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The Weakest Person has the Most Potential to Grow

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“You… had… many horrible memories… and I want you… to be happy… I want you… to not die… Because… my nii-chan… is the… sweetest… person in the… world…”

“Come on, God! Please! Please! Don’t take my brother away! Please!”

“Thank… you… nii… chan…”

Genya’s last words as he finished crumbling completely. It hurt… but it was fine. He and ‘Nemi reconciled, ‘Nemi loved him. They beat Upper Moon One, and now only Muzan was left. The others would manage it, they’ll win.

But, if he was dead, why could he still hear Sanemi screaming?

“GENYA! PLEASE, GENYA!”

Genya could still feel a dull, throbbing pain down the center of his face, the sickly feeling of blood pooling beneath him and sticking to his clothes. He felt so unbelievably small, incomplete. Breathing hurt; he felt like crying.

“Shinazugawa, we have to go.”

That was Gyomei’s voice, strained and forced. Genya forced one eye open, his right one. He was lying on his side, hidden behind a section of collapsed lattice work.

“Raise your head up.”

Genya tried to do just that, propping himself up on his elbow. He felt the blood flow faster, seeping out of the bisected wound. He peered through the lattice framework. Gyomei was standing upright, the happi missing, holding the axe and flail. Sanemi was kneeling on the floor, shoulders shaking, cradling something.

“This isn’t over until we defeat Muzan.”

At those words, Sanemi got to his feet and almost staggered away, breaking into a sprint. Gyomei spared the spot where he stood a final glance and followed.

“Where… where are you going? Please, don’t leave…”

Fear took hold of his entire body- what was left of his body. While the larger half of his body crumbled to dust, this half that was currently conscious had survived. Was it because this half had the Mark? He didn’t know, and he wouldn’t know.

Because this half was starting to crumble as well.

His fingertips were cracking apart, starting at the nails. A sharp bite of pain. He whimpered.

He was going to die. Alone, this time.

“I’m sorry, nii-chan… I’m sorry…”

… No.

He can’t give up. Not now, not ever. He’s a fighter. He can’t give up.

“Think… think…”

If there was something left of Upper Moon One, he could eat it and regenerate. He needed to hurry. His eye darted around, trying to figure out where the demon was last. Up ahead, to the right slightly.

Genya reached his arm forward, ignoring the pain. He dragged himself forward. Meter by meter, lost in the monotony. He gritted his teeth, tried to ignore the blood staining his vision. He left behind a trail of blood.

“Keep going… just keep going…”

His breathing was erratic. He could feel blood rushing around what was left of his body. All the while, his fingertips kept crumbling. So did his torso, and his hair. He needed to hurry.

Genya heard the distant cawing of a crow. “Upper Moon One has been defeated! Muichiro Tokito and Genya Shinazugawa are dead!”

“Not dead… I’m not… dead…”

But his fingers were almost completely gone. The pain wouldn’t go away. Tears flowed freely from his eye.

He was going to die.

Why couldn’t he be stronger? If he was stronger, he wouldn’t be in this situation now. He could be fighting side by side with ‘Nemi. Why was he so weak, so pathetic-

“‘The weakest person has the most potential to grow.’”

Genya skewed his eye shut, resting.

“Sorry, Tanjiro. You needed to remind me of that twice now,” he thought to himself. He really was pathetic; things went in one ear and out the other. He couldn’t learn a single thing.

“I can’t die yet… If I die, nii-chan will be sad… Tanjiro, too… and all my other friends…”

Genya took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. No more tears for now. He could cry after he figured out how to survive.

“Pull yourself together. You’re a Shinazugawa. Your name means ‘immortal.’ If anyone can survive this, it’s you.”

He needed to stop the crumbling, or at least slow it down. Otherwise, he’d never reach the demon in time to even attempt to regenerate. He remembered how Zenitsu once told him about how he slowed the effects of a poisonous Blood Demon Art with his Breathing.

But he couldn’t use Breaths-

“No time for self doubt. I just need to try. At the end of the day, I won’t have any regrets. I said everything I wanted to say to nii-chan. I just need to try.”

He took in a deep, shuddering Breath.

It hurt, as if his lung was set on fire. His skin prickled, stabbed by thousands of needles. He clenched his teeth.

He breathed out.

He breathed in.

He breathed out.

In, out. In, out. In, out.

Genya thought he was going to pass out. Spots danced in his vision. He forced himself to continue, keeping a close eye on his still crumbing fingertips.

In, out. In, out. In, out.

The crumbling slowed, then stopped. Genya no longer felt like he was falling apart. It was working. He smiled, despite himself.

“No time… for that now… Now… keep crawling…”

Genya dragged himself forward again, using the heel of his palm to gain traction against the floor. He slid forward.

Meter by meter.

In, out. In, out. In, out.

Just a few meters in front of him lay the shredded remnants of Upper Moon One’s kimono. Genya could see a wooden flute, cut in half, within the confines of the cloth. Around it were a few scattered pieces of the sword. The sword made of Upper Moon One’s flesh. Good. They haven’t disintegrated yet.

In, out. In, out. In, out.

Genya pushed one of the fragments towards him. He had no fingers left to grip it, so he had to align it side by side with his mouth. He put his head against the floor and adjusted the sword fragment until it rested against his teeth.

He bit down.

The taste was familiar, the same as the first time he ate one. A bit woody, the iron tang of blood. The taste of eyeball fluid clashed with the rigid texture. He chewed, careful to keep the fragment on the right side of his mouth. He swallowed. Bit into the fragment again.

Pain.

Genya screamed. There was an immense pressure along his wound. Something was forcing its way out, growing-

“Breathe breathe breathe-”

In, out. In, out. In, out.

He forgot how concentrated Upper Moon One’s blood was. There were so many Muzan cells in his body that the regeneration process was almost instantaneous. The fingers on his right hand were back already, nails shifted into sharp claws. He grabbed another blade fragment, not caring about how it cut into his palm. He put it in his mouth, swallowed in one go, not caring how it scratched his throat.

That was all he needed. Two blade fragments were all he needed to regrow over half of his body. His gun rematerialized in his left hand and clattered to the ground. He curled up on the floor, tucking his knees into his chest and hugging his arms around them. The nails dug into his skin and drew blood, the cuts closing up instantly. He cried and he whimpered and he sobbed.

“I’m okay. I’m alive. I did it. I’m okay.”

A sudden headache hit him. Genya winced and curled up tighter.

“... that dumb notion about avenging your parents, kids, or siblings. You all survived. That should be enough.”

“Muzan’s voice,” Genya thought to himself. He felt a fierce anger in response to his words. “He’s still there. I- I have to go help.”

Right after he put on his clothes.

Genya pushed himself to his feet, trying to ignore Muzan’s voice in his head. He stumbled over to his uniform and yukata, slipped them on. Shook out the remaining dust.

He slipped his gun into his belt. Found his sword, put it back in its sheath. Gathered the remaining blade fragments, wrapped them in cloth, and tucked them into his uniform.

A body caught his attention. Tiny Muichiro, lifeless, eyes closed and covered by Gyomei’s happi. Genya grimaced. He couldn’t waste any time, but he also couldn’t leave his friend behind.

“Please forgive me, Tokito-san. We both gave our lives during this fight, but only I had a way to return. Rest well. I will mourn you properly after we win.”

He sprinted towards the door, looking around the twisting maze of the mansion. “Which way?”

The floor beneath him lurched upwards and he fell over. It was as if the mansion was twisting and shifting. Moving up.

“Muzan! You have just committed the greatest sin in the world! You took Lady Tamayo away from me! Get on your knees and repent! Right now, I am going to erase you from the face of the earth!”

The ground lurched again, and Genya struggled to remain on his feet. It was clear now; the fortress was moving up. The voice that just rang out- whoever it was, they were somehow manipulating the walls. They were trying to drive Muzan above ground. Where the sun could kill him.

He needed to find a way above ground, too, or he’d get crushed.

The floor changed. Tile one second, lattice the next, tatami the second after.

“Which way?! Which way?!”

Genya couldn’t risk not figuring this out and getting his head crushed. Quickly, he pulled out one of the blade fragments and bit down. Demon blood flowed through him once more. He covered his head with his hands.

The floor lurched upwards once more. There was the sound of something breaking apart overhead, and the sensation of something striking him in the back.

The world went black.

~~~

“Genya’s dead. My little brother’s dead and it’s all my fault. My little brother’s dead. It’s all my fault.”

The thoughts swirled in Sanemi’s head. His feet moved automatically, following Gyomei on instinct. He had no time to mourn. And, he wouldn’t have time to mourn.

He wasn’t making it out of this battle alive. He just knew it.

“I’ll see you soon, Genya. I’ll kill Muzan and then we’ll be together again. I promise.”

The ground shook and lurched. Sanemi swayed but remained upright.

“What was that? Himejima-san, what was that?”

“Muzan! You have just committed the greatest sin in the world! You took Lady Tamayo away from me! Get on your knees and repent! Right now, I am going to erase you from the face of the earth!”

“That was Yushiro’s voice,” Gyomei said. “He is one of the demons working with us. We need to get above ground.”

Sanemi chose to trust him. Gyomei was the oldest Pillar, the most experienced Pillar, the Pillar who Oyakata-sama trusted the most. If anyone knew an inkling of what was going on, it was him.

The ground shifted again. Both were prepared, and neither lost their balance.

“Above ground. Got it!” Sanemi gritted his teeth, eyes rapidly darting around, taking in the hallway. The floors and rooms kept switching sporadically. Only one thing was consistent; the fact that they were moving upwards. The pressure from above told him as much.

Columns of floor rose past them as the section Sanemi was standing on lurched away, separating him from Gyomei. The Stone Pillar was already tracking the movements of the columns based on pressure differences and making a path skywards. Sanemi struggled to keep up.

The ceiling collapsed over them as the tallest columns breached the surface. They maneuvered to avoid the falling rubble. After a few tentative seconds, they cleared the last of the debris and found themselves outside.

“It- It’s a city,” Sanemi muttered. “The fortress teleported us to the middle of a city!”

Tall buildings surrounded them. Power lines stretched between wooden poles. This was bad. If civilians got involved…

“Himejima-san! Shinazugawa-san!”

A pair of Kakushi struggled to crawl out of the rubble. “What’s going on?”

“We’re at the surface,” Gyomei explained. “Now we need to draw out the fight until the sun rises.”

“One hour and twenty two minutes until dawn!” A crow called from overhead.

“That long? We have to stall Muzan for that long?!”

“There’s no time to waste, Shinazugawa,” Gyomei said. “We need to support the others.”

Sanemi nodded, but the Kakushi caught his eye. The oil they carried for wound treatment, more specifically.

“Give me those,” he ordered, pointing at the flasks. The Kakushi looked confused, but obeyed. Sanemi tucked the bottles into his belt and chased after Gyomei. Along the way, he spotted and scooped up a box of matches.

Gyomei’s prediction was right; the other Pillars were fighting, but in desperate need of aid. Giyu, Obanai- Mitsuri was about to be skewered!

Gyomei took action immediately, swinging the flail at the weird arm whip and smashing it to pieces. Sanemi ran behind Muzan and jumped into the air. He brought his sword right down the center of his body.

“It’s my fault Genya’s dead. But even more than that, it’s your fault! You’ll suffer and die the same way he did!”

The slice did nothing. Muzan was cut in half and healed instantaneously. That’s how fast his regeneration was. Well, he had his attention now.

Sanemi tossed the oil filled flasks in the general direction of the demon. As expected, Muzan tried to strike at him, only breaking the flasks in his attempt. He got splashed in oil.

Sanemi backflipped away. He drew out a match, lit it, tossed it at Muzan. Flames erupted around the demon.

“That was a dirty trick,” Muzan seethed. He was clearly angry.

“That’s right. Remember my face. You took everything from me, and I will make sure you suffer tenfold.”

“Well, it was perfect for the likes of you. I’ll grind you into smithereens!”

He had no more time for trash talk, because the oil fire dissipated and Muzan began attacking again. One of the whips grazed past his arm, tearing through the haori. Sanemi managed to deflect most of the attack.

Together with Giyu, Obanai, Mitsuri, and Gyomei, they launched attack after attack at the Demon King. Most of the time, they were only just able to counter the whips and falling rubble Muzan sent flying at them. All the while, Sanemi felt welts forming on his arm, where the first whip struck him. They were spreading, bringing pain with them.

“Some kind of poison?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mitsuri run past him, trying to get into Muzan’s blindspots. She dodged a series of slashes with a twirling leap. Was she trying to use an attack only she could accomplish with her heightened muscle strength and flexibility? Good. They needed any opening they could get.

It seemed to happen in slow motion. There was a sucking noise, something akin to a whirlpool. Sanemi saw Mitsuri’s hair fly back from the wind pressure, then her haori, then her whole body. She was bombarded with an onslaught of spiraling attacks. They struck her left side, taking out a chunk of her arm and ear. Blood sprayed everywhere.

Obanai reacted first, stopping his attack to dash over to Mitsuri and carry her to safety. Sanemi gritted his teeth, working with Gyomei and Giyu to protect them.

“No more. No more death.”

Obanai rejoined the fight a few minutes later and launched right into another attack. The anger pent up in his small body seemed to have doubled after Muzan hurt Mitsuri. He sliced off limb after limb, kicking the appendages away to slow down the regeneration.

But, it was clear he was getting tired. Whatever poison laced Muzan’s attacks affected him the most because of his small frame. And he wasn’t the only one.

Giyu’s hands were covered in welts. He clashed his half broken sword against an arm whip. The blade skidded and flew from his grasp. He was left open and defenseless.

“No one else is going to die!”

Sanemi picked up the nearest sword and threw it at the Water Pillar while Obanai and Gyomei covered for him. “Stop spacing out! If you die, I’ll kill you!”

His words managed to reach Giyu, because the Water Pillar picked up his new weapon and rushed back into battle.

Blood started to trickle out of Sanemi’s mouth. The welts had reached his face. Still, he pressed on, aiming another strike at Muzan. “I’ll keep clawing at him even if my head is the only thing left.”

It was getting hard to breathe, let alone use Full Concentration. Movements sluggish, vision fading, the barely audible meowing of a cat only just reaching his ears.

Cat?

Above. A cat had leapt into the air above the battlefield, wearing an odd contraption on its back. Something fired off from it. At that same moment, Sanemi felt something strike the back of his calf. He spared it a glance; a syringe needle.

In his anger, Muzan attacked the cat, slicing it into bloody chunks. But, its mission was accomplished. The welts faded and new strength flowed through Sanemi’s veins.

“I don’t know what just happened, but that cat saved us!” He dodged the next series of strikes with ease. The elegance the others moved with made it clear that they got the same treatment.

“It’s probably got something to do with those ‘good demons.’ Either way, it looks like the poison is slowing down at least. That’s good.”

“Stop struggling in vain! Just die like men, you obsessed freaks!”

“Go straight to hell, Muzan.”

Even with the danger of the poison out of the way, they still had to deal with Muzan. More flying debris, creating craters the size of boulders in the ground and surrounding buildings. One of the attacks shredded the right sleeve of his haori. The Kakushi better be keeping the civilians safe.

Obanai stumbled right in the midst of the attack zone. No! How, why? The movement was so swift and sudden, a miscalculation on his part. A whip was flying right for him.

“Iguro!”

Giyu, the closest to Obanai, tried to rush forward and defend him. He didn’t make it in time.

“No! No no no!”

Above once more. Obanai was above them, as if he was thrown out of harm’s reach. One of the whips whizzed straight for him. Obanai was yanked out of the way by some invisible force, not moving on his own. He rolled to his feet and jumped back into the fight.

“There’s someone invisible here. Someone helping us.”

Indeed so, because within a second both of Muzan’s arms were severed. His face contorted in anger. He lashed out in all directions. Several papers with eye markings fluttered to the ground in shredded pieces, and Kanao, Inosuke, and Zenitsu appeared out of thin air.

“Guys!” Inosuke screeched. “These papers are amazing! I’ve got a bunch of them! Use them-” Inosuke was cut off by a sudden attack and he was forced to dodge.

Obanai went in for the attack, slicing off the already regenerated arms. They… they weren’t regenerating this time. Or slower, at least.

Obanai’s blade looked different. It wasn’t the usual purple gray. Instead, it had a desaturated red color. The same color Sanemi’s blade turned briefly when he and Gyomei crushed Upper Moon One’s head. The same color Muichiro’s blade turned when he stopped Upper Moon One from regenerating.

The red blade. The red blade was important. He needed to get the red blade.

How?

Gyomei swung his weapon out so that the axe and flail collided in midair. The smooth black iron sparked red.

“Heat? Friction?”

“Tomioka!”

Giyu made eye contact at the sound of his voice. Sanemi raised his sword up and slammed it against Giyu’s. Sparks flew, a color change spread over both blades.

Sanemi grinned. They can do this, they can actually do this!

“One hour and and three minutes until dawn!” A crow reported.

Sanemi and Giyu stood back to back. “We’ll hack and slash him into little pieces before then!”

He ran forward, picked up one of the talismans Inosuke was talking about. He pressed it to his forehead. It seemed to stick to his skin like glue.

Kanao, Inosuke, and Zenitsu became visible to him, arguing about how to get red blades. They were also wearing talismans.

“I see. So things with these talismans are invisible to everyone except those who also have one, as well. Some kind of Blood Demon Art, but I’ll use anything I can get my hands on.”

He reached Muzan, sliced off an arm. Just keep going, just keep repeating until dawn.

A loud thunderous sound, rumbling under his feet. Something collided with his head. Stars danced in his vision.

He struggled to lift his head. He was somewhere high up. A building. He got blasted into a building.

“No… Have to keep fighting… for Genya! Himejima-san, Iguro, Tomioka, please- please be okay-”

The world went black.

~~~

Genya woke up with a start, gasping for air. It was dark, cramped. Claustrophobia set in. He scrambled to get out, moving away the rubble.

His head breached the surface, and he crawled out. The nape of his neck felt bare, the uniform ripped in that area. The falling rubble must have hit him pretty hard to knock him out. Might have even been fatal to anyone other than him. Good thing he ate a blade fragment right before. He checked to make sure that all the blade fragments from Upper Moon One were still in place. Yes, all four remaining pieces were there. Four instant revives if he needed them.

It was still dark. So it wasn’t dawn yet. Everyone was probably still fighting. He- he needed to go help.

“Forty one minutes until dawn!”

“That long? I- I have to go help.”

He struggled to his feet and started running. Sounds and crashing kept coming from further ahead and to the left. He needed to hurry.

“Maybe I can use Breathing now.”

In, out. In-

He almost fell over and his vision went white. It felt like his lungs had burst.

“I guess not. I- I only did it before because it was a near death situation. Now, I’ll just have to play into my true strengths.”

He stopped Breathing and kept running.

There was someone up ahead, crossing him at an intersection. Short, shorter than him, something white and scaly on his shoulders. The usually white stripes of his haori were stained red.

“Iguro-san!”

The Serpent Pillar’s head swiveled in his direction at the sound of his voice, and Genya did a double take. Three bloody slashes ran across Obanai’s face, both eyes gashed out.

“That voice- you’re Genya,” he said in disbelief. “But the report said- you know what, it doesn’t matter. If you can move, go help the injured. I’m going back to the front lines to back up whoever took over for us.”

He dashed off. Genya chased after him. “Wait! Have you seen- do you know where nii-chan is?”

“Haven’t seen or heard him since we got blasted back by Muzan’s last big attack,” Obanai called back. “Don’t worry about him. Your brother’s resilient.”

With that, he was out of sight. Genya contemplated following him, but it would be unwise to go against his orders. He headed in the direction Obanai came from. That’s where the wounded likely were.

He found Zenitsu first. Murata, who he had trained with a few times, was patching up his wounds as the yellow haired boy whimpered.

“Genya!” Murata called in shock.

“How is he?” Genya asked, ignoring the exclamation and turning to Zenitsu.

Murata looked like he was on the verge of tears. “It’s bad. All of the Pillars- they- Iguro-san already went back to fight. Yushiro-san is tending to them, but-”

Zenitsu coughed and opened his eyes. “Genya? Never- never expected you in my personal heaven.”

“You’re not dead,” Genya said, unamused. “And neither am I.”

Zenitsu’s gaze became a bit more focused. “You’re… alive? But-”

“No time for explanations,” Genya said. “Can you stand? Do you know where the others are?”

Zenitsu wiggled to an upright position. “I- I don’t know about the others, but- I- I will fight, until we win.”

“Don’t think you’re- alone, Monitsu.”

Inosuke limped towards them, resetting his dislocated limbs on his own. His boar mask was ripped and torn in several places.

“Everyone- dead, dying. That bastard- will pay. For Half-Half Haori’s arm, and Chainball Man’s leg.”

“H-Himejima-san…” Genya’s throat felt dry. His mentor, the strongest Pillar, on death’s door, too.

“We’ll- we’ll fight.” Kanao limped over to them, as well, blood staining her uniform. “Tanjiro… Tanjiro saved me. He’s fighting right now. We have to go help him.”

Inosuke gripped both of his blades tightly. “Let’s go.” He dashed away.

“You guys-” Murata called.

“Help the Pillars,” Zenitsu said, running after Inosuke. “We will still need them.”

“Genya, are you coming?” Kanao asked, moving to follow the other two.

“I-”

“I’m not strong. Not in the way the others are. But, I have my own strengths that I can use to my advantage. And my own weaknesses that I can use to manipulate my opponent’s perception. I-”

He pulled out a blade fragment. Bit down and swallowed it. One down, three left.

“I’m right behind you,” he said, feeling the demonic powers reawaken. He pulled out his gun, the veins in his hand extending out and fusing to the handle. Eyes popped out on the barrel and blinked open, darting around. The same as before, the last time he bound his demonic blood to his weapon.

He ran after Kanao. Vaguely heard a crow call twenty seven minutes to dawn.

A shockwave ran through the ground and Genya fell flat on his face. He stumbled back to his feet, not phased. It was a tremor, something akin to a miniscule earthquake. So why was Kanao a few meters ahead still on her knees?

“Kanao!”

“Tremor- heart spasm- can’t breathe-”

“Was that one of Muzan’s attacks? Is it not affecting me because of the demon blood?”

“I’ll go on ahead!” He called. Genya trusted Kanao would figure out how to overcome it, with Breathing or otherwise.

He raced forward. There was a buzzing in his head.

“That should keep them down long enough for me to escape. Troublesome humans.”

Genya ran faster. Past Zenitsu and Inosuke, also recovering from the shockwave. Past corpses of Slayers he silently vowed to avenge.

Muzan - at least, who Genya assumed was Muzan - came into view further down the street. He was walking away with leisure, as if he had all the time in the world. Genya spotted Tanjiro on the ground. He had what looked to be a painful welt covering his right eye, and he was shaking uncontrollably as he screamed silently. The shockwave must have hit him the hardest.

Anger raced through Genya’s body. Nobody was allowed to hurt his friends like that. He aimed the gun at Muzan. Nothing was going to stop him from hitting his target. Not distance, not ammo limitations.

After all, he was a demon.

“Blood Demon Art: Wooden Flesh Bullets!” Genya pulled the trigger. The bullets, composed of his own demonic flesh, zoomed towards Muzan. They reached their target and lodged themselves into his skin. Muzan whirled around, surprised he still had opposition.

“Blood Roots!”

A tree erupted from Muzan’s back as the bullets embedded in his body sprouted. He staggered from the sudden weight.

“The demon eater? How?! Kokushibo killed him!”

“Don’t you dare underestimate us! Now stop running like a coward!”

Muzan looked furious. Genya shot another round of bullets at the demon. But, before they could reach him, he was struck with an unimaginable pain. Blood spurted from his mouth. He felt as if all of his inner organs were being crushed and grinded. He couldn’t see or hear or even breathe.

Wind pressure from above him. An incoming attack? He wouldn’t be able to dodge.

“Breath of the Beast, Fourth Fang: Slice ‘n’ Dice!”

“Breath of Thunder, First Form: Thunderclap and Flash!”

The pressure was gone. Someone saved him. A touch at his chest and the feeling of something pressing against his lips. He instinctively bit down on it.

His vision returned, Kanao directly in front of him. In the blurry background he could make out Inosuke and Zenitsu working together to hack off Muzan’s limbs.

“That monster can kill other demons instantaneously whenever he wants to,” Kanao seethed, furious. “Don’t let yourself get caught up in it.”

Genya nodded and finished chewing through the sword fragment Kanao retrieved for him. Two down, half left.

“I guess he can’t kill me completely because I’m not a true demon. The most he can do is purge the demon cells in my body. Still, it hurts like hell.”

He picked up his gun once more and refused it to his hand. He chased after Kanao, who had just blocked one of the whips from hitting Inosuke. Zenitsu used an attack Genya had never seen before to slice through both arms at once.

It was working. Muzan was definitely getting weaker with every moment. They just had to hold out for dawn.

A stray attack hit Zenitsu, sending him flying into a window. Muzan tried to finish him off with a stronger, sturdier arm whip, but Inosuke deflected the attack with both of his blades. In the meantime, Kanao used a flurry of strikes against Muzan’s back, reaching into his blindspots.

“Come on. If they can do all that while being fully human, there’s no reason a pseudo immortal can’t!”

Genya pointed his gun once more and fired. The bullet whizzed around, its trajectory completely within his control, severing each of the whips. They grew back near instantly, but it bought time for Inosuke to slice off Muzan’s right arm.

Muzan noticed him, reached out a hand in a clear attempt to kill him again. Zenitsu slashed his arm to pieces so as to not give him a chance.

They didn’t need to win. They just needed to keep him here until the sun rose.

A sudden attack from Muzan managed to hit both Kanao and Inosuke, sending them sprawling to the ground. Another whip was already aimed at them. Zenitsu was too far away to reach them in time. Genya started to pull the trigger-

An unexpected rush of heat burst forth. All of Muzan’s whips fell to the ground. The regeneration slowed down.

It was Tanjiro, also recovered from the shockwave. His remaining healthy eye seemed to be lit with the fires of hell, nothing but pure fury directed at Muzan. Genya remembered how intimidating Tanjiro could be when he was genuinely angry. This was beyond anything he had witnessed prior.

Tanjiro attacked again, and again. He seemed to be in a rush to get through all his Breathing forms in one consecutive move. Whenever he stumbled, Inosuke or Kanao covered for him.

Genya unsheathed his own blade. “I may not be a master swordsman, but I saw enough of Upper Moon One to at least mimic his techniques.”

The blade morphed in his hands to accentuate his demon features, growing eyes and ridges.

“Blood Demon Art: Flesh Sword!” He swung the blade, putting his full force into it. As he had hoped, the sword extended past its usual length, successfully reaching Muzan and slashing him across his torso.

A whip struck his wrist, cleanly separating it from the rest of his arm, the sword along with it. The hand regenerated, but it used up the last of his healing, as his fangs and claws retreated. Genya seethed as he pulled out another fragment and swallowed it whole. Three down, one left.

He rushed to pick up his sword. They were close, he could feel it. Just a little longer.

“Breath of Flowers, Fifth Form: Peonies of Futility!”

“Breath of the Beast, Second Fang: Rip and Tear!”

“Breath of Thunder, Seventh Form: Honoikazuchi no Kami!”

“Breath of the Sun: Flame Wheel!”

Muzan was getting desperate, attacks frenzied and wild. Maybe sometimes frenzied and wild was better than calculated and precise, because each attack landed. Kanao flew back into a street lamp, Inosuke and Zenitsu into the side of a building, Genya into the side of another building. Tanjiro alone had managed to dodge. He weaved in and out of each attack as if he was dancing. Finally, with a thrust of his sword, he pinned Muzan to a wall, intent on keeping him there until the sun rose.

Muzan roared in anger, aiming both arms at Tanjiro. Tanjiro was still busy pinning him; he couldn’t defend himself!

“You moron! You jerk! Cut it out already!”

Mitsuri, barely able to stand, had mustered up the strength to rejoin the fight. She grabbed hold of Muzan’s left arm and ripped it clean off with her bare hands.

A slash, and Muzan’s right arm fell away. “‘Nemi…” Sanemi, covered head to toe in blood, pressed his sword against Muzan’s arm to hamper the regeneration. The Demon King looked absolutely livid.

“Don’t you dare hurt my nii-chan!”

With all the strength he could muster up, Genya hurled his sword right through Muzan’s face.

“Blood Demon Art: Blood Roots!”

Tree roots began to grow from the blade tip, covering Muzan’s eyes. Maybe he was delusional from the pain, but Genya thought he saw Sanemi stagger a little, too. Disbelief?

Obanai, too, got between Muzan and Tanjiro to act as a shield, if necessary. He thrust his sword right into Muzan’s abdomen.

“It’s almost dawn!” Sanemi yelled. Genya had never heard his brother sound so desperate. “Everyone, just hold out a little longer!”

Sanemi was wrong. It wasn’t almost dawn. It was dawn. The sun was rising over the horizon. Muzan screeched as his skin began to burn. Genya was vaguely aware of blisters forming on his own skin, but it didn’t bother him. He knew from experience that he wouldn’t be killed by the sun, even in demon form. Muzan, on the other hand-

Another shockwave attack. Debris and parts of concrete collided with Genya, taking out parts of his left arm and right leg. Mitsuri and Sanemi skidded in opposite directions, Obanai got blasted through a wall. A dismembered arm plopped down onto the middle of the street.

Once again, only Tanjiro remained standing. He gripped his sword tightly with his remaining arm, still intent on keeping Muzan pinned until he died for good. Giyu rushed in, grabbed the hilt with his remaining arm, helping keep Tanjiro steady.

It was going to work, it was going to work, it was-

“Oh, come on! Are you serious? You can’t be serious! How many forms does this asshole have?!”

In his final, desperate attempt to save himself, Muzan began forming a shield of flesh around his core body. He looked like the most misshapen, hideous baby Genya could ever imagine. Giyu stumbled back, but Tanjiro got absorbed completely!

Muzan started to crawl away, determined to get away from the sun. No, they can’t let him! If he gets away and regenerates, then this all would be for naught!

As the remaining Demon Slayers and the Kakushi did everything they could to slow him down, Genya fumbled for the last demon fragment.

“Please be intact, please be intact-”

It was. Genya shoved it in his mouth and started scrambling out of the debris before he even fully healed. Four down, none left.

“This won’t last long. It will only take a short time for the sun to burn it up.”

He fired endless rounds into Muzan, emptying all of his energy into them. When those were used up, he made the biggest tree he ever created sprout, heavy enough to make Muzan slam face first into the pavement.

“Just keep him there, just keep him there-”

Muzan kept shoving his head into the ground, trying to dig his way beneath the surface.

“Breath of Wind, Ninth Form: Idaten Typhoon!”

Sanemi backflipped in midair, slicing through one of the pudgy arms. Apparently, that was all he had strength left for, because he didn’t land properly and skidded away on his side. He struggled back to his feet.

Chains wrapped Muzan’s neck. Gyomei, heavily supported by half a dozen Kaushi, yanked his weapon back, forcing the demon’s head back above ground.

“Himejima-san! We can do this! Come on!”

“Don’t let up on your attacks!” The Stone Pillar bellowed. “Chip away at his stamina!”

“Breath of Water, Tenth Form: Constant Flux!”

“Breath of Wind, Fifth Form: Winter Gale!”

“Breath of the Serpent, Fourth Form: Twin Headed Snake!”

Not enough. It wasn’t enough. Genya’s tree was almost fully burned up. Gyomei’s chains were cracking.

The chain broke, sending Gyomei flying back. The last of the branches burned to a crisp.

It was over, it was hopeless.

A shining light from somewhere within the mass of Muzan’s flesh. Something was glowing red. Tanjiro, it had to be Tanjiro!

That ended up being the tipping point as Muzan screeched, the burns and blisters finally turning into dust.

It was over, they won.

Cheers erupted as the survivors embraced each other. Genya clambered to his feet, smiling. It- it was really over. The monster that turned his life into a living hell was gone, and now he and Sanemi could be brothers again-

Where was Sanemi?

“It’s not over!” Someone yelled. “Tend to the injured! Celebrate later! We’re not done!”

Of course, it was foolish to start cheering when there were still people in need of treatment and bodies in need of burials. Genya’s eyes darted around as he contemplated how to make himself useful. Most of his injuries had naturally healed from the demon blood, so he was in relatively good shape.

Slumped against the nearest wall was-

“Himejima-san!”

Genya sprinted over to his mentor, dread pooling in his core. Gyomei looked like he was in bad shape. His left leg was severed just above the knee. He was covered in blood. Genya knelt in front of him.

“Himejima-san! Hang on! You’re-”

“Genya?” Gyomei must have recognized his voice.

“Yes, it’s me! I’m okay!”

“You’re… alive?”

“Yes!” Genya frantically scanned the area. He pointed to a pair of Kakushi. “You there! Get medicine here! Quick!” He yelled, knowing fully well he was in no authority to give orders and not caring a single bit.

“No…” Gyomei said. “It’s too late for me. Don’t waste your valuable medicine.”

“Don’t talk like that! It’s not too late! Please- please, sensei!”

Even though Genya had considered Gyomei as his mentor from the moment he took him under his wing, sometimes even grazing the role of a father figure, he had never called Gyomei “teacher” before that moment.

It seemed to have struck a chord somewhere in Gyomei’s heart, because tears started flowing from his eyes. “Listen, Genya,” he said. “I am overjoyed that you found a way to survive.You have come so far. I could not be more proud.”

That’s when Genya noticed that he was also crying. How long, he didn’t know.

“I want the medicine to be used on the younger ones. Please, that is my final wish. Genya, go find your brother. Make sure he is tended to.”

Genya’s lip quivered as he bit down a sob. He bowed his head. “Yes, sensei. Thank you for everything. You were the best mentor I could have asked for.”

“Oh… it’s you all… Is that… so…”

It became clear to Genya that Gyomei could no longer hear him, as he was busy having a reunion with his own dead loved ones. He furiously swiped away his tears and stepped back.

He needed to find Sanemi.

He ran in the direction where he last saw his brother. He was greeted by a scene from a horror flick. At least half a dozen Kakushi were fussing over him. Sanemi’s haori and gakuran had been removed, replaced by swadlings of bandages. Blood everywhere. The ring and pinky fingers on his right hand wouldn’t stop twitching. Pain laced his expression.

“He’s not responding! What do we do?”

“Come on, Shinazugawa-san! Please respond.”

“No… Please… I didn’t survive just for ‘Nemi to die right after.”

“Nii-chan! Nii-chan!”

He sprinted the last few steps and dropped to his knees by Sanemi’s side. The tears were back.

“Just hang on. Please, nii-chan! Come on, nii-chan! It’s going to be okay! Please, nii-chan! Just hang on! You can’t die yet! You’re going to be okay! Please, come back! ‘Nemi!”

~~~

He saw a flower field. Patchy green grass stretched out in a circle. A single beam of light shined down on it. It looked so peaceful.

Heaven. It had to be heaven.

Sanemi could see five children in the flower field. Sumi was making flower jewelry with Teiko, Shuya huddled between them, while Hiroshi and Koto chased each other around in a game of tag. His little siblings.

“They’re all over there. They’re all happy.”

Maybe he could go there, maybe he could be happy, too.

But where was Genya?

Why wasn’t he there? Sanemi scanned the flower field again. No sign of his oldest little brother.

No Mom, either.

“Oh, no.”

Sanemi turned his back on the flower field and ran into the surrounding darkness. He gritted his teeth and his blood boiled in anger.

“Please. They can’t be in hell. They’re good, they deserve heaven. Is it because they died as demons?”

Every demon deserved damnation. At least, that’s what he thought. They were vile and evil creatures. But, his mom, and Genya… Not them. He’d personally fling open the gates of heaven to every single demon if it meant granting them eternal happiness.

“Mom! Genya!” He called into the abyss. The darkness was pressing, suffocating. He felt alone and scared.

Someone, anyone. Please…

“... Sanemi?”

“Mom!”

Sanemi lurched forward, taking a staggering step forward to his mother’s materializing form. He towered head and shoulders above her now. Still, her presence was just as beautiful and comforting as it was all those years ago. Despite being dead - or on death’s door - he felt safe.

His mother refused to meet his gaze, covering her face in her hands. He could practically sense the ripples of cascading guilt.

“Come on, Mom,” Sanemi said, gently taking hold of her hand and tugging. “Let’s go. We can go together. Let’s go to heaven.”

“I can’t,” she said. Her voice was broken with unspoken guilt. “I can’t go there.”

“Why?” Sanemi begged. This wasn’t fair. Why was his family separated even in death? “Please, just go over there. I’ll go find Genya and we’ll be together again.”

At this, his mother lifted her hand away from her face, revealing an expression of confusion. “Genya?”

She didn’t know yet.

“He-” Sanemi suddenly found it hard to think, let alone speak. “He- he died- earlier tonight. It- my fault- I have to go find him-”

“Sanemi… Genya hasn’t passed on yet.”

Confusion hit Sanemi across the face.

“But, I saw- I saw him die… I-”

“Nii-chan! Nii-chan!”

Genya’s voice was echoing around them. Sanemi twisted his head every which way, trying to locate the origin.

“Just hang on. Please, nii-chan!”

“Sanemi, listen to me,” his mother said, suddenly serious. “I killed five of my children and scarred the other two. I can’t go to heaven because of that. But, I will endure the fires of hell with a smile if my children can be happy.”

“Come on, nii-chan! It’s going to be okay!”

“Now, go find Genya.”

Sanemi nodded stiffly, trying to ignore the tears stinging at his eyes. He pulled his mother in for a quick hug.

“I’ll be back, Mom. I promise,” he said before breaking away and running in the direction of Genya’s voice.

“Please, nii-chan! Just hang on! You can’t die yet! You’re going to be okay! Please, come back! ‘Nemi!”

“I’m coming, Genya! I’m coming! Hang on a bit longer, I’m-”

He blinked his eyes open. The sun was shining, the sky was a clear, desaturated blue. His forehead felt simultaneously sticky and compressed. A combination only blood and bandages could provide.

Everything hurt .

“He regained consciousness! Shinazugawa-san’s awake!”

Awake? As in alive?

Sanemi groaned. “Fuck…” he muttered, eyes weakly wandering around. Kakushi surrounded him, fussing over his wounds with ointments and bandages. One was adjusting an IV attached to his arm. His head rested on a pillow.

Why was he still alive? He wanted to go be with his family. With his siblings, with his mom, with-

A hand brushed against his hair. Warmth and comfort flooded in with that touch. Sanemi wearily looked in that direction, his vision already fading. A blurry figure danced in his sight. Black mohawk, long lashes, a line splitting him down the middle…

No… It couldn’t be…

“Welcome back, ‘Nemi.”

“Gen… ya…”

~~~

Sanemi passed out as soon as he woke up. Still, he was alive. He had a pulse, he was breathing. Genya felt so relieved.

“We’re alive, nii-chan,” he told his unconscious brother. “I’m alive.”

“Genya-” one of the Kakushi muttered. “Do you have any injuries? We can-”

“I’m fine,”  Genya waved them off. He had no injuries to speak of, and he just wanted to stay by Sanemi’s side for the moment.

“ANYONE WHO CAN STILL MOVE! GRAB YOUR WEAPONS AND GET OVER HERE NOW!”

Genya stiffened and jolted. That was the Water Pillar’s voice. What happened? Did Muzan escape death somehow? The Kakushi looked equally confused.

“TANJIRO HAS TURNED INTO A DEMON! KEEP HIM UNDER THE SUN AND KILL HIM! KILL HIM BEFORE HE KILLS SOMEONE ELSE!”

Genya felt something twist inside him. No…

They won! They won and no one else was supposed to die! So, why-

Genya drew his gun and dashed in the direction of Giyu’s voice.

“Maybe he will be like Nezuko! Maybe he can regain his humanity. They’re the special ones!”

Damnation awaited those who killed as demons, even involuntarily. If Tanjiro couldn’t be saved, then they had to ensure he died without killing anyone, so that his soul could remain pure.

He saw Zenitsu standing on wobbly legs, supported by a Kakushi. Inosuke stood with both blades drawn. He was shaking with a fear Genya had never seen in the impulsive boarhead before. Tanjiro was preparing to lunge at him. Just like his sister, it seemed he was immune to the sun.

It became clear that Inosuke wouldn’t be able to bring his blades down on his friend. He was about to die.

Genya ran forward, ignoring Zenitsu’s cry of shock. He fired, the shot hitting Tanjiro in the arm. The demon screeched, turning his attention to him. The arm was hanging on by its hinges, but healed closed within a second.

“You have to stop! Or I’ll blast your arm off!”

Tanjiro did not heed his warning, now trying to lunge at him. Genya’s fingers trembled against the trigger.

He was too weak . Emotionally. If he and Sanemi had reversed roles eight years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to kill their mother. Back then - it felt like a different life - Tanjiro carried through with his promise of breaking Genya’s arm when he wouldn’t stop tugging at Kanata’s hair. He couldn’t carry through the same way.

A figure got between Genya and Tanjiro right before the demon was to reach him. Tanjiro grabbed her and bit into her shoulder. It was Nezuko!

“Onii-chan!” She cried. She spoke with the clarity she couldn’t manage before. It was clear; she was human again. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I couldn’t understand what was going on this whole time! I’m sorry you had to carry everything on your shoulders.”

Genya snapped out of his shocked daze. He got behind Tanjiro and hooked his arms around him, trying to drag him away. The demon only dug his teeth in harder.

“That’s your sister, Tanjiro!” He yelled. “You can’t hurt her! Siblings aren’t supposed to hurt each other!”

“Please, just hang on, onii-chan!” Nezuko called out. “Don’t become a demon! Let’s all go home together!”

Tanjiro screeched, dug his claws in deeper. Despite being much taller, Genya found himself struggling to hold on. Another force tackled into him from behind. It was Zenitsu, trying to help pry Tanjiro away from Nezuko.

“That’s Nezuko-chan!” He yelled. “She’s normal again, she’s human again! She’ll die if you do that! You have to stop, Tanjiro!”

More incomprehensible roars from Tanjiro. Inosuke smacked him on the head.

“Stop going gawr gawr! Don’t hurt Nezuko! You’re not that kind of guy! You’re such a sweet guy! Go back to normal, Tanjiro!”

A high pitched screech. Shockwaves erupted, and Genya felt himself being blasted backwards. He fell into a wall, felt it crack behind him. Only Nezuko managed to hang on, despite her fingernails peeling away.

“Don’t lose, onii-chan!”

The spines and whips that Muzan had before began to sprout from Tanjiro’s back. They were flying everywhere. Giyu struggled to his feet and struggled to ward off the attacks.

“Tanjiro, stop!” Zenitsu wailed. “That’s Nezuko-chan! That’s Nezuko-chan!”

“Tan-” Inosuke struggled out. “Tanji- Nezu-”

“Please, please just stop-” Genya begged.

What could they do? He was too strong. There was nothing they could do. At this rate, he was going to kill Nezuko, then someone else, then another, until everyone-

A blur of fabric and hair, dashing past him like a butterfly. No, not like a butterfly. A butterfly, period.

“Kanao!”

She ignored him, running straight for Tanjiro and Nezuko. She did a flip in midair, leaping right at them. One of the whips struck her across the back. There was a spray of blood.

“Kanao!” They all yelled in unison.

“Stop, Tanjiro…” Kanao murmured. “Come back to us… Don’t make Nezuko cry…”

Genya scrambled to his feet and ran to his friend’s side. Zenitsu and Inosuke joined him.

“Kanao, are you okay?!” He yelled. “Why did you do that?!”

“Nee-san… she gave me an extra vial of the demon antidote,” Kanao explained with tears in her eyes. “If… if anything can bring him back, it’s that…”

Genya looked towards Tanjiro. Nezuko was still hanging on to him, weeping and begging him to come back. A syringe was stuck in Tanjiro’s back. He stood completely still for a moment before falling over.

The Kakushi gently pushed Genya, Zenitsu, and Inosuke away from Kanao. “We need to treat her injuries,” they explained. So, the three of them joined Nezuko and Giyu at Tanjiro’s side.

“He’s going to be okay,” Genya muttered. “He has to be. It has to work.”

His muttering was cut off by a sudden headbutt by Inosuke. “Hey!”

“You’re not off the hook!” Inosuke said in an accusing tone. He looked angry and upset at the same time, despite the boar mask being unchanging. Genya realized he was somehow crying through the boar eyes.

Zenitsu nodded in vigorous agreement. “We thought you were dead!”

Genya pursed his lips. “I can explain everything later, but-”

This time, he was cut off by a hug as Zenitsu and Inosuke wrapped their arms around him.

“We’re just happy you’re alive,” Zenitsu said.

“You made me worry, Genya,” Inosuke said gruffly. “When- when the birds said that you were dead, I wanted to headbutt that demon for killing you, I wanted to headbutt you for dying, and I wanted to headbutt myself for not being there to protect you! My last words to you would have been, ‘You can’t use Breathing, what a shrimp!’”

Genya felt something warm and fuzzy stir in his heart as he hugged them back. “I- I’m sorry for worrying you. But, I’m okay, I promise. Actually, I have to thank you, Zenitsu. It’s thanks to you that I survived.”

Zenitsu made a noise of confusion. Genya turned away, instead looking towards Tanjiro. He was unconscious, but the demon markings were slowly disappearing from his face.

“Please… please come back, Tanjiro…  We’re all counting on you, Tanjiro…”

Tanjiro opened his eyes.

“Onii-chan!”

Tears streamed down Tanjiro’s cheeks. “I’m sorry…” he whispered. “Your injuries… are they okay?”

“He’s back!” Everyone cheered. Nezuko hugged her brother. Giyu sagged in relief.

“Kanao… is she okay?”

“Her injuries are getting treated,” Genya assured him.

“Genya… you’re alive,” Tanjiro murmured. “You’ve… got a scar… down the middle of your face.”

Genya subconsciously traced a finger over where Upper Moon One had split him in half. Indeed, the skin tissue healed back jagged and scarred.

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

“Genya, your brother-” Giyu started to ask.

“Nii-chan’s alive. We’re… we’re all going to be fine.”

Everything was going to be fine.

~~~

“Nii-chan! Nii-chan! Welcome home, nii-chan! Look, we made ohagi! Nii-chan, come eat with us! Nii-chan!”

Sanemi opened his eyes, tears already clouding his desaturated vision. He had been dreaming. The first pleasant dream in years. A sick feeling of guilt twisted in his gut. He didn’t deserve to have pleasant dreams.

He had heard Genya’s voice in the dream. That would be his only way to hear his voice now.

Because Genya was dead. His little brother was dead, crumbled to powder after being sliced in two. He thought he had heard his voice before, right when he first woke up. He even thought he saw his little brother in that moment. But, it was nothing short of an illusion his subconscious was using to guide him away from death. The trees he saw? Just visions to remind him of his end goal. The voice he clearly heard shouting, “Blood Demon Art!”? Just a whisper in the wind to remind him who he was fighting for.

His little brother was dead, and it was all his fault.

The demons were gone, Muzan was dead. There was no one else who could take responsibility for Genya’s death. It rested squarely on his shoulders.

Sanemi took in the view of the Butterfly Mansion’s ceiling. He carefully sat up, looked around. The only other bed in the room was empty, the blankets shifted haphazardly. Whoever was occupying it must have left recently.

Sanemi swung his legs over the side of the bed and got to his feet. There was a dull throbbing pain in his abdomen. That’s where the bandages seemed to be centered. His right hand was heavily bandaged as well. Sanemi numbly wiggled his index and middle fingers, taking in how much shorter they were now.

What now?

He had no home, no family, nothing. He was completely alone.

Sanemi wanted to leave. There was no point in sticking around. This place stored too many painful memories. And, with the demons gone, nothing was holding him here.

The door swung open.

“Tomioka?”

Giyu nodded in recognition of his surname and stared at him. Great, another reason to leave. This was the last guy he wanted as his roommate.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. Just away,” Sanemi said roughly. “I’m done.”

“You’re not going to talk to Genya?”

Sanemi froze. What was Giyu talking about, Genya was dead. Surely he knew that. Did he mean a grave or something?

“I guess I’ll go pay my final respects first.”

It was Giyu’s turn to look confused. “Your brother is alive.”

what?

“Yeah, real funny, Tomioka,” Sanemi seethed. “Real funny. I always knew you were thick skulled, but that’s just a low blow.”

Giyu didn’t look phased by the insult. That made Sanemi even angrier.

“Is this funny to you?! I guess the asshole getting his comeuppance makes for a nice cheeky comedy skit, right?! Well, screw that! Don’t give me that ‘he is alive in your heart’ garbage! My little brother is dead!”

Something caught in his throat, and Sanemi found it hard to breathe. He was vaguely aware of hot fat tears running down his face. He couldn’t bring himself to care anymore.

“My little brother is dead,” he repeated, whimpering this time. “My little brother is dead and it’s my fault. It’s all my fault. It- It should have been me-”

“Nii-chan?”

“Please stop. Please, just stop…”

There was no such thing as miracles. Life had proven that over and over again. If miracles did exist, his mom wouldn’t have killed his siblings despite being a demon, Masachika would have survived their fight against Lower Moon One, Kanae wouldn’t have died. God, or the gods, or whoever there was, was not kind or benevolent. Miracles just didn’t exist.

Genya just couldn’t be standing in the doorway, scared and confused and very much alive.

“You,” Sanemi glowered at Giyu. The other took this as his cue to leave, walking past Genya and, after a moment, giving him a reassuring pat on the back. He closed the door behind him, leaving the two brothers alone.

Sanemi fixed his gaze on Genya, who was staring at him with apprehension. Why did his little brother look so scared? Even if Sanemi wanted to hurt him, Genya was dead, and there was nothing Sanemi could do to him.

“Nii-chan,” Genya said again, taking a step forward.

Sanemi said nothing in return. He couldn’t say anything. Was this a ghost or spirit that was going to tell him to repent? Why did Genya have a new scar down the middle of his face? Sanemi did his best not to look at him. He didn’t need a visual reminder of how he failed to protect his little brother.

Genya stopped right in front of him. Sanemi refused to look.

“Please just go, just stop. My little brother is dead. He crumbled to dust in my arms. He’s dead. You can’t just do this to me.”

“‘Nemi, I’m not dead.”

The world stilled around them.

“I- I actually managed to do Breathing. For a second, at least. My other half hadn’t disintegrated yet, and I managed to do Breathing to save myself. I- I used Breathing. Are you proud, nii-chan?”

Sanemi finally gathered the nerves to look at his brother. He had an expression of begging for approval.

“You’re… not dead?” His voice sounded hoarse.

“I’m okay, ‘Nemi. I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re both okay.”

Genya cautiously reached out and pulled Sanemi into a hug. “See? I’m alive, I’m okay.”

Sanemi rested his head against Genya’s shoulder, wrapped his arms around him. He was whole and complete and not split in half. He could feel Genya’s chest rise and fall in tune with his breathing, the faint tickling sensation from the stray mohawk hairs, the soft thumping of his heartbeat.

They weren’t illusions. It really was Genya’s voice that guided him back to the land of the living. And it was Genya he saw upon waking up. The trees, the Blood Demon Art, it was all Genya. He had unknowingly been fighting side by side with his brother.

Genya was alive . His little brother was alive .

Sanemi sobbed, clutching at Genya’s shirt and burying his face into the crook of his neck. After a moment, he felt Genya gently rub his back, clearly not sure of how to comfort him.

“You’re alive. You’re okay. Oh God, you’re alive!” He repeated over and over.

“God, please, please let this be real. Please let this be real and not a dream. I’ll never ask for anything ever again if you just let this be real. Please, just let me have this one thing. Let me have this and I promise I’ll be better. I promise, I swear. Please, just don’t take my little brother away again.”

He couldn’t imagine anything more cruel than letting him have this, only for him to wake up once more. There was nothing more twisted than that.

Well, even if this was only a dream, he could still say something.

“Genya, I’m sorry,” he muttered. “Genya, I’m so so sorry. I’m sorry that I left you behind, that I said all those terrible things. I’m sorry I said you weren’t my brother. You are! You are my precious little brother and I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

He wouldn’t beg for his brother’s forgiveness. What he did was unforgivable, and Genya was well within his rights to hate him or never want anything to do with him again. But, he at least wanted him to know how much he regretted everything.

“It’s okay, nii-chan. I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago.”

That made Sanemi cry all over again. He just wailed and clung to Genya and let his big little brother - when did he get so tall? who gave him the right to get this tall? - hug him tightly.

“Uh, ‘Nemi,” Genya muttered. “I know you’re relieved and all, but can you please stop crying? It’s going to make me cry and- and I don’t really know what to say-”

Sanemi sniffled and sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Just- give me a moment.”

He sniffled a few more times and took a few deep breaths before wiggling out of Genya’s arms. He took this as a chance to look over his brother. Genya was evidently crying, too, as indicated by the shiny streaks on his cheeks. Aside from the new scar, he looked unharmed. Sanemi reached out and gently traced the scar from his forehead to the tip of his nose.

“It’s really you,” Sanemi murmured. A smile crept onto his face. “You’re alive. I thought I lost you.”

“I’m here, ‘Nemi,” Genya assured him. “I’m not going anywhere. You’d best not be going anywhere, either.”

Well, now that Genya was here, Sanemi was in no hurry to leave. “Don’t worry, I’m not-”

“I mean it,” Genya pleaded with desperation. “That ‘it should have been me?’ Don’t you dare say that ever again. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy I’m alive, but I’d never trade your life for mine.”

Another wave of guilt washed over Sanemi. “But, you’re my brother-”

“You’re my brother, too,” Genya said. “Don’t you get it? I don’t want you to sacrifice yourself for me. I just want you in my life. Why can’t we just protect each other?”

“Alright,” Sanemi said after a moment, giving in. He could never win an argument with Genya, and this time was no exception. “We’ll protect each other from now on, no matter what.”

Genya smiled. “Good. Now go apologize to Tomioka-san. You shouldn’t have yelled at him like that.”

Sanemi crossed his arms and pouted. “I’m not apologizing to fucking Tomioka.”

“Don’t be stubborn, nii-chan. Now go. He’s probably in the kitchen. He was helping me make ohagi for you before he went to check up on you.”

Sanemi sighed and shuffled out of the room. While not happy about the prospect of a forced apology, he felt lighter than air. A small sliver of his mind was still screaming at him, insisting that this couldn’t be real and he shouldn’t be this happy and he was just setting himself up for disappointment for when he wakes up in a few seconds. That sliver kept shrinking smaller and smaller.

Genya was alive. He was alive and happy and Sanemi was going to be a good big brother now.

True to Genya’s prediction, Giyu was in the kitchen, unsuccessfully trying to mold the rice into a ball with one hand. Sanemi let out a long, over dramatic sigh.

“Give me that,” he said, snatching up the rice ball and remolding it before setting it on the platter with the others. Giyu wouldn’t stop staring at him. Sanemi sighed again.

“Alright, I’m sorry that I yelled at you. Happy?” He made sure to accentuate every syllable in order to communicate that this was a forced apology, so that even someone as blunt as Giyu would get that.

“And I must apologize for confusing you,” Giyu replied, his voice a lot more sincere. “You were grieving and I probably made everything worse.”

Way to go, Sanemi. You just made things awkward.

“Whatever,” Sanemi said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. Now he kind of wanted to apologize for real, but no way his pride was going to let him apologize to Giyu twice in the same day.

“Also, don’t say ‘it should have been me.’ I understand that feeling, but your loved ones wouldn’t want th-”

“I get it, I get it,” Sanemi shrugged him off. He really didn’t want a touchy heart to heart with Giyu right now. “Genya already lectured me on that, don’t worry.”

He picked up the platter of ohagi and started carrying it back to his room.

“Stop following me!” He exclaimed when he saw Giyu trailing behind him.

“That’s my room, too.”

Sanemi sighed, plucking up one of the ohagi and shoving it into Giyu’s hand. “There, now shoo. Go away. Genya and I have some brotherly bonding to catch up on.”

Giyu didn’t even look annoyed with that faint smile on his lips. “I’m happy you two made up,” he said, turning around and walking away.

Now that Sanemi could agree with. He was happy, too.

He turned around just in time to bump into a small figure. The younger Kamado brat, the demon girl. Well, clearly not a demon anymore, with her human eyes and human teeth and human nails- wait, why were her hands bandaged?

The girl beamed at him. Sanemi suddenly became acutely aware of how small she was. This- this was a child! And he had stabbed her! Multiple times!

This was going to be very awkward.

“Hello!” Nezuko said, smiling brightly. “You are… Genya’s big brother, right?”

“... Right…”

“He says really good things about you!”

Did this child not remember that he stabbed her?!

“Yeah… I, uh- I gotta go. Uh, sorry.”

He squeezed past her and to the door. He’d give her a proper apology later. Maybe he could figure out what her favorite treat was and get it for her.

“Was that Nezuko out there just now?” Genya asked when Sanemi shut the door behind him. He was sitting on Sanemi’s bed and waiting for him.

“Yeah, that was her,” Sanemi said, setting the platter down on the bedside table before taking a seat next to Genya. “Why were her hands bandaged? Did she get injured or something?”

Genya let out a nervous laugh. “Well, a lot of stuff ended up happening after you passed out. Tanjiro kinda died then came back as a demon and he almost killed all of us so that’s why Nezuko is injured but Kanao got the antidote-”

“Okay okay, slow down,” Sanemi sighed. “Start from the beginning.”

Genya sent him a perplexed glance. “Which beginning?”

“Whichever you want. We’ve got plenty of time.”

Genya smiled and picked up two ohagi, taking one for himself and handing the other to Sanemi. They talked well into the night - Giyu agreed to room with the Kamados - and when Sanemi woke up, he found Genya curled up against his shoulder. He smiled, setting his little brother down on the bed and covering him with a blanket.

Everything was going to be fine.