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(Tanjiro)

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

“Quick Nezuko, make a wish!”

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

‘May my family always be happy and safe.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Muzan)

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

They failed.

Utterly failed.

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

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

He glared holes into the dark scenery outside his cave.

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

He still was.

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

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

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

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

Not yet.

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

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

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

(Tanjiro)

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

No reply came.

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

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

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

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

‘Please let her be okay…Please.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will definitely be back-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a rather distressing thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will be back, I promise.”

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

(Muzan)

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

He felt angry. He should feel angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like the boy is devoting himself to Muzan.

~

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

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

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

He deserved this.

Chapter Text

(Tanjiro)

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

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

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

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

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

(Muzan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘Tanjiro.’

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

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

The question seemed to shake Tanjiro out of his stupor.

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

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

Tanjiro’s expression hardened and became determined.

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

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

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

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

“I believe so.”

“What makes you so confident?”

“Hope.”

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

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

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

‘How naïve it is. How pure it is.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are you?”

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

“Muzan.”

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

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

~

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

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

~

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

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

And so Muzan played with his food.

 

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

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

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

(Tanjiro)

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

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

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

 

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

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

Chapter Text

(Tanjiro)

Something was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Gods, please let them be safe!’

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

It was Nezuko’s scream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“M-Muzan?” Tanjiro questioned.

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you no heart? No soul?”

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

“So you lack dignity too?” Tanjiro spat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

His smirked return. “I am a demon.”

Tanjiro’s face paled a little.

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

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

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

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

“I-,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A conviction that there was some good in Muzan.

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

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

‘Am I going to die?’

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

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

You are mine.

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

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

‘Where was his heartbeat?’

Chapter Text

(Tanjiro)

The village was burning.

Flames were engulfing everything he ever knew.

A pile of corpses lays to the side, mangled and unrecognisable, with limbs pointing out everywhere like a ball of sticks. Nezuko is in his arms and her hair is in disarray, covering her eyes. Her mouth is moving very slowly, but Tanjiro can’t make out the words. Her blood is crimson, and her skin turns a shade closer to snow as blood slowly drips out of her. The fiery red of the night sky matches it.
A shadow looms over Tanjiro but he doesn’t want to look up. There’s nothing good to be seen there. If he looks up, he knows he’ll be looking into the jaws of a beast.

But he still does so anyway.

The nightmare (Memory?) violently rattles him awake. He takes a few huge gasps of air like he was still choking from the smoke in the dream. It takes him a few moments to recover his senses enough to open his eyes.

The first thing Tanjiro sees is luxury. There’s not a great deal of light but the contrast of the room to what he’s used to is noticeable enough.

The wooden beams above him lacked the wear and age his village’s structures had. The quilt covering him was a rich red and fine to the touch, and clearly made with expensive material. Back home, a futon this size would have been shared by at least two to three people and would been much thinner.

Shifting his head to the left, he sees an ornate lamp flickering next to him, illuminating the small area around him. To his right, he could make out a door. He couldn’t quite discern the details of the scene painted on it, but he could already tell it was far more detailed than anything in his humble village, even counting the temple.

Tanjiro struggled to a sitting position, the movement inducing a coughing fit. The smoke from the nightmare…no - the memory had been real, and his lungs still ached from its burns.

‘Where am I?’

The room around him is small. Very small. Small enough that his fully spread futon takes up most of the room. The walls aren’t very high either, and a tall person might struggle to stand up straight in it. He felt like he had been dropped into a tiny little perfume box, – the kind an affluent nobleman might gift his wife – decorative and beautiful and with the key thrown away.

His coughing fit continues as he battles for air.

The walls feel very close. There isn’t enough light. Too much of the room is in darkness – too much shadow. The walls are too close. (He’s all alone now). The quilt feels too heavy now. Tanjiro can’t see much at all. There’s not enough air in here.

His coughing fit worsens as he begins to clutch at his chest.

The walls, the ceiling, the shadows – they’re all looming on top of him, they’re trying to grab him, pull him close, (He doesn’t want to be held by those arms.) the tiny light of the lamp isn’t enough, the darkness is going to suffocate him-

A knock startles him out of his stupor.

“Sir? Are you awake?” A voice from the other side inquires. Its formal but has a cheery lilt to it, perhaps feminine. More importantly however, is that it reminded him that there was a door. A door meant there was a way out of this place. It grounded him.

Still coughing slightly, Tanjiro crawled over to the sliding door and opened it.

“Good evening!” A different voice greeted him. It was more uptight and manly, but also held an underlining tone of enthusiasm. There was a pair of servants kneeling beside his door, with big smiles on their faces.

“You sound like you need some more medicine. And just in time for your scheduled dose too!” The manly voice continued, belonging to the male servant

“What great timing!” The female maid next to him chirped.

“Where am I?” was all Tanjiro could asked between his slowing coughs.

“Aotsuki palace.” The man answered, seemingly unconcerned with Tanjiro’s confusion. The maid pushed a tray of tea towards Tanjiro, gesturing for him to drink from the already filled cup. Tanjiro’s parched throat and aching chest meant he didn’t hesitate to drink it.

Pretty much the second he had placed the cup down after finishing it, the hands of the servants latched onto him and pulled him to his feet with strength that seemed impossible for them to have.

“Come, come. Time for a bath.” The maidservant said. They were pulling him out into a small hallway just outside of his small room. It was much better lit than his own room, and while still more ornate than anything he’d come across in his life, it still seemed watered down, as if this hallway was simply meant as an intermingling path for scurrying servants.

“Why am I here? Who are you two?”

The servants ignored him and continued to pull him through the winding halls.

“Must not be late. Master Kibutsuji awaits!” The male servant said.

“What? Who is that?”

“The prince.” They both answered.

This flabbergasted Tanjiro. ‘What does a prince want with me? Did he save me?’

“I don’t know him, what does he want with me?”

“Must not be late.” The male servant reminded Tanjiro.

“Must have bath now.” The maidservant added.

“Please, what happened to my family? What day is it?” His appeals went unanswered. They had yet to pass anyone in the hallway yet. Tanjiro was already beginning to lose track of how many turns they had made.

Tanjiro dug in his heels and forced his guides to stop, causing an almost comical moment where the two short servants almost seemed to trip over themselves from the sudden stop.

“Please wait a moment!”

“Come now sir, we really must hasten to the baths. You must be presentable for our master.” The maidservant’s words were said in almost placating tone, as if she was trying to calm down a spoilt child.

“Master? Prince? I’m sorry, but I don’t see how I could even get an audience with a person like this, let alone know them. This doesn’t seem right.” Tanjiro tried to reason.

“You’re master Kibutsuji’s special guest, of course he wants to speak with you.” The maidservant chuckled.

“I’m his guest? But I’ve never even met him. What does he want with me?”

The maidservant tried to coax Tanjiro along once more, while her counterpart tapped his feet in impatience. “I’m sure sir can clear it up with master Kibutsuji if you speak to him.”

The male servant clicked his tongue in dissatisfaction. “Master Kibutsuji will not meet with you like this.”

“Does the guest really want to stay in these clothes?” The maidservant gestured to Tanjiro. Following her hand, Tanjiro looked down at himself properly for the first time since waking up.

He was covered in blood.

A large patch of it covered most of his chest and hakama. The usual blue and white of his clothes were barely recognisable underneath the red. Even his hands still had dried blood on them, painting them an awful shade of red. It was as if his mind had attempted to block the red from his perception, and now facing it had shattered a floodgate of memories and blood.

A bitter, black, stifling ache spread through his veins.

The servants began to lead him down the hallway once more, but Tanjiro hardly noticed. His breaths became laborious again and he couldn’t rip his eyes from his own hands and body. He let them lead him down the tight corridor, further into the labyrinth of the castle.

This was…Nezuko’s blood. He was covered in his little sister’s blood. Stained in it from head to toe.

Her blood – no, his family and his entire village – was on his hands.

 

 

Tanjiro hadn’t resisted much after that and allowed himself to be led to the baths. He hadn’t the energy or the stable enough mind to do much else anyway. He was washed and scrubbed clean of the grime and blood.

It didn’t feel like it did much though, his hands still looked bloodied to him. Could he ever even wash this awful red away? Tanjiro wasn’t sure he deserved to be absolved. The blood on his hands was the last thing he had of his family. Maybe he didn’t want to wash it away.

If the servants were bothered by his unresponsiveness, they didn’t show it. Once he was sufficiently cleaned and doused in some sweet-smelling oils, they dressed him in fine silk and a heavy kimono. It made him look like some noble’s son and it felt unnatural. It was awkward for Tanjiro to walk around in, and it restricted his movements as if trying to forcefully make him perform actions slowly and gracefully. It wasn’t so much tight as simply overbearing, like he was being shackled by extravagance. Perhaps the only two saving graces of the situation was that they allowed him to tie his hair up, though they pinned it with a delicate and decorative hair pin, and thankfully didn’t touch his earrings.

‘This prince must have a really sensitive temperament if they must dress me in such fine clothes just to meet him. But then, why does he care to meet me face to face?’ Tanjiro thought as he was led around, trying to keep his mind occupied on anything else. The oddness of the situation made Tanjiro feel uneasy. Something was wrong.

‘At the very least, I can thank him for helping me.’

Finally, they arrived in a much bigger and grander room. There were only a few candles lit, barely succeeding in lighting the room at all. As a result, the room was mostly doused in shadow.

It overlooked some expansive and manicured gardens with a door leading out to them. The moon could be seen from the open doors and provided more light to the room than the candles, casting the room in a shade of silver. The prince’s choice of décor made Tanjiro worry. The walls were decorated with scenes of brutal battles being waged, and camellia blossoms blooming around the edges. Tanjiro thought it was a tasteless contrast, pairing the viciousness of war and death with flowers. It felt as if the painter was underplaying the cruel nature of war, from a lack of experience of losing people, or from a lack of sympathy and understanding towards death. Nobles that sat comfortably in ivory castles overlooking war from a safe distance would never understand the hardship of death like a commoner would, so maybe they were doomed to romanticize it.

As he looked around, the servants that had accompanied him until now slid the door shut behind him and left him to his devices. He was left alone in this spacious room with an enticing exit. He wasn’t fully sure who this Kibutsuji man was, and while he was grateful for his apparent rescue, a nagging part of him yelled for him to leave.

‘I must pay my respects to prince Kibutsuji.’ Tanjiro berated himself. He could not leave before he at least thanked the man for helping him. He wanted to go home as soon as possible, but it would do him no good if he forgot himself in the presence of royalty.

‘Still, where is he?’ Tanjiro was alone in the room, he could tell that much at least. The servants from before had left him without any direction. He made his way to the open doors to the garden, hoping to spot someone outside.

A dazzling scene was before him. A noble stood in the garden framed by wisteria and white chrysanthemum. His skin was unfeasibly pale like a pearl and glowed somewhat unearthly in the silver light of the moon. His kimono was elaborate and magnificent enough to make an emperor green with envy and only served to heighten his presence of grandeur. His black locks were like the fresh ink of a painting on a crisp white canvas. He looked like a flower that only bloomed in the light of the moon, impossible and yet truly beautiful.

For a moment, Tanjiro was transfixed by the painting before him. It was like witnessing the scene in a poet’s mind that they had so desperately tried to transcribe with charming lyrics but could never capture its splendour exactly in words.

But the moment could not last forever and Tanjiro was brought back to the reality when he noticed two deep red eyes peering at him from the garden – from the man dressed to be a king.

The demon that had ripped his family to pieces and burnt his home to ashes was bathed in silver and adorned in riches. The two scenes in Tanjiro’s mind crashed against each other like waves against rocks, incompatible with each other.

Tanjiro could never forget that face, but still a point in him twisted. How could something capable of such evil and carnage have such a delicate brilliance to them? He knew this beast had claws and fangs, but he didn’t realise he could hide them this effectively. Tanjiro could feel his lungs constrict as horror filled his senses.

He heard the gentle crush of grass as prince Kibutsuji – no, Muzan – made his way to him. As Muzan drew close to the door, Tanjiro took a step back and shifted slightly, instinctively putting distance between himself and Muzan. The dread in his veins froze his limbs and shortened his breath. The man entered the room just in front of Tanjiro, closing the doors behind him with a snap.

What little light there was from the candles in the room was gone in an instant, as if just the gentle snap of the doors closing was enough to blow them out. The room was illuminated only by the gleaming light of the moon at Muzan’s back, no longer lovely in its rays but eerie. The light at his back served to darken his face, making his red eyes appear to glow like gems in the darkness, the slitted pupils inside clearer than they had ever been before. His layered kimono now seemed to help him tower over Tanjiro and made his shadow seem even longer. The man in the garden had seemed ethereal in an almost heavenly manner, but this Muzan seemed to ring truer with the Muzan Tanjiro knew. The man that stood with Tanjiro’s burning village as a backdrop and snatched him from his slaughtered family.

With darkness at his back and the man of his nightmares in front of him, Tanjiro began to waver once more.

“What do you want from me?” His voice was almost pleading, as even at the end of all of it, Tanjiro still wanted to understand him.

“Entertainment.” Muzan’s voice was icy with indifference.

“But why? Why hurt my family? My village?”

“I burnt them because they touched you – were apart of you. You are mine, all of you. Your light is mine alone and only needs to warm my body.”

“Why me?”

“Because you burn the brightest.” A sadistic smirk crossed his lips, completing the look of the demon Tanjiro knew him as, though his tone remained even. “And I want you to burn yourself to ashes for me.”

Tanjiro blinked for a moment at his ludicrous words before the bitter lump in his gut began to bumble into anger.

“I could have turned you into mindless fodder. One drop of my blood in you and you would have been eating the remains of your family. But you’re not here to bore me.” Muzan continued.

“I am not an object! I am not some personal incense burner for you! You cut down my village, my family, my life – just so you could possess me?” Tanjiro’s voice grew louder and more incredulous.

“Mortals cannot deny me.”

Tanjiro let out a disbelieving huff. “There is nothing I can give you.”

“I didn’t plan on taking it willingly.” He laughed slightly, but his voice lacked any mirth. It was hollow and derisive.

“You own nothing Tanjiro. Everything you are is mine.” Muzan wasn’t touching Tanjiro at all, and yet just by him eclipsing him with his shadow, the words were driven in even more. Tanjiro felt trapped by his presence alone, and yet the resentment and frustration in him continued to spark.

“How can you call yourself a god and yet only enact destruction? Those lives you took will weigh down your back until you repent and take responsibility for your power and actions. You cannot keep abusing others like this, you will not escape judgement!”

“A god answers to no one, least of all to pathetic mortals who could never hope to comprehend me.” He sneered. “You don’t need to understand. You need only obey, that’s your place.” Muzan said as he moved closer, causing Tanjiro to reactively step back.

“You’re no god, you’re just a megalomaniac monster! The world does not exist to satisfy your whims!”

“Perhaps not yet, but it will soon. Until then you’ll just have to do.”

Tanjiro continued to retreat further away from the man, disgust curling on his lips as the words he spoke seethed with revulsion. “You’re no god, you’re just a demon.”

Muzan stopped for a moment and his pupils seemed to sharpen as he examined Tanjiro. His eyebrows lowered and a dangerous look of ire and arrogance started to contort his fair face. A familiar instinct of dismay crawled up Tanjiro’s spine.

‘Danger.’

Tanjiro’s breath was caught in his throat as a cry automatically built in it. It was cut short before it could even leave his mouth as a hand, warped with the strength of a demon, shot out and pulled him towards Muzan. He was swung around and thrown against the doors to the garden, a clawed hand still clutching his throat in place, choking him.

The action was so swift and forceful, Tanjiro was sure the door may have dented from the impact. His back certainly felt like it might have, but any cry of pain was mostly muted by the crushing force on his windpipe. The delicate screen of the door was punctured from the blow, and little rays of moonlight flited in around Tanjiro’s shoulders and head. Tanjiro’s head was crowned with moonlight as a vicious demon pinned him against it. Muzan’s face was dotted with specks of moonlight, but it did nothing to soothe the image of rage his face was.

The hand on his neck gripped harder and harder as Tanjiro fruitlessly scrabbled at Muzan’s arm for release. Silence flooded the room as Tanjiro’s coughing was smothered and replaced with frantic clawing and twitching fingers. He couldn’t even gasp for breath.

Finally, something broke the awful silence.

“Master Kibutsuji, your dinner is ready.” It was the maidservant from before at the door again, kneeling on the ground with her head to the floor. Her initial cheery tone was replaced with a reverent one.

The silence dragged for a while longer as Muzan glared down at the writhing body in his grasp. Eventually though, the creases in his face began to smoothen out, and his face returned to one of simple coldness.

“That’s fine, I’ll have my appetiser here.” He did not take his eyes from Tanjiro’s, nor loosen his grip. “Hand me that paper.”

The maid servant got up to retrieve the paper resting nearby on an ornamental table to the side, but she did not look up as she did so. Finally, Muzan began to lightly release some force from Tanjiro’s throat, sending him into a frantic coughing fit. Muzan held his hand out and received the paper without turning to look at it. Thankfully Tanjiro’s airway had only been closed for seconds, and he was able to breathe now, though somewhat heavily. Muzan was looking down at the end of his arm at Tanjiro, almost with a look of disinterest.

“We will teach those lips of yours their duty.” He spoke over Tanjiro’s coughing as the maidservant left.

The blazing look in Muzan’s eyes conflicted with his apathetic expression. Tanjiro felt that at that moment, he truly understood what rabbits felt staring down the canines of a ravenous wolf.

“Wh-what are y-you…,” Tanjiro tried to ask, but the strain on his throat meant it came out gravelly and uneven.

It didn’t matter though, as seconds later a burning sensation bloomed on his lower lip. Tanjiro cried out in pain and confusion. Muzan had slashed a fine thin line into his lip with the paper. He had done it so fast Tanjiro almost didn’t realise what had happened. He saw Muzan ready his arm again for surely another strike and began frantically scratching at the hand that held his neck.

“Stop! Please d-don’t!”

Another strike came and Tanjiro could feel the blood drawn from both cuts intersect like tiny rivers as they dribbled down his chin. The papercuts stung every second, like thousands of miniature needles were ripping their way through his lip. Tanjiro had gotten paper cuts and other small wounds before, but never had any hurt quite so viscerally as this. His lips felt seared around the wound, and the rest of his lips seemed to ache in fear and anticipation of receiving the same treatment. The pain didn’t subside and only seemed to get worse as time passed.

Muzan watched Tanjiro react to the pain with a cool look, devoid of expression outside the hungry look in his eyes. His arm once more got into position and Tanjiro flinched in his grip.

“Stop!” Tanjiro angled his face away as best he could, threw his hands up in front of his face as protection and began to thrash blindly. In response, the grip on his throat tightened once more and he was back to being violently choked, effectively suffocating his struggles. His protests died and his hands dropped to cling to the arm squashing his windpipe.

This time, the strangulation lasted a little bit longer and Tanjiro’s vision began to blur and edges darken. His senses were getting hazy, but the awful searing in his lip did not fade.

Just when Tanjiro was beginning to feel like he was going to pass out, Muzan finally let go. His hand retracted enough for Tanjiro to go slack and lean against the dented door frame behind him, fingering his quickly bruising neck gingerly. Tanjiro gasped greedily between his coughing and felt faint.

For a few short minutes, Tanjiro’s coughing was not interrupted. He was simply watched. Eventually his breath started to come back, and the coughing that was wracking his body started to dwindle into soft wheezing, so the hand around his neck returned. Tanjiro flinched but was mostly frozen in place, hoping to not trigger Muzan into strangling him again. He breathed heavily as he felt Muzan drag the paper around the sides of his face, in a mocking imitation of a lover tender caress. He shivered, fearing the paper would slice him again, but his face was not cut. Instead, the paper made its way back to his lips again and sliced there. Tanjiro raised his arms reflexively to block the next incoming cut, but a tightening grip on his throat was a clear enough threat that they sank back down to his sides.

For the next few minutes, Tanjiro was forced to endure slice, after slice. More and more of his lips were slowly and methodically cut and sliced. Every new wound stretched the others and every tremble of his lip was like a snap of a whip to his raw skin. His lips stung and bled throughout the process, Tanjiro whimpering as the pain was etched into his skin. The ordeal was deliberately slow and without any relief or break from it.

Soon Tanjiro’s whimpers turned to quiet sobs as tears sprang from his eyes and mixed with the blood gathering on his face. It didn’t bother Muzan, and he only stopped once to wipe away a tear that had strayed too close to his ministrations with his thumb, smudging Tanjiro’s cheek with blood.

He just stared down at Tanjiro focused and unblinking, seemingly enraptured with the way his lips split and bled.

When Muzan decided he was satisfied with the many tiny papercuts on Tanjiro lips, he pulled back to slightly examine his work and drop the paper to the ground. He cast it away like it was useless and unimportant, after he had just used it to painstakingly carve into another’s face with it. Tanjiro still hadn’t stopped crying, though he was doing his best not to let his lip shudder and worsen the pain, so it was mostly just silent tears and restrained tremors.

The grip around his throat loosened enough so that instead of holding him in place with a silent threat, it was more like a light stroke. Again, the gentleness of it was mocking; horribly contrasted with what the hands had just done before. Muzan’s other hand now free of the paper, returned to Tanjiro’s face once more to cup his bloodied chin.

‘Is he finished? What more will he do?’ Tanjiro thought warily.

His thoughts were answered when Muzan dragged his thumb over his torn-up lips, ripping a cry from Tanjiro. It reignited the smouldering pain on his lips that he had been trying to avoid exacerbating. He felt every millimetre of the cuts stretching, widening, burning. Fresh hot tears rained down his face as the pain grew once more and he felt the pain of thousands of fiery ants tearing up the sensitive skin of his lips. He screwed up his eyes in pain and lifted his hands up to clutch pleadingly to Muzan’s arm and chest, choosing not to try and pry his hand from his face, knowing it wouldn’t end well for him.

“Please Stop! You’re hurting me!” Perhaps the statement was obvious and maybe the begging was futile, but Tanjiro didn’t know what else to do. Trying to get out of his grip would lead to more pain, but he couldn’t do nothing either.

Muzan leaned in until his face was hovering just over Tanjiro’s.

“Your lips should only be for me.” Like a viper striking, Muzan dove in swiftly to capture his lips.

Tanjiro could barely react. For a second, he simply did not know what to do or how to process the sudden callous intimacy. But the pain rapidly brought him back. Although the other lips were silky and soft, the pain of the stretch and touch was painful enough to draw out another muffled cry from Tanjiro.

This. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.

Kisses shouldn’t hurt. They should make your heart swell, not your stomach drop.

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this, it wasn’t supposed to be with Muzan.

Everything was wrong.

Red eyes were boring into him, seemingly entertained and darkly fascinated by the pain and confusion written across Tanjiro’s face. Tanjiro could feel the blood from the papercuts spring forth much more, wetting their kiss and marring the white face across from him with red.

Tanjiro started to try and push Muzan away by thumping his chest and pushing. But Muzan didn’t budge, only squeezing lightly on Tanjiro’s abused neck as an unspoken reminder. It provoked another muted groan into the kiss from Tanjiro, allowing Muzan to deepen the kiss further, but it did not stop Tanjiro’s resistance.

‘Wrong. It hurts. Stop! Not like this. Not with you… Wrong. Stop!’

His mind was a mess, tangled and panicked. He threw the lesson he had learned minutes earlier to the wind and tried to put everything he had into his punches and kicks. He tried to twist, to hit him as hard as he could, but it was like trying to knock down a brick wall with a breeze. Muzan’s hand left Tanjiro’s neck and snaked around Tanjiro’s waist, pulling them closer than ever before and effectively pinning him against the door.

Tanjiro could feel a smirk shaping the lips devouring him, the demon’s tongue slipping past their bloodstained lips. Tanjiro’s resistance grew even more erratic, though it did little to stop Muzan from exploring his mouth. Tanjiro briefly considered biting the meandering tongue or the assaulting lips, but enough sense in him remained to remember Muzan’s comment on his blood’s transformative properties.
He could feel his tongue examine everything in his mouth in an almost meticulous way, like a gourmet relishing a bite. Tanjiro tried to repel his tongue with his own, but he was quickly overpowered, and his act of defiance was taken advantage of so Muzan could wrap his tongue around his. Muzan toyed with his weakly resisting tongue; curling and tasting it with every motion. What should have been a fight to repel Muzan, turned heady.

Tanjiro was pressed up against Muzan’s chest and crowded against the door. Muzan’s hand was on his face and holding his lower back, the same way some dancers hold their partners. The air between them felt warm and heavy, like the tongue in his mouth. Tanjiro was struggling to breathe, and he started to feel faint.
Muzan was everywhere on Tanjiro.
It was stifling, and given the situation, Tanjiro was afraid. It reminded him of the last time Muzan had pulled him into his chest. He didn’t want to remember it, but the memory surfaced anyway, and the combination of the trauma and the long kiss had Tanjiro vying for breath.

But even though it was the monster holding him, the monster’s lips kissing him, Tanjiro still felt heat begin to rise. His fists curled into the silky fabric of Muzan’s kimono and stopped beating his chest and started tugging at it instead. His lips still stung and tingled painfully, but the heat….and the pleasure of it were mixing with it. Every tug at his lips, every taste of another’s tongue, sent shocks of pain and pleasure down his spine. He could feel his cheeks heat up as he felt the heaviness of Muzan’s arm sitting in the crook of his back. He could feel drool from both of their mouths trickle down their chins from the intensity of it. He felt dirty and wanted at the same time. His mind was cloudy and faint, like the darkness of the room they were in.

Everything was confusing.

Thankfully for Tanjiro’s lungs, Muzan eventually drew back to let Tanjiro breathe. There was a slight string of spit that trailed between them as he pulled away, tinged pink from Tanjiro’s blood. Tanjiro was panting considerably more; Muzan’s breaths unnaturally even, like holding his breath for that long didn’t exhaust him in the slightest. Tanjiro didn’t have the breath nor the mental capacity to say anything. His vision didn’t spin, but his thoughts definitely did. He felt his world fall apart around him once more, though this time it was like he was crumbling with it. Tiny little pieces of himself flaking off, the rest of him softening like wet clay. The only thing keeping him together was the arms of his captor wound around him.

Before long, Muzan was leaning in again but he stopped just short of his lips. Tanjiro could feel Muzan’s words against his lips as he spoke, each syllable practically enunciated into the torn skin of his lips.

Worship me.” He whispered, right before plunging into Tanjiro’s mouth again. He pulled Tanjiro against him even more, forcing Tanjiro’s fists in his kimono to spread to his shoulders as their chests met each other. They were so close that Tanjiro could feel Muzan’s skin against his, and one of Muzan’s legs between his own. Tanjiro felt like he was being moulded into the other’s arms, like a puzzle piece being forced into place.

Muzan sucked on his lips and was rewarded with Tanjiro’s moans of pain and involuntary desire. The pain was back yet again, though it had never really left in the first place. Still, the heat in Tanjiro grew from the intoxicating feel of their lips draped around each other.

It was like Muzan was tasting him, sucking the blood from his lips. It was a terrifying thought, considering what Muzan was, but Tanjiro could do nothing to stop it. He could do nothing but let himself be savoured by a very real beast. And Muzan did just that. He went from sucking, to licking, to lightly biting Tanjiro’s lips, increasing both Tanjiro’s pain and surmounting the building heat in his groin.

I’m going to be eaten.’ Tanjiro thought.

Every swipe of Muzan’s tongue and pull from his lips, burned and sent needles down Tanjiro’s fingertips. He could feel it all, but it did not all hurt. It was so confusing. This was too much.

He could smell Muzan. He smelt like flowers after a rain, still laden with dew. Tanjiro didn’t feel he had the right to smell this pleasantly. His skin was incredibly soft and kissing him felt like kissing flower petals. He really was like a prince out of a poem. It wasn’t fair. Tanjiro had never kissed someone before, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to taste of iron and tears. Tanjiro could hear the sound of his own groans into the kiss and the occasional escape of breath as Muzan shifted and dived in again. It was sounds he wasn’t used to.
His gaze was intense, and it was like Tanjiro was being devoured by his mouth and his eyes. Tanjiro felt like he was drowning.

After what seemed like an eternity for Tanjiro, Muzan eventually pulled away, supporting an exhausted Tanjiro in his arms. Tanjiro barely noticed for a few seconds, his thoughts in disarray and his mind prioritising breathing in the air that he had been barred from. He could feel his face was flushed, his lips swollen and probably still bleeding, and his eyes were hazy. It was a struggle but soon he was able to focus on the man holding him.

Muzan had let go of his chin and was gripping his shoulder and lower back to keep him steady. He was wearing that eerily uncaring face again. An unconscious shiver ran down Tanjiro’s spine as he wondered if he would hurt him again or finish eating him now.

Muzan took his hand from his shoulder and brushed one final thumb over Tanjiro’s abused lip. It hurt as it always had, but Tanjiro didn’t resist this time, only flinching and letting it happen. He felt tears form at the side of his eyes again, but he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore all the painful sensations bubbling up.

Tanjiro didn’t know what to say.

For an instant Muzan’s lips curled in sinister satisfaction at the silence hanging in the air, but it was gone just as quickly.

And then Tanjiro was falling. Muzan had dropped Tanjiro from his arms, as he had done so with the paper before. Tanjiro crumpled to floor both out of surprise and fatigue. When he looked up, Muzan had already turned away from him.

“I’m going to take revenge. The Hashira sought to destroy me and my armies, but they failed. They don’t know that yet, and so I will take that time to rebuild my empire and grind them to dust when the time is right. Until then,” He turned his head slightly to Tanjiro, a wicked smile on his bloodstained face, “Burn bright for me little flame.”

 


 

 (A day or so prior)

A monk came across a smouldering village. Its deathly quiet as he walks through the village, careful to avoid any still burning areas.

He mumbles a mantra, of peace to soothe the lost souls. He can sense that something very evil passed through here. He can feel its darkness as clearly as a hunter can track a wolf’s footprints. He says another mantra, this time for his own protection.

He’s drawn to the hillside where he finds the remains of a temple, torn apart on all sides, like whatever rampaged through here held a particular hate for the divine and its inhabitants. Its ruined like the rest of the village but the victims here look like more effort and time was taken to carve them up.

He says a prayer over the bodies. He can’t do much more than pray for their safe journey to the afterlife.

But one body stops him. She’s looks like she’s been slashed and then tugged around like a ragdoll. She should by all means be dead.

And yet…She’s a fighter.