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when happiness ends

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Tanjirou always had a great sense of smell. 

 

He didn’t always know that Demons were real, but he always knew that he seemed to carry a bone-deep stench of burning flesh. When he was little, he had thought it clung to his skin, from the smoke of charcoal, or the salty dry meat they ate through the cold months. 

But his mother gave birth to more children, and with each new babe, Tanjirou began to realise that he was the only one that carried the caress of death in his scent. 

 

He shouldn’t have listened when old-man Saburo told him not to go back to his family that night.

Now, they’re gone. Nezuko, Takeo, Hanako, Shigeru and Rokuta. His beautiful mother, Kie, who he promised that he’d protect along with his younger siblings. People who he had sworn to his father he would take care of, after his own passing years prior. 

 

He’d failed, he failed, he— 

 

He crawls through the bloody bodies of his relatives, fingers fumbling desperately to find a pulse under the icy red snow. Beneath his panic, he does not notice his own fingernails growing to slight points. 

The smell of death was everywhere, it was suffocating him under the morning frost— 

He barely dodges when a blade comes flying towards him from seemingly nowhere, a figure at the other end blurring in a pirouette of precision. 

 

“Step away from the bodies, Demon.” The young man says as he falls into a defensive stance, his feet making no crunch as he lands. 

Tanjirou’s breath hitches as he looks around frantically for a Demon before his attention finally darts down to himself— blood staining his hands from where he grips Nezuko’s stale corpse. “Wait! No!” He yelps, pausing the man’s slow steps towards him, eyebrows raising. 

 

“You can speak.” He questions curiously, obviously caught off guard by the fact.

 

“Of course I can! I’m— I’m human! Please, please help me, my family— they’ve been attacked!” He stutters, panic fumbling his words as his body becomes wracked with trembles that do not belong to the winter. The other person does not look too much older than himself, but the cruelty in his eyes speaks of aged realities as he begins his descent forward again, sword poised.  

 

“No! It wasn’t me!” 

 

“This attack reeks of a Demon.” He states, top lip curling with disgust.

 

And Tanjirou knows, can smell it permeating the wind around them, dripping from the gashes decorating flesh. It thrums with power that is beyond human comprehension, coy with a flicker of spice.  

It reminds him of how he smells, and he supposes to any nose lesser than his, they may as well be the same. He scoots back from the bodies of his family, as to not soil them with his potential own blood. Cowering ankle-deep in the snow, he lowers his head, feeling the skin of his forehead go numb against ice. He inhales a lungful of crisp air, and exhales his only lasting plead. 

 

“Please, please, even if you kill me, find the Demon that did this, make it pay.” He sobs, teeth clenching harder than ever before as he feels himself give in to the sadness and frustration.

 

A sharp voice cuts through his mental turmoil. “Never leave yourself so defenceless in front of an enemy!”

 

Tanjirou’s whole body flinches, head flying upward as a blade slides under his throat with needle accuracy. He winces and waits for death—  but no pain arrives as he feels the cold metal press under his chin, holding his head up at an awkwardly high angle. 

 

“Stop bowing so pitifully! If that worked, your family would still be alive! How can a weakling like you, who bows down when it’s time to fight, to kill or be killed...be a man?” The stranger hisses with ferocious determination, brows knitted tightly down at him. 

 

Tanjirou’s breaths come in tiny puffs, staring up at his assailant.

 

“If you want something, if you want to avenge your family, you must fight for it! The meek have no power and no options! The strong will crush them in every way!” He yells, voice piercing the snow cloud between them.  

 

“I will kill you, whatever you are.” He snarls. 

 

A fire sparks within Tanjirou. Ignites with a crack the moment the blade withdraws from his neck to align its final strike. He heaves his entire body forward, and with a wailing battle cry, tackles the man to the ground. He barely feels his blood begin to boil, doesn’t see how his pointed teeth begin to mash together. His legs spring into a racing scramble the moment they hit the ground, and his arms don’t bother to leave the snow except to bound him further down the hill in a primal chase. 

He trips, and his body rolls like a ragdoll across the snow, iceburns grazing any and all exposed skin. With a deafening snap, his spine slams into a tree and stops his freefall—  but leaves him severely winded, and wondering how his bones haven’t shattered.

His mouth opens in a soundless gasp, but no air reaches his burning lungs. He watches in growing dread as the figure with the two-toned haori approaches him again, sword drawn. 

Tanjirou does not recognise himself when a guttural sound rips from the broken confines of his small body. The flames inside him grow into a wildfire as he releases himself from rationality. 

 

“GRYAAHHH!”

 

His body seems to gain a mind of his own, chest puffing out as smoke billows from the hollows of his canines. He doesn’t see the man in front of him move until an acute pain cleaves through his shoulder, nailing him to the pine behind him. 

 

“Is this the best you have? Becoming even less than a man? I thought I told you— to fight.” 

 

He twists the blade, and Tanjirou feels his mind fall through the bars of his own cage of panic as pain renders him useless. He feels weird— like he’s shrinking as the flames in his chest are doused in frozen water. His breath hitches, and tears begin to bobble once more over his cheeks. His hand reaches forward to grab hold onto the strangers black uniform, and for a second— he’s not sure if he’s holding on or pushing him away. 

 

“I will live, I will. I will— avenge my family, kill the Demon that did this—” He grits, blood spilling from his bottom lip as he stares pointedly into the firm dark irises pinning him in place. He feels them bury into his soul and gut him from the inside out, leaving his intentions bare to the world. 

 

With a weak, useless final push that barely nudges the blade in his shoulder, he passes out.

 

human

"I'm Human!" (art by me)

Chapter Text

Giyuu was just starting to think that he had finally come to settle within his place in the world when he came across Tanjirou Kamado. Two days prior, he had been informed of unusual demonic activity in the frigid alps, leaving him curious and leaving in haste to investigate. He had not been particularly worried at the time due to the assumption that the citizens of the town would be located at the base of the mountain. Demons were unlikely to descend the cloudy coverage of the alps to hunt in such a stale, tightly packed district. Doubting that any danger was placed on innocent people, he had not rushed himself up the steep snowy peak, ignoring the ice in his lungs and violent wind slicing past his skin. 

Halfway up his journey, he had been struck with a terrible sense of foreboding. His steps became bounds, and his hand clutched at his sword, ready for whatever was hiding in the icy haze. A caved in, small house appeared in the distance, and he inwardly cursed at the stench of blood and Demon, even from this distance.

 

He was too late. It was his fault, he’s too late. Again, again- 

 

He saw a figure leaning over a girls’ body, clutching at her bloody cold form. He’s a mess of scents, both human and Demon, likely having pillaged through the whole family. Rage thumps him in the back and bites at his heels, urging him into the first form of the Breath of Water style. His blade arks and he prepares to cleave through the Demon. 

Surprisingly, the boy’s body bends, flexing like a feline to dodge the slash of his blade with a single of his nine lives. He looks rattled, panicked as if unaware of his own inhuman speed of the maneuver. The youth seems young, fright paling him to blend against their white surroundings. His breath was released in frantic, unpaced puffs. Giyuu thinks he may be newly turned at first, but he quickly rules out the possibility when he pauses to study the raw human fear pouring from the figure. His skin is not pulled taut over veins by the transformation, no signs of insanity in his vibrant burgundy iris’ flooded by tears of hurt. 

He is in pain— not physically, no wounds clear on his small body— instead, his heart is. If he concentrates, Giyuu can hear the stampede of the boy’s heartbeat, rampant with the beat of a rabbit’s foot. 

 

It riddles him with doubt, despite the fact this boy is- has to be, a Demon. 

 

The sclera of his large, almond-shaped eyes is inked into pitch black. Skillfully hidden by his maroon tipped hair are horns, scanty and looking as if belonging to fawn. His clenched palms hide the predatory points of his nails.  

He speaks to it, only to be struck with surprise when it replies, speaking with a clarity that could not possibly belong to a newly transformed Demon. 

It claims to be human, begging him to find the one that has slaughtered his family. 

It pleads with sadness and desperation in its screams that hit Giyuu at his core. He sees himself in this moment— in this Demon. It reminds him he’s guilty for their deaths too. 

 

[Fill your heart with anger. Strong, pure anger. Anger that becomes the unwavering force that drives your limbs. Weakness and empty promises will not save you, and certainly cannot avenge your family.]

 

He tells the stranger to fight for his life, or Giyuu will kill him. If only to be the one to do it before something else does. Determination flares to life under the fear and grief in those eyes, and the boy obeys. For a single fleeting moment, Giyuu feels something akin to hope. They begin the chase, the mysterious boy clumsy in inexperience that would never match a Demon fighting for his life. 

In no moment does the boy show any intent to harm him, merely escape. He trips, crashing harshly against a tree trunk in a way that without doubt, would’ve snapped an ordinary persons’ spine. For a second, he doesn’t move, and Tomioka’s breath pauses with apprehension. 

The boy rises from the fallen snow, the clarity in his eyes flickering as the fighting flame within struggles against the wind. He snarls savagely at him, forcing Giyuu’s training to lapse over his curious interest. His sword spears the steaming Demonic figure into the wood behind him, pinning him in place. The internal battle within him rages, bitter disappointment sliding from his tongue before he can stop himself. 

 

“Is this the best you have? Becoming even less than a man? I thought I told you— to fight.” 

 

He emphasizes his words with a cruel twist, drilling the sharp blade into healing flesh. Red eyes spring frantically around his head, focus stopping only to lock onto Giyuu’s deep blue pools. Hands, small as the transformation fades from his body— reach forward to latch onto his clothes with a vice grip rivalling his stare. 

He begins to cry again, and the tremble in his lip is painted with blood as he heaves out words with strained breaths. “I will live, I will. I will— avenge my family, kill the Demon that did this—”

Giyuu can feel his soul being yanked from his own buried confines, a distinct undeniable pull towards the other— their form left bare from Demonic possession, nothing except inexplicable human anguish and longing covering him as consciousness rapidly fades. 

For the first time in years, Giyuu isn’t sure about what path he should take. It makes him feel vulnerable, young with the uncertainty that hasn’t felt since his time with— 

He decides to go to his trainer, Sakonji Urokodaki. The man was aged with experience, and if anyone knew what to do, it would be him. No one else must find out he is travelling with a Demon, that he is willingly disobeying the code seared into them since being enlisted into the Demon Slayer Corps. 

Hesitantly, he places a bamboo bit against the boy’s jaws. Made by old traditions, they were used when demons needed to be captured, rather than killed on sight. His gums hold perfectly human rows of teeth, showing none of the previously pointed incisors. The bamboo hold merely rests against surprisingly soft, wind-bitten lips— causing as little discomfort as possible. He hoists the boy on his back to begin his much slower descent down the mountain. He’s cautious not to jostle his passenger, wary of the boy’s mental stability upon awakening. Amused by the warm weight against his back— and not sure if he’s ever been this close to a Demon without killing intent before. 

 


 

When the sun begins to rise, Giyuu’s resolve splinters like surface ice under springs’ humidity. He had them settled in the shade of a walless hut, likely built to provide farmers with relief after hours in the fields. The sun yawns over the sky, the shadow over them tilting inch by inch. The boy lay beside him, positioned as if simply napping, exhausted after perhaps a long travel, still looking entirely human.

Anyone would think that an ordinary Demon couldn’t possibly be outside even in the brightness of the shade. He allows the sun’s searing beam of light to get terrifyingly close to the boy, watching every increment with anticipation for the screech of agony as yellow creeps over the checkered haori. Giyuu tells himself he wouldn’t be particularly upset if the boy burned, but falls victim to a stutter within his chest when the boy mumbles a soft sound, unfurling from his position to curl into the sunlight. Tomioka’s breaths come fast as he waits for the skin to begin to boil, for the stranger to rip awake with bellows of pain. 

But nothing happens— the warmth caresses a pale face and combs the unusual dual-toned hair, making the ruby shine with a soft peacefulness. 

 

No Demon has ever been known to withstand direct sunlight before.

 

They travel much faster now that he knows the boy won’t burn under the sun’s rays, but still not fast enough. They pass a small temple, barely aged in the time since he was last here. Except, of course, for the fact it has sheltered a feasting demon for the previous day and a half.

It was not unusual for overconfident Demons to take refuge in the houses of their kills, playing human allows them to eat their meal over several days, rather than scoffing all they can on sight. 

He unties the bamboo bit from the unconscious boy’s face, steps silent as he slides open the door calmly, ignoring the stench of death that waves over him upon entry. The Demon perks, head tilting in a grotesque manner to look at him. 

 

“What the hell? This is my turf.” It announces, gore dripping from its chin. Giyuu feels the boy on his back begin to move, his breathing quicken with sharp inhales at the scents around them. 

 

“If you break into my territory, I’ll make you pay.” The threat runs clear as it stands to face them, the full-height an intimidating feature alone. 

 

He makes no reach towards his sword. As expected, the brazen Man-eater launches at them, tossing him backward through the air. It barely causes a wince of pain, so he allows his body to tumble across the ground. The boy falls from his grip, rolling in the other direction as sleep is punched from his body on impact. 

The Demon steps from the house slowly, foolishly unaware of what he was dealing with. He roughly knocks Giyuu’s skull back again, grinning when the loud sound of bone on the pave is tailed by the smell of human blood. Tomioka waits silently, making no move to counter or protect himself. He needs to see what the boy claiming to be Human does— would he rush over to the bodies? Feast a gutful and run?

 

“You’re going to regret—” Snarling words fall over him from between foul jaws, leaning over Giyuu’s unresponsive body like a predator, before being abruptly interrupted as its muscled physique is barrelled into at the side.

 

“What the—” The creature grits, peering down at the much smaller figure, frantically clawing into the flesh of his side. “What is a human doing teaming up with a Demon?” It questions, spinning on the ball of his foot to slam the assailant savagely down, forceful enough to dent stone. 

 

“It doesn’t really matter, I’m going to kill you both.” The words are pronounced with a pointed smirk as he stalks once more toward Giyuu. Unlike his first encounter, the boy in the checkered haori doesn’t seem to be recovering as fast this time. The fact he decided to attack the Demon at all has Giyuu surprised, he’d have to be foolish to try again. Preparing to end it, he allows his grip to drop to the hilt of his sword, waiting. He doesn’t get a chance to attack, however, because his unusual travel partner is back, looking as Demonic as he did before, complete with a new set of frustrated tears. 

 

“Stop it!” His voice scratches, standing in front of Giyuu’s like a defensive wall, facing the other Demon. If this boy really claims to be human, he’s a stupid one. If he really thinks he’s human, he knows he would stand no chance. If he has a single ounce of recollection, he knows Tomioka is a Hunter, he can hold his own perfectly well. Giyuu’s curiosity slips over his tongue.

 

“Why?” He asks lowly. 

 

“Because no one deserves to die! You called me a weakling, who bows down when it’s time to fight, to kill or be killed. I’ll prove you wrong!” He shouts with conviction, despite having no weapons, no fighting skills and nothing left to fight for. 

 

This boy is something else. 

 

“Shut up!” The approaching monster hisses, landing one last brutal hit straight to the strange boy between them. The moment his small body submits to gravity and clears him from the direct attack zone, Giyuu slides his Nichirin Blade from the sheath in a single gliding movement, leaving the Demon’s head rolling across the earth, shock scribbled across its features. The mass of useless muscle slumps before beginning to disintegrate.  

He cooly approaches the puzzling boy, whose remains slumped into the dirt. 

 

“Are you done?” Giyuu asks cooly, crouching down studying the bruise over dark eyes and gleaming red pupils. 

The boy huffs, looking up at him in a way that dries the moisture from his mouth. “Are you...convinced?” He replies, sounding tired. 

 

“...I can’t trust someone I don’t know the name of.”

 

The boy blinks, before replying, not a hint of distrust in his slurred voice. “Tanjirou, Kamado.”

He nods with acknowledgement, offering his own turn and ignoring the bare, stripped feeling of the words without his Hunter title in tow. “Giyuu Tomioka.” 

“Mm.” Tanjioru murmurs, eyes barely open as his raspy breaths shallow. 

 

“Sleep, Kamado-kun.” 

 

What are you, Tanjirou Kamado?

Chapter Text

Tanjirou always knew he didn’t have a lot. His family was poor, not unlike many other citizens he knew. They had no wealth, no space or luxuries, but it was never a problem for them. They had each other, and it was all he could’ve asked for, even if it wasn’t much. 

But now he knows that he was wrong all this time. He had everything. He let it all fall. 

He fades in and out of consciousness, the rippling pain in his shoulder from the mysterious man’s wound barely a tingle any more. He dreams of sunlight too hot for the ripe of winter, the smell of soft earthy clay under his nose. 

He wakes to his body being flung through the air, slamming harshly into temple courtyard. It feels as though he was kicked in the chest by a bear, lungs expanding forcefully to take back the air that was taken from his body on impact. A smell gets caught in his throat, snared in the barbs of something stuck within his body. 

It’s sweet, fresh and mouth-wateringly delicious. All of a sudden he feels as if he hadn't eaten in months, starved to the brink of death. He swallows, throat dry despite the drool he can feel pool under his tongue. Feeling delirious, his attention was being stubbornly held by his hunger as he tries to gain some form of awareness. His entire body feels pulled taunt when he finally grasps onto a new scent, nowhere near as distinct, but scarily familiar all the same. Sharp points dig into his palms as he rips his sights to assess the fresh smell. 

 

His eyes widen as he recognises the strange man in a two-toned haori, pinned down by a gigantic— man? His nose twitches— no, not human—  

 

— and everything comes back to him. 

 

His pupils constrict. 

 

He’s—

 

The Demon’s hand raises, ready to strike the bleeding human beneath his hulking form.

Tanjirou’s body moves before he can begin to wonder if his body too looks as alien as the thing in front of him. Something instinctual within him tells him to scratch, claw and gouge, and he does. Desperate to throw the beast away from its victim, memory flashing at him the bodies of his family, torn apart by claws no doubt like his. 

This man said not to leave himself defenceless in front of an enemy. Called him a weakling for not understanding that he must kill or be killed. Told him to fight. 

 

“Stop it!” He yells, voice sore from using in it’s parched state. 

 

He may not be human, he thinks. 

But he is still Tanjirou Kamado, and he will not let an innocent be killed in front of him. 

After all, he has nothing left to lose. 

 

The harmony of power thrumming in tandem with his pulse is ever so alluring. But he fights it because he knows it is wrong. He trusts the grounded man to kill him if he ever lost himself to the leering hunger in his bones, but until then Tanjirou must keep him alive.

His act of bravado earns him a brutal beat down, and for a moment, he thinks the man will let the Demon kill him. 

But he doesn’t; instead— he rises from the ground soundlessly, effortlessly. Every part sleek and deadly as something in his eyes sharpens like the fuller of his blade, cutting clean through the Demon’s neck. Tanjirou’s whole body aches, it hurts, and he’s so tired, so hungry. 

 

The Demon-killer crouches in front of Tanjirou, scent spiced with something powerful, something he can’t quite put his finger on. But it makes him want to crawl into the man’s space, closer than his siblings on a cold winter morning. Curl his hands into pale skin and force the scent closer to the surface— inhale the intoxicating musk until he suffocates. He smothers the only logical reminder this man is dangerous, dangerous to him. He denies it attention and focuses on the way Tomioka-san speaks to Tanjirou as if he was human, even when he’s choking on the smell of human blood. It helps him fight the battle still raging on inside him. The beast in his bones stalking the edge of its cage, frustrated. Dragging its thorned body across rattling bars with impatience as the humanity within him screams in protest, no, stop it— stop. I’m human, I’m human. 

 

“Sleep, Kamado-kun.” The words glide over him like a soft blanket, convincing his eyelids to slide shut with ease. 

 


 

The second time he wakes up, Tomioka-san’s scent is everywhere. He yawns, savouring the mouthful of almost bitter, rich spice as his cheek nuzzles into a firm uniform shoulder. Abruptly, alertness returns to him. Embarrassment colours his face beet red as he notices the way his body pressed flush against Tomioka-san’s back. His arms started to flail in protest, and the hold on his legs doesn’t resist, releasing him instantly. His feet aren’t fast enough to catch him in the short distance to the ground, hind landing ungracefully into the dust— leaving him staring upward at the trademarked split haori.  

“Finally awake then?” The man— Giyuu Tomioka, says, turning slightly to catch Tanjirou’s stunned confusion. 

 

“Yes!” He squawks out in return, clambering to his feet.

 

“Good, let’s continue.” 

They walk side by side, and judging by the height of the sun in the sky, he’d say it was mid-afternoon of the next day, at least. A discomfort in his stomach twists when he realises he may've been carried for the entire time; being the oldest sibling of his family, he can’t remember the last time he was held. He’s not sure what to say, but he’d never really been one to stay silent, so he blurts the first question on his mind. “...Where are we going?”

Giyuu tilts his head to peer at the curious expression on the boy’s face before answering. “His name is Sakonji Urokodaki. He was my teacher, and I have asked him to train you.”

Tanjirou’s eyebrows raise. “As a Demon Hunter?”

“Yes.” He confirms with a simple nod. 

His lips fumble over his words as more questions, and a jumbled thankfulness fills him. “Already? I mean, thank you! I didn’t know- I can’t repay you yet, I don’t have anything-”

 

“You don’t need to thank me. You promised to avenge your family, and kill the Demon responsible. You couldn’t dream of having a chance in your current state.” He replies flatly, the implied leading conversation fast approaching. 

They walk several paces hearing nothing but the crunch of gravel under shoes, neither overly willing to talk about it. 

 

“Does he know what I am? Will he still train me a Demon Hunter?” Tanjirou asks shyly as blunt, human nails reach upward to scratch at the back of his head in nervous habit. 

 

“What are you that would convince him otherwise?” The other boy presses, menacingly.

“I-” He hesitates. “I don’t know what I am.”

“You said you were human.”

“Well that’s what I thought before—“ Before the death of his entire family awakened something. 

“I don’t... don’t really know anymore. I didn’t even believe Demons existed.” He mumbles, swallowing down the feeling of guilt that expands. Maybe if had known earlier, he would’ve been able to use his powers to protect his family. Had his Mother known what he was?

“Yes, Urokodaki-san is aware of your...condition.” He concludes, helping to put Tanjirou’s mind at ease, even if just a little. He would not feel comfortable being untruthful or hiding something this big from someone offering to teach him the skills necessary to avenge his family.  

 

“Tomioka-san? Can you… tell me about Demons? I’m sorry, I just— I don’t,”

Tomioka interrupts his mumbling with a raised hand and a look of acknowledgment over his shoulder before he begins to tell Tanjirou everything he should know about Demons.

With a calm, level tone, he explains the immortality, the enhanced regeneration, physical capabilities, blood demon arts and transformations. Their weaknesses and their creation, the way they deform more with every human life consumed. With a stoic clinical expression, he speaks of their murderous instinct to kill and devour humans to regain strength and grow stronger. 

At first, intrigued, Tanjirou’s marvelling curiosity tapers off as the sky becomes dark, and his partner’s explanations become vivid in detail. He knows the prickle of goosebumps over him has nothing to do with the temperature. 

 

“How do you feel?” A question surprises him, too busy dwelling in sinking feeling of his gut. 

 

“— Since your transformation?” The older man tags on,” You said this had never happened before, I would be dubious of the claim if not for your absolute lack of knowledge in keeping yourself alive.” He finishes, facial expression deadpan. 

Tanjirou’s brow furrows, unsure if it was meant to be an attempt at comfort or not. “I feel...tired.” ...and hungry. “Everything is louder, brighter. My sense of smell was always extremely good, but now it’s— “ torturing him, he can smell that spiced blood dribbling through the man’s veins, taunting him. Can smell the moisture in the soil, the minerals, the brush of wildlife through blades of grass beside the path. “A lot.” He concludes lamely, glancing up to meet the analytical gaze studying him, making him feel small. 

 

He shoves down the weight of his hunger, foiled in the empty pit of his belly.

 




“Tell me, boy, are you willing to sacrifice everything?” The elderly man asks, his words made all the more sinister when spoken from behind the haunting red Tenju mask. 

 

“Yes.” Tanjirou replies, sure. From every inch of skin, every drop of his contaminated blood, he knows it. 

 

“The Demon Hunters Corp will not allow a Demon to ever join their ranks. Should you be found out, you will be slaughtered. All those responsible for harbouring your cursed existence will be sentenced to commit Seppuku. You will live under my roof, I will train you as if human. You will learn to resist your Demonic nature, and the moment you lapse I will end your misery.”

Tanjirou can feel the weight being placed upon his shoulders, clutching at his throat in threat. 

“I understand. I will not disappoint you!” He vows, voice louder than necessary as his body drops to the ground in an elaborate bow. He can feel their eyes on him, searching for an inch of hesitation, for deceptiveness. He lets them look, his life is officially held in the palms of two strangers. Peeking his head to the side, his sights make a desperate grab at dark blue eyes that blend with the sky above them. 

 

Something akin to trust, to hope, forms between them at that moment. 

 

He denies that his heart hops in his chest when Tomioka-san moves toward the door. He doesn’t really know why, but his guess would probably have something to do with his newly found desire to protect this man. The thing that killed his family was still out there. 

Reasonably, he knows Tomioka can do more than handle himself. Still, the assurance does nothing to quell the nagging want to drag him back from the door, to keep him here, inside where it’s safe. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to. He sighs a very subtle breath of relief when Urokodaki-san insists he stay the night. Tanjirou falls asleep to the comforting scent of rainfall and spiced nectar, pretends not to be disappointed when Giyuu is gone by sunrise. 

Urokodaki-san was not remotely kidding about him giving everything he had. 

His drills down the mountain exhaust him until his entire body burns, aches with pain and bruised flesh. The air stings against his open wounds and slips from his mortal confines with ease before he can inhale sweet relief.

Dread curdles with a terrible sense of foreboding when the savage growling becomes louder each day, the exhaustion only seeming to amount further rather than recovering overnight. The beast is unsettled and impatient, forcing him to trip when his eyelids droop and his hands gravitate towards the ground to support him. By the end of the month, his body surrenders completely. Tanjirou finds himself sprawled in front of the hut door, legs long having collapsed into the dirt. His form begins to shrink when he releases out a shuddering sob of frustration. He glares at the tips of his fingers, nails growing pointed and dark. The afternoon sunlight suddenly feels like open flames over his pale skin, violently jamming his nails between sharp teeth until he hears them crunch and break. 

Enveloped in overwhelming pain, he doesn’t notice the door opening. Doesn’t notice the older man walking to study his pathetic shuddering frame for a moment before leaning down to pick him up, retreating into the shade of his home. Laid on the wooden floor of his darkened room, his eyes blur with tears as he finally registers his change in location, the movement of his burned eye-lids excruciating. 

Despite the pain keeping him on the edge of delirium, his arms fly out, claws crudely chewn to the bed of his fingers. He tries to pull his small body upward. If he’s inside, he must’ve— Panic strikes him through the chest. 

 

“Urokodaki-san! Urokodaki-san! Uro-” he croaks in yelps. 

The door flies open to show said man, sword in hand. The sight is terrifying in that moment between the fear of his own existence, and overwhelming thankfulness the kind person who had clothed and homed him was unharmed; Tanjirou came to peace with the idea that this was where his road ended. He slumps back to the fresh flooring with a thump. “You’re okay,” He slurs to himself, salty tears stinging seared flesh as they trail down his face. 

 

“Tell Tomioka...thank you.” He whispers as the last floating thought carries him into sleep.