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For All I'm Worth

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Giyū feels hot.

Not feverish, per say, but uncomfortable, warmth spreading out under his skin. The late night air should be cool, but whatever relief it provides barely registers in Giyū’s mind, too distracted by the itchy feeling prickling at his arms, his neck, his chest.

“Hey.”

Giyū spares a glance at Sabito. It’s hard to tell with nothing but moonlight, but there seems to be a reddish tint to his face, a flush spread out over his cheeks.

“We should find somewhere indoors to rest,” Sabito says. He holds himself with his usual firm posture, but there’s a certain breathiness to his tone, and it sends a shiver down Giyū’s spine. “There should be a shrine nearby.”

Giyū tears his eyes away from Sabito and makes a soft noise of assent.

There’s a stone torii half hidden by foliage, and Giyū falls into step behind Sabito as they make their way towards it. The sight of Sabito’s back in front of him, patterned fabric stretched over broad shoulders, makes Giyū want to press himself up against Sabito, to bury his face in the nape of Sabito’s neck, and it takes conscious effort to hold himself back.

It distracts him enough that he doesn’t notice the tree roots snaking across the unmaintained path, and his foot catches on one, tipping him forward.

Sabito grunts in surprise as Giyū collides with his back, and Giyū unthinkingly fists his hands in Sabito’s haori, in an attempt to hold himself up. As soon as he does, though, he realizes how close they are now, only a few thin layers of clothing separating him from Sabito’s skin, and the mild heat welling up in him suddenly becomes unbearable.

“Giyū!” Sabito snaps. The tone of his voice is enough to break Giyū from his trance, and he releases his grip on Sabito’s haori. “We need to get inside first.”

First? Giyū thinks blearily, but before he’s able to ask for clarification, Sabito reaches back to grasp one of his wrists, and starts pulling him down the path. Sabito’s grip is tight, tight enough that it should be uncomfortable, and the contact burns red-hot against Giyū’s wrist, but instead of shying away, he finds himself leaning into it.

The walk to the shrine seems to take forever, even with Sabito’s urgent pace. Giyū manages to avoid tripping again, although his legs still catch on the underbrush, bushes scraping at his legs and burrs clinging to his uniform.

Sabito releases his grip once they reach the shrine, and Giyū almost reaches back for him.

“It looks maintained,” Sabito observes. His voice is breathy again, far more than it should be after such a short walk, even with the brisk pace.

Sure enough, upon closer inspection, none of the wood is rotted, and although the bell is a little rusty, there are no traces of mold or moss. There’s no signs of anyone living in the shrine, but there must be someone who comes occasionally to take care of upkeep, and Giyū makes his way to the offering box and bows.

He manages to dig a coin out of his bag and drops it into the offering box before finishing the routine, and Sabito follows suit after him, muttering a, “Please forgive our intrusion,” before making his way to the door of the shrine.

There isn’t much inside but a small altar, somewhat wilted sasaki branches propped up in a white vase, but the floor is soft tatami, and Sabito doesn’t hesitate to plop himself down on it, letting out a sigh. A bead of sweat drips down his neck, and Giyū finds himself frozen in the doorway, tracking its course with his eyes.

“Giyū,” Sabito says, looking up at him from under peach colored eyelashes, and Giyū’s entire body flushes with heat.

Giyū tears his eyes away, closing the door behind him as he makes his way fully into the shrine. He places his bag on the floor, followed by his sword and haori, before sitting down, and he’s about to start on the buttons of his jacket when Sabito catches his hand.

Sabito’s so very close, and Giyū trembles.

For a brief moment, Giyū’s fever-dazed brain thinks Sabito’s going to go in for a kiss, but instead he presses his free hand against Giyū’s forehead. He clicks his tongue, and mutters, “The demon got us.”

Giyū blinks at him slowly, trying to process the statement.

“We’re not in a frenzy,” Giyū finally replies, trying to dig information on the demon they’d just slayed out of his hazy memory. A young man, who’d frequented the brothels in the area, his blood technique sending the customers and workers alike into a passionate daze, too enwrapped in each other to even register the demon about to prey on them.

“We killed him quickly enough that we probably didn’t get a full dose,” Sabito says. He makes as if to remove his hand from Giyū’s forehead, but instead slides it down to cup Giyū’s cheek.

Maybe Giyū’s not the only one struggling with rational thought right now.

“To expel the effects,” Giyū murmurs, “we have to – ”

“Mm,” Sabito replies, a soft agreement. “Just once should be enough.”

With that, Sabito leans in and presses their mouths together.

It drags a soft, needy sound from Giyū’s throat, and he would be embarrassed about it, if he had the capacity to feel anything but the heat of Sabito’s body against his in this moment. Apparently the noise emboldens Sabito, and he delves deeper into Giyū’s mouth, wet tongue and blunt teeth against Giyū’s tender lips.

Giyū shivers with the realization of how much Sabito must have been holding back before. If Sabito had responded to his touch like this earlier, they probably would have ended up on the forest floor somewhere, vulnerable to demons and completely uncaring of the fact.

Of course, doing this on the floor of an old shrine isn’t much better, but at least there’s a roof above them and clean tatami underneath them.

Sabito breaks the kiss and pushes Giyū to the ground. He’s not rough about it, but he’s not particularly gentle either, and Giyū’s heartrate increases at the image of Sabito braced over him, peach-colored hair falling around his face in messy disarray and his eyes burning with the same intensity as when he’s out hunting.

“Giyū?” Sabito asks, breaking Giyū from his trance.

Before Sabito can ask him if he’s alright, if they should find another way to deal with the blood technique, Giyū reaches up and drags him down into another kiss. If he’s being honest with himself, he’s wanted this long before they ran into that demon, and if Sabito’s fine with resolving this together, he’s not about to try to deter him.

Not when Sabito’s within arm’s reach, warm and responsive and not at all deterred by realization of who he’s on top of.

They kiss for a while more, until Giyū’s mouth is numb and Sabito’s lips are flushed red. Giyū lets out a soundless gasp as Sabito slots in between his legs, pressing up against the part of him that’s gathered the most heat, still trapped in his pants.

Sabito shifts his hips, not necessarily tentative, but experimental, and Giyū finds himself grasping at Sabito’s shoulders, fingertips digging hard into the fabric of Sabito’s uniform jacket as he bucks up, chasing the pressure of Sabito against him. The reaction rewards him with more movement from Sabito, a rough jerk of his hips, and Giyū has to bite his lip to keep from crying out.

At this point, it’s getting hard to tell if the heat building under his skin has anything to do with the demon blood technique anymore, and idly, he wonders if he’ll pass out from fever before they can finish this.

Sabito’s fingers fumble with his jacket buttons, and Giyū gasps as he feels Sabito’s tongue lick a line up his throat.

“Sabito – ” Giyū starts, but he cuts himself off as Sabito’s teeth scrape against his skin, a hand working apart the rest of the buttons on his jacket, and then starting on the shirt underneath.

“Hm?” Sabito replies, not faltering in the slightest.

Giyū hesitates, but then mutters, “Do you know how – ” Sabito’s fingertips brush against his bare chest and his breath hitches. “ – to do this?”

“In theory,” Sabito answers, and Giyū doesn’t know if that makes him relieved or anxious.

Relieved, because Sabito’s never been with anyone else. Anxious, because neither of them know what they’re doing.

Technically, he knows the theory too, thanks to some rather graphically illustrated guides from Uzui Tengen, and part of him regrets being too embarrassed to really study them properly. Most of what he remembers is Uzui telling him, “lots of oil,” and “take your time,” before winking at him and refusing to take back the guides until –

Well.

Until this, Giyū supposes.

Giyū’s broken abruptly from his thoughts by the feeling of hands on his belt, and he watches dazedly as Sabito undoes it and pulls down his pants with quick, efficient movements. The cool air finally hits him, and his breathing stutters as Sabito leans in, a little nervous in anticipation of Sabito’s fingers against –

Sabito opens his mouth and wraps it around the head of Giyū’s cock.

A surprised noise escapes Giyū’s lips, and he finds himself tangling a hand in Sabito’s hair, unsure whether to push him away or drag him in closer. Sabito sucks on him slowly, a hand straying to Giyū’s trembling thighs, and Giyū wonders how Sabito can have this sort of self-control, how Sabito can leisurely mouth at him like this instead of rushing to satisfy the heat still trapped inside them.

It’s proof that Sabito’s always been more disciplined than him.

Giyū shivers and twitches as Sabito continues to suck, his fingertips digging into Sabito’s scalp as he tries to keep himself from fucking up into the warmth of Sabito’s mouth. Sabito looks up at him from under peach-colored eyelashes, and Giyū can almost hear him saying, “You’re a man, aren’t you? Control yourself!”

Giyū bites his lip harder and tastes blood.

A moment later, Sabito pulls off of him.

“I have choji oil,” Sabito announces. Giyū looks up at him dazedly, unable to take his eyes away from the redness of Sabito’s mouth, wet with saliva and – other things.

“I also have choji oil,” Giyū manages to reply. Somehow his voice sounds rougher than Sabito’s.

“Uzui told me it’s safe,” Sabito says, “for this purpose.”

“Ah,” Giyū replies. He hadn’t read too deeply into what type of oils, specifically, Uzui recommended for this sort of activity, and he’s not entirely sure how he feels about using the same oil he maintains his sword with for… these sorts of purposes.

Of course, it’s not as if he carries any other sort of oil with him.

Sabito’s still studying him, eyes intense and breathing heavy, and Giyū gives him a tiny nod. Apparently it’s the consent Sabito was waiting for, and he goes to grab his bag, rooting around in it for a moment before coming up with a small bottle.

He comes back to kneel between Giyū’s legs again, and Giyū’s heartrate increases as Sabito tugs his pants the rest of the way off. It’s a little embarrassing, how he’s already half-naked, but beyond slightly tousled hair, Sabito still looks completely put together.

Giyū’s broken out of those thoughts, though, as Sabito reaches down to grip his thigh, forcing his legs open wider. A moment later, Giyū feels oil-slick fingers against his hole, and he suddenly regrets not being brave enough to try this on his own first, instead of leaving everything to Sabito like always.

Sabito’s not particularly gentle as he presses a finger into Giyū, but it doesn’t create more than a bit of discomfort. The demon blood technique is probably partially to thank for that, and Giyū’s cock lies heavy on his stomach as Sabito works him open, a look of stern concentration on his face which does strange things to Giyū’s insides.

By the time the choji oil’s numbing properties have set in, Giyū feels far too open and exposed, and he wonders if he would have given up already, if it weren’t for the heat in his veins and Sabito’s eyes on him.

“We’re not finished yet,” Sabito says, as if reading Giyū’s mind. “You can hold out for a while longer.”

Sometimes, the amount of faith Sabito has in him surprises him.

With that, Sabito undoes his own belt and frees himself from his pants. He hesitates for a moment, checking Giyū’s expression one more time, and then –

And then he presses inside.

He’s larger than his fingers, which should be obvious, but somehow Giyū hadn’t expected it to feel this big. The demon blood technique and the oil are doing their work, though, and Giyū doesn’t feel more than a bit of a stretch, along with the daunting sensation of something solid and heavy inside him.

“See?” Sabito says, leaning in to brush a kiss against the corner of Giyū’s mouth. “You can take it.”

With that, Sabito starts moving.

His first few thrusts are a little awkward, the first obvious sign tonight that he’s just as inexperienced as Giyū is. It’s comforting, somehow, and Giyū finds himself moving his hips in an attempt to get Sabito deeper. Sabito pants out a moan against Giyū’s lips, and the heat simmering underneath Giyū’s skin spikes, a sudden wave of arousal as Sabito grinds into him.

With a few more thrusts, Sabito seems to find his rhythm, and Giyū digs the blunt crescents of his nails into Sabito’s shoulders, as if that will somehow help him keep up. He’s all too aware of the heavy pant of his breathing resounding through the quiet shrine, accompanied by the wet sound of the oil, an obscene combination all too reminiscent of the scene at the brothel earlier.

Sabito fucks into him at just the right angle and Giyū loses the ability to think.

“Giyū,” Sabito says, his voice a rough moan. He gazes down at Giyū with dazed eyes, glassy and beautiful, and Giyū’s so aroused it almost hurts, his cock dripping against his stomach. “Giyū.”

It’s good that Sabito doesn’t try to say anything more than that, because Giyū doubts he could hold a conversation right now.

A moment later, though, Sabito’s thrusts halt abruptly. Giyū blinks up at him, trying to process the situation, mind working slow as he tries to determine if Sabito’s come or not.

Before he can figure it out, Sabito draws away from him. Panic starts to set into Giyū as he wonders if the blood technique has worn off and Sabito’s suddenly regretting their decision, but instead Sabito just shifts his position a little, dropping back into a kneeling position and dragging Giyū’s hips up to meet him.

It prevents Giyū from gripping at Sabito’s shoulders anymore, and there’s not much he can do but arch his back to maintain the position. His legs are spread so wide around Sabito’s hips, and Sabito’s looking down at him as if –

Sabito starts thrusting again, and it drives all thoughts from Giyū’s mind.

In this new position, it doesn’t take long for both of them to start reaching their limits. Sabito’s thrusts start to go erratic again, jerky as he buries himself deep in Giyū’s body, and Giyū squirms, trying to make up for his loss of mobility, no longer easily able to thrust himself back against Sabito.

Sabito’s broad, calloused hands squeeze against the muscles of his thighs, and Giyū’s breathing has quickened almost to hyperventilation when Sabito finally stills, groaning as he spills into Giyū.

It leaves them both dazed for a moment, Giyū’s breathing quieting and Sabito’s grip loosening. Giyū still hasn’t finished, though, and with the way his shoulders are pressed back against the tatami, it’s not easy to reach over and –

Sabito releases one of Giyū’s thighs and wraps a hand around his cock instead.

Barely a few strokes later, Giyū comes, spilling messily across his own stomach.

It could be due to the blood technique, or the exhaustion of fighting a demon, or the athletic rigor of the activities he just participated in – or more likely a combination of all three, but Giyū loses consciousness before Sabito even pulls out of him.

---

Giyū wakes up sore.

It’s not a bad sort of sore, but it’s clear proof that the events of last night weren’t just a shameful dream, and he hopes his embarrassment doesn’t show so easily on his face.

He does his best to push past it, though, as he collects his scattered clothing. Sabito’s not in the room, but his bag is still there, and Giyū’s a little relieved that Sabito’s not here to watch him dress. It’s not as if Sabito didn’t see even more of him last night, but there’s something infinitely more anxiety inducing about the thought of Sabito seeing him like this in daylight.

He’s just finished buttoning up his uniform jacket when the door to the shrine slides open. Sabito somehow looks entirely refreshed, despite the lack of sleep they’d gotten last night, and Giyū tears his eyes away before he can get too caught up in the way the sunlight makes Sabito’s face glow.

“There’s a stream nearby, if you want to wash up,” Sabito says, as he makes his way into the room. He holds out his canteen and Giyū accepts it, taking a sip and hoping that the water will help cool his flush.

“We’re not far from the Water Pillar Estate,” Giyū replies, not meeting Sabito’s eyes as he hands back the water. He doesn’t particularly want to undress again, or think about the flaky residue clinging to his stomach.

He’s going to need to wash his uniform very thoroughly later.

“Can you walk?” Sabito asks, and Giyū’s face heats again at the implication.

“Yes,” Giyū answers, trying to keep his voice steady. He pushes himself to his feet easily, and although his soreness hasn’t entirely vanished, it’s certainly not enough to impair his mobility.

For a moment, Sabito doesn’t reply, just studies him with sharp eyes, but finally he nods and says, “Tell me if you need a break.”

With that, he picks up his bag and heads for the door.

The walk back to the Water Pillar Estate is conducted in silence. Part of Giyū wonders if this is it, if Sabito doesn’t intend to discuss last night’s events again. After all, it was just the solution to a temporary problem, to a demon blood technique, and now that it’s over, there’s no real reason to talk about it.

It’s probably easy for Sabito to forget.

Giyū, on the other hand, finds images resurfacing in his mind at the most inconvenient moment. A simple glance at Sabito’s face is all it takes to remember what Sabito had looked like braced above him, face flushed and pleasure dazed as he’d moved his hips.

“Giyū? Are you alright?”

Sabito’s voice breaks him abruptly from his thoughts, and he blinks blankly, before he realizes that he’d stopped in the doorway to the main building of the estate.

“You look red,” Sabito continues, stepping closer and reaching up to feel Giyū’s forehead. “Did the blood technique not – ”

“I’m fine,” Giyū says curtly, drawing back from Sabito’s touch. “I’m going to bathe now.”

With that, he brushes by Sabito and heads into the building. He can feel Sabito’s eyes on him, but Sabito doesn’t try to question him further, and he breathes an internal sigh of relief.

He does his best to avoid Sabito for the rest of the day. It’s easy enough, first with the excuse of the bath, and afterwards he shuts himself in his room, claiming that he needs rest. It turns out to be true, in the end, and he passes out almost immediately after cocooning himself in his futon, slipping into a deep, dreamless sleep.

He hadn’t realized he was this exhausted.

“Giyū.”

Something brushes against his shoulder.

Giyū.” Louder, this time.

The light touch turns into a grip, shaking his shoulder. It’s finally enough to make Giyū open his eyes, and he blinks up to find Sabito leaning over him, clad in a dark blue yukata, loosely tied enough that it reveals a sliver of his chest.

Giyū’s heart beats faster and he’s suddenly, painfully aware of all the places his own yukata has come loose while he was sleeping, along with the fact that he’s still lying in his futon.

“You need to eat,” Sabito says, breaking Giyū abruptly from his thoughts.

With that, Sabito pulls back, and Giyū blinks as he realizes that there’s a small table next to his futon now, laden with small plates and bowls. The smell of food finally hits him, miso and pickled daikon, and his stomach chooses that moment to growl, urging him up and out from underneath the blankets.

“Thank you,” Giyū mutters as he kneels by the table, picking up a pair of chopsticks.

“I still need to eat too,” Sabito says simply, taking up the same position opposite of Giyū. He doesn’t hesitate to snag a piece of pork belly, and Giyū follows suit by picking up his bowl of rice, nibbling at it and trying to focus on the food, instead of Sabito across from him.

He chews slowly at first, and then quicker, taking larger mouthfuls as he realizes how hungry he is. Now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t eaten anything since last night and he’s burned off a lot of energy since then, between slaying that demon and – other things.

“There’s more than just rice,” Sabito huffs, reaching out to pick up another piece of pork, this time depositing it in Giyū’s bowl, mostly empty now that the majority of the rice has been depleted. “There’s extra in the kitchen, too.”

There’s a small, fond smile on Sabito’s face, and Giyū tries to focus on the pork as he says another, “Thank you.”

It doesn’t take him long to wolf down that too, tender fat falling apart in his mouth, and Sabito’s still smiling as he pushes the rest of the pork towards Giyū’s side of the table, taking spinach and soup for himself instead. Giyū takes a couple slices of pork but then hesitates, and the third slice he places carefully atop Sabito’s rice.

He doesn’t look to see if Sabito smiles at him for that.

With how hungry Giyū is, it doesn’t take him long to finish eating, leaving behind an array of decimated dishes. As soon as he finishes picking the last grain of rice out of the bowl, though, Sabito says, “I need to talk to you.”

Giyū goes very still.

“Giyū.”

Sabito’s voice is firm, and it finally forces Giyū to look up at him.

They make eye contact for a moment, but then Sabito backs up from the table a little, presses his hands against the floor in front of him, and bows so deeply that his forehead almost brushes the tatami.

“Please take me as your husband.”

Giyū’s glad that Sabito waited until after he’d finished eating, because otherwise he would have probably choked on something in surprise.

“Allow me to take responsibility for what happened last night,” Sabito continues, maintaining his bow. “Although the circumstances were not under our control, I hope that you will give me the opportunity to prove that I can conduct myself as a man of honor and treat you as a proper husband should.”

Giyū stares.

“I’m not pregnant,” he finally says.

Sabito finally raises his head, giving Giyū a confused look, and says, “I know.”

Giyū blinks at him.

“There’s nothing for you to take responsibility for,” Giyū explains. He can feel his posture stiffening the deeper they get into this conversation, and he lets his eyes stray to the empty dishes on the table, to avoid making eye contact with Sabito.

“We engaged in premarital intercourse,” Sabito replies, his voice firm as he straightens himself into a sitting position again. “Regardless of the physical consequences, we should acknowledge our actions.”

There’s an edge of, Aren’t you a man, too? in his tone, and Giyū doesn’t know what to say to that. He’s aware that Sabito has very strong ideals about how a man should conduct himself, and he’s sure that, under other circumstances, Sabito would court his partner properly and hardly lay a finger on them until the wedding night, but their situation is hardly normal.

It’s already the Taisho era. Based on Uzui’s comments, he probably expects them to be performing an abundance of premarital – activities, and although Giyū can admit that he prefers the thought of intimacy with someone he’s committed to, after last night, he can see how someone could enjoy the act for the act itself.

“It was a unique situation,” Giyū finally says. He resists the urge to fiddle with the edges of his sleeves. “There’s no reason for us to get married because of a demon.”

For a moment, Sabito goes quiet.

“May I still have permission to court you?”

The question surprises Giyū enough that he looks up, making eye contact with Sabito. Sabito’s gaze is as intense as ever, firm and determined, and it does strange things to Giyū’s insides, makes his cheeks flush with heat.

“Allow me to give a better impression of myself,” Sabito continues, “and to prove to you that I would make a worthy husband.”

“That’s – ” not the issue, Giyū tries to say.

“Please,” Sabito says, soft but steady. “My intentions will not change.”

Giyū wavers. The thought of Sabito courting him is more appealing than he’d like to admit, even if it may not be in the way he’s imagined before. And anyway, he doubts it would take more than a few days for Sabito to come back to his senses and realize that one night isn’t enough justification for a marriage, not when there are so many other people practically falling over themselves to gain his favor.

It’s not as if Giyū has much to offer as a husband. Sabito will realize that, soon enough.

“Fine,” Giyū says.

“Thank you,” Sabito replies.

---

“Well, you seem to be fine.”

Giyū fiddles with the gauze attached to his arm, over the spot where Shinobu had drawn blood.

“I can’t detect anything wrong with you physically,” Shinobu continues, making notes in a chart on her desk. “There aren’t any other traces of a demon blood art, either.” She pauses, turning to give Giyū a smile. “Of course, it would help if you and Sabito would actually tell me the effects of the demon blood art.”

Giyū does his best to keep his expression blank.

“We resolved the symptoms without issue,” he answers, and he sees Shinobu’s smile twitch a little, but she manages to maintain it.

“I suppose if you die, it won’t impact our operations that much,” Shinobu muses. She busies herself with organizing the vials on her desk. “Although Sabito might be more of an issue.”

Giyū hesitates, but then says, “I will inform you if I experience any unusual symptoms.”

With that, he stands up to leave, but before he can, Shinobu says, “Including today, you have three days of leave before you’ll be assigned any new missions. I’ve already submitted a notice to bar both you and Sabito from taking missions until it’s clear you’ve recovered.”

“Understood,” Giyū replies, giving Shinobu a small nod.

With that, he steps out of the room.

As soon as the door has closed behind him, though, he sighs.

Truthfully, part of him had been hoping for a new mission, an excuse to be anywhere other than the Water Pillar Estate. Sabito hasn’t even started his ‘courtship’ yet, but the way he’d smiled when they’d passed each other in the hallway earlier, soft and fond, had made Giyū’s heartrate speed up so much he’d been momentarily concerned for his health.

It looks like he’ll have to find other ways to avoid Sabito, then. Or at least minimize interactions.

Instead of going back to the Water Pillar Estate, Giyū makes a detour to one of the lesser known training grounds. Calling it a ‘training ground’ is a little generous, when it’s actually just a small clearing at the edge of the woods, bordering on the lake. It’s quiet, though, and spacious, which is really all Giyū needs.

He sheds his haori, folding it carefully and leaving it at the base of a tree. His uniform jacket is next, and for a moment, he contemplates removing his shirt too, to keep it from getting sweat-stained in the summer heat, but in the end he leaves it on.

He stretches first, to warm up. Whatever soreness he’d accumulated from his tryst with Sabito is long gone, but he still feels a little stiff, and he does his best to work the tension out of his muscles.

Next are practice swings.

After so many years of wielding a sword, it’s tempting to do them instinctually, but Giyū forces himself to focus, carefully maintaining his posture and calculating the force of his swings. It’s an effective way of keeping his mind off Sabito, too.

He doesn’t keep track of how many practice swings he does. Too many, probably, and it’s not until his arms start to tremble, breaking his form, that he switches to another activity.

Pushups are good for strength training, but they don’t take the same mental focus as kata or practice swings and Giyū grits his teeth as his mind starts to stray back to Sabito. A drop of sweat slides down the side of his neck and he’s suddenly reminded of the sensation of Sabito’s tongue, tracing the line of his throat, and he collapses face-down in the dirt, cheeks burning.

For once, he wishes he’d been assigned a solo mission, instead of a joint one with Sabito.

Eventually, Giyū drags himself up off the ground. He makes his way over to the edge of the lake and reaches down to splash water against his face, although it only helps with some of the heat. Even his reflection looks a little flushed, and Giyū hopes that he can pass it off as the result of training.

By the time Giyū’s done rinsing his face off in the lake, the sky has turned an orangish color, steadily fading into purple. It won’t be long until nightfall, and Giyū sighs as he goes to pick up his haori and jacket again, bracing himself to go back to the Water Pillar Estate.

Maybe if he’s lucky, Sabito will have gone to bed early.

Luck, however, isn’t on his side, and the Water Pillar Estate is still brightly lit when he comes home. The front door is unlocked and he kicks off his shoes in the entryway, and he’s about head back to his room when Sabito pops out from a doorway not far down the hall.

“Where were you?” Sabito huffs, his frown extending down from his scar. “I saved you dinner.”

Giyū blinks at Sabito blankly.

“Dinner?” he asks.

“Makomo and Tanjirō already ate,” Sabito answers, waiting expectantly for Giyū. “The food’s going to get cold if you wait any longer.” Giyū opens his mouth, and Sabito narrows his eyes. “Don’t say you’re not hungry.”

Giyū hesitates, but then says, “I wasn’t going to say that.”

Sabito gives him a skeptical look, and Giyū finishes taking off his shoes, before making his way down the hall to Sabito.

As he gets closer, he finally catches the scent of food, and his stomach growls. Sabito smirks and Giyū’s face heats, but thankfully Sabito doesn’t actually say anything, just follows Giyū over to the table and sits down opposite him.

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Giyū says, kneeling against the tatami.

“I wanted to,” Sabito replies easily, picking up his chopsticks.

The statement reawakens the butterflies in Giyū’s stomach and he mutters his thanks for the food before picking up his own chopsticks. All of the bowls on the table are arranged neatly and carefully, and Giyū can’t help but sneak a glance across the table as he wonders if Sabito had arranged this, laying everything out as he’d waited.

He meets Sabito’s eyes for a brief moment, but quickly breaks eye contact.

Instead, he takes a piece of sashimi and puts it into his mouth, trying to focus on the flavor of the meat and not the way he can still feel Sabito’s eyes on him.

“How is it?” Sabito asks, as Giyū chews the sashimi.

“It’s good,” Giyū answers, taking another piece and laying it over his rice.

“I caught the deer earlier,” Sabito says. It’s not exactly a surprise, considering he catches most of the game that’s used to feed the residents of the Water Pillar Estate. “Makomo showed me how to cut some for sashimi and Tanjirō helped me roast the rest.”

He nods to one of the other bowls, filled with small chunks of meat and daikon and topped with green onions. It looks delicious, and Giyū’s a little surprised that Sabito could make something like this, when he’s never shown any particular interest in cooking before, beyond handing his skinned catches over to someone else.

Giyū hesitates, but then reaches out to pick up a piece, popping it into his mouth and chewing slowly. The deer falls apart easily under his teeth, belying the careful cooking and the quality of the game, and Giyū finds himself taking another piece before he’s even finished swallowing the first.

“Good?” Sabito asks, smiling softly, and Giyū nods, preferring to eat instead of speak. “I thought if we get married, at least one of us needs to know how to cook.”

Giyū promptly chokes on his food.

“Sabito – ” Giyū starts, once he’s swallowed, his voice rough.

However, he cuts himself off before he can finish. After all, he’d told Sabito he could try courting him, and, relatively speaking, cooking is a rather inoffensive attempt.

Sabito’s still looking at him expectantly, so Giyū says, “I can cook.”

“Something other than salmon daikon?” Sabito asks, an amused smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

Giyū doesn’t dignify him with a response.

---

Giyū wakes up late the next morning.

It’s been a while since he had more than a day off between missions without being injured, and he takes a moment to lie under his blankets, the sunlight warm on his face as it bleeds into the room.

Eventually he manages to drag himself out from his futon. Idly, he wonders if Sabito saved breakfast for him, and after a moment’s consideration, he changes into a fresh yukata before making his way towards the kitchen.

Sabito’s not there, and Giyū doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or glad. There are a few dishes set out, though, covered by a cloth and a small scrap of paper that says, Giyū, in Makomo’s neat characters.

Part of Giyū wishes it was Sabito’s bold penmanship instead.

He eats at a leisurely pace, polishing off the dishes one at a time. Despite taking his time, though, it feels like he finishes them all too fast, without anyone to distract him with conversation, and he busies himself with washing the dishes afterwards. Unfortunately, that doesn’t take him very long either, and he finds himself wandering the estate, trying to decide whether or not to get dressed and do some training.

The clack of bokken comes from somewhere nearby, and Giyū wanders towards it, wondering if maybe he should ask Makomo or Tanjirō to help him train today.

When he gets to the training field, though, it’s not either of them he finds.

“You still need to build up stamina,” Sabito says to the young woman in front of him. Giyū recognizes her face but not her name, and not for the first time, Giyū’s thankful that Sabito offered to handle the training of new Breath of Water users.

Not that Giyū doesn’t help at all, but he’s never been a very good teacher. If Sabito wasn’t here, he’d probably just send everyone to Urokodaki instead.

“I’ll give you five minutes, then we’ll do another set,” Sabito announces. The girl says, “Understood!” around heavy breaths, and Giyū can’t help but feel a little sympathy for her. He’s been on the same end of Sabito’s training methods enough to know the feeling.

He’s barely finished the thought before Sabito turns to look at him.

“Giyū!” Sabito calls out, breaking into a light jog as he heads towards Giyū.

Giyū finds himself frozen in between the open shoji, and has to resist the urge to slink back indoors, away from Sabito’s bright morning smile.

“I’m not dressed for training,” Giyū says without preamble, as Sabito comes to a stop at the edge of the engawa.

“That’s not what I was going to ask,” Sabito snorts. He runs a hand through his hair, a few sweat-sticky strands clinging to his forehead, and Giyū averts his eyes. “I want you to watch my form and give me feedback.”

Giyū blinks at him.

“Your form,” Giyū repeats.

“Lately I’ve been getting sloppy with it,” Sabito explains. It’s not something Giyū had noticed. “You’re the only one who knows my style well enough to tell.”

For a moment, Giyū hesitates, but then he moves forward, sliding down to sit at the edge of the engawa. Then he says, “What is it about your form?”

“I’ve been putting more force behind my swings lately,” Sabito answers, rubbing at one of his shoulders and then rolling it. “It seems to be more effective for beheading demons, but it also makes my blade feel heavier, and I think I’ve been dropping my elbows.”

Giyū considers the information for a moment, and then nods.

“Yell at me if you see my form breaking,” Sabito says.

With that, he turns to jog back towards his sparring partner.

They start again, and although the girl Sabito’s training seems to have regained some of her energy, the fight is still woefully one-sided. Sabito doesn’t hesitate to wrench the bokken from her hands with the pure force of his blows, and Giyū’s sure by the time Sabito’s done, she’ll have some impressive blisters.

That’s not to say Sabito isn’t putting in any effort, though. Even from this distance, Giyū can see the way Sabito’s muscles are working, tensing and flexing under his skin as he does his best to pressure his opponent. He’s rolled his shirt sleeves up to his elbows, revealing the well-defined muscle of his forearms, and Giyū finds his eyes fixed to the exposed skin, hardly enough to be provocative, but somehow captivating.

It occurs to Giyū that he’s supposed to be watching Sabito’s form.

“Sabito!” he calls out, just as Sabito’s elbows dip a little too low.

Sabito corrects his posture immediately, raising his arms to the proper level. It clearly takes more effort than before, sweat dripping down Sabito’s forehead, and briefly, Giyū wonders how long Sabito’s spent training this morning.

“Focus!” Sabito yells, as his training partner stumbles, her feet dragging heavy against the ground. “If I were a demon, you’d be dead!”

Part of Giyū is tempted to point out that Sabito is a tougher opponent than most demons.

The training session continues until the girl looks close to collapsing. Giyū finds himself correcting Sabito’s posture a couple more times, but although the height of his arms drops occasionally, he never devolves into a stance that could be considered sloppy.

Not for the first time, Giyū wonders how long it’ll take before he’s no longer able to keep up with Sabito.

“How was it?” Sabito asks as he makes his way back towards Giyū.

Giyū hesitates, but then says, “Your stance broke four times.”

Sabito clicks his tongue, reaching up to wipe the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. On the training ground behind him, his sparring partner has collapsed, lying on her back in the dirt, and idly, Giyū wonders if he should check to make sure she’s not dead.

She groans, which at least means she’s breathing.

“Your form didn’t change significantly,” Giyū continues, turning back to Sabito. “I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been looking for it.”

“Giyū,” Sabito huffs, the corners of his mouth twisting down into a scowl. “If my form is off, then it’s off. It doesn’t matter by how much.”

For a moment, Giyū’s quiet, but then he says, “Your elbows drop when you hunch over.”

“Hunch over?” Sabito repeats, frowning slightly.

“After an attack,” Giyū says, trying to pick his words carefully, “you don’t always restraighten your back entirely.”

Sabito blinks, processing the information, and then surmises, “So my shoulders go forward and my elbows go down. It also disrupts my breathing.”

Giyū nods in affirmation.

The two of them go quiet for a moment. There’s a contemplative look on Sabito’s face as he studies Giyū, focused and careful in a way that makes Giyū want to squirm.

Then, Sabito says, “I’m sorry for failing to protect you last time.”

Giyū blinks at him.

“Next time I’ll be stronger,” Sabito adds, firm and matter-of-fact.

“We killed the demon,” Giyū points out, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“But we still ended up in a dangerous situation that should have been avoidable,” Sabito replies. “I’ll become strong enough to cut down a demon before it can even use its blood techniques.” He looks Giyū dead in the eye and says, “I need to be a man strong enough to protect his husband.”

Giyū’s heart skips a beat, and he hopes that Sabito doesn’t notice.

“Now get dressed so you can help me train,” Sabito orders, gesturing to Giyū’s yukata.

Giyū does as he’s told.

---

“Giyū!”

Giyū glances over his shoulder to find Sabito making his way down the hall, clad in his full uniform, sword sheathed at his side.

“Are you going out on a mission?” Giyū asks, his forehead creasing slightly. He’d thought they had at least one more day before they’d be assigned anything, and he hasn’t gotten any specific orders yet.

“No,” Sabito replies. “Come hunting with me.”

Giyū blinks, finally registering the bow slung over Sabito’s back.

“We’re out of deer and I need to check the traps,” Sabito continues, brushing past Giyū and sitting down in the entryway to put on his shoes. “You were just going to train anyway, weren’t you?”

“I’m not good at hunting,” Giyū points out, but he reaches for his shoes, too.

“You can reset traps,” Sabito replies. It’s true enough, because anyone who’s spent more than a few days on Sagiri Mountain will pick up a few things. After being in Urokodaki’s care for a couple of years, Giyū could probably make a trapping pit in his sleep. “I need someone to carry things too.”

Which, consequently, is how Giyū finds himself following Sabito through the woods, walking alongside a well-worn rabbit trail.

“It still looks like they’re using relatively the same route,” Sabito observes, crouching down to check the indentation of small paw-prints in the mud. They look fresh, and Sabito seems optimistic about their chances of success today.

Sure enough, when they come to the first snare, there’s rabbit hanging from it.

“This one’s pretty big, isn’t it?” Sabito muses as he untangles the rabbit from the trap. It’s already dead by the look of it, and Giyū accepts it from Sabito, watching as Sabito dismantles the trap and then resets it. “If we catch a few more it might make a nice scarf.”

Giyū makes a noise of agreement. It’s hard to think about scarves in the midst of this summer heat, but although the snow in this area never gets too deep, the winters are still cold.

They continue through the woods, checking the rest of the traps. Most of the snares are empty and undisturbed, but they find a couple more rabbits, and one of the trapping pits has managed to catch a fox. Fox meat isn’t good for much, though, and with the rabbits, they don’t have any particular need for the fur, so they release the fox, watching it dart back into the underbrush in a flash of red.

“If it turns out to be a demon, we can just slay it when it comes back for revenge,” Sabito says, flashing Giyū a sharp grin that does strange things to Giyū’s insides.

Once all of the existing traps have been checked, they set a few new ones. Giyū’s snares aren’t nearly as sturdy as Sabito’s or clever as Makomo’s, but they seem passible at the very least, and he lets out a little sigh as he finishes positioning one near what seems to be a quail nest. It seems to be holding steady, so he straightens himself up and starts over to where Sabito’s examining a squirrel nest.

However, he pauses abruptly as a flash of movement catches his eye.

“Sabito.”

Giyū’s voice is low, soft enough that he’s not sure if Sabito will hear it. Thankfully, though, Sabito looks up, shooting him a questioning look, and then follows Giyū’s gaze through the forest.

The wild boar snuffles against the dirt, oblivious.

Giyū tears his eyes away from the boar for a short moment to look back at Sabito, watching as Sabito carefully removes the bow from his back. To be entirely honest, Giyū’s never actually seen Sabito use a bow before, despite how many times he’s eaten the results of Sabito’s hunting, and he finds himself reaching for the hilt of his sword unconsciously.

Although he doubts a single boar would be able to kill Sabito, or even injure him, it puts him on edge to see Sabito use an unfamiliar weapon.

Sabito doesn’t seem to notice, though, his eyes fixed firmly on the boar. He’s straightened himself up enough to hold the bow properly, a look of careful concentration on his face as he notches an arrow and draws back the string. He holds the position for an impossibly long moment, tracking the boar as it moves through the underbrush, flank exposed to them, and Giyū almost wonders if Sabito’s not going to shoot, when Sabito finally releases the drawstring.

The arrow hits the boar right behind its front leg. Giyū doesn’t know enough about bow hunting to know if Sabito’s hit his mark or not, and he instinctually draws his sword as the boar calls out, jerking forward into motion.

In the end, it only gets a few steps before it collapses on the ground.

The tension releases from Giyū in one short moment, flowing out of him just as quickly as it had come. Sabito glances back at him, eyeing the unsheathed sword, and says, “Did you really think I wouldn’t hit it?”

Giyū hesitates, but then says, “I thought I should be prepared.”

“Well, it’s dead now,” Sabito replies, starting towards the boar. Giyū follows behind him, a little more slowly. “My arrow should have gone right through the heart.”

Once he reaches the boar, Sabito checks its condition, confirming that it’s dead. Giyū hovers slightly behind him, still not entirely sure how he feels about this situation, because although he’s seen Sabito slay hundreds of demons, he’s never seen Sabito hunt like this before.

It’s strange. A new side of Sabito, maybe.

“What do you want to do with it?” Sabito asks, as he hefts the boar up over his shoulder, grunting under the weight.

Giyū blinks at him.

“Do with it?” Giyū repeats.

“Soup, roasted, nabe?” Sabito presses. He shifts the boar’s positioning a little, and then starts back in Giyū’s direction.

“Anything is fine,” Giyū replies, still eyeing the boar. It’s a little grotesque, maybe – not that he can say much, when he’s carrying the rabbits they trapped – but somehow also a little cool, Sabito with a boar slung over his shoulder, bow still gripped in his free hand.

“I caught it for you,” Sabito huffs, his frown extending down from his scar.

“For me?” Giyū asks, giving Sabito a blank look.

“Slaying a demon for you seemed like it’d be in poor taste,” Sabito says, scrunching up his nose slightly. “And this at least has practical uses, although I guess the fox would have made a prettier coat.” He pauses, then repeats, “So, what do you want to do with it?”

Briefly, Giyū hesitates, but then he says, “Nabe?”

“Nabe it is,” Sabito confirms with a grin. “Let’s hope someone back at the Estate knows how to cook it.”

Giyū spends the rest of the walk back trying to puzzle out what Sabito had meant about slaying demons for him.

---

There are new mission orders waiting with Giyū’s crow when they return from hunting.

Apparently, there have been a number of disappearances in a town called Oguni to the northwest, mostly teenagers out later than they should be. It seems like a simple enough case – other than the body count, which indicates a stronger than average demon – and Giyū suspects it won’t take much more than a few days to complete, including travel time.

It is also, thankfully, a solo mission.

Giyū sets out before dawn the next morning, careful to make his way quietly through the Water Pillar Estate, to avoid waking anyone. Sabito’s been assigned a mission of his own, but it’s a joint one, and he shouldn’t be meeting up with the other members until later, so it should be simple to –

“I knew you’d be up early.”

Giyū freezes as he passes the kitchen.

“It’s dangerous to travel while it’s still dark out,” Sabito huffs, leaning against the doorframe and  crossing his arms over his chest. “Even more so when you’re alone.”

“I’m a demon slayer,” Giyū points out. He shifts his grip on his bag slightly, awkward.

“That doesn’t mean you should take unnecessary risks,” Sabito sighs, the creases in his forehead marring the handsome layout of his face. “We’re supposed to hunt demons, not let them hunt us.” He pauses, and then adds, “At least eat breakfast.”

For a moment, Giyū considers telling Sabito that eating too much will only slow him down, but instead he nods and follows Sabito into the kitchen.

“Go sit down,” Sabito says, waving his hand towards the connecting room, a small table already set up and two sets of chopsticks laid out. “It’ll be ready in a moment.”

Giyū does as instructed, settling himself against one of the cushions laid out on the tatami. Sure enough, just as Sabito had said, he’s barely gotten comfortable before Sabito comes into the room with a tray of bowls, kneeling to lay them out on the table. It’s not as large a spread as usual for breakfasts at the estate, but it looks filling, and Giyū mutters a soft, “Thanks.”

“Thank me after you’ve tried it,” Sabito snorts, plopping himself down on the other cushion. “The rolled omelet didn’t turn out great.”

Giyū blinks at the yellowish substance on one of the plates. So it’s an omelet.

“It’s fine,” Giyū says around a mouthful of rice. A little watery, but certainly not inedible.

“I would have tried salmon daikon, if I could get the fish,” Sabito replies, munching on his omelet. He doesn’t immediately spit it back out, so Giyū breaks off a small piece of his own, popping it tentatively into his mouth. It, like the rice, is a little watery, but the flavors are fine, and at the very least he doesn’t come across any pieces of eggshell, so it might as well be a success.

Giyū looks up to find Sabito watching him intently.

“What’s your mission?” Giyū asks, trying to ignore Sabito’s eyes on him.

“There’s a demon nest near Iwaki,” Sabito answers, taking another bite of his rice. “Some of the mizunoe have already scouted it out and determined that there are at least seven, maybe as many as ten. They don’t seem particularly strong, but there are enough of them that it’s too much for the mizunoe to handle on their own.”

It sounds like most of the missions Sabito is sent on. Of the higher ranked demon slayers, he has the highest rate of bringing subordinates back alive, and Giyū gives him a little nod, before saying, “Come back safe.”

“You too,” Sabito replies.

The sun hasn’t quite risen by the time Giyū finishes his breakfast, but the sky has started to turn lilac, and Sabito lets him leave with a begrudging frown. The concern in his expression makes butterflies flutter in Giyū’s stomach, and for a moment, he doesn’t want to leave.

After all, a few days apart is probably all it’ll take for Sabito to realize that he has much better marriage prospects available.

It’s for the best though. Better for Sabito to realize now, than after he’s gone through with the marriage.

The walk towards Oguni is uneventful. It’ll take at least a day and a half to reach his destination, and although part of Giyū is tempted to continue travelling through the night, he knows well enough that it’s better to rest, even if he’ll lose time.

He stops in a decently sized town, large enough to have a couple of inns and restaurants. He ends up eating at an oden stand, munching on konjac and people-watching, and although he’s used to eating alone on missions, part of him wishes that he had someone here with him. Maybe he’s gotten too used to sharing meals with other people, after spending a few days at the Water Pillar Estate, with Makomo, Tanjirō, Nezuko, and other apprentices running around.

And Sabito, of course.

The first inn he tries has rooms available. They’re a bit on the small side, but Giyū doesn’t need anything but a bath and a place to sleep, and this inn provides both. He bathes quickly and efficiently, doing his best to ignore self-consciousness as the other people in the bath try not to stare at the constellation of scars splattered across his skin.

Eventually he makes it back to his room, feeling at least somewhat refreshed, if a little tense. His hair is still damp, soaking spots into his yukata, and he can almost hear Sabito lecturing him about catching a cold.

The thought’s enough to make him smile slightly, but the smile slides off his face as he enters his room.

There’s a familiar crow knocking at the window, and Giyū hurries to open it, letting the crow into the room. It doesn’t say anything to him but sticks out its leg, urging Giyū take the scrap of paper tied to it, and Giyū’s heart pounds as he unravels the note.

It must be some sort of emergency for Sabito to send him a message in the middle of –

Dear Giyū,

It’s been less than a day since we’ve spoken, but you have not left my mind.

Giyū stares blankly down at the letter for a moment, half wondering if he’s forgotten how to read. A second glace confirms the characters, though, and Giyū feels a flush creep up his neck as he starts on the next line.

I’ve never written a love letter before.

Giyū’s face burns with embarrassment as any hope that this is just a normal letter vanishes.

However, I promised to court you properly, and I do not want to go a day without reminding you of my affections. Knowing you, you’ll forget immediately, or convince yourself I’ve forgotten. Therefore, I will continue to write you until we’re able to meet face to face again.

The heat spread across Giyū’s face is enough that he has to stop reading for a moment, and he goes over to the open window, sticking his face outside in the hope that the night air will cool him. It helps a little, but not nearly enough, and briefly, Giyū considers not reading the rest of the letter.

In the end, though, curiosity gets the better of him.

It has also occurred to me that I might have been going about this incorrectly. Although I had hoped to show my value as a husband through hunting and combat strength, it was never my intention to belittle your own abilities. You are more than worthy of the title of Water Pillar, and I will continue to strive to be suitable as your match.

Take care and return to me safely.

Sabito

Giyū folds the letter back into a neat square when he’s finished reading it. His heart is beating in overtime, and he fights to keep his hands from shaking, trying to refocus himself with steady breaths.

Sabito’s crow pecks at his leg, and then looks up at him expectantly.

“Go back to Sabito,” Giyū says.

“REPLY?” the crow asks.

Giyū shakes his head.