“In a year or two you’ll have polished your skills even more, you’ll have greater precision!”
Akaza shouted as he aimed at Kyojuro’s face who quickly raised his sword to block him. Therefore, Akaza put more force into his punch when Kyojuro shouted back, “SO WHAT?!” He pushed against him but Akaza was stronger and almost would have hit Kyojuro’s eye if he hadn’t turned his head at the last second.
“I don’t care about that!” Kyojuro glared as he swung his sword again. Akaza huffed as he kicked him away. Kyojuro rolled himself off of the ground before he stood up again, fiery eyes focused on Akaza.
“I’m not going to become a demon. I don’t care what happens in a year or two, I don’t care about the strength I’m going to have then.”
Akaza frowned as he wanted to argue back but Kyojuro just continued, “What I care about is fulfilling my duty right now. What I care about is protecting everyone who is here right now. That is all I need,” He almost spit out as he rushed in again, releasing his Flame Breathing Techniques in a flurry.
“Sounds like a hassle. All they are going to do is drag you down,” Akaza huffed as he delivered a punch right into Kyojuro’s gut as his body regenerated. “And what will happen then? You’re going to despair. There’s nothing positive about weaklings!”
“Arguing with you about that is pointless,” Kyojuro spit out blood as he brought a bit of distance in between them. “We have different views and mine tells me to use my power for people who are more fragile! They are the ones who need this power the most! Of course, I’d protect them, but you wouldn’t know. You would never understand what that’s like, demon!”
Something about that irked Akaza deeply as his eye twitched and he snapped, “I DO KNOW! I tried protecting them and it didn’t work out!”
What was he talking about? He didn’t...he didn’t know. What? Akaza’s eyes widened in shock as he stared at Kyojuro who mirrored his expression for a second before his veins popped in anger and he swung his sword against him again. “Don’t you dare lie into my face with those eyes of yours!” He shouted and Akaza just halfheartedly stepped aside and held a hand against his head.
Kyojuro was right, he didn’t know. He was the Upper Moon Three! He was strong! He was chosen! HE HATED WEAKLINGS! Why did he say that? Who was he talking about? For a moment an image popped up in his head. Someone, a man. Bedridden. Looking up at him with a tired but gentle smile.
Who was that? What was that?!
His thoughts were interrupted when Kyojuro’s sword sliced against his neck. Not too deep, but Akaza immediately punched Kyojuro's wrist and jumped back. “Let me think for a bit, damnit!” He murmured as his neck stitched itself together again.
His neck. A rope around a neck.
FUCK. What was happening? Akaza slightly panicked as he watched his surroundings. Where did this image come from? As he looked around, he also could see the sun slowly coming up.
Shit, he needed to leave. Right now.
“YOU STAY HERE!” Kyojuro shouted and Akaza whipped his head around to him. He didn’t have time!
“Fifth Form! Flame Tiger!”
“Destructive Death! Distortion!”
As both of their attacks clashed in the middle, Akaza used the distraction to turn and run into the forest. He needed to get away.
As he ran, the little brat screamed at him as if he was insane, “You coward, stop running away! Come back!”
Why the fuck would Akaza come back? He gritted his teeth in anger as he ran further into the darkness. He had other things to think about first. How dare that stupid kid imply he’d be scared of him, what the hell?
It didn’t take him too long to find the hut he’d stayed at after he killed the occupants right before he went to find Kyojuro and so he slammed the door shut again as he stomped into a corner, slid down the wall and he pressed his hands against his head.
What were those images that kept appearing in his mind?
Akaza closed his eyes and willed the image into his head again. He needed to know. He was sure that this was important, who was that?
In his eyes the man appeared again, tied to his makeshift bed because his body couldn't carry him anymore. He seemed weak and fragile. Everything Akaza despised, everything he rejected, he honestly felt disgusted seeing such a weak thing in front of him. Suddenly the man looked up and into his face, calling out, "Hakuji."
Hakuji. Hakuji, Hakuji! Your father heard you got caught again and hung himself! He’s dead!
Akaza saw in his head how a letter was shoved into his hands, and as it unfolded before his eyes, Akaza slowly began to realize what was happening.“Dear Hakuji! Live an honest life. You can still turn over a new leaf. I don’t want to live off money that has been stolen from others. I’m sorry for being a nuisance.”
That father had been worthless. Utterly pathetic. Akaza thought that it was the correct choice to kill himself off, weaklings had no right to live. They were a nuisance, that’s right. Akaza tore at his own hair as he told himself that.
So why did the image in his head show him a boy with three marks on his arms crying and desperately clinging onto a grave?
No. No no no no. This couldn’t be. These couldn’t be his memories. This couldn’t have been his life. He refused to believe this. It had to be a mistake. A glitch. An error, but even though Akaza tried to convince himself, somewhere deep within he knew that it was true. He knew that this was his past.
Looking at the destruction he left behind, Kyojuro sighed. At least he could find the nest of these demons, no humans in sight. It would have been unlucky if they had scattered throughout the nearby village, it had been quite weird to find demons cluttering together but whatever. No people were harmed, Kyojuro thought it was a job well done.
About to head back, Kyojuro was about to sheathe his sword again when there was an abrupt pressure in the atmosphere. Turning around, Kyojuro felt a feeling of a deja-vu when a few feet in front of him, a demon, landed with an explosion-like kick, creating a crater at the point of impact. As the dust cleared, Kyojuro recognized the Upper Moon Three.
Gripping his sword tighter and going back into a fighting stance, Kyojuro watched how the demon pointed his finger at him and shouted, “KYOJURO! Become a demon right now!”
Oh, here we go again.
“I will not.” And with that Kyojuro stormed forwards and swung his sword against Akaza, slashing at him. Akaza’s arm clashed against it as they exchanged blows after blows. For a moment they were almost shoulder to shoulder with each other, Kyojuro looking over his blade into the yellow glasslike scleras of his opponent, the “Upper Moon Three” kanji a warning.
The demon was angry, baring his fangs at Kyojuro as he hissed, “Fine. I gave you the chance. But if you don’t want to turn, then I’ll have no regrets killing you for what you’ve done to me!”
Akaza suddenly disengaged by flipping backward, using the motion to give more power to his Demon Art kick. Kyojuro had half a mind to block with his sword and lean his head back to get it out of the trajectory, but he could already feel the small cut on his chest.
With no time to lose, Akaza already shouted out his next Demon Art, unleashing punch after punch after him. Kyojuro had to deflect them before the Upper Moon suddenly dove in and aimed a punch at Kyojuro’s face. Kyojuro immediately raised his sword to block but had to stumble for a second before he regained his footing and pushed back, slicing through flesh and drawing blood to splatter around.
Akaza’s punch had been much more forceful than the last time they had fought, Kyojuro scolded himself for not expecting the increase of power and fixed his eyes at the demon who jumped back and gave him a hateful and heated glare. Wait, what did he say again?
“I didn’t even do anything to you yet. But don’t worry, I’ll slay you today, demon!” Kyojuro shouted before he used his flaming breathing techniques in a flurry, landing several gashes on the demon’s body which were bleeding freely. Didn’t seem to bother the demon though.
“That’s not it!” Akaza just hissed as he blocked and punched back the very second his arms regenerated, each of them was harder than the last. For a while, they exchanged blows after blows. Kyojuro already could feel several cuts and wounds start bleeding on him and he had to cough up blood as a particular punch got delivered right into his gut and sent him flying.
“It was your fault, Kyojuro! YOURS! I won’t forgive you!” Akaza already jumped and crashed down with a kick as Kyojuro rolled away just in time for it not to hit him. The resulting cracks in the ground already told him what would have happened if he didn’t.
Kyojuro stood up, leaning onto his sword as his body ached and watched as the demon straightened up and turned his head towards Kyojuro, yellow eyes eerily glinting in the dark as the dust settled around him.
Something was wrong with the demon.
Kyojuro still didn’t get what Akaza even babbled about, he hadn’t even done anything, but it was clear that the demon somehow had started to hate him, anger bubbling over with each of his actions. His attacks seemed also different. They were still aiming at his weak spots, but somehow Kyojuro felt like they had lost the finesse he had encountered in their first fight. Instead, there was rage laced in each of his punches and kicks. Almost in a flurry, Akaza kept attacking and attacking as if it was the only thing he could do. It somehow made it easier to keep track of him, anger made people a bit reckless, a bit easier to see through, giving him more openings. However, it also meant that if Akaza got an attack in, it was like Kyojuro’s whole body would collapse with the sheer force they’d pack. Kyojuro had to end this fast.
“Take some responsibility for making me remember, and die now, Kyojuro!”
Akaza didn’t leave him any time to think and so Kyojuro ignored the words, put them in the back of his mind for when this was over, and instead jerked his head away from the incoming punch and struck his sword to the left of Akaza with a breathing technique. The demon raised his other hand to block but Kyojuro sliced right through it, cutting it off before he twisted his blade and changed the trajectory to Akaza’s neck. Akaza immediately tried to punch him with the hand he had left but Kyojuro gripped it with his own arm, as he put more force into the neck.
Kyojuro managed to slice through it just a bit, before Akaza suddenly whirled around his whole body and lifted his foot to kick at Kyojuro’s body in a curve, managing to land at Kyojuro’s wrist that held his sword.
It fell with a loud clatter as Kyojuro fell backward with a roll through the impact. Akaza lunged at him, but Kyojuro immediately brought his feet up at Akaza’s sternum to throw him over his head. He then clasped around to grab his sword and turned around to swing it back at Akaza who threw another punch at him.
They met in the middle and got locked into a contest of strength.
Akaza almost growled at him before suddenly his eyes glazed over and he shouted out, “Shut up! ShutupshutupSHUTUP!”
Something was really, really wrong.
Akaza used his other hand to grab his head and tear at his hair. In confusion? Or panic? Kyojuro wasn’t sure, but the demon seemed to be tripping over something and it definitely wasn’t Kyojuro. He hadn’t even said anything.
But Kyojuro had to fulfill his duty, so he couldn’t care about whatever was up with the Upper Moon and used the confusion to overwhelm him and stab him in the shoulder. Blood drizzled down his arm in small rivulets as Kyojuro tilted his sword and tried to cut through Akaza’s body and flesh.
Akaza stared at him, eyes wide, but somehow unseeing as he screamed, “STOP IT! Damn it. Whatever you’re doing, just STOP IT!”
Kyojuro wasn’t quite sure if that shout was even aimed at him or whatever the hell was on Akaza’s mind, but Akaza suddenly seemed to regain his footing again and slammed a fist into Kyojuro’s face. Pain shot through it at the impact and Kyojuro had to close his eyes for a bit, as blood started to drizzle down from his forehead, obscuring his view. He didn’t let go of his sword though, trying to cut through even without sight. But without warning, Kyojuro could feel how Akaza’s body dropped down out of nowhere, uncaring of the sword sticking out of him. The next thing Kyojuro knew, he got kicked into his own back, unwillingly yanking out his sword as he refused to let go of it and fell onto his knees.
Kyojuro immediately turned his upper body around, raising his arm to swing with his sword, ready to slice again, but was stopped when Akaza grabbed it and his arm with both hands. Kyojuro widened his eyes as he realized the position he was in, knew how easy it would be for Akaza to break his arm like that, and before he could even do anything, pain shot through it as Akaza did exactly that, making his arm fall limply at his side, sword cluttering out of his hand.
“WHY?!” Akaza shouted desperately, eyes glazed over as if he wasn’t here, as if he wasn’t actually talking to Kyojuro and the last thing Kyojuro saw was a fist coming down to his face, all while tears glimmered and fell down the demon’s eyes.
Why did he have to get flooded with them again? Why did these stupid memories have to come back? Why did he have to remember his whole pathetic human life in the middle of a fight? Clenching his hands, digging into the dirt, and leaving furrows behind, Akaza stared defeatedly at the ground.
Once upon a time, he, of all things, had wanted to protect people.
How weird. How utterly weird. Akaza didn’t understand. He was Akaza, a demon, a chosen one, the Upper Moon Three. He was strong. But at the same time, he had been Hakuji. Strong, always strong, but with a direction for his strength. A goal. He had wanted a future, had lived and nursed his loved ones. Had a pretty shit and poor life but he had finally found purpose. Had found love, had a Dojo he would have taken over, made promises. And then it got all ripped away from him again. Just as he had found happiness again, it was taken from him. Just because some weak people were jealous about not being able to beat him and had turned to poison to kill his loved ones. Akaza closed his eyes as he remembered the carnage and anger he had unleashed after that.
Why did he have to remember now? Why did he have to remember his loss again? Why did he have to remember the good times only to get it ripped away from him again, to realize that he had strayed from his path once again? He-
No. No. Grinding his teeth, Akaza tried to ignore this. Ignore all these memories. There was time to unpack them later. He was NOT going to go through this now. He had been in the middle of a fight after all. Speaking of...Akaza lifted his head and looked over to where Kyojuro had landed. Still unmoving. Fuck, did he really kill him now?
Akaza huffed and caught his breath as he slowly walked towards Kyojuro’s body and looked down at him. Broken bones, bruises, probably a few crushed organs, blood all over his body. Akaza saw every wound he inflicted and felt...nothing. He slowly knelt down beside Kyojuro to check his pulse and- there it was. At least, Kyojuro wasn’t dead yet. Unconscious, obviously, but not dead. Akaza stood up again and turned away, ready to let him lie on the ground like that. If he was lucky someone might find him. But as he looked down on the mangled body once more, he hesitated again, before he impulsively picked him up with both arms and walked towards a nearby tree. Akaza carefully positioned Kyojuro’s body at the ground again, torso leaning against the wood in an upright manner. There. This way Kyojuro wouldn’t choke on his own blood at least. Probably.
Feeling like he’d done enough, Akaza half turned when a bird on one of the branches of the tree caught his eye. It stared right at him, feathers ruffled up and it felt like it was glaring at him. If birds could glare at least.
Akaza tilted his head as he narrowed his eyes at the bird, then at Kyojuro, and then back to the bird. “You should probably call someone if you want him to live. He’s going to die if he doesn’t get treated soon.”
Akaza then turned around and walked away. He could hear the sound of flapping wings but didn’t give it any other thought. He only halted for a moment when he felt something wet on his cheeks. It wasn’t raining, was it? Lifting his hand to it, he realized that it came from his eyes.
When had he begun to cry?
Not knowing what else to do and surely not wanting to report back to his lord, Akaza ran until he’d found a hideout for the next few days. He didn’t care, just ran and ran and ran trying to drown out the images and memories in his mind with sheer physical workout.
When asked, Akaza wouldn’t really remember the next hours. Almost as if on autopilot, he’d come to a stop somewhere, the smell of humans and his hunger guiding him. The next thing he knew he had kicked a door open, ignored the outcry and screams as he punched some guys into the walls and ripped heads off, effectively killing them all and painting the walls and the floor red. And just because he could, he ripped away an entire arm as he bit into it, devouring it when a high-pitched scream reached his ears. Turning around he saw a woman staring at him in horror. And how could she not, when Akaza looked almost feral, crouching down, yellow eyes glimmering in the dark as his mouth was covered in blood? For a moment a picture of a girl, no, his dead fiancée Koyuki, pushed itself in front of the woman and Akaza let out a panicked scream as he almost chucked the arm in her direction, effectively making her turn tail and run away.
Akaza didn’t pay it any mind as he stared at the blood and the dead bodies and slowly sank to the ground.
“What the fuck. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.” He told himself, told his head, told his thoughts as he stared at the blood, the smell intoxicating and tempting. He needed to eat. He had to eat and drink the blood and become stronger. He needed to be stronger. He needed to replenish his nutrients. He needed to-
“Hakuji. Stop it.” A whine escaped Akaza as he could almost hear the voice of Koyuki speaking to him.
“You don’t need to be stronger.”
“Shut up.” Akaza didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to think about it. Slowly he staggered towards one of the dead bodies, grabbed it by the neck to lift it, and realized...his hand was shaking. He stared at his fingertips, the amount of blood on them almost completely covering up the blue color and he clenched his fist tighter, dug his nails into the skin that ripped apart, and thus let more blood spill over his hand.
Akaza couldn’t stop looking at it, the smell of the red fluid intoxicating but his memories pushed themselves forward and he pressed his lips together as he was asking himself what the fuck he was doing right now. He had so much blood on his hands. He had spilled so much blood, had tainted himself. Had tainted the precious fighting style that had once healed his heart. Had tainted the memory and hope and legacy his teacher had left him. Had tainted his promises to Koyuki he never could uphold. Had tainted his decision to finally find the right way to live just like his father had wanted. He had wanted to protect people at the cost of his own life. Why did it have to go wrong?
Akaza was shaking as his view got blurry with tears. Suddenly the smell of the blood wasn’t tempting to him anymore. The enticing aroma that had made his head whirl around before, almost made him feel sick of it now. Akaza let the body drop as he fell onto his knees, staring at all the lifeless corpses around him. It made him retch. As he thought about all the humans he had devoured all these years, all these centuries long, a number he couldn’t even count, a number that was irredeemable, he felt even more horrified with himself. Combined with the stench of the blood he had spilled Akaza felt completely sick. He retched and puked and threw up whatever he could manage. As a demon, it wasn’t much to his chagrin. He hated himself. The thought of even eating the corpses made him cough more and he stumbled backward, to the opposite of the room, trying to get as far away as possible.
Shit, he felt awful. And the sun was going up, he had to spend the next hours enclosed with this smell. Akaza pulled up his knees, wrapping his arms tightly around them, his nails digging into his arms as he stared at the bloodbath. Even though he was hungry, he couldn’t eat. He knew he’d feel completely disgusted with himself, already did. If nothing else he should never eat a human again. He didn’t even know if he could if he tried. He might as well puke again at the idea of doing so.
Closing his eyes, Akaza concentrated on himself. At least Akaza knew that he had good discipline. It might be the only thing he’d learned and taken over from his human life. Damn, he had even refused to devour women ever since he became a demon. It shouldn’t be too hard to restrain from everyone else, too. Speaking off, he had never even known why he had been so against killing women. Had never known why it ticked him off the wrong way. Now that his memories were back it was obvious that it was probably also Koyuki’s influence on him. Even as a demon she had somehow been there for him. Akaza’s nails dug deeper as he kept his head down while tears ran down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Akaza didn’t know who he apologized to. Maybe his father and Keizo and Koyuki for letting each of them down, for not being there for them when they needed him, for letting all of them die. Maybe the bodies that were lying in front of him, still slowly bleeding out. Maybe all of the people he had senselessly killed for a goal and for a strength that was pointless. And maybe...just maybe he was apologizing to himself, too.
Akaza truly didn’t know what to do with himself, left alone with his memories and thoughts. He felt lost. All he did was pacing around the house, sometimes working out because it at least gave him a comforting routine, the physical exercise somehow keeping him sane. Although he didn’t even know why he still kept fit, for what he worked out. Leaning his head against the wall behind him, Akaza closed his eyes with a humorless chuckle as he thought about what had started his existential crisis.
“Dammit, Kyojuro. Why did you have to make me remember?”
Alone in the dark room with only the light of the moon shining through the window, Kyojuro was left alone with his thoughts. He should’ve died that day. He knew that. But he didn’t. Left at the mercy of the flickering mood of the Upper Moon’s action. And Kyojuro had spent the last week wondering why. Why was he still alive? Even more concerning were Akaza’s actions prior. Kyojuro had seen that something had been wrong with the Upper Moon. He went through all the lines the demon had spoken and it quite frankly made no sense. His actions were weird, he had clearly been angry at Kyojuro for making him remember. Although Kyojuro literally hadn’t done anything at all. And then there was the fact that somewhere along the line Akaza had begun to cry. His crow had told him that he had deliberately left him alive, even going so far as to send his crow to get medical treatment. And there had been tears going down his face. Kyojuro wanted to know what exactly made him do what he did.
Although maybe, he shouldn’t bother. A demon was a demon. At the end of the day, all they had to do was kill him. Just that Kyojuro had failed even at that.
Kyojuro closed his eyes again trying to get himself to sleep.
Kyojuro snapped his eyes open and whipped his head to the door of his room where none other than the Upper Moon Three was leaning against it, arms crossed in front of him.
Kyojuro immediately sat up and opened his mouth to scream or shout in shock, he wasn’t sure, but within the blink of an eye, the demon had left the door, pushed him down again, and pressed a hand against his mouth while his other hand held Kyojuro’s wrist against the floor as he had itched to get to his sword that had been lying next to him.
“Ahhhh, sorry. I can’t have you let people know I’m here, Kyojuro.”
Kyojuro glared at him. He didn’t have the strength yet to fight back himself but he should alert his family to get away! A bit desperate, Kyojuro bit into the hand that muffled his shouts.
“Ow!” Akaza stared down incredulously at him but didn’t move his hand. “What are you doing? Are you that desperate to drink my blood? I thought you said you didn’t want to become a demon?”
Kyojuro immediately stopped his biting attempt and pressed his lips together.
“Look, I’m not here to cause any harm, okay?” The demon rolled his eyes. “I could kill you right here, right now but I won’t. I just want to talk.”
Kyojuro stopped struggling underneath him. Not that he could really have done anything, injured as he was.
“Great. Alright, I’m going to lift my hand now and you’re not going to call for anyone. Otherwise, I’m going to have to kill you and everyone else here and we really don’t want that, now do we? Nod if you understand.”
Kyojuro glared at the demon, before slowly nodding. Akaza gave him a warning look before he lifted both of his hands and sat down next to him.
At the same time, Kyojuro immediately reached for his sword that got ripped out of his hand a moment later again.
Akaza narrowed his eyes at him in an unimpressed expression.
“Just do us both a favor and stay down. You are in no condition to fight and you know that.” With a light tap, Akaza poked Kyojuro’s forehead with the end of his sword sheath.
Kyojuro just bared his teeth at him and asked, “What are you doing here? Are you here to finish me off?”
“Huh? I literally just said that I wasn’t going to do that. Are you deaf?”
Kyojuro flinched but didn’t answer. He wasn’t exactly deaf, just didn’t have the best sense of hearing but that was nothing the other one should or had to know. Akaza narrowed his eyes at him for a bit before he spoke up again in a slightly louder voice if Kyojuro wasn’t mistaken.
“Anyway, I’m just here to talk.” Akaza gave Kyojuro a side glance before he asked, “May I?” Without even waiting for an answer he unsheathed Kyojuro’s blade and brought it close to his face to inspect it further which made Kyojuro tense up. There was something incredibly unnerving about seeing his sword in the hands of the demon, glinting in the moonlight.
“Hmm, indeed, a pretty fine sword.” Without further ado, Akaza suddenly cut off his own hand with a thoughtful expression.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Kyojuro stared at the hand that had fallen onto the floor before looking up at Akaza who didn’t seem to pay him any mind and just examined the hand that had immediately reformed with a faraway gaze as he clenched and unclenched it.
“Could you NOT spill your filthy blood all over my floor?!”
That seemed to get Akaza out of his thoughts again as he finally turned his gaze back to Kyojuro again.
“Oh. I didn’t think that you’d mind it that much. But fiiiine.” Akaza carelessly let the sword fall somewhere behind him and sat down cross-legged next to Kyojuro. “It’s going to evaporate anyway.”
Kyojuro observed Akaza who now faced the window and quietly watched the moon. For a while, silence spread out between them. Kyojuro didn’t know what to do. The presence of the Upper Moon was unnerving and he just didn’t get what he wanted. Why was he here? Kyojuro frankly should alert someone. But there wasn’t anyone who’d be able to do anything. Only his brother and father stayed somewhere in the house. Shinobu had left again after a week, telling him how to treat his wounds for a full recovery. He couldn’t expect any Hashira to wait here, they all had missions to do. Nobody in the house would be able to take on Akaza in a real fight. But the demon seemed weirdly...mellowed out. Nothing like when they fought against each other. Kyojuro was relieved but also curious about that.
“Didn’t you say that you wanted to talk?” Kyojuro finally spoke up when the silence became too uncomfortable.
Akaza just tilted his head and smirked. “Oh, yeah. Anything you want to ask me? Shoot away, Kyojuro.”
“What are you planning?”
Akaza leaned forward, head on his palm that rested on his thigh as his eyes roamed over Kyojuro.
“Nothing. I don’t plan anything.” He just lightly answered.
Well. Kyojuro knew that demons couldn’t say anything about Muzan directly, so he tried another approach.
“So you don’t have anything better to do than break into my house? Don’t you have missions to go to?”
Akaza laughed out loud and with a dangerous twinkle in his eyes answered, “Well, would you rather me be somewhere else right now?”
Frankly, Kyojuro didn’t want to have Akaza anywhere near him, but every second he stayed here was another second the demon didn’t go out to devour and kill innocent people so Kyojuro guessed that this was probably for the best.
“No, you can stay.”
Akaza huffed and leaned both of his hands behind him onto the floor and looked around the room. “That’s quite a big and clean house you’ve got. Surely a nice way to recover here.” There was a frown on his face as he almost sounded disgusted.
“It is quite nice!” Kyojuro agreed as he watched the demon’s expression. There was a little twitch in his brows, almost as if he wanted to lash out in annoyance, but instead, Akaza just pressed his lips together into a thin line.
Silence spread out again as Kyojuro sighed. This surely wasn’t how he expected his night to go. But if Akaza was here, he might as well find some of the answers to the questions he had been asking himself earlier.
“Can I ask you something?”
“I quite literally told you that you could, just a few seconds ago. I’m beginning to think it’s not only your sense of hearing that needs a little extra push, Kyojuro.”
Kyojuro pressed his lips together as he glared at the demon for the jab.
“So? Don’t be shy, Kyojuro. Tell me what you want to know.” Akaza winked. He actually winked at Kyojuro.
Yeah, there definitely was a reason why Kyojuro didn’t like the demon since their first encounter. His demeanor was kind of really annoying, but Kyojuro wanted to know so he started to speak up.
“Why what? You gotta be a bit more specific. I, unfortunately, cannot read your mind.”
“Why did you cry?”
The playful demeanor dropped within an instance as Akaza lifted his head from his hand and straightened up. A frown appeared and he narrowed his eyes at Kyojuro with a piercing gaze.
Kyojuro wouldn’t be himself if he backed down though.
“You...At our fight, you were angry. I’m not sure if you even noticed, but somewhere along the way, there were tears pooling at the corners of your eyes. Well, and then I got knocked out.”
“You said something about remembering your past. What happened?” Kyojuro asked with wide eyes, curiosity all too easy to hear.
“It’s a sad, quite pathetic story,” Akaza said after a few moments.
“Can I hear it?”
Akaza turned away from Kyojuro and looked out of the window again without answering him. Kyojuro figured that he wouldn’t speak again and just watched the profile of the demon. He seemed lost in his own world, a sadness around him that Kyojuro couldn’t quite understand. After all, this was still a demon. Akaza killed a lot of people. He was literally the reason Kyojuro almost died twice and was bedridden right now. But watching the demon sit beside him, legs pulled up, arms wrapped around them, and looking out to the sky with a sad expression, was conflicting to Kyojuro. The Upper Moon Three shouldn’t look like that. He shouldn’t look so...human like that. The thought made Kyojuro flinch. This was an enemy. He shouldn’t forget that.
“Say...were you ever in love, Kyojuro?”
“What?” Kyojuro couldn’t help but open his mouth in shock and just...stare. Akaza slightly inclined his head towards him and raised a brow at the display but otherwise seemed completely serious.
Coughing and slightly embarrassed, Kyojuro answered, “Well. I mean I love my fa- family.” For a second the image of his father popped up. His father who had literally told him just today once again how he should be ashamed of himself and how he had known that Kyojuro would’ve ended up like this and how he should feel lucky to still be alive and Kyojuro shook his head for a second to will the memory away again. “I love my brother. And my friends. Uh, I love food.”
Akaza gaped at him disbelievingly, eyebrows raising even further before he choked out a brief laugh, “I see.”
Kyojuro felt warmth rise into his face and just glared at the demon who seemed to be thoroughly amused by it.
“Anyway, in case you want to know, I once did love someone. Romantically.” Akaza turned his gaze back to the moon as he spoke, “She was fragile. But so incredibly kind. I loved her and I loved spending time with her. We made so many promises. She even became my fiancée.”
Kyojuro again was left speechless. He didn’t expect the demon to have such a fragile and loving side to him. These were his memories, weren’t they? Akaza was a different person now, he shouldn’t sound so nostalgic and sad about it. Demons...weren’t supposed to feel feelings, were they?
“She died.” Akaza’s voice became harsh and toneless as he gave a side glance to Kyojuro, “I would’ve fought everyone for her. I wanted to protect her. I...I would’ve given my life to protect her. But it didn’t matter. She was murdered with poison. No matter how strong I was, I couldn’t do anything about that,” A humorless laugh escaped him, “Isn’t it pathetic? All this strength and for what?”
For a moment Kyojuro didn’t say anything, could only think about the exchange and his words to the demon at the first fight they had at the Mugen Train. A lot of things slowly made more sense to Kyojuro now. Remembering this loss in the middle of a fight...there really was no wonder Akaza’s mood had flickered like that.
Slowly Kyojuro lifted a hand and put it over the tightly clenched fist that betrayed Akaza’s emotionless tone and showed Kyojuro how much the demon actually cared, “I’m sorry.”
Akaza flinched heavily and retracted his hand in an instance before biting out, “I don’t need your pity.”
Kyojuro didn’t answer and only watched the demon retract into his shell again.
The silence continued for the rest of the night until the Upper Moon left close to sunrise without another word.
Akaza didn’t know why he had shared a part of his past though. It had been on impulse. Yeah, yeah that was it. Just a flicker of a whim. Nothing more.
Just like his decision to crouch down again as he watched Kyojuro’s house from afar right now. He was just bored, could use some distraction because he really didn’t want to think anymore and a little bit of company was perfect for that. And since Kyojuro didn’t have a chance to actually throw him out, it was a completely legit reason for Akaza to come back, right?
Akaza looked around, but the night was completely silent with no one out, so he just jumped to the house and broke into it.
Ignoring all the other rooms he had peeked into the last time, Akaza walked straight into Kyojuro’s room.
“Please don’t shout out loud and wake anyone up.”
“What are you doing here again?!” Kyojuro still shouted out and Akaza rolled his eyes as he plopped down next to the futon, ignoring the hostile tone.
“Can’t I visit my favorite slayer and check up on him to see if his recovery is going well?”
“You were the one who put me in here in case you forgot.” Kyojuro hissed. “What makes you think I want you here?”
“The fact that I was able to come here quite easily? You should’ve put up some better safety measures if you wanted me to feel unwelcome.” Akaza shrugged. If he was honest, it did surprise him that there wasn’t any Wisteria flower in the room.
“I thought you coming here was a one-time thing.”
“Well…as you can see, it isn’t. But relax, I’m not doing anything.” Akaza jumped into the air and looked down at Kyojuro, floating headfirst over him. “I’m bored and since you are awake, I guess you are, too.”
Kyojuro narrowed his eyes at him before he spoke up. “I don’t understand you.”
“And why is that?”
“Why did you even let me live?”
Kyojuro came back to the floor and sat down, legs stretched out.
“Mhmm...Good question. You are the first hashira I met that I let live after all.”
Kyojuro flinched and glared at him, but Akaza didn’t pay him any mind as he pondered over the question. Why didn’t he kill Kyojuro?
It’s because you made me remember. It’s because I don’t have a reason to fight anymore. It’s because I hate this life I had. It’s because I feel lost. It’s because I’m regretting. It’s because I admire you because you actually were able to protect 200 people, didn’t let anybody die on the Mugen Train. It’s because I’m jealous of you for being able to do so when I couldn’t even protect a single person.
“It’s because I like you. You are strong.”
Kyojuro didn’t seem to be satisfied with that answer though and only gave him a piercing stare. “I don’t like you though.”
Akaza just shrugged. He understood the sentiment. At the moment, he didn’t like himself either after all.
Kyojuro let his gaze wander for a bit before he coughed and addressed him again, “Hey, can you get me some water?”
Akaza tilted his head, “I’m sorry, what? Can’t you get it yourself? You’re not THAT injured, are you?”
Kyojuro had the audacity to settle down again, relaxing in his sheets, and then grinned at Akaza, “Well, if you have to pester me and stay here, then you can at least make yourself useful.”
Akaza opened his mouth to give a retort, but then only clicked his tongue before he stood up. He couldn’t believe that he really was getting ordered around like that. “Bold of you to tell me what to do.”
“I thought you said you liked me.”
“Not that much.” Kyojuro just gave him a silent look until Akaza got going.
“I’m doing this because I want to do it.” He gritted out before he walked out of the room again. Akaza wondered if Kyojuro was confused about the fact that Akaza had no problem navigating through his house. Well, he probably already assumed that Akaza had done some recon before he first walked into here so Akaza simply grabbed himself a cup of water and walked back to Kyojuro.
“Here.” He sat back down and almost shoved the cup into Kyojuro’s hands who slowly sat up, “Thank you.”
Akaza frowned at that. There was no need for a thanks. “Aren’t you worried that I poisoned it?” Just like Koyuki and Keizo were poisoned?
A boisterous laugh escaped Kyojuro at that. “No. If you wanted to, you already would have done me in.”
Akaza just hummed at that and stretched his legs out, wiggling his toes for a bit when Kyojuro suddenly exclaimed, “REFRESHING!”
Flinching, Akaza turned back to Kyojuro who took another slip and exclaimed, “REFRESHING!” again. Akaza opened his mouth to say something only for Kyojuro to repeat that process two times more and closed his mouth again.
Speechless, Akaza blinked repeatedly at the absolute genuine tone and expression with which Kyojuro described the water until he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Akaza suddenly burst out into laughter, genuine and loud and without restraint he just let the laughter fall. The first time since he remembered his past he was genuinely enjoying himself and it was only because Kyojuro felt the need to comment on the water he was drinking. It was ridiculous. It didn’t make any sense. Akaza had the time of his life.
The confused look Kyojuro threw at him only made it better and Akaza laughed more, feeling tears build at the corner of his eyes. After a few moments, his laughter turned into a giggle as he wiped away the tears and choked out, “You really are interesting, Kyojuro.”
Kyojuro on the other hand looked at Akaza as if he’d never seen a demon before. There was a complete surprise on his face, his mouth agape and eyes wide. “I- I didn’t know demons could do that?”
Akaza’s giggle faded as he tilted his head in confusion. “What?”
Kyojuro looked him up and down, surprise still on his face as he answered, “Laugh. Genuinely. Having fun without killing people.”
“You...You do know that I can still feel feelings even though I’m a demon? I’m not an animal.”
For a moment Kyojuro just blinked at him, confusion slowly fading away as they stared into each other’s eyes, a kind of mutual understanding going through them.
Akaza cleared his throat as he broke eye contact. “Anyway, are you always doing this? It’s kinda fun.”
“I just think it’s only right to appreciate the food and drinks you are consuming. Everyone should do it.”
The atmosphere suddenly took on a somber note as both of them thought about what Kyojuro just said. Akaza avoided any eye contact as he looked out the window. Yeah, he absolutely couldn’t relate to that and Kyojuro seemed to remember that Akaza’s food was humans because Akaza suddenly could feel a disgusted glare thrown at him. As if he wasn’t already disgusted with himself enough.
Trying to change the topic Akaza spoke up. “Can you tell me more about yourself?”
“Why should I?”
“Uh, because there is still a lot of time before the sun rises, and sitting in silence is not so fun?”
“You could also just leave me alone?”
“Now, and why would I do that?” Akaza almost pouted, “If you don’t want to talk I can talk. Wanna know the hundreds of ways on how to efficiently win a fight by aiming at the right weak spots of humans? Some hurt really badly. You can-”
“No. I don’t want to hear it.”
Akaza just stared patiently at Kyojuro who let out a sigh.
“Just tell me anything. I really don’t care, Kyojuro.”
It was a weird situation.
But Kyojuro slowly started talking. Talked about his injuries, about how boring it was to not be able to do anything and having to lie in bed all day. The accusing tone was all too easy to hear and Akaza mumbled an apology although he was pretty sure that Kyojuro didn’t believe him.
He wasn’t entirely sure why Kyojuro had started talking. Maybe because he thought that it was better to just follow Akaza’s orders, knowing full well that if he wanted to he could kill everyone within a blink. Akaza wasn’t sure if he liked that sentiment because yes, theoretically that was true. But he also didn’t actually want to kill anyone here right now.
“I actually thought the first time you walked into here that you’d want to gloat and boast about how being a demon would make me heal much faster.”
Akaza looked at Kyojuro and shrugged. “I mean it would make your wounds disappear immediately but...don’t worry. I don’t want to turn you anymore.”
You are too good to be a demon and being dragged to hell.
“...I see. I’m glad about that.”
And then Kyojuro talked more. Akaza didn’t quite know why. Maybe it was because Kyojuro was also deprived of people listening to him when he was bedridden like that. Akaza definitely enjoyed Kyojuro’s company after all. And maybe, just maybe Kyojuro enjoyed his company, too. Why else would he so easily talk to him? Under moonlight that shone into the room, Kyojuro told him about his own brother. About how he was the one Kyojuro wanted to protect. About how proud he was of him even though he wasn’t a fighter and weak. For a moment Akaza’s face had frowned at that but the stern gaze of Kyojuro had let it fade quickly again.
Honestly, Akaza didn’t know why but it was easy to listen to Kyojuro. Easy to be immersed by his words. Easy to forget about his own worries and easy to pretend that he wasn’t a monster in this little time and in this one room they shared.
"Hey, did you miss m-" Frankly, Akaza might have been spoiled with the fact that Kyojuro had been awake the last two times he visited. It was only a matter of time until he’d come here to find him asleep.
What Akaza did not expect though was the state in which he found Kyojuro. Slowly walking closer and leaning over him Akaza watched Kyojuro toss and turn as sweat built around his body profusely. Moreover, there was a deep frown on his face and his breathing was heavy and short. When Akaza put a hand on Kyojuro’s forehead, he raised a brow. Yep, as expected Kyojuro was completely burning up with a fever.
For a moment Akaza contemplated if he should wake him up but decided against it. Instead, he stood up, walked away, and looked through cabinets to find everything he was looking for.
Balancing all the stuff he found, he went back into Kyojuro’s room and sat down next to him before he methodically and clinically began to work. It’s funny, the last time he had taken care of someone ill was way more than a hundred years ago, but somehow his body still remembered exactly how to do so.
Akaza carefully pried away Kyojuro’s blanket and paused for a moment when he saw all the bandages in which Kyojuro’s upper body was covered. A pang of guilt shot through him, but he shook it off as he continued his work. He surely wasn’t going to try to change the bandages when Kyojuro was still asleep so he just hoped that the little extra air would cool him down faster.
He then took one of the washcloths he found and dipped it into the bowl of water and wiped it all over Kyojuro’s face, cooling him down even more before he took the second one and placed it onto Kyojuro’s forehead.
Staring down at him Akaza wondered if he should leave again but Kyojuro was slightly whimpering and still tossing around a bit so Akaza just watched and adjusted the cloth whenever it slipped down Kyojuro’s face. For a while, Akaza just sat there when suddenly Kyojuro’s whimper got louder and tears started to build at the corner of his eyes. Was it a nightmare? Akaza was about to shake him awake when Kyojuro suddenly shot up and shouted, “Mother!”
“Hey. Relax, it was just a dream!” Akaza exclaimed as Kyojuro still took in short breaths. Kyojuro’s head immediately whipped into Akaza’s direction, eyes blown wide as he blinked rapidly before he seemed to acknowledge his existence and asked, “Akaza?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
Akaza gently pushed Kyojuro onto his back again and then took the cloth that had fallen onto the floor to dip it into the waterbowl and slap it back onto Kyojuro’s forehead. “You have a fever. Stay down.” Akaza raised his eyebrows when he noticed Kyojuro’s confused and incredulous expression. “Or wait no. Drink something first.” He just reached for the cup of water he had fetched earlier and offered it to Kyojuro who still seemed to be a bit dazed as he looked at Akaza, then at the water, and back at Akaza before he slowly touched the cloth on his forehead. Akaza waited patiently until Kyojuro finally decided to sit up and take the offered drink.
Akaza tried to not make it too obvious that he didn’t believe him a single bit but he also couldn’t help but stare at the few tears that were falling down Kyojuro’s eyes. Did he even realize that he was still crying or was Akaza supposed to ignore it? Kyojuro seemed to notice something though as he touched his wet cheek and let out a silent, “Oh.” before he wiped away his tears with the back of his hand.
Akaza looked at the ceiling as an awkward silence spread.
“I can explain.”
“You don’t have to. It was just a nightmare, wasn’t it?” Akaza, as he had peeked into every room, had obviously seen the small shrine with the picture of a woman. Probably Kyojuro’s mother if his outcry had anything to say.
Kyojuro looked down at the cup in his hand and answered, “More like a memory.”
Akaza laughed humorlessly, “I know a thing or two about sad memories. Want to talk about it?”
Kyojuro closed his eyes for a second before they focused on Akaza. “It was about my mother.” That Akaza had figured. “She actually died quite long ago. She was ill, we all knew she wasn’t going to live long. We nursed her as well as we could, but...nothing to do about that. She passed away happily, I think. I hope.”
Akaza flinched. He stared at Kyojuro in shock as he thought of his own father but Kyojuro didn’t notice and continued, “I don’t know why I dreamed about her again...But she was actually probably the main reason for why I believe so much in protecting the weak with my power. It was her belief she passed onto me.” Kyojuro looked down at his hand and clenched and unclenched it before he shook his head and looked up at Akaza with a smile again. “Thank you for taking care of me, by the way.” He pointed at the bowl with water beside Akaza.
“Couldn’t just leave you here, burning like that, and I have a lot of experience with nursing, so...” Akaza tried to just shrug it off, but Kyojuro perked up at that, eager to find out more about him and asked, “I assume in your past life. Did you remember more?”
Wait. What? “You seem to be under the impression that I only gained part of my memories.”
“Well, you quite literally pummeled that knowledge into me.”
Akaza took a moment to let his gaze wander over the bandage-covered body of Kyojuro again and sighed, “When I fought you the second time I gained more of my memories. I actually remember everything now.”
Kyojuro fixed his gaze on Akaza before he nodded. “Alright. So you also knew someone you had to take care of because of their dwindling health?”
Instead of answering Kyojuro’s question Akaza pursed his lips and broke eye contact.
“You know, you were pretty lucky with that, Kyojuro.” A frown appeared on his face but Akaza ruthlessly continued, “Seems to me like you could still give your mother a good life. She died in peace without regret and without being a burden. Not everyone is that lucky.”
Kyojuro raised his brow at the bitter undertone in Akaza’s voice. There was definitely more to it.
“You speak from experience.” It wasn’t a question, but Akaza still nodded, before he looked up at Kyojuro, completely expressionless. His eyes had lost their shimmer, there was not a single quirk to Akaza’s lips, just a thin line and a voice devoid of emotion as he began to recount.
“My father was very ill. He couldn’t work anymore, had to stay in bed. He was fragile so I had to nurse him as well as I could, but...There was only so much I could do as a kid with no income. There was no one else. He needed medicine. We...I couldn’t afford it.”
Kyojuro’s eyes widened as he heard that, looking at Akaza with something like pity. So Akaza had to watch his father die without being able to do anything? It was tragic, Kyojuro didn’t want to imagine how he would’ve reacted if his mother would’ve been in this position. Maybe Kyojuro really was lucky that he hadn’t been alone. However, what Kyojuro didn’t expect were Akaza’s following words.
“Of course I couldn’t just watch him die. So I went and stole money.” Akaza lifted a hand and pointed at the lines on his face. “I’ve always been a demon child. Had fangs since I was born. You see these lines? They aren’t just here for show. Back then criminals got marked with tattoos on their wrists when they got caught stealing money. I got caught three times. If I would’ve been caught once more they would have cut my hands right off.”
Kyojuro watched Akaza’s gaze getting darker and darker at the memory. “I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the beatings and the pain. I didn’t care if I lost my limbs. I would have done it all over again. There was nothing else to do. My father’s health deteriorated and nobody would have helped. All I could do was run faster and get stronger to steal the money needed for his medicine.”
Suddenly Akaza laughed out loud. It was an ugly sound, nothing like the genuine and warm laugh Kyojuro had heard him utter before. No, this laugh was full of hate and regret and insanity and hurt as Akaza continued, “It didn’t matter. Because next thing I knew, my father hung himself.”
Kyojuro couldn’t stop the sharp inhale as he heard this and could only horrifyingly watch as Akaza looked in his direction but didn’t really see him, lost in his own thoughts and eyes losing all the life they had. Akaza’s hand clenched into a tight fist, his veins popping up and Kyojuro didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say, so he just gently put down his own hand onto Akaza’s. It was cold. Incredibly cold, but this time Akaza didn’t pull back his hand, didn’t even flinch, so Kyojuro squeezed gently. Very slowly Akaza’s hand unclenched but it stayed there as Akaza continued, still lost in his thoughts.
“He left me a letter, telling me that he didn’t want to live with stolen money, saying sorry that he was such a burden.” Akaza looked directly into Kyojuro’s eyes, “He was never a burden to me! I would’ve done everything, I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to see him live, I just wanted him to get better! He didn’t deserve it, WE didn’t deserve this fucked up world!”
Kyojuro only nodded at the desperate exclamation. “What...what happened next?”
Akaza took a breath before he looked to the side, “I was angry. Angry with everyone. Angry with the world. I beat people up. And then….then I met Keizo and with him Koyuki.”
It was like a dam had broken. Akaza started to talk more, told Kyojuro about his life, about how he was accepted into the Dojo, how he took care of Koyuki, his soon-to-be fiancée. Kyojuro had already known that Akaza was extremely talkative but this was different. It was more of a rant and Kyojuro internally asked himself if this was the first time Akaza really let himself think about his memories or if he had gone and lived through them so often that he could not do anything else but finally spill them out at once. And then Akaza talked about how it all took a wrong turn. Talked about promises and fireworks and rivaling dojos. About weaklings and jealousy and poison. And Kyojuro...Kyojuro’s heart broke just a little bit for him.
He couldn’t say anything to Akaza though because what could you tell someone who lost everything? It was a tragedy. A tragedy that happened so long ago, but clearly still affected him. How could it not? But Kyojuro didn’t think he was the right person to tell this to. Maybe there wasn’t even a right person to tell this to. Kyojuro couldn’t say anything, he was still coping and trying to merge the broken and tragic person sitting in front of him with the demon who murdered an uncountable number of people. The worst part was that Kyojuro knew that nothing was Akaza’s fault. He could understand each of his actions. He had tried his best. Damn, if Kyojuro would be in his position, he may have walked the same path. Although he liked to believe that he wouldn’t have gone and killed people in a rage. But Kyojuro couldn’t give Akaza any encouraging words. All he could do was listen and interlink his fingers with Akaza’s and let the demon squeeze his hand as if his life depended on it.
“What a pathetic story, right? Every single promise I made, shattered. Every single hope people had in me of having a better life, I trampled and spit on. What a joke. What a fitting joke for me to become a demon when I lost everything.”
There was an ugly grin on Akaza’s face. Almost as if he forced himself to look at his situation with a laugh, as if he tried his hardest to look strong, as if he tried his hardest to look like he didn’t care. Kyojuro took one glance before he leaned forward and wrapped his other arm, the arm that didn’t hold Akaza’s hand, around Akaza’s back and pressed the demon against himself in a hug.
For a moment Akaza froze before he slowly and hesitantly reciprocated it. Hugging Akaza felt weird. The demon seemed to have no real body temperature, he felt cold to touch. Somewhere deep within Kyojuro a small rational voice also told him that it was wrong to offer him support, to hug his enemy, to feel even an ounce of sympathy for the murderer who almost killed him, too. It felt like he was neglecting his duty, his pride as a hashira. But could anyone blame him? Could anyone blame him for feeling empathy after hearing this story, the tragic path he had to live? Could anyone blame him when Akaza was the one who suddenly started to desperately cling onto him as he cried and muffled his sobs into Kyojuro’s chest? If Kyojuro had to guess, this was the first time in hundreds of years that Akaza truly let himself be vulnerable in front of someone else. Let himself mourn and actually cry out loud. Why wouldn’t Kyojuro be moved by that? Why wouldn’t Kyojuro feel connected to that? All Akaza had wanted to do was get stronger to protect the people he loved and that…that was the same thing Kyojuro did, wasn’t it? Kyojuro closed his eyes as he tightened the hug and acknowledged, “I think you and me...we aren’t so different after all.”
“...You can come in. You know that, right?” Kyojuro’s voice suddenly rang through the door and snapped Akaza out of his thoughts.
Bracing himself, Akaza slowly opened it and walked in, holding a hand up in greeting, “Kyojuro.”
Kyojuro was sitting up, body turned towards the door and staring at him with wide-open eyes, almost as if he had been waiting for him, before Kyojuro’s gaze wandered down and he asked surprisedly, “Wait...Are those flowers?”
“Uhh, yes. Yes, they are!” Akaza looked at the few flowers he had picked on the way here and almost panicky threw them right into Kyojuro’s face. It would have hit him straight into the eye if Kyojuro hadn’t had half a mind to catch them. “I saw them on my way here and thought I might...you know...sorry for yesterday.”
After Akaza had so graciously laid his heart out and cried for who knows how long, all while Kyojuro had rubbed his back, Akaza had shoved him out of the way the moment he had stopped as he had composed himself and then had jumped out of the window without another word to run away. He had not wanted to deal with anything and just ran like the stupid coward he himself was.
A light chuckle escaped Kyojuro as he looked at the flowers before smiling mildly at Akaza. “Thank you. But there’s nothing you need to be sorry about. Although I am questioning your priorities if you are that sorry about yesterday to pick out flowers for me but didn’t feel the need to do so when I am still recovering from the injuries you put me through.”
Akaza could almost feel his own blush coming up as he looked to the side. “Well...I probably completely soaked through your bandages with my tears after all.”
“You did. I had to change them after you left.”
“HA! See!” Akaza exclaimed, happy to prove his point before his victorious grin immediately fell as he saw Kyojuro’s unimpressed expression and remembered, “I‘m sorry.”
Kyojuro raised his brows at him before asking, “Aren’t you going to sit down?”
Akaza, who had stayed standing just a few steps into the room, flinched before he walked towards Kyojuro and sat down close to him.
Silence spread out again before Kyojuro spoke up. “So.”
“Are we going to talk about what happened yesterday and your entire life?”
Akaza caught Kyojuro’s eyes who had a completely open, genuine, and curious expression, and closed his own. “No. No...I don’t think I want to talk about it yet.”
And just like that Kyojuro seemed to accept it and instead looked at the flowers and talked about how they seemed similar to some of the flowers he had picked for his own mother a long time ago. Talked about the other flowers his friends had sent him for a speedy recovery. And Akaza listened and he smiled and somewhere along the way he grabbed Kyojuro’s hand that was laying on the blanket and interlocked his fingers with them.
As they sat there and talked and the warmth from Kyojuro’s hand seeped into his own he realized that this was the reason he kept coming back. The fact that this little space seemed safe. Kyojuro seemed safe. Add to it the fact that Akaza just didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts anymore, didn't want to feel lonely and the overwhelming pressure of his guilt, it was easy to stay. Right here he could drown his feelings out for just a little moment.
They had become closer after that. Much closer. Akaza seemed to have become attached and had started to visit him every night. Sometimes they were only sitting in silence, sometimes they talked about Kyojuro’s day and life. Sometimes Akaza would watch him take care of his sword, polishing and cleaning it. He would look over Kyojuro’s shoulders and carelessly mention how much of a hassle that had to be and how “my own body is a much better weapon, Kyojuro! Martial Arts are way cooler, believe me.” It still didn’t seem to deter him from observing each of Kyojuro's careful steps and his sword with some weird fascination and excitement, though. Sometimes they were just poking fun at each other. And sometimes, in rare moments, Akaza let himself coax into talking more about his human life. The only constant in all those moments though was the fact that they’d hold hands. Most of the time Kyojuro didn’t even know who initiated it, but sooner or later his fingers found themselves interlocked with blue-tinted fingers of Akaza. Neither of them talked about it.
When Kyojuro was allowed to get out of his bed again and start with his physical therapy, Akaza had almost doubled over with excitement, asking him with glimmering eyes if he could help him with anything. And just like that their talks turned to encouragements as Akaza first helped him with stretching, then started to take jabs at Kyojuro’s form when he slowly started training again. Although he wouldn’t want to admit it, Kyojuro appreciated the sometimes rather rude and brutal honesty with which Akaza told him every flaw he could find in his fighting style and stance as he got back into form. Maybe because for every flaw Akaza found, he also complimented everything Kyojuro did well. It was nice.
The way that they held hands didn’t stop though. Sometimes, as they were taking a break because maybe Kyojuro was pushing the upper limit of what he was allowed to do while recovering, they stood outside in the garden, the moon shining down upon them as they talked in hushed voices, fingers interlocked.
And then one day Kyojuro was all healed up and was fit to go again. That night he put on his Demon Slayer uniform, grabbed his sword, and looked at the mirror as he was fixing his robe. He was about to head out when he saw a silhouette in the mirror reflection.
Turning around Kyojuro said, “Akaza.” as a greeting, and watched the demon lean onto the doorway, having observed him with arms crossed in front of him.
“Kyojuro, you’re finally all healed up.” A slight smirk found its way onto Akaza’s face, a little glimmer in his eyes. However, Kyojuro couldn’t help but think that Akaza looked...tired. He didn’t know if demons could even be tired, they didn’t need sleep, did they? It wasn’t like Akaza had dark eyebags or anything but Kyojuro just had...that feeling. And normally his feeling was right. He had also known Akaza long enough to say that his smile lacked the typical quirkiness and his eyes lacked life.
Before Kyojuro could take any more of it in and ponder further about it, Akaza turned around, murmuring, “C’mon. Follow me.”
A huff escaped Akaza as he tilted his head back to Kyojuro. “What a dumb question. Let’s fight.”
A frown made its way onto Kyojuro’s face as he looked at the retreating back. He had figured that there was something akin to a truce between them, the last weeks of Akaza visiting him proving that. Had Akaza only waited all this time for him to heal just to fight him again? Kyojuro thought back to all the moments they had shared, all the laughter and vulnerability, and gripped his fist. No, that couldn’t have been.
“I just healed up and you already want to fight again? Do you want to see me bedridden again, or what?” Kyojuro still followed him though. He’d really rather fight somewhere else, where he wouldn’t have to worry about breaking things or other people interfering.
“That depends entirely on you.” Akaza gave him a side glance as Kyojuro casually caught up and walked beside him. “Isn’t that the way you Demon Slayers work anyway? Fight and fight and fight. Rinse and repeat. Until your bodies give out…not so different from us demons, honestly.”
The moment they left the house, Akaza began to run and Kyojuro followed. Kyojuro didn’t remember how long it took, but they were in an open field now, no innocent people in sight.
Akaza stood a few feet away from him, positioning himself into a fighting stance, before grinning, “Are you ready, Kyojuro?! LET’S DO THIS!”
For a moment, Kyojuro just stared, before he drew his nichirin blade in a smooth movement and got into position. He controlled his breath and closed his eyes for a moment, before opening them again, his aura focused as his blade glinted in the moonlight. In honesty, he had missed it. The weight of the sword in his hands, giving him reassurance, being an extension of his own body. Standing here, staring Akaza, the Upper Moon Three, down reminded him that this was his duty. This was exactly where he should be.
An elated cheer escaped Akaza as he grinned at his display of concentration. “Yes, that’s exactly it! Focus! Focus on me and give me your best!”
They looked at each other for a single second, before both of them stormed against each other.
A flurry of blows was unloaded from Akaza, each of them getting parried by Kyojuro.
Kyojuro didn’t know how long they had been fighting, exchanging blows after blows. Only to jump back again, taking a short breather to study each other, before they’d fly forwards again, meeting in the middle to fight once more.
“Was that all, Kyojuro? What are you doing?!” Akaza called out as he wiped the blood on his cheek away, before stomping on the ground, creating a crater for Kyojuro to lose his footing. But Kyojuro just jumped up, not minding it, and swung his sword again at Akaza.
”Flame Breathing: Third Form. Blazing Universe!”
Kyojuro succeeded in cutting off one of Akaza’s arms but that didn’t mean anything as Akaza jumped back.
“WHY ARE YOU NOT TRYING? I can sense it! I can sense your battle spirit. It’s wavering! WHY IS IT WAVERING? KYOJURO!”
Akaza cried out loud at him as his arm reformed. Desperation seemed to leap into his words and at that moment Kyojuro realized two things. First, Akaza hadn’t been trying to kill him at all. He had fought him, yes, but he hadn’t even used half of the many Demon Blood Arts he possessed. All of his attacks had been a bit more joyful. Nothing like the last time Kyojuro and he had fought where anger had made him a lot more forceful. It also wasn’t quite like the first time where it had been all calculated shots. No, this fight right now…it seemed more like Akaza was playing with him. And Kyojuro also realized that...he didn’t quite mind it. He should be focused, he should be actively trying to kill Akaza. He was an Upper Moon after all! The demon was right, his fighting spirit was a bit wavering. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to fight, it was just that Kyojuro also didn’t go for the kill. At no time had he been aiming at Akaza’s neck, didn’t even think about it. Their fight had been more like a dance. It hurt, obviously, Kyojuro could feel the bruises and cuts, but whenever Akaza had pushed, Kyojuro had reacted and otherwise.
Kyojuro realized that...he also didn’t want Akaza to die. The past weeks had made him see the other part of the demon. Made him see that he wasn’t just a demon who found fun in devouring humans. Akaza was different. Kyojuro saw him vulnerable, saw him break down, saw him laugh genuinely, and got to know him and his story. Kyojuro saw how similar both of them were. Saw the tragic path Akaza went down as a human and how in a different life he might have become better.
He got to know him and he got attached. God, Kyojuro became so attached to him. He knew too much. He had spent so much time with him, becoming used to his presence. Kyojuro had begun to wait for him every night. Had begun to look forward to his company. Whispered stories, snarky remarks, even downright mean banter. They had held hands, Kyojuro knew how Akaza’s body felt against his, knew how to not expect any warmth from him, but just a comfortable cold. He himself ran hot enough, he didn’t need more warmth from the outside.
In that little space and time, they had shared over the weeks of his own recovery, his view had changed.
Akaza was...just Akaza to him. Not a demon, not the Upper Moon Three, not an enemy, not someone he hated or disliked. Just...a friend, more than that even, a kindred soul, someone he had spent time with, someone he understood, someone who had more humanity in him than should be possible.
So really, was it so surprising for him to not want to kill him? To want him to live? To be egoistic just once in his life and not want to fulfill this duty because he wanted him around?
Kyojuro’s grip on his sword got tighter as he caught Akaza’s eyes who looked desperate, who looked pleadingly at him. Why? Taking a breath he slowly let his sword sink. He ignored Akaza’s question, ignored the way Akaza’s fighting stance crumbled on itself, how he looked defeatedly at Kyojuro and instead asked, “Akaza, what do you want from me? What are we doing here? What now?” Why did you take me here to fight?
Akaza looked to the side, bit on his inner lip, and then ran a hand over his face. He completely dropped his guard and chuckled humorlessly, “I guess the fun’s over, huh?”
He slowly began to walk to Kyojuro and stopped only one meter apart, eyes never wavering from Kyojuro’s. Then a smile spread onto his lips. A smile so sad and full of grief and regret that Kyojuro had to take a moment to realize the words Akaza accompanied that smile with.
“Now you kill me.”
Kyojuro halted as he stared at Akaza in surprise, “Wh-What?”
Akaza just raised a brow, smile still plastered on his face, “You. Kill. Me. I actually thought it might be nicer if you’d do it in a fight but…” He shrugged, “Whatever. If I’ll have to go, I want it to be you. So...yeah.” He tilted his head as if to expose one side of his neck even further.
Kyojuro actually took a step back at those words as he tried to understand their meaning. He didn't...he didn't want to do this. Why did he have to do it?
Akaza opened his arms in a dramatic manner, palms faced up to show he wasn't going to do anything.
"C'mon. It's just... it's just one cut. Do it. Do your duty, Kyo- Demon Slayer...Flame Hashira."
Akaza still smiled as Kyojuro followed his words and lifted his sword and angled it right at Akaza's neck. He looked him into his eyes as he just slightly moved it, pressing really gently at light skin with the slightest touch. Immediately a drop of blood built at that spot, slowly dripping down. Kyojuro watched it and...Kyojuro couldn't do it. Akaza never dropped the smile, so filled with grief. His eyes didn't waver as he watched Kyojuro with a gentle yet tired expression. Kyojuro could feel his own tears well up with how defeated and guilty Akaza's whole demeanor was. His whole body looked tired and Kyojuro pressed his lips together as he lifted his blade away from Akaza again. The slight cut immediately closed up again as Kyojuro sheathed his sword.
Akaza's smile dropped as his eyes snapped open further before a vein popped onto his forehead in anger, "Why?! Kyojuro, in case you forgot in these few weeks, I am a demon. I'm a murderer! I killed hundreds and thousands of people, I don't even remember! I devoured them! I had FUN doing so. I have so much blood on my hands!"
Akaza took a step forward and grabbed both of Kyojuro's shoulders, scrunching his haori tightly in order to shake him, to make him see.
"Can't you see that I never amounted to anything? That I never was able to protect anything? I should've died long ago, please just end it. Kill me! Please..." His voice broke as he stared at Kyojuro with so much despair. Tears glimmered at the corner of his eyes.
But Kyojuro...Kyojuro didn't waver. He stared at him, ignored the shaking, and asked, "Akaza...Tell me, when was the last time you ate?" When was the last time you killed an innocent?
The reaction was immediate. Akaza pushed him away and took a step back as if he was burned, the hand that had hit against Kyojuro's chest in order to underline the point retracted and closed into a fist.
They never talked about it. Except for the one time Akaza had quietly confessed in a somber note that he had never once killed or eaten a woman in his entire time as a demon. That talk had surprised Kyojuro and his bandages had to be rewrapped a second time after it. But other than that, they both had tried to avoid the topic of Akaza’s diet as best as they could. It had been easy to ignore it.
"It was...the day when we fought. You know, the second time.” Akaza didn’t look into his eyes.
“...That was several weeks ago!”
Honestly, it shouldn’t surprise Kyojuro as much as it did. Akaza had been visiting him every single night and had only left close to sunrise. He hadn’t reeked of blood or anything. It just never came to mind that this might’ve been because he didn’t eat. It should’ve taken a huge toll on him. Kyojuro acknowledged that it was just another nod to his strength, to his incredible willpower. It had to take a lot of effort to go actively against his nature, to not give in to his hunger...Kyojuro was stunned and could only gasp.
“I...I just couldn’t. It felt wrong so I abstained.” Akaza shrugged, “It’s not like it matters in the grand scheme of things I already did.”
“It matters to me.”
Akaza abruptly raised his gaze back to Kyojuro who smiled genuinely at him.
“How does it make a difference? It’s just a small number anyway and-”
“It’s not just a number. These are living people. Every single person you didn’t devour gets to live another day, another life.” Kyojuro’s gaze was unwavering, “How is this supposed to not matter?"
Akaza just narrowed his eyes at Kyojuro before biting out, "Well, you know what would be even better? Killing me off right now so that no one ever gets hurt again. Let me repent for my sins."
Akaza could see the exact moment Kyojuro snapped. He stared at him as if he couldn’t believe what Akaza just said before he exploded, “That’s not how it works! Killing you off now would be like an easy escape! I didn’t think you were that much of a coward!”
Akaza clenched his fist and bared his teeth, “I’M NOT A COWARD. What the hell?! Do you think I’m taking the easy way out? What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?! I've been thinking about it every single day! I don’t want to die, Kyojuro! But it’s for the best, it’s what I should do! Why won’t you let me do one good thing FOR ONCE?!”
“BECAUSE IT’S NOT!” They both leaned forward as they glared at each other, “That’s not how you repent! If you were any other demon I would gladly kill you, but I know you! I got to know you and I know that you are better than this! You are strong!”
“And look where that strength got me!”
“I’m not talking about your physical strength and you know that!”
Akaza flinched and stepped back as his eyes widened but Kyojuro didn’t stop talking.
“You have a good heart! I know you have. Use your strength to protect people just like you always wanted to! I won’t let you die without ever doing so!”
Akaza shook his head and bit his lip before he answered, “That’s not enough. I won’t be able to atone for what I’ve done with that.”
When Akaza looked into Kyojuro’s eyes they were ablaze, his whole posture rigid and righteous and Akaza saw the Flame Hashira title in him, the reason why a while ago he got so enamored with him to want to turn him into a demon to stand by and fight him forever. He had a regal posture as he brutally told Akaza, “I know. You won’t ever be able to atone. You’d need more than a lifetime even as a demon for that.”
Before Akaza could get a word in, Kyojuro continued, “But what you can do is take that step by step. One action after the other. Start small. Start by helping one person weaker than you. Start by protecting them. Start by saving one life. Start by defeating other demons who will kill without hesitation.” Kyojuro’s voice was gentle, soft, and understanding all while he stood right in front of him with such determination.
There was a kindness in his eyes that touched Akaza deep in his heart as he told him, “I can’t tell you what to do. If worse comes to worst I might have to kill you one day. But I don’t want to. So Akaza, please. Use your strength for good. Help us. Stay with us. Stay with me.”
And then Kyojuro reached out a hand, palm faced up, just like Akaza had done when he had proposed to Kyojuro to become a demon to fight with him for eternity. It felt like a lifetime ago when Akaza had done so. He had been a completely different person back then but here Kyojuro was, standing in front of him with that same posture and waiting for him.
For a moment he could just stare and let the words sink in as a sort of peaceful silence settled between them. Akaza wanted to hesitate, wanted to argue, wanted to say that he wasn’t worth it when he felt a hand on his back pushing him gently forward, as he could almost hear a whisper in his ears, “Go, Hakuji. Go and live your life. It’s not your time yet to follow us.”
When he looked to the side he couldn’t see anything but he was so sure. He was sure that it had been Koyuki’s voice giving her blessing. Akaza’s eyes wandered back to the hand still outstretched, a hand that held so much warmth. Was there really any other choice than to grasp it, just like he had done countless times before? On nights where the memories had been too hard, when he had been seeking out company, when he just didn’t want to feel lonely and worthless and weak, it was Kyojuro’s hand that had always been there. Always within reach. Always telling him that he understood, that he could ask for help, that he didn’t have to be strong alone, that it was okay to reach out.
Akaza knew what it felt like to take the outstretched hand in front of him, knew the weight of it and the feeling of it almost like the back of his own hand, so it was easy. Easy for him to slowly reach out his own right hand and grasp it. The reaction was immediate. Kyojuro immediately squeezed it gently, not letting go.
And when Akaza looked up, Kyojuro was smiling at him. With probably the kindest and most happy expression Akaza had ever seen on his face and he realized that his heart was skipping for a moment. He finally had a flicker of hope in his heart. A hope that he could make things right, that he had a choice that he was capable of doing good even though he was cursed. And he realized that it had been entirely because of Kyojuro. Kyojuro who had been there for him since the start, the reason why he even started to remember, who had been there for him all the way through. It might have been unwilling at first, but the time they spent together...Akaza was sure that Kyojuro had to feel at least a bit the same, had to feel the connection they built up.
Akaza couldn’t help but step a bit closer and gently lifted his left hand to Kyojuro’s cheek, caressed it and Kyojuro all the while just smiled, leaning his face a little bit forward, a bit closer to Akaza and Akaza took that as a cue and pressed his lips onto Kyojuro’s. A small gasp escaped Kyojuro but he reciprocated the kiss as he gently pressed his soft lips back. There was a warmth to him that Akaza didn’t want to let go, that lit a fire in his own heart and it jumped as if he felt truly alive for the first time since becoming a demon. Nothing like the adrenaline kick he got when he fought strong opponents. It was more like a simmering fire in his heart, a warmth that was comfortable and wholesome.
When they leaned back again, Kyojuro taking a deep breath, there was a smile on his face as he asked, “So, is that a yes?”
Akaza thought about the flicker in his heart, the glimmer of hope that he might be deserving of this, that he was indeed capable of starting a redemption, that he might be able to finally once hold a promise and turn his life around, walking down the right path. All while having a loved one by his side. Looking at Kyojuro, he couldn’t help but think that it was also maybe a nice change of pace that Kyojuro was by no means weak. Akaza...wouldn’t have to worry too much about having to look after someone fragile. Maybe it was okay for him to be the vulnerable one, at least just once with Kyojuro. But who cared about being weak or not being weak, right? All Akaza looked forward to was being strong and getting stronger with his loved one together.
There was a smile on his face as he caught Kyojuro’s eyes and answered, “It’s a yes.”
Kyojuro squeezed his hand again before tugging it for them to get going. Akaza walked beside him but as he looked down at their linking hands, he realized that they had never let go of each other the entire time, entwined as they were.