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salvation

Chapter Text

He is able to tell within a split instance – who he had truly been too late to save.

Along with the smell of blood that permeated from his clothes and the cold that sunk into his hands, through too-thin clothes, Tomioka Giyuu was able to pick up the faintest scent of sunshine mixed with a homey warmth. It is a faintly honeyed scent… just like what they say one’s true mate would carry. And that, is such an unbearable feeling – of loss, of devastation.

He digs his fingers unwillingly into this child’s arms, still locked behind his back, even when all he wants is to wrench his hands away from this boy.

“Stop that pathetic grovelling! If that was the least bit effective, your family wouldn’t be dead! Can a weakling who can’t take the initiative in such a situation save her brother? Hunt down the enemy?! Don't make me laugh! The weak have no rights or choices—!”

Towards those naïve rubies that are peering up at him… Giyuu had been intending on breaking the girl’s delusions, so she would let go of her brother (and not forgive Giyuu for this), to make her face reality and become stronger—

(whilst hating him. Whilst seeking revenge out on him. Because Giyuu is a demon slayer in the end. He had been resigned all his life to bring nothing but pain to his mate. And Giyuu is not kind enough to let a demon off just because he’s his mate—)

She attacks him. He brings her down. And when the hatchet digs into the tree bark in the last seconds, Giyuu is knocked away by what he feels was a well-deserved kick.

Giyuu had been ready for another attack. Behind family, true mates are said to be the most nutritional for these demons.

And yet… the boy crouches protectively before his sister, the edges of his hair rising like a bristling cat. Dilated pink ombres glare up at him. They’re empty, straightforward. As expected of a monster ruled by instincts. And yet… dewy beads of moister begin to fill them.

They are directed towards him.

Giyuu doesn’t have a second to spare for why that might be the case.

The boy lurches at him the next moment.

He evades easily.

Rinse and repeat.

Until now, every motion has been done with the intention of driving him away from his sister.

The demon should have lost his mind with hunger, wanting to feast on someone even a second earlier… And yet, here he is, wasting time struggling against a stronger, albeit tastier prey.

…Maybe his tastes are just lying along that line?

Giyuu snorts at his own thoughts.

As if.

The boy’s lost too much blood for this. The more rational line of action should have been to take a bite out of his sister before coming after Giyuu.

…But come to think of it, why hadn’t the boy eaten his sister when Giyuu had found them? Even as an omega, as a teenage boy, his demon mate should have been able to overcome his sister’s strength easily. So why did he falter?

“You… Do you still retain some consciousness?” Giyuu questions the demon.

No answer came.

“Do you blame me for not being fast enough to save you?”

And that, he knows, is just a question for self-satisfaction.

The demon does not slow down.

As expected, one cannot expect him to be the same in this state.

Shutting his eyes against the world, Giyuu lifts his hand and knocks the boy out.

Sturdy arms raise and catch him as he fell limply.

The warmth of his mate tucked into his embrace is undeniable. Giyuu can’t help the swell of affection or his lingering, concerned glance at the boy’s surely frostbitten feet.

It’s despicable, to feel such a thing when it’s his own lateness that caused this.

Tears stain the boy’s face.

Giyuu wipe them with a hand, which briefly falters.

He had longed for all his life, even as he cursed himself, to embrace a mate who forgive him for all his flaws.

There was a time where he had been flustered at his older sister’s love talks; a time where he had dreamt with Sabito about becoming strong enough to protect their mates – together, they’d be sworn brothers and take turns hunting so someone would always be there to look after their family (so their tragedy wouldn’t ever repeat); and thereafter, he’d wished on countless nights that he’d never find his true mate.

He’d planned out numerous lines to say to his mate’s face, asking if they would accept him; if they could reject him. And yet………

In the end, he never got to say any of them.

“I’m sorry.” Giyuu murmurs bitterly, gathering up his mate in his arms.

That seems to be the only thing he’s ever able to say all his life.

 

Chapter Text

The next time he sees them, it’s not of his own will.

“…Giyuu,” The Oyakata had begun in a tone that was not unfamiliar to him.

It usually precedes a coax for him to take up the position as a permanent pillar – or other nonsensical things like this. Calling him for a meeting in private, too, is one of his usual ploys.

This time, however, Ubuyashiki Kagaya had smiled at him in a kindly manner.

“…Giyuu, why don’t you take a short break from work?”

“…!” His reluctance could not be more obvious in his gasp.

The Oyakata continued before he could protest.

“I sense a great disturbance in your emotions.” The leader of the Demon Slaying Corps pointed out.

He’s treading lightly, as always. Theirs is a prideful group.

“For the imperturbable Giyuu of the water breath to be so emotionally rattled, it has to be something of great importance. You are a person who value his privacy, but this Oyakata is almost saddened by how little faith you have in me.” He tilted his head, feigning interest in flowers he couldn’t see. “Go ahead. Take a short break from your duties for now. Please.”

“Uh. N-No—”

“Giyuu,” Oyakata interrupted. A serene smile curved his lips. “I insist.”

…Pelted with such overwhelming ‘kindness’, what choice is the Oyakata giving him, really…?

Chased out of house and job, Giyuu wanders the Water Pillar’s territory for days.

When word reaches his ears about two bickering demon slayers loonies in the area that sound eerily akin to Fire Breath Rengoku and Sound Breath Uzui, Giyuu can’t hightail out of there fast enough. How those guys can afford the manpower to come here, he doesn’t know. But as little fucks as he gives about those guys, even Giyuu can’t be certain that he wouldn’t roll over if those guys are the ones saying ‘it’s Oyakata’s orders’. God forbids.

And thus, here he is.

“…Master.”

Urokodaki jumps a good metre into the air, startled by his presence.

“I have troubled you.” Giyuu benevolently ignores that unseemly display just now.

His master is before him, startled, precisely because he had been crouched over the ‘burden’ Giyuu had unceremoniously heaved off on him.

The boy whose name he still doesn’t know is tucked into a futon. Eyes closed, burgundy tuffs of hair longer than they had been a year back and cradling his tan face to create an endearing visage, the bamboo gag he’d made for him is secured comfortably to his lips in his sleep.

Giyuu hadn’t realized how much the beast within him had been clawing on his restrains until his knuckles brushed against the softness of the boy’s cheek. He hadn’t even realized, how much he had been holding himself back, till a heartrending swell of relief sooths the previously unnoticed ache in his chest. Then, all that is left thereafter is a totally irrational, annoying need to pull the boy into his arms to fight back that animalistic hurt.

Utterly illogical.

Huh.

Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Oyakata’s words as mere bullying after all.

“Giyuu, you…” Urokodaki is stunned, reasonably so.

If the half-blind Oyakata can see his distress, he can only imagine what his master sees.

Giyuu has never been one to shield away from such matters. He meets his master’s gaze unwaveringly.

“I swear, on the name of Tomioka Giyu, that I will never allow my feelings to get in the way of my duty.”

That’s the one thing he’s got to make clear first and foremost.

Urokodaki gives a slow nod.

“I do not doubt your ability in the least. We’ve both bet our lives on Nezuko when we shielded Tanjirou. That is the minimum amount of resolution it takes to make this decision.”

Tanjirou… Tanjirou, huh. So that is this boy’s name.

“However, Giyuu, there’s a thing you’ve got to know about this child. In the past year ever since they’ve come into my tutelage, Tanjirou has been—”

The door slams open.

“Did Onii-chan wake up?!” Asks the young lady who barges in.

She is a far cry from how she had looked a year earlier. Still soft around the edges, but visibly less likely to blow over at the slightest breeze, this young maiden before him now carries a million scratches across her fair skin. Leaves and twigs in her unravelled braid ignored, she looks like she’s been put through a wringer and escaped by the skin of her teeth. Nevertheless, her eyes face forward.

Looking at her with cleverly masked dumbfoundedness, Giyuu’s abruptly reminded of his lack of junior disciples till now.

“Nezuko,” Urokodaki reproaches in a croak. “Tanjirou is as you can see.”

Seeing her brother asleep, the girl slumps in disappointment, sighing.

“Ah, of course. Onii-chan would have woken already if he could do it so easily, right?” Nezuko smiles as she rustles a hand through her messy locks. She looks troubled. “I just thought that he might wake if it was him…”

Wait.

“Has Tanjirou been sleeping ever since?” Giyuu demands blankly.

“Ah, no, Onii-chan woke up for a few days after you left, but…” The girl trails off into silence, close-eyed smile still frozen on her face. Her strangely rubied eyes widen as she takes in the sight of him. Her hand, raised mid-air to flippantly wave away his worries, drop in shock.

“T-TOMIOKA-SAN?! Eh?! Ah, excuse me!” She ducks her head, abashedly covering her mouth.

Urokodaki looks ready to whack her over the head with a scabbard for her volume.

The sight of this is so painfully familiar from his childhood days, Giyuu can’t help but allow the edge of his lips to twitch up. He shakes his head in reluctant exasperation.

“Tell me the rest over dinner.” He looks to Urokodaki to spare this poor girl.

“Go clean yourself up.” Urokodaki heaves a soft sigh. “Remember to put the salve on your injuries.”

The girl disappears away into a deeper part of the house with a chimed “Yes~”

And of course. Once she’s gone, this old man has no problems rounding on Giyuu right after.

“And you! Go light an incense in the mountains for your senior disciples! Do you know how long has it been since you last returned? And what’s with the sudden formal letter out of nowhere?!” He brandishes the tip of his gleaming sword threateningly.

Smiling faintly on the inside, Giyuu can’t help but feel at home.

“For not returning for such a long time… Please accept my apologies.” He bows.

He wants to say that he wanted to return… but, as it is, this house is too full of memories. The last time he even returned to sit down with this old man, it was years prior, when he heard Urokodaki officially stopped accepting disciples.

(He’d thought it was his duty, as Sabito’s substitute, to make sure the old man was alright.)

Urokodaki lowers his sword, huffing.

“Enough said. Your actions show more than you tell.” The old man waves him off. “Go catch up with Sabito and the rest.” He sniffs.

There is, truly, nothing to catch up on.

The dead who are devoured rest in the bellies of the demons until they’re slaughtered.

Giyuu has never told the old man but he always stands by that huge boulder silently, never doing or saying a thing. Nevertheless, he dutifully does as he’s told. He lights a stick of incense. Waits for it to burn off. At sunset, Giyuu returns with a few fishes on a stick, the scent of incense clinging on strongly to his clothes. Dinner is only halfway done then.

That night, in a small house filled with the warmth of Urokodaki’s cooking, they talked and shared their stories.

Essentially, after he had left them unconscious at their house with a letter to attend to his duties, Nezuko had to travel down the mountain briefly to gather some food for herself. Unable to leave Tanjirou behind, she got her older brother to shrink down (a demon’s shapeshifting abilities) and carried him down with her. However, when they returned to continue waiting on Urokodaki, as per his instructions, the siblings found a demon digging out the graves Giyuu had buried for their family.

“At that time, I was really scared.” Nezuko murmurs, hands fists on her lap. “Onii-chan was able to easily kick the demon’s head off his body, but I… I was able to do nothing. …No, more than that, I was frustrated at my own uselessness in that situation.”

She glares down at her helplessly trembling hands.

Urokodaki takes an audible sip of his tea.

“There is nothing more you can do about that besides getting strong.” The old man scoffs.

As usual, he makes it sound easy. Giyuu would be exasperated if he doesn’t agree.

“I know that! I know that! But—” Nezuko falters, cradling a hand to her chest.

Giyuu watches when her hand trails down to card through the sleeping Tanjirou’s hair. Nezuko blinks multiple times, distraught.

“—I couldn’t help but think. Onii-chan… he used to be so kind, and now he became like this. What if… the demons are just like us in this situation? What’s the meaning… if I ended up killing other demons to protect Onii-chan? What would Onii-chan think if he turns back to… no, if he ever wakes up?”

Nezuko squeezes her eyes tight.

The girl is clearly distressed by the thought of Tanjirou never waking up. And frankly, so is the beast that’s pacing in Giyuu, growing uneasy at her treatment of Tanjirou’s condition.

“To be kind is in no way a flaw.” Giyuu speaks up finally, drawing their attention.

He eyes both, one who taught his students to be kind and has suffered because of Giyuu’s weakness; the other who has suffered because of his weakness but is still kind.

He lowers his voice.

“However, only the strong could afford to be boundlessly kind. That is the undebatable truth in this world.”

Even for Sabito… the same goes for him.

The flickering embers illuminate Urokodaki.

“In that case,” Nezuko grips her fist in determination. “I will become the strongest and kindest.”

She pauses. And she smiles sheepishly.

“Well, saving Onii-chan comes before that! Though it would be nice if I could achieve it on the way!”

Such… insensitivity to the air of the situation.

Giyuu wonders if the same goes for her brother.

Throughout the whole conversation, Tanjirou lays quietly between Giyuu and Nezuko, his warmth a constant reassurance that he is alive. For that, Giyuu is grateful.

Somewhere deep in his chest, the beast prowls in content at being able to finally, finally overlook the well-being of his omega. Giyuu fears what it might do when he leaves. It also growls at him in demand for them to be closer, but for Giyuu, this proximity is perfect for now.

“Tomioka-san, sorry if I’m wrong, but you are Onii-chan’s alpha, aren’t you?” Nezuko brings up at some point of time in the conversation, tilting her head with an easy-going smile.

Urokodaki splutters on his tea. Nezuko stretches out a hand wryly and lightly rubs the old man’s back. From where he sits, Giyuu could see Urokodaki’s subtle, accusing stare.

Not another thoughtlessly blunt remark…

Thinking about it carefully, Giyuu settles on a curt reply.

“Apparently so.”

“See, Master? I did guess right! If he’s awake, I’m sure Onii-chan would have liked you, Tomioka-san!”

Such a casual remark coming from a third party admitting to trivial gossip.

Nezuko’s smile is suddenly much too warm in the light of the fireplace. She drops her chin on the top of her knees, pulling them close to her chest.

“What makes you say so?” He questions, curious.

“I can tell.” Nezuko’s eyes close into crescents with her giggle. “The whole time we were there in our blood-soaked house, Onii-chan kept searching for your scent after all. Whenever he was about to lose control, he always touches that bamboo gag to remind himself.” She mimics the motion. “Your presence helps, it seems.”

By all means, he should stop the conversation here. Urokodaki seems unnerved enough to be listening in on the conversation of these youngsters. His Master is trying to use his long since expired knowledge of Ninjutsu learnt from a couple decades ago; He’s not vanishing into the background just yet.

…And yet, Giyuu can’t bring himself to accept Nezuko’s easy acceptance of him.

“…Even so,” Giyuu breathes, a sigh in his tone. “Once he gets to know me, he will not like me.”

There is something vaguely defensive in his tone, ironic considering his words.

“Why?”

“I did things.” Giyuu states simply.

“Bad things?” Nezuko blinks.

“Terrible things.” Giyuu confirms grimly. Urokodaki looks ready to string him up by the hair for letting the past get in his way again. However, Nezuko interrupts him before he could.

“Even so, I don’t think my brother will ever stop liking you.” Nezuko says.

This time, it is Giyuu’s turn to be intrigued.

“Why?”

“Onii-chan has always said this.” Nezuko quips. Her smile is unbelievably kind, bringing to mind the Oyakata and his overarching acceptance of all. “‘No matter who you are, soulmates are supposed to accept you. That’s why the deities made us as pairs.’”

For a second, Giyuu can imagine this boy beside him, smiling confidently in a forest painted by autumn as he says that. The image is so close, he feels as if he could almost touch it if he reaches out. But in the end, it’s all an illusion. Tanjirou is still sound asleep at his side, eyes closed off to the world.

Nezuko chuckles helplessly as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I don’t know how much he believed it, given how much he fought the omega stereotype, but…” Nezuko smiles demurely at her sleeping brother. “As far as I know, there’s never been anyone who Onii-chan wasn’t able to accept when he tries. That’s why… I really hope you’d give him a chance, Tomioka-san!” She pumps her fist.

“Uh—”

“Take care of my Onii-chan for me whenever I’m not around!”

“Er—”

“Treat him to all his favourite foods when he’s back to being human!”

“…”

There she goes again, getting carried off like that.

Giyuu resigns himself to a life of being pushed around.

Later that night, Giyuu lies in a futon that he hasn’t touched for years, stays under a roof he hadn’t dared spend a night under ever since Sabito, and peers at the face of a demon facing him in his sleep.

Tanjirou has matured slightly since the last he saw him. Paler features, longer lashes, and a face full of the same naivety he could imagine him carrying, saying those words.

Without thinking, Giyuu stretches out a hand and catches his face in his grasp, watching burgundy locks tickle his fingertips as they fall. Breath trembling, he wonders –

Do you still think that way even now?

About me, a demon slayer who failed to do his duty, who failed to save you and your family?

Tanjirou’s young face bore back at him, innocent in his sleep.

Giyuu really cannot bear to forgive himself for damning this boy to this life.

He leaves the next day before the break of dawn, not willing to stay and understand why Nezuko was losing faith in Tanijrou waking up, the way she did.

The demon slayer leaves behind a half-and-half patterned haori that is his single memento.

It’s cheap consolation, by every means.

Chapter Text

The third time he sees Kamado Tanjirou, it is on Nagatumo Mountain.

…No. In reality, he had numerous opportunities to see him before then.

He was just running away from his problems.

If Giyuu had known Tanjirou would be there on this mountain, he might have taken extra precautions to not run into the siblings.

However, as it is, what’s done is done.

“I’m in the right for coming to kill demons. So I don’t think I’m violating the rules.”

Kochou Shinobu. The Insect Pillar. Another genuine pillar, unlike himself.

Giyuu deliberates as he holds her down, keeping her head restrained under an arm.

“But Tomioka-san, this is a violation of the Hunters’ conduct.” She points out, visibly irked. “You’re obstructing demon killing. What do you intend on doing?”

Giyuu maintains his silence. He has never been good with his fellow pillars.

“Why don’t you try saying something 💢?” Kochou’s struggles intensify.

Giyuu sighs internally.

What is there to say? That he is a pair with that demon she had seen? What good would that do at this point, when they’re caught red-handed, shielding Tanjirou like that?

“I believe it was 2 years ago…”

“This is going to be a problem if you’re going to start from such a long time ago. This is harassment. You just have a grudge because I said everyone hates you, don’t you?”

Gh…

This is why he doesn’t like interacting with his fellow pillars.

Kochou may be a swordslady, but Giyuu has never deluded himself about her strength.

Bracing himself as she strengthens the force of her struggles, Giyuu stiffens at the flash of a blade in her heels.

Kochou is being serious. But Giyuu had no intentions of fighting at all, not when that would only put his loyalty to the Demon Killing Corps under question. However, if Kochou is to exert her all into fighting him, then Giyuu would be left with no choice besides to go all out as well, or risk succumbing to a piteous death.

“Message! Message! Caww!” The messenger crows boom at just the right time. “We have a message! Restrain the ones named Nezuko and Tanjirou! Bring them to the headquarters!”

“Nezuko and Tanjirou!” They repeat, taking flight. “Restrain and bring them to the headquarters! Nezuko is the demon slayer with her hair in a braid! Tanjirou is the demon biting on a piece of bamboo!”

The two pillars meet each other’s gazes in silence.

The sharp edge of Kochou’s bladed heel hovers over the top of his skull, so close he could feel it gracing him.

“So it seems you have been spared this time.” Kochou retracts her feet as he releases her. She adjusts her uniform, rustled after their little tussle. “It would be nice if you would come along without struggle. I’m sure everyone will be quite intrigued by your little act. Please be prepared to explain yourself.”

The Insect Pillar’s demure smile is effortlessly mocking, reminding him of how he’s apparently very hated.

Giyuu closed his eyes to the world as he sighed internally.

Remembering Tanjirou’s injured state when he was still crushed under Nezuko, eyes closed, frame sprawled out with long locks of burgundy spraying on the ground, Giyuu has to physically restrain himself from going over to where the other is.

Surely, even though Tanjirou is a demon, the kakushin would still treat him as a patient under Oyakata’s orders. He just has to have faith in the Oyakata… even if everyone else hates him, apparently.

---

Hours later, everyone’s impression of him is the least of his worries.

---

Giyuu hates the fact that the best thing he could do right now is to do nothing.

Unable to beat down Shinazugawa. Unable to speak up, in defence of either Kamado to retain the weight of his name. Unable to lay his life down in any manner more than words, to shield Tanjirou from the organization that is his own home. Giyuu hates it all well enough to dig his nails into the expense of his palms till blood soaks and drips off.

Kanroji pauses more than a couple of times mid-discussion to glance worriedly at his too-pale pallor throughout the meeting. His teeth are gritted tightly. Eyes shadowed with less than savvy intentions towards that bastard Shinazugawa. Giyuu remains unresponsive, even when she gasps quietly right after he’d pulled her back from where he’d knocked her down.

More than anything right now, Giyuu loathes his inability to be by Tanjirou’s side.

The beast inside damns him to death when Shinazugawa grabs Tanjirou’s box by the straps and follows Iguro’s suggestion to leap into the manor. (F***ing snakes, the lot of them.)

“ONII-CHAN!!!” Nezuko’s scream is chilling as Shinazugawa aims his blade at the box. “STOOOP!”

Her attempt to throw herself forward is halted by Iguro, who elbows her down into the pebbled ground.

“Gah…!” A breathless, pained wheeze.

Giyuu’s glare strengthens in intensity. Hands balled up into fists and bloody by his sides draw even more of an exclamation from Kanroji. However, all he has eyes for is that menace that’s now stabbing into Tanjirou’s box again, flinging away the cover by the tip of the weapon.

(He’ll butcher that bastard a million times to make him see what it feels like to be stabbed. He’ll turn him into a scar, the way he seems to want so badly—)

“Come out here, Demooon! Come have some of your favourite human bloooood!!” Shinazugawa laughs, crazed, as he adds another gash to his list.

Giyuu inhales sharply at that familiar honeyed scent permeating his senses.

Tanjirou… and blood… that is…

A small figure rises from the box, head tilting away from Shinazugawa towards him.

All thoughts Giyuu had of demons and their reactions to the blood of their human soulmates die off at the sight of him.

Tanjirou stands at a height slightly taller than he remembers, wisps of burgundy trailing down the top of his back in ample waves. Dwarfed in the half-and-half haori which Giyuu had sewn up from what little remained of Sabito, as well as the kimono Tsutako made him, Tanjirou looks like a ghost of the past and an impossibly delicate fragment of the present. Unbearably precious. Pink ombres bore out at him from a youthful face, rounded and freed of bloodlust. They are wide with shock, as if doubting he is there.

…Is his presence really that unbelievable?

“…Tanjirou.”

His name slips out of his lips in a shuddering breath without thinking.

The other pillars’ attention is immediately caught by his reaction, all silently fascinated.

All except for two.

“Tomioka-san! You’re finally relaxing your grip!” Kanroji cheers.

“Oi, look at this! He’s not reacting to Shinazugawa’s blood in the least!” Uzui points out excitably.

Tanjirou shudders at the sound of Giyuu’s voice. And Tanjirou turns away from Shinazugawa without a second thought, toddling long awkward steps to the edge of the shade.

Giyuu’s own eyes are wide, the beast within whining in conflict when those hands reach out and flinch back with a pained whimper at the burn of the sun.

Pink ombres quiver and swell with tears.

Nevertheless, looking at him, Tanjirou peers contemplatively at the edge of the shadows. Giyuu’s heart drops when Tanjirou begins lifting a feet to step out towards the sun for him.

“—Enough.” His voice doesn’t reflect the tremble in his heart.

Giyuu covers the rest of the distance between them in a heartbeat with his breath.

Pushing his mate back into the safety of the shade with his body, Giyuu lifts a hand all bloody from his previous rage and thumbs away Tanjirou’s tears with his sleeves.

“Enough.” Giyuu repeats in a sigh.

He’s defeated. And he can’t even bring himself to feel astonished when Tanjirou blinks away the tears and beams up at him with a tilted head, the gentle crescents of his eyes more than conveying his delight.

Giyuu, the fake Water Pillar, failure of a demon slayer and mate to one Kamado Tanjirou, can only quirk his lips helplessly when the demon flings his arms around him, pressing in for a quick hug.

“Okay. You win.”

He drums his fingers on the back of the other’s head deliberatively, before pulling him in for a firm squeeze.

Giyuu won’t run away anymore.

Chapter Text

What does it feel like, he has wondered more times than he can count. To lose your voice, to lose your sanity, to lose every memory that makes you yourself?

How much pain has he caused that boy living out on the top of Mt. Sagiri?

Too much to ever repent for, he’s sure.

“Tomioka-san,” Kochou calls with a demure smile that’s the most damning Giyuu has ever seen. “Surely, you’re not planning on skipping town right after that little show from just now? Afterall… Your mate – Kamado-kun – is still with me.” She whispers, leaning in with cupped hands.

Giyuu tenses.

“If you have something to say, then say it out loud. I’d rather you not hide behind pretty words.”

“Is that so.” The Insect Pillar settles back, perfectly content with that. “Then, I should be forth front and say it…”

“H-How did you find your mat—Hyah!” The buzzing Kanroji is knocked over by the shinobi.

“You. Are you really treating your mate right?” Uzui narrows his eyes down at him, vigilant. “That display just now really isn’t the typical reaction for a mated pair.”

Giyuu is well-aware of his first show of humanity before them.

He breathes through his nose to conceal his grief as he meets Uzui’s gaze. It is a sign of weakness, one which he cannot afford to show before real pillars.

“I do not see how this is part of your business.” …Yes. He has been a failure ever since his first run-in with Tanjirou. “Mind your own matters.”

“You—!” Uzui blinks, wide-eyed, caught between outrage and bewilderment.

“Flamboyantly stung.” Kochou crows with her pleasant, false smile.

Giyuu wants nothing more than to leave this place.

-

It is difficult to imagine how their next meeting might go, with Tanjirou having been carried off to the Butterfly Manor.

It is painstaking, to go through the motions of taking step after step behind Kochou without rushing to his destination as he always does.

Giyuu has always charged head-first into battles with full awareness that a life could be counting on it. Ironically, it is facing his mate that is the most gruelling thing to him.

Kochou is right. He is a failure of a mate. If it was up to him, he would have fled town.

But Tanjirou had stood before him. But Tanjirou had made Giyuu promise himself never to run again. Recalling the tears that had rolled down deathly pale cheeks like beads of precious jewels, and the pink topaz that blinked shut at the gentlest brush of his knuckles, something rushes within him again at the reawakened realization that – his omega needs him.

More than any person out there who might be in need of saving at the moment, Giyuu most wants to answer Tanjirou’s plea.

When you’ve lost your voice, when you’ve lost your will, and when you’ve lost your humanity, who can you best rely on in your times of need?

Hollowly, Giyuu wonders if this makes him any more of a failure as a demon slayer.

The ashes in his mouth have yet to fade when Kochou pulls aside the door and chimes a sonorous, “I’m home!”

The clamber of footsteps sets his heart racing for a brief second of time.

“Welcome back!” “Shinobu-sama!” “Welcome home!”

Seeing three small girls and no demon in place of them, Giyuu relaxes. He barely takes note of the flash of smugness in violet eyes and whispering, bated breaths. (“Is that a guest?” “He looks familiar somehow…” “A pillar? Is he a pillar, Shinobu-sama?” “That’s right.” Said with a beguiling smile.)

“Where is Tanjirou?” The words leave him in a breath.

“Probably at the back, where you briefly stayed after your test.” Kochou’s lips pursue in tentative apology, knowing the memories that brings back. “The rest of the manor is fairly well-lit. If you’ll wait a moment… shall I lead you to the hallway?”

“No need.” Giyuu trots off with that reply. (He remains ignorant to the added tick mark and astonished gasps from the girls at the audacity of this rude slayer.)

He will remember, even a lifetime after having been nursed to full health by the Butterfly Estate. Impassive now in face with his earlier failings, Giyuu is unashamed to admit the brushes of sandal bottoms against wooden floorboards and the then consternating whispers still linger in the edges of his mind. Thirty-six was the number of times they’d visited to chide him out from his sheets, dwindled down to twelve, dwindled down to seven, until eventually there were only three, for meals.

Urokodaki had visited. The Oyakata had visited.

Sabito did not visit, no matter how long he waited.

And now, Giyuu thinks with a bit of self-hatred, Tanjirou is…

Be…fore… him?

Thoughts cut short.

Sapphire blues stare, transfixed, down at the boy at his foot.

Tanjirou is sleeping, back pressed against the wall.

Having been kicked lightly by the tip of Giyuu’s toes, the boy who had just been resting bobs his head in sleepy awareness. A hand raises to rub at pink topaz eyes endearingly. Tanjirou tries and fails to crack open his eyes.

Giyuu’s heart clenches down when he realizes there is not a single other person to be seen.

Tanjirou must have slipped out of that parted door to wait for him.

As proof, that extremely sensitive nose has just twitched and Tanjirou jolts in attention.

He turns his head in Giyuu’s direction, disregarding all his failures and his cowardice as he reaches out haori-clad hands towards him.

And Giyuu… Giyuu can only stand still, in silence, at the reminder of his memento still embracing Tanjirou’s form.

His chest threatens to give way.

He aches for his mate.

Giyuu finds himself bending down again to meet Tanjirou halfway, just the same way he did before at the meeting.

“I’m here.” Those words resound louder in his ears than he’s ever dared them to.

Tanjirou struggles to fight against closing eyes. He must have been so tired, injured from his earlier battles.

Giyuu narrows his eyes out of sight. He cradles frail shoulders against his chest with one arm, picking up Tanjirou with the other.

Like this, there are no hands available for a sword if there is a demon attack.

The melting of Tanjirou into his hold robs all of Giyuu’s focus. He tries not to notice it. The familiar honeyed scent of his mate up close and infiltrating his nostrils; a temptation which he struggles against and a moment later, gives in to take a whiff of.

Tanjirou is warm in his arms, like he’s always supposed to be.

“Mmfph…”

The sound from Tanjirou draws his eyes down to closing pink topaz.

Tanjirou leans in close to his collarbone and – despite his instincts – snuggles into his neck.

Giyuu freezes, afraid to move an inch lest Tanjirou retracts his soft, full locks.

Tanjirou drifts away, just like that.

“There’s never been a person who Onii-chan wasn’t able to accept if he tries. That’s why… I really hope you’d give him a chance, Tomioka-san!”

The other Kamado’s too-cheerful words come tunnelling back to mind.

She’s wrong.

Giyuu takes a stinging breath full of honeyed warmth. Without his control, and despite the waging war in his mind, he leans his head in towards Tanjirou, shy of a few centimetres from pressing their foreheads together.

Tanjirou will not want him if he returns to being human. It is in spite of that, that Giyuu still can’t help the ever-present desire for his mate.

If only he never returns to being human. Such a thought had never occurred to him, but the tiniest flicker of its presence making itself known now makes the curling self-loathing in the pit of his stomach thrash in outrage. Giyuu swallows the entangled loop that’s his emotions and peers down at dim light scattering across dark lashes. The fingertips that had just now been holding on to Tanjirou’s clothes – to his haori twitch a little, in urge to cling and beg.

He wants Tanjirou to be his.

It’s repugnant, to take advantage of the situation like this.

Garnering a breath that trembled on its beginnings and endings, Giyuu musters self-discipline and draws his head back.

…He wonders if this is punishment, for being late to Tanjirou’s rescue.

-

If anyone told Giyuu before that he will be in bed with a teen six years his junior, Giyuu would have looked at them and let the judging silence do the talking for himself.

Despite that, Giyuu is in bed with a sleeping Kamado, meeting the eyes of Kochou and a frazzled Nezuko.

“…He wouldn’t let go.” Giyuu states, the very present state of Tanjirou’s balled fist still on the sleeve of his replacement haori serving as evidence.

Shinobu maintains her pensive smile.

“I never said anything.”

Giyuu levels her a second look just to be sure and is taken off guard when Nezuko lurches herself at them.

Only after tremulous hands have taken her brother’s in hand then did the maiden, too young for her losses, muster a white-lipped smile.

“T-Thank goodness… I thought something must have happened to him when he disappeared from my side.” Nezuko slinks down by the cot’s side.

Giyuu has heard the commotion this morning.

“I wasn’t sure whether or not to bring him back to your room.” He admits.

Giyuu’s mother had taught him better manners than that.

“No. Really, it’s fine.” Nezuko offers another smile, colour returning to her face. Gentling eyes lower with a brush against Tanjirou’s temple. “I need to go train while I’m healing anyways. S-Someone needs to take care of Onii-chan for me!”

Giyuu pierces her lies with a stare that’s plain to see.

But caring for slayers whose method of coping is running themselves down to the ground isn’t his duty.

Giyuu will leave that to Kochou, but...

“…You can leave Tanjirou to me.” He murmurs lowly.

Nezuko pauses, two years of total dependence just as much of a load for the carer as is for the receiver. Her smile is tinted with melancholy, a fragment of jealousy as present as is relief.

“…I’ll leave Onii-chan in your hands then, Tomioka-san.”

“That was unexpectedly sensitive of you.” Kochou speaks up in the wake of the girl who rushes past.

“Cut the small talk. What should I do for Tanjirou’s care?” Giyuu goes right to the point.

Violet eyes sharpen at his brusqueness. The lethalness of her smile grows ten times more pleasant.

“Nothing.” Her answer comes curt, before it simpers out. “There is nothing you have to do for Kamado-kun. His biology will take care of itself, provided sufficient rest.”

“I see.” Giyuu looks down at the demon, still clinging in his sleep.

He will be staying here for a long time, accompanying him.

“Please don’t worry. So long as you clean the area within ten-mile radius of here free of demons, your everyday three meals will be taken care of for you.” Kochou inserts her usual snideness.

“Kochou.” It takes her off guard.

“…Yes?” Wariness slips into her smile.

“Thank you.”

This time, the smile completely falls off her face.

“Tomioka-san…” The Butterfly Mistress gazes unsurely at the two of them. She swallows the snide rising in the back of her throat. “…It looks like you really have changed, hadn’t you?”

Giyuu squeezes his eyes shut in her wake.

He knows.

And it begins with him, staying.

-

The next time Tanjirou opens his eyes, it’s akin to a miracle.

Long lashes fluttering open, the moon graciously showers them with unbridled light casting pale forms upon ethereal pallor.

Giyuu absently registers this will be his first time seeing Tanjirou open his eyes, freed of lasting restrains of sleep.

Tanjirou peers at him for a long while, still curled into Giyuu’s side where he was seated, reading.

He unabashedly gives a happy “mmh” and snuggles his face into Giyuu’s sleeve.

Giyuu’s heart swells up like it has never done before.

“You were clinging.” He switches topics. “Did you have a good sleep?”

To the ears of the likes of Kochou, that would have been a subtle blame or a blatant rubbing of weakness into their faces.

Tanjirou only blinks wide eyes and lets out an open-mouthed “hnnrgh” around the bamboo, curling his fingers into Giyuu’s sleeve with large pink topaz gleaming full of concern.

“I had a full day of rest.” Giyuu is quick to quell his worries. After much thought from earlier, Giyuu hesitates and reaches out to place a hand on Tanjirou’s hair.

Tanjirou releases a sound of delight, pink topaz squeezing shut in glee, and bumps his head eagerly into Giyuu’s touch.

“…Shall we go out for a walk?” He offers awkwardly.

Tanjirou blinks, and is quick to roll off the side of the bed, proudly landing on the soles of his feet, punching his hands in the air in pride.

It feels like watching a five-year-old play and yet.

Something inexplicably lightens in his heart.

“To Nezuko?” Giyuu suggests.

“Mmh!” Tanjirou nods with a huff, brows downwards slopping in his determination.

Giyuu’s heart quivers when Tanjirou reaches out soundlessly and enthusiastically takes his fingers in both hands.

Giyuu lets himself be led along, fascinated by the way his mate fusses and huffs like a mother hen.

In Nezuko’s room, which the girl had given him permission to enter at dinner (in case of this very event), he watches as Tanjirou cocks his head in confusion after unceremoniously pulling the kicked blanket back on Nezuko. The demon thinks of something and hurriedly rushes back to the back where they had come from, returning with a few pillows he’s proud of.

Tanjirou smiles happily, fluffing up the pillows and tucking them around Nezuko.

Giyuu is positively certain the girl is awake.

When done, Tanjirou takes a large step back and beams at his work. …only to cock his head in confusion again.

There is something he cannot put his thumb on.

Giyuu thinks he knows why.

“…Shall I… lend a hand?” The words come awkward and broken with misuse.

Tanjirou folds his arms, cocking his head at him so much, his shoulders go tilting and his feet unbalances with it.

Each taking a side of Nezuko’s bed – now no more than a front-row seat to Tanjirou’s earnest display, Giyuu concludes – they lift the sheets up and settle them over the sleeping Nezuko and pillows.

…It really still is a crude work, bits and pieces of pillowcases peeking out under too tiny blankets, half of which is terribly misplaced.

However, before Tanjirou is able to take fuss with this next prominent issue, Nezuko breaks her cover with a sonorous giggle.

“This is just perfect.” ‘Perfect’ ruined by a hand which escapes sheets to ruffle her brother’s hair. “Thank you, Onii-chan.”

Tanjirou takes in that for a moment. He lights up in the next, in flower-popping delight.

Childlike in his behaviour, he races around the bed and Giyuu thought he was headed for the supplies room again when Tanjirou plays tug-a-war on his sleeve.

No words slip through in Giyuu’s confusion.

“Mmfph!” Tanjirou looks to Nezuko with bright eyes.

Nezuko hesitates, a flush of polite apology just blooming on her face when Giyuu meets her with a sombre nod. She gradually smiles and lifts a hand to Giyuu’s dipping head.

“Yes. Well done, the both of you two.”

Giyuu cannot remember the last time he had been touched on the head by anyone.

As Tanjirou encases his hand with his other hand and beams up at him like he’s happy for him, no words can describe the conflicting feelings in him, rolling across like shifting grains of sand.

“I’m a little tired and Shinobu-san said I need plenty of rest,” Nezuko pauses to chuckle at Tanjirou’s downed, worried face. She reaches out and lightly pinches the traces off when he hobbles closer to be within touching distance. “Not to mention, it will be a huge waste if I don’t make full use of this bed you’ve made for me!”

Nezuko huffs. Like brother, like sister.

“So while I rest… Why don’t you show Tomioka-san around and play ball with him?” Nezuko suggests, with an indulgent smile. “You should spend some time with him!”

-

‘Ball’ turns out to be a literal game of catch, with a ball.

Tanjirou places the temari in his hand. Tanjirou lower himself on both legs, huffing and puffing his readiness to react. Giyuu hesitates, and, at a loss, tentatively flings the ball up.

Immediately at once, Tanjirou shoots up to the sky, burst of strength powering his feet. He snags the ball without event and lands graceful as a cat back on his feet, ‘mmh’-ing proudly as he looks Giyuu in the eye. “Mmnh!” Giyuu accepts the ball Tanjirou happily bounces over to brandish in his face.

Rinse and repeat.

…He gets that this is Nezuko’s version of training to get Tanjirou to escape speedily should there be a need for it.

Still, he can’t help but feel that anyone will agree this situation is absurd.

For Tanjirou to be treated as anything less than human… For a fifteen-going-sixteen-year-old to be in such a diminutive state…

Tanjirou falters mid-run up to him, cocking his head in confusion.

He nudges the ball into Giyuu’s unwilling hand, over and over.

For he himself to treat his mate as such a being despite being the cause of it… despite Tanjirou wanting him to do this… Giyuu really can’t decide.

But in the midst of his pending, Tanjirou has already decided, eyes brightening with an idea that is lost on Giyuu.

“Mmh!”

“…”

(ㆆ-ㆆ)

Giyuu stares blankly from his perch on Tanjirou’s back, face full of incredulity.

…Are they playing horsey now?

“Mmnh!” Tanjirou hums back at him, pink topaz eyes flickering to him for a fraction of a second.

The demon braces himself, drawing a foot back in ready to shoot up.

Giyuu reluctantly takes his cue and flings the temari sky-high into the air.

Tanjirou leaps – with him still on his back – and spectacularly—

They fail to catch the ball.

“…”

There is a moment of silence when they land, during which the ball flops pathetically to the ground.

Giyuu… really isn’t sure what to say. (How to apologize?)

Tanjirou puts him down. Tanjirou goes over to pick up the ball. And Tanjirou presses it into his hands, pink topaz sparkling brighter when Giyuu takes it in hand.

…Well. Whatever, he thinks.

Giyuu once more throws the ball.

-

Nights are short, but they’re longer without missions.

Never would Giyuu have thought he’d wish they are longer, but when Tanjirou begins nodding off drowsily, a figment of wistful ache throbs repugnantly within his chest.

Who is he, to wish that Tanjirou could walk under the sun with him?

“Shall we go?”

Giyuu, nevertheless, is gratified when Tanjirou drifts over to take his hand.

He leads Tanjirou by the hand now, down the path he’s been led down earlier. The Water Pillar awkwardly tucks Tanjirou into their shared bed with halting pauses resulting from his ignorance. Tanjirou clings in his sleepiness, whines around his piece of bamboo with sticky fingers still in Giyuu’s sleeve when he tries to leave. Giyuu tries no longer. How can he, when this will only be for a short time, until Tanjirou’s humanity is restored (even if he doesn’t believe he will)?

Tanjirou moves over automatically to create space for Giyuu when the Water Pillar sinks his weight in. It is unjustifiably a comfortable fit, even when Tanjirou slings his other hand over to curl them in Giyuu’s uniform.

Giyuu counts the moments till they’re asleep.

-

Waking up with Tanjirou locked in his protective hold shouldn’t be so satisfying.

Rengoku visits.

“I support! I support!”

His unintentionally rambunctious voice speaks of total ignorance to the front row seat Giyuu has to his conversation out in the backyard with Nezuko.

The Flame Pillar shows his full support for a younger sibling who pushed through with such brevity, even if he himself cannot trust the demons.

Rengoku Kyoujurou, the older sibling, offers solidarity and aid should Nezuko ever need a big brother’s ears.

Giyuu finagles his way out of his replacement haori, leaving his scent to overlay the distressed-seeming Tanjirou. He shows his face, sleep-mused, hair bedraggled, to the Flame Pillar who yells out, “Tomioka!”

Giyuu casts Nezuko and her tearing eyes an impassive look.

“Is everything alright?” He asks.

Nezuko sniffs. “Y-Yes.” She musters a watery smile.

Giyuu is satisfied with that and turns to be on his way since that’s settled.

“It looks like he’s already taken you into his pack!”

He dismisses the shout that comes as he trots back to his place by Tanjirou’s side.

Tanjirou buries his nose back in his arm, glad to have the original article.

Giyuu indulges for a while longer.

-

There are twenty-four hours in a day.

For better or for worse, Giyuu requires only six hours of sleep per day.

Giyuu can spend hours putting together plans for Tanjirou’s entertainment, but all of it slips his mind the moment pink topaz part to gaze upon him.

“…” Giyuu presses his lips into a line. Tanjirou will be the first to prompt him into speech. “…Morning.”

“Mmnh!” His soulmate’s eyes curve in greeting.

Tanjirou wriggles closer to him under the sheets, not unlike a tapeworm.

“…What do you want to do today?” Giyuu averts his eyes.

When it comes to uncertain socialization, the best is to always differ to others for their opinions.

Tanjirou cocks his head on Giyuu’s arm in thought.

He makes a hum of decisiveness, getting dressed in Giyuu’s haori with much difficulty after he clambers off the bed. Giyuu absently lends a hand, tugging stray folds down and pulling Tanjirou in place.

The demon makes another excited huff as he tugs on Giyuu’s hand. He excitedly waves a hand out at the mountains when they exit the manor. Giyuu comes to a halting pause when he realizes what the other desires.

“…You want to leave the estate?” Instinctive wariness settles in dangerously.

The demon slayer half of him is lurched miles away from him when Tanjirou grabs his hand in his, swaying their joint hands childishly as he nods in fervent agreement. “Mmph!”

“…”

He supposes it couldn’t hurt to see what Tanjirou wants.

-

Tanjirou picks up a branch. He furrows his brows. He shakes his head with a dismissive “mh-hmph!” He tosses the branch, and he moves on to the next.

What… exactly is he doing?

Pink topaz eyes light up at a particular branch. He gathers it in the hold of his arms, letting out a series of self-satisfied “hmm, hmm!” at every other branch he gathers from the damp forest ground.

Giyuu stares in a dumbfounded stupor for more moments before it occurs to him.

The Kamados were coal-sellers.

Dropping his knees into the rain-muddied ground, Tanjirou stares with large unthinking eyes down at the ground beneath him. Before Giyuu can so much as ask, his soulmate has retracted his veined claws from his hands and is ardently scooping out handfuls of mud to pat down the pile of gathered dry wood.

Giyuu… is in a complete loss as to why, what, and how.

The mud stains the tip of Tanjirou’s nose as he works. Repeatedly, over and over, without a single care for the dirtiness of the labour.

Giyuu jerks when Tanjirou startles.

The demon swivels his head back at him.

“Mmm-mmh!”

Giyuu hesitates.

Does he… want him to join him…?

The first handfuls of mud that he collects were made loose by Tanjirou’s very resolute sharpened fingers.

Giyuu gathers them up and he pats them down the uneven holes and spaces, where pieces of dry wood fail to patchwork themselves into a seamless block.

…When was the last time he’d played with clay?

The closest to this he could remember by far was when he was six or seven, with Old Man Sakaguchi down by the pottery shop entertaining Tsutako’s whimsical thought of learning his art.

Even then, that was not with mud this organic.

“Mmh!” Tanjirou snags his hand when he is about to close the last of the holes. The demon shakes his head and stands up.

Giyuu is still at a loss when the demon swivels around looking for a piece of dry wood. Tanjirou’s quick to sit himself down in the ground and – with demon speed – makes quick work of starting a fire in no time at all.

Down the hole at the top of the muddy cavern it goes. Flickers of flame spark into existence, winking from the tiny airspaces made available by where they hadn’t completed the dome. So that was why Tanjirou had stopped him.

Giyuu still doesn’t get the point of this. Hands muddied, clothes dirtied, he eyes his soulmate who huffs in accomplishment and turns on his heels to blink at Giyuu.

Tanjirou smiles, and the demon races forward to before him.

Giyuu lifts a hand unthinkingly. He disregards the moment of pause he had to reconsider, swiping his sleeve across the hardened mud on Tanjirou’s nose.

Tanjirou closes his eyes with the smallest of whines at being pampered. He allows himself to be taken by the shoulders, to have his face cleaned of that stubbornly unbudging piece – like a child, or a chickling, just newly independent of their parents’ wishes. Incredibly precious.

Giyuu lets his hand settle over Tanjirou’s head for the gentlest of pats, before slipping it away.

Large pink topaz blink open up at him.

“…If only you can speak to me.” Giyuu finally lets it out.

Tanjirou blinks uncomprehendingly at him. It’s enough to push him right over that edge, to continue regardless of what he wouldn’t have said without Tanjirou being in this state.

“I can never apologize enough for the things I’ve done. If you’ll allow me…” Giyuu raises his hand, hand so close to cradling Tanjirou’s face, but… he can’t. He swallows, drops his hand along with his head. “…I can never make it up to you for being late both times.”

First with Tanjirou’s family. Then, with him, failing to be by Tanjirou’s side because he was too preoccupied with running.

Tanjirou cocks his head. And Tanjirou reaches for Giyuu’s hand with that habitual “mmh!”

Giyuu is caught off-guard when Tanjirou pulls it up to his cheek.

The demon peers at his mate with eyes fully resolute. Dirt smeared on the crown of his head and expression spelling his full intent despite the dirt on Giyuu’s hand.

The demon’s eyes close and he envelops Giyuu in his arms with an enthusiastic “hmmn!”

Startled, Giyuu stiffens for as long as his subconscious mind would allow. Then, instincts take over, that wafting honeyed scent sweeter than the most effective of relaxants. He relaxes into Tanjirou’s hold, fingertips twitching as he hesitates, and he settles them over Tanjirou’s shoulders.

It’s with a touch of amusement thereafter that he notices Tanjirou’s been tiptoeing to his height. That Tanjirou is dirt-smeared, and contented, eyes closing into slits.

They are going to need to take a bath after this.

At hours following the start of this event, in the midst of which Tanjirou chases butterflies with an enthusiasm characteristic of him and tries to rope Giyuu into gathering straw to make a basket but disappointingly fails due to now clumsied motor controls (whereas Giyuu succeeds due to past experience), Tanjirou plugs the holes with handfuls of mud, quickly joined by Giyuu.

Together, they suffocate the flames that wink like stars and break the cage-like dome when the coal has likely cooled.

Fallen pieces of coal slips out, a gathered pile hard-earned and testament to their work.

Giyuu wonders bemusedly, as Tanjirou gathers them up in their baskets, if this is how it’d feel to be a mate of the Kamado’s, living an otherwise ordinary life as a coal-seller.

Tanjirou is in his face with a long piece of coal, eyes sparkling enthusiastically as he breaks them with a satisfying noise, the moment he has Giyuu’s attention.

The older Kamado’s face melts into one of visible content, pushing one within Giyuu’s hand for him to try.

Giyuu abidingly does so.

Before long, they are strutting down the direction they’d come from, each with a basket of their winnings for the night.

Tanjirou blinks, evidently taking notice of something. He navigates himself around to Giyuu’s other side, so basket-holding arms will not be between each other, allowing him to grab and swing Giyuu’s free arm with his own for a cheerful journey home.

Giyuu’s head is full of cotton, heart squirming, uncomfortably full, and he wonders – will it ever be possible to get used to this feeling?

-

Tanjirou as a child is… an experience in itself.

Pink topaz still large and blinking, long burgundy locks now trailing down to low-back rather than mid-back, cheeks are puffy with remaining baby fat and tiny form inviting to be picked up.

Giyuu tries not to stare as he soaps up the demon’s hair. Tanjirou’s clumsy tiny fingers try to make good work of his hair as well. Their hands come in contact, and Giyuu finds that he can’t ignore the frailness of those digits, barely reaching his first knuckle from his palm.

“Does your sister normally remove the bamboo during your baths?” Giyuu had tried to ask when they were in the changing room.

Tanjirou blinked once and tilted his head to the side, falling hair framing his heart-shaped face.

Giyuu had went with what felt right and loosened the binds holding the bamboo to his face.

Kochou and the rest may argue, but at least during baths, let this boy have a little comfort.

“Uuu?” Tanjirou makes a sound as he points at the bucket of water, pink topaz turning up curiously in Giyuu’s way.

The new sounds and intonations are… liberating, to say the least. Giyuu doesn’t like how at a complete loss Tanjirou had looked, back when the bamboo piece first came off.

Giyuu takes the bucket, hand bracing on Tanjirou’s shoulders where he’s seated before him.

“Close your eyes.” He warns.

The bucket of water comes down upon soaped head. Tanjirou blinks in the aftermath of the soapy mess and blows soapy foam from the side of his hair.

Giyuu is pleased he can provide this simple pleasure for his mate, if nothing else.

Then comes the issue of changing, because Tanjirou is not changing into the standard issued set of haori, without Giyuu’s one on him.

“It will only be for a short while.”

“Mmnh!” Tanjirou looks upset with him.

“The Butterfly Manor’s girls work fast.”

“Mmnh!”

“The next time you wake up, it’ll be ready for you.”

“Mmh! Mmh! Mnh-mh!” Tanjirou furrows his brows, looking close to tears as he cradles the mud-dirtied haori away from Giyuu.

Giyuu has never dealt with a brat, but perhaps this is what everyone feels like dealing with him. (Seeing as if, you know, everybody hates him.)

He is just about to go with the harsh method of parenting (“You should have thought twice before you got yourself into this fix.” But how can he say that, when it was because of him that Tanjirou did this?) when Tsutako’s past treatment of him finds its way back to him.

The Tomioka household didn’t have a Mom. The reason being she passed on mid-labour of Giyuu. That reason was also why Tsutako stepped up to the role of ‘Mom’ and took care of both him and his father. And Tsutako had always said, “Treating the root of the problem is the best to keep further tantrums from erupting” – in regards to his own parenting, and to a temperamental father who gets dragged into childish fights with him more often than naught.

The root in this scenario is…

“I am here.”

Those three words make pink topaz eyes widen, hesitantly turning to him.

Giyuu wonders how many more layers of vulnerability there are to be shredded between the two of them. His heart pangs, brows furrow, and the trembling mess of instincts deep within roars in anger at the evidence of what his long-term absence has done.

Giyuu takes a breath to steady his emotions. Looks impassively down at Tanjirou.

“…You don’t have to cling on to that haori anymore.”

Tanjirou lowers the twin-patterned fabric to the ground. Droplets of tears plop down his face. Giyuu freezes, hand spasming mid-air as he stares, chest tight, voice a strangled jigsaw of what little comforting words he knows, pieced together and refusing to slip past his filter.

Tanjirou closes his eyes in a wet sniffle. He raises the haori to the air, surrendering it to Giyuu.

Giyuu accepts it in one hand. He places the other on Tanjirou’s small back when the demon slumps into his thigh.

What should he do now?

Fortunately, Tanjirou’s tears stop soon enough. They drift off to sleep, tired out by the excitement of today.

-

Giyuu walks around with Tanjirou on his back.

It makes him discomforted to put Tanjirou in a small box. But after two years of separation and Tanjirou’s breakdown, he thinks the end justifies the means.

For extra measure, Giyuu loads the box full of sheets and with the haori Giyuu had been wearing from the night before.

“Tomioka-san! Did something happen with Onii-chan?” Trust Nezuko to fuss over that the first instant she sees him.

Giyuu looks from the girl to the other girls in the room, as well as one boar-masked (?) man (?). The boar-masked man is in the midst of unsubtly asking Nezuko about him.

“Tanjirou is fine.” First comes the settlement of her concerns. Then, “Kanroji, what are you doing here?”

“Ah! Eh? I’m here, because of Nezuko-chan!” Kanroji bursts out in a flustered smile. She presses her arms close, unintentionally doing the same to her ample bosom. The Love Pillar shuffles as she looks over to the smiling girl.

“I had a moment free from work, and I thought about coming over to help Nezuko with her training!” Kanroji bumps her shoulder against Nezuko’s with a warm, bright smile. “We girls have to stick close together, don’t we?”

“I really appreciate your help!” Nezuko immediately smiles.

The boar-headed man exhaled long and puffy from his boar nose. “What am I, chopped liver?!”

He is.

“Erm. Tomioka-san, not to intrude upon you, but is that…?”

“Yes.” Giyuu answers flatly.

“Ah, yes, that’s right! Of course it's him!” Kanroji’s heart nearly leaps out of her throat.

Giyuu has never entertained Kanroji’s musings of love nor will he begin to start from now on.

A flip of a coin catches everyone’s attention.

The person who catches it, Tsuyuri Kanao, Kochou’s tsuguko, blinks and smiles.

“Why is Tomioka-san here?” She asks, appearing to make a decision.

“It is not for whatever you’re thinking of, so rest assured.” Giyuu nonchalantly settles this alpha’s concern with that one line. He still can’t understand why she isn’t making a move on her omega, but others’ problems aren’t his own. “I’m here for the same reason as Kanroji. Two will be spoiling the broth though, so I will be going—”

“No, no, don’t leave simply because of me! I’m sure both of us will be able to learn something new from you, so please, stay!” Kanroji bursts out, a face full of genuine concern hard to turn down.

“…” Giyuu hates to leave Nezuko’s training unmonitored; She is Tanjirou’s one and only lifeline in battle.

He stays.

-

More days pass. Kochou is unamused when she realizes the fresh batch of coal they have been using for cooking did not come from their usual batch of suppliers.

“What is the meaning of this?” Her smile spells lethality. Icy violets are a chilling warning of what might be.

“Haha! Onii-chan must have wanted to do something for you!” Nezuko’s open-hearted laughter stops Kochou in her tracks. ‘You’, referring to Kochou and not him. Deeply rubied eyes remain sparkling with delight as she picks up a piece of coal. “Onii-chan had always liked taking care of people… Shinobu-san’s actions must have been understood by him! That’s why he wanted to repay everyone in this household!”

Coming from a girl like Nezuko herself, these words are incredibly believable.

Kochou stares, awkward for a second during which a thud comes right out of Tanjirou’s box, as if he had kicked it in agreement.

“Mmh-mmh!” The sound slips out like thanks.

Kochou is left hastily scrambling for the scattered pieces of her previous rage.

“Being grateful is good and all, but I really haven’t done anything worthy of thanks.” Kochou smiles beguilingly. “The next time you leave the compound… please make sure to inform me ahead of time. Tomioka-san.”

Giyuu is unfazed by the splinter of ice in her voice.

An apologetic whimper slips out of Tanjirou’s box.

Kochou hesitates and smiles, leaning in tentatively, “No. The blame doesn’t lie with you, Tanjirou-kun.”

Nezuko smiles and smoothly distracts Aoi and Kochou with her next interesting fact, “The coal from Onii-chan always makes a mean smoked fish. Is it okay if I make that for dinner tomorrow?”

“Only if you’re still able to move after training.” Aoi retorts dryly.

“Fish! Meat!” Inosuke roars in agreement, with an added—“Nezuko-chan’s food!” By the newly joined Zenitsu.

The younger Kamado smiles plainly and ignores him.

-

Tanjirou goes out and sidesteps him sometimes.

Evidence of that being the tenth day of their stay, shortly after Agatsuma Zenitsu was let back into the training field.

The way the teen leapt and chased Nezuko grated on everyone (save Giyuu)’s nerves.

In particular, there was Nezuko’s clearly unmated alpha soulmate, who tossed a coin and was forced to watch from the sidelines with a terse smile as her soulmate was consistently pestered.

In particular, there was Inosuke, who seemed a hair’s breadth from snapping, irked at his own soulmate’s behaviour around girls, around him.

Then there were the other girls who were just irked to be submitted to this display, just as Giyuu impassively was.

Giyuu doesn’t particularly hold an opinion on this. People who seek to go against the tide of their bonds will always exist. Tanjirou has been confirmed by Nezuko to be of a similar type as Giyuu, and he hopes that isn’t likely to change. Whatever decision Tanjirou makes, Giyuu shall accept.

But Agatsuma Zenitsu and his issues? Those fall out of Giyuu’s realm of concern.

Which is why he wonders why he is laying pieces of coal in a ring around the snoring trooper’s bed, in a ceremonial, possibly-sacrificial circle.

Tanjirou huffs when he’s done with the other side. He rises to his feet, brows furrowed, self-satisfied.

Giyuu doesn’t particularly hold any emotions towards Zenitsu… but he understands his mate’s vexation.

“Are we done here?” Giyuu question, slipping to Tanjirou’s side.

Tanjirou narrows large pink topaz eyes. He doesn’t get angry often, Giyuu gathered. However, that one leap which Zenitsu had made at Nezuko when she was holding her shinai, which resulted in the present red bump on his head, could have been more damaging for everyone involved.

“Mmfph!” Tanjirou huffs and withdraws another piece of coal from his haori sleeve.

He places it on the bump, black and solid and powdery against reddened skin.

He pulls back and lets out a “Mnf!” full of finality.

Giyuu is caught between wry amusement and smug nonchalance as he follows after his mate.

If he stands outside the infirmary with Tanjirou’s box when Zenitsu shrieks awake about “Somebody was cursing him in his sleep! Namu Amida Butsu! GOD, BUDDHA, ANYONE! SAVE HIIIMMM!!!” and slips into the habit of standing behind Nezuko whenever Zenitsu is about to charge her, nobody needs to say anything.

Tanjirou does not make any of their short time together be about Zenitsu any longer.

-

Uzui’s visit comes during a night with light drizzle.

Tanjirou’s eyes crease as the girls giggle around him.

Together, they sit at the bench placed under the shelter of the backyard.

Ever since one of the girls had mentioned that she wanted to see the blossoms up close, and Tanjirou, being the kindred spirit he was, picked her up to see them, they have been totally enamoured with him.

Eyes closed as he indulgently allows them to tug and pull at his loosened locks to weave rainbow-coloured blossoms into his hair (“This is a souvenir for you! We want you to see the flower plains out under the sun soon!”), Tanjirou dozes lightly whereas Giyuu weaves a conical straw hat with instructions from the very helpful aides between them.

He lightly settles the one he’s finished over Tanjirou’s head when he’s done.

Pink topaz eyes blink opened, surprised, and Tanjirou curves a dimmed, but no less appreciative smile at him.

“Yay! Now that Tanjirou-san’s properly dressed, we can go out to play!”

“Somebody should go get Nezuko-san too!”

“Don’t bring Zenitsu-san! Zenitsu-san will make things weird again!” Naho sulks.

Never better put, if Giyuu dares say so himself.

Giyuu gives a nod when Tanjirou turns back to eye unsurely at him.

The demon allows himself to be tugged along, assured that their new arrival isn’t a threat.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” Uzui remarks as he steps out of the shadows beside him.

“What for?”

“For ever saying that your mate isn’t in good hands.” Uzui spares no hesitation with his shots.

Giyuu flicks dark eyes over at the other.

“For ever thinking, that your mate would be better off dead than in your care.” Uzui angles a wry grin at him. “I’ve seen way too many instances of mistreated soulmates to be confident. You had all the makings of an alpha who’d be a failure.”

The bundle of instincts within him rises in indignance despite Giyuu’s total understanding. His agreement is cold water in said instinct’s immediately subdued face.

“…And what convinces you that I’m not, anymore?” Giyuu is intrigued, despite himself.

“It’s that look on your face.” Uzui replies offhandedly.

“What.”

Uzui takes one look, and he snorts, lopsided grin with too much teeth showing.

“Haven’t you looked yourself in the mirror recently? You look so much less like a walking funeral.” Uzui inclines his head. “Found a reason to live, have you?”

Giyuu redirects his gaze to Tanjirou, being dragged around by three little girls in the rain.

He supposes he has.