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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.

Chapter Text

Giyū dips the blade of his sword into the stream.

The water washes the blood off easily, and it’s not long before he’s drawing his sword back out, flicking excess water off the blade. It’ll definitely need proper maintenance later, but with less than a half moon tonight, it’s far too dark to see exactly what he’s doing, and although the demon terrorizing the village had been easy enough to kill, there’s no guarantee there aren’t more demons lurking around in the forest.

Giyū wipes his blade against the grass and then straightens up into a standing position, resheathing his sword with practiced movements. He turns to head back towards the village, but he doesn’t get more than a few steps before he hears a shrill caw from somewhere behind him, and he immediately reaches for the hilt of his sword again, prepared to strike whatever else has found him in the late-night darkness.

“FROM SABITO.”

The familiar timbre of Sabito’s crow’s voice makes the tension drain from Giyū in an instant.

The crow swoops down to perch on Giyū’s shoulder, and Giyū grimaces as its claws dig into him. It’s a large bird, even compared to most crows, and Giyū’s a little surprised there’s enough room for it on his shoulder, although judging by the way it shuffles around, Giyū’s not the only one uncomfortable with this perch.

Above them, Giyū’s own geriatric crow teeters through the air and then swoops down to occupy Giyū’s other side. It doesn’t do much to balance out the weight.

“FROM SABITO,” Sabito’s crow says again, sticking out its leg towards Giyū. Sure enough, there’s a scrap of paper tied to it, the same as the last three times Sabito’s crow has come to him, and Giyū hesitates for a moment, but then reaches out to accept it.

He tucks the message into his pocket, and then says, “You can return to Sabito.”

“REPLY?” the crow asks, as it always does.

And as always, Giyū shakes his head.

The crow sits on Giyū’s shoulder for a few moments, looking at him with beady, dark eyes, and then leans in to bite at Giyū’s ear. Giyū makes a surprised noise, his hand coming up automatically to protect his ear, but Sabito’s crow doesn’t try to attack him again, instead launching itself off his shoulder and back into the night sky.

Giyū watches as it disappears into the inky black.

On his other shoulder, his own crow seems to have fallen asleep.

With that, Giyū turns to head back to the village. It’s too small for a real inn, and he’d ended up camping out in the abandoned house of one of the demon’s victims. Thankfully the man had been killed outside his house, and there weren’t any nasty bloodstains inside, but normally Giyū tries to avoid staying in houses of the deceased if he can avoid it.

It’s better than sleeping out in the open, though, and hopefully the man’s spirit will take the demon’s death as payment for Giyū’s intrusion on his home.

The area is also too rural for electricity, and Giyū lights a fire, letting it slowly brighten the small house. Once there’s enough light, he finally digs Sabito’s letter out from his pocket, unfolding it carefully and trying to ignore the way his heartrate increases ever so slightly.

Dear Giyū,

The last of the demons here were taken care of last night.

For a brief moment, Giyū feels something akin to disappointment at the letter’s mundane opening, but he suppresses those feelings quickly and reads on.

Because we were unsure of their exact numbers, I have to stay one more day to ensure we’ve eradicated them, but then my work here will be completed. Although I enjoy missions, being apart from you is difficult, and I look forward to sharing your company again.

Giyū presses his lips together in a tight line as his eyes trace the characters. Although the sentiment hardly seems lukewarm, it could easily be interpreted as a platonic, friendly sentiment, and he wonders if Sabito’s initial feelings have dimmed.

I also wondered if, at some point, I could receive your photograph. There are studios in Yokohama, I believe, where we could have it done professionally, and I would appreciate having a token of you to carry with me.

This section, Giyū reads twice. He’s never had his photograph taken, and he can’t say he particularly likes the idea of paying someone to capture his image. And the thought of having Sabito’s photograph – that seems far too great a temptation, to be able to look at Sabito for as long as he wants, without having to worry about Sabito noticing.

Not that I would ever forget what you look like, of course. You’re far too beautiful for that.

Giyū’s face flushes bright red.

I tried writing some poems about you, but none of them adequately captured your image. The best I could manage was:

Quiet eyes

More beautiful than

The first day of winter

It’s… not a good poem, Giyū supposes. Not that he’s read a lot of poems, but he’s heard Kanroji recite a few of her favorites, and they’d seemed more eloquent than this. It’s certainly the most poetic language Giyū’s ever seen Sabito use, though, and his flush deepens as he wonders what it would actually sound like, to hear Sabito read this to him out loud, Sabito’s voice going gentle as it curves around the words.

Part of Giyū wonders if Sabito actually thinks his eyes are “more beautiful than the first day of winter,” or if he’d just needed a seasonal word.

I’ll have to ask Kanroji-san for advice. I wish my own words were sufficient, but for now, please be patient. If nothing else, I believe that a man should always strive to improve himself for his loved one’s sake, and I hope that I can become someone who encourages the same sentiment in you.

As always, I wish for your health and am depending on you to return to me safely.

Sabito

Improvement.

So this is Sabito’s concept of love, improving yourself for your partner. Is it not love, then, to realize your own shortcomings and acknowledge that the person you feel for would be better suited to someone else?

The corners of Giyū’s mouth quirk up into a small smile.

Sabito would probably call him a coward.

Before Giyū can put away the letter, there’s a tapping on the window. He reaches for his sword automatically, but pauses when he realizes that there’s a crow hovering outside, and then pushes himself up off the floor to go let the bird in.

For a moment, he thinks it’s Sabito’s crow, back to insist on a reply, but this one is a little too small. It perches itself on the edge of the window, and then opens its mouth to announce, “TOMIOKA GIYŪ! THERE IS A NEW MISSION. HEAD TO SŌMA AT SUNRISE.” A caw, and then, “SABITO WILL MEET YOU THERE.”

Giyū hesitates ever so briefly, but then says, “Understood.”

It looks like Sabito won’t have to send him letters anymore.

---

Sōma is a considerably larger town than Oguni.

It’s still not a real city, not compared to Tokyo and Yokohama, or even Date and Iwaki, but Giyū finds himself caught off guard by the number of people, after spending the past few days travelling alone through the woods.

He pauses in front of a post office, reaching to dig a slip of paper out of his pocket. He skips over most of what’s written in the letter, trying to ignore the heat on his cheeks at Sabito’s, I continue to think of you, and, I hope I occupy your thoughts too, and focuses on the last few lines. The directions to the inn they’re meeting at had seemed simple enough when he’d first read them, but now that he’s here, every storefront seems to look the same.

He sighs and refolds the letter.

He only manages to take a few steps forward, though, before he hears a familiar voice yell, “Giyū!”

Giyū turns, quicker than he’d intended to, and finds Sabito jogging towards him, a grin spread out over his face. It’s enough that Giyū finds himself smiling automatically in return, but his mouth twists abruptly into a frown as his eyes land on the bandage plastered on Sabito’s cheek, not terribly large or severe looking, but not something Giyū had been expecting.

“You’re hurt,” Giyū says, as Sabito slows to a stop in front of him.

Sabito blinks at him for a moment, looking caught off guard, but then he reaches up to press at the bandage and says, “Oh, this?”

“You didn’t say anything about it in your letters,” Giyū presses, his jaw set tight. He definitely would have remembered something like that.

“So you read my letters,” Sabito replies, his smile returning and morphing into something more self-satisfied.

“You’re hurt,” Giyū repeats, trying to steer the conversation back away from the letters.

“It’s just a scratch,” Sabito says dismissively. “I probably don’t even need the gauze anymore, but the scab hasn’t entirely formed yet and I didn’t want to make it start bleeding again.” He pauses, and then, “Was my poetry that bad?”

Now it’s Giyū’s turn to be caught off guard. His mind immediately goes to Sabito’s most recent attempt at poetry, some comparison between the color of his hair and the night sky, and he can feel his face heating again, despite how clumsy the wording was.

“I don’t know much about poetry,” Giyū finally says, ducking his head slightly and hoping that it hides his face from Sabito’s anticipatory gaze.

“Did you like it?” Sabito tries again. His voice goes a little soft and he takes a step towards Giyū, close enough that they’d barely need to lean in to touch.

“It was – ” Giyū starts, his voice faltering a little. “Inaccurate.”

Eyes more beautiful than the first day of winter. Hair the color of the night sky. Posture refined enough to rival a crane.

It’s had to take any of those lines as sincere, even knowing that Sabito is nothing if not honest. In all likelihood, his desire for a proper courtship has made him accidentally write things he doesn’t really mean, attempting to emulate what he knows of love letters without really thinking about whether he truly believes what he’s saying.

“We should head to – ” Giyū says, turning away from Sabito.

“Then I will continue improving my poetry,” Sabito interrupts, his voice firm and determined. “And I will continue to write to you until I have produced something that moves you enough to write back.”

“Sabito,” Giyū sighs, looking back over his shoulder, but he cuts himself off as he takes in Sabito’s expression. It’s even more resolved than his voice, handsome in its severity, and Giyū finds himself entranced for a moment, caught up in the set of Sabito’s mouth and the sharp cut of his cheekbones.

The line of Sabito’s lips quirks up into something akin to a smirk, and Giyū freezes as he realizes he’s been caught staring.

“Let’s go,” Sabito says, brushing past Giyū. “The inn isn’t far.”

For a moment, Giyū hesitates, but then he follows.

True to Sabito’s word, it doesn’t take them long to get to the inn. It’s a fairly standard one, nothing Giyū hasn’t seen in plenty of other reasonably sized towns, but the mere fact that it isn’t a dead man’s home is a comfort in and of itself.

“Two rooms please.”

Giyū blinks and looks over at Sabito, as he addresses the innkeeper.

“Is someone else joining us?” Giyū asks, his forehead creasing slightly. The orders he’d received had made it sound like a mission just for the two of them.

“No,” Sabito answers easily, as the innkeeper goes to get their keys.

“Then one room should be enough,” Giyū says, the corners of his lips turning down in a frown as he looks at Sabito.

Sabito turns to make eye contact, and there’s something intense about his expression again.

“I’ve already declared my intentions towards you,” Sabito says slowly, his gaze sharp and maybe a little disapproving, “and you want to share a room?”

Giyū’s heart stops for a moment, as he’s reminded of the last time they’d spent the night in the same room. Sabito’s expression now isn’t all that dissimilar from what he’d looked like then, intent and focused, although the disapproval is new, and Giyū clenches his jaw, breaking eye contact to say, “You wouldn’t do anything to me.”

Even if Sabito was truly that attracted to him, Sabito’s self-control is too good for that.

“I’ve already done plenty to you,” Sabito huffs in protest, and Giyū turns back to retort, but the words get caught in his throat as he catches sight of Sabito’s expression, his arms folded over his chest defensively and the tips of his ears pink. They almost match the color of his hair, Giyū thinks idly.

“Here are your room keys,” the innkeeper says, breaking the moment.

“Thank you,” Sabito replies, accepting the keys. He still looks a little flustered, and Giyū can’t tear his eyes away.

“The rooms are at the very end of the hall to your left,” the innkeeper continues, pointing towards said hallway. “The baths are down the hall to your right. Breakfast will be brought to you at nine, or earlier if you request it.”

“Nine should be fine,” Sabito says. The innkeeper nods at him, and then turns to disappear into the back room, leaving Sabito and Giyū alone in the entryway again, the unfinished conversation still hanging in the air.

With that, Sabito heads towards the left hallway.

“Sabito – ” Giyū starts, unsure what to say, but feeling the uncommon urge to say something.

“I know you’re not taking me seriously,” Sabito interrupts. He doesn’t look at Giyū or slow his pace, so Giyū settles his eyes on the back of Sabito’s head. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I am trying to make you my husband. This isn’t like sharing a room when we were children.”

Part of Giyū wants to point out that they’ve slept in the same room plenty of times as adults, and it’s not as if they’d be sharing a futon, but he doubts the comment would be well-received right now.

“Just because I can control myself doesn’t mean I want to, all the time,” Sabito mutters, and Giyū’s not entirely sure he was meant to hear it.

It’s just sudden, Giyū thinks. Too sudden.

Before he can work up the courage to say those words aloud, though, Sabito comes to a stop. Giyū struggles to avoid running into him, and he almost reaches out to steady himself on Sabito, but he manages to stop himself. It’s a good thing, too, because Sabito turns around to face him, and although clinging to Sabito’s back is embarrassing, clinging to his chest would definitely be worse.

“Here,” Sabito says, holding out a key. He’s managed to recompose his expression, and Giyū can’t help but miss the pink tips of his ears.

“Thank you,” Giyū replies, accepting the key.

“Put away your things and then meet me out front, so we can start investigating,” Sabito continues, digging around in his bag for something. Eventually he comes up with a parcel, neatly wrapped but somewhat wrinkled from being buried under his other supplies, and he pauses briefly, before holding it out to Giyū. “This is for you.”

“For me?” Giyū echoes, looking down at the parcel.

“I saw it when I passed through Iwaki,” Sabito replies. “It made me think of you.”

“Thank you,” Giyū says again, taking the parcel. It’s lighter than he’d expected, soft under the wrapping, and his forehead creases as he tries to puzzle out what it could be.

“Right,” Sabito announces, a little stiffly. “I’ll see you out front in a few minutes.”

With that, he unlocks the door to his room and disappears inside.

Giyū follows suit, making his way into his own room, but he’s distracted by Sabito’s gift. He sets his bag down on the floor, not really paying attention to where it falls, and unties the string holding the parcel’s wrapping together. As he pulls back the paper, it reveals dark blue fabric, and when he holds it up to examine it, it unfolds to reveal the shape of a yukata, a subtle wave pattern crossing the fabric in various shades of blue.

There’s an obi with it too, Giyū realizes, golden koi against deep red fabric. The color doesn’t differ much from the shade of his haori, Giyū realizes, and he wonders if Sabito had chosen it for that specific purpose.

Giyū refolds the yukata and sets it down next to his bag, trying to remind himself that there are more important things to think about right now.

First, they have a demon to slay.

---

“So, we have at least ten victims in the past two weeks.”

Giyū nods in affirmation, eyes scanning the letter containing their mission details.

“That’s not a very high body count, compared to other demons,” Sabito points out, his mouth slanting down in a frown. “Although you said it seems like it’s targeting individuals instead of whole families?”

“Instead of attacking a single household on the outskirts of the town, it’s going after people in more densely populated areas,” Giyū explains. “While its body count isn’t particularly high, because it only kills one person at a time, it’s attacking more frequently.”

“Hm,” Sabito replies, leaning over Giyū’s shoulder to look at the letter. “So as it gets stronger, if it starts killing more people at the same time but with the same frequency – ”

His musings are cut off by a shriek.

“I know you were the one who killed Ume!”

There’s a young woman on the ground, clutching her reddened cheek. An older woman stands over her, hand still held up as if she’s contemplating going in for another slap, and although her face is twisted up in rage, her eyes also shimmer as if she’s close to tears.

“I – ” the girl starts, her voice trembling.

“I heard your voice!” the older woman yells. The disturbance is starting to attract a crowd, and Giyū glances over at Sabito, who nods, before stepping in closer. “I heard your voice and she ran out to see you and – ”

“I would never hurt Ume!” the girl protests, starting to push herself up from the ground.

Apparently this was the wrong thing to say, because the older woman brings her hand up in preparation for another slap, but before she can, Sabito grabs her wrist, stopping her short. She tries to wrench her hand away, but then pauses, blinking at Sabito as she takes in his face.

“Ma’am,” Sabito says, and he’s smiling politely, but his eyes are cold. “If you have grievances with this woman, then we would be happy to escort both of you to the police station, or help you mediate the issue.”

“You think I haven’t tried?” the woman snaps. She tries to drag her arm from Sabito’s grip, but Sabito holds tight.

Giyū goes over to help the other girl up to her feet, extending a hand to her. She hesitates for a moment, but then accepts it, allowing him to pull her up. She doesn’t let go once she’s standing, though, fingertips digging hard into Giyū’s palm, and Giyū presses his mouth into a tight line as he realizes that she’s crying, biting her lip to keep herself from making any noise.

“She says she was with her brother,” the older woman says, and Giyū looks over to find her glaring over at the two of them. “As if he wouldn’t lie for her.”

“I was,” the girl mutters, soft enough that Giyū’s sure he’s the only one who heard it. “I swear I was.”

“Would you mind describing what happened?” Sabito asks, his voice cool. The woman narrows her eyes at him, but before she can protest, Sabito says, “We’re military. We were sent to investigate the recent wild animal attacks in this area.”

He pulls back his haori slightly to reveal the sword at his hip. Apparently the woman takes it as proof, and some of the tension drains out of her, but the anger hasn’t vanished from her face.

“Two nights ago,” the woman says, “my daughter was murdered. She and I were at home in the kitchen when that girl – ” She jerks her chin to indicate the younger woman. “ – called to my daughter, telling her to come outside. I went to look for them a while later and found my daughter dead.”

Giyū makes eye contact with Sabito, whose expression has turned grim.

“Could you describe the state of the body?” Sabito presses, but his voice has gone softer, and although he’s still holding the woman’s arm, his grip has turned into something more soothing, supportive.

The woman’s eyes shimmer, but no tears drop from them.

“Her throat – ” She cuts herself off. “Her throat was ripped out. And most of her insides were – missing.”

For a moment, they go silent. Sabito finally releases his hand from the woman’s wrist and instead moves it to her shoulder, a comforting gesture which she surprisingly doesn’t reject. Then, he says, “I understand what you heard, but do you really think it’s possible for a girl of her size to rip out someone’s throat?”

“Who says she doesn’t keep a rabid dog to do her bidding?” the woman retorts, her voice sharp.

“If that’s the case, my partner and I have been sent to put it down,” Sabito replies. “I promise you we will investigate thoroughly, and if she truly is the culprit, we will gather the evidence to convict her.”

The woman doesn’t look entirely satisfied, but after a long moment, she nods.

“Now, may I walk you home?” Sabito asks, removing his hand from his shoulder. “And can you show me where you found your daughter?”

The woman nods again, and Sabito shoots Giyū a significant look, before falling into step beside the woman. Giyū watches them go for a moment, but then turns his gaze back to the girl in front of him.

Her fingers are still digging into the palm of his hand, reluctant to let go, and Giyū frowns slightly as he realizes she’s younger than he’d originally thought. She can’t be more than twenty, at least, too old for school but not quite an adult, and although she doesn’t look particularly delicate, it’s hard to imagine her having the constitution to murder someone, let alone rip out their throat.

“I didn’t kill her.”

Giyū blinks at the girl.

“I could never have killed her,” the girl says, more forcefully this time, looking up at Giyū with big, wet eyes. “She was my – my best friend, and – ”

She cuts herself off as her voice starts to wobble.

“I believe you,” Giyū replies. Although it’s possible for demons to hide in a human form, they’re out in broad daylight now, which is more than enough proof of the girl’s humanity. And while he’s seen a few rare cases of humans working with demons, this girl hardly seems like the type, with her teary eyes and distraught expression, her cheek still red from being slapped.

“Ah,” the girl says, finally seeming to realize that she’s still clutching his hand. Her face goes bright red as she releases him, clutching her hand to her chest. “I’m sorry.”

“Can you tell me about any of the other animal attacks in this area?” Giyū asks, trying to focus back on business.

The girl gives him an uncertain look, as if expecting him to start accusing her of murdering people again, but eventually she says, “They’ve all been on the south edge of town, but I didn’t know anyone else who was attacked very well.” She pauses to think. “The attacks were all at night, I think.”

That at least confirms that this is, in fact, the work of a demon.

“Do people here normally go out at night?” Giyū asks. If the demon is praying on people at the edge of town, maybe it’s just hiding out in the forest and waiting for people to pass by, instead of going out of its way to hunt.

“No,” the girl answers, disproving that theory. “And lately people have been staying inside even more than usual because of the animal attacks.”

Then the demon is using something to lure people out of their houses. Most likely a blood technique that allows it to imitate people, and maybe even take on the form of someone they know. It would at least explain why the dead girl’s mother claims to have heard a voice calling out to her daughter on the night that she died.

For a moment, Giyū’s quiet, studying the girl, but then he says, “Don’t go outside tonight. Even if someone else tells you to.”

This demon might be more difficult than he’d thought.

---

“How was the Miura family?”

Giyū sits down next to Sabito, on a bench outside of a confectionary shop.

“They don’t know much,” Giyū says, and then blinks as Sabito hands him something wrapped in paper. He accepts it, and pulls back the paper to reveal still-warm dorayaki. “They didn’t hear anything strange and didn’t even realize the victim had gone out in the middle of the night until they couldn’t find him the next morning.”

“So pretty much the same as everyone else,” Sabito sighs, his shoulders slumping. His own dorayaki has a couple of bites taken out of it, Giyū observes. “At least now we can be sure that the demon is luring them out somehow instead of waiting for them to come outside.”

Giyū makes a noise of agreement, and takes the edge of the dorayaki into his mouth. The pancake part is soft, and the bean paste satisfyingly sweet, and Giyū tries to not let it steal his attention from the case at hand.

“Judging by the argument we interrupted earlier, the demon can at least imitate voices,” Sabito continues. It’s in line with Giyū’s current theory. “But at this point it’s hard to tell if voices are all it can imitate. If it can do full appearances too, that would be a problem.”

Briefly, Giyū hesitates, but then says, “Does it need to observe someone before it can imitate them?”

Sabito’s forehead creases as he considers the question.

“Probably not,” he finally answers, but he says the words slowly, like he’s not entirely certain of them. “The frequency of the kills doesn’t give the demon much time to observe people, especially when it can’t go out in daylight.”

“So it can imitate anyone,” Giyū surmises, pressing his lips into a tight line. That sort of ability isn’t something he particularly wants to deal with.

“At least it’ll be easier to lure out,” Sabito points out, taking another bite of dorayaki. “It won’t have to spend a long time observing us, so it might try to attack us if we just wander around the south end at night. And even if it can imitate our voices, that doesn’t mean it can imitate our personalities.”

That’s true, Giyū supposes. And because the demon seems to imitate people its victims know, that might actually make it easier for them, because most of the people they’re acquainted with shouldn’t be in this area anyway.

“If we stay together, there shouldn’t be anyone it can imitate to lure us out,” Giyū says. The bench they’re sitting on is across the street from where the edge of the forest starts, and he peers into the trees.

“It seems to prefer to lure out individuals,” Sabito replies, shaking his head slightly. His tongue darts out to clean bean paste off his lower lip, and Giyū finds his eyes tracking the movement. “Most of the families hadn’t even realized the victim had left the house until a while after the fact. Even if we’re out at night, I doubt it’ll attack both of us. We should patrol separately.” He pauses, looking over at Giyū, and then asks, “Should we have a codeword?”

Giyū blinks, processing the question.

“Alright,” he says.

“Anything should work,” Sabito continues, his voice a little muffled by the dorayaki in his mouth. “Daikon? Water? Wisteria?”

“Wisteria is fine,” Giyū replies. It sounds like a much more legitimate codeword than something like ‘daikon,’ especially for demon slayers.

“Wisteria,” Sabito repeats, in confirmation. He pauses, and then says, “We should look around the south edge of the forest during daylight before we patrol at night.”

Giyū nods, and he’s about to get up from the bench, but before he can, Sabito catches his wrist to stop him.

“You’ve got – ” Sabito starts, cutting himself off as he reaches a hand towards Giyū’s face. Giyū sits stiffly as Sabito’s thumb brushes against the corner of his mouth, coming away smeared with bean paste, and he watches as Sabito pops it between his own lips, cleaning it up.

It’s not until afterwards that Sabito seems to realize what, exactly, he just did, and his face turns an interesting shade of pink.

“Let’s go,” Sabito announces, pushing himself up off the bench.

Giyū follows.

It doesn’t take long to get to the forest, considering the families they’ve been interviewing all live nearby. The treeline is separated from the town by a small creek, shallow enough to cross on foot, but deep enough to support a few small fish, darting around below the water’s surface. There’s a dirt path that follows alongside it, and Giyū falls into step beside Sabito as they walk down it, peering into the trees across the river.

It’s actually rather peaceful, if Giyū lets himself forget that they’re supposed to be hunting a demon. Despite the recent attacks, the town still bustles with life, adults going about their daily housework and children running around the street. There are a couple of boys splashing around in the creek, fishing poles lying forgotten in the grass, and Giyū finds his lips quirking up in the barest hint of a smile, watching as they yell and chase after each other.

“I didn’t think you liked kids.”

Sabito’s voice breaks Giyū from his thoughts, and he glances over at Sabito.

“I don’t,” Giyū says, his forehead creasing and smile disappearing.

“Are you sure?” Sabito asks, and the creases in Giyū’s forehead deepen.

He hesitates, and then says, “Do you like kids?”

Sabito blinks at him for a moment, looking caught off guard, and he pauses for a moment, his expression turning contemplative. Briefly, Giyū wonders if this single question will finally be enough for Sabito to realize what he’s committing to, by proposing marriage.

“I haven’t spent a lot of time around kids,” Sabito finally answers. His arm brushes against Giyū’s, and Giyū startles a little, not realizing how close they’d drifted. “So I can’t say if I like them or dislike them. Not unless Tanjirō and Nezuko count, in which case, I suppose I like kids.”

Giyū likes Tanjirō and Nezuko too, if he’s being honest, but they’re not exactly normal kids. They’re old and independent enough that he’s never had to feed them, or help them dress, or do whatever it is that parents do.

“Do you want children?” Giyū asks, slow and a little careful.

It makes Sabito look over at him again, studying him for a long moment, and he’s almost ready to change the topic when Sabito says, “No.”

The answer catches Giyū off guard.

“I don’t plan on ever retiring from demon slaying,” Sabito explains, looking away from Giyū to focus his eyes forward. “And I’m always out on missions, so I don’t have time to take care of a kid anyway.” He pauses, glancing back at Giyū. “Unless you want to retire and take care of the kids.”

Giyū blinks at him.

“I can’t have children,” he points out.

“Sure you can,” Sabito replies, the corners of his mouth quirking up into an amused smile. “We come across enough orphans in our line of work.”

Giyū supposes that’s true enough, as dark a fact as it is, and for a moment, he wonders what it would be like to retire and take care of children.

He’s never particularly liked killing demons. The only reason he’d become a demon slayer in the first place was because Urokodaki had taken him in and taught him, and although Urokodaki hadn’t pressured him into it, he’d felt obligated, in some way. And after joining the Demon Slaying Corps, he’d seen how many people he could help this way, because while he’s still not entirely sure he’s suited to the title of Water Pillar, he’s good at killing demons, relatively speaking.

Also, being a demon slayer is what’s allowed him to stay by Sabito’s side for this long, and he’d be lying if he said that at some point, that hadn’t become a factor too. The thought of retiring and still being able to live in the Water Pillar Estate and see Sabito is – strange.

He’s fairly sure he’s better suited to slaying demons than taking care of children, though.

“Giyū?” Sabito says, breaking him from his thoughts.

“I’m not going to retire,” Giyū says. They’ve long moved past the children playing in the river now, and the neighborhood has quieted.

“We’ll have to see if Makomo has any children, then,” Sabito replies easily. He smiles, the sun through the trees dappling a pattern on his cheek, and Giyū’s heartrate increases. “That way we’ll at least have some kids to spoil when we’re home.”

It’s not a bad thought, although Giyū doubts Makomo has any more desire to have children than they do.

Something brushes against Giyū’s shoulder, and he realizes he’s drifted too close to Sabito again. With the soft afternoon sunlight and the burble of the stream, for a moment, this almost feels like a romantic stroll, and Giyū suddenly wishes he could reach out and take Sabito’s hand.

Instead, he says, “We should focus on the mission.”

Sabito’s smile dims, and the moment is lost.

---

The moon is barely a sliver in the sky tonight.

There are still lights on in the town, but they’re concentrated near the center, and they don’t reach the south edge. The thick of the forest only makes everything darker, and although Giyū’s long since grown used to walking around at night, usually there’s a little more moonlight, something to help him see by.

At least there are no clouds tonight.

The only sound disturbing the stillness is the burble of the stream as Giyū walks beside it. He’s on the opposite side from earlier, the side without a path, and he keeps his hand firmly on the hilt of his sword, poised to attack.

He and Sabito had split up just after dusk, each patrolling a different edge of forest, and Giyū isn’t sure how he feels about it. It’s the logical thing to do, if the demon is going after individuals, but he’s never particularly liked splitting up on joint missions with Sabito, doesn’t like the thought that Sabito could be attacked without him knowing, despite being so close.

They have their crows to send emergency messages, of course, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.

“Help!”

The familiar voice jolts Giyū abruptly from his thoughts, and he almost starts toward it automatically, but he manages to hold himself back.

“Please!” Sabito’s voice calls out again, panicked and possibly in pain. “Please, someone, I need help!”

It’s hard to push down his emotions as he listens to Sabito’s voice. Even without asking for their password, though, he can tell that it’s wrong, that there’s something off about the voice.

Sabito would never call for help like that. On missions, Sabito’s always the one sweeping in to save other people who are in trouble, but when he’s backed into a corner, he never calls for help himself. It makes Giyū worry, more than he needs to, probably, that someday Sabito will find himself in a situation that’s too much to handle alone and ends up injured or worse, because he doesn’t want to involve anyone else in it.

Of course, things are a bit different when it’s just the two of them. It’s not as if Sabito never tires to protect him, but he’s a little more confident in Giyū’s abilities, a little more willing to let him fend for himself.

But while he might announce that he’s found the demon or ask for backup, he’d never call for help.

“Please, I’m – ” the voice continues, heavy around labored breathing. “I can’t – ”

“Go call Sabito,” Giyū says to his crow, his voice low. His crow makes a soft noise of assent, and then launches itself into the air, teetering for a moment, but then finding its balance.

With that, Giyū draws his sword and advances towards the demon. It seems to be hidden just behind the trees, and for a moment, Giyū’s actually glad that the moon is dim tonight, no glint of moonlight off his sword to give him away. Of course, demons have better night vision than humans anyway, so the demon still might be able to tell that he’s primed for attack, and he moves a little quicker, following the voice to pinpoint the demon’s location.

Sure enough, he only has to go a few meters into the forest to find the demon, peering out from behind a tree as it continues to call out. It hasn’t taken Sabito’s appearance, at least, and its eerie cat-like eyes go wide, clearly not expecting Giyū’s attack.

Giyū swings his sword without hesitation, aiming straight for the demon’s neck.

However, he only gets halfway through its throat before something clamps down on his shoulder, keeping him from finishing his swing. Pain radiates down his arm and across his chest, and Giyū bites his lip to keep from making any noise, trying to keep his grip on his sword.

The demon in front of him scuttles back quickly, its torn-open throat already starting to regenerate, and Giyū glances back to find another demon behind him, its teeth sunk into his shoulder.

Two demons wasn’t something they’d anticipated.

With the demon still biting into his shoulder, it’s hard for Giyū to wield his sword properly, so instead he jerks his elbow back, driving it into the demon’s stomach. The demon makes a pained noise and it loosens its jaw just enough for Giyū to wrench his shoulder out, trying to ignore the gush of blood that seeps into his haori.

Now free, he twists around and brings up his blade to –

“Please, stop!”

The desperation in Sabito’s voice is more than enough to make Giyū hesitate, before he realizes he’s been tricked.

That split-second is enough for the first demon, though, who rushes forward to grab the second demon’s arm, pulling it back away from Giyū.

As they retreat, the pass through a sliver of moonlight, and Giyū’s a little thrown by how young they look. Teenagers, probably, a boy and a girl somewhere between Tanjirō and Nezuko’s ages, and they would almost look human, if it weren’t for their eerie eyes and sharp teeth, Giyū’s blood still dripping from the girl’s mouth.

The fact that each victim is probably either shared or alternated between the two of them also means that individually, their body counts are lower than he and Sabito anticipated.

They shouldn’t be hard to kill.

Giyū reaffirms his grip on his sword and starts after them through the forest.

The two demons are fast, by virtue of being demons, but it’s clear they haven’t put much time and effort into developing their new abilities, and although Giyū is a human, he’s perfected his breath enough that it doesn’t take long for him to start gaining on them. The boy makes the mistake of looking back over his shoulder, which only slows him down further, and he curses before yelling out in Sabito’s voice, “Please! Don’t hurt us!”

First Form: Water Surface Slash.

Giyū lunges forward, ignoring the pain in his shoulder as he raises his sword.

The boy stumbles over a tree root, falling backwards, which is the only thing that keeps his head from being separated from the rest of his body. Instead, Giyū’s blade slices neatly through the top of his head, cleaving off everything above his eyebrows, and he shrieks, the sound strange in Sabito’s voice.

“What kind of monster are you?” the demon asks, his voice trembling as he tries to back away from Giyū. Blood gushes down his head, obscuring his face. “You’d kill me even if I begged for my life using the voice of someone you love?”

“Sabito would never beg for his life,” Giyū says simply.

With that, he raises his sword.

“No!”

This shriek is high-pitched, unfamiliar. Giyū blinks as the other demon, the girl, enters his field of vision, putting herself between him and the boy. She reaches up to grab the blade of his sword, trying to stop his swing, but her bare hands are a useless defense, and Giyū cuts through them easily.

That doesn’t stop her, though, and she rushes at him, mouth open and fangs bared. Giyū falls back a step, bringing his sword up again to –

A figure crashes down from above, metal glistening in starlight, and all the girl can manage is a soft, “Ah,” as her head is separated from her shoulders.

Sabito straightens up from the crouch he’d landed in, the sharpness of his face highlighted by the shadows, and says, “I’m sorry for making you wait, Giyū.”

Before Giyū can reply, the other demon screams, “Tsune!

The sound makes Sabito look over so fast that Giyū’s surprised his neck can withstand it, eyes going wide. It’s no longer Sabito’s voice, though, the illusion finally breaking as the other demon scrambles over to the girl’s side, her body already starting to disintegrate.

“Tsu – ” the demon repeats.

Giyū beheads him before he can finish.

For a moment, the forest goes silent.

“So there were two of – ” Sabito starts, turning to look at Giyū, but he cuts himself off abruptly. “You’re injured.”

“It’s fine,” Giyū replies, sheathing his sword. To be entirely honest, he’d half-forgotten about the pain in his shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting two of them and was caught off guard.”

“Let me see,” Sabito demands, stepping forward and tugging at Giyū’s haori. The movement tugs on Giyū’s shoulder, and he can’t quite stifle the way his breathing hitches. Sabito, of course, doesn’t miss it, and he winces, muttering a, “Sorry.”

“Let’s go back to the inn first,” Giyū says, holding onto his haori, in an attempt to keep Sabito from removing it entirely.

“It’s still bleeding,” Sabito retorts, a frown cutting across his face. “And judging by that demon’s mouth, you’ve already lost a decent amount of blood.”

Not that much, Giyū wants to argue, but he keeps his mouth shut. He’s never liked arguing with Sabito, and even if he did, trying to change Sabito’s mind is a fruitless endeavor.

“Come on, sit down for a moment,” Sabito says, his voice going a little softer. Hearing Sabito’s voice like this, natural and genuine, dissipates some of the tension from Giyū’s body, and he only hesitates briefly before complying.

Sabito’s gentler this time as he finishes removing Giyū’s haori, and then his uniform jacket. Even in the darkness, it’s easy to see the stain of blood against Giyū’s white shirt, and Sabito clicks his tongue, before leaning in to undo the buttons. The proximity is enough to make Giyū’s heartrate increase, and part of him is glad to have the pain to distract him.

“This shirt’s already ruined,” Sabito says, taking Giyū’s shirt all the way off. Goosebumps prickle at Giyū’s skin, despite the fact that it’s a fairly warm night, and he watches on as Sabito starts tearing the shirt into strips.

His shoulder throbs, and idly, he wonders if it’ll form a new scar.

“Neither of the demons was imitating anyone’s appearance,” Sabito observes, after a moment. He starts to bandage Giyū’s shoulder, being as gentle as he can while still wrapping it firm enough to staunch the bleeding, and Giyū does his best to keep his expression neutral.

“One of them was able to imitate the voices of people’s loved ones,” Giyū replies. He pauses, and then adds, “He stopped after you killed the other demon, though. You must have broken his concentration.”

“Loved ones?” Sabito asks, looking at Giyū from under peach colored eyelashes. With Sabito leaning in to tie the bandages, they’re close enough that there are only a few scant centimeters between their faces, and Giyū’s suddenly glad for the darkness, preventing him from making out the full details of Sabito’s face.

Giyū nods in reply, averting his eyes.

“Whose voice did you hear?” Sabito presses. He finishes securing the bandages, but doesn’t pull away, hand resting against Giyū’s arm.

“We should go back to the inn,” Giyū says, trying to keep his tone steady.

With that, he brushes off Sabito’s hand and stands up.

---

Giyū’s trying to decide whether or not to change his bandages himself when there’s a knock on the door.

“Giyū, are you awake?”

It’s Sabito’s voice, of course, and Giyū replies with a simple, “Come in.”

The door slides open and Sabito comes inside. He’s already fully dressed and awake-looking, and Giyū’s suddenly aware of the fact that he’s still sitting on top of his unmade futon, sleepwear loose and falling down his shoulder, as he’d tried to examine the bandages. He hasn’t even tied his hair back yet.

“Here, let me change your dressing,” Sabito offers, crossing over to him and dropping down to kneel on the tatami next to him. “Did it bleed through at all last night?”

“No,” Giyū answers, removing his arm fully from his yukata sleeve, to give Sabito better access to his shoulder. Meanwhile, Sabito busies himself with digging the necessary medical supplies out of his bag, lining them up on the floor next to the futon.

Once they’re all in place, he reaches out towards Giyū’s shoulder.

Giyū stays obligingly still as Sabito removes the bandages. The top layer is devoid of bloodstains, but the torn remains of Giyū’s shirt get darker the deeper they go, and Giyū clenches his jaw a little as they get down to the final layer. It’s fully saturated with dried blood, crusted and stuck to the scab that’s formed over Giyū’s injury during the night, and every tug threatens to reopen the wound, despite how gentle Sabito’s being.

“Sorry,” Sabito says. He carefully pulls back the bandage with one hand, the other resting on the uninjured portion of Giyū’s upper arm, and Giyū tries to focus on the latter point of contact. “It’s almost done.”

Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for Sabito to remove the last of the bandages. The wound has started to bleed again in some places, but not much, and Sabito disinfects the area with practiced movements, before starting to apply fresh dressing. It’s a little soothing, actually, Sabito’s calloused hands against Giyū’s skin, and eventually the pain recedes enough that Giyū’s mind starts straying other places.

Like the fact that he’s alone in a bedroom with Sabito, sitting on a futon and only half-dressed.

“You’re not worried about being alone in a bedroom with me anymore?”

The words come out before Giyū can think about them too hard, and Sabito’s hands go abruptly still.

“You’re injured,” Sabito says, his cheeks turning a little pink. He resumes bandaging Giyū’s shoulder, but his touch is less gentle than before. “I wouldn’t do anything untoward to someone who can’t even move his shoulder.” He pauses, and then adds, “And we’re not married.”

The last statement makes Giyū pause.

Somehow, he’d expected a “yet” at the end.

Sabito finishes tying off the last of the bandages, and examines his work for a moment, before pushing himself back up to his feet. Giyū tests out his range of movement, but stops as the pain is renewed, certainly duller than last night, but by no means an easy fix.

“We haven’t gotten any new orders yet, so you should use this day to rest,” Sabito says, hefting his bag back up onto his shoulder. “We’ll head back to the Water Pillar Estate tomorrow morning, if you’re feeling up to it.”

Part of Giyū wants to point out that an injured shoulder won’t inhibit his ability to walk, but instead he just nods.

“Call me if you need anything,” Sabito adds.

With that, he heads back out the door.

Giyū spends most of the day sleeping. He’s a little surprised by how easy it is to just doze, despite the sunlight streaming into the room and the bustle of the inn beyond the door. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, though, after two consecutive missions and an injury, despite the fact that neither mission was terrible difficult and the injury isn’t that severe.

Part of him wishes that Sabito would have stayed with him, but Sabito probably has better things to do, like follow up with the families of the demon’s victims and make sure they hadn’t missed any other demons in the area.

It’s not until evening that Sabito comes back to check on him.

“How are you doing?” Sabito asks, coming to kneel next to Giyū’s futon again.

“I’m fine,” Giyū answers simply. He adjusts the collar of his yukata, and for a moment he thinks he feels Sabito’s eyes on him, but when he looks over at Sabito, Sabito’s gaze is trained on the floor.

“I asked around about the identities of the demons a bit,” Sabito says, changing the subject. “Apparently there were a couple of teenagers who ran away about six months ago, because their families didn’t approve of their relationship. I found a small house in the woods near the south side of town where they were probably living before they were turned.”

For a moment, the two of them are quiet, but then Giyū mutters, “They weren’t strong demons. They probably only ventured into town because there weren’t enough travelers in that part of the forest for them to feed on.”

He’s long since learned not to hesitate when cutting down demons, but these two had been – younger than most.

“They’d already eaten ten people,” Sabito points out. “They’re not like Nezuko.”

“Mm,” Giyū agrees.

There’s never been a demon he’s regretted killing, and that hasn’t changed today.

“You haven’t eaten anything since breakfast, have you?” Sabito asks, breaking Giyū from his thoughts. “Let’s go out and find some food. Unless you’re still tired, in which case I can see what the inn is serving tonight.”

“I can go out,” Giyū answers.

“Good,” Sabito says, giving Giyū a small smile. “I’ll wait in the hallway while you change.”

It’s not until Sabito disappears through the door, though, that Giyū realizes he’s not sure he has anything to change into. The uniform he was wearing last night isn’t in any state for him to be wearing, and although he has a spare, after a good week of alternating the two, it could definitely use a good cleaning. There’s his nightclothes, he supposes, but the yukata he wears to sleep is old and threadbare, and probably not something he should wear in public, if he can avoid it.

Giyū’s eyes land on the neatly wrapped parcel sitting next to his baggage, and it occurs to him that there is something else he can wear.

It takes a little longer than usual for him to dress, with his shoulder’s limited range of movement. The thought of asking Sabito for help is far too embarrassing, though, and he struggles through it, until he looks passable.

His hair is still a mess, but tying it back at least keeps it out of his face.

With that, he steps out into the hallway.

“Ready?” Sabito asks, but then he pauses, blinking for a moment as he catches sight of Giyū. Giyū reaches up to adjust the collar of his yukata and hopes that Sabito isn’t going to decide that he’s too much of a mess to go out in public today.

“Let’s go,” Giyū announces, when Sabito makes no move to fuss over his appearance. He starts down the hallway, and after a few seconds, he hears Sabito start to follow, a reversal of their usual positions.

“It looks good on you,” Sabito says, finally falling into step beside him.

Giyū tries to ignore the way his cheeks flush.

---

“Oh, so you’re in the military?”

They’re slightly after the dinner rush, and the soba restaurant is empty enough that two of the waitresses have decided to chat with them. Or, rather, with Sabito.

“How long will you be in town?” the older one asks, leaning against the counter and closer to Sabito. She’s pretty, Giyū supposes, with long inky-black hair and a sharp nose, but Sabito’s eyes don’t linger as he addresses her.

“Our work here’s done, so we’re heading out tomorrow,” Sabito answers easily. If he sees the way the woman’s face falls, his face doesn’t betray it.

“What did it end up being, then?” the younger waitress asks, her eyes wide with morbid curiosity. “The animal that was attacking people.”

“A couple of bears,” Sabito replies. The waitress’ eyes go somehow wider, and Giyū idly wonders how wide they’d go if Sabito had told her it was demons instead. “It looks like they wandered down from the mountains and got lost.”

“You killed them, though, right?” the younger waitress says, clutching her serving tray to her chest. “Do you think there are other bears around? What if more come down from the mountain? Will the police – ”

“Don’t worry about that,” Sabito laughs, his mouth curving into a smile. Giyū sucks up a mouthful of soba and tries not to notice the way the older waitress’ cheeks go pink. “It’s extremely rare for bears to attack humans like this, and I doubt you’d be unlucky enough to get three dangerous bears roaming around.” He pauses, and then adds, “But that doesn’t mean you should walk around alone at night.”

“I don’t have anyone to walk me home after my shift tonight,” the older waitress replies, biting her lower lip, “and it’s already dark outside.”

“There are still enough people out that you should be safe,” Sabito says. Giyū wonders if he’s trying to let her down gently, or if he really doesn’t realize what she’s angling for. It’s hard to tell with him, sometimes. “Just stick to well-lit streets and stay away from the forest.”

Giyū finishes the last of his noodles and reaches for the pot of soba water.

“Are you almost done?” Sabito asks, turning from the waitress to look at Giyū. “We should head out soon too.”

“Almost,” Giyū confirms, mixing the soba water with the dipping sauce and then bringing the bowl up to his mouth to drink. It’s been a while since Tanjirō challenged him to an eating contest, and it looks like he’s gotten slow, if Sabito can eat more quickly than him while also making conversation with the waitresses. Maybe he’ll have to see if Tanjirō’s up for one when they get back.

“You two stay safe,” Sabito says, once Giyū’s finished drinking, standing up from the counter. The waitresses both smile at him, the younger one more brightly than the older one, and briefly, Giyū wonders if Sabito would have stayed and walked her home if he hadn’t been there.

He only dwells on the thought for a moment, though, before pushing it to the back of his mind and following Sabito to the door.

“How’s your shoulder?” Sabito asks, as they step out into the evening air.

“It’s fine,” Giyū answers. It’s the truth, but Sabito studies him for a moment before accepting it.

“There’s one more place I want to go before heading back to the inn,” Sabito says. Giyū blinks at him, a little caught off guard.

“The sun has set,” Giyū points out, the corners of his mouth tugging down into a slight frown. He doesn’t have his sword with him either, because without his uniform to give him credibility, people get a lot more suspicious. At least Sabito’s still armed.

“It won’t take long, and I’ve already checked the area for any other signs of demons,” Sabito replies. He meets Giyū’s eyes and adds, “And if anything should happen, I promise to protect you.”

It’s not something that Giyū needs reassurance about, but he nods anyway.

“Alright,” he says, and a smile spreads across Sabito’s face, but there’s something about it that Giyū can’t quite place. Something off.

He doesn’t ask about it, though, just lets Sabito lead him down the street. They’re going in the opposite direction of the inn, back towards the south end of town, and Giyū wonders if there’s something else about the demons they’d slayed that Sabito wants to show him.

 When they reach the south edge of town, instead of heading back into the forest, Sabito follows a small path heading east. Giyū trails a step behind him, idly studying the set of Sabito’s shoulders, somehow tenser than usual, obvious even underneath the three layers of his uniform. For a moment, Giyū considers asking about it, but then the path leads them into trees, and his concerns about Sabito’s strange mood turn into concerns about the fact that he’s unarmed, in the forest after dark, and –

“We’re here,” Sabito announces, as the trees open up into a clearing.

Giyū stares.

The night sky spreads out before them, uninhibited by trees or buildings. It’s not a scene Giyū’s unfamiliar with, but he realizes that it’s been a long time since he last thought of the night as something beautiful, stars flickering and dancing at the point where the tall grass meets the skyline.

He blinks as he realizes that the stars aren’t just twinkling, but painting paths through the grass, darting around like living creatures.

“Chiyo said she and Ume used to watch fireflies here,” Sabito says, breaking the silence.

“Chiyo?” Giyū repeats, his forehead creasing.

“The girl we met on the first day,” Sabito clarifies. “The one who was being accused of murder.” He pauses. “I thought she should know what really happened, so I went to talk to her today and she ended up telling me about this place.”

“I see,” Giyū replies. Part of him wants to ask what else Sabito and the girl talked about, but in the end he doesn’t.

For a moment, everything is quiet, except for the buzz of the fireflies.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

It’s Sabito who breaks the silence, his voice soft but steady. Giyū frowns, his forehead creasing as he looks over at Sabito, but Sabito doesn’t look back at him, still gazing out over the sea of stars and fireflies.

“When I declared my intent to court you,” Sabito continues, slowly, carefully, “why didn’t you tell me there was already someone else you were in love with?”

Giyū blinks at him, caught off guard.

“There’s not,” Giyū replies, the creases in his forehead deepening.

“Then whose voice did the demon tempt you with, yesterday?” Sabito asks, finally turning to meet Giyū’s eyes. His face is twisted up in some expression that Giyū’s never seen before, something similar to anger, or frustration, or maybe even hurt. “You said that the demon was imitating the voices of the people its victims were in love with, so – ” Sabito cuts himself off abruptly. He’s quiet for a moment, and then, “I wouldn’t have tried to court you if I knew your heart already belonged to someone else.”

Giyū doesn’t know what to say to that.

At this point, he doesn’t know how to say anything without admitting too much. Maybe it would be enough to just be quiet, to let Sabito take that as confirmation of his misunderstanding and finally give up on his futile courtship, so he can move onto a more suitable partner.

But.

But even though Giyū’s wanted Sabito to stop, he hadn’t wanted it like this. Sabito was supposed to move on on his own, by falling in love with someone else or realizing that the two of them aren’t a good match. He was never supposed to sound so –

So heartbroken.

“Sabito – ” Giyū starts, but apparently Sabito’s not done yet.

“Before we were – ” Sabito hesitates. “ – intimate, I thought if I just waited it would be enough.”

The admission catches Giyū even more off guard, although he doesn’t entirely understand it. Sabito’s never been the type to wait for things.

“I realized my feelings for you, and thought that in time you’d develop your own,” Sabito continues, in the same steady tone as before. “I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much, too soon, but then after what happened, I got impatient. I know it sounds arrogant, but it never occurred to me that you’d fall for someone else.”

The night breeze ruffles Sabito’s hair, making it dance around his face, and Giyū feels like he can’t breathe. He’s never been the sort to dream, and even if he was, he doubts he’d be able to imagine up a situation like this, Sabito illuminated by the yellow glow of fireflies as he confesses his love, confesses that he’s always been in love.

“So if there’s really no chance that you could have a change of heart,” Sabito says quietly, “I need to know.”

Giyū hesitates, but then murmurs, “It was you.”

Sabito’s forehead creases in confusion.

“The voice that the demon imitated,” Giyū explains, the pace of his words quickening. “It was yours.”

“Then – ” Sabito starts, and Giyū can physically see the hope dawning on his face.

“It’s always been you,” Giyū interrupts, his momentum carrying him forward, and before he even realizes what he’s doing, he’s taken a step towards Sabito. “Even before everything happened, I was in love with you.”

Now it’s Sabito’s turn to look caught off guard.

“Then why didn’t you agree to marry me?” he asks, the corners of his mouth twisting into something close to a scowl.

“You only wanted to marry me because we were forced to engage in premarital activities,” Giyū answers, his cheeks heating, and now that he says it aloud, it sounds remarkably petulant. “And there are plenty of other people who would make a better husband than me.”

“Did you even read my letters?” Sabito huffs, taking a step forward and closing the last of the distance between the two of them. “I listed plenty of the reasons why I want to marry you.”

Giyū feels a flush creeping up his neck as he mutters, “I wasn’t certain you were being sincere.”

“When have I ever not been sincere?” Sabito retorts, his scowl in full force now, and Giyū –

Before he can stop himself, he leans in to press his mouth to that scowl. It’s brief, a brush of lips at best, and he’s barely made contact before he pulls away again, to say, “I know.”

“So you’ll marry me?” Sabito asks.

The best Giyū can manage is a small nod, but apparently that’s good enough for Sabito.

---

Giyū hovers by the door to Sabito’s room in the Water Pillar Estate. The package in his hands feels somehow heavier than before, and for a moment, he considers forgetting this whole endeavor.

In the end, though, he reaches a hand up to knock.

“Come in,” Sabito calls, and Giyū slides the door aside, making his way into the room. Sabito’s kneeling in front of a small table, pen in hand as he tries to write his latest mission report, but when Giyū sits down next to him, he abandons it in favor of pressing a kiss to Giyū’s lips.

It’s a brief one, chaste, and Giyū finds himself unconsciously chasing after Sabito’s mouth as he pulls away.

“Did you need something or did you just come to interrupt my work?” Sabito asks, a smile curling his mouth, and Giyū does his best to ignore the heat that pools low in his stomach.

“I can come back later if you’re busy,” he says, but before he can stand up again, Sabito reaches out to grab his arm, keeping him in place.

“No, it’s fine, this can wait,” Sabito replies, turning away from the table to face Giyū fully. His eyes finally land on the parcel in Giyū’s hands, and he asks, “Is this for me?”

“I saw it on my last mission,” Giyū answers, handing over the parcel, “and it reminded me of you.”

“Can I open it now?” Sabito asks as he accepts the package, looking over at Giyū from under his eyelashes, and Giyū replies with a curt nod. He holds his hands in tight fists against his thighs as Sabito pulls back the paper to reveal fabric, and then holds it up, unfurling the yukata so he can examine in properly.

The base color is blue, so dark it could almost be mistaken for black, subdued enough to be suitably manly. But the blue is broken up by spots of bright orangish yellow, pops of color that are uncommon in most men’s kimonos, and Giyū waits for Sabito’s judgement.

“Are these,” Sabito asks, examining the yukata, “fireflies?”

Giyū nods, and a grin spreads out over Sabito’s face, bright and almost blindingly beautiful, and before Giyū knows it, he’s being kissed again, less chastely than last time. He brings his hands up automatically, fisting them in the front of Sabito’s shirt, and tugging him in closer, Sabito’s body warm against his as –

Sabito breaks away and says, “Thank you.”

His voice is a little breathy, and it gives Giyū the uncommon desire to do something rash.

“We don’t have to wait until marriage,” Giyū mutters. He tries to look at Sabito enticingly from underneath his eyelashes, but he’s not sure he manages it as well as Sabito does.

“It’s only a month away,” Sabito huffs, pulling back. “You’re a man, you can endure it.”

Well. Giyū supposes if he’s waited this long, he can manage it.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t try to change Sabito’s mind a little.