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Tastes like Metal

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Genya had always thought that his mother was an amazing person. Despite her weakness and small stature, she never failed to protect her children from her husband’s abuse and worked day and night for them.

She was his pride.

So why?

Drip…Drip…

Genya stares at the scene in front of him.

Drip…Drip…

His mouth is open, but nothing comes out. His hands shaking, his knees weak; Genya wants nothing else but to think that all of this is a dream.

How? Why did things turn out this way? Just a few minutes before, he was cradling his younger brother in his arms as he and his other siblings waited for their mother. His beloved big brother had gone out in search of her; so why was he there now, standing in front of their mother with a bloody knife?

Genya feels his heart lurch, and he almost vomits right there and then.

(“HOW DARE YOU DICE MY LITTLE BROTHER UP, YOU FUCK EYED BASTARD!”)

His breath starts coming out in small, quivering puffs.

 (“You should have made your goddamn wife and kids as happy as they would have been. Because I would make sure that no demon would head your way.”)

He takes a small step forward, his vision clouding with tears.

(“Genya.”

“Nii-chan!”

“Let’s protect our family. Together.”)

He starts to walk faster. Before he knows it, he’s practically running towards the frozen boy with bloodstains all over his body. His big brother, his savior.

Genya jumps at Sanemi, almost crushing the older boy in his arms as he cries.

“NII-CHAN! NII-CHAN!”

 Sanemi’s fingers twitch. “…Gen…ya…”

Genya cries. He cries and sobs and bawls without a care in the world. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

I’m sorry for doubting you before. I’m sorry that I hurt you. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you were the one who was hurting the most.

I won’t leave your side anymore. I promise I’ll always be with you.

The sound of a knife dropping to the ground rings in Genya’s ears, before he feels equally strong arms wrap around him. He feels Sanemi squeezing him back; quiet, choked sobs being muffled by his clothes.

“…You, idiot…What are you apologizing for…I’m the one, who’s, sorry…!!”

The Shinazugawa brothers cry together in the break of dawn, next to their beloved mother as she slowly dissolves away.

XXX

Sanemi gathers up their things back at their old house.

He stuffs all their clothes and any kind of sharp item into a furoshiki, wrapping them up and tying the cloth tightly. He takes one more look around the house, narrowing his eyes. He can remember the countless times his father had tried to beat them to death, to which their mother always protected them from.

He can still remember the feeling of the knife running straight into her gut as she scratched the skin off his face. He can still remember how the world turned colorless in a second, how he felt like he had done the most horrifying thing ever.

He almost felt like stabbing himself in the gut right after he saw the monster’s face, but Genya’s voice had brought him back. The little one had run straight to him, hugging him like he was his lifeline, and cried for the first in a long, long time. He didn’t ask about mother, he didn’t even blame Sanemi for killing her; he just headed right into his arms.

Sanemi thinks that if it wasn’t for Genya, he wouldn’t know what he would have done after that. For that, he is forever grateful for the existence of his younger brother.

He looks around one more time. Great, there was nothing else left to pack.

Sanemi heads out.

Genya was outside, burying the bodies of their siblings in the yard behind the building. He was standing in front of the graves, his hands and eyes closed in a prayer. Sanemi approaches him from the back, laying a hand on his head and ruffling his hair.

“Good job, Genya. Are you okay?”

Genya opens his eyes and looks behind, a weak smile on his face. “Yeah, Nii-chan. I’m fine.”

Sanemi nods, a small smile tugging at his own lips. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Genya reaches out and grabs Sanemi’s wrist. Sanemi pauses, slightly surprised. Genya looks to the side awkwardly, scratching his cheek as he stammers.

“Uh, um, Nii-chan, I – uh –”

Sanemi pulls Genya’s hand off – Genya deflates a little – before holding his little brother’s hand firmly in his own grip. He curls his fingers around Genya’s quivering hand, sending him a small grin, before pulling him along as he starts to walk.

Sanemi isn’t aware of the choked sob Genya holds back. He isn’t aware that the shaking in Genya’s hand wasn’t because of fear and sadness, but relief and determination.

Even though he couldn’t save his other siblings, Genya still has Sanemi. He still has his big brother, he has another chance to make things right. How they should have been.

Genya’s hand tighten their grip, feeling the warmth on his palm.

XXX

The first night they sleep after they left, Sanemi has a nightmare.

Genya knows this because he cannot sleep. He had stayed up that night; staring at the moon and wondering about the flood of memories that had crashed into his brain the moment he saw his brother and his mother.

He wonders if his other family is doing fine. He wonders how he is going to live all the way to the final selection, especially since he has his brother by his side now. He wonders if he has a chance to be stronger than he was before, he thinks of so many things until he hears a whimper.

Genya snaps his head to the direction of the sound. He sees his big brother, curled up on the ground – they couldn’t afford an inn, so they slept in the woods – biting his lip and letting out muffled sounds.

“Nii-chan…?” Genya softly voices out, crawling towards Sanemi. He doesn’t get an answer; Sanemi just tightens his fists and scrunches up his faces in a painful manner. It isn’t after a few seconds that Genya hears his voice.

“…Mo…ther…!!”

Genya’s eyes widen.

A nightmare. His big brother was having a nightmare.

He scrambles to Sanemi’s side, grasping his shoulders and shaking them. “Nii-chan! Nii-chan! Wake up, it’s just a nightmare!”

Sanemi doesn’t. He just continues to squirm and sob softly in pain, and it takes Genya everything to not burst into tears himself. Back in his previous life, Sanemi had never shown any weakness to Genya. He told him of his past after he had left him, but he didn’t tell him anything about his mental state.

Genya didn’t know. He didn’t know that Sanemi was guilt stricken enough to have nightmares he couldn’t wake up from. He can’t even imagine the pain his brother was going through.

If it’s this bad from killing mother, how bad was it when I called him a murderer…? How bad was it when he was alone in the dark? How much did he suffer before he found his place in the corps?

Genya feels his voice crack as he wraps his arms around his brother. “Nii-chan… I’m sorry, I’m sorry…! I’m sorry that you had to be the one who killed mother, I’m sorry that I’m the only family left for you, I’m –”

Sorry that I left you alone.

Genya feels an arm wrap around his shoulders, squeezing him close. Genya opens his tearful eyes, seeing a faint blur of Sanemi looking at him, a tired look in his own eyes.

“Idiot…” Sanemi murmurs, bringing Genya closer to him. He starts patting his head gently, and Genya almost cries at how warm it feels. “I’m fine. You don’t have to keep apologizing for everything. It’s not your fault.”

“But…but…!!”

“Genya,” Sanemi says, closing his eyes. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably be lost as hell. I’d probably be even worse than I am now. It’s all thanks to you that I can still feel happiness. So, don’t apologize. Thank you, Genya.”

Thank you, Genya.

Genya cries again, burying his face into his big brother’s clothes.

XXX

They kill demons.

Even without his Breathing, Sanemi was ruthless and fierce. He armed himself with all sort of weapons; swords, chains, metal poles, any kind of thing that had potential to kill. Genya was surprised at his brother’s recklessness, but when he sees the demons falter when they see him bleeding, Genya understands it’s because of his blood. It's the power of the marechi that keeps them at bay, and honestly, Genya is quite grateful for that. He just wishes his brother would stop hurting his own body recklessly.

Although merciless and rough in battle, Sanemi was always worried for Genya. When Genya told his brother that he wanted to fight with him, Sanemi had refused outright. He had told Genya that it was too dangerous, and he didn’t want Genya getting hurt. Of course, Genya had rebutted, saying that he didn’t want to lose his only family left as well, but Sanemi was dead set on him not fighting.

Until one night.

Sanemi was chaining a demon to a tree, his knuckles stained with his own blood. He was gritting his teeth but knew that the sun was coming up soon. All he had to do was wait, endure and persevere.

Genya watches it all from the back, hiding behind a rock as Sanemi had instructed him to. But he hates it. He hates that he knows he has special powers, but his brother won’t let him help.

He sees the demon arm that Sanemi had cut off on the ground. He sees it wiggling towards his brother, most likely trying to strangle him from behind.

Genya’s body moves of its own accord.

“ANIKI!”

Sanemi jumps, turning back the moment the arm decides to lunge at him. It never makes it though.

Genya flings himself in front of the arm, opening his mouth. The moment he feels the fingers entering his mouth, Genya chomps down, tearing the appendage off. He hears a shriek above, but Genya doesn’t care. He chews and swallows, gasping as he feels the demon blood rush into him.

He reaches out and grips the ripped arm, growling and snarling.

“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY BROTHER!”

The sun rises, and the demon screams as the sunlight burns its flesh. Before they know it, no trace of it was left. It was completely gone.

Genya pants, feeling drool and blood slip from his mouth. He blinks and shakes his head, wiping the liquids off his chin. “Aniki, are you–”

“…What the hell was that.”

Genya jerks in reaction to Sanemi’s voice. It was then when he realized, in a fit of anger and adrenaline, he had accidentally revealed his power to his brother. He even called him ‘Aniki’ from his previous habit.

The heavy aura emitting from Genya’s back makes it even harder to turn around.

Genya doesn’t want to know how he would react once he sees that the whites in his eyes have turned black. He doesn’t want him to see the fangs that have grown. He doesn’t want him to see the monster that he can become.

So, he firmly straightens his back to his brother, fully planning on speaking as he is.

“So-sorry, Nii-chan! I was panicking, I didn’t want you to get hurt, so–”

“Turn around.”

“Ah, I’m fine really! Well, I guess I should go check up on our stuff, I think I left them over there–”

Genya feels a hand clamp onto his shoulder. Before he knows it, he is spun around to meet his brother’s eyes dead on.

Genya’s breath stops.

Veins were practically popping on the surface of the Sanemi’s face. Gritting his teeth, glaring at him with wide open, bloodshot eyes, Sanemi forces out a sentence.

“You fucking idiot!”

Genya winces.

“What the hell were you thinking?! Don’t risk your life for my own damn one! I can take care of myself, I don’t need your help!”

Genya flinches even more, but he finds himself able to move his mouth.

“…I…I can’t lose you again…”

Sanemi pauses.

“I…I don’t want to lose you, aniki…I, I can’t, let you fight alone. I know I’m not gifted, or strong, but, I have an ability that can help…I just…thought that…”

Sanemi stares at Genya. He notices the sharp teeth behind quivering lips, and the tears faintly welling up in black sclera. He sees the blood tainted chin and shaking hands, and he finds that he doesn’t really care that Genya has such an ability.

He pulls Genya into a hug. He hears his younger brother let out a small sob, wrapping his arms around Sanemi’s body and burying his head into his brother’s shoulder. Sanemi lightly pats Genya’s head.

“…Alright, if you really want to fight with me, I’ll let you. But no jumping in front of demons, no risking your life for mine, and only eat them when necessary. God knows what kind of disgusting things they have in their blood.”

So, they kill. They hack, chop, slash and sometimes bite and swallow. Well, only Genya’s doing the last one. Sanemi refuses to even try, which is probably for the best since that Genya doesn’t have marechi either, so there was really no proof that Sanemi had the special digestive organs he did.

XXX

They meet a young man named Kumeno Masachika a few years later.

He’s friendly, genuine and like the big brother that Sanemi never had, Genya thinks. They met by accident; Sanemi was treating Genya’s wounds after bandaging his own arms, and they were approached by the black-haired male. He tells them of the corps, of the Nichirin swords, and Genya can see how badly Sanemi wants one. He averts his eyes from their conversation, knowing that he would never be skilled enough to hold a sword. He didn’t have any physical capabilities or talents; even if he learned how to wield a sword, he doubts he can do much.

A gun though, would be extremely useful. Genya thinks back to his trusted weapon, unknowingly letting out a small sigh.

That catches the attention of Sanemi, who turns to look at him. “Genya? You okay?”

“Huh? I’m fine Aniki!”

“Haha, Genya doesn’t look too interested in our conversation,” Masachika laughs, scratching the back of his head. Sanemi scoffs, crossing his arms.

“It’s fine, Genya doesn’t have to participate in something so dangerous. If he would lose interest, I’d be even more relieved.”

Genya shakes his head furiously. “Of course not! I’m not going to leave your side, Aniki! Even if I have to take a blow for you!”

Sanemi growls. “Like I said, don’t risk your life for me you idiot–”

“I won’t die, so you don’t have to worry! I’ll just eat a demon before I get shot or something!”

“Genya–”

“Aniki–”

“Okay, okay, stop, stop, stop!” Masachika claps his hands, stopping their banter. He looks at them with a fond look in his eyes as he speaks. “You two are really alike, aren’t you? Don’t worry Sanemi, I’m sure Genya will be strong enough that he won’t get himself killed, and Genya, I know we both know that Sanemi loves you more than–”

“Ohagi?”

“Genya, you–”

Masachika laughs loudly, and it prompts the two of them to break out into their own laughter a few seconds later. After they all calm down, Masachika tells them of a trainer, one who used the Breath of Wind. He says that he can introduce them to him and let him train them. Sanemi agrees fervently. Genya nods in hesitation, still not sure if he can really use a Breath, even if it’s the Breath of Wind that his brother uses.

They leave for the trainer the next day.

XXX

As Genya is well aware, Sanemi picks up the Breath of Wind like a natural born genius. He uses it smoothly, efficiently, and he gets better at it every passing day. Masachika and their master shower him in praises and send more difficult challenges next after next, and he manages to breeze through them all.

Genya on the other hand, knows prayers and chants, but as he already figured out, has no talent for it. Even in his previous life, he wasn’t able to pick up any of the styles that he had tried. Even Himejima had attempted once to teach him the Breath of Stone, to his failure.

When Genya sits on the engawa one night, looking at the moon while having bad flashbacks of a certain high ranked demon, he doesn’t notice Sanemi sitting next to him until his brother shakes his shoulder.

“Genya. You listening? Been calling you for a while now.”

“Huh? Sorry, Aniki, was thinking of something else. What’s wrong?”

Sanemi sighs, bringing up a hand to scratch as the back of his head. Genya looks at him intensely, wondering what was his brother hesitating on. The words that come out of his mouth however, wasn't all unexpected.

“...Genya, forget being a demon slayer. Go back to where all the other humans are and live a happy life. Get married, have kids, and make your family happier than we could ever make our mother and siblings. You don’t have the capability to kill demons for a living, even with your special ability.”

Genya becomes quiet. If he didn’t know his brother any better, he would’ve thought that Sanemi was ashamed of him, like he used to. But he knows that Sanemi only wishes the best for him, and that he doesn’t want to see his little brother get killed because he was chasing after him.

Well, it’s not like that’s true though. He did become a Pillar without using any of the Breaths before, he knows he’s strong. Maybe not Sanemi-level strong, but he knows he has what it takes.

So again, he doesn’t back down.

“I’m sorry, Nii-chan. But I can’t do that. I can prove it to you that you don’t need Breaths to be become strong, and you don’t need it to become a demon slayer. You just need the right weapons, and the right people by your side. Nii-chan, I want to become stronger, but it’s not just for you. I want to become stronger for myself, so that I can protect the people I love with my own hands in the future.”

Genya averts his eyes from his brother and looks up at the sky again. The crescent moon is rather beautiful tonight, he thinks, and he finds himself missing the other five a whole lot more.

He doesn’t see the way Sanemi looks at him. Frustration, confusion, worry, but a hint of pride and happiness buried within. He doesn’t see how Sanemi makes the most frustrated yet pleased expression he has ever did and stands up to leave him alone.

That night, he dreams of sunshine and warmth, roaring laughter and whiny shouts.

XXX

Before Genya knows it, time flies by.

Sanemi passes the final selection – as expected of Aniki, really – and moves up in rank like a raging storm. Genya knows that Masachika will die on a mission soon, and in order to prevent that from happening, he tells Sanemi to look out for Masachika. He tells his brother that he has a bad feeling about it, and that he wants him to pay extra attention to his partner. Sanemi isn’t fully convinced, but he agrees to Genya’s wishes.

These times, Genya really wishes that he had his Nichirin bullets and gun. Or if he had a stronger body. He also wishes his growth spurt to hurry the fuck up.

That day, Sanemi returns with a bloody body. Genya feels his insides curl up with worry and panic, but when the bloody body lifts his head and weakly smiles, Genya almost collapses in relief.

Kumeno Masachika was alive.

However, when the letter written by Oyakata-sama came, he insists that Sanemi be the only one to become a Pillar. He claims that Sanemi is a lot stronger than he is, and that he would definitely make a better one. Sanemi protests and almost fights him on it, but thanks to Genya and their master’s words, he grudgingly accepts the proposition and heads off to his first Pillar meeting with a horrible scowl on his face.

He returns with an oddly quieter atmosphere and mentions a ‘Kocho Kanae’ to Genya and a mummified Masachika during dinner. Genya almost chokes on his rice when he hears that name. He really does when Sanemi mentions that she has two younger sisters with one of them the same age as Genya.

Kanao. He wonders if she’s doing fine.

He doesn’t mention her again, but Genya thinks one of the reasons for his softer attitude has to do with her. Masachika moves to tease him but stops when he sees the blood curdling glare being sent his way.

Okay, maybe he wasn’t mellowed out at all.

Genya trains in his own way every day. Workouts, muscle training, and a lot of praying and chanting. He meets Himejima Gyomei in a slightly different way than before; the tall man was feeding stray cats at the nearby park when Genya runs past him, panting and muttering Buddhist prayers, and it had caught his attention when he did so. From then on, he meets Himejima at the park ever so often, meditating and practicing together.

Himejima Gyomei pretends he doesn’t notice the slightly jealous look the Wind Pillar sends him when he mentions his new training partner. He also pretends he didn’t see anything when he catches the white-haired man glaring at one of the books at Oyakata-sama’s mansion about Buddhism.

Before he knows it, once again, times flies by, and he is sixteen. Still slightly short, but he is looking forward to when he finally passes his brother’s height.

Their master and Masachika sends him off at the gates, wishing him good luck. Genya waves back as he walks, a little disappointed that he didn’t get to see his big brother before he leaves for the final selection.

“Oi, you leaving without saying goodbye?”

Or not.

Genya spins around to see Sanemi standing behind him, his arms crossed and a small smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth. Genya finds himself grinning widely.

“Aniki! I thought you had to leave for a mission?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it after I see you off,” he walks forward and roughly ruffles Genya’s hair, a small grin on his face. “You’ve grown, Genya. I’m proud of you, little bro.”

Genya’s heart clenches, and he tries his best not to let his voice wobble. “I’m still nowhere as strong as you, Aniki.”

“The hell you talking about? You’re different from me; you can’t use Breaths, but you found a way to conquer that with your own hard work. You’re strong in your own way, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Sanemi pats Genya’s back harshly and pushes him. “Now, get going! Don’t forget to come back safely when it’s all over, idiot!”

Genya stumbles. He doesn’t fall over a rock or anything, but he feels like he’s flying. After walking a few steps, he turns back to see Sanemi looking at him, a gentle smile on his face. A few seconds pass and the figure of his brother is no longer there, like a leaf blown away by the wind.

He couldn’t save his brothers, sisters and mother, but he managed to be with his brother. He managed to live with him, share his pain and happiness, and he knows that he is proud of him. It’s too already too much happiness for Genya, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to cry or laugh like a maniac.

Well, he still has a final selection to live through. He supposes the crying or laughing could come later, when he meets up with his other family.