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little bunny, why are your eyes so red?

Chapter Text

Whenever happiness is destroyed, there is always… 


His finger twitched, ears reaching out to hear that single, teary-eyed voice. A familiar voice, one he had heard nearly his entire life, and yet for the life of him, he could not remember whose it was. His entire body ached, his nose twitching to the sickly sweet smell that made his stomach roll itself over in knots, hunger making it feel like his insides were eating itself ten times over. Something was wrong. Something was really, really wrong.

“Onii-chan, please wake up!” 

The sound of struggle. Someone was trying to move his body, drag him from where he was laying face down on the snow, but whoever it was did not have enough strength to even pick him up, and the sobbing was only getting louder every second. He wanted to reach out and comfort it. He wanted to touch her cheek and tell her that everything will be alright. But even at his confused, mind-addled state, something was telling him that nothing was ever going to be alright again. They’d lost so much, he’d lost so much… all because he was too weak to protect them, to protect his entire world. 

Something inside him wanted to cry. Something inside him wanted to scream. Something inside him wanted to eat, eat, eat— the ravenous hunger seeking to overtake all of his emotions, the sickly sweet scent he had smelled earlier coming back to him with a vengeance, overriding his senses, and the next thing he knew he was opening his eyes, drool spilling down his parted lips, and above him, someone gasped. 

… the smell of blood. 

A young girl with dark hair and pink eyes. 


His fingers twitched, long nails digging on the snow underneath him. 


“Onii-chan?” the young girl whispered. There were tear stains down her cheeks. He had never seen anyone look so despaired and yet so relieved. He wondered why. He wondered what happened to her. He wondered who she was. He wondered how it would feel to lunge at her frail form right then and there— how it would feel to bite and consume her flesh, feel her warm blood soothe his parched throat. Something about that image felt so right and yet so wrong, his mind fighting against his own body. Eat eat eat eat eat eat— his body was yelling, begging, and he was so hungry, but he doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to—

“Onii-chan? Can you walk? I can’t— I can’t carry you, and the snow is so thick, I can’t use the cart… if you can’t that’s alright! I’ll run down to the village and get a doctor! You can rest inside for a while… don’t die… please hang in there, Onii-chan! I’ll save you! I promise I’ll save you!” 

Onii-chan? he thought. Something you call your older brother. The familiar girl tried to help him up, ushering him from where he was laying down in the cold snow in front of the doorway and inside the small home where the sickly sweet smell was stronger. The girl paled as soon as she opened the dilapidated door, but she steeled herself and guided him inside, and it was then that he saw it, the carnage that was inside of what used to be a quaint little home. Corpses of people strewn about carelessly, their blood seeping through the tatami floor— Mom, Takeo, Hanako, Shigeru, Rokuta— seemingly against his will, his knees crumpled down onto the floor, tears filling his eyes as his throat let out the most agonizing sound… 

And it all came rushing back. 

His name was Kamado Tanjirou. 

“Tanjirou, will you come inside and close the door? The cold is getting in,” his mother, Kie, called out to him as she finished laying out their futon in preparation for the night. His younger siblings were already there, all changed into their sleepwear. Shigeru and Hanako were teasing Takeo about something or other, Rokuta was clinging on their mother’s yukata as he usually does, but Tanjirou’s mind was somewhere else, worrying over where Nezuko was at the moment, especially now that it was getting dark. 

“Do you think Nezuko got lost on her way up the mountain? I’m getting worried, maybe I should go down and find her,” Tanjirou replied as he followed his mother’s orders, closing the door behind him as he walked back inside. 

“Nezuko is a sensible girl. I’m sure she’s already found somewhere to stay for the night and will be here come morning,” Kie replied as she picked Rokuta up, shushing the other children in order to put their baby brother to sleep. “At the very least, I’m sure old man Saburo will not let her climb the mountain in the dark, so rest assured that she will be safe.” 

Tanjirou hesitated. “But…” 

“No ‘but’s.” Kie scolded. “You will stay here for tonight and not wander, alright? Especially with your injured ankle. You are not going anywhere, young man.” 

Tanjirou smiled sheepishly. It was bad luck, really, that as he was transferring the charcoal into his basket in preparation for his trip down the village, he stumbled and sprained his ankle against a big rock that was buried under the snow. He had tried to hide his injury from everyone, intending to continue on with his trip to sell charcoal so his siblings would be able to have a feast when the New Year arrives, but when Nezuko noticed and asked him seriously if he was feeling alright, she caught him out on his lie. Tanjirou had always been such a bad liar. He couldn’t lie to save his life. 

Nezuko had sighed and handed him Rokuta right then and there, proposing that they switch chores for the day. Tanjirou would take care of their baby brother and Nezuko would go down the mountain to sell their wares. At first Tanjirou was worried as he didn’t want her to get tired, but she insisted that charcoal was relatively lightweight, and sure enough she didn’t seem to have any major difficulty with getting the basketful of coal onto her back. He still didn’t want her to go, insisting that as the eldest son it was his job to take care of things like this, but his younger sister only laughed and said: 

“But I am the eldest daughter of the Kamado family! It’s my job to support you whenever I can! Who could we rely on if not each other?” 

He couldn’t argue with that. 

In the end, he bid his sister goodbye as he watched her go down the mountain path on her own. The kids were delighted to find out that they had the whole day to spend with their beloved older brother, and milked it for all its worth. He was not able to help Takeo chop up some firewood because of his injury, but it seemed he was already satisfied with him just being there to talk to. He read some stories to Hanako, promised that he’ll get goodies next time he goes to the village to Shigeru, and the next thing he knew the sun was setting on the horizon, pulling the world into darkness, and Nezuko still wasn’t home. 

He knew his mother was right. Nezuko must be staying over at someone else’s house for the night. Their village loved Nezuko, and would not let anything bad happen to her. He was sure she was safe out there, that she will be alright. So why… 

Why does the darkness tonight fill him with so much dread? 

“Knock knock little bunny from the little mountain… why are your ears so long?” Kie sang, ushering the little ones down onto the futon. Takeo mumbled about not needing any lullaby anymore, but he still snuggled against the covers and closed his eyes. Shigeru and Hanako were giggling softly, and Tanjirou found himself smiling as he sat down beside Kie and reached over to run his fingers through their hair. 

“When I was small, my mother ate the leaves of a tall tree and that is why my ears are so long…” 

Tanjirou closed his eyes to the soothing voice of his mother, humming along to the tune that Kie had used to sing even when he and Nezuko were little. 

“Knock knock little bunny from the little mountain… why are your eyes so red?” 

Tanjirou breathed in the scent of happiness and contentment coming off from his siblings and the scent of love from his mother. Even with the feeling of dread lingering in his heart, moments like these comfort him so much. 

“When I was small, my mother ate the fruit of a red tree and that is why my eyes are so red...” 

The flame of their lamp flickered. Something stank. Something from outside. Tanjirou wrinkled his nose. He couldn’t place it, couldn’t figure out what it smelled like, just that it was bad. It smelled like… something like— 

“Knock knock little bunny from the little mountain…”


His eyes shot open, his hand immediately reaching over to grab the hatchet from the corner, standing up as he called out, “Watch out!” 

The door exploded inside, as if it was kicked with a great force from the outside. Hanako screamed. Bits and pieces of the wood debris flew towards them from the explosion, and Tanjirou wasted no time to get between the threat and his family, even with the pain that was coming from his injured ankle. Fear gripped his heart as he aimed the hatchet at the person standing in front of their doorway. It was a man wearing a western suit, staring at the family impassively with his piercing red eyes, almost glowing in the lamplight. He didn’t look very thrilled to be here, in fact he almost looked bored, at least until his eyes settled on Tanjirou, those red eyes widening a little as he seemed to see something he really, really disliked. Tanjirou felt his heart pounding in his chest, the man smelled like nothing he had ever smelled before. He smelled like pure malice, pure evil, and at that moment Tanjirou was terrified of what he was going to do, terrified that he would not be able to protect his family. 

“Those hanafuda earrings… interesting,” the man said, almost to himself. “You look so very much like him, it is unsightly...” 

“W-Who are you? What are you doing here?!” Tanjirou demanded. The man did not deign to reply. Tanjirou’s grip on the hatchet tightened. He wasn’t one to attack without provocation, but his nose does not lie. If the man even took one step towards his family, he would not hesitate to fling the hatchet at him with all his might. 

It only took a second. The man was absurdly fast. One moment he was standing there at the doorway and then the next he was right in front of Tanjirou, his entire arm punching right through Tanjirou’s chest. Tanjirou could not even gasp, he was not sure if his lungs were even functioning anymore, certain that it must have been damaged by the now gaping hole in the middle of his chest. Hanako screamed again as he fell to the ground, coughing up blood, eyes focusing on his mother as he croaked out. “M-Mom… r…. run!  RUN!” 

The horror in Kie’s eyes was palpable, but her determination to get her remaining family away from danger won out. Quickly she was holding up Rokuta who was crying against her chest, yelling at the others to come quick and follow her, but the man was faster. In a single moment he was already in front of her, backhanding her across the face and up towards the ceiling. Rokuta fell on the floor and the man stomped on his little head and crushed him, just like that. Someone was screaming. Tanjirou eventually realized that it was him. Shigeru and Hanako looked terrified out of their wits, but Takeo was quick to take the hatchet that Tanjirou had dropped and yelled at the two younger kids, “You heard Nii-chan! Run!” 

With a yell, Takeo charged towards the man, who at this point could not possibly be human. With all his strength he cleaved the hatchet onto the man’s back, but all it did was damage his clothes, and the force did not even seem enough to dig into his skin. Takeo gasped, and the next moment, the man had his hand around the young boy’s throat, lifting him effortlessly as he crushed his windpipe. Tanjirou could not take his eyes away as the man tossed Takeo’s body like it was a rag doll. Takeo hit the wall with a loud thud, his blood spraying all over the wall. Shigeru and Hanako were against another wall, shivering in terror, and Tanjirou pleaded for them to run, please please please run— but at this point even he didn’t think it would matter. The man was simply too fast. With barely even an effort he killed his two remaining siblings as well, Hanako with a kick and Shigeru with a hand through his heart, and Tanjirou screamed as much as he could scream with his weakening body, knowing that he too was going to die soon, hearing his own heartbeat wane inside his ears, anger and terror brimming inside his dying heart. 

The man did not even seem perturbed, nor did he seem to break a sweat. He just looked at the carnage he had caused on the slaughtered family and turned on his feet, walking out of the house. Tanjirou wasn’t about to let him get away. Ignoring all the pain he felt, he crawled over from the tatami floor and into the cold snow outside, grabbing the man’s ankle, looking up at him with rage-filled eyes, yelling at the top of his lungs even as blood gurgled from his throat. 

“You… monster! You won’t…. get away with this…! I’ll hunt you down and end you… even from beyond the grave!” 

To his immense frustration, the man did not even look threatened. In fact, he looked mildly amused. Tanjirou supposed it was hard to feel threatened when the one doing the threatening was so clearly already on death’s door. The man crouched down to meet him eye to eye, eyes flickering momentarily at the hanafuda earrings he had mentioned earlier, murmuring once more to himself. 

“A descendant of the sun-breathers… surely would have a chance to defeat the sun someday.” He lifted a single finger, the nail on his fingertip turning blue and lengthening in front of Tanjirou’s eyes. Tanjirou met the man’s slitted red eyes and thought he saw a hunger there, filled with wanting and greed. “Why don’t we try those words of yours, little sun-breather? Would you still thirst for revenge when you’ve become the very being you despise? Would you even remember? I wonder.” 

Tanjirou coughed out more blood, his fingers on the man’s ankle weakening, his eyesight faltering and blurring out. 

“I’m getting ahead of myself. There is a chance you may not even survive the transformation… perhaps it would not matter.” 

He felt a stabbing pain against his forehead, a pinprick compared to the agony that was going on in his gaping chest. The tiny pain did not last though. Instead it started to burn, hotter and hotter, until Tanjirou was screaming himself hoarse, convulsing against the cold snow as his skin felt like it was being flayed over hot coals and torn apart over and over. It was beyond torture, beyond pain. He gasped until he can’t gasp anymore, screamed until he could not scream anymore. Above him, he heard chuckling. The man was dusting off his clothes and watching. Tanjirou would not forgive him. Tanjirou would never forgive him. 

“I’ll leave the corpses as a present for you. You’ll have quite the feast. I’m quite generous, aren’t I?” 

Never… ever! Never forgive! 

Tanjirou forced his eyes open, commiting the man’s visage to memory, inhaling to remember his scent. Something tells him he would not die tonight. Something was happening to his body. Something that was not necessarily a good thing, but one thing was for sure: he would never forget this man for as long as he lived, would never be satisfied until he had torn him apart with his bare hands. This rage was scary. Tanjirou had never been this angry his entire life. It felt suffocating, like he would lose his entire self in it, and Tanjirou was not sure what was waiting for him on the other side. 


As he lost consciousness, a fleeting thought echoed in his head. A small bit of solace after a night of tragedy. At the very least, there was a single person he had not lost, a single person who was not here to see this nightmare unfold. 

Nezuko was safe. He had not lost his entire family. Nezuko was safe. 

And as he closed his eyes and let the darkness consume him, that was all that mattered. 

Chapter Text

Tanjirou cried.

As the eldest son of the Kamado family, he did not often allow himself the weakness of crying over something, not since he was a small child. But the pain he was currently feeling was just so unbearable, it was tearing him up inside— he could not stop himself from collapsing onto the floor. His family… his family was dead. Mom, Takeo, Hanako, Shigeru, Rokuta… he branded all their names into his head, begging for forgiveness to their departed souls. I'm sorry I could not protect you. I'm sorry I was weak. He clutched at his chest as he cried his heart out, his chest that no longer had a gaping hole in the middle, wondering how it was that he was alive. How was he alive when his whole family was dead? How were they dead while the monster that killed them remained at large? How was that fair? No…

His entire family wasn't dead. There was still Nezuko.


He looked up, seeing his little sister kneeling in front of him, holding him by the shoulders as if to offer her silent support. Nezuko looked teary-eyed as well, her eyes red and slightly swollen, evidence that she too had been sobbing not too long ago. Tanjirou reached over to embrace her, clutching at her back as he cried onto her neck, grateful for the smallest relief that Nezuko was alive. Nezuko was alright, Nezuko was right here, breathing, heart beating, smelling so delicious—

Tanjirou caught where his thoughts were going, immediately scrambling back to get away from their shared embrace. What… what was that? Those thoughts did not come from his own head. It was like there was something inside him, something dark and primal, making him hyper-aware of the sickly sweet smell of blood around him and the way his stomach ached with hunger. Nezuko looked back at him, concerned and confused, but her eyes widened as she seemed to notice something about him, something off—

“Onii-chan… are you—”

Tanjirou opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth but low growls. He wanted to tell Nezuko to stay right where she was, to not approach him because he didn't really feel like himself at the moment. He felt all kinds of wrong. He stared at his fingers, noting the long nails that protrude from his fingertips. He looked down at his chest, the yukata damaged and bloody where his injury once was, but all that was underneath it was smooth, undamaged skin. Even his ankle was no longer hurting, the sprain seemingly having healed overnight. He did not hurt anywhere, but he was hungry. He was so… so hungry—

“Ne…. zu…” he managed to choke out.

Nezuko looked a little scared. Nevertheless, she steeled her gaze and reached out to him, touching his cheek. Tanjirou felt his hunger intensify at her closeness, at the smell of human so close to his mouth, but even as his mouth filled up with saliva, even as the edge of his lips dribbled with drool, he realized he wasn't going to act on it. Because this was Nezuko, his sister, his only remaining family. He would never hurt Nezuko, no matter what his newfound instincts tell him to do. He would never hurt his family, not when he had failed them so utterly the night before.

“Are you alright?” she hesitated, looking down at his fingers, at his mouth that he realized was now fanged, deep into his eyes. He wondered what he looked like, what she was seeing in him. It couldn't be anything good. She swallowed hard. “It was not a bear, was it…? Was it— no. Onii-chan would never do this. What happened? Was it man-eating demons? Like old man Saburo said? But then why are you…”

Tanjirou swallowed his drool and tried to speak to no avail.

Resolve strengthened in Nezuko's eyes as she stood up. “I'm going to call the village doctor here after all. They must know how to help! Please wait a little longer, Onii-chan. There must be a way to fix whatever is wrong with you. We'll figure this out!” And with that, she was hurrying out of the door.

Tanjirou didn't know whether to encourage the idea or not. A part of him wasn't sure the doctor could do any kind of “fixing” in his current state. Something about it felt final, like there was something inside him that had been fundamentally changed, nothing some simple medicine could fix. At the same time, he worried for Nezuko— after everything that happened, he was overcome with anxiety at the thought of letting his remaining family out of his sight. What if the monster who did this was still out there somehow? What if he finds Nezuko, and kills her too? Tanjirou felt like something inside him would die.

He let out a growl and decided to follow her. For a moment, he hesitated, as it was light outside, and some instinct told him he should not step out into the sun. The skies were cloudy though, the weather smelling of an upcoming snowstorm. He reached his hand out of the door, unsure what he even was wary about, but when nothing happened he decided to continue on and follow his sister. Nezuko was already starting down the mountain trail, eager to get to the village, and Tanjirou was surprised how quickly he was able to follow her even with her head start. With all the strange new things happening inside his body, it seemed he was faster as well.

He rushed to Nezuko's side and grabbed her arm. Nezuko gasped in surprise and turned her head to face him. Tanjirou opened his mouth and managed to croak. “Doc… tor…” and then he shook his head vigorously.

Nezuko seemed to get it. She looked worried. “But—”

It was then that Tanjrou smelled someone coming. It seemed his already sharp nose was sharpened even further. The person approaching smelled like sadness and rainwater, which was a strange combination to begin with, but there was also an underlying scent of ash that made Tanjirou's hackles rise. He heard him before he saw him, coming towards them with something that glinted against the meager sunlight, and Tanjirou was quick to push both himself and Nezuko out of the way, the stranger landing with a loud whoosh against the snow, scattering it to the air.

Tanjirou situated himself in front of Nezuko and hissed at the stranger, his eyes slitting as veins appeared in his forehead and arms. The stranger stood in front of them emotionlessly, and Tanjirou realized that the thing he was holding that was glinting in the sun was a blue blade, the words “Destroy Demons” engraved at its surface, near its hilt.

That did not bode well. Especially now that Tanjirou was slowly realizing that maybe, just maybe, old man Saburo was onto something. Maybe that monster who killed Tanjirou's family was a literal monster after all, and whatever he did to Tanjirou…

Would you still thirst for revenge when you've become the very being you despise?

His fingers clenched, teeth bared, growling at the stranger in front of him. Nezuko was clinging to the back of his yukata, staring at the stranger as well with trepidation in her eyes.

“Little girl… do you know what that thing you're clinging onto is?” The man asked, tightening his hold on his katana in a way that suggested he knew exactly how to use it, and Tanjirou wasn't sure what was going on. He found himself standing his ground in front of Nezuko, determined to protect his little sister from any kind of harm, be it from suspected demons that prowl in the dark or mysterious swordsmen that attack out of nowhere. If nothing else, he would not fail to protect Nezuko. Not when she was the only family he had left.

It seemed that the stranger was talking to Nezuko. Tanjirou felt her grip tighten against his yukata, and when she spoke she sounded a little affronted. “He's not a 'thing'! He's my older brother!”

The stranger looked put off by her declaration. “Your older brother?” Tanjirou let out a low growl at the back of his throat. The stranger stared at him critically, before he let out a disbelieving grunt. “Ridiculous. That is not your brother any longer. Can't you see? It is merely being possessive of its prey. I recommend you step away from it right this instant, before you get hurt. My job is to slay demons. Needless to say, I would have to decapitate that demon.”

Tanjirou blinked. What? A slayer of demons… was here to kill him. That kind of confirmed the fact that he had turned into something different, otherworldly… something not human. He remembered the strange instincts that plagued him since he woke up, the sense of hunger that ate at his insides even now… did he really turn into a demon? How?

Before he could react or process that statement, the stranger was suddenly in front of him, blade on an arc path dangerously close to his neck. Some instinct inside him screamed 'not the neck, not the neck!' and he decided to listen to it. He growled as he lifted his hand to protect himself, hissing in pain when the blade dug itself into his arm. Somewhere behind him, he heard Nezuko cry out, and it reminded him of Hanako from the night before. Red hot anger built up in his chest, searing hot like the tears that gathered at the edge of his eyelids. The next thing he knew, he was swiping his clawed hand right at the face of this stranger who dared to rouse such memories within him, his hand reaching further than it should have. The man's blue eyes widened as he jumped back, somersaulting in the air before landing laterally at a nearby tree, using his momentum to kick himself off towards Tanjirou once again.

“Onii-chan!” Nezuko yelled as she stood in front of Tanjirou to shield him from the stranger's attack, using what looks to be a nearby tree branch to block the man's blade. The man pulled back once again, only to run to the side and attack Tanjirou directly from a different angle, and Tanjirou used his good hand to pull Nezuko closer back behind him and the other to attack. Blow by blow they parried, and the more they did the more Tanjirou realized that something was different. His arms felt longer, stronger, his line of sight was higher, and it was almost as if he was as tall as the stranger, tall like an adult. He didn't have time to really process it though. Nezuko circled around and used her branch to try and hit the demon slayer's back. It did not connect, but it still made the man jump back and give them a wide berth. Nezuko looked positively enraged. Even with only the branch as her weapon, she looked murderous.

“Onii-chan hasn't killed anyone! We don't know why he's turned into something… different but— Onii-chan hasn't done anything wrong!” Nezuko yelled.

“It's quite simple. Because his wounds were exposed to demon blood, he turned into a demon. That's how man-eating demons multiply,” the man replied.

“Onii-chan would never eat humans!” Nezuko insisted. “Even as a demon, he remembers who I am! He remembers our family! He cried for our family! You can't even try to convince me that he's no longer himself, when you know nothing!”


Giyuu hesitated at the girl's passionate declaration, hand tight against his nichirin blade, blue eyes darting between the human girl and her demon brother. Experience told him to disregard the girl's words, words no doubt born from hopeful naivete, from a desire to reject reality. A part of him was even considering the possibility that the demon probably had duped the girl into thinking this way, fooled his prey somehow, be it from some kind of mental Blood Demon Arts or cold-blooded manipulation. There was just no way a demon would actually despair for the loss of human life, no matter if it was their family. To demons, humans were just food. A source of sustenance. When a demon is starving, it will kill and devour even its parents and siblings. Giyuu had seen it happen more times than he could count. And yet…

And yet.

The demon boy (now man, as he had seemed to transform into an adult version of himself halfway through the fight) was hissing at the pain in his arm, anger and panic evident in his slitted gaze. He was wounded, and no doubt severely starved at that moment, especially with his body expending energy on healing his injury. And yet even then he was not showing any signs of reaching out to his sister to try and devour her, nor did he seem to even consider it an option. Giyuu wasn't certain what angle this demon was playing at, but just the fact that he thought that way alone was evidence that he was seeing reason and intelligence in this demon's mannerisms— a far cry from the bestial way most newly-transformed demons present themselves. This demon was something different. It was something else. He couldn't help but wonder…

The demon growled at the demon slayer once again, stepping forward to hover protectively in front of his sister. Giyuu wondered if he was wrong for attacking without any warning, for not giving these siblings a chance. In the beginning he was highly skeptical, eager to discount the demon's protective stance as a mere possessiveness over its food, but now…

The human girl let out a war cry as she once again charged towards him with her branch, but even as Giyuu evaded he had his eyes set on the demon's expression— there was a shifting in his crimson eyes that spoke of worry. A demon worrying over a human girl. Unbelievable. Giyuu stepped back and then used the hilt of his sword to hit the girl's back, knocking her out cold into the snow, and he saw that worry turn into anger as the demon lunged at him with a loud growl. Giyuu dodged all the demon's attacks, parried his claws with the blunt side of his sword effortlessly. Looking at the demon boy closer now, he could tell that the anger in his eyes spoke of a brother's love, a very human desire to protect his remaining family. There was also something else. Something else about the demon's eyes that made Giyuu wonder. Up close and personal, this demon's eyes…

Underneath all the pain and anger, they were gentle.

Right then and there, Giyuu decided he would give these siblings a chance. As the demon brother leaped off a tree to gain momentum and attack him, Giyuu sheathed his nichirin blade back into its scabbard, and deployed a chop at the back of the demon's neck. The demon let out a grunt as he fell into the snow, his body morphing back to its original size, silent and still.

Was he making the right choice? Only time will tell.

Deep in the darkness of his mind, the departed souls gathered. His mother's voice, leaning close to whisper…

“I'm sorry to leave you behind, Tanjirou. Take care of Nezuko for me, alright?”

Tanjirou gasped as he opened his eyes, hand reaching out to grab the haori that his sister was wearing, his sister that was laying down on the snow right beside him. Confused, he tried to remember what happened before he passed out— the hunger, his family's corpses, the demon slayer, Nezuko losing consciousness, the sharp chop onto the back of his neck— he sat up, looking around as he pulled his sister's unconscious body closer to himself, reassured by the sound of her heart beating close to his.

“I didn't expect you to wake up first.”

Tanjirou turned his head to the sound of the demon slayer's voice, standing a few meters away from them. He didn't seem to be in an attacking mood anymore at the moment, but the demon was still wary of him being around at all, not liking the fact that he attacked Nezuko. The man gave Tanjirou the same emotionless expression he had when he first arrived, though it seemed to be laced with something else this time. A sense of disbelief, of wonder.

“You really are different,” the man decided.

Tanjirou growled lowly in response.

“I could let you go and turn a blind eye to your situation, but as long as you are a demon, demon slayers will remain after you and your sister,” Giyuu confessed, being realistic. “Knowing that, what do you want to do now?”

His vocal cords still felt foreign to him, and it was hard to put his thoughts into words. And yet, the response to that question was fairly simple, so simple that Tanjirou did not even have to think about it. “Protect… Nezuko…” he whispered. And then he remembered the monster that walked into their house last night, the demon he could not forgive. His eyes turned into slits, his long fingernails digging into his palm, drawing blood. Without realizing it, the second objective had passed through his lips.“Kill… demon…”

Giyuu stared at him with something like pity in his eyes. “That second one would not be very easy,” he replied. “The only demon who can turn other people into demons as well is Kibutsuji Muzan, at least as far as the Demon Slayer Corps knows. He is the progenitor of all demons, very old and powerful. Likely more than you could ever imagine.”

Tanjirou shook his head. He remembered his mother being backhanded into the roof, of Rokuta's head being crushed underfoot. Takeo and his selfless attack, Hanako and Shigeru and their screams of pain and fear. Never forgive. “Doesn't… matter—”

“There's something more important we have to do,” Tanjirou was surprised when he heard Nezuko's voice, not even noticing that she had woken up in his anger. She sat up, rubbing her hand against her temple like she was staving off a headache, staring up at Giyuu with a determined expression. “How can I turn Onii-chan back into a human?”

Tanjirou had not even considered that. Once again, the hunger inside his stomach panged, reminding him that he needed to eat, but it seemed that the more he ignored it, the more it became merely a detail in the background. He was getting used to the hunger, little by little.

“Once you become a demon, you can never go back to being a human…” Giyuu trailed off, before sighing. “... is what I would like to tell you. But the truth is, just because it has never been done before, does not mean it's impossible.”

Nezuko leaned in, obviously interested.

“The demons might know how to heal your brother. But do not expect them to honor your will or wishes. If you want to get the information out of them, you must be prepared to fight.”

“Fight…” Nezuko whispered. Tanjirou tensed up, not liking where this was going. He was not about to allow his little sister to step up into the battlefield for his sake. It doesn't matter if he was a demon anyways. He could handle it just fine!

“It's… fine…” he tried to tell Nezuko. “Doesn't… matter.”

Nezuko looked indignant for his sake. “Of course it matters, Onii-chan! We're going to find a way to bring you back to being human,” she told him, holding both of his cheeks tenderly in her hands. “Then everything will be alright! We won't have to worry about demon slayers after you. You won't have to worry about eating humans, either! We're both in this together, alright?”

Tanjirou felt the warmth of his sister's hands against his face, the gentle kindness in her eyes and the reassurance in her voice, and he couldn't help but feel tears start to burn at the back of his eyelids once again.

“Go see an old man named Urokodaki Sakonji who lives at the foot of Mt. Sagiri,” the demon slayer told Nezuko. “Tell him that Tomioka Giyuu sent you.”

Tanjirou wanted to argue again, but Nezuko was already nodding, determined to walk this new path. As mild-mannered Nezuko usually was, he knew she too can sometimes be unbearably stubborn.

Giyuu turned his head to address Tanjirou. “You seem to be alright since it's cloudy right now, but don't let yourself be exposed to sunlight, alright?”

Tanjirou nodded, rubbing his arms subconsciously. The wound from when Giyuu had cut him with his katana was now completely healed. Huh.

“One last thing,” Giyuu continued, walking closer to the siblings. He was holding something with his right hand, something cylindrical and green. Nezuko saw it before Tanjirou did, looking indignant and proclaiming loudly— “Onii-chan doesn't need that!”

“Even so,” Giyuu replied, reaching over to place the bamboo muzzle on Tanjirou's mouth, carefully tying it at the back of his head. Tanjirou blinked, clawed hands reaching up to touch it, looking up at Giyuu questioningly. Giyuu nodded at him and continued. “That muzzle is not a punishment, but rather a promise. A reassurance to everyone who will be around you, that you mean no harm.”

A promise… Tanjirou's fangs bit into the bamboo idly, thinking that what Giyuu said made sense. Even though Nezuko looked put off by it, Tanjirou actually did not mind— there was a certain feeling of safety at the assurance that should he ever lose control of himself, there will be a physical object keeping him from attacking humans. Of course he would never hurt Nezuko— he'd rather die— but what of other people? He would like to say that he'd never attack humans, but the hunger still swirling in his gut made him worry a little bit. Having the muzzle on him was fine. It was no big deal.

He looked up at Giyuu and nodded back. Giyuu looked satisfied. Without a word, the demon slayer left, leaving the two siblings alone in the snow. For a moment, they both sat there, digesting the information they have just been given. And then they stared at each other, both pairs of eyes burning with resolve. They stood up, Nezuko reaching out to hold Tanjirou's hand, walking back home, faces filled with sadness and determination.

“We should bury them, shouldn't we? Will you be alright handling their bodies?” Nezuko asked. Tanjirou nodded. Together they set to work. Carrying bodies, digging through the frozen ground— it was tough work. But soon enough they have five graves in front of them, the two of them kneeling down to grant their departed souls their prayers. Tanjirou remembered the dream he had earlier, of his mother telling him to take care of Nezuko, and in his mind he promised that he will do his best.

Their last moments with their family were melancholic. Tanjirou did not want to leave. But he and Nezuko were on a new path of their lives now. A path that would surely be filled with danger and strife, but a path they had to tread together.

They packed lightly, only bringing some food and money and changing into clothes fit for travel. Just to be safe, they brought a hatchet with them as well. Tanjirou pulled his checkered haori over his clothes as Nezuko tied her long black hair into a neat bun. And just like that, there was nothing else left to do. Nothing else left to say— nothing but a goodbye to their old lives, as well as a promise that one day, they will return.

Together, they left the only home they have ever known, holding each other's hands as they hoped for a brighter tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

The sunlight outside the cave was so unbearably hot, Tanjirou did not even want to think about walking under that fiery torture. 

“Onii-chan, I’m back! Are you feeling any better?” Nezuko called out as she peeked her head into the entrance of their current shelter. Tanjirou frowned at her from where he was sitting in the deepest, darkest corner of the cave, sharp fingernails scratching idly at the ground underneath him. He could nearly feel the heat of the sun even from in here— not literally, but he could imagine— and it was making him slightly queasy. He was tempted to dig a hole in the dirt and bury himself deep where the sun could never reach him, but he resisted. He may be a demon now, but he is not a mole. Nezuko looked slightly concerned as she walked inside, sitting down next to him, giving him a pat on the top of his head. “I guess not. You really don’t like the sun, huh, Onii-chan?” 

Tanjirou shook his head vehemently, even though it made him a little sad. As a human, Tanjirou loved the sun, adored the way a sunny summer day always seemed to make the world just a little bit brighter, happier. As a demon, he could not even dare to stare at it for too long, nauseated at the mere idea of standing under its rays. It just reminded him of the fact that nothing was the same. It cemented the idea in Tanjirou’s head that he was a different person now, even though he did not want any of this change. 

It made him uneasy.

“To be honest, I’d like to keep going even in the morning. We’ve still got a ways to go before we reach Mt. Sagiri, but I guess it can’t be helped,” Nezuko murmured, staring outside for a moment. Tanjirou’s mood dipped further. He didn’t like that he was holding Nezuko back. His sister seemed to notice his reaction, using both of her hands to slap him on his cheeks. “Hey, don’t worry about it! It’s alright! We could always set off at dusk, and I need to rest anyway. I’ve never traveled so far before, it’s making me a little bit nervous,” she confessed. 

Tanjirou lifted his arm to touch one of the hands that was cradling his cheeks, giving his little sister a soft smile. A smile that was hidden by his muzzle, but still evident in the crinkle of his eyes— it was a smile of encouragement, of gratitude. Personally, Tanjirou did not really like the idea that Nezuko would have to train and face demons all for his sake, but he understood that it was not something negotiable, as far as Nezuko was concerned. The least Tanjirou could do was support her in any way he can, and do his best not to be a burden.

The nervous look in Nezuko’s eyes softened as she smiled back at Tanjirou. She sidled back close to his side, just like she always did back when they were younger, leaning so close that Tanjirou could smell her. The smell of human still made Tanjirou’s stomach growl, but it was counterbalanced by the smell of something that was entirely Kamado— the scent of fire and sunshine that Tanjirou had always associated with their family. This was Nezuko. This was his family. Letting out a contented sigh, he leaned back towards her frame, placing his head on her shoulder. He was a little taller than her, so it was a bit uncomfortable, but he didn’t care— there was nothing that could stop him from appreciating this moment, this small bit of comfort and safety after the hell that they had gone through only a few days ago. 

Nezuko hummed a small tune softly, the same lullaby that their mother used to sing to them all the time, the same lullaby she was singing that fateful night. Even as sadness and melancholy tugged at Tanjirou’s heart, he could feel his eyes drooping slowly. He suddenly felt really sleepy. Do demons even sleep? He did not know. But at that moment, he really wanted to close his eyes and fall into slumber. Maybe he could take a short nap. It’s not like they were going to get anything done today after all, not while the sun was still shining bright. 

“Oh!” Nezuko exclaimed, as if she remembered something. Tanjirou blinked at her sleepily, rubbing  his eyes and tilting his head at her questioningly. She smiled at him sheepishly. “Oh, sorry Onii-chan, I didn’t realize you were falling asleep. I was just thinking— wondered, really…” she paused, taking a moment to choose her words. “If Onii-chan was as small as, say, Rokuta…” she trailed off, a small hint of sadness lingering in her eyes before she shook the painful memory off, “I would be able to carry you everywhere! We could put you in a basket, cover it with layers of cloth, and we can continue on our journey, even during the day!” 

Tanjirou blinked at her, not quite understanding. She gave him a patient smile. 

“During the fight with Tomioka-san, Onii-chan transformed and became bigger, like an adult. Do you think you could do it again, but this time smaller?” She lifted her hand to show just how smaller, slowly pushing it close to the ground. Tanjirou stared at her hand for a long moment. Small. Small? Nezuko wanted him to get smaller? He did not even remember being big. Now that he thought about it though, there was one point at his battle with Tomioka where he felt like his range was bigger, and that he was stronger. Was that when it happened? 

He stared at his hands, trying to remember. Back then, all he wanted was to be strong enough  to protect Nezuko. Right now, what he wanted was to be useful somehow, to not hold Nezuko back. He focused on that feeling, determination simmering inside him, remembering his memories of being a small child, memories that he was grateful to still have after his transformation— small. He closed his eyes. 

After a long moment, he opened them again. Red eyes widened with childlike innocence as he looked up at Nezuko, who was now looking at him with barely-contained amazement. His robe and haori pooled all around him, his limbs too short for the pants and sleeves. Was the world bigger? No, Tanjiro was just smaller. He did it! He let out a sound of glee as he lifted his hands merrily. Now Nezuko could carry him easily! It was very odd to be in a small body while Nezuko remained at her teen-aged self, but he supposed that’s just one more thing to get used to. And it’s not like he would stay at this age forever. Now that he knew how to consciously change shape, he was sure he could do it easily whenever necessary. 

“Mmph! Mmph!” he vocalized his happiness through the muzzle. Look, look! 

Nezuko laughed softly, bringing her hand close to her mouth as her other hand reached out to pat his head once again. “Good job, Onii-chan,” she murmured, her gaze lingering for a moment on Tanjirou’s face, and then on the muzzle, which Tanjirou presumed must now look absurdly big against his smaller face. The smile on her face faded into a small frown as she tugged at the bamboo a little, her expression speaking of disapproval. “It’s… odd, to see this on your face. Are you sure you’re okay with it?” 

Tanjirou nodded as his hands lifted to touch the muzzle, remembering Giyuu’s words. A promise that you mean no harm. Tanjirou knew that he was a demon now, that he was dangerous now, and any additional precaution was very much welcome. It was not like he was missing much anyways. Words were still difficult to Tanjirou, or at least speaking them were— he could think and understand them just fine, but talking was still beyond him. Maybe one day when he was feeling more confident in his self-control, he would remove this muzzle himself. For now, they’re staying on. 

Nezuko still looked fairly displeased about his decision, but she did not press. Instead, she let out a small sigh as she stood up, proclaiming loudly, “I’m gonna go find a basket we can put you in. There is a small village a small distance over— I’ll be back as soon as I can, alright?” 

Tanjirou did not really like Nezuko being out of his sight, especially going to all these unknown places, but it’s not like he could do anything about it. Oh, what he would give to be able to hover protectively over her like a good older brother should. Right now, all he could do was trust that Nezuko could handle herself, and as he looked up at her frame, now towering over him from his low vantage point, he realized it. Nezuko had grown so big. It seemed as if it was only yesterday that she was a small bundle in their mother’s arms. Nezuko will grow up to be a beautiful woman someday. One day she wouldn’t need her onii-chan anymore. The thought filled him with both sadness and pride. 

“I’m off,” Nezuko called out, waving goodbye at Tanjirou as she left the cave. Tanjirou waved back.

It took Nezuko a little over two hours until she was back at the cave again, this time bringing a basket full of holes, some bamboo, and a fairly large blanket with her. Tanjiro shifted back to his usual size so he could help her by chopping up the bamboo stalks with their hatchet while Nezuko weaved it around the basket to reinforce it and get rid of the holes, but he soon realized that for some reason, being in this normal size made him feel.. sleepier?  He was definitely more alert when he was in his younger body, strangely enough. He wondered why.

With the two of them working together, the basket was fixed in no time. Tanjiou shifted back to his smaller self and found that he fit snugly inside. It was not the most comfortable of spaces, given that he had no room to stretch his legs, but it wasn’t too bad, either. Nezuko looked pleased to be able to keep going, whispering a soft promise, “I’ll get you out of there when the sun sets, Onii-chan,” as she wrapped the blanket around the basket in several layers, making sure that no sunlight will go through. 

It was surely a strange experience, to be carried around like this. It reminded him of his younger days, back before even Nezuko was born, when he was carried around by his mom on her back while she did all the household chores. The memories were blurry, murky with age, but it was comforting all the same. As Nezuko hauled him on her back and started walking, Tanjirou occupied himself with anything he could find. Sometimes he would sit in silence and stare at his clawed fingers for hours, wiggling them about. Occasionally he would watch the faint shifting lights from inside the basket and imagine what kind of scenery Nezuko was seeing outside. Sometimes, Nezuko would talk out loud about anything and everything, and he would respond with small grunts and taps on the basket. It was honestly a little boring to be alone with himself for hours, but he decided to be patient. Nezuko had been patient all her life, and Tanjirou could do the same. 

It was a few hours later when Nezuko finally set the basket down, unwrapping the whole thing and freeing Tanjirou from his weaved prison. It was already late, with the sun having set completely, the stars and the moon twinkling silently against the night sky. Tanjirou could hear Nezuko’s breathing, harsh and laboured, and he could see the drips of sweat that she wiped away with her sleeve. Tanjirou tried apologizing, but she did not want to hear it. She merely took the lead as they walked hand in hand through the forest trail, continuing on with their one-sided chatter, not even pausing for a bit of rest. 

At least until they reached the roadside temple. 

As soon as the smell wafted towards him, Tanjirou froze. This smell... it was the same sickly sweet scent that engulfed their former home that fateful night— the smell of blood. It was both appetizing and disgusting, confusing Tanjirou’s body as to which was the proper response to the situation. His stomach rolled itself over in both revulsion and hunger, and he couldn’t help but salivate a little, his eyes slitting as he clenched his fists. 

Blood. Nearby. Human. Food. Eat . Eat eat eat eat eat— 

“Onii-chan? What’s wrong? I-It hurts..!” It was only then that he realized he had been squeezing Nezuko’s hand a little too tightly, and he immediately let go. His mind was distracted from the primal thoughts for a moment, but then his eyes met with the worry in Nezuko’s pink eyes, and it was all he needed to keep holding onto the remaining vestiges of his humanity, to squash down the starving demon deep within. 

He shook his head to get rid of the thoughts, giving Nezuko a beseeching look. His expression spoke of a deep, heartfelt apology for hurting her hand, as well as a sense of urgency as he tried to relay what he was smelling to his sister. He pointed a clawed finger at the temple in the distance, telling her where the trouble was coming from. 

Unfortunately, it was very hard to relay information with his muzzled mouth. Nezuko looked vaguely alarmed, but also very much confused. “The temple? What about it?” 

Tanjrou gestured at his nose, and then to his drooling mouth. Nezuko took a moment before she realized. There was only one other moment that she had seen him drooling after all, and that was the time he first saw their family’s massacred bodies. A little bit of fear crept up her eyes, but it was quickly painted over with determination. She looked back at the temple, no hesitation in her expression. “Do you think someone in there is injured? This mountain path is pretty rough, after all— someone might have gotten hurt! Onii-chan should stay here while I check on them, if the blood is too much for you, but we have to help somehow!” 

Nezuko was about to race up the temple steps on her own when Tanjirou reached out a hand to stop her. Not because he did not want to help the possibly injured people, he did, but because beneath the dizzyingly sweet scent of blood there was also another one. Something that smelled sour and putrid, reminding him of the monster that killed their family, although the malice was to a lesser degree. At that moment, he was certain that there was another demon up there, and he wasn’t about to let Nezuko face them alone! The words ‘I’m coming with you’ could not possibly be as clear on his face as it was then, and together they ran up the steps, both knowing that danger possibly awaited them, but both as intent on helping out someone in need. 

Unfortunately, it appeared that they were already way too late. 

Nezuko gasped and let out a soft sob when she saw the corpses, the luridness of the scene reminiscent of the massacre of their family not very long ago. There were three middle-aged men, all lying motionless on the floor in a pool of their own blood, and in front of them sat a figure that Tanjirou was certain was the demon he had smelled earlier. The scent of the blood was almost too much on Tanjirou, reviving those instincts that he wanted to keep buried deep within. Seeing the demon munching on actual humans was even worse, his body screaming at him to grab a limb or two, to sink his teeth into human flesh. He clenched his fists, his sharp nails digging into his skin and drawing blood. Saliva built up and spilled out of his mouth, flowing down under his muzzle and onto the floor. 

“What the hell? This is my turf,” the demon growled, twisting his head to look back at them. “If you break into my territory, I’ll make you pay!” 

A man-eating demon. 

The demon licked his bloody fingers as he studied them, tone curious. “There’s something off about you… are you both humans?” He started standing up. 

Tanjirou heard Nezuko’s breath hitch. The single candlelight flickered and went out, bathing their surroundings in darkness. 

He’s going to attack.

Tanjirou’s body moved before he could even process it. 

Protect Nezuko! 

Chapter Text

The demon was going to lunge at Nezuko, hand outstretched as if to grab at her, but Tanjirou was faster. Eyes slitted, veins popping at his forehead, Tanjirou unleashed his full strength as he used his legs to kick that offending hand out of the way, followed by his own lunge as he grabbed the demon by the throat, hurling him down hard into the floor. The demon choked, letting out strangled gasps, but Tanjirou did not let up, merely squeezing harder to crush his neck completely. 

There was that rage again, the same one he felt for that monster, and now for this demon who dared to attack his only remaining family— it was terrifying. The same rage that seemed to swallow him whole, leaving him a husk of his old self, more demon than human, craving vengeance more than justice. Blood flowed from between his fingers, the demon beheaded with his efforts, but something in Tanjirou knew that it was not over. He did not let his guard down.

“Onii-chan!” Nezuko was now clutching the hatchet on her hands. Good. She wasn’t as experienced as Tanjirou or Takeo when it came to chopping wood— she did not quite have the same upper body strength— but something was better than nothing. He looked back at the demon underneath him. 

The body was slowly moving again, and Tanjirou did not give it a chance as he kicked it harshly to the side, hurtling it past Nezuko and to the temple grounds outside, where he knew he could have more space to fight. He then grabbed the head, which was now shouting, screeching, “You bastards! One of you is a demon after all? You gave off such a weird vibe! What’s a human and a demon doing teaming up?!”

Tanjirou ignored him, about to throw the head outside as well, but to his chagrin, the head actually grew arms, the demon’s hair lengthening and tangling around Tanjirou’s fingers. Now with the demon head stuck on his hand and the arms trying to punch at him, Tanjirou let out a harsh growl, especially when he noticed the body from outside standing up, jumping towards them with all its might to attack Tanjirou again.  

Nezuko looked surprised at the turn of events but not unready. As Tanjirou parried with the body as best as he could (it was really hard when he only had one free hand), Nezuko let out a cry and charged at the headless body, using the hatchet to carve a deep wound at the body’s back. The head let out a stream of curses when it connected, as though he felt the injury himself. Tanjirou did not waste any time and headbutted the head, the demon letting out more pained curses, before he then proceeded to let go of Tanjirou’s hand in favor of hurtling himself teeth-first onto Nezuko’s hatchet. 

Nezuko let out a little shriek, shaking the hatchet in hopes of getting the demon off, but the demon held firm. Out of options, she swung the hatchet with force down onto the ground as if she was splitting wood, the hatchet blade digging between the demon’s teeth and onto his cheeks and skull, causing him to gurgle blood. As the sound of cracking bones lingered in the air, Tanjirou thought he heard Nezuko murmur a soft apology. 

Fighting the body after the head had been incapacitated was mere child’s play. It seemed to Tanjirou that the body and the head were connected after all. The body’s blows were weaker, and it was easier to deflect its attacks. Still, Tanjirou was not quite sure how to really defeat the demon for good. 

He glanced at Nezuko, who seemed to be keeping an eye on the head and making sure it won’t regenerate, repeating the downward motion of her hatchet whenever necessary. He glanced up at the sky, wondering how long he had to wait until sunrise, and if there’s a way to incapacitate the demon’s body until then. Would he need to crush all its limbs completely so that it could no longer move? But what if it just regenerates itself regardless? Could it regenerate its own head even though the original head was still attached to the hatchet? All these questions swarmed inside his head as he tried not to get beat up too badly, and so far he was succeeding. It was just that the fight was dragging on, unpleasantly so, and Tanjirou was already getting tired. 

Thankfully, they did not have to wait for the sun to rise. 

All it took was one quick swing of a sword. Tanjirou blinked as suddenly, the body he was fighting was cut diagonally, from the base of its neck on its right side to its left waist. It was a cut so clean that even Tanjirou's enhanced demon senses did not see it coming, nor did he hear the wielder of the blade's footsteps when he ran near. Tanjirou stared in wonder as the body dissolved into ash, wrinkling his nose at the smell, wondering why it seemed so familiar, even though he had never seen a demon die before. He realized then that it was the same smell of ash that lingered on Giyuu’s scent when they first met him, the same one that was also an undercurrent to the scent of a calm, earthy lake that engulfed this newcomer. 

The scent of a demon slayer. 

Tanjirou tensed, immediately jumping back to his sister’s side. He glanced at the head that was stuck to the hatchet and noted that it too was crumbling to ash. Now with the immediate threat gone, he was calming down. He protected Nezuko. Nezuko was safe. Tanjirou could breathe easy now. 

Now that the fight was over and the uncontrollable rage was gone from his blood, he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry that the demon had to suffer so much. There was a small dawning horror at the idea that he was the cause of that suffering, that Nezuko had to resort to such violent measures to keep the head from regenerating. It felt like something out of a horrible nightmare. But this was their world now. They could no longer go back. 

Nezuko looked a little shaken, her hatchet still covered with copious amounts of blood. Tanjirou remained alert, unsure who or even if they could trust this new demon slayer, or if he too was a threat. The man was wearing a blue cloud-patterned kimono with a white cloth that covers his head and a red tengu mask, the blue blade of his katana glinting against the moonlight. The three of them studied each other at a standstill for a long moment, at least until the man moved and sheathed his sword, the glare of the dark eyes of his mask watching them intently. 

Nezuko was the first to speak. “G-Good evening!” 

The very normal way Nezuko chose to greet the man was almost comical compared to the circumstances they had found themselves in. A demon, a demon slayer and a human girl walked into a temple— it seemed like the setup for a joke, but nothing about this whole situation was funny at all. The three of them had just taken a life— a life of a demon, sure— but that demon was once human, too. Just like Tanjirou. It’s not like they had a choice though. If the demon slayer had not dealt the final blow, that demon would continue killing and eating more people. 

The man replied with a clear voice, “I’m Urokodaki Sakonji. I am assuming you two are the ones Tomioka Giyuu sent my way.” 

Nezuko straightened up. “Y-Yes! My name is Kamado Nezuko. And this is my brother, Kamado Tanjirou.” She bowed respectfully, trying to look presentable even with the bloody hatchet still on her hands. “I am very pleased to meet you, Urokodaki-san. We’ll be in your care—” 

“Nezuko... what will you do when your brother devours a human?” 

Nezuko’s eyes widened as she looked up, evidently caught off guard by the question. She opened her mouth and closed it a few times, seemingly unsure how to respond. Urokodaki walked towards her and raised his hand as if to slap her cheek, and Tanjirou let out a growl and was about to catch it, but to his surprise it was Nezuko herself who caught the hand mid-swing, looking up at the man with a new fire in her eyes. 

“There is no when, because I will never let that happen.” 


Nezuko then let go of Urokodaki’s arm and took a step back, reaching out to snatch Tanjirou’s hand, before bowing once again. “My brother is the gentlest, kindest person in the world. I will never let his honor be tainted. That’s why I’m on this path, Urokodaki-san. I want to become a demon slayer so I could heal him, and give him back the humanity that was stolen from him. I’m not going to rest until I do that.” The hand holding Tanjirou’s tightened, and Tanjirou felt something in his chest tighten as well at Nezuko’s words. “Onii-chan will never devour a human. I swear it on my life.” 

Urokodaki studied Nezuko, placing his hands behind his back. It seemed that Nezuko passed some kind of trial. “I will have to test you to see if you are fit to become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps.” 

“Of course,” Nezuko replied as she lifted her head, determined. 

Urokodaki nodded sagely, and it was only then that he gave Tanjirou his attention. Tanjirou shifted anxiously, his hand still clutched in his sister’s hold. When the man spoke, his voice was more gentle. “We are going to have to bury the people who were killed inside the temple. I think it would be better if you stay out of the way.” 

The bodies! Tanjirou had nearly forgotten about them. He remembered how he had almost lost control at the scent of their blood, tempted to do as Urokodaki said and not challenge his demonic instincts further. It was surely the prudent thing to do. But he felt like he owed it to them to at least see them off— after all, had he and Nezuko arrived much earlier, they probably would not have ended up dead. 

He shook his head solemnly. I want to help. 

Urokodaki’s scent gave a whiff of surprise, but the man did not show it. He simply nodded. “Very well.” 

Digging through the dirt and transferring the bodies took them some time. As soon as they finished burying them, Tanjirou and Nezuko knelt in front of the graves and prayed for their departed souls. Tanjirou could feel Urokodaki’s gaze at the back of his head, his scent showing signs of silent disbelief, probably at the image of a demon praying for the passing of a human life. Tanjirou ignored it, finishing up his prayers and standing up, dusting the dirt off his knees. Nezuko did the same soon after. 

Ah, the sun’s coming up again, Tanjirou thought, woefully looking up at the brightening sky. He was not looking forward to another day of being stashed inside the basket as they traveled, did not enjoy being a literal heavy burden that Nezuko had to carry on her back. He was the older brother. He was the one who was supposed to do these things. He was the one who was supposed to make things easier for his younger siblings. This whole quest of Nezuko becoming a demon slayer was for his sake, and even with a few days to get used to it, it still left a bad taste in his mouth.

Unfortunately, the sun will rise no matter how much Tanjirou wished it wouldn’t. With little coaxing, he shifted back into his smaller form and jumped into the basket, shifting around to make himself comfortable. The cloth was once again wrapped around him, making the cramped space dim. From outside of his confines, he heard Nezuko tell Urokodaki that she’s ready, and it was then that it started the most jarringly awful basket ride of his life. 

It was not even the fact that Nezuko’s running made the basket bounce around her back erratically— Tanjirou could deal with a little discomfort here and there. It was the sound of her wheezing as she tried to catch her breath, the smell of her sweat as she struggled to keep up with the faster Urokodaki, determined not to lose him from her sight. It was the way her voice cracked whenever she paused to readjust the straps of the basket on her back, reassuring Tanjirou that she was alright and that she was totally gaining distance on the old man, but she just needed just a little break before they continue— breaks that were not long enough in Tanjirou’s opinion. Halfway through the trip he found his eyes getting heavy, which was strange considering all the bouncing around was not conducive to sleep at all— but he kept his eyes open, unwilling to take a nap, not while Nezuko was working so hard. If Nezuko was not getting any rest, neither was he. All he could offer right now was moral support and solidarity.

“N-Now… have I… passed the test?” he heard Nezuko ask a few hours later, gasping between her words. The orange tint of the inside of the basket assured Tanjirou that it was already sunset, and he was already very eager to get out and give his little sister a big hug for doing her best and hanging in there. He was glad that it was all over— or at least he would be, if it really was. Unfortunately, Urokodaki has different things in mind. 

“The test starts now. We’re going to climb a mountain.” 

At that moment, Tanjirou wanted to just burst out of the basket and give Urokodaki a punch in the gut, demon slayer cultivator or not! Can’t he see that Nezuko was already tired, barely hanging on to her last legs?! Who lets a girl run that fast and that far with barely any rest anyways, only a heartless person would! Nezuko deserves to rest! Who was he to think he could treat Tanjirou’s little sister this way?! The complaints were already at the tip of his tongue, threatening to spill out, but then he heard Nezuko chuckle through her panting, and when she spoke, she did not sound put off at all. 

“I see. Bring it on.” 

Tanjirou paused. His sister… Nezuko was becoming such a strong person. 

It made sense. It was not only Tanjirou who had lost his family, Nezuko had to go through all these bad things, too. Tanjirou wondered if it was even worse for her, to be the one who was not even given the chance to protect their younger siblings, who was the one who had to go through the shock of seeing their bodies for the first time, without any preamble. Everything was right in the world until it wasn’t, for Nezuko. Her family died, her remaining brother is a demon, she needed to train and fight to turn him back— it was a heavy burden to bear for any twelve year old’s shoulders. It made sense that Nezuko was coping with the loss and the tragedy by becoming stronger, both in mind and in spirit, and Tanjirou wondered if one day the patient, serene Nezuko of their hometown would be all but gone, replaced by a hardened warrior. Like Tanjirou, Nezuko was changing too, and Tanjirou wasn’t sure how to feel about it. 

He was let out of the basket only a few moments later. Free from the confined space and the incessant bouncing, Tanjirou was feeling drowsy again, but he still did not succumb to sleep. Nezuko looked even worse than she sounded— her once neat bun was loose and tangled, her kimono was drenched in sweat— but she had retained the fire in her eyes and the softness in her smile when she patted Tanjirou’s head, assuring him that she will be alright and she will be back soon after she passed the test Urokodaki had in mind. With a few grunts and intense nodding, Tanjirou was able to tell her how much he’s rooting for her, how much he hopes for her safe return. 

Within a few minutes, Nezuko had tidied herself up and bidding him goodbye. Tanjirou figured his worry must be obvious, because before he left, Urokodaki gave the demon boy a look and muttered, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to take care of your sister for you.” 

As the door moved to close, Tanjirou placed his hands on the floor and bowed in a dogeza, his head touching the floor. 

I’m counting on you, sir. 

Chapter Text

With Nezuko and Urokodaki both gone, Tanjirou had some time all to himself. 

For a long time, he simply sat in front of the door, waiting for their return. When it became apparent that they would not be back for some time, Tanjirou decided to stand up, wandering around Urokodaki’s humble home. The house wasn’t all that big, in fact their family’s house might actually be bigger, although not by much. It was evident that Urokodaki was used to living all by himself. The main house was just a big room with a wooden floor and a traditional irori right near the entrance, although the hearth was cold and empty right now. Further back there was another room that Tanjirou supposed must be where Urokodaki sleeps— he decided not to snoop in there, if only to give the old man some privacy. There was a small kitchen in the main room, placed in the corner and out of the way, as well as a wooden cabinet that Tanjirou found himself a little curious about. 

Opening it up, there was nothing really remarkable inside— there were some futons, a couple of miscellaneous items, a few hand-carved fox masks, some books… Tanjirou wondered if Urokodaki would mind if he took and read some to stave off the boredom. But then, something in the corner caught his eye. It was just an innocuous hand mirror, small and obviously not very used, given that it was just haphazardly stuffed beside all the other items. Tanjirou stared at it for a long moment, wondering. His hand reached up to touch his hair, still fairly long and tied to the back of his head, down to the hanafuda earrings that he had inherited from his father, further down to the bamboo muzzle placed in front of his mouth. He thought… and wondered. 

How different did he look like, now that he wasn’t human?

He took the hand mirror and stared. 

Upon first glance, there wasn’t really much of a difference. Just regular Tanjirou with a muzzle in his mouth. His complexion did not look any different, there were no obvious mutations he could see, and the muzzle itself covered up his fangs completely. His eyes were probably slightly different, though. Were they darker? He had always shared eyes with his father— a burgundy, wine red sort of color— but now they look more crimson. Like blood. Now in his relaxed state, his eyes looked just like any regular human, but he remembered Nezuko mentioning that it becomes slitted like a cat’s occasionally. He remembered that the monster’s eyes were also slitted, that night. 

There was also something else, something different that was just plain weird. The scar on top of his head, the one he got from protecting his little brother from the brazier back when he was younger… it was gone. Gone, replaced with a dark red mark that looked something akin to flames, licking from the top of his forehead down to just above his eyebrow. He remembered that the temple demon had green marks around his upper arms and legs. Maybe it’s a demon thing? He wondered if he could get Nezuko to ask Urokodaki about these sorts of things. But he supposed a demon slayer’s duty was only to slay demons, not to know more about their appearance and biology. 

He set the hand mirror down, placing it back to where he took it, closing the cabinet after he did. As if on cue, the door of the house slid open, and Tanjirou immediately perked up, thinking that Nezuko had finally come back, but was then disappointed when it was only Urokodaki, entering the house by himself. Worry once again threatened to spill over Tanjirou’s heart— it was pretty late already, and now that he knew that the darkness were where demons come out to play, he didn’t like the idea of Nezuko still being alone, outside, at this time of the day. He stood his ground and gave Urokodaki a pretty intense glare. 

You said you’ll take care of her! he managed to accuse with the look in his eyes alone. 

Urokodaki did not seem fazed. “Nezuko is up the mountain, doing the test as we speak. There is no need to worry, I have made sure myself that there are no demons up there. At worst, she may return with some injuries, but nothing that can’t be fixed with medicine and rest.” 

Truth be told, Tanjirou did not like the idea of his sister returning with any injuries, either. But he understood that Urokodaki wasn’t about to go easy on Nezuko, just because Tanjirou asked. He was there to train her, not coddle her. At the end of the day, you can’t forge a sword without first putting it through tremendous heat. Nezuko is strong, he reminded himself.  Nezuko will be alright. 

Urokodaki sat by the irori, tending to it to start a fire. Tanjirou hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to do now, but he eventually walked closer to help. Between the two of them, they managed to get a fire going with minimal issue. Urokodaki went to the corner kitchen and started chopping up some vegetables for what Tanjirou figured must be dinner. Well, Urokodaki and Nezuko’s dinner, anyways. Tanjirou had not a single bite of human food since he turned into a demon, and while he probably could stomach it still, there would be no point. Human food did not give any sustenance to demons. Only human flesh and blood do. Instead, Tanjirou contented himself with sitting in front of the irori, soaking in the warmth that he had missed since he and Nezuko had left their hometown. The warmth was comforting, and it made him feel sleepy all over again. When he found his eyes slipping close though, he shook his head and slapped his cheeks a couple times. He was not going to sleep while Nezuko was working hard out there. He will wait for her to get back. 

“You,” Urokodaki started, catching Tanjirou’s attention.“For a demon, you have tremendous self-control.” The old man seemed to hesitate, before continuing. “When I left my home to go meet up with you and your sister, I have to admit I expected the demon brother to have very little to no sense of self at all, as is often the case with newly-turned demons. They move by instinct, devouring the first human they see, and it is only after they have already committed terrible acts that their senses come back to them, albeit now twisted and malicious. But you— you seemed to have retained much of your humanity and memories. You still care for your sister very much, and show signs that you comprehend what is happening.” 

Tanjirou listened and nodded with intelligent eyes, understanding evident in his expression. 

“I have to warn you that you and your sister would have to face more pain and misery moving forward,” Urokodaki said with a cold tone, but Tanjirou could smell the kind intent underneath his words, a harsh warning. “The path of a demon slayer is a path well-worn, but it is not very uncommon for slayers to never get the chance to retire, to be killed in action. Some demon slayer candidates never live through the Final Selection at all. For that reason, I will be as strict as I could be when training Nezuko. She will swing the sword until the hilt pops the blisters in her palms. She will learn how to breathe until her lungs feel like exploding. She will run down the mountain traps I set until she is bloody and bruised from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet.” Urokodaki paused, moving his head to face Tanjirou. “She will train to death, and she seems to be very much willing to. Do you think you can handle that, Tanjirou?” 

Tanjirou looked down at his hands, which were now shaking against his lap. This is what Nezuko wanted. This is what they came here for. His fangs bit into the muzzle, jaw clenched as he imagined what it would be like to see his little sister go through all that. It would be torture. He wished he could take the bruises himself, take away all the pain. But he couldn’t. Nezuko had to do this on her own. He took a deep breath and nodded, head hung low. 

Urokodaki walked over to place a cast iron pot filled with water above the flames, slipping the ingredients he had chopped for it to stew. Tanjirou watched the flames silently. Neither of them spoke again for some time, merely waiting for Nezuko to come back, bodies facing the doors expectantly.

Tanjirou almost fell asleep multiple times. But Nezuko had not gotten any proper sleep in days either, so he was not going to give in. He heard it before he saw it, just before dawn broke, the sound of heavy panting, followed by the door of the house opening. 

Nezuko was standing and leaning against the doorframe. Her black hair was even more disheveled than it was earlier, half of it breaking free and flowing in rivulets down to her waist. Her favorite kimono now looked beat up and dirty, stained in blood in places, and she seemed to be suffering from a head wound, as her forehead was matted with blood. Still, even with all the mess she was grinning, evidently proud of herself, saying between pants. “I made it… Urokodaki-san. I made it… before sunrise—” she swayed and Tanjirou was immediately beside her, supporting half of her body weight as he ushered her inside. She let out a pained moan, murmuring “I did it, I did it,” under her breath before she collapsed against Tanjirou. 

Tanjirou looked up at Urokodaki in panic. The old man only patted Tanjirou’s head, before helping him haul Nezuko inside and lay her down onto a futon. “Don’t worry, Tanjirou,” he assured him. “She is fine. She is just tired. Let her rest. You should, too. I’ve seen you trying to fight sleep more times than I can count.” 

Tanjirou relaxed after that. Urokodaki set up a futon right next to Nezuko’s, and for that he was grateful. He sidled close to Nezuko’s side and finally let his eyelids drop, and within minutes he was slumbering, the fatigue finally catching up to him. 

Urokodaki watched the two siblings sleep, his mind wandering. 

Forgive my abruptness, Urokodaki Sakonjii-dono. 

I’m sending a girl your way who wants to become a demon slayer swordsman. She was brazen enough to attack me, barely armed. Her family was slaughtered by a demon, and the surviving older brother has become one, but I have determined that he will not attack humans. I can sense something different about these two. She is strong-willed and determined. Perhaps she will find a way to break through and become your successor. I am asking you to train her. 

I realize that this is a self-serving request but please forgive me. I hope that you will take good care of yourself in your endeavors. 

Yours truly, Tomioka Giyuu. 

When Urokodaki received the letter from the Kasugai Crow, he was surprised. Giyuu had not contacted him in years. After Sabito’s death, his only living disciple was never quite the same. Urokodaki knew Giyuu felt immense guilt at the loss of his friend, internalizing it and pushing people away, even his old master. The fact that Giyuu was contacting him like this must mean it was something important, something Giyuu felt strongly about. As it turned out, Giyuu was asking for a favor, something he did not do often, and so Urokodaki decided to see what these siblings were all about, to make such a large  impression on the current water pillar. 

He decided not to wait for them to get to Mt. Sagiri, and to meet them halfway, if only to make sure they won’t get lost on their way to his home, or worse . Truth be told, he was concerned about the human girl Giyuu was talking about, the demon slayer candidate, worried that Giyuu had misjudged after all and her demon brother was already feasting on her corpse somewhere out there. It was not that he didn’t trust Giyuu’s judgement. He was just being realistic. The idea of  a demon that won’t attack humans was like something out of someone’s idealistic fantasies, nowhere close to actual reality. But Giyuu was not the type to let a demon go willy-nilly, and because of that, Urokodaki was willing to give the demon brother the benefit of the doubt. 

A decision that paid off, surprisingly so. 

The demon brother— Tanjirou— was something else. When Urokodaki first met them in front of the temple, right after he killed the demon that the siblings were fighting, he was at first confused. Tanjiou had quickly jumped back to his sister’s side, glancing at the body of the crumbling demon and at that moment, Urokodaki thought his nose caught the whiff of empathy, as if Tanjirou was feeling sorry for the demon who had died, even though the same demon had tried to kill them not too long ago. And it wasn’t just Tanjirou either— Nezuko too had that scent of kindness about her, kindness that Urokodaki had immediately judged as a flaw, something that could be fatal to someone who wants to be a demon slayer. 

Ah, he had thought then, these kids are too kind. They’re facing a demon, and yet the scent of kindness remains. He was tempted to write Nezuko off with that, convinced that she didn’t have what it takes to be a demon slayer. And yet— her hands were dirty with blood, her hatchet stained crimson. She seemed shaken, but she didn’t relent on the brutality that was required of her when she faced the demon’s head, presumably to help out and protect her brother. There is potential there, he could give her that. 

When Nezuko declared her intent to not let her brother eat humans ever , the potential Urokodaki had seen in her seemed to increase tenfold. She had a strong resolve, he could see it in her eyes. She had a lot of growing to do, for sure— she was merely a young, frail girl with barely any muscle on her— but as long as she was determined, he could hone that delicate body into something powerful. He had done it before, with sweet Makomo. He thought about what Giyuu had said in his letter, about how Nezuko could probably be the one who could break through the Final Selection block after years and years of no other water breathing swordsmen making it through— for her sake and her brother’s, he hoped so too. At the moment though, Urokodaki did not even want to think about the Final Selection. So many of his disciples have died. They were all good children. 

A single day with the Kamado siblings proved to him that they were both good children, too. Urokodaki could already feel himself letting them into his heart. Tanjirou and Nezuko cared about each other so much , Urokodaki worried what they would do without each other. It seemed they had clung to each other for comfort in the wake of the tragedy that had ruined their lives, made each other their sole reason for living. It was both commendable and concerning. Hopefully, neither of them would have to deal with losing the other anytime soon. As long as they were under Urokodaki’s roof, he swore that he would keep them both protected.

Urokodaki had asked Nezuko, as they walked up the mountains, what she was willing to endure for the sake of her brother. Anything, she had replied. Urokodaki had asked Tanjirou, when he had gotten back to his hut, if he could handle Nezuko’s suffering. He had reluctantly nodded. Both of them were putting their faith in Urokodaki. He vowed not to fail them. 

As he watched the siblings sleep, the light from the dimming embers of the hearth reflecting upon their faces, he pat their heads softly. Under the fierce glare of his mask, the old man gently smiled. 

“I accept you as my student, Kamado Nezuko.”

Chapter Text

Tanjirou felt like he was falling. 

Down, down, down, down— into a bottomless pit. His body ached, sore. His stomach rumbled, hungry. He felt like something inside his body was changing, shifting, and he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Regardless, the feeling was unpleasant. He felt weightless and heavy at the same time. His body was aching for something, something he couldn’t quite provide. In response it was retaliating, fighting against him, keeping him stuck into this strange limbo that he couldn’t quite escape from.

Nezuko, he thought, desperately. 

He felt his finger twitch, but that was about it. Everywhere he was surrounded by darkness, and he didn’t quite know how he could break free. His eyelids felt as heavy as boulders, and his breathing was frustratingly deep. He knew this feeling, had felt it before. It was the same feeling of being stuck in a sleep paralysis, aware and yet asleep, unable to move your body even though you want to so desperately. It felt like an eternity. He couldn’t stay asleep like this. Nezuko was going to start training in the morning. He had to be there to support her. 

Nezuko, he tried again. For Nezuko! 

Tanjirou opened his eyes and gasped. He immediately sat up from the futon, clutching at his chest. His heart was pounding. 

“Onii-chan!” was the first thing he heard as he felt someone jump at him, enveloping him in a tight hug. He recognized her scent before he had properly registered her appearance. Nezuko. This was Nezuko. He reached a hand out to touch her back, patting her softly as she seemed to have burst into tears. From a distance, he could see Urokodaki, still masked, watching them intently from the doorway. That’s odd. Tanjirou remembered falling asleep in the main room, right beside Nezuko, but it seemed he was now in the bedroom at the back. After a long minute, Nezuko finally pulled back, her pink eyes still wet as she shouted through her tears, practically lecturing him. 

“Onii-chan, you…! Why did you fall asleep all of a sudden? Never waking up once for days and weeks! I was worried, you know! I didn’t know what’s happening to you! I thought you’d die!” 

Tanjirou stared dumbly at Nezuko, finally taking her in. She had bruises and scratches on her face. The hand that was now cupping Tanjirou’s cheeks felt hardened, and he could smell blood from small cuts and blisters that were no doubt there. But what took him off guard the most was Nezuko’s hair, once long and reaching down her back, now cut short and barely brushing around her shoulders. He reached a hand out to touch it, letting a lock brush his fingertips. Nezuko’s hair. Nezuko’s beautiful black hair. The hair their mother loved, the hair she had kept long for years… 

Tanjirou’s brain stuttered. Huh?

Tanjirou was asleep for nearly a month. 

It felt unreal. It didn’t feel that long. If he hadn’t fought and pushed through the paralysis at the time, he would have easily slept for longer. He almost believed that Urokodaki and Nezuko were having him on, but he could see in their faces that they weren’t lying. 

Not much had happened since Tanjirou had fallen asleep, as most of the days were spent training and training and training. It seemed Nezuko and Urokodaki had already built trust and rapport with each other, as well as a workable routine. In the morning, Nezuko would swing a sword one thousand times as Urokodaki prepared breakfast, she would meditate and practice her breathing around noon, and then she would go up the mountain and run down through the laid traps until midnight. By the time she was back she was already hungry and injured and exhausted, and would eat a hefty dinner before collapsing into her futon for the night.

Tanjirou had not slept since the day he woke up. 

He tried to hide it, of course, as he did not want Nezuko to worry. Every night he would wait for her to come back, sitting in front of the door and smiling at her whenever she arrived. Every time, Nezuko was so tired that she would pass out first, not noticing that Tanjirou never laid down on the futon beside her. In the morning, he would smile at her as she greeted good morning, but she was off again and was too busy in the day to realize that her brother had not gotten a wink of sleep. Tanjirou knew he was being stupid. He knew that Urokodaki was catching on, too. It’s just that— Tanjirou was scared. He still remembered the sensation of fighting against that paralyzing sleepiness, remembered the feeling of being trapped in a long, distant dream. He remembered the feeling of his body trying to change, tweaking itself against his will. He still wasn’t quite sure what it was changing inside him. It scared him. The next time he fell asleep, he just knew it would not be just for the night. It would be weeks, months, even years— he wasn’t even sure if he would ever wake up. Nezuko was worried enough from his month-long coma. He couldn’t put her through so much more. 

So Tanjirou decided not to sleep. He didn’t know what effect it would have on his demon body but if he could survive without eating or drinking for weeks, who says he even needed sleep to begin with? He told himself he didn’t need it. Like he didn’t need human flesh to survive. He didn’t need to sleep. He could function just fine. 


The effects seemed to be worsening the more he abstained. It started with a lack of focus, followed by a dizziness. His hunger seemed to be getting worse and worse each day, and he didn’t know why or how to stop it. He was tired everyday, so tired, and it was tempting to close his eyes, just for a little while, just for a moment. His body ached. He had developed the habit of staying in his younger form most of the day. For some reason, he felt better that way. Less tired. Maybe his smaller form was better at conserving energy? 

That day, Urokodaki had given Nezuko a free day to rest. It was New Year’s Eve. Nezuko and Urokodaki were going to have a small hot pot to celebrate. Tanjirou found himself peeking out of the window to stare sleepily at the setting sun. New Year’s Eve, huh… He remembered their family, how their father and mother would toast rice crackers for them after every festival. Those were good times, everyone would have so much fun making loud cracking noises when they eat them. During New Year’s Eve in particular, their father would set aside time from sunset until sunrise, dancing the Hinokami Kagura in the snow every year without fail. It was a family tradition that was passed down from father to son, along with the hanafuda earrings, and Tanjiro could not help but feel sadness at the reminder that had their family not been slaughtered, had he not been turned into a demon, he would have been dancing by now, offering up his prayers to ward off injuries and disasters to the gods. 

“You’re thinking about it too, aren’t you, Onii-chan?” He was startled when Nezuko sat beside him, so lost in thought that he had not heard her approaching. “Our family traditions around the New Year.”

Tanjiro nodded, hearing his earrings tinkle with the movement. He raised his hand to touch them, deep in thought. Truth be told, Tanjirou felt conflicted about the whole tradition. Evidently, the Hinokami had not saved their family from death, nor had it saved him from turning into a demon. But this was a tradition that had been upheld by the Kamado family for generations, started even before he was born, and it almost felt like a betrayal to his father’s memory not to continue it as he should. 

Nezuko was studying his face, no doubt taking in the many different emotions flitting through him. “I have a confession to make,” she started, before hesitating. She then started to stand up, smiling at him once again, “Wait a moment, Onii-chan. I have to get something.” 

Tanjirou followed her with his eyes as she stood up and went to the back bedroom. He could hear her rummaging through something, piquing his curiosity, and when she came back he couldn’t hold back his gasp, as she stood in front of him with the item in her hand, smiling sheepishly at him. 

“I couldn’t bring father’s ritual staff with us, as it’s too big and bulky,” she told him. “But these ceremonial robes are not, and I thought… I thought you might want them someday.” 

Tanjirou stared at the robes, the one his father had worn so many times as he danced and danced and danced, seemingly forever, captivating Tanjirou’s young eyes. Although old, it did not look faded or threadbare. He supposed that’s because it was only used one night a year. His hand reached out to caress the material, feeling a little bit like he was about to cry. These robes were a memento of their family. He looked up at Nezuko, seeing her smile become a little sad. 

“Would you like to dance?”

Tanjirou hesitated.

“Whether you wanted to dance or not does not matter to me, Onii-chan. I simply want you to be happy.” 

The honesty in her voice was very genuine. Tanjirou stared at the robes again, conflicted. Should he, or should he not? In the end, he felt like he should. Now that the ceremonial robes were right in front of him, it felt like a sign.

In the end, he nodded. 

“Urokodaki-san, could we borrow one of your wooden swords?” Nezuko had asked as soon as the trainer entered his home, coming back from the nearby village to purchase some vegetables and meat for their hotpot tonight. The old man did not reply for a while, seemingly taken off guard. His body turned towards Tanjirou, who was now wearing the ceremonial robes save for the face covering. The demon shifted uneasily, a little self-conscious as he no doubt looked out of place in Urokodaki’s humble abode. He tugged at his attire, face flushing as he thought that maybe he should not have let Nezuko convince him into this. 

“What for?” Urokodaki asked as he placed the ingredients down by the sink.

“Onii-chan is going to dance our family’s traditional kagura,” Nezuko explained. “Even though our family is not with us anymore, we would still like to offer our prayers to our family’s patron god.” 

Urokodaki seemed to think it over, before nodding his approval at Nezuko, who beamed as she went to the cabinet to get a wooden sword. The sword was immediately handed over to Tanjirou who took it gingerly, testing out a few swipes with it, before nodding wordlessly. 

“Do you need anything else?” Urokodaki asked. 

“No, I know it is sudden, we don’t want to intrude,” Nezuko said with a small bow, before turning to her brother. “The clearing in front of the house has enough space to move in, do you think you’d be fine there, Onii-chan?”

Tanjirou nodded again. He smiled at Nezuko and then at Urokodaki, bowing a few times at the old man. Urokodaki merely nodded and patted the boy’s head. 

“Go ahead outside.” 

Tanjirou bowed again before he took Nezuko’s hand in his and the two of them walked out of the house and into the moonlight. Nezuko had a huge smile on her face, evidently excited. Tanjirou found himself wishing that he had started to dance earlier, at the very moment the sun had set, as stated in their tradition. As it turned out, it was already quite dark and the moon was already high up in the sky. Nezuko found a log to sit down on as Tanjirou stood in the middle of the clearing, taking the face covering out and lifting it up to his face to hide his face for the rest of the night. 

He closed his eyes, reliving the moments when his father had taught him the movements, a silent song playing inside his head. It did not quite have a melody, merely a certain feeling , a beat that he was to move his body to. Even through the tiredness seeping through his body from lack of food and sleep, he pushed through. He really wanted to do this. He really wanted to dance. 

He took a deep breath. 

“Tanjirou… breathe. Get your breathing under control and become Hinokami.” 

He lifted the sword.

No matter how many times she sees it, Nezuko still thought the Hinokami Kagura was beautiful. She remembered the times she and Tanjirou and their mother would stand by the clearing where her father would dance right in the middle of a ring of torches, each move precise and fluid, hypnotic against the cold, white snow. It was always snowing up in their mountain at the time of the New Year, and even with their father growing frailer and frailer every year, when he was dancing he seemed like a different man altogether, healthy and active and alert. Privately, Nezuko thought it must have been the Hinokami granting their father strength to dance for so long. It was a childish idea born from a childish mind, but it was an idea that she still subscribed to to this day. 

Tanjirou danced with the same grace their father had. Perhaps if they were lucky, Hinokami would grant Tanjirou the same strength, help him get rid of the demonic transformation as if it was a common illness. Nezuko smiled at the thought. Wouldn’t that be nice, if the gods would simply grant Tanjirou his humanity back. 

Nezuko absentmindedly pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear, running down its length and curling her fingers around its tips. She had seen the look on Tanjirou’s face when he first saw it, the shock and the unease that his expression gave off when he finally woke up. Nezuko wondered if the hair did not suit her, if it made her look less feminine. She didn’t care. She had decided to cut off her hair a week into training, after she realized that it was holding her back. It kept getting tangled and escaping her bun, and was overall distracting. It was a shame, truly. Letting her hair grow that long had taken years. Nezuko had liked that length, too. But she supposed having shorter hair was better in battle. When Nezuko snipped her hair off, she had sworn to herself that she would not let it get longer for as long as she still needed to fight, as long as Tanjirou was still a demon. 

It would probably take her years. But she couldn’t take too long. She couldn’t grow up to be a woman while her older brother remained his young teenage self. She couldn’t die of old age and leave him alone. That would just be too unfair for Tanjirou, to miss out on a normal life like that. Nezuko would heal him as soon as she could. No matter what.

“That is… the kagura you are talking about?” Urokodaki asked behind her. As usual, she had not heard him approaching. Nezuko turned to smile at her mentor, who approached and sat on the log beside her. He offered her a bowl of the hot pot, and she smiled at him, accepting the food with a murmured thanks. As she dug into the food with her chopsticks, she saw Urokodaki watch Tanjirou’s movements carefully, seemingly deep in thought.

“Yes. It’s the Hinokami Kagura. It has been performed by our family for centuries,” she confirmed between bites. 

“Hinokami…” Urokodaki trailed off. “Are your family swordsmen?” 

Nezuko snorted, and let out a small laugh. “No, far from it. We burn coal and sell them. It’s a humble profession, but it got us through just fine.” 

Urokodaki fell silent. 

“Urokodaki-san?” Nezuko prompted.

“Those movements… that stance. Those are definitely sword forms,” Urokodaki told her, confusion coloring his tone. “If it has been in your family, performed as a tradition for centuries, then I would wager that at some point your ancestry, there were swordsmen.” 

Nezuko frowned. Swordsmen? In the Kamado family? She supposed it’s not impossible, but it had to be a very long time ago. Growing up, burning coal and selling them was all that Nezuko and her family had ever known, and the idea that their kagura was anything other than a ceremonial dance had never crossed her mind. But Urokodaki was a trainer, and before that he was a pillar— one of the most elite members of the Demon Slayer Corps. He was knowledgeable and knew what he was talking about.  If he says that they were sword forms, they probably were.

“I’m surprised that you had so much trouble with the sword when we started our training, if your family had a tradition deeply-rooted in one. Did you never learn it? The kagura,” Urokodaki asked, glancing at her. Nezuko watched her brother intently. 

“Onii-chan always shares everything he had with us, his younger siblings. Food, toys, clothes…” she whispered, trailing off. “I’m sure if I asked, he would no doubt teach me how to do it, too. But the Hinokami Kagura and the hanafuda earrings are his birthright as the eldest son. It was the only thing that was his and his alone. I wanted him to have something that was his, something that he didn’t have to share, so I never asked.”

“... I see.”

“He did tell me a few things about, though!” Nezuko continued, more brightly. “You see, the Hinokami Kagura was supposed to be performed continuously from sunset to sunrise. It was a long cyclical dance that will no doubt leave anyone exhausted, but it uses a certain way of breathing that apparently makes it so the dancer would never tire even in the snow. Onii-chan told me whenever he does it, it warms his body up, and he felt like he could dance forever!” It was a very interesting quirk of the Hinokami Kagura, one that still amazes Nezuko to this day. “It reminds me of the Water Breathing Technique. I keep it in mind whenever I’m meditating.” 

Unbeknownst to Nezuko, Urokodaki froze. He stared at Tanjirou disbelievingly, a small suspicion nagging at the back of his mind. The irony of the situation, that a demon of all people would know some obscure breathing form. It was not Water Breathing, he could tell that much, but there had already been so many different iterations of Total Concentration Breathing that he wouldn’t be surprised if its one of the forms that had died down through the centuries, still being passed down like a torch in the Kamado family. 

Tanjirou and Nezuko… probably had some demon slayer heritage that even the two of them were not aware of. It might just be connected to why they lost their family to begin with. Why would Kibutsuji Muzan himself suddenly appear at an isolated house up in the mountains, after all? 

Nezuko continued eating her bowl of stew. 

Urokodaki worried. 

Chapter Text

Dancing the Hinokami Kagura that night had awoken something in Tanjirou. It turned out that he couldn’t keep up with the stamina the breathing technique required, and he had to stop only two hours in, instead of before sunrise. He had hoped his new demon body would make it easier on him, but it seemed his lack of food and sleep were taking its toll. It gave him a newfound respect to his father who did it every year like it was nothing, frail and sickly as he was. It also reminded Tanjirou of his own weakness. After finding out from Nezuko later that night that the Hinokami Kagura was actually a sword form rather than a ceremonial dance, Tanjirou wondered if maybe he too should learn swordsmanship. 

He remembered how his last fight had gone, how all he could do was draw it out because he couldn’t make a decisive, finishing blow. Urokodaki said that the only way to finish a demon off without exposing them to the sun was cutting off their head with a nichirin blade. He didn’t think the Demon Slayer Corps would ever give him one, not really, but it’s not like he had anything else to do. With him being stuck inside the house during the day and awake all throughout the night, he had more free time than he knew what to do with. Back home, Tanjirou always had something to do— wood to chop, siblings to entertain, coal to sell. Now that he had none of that, he was feeling rather… bored. 

He was feeling very tired and lethargic too, but that’s par for the course. Perhaps some good exercise could wake him up. He still refused to sleep, still stubbornly digging his heels into the dirt and denying his body the things it wanted. 

It was a particularly hard night for him when he decided to just give sword training a go. Sitting down on the floor beside Nezuko’s futon, his eyes had felt like there were boulders placed upon them. He was yawning every minute, and he felt like he could sleep sitting up. His whole body was aching, from his muscles to his bones. Not having any of that, Tanjirou stood up and slapped his cheeks a fair bit to wake himself up, before wandering out of the back bedroom and into the main room.

Urokodaki would not mind if Tanjirou borrowed a sword… would he? 

He had heard Urokodaki once threaten Nezuko that if she broke one of his swords, he would break her bones. Urokodaki was actually pretty scary sometimes. But Tanjirou figured he had heard enough of Urokodaki’s words about what not to do with a katana that he knew he wouldn’t accidentally break one. Besides, he also wanted to know how a real blade would feel in his hand. Tanjirou looked around the main room, saw that Urokodaki was laying down on his own futon with his back to Tanjirou’s, seemingly asleep. Tanjirou risked it and swiped a sword out of the cabinet, tip-toeing around the house and opening the door as gently as he could to go outside. 

The moon was beautiful tonight. 

Tanjirou spent a few minutes admiring the stars in the sky and breathing in the night air. He wandered around for a while, trying to find a good spot to practice. The sheathed katana on his hand felt solid and heavy, and he took a deep breath before he held the handle and pulled. He was surprised when he saw the blue hue of Urokodaki’s nichirin blade instead of the normal steel gray that Nezuko uses. Crap. He was sure he had taken the normal one. Oh well, it is what it is. He didn’t want to go back to the hut and risk waking Urokodaki or Nezuko up. This would have to do. 

Tanjirou set the empty scabbard down on the ground and held the handle with both of his hands, aiming it in front of him like he had seen Nezuko do countless times. This spot he had found was a little bit up the mountain, but not too far from Urokodaki’s hut— a clearing with a grassy ground, surrounded by bamboo. He swung the sword diagonally, aiming it on a clump of bamboo, and the thing was cut cleanly in half like butter. Huh. He supposed his enhanced strength meant that he could swing a sword with more force. It felt like a cheat. He suddenly felt bad for Nezuko. He swung the sword at another clump, but then the blade got stuck on one of the stalks, and he had to tug it a couple more to get it out. He stared at the gash it left on the plant. 

Anyone can swing a sword, he realized. But to be a swordsman, one should learn how to wield a katana with finesse, one that Tanjirou did not possess, and Nezuko was steadily learning.

Now onto the Hinokami Kagura being a sword form… he wondered if it was true. The wooden sword did feel appropriate to the movements when he performed the kagura that day, so he wondered if it would feel even better with the weight of actual steel. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Become Hinokami. The kagura was made up of twelve segments, seamlessly moving from one form to another before the cycle goes back to the beginning and starts again. 

The first form: Dance. Tanjirou forcefully lifted the blade into a vertical slash. The second form: Clear Blue Sky. He spun his body vertically, his blade moving in a complete three hundred and sixty-degree arc. The third form: Raging Sun. He lifted the sword and made two horizontal slashes. The fourth form: Fake Rainbow. He twisted his body and turned every which way. The fifth form: Fire Wheel—

“You sure look confident for someone who had stolen my sword and sneaked off in the middle of the night.” 

Tanjirou gasped and opened his eyes, not even realizing he had closed them. He turned to the sound of the voice and stared wide-eyed like a deer caught in headlights. There Urokodaki was standing, wearing his usual attire with his red tengu mask, staring at him accusatively. Or at least that’s what Tanjirou thought was the expression under his mask. Tanjirou swallowed hard as he dropped the blade, immediately bowing in apology. His face burned with embarrassment at being caught, he truly did not want to make trouble! 

He was expecting Urokodaki to… he didn’t know, slap him? He did try to slap Nezuko the day they met, so it wasn’t so very far-fetched. Tanjirou did not really mind what punishment Urokodaki had in store for him, he knew he had misbehaved, but what he did not expect was the gentle touch of Urokodaki’s palm as he patted Tanjirou’s hair, running his hand back and forth on his lowered head. 

Tanjirou lifted his head to stare questioningly at the old man. The old man retreated his hand and placed it on his back with his other hand. 

“If you wanted to learn swordsmanship, you could have just told me,” Urokodaki told him. Tanjirou’s eyes widened as he used his finger to point at Urokodaki, and then at the sword, and then at himself— bringing up his hands to give emphasis on his claws as if to say, but I’m a demon! Urokodaki teaches demon slayers! A demon like himself had no place learning the art of demon slaying, even though he did want to learn, if only to protect Nezuko and kill that monster. 

Urokodaki let out a good, hearty laugh. Tanjirou was caught off guard by the scent of fondness he smelled coming off from the old man. Urokodaki went back to patting Tanjirou’s head affectionately, and Tanjirou felt something like happiness rising inside his chest, threatening to burst from inside him. Behind his muzzle, he offered the old man a shy smile. 

“I know you won’t misuse it, Tanjirou,” Urokodaki told him. “You are a good, kind boy.” 

Tanjirou’s smile became embarrassed. 

“And it’s not like me not teaching you will make any difference. You already have a solid foundation with learning breathing techniques. I am sure it was only a matter of time before you realize, but that kagura of yours… there is more to it than meets the eye.” 

Tanjirou tilted his head, staring at Urokodaki with a question in his gaze. Urokodaki let out a deep sigh as he looked up, seemingly staring up into the sky. Tanjirou waited for him to continue, as he seemed deep in thought. When he didn’t, Tanjirou let out a huff and tugged at Urokodaki’s sleeve impatiently. As usual, Urokodaki didn’t seem fazed. He merely looked back down and said grimly, “Tanjirou, we need to talk.” 

Tanjirou immediately straightened his back at the tone of his voice. Urokodaki took the katana that was dropped on the floor as well the scabbard, sheathing the sword and placing it on his lap as he sat down on the grassy ground. Tanjirou let out a small hum as he too sat in front of him so they were face to face, with only the moonlight as their source of light to see each other’s countenance. 

“Take off your muzzle,” Urokodaki demanded. “I know you still find it hard to speak, but I would really like you to try. This is something of utmost importance.” 

Tanjirou hesitated. The muzzle had already become something of a safety object, a security blanket to wrap around himself whenever he felt unease or discomfort. Even though it hindered him from being able to express himself properly, there is also a certain comfort at the idea that it hid his most obvious demon qualities. There’s the fangs of course, but there’s also his voice. It was rough and gravelly, and he growled a lot whenever he was frustrated. He didn’t like it. Still though, it seemed Urokodaki would not start this ‘talk’ until Tanjirou did so. With a sigh, he reached over behind his head and tugged at the ribbon holding the muzzle over his mouth, the bamboo falling easily onto his lap, as he met the gaze of Urokodaki’s mask again. 

“Muzzle… gone. Talk,” Tanjirou managed to say with a lot of difficulty. 

“I have a theory on why Kibutsuji Muzan came after your family.” 

Almost immediately, rage crept up Tanjirou’s throat. His hand curled into fists, nails digging into the material of his pants where he had rested his hand. Suddenly, breathing normally was hard, and he was panting, overcome with emotion. Red eyes turned into slits as he stared at Urokodaki with an expression of hatred, but the old man did not look disturbed. He knew very well that that anger was not directed at him. 

“Mons… ter…” Tanjirou hissed. 

Urokodaki nodded and continued, “It has always struck me as strange that Kibutsuji Muzan himself would attack some random family living in the mountains. Muzan had not been seen by any demon slayer— from mizunotos to pillars— for literal centuries. He was good at concealing himself, and had no reason to stop doing so anytime soon. And yet, he gave his time to personally do this one thing. You were there, Tanjirou. I know it is painful, but try to remember. Is there anything he had said or done that came off as strange to you? Anything at all?”

Trying to remember that horrible, horrible night was easy. Every detail of it was etched inside Tanjirou’s mind. He thought of the question for a moment, thinking through the events of that transpired. Yes… there were indeed some strange things that were said, something that Tanjirou had not thought much about before today. A finger idly scratched at the dirt below him as he tried to find the words. “Descen… dant….” Muzan had said something about his earrings, too. His hand reached up to touch them, playing with them absentmindedly. Come to think of it, he mentioned the sun several times. Something about breathing sun… “Sun… sun…!” he insisted. Frustration crept up his throat at the inability to properly express himself. Even so, at least Urokodaki seemed to get some of it.

Urokodaki let out a sigh. “As I thought,” he replied. “Tanjirou… I think you and Nezuko have demon slaying in your blood.” 

Tanjirou stared back at Urokodaki in confusion. 

“I think you are descendants of a demon slayer, someone that had granted Muzan some personal offense, and his assault on your family was not a random attack, but a pre-mediated one,” Urokodaki explained. “I think so because that family tradition you had shown me, the Hinokami Kagura— it is very likely a branch of Total Concentration Breathing, the breathing form that demon slayers had used for centuries to defeat your kind. Perhaps Muzan turning you into a demon was his idea of a spit in your family’s face, a revenge of sorts on your family’s honor. Do you understand what I’m saying?” 

Slightly shaken by the revelation, Tanjirou shakily nodded. He remembered the words the monster had said before he gave Tanjirou his blood— A descendant of the sun-breathers… surely would have a chance to defeat the sun someday.

“Sun,” he croaked again. “Sun… brea… thing…” 

“Sun-breathing, huh?” Urokodaki asked. “I will try to look into it. When Nezuko wakes up, I will tell her about this as well. But before we conclude our talk, there is something else we must discuss.” 

Tanjirou blinked at the old man questioningly. 

The old man’s voice became stern. “Did you think I would not notice, boy, that you have not slept for an entire fortnight? Explain yourself.” 

A fortnight. Has it really been a fortnight already? Tanjirou shuffled in his seat anxiously, claws digging into the material of his pants again, but now for a very different reason. He had known that Urokodaki had probably already noticed, but he had hoped that he wouldn’t scold him about it like this. After all, Tanjirou had already slept for a whole month that one time. Was his tiredness and lethargy that obvious? He didn’t think Nezuko had noticed… but then again, Tanjirou had spent more time at home with Urokodaki than with his sister these days, because Nezuko was always out training. He chewed at his lower lip, feeling the sharp edge of his fangs brushing along the soft skin of his lip. He didn’t know how to explain himself, didn’t know how to make Urokodaki understand— sleeping felt dangerous at this point. Tanjirou didn’t know how to explain it. 

“Wake… not. Nezuko… worry. Wake… not,” he tried to say, staring down at his lap. Urokodaki let out a hum. 

“I had you checked by a doctor when you first didn’t wake up, you know,” Urokodaki told him. “He told us that all of your vitals were fine, and that there was nothing wrong with you while you were sleeping. The only problem was that you were not waking up, but to be perfectly honest, I think that might be a good thing.” 

Tanjirou looked up at him doubtfully. 

“I’m just guessing here, but it could be that you are recovering your strength by sleeping instead of consuming human flesh,” Urokodaki continued. “It could be that your body is having trouble trying to acclimate itself into a lifestyle without any food, and it is making you sleep more to compensate. If you continue to reject your body like this, I worry you won't be able to continue to resist your feeding urges soon. Eat or sleep, Tanjirou. Those are your only options.” 

“B-But…!” Tanjirou stared at Urokodaki helplessly. Eat or sleep? He could not allow himself to eat, obviously, but sleeping is out of the question either! If he slept, he didn’t know how long he would sleep for, didn’t know if he could break through the sleep paralysis a second time. He couldn’t worry Nezuko for that long. What if he slept and when he woke up, Nezuko was already an old lady? Demons could live for hundreds of years after all— what if he slept and when he woke up, Nezuko was dead? Dead of old age or dead because Tanjirou wasn’t there to protect her— both options were unbearable. He clenched his fist, conflicted. 

“Eat or sleep, Tanjirou,” Urokodaki prompted. Tanjirou shook his head vehemently, refusing to choose. He would figure this out himself! He wouldn’t give in to either! Urokodaki waited for him to respond, but he kept his mouth shut rebelliously. In the end, Urokodaki sighed. 

“I was worried this was going to happen,” he mumbled. Tanjirou let out a low growl in defiance. “There is a third option, but I had hoped we would not need to resort to this. Remember, Tanjirou, that this is your choice. It is your life and your sister’s that’s going to be affected, and I implore you to think this through seriously.” 

Tanjirou paused. A third option? And then to his surprise, Urokodaki suddenly unsheathed the sword on his lap, aiming the blade at his arm. Tanjirou did not even have a chance to stop him as he moved the katana, slashing a deep cut into his own flesh. Almost immediately, the smell of blood wafted in the air, and Tanjirou’s eyes slitted in response, teeth baring unconsciously as he was once again met with the barrage of primal instincts that he wanted no part of. He thought he was managing his hunger well before this point, but at the sight of a bleeding human, it rose like a roaring lion in his gut, screaming and pleading and begging to be given sustenance. The tiredness and lethargy wasn’t helping either— with his exhausted physical state it felt even harder to control his own turbulent emotions. Even so, he endured. He shut his eyes as he dug his claws into his palm. He bit his tongue and tasted his own blood inside his mouth. Even so, Urokodaki did not wrap his injury up. He did not move, simply sitting there and waiting. What was Urokodaki doing, he desperately wondered. Didn’t he know that Tanjirou was suffering? 

“Tanjirou,” Tanjirou opened his eyes to stare back at the old man, actively avoiding looking at the wound in his arm. Not that it helped much. His nose was still picking up the sickly sweet scent. He was going crazy. “This is your third option, Tanjirou. Blood. On average, a human can safely donate a pint of blood every two months. Between Nezuko and I, we can surely sustain you for as long as the two of you are living here. After that, we will have to see how much blood your body requires, so we can plan accordingly. Drinking freely-given human blood is a way for you to feed without hurting a single innocent person. It would also surely keep your body from trying to go through such extremes to help you recover your strength. However, this is not without consequence. Every drop of blood you drink will be a challenge to your self-control. Every time you drink, you must force yourself to stop. You must teach yourself to be content with a small amount of blood, and nothing more. Do you think you can handle that?” 

Handle that? Tanjirou could not even handle the sight of it. That blood will touch his lips, his tongue, go down his throat? What was that hell on earth? At the same time though, his body was singing. He was being allowed to have something! He wanted it, he wanted it so bad, his body wanted it so bad— but he held his ground, trying to clear his head as he considered his options. 

Eat humans, sleep maybe forever, or drink small amounts of human blood. The first one was out of the question, the second and third one both have severe consequences, but above all else, Tanjirou wanted to be there for his sister. He could not stay by her side as a man-eating monster, nor could he do that while he was knocked out and asleep. In the end, it did not matter. There was only one option for Tanjirou. He just needed to pull it off, dig his heels into the dirt with his innate stubbornness and tell his body who’s the boss. You will drink blood, and you will not yearn for flesh, he told his body. You will accept what is given to you, and not a drop more. He took a shaky breath and nodded. He could do this. Do your best, Tanjirou, he cheered himself. Under all these demonic instincts, you are human. 

Urokodaki let out a grunt. He offered his bleeding arm to Tanjirou. “If you think you can do it, give it a shot. If you could not, however—” Urokodaki’s tone became hard, cold even. “I will slice your head off right here and now. Nezuko had sworn on your honor, Tanjirou. Remember that.” 

My brother is the gentlest, kindest person in the world, he remembered Nezuko saying. He did not want to betray her trust in his character. Tanjirou reached a hand out to grab Urokodaki’s arm, staring at it with determination and resolve. The injury was deep, the blood now dripping down to the ground. He leaned down and with bated breath, licked a strip of skin that was covered in the crimson liquid. Almost as soon as he tasted the human blood in his mouth, the instinct to eat eat eat increased tenfold. He let out a growl, and it was all he could do not bite down, fingernails digging into Urokodaki’s flesh as he struggled to control himself. 

Endure, endure, endure! He told himself. You are the eldest son, you are human, endure, dammit! 

His body sang with the taste in his mouth. He had not realized how parched his throat was until warm blood passed through them. He sucked in and gulped. Nothing in the world mattered but him and his food. Still, his body complained. Not enough, not enough, not enough— more more more more— he wanted to bite down and finally eat— 

Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat.

Tanjirou shut his eyes as he slurped and gulped, rejecting the instinct. 

More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. More. 

“Enough!” Urokodaki’s voice cut through the haze in his head, harsh and decisive. Immediately, Tanjirou opened his shut eyes and tore his mouth away from the injury, letting out a hiss as if he was burned. He held both of his hands close to his chest as if to keep them from reaching out to Urokodaki’s arm again, his entire body shaking from head to toe. Was it done? Was it over? The taste of human blood in his mouth still lingered, ambrosia and nectar to his starving demon body. He wanted more, but he didn’t give in. You are human, he told himself. A mantra. Nezuko believes in you. 

And that was when he felt Urokodaki’s hand on his head again, warm and comforting. “You’ve done well, my boy. I am proud of you.” 

Tears burned at the back of Tanjirou’s eyes, and this time, he did not stop them from flowing and blurring his sight. While his body felt rejuvenated, now humming with new energy, he felt exhausted emotionally. Frustration crept in his throat about why all this was necessary in the first place. Why did Tanjirou have to get turned into a demon? Why did he have to go through so much? Why didn’t that monster just let him die ? If he had died, he wouldn’t have to struggle with this much bullshit. If he had died, Nezuko would not have to suffer everyday with training to become a demon slayer. If he had died, if he had died— 

If he had died, Nezuko would be all alone. 

And suddenly, he was grateful to be alive. A demon, yes, but a demon who will stay by Nezuko’s side. He may be a burden, he may feel useless sometimes, but he was still Nezuko’s older brother, and he promised his mother’s memory that he will do his best. Urokodaki pulled him into a hug as he cried, sobbing silently into the old man’s clothes.

“Thank… Uroko… san… Thank… you .”

Chapter Text

Nezuko was furious with being informed only after everything was all said and done. She was furious at Tanjirou for apparently not sleeping, and then she was furious at Urokodaki for not telling her. She was furious that Urokodaki saw fit to test Tanjirou’s self-control like that with the threat of killing him hanging over his head, furious that Tanjirou had been okay with it. She was grumpy and angry all throughout the day they told her, but Tanjirou wasn’t fooled. Nezuko was not really angry at them, who she was angry at was really herself— for not realizing Tanjirou’s predicament, for not being there for him. Tanjirou’s heart reached out to her and he gave her a big hug, wanting to tell her that everything was okay. Wanting to tell her that he was fine now, that there was no longer anything to worry about. 

When Nezuko saw Urokodaki’s bandaged arm, she stated that she should have been the one there to offer her blood to Tanjirou. Urokodaki disagreed. According to him, there was no point in the test if it was Nezuko’s life on the line. Tanjirou would never hurt her. And Tanjirou knew he was right. In a way, he was glad it was Urokodaki who was there that night and not Nezuko— it only proved to him that as flimsy his self-restraint felt sometimes, he was still in control.

Either way, Tanjirou was glad to have chosen the third option. He was already feeling infinitely better. He was no longer tired or lethargic, no longer felt like blinking too long was going to put him in another month-long coma. He felt lively, energized. He had even thrown caution to the wind and attempted to sleep the next day, relieved to find out that he woke up only after a few hours without any trouble. The fear of sleeping through the rest of Nezuko’s life was finally removed from his shoulders, and he couldn’t be any happier. The only thing left to do was decide on how to go about implementing this new development into their lives, into their routine.

One day, a talking crow came to Urokodaki’s hut, carrying a package in its claws. Urokodaki took it carefully and told the two kids to sit down as he needed to talk to them both. Nezuko and Tanjirou watched as Urokodaki opened the package and procured a small wooden box, saying that it was something he had requested from a place he called the “Butterfly Mansion”. Inside was a fairly large syringe made of glass and metal, along with a collection of empty vials and needles. Urokodaki taught both of them how to draw someone’s blood, how to screw and sharpen the needles, how to sterilize the syringe and the vials after use, as well as the dangers of messing up. The two of them learned eagerly, promising to keep everything in mind. Urokodaki told Tanjirou that they were going to have to observe him for now, see how much blood he needed to sustain him, how often he needed to feed. This observation period would go on for months. In the meantime, Tanjirou was to keep a journal, writing on it religiously about his hunger, his mood, and his physical condition. Tanjirou didn’t mind— he had nothing to do in the day but sleep anyways. Whenever he gets bored, he’d just whip out his journal and write. 

At night though, Urokodaki had stayed true to his word. He had started training Tanjirou in the way of the sword— teaching him the proper grip, the proper aim, the proper stance. He was a strict teacher, but he was not as brutal to Tanjirou as he was to Nezuko, claiming that what he was giving Tanjirou was not demon slayer training, that it was nothing more than an extra-curricular activity. He taught him the basics of Total Concentration Breathing, and while he did not teach him the Water Breathing Forms, he did take some time to help him figure out and incorporate the forms of the Hinokami Kagura. Nezuko was thrilled to be learning breathing forms alongside her brother. Dinner times became filled with chatter that— even though Tanjirou could not participate— he immensely enjoyed. Tanjirou couldn’t help but feel like Urokodaki’s hut had become like a second home. 

And just like that, the seasons passed. 

A year into their stay at Mt. Sagiri, Tanjirou found Nezuko sitting at the clearing where he first performed the Hinokami Kagura, sitting on the very same log, staring up in the sky, contemplative. Tanjirou had very much expected her to be still up the mountain, running through loads of traps like the usual, so he was surprised to see her there. She had a worried, slightly hopeless look on her face, glaring at the moon as if it had done her a personal offense. Her hands were still clutching the blade she uses for training, the dull steel reflecting the moonlight. Tanjirou sat beside her silently, catching her attention. The demon boy tilted his head at her questioningly, silently asking what she was doing here, why she looked so forlorn. 

“Urokodaki-san told me he had nothing left to teach me anymore,” Nezuko confessed. She reached her hand out to take his, basking in the comfort of the shared heat. Tanjirou noted how Nezuko’s once-soft hand was now rough and filled with calluses, brought upon by an entire year of hard work and harsh treatment. He traced each one with his finger, thinking about the story of each of them, still amazed with how much work Nezuko was willing to do for his sake. Even now, a year later, her resolve remained unshaken. “He told me whether or not I can improve to the next level is up to me. And then he showed me this huge, huge boulder and told me— if I could slice through that boulder, he would allow me to enter the Final Selection.” She squeezed his hand. “This is it, Onii-chan, the finish line is so close but— is a boulder even something you can slice with a sword? I tried and tried and… I don’t think I’m doing this right.” 

Tanjirou squeezed her hand back. He gave her an encouraging smile as he gestured at himself. About a month ago, Urokodaki had chosen to stop teaching Tanjirou as well. He had told him pretty much the same thing— that it was up to him now, that there was no more knowledge he could impart— and to this day Tanjirou still wasn’t sure what he meant. Tanjirou was a decent swordsman now, but certainly not on par with Urokodaki, or even Giyuu. He wasn’t sure what he needed to do to continue to improve, either. Nezuko knew this. They were both in the same rut. Though the matter was not as dire to him given that he had no Final Selection to pass and no boulder to slice, it was still the same, in a sense. 

Nezuko gave Tanjirou a soft smile. “I guess this is just one more thing we need to overcome together.” 

An idea sprung to Tanjirou’s mind. He immediately stood up, smiled at Nezuko, lifted a finger up as if to say wait a minute, and ran back into the hut. Nezuko let out a small sound of surprise at his sudden action but Tanjirou paid her no heed. He immediately went inside the house, bowed to Urokodaki in greeting, before taking two of the wooden swords from the cabinet, bowed to Urokodaki again, and hurried back out into the clearing. By the time he arrived back, Nezuko was already standing up and staring at him openmouthed, asking, “Onii-chan?” 

Tanjirou brandished the two wooden swords proudly and tossed one towards Nezuko. He then walked to the middle of the clearing, took a deep breath, and positioned himself in a fighting stance. At first Nezuko seemed confused, but then she started to get it. Her face lit up with delight as she stood in front of Tanjirou with the same stance, face set in a determined expression. 

A mock battle. 

Tanjirou and Nezuko had started sparring early on in their training. Sometimes, after Nezuko had gone back from the mountain and Tanjirou had finished his nightly drills, Urokodaki would tell them to grab some wooden swords and fight each other as if it was to the death. He said he always did it whenever he had more than one student around, as fighting with an opponent on the same level could prove fruitful in gaining experience and learning your own bad habits and weaknesses. At first both of them had been very reluctant. They were raised in the type of family that discouraged fighting between siblings, whether verbal or physical. Neither Nezuko nor Tanjirou had a competitive bone in their body, and they both worried they would hurt the other too much. With a little coaxing though, they managed to ease into it, their mock battles becoming more and more intense over time, as each of them wanted to prove to Urokodaki that they had learned something, that they were getting stronger. 

These days, their sparring has become almost like another bonding activity, something to do when you’re wanting to have some fun. There’s the added bonus of it being educational. 

The two of them stood face to face, wooden swords at the ready, watching each other intently as they waited for the other to make the first move. This time, Tanjirou thought he would go on the offensive. That plan was foiled though, when as soon as he braced to attack, Nezuko lunged, bringing down her sword with force onto his face. 

Tanjirou took a step back, lifting his sword to parry her blow with the handle. He twisted his body to try and make Nezuko lose her balance, but Nezuko dropped to the ground, sweeping her foot down to try and trip him. Tanjirou jumped back, letting out a low growl at the dirty trick, trying to get some distance, but Nezuko was back in his face again, forcefully attacking him with blow after blow, seemingly pouring the frustration she felt over not being able to cut the boulder down onto her older brother. Tanjirou met all her blows, stepping back all the while, until he finally decided he wanted none of it and took a deep breath. 

Hinokami Kagura. First Form , he thought, dodging one of Nezuko’s blows and twisting his body to give momentum to a high-powered vertical slash. Dance! 

For a moment, it seemed like he could smell something, a thread of sorts, lingering in the air. It was connected from his wooden sword to Nezuko’s opening, growing taut— but then he blinked and it was gone. To his surprise, Nezuko saw through his attack. She took one step back to avoid the blow, before jumping and twisting her body in a flowing fashion. Tanjirou did not need to hear her whisper to know which form it was. He had sparred with her enough to know.

Water Breathing. Fourth Form: Striking Tide! ” She made multiple consecutive slashes at Tanjirou, who avoided it with Hinokami Kagura Fourth Form: Fake Rainbow . They parried some more, both starting to get out of breath, but neither folding to the other’s will. 

At one point Tanjirou had started jumping around from tree to tree with his demon body (an unfair advantage, but one that Nezuko calls him out on when he does not use it), attacking Nezuko from different angles, which she counteracted by using the swift footwork of Water Breathing. Ninth Form: Splashing Water Flow . She moved around the clearing, avoiding each of his attacks seamlessly, before then using Third Form: Flowing Dance to follow him around, moving like waves on the surface of the water, swinging her blade around to hit both his arms and legs, the hits causing him to fall on his back. 

Had she been using a real blade, he would have been delimbed completely. As it happens, she was not, and he was not human, so her blows would not even bruise. Still, he didn’t think it was fair for him to continue without calling it, as it was his little sister’s achievement, so he raised his hand in a gesture for: I yield. 

Nezuko looked out of breath, but her face lit up in a smile. “I won? I got you, didn’t I, Onii-chan?” she said excitedly, reaching down a hand to help him get up. Tanjirou smiled with his eyes and nodded. He was out of breath too, using his sleeve to wipe away some of his sweat. He thought back to the fight, as he always did after one, thinking about what he could have done better, how he could have won. 

He remembered the scent of the thread, as it was not the first time he had seen it. He wondered what was that all about. 

Nezuko at least seemed to have cheered up, no longer discouraged now that she had evidence of her improvement. She stared at her hands, clenching them tight as she declared. “I’m gonna train even harder tomorrow, and the next day… and the next! I’ll slice that boulder, Onii-chan. One day— I’m sure of it!” 

Tanjirou smiled at her and nodded, patting her head affectionately. She smiled back as they gathered the swords and started walking back home in better spirits. Nezuko chattered about the fight, what she noticed in her own stances, and Tanjirou made grunting noises to point out what he thinks she’s done wrong in her footwork or swordplay. It was a one-sided talk, but she did not have much trouble deciphering his grunts and growls, having had a year of experience of dealing with it. Nezuko was so patient in trying to understand Tanjirou, never irritated or annoyed, and Tanjirou had to thank the gods for giving him such an understanding little sister. 

For a moment, just a single moment, Tanjirou thought he saw someone standing behind one of the trees, but when he turned his head to really look, he was gone. Strange. There weren’t any scents of other people around though, so he supposed it must have been his imagination.

Still, even as he settled into the night, he couldn’t help but think of a boy with peach-colored hair and a scarred fox mask. 

She was there, among the restless spirits that live in the forests near their beloved mentor’s home, sitting down on top of a large boulder that was placed in the middle of the clearing: the final hurdle. The only thing keeping the latest demon slayer candidate from participating in the dreaded Final Selection. The girl was wearing a flowery kimono, her deep cyan eyes staring out into the distance as she hummed, hands absentmindedly weaving a crown of flowers. In the distance, the shadows shifted, and without missing a beat she smiled at the newcomer, her greatest friend.

“How was it, Sabito?” she asked. The masked boy walked closer to the boulder, seemingly deep in thought. 

“Makomo, I don’t think we’re going to be needed,” Sabito confessed. 

Makomo’s eyes widened, surprised. “Oh?” 

“Yes…” Sabito replied as he took off his mask, looking up with his lavender eyes and giving Makomo a relieved smile. “Tanjirou and Nezuko, I think… they’re going to be alright.” 

At that, Makomo smiled, looking up into the sky as she raised the crown of flowers she was weaving onto her head. “Really? That’s a relief.” She closed her eyes. “We were worried for nothing.” 

The shadows of the forest seemed to shift. There were twelve other souls here aside from them, all restless, all waiting for the moment their deaths were given justice. They all loved Urokodaki very much, that’s why they’re here— but in the end, all deceased souls must eventually depart. Makomo and Sabito, too. She opened her eyes. 

“I hope she beats that person, too. And then… everyone will be in peace.”

Chapter Text

The days continued on with Nezuko somehow training even harder, so hard that Tanjirou was often worried she was pushing herself too much. She was up even before the sun rose— doing push-ups, swinging the sword, burying her face in a basin of water to hold her breathing— and in the evenings she would go back home all messed up and looking severely frustrated, having exhausted herself with trying to slice the boulder over and over. Even then, the two of them would still fight until midnight, sparring with their wooden swords and pushing each other to the limit of their abilities, improving in small increments over time with every bad habit they discovered and corrected over the months.

As Nezuko improved, Tanjirou did as well— he had started to take advantage of that thing he dubbed the “opening thread”, trying to make the most of it every time he detected it. Sometimes he defeated Nezuko with it, sometimes he did not. After all, Nezuko was growing into a wonderful swordswoman in her own right. Tanjirou couldn’t help but be proud of her, and from the smell that sometimes lingered on Urokodaki, he was proud of her, too. 

Tanjirou knew the day he was dreading was going to come soon. The day when Nezuko would be able to slice the boulder, the day she would finally get approved to go through the life-threatening Final Selection. When that happens, Tanjirou would not be there to protect her. When that happens, their life of peaceful training at Mt. Sagiri would end too, replaced by a life of continuous demon slaying, and Tanjirou was not looking forward to it. Still, it was something that had to happen, if they were to push through their goals of killing that monster and finding a cure for Tanjirou. This extended training montage was merely an interlude to the play that was their lives, and one day they would have to continue on to the next act. 

Months passed, and Tanjirou waited. The seasons came and went. Nezuko became stronger and stronger. And when the day arrived, Nezuko came back home with the widest grin he had ever seen on her face, happiness leaking off her as she engulfed Tanjirou in a big hug. 

“I did it, Onii-chan! I did it!”

Despite being overcome with worry, Tanjirou could not be any prouder. He looked at Urokodaki, who was staring at the two of them from the doorway. There was a scent of worry on him as well underneath the pride. Tanjirou’s chest felt so warm at the thought that their mentor cared about them so much. He gave Urokodaki a grateful smile.

That night, they celebrated with a hot pot, as per usual in this house whenever there was a special occasion. Nezuko thanked Urokodaki solemnly for all the help he had given them thus far, and dug into the food with renewed fervor. Tanjirou contented himself with smiling at them as they both ate their fill, having already taken his vial of blood a few days before. As it turned out, he could subsist on a minimum of a vial of blood every week— anything less would have his body wanting to shut down completely. They have not tested it, but Urokodaki speculated that if Tanjirou ever got injured, he would need to drink more. That’s one reason to not abuse his regenerative capabilities, Tanjirou supposed. Even though he had the capacity to heal from even the direst of injuries, he should still take care not to get hurt too badly, lest he lose control of himself.

The night was filled with warmth and laughter. After dinner, Nezuko ended up having to snip off her hair, as she complained that it was already getting longer. Even then, Tanjirou caught her staring at the locks she had cut off with something akin to longing, and it left a bad taste in Tanjirou’s mouth. He knew Nezuko liked her hair longer. He hoped she’d let it grow again soon. But he suspected there was something more to it that Nezuko wasn’t telling him, some meaning to the length of her hair that she kept in the privacy of her own mind. Tanjirou decided not to pry.

The next morning came too fast, too soon. Suddenly, Nezuko was already getting ready to head off to Mt. Fujikasane, for the Final Selection. The demon boy watched as his sister donned a cloud-patterned jinbei-style kimono, similar to the one Urokodaki always wore, as well as a fox-style warding mask that their mentor had given her the night before. Urokodaki said that the mask was  charged with a spell to protect her from harm, and Tanjirou dearly hoped that it would work from the bottom of his heart. All he wanted was his sister to get back to them safely. 

Nezuko had a determined look on her face, the same fire burning in her eyes, a nichirin blade strapped to her waist— she looked every way like a fierce fighter that Tanjirou could not help but compare to how she looked merely two years before: fragile, delicate, soft . There was nothing soft about today’s Kamado Nezuko, not anymore— except perhaps the way she smiled. She still retained that patient, loving smile that Tanjirou loved so much. It was on her face right now, as she patted his head gently, reassuring him. 

“I’m going to be alright, Onii-chan. I’ll pass and become a demon slayer. I’ll do my best.”

Tanjirou nodded slowly as he reached over to straighten her kimono. With the two years that had passed, Nezuko had grown taller. They were almost the same height now, especially with Tanjirou’s body not aging after his demonification. It made him sad to think that she might outgrow him soon. 

“Mt. Fujikasane is a long way from here, so I don’t know when I’ll get back. I would like to watch Onii-chan’s Hinokami Kagura this year too, but in case I can’t, pray for my success to Hinokami-sama for me, could you, Onii-chan?” 

Tanjirou nodded vigorously. He would pray to the gods, however long they wanted him to. 

“And don’t get too caught up in your dancing too, Onii-chan! Pay attention to the sun! We don’t want last year to happen again, do we?” 

Tanjirou smiled at her sheepishly. Last year on New Year’s Eve, he had danced the Hinokami Kagura as soon as the sun set, as per tradition. At the time, he had already pretty much ingrained all the forms into his body from sparring with Nezuko, as well as mastered the breathing technique he needed to keep going. He had managed to dance for hours, getting so lost in his own head that he did not even notice the sun rising, and Nezuko had to cover him up with a thick blanket and pull him back into the house before he got burned. It was so embarrassing, but he couldn’t help it. Sometimes the Hinokami Kagura just puts him in a sort of trance-like state, where nothing else mattered but the imaginary beat in his head and the movements he needed to perform through them. Nezuko wouldn’t understand— she had never shown interest in learning the Hinokami Kagura before. She didn’t know how it felt to perform it. Tanjirou couldn’t explain the feeling, either. So in the end, he had let Nezuko berate him for his recklessness, nodding apologetically every few seconds. 

Tanjirou lifted up his hand to Nezuko now, showing off his pinky. The gesture was heavy with implication, a culmination of all the promises that the siblings want to keep for each other until the day Nezuko comes back. Promise you’ll take care of yourself. Promise you’ll be safe. Promise you’ll be okay. This would be the first time they would be apart since the day their family was murdered, since the day Tanjirou had been turned into a demon. Tanjirou knew Nezuko must be filled with nerves. He was, too. 

Nezuko smiled as she lifted her pinky as well and curled it around Tanjirou’s. They moved their hands, their thumbs touching, sealing the promise. Nezuko then let go and smiled at Urokodaki who was in the corner, watching them. Urokodaki walked closer to place a hand on Nezuko’s shoulder, a small encouraging gesture. 

“Don’t worry about your brother. I’ll take good care of him,” Urokodaki reassured Nezuko. 

“Thank you very much,” Nezuko with a small bow. She walked out of the house and into the sunshine, before looking back and raising her hand in farewell. “I’m off, Urokodaki-san, Onii-chan!”

“Mmm, mmmmm!” was all Tanjirou could say, but he needed no words with Nezuko. Nezuko understood. All the things Tanjirou could not say,  all the things he could not express. Even with mere noises like these, Nezuko understood. 

“I love you, too, Onii-chan!” she called out, her voice filled with mirth and laughter. And with that, she ran off, hand on her katana, her kimono swaying with the wind as her form became smaller and smaller in the growing distance. Tanjirou was left with a pang in his heart, worry eating at his insides. He felt Urokodaki place his hand on his shoulder too, and he looked up, his expression slightly helpless. 

“Don’t look like that,” Urokodaki softly scolded. “Your sister is going to be just fine.” 

Tanjirou nodded, gazing back into the road his sister had taken. And then, silently, he closed the door. 

Nezuko is strong, he told himself, his pinky finger tingling with the weight of their shared promise. Nezuko will be alright. 

Days passed. 

Urokodaki was a man of few words, and with Tanjirou’s muteness, the days inside the house quickly became silent and monotone.  With nothing much to do, Tanjirou had taken to fashioning his sister’s favorite kimono into a haori, for when she comes back with her demon slayer uniform. It has also become his encouragement to himself that she will come back, that she will need this haori someday. Sewing was not his strongest suit, but he worked hard to make the stitches as even as possible, so that it would look as good as Nezuko would have done. He hoped it would be a nice surprise.

At night, Tanjirou continued doing his nightly drills— swinging his sword, controlling his breathing, practicing his forms.  It was all he could do not to succumb to the overwhelming worry that hits him whenever he thinks about where Nezuko could possibly be at that moment. Was she still on the way to Mt. Fujikasane, or had the Final Selection already started? Had she already killed her first demon, or did the demon got to her first? He hoped she wasn’t tired, or injured, or starving. What if… what if she was already dead? All these thoughts flit around in Tanjirou’s mind, and he couldn’t help but wish she was back sooner. It didn’t even matter to Tanjirou if she passed the test or not, if she became a demon slayer or not— all he wanted was for her to be alive. That was the wish he fervently prayed for every night, and when the New Years Eve came around once again, it was the wish he prayed for to the Hinokami.

That New Year’s Eve, Tanjirou danced with a heavy heart. He danced like he had never danced before, putting his all into the movements, into his prayers. Please keep Nezuko safe, he thought as he moved around fluidly, slashing the sword he was holding to and fro. Urokodaki was somewhere else, inside the house maybe. Tanjirou did not care much. He was completely in his own world. He twisted and turned and jumped and leaped, showing off the forms he had practiced with Nezuko so many times in the past two years. The Hinokami Kagura, as he was starting to realize, had become something more than a tradition to him, it had become not only a connection to his family but also a connection to Nezuko in particular, as the memories of them training together poured into his mind. He continued on dancing, restarting the cycle over and over, like a sun rising and setting, like the seasons coming and going— he continued without pausing, seemingly forever. 

“Tanjirou,” he heard Urokodaki call him from somewhere, but he ignored it. He kept his eyes closed under the face covering, focusing solely on his movements as he danced, over and over. As he prayed. 

Please keep Nezuko safe. Please keep Nezuko safe. Please keep Nezuko safe, he thought insistently. If nothing else, Hinokami-sama, even if you weren’t able to prevent the deaths of Mom, Takeo, Hanako, Shigeru, Rokuta… if nothing else, I just ask this one thing, please, please— 


Keep Nezuko safe! She is the only family I’ve got! Even if I have to keep dancing forever, please— 


— don’t take anyone else from me. 


Tanjirou opened his eyes at the sound of her voice, immediately turning his head towards it, his movement coming to a halt. Right there, beside Urokodaki, Nezuko stood looking worse for wear, her kimono dirty and slashed in places, the warding mask on the side of her head chipped and filled with scratches, holding a walking stick that she seemed to be supporting herself on. At first, Tanjirou’s mind stuttered. He had been thinking so hard about Nezuko, that he couldn’t quite comprehend that she was standing right in front of him. She did say that she was hoping to see his Hinokami Kagura tonight, that she would try to hurry. 

The sword fell to the ground from Tanjirou’s limp hands. He wanted to hurry over to envelop Nezuko into a tight hug, to express his utter happiness in seeing her again, but something in her expression stopped him. She was staring at him in disbelief, in awe, and beside her Urokodaki stood motionless, staring at Tanjirou as well, as if there was something even more important and noteworthy than the fact that Nezuko came back to them finally. He stared back to them and tilted his head, questioningly. 

“O-Onii-chan, you’re…” Nezuko looked up. Tanjirou followed her gaze. It was only then that he realized it, realized that the sky above him was no longer the dark indigo he was used to, but the brilliant blue of a slowly brightening sky. The kind of sky he had not been under in years, the kind of sky that had forsaken his kind. Nezuko looked shocked. Urokodaki seemed to be, as well. Tanjirou didn’t know what to think, as he reached his hand up to the sky in wonder, watching the sunlight dance across his fingertips. 

And Tanjirou stood, motionless, under the rays of the rising sun. 

I hope this letter finds you well, Oyakata-sama. 

I will not bother with pleasantries, so as not to waste your precious time. Two years ago, Tomioka Giyuu had sent to me a pair of siblings he had met while out on a mission. It was a girl who wanted to become a demon slayer, Kamado Nezuko, and her older brother, Kamado Tanjirou. As is the unfortunate usual in a demon slayer’s line of work, the siblings had just gone through a personal tragedy. Their entire family has been slaughtered by what we assume is Kibutsuji Muzan himself, and Tanjirou, subsequently, has been turned into a demon. Despite losing his humanity however, Tanjirou had not lost his human emotions. Even in a starved state, he refuses to devour humans, subsisting merely on a small amount of human blood. Even now, two years later, this has held true. Tanjirou is a remarkable kid with a remarkable sense of self-control. But I digress. 

A month after I took them in, I found out that the Kamado siblings somehow had demon slayer heritage in their blood, a fact that neither of them was aware of in the beginning. On the eve of the New Years, Tanjirou performs a family tradition that they called the Hinokami Kagura, and it turned out to be a breathing form that Tanjirou later identified as Sun Breathing. I believe this heritage may be the reason that their family was attacked to begin with, and I had decided to look into it. But now, two years later, I remain unable to find anything about a Sun Breathing Form. Thus, I have decided to reach out to you, in hopes that you may be able to shed some light on the subject. 

I believe their demon slayer heritage and this mysterious Sun Breathing Form is connected to the multitude of eccentricities I have seen on Tanjirou. He is a unique demon, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Not only had he conquered his hunger for human flesh, he had also recently conquered the sun, and right now was able to walk under it without any issue. Although the situation seems far-fetched, I assure you that it is an indisputable fact. While I worry about what a sun-resistant demon may mean to the future of the Demon Slayer Corps and the demons at large, I have to admit that Nezuko and Tanjirou had become somewhat dear to my heart. Still, I am not letting my fondness cloud my judgement when I say that I am confident that Tanjirou would not bring any harm to humans, nor would he aid the demons. He is a trustworthy person, and in the event that he proves to be otherwise, Kamado Nezuko, as well as Urokodaki Sakonji and Tomioka Giyuu, will atone by committing seppuku. 

Now that Kamado Nezuko has passed the Final Selection, Tanjirou wishes to accompany her in her missions. I sincerely hope that you will allow it. These siblings have no one else but each other, and they are both powerful swordsmen in their own right, as I have trained Nezuko in Water Breathing, and Tanjirou had developed the Hinokami Kagura. I believe they will manage to save and protect many people, and become a force to be reckoned with. This is just my gut feeling, but I think Nezuko and Tanjirou would be a vital component in our never-ending fight against Kibutsuji Muzan. Perhaps they will make a difference in our quest to end the demons once and for all. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I wish you all the best in your endeavors. 

Yours truly, Urokodaki Sakonji. 

Chapter Text

The sound of footsteps roused Tanjirou from his silent daydreaming. Standing outside near the front of Urokodaki’s hut where he was diligently laying the washed bedsheets on the clothesline so they would dry under the sun, Tanjirou stared at the three figures that were closing in on him from a distance. There was a man and a woman, and a young child that Tanjirou would guess must be their daughter, given the resemblance she had to the two adults. She had the man’s black hair, and the woman’s piercing eyes. They moved slow but graceful, laden with a certain sense of dignity, as if they were royalty and not just mere travelers walking along a dirt path. The woman was carrying something in a box strapped to her back, as well as an umbrella to keep the harsh sun from beating down on the three of them. The man seemed frail, his hand supported by his daughter. Some kind of curse scar was covering half of his face, but he retained a gentle aura about him, a certain tranquility. 

The wind shifted, and Tanjirou caught a whiff of their scents. It made his nose wrinkle. The smell of wisteria clung to them like second skin, but there was something to it too— the smell of sickness, of underlying tragedy. It clung especially well to the frail man, and Tanjirou wondered if it had something to do with that sickly scar. Tanjirou tilted his head curiously at them, unsure what to think. He let them walk closer until the man was right in front of him, smiling serenely. Up close, Tanjirou could see that one of his eyes were blank and unfocused. He was half-blind. That one remaining working eye seemed to take Tanjirou all in, studying his features, pausing for a moment at something on his forehead, before meeting his gaze again. 

“Ah, you must be Tanjirou,” the man stated nonchalantly. Tanjirou’s eyes widened in surprise. His voice was soft and calm, and it made the demon’s head feel light and fluffy. He didn’t know who this person was. He wondered how he knew his name. 

“Tanjirou, are you done with the bedsheets—” he heard Urokodaki ask behind him, but then their mentor made a strangled sound. Tanjirou turned his head to look just in time to see Urokodaki freeze in his tracks, the firewood he was holding falling down to the ground. As soon as the man turned his head to smile at the old man, Urokodaki fell to his knees on the ground in deference. Tanjirou’s eyes widened once again. He had never seen Urokodaki show this level of respect to someone before. 

“Oyakata-sama, I am blessed to be in your presence,” Urokodaki said stiffly. “What brings you here, so far from the headquarters...” 

“Rise, my child,” the man replied, even though he looked evidently younger than the old Urokodaki. “I am merely here for a visit, as well as a delivery. I was curious about the contents of your letter. I found it prudent to meet the very first sun-resistant demon myself.” 

To meet me? Tanjirou frowned. Someone of power, someone evidently up in the ranks of (Tanjirou assumed) the Demon Slayer Corps, was showing interest in him. He knew he was different. He knew he was an anomaly, not only because he refused to eat humans, but because he can now walk under the sun as well. What did this person want from him? He should probably get worried, but the man’s scent showed no malice, no ill intent. His smile was sincere. Tanjirou found himself relaxing in his presence. 

“Pardon the intrusion, but this conversation would better be done inside the house, with all three of you, over a cup of tea,” the man said. “Would you call in Kamado Nezuko for me?”

The six of them sat around the irori, a small flame lit on the hearth to heat up water for their tea. The man and his family sat on one side, all straightened backs and quiet grace, and Tanjirou found himself shifting nervously as he subconsciously leaned toward Nezuko, who met the newcomer’s gazes fearlessly, sure of herself. Urokodaki was silent as he poured the tea into cups, offering them to everyone one by one. Even Tanjirou got one, though all he could do was stare at the liquid silently. At least the warmth of the cup was settling his nerves a little bit. The man accepted his cup with a graceful nod, before staring back at the Kamado siblings. When he spoke, his voice held the same calm and soothing tone.

“Let us get the pleasantries out of the way. My name is Ubuyashiki Kagaya. I am the current head of the Ubuyashiki household, as well as the 97th leader of the Demon Slayer Corps. This is my wife, Amane, and my son, Kiriya. It is a pleasure to meet you.” 

Son? Tanjirou flushed a little bit, embarrassed that the whole time, he had thought the child was his daughter. He couldn’t be blamed for the mistake though, as Kiriya was wearing what most would consider feminine attire— a purple flower-print kimono and a hairpin resembling wisteria flowers. He also looked quite feminine in his own right, his features smooth and delicate, evidently not having gone through puberty yet. Tanjirou wondered how old he is. He still looked very young. 

Nezuko seemed surprised with the revelation as well, but she did well to hide it. She nodded at her superior, tone respectful but guarded. “My name is Kamado Nezuko. This is my older brother, Kamado Tanjirou. Pleased to meet you too, Oyakata-sama.” 

Kagaya smiled. “Kamado Nezuko. Sakonji told me that you have just passed the Final Selection. You must have worked hard. Congratulations.” 

At that, Nezuko looked a little taken off guard, startled by the compliment. “T-Thank you.”

Silence. Nothing was heard aside from Kagaya quietly sipping his tea. Even though he wasn’t looking at Tanjirou, the demon felt as if his attention was still directed at him. Tanjirou fiddled his thumbs around his cup a little bit, nervous to be under such scrutiny. It didn’t seem like bad scrutiny though. It didn’t feel like either him or Nezuko was in danger. It was just a gentle curiosity that Kagaya exuded from his scent. There was also an undertone of interest, of intrigue. Tanjirou supposed it can’t be helped. 

“I found out your story through Sakonji’s letter,” Kagaya continued. “I am sorry for your loss—” 

“Shall we get to the point, Oyakata-sama?” Nezuko interrupted, her voice hard. “I’ve heard you came all the way here because of my brother.” 

Kagaya did not look fazed. He looked thoughtful. “Of course… if you wish so. Kamado Tanjirou’s case is… well, it would not be an exaggeration to say we have not seen a case like this in a thousand years. Ever since the rise of the demons from the first demon progenitor, Kibutsuji Muzan, there has been no demon who had developed a resistance to the sun. If there was, they would have been devoured by Muzan already, as it is one of his main goals: to achieve absolute perfection, to be unkillable.” 

Nezuko tensed.

“Suffice to say, that Kibutsuji would no doubt go after your brother, if he finds out. The fact that he hasn’t yet must mean that Tanjirou had already somehow burned away Muzan’s control over him. That’s something good, at least. But I believe he would come after both of you, either way. If your family truly has a connection to the Sun Breathing Form, Muzan will try his best to kill you, anyway.” Kagaya stared down at the cup in his hands, contemplative. “I wish I am bringing better news. Forgive me.” 

Tanjirou and Nezuko glanced at each other, and Tanjirou’s hand itched to close around his little sister’s. It wasn’t like this was news. Since the day they found out that they had a demon slayer heritage, Urokodaki had proposed this as a possibility. Personally, Tanjirou did not mind Muzan going after him. It would make it easier to find the monster that massacred their family. He worried about Nezuko though, and what being around him would mean for her safety. He wondered if he would even stand a chance against the most powerful demon there is. If he was good enough, strong enough. 

He remembered his promise that day the monster ruined their lives. I’ll hunt you down and end you even from beyond the grave. It was a promise he still kept close to his heart. He couldn’t bear the idea of Kibutsuji Muzan still being out there, Tanjirou’s family unavenged, killing people and destroying families— he couldn’t stand it. Nezuko’s goal may be to find a cure for him, but Tanjirou’s goal was to end this nightmare from the source. Demons weren’t inherently evil, he knew— but Kibutsuji Muzan. That man was malice itself. 

“It doesn’t matter if he would be after us or not,” Nezuko answered for the two of them. “The only thing I care about is finding a cure for my brother. If Kibutsuji Muzan becomes a hindrance to that goal, I will cut him down with my blade.”

Not before I cut him with mine, Tanjirou thought vindictively. 

“As I’m sure you would,” Kagaya replied with a pleasant smile, as if they were talking about the weather. “I am aware that you siblings have a personal vendetta, but I assure you the Demon Slayer Corps is just as determined to get rid of Kibutsuji Muzan as you are. There are people who have trained for years, willing to put their lives on the line, so that the threat he poses may be stopped once and for all. For starters, there are the Pillars, talented swordsmen they all are, and I am sure they are just as determined to face him. Unfortunately, there have been very few chances to do so. He is a master at hiding himself. We have not seen hide nor hair of him in literal centuries. Tanjirou’s existence, as well your own Nezuko, may be the missing key we all need to rouse him out of hiding. And for that, I came here with a selfish request.”

“A request?” Nezuko pressed. 

Kagaya nodded. “If it was up to me, I would suggest we hide Tanjirou away from the world for the time being. If Kibutsuji Muzan managed to devour him and acquire his sun-resistance, it would be a detriment to the entire humankind. It would be better for him, safer for him—” 

Tanjirou rose to his feet indignantly, spilling his tea all over the wooden floor. He was not going to stay hidden away in secret while Kibutsuji Muzan goes after Nezuko anyway! He shook his head to side to side vehemently, letting out loud growls to express his displeasure. He’s going to stay with Nezuko. He will protect her and stay by her side! That’s what he promised to his mother’s memory! He promised he would take care of Nezuko… no matter what it took. 

Kagaya seemed to anticipate his reaction. “—but I assumed this idea would be met with resistance.” Tanjirou glared at him, and he let out a quiet chuckle, one that seemed to tinkle in the tensed silence of the room. “Please sit back down, Tanjirou. I have no intention of forcing you or Nezuko into anything. I may be Nezuko’s superior, but your lives remain your own.” 

Tanjirou let out some more low growls, unconvinced. 

“My brother and I already talked about what we think we should do from now on,” Nezuko interjected, and it was true. Well, ‘talked’ was a generous term as Tanjirou was merely able to let out grunts and growls, but they discussed it all the same. Especially after the development of Tanjirou’s sun resistance. “We thought that it would be better not to tell anyone we encounter the truth about what he is. That he should pretend to be a human— and it shouldn’t be that hard. Nobody would think a demon could walk in the sun anyway, and Onii-chan already looked human enough in his natural state. Nobody should be able to tell… right?” the uncertainty creeped on her tone at the last sentence, glancing back at Tanjirou. 

Kagaya hummed. “Perhaps. Though the stronger a demon gets, the more easily they could tell other demons apart by their presence alone. Kibutsuji Muzan is no exception. There is also the fact that he may very well recognize your brother, as he was the one who turned him that day. Kibutsuji Muzan has an uncanny ability to see through other demon’s heads as well, sometimes even remotely, and while Tanjirou here has no doubt already severed his connection to Kibutsuji already, he may get information from other demons you encounter, other demons you slay on the way. Not to mention the word of mouth that may spread if the humans and other demon slayers around you find out. A sun-resistant demon is a very big deal. There's no way people won't talk about it."

Nezuko looked worried, and Tanjirou wondered if she was considering giving him up to be kept under protection after all. He would fight tooth and nail, fang and claw— to make sure that doesn’t happen. Nezuko didn't get to tell him what to do. He was still Nezuko’s older brother, after all— even though Nezuko was now physically older than him.

“There is, however, one way we could conceivably hide Tanjirou's nature from everyone without locking him up somewhere, and it relates to the request I mentioned earlier,” Kagaya paused as if bracing himself. “According to our records, Tanjirou is not the only demon who is not in league with Kibutsuji Muzan. There is another. She goes by the name Tamayo, and to this day, she remains hidden even from Kibutsuji himself— an incredible feat. I believe with her methods, she may be able to help us hide Tanjirou’s secret long enough, until the time is right. If we are lucky, she may even be able to assist the Corps in figuring out a proper plan of attack. As much as it pains me to admit, the Demon Slayer Corps is not ready for an all-out war with Kibutsuji Muzan. Not at this time. But when we finally are, as I hope we will be in my lifetime, I would like to ask if you and especially Tanjirou would be willing to draw him out, to act as bait, as Tanjirou will no doubt be an effective one. Tanjirou, could you do that?” 

Tanjirou did not even have to think about it. He immediately nodded, clenching his fists in determination. Anything to bring down that monster. Anything to free this world of his evil. 

“This Tamayo-person...  Do you think she will really help us? Where can we find her?” Nezuko asked.

“We are fortunate enough to have information of where she is at this time. My sources say she’s somewhere in Asakusa, although exactly where in that city we are not very certain. If she did not want to be found, she would not be found. There is the fact that she is very wary of demon slayers as well, and would not approach us on her own, despite our shared goals. I was hoping that meeting someone who toes the line between demons and demon slayers, someone like the two of you whose unique circumstances give you the chance to bridge both sides, would encourage her to hear us out.” Kagaya smiled, before his tone turned commanding. “That is why, for your first mission, I’d like you to go to Asakusa and find Tamayo-san, and tell her of the Demon Slayer Corps’s intentions to join forces. Could you do that for me, Kamado Nezuko?” 

Nezuko’s back straightened up. “Y-Yes, Oyakata-sama.” 

Kagaya’s smile turned fond. “You are a good child.” He turned his head slightly towards his companions, his wife in particular. “Amane-san, the packages.” 

“Yes,” Amane said as she took the box that was tied to her back earlier and placed it on top of her lap, unwrapping the cloth around it carefully. The fight in him gone, Tanjirou found himself settling back on the floor as he watched in curiosity. The box was small in width but very long, and Tanjirou soon understood why: inside there were two katanas encased in their sheathes, and Tanjirou did not need anyone to tell him they were nichirin. This must be what Kagaya meant earlier when he said he was here for a delivery. Nezuko’s blade has finally arrived. 

“Kamado Nezuko’s nichirin sword,” Amane said tonelessly as she held the katana in front of her like it was something sacred, handing the blade to Kagaya, who then handed it to Nezuko. Nezuko looked a little overwhelmed, surely not expecting that the leader of the Corps himself would be the one handing her her very own blade, but she looked happy nonetheless. She held the handle, admiring it.

“Scarlet Crimson Sand and Scarlet Crimson Ore, obtained from the mountain closest to the sun. The process produces steel that can absorb sunlight. This blade is made by Haganezuka Hotaru, I believe, one of our very best. I hope it will be useful in your journey.” Kagaya said. 

“Thank you very much,” Nezuko murmured. 

“Go on, draw it,” Urokodaki spoke for the first time since this talk started. Tanjirou had nearly forgotten he was there. “Nichirin swords are also called Color-Changing Swords. They change color depending on the bearer.” 

Nezuko hesitated, but eventually she drew the blade, holding it in both hands. Tanjirou watched in fascination as the color indeed slowly changed, starting from the hilt end to the tip, though not in the way either of the siblings expected. Instead of a single, solid color, there were two— a blue hue reminiscent of Urokodaki and Giyuu’s blades, but in the middle there was a black band that if Tanjirou stared intently, looked like it resembled the shape of vines and leaves. Nezuko blinked at the color, looking slightly troubled. 

“It’s not… a solid color,” she whispered. 

Urokodaki hummed, though Tanjirou noted there was a certain scent of pride. “Blue for water breathing, I suppose— though don’t think too hard about the black bits. The reason for why the nichirin blades change color and what the color means remain mostly a mystery at this point, so it really shouldn’t matter.” 

“Not having a solid color is not completely uncommon,” Kagaya reassured her. “Some of our current pillars do not have a solid color on their blades either. Perhaps it is a sign that you will rise just as far as they have."

Nezuko flushed a little bit as she sheathed her sword. She seemed a little pleased at the idea of rising in the ranks as Kagaya suggested, and Tanjirou felt happy for her. He let out a few soft hums of encouragement, at least until Amane took out the second katana from the box, held it like the way he held Nezuko’s, and intoned, “Kamado Tanjirou’s nichirin sword.” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened as Kagaya took the sword from his wife’s hands and offered it to him. Nezuko and Urokodaki also seemed genuinely astonished. Kagaya had a certain quality to his smile that suggested he was enjoying their surprise, their shell-shocked faces. Tanjirou hesitated, meeting the man’s eyes— why? he wanted to say. Why are you giving me this? 

“As I read from Sakonji’s letter, you are a swordsman too, are you not? Kamado Tanjirou,” Kagaya asked. 

That’s true— he was. Kind of. He had trained alongside Nezuko for two years. While she honed her mastery of Water Breathing, he trained himself in Hinokami Kagura’s twelve forms. But that didn’t make him a demon slayer. He had not passed any kind of Final Selection— was physically unable to, considering what Nezuko told him about it: a prison of wisteria flowers in a solitary mountain, keeping all the demons locked inside. He didn’t know if he was worthy to have his own nichirin blade, didn’t know if he deserved it. All this time he had not even entertained the idea of getting one, so certain he was that he wouldn’t. And yet now Ubuyashiki Kagaya, the leader of the Demon Slayer Corps himself, was offering him a blade. Tanjirou did not know how to react.

He felt someone tap his back, and when he turned his head to look it was Urokodaki, urging him forward. To take the sword. Tanjirou hesitated, but he followed their mentor’s guidance. The sword felt heavy and dangerous on Tanjirou’s hands. Uncertain, he looked back at Kagaya, and then at Urokodaki and Nezuko as well, gauging their reactions. Kagaya looked serene as usual, Nezuko looked encouraging, and Urokodaki smelled proud. He let out a noise of confusion from the back of his throat, still unsure about all of this. Why? He desperately wanted to ask Kagaya. At some point, it seemed the looks he was giving the man finally got through, and he finally decided to explain himself. 

“Your Hinokami Kagura is the Sun Breathing Form, is it not?” Kagaya asked. Tanjirou nodded. After thinking about that night over and over, recalling the things that monster had said, he was certain that that was the true name of their family’s tradition. Without a doubt. Kagaya nodded back. “The Sun Breathing Form is the very first form that was created, from which all the other breathing forms were derived from. It would be truly a shame for the sole remaining sun breath user of this generation, to never own his own nichirin blade. So I decided to correct that. Call it a whim of mine, if you are so inclined. Please go ahead and draw it.” 

The information about Sun Breathing left Tanjirou reeling. He didn’t realize it would be such a big deal. The breathing form from which all breathing forms were derived from? Passed down as the Hinokami Kagura of their humble coal-burner family? It seemed unreal. Not for the first time, Tanjirou truly wondered how that came to be. How was it that the Kamado family became intertwined with demons and demon slayers.

Heeding Kagaya’s words, Tanjirou finally drew the sword. For a long moment, he stared at his own reflection in the steel blade, at least until it started to change color. Slowly, the blade turned black— pitch black, from hilt to tip, as if it was absorbing the light from all around it. Tanjirou frowned. 

“Black, huh. You don’t see this pitch-black too often,” Urokodaki commented. 

“A fine color,” Kagaya replied. “I’m sure this blade will serve you well.” 

Tanjirou sheathed his blade and bowed to Kagaya, trying to express his gratitude through gestures alone. Kagaya merely smiled his serene smile once again, and Tanjirou had to wonder what was going on in his head. His reasons for giving Tanjirou his own blade, why he’s even helping them in the first place. Even though Tanjirou was a demon… his grip on his blade tightened. He supposed he’s a special, valuable demon. One that could help the Corps bring down Kibutsuji Muzan. Still, even if Kagaya’s help was possibly riddled with personal agendas, Tanjirou was grateful. 

That was when he heard something swoop in from the window. A Kasugai Crow, he realized. It promptly settled on Kagaya’s shoulder, pecking at his finger affectionately. Tanjirou had encountered some Kasugai Crows in his time in Mt. Sagiri, as Urokodaki sometimes uses them to send and receive messages. When it opened its mouth and talked, the demon wasn’t even surprised. 

“Asakusa, Tokyo! Find Tamayo-san!” 

“There you are,” Kagaya said fondly, before facing Nezuko and Tanjirou once again. “This would be your Kasugai Crow, Nezuko. He will guide you on your way to Asakusa. Take care of him. He is a very intelligent bird.” 

“Yes,” Nezuko replied, lifting her arm to offer it to the bird. The Kasugai Crow flew on cue and landed on her arm, letting another squawk before repeating its lines: “Asakusa, Tokyo! Find Tamayo-san!” 

 “I must get going, unfortunately. You two will do your best on your first mission, I hope?” Kagaya asked. 

“Yes!” Nezuko replied enthusiastically. Tanjirou nodded fervently. 

“That’s good,” Kagaya smiled. “I wish you two the very best.” 

Chapter Text

“Have you changed?” Urokodaki asked. 

“Yes, Urokodaki-san,” Nezuko answered from inside the back bedroom. She opened the door, a determined set on her shoulders. Tanjirou’s eyes widened as he saw her standing there in her demon slayer uniform: an all-black military-style collared shirt with a knee-length pleated skirt in place of hakama pants. On her feet, she was wearing her pink zori sandals with tabi socks and leg warmers, and on top of her uniform she wore the haori Tanjirou had painstakingly made for her, out of the old pink kimono she so dearly loved. Her shoulder-length hair was kept out of her face with a singular pink ribbon, the same one she had always worn, and strapped to her side was her nichirin blade, ready to be used. When she saw Tanijirou’s eyes watching her, she smiled shyly and murmured, “Do I look weird?”

Tanjirou immediately shook his head vehemently, lifting both his thumbs to tell her how much he approved. How could his beloved little sister, the beauty of their hometown, ever look weird in anything? It suited her, as everything suited her, and Tanjirou would not budge on this very correct fact. 

“How about you, Tanjirou? Are you ready?” Urokodaki asked. 

Tanjirou nodded. He was wearing his usual attire: a black and green checkered haori over a white robe and black pants. His old, turquoise scarf was wrapped around his neck, hanafuda earrings hanging on his earlobes, bamboo muzzle on his mouth, his hair (which had gotten significantly longer, now going past his shoulders if he let it down) pulled back in a neat ponytail. On his side, he had his nichirin blade, and in his pockets he had some small necessities like money and the syringe kit that they got from the Butterfly Mansion. 

The sun was high up in the sky that day, but that was no longer going to hold Tanjirou back, and he revelled in that fact with pleasure. If he hadn’t developed sun resistance, he would probably still have to be carried around by Nezuko on her back— a literal burden on her shoulders— and he was glad that they were both past that. As they stood in front of Urokodaki, both set and ready to go, the old man reached over to tidy up their clothes, starting with Nezuko’s collar and then with Tanjirou’s scarf, before patting both their shoulders and letting out a pleased sound. Tanjirou let out a pleased sound of his own. Nezuko gave their mentor a bright smile. 

“Take care in all your travels,” Urokodaki said, and Tanjirou could smell him getting slightly emotional, under that mask. “And remember, you could always come back and visit, whenever you want.” 

“Thank you, Urokodaki-san,” Nezuko said. “For everything.” 

Tanjirou did not know how else to express his gratitude, so he launched himself on the old man and gave him a tight hug. He really did owe Urokodaki a lot, from helping him get over his problem with sleep, to teaching him how to master the Hinokami Kagura— Urokodaki had done nothing but help him, from the very beginning. 

Thank you, he wanted to say. Thank you so much. 

Being back on the road after so long felt surreal. Before the tragedy that befell their lives, Tanjirou and Nezuko had never really had the chance to travel around so far, content to stay within the confines of their mountain and the village at the foot of it. Now, Tanjiro supposed being on the road would be a substantial part of their lives, at least until they accomplish their goals, and especially now that Nezuko was a demon slayer— but he wasn’t complaining. As long as he and Nezuko were together, he was content. As long as their family won’t be broken apart any further, he was okay with all these changes, okay with not having a proper home. One day, when all of this is over, they will come back to their mountain, come back to the house that’s been the Kamado’s for centuries. For now, they will fight together, until the day their lives could be peaceful once again. 

“Onii-chan, I didn’t want to start an argument in front of Urokodaki-san but…” Nezuko started, a small pout forming on her lips. Tanjirou paused in his walking, turning his head to face her, and she halted too, placing her hands on her hips. “Is that muzzle still really necessary?” 

Tanjirou inhaled sharply, hands lifting up to touch the precious bamboo muzzle on top of his mouth. He nodded fervently in order to tell her that yes, it really is necessary, and then shook his head to say that no, he was not going to take it off, no matter what Nezuko’s opinions about it are! Throughout the two years they have been training, Nezuko had always expressed discontent on the fact that Tanjirou rarely ever took off the muzzle Giyuu had given him, and he supposed Nezuko’s opinion on it had not changed from the very moment Giyuu fastened the muzzle on Tanjirou’s mouth. She just never really liked it. 

But Tanjirou did. He liked the comfort it brought, and he has always seen the item as a tool to help him cling onto his humanity. Nezuko did not understand how hard it still was for Tanjirou, especially whenever it was time to drink blood— how sometimes it felt as if he was one step away from losing himself, from falling into his demonic instincts, from becoming a monster. The muzzle was not a punishment for him, Giyuu had said— it was a promise, and it was one Tanjirou took seriously. Nezuko sighed. 

“Alright, alright, I’m not gonna say anything more about it. It’s just that— I know I’ve gotten better at understanding you over the years, but that’s just because I have the luxury of time to figure out your hums and noises. In a situation where you’d need to tell me something quickly, wouldn’t the muzzle be a hindrance? At least if you have it off you could talk, even just a little! And besides, you’re supposed to be pretending to be human, doesn’t the muzzle kind of give you away?” 

Tanjirou shook his head decisively. While she did have a point that a human with a muzzle was going to look weird, that’s all it is— he would get strange looks, nothing more. It was better than his fangs being out in full view, or god forbid, his entire demonic form — slitted eyes, bulging veins and all— being out in the open when he attacks someone because he did not have a physical reminder to restrain himself. Not that he thought he would do that as soon as his muzzle was off, but Tanjirou did not trust his demonic side at all, so he was not going to risk it.

Her point about him not being able to relay information quickly had some merit though, as it could easily be a detriment in a life or death situation, but he didn’t think speaking will do him any good either, especially not on the ‘pretending-to-be-human’ front. Whenever he spoke, his voice was always low and gravelly, like he was growling out words instead of speaking them. There was an inhuman quality to it that Tanjirou personally hated, a quality that would no doubt give his demonic nature away. If only there was a way to talk without actually talking, to relay information quickly without using his voice, and as soon as he mulled it over he realized he had been stupid. He should have thought about this earlier. Hadn’t he already been doing this for the past two years? 

Suddenly, he crouched on the ground, using his sharp fingernail to write in the dirt beside his feet. Curious, Nezuko crouched beside him, so like the way she used to back when they were younger that it made him feel warm inside. Tanjirou first wrote the word voice, and then scratched that out aggressively, meeting Nezuko’s eyes firmly and cementing his opinion on the matter. And then, underneath that scribbled out word he wrote: Hand signals = words? 

Thankfully, Nezuko was quick to understand. Her eyes lit up. “You want to make a language out of hand gestures? That’s actually a good idea. Why haven’t we thought of that before?” 

Tanjirou nodded enthusiastically at her. A language that was theirs, language that only they would understand— it would be fun, like a game, and it would be useful as well. It was a shame that they had to make it in the first place, a shame that Tanjirou was still stuck with a speech impediment, even years after the attack. But privately, in the back of his mind, he figured his loss of speech must have been the price he paid for refusing to consume human flesh— maybe even the price he paid for being able to walk in the sun as well— and it was a price he was very much willing to pay. It was a pain, and they had to be creative to work around it, but it was not unbearable. 

“Let’s start making it while on the way to the city, why don’t we, Onii-chan? Maybe we can start with names. Oh! Your name could be this,” she said as she lifted her index finger straight up. “A single finger, like a number one— since you’re the eldest son, Onii-chan.”

Tanjirou mulled it over and figured he was fine with it. As they started walking on the road again, he reached out to touch Nezuko’s hand and reposition her middle finger, straightening it so that it was outstretched beside the index finger, two fingers as close and tight to each other as he and Nezuko currently are. Together. He smiled at his own sentimentality as he gestured to the hand position and then pointed at Nezuko. 

Nezuko stared at it and smiled, her eyes shining with understanding. “Yeah, that works for my name. Let’s go with that. Hmm, what do you think Urokodaki-san’s name should be?” 

Tanjirou thought about it for a moment, before a silly thought crossed his mind. He lifted his hand to his face as if he was stroking a really long nose, and the two of them couldn’t help but burst out laughing. There was nothing more Urokodaki than his red tengu mask, and even as they both figured they should really not make fun of their beloved mentor, neither of them could let go of Tanjirou’s idea. Well, it was not like Urokodaki would know. It would just be their little secret. 

They spent the rest of their trip figuring out hand signals for common people and common words, with Nezuko’s Kasugai Crow cawing every now and then ahead of them to give them directions towards Asakusa. At one point, two of them had to go over the signals all over again from the beginning, if only so they would not forget which hand gestures were already given meaning, and which else were still ripe for claiming. Tanjirou took memorizing the signals with the same earnestness as he had memorizing the movements of his sword, and it seemed to him that Nezuko was giving the same effort. Anything to bridge the gap of communication that has been between the two of them since the day Tanjirou was turned into a demon. 

By the time they had arrived at the great city, night had already fallen, but with the way the streets were riddled with bright lights, you would think it was still daytime. Nezuko gasped and gaped at the sights in front of them, and Tanjirou could not blame her— he was already feeling slightly dizzy, with the way the city was running and brimming with life. There were so many people, so many shops. The buildings were so high it hurt Tanjirou’s neck to look at them, and there was some kind of vehicular monstrosity that ran on steel tracks on the ground. Tanjirou let out a disgruntled huff, his nose picking up the many scent of humans all around him. He had not been around this many humans since he’s been turned, and it was a little overwhelming.

Thankfully, Nezuko seemed to notice his predicament, and she squeezed his hand. “Onii-chan, are you alright? Why don’t we walk somewhere in the outskirts for a while?” 

Tanjirou nodded at her gratefully, and the two of them walked out of the packed streets, into the darker, less crowded areas. They found themselves resting in front of an udon stand, Nezuko ordering a bowl while Tanjirou sniffed around curiously, trying to catch a whiff of demon so that they may be able to find Tamayo and leave the city soon. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like it would be that easy. The smell of all the humans around kept distracting him, making his mouth water. He swallowed his saliva and let out a displeased sound as he sat beside Nezuko, who had already started digging into her bowl of udon. 

“Any luck, Onii-chan? Do you smell her?” she asked. 

Tanjirou shook his head dejectedly. He stretched his index and middle finger and made a gesture with his hands that resembled a person walking. 

“Then we will walk around, hopefully we can find her,” Nezuko agreed, before slurping up some noodles. “Don’t worry if we can’t find her tonight, Urokodaki-san gave us enough money to stay at an inn for a few days. Hopefully it’s not too expensive…”

Tanjirou nodded. As he waited for Nezuko to finish her dinner, he continued sniffing around, trying to make sense of the mouthwatering scents all around him. The smell of human human human was still prevalent, but the more he concentrated, the more he noticed that it was not all there was. There were hints of the sour, putrid smell he had come to associate with demons around the city here and there. He supposed they could follow each one and see if it leads them to Tamayo. Concerningly, there were more than one direction the demonic scents were coming from, and more than one kind of scent, suggesting that there were more than one demon in the area. Did Tamayo have more allies? He sure hoped that was the case. He didn’t like the idea that dangerous, actual man-eating demons were prowling all over this busy city, attacking clueless civilians. He took a deep breath, trying to figure out which direction would be the best to go first, but then he caught a whiff of that scent, and his body suddenly froze. 

No, he thought. No way. 

“Onii-chan?” Nezuko asked, having finished her bowl of udon. Tanjirou turned his body to the direction of the scent, and he could practically feel his red eyes slitting as his hand reached to grab at his nichirin sword, fist tight around the hilt. His mind was racing, his body pumping with adrenaline at the thought of cutting that monster’s head with his blade. 

Never forgive. 

“Onii-chan, what’s the matter?” Nezuko’s voice cut through the haze in his head. The haze that was burning with rage and screaming for vengeance. Nezuko’s face was in front of him, looking worried and slightly alarmed, as she lifted both hands to cup his cheeks. “Calm down, Onii-chan. What did you smell?” 

The monster, Tanjirou wanted to say. Instead, he let go of his sword, a shaking hand closing into a tight fist, pulling it close to his heart. It was a simple gesture that brought the two of them to silence earlier that day, when they decided on it. Nezuko’s eyes widened in disbelief, and when she spoke, Tanjirou could hear the anger in her voice. 

“Kibutsuji Muzan… here?” she whispered. And then, with a sudden purpose, she took the scarf around Tanjirou’s shoulders and pulled it over his head, essentially making a hood to hide his face. She took his hand and started pulling him in the opposite direction he was facing earlier. Tanjirou let out a few low growls to express his discontent, his desire to seek out the Muzan’s scent, not walk away from it. It was only when Nezuko gave him a look— a look of contained rage and quiet calculation— that he remembered Kagaya’s words. Not yet. His fangs dug into the bamboo muzzle, grinding against the material. He was terribly frustrated. 

“If he’s in the city right now, there’s even less chance we can find Tamayo-san on our own, as she would no doubt be hiding from him,” Nezuko reasoned. “Let’s find an inn for tonight and start searching in the morning, when Kibustuji Muzan can’t move. Okay, Onii-chan?” 

Tanjirou nodded reluctantly. Nezuko squeezed his hand. 

The scent of the monster lingered in his mouth, and Tanjirou was not able to stop thinking about it for the rest of the night. 

Chapter Text

"Listen closely," Nezuko said as she straightened Tanjirou's clothes, the two of them gearing up for the day ahead. Her voice was firm and stern. "We're going to go out there and try to track Tamayo-san. You are going to try and sniff her out, but should you get any hint that Kibutsuji Muzan is nearby, we are going to immediately move away from it, not towards it." She pulled the scarf over his head once again just like she did last night, hiding most of his face from view. "You are going to keep this on your head at all times while we're outside. We can't have him finding out about you so early, like Oyakata-sama said. Promise me, Onii-chan."

Tanjirou let out a small grumble. Nezuko put her hands on her hips.

"Promise me!" she demanded.

Tanjirou sighed as he lifted his pinky. Promise. At that, her expression softened, and Tanjioru could see the relief in her expression. Tanjirou figured she must have been worried that he'd lose his mind if he smelled that monster's scent again, but now that he had promised to keep his head, she was reassured. Tanjirou was many things, but a breaker of promises was not one of them. He had never broken a single promise, not to Nezuko, not to their family.

"That's good." She smiled. "Let's go, Onii-chan."

Asakusa was as much a feast for the eyes in daytime as it was at night. There were still lots and lots of people, lots and lots of tall buildings, lots and lots of shops. As soon as they left the inn they had rented for the night, Tanjrou was once again hit in the face with a barrage of scents and noises, all loud and annoying, all borderline overwhelming. Perhaps if he was still human, he wouldn't be as affected. As it happened, he was a demon now, and along with the enhanced speed and strength were the enhanced senses that Tanjirou was wishing he didn't have right now. He wondered why it smelled like there were a lot of demons in the area, when the hustle and bustle of the city felt unbearable to Tanjirou. Was he just that much of a country bumpkin? Were city demons just used to it? Personally, Tanjirou felt like he would always prefer the quiet and serene beauty of the countryside. With the expression on Nezuko's face, he supposed she felt similarly.

They walked around the city, relying on Tanjirou's sharp nose to point them the way. He probably looked strange sniffing around the sidewalks and sometimes on the ground, but city people didn't seem to pay them much attention, so busy they were with dealing with their own affairs. Once Tanjirou was able to discern the scent of the demons from the humans, he figured out that there were at least five demons in the area that he could smell, excluding Kibutsuji Muzan himself, and hopefully including Tamayo. Nezuko frowned at the number, as it was pretty high to be so concentrated in a single place. Were they taking advantage of the city's vastness and the constant coming and going of people in order to nab innocent people easily without much notice? Or was there something more sinister going on?

Either way, Nezuko was a demon slayer, and Tanjirou was as good as one. Neither of them were about to let defenseless people become demon dinner, not on their watch. They decided it was best to track each one and take care of them, and if they happen to find Tamayo on the way, that was a good bonus for their trouble.

Which led them to now.

They were moving, rushing— running through the dark cramped alleyways behind and around the city buildings as they chased their target through the dim shadows, relentless. The demon they were chasing was letting out a scared, helpless scent, and Tanjirou could not help but feel a little sorry for him— even though he had already done acts that could not be forgiven. They had caught the demon in one of the seedier parts of the city, in the middle of a meal unfortunately, and as soon as he saw them he took off. The sun was still out and just about to set, so the demon had no choice but to run deeper into the alley they found him in, into the shadows. Tanjirou and Nezuko were quick to give chase, deeper and deeper into the backstreets of Asakusa, but Tanjirou could see that a dead end was coming up ahead, and he knew this long chase would end soon.

He took a deep breath as he tightened his grip on his sword, the black blade seemingly merging with the shadows. He braced his feet against the ground and jumped, flipping in the air until he was upside down face to face with the demon, delivering a single clean, decisive blow.

Hinokami Kagura. Ninth Form, he thought. Setting Sun Transformation.

By the time Nezuko arrived, the demon was already on the ground, slowly turning to ash. He didn't speak, merely let out wails and growls that made Tanjirou feel a little uneasy. It didn't seem like the demon had a sense of self yet, which meant that it hadn't killed that many people yet— at least that's what Tanjirou remembered Urokodaki said. He inhaled to take in the demon's scent one last time, confirming his suspicions. He faced Nezuko and moved his hands— he was really glad they decided on gestures now in hindsight— to sign out a few words. Weak. New.

The fact that Nezuko did not look out of breath after that chase was a testament to how hard she had pushed herself back in training. She nodded with understanding. "That's the third one, too. That Muzan… he created the demons in this city, didn't he? That's why he was here. That's why there's so many of them here. That's why they're so weak."

Tanjirou nodded grimly. He supposed that it made sense that the progenitor of the demons would have to go out of his way to mass produce demons like this, given the fact that there were a lot of demon slayers who hunt their kind. If Kibutsuji Muzan didn't do this often, then there wouldn't be so many demons left. As long as Kibutsuji Muzan lived, as long as he remained at large, there will be people like Tanjirou who'll have their humanity stolen from them, and would not be strong enough to resist. It made Tanjirou feel guilty for not chasing after his scent last night, for not attacking him when he was right there, prowling in the same city, so close at hand…

Nezuko reached over and squeezed his shoulder. Tanjirou let out a sigh. He was not so arrogant that he'd think he could defeat the most powerful demon on his own. Not with his current strength. He would like to, and if push comes to shove he would strive to— but seeking him out without a plan of action would be suicide. He didn't want to put Nezuko in danger, either. They had to find Tamayo soon. Hopefully, she would be able to help them.

"So, where's the next demon's scent coming from, Onii-chan?" Nezuko asked, glancing up at the small strip of sky visible between the building roofs above them. "It's getting pretty late. Do you still smell Muzan around the area? If he is, we might have to retire for the night."

Tanjirou shook his head. While the monster's scent was really strong last night, today it had sputtered into mere hints in the streets here and there. He supposed those hints were the remaining traces of where Kibutsuji Muzan went to last night, and concerningly, he tended to spend time in the more crowded, populated areas. He remembered what the demon looked like that night, dressed in his western suit and matching hat, looking very much like a proper, well-off gentleman— and Tanjirou wondered if, like him, Muzan too was posing as a human, somewhere out there. It would explain why the Demon Slayer Corps was having such a hard time trying to find him. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Then, let's continue hunting the demons down. Now that it's getting dark, they're more likely to be out there, attacking civilians," Nezuko replied.

Tanjirou nodded. They found the first and second demon hiding in the shadows of the alleyways as well, just like this third one. It wasn't really surprising. The demons didn't really have much of a choice, or they'd burn in the sun. It actually made tracking them easier for Tanjirou, as they were away from the crowds of people in the street proper, and there were very few human scents to set off his hunger. Once the sun sets and the night comes though, the demons could be anywhere. Tanjirou hoped they would have enough sense not to attack someone in the middle of the bustling city. The Demon Slayer Corps was not a government-recognized organization after all, and Tanjirou and Nezuko pulling out their katanas in the middle of a busy street to attack someone— demon or not— could easily get them in trouble with law enforcement. They already had a few close calls earlier today— walking around with a sword strapped to your side was already against the law. They had to walk around the city while avoiding the police.

They walked out of the labyrinth of alleys and back into the streets, Tanjirou paying attention to the scents around again, trying to locate their next target. Today was a long day filled with walking and demon slaying, but until they manage to free the city of dangerous man-eating demons, he would rather continue onwards than take a rest. He was glad that Kibutsuji Muzan had already left, for that reason. One less thing to complicate matters.

As they were walking along an empty street, filled with what seemed to be houses rather than shops, he caught a whiff of it.

Immediately, Tanjirou turned his head in the direction of the scent. It's a demon… no, it's not. Or maybe it was? The scent was really hard to place. It didn't have the sour scent he associated with demons, but it didn't seem quite human either. It smelled… strange. Slightly artificial. Tanjirou did not know how to explain it in words.

"Onii-chan?" Nezuko asked, trying to catch his attention.

Where was that scent coming from? What was that scent coming from? It was such a unique, distinctive scent, unlike anything Tanjirou had ever smelled before. Tanjirou tugged at Nezuko's haori, wanting to follow the scent at the source. He had a gut feeling that this scent would direct them to somewhere important, even direct them to Tamayo, perhaps. The traces were weak though, several hours old, just like Muzan's. Tanjirou figured that meant that the person with this scent passed by here, on this very street, quite a long time ago. Perhaps— if they were a demon like Tanjirou suspected— last night? Tanjirou closed his eyes and inhaled once more. The artificial scent was mingled with another one, someone that smelled like flowers and antiseptic. It, too, did not smell human, although it did not quite smell like a demon either. Tanjirou was confused.

He faced Nezuko and signed, Strange smell. Let's go.

Nezuko nodded without question and followed Tanjirou around as he started sniffing around the road, her nichirin sword drawn just in case some random demon chose to attack them. Unlike Muzan's scent, these new ones seem to stray away from the crowded areas and more into secluded places. The sun set and the moon rose, the stars twinkling in the night sky, but even then Tanjirou still couldn't seem to find where the scents came from. He was starting to get frustrated. At one point, he had stopped in front of a dead end in a deserted street—a rare place in the city where there were no people walking by—and stared at the wall quizzically, half-convinced his nose had stopped working. The scents ended here and no further. It was almost as if the sources blinked out of existence at this very spot. But that can't be it. People don't just disappear like that. Unless there was some kind of blood demon art involved? Could that be it?

Tanjioru stood in front of the wall, hand on his chin, thinking hard. He was so distracted with trying to figure this mystery out that he had not realized the scent of the two remaining demons they had not killed yet were getting closer. At least not until the first temari ball came barreling towards them.

"Found you~!" a cheerful voice called out.


Tanjirou gasped when he felt Nezuko push him out of the way as a temari whoosed past them and buried itself on the wall he was standing in front of only a few seconds ago. Both demon and demon slayer fell to the ground, but Nezuko was quick to roll and stand up, hand clutching her katana as Tanjirou shrugged away his shock at the sudden attack. Tanjirou cursed his carelessness, to be caught off guard by another demon like this. He pulled out his own sword and stood up as well, focusing his attention on the demon that showed up on the street right in front of them— a pale-skinned woman with bright, slitted hazel eyes and an orange kimono, holding two more temari balls on her hands. As soon as Tanjirou scented her, he felt his blood run cold. She was powerful. More powerful than any demon they had ever fought before. This close, her scent was thick and heavy inside Tanjirou's lungs. It did not compare to Kibutsji Muzan's, but it definitely trumps any other. This demon… she was dangerous.

Unwilling to be caught off guard a second time, Tanjirou took another deep breath, realizing that there's another strong demon nearby. He glanced around the area, trying to find them. They were hiding, somewhere.

He looked up. Above?

"Found you, found you!" the temari demon was saying. " You in the demon slayer uniform… was it you who killed all the newly-turned demons that our lord had painstakingly made? It's you, isn't it? Wasting that person's efforts like this… you realize that you're going to have to pay for that, don't you?"

Tanjirou and Nezuko tensed. Truth be told, Tanjirou expected the two remaining demons to be as weak as the first three they had fought today, but it was becoming apparent that that was not the case. As it happened, they made a target of themselves for slaying all those weak demons earlier, it seemed. Tanjirou supposed it did not matter. They were determined to slay all the man-eating demons in this city anyway. They were going to face these powerful ones one way or another. Tanjirou trusted that Nezuko and himself could take them. The demons they would face in their journey won't always be weak and helpless.

"And you…" The temari demon's eyes landed on him. A frown marred her face. "Huh? You're a strange one. You don't wear their uniform, but you have the sword they use as well. Huh? You… are you a demon?"

Tanjirou made a silent thankful prayer to the gods that they did not track this demon in the morning, or Tanjirou's cover would have been blown. It seemed that Kagaya's words about stronger demons being able to tell other demons apart was true. He did not reply. The temari demon grinned as she bounced her balls on the ground, her eyes filling with sadistic glee.

"What fun this is~" she said, her tone eerily playful. "I get to play with two people rather than one. Don't die yet, you two— not until I've had my fun!"

"It's coming!" Nezuko warned.

The temari demon launched her two balls on each of them, and Tanjirou immediately jumped out of the way. In his peripheral vision, he saw Nezuko dodge hers as well. The balls started bouncing around the street, creating chaos and rubble in its wake, damaging the walls and the ground of the street they were in. Tanjirou was grateful that there were no people around to get caught up in their fight. He jumped and sidestepped and dodged and ducked, evading the balls with ease. But his eyes kept searching for Nezuko, worry for his sister distracting him. The balls move with such force that a single hit could easily decapitate someone— Nezuko was human, Nezuko would not heal from such dire injuries, he couldn't let his little sister get hurt like that. Nezuko—

"Don't worry about me!" Nezuko yelled as she brandished her sword, determination in her eyes as a temari launched towards her. "Water Breathing, Seventh Form: Piercing Rain Drop!" With precision, she thrusted the sword right in front of her with immense speed, piercing the ball right through the middle, reducing its impact. The ball tried to get away to no avail, dissolving into a fog of reddish mist. Tanjirou realized he was being stupid. He shushed the protective older brother in him, knowing that he had to in order to focus on the fight.

Nezuko is strong, he told himself. A mantra he had come to thinking often to remind himself of how far she'd come. Nezuko will be alright.

The other temari was coming at him, and Tanjirou decided this was not the time to dawdle. He was a swordsman, too. Inspired by Nezuko's attack, he made a stance to deploy a similar thrusting form, bracing himself in his head. Hinokami Kagura, Seventh Form: Sunflower—

The temari ball suddenly swerved and changed direction in midair, moving diagonally to the ground and bouncing back to attack Tanjirou. It happened so fast that Tanjirou was not able to react.

The next thing he knew was the burst of white-hot pain as the ball hit him hard, taking a huge chunk of his shoulder with it. Tanjirou hissed as he clutched at his wound, blood seeping into his haori as the temari demon laughed merrily, the ball bouncing back to her hand. Tanjirou's mind was racing. What the hell just happened? The way the ball swerved to avoid his attack was unnatural. How can the temari move like that? It's not spinning in any special way, so how...?

"How fun, how fun! That's one down!" The temari demon removed the upper part of her kimono with a flourish, and from her torso she grew four more arms. Five more temari balls materialized on her palms, one for every hand, and she bounced them on the ground gleefully. Her bright eyes seemed to glow vindictively in the darkness of the night.

"To be killed by me, one of the Twelve Demon Moons… you should be honored!"

Chapter Text


Tanjirou was hissing in pain but he gave Nezuko a stern look, and the words behind them were unmistakable: Don’t worry about me. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be like me. 

Nezuko still looked worried, but she nodded and faced the temari demon again. She had that look again, one of contained rage, and Tanjirou figured Nezuko must be furious at the demon for hurting him. The wound on his shoulder was gaping, and with Tanjirou being the way he is— a starved demon, that is— it was taking too long to heal. He was starting to feel dizzy, his hunger creeping up like an old mistress, Nezuko smelling entirely too good for a moment— focus. 

He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He remembered Urokodaki’s warning about how he would need more blood if he ever got injured and thanked the gods he had the foresight to take a vial of blood with him, one that Nezuko had drawn out of her arm this morning in case of an emergency. He took it out of his pocket now, uncorking the vial and shifting his muzzle down for a moment to drink the blood within. The blood, although slightly old and no longer warm, was like heaven on his tongue. He stumbled a little bit, hit with a near-overwhelming high. Drinking blood made him feel a little drunk, most of the time.

When he opened his eyes again, they were glowing red, the pupils slitted like a cat’s. Veins were popping from his forehead to the hands that were holding his sword, the bleeding on his shoulder easing off, the flesh healing itself much quicker now that he had given his body a little bit of sustenance. Even in his dazed, mind-addled state he could feel power flowing into his limbs, and he figured that if he was going to make a critical attack, now was the time to do it. As the temari demon bounced her balls on the ground, Tanjirou prepared himself to strike. 

“This is the end for you!” the temari demon yelled as she tossed all six of her temari balls, and this time they moved unlike anything Tanjirou had ever seen before. The balls moved quick, darting to and fro, making turns in mid-air that should not be possible— but Tanjirou did not pay attention to them. His focus was on the demon herself, trusting that Nezuko could protect herself from the balls on her own. Tanjirou geared himself up and charged, hand tight against his nichirin blade. Hinokami Kagura. Eighth Form— 

Tanjirou’s blade seemed to wobble, becoming unfocused as if it was under the fiery heat of the summer sun. He dashed in front of the temari demon, slashing with his sword. In surprise, she jumped back, and laughed merrily when he seemed to miss. She taunted, “What was that? Do you think you can bring me down with—” 

— Solar Heat Haze. 

Blood exploded as the fleshy sound of meat being cut rang in the air. The temari demon cried out in pain as all six of her arms were cut cleanly off, but Tanjirou was not finished. He braced his feet on the ground and jumped, flipping in the air behind his opponent and slashing a vertical cut up on the demon’s spine. Fifth Form: Fire Wheel. The temari demon wailed. And that’s when Tanjirou scented it: the opening thread, connecting his sword to the demon’s neck, growing taut— one last attack and it was all his for the taking. He landed on his feet and twisted his body, moving his blade in an arc that will cut off the demon’s neck— Hinokami Kagura. First Form— 

Blood Demon Art: Koketsu Arrow. 

The opening thread snapped. Suddenly, Tanjirou felt some unknown force tug at his body and the next thing he knew he was being forcefully thrown away from the temari demon, hitting a wall so hard that it knocked the breath out of his lungs. He nearly let go of his sword but he grabbed it stubbornly, as another force dragged him up into the air, tossing him around like a rag doll. It went on for a couple more turns until the force finally let him go, thirty feet in the air, gravity making itself known as he started speeding towards the ground. In panic, Tanjirou finished the move he was supposed to unleash on the temari demon, using it to break his fall.


His sword slash created a crater on the ground, and Tanjirou rolled before jumping back on his feet, breathless. What was that? That seemed like the same power that made the temari balls move erratically, although this time Tanjirou was sure it was not coming from the temari demon herself. The temari demon was overwhelmed by his attack, there was no way she was able to counterattack with a demon blood art. That meant it must be some other demon’s blood art. The demon that Tanjirou still smelled somewhere above, hiding his presence from the fight.

They need to take him out first. 

The temari demon grew out her arms in no time, now looking positively furious. The arms Tanjirou had cut off started to crumble into ash. The demon materialized her balls again, throwing them all in Tanjirou’s direction. “You weird demon— you’ll pay for that!” The balls darted towards Tanjirou with renewed fervor, and he prepared himself to defend— 

“Water Breathing. Tenth Form: Constant Flux!” Nezuko yelled, intercepting each of the temari balls with the force of a water dragon, gathering force with each rotation so that even with the erratic, forceful movements of the temari, she was able to catch them with her blade. Tanjirou’s eyes lit up, proud of his younger sister. The tenth water breathing form was the hardest one to master, one Nezuko struggled with during her training, and yet here she was now, overwhelming the temari demon’s attacks with each swing of her blade. Yet this was no time to be impressed. Tanjirou let out a loud, “Mmmph!”, catching Nezuko’s attention. 

Second demon. Up, Tanjirou signed. I’ll go. Nezuko’s eyes widened before nodding. 

“Be careful, Onii-chan!” she said as she sliced another temari with her sword. 

Tanjirou prepared himself and leaped, landing on top of one of the abandoned houses. He inhaled, taking in the scent of the other demon, trying to figure out where it was coming from. He jumped from roof to roof— the demon couldn’t be that far. That was when he saw it— a figure not too far away, sitting down on the roof of one of the houses. He was a young man with an average build and short black hair, eyes curiously shut. Tanjirou did not waste any time. He knew that he would be in trouble if he let himself get caught once again in this demon’s blood art. 

Tanjirou jumped, spiraling into the air to deliver a powerful slash.  Hinokami Kagura. Tenth Form: Beneficent— 

“Not so fast. You stay away from me!” The demon noticed him, turning and lifting his hands, his palms facing Tanjirou. Each palm had an eye in the middle, the sclera a glowing green with an arrow-like pupil. Tanjirou braced himself for the demon’s attack. The eyes on his palms closed shut, and as soon as it did, Tanjirou felt that force again, catching his body and throwing him around like he weighed nothing, crashing him against walls and roofs and eventually hard onto the ground. 

Tanjirou let out a wheeze, feeling every broken bone in his body, every piece of bruised muscle. He could feel his body going into overdrive as it tried to fix him, craving for more of that human blood. Now that the demon was aware Tanjirou knew about him, it would be even harder to beat the guy. How could he, when he could not even get close to him? Tanjirou spit on the ground, his saliva tinged with red. He needed a plan. Think! 

“Hey! Moron demon... demon hunter!” Tanjirou suddenly heard someone say behind him, and he turned his head to look and saw— nothing . There was nobody there. There was a scent though, a familiar one— the strange, artificial scent he had been agonizing over a while ago. The one he had followed that led them to this place. Tanjirou blinked at the empty space, confused, but then the voice continued to talk. “If you look at the arrows, you can avoid them!” 

Arrows? Tanjirou was even more confused. 

“Seriously, you can’t even see them? And you had the gall to start a fight right in front of someone’s house…” the voice sounded aggravated. “I’m going to lend you my sense of sight. So defeat that demon already!” 

Seemingly out of nowhere, a piece of paper emerged, flying in the air and attaching itself to Tanjirou’s forehead. As soon as it did, a red symbol appeared on it, drawn in red ink, and when Tanjirou blinked, suddenly he could see it— the red arrows that the disembodied voice was talking about, all headed towards him. 

Now with the ability to see the attacks before it hit him, Tanjirou was able to dodge the arrows with ease. He ran, ducked, sidestepped, leaped— it was easier, way easier, and he was thankful to that disembodied voice, whoever he is. Tanjirou jumped back up on the roofs to face the arrow demon, avoiding the demon’s onslaught along the way. While the arrows made this demon a formidable opponent, if Tanjirou got close enough, cutting his neck off would be easy. So he strived to do so, closing in the distance with each arrow he dodged, not letting himself get caught in any. He didn’t try to cut the arrows either— there was no point. He remembered the way the arrows caught and waddled him around— there was no doubt in him that should he try to cut these arrows, his sword would only get swerved in its direction. He just needed one good moment, one good swing— 

The closer he got to the demon, the more aggressive the arrows became. At one point the arrow demon launched an attack that circled around Tanjirou’s entire sword arm, but Tanjirou, being a demon, was not very concerned. He just tossed his blade to his other hand as he let his sword arm be twisted into oblivion, gritting his fangs against his muzzle in pain as he soldiered on. The arrow demon got distracted, his glee on his successful attack creating an opening, one that Tanjirou was eager to take advantage of. He raised his sword with his uninjured arm as he took a deep breath, thinking in his head: Hinokami Kagura. Twelfth Form— 

Tanjirou swung his sword downwards vertically, and the arrow demon jumped back to dodge. Tanjirou was prepared though. He was already preparing his next swing, the twelfth form being a two-combo strike, tilting his blade to continue with a horizontal slash. 

There it was again: the opening thread. And this time Tanjirou was not going to let this chance pass him by. He put all his force into this one last swing, aiming for the demon’s neck— 

“Tch. You persistent urchin!” The demon lifted his hand and the eye on it closed, signaling another attack. Tanjirou felt rather than saw the arrow beneath his foot, catching his sandals and threatening to send him off, away in the other direction. His sword was not going to make it. He needed to extend it. He needed more reach.

Tanjiro’s expression tightened in determination. He shrugged his sandal off, letting it get carried away by the arrow. Without even pausing the arc of his blade, he seamlessly transformed into a bigger version of himself, just like he did in Tomioka’s fight, and it gave him the range he needed to reach the demon’s neck, slicing it clean off with his blade. 

—Flame Dance. 

The scent of ash filled the air. The arrow demon’s head fell beside Tanjirou’s feet.

“Curse you, curse you, curse you! Even though you’re a demon too— killing your kind like this, betraying our lord like this, I won’t forgive you!” The demon’s crumbling body lifted both its arms, and Tanjirou was back on high alert. He swung his blade to slice the demon’s hands off before he could make any postmortem attacks, making sure to stab each of the eyes on his palms, just to be safe. The arrow demon let out even more wails and curses, but he could not do anything anymore, and soon enough he completely crumbled, leaving behind the scent of anger. 

Tanjirou could not help but feel sorry for him. To be so devoted to such a monster… even though it’s the same monster that took away his humanity, to be manipulated like that— Tanjirou found himself pitying the arrow demon. He clutched at his twisted arm, wincing in pain, and transformed back to his normal age. The paper that was in his forehead glowed and then fell. Tanjirou did not have time to think about it, nor did he have time to search for the mysterious voice. He needed to get back to Nezuko, quickly. 

When he arrived back where Nezuko was, he found out that there was nothing to be concerned about.

Nezuko was standing in front of the crumbling temari demon, a quiet sadness evident on her face. In her hand she held one of the demon’s temari balls, handing them to the demon’s crumbling hand, and her hand clutched it possessively, even as it crumbled along with her. Tanjirou approached Nezuko silently, as she seemed to be deep in thought, sheathing her blade back into its scabbard. 

“She was easier to fight after you faced the other demon. The temari balls became easier to slice,” Nezuko explained, though she did not look at him. “She was already enraged because of your attacks, and I managed to rile her enough to get an opening and slash her neck.”

Tanjirou nodded. The scent of ash was all he could smell, the scent of death for a demon like him. He wondered why Nezuko looked so sad, so forlorn. He touched her shoulder, expression concerned. 

Nezuko gave him a shaky smile. “She was like a little kid. ‘Play with me’, she said, as she was dying. Even though she must have killed a lot of people… this person… she was not evil at her core. She was just manipulated, deceived— by the same person who took away her humanity from her. It’s sad. I pity her so much. It’s… tragic.” 

Ah. Nezuko was having the same realizations he had with the arrow demon. Demons truly were sad, tragic creatures. It was not their fault they got turned, not Tanjirou’s fault he got turned— but what they do after, it was all up to them. Starve himself and refrain from eating human flesh: that was Tanjirou’s choice. He wished the other demons chose similarly. 

They shared a moment of silence for the demons they had slain. After that, Nezuko finally turned to give Tanjirou a once-over, her mouth gaping when she realized his sickeningly twisted, injured arm. “Onii-chan! You’re injured!”

Tanjirou stared at his arm, wondering how to fix it. Maybe if he untwisted it, it could heal on its own. Maybe it would need to be completely cut off and regrown? Tanjirou frowned. It hurt a lot, but they should really try to untwist it first before resorting to drastic measures. He dug his fangs into his muzzle and prepared to rotate— 

“Stop! Don’t aggravate it further. Or you will cause yourself unnecessary pain,” A woman’s voice called out, surprising both Tanjirou and Nezuko. The smell of flowers and antiseptic filled the air, as well as that artificial scent— the two people Tanjirou had been tracking earlier, finally showing themselves. They seemed to step out of nowhere— out of a dead end wall, really— and out came a beautiful woman with gentle eyes in a dark purple kimono, as well as a young boy with pale skin and interestingly colored hair. The young boy seemed to be in a state of perpetual annoyance, but the woman was smiling softly at them. She glanced at the spot where the temari demon once was, her expression turning solemn. “You still use the term ‘person’ to refer to a demon,” she told Nezuko, before setting her eyes on Tanjirou. “And you are a demon as well. Allow me, then, to lend you a hand. I am a demon, but I am also a doctor, and I could help treat your injury.” 

“You…” Nezuko’s eyes lit up in realization. “Are you Tamayo-san?” 

The woman seemed surprised. “You know of me?” 

“We came here to find you!” Nezuko exclaimed excitedly, walking closer. “We came with a message from the Demon Slayer Corps, as well as a request. If you could help us, please—” 

“Don’t be too pushy!” the young boy replied, lashing out at them. Tanjirou realized it was the same voice of the person that had helped him defeat the arrow demon. “You are in the presence of the great Tamayo-sama. She’s already lending her time to treat your companion’s wounds. Don’t think you can ask whatever you want, eyesore—”

Tanjirou’s brain stuttered. Eyesore? Did he mean ugly? Someone calling Nezuko ugly? The beauty of their hometown, Nezuko? Tanjirou was immediately, deeply offended. He let out loud ‘mmphs’ as he signed with his hands furiously. Even though the young boy did not understand it, he needed to let it out: Nezuko is beautiful! Nezuko is beautiful! 

Nezuko let out an embarrassed sound, evidently flustered with the passion in which Tanjirou was signing his words. “It’s alright, Onii-chan,” she told him. “Stop it.” 

“Yushiro, it is quite alright. I am interested in what they have to say, as well,” Tamayo assured the boy. “Why don’t we have this talk inside our home? I will be able to treat your brother in my clinic, where I have my supplies.” 

“Tamayo-sama, I don’t think it’s wise to get involved,” Yushiro interjected. “Letting a demon slayer into our home— ”

Tamayo shook her head. “I’m sure it will be alright. I believe our guests here are of pure intentions.” She faced the dead end wall,  glancing at the two of them. “Hurry, while there is nobody around.”

They phased through the wall, and once again, their scent disappeared all of a sudden, even though Tanjirou knew they were close. It must be some kind of blood demon art, for Tanjirou’s nose to be affected like this. Perhaps it was the reason why they were so hard to track, even for Kibutsuji Muzan. Tanjirou and Nezuko shared a look before they both walked through the wall as well, and it was surprisingly no longer solid unlike before, allowing them entrance, revealing a house behind the dead end— a huge, two-storey building in the middle of a large courtyard, plain and unremarkable save for the paper that was pasted above its entrance, similar to the paper that helped Tanjirou see the arrow demon’s attacks. 

“Wow,” Nezuko murmured. Tamayo smiled.

“Welcome,” she said, “to our humble residence.”

Chapter Text

“Please pardon the mess. Make yourselves at home.” 

Tanjirou did not know what Tamayo meant by ‘mess’, as everything inside the house looked quite pristine. As soon as they entered the house, Tamayo led them to a room that Tanjirou supposed must be the clinic. Diagrams of the human body were posted on the walls, medical textbooks and bottles of what Tanjirou thought must be medicine littered the shelves, and a single bed was in the corner, the sheets made of clean, white linen. Tanjirou sniffed around a little bit, noting the faint scent of blood and humans in the air. He supposed Tamayo truly was a doctor, as the scent of her past patients were still evident under all the antiseptic. She must treat injured humans, too, and that only made his respect for her rise. He personally would not be able to stand it, being around a heavily bleeding human for so long. There was a reason Nezuko uses a needle and syringe to give him her blood, so as not to tempt Tanjirou’s demonic instincts more than necessary. 

Tamayo donned a doctor’s apron and started rummaging around the shelves, pulling items out. She gestured on the bed, glancing at Tanjirou as she stated, “Please take a seat. This will only take a minute. I would like to inspect your injury first, if you would allow me.” 

Tanjirou cradled his broken arm as he nodded, walking over to sit on the bed. He tried not to show any sign of pain— he didn’t want to worry Nezuko— even though the injury does hurt something awful. In the middle of the fight, with all the breathing forms and rapid adrenaline, Tanjirou had not allowed himself to focus on the agony of his arm. But now that the dust has settled, now that his body was calming down, he found himself actually regretting letting the arrow demon twist it quite a lot, wincing when Tamayo walked closer and examined it. She let out a soft hum before she took out a syringe, drawing some kind of medicine from a small bottle.

“It’s healing so slow,” she murmured, almost to herself. She pushed the plunger of the syringe, letting the air out carefully. “This medicine will heal your arm right away. It is made exclusively for demons. It also has an anesthetizing effect, so that we may untangle your arm without any issue. Please hang on for a moment.” She held Tanjirou’s hand and plunged the needle into a vein in his wrist, and almost immediately, Tanjirou could feel its effects. He felt his arm numb out, the pain receding. All the broken bones he had from being thrown around by the arrow demon seemed to heal instantly. After a minute, Tamayo carefully rotated his arm, and to his wonder, it started healing just as quick as she promised, the broken bones mending until his arm was good as new. By the time Tanjirou was able to move his arm around, the numbing effect had already gone away too, making it seem as if he was never injured. He stared at Tamayo in awe and signed: Thank you.

“Ah, he says ‘Thank you’, Tamayo-san,” Nezuko interpreted for him. Tanjirou nodded with a soft smile. Tamayo returned the gesture with a smile of her own, and for some reason, Tanjirou was reminded of his mother— the soft-spoken, ever-caring Kie— and he found himself warming up to this person, even though she was a demon. 

Well, she was not like any other demon they had faced before, that’s for sure. Yushiro, as well. The only demons Tanjirou had seen thus far were vicious man-eating monsters— it was a relief to be face to face with demons that were just like Tanjirou, people who had not lost themselves to Kibutsuji Muzan’s influence. As he pondered this, Tamayo sat on a chair that was placed by the bedside. She regarded Nezuko with gentle eyes. 

“I believe we have not properly introduced ourselves, have we? My name is Tamayo, although you seem to already know that.” She nodded at Yushiro’s direction, who was now standing stiff beside Nezuko, obviously wary of the two. “That boy is Yushiro, my assistant and traveling companion. I hope that you’ll be his friend.”

“Yes!” Nezuko replied brightly, which only seemed to irritate Yushiro more. He started to grit his teeth a little, hands clenched. Nezuko’s smile became uneasy as she amended, “I-If Yushiro-san approves of it.” At least that seemed to ease the rising temper of the young-looking demon. Nezuko continued, “My name is Kamado Nezuko, and this is my older brother, Kamado Tanjirou. I’m a demon slayer and my brother is…” She gave them a sheepish smile. “Well, it’s a bit complicated.”

“I can see that it is,” Tamayo replied, thoughtful. “Your brother wields a demon slayer’s blade, and yet he is a demon himself. I could tell that there is a story behind this. You also mentioned a message from the Demon Slayer Corps… I have to admit I have done my best to steer clear of that crowd, lest they come after my own head. I have avoided your organization for centuries for this very reason.” 

Nezuko’s eyes widened. “Centuries… Tamayo-san, exactly how old are—” Nezuko let out a choking sound when Yushiro smacked her on the chest repeatedly, practically screaming: 

“Don’t ask a lady her age, you ill-mannered scoundrel!” 

Tanjirou let out a growling screech as he immediately put himself in between Yushiro and Nezuko, glaring at the demon boy with all the intensity of a protective older brother. How dare he hurt a girl like this, Nezuko of all people— if someone here was an ill-mannered scoundrel it was him! Nezuko let out a few coughs as she signed that she’s alright. Tanjirou decided that he would stand between Nezuko and this Yushiro brat from now on, to prevent any more Nezuko bullying. 

Tamayo let out an exasperated sigh as she scolded her charge, “Stop it. Why would you resort to violence?” Yushiro looked down, although he did not look quite so ashamed with his actions, merely letting Tamayo scold him without complaint. Tamayo stood up and took off her apron, walking to a set of sliding doors in the back of the room as she continued, “I believe it would be better for us to continue our talk in the parlor. Come this way.”

They sat in the parlor, kneeling on a zabuton pillows on the tatami floor. Despite the western-looking exterior of the house, it seemed that the interior remained Japanese and traditional. Tamayo sat on one side while Tanjirou and Nezuko sat facing her. Tamayo murmured something to Yushiro, and the boy left without another word. Personally, Tanjirou did not care if Yushiro came back or not, still angered by his assault on his sister. That was probably a mean thing to think though, so he kept it to himself.

“I’ve been meaning to ask for a while now, but…” Tamayo started, her eyebrows furrowing a little as she regarded Tanjirou. “Are you unable to speak, or simply unwilling to, because of that muzzle?” 

Tanjirou and Nezuko exchanged a glance. Nezuko’s expression seemed to be asking him if he was comfortable with her answering her question, and to that Tanjirou nodded. Nezuko met Tamayo’s eyes once again, smiling uneasily. “Onii-chan can speak… sort of. He could only talk in short sentences, though, and his voice doesn’t sound so good. He told me he could think just fine, but he’s been having problems putting his thoughts to words, ever since he’s been turned into a demon more than two years ago. He knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t quite say it— I-I don’t know how to explain it, since Onii-chan is the one experiencing it.” 

Nezuko glanced at Tanjirou again. Tanjirou signed: Words come out slow. Like— he paused, realizing they had not made a gesture yet for ‘molasses’, as it was an uncommon word . He let out a small frown, dejected as he signed instead: never mind. 

Tamayo tilted her head, the doctor in her contemplative. “Something like speech apraxia, I presume? It’s a neurological disorder, something wrong in the brain, where the brain knows what it wants to say, but cannot properly plan and sequence the required speech sound movements. It could be slightly different, since you’re a demon and not a human, but it must be something similar.” 

Tanjirou’s frown deepened. So there was something wrong with his brain? Why would that be? He had a perfectly functional brain back when he was human, at least he thought so.

“Why would Onii-chan have something like a neurological disorder?” Nezuko asked worriedly. 

“It is only my guess, but…” Tamayo paused, seemingly choosing her word carefully. “For your wounds to heal so slowly, for the Demon Slayer Corps to approve of your existence… Tanjirou-san, you have not been eating human flesh, have you? I saw you drink some blood back there while you were fighting, but I assume you have not given your body any other sustenance.” 

Tanjirou nodded. 

“Human flesh has nutritional qualities that human blood does not. It is only expected, as human flesh is more solid and has more substance to it. The demon transformation requires a lot of energy, and there are parts of the human body that Kibutsuji Muzan’s cells consume in the transformation, particularly in the brain. To regrow these parts, the freshly-turned demon needed nutrients from human flesh— there is a reason why demons have no sense of self until they have eaten their first few humans. The fact that Tanjirou-san could think for himself like a normal person without eating a single human was a miracle in and of itself.” 

Tanjirou did not like the explanation that he was technically brain-damaged, but he simply let out a small sigh. It seemed his gut feeling that his speech was a price he paid for not eating humans was more correct than he had thought. 

“B-But Tamayo-san and Yushiro-san do not eat humans, either, do you? But you could speak just fine,” Nezuko reasoned. “Is there no way to heal him?” 

At her words, Tamayo winced. A pained expression fell on her face, full of remorse and guilt. “Before I left Kibutsuji Muzan’s service, I ate humans too, once upon a time. I believe all the people I have eaten then were enough for my body to heal the damage the transformation had caused,” She stared at her hands that were placed on her lap, as if she could not quite bear to meet their gazes. “Since then, I have tweaked my body considerably, so that I would never need or crave human flesh again. A small amount of blood is all I need. Yushiro on the other hand, is a special case— I created him myself, so there was no damage in the transformation to mend to begin with. He gets by with even less blood than me. What I do these days, and you might find this distasteful, is to buy blood under the guise of blood transfusions from those unable to make ends meet.” 

So that’s why Tanjirou was not picking up the strange scent unique to demons from the two of them, and why Yushiro smelled strangely artificial. Tanjirou was shocked that Tamayo had eaten humans before, and that she was in Kibutsuji’s service once upon a time— he had kind of assumed she was just like him, someone who denied their demonic instincts from the start. Still, she was leading what seemed to be an honest life now, no longer hurting humans. Tanjirou could respect that. 

“Could you…” Nezuko hesitated. “I don’t mean to ask for too much— but could you tweak Onii-chan’s body that way, as well?”

“It would not heal the damage to his brain, I’m afraid. It won’t cure his muteness. And tweaking the body this way could take several months— I am willing to try though, if he is willing to stay with us for a while.” 

Tanjirou immediately shook his head. He would not be leaving Nezuko for any length of time, especially not now that she was a demon slayer. He was determined to stay with her every step of the way, to aid her in missions, to protect her. He would not give that up for anything, even the chance to finally not crave flesh any longer. It’s not like he needed these tweaks anyway, he was managing his own hunger just fine so far. Even though it felt impossible to resist sometimes. 

“I see. It is ultimately your decision, of course,” Tamayo replied. Nezuko still looked like she wanted to argue with him about it, but Tanjirou gave her a look and signed: Enough about me. More important things. Demon Slayer Corps. 

“Tamayo-san,” Nezuko started, looking a little nervous. “I did mention earlier that we— my brother and I— were trying to find you to ask for your help, and to relay a message from the Demon Slayer Corps. Oyakata-sama, he, uh—” she stuttered, rummaging through her pockets as she seemed to be trying to find something. Tanjirou wondered what it is until she took a folded piece of paper and he remembered— Kagaya had given them this letter to give to Tamayo before he left that day, telling them to deliver it to her. 

Nezuko offered the letter to Tamayo. She took the paper gingerly, opening it up carefully as she took a few minutes reading. At first her expression betrayed nothing, but at one point one point where her eyes widened, glancing at Tanjirou before continuing on. Tanjirou figured that must have been the point when she learned about his unusual sun resistance. He didn’t know what else could elicit such a reaction. 

After a long moment, Tamayo folded up the letter neatly, her expression contemplative. She slid the letter inside her kimono as she seemed to digest the information she had gotten, staring at the siblings in a new light. Tanjirou thought he saw a hint of yearning in her eyes, one that betrayed an innermost desire, as she folded her hands on her lap silently. 

“It is true. Kibutsuji Muzan would give anything to be able to walk into the sun. Should he find out about you, Tanjirou-san, he would do anything to get his hands on you. You are in a perilous situation,” she paused, before continuing. “I am willing to aid the Demon Slayer Corps, as well as the two of you, if it meant we could annihilate Kibutsuji Muzan once and for all.” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened. Nezuko exclaimed as she bowed, “Thank you, Tamayo-san!” 

Tamayo nodded, fondness in her eyes, though her expression remained serious. “However, I have one condition: we will only proceed with baiting Kibusuji with Tanjirou-san only when the medicine for turning demons back into a human is complete. Only then. As soon as he’s been drawn out in the open, Tanjirou-san must immediately be turned back into a human. For if that man gets ahold of Tanjirou-san and devours him while he’s still a demon, it will be the doom of us all.” 

Nezuko let out a gasp, hope immediately blossoming in her eyes. “There's medicine for that? Please tell us more!” 

Tamayo’s expression softened. “So turning him back is your wish. I had figured that is the case. I am a doctor, and I sincerely believe that for every ailment, there is always a medicine or some kind of treatment. At this time, I am unable to turn a demon back into a human, but eventually that too…” she trailed off. “A medicine must be completed to decrease the risk of strengthening Kibutsuji even more. I will dedicate my time to establishing a method of treatment. Towards that end, I’d like to ask you to do a few things for me.” 

Nezuko leaned in, obviously interested. Tanjirou’s heart was fluttering too— to be turned back into a human, that would be a dream come true. Tanjirou would like that very much. He waited with bated breath for Tamayo to continue, anticipation rolling in his gut. 

“To produce such an elixir, it is necessary to study the blood of numerous demons. I have two favors to ask of you. One, permission to study Tanjirou-san’s blood. His current condition is extremely rare and unique. He had never eaten human flesh, and yet he is lucid and retained his human mind and emotions. His ability to walk in the sun is another thing. A demon who can walk under the sunlight is one step closer to being human, after all. These miracles will be key to finding a solution.” 

Tanjirou was nodding eagerly. He was willing to give any amount of blood anytime— if it could further Tamayo’s research. If it could help in any way. 

“Two, to retrieve blood samples as closely related to Kibutsuji as possible. This request is a harsh one,” Tamayo continued. “By ‘demons related to Kibutsuji’, I meant demons whose powers are more on par with that of Kibutsuji himself, like one of the Twelve Demon Moons. It won’t be easy to extract blood from such demons.” 

“Twelve Demon Moons…” Nezuko’s eyes widened with recognition. “The temari demon… she says she’s one of them! I should have taken her blood!” 

“No, she is not one of the Demon Moons,” Tamayo consoled her. “She is too weak. And there are numbers written on the Demon Moons’s eyeballs. Once you see it, you will know.” 

Too weak? Tanjirou thought. At that level? He remembered how thick their scents felt on his nose, remembered how strong they smelled. But then again, Nezuko was able to dispatch the temari demon by herself, so he supposed she wasn’t all that powerful. Tanjirou was also able to almost cut her neck too, if the arrow demon had not interfered. 

So to create this medicine, Tanjirou and Nezuko had to find even stronger demons and defeat them. He did not like that Nezuko would have to be in so much danger. He wished he could do this all by himself. She won’t like that, though. She has her pride as a demon slayer and a swordswoman, too. 

“I see. I’ll have to fight demons stronger than her, then. If there is no other way, then I’ll do it,” Nezuko said, her expression determined. Tanjirou took her hand and squeezed. With his free hand, he signed: We'll do it. Together. Nezuko’s expression softened. She squeezed back. 

“If Tamayo-san manages to create a medicine, it won’t be just Onii-chan. Lots of people will be saved, too, right?” Nezuko continued, smiling widely at Tamayo. “Maybe we could ask Oyakata-sama for the help of other demon slayers too— this is all for everyone’s benefit after all. I will write him a letter and see what he thinks about it. Thank you very much, Tamayo-san.” 

Tamayo smiled. “It is my pleasure. There is one last thing— how to hide Tanjirou-san’s demonic nature… I believe we may also have a solution for that, although I would have to ask for Yushiro’s help. You see, it is that boy’s demon blood art that allows us to remain hidden from Kibutsuji’s eyes. Please let us discuss the matter between ourselves for tonight. Allow me to convince him to lend his aid. In the meantime—”

As if on cue, Yushiro entered the room. He nodded at Tamayo, gave the two guests a displeased look, before announcing, “The guest rooms are ready, Tamayo-sama.” 

“Thank you,” Tamayo replied. She regarded Tanjirou and Nezuko again before continuing, “In the meantime, why don’t the two of you rest for a while? We may not have much in terms of meals, but there are soft, warm beds we could provide. After the fights the two of you had gone through, you must be quite exhausted.” 

Tanjirou and Nezuko shared a look. Tanjirou signed, One, and Nezuko nodded before telling Tamayo, “Onii-chan and I are sharing a single room, if that’s alright. And don’t worry— I’m not really all that hungry. Are there some paper and writing utensils I could borrow? I would like to tell Oyakata-sama how our talk went as soon as possible.” 

“Of course. I’ll provide it,” Tamayo promised. “Please enjoy your stay.”

Chapter Text

As soon as they settled into the room, Nezuko wrote the letter to Kagaya with some paper and something fancy called a fountain pen— something that didn’t need to be dipped in ink unlike a calligraphy brush, making both Nezuko and Tanjirou’s eyes widen in wonder. Nezuko’s Kasugai Crow was nice enough to deliver the letter in the middle of the night, evidently pleased that the two of them were making progress in their first mission, and Nezuko spent the rest of the evening mending Tanjirou’s haori, especially the spot on his shoulder where there was a big hole brought by the temari ball. 

They shared a bed to sleep— it was no big deal, as they have done it countless times in a futon back at home and the bed was big enough for the two of them. Cuddling closely reminded Tanjirou of old times when he and his siblings would snuggle under the covers, sharing heat during the worst of wintertime, and with the way Nezuko smiled, she must think about it as well. The night was still and hopeful, and when Tanjirou fell into slumber, his dreams were filled with promises of victory, of getting back his humanity— things he had not dared hope for in the last two years. When he awoke, the sun was rising in the sky, but he did not see it until he stood up and pushed the thick curtains out of the way. For a long moment he stood there, basking in the rays of the rising sun, clasping his hands together as he thanked the Hinokami for another beautiful day. 

There was a small dot of blackness in the distance, getting closer and closer. Tanjirou lifted his arm in greeting, letting the Kasugai Crow land on it as it let out a loud squawk: “Letter from Oyakata-sama! Letter from Oyakata-sama!”

The noise woke Nezuko up. She rubbed her eyes as she yawned, taking her haori folded up in the corner and donning it over the uniform she slept in on as the crow flew to her and offered her its foot. Nezuko untied the letter and unfolded it, reading it with a sleepy expression. By the time she was finished her eyes had lit up, excitement evident in the way she refolded the letter and hurried to make herself presentable, telling Tanjirou eagerly, “Oyakata-sama agreed with Tamayo-san’s condition. He said he’s going to order the pillars to gather blood from any strong demon they come across too, and offered the assistance of Kochou Shinobu in order to create a medicine, whoever that is,” She let out a small squeal as she walked over and hugged Tanjirou tight. “We’re going to heal you, Onii-chan! It may take a while, but we will! I’m going to tell Tamayo-san!” 

Tanjirou smiled as he watched Nezuko brush her fingers through her hair and tidy her wrinkled clothes up, clutching the letter all the while before bidding him goodbye and opening the door. She let out a small yelp as she bumped into Yushiro, who looked like he was just about to knock. The demon boy narrowed his eyes at Nezuko but Nezuko’s good mood did not let up, as she asked eagerly, “Where’s Tamayo-san? I need to talk to her!” 

“Tamayo-sama is in her clinic at the moment— oi! ” Nezuko did not even let Yushiro finish, she was already running past him, no doubt in order to tell Tamayo the good news. Tanjirou could not help but let out a small chuckle. He had not seen Nezuko this thrilled and animated ever— not even before things had gotten bad. He supposed she must be feeling quite delighted; after all, this was the very first time the two of them had something more tangible than mere hope in the matter of turning Tanjirou back to human. The two years of training they had endured did not amount to nothing, although Tanjirou supposed his status as the only sun-resistant demon helped make the cogs turn quicker, and made the people whose help they needed reach out faster. Like Ubuyashiki Kagaya. Like Tamayo. 

Yushiro let out a huff, before landing his gaze on Tanjirou. The mute demon gave him an apologetic look. Yushiro at least seemed to accept it, although it did not stop him from crossing his arms in front of his chest and saying imperiously, “Are you going to put the curtains back, or do you enjoy looking down on us common demons, oh mighty Sun Conqueror?” 

Tanjirou realized then that Yushiro meant to enter the room, and with the curtains drawn and the sunlight flooding into the area, he was not able to. He made another apologetic bow before taking the curtains and putting it back, realizing that the thickness of it was exactly because Tamayo and Yushiro were demons. Now that the room was once again bathed in darkness, Yushiro flipped a light switch before entering. He was holding something small in his hand, but when Tanjirou turned his head to look closer, Yushiro hid it behind him. 

Tanjirou gave the demon boy a questioning look. Yushiro sighed. 

“I suppose it is true. You are sun-resistant. I was wondering if it was a ruse, but apparently not,” he started, getting into Tanjirou’s face and lifting a finger with his other hand. “Listen. I’m only helping because Tamayo-sama told me to. If it weren’t for Tamayo-sama’s kindness I would never offer this to you. So you better give Tamayo-sama all the respect and gratefulness, even if it’s something you didn’t deserve! Here!” 

Tanjirou blinked as the rampant ranting ended with Yushiro pushing the item he was hiding into Tanjirou’s hands. It was a small thing, a bracelet made out of clay beads. Tanjirou was confused, so he inspected the beads closely, and there he could see small engraved symbols, similar to the one that was in the paper Yushiro pinned to his forehead during the fight, to the one that was in the paper pasted above the doorway of this very house. Tanjirou figured it must be the symbol of Yushiro’s blood demon art, but he didn’t understand. He tilted his head at his fellow demon, curious. 

“That’s a bracelet I created, something like a vessel to hold my blood demon art. It’s similar to the paper talisman I use, at least in theory. Although this one you can wear without raising any suspicion,” Yushiro explained. “My ability is to manipulate perception, especially the sight. This bracelet will hide your demon identity from everyone around you. People will look past your eyes, your claws, your fangs, and think of you as a human— at least as long as you do not give them anything that will make them question this perception too much. It works for demons and humans both. I made sure of it.” Yushiro put his hands on his hips and looked at Tanjirou sternly. “Look, my ability is not perfect. It’s incomplete. Don’t go relying on this bracelet too much— if you end up giving in to your demonic instincts and attacking a person in broad daylight, no bracelet could keep them from finding out what you are. This is not a cure-all, got it?” 

Tanjirou nodded eagerly, his hand closing around the gift. He gave Yushiro a grateful smile, noticing the bags under the boy’s eyes only now. Tanjirou wondered if he had spent the entire night crafting this bracelet— he suddenly felt bad for thinking so badly of him. Yushiro was still talking, frowning, “—though I don’t understand why you need it in the first place. If the idea is to hide your sun resistance until the right time, what are you doing walking around cities like these? Isn’t that against the point? You could have just stayed somewhere hidden and safe. The medicine for you will be perfected either way. Tamayo-sama could do anything.” 

Tanjirou moved his hand to sign, before realizing that Yushiro would not understand it. Letting out a displeased huff, he looked around the room, saw the fountain pen and paper they used last night, and pulled Yushiro closer to the bedside desk where it was. Yushiro let out a yelp as he was tugged, and then Tanjirou proceeded to write, carefully choosing his words. 

Nezuko is as important to me as Tamayo-san is to you, he wrote. I wish to stay by her side and protect her from harm. 

Yushiro let out an amused sound. “Protect? That monster? I was watching your fight from last night and let me tell you: that girl needs no protecting.” 

Tanjirou’s heart burst with pride even as he pouted and wrote, I am his older brother. It’s my job. He underlined the term ‘older brother’ thrice. 

Yushiro looked thoughtful. “Well, if she’s that important to you, then I suppose I understand. Take care of that bracelet. I hope it helps.” 

Tanjirou slipped the bracelet onto his wrist, pleased that it fit quite well. He wrote, Thank you. Yushiro nodded, but before he managed to walk away, Tanjirou quickly scribbled on the paper as an afterthought: And Nezuko is beautiful! Really beautiful! Are you blind?! 

Yushiro gave him a confused look. “What are you even talking about?” 

“Onii-chan!” Nezuko came bursting out of the doorway, looking sheepish. “I was so excited over Oyakata-sama’s letter, that I didn’t notice the back. We have another mission. We gotta get ready. Did Yushiro-san give you the bracelet already?”

Tanjirou nodded and showed off his wrist. Nezuko beamed, bowing to Yushiro politely. “Thank you very much, Yushiro-san! We owe you our deepest gratitude.” 

“Don’t mention it,” the demon boy replied, looking away to meet Tanjirou’s eyes. “And take the fountain pen, will you? Get some paper too. We have a lot of those, anyway, and I feel like you might need it in the future.” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened as he held the pen: an unexpected gift. Having the ability to write without needing to sit down with an inkwell and a calligraphy brush does seem to be quite handy. He bowed to Yushiro in thanks as well, before he was ushered by Nezuko to hurry. He did not need to do much, he only needed to put on his repaired haori and put the bulky syringe kit back in his pockets. They stopped by at Tamayo’s clinic so they could draw some of Tanjirou’s blood for Tamayo’s research. Since they were already there, Nezuko made a point to draw another shot of blood from herself, put it in a vial and hand it to Tanjirou for emergencies, like Urokodaki instructed them. Tanjirou made a mental note to buy some food before they left the city, perhaps some rice cakes for the trip. Nezuko had a bad habit of forgetting about her own sustenance, and she did not eat dinner last night.

“We’re off. Thank you so much for your hospitality, Tamayo-san, Yushiro-san,” Nezuko said as they stood in front of their hosts. Tamayo smiled warmly at them. 

“Good luck. And I wish to see more of the two of you, in the future.”

As they left Asakusa, Tanjirou could not help but feel like they had gained two friends. 

“South-southeast! South-southeast! South-southeast! Your next location is south-southeast!” the crow cried continuously, making Tanjirou’s ears ring. If he was able to speak he would already be begging the crow to stop speaking, but alas— Nezuko was more patient than he ever would be, and she merely smiled at the crow as it continued to fly above them, telling it: “We hear you loud and clear Matsuemon-san. We’re hurrying up, I promise.” 

Tennoji Matsuemon— that seemed to be the name that Nezuko’s very intelligent Kasugai Crow chose for itself. Tanjirou thought it sounded like a person’s name, and perhaps that was the point— Matsuemon seemed to have a pretty large ego for a bird, after all. Nezuko had chosen to call him Matsuemon-san, to show him some respect, telling Tanjirou a few times that she thought the crow was quite adorable. Tanjirou silently thought otherwise. 


Tanjirou sighed. We already heard the message, so just stop. Please. 

“Please!” The scream cut through Matsuemon’s caws, coming from just in front of them where a blonde boy wearing a yellow haori was clinging to a girl right in the middle of the road, in broad daylight. The girl seemed to be incredibly uncomfortable, and the gentleman in Tanjirou was immediately appalled, especially when he heard the clinging boy’s next words. “Please, please, please! Please marry me! I could die any day, you know! That’s why I want you to marry me! So please! Please, I’m begging you!” 

What in the world… Tanjirou thought. Nezuko seemed to notice the commotion as well, turning her head to see the spectacle. A small sparrow went ‘chuu, chuu’ and flew towards them in panic, and Nezuko reached her hand out so that it may land on her palm. The bird made gestures and noises that Tanjirou knew Nezuko did not understand, but having spent two years unable to speak properly, he had felt a certain kinship with the little sparrow who, like him, did not have the ability to speak and be understood. From what he gathered from the chirps and the gestures, he could guess that this was the blonde boy’s sparrow, and that the poor bird was losing hope in getting its owner to stop making a fool of himself.

Determination grew in Tanjirou’s eyes as he gave the sparrow a nod. I’ll do something about it, he promised silently. 

Somehow, the bird seemed to understand his small gesture, and it immediately brightened, lifting its wings and flying over to settle on Tanjirou’s shoulder. 

“Onii-chan?” Nezuko asked cluelessly as Tanjirou walked past her and closer to the sparrow’s owner.  

“Please help me! Please marry me! I’m begging—” Tanjirou grabbed the collar of the boy’s haori forcefully, having no problems to lift him halfway up the ground with his demonic strength. The boy was caught off guard as Tanjirou gave him the coldest look he could muster, a look that said what the hell do you think you’re doing without any words passing through his lips.

“Who are you?! Don’t get in my way! I’m going to go get married before I—” the boy cut off abruptly, staring at Tanjirou with wide eyes. His hand reached up to touch one of his ears, and when he spoke again, his voice was small, almost terrified. “H-Huh? This sound…” 

“Onii-chan!” Nezuko called out as she hurried over. The boy (who, Tanjirou was realizing now that he had a good look on him, was wearing a demon slayer uniform under his haori) immediately unfroze when he saw Nezuko, shrugging out of Tanjirou’s hold as he pointed a finger at his little sister. 

“You! You’re the cute girl from the Final Selection!”

Nezuko halted in her tracks, staring at the boy with surprise. She looked a little confused, pausing to think something over, but in the end she smiled sheepishly, apologetically. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.” 

“Ehh?! But we met, remember? We met, remember? Try to remember—” 

“My name is Kamado Nezuko. This is my older brother, Kamado Tanjirou,” Nezuko replied cheerfully, even as she winced at the volume of the man’s words. “What’s going on here?” 

“Is that right? My apologies! I’m Agatsuma Zenitsu—” the young man, Zenitsu, proceeded to kneel in front of Nezuko and cling to her uniform. “You’re a demon slayer too, aren’t you? You understand, don’t you?! I’m terribly weak, I’m gonna die in my next job! So please marry me, Nezuko-chan—” 

A vein practically popped in Tanjirou’s head as soon as the hopeless boy proposed to his sister, and before he knew it, he had already bonked Zenitsu hard on the head with his fist. What’s up with this guy, being so blatantly shameless? The girl he had first proposed to hasn’t even left yet, and here he was already propositioning to the next girl he sees. He knew that Nezuko was a beauty, but that was just plain disrespectful, both to the girl and to Nezuko. Zenitsu howled in pain as he touched the throbbing lump in his head, turning to shout at Tanjirou, “Hey! That was uncalled for!” 

Tanjirou did not spare him a glance, turning his attention to the girl who was standing a little ways off from Zenitsu, evidently not wanting to be anywhere close to him. Tanjirou gave her a smile that reached his eyes before bowing to her, gesturing to the road ahead of them. Go ahead, he seemed to say, You are free to go. 

The girl bowed back at him in gratitude. “Thank you very much!” she said, casting one more glance towards Zenitsu, before walking away in haste. Zenitsu didn’t even seem to notice that she was already running away, his entire attention focused on begging Nezuko’s hand in marriage.

Tanjirou let out a heavy sigh as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. What did we get ourselves into this time? 

“Please marry me, Nezuko-chan! Marry me—” 

“I-I don’t think…” Nezuko began. 

“—promise I will love you with all my heart! You won’t regret it! I can’t just die without experiencing marriage!” 

Nezuko’s bottomless patience seemed to finally crack, as she took a deep breath and placed her hands on her hips. “Listen, Agatsuma-san—” 

“Zenitsu is fine, you know!” 

“Zenitsu-san,” Nezuko amended firmly, before giving the older boy a reprimanding look, the kind of look she’d give Shigeru and Hanako when they’re being particularly naughty. “You can’t just ask random girls to marry you. Marriage is a very important, life-changing thing. And even if someone actually accepts, it would be either because of pity or malicious intent— you don’t want that from a life partner, do you?” 

Zenitsu sniffled. “You’re such a good girl, Nezuko-chan.” 

“No, this is pretty common sense.” 

Zenitsu glanced at Tanjirou, who stared back impassively. Tanjirou thought he saw confusion and worry cloud those amber eyes, before Zenitsu looked away. It was only then that Zenitsu seemed to realize the girl he had been begging to marry him earlier was gone. He let out a couple of indignant sputters, pointing at Tanjirou with a shaking finger. “You!” 

Tanjirou tilted his head and pointed at himself. Me? 

“Yeah, you! You’re the one who pulled me off that girl! If Nezuko-chan won’t marry me, then surely she would have—” Tanjirou did not know what the expression on his face was then, but it must be quite something because Zenitsu let out a yelp, half offended and half utterly terrified. “S-Scary! Your face is scary! What’s with that look on your face?! Why are you looking at me like I’m some creature—” he abruptly cut off, shaking his head. “Either way, you better take responsibility! You better protect me until I get married! You have that sword on your side too, don’t you?! I bet you’re strong, aren’t you?! Save me, Tanjirou!”

And now Zenitsu was clinging on Tanjirou’s pants, begging him to save his life. Tanjirou looked up at Nezuko helplessly, unsure how to handle this guy. Nezuko’s face looked somewhat of a mix of exasperation and amusement, and when Tanjirou signed, Help?, she simply signed back, Let him cry. He’ll get tired. 

Let them cry until they’re tired— that was a tactic that Tanjirou and Nezuko used to employ on their younger siblings, when the little ones were having a horrible tantrum. After the child has finished crying, they would usually calm down and/or take a long nap. Tanjirou thought it did not bode well that this new acquaintance of theirs was, by Nezuko’s admission, no better than a literal toddler. Something akin to a man child.

Even though he smelled so strong… Tanjirou thought to himself, disappointed.

Chapter Text

“Have you calmed down?” Nezuko asked, leaning down with her hands on her knees as she stared at Zenitsu who was crumpled on the ground after a rigorous cry-and-scream session, gasping for breath. Zenitsu looked back at her for a moment with wet eyes before he hurried to stand up, rubbing his tears away with his sleeves as he cleared his throat. 

“Y-Yeah. I’m sorry, Nezuko-chan,” he said, apparently embarrassed. Tanjirou was surprised the man knew shame after pulling off such a shameless introduction, but he supposed nobody wanted to look bad in front of someone they liked. And if the way Zenitsu looked at Nezuko was any indication, this guy was already smitten with his little sister. Tanjirou found himself a little conflicted. On one hand, Tanjirou approved of Zenitsu’s taste (finally, someone with eyes), but on the other, he did not approve of Zenitsu himself (nobody deserves Nezuko!). He decided right then and there that he was going to keep a close eye on the blonde, the protective older brother in him rearing its ugly head. If Nezuko ends up liking him back, fine, but if she doesn’t and Zenitsu continues pestering her… 

Well, Tanjirou had a sword for a reason.

Nezuko rummaged through her pockets, pulling out a rice ball from inside her haori. She offered it to the sniffling boy with another bright smile. “Here. Have this. Crying hard always makes you hungry afterwards, don’t you think?” 

Zenitsu gasped, stars in his eyes. “Are you a goddess, Nezuko-chan?” 

“Don’t be weird and just take it, please.” 

Zenitsu took the rice ball with no small gratitude, biting into it with fervor. It was only after he had taken a few bites that he realized neither Tanjirou nor Nezuko was eating. He swallowed and gave them a look. “Are you guys not eating?” 

“Me? No, I already ate. Onii-chan would never let me travel on an empty stomach,” Nezuko replied. Zenitsu glanced at Tanjirou and the demon merely shook his head, patting his stomach as if to tell him: I’m good. 

“Hm~” Zenitsu hummed as he finished his rice ball, licking his fingers a bit once it’s all gone. “I guess you wouldn’t be able to eat either, with that thing in your mouth. What’s that? Is that a bamboo muzzle? That’s so weird.” 

At that, Tanjirou stiffened. He pulled back from Zenitsu a little bit, feeling oddly defensive of his chosen accessory, if it could even be called that. Nezuko let out a sigh as she gave him a look that said, I told you so, but she easily regarded Zenitsu with a surety that suggested she had thought of the lie in advance. “Onii-chan prefers to wear that muzzle so that he won’t have to deal with people expecting him to speak. A demon attack caused him to lose the ability to do so.” 

Tanjirou sighed in silent relief. Nezuko had always been a better liar than him. Though he supposed what she said were not complete lies, they were half-truths— lies by omission. It was better than telling this near-stranger that he uses the muzzle as a crutch to remind himself not to give in and eat humans, though. He tugged at the bracelet Yushiro had given him, just to remind himself that it was there. Zenitsu’s eyes had widened in Nezuko’s explanation, giving Tanjirou an apologetic look. 

“That was a bit rude isn’t it? I’m sorry,” he said mellowly. “Not being able to talk… that must be terrible.” 

Tanjirou waved his hand in dismissal of the topic as the sparrow that remained on his shoulder chirped and pecked at his ear affectionately. People often would not realize how blessed they were with something until it was out of their grasp, and that was true for Tanjirou. He did not realize how being able to talk so freely was a gift until it was gone. It was not the end of the world though. There was no use crying over spilt milk. Tanjirou had lived near voiceless for more than two years now. As difficult as it was in the beginning, he was already quite used to it. 

Tennoji Matsuemon flew in circles above them, cawing once again, “Start running! Start running! Tanjirou, Nezuko, Zenitsu, run! All of you head over to your next destination! Run! Run, Tanjirou, Nezuko, Zenitsu!” 

Zenitsu gasped, and when he spoke, his voice was once again high-pitched in fear. “T-That crow is talking!” 

“That's right,” Nezuko said with a good-natured laugh, which seemed to ground Zenitsu back into the present, and— Tanjirou would bet— kept him from collapsing once again into the ground. “Kasugai Crows all speak, I think. Doesn’t yours do, too?” 

“C-Chuntaro doesn’t really talk. He just brings letters for me to read,” Zenitsu stammered. 

And isn’t he lucky to have you, little one? Tanjirou internally cooed at the little thing as it cuddled against his cheek. He let out a few hums as he pet the sparrow with his finger, gently rustling its feathers. Zenitsu saw this and screeched in outrage, “Chuntaro, you traitor! You already like Tanjirou more than me?! I’m your owner, you know!” 

“Run, run! Start running, Tanjirou, Nezuko, Zenitsu!” Matsuemon insisted above. 

“We better hurry, or Matsuemon-san will become insufferable. Let’s go,” Nezuko urged.

Tanjirou nodded and started running, trusting that Nezuko would follow suit, which she did. Zenitsu let out a yelp as he followed after them in a sprint, yelling, “D-Don’t leave me behind, Tanjirou, Nezuko- chaaaaaan!” 

If Nezuko’s Kasugai Crow was telling the three of them to head over to the same destination, Tanjirou supposed their next mission was a joint one. If Kagaya was sending more than one demon slayer into the same area, then it must mean their next foe may be a formidable one.

Tanjirou’s hand tightened on his sword as he ran. Will they get the chance to obtain their first blood sample, so soon? 

“Hey Tanjirou, Nezuko-chan,” Zenitsu called out as they walked through a dense forest, Tanjirou leading the group with Nezuko and Zenitsu close behind. He could smell the sour scent of demons up ahead, getting stronger bit by bit, and Tanjirou knew they would arrive at their destination soon. Zenitsu whined, “On second thought, I’m not gonna make it. Even if I go along, I’m gonna be totally useless.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Nezuko told Zenitsu encouragingly. “You managed to pass the Final Selection after all, Zenitsu-san. The demons in that mountain were no joke! Only four of us survived that week! You must be capable enough, if you managed to defeat them.” 

Zenitsu sniffled. “There’s five, actually. One of the participants went up and down the mountain so fast— he was so impatient, he didn’t even wait for the rest of us. He just left.” 

Nezuko’s eyes widened. “Really?” 

“Y-Yeah. But that’s beside the point! Hear me out. Hear me out, Nezuko-chan! You don’t understand. I was just lucky, you know! Lucky! I used my hearing to avoid a lot of the demons, and the ones that caught me, well— I’m not even sure what happened to them. I just kept passing out in fear. Fear, you hear me? I’m pathetic!”

Nezuko let out a sigh, her eyebrows furrowing at Zenitsu’s self-depreciation. It was not a very good sign for someone to have such an immense lack of confidence, especially someone who was supposed to watch your back in battle. Tanjirou would give props to Zenitsu for knowing when to back down from a fight if only he wasn’t so certain that the boy was talking complete crap—he was at least as strong as Nezuko, and Nezuko was plenty strong. Tanjirou’s nose did not lie. Zenitsu was just a coward who wanted to withdraw from the fight even when he was capable of pursuing victory, eager to step out of danger even when he was capable of using his strength to protect people. Tanjirou did not like that side of him at all. Unless… Zenitsu was not aware of how strong he was? But how could that be possible? 

“Ah, something’s up ahead! Is that a house? Way up here in the mountains?” Nezuko asked, confused. Tanjirou nodded when he saw the house too— more like a mansion, really, with how big it was. The dense canopy of trees gave way to a clearing where the house stood in solitude, looking fairly old, with the vegetation of the forest creeping around it, as if the trees and plants wanted to swallow it whole. Tanjirou took a deep breath as he looked up at it, wanting to confirm if this was indeed the place where the demon scents were coming from, but the moment he did he was hit in the face with a smell of blood so sweet and delectable, he immediately felt saliva pool inside his mouth. 

He let out a pained sound as he reached his hand up to cover his nose, eyes widening in alarm. What… what was that smell? It’s something he had never smelled before. It smelled so good— too good. He didn’t like how it made his stomach ache hollowly, did not like how this particular scent of blood was driving his starving demon body insane. He shut his eyes tight as he breathed through his mouth, right through the small gaps of his muzzle, but even that made him feel like he could taste it, so close and yet so far, blood he would be willing to lose his humanity to, if he was a lesser man. 

Despite his efforts, his body continued to crave. Even a single drop, just one drop, please—and while he was at it, why not devour the owner of this blood entirely? It was just one puny human. Devouring them would give him so much power, satisfy his hunger, sate the emptiness within. He was so, so thirsty— so, so hungry. Tanjirou was strong enough to overpower them, they would not be able to stop him, he was sure— 

No. No, no, no, no! That’s wrong! These thoughts weren’t his own, they were from his stupid demon instincts! He shook his head to ward off all the unwanted urges, biting his fangs into his muzzle to remind himself why it was there. His promise to bring no harm to humans, Nezuko’s belief in her older brother— Tanjirou was not going to become a monster. Not now, not ever. With that thought in mind, he managed to calm his racing heartbeat. Maybe if he just got used to the scent, everything would be fine. It dismayed him that after more than two years of abstaining, it took only a blood sweeter than most for his demonic instincts to resurface with such fervor. He thought he was getting better at this.

What’s up with this blood anyway? What’s so different about it compared to others? How could it have so much power over him, to produce such a violent reaction? Tanjirou rubbed the bridge of his nose as he once again looked up at the mansion. It was only then that he realized that Zenitsu was watching him with a slightly fearful expression. 

Tanjirou stiffened. He tried to be nonchalant, tilting his head at the blonde as if to ask: Is something the matter? 

“S-Sorry,” Zenitsu replied, presumably an apology for staring. His expression then shifted from fear to concern, as he continued, “Are you alright?”

“What’s the matter, Onii-chan?” Nezuko asked, Zenitsu’s question catching her attention. Tanjirou nodded at Zenitsu to answer his inquiry, just to be polite, before facing his sister to sign. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should tell her, but she would probably notice if he lied anyways. He decided to be upfront with his struggle, especially now that they have company, especially now that they have to be extra careful. 

Blood inside the house. Smells too good. Hungry, he signed, feeling a little shameful. Nezuko’s eyes widened, and Tanjirou was not surprised when instead of speaking, she opted to sign back. 

A lot of blood? 

That’s actually a good question. Tanjirou inhaled once again, trying to untangle the different scents coming from the house. This time he managed to control his reaction to that sweet mouthwatering delicious scent, gulping down the drool that threatened to spill past his lips. There were a lot of scents inside the house, both demons and humans. He signed back, Lots of blood, different humans. Only a small amount smells too good.  

Nezuko looked thoughtful. Zenitsu looked confused. 

“Wait, are you actually talking with your hands? What’s happening? What are you talking about? Is it something bad?” the blonde asked anxiously, his head going back and forth on the two siblings. That seemed to snap Nezuko from her deep thinking, smiling apologetically at Zenitsu. 

“It’s a sign language we created ourselves. Don’t worry about it,” she dismissed. “More importantly, Onii-chan said he could smell injured people inside. I think we’re in the right place. The demon—” 

Demons, Tanjirou corrected her. There was more than one sour, putrid scent. 

“Demons,” Nezuko amended with a nod. “That must be why they sent us both, Zenitsu-san. Though I thought demons don’t band together so I wonder why they’re all here…  anyway, they must be inside to hide from the sun.” 

“D-Demons?! As in more than one? Are you kidding me?!” Zenitsu screeched, pulling at his own hair. “No good, that’s no good, no good, no good! I’m going to die, Nezuko-chan! Tanjirouuu! Besides, that house is scary! So scary! Can you hear that weird creepy sound inside going over and over and over? That house could be haunted too!” 

What sound? Tanjirou strained to hear, but he heard nothing. Instead of the ‘creepy sound’ as Zenitsu dubbed it, he instead heard the rustling of leaves, somewhere to their right. Tanjirou turned his head only to see two kids hugging each other behind the bushes, staring at the three of them with terrified expressions, shaking in fear. The demon’s eyes widened as he tugged at Nezuko’s sleeve, catching her attention. Nezuko turned her head, eyes immediately softening at the sight of the children. Tanjirou wondered if she too were reminded of their younger siblings, particularly Takeo and Hanako, who seemed to be the same age and gender as the two kids. Tanjirou assumed they were siblings. They had the same brown eyes. 

“K-Kids,” Zenitsu mumbled. 

I wonder what’s wrong, Tanjirou thought. 

Nezuko walked closer to the two children, and when she spoke her voice was calm and tender, almost motherly. Tanjirou was immediately reminded of their mother, Kie. “Hello there, you two. What are you doing here?” 

The older boy pulled the younger girl closer, embracing her more tightly as Nezuko approached. The fear in their eyes were palpable, their bodies strung tight with tension. Nezuko paused in her approach and crouched on the ground instead, presumably to show that she meant no harm, and when she spoke, her voice was somehow even gentler and softer. “It’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you and your sister,” she told the older boy. “What happened? Are you both alright?” 

Tears sprung from their eyes, edging their eyelids. It was the older boy who spoke, “D-Demons? You said demons! Is that m-monster… a demon? He took our older brother! And he went… inside the house! That monster took him!” 

Nezuko’s expression did not change, but Tanjirou noted that her eyes had hardened a little bit at the mention of yet another family being torn apart by demons. Her smile was still gentle enough though, to appease the children. “It’s going to be okay. The three of us are monster hunters, you see? We’re going to take care of this. Did you follow the monster here? That’s good— you two did a very great job.” She walked over and patted their heads softly. The little girl sniffled and immediately burst out crying. Tears were freely flowing down the older boy’s face. Tanjirou felt his heart breaking for the two of them. He sincerely hoped their older brother was still alive. 

“We followed the traces of his blood. Because he got hurt!” the older boy explained. 

“That’s smart of you,” Nezuko praised. “What are your names? I’m Nezuko. This is my older brother Tanjirou. And that boy over there is Zenitsu-san.” 

“I’m Shoichi. This is my little sister Teruko,” the older boy replied. “T-Thank you, Nezuko-san. Please… please save our brother!” 

“Yeah!” Nezuko said with a bright smile. Tanjirou’s attention was distracted from the scene  when he heard Zenitsu call his name. 

“Tanjirou,” Zenitsu said, looking up at the mansion with a disturbed expression, one hand covering one of his ears. “The creepy sound… it’s still not stopping. I think it’s a tsuzumi.” 

Tanjirou strained to hear once again. He could hear it… maybe. It was very faint, barely audible, but it did sound like a tsuzumi. Tanjirou looked up, wondering what was up with this mysterious mansion. 

Suddenly, a man fell from a second-story window. Tanjirou’s eyes widened in shock. 

The body was flung outside like it weighed nothing, crashing with a loud splat onto the hard ground. Blood splattered on the surrounding dirt and plants as the cracking sound of bones breaking filled the air, and at that moment, all Tanjirou could think was that he did not want the children to see such blatant cruelty. He immediately placed himself between the kids and the body, covering their line of sight. Tanjirou heard Nezuko gasp and ran to the man's side while Zenitsu remained where he was, frozen in fear. Just from the amount of blood the man had lost, Tanjirou knew he was not going to make it. He heard Nezuko’s voice, urging the man to stay with her, to keep holding on— but in the end, it was for naught. The man passed away in his sister’s arms, bemoaning the fact that despite escaping the house, he was going to die anyway.

Tanjirou felt sick. They weren’t able to save him. If only they’d gotten a little sooner— he couldn’t stand the thought. He looked away. 

Nezuko and Zenitsu had a moment of silence, before Zenitsu managed to ask, “N-Nezuko-chan. By any chance, is that guy these kids’—” 

A deafening roar emerged from inside the house, spooking Zenitsu and both of the children. Tanjirou stood protectively over Shoichi and Teruko, while Nezuko remained with the corpse and let the roar pass. After a long moment, she stood up, clasping her hands together to pray briefly, before asking the children with a hard voice, brimming with anger. “Shoichi-kun, is this man your brother?” 

Shoichi lifted his head to glance at the corpse, just for a moment, and then he promptly looked away. “I-It’s not brother. Brother’s wearing a persimmon-colored kimono.” 

So the demon had captured more than one person, but it’s not like that was news. Tanjirou could already tell that much with his sense of smell. Nezuko’s expression became determined, her hand resting on her sword. “Then we’ll find your older brother. He must still be inside. Zenitsu-san and I will explore and face the demons inside the mansion. Onii-chan, please stay here and protect Shoichi-kun and Teruko-chan.” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened, surprised at this unexpected plan. He wanted to go inside the house too! If his hunch was correct, there was a powerful demon inside, and he was not about to let Nezuko handle that with only Zenitsu as back-up! He raised his hand in a wait a minute motion, before signing furiously: With you! Please! 

Nezuko looked like she expected this, letting out a sigh. “Onii-chan, someone needs to stay outside to make sure nothing happens to these children. And you’re the best person for the job.” Besides, worried about your hunger, her hands continued. 

I can handle it! Tanjirou insisted. Or you stay here. I’ll fight. 

Nezuko’s gaze hardened. “Onii-chan, please don’t forget that between the two of us, I am the demon slayer. This is my mission. I can handle myself. Please stay here,” she replied in a clipped tone. 

“I-I don’t want to intrude between your conversation but…” Zenitsu started, evidently intruding, “Can’t I just be the one to stay here? Please? I told you two I’m weak! I’m a no-good swordsman!” 

Nezuko huffed indignantly, unconvinced. “Zenitsu-san, you’re a demon slayer! Have some pride!” she scolded. 

“Like I told you, it’s just a fluke! I was just lucky! Just leave me here, Nezuko-chan! I’ll protect the kids, I promise!”

Tanjirou used the opportunity to take advantage of Zenitsu’s cowardice and turn the tables in their argument. He signed, See? This man (they haven’t decided on a gesture for Zenitsu’s name yet) can stay. I’ll come with you. To fight. 

Nezuko frowned, remaining stubborn at her insistence that Tanjirou should stay. He wondered if she was just that concerned at Tanjirou’s hunger, but he supposed it was a bit of a big deal, given that he had not had a hunger spike that intense since Urokodaki offered his injured arm to him that moonlit night. He still wasn’t sure what was up with that, and was still getting used to catching whiffs of the delectable blood every now and then— but he was sure he could handle it! He was sure he would not lose himself in the face of it. He was just caught off guard is all. Now that he was getting used to it, there should be no problem. Nezuko should let him tag along. They made a great team, like how they fought the temari and arrow demons!

Nezuko seemed to ponder what to say next, but she didn’t look like she would give in. Tanjirou noticed something change in her expression— the same sly glint in her eyes that would always be there whenever she does a dirty trick in one of their mock battles. She pulled a lock of hair behind her ear, tilting her head down so she could stare at Zenitsu from under her eyelashes, before muttering, “Zenitsu-san... I had hoped you would want to protect me.” 

If Tanjirou did not have a muzzle strapped to his mouth, he would be staring at his little sister with his mouth open in shock. The audacity! 

Predictably, blood rushed to Zenitsu’s face at her words, stiffening in utter joy, before he let out a screech, followed by an enthusiastic, “Yes! Anything for you, Nezuko-chan! I’ll protect you, Nezuko-chan!” 

“Then, let’s go!” Nezuko immediately grabbed his hand, eliciting another screech of joy from Zenitsu, before pulling him in the direction of the mansion’s entrance. Tanjirou watched the two of them leave helplessly, hand outstretched as if to reach for them, to no avail. 

Before the sliding doors closed behind them, Tanjirou thought he saw his little sister poke her tongue out at him. Nezuko played Zenitsu and Tanjirou like a fiddle, and the demon could not quite believe it. He almost wanted to kneel on the ground in defeat.

Father, mother, I have failed you. Nezuko is growing up to be a cunning woman…

Chapter Text


"Onii-chan, are you alright?" Teruko asked.

I just saw my once-innocent little sister weaponize her femininity. I'm not okay, Tanjirou wanted to say, but all he could manage to give the children was a half-hearted smile. That seemed to reassure them a little bit, at least. At the sight of their scared, uncertain faces, Tanjirou decided to focus on the task Nezuko had given him, to stay and protect them from any kind of harm, and reassure them that their older brother was in good hands.

He distracted himself from wanting to run inside the mansion despite the fact that he very much wanted to— Nezuko and Zenitsu, despite his misgivings, were both strong fighters and capable demon slayers. That's what his nose was telling him of the blonde boy, at least. There should be no reason for worry. Tanjirou hoped.

For a moment Tanjirou just stood awkwardly there, unsure what to do now. The children seemed to be looking up to him for guidance, and if Tanjirou still had his voice to rely on, there would be no problem— he was as good with children as Nezuko was, if not better. But without the ability to speak, he didn't quite know if he was able to comfort these kids. He didn't know if they could read, so he didn't even have the option of writing to fall back on. He had to go back to vague gestures and muffled sounds, and after a good few days of being able to communicate with Nezuko through their still-admittedly crude sign language, he found himself dreading having to go without. He frowned behind his muzzle, twiddling his thumbs nervously.

"Tanjirou-san… you can't speak, can you?" To his relief, Shoichi seemed to be a pretty sharp kid. "That's alright. You don't have to force yourself."

Tanjirou beamed behind his muzzle, the smile reaching his eyes and brightening up his entire face, as he patted Shoichi's shoulders in gratitude. Shoichi smiled back, and even Teruko seemed to finally relax, her shoulders untensing as Tanjirou patted her head as well. Shoichi and Teruko were such good children, putting themselves in danger in order to save their brother— Tanjirou hoped that their brother was somewhere inside, and that Nezuko and Zenitsu would find him safe and sound. He couldn't stand the thought of them losing their older brother, so soon. Tanjirou could not relate, as he had never had an older sibling, but he could imagine how losing one would feel— it would not be unlike how he felt after losing his father, he supposed. Losing a guiding light, a role model. Tanjirou hoped that Nezuko and Zenitsu would not be too late.

Thinking so deeply about death and loss made him remember the man who had been thrown off the second-floor window earlier, the man whose corpse still laid in the ground before them. A man who could have been someone's husband, someone's brother, someone's son— Tanjirou felt immense loneliness for the people this unknown man had left behind. If nothing else, he prayed that he would be reborn into a happier life, one without such misfortune and strife, prayed that he could live his life to the fullest next time.

For a moment, he wondered. All he needed to get his voice back was to eat some human flesh, right? Tamayo said so. Tanjirou stared at the man's unmoving corpse, and for a quick second, he was tempted. And then he felt bad that he was even tempted. Even if the man was dead, it was wrong. This man did not want to die. He struggled and fought to survive. Tanjirou benefiting off of his death was like a spit in the face of this man's efforts. And besides, Tanjirou promised Urokodaki he would never eat human flesh. Nezuko called him the gentlest and kindest person in the world. Tanjirou would do anything to deserve such a compliment, to deserve Nezuko's high praise.

Tanjirou looked around for a sharp stone. Once he acquired it, he picked a suitable area and started to promptly dig up a big enough hole.

Shoichi and Teruko seemed to figure out what he was trying to do and decided to help. Using some sharp stones of their own, they managed to dig much faster. The time passed quicker now that Tanjirou had something else to focus on, calming the anxiety inside him that just wanted to know what was happening with Nezuko. Once the hole was ready, he gingerly took the man's corpse and placed him inside the hole carefully, staying respectful, and started to replace the dirt over him, neatly burying him into the ground.

Tanjirou and the kids gave a few minutes of silence for the man's departed soul. After a melancholic moment, the three of them walked back into the shade of the trees, sitting on the ground as they waited for the demon slayers to come back, hopefully with Shoichi and Teruko's brother.

"Onii-chan, are you really monster hunters?" Teruko asked after they had settled. Tanjirou smiled at her and nodded. That seemed to excite her a little bit, as she poked curiously at his nichirin sword. "Is that a real sword? Do you use it to kill monsters? Can I see?"

"Teruko!" Shoichi scolded his little sister, seemingly embarrassed with her barrage of questions. Tanjirou merely smiled and shook his head, trying to tell him that he didn't mind. He stood up and held the handle of his katana, slowly unsheathing it to her admiring eyes. Her expression was filled with awe as she took it in, stared at the matte black surface of the blade, her eyes widening in wonder.

"It's black! Why is it black?" she asked excitedly.

Tanjirou's expression crumpled up, his face looking a bit constipated. He wanted to tell her a lot of things. Like how the blade was made with a special ore that absorbs sunlight, how it was the only kind of steel that could kill demons. He wanted to tell her that it was also called the Color Changing Sword, that it changes color depending on the bearer, that Nezuko's blade had a leaf motif and that Zenitsu's sword was likely a different color as well. He wanted to tell her all these things, play off her excitement and interest, entertain her with factoids about the Demon Slayer Corps— but he couldn't. He didn't have the ability to. Tanjirou had not been this frustrated with his muteness in a long time.

Shoichi seemed to notice his predicament, bless him. He told Teruko, "We'll ask Nezuko-san and Zenitsu-san when they get back. So let's just wait for them, okay?"

Apparently, they did not have to wait for long.

For a moment, Tanjirou thought he heard something. An echoing, hollow sound— the same creepy sound Zenitsu was talking about, back at it again— but what followed after had him gasping behind his muzzle. In tune with the very faint bong of the tsuzumi, another body was flung out of the second-storey window, bright yellow and screaming— Tanjirou's body moved in its own. Not wanting to see another rendition of the earlier death they had seen, he immediately sheathed his sword and then ran to catch him, using Total Concentration Breathing to leap with enough force to grab Zenitsu's body in mid-air. Zenitsu was screaming still, his face now beside Tanjirou's ear, making the demon wince. Even so, Tanjirou was relieved that he was able to save him from a bad fall. Landing on his feet while carrying Zenitsu in his arms like a princess, Teruko and Shoichi immediately crowded up to the two of them, asking hurriedly if they were alright.

The children seemed to at least calm Zenitsu down, realizing then that he was no longer falling, nor was he dead. He let out a sniffle as Tanjirou set him down, immediately engulfing the demon boy into a grateful hug as he whined, "Thank you, Tanjiroooouuuu! I thought I was going to die! That's so scary! I don't know what happened, the floor suddenly tilted and I—"

Tanjirou gestured a halting motion, not really caring how and why Zenitsu ended up falling from the second-storey window. He already assumed it was something related to a blood demon art, as it had already happened twice. He was more concerned about Nezuko and what happened to her inside, why she wasn't with Zenitsu. He didn't really know how to ask Zenitsu his questions though, but thankfully the boy's rant seemed to be going in that direction anyways.

"—and then we walked for a long while but Nezuko-chan and I got separated, and there was a demon who wanted to guzzle my brain from my ear but suddenly it was dead, and I tried to find Nezuko-chan, really I did, but the mansion was so confusing and there's a monster freak with a boar head, and then suddenly the floor kept shifting and I fell every which way and I think some of my ribs are broken but I need to go back to protect Nezuko-chan! Wait for me, Nezuko-chaaaaaan!"

Zenitsu was about to run back inside the house, and Tanjirou was about to stop him out of concern for Zenitsu (didn't he say some of his ribs were broken?!) and run inside the house himself out of worry for his sister (Nezuko must still be in danger!), but then they heard someone inside the house just beyond the entrance, yelling on top of their lungs, "Coming through, coming through!"

Tanjirou's eyes widened as the sliding doors of the house broke with the force of the newcomer's assault. He was a boy wearing a boar mask, bearing two nichirin blades that were chipped so much that their edges looked serrated, sporting a dull indigo-gray hue. He was half-naked, his chest displayed proudly, and he was wearing what looked to be the pants of the demon slayer's uniform. As soon as he was in view, Zenitsu lost his spike of courage, immediately shrieking and hugging Tanjirou in fear, "There it is again! The monster boar!"

The boar boy cackled deviously, as his head moved around to survey the area. He sounded just as rugged as he looked. What he said next though, made the hairs on Tanjirou's neck rise. "I'm feeling a demonic vibe."

A demonic vibe? What did that even mean? Tanjirou felt like shrinking away, praying that the boar boy would not take any notice of him. But it seemed his prayers were for naught, for as soon as the boar boy's head turned in his direction, he let out a mad laughter. "Hey, found you!"

While Tanjirou took a small step back, Zenitsu moved forward. The boar boy was charging at them with his blades in his hands, eager to attack, but Zenitsu was faster, immediately extending both of his arms on his sides, putting himself between the boy and Tanjirou, between the boy and the children.

"Hey! Cut it out!" Zenitsu yelled. He looked terrified, but his voice was firm. "What are you doing, charging at defenseless children— have you no shame, moron?!"

"Hah?!" the boar boy yelled back. "You're the moron! It's not the brats I'm after, it's the demon that's with them! Get out of my way! Who the hell are you, anyway?!"

"I'm Agatsuma Zenitsu. I'm with the Demon Slayer Corps like you!"

"Demon Slayer Corps, huh? Then I shouldn't have to tell you! We have to get rid of that thing! Now, get the hell out of my way!"

"That's not a 'thing'! That's Tanjirou, a civilian! Nezuko-chan's onii-chan! He's not a demon, are you daft?! Demons can't walk in the sun, and what kind of demon protects children anyways?!"

It was only then that Tanjirou realized he was standing in front of the children in a protective stance, Shoichi and Teruko hiding behind him. He did it without realizing, born out of his brotherly instincts. The children looked a bit terrified of the newcomer, evidently not fond of his brash attitude. The boar boy stared at the three of them and seemed to rethink his actions, tilting his head curiously.

"He doesn't even look like a demon!" Zenitsu continued indignantly. "Take a good look at him, idiot!"

Take a good look… Tanjirou stiffened as he felt the boar boy stare at him with more scrutiny, just as Zenitsu had suggested. If Yushiro's bracelet was working right, he should find no fault in Tanjirou's disguise as just a normal human. Shoichi and Teruko seemed not to find anything alarming with his appearance. Yushiro mentioned that his blood demon arts worked best by twisting the perception of one's sense of sight, and that must be why the boar boy figured him out in the first place— after all, he did not say he saw a demon, he was saying he felt one.

Tanjirou hoped that with Zenitsu's words, he would be able to convince the boar boy that he was wrong. As long as the boar boy doubted himself, he knew his secret would be safe.

The boar boy let out a humming noise, seemingly deep in thought, and to Tanjirou's relief, he eventually let out a groan. "I could have sworn that guy is— but then why does he look— fuck it. This is too much thinking." Tanjirou finally relaxed at those words, reassured that the boar boy wasn't going to think about this matter further. The consolation only lasted a moment though, when the boar boy continued with a chuckle, tightening his grip on his swords. "But you know, if my senses registered you as a demon, that must mean you're at least as strong as one. Fight me!"

"So you're just looking for a fight!" Zenitsu shrieked in alarm.

"Outta my way!" The boar boy kicked the offended Zenitsu out of the way, the blonde boy landing a few meters to their right and hitting a tree, falling to the ground with a painful oomph. Tanjirou saw red. Threatening him, a suspected demon, was one thing, but hurting even his fellow demon slayer—! He wanted to immediately rush to Zenitsu's side and see if he was okay, if not for the attack that the boar boy unleashed his way. Tanjirou immediately unsheathed his sword and parried his opponent's two-bladed slash, protecting both himself and the children behind him from the boar boy's assault.

To his right, he heard Zenitsu exclaim, "Using your nichirin blades to attack a civilian, that's so dangerous! Irresponsible!" and Tanjirou was relieved that he seemed to be alright. He focused on the boar boy, meeting him blow by blow, glancing at Shoichi with a small grunt to signal him to get out of the way. Shoichi took Teruko's hand and hurried over to where Zenitsu was, and as soon as they were gone, Tanjirou took a stance, taking a deep breath.

Hinokami Kagura, Fourth Form: Fake Rainbow. With that, he avoided the boar boy's relentless attacks, making him chase after his after-images as he sneaked up behind him, using the blunt edge of his sword to hit him with enough force at the back of his neck, trying render him unconscious. To his surprise, the boy only let out a grunt, staggering a bit but looking very much awake. Tanjirou jumped a few paces back, alert for the boar boy's next attack.

"Ha! You think that's enough to incapacitate the great Hashibira Inosuke?" the boar boy said smugly as he faced Tanjirou once again. Tanjirou supposed Inosuke was his name. "I have mastered the control of my own body! That kind of blow won't knock me out! I'm amazing, aren't I? I'm amazing, aren't I! Look what else I could do!" He tossed his swords to the side and started to bend backwards, so far backwards until his head was poking between his feet. Tanjirou would be impressed if Inosuke weren't so… Inosuke.

"Nobody cares!" Zenitsu yelled on the side, and Tanjirou chanced a glance at him. He was holding his midsection as if his ribs were bothering him. "And stop attacking Tanjirou, you freak! Didn't you know that attacking civilians with your katana is against Corps rules? Apologize!"

Inosuke let out a low chuckle, standing back up. "Well, sorry about that. In that case, let's fight bare-handed!"

"That's not what I meant!" Zenitsu screeched.

But Inosuke was already charging straight at Tanjirou, not bothering to pick his nichirin swords back up. Unwilling to use his blade on a weaponless opponent, Tanjirou tossed his sword to the side as well, using his arms to block every punch that Inosuke dealt his way. Inosuke was somehow even faster with his fists than with a blade, moving with such a ferocity that reminded Tanjirou of a four-legged beast. His attacks were quick and low, bizarrely low, and the flexibility of his joints were inhuman as evidenced by the way he split his legs and dropped to the ground as soon as Tanjirou tried to counterattack, the demon missing him completely. Tanjirou almost wished the fight had not shifted to hand-to-hand combat, because it was evident that Inosuke excelled at this. In contrast, Tanjirou was rusty, not to mention the fact that he had to hold back a little, not wanting to badly hurt Inosuke with his superior demon strength.

Inosuke flipped his body backwards, landing on his feet and then charging once again, aiming a kick at Tanjirou's side that the demon barely managed to deflect with his arm. It was then followed by a series of punches that Tanjirou evaded, stepping backwards every time as Inosuke crowded him with his attacks. He was not able to stop him when the boar boy jumped and landed on Tanjirou's shoulders, rotating around his upper body in a way that would have broken his neck if he didn't manage to fend him off— but as soon as he did, Inosuke landed on the ground with his hands underneath him, aiming a kick right at his midsection. That last attack connected, and Tanjirou staggered back with a grunt. Inosuke was relentless.

Tanjirou was not supposed to hurt humans. It was the promise he made to himself that fateful snowy day, the symbolism of his attachment to the muzzle on his mouth. But how was he supposed to handle this persistent boar, if he couldn't knock him out? Perhaps a really good headbutt will stop him— no. With Tanjirou's hard head, he'd surely give him a concussion. Tanjirou did not want to hurt him. He simply wanted to make him stop attacking, make him see sense, make him calm down from the high that that the fight was evidently giving him. Well then, if Inosuke wouldn't stop, then Tanjirou would. It's not like his body couldn't handle a little beating. He was a demon, after all.

So Tanjirou stopped parrying. He stopped evading. He stopped counter-attacking. He let Inosuke's next series of punches hit him, grunting with every blow. He heard Zenitsu and the children gasp in concern, and he felt warm at the fact that they care about him, even though there was really nothing to worry about. Inosuke targeted low and swept his feet on Tanjirou's legs, causing the demon to trip and fall on the ground hard on his side. He just let it happen.

Inosuke caught on quick. He held Tanjirou's head and pressed it harshly on the ground, growling in frustration, "Oi, oi. What's gotten into you, not-demon? Bailing out of the fight so suddenly like that, do you have a death wish? Fight me properly!"

Tanjirou winced in pain but he met the eyes of Inosuke's boar mask with a neutral, almost bored expression. He could not possibly say as clearly as he had with his eyes that he did not want to fight any longer. It set the boar boy off. He let out a screech worthy of Zenitsu, kicking Tanjirou's side with enough force to make him grimace.

"Hey, that's enough!" Zenitsu yelled, starting to run in their direction. "Tanjirou doesn't want to fight, so cut it out already— Nezuko-chan?!"

Tanjirou's eyes widened as he remembered his sister. With all the distractions that Inosuke had caused, he had nearly forgotten the fact that Nezuko was still inside facing dangerous demons. He felt like a bad older brother, but at least Nezuko was already out here with the rest of them. He turned his head just in time to see her walk out of the mansion entrance, holding hands with a boy wearing a persimmon-colored kimono. At the sight of the boy she was with, Shoichi and Teruko burst out crying, running over to embrace him. That must be their older brother. Tanjirou was relieved that he was alright, but not as relieved as he was to see that Nezuko was safe. The moment was short-lived though, as Inosuke was back at it again, attacking his fallen body.

"Coward!" Inosuke exclaimed, seemingly not caring about the new additions to their little group. He used his foot to step on Tanjirou and grind his face harder into the dirt. "You're strong, I know you're strong— are you looking down on me? You're a corpse! I'm gonna beat you up until you fight back—"

Tanjirou did not see it as he was having a very intimate time with the ground at the moment, but he could imagine it just from Nezuko's voice— she must have seen them, must have seen this random boar-headed guy beating up her older brother, her older brother who was not putting up a fight. And that was when Tanjirou realized he had miscalculated— he did not want to harm Inosuke, that was the whole point of this in the first place, but it seemed his choice to forfeit the fight was going to give the boar boy an injury anyways, courtesy of a certain very angry, very indignant little sister.

Oh no.

"Hands. Off. My. Brother!" Nezuko yelled, and Tanjirou heard her run up close. There was a loud thump, and the sound of Inosuke letting out a painful howl, and then the sound of him falling onto the ground. Tanjirou lifted his head as soon as there was no foot preventing him from doing so, looking up and around to try and figure out what happened. The children were gaping in awe, Zenitsu was shaking in fear at the corner, Nezuko's foot was still halfway in the air after what Tanjirou assumed was a decisive kick, and Inosuke was on the ground, writhing in pain as he clutched helplessly at his groin.

Suddenly it clicked. Tanjirou's eyes widened in horror.

"W-Was that too much? I got carried away," Nezuko stuttered after seeing the damage he had done to poor, poor Inosuke. She couldn't possibly imagine how painful that kick was, as she did not have the same anatomy. Tanjirou wanted to apologize to Inosuke immensely. He should have just headbutted him and gave him a concussion, if he knew this was the alternative.

Zenitsu seemed to be seeing Nezuko in a new light, utterly terrified. "N-Nezuko-chan, you're scary…"

Nezuko's uncertain expression became hard, as she tossed some of her hair behind her shoulder. "That's what you get for messing with me."

That's actually kinda cool, Nezuko was kinda cool— even so, Tanjirou made a mental reminder never to let people get on her bad side, if only to stop her from wreaking this kind of havoc again. Inosuke let out another painful groan before losing consciousness. Tanjirou pressed his hands together and sighed.

Rest in peace, Inosuke's balls.

Chapter Text

“Onii-chan, are you hurt?” Nezuko asked in worry. 

Tanjirou shook his head as he stood up, dusting the dirt off his clothes and rubbing the line of blood that was running down from his nose. Inosuke roughed him up quite well within the small time frame that he had let him, but it didn’t seem like anything was broken, and if there was, it must have already started healing. Nezuko smiled in relief, but now that the excitement was over with she staggered, stumbling a little bit before ending up leaning onto her older brother for support. Tanjirou’s eyes widened in surprise, only now registering the strong scent of blood about her, as well as the way her lips were paler than usual. Now that the boy she was with has finished his reunion with his siblings, he turned to Tanjirou to exclaim, “Nezuko-san needs help!”

“Help with what…?” Zenitsu asked in confusion, but then he turned his head and gave Nezuko a proper once-over, letting out a gasp. “N-Nezuko-chan! Your back!”

“I’m fine,” Nezuko tried to argue. 

“But it looks really bad,” Zenitsu murmured.

Tanjirou did not waste any time. He immediately ushered Nezuko to the shade of the trees so she could rest more comfortably, taking off his haori to create something like a picnic blanket for her to sit down on. Nezuko mumbled that she was fine again but Tanjirou was not having it— he could tell with the scent alone that Nezuko had already lost a lot of blood. It was a bit jarring to be around her heavily injured body, to smell the blood that had become so familiar and so comforting in the last two years (this was the blood that he consumed weekly, this was the smell of food) but he pushed through that distraction in order to focus on helping his little sister. 

Once she was settled, leaning on one of the trees instead of Tanjirou, the demon moved behind her so he could see the damage, eyes widening at the slashes on her back. They were three of them, running parallel with each other. Blood was already staining Nezuko’s pink haori, the black fabric of her demon slayer uniform peeking through. 

Tanjirou glowered at the demon slayer uniform as if it had done him a personal offense. Wasn’t the fabric supposed to be made of special fiber able to stop the claws of low-level demons? In that case, how powerful was the demon inside the mansion, to tear through it like this? Tanjirou should have gone with Nezuko, really . He grit his fangs against his muzzle in frustration. 

“My name is Kiyoshi,” the boy who was with Nezuko introduced himself, before continuing to explain. “Nezuko-san saved me, that’s how she got hurt. I got in the way and then— I-I don’t know. The demon tapped the drum in his stomach, and then suddenly Nezuko-san cried out in pain— I couldn’t do anything. I’m sorry! But she was able to defeat him even with her injury, thankfully…” 

“I got some blood. I got… the demon’s blood,” Nezuko said with a triumphant, if pained, grin. Tanjirou scowled at her, too. That was a good thing, yes, but now was not the time. Judging from Kiyoshi’s story, this injury was from a blood demon art. Tanjirou hoped it was just a physical injury, and did not have any other lasting effects. You never know with blood demon arts, really.

He tugged at Nezuko’s clothes, helping her take off her haori. He needed her to take off her top as well so that he could see to the injury properly (he was no doctor, but you cannot live without neighbors on top of a mountain without learning a thing or two about first aid) but he couldn’t really do that with this audience—a certain person in particular. Tanjirou gave his harshest glare at Zenitsu, eyes telling him exactly what would happen to him if he even so much as peeked at his sister’s body: death. Zenitsu let out a squeak, before turning in another direction and saying, “I’m going to go and get some water! I’ll be back!” 

Good, the boy made himself useful. Tanjirou remembered walking by a creek earlier before they got here. That must be where the blonde was planning to head. Kiyoshi told Zenitsu something about bowls inside the house, but Tanjirou already tuned them out. For now, he decided to focus on Nezuko. 

As soon as Zenitsu was gone, he helped her take off her shirt. She held her haori close to her chest to cover it as Tanjirou surveyed her wounds. At least it appeared that they had already stopped bleeding. They looked quite deep, and would no doubt scar when they’ve healed, leaving a mark on the once-pristine skin. Tanjirou had to stop himself from beating himself up over it, and he tried to keep in mind what Urokodaki warned him about that first night in his house at Mt. Sagiri: the path of a demon slayer was filled with pain and misery. Injuries like these were inevitable. Tanjirou could not wallow in self-loathing every time Nezuko gets so much as a scratch. 

He tried to redirect his anger at his turquoise scarf which was getting shredded with his bare hands at the moment, in order to create something that would pass as bandages. Tanjirou made a mental note to stock up on bandages next time, as it was such an important essential in hindsight. He quite liked this scarf and was a bit sad to let it go, but not enough to even hesitate. By the time the ‘bandages’ were ready, Zenitsu had come back with a bowl of clean water, and Tanjirou gave him a nod of gratitude before using it to clean Nezuko’s injury. She needed medical attention and maybe some medicine to keep away infection, but for now he would dress the wounds, keeping them clean until they could be treated by a proper doctor. 

Zenitsu, to his credit, did not spare a single glance at Nezuko. So he knew how to be a gentleman when he wanted to. After a few minutes, Tanjirou finished up, and Nezuko rewore her clothes with a pained grimace. Kiyoshi walked up to them worriedly, asking, “Is Nezuko-san going to be alright?” 

Tanjirou turned his head to smile at the boy and nod, but then he caught the whiff of a very familiar scent. A certain scent that nearly made him lose his mind earlier. This boy, Kiyoshi, was the source of the too-good blood. Tanjirou’s eyes immediately widened in horror. This boy, this defenseless little boy— Tanjirou had almost given in on the idea of devouring him, simply because he had smelled too good. Tanjirou shut his eyes tight and shook his head, trying to get rid of the image his head conjured, of his monstrous self attacking poor Kiyoshi, of him being the reason Shoichi and Teruko loses their beloved older brother— 

“What’s the matter?” Kiyoshi asked, confused. 

I’m sorry, Tanjirou wanted to say. I’m so, so sorry. 

Kiyoshi was injured too, he knew. He had heard as much from Shoichi and Teruko, and he could also smell it from him, the faint scent of sweet, sweet blood, particularly around his leg. Tanjirou took a spare piece of his shredded scarf and gestured to Kiyoshi to walk closer, which the boy did. Tanjirou knelt in front of him and pushed his pant leg up, using some water to clean the thankfully minor laceration, before using his makeshift bandage to dress it up. 

“T-Thank you,” Kiyoshi murmured. Tanjirou gave the boy a soft smile. And if the guilt brimming in his eyes was evident, Kiyoshi did not mention it. 

“You guys are worrying about me too much. I’m fine, ” Nezuko said, answering Kiyoshi’s earlier question as she tried to stand up, only for Tanjirou to give her a very stern look, pulling out his older brother card to command with his gestures, No. Sit. Stay still. 

“Onii-chan,” Nezuko tried to argue, but Tanjirou merely repeated himself: Sit. Stay. Still. 

Nezuko sighed as she sat back down on Tanjirou’s haori. 

“Listen to Tanjirou, Nezuko-chan. You really shouldn’t be moving around with that kind of injury,” Zenitsu warned. Tanjirou side-eyed him, not forgetting that the blonde boy also had an injury of his own, a few busted ribs he said— but unlike Nezuko, he seemed to be taking it easy, not overexerting himself like his stubborn little sister. At the moment, Zenitsu was just taking off his haori and folding it up to put under Inosuke’s head as a makeshift pillow. The boar boy was still out cold, and Tanjirou expected him to remain so for some time. 

“Shouldn’t we get going to find a town with a doctor, though? Why are we still hanging around here?” Zenitsu asked. “I mean, we have to wait for this weirdo to wake up, I guess,” he said as he lightly tapped Inosuke with his foot.

Tanjirou stared at Inosuke for a moment, before he walked closer and leaned in to carefully remove his boar hide mask, if only to make sure he won’t get suffocated in his sleep. As soon as he did though, his eyes widened. 

Fair skin, thick eyelashes, thin eyebrows, soft lips. Inosuke could very well be one of the most beautiful people Tanjirou had ever seen. That was… unexpected. For someone so brash to have such an attractively feminine face. 

“Creepy,” Zenitsu muttered under his breath.

“What is?” Nezuko asked, unable to see what they’re looking at from her vantage point. 

“Inosuke’s got a ripped body, but there’s a girl’s face on top of it. Creepy,” Zenitsu clarified. 

Well, that’s not very nice, Tanjirou thought. Inosuke’s face may not suit his personality, but he carried it well. Nezuko seemed to agree as she stood up, walking close to peek at Inosuke’s face. At the sight of him, she smiled. “I don’t think it’s creepy. He looks very pretty. He looks almost like a girl, but that’s not a bad thing.” 

Zenitsu gave Nezuko a doubtful look. “Do you prefer pretty boys, Nezuko-chan?” 

Nezuko shrugged. “I think people should be proud of the features they were born with.” 

While Tanjirou agreed with that, he didn’t quite agree with his sister being up and about. He gave her another stern look as he signed for the third time today, a little fed up with his stubborn, stubborn little sister.  Sit. Stay. Still. 

“But I feel fine,” Nezuko whined. 

Doesn’t matter. Please rest, Tanjirou signed with a pleading look. Nezuko huffed a little as she went back to her spot on Tanjirou’s haori. She regarded Zenitsu, answering his earlier question about why they were still here. “We should get the corpses inside the house, and give them a proper burial. It’s the least we can do. I would like to help, but…” 

Absolutely not, Tanjirou signed. 

Nezuko sighed once again.

“Teruko and I helped Tanjirou-san bury that other guy, the one that fell from the window. We could dig more holes while Tanjirou-san and Zenitsu-san find the bodies,” Shoichi offered. 

Nezuko smiled. “That’s great. Thank you.” 

Tanjirou nodded at the kids in gratitude as well. He expected Zenitsu to be scared of going back inside the mansion but Zenitsu merely tugged at his ear, looking up at the house as he mused, “Well, there aren’t any more demons inside. Nezuko-chan already killed the big bad, didn’t she? Let’s search the house as quick as we can so we can bring her to the doctor soon.” 

Tanjirou was more than on board with that. 

“Wait, before you go,” Nezuko interrupted, glancing at Inosuke. “Onii-chan, could you please carry Inosuke here into the shade with me? I feel a bit bad for hurting him earlier, and the hard ground couldn’t possibly be comfortable. At least it’s a bit grassy here.” 

Tanjirou looked at his sister and then at Inosuke. He supposed it couldn’t hurt. He walked over and carried Inosuke effortlessly, bringing him over to Nezuko’s side. Nezuko sat on the heels of her foot and set Inosuke’s head on her lap, like she always does with their little siblings when they’re taking a nap. Zenitsu looked positively seething in jealousy. 

“That weirdo gets to sleep on Nezuko-chan’s lap?!” he screamed, outraged. 

Tanjirou and Nezuko ignored him. Tanjirou picked up Inosuke’s boar mask and set it down beside Nezuko. He also took Zenitsu’s haori, staring at the blonde boy questioningly for a moment, offering it if he wanted it back. Zenitsu merely huffed as he took it, and to Tanjirou’s surprise, walked over to lay it over Inosuke’s body, like a blanket. He was muttering under his breath, “I guess he deserved some good things after getting his balls kicked.” 

Tanjirou couldn’t help but let out a soft giggle at that. 

Soon enough, they set off to do their work. With Tanjirou’s keen nose, they were able to find the corpses with minimal issue. There were seven more bodies inside the house, bringing this demon house’s kill count to a whopping eight victims, and that’s not even counting the people who were completely consumed. It sickened and saddened Tanjirou, to see so many lives lost, to know that these deaths could have been prevented, if the demons only fought their instincts like he does. Tanjirou was no saint, and there were moments that he felt more demon than human, like earlier when he smelled Kiyoshi’s blood—  but knowing that these demons didn’t even try made him so angry . There were more options than giving in and losing your humanity. Tanjirou wondered why there were so few who chose to take this path.

It was around the time when they were bringing out the last of the corpses that Inosuke woke up. The boar boy bolted up, literally up in his feet in a split second, screaming at the top of his lungs. Zenitsu screamed back in surprise, “He’s awake!” 

“Fight me! Fight meee!” Inosuke yelled as he started chasing after Zenitsu. Zenitsu screeched as he left the body on Tanjirou’s hold and ran for his life, Inosuke chasing him around in circles. 

“This is how he is when he wakes up? Even after that kick? I hate that more than anything!” Zenitsu finally stopped running and hid behind Teruko. Tanjirou set the body on the ground and gave the poor victim a quick prayer, before he shifted his attention back to boys who were making a ruckus. 

“Hey you! Fight me! Anyone, fight me! I can take you on!” Inosuke babbled. 

“I don’t wanna fight you, moron! I’m injured! Find someone else!” Zenitsu yelled back. Inosuke followed his advice, looking around like a predator trying to sniff out another prey. His gaze first met the kids, glazing over them as he seemed not to find them worthy opponents, before his gaze settled on Nezuko, who was gaping at him, evidently surprised with his sudden waking up. 

“You! Kicking lady! You caught me off guard once, but you’re not catching me off guard again! Fight me!” 

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea right now. I’m injured too.” Nezuko said with a sheepish smile. “And about kicking you, I’m really sorry about that. Inosuke-san, was it?” 

But Inosuke was not interested in her anymore. He was already looking around once more, finally seeing Tanjirou. The demon boy tensed, the memory of their earlier fight still fresh in his mind, wary that Inosuke would just pounce on him like he did before. “You, not-demon! Fight me!” 

Tanjirou shook his head furiously. 

“You spineless coward! I’ll crush you!”

“Inosuke-san,” Nezuko said in a cold voice. “If you try to hurt my older brother again, I assure you that you will regret it.” 

Surprisingly, that froze Inosuke. He stopped glaring at Tanjirou and turned his head to stare at Nezuko again, looking ticked off. “And you think you could order around the great Hashibira Inosuke, hah?” 

Nezuko met his gaze with an equally annoyed expression. “Do you want me to kick you again where the sun doesn’t shine?” 

“Hah! You can try!” 

Nezuko moved to stand up, seemingly taking that as a challenge. Zenitsu screeched in alarm in typical Zenitsu fashion and ran between them, trying to dissolve the tension between the two. “Nezuko-chan, calm down! He’s not pummelling Tanjirou anymore! Inosuke, you—! Nezuko-chan is serious, you know! Let’s not be hasty!” 

“I’m not afraid of her kicks! I’m not afraid of anything!” Inosuke bellowed. 

“Well, you should be! ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, have you never heard of that?!”

“If she kicks me again, I’ll just get up faster! This time, I won’t lose consciousness!” 

“You’re crazy!” 

Zenitsu’s efforts were at least not for naught, at least on Nezuko’s side. The blonde’s frantic attempts to make peace at least calmed her somewhat, making her settle to sit back down on Tanjirou’s haori. She was not about to let it go completely though, as evidenced by how she cut through Zenitsu and Inosuke’s quickly devolving conversation, her voice hard and determined. 

“Apologize to my brother,” she demanded. 

“I refuse,” Inosuke replied.


“I refuse!” 

Tanjirou cracked up, laughing behind his muzzle. The ridiculous back and forth was refreshing, after seeing all the carnage that the demons had wreaked inside the mansion. Nezuko stared at him curiously, and Tanjirou signed, It’s okay. I don’t mind. 

At that, Nezuko finally relented. Tanjirou just shrugged and carried on with his tasks by continuing to deepen the graves that the kids had started to dig. He wanted to get this finished as soon as possible, so that they could get Nezuko to a doctor soon. At the sight of him getting back to work, Zenitsu and the kids followed his example, continuing on as if nothing had happened, although Zenitsu did mutter under his breath.  

“What the hell are you guys doing?!” Inosuke demanded. 

“It’s a burial,” Nezuko answered for them.

“You help out, too! We’ve got a lot of graves to dig,” Zenitsu interjected.

“What’s the point of burying the corpses of creatures? I’m not doing that! I’m not helping out!” 

Zenitsu stared at Inosuke like he’s a loon. “Then don’t,’” he decided. “Just don’t get in our way.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t get it,” Inosuke huffed as he stood in the shade near Nezuko’s spot, watching the rest of the group continue with the burial without paying him much attention. Nezuko looked up at him curiously, noting the confusion in his expression. He seemed to genuinely not understand why dead people needed to be buried, and Nezuko could not help but wonder what kind of life he had led thus far, to not understand something so simple. Nezuko opened her mouth to speak, but Inosuke continued before she could, stating with a gruff voice, “In my mountain, creatures die and that’s it. There’s no more life in their bodies, they won’t even know what you do to them after they’re dead. There’s no point for all this crap.”

Nezuko considered his words, deciding that it was better if she knew Inosuke better before drawing conclusions. “You lived on a mountain, Inosuke-san? My brother and I used to live in the mountains too, along with our entire family.” 

Inosuke looked offended. “Don’t lump me in with you! I don’t have any parents or siblings! I’ve always been on my own! Testing my strength against other living creatures is my only pleasure!” 

“But isn’t that…” lonely? Nezuko wanted to say, but she had a feeling Inosuke would take it the wrong way. If he grew up isolated on his own, it would make sense why he was so socially stunted, why he was acting like a wild animal, with no common sense to speak of. Nezuko figured she should just try to explain the situation as best as she could. “Burying someone after they died is our way of sending them off,” she murmured. “So that they may be able to leave this world with dignity.” 

“Dignity? What’s that?”

“Umm, I suppose it meant being worthy of honor, of respect. A grave symbolizes the life that that person once led, reminding people that they were once alive. There is a practical aspect to it too— we wouldn’t want them to just rot inside the mansion, or be pecked at and eaten by scavengers. Sure, under the ground they would still decompose, but then they would be part of nature again. Something like that.” 

Inosuke scoffed. “Why do they care? They’re already dead.” 

“It’s less for the people who died and more for the people they leave behind, really,” Nezuko replied. “When you die, you wouldn’t want your friends and loved ones to see you just rot by the side of the road, would you? That would be disturbing for anyone.”

Inosuke seemed to contemplate this. He put his hands in his pockets and kicked at the dirt, mumbling under his breath, “Don’t have any.” 

Nezuko smiled. “Well… it’s about time you start making some, don’t you think?”

By the time they finished burying the bodies, the sun had already started to set on the horizon, the sky tinted orange in the dying sunlight. Tanjirou wiped a sheen of sweat on his forehead with his sleeve after they prayed for the dead souls, looking up when he heard the distinctive cawing of a Kasugai Crow. Matsuemon Tennoji was flying down towards them from a long distance, and as soon as Tanjirou heard the words coming out of the crow’s mouth, he was offended

“Descend the mountain! Descend the mountain! Descend the ack—!” 

Tanjirou snatched the crow out of the air and caught its little black body with his fist. As soon as the crow was right in front of his eyes he glared. This damned crow was back to issuing missions, wasn’t it? Never mind that Nezuko was so badly injured! They were not going to go to god knows where to slay some random demon without going to a doctor first! The crow was intelligent, he’ll give it that. It seemed to completely understand why Tanjirou was mad at it, and immediately amended its words. 

“House of the family with a wisteria crest… at the foot of the mountain! Rest time, rest time! Since you’ve sustained injuries, you’re to rest until you’re fully recovered!” 

Tanjirou tilted his head curiously. House of what, now? 

“I’ve heard about that place, I think,” Zenitsu mumbled at his confused expression. “Jii-chan— that’s the person who trained me by the way— said something about a house that helps demon slayers heal up and recover for free. Apparently it belonged to a family that was once rescued by demon slayers, so they do it to give back the favor. If that house is nearby, then we really should go check it out.”

Tanjirou was relieved to hear that. He did not know of that before, but he supposed he should have expected it, that the Demon Slayer Corps would have some way of treating their injured demon slayers. It just didn’t seem like Kagaya to lead his “children” to certain death, as fighting demons with an injury would surely result to. Having met the leader of the Demon Slayer Corps himself, he supposed Kagaya doing that would be quite out of character. He finally let go of Matsuemon, forgiving the poor bird for its transgressions. If it was leading them to a place of healing and rest, it should have just said so from the beginning. 

“Have you finished?” Nezuko asked as Tanjirou and Zenitsu approached her. Matsuemon flew and perched on top of her shoulder, repeating its words, along with an explanation of what the ‘house of the family with a wisteria crest’ meant. Nezuko nodded in understanding. “I see. Thank you, Matsuemon-san. I’ve rested plenty now so I think I can walk for a while—” 

No. I will carry you, Tanjirou signed. 

Nezuko sighed in exasperation. “Onii-chan…” 

But Tanjirou was already turning around, crouching down to show her his back. Nezuko would absolutely not overexert herself, not if Tanjirou could help it. It was not a big deal anyways, as Tanjirou was a demon, and demons were plenty strong. There was no way Nezuko would be too heavy for him. He heard Nezuko mumble a whine under her breath, but eventually she gave in, standing up and throwing her arms over Tanjirou’s shoulders. Tanjirou grabbed at her legs to support her and stood up effortlessly, giving her a proper piggy-back ride. 

“I’m a bit too old for this…” Nezuko whispered, embarrassed. Tanjirou smiled behind his muzzle. You’re never too old for your big brother to carry you, he wanted to reply, but his hands were occupied. He instead let out a soft humming noise, just to let Nezuko know he had heard her. 

“We need to get Kiyoshi-kun, Shoichi-kun and Teruko-chan home too, you know,” Zenitsu reminded them all. “It’s getting late, and I’m not comfortable with letting them go on their own.”

“As long as we get to the base of the mountain, we can get home on our own,” Kiyoshi told them. “We’re really grateful for your help, but you don’t have to delay your medical treatment for our sake. Our village is quite near, I’m sure we could get there before night falls.”

“Really?” Zenitsu asked. “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah! We’ll be alright,” Kiyoshi reassured. Matsuemon suddenly flew towards him, surprising the young boy. 

“Hold out your hands!” Matusemon demanded. Kiyoshi reluctantly followed. The Kasugai Crow threw up something small and purple onto his hands, something that was covered in bird spit and digestive fluids, and the boy turned a little green in disgust. Matsuemon seemed not to care, though. “That will ward off demons. You with the marechi, keep that on your person! Demon repellent! Demon repellent!”

Demon repellent indeed, as the scent of it was enough for Tanjirou to turn his head away. It seemed to mask Kiyoshi’s irresistible scent, so he supposed that was a good thing. He wasn’t sure what Matsuemon meant by ‘marechi’ though. Thankfully, Nezuko seemed to have the same question. 

“What’s a marechi?” Nezuko asked. Matsuemon cawed once again before answering. 

“Rare blood type! Marechi blood is favored by demons!” 

That explains it, Tanjirou thought dejectedly. He felt both relieved that he wasn’t crazy— that Kiyoshi’s blood really did smell better than most— and disappointed in himself. For wanting to kill and eat the poor boy, even if it was just for that one vulnerable moment. Now that he knew that people like that existed, people with blood so sweet it made Tanjirou’s mouth salivate just at the thought of it, he was even more determined to keep his demonic instincts shut tight behind a cage. He couldn’t let himself be tempted ever again, even if they were marechi. He needed to grasp a tighter leash on his ever-present hunger, on his self-control.

Easier said than done, really. 

“Then, let’s go head down the mountain!” Zenitsu cheerfully decided. Then his voice became all dreamy. “If you get tired, Tanjirou, I could always take over carrying Nezuko-chan for you~! Just remember that!” 

Tanjirou gave Zenitsu a deadpan look. This guy had broken ribs, and he still wanted to perv on his sister. His simping knew no bounds. 

“Don’t look at me like that! It was just a suggestion!” 

“Inosuke-san! Aren’t you coming with us?” Nezuko suddenly called out behind them. Tanjirou blinked, realizing he had completely forgotten about the loud (well at the moment, not so loud) boar boy, who was still standing beside the tree Nezuko sat under, putting his boar mask over his head. He seemed to be contemplative for some reason, and Tanjirou wondered what was on his mind, what was bothering him so. Nezuko seemed to know what it was, and when she continued, her voice had become gentle and soft, not unlike how she talked to their younger siblings when she’s trying to coax them into doing something. “I know we’re going to go there to get treated, but I bet they have some good food there, too.”

“Hopefully they’re as hospitable as Jii-chan said. We could all eat together, and that makes food even more tasty,” Zenitsu commented. Inosuke seemed to think it over. He was silent for a long moment, but eventually he turned his body away from them and replied. 

“Not injured,” he grumbled. 

It probably wouldn’t hurt to get his privates checked though, Tanjirou thought. Even in the privacy of his mind, he still found his cheeks burning a little at embarrassment. Well, it was a good thing that Inosuke seemed to not be in any pain, that surely bodes well for him, and implies that there was no lasting damage. Even so, it’s better to make sure anyways.

“So we’re going to part ways? Do you have other missions to finish?” Nezuko asked. “Your Kasugai Crow didn’t come to give you any instructions, though... ”

Inosuke grumbled lowly again, before responding. “Blasted thing won’t go near me anymore.”


“It looked tasty, so I tried to eat it.” 

There was a moment of silence. Tanjirou sighed. What did they expect, really? 

“There’s really something very wrong with you. Did you get knocked on your head as a baby?” Zenitsu deadpanned. 

“Zenitsu-san!” Nezuko scolded. 

“That crow is no wild animal!” Zenitsu screeched. “That’s a Kasugai Crow! Trained and raised by the Demon Slayer Corps! That’s your pet— why would you try to eat it?!” 

“We’re getting off topic,” Nezuko remarked. She turned her head back to stare at Inosuke again. “Inosuke-san, if you don’t have any more missions lined up, I think it would be wise to come with us to the Wisteria House. You’ll get a place to sleep for the night, to eat and clean up and rest— it’s better than camping outside or trying to find an inn somewhere, don’t you think?”

“Well... I guess Nezuko-chan is right. No point wasting effort or money when there’s a perfectly good place for you to stay in,” Zenitsu added.

Inosuke seemed to contemplate this, before huffing and crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Well— if you insist! The great Hashibira Inosuke will grant you the privilege of his presence!”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s just go. We have to get the kids down to the base of the mountain before sunset,” Zenitsu said as he waved Inosuke’s ego off, starting to walk down the path of the mountain.

“Onii-chan, I’m really sorry if I’m too heavy…” Nezuko trailed off, but Tanjirou immediately shook his head in response. It really was not as big a deal as she’s making it as. With his superior demon strength, Nezuko was as light as a feather. He too started walking, following Zenitsu’s lead. He smiled at the kids and gestured with a nod for them to follow their lead. Inosuke trailed behind them. 

“I’m only following because you insisted, okay?!” Inosuke yelled. “I’m only coming with you because you insisted!” 

“Yes. Thank you very much, Inosuke-san,” Nezuko replied cheerfully.

Together, the seven of them descended the mountain. Even while carrying Nezuko on his back, Tanjirou did not break a sweat. Nezuko kept a conversation going as they walked, the three demon slayers talking about what led them to the Demon Slayer Corps, why they became demon slayers in the first place. 

Apparently, Inosuke found a demon slayer who barged into his mountain, defeated him in a fight and seized his blade, and proceeded to take the Final Selection exam only to have something to do. Zenitsu talked about how his Jii-chan helped him out of his debt, and how he became a demon slayer in order to somehow repay him. Both boys went silent when Nezuko shared her own past, talking about the tragedy that befell their family that snowy night— she did not mention anything about turning Tanjirou back to human, but she did talk about her resolve not to let anyone go through the same pain and loss they had. 

Soon enough, they reached the base of the mountain. Kiyoshi, Shoichi and Teruko bid them goodbye with wide, relieved smiles— evidently grateful for everything that they had done to help them. Tanjirou felt his heart warm a little at the thought that they had saved a small family from grief, that these kids will not have to go through the pain of losing each other. 

As the four of them watched the kids walk away and gain distance, Matsuemon once again swooped down, demanding they follow. Tanjirou supposed the crow was going to take them to this Wisteria House. The four of them followed its instructions, keeping the conversation light this time— more of Inosuke demanding people fight him and Zenitsu freaking out over random things. Nezuko handled the two with a finesse befitting of an older sister who knew how to handle feisty kids— even though she was definitely younger than the two of them. It made Tanjirou smile. 

By the time they reached the house, it was already nightfall. Well, it was less a house and more like a manor, really. The four of them stood in front of it, staring at the wisteria family crest emblazoned onto the wooden gate, unsure what to do now. Should they just knock? Was there a bell they could ring to signal that they were here? Thankfully, they did not have to do anything, for after only a minute of standing in front of the gate, a door to the side opened, revealing an old woman with her graying hair in a bun, smiling at them in a genial manner. 

“Yes?” she asked. 

Nezuko’s manners immediately kicked in. “Ah, sorry to bother you so late at night!” 

Apparently Zenitsu had no manners to speak of. He gasped in fear. “A-A monster! It’s a monster!” 

Tanjirou immediately kicked Zenitsu’s shin with a glare, trying to tell them with his actions that he should not be so rude to what he could tell was just a friendly old lady. Zenitsu yelped in pain and whined some more, but Tanjirou was not paying him any more attention, because Inosuke, rude demon slayer number two, started walking towards the poor old lady in a threatening manner, demanding, “Who the hell are you?!” 

“Hey!” Nezuko scolded. Inosuke ignored her. At least, it seemed like the old lady was taking all of these in stride. She must run into a lot of weird and offensive demon slayers, for her not to seem fazed at all. 

“I see that you’re a demon hunter,” she told Inosuke. 

Inosuke poked at her bun. “You look pretty weak.” 

The old lady ignored him as she turned to face Tanjirou and the others, pushing the door further open. “Please, come in.”

Chapter Text

“That old lady sure walks fast!” Zenitsu exclaimed as they walked down a stone path through a beautiful, well-kept garden. Tanjirou ignored him as he looked around, wondering what the scenery looked like under the bright sun. Surely, it would be a sight to behold. 

The old lady who introduced herself as Hisa led them into the house proper, further into one of the rooms. She gave them a change of clothes, and then as soon as they had changed she had a whole spread of food ready for them, placed on chabudai tables with a zabuton for them to sit down on. Nezuko politely thanked Hisa even as Zenitsu started a racket over his conspiracy theory of Hisa being a yokai— just because the old lady was quick on her feet. Tanjirou hit him in the head this time, which thankfully ended his incessant babbling. 

The four of them settled down to eat, placing their tables so they were facing each other, creating a square of empty space in the middle. Tanjirou looked down and stared at the food in front of him, uncertain. The food itself looked quite good— a bowl of rice, a bowl of steamed potatoes and carrots, together with a plate of tempura. Had Tanjirou been human, he would enjoy this dinner immensely. As it happened, Tanjirou was now a demon, and the whole spread did not appeal to him one bit. He did not even know if his demon body was capable of digesting human food, as he had never tried any before, content not to waste resources on what was sure to be a useless endeavor. Human food did not provide any sustenance for demons like Tanjirou. If it did, then there would be no reason for demons to hunt humans at all.

Nezuko seemed to notice his hesitation, as she tapped his shoulder to get his attention and signed, Everything okay? 

Tanjirou nodded as he took off his muzzle, not wanting to worry Nezuko. He grabbed his chopsticks and poked at the tempura cautiously. He did not know what these foods would do to his demon body. There was a chance that his body would just digest it as is, but there was also a good possibility that it would reject it instead— Tanjirou suddenly wished he had tried to eat human food back at Urokodaki’s, if only to have an idea of what to expect. Well, hindsight was 20/20, and Nezuko was starting to give him strange looks. Bracing himself, he took a piece of breaded vegetable and took a huge bite out of it, reminding himself to keep his expression neutral, no matter the taste. 

Bland. Oily. Rubbery. He chewed and swallowed, feeling the discomfort of the blob of chewed-up food going down his throat— a sensation he had not felt in more than two years. It settled uncomfortably in his stomach, solid and heavy, and immediately Tanjirou knew eating more of this would be a bad idea. The small bite he had already swallowed was already starting to give him the hints of a burgeoning stomachache. Even so, not eating would be very suspicious. He was supposed to be a human after all— so he powered through and took another bite. Demons truly have it rough. Demons who have to pretend to be humans even more so. He would have to see how much food he could get away with not eating, without letting Nezuko notice. His little sister had enough on her plate. 

“Use your chopsticks,” Zenitsu scolded Inosuke, who had started shovelling food into his mouth with his bare hands. Inosuke ignored him, continuing to eat like a caveman. Zenitsu sighed in defeat but then gasped when Inosuke grabbed some of Tanjirou’s tempura and shoved it in his mouth, giving the demon a smug look. Nezuko frowned at them. 

Oh, please take some more, Tanjirou wanted to say, relieved. He immediately offered his bowl of vegetables. If Inosuke truly was that hungry, he figured it was okay to give him his share of food. Tanjirou didn’t need it anyways. He was expecting Inosuke to just take it but surprisingly, the boar boy’s face screwed up at his actions, his smug expression turning into annoyance as he let out a screech. 

Tanjirou tilted his head, confused. What’s gotten into him? 

Nezuko let out a soft giggle and Zenitsu gave the two of them an exasperated look— which confused Tanjirou even more. He felt like he was missing something, but in the end he just shrugged it off, deciding that it didn’t matter. 

The rest of the dinner passed by peacefully. Tanjirou ate and swallowed without complaint. He kept offering the others some of his food, partly to lessen the amount he actually needed to swallow, partly because he thought it was a waste for him to eat these when it wouldn’t give him any sustenance or nutrition— Nezuko and Zenitsu gratefully accepted some, but Inosuke, despite being the first to grab at Tanjirou’s food in the first place, sullenly declined.

After dinner, Hisa brought them to a room where they will sleep for the night, four futons placed side by side on the tatami floor. Tanjirou made a mental note to make sure he slept between Nezuko and Zenitsu, no matter what. The four of them picked their bedding, starting from left to right: Nezuko, Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke— in that order. 

By the time they had settled in, Hisa had come back, bringing a doctor with her. The doctor checked Nezuko and Zenitsu with a keen eye, redressed Nezuko’s wounds with actual bandages and prescribed her some medicine for the cuts on her back, and gave Zenitsu some painkillers for his ribs. The doctor asked Tanjirou and Inosuke if they too were injured, but Tanjirou shook his head, and Inosuke was about to do the same had Nezuko not admitted with a flushed face that she had kicked him in his sensitive bits. Inosuke let out indignant squawks as the doctor pulled him into another room to give him a check-up, somewhere they could do it privately. He came back a few minutes later, grumbling under his breath. 

Soon enough, it was time for bed. The light of the lamp was comforting in the silence of the room. It bathed the area with a warm orange glow, as the four of them settled down, laying on their futons. Tanjirou stared at the ceiling, feeling the uncomfortable weight of the food in his stomach, rolling around uselessly inside his incompatible digestive tract. He wanted to toss and turn, but Nezuko was still awake, and he didn’t want her to realize the discomfort he was in. Instead he laid down still and motionless, waiting for the others to fall asleep so that he could finally take care of it— it may be an ugly option, but he saw no other choice. He would have to throw it all up, if he wanted to get some rest for tonight.

Tanjirou waited… and waited. And then he waited some more. At one point, around midnight he reckoned, he slowly sat up, glancing at the three demon slayers and gauging their state. Nezuko was fast asleep, neatly tucked into her futon. Zenitsu was on his side with his back facing Tanjirou, but he wasn’t moving, so Tanjirou figured he was asleep as well. Inosuke was on the other end of the room with his arms wide open, the blanket only covering barely half of his body, snoring loudly. Tanjirou sighed in relief. He carefully stood up and tiptoed towards the sliding doors of the room, pushing it open gently. His stomach complained as he walked, but he only winced and decided to just bear with it. 

He didn’t know his way around the manor, didn’t know which way was the bathroom. He didn’t think looking for Hisa to point him the way was a good idea, though. After all, he didn’t want anyone to see the puke and put two and two together. There was no way he was going to vomit all over Hisa’s beautiful garden, so maybe it was best to just leave the manor altogether. There were some woods outside where he could regurgitate his food in peace. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. What has my life gone to, Tanjirou thought and sighed in defeat. He headed for the gate. 

Walking around with an upset stomach was hard. Every few moments, Tanjirou would double up in pain, trying to keep everything in. His belly was so uncomfortably full. He didn’t even eat that much, but it felt like his stomach just wanted to explode. He swallowed hard as he reached the gate, opening it up and peeking outside. Just a little bit more and he’ll be in the woods. He couldn’t wait until he got all of the food out of his body. He didn’t look forward to their next meal, didn’t know how he could possibly keep up the act. 

“Tanjirou, where are you going?” he heard someone ask behind him. 

Tanjirou froze . He turned his head, only to see Zenitsu behind him, barefoot, giving him a worried expression. The blonde was walking closer, continuing with a troubled voice, “Your stomach was making all these weird noises, so I couldn’t sleep. And then you suddenly stood up and left— Are you alright? You’re not, are you? Are you in pain?” 

Tanjirou hesitated. His stomach once again protested. He didn’t even have the mental capacity to think of a reply, or how to reply at all, before the full feeling crept up his throat, unwilling to be delayed any longer. He ran out of the manor, out of the open gate, into the nearest tree he could find. There he ripped his muzzle off and promptly expelled the contents of his stomach, gagging with every breath, feeling the causticity of his stomach acid rising up his throat and burning his sensitive nose. He felt tears burn at the edge of his eyelids from exertion, but his body did not let up, not stopping until he was dry heaving against the tree trunk, completely empty. 

It was only after it was all done that he realized someone was patting his back in silent support. Tanjirou wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, unsure of how to proceed, now that Zenitsu has seen him like this. He supposed he could make an excuse and say it’s food poisoning. Or maybe blame it on a  sensitive stomach? A stomach bug? Tanjirou faced Zenitsu, unsure. 

“It’s alright,” Zenitsu murmured, uncharacteristically gentle. “I know.” 

Tanjirou stared at Zenitsu, wide-eyed. 

“Tanjirou… you’re actually a demon, aren’t you?”

Tanjirou opened his mouth, and then closed it. He didn’t know what to do or say. He could not even deny it, as there would be no point— he could not lie to save his life, quite literally, even in this dire situation.

“Does Nezuko-chan know?” Zenitsu asked seriously. 

Tanjirou stared at Zenitsu warily. He nodded. 

Zenitsu let out a huge sigh of relief. Tanjirou’s eyes widened at the realization that Zenitsu was genuinely concerned for his sister, and that made him feel a little more at ease with the blonde boy. If Zenitsu hadn’t tried to cut his head off yet, then it must mean that he didn’t truly mind Tanjirou being a demon. Maybe he was a safe person to entrust his secret to. Maybe everything is going to be alright, Tanjirou hoped.  

“H-How…” he growled out, wincing at the inhuman sound of his own voice. How did you know? How long had you known? he wanted to ask. Was Tanjirou’s act that flimsy? Inosuke was able to see through him too, if only for a brief moment. Did Zenitsu know even back then, back when Inosuke attacked Tanjirou? Then, why did he try to protect him, going so far as to deny Tanjirou’s demon-ness and blatantly lie about it? 

“I heard it,” Zenitsu explained. “I’ve always had freakishly good hearing. Demons sound different from humans, so I could tell immediately, when we first met. It was strange that you didn’t look anything like a demon, and then you could also walk in the sun… not to mention you have a nichirin sword— it was very confusing, at first. I didn’t know what to think. But I wasn’t scared.” He looked away for a moment, seemingly embarrassed. “W-Well, there was one point when we reached the mansion that you sounded like you’re going to tear someone’s throat out so I was a bit scared back then, admittedly, don’t judge me! But all the other times—” he cut off, scratching his cheek awkwardly. “All the other times… you just sounded so kind. I figured you couldn’t possibly be a bad person. A-And I know what you’re going to say— how could someone sound kind? I don’t know, okay?! I could just tell! It’s my ears. It’s a bit freaky, isn’t it? I know it is! You don’t have to tell me, I already know, okay?!” 

Tanjirou cut him off by patting his shoulder. He pointed at his nose, smiling sheepishly. “Good… sense… o-of smell. I have it… too. Not… freaky,” he managed to say with a lot of difficulty. 

Zenitsu stared at him in surprise. “I see. So that’s how you could find all those bodies so quickly. Is that because you’re a demon?” he asked. 

Tanjirou shook his head. “Even… as… human. Good… nose,” he forced out. “Our mentor…… have it… too. That’s...  why—” he let out a few coughs, feeling the rawness of his throat after speaking so much. He let out a growl of frustration. Can’t he just say a complete statement before his voice gives up on him? He was trying to comfort a friend! Because that’s what Zenitsu was, isn’t he— a friend. Admittedly, Tanjirou did not have a very good impression of him in the beginning, as he had quite a troublesome introduction. But he protected Tanjirou’s secret, even though he barely knew him, even though he barely knew his circumstances. He cared about Nezuko enough that his first priority upon confronting Tanjirou about his secret was to ask if she knew. Zenitsu was actually a pretty good guy, Tanjirou was now realizing. 

“You don’t have to force yourself!” Zenitsu told him, as he once again patted his back as he coughed. “I guess that bit about you not being able to speak is true, isn’t it? That’s alright. I get it. You’re trying to make me feel better, aren’t you? Thank you, Tanjirou.”

Tanjirou sighed dejectedly. 

“If you’re trying to hide it, don’t worry. You can trust me,” Zenitsu consoled. “I’m not going to tell anyone! I promise!” 

Tanjirou smiled gratefully. Thank you. 

“I know it must be hard for you, trying to hide something so big. So… if you ever wanted to talk,” Zenitsu continued awkwardly. “Uh, sorry— I know you can’t speak, and that must be lonely, I can’t even imagine… what I mean is—” 

Tanjirou tilted his head at the blonde, curious. 

“You can talk to me! The thing is— I know this is really freaky and weird again, and I’m sorry—” 

Tanjioru gave Zenitsu a reprimanding look. He didn’t like how Zenitsu kept referring to himself and his abilities with that word. It was so demeaning. 

“—but if I try really hard, actually… I can—” he cut off again, hesitating. He bit his lip, before he continued slowly. “If I try really hard, I can pretty much hear… what other people are thinking. Not literally , but I could get a pretty good idea. If I just try really hard! Obviously I never use it on people, that would be really bad and basically breaking boundaries, not to mention creepy— but if you give me permission, if you wanted to try, we can maybe… talk that way?” 

What? No way. If what Zenitsu was talking about was really true, then that meant Zenitsu’s hearing was truly out of this world, far beyond what Tanjirou’s nose could do for him. Was such a thing really possible? Tanjirou had not had a proper conversation in over two years. Nods and grunts were barely a two-way exchange, and the sign language he had made with Nezuko was, while useful, still immensely limiting. He had not had a conversation where he could simply speak his mind freely in a very long time. The idea of it was daunting now. Even so… he wanted to try. 

He gave Zenitsu a solemn nod, but even then, he was trying not to get his hopes up. Zenitsu’s eyes lit up, and the blonde boy nodded back. Tanjirou hesitated, before he projected his thoughts, warily asking in his head, Can you… hear me? 

“Y-Yeah,” Zenitsu said with a shy smile. “I think so.” 

Something wet dripped down Tanjirou’s cheek. 

Zenitsu gasped. “Eek! Tanjirou, why are you crying?! Did I do something wrong? Did I hear it wrong? I’m sorry!” 

Tanjirou could not help but let out a soft giggle, even as the tears continued to fall. He tried to wipe away the tears with the back of his hand, but they kept trickling down, all the frustrations of the past two years hitting him, all the emotions he had suppressed. He had not realized how much he missed the act of talking to someone until now. It was such a small, inane thing to be this overwhelmed about, but someone who was not in Tanjirou’s shoes would not understand. Zenitsu was truly amazing, in more ways than one. 

The blonde boy in question was still apologizing. Tanjirou smiled. 

It’s not you, he projected in his thoughts. It’s just that… can we keep talking like this, for a while longer? 

Zenitsu blinked. “If that’s what you want… I don’t mind.”

Chapter Text

They ended up talking late into the night, sitting in the engawa, with only the light of the moon as their illumination. While Tanjirou was unsure about going back inside the manor to talk, worried that they might be overheard, Zenitsu assured him that he would hear it if Nezuko or Inosuke woke up, or if Hisa approached. Now that he knew the superhuman extent of Zenitsu’s hearing, Tanjirou did not doubt him. 

Feeling as though he owed Zenitsu just for being there in his moment of weakness, Tanjirou ended up talking about anything and everything— from his life back in the snowy mountains at home to the night that ruined it all to the resulting training in Mt. Sagiri to the journey to find a cure. Everything. He wasn’t sure how much of it Zenitsu actually understood, but the blonde proved to be a good listener. He nodded at certain points, smiled at Tanjirou’s small jokes, and asked questions for clarification. It was as if Tanjirou was truly talking to someone, even though a single word did not pass his lips. It was great. It was magical. 

“I don’t think you should try to eat human food anymore, Tanjirou,” Zenitsu told him as soon as he ran out of things to say. Or think. “You should just tell Nezuko-chan your body couldn’t handle it, so the two of us could cover for you. Inosuke is such a self-absorbed moron, he probably won’t even notice you’re not eating.” 

Tanjirou thought about that, tilting his head. You really think that would work? 

“Sure,” Zenitsu waved off his concern. “It’s better than upsetting your stomach three or four times a day. That thing back there, with you having to throw it back up? That absolutely must not happen anymore, okay? Think about Nezuko-chan. She would be so worried.” 

Tanjirou supposed he was right. Having to go through that everyday would be very troublesome. No matter how hard Tanjirou tried to hide it, Nezuko would eventually find out. He nodded.

Zenitsu smiled, giving him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “We’ll distract Inosuke somehow! Nezuko-chan and I will team up!” After that, his voice became dreamy. “Ah~ Maybe Nezuko-chan and I will become closer with this. Nezuko-chan relying on me— maybe Nezuko-chan and I could fall in love!” Tanjirou gently flicked Zenitsu’s forehead with his fingers. It seemed to snap him out of his burgeoning daydream, and Zenitsu laughed awkwardly. “But I suppose you don’t really approve of me as her suitor, do you? You gave off that impression, especially with your sound…” 

Really? He didn’t think he had been very obvious about his disapproval of Zenitsu, but he supposed the blonde could hear it. Tanjirou thought about it more. It was true that he didn’t like Zenitsu at first, but that was before tonight. That was before he truly understood what kind of person Zenitsu was. Sure, he had his flaws, and Tanjirou did not like the way he proposes marriage to random women, but if Zenitsu was going to be faithful to Nezuko,  knowing what he knew of Zenitsu now… 

Tanjirou had to admit Zenitsu wasn’t half-bad as a person.

He smiled at the blonde. No, I don’t disapprove. If you can make her happy… why not? 

Zenitsu’s eyes widened. He certainly did not expect that. He seemed to be caught between gratitude and shock, as he took both of Tanjirou's hands in his. “I’ll do my best! Tanjirou… no, Onii-san!” 

It’s way too early to call me that, Tanjirou thought with an unimpressed deadpan. If you don’t stop, I’ll change my mind.

“Tanjirouuuu!” Zenitsu amended, hugging him tight. Ah, this boy was so ridiculous. Tanjirou let out a chuckle as he let himself be embraced. It was then that he realized that the skies were lightening, turning more blue than the night sky’s indigo. The sun was rising. They had ended up talking all night. Tanjirou felt a little bad for keeping Zenitsu awake for all these hours, but from the way the blonde was acting, he didn’t seem to mind. He kept hugging the demon, talking about how he would not waste the trust Tanjirou has given him, how he would make Nezuko the happiest girl on earth—

The morning silence was cut off by an enthusiastic yell, “Fight me!” 

Zenitsu screeched in surprise, clinging tighter onto Tanjitou in alarm. He turned his head in the direction of the voice— Inosuke, of course, who was now standing up and stretching his body to warm it up— and frowned, finally letting go of the demon as he yawned. “Oh, it’s just you. You really are a weirdo, aren’t you? Why are you picking up a fight so early in the morning?”

“Weak creatures get trampled!” Inosuke reasoned as he settled into a fighting stance. “Fighting beasts and getting stronger and stronger— it’s the way of nature!” 

“Yeah, yeah,” Zenitsu yawned again. 

Nezuko stirred from the commotion, letting out a soft groan as she lifted her head. She rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times, realizing that everyone was already up and about. She smiled. “Good morning, everyone.” 

“Good morning, Nezuko-chan~” Zenitsu replied with hearts in his eyes.

“Fight me!” Inosuke kept insisting. 

“I would love to, Inosuke-san, but I’m still recovering,” Nezuko replied, sitting up and pulling her yukata closer to her body. “A mock battle would be a great exercise to start the day for sure, but I don’t want to reopen my wounds.” 

“Gah! Weak ass shits,” Inosuke grumbled, displeased. “I could take you all on, even while injured!”

“Please don’t,” Nezuko seriously replied. “Exacerbating injuries could be deadly, you know.”

“As if the Great Hashibira Inosuke could be taken down by something like that!” Inosuke replied, sounding very sure of himself. He turned his head in Tanjirou’s direction, pointing at him decisively. “You! Gonpachirou!” 

Who’s Gonpachirou? Tanjirou wondered. 

“You’re not injured, aren’t cha? Fight me! For real, this time!”

Oh. He supposed he was Gonpachirou. Okay. Tanjirou thought about it. While he wasn’t opposed to having a rematch with the boar boy, he had to admit he was not in mint condition. He had just pulled an all-nighter, and while all he did was sit down and talk (think?) all night, the lack of sleep was still getting to him, regardless. Zenitsu was already slipping into his futon with another yawn, presumably to take a nap, since resting was all they had to do in this manor, really. Tanjirou was tempted to do the same. He wouldn’t have any problems sparring with Inosuke… but he wanted to at least catch some Zs first.

He started to project his thoughts— no. Only Zenitsu could understand him like that, with the blonde’s superhuman hearing. Signing? No, only Nezuko knew the sign language they had created. How to communicate with Inosuke… Tanjirou remembered the fountain pen Yushiro had given him, taking it out with some pieces of paper. With that he quickly wrote down his message, before handing the paper to Inosuke with an apologetic smile. 

“Hah?” the boar boy looked puzzled, as he glared at the sheet on his hands. “Are you mocking me? This is useless! I don’t know how to read or write!” 

“So hopeless,” Zenitsu grumbled with a roll of his eyes. 

“Be nice!” Nezuko scolded as she stood up, walking over to grab the piece of paper Inosuke was holding. Tanjirou smiled at his sister sheepishly as she read it, relaying the information over to Inosuke, “Onii-chan says he would be more than happy to spar with you after he takes a nap.”

Nezuko handed the paper back to the boar boy, who stared at it quizzically and mouthed the words, as if he was trying to unlock the mysteries behind the characters. He seemed no longer interested in fighting at the moment, instead fixated on studying the strokes of Tanjirou’s pen. Tanjirou and Nezuko looked up and met each other’s gazes. An idea was starting to form between them, born from the interest that Inosuke’s face was showing. Unsure, Tanjirou signed, Need help? 

Nezuko shook her head and signed back, Go sleep. I’ll handle it. 

Suddenly, Inosuke crumpled the paper with a grumble. Nezuko took that as her cue. “Inosuke-san, would you like to learn?” 

“Hah?” Inosuke sounded annoyed. 

“To read and write… would you like to learn?” Nezuko clarified. She wasn’t a stranger to these kinds of things. As she was usually the one staying home to take care of their younger siblings, she was usually the one who had to teach them to read and write as well. Tanjirou figured Inosuke would be in good hands, having Nezuko as his teacher. 

Inosuke sputtered. “I-I don’t need to learn those!” 

“But would you like to?” 

Inosuke hesitated. As Tanjirou settled down on a futon and closed his eyes, he thought he heard Inosuke mumble a soft, “Sure.”

Time moves faster when you have little to do, Tanjirou quickly realized. Sleeping, eating and relaxing was pretty much all they did in the manor. Weeks passed in relative harmony, with Zenitsu and Inosuke’s bickering being the usual highlight of the day, broken apart by Tanjirou and Inosuke’s occasional sparring matches. Nezuko, ever the peacekeeper, always told the two to be nicer to each other, but truthfully, Tanjirou was quite entertained. Inosuke and Zenitsu complained about each other often, but it wasn’t like they were malicious about it. There was a certain comfort to the idea of a group of people so used and comfortable with each other that they did not bother to filter their words. It reminded Tanjirou of their family, in a way. He supposed this was how it felt to have close friends. He did not really have much of those in the past, so focused he was on providing for their family. It was nice. 

As promised, Zenitsu let Nezuko in on the whole ‘Tanjirou could not digest human food’ dilemma. Nezuko got mad that Tanjirou was once again trying to hide his demonic troubles from her, but was pacified when Tanjirou reassured her that he wasn’t going to force himself to eat human food any longer. Zenitsu was right— Inosuke didn’t seem to notice or mind when Tanjirou skips a meal or signs that he had already eaten. When he did eat with the three of them, he made sure to only eat meat and give away or leave the other food items on his plate. It was a relief to find out that while he couldn’t handle rice or vegetables, he could eat meat just fine. He supposed it’s because they were similar enough to human flesh. It still made him feel a little weird and settled heavy in his gut, but he did not need to throw it up. That’s something, at least.

Nezuko had made it her personal pet project to teach Inosuke how to read and write. They did not have anything else to do anyway, so why not? To Inosuke’s credit, he was a fast learner, and while his way of thinking was often bizarre and simplistic, he was not slow or dumb at all. He was quite smart, actually. With only a few weeks of Nezuko’s education he was already learning how to read simple sentences and  how to write all their names. Inosuke wouldn’t admit it, but he seemed to be enjoying the learning process despite being occasionally frustrated by it. He was a good student, Nezuko privately shared with Tanjirou one night. Nezuko was having fun teaching him, too. 

It was a few days into their fifth week in the manor when Matsuemon flew to their location, holding a pretty big package in its claws. Tanjirou was the one who intercepted it, having spent the morning meditating in the engawa, while the three demon slayers chatted about random stuff inside their room. He took the package with a grateful smile, patting the Kasugai Crow’s head a little, before standing up and walking inside. Nezuko was the first to notice him, eyes widening curiously. “Onii-chan?” 

Tanjirou smiled and handed the package to her. He signed, Matsuemon brought this, and Nezuko nodded, unwrapping the package right then and there. Inside, a black fabric was revealed, as well as a small envelope. Nezuko took the fabric and lifted it out. It was, unsurprisingly, a demon slayer uniform. They had been expecting it for a while, given that the Tsuzumi Mansion’s demon had ruined Nezuko’s old one. They could try to fix it of course, it was not unsalvageable, but the uniform was made with a special kind of fabric, and there was little point in trying to mend it with ordinary thread. Nezuko folded the uniform and took the envelope curiously. Tanjirou wondered what was inside. Perhaps there was another letter from Kagaya? Nezuko opened it and peeked inside, and as soon as she did, her mouth gaped. 

“M-Money,” Nezuko stuttered. “Hold on, this is a lot of money!” 

“No shit,” Inosuke replied, unsurprised. 

Zenitsu looked confused. “I mean, yeah? It’s a demon slayer’s salary. I received mine the other day.” 

“Demon slayers get salaries?” Nezuko asked, surprised. Tanjirou was surprised as well. He had figured that the Demon Slayer Corps would provide for their demon slayers so they’d have money for food and inns, but it did not quite hit him what that meant.

“Of course we do. Demon slaying is a job. A very demanding, dangerous job at that. We’re basically mercenaries here. Or soldiers, I guess,” Zenitsu replied. “If we didn’t get some sort or monetary pay, there would be fewer demon slayers. Not everyone is willing to put their lives on the line for revenge or justice, you know. Sometimes people just do it because they can and it’s profitable,” Zenitsu shrugged. 

That was such a bleak way of looking at demon slayers, but Tanjirou supposed it made sense. Not everyone had a demon brother who needs a cure. Not everyone had a personal vendetta for the strongest demon of all. Everyone had a different reason for why they took the sword. Even Zenitsu and Inosuke had vastly different reasons for fighting. And if some demon slayers do it for money, could Tanjirou really blame them? 

“It is a lot of money though, I’ve never held this much all my life,” Nezuko said nervously. “I should save it, shouldn’t I?”

Or, Tanjirou signed, remembering Nezuko’s ruined haori, you could go into town. Buy yourself something nice. 

Something passed Nezuko’s face, a small realization. She stared at the money for a long moment, before she eventually nodded, a determined set on her jaw. She suddenly stood up, saying, “I’m going to go to town for a while. I think Hisa-san mentioned one nearby?” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened. He did suggest it, but he didn’t expect Nezuko to do it right now. By yourself? he signed. I’ll come with. 

“No, it’s alright.” Nezuko said with a smile. “I won’t take too long, Onii-chan. I’ll be home before the sun sets, so don’t worry about it.”

Inosuke, already bored with the conversation, pulled out one of the books they had borrowed from Hisa, mumbling under his breath as he tried to read it. Zenitsu looked back and forth between the siblings, before he eventually offered, “I can come with you if you want, Nezuko-chan.”

Nezuko shook her head. “I’ll be quick, really!” And with that, she was off. She seemed to move with a purpose, with a certain resolve, so Tanjiro figured it was best not to stop her. Whatever it was that she wanted to do, he would just let her be and see. He was glad at least that she seemed to take his suggestion of buying something nice for herself though. He wondered what kind of haori she would pick for herself. Pink suited her, so maybe she should get something with a cherry blossom pattern? Or maybe she would pick their family’s trademark checkered pattern? Nothing made Tanjirou happier than seeing his siblings in new, better-fitting clothes. It would have been nice if he was the one who worked to provide them, though. 

“Hey, Monitsu, how’d you read this character?” Inosuke asked. Zenitsu walked over to peek at his book. 

“Oh, that’s easy. You see…” 

By the time the sun set, Nezuko was indeed back. She had a huge smile on her face, signaling a successful trip. As soon as she entered the room, she showed off her haul— she gave a children’s book to Inosuke, a small bag of birdseed for Zenitsu’s sparrow—and with a huge grin she walked over to her older brother and pulled out an almost familiar blue scarf from her yukata, wrapping it around the demon’s neck. Tanjirou blinked, not quite understanding, as he was engulfed with the softness of the fabric. Nezuko giggled at his reaction. 

“I couldn’t get something with the exact same color as the one you had, but this’ll do, won’t it?” she asked. “I know Onii-chan really liked that other one, but I hope this will suffice.”

Oh. Tanjirou finally understood. She bought a replacement for the scarf he shredded to bandage her injuries with. Tanjirou smiled at his sister in gratitude, signing a Thank you. Nezuko’s smile widened. 

“And for me, I bought this!” She gleefully pulled out another package from her yukata, showing off what seemed to be a sewing kit with a couple of needles and many spools of different colored threads. Tanjirou tilted his head, confused. Why didn’t she buy herself a new haori? What would she need that sewing kit for? He realized as soon as she walked over to a corner where they put their belongings and pulled out her ruined haori though. Tanjirou frowned, disapproving. 

You should have gotten a new one, he signed. 

Nezuko blinked and stared at the haori, as if buying a new one never occurred to her. With a smile, she replied, “A new one would never be as special as this one.” 

Tanjirou was confused. 

“Onii-chan made me this haori, after all!”

Oh. Nezuko could be so sentimental. Tanjirou sighed, shaking his head in disbelief. 

Well, whatever makes her happy, he supposed. He promised to himself that one day, when he’s back to human and could once again provide for her, he would buy her a beautiful kimono, so that she would finally stop wearing this one that she had worn and mended over and over for years. The rips and tears in this kimono-turned-haori were pretty big this time, but Nezuko didn’t seem to mind. She was already talking about how she’s planning to use embroidery to seal the slashes, using some patterns that she’s learned from their mother to make the old haori look prettier. She was planning to work on mending it for the rest of their stay in the manor. She didn’t have much else to do, anyway.

By the time they were leaving the Wisteria House, Nezuko had completely fixed her haori. There, on her back, was an embroidery of a cherry blossom branch, twigs twisting and splitting off to give way to beautiful cherry blossoms, blooming and flowering in different shades of pink. Nezuko truly did have a talent for embroidery. Tanjirou couldn’t help but be proud. 

And he had to admit, even though he won’t say it out loud— it felt good for Nezuko to treasure his meager gift so much. He promised to treasure the scarf she’d given him just as much. 

Chapter Text

The morning they received the mission to go to Mt. Natagumo was the same morning that the doctor Hisa had brought them examined Zenitsu’s ribs and Nezuko’s back and deemed both of them fully healed. Tanjirou wondered if Matsuemon set the timing on purpose, but maybe that was giving too much credit to the Kasugai Crow. As they geared up for their next mission, the crow continued to caw, “North-northeast, north-northeast! Your next mission is north-northeast! The four of you are going to Mt. Natagumo. Head to Mt. Natagumo!” 

“We hear you loud and clear, Matsuemon-san,” Nezuko assured the crow patiently. It did not stop annoyingly repeating the same lines. 

“Head to Mt. Natagumo! North-northeast!” 

“Let’s eat it,” Inosuke decided, poking the bird with his sword. Nezuko yelled an offended “hey!” on principle, but even she seemed to be relieved when the Kasugai Crow finally let them be, flying away to save its life from Inosuke’s threats. Inosuke looked smug to see it go. Tanjirou hid a small smile under his muzzle.

“So we’re going on a mission now, huh. I suppose we can’t stay in this manor forever,” Zenitsu said dejectedly as he wore his haori. 

“We have to leave anyway. We’re already fully healed, and we can’t leech off their generosity any longer,” Nezuko replied with a shrug. “Let’s go, everyone.” 

They said their goodbyes to Hisa, thanking her profusely for all the help she had given them. Even in their last moments with each other, Hisa proved to be a kind and thoughtful old lady, as she had even done a purification ceremony for them— striking sparks for good luck in battle. Inosuke had almost attacked her in her attempt, the boar boy not understanding what she was trying to do, but Nezuko was there to quickly explain it to him. In the weeks they had spent together, the boar boy had started to respect Nezuko as something like a teacher, and Nezuko was more than happy to expound on things Inosuke did not understand due to his upbringing. 

The lesson continued on even after they left, as Inosuke started asking what things like “great pride” and “luck in battle” meant, why Hisa was praying for their safety when she had nothing to do with them, etc., etc. Mind you, Inosuke did not word his questions nicely at all. He was actually kind of rude to the old lady. If it was Tanjirou, he probably would have gotten mad and ignored the boar boy for the rest of their trip. But Nezuko was Nezuko, patient and understanding Nezuko, and she did her best to explain all these foreign concepts to Inosuke, even if it was hard.

And just like that, they continued onwards to Mt. Natagumo, and by the time the mountain was in their view, the sun had already set. 

“Hold up!” Zenitsu called out. “Would you mind waiting a second?” 

Nezuko, Tanjirou and Inosuke halted on their tracks, turning around only to see Zenitsu sitting down on the ground, cradling his knees close to himself with a very serious look on his face. 

“Zenitsu-san…?” Nezuko asked, confused. Zenitsu seemed to take that as his cue to wail. 

“I’m scared, okay?! Now that we’re nearing our destination, I’m so scared!”

Inosuke placed his hands on his hips judgingly. “Why the hell is he sitting? How creepy is that?” 

“Who are you to talk, Pig Face?! Don’t tell me you’re not getting any vibes from that mountain!” Zenitsu said as he pointed at Mt. Natagumo, looming in the darkness before them. The other three glanced at the mountain behind them, and Tanjirou had to admit that Zenitsu kind of had a point. The mountain itself seemed to beget an aura of doom and malice about it— it’s not the kind of place one would want to find themselves in. Unfortunately, that mountain was their destination, their mission, the place where the demons they had to slay reside. Tanjirou understood that Zenitsu was scared, but there was just no way around it. They had to go to Mt. Natagumo. 

“I understand that you’re scared, but just sitting there won’t do us any good, Zenitsu-san. We need to move forward,” Nezuko chided. 

“Don’t you think I know that?! Of course I do! Just give me a moment, okay?!” 

“I told you he’s creepy,” Inosuke commented. 

“That’s not very nice,” Nezuko scolded him. 

Tanjirou stepped closer towards his friend, crouching in order to go down on his level. He tilted his head questioningly at the scared boy, reaching his hand out as if to say, Let’s go together. Zenitsu let out more scared wails, clutching at Tanjirou’s hand like a lifeline. 

“Tanjirouuuuu! I’m not cut out for fighting! I’ll die! You’ll protect me, won’t you? Please protect me, Tanjirou!” 

Tanjirou nodded. He still did not know why Zenitsu had such a bad self-confidence (he did not believe that Zenitsu was as weak as he says, there was just no way), but if he needed his hand to be held as they walk into such a dangerous place, Tanjirou was more than willing to do the job. He held Zenitsu’s hand firmly as he stood and pulled him up along with him, the blond boy letting out sniffles as he rubbed away the tears in his eyes. Inosuke seemed to be unimpressed, Nezuko looked worried, but when Tanjirou signed, I’ll handle Zenitsu, she seemed to finally relax. 

At least until Tanjirou caught the whiff of it. For just a moment, the sour smell of the demon was so putrid, he immediately turned his head in the direction of it. 


“What’s the matter?” Zenitsu asked. Tanjirou ignored the two of them and suddenly ran in the direction of the scent, closer towards the mountain. His companions ran along with him (Zenitsu with a lot of hesitation, but Tanjirou was pulling at his hand so he had no choice), until they found a fallen demon slayer in the middle of the road, lying injured and crying. The scent of the demon clung to him for some reason, making Tanjirou hesitate, but Nezuko was already running past him, hurrying to help her comrade in need. 

“Are you alright?!” Nezuko asked in alarm, surveying the man for any injuries. The man let out a grunt. 

“H-Help me…” 

Something glinted near the man’s back, something that looked like strings, and Tanjirou immediately pulled Nezuko close to him as it seemed like the strings turned taut, pulling the fallen demon slayer up in the air. The poor slayer let out a scream, yelling out, “They were attached to me, too! Help me!” to no avail. It was a disturbing sight to see him get swallowed by the darkness and the foliage of the tall trees, not to be seen again. Zenitsu seemed to think so too, as he was back to gasping in terror, hands on his mouth in horror. Nezuko looked pale, and Inosuke… well, it was always hard to gauge his emotions, especially while he was wearing his boar mask. 

The smell of blood wafted in the air. Tanjirou was grateful it was only him who had such a good sense of smell. His companions were spared the knowledge of the poor demon slayer’s demise. His hand shook, eventually closing into a fist. 

They had to slay the demon in this mountain. It was the only way they could stop them from causing more deaths. 

“N-N-Never mind! I’m not going there after all! This is too much! I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna !” Zenitsu cried out, utterly terrified. Tanjirou felt for him. He was already wary of this mission from the beginning, seeing this kind of terrible display was surely too much for his weak heart. The blonde boy was back on the ground curled up, shivering in fear. 

“I’ll go ahead,” Inosuke muttered, walking towards the mountain with a purpose and drawing his swords. “You can follow me, shivering. This is making me hungry.” 

Zenitsu whined, “This is challenging enough for you, right?” 

Inosuke let out a war cry. “Let’s go!” And with that, he started running towards the mountain. 

“Wait— Inosuke-san! It’s too dangerous to go on your own… Inosuke-san!” Nezuko called after him, worried, but the boar boy wasn’t letting anything or anyone stop him. Nezuko turned to Tanjirou, unsure on what to do. Should they follow Inosuke who had continued on ahead, or stay and try to coax Zenitsu into getting over his fear so they could all go together? Tanjirou crouched down to Zenitsu’s level, pulling at Zenitsu’s haori with aggressive ‘mmph’s. While he understood that the blonde truly was terrified, it was no excuse to not go through with the mission at all. And he called himself a demon slayer? Unfortunately, Zenitsu was not budging, shaking his head profusely, begging to be spared. 

Tanjirou looked up at Nezuko helplessly. Nezuko’s hand was on the hilt of her sword, her expression anxious. She kept looking back to the path Inosuke had taken, eager to follow after him. Tanjirou was not surprised. Nezuko had developed quite a mentor-like relationship with the boar boy, with the way that she had seemed to take it upon herself to teach him the things his upbringing did not allow him to know. She was younger than Inosuke, but she felt a little bit responsible for him. Tanjirou sighed, coming up with a decision on their current dilemma. 

Go ahead, he signed, with no little hesitation. He did not like the idea of the two of them getting separated, as a repeat of the Nezuko’s injuries on the last mission was very much unwelcome, but Tanjirou had gotten quite close with Inosuke and Zenitsu in their long stay in the Wisteria House, and he liked the idea of leaving them on their own even less. Kagaya sent the four of them to this mountain for a reason. Either there were multiple demons in this mountain, like the case with their last mission, or the demon was crazy powerful, and they were all expected to work together to defeat them.  It would be foolish, not to mention dangerous, to venture up the mountain on your own.  Zenitsu and I will follow after you, he continued. 

“Are you sure?” Nezuko asked, worried. 

Tanjirou nodded. I’ll find you. I’ll follow your scent. 

Nezuko nodded. “Alright. Be careful, Onii-chan!” 

You too.

And with that, Nezuko ran forward, following the path Inosuke had taken. Tanjirou looked back to Zenitsu, who was still wheezing from the intensity of his crying and wailing. Tanjirou waited for him to stop and regain some of his composure, before he tugged once again on his sleeves and tapped his own temple twice— a sign the two of them had made to let Zenitsu know that he had something to say and wanted the blonde boy to listen to his thoughts.

Zenitsu, Tanjirou tried, but Zenitsu wasn’t listening. ZENITSU! He tried again, tapping his temples with more fervor. 

Thankfully, the blonde seemed to finally notice it. Staring at Tanjirou with tears in his amber eyes, Zenitsu stuttered, “T-Tanjirou?” 

Tanjirou sighed, staring back at Zenitsu with a concerned gaze. He met his eyes evenly, not angry, nor judgemental or disappointed. Just a kind, gentle expression, filled with genuine compassion. Zenitsu seemed to relax at the sight of it, his shoulders untensing. 

Zenitsu, Tanjirou softly chided, once he was sure that the blonde was now listening to him. You’re acting very uncool right now, you know?

“You say that as if I’ve ever acted cool,” Zenitsu replied in a self-deprecating manner, rubbing his damp eyes with the sleeve of his haori.

Of course you do, Tanjirou replied without hesitation. When you threw yourself in front of me and the kids when Inosuke accused me of being a demon, when you told me you knew my secret and asked if Nezuko did, too— I think you were pretty cool back then, you know.

Zenitsu raised his head, looking at Tanjirou doubtfully. Tanjirou sighed. 

I know you’re afraid, but isn’t it about time to man up and face the life you’ve chosen? 

“I didn’t choose this life, you know!” Zenitsu counterpointed. “Jii-chan forced me to! You have no idea how many times I wanted to give up, how many times I’ve tried to run— he always kept stopping me and dragging me back. Jii-chan—” 

— didn’t force you to become a demon slayer, not really, Tanjirou replied thoughtfully. I mean, you’ve mentioned that he forced you to train, but you could have escaped him the day of the Final Selection. He would have just assumed you’ve died in the test if he didn’t hear from you afterward. But you didn’t. You still took the test and became a demon slayer, despite everything. Tanjirou leaned closer and nudged Zenitsu gently, a knowing look on his red eyes. Even though you’re afraid, even though you’re terrified… why? What made you want to push through? 

Zenitsu stared at the ground for a long time. Tanjirou patiently waited. Finally, Zenitsu mumbled, “... make him proud.”

“Mmph?” Tanjirou tilted his head, not quite understanding. 

“I wanted—” Zenitsu looked away, flushing scarlet. “I wanted to make Jii-chan proud, okay? I wanted to be— someone who deserved to be his student. I don’t want the time he invested in me to go to waste. I want— I want to be stronger, and stand on equal footing with Kaigaku-aniki, and become someone… someone I don’t hate.” Zenitsu’s hands clutched at his black pants, bunching up a bunch of fabric. “But it’s not easy, okay? It’s not easy. I’m weak and cowardly and pathetic! I’m not brave like you or Inosuke or Nezuko-chan! S-So…” he let out a deep sigh, sounding utterly defeated. “Just leave me here, Tanjirou. You want to be with Nezuko-chan, don’t you? Just leave me be.”

Don’t you want to protect Nezuko with me? Tanjirou tried. 

Zenitsu laughed humorlessly. “Nezuko-chan can take care of herself. She’s way stronger than me. She doesn’t need someone like me. It’s not like I managed to protect her back in the mansion, anyway. I’m useless.” 

Silence. Tanjirou stared at Zenitsu for a long moment, frustration creeping up his chest as he tried to think of a way to rouse Zenitsu to where they ought to go. He didn’t like this part of Zenitsu— the cowardly, self-deprecating Zenitsu who didn’t trust in his own strength, who didn’t trust in the hours he spent training his body to become a demon-slaying weapon. Tanjirou’s nose told him that Zenitsu was strong. Really strong. Which only made the frustration worse, because the blonde seemed to be unable to see it, to recognize his own hard work. 

Tanjirou grabbed Zenitsu by the shoulders, determination in his crimson eyes as he stared the blonde boy down with a stern gaze. Listen to me, Zenitsu, he started, his ‘inner voice’ (as he had started to call it) firm in a way that suggested he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Bravery doesn’t mean the lack of fear. It means feeling the fear, recognizing it, and running towards it anyway.  Zenitsu seemed to be under the impression that the rest of their group were never afraid. That was simply not true. He didn’t know about Inosuke, but Tanjirou in particular— he had a lot of things he was afraid of. He was afraid of losing his sister, afraid of losing his humanity. He was afraid of demons too, to a degree— they were strong and malicious and had a very good chance of taking away the person he treasured most— Nezuko, his only remaining family. That didn’t mean he was going to give up on fighting them, though. That didn’t mean he was going to cower. They had people to help, people to protect. As part of the Demon Slayer Corps, it was their responsibility.

Zenitsu needed to stop listening to the voice of fear inside him. Instead, he should start paying attention to the part of himself who wanted to make his mentor proud, who wanted to protect Nezuko, who wanted to become the person he had always wanted to be. Tanjirou’s grip tightened against the blonde boy’s shoulders, crimson eyes meeting amber, and Tanjirou continued in a very serious tone. Zenitsu, you can be brave too. I believe in you.

Zenitsu sniffled, unsure. “I-I don’t—”

You can be brave too! Tanjirou insisted. I believe in you! 

“I-I don’t think—” 

You just have to do it, one step at a time! Tanjirou stood up, putting his left hand on his hip, his right hand reaching out— urging the blonde boy to take his hand and stand up with him. I know you can do it! 

Zenitsu didn’t budge. He still looked miserable. “Tanjirou—”

I. Know. You. Can. Do. It, Tanjirou insisted, waving his outstretched hand in front of the blonde boy’s face. Zenitsu hesitated, but Tanjirou kept waving his hand. Eventually, the blonde boy’s expression softened. He reluctantly took the demon’s hand, standing up and dusting off his pants and haori. He looked up at the mountain fearfully, uncertain. 

“I-I don’t know, Tanjirou. That mountain… it’s really creepy.” 

I’ll be with you every step of the way, Tanjirou reassured. He didn’t let go of Zenitsu’s hand, instead tightening his hold on it. Zenitsu let out a squeak but did not protest. Instead, he smelled comforted. 

They started walking towards the mountain. 

“Y-You won’t leave me, right, Tanjirou?” Zenitsu whispered. 


“You’ll protect me, won’t you?” 

Of course. 

Chapter Text

“Nezuko-chan! Inosuke!” Zenitsu called out, cupping his mouth with his hands so that his voice could resonate. Tanjirou followed after him, looking around anxiously, trying to sniff his way back to his little sister, to no avail. It seemed he had overestimated his abilities, this time. He had thought that he would have no problem locating Nezuko and Inosuke with his sense of smell, but up in the mountain, the sour scent of the demons were getting in the way, overpowering his sensitive nose. Every few minutes the wind would change, bringing along new, different smells along with it, heavy and cloying and generally unpleasant. There had to be at least five demons in this mountain, and that did not bode well. Tanjirou wanted to find his sister as soon as possible. 

“I’m sorry, Tanjirou,” Zenitsu said, sounding very much ashamed. “If I wasn’t such a wimp, we wouldn’t have gotten separated…” 

While that was true in a way, Tanjirou would not let his friend down-talk himself once again. He waved his hand in dismissal. It’s alright. Inosuke shouldn’t have ventured out on his own anyway. 


Let’s just focus on finding them, okay? Can you hear them anywhere? 

“Hmm~” Zenitsu closed his eyes, his eyebrows wrinkling as he tried that. In the end, he sighed. “I can’t. I keep hearing all these little, clicking noises… like bugs scattering on the ground... ” he looked around, noting the way that most of the trees in the area were covered with a lot of thin, wispy webs. “It must be spiders, right? I don’t know why but this mountain seems full of them. That’s not normal, right?” he asked anxiously. 

Tanjirou remembered what he saw of the demon slayer they met at the foot of the mountain. The nearly-transparent strings on his back that went taut. They looked too much like a spider’s thread. He shook his head. Definitely not normal. 

From a distance, a couple of crows took flight, creating a sudden loud noise. Zenitsu let out an ‘eek!’ and gasped, immediately clinging to Tanjirou. Tanjirou let him. It was obvious that the mountain still creeped the blonde boy out, but having Tanjirou around seemed to reassure him. The demon was happy to be of any help. Zenitsu was quite high-strung, but he wasn’t unpleasant company. 

“B-Birds,” Zenitsu stuttered. Tanjirou gave him a moment, and eventually the blonde boy cleared his throat and let go, looking a bit embarrassed. “What was that? You know, this is starting to make me mad! We better find Inosuke and Nezuko-chan soon, so we can kiss this creepy mountain goodbye! And then, so long, scary forest!” 

We still have to defeat the demons, but that’s the spirit, Tanjirou replied, unable to keep himself from patting the blonde boy’s head. He felt quite proud of him for pushing himself. Tanjirou felt like an older brother watching a younger sibling grow, even though Zenitsu was older than him by a year. Zenitsu flushed scarlet once again, seemingly embarrassed, before he swatted Tanjirou’s hands off, painfully reminding the demon boy of his little brother, Takeo. He didn’t like being patted on the head, either. Tanjirou smiled sadly. 

They walked further into the forest.

“Nezuko-chan! Inosuke!” Zenitsu continued yelling. “This isn’t working. We’ll never find them like this,” he eventually said after a few more minutes of wandering around.

I have an idea, Tanjirou started. If we head towards the demons, maybe we’ll run into them. 

Zenitsu screeched in protest. “You want to head towards the demons?! Are you insane?!” 

Instead of wandering aimlessly, we better start fighting and making sure Inosuke and Nezuko have one less demon to worry about, don’t you think? Tanjirou reasoned. I’m worried for Nezuko, yes, but we went to this mountain for a reason. 

“I-I suppose you’re right… I don’t really want to go looking for trouble but—” Zenitsu hesitated. Tanjirou gave him a serious look. Zenitsu sighed. “Okay, okay! I get it! I’m a demon slayer, this is the life I chose, blah blah blah.” 

I have your back, Tanjirou promised, before he pointed in the direction of a smell that’s been bothering him since they walked into this mountain. Something really stinks that way. Let’s go? 

“You’re still insane,” Zenitsu replied, before unsheathing his sword halfway from its scabbard and popping it back, seemingly in a nervous gesture. Tanjirou had just enough time to see the beautiful golden blade shine in the moonlight, the lightning pattern catching his eye, before the blade was back in its sheath. His crimson eyes widened.

Your sword is beautiful, Tanjirou commented. It was the first time he had seen it.

“You’re just trying to butter me up before you throw me to the demons,” Zenitsu grumbled. 

No, seriously. It is, Tanjirou said with a smile as they walked towards the direction he had pointed. It’s just as beautiful as your soul, as beautiful as you are as a person, Zenitsu. 

Zenitsu blushed for the nth time that night. At this point, Tanjirou was enjoying turning him red. “Don’t you get embarrassed of the things you say?!” 

Technically, I am not saying it, Tanjirou replied cheekily. 

They spent the trip towards the demon just like that, with Tanjirou distracting Zenitsu from his crippling fear. It seemed to be working, with the way Zenitsu was replying to their banter, even as they got closer and closer to their destination. The scent of the demon got stronger and stronger. At one point, Tanjirou figured it was prudent to unsheathe his katana fully. Zenitsu looked alarmed by this action, stuttering, “A-Are we getting close?” 

Yes, Tanjirou confirmed. It was then that he felt a pinprick, right on his thumb, on the hand that wasn’t holding his sword. Tanjirou winced, curiously looking down at it. He was just able to make out the small body of a white spider before it all but skittered away. A spider bite? He frowned at his thumb, tilting it up to the moonlight. He could not even see the bite itself— it was so small— but something about it gave him a pause. 

Ever since Tanjirou had been turned into a demon, he could feel his body processes more easily. Like the way he could tell that sleeping was changing something in his body two years ago, like the way he could tell his body was mending his broken bones while he was fighting the arrow demon weeks ago. And at the moment, he could sense it— the cells on his thumb scrambling to repair itself, in ways that did not match with a mere spider bite. It made him worry. 

Better safe than sorry, really. With an air of nonchalance that made Zenitsu gasp, Tanjirou lifted his sword and lopped off the tip of his bitten thumb, wincing at the pain as his dismembered flesh fell onto the grassy ground. Zenitsu screeched in alarm, but Tanjirou was not concerned, the bleeding stopping immediately thanks to his demonic nature. It took some time but by the time Zenitsu had stopped having a panic attack over his self-inflicted injury, Tanjirou’s thumb had already grown back, good as new. Thankfully, whatever the spider bite did to his finger did not linger. 

“What was that?!” Zenitsu demanded. 

Be careful. I think the spiders are poisonous, Tanjirou warned. 

“No— I don’t care about that! What the hell was that?!” 

Tanjirou frowned and gave the blonde a confused expression. I told you. The spiders were poisonous. It bit my thumb. 

“So you decide to just cut it off just like that?! You are insane!” 

I’m a demon, Tanjirou replied cluelessly. I heal quickly. 

“That doesn’t mean you should just chop off limbs and fingers without any preamble! Have you no sense of self-preservation?! Didn’t it hurt ?! Don’t you dare do something like that in front of Nezuko-chan, I tell you, she’ll be so worried— god, you are hopeless, you— you…!” 

Tanjirou stared at his thumb pensively. It did hurt, but only for a few moments. In a rational way, he understood why Zenitsu was freaking out about what he had done. He supposed it could be quite disturbing to humans, those who could not regrow appendages, those who heal so slowly. But Tanjirou was a demon, with a demon body, and while he may have a human mind and human emotions, sometimes it was just more practical to let his body get injured as a means to an end, especially when it would not take him long at all to recover. It was just like that time when he let the arrow demon twist his arm into oblivion, or the time he let Inosuke beat him up— he would heal anyway, so he didn’t mind. Should he have?

Suddenly, Tanjirou was very uncomfortable. He was coming to realize that when it came to bodily injuries, he had started to think in a very demon-like way. But that didn’t mean anything! It was inevitable that he was going to get used to his demon body, with the two years he had spent living in it. Tanjirou must not let himself get too used to it though. Even at this very moment, a medicine was being created to turn him back into a human. He won’t have this resilient, demon body forever— not like he wanted it anyway. 

I’m sorry, Zenitsu, he told the blonde boy with an uneasy smile. I won’t do it again. 

“You better not!” Zenitsu retorted, folding his arms in front of his chest. “It’s sooo creepy, and I get that you’re a demon but—” he abruptly stopped, rubbing his ear as he turned his head to look behind him, “What the hell is up with that, little creepy spiders making noise with all their spider legs, skittering and skittering over and over— so annoying—!” 

There was a big spider with a human head staring up at them. 

Zenitsu screeched, “Is this even possible?! No, no, noooo!” 

Blinking down at the spider, Tanjirou moved to walk closer. Zenitsu would not have it, hiding behind him and tugging at his haori as he continued to shriek and babble, “That’s a spider with a human face! That’s a spider with a human face! What’s up with that, what’s up with that?! Please be a dream, please be a dream, please be a dream!” 

Be quiet, Tanjirou softly scolded. But Zenitsu wasn’t having it. 

“If this can just be a dream, I promise to do my best! If I wake up to find myself resting my head in Nezuko-chan’s lap—”

Tanjirou slapped Zenitsu upside the head with an unimpressed stare. There was no reason for the blonde to continue to panic and even bring Nezuko’s name in yet another one of his famous panic attacks. The spider wasn’t even doing anything but just standing there, staring at them with a strangely blank, empty gaze. Having spent two years mute, Tanjirou liked to think he had come to understand voiceless creatures better, however strange they were. And this spider was definitely strange, but so far it had not shown the desire to bring them any harm.

With Zenitsu finally calming down, albeit still gasping for air, Tanjirou knelt down to the spider’s level. Zenitsu let out a squeak, “What are you doing, Tanjirou?” 

Tanjirou did not reply. He merely held out his hand to the spider, urging it to come closer. The spider blinked and seemed to hesitate, before it turned on its heel and scampered away. Tanjirou followed it with his eyes and saw how it stopped a certain distance from them, glanced back, and then continued on its way. 

“It left,” Zenitsu murmured. 

I think it wants us to follow it, Tanjirou replied, standing up. It’s going in the direction of the demon’s scent. Let’s go, Zenitsu. 

“You’re gonna trust a little spider-baby abomination like that?!” Zenitsu asked incredulously. 

It didn’t seem to be violent or malicious, and I’m sure there’s a reason why something like it exists. It could be related to a blood demon art, don’t you think? Tanjirou replied, getting impatient. He tugged at Zenitsu’s haori. Let’s go, before we lose it. 

“Okay, okay, fine!” Zenitsu replied, although he still looked quite pale. “I hope we’re not walking into our deaths…” 

And so, they followed. Just as Tanjirou had thought, it really did seem like the spider wanted them to follow it. It kept stopping every now and then and glancing behind at them, before continuing on its way. Aware of their poison, the two swatted the spiders trying to get a bite on them. As they got closer to their destination, Tanjirou’s hands tightened on the grip of his blade.

The more they walked, the more the scent of the demon got stronger, stinking to high heaven. Tanjirou’s eyes were watering with the intensity of the smell, overloading his already sensitive nose. Zenitsu kept complaining about it, too. Tanjirou wondered where all the stink was coming from. Demons usually smelled bad, sure, but they never smelled this bad. It was so bad it was making his throat ache, so bad he almost felt like he couldn’t breathe, but it was not like Tanjirou was not used to discomfort. He started breathing through his mouth, soldiering on. 

Soon enough, they arrived at their destination. 

Tanjirou was the first to see it. 

It was a clearing, the whole area illuminated by the light of the full moon. Thin, delicate lines of spider webs criss-crossed above, holding what looked like a small house up in the air like it weighed nothing, along with bodies of humans ( demon slayers, Tanjirou thought, noting the uniforms they were wearing) that seemed to be in the middle of an arachnid transformation— it was disturbing. What was more disturbing was the realization that the ‘spider-baby’ (as Zenitsu had dubbed it) they had been following must be a completed version of that very same transformation, meaning that the human-headed spider was once human… but how did they turn out that way? 

The answer was there as soon as Tanjirou noted the purplish marks along the bodies of those yet to be completely transformed. Some kind of poison. He remembered the poisonous spider bite he had encountered earlier, and was suddenly glad he managed to warn Zenitsu about that. He wasn’t too worried about himself on that front— he was a demon after all, and it’s unlikely that a transformative poison would work well with him and his regenerative capabilities. But Zenitsu was human and vulnerable. This demon could prove to be mighty dangerous.

Zenitsu gasped at the sight, his hands flying to his mouth to cover his mouth. They were shaking. “T-Tanjirou,” he whispered, uncertain. “Those people—” 

Something twitched in Tanjirou’s peripheral vision.

The demon boy moved before he could even really process it. The attack came from the side where Zenitsu was, and so he found himself elbowing Zenitsu out of the way, just in time for a purple, viscous liquid to get sprayed right where the blonde boy was standing. Zenitsu yelped as he hit the ground on his backside. Tanjirou hissed in pain through his muzzle. The majority of the liquid fell on the ground, but a substantial amount of it hit Tanjirou’s left arm, the liquid eating through his clothes and sinking into his skin. 

For a moment he couldn’t process anything other than it hurts it burns it hurts it burns— and distantly he heard someone cackling, laughing, delighting in his pain. Tanjirou blinked the spots out of his vision as he tried to focus, the stranger’s voice dripping with sadism as it rejoiced in his suffering, “Good try, good try! I almost got blondie there too! No matter— you’ll both be dying here, anyways.” 

Tanjirou stared at his smoking, injured arm. I need to be careful, too. Looking back, it was careless to think that the enemy had only one kind of poison. This one on his arm seems to be more like an acid-like kind of poison, and even now he could feel it burning into his flesh.  He gritted his teeth as he turned his head to look where the voice came from, and as soon as he did his eyes widened— he had never seen a demon so deformed and monstrous in his life. He looked like an enormous spider with a human head, not unlike the ‘spider-demon’ baby they had followed to this location. He was hanging upside down by a thread from one of the branches, continuing on his taunting, especially towards Zenitsu, who was gaping and cowering, “Or you could be part of my army! What do you say? It will be less painful than getting burned alive by my own poison, that’s for sure. Just thirty minutes and you will be allll better.” 

Tanjirou glanced at the people hanging from the threads in the clearing behind them, then at the clump of spider demon-babies scampering on the ground below, with those eerily blank looks in their eyes. None of them looked remotely close to ‘all better’. This demon had done this. This demon had caused all these suffering. Tanjirou tightened his grip on his sword. There was no time to lose. He took a deep breath. 

Hinokami Kagura. First Form, he started. Dance!

Chapter Text

Hinokami Kagura. First Form, he started. Dance!

Even before Tanjirou finished the movement, he knew it wasn’t going to connect. The demon had already noticed him moving from the corner of his eye, swinging his large body on the delicate thread, effortlessly evading the arc of Tanjirou’s blade that would have severed his neck. He was incredibly fast, cackling madly as he moved, before closing his mouth and puffing his cheeks— a sign that Tanjirou immediately interpreted as him preparing another spray of burning poison. Instinctively, Tanjirou lifted his hands to shield his face from the worst of it, but then there was a sudden crack in the air, his nose picking up the barest hint of ozone, and the next thing he knew he was moving, flying, no— being carried over Zenitsu’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes, the ground rushing underneath them. 

So fast! Tanjirou was amazed. The effect was only dampened with Zenitsu’s mumbles under his breath, frantic, terrified— 

“What the hell is that— spider demon monster— no, no, no, no— I can’t I can’t I can’t— gotta run, gotta run, gotta run—!” 

Zenitsu! Tanjirou’s thoughts yelled out, as soon as he realized that Zenitsu was not only evading the attack, but actually completely running away with him in tow, the blonde boy’s fear once again getting the best of him. The clearing from where the spider demon was situated was now a mere speck in the distance, and Tanjirou could not just let this past. Zenitsu was a demon slayer, and Tanjirou was as good as— it was simply graceless to run away from a fight. Urokodaki raised him better than that. Zenitsu, put me down!

“Noooo! I don’t want to! Didn’t you see that demon in there?! It’s scary as shit! Let’s just run away, Tanjirou! Please, please, please!”

No! Tanjirou insisted. Didn’t you see what he did to those demon slayers there? If we run away now, he’ll only hurt more people! He has to be stopped!


Zenitsu, Tanjirou could smell his own simmering anger emanating from him, and Zenitsu must hear it too— with a whimper, the blonde boy tilted his feet to skid through the dirt, using it as a brake to halt their movement. He set Tanjirou down on the ground, unable to meet his eyes as he clenched his fists, fear and frustration and shame emanating from him, culminating into a scent that smelled like decaying, rotting peaches. Tanjirou wrinkled his nose as he brushed some stray spiderwebs off his clothes. These little threads were everywhere.

“You’re mad,” Zenitsu murmured in a small voice. 

When Tanjirou replied, his inner voice sounded harsh, disappointed. That cowardly side of you… is one I can’t help but dislike.

“Then you’re really going to fight that monster, aren’t you? You’re really going to do it, aren’t you?!” 

Ideally, that would be ‘we’, Tanjirou replied, wincing as he surveyed his injured arm. It had stopped smoking, but the burns still stung, and his body was having a bit of trouble healing it, perhaps because it’s connected to a blood demon art. Tanjirou was sure he would be able to recover with a little bit of blood to help him along, but then… 

Zenitsu stared at his arm and paled, stuttering awkwardly, “W-Why isn’t it healing yet? Do you need to drink blood?” 

I probably do, but I’m saving that in case I get a more dire injury, Tanjirou shrugged. I only have one vial with me, after all. 

“Then… should I give you some of mine? If it’s Tanjirou, I don’t mind…” Zenitsu trailed off.

Tanjirou’s eyes widened, staring at the blonde with surprise. With how averse Zenitsu was to demons, you’d think basically being a meal to one would bother him immensely. He did say that Tanjirou sounded like kindness (Tanjirou still couldn’t help but wonder how exactly kindness would sound, but Zenitsu probably couldn’t explain it any more than Tanjirou could explain what similar concepts smell like to him), and perhaps that puts Zenitsu at ease, enough to not be too bothered by what he just offered to do. Perhaps Tanjirou’s unique sound helps Zenitsu separate him from the demons the blonde boy was so scared of. Or perhaps his sound did not matter at all, and Zenitsu would offer to do such favors for his friend, no matter their circumstance. Tanjirou felt his irritation and anger subside. How could he not, when Zenitsu was being so openly considerate? 

I’ll be fine. The pain isn’t unmanageable, Tanjirou replied. He hesitated, before continuing, As much as your cowardly side frustrates me, your caring side is something I like very much. Thank you for your concern, Zenitsu. I appreciate it.

Zenitsu let out a small strangled sound, apparently not expecting that compliment, so soon after Tanjirou’s anger. “Y-You’re welcome?” 

The demon boy nodded and tightened his grip on his sword as he took a few steps forward, looking at Zenitsu over his shoulder. I’m going to go back. You can stay here if you want, but I know you won’t do that. A smile ghosted on the corner of his lips.  You could have run away on your own, but instead you carried me with you to safety. That goes to show how much you care about your friends. If I’m going to battle, you’re going to help me anyway, won’t you? 

And just like that, without waiting for the blonde to respond, Tanjirou ran ahead, back in the direction they had come from, back to the demon’s nest. He couldn’t help the smile that emerged fully on his lips when he heard Zenitsu yelp before following him. When the blonde spoke, his voice was still wary, still riddled with fear and insecurity.

“I-I!” Zenitsu started. “I’m weak, you know! I don’t want to be a hindrance to you!” 

On the contrary, Tanjirou replied, glancing back at Zenitsu. You’re fast. Crazy fast. Faster than even me or Inosuke or Nezuko. 

“S-Speed is a foundation of the Thunder Breathing Technique,” Zenitsu explained. “It focuses on channeling strength into the user’s legs, maximizing the output and power of your muscles. The idea is to defeat the opponent in one insanely quick strike—” 

Then, if I can give you an opening, could you slice the demon’s neck with your sword?

“You’d let me do something so important?! What if I mess up?!” 

You won’t, Tanjirou replied with complete and utter confidence. I trust you. 

Tanjirou could smell the moment the fear and trepidation swirling around Zenitsu turned into pride and determination. There was happiness there too— almost like he was overjoyed to be trusted by Tanjirou. Clearly since he couldn’t trust his own abilities, he needed someone to trust them for him. Tanjirou thought he figured out what made the blonde boy tick. 

The nest was up ahead, much visible now. Tanjirou could see the demon, dangling down the ‘floating’ house, spidery legs twitching as he looked around warily. Tanjirou glanced back at Zenitsu again, crimson eyes widening when he saw the blonde boy halting in his tracks and taking a stance, shaking hands settling on the hilt of the blade on his hip, pulling back his left leg in preparation for a quick dash. When he spoke it was in a whisper, his voice shaky and unsure, as if he wasn’t sure if he deserved to utter such words. 

Thunder Breathing. First Form ,” Zenitsu hesitated, but only for a second, before he continued. “ Thunderclap and Flash! ” 

It was like lightning. Tanjirou could not think of any other word to describe it. One moment, Zenitsu was there behind him, and the next he was flashing towards the demon at incredible speeds, so fast that Tanjirou could barely see him. Being carried by Zenitsu as he ran was one thing, but seeing his technique from an outsider’s perspective was something else— if Tanjirou did not have a muzzle on his mouth, it would be gaping with surprise and amazement. Zenitsu reached the demon’s nest first, unsheathing his blade in a split-second as he tried to sever the demon’s neck. The demon noticed him in the last second though, and unleashed another spray of his acid-like poison, which Zenitsu somehow evaded in mid-air, to Tanjirou’s wonder. The evasion seemed to make him lose his sense of balance though, as he fell gracelessly to the ground, letting out an ‘oomph’ as he hit the rocky earth.

“Ha! I knew you two are coming back! Demon slayers always do,” the demon purred, but it was obvious with the way his eyes darted between Zenitsu and the approaching Tanjirou that he was now more cautious of the two of them, unlike before where it seemed like he was looking down on them. He gave Zenitsu a look of distaste, calling out to his army of spider-babies, “Hey, you guys! Pounce on him!” 

The little critters scrambled in attention, skittering towards the fallen Zenitsu. Tanjirou was not about to let that happen, not on his watch. He ran faster, intercepting the spider-demon babies before they could reach his friend. He took a deep breath. Hinokami Kagura. He twisted his blade so that he was using the blunt edge rather than the sharp one, just to make sure he was not hurting any of them, any more than necessary. They were victims too. There has to be a way to save them, a way to turn them back. Third Form: Raging Sun!

The spider-babies jumped toward them, but Tanjirou was prepared. With each strike he managed to fend them off one by one, sending the creatures flying off in different directions without injuring any of them. Behind them, he can hear Zenitsu scrambling to get up, saying uncertainty, “Tanjirou!” 

Stay alert! Tanjirou replied, as he kicked a spider-baby out of the way, looking up at the spider demon who was cackling at their display. The spider demon puffed his cheek once again, and Zenitsu let out a yell before pushing the two of them out of the way, the purple poison sizzling on the ground they were standing on.

“Pierce them! Inject them with poison! Don’t let them breathe!” the spider demon commanded. The spider-babies were more than eager to comply, opening their mouths as disgusting tongues with sharp, needle-like tips emerged from their faces. Zenitsu let out a loud screech as he and Tanjirou evaded, one spider-baby at a time, ducking and dodging and jumping and side-stepping their attacks. Fear was once again prominent in Zenitsu’s scent, and he was near hyperventilating— Tanjirou was worried for his friend, but he was not in the position to calm him right now. He just hoped he was going to be okay.

Four spider-babies jumped in front of them, tongues lashing out towards them, dripping with poison. Tanjirou jumped in front of Zenitsu again and moved his blade in a way that would have cut all those nasty tongues, but since he was still using the blunt edge of his katana, it merely brushed them aside. He looked behind him, looked at Zenitsu who was pale and shaking with terror, hoping his inner voice was enough to snap him out of it— 

Zenitsu! he called out. The spider-demon above them was laughing, enjoying the show. Attack!

Thankfully, it seemed to snap him from his stupor. Shaking hands once again grabbed at the hilt of his blade as he assumed the same, earlier stance. “ Thunder Breathing. First Form —” 

Tanjirou blinked in surprise. He was going to use the same move? 

“Not so fast!” the spider demon bellowed, sending another spray of poison Zenitsu’s way. Zenitsu shrieked and dodged. Tears were freely streaming down his face as he assumed the same stance all over again. 

Thunder Breathing. First Form —!”

A spider-baby tried to pounce on Zenitsu before he even finished his move. Zenitsu side-stepped and evaded the creature smoothly, but now that the spider demon knew he was going to attack, it seemed that the spider-babies were being more aggressive towards him. As Zenitsu eluded another couple of frontal assaults, Tanjirou saw an entire clump of spider-babies regrouping behind him, waiting for their chance to strike—

Hinokami Kagura. Sixth Form, Tanjirou bolted behind Zenitsu, their backs touching as he moved his sword. Burning Bones, Summer Sun! 

Tanjirou’s blade moved in a circular slash, defending both himself and Zenitsu. The spider-babies that received his attack all got thrown off in different directions. A scent of gratefulness emerged from Zenitsu, followed by a hopelessness that made Tanjirou’s heart hurt. It was obvious that Zenitsu was discouraged by his ineffective attacks. The hopelessness only increased tenfold when they heard the spider demon laughing. 

“You keep assuming the same stance over and over. No question about it: you’re only capable of one attack, aren’t you, blondie?” 

Tanjirou’s eyes widened. What?

“You can’t defeat me with that alone, you know? Your friend here could defend you from my little army over and over again if he wants, but there is no point if you can’t even cut me. You’re just a predictable, spineless coward. So why not give up, now?” 

Zenitsu shuddered. “I-I—” 

Don’t listen to him! Tanjirou warned. 

“Just let yourselves be poisoned and be a part of us,” the demon once again tempted. “It’s a better alternative than dying!”

The scent of fear was once again coming off of Zenitsu in waves, so strong that for a moment Tanjirou was worried the blonde was actually going to pass out. Decaying, rotting peaches—it almost smelled worse than the pungent scent coming off of the spider demon himself, if only because it was coming off of his precious friend. But then there was a spark. A sudden spike of indignance, of righteous anger. Suddenly, the scent of rotting peaches gave way to the scent of a burgeoning thunderstorm.

“I don’t have to listen to the likes of you!” Zenitsu exclaimed. He assumed his stance once again, but something about this was different. This time Zenitsu’s hands weren’t shaking, his amber eyes intent on his target as he spoke, “ Thunder Breathing. First Form —” 

The spider demon cackled. “Do you really think you can beat me?!”

Thunderclap and Flash: Sixfold! ” 

The air was vibrating. Tanjirou thought he heard the sound of clapping thunder, but he wasn’t sure. He was too stunned, too mesmerized as he watched the next moments unfold. In response to Zenitsu’s attack, the spider demon puffed his cheeks to spray his poison once again, but in the next split-second, Zenitsu vanished. No, he didn’t vanish, he moved , so fast, like lightning—! Side by side, from tree to tree, so fast that even Tanjirou could not follow him with his sight, merely seeing the afterimages of his movement. The demon tried to send another spray of poison after him to no avail, he tried to send more of his spider-babies after him to no avail—

Six times. Zenitsu jumped six times in different directions, evading every one of the spider demon’s counterattacks, using the spider threads to move swiftly up towards where the spider demon was. The sound of a blade slicing through flesh, the sound of the demon screaming in pain, the sound of a head hitting the ground below. Zenitsu was in the air, with the brilliant moon as his backdrop, and Tanjirou could not help but gasp in awe at the picture he had made there. At that moment, merely a few seconds that felt like hours, Zenitsu was strong, Zenitsu was invincible, Zenitsu was… Zenitsu was…! 

So cool! 

Chapter Text

Zenitsu fell on top of the ‘floating’ house with a loud thud, groaning in pain. Worried for his friend, Tanjirou immediately ran up the tree, jumping on delicate threads before landing on the surface of the house where the blonde boy was. Distantly, he heard the spider demon’s last words, ranting in disbelief over the sudden turn of events, but he ignored him in favor of making sure Zenitsu was alright. He already knew Zenitsu was successful— the thick, putrid scent of the spider demon was now being replaced by the scent of ash, the scent that Tanjirou had come to associate with death to the demons they slay. The battle was over, at least for now.

Zenitsu? Zenitsu, are you alright? Tanjirou asked, rushing over to the blonde boy’s side. He was laying down with his arms over his eyes, breathing slow and even. As soon as Tanjirou kneeled beside him, he shifted his arms, amber staring up into the sky with something akin to disbelief. 

“Did I… really do it? Did I really do that, Tanjirou? Defeat a scary demon? Me?” 

Tanjirou’s expression softened, smiling at the blonde. I told you you could do it. 

“You told me, yeah. You believed in me. I guess I never really did believe in myself.” Zenitsu closed his eyes, processing that for a long moment. “Thank you, Tanjirou.” 

Tanjirou’s smile widened. 

“Anyway!” Zenitsu bolted up, standing and stretching his limbs. Tanjirou stood up too and pretended not to see Zenitsu stealthily rubbing unshed tears against the sleeve of his haori. The boy had just battled his own personal demons and won— he had the right to be a little bit emotional. When he spoke next, he sounded less solemn, more like himself. “We still have to find Inosuke and Nezuko-chan!”

Are you injured anywhere? Tanjirou just wanted to make sure. 

“Nope, I’m good as new!” Zenitsu replied with a huge grin. There was a certain confidence about him that weren’t there earlier, before the conclusion of the fight. Tanjirou decided that was a good thing. “I’m a bit tired, though. How about you?” 

Tanjirou nodded at his injured arm. Perhaps it was because the spider demon was dead, but it seemed that it was healing at a much faster rate now. In a few minutes, the burns would be completely gone. It was a good call that he did not consume his vial of blood yet, it would have been such a waste. Zenitsu looked relieved.

“Then, Nezuko-chan?” Zenitsu looked around them anxiously, taking advantage of their high vantage point to survey the forest below. “You said earlier that there were five demons in this mountain, right? Should we go look for the others, too? Where do you think we should head next?”

Tanjirou stared at the forest as well. Now that the spider demon was dead, the overwhelming stink of the area was dissipating, allowing Tanjirou to make use of his sense of smell once again. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. Up here, the wind was much stronger, bringing him scents he could not smell on ground level. He tracked the scent of the remaining demons one by one. There was one in the west, another not too far from the first, and another one in the eastern part of the mountain. Tanjirou frowned. There were only three remaining. Nezuko and Inosuke must have already dispatched one of them. Then…! 

Tanjirou took a deep breath again. Instead of focusing on the scent of the demons, he instead focused on the scent of ash. There was the stronger scent underneath them of course, but there is also another fainter one, not too terribly far from where they were. Tanjirou’s heart rate picked up as he realized he may have just figured out where the other half of their quartet were. The scent smelled recent, so they must still be in that location. 

I know where they are! Tanjirou exclaimed, jumping down the house without waiting for Zenitsu. After seeing how fast the blonde boy could get, he was not worried about accidentally leaving him behind. As expected, Zenitsu followed after him without any problem, as they raced past tree after tree, following the scent eagerly. Soon enough they arrived in a clearing, one with a big rock in the middle, perhaps another demon’s nest. Tanjirou could not bring himself to care though. He immediately launched himself towards a familiar figure with a pink haori and cherry blossoms on her back, launched himself towards his beloved little sister. Nezuko gasped in surprise as Tanjirou embraced her from behind, sputtering, “O-Onii-chan?!” 

You’re safe, Tanjirou thought as he hugged Nezuko tighter. He did not realize how much being separated from Nezuko in battle bothered him until she was back in his arms. He let himself savor the relief for a short moment before pulling back, moving his hands furiously as he signed, We tried to look for you. Can’t. Defeated one of the demons. Are you both alright? 

Nezuko nodded. “I’m mostly alright. Inosuke-san got injured from trying to protect me, though—” 

Tanjirou’s head snapped towards the boar boy, who he had neglected to greet in his haste to approach Nezuko. He had a few deep cuts all over his body, but he seemed to be as energetic as ever, talking to Zenitsu with wild gestures and bragging about his kill. Inosuke protected his sister in his stead, got injured for her in his stead— Tanjirou could not help the wave of gratefulness he felt as he rushed towards the boar boy and pulled him in a tight hug. 

He knew in their group, it was his bond with Inosuke which was most affected by Tanjirou’s muteness. They did not really have a proper avenue of communication. Inosuke could barely read at this point. Nezuko had offered to teach him Tanjirou’s sign language, but the boar boy showed little interest in it, so Tanjirou could not really communicate how thankful he was. He hoped that with that hug, he was able to convey it. He hoped that Inosuke would understand. 

“W-What is this?! An attack?!” Inosuke sputtered. 

Or not. Tanjirou pulled back and sighed. He supposed communication with Inosuke was a work in progress. 

“It’s a hug, moron.” Zenitsu told him.

“What’s a hug?! Stop hugging me! It’s making me feel all strange and fluffy! Fight me instead!”

Zenitsu sighed. “I still don’t get your obsession with fighting. Isn’t it enough that we’re already in the middle of a mission? We still have three more demons to slay, you know! That’s three too many!” 

“The Great Hashibira Inosuke could handle one hundred, no— two hundred more of those demons!” 

“No, you’ll die! Why am I stuck with you madmen?!” 

“Pfft—” Nezuko barely managed to stifle her giggle. Tanjirou could not help but smile as well. There was something very soothing about the four of them being all together. Inosuke’s brash innocence, Zenitsu’s false unfriendliness, Nezuko’s reassuring presence— all culminating into a scent that was filled with warmth and fondness. They may not all know each other for that long, but Tanjirou has come to really enjoy Inosuke and Zenitsu’s presence. He wondered if Nezuko felt the same. 

“I’m glad you came up the mountain with us, Zenitsu-san. Are you feeling any better?” Nezuko asked. Zenitsu’s eyes widened, before he looked away. Ah, that’s right. The last time Nezuko had seen him, he was on the ground having a panic attack, refusing to move. Tanjirou could see the tension in his shoulders and the light redness in his ears— he must be incredibly embarrassed.

“Y-Yeah. It’s not like Tanjirou would let me bail out, anyway. I at least managed to help him out a bit… killing that demon. I’m thankful I wasn’t completely useless.” 

Tanjirou frowned. He’s being modest, he signed to Nezuko. Practically defeated the demon all by himself. 

Apparently Zenitsu was still listening to his thoughts, or maybe he already picked up some words from Tanjirou’s sign language throughout their stay in the Wisteria House. The demon would not be surprised. Zenitsu was quite intelligent. “That’s not true! You saved me a lot from those spider-babies! I thought I’d die multiple times!”

You protected me, too. Tanjirou signed with a shrug.

“You protected me more!” 

“I would like to hear more about that, but we really shouldn’t dawdle,” Nezuko said, making the three boys stand at attention, quitting their friendly banter. The expression on her face was very serious, perhaps even a little nervous. “That demon Inosuke and I just defeated… she said something that’s quite concerning. She said… well, she said there’s a member of the Twelve Demon Moons on this mountain.”

Zenitsu’s eyes widened, and when he replied his voice was low in a whisper. “You’re joking.” 

Nezuko shook her head. She turned her head to stare at the pile of clothes sitting on the boulder in the middle of the clearing, perhaps thinking about the demon she had slain, the demon who had given her the information. Her eyes looked sad and sorrowful. “I’m not. She really said that. And I think… I think it’s true. That demon in her last moments… she embraced death rather than fighting to the end. It makes you wonder what she’s so scared of…” she hesitated, before continuing, “There was a demon who looked like a kid who warned us while we were fighting earlier, too. He stood way above us on spiderwebs so we couldn’t reach him, but he told us not to disturb his family’s peaceful life, and even called the person we were fighting ‘Mother’.” 

Tanjirou’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Mother? A demon family? And a Demon Moon as well… Tanjirou’s hand flew to his chin as he mulled this all over. Zenitsu didn’t seem to be up to contemplation though, as he exclaimed in terror, “Who cares about that?! There’s a Demon Moon on this mountain! This is way above our paygrade, way too high a level for rookies like us! Why did they send us and not a Pillar?! We should leave this mountain while we can, or we’re all going to die— Ow!” 

Inosuke had bonked Zenitsu on the head, sounding exasperated. “All you do is whine, whine, whine, whine, whine! Who cares about that Demon Moon bullshit! We can take them on!” 

“No, we can’t! Tanjirou, help me make them see sense!”

As much as Tanjirou didn’t like Zenitsu’s cowardly side rearing its head once again, he couldn’t help but admit that his fear this time was a logical one. Tanjirou had no idea how powerful Demon Moons could be, so he was worried that it might be more than they could handle. Unfortunately though, he could see the stubborn streak in Nezuko’s jaw, the spark of determination in her pink eyes. He remembered what Tamayo asked of them, what they had to do to create a cure for Tanjirou— and Tanjirou knew his little sister enough to know he could not stop her from trying her hardest.

“If we wait for Oyakata-sama to send pillars, then the Demon Moon might escape. We’re already here. We might as well,” Nezuko insisted. “If you want to go down the mountain, Zenitsu-san, I won’t blame you.” 

Zenitsu’s hands fisted on his sides. He opened his mouth to speak, and hesitated. Stared helplessly into Nezuko’s eyes, and hesitated. Finally, it seemed he had made up his mind. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Seriously…! If Inosuke’s gonna fight, and Nezuko-chan is gonna fight, and Tanjirou’s gonna fight too, then— then I’m going, too.” He swallowed hard. “I-I’m not useless, you know! I’m not.” The way he said it made it sound like he was trying to convince himself. But something changed in his expression then, and Tanjirou wondered if he was remembering that he had indeed proven himself in a fight not too long ago, a fight where he dealt the final, decisive blow. “Since you all seem so eager to die, I’ll watch your backs. Someone had to, at this point! Like hell I’m losing any of you to some scary Demon Moon! We’re all gonna leave this mountain alive and intact, you hear me?!”

Nezuko’s eyes widened, before a smile blossomed on her face. “Zenitsu-san…” 

“Gah! I said: stop making me feel all fluffy! You and Gonpachiro both!” Inosuke complained.

“That fluffy feeling is normal. Because we’re friends!” Zenitsu claimed in a stern tone, as if demanding any of them to refute it. When nobody did (even Inosuke, who seemed taken aback by the assertion), Zenitsu continued. “So let’s go! The sooner we kill the demons, the sooner we can get out of this mountain.” 

Nezuko side-eyed her companions. “Then… where are we headed next?” She regarded Tanjirou with an expectant look, familiar with her older brother’s sense of smell. She seemed to be under the impression that they could depend on it once again, but unfortunately, now that Tanjirou was back in the thick of the woods, his sense of smell was once again useless. The only reason he has scented Nezuko and Inosuke’ location earlier was because up in that floating house, they were pretty high up, and the air up there was less contaminated with the scent of demons that seemed to engulf the entirety of the mountain. Tanjirou would need to be back up that house again to be of any help, and he was about to suggest so, but then Inosuke cackled, pulling out his swords.

“Ha, amateurs,” Inosuke huffed, sounding smug. “Watch how The Great Inosuke can find those demons without breaking a sweat! Take notes, my underlings!”

“Friends,” Zenitsu reminded him, sounding mildly offended.

Inosuke stabbed both his swords into the ground and concentrated. “Beast Breathing Seventh Form: Spatial Awareness.” 

They waited. It seemed to take Inosuke a long moment to scan the area. It was strange to see Inosuke so still, so quiet, when the boar boy was usually filled with so much motion and energy. But by the time he was done, that energy was back, as he recovered his swords and brandished them to the west with so much enthusiasm and gusto. “Two demons that way! They’re pretty strong, I bet the Demon Moon is there! Let’s go!” And with that, much like earlier at the base of the mountain, he took off on his own. 

“Inosuke-san! Wait! You’re still injured!” Nezuko called out as she ran after him. Tanjirou and Zenitsu followed suit. As they whizzed past the trees and ran as fast as they could (Inosuke was at full speed and they had no choice but to follow his lead), Tanjirou could feel something inside him untwisting. It was something that felt like relief— relief that they were all safe, that the four of them were back together again. Inosuke with his boundless lust for a fight. Nezuko with her quiet determination. Zenitsu with his hesitant bravery. Now that they were together, Tanjirou could smell their scents, the scents of his comrades, and knowing they had his back was comforting. 

He wanted to keep this feeling for as long as possible. 

Chapter Text

“Inosuke-san! At least let me bandage up your wounds!” Nezuko called out as she hurried after him, but the boar boy wasn’t hearing it. He continued running, eager for their next fight. Tanjirou could not help but be worried for him, but it’s not like Inosuke would listen— he knew from the short time they had known him that Inosuke lived by his own rules, true to his nature as someone who lived on his own all his life. Tanjirou just wished he would at least stop being so reckless. Which is a trait that was evident, especially when Inosuke bellowed as soon as they had reached a river and saw a demon girl, “Found you!”, and immediately went on the attack. “ Beast Breathing Third Fang. Devour!” 

Inosuke jumped over the rocks in the river, slashing his blades horizontally in a flurry of movement aimed at his target’s throat. The demon seemed caught off guard but the surprise did not last long. She dodged, opening her palms up to Inosuke and unleashing thick strands of webs that immediately engulfed their beastly friend.

“Inosuke!” Zenitsu called out worriedly. They could hear Inosuke struggle inside the ball of webs, and Tanjirou and Nezuko’s eyes met in a split second, their sibling bond making them aware of what the other wanted to do. Tanjirou was going to attack the demon girl, and Nezuko was going to save Inosuke. Nezuko braced to charge, but Zenitsu was faster. In one Thunderclap and Flash , Zenitsu was already on the other side of the river, prioritizing Inosuke’s rescue. He slashed through the webs, the strands falling away with one swing of his sword. Inosuke broke free of his prison with a rage-filled yell, which seemed to alarm the demon girl even more, as she too shouted, “Father!” 

A huge shadow loomed over Nezuko and Tanjirou as a beast of a demon fell in front of them, splashing water everywhere. The demon was large and muscular, terrifyingly so, with  multiple eyes that looked like a spider’s and a mouth that opened up into a collection of sharp fangs. As Inosuke and Zenitsu shouted in alarm, the demon girl started running deeper into the woods, out of their sight, eager to get away from the demon slayers. Inosuke moved to follow her but Zenitsu held him back, “Don’t go, Inosuke! We gotta help Tanjirou and Nezuko-chan!”

The father demon let out a mighty roar, making the hairs on Tanjirou’s neck rise. He walked two steps closer towards the siblings, a hand fisted and moving into an arc to punch towards the two of them. “Don’t come near my family! Stay away!”


Water Breathing. First Form: Water Surface Slash! ” Nezuko called out, sidestepping and then taking a stance as she swung her sword in a single powerful slash. She meant to cut the father demon’s arm, but the blade only dug a few inches deep into the thick limb, getting stuck halfway through. Nezuko gasped, caught off guard by the hardness of the demon’s flesh, but she did not get the chance to pull it out herself as the demon’s other fist came flying at her, swatting her away as if she was nothing but a common fly. Nezuko let out a yelp as she flew into the river, water splashing all around her. Worry engulfed Tanjirou’s heart, tempted to hurry and check if she was alright, but knowing that it was unwise. Instead, he also took a stance, taking a deep breath as he attacked. 

Hinokami Kagura, Second Form: Clear Blue Sky! 

Tanjirou jumped and spun his body vertically to deliver a three hundred and sixty degree slash, effectively cutting off one of the father demon’s arms. Urokodaki had once told Tanjirou that his Hinokami Kagura had more power than his and Nezuko’s Water Breathing, but Tanjirou had not really seen evidence of that until that moment. The father demon roared in pain and Tanjirou jumped back as a fist came barreling towards him, the injury seemingly only making the demon more violent. At least he had one less fist to be wary about. As soon as he braced himself to attack once more, he heard Inosuke yell behind him, jumping high up in order to deploy a double-bladed slash onto the demon’s shoulders. 

“Where are you looking at?! I’m over here! Curse you— ack!” the demon turned around and swatted Inosuke as well with his remaining fist. Inosuke got a mouthful of water, landing near where Nezuko was trying to stand up and move her wet hair out of her face. Tanjirou was relieved that she seemed to be alright, even if she was quite drenched. She was wincing though, evidently bruised by the force of the attack. The father demon was pure muscle and power, that’s for sure. 

Thunder Breathing. First Form: Thunderclap and Flash! ” Zenitsu moved past the father demon, slashing along the back of the demon’s foot, on the achilles tendon. Much like Nezuko’s attack, it did not cut too deep into the demon’s flesh, but because Zenitsu had targeted him on that particular spot, the father demon staggered, falling onto his knees. Tanjirou used that opportunity to get a clear hit on the demon’s neck, raising his sword. 

Hinokami Kagura. First Form: Dance!

The father demon’s head fell onto the river with a loud splash. 

The scent of ashes once again filled the air, and Tanjirou hung his head to pray for the life he had just taken. That’s three of the five demons he could smell down at least, which was progress. The father demon was powerful, but Tanjirou did not think he was one of the twelve Demon Moons. He was defeated too easily. That didn’t stop Nezuko from hurrying over to get the demon’s blood before the body fully disintegrated though. Like clockwork, Chachamaru, Tamayo’s cat familiar (Nezuko had mentioned it in passing before) appeared by the riverbank to collect the blood Nezuko had taken. The cat seemed to be able to hide its presence using Yushiro’s blood demon art, but the timing at which it appeared made Tanjirou wonder. Did Chachamaru follow them everywhere? 

He did not have time to ponder that thought, as he was immediately distracted by Zenitsu’s wailing, scolding Inosuke, “Don’t be so reckless! Think about the people who have to save your sorry ass!” 

“I don’t need saving! I would have escaped on my own!” Inosuke replied confidently. Nezuko just sighed and started pulling out bandages from her haori, taking advantage of Inosuke now standing still in order to tend to his numerous wounds.

“But what if you couldn’t, huh? We were worried!” 

“There’s nothing in this world that the Great Inosuke can’t do!” 

The discussion was clearly going nowhere. Inosuke and Zenitsu had a lot of differences. Inosuke was reckless, Zenitsu was careful. Inosuke was brave, Zenitsu was cowardly. They truly were on different sides of extremes from each other. Tanjirou tapped Zenitsu’s shoulder to get his friend’s attention and projected his thoughts, Tell Inosuke for me. 

Zenitsu hesitated but nodded. 

Tanjirou faced Inosuke and held both of the boar boy’s shoulders, patting them in a firm but affectionate way. Inosuke, he thought, Please listen to us. It is important to be careful right now, especially when we don’t know which of the demons is the Demon Moon. You don’t have to prove anything to us. We already know you’re great. All we ask is that you do not throw yourself in danger, so that we may be in a better position to work together, to protect each other, as friends should. 

Zenitsu told all that to Inosuke. Inosuke stiffened in response, evidently not used to such concerned words. Not for the first time, Tanjirou was reminded that they were probably Inosuke’s first friends, after living in solitude for so long. Inosuke wasn’t really used to relying on anyone. He wasn’t really used to the idea of working with people. So when the boar boy cleared his throat and turned his head away, murmuring an embarrassed, “Well, if you put it that way, Kentaro,” Tanjirou could not help but smile.

“Let’s go after the demon girl, she couldn’t have gotten very far,” Nezuko told them as soon as she finished bandaging up Inosuke’s wounds. The three boys agreed and soon they went off to follow the trail of the demon girl. Between Tanjirou’s nose, Zenitsu’s ears, and Inosuke’s sensing ability, they were able to follow her without trouble. It helped that they had a pretty good idea of which direction she was headed. As they continued further, Tanjirou felt a bad feeling in his gut. That feeling only worsened when he heard the demon girl scream in pain, her voice nearly sobbing as she cried out, “Rui, I beg of you, please stop!” 

Taniirou halted in his tracks, his feet skidding against the ground from his speed as he raised a hand to signal his companions to stop. They followed suit.  Beyond them was a small clearing, where two figures were, the demon girl and a little demon boy, their white clothes and pale complexions almost glowing in the moonlight. The demon boy stood, looming over the demon girl who was crouched down on the forest floor in agony, blood dripping from the cuts on her face. Tears streamed down her face.  Behind him, Tanjirou heard Nezuko gasp.

The demon boy— Rui, Tanjirou assumed— turned his head to look at them disdainfully, speaking in a deadpan voice. “What are you looking at? This isn’t some show, you know.” 

When Nezuko spoke, her voice was shaky. “W-What are you doing? Aren’t you allies…?” 

That’s what Tanjirou thought too. He thought that the demons in this mountain were comrades. The father demon even went so far as to call them their family. And yet, why? Tanjirou could not pick up the scent of love and trust he was so used to smelling between family. Instead,  there was a rotten scent of terror, hatred and repulsion between them, as if the two demons could barely stand being in each other’s presence. Even so, Rui scoffed, replying with confidence. 

“Allies? Don’t put us in the same category as something that flimsy. We’re family. We’re joined by a powerful bond. And besides, this is between me and my sister.” His eyes trailed over from Tanjirou, to Nezuko, to behind the two of them where Zenitsu and Inosuke stood warily. Something inside those pale blue eyes flashed, an irritation seeping through his gaze. “Why are so many of you still alive? What are Mother and Father doing? Parents are supposed to protect their children. Are they dead? Useless.” 

Tanjirou felt anger start to rise inside him, at Rui’s nonchalant way of referring to his dead ‘family’ members like they were nothing, at the way Rui was treating his apparent older sister. A powerful bond? A forged bond is what it was. Tanjirou’s hand tightened around the hilt of his sword. If the three demons they had already slain were not the Demon Moon, then that must mean Rui was. The demon girl was evidently not as powerful, if Rui was so easily able to subjugate her. It was ironic that the demon with the youngest-looking physique ended up being the most powerful of the bunch, but Tanjirou knew his suspicion was true. He could feel it in his bones. It must be an instinct from his demonic nature. He could just tell. 

Can we beat him? Suddenly, Tanjirou was not so sure. There were four of them, and their teamwork was impeccable, as earlier seen with their fight with the father demon. But Tanjirou’s instincts told him that even that would not be enough. Perhaps the idea of defeating a Demon Moon on their own was too ambitious. Tanjirou did not like it in the first place, as he disagreed with anything that would put Nezuko in an unacceptable amount of danger. In contrast, Tanjirou was not really concerned about his own welfare. Demons could not really kill each other, not without the use of the sun or nichirin blades. Tanjirou could get torn into dozens of pieces, and he would turn out fine. His human companions though… 

If we face him as we are right now… 

Rui placed a hand over his face, the scent of his irritation building around him, making the air so dense Tanjioru could barely breathe. 

someone is going to die. 

“If Mother and Father couldn’t do it, I suppose I have to take care of you all myself.” 

Tanjirou came to a decision. There was only one person in their group who would listen to his rather hasty change of heart. Someone who already wanted to retreat in the first place.

Zenitsu, take Inosuke and Nezuko and run! He’s stronger than all of us combined! We can’t defeat him!

Zenitsu perked up, alert. His voice was scared when he replied, “W-What about you?” 

I’ll be fine! Send for help if you can! Someone stronger— 

Tanjirou had never thought something as thin and flimsy as spiderwebs could make a sound as it tore through the air, but he supposed it goes to show that the threads were not flimsy at all. Tanjirou and his companions jumped in different directions to evade the onslaught, and as soon as Tanjirou saw the thread cut through the trees and branches like its butter, he knew retreating was the smart choice. He turned his head to search Zenitsu’s gaze and insisted, more desperate now: Go! 

Zenitsu nodded shakily and ran towards Nezuko and Inosuke. He slung each of them over each of his shoulders (Zenitsu may not look like much, but he was still someone who had lived through tough demon slayer training) and with a Thunderclap and Flash, hurried as far away as he could, as quickly as possible. Tanjirou heard Nezuko and Inosuke’s aborted protests but they were lost in the air as the smell of lightning and ozone filled the clearing, leaving Tanjirou on his own. As soon as they were gone, Tanjirou immediately relaxed. He may not survive this fight intact, but he was very well going to buy enough time for his friends to get away.

No matter what. 

“What? Your friends left you? Some allies they are,” Rui spat, no doubt trying to get a dig at Nezuko’s earlier comment. Tanjirou did not bother to inform him that it was by choice, that he was the one who recommended it— it didn’t matter. Rui continued, “Well, I’m just going to have to hunt them down later anyway. After I deal with you.” 

Tanjirou’s grip tightened on his sword. 

Rui pulled at his hand, the threads tightening around his fingers. And then, with a violent swing of his arm, the threads flew towards Tanjirou, coming at him at incredible speeds. Tanjirou took a deep breath. 

Hinokami Kagura. Third Form: Raging Sun!