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Blood like Fire

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Nezuko has always felt a tugging in her gut.

When Rokuta was about to fall into the snow and hurt his wrist, she was the first to grip his arm so that he wouldn’t. When Hanako was playing tag with Shigeru, she had a feeling that the younger girl would crash into Takeo who was walking by with a hatchet, so she approached her younger brother and held him back a little with a small chat.

She had always known when one of her family members were in trouble, and over the years, she has grown to rely on what she called ‘her sixth sense’.

(She didn’t know it was so much more than that.)

So, when she felt the strongest tug in her gut one day, she knew she had to intervene somehow.

“Onii-chan! I’ll go down the mountain today, why don’t you take a small break?” Nezuko says, hoping that her tightening smile wasn’t too obvious. Of course, her older brother, Kamado Tanjiro, noticed immediately that something was wrong with her, so he placed his palm to her forehead.

“Nezuko? Are you okay? You don’t look too good.”

Nezuko closes her eyes, enjoying the warmth of her brother’s palm, before her smile turns more genuine. “I’m fine, thank you! I’m more worried about you, you go up and down the mountain every day, aren’t you tired? I might as well take one day over for you.”

Tanjiro furrows his eyebrows, but his smile never faded. “Sorry Nezuko, but the mountain is too dangerous for you to go alone. Besides, don’t worry! Your brother is pretty strong, you know!” He grins at her warmly, as he always did.

Nezuko feels a pout coming on. “But…of course, I worry. How can I not? You’re always doing the most work around the house. You cook, wash, clean, you even do half of my work when you can! I want to help you too.”

Tanjiro’s eyes glittered with pride at her words. “Thank you, Nezuko. But really, don’t mention it! I’m the oldest, so it’s only a given that I do the most work!” He grins at her one last time, before wishing her goodbye.

Nezuko bites her lip, looking at the back of her sibling. The pulling in her gut hasn’t lessened, it only seemed to get stronger.

(A faint buzzing enters her head. Screams, pleads, crying out ‘Mother, Hanako, Takeo–)

Before she realizes it, she sprints after him and grabs the back of his haori. Tanjiro yelps and almost falls backwards, but he steadies himself when he sees Nezuko behind him. He turns around.

“Nezuko! That was dangerous, you could’ve hurt yourself–” Tanjiro scolds, but abruptly stops when he sees Nezuko look at him. Her lip was quivering, eyes glinting faintly with tears, and her voice was shaky as well.

“Please, Onii-chan. Let me go today, I don’t…I don’t think you should go,” she pleads, her hand still holding onto his clothing. Tanjiro is taken aback by her words and attitude, wondering where his normally strong-willed sister went to.

He spends a few seconds thinking, and Nezuko braces herself for the ‘sorry’ that is surely to come, but instead, he smiles at her and lightly grips her hand.

“Okay! If Nezuko is saying this much, it must mean that you have a really bad feeling this time, right?” Tanjiro says, his eyes gentle and understanding. “I trust you, Nezuko. You were always sharp when it comes to these things, so I’ll stay home today. I promise. But on the other hand, if you’re going to go in my place, please be careful and take your time. It would be bad if you slipped on snow and fell, understand?”

Nezuko nods, relieved that Tanjiro finally gave in. They head back into the house for Nezuko to change into something more mobile than a kimono, and Tanjiro is bombarded by their overjoyed little siblings. Nezuko smiles, it seemed like she wasn’t the only one who wanted him to stay home.

“Be careful, okay Nezuko?!” Tanjiro shouts behind her as she waves them goodbye, walking down the mountain. “Don’t run! Remember to keep yourself warm! If you run across a bear, don’t–”

Ahh, Nezuko thinks, an exasperated smile tugging at her lips. He’s always been a little overprotective.

“Don’t worry, Onii-chan, I’ll be fine!” She shouts, hoping that he could hear her over the chilly wind.

XXX

Dawn slowly approached. The sky was littered by gray clouds as always, but Nezuko made sure to smile a thousand times brighter to appease old man Saburo. She thanked him for letting her stay at his hut for the night and trudged back home, determined to see her family as soon as possible.

(Red eyes. Red everywhere as someone screamed and begged, red splattered on the walls, the ground, everything in sight –)

She smelt it before she saw it.

Blood.

Nezuko’s legs moved rapidly, her heart pounding as she ascended the snowy path. Her house wasn’t far, it was just up there, so why could she smell blood out of all things?

When Nezuko reaches the top, she feels everything in her body freezing.

In front of her house were two figures. One was over another, cradling the smaller one’s head close to theirs. Red hair, a burn scar, it was…it was…

“ONII-CHAN!!”

(Everything breaks. She feels hundreds of memories flooding into her, thousands of screams, millions of growls, and everything in between. She sees her brother, taller and stronger, his hair up in a ponytail and burning red eyes with a gentle smile. She sees three other boys, one with long blonde hair, one with short blue, and another with black styled like a mohawk. She sees a woman with a butterfly in her hair, her eyes pink and shining alongside the others. She sees herself, taller, her hair down with orange at the ends, a toothy smile and bright pink eyes hugging the older version of her brother as well. She sees everything, she feels everything, she remembers.

And she cries, because she failed to stop everything from happening once again.)

She rushes to her brother’s side, throwing away the cargo basket along the way. She bends down and puts a finger to his neck, feeling an immense relief when she detects a faint pulse underneath. She tries the same for Rokuta, but to no avail. She then runs to the front door and enters the house, immediately assaulted with the strong stench of blood and death.

She lets out a strangled whimper when she sees her family dead. Her mother, Hanako, Takeo, Shigeru, Rokuta, everyone–

She screams, bringing her hands up to slap the sides of her face. There was no time to despair. If she replaced Tanjiro in his role, that meant that she must keep him alive no matter what. She steps on the blood-stained floor and heads towards her family, almost puking when she sees their faces up close. She checks each of them for any signs of life but finds nothing. She then wills herself to move on, opening the cabinet to fetch a thick blanket and heads outside. Her heart clenches when she sees her brother on the snow with his arm around Rokuta. She remembers to take the hatchet nearby, in case of her brother waking up.

I’m sorry, Onii-chan, she apologizes in her heart, wrapping him in the blanket stained with bloody fingerprints. She looked down at her fingers and realizes that she must have gotten some of the blood on them when she opened the cabinet, and she cannot help but letting out a small cry at that.

She pulls Tanjiro to her, wrapping her arms around his neck, and buries her sobs into the fabric. I’m sorry that I couldn’t remember sooner, I’m sorry that I let that demon get to us again, I’m sorry that everybody had to die again–

“Please, Onii-chan,” she pleads, her voice soft and watery. “Please wait a bit longer. Giyu-san will come, he did before, there’s no way that he won’t this time, and you’ll be okay again, I promise I’ll turn you back into a human, you did it before, it’s going to okay, it’s going to be okay–”  

 Grooowwl.

She snaps her eyes open, facing up to see her brother’s face. His eyes were white, completely without pupils and irises, and his teeth morphed into the sharp fangs she was all too familiar with.

“Aaaa!!!” Tanjiro growls, starting to struggle against Nezuko’s hold. “AAAHHH!!”

“Onii-chan!!” Nezuko begs, tightening her hold on him. “Calm down! It’s me, Nezuko! Try to hold back, remember our family, yourself, PLEASE!”

Tanjiro seems oblivious to her screams though, because he faces down and bares his fangs in her face. She feels her face turning white but manages to roll away in time before he chomps downwards, aiming for her shoulder.

“Argh!” She grunts, her hands immediately going to the hatchet she attached to her hip. She tries to get up, but is assaulted by her brother once more, who pushes her down to the snow.

She sees his face nearing her, monstrous growls coming out from his mouth as he opens his mouth. Nezuko aims at that moment and brings her arms up to shove the hatchet into his mouth, gagging him.

“Onii-chan, please!” Nezuko cries, feeling the cold tears on her cheeks. “Please, remember! It’s me, Nezuko, your little sister…You’re not a monster who eats humans, you’re not a killer, you’re my brother, Kamado Tanjiro! Please fight it! I know you can do it!”

She remembers the countless times he saved her with his kindness. How he was always willing to put everyone before him, how he was always thinking of her more than himself.

He was her sun, her light, her everything. She couldn’t bear to lose him again.

A tear drops onto her cheek.

Nezuko halts her breathing when she sees her brother. He was faltering, his hands no longer holding the strength that was used to push her down, and his eyes were widened with tears dropping down. Nezuko feels her own eyes well up once more as his tears hit her cheek.

“Onii-chan,” she chokes out. “You’re still in there. It’s okay, it’s going to fine–”

Tanjiro suddenly lurched sideways, his hands scooping her into his arms as he tumbled. Nezuko could feel a faint slash through her hair, but she couldn’t tell what was happening. They both crashed into a tree, but Nezuko was still in her brother’s arms.

“Onii-chan…?”

A foot steps onto the snow in front of her. She feels her heart thump with hope.

It’s him, Giyu-san, he’s here –

“Young girl, are you alright?! Hold on tight, and don’t worry! I’ll make sure to save you!”

No, it wasn’t him. It wasn’t Tomioka Giyu.

Nezuko feels her eyes widen as she slowly looks up. Instead of cool blue eyes, bright, fiery red and orange were staring back at her. The same shade of fire was in place of black hair, and a brilliant smile graced her sight instead of a frown.

Rengoku Kyojuro. The man who died while passing his will down to her brother. The man of fire.

But Nezuko isn’t supposed to know this. So instead of calling out his name, she retorts back.

“No! Please don’t hurt him! He’s my big brother, he’s not going to harm me!”

The smile on his face falters. “Young girl, please listen to me! Your brother has been turned into a demon, he’s no longer human! You might die if I do not kill him this moment!”

“No!” Nezuko shouts. She turns behind her. “Onii-chan…!”

Her brother is staring at her. Eyes with the pupils like stilts wide open, he reaches out a hand. His sharp fingernails brush against her cheek, to her hair. He lets out small whimpers and growls. She realizes what he seems to be mourning about, but she smiles anyway.

Her hair, her long, beautiful hair her mother loved, was cut short.

She puts her hand over his. “It’s okay, Onii-chan, I don’t mind. Please, you have to help me convince Rengoku-san that you mean no harm. We can’t–”

Tanjiro’s docile growls turns fiercer. He snaps his head toward the direction of Rengoku, who was a lot closer than before. He stands up and pushes Nezuko behind him, stretching out his arms to shield his little sister from the person who had cut her hair.

Grooowl.

“Onii-chan!” Nezuko yelps, pushing herself to stand. “I’m fine, it’s alright!”

Tanjiro growls stubbornly, glaring at Rengoku. Nezuko can see the veins popping out at the side of his head, and feels like he had grown taller, which meant that he was taking on his adult form. This isn’t good, this is really bad –

“…He shields you,” Rengoku murmurs, his smile completely gone. His eyes dart back and forth, from Nezuko to Tanjiro. He seems to be pondering about them, by the way he was frowning.

Nezuko sees an opportunity. “Yes, he’s not a bad person! He’s not going to attack me!”

“…He is a demon. When a demon gets impossibly hungry, there is no telling what it’ll do. You may suffer a cruel death by his fangs, but you still say he’s good?” Rengoku tightens his grip on his sword, his tone utterly serious. “I’m afraid I can’t believe that. There is no concrete evidence that he will not eat people from now on. Don’t worry, I will not cut you when I run my blade through him.”

Nezuko eyes widen. “No–”

Tanjiro growls. He reaches down – Rengoku raises his sword, prepared to strike – and flings a handful of snow into the taller man’s face.

“Hngh–?!”

Tanjiro rushes over to Nezuko and scoops her up in his hands once more. Nezuko, sensing what her older brother was about to do, nods and scraps some snow off the tree nearby. Tanjiro makes a small purring noise and takes off faster than she did when she first changed.

The scenery around her blurs, but when a fiery orange blob enters her vision, Nezuko aims and flings. Some of the snow she gathered had rocks in them, but it was quite obvious that her projectiles weren’t actually hitting the man. Tanjiro throwing snow at his eyes was just a small distraction, there was no way the Flame Pillar would be hindered by just that.

But even then, Nezuko had no choice. Because even if she had to go against the world once again, she would gladly do it with her brother by her side.

XXX

He protected her. He carried her like she was a princess and took off. He assessed the situation, decided that Kyojuro was a threat, and tried to bring his little sister to safety.

Rengoku Kyojuro was a man who used to believe that demons could do no right. But it felt as if his entire view was falling apart when he met those siblings.

When Oyakata-sama sent him to investigate a mountain, he’d expected to find a threatening demon who ate thousands, not a protective sister and her brother-turned-demon.

Despite the situation, Kyojuro feels a smile tug at his lips as he dodges the snowballs the young girl was throwing at him.

Maybe these two are different.

Kyojuro breathes, feeling his blood pump, and jumps right in front of them. The brother skids to a halt, baring his fangs while the sister glares protectively, but Kyojuro only smiles.

“I see, maybe you do have a point, young girl,” Kyojuro says, his tone significantly warmer compared to before. “I think that I would like to bet on you two.”

Before either could respond, Kyojuro sheathes his Nichirin blade and hits the back of their necks with it, knocking them out. He holds them in his arms as they fall forward. He can still feel their warmth and their slight breathing indicating their life.

Two lives out of seven. He couldn’t save the rest of their family.

“I’m sorry that I could not get here sooner,” Kyojuro murmurs, gently patting their small heads. “If only I was faster, your entire family might have lived.”

Kyojuro hefts them onto his shoulders respectively and starts his trudge back to their house. Considering his speed, it didn’t take much time at all. He lowers them onto the trunk of a nearby tree and covers the two with the blanket that was around the older brother. He approaches the house next, inwardly grimacing at the horrible sight that greeted him.

Kyojuro breathes, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work.

XXX

Onii-chan…Onii-chan…!!!

She was calling for him. The small girl with long – no, short now – hair was crying. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t help but reach out a hand towards her. He wanted to embrace her, comfort her, tell her that everything will be fine because he was going to make sure that it would be.

He hates her tears. They made his heart hurt in a way that he never thought possible.

When his conscious returns faintly, he manages to open his eyes. He sees the fire man in front of five human sized lumps of snow, his hands together in a prayer with his eyes closed. When he opens his eyes, Tanjiro sees the sadness in them, and Tanjiro knows that he meant no more harm to him and the little girl.

He turns his head to the side, seeing her sleeping. He purrs softly, shuffling closer to her, rubbing his cheek against her head. She was to be protected, safe, unharmed. Something in him told him that, although he didn’t know what it was exactly.

Footsteps approaches them, and Tanjiro blearily looks up to see the tall man. The sadness in his eyes are gone, a smile there instead.

“I will not harm both of you,” he promises, and Tanjiro believes him. “Do not worry. Sleep, you need to recover.”

Tanjiro grunts, gesturing towards the little girl. The man seems to get his meaning. “I will protect your sister as well, do not worry, demon boy! I swear on my name, Rengoku Kyojuro!”

Tanjiro, not fully understanding his meaning but knowing that he probably got his message, nods and closes his eyes.

Sleep.

XXX

When Nezuko wakes up, she finds herself in a room. Waking up frantically, she tries to find her brother first thing and sees him sleeping next to her in a futon. She feels her worry drain out of her, until Rengoku barges into their room with a loud declaration of breakfast.

Rengoku Kyojuro is a kind man. She feels like she’s basking in sunlight when next to him, a different kind but somewhat similar to the sun her brother is. His voice is loud and sometimes annoying, but he cares so deeply, and Nezuko knows that she couldn’t hate him for her life even if he had threatened to hurt her brother before.

During their shared breakfast, Rengoku explains to Nezuko about the demons and the corps. Although already aware because of her past life, she listens attentively, trying to find any differences between this reality and her memories. Everything seemed the same, which meant that she was right, Kibutsuji Muzan was the one who killed her family again.

“Rengoku-san,” Nezuko says. She is well aware of the consequences of her actions, but when this man instead of one Tomioka Giyu came to their aid, she throws any thought of following her past life out the window. Some things may be the same, but her and her brother’s life will be completely different.

She wonders if any of her friends are the same as her.

She bows down deep, her short hair falling beside her head. She is aware of how short it is, she’s never cut her hair ever since she was three years old. Another sign of change.

“Please teach me,” she sounds out, loud and clear. She doesn’t have to look up to see the surprised look on Rengoku’s face. “I want to get stronger. I want to be strong enough to protect my brother and turn him back into a human. If one can change into a demon, there is no way one cannot go back,” Nezuko raises her head, staring straight into those golden eyes.

“I need you, Rengoku-san. I need you to share your teachings with me, I need you to help me grow stronger,” Nezuko continues. “Because I love my brother too much to let things lie the way they are now. So please, Rengoku-san.”

Help me, save me, save us.

XXX

Kyojuro, in all his life, has been called many things. A disappointment, a noisy brat, an optimistic asshole, and tons more.

He thinks that ‘crazy’, ‘out of his mind’, ‘lunatic’ would be added to that list.

Because in the face of absolute determination and love, he couldn’t help but smile.

His heart clenches, squeezes, aches for them.

In another world, Rengoku Kyojuro would have given his life for the Demon Slaying Corps, slaying demons left and right. The last thing he saw would be a fifteen-year-old boy with burgundy hair, and red eyes wet with tears as he tells him everything.

In this world, Rengoku Kyojuro still would give his life for the Demon Slaying Corps, but he cannot afford to die. Not because he has someone to kill, but because of two little kids who had their family ripped away from them when they were too young.

In another world, Rengoku Kyojuro would have died without the Breath of Flames being passed on.

In this world, he accepts Kamado Nezuko as his tsuguko, his only successor.

Chapter Text

Rengoku Kyojuro is her teacher now. Nezuko still doesn’t completely register that fact, but when he packed up their stuff and exclaimed loudly that they were going back to his house, she finally thinks, it’s not a dream.

She asks Rengoku to help her make a basket for her brother to hide into so that she can carry him around. He agrees with a blinding smile, and they take most of the day weaving straw while Tanjiro falls in and out of his slumber. Curled up in his futon, Nezuko thinks her brother looks oddly peaceful even with the bamboo covering his mouth.

“Rengoku-san,” Nezuko asks hesitantly, twirling the straw with her nimble fingers.

“Yes?” Rengoku chirps, watching her movements and mimicking them, albeit a little slower and sloppier.

“So…how am I going to use the…Breath of Flames?”

“Hm? Well, it won’t be easy, that’s for sure! I mostly taught myself by reading books about it, so I want to lend them to you when we return home! Don’t worry, I promise I will teach you carefully. I won’t let you go through it alone, Nezuko.”

The warmth in his voice is enough to overwhelm Nezuko, and she tries her best not to sniffle because he reminds her so much of her own brother.

“…Thank you, Rengoku-san…”

Rengoku’s hands stop. She isn’t aware that he is looking at her with the corner of his eye, too busying burying herself in her handiwork and soft sniffling. She jumps a little when she feels a hand pat her head, and she turns around to see the flame haired man smiling softly at her.

“You’re doing great, Nezuko. I know you’ll be fine.”

Nezuko sniffles loudly, feeling tears well up in her eyes as she reaches up to brush them away. “Th-thank you, Rengoku-san.”

The two of them are distracted slightly by a quiet grumble, and they turn to look at the futon where the sound came from. Tanjiro is murmuring softly, his almost shining red eyes opening and closing, before he sluggishly moves to lay his hand on Nezuko’s trembling hand.

“…Mm…”

“Onii-chan…” Nezuko bites her lip softly, reaching out to squeeze his small hand. He had shrunk to a smaller version of himself to rest, as a smaller form reserved more energy than a big one. The hand on hers feels so familiar despite it looking like one in the past.

Tanjiro mutters again, his blurry eyes meeting hers for a second before they close, and he returns to his slumber. His hand goes limp against hers, and Nezuko grips it once more before placing it back to its original position.

Rengoku, watching them from the side, decides to keep quiet about the ordeal. He grins silently to himself and continues weaving, trying to recall how his tsuguko had done it.

He knows they will be okay. There’s no proof, but somehow, he knows.

XXX

The basket is finally finished, but it takes them the entire day. When Nezuko wakes up her brother and gently coaxes him into the basket, it was already night. Tanjiro was still sleeping away, so she figured that it would be good exercise anyway and hefts the basket onto her shoulders with a determined face. Rengoku takes one look at her, laughs out loud, and ruffles her short locks before finally setting off.

During the entire time they were walking, Rengoku had told her much more about the corps in detail. He talked about his fellow Pillars, their styles of Breathing, and about one particular swordsman she recognized as Kanroji Mitsuri. Apparently, she was his previous tsuguko, but after realizing that the Breath of Flames wasn’t suited for her, she invented a new style; the Breath of Love. Rengoku told her that she might meet her during her journey, and Nezuko replied that she would definitely like to one day.

After all, Mitsuri was like a sister to her. Of course, she would want to see her again.

 It was around 11 in the night when they reached the Rengoku residence.

Nezuko gulps nervously, tightening her hold on the straps of the basket on her back. Sweat drips from her forehead to the ground, her breath slightly ragged. Rengoku notices but decides not to comment on it, and he barges into the grounds without any care.

“I’m home!”

The sound of a door sliding open responds to his voice, and another calls out. “Brother! Welcome back! I’ve been waiting for you!”

A miniature Rengoku appears, his steps flurrying towards his older brother. Rengoku accepts him with his arms, hugging his little brother close to his body.

“Wahaha! Thank you for waiting, Senjuro, but you should really go to sleep! It’s no time for you to be awake!”

The boy called ‘Senjuro’ blushes lightly. “I-I’m sorry, brother, but I wanted to know if you returned home safely…”

It is then when he looks over Rengoku’s shoulder to see Nezuko staring at them in surprise, and Senjuro let out a small squeak. “Brother, who is she?”

“Hm? Oh, I should introduce both of you!” Rengoku lets go of his little brother, puts a hand on his shoulder and turns around to face Nezuko. “Nezuko, this is my little brother, Senjuro! Senjuro, this girl is my new tsuguko, Kamado Nezuko!”

Nezuko bows at that, careful not to rattle the basket too much. “It’s nice to meet you, Senjuro-kun! Please call me Nezuko!”

Senjuro quickly bows as well, matching Nezuko’s politeness. “I-it’s nice to meet you too, Nezuko-san. Please make yourself at home.”

Rengoku laughs and ruffles both of their heads, causing similar sounding yelps to be released. “Alright you two, let’s head inside! Senjuro, you should head to bed! Nezuko, I’ll introduce you to your new room, alright?”

“Brother, please let me get Nezuko-san’s room ready!” Senjuro insists, straightening his back. “It’s not proper to let brother do all the work, especially since both of you have been walking for a long time. Please rest!”

Senjuro bows one more time before scurrying into the mansion, leaving behind a blinking Nezuko and a smiling Rengoku. A small beat passed before Nezuko unconsciously spills a laugh, giggling softly.

“Rengoku-san, your brother is quite energetic. He’s very cute.”

Rengoku laughs again, warmth coating every inch of it. “Of course! He is my brother after all!”

The two (well, technically three) of them enter the mansion. Most of the candles were already out, but Rengoku guides Nezuko to what seemed like the living room, which was lit by a few lamps.  

“Sit down, Nezuko! Good work hauling your brother all the way here!” Rengoku chirps, plopping down onto a zabuton. Nezuko nods and sets the basket down gently, hoping her brother managed to get a peaceful rest. She follows Rengoku’s example and plops down onto a zabuton, letting out a tired sigh.

Rengoku observes her a second, before nodding to himself. “Rest up for today, Nezuko. From tomorrow, we will start the basics of Breathing, understood?”

Nezuko raises her head and nods, albeit a little burnt out. She isn’t used to manual labor as Tanjiro had done most of it, so she knows that she will lag behind her brother a lot from the start. If it had taken Tanjiro two years to use the Breath of Water, how long would it take for someone like her to conjure even the smallest of flames?

Rengoku studies her for a small while, but before he could say anything, they both hear heavy footsteps approaching them. Rengoku slowly stands up, but Nezuko stares at him in confusion until the fusuma slides open, revealing a ragged man that looked like…Rengoku’s father.

“Kyojuro!” The man barks, his mouth curled in a vicious snarl. His golden eyes dart to Nezuko for a second, before they return to glare at Rengoku. “The hell is the meaning of this?! Why’d you bring back another tsuguko?!”

“Senjuro must have told you, father,” Rengoku replies, his tone even and his smile dim. “I have decided to take in Kamado Nezuko as my tsuguko. I intend to pass down the Breath of Flames to her, and I believe that she can do it. She will be staying in this residence as I train her, and I promise that we will not bother you.”

“You?! Teach?!” The man scoffs, the sake bottle in his hands slushing. Nezuko observes the man, noticing the tinted cheeks, the slightly unfocused eyes. A drunk, most likely had been drinking since afternoon, Nezuko muses. “Give me a break! A person like you has no right to teach others! You don’t have any talent anyways, stop wasting your time and quit the damn corps already! Passing on the Breath of Flames to a girl like this?”

The man whirls around, meeting Nezuko dead on. His snarl intensifies, his eyes bloodshot. Nezuko feels her fists clenching on top of her knees, her body rigid. He advanced towards her, a rough hand reaching out to grab the collar of her kimono. “A frail girl like this has no potential–”

Nezuko unknowingly bares her fangs, reading to stand up and slash if needed, but before she could move, someone had slapped the man’s hand away, and a menacing growl resounded out.

“Grrrrr….”

Nezuko blinks, recognizing the green and black checkered haori in front of her. She looks to her side to see that the basket tipped over, the hood opened.

Tanjiro had pounced out the moment he sensed that she was in danger.

Her big brother stands in front of her, his sharp nails out, veins surfacing on his face, and his eyes stilted to the extreme. Deep growls escape his throat as he glares furiously at Rengoku’s father, his stance poised in an offensive form.

It was still for a moment, before Nezuko hears another voice.

“…A demon?”

Before she knows it, a chocked gargle escapes as Tanjiro flies to the side, crashing into the wall. Everything moving too fast for Nezuko to perceive, she could only open her mouth to shout.

“Onii-cha – AGH?!”

A hand closes around her throat before she can finish. She raises her hands and digs her fingernails into the arm holding her, growling and snarling, but it doesn’t move. She lifts her blurred eyes to see the same man now looking at her like he wanted to tear her apart, limb by limb.

“What is the meaning of this?” The man growls. “Bringing a demon into my house, little girl. Do you know what this means? It means that nobody will give a damn if I kill you and that little pest right here and now–”

“Stop.”

Another hand reaches out to grip the man’s arm, and Nezuko recognizes it as Rengoku. The voice that he had used just now was low and quiet, completely unlike the ones he had used before. “Father. Release my tsuguko. I will not have you harming her.”

“Kyojuro,” the man’s grip tightens slightly, leaving Nezuko to gasp. “This brat brought a demon into our house. You let her. You’re a Pillar, aren’t you? What the hell are you doing?”

“They are a special case,” Rengoku calmly replies. “I trust in Nezuko and Tanjiro that they would never hurt a human. The demon you just kicked hasn’t eaten a single one ever since he woke up. So, father, let go of Nezuko.”

While the two of them were staring daggers at each other, Nezuko shifts her gaze to stare at the wall. She sees her brother slowly getting up, wobbling a little on his feet, before his burning red eyes meet hers. She grits her teeth, feeling a tear drop from her eyes.

Tanjiro moves.

He jumps towards the man assaulting her. The man senses that and turns around, ready to give another kick, but her brother dodges the attack swiftly, kicking the ground to fly high in the air.

“MMRGH!”

Then he crashes his forehead to the man, letting out a ferocious roar in the process.

The hand on her neck loosens immediately, and Nezuko falls to the ground, gasping for air. Tanjiro is at her side in an instant, wrapping her up in his arms, cooing and murmuring and growling all at once. His hand pats her head comfortingly, and he snuggles her close to his body.

He raises his head and looks at the unconscious man, snarling. Nezuko steadies her breath, enjoying the warmth from her brother for a while, before finally looking up at the befuddled Rengoku.

“Rengoku-san,” her throaty voice snaps Rengoku out of his trance, and his golden eyes turn to focus on her. She smiles weakly, trying her best to seem fine. “Senjuro-kun is adorable, but your father…isn’t quite so, huh?”

Rengoku looks at his collapsed father. His gaze wavers and shifts, but then he falls to his knees soon, approaching the siblings and wrapping his arms around their shoulders, pulling them in. They both let out small yelps, but the warmth from Rengoku soothes them immediately. Rengoku’s grip on their shoulders tighten gently.

“I’m sorry, both of you. I promised that I wouldn’t let you two get hurt, but I never expected my own father to be the one to harm you,” Rengoku mutters. “As you can see, my family is…not exactly perfect. I will explain our circumstances in detail later, but I’m afraid that this isn’t the best place to train you. However, Nezuko, Tanjiro, if you still decide to stay here and train under me, I cannot promise that you will not encounter my father in the future. He may act even worse towards the two of you, but if that happens, come to me immediately. I will not hesitate anymore.”

Hearing the words from Rengoku, Nezuko realizes the deep pain hidden under his words. Rengoku Kyojuro, at first glance seemed like the perfect big brother, but he had his own troubles that he hid under his bright smile. Tanjiro had told her once in the past, about his experience with the Rengoku family. The father, Rengoku Shinjuro, had been the Flame Pillar before Rengoku himself had. However, after the death of his wife, he had given up on demon slaying for a long time, seeing no hope in living. He was also a horrible drunk; witnessing it firsthand told Nezuko that her new life at the Rengoku residence wouldn’t be too easy.

But having Rengoku’s – no, master, teacher’s – arms around her, she thinks that it’ll be worth it. If her big brother managed to save them in the past, there’s no way she can’t as well.

Or so she wants to think. She tries to pry away the feeling of a hand on her throat and breathes.

XXX

Senjuro watches quietly from the side. A month or so had passed ever since his big brother brought the Kamado siblings to the residence. At first, he was hesitant, of course no one could trust a demon off the bat, but when he saw how Tanjiro had held onto Nezuko’s hand as they slept one night, he thinks that his big brother may be right. There’s something about those two that he wants to watch over, even if they were both older than him.

Right now, his brother is yelling instructions as Nezuko swings her shinai. He watches her carefully, correcting her stance ever so often and pushing her to focus. Nezuko’s pink eyes are sharp and determined, but Senjuro can see the sweat dripping off her forehead and the way her chest heaves up and down in exhaustion. He quietly prepares some water and a towel for her on the engawa and looks behind to see Tanjiro sleeping safely in the shadows. He thinks that it is pretty lucky of them that his father had a horrible hangover from all the drinking he did yesterday, so he is unable to hurt them today. Senjuro has no confidence that he can stand up to his father and protect the boy the way his brother can.

“Alright!” His brother claps his hands, signaling a break. “Rest up for a while, Nezuko! We will do some breathing practices after, and we will revise on the forms of Breathing!”

“Understood, master!” Nezuko manages a reply, and almost collapses on the ground soon after, but her fall is stopped by Rengoku, who stretched out his arm to catch her.

“Rengoku-san, sorry, it seems like I’m more worn out that I thought…”

Rengoku smiles warmly, hoisting her up and steadying her. “You’re working hard, Nezuko. Little by little, you’re making progress, but don’t push yourself too hard! Senjuro!”

Senjuro snaps his head up at the sudden call, and his big brother continues. “You bought some sweet potatoes at the market this morning, right? Why don’t we have a bonfire and cook them for dinner tonight!”

Senjuro perks up at that, and nods happily. “Of course, big brother! Nezuko-san, is it okay with you?”

The black-haired girl grins weakly at the both of them, a grateful tone entering her voice. “Of course. Thank you very much, Senjuro-kun, Rengoku-san!”

 That night, the three of them sit on the engawa, a bonfire made by the autumn leaves burning in front of them. The sweet potatoes are hot and tasty, and Senjuro giggles when he sees Nezuko jolt a little when his big brother shouts out ‘Wasshoi!’ every time he takes a bite. Her pinkish eyes meet his own, and they both share a laugh before copying the man, shouting out together.

Unknown to them, Tanjiro stirs a little and opens his eyes for a few minutes. He sees the black-haired girl laughing and smiling along with the two fiery people, and he feels…something warm. His hand drifts to the two weird things dangling from his ears, and he slowly takes one off. He thinks the red, round thing fits the girl perfectly, and his conscious dips a little, almost taking him.

He looks at the girl once more. He tries his best, and a small whine escapes his mouth. She perks up a little and looks behind, making eye contact with him. He sees her gentle pink eyes widen, and she makes her way towards him, catching the attention of the two brothers as well.

“Onii-chan? You’re awake?” The girl who calls him that puts her hand to his cheek, gently stroking them. He purrs a little but feels a slight roughness rather than the smooth skin he is used to. He looks at her tattered hand, reaching up to hold them with a soft whine. He presses his cheek to it, trying his best to keep his eyes open as his vision slowly blurs.

“…Onii-chan…”

Her voice is fading. He tries to make another sound, anything, but when his conscious takes another dive, he finds himself following, darkness engulfing him.

Nezuko bites her lip as the bright red eyes close once more. Senjuro and Rengoku are watching them from the side, so she shakily exhales once more before pulling away from her brother. She opens her hand and looks at the earring her brother had worn ever since their father died.

“…Nezuko-san?” Senjuro asks hesitantly. “What is that?”

“A memento,” she says, but doesn’t say anything else. She closes her fist and tucks the accessory away in her clothes, standing up to face her master and Senjuro once more. She smiles.

“Let’s finish up our dinner, shall we?”

XXX

Nezuko pants heavily as she lays down flat on the ground, looking up at the orange sky with a shinai in hand. Beside her, Rengoku polishes his sword, carefully taking care of the flame patterned steel.

They had finished a day of training. It has already been four months, but Nezuko still cannot manage to hold out even a second against her master. Her stamina, power, speed, everything is just not enough, and Nezuko can feel the tears prickling the corners of her eyes with frustration.

“Nezuko,” Rengoku suddenly speaks, a clink sounding out. Nezuko tilts her head to the side to see her master sheathing his sword and putting it aside. She sees him puts his hands on his crossed knees, looking at her with an unreadable gaze.

“Have you remembered all the forms so far?”

Nezuko exhales. “Only in theory, master. I know how the forms work, and the position my body is supposed to move into, but…I can’t, do it…”

“Yet,” Rengoku intervenes. “Not yet. It has only been four months. We still have time.”

Time, huh.

“…Rengoku-san, do we really?” Nezuko pushes herself up with her bruised hands. “I’m too slow. I don’t have enough stamina to last a fight. I’m too weak. What…what if I can’t use the Breath of Flames? What if I can’t protect Onii-chan, because I’m incapable of doing anything–”

If she was who she was before, she would have been stronger. She would have fangs, powerful kicks that could break rocks, she would have her Blood Demon Arts. She wouldn’t be stuck, she wouldn’t be pathetic, she wouldn’t be down on the ground just because of one training session.

She would have been strong.

Nezuko senses it before she thinks.

She immediately ducks to the side, kicking up small pebbles as she rolls. Grabbing the shinai next to her on the way, she pushes herself up into a defensive stance, shakily holding the wooden sword. In front of her, Rengoku looks at her with his sword unsheathed, on the ground where she was laying as the flames glitter in the sunlight.

“Rengoku-san?! Why did you do that?!”

“Nezuko,” Rengoku says calmly. She feels a shudder run down her spine as he stands up, staring her intensely with those golden eyes. He points his Nichirin sword at her. “Come.”

She doesn’t think. She doesn’t hesitate. With four months of training, the words he uttered made her body move instinctively. She steps forward, her sword raised in a strike as she lets out a yell. Her master doesn’t hesitate as well, using his sword to deflect her attack before using the back of it to strike her side. Nezuko gasps and staggers, but she regains her footing soon after.

She breathes.

Her master’s slashes are fierce. They are confident and straightforward, just like his personality. There is no waver in his strikes, and it takes all of Nezuko just to dodge and parry.

Breathe.

“NEZUKO!” Rengoku shouts, stepping forward in a rush. His sword gleams, and Nezuko’s grip on hers tighten. “DON’T HESITATE! COME AT ME!”

Breathe. Breathe. BREATHE.

“SET YOUR HEART ABLAZE, NEZUKO!”

BREATHE, GODDAMN IT!

AAARGHHHH!!!” Nezuko screams, pushing her foot forward. Twisting the shinai so that the position of where the blade normally is faces up, she feels something burn in her blood. In a way it feels so familiar, yet, so different at the same time.

She flings the shinai up with all her might.

Breath of Flames. Second Form: Ascending Blazing Sky.

When she sees the flames that burst forward, Nezuko could only think, ‘I can’t hold on anymore.’

She collapses immediately afterward, the shinai slipping from her hands. Before her own body hits the ground however, an arm stretches out to catch her. Nezuko reaches out to grip the sleeve of her master but finds that she can’t muster the strength in her legs to stand up.

“Rengoku-san…I…”

She feels a hand pat her head. She feels his warm fingers push her closer to his body, so that he is hugging her like she was a child.

“Nezuko. If you work hard and persevere every day, there will be a time when all your efforts pay off,” he whispers, his voice strong and passionate. “You are not weak. You can protect your brother. As long as you keep those thoughts in mind and train like hell, I know you can master the Breath of Flames. I will guarantee that.”

Nezuko vision blurs.

“You are my tsuguko, Kamado Nezuko. Believe in your master and believe in yourself.”

Nezuko bites her lip, covering her choked sobs as she buries her face into her master’s clothes.

Warm like the sun.

XXX

Dear brother,

I know it’s weird to write a letter to you like this, but Senjuro-kun recommended it as a way to get things off my chest. Talking is great and all, but sometimes, written words come out a lot easier than spoken.

So, I guess I should start off with today? Rengoku-san trained me really hard again. This time, he made me stand out in the sun as he told me to steady my breathing. He says since every style of Breathing came from the Breath of the Sun, I should become acquainted with it more often. It’s hot, Onii-chan. Thank you Senjuro-kun who gave me some cream to protect my skin from sunburn.

Um, I also ran a lot. My lungs feel like they’re going to burst. I think I saw you did this with Zenitsu and Inosuke, right? Expand your lungs and maintain your breathing as you move about. I’m trying to practice Full Focus Breathing when I’m asleep too, but I can’t do it too well. Maybe I should call the girls to help me too, haha.

I miss you, Onii-chan. Not just you, but the others too. I want to believe that everything is a dream, that we’re still back on the mountain with mother and our other siblings. I want to believe that we’re still who we used to be, that all the conflict and fighting is over, and that I’m just seeing a bad dream. When I wake up, he will be next to me with my hand in his, and our kids sprawled out around us. I want to believe that none of this is real, that we don’t have to go through all of this again

But the scrapes and blisters on my hand, they hurt. My body aches after a day of training. My stomach growls when it’s hungry, and my throat dries when I need water.

This is real. This is our reality now.

I hate that, Onii-chan. I hate that I’m not strong enough yet, that I can’t protect you like you protected me, that we have to go through so many obstacles to turn you back into a human.

But…Rengoku-san – master, Kyojuro-san – said to believe in myself. To believe in the him that believes in me. Senjuro-kun makes tasty meals for us after a long brutal day, and he always looks concerned that I’m not pushing myself too hard. Shinjuro-san, their father, even stopped throwing punches at me when I walk past his room now. He still spits out insults when he spots us, but he hasn’t laid a hand on us for a while. Maybe master did something, I’m not too sure, but I’m glad that he won’t try to kill you in our sleep anymore.

Our days back then, when you were with Uroko Tengu-san and I was asleep, it’s very different. It’s so lively and maybe even noisy sometimes, but, I think, I don’t hate it here. It’s kind of confusing, huh? Haha, never mind.

Sleep tight, Onii-chan. I promise I will get stronger for all of us. So that when we meet the others, we can get through this together again.

See you in one more year, Onii-chan.

XXX

When Nezuko turns fourteen, she is determined to try out for the Final Selection.

Of course, Senjuro frantically tries to stop her.

“Nezuko-san!!!” Senjuro pulls on her pink haori (she remade her original pink kimono into a haori, it had too many memories to let go), digging his heels onto the wooden floor as she huffs and puffs. “Don’t be reckless! You are just fourteen, there’s no reason to try out so early!!”

“Senjuro-kun!” Nezuko snaps, pushing forward even though the boy is taller than her. She thanks all the training she went through; her muscles have grown quite nicely although not too buff. “I! Need! To! Go!”

“Nezuko-san!”

“Senjuro-kun!”

“What’s the matter!!” the door next to them suddenly slides open, and a slightly disheveled Kyojuro appears. His sun colored hair is sticking up in all places, his golden eyes somehow wide awake, and his sleep wear slightly falling off his shoulders. “It’s four in the morning, Nezuko, Senjuro! Awfully early to start shouting, don’t you think?!”

“Brother, you’re shouting as well!” Senjuro exclaims.

“Oh, my bad! SORRY!!”

“MASTER!” Nezuko interferes before a shouting match could appear. She shakes off Senjuro’s fingers and bows deeply towards her teacher, saying firmly,

“Please let me enter the Final Selection this year! I promise that I’ll be okay!”

“Okay! You can go!”

Nezuko snaps her head up, her jaw slightly unhinged. “Huh?”

“Brother?!” Senjuro sounds as surprised as she felt. “Is it really okay? Nezuko-san is just fourteen! One year older than me! Is it really safe for her to become a demon slayer at that age…?”

“Hmm, honestly, I have no idea!” Kyojuro remarks, but his smile isn’t fading. “However, I don’t think age matters too much considering her abilities. There is a new boy who became a Pillar at the same age as Nezuko as well. I sense something similar between you and that boy, although I’m not too sure what it is.”

Muichiro. Tokito Muichiro. The Mist Pillar.

Kyojuro focuses his golden eyes on Nezuko. Nezuko stares back unwavering. The normally wide smile softens into something more affectionate, something warmer. Nezuko feels her cheeks flush a little. “Nezuko. I believe you are strong enough for the Final Selection. You have trained hard for the past two years, and to be honest, there is nothing more I can teach you. You have already grasped the basics of the forms, all you have to do is gain experience and grow stronger.”

His eyes darken a little. “However, life as a demon slayer will not be easy, especially with Tanjiro at your side. The fact that he is a demon will not sit well with the majority of the members, and you might have to face the Pillars at some point in your journey. Your road is full of obstacles, do you have the resolve to walk through the thorns even though they might kill you?”

Demons. Pillars. Kibutsuji Muzan. To be honest, there’s so much ahead of her now that she’s in Tanjiro’s shoes. She has to fill the role of protector, she has to fill the role of killing the demon that damned all their lives. It’s a heavy weight, an insanely stressful burden, but she knows she isn’t alone.

Tanjiro. Zenitsu. Inosuke. Genya. Kanao. Kyojuro-san, Senjuro-kun, and many more she will meet on her journey.

They are there, waiting for her. For Tanjiro, for them.

“Master,” Nezuko says, her resolve strong and unwavering. She meets his gaze straight on, her expression set in a firm glare.

“I will make it through. I promise.”

Kyojuro grins, his crossed arms untangling before his hand roughly ruffles her short black hair.

It’s only a few centimeters above her shoulders, and there are no orange tints at the end. She doesn’t have fangs, nor claws, or horns prodding out of her forehead.

In this world, Kamado Nezuko isn’t a demon with blood that explodes fire.

“Well then, we’ll be waiting for your safe return, Nezuko!”

She is a human with flames that burn through the demons of hell.

The day after tomorrow, Nezuko departs from the Rengoku mansion. She quietly whispers goodbye to the most likely hungover man behind shoji doors, waves goodbye to Kyojuro and Senjuro at the gates, and swears to greet her brother when she gets back.

The wind blows slightly, swaying her pink haori, and pushes her hair back to reveal one very familiar earring hanging from her right ear.