and logs and the numerous other traps Urokodaki-sensei had set for him, for both of them. With every day Giyuu waited for his own colour-changing blade, he hiked up the mountain, determined not to be in Urokodaki-sensei’s presence, knowing that Sabito did not return because of Giyuu.
Every day, Giyuu told himself, promised, vowed, that he would not return to that small clearing with the fallen tree, past the river, past the large boulder both he and Sabito cut.
Every day, Giyuu found himself breaking that promise over and over again as he found himself in that very same clearing, inundated in the scent of wildflowers as he watched them sway slightly in the breeze.
Three days before Giyuu received his blade, Giyuu had seen Sabito sitting down on the fallen tree, weaving wildflowers between his fingers in the shape of a crude circle. A ghost. A phantom. The phantom had pushed Sabito’s fox mask up on the left side of his head, exposing the scar on his cheek. The phantom had Sabito’s soft grey eyes, his kind smile.
The phantom spoke with Sabito’s voice.
“It’s not your fault, Giyuu.”
Then he vanished.
For the three days Giyuu remained on Mt. Sagiri as he waited for his sword, Sabito haunted him. He never appeared directly in front of Giyuu since that first day, only lingering at the edges, but he was there. He was around every corner, behind every tree, on every reflection. Always smiling, always looking up at Giyuu with soft, kind eyes, as though Giyuu wasn’t the cause of his death. As though Sabito wasn’t dead because Giyuu was too weak.
And always, always, he’d say the same thing.
“It’s not your fault, Giyuu.”
The moment Giyuu’s hand closed around his new katana, the moment he saw the blade turn into a deep, deep blue, he left.
Giyuu could not remain on Mt. Sagiri, where Sabito’s presence soaked the loamy soil and danced with every leaf. Giyuu could not return to a place where he would be reminded of Sabito’s loss. Giyuu could not face Urokodaki-sensei knowing that he was responsible for the death of another student.
Giyuu would not return.
He had hoped that his hallucinations would get left behind on the mountain.
But of course, God was not satisfied from torturing Giyuu yet. God, if one even existed, allowed Sabito’s ghost to haunt him. Everywhere he went. A week into his new life as a demon slayer, Sabito appeared in his peripheral vision, fox mask completely off. Despite knowing that he’d find no one there, Giyuu turned anyway. There was nothing but an empty street, a lingering sadness, and the burning pain of guilt coiling around Giyuu’s heart.
And it had been like that for as long as he could remember. The years ticked by, but Sabito remained the same. A child. Still the same age when he was robbed from the world. Giyuu can’t stand it.
Some nights, he’d simply lie awake, thinking about Sabito’s death. Replaying it in his mind, over and over until the sun rose. Sometimes, he’d grow so paranoid of seeing that ghost that he just passed out. Sometimes, the phantom would have long weeks of pause between its hauntings, only to appear when Giyuu was most vulnerable with a sad smile and the same words.
“It’s not your fault, Giyuu.”
For a while, it had been silent. Weeks of nothing. Of peace. Of the nothingness that Giyuu wanted.
Sabito’s next appearance was when Tanjiro sat outside his door. And everything had gone to shit.
Shinobu had been kind enough to deliver some ointment for the burns that Giyuu suffered.
Giyuu did not sleep. He stared up at his ceiling and counted scratch marks in the wood. 127. 128. 129. Swirling patterns created winding snakes that Giyuu could trace all night long. He noticed someone laying down beside him.
He refused to look.
The fourth day, Tanjiro had returned.
Sabito’s ghost had vanished.
Giyuu remained inside.
Tanjiro talked all day.
Giyuu tried not to think how the enthusiasm and positivity in Tanjiro’s voice reminded him of Sabito’s enthusiasm. He allowed himself to be overtaken by numbness. To meditate until his mind drowned out everything else around him, like a tide sweeping away every thought, carrying it far out into sea and dragging it beneath the waves, into the depths. Into an abyss where the light no longer shines and the warmth no longer touched the water. Where not even the sunlight could bring warmth.
He felt empty. Giyuu was simply empty. There were no tears for him to cry. No rage to fuel him. He just wanted silence. Giyuu would remain in the Corps until someone good enough came along to wrench the title of Water Pillar away from him. Then Giyuu would retire. Disappear. Fade away from existence.
Perhaps, when everything was over and Muzan was defeated, he would join Sabito in death.
“I think you should come back to Urokodaki-san,” Tanjiro said. His shadow was a lot duller, less energetic. He leaned against the door and hardly moved. The red of his hair was striking. “I think he’d be glad to have you back.”
Giyuu wanted absolution, freedom from his sham of a title. Giyuu wanted to be left alone to atone for the one life he wanted desperately to save but failed to. He wanted to repent for the countless people he couldn’t help because he wasn’t strong enough, or fast enough, or smart enough. Instead, he got Tanjiro. A well of a boy overflowing compassion that Giyuu did not deserve. Trying to forcibly wash away his sins and his failure.
Giyuu did not deserve-
He thought of wisteria flowers, gently dancing in the wind. He timed each breath with each imaginary sway. If he emptied his mind, then he wouldn’t have to face the ghost that haunted him in every corner and every reflection. Did not have to dwell on his thoughts. Inhale, the flower billows elegantly to the left. Exhale, the wind pushes the flowers ever so slightly to the right. Tanjiro’s protests were carried away like the petals of the wisteria.
Giyuu did not deserve to live.
On the fifth day, Giyuu resolved to tell Tanjiro the truth. About the Final Selection. About Sabito. About Giyuu inheriting the title of Water Pillar despite not deserving it. Everything. If Tanjiro heard the truth, if he only understood, then surely, he would leave Giyuu alone.
On the fifth day, Giyuu donned his haori, the mismatch of the green-yellow pattern a painful reminder, and stepped outside his home. He did not know where Tanjiro was, but it wouldn’t matter. Sooner or later, the boy would find him. Giyuu just had to be patient. He would use the time he had until Tanjiro inevitably showed up to mentally prepare himself. To destroy the dam keeping his past locked away.
He can’t quite remember the last time he spoke of Sabito aloud.
The sun was high. Giyuu sought shelter from the heat that beat down his back, legs automatically directing him towards the river. The rush of water hitting the banks, hitting the supports of the bridge, the stream gurgling in tune with the songs that the birds sang… when Giyuu first began masquerade as a Pillar, he didn’t expect to find a place so soothing to him.
If there was any place where Giyuu could talk about that Day, it would be on the bridge, where he could pretend his voice was being swept away by the current.
A shadow moved beside him. Peach-colored hair and sad grey eyes, yellow and green haori swaying gently in the breeze. It did not speak. Giyuu did not look.
Tanjiro finally found him when Giyuu was halfway to the bridge. The boy was flushed, likely having exerted himself in an attempt to track Giyuu down. It did not help that Tanjiro was still injured. “Giyuu-san!” Obligingly, Giyuu slowed down, let the boy catch his breath. Today was going to be the last day Tanjiro sought him out anyway, Giyuu was sure. Who in their right mind would stay after learning what a fraud Giyuu was? He might as well go easy on the kid. “I was wondering where you were. It was kinda hard for me to track you down; your scent was muted. How are you feeling?”
Blankly, Giyuu responded, “Fine.”
Tanjiro did not look convinced. Urokodaki-sensei often talked about the ‘scent of emotions’ and how it tinted the people he met. How lies carried a certain smell to them. Was Tanjiro the same as Urokodaki-san? Did he notice the regret that wrapped tightly around Giyuu, a snake choking life from prey too exhausted to even struggle?
If Tanjiro noticed anything, he didn’t say. He simply carried on, walking a few paces behind Giyuu as he talked away. Giyuu hurried on to the bridge, to the water, to the place he felt most comfortable in the Demon Corps base.
Tanjiro happily followed.
It was strange, having an actual, living, human being beside him. For so long it had only been Giyuu. The phantom would appear, but it was fickle, fading from existence just as easily as it materialised. Sometimes, the other Pillars would work with him on missions, most frequently Shinobu, but Giyuu always parted with them when the job was done and they never pursued. Having someone close to him just for the sake of conversation? It was foreign. Strange. Giyuu was not entirely certain that he would not miss Tanjiro’s presence when the boy learned the truth. Against all odds, the boy buried himself in Giyuu’s life.
Oh well. Not that it would last.
The wind was stronger here, howling in time with the river. Most days, the river was calm. Giyuu breathed with each ebb and flow. I wonder why it’s so turbulent today ? Giyuu’s shoes clicked against the wood of the bridge. He suddenly stopped.
Behind him, Tanjiro stopped as well, though Giyuu did not turn back. He could only imagine the confusion on Tanjiro’s face. If Giyuu looked closely at the bridge, he can count the grooves in the wood in each individual plank. I suppose I have to tell him the truth.
Giyuu took a breath. “I never actually passed the final selection.”
He wondered what expression Tanjiro was making right now.
The night before the fifth day of following Giyuu around, Tanjiro had a dream.
Dreams, or nightmares rather, were fairly common for him. Most of the time, Tanjiro dreamt of snow and blood, of his family, dead and cold on the ground. Of the people he couldn’t protect, and the people who died protecting him.
He dreamt of Rokuta, spinning around on the snow, laughing, only to trip and fall to the ground with a hole in his chest and glassy eyes. He dreamt of Hanako combing her hair, turning back to look at him then having blood pour down her face, onto her Kimono. He dreamt of Shigeru, tugging on his haori, a smile on his face despite his limbs being bent at unnatural angles. He dreamt of Takeo, dutifully chopping wood for the family, the snow beneath his feet bright red as his stomach spilled out. He dreamt of Mom, beautiful and kind as always, her kimono tattered, and her flesh torn asunder.
Sometimes, he dreamt of Rengoku-san. Of the train. Of the little paradise in his head made by a demon trying to kill him. He dreamt of Rengoku-san’s fiery hair, his optimism, his goodness . Sometimes, he dreamt of Rengoku-san forcing Akaza to retreat. Even if he did not win the fight, he somehow managed to survive. He dreamt of Rengoku-san being carried away by the Kakushi, awakening days later with dozens of new scars. But he was alive. He was well. He did not die giving his life for Tanjiro’s. Sometimes, he dreamt of Rengoku-san staring at him with blank eyes as the sunlight lit up the thousands of cuts on his body.
But he was used to it.
Tanjiro has learned how to make peace with his nightmares. He didn’t cry out into the dark night anymore, searching for people who no longer walked the land of the living. He stopped waking up in cold sweat, eyes blown wide open and hand reaching for his sword to cut down an invisible enemy. He stopped being affected by it. After everything that’s happened to him, Tanjiro would likely have nightmares for the rest of his life. He’s accepted it, and moved on. It didn’t hurt any less, but he’s learned to adapt. To overcome.
The night before the fifth day of following Giyuu around, Tanjiro had a dream.
It was not of blood and snow, or of the people he wished desperately to be alive.
Instead, Tanjiro stood once again at the foot of Mt. Sagiri. Urokodaki-san’s house remained just the way it was before Tanjiro and Nezuko left. The mountain where he had trained and where he had bled, stood tall and adamant against the backdrop of a pink dawn. There were no clouds; just the lively rays of sunshine, gently warming everything up in a soothing glow.
In his dream, Tanjiro ascended the mountain. He followed the trail of traps Urokodaki-san used to train him, the logs that swung out with tremendous force, the pitfalls, the knives that shot out from the darkness. It was nostalgic, looking back at things he used to have trouble with, things that he could now do with his eyes closed and a hand tied behind his back. The trail took him higher, higher, and higher, into the parts of the mountain where the air was thinnest. The trees around him had sparser leaves, thick enough to provide shade, but scarce enough to allow more of the sunlight to pierce through. The boulder Tanjiro had cut remained in its spot, still split in half.
In his dream, it was spring. There was grass surrounding the boulder, tickling his feet. Birds had returned to the boughs and fruit hung from the branches. Wildflowers stretched as far as the eye could see, attracting the buzz of bees. Tanjiro, somehow, knew that he had to go even further into the mountain. His legs took him deeper in, to the parts of the mountain rarely tread, where the grass was long and wild and the scent of traps was nowhere to be found. The untamed, raw, and wild facet of the mountain he hadn’t gotten to see, yet.
Tanjiro passed by a river on his way into the heart of the mountain. The river ran fast and gurgled loudly. Some tall stones served as a makeshift bridge. The scent of fresh water and the sound of the babbling stream seemed to drown out all anxiety.
Deeper still, Tanjiro went.
He walked and walked and walked, until the baby pink of dawn made way for morning’s bright light. For the marigold yellow that beamed down at the height of the mountain, for the magnificent rays of orange and cerise to shine through.
Tanjiro only stopped when he came upon a small clearing. A ring of trees surrounded a fallen log, which in turn was surrounded by even more wildflowers. A few different kinds of butterflies fluttered about the place, visiting tulips and camelias, lilacs and nemophilas. It was truly beautiful.
The peach-haired boy sitting on the fallen log looked right at home. Sabito had plucked several of the smaller wildflowers, slowly weaving them into a crooked-shaped crown. His fox mask was cut in half and rested around his neck, exactly how Tanjiro last saw him. He had an ankle resting on the opposite knee, elbows digging into his thighs as he worked on his crown, engrossed. Even in a dream, Tanjiro noted how odd it was for Sabito to look so...soft.
In the real world, when Tanjiro first met Sabito, or rather, his ghost, Sabito was rather aggressive. He was not unkind, but he constantly pushed Tanjiro past his limit, over and over again, helping him get stronger, strong enough to cleave Urokodaki-san’s final test in two. Tanjiro was not used to seeing Sabito look vulnerable. Yet here he was. In a dream, sure, but it still felt. Wrong. Somehow. Like Tanjiro was intruding in someone else’s space.
It took a while for Sabito to notice. When he did, his head shot up, back straightening, both legs hitting the grass as though he was prepared to run up to Tanjiro and greet him. “Oh,” Sabito said instead, relaxing, sitting back down on the log, eyes dimming just a bit more. He was not tense, not exactly, but he no longer had the air of vulnerability he had carried before. Though he was still far calmer than Tanjiro remembered. It was like he belonged here, in this very spot. “Tanjiro. I did not expect you here.”
In the dream, Tanjiro did not sit beside Sabito. It felt wrong for him to sit on that log. It felt as though Sabito was saving the spot beside him for someone else. Instead Tanjiro sat himself on the field of wildflowers and looked up at the Sabito in his dream. “Who were you expecting?”
“I-” A pause. Sabito frowned, his hands tightening on the crown he was making. It ruffled the flowers. They were all beautiful shades of blue and violet; it reminded Tanjiro of the sea. “He hasn’t told you yet, has he?”
“Who?” Tanjiro asked, tilting his head. “Who hasn’t told me what?”
A smile made its way to Sabito’s face. It was sad, full of loss. And guilt. The air around them smelled like despair and regret, eclipsing the fragrant scent of flowers. “Did you know, Tanjiro? Did you know that he blames himself for what happened to me?” Tanjiro did not understand, but he nodded anyway. Sabito’s smile grew sadder. “After all these years, no matter how many times I tried to tell him, he still won’t listen. He won’t accept that the only one to blame for my death is myself. I overestimated my abilities, charged into battle despite being injured.” Sabito’s hands crushed the flower crown into nothingness. “And, in the end, my arrogance took me from him.”
There’s a vague feeling in Tanjiro’s chest that he should know what Sabito was talking about, who he was talking about. But the knowledge eluded him. Sabito continued,
“In the end, I didn’t even get to say goodbye properly.” Sabito dismantled the crushed flower crown, letting the petals get whisked away by the wind. “I’ve been waiting here for years, but he has never returned to Mt. Sagiri since he got his blade. Not even once. Always blaming himself for something that was not his fault.”
Tanjiro did not know what to say to that, so he simply stayed quiet.
Somewhere, a bird began to sing. Sabito bent down and picked a few more wildflowers. They were still mostly shades of blue but there were a few pink ones as well. Sabito began weaving them again. “I want him to return, but honestly, I don’t mind if he doesn’t.”
Sabito turned his eyes back to his crown. Just as well. Tanjiro did not know how to handle looking at someone with eyes full of pain. “I just want him to stop blaming himself. To stop hating himself. To stop wanting to die in my stead. If he stops doing that, I’ll be happy. Even if he doesn’t return.” Something in the way Sabito’s hands wavered when he said those words made Tanjiro doubt that. Mom used to say that ghosts of people who had passed remain in the mortal world if they had unfinished business. Whoever it was that Sabito was talking about, Sabito’s desire for them to return to Mt. Sagiri was enough to tether him here.
When Sabito suddenly turned his eyes back to Tanjiro, Tanjiro felt frozen. The weight of Sabito’s regret was crushing, like rope tied too tightly squeezing the life out of you, slowly squeezing and squeezing and squeezing until there’s no more breath left to give. Sabito’s sadness felt like that. Something inescapable.
“You’re good with words, Tanjiro. Better than he is. Better than I am. Talk to him. It isn’t his fault.”
Then Tanjiro woke up, eyes burning with tears and the air around him lingering with Sabito’s grief. Despite promising himself, promising Oyakata-sama that he would do his best to convince Giyuu to work with the Pillars, Tanjiro did not rise.
He stayed in bed for the better half of the morning, crying, letting Sabito’s grief flow through him. How sad. Waiting for years for someone that had not yet come to visit him. Waiting patiently, hoping that they understood how you felt, hoping that they stopped being so hard on themselves. It was painful. How could Sabito exist with that much grief?
It took hours for him to muster up the strength to stand, to get ready for the day. It took even longer for the scent of sadness and regret to fade away, and for Tanjiro to track Giyuu down. Giyuu always smelled like fresh water, of fresh tea brewed over a light fire, of the cold steel of determination. Giyuu smelled like guilt, like chilling mountains, like wildflowers.
Today, when Tanjiro went to Giyuu’s house the lingering scent left behind was muted. Weak.
Despite all of the clues he’d been given, Tanjiro didn’t quite piece together the puzzle until Giyuu had stopped on a bridge, head dipped down, arms hanging limply by his sides. “I never actually passed the Final Selection,” he had said. And slowly, Tanjiro began to realise. “His name was Sabito,” Giyuu had said. And it hurts.
Tanjio had thought that he had no more tears left to cry. That his dream of Sabito, sitting in that clearing, waiting for years and years and years for Giyuu to return to Mt. Sagiri, had drained Tanjiro. He was wrong. The tears came slow, following the cadence of Giyuu’s sorrowful voice. All these years, Giyuu had been blaming himself for something that wasn’t his fault. Sabito, his ghost, his phantom, had been trying in vain to convince Giyuu to stop. And when Sabito couldn’t convince him, he turned to Tanjiro for help. A desperate plea to have his friend stop wanting to die.
It hurts because Tanjiro knew how that felt. Knew the feeling of wanting someone close to him to survive, to live. How it felt to fail those people, how it felt to watch those people give their lives protecting him.
Tanjiro understood how Giyuu felt.
He can’t count the number of nights he’d spent lying awake, thinking that it would have been better if he had died instead of Rengoku-san. The guilt of surviving, of thinking that he had deserved to survive less. He knew. He knew how much it hurt, how much easier it was to blame himself, to think that everything was his fault. He understood why Giyuu behaved the way that he did.
Tanjiro knew nothing about Giyuu. He had no room to peek into Giyuu’s personal life. But. His dream of Sabito, smiling so sadly, pleading for Tanjiro to talk sense into Giyuu, pull him back from the brink... He had to try. He had to.
“G-Giyuu-san?” He did not stop. He continued to walk ahead of Tanjiro, as if their conversation was over. Right. He needed to speak up. He wasn’t as good with words as Sabito seemed to think, but he’ll try.
“Giyuu-san… Isn’t whatever Sabito entrusted to you keeping you two together?”
He hoped Giyuu would listen.
It was the first time Sabito had punched him. Even when they trained together, with swords or with the weaponless maneuvers Urokodaki-sensei showed them, Sabito had never punched him before that day. It had been years. Giyuu had locked it away from his memory, allowed his pain to drown it out, determined to forget.
He remembered suddenly, the memory crashing into him with all the force and pain of Sabito’s angry fist. They were on their way to that spot in the mountains, to the clearing with the fallen log. Giyuu remembered that day now, vibrantly, as though it happened mere seconds before. Carelessly, Giyuu had said that it would have been better if he had died, if he was the one the demon had found and not his sister. Bleak words for a place as colourful as the forests of Mt. Sagiri.
And Sabito, kind, fiery Sabito, had lashed out. He struck Giyuu on the cheek, eyes burning with anger. With rage. With fear, lingering in the backdrop. Fear that Giyuu didn’t recognise at first. The fear of losing someone important. “Don’t say that you’re better off dying ever again.” Sabito’s voice was steady, but his hands were anything but. Sabito’s hands had clenched into fists, shaking at his sides. “If you do, then you and I are done. We’ll stop being friends.”
Giyuu knew that it was an empty threat. That despite his aggression, Sabito was kind. He would always put others before himself. He liked to be in the kitchen, making onigiri that always ended up in odd shapes. Giyuu knew that Sabito enjoyed returning to that clearing so much because it was filled with flowers that he’s constantly try to make into a crown, that he always inadvertently ended up making a weird oblong instead.
But back then, Sabito looked so serious as he said that. Sabito sounded so full of conviction, so determined, that Giyuu just agreed with him. Sabito was always better than him, it would make sense for him to be so much cooler too. After his sister had died, his entire world had been washed out. A meaningless grey existence. Sabito, dear Sabito, had dragged Giyuu back into the light and painted everything with shaking hands. He can’t remember a single day when he felt as though his life was worth living aside from that. Giyuu agreed that he couldn’t die. That he deserved to live.
“You can’t die. Ever.” It was Sabito’s selfish wish, Giyuu realised, who had wanted nothing more than for Giyuu to stay alive. How ironic, that Sabito, who wished for Giyuu to keep living and stand beside him until the end of time, had died and left Giyuu alone.
You’re not alone, Giyuu.
Giyuu stiffened, eyes focusing in front of him. Sabito, his ghost, was there, fox mask nowhere to be seen. You’re not alone, Giyuu . The phantom said. That life your sister and I lost to protect you? The future we left for you? They’re still with you, Giyuu.
There’s pain in his left cheek, right where Sabito had punched him on that day. Why had he forgotten such an important conversation? It was the very moment when Giyuu truly wanted to continue living. If not for his sake, then for Sabito’s, for Tsutako-nee-san’s. To continue standing by his side, to fight together. To keep others from feeling the pain they had to endure. Why did he forget? Such an important memory… How immature was he? Thinking that it would have been better to have died. Tsutako-nee-san would not have wanted that. Sabito would not have wanted that, would have likely decked Giyuu in the face again if he even thought about it with angry tears streaming down his face and a snarl on his lips.
It’s not my fault , Giyuu thought. It was liberating. Vindicating. Freedom from a cage he constructed for himself. It’s not my fault.
It was emancipation.
Before him, Sabito smiled. A real smile, not one tainted by sadness. The kind of smile where Sabito’s eyes grew half-lidded and the corners of his eyes crinkled. The gentle smile that had helped Giyuu live on in the wake of his sister’s death. Sabito’s mouth moved, but there were no words. Giyuu did not hear, and before he could ask, Sabito faded away.
Giyuu bowed his head, closed his eyes, and breathed. It felt different, not having the past weigh him down. It would be impossible to forget, impossible not to look back at the past and lament at all that he’s lost. But Giyuu would no longer stare. Sabito and his sister wouldn’t want that for him. The best thing he could do now, was move forward with his life, honour their memory and do the most with the life that he’s been given. For them.
In a way, Tanjiro reminded him of Sabito. Both of them were painfully stubborn when they wanted to be, and both of them adamantly refused to give up on Giyuu. If Sabito were alive, he would have loved to hang out with Tanjiro. Well, Giyuu could do that for him. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to start opening up again. Both Sabito and his sister would have liked that, Giyuu thought.
“Tanjiro.” Giyuu turned around, determined to face forward and keep living, no matter how hard. And determined to pay Tanjiro back for reminding him, somehow. “Sorry for the delay, but I’ll go train as well-”
“Giyuu-san, want to have a cold soba eating contest with me?”
Why ? was Giyuu’s first thought. Oh well . It won’t be too unlike that time he and Sabito made a competition to see who could eat the most bowls of hotpot and salted fish. He was quite sure Urokodaki-sensei nearly had a stroke when Sabito almost choked in his attempt to beat Giyuu. Those were fun times. “Sure.”
For the first time in what felt like forever, the lingering presence that had followed Giyuu around ever since Sabito’s death completely vanished.
Sakonji lived to read his childrens’ letters home.
It was a relief receiving tangible proof that his children were alive. That even though the path they chose to tread was rough and full of strife, they somehow, someway, managed to beat the odds, again and again, and write back to him.
Giyuu’s first letter home came a full three months after he had left Mt. Sagiri. It was short and stilted, Giyuu’s crow crashing into Sakonji’s house with reckless abandon and a blatant disregard for the sanctity of windows. It had burst through Sakonji’s windows cawing like a devil, a letter wrapped around its leg.
Honestly, Sakonji never expected to be so pleased to have some bastard corvid wreck his house and steal his food.
The letter was short. A single page. Sadness seeped so strongly into the ink that Sakonji could still catch a whiff of choked-back tears. He could only imagine Giyuu, sitting down alone somewhere, subdued and shut-off from the rest of the world. Living but not alive, beleaguered by things that were out of his control.
Sakonji knew that boy, fed that boy, trained that boy, lived with that boy. He knew that Giyuu was blaming himself for Sabito’s death. As much as he wanted to track down his former student and tell him yet again that he did not kill Sabito, he would never be believed it. The only thing Sakonji could do was read the letters that Giyuu thought to send.
The letters came infrequently. Sakonji considered himself lucky to receive a letter once a season. Every time, the ink carried a faint trace of negativity that never failed to bring a cloud into Sakonji’s home.
But he loved the letters anyway. He wrote back every time, more than the single-page monotone reports Giyuu sent him. Sakonji made sure to write how proud he was of Giyuu, how far Giyuu had come, how much he’d grown. Sakonji gave encouragement and praise, warned Giyuu of any topographical difficulties he might experience in the current area he was in, of any nearby demons Sakonji has heard to have taken residence nearby.
Sakonji was merely happy to have Giyuu alive.
When Tanjiro became a demon slayer years later, the letters overtook Sakonji’s house. Tanjiro’s crow, the poor thing, came in no less gracefully than Giyuu’s did. Shooting into Sakonji’s personal space and almost poking an eye out, all the while obnoxiously screeching “LETTER LETTER LETTER FOR UROKODAKI-SAN” in a high-pitched chirp.
Reading Tanjiro’s letters after parsing through Giyuu’s wooden sentences was a kick in the teeth. Tanjiro wrote his letters the same way he tackled any problem that came his way, with boundless enthusiasm. Warmth permeated the paper, the ink. Sakonji could almost see the way Tanjiro’s brush scratched the paper, hear the joy in Tanjiro’s voice.Tanjiro was far too young to have been thrust into the world of demons. Sakonji was infinitely glad that God had not abandoned Tanjiro; even after all this time, the boy remained cheerfully optimistic.
How Sakonji loved his children…
If they could remain safe and alive, he would be satisfied.
Days zipped by, turning into weeks, turning into months. The letters began piling up and Sakonji learned to set out different plates of food for Giyuu and Tanjiro’s crows respectively. Sometimes, the crows came when Sakonji was out in the mountains or off into town. The birds always knew when to untangle the letters knotted around their legs and ground it with a rock before flying off once more. Sakonji would always return to some of his food pecked and fresh letters waiting. He could tell which of his two students sent him different letters.
Multiple letters stacked one on top of another and folded to the point where not a single inch of paper was left uncreased was always from Tanjiro. Sakonji always had to be careful straightening these out so as to not tear them on accident. Sometimes, there would be food stains on the margins, despite Tanjiro’s clear handwriting. Once or twice, Sakonji had found traces of pig hair stuck on the parchment.
In contrast, Giyuu only ever sent one letter written on one paper. It was folded lengthwise multiple times until it was nothing but a thin strip, and it was tied tight enough that there were minimal folds. Giyuu wrote in small characters, and every letter felt like a clinical report. There would be a wish for Sakonji to remain in good health, and an assurance that Giyuu was still clinging on to life.
Sakonji so dearly loved his children.
He lived only to read their letters.
And a few days after Tanjiro sent him the letter regarding the attack on the swordsmith village, a miracle happened.
Giyuu sent a letter.
Day by day, Giyuu was sending him letters. Short ones, clinical ones, ones that meandered on about Giyuu’s day or something mildly interesting that happened in training. Though his words were still stiff, the heavy scent of sadness that Sakonji had come to associate with Giyuu’s letters was nowhere to be found.
Bit by bit, with each letter that made its way into Sakonji’s hands, the ink painted the portrait of the boy he knew so well. The rascal that played pranks and had eating contests that he almost always won. Giyuu was regaining that mischievous spirit he had, learning to open up again, to experience the world around him, to be a part of it instead of simply existing in it. Sakonji didn’t know what happened to cause the change, but he couldn’t be happier.
The last letter Sakonji received from either of his children was a letter from Tanjiro’s crow.
It was terribly short. Even shorter than Giyuu’s usual terse updates. Tanjiro had only written a single sentence. The rest of the letter was done in a shaky hand, by one slowly getting used to writing once more. There were some misspellings of the kanji, a few instances where the grammar wasn’t quite right, words substituted for one another.
Tanjiro had written: Nezuko is human again .
The rest of the letter was Nezuko writing in large characters, expressing profuse gratitude for taking in Tanjiro, for giving Nezuko shelter, and for risking his life to ensure that both of the Kamado siblings lived. Nezuko talked in clipped sentences about how Muzan, the source of so much grief and pain in the world, had finally been brought to justice. She talked about how the sun felt against her skin once again, how she wanted to finally be able to eat foods she loved again.
Three of his children were alive.
As the letter concluded, Nezuko promised that they would return to Mt. Sagiri.
Three of Sakonji’s children were alive, and two of them were coming home. Sakonji would see them alive and well.
Every day since receiving that letter, Sakonji stood outside his home, cane in hand and back bowed, patiently waiting for them to return. Most of his time was spent waiting outside, clothes pulled tight to keep him from the snow. Hoping against hope that they didn’t encounter any unforeseen roadblocks on the way back.
Giyuu had stopped sending him letters some time ago. Giyuu’s final letter was simply, “We won. It’s over. Thank you for all that you’ve taught me, Sensei.”
Sakonji could only imagine what that boy -he would be a man now, but he was still a child in Sakonji’s eyes- was doing. Perhaps he was out exploring the world, now that he didn’t have to be in constant vigilance of demons. Perhaps Giyuu simply wanted to find a home where he can finally rest. Whatever he ended up doing, Sakonji could only hope that he was happy.
Time passed by in a blur.
Every morning, Sakonji would stand outside and wait.
Days and nights flew by. The cold snow that frosted the grass and the ground and the trees melted away, giving birth to a new Spring. The trees slowly began to regrow their vibrant green leaves and the blades of grass glistened with dew rather than ice. Life returned to the mountain. Birds with flamboyant feathers flitted from branch to branch, calling out to each other with saccharine songs. Wolves and rabbits and the other animals which had disappeared with winter came back in droves, howling distantly into the night.
The afternoon sun was high in the sky, scorching long silhouettes into the rich brown earth when Sakonji’s children had come home.
Seeing anything when the sun was almost directly in his eyes was a challenge, yet Sakonji pushed through. He was certain. He was sure.
Two figures crested the hill. Sakonji couldn’t quite see the details on their faces, couldn’t quite make out Tanjiro’s fiery-red hair or the star pattern on Nezuko’s kimono, but he knew. Both of the figures waved enthusiastically, both shouting a chorus of “Urokodaki-san!” with vim and vigor.
Sakonji threw his cane aside and ran.
Both of them sped down the hill hand in hand, racing to meet Sakonji in the middle.
The three of them crashed into each other with the force of a rushing tide slapping against the face of a cliff. All the breath left Sakonji’s lungs in a gasp, his old bones creaking with protest as Tanjiro wrapped him a tight hug. “We’re back,” said Tanjiro with a heavy voice. Nezuko stood to her brother’s side. Sakonji beckoned her closer and enveloped both siblings in a hug of his own. “We made it back, Urokodaki-san.”
It felt too soon when Tanjiro finally let go. Though Sakonji could breathe easier, he wished that the boy held on just a little bit longer. A part of him believed that if Tanjiro let go, he would vanish; disappear forever. Yet another student, another child, that Sakonji had lost. Reluctantly, Sakonji broke free of the hug.
“Nezuko’s human again.” Tanjiro beamed proudly at him, a hand on Nezuko’s back, subtly ushering her forward. She did not change much, Sakonji thought. The burning orange tips of her hair had gone, but she still had the same wide eyes and the same fair face. She looked radiant under the sun.
Nezuko bowed deeply to him. “Thank you for taking care of my brother and I.”
I’m just glad you’re alive.
Sakonji laughed softly, still a little breathless. “You don’t need to bow. Stand straight and stand proudly. You and your brother won against an evil we believed to be invincible.” Nezuko did as he asked, standing, head held high and a smile so brilliant it could rival her brother’s. “Come inside, I’ll get some food started.”
“Actually.” Tanjiro scratched his head. “You remember the friends I told you about?” Zenitsu, the future Lightning Pillar, and Inosuke, the Pig Mask wearing boy. Sakonji nodded. He remembered them, and remembered them well. It felt as though he almost knew them, in a way. Tanjiro spared no detail in his letters. Sakonji knew that Inosuke was still acclimating himself to modern society, that Zenitsu had a crush on Nezuko.
The smile on Tanjiro’s face widened. It overshadowed the sun still overhead. “Well, I actually brought them along. Is- is that okay?”
Sakonji nodded again. “Of course.”
Over the hill, two more figures began to descend. It was likely that Zenitsu heard him. Tanjiro did say that Zenitsu had quite the sharp ear.
Before Sakonji could even introduce himself to Tanjiro and Nezuko’s friends, the Kamado siblings ushered him away from the house. “Thank you for the hospitality!” said Nezuko with yet another bow. Tanjiro had an arm around Zenitsu and Inosuke, practically dragging them inside Sakonji’s home.
Nezuko continued to push him towards the hill. “I will help brother with preparing dinner,” she announced without much room for argument. Sakonji could easily avoid her, but there was no harm done in humouring her.
Nezuko finally stopped when Sakonji was right at the top of the hill. The sun was brutal. Sakonji had to squint if he even wanted to see Nezuko’s face. Nezuko was squinting herself. Her nose was scrunched up the same way Tanjiro’s was when he found something unpleasant. “We wanted it to be a surprise. Brother insisted. So. Um. Please take your time!”
And off she went, sprinting down the hill, leaving Sakonji alone at the top. He could see smoke from his house. Tanjiro must have begun making dinner, ever so eager to help. Even from here, the scent of burning wood was strong. There was a decadent smell of broth and fish and although Nezuko may have wanted for Sakonji to wait until they could get dinner done, Sakonji couldn’t resist.
He took a step forward. The wind, ever capricious, whipped around and changed directions. The familiar scent of wildflowers and chamomile tea swept over him, overpowering all of his senses and almost sending him to his knees.
Sakonji knew that scent.
Regret and sorrow had plagued that scent. That scent had bathed Sakonji’s home with unshed tears and remorse and pain. That scent was of mourning and unbearable loss that Sakonji did not know how to remedy. Sakonji knew that scent.
Like a man possessed, he spun around in circles on the hill, eyes wide open, landing on every tree and every rock.
At the other side of the hill cloaked in a mismatched haori, was Giyuu. He was paused mid-ascent, a comically blank expression on his face. He looked different. He smelled different, if only slightly. The guilt that hung over Giyuu like a tempestuous cloud was gone. He looked brighter. Looked alive.
There was no mistaking it. He had the same dark blue eyes, he turned his head to the side in nervousness the exact same way, he still rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, always ready to fight. This was Giyuu. After so long, after the mountain of letters shared between them with nary an inkling of visiting, Giyuu was here, alive and looking better than ever.
“I decided to visit.” Giyuu was still silent, but he was no longer subdued. Maybe, just maybe, he was finally moving on from Sabito’s death.
“Welcome back, Giyuu.”
All three of his children came home.
If he was being honest, he still wasn’t ready. Reconciling with his past, defeating Muzan, finally being able to rest… Everything felt as though it happened too fast. Like Giyuu was put on a train with no warning and had to watch the country zip by. After being in life-threatening fights one after another, after losing so many of his allies in their war against a seemingly insurmountable foe, being able to return to the one place he can call home felt.
Not wrong, just. Odd. Urokodaki-sensei had locked him in a tight hug, the long nose of his tengu mask digging into Giyuu’s shoulder. It reminded him of his sister’s hugs, the way she’d pull Giyuu close and reassure him that everything was going to be alright.
The hug lasted too short, Urokodaki-sensei pulling away with the corners of his tengu mask a little wet. “Go, Giyuu,” he said. “I know you want to visit the mountain. It’s been years since you’ve last gone. Go. Dinner will be waiting for you when you get back.”
Giyuu was tempted to ignore that and just head into the house, have a hotpot eating contest with Tanjiro, laugh with the people he fought and bled with. Revel in the fact that he was back home . A small part of him, the part that would always cling to the past, never wanted to go up into the mountain. Giyuu wasn’t sure what he’d find. If he could stomach returning to that clearing. Alone.
But before he knew it, his legs moved of their own accord. Giyuu passed the traps, the boulder, climbing higher and higher. The air grew thin, the sun had set, and darkness fell on the entirety of Mt. Sagiri. He had not come this way for years, hadn’t even set foot on the mountain after Sabito passed, but Giyuu found his way up. His body remembered the river running by, remembered which stones were safe to step on, remembered the winding trail into the heart of the mountain even with nothing but the stars to guide his way.
It changed, Giyuu thought. The grass was longer, brushing past his ankles and the trees had grown taller, their leaves more abundant. The nearby river had attracted fireflies which lit up the field of wildflowers. There was moss on the fallen log.
Sabito’s phantom had changed too. No longer was he a child, forever doomed to wander the earth. He was the same age as Giyuu, the age he would have been if he did not die. Instead of his green and yellow haori, Sabito wore a sheet-white kimono, the only colour on him was the misshapen flower crown he continued to weave. The mask Urokodaki-sensei had given him lay at his feet, shattered into a dozen pieces.
Giyuu was frozen.
When Sabito finally, finally finished his crown, he glanced up. Surprise crossed his face for only a second before tears sprung in his eyes.
“Welcome home, Giyuu.”