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(Tanjiro)

“Big brother look, it’s a shooting star!” Nezuko excitedly remarked, throwing a hand to the sky to point at the falling light.

“Quick Nezuko, make a wish!”

Nezuko hurriedly shut her eyes and put her hands together in a praying gesture. Tanjiro laughed and followed her actions.

‘May my family always be happy and safe.’

“What did you wish for?” Nezuko asked a few seconds later. The light had disappeared from the night sky by now, and only the full moon remained to light the sky.

“It only works if you don’t say it out loud.”

“Did you wish for a good wife?” Nezuko teased. “I’m sure you don’t need the gods help with that. I think just about every girl in the village volunteered herself when mother put out the word.” Her words held no mocking tone, only a sense of pride and affection for her brother. Even now, her smile was soft and not cheeky. A faint blush rose to Tanjiro’s cheeks as he denied it, he didn’t like talking about the subject.

“Please don’t exaggerate such things Nezuko.” He scolded her gently. “It wouldn’t be right to wish for that. I am sure I will be very happy with whoever mother chooses for me.” Nezuko raised an eyebrow at that.

“You really don’t mind who mother chooses?”

Tanjirou shook his head and turned his back on the moon.

“Whoever it may be, I will be happy as long as they are too.” He smiled back at his sister. “However, your husband will have to be extraordinary. I will not settle for anything less than the best for my little sister.” He began counting on his fingers. “He must be as kind and sympathetic as you, a good head on his shoulders and it would be even better if he had the mind of a strategist, a body strong enough to carry you when you tire-” Nezuko giggled and playfully knocked her fist against his shoulder.

She dragged him by the arm back through the temple and to their family’s dwelling.

“Big brother, you care for others so much, and yet yourself so little. You must be some kind of reincarnated saint.”

--------------------

(Muzan)

They lost. They were defeated. Crushed beneath the disgusting heels of the demon hunters.

They failed.

Utterly failed.

The demon let out a bitter and anguished growl to the night sky above he had just fallen from. It lacked words, but the intent was clearly to curse. His jaw was completely shattered so he couldn’t even spit out the blood building in his mouth and throat, and instead it was left to drool out the sides of his mouth languidly. His growl eventually turned into pained gurgling as the blood began to clog his breathing once again. To stop himself from slowly choking on his own blood pathetically, he slapped the remainder of his right arm into the ground next to him and attempted to roll over onto his stomach. After some painful manoeuvres and digging his wounded limbs into the ground, he was able to push himself over and make the harrowing trek from his crater out in the open to the cave nearby. If he left himself to bleed out too long in such an open space, the demon hunters might actually be able to pick up his trail.

Once he reached the cave, he dragged himself to the very back corner of it and leaned his crooked back against the wall, letting out a grunt as his back hit it. Thankfully the cave was deep enough that sunlight would not reach him this far in, no matter the time of day.

He glared holes into the dark scenery outside his cave.

Muzan Kibutsuji had been the king – no, the god of demons.

He still was.

And yet, the demon hunters crawled over his onyx throne now like little bugs. The accursed Hashira and their armies of hunters had dealt a devastating blow to his expanding rule. His forces had been scattered, his lair burnt to the ground and he himself had been reduced to this. His powers had waned and gone dormant so all his energy could be focused on healing himself. This meant he was trapped in his human form. His lowly, feeble and damaged human form. The realisation almost had him hurling just to get the taste of it out.

He was not confident he would able to repel even an armed farmer, let alone another demon slayer. He could barely move, especially after all the effort he spent just moving himself to this cave. This mere thought reignited his fury and his entire body burned with a bloody desire for violence. He wanted to rip their mortal bodies apart – debase them and their families and burn this country of theirs to the ground. A phantom ache sprang from his teeth and tongue, aching to taste their fear and blood on his lips.

That’s where humans belonged, beneath his foot or between his teeth.

With his jaw broken, he could only scrunch the remaining fingers of his left hand into a fist to keep his molten anger at bay.

Not yet.

For now, he had to wait. The Hashira would still be on the prowl; but at least they were still looking for a body.

They can swarm his throne for now, for once he’d recovered his strength, he’d burn those insects and his tarnished throne with them. And from their ashes and bones, he’d build his new throne on top of the world.
His world.

--------------------

(Tanjiro)

“Nezuko! It’s time to head back!” Tanjiro cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted into the forest again.

No reply came.

“How far did she go?” He wondered aloud. Nonetheless, he entered the forest his sister had disappeared into, his basket filled with herbs. This part of the forest was darker than other areas because of the mountain looming directly above it, covering the land in shade. Tanjiro and his siblings usually stayed away from this part of the forest as it was easy to get lost in, but occasionally Tanjiro ventured in for the harder to come by herbs. It was usually just Tanjiro that did this, he didn’t like any of his younger siblings risking themselves.

He continued his search through the forest, periodically yelling out for her. The longer he kept at it, the more worried he grew. He pace quickened and his shouting increased.

Eventually, Tanjirou came across a chilling trail of blood leading from a small crater of dirt to a cave a little way away. The trail was not small, and he could tell whatever it was had lost quite a bit of blood. Could it be an injured animal? A hunter’s catch that was never finished off? Or could it be…

No, it couldn’t be. He had only been away from her for only half an hour. He bit his lip and followed the trail, his mind racing through herbs he knew that could stop bleeds.

‘Please let her be okay…Please.’

As he approached the cave, he noticed it was deeper than he thought. He tentatively approached the entrance and looked in, feeling something was not quite right but being unable to place why.

“Nezu-” He quietly began, but he was cut short and his voice trailed off as he saw a shape in the shadows at the back of the cave. It was too large for the delicate frame of Nezuko, but it was humanoid.

A guilty feeling of relief welled up in him when he realised Nezuko could not be the injured form at the back of the cave. Reason returning to him, he realised the blood he had seen was too dry to have been from someone attacked recently.

Still, another feeling of curiosity and worry overcame him. He could see the gentle rise of a chest as the form appeared to sleep, meaning the poor person was still alive. Nezuko may not be the one injured, but this person in front of him was still in need of help.
Tanjiro crept closer to the resting form in the shadows, eventually coming to kneel before him. Up this close now, he could see it was a man, though the darkness hid many of his features.

The closer he looked, the more Tanjiro realised this man was horribly injured. His right arm was missing from the elbow down, his jaw unnaturally slack, his clothes in tatters in some places, and even in the darkness he could tell that the man was still bleeding in places. His face was not peaceful even in slumber and was warped in pain.

Tanjiro didn’t want to wake him, but he had no candle on him to light so he could assess all his injuries. So, he laid his basket of herbs down next to him and moved to slowly reach his hand to the stranger’s arm, intending to gently nudge him until he hopefully woke up.

The moment Tanjiro’s hand made contact with the icy skin of the stranger, his eyes shot open and what was left of his gnarled left arm sprung up to claw at him. Tanjiro tried to jump back and dodge the incoming swing but in doing so he fell back, knocking over his herbs in the process. The man growled at him and continued swatting at Tanjiro to keep him away.

“Wait – please, wai- wait a moment!” Tanjiro put his hands up in a sign of
surrender and edged away from the man slightly, trying to give him space.

“Please I know you’re hurt; I can help you!” Tanjiro grabbed a handful of herbs that had sprawled from his basket and held them up. “I have some herbs that can at least stifle your bleeding, please stop and let me help you!” he pleaded.

It didn’t seem his pleas were being listened to, but the stranger seemed to tire himself out rather quickly regardless. His swatting lost its viciousness and his arm hung loosely in the air before collapsing to the ground next to his body as if he could no longer hold it up. Soon the cave was filled with the awful sound of the man’s body being wracked with coughing that he could not properly release because of his wounded jaw. Despite his earlier violent reaction, and the hate filled eyes glaring up at him from the cave floor, Tanjiro couldn’t help but feel his heart wrench for the man.

He was clearly in great pain and stress, and likely just struck out on instinct. Tanjiro picked himself back up and kneeled once more beside the man. The stranger began to let out another threatening growl, but it was quickly interrupted by another coughing fit. His wrangled arm still lay on the floor, twitching periodically as if it was ready to pounce but all its strings had been cut.

This man needed Tanjiro’s help, and he would get it whether he liked it or not!

Resolved, Tanjiro ripped off parts of his kimono sleeve for some makeshift bandages. He’ll apologize to Nezuko and his mother later, he’s sure they’d understand even if they’d complain at first. There wasn’t much he could without the proper herbs, medicine and tools. But he still had to try.

So, he slowly reached for the twitching limb spread on the floor near him. The man watched him warily, growling between coughs when he could, but being unable to do much else thankfully.

With great care, Tanjiro grabbed the injured hand and only lifted it enough off the floor so that it was resting in his hands. Tanjiro’s hands were slightly calloused from the daily work around the temple, but he hoped they’d be at least softer than the cold and rocky ground.

The hand he held jerked as he held it and he could have sworn the man was trying to hiss at him.
But it didn’t stop Tanjiro.

As he tenderly began to clean the wounds of the missing fingers, the hand clawed and even successfully scratched him. It hurt and Tanjiro flinched slightly, but he did not stop.

Even when he started to manoeuvre his makeshift bandages slowly and delicately around the hand, the stranger’s hand latched onto Tanjiro’s hand and dug what’s left of its nails and fingers into Tanjiro’s hand. Tanjiro cried out and almost pulled away, but he persevered and pried the nails off him as carefully as he could and did not stop.

Finally, Tanjiro was able to finish the act. Still holding the bandaged hand, he looked up once more at the fearsome expression on the stranger’s face. He gave the resisting stranger a reassuring smile.

“There, now that wasn’t that bad was it?” The stranger still glared at him, but at least he wasn’t attempting to harm him now. He simply watched Tanjiro place his hand lightly back down. However, he still flinched and tried to growl when Tanjiro drew too close.

The man clearly wasn’t out of the woods yet; he still seemed to be littered with more injuries. To make matters worse, Tanjiro could not ascertain the extent of the wounds in this much darkness, and he didn’t have all the proper supplies. Tanjiro’s smile dropped as he realised, he could not do this job without help.

“I’m sorry sir, I cannot do much more than this right now. I will have to return to my village and get the proper supplies. I’ll get my mother to come help, I learnt everything I know from her.” Tanjiro tried to give another reassuring smile and began to stand up.

“I will definitely be back-”

The movement and words set the man off however, and his now bandaged hand shot out once more to latch on to the cloth of Tanjiro’s hakama. Tanjiro quickly reacted by crouching once more in concern, not wanting to stretch the freshly bandaged hand.

“I’m sorry but I really will need to return with better supplies, and you will be in good hands with my mother.” He said soothingly.

But the man’s grip did not let up. Tanjiro began to worry once more as he was not sure what the man was trying to tell him. The more time he spent here could mean the man’s chance of survival dwindling.

“What is it? I’m not lying, this really is the most I can do with what I have. I need to go back.” Tanjiro said in growing concern. The grip remained and Tanjiro wracked his brain.

“I assure you, my mother is very knowledgeable! Everyone in the village goes to her when they are sick.” He tried to comfort him.

With what seemed like a great effort, the man shook his head. It wasn’t a big movement but with all his concentration on him, Tanjiro noticed it immediately.

“You don’t want my mother? But why? You can trust her; she knows what she’s doing.” The man shook his head again. Tanjiro was at a loss. While he was talented in the area himself, this man would surely benefit from his mother’s treatment more.

Seeing Tanjiro’s uncertainty, the man began to move again. This time he brought his bandaged hand to his face and curled all his remaining fingers except one that hovered over his lips. The gesture was a little mangled on account of his missing fingers and haggled appearance but Tanjiro understood, nonetheless.

‘He doesn’t want anyone else to know.’

It was a rather distressing thought.

‘Why would he ask for secrecy when his life was at stake? Was he on the run from someone? In danger? … a criminal?’

Tanjiro was struck with indecision - he didn’t want to aid a criminal. He respects the law, but…
No- This man was so savagely beaten and wounded, and Tanjiro was sure this wasn’t right. No one deserved this kind of agonizing and slow death. Even criminals were people too, and all people deserved mercy. He would perhaps be just as bad himself if he left a helpless man to his death when he could have helped him. Besides, how could he be sure this man was a criminal? He could simply be a victim not wanting to let his location be known. Maybe he was being pursued?

That decided it then. Regardless of whether the man was a criminal or a hapless victim, Tanjiro would respect his wishes and help him all the same. He would not abandon the man.

Tanjiro once more reached for the hand that had gone slack. The man jerked, but he did not pull away or scratch him, just sharpened his eyes in warning at Tanjiro. Tanjiro leaned closer so as to not stretch the man’s arm and brought it to his chest, flashing a determined smile at him.

“Alright, I will return alone. Don’t worry.” He gently lowered the hand once more and stood up. The stranger did not make a grab for him this time and allowed him to take some steps away.

After he had collected his basket and started to leave, Tanjiro heard a muffled groan behind him. It sounded too punctuated to be one of pain so Tanjiro turned back one final time. He raised his own finger to his lips and smiled back down at the stranger.

“I will be back, I promise.”

--------------------

(Muzan)

Filthy. Muzan felt filthy. Or at least he should feel filthy.

He felt angry. He should feel angry.

He should have pulled the brat close and devoured him then and there. And yet he let him leave. He let a weak and pitiful human see him in this state and get away. He let potential prey escape.

Wounds or not, Muzan let a human see him like this and live to tell the tale.

This cannot stand. When he returns, likely with whatever whore he’s told; Muzan will tear them apart even if he only has one hand to do it with. He’ll gouge their eyes out and feed upon their hear-

~
A shadow looms above him, but its shade is comforting. The figure is that of a boy, or a young man. He wears the garb of a Kannushi; a blue hakama and a white kimono. His hair is tied up into a ponytail, so it isn’t in his face – It’s likely for practicality but it serves to show off an ugly and large burn scar that crawls across the left side of his forehead. Framing his face are large paper earrings of a rising sun, a popular symbol in the land for spiritual practitioners. The boy gingerly holds the hand that had clawed and injured him, to his chest. The boy’s hands are warm unlike Muzan’s naturally icy own hands. His palms have some light callouses, the tell-tale sign of someone who works. But they’re strangely soft and welcoming. He holds Muzan’s hand like its fragile and leans in so its not stretched when he pulls it to his chest.

The boy is talking… saying he won’t bring his mother. But Muzan can barely hear him, he’s distracted by the calm and soothing beat of a heart he can feel through his fingers against the chest.

Muzan is close enough to rip it out.
But he doesn’t.

Something compels him to just freeze for a few moments and feel the heartbeat at his fingertips.

He hears the boy trail off and his eyes focus back on the face of this human. His gentle expression blooms into a supportive and disarming smile. Even though Muzan is looking up at it him, the look the boy is giving him is one full of dedication.

Like the boy is devoting himself to Muzan.

~

Something shifts in Muzan and the memory fades. He finds himself calm once more and staring at the rays of the setting sun pooling into his cave.

A part of him demands his anger and revulsion to return, but he remains stoic. The scene of the boy brightly smiling while unwittingly pledging to help the most notorious demon was burned into his brain. The emotions he should be feeling were being kept at bay by this one encounter.

He wanted to warp that face into pain. He wanted to bruise and mar that sun kissed skin. Pick those pretty amber eyes from their sockets. Taste the blood that pumps through that sickly benevolent heart. Loom above the kneeling boy. To have this boy lay praises and adoration at his feet. To be worshipped and feared by him. To mould and suffocate that light of his.

He deserved this.

Chapter Text

(Tanjiro)

Tanjiro quietly packed his bag with the supplies he would need. It was bulkier and heavier than his basket so it would need to be tied to his back.

After his encounter with the strange man in the cave, he thankfully found Nezuko a few minutes later by the river that ran through the forest and led into the village. She too had lost track of time and after some light scolding from Tanjiro, confessed she had ventured into the area for the herb that eases pregnancy. An older friend of hers in the village was struggling through her first pregnancy and Nezuko had wanted to help somehow. Unfortunately, this herb, while rather effective in easing pain, was hard to get. It grew on shaded riverbeds but was quite difficult to uproot and often ended in nastily scrapped hands from the rocks scattered around. Nezuko shared Tanjiro’s instinct to do things for others and not care for herself, so she had decided to sneakily get it done and apologise after. She reminded him tactfully of his own habits, and successfully wiggled her way out of another scolding. He supposed it was ironic that while one sibling looked for herbs for a friend’s sake, the other one discovered and planned to nurse a stranger back to health. Hardly something he could criticise her for.

Tanjiro hadn’t really the heart to be angry at her, he was just relieved she was safe and mostly unharmed.
So he took her home and cleaned the small cuts on her hand. They agreed to not mention Nezuko’s excursion if she helped cover for his ripped kimono.

As Tanjiro snuck through the hallways of their house, he stopped to give a smile at his younger sibling’s rooms. They were all such kind-hearted souls. While he never wanted them to put themselves in harm’s way, a part of him was proud of their selflessness. Maybe they would do the same as him if they knew.
Feeling more confident in his view and not being able to linger too long, Tanjiro continued out.

--------------

(Muzan)

Muzan woke to the sound of crunching grass and a shadow appearing at the mouth of the cave to block the moon’s light.

“Hello? I’m back.” A soft boy’s voice called out. Any tension Muzan had felt melted away. It was just the boy again.

Still, he stayed silent and watched him enter. Muzan had no trouble seeing in this darkness while the boy struggled. With his hand to the cave wall he felt his way in, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. When the boy could see he was drawing close to Muzan, he crouched and began unloading his bag. His first order seemed to be lighting a small light. It wasn’t easy in the darkness and at times Muzan wondered if he was just going to light himself on fire, but eventually he succeeded.
Once he was done unpacking, he turned to Muzan and moved close with the light in hand. Their eyes connected and Muzan observed him with a glare, while the boy simply smiled in greeting.

“Okay, let’s see the rest of the injuries.” Despite the friendliness of his voice, the boy still reached for Muzan slowly, probably bracing for any more attacks. Muzan just watched on bored. There was a nagging part of him that told him he should hate this boy for seeing him like this - that Muzan should be ashamed for accepting his help.
But why shouldn’t he? It’s fitting that a lower life form like him should be going out of his way to serve him. This was his place in this world, below Muzan and ready to wait upon him.

So, he did not claw at the hand that reached out and allowed him to assess his injuries. Thankfully he had regenerated enough that while he was littered with many wounds, his survival was plausible. His guts weren’t spilling out and the darkness helped obscure the extent of his injuries even with a light. He wouldn’t want the foolish human running back to alert the village.

The human frowned a bit as he evaluated the damage but when he felt Muzan’s lingering harsh gaze, he smiled once more as if to reassure him and begun his work.
Muzan was reluctantly impressed by the boy’s tender but careful ministrations. He did indeed seem to possess a decent amount of medical knowledge and handled himself well. He was silent as he worked, and only paused to make sure he was grabbing the right tool or herb in the low light. Occasionally, he’d feel Muzan’s eyes on him and never failed to answer his gaze with a small smile likely meant to comfort.
It did nothing of the sort for Muzan, but he did take great interest in watching the way his eyes crinkled and his head slightly titled when he smiled. There wasn’t much else to look at anyway, so he just watched the boy. He could tell the boy took great care in his actions and made an effort not to knock or pull to tightly on Muzan for his comfort.
As he should. His priorities should be to minimize Muzan’s pain while repairing his body. This boy understood his place well.

The boy worked well into the night but eventually he had to stop. He’d finished most of the preliminary stuff like disinfecting and bandaging where he could. By the end, Muzan was quite literally covered in bandages, and his face had been closed with a combination of bandages and splints. They could tell the sun would rise soon and the boy had to return and restock anyway.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow. Good night sir.” He gave a final smile to Muzan and left.

 

The boy visited Muzan nightly to check up on him and monitor his wounds. He changed the bandages regularly and would occasionally travel to the river a few minutes away to wash the bandages or tools.
Muzan was making rapid progress - he was a powerful demon after all. Had these wounds not been dealt by the Nichirin blades of the demon hunters, he would have healed even faster. But these blades had been doused in severe doses of wisteria poison and the Hashira had been the one’s wielding the blades. But the only remark the boy made about his fast progress was that he was glad he was recovering so well.

“The gods must favour you.” He had said. Muzan had merely growled in reply. He was not favoured by the gods; he was one of them.

Food was a little bit of an issue. Muzan didn’t need to eat human food and his diet was entirely different from what the boy thought. So Muzan insisted only on water and some crushed herbs, much the boy’s confusion and dismay. The boy was clearly worried about his eating habits but appeared to chalk it up to pickiness and not being ready for solids yet.

However, Muzan could not last forever without flesh. He could sustain himself now because he wasn’t using his blood demon arts or transforming, but eventually Muzan would need to hunt.
But he was in no dire straits yet - after all, his prey was right in front of him.

 

Ultimately, Muzan grew tired of the silence between the two. Now that he was recovering properly, he could focus his healing to his jaw, and have it healed much faster. One night while waiting for the boy to make his regular appearance, Muzan snapped his fully healed jaw back into place. With a satisfying albeit painful crack, Muzan could talk again. When the boy arrived, he was naturally surprised to see the bandages off his face and his jaw in working order.

“This is a miracle, I’ve never seen a broken jaw heal so fast,” He began to say before Muzan cut him off.

“Who are you?” Muzan asked, his voice lacking the raspy edge of someone who hadn’t used the voice for a few days would have had. The boy looked a little stunned for a second and stared for a moment. After a few short moments passed and he had been given no answer, Muzan snapped. His gaze sharpened to a glare and his fingers twitched. The boy noticed his irritation and hurried to finally answer.

“Tanjiro! Tanjiro Kamado.” He still seemed a little mystified by the sound of Muzan’s voice.

‘Tanjiro.’

“Tanjiro.” Muzan tasted the words in his mind and on his tongue. He decided he liked the sound of it.

“Why did you help me? Are you some kind of delusional fool that expects recompense?”

The question seemed to shake Tanjiro out of his stupor.

“No, of course not. I helped you because you were hurt and needed help.” He answered, a little taken aback. Just as quickly, Muzan shot back.

“That’s a foolish reason. What if I deserved it? What if I was a criminal?”

Tanjiro’s expression hardened and became determined.

“Only a god has the right to judge someone. I helped you because leaving someone to die is the wrong thing to do.”

“Then what if I killed you right now? You would have no regrets?”

“Truthfully some, I would regret leaving my family. I’m sure they’d miss me. But I would still do it all again. I must treat others how I want to be treated. I cannot hope for a peaceful world if I do not contribute to making it so.” He stared into Muzan’s eyes. “There is good in everyone.”

Muzan let out a chuckle at his words. “Are you sure?” He asked him in a mocking tone, leaning back against the cave wall he was sitting in front of. He watched him the way a hawk does a mouse.

“I believe so.”

“What makes you so confident?”

“Hope.”

“That’s all? No grand vision or stalwart evidence?”

“I don’t need either to believe in something.”

Muzan smirked to himself. “How flimsy your mind is.”

‘How naïve it is. How pure it is.’

“You have clearly not experienced much hardship in your life.” Muzan continued. Tanjiro’s cheeks coloured a little.

“Well, we are more fortunate than some – But I don’t think that should deter one from helping another. Status should mean nothing in the face of doing good.”

“Adversity hardens humans. Once they realise the truth of the world, ethics means nothing to them. There’s only one rule; the strong eat the weak.”

“The strong should protect and raise the vulnerable, not oppress them.”

“And why should they? Who’s going to tell them what to do when they are already the strongest? They don’t benefit from helping the weak.”

“It’s not about benefit and drawbacks, you should always help others. You would want others to do the same for you, if you were in a bad spot too, right?” Tanjiro seemed to be getting a little frustrated. Not particularly angry, but as if he couldn’t quite grasp Muzan’s concepts. Like a piece of white silk resisting a stain.

“I do not hope, nor do I need. People serve me because they must.”

Tanjiro’s reply died on his lips. There was a misty look to his eyes, as if he was searching for answer in Muzan’s own. His habit of tilting his head ever so slightly reared its head, as if unconsciously he was looking for a new angle to see Muzan in and hopefully understand him.

“Who are you?”

Muzan leaned slightly forward and reached out to poke Tanjiro in the sternum with one of his remaining fingers.

“Muzan.”

--------------

Over the period Muzan stayed in the cave, he learnt bits and pieces about the curious Tanjiro. He still came, even after their first conversation which had them butt heads ethically. He still treated him with the same friendliness as before and dutifully checked his wounds and changed his bandages.
Tanjiro was the oldest of six children and was from a family of Kannushi that took care of and ran the village shrine. Their village was not large or particularly wealthy, but they survived. Poor enough that Tanjiro managed the priestly duties and did odd jobs around the village. The village had no doctor, but Tanjiro and his mother Kie appeared to be quite knowledgeable in medicine anyway, so there was no need to worry. Tanjiro himself was eighteen and almost ready to officially take his late father’s position as head of the shrine.

~

“You’re eighteen and you haven’t wed yet?”
Tanjiro tensed up and his face grew red. “Because my father died when we were young, we couldn’t really afford to add to the family, and I was too busy with picking up my father’s duties to look. My mother has, um…put out the word so to speak and hopes I’ll be married within the year.” He gave a sheepish smile to Muzan. “I’d be happy with anyone as long as they would be happy with me.” He looked down at his hands that were neatly folding some bandages and appeared to instinctively reach one hand up to gingerly trace the burn scar on his forehead. “I think I’ll be lucky if I even receive an offer.”

Muzan said nothing and just watched Tanjiro continue with medical chores, tapping the last of his fingers against his thigh.

~

Muzan came to understand that Tanjiro really was the kind of person to help anyone he met, no matter how suspicious they may seem. He seemed to have an awful case of seeing the best in people and had mistakenly lumped Muzan in with them. Muzan found his unprejudiced kindness to be both disgusting and oddly fascinating. Part of him saw him as useless and damaged goods, unworthy of surviving for his weakness. But another part of him wanted to crush him, bend him, suffocate him and mould him to see how long his light would last.

What could it take before it was snuffed out?
What would finally break his naiveite?
What would his expression be at that time?

And so Muzan played with his food.

 

Days past languidly as Muzan waited for his company to arrive in the nights. He was trapped in the cave by day and his night-time was entertained by picking apart at the history and mind of his would-be servant.
His body had made decent progress and within a day or two, should he wish it, be good as new. His fingers and arm hadn’t grown back, and he allowed some scars to remain on his body for now. In a day he’d be ready to harness his demonic powers once more and instantly heal the last of his wounds. For now though, he held back on some healing so his nightly servant wouldn’t be spooked and run and expose him too early.
It would be time to eat soon.

Tanjiro had fulfilled his purpose and Muzan’s was almost at full power. He’d considered turning him into a demon, but he ultimately decided against it. Better to eat him. He was a healthy young man, Muzan was sure his bones would crunch nicely beneath his teeth. He’d been wandering what the soft tanned skin would taste like and how he’d sound when he’d cry.

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(Tanjiro)

Tanjiro was on his way out. He had stayed longer than usual and even brought tea and some sweets to share. Muzan had eaten none of it of course, and Tanjiro had noticed. His smile was a little sad by the end of it when he cleaned up and noticed Muzan’s food was untouched.
But that was okay. Tanjiro would bring something yummier next time, and then he was sure Muzan might like it. It was important for recovering people to eat and regain their energy. Muzan was looking much better than usual and within a day he’d probably be ready to remove most of the bandages.

“I’m so glad you decided to let me help you Muzan.” Tanjiro said to his stoic charge. He stared down into his tea, feeling a little embarrassed. “I know it was probably hard to rely on a stranger like me.”
He lifted his face once more and gave a shy smile. “Thank you for putting your trust in me.”

Muzan said nothing but tapped one his remaining fingers against the ground, looking away.

 

The sun was already beginning to rise when Tanjiro reached the mouth of the cave. He could feel the first rays of warm sun reach his face. Realising he’d forgotten to tell Muzan about his delivery, he turned his head back.

“Oh, I forgot to mention. My apologies Muzan, I won’t be coming for the next few days. But don’t worry you should be alright without me now, though I’ll come back to check on you, just to be sure.” He gave his signature smile and walked back down into the forest, unaware of the plans he had just skewed.

Chapter Text

(Tanjiro)

Something was wrong.

His nose noticed it before he caught sight of it. Smoke. Heavy and fresh smoke, like something big was burning.
He saw the plumes of smoke as he rounded the corner and his village became visible. It was covered in flames. It spurred him into a run. He was still quite a distance away, but he pushed his body to rapidly close that gap.
Again, his nose noticed it before any other senses. The scent of burning flesh.
Tanjiro’s village was burning and his people with it. Passing the threshold of his village he immediately came upon corpses. Instinctively he went to kneel at their sides, grabbing a hand of one of them for a pulse. The moment he did so, the arm split off from the body. It had only been hanging on by a thin string, and the movement had been all it had needed to come apart. The bodies had been dismembered.

Tanjiro fell onto his haunches in shock, the state of the bodies coming into full focus. These people hadn’t been simply killed. They had been butchered.
Yet there was a crudeness to their unusual wounds – an almost disinterest. As if the perpetrator wasn’t butchering them for a sick pleasure, but simply because they lacked control or care to restrain themselves. Like smashing glasses with a hammer.

Even as Tanjiro continued to search for any signs of life, the grim reality set in as the silence did. The only sound was the roaring of the burning buildings. Bodies lined the streets and blood soaked the dirt roads, overtaking the rain channels with streams of blood.
Strangely enough, he could not find any bandits or even signs that a large group had passed through. There was no chance it was some kind of divine punishment from the gods, Tanjiro’s family and temple had protected the village and served the gods for generations.

‘Could it have been an invasion from a rival lord? No, they’d still be here. Or there would at least been tracks. But where are the tracks? Where are the bandits? Who could have done this, if not a band of merciless thugs?’

The smell was becoming unbearable. The fresh bodies coupled with the choking smoke was making him gag.
He needed to get the corner of the city, he needed to check on his family.

‘Gods, please let them be safe!’

His desperate pace quickened. He heard the first sound apart from the roar of the flames since he had arrived. It was a scream. A small part of him leapt in joy at the ominous sound, because it at least it meant life.
But he was quickly chilled to the bone when he realised he recognised the scream.

It was Nezuko’s scream.

Tanjiro began to sprint like he had never done so before. Reaching his family’s yard, he came across a gruesome scene.
Blood had been splattered across the courtyard. The temple was on fire, with already the roof looking ready to cave in. The statues and carvings of gods were either smashed or smeared with blood.
He could see his mother’s body peaking out from inside the room of their home. He could see three little bodies bundled in with her. A fourth body, his younger brother Rokuta, laid on the boundary between the courtyard and the room. The room was lined with red. His arm had been torn off and dropped a few places further away as if it had been ripped off in a tug of war. Their bodies looked a little unnaturally twisted in places.

In front of him stood a man with his back to him, holding a gasping figure in a strangled hold. Nezuko was clawing at the man’s hold on her throat. Her kimono was stained and ripped and her hair in disarray. She was injured, but Tanjiro couldn’t pinpoint where from her blood-soaked clothes. Blood was beginning to pool beneath her.

“NEZUKO!” Tanjiro ran to the two figures, pushing the man away and attempting to grab his sister, intending to separate the two. Nezuko dropped to the ground and Tanjiro leapt to catch her and cradle her. Once in his arms, he went to check for her pulse but before he could, a hand clamped onto his shoulder and pulled him roughly away. Still, Tanjiro desperately clung to his sister’s body.

“Nezuko!” His voice choked out. Whether from the heavy smoke surrounding him or the sobs threatening to spill out, he did not know.

Another hand grabbed her and tugged her out of his grasp with an inhuman strength he could not resist. Tanjiro didn’t hesitate to reach for her again even as the hand on his shoulder tightened. He couldn’t reach her as he was pulled back once again and instead a hand forcefully turned his head to look back at the face of the perpetrator.

It was a devilishly handsome face. An aristocratic pale face framed by dark curls. Eyes red and burning like brimstones. A body lined with bandages.
A recognisable face. … And yet he was unrecognisable. This was the man Tanjiro had just spent the last few weeks nursing back to health. Whom he had snuck out almost nightly for, labouring into the early hours of the morning taking care of. The man Tanjiro wasn’t sure whether was a victim or a criminal, Muzan.

“M-Muzan?” Tanjiro questioned.

But the Muzan Tanjiro had known, was missing an arm and had been badly wounded. Sure, Tanjiro was a talented healer, but he was no miracle worker either.
And yet, this man gazed down upon him with all his limbs back, his skin unmarred as if he had never even felt the sting of the sun. The bandages hung loosely on him like they were just there for show, and his pale skin was that of an untouched monarch. His scarlet eyes stared at him with a strange, unblinking intensity. He wore no expression and yet Tanjiro could still feel he was being studied, scrutinised – no, appraised – under that gaze.

But this was no time to marvel at this phenomenon, and the reality of everything thumped back into Tanjiro’s mind. Anger bubbled up swiftly within Tanjiro. His mind began to blacken in rage and his senses dulled.
He curled his hands into fists and raised one his arms to strike. When his attempted punch was caught by simply releasing his chin to grab it, Tanjiro used his other free hand to try and hit Muzan. It was similarly unsuccessful. Letting out a frustrated cry, Tanjiro started to twist and wrestle as much as he could in Muzan’s grasp. Though his strength seemed inhuman and Tanjiro was making little progress, after a few moments Tanjiro was tossed away from Muzan to the ground. Before he could even recover, a foot kicked him further away until his back connected with Nezuko’s body. The sensation of Tanjiro’s weight crushing his little sister’s body froze the fury boiling in his veins.

His senses sharpened and stung like open wounds as the rush of sensations blocked by anger returned. His tear ducts remembered how to function, and he could feel his heartbeat try to escape his chest. He instantly rolled off her and scooped as much as he could of her into his arms, while trying to use his body as a shield to Muzan.

Through gasping breaths Tanjiro tried to ask, “Why? Why would you do this?” to the silent man behind him.

“I don’t need a reason.” A smooth voice answered. Tanjiro threw a glare at Muzan. Its hate was dampened by the heartbroken expression in his eyes.

“Have you no heart? No soul?”

Muzan’s lips stretched into a smirk as he spoke. “A god has no need for either.”

“So you lack dignity too?” Tanjiro spat.

A crisp sound resounded through the smoke choked air. In a blink of an eye he had moved forward to promptly backhand Tanjiro. It was so harsh and fast that Tanjiro had half dropped Nezuko into his lap as he tilted sideways, reeling from the blow. Tanjiro hadn’t even seen it coming, he had only felt the sting of it and tasted the blood afterwards.

“Humanity is for the weak.” Was all Muzan said, seeming to dare Tanjiro to challenge the subject further if he dared. Gritting his teeth, Tanjiro was silent a moment to regain himself and clutch Nezuko again.

“How did all of this…happen? Did you lead a band of bandits through my village?” Tanjiro couldn’t help but ask.

Muzan gave a disapproving growl. “Don’t lower my work to the likes of them, you brat.” He straightened his expression. “No, I did this all myself.”

Tanjiro clutched Nezuko tighter as a new wave of anguish and rage crashed into him.

“You’re possessed by a demon.” He choked out through burning tears.

His smirked return. “I am a demon.”

Tanjiro’s face paled a little.

“Don’t forget who saved me and patched my wounds.” Muzan leaned in uncomfortably close so all Tanjiro could see was his face, his red eyes boring into him. “This is your fault Tanjiro.” He enunciated every word.

“How does it feel to know your ‘kindness’ was pointless? Deadly even?”

“This wasn’t-,” Tanjiro tried to reply but Muzan cut him off.

“Can you really say that here? I don’t think they’d agree with you.” Muzan moved back to gesture to the burning village around him.

“I-,”

“You should be grateful brat, I’m teaching you one final lesson. The strong eat the weak. You should have learnt it earlier, and then maybe everyone would still be alive.”

“I would still-! I would do it again.”

Muzan seemed to stop for a moment, almost surprised. But the slight change in expression was gone in an instant, and a sneer of disgust replaced it. “What?”

“Even if there’s a chance that my hand wouldn’t reach you…I’d still do the same. I don’t believe in your world.” He clutched Nezuko protectively to his chest.

“Even knowing what would happen, you’d sacrifice the lives of your village just to stick to your flimsy ideal of morals?”

“There is a potential for good in everyone, and I believe in helping those that struggle. Everyone deserves that chance.” Even with the backdrop of a burning temple, his dying sister in his arms and his life falling apart at his feet, Tanjiro looked up at Muzan with conviction. A conviction for good. A conviction that there was good in this world.

A conviction that there was some good in Muzan.

A deadly smirk creeped across Muzan’s lips, lighting his face with an almost terrifying look of interest.

Something in that look made Tanjiro stiffen, like an instinct in him was warning him.

‘Am I going to die?’

Muzan’s head reached out to Tanjiro and he instinctively recoiled, trying to twist so his body would protect Nezuko. It didn’t do much good however, and his hand latched onto Tanjiro’s arm and ruthlessly yanked him up. The grip on his arm felt iron hard and they flamed Tanjiro’s growing fear. He gripped Nezuko as he was roughly pulled, trying to keep her in his arms. Before Tanjiro could even gain his footing, Muzan’s other hand wrenched at Tanjiro’s other hand holding Nezuko, ripping her out of his hands.

“Nezuko-! Stop, let me go!” Tanjiro tried to struggle out of Muzan’s grip to no avail, Muzan pulling him to his chest. His strength was immense, and it was like Tanjiro was a plaything of a colossal force. With his arms immobilised, Tanjiro raised his foot to try and stomp on Muzan’s.
He was pulled even closer, until he was flush against the man’s bandaged chest. It put Tanjiro off balance and caused him to lean even further into the man’s harsh embrace, effectively halting his struggle.

You are mine.

He felt the words ghost his ear. There was something intensely final about those words. As if the words were etched into somewhere deep inside of him, like a permanent brand.
He felt a harsh wack to the back of his neck and his world hastily began to dissolve around him. His legs went limp and his hands reached forward to clutch at the chest and arm supporting him. His head gently thudded against the bandaged chest and his consciousness started to fade.
There was so much to do. So much chores and official duty to do. So many people he could save. So much he could do for people.

Nezuko was lying behind him, dying if not already dead like the others. His village burned around him. The murderer was within his grasp.
And yet… Only one thought eclipsed it all.

‘Where was his heartbeat?’