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Kiss, Kiss, Fall in Love!

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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.

 

What.

 

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! 

 


 

“H-Hi, Zenitsu!”

 

“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!

 

“B-But!”

 

“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.


“EH?!?”

 

“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!”

 

“Ghrkodfodf.”

 

“He’s fine.” Murata translated. “Just ashamed.”

 

“Ah, but he’s so red! Are you sure?”

 

Oblivious! His crush was too oblivious! 

 

Except…

 

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.)

Chapter Text

Contrary to popular belief, Zenitsu crossed Tanjirou’s radar long before they actually met in person. It had nothing to do with kendo; he barely knew a thing about the sport, much less who was prominent in it. Nor was it a matter of musical appreciation. While Tanjirou certainly liked classical music, he wasn’t the sort to seek it out.

 

No, it wasn’t due to any of those things. The only cause was Zenitsu’s ears.

 

… Don’t smell so shocked! Let him explain!

 

Ever since he was little, the Kamado family knew he possessed an abnormally strong/positively exceptional sense of smell. To them, it hadn’t been very odd. Just like how the sun rose in the east and set in the west, Tanjirou had a good nose. It was, to put it simply, a fact of life.

 

But the world didn’t see it that way. Outliers these days weren’t usually shunned, it said, and he was one of the biggest ones to date. Getting a world record for being able to pick up on subtle fragrances hadn’t been on the agenda at all, but it happened, leaving the Kamados feeling a rather bewildered kind of pride. 

 

Once the media buzz died down, he went back to learning how to bake as normal. Mostly.

 

See, his mother thought the whole affair was extremely funny. When she wasn’t busy with handling medical expenses, paying the bills, and running their shop, she was scouring the web for challengers to her eldest son’s title. “Call it an odd hobby if you’d like,” she’d say, eyes crinkling from her smile, “but I want to find out the competition!”

 

She never did. Olfactory champions were few and far between, and none ever quite measured up. In the process of looking, though, she discovered some other people who were just as incredible. 

 

Tsuyuri Kanao, who could see farther and clearer than anyone else in the world.

 

Shinazugawa Genya, the ultimate supertaster. Most of the pictures available of him showed his mouth smeared with blood.

 

Hashibira Inosuke was an odd case. First, he was one of those feral children incidents, albeit one that still could speak. Then his name became associated with one of the biggest crime ring busts in Japanese history after his mother resurfaced and claimed custody. To top all of that off, it was discovered that his skin was incredibly sensitive, enough to catapult him into infamy. His younger siblings loved hearing about him in particular. “The boar boy!” They’d exclaim at night sometimes. “Tell us about your friend, the boar boy!” 

 

(Nezuko and him both agreed to never mention it to their mutual friend. He’d never let them live it down.)

 

And then there was Agatsuma Zenitsu.

 

Smell. Sight. Taste. Touch. That only left one more.

 

One more to complete the set.

 

Tanjirou used to think it was odd that all of them lived in one area of Japan. They could be anywhere in the world, after all, but each and every one of them lived in the same city. Why?

 

“Maybe there’s something in the water.” His father suggested jokingly when it first occurred to him. He still wasn’t sure if that was actually the truth. 

 

Regardless, all of them amazed him. It’d be nice to meet just one of them. He’d think to himself at night sometimes. That’d be great! 

 

Tanjirou didn’t know back then how important each and every one of them would become to him and his family. Fate had a funny sense of humor.

 




Inosuke blundered into his life first, reeking of pinecones and pique. He ended up cornering him for the slight of staring during class. “Got a problem, forehead? Do you wanna go?!?” 

 

“Absolutely not!” Tanjirou chirped. “You’re the boar boy!”

 

After a one-sided scuffle, they became quick friends. 

 

The next day, Genya ended up buying a muffin from Nezuko, who managed to stall him long enough for Tanjirou to arrive. Their first meeting was far more awkward, but with his charming sister as a buffer, it went reasonably well. The tall boy smelled like cinnamon, much to his surprise. 

 

Kanao (wisteria) showed up a week later. “You’re the nose.” She said in lieu of a greeting. 

 

“Sure am!” What else was he meant to say? No? “And you’re the eyes!”

 

“Yes.” Her retreat was as abrupt as her arrival, but she suddenly became a permanent fixture during lunch. He didn’t think about it too hard. 

 

At this point, Tanjirou was expecting Zenitsu to teleport into his house, or something equally absurd. Then a month passed without any sign of choppy blonde locks. 

 

The school released a notice saying that student uniform checkers would start working soon. He didn’t think anything of it. In his experience, that was a normal aspect of school. All he hoped for was someone who wouldn’t be too strict; Tomioka-sensei was bad enough, please and thank you.

 

A new day dawned, and the eldest Kamado son was left with two new revelations.

 

One: oddly enough, the final member of their unofficial quintet had an aroma that reminded him of a storm and… peaches?

 

And two: Agatsuma Zenitsu looked very different when he wasn’t crying like in the photographs.

Chapter Text

A warm puff of air tickles his ear. “Hey, Zen, are you up?” Tanjirou whispers.

 

“Mmm, yeah…” He yawns, handily ignoring the fact that this hadn’t been true a second ago. 

 

“Good!” His red eyes shine in the dark. It’s a little hard to focus on anything else when they’re sitting so close to each other.

 

Still, he tries his best. “Shouldn’t you be going home soon? It’s late! How would your poor family cope if you got stabbed, hm? Don’t go around being selfish and risk your health!”

 

Instead of reacting like a normal person would, his crush only laughs. “It’s alright, Zenitsu! We’re having a sleepover, remember?”

 

“A sleepover…?” That doesn’t sound right. Even Murata never sleeps over at his house; it’s always the other way around. 

 

The other boy rolls off the bed, still grinning as brightly as a thousand suns. “Yup! How else can we listen to the fireworks together? Let’s go!”

 

They creep through the darkened house. A soft, sweaty hand clutches his. It feels remarkably like his own. “Shh…” Tanjirou keeps murmuring when he tries to speak. “Shh…” 

 

Zenitsu doesn’t think he likes this dream.

 

Once they reach the stairs, they sit in the shadows and listen. Loud voices waft up them; it’s the vocal equivalent of ten firecrackers going off at once. 

 

“Oh,” he whispers softly, feeling very drained, “you meant those fireworks. I’d really like to wake up now.”

 

Tanjirou doesn’t answer. Honestly, he’s not very surprised by that. Listening always ends up being a pain.

 

Well, so long as he’s stuck here, he might as well take it all in. Enjoy the show, so to speak.

 

“Boy, you will not talk about your brother that way!” Ah. So it’s about him after all. Talk about a predictable argument. 

 

“And why not? He doesn’t contribute anything useful to your class or this family. At least make him get a job so he can stop wasting your money on food.” Kaigaku’s telltale snarl carries, even though it’s hardly as loud as their Gramps’ roar.

 

A job?!? … Actually, that’s not a bad idea. A job equals less time busting his butt over a sport he doesn’t like, and more cash so he can spoil the family members he actually likes. (Murata too, if Zenitsu’s feeling generous. He usually is.) Win-win situation! But hey! What’s this about wasting food?!? Who eats all the peaches before he can have his share? It’s not his sparrow, that’s for sure!

 

“Bah! You can get one first! Are you not the eldest?” Gramps scoffs. “Think about the future here! I’m not getting any younger, you know! Someone’s gonna have to take care of that knucklehead once I’m gone.”

 

His grandpa always talks like that, like he has one foot in the grave, but Dream Tanjirou squeezes his hand anyway. Even if it’s not real, it means a lot. 

 

(He squeezes back.)

 

“Whatever, Grandpa.” Footsteps, loud and nearby. They shrink back further into the dark, unable to run away. A too soft hand clamps over his mouth. Kaigaku stands there, close enough to touch.

 

In a panic, Zenitsu turns to face Tanjirou. But he isn’t there anymore. Instead, there’s his brother’s leer, magnified. 

 

“You better not be snooping again, or there’ll be hell to pay.” He hisses, just for his ears alone.

 

Zenitsu ended up being late to school that day.




“Where were you this morning?” Murata looked more frustrated than usual. It was probably because of the frustration. Or having to meet in the restroom. Scratch that, it was definitely the restroom part. “I waited for you by the bench, but you didn’t show.” 

 

“My bad! I slept in! Silly me!”

 

In an instant, the bad mood fled from his best friend. “Ah, I get it now. Was it your brother again?” Oh, blessed sympathy, welcome back! 

 

“You’re the best, Murata! So understanding!” Zenitsu practically threw himself at the other boy. “Tell me how I can make it up to you! What do you want? New shoes?”

 

“You don’t have to buy my loyalty or anything. Just give me some rice at lunch today and we’ll call it even, okay?” That was their usual arrangement. Murata, being Murata, liked to eat. Zenitsu, being Zenitsu, liked to get over guilt by any means necessary. This worked out well for both parties.

 

“Sure thing! See you then!” They parted ways in a completely non-suspicious manner, if you were the sort of person who thought lingering in a bathroom you didn’t need to use wasn’t strange in the slightest. That was also a typical aspect of their friendship. 

 

Lunch rolled around like an overly persistent tumbleweed. After sacrificing tribute to Murata, Zenitsu dug into the remainder of his food. Moping required a lot of energy, and a good meal was the only way to reliably supply it. 

 

His best friend stared at his dour expression, sounding like a beacon of concern. “What’s your deal? Still thinking about you know who number one?”

 

“... Maaaaybe.” 

 

Zenitsu. You can’t let your brother ruin your life! School is your place. Don’t let him get to you here too!” Bells of support rang, drowning out all other sounds.

 

Gratitude bubbled up within him. “You know what? You’re right! I have a new leash on life! Never will I bow to his cold nature again! You’ve opened my eyes, Murata! I’m a new man!”

 

“I’m always right.” His friend shot back, snatching an extra bit of rice from his bento box. “Don’t forget that I-”

 

What he meant to tell Zenitsu was trampled under the relentlessly marching feet of time. 

 

“Oi!” Once again, he found himself staring as his best friend got hoisted up into the air. “Zombie boy! Come with me or I’ll hold the weakling as my prisoner!” 

 

Zenitsu gawked at Inosuke’s glee. “Zombie boy?” Was he seriously still hung up on the fact that he fainted during yesterday’s lunch?

 

Weakling?!?” Watching Murata flail enough to both kick Tanjirou’s best friend and escape said boy’s grasp was truly the highlight of his day. “Why can’t you just ask us to eat lunch with you?”

 

The other boy pulled a face. “You kicked me.” He said bluntly, ignoring the question.

 

“Uh, yeah. Sorry.”

 

“Daiki!” Inosuke boomed, stomping his feet. “Lift me! I’ll kick you harder than you kicked me!”

 

What? Don’t do it, Murata! You’ll get a bone broken, and I’ll be so humiliated!” He wailed, running around the table to tug at his sleeve. “Do you want me making a scene in the hospital? I will! I swear I will!”

 

They were making a scene. It was painfully obvious that they were. “Let’s just go. ” Zenitsu pushed at Murata’s shoulder with one hand. Sure, eating with Tanjirou again didn’t bode well for his health, but it was better than potentially starting a fight. He cherished his friend, he really did, but the winner was clear and his last name did not start with an M.

 

“Okay, okay.” He glowered at Inosuke’s triumphant expression. “We’re coming.”

 

Chasing after the odd boy felt like going through a mile run all over again. Was this just his life now? If any god’s out there, please get him out of this convoluted narrative! It’s not funny anymore!

 

“A-And that’s why Mother is great.” was all he managed to hear from Nezuko-chan once they finally arrived at their destination.

 

Tanjirou nodded with enough force to break the sound barrier. “You’re absolutely right of course!”

 

“What are you guys talking about?” Murata asked, stealing the words right out of his mind. 

 

Thank you, my friend! Zenitsu thought, instantly relieved. I owe you more rice!

 

“Our families.” He wondered if Tsuyuri’s smile could change. “Welcome back.”

 

This line of conversation made Inosuke perk up. “Well, my mama almost got murdered, so there!” He seemed to think that was a good argument for… Honestly, who even knew what was going on in that head on his? Zenitsu sure didn’t.

 

“That’s scary! How do you say that so casually?!?” He blurted out. If his hypothetical mom almost got killed, he’d be too terrified to let her go anywhere!

 

“Is not! You’re just a baby, Monitsu.” This taunt was followed up with a dismissive snort. He felt it was probably in his best interests to ignore that. Besides, why dwell on that where there were new sounds to memorize?

 

Murata’s bells had already died down to their usual chimes; it was child’s play to tune them out. Nezuko-chan’s sound, he knew, mimicked a brook. That mellowness could give way to a tsunami very quickly, but it never got directed towards him. Small blessings and all that. And Inosuke continued to make him feel like a wild animal was sharing space with him. Humans weren’t meant to make those noises. No wonder people called him a four-legged beast. 

 

Kanao- Was it really okay to call her that? Well, it was in his head, so who could stop him? Kanao’s was more like a broken radio, going in and out. He couldn’t get a read on her, but even though she was stuck on a channel, the music playing didn’t upset him at all. 

 

And Genya’s (haha, he was thinking and free from societal judgment ) fluctuated wildly. Zenitsu was getting more of a sense for his personality than anything concrete noise wise. Like Inosuke, a bit of a temper was shining through, but the rest sounded a bit more like a hodgepodge of other sounds, like he was somehow picking up on the way his friends filled up the empty space with their unique noises. He had to hand it to him; it was really sweet, when push came to shove.

 

But no matter who he listened to, none of those compared to the sound of the boy sitting next to him. Nothing in the world matched it; there were no comparisons to be made to other aural sensations, and he wouldn’t even bother trying to make it so. He could only call it gentleness. Pure gentleness. 

 

In no way was he upset, but he really wanted to cry. Getting the chance to listen to it so closely felt like another dream, a better one where he got the boy and no one thought he was lame. Wouldn’t that be-

 

“... itsu? Zenitsu!”

 

He jerked back to attention. “Eh?!? Is the world ending or something, Murata?!?” 

 

As much as he liked to complain about this fact, Zenitsu was a creature of habit. Every so often, he’d get so caught up in listening that he forgot about the world about him, and that would be the thing he’d say when Murata inevitably snapped him out of it.

 

Unfortunately, the rest of the group did not get it. It was not, exactly, an inside joke because there was no joke to be had. 

 

Murata sighed deeply. He couldn’t blame him. 

 

“No, it’s not.” His friend said with the air of a martyred man. “It’s your turn to talk about your family.”

 

Talking about his family was one thing. That was hard. No one actually wanted to hear all of his thoughts on them. Whining about them though? Now that was easy.

 

“Well!” He exploded. “They make my life a living hell! I am always on the verge of death, but they won’t let me cross over!”

 

“Yeah, families usually don’t… let you die…” Genya kept trying to make eye contact with the other members of the table. All of them were giving off a ‘I don’t get it’ vibe, but his was the strongest.

 

“They should if they’re going to work you till you drop! Kendo, shamisen, koto! Kendo, shamisen, koto! Day in and day out! Gramps actually wants me to kick the bucket!” Zenitsu tugged at his hair. “And don’t get me started on Chuntaro!”

 

Inosuke slammed his hands on the table, interrupting his tirade. “What’s a Chuntaro! Can I eat it!” 

 

An aneurysm! He was definitely going to have one of those! “You can not! She’s my pet sparrow! And she’s a greedy demon from hell, but she’s adorable, so back off!” 

 

“Eh. Bird’s bird.” He tore into an unmistakable chunk of chicken. “Still good.”

 

Noooo!!!” This was it. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Please mourn him properly, world!

 

“What about Kaigaku?” Kanao cruelly mercifully spared him from his fate. 

 

“Eh? What about him?” Why did he matter? He was defending his precious Chuntaro’s life here!

 

“You mentioned him yesterday.” She pointed out. “The ‘correct ass’ that calls you an eyesore.”

 

“Someone really calls you that?” Tanjirou sounded like he couldn’t believe it.

 

“Well, yeah. He’s my older brother. Isn’t that just what they do?” The instant those words left him, both Murata and Nezuko-chan visibly winced. Foot, meet mouth. They seemed to be saying internally.

 

“Absolutely not! I would never dream of saying something so awful to my siblings!” 

 

Zenitsu swallowed down his mortification in favor of jabbing a finger at him. “You’re a kind outlier and shouldn’t be counted! Not everyone is like you!” He quickly shoved more food in his mouth to avoid saying any other compliments; self-control wasn’t one of his strong suits.

 

A surprised note bled into flattery, a perfect example of emotional legato. “Still,” Tanjirou insisted, “he shouldn’t call you those things. That’s not right.”

 

“Mmmhm.” He replied instead of actually speaking, as noncommittal as ever where the subject of addressing his brother’s actions was concerned. The courage from before had fled in the face of years upon years of history. Being called an eyesore was the least of his worries, especially with his so obviously reduced lifespan!

 

“The kendo sounds okay though.” Genya spoke up again. “I’m busy with archery, but it doesn’t seem all that shitty.”

 

That’s how they get you! You think, oh this is easy, I’ll make Gramps happy, this is going to be okay, and then you’re suddenly a jock and no one believes you! It’s a trap!” 

 

Inosuke cackled. If he had nightmares involving that sound, it’d be super valid! Don’t judge him! “Your weakness is amusing, Zensuki! Fight your fears! Fight your family!” 

 

“No!”

 

“Beat them with your weird guitar!”

 

Hell no!” Zenitsu gasped, horrified. “Do you want me to die?!?” 

 

Before he could say anything else, the telltale cacophony of the lunch bell rang out, sending everyone into a frenzy of heading back to class. As if they were one organism, everyone there stood, quickly packing up the remains of their meal. He realized, much to his dismay, that he had barely touched his food. 

 

Right before the two groups parted ways, his crush pivoted on his heel to face him, smile splitting his face apart. “See you tomorrow!” He waved, almost glowing. 

 

It was so easy to drown himself in the light hum of excitement. So very easy. It was so easy, in fact, that he forgot to reply. “UH HUH!” He squeaked before dragging Murata away. The more distance, the better.

 

“Congrats! You… Actually, no. You’ve never had a normal conversation with anyone. But you talked to him a little! That’s progress!” His best friend knocked a fist against his shoulder gently.

 

Zenitsu wilted. “I’m hopeless. I can’t spend all my time ranting about my bird .”

 

“It’s still progress! You gotta start somewhere, right? Didn’t you learn anything?” 

 

“I know their sounds now!” He declared triumphantly. “They’re less likely to sneak up on me!”

 

Murata groaned. Loudly. “You’re lucky I care so much about you. Here’s what they said.”

 

And he listened. Even if his feelings were a lost cause, making new friends didn’t sound like a bad idea! Friends were good!

 

He just hoped he wouldn’t drop dead first before he got to that stage.

Chapter Text

“Tanjirou!” Bits of dough ended up on his clothes from the embrace, but that was a nonissue where his mother was concerned. “Welcome home. Where’s Nezuko?”

 

“Oh, at the library!” He pulled away from the hug with a smile. “She’s studying for a test apparently.”

 

“That’s our Nezuko, always working hard.” She sighed fondly. “But enough about that. How was your day, sweetheart?”

 

“Peachy!” 

 

Giggles escaped from her throat. The smell of bread, fresh from the oven, intensified just a tad. “Lovely! How’s the new friendship coming along?”

 

“It’s slow going.” Tanjirou admitted. “He speaks so fast! I can barely keep up! But we eat together now, so that’s progress! We even talked to each other!” 

 

“Very good!” She praised. “I’m glad to see you looking so happy. Your friends have been helping, haven’t they?”

 

He smiled at the thought of them, both new and old. “Yes, they’re all great. Is it weird that I still worry for them though?” So far as he knew, they could all handle themselves, but there was still the sinking feeling that he should be doing more. 

 

His mother’s smile and scent felt incredibly sad to him. “You’ve all been through so much.” Her fingers ran through his hair, granting a gentle caress. “It’s alright to worry. Just understand that each person needs different things, and not everyone can be helped. That’s all we can do.”

 

“You’re right…” He swallowed past the lump in his throat before beaming once more. “Thank you, Mother!”

 

“Of course! Anytime, dear.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead. 

 

Tanjirou leaned into the show of affection, warming up from the inside out. “Do you need help with the bakery or kids today?”

 

“No, no, I’m fine on my own. I almost forgot to mention this, but Mr. Goblin asked for you.” 

 

He groaned audibly; there she went, teasing him again. Their neighborhood was a small one, and the ties that existed had persisted over the course of many generations. One of the prominent fixtures of their little community was Urokodaki-sensei. When he was a little boy, he went around calling the poor old man ‘Mr. Goblin’ because of his ever present mask. It stuck. Even after ages of working with the man to learn his craft, Tanjirou still found himself falling into old habits, time and time again. He counted his blessings that Urokodaki-sensei was so understanding.

 

“I’ll hurry up and go then!” He hadn’t been over to work in a while, unfortunately. Hopefully, readjusting to the rigors of the workshop wouldn’t be too hard. 

 

Her warm hand cupped his cheek. “Stay safe.” said the mother.

 

“I will!” promised the boy. “You can count on me.”


Stepping into Urokodaki-sensei’s mask shop always felt like entering another world. Fox masks stared at patrons from every wall and shelf. It didn’t help that the old man’s children resembled spirits themselves. 

 

When he entered, the only person there was Makomo. “Hi, Tanjirou!” She waved, looking up from her current project. “Long time no see. Here to finish?”

 

“Yup! Where’s your father?” He shuffled over to where his somewhat misshapen creations were stored. 

 

Wood shavings fell away before her experienced whittling. “Oh, he’s out making a delivery with Sabito, but he should be back soon. You can get started painting if you’d like. He won’t mind.” 

 

Tanjirou lifted up his very first mask from the crate. “Will do!” There was a lot of potential here. His only hope was that they’d actually work.

 

Anyone could benefit from a little extra protection after all.

 

Was he good at art? No. It had never been his strong suit. His early attempts at making masks didn’t bear fruit for that exact reason. But he persevered, and Urokodaki-sensei never gave up on him. Tanjirou still couldn’t draw cats, but he could paint like nobody’s business, and that was all he had left to do.

 

This particular mask was ugly in a cute sort of way. He had messed up on the left ear, leaving behind several notches in the process. No one could deny that it was structurally sound, but still riddled with countless minor imperfections. Nezuko was sure to love it!


“That’s a lot of red.” Makomo idly commented once he was halfway through. He (thankfully) kept hold of his paintbrush. “Is that fire or blood?”

 

“A bit of both!” He returned to painting a sun on the mask’s forehead. “Nezuko really likes horror movies.”

 

Her snort was light and playful. “You’re an incorrigible gossip, you know. How do you find out all these secrets anyway?”

 

Tanjirou shrugged. “I dunno. It’s easy enough if you pay attention!” His nose didn’t lie too often. He wouldn’t call them secrets though; it was all pretty harmless information.

 

“Well, if you ever figure your method out, let me know first, okay? I want to have some dirt on Sabito for once.” To follow up her words, she threw up a peace sign, grinning with all the mischief she had in her petite body.

 

“Eh?” The telltale sound of the aforementioned man’s voice startled Makomo into dropping her knife. “Are you guys talking about me behind my back again?”

 

“No!”



“Yes! Ah, don’t look at me like that! I can’t lie to save my life!”

 

Urokodaki-sensei appeared behind his son. “It’s a good trait to have, young Tanjirou. How goes your painting?” Relying on facial cues for the elderly man was, in a word, impossible, but he smelt pleased to see him.

 

“What do you think?” He presented Nezuko’s completed mask to him, almost reverently. While both of Urokodaki-sensei’s kids could provide okay feedback, Tanjirou valued his the most.

 

“Hmm… Very nicely done. It’ll make a lovely gift.” They both knew the mask was a little shoddy. They both knew each successive mask looked better and better. But the praise was important too. 

 

His heart lightened a little. “Thank you, Urokodaki-sensei! I don’t mean to impose, but… can I use two of the extra masks I carved?”

 

“Yes, of course. May I ask why?” All three of them gave off a sense of puzzlement, though Sabito showed it the most on the surface. 

 

Tanjirou smiled down at the fox face in his hands. “It’s nothing big!” He assured them. “I just forgot about some people.”

 

For the next one, he’d try his hand at a literal stormy brow, with peach blushes for the cheeks.

 



It was late by the time he returned home.

 

“Where were you, Tanjirou? You missed your friend!” Takeo sounded very smug.

 

“Which one?” He cocked his head. Surely they would have texted him to let him know. None of them lived close enough to drop by casually. 

 

“The blooonde!” His younger brother sang. “He bought out half the store!”

 

Zenitsu?” Damn it! He missed another chance of talking to the boy!

 

Takeo snickered for a second. “Yup! He even asked for you! Mom tried to get him to stay, but it didn’t work out. How close are you two anyway? None of my friends would buy that many pastries from us.”

 

“We’re not close at all! I’m trying to get to know him!” Tanjirou declared honestly. 

 

“Weeeeird.” The young boy drawled. “Well, I looked him up to see the hearing record thing again, and-”

Takeo!” He lightly pulled at his cheeks. “Don’t Google my friends without permission!” 

 

“AND I saw that people call him a one trick pony!” 

 

“... A what?”

 

Takeo waved his phone in his face. “Take a look!”

 

“One Trick Pony Causes Major Upset (Again)...?” Tanjirou read aloud. “The, ah, infamous Agatsuma Zenitsu continues to remind the kendo world that, no matter how bad you are, there’s always someone w- Takeo, you shouldn’t read this garbage! It’s rude!”

 

“But all of the other ones say the same thing. He’s really not well-liked, huh? That’s kinda sad.” Despite his harsh words, there was a clear hint of sympathy; Takeo had a tendency to hide his true thoughts under a thin veneer of disdain.

 

“Poor guy…” How could he stand all those cruel words? The news was supposed to be better than this! “You know what? I’ll bring him some snacks tomorrow! That should help his mood!” 

 

“He already bought most of them.” 

 

“Ah, you’re right as usual, Takeo. I’ll figure something out!” Zenitsu deserved some kindness after all that, even if it was minor. He had no clue if it’d mean anything to him, but it was the thought that counted, right? That’s what he had personally internalized over the years.

 

Mission one: make friends with Agatsuma Zenitsu.

 

Mission two: drown out the criticisms that he was just some one trick pony.

Chapter Text

Normally, Zenitsu let himself into his home and enjoyed a few minutes of destressing (read: pampering Chuntaro) before his Gramps barged in to ruin his free time. For the past two years, this had become routine. 

 

So why was Gramps standing in the doorway like some kind of security guard?!?

 

“Uh.” The teen paused, unable to step around the older man. “Whatcha got there?” 

 

“A bokken.”

 

He eyed the weapon anxiously. While Gramps looked slow, his movements were anything but. “And w-why do you have that?”

 

“S’just nunya.” Gramps said.

 

“Eh? What’s nunya?” Wary, Zenitsu took a small step forward.

 

Whack. “ Nunya business, boy!”

 

“Ow!” He howled, rubbing his side. “Why are you so cruel?!? Please let me in! My spine’s gonna show signs of unusual curvature if I don’t put this bag down!”

 

“Hmm… No. Your spine’s already fucked.” His grandfather continued to brandish the wooden sword. He didn’t have a care in the world! How awful! “I need you to go to a nice bakery and get me food. I’m hungry.”

 

Zenitsu paused, thinking. “A nice one? So not the local one?” He asked curiously.

“Hell no! Those bastards wouldn’t know baking if it slapped them upside the head! I want good bread. You can even get some pastries for yourself and your brother. Have some money.” Gramps shoved a fat wad of yen into his hands. “Now git!”

 

“But I’d have to take the train!” He screamed. “The train! I’m all maxed out on train tolerance for the day, alright?!? I’m allergic! I’ll go into anaphylactic shock!”

 

The bokken whipped around again; dodging it took up all of his agility, but he barely managed it. “Stop being such a hypochondriac! A little walking ain’t gonna kill ya. Git!”

 

Despite his grandfather’s mild irritation, Zenitsu had managed to pick up on two rather peculiar things. The first one was that Gramps was proud of him. This happened every so often for random reasons; he strongly suspected that this time was because he actually dodged a hit. But the second thing upset his already turbulent psyche further.

 

What on earth was he keeping Zenitsu from seeing?

 

He got a second sparrow. He made plans to adopt another grandkid and doesn’t want me to know yet. He cleaned out my room. He cleaned out Kaigaku’s room. He cleaned out both of our rooms so we can fight to the death properly. He-

 

Somehow, during his catastrophizing, he had stumbled - on autopilot - upon the entrance to the train station. Typical! Even his subconscious wouldn’t let him skimp out on his duties!

 

“A nice bakery…” He muttered to himself, accidentally startling a random lady and her child. 

 

There were a lot of ways to fix his problem. He could have looked up good bakeries in the area. He could have asked his neighbors for a second opinion. He could have called Murata to vent about it.

 

Zenitsu didn’t do any of these things.

 

“Hm,” he said as he pulled out his phone, “which stop is the Kamado’s again?”

 



Tanjirou always had nice leftovers. He still remembered that one fateful day where he got to try some of them. Sata andagi had never tasted so good before! While Kaigaku and Gramps were infinitely more picky, he couldn’t see how either of them would be displeased by the Kamado family’s efforts. This had to work! All he had to do was walk inside!

 

Aaaaaa, why did I do this?!? Zenitsu smacked his reddened cheeks. I’m totally going to look like a stalker! None of them will ever talk to me again! 

 

“Hey.” A small, petulant voice snapped behind him. “Are you coming inside?”

“Eh?” He turned to find a miniature Tanjirou glaring at him skeptically. Two other children hovered behind the kid, clinging to his clothes. Why are they looking at me like some kind of creature?!? Is there something on my face?!?

 

“Mister, are you crying?” The little girl piped up. Ah. So he was. Great.

 

“Don’t comfort weird strangers, Hanako.” Mini Tanjirou scolded her gently. “Seriously, blondie, are you a customer or not?”

 

“I AM!” Zenitsu yelled, far too loud. “I’M GOING!” He burst through the door, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. Jeez, now the little Kamados know the truth - he’s as uncool as they come! 

 

“Oh!” The lady manning the counter jerked, startled by the sudden bang. “Hello there. Are you here to buy something...?”

 

The world was chock full of sounds. Crashes and songs, dings and dongs, all clamored for his attention every second, every minute, every hour, every day. Losing himself in one sound never felt easy, not unless it felt truly beautiful to listen to.

 

He immediately ranked this woman’s sound as his number 4 favorite. Sorry, Murata! I’ll make it up to you, I promise! Not that his friend knew about his ranking system, but it never hurt to get a chance to spoil someone he enjoyed being around.

 

“Um, yes, Ms…” 

 

“Kie. Just call me Kie.” Her lips stretched into a glowing smile. Immediately, Zenitsu knew where the Kamados got it from. “Forgive me for being nosy, but do you go to the same school as my eldest children by any chance? You have the uniform on. Their names are Tanjirou and Nezuko, if that helps.”

 

“I d-do! They’re both amazing!” He blurted out. “You’ve raised really wonderful people!”

 

“Oh, that warms my heart to hear! Are you friends with them? You seem like a very nice young man.” Ms. Kie’s sound modulated; even though he had been listening to it, it was hard to tell the difference.

 

Zenitsu scratched at his neck. “Ummm, I dunno if we are. We’re acquaintances, I think?” Color returned to his cheeks. “They’re very cool, and I’m not, so. But, um, anyway, can I buy whatever this amount will pay for?”

 

She stared down at his cash, shock radiating off of her in waves. “No, I couldn’t possibly-”


“Please, I insist! I’m super hungry, and Gramps will train me till I drop if I don’t!” He bowed his head in supplication. 

 

“But, sweetheart… You could purchase half the store with this.” Ms. Kie shook her head, trying to hand the money back. “Don’t you think that’s a little excessive?”

 

“Then I’ll buy half the store!” Zenitsu danced away from her attempts to politely refuse his grandpa’s extravagance. “It’s alright! None of it will go to waste!” He’d eat some, of course, but so would Gramps. And Kaigaku. Oh, and Murata. His neighbors too! Maybe even Shinobu-senpai? Really, who could resist the allure of handmade goodies from the gods?!?

 

“Ah.” She looked vaguely constipated. “I-If you’re sure, sweetheart. I’m sorry your friends aren’t here, but please come again!”

 

“Okay!” He replied brightly, already planning to smother himself with his pillow. He could only take so much embarrassment in one lifetime.


Zenitsu walked out of the bakery to the tune of children giggling, weighed down by endless bags of baked treats. You better be grateful, Gramps! He thought to himself with a huff. I gave up half my lifespan for this!


 

 

He returned home without incident, if you didn’t think having your photo taken while on the train was one of those. The only sounds he could hear, thankfully, were the iconic boom that belonged to a very obvious individual and Chuntaro’s annoyed twittering. “I’m back!” He called, nudging the door open with his feet. (As always, it was never locked.) “Where should I put the food?”

 

“In the kitchen! Where else? Come over here when you’re done.” Gramps called from one of the side rooms. 

 

“Alright, alright!” Zenitsu kicked off his shoes. (He’d put them properly later.) “This is super heavy, you know! I almost fell down the stairs twice! Twice!

 

“Sounds like you had an adventure!”

 

“Uhhhh…” He paused in putting the bags down on the counter. “I guess you could say that.” It was more just me panicking and buying HALF A STORE, god, why did I do that, but yeah! “What’s going on, Gramps?”

 

The sigh would have been audible to just about anyone. “Look for yourself!” The old man answered ambiguously. Why did he bother being surprised by his behavior anymore?

 

With a heavy heart, Zenitsu trudged into the living room as asked. “I really might rupture my spleen from suspense, so-”

 

He froze. There was no flowery way to describe it, no fancy metaphors that dodged the reality of the situation. He just… froze. 

 

Gramps chuckled, amused by his strong reaction. “I’m guessing you like it then?”

 

Like it?!?” Zenitsu shrieked, dashing over to the biwa. “I love it! I’m going to put it on my wall and cherish it forever! Thank you so much!”

 

“Put it on your wall? How are you supposed to play it then?”

 

His arms were already around the instrument before his grandfather’s words registered. “ARE YOU FOR REAL?!? My fingers are going to shrivel up and fall off at this rate! Three instruments? Three?!? Have mercy on your poor grandson!” He sobbed, pressing his face to the cool wood. 

 

“Zenitsu-”

 

“You’ll make me pick up a taiko next, right?!?”

 

“Zenitsu.”

 

“This is torture! Actual torture!”

 

Zenitsu, calm down! It’s a biwa, not the end of the world!” Gramps chided him. “And you won’t have to practice every single day. Stop crying about it!”

 

“... Alright.” He gave in, sniffling. “I’ll play it, I guess. I’m gonna feed Chuntaro now.”

 

“Hmph.” His grunt was full of concern, so Zenitsu didn’t let it sting for once. 

 

He wandered off to where the little bird spent her nights and days. “Have you been good today, Chuntaro?” He asked, petting her tiny head.

 

“Chuu!” She cried out, going for his fingers. 

 

Despite the sparrow’s best efforts, she missed every strike. “That’s nice…” Zenitsu mumbled, not even noticing her newest attempt at violence. “I have some yummy grain for you today th-”

 

“BOY! WHY DID YOU BUY SO MUCH STUFF?!?”

 

“I gave the nice lady all of the money!” He yelled back, cowering behind the cage. “It all looked good, so I took it! Let’s just give it out!”

 

Why would you give her all the money?!?” Gramps bellowed from the living room.

 

“I just did!” 

 

“You mean you panicked.”

 

“That too! Ow, don’t bite me, Chuntaro! I’ve already repented!” Maybe that bakery, as lovely as it was, had a curse on it. A bread buying, biwa acquiring, bird biting curse. Zenitsu lamented his entire life. 

 

At least Murata would get a kick out of this.

Chapter Text

Creep forward. Low to the earth.

 

Don’t let it see you.

 

Its nose twitches, but it keeps eating. It hasn’t noticed you yet. You smile beneath the protection of the mask. A rabbit is difficult prey, but it’ll be enough to keep you going.

 

Closer. Closer… 

 

Now!

 

“Inosuke?”

 

“GRAAAAAAAAA!” With a twist, he launched himself off the bed and right out of his dream. “Mama! You asshole! I almost got the rabbit!”

 

“Oh, you did?” She hovered in the doorway, visibly gnawing away at her lip. “My bad! You’ll get it next time, son! If it helps, I made you breakfast today.”

 

“Why though? I can do it myself!” He rolled into a sitting position, staring daggers at her. “Save your energy! You’re puny.”

 

Like always, his mama never responded to his concerns for her health. “It’s for a special reason! Come eat when you’re dressed!” One swish of black hair later, she was off to another part of their apartment.

 

Weird. Why the hell is she in a suit? He scratched his nose. Eh. Too much thinking for the morning. 

 

Routine? Done. Tummy? Empty. Curiosity? Unsatisfied. 

 

“Coming through! Coming through!” Inosuke cackled as he sprinted down the tiny hallway. “Boo!”

 

Mama didn’t move a muscle. Lame! She was frozen again, staring out the window with a dreamy look on her face. 

 

“Oi!” He stomped over to her. “What is it?!?”

 

“Huh? Oh, I’m just wondering what sort of animal the Pink Panther might be.” Her eyes stopped looking so milky - good! 

 

“Why the hell would I know? Could be anything.” Inosuke said, rubbing at his belly. “Feed me!”

  

“Mmhm.” She shuffled over with a bowl of porridge. “Dig in!”

 

He immediately began scarfing down the gruel. “Died yow oot?”

 

“What was that, baby?” 

 

“Eat! Did you eat!” Inosuke snapped. “Use your ears!”

 

She leaned across the table to tousle his hair, much to his distaste. Her fingers tingled against his scalp. “Yes, of course! There’s not enough for your lunch, though, so go ask Grandma if she has any leftovers once you’re ready to leave.”

 

“Mmkay.” He glared at the way she was starting to space out again. “Why’re you in ugly clothes?” 

 

“I have a job interview today!” Mama cheered. “If it goes well, we can both eat dinner tonight!”

 

“Good! You need to eat to grow big and strong like me!” He beat his chest for emphasis. “Then no one will be mean to you!”

 

Her fingers worked through a knot in his hair. “And you need to do good in school for me, okay?”

 

“I always do good! I’m the best!” Inosuke shoved the empty dish away with a huff. “And don’t you forget it!” 

 

Before he could pull away altogether, Mama pinched his cheeks. “Love you!” She cooed. 

 

“Aaaaargh!” His purposely feeble attempt to get away ended with him granting her a quick nuzzle to appease her desire for comfort.

 

“Aaaargh!” She replied, nuzzling back.

 

Hashibira Inosuke had decided long ago that mothers were universally strange.

 



Grandma wasn’t actually his grandma. Most would just call her a sweet neighbor who lived two doors down. He was pretty sure she was a witch, but she never tried to hurt Mama, so he was fine with that. She was small and wrinkled, like a crumpled plastic bag. His respect for her only existed because of her speed and cooking; not only did she make them meals sometimes, but she could move faster than some of the kids he knew. Even though Inosuke knew he’d be stronger than her when he reached her age, that didn’t change his admiration of her skills.

 

… It also didn’t change the fact that her hearing sucked.

 

“Open up, old hag!” He banged on the door, screaming at the top of his lungs. “Lemme in!”

 

After an age of knocking, someone shuffled on the other side of the door. “Inosuke, is that you? What a nice surprise.” She opened the door just enough for him to barge in. “Come on, there’s a good boy.”

 

“Your ears have gone all bad.” Resisting the urge to poke them was difficult, but he managed somehow. “Get ‘em checked!”


“Ah, that’s too much money, dear. Tea?” Grandma called from the kitchen. 

 

Inosuke squinted in her direction. The witch was back at it again. “Nah! I had porridge! Gimme lunch for school!”

 

“Yes, yes.” She clicked her tongue. “All I have is tempura. Is that alright with you?” 

 

“Of course! I can eat anything you have!” He boasted. It wasn’t like it would be a hardship since he enjoyed her cooking regardless, but she didn’t need to know that. 

 

Grandma smiled at him before ducking back into her kitchen. The witch emerged after a few seconds of rummaging around, holding a box wrapped in a dirty napkin. “Here you go, dear.” She patted his bicep warmly as she handed the package over. “Be good today.”

 

He roughly ruffled her already messy bun with a loud guffaw. “I’m always good! That’s why I’m the best!”

 

“Then try to be kind today. Help one person at the very least. That would warm my poor old heart.” She moved on to rubbing his cheek, showing off the tenderness only her and Mama had. 

 

“Try? Try?” Inosuke snorted. “I will be kind! Super kind! People will drop dead from it!”

 

Grandma let him off with one final pat. “Good Inosuke. Kind Inosuke. Visit me again soon, dear! I’m always here for you and your mother.” 

 

“Yeah, yeah! Bye, Grandma.” 

 

“Bye bye, lovely.” 

 

After she saw him out, he lingered in the hallway for a moment, staring at the fluorescent lights. Help one person… 

 

Hm. Shit. 

 

It was too damn early for all this thinking. 

 


 

School stayed as stupid as ever. Usually, he did as much as he was able to before taking a nap from exhaustion, but today was not a normal day. 

 

He needed an outlet. He needed a distraction. He needed to stand on the bathroom sink. 

 

“Teach! Let me go! I need to take a dump!” Inosuke raised his hand because he was being kind today. This counted!

 

Rengoku-sensei let a laugh slip before he slapped his hand over his mouth. “Ah, go ahead, Hashibira. Take, uh, as long as you need. Grab your things and go, but not on my floor.” 

 

“See ya, Rikogon.” Without waiting for further permission, he ran over to the nearest set of toilets. Sink, here I come! He thought with glee. 

 

Oh. Eugh. Someone was crying in the restroom.

 

Help one person at the very least. Good Inosuke. Kind Inosuke.

 

Oh. Inosuke thought halfheartedly, backtracking. Crap. Someone’s crying in the restroom.

 

“Hey.” He knocked on the stall door. “Whatcha bawling about in there?”

 

The sound instantly stopped. “N-Nothing! Go ‘way!” An unmistakable voice whined.

 

“You gotta be kidding me, Taketsu. Open up!”

 

“Ah, well,” Zenitsu said sheepishly, “I’ve been an orphan for as long as I can remem-”

 

Inosuke suddenly got why people felt the need to pummel their faces with their hands. “No! Open the fucking door!” 

 

“Why?!? There’s several perfectly good stalls to use!!! If you really like my crying one, you can wait!” The blonde shrieked. 

 

“I just wanna talk! Stop being a moron!” Wait, shit, that’s not being kind. Please stop being a moron.”

 

“JUST LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY!”

 

Inosuke recoiled. People didn’t yell at him like that, period. Man, this whole helping business was more trouble than it was worth. Still, Grandma challenged him, and no one would stop him from fulfilling what she asked of him. He’d help that stupid crybaby whether he liked it or not! 

 

“No way!” He replied. “One last chance, Monitsu.” 

 

The other boy didn’t answer. Only softer cries reached his ears now. Fine by him. He didn’t need to get a response anyway. 

 

“Okay, fine.” He shrugged. “I’ll leave then.”

 

Finally- AUGH WHAT THE FUCK?” 

 

Even Inosuke could admit that this was a normal reaction to seeing someone scale your bathroom stall’s door.

 

“‘Sup?” He leered, hauling himself over the top. 

 

Zenitsu cowered back, shaking. “Why- How- WHAT?!? I’m dreaming, right? You definitely didn’t just do what I think you did, right?!?

 

“It’s just a door. I could have crawled.” Inosuke shrugged again, enjoying the movement. “Spill.” 

 

“Spill about what?” The other boy hurriedly wiped at his reddened eyes. “I don’t h-have any secrets.” 

 

“We’re not leaving this restroom until you tell me what the fuck you’re doing in here. Minions should be happy!” He crossed his arms, staring daggers at the way his classmate trembled. 

 

Tears began welling up in Zenitsu’s odd, golden eyes again. “I-I… You really want to know? But you’re nothing like Murata.” He sounded shocked, like he couldn’t believe his new reality.

 

“Who cares if I’m not?!? I can listen too, you know! I’m the kindest person you know! Admit it!” Inosuke railed at him, gesturing threateningly with his hands.

 

“You’re not, but… If you really care about this, I’ll tell you.” He looked very reluctant to speak, though he thought it might have to do with the fact that Zenitsu was sweaty and sad while sitting on a toilet seat cover. 

 

Inosuke pushed some hair out of his eyes. “Then I’ll listen! Aren’t you lucky I’m here? Aren’t you?” 

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever! It’s stupid anyway. Or you’ll think so.” He grumbled. “Why would you ever cry over a boy?”

 

Eh? “That’s what you’re doing? But… why?” Kind. Be kind. 

 

With a sharp cry, Zenitsu pulled at his own hair. “It’s too much! Liking him is just too much for me! My soul will absolutely exit my body one day, prematurely to boot, because of his presence! You wouldn’t get it!”  

 

Inosuke thought back to all the boys he knew. There were a lot of them. But what sort would a guy like this weep over? He was cool enough to cause that, for sure, but the thought felt wrong. 

 

Then he remembered. 

 

“You’re crying over Gonpanchirou?” He cackled, thoroughly amused. Screw kindness for the time being; this was far too hilarious to pass up! “What’s the point of that?

 

Zenitsu whacked his arm. “I’m having a moment, you ass! I think I’m entitled to one melodramatic bathroom cry without judgment! That’s all I’m asking for here, dammit!” 

 

“But it’s dumb. You’re dumb.”

 

The deadpan look on his face was truly priceless. “Thank you for that. Really.” He drawled, ignoring the drying snot above his lip. “I’ve been craving your opinion on this since we first met.”

 

“Why don’t you tell him how you feel or something? ‘Hey, I like your stupid face. Let’s press our mouths together.’ That’s what I’d do if I were you.” Thank fuck I’m not, but still. Inosuke didn’t get the neurotic mess before him at all. 

 

“And get told no? Are you for real?!?” Zenitsu went right back to sobbing again. “I haven’t slept at all, and I can still tell how awful that plan is! I’d have to change schools!”

 

“It’s just high school.” He pointed out. “Move on!”

 

“How dare you! You do realize that I could absolutely meet my future spouse here, right?!? I can’t go around telling people that I got rejected the first time I asked!” 

 

His left eye twitched. “And you want to marry someone who goes here? You? As in you you? You?” 

 

“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!? STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE I HAVE A DISEASE!!!” His shrill scream hurt Inosuke’s eardrums. Why was being kind so hard?!? “Is it suddenly a crime to dream big? Huh?!?”

 

“Shut up.” He leaned forward, pinching his lips. “I’m thinking.”

 

Inosuke did not think often. Who had the time? But this involved Tanjirou, and that meant thinking like Tanjirou. He personally felt marriage was dumb. Tanjirou did not. In a lot of ways, to him, Zenitsu could be very annoying. Tanjirou didn’t feel the same way most of the time. So, with all of that together, that left… 

 

“Alright!” He shouted, releasing Zenitsu from his grasp. “I’ll help! Anything for a new minion!”

 

“Oh, no, no, that’s fine!” The blonde waved his hands frantically. “I’ll just carry this with me to the grave. You know, like a normal person.

 

He waved too, pushing away his concerns. “I already decided! You’re in luck! Hey, hold still.” 

 

“Eh? Why?”

 

(Famous last words.)

 


 

“I smelled blood!” Just on time. The redhead burst through the door, eyes wide. “Is everyone okay?!?”

 

Inosuke paused, having just been immersed in washing blood down the sink. “Eh? Yeah, ‘course.” 

 

“Speak for yourself!!!” Zenitsu wailed. “This is the second time!

 

Tanjirou faltered in the doorway. “Uh. What’s going on here?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Nothing!”

 

“... Are you sure about that?” He continued to push. Inosuke stared back, unfazed. As if he’d cave to the likes of him! 

 

“Positive!” Zenitsu blurted out, still dabbing away at his bloodied nostrils. “We’re good!”

 

“Yeah, mind your business, Momotaro.”

 

Tanjirou sighed. “You both are acting strange. Okay then. I actually have something for you too. You guys need this more than I thought!” 

 

“Show us! Show us!” Suspense was his worst enemy.

 

From the depths of Tanjirou’s bag could come many things. Bread, homework, and even strange stones all found their way into the old thing. Once, Inosuke pulled out a tiny glass frog. He still had it! 

 

This time, it wasn’t bread or homework. It wasn’t a stone or frog either.

 

Zenitsu’s eyes widened. “Is that-”

 

“A mask? Yes!!! I made some for everyone! Here’s yours, Inosuke!” Tanjirou beamed, handing it over.

 

He knew his animals, and this was clearly a fox, but the painting didn’t match that at all. The fur, the nose, even the way the ears were painted… It all came together to form the perfect mask.

 

“I’m never taking this off!” Inosuke cackled as he put the boar mask on. “Never!”

 

The boy nodded, accepting this. “Ah, suit yourself! And here’s yours, Zenitsu!” 

 

“I get one?” A shiver visibly went down Zenitsu’s spine. “But they’re so pretty! I couldn’t!”

 

“I made it for you! It suits you!” Tanjirou beamed. (Inosuke felt very lucky that he could grimace behind the mask without them noticing.) “Will you wear it? It only has to be sometimes!” 

 

They both watched the blonde gingerly take the wooden creation from his hands. “Only sometimes?” He repeated slowly, as if in a trance. “That shouldn’t be too bad then…”

 

Inosuke’s friend brightened up more, if that was even possible. “Great! I’ll see you guys at lunch! I hope your nose feels better!”

 

“You too!” 

 

Seeing as how the conversation was finished, Tanjirou left with a wave and a skip in his step, ponytail bouncing behind him. 

 

“...”

 

“...”

 

“Okay,” Zenitsu groaned, “I admit it. You’re right. I’m hopeless! ‘You too’? ‘You too’?!? Kill me!”

 

“Eh, no thanks. You gotta give me the bread first.” He’d decide after that. 

 

“... Fair point.” The blonde followed this up with a very pathetic nod. “I have one question though.”

 

“What’s the question?” 

 

“Are you really going to wear that mask all the time? Even with the dress code?!?” He looked distraught at the thought of it.

 

“Yup!” Inosuke said without hesitation. “It’s the best!” 

 

“Ughhh.” Zenitsu returned to cleaning his face. “I’d like some nice flowers for my funeral please. Tomioka-sensei will end me.”

 

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

 

“Inosuke! Have a heart!”

 

He tuned out the rest of his ramblings, too busy feeling smug over his success. Helping people is a piece of cake! I oughta do some more!

 

And that was how an entire student body ended up collectively shuddering together without ever knowing why.

Chapter Text

“It’s finally the weekend!” Zenitsu cheered. “I feel like I could totally just pass out!”

 

“Yeah? Then how can we have our sleepover?” Murata chuckled by his side. “I know sleep is in the name, but come on.” 

 

He pouted at his friend, unsurprised by his teasing but unamused nonetheless. “Sometimes, I think you get off on poking fun at everything I say.” 

 

All his accusation did was make his best friend shrug. “Eh, who knows? I’m certainly not telling. You’re just super easy.”

 

“Easy?!? Me???

 

“... Zenitsu, you just proved my point.”

 

Bah! He wasn’t sure why he chose to put up with this. Where were the better options on the best friend market?!?

 

“Oh, also, I bought you some things for Chuntaro the other day! Forgot to mention it.” Murata said, scratching at the tip of his nose like it was no big deal.

 

“Muuuuraaaataaa! You’re too good to my pet! She’s going to know it was you, and then she’ll turn against me more often! Just watch!” He flung himself onto the other boy, almost sending them both crashing to the ground. “Even so, you’re the best!”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He laughed, shoving him off with one hand. “You always say that! Quit fooling around; we’re totally gonna miss the train at this rate.” 

 

Zenitsu quickly wiped at his eyes. Any lingering wetness was just a figment of the imagination. “Alright, alright, keep your pants on.” He mumbled. It was his turn to be the one not in a hurry, it seemed.

 

They were mere seconds away from the gate when they (finally) noticed her. “Daisuke. Zenitsu.” Kanao strolled towards them, looking like she didn’t have a care in the world. 

 

“Uh, hi, Kanao…” Good, so his confusion was shared. “Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be waiting for your sister?” 

 

The pretty girl audibly exhaled in such a way that it almost felt like a sigh. Almost. “As I suspected, you forgot about our tutoring session today.” There was no judgment in her tone, but Zenitsu felt guilty on his friend’s behalf anyway. 

 

“Ack! I’m really sorry!” Murata exclaimed before bowing his head. “It’s fine if Zenitsu’s around, right?” 

 

“It’s never been a problem before.” Kanao replied. “So long as you’re not too distracting, I don’t mind.”

 

The broken radio whined. He tried to avoid a visible reaction.

 

“I won’t be, Tsuyuri! I can keep myself busy!” Waiting for Murata to be finished with doing something else was as easy as breathing by now. Student council, sorting out the mail, taking his medicine, and all the other mundane things he did gave Zenitsu even more practice in the art of waiting around. He was pretty much a professional at it by now. 

 

The way she looked at him made him feel like someone was dancing on his grave. “Yes, I know you can.” She said. No elaboration was given. 

 

Damn it, Murata! Why do you have to suck at history?!? He lamented, regretting his friend’s fatal flaw. And why is she the only person available to teach you? 

 

Kanao followed behind them closely, always a couple footsteps behind them. Tap, tap, tap. 

 

Honestly, she scared him. Tap, tap, tap. It wasn’t just the pretty girl thing, though that was part of it. Tap, tap, tap. She never had a hair out of place, much like Shinobu-senpai. Tap, tap, tap. Anyone that dedicated to looking perfect had way too much time on their hands. Tap, tap-

 

Tap.

 

No, it wasn’t just that. It was a lot of things. The fear came from her general demeanor. The fear came from her uncanny knowledge of others, including himself. The fear came from her ability to be close to someone he liked without seeing it as a big deal. All of it together made his amygdala screech for hours on end. If he survived this encounter, it’d be yet another miracle.

 

“So!” Murata clapped his hands, abruptly starting Zenitsu out of his panic. “How’s progress with Operation-”

 

“Shhhh! Don’t talk about it now! ” He flailed. She’s right there, you moron!!!

 

Kanao suddenly appeared at his left elbow, trapping him between the two of them. “Ah, is this about your crush on Tanjirou? I don’t mind if you talk about it around me.” 

 

It wasn’t the first time that he’d wish he could reset time, and it wouldn’t be the last. “How did you know that?!?” From the way she said it, all matter of fact, he already knew there was no point in trying to deny it. 

 

“I have eyes.” She fluttered her eyelashes for emphasis. “The best eyes. If it helps, he hasn’t noticed it yet.”

 

His throat felt very dry. “Can we stop talking about this right now? Please?!?” Zenitsu pleaded. 

 

“Sure!” Murata agreed, patting his arm. “We can talk about it later, okay?”

 

“Yes, I would like that.” Kanao agreed. “It sounds entertaining.”

 

Zenitsu wondered if she’d notice him buying a ticket for a different train line. Murata wouldn’t. But, if she really did have the best eyes, and they were anywhere near as good as his ears…

 

He’d have to make his escape later on before the gossiping began.

 



“Let’s study here today, Daisuke.” Kanao sat cross legged in one of the Murata family’s rooms, not even bothering to wait for an affirmative. It was a pretty room, well designed and always clean. And it also provided the perfect vantage point to watch the only door in and out of the house.

 

Zenitsu wept.

 

Stress often left him incapable of walking, but that wasn’t a consistent result. He had also been known to faint, scream, cry, and compulsively clean an entire house.

 

The latter was what he was doing now.

 

For once, none of the Muratas were home, but their messes were. Coming over so often meant he knew where everything went, which made his task easier; really, he was moving on autopilot half the time. Scrubbing food remnants off the dishes sucked a little more, but it was infinitely better than trying to get his thoughts in order.

 

Would Kanao give him the fabled shovel talk? He had never received one before, mainly because no one ever considered him as an actual candidate for dating. The thought of it made his skin crawl. Murata would stop her, right? Right?

 

He cried harder. 

 

Only when he was out of tears and dish soap did he stop wallowing. Both his best friend and said best friend’s tutor had the tendency to go for the throat, with added brutality to make you regret them needing to. Giving them an advantage would be truly stupid.

 

It’s fine if she knows you like Tanjirou. He told himself. She hasn’t said anything because she’s actually very nice deep down! Yeah, that’s it! Nothing weird going on here, just three teens with a shared joke!

 

“Zenitsu!” Murata called, interrupting his poor attempt at a pep talk. “We’re done!”

 

“Coming!” He launched the last plate into the other side of the sink to dry. Hopefully, it wouldn’t chip, or there’d be hell to pay.

 

“So, um,” he hesitated, paralyzed by their stares, “what’s up?”

 

“School.” Kanao waved some pieces of homework at him. “Rengoku-sensei is killing Daisuke apparently.”

 

The tired groan that tore itself from Murata’s larynx sure was something. “He is. I’ve never read so much about the Edo period before!” 

 

“Hang in there! Tsuyuri’s helping you after all!” It didn’t hurt to try buttering her up. The longer Zenitsu could stall, the better for him in the long run.

 

“Flattery.” She hummed, dashing his hopes into a million pieces. “He’s right though. If your grade’s good enough, you can go on the class trip that’s coming up.”

 

“What trip? I haven’t heard anything about that.” Normally, trips were announced ages in advance, not that he usually got to go on them. Too much in his life was going on for that.

 

“My lips are sealed.” Then why mention it?!? “It’s something to keep in mind, is all. Speaking of things to keep in mind, did you get a mask too?” 

 

“Uh, yeah.” Remembering the weird bathroom incident made him shudder. “I have it right here.” He fished it out of his bag, bringing it out into the light. It still looked very beautiful to his eyes, even though the peaches were deformed.

 

Murata pulled a face. “Is yours crying?” 

 

“If you’re going to laugh, just go ahead and do it!” Zenitsu cried. He knew that face. So cruel!

 

Kanao giggled. “Yours is very nice.” She fished out her own. Strangely, the flowers around the eyes looked like they were on the verge of swallowing up the entire top half of the face. “I think I’ll keep this displayed in my house.” 

 

“You’re… not going to wear it?” He asked, puzzled. 

 

“You are?” Murata tilted his head. “I mean, it’s a nice gift and all, but I’d feel really awkward if it wasn’t a festival or something. I’m thinking about keeping mine on my dresser.”

 

“It’s only sometimes. Why wouldn’t I? He asked so nicely…” Staring down at his own helped keep his mind off the growing hotness in his cheeks. 

 

The elephant in the room paused, frozen in the middle of discreetly removing Murata’s mask from his bag. “For someone who has such a poor reputation in general, you’re remarkably sentimental.”

 

“Harsh! That’s so harsh!” He whined, wincing away from her puzzled gaze. “You sound just like Shinobu-senpai!”

 

“I’d hope so. We’re sisters.” She put Murata’s mask up to her face. “Does this make me look scary?”

 

The poor fox’s face was warped, half melted into a mess of colors and lines. But it looked ridiculous in her hands, like it wasn’t meant for her. “No, ‘course not.” Murata laughed, taking it back. Zenitsu clutched his mask tighter. He’d treasure this thing made just for him, even if others wouldn’t in the same way.

 

“Damn.” Nothing hinting at disappointment came through. “Well, cheers to fun mask acquisition.”

 

“Cheers!” They echoed.

 

Her gaze settled back on him, like a scientist shifting a petri dish around to get the best view through a microscope. “Is your nose feeling any better?”

 

“Ah, yeah, it is! Thanks! It was a little weird actually! Did you know that Tanjirou claimed he smelled the blood?” Zenitsu snorted. “Silly, right?”

 

“He does have the world’s most sensitive human nose. He probably did.” Kanao corrected him gently.

 

What.

 

“Are you for real?!? How sensitive are we talking here?” He gawked at her. Murata snickered at his expression, the traitor.

 

“Sensitive enough to tell emotional states, according to him.” 

 

“Eh?!? Then how doesn’t he know by now?!? I’m doomed!” Zenitsu flung himself face first onto the mat. Sure, he wasn’t subtle in the slightest, but he also didn’t know Tanjirou apparently had a nose on par with his ears. Wasn’t that crucial information?!?

 

While he couldn’t see her, he could feel a small hand pat his head. “Did you not know? Everyone except for Daisuke and Nezuko represent a sense in our little group. You were the odd one out for a long while before we finally decided to invite you to lunch. Inosuke took it upon himself to handle that, as you know, and here we are.”

 

“But how did you figure that out?” Murata asked, perhaps sensing that Zenitsu didn’t want to talk. “It’s so… specific.”

 

“Tanjirou’s mother has been researching the subject for ages.” Kanao informed them. “I myself looked up the topic after I read some trivia on you and noticed the connection.”

 

He lifted his head up to meet her piercing gaze. “You read trivia on me? But why? I thought you knew about all that kendo stuff from listening around!”

 

“No. I used to do aikido, and I always liked looking at people who did well in other sports that were also in my age group. I found out about you because of that.” 

 

Suddenly, a lot about her made more sense.

 

“I feel enlightened now. I think I should start a religion.” 

 

“You’re definitely not enlightened.” 

 

“Shut up, Mu-”

 

Boom.

 

“... r-rata.” Zenitsu stuttered, staring nervously at the ceiling. Thunder? Now?!? But that meant… it meant…

 

Kanao’s expression darkened. “Ah, I might need to spend the night if this doesn’t clear up. I’ll text my sisters.” 

 

Noooooo!

 


 

The rain continued on despite Zenitsu’s protests because the rain did not care about the opinions of man. It was rain, and it was not sentient.

 

He stared mournfully out the window as much as he could at the darkened sky. The weather report hadn’t talked about this at all. That should be a crime! Didn’t they know that trapping people in the same house with an overly curious, former aikido practitioner was immoral?!?

 

The others didn’t let him mope though. They kept dragging him into conversations about the silliest things, like if Tomioka-sensei secretly wore wigs like Shinobu-senpai thought, and so forth. 

 

Honestly? It was nice. Ten year old him dreamt of moments like these.

 

Hell, who was he kidding? He was sixteen and still couldn’t quite believe it!

 

Eventually, though, all the fun came to an end. Murata, being himself, dozed off right there on the floor. One day, Zenitsu figured he’d fall asleep before his best friend during one singular sleepover, but that day hadn’t come just yet. 

 

“Is Daisuke okay?” Kanao asked. While she hadn’t explained why she had them in any way that satisfied him, she had changed into her spare pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt hours ago. 

 

He gazed at his sleeping friend fondly. “Yup, he does that. Hey, why do you call him that anyway?”

 

“He never said I couldn’t.” That response also explained a lot about her. 

 

Rather than answer right away, he finished setting out his futon. “You know,” the boy glanced over at her nervously, “I was a little nervous earlier, but you’re really nice.”

 

“I’m just lulling you into a false sense of security, Zenitsu.”



HUH?!? 

 

“Kidding.” She nodded at him before getting into her own futon. “Out of all of us, you need a little more courage.”

 

His gut twisted at the frank assessment. “Okay.” slipped out before he could stop himself. 

 

Before he could speak again and insert his foot further into his mouth, he turned out the light.



Zenitsu heard her shift around in the dark. Whoever came up with the term radio silence didn’t know what it was like to hear static and garbled words slowly die down into a meaningless buzz. “Thank you.” Kanao whispered, following it up with a yawn.



“Welcome.” He replied, laying down as well before pulling his mask onto his lap. 

 

All was still, but only one person was truly resting. Her breathing gave her away.

 

“Zenitsu.” She said at last. “I have something to say to you. I didn’t want Murata to hear. Sorry for the obfuscation, but it’s still a little hard to speak my mind.”

 

He braced himself for the imminent shovel talk. “Y-Yeah, Tsuyuri?” 

 

The sound of her rolling over to face him was deafening. “I can see how happy you are whenever you’re around my friend. I think it’s very sweet.” 

 

“Tsuyuri…” He hadn’t felt this touched in, like, a few hours. “I-”



“And I hope that you can call me Kanao-chan one day. I’d like to be friends with you too.” 

 

Even though she interrupted him, he couldn’t help the sudden head rush of embarrassed delight that almost made him roll out of the covers altogether. “Stop! That doesn’t make me happy!”

 

But she was already fast asleep.

 

As he pulled on the mask to cover his face and listened to the sounds of life around him, Zenitsu sincerely wished he could do the same.

Chapter Text

Murata smacked his lips. Early to bed, early to rise, he supposed, but he still felt bad whenever he slept on the floor. 

 

At least the others got to a futon first. He grinned at the pair of them. They looked strange in the morning light, though that mostly had to do with the fact that the blonde was sleeping with the mask half on and half off his face. What happened last night?

 

Each theory he came up with in the shower was wilder than the last. Either Zenitsu transcended after all, or he was dealing with some melodrama-induced insomnia again. The jury was out on that one.

 

He brushed his teeth while he continued to consider the situation at hand here. Unless Kanao reminded him about his family last night, any brooding was crush-related. How wearing a mask said crush made for him would help eluded him, but props to Zenitsu for finding outlets that didn’t involve standing over easily frightened best friends while they slept. 

 

Don’t get him wrong; he loved his best friend dearly, but did he really have to pretend to be some sleep paralysis demon? 

 

Rinse, spit, repeat.

 

His family hadn’t come back yet, which meant he’d have to cook for the others. Hospitality mattered. Through the fog in his brain, he hoped they were doing okay, wherever they were. They probably got stuck at a hotel again because of the storm. Probably. It didn’t really matter - he could take care of himself - but the house felt too large without people in it. 

 

At least Zenitsu and Kanao were here. Otherwise, he’d probably go stir crazy by lunchtime.

 

The storm had died overnight into a light drizzle, one that drenched the world in damp. Murata pressed his cheek against the cold kitchen window, watching droplets roll down its surface. “Another dreary day here in our lovely city!” He deliberately lowered his voice. “The forecast calls for rain, rain, and more rain! Make sure to watch out for dark clouds and overly pushy people with umbrellas today! Stay safe!”

 

He laughed to himself as he rummaged around for the food he had stashed away in the fridge. Jeez, he was hilarious. A riot even. An absolute hoot! As far as he was concerned, his friends didn’t appreciate that part of him enough.

 

Only once he was finished did they start to emerge. “Are you making breakfast?” Zenitsu yawned, trudging into the kitchen, all bleary eyed.



“Yeah, I’m dishing it out now. Go sit.” In Murata’s professional opinion, Zenitsu was sweetest right after waking up from sleep. Working himself up into hysterics took more effort when his thoughts were all sluggish and pleasant. He was, undeniably, a morning person like himself.

 

His tutor burst through the doorway, scowling up a storm. “Food.”

 

Kanao, however, was not.

 

She inhaled the meal, wiped off her mouth, and wandered back to where she came from. Not a word was spoken. 

 

“She’s snoring.” Zenitsu looked to be marveling at the concept. “How does she fall asleep so fast?”

 

“It’s a talent.” He guessed. “Or an art.”

 

“Mmm…” The other boy murmured instead of answering back. His head bopped a little, drawing his attention back to the askew mask. While he certainly would have liked to comment on it, Murata knew from experience that doing so meant Zenitsu would just do the same thing in private. That wouldn’t be an issue this time, but it had been before. Sometimes, it truly was better to just let things lie. 

 

“Sleep well?” He asked instead, focusing on how dull his friend’s gaze looked.

 

Zenitsu swayed a little. “Yeah… Once I fell asleep, I did.” 

 

“Good! You’re never getting enough.” Without warning, his spoon scraped the bottom of his bowl. 

 

His best friend snorted at his startled expression. “Alright, Mom.” Zenitsu teased lightly. “Thanks for the input.”

 

Yes, there were appealing things where Zenitsu’s tiredness was concerned, and Murata knew them all by heart. That was part of the intimacy of being so close to one another. He hoped that people like Kanao could get to that point with Zenitsu one day. He hoped that they’d appreciate both the appeal and the not-so-shiny parts of him. 

 

But, as always, he preferred the version of his friend that was wide awake. He wouldn’t actually trade him for the world.

 

“Anytime, Zen.” Murata cracked a fond grin at his lovestruck friend. “Anytime.”

 

It wasn’t a perfect morning by any means, and it’d be shattered soon enough by the outside world, but he still wanted to remember this anyway. A snoring girl, the taste of eggs on his tongue, the way the sunlight tried to filter through the gray skies above - it all mattered. It really did.

 

Though maybe getting his grade up in history class mattered a wee bit more.

Chapter Text

how to become friends with someone

 

… 

 

6 Ways to Approach Someone You Want to Be Friends With

 

 

How to Become Close Friends With Anyone in under 60 Minutes 

 

 

How To Grow And Deepen New Friendships

 

 

8 Ways to Bond With a Friend to Become Even Closer

 

 

10 Ways to Be a Best Friend

 


 

A month had gone by. Tanjirou felt like he was losing his mind.

 

Well, not really. The matter at hand didn’t consume his every waking thought, and it didn’t keep him up at night. He was only a little frustrated.

 

Okay, a lot. 

 

He knew it wasn’t right to expect anything from the blonde. His little fantasy of getting to be friends with other exceptional people made him smile, to be sure, but he didn’t actually want to force it onto the other boy. That didn’t sit well with him. Surely it was enough to get to eat lunch by his side. Tanjirou could be content with that. 

 

But he wasn’t. He wanted to be friends.

 

Normally, he wouldn’t doubt that they were; most people just ended up becoming friends with him these days if they wanted to. Zenitsu, however, was not exactly like most people. Even though the blonde’s scent never felt hostile while they were around each other, the strange undercurrent of nervousness mixed with his pleasant aroma also never went away. It didn’t make sense. 

 

Maybe it had to do with how tense he could be, Tanjirou mused. His poor classmate always pulled embarrassed faces whenever they talked. All that blood rushing to his head couldn’t be healthy. Factor in his rushed words and stiff posture, and there was a ready-to-go recipe for disaster right there in front of him. They couldn’t seem to get past the awkward outbursts phase of their acquaintanceship at all, and it was really putting a damper on things. 

 

This somehow led to a newfound envy for someone he had never thought ill of before. Yes, for once, he actually wished he could be like another person.

 

Tanjirou, in his newfound bid to fulfill mission one of his high school experience, desperately wanted to understand how Murata did it.

 

Zenitsu didn’t rush around the other boy. His scent gave off the sense of being comforted, the way his youngest siblings often felt when they were at home and could bask in warmth and affection. When he was around his best friend, he didn’t look like the same boy who bought out half his store. The flushing died down, only popping up from time to time, and he relaxed

 

As weird as it made him feel to observe them together from afar, the ache in his gut hurt worse. How could he make Zenitsu feel more comfortable with him? What was Murata’s secret?

 

“Well,” Murata paused on the stairs, “it’s not really a secret weapon or anything, I guess? We’ve just known each other for so long. I think you kinda get a special bond with someone if you can accidentally get sick all over them and they don’t ditch you afterwards.” 

 

Tanjirou paled. “Is that actually necessary?” 

 

“What?!? No, no, no! Trust me, my friendship with Zenitsu is not one you want to follow to the letter. We’re terrible influences on each other.” The student council member laughed very awkwardly. “Do you want to know anything that’s more specific? I don’t want to be late to lunch.”

 

“How did you two become friends in the first place?” He asked. “How did it all start?”

 

Murata scratches at the back of his neck before answering. “Ah, we met back when we first started here. He had a super big crush on Kanzaki-san at the time, and confessing to her didn’t end well. I stepped in to basically rescue him from himself, and he just ended up clinging to me for the rest of the day. I didn’t have any friends, and he didn’t have any friends, so we decided to be there for each other. The rest is history.” 

 

This was new information to him. “Oh, so you’ve both been going here since junior high?” Tanjirou finally descended the stairs to literally get on his level. 

 

“Yes, but it’s nice to see new faces. Things were starting to get a little boring around here.” Murata nudged him with an elbow. “Thank you very much for adding more excitement to my life.” 

 

“Sure thing!” He said without fully understanding why the other boy smelled so amused. It was probably an inside joke or something. An inside joke with Zenitsu.

 

Jeez, I want that sort of thing too! He lamented internally. Murata, bless him, did not comment on his momentarily changed demeanor. 


Another day passed without incident. Tanjirou was losing his mind.

 

His pencil jerked across the page, scribbling out endless lightning clouds, all puffy and towering. There had to be something that would work, something that he hadn’t already tried. But what? He couldn’t use Murata’s method if Zenitsu wasn’t currently pining for anyone. 

 

Any other person would have already contemplated defeat, but not him. Once he got to the point of watching video compilations of Zenitsu’s greatest kendo matches, he knew it was too late to back down. Agatsuma Zenitsu was… a cool person! And they’d be friends if he had anything to say about it.

 

“Okay, kiddos! Listen up!” Rengoku-sensei suddenly screamed, jarring him out of his thoughts. “I’ve finalized the details for the upcoming class trip with the principal, so make sure to tell your parents!”

 

Tanjirou raised his hand. “What class trip are you talking about, sir?” Most of the class echoed his confusion. Since when were they having one of those? 

 

“... Did I forget to tell you guys?” Even their very own teacher was puzzled by this.

 

“You told me, but not the others.” Kanao spoke up, hands primly folded in her lap. “It was meant to be a surprise for all of us working so hard.” 

 

“Yes, and a reward for me!” He slapped his belly. “I’m going to eat so much good food! But I digress! We’re taking the train to Kyoto! 3 days! Arashiyama district! Endless fun with your favorite teacher and all your friends!”

 

Kyoto? Really, Kyoto? I’ve never been there before. Considering how many little siblings he had, that had never been a feasible possibility. It sounds interesting!

 

“Here’s how it works! You’ll be rooming with a partner!” Their teacher doodled two stick figures on the board, giving them little smiles. “Said partner will stick with you the entire time! You can explore to your heart’s content for the most part! My only requirement is that, by the end of the 3 days, you’ll be expected to write a handy dandy essay about something you’ve learned, preferably about yourself! Any questions?”

 

One of the more quiet girls - lemon scent, liked their baguettes - raised her hand. “Do we need permission from our family?” 

 

“Yes, of course!” Rengoku-sensei clapped his hands. “If you’re not sure if you’ll be allowed to go, that’s perfectly fine!” 

 

“Can we pick our partners?” Another student - rubbing alcohol, lover of dango - piped up.

 

“For the most part, yes! I’ll end up shuffling some people around if there are discrepancies, or if you aren’t sure who you want to partner with! That being said, please come up and write your name down, along with an ideal partner! They can be in any of the three history classes for your year, so don’t feel restricted to the people in this room! Even if you’re not going, please do so! A form will be given out later!”

 

Now, Tanjirou didn’t know if he even wanted to go on this trip. Kyoto was one thing, but 3 days without being able to help his family? That would be difficult to bear. 

 

But it didn’t hurt to simply write his name down, right? Who could fault him for that?

 

Kamado Tanjirou. He wrote when his turn came, writing out the characters with precision. 

 

And then, almost as if it were an afterthought, he jotted down some more.

 

Kamado Tanjirou. Preferred partner: Agatsuma Zenitsu. 

 



“Wh-What’s wrong, Tanjirou?” Nezuko poked him in the cheek. “You’ve been s-s-super quiet.”

 

“Ah!” He jerked back to attention. “Sorry, Nezuko! I don’t mean to worry you over me. It’s just… Well…” 

 

“Yes?” She waited patiently. Even as the train car rattled and shook, she never once lost her composure. Truly, his kid sister was amazing! 

 

“I keep smelling peaches! It’s distracting!” Tanjirou clenched his fist. “Zenitsu isn’t even here! My nose must be confused. Am I getting sick?”

 

In response, she quit with the pokes and patted his cheek instead. You’re okay. She seemed to be saying. And you can do it!

 

He smiled back at her, relieved beyond measure. “Thanks, Nezuko. You always know how to make me feel better.” 

 

“Mmhm.” She pointed at the electronic display. 

 

“Yup! That’s our stop!” He tugged her up with him. “Let’s go!”

 

Once they arrived at home, he threw himself into his work with fervor. Sale after sale after sale got seen through with the expected enthusiasm of any self-respecting Kamado. “And remember that you get a 10 percent discount the next time you buy from us if you bring a friend along!” He said after each purchase. “That’s a Kamado guarantee!”

 

“Hard day today?” Mother said sympathetically once they closed up shop. “You look tense, dear.”

 

Tanjirou took in a deep breath. “Everything is fine!”

 

“As always, your lying face is atrocious. We’ll discuss it over dinner, okay?” She pinched his cheek, though not unkindly. 

 

“... Okay.” He supposed that if he could discuss his dilemmas in front of Takeo and the like, he could face just about anything! 

 

A short reprieve was granted while they ate their way through the majority of their meal. He was busy slurping up some noodles when their mother said, “So. What’s been eating at you, Tanjirou?”

 

Everyone paused, waiting expectantly for the answer. He stared at them all with wide eyes. “Ah. It’s the class trip.”

 

“Ooo! That’s so cool! Where are you going?!?” Hanako leaned forward. 

 

“Arashiyama, Kyoto for 3 days.” The all-around smell of acceptance and eagerness only made him feel more guilty. How could he even entertain the idea of going? Who’d help Mother with all her extra work? 

 

“I want to go too!” Shigeru whined. “That’s not fair!”

 

“Oh, don’t fret, love. If you study super hard, you can go to Kyoto too one day, just like Tanjirou.” Mother smiled serenely at her more agitated children. 

 

“But, Mother! I shouldn’t leave you alone! I was about to say that I won’t be going.”

 

“You should.” She ignored his protests. “It’s not an opportunity you should take lightly. What’s the purpose of the trip?”

 

“To learn something. Preferably about ourselves.” He parroted Rengoku-sensei’s words, accidentally mimicking his teacher’s tone.

 

Mother nodded to herself. “Then that’s a brilliant reason to go. How often do you get the chance to find yourself in another city? I used to dream of an adventure like that. I’d hate to deprive a child of mine in any way, shape, or form. Besides, I won’t be alone. I have Nezuko to help me.”

 

His sister nodded. “Y-Yes. I’ll help Mother. You go have fun, Tanjirou.”

 

Almost perfect. That was an almost perfect effort, Nezuko! His eyes pricked with unshed tears. “Okay! I will, for all of you!”

 

“And for yourself, I hope.” His mother added on. “Kids these days… You’re growing up too fast.”

 

Tanjirou finished his noodles, a heavy sensation lingering in his heart. From the way she mumbled it, it didn’t sound like something he was meant to hear. 

 


 

Another day, another failure. 

 

He stepped onto the train home, only having his thoughts by his side. Will I ever get to talk to Zenitsu one on one properly? It hadn’t happened yet. What if it never did?

 

No. That was quitter’s talk, and Kamado Kie didn’t raise a single one of those! He’d manage it somehow! That was also a Kamado guarantee!

 

Peach smell filled his nostrils. 

 

Tanjirou whipped his head around, puzzled. Why did that always happen? He never got flooded with his friend’s’ scents before when they crossed his mind, so why was Zenitsu different? What on earth was going on?

 

Suddenly, through the throng of people, he caught sight of a familiar shade of yellow. “Zenitsu!” He stood before he could think better of it, darting through the gaps in the crowded train car. “Zenitsu!” 

 

Nervousness, happiness, and a pleasant hint of something that made him feel like static was dancing down his spine - that was all Agatsuma Zenitsu. 

 

He sped over to him, surprised by the fact that the other boy had managed to snag not one, but two seats during such a busy hour. And for his bag to boot! “Do you mind if I sit by you?” Tanjirou beamed as he spoke. 

 

“Uh…” Zenitsu continued to flush, as per usual. “Suuure?” He tugged his bag to his chest. 

 

Before anyone else could, he plopped himself down with a thud. “Great! Thank you so much!” This is it! 

 

“Why are you so excited?”

 

“It’s because I get to sit with you!” Tanjirou cheered. “This is ideal for me, you see!”

 

Confusion always scorched his nose, but the added hint of hope gave him courage. Could it be? Did Zenitsu want to be friends too?

 

No matter what, he was determined to see this conversation through! Mission one status: resumed!

Chapter Text

Hello, universe and everything in it! It’s me, Zenitsu. Mind telling me what the hell is going on?!?

 

He wasn’t supposed to ride the train with Tanjirou. His crush and his kind sound was supposed to stay on one side of the train with his sister, and Zenitsu was supposed to stay on the other side until his stop came. That was the way his life always worked. 

 

(There was a movie plot in here somewhere.)

 

What to say, what to say… 

 

“Hey…” He squinted at his dopey expression. “Where’s Nezuko-chan? Don’t tell me you left a young lady all by herself!”

 

“Ah, she’s-”



“That’s despicable! It’s dangerous out here, you know! I’ll never forgive you!” While he didn’t like her that way anymore, that didn’t mean the city was safe! Anything could happen to her! Who wouldn’t be concerned?!?

 

“Like I was trying to say, she’s going out with a friend today!” Tanjirou smiled like he wasn’t bothered at all by Zenitsu’s words. “Tokito-san is very trustworthy and good at throwing rocks! They’ll be alright! I hope you’ll forgive me!”

 

He fidgeted in his seat, disarmed by the sudden hopeful addition to his normal refrain. “Yeah, that’s alright, I guess.” He muttered. What to say, what to say…

 

They sat in silence for a few fleeting moments. Zenitsu kept twitching as he fished around for the right words. The situation reminded him a little of the way Kanao-chan made him feel: out of place and observed all at once. Maybe he should just say the first thing on his mind? That wouldn’t be so bad, right?



“Why-”



“So-”



The two boys stared at each other, equally embarrassed. “You first!” Tanjirou waved him on, visibly more sheepish now.

 

He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Why do you talk to me so often now? I m-mean, it’s not bad or anything! I don’t dislike it! It’s just weird. Well, no, not weird, but… different, you know?!?”

 

“The answer to that is simple! Your energy is nice, and therefore makes you perfect friend material! Why wouldn’t I want to talk to you?”

Zenitsu had realized long ago that people like Tanjirou simply could not follow along perfectly with the collective thoughts of the crowd. Perfect friend material? In what world? No one had ever voiced such an embarrassingly endearing thought before to him, not even his best friend. He knew he wasn’t, but… It was nice to bask in those words, just for a little while.

 

“I see.” He said instead, offering up a small smile. “You’re totally the type of guy grandmas love, huh?”

 

“Ah, I’m hardly adorable enough for that! That’s all Rokuta!” Tanjirou replied with a little laugh. Zenitsu’s heart throbbed, almost deafening. He had to look away.

 

Rokuta? Who’s Rokuta?

 

“He’s my youngest brother in case you were wondering! I’d think you’d really like him. You’re good with kids, right? Do you babysit anyone?” 

 

“Kids?!? No way! They hate me! Who’d trust me with one?!?” Zenitsu struggled to control his volume. “Absolutely not!”

 

“Then why do you always leave in such a hurry after school?” He sounded genuinely curious. “Is it music practice? Or is it kendo?”

 

He turned his choking noise into a little cough. “Kanao-chan’s been talking about me to you? That makes me so happy!” If he could deflect enough, then maybe… “But, no, I’m hardly that diligent! Don’t tell her though! I want her to think well of me!”

 

Tanjirou gawked at him. “That’s surprising! You always look so great in your videos!” 

 

Zenitsu couldn’t stop the next choking noise from being audible. “Y-You watch my videos?!?” He shrieked, ignoring the dirty looks from the other passengers. “Which ones?!? Wait, why am I even asking? It’s obvious which ones you mean! Here you are, trapping me on the train, and you secretly watch all of my failures on repeat?!?”

 

“Of course I don’t!” He thundered back, shocking him into silence. “Haven’t you heard? People call you a storm god!”

 

“N-Not anymore.” Zenitsu stared down at his feet. They were super interesting, he swore! “If you know about my kendo career, you know what they call me now.”

 

“Well, I don’t agree! I refuse to! You’re not a pony! You’re a… a… lightning fast horse!” Tanjirou reached across to grab his hands. “And that makes you incredible! I don’t understand the sport, but your videos make me feel ready to take on the world!”

 

“DON’T SAY THAT!” He cried out. “WHO GOES AROUND BLURTING OUT THAT CRAP? YOU’LL MAKE ME HAVE A HEART ATTACK! HOW ARE YOU NOT DYING RIGHT NOW FROM SHAME?!?”

 

The rough hands holding his squeezed tighter. “Because I’m right, Zenitsu! And if anyone says otherwise, they should try taking me on for a change. I may not be a trained kendoka like you, but I could totally break a bokken with my forehead!” He let go to mime the action, over and over again. “It’s hard enough for that!”

 

Break a bokken with your forehead? Zenitsu replayed the mental image. Here comes Kamado Tanjirou, ready to- Oh, and he’s broken the bokken! Another flawless win from our champion!

 

“.... BWAHAHAHA!” He dissolved into a laughing fit, the likes of which he had never experienced before. Wave after wave of loud chuckles escaped him, turning more screechy as time passed. Lame! That’s so lame! Tanjirou’s actually a big old dork!

 

All of the awkwardness he felt was no more. How could it continue to exist after something like that? With utmost sincerity, Tanjirou looked him in the eye and promised to break a bokken for his honor. It was ridiculous! It was stupid! It was cute beyond belief!

 

“Seriously, what kind of guy says these things?” Zenitsu wiped at his eyes, unable to keep the fondness from his voice. “I won’t ever meet a guy like you in the rest of the world.”

 

“Aw, Zenitsu… It’s the least I could do!” Tanjirou brought his fist up to his chest. “In fact, I’ll break a hundred bokken if we can be friends!”

 

“That’s not a compliment!” He said hastily. “This is public transit! Try to read the room! And there’s no need for that if we already are!”

 

“We are? You’ve never said!” The puzzlement in his voice hurt. Had he really been so hopeless that Tanjirou ended up coming to that conclusion?

 

“Well, I’m saying so now, aren’t I?” He turned away with a huff, unwilling to admit his shortcomings. “We are, so don’t go around shattering swords into bits! Promise you won’t!”

 

“I won’t if you don’t!”

 

“What kind of a statement is that?!?”

 

The familiar sound of the automated alert reached his ears, halting his tirade in its tracks. “Attention. The train is now leaving. Steer clear of the doors.”

 

“Hey...” Zenitsu squinted at the slowly receding scenery. Something was beginning to dawn on him, and he didn’t like the look of it. “Isn’t that your stop?”

 

Tanjirou stared at him blankly, like the cute, lame dork he was. “What do you mean?” 




I mean it, universe. Stop with the nonsense! What even is happening right now?!?

 

It turned out that, yes, Tanjirou did miss his stop. After he made a call to his mother, all contrite, he ended up asking (read: begging) Zenitsu to let him stay over for the afternoon.

 

“I don’t mean to intrude, but she can’t transfer me extra money to take the train back just yet! It’ll only be for a few hours, so please let me come with you!” An earnest appeal, straight from the person at fault!

 

“Okay, fine!” Zenitsu put a little distance between them, immediately uncomfortable. “Stop looking at me like that! Puppy dog eyes should be illegal!” I wouldn’t feel right saying no anyway… 

 

“Thank you so much! I’ll try to be as little of a nuisance as possible to your family! You won’t even have to feed me!” Tanjirou exclaimed. As if he wouldn’t! What kind of host did he think he was?!?

 

“Don’t worry about me. Worry about my grandpa!” He scolded him. “If he doesn’t like you, you’ll never get to come over again!” 

 

The true test of a person, so far as he saw things, was their ability to withstand Gramps’ judgment. Kaigaku’s viewpoint was one beast. He never liked anyone Zenitsu crossed paths with. But Gramps? If he thought you were a bad person, that was it. No second chance existed once that first impression existed; those were reserved for the people he actually liked.

 

Murata had passed that test after a terrible dinner. He hoped Ms. Kie would be swift enough with the transfer to avoid such a meeting.

 

He needed to face facts. Zenitsu was having a crisis, and Tanjirou suddenly getting distracted at the worst possible moment was the cause.

 

Next to him, the boy in question looked dismayed. “I’ll do my best then!” He declared. “I don’t want him to dislike me!”

 

“Uh huh..” Zenitsu replied, too lost in his spiraling thoughts. They only made it back to his house by sheer dumb luck. Walking on autopilot usually led him places he didn’t want to be. That still hadn’t changed.

 

His brother opened the door before he even had the chance. 

 

“Who’s this? Did you dump the other one?” Kaigaku sneered. “Pity, that. I liked him a lot better.”

 

“That’s news to me…” He shifted a little in front of Tanjirou, slightly shielding him from the sharp glare. “And we’re not dating, so how could I dump him?”

 

“Ditch him then. Found a new best friend then? Didn’t know you liked the ugly ones, but it takes one to like one, right?” 

 

Tanjirou’s sound went dead, and so did Zenitsu’s heart. “I can have multiple friends, you know!” He shrieked, sensing an impending disaster. “Come on!”

 

Only when they arrived at his room did he process that they were holding hands.

 

He ended the contact in a rush, almost like it scalded him. “I’m sorry for my brother. He’s always like that.”

 

“No, it’s fine.” Tanjirou said, even though he obviously didn’t think so. “I know you said he called you an eyesore, but I didn’t think it could get worse than that. Is he like this all the time?”

 

“More or less.” Zenitsu sighed, kneeling down to take off his shoes. “S’not so bad once you get used to it.”

 

The look he gave him would have been enough to sicken any heart. “You shouldn’t have to.” Tanjirou said earnestly. 

 

“Yeah… I guess not.” If he sniffled a little, the other boy didn’t mention it. He had to be grateful for the little things in life.

 

Then came the inevitable room inspection. He had done the same once with Murata long ago, so he tried not to feel any sort of way over Tanjirou’s careful observations. “Oh, you have a biwa now? I’ve never seen one with sparrow patterns before!” All of a sudden, he spoke up, almost startling Zenitsu off his position on his bed.

 

“It’s a custom Chikuzen-biwa, so that’s probably why. You could totally count the gift giving as attempted murder, believe me!” He glared daggers at the offending instrument. Even the plectrum was made with too much attention to detail! Scary! His biwa was too scary!

 

His crush laughed to himself a little, eyes crinkling. He’s totally going to have smile lines later. Zenitsu thought distantly. They’d suit him.

 

“I feel like, when I look around here, I can see the room of someone who is fondly loved.” Tanjirou said without a care in the world. And his sound cried Believe me, like he couldn’t sense the sincerity with normal senses alone.

 

He was convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that his flush was unsightly, but he couldn’t help the reaction. “Fondly loved?” He ended up squawking back at him. He truly was the world’s ugliest parrot, huh. 

 

“Mmhm! Even when you called it murder, you smelled really happy! It’s nice, and I hope you keep at it!” His beam delivered a direct hit to Zenitsu’s nervous system.

 

“I will!” He blurted out, painfully aware of the fact that he was motivated most efficiently by the need to impress people. If this would make a difference in his incredibly prolonged bid for his classmate’s heart, all the better.

 

Tanjirou paused, just missing the carefully placed mask that rested by his shamisen’s side. “Is something wrong? You-”

 

“Okay, that’s enough scent stuff for one day!” Zenitsu shot off his bed, rambling all the while. “Do you want to meet Chuntaro?!? Let’s go meet Chuntaro!!!”

 

Chuntaro loved Tanjirou. He wasn’t sure whether to feel offended or gratified. “You really do have all the luck…” He grumbled without any real disdain behind it. 

 

“Ah, no, I don’t think so! Can I feed her?” 

 

“Chuu!” She looked overjoyed by the concept. Zenitsu couldn’t blame her.

 

“I don’t see why n-”

 

“ZENITSU! WHAT’S THIS I HEAR ABOUT SOMEONE BEING IN MY HOUSE WITHOUT PERMISSION?!?”

 

They both flinched away from the cage at the sudden noise. His sparrow visibly drooped. Wordlessly, Zenitsu muttered a prayer. Gramps was home early, and nothing would save him now beyond divine intervention.




His grandpa invited Tanjirou to have dinner with them. That is, if you considered invite to include not being able to say no. 

 

After a few futile attempts, both boys resigned themselves to their fate. Pro tip: playing the worried mother card didn’t work when someone was willing to compensate said mother for lost time with wads of money. 

 

“What’s your name, boy?” Gramps asked once they all - even Kaigaku - were situated and eating. 

 

“Kamado Tanjirou!” 

 

“Hmm…” The old man grunted. “And how do you know Zenitsu?”

 

“We first met during a uniform check, but I knew about him before then!” Tanjirou continued, oblivious to the fact that both men at the table were tensing up at this admission.

 

“How come?” Kaigaku interjected, joining in on the carnage. “Are you some weird stalker or something?”

 

Zenitsu flinched. “H-He’s-” Sure, it was scary to speak up, but he had to. Didn’t he?

 

“Absolutely not!” He looked offended at the thought, enough to accidentally cut him off. “It’s because of his ears. I have a good nose, so my mom looked for other people with senses records. That’s all there is to it!”

 

Most people wouldn’t relax over such a weird answer, but both Gramps and Kaigaku did. His brother suddenly sounded bored with the whole discussion, no doubt because his fun had been ruined prematurely. What an asshole.

 

“Plus,” Tanjirou added on, “he’s a very talented individual! I feel lucky to know him!”

 

Those were it. The magic words. Zenitsu wasn’t sure if he was jealous or impressed by the speed at which he managed that.

 

Gramps heartily agreed, because of course he did. The people he cared for most always conspired against him that way. “You’re correct! Have you heard him play any instruments?”

 

“Never in person, but yes! It’s beautiful!”

 

“Yes, yes, it is! Do you hear that, boy? Your playing is beautiful!”

 

Was it too late to stage an epic flight away from this house? Probably! Did he want to? Naturally! Not for the first time, Zenitsu wished the people around him would refrain from voicing their too fond thoughts aloud. 

 

The torment didn’t stop there. After a long, winding conversation, Gramps foisted train fare onto Tanjirou, with a little extra added in. “Zenitsu, walk him back.”

 

“Eh? Can’t he do it himself?” It was a token protest, and everyone knew it.

 

Zenitsu.

 

“Okay, okay, I’m going ! Jeez!” Zenitsu stood. “Thanks for the meal, Gramps!”

 

“Yes, thank you for having me!” Tanjirou actually bowed before he managed to drag him to the door, dash to get their shoes, and shove him out.

 

“That was awful. ” Zenitsu griped. “I can’t ever show my face there again.”

 

The boy next to him only smiled. “Your grandfather really wants the best for you, you know.” 

 

He didn’t roll his eyes, but it was a close thing. “I know.” And that’s part of the problem. But he didn’t say that.

 

Instead, he nudged him with an elbow. “By the way, you’re totally something else. Murata didn’t win him over for 2 solid hours!” 

 

“Is that a good sign then?” Tanjirou laughed, clearly not meaning anything by it. “Does that make me best friend material?”

 

“Nah, he still likes him best. You’ll need several more months to get on his level.” 

 

“Ah, I see!” He replied in the way people did when they didn’t, but also disliked the thought of anyone knowing. Zenitsu had to stifle a laugh. 

 

They settled into the silence where no one knows what to say. All he did was listen to the song bursting free on repeat, filling him up like a balloon. He let his feet do the rest. 

 

After one close call, they arrived at the stairs. He could still picture it, how the dying light turned the other boy’s hair to fire. Though maybe that was too poetic for a moment like this, where he stood right next to a still wet patch of bubblegum and tried to remember how to get air into his lungs.

 

Zenitsu began to raise his hand. People do handshakes for goodbyes, right? He tried to push down the voice in his head that kept insisting he was merely longing for contact. Wasn’t there a limit to the levels of ‘pathetic’ that he could go? 

 

For a second, a rough hand touched his, and it was one of the better moments of his month, let alone his life. Then it became something infinitely worse, depending on your perspective. 

 

Apparently, Tanjirou thought hugs made for a better farewell. He could hardly think, what with the warm arms holding him and the beautiful ringing in his ears. I like you. It seemed to say. I really like you.

 

“See you tomorrow!” The warmth pulled away, but the smile remained, all soft and bright and shiny. It was the sort of afternoon that demanded to be remembered, one where the sleepy sun lodged deep in his throat and stayed there. 

 

He mustered up a little scrap of courage. “See you!” He called back before pivoting on his heel and striding away. Baby steps. He reminded himself. Baby steps. But there it was, the brutal note of vague disappointment. He had the sudden, impulsive urge to turn around and apologize, repent, do something that’d end the assault on his ears. 

 

In the end, he didn’t do anything at all.

 

Kaigaku was sitting outside the house when he returned. “You like him.” He let out those words the instant he was in view. It wasn’t a question.

 

“Cut it out.” Zenitsu frowned at his brother, unable to argue otherwise. They’d both know anyway, deep down, how he felt. What’d even be the point? 

 

The young man made a noise that was half incredulous, half mocking. “I still prefer the other one.” 

 

There wasn’t anything he could say to that, not when judgment was tearing the sun shard right out from his neck. At the time, storming to his room felt reasonable. He still wasn’t sure if he was right.

 

Unable to think clearly, Zenitsu ended up grabbing his shamisen; it never failed him before. Shaking hands clutched at the instrument like a lifeline. 

 

Next to it still lay the crying fox, now left alone. He scooped it up too. He could make something new out of this. He had done it before. 

 

That night, he dreamt of the most lovely shade of burgundy, willing to snap his sword in half just to save a life. Tanjirou! He kept trying to cry out. Tanjirouuuu!

 

But the other boy didn’t listen. He couldn’t hear his voice at all.

 

Zenitsu woke up feeling very strange indeed.

Chapter Text

Notes upon notes stretched out in front of Murata’s eyes. He wholeheartedly believed in the power of seizing one’s education by the horns, but this was just shy of crazy! Timelines and key players and political intrigue - when did it end?  

 

As someone who was fundamentally average, he had no real desire to rock the boat. He’d happily leave that to more vibrant people, the ones who were more like main characters than anyone else in the world. Still, there were times he contemplated just giving up on this class. Were it not for the everlasting threat of Shinobu-senpai and Kanao ending his days on earth, he would have already. Rengoku-sensei’s belief in him meant a lot, but it only went so far.

 

“Okay, kids, I’m going to wrap up early for today!” Speak of the devil. “Why, you might be asking? Simple! I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’re having ourselves a field trip!”

 

So Kanao was right! Next to him, Zenitsu almost shot out of his seat. They both stared at each other with a special brand of eagerness. There really is a trip!

 

Rengoku-sensei held up 3 fingers. “Kyoto’s Arashiyama district for 3 days with me! It’ll be loads of fun, so you don’t want to miss it! Get a partner and go on an adventure with them! Make groups! Stick together as a duo! The experience is up to you!”

 

Kanzaki’s hand went up. “There has to be a catch.” She said, forever the cynic. 

 

It wasn’t a question, but their teacher took it as one. “Your mind is as sharp as always, Kanzaki! My sole requirement is that you write an essay that adequately shows something you’ve learned. It’s best if it’s about yourself, but I can work with anything!”

 

“And, before anyone asks these, yes, you need permission to come. Yes, you can pick your partners within reason, even though I’ll be shuffling people around if need be! No, I will not be supervising you all closely. Doing that for 3 of my classes? No thank you! Use common sense and be safe while we’re there! Now, come up here and write your name down, along with an ideal partner, even if you don’t know if you’re going. It can be anyone in my classes for your year!” 

 

Rengoku-sensei said that all in one breath, beaming all the while. In a way, though Murata admired him beyond measure, the man terrified him.

 

As each student progressed in the hastily formed line, the owl masquerading as someone certified to educate the next generation gave them a form. “You better not put me down as your partner, Agatsuma.” Kanzaki hissed as she passed by.

 

“I wouldn’t!” Zenitsu flinched away from her glare. “Why would-”

 

“I’m just letting you know.” She retreated back to her seat, as sour as ever. Murata felt a twinge of sympathy for them both. Bad first impressions really never seemed to die.

 

Finally, it was his turn. I’m Murata Daisuke and I’d like it if Agatsuma Zenitsu could be my partner. He wrote down on the last available line. Predictable, really, but getting to goof around with his best friend for 3 days was like a dream come true.

 

“And here you go!” The instant he put down the pen, he was being handed a form. “That’s everyone! You can relax until the next teacher gets here.”

 

Instantly, the class devolved into endless chattering. Murata scooted around in his chair, knowing without even looking that Zenitsu was doing the same thing. “Hey, quick question. Why did you pick me as your partner? I mean, not that I’m complaining, but I thought you’d put down Tanjirou.”

 

The blond turned red in a millisecond. “I thought about it, but my soul would exit my body, so it’s really not worth it!”

 

“So you’re scared.” Murata nodded to himself; that tracked. For some reason, the deeper the crush went, the more Zenitsu searched for ways to avoid the effects of it.

 

“Oi! I’m not! I’m just watching out for my health!” His best friend flailed around. “Don’t you care about that?

 

“Sure, when it’s actually warranted. It’s okay though! I guess I’ll stick with you on the trip.” 

 

Zenitsu perked up. “Promise?”

 

Murata smiled back at him. “Promise!”


“What do you mean ‘I can’t go’?!?”

 

“Don’t shout, Daisuke.” His mom rubbed at her eyes, clearly drained from work. “And I mean you can’t. Your history grade is terrible.”

 

“Rengoku-sensei said I’ve been improving at a good rate! And it’s his trip!” Murata protested. 

 

She paused. “Well, that’s certainly true. But there’s no grade involved. It’ll just be three days of leisure. There are better ways to spend your time.”

 

He swallowed a scream of frustration. “But it isn’t! We have to write an essay afterwards!”

 

“An essay?” Her eyebrows raised. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yes, Rengoku-sensei told us so himself. Beyond all that, aren’t you happy for me?”

 

Mom pulled off a complicated expression. “In what way?” She asked.

 

“I’ve never-”

 




“- been anywhere like Kyoto before.” Kanao pointed out. “It’ll be a new experience.”

 

“You can have plenty of those right here, you know.” Shinobu huffed. Obvious hints of tension resided in her body. “I don’t see why you have to throw yourself into a new city too when you do.”

 

Mitsuri’s flush became more pronounced. Her fingers twitched, but they didn’t slow as they combed through Shinobu’s hair. So grumpy! Her body language communicated. Shinobu is so cute!

 

“But I would like to travel. I never get to.” Ever since she joined the lives of the Kochou sisters, she had never gone anywhere. 

 

For a moment, her older sister let her girlfriend attend to her hair while she thought. “That’s true.” She admitted begrudgingly. “I just don’t see why you’re asking me. Kanae’s not even home yet.”

 

“It’s better to convince you first. If you say no over something like this, she will too.” That was also true. Their shared eldest sister listened very carefully to Shinobu’s warnings about safety where Kanao’s development was concerned.

 

The more angry Kochou sister hummed. “Yeah, I know!” She sounded proud. “So you already know what the answer will be.”

 

“Oh, I don’t see the harm!” Mitsuri piped up nervously. “Why else do you want to go, Kanao-chan?”

 

“I’d like-”

 




“- to eat the food.”

 

“There’s some sort of fucking meal in every corner of Japan. Hell, you’ve tried food from every corner of Japan already.” Sanemi kept jogging on his treadmill, never missing a step.

 

“But Kyoto’s tastes great. Remember how much I liked it? And I’ve never tried the stuff from Arashiyama , only Kita-ku.” Genya countered. “It could be better.”

 

His big brother glared at him from over his shoulder. “Or you could fuck up your stomach and spew chunks all over your class. S’all up to chance, dumbass. Why’d you even want to leave?”

 

Being civil wasn’t working. He’d have to try another, more risky approach. Genya didn’t provide any warning or indication for his plan. All he did was stride over, stare at Sanemi, and pointedly turn the machine off.

 

“Hey! Knock it off, you little shit!” Now he had his full attention. 

 

“I’m not telling you any of this because I care what you think about me going. I don’t, and I know you know that. I just need you to-”

 




“- sign here! Please!” Zenitsu waved the paper at his grandpa. He was sure he looked like some wretched creature, all cried out and shivering. 

 

“Practice is more important!” Gramps repeated again, as obstinate as ever. 

 

“I can’t possibly improve enough in 3 days for it to matter!” He wailed. “It’s impossible! Impossible! Please let me go with Murata!”

 

The old man looked almost puce. “Do you not care about your activities?!?”

 

“I do! I swear I do! I’ll even pack the shamisen! Whatever you want!” More tears began to build up in his eyes.

 

“I want you to go to kendo practice.” Gramps snapped back bluntly.

 

“But-”

 

“I’m not finished, boy!” He thundered. “If you swear to play that shamisen every single night, and do even more practice to catch up on everything when you return, I’ll be satisfied.”

 

His heart soared. All of his panic and despair scattered to the winds. “So-”

 




“- can I go?”

 

Mama swallowed down a chunk of fish. “I don’t see why not, baby!” She automatically replied.

 

“Aha! Success!” Inosuke crowed. “I will conquer Kyoto too!”

 

“Will you bring Grandma a souvenir once you do? I know we don’t have much, but if you’re able to, I would be so grateful!” 

 

Her smiles still carried that special warmth in them. Inosuke grinned back. “I see! You both are finally demanding tribute! Excellent! You’re learning!”

 

“That’s because I love you!” She reached across the table to squish his cheeks. 

 

“AAAARGH! DON’T MAKE ME MORE GIDDY THAN I ALREADY AM, MAMA!” He howled, twisting away from her gentle touch. Curses! She got him!

 

“Yes, yes!” The small woman hummed. “My Inosuke is the cutest.”

 

“‘Course I am. I’m the best.” He grumbled, fire taking up space inside his head. 

 

Mama returned to eating her meal, still sending bright beams his way. “Yes, yes!” She said again. “Yes, you are!”

 

Inosuke stared at the offending form. Anything that gave his mama power was a trap in disguise. It was decided! He’d go to this Kyoto and beat it at its own game! 

 

… And write that dumb essay. He almost forgot about that part.

 


Aaaand done! Kyoujurou had to hand it to himself. This was the best assigned partner list he had ever come up with!

 

“Why are you so happy, aniki?” A little voice piped up.

 

“Ah! Senjurou!” He ushered his little brother over. “I just finished sorting out the kids who submitted their forms for my little trip!”

 

“Oh, to Kyoto!” The little boy exclaimed happily. “How’d you decide on everyone?”

 

“It was a little tricky! Some kids all requested the same person! There’s always those popular people. And then there’s the people who didn’t put anyone down, and those who didn’t get picked.” Kyoujurou ran his hands over the paper. “It’s very hard to work all of that, trust me!”

 

“But you did!” Senjurou gestured at the paper. “Hey, you didn’t answer my question!”

 

“Oh! Right! Well, it’s simple, really!” He beamed at the light of his life. “I went with the funniest choices!”

Chapter Text

The day of the trip rolled around without the dramatic fanfare it deserved. After all the work he put into actually going, shouldn’t the heavens be rent asunder? This had to be definitive proof that life never went the way he wanted! 

 

Zenitsu passed the hours before the train ride like anyone else would - lazily. He tried styling his hair differently, stacked extra seeds, practiced the koto and biwa, and triple checked his minimal luggage, all without a sense of urgency. What else was there to do? No school, no homework, no real responsibilities. That’d all be great if he didn’t have something big to look forward to.

 

“3 days in Kyoooootooooo!” Zenitsu sang to himself as he gave Chuntaro her lunch. “Oh! Oh wa wa!”

 

His plucky sparrow pecked him mercilessly for the crime of disturbing her six times (so far) in one day. “Ow! Come on, don’t be like that. I have nothing to do! Have some sympathy!”

 

They had a brief staring contest before she lost interest, choosing to peck at her seeds instead. Bummer. “Hey, Chuntaro?” Zenitsu whispered. “Will you miss me?”

 

She did some bird noises at him. 

 

“You will?!? I’ve changed my mind! You’re an angel after all!” He reached in to gently pet her, beaming.

 

A normal pet would have accepted this show of affection. She pecked him again. Actually, never mind. He glared at the tiny thing, officially MIFFED. Some birds were evil spirits! They just couldn’t be trusted! 

 

He ended up taking a shower, just to pass the time freshen up a little. Boredom and B.O. were top tier enemies of his! Plus, the experience was soothing, a balm for his mind. Getting to shower with warm water for once was a luxury - Kaigaku used it all up most days - and he wanted to embrace this chance to indulge.

 

It was over before he knew it. 

 

After a few more meals, bothering Chuntaro, and staring at his ceiling, Zenitsu finally got to leave. Gramps and Kaigaku saw him off at the train station, the former basically barreling through crowds despite his small size. 

 

“Here.” Kaigaku lobbed his duffel bag at his chest without any warning. The impact almost made him topple over.

 

“Don’t be such a… such a jerk!” He wanted to use some stronger words, but there were children around, dammit! “What if I fell over and busted my head, huh?!? What if I kicked the bucket right here?!?”

His brother rolled his eyes. “Well, you didn’t.” He sent a stronger glare back than Zenitsu could make. 

 

“Boys…” Gramps moved in between them, clearly ticked. “Stop that! You’re making a scene!”

SO ARE YOU!!! Zenitsu felt ready to scream. This family was going to give him premature gray hairs for sure!

 

“Alright, boy,” their grandpa continued, clamping his hands onto his shaking shoulders, “listen up! Don’t go off with strangers! Stick by your friend’s side! Look both ways before you cross roads! Be respectful! Practice your shamisen! Don’t cry all over people! Eat well! Sleep a solid amount! Do your stretches! Spend your money in appropriate ways! Run a mile! Go-”


“I got it! I got it!” He wrenched away from his iron grip. “I’m not that hopeless, okay?!? I’ll be fine!”

 

Gramps tousled his choppy hair. “Enjoy yourself, Zenitsu! That’s an order!” He boomed.

 

“Try not to die.” Kaigaku advised, smirking all the while.

 

Zenitsu stared at them both. His heart laid dead in his chest. “I’ll miss you guys! Take care of Chuntaro for me!” He exploded at once before sprinting off into the crowd. Even if his life kept reaching new lows, he hadn’t yet gotten to the point of sobbing openly in a train station. 

 

One of the benefits of looking so pitiful was that people tended to give up their train seats for you. He sniffled in peace, rubbing at his eyes until they burned. 3 days of joy. 3 days of misery. Zenitsu knew himself well; what he said to his family wasn’t entirely true. He’d forget to miss them, and the guilt would threaten to eat him alive. It happened all the time.

 

Stops passed by in a blur. He grabbed a hold of himself, though it was shaky as hell. Focusing on all the things he wanted to do helped give him focus. Stupid pictures! Good eating! Staying out late! That was the ideal class trip experience! And it’d all be with his best friend!

 

While he was giggling over an old memory of Murata crying over wasabi, the doors slid open once again. That sound… He thought briefly. What-

 

“Tanjirou!” Zenitsu blurted out, all on impulse. “Over here!”

The eldest Kamado son actually lit up, like it was a delight to see him. “Ah, Zenitsu!” He moved over through the compartment, coming to rest in front of him. “So you managed to come after all! I’m glad!”

“Honestly, I’m surprised to see you here. Shouldn’t you be with your family?” He took in the sight of him more carefully, bewildered. “And what’s with the camera?”



Tanjirou’s expression turned sour. “Mother and my siblings insisted, so here I am. And the camera is for making memories!” He explained, his tone changing the instant his mind went off the subject of his attendance. “I know it’s an old model, but Nezuko said I should take it with me to ‘document the journey’!”

 

“Ah, Nezuko-chan’s so wise!” Zenitsu praised. “That’s a great idea! It’ll definitely make it easier for you and your partner to remember things for that essay.”



“True!” Tanjirou agreed. “Speaking of which, who did you put for your preferred partner?”

 

“Murata, duh. Why?” He glanced up at him, confused by this new line of questioning. Sure, it made sense to ask, but why did it even matter? 

 

His crush didn’t look surprised. “I was wondering! Some people made really strange choices!”

 

And did you? Did you make a strange choice? Zenitsu didn’t have the courage to ask. Listening to his sound at point-blank range when he was still very emotionally raw made his mind go all fuzzy. “Well, I figured. I mean, if you can be partners with anyone, that’s gonna get messy really quick.”

 

Before any other words could be exchanged, they arrived at their stop. “Don’t miss it again! Come on!” Zenitsu tugged him along by his sleeve, not trusting himself to look at him directly. Tanjirou followed without complaint, still pleasant, still open. 

 

He wanted to laugh. He wanted to cry. He wanted, he wanted, he wanted.

 

Forget what he said earlier. This day was already dramatic enough! He didn’t need any new developments! Everything was fine the way it was!


(Famous last words. Again.)

 




“Zenitsu!” Murata rushed over to him, pulling him into a hug and away from the other boy. “You’ll never believe it! I had to fake cry to get to come! I’m officially like you!”



I DON’T FAKE CRY!” He whacked his forehead. “Stop spreading lies!!!”

 

The frailer (and that was saying something) boy sprang away from him, deterred by the blow. “It’s not a lie if it’s true.” He teased. “Hi, Tanjirou.”



“Hello, Murata!” Tanjirou beamed, oblivious to the way Zenitsu was being mercilessly slandered. “You made it too then?”

“Yup! You’re actually one of the last people to get here apparently. We should hurry before Rengoku-sensei notices.” His best friend cautioned. They exchanged a concerned look before following, close on his heels. Rengoku-sensei was a very easygoing person, so long as you didn’t break his personal rules.

 

Rengoku-sensei rule number one: don’t be tardy.

 

“I think that’s everyone!” Their teacher exclaimed when they reached him. “30 kids! A good haul if I say so myself!” 

 

“But can you lift all of us?!? Can you?!?”



The crackling campfire noise grew. “Save your questions until the end, Hashibira!” The sole adult present reminded Inosuke; said kid turned away in a huff. “And take off the mask!”

“No!”

 

His own mask was burning a hole in his duffel bag, so Zenitsu sympathized. It didn’t help that Inosuke’s actually looked cool. 

 

Thankfully, Rengoku-sensei didn’t press the issue. “Now, listen carefully! It took me a while, but here are your partners in no particular order! Kanzaki Aoi and Tsuyuri Kanao!” 

 

The two girls looked happy with this decision, not that he was shocked. He remembered seeing what Aoi-chan wrote down when it was his turn. They’d probably end up looking for butterflies at some point.

 

“Hashibira Inosuke and Shinazugawa Genya!” 

 

Even though he couldn’t see Inosuke’s face, their shared confusion was clear. At least they accepted it a few seconds later, shrugging in unison. Wow… Zenitsu thought. Genya’s sound really syncs up with his friends well. What a strange boy.

 

He became so lost in thought that he missed the next five pairs. Only the mind’s weird ability to latch onto names spared him from missing the sixth.

 

“Agatsuma Zenitsu and Kamado Tanjirou!”



“Yay!” Murata and him cheered, excitedly embracing each other. 

 

… “Wait, what.”

 

Zenitsu whipped around to face a blissful redhead. “You?!?” 

 

“Me!!!” Tanjirou looked like he was containing a laugh. “This is great!”

 

Great?!? Blood rushed to his cheeks, flooding them with heat. He opened his mouth. Before anything came out, Murata swiftly tugged him away, dragging him to the other side of the platform.



“Before you try to say anything, shut up and think first.” His best friend shook him gently. “This is an opportunity! You have 3 days to get to know him better! I’m sure my partner will be easygoing, so I can totally help you out if you need it, okay?”

 

All the tension left his body. The tears did too. “Aw, thank-”



“Murata Daisuke and Sasaki Yushiro!” Rengoku-sensei bellowed.

Murata blanched; sweat began to form on his brow. “You’re on your own, Zenitsu. It was nice knowing you. Please tell my family I love them.” He said gravely.

 

“You’re not allowed to die! That’s my job!” Zenitsu hissed back, even though he had no idea how to fix their dilemma. The situation was officially dire! Not only was he with a person he couldn’t think straight around, but his friend was stuck with a boy who didn’t get along with anyone who so much as breathed near the school nurse. In less than a minute, their teacher had flung them into open water and left them to drown. 

 

“Are you both alright?” Tanjirou wandered over. “You smell distressed! Can I help?”

 

He wasn’t proud of using his best friend as a shield, but it had to be done! Trust him on that! “Don’t worry about us! We’re fine!” He assured him.

 

Tanjirou tilted his head, unbothered by the blatant lie. “Is it the roommate thing?”



“Roommate thing?!?” Zenitsu gaped at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? We’re rooming with our partners!” He raised the clunky camera with a smile. “Say cheese!”

This is it. This is the end. He thought to himself as the flash seared his eyeballs. Next to him, Murata shrieked, caught off guard. I’m absolutely going to burst a blood vessel.

 




“I can’t believe he forgot to tell you guys. That’s a huge oversight, don’t you think?” 

 

“Yeah.” Zenitsu muttered, uncomfortably aware of the amount of warmth radiating against his side. “It really is.”



By now, they were on the train. Murata had disappeared once Yushiro got a hold of him, sending pleading looks over his shoulder as he vanished. Kanao-chan and Aoi-chan were nowhere to be seen. They were firmly situated in the middle, right next to a cackling Inosuke and barely keeping his sanity Genya. Zenitsu regretted offering Tanjirou the window seat. Because of his graciousness, he had a perfect view of the chaos unfolding in front of his very eyes.

 

The boy next to him didn’t seem bothered at all. “I don’t snore.” He whispered conspiratorially. “You have nothing to worry about!”

 

The absurdity of the statement made him crack up without even processing the words completely. “My hero.” Zenitsu quipped. It wouldn’t be Tanjirou if he wasn’t saying something ridiculous.

 

“Oh! I’m honored!” Seriously. He. Took. It. Seriously.

 

“Don’t joke like that!” Zenitsu scolded him, deflecting. “You’re not funny! And put that camera down!”

 

“But you said it yourself! It’ll help us remember things!” 

 

“Yeah, like how stubborn you are!” Who was this persistent?!? Couldn’t he see that his heart was about to explode?!?

 

Tanjirou sighed. “It’s a shame… Rokuta would have loved to see the photo I want to take.”

 

Naturally, he knew what was going on. Using a baby brother against him? Him?!? Zenitsu was immune to that sort of trickery. Immune!

 

“Fine! But only for your family’s sake!” He caved. Guess not.

 

The teeth that were exposed as a result of his words glittered in the train’s lighting. “I knew Zenitsu was a kind person.” He said, without a care in the world for the effect it would have.

 

There ended up being a brilliant photo of him flushing on the camera roll.

 

Casual talk did not come easy to him by any means, but they managed before it ebbed into a comfortable silence. Zenitsu hugged his bag to his chest; he was lost in thought. 

 

Fact one: Kamado Tanjirou was a radiator in disguise.

 

Fact two: his voice alone relaxed his tired mind. Interacting with him always ended up being embarrassing, but it was nice nonetheless.

 

Fact three: he desperately wanted to sleep.

 

Instead of indulging in that urge, Zenitsu leaned back and closed his eyes. It’d just be for a moment. That’s all.

 

Just… a… moment…






 

“... itsu? Zenitsu?” Gentle fingers touched his face. “We’re here.”



Here? Where was here? He opened his eyes. “Ugh.”



“Yes, hello to you too! Did you sleep well?” Tanjirou chuckled. 

 

The words didn’t come.

 

At first, Zenitsu noticed that the angle was all off. Not only was the other boy too close, but they were gazing into each other’s eyes in a way that suggested their heads weren’t exactly level.

 

Then he noticed their position.

 

Zenitsu almost fell out of his seat with how fast he flung himself. “Sorry!” He half-screamed. “I didn’t mean to do that!”

 

“It’s alright!” Tanjirou patted his own shoulder. “You kept it warm for me! I’m happy you felt comfortable enough to get some rest!” 

 

He instantly looked away. There was a limit to how much eagerness he could take, and the redhead kept going over it by a lot. Unfortunately, there weren’t many other places to look.

 

Even more unfortunately, two pairs of eyes were looking back.

 

What Genya was doing could only be described as open gawking. Whenever Murata was doing math in his head, anyone could see the gears clicking in his head. Zenitsu was getting a live show to someone else going through the same thing. 

 

Their subsequent nonverbal argument went a little like this:

 

Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong!

 

I don’t think I am. 

 

It really isn’t what it looks like!

 

It looks like a crush. Isn’t it?

Well, yes, but you can’t tell! You can’t!

 

I wouldn’t, but I don’t think it’s me you need to worry about.

 

(However, this exchange was heavily paraphrased, so a lot of nuance was lost.)

 

Next to Genya, Inosuke - who had his mask turned to the side - was leering up a storm. Zenitsu regretted all of his life choices. His nose twinged with phantom pain.

 

Who cares about the mortifying ordeal of being known by a lover? I’m too busy with the mortifying ordeal of having Hashibira Inosuke think he’s my wingman! 

 

Fretting over another person figuring out his secret and rooming with a boy who didn’t snore but would keep him up at night either way took up so much of his mental facilities that Zenitsu ended up in front of their room without any idea how he got there. “Could you step aside?” Tanjirou asked gently. “I have the key.”



He let him pass, still worrying. How nice would the room be? Would he make his crush uncomfortable somehow? Did they have to share a bed?!?

 

“This is such a nice ryokan!” Tanjirou praised. “Look at how big the futons are! This reminds me of my childhood.”



As the other boy busied himself with snapping a picture, Zenitsu finally decided to act upon his curiosity. “What do you mean by that?” He probed.

 

Tact wasn’t a strong suit of his, but Tanjirou’s sound didn’t change to a annoyed version. That had to be a good sign. “We used to visit my grandmother in the summers before she passed. I’d get to sleep on futons like this!” He turned to gaze at him directly. “Which one would you like?”

“You can pick!” Zenitsu said quickly. “I don’t really mind.”



Tanjirou shook his head, vehement. “No, I insist! You should be comfortable! As the eldest, I-”



“Actually, I’m older than you.” 

 

“... What?”



“You’re 15, aren’t you? I’m 16. I’m older than you.” He explained, surprised by his own patience with the matter. “So you’re only the eldest for your siblings, not in this room.”

 

He had never seen the other boy look so confused before. “Are you really? ” 

 

“Is it that hard to believe?!? I knew it! My baby face ruins everything!” And there went his composure. “Or is it the maturity thing?!? It’s always that!!!”

 

“Ah, well-”



“I’m going to go shower!” He darted into the connected restroom, instantly grateful that they weren’t actually allowed to use the baths. That’d cause even more problems; he knew it already.

 

Zenitsu regretted his lack of sleep. His thoughts were starting to go all sluggish again, the mental equivalent of molasses. Plus, his current state of affairs only made it easier for his emotions to bubble to the surface. He needed to get a hold of himself again. He needed to be careful.

 

He needed to take a shower now, or Tanjirou was going to worry more.

 

By the time he emerged from his little cavern, the other boy was relaxed again. “Are you feeling better?” Even though he didn’t understand his outbursts, that odd fond note was playing again. 

 

Against his better judgment, and through the awkwardness of talking to someone while in pajamas, Zenitsu smiled. “Way better actually. Thank you.”

 

“I’ll go then now.” Tanjirou picked up his things. “You can sleep if you want! It really was an exhausting train ride.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I will.” He realized too late that Tanjirou still hadn’t picked out his futon. 

 

What a stubborn guy! Zenitsu fumed as he laid down. Selfless syndrome much?!? 

 

Water began to flow in the other room. Quickly, he pulled out his shamisen. Sure, Tanjirou seemed to already know that he played music, but he didn’t want to practice in front of him. This way, he couldn’t hear the notes.

 

He finished running through a song right when the shower shut off. Perfect! The instrument disappeared back into his bag like it never existed. 

 

A few minutes later, Tanjirou poked his head through the door. “Are you still awake, Zenitsu?” He whispered.

 

“Huh? Yeah, of course.” 

 

“I see. You can sleep if you want. You don’t need to wait for me to lie down too.”

 

The implications of that made him hide his face with the sheet. “It’s not like that!” He protested. “I’m just awake, okay?!?”

 

Tanjirou laughed a little, though it wasn’t unkind. “That’s fair.” He said. His voice sounded a little closer. “Will you sleep soon? If you want, we’ll get up early for breakfast.”

 

“That sounds good.” Zenitsu tentatively pulled his cover back down. 

 

Big mistake. 

 

“Your hair…” He breathed, unable to help himself. 

 

Tanjirou tugged at one of the stray locks. “Is there something wrong with it?”

 

“What? No! There’s nothing wrong with it at all!” He shot up, almost slamming into him. “I haven’t seen it down before!”

 

For starters, the unfairness didn’t seem to end. By this point, Zenitsu was convinced that Tanjirou could get his hair hacked off with a knife and still look good. But it was also startling to see what a difference the lack of a hair tie could make. He really wasn’t going to survive this trip, huh.

 

“I’m growing it out.” Tanjirou informed him as he shuffled over to the lamp and turned it off. “I hope it’ll look nice when it’s all done!”

 

He tried to picture it. Kamado Tanjirou, now with even longer hair. “I can’t believe guys like you. Of course it will! How could you ever doubt that?!?” His words came out as more of a stage whisper than anything else. 

 

The bedsheets of the other futon rustled in time with a gentle snort. “I’m very happy to hear it. I’m glad my wish came true.” 

 

With one final yawn, Tanjirou fell asleep. Zenitsu stayed awake for an hour more, hardly able to breathe. Wish? What wish?!? Wake up and explain! 

 

As if anyone but Murata would hope to work with him.

Chapter Text

Waking up in an unfamiliar place was one thing. Waking up with a heady aroma flooding your nostrils was another. Both at once made him feel very conflicted.

 

Tanjirou sat up in his futon and thought. He missed his family already, even though their first day in Kyoto had barely begun. Now how to rectify that? I’ll buy souvenirs with Zenitsu today. He decided. And then I’ll take plenty of pictures. While he wasn’t sure if any would turn out okay, it’d definitely help soothe his conscience. 

 

Once he got over that sensation of doing something wrong (for the time being, anyway), a new emotion settled in his chest. Here he was, with a new friend, in a new place. How could he not feel excited? There was so much they could do!

 

He tiptoed over to the bathroom, bringing his clothes with them. Finally, he’d be able to try out the new techniques he learned! The results of giving compliments had been… mixed, to say the least. Zenitsu didn’t have consistent reactions to them, which made it hard to know if they worked. Oh well! He’d put a pin in that for now; there were other tactics he could use that might work better for forging a better bond.

 

From what he recalled, the other boy relaxed once he made that bokken joke for a few minutes. Sure, he rebuked him right afterwards for being too disruptive for public transport, but that was progress! Tanjirou was getting somewhere! Today would just be another step in his quest to improve their relationship. He might have to crack several more jokes, but that was a small price to pay. 

 

Back home, he didn’t have too many opportunities to take his time getting ready. Being able to take his time combing through the knots in his hair helped calm his nerves. He counted his lucky stars that Zenitsu was still asleep; otherwise, he absolutely would have let him go first, and then there’d be breakfast to worry about. 

 

Speaking of breakfast… Tanjirou quickly put his hair up and exited the restroom, refreshed but very hungry. “Zenitsu.” He whispered. “It’s time to get up.”

 

The blond’s nose twitched in his sleep. “Mmrph.” He muttered lightly, but didn’t react in any other way. Just like that, his first attempt at waking up his roommate failed.

 

Tanjirou moved a little closer. “Don’t you want breakfast?” He coaxed, touching his exposed shoulder. “Let’s get ready to eat, okay?”

 

Zenitsu rolled a little more into his hand. He still didn’t smell awake, but the scent of peace was so strong and crisp that he ended up leaning down lower quite by accident. That became a big mistake.

 

“Come on, Zen-”

 

Amber eyes snapped open as the tip of a nose bumped into his. Tanjirou recoiled back a little, pressing a finger to his far more sensitive one. It hadn’t hurt or anything. It just felt… strange. That was the word - strange.

 

He smiled, apologetic, at the other boy. No thought was spared to the way he continued to hover over him or how it must have looked. “My bad. Are you ready to get up now?”

 

A sharp ozone smell flooded the room as Zenitsu opened his tiny mouth and screamed.

 


 

“I’m so sorry!” Tanjirou bowed. “What happened is my fault. Please don’t blame Zenitsu or Rengoku-sensei for the yelling.”

 

“It’s alright!” said the little tsubaki-scent girl, who introduced herself as Kiyo. “We thought someone got murdered, so it’s good that nothing like that happened here.”

 

“Still! Is there any way I could compensate you?!?”

 

Kiyo nodded, beaming. “I really like tips.” She hinted.

 

Without any warning, Zenitsu burst out of the restroom where he had taken refuge. “Don’t you dare!” He shrieked, though at a much lower volume than before. “The noise complaint is for me! Let me tip her!”

 

“No, no.” Tanjirou shook his head. “I made you scream, so it’s my responsibility.”

 

“Like I said, I’m the one who screamed, so clearly I have to pay!” Now he reeked of rotten fruit. 

 

“You can both tip me if you want!” She offered, free of shame. “That wouldn’t be bad.”

 

In the end, after being accused of being a tryhard, they ended up splitting the difference. That pleasant smell returned, even as Zenitsu grumbled about stubborn guys, or something like that. Tanjirou didn’t catch all of the words.

 

By the time they made it to where breakfast was served, he had snapped pictures of the ryokan with better lighting for his family. Whoever designed the place knew their architecture! A few shots included the blond, who still looked very disheveled. Rather than play along, he kept making ugly faces at the lens. 

 

Honestly, Tanjirou still wasn’t sure if Zenitsu’s claims of being 16 were actually true. It certainly made for an interesting collection though.

 

Much to their surprise, Rengoku-sensei was already there, happily slurping up his third bowl of noodles. Tanjirou stopped dead in his tracks. Who would have guessed that their teacher actually wore glasses? More importantly, who would ever believe him?

 

“Hey, kids! Have a nice day today, okay? I wish you the best!” He waved, extremely bright. 

 

Weird… ” Zenitsu whispered to him very, very conspicuously. That was an understatement; the event felt more surreal than most things he had seen before. It was probably the teacher-having-unexpected-depths thing. Yeah, that had to be it.

 

Once they sat down at a far away table, another young girl appeared with a clipboard under her arm. “Hi, I’m Naho! What would you like to eat?” Unlike Kiyo, his brain associated her with sakura blossoms. Like Kiyo, she looked like a nice child, all decked out in a tiny uniform.

 

“White rice and miso soup please!” Zenitsu chirped happily. He produced his first smile of the day, soft and wide. It struck him then that the other boy was alarmingly photogenic when he wasn’t feeling nervous or spiteful. Funny, how he never expected that.

 

“And you, sir?” 

 

The absurdity of a little girl calling him that almost made him laugh, but he contained himself. “Ah, do you have any oyakodon?” Tanjirou asked. 

 

“Mmhm! It’ll only take a few minutes!” Naho assured them before skipping off towards the kitchen. 

 

“You know,” Zenitsu said, still beaming, “she didn’t write anything down! That’s so cute, isn’t it?”

 

He felt his confusion build. “I thought you didn’t like kids much.” 

 

It wasn’t an accusation or anything, but the other boy flinched regardless. “What? No!!! They don’t like me! Plus, I’m hopeless around them. I just let them do what they want.” He looked miserable. “You know when you get to hold a baby and it’s like the most adorable thing in the world right before it poops on you? And then you can’t even get mad because it’s just a baby?” 

 

“Yes! My siblings have done that many times!” Now this was an example Tanjirou could relate to!

 

“Eugh. Well, not only does Murata’s baby cousin think my hair is food, but kids walk all over me! I absolutely shouldn’t be responsible for one.” He lamented. 

 

Tanjirou rested his chin on his hands. “I’m sure that’s not true! You’re fun!” He lightly disagreed. Already, even with the Great Scream Fiasco, he couldn’t help but cherish Zenitsu’s company. 

 

The blond in question didn’t look amused. “Tell that to Shouichi.” He countered, monotonous.

 

“Shouichi?” Tanjirou tried his best to digest the name, but it wasn’t clicking. “I don’t know anyone named Shouichi!” 

 

“He’s a new prodigy basically. Tragic backstory, sick older brother, endless amounts of gumption, blah blah blah.” Zenitsu waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. I tried to get him into Gramps’ class as my replacement. And you know what he did?!? Kid ended up whacking me in the shin with a bokken! He even called me a shameless coward! So what if I am?!? It still hurt, you know! But he’s super tiny, so. What can you do?” 

 

“I see…” From his end, this sounded like a recurring trend in Zenitsu’s life. A recurring, worrisome trend.

 

“Don’t sound like that. It’s fine.” Zenitsu frowned a little, judging his own reservations over the matter. “My point still stands! When it comes to them, I’m basically useless.”

 

The universe seemed to want to support his assertion. Naho returned with some plates, accompanied by another girl with a flowery smell. “Hi! I’m Sumi!” She introduced herself. “Here’s your meal!” The iris girl placed rice and soup in front of the blond.

 

He let out a blissful sigh. “Thank you!” cheered the boy.

 

“You’re welcome!” said Sumi.

 

Naho handed him his dish. “From all of us, enjoy!” They quickly excused themselves before scurrying off to the next group. 

 

What a sweet bunch! Tanjirou thought to himself, smiling at how they rushed about. I hope they keep up the hard work!

 

Zenitsu, on the other hand, was digging into his meal. “So good!” He praised. “This is the best I’ve had in ages!”

 

He strongly suspected that part of the appeal came from how cute the kids were, but he kept that idea to himself. If Zenitsu’s meal was anything like his oyakodon, it tasted delicious on its own merits.

 

Tanjirou wiped his mouth off with a napkin when he finished. “That really was great!” He looked over at the other boy, in the midst of agreeing with him.

 

His partner stared back. “You inhaled that. Are you good.” It wasn’t a question.

 

Out came the apologetic demeanor once more. “Yes, I’m fine! I’m used to eating breakfast in a rush since I help everyone get ready for school.” He admitted.

 

“We’re not at your house though. Slow down a little!” Zenitsu gestured at him with his chopsticks. “You’re fine!”

 

His angry expression didn’t betray his concern, but Tanjirou knew it was there, sure as anything. All he could do was smile sheepishly at the look. There was something to Zenitsu that often left him this way, realizing that not everyone viewed his actions in precisely the same manner.

 

If he really thought about it, that new perspective meant a lot to him.

 

“Where do you want to go?” The inquiry cut off his attempt to express those emotions. That was probably for the best, he mused. Who knew what he’d say? 

 

“I don’t know!” Tanjirou confessed. “I figured we could walk around for a little, maybe ask around. What do you think?”

 

“Well- Oh, it’s Kanao-chan!” Huh. That was new. Nezuko-chan made sense. Now that he got the history a little better, Aoi-chan fit too. But Kanao-chan? Where did that come from?

 

She blinked slowly, her personal version of being taken aback. “Hello, you two.” Kanao said at last. While it was hard to tell, she sounded pleased. “I overheard you talking. Can I make a suggestion?”

 

(That was Kanao for you. She never said things like ‘couldn’t help but overhear’ because she didn’t actually care about keeping up pretenses about her actions. She did overhear, and she did have thoughts on what you said. That was all there was to it. Tanjirou appreciated that about her.)

 

Fully aware that she had many good ideas, he leaned forward eagerly, ready to receive her wisdom. “Sure! What are you thinking?” 


“I feel it’d be a shame for you two to miss out on Okochi Sanso. Aoi and I aren’t going today, but I hear the gardens there are lovely.” Her gaze was heavier than usual. The significance of that look, if there was any, escaped him. “All you have to do is take the train from here.”

 

Zenitsu’s delight overcame him before the other boy even tried to speak. Then, right away, Tanjirou knew there wasn’t an actual choice at all. 

 


 

Snap.

 

“How does it look?” Zenitsu pushed his way into his personal bubble, squinting at the preview screen. “Oh, that’s ugly. Delete that.”

“It’s not.” Tanjirou huffed softly. He had been saying that for the past ten minutes. Taking the same exact shot over and over again was duller than he thought it would be.

 

“I’m serious! Look, I’ll try standing over here. Maybe that’ll help!” He made a weak grab towards the camera; it was child’s play to fend him off. His discontent at that wafted through the still air.

 

It only occurred to him then, but perhaps the real problem ran deeper than some poor lighting. This is getting too deep for a field trip. “You don’t need to. There’s nothing wrong with the picture! Personally, I think the scenery suits you!” He gushed.

 

The sound that escaped Zenitsu was both guttural and inhuman. “... Ignore that. That’s a reflex.” 

 

Tanjirou flashed a quick grin at the blushing boy. “Sure thing!” Having said his piece, they started off down the path again. As a sentimental person, he truly believed that there was no place like home - one of his dreams was to live and die in his neighborhood - but he could see why people wished for more. You could lose yourself in a landscape like this. You could find yourself in a landscape like this.

 

Truth be told, he wasn’t doing much of either. As fun as it’d be to talk about how a classmate made a good muse, deep down, it didn’t feel like a good essay topic. So far, he was still the same person: a Kamado armed with a camera, a forehead, and a nose.

 

“Are you feeling better from this morning?” He aimed at some of the trees, zooming in on their lush foliage. 

 

Zenitsu groaned. “You keep asking that. Some years may have been shaved off my life, but I’m still alive, aren’t I?” 

 

Snap. Another nice picture for the album. “That’s true.” He conceded, reluctant. “I really didn’t mean to bother you though.”



No one replied.

 

Tanjirou turned, instantly concerned. “Zenitsu?” He called. “Where are you?” Nothing. He had vanished, just like that. 

 

Without the help of a breeze, picking out a fresher hint of peach proved to be impossible. It lingered all around him, mingling with the rest of the garden’s natural aromas. He strained his brain for an answer. What could have happened to him? 

 

A rustle was the only warning he got before Zenitsu crashed into his side. “Boo!”

 

(He wasn’t proud of it, but he screamed louder than the blond had.)

 

“See? Now we’re even.” His partner told him, unable to keep the smugness from his face.

 

Tanjirou glanced him over skeptically. “And you’re sure you’re 16.” He pushed. 

 

“Stop looking at me like that!!! All you people are the same! Yes, I’m older than you!” Somehow, dirt had gotten smeared all over his face. The sight caused a funny taste in his mouth. “Are you done feeling sorry for yourself? Can we see the tea house now?”

“Hold still…” One quick lick of his thumb later, he felt equipped to wipe the dirt off; Mother often did the same for Shigeru. “There! Better! We can go now.”

After Zenitsu’s knees temporarily stopped working, Tanjirou ended up having to carry him there. He sympathized with the workers. He really did. Never in his life would he have thought of himself as a future odd tourist, but here he was, lugging his muse around.

 

(Three more photos were taken as payment for the piggyback ride. That was the compromise between them.)

 




Neither boy would admit this, but they got lost soon after leaving the villa behind. Finding the souvenir shop was a stroke of luck if Tanjirou did say so himself.

 

“While we’re here, we might as well browse.” Zenitsu told him an hour ago. One hour later, they were still carefully looking through the wares, weighing the pros and cons of each purchase and counting out the right amount of yen. He was half-convinced that the store owner would kick them out eventually. A less patient one would have half an hour ago.

 

Nezuko liked to read about liminal spaces - abandoned malls, library basements, churches in the middle of foreign countryside. If only someone could give him the words! He’d tell her that the right store could be one, but that you had to be with the right person at the right time. Flicking through postcards with a peculiar boy was absurd, but he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Seeing Kyoto wouldn’t be the same without moments like these, he decided. This trip wouldn’t have quite the same spark to it.

 

But that didn’t make for a good essay either.

 

In the end, Tanjirou settled on a Gloomy Bear keychain for Nezuko, Okochi Sanso postcard for Hanako, gentle perfume for Mother, two decks of cards for Takeo and Shigeru to squabble about, and a pretty snow globe for Rokuta. He didn’t have enough for Father this time, but he didn’t think he would mind. There was only so much yen to go around.

 

“We should go eat! I’m hungry.” Zenitsu suggested once he finished counting out the change. “I saw a little stall a little ways back.”

 

“Oh, me too. Thank you so much, ma’am!” He gingerly cradled the bag under his arm as they left.

 

Tanjirou only registered that Zenitsu never bought anything once they were scarfing down their meal on the bench. 

 

Gently, he nudged his shoulder. “Hey. Do you want to go back later and look some more?”

 

“No, it’s alright.” The blond shrugged him off, a rueful smile on his lips. “Somewhere else will have what I’m looking for.”

 

What could he say to a statement like that? ‘I’ll go with you then’? It didn’t seem like it’d ever amount to being enough. Think, Tanjirou, think. Nothing came to mind.

 

Speechless, he resorted to gnawing on another strip of seaweed, heavily infused with fish taste. Next to him, Zenitsu kept licking up stray bits of rice from the corners of his mouth. It was an undeniably human moment, establishing the other boy as an endearing hypocrite. He rushed his lunches, just like how Tanjirou rushed his breakfasts. All they needed was someone who rushed their dinners, and they’d be all set.

 

He ended up leaning back into his friend’s orbit, a smile dancing on his lips. “Do you want my rice ball? My treat.” Tanjirou offered. What exactly, he wondered, would he do?

 

“Eh? We’ll split it.” With ease, Zenitsu tugged it apart, handing him back half.

 

Deja vu hit him like a train. 

 

Tanjirou ate his share in silence, pondering the feeling. Once again, it was strange… but not bad. He liked their strange, loud friendship. That itch for more clarity only spurred him on. Getting to know him better brought more questions, ones he could see himself exploring for ages. It wasn’t something he could put into words either, exactly. He’d wait forever to get to know the right people.


Pure happiness drifted through the air, another benefit to an already good day. I hope Zenitsu hears something nice from me too. He thought, and swallowed the rest whole.

Chapter Text

Ah, there’s that smell again. Tanjirou stared up at the ceiling. A person could get used to waking up like this.

 

All night, he had found himself falling in and out of dreams. They didn’t make much sense on their own, and neither were they connected. Hunting down rogue aliens had nothing to do with living in a home underneath the sea. Only two things bound them all together.

 

One: no matter what, even with a constantly rotating cast of characters, Zenitsu was always there.

 

And two: whenever he caught a glimpse of his own reflection, it’d begin to scream.

 

Getting a whiff of the pleasant aroma lingering in the air calmed him enough to return to sleep, but he accidentally entered a vicious cycle. Wake up, fall asleep, dream, scream. Wake up, fall asleep, dream, scream. 

 

If I look in the mirror now and my reflection screams, what will I do? I don’t want to wake up again.

 

Tanjirou rubbed at his eyes. It’d be too much of a hassle to go back to sleep now; even though Rengoku-sensei was allowing them to sleep in today, he still wanted to eat. 

 

Feet gently touched tatami flooring. If he moved carefully, Zenitsu wouldn’t be roused. After yesterday, he felt the boy had earned some extra rest. Sure enough, as he gave the other futon a wide berth, there was no adverse reaction.

 

He paused there, a hand resting on the bathroom’s doorknob. Zenitsu really does have a sweet face… He marveled. How could anyone think otherwise? It didn’t make sense.

 

Sometimes, blood rushed through his veins for reasons he didn’t fully understand. The mirror showed that, and nothing more.

 

Back to reality it is.

 




“Oyakodon again, sir?” Sakura girl - no, Naho - asked politely. 

 

“Yes, please!” He nodded, beaming at her welcoming demeanor. “Are you well?”

 

Her momentary freeze was obvious. “Yes! Do I not look well?” She fretted. 

 

Tanjirou shook his head, almost making himself dizzy with the motion. “No, you look fine! I wanted to ask, is all.”

 

Happiness paired with a genuine smile - those were the benefits reaped by his question. “That’s nice of you, sir. I hope you’re okay too! Is your friend not coming down?”

 

“I am, thank you! Between you and me, I let him sleep.” He pretended to whisper to her. “Dinner tired him out a lot.”

 

“Your group is a rowdy bunch. But I think it’s fun! We’re getting a lot of business, so thank you.” Naho bowed. “We’ll bring your food right out, sir!”

 

She darted off before he could say anything else, like words that’d express his love for the ryokan. It’s no big deal! I can wait! Tanjirou drummed his fingers on the table. There’s enough time in the world to go around!

 

Strangely enough, Kiyo returned with his meal. Maybe they switched roles? “Hello again! Here you are!” She placed the dish before him. “Enjoy!”

 

“Thank you very much!”

 

Somehow, the oyakodon tasted even better than it had the day before. My compliments to the chef! Tanjirou thought, completely satisfied. This is really-

 

“Tasty! Tasty! Tasty!” A loud and unmistakable voice chanted. “Tasty! Tasty! Tasty!”

 

Tanjirou perked up. “Good morning, Rengoku-sensei!” He waved.

 

“Morning! Come over here and sit by me, Kamado!” Today, he was missing his glasses. “You shouldn’t be alone on a lovely day like this!”

 

“Oh, alright!” He carried the rest of his meal with him. “How are you today?”

 

“I’m living my life splendidly here in Kyoto! I’ve never been better!” Rengoku-sensei crowed. 

 

“That’s incredible!” Tanjirou praised. In his eyes, the fiery history buff in front of him had all the qualities of both an amazing teacher and person!

 

Said man let loose a deep chuckle, something he was known for. “Enough about me! How’s the trip treating you, Kamado? Picked your essay topic yet?” His smile glowed. He suddenly felt very subpar in the face of his expectations. 

 

“... I haven’t.” He admitted. “I can’t seem to figure out anything new about myself. Is that bad?”

 

Rengoku-sensei pursed his lips. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, Kamado. This assignment’s not meant to stress you guys out by any means! You can write about anything. I can’t really dictate what sort of things you might bring away from a trip like this.” 

 

Tanjirou stared at his serious expression; it rarely ever made an appearance, and he wanted to memorize the look. “Have you learned something so far, Rengoku-sensei?” He asked earnestly. Maybe he could get some ideas!

 

“Of course!” His teacher lit up again. “I’m discovering that I love the food here more than I thought I would!”

 

Classic Rengoku-sensei… 

 

“In all seriousness though,” he continued, “do you want to know why I pushed so hard for a trip like this?”

 

“Yes! Why?” Tanjirou probed. “Kyoto’s very pretty, but why come in the first place?”

 

The man pumped his fist. “Alright! It’s time for a Rengoku story!”

 

“When I was your age, my pops let me go on a class trip to Osaka. Now, because I wasn’t the most popular of students, I didn’t have anyone to work with. This other guy got stuck with me; I don’t think our teacher quite knew what to do with us, so there we were.”

 

“We ended up going to Taiyuji Temple our first day. Have you ever been? No? Well, it’s a great one! Did you know it was founded in 821? Now you know! While we were there, my partner told me something that shocked me to my core. He looked at me and said that he wished he had never been born.”

 

“Humanity, according to him, had to live out fleeting existences against their wills. If he hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have to worry about ‘shriveling up in the end’. I couldn’t understand him at all, so I ended up writing my very own essay on how nice it must be to get to grow old. Without that trip, we never would have talked. I might not have ever learned something so important about how I want my life to go! Do you see my point now?”

 

Tension gripped his heart. “I do, Rengoku-sensei, but…” Here, he hesitated. “What happened to your friend?”

 

“Last I heard, he’s living here now! I don’t know if we’ll end up seeing each other, but the possibility’s a nice one, isn’t it?” His teacher beamed. “So don’t worry about him. And don’t worry about your essay either! You’re a passionate kid! I’m sure you’ll think of something good.”

 

As quickly as it came, all the worry left his body. “I’ll do my very best!” Tanjirou declared. A life-changing event! I want that too!

 

“Very good!” Rengoku-sensei shouted. “That’s what I like to hear! Farewell, Kamado!”

 

“Eh? Oh, goodbye!” And, like that, the two of them parted ways.

 



(When no one was looking, he pinched himself as a test, just to make sure his mind wasn’t up to its old tricks again.)




Passing the time while Zenitsu rested went a little something like this.

 

Stressed over the prospect of not documenting his experience properly for his family, Tanjirou busied himself with taking shots he missed the first few times. The way he saw things, if he captured enough of the moments, it’d help make up for his absence.

 

Snap. Snap. Snap.

 

I knew it! This ryokan is… very pretty! He thought, immensely pleased by his haul. All that’s left is the baths! 

 

By no means was this an onsen, but the creator’s attention to detail struck again with a vengeance. Bamboo ringed the pool, adding a natural pop of color to the entire scene. Luckily, only Genya was there, so taking some snapshots wouldn’t be amiss.

 

Wait.

 

“Genya? What are you doing here?” 

 

His friend jerked, sweat instantly gathering on his brow. “Shh! Can’t you see I’m hiding?!?” He hissed. The smell of cinnamon intensified, becoming more pungent with those harshly spoken words.

 

“... By sitting by the bath?” Tanjirou took a step forward. “Who are you hiding from?”

 

“Inosuke! Who else?!?” Genya threw up his hands. “I’m not having a bad time, don’t get me wrong, but do you know how fucking embarassing it is to get scolded over your field trip partner charging some fancy lady’s dog at the park? And he wants to go back! They’re going to know who he is right away because of that damn mask you gave him!” 

 

He began to sweat too, unable to soothe his nerves. “Uh, my bad…?”



Genya scoffed loudly. “It’s fine. I’m not blaming you or anything, so chill out. We already got banned from Daisangen on our own, but no big! I’ll just never show my face around these parts again.”

 

Providing physical comfort for the boy before him was always hit or miss, but rubbing his arm didn’t elicit a negative response this time. “Do you want to eat lunch with me then?”

 

“Nah. The piggy wants to try Arashiyama Sakura. It’s totally gonna drain all of my pocket change. Besides, you wouldn’t want the others to feel left out. You’re weird like that.” Dismay and fondness made for a strange combination, but Shinazugawa Genya was a strange person. 

 

Tanjirou loved his friends very much.

 

“Have fun then! Say cheese!” He slowly raised the camera, giving him a chance to back out. The resulting shot - a close friend, all flustered and surrounded by life - quickly became one of his all-time favorites.

 




“Oh, you want lunch? Okay! We have a lot of different stuff that we serve, but we also have our breakfast and dinner items for sale!” Sumi babbled. “Name it and we probably make it!”



“I’d like kake udon please! Before you go, I do have a few questions if you don’t mind!” Tanjirou rushed his words too, trying his best to cut her off before she fled. 


She quivered in place; the strain to keep herself still was extremely clear to the naked eye. “That’s fine! Uh, sir!” Watching her correct herself without immediately giving her a hug went against all of his big brother instincts, but he held firm.

 

“Can we bring food up to our rooms? My roommate hasn’t eaten all day. I’m starting to get a little worried!” Sure, after the cycle of nightmares, Tanjirou only got to breakfast around 11, but it was going on 5. 

 

“That’s also fine, sir!”

 

“And can I order, er, white rice and miso soup for him?” 

 

“Yup! That’s even more fine, sir!”

 

He beamed at her, relieved. “Thank you for your hard work! I appreciate it!”

 

Sumi bowed. “It’ll be out in a jiffy!” As she scurried off, he considered the dedication of the middle schoolers here. It reminded him of his own commitment back then.

 

What a pleasant group! He thought while sitting there. What a pleasant group! He thought when their meals arrived. What a pleasant group of kids! 

 

Tanjirou happily scarfed down the kake udon, speeding through it like always. Once again, a delicious meal was cooked! Even Zenitsu’s pick looked tastier than the day before! If he were anyone else, he would have tried to sample a piece without him noticing, but he still had some scruples where the blond was concerned. 

 

“TANJIROU!!!”

 

And there he was!

 

“Zenitsu! Did you sleep well?” At first glance, his friend appeared to be more polished than the day before. 

 

“Are you serious right now? There’s more important things than that crap!!! Why didn’t you wake me up?!?” The other boy actually howled, sounding exactly like some wounded animal on the side of the road. “I know we can stay out late tonight, but that’s no excuse! What were you even doing all day?!? You don’t have to be bored on my behalf!”

Tanjirou flinched away from his intense expression for a moment before catching himself. Zenitsu’s not scary. He’s just high energy! He silently reminded himself. “I wasn’t bored! I had a very nice chat with Rengoku-sensei and Genya this morning!”



Zenitsu visibly faltered. “Were you secretly asking for a transfer in partners? I’m not that annoying, right?!? At l-least let me get Murata!” 

 

“No! I was asking about the essay.” He didn’t delve into that further; exposing Rengoku-sensei’s past wasn’t one of his goals. “I got you food too! I wouldn’t do that if I wanted to switch.”

 

“You still might!” Zenitsu countered. “You’re too nice for your own good!” He slammed himself into the seat across from him. “Jeez… You don’t have to go around remembering what I like to eat for breakfast… Waaaa!”   

 

“?!? Don’t cry!!!” 




Persuading Zenitsu to stop sobbing into his soup did not work out very well. His lung capacity was unnaturally developed; furthermore, mentioning that they were disturbing other patrons only made the tears fall harder than before. He only calmed down when Tanjirou made a truly heinous face from overexertion, dissolving into a fit of light laughter instead.

 

If only everything else could be that simple.

 

“I almost forgot!” The blond cooed, staring off into the distance. “I really want to see Tenryuji Temple! What time is it?”

 

“5 o clock!” Tanjirou announced.

 

“5?!? It closes in half an hour!” Zenitsu sprang upwards, suffocating panic flooding the air. “Come on! We need to go!” Delicate hands pushed at his body. “PLEASE MOVE RIGHT NOW!”

 

He had no clue what the fuss was about, but his distress assaulted two senses at once. No matter what he said, Tanjirou had a responsibility to his friends! Support them! Honor their passions by pursuing his one! Ensure their happiness whenever possible!

 

And so, he told himself, that’s why you can’t go around sniffing the air, even though he’s clinging to you. That’s not being supportive.

 

Current situation: taking the bus to a high profile temple before it closes. This would be perfectly fine, were it not for the shivering ball of peaches he had to comfort.



“If anyone looks at us funny, please do something! I’m a fragile person! I’ll faint right here and now!” Zenitsu kept whispering these pleas in a loop.

 

“Don’t mind me saying this,” Tanjirou stared down at how white his knuckles looked, “but you don’t like the bus, do you?”

Even the way he gawked was more exaggerated than the normal person, not that this counted as a flaw. “Who does?!? The train’s superior!” A small finger jabbed his cheek. “Keep me in your thoughts! I think I’m seeing a bridge!”

 

At a loss, he resorted to petting the other boy’s hair. “You don’t. Our stop’s coming up soon, so please relax!”

 

The blond practically melted into his side. Truth be told, he counted that as a success.

 

But the temple endeavor? Now that was a failure.

 

“I’m sorry! It’s my fault for not waking you earlier.” It felt right to apologize, especially when Zenitsu smelled so defeated.

 

Unexpectedly, his friend shook his head. “Don’t blame yourself. I could have set an alarm or something if I was really serious about this.” He sighed. “Really, I’m only disappointed ‘cause I’ve always wanted to go to one of these.”

This struck him as an odd turn of phrase. “You haven’t before?”

 

“Nah! Never had the free time.” He smiled mournfully at the gates. “It’s silly to care so much about it, I know.”

 

“It’s not!” Tanjirou blurted out, unable to stop himself. “Having dreams to reach toward is a good thing! Do you want to come here tomorrow?”

 

“No way!” Zenitsu bellowed. “Taking the bus two days in a row?!? Forget it!”

 

“Then, one day, you can come with my family and I to Gokokuji if you want! None of us would mind, I promise!” Yeah, that would be nice. The mere thought of it brought a smile to his face.

 

He caught himself before he became dazed from the sudden rush of surprise and pleasure. “Don’t pull my leg, got that?!? That’s very cruel!” 

 

Tanjirou reached forward and took a much softer hand between his own. “I wouldn’t lie about this! It’d be great if you could come along with us! Mother would love to have you!” He said with all the sincerity in his heart. “So please think about it!”

 

Zenitsu pulled away, cradling his hand to his chest. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t sting a little. “I-I’m not saying no! When I get home, I’ll ask Gramps, okay? Stop looking at me like that!!!” 

 

The more he thought about it, the more he realized this was his new normal. Murata doesn’t know how good he’s got it… Tanjirou thought to himself as he handed off the camera. Is he hiding some technique? I don’t get it at all.

 

“Smile!”

 

Snap.

 

“How is it?” He headed back over to Zenitsu’s side. “Did it come out okay?”



“Yes, yes, like all the others you had me take for you. Have you ever made an ugly face on film?” Amber eyes narrowed at him in faux irritation. 

 

“Yes!”

 

“I don’t believe you! I won’t in a million years!” 

 

Yes, this was his new normal, but Tanjirou enjoyed it very much.

 


Three souvenir shops later, and they were walking again. It hurt him to watch. Zenitsu obviously cared deeply about picking out gifts, even though he also kept insisting that at least one of the recipients wouldn’t care. Tanjirou could guess who that was with ease.

 

Less than 24 hours, and he was touching his hair again. They were more stringy than anything else, but he still found it pleasant to the touch. “You might have better luck tomorrow! We can spend the whole day looking if we have to.” He reassured him. 

 

“Uh huh.” Zenitsu croaked. “That… It means a lot.”

 

“No pro-” 

 

Like they were trying to interrupt, their stomachs growled in unison.

 

“Hey! I think I hear some haggling! There has to be a market nearby! Let’s try looking for snacks there!” The blond said, almost too quickly, before marching off down the sidewalk.

 

“Sounds good to me!” He agreed. Tanjirou fiddled with his ponytail as they walked. Something was itching at his brain, making it impossible to fully focus on Zenitsu’s mostly nonsensical stream of words. I’m forgetting something. But what? What is it?

 

“- And that’s why I’ll pay for our dango! Stay right here!” Oh, so he missed something after all.

 

Well, no matter. “Only if it’s no trouble for you, Zenitsu!” 

 

“It’s not! I insist! Don’t argue with me on this!” The other boy pouted. “You’re not the only person who can treat people to things in this world! I’m decent enough too!!!”

 

He ran off to the stall in question before Tanjirou could finish forming a reply. As he said, there was a thriving night market here. One girl kept fussing over her little brother’s broken toy, just like how Nezuko would.

 

“Oh!” Tanjirou exclaimed quietly to himself. “That’s what it is! I forgot to call Nezuko!”

 

He fished out his phone, typing her number in with lightning speed. Pick up please!

 

It only rang twice before he heard the click. “Tanjirou? Is suh-something wrong? It’s l-l-late.”

 

“No, nothing’s wrong! I wanted to make sure you all are doing okay! Did sales go smoothly today? Is Rokuta sleeping soundly? Was-”



“T-Tanjirou.” Nezuko interrupted. “Stop it. We’re fine! F-Focus on other things!”

 

Even through the phone, her intense pressure made him shudder. “... Okay, Nezuko.” He said meekly. 

 

She snorted. “Buh bye, nii-chan.” Before he could reply, she hung up on him. Nezuko really was growing up fast.

 

Huh. Focus on other things? Like… the trip? Tanjirou ran over his beloved sister’s words. But what if I want to think about them? Is that wrong? What else is there to focus on? The essay? There’s still a day left to learn something, so probably not that. Focus, focus…

 

It was nighttime. A cool breeze caressed his skin. The full moon hung high in the sky, illuminating the city below with the help of their lights. There he stood, in the middle of a beautiful scene, and he hadn’t even thought to take a single photo!

 

Tanjirou lifted the camera to his eye and peeked through. Candids were still popular, right?

 

And then Zenitsu laughed.

 

He didn’t know what caused it. Obviously, the stall owner was responsible, but what quip he used to pull it out of the blond remained a mystery until the end of time. It could have been the most inconsequential statement in the world. Tanjirou didn’t care about all of that.

 

What he cared about was the way his heart dipped and rose at the way he looked underneath the artificial glow.

 

Oh, I like him. It’s happening again. His camera slipped from his hands; only the saving grace of it being around his neck saved it from a terrible fate. That’s what all this was. Mentally, Tanjirou placed the final piece of the puzzle down where it belonged. The world looked exactly the same, but he wasn’t. And he was 100 percent okay with that.

 

“Here!” Zenitsu ran back to his side, eyes sparkling. “I got this for you! Eat up!”

 

Their fingers brushed as his muse - how did he not notice before, holy cow - passed the stick over. “Thanks.” Tanjirou told him, not trusting himself to say anything else.

 

“Is something wrong? You sound… off. Are you okay?!? Don’t get sick on me! My heart wouldn’t be able to take it!” His concern burned. How on earth did he stand this before?

 

“I’m alright! There’s nothing wrong with me.” And that was the truth. There wasn’t. “Just realized something big, that’s all.” Something that could be life-changing if I let it.

 

This time, the finger poked his nose, squishing it almost flat. “You shouldn’t think so hard on an empty stomach! Come on! Tell me if it’s good or not!”

 

Sweet soy sauce exploded across his taste buds. “It’s very good!” He replied happily. “Try your own!” 

 

As he watched his newfound valued person eat, as he inhaled peach, and as he let sugar invade every inch of his mouth, Tanjirou wondered if his father would be proud of him.

Chapter Text

“White rice and miso soup again, sir?” Naho, bless her little heart, waited for an answer patiently.

 

“Actually, could I try your oyakodon? I want to see what the fuss is all about.” Zenitsu shot a pointed look at the boy across from him, who didn’t even have the shame to look contrite. Repent! Repent for your speedy meal eating crimes!

 

Instead of repenting, Tanjirou only looked more excited. “Oh, are we trying each other’s dishes? I’ll have white rice and miso soup then!” 

 

That’s not what we’re doing!!! I’m making a point! A POINT, TANJIROU!!!

 

(Yelling in his head was surprisingly therapeutic. He recommended it, actually.)

 

If he thought hard, she sounded a lot like Aoi-chan when she was happy. In fact, all of the girls there did. There was no mistaking the gentle flap of butterfly wings. Naho couldn’t seem to stop giggling in her heart. “Okay! I’ll go tell the chef.”

 

She left, taking his last functional brain cell with her. The rest were all consumed with worries, ranging from complex to inconsequential. Could he find a good souvenir in time for his family that would be mocked in the regular amount and not excessively? Was Murata actually dead, thus explaining his lack of replies to his text messages? Would Rengoku-sensei kill him for playing the shamisen by the baths at midnight and then proceeding to creep through the hallways while still wearing his fox mask to get back to his room before anyone noticed? All of these bothered him, but none stressed him out more than his newest realization.

 

Tanjirou had a secret, and it wasn’t any of his business, so he really couldn’t satisfy his curiosity properly without feeling like a total asshole. All he knew was that there was nothing wrong, and that the secret was a big one. 

 

He had to be honest. Zenitsu felt a little jealous of the other boy. Here Tanjirou was, figuring out earth-shattering information in the span of a few minutes, and all he kept doing was thinking in big loops, like right now. 

 

A little sigh escaped him. If Murata would just answer his phone, most of his dilemmas would be solved already! All his best friend had to do was tackle every problem with a relentless amount of practicality, and they suddenly felt easy to conquer. Instead, he was overthinking things. Again! Why was life so cruel?!?

 

“- alright?”

 

“Eh?” He had been so caught up in the despair of not being able to consult someone else that he blocked out all the noise around him. “What did you say? Sorry.”

 

Tanjirou’s brow furrowed. “I was asking if you’re alright. You look distressed! Is something wrong?” 

 

Ah, shit. Can I stall?!? I totally need to stall. “Uhhh… Not really? I’m just thinking about-” Zenitsu cast about for something, anything, to say that wouldn’t ping the liar radar.

 

“ZENITSU! TANJIROU!” 

 

They both jumped. “Murata?!?” He gasped. “Where have you been?”

 

The world’s most normal boy flung himself onto Zenitsu, almost sending them both crashing to the ground. “Can I stay with you guys today? I’m so tired.” 

 

Trying to heave him off proved to be impossible; he clung too tightly to his neck to be pushed. “Please.” Zenitsu groused, resigning himself to the fate of supporting his best friend on his lap. “Tell us your woes, oh humble one.”

 

“I will.” He said this with the passion of the near dead. “Did you know Yushiro calls our school nurse Lady Tamayo? And she just lets him? He keeps going on about her, and then gets mad when I comment. We didn’t even leave yesterday. I had to eat in my room because someone thinks I don’t appreciate our lord and savior enough, who is, again, our school nurse. Like… I barely ever talk to her. Our nurse, guys.” 

 

Murata shook Zenitsu lightly. “You have to help me! I want to go out and feel the sun! Please be my shield today!”

 

“You know what might help?” Tanjirou spoke so brightly that he instantly knew the idea being proposed would be great in theory and a nightmare in practice. “What if our entire group hangs out today? Kanao keeps asking about it!”

 

“I’ll take my chances with Yushiro.” Murata deadpanned, forever the rational one. “Thanks for trying.”

 

“No, no, I’m serious! Don’t you guys think that’d be fun?”

 

Zenitsu thought it over for a single second. “That’s not the word I’d use.” He could see the three of them keeping Yushiro’s wrath at bay, but with the others? Genya might snap by then, and he wouldn’t be able to blame him for it. “Actually, that’s a scary thought! Sorry, but I don’t think we can help you.”

 

“Eh, I’ll survive. Hopefully.” His haunted expression could reduce a lesser man to tears. Instead of giving in to his base urges, Zenitsu gave him an awkward, loose hug. Murata, being at a better angle, returned it.

 

All awkward hugs came to an end eventually, and this one was no different. However, in his experience, they usually stopped when one person had enough and started on the ‘I am going to let go now, and if you stop me from doing that, I’ll remember it until the day I die’ pats. That wasn’t what happened.

 

“WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS?!?” Murata shrieked from his new position in the air.

 

“It’s a pig assault!” Inosuke yelled, back to treating the poor boy as his personal ragdoll. Behind him, Genya was happily pretending that none of them existed. Zenitsu envied him so hard.

 

“The only assault here is going to be what happens when you let me do-”

 

Sumi coughed. “Um. Do you guys want food too?” Behind her, Kiyo held a soup bowl, making the exact face Gramps made once when he walked in on Kaigaku drinking milk straight from a cereal bowl no one ever used. It was the ‘I will never unsee this, and I’m not sure how to feel about that’ face, and he copied it deep down.

 

He could tell already that today was going to be hard to get through.

 




Picture 8 teens, some arguing, some contemplating their poor lifestyle choices, in the middle of a sidewalk. That was Zenitsu’s new reality.

 

Breakfast had been a fiasco. According to Tanjirou, Kanao-chan materialized whenever Inosuke caused a big enough commotion, sooner or later. This led to her proposing a group outing directly. Naturally, Murata caved. After a truly horrendous moment where Yushiro nearly bit their - as in himself and his best friend- heads off, the worst field trip group in the history of the world was formed.

 

So far, they had taken the bus, posed for terrible group photos, and window shopped because no one had enough money to actually buy clothes. His sanity? Gone. His composure? Out the window. His appetite? Ruined. 

 

Unfortunately, that was not the case for everyone there. 

 

“We are not going to McDonald’s, and that’s final.” Aoi-chan kept rubbing her temples, no doubt trying to stave off an oncoming migraine. “What would we even eat there? What’s the point?”

 

“A Happy Meal!” Tanjirou and Inosuke exclaimed at the same time.

 

“Jinx! Gimme your wallet!”

 

“No!”

 

Genya separated the two, but he didn’t look happy about it, not one bit. “Are you guys trying to kill me?” He said without a trace of irony.

 

Yushiro squinted at him. “Don’t you eat raw meat or something?” He asked, skeptical. 

 

“That’s not at all the same thing as eating pink slime, asshole.” 

 

Kanao-chan rubbed her chin. “Didn’t they stop using that?”

 

“Who cares?!?” Inosuke snapped. “I want the toy!”

 

The sound of acceptance grew. “Yeah, me t-” Tanjirou began.

 

The resident wild child wiggled his fingers around. “Most of them are ‘choking hazards’, but none have beat me so far!” 

 

“... Why would you do that?” Zenitsu felt Murata’s fingers dig into his arm a little more. He couldn’t blame him. Almost everyone began to gawk. 

 

Inosuke’s triumphant expression did not suit his looks at all. “I have to test my abilities!” He cackled.

 

Even Tanjirou looked disturbed. “When did you last go to the doctor, Inosuke?”

 

“The doctor? Never!” He tugged his mask back around to cover his face, startling more passerby. “You guys have yen?

 

For the first time in literal hours, Yushiro’s rage switched to another target. “Oh. My. G- ” 

 

“We’re not going to McDonald’s!” They all fell silent. “We’ll find a nice, family-owned restaurant and I’ll order what you guys want to go. Ugh!” She marched off, plowing through the crowd of perplexed onlookers. The rest of the group followed on her heels, leaving the two of them alone.

 

Zenitsu looked at Murata, who stared back with a frozen look of bewilderment. “You know, I think Kanzaki-san snapped.” He said at last.

 

“Should we make a break for it? I don’t want to get hit by Aoi-chan again.” Her hands were small, but they hurt! He was pretty much an expert on it by now!

 

“Hmm…” Murata pursed his lips. “I think-”

 

Tanjirou turned around. “Are you guys coming?” He beamed. “We don’t want to lose anyone!”

 

Wasn’t he in the middle a second ago? Zenitsu wracked his brain. Does it even matter? If reality is based on perception, then-

 

His best friend tugged him along. “Have your bi existential crisis another time, dude.” He huffed. “I’m hungry.”

 

“I do not have those!” He elbowed his laughing companion. “Stop calling them that!”

“Have what?” Tanjirou asked. The thing about said boy’s curiosity, Zenitsu reflected, was that indulging it, no matter the subject, felt like a natural course of action. 

 

“Existential crises regarding life, the universe, and cuties.” Murata immediately let go and scurried over to Kanao-chan for protection. Smart move really. It took a lot of foresight to avoid being a victim of attempted homicide.

 

“That’s all very fair! There’s a lot of cute people out there! And the universe! I still can’t believe that stars actually die!” 

 

“Wait, for real?” He latched on to this new bit of information. “Aren’t they big balls of gas?”

 

“Yup, but that gas runs out! All stars have to die eventually! That’s how we get black holes, you know.” Tanjirou made a ball with his fist. “The really massive ones collapse.”

 

Zenitsu raised a hand to protect his eyes from the sun’s ever present glare. “Will our star do that?”

 

“Ah! No! It’s not big enough!”

 

“Oh, okay.” That’s a relief! That would really suck! 

 

His crush’s eyes sparkled. Sparkled. How did he do that? “It’s gonna expand and destroy Mercury and Venus before finally making Earth uninhabitable! Isn’t that neat?”

 

“... Tanjirou, this really isn’t helping my existential crisis.” 

 

He snorted. “My bad, Zenitsu. This kind of thing excites me, is all.” His face turned up to gaze at the sky as he talked. “I know it can be a little scary, but isn’t the universe beautiful?”

 

“Oh, it is.” Zenitsu replied, staring fondly at his display of sheer joy. There’s so many nice things about it.

 

He’d still like to forget the sun thing though.

 




After several years of knowing Aoi-chan, Zenitsu had gained a much better sense of when she was about to blow her top. She wasn’t quite there yet, but it’d happen soon if they weren’t careful. He did the respectful thing and pretended she didn’t exist. Most days, she preferred it that way.

 

So far, Yushiro was too absorbed in the sight of Inosuke demolishing his tomorokoshi to care about either of them. That relieved him honestly. Supposedly, the kid knew judo, and he didn’t think he could stop him if he went all out.

 

Who cared about that though? He had bigger fish to fry! Way bigger.

 

“Tanjirou. Stop giving me your rice! Eat your food!” He puffed out his cheeks.

 

The resident sweetheart instantly became puzzled. “Why? I want to! Uh, call it compensation for making your crisis worse!”

 

“What crisis?” Kanao-chan probed, kicking her heels. 

 

“Stars expand and collapse, and that disturbs me.” He tried to give some rice back, only to be rebuffed by chopsticks. 

 

“They also explode!”

 

THANK YOU FOR THAT, TANJIROU.”

 

For a moment, he could hear a note of sympathy before the static overtook it. “Don’t mind him too much, Zenitsu. He means well.” She said.

 

“It’s funny too!” Murata piped up.

 

Zenitsu brandished his own chopsticks at his best friend. “I’m going to throw you to the wolves one day.” He vowed.

 

The look he got in return was both amused and tired. “You won’t.” 

 

“I hate that you’re right.” He groaned.

 

When he looked back down at his food, a new clump of rice awaited his judgment. He had to hand it to him; the redhead won major points in the persistence category. I’m a weak bastard, and I should feel ashamed. Zenitsu thought as he polished it off. 

 

Clearly pleased with himself, Tanjirou raised his trusty camera once more. “Say cheese!”

 

“Wait. Let me get in here.” Kanao-chan scrambled behind them, putting her head in between theirs. “Okay. I’m ready.”

 

The flash hurt like usual, but it felt like a whole new experience. He didn’t mind it, or the fact that rice grains clung to one side of his face. At least, not right now. Being around so many people and feeling welcome made him happier than he’d been last year, or the year before.

 

Bells, static, the growls of a beast, a chimeric symphony, and the gentlest notes in the world. Even the butterfly and paper noises didn’t sound amiss.

 

Zenitsu smiled without any prompting. He finally knew what he wanted to write about.

 

Kanao-chan noticed because of course she did. “What’s got you feeling so nice now?” She asked. “We didn’t do anything.”



Murata, the traitor, smirked. “It’s probably something cheesy.” He fake whispered to her.

“Am I not allowed to like my friends?!? Jeez!” He shoved the traitor’s chortling face away with one hand. “I take it all back! You guys are terrible!”

 

Though being around perceptive kids his age sucked ass, there were moments that made his inner turmoil worth it. “We think you’re wonderful too, Zenitsu!” was one of them. 

 

Progress. Zenitsu thought to himself when he managed to avoid reacting beyond overly bright blushing. This is progress. 

 

His heart tried to launch itself out of his chest. Sometimes, he had half a mind to let it.

 


All too soon, the Kyoto trip came to a close. Bags were packed, food was eaten, trash was thrown away, and they were all being loaded onto the train. He counted his lucky stars that he managed to get last minute presents before Yushiro actually tried to flip Murata, or he’d be out of luck.

 

Tanjirou nudged him once they got in line. “Being with you these past few days has been a lot of fun! Thank you for indulging me.”

Zenitsu’s fingers flew up to curl up in his hair. “It’s been a lot of fun for me too!” He admitted, maybe too happily. “But what do you mean? Indulging you how?”



“The pictures…?” He gestured to the device around his neck. “You didn’t have to be so accommodating! That’s why I wanted to thank you.” 

 

“There’s seriously no need for any of that! Just let me know if your family likes them! Actually, don’t say anything. I don’t want to know if they think I’m hideous or something.” Trying to stop his rambling felt impossible. A blush spread all the way to the roots of his hair.

 

But the other boy smiled at him like there was nothing to worry about. “They won’t! I promise.” 

 

“I’ll see you later then! I’m going to sit with Murata on the ride back.” 

 

“Oh! See you.” His smile was so bright and soft, so singularly good that nothing could beat it in his eyes. That little note of disappointment had to be a mistake. It had to be, or Zenitsu would absolutely lose it right here and now.

 

They parted ways in the train compartment. From his seat, he watched the red ponytail bob as it melted into the crowd. Going, going, gone.

 

On cue, Murata glued himself to his side. “Okay, spill. How are you two doing?” For someone who never knew what was going on with the popular kids, gossiping about Zenitsu’s failures in love always seemed to spark his interest.


Why are you so nosy?” He groused, already knowing he’d tell him in less than a minute.

 

“I live vicariously through you so I don’t personally have to go through any of this stuff.” Blunt nails pinched his cheek. “Also you two crack me up.”

 

“Well, I think we’re better friends now?” Zenitsu pressed his other cheek to the cool glass of the window. “That’s something! I’ve even been sitting here wondering if he said a gay thing.”



“Context???” Murata squinted at him. A child could have noticed that he was confused.

 

“We ended up talking about stars dying right after, but you know when you lied about me having bi existential crises?” 

 

“You do have them, but please continue.”

 

“ANYWAY,” Zenitsu shouted, wishing he could sink into the ground, “he said there’s a lot of cute people out there, so having crises over them is ‘fair’. That’s a gay thing, right?”

 

“I’m giving that a 45 percent. It’s Tanjirou.” The words were blunt, but rang with an uncomfortable amount of truth.

 

He looked at the other boy mournfully. “Be honest with me. Am I reading too much into things again? I really do like him. A lot. It’s probably throwing me off a little.”

“I mean, a little, yeah. But since when do crushes not do that to you? By that, I mean you specifically.” Murata patted his shoulder tenderly, acting like he didn’t just throw a barb in the middle of comforting him. “You’ll be fine. After all, you’ve got me in your life, and I’m very helpful.”

 

“Mmmm… I guess - Hey!” Zenitsu laughed, blocking his little punches with his hands. “Stop! I’m supposed to be the one doing that!”



Like always, they ended up causing a bit of a commotion with how much they spurred each other on, but everything was fine. For that entire train ride, nothing major went down. No harm befell anyone or anything. Things were actually okay.

 

Then they got off the train.

 

Their plan had been simple. They’d sleep over at Murata’s house, and Zenitsu would head home in the morning. You know, the usual arrangements.

 

Instead, they were greeted with a sea of parents and guardians, all looking for their kids. If they had known, they would have waited until the very last possible second, but hindsight is 20/20 and Zenitsu’s ears weren’t having an easier time with the situation.

 

Later, he’d attribute two fateful encounters to chance. Stumbling through a crowd aimlessly led to a lot of that being thrown around. As his best friend led him along, both of them noticed a slightly concerning scene unfolding in front of them.

 

“Are you bothering a model, Inosuke?!?” Zenitsu asked before he could contain himself. Watching his classmate loudly tell something to a stunning lady looked like something out of a movie.

 

“Haa? My mama’s not some model!” His feral grin distracted him so badly that he almost missed his reply.

 

Almost.

 

That’s his mom?!? 

 

If he squinted, he could see the resemblance. They had similar hair and eyes after all. Hers was longer, but with enough time and makeup, they could be doppelgangers from the neck up. But the math wasn’t adding up in his head. This is the lady who almost got murdered?!? After how much Inosuke talked her up, he had been expecting some buff woman, all covered in scars, not someone leaning on her kid for support.

 

“Oh, are these your friends, baby? It’s so nice to meet you both! I’m Kotoha.” Even her voice sounded ten times more angelic than her son’s! What was this?!? 


Minions, Mama.” He corrected her. 

 

“Hm, that’s right, isn’t it? I’m sorry!” Ms. Kotoha laughed. “I must admit that I’m flattered! You have sweet f- minions, baby.”

 

“Of course I do! I’m number one in everything! You know that!” Inosuke began ushering her away. “Coming through! Coming through!”

 

Now that he thought about it a little more, they looked perfect next to each other. If his mom was out there, he’d hope that they’d give off a similar vibe.

 

“They have crazy good genes.” Murata muttered under his breath. He couldn’t help but agree with that; as he always thought, some people won the attractiveness lottery by default.

 

As luck would have it, they ran into the people he wanted to see the most. “Gramps!” Zenitsu flung himself at the old man. “You came to get me?”

“Plans changed.” He tousled his hair, sending it into disarray. “Welcome back!”

 

Next to him, Ms. Rina giggled into her hand. “It’s always nice to see you two. Sorry to cut the fun short, but we need to go now, Daisuke.”

 

Being engulfed in a Murata hug for the second time that day felt right. “Bye! See you at school!” He told him before leaning in to whisper. “We can chat more later.”

 

I’ll never escape, will I? Zenitsu swallowed down the sigh. “Yeah, ‘course!”

 

They strode off, out of sight before he blinked twice. It took strong legs to keep up with them when they were in a hurry; he knew that from years of familiarity.

 

“Ready to go, Gramps?” He asked, expecting an affirmative.

 

No actual answer came. Instead, the old man began to wave. “Look, there’s that boy you brought over. Tanjirou, right? Hello, Tanjirou!” 


“Gramps? Where are you going? Gramps!”

 

None of his protests spared him from facing all of the Kamados at once. Nezuko-chan was one thing, and Ms. Kie was another, but all of them?!? If the Hashibiras had pretty genes, the Kamados had cute ones!

 

“Are you Zenitsu’s grandfather? I’ve heard a lot about you.” Ms. Kie extended a hand, politely ignoring his little moment of panic. 

 

His grandpa, being somewhat courteous when he felt like it, shook hands with her readily. “Your son is a decent young man. Good taste in music!” He chuckled warmly. “And you make spectacular bread!”



“Thank you kindly! That means a lot to us.” Here, her sound took on a mischievous tone. “I must confess that I’m a little envious of you. You’ve had dinner with my son, but I’ve never been able to return the favor.”

Zenitsu stared blankly at her. She’s not trying to do what I think she is, right? I’m hearing things, right? Right?!?

 

“Well, that ain’t hard to fix!” Gramps’ smile had that horrible glint to it that he associated more with kendo practice than anything else. “Would you take Zenitsu until tomorrow?”

 

“Gladly! I accidentally cooked too much today, so this works out nicely.” She bowed her head. “Thank you for indulging me.”

Right then, he knew two things intimately well.

 

Gramps really was trying to kill him. And Tanjirou took after his mom. He’d find it to be adorable if he wasn’t speeding right towards his demise. 

 

“You’re coming with us?” The little girl - Hanako? that sounded right - almost glowed. “Woo!” She grabbed his right hand without any hesitation. “I never get to play with new people!”

 

Tanjirou sidled up to his left side. “Looks like we said goodbye too soon!” Too many sounds clamored for Zenitsu’s attention, but Tanjirou’s blocked them all out.

 

“Looks like it.” He parotted, incapable of forming anything coherent beyond that. “See you tomorrow, Gramps…?”



“I will. Don’t be late! We have a lot of work to do!”

He didn’t even know why he bothered being surprised anymore by things. That had been the condition after all: 3 days in Kyoto in exchange for more practice. It’d be a lie if he tried to say that he didn’t expect those words. “Got it!” Zenitsu did one thumbs up, seeing as how his other hand was occupied. “Tell Chuntaro hi for me.”

 

Hanako tugged on his hand insistently. “Who’s that? Do you have a little sister like nii-san? Would she play with me?”

 

Gramps stifled a laugh before walking off. Listening to his natural thunder fade made the nervousness come back in full force. Could Zenitsu pull this sort of thing off?

Guess I’ll find out.

Chapter Text

“You didn’t answer my question!” Hanako squeezed his hand a little more. “Who’s Chuntaro?”

 

“Oh! Sorry!” Zenitsu smiled at her awkwardly, hyperaware of his perspiration. “She’s my bird!” 


“Aww… Okay.” She deflated slightly, acting like he personally ruined all her hopes and dreams with three words. “What kind?”



“Is she a super cool hawk? Or an owl?!?” Another one of the kids - maybe Shigeru? - shouted. He certainly seemed like the Shigeru Tanjirou often gushed about; the energy was all there. 

 

He shook his head. “Nope! Just a sparrow! She’s not very big.” With his free hand, he showed her size by curling his fingers. “I can hold her like this, see?”

 

“Cute!” Hanako cheered. “I want a sparrow too! Nii-san, will you get me one?”

 

Takeo (Zenitsu still preferred Mini Tanjirou, but didn’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing) scoffed. “Hanako, you know we can’t have one of those.” 

 

“Not you.” She shouted. “I’m asking Tanjirou-nii!”

It took everything he had in him, all that so-called grit, to keep moving at a steady pace across the platform. Even so, his back stiffened the very moment those words came out of Hanako’s mouth. Was he supposed to defuse the situation? Let them be? He didn’t think he could handle doing either.

 

“Guys, there’s no need to fight.” Tanjirou spoke up, immediately going for the placating angle. “Chin up, Takeo! And he’s right, Hanako. It’s really hard to take good care of a sparrow like Chuntaro! Wouldn’t you feel bad if your sparrow got sick because we couldn’t raise it well?”

 

The little girl wilted. “... Yes. Sorry, Takeo-nii. Sorry, Zenitsu.”

 

Eh? “You don’t have to apologize to me!” He said quickly. Guilt weighed heavy on his mind; if she picked up on his discomfort, that was all his fault. “It’s fine!”

 

“Yeah, it’s fine.” Mini- Takeo agreed, though it sounded a little half-hearted to his ears. That didn’t make much sense until he heard the young boy grumble out, too soft for anyone else to pick up on, that he wanted his little sister to ask him those things as well.

 

Zenitsu forced down the bile threatening to come up and put on a tiny smile. That’s… really cute. Maybe there was something to what Tanjirou said about brothers so many lunches ago. 

 

Maybe.

 

Shigeru squirmed himself into the space between himself and Tanjirou. “Get a penguin so I can come to your house and look at it!” 

 

“Shigeru.” Nezuko-chan sounded like she was holding in a laugh, but her expression remained deathly serious. “Wh-What do we say?”

 

Please get a penguin so I can come and look at it!” The little boy amended. He didn’t look sorry at all.

 

A little snort escaped his nose before he could stop himself. “If I do,” he wheezed, “I’ll tell you first.”

 

“Really?!?” He latched on to Zenitsu’s free hand. “Cool!”

 

“No fair!” Hanako protested. “I wanna see a penguin too!” Uh oh. Did kids their age throw tantrums still?!? 

 

Before he could do something stupid, like promising that they both could see a penguin that didn’t actually exist, Ms. Kie turned around. She gazed fondly at her bickering children, even as she supported a squirmy one - and that one had to be Rokuta, or he’d eat a passerby’s hat - on her hip. “Are you two bothering our guest? You don’t want him to head back home, do you?” 

 

Her tone remained incredibly gentle throughout, but it had the effect she wanted. “We’re not!” They cried out in unison, the perfect picture of children caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

 

“They’re not bothering me, Ms. Kie.” Zenitsu added, hoping the honesty came across better than the shakiness in his delivery. “They’re just energetic!”

 

“So long as you’re comfortable, Zenitsu.” She said, all sugary sweet, before continuing to walk. The scrutiny didn’t end though. Rokuta stared at him from over her shoulder, too young to feel shame. Did it feel nice to be hauled around everywhere like that? He couldn’t remember. He wasn’t sure if it had ever happened to him.

 

HM, LET’S NOT THINK ABOUT THAT! “So!!! What would you two do if you had a penguin?” Is this how you talk to kids? They’re totally going to laugh, aren’t they?!?

 

Instead, they both looked ready to burst into song. At least he got that right. One interaction down, several more to go!

 

… Yeah, I really am screwed six ways to Sunday. 

 




Riding the train wasn’t the hard part. Not really, anyway. He did it all the time, and there were worse conversationalists to have than two elementary school students with no self control. Sure, Tanjirou and Nezuko-chan’s stares didn’t help, but the attention was bearable if he pretended very hard that they were concerned with their siblings and not him.

 

Riding the train wasn’t the hard part. Entering their home was.

 

The smell of bread hitting his nostrils ended up being the world’s most pleasant wakeup call. This is real. Zenitsu thought, taking it all in. This is real. Holy fuck, this is my actual life right now. 

 

“Are you going to buy half the store again?” 

 

“Don’t be like that, Takeo.” Tanjirou sighed. For a moment, relief coursed through his veins before the playfulness aspect got processed by his poor brain. “He’s a potential customer!”

 

He blushed brighter than the sun itself. Stupid impulses! He’d never live that down! Leave it to him to somehow screw supporting a friend’s family up too.

 

What had he said back then again? We’re acquaintances, I think? They’re very cool, and I’m not, so. Huh! Past him would be ecstatic right around now! He should be too!

 

(Actually, past him would probably be passed out by now, but Zenitsu was electing to ignore that.)

 

Hanako tugged on him hard, almost throwing him off balance. “We go through there into the house!” She told him brightly. “Come on! I wanna show you my toys!”

 

“Me too!” Shigeru cheered. “I have a lot of Pokémon cards!”


“How many?” Zenitsu asked.


The little boy began to count on his free fingers. “Um… 11!” 

 

He sounded so proud of this that he didn’t have the heart to say that didn’t seem like ‘a lot’. “Wow! I only have one!” That wasn’t a lie; Kaigaku got him one once, spending the time to put the Thundurus card in a series of boxes. Look! It’s a storm god! Zenitsu didn’t laugh.

 

“And I-I don’t have any.” Nezuko-chan chimed in, moving behind the store counter. “You’re b-both lucky.”

 

They all followed after her, the Kamados walking like they did this all the t- Oh, yeah. Good thing he was talking in his head, and no one would ever know.

 

Tanjirou put a hand on Shigeru’s shoulder. “Make sure to say hi to Father, guys!” it was a clear reminder, but it came as a shock anyway. Father? Who’s that? Did they ever mention him before?

 

“Okay!” Both young kids beamed at their eldest brother, unfazed, before tugging him along. “You need to say hi too, Zenitsu!” Hanako directed her adorable smile right at him, scoring a perfect K.O. 

 

“Yes, ‘course!” Alright, let’s be cool. If he could, he’d slap his own cheeks to get his head in the game. Ms. Kie is nice, so their father must be a good person too! This should be fine, so long as I don’t puke on him or do something embarrassing! Yeah, I’ll be okay!

 

The first thing that struck him about the house proper was that the hallways were very narrow. There didn’t seem to be enough rooms for all of them either, which he supposed made sense with that many kids. They probably shared, not that it mattered to him personally. Zenitsu was going to sleep on their couch, no matter what!

 

All of that quickly left his mind however. It felt very trivial in the face of the Kamado family’s butsudan.

 

Zenitsu did not have one of those, or even a kamidana, in his house. Genya had brought the subject up during one lunch, taking the time to show him photos of his own butsudan, but Nezuko-chan and Tanjirou hadn’t been there to talk about theirs. That might have been a good thing after all. He remembered being disappointed by their absence, but that emotion had nothing on what he was feeling now.

 

“Hi, Father! I learned a lot of new kanji today! And I made a new friend too!” Here, the little girl pulled away and began whispering, forgetting how good his hearing was. “His name’s Zenitsu, and he’s going to show me his sparrow! You’d really like him!”

 

Before she could say anything else, he quickly backed away. “Can… Can I use your bathroom?” 

 

The three eldest wore expressions that ranged from pure confusion to intense worry. “It’s down the hall.” Takeo spoke first, cutting off both of his older siblings. “Scratched up door, has pink crayon all over it, can’t miss it.” 

 

“Thank you!” Zenitsu managed to get out before darting off. Sure enough, it looked exactly as they described, pink crayon and all. He closed the door, locked it, thought better of it, and then locked it again. Crying in his crush’s bathroom over his little siblings’ unconditional love for their dead dad was a little dramatic, but he was nothing if not overly emotional at the worst times possible.

 

Obviously, he had his own hang-ups in life. Well, not obviously, but he did. And yet, he couldn’t imagine having the mental strength, the fortitude even (see, now that was a big word), that the older members of the family must have to function so well without a clearly special person being in their lives. He wasn’t weeping out of jealousy, far from it. No one would ever believe him, but the tears only flowed because of his stupidly sentimental spirit.

 

He cared for this loving family, and it was one of the scariest things he had ever done. Someone, anyone, please give him an out now before things get worse!

 

No one did. It would have been a relief though. Having to resort to cleaning his face with the world’s scratchiest paper towel just to come off as a little calm sucked. He couldn’t do anything about the redness, but hopefully no one heard. If so, plausible deniability was in his grasp!

 

Zenitsu opened the door and almost went into cardiac arrest right then and there. Tanjirou’s fist remained raised for a moment, like he couldn’t process that the door was suddenly open. “Um. Are you feeling better? I would have brought you to my room if I knew it’d upset you.” His sound took on a frustrated quality, but who it was directed at remained a mystery.

 

His throat became very dry. “It’s… I-It’s…” He tried, he really did, but the words wouldn’t come out. A fresh wave of tears cascaded down. He raised the paper towel again, rubbing vigorously at his face. “I-It’s!” 

 

A gentle hand, a forgiving hand wrapped around his wrist. “Hey, come with me. This isn’t a good place to cry.” 

 

Tanjirou tugged. Zenitsu followed. 

 

He could hear everything. Three kids playing in a single room together. Nezuko-chan taking a nap. Takeo, in in the living room, doing homework. Ms. Kie fixing up dinner. His own heartbeat, painfully quick and loud. Too much, too much, too much- 

 

Rough hands pressed down over his ears. The shock of it made him open his eyes. When had he closed them? He didn’t know, much like how he didn’t know much of anything right now beyond the sensation of having his face held. There, sitting on a bed in a room he didn’t recognize, he first drowned, then burned. Not a bad way to go out, all things considered.

 

“Better now?” 

 

“Mmhm.” Zenitsu tried to wipe at his face again, but Tanjirou handed him a napkin instead. It was soft against his skin, much softer than the terrible fabric he had to deal with before. 

 

Grateful, he blew his nose. “Sorry…” He hiccuped. “I-”


“No, it’s okay.” Tanjirou interrupted. “Let’s take your bag off. It’s probably hurting your shoulder, right?”

 

Now that he mentioned it, the strap kept digging into his skin. Unable (and unwilling) to argue with the redhead, he lifted it off and placed it on the floor. Satisfied with the sudden extra relief, he continued. “I d-didn’t mean to cry, you know.”

 

Calloused fingers gently slid over his knuckles. “There’s no need to explain. We can just hang out in here until you’re ready.” This was followed by such a soft smile that he almost lost the will to speak more about his feelings.

 

Then he remembered the frustration.

 

“No, I want to.” Zenitsu insisted, ignoring the drained feeling in his body. “This isn’t because I was upset.”

 

“It wasn’t?”

 

“It wasn’t.”

 

“Then what caused it?” He looked at a loss. “Is there any way I can help?”

 

“You all love him very much.” He took the plunge, ignoring his little sharp inhale. “It’s not a thing of the past. You just… You love him! I don’t even know him, and I can feel that! And it just made me s-so sad because…” Here, his voice gave out a little. “ Because you guys don’t have him around anymore, and you still care enough to tell him about someone like me.”

 

It took a bit of courage to look back up at Tanjirou’s face. That deer-in-headlights face only seemed more pronounced than before. “Why wouldn’t we? We tell him everything that matters. He’s with us right here after all.” The other boy gestured to his heart with all the seriousness in the world.

 

Zenitsu sniffled as he tried to make sense of what he was hearing. Oh. 

 

Oh.

 

“Don’t say it like that! I’ll explode!” He cried out, burying his face in his hands. Too sweet! TOO SWEET!!!

 

“You won’t, Zenitsu!” Tanjirou laughed, his own relief clear in the way it came out. “You definitely won’t!”

 

Peeking at him through his fingers made the sight more bearable. “Quit it… Guys like you are too much for me!”

 

Amusement, loud and clear. “Guys like me? What does that mean?” Red eyes shone, reflecting lamp shine in them. If he pretended enough, he could think of it as star shine instead; that was fitting for a guy like Tanjirou.

 

“Forget it!” Zenitsu couldn’t help his own nervous giggles. “I mean it! Erase this from your mind!”

“Well, if I must. ” The skin around his eyes crinkled, and oh, he was blushing now, wasn’t he. Damn it. “Are you feeling better?”



“Yeah.” He decided. “Yeah, I am. Can I go back and say hi? Hanako told me to.”

 

Sometimes, Tanjirou sounded very strange, what with his secret and all. This was one of those times. “Sure, but you really don’t have to. My siblings are very eager people!”

 

“It’s fine!” He waved his concerns off. “I have something to say.”

 

A few seconds later, Zenitsu found himself kneeling before the butsudan properly, head bowed. “Mr. Kamado,” he whispered, almost overcome by his own awkwardness, “I’m sorry for intruding. You have a very lovely family. I… I hope it didn’t hurt when you died. That probably sounds dumb, but I mean that. It’s okay if you laugh, wherever you are. Sorry again, and thanks for having me.”

 

If the man heard, wherever he was, he didn’t give a sign. Even so, all the weight lifted from his shoulders and chest. Maybe that could be a sign on its own.

 

“Okay!” He rose, getting a little burst of energy. “Let’s go see the penguin lovers!” 

 

Takeo peered at him from over the couch. “Did you just call them the penguin lovers?”

 

“Well, yeah?”

 

Zenitsu watched him switch his gaze to his older brother. “Your friends are weird.” Takeo judged before falling out of view.

 

“Takeo!” Tanjirou looked aghast. “You can’t-”

 

“No, he’s right.”



“Zenitsu!”

 

This was fun actually. This was really fun. He could get used to days like this.

 




“Zenitsu!” Shigeru cheered. “You took a long time in there! Did you take a dump?”

 

“Uh. No????” He shot Tanjirou a look. Was this a normal line of questioning?

 

“Ah. Constipation.” The little boy nodded sagely. 

 

“No!”  

 

Hanako sprinted over and whacked her younger brother with her sleeve. “Stop it! Stop being gross!” She told him fiercely.

 

“Don’t worry about them.” Tanjirou whispered in his ear. “They’re always going on like this. It’s only a problem when one of them starts crying.”

 

Zenitsu jerked his head away from his hot breath; still, the heat lingered in his skin. “Makes sense.” He muttered because not replying would be rude, duh. Jeez. 

 

Wait a minute. Something isn’t adding up here. “Where’s Rokuta?” He asked.

 

“Rokuta?” Shigeru’s eyebrows raised. “Oh, he’s-” 

 

“Boo!” A kid with the face of a fox burst out of the little closet.  He didn’t scream or anything, but it was a close call. 

 

“Right there! He’s right there!” The two kids snickered. 

 

Sure enough, the fox face was just another mask, diligently painted to actually resemble a real life red one. It didn’t quite work, and it was a little big, but it looked adorable. “You sure made a lot of those.” Zenitsu marveled.

 

“Mine is super cool! It makes me feel like a superhero!” Hanako pumped her fist. “Rokuta barely ever takes his off. Don’t you, Rokuta?”

 

Rokuta didn’t answer. Unlike the others, he sounded the same as any other kid his age; rather than making their own unique sounds, they all tended to produce identical noises before a certain milestone that he hadn’t pinned down yet. That being said, he gave off the general wary noise. Zenitsu winced a little.

 

The little boy disappeared back into the closet. “He’s shy.” Shigeru whispered loudly. 

 

Yeah, I figured. He thought, but didn’t say it aloud. It seemed a little too rude to pass off as a joke, even though he didn’t mean it that way.

 

While he was mulling over the intricacies of tone with language - what? he has hobbies! -, Rokuta emerged again, holding a mysterious object in his little fist. He walked over, mostly steady but still stumbling every now and then. After what felt like a lifetime, he came to rest in front of Zenitsu, scrutinizing him with an odd sort of intensity. 

 

“Zen.” The youngest Kamado broke his silence. Shocked, he let him tug his hand towards him. Unbothered by little things like teenage meltdowns, Rokuta pried his fingers open and carefully placed what he was holding on his palm.

 

Zenitsu looked down. It was, without question, an old Lemon Meringue doll, both small and entirely plastic. Even the hair suffered from this, being more like a bright yellow chunk than actual waves. “Are you giving this to me? ” He asked the little boy.

 

Rokuta shook his head. “Zen.” He said again, this time pointing at the toy. 

 

Some people would be genuinely offended if they ever got compared to such a thing, but he was not some people, or even most people. His heart melted instantly. “Look!” He waved the doll at the others. “Look at this!”

 

“Zen…” Hanako tried it out. “Zen! Zen!”

 

“Zen!!!” Shigeru yelled too, probably just happy to be loud. 

 

He whipped around to look like Tanjirou, who had his hand planted firmly over his mouth. “Where did you get this?!?” Yup, he was attached now. Lemon Meringue was officially his favorite, now and forever.

 

“McDonald’s!” He replied happily. “I got it from a-“

 

“Happy Meal.” Zenitsu finished. Gears began to click, click, click in his head. When he looked around, the majority of the toys scattered about were exactly the sort you’d expect from Happy Meals over the years. “Is that why you wanted one?”

 

Tanjirou nodded vigorously. “I haven’t been in months, so yes! It’s hard to buy them things, so I use my allowance when I can.” He explained. 

 

“You should have said that! We would have gone! I’m the bane of Aoi-chan’s existence, so I totally could have gotten her to relent! Don’t be so concerned for Inosuke that you forget your own wants!” He flicked his nose. “Okay?!?”

 

“Okay, okay!” Tanjirou relented. On cue, his hands flew up to shield his nose from further attacks. “M’sorry, Zen.”

 

“You should be!” Still unsatisfied, he crossed his arms with a little huff. 

 

Hold on. Zen?!?

 

Kids calling him that didn’t matter much. In Rokuta’s case, he suspected the little boy either didn’t actually know his full name, couldn’t say it properly, or didn’t want to say it. For Hanako and Shigeru, though, they were only mimicking their beloved baby brother. He couldn’t fault them for that.

 

But from Tanjirou, it became a nickname. An actual nickname. A nickname! A shortening of his name! Surely that was going too fast! 

 

“Actually, it’s okay! Try to think about these things more! That’s all!” Zenitsu backtracked so hard that he mentally went back to the age of the dinosaurs. There he went, finding out another weakness about himself. This absolutely was his Gramps’ worst idea yet.

 

Shigeru peered at him intently. “He has a fever!” He declared. “Quick, get the doctor!” 

 

Before he could try to talk himself out of anything, Hanako managed to find a toy stethoscope in the middle of the mess. “Hello, yes, I am a real doctor. I went to med school, and I’m very rich. What’s the emergency?” 

 

Tanjirou dragged him forward. “My poor friend has come down with something! Please help him, hakase!” He begged before sending him a wink. Play along. 

 

“My brain… Melting…” Zenitsu sighed and faked a swoon. 

 

“Not a melting brain! Oh no!” Shigeru wailed. “What can we do?”

 

Hanako kept speaking in a low tone of voice. “I can fix this! With the help of my nurse, of course.”

 

(Rokuta did a little wave.)

 

“Come here, patient.” She beckoned. “We’ll give you a new brain.”

 

Ooookaayyy, this is getting a little crazy!!! Are they mad scientists?!? Do they not care about the Hippocratic Oath?!? 

 

Communicating his character’s misgivings would have to wait. Why? Simple! Ms. Kie’s call that dinner was ready mattered way more.

 




Zenitsu liked food. He often unintentionally copied sitcom characters since he liked eating lots of mochi when he was about to cry. He liked a lot of things, but the food he cherished was up there.

 

He liked food. He did not like being analyzed by a woman with a lovely sound, especially when that woman was his crush’s mother. 

 

Ms. Kie nodded at Takeo. “Can you go get Nezuko please, dear? I think she might still be sleeping.”

 

She was, but he didn’t say so. To him, the gentle sound of snoring could often be too audible to ignore. It was probably creepy to say so though. ‘Oh! By the way, ma’am, did you know that your daughter’s in a deep sleep right now? Awesome! Can I eat yet?’ That’d never fly.

 

“Yeah, okay.” was what Takeo said. What his body language screamed instead went more like ‘grumble grumble why me grumble grumble’. 

 

“You specifically asked to room with her!” She called at his retreating form, unable to keep the mirth from her voice. “Don’t be like that, honey!”

 

“Now, Zenitsu.” Ms. Kie fixed him with a look. “How are you feeling today?”

 

To lie, or not to lie; that was the question. “Tired.” He answered, semi-truthfully. Protecting your best friend, and having crises over dead dads and dying stars took a lot out of a person. 

 

“Aw, really? And we were gonna play doctor too! Sorry, Zen.” Finished with her impromptu apology, Hanako frowned.

 

Like any other normal person (in his opinion), making little kids upset didn’t sit well with him. “It’s okay!” He replied instantly. “We still can if you want!”

 

“I’m afraid not, you two. It’s very close to Rokuta’s bedtime.” Transfixed, he watched her gently caress her youngest child’s hair. “I do appreciate you taking the time to play with the little ones though.”



“They’re a lot of fun to be around!” And I’m also Lemon Meringue now! 

 

Shigeru’s brow furrowed. “But who’s the most fun to be around?” He probed. 

 

Yikes! How the hell do I answer something like that? Zenitsu bit his lip, deep in throat. Say one name, and the others will be furious!!! Why ask me?!?

 

“Well, it’s me, of course.” Tanjirou said casually. “Zen and I are becoming good friends!” 

 

And that was how Agatsuma Zenitsu ended up flushing terribly at the Kamado dinner table.

 

Naturally, because his torment couldn’t end, Nezuko-chan and Mini Tanjirou - honestly, screw it at this point - walked in, getting a perfect view of his red face. “A-Are you guys starting w-without us?” The pretty girl crossed her arms, vaguely annoyed. 

 

“No one’s touched the food, love. Come sit!” Ms. Kie waved her over. She followed the command sans more complaints, sliding into the free space on her mother’s right. 

 

“Itadakimasu!” The Kamados said in unison without warning, leaving him floundering. How many times was he meant to feel off kilter exactly? 20? Was this karma?

 

Fire still raged in his cheeks. With all the stiffness of a wooden plank, he put some rice on his plate and hoped he wouldn’t choke on any of the grains. 

 

Unknowingly giving him a reprieve, Nezuko-chan launched into an account of some nasty patron she had sold some croissants to earlier. Trying to listen at first proved to be fruitless. As he already knew, everything turned to static when embarrassment took over; cooling down was the only solution. By the time he managed it, she had already finished. Just his luck.

 

Warm purple landed on him again, spelling his death sentence. “I hear you play music still?” Her chopsticks pointed directly at his chest.

 

“Ah, yes…” It didn’t take a genius to know who told her that. “I play the shamisen and koto. Oh, and the biwa now.”

 

“And you do a sport? Kendo?” Ms. Kie spoke less like she was curious and more like she was verifying information. He wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t directed at him.

 

“Yes, that too.”

 

“Hm. Why?”

 

Zenitsu caught himself in the act of nodding politely. “Why?” He repeated, baffled.

 

“Why do those things? What got you into them?” She took a swig of water, wiping her mouth with a napkin. 

 

“Oh, Gramps did.” That too was true. He clearly remembered the day where the old man signed them both up for a competition on impulse and decided to teach them his beloved sport as a result. The music came later, but it was basically the same thing all over again.

 

“And do you like any of these things?” According to Murata, mothers liked to pry. Knowing this helped him cling to a shred of comfort during the conversation; no matter what she said, malicious intent wasn’t hiding behind her words. 

 

“Music’s great! It’s a little hard to practice all the time, and I’m not good at the whole performance thing, but I’d like to do that one day.” Translation: constant practice sucked ass, and playing for other people was even worse, but getting support from others sounded so soothing. 

 

“And the kendo?”

Kendo, kendo, kendo. Everything always ended up coming back to kendo. “What about it, ma’am?” He feigned ignorance. The less said, the better.

 

Life had a few truths to it. 2 plus 2 equaled four, the universe kept expanding without regard for the people living in it, and Kamado Kie was a persistent woman. “Does it not make you happy?” She asked softly. Her children looked back and forth, like they were watching the world’s most interesting table tennis match.

 

He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I mean, it’s alright.” Zenitsu tried to argue feebly. “Only, it’s more Gramps’ thing, so. He’d like me to be a professional kendoka one day.”

She nodded once he finished speaking. “And you don’t know how you feel about that. I understand, dear. That’s the thing about family. So often, we like to impose our own dreams on our children without listening first. Now, I don’t know him well, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s not meant to be hurtful. You know that already, don’t you?”

 

The words didn’t come. 

 

Not once did Ms. Kie look surprised by his reactions. “Have you ever thought about what you want to do in the future?”

 

“... Not really, no.” And why would he when Gramps had it all figured out? 

 

“Well, I hope you’ll think about it.” She picked up a few stray tempura with her chopsticks before continuing. “Life’s too short to spend most of it picking up regrets.”

 

As he polished off his own tempura, Zenitsu wondered what it might be like to grow up with an adult who had that sort of insight locked away inside her. More importantly, he wondered if the little ones would bring up what happened later.

 

Dinner? He’d like to rename it to interrogation, please and thank you!

 


One shower and several hours later, he still couldn’t fall asleep. Figures. Ending up trying to rest in the same room as the guy he liked again when he had already decided not to did not help his insomniac tendencies. 

 

Like always, whenever he felt stuck and didn’t want to pester Murata, Zenitsu wanted to play the shamisen. But he couldn’t risk playing that in here, not when he still wasn’t sure if Tanjirou was a light sleeper. The walls seemed too thin too for the rest of the house to work. Outside it was.

 

He almost made it to the front door. The key word here for those not paying attention was ‘almost’. 

 

“Wh-Where are you going?” 

 

Zenitsu paused, one foot raised in the air. “Oh!” He laughed awkwardly. “Nezuko-chan! You scared me. Isn’t it 2 AM? Why are you awake?”

 

“Couldn’t sleep. I-I’m talking to Father.” She gave off an intense aura of both worry and suspicion. “Don’t g-go out. It’s n-n-not s-safe.”

 

Now, he wasn’t known for his intuition. Still, it wasn’t exactly rocket science to work out that she’d stop him from going outside if he kept walking in that direction. In a way, she already had. 

 

“I’ll go back to the room then. Sorry to bother you, Nezuko-chan!” Yup! That was it! He’d just go back and quietly scream into a pillow until sunrise! No biggie! Who needed a 2 AM talk anyway?

 

“Y-You’re not. Come here.” Unable to think of a convincing reason to avoid another talk, he went.

 

Like she said, anyone could see that she had been kneeling by the butsudan. More than ever, he felt more like an intruder than a guest. “I heard you crying.” did not help alleviate that sensation one bit by the way.

 

Golden eyes gazed guilty into pink ones. “Did you really?” Thinking about more than one pretty person hearing that and getting the wrong idea stung.

 

Since it was a rhetorical question, he wasn’t surprised that she didn’t answer it. “Did m-my brother tell you how Father d-died?” Nezuko-chan asked instead. 

 

“No…? I mean,” he added on, seeing her expression began to change, “it’s not any of my business.”

 

“Well, he was sick.” She plowed on. “A-And we knew i-it was coming, but n-not wh-when. Nii-san and I w-would go with Father to the doctor on th-the train. One t-time last year, he couldn’t.”

 

Last year. The accident.

 

“I didn’t… I didn’t know.” Zenitsu brushed his fists against the corner of his eyes. “No one told us any of that.” 

 

Nezuko-chan smiled ruefully. “It’s fine. G-Grief’s weird. I think…” She stopped for a few seconds, staring off into the distance. “No. I know Tanjirou’s s-still getting over it.”

 

His chest burned. “Why tell me though?” He blurted out. Isn’t this too personal?

 

“Because y-you’re like each other, except f-for one th-thing.” Still smiling, she held up one finger as she rose to her feet. “ You’re not trying to satisfy the dead. N-Night, Zenitsu. Sleep w-well.”

 

“Night, Nezuko-chan. You too.” After a bombshell like that, he didn’t think he’d sleep right for a week, but he didn’t say so. Infinitely softer fingers held on tighter to his trusty instrument. He didn’t want to play it anymore. He needed to play it. He didn’t.

 

What he did instead was simple. He crept back into the right room. He slipped beneath the covers of the guest futon, helpfully laid out for him and him alone. And he thought about strange people in the dark until sunrise.

 

“Did you sleep well?” Tanjirou yawned out that morning. 

 

“Not really.” Zenitsu admitted. “I couldn’t stop thinking.”

 

The redhead patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Well, I hope you feel better!” Even with sleep still clinging to him, his enthusiasm couldn’t be masked by anything.

 

A shaky grin made its first appearance for the day. “Yeah, same. Thank you.” 

 

You too, Tanjirou. You too.