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They tell her he was a coward.

They tell her he was a coward and a traitor, worthless to the end. That he died crying, begging and praying for mercy. They tell her he died a slow death befitting his crime.

She pulls out the tongues of all those who approach her bearing such lies.

He was never a coward. He had never turned his back on those who’d needed him, but they had certainly turned away from him.

He was . . .

Wait . . .

Who was he?

 


 

Memories used to flit in her head, cumbersome and heavy. A voice would tell her it was cold, and that she should bundle up in warm clothes. It would tell her she needed rest, and to not push herself.

It becomes easier when that voice fades.

 


 

Demons try to kill her sometimes. Possessive of their territory and their prey, she is a threat to their continued living. What they don’t know is that she is far more than just a threat.

She is death itself, and her blood burns like the sun.

Protect humans, someone once told her, but demons . . .

Demons were always to be hunted, right?

 


 

The men in front of her wear the black of the Demon Slayer corps. They shake apart in fear when she disarms them, shattering their weapons along with the bones in their bodies.

She carries a sword in her hand. Drags the tip of it through the snow as she moves towards the men, leaving a jagged rift through the white behind her.

Take it and run

She’s had this sword for a while. She lets it drop now, feeling her claws extend. Here, all she needs is her hands and her teeth. They are enough for this job.

Protect humans. They are your family.

No, she thinks. She steps on the black blade, adding the slightest pressure from the wrong direction until it yields and breaks beneath the force of her heel.

The next step launches her towards the slayers in the blink of an eye. Her teeth make themselves known; shrieks fill the night for a brief moment and they are just as quickly silenced. Blood sprays across her tongue and suddenly everything is just so easy.

It's vengeful and cruel and she takes great comfort with every uniform she slices through.

She has no family with the slayers.

 


 

A young demon looks at her with no fear. Recently turned, he doesn’t even attempt to run away from her. It is, perhaps, what ruins her. When she is done putting her claws in his chest, he simply smiles. Blood dribbles past his lips and down his chin.

“Thank you,” he rasps, gaze so gentle it hurts. He crumbles into ash soon after and she cannot understand why she wants to follow him.

She cannot understand why she shakes.

 


 

She can no longer hunt humans. Hunger consumes her and still she cannot.

Blood had taken a permanent residence on the threads of her battered old haori. Checkered green and black, it's stained now with an awful, permanent red, and it turns her stomach every time she looks.

Perhaps she is a failed demon.

 


 

There are graves at the edge of the house she finds shelter in. She counts six mounds, and thinks the number is wrong. The sun is setting but she remains huddled on the porch, hiding from the last few rays under the shade of the roof.

When the man finds her there, something keeps her unmoving, even as he approaches. He wears an unforgiving gaze, and a haori made of two mismatched halves.

She growls at him when he pulls out his sword and it makes him pause with a frown.

“You . . . “

The man’s face goes blank.

She has gone years without feeling emotions besides anger, sick glee, and an ever-lingering hatred. She does not recognise the expression he makes now.

“I’m sorry,” the man says, quietly.

A wind picks up and his earrings flutter in it, catching the moonlight. They look like Hanafuda.

 

Nezuko

 

She is a demon. She cannot die so easily.

At that moment, she feels like she is dying.

 

I promise

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save him,” the man says.

 

I will always

 

He looks discomfited and out of sorts as he continues, as though he would rather be anywhere else but here.

“He was . . . brave till the end. He asked us to spare you. He prayed for you, begged for us to—"

 

Keep you safe

 

She falls apart with a gasp.

The voice that had haunted her, that she had erased from her memories so thoroughly, comes back to her now.

 

Nezuko

 

Nezuko

 

Nezuko

 

I’m sorry I failed you

 

The man goes silent when she breaks into tears.

She hasn’t cried in years either; not since she was a human child. But she remembers the one person who had always cried for her, when no one else would. Warm eyes and a sun bright smile. Hands, callused and rough, enclosing her own. How could she have forgotten . . . ? How had she forgotten, the moment everything fell apart?

She hears the shuffle of feet in front of her, reluctant but necessary. The man still has his sword out.

“Be at peace,” he says.

When he moves, it is hypnotic and soundless. She is reminded of the silence before the crash of ocean waves.

 

You have to run, Nezuko

 

No . . . she is not running this time.

He gets closer, each step a gentle ripple across the snow. His sharp eyes are the clear azure of a mountain stream.

 

You have to go without me. Take it and run

 

A black blade pushed into her hands

 

Run!

 

An execution without mercy, for harbouring and protecting a demon.

But SHE was the demon. So how had she been allowed to survive all these years?

Why take him?

 

WHY had they not taken HER life instead!

 

Her fingers clench as instinct rears up in the face of danger. She should move. She should let her claws out and cut down this man who brings nothing but pain to her.

She should . . .

She smooths her fingers out on her lap and lets herself relax.

A warm hand settles over her knuckles.

When it comes, the slice across her neck doesn’t burn at all like she expects. It's . . . peaceful.

 

Blessed rain

After the drought

 

“Onii-chan . . . “

She whispers it in a voice rusted from disuse.

Her brother sits besides her, on the porch of the house she wishes she’d been killed in all those years ago. He sets another hand atop her head and the heat of it warms her to her bones. She hasn’t felt such warmth since he’d died.

“It’s okay,” Onii-chan says, mouth curving up sweetly like no time has passed between them at all. He’s crying, but still his eyes are as kind as she remembers. “I’m here to bring you home, Nezuko.”

Home?

Can she really go home? Is there really any place for someone like her? After all she’s done?

“There’s always a place for you, Nezuko.”

All around her, she sees the faces of her family. Her siblings, her parents. They enclose her in their arms, securing her. Their hearts beat steady against her and she feels her tears build again.

“I told you, the bond between us can’t be severed. You and I won’t be separated ever again . . . and I’ll headbutt anyone who says otherwise!”

It brings laughter bubbling up alongside the tears. Her vision blurs, red and white fading slowly till she can see nothing but the glow of Tanjirou’s smile.

 

Welcome home, Nezuko

 

She closes her eyes and smiles back as fire engulfs them.

 

I’m home.