All his life, Agatsuma Zenitsu dreamed of his very own storybook romance. He’d be the first to say that this was merely a pipe dream, but the fantasy gave him comfort on long nights. When he was younger, it was only a vague notion, one spurred on by a childhood spent reading fairy tales over and over again to stave off the loneliness. Then he got older, and the dream became more specific. He liked to picture a strong princess, one that’d wipe away his tears and want to stay with him forever.
True love, they called it. No other words could lift his spirit just as much.
There was a problem with that mental picture though. Nowadays, it was even more specific. Nowadays, he dreamt of a certain individual, one with a spirit so bright that it almost broke his heart. Nowadays, he had the world’s largest crush on Kamado Tanjirou, and it was tearing his whole world apart.
Zenitsu, to put it lightly, was screwed.
It wasn’t that Tanjirou was especially popular. In the traditional sense, he wasn’t. He didn’t run around with the cool crowd, and his social life outside of school didn’t actually exist. Rather, most people liked him for his glowing personality. Need help with homework? Tanjirou’s your guy. Hungry? Don’t worry! Tanjirou always has extra snacks.
At first, Zenitsu was envious of him, but that didn’t last long. Both of them worked, worked, worked, albeit at different things, and there’d be no reduction of stress if they traded lives on his end. (He had the feeling that Tanjirou wouldn’t complain at all if he had to deal with the schedule Gramps foisted upon him.) Soon enough, he found himself wondering why he kept fixating on the other boy. It’s admiration. It has to be! He thought before putting it out of his mind for a week.
“Eh? Don’t you have a crush on him?” Murata mumbled soon after - when he brought the subject up again, mind - around a chunk of fish.
Murata Daisuke, better known by his surname, was his only friend. Plain and average, he spent most of his days striving to do his very best in student council. Seeing as how he was the only person unfazed by Zenitsu’s outbursts, they had stuck together through thick or thin.
So why on earth was he betraying him now?!? It was beyond the pale!
His friend fixed him with an unimpressed look. “I mean, it’s obvious. You’re always going on and on about how nice he sounds, not that I get any of that. And just yesterday, you did a whole rant on his smile. His smile, Zenitsu.”
“I-I!” He stammered, flustered. “You’re wrong! I only have feelings for Nezuko-chan!”
“You’ve never even spoken to her.” Murata pointed out, not reacting to his squawks of protest. “But last week, when Tanjirou waved at you, you almost tripped down the stairs. I had to catch you.”
“That never happened!” Zenitsu screamed, absolutely mortified. “I only admire him! Ad! Mire!”
Across from him, his friend shoveled more food into his mouth, lacking a care in the world. “If that’s really true,” he said, “then you won’t mind if I invite him to eat lunch with us.”
“Tanjirou? Eating lunch with us?” He could see that. The prospect of having to eat with Hashibira Inosuke too was a terrifying one, but there was no doubt in his mind that Tanjirou could keep him under control. He’d have his normal boring lunch, and Tanjirou would offer him a fluffy snack, baked with care by his hand. Their fingers would touch-
Zenitsu buried his flaming face in his hands. “Oh god.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
By now, he had gotten the hang of having a crush on the resident sweetheart of the school. For starters, uniform checks became ten times more awkward now. Not only was it very difficult to greet the Kamado siblings without blushing, but letting Tanjirou pass with his signature hanafuda earrings only spelled trouble for himself. Tomioka-sensei was never pleased, and Zenitsu got the brunt of his wrath.
It was a small price to pay for a daily glimpse of his crush’s smile. The added benefit of hearing Nezuko-chan’s (old habits die hard) slowly improving speech only made things better. Call him pathetic if you must, but if he wrote a highlights list daily, those brief meetings would be at the top every time.
“You’re embarrassing!” Murata groaned, and not for the first time. “Are you ever going to say something?”
He gawked at his best friend, aghast. “And die?!? No way in hell! I’m not stupid.”
“Sure could have fooled me.” Murata mumbled under his breath. Zenitsu kicked his shin in retaliation.
If he had listened more carefully during their squabble, the coming chaos could have been avoided. But, alas, that simply wasn’t meant to be.
“I’m cursed.” Zenitsu groaned to himself on the day everything changed. “Doomed. Absolutely done for!” Nothing was going right for him; clearly, each event added up to a sum total of ‘bad omen’.
First, Chuntaro escaped her cage while he was trying to feed the poor sparrow and ended up, after a long chase, pooping on Kaigaku. He was still nursing bruises from the encounter, ones that he suffered in the bird’s stead.
Then came the news that Murata was sick. While this happened regularly, it didn’t help Zenitsu’s mood one bit. Despite his perfectly average life, his best friend had a poor immune system, and was constantly suffering as a result. Eating lunch alone felt like a suitable punishment from the cosmos.
Those two events would have been enough to ruin his entire day on their own, but the bad luck train didn’t stop there.
He got reprimanded by Tomioka-sensei again for giving the Kamados a pass, failed an English test, and busted his nose during physical education. By the time lunch rolled around, he was strongly contemplating skipping school. He’d gladly take his chances with Gramps! Anything but this!
Eating rice balls sullenly made him feel even more terrible than before. Really, Zenitsu thought, is there any way for this day to get any worse? Please let me know!
“Coming through! Coming through!”
The blonde boy paled. That is not what I meant! He wailed in his head. Anything but Inosuke!
The wild child in question violently slapped his hands down onto Zenitsu’s lunch table. “You’re Monitsu!” He said it confidently, like it was an undeniable fact.
“No, I’m not! W-Who’s Monitsu?” He asked nervously. Did Inosuke have a bone to pick with someone named that way? Was he about to die?!?
“You are! Don’t be stupid, Tanitsu!” Inosuke snarled more than spoke, green eyes flashing with fury. He had to wonder how he’d act with a face as pretty as his. Would he be the same way? Somehow, he doubted it.
“It’s Zenitsu!” He gathered up his remaining dregs of courage. “What do you want, huh?!?”
“Eat lunch with me and my minions tomorrow!” The demand was bellowed out at decibels he didn’t know humans were capable of making with their mouths.
Me and my minions?
A mental image of Inosuke’s lunch table popped up in his mind. Being around Nezuko-chan for too long was bad enough for his health, but Tanjirou too?!? Zenitsu would never survive!
Instead of answering right away, he gnawed away at his lip from worry. “Can I pass?”
“No! You will be there!” Without waiting for an answer, Inosuke marched off, head held high.
In some ways, Zenitsu wished he could be like him. He could live without the tactlessness, of course, but there had to be some advantages to always knowing who you were and your place in the world.
Inosuke’s determination presented a problem though. Who would win? The boar’s stubbornness or the dandelion’s cowardice?
In the end, it was no contest. Zenitsu found a small closet to hunker down in the next day. He spent so much time listening for the telltale noise that would alert him to Inosuke’s presence that he barely ate, but in his mind, it was worth it. The only stress he needed in his life was familial, thank you very much!
“Gah!” The blonde jerked violently, drawn out of his stupor. “O-Oh. Good morning, Nezuko-chan! How are you today?”
“Guh-good! And you?”
(For those not in the know, Nezuko-chan had a brutal accident the year before that claimed her ability to speak. She had made immense progress! He was super proud of her!)
“Perfect now that you are here!” He laughed. “Um, where’s your brother?” It was a normal question to ask, okay?!? Get off his back!
“Oh, he’s running a l-little late.” She took another bite out of her loaf of bread, only adding to the breadcrumbs scattered across the fabric of her uniform. “I came early a-a-anyway to warn you.”
“... W-Warn me?!?” Zenitsu almost jumped a foot in the air. “Am I a target or something?!?”
“I would have taken care of th-that already if you w-were.” She rubbed his head with one dainty hand. It was easy to forget that Nezuko-chan’s kicks were legendary when she looked so cute. “What I m-mean is that Ino… Inosu… Inosuke is mad at y-you.”
“Mad? At me? What for?!?” He cried. Inosuke being mad meant a world of pain for whoever he was ticked off at. This really was a nightmare!
“Tanjirou wanted you to eat with us, r-remember?” As always, she sounded incredibly patient with him. It’s a kindness he didn’t think he deserved.
Still, this was the first he was hearing of that. “R-Really? Inosuke never said that!”
She nodded her head. “I wouldn’t lie.” Nezuko-chan beamed at him. It wasn’t exactly Tanjirou level, but it still warmed his frantically beating heart. “Will you c-come today?”
“I… I’d have to ask Murata.” He was back in school after all, and consulting his best friend felt like the right thing to do.
“That’s fine! S-See you later!”
Zenitsu immediately swapped places with another uniform checker. The more he could prolong seeing Inosuke, and the more time he had to confer with Murata, the better.
“I think you should go. Like, duh, what did you expect me to say? ‘Nooo, Zenitsu, don’t eat lunch with your crush, you’re so sexy’?”
“Muuuuuraaaataaaa!” He sniffled. “Don’t make fun of me!!!”
“Fine, fine, I won’t. But, seriously, don’t worry about me! Go after your happiness for once!” Murata patted his trembling hands in a rare show of support.
Another glob of snot hit the table. “What happiness?!? The instant I get there, I’ll go into cardiac arrest! Just watch! Tsuyuri and Shinazugawa eat there too, you know!”
“Yes, but they aren’t mean like Shinbou-senpai. Kanao’s my tutor after all. And you’re only scared of Shinazugawa-san because he looks scary, but he’s not cruel either. Tanjirou wouldn’t be friends with bad people!” Damn him and his logic! Why did Murata always have to make sense?!? It just wasn’t fair!
“It’s okay, Zenitsu. You can do it! I’ll be cheering you on from way over here!”
Terror overtook his fragile heart. “M-Murata…?”
“What?” His poor friend asked, oblivious to the threat looming behind him. “What is it?”
“Puny weaklings, listen up!” Inosuke screamed right in his ear.
“Gah!” Both him and Zenitsu yelled, as if the effect was the same. (It probably was.)
“You both will eat with us! Right now! Come on already!” Without any effort, he hauled Murata out of his seat. “You’re lucky that The Great Inosuke is giving you a second chance!”
“Why me?!?” Murata shrieked, trying to twist away from his tight grasp. Zenitsu felt for him, he really did, but he still didn’t want to trade places.
Inosuke leered. “You, Kurata Daichi, are part of the crybaby’s pack! Where else will you go?”
“Pack? ” Zenitsu echoed the bewilderment in Murata’s bulging eyes.
“Don’t question me, dammit! Let’s go! Coming through! Coming through!”
With his best friend as a hostage, he could tell that there was really no chance left to him in the matter. Zenitsu went.
Inosuke’s lunch table was the most avoided one in the entire school, and that was saying something. If it wasn’t because of his presence, it was because of Nezuko-chan’s strong legs and Shinazugawa’s glaring face. People adored Tanjirou, but mostly from afar.
He’d know. After all, he was one of those people.
Surprisingly, Tanjirou wasn’t actually there, though Tsuyuri was clearly leaving a space open for him. He tried to sit at an angle where he could avoid both his gaze and close proximity to the boy, but it was not to be. Inosuke, once he (none too gently) set Murata down next to his own lunch, manhandled Zenitsu into a very unfortunate seating arrangement. Having to eat between Nezuko-chan and Tanjirou? He’d never complain about anything ever again if he made it through the meal without choking; that was a promise!
“So. You’re Zenitsu.” Tsuyuri stared at him with a small smile. Her eyes were very blank. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
This was hardly a good sign; most people knew loads about him, and almost none of that information was flattering. “H-Have you now?” He squeaked out. Murata looked like he was going to be sick. Zenitsu could relate to that.
“Mmhm. You play the shamisen and the koto. You’re also a kendoka, and you do the uniform check most days for the main gate.” Her smile didn’t change. “And you have a record for hearing far away noises as well. Your family must be proud of you.”
“Not really.” Zenitsu replied automatically. “I’m an eyesore.”
“Stop that, Zenitsu.” Murata scolded him, though it was softer than usual. That, no doubt, had to do with the way Inosuke kept trying to provoke him by making attempts at his food. “You’re really not. Kaigaku’s just an ass.”
“A correct ass…” He groaned, digging into another section of his bento box.
“I d-don’t think you are either!” Nezuko made eye contact with him, grinning wide. Her canines were sharp, just like some of the delinquents at the school. He had never noticed that before. “A lot of m-my classmates th-think y-you’re cute.”
“You’re too kind, Nezuko-chan!” Tears began to well up in his eyes. “Truly, you’re an angel through and through!”
Calm. Nice, serene calm.
Instantly, Zenitsu stopped wanting to cry.
There he was. Kamado Tanjirou, the object of his affections and the prince of his daydreams. He looked the same as always, hair pulled back into a small ponytail and earrings swishing as he moved towards the table, but each time he saw him felt like a new moment in his life, a new chapter, a new beginning.
“Zenitsu!” He called once he was in a normal person’s definition of ‘earshot’. Real glee existed in his tone. “You came to join us today!”
In his mind, he pictured eating lunch with Tanjirou to be an affair brought on after actually dating. Instead, it went a little like this.
Zenitsu turned red, made a shrill noise, and fainted, right there on the spot.
When he got overwhelmed, he went all stiff and passed out. In fact, for an entire year, Kaigaku called him a goat. Zenitsu hated the comparison, but he couldn’t deny how accurate it was. Just like those goats in America, sufficiently strong shocks left him useless to the world.
Waking up in the school infirmary wasn’t a new experience. He was used to it by now. Seeing Murata wasn’t strange either. It made sense for him to be eating the remainder of his lunch by Zenitsu’s bedside.
None of that made the shock of seeing Tanjirou there too any easier to bear.
“Oh, he’s awake. Hi, Zenitsu.” Murata tapped his forehead like always. “I hope you know that the pig thought you died.”
“... Did he make a scene?” Zenitsu already knew the answer, but it didn’t hurt to ask.
“Yup!” Tanjirou chimed in, rudely proving that he was not, in fact, a hallucination. “Are you feeling better, Zenitsu? You really worried me there!”
“He’s fine.” Murata translated. “Just ashamed.”
“Ah, but he’s so red! Are you sure?”
Oblivious! His crush was too oblivious!
No actual concern was being woven into Tanjirou’s sound. It had been there at first, but only a strange quality remained now. Could it be? Was that fondness?
Zenitsu flushed harder. He wasn’t built for speculating like this! Why couldn’t people just say what they felt?!?
Murata, being ten times more observant and a little skeptical to boot, gave the nice boy a look. “Yes. I would know! I always take him to the infirmary, even though he’s very heavy. ”
“Am not!” He protested, though it was a weaker attempt than usual. Being so close to his crush while being unable to escape was not helping his condition in any way, shape, or form.
Tanjirou looked bewildered. “But he isn’t. It was easy to carry him here!”
Carry? He’s the one who did it?!? Not Inosuke or Murata, but him?
Zenitsu did the sensible thing and burst into happy tears. It was the only way to avoid saying stupid things like ‘marry me’ to someone he barely knew.
(And if it led to his two of his favorite people fussing over him, that was just an added bonus.)