At nine years of age, Tomioka Giyuu wakes up one morning with twenty years of memories.
The first thing he does is slam open Sabito’s door to make sure his best friend- his adopted brother- is okay. A groggy Sabito holds on to him confusedly, trying so very hard to blink out the bleariness in his eyes as Giyuu bawls and whimpers about purple forests and huge, malformed monsters.
It takes a couple more minutes and a great deal of shushing and gentle patting on Giyuu’s back for the boy to calm down just enough to speak properly, but there was no stopping the waterfall in his eyes and nose- that, Sabito begrudgingly lets Giyuu deal with on his patterned pajamas. He can push laundry day a few days forward.
“You died,” Giyuu mutters, “There was a huge monster thing. Big limbs. You had a sword.”
“...Uh-huh. And then?”
“It knocked me out. When I came to, they told me you died.”
Sabito can hear the terror in Giyuu’s voice. Whatever that nightmare was, it was vivid enough that the usually cheery and gentle Giyuu took it badly. The grip Giyuu had on Sabito’s sleeve tightens. He’s about to reassure Giyuu that it was just a dream and that he’s here and fine now, but-
“But it didn’t end there.”
Sabito looks at Giyuu quizzically. The other boy’s blue eyes were downcast, but it’s clear that he isn’t looking at anything in particular, as if he’s watching a scene unfold in his mind.
“Then, I became a Demon Slayer. Hunted down monsters just like those. I killed, and killed, and killed, all because I wanted to atone for you being gone. You, who tried to save me.”
He sounded like an adult. Even with the high voice only pre-puberty boys have, Giyuu sounds like a man who had been through countless wars and battles.
“There were other Demon Slayers too. Those who… died, I think. It hurts, here, when I think of them and just know that they’re dead.” Giyuu releases his hold on Sabito’s sleeve to clutch at his own chest. More tears follow, but not for long. Giyuu stops crying, but Sabito does not release his hold on his brother.
He doesn’t know how to comfort him besides offer Giyuu a reassuring hold, so hug him he does, bringing Giyuu’s messy mop of black hair to his chest and letting the other boy stay there.
“I’m here,” he reminds Giyuu. “That was a dream. Just a dream. You’ll get over it soon. I’m here now, Giyuu, and that’s all you need to know.”
“I’ll get over it soon,” Giyuu repeats. “Soon.”
‘Getting over it’ didn’t come so soon after all.
Giyuu spends his school lunch break in the bathroom that day. Not to cry- he’s already done enough of that in the morning. The dream still plays incessantly in his brain like an unwanted backdrop. He can hear voices calling him. Crisp and clear and so unfamiliar- yet he knows those voices. There are no names, no faces attached to them, yet he can tell whose voice belongs to who- and the defining characteristics of the speakers.
“Tomioka-san.” A woman. She had butterflies in her hair and smelled like a flower he should be able to recognize but just can’t.
“Tomioka-san!” Dark red hair. Feels like sunshine, but doesn’t look much like it. Remembering him makes Giyuu feel warm. Like.. with Sabito, even though Sabito is rather different in mannerisms.
But Giyuu doesn’t know how he knows that.
So he continues splashing his face with the ice cold tap water in hopes of drowning out the imaginary voices in his head- He can hear a girl whom he knows has pink hair, the shrill screams of a couple of rowdy children, one with gold hair and one with a mask. The rough voice of a white haired man who sounds like he’s challenging Giyuu to a fight. The voice of someone who reminded him of the blazing sun.
The voices stop when Giyuu takes deep breaths to compensate for how long he’s been dousing his face with water. The bell rings. Giyuu misses lunch period, but he can’t bring himself to care, not when his day has been plagued by dreams that felt more like memories, not when there is a burning pain in his chest that he feels he shouldn’t have had for mere voices in his head.
Sabito and Makomo- his sister, also adopted- must be worried sick. Sabito must have told her everything by now, Giyuu didn’t forbid him from saying anything about it. That was fine with Giyuu. He didn’t feel like explaining why he feels so down. The less he talks about it, the better.
The rest of the school day passes, and the voices are quieter now, and by the evening, they’re gone. The dream-memory stays in his mind, vivid as ever, but Makomo and Sabito have their ways and turns Giyuu’s attention to other things. TV, sweet food and board games.
It was just a dream, after all.
"You need to go!”
I don’t want to.
“I’ll be fine, just, go! Please!”
I know how this ends. No.
“Giyuu,” stop. Stop talking. “I won’t leave you. But you’re injured. I don’t want to lose you.”
Giyuu lets go of Sabito’s hand and lets the overwhelming pain in his head and limbs take over. Everything is black.
When Giyuu wakes up, he’s in his room again. Instinctively Giyuu checks himself for injuries, but the moment his hands grasp the soft cotton of his sleepwear instead of the coarse haori he was expecting, Giyuu snaps out of it.
This isn’t the Final Selection, Giyuu, he reminds himself. This isn’t where monsters lurk. This isn’t where Sabito died.
This isn’t the first time, nor the second, or third time he dreams of this exact moment where the Demon-slaying Giyuu sees Sabito for the last time. But no matter how many times he wakes up from the dream, he never manages to shake off the lingering sorrow and burning ache in his heart.
It’s not real, why does it feel so painful?
Giyuu slips off his covers and runs off to Sabito’s room for comfort. Sabito mutters something about it being unseemly for a man to be so shaken by nightmares, but lets Giyuu snuggle with him under his tortoiseshell-patterned blanket anyway.
Giyuu doesn’t let go of Sabito’s hand all night. He doesn’t dream when he knows Sabito is with him.
Giyuu collects more memories over the years. It’s weird to be thirteen years old yet have more than two decades worth of memories in him- not that it helped much in his studies, unless he studied how to effectively decapitate flesh-eating monsters.
The dreams come periodically. Usually once or twice over a few months, and each time he remembers more and more. Places. Things. Events. The first few hours after he gets one of his dreaded dream-memories, the voices call out to him again, and it only hurt more and more because he can attach faces and relationships he’s sure never happened to them now.
Sabito and Makomo still worry for him. They know Giyuu sometimes gets nightmares- actual nightmares of losing them, and they can hear him, from his room, calling out names. Sabito. Makomo. Tsutako. Sometimes Giyuu will see something that reminds him of someone he never knew outside of his dream-memories and gaze longingly or sadly at it.
Worst of all, Giyuu seems to have gained an unexplained sense of awareness around him. They could be out and about, having fun shopping, spending the pocket money their foster father Urokodaki gave them on bubble teas and movies, and random movement- be it from an animal or a person moving- would startle Giyuu so much he would often bring his hand to his hip to reach for a sword that wasn’t there. It wouldn’t have been that big of a problem, Sabito thinks, if it ended there, but no. When it happened for the first time, they had to pull a panicking Giyuu off the sidewalk and into a less crowded area to reassure him that there are no monsters.
"Giyuu, breathe!" Sabito desperately pats Giyuu's back.
Giyuu takes an embarrassingly long time to remember that he needed oxygen and takes short, gasping breaths until he has enough oxygen in his head to think. To calm down.
“Monsters don’t exist here, Giyuu,” Sabito reminds him. “But I do. And Makomo.”
Their grip on his hand pulls him back into reality.
Once, Giyuu passed by a boy roughly the same age as they were- and Giyuu immediately went into an (un)familiar offensive stance and nearly struck the boy- who quickly put up a defensive body stance. Said boy thought it was hilarious and offered to fight him in his sensei’s dojo, but Makomo, who was with him then, quickly pulled Giyuu away,
“His hair is pink.”
“No, Giyuu, it wasn’t,”
“In my dreams,” Giyuu explains, breathless. “He had facial markings . He wasn’t- he’s- he’s one of those things, I think.”
“Is that why you wanted to attack him?” Makomo asks, running her fingers soothingly through Giyuu’s hair. He’s taller than she is now, but not by much. “You never wanted to attack anything- or anyone before. Only defend.”
Giyuu pauses to think about it. It’s true that even though he has instinctively went into a swordsman’s stance multiple times before, he never tried to strike. But this boy- this boy seemed to elicit something from him.
Hatred, perhaps? Fear, even. Giyuu’s hands are still shaking and his sweat is cold. But he doesn’t remember much of why. His dreams are still fragmented and it isn’t easy to piece together everything.
What has that boy done to him in those dream-memories? What did Giyuu do? And why… is he seeing someone that he’s never seen out of his dreams, before, in reality?
Sabito recalls the exact moment Giyuu turned from a gentle crybaby boy into the gloomy, melancholic and sometimes downright cold teenager he is today.
It wasn’t on the day he first had the dreams, though that certainly and obviously kickstarted the entire downward spiral. It wasn’t the sleepless nights he had after that, where Giyuu would wake up in the middle of the night to make sure Sabito and Makomo were still around. Alive.
It’s the second time he experienced the vivid dreams again, but this time he wakes and he doesn’t cry. Giyuu wordlessly slips into Sabito’s room to sit in a corner and spends the rest of the night trying to piece together what he just experienced in his dreams, and come morning, he goes out alone to buy a sprig of wisteria and then once again spends the next few hours thinking with the wisteria in hand.
“What did you dream of this time, Giyuu?” Urokodaki is the one to approach him this time. His foster father had been distant, allowing Sabito and Makomo to deal with Giyuu as he toiled in his mask-making workshop, but a father can only leave his children to deal with their own problems for so long before he has to step in.
“An old mansion of wisteria. I can see their faces now. The voices,” Giyuu explains, but his voice was distant, unfocused, and dreamy. “They all had swords. They were strong. They weren’t scared of those monsters,” Like the me in the dreams. “I thought the smell would jog my memory. It didn’t, beyond what the dream showed me.”
“And were any of those new faces familiar?”
“No,” Giyuu admits, “At least not for me right now. In the dreams, they were supposed to be my- that Giyuu’s comrades.”
Urokodaki does not speak anymore. He has never been good at words, preferring to offer support through his actions instead. He knows this son of his feels the safest around people he trusts. Giyuu once again falls into his dreamlike thinking trance, and in the light of the sunset, Urokodaki swears he can see Giyuu wear an expression far too old and weary for someone as young as he is.
When Giyuu returns home from the pier, hours after he is actually supposed to, even the usually strict and rule-abiding Sabito does not admonish him. The poor wisteria sprig, badly abused from hours of being held, is put on Giyuu’s windowsill where the wind would send the faint scent of the flower back into Giyuu’s room.
“What did you see in your dreams?”
“Wisteria. Every death smells like Wisteria.”
Makomo discreetly picks up the sprig again and places it elsewhere.