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They got my blood up in their veins

I get a cut, they feel my pain

They got my heart, they got my soul

They know the stuff nobody knows

 

            The town sparkled under the lanterns lining the busy streets. People moved about in a disordered pack, dressed in brightly colored yukatas and nicely done hair. The air was warm and the sun just barely dipped below the horizon, turning the sky into a splash of oranges and reds. Tanjiro had never seen such a lively festival, the smell of sweets and savory dishes made his mouth water and the chatter of people was a constant rush in his ears. He found himself disoriented by it, his heart caught somewhere between fight or flight. The village he lived near had yearly festivals, but they were small and intimate. Nothing like the party he was watching now. He moved his gaze to Nezuko, wondering if she shared in his trepidation, but her eyes were shining with delight. When she caught his eye, her head tilted in silent concern. Tanjiro tugged his lips into a smile and shook his head. He couldn’t worry her or fault her for not sharing his conflicting emotions.

            Zenitsu looked ecstatic, usual teary expression replaced with one of amazement. He had been the one to tell them of a summer festival occurring in a rather large city near the Butterfly Estate. The blond had begged for days that they all take the night to enjoy themselves and act like normal teenagers, even for just a moment. Tanjiro had been reluctant; they should be training or waiting for a mission to come in. He couldn’t justify spending a night having fun when there were demons terrorizing people. A night spent wandering a festival was a night he could be perfecting his breaths or searching for any news on Muzan.

            Unbeknownst to Tanjiro, Zenitsu had a rather stubborn side to him and would not be deterred. He had gotten to Nezuko while Tanjiro was out training, catching the demoness while she was out and about one evening. He had told the girl all about the festival and how fun it would be and suddenly Tanjiro was being assaulted by two sets of puppy-dog eyes. Saying no to the thunder breather user was easy enough, but to his little sister, who for most of her days had to stay inside a wooden box asleep? Tanjiro’s resolve crumbled almost immediately. They spent the day before they set out finding Nezuko a yukata and struggling to convince Inosuke that he wouldn’t need his swords. Zenitsu had also lobbied for the wild boy to leave his boar mask behind but that was one step too far and they ended up in a rather loud argument.

            Amid his musings, Zenitsu was tugging Nezuko away towards a goldfish stall* while Tanjiro was left dragging Inosuke forward, quietly trying to convince him that the food would make the whole venture worth it. Inosuke hadn’t needed much convincing to come along, mostly because he oblivious to what a festival actually was. As soon as he heard there would be good food and games, he was in. That is, until he caught sight of the mass of people in the city, sending him into a not-so-mild panic. “This is stupid! I don’t care about whatever weird food is here!” Inosuke’s voice was muffled by his mask but that did nothing to hide the wobble of it. Tanjiro sighed, he hadn’t realized the festival would be so crowded. Some small degree of comfort eased his tense shoulders that he wasn’t the only one struggling but also it meant his own hesitancy would only be a hinderance.

            “How about we go get some food really fast and then take a break? We can explore the festival as slowly as you’re comfortable with, ok?” Tanjiro threaded his fingers in-between Inosuke’s, giving his hand a tight squeeze of reassurance. It didn’t feel right setting up a false confidence like he was, but Inosuke relaxed the smallest bit so it was worth it. He was reluctant, but the shorter agreed and they meandered their way towards the food stalls. Inosuke stuck to him like glue, at some point winding his arms around Tanjiro’s tight enough to leave bruises when a group of young girls ran past them. Regardless of his nervous posture, his scent was curious and Tanjiro was relieved that Inosuke was having some degree of fun. They found an ujikintoki** vendor and Inosuke was delighted at the unfamiliar food, pointing to it and prodding Tanjiro with a childish joy that made the redhead’s heart swell. He could endure the tightness in his chest if it kept Inosuke happy. Tanjiro caught sight of a flash of pale pink and looked around to spot a little girl standing next to her mother, who was carrying a babbling toddler in her arms. Something about the woman twinged at Tanjiro’s chest, his hand idly rubbing at the sensation. Just the way her hair was tied back in a low bun and the soft, patience she exuded was a little too reminiscent for him.

            “Mama, can I have some please? Please?” The girl pleaded, tugging at her mother with insistent fists. Her black hair curled lightly at her shoulders and tears threatened to spill over her wide brown eyes. Tanjiro swallowed down something painful at the familiarity of her whining. The way she stomped her foot and pouted was almost the same as Hanako. The air felt like it was being pulled from his lungs as he watched them. The ground beneath his feet tilted and the colors around him swirled dangerously. The mother and daughter’s voices drifted away but the whirl around him didn’t slow until he felt a rough grip curl around his forearm.

            “You ok?” A long breath steadied the righted the world and he anchored himself with Inosuke’s voice, chasing it until he was able to look up without the fear of vomiting. Inosuke was staring at him, his mask pushed up from his face as he scrutinized every inch of Tanjiro’s being.

            “Uh, yeah. Sorry, I’m not sure what that was.” Inosuke was unconvinced and his brows furrowed into a glare. It wasn’t a lie, not really. Stiffly, Tanjiro stepped up to the vendor and ordered Inosuke something, his own appetite gone. He left as soon as the sweet dessert was handed over, almost forgetting to grab Inosuke and tug him with along. The laughter and voices around him were too loud and the cacophony of smells caused nausea to curl in his stomach. He bit his lip to stave off the feeling, but it did nothing. Tanjiro was so caught up in his own head that he didn’t notice the little boy in front of him until they collided and the child fell on his butt with a thump. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you alright? Where’s your family?” His words tumbled into each other and sounded weird in his ears. Tanjiro let go of Inosuke and kneeled down to check the little boy over. He dusted off the boy’s hands, relieved to see they were only scuffed and there was no blood. Tanjiro tried not to linger on the memories that flashed through his mind of the often-clumsy antics of his little siblings. His mouth felt terribly dry.

            “My brother left to catch goldfish and I wanted to go too, but he said no! So, I chased him but there was so many people I can’t find him now.” The boy said it all matter-of-factly, not an ounce of fear in his voice at being lost in a throng of strangers.

            “You’re very brave to look for him all by yourself, but how about we go look for him together?” Tanjiro suggested and the boy nodded, jumping up and effortlessly pointing in the direction he thought his brother was in. Inosuke made a noise of complaint and tugged Tanjiro’s sleeve. “We’ll just help him and then we can find somewhere to rest.” Surprisingly, the wild boy only grunted before nodding, shoving more of his dessert into his mouth. Inosuke’s expression was pinched and pensive as if he was deep in thought, but Tanjiro couldn’t dwell on it. The little boy was chatty and seemed mostly unbothered by the whole situation. His dark eyes sparkled as he complained about his older brother and how he was always bossing him around. It was nice, hearing the rambling voice and giggled stories. The ease of it lightened Tanjiro’s nerves.

            They eventually came upon a brightly colored goldfish booth with an older boy, only a few years younger than Tanjiro, stooped over the pool with a small paper net. “Found you!” The little boy sang, leaping away from Tanjiro and onto the other’s back.

            “Hey! I almost had it!” The older frowned but, simultaneously, checked over his brother. Tanjiro’s eyes started to sting and his throat felt someone was squeezing it shut. “What happened to your hands?”

            “I fell! But they helped me so its ok.” The older glanced at Tanjiro and then to Inosuke, looking a bit bewildered at the boar mask. He mumbled a thanks, a blush of embarrassment coloring his cheeks. Tanjiro nodded and moved to leave. “Bye, misters!”

            “Bye, Rokuta!” The name slipped out before he could stop it and the boy gave him a funny look but was soon distracted. It hurt to say his little brother’s name, the syllables foreign on his tongue in a way that was utterly wrong. Suddenly his breathing hitched and the two boys seemed miles away, unreachable. His hands were shaking as he brought them up to his chest, curling into the fabric of his yukata to try and stop his heart from breaking through his ribcage. Tanjiro’s vision tunneled and he was barely aware that he was moving until he stumbled and Inosuke called out his name. The crowd grew quieter and Tanjiro was finally able to breathe once quiet settled around them. He was barely paying attention as Inosuke found them a place to sit under a tree, where the stalls tapered off and the glow of the lanterns was soft. He felt drained, but also so acutely awake and tense that it hurt as he sat down. The grass under him was cool and he realized his skin was hot and covered in a sheen of sweat.

            “What’s wrong with you, Monjiro?” Hands enclosed on either side of his face, tilting it up so emerald eyes could study him. “Why did you run like that? And why are you crying?”

Crying? Tanjiro blinked and the word blurred out of focus. He became aware of the heavy tears that were rolling down his cheeks with in surprise. Inosuke looked a mixture between horrified and concerned. “I-I don’t know. I just saw them and it was t-too much…” Talking hurt, physically but also to spill the contents of his heart so carelessly.

            “You helped them, so why are you so sad? They found each other.” Inosuke fumbled through a response, completely thrown by what was happening. Tanjiro wanted desperately so rein himself in, control whatever was going on but he couldn’t.

            “I’m sorry, Inosuke. I didn’t think seeing so many f-families would get to me like this. It’s just I see all those children and they’re so much like my little brothers and sisters…” Tanjiro’s chest hurt, it rippled with pain that he always tried so valiantly to keep away. He never had time to mourn, to think of the life that he could never have again. He was too busy fighting demons and searching for answers to cure Nezuko. Any time resting was time he chose to train or spar. He liked it that way. His mind too focused on each task to delve into the hurting corners of his mind. But the fearless little boy and his grumpy older brother arguing over something so silly and trivial was like being thrown back in time. He had forgotten, maybe for only a second, and he saw Takeo and Rokuta in front of him. It only lasted a moment before he remembered they were strangers, kids with their own family that had nothing to do with him. “It’s so hard…knowing they’re-” He couldn’t help the stab of jealousy he felt amid his pain, jealousy that so many other people could do what he would never be able to. That their families were smiling and happy while his was small and broken.

            Rough hands scrubbed at his cheeks and he looked up to see Inosuke staring at him with tears shining in his own eyes. The other wasn’t one to cry, especially not for someone else, but his expression was somber as he tried in vain to wipe away the wetness in Tanjiro’s eyes. He shouldn’t be doing this, laying this on Inosuke and forcing him to try and fix something he never could.

            “Inosuke, Tanjiro what-” Zenitsu’s voice trailed off as soon as he spotted the two sat in the grass, one crying his eyes out and the other looking like he was about to do the same. Nezuko poked her head out from behind Zenitsu and made a mumble of alarm at the sight. Tanjiro pulled away from Inosuke and tried to hide his pathetic state. This night was so special for Nezuko and Zenitsu. They had both been over the moon at the trip and he was ruining it for them. He opened his mouth to apologize but the words wouldn’t come. Nezuko was at his side in seconds, pink eyes worried and arms wrapping around his head to bring it to her chest. A fresh wave of tears spilled from his eyes as he realized that even though she sensed his distress, knew he was hurting and needed comfort, she didn’t remember them. Their family was probably no more than a cloudy set of images and voices. “W-what’s going on?” He could see Zenitsu sitting by Inosuke, hands hovering over the boy’s shaking shoulders.

             Inosuke only shook his head, furiously wiping away his own tears and Zenitsu finally placed his arm around the boar’s torso and pulled him closer. Inosuke not only allowed the action but pushed his face into the blond’s neck. Inosuke angrily mumbled a rushed explanation, half his words unintelligible against Zenitsu’s shoulder but the blond seemed to understand. His expression dropped and he reached out to grab one of Tanjiro’s hands, rubbing his thumb over the redhead’s knuckles. Silence stretched between them, folding around them as Tanjiro steadied his breathing. Each jerky breath made his lungs ache but Nezuko was quick to rub his back, allowing him the time he needed to calm down. The throbbing pain that had bloomed behind his eyes dulled to something manageable, so he could keep his eyes open without his vision becoming a kaleidoscope. 

            “I’m sorry, Tanjiro. I wasn’t thinking about all the families that would be here,” Zenitsu sniffled, his tone heavy with guilt. Tanjiro moved away from his sister, trying for a smile when she fussed over him. Her hands pushed his hair back into its usual style and she hummed a note of comfort from behind her muzzle. “We can go back to the Estate if you want.” Inosuke peered out from Zenitsu’s shoulder, nodding in agreement. Tanjiro still felt hurt in his heart like an open wound, but there was something else there as he looked at his friends’ faces. Each was full on unbridled concern and his own pain was mirrored in their eyes. Even with the fronts they put up, whether it be Inosuke’s bravado or Zenitsu’s cowardice, they dropped it all for him. It felt a selfish, to know it brought him comfort to see them in such states for him.

            “No, that would be wrong of me. Just because I’m upset doesn’t mean any of you should miss out on the festival.” Inosuke shoved away from Zenitsu so fast it made the older teen almost fall backwards. He pushed his way into Tanjiro space, forehead bumping against the redhead’s own.

            “No one has fun if you’re sad!” It sounded more like a threat than a reassurance, but the meaning was clear. Inosuke’s voice made his head drum anew but he appreciated the sentiment. He must have winced because Inosuke’s voice dropped in apology. “You have to say when you’re hurting. Outside and inside, stupid.”

            “I mean, I wouldn’t say it so roughly, but he’s right. None of us would have a good time, knowing you were in pain. You can tell us if something’s wrong. Especially, before it gets to this point.” Zenitsu mumbled the last bit, pink tinting the tips of his ears. Tanjiro realized then, perhaps he wasn’t selfish because he was happy his friends cared for him so deeply, but rather, because he had thought he was alone. The hole his family left was so achingly painful that he set himself apart. Shouldering it himself, not even allowing Nezuko to share in his- no, their pain. Even if she barely remembered them, he saw her tender glances when she was around the little butterfly girls and the way she would sometimes stare into the distance with a melancholy expression. Inosuke wasn’t the best with words but he was right about Tanjiro keeping his emotions locked in his heart too tightly.

            “I think I can stay a little longer. There are a lot of booths I haven’t seen yet.” Tanjiro managed a smile, feeling it grow into something more natural when Inosuke lightly rubbed his nose along the redhead’s cheek before moving away. “I’d rather we stayed together, though. If that’s ok. And maybe in the less busy parts.” Zenitsu laughed, any traces of nervousness easing from his features.

“You should see Nezuko play yo-yo tsuri***! She’s really good!” Tanjiro blinked and looked at the demoness, who proudly displayed the yo-yo she won. They all stood, Tanjiro’s legs feeling a bit shaky until Zenitsu steadied him. “You can let any of us know if it gets to be too much. Well, maybe not Inosuke since he’ll be busy freaking out anyway.”

“HEY!” Tanjiro laughed as the blond squeaked in alarm and ducked away from the punch thrown his way. Tanjiro had indeed been rather selfish not realizing he had gathered a little family all his own already.