The first stretch of their walk passed in awkward, subdued silence and stolen glances. Every once in a while, Giyuu could feel Sabito’s eyes on him, but Sabito was always facing forward whenever Giyuu looked. Giyuu opted not to say anything, knowing that he was guilty of it, too.
Giyuu had known for a very long time that he was gay. Truthfully, once he got past the initial shock of it, he didn’t really struggle with it much; nobody gave him a hard time and he never felt the need to act on it, so it was just a part of his life that went untouched, much like many other things he probably should’ve paid more attention.
And now, the problem was that Sabito was—in short, Sabito was everything Giyuu had ever wanted. He was warm, and he was familiar, and Giyuu knew him to be kind no matter how prickly this Sabito might appear, no matter how many people hated him. Except—Giyuu didn’t want to want Sabito. Sabito was dead, and Giyuu had barely survived it the first time. He didn’t think he could handle seeing Sabito, getting close to Sabito, loving Sabito, only to lose it all over again.
Sabito glanced at him again, but this time his gaze lingered and something flickered in his eyes Giyuu couldn’t quite read. Suddenly, Sabito’s arm shot out and grabbed Giyuu’s elbow, dragging him off the beaten path to a small clearing nearby. Giyuu stared dumbly as he was pulled along, finally reclaiming his arm when Sabito stopped.
“What was that for?” Giyuu asked, frowning.
Sabito turned away, huffing, and crossed his arms over his chest. “We can’t keep doing this, not if you’re gonna be my fucking shadow.”
Giyuu’s frown deepened.
Sabito ran a hand down his face, suddenly looking much older and more exhausted than he had a moment ago. Giyuu’s heart squeezed at the sight of it. “We gotta start getting along,” Sabito muttered. “Or at least—fucking, I don’t know—getting to know each other?”
Giyuu pressed his lips into a thin line. “Theoretically,” he started, “you’re the only person I know better than I know myself.”
Sabito scoffed so violently, Giyuu felt it in the back of his throat. “It’s been six years,” he snapped. “We don’t know each other anymore, no matter how well we used to. And besides,” he added, staring at Giyuu with a strange look in his eyes, “I have no idea what you’ve been through, and you don’t know what I’ve been through. This job changes people.”
Giyuu frowned, feeling his jaw tense. “You don’t have to tell me what this job does to a person,” he said coldly. “I am well aware.”
Sabito stared at him, appraising, before he let out a harsh breath and turned away again, his hand creeping up to run through his hair. “Yeah, well.” He didn’t finish, just pursed his lips and glared at the grass beneath his feet. Giyuu gazed at him for several moments, before he finally sighed.
“What do you want to know?”
Sabito jerked and glanced over his shoulder at Giyuu, wide-eyed and his lips parted in shock. Giyuu quirked an eyebrow.
“Well?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Or did you really think I’d refuse?”
Sabito lifted his head just slightly—his typical sign of defiance. Giyuu resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “The Giyuu I knew would’ve.”
“The Giyuu you knew was thirteen,” Giyuu snapped. “Just like the Sabito I knew wasn’t quite as much of an ass as you are.”
Sabito’s eyes flashed. “That needs to stop,” he spat. “You can’t keep giving me all of these back-handed insults, not when we’re stuck together.”
“Stop deserving them,” Giyuu replied curtly. Sabito growled in frustration, tugging on the ends of his hair and turning away.
“I can’t even look at you!” he exclaimed. “I can’t look at someone wear his face when they act so—so—”
“So what?” Giyuu asked, glaring at the back of Sabito’s head.
“So rude!” Sabito exploded, turning around again. “The Giyuu I knew was kind! The Giyuu I knew held his tongue until I forced him to talk and even then he barely uttered three words! The Giyuu I knew couldn’t handle insulting people, the Giyuu I knew would’ve cried before he so much as glared at someone! I can’t—you’re wearing his face but you’re not him! Don’t you get how hard this is?”
Giyuu stared at him for several long moments. There were a lot of things he could say. Hell, he could explode right back in Sabito’s face, scream and cry about everything awful that he’d seen and been through and how hard this was for him. Sabito had no idea, Sabito didn’t even go look for Giyuu’s corpse but Giyuu saw him, found him, broken and bloodied and ripped to shreds on the forest floor, he mourned and he cried on that stupid mountain—
The words were right there, sitting on the tip of his tongue, but Giyuu instead chose to swallow them. Turning away, all he said was, “The Giyuu you knew is dead. And you’re wearing his haori to prove it.”
He heard Sabito shift behind him, but he refused to turn back around and face him.
“I do not want to get to know you,” Giyuu said, when it became clear that Sabito was out of things to say. “Take me to the swordsmith village. We can part ways once there.”
Sabito made a vague noise of protest. “But—Oyakata-sama—”
“Knows that I have lived here before,” Giyuu interrupted, “and knows that I do not need a guide, nor a babysitter.” At last, Giyuu turned around, and was shocked to see how completely out of his depth Sabito seemed. He wondered when it was that this Sabito lost his ability to react kindly to other people’s emotions, instead of gaping like a fish out of water. He shrugged the thought off, deciding he didn’t care. “You said you couldn’t stand to look at my face. Now you will not have to.”
With that, Giyuu spun on his heel and headed for the road. Sabito took several seconds to catch up, but once he had, Giyuu saw that he’d strapped his warding mask over his face again, effectively blocking out Giyuu in both mind and spirit. Giyuu felt his lips turn down in a small scowl, turning forward to block out Sabito’s presence. He contemplated putting on his own mask, but ultimately decided against it. Sabito could suffer through looking at Giyuu’s face for a few more days. Giyuu had been seeing Sabito’s in his nightmares for years.
“Giyuu,” Sabito had said, barely a day’s walk away from Mt. Fujikasane, his childish face illuminated by the light of the dying fire. Giyuu blinked up at his friend, rubbing his sleepy eyes with a haori-covered fist. Sabito looked up suddenly, his face set in a grim line. “Promise me we’re both going to make it out of this.”
Giyuu stared at Sabito. He opened his mouth to respond, to ask where this was coming from, but there were no words on his tongue.
Sabito surged forward, taking Giyuu’s hands in his. “Promise me,” he demanded. “Promise me! I don’t wanna be a Demon Slayer without you! It’s supposed to be you and me, all the way to the end of this.”
Giyuu gazed down at their hands, then up at Sabito’s pleading expression, and, despite himself, he smiled. Sabito took in a sharp breath, his grip slackening. Giyuu tightened his own grip on Sabito’s hands to make up for it.
Sabito’s eyes filled with tears the longer Giyuu smiled at him, and his entire countenance seemed to shift. Still desperate, but tinged with melancholy and longing, rather than frustration. “Please,” he begged, “tell me that some miracle will see us past the wisteria.”
Giyuu tilted his head to the side, his bangs falling in his eyes. “We don’t need a miracle,” he told Sabito. “We have each other.”
Sabito stared, wide-eyed as Giyuu squeezed his hands and released him, moving back to his original position before Sabito had grabbed him. At once, Sabito wrapped his arms around Giyuu’s middle and pulled him in for a tight embrace, burying his face in Giyuu’s shoulder.
“I don’t wanna lose you,” Sabito murmured. Giyuu felt something wet seeping into his haori, and realized with a start that Sabito was crying. Sabito had never cried, not once in all the time Giyuu had known him. “I don’t—I don’t have anyone else,” Sabito said, hiccupping a sob. “I can’t lose you, please, please, don’t leave me.”
Giyuu raised a hand to pat Sabito’s back, and was only mildly surprised to see that it was shaking. “You aren’t going to lose me,” he said. “We just have to make it until morning, remember? Then we’ll be safe.”
Giyuu woke with a start. Sabito was still sleeping nearby. The campfire had dwindled to embers.
He’d forgotten that night. He wasn’t sure he’d wanted to remember.