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fraying threads

Chapter Text

The first time Nezuko saw the threads was when she was eight years old. It was the time of the year when snow formed a thick blanket over everything, and a chill settled deep into her bones, no matter how many layers her mother wrapped her in. Their father always had a slight rattle in his chest whenever he breathed. As the temperature continued to plummet, the rattle in his chest became louder and louder, wetter and wetter, until taking in lungfuls of air was a chore. The skin on his cheeks tightened until it stretched thin over his bones. Sometimes, Nezuko could see a flash of red in the corners of her vision. Soon enough, her father started coughing. He tried to hide it, but wracking coughs that sprayed blood tended to stain.

Nezuko could make out faint, glistening lines of red by then.

They tried to get him down the mountain, but five minutes in the cold and he was vomiting up blood. Tanjirou ran down the mountain to fetch the village doctor. The doctor left them with an apology and an almost empty coin jar.

A sense of finality hung in the air, overbearing and inescapable.

The lines filled in.

She could See the red threads woven together to form a tapestry. Nezuko could See fibres of bright red that were twining together to form the beginning of threads that led towards her mother's swollen belly. Her wonder at this sight was soon forgotten when she saw threads that were blackened and fraying, on the verge of snapping. Threads that all led back to her father.

 

"Father is going to die in three weeks, isn't he, kaa-san?" Nezuko whispered one night, her head on her mother's lap.  They were sat in front of the fireplace. The fire burned bright, its searing heat temporarily chased away the chill that had crept into their house.

"The doctor said two months at least, Nezuko. You shouldn't worry about things like this." Her mother's fingers ran gently through her hair as a blizzard raged outside the walls of their wooden cabin.

"Kaa-san, I can see them."

Her mother hummed, "See what, Nezuko?"

Nezuko clutched at her mother's kimono, "The red strings, kaa-san. I can see them."

Her mother's hand stopped stroking Nezuko's hair, "It's not nice to lie to your mother like this, Nezuko."

"I can really see them kaa-san! I can see yours and I can see father's! Yours are bright red and I can see my little brother's forming too!" Nezuko stared at the noticeable bump of her mother's stomach.

"Little brother?" Her mother raised an eyebrow, "How do you know you're going to have a little brother?"

"Sometimes when I touch the strings, I know things." Just like how Nezuko knew the reason why the shadows underneath her mother’s eyes continued to deepen was because her mother stayed up at night, sewing kimono after kimono until the faint, flickering candlelight faded into the soft, morning light of winter. Even though her mother wasn't the one who was ill, her cheeks too, became sunken. All this so they could afford her father's medicine that seemed to do nothing to slow the rot in his lungs.

 

Two weeks later, her mother gave birth to Nezuko's youngest brother, Rokuta. There was no midwife around to help their birth, they simply couldn't afford one. Instead, Tanjirou took the kitchen knife and sliced the umbilical cord while Nezuko pulled it taut.

Nezuko brought their youngest brother to their father. He'd been bed bound for the past week. There was no strength to stand when his body was made of nothing but brittle bones and skin.

Her father cracked open his eyelids as Nezuko leant down to place Rokuta into his arms. A skeletal hand stroked the baby's head, her father's cracked lips stretched into a smile.

Nezuko knelt by his futon, content to watch her father gaze at Rokuta with shining eyes.

She noticed her father's arms quivering from the weight of the infant, "If your arms are getting tired, I can hold him beside you, tou-san, so you can still see him. The doctor said you shouldn't strain yourself."

"Nezuko…" His voice was but a mere whisper, barely heard above the breeze that rattled at the walls of their house, "Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?"

He had. Many times. When she'd come home with a bruise from aiming a kick at a bigger boy who had been throwing rocks at Takeo, he had said that he was proud of her. Proud that she had stood up for her brother, even if it meant that she got hurt. He had pat her shoulder, offering her a grin, even under the disapproving glare of her mother, who later gave her a long lecture about her behaviour.

"My little petal, with the sweetest, strongest heart. Don't ever change." He said, "Promise me you won't let anyone beat the kindness out of your heart."

 

She spent her ninth birthday beside her father's futon, staring at his gaunt face. She wanted to commit his face to memory, but it was hard to see when her vision was blurred by tears. All but one of his threads had broken. The last one was hanging on by a single fibre.

The fibre was dripping with a viscous black sludge that weighed it down until it was far too taut.

She hated the feeling of helplessness as she knelt before his unconscious form. She had tried, countless times before, to try and save his threads. She had placed her hands on top of them, trying to channel something, anything , to stop the spread of black. All she got was the feeling of regret, frustration, sorrow and the sensation of drowning with the constant taste of blood lingering at the back of her throat. She was nothing but an observer, powerless to stop the corrosive rot on his threads.

She saw the moment the last fibre gave out.

The moment her father's chest stuttered with his final breath.

Outside, the snow continued to fall.

Nezuko squeezed her eyes shut. She wanted her father back. She wanted her father to tell her that everything would be alright. She wanted to hear his warm laugh, like the one he let out when he saw her clumsy first attempts at embroidery. His face was meant to be lively and full of light, not cold and still.

Nezuko heard the clatter of wood falling onto the ground and quick footsteps before she was engulfed in a tight hug.

She turned her head, burying her face into the thick fabric of Tanjirou's haori. He stroked her hair with one hand, the other hand clutched at her arm.

"Father said that I had to be strong for everyone. That I have to protect everyone because now… I'm the oldest-" Tanjirou's voice wobbled, his vocal chords refusing to let any more sounds out.

Teardrops splattered on her face.

A sob clawed its way up Nezuko's throat. She pressed her face harder into his kimono, trying to muffle the ugly sounds of grief.

I'm the oldest daughter, I have to be strong as well. I'll help you, nii-san. It's what he would have wanted.

 

Three weeks after Nezuko predicted his death, Kamado Tanjurou passed away. Her mother never made any more mention of Nezuko's ability.

They buried his body under a pine tree. When the leaves of other trees browned and withered, pine trees never lost their green. Even through the cruelest winds of autumn and the harshest frost of winter, they endured.

The Kamado family too, endured the years that followed this loss.

 


 

"Kaa-san! Where's the spare sewing kit?" Nezuko said, rummaging through the cupboard, "I need it in case the bride wants something changed or fixed!"

"One second, Nezuko." Her mother called.

Hanako padded into the room, the box of needles and threads in her hands, "Here it is! It was in mother's room."

Nezuko took the box and put it into her basket, "Thank you, Hanako!"

"Can I come with you, nee-san?" Hanako said, hands clasped, looking at Nezuko with wide eyes.

"Mother has a lot of housework to do today and she can't do it all by herself." Nezuko reminded Hanako.

Hanako looked down at her hands, "I see."

"I'm sorry, Hanako." Nezuko placed her hand on Hanako's shoulder.

Hanako said nothing and just nodded.

Nezuko could never bear seeing Hanako look so downcast. She always had a soft spot for Hanako.

"How about this, I'll make sure to bring something back for you, yes? And next time nii-san goes down to sell charcoal, I'll ask mother if you can go with him?"

Hanako straightened up and beamed.

"There it is, there's that beautiful smile of yours." Nezuko pat Hanako's head and made her way around Hanako to go to the kitchen, "Kaa-san! Don't worry, Hanako found the sewing kit."

"Nee-san!" Rokuta ran into Nezuko, his small body wracking with giggles, "Can I please come with you?"

Nezuko grinned, "You're too young, Rokuta."

"But you and nii-san went to town when you were my age!" Rokuta peered up at her from under his bowl cut.

"That's because we went with mother and father. Who's going to make sure you don't get into trouble when I'm doing business with the bride?"

Rokuta pouted at her, his baby-fat filled cheeks bulging out comically.

Nezuko cooed at him and ruffled his hair, "Don't look at me like that, I'll ask mother when we can all go down together, okay?"

"Nezuko!" Her mother wiped her hands on her apron and pressed the bento into Nezuko's hands. "Are you warm enough? It's getting even colder now. Don't want you to get sick."

"Thank you, kaa-san! And don't worry, I'm very warm." Nezuko smiled at her mother, putting her bento into her basket on top of the sewing kit and kimono.

"Okay, come here." Her mother held out her arms.

Nezuko hugged her mother, feeling her mother's warmth surround her.

"Stay safe, okay?" Her mother rubbed her back.

"I will, don't worry, kaa-san." Nezuko squeezed her arms tighter around her mother.

Her mother pulled away and pushed Nezuko towards the door, "Now go, you don't want to be late for the bride, yes?"

"Don't worry, kaa-san. I'm a fast walker."

"Well, I can't help but worry about you sometimes, Nezuko." Her mother murmured.

Nezuko stepped out into the cold, the sunlight reflecting off the snow temporarily blinded her.

"Nezuko!" Tanjirou called out, walking towards her. "Are you going now?"

"I am! Make sure you take care of our siblings while I'm gone, okay?"

He dusted off his hands on his haori and poked her forehead, "I always take care of them, including you too. I'm the eldest, remember?"

Nezuko pushed his hand away, "Sometimes I feel like I'm taking care of you! You always rip your clothes and ask me to fix it so mother won’t get angry at you."

Tanjirou grinned at her and reached up to rub the back of his head, "Ah, sorry about that, I can't help it, I promise!"

"Nee-san!" Takeo and Shigeru shouted, running towards her.

"Don't forget to say bye to us!" Shigeru shouted.

Nezuko laughed, "I would never forget about you two."

"Make sure you stay safe!" Takeo said.

"You're so sweet, worrying about your older sister like this." Nezuko ruffled Takeo's head, making his hair even messier than it usually was.

He scowled and batted her hand away.

"Nee-san!" She heard Hanako shout before Hanako barrelled into her and wrapped her tiny arms around Nezuko, "Goodbye!"

Rokuta ran out of their cottage and joined the hug, soon followed by Shigeru.

Nezuko wrapped her arms around the three of them, "You guys are too much, it's not like I'm never going to see you guys again, I'm only going to town for the day."

"But we'll miss you!" Rokuta said.

"And I'll miss you all too, but I really have to go now, or else I'll be late handing the kimono to the bride." Nezuko said, disentangling herself from them.

Her mother walked outside and waved to her.

"Goodbye!" Nezuko shouted as she walked away from her house, waving her hands at her family.

 


 

The bride had been ecstatic with the cut of the kimono and the colourful embroidery that decorated it, and tipped Nezuko extra for her work.

Under the welcoming heat of the afternoon sun, Nezuko went to the stalls in the village to browse for trinkets that she could take home for her family.

A clip that had a set of pretty bells and flowers dangling from a string was displayed in a shop. It would look pretty on Hanako. When she shook them, they sounded just like Hanako's tinkling laughter. Nezuko purchased the trinket. Hanako loved pretty things, she would love Nezuko's gift.

As she was about to leave the village with a smile on her face and a heavy bag of coins in her basket, a harried voice shouted her name.

Nezuko turned around, the bride's mother was briskly walking towards her.

"Nezuko-chan! Thank the gods you haven't left yet, I thought I was going to miss you!"

"Hello, Hirabayashi-san. What can I do for you?" Nezuko smiled.

"I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but my daughter is honestly so clumsy and accidentally tore the edge of her kimono and we can't have her looking shabby on her wedding day! Could you please fix it?"

"Hirabayashi-san, with all due respect, I should be returning before sundown to my home, so I can’t do this. It’s only a tear, surely someone else could fix it?"

"Nezuko-chan, I would trust no-one else apart from you to be able to fix it properly."

Seeing hesitation displayed clear on Nezuko's face, the woman continued, "We would pay you handsomely for your services and we would be happy to welcome you as a guest in our house overnight, if it is unsafe for you to return that late."

Extra money was never unwelcome in the Kamado family, so with that thought on her mind, Nezuko agreed.

She fixed the bride's kimono and next morning, set towards her house with another heavy bag of coins inside her basket.

The sprinkling of snow and the sharp drop in temperature couldn't dull her good mood. Her family would be eating well and she couldn't wait to see the look on Hanako's face when she handed her the pretty trinket.

As she drew closer to her house, fiddling with Hanako's bells, she could pick out the scent of copper and the absence of threads that should have waved, proud and red.

She dropped the basket on her arm and sprinted towards her house, clutching Hanako's bells tightly.

Chapter Text

When Nezuko was four and Tanjirou five, her mother told them a tale about their distant ancestor who was gifted with the ability to See.

Her name was Akane.

With even the slightest brush of her finger against a person's thread, Akane could See their death. The Sight was a gift passed down through generations, often granted to the eldest daughter. These girls were said to be closer to the spirit world than others.

Akane had a handsome young suitor in the form of a samurai.

They fell in love in spring, and under the blossoms of the Sakura trees they exchanged vows.

One day, he asked Akane to use her Sight to foretell his death. Akane agreed to do so. As a samurai, death was lurking around every corner and that precious knowledge could just be enough to ward the Shinigami away.

And so Akane Saw. She Saw his wretched demise. She Saw that he would betray his friends, his family, her. She Saw that his death would be well-deserved and ultimately brought about by his own actions.

Yet blinded by love, she believed she could change him and divert fate.

Life with him was blissful and she didn't want their happiness to shatter under the burden of the truth.

So she lied and said he would die old and happy, surrounded by his family.

Two years later, Akane was with child. All the while, her knowledge of his betrayal and his death lingered at the back of her mind.

Akane should have known better. She should have known that Fate was a spiteful being, an unstoppable force of nature. Even as gifted as she was, there was no changing Fate's course.

He betrayed his village, exactly as Akane had Seen. He was executed for treason, exactly as Akane had Seen.

He died, leaving behind Akane and her newly born child.

His sword was returned to her, along with his still body.

Akane was naïve and she paid a hefty price for her foolishness. Once Fate laid down its path and the Shinigami marked a soul, one could only watch and wait. Her Sight was ultimately useless when it mattered the most.

She buried his body beneath the Sakura tree they wedded under, then drove her lover's sword through her stomach. She had to atone for the sins of her lover and the sins of her inaction.

Kneeling beside his grave, she bled out, surrounded by the falling blossoms of his Sakura tree.

 

"Can you See, kaa-san?" Nezuko asked when she had finished the tale.

"No, I can't See, Nezuko. That skill hasn't been in our family for centuries, people say it died with her. I think it’s for the best though. It’s a terrible gift, the ability to See."

 


 

Nezuko jolted forward, skidding to a stop in front of Tanjirou, Rokuta and Takeo's bodies. Tanjirou had an axe in his hand, the edge of the blade was stained red.

She could make out Tanjirou's threads, his usual bright red strings now seemed wrong. Through the haze of panic infiltrating Nezuko's mind, she couldn't pin the reason why his strings seemed wrong to her. Some were cut but others were only slightly frayed. Rokuta and Takeo though… their threads were cut straight through.

They looked like puppets with their strings slashed, lying prone in the snow.

Her chest hurt.

She couldn't do anything but stare at the still bodies of her mother, Hanako, Takeo and Shigeru.

The overwhelming smell of blood made her stomach churn. Bile climbed up her throat. She turned to retch into the snow, gasping for breath.

She straightened, forcing her eyes to focus on the inside of their house. She had to find out what happened.

Hanako.

Hanako still had three more threads left. They were fraying, but they were uncut. She was alive.

Nezuko scrambled forward, pushing against the entryway to propel herself forward, feet sliding on the wooden floorboards.

Hanako was still alive.

She was half buried under their mother, who had wrapped her arms around Hanako, squeezing her tightly. Their mother's back had a bloody hole punched clean through it. She'd died protecting Hanako.

"Kaa-san." Nezuko whimpered, eyes stinging.

She collapsed onto her knees beside them, Hanako's trinket dropping to the ground with a tinkle. Her pink kimono soaked up the blood on the floor.

"I'm sorry kaa-san." She said, rolling her mother's body off Hanako.

Snap!

Two strings left.

Nezuko pushed her hands down on Hanako's abdomen. Blood still steadily flowed out of her wound, staining Nezuko's hands.

Snap!

She pressed down harder until the weight of her whole body was bearing down through her hands.

"Hanako… Hanako, please!" She gasped, desperation clawing up her throat.

The blood wouldn't stop trickling out. Nezuko's hands were not stopping the bleeding.

She could See the last string wear down to the last fibre, every other fibre was broken, splayed out.

Snap!

She could See yet she could do nothing but watch Hanako die.

"It’s a terrible gift, the ability to See."

Nezuko held up her hands to the winter light that crept in through their doorway. The blood coated her fingers and palm, glistening. Her hand shook, casting flickering shadows onto her face. Hanako had been alive, and then she hadn't been. Bile once again wormed its way up her throat, but she forced it down, grinding her teeth together.

Hanako was gone. Her entire family, gone.

Tanjirou! His strings-

Nezuko launched herself to her feet. His strings were fraying, but still taut. Tanjirou was still alive.

The cold had dried the blood on her hands until it became tacky.

She hooked her arms around Tanjirou's armpits, pulled him off the bodies of Rokuta and Takeo, and started dragging him away.

Mother, Hanako, Takeo, Shigeru, Rokuta, Takeo. I'm sorry, I failed you. But I won't fail Tanjirou, I promise.

Her back was already starting to cramp from the dragging Tanjirou. She wouldn't be able to drag him all the way down the mountain. She changed directions and started making her way to the side of their house where they kept a man-pulled cart. Copious amounts of blood stained his white kosode, his face was far too pale and his breathing far too faint.

His strings could be wrong.

She reached a hand out, curling her fingers around his threads.

A cloying malevolence, so thick he could hardly breathe. Terror, fury, desperation. Slitted eyes glowing red, curly hair, sharp nails- he punched a hole through mother! Have to protect… was that an arm coming out of his stomach?

A sharp, searing pain pierced her stomach. Her knees buckled and she hunched over, clutching her abdomen.

There was no blood, no wound. The pain had come through Tanjirou's strings. His stomach was wounded.

Nezuko ripped a strip of fabric from her haori with her teeth. She wrapped it tightly around Tanjirou’s stomach. He would bleed out unless she got him to the village doctor soon.

She heaved him up into the cart.

Lifting the handles of the cart and she began to run forward.

Dry blood flaked from her hands.

Panic clawed up her throat. If she didn't get Tanjirou help quickly, he'd bleed out and her entire family would be gone, just like that.

She pushed herself to go faster, ignoring the burn creeping up on her leg muscles.

Her foot slipped on an icy patch, but she caught herself just in time.

She was going too fast. She couldn’t slow down. The cart wobbled. She stumbled. Her breath stuttered in her chest. She lurched forward, heart jumping into her throat.

Nezuko tumbled over the edge of the mountain, head over heels. The cart was torn from her grasp.

One moment she was seeing the world become a disorientating blur, the next moment she cracked open her eyes to the sight of bare tree branches and an overcast sky.

The back of her head pulsed with pain and her body was stiff and unwilling to move. She pushed herself to her feet, the world tilting dangerously.

Their family's hand-held cart lay in pieces. That would cost a lot of money to replace, Nezuko and her mother would have to take more kimono orders and Takeo and Tanjirou would have to sell more charcoal to make up for it.

Tanjirou… Tanjirou was meant to be in that cart, wasn't he?

Nezuko's breath came harder and harder. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her mother was dead, so was Takeo and the rest of her family. Tanjirou would soon follow if she didn't get help.

Where was Tanjirou?

Her eyes snapped open. Had her family's murderer come back to finish him off?

She stumbled to the destroyed cart and picked up a beam of wood that had been snapped off to form a sharp, jagged point.

She stared at the threads that were omnipresent in her vision. She could see the thin grey threads of the wildlife that trembled on the wind. She remembered that Tanjirou's threads were thick and were coloured a healthy, bright red. Where were they? There were two sets of human threads, one that was tainted black and the other coloured a grey blue. Was Tanjirou one of them?

The threads led her to a clearing in the forest. A man with a mismatched haori had a sword drawn and was preparing to attack. Opposite to the swordsman was another man, veins pronounced on his forehead and claws outstretched.

Dangling from his ears were hanafuda-like earrings and on his forehead was a burn mark.

Tanjirou?

The swordsman moved forward. His intent to kill was evident in the way his lips pressed together into a thin line.

Tanjirou!

Nezuko propelled herself forward, feet sending snow flying into the air. His sword swished through the air, cutting through her hair ribbon. Strands of freed hair whipped across her face. She barrelled into Tanjirou, sending them tumbling into a tree trunk.

Tanjirou is alive! was all she thought when her left arm landed between her body and the tree, the sheer force wrenched her arm out of its socket. She could barely feel anything past the thrumming of blood in her veins and the panic that had settled deep into her bones.

Tanjirou was unconscious on the ground.

“Nii-san!” Nezuko shook his arm, “Nii-san! Wake up, we have to run!”

Tanjirou twitched.

His strings hummed.

Danger.

Nezuko was standing, and then she wasn't. Her head slammed against a rock. Her back was pressed against the packed snow, her arms shoving the wooden beam between Tanjirou's bared fangs.

"Nii-san!"

His eyes were slitted and brimming with a ferocity she had never seen in them before.

"Nii-san! It's me, Nezuko, your sister. Please!" Yelling made her head pound and her vision blur.

He pushed down harder, inhumane snarling noises coming from his mouth.

A strangled scream escaped her as excruciating pain flared in her left shoulder. She could feel her dislocated bones grinding against each other the more Tanjirou pushed.

Saliva was gathering at the corners of his mouth, saturating the wood between his teeth.

He's going to kill me. Tanjirou is going to kill me and then the swordsman is going to kill him, just like how the swordsman killed our family.

But… in death, I would be able to see tou-san and kaa-san and Takeo and Hanako and Shigeru and Rokuta again.

I’m tired.

I just want to go home.

Nezuko's grip on the wooden beam loosened.

Exhaustion had sunk deep into her bones.

The wooden beam slipped from her grasp.

She smiled sadly at Tanjirou, "I'm sorry, nii-san."

She felt something wet drip onto her face.

Saliva? No, tears were making a trail down Tanjirou's nose to drip off the tip.

Tanjirou's warm breath puffed over her face, his mouth empty as he stared at her, unmoving.

A loud crash made Nezuko look to her left. Nothing but cold air was above her. Tanjirou had been thrown into a tree.

The man with a mismatched haori stood over her.

"What are you doing? That demon was about to eat you." He stared down at her, "And you were about to let it."

What was she thinking? Giving up like that?

She rolled onto her knees, her head pounded, "He's my brother! He wasn't going to kill me, he-"

"He's not your brother anymore. He's not even human. I'm going to kill him. Don't get in my way." The man grasped the hilt of his sword.

"Please! You already killed our family, just let us go, please!"

Her head pounded. She just wanted to go home.

"Are you stupid? I didn't kill your family, a demon did."

Who-?

Dark blue iron glinted cruelly in the muted light that filtered through the clouds. The man had drawn his sword, halting her train of thought.

"My brother was never like this, I promise!" Her voice cracked.

"He was exposed to demon blood and turned into one of them. I'm going put an end to him before he takes any more lives."

Nezuko reached her hand out, her heart constricting painfully, "No! Stop! He's my brother! He would never kill anyone! I'll- I'll find out how to turn him back, just please! You can't-"

"If you want me to stop so badly, don't just lie there with that pathetic hopeless expression on your face. Stand up and do something." The man's eyes hardened, "You say you want to turn your brother back into a human but you were just about to let your own brother kill you with a smile on your face. I don't have time for people who speak bold words yet have already given up."

"He wasn't going to kill me. He recognised me." She lurched to her feet, her left arm dangled, useless. A bolt of pain shot through her head. She felt the back of her skull. Her hand came away with fresh blood coating her already red hands.

With his sword drawn, the man walked towards Tanjirou's unmoving body.

She picked up her wooden beam and threw herself in front of Tanjirou, pointing its jagged end at the man.

"If you want to kill him, you're going to have to kill me first." Her voice wavered.

"Okay." The man said, and slashed her wooden beam in half.

He had sharpened steel and she had a glorified stick. He had years of training and she only had desperation. The fight had been determined before it had even begun.

“Are you going to give up again? Move aside then. You don’t have to die.”

Nezuko tightened her grip on the wooden beam. She wouldn’t watch another loved one die. She wouldn’t. "I'm going to turn my brother back to human. He's the only family I have left. I'm not going to let you kill him."

Nezuko took deep breaths, in and out, and lunged, wooden stake outstretched.

The man batted her aside like she was nothing but an annoying mosquito.

She reached a hand out and curled her fist around his strings.

Pink hair, cheek scar, kind eyes. I… I should have died instead. I'm sorry.

She loosened her grip and brushed her fingers through his strings, searching for something that could help her win the fight, that would tell her what the man would do next.

The pink haired boy took one look at him and burst into raucous laughter, "You look so stupid! You should've just asked me or old man Urokodaki to cut your hair instead of trying to do it yourself!"

The pink haired boy grinned as he ripped an ohagi in half and held it out. "You cut through the rock, so I got us an ohagi to celebrate! I didn't have enough money to buy two ohagi… I'm sorry."

The pink haired boy flashed him a smile brimming with warmth as he cut down a snarling demon, "Don't worry, Giyuu! I found you. You're safe, rest now."

Giyuu… the man's name was Giyuu?

Touching the strings wasn't helping. Back when Tanjirou had almost eaten her, she knew he was going to attack her - but how?

The cold stung her lungs as she gasped for breath.

The strings! She could hear them if she opened her ears and concentrated. Hear the way they thrummed and murmured.

She picked the wooden stake back up and rushed towards Giyuu, flinging herself onto his back. She listened to his strings as they hummed. Left arm reaching up, she knocked his hand away with her wooden stake.

The hilt of the sword- the red tip of his hilt blurred towards her and a blaring pain erupted on her forehead.

She couldn't even move her head an inch before he had hit her.

Breathing laboured, she brought her wooden stake back and pounded at the back of his head. Sometimes they hit but mostly they didn't. She didn't know if Giyuu's head was moving out of the way or if her depth perception was dysfunctional. Blood trickled down her forehead and into her eyes, blurring her vision, stinging.

A hand reached towards her and threw her to the ground. She hadn't even heard the threads warn her.

She rolled to a stop on a patch of soft snow. The temptation to let her eyelids flutter shut was almost irresistible.

Tanjirou! She had to-

She stumbled to her feet. Pain swelled inside her skull, threatening to explode.

Nezuko staggered towards the blurred figure of Giyuu, arm outstretched.

"Boy… pink hair… you loved him like a brother, didn't you? If he- If he turned… demon… would you kill…"

"How did you-" Giyuu turned towards her.

"I can see…"

Her vision started darkening, black patches appearing in her vision.

"I'm not going… to let you kill-" She slurred, "My brother."

Her eyes were closing of their own accord. Her consciousness was slipping away as the seconds passed.

She collapsed onto her side.

Tanjirou clambered to stand in front of her. He was protecting her, just like he had when she was five and timid, too afraid to stand up to an old man at the marketplace who had spat on her for being in the way.

"You have to be strong enough to stand up for yourself or else people will walk all over you." Tanjirou had said.

She clawed at the ground, rocks digging at her skin, but she couldn't even gather the strength to lift her head.

I'm sorry I'm not strong enough, nii-san.

 


 

Her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She peeled her eyes open. Her fingers were frozen.

Tanjirou!

He was unconscious beside her, a piece of bamboo wedged between his teeth.

She lurched to her feet, eyes searching wildly for Giyuu.

Pain stabbed into her skull, she clutched at her head. Her shoulder throbbed.

"I wouldn't move so suddenly if I were you." A voice said behind her.

She whipped her head around and saw black spots in her vision.

Breathing slowly through her nose, she went to stand in front of Tanjirou's prone body, facing Giyuu who was leaning against the trunk of a tree.

"I'm not going to let you kill hi-"

"How did you know?" He said, pushing himself off the tree and standing straight.

"What?"

"How did you know about Sabito?"

"The pink haired boy?"

Giyuu's eyes bore into her.

"I can see… threads. Sometimes when I touch them, I learn things about people."

Giyuu turned on his heel and started away from her, into the thick forest.

"Find Urokodaki Sakonji at the foot of Mount Sagiri. Tell him that Tomioka Giyuu sent you." He said, "It's cloudy now, so your brother should be okay, but make sure he doesn't get exposed to sunlight. I put your arm back into its socket, you shouldn't use it too much for the next few days."

"Okay." She said, and he was gone with nothing but a whirl of snow to indicate he was ever there.

Chapter Text

After burying their family and sending them off with a prayer, Nezuko made her way to Mount Sagiri. Her family's rust stained axe was in her hand and a shrunken Tanjirou was safely tucked into a woven bamboo basket on her back. She had wrapped the basket in layers of cloth to prevent sunlight from reaching Tanjirou.

They were at the base of the mountain, drawing close to a house. Her back and shoulders were aching from carrying Tanjirou all day.

Once the last golden rays of the sun had faded, she had let Tanjirou out to walk beside her.

The scent of blood on the wind made her pause, a sick feeling rising up her throat. The sight of blackened threads made her run towards the faint outline of a wooden house, dragging Tanjirou by his hand.

The paper of the shoji door had been torn apart. The wet sounds of chewing came through the rips in the paper. Nezuko's stomach churned. She gripped the axe tighter and opened the door with bated breath. The soft swish of the sliding door made the demon inside turn his head, his blood smeared mouth bared in a snarl.

He was clutching the mangled arm of a woman with dark hair in a bun.

Mother?

His blackened threads thrashed in the air, tearing apart the woman’s threads that surrounded him.

Rivulets of blood ran down the wooden walls. Slumped in a corner was a boy and lying in his lap was another young boy. The moonlight that crept into the house turned the blood that soaked their clothes black.  Their strings were shorn through, fibres lying slack on the floor. One of the boys had the same messy haircut as Takeo.

It was as if she was seeing her family, lying still and cold on the floor of their mountain home for a second time.

"Hey. This is my feeding ground, find your own or I'll kill you!"

Hatred, corrosive and bitter, rose in her throat. She hefted the axe in her hand and charged forward.

With a strength she never knew she possessed, she swung the axe. It bit into his throat. A surge of savage satisfaction trickled into her mind as she watched red dribble out of the torn flesh of his throat.

The demon planted a brutal kick on her stomach, sending her flying backwards.

She gasped for air. Her stomach pulsed in pain.

The demon appeared above her. She stared at the gaping wound in his neck as it knitted itself back together.

He leered at her, pointed teeth glowing bone white in the moonlight, "Did you really think that was going to harm me, girlie? You'll have to try better than that."

His hand darted out and wrapped around her throat, squeezing.

Her hands fumbled for her axe. Where-?

It was lying in the snow, ten metres away.

The pressure bearing down from the demon's hands had completely cut off her air supply by then.

She pulled and pushed at his hands with all her strength. Her lungs begged for air. His hands did not budge.

She was weak, no match for him.

She clawed at his face, raking her fingers across his face until beads of blood welled up.

He did not even flinch as one of her fingernails caught on a crevice of his face and ripped off, tearing a strip of flesh from his face with it.

Black dotted her vision.

She still had to turn Tanjirou back, she still had to avenge her family. She couldn't die yet.

Panic flooded her nerve ending, her legs kicking uselessly under him. Her eyeballs were about to explode from the lack of blood and air.

She dug her hands into his eyeballs and squeezed. They burst apart, bloody fluid dripping from his eye sockets and onto her face.

He only cackled in glee.

His eyeballs regenerated seconds later.

She reached out for his strings, looking for something to help her in her last moments. She was only met with overwhelming glee and bloodthirsty satisfaction. He was enjoying this, enjoying her desperation, enjoying her struggling.

She was going to die.

A blur registered on the periphery of her vision before the demon's head was separated from his body, his arteries spurting blood. Tanjirou had headbutted him, the sheer force behind it had decapitated the demon.

His grip around her neck weakened ever so slightly. She pried his hands off and planted her foot firmly on his stomach, kicking him off her.

She rolled onto her knees, hunched over and coughing. She greedily gulped in air. Her lungs burned. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.

She felt a hand pat her back gently. She looked up at Tanjirou through blurred vision. She opened her mouth to thank him, but only a wheeze came out.

She settled for sending a shaky smile his way.

Tanjirou held out a hand. She grasped it and he pulled Nezuko to her feet. She ran over to her axe and picked it up, clutching it with a death grip in both her hands.

"What the fuck! Assholes! Why the fuck is a demon and a human working together? I'll kill you and that bastard demon! I'll string him up until sunlight turns him into ashes and then I'll rip off your limbs and feast on you!" The demon's head shouted from the base of a tree.

He's not dead?

Her arms were shaking. She didn't have enough strength to keep swinging it. She couldn't rely on luck to kill him.

The skin of his decapitated head bubbled, and from the flesh and gore, two clawed hands sprouted.

Cords of muscle bulged underneath his grey skin. He flung himself forward. Nezuko ducked, instinct driving her actions.

Her cheek stung. His claw had slashed her.

Her heart pounded, her breaths coming harder, faster and shallower.

Nezuko chanced a glance towards Tanjirou, he was barely holding his own against the demon's body.

Dawn was hours away. She had barely any strength left. Her brother was fighting his own battle.

She saw the demon's mouth opening and closing, he was yelling, but no sounds reached her. She was lightheaded and nauseous. None of her breaths seemed as though they were bringing in any oxygen.

Nezuko.

A gentle caress brushed her face. Serenity washed over her, bringing memories of calloused yet gentle hands, crooned lullabies and home.

She closed her eyes. Breathed in deeply until her lungs ached, and exhaled.

Then she listened.

And she danced to the rhythm of the strings.

Each twirl and weave and duck was accompanied by the twang of strings that only she could hear.

She rolled and a swish of air ruffled her hair as the demon launched himself at the space above her head.

She waited for a pause in the song of the strings before she leapt forward, driving the blade of her axe into his skull, splitting it open.

She thought of her mother, lying lifeless on the ground. She thought of her siblings, far too young for their still bodies to be soaked in blood. She thought of the family this demon had mercilessly massacred, and she pulled her axe free from his skull and brought it down upon his head again. And again. And again.

Blood splattered onto her axe, staining the wood of the handle red.

Her vision blurred. Tears? Were those tears distorting her sight?

A hand landed on her head. She turned around and blindly swung. Her axe stopped, caught by a hand. She looked up and saw Tanjirou, bloodied and looking at her with those warm red eyes of his.

She let go of the axe, recoiling. The demon's strings were sawed down to the last thread, there was no visible sign that he was regenerating. She turned around to look at the demon's head, lying on the dirt. It had been butchered to the point where it resembled a chunk of meat more than a head. She had done that, had kept hacking away at the demon until his head was nothing more than a bloody mess.

She turned back to Tanjirou and she saw the kind eyes of her father staring back at her.

What was it that she had promised to her father before he had died?

"I'm sorry." She bowed her head.

Tanjirou's hand landed on her head again, ruffling her hair this time.

Adrenaline and anger rushed out of her, her strength leaving along with them. She sunk to her knees and slumped over.

"You dealt with the demon."

Her muscles tensed. She swung her head around.

A man wearing a tengu mask stood tall. Behind him were the freshly dug graves of the slaughtered family.

"I am Urokodaki Sakonji. You are the one Giyuu sent?"

Nezuko pushed herself to her feet and nodded, "I am Kamado Nezuko and this is my brother, Kamado Tanjirou."

"What will you do?"

Nezuko stared at him.

"What will you do if your brother eats a human?"

Nezuko continued to stare at him, her mind filled with static. What would she do? Would she be able to kill her brother?

"Too slow." He cut in, his voice sharp and reprimanding, "If your brother takes the life of even one human, you must treat him with the same aggression and violence you treated that demon to. Then you must turn that violence onto yourself. That is the only honourable thing you can do.

"If you want to be a demon slayer, with your brother by your side, you cannot let something as fickle as emotions dictate your actions. The moment a demon tastes human flesh, they become monsters that need to be put down like a rabid dog. That is how you must treat them, no matter their history nor yours." Urokodaki had a demeanour that exuded authority and demanded respect.

"But you must not even allow something like that happen. You cannot let your brother go as far as to take a human life. Once a life is taken, it can never be brought back. Do you understand?" She could feel his eyes drilling into her from behind the mask, adding to the weight of his words.

"I understand." She said.

The first rays of dawn breached the horizon. The beams of light crept towards what had once been the demon's head. It burst into flames and disintegrated. The black that had stained his strings faded, revealing the lavender coloured strings underneath. Then those string too, crumbled to dust.

"I will train you. Carry your brother on your back and follow me." Urokodaki took off.

Nezuko turned around, and saw that her brother had shrunk again, peeking out from his basket. He was safe from the sun.

She tucked Tanjirou into the basket and wrapped it securely with cloth before hoisting it onto her back.

Her muscles barely had any strength left in them.

She took a deep breath in and steeled herself for the journey ahead.

She pushed off with her back foot and started running.

 

The running was hell. In the first hour, her calf muscles became unbearably tight and burned. In the second hour, she couldn't feel her legs anymore. After the third hour, she stopped counting - the fatigue and pain had scrambled her thoughts. She could barely think past the pounding in her head and the exhaustion that made her limbs weigh heavy like lead.

She made it to mid-day until the world tilted on its axis and she stumbled over her feet, falling onto the ground, out cold. The bamboo basket on her back fell to the ground with a jolt, eliciting a squawk from within.

Up ahead, Urokodaki turned around and walked to Nezuko's unconscious form. He stared at her, wondering if Giyuu was right to entrust her training in his hands.

He hoisted both her and her basket onto his back and walked the last few minutes to his home.

 


 

She awoke to smell of grilled fish and the feeling of a damp cloth on her forehead.

She pushed her blanket to the side and sat up, the damp cloth dropping to her lap.

"Kaa-san?" She croaked. She needed some water.

Only the faint sizzling of the fish and the rustle of the wind against the shoji windows responded.

The house was too silent. She should be hearing Rokuta and Hanako giggling while Takeo and Shigeru were arguing over something petty. What happened to them?

She squinted through the darkness with bleary eyes. This room wasn't the room she shared with Hanako. This room was the wrong size and it didn't have Hanako's embroidered blossoms displayed proudly on the wall. The basket she had used to carry Tanjirou was on the side of the room, Tanjirou was tucked into a futon, sleeping, a few feet away from her, bamboo covering his mouth.

The disorientation of sleep left her mind. Consciousness settled itself firmly into her mind. She clutched the blanket with white fists and closed her eyes.

She was a fool.

Her mother was dead. Rokuta, Hanako, Takeo and Shigeru too. Tanjirou was a demon.

Humans are creatures of habit, her mother had told her when Nezuko asked why her mother blew on her needle when she finished her embroideries.

Nezuko's mind, it seemed, had a habit of remembering her family like they were living.

How many times would she have to remind herself?

She pulled her knees in and curled into a tight ball. Her eyes pressed into her knees.

Her chest ached. Grief had carved a deep hole into her flesh.

"Mama, it hurts!" She wanted to cry, just like she had when she was a young child and had a stomachache. Back then, her mother would have rubbed her stomach and crooned her a lullaby.

Now, there was only resounding silence and the feeling of her knees pushed against her face.

She pressed a hand against her mouth, muffling the sobs that wracked her body. She cried until the skin around her eyes became red and irritated, until all the energy had been wrung from her body.

Drained, she slid back into the warmth of her blankets and surrendered her aching head to the clutches of sleep.

 

The next time she awoke, a bowl of rice and grilled fish and a cup of water had been placed beside the futon she had slept in. She shovelled the food into her mouth to appease the complaints of her stomach. She gulped it down with water and went back to sleep.

 


 

In the morning, Nezuko pulled herself to her feet and thanked Urokodaki for agreeing to teach her and for feeding and housing her too. 

He told her she had a day to rest and recover from her fight. After that, they would start training.

He left her a neatly folded pair of black hakama and said that there were more clothes in the wooden cupboard in her room. She wondered if he had students before her.

Urokodaki had folded her brown haori and placed it beside her futon. It was ripped and stained beyond repair – she'd have to find a new one. The bottom of Nezuko's kimono was ruined too.

Her mother bought the fabric for her pink kimono especially for Nezuko because she said it reminded her of Nezuko's eyes. 

My pretty flower child, she had said to Nezuko, handing her the kimono she had sewn from it, doesn't this match your eyes just wonderfully?

She took off the topmost layer of her kimono and pulled her sewing kit from Tanjirou's basket. She sat down on the tatami mats and started cutting the pink fabric, bathing in the mellow light of the afternoon sun that drifted in through the paper of the shoji screens.

She spent all afternoon sewing her new haori. Her mother was the reason why her fingers were able to move so deftly, passing the needle between each side of the fabric with ease, her stitches evenly spaced and uniform in length. When she had just started learning how to sew, she had hated it because her stitches were wonky and the needle always pricked her clumsy fingers, but her mother had forced her to keep practising alongside her. Now, she enjoyed sewing. Enjoyed the pretty patterns she could make with just a needle, a thread and some cloth. Enjoyed the peace she felt when her world was nothing more than moving thread in and out of cloth.

When she had finished the last stitch and held her new pink haori up against the weak evening light, she thanked her mother for this skill and wiped away the tears that had made their way down her face.