They were sitting across from each other at the low table in the middle of the room that Tanjiro shares with his sister Nezuko, she was busy gardening out the back with Urokodaki so they would not be disturbed. It had been roughly over half a year since Inosuke started getting tutored by the smartest boy in his year and they had steadily become really good friends, at the beginning it had been a little rough but they were closer now.
Making friends was something that people of all ages did fairly easily but for someone like himself creating those bonds was a little more difficult, he made his first friends when he was fifteen and starting out in the Judo club. Before getting taken in by the Old Lady he lived in amongst the trees surrounded by wild animals and nature, there was no opportunities to make friends with any other people his age because there were none where he was.
Old Lady Hisa explained to the nice ladies Kanae and Shinobu that Inosuke had not properly assimilated to their culture and had never had other humans to help him with his development, he was bound to make mistakes and anger people but if they could be patient with him. Those two girls had started up a program called the butterfly program which assigned benefactors to youth in need, helping them to get through school.
So when they met him for the first time they noticed that Inosuke put a lot of focus on his strength and that his overwhelming confidence came from the need to be dominant, with an ego like that matched with a feral personality the pair did what they thought was best. Kanae and Shinobu directed him to the Judo club as a way to burn through his overabundance of energy and a healthy outlet for his need to fight, to teach him some technique too.
At first he butted heads (quite literally) with the Judo club's two co-captains who were both confident third years named Uzui and Sanemi, both skilled fighters in their own right and they sparred with Inosuke. It always ended with him flipped over on his back pinned to the ground, breathing harshly as he refused to submit to anyone still holding the belief that he is the strongest person in the room.
Eventually they had come to an understanding and Uzui had helped Inosuke realize he could use his flexibility to his advantage if he thought a little more before he made his move, Sanemi taught him the best ways to use his strength when going through with a manoeuvre. Within the first month or so they had a bond built through a shared desire to prove themselves to other people and working on doing things for themselves, taking care of themselves.
"You called me your best friend the other day, Monjiro."
It might sound silly to other people but by now Inosuke has learnt Tanjiro's proper name as well as the names of everyone in Tanjiro's household, the reason he continued to use butchered versions of the name was to keep some distance. Tanjiro was a bright shining star and a sweet warm loving person, someone like that surely had people better than Inosuke to hang out with so he never wanted to get too attached in case Tanjiro leaves him.
After all the reason that Tanjiro offered to tutor him was most likely to bring up the class average or at least that is what he heard some teachers saying, the teachers were always complaining about Inosuke. He knows he is difficult to teach because a lot of these topics and subjects he is learning for the first time, but the dirty looks they send him as they ignore his questions and move on too quickly for Inosuke to keep up don't help.
"Sorry if that made you uncomfortable, it was just after all these months I have been tutoring you, to me it feels like we have really connected and you are my most dearest friend!"
"Dumbass, doesn't make me uncomfortable."
"Is there something else you are worrying about, Inosuke?"
There was something about the light careful way that Tanjiro said his name that made Inosuke feel all giddy in his bones and warm in his chest, being around him always made him feel like he was heating up and it was odd. Out of all the friends that he had made so far nobody treated him as gently as Tanjiro does, at first Inosuke thought Tanjiro was looking down at him but he came to realize that he truly did just care.
"Am I good enough to be best friends with someone like you? There are people better than me that could be your best friend."
Usually he would not consider himself an insecure person - because he did not quite know what that actually meant - but Zenitsu had made him feel worried about it, made him question his worthiness of a title like best friends. He had only started making friends recently but even he knew something like a 'best friend' was not a title you gave to just anyone, they had to be very important to you as a friend.
When Tanjiro had called him his best friend as he introduced Inosuke to an old friend they had crossed paths with in town, a little later Zenitsu had told him not to let it get to his head because Tanjiro was just really nice. There was no way someone who knew so little about Tanjiro could ever be his best friend especially if they were so different, personality wise and it should have made Inosuke angry but it just made him feel worried.
"This must have been worrying you Inosuke I'm sorry I didn't know sooner, but it is not about being better or anything like that it is about how I feel about you. You are important to me and our time together has taught me so much about the kind of person you are, it is that person that I want as my best friend."
"I am not good at reading people or anything like that, Zenitsu said it was weird for people to be best friends and not know things about each other - I don't know anything your childhood or anything."
One of the main reasons for this is because Inosuke refused to listen to the rumours and gossip that floated around Kimetsu High School like some kind of foul plague, he knew it was sad so on top of that he never wanted to bring it up. Inosuke did not want to be the reason that Tanjiro got sad or lost the pretty smile he always seemed to have on his face, there was nothing about seeing him cry that made him happy.
"Well if it will make you feel any better how about we talk about ourselves? I think we have studied enough for today and I am sure if I go out to the kitchen I can get some snacks, how about we talk and eat delicious food?"
There was a reason that Tanjiro was the smart one because he always came up with the best ideas, Inosuke liked talking and he always really liked eating food especially delicious food. He was glad that Tanjiro offered to talk about it himself instead of Inosuke having to ask about it, for whatever story he was about to hear he hoped what he could tell about himself would not be too boring in comparison.
A little while later after Tanjiro had left the room in search of snacks his twin sister Nezuko came in holding a plate of warm cookies, her usual mask over the bottom half of her face. She had kind soft pink eyes that reminded Inosuke of the cherry blossom petals that had fallen on him each year, as he would go closer into the town to investigate what all the commotion was (it was an annual festival held when the cherry blossom trees bloomed).
He remembers being told that recently she had been going through some sort of rebellious phase and he could see the streaks of colour she had put into her hair herself, Tanjiro had said the colour was vermilion but it just looked red to Inosuke. Looking at her hair he noticed how cool it was to have some unusual colour in it and decided later he would ask her to put some colour in his hair, not vermilion or whatever that is but maybe a blue.
She did not stick around much longer after putting down the plate and receiving a loud thank you for Inosuke who quickly dug into the food, a habit of his time growing up where if you did not eat your food straight away it was taken from you. Luckily he had only gotten few a through of them by the time Tanjiro came back with two glasses of milk, a little bit of dirt streaking his cheek and his forearm.
"Mister Urokodaki needed some help moving pots because Nezuko had gone back inside to start some baking, these cookies look delicious! i am so lucky to have such a talented sister."
Anyone who has come into contact with Tanjiro knows he could gush on and on about how amazing his little sister (by a few minutes) is, how beautiful she is and how she is the local beauty of their town. Even though Inosuke had never known what it was like to have siblings, if he had he hopes that they would be half as sweet and as loving as Tanjiro is towards Nezuko.
He was messily eating through his sixth cookie by the time Tanjiro sat down, this time besides him instead of all the way across the table from him, and neatly began eating his first few cookies before he began speaking. Inosuke could listen to him talk all day every day about anything and he feels like he would be hooked, learning has become easier when he has a pleasant tone to listen to while trying to absorb information.
"My family lived a long walk away from this town up in the mountains which is often times completely covered in snow and when I was quite young my father passed away, it was an illness that slowly made him sicker and weaker until he could no longer stay with us. There were six of us kids with my younger brothers being Takeo, Shigeru and Rokuta and my younger sisters name was Hanako.
With my sweet mother Kie and sister Nezuko sharing the workload by taking care of both the kids as well as the household together, I did my part by bringing resources down the mountain to sell to the people in the town. Often times they would also ask for my help repairing things or helping people out, it meant I took longer than usual but it also meant I got payed more so it was a fitting compromise in my head.
Bodies had been turning up dead recently in the mountains and there had been talk of a killer on the loose but most of us just chalked it up to the weather, people not being used to the terrain or wild animals out hunting and people getting caught. There was an afternoon where I was heading home and the winds were harsh, a man living at the foot of the mountain asked me to stay with him for the night so that I did not put myself in danger."
Telling stories about things that were painful would make anyone sad just thinking about but there was a shining smile on Tanjiro's face as he thought about his siblings, how hard working his mother and twin were taking on such a heavy burden together. He drank the milk to keep his throat from becoming dry because his story was a long one and for once Inosuke was entirely quite, no interruptions or thoughts of his own.
"When I began heading up the mountain the next morning it felt off and I had always had a good nose so as I made my way up I smelt blood, usually the younger kids would come a little way down to greet me but no one was there and the smell was getting stronger. By the time I made it to the house I was hit with the reality that I had hoped would not be real, the bodies of my siblings and my mother strewn about inside and outside of the house.
There was so much blood soaking into the snow and covering them I feared the worst that there was no survivors, I spent so long next to every body checking over and over again to make sure they were truly dead until I got to Nezuko. She was cold and injured but she was still breathing heavily through the pain, coming in and out of consciousness but she was alive - there was someone who had not left me behind.
You have seen the mask that Nezuko always wears and its to cover the scars and damage that was dont to her lower jaw as well as her mouth, they also tried to choke her to death and while they did not succeed in that her ability to speak normally was taken from her. Since then she can form some words and sounds but it is a burden on her body so she remains mostly mute, i learnt sign language for her but she likes to communicate through body language or written down words mostly."
Inosuke had indeed noticed the mask Nezuko wore around the bottom half of her face but he had never commented on it because he had thought it was just a comfort object, he had worn the pelt of the boars he was raised alongside for his entire childhood and into his teenage years. Sometimes they were just plain cloth but people like Mitsuri liked to decorate masks for her to wear, a little way to probably make her feel more comfortable.
"After that it honestly gets a little bit blurry I remember taking her down the mountain on my back with weak legs and tears blocking my vision, trying my best not to trip because I did not want to put her in harms way. Thankfully mister Urokodaki took us in and raised us in this estate alongside Giyuu, Sabito and Makomo who are all orphans he has taken into his care.
He home schooled us for a few years I and as he is also the swimming coach at our high school and he managed to help get us in with little issue when we became of age, out of respect I joined the swim team alongside the others I live with but it has really helped me take care of my body and focus on something productive. Our principle Kagaya Ubuyashiki is such a kind man and made us feel so welcomed when we arrived, set up things to help me and Nezuko with our issues and to help Nezuko not let her differences stop her.
Sometimes there is a part of Nezuko that gets triggered and a flow of rage overtakes her senses and she seems to almost loose control of herself but more recently it has gotten under control, it has something to do with her PTSD but we find new ways to help her cope. When I saw how the teachers spoke of you I knew I wanted to help not because you are a charity case or any of that nonsense, but because I wanted you to have the best chance of success."
Although Inosuke did not believe he could come close to an emotional story like that Tanjiro reminded him that it was not a competition, he wiped away the few stray tears that had fallen towards the end of his story but turned his body closer to listen carefully. The kindness that Tanjiro exudes was incredible and made Inosuke feel safe enough to talk about his childhood, other people had treated him weirdly when they found out.
With an unusual amount of gentleness in his tone he spoke about his earliest memory curled up next to a mother boar with fierce eyes and a warm coat, it was a dark red that almost reminded him of Tanjiro's eye colour. How it had been difficult to get enough food to feed himself and how scraped up both his knees would get moving around the ground, nights were cold out in those trees and the rain was often times unforgiving.
Seeing snow always sent a jolt of anxiety through him as he thought about all those cold winters he believed this would be the time that he would die, frozen to death without a proper shelter as he moved around too often to build one. How he had been so scared of some of the animals at first but grew strong enough and fast enough that he did not have to worry about them, growing up learning behaviours from wild animals.
The he spoke about Old Lady Hisa who had spotted him on at the edge of the forest at the back of the estate she was cleaning up to use as place for travellers to stop at, treated him to some juicy watermelon and let him sleep in a room that kept away predators and the weather. She would check up on him and find him curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, dressed in the pelt and cloth he had always worn instead of the fresh clean clothes.
It had taken some time but she taught him speech but her reading and writing abilities were not incredible herself so she did the best she could, taught him how to cook meals with utensils inside of the home and how to bathe himself properly. She worried when he would scamper back out into the woods for days or weeks on end but she always had the door open for him and he always returned, a little more bruised then she would like.
"Nice ladies heard about my situation and the bright fiery man Rengoku was sent to talk to the Old Lady about the opportunity of being paired with a person with money, I met the man named Doma who had pretty eyes like a sparkly kaleidoscope of nice colours. He was old with grey hair but he still looked young and talked about the new pretty lady he had joining his group, even the Old Lady thought he was odd but he was being nice."
He had of course gotten accepted in and put in the same class as Tanjiro although they did not notice each other at first, then they got on good terms with each other and ever since whenever they are near each other Inosuke feels a little floaty like he is travelling on the clouds he likes to watch on a day with a clear sky. If not for the teachers bad mouthing Inosuke's skills they might never have gotten this close, so a good thing came out of a bad thing which made it worth it to Inosuke.
Even without seeing a clock Inosuke knew it was coming up for dinner time already because he could hear the heavy footsteps racing towards Tanjiro's bedroom door like thunder, loud claps of noise thudding against the floor he had seen Urokodaki cleaning when he first came over. This time it was Sabito who threw open the door to announce that dinner was ready and that if he wanted to Inosuke could stay to eat, Giyuu was a step or so behind him looking defeated like he did every time Sabito beat him to tell them.
"Come on, Inosuke, won't you stay for dinner?"
There is always less food when he eats over at Tanjiro's house compared to when he eats at home with Old Lady Hisa but Inosuke finds that it is worth it anyway, staying over to eat with them. On top of that it was basically impossible to say no to the face Tanjiro made whenever he made a request as if he was ordering Inosuke to do something without making it an order, his heart was controlled by the eyes of the pretty boy with dangling earrings.
"Only if you give me some of your meal, Gonpachiro Kamaboko!"
Both of them ignored Giyuu and Sabito who quietly questioned how Inosuke had still not managed to remember his best friends name but Makomo hit the two on the back of the head, silly boys not being able to understand. They were only quite while Urokodaki spoke because when he was finished all the teenagers in the table entered into loud discussions, food being passed around as they teased and joked.
Like always Tanjiro gave Inosuke some of his own meal even though Inosuke never means for him to actually have to do it, but it is almost like tradition now and they do not want to break it. They enter into their own bubble of conversation sitting pressed up against each other side by side at the table, only focused on each other as Tanjiro gave Inosuke an almost blinding smile that brought him an immeasurable amount of comfort.
"Thank you for being my best friend, Tanjiro."