Yuichiro looked up from where he was sitting on the ground. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. The person in front of him crouched down in front of him, looking at him worriedly. He reached out his right hand and rubbed some of the tears of Yuichiro’s face with the thumb of his right hand.
“Are you okay? I know about what happened. You must miss them.” He meant the Ubuyashikis of course, but that wasn’t why he was crying. But no words could make it past his lips. He felt spacey, like he often used to. It had been a while since he last felt this way.
Yuichiro just sat there staring forward, trying to process what was going on. He felt very dazed, and he struggled to make sense of what was right in front of him. He allowed himself to get pulled into a hug, not having the strength to pull away, but he couldn’t get himself to hug back. He didn’t mind the hug though. Instead he welcomed it. He just closed his eyes and allowed himself to calm down. He felt safe.
“You’ll be okay.” Yuichiro still wasn’t able to bring himself to respond. A hand started rubbing his back. The tears started to slow, and they eventually stopped. He almost wanted to just fall asleep right here. He’d exhausted himself in his panic, but now everything was okay, just not perfect. But he knew that was never an option to begin with. He was fine with what he had.
After a while of just resting there, wrapped in a hug, Yuichiro noticed something was wrong. Something about the hug didn’t feel right. It felt a bit off. When he had first been pulled into the hug, he had felt two arms wrapped around him, but only one hand had pressed against his back. He should feel two hands. What was wrong? Why was there only one?
Yuichiro slowly pulled away from the hug and opened his eyes. He frowned in confusion as he looked at his brother, tilting his head to the side. He hadn’t yet been able to take a good look at Muichiro, but now that he could, he noticed a haori that wasn’t his was draped over his shoulders. The haori was bigger than Muichiro himself, so Yuichiro couldn’t see what injuries may be hidden underneath. He reached out his hand and grabbed the fabric, yanking the haori off.
“Give it back. I need it. I need it,” Muichiro said, sounding panicked. His voice matched the almost terrified expression on his face. Why was he so scared? Was he worried about Yuichiro seeing his injuries? Was he hiding something? Yuichiro noticed a hole in the front of his shirt where he must have been stabbed, but he didn’t think that was what Muichiro would be hiding from him. He’d had a lot worse than that before.
Muichiro reached forward with both of his arms in an attempt to grab the haori back. He grabbed onto the fabric with his right hand, and tried to pull it back. Yuichiro, however, wouldn’t let go, and because his brother was likely weak from the fighting he’d done the night before, he was too weak to pull it away.
Yuichiro looked at his brother’s left arm and saw why he’d only grabbed at the haori with his right. All he could do was stare. He couldn’t figure out how exactly he was supposed to feel about this right now. Should he be upset with his brother? Angry about somebody else? Or should he just be sad that this had happened? There was too much going on in his head.
Starting just below Muichiro’s elbow bandages had been wrapped all the way down to the end of his arm. The problem, however, was that his arm didn’t end where his arm should have ended. What should have been the halfway point between his elbow and his hand was just a stump.
“Muichiro, what happened?” Yuichiro croaked. They were the first words he managed to say since Muichiro had first walked over to him. His voice was weak after all the crying he had been doing. It was a bit hard to talk right now.
“Please give it back,” his brother begged. He was still trying to pull the borrowed haori back. He’d dropped his left arm, seeming to remember he wouldn’t be able to use it to grab onto anything. Yuichiro did as he asked, and held it out to him, watching as his brother grasped onto it with his right hand, his only hand, before pulling it to his chest and wrapping his arms around it tightly. It didn’t look like he’d be letting go of it anytime soon.
Something had happened, and he didn’t know what. He couldn’t figure out why the haori was so important to him if he hadn’t been wearing it to try and hide his injuries. It seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place it. But that wasn’t what was important right now. It was just a haori.
“Where is your hand?” Yuichiro demanded. His emotions regarding his brother’s missing hand were still all over the place. He was so sad that his brother would have to go through the same thing he had. But he was also mad at his brother for even going to fight in the first place, because it could have been prevented. And he was mad at whoever had done this to him.
“I lost it,” was all Muichiro said to respond. Yuichiro waited a bit, hoping for more of an explanation, but nothing more came.
“Well go get it back!” Tears started to well up in his eyes again. He just couldn’t stop crying today. He was the one who’d lost his arm. Muichiro wasn’t supposed to go and do the same. It was only supposed to be him.
“Shouldn’t you just be glad I’m back?” Muichiro asked as he started tearing up as well. “I’ve always just wanted you to be happy that I’m okay. I’ve just wanted you to say you’re proud of me. Why are you getting mad?”
“You’re only fifteen. You shouldn’t have to have been put in the middle of all that. It’s not fair. You should still have your arm.”
“You lost more than me. I didn’t even lose half. And you were only eleven when you lost yours.”
Yuichiro leaned forward pressing his face against his brother’s shoulder. He couldn’t even tell if he was laughing or crying anymore. It was a stupid argument, arguing over who lost more of their arm, and who had it worse. But it wasn’t anything serious. They were just being dumb. All that mattered right now was that Muichiro was here.
“I thought you were dead.” His voice was muffled as he spoke into his brother’s shoulder, so he sat back up, allowing himself to speak more clearly. “Why did you take so long to get back? I was so scared.”
“The Kakushi kept coming to take me to the Butterfly Estate, but Himejima promised me that he and Shinazugawa would come back and get me,” Muichiro said. That was where Yuichiro recognized the haori from. Himejima. “I waited a long time, but they never came, so eventually I was forcefully brought here. Were they already brought here?”
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen them.” The way Muichiro had asked the question made him sound so hopeful, and Yuichiro knew his answer wasn’t the one he wanted. He’d searched the entire estate looking for Muichiro, and during that search he hadn’t seen either of the two men.
As expected Muichiro didn’t seem to take the news well, his lips falling into a frown. While he had been crying earlier, when he had been speaking, the tears had stopped, but Yuichiro noticed them starting to form again in his brother’s eyes. He also seemed to be hugging onto the haori tighter than he had been before.
“That doesn’t mean anything though,” Yuichiro continued, wanting to give his brother some hope. And he hoped it was true himself as well. He didn’t want to see anybody else look so sad. Not after watching Aoi learn the news about Shinobu. “I also haven’t heard anything about them dying. They’re Pillars, so I’m sure somebody would have mentioned something.” He tried to ignore the fact that he and Aoi hadn’t learnt about Shinobu until they saw Kanao.
Muichiro nodded, and the next thing Yuichiro knew, his brother was falling forward. Yuichiro grabbed onto him with his arm and gently lowered him so that he was lying on the ground. He was thankful that they were already sitting because it could have been a worse fall, which he didn’t need after all the injuries he already had.
“My head hurts.” Muichiro moved his left arm towards his head while the other continued keeping its tight hold on Himejima’s haori. He seemed to realize his mistake, and switched arms, placing his hand on the back of his head. Yuichiro knew from experience it would take a while for him to get used to it.
“I didn’t realize you had a head injury. We should get you inside, so you can get looked at. Can you walk?”
“I don’t think so. Earlier I threw up when I tried to stand.” That didn’t sound good. He really needed somebody to check on that. It would be awful if it was something bad. He didn’t want to lose his brother after just finding out he was actually alive. But he was hopeful it wasn’t something that would kill him.
“How did you even make it over to me?” If he couldn’t even stand, how had he walked all the way over from wherever it was he’d been dropped off.
“I don’t know. I just needed to make sure you were okay, so I told the Kakushi to put me down.”
Yuichiro got to his feet. “I’m going to go get somebody to help get you inside. I’ll be right back. I promise.”
As he started to walk away, Muichiro spoke up, so he stopped to listen. “I’m sorry for saying I hate you. It isn’t true. I was just mad.”
Yuichiro took a deep breath and said something he hadn’t been able to for years no matter how much he’d wanted to. “I’ve always been proud of you. It’s just so hard to tell you, and I’m always so scared.” It was easier to say with his back to his brother. Maybe someday he could say it face to face, but for now this was all he could do.
Without waiting for a reply, he made his way to the entrance of the Butterfly Estate to get help.
After making sure Muichiro was getting taken care of, Yuichiro went to go find Aoi. He hadn’t seen her since she’d found out about Shinobu, and he wanted to make sure she was doing okay. He’d go back to visit Muichiro later once he was all patched up and after he got some rest. Knowing for a fact that his brother was alive took such a big weight off his shoulders.
It only took a few minutes of searching to find Aoi. She was in the supply closet taking a few things down from the shelves into her arms. She hadn’t even given herself a break after learning about Shinobu, when she’d forced him to the night before. She just went right back to working.
“Are you doing okay?” Yuichiro asked.
Aoi must not have heard him walk in the room because as soon as the words left his mouth she jumped, causing all the supplies in her arms to fall and scatter across the floor. Luckily nothing she had been carrying was breakable. Yuichiro bent down to help her pick everything up.
“Thank you,” Aoi said once everything she’d dropped was back in her arms. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there. I didn’t hear you come in. I must have been distracted.”
“Are you okay?” Yuichiro asked, hoping this time he’d get an answer. He was really worried about her.
“I’m fine.” Aoi’s words did not match her tone of voice or the look on her face. It was easy to tell that she was hiding how she was actually feeling, trying to hold all her emotions in. He wished she wouldn’t, but he knew it was hard for her to open up sometimes.
“Are you sure?” He really just wanted to do something to help. But he couldn’t do that if she wouldn’t let him.
“You’ve been crying again.” She’d managed to turn the subject back around on him. He’d almost forgotten his near breakdown outside not long before. He was more focused on his brother being alive than what had preceded his return. “Your eyes are red. More than they were before.”
“I’m fine,” he replied, and unlike her he was actually telling the truth. Or at least he was being more truthful than she had been. He still kept finding himself near to tears whenever he remembered the Ubuyashikis, but the reason he had been crying earlier was because of his brother, but that was all okay now. Muichiro was alive.
“And I wasn’t crying,” he added. Now he was lying.
“Where did you go then? You weren’t there when I got back, and Hinatsuru said that you ran into her, then ran off in a panic.” That must have been the name of Uzui’s wife, he realized. His mind had only been on Muichiro at that time, so he didn’t even remember running into her until Aoi brought it up.
“Muichiro is back.” As he said the words, all he could feel was guilt. His brother had come back, while Aoi’s sister hadn’t. Luckily Aoi didn’t seem too bothered. Or at least she made it look that way. She was probably more upset than she appeared.
“I’m so glad,” she said forcing herself to sound happy. She must be thinking how it wasn’t fair. He knew that’s what he would do if their positions were swapped. He wished both of their siblings had been able to return.
“Do you happen to know if Himejima and Shinazugawa made it here yet? I guess they promised to find Muichiro after everything was over, but neither of them did, and he seemed worried about them.”
Aoi frowned at the mention of their names. “I’m so sorry. I was told neither of them made it. They were both killed during the fight with Muzan. I think Shinazugawa’s brother also died, but I heard he was killed early on during a fight with one of the Upper Moons.”
“Are you sure?” He didn’t want it to be true. Based on the way Muichiro had been clinging to Himejima’s haori proved that he wouldn’t take this news well at all. He’d been acting weird. He had never seen his brother look so panicked before. And Genya also being dead would make it worse. Yuichiro didn’t like him at all, but he knew Muichiro was close with him.
Of the three people Yuichiro cared about most in the world, one was dead, and another had just lost her sister, but wouldn’t let herself open up to him. The other one had been through something Yuichiro couldn’t even imagine, and now he’d have to break the news to him that the two people he’d been asking after were dead, and that one of his closest friends was also dead. Yuichiro wasn’t sure how he was supposed to deal with any of this.
Aoi nodded in response to his question, not saying anything more. He hated that the people he cared so much about were going through so much. And he was hurting too much himself to be able to do much about it. He told himself he would do whatever he could.
“How are all the patients?” Yuichiro asked, needing a change of topic. He’d deal with all the deaths later. But for now he should focus on helping out where he could.
“We lost a few early on,” Aoi replied. She’d gone back to picking supplies off of the shelves. “But I think everybody we have is now stable, so they should all make it. A few are being transferred to nearby hospitals, so we can lighten the load here. And some of them are in really good shape and should be able to leave as soon as tomorrow morning.”
“That’s good to hear. Now are you sure you’re doing okay?” he asked once again.
“We don’t have time to talk anymore.” Aoi was avoiding the question again. She pushed past Yuichiro and opened the door into the hallway, arms overflowing with supplies. “We have work to do.”
Yuichiro sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to be getting a truthful answer anytime soon, and he followed her out the door.
Yuichiro was walking by the kitchen on his way back to Aoi after grabbing some medicine she’d forgotten to grab from the storage room earlier, when he heard screams coming from inside. He quickly rushed in to see if everything was okay, figuring Aoi could wait a few minutes longer. It wasn’t something she needed right away.
When he got inside, Yuichiro found a woman who was in tears staring down at something on the floor. He made his way across the room to where the woman was standing and looked down to see what she was looking at. He realized that all it was was a dead mouse that had been caught in a trap.
“Are you okay?” Yuichiro asked her. He assumed she was just scared of mice. But it was dead, so he didn’t see why it would be such a big deal. She could have just left it alone. Somebody would have removed it.
The woman wiped at the tears on her face before responding. “Iguro’s snake needs food, but obviously he can’t get out of bed to get him something himself right now. Makio said that she would find a mouse for him, but then she left me here, and told me I had to do it.” She said it all in one long breath, and it took Yuichiro a few seconds to process everything she’d said.
“Who’s Makio?” Yuichiro wasn’t quite sure of half of what she had just said, but he figured he’d start there.
“She’s one of Tengen’s other wives.”
“Are you one of his wives too?” Uzui had too many wives, Yuichiro decided. It was going to be too hard to keep track of them all. Why did he need so many? But it wasn’t like he would be spending a lot of time with them.
The woman sniffled and then nodded. She seemed to have finally stopped crying. For now at least. It looked like she was ready to start back up at any moment. “I’m Suma.”
“I can take the mouse if you’re too scared,” Yuichiro offered. He’d dealt with lots of mice as a kid, so it didn’t bother him. He’d just have to find Aoi first, and then he could bring the mouse to the snake.
“I’m not scared. But it reminds me of Tengen’s mice, and it makes me sad to see it dead. I don’t want to touch a dead mouse.” Unfortunately she’d started crying again. “Can you please do it for me?”
Yuichiro tucked the medicine he’d grabbed for Aoi under his left arm and bent down in front of the mouse trap. He managed to get the mouse out, and he picked it up by the tail, standing back up.
“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it, and then the snake would starve, and it would be all my fault.”
Yuichiro didn’t think it would go that far, but he didn’t want to argue about something so insignificant. “I don’t mind,” he said. He moved towards the door and out into the hallway, leaving the still crying woman behind.
Almost as soon as he stepped out into the hallway, he saw Aoi already walking in his direction, looking a bit angry. He stayed where he was waiting for her to come over. The look on her face told her she was definitely angry with him. But she also looked exhausted. He just wanted her to rest already.
“What took you so long?” she demanded. She sounded angry too. “I sent you to get one thing, and you just take your time. Don’t you get how busy we are?”
“I’m sorry.” He hoped she wasn’t actually mad at him. That she was only acting like this because she was stressed and tired. He’d only taken a few minutes longer than he should have. “I heard somebody screaming, so I went to go make sure she was okay. And now I have to go feed a snake.”
Aoi tilted her head, her expression of anger replaced with one of confusion. “You have to what?”
Yuichiro held up the mouse as a way of responding. As he did, so Aoi took a step back, her expression once again changing, this time to one of disgust at the sight of a dead mouse. “The lady in the kitchen was crying and didn’t want to bring the mouse to Iguro’s snake, so I offered.”
“Fine. You can go do that. But where’s the medicine I was asking for?”
“It’s under my other arm. You can grab it.”
Aoi reached out and took it from him, and Yuichiro was glad she’d done so before he dropped it. He had been feeling it starting to slip for a while. Now he just had the mouse to worry about.
“Just come find me when you’re done,” Aoi said. “You’re not getting out of helping that easily.”
Yuichiro turned to walk down towards the room where the Pillars were staying. He first looked to the bed where his brother was and saw that he was sleeping and decided he wouldn’t bother him. He then walked over to the bed where Iguro was staying. Luckily, he was awake with his snake resting on his shoulders. He was talking to Kanroji who was in the bed next to his.
Kanroji had been sleeping last time Yuichiro had been here, so he hadn’t seen how bad her injuries were. She didn’t seem as bad as some of the others. She had a lot of bandages on the left side of her face. He knew some of them were covering up her ear which he had heard she’d lost during the fight with Muzan. She had her hands in her lap, and Yuichiro noticed that her left one was wrapped tightly in bandages. Her pinky finger was missing.
Iguro however, had gotten worse injuries based on what Yuichiro had been told. He looked at Iguro’s legs which were covered under his blankets. From what he had heard, he’d lost part of his right leg, and from the way the outline of his legs under the blankets looked, that information had been correct.
“What are you looking at?”
Yuichiro snapped his head up to look at Iguro. “Nothing,” he replied. He noticed scars on both of his cheeks, which he could tell were very old and not from the fight. He tried to stop himself from staring, not wanting to get yelled at. “Um, I heard you needed a mouse.”
“Yes,” Iguro replied coolly. He took his snake down off of his shoulders and lowered it onto his lap. He motioned for Yuichiro to put down the mouse, which he did.
“Can I watch?” Yuichiro asked. He’d seen snakes all the time in the woods when he was little, but he’d never watched one eat. Muichiro had said he had and that it was fun to watch, so now he wanted to.
“If you must.”
“Yuichiro, why don’t you come sit here,” he heard another voice say. He turned to see Kanroji patting the edge of her bed, motioning him over. As he sat down on the edge of the bed he noticed Iguro give him a quick glare before turning away. “It’s so cute that you’re so excited over Kaburamaru.” That must have been the snake’s name.
“Has my brother woken up at all yet?” Yuichiro asked Kanroji as he watched the snake fit the mouse inside his mouth.
“No. He was given some medicine to help him sleep I believe. He’ll probably be awake later.”
“Do you know if he’s doing okay?”
“They patched him up real well from what I saw, so physically he should be fine, I think. But he nearly threw a fit when they tried to take Himejima’s haori away from him.”
That was concerning. The next time his brother was awake he was going to have to tell him about Himejima. He didn’t think he’d take it very well, but he needed to know. He still wondered what had happened.
“I’m going to check on him and then go find Aoi.” Yuichiro slid off of Kanroji’s bed onto his feet, ready to leave. He’d watched the snake long enough.
Before he could leave, Kanroji spoke up. “Iguro, aren’t you going to thank him?”
Yuichiro turned to face Iguro who just stared at him for a while before finally speaking. “Thank you.”
“It wasn’t a big deal,” he replied. It was just a mouse.
Yuichiro turned to walk over to Muichiro’s bed, leaving the other two to talk. The first thing Yuichiro noticed was that even in his sleep he was clinging onto Himejima’s haori. His bandages had been changed, and he was wearing a fresh set of clothes. He forced himself not to look at his brother’s arm too long. He just didn’t want it to be true that he’d lost his hand.
“I’ll be back when you’re awake,” he whispered. “I have to go help out some more.”
“Move over. I’m tired. I wanna sit.”
“You aren’t even going to say hello?”
Muichiro moved to the side of his bed, giving space for Yuichiro to squeeze in next to him. They weren’t able to fit in the beds together as well as they used to back when they were only twelve, but Yuichiro was too tired to care. They fit well enough. He didn’t want to find a seat to pull up when he could just sit here. He leaned his head on his brother’s shoulder. He made sure to be gentle, not wanting to hurt him with all his injuries.
Aside from when he’d gone outside and discovered Muichiro was alive, and later when he fed Kaburamaru, Yuichiro hadn’t had much of a break all day. He was exhausted, but he had still wanted to come check on Muichiro before he went to bed. He needed to be the one to tell Muichiro about the deaths. He didn’t want anybody else to do it.
The two of them sat there quietly for a while. Yuichiro was having trouble bringing himself to say anything. He didn’t want to see his brother get sad. At one point Aoi walked in with the younger girls. They all waved as they walked by to go visit with Kanao. They seemed to be doing well considering what had happened with Shinobu.
“I need to talk to you about something,” Yuichiro said. He thought back to the times his brother had been the one to say that. When he’d first decided to join the Demon Slayers and later when he’d become a Pillar. He grew to hate it when he heard his brother say those words, and hoped that his brother wouldn’t feel the same. He didn’t want him to start panicking already.
“Is something wrong?” Muichiro asked. He didn’t sound panicked yet at least.
Yuichiro took a deep breath. “I was told that Shinobu, Genya, Shinazugawa, and Himejima didn’t make it.” He watched as his brother’s fingers tightened on the haori he still refused to part with. He was so worried about him.
Yuichiro was worried by the long silence, but eventually Muichiro spoke up. “I already knew about Genya and Shinobu.” He sounded sad, the way he was talking, but it wasn’t as bad a reaction as Yuichiro had been preparing for. While he wasn’t looking at his face, he was pretty sure he wasn’t crying. “And I should have known Himejima would be dead. Even if he wasn’t killed he had a mark and he was over twenty-five.”
Yuichiro lifted his head off of his brother’s shoulder and scrunched up his face in confusion. He wasn’t sure if he was missing anything, but that last part just didn’t make sense to him. What was a mark and what did being over twenty-five have to do with it.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
He turned to face Muichiro and watched as his expression became panicked. He turned his head away from him, obviously trying to avoid answering. What could it be that made him not want to answer. Yuichiro had been worried about the news causing his brother to panic, but it seemed like he was going to be the one panicking.
“Answer me,” Yuichiro demanded.
“Some of us had these marks appear that are supposed to help us fight better,” Muichiro replied. He didn’t say anything else, and Yuichiro knew he was still hiding something.
“What does Himejima being older than twenty-five have to do with the marks?” He was going to have to ask each individual thing, because it seemed like Muichiro was going to do his best to keep whatever it was he was talking about to himself.
“If you get one, you die by the time you turn twenty-five.”
Yuichiro’s heart started racing.
“Did you get one?”
Muichiro stayed silent.
Ten years. Ten years was all he had left with his brother. But ten years was a long time. If they had ten years, they would find someway to stop it. They had the time. They could do it. Muichiro wasn’t going to be dying anytime soon if Yuichiro had anything to say about it.
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. I promise.”