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come morning light (you and i'll be safe and sound)

Chapter Text

In the end, Giyuu really was the only one left. 

 

Rengoku was long gone; Uzui had left the ranks before the final battle ever started, and Giyuu had never seen hide nor hair of him afterward, though he didn’t doubt that that was more because he just didn’t like Giyuu, and not because he was distancing himself from the Corps. But then, the final battle came and went and even though all of the pillars went into it, only Giyuu and Shinazugawa walked out of it. Shinazugawa had fucked off to who-knows-where as soon as he could, grief-stricken and a changed man, for better or worse (for worse, there was no better about this). 

 

Which meant that Giyuu was the only one left.

 

He thought about it while he trekked through the forest toward his next mission, his old crow circling over head in a way that made Giyuu’s stomach turn with unease. A demon lurking near a mountain pass, preying on everyone who came through. It seemed eerily similar to the mission that started all of this, back when he was still nineteen years old and nobody in the Demon Slayer Corps had seen hide nor hair of Kibutsuji Muzan since the very beginning. It was strange to think that those were the days, when he had spent his time bathed so deep in loneliness. Anything was better than this , he supposed. 

 

The pillars had never been his friends, not by a long shot. Friends were supposed to like each other, and Giyuu had no doubt in his mind that Tanjirou was the only person to like him since—

 

The air on the mountain shifted, and Giyuu took in a sharp breath, already reaching for his sword. The demon had noticed his presence. Giyuu readied his stance, grip tightening just slightly on the hilt of his nichirin blade. 

 

“You reek,” a foreign voice drawled, its tone dripping with disgust. “Such a putrid stench, I could smell you from halfway down the mountain.” 

 

Giyuu frowned. He knew it’d been a while since he’d had a chance to bathe thanks to the trip, but this seemed to be laying it on a little thick. 

 

“Sadness, loneliness, regret, guilt,” the voice listed, “all so many negative emotions, how do you live? How have you not offed yourself with that pretty little blade yet?” 

 

Giyuu dug his heel into the dirt beneath his feet and felt a scowl tugging at his lips. This voice was strange—it seemed to echo from every direction, giving him no clue as to where the demon actually was. He wished it would just show itself already, so he could get this over with and go home. There weren’t very many strong demons left, now that Muzan and all of the Upper Moons were dead, so all of his missions seemed very—he supposed the only word for it was bland. After months fighting powerful demon after powerful demons, these mediocre-level fights were far too trivial, in Giyuu’s opinion. He briefly wondered why none of the lower-ranked Slayers were assigned these missions, and then he remembered that most of them had either resigned or died. 

 

“No matter,” the demon said in a dismissive voice. Giyuu imagined it waving a hand, as if brushing the matter away. “It’s rude to play with your food, anyway.” 

 

And then at once, Giyuu detected a presence standing behind him so close he could feel its breath on the back of his neck, ruffling his ponytail. Giyuu stiffened, already turning to dig his sword into the demon’s stomach, but the demon was much faster than him and grabbed him by the chin, curled one clawed-fingertip across his skin. Giyuu felt a shiver run down his spine, disgust curdling in his gut, but the demon’s grip was too tight for him to maneuver out of.

 

“A shame that someone so pretty,” the demon said, “has such an awful stench. I might’ve liked to eat you for your looks alone, if you didn’t taste so bad.” 

 

Giyuu didn’t even have time to wonder what the fuck this demon was raving about, for in that moment, the demon’s finger suddenly sliced the skin underneath his chin and a burning sensation flooded his senses. The demon released him as the sensation increased, and he was dimly aware of it shrieking as he surged upward with his sword and sliced off its head, but then his vision swam and turned spotty and his knees gave out beneath him. 

 

The scent of ash was stuck in his nose. 

 

-

 

The next time Giyuu opened his eyes, he was much, much colder than he had been a moment ago. He blinked and sat up, reaching up to hold his head as his vision spun. He glanced around, then felt his stomach drop. He recognized this snowy mountain, recognized the look of the sky on this particular day, and suddenly his eyes were burning with unshed tears. Surely, surely, the universe wouldn’t be so cruel as to make him live all of that over again. Right?

 

Except this was the same universe that took everything from Giyuu, so he wasn’t all that convinced. 

 

A particularly strong breeze blew through, ruffling his hair and making him shiver. It only occurred to Giyuu at that moment—his hair was loose. He hadn’t let his hair loose in—he didn’t know how long. It had definitely been before— before

 

Giyuu frowned and glanced down at the ground, scanning for the string he’d used to tie it back, but it was either buried beneath the snow or long gone. Maybe the demon had snagged it, as a final piece of revenge. It’d been behind him, after all. 

 

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Giyuu pushed himself to his feet and glanced around. There were no footsteps on the mountain, and he couldn’t hear anything over the wind, so he supposed that maybe Tanjirou hadn’t come this way yet, which gave him time to prepare. He would have to fight the kid again, definitely, seeing as he was the one who convinced Tanjirou to be a Demon Slayer to begin with. Hell, the kid didn’t even fully grasp the fact that Nezuko was a demon when he met Giyuu all that time ago. Without Giyuu, Tanjirou could’ve died. Or Nezuko could’ve, and then Tanjirou would’ve wanted to. 

 

Giyuu scanned the ground for his sword when he found that it wasn’t sheathed at his side. A beat passed before he realized that his sword, much like his hair tie, wasn’t there. Giyuu fell to his knees and began to dig around in the snow, but it was to no avail. It seemed that whatever force had brought him here had taken his sword from him. 

 

Giyuu sat back on his heels and ran a hand through his hair. This was fine. The situation was still—salvageable. He would just have to find someone to forge him a new one. He shifted, and realized that his clothing felt—off. Frowning, hesitant, Giyuu glanced down. His haori was fine, except—Sabito’s half wasn’t there. It was all the red red red of Tsutako’s, with Sabito’s garish pattern nowhere to be seen. Giyuu choked on the lump forming in his throat. He barely even registered the fact that he wasn’t wearing a Slayer uniform, too busy wondering how the hell this had happened to his haori. 

 

And then, to his horror, he heard footsteps approaching. Panting, a panicked voice muttering the same few words over and over again— you won’t die, you can’t die, please don’t die— and a faint growling. And then stumbling, screaming, and Giyuu shot to his feet before it had fully registered that he was hearing Tanjirou, again. Thirteen-year-old Tanjirou, back when he had a ponytail and his wounds were fresh. Giyuu saw Tanjirou laying in the snow exactly where he’d seen him the last time, face up on the ground, before it dawned on the boy that he had dropped Nezuko and he bolted upright to find his sister. Nezuko registered Tanjirou’s very human presence and tensed up, preparing to lunge, and Giyuu’s feet carried him forward again before he could think. He intercepted Nezuko before she could even reach Tanjirou and his little hatchet, holding her back by the shoulders as she pinned him with her legs, growing larger before his very eyes. 

 

“Nezuko!” Tanjirou cried. “Nezuko, stop! Nezuko, fight it!” 

 

“Nezuko,” Giyuu hissed. “Listen to him.” 

 

Something glinted in the corner of Giyuu’s vision. Giyuu heard the sword before he could see it, and he spun out of the way just like Tanjirou had before the blade could reach Nezuko. His head suddenly felt much lighter, and he glanced down to see that the Slayer who had come had cut off at least six inches of his hair. Giyuu took barely a second to mourn the loss, rather fond of his hair, before he remembered himself and what he was doing. 

 

“Stop defending her,” a voice demanded, a voice that was—strangely familiar, though Giyuu couldn’t quite place why. He’d heard that voice before, somewhere. “She’s a demon.”

 

“She’s my little sister!” Tanjirou retorted, and Giyuu could hear the tears in his eyes. Giyuu lay on top of Nezuko now, his arms wrapped tightly around her to keep her own arms pinned at her sides. She was thrashing something fierce, desperately trying to claw at Giyuu’s sides. 

 

“Then why are you here?” the voice demanded. “What could you possibly gain from defending his sister?” 

 

Giyuu grunted as Nezuko kicked him in the knee, feeling something twinge uncomfortably. That was probably more than a bruise. “Nothing,” he finally said. 

 

“Nezuko,” Tanjirou sobbed, “Nezuko, come back to me. Nezuko, Nezuko, Nezuko.” 

 

“She’s a demon,” the Slayer said, his voice hardened at the edges. “She can’t hear you.” 

 

But Giyuu could feel it—her movements had lessened. She wasn’t docile, not by a long shot, but she was writhing instead of thrashing, her fists clenched instead of poised to attack. Giyuu wracked his brain, trying to remember how he’d gotten the upper hand over Tanjirou’s defense last time, when suddenly something impacted with his side and he lost his grip on Nezuko. Nezuko scrambled to her feet, panting, and dropped into a defensive crouch. Defensive , Giyuu noted. Demons always went for the offense first. 

 

Giyuu let out a hiss of pain when something in his ribs protested his movement as he attempted to regain his footing in the snow. God, he was so cold, he thought his hands might fall off. Nobody told him to prepare for winter on a snowy mountain. He also wondered who this Slayer might be, that he kicked an apparent civilian hard enough to crack a rib. 

 

Tanjirou threw himself onto the ground in front of the Slayer, who Giyuu still hadn’t managed to catch a glimpse of, and cried, “Please don’t hurt her! Please, don’t kill my only family. Please, please, I’ll do anything.” 

 

The Slayer scoffed. “What kind of man throws himself to the ground and begs like that? Get up.” 

 

When Tanjirou didn’t move, the Slayer took a threatening step forward. “I said, get up!” 

 

Tanjirou scrambled to his feet. 

 

“She’s a demon, now,” the Slayer said. “She’s not your sister.”

 

“She’s in there, I know she is!” Tanjirou insisted. But the Slayer wasn’t listening, already stalking toward Nezuko’s hunched form. Tanjirou fretted, before his eyes fell upon the hatchet still laying in the snow, abandoned where he’d dropped it. He scooped it up into his hands, and made to charge after the Slayer, but Giyuu cleared his throat. 

 

“You can’t attack him head-on,” he hissed. “You’ll lose too fast.” 

 

Tanjirou stared at him, like he didn’t know what to do with that information, before an idea popped into his head and he nodded seriously, running off into the surrounding wood. Giyuu blinked, before he remembered Tanjirou’s plan. 

 

The Slayer was just as surprised as Giyuu had been, but this time, he managed to get out of the way before the hatchet got any of his hair. Giyuu had lost the tips of his ponytail, back when he was in the Slayer’s place. The Slayer turned to Tanjirou, ready to knock him out, but before Giyuu could move and before the Slayer could do anything, Nezuko darted in front of Tanjirou and bared her fangs. 

 

The Slayer froze. “She’s...protecting him,” he murmured, dumbfounded. Giyuu finally looked up and looked at the Slayer fully, and promptly choked on his own breath because that was—

 

“Sabito,” Giyuu murmured. The Slayer jerked out of his reverie, spinning to look at where Giyuu sat crouched on the ground, and his eyes blew wide before suddenly he was holding the tip of his sword to Giyuu’s throat. 

 

“Who are you?” he demanded. “Why have you taken this form?” 

 

Giyuu swallowed, afraid to move a hair’s breadth. He knew Sabito’s technique, and he knew that it was precise enough to slice a boulder clean down the middle. One wrong move would effectively end Giyuu’s life. 

 

“Hey!” Tanjirou exclaimed, still standing behind Nezuko. “Leave him alone! He’s not a demon!” 

 

“You don’t know that,” Sabito dismissed immediately. 

 

“He protected me,” Tanjirou countered. “From—Nezuko. Before you got here. Wouldn’t he have just eaten me, if he really was a demon?” 

 

Sabito stiffened, and Giyuu knew that Sabito couldn’t argue the point any further. Sabito stared at him with hateful, distrusting eyes for several long seconds before he finally scoffed and sheathed his sword, turning to face the Kamado siblings. 

 

“Keep her out of the sunlight,” he said curtly. “Go to Mt. Sagiri and find a man named Urokodaki, if you really want to avenge your family.” 

 

And then he was gone. Giyuu stared at the place where Sabito had been, feeling his knees give out beneath him and finally, finally, his tears spilled over—the first time he’d cried since Sabito died eight years ago. Although, he supposed if he was nineteen again, it’d only been six. 

 

Tanjirou shrieked at the sight of Giyuu’s tears, dragging Nezuko over to where Giyuu kneeled in the snow. “What’s wrong?” he exclaimed. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you? Did Nezuko hurt you?” 

 

Giyuu could only cry. He’d recognized that look in Sabito’s eyes, before he’d turned away. Sabito was alive. Sabito was alive, and he hated Giyuu. 

 

Giyuu must’ve died, he supposed. Died, and been damned to Hell. 

Chapter Text

Tanjirou had been kind enough to lend Giyuu his scarf upon noticing how very thin Giyuu’s clothes were, briefly chastising him for failing to take the weather into account. It seemed his older brother instincts were too strong for him to notice that Giyuu was six years older than him. Giyuu didn’t argue, though, privately thinking that whoever left him in these clothes after putting him here was also fairly stupid. He’d decided to follow Tanjirou and Nezuko to Mt. Sagiri, given that he had nowhere else to go. After all, he had no sword and no Slayer uniform. For all intents and purposes, Giyuu wasn’t a Slayer anymore, couldn’t even pretend to be if he tried. 

 

He learned quickly that Tanjirou was talkative. As the two of them trekked toward Mt. Sagiri and Urokodaki’s home, he talked about anything and everything, until Giyuu had finally begun to tune him out. He didn’t mean to, honestly, he wanted to hear whatever Tanjirou had to say, but it was going on the fifth hour and Giyuu needed quiet, every once in a while. He’d always been like that, even before Tsutako was killed and he started training. He fiddled with the ends of his hair, which must’ve barely reached his shoulderblades now that Sabito had lopped it all off, and mourned the locks he’d come to love so much. His hair was the only thing he’d ever really liked about his appearance, as the rest of it seemed awfully plain, or too much like his late family for him to look at for too long.

 

“He really did a number on your hair, huh?” Tanjirou asked, breaking Giyuu out of his thoughts. How long had he known Giyuu wasn’t listening? 

 

“Yes,” Giyuu finally muttered, when it became clear Tanjirou wasn’t going to continue without an answer. 

 

“I can help you do something with it, if it’s bothering you that much,” Tanjirou suggested. “I used to help Nezuko do everyone’s hair.” 

 

Giyuu eyed the boy’s ponytail, which hadn’t been cut off by Sabito like it had by Giyuu. 

 

Tanjirou seemed to realized what he was staring at. “I don’t do mine, if that’s what you’re thinking. I only know how to do this, and even that’s pretty messy.” He laughed, that bubbly laugh of his, and Giyuu felt an overwhelming wave of fondness wash over him. Was this what Tanjirou would’ve been like, if someone had extended a helping hand before he reached Urokodaki? If Giyuu had actually let him be—himself, instead of giving curt orders and walking away? 

 

Giyuu didn’t really know why he’d been sent here, why he was being forced to do it all over again with the added pain of Sabito’s contempt, but, as he looked at Tanjirou’s bright smile, he vowed to do it right this time. Starting with the boy in front of him. 

 

“I could help you,” he finally told Tanjirou. “I used to do—my sister’s.” 

 

Tanjirou brightened. “You can help me with Nezuko’s, too!” 

 

As if hearing her brother talking about him, Nezuko poked the sheet wrapped over the basket, trying to find a way out of her transport. She ultimately couldn’t move the sheet, though, and ended up staying put with a frustrated huff. 

 

Not for the first time, Giyuu wondered how much of her humanity Nezuko had retained as a demon. He hoped she didn’t remember everything she was missing out on. She was only twelve, after all.

 

Wasn’t that weird to think about?

 

Giyuu glanced down at his haori and felt his gut twisting. It was still strange to see, even if he had seen for himself Sabito wearing the garish haori Giyuu had salvaged from the Final Selection. He missed the slight difference in the two different fabrics; Tsutako’s was thinner than Sabito’s, and so one of his arms was always cooler than the other. Though, he supposed his new outfit made up for the fact by being much lighter and more breathable than the Demon Slayer uniform he used to wear all the time. 

 

Nezuko was getting more restless the further they traveled into the night, until finally she ripped the sheet altogether. They had arrived at the base of Mt. Sagiri by this point, and Giyuu knew that they were getting close to Urokodaki’s house. His chest tightened at the thought of seeing his mentor after all these years. Truthfully, he’d never had the courage to return to the mountain, after Sabito died. He’d waited with Urokodaki until his sword arrived, and then he had never returned. He would’ve written, but Giyuu had never been very good with words, and he didn’t have anything to tell Urokodaki anyway, other than that he would never stop being sorry. Though, he supposed that if Sabito had lived in this universe, he had no reason to apologize. 

 

Tanjirou froze midway through lecturing Nezuko for ripping the sheet, suddenly going paler than a ghost and turning slowly toward the house they were coming upon. Giyuu blinked down at him, wondering what was wrong. 

 

“Blood,” Tanjirou murmured. Giyuu stiffened, glancing at Nezuko out of the corner of his eyes. Judging by the tension running throughout her entire body, she had detected it too. Drool leaked from the corners of her mouth. Giyuu glanced around frantically, before he saw a bamboo tree nearby and he snagged Tanjirou’s hatchet. Tanjirou cried out, but Giyuu was too busy chopping a piece of bamboo to listen. He yanked the tie from Tanjirou’s hair on his way back, praying that it would be long enough to do what he needed it to. 

 

“Hey!” Tanjirou exclaimed. “What are you doing?” 

 

“Keeping the both of you alive,” Giyuu grunted, lifting Nezuko’s long hair to wrap the string of the makeshift muzzle he’d made around and tie it tightly behind her head. He let her hair fall once he was satisfied that the muzzle wouldn’t come off easily, ignoring Tanjirou’s protests as he headed for the house up the road, hatchet in hand. 

 

Something yanked on the sleeve of his haori, freezing him in his tracks. Giyuu turned to see Tanjirou holding onto his sleeve with one hand, holding Nezuko’s hand with the other. Nezuko was squeezing his hand tight enough to crack the bones, but Tanjirou showed no signs of pain. 

 

“What are you doing?” Tanjirou demanded. “You can’t storm off ahead of us like that!” 

 

Giyuu raised an eyebrow. Tanjirou really didn’t seem to be aware that Giyuu was so very much older than him. “If the house smells like blood,” he said, “there’s probably a demon there.” 

 

Tanjirou jerked back like he’d been burned. A moment later, he cried, “We have to help them!” 

 

Giyuu didn’t bother to tell him that it was probably already too late, instead choosing to follow as Tanjirou took off down the road toward the house. He could hear Nezuko running after them, and idly wondered if it was really the best idea to bring her into the house with them. 

 

Sure enough, there was a demon waiting for them in the house, and Giyuu instinctively reached for his sword at his hip before he remembered that it wasn’t there. Instead, he raised Tanjirou’s hatchet, and waited for the demon to register their presence where it stood crouched over the dead body of a young woman. Giyuu very carefully didn’t look at the woman’s face, though Tanjirou clearly hadn’t been so lucky. The poor kid looked like he was going to be sick. 

 

Giyuu swung the hatchet as soon as the demon lunged, but he was clumsy with the weapon and he undershot the blade’s trajectory, missing the demon’s neck altogether. The demon cackled, tackling Giyuu around the waist and knocking him back onto the grass outside. Giyuu coughed, attempting to recover his breath as his injured ribs protested the beating the demon was sure to give him. 

 

“Giyuu!” Tanjirou cried, scooping up the abandoned hatchet. At once, Nezuko jerked and ran over to Giyuu, kicking the demon’s head clean off of its shoulders. Tanjirou choked, his face paling, but Giyuu just sighed and took the chance to wriggle free from the demon’s clutches. 

 

“We can’t kill it,” he told Tanjirou, before the kid could even fully react to Nezuko’s display of power. “Not without the sword Sabito had. But if we wait until sunlight—” Abruptly, the demon’s still-decapitated body surged forward and raked a clawed hand down Giyuu’s chest, just barely missing the edges of the haori as he shredded Giyuu’s clothing and sliced his chest open. Giyuu grunted, stumbling back as Tanjirou cried out again and swung the hatchet down to slice off the demon’s arms. Its regeneration time was much slower than Giyuu had prepared for; it must’ve been fairly weak, much weaker than the demons Giyuu was used to dealing with as a pillar. Even before the Upper Moons started showing themselves in preparation for the battle with Muzan, the demons he defeated were far, far stronger than the likes of this. 

 

Giyuu forced himself up onto his elbows, watching as Tanjirou and Nezuko worked in tandem to fend off the demon. He frowned; there was another presence nearby, he could feel it. He scanned the area, before he noticed a familiar, red mask standing near the road. 

 

Urokodaki. 

 

Tanjirou let out a particularly loud battle cry and threw the hatchet like he had thrown it at Sabito the other day, pinning the demon to a nearby tree by its hair. The demon cried out, desperately trying to untangle itself, but Tanjirou’s hatchet held strong. Giyuu picked up the faint scent of ash and turned toward the horizon, where he could see the sun beginning to rise. 

 

“Its head!” Urokodaki barked, as the demon started to wriggle free from the hatchet’s hold. “That’s its only weakness!”

 

Tanjirou looked around frantically, before he picked up a large rock and hefted it above his head, preparing to swing until—he faltered. Froze. Hesitated. Sabito would’ve slapped him, if he could see this. Tanjirou dropped the rock as soon as the demon began to disintegrate, at the same time Giyuu scanned the yard for any sign of Nezuko. He spotted her, hidden in the shadows of the house. Slowly, Giyuu struggled to his feet and picked up her forgotten basket, bringing it over to her. 

 

“Tanjirou,” he called. “Give me your haori.” 

 

Tanjirou did as told, apparently forgetting Urokodaki and the demon before him. He handed Giyuu the haori and watched as Giyuu tied it around the basket much like the sheet had been, securing Nezuko in the dark enclosure before he stepped back and let Tanjirou slip the basket onto his back. Only then did Tanjirou remember Urokodaki, but Urokodaki was too busy staring at Giyuu to pay Tanjirou any mind. 

 

Come to think of it, Sabito had reacted strangely to Giyuu’s face, too. Giyuu was beginning to wonder what had happened to him in this universe he’d been transported back to, if Sabito was alive and everyone was surprised to see him. 

 

“Who are you?” Urokodaki asked in a low voice. 

 

“Tomioka Giyuu,” Giyuu replied evenly. 

 

Urokodaki was quiet for several moments, before he finally inhaled deeply and turned away from Giyuu entirely, giving Tanjirou the spiel about being a Demon Slayer and how hesitating was forbidden from here on out. Giyuu couldn’t help but wonder if Urokodaki hated Giyuu, too. Did everyone hate him now, and not just the Pillars he was supposed to be friends with in his old universe?

 

At least Tanjirou didn’t hate him. At the very least, he still had that going for him. 

Chapter Text

Giyuu had been crying when Urokodaki first brought him to Mt. Sagiri. He was inconsolable for days, couldn’t even stop crying for long enough to tell anyone his name as he clutched Tsutako’s haori in his fists. The images wouldn’t stop replaying themselves in his head, images of blood gore demons Tsutako until he was choking on that metallic taste. 

 

Sabito used to berate him, in an effort to make him stop. He called Giyuu every name in the book, even when Urokodaki hit him upside the head. He poked Giyuu and prodded Giyuu, but nothing ever made Giyuu cease his whimpering. He just cried and cried, couldn’t sleep for the horrors on constant loop in his head.

 

And then one night, Sabito crept into Giyuu’s room and sat down across from him. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even look annoyed as he usually did. He just sat there. Watching, waiting. Giyuu had hiccupped a sob, staring back at him and waiting for Sabito to explain himself. 

 

Finally, Sabito lifted his arms. Giyuu stared at him for several seconds before Sabito shook his arms and Giyuu realized that the peach-haired boy was offering a hug. Giyuu surged forward and wrapped his arms tightly around Sabito’s middle, crying into the other boy’s chest as Sabito just held him there, held him still and sure. 

 

“You gotta stop crying all the time,” Sabito whispered. “It’s not good for you.”

 

Giyuu fell asleep eventually, for the first time since Tsutako died, and when he woke up, it was like a switch had been flipped. There were no more tears, not for anything. 

 

Not even when Sabito died. 

 

-

 

Urokodaki began treating Giyuu’s injuries once Tanjirou had been sent on the wild goose chase down the mountain. Even with the mask on, Giyuu could tell Urokodaki was frowning as he felt Giyuu’s knee for breaks. 

 

Giyuu sucked in a sharp breath when Urokodaki’s prodding fingers found the place Nezuko had kicked him. Urokodaki retracted his hand and turned to wet a cold rag to use as a compress.

 

“Tell me who you really are,” he said, not facing Giyuu. “While the boy is out. He doesn’t need to hear about your lies.” 

 

Giyuu watched him place the compress on his knee. He wasn’t so sure he wanted the man treating his chest wounds, if Urokodaki didn’t trust him. “Tomioka Giyuu.”

 

Urokodaki said nothing at first, the stare of his mask slightly unnerving. Finally, he reached out to find Giyuu’s injured ribs, sighing. “I don’t know what game you’re playing at, but I will find out who you are, one way or another.”

 

Giyuu stared at him. “I wouldn't expect any less.”

 

Tanjirou burst through the door at that moment, looking significantly worse for wear. He collapsed to the floor, breathing heavily, but he revived himself a moment later to fret over Giyuu. “Ah, Giyuu, you didn’t have to help us! Why didn’t you tell me you were so injured?”

 

Giyuu blinked. “I’m fine.”

 

“Two cracked ribs and a fractured knee are not fine,” Urokodaki retorted. “Don’t get me started on the lesions.” 

 

Giyuu almost thought Tanjirou was going to cry. 

 

-

 

Giyuu blinked down at the thin ropes of twine held in Tanjirou’s hands, then up at Tanjirou’s and Nezuko’s twin expectant faces. 

 

“You said you’d help us,” Tanjirou said, by way of explanation. Giyuu hesitated before he reached out for one of the pieces of twine, twirling it in his hand. He gestured for Tanjirou to turn around, stifling a laugh when Tanjirou barked out an, “Okay!” 

 

He reached up, and began carding his fingers through Tanjirou’s hair to smooth out the unruly strands before he finally gathered it all into a high ponytail like Tanjirou had it when they’d met, tying the twine around it quickly. 

 

“There,” he breathed. “Just like yesterday.” 

 

Tanjirou grinned and turned around again. “Thanks!” he chirped. “It felt weird having it down. It’s so heavy!” 

 

Giyuu hummed. Truthfully, he liked the weight of his hair. He really did miss it, however superficial it might seem. Giyuu liked constants. He had counted on his hair to be the one thing that stayed the same in this new universe, and then Sabito had gone and chopped it off. Giyuu had half a mind to do the same to Sabito, but the peach-haired boy probably wouldn’t even care all that much; Giyuu knew he grew his hair out because it was easier than cutting it, not because he actually cared either way. 

 

Nezuko shoved her way into Giyuu’s lap, humming happily behind her muzzle as she waited for him to figure out what to do with her hair. She had so much of it that a ponytail seemed impractical, but a bun seemed like it might make her head off-balance, what with how thick her hair was. Giyuu bit his lip before he finally allowed his fingers to recall the muscle memory of braiding hair, weaving Nezuko’s hair into a thick plait down her back. He tied it off with a piece of twine, feeling her tap his knee appreciatively before she rejoined Tanjirou sitting across from him. Giyuu hadn’t braided hair since Tsutako. His fingers itched. 

 

“Wow, Nezuko,” Tanjirou exclaimed. “I didn’t think you could get any prettier!” 

 

Giyuu curled his hands into fists, watching the two of them interact. Tanjirou was a sweet brother, much nicer than Giyuu had been. Though, if Tsutako were here, she’d tell him it was because she was older, and therefore it was her job to protect him. 

 

Giyuu would never stop being sorry that he couldn’t protect her, just like he’d never stop being sorry that he couldn’t protect Sabito. He couldn’t protect any of them, in the end, and wasn’t that just the crux of it all?

 

“Hey,” Tanjirou said suddenly, placing a hand on Giyuu’s arm. “Are you okay? Your scent got all sad all of a sudden.”

 

Giyuu looked down and patted Tanjirou’s hand. “I’m fine,” he said. Tanjirou didn’t look convinced, but he let it slide in favor of helping Nezuko into bed. Giyuu sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He never thought a universe where Sabito was still alive could make him so miserable.

 

-

 

Tanjirou launched himself into his training, though Giyuu could tell that Nezuko’s constant slumber was troubling him. Each night, he heard Tanjirou rustling around in the room next door into the early hours of the morning, muttering to himself as he documented everything he went through for Nezuko to read later. It was sweet, though Giyuu worried about him. 

 

Urokodaki never stopped holding Giyuu at arm’s length, which was strange. He thought the old man would’ve warmed up to him after some time, but he never did. Giyuu had settled into this new universe and this new life after a few weeks, wondering how he could possibly prevent all the terrible things from happening in this universe like they had in his own. There wasn’t much he could do, though, other than sneak away to train at night when everyone else was asleep. When he finally did get his hands on a sword again, he didn’t want to be rusty. 

 

It was a cool night when it happened. Tanjirou was out late trying to split his boulder, so Giyuu decided to practice his forms and his breathing in the clearing outside Urokodaki’s house while he waited for the younger boy to return. He’d gotten halfway through the Breath of Water techniques when he felt it; it felt like eyes on the back of his neck, watching him. Slowly, Giyuu straightened up and turned around, only to come face to face with—

 

Sabito. 

 

Sabito was staring at him with a strange expression on his face, considering. He didn’t even blink when he realized Giyuu had noticed him, just kept on looking at him like Giyuu was a puzzle he couldn’t quite solve. 

 

“Don’t let me stop you,” he said. “You were doing good for a minute there.” 

 

Giyuu didn’t frown, but he could feel his lips twitch like they wanted to. Sabito’s compliment felt strange; it sounded like a compliment you gave to a stranger. Not the boy you grew up with. 

 

Giyuu lowered his wooden sword. He tilted his head to the side, feeling his bangs fall in front of his eyes. His hair still felt too light, though that was to be expected; it had taken him several years to grow his hair out to the small of his back, like it had been. It would likely take several more for him to get it back. The thought made his stomach churn with anger. Sabito’s hair was longer, too, though his only seemed to reach mid-back. It was just as messy as Giyuu remembered it being, like Sabito had never seen a comb in his life. He probably hadn’t. 

 

“Got something on my face?” Sabito asked, raising an eyebrow. 

 

Giyuu said nothing. 

 

Sabito frowned. The expression tugged on his scar, marring his features and casting strange shadows across his face in the dark night. “Is there a reason you aren’t speaking to me?” 

 

Giyuu gazed at him for a moment longer before he turned away, raising his sword once more. “I have nothing to say,” he finally said, then inhaled deeply to steady his breathing. He didn’t like what Sabito’s grown up face did to his heart. Sabito had been a kind boy and a good friend that Giyuu had probably relied on too much, cared about a little more than he should’ve, but they were kids when Sabito died. This Sabito, though, this Sabito was nineteen years old. He’d grown up, the way he hadn’t had a chance to in Giyuu’s universe. This Sabito was—handsome, in a rugged, unassuming kind of way. His eyes, which Giyuu remembered being a soft lavender with a permanent fire lit in them, seemed—duller. Darker. There was something weighing on this Sabito’s shoulders that hadn’t been there when they were children. 

 

Not for the first time, Giyuu wondered what had happened in this universe, that there was no Giyuu and Sabito was alive. 

 

He could feel Sabito’s eyes following him as he ran through the techniques again, tracking his movements. Giyuu pivoted on his heel, intending to deliver the strike of the seventh technique, when suddenly his loose hair flipped into his eyes and he stumbled. He straightened up, scowling as he brushed his hair out of his face. 

 

“You should really tie that back,” Sabito drawled. 

 

Giyuu wasn’t intending to do anything, but his chest burned with anger and confusion and every other emotion he’d been suppressing since he woke up in the snow, and he spun on his heel, stalked over to Sabito, and grabbed the hilt of the taller man’s sword before Sabito could so much as ask why. He yanked the sword from its sheath and stepped behind Sabito, grabbing his hair and pulling it taut where he had it gathered in his fist. 

 

“Hey—ow—what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Sabito exclaimed, reaching back for the sword. Giyuu held it out of reach, tugging sharply on Sabito’s hair hard enough to knock Sabito off-balance. In one quick movement, he sliced the sword through Sabito’s thick hair and dropped his hand, watching as five inches of shorn, peach hair dropped to the forest floor in a pathetic clump. Sabito’s hand jerked up to the back of his neck, where his hair now only reached his shoulders—barely, Giyuu noticed with a sick sense of glee—and he spun on his heel. He stared at Giyuu in a mix of shock and anger, still holding the ends of his hair.

 

“What the fuck did you do that for?” Sabito cried, reaching forward with his free hand to snatch the sword out of Giyuu’s hands. Giyuu let him take it, lifting his chin defiantly. 

 

“I liked my hair,” was all he said, before he turned to pick up his wooden sword again. Sabito grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back around. 

 

“Oh, no you don’t,”  he snapped. “I’m not done with you yet! Where the fuck do you get off cutting my hair? Who the fuck are you?”

 

Giyuu squinted up at him. “You cut mine,” he said simply. 

 

“Not intentionally!”

 

“Quiet down,” Giyuu said, frowning. “You’ll wake Urokodaki.” 

 

“I don’t give a fuck!” Sabito retorted. “You’re fucking—you’re insane!” 

 

Giyuu blinked. At that moment, he heard approaching footsteps—Tanjirou was back. He didn’t bother turning around, though he could tell by the look on Sabito’s face that Tanjirou had reached the clearing. 

 

“Giyuu, are you alright?” Tanjirou asked. “I heard shouting. Oh—who’s your friend? Wait—don’t I know you?” 

 

Sabito opened his mouth to reply, but Tanjirou beat him to it. 

 

“Oh, right! You’re the Slayer from the mountain!” he chirped. “What did you say your name was? Oh, maybe you didn’t tell me. Giyuu, what was it you called him?” 

 

Sabito’s eyes drifted away from Tanjirou to look at Giyuu, who ignored him in favor of turning to speak with Tanjirou. 

 

“He’s not important,” he said, feeling a spike of glee at the outraged noise Sabito made behind him. “Did you split the boulder yet?” 

 

“No,” Tanjirou said, his face shifting into that strange expression he tended to wear whenever Giyuu mentioned the boulder. Giyuu wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to ask about it. “But I’ll get it tomorrow!” 

 

Giyuu hummed, reaching up to pat the top of Tanjirou’s head. Tanjirou brightened at the affection, reaching up on tiptoes to pat Giyuu’s head in return. “Don’t do that,” Giyuu told him, as he always did when Tanjirou tried to out-older brother him. “I’m older than you.” 

 

Tanjirou just grinned cheekily, the way he always did. He wasn’t going to stop, but Tanjirou seemed to enjoy the routine so Giyuu humored him. Tanjirou turned back to Sabito, and frowned. “Hey—did you get a haircut? It seems shorter.” 

 

Sabito’s face flushed red with anger.

 

“It looks nice!” Tanjirou said brightly. He glanced between Giyuu and Sabito a moment longer, his eyebrows pinching at the sight of Sabito’s murderous glare, before he turned to Giyuu and said, “Is there any dinner left?” 

 

Giyuu hummed. “I left your portion in your room.” 

 

Tanjirou chirped out a thanks before he bowed to the two of them and headed into the house, leaving Giyuu and Sabito alone. Giyuu turned to Sabito after a few moments and deadpanned, “It looks nice.” 

 

Giyuu stepped out of reach with ease when Sabito lunged for him again, hands raised to strangle him.

Chapter Text

Urokodaki, for his part, wasn’t even surprised when he woke up the next morning and found Sabito sleeping in the entryway of the house. Giyuu had already prepared breakfast for the three of them, though he pointedly served Sabito a very small portion and gave Tanjirou one double the size. He passed Urokodaki his food as the older man bid him a quiet grunt of thanks and poured himself a cup of tea. 

 

“What brings you back here, Sabito?” he asked, sipping his tea. Giyuu turned to begin washing the dishes he’d used to cook. 

 

Sabito glared at the back of Giyuu’s head before he grunted, “I’ve been sent by Oyakata-sama to bring that jackass back to Headquarters.”

 

Urokodaki smacked Sabito upside the head and snapped, “Watch your fucking language, young man.” 

 

Giyuu stifled a laugh. 

 

“What do they want with Tomioka?” Urokodaki asked, after he’d settled back into his seat and picked up his chopsticks. 

 

Sabito shrugged. “Hell if I know,” he muttered. “I just wish I wasn’t the one who had to get him.”

 

Urokodaki hummed, tilting his head as he looked at Sabito. “Did you cut your hair? I thought you stopped doing that.”

 

Sabito flushed with anger at the reminder of Giyuu’s actions from the previous night, which Giyuu still didn’t really regret. He thought he might after he’d slept on it, but he felt just as vindicated as he had last night, staring at Sabito’s short hair. 

 

“The jackass lopped it all off when I got here last night,” Sabito spat. “For no fucking reason.” 

 

Urokodaki smacked Sabito again. “Didn’t I tell you to watch your fucking language? Goddamn.” He paused, taking a deep breath, before he turned toward Giyuu. “Well, Tomioka? What do you have to say for yourself?” 

 

Giyuu blinked and looked up. Both Sabito and Urokodaki were staring at him, clearly waiting for an apology or an explanation. Giyuu shrugged. “He cut off mine. Eye for an eye.”

 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake—that was an accident!” Sabito huffed. “You did this on purpose!” 

 

“I’m not sorry,” Giyuu informed him, turning back to the bowl he’d been scrubbing. Sabito made a choked sound, like he was barely restraining himself from letting out a battle cry and charging for Giyuu’s head. 

 

Urokodaki stared between the two of them for a long moment before he finally turned back to his breakfast. “Seems fair to me.” 

 

Sabito gaped. “You’re on his side?” 

 

“Die mad about it,” Urokodaki replied evenly, taking a long sip from his tea. Giyuu had forgotten how much fun he used to have with Sabito and Urokodaki, back when they were still kids and hadn’t gone off to the Final Selection yet. Their ceaseless bickering used to make him want to laugh more than anything, though he never did. He really had missed Urokodaki. A part of him wished he’d kept in touch, though the rest of him knew that he never would’ve been able to. The wounds were still too fresh, even after all this time. 

 

“I’m taking you to headquarters tomorrow,” Sabito declared, grumbling under his breath. “Be ready first thing. And you better not be slow.”

 

Giyuu hummed to acknowledge he’d heard him, though he didn’t say anything else. 

 

-

 

“Tanjirou,” Giyuu called from where he sat next to the front door of the house as Tanjirou returned from training. He pat the space next to him, waiting for Tanjirou to take his seat before he said anything else. Sabito and Urokodaki were sleeping inside, as Giyuu probably should’ve been, but he didn’t want to leave without being able to say goodbye to Tanjirou. 

 

Tanjirou smelled of sweat, which wasn’t exactly a pleasant odor, but Giyuu was getting used to it after spending so much time around Tanjirou lately. “Is there something you wanted to tell me?” he asked, wide-eyed and innocent. Giyuu was going to miss him, even if he didn’t end up leaving for very long. 

 

“Sabito and I are leaving tomorrow,” Giyuu said, blunt as ever. “I’ve been summoned to Headquarters.” 

 

“Oh,” Tanjirou breathed. “Why?” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. 

 

“I’m gonna miss you,” Tanjirou said after a few moments passed in silence. Giyuu hummed his response. Tanjirou hesitated, before he said, “Giyuu—there’s something I should tell you.” 

 

Giyuu glanced at him. 

 

Tanjirou turned his eyes forward, avoiding eye contact. “Up in the clearing, with the boulder, I’m not—alone.” 

 

Giyuu blinked and turned to him. In all the time he’d spent on Mt. Sagiri, he’d never seen someone else living up the mountain. The air was too thin, if he recalled correctly. 

 

Tanjirou, sensing Giyuu’s confusion, was quick to continue. “There’s—a girl, who helps me. And sometimes a boy, but he doesn’t really come around that often.” 

 

Giyuu didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. 

 

Tanjirou hesitated, clenching a fist in the fabric of his haori. “The girl’s name is Makomo,” he said softly. Giyuu jerked. He remembered Makomo, though it was only for a brief period of time that they’d known each other. He didn’t even really feel like he’d known her; she left for Final Selection barely a month after Giyuu arrived at Mt. Sagiri. Giyuu had been too distraught to truly get to know her like Sabito and Urokodaki did, and then she never came back and he never got the chance. Makomo was—nice. Sweet. She almost reminded him of Tsutako. 

 

Tanjirou fell silent, appearing to consider his next words carefully. He stared down at the ground with a strange look on his face, prompting Giyuu to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Who’s the boy?” Giyuu asked carefully. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, if Makomo had been the girl. 

 

Tanjirou hesitated, before he finally looked up. “It’s you,” he said. “Tomioka Giyuu.” 

 

Giyuu felt as though someone had drained all of the blood from his body. Makomo was—dead. If Tanjirou was seeing a ghost, or a spirit, how was he seeing Giyuu, who was still alive? 

 

“Makomo told me that you both died in your Final Selections,” Tanjirou said quietly. “She doesn’t know how you died. You’ve—never told her.” He paused, before he turned his wide-eyed expression on Giyuu. “Giyuu, are you real?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. Once. Twice. He was mortified to find that he was crying again, and he quickly turned away to wipe his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I’m real.”

 

“How’s that possible?” Tanjirou asked. “You’re—you’re dead, but you’re here, alive.”

 

It made sense now, why Sabito hated him so much and why Urokodaki never seemed to look at him straight on. Everything made sense now. Giyuu died in the Final Selection, in this universe. Just like he’d always wanted to in his own. 

 

How cruel. 

 

“I don’t know,” Giyuu told Tanjirou, even though he did. “I wish I could give you a better answer.” 

 

Tanjirou was quiet for a moment, before he whispered, “Giyuu’s so sad. I can’t smell him, because he’s dead, but it—it radiates off of him.” He blinked owlishly up at Giyuu, and Giyuu was suddenly reminded that he was only thirteen. He was only a kid, for fuck’s sake. “Are you happy, Giyuu?” 

 

Giyuu didn’t know what to say to that.

 

-

 

Giyuu was ready to go before sunrise the next morning, but Sabito had still beat him to the door when he finally wandered out of his room. Sabito scoffed and kicked off the wall he’d been leaning against, reaching to open the front door. 

 

“About time,” he snapped. 

 

Giyuu didn’t bother pointing out that Sabito had never set a clear time. He moved to follow Sabito, until another voice had him freezing in his tracks. 

 

“Tomioka.” 

 

Giyuu turned around, and found himself facing Urokodaki. He hadn’t realized the man was awake, or he might’ve made more of an effort to say goodbye. Urokodaki gazed at him for a long moment before he stepped forward and held out a small bundle to Giyuu, waiting for him to take it before he placed a hand on Giyuu’s shoulder. 

 

“Take care,” Urokodaki said. “Give that boy a good smack on the head if he gives you too much trouble, okay?” 

 

Giyuu could do nothing but nod. Urokodaki nodded stiffly, retracting his hand and moving to walk away, but Giyuu surged forward and pulled him into an embrace. He knew that it was rude, but he couldn’t help himself; Urokodaki had been like a father to him, once upon a time. He was really going to miss him. 

 

Urokodaki hesitated for less than a second before he reciprocated the hug, laying a hand flat on top of Giyuu’s head to stroke his hair. “Be careful,” he said. “I don’t want to lose another one of you.” 

 

Giyuu squeezed the man a little tighter at that, before he finally pulled away and stepped back. “Thank you for everything,” he said sincerely. He wished he could’ve said it to his own Urokodaki back home. 

 

“Tell Tanjirou that I’m expecting him to find me after he passes the Final Selection,” Giyuu said. “And take care of Nezuko, okay?” 

 

Urokodaki nodded. Sabito cleared his throat. 

 

“We need to move,” he said. “The meeting is tomorrow.” 

 

Giyuu sighed, turning to follow the other man out of the house. Leaving was significantly harder than he remembered it being, though last time he was still—grieving. He frowned down at the bundle Urokodaki had given him, tugging on the end of the tie to loosen the thin cloth surrounding the item. Within the bundle was several pieces of twine, specifically the ones Tanjirou had been using to tie his hair back, and— 

 

A warding mask. Giyuu sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of it. He’d lost his warding mask on the first day of the final selection, when he’d been injured, and he was too distraught over Sabito to go back and find it before he left the mountain. This mask—it didn’t look quite like his old one, as Urokodaki probably didn’t know that Tomioka Giyuu and Tomioka Giyuu were one and the same. It was the same fox, with its eyes painted a deep blue and two twin waves curling toward the mouth on either side of its face. The waves were outlined in thin streaks of red, matching the color of Tsutako’s haori. 

 

Idly, Giyuu wondered when Urokodaki had noticed him practicing. 

 

Sabito grunted. “How come he made yours so much more detailed than mine?” he muttered, pulling out his own mask. His mask was far simpler than Giyuu’s, though Giyuu remembered his old one being even simpler than Sabito’s. 

 

Giyuu shrugged, reaching up to fasten the mask to the side of his face. “Guess you’re just a simple man.” 

 

Sabito grumbled under his breath and tied his own mask to his face, though he pulled his entirely over his face. The sight of it made Giyuu’s chest ache. 

 

They began the trek in silence, the only sound being the ambient noises of the forest and the crunching of the brush beneath their feet. While normally, Giyuu reveled in the quiet, this type of quiet was rather oppressive. He could remember a time when Sabito would never shut up around him, rambling for hours to fill the spaces that Giyuu didn’t occupy. But this wasn’t his Sabito, he reminded himself. This Sabito was—different. More withdrawn. Angrier. 

 

Giyuu wondered if it was because of him. Or, rather, a lack of him. He dismissed the thought after a few moments’ contemplation; Slayers went through a lot over the years, suffered a lot of losses. Sabito’s difference was most likely because of what years of being a Slayer had morphed him into. Giyuu himself was different, thanks to his choice of occupation. That much was undeniable. 

 

For a moment, Giyuu wondered where he’d be if he’d never become a Slayer. Probably dead somewhere in his hometown or in an asylum, after the death of Tsutako. 

 

“You think too loudly,” Sabito grumbled, drawing Giyuu away from his thoughts. Giyuu said nothing, glancing at the taller man. Sabito still had his mask pulled over his face, his body angled forward as he walked. Sabito cast a quick glance at him before facing forward once more. “What are you even thinking about?”

 

Giyuu turned to face forward as well, after a few moments. He could feel Sabito’s eyes on him, despite the other man appearing to be looking at the path ahead. “Do you know what this meeting’s about?” 

 

Sabito shrugged. “Oyakata-sama called it. Called all the Hashira, too. Dunno what he wants with you, though.” He paused. “We’re not due for the bi-annual meeting for a few months, either, so I really couldn’t say what’s going through his head.”

 

Giyuu nodded. Ubuyashiki had been like that in his own universe, before his death. He always seemed to be one-step ahead of the rest of the Corps, though he was never cruel about it. He took his role as their father figure very seriously. Giyuu wondered if, somehow, Ubuyashiki knew about him. If Sabito had filed a report after he released Tanjirou, Nezuko, and Giyuu, it wasn’t unreasonable to believe that Ubuyashiki might’ve looked into this strange man who bore the same name as one of the children who died in the Final Selection. That is, if Ubuyashiki memorized the names of the children who never truly became Demon Slayers. Giyuu had never been sure, and he wasn’t about to ask.

 

Sabito grunted. “There you go again. Thinking.” 

 

“Sorry,” Giyuu said immediately. “It must be unusual for you to see someone with thoughts and ideas.”

 

Sabito took a moment to process the dig, before he growled and shoved Giyuu hard enough to knock him off balance. Giyuu brushed off the sleeve of his haori once he’d regained his footing, pointedly refusing to retaliate like he knew Sabito wanted him to. Instead, he glanced at Sabito out of the corner of his eye, studying his features. All of the baby fat had disappeared from his cheeks and chin, leaving in its place sharp features. He was much taller, obviously, though Giyuu had always been several inches shorter than Sabito, so it wasn’t hard to get used to looking up at him. The most glaring difference, however, was the hair that Giyuu had cut barely two days ago. It actually looked nearly exactly the same length as it was when they were children, if an inch or so shorter. Giyuu wasn’t sure why the sight of it made his chest feel funny. 

 

Sabito huffed, tugging on the ends of his hair subconsciously. “Why do you keep staring like that? And quit looking at my hair, it wouldn’t look this dumb if you hadn’t gone and cut it!” 

 

Giyuu raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t take you for the type to care much about your hair.” 

 

Sabito looked away. “Yeah, well, you know what they say about assumptions.” He paused, and Giyuu thought he was going to leave it at that, before his hand crept up to fiddle with his hair again. “An old friend of mine used to say that he wanted to grow his hair out,” he admitted in a soft voice. “He never got the chance. I figured it was the least I could do, to honor him.” 

 

Giyuu had a feeling he knew who Sabito was talking about. “I’m sorry,” he said honestly. “I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known it would hurt you.”

 

Sabito grunted. “Bygones,” he mumbled, lowering his hand. Giyuu still felt bad, though. Sabito suddenly looked up. “What about you? Why’d you get all huffy over me accidentally cutting your hair?” 

 

Giyuu was quiet for a moment, considering his words and ignoring Sabito’s emphasis on the word ‘accidentally.’ Why did he care so much? It wasn’t like his hair truly had sentimental meaning, like Sabito’s had. Giyuu grew his hair out because he wanted to, because he had always seen Tsutako’s and thought it was so—

 

Oh. 

 

“My sister,” Giyuu finally admitted. “Had very long hair.” He left it at that. He didn’t like all of the introspection this universe was bringing him; he much preferred to leave his emotions and his trauma buried deep beneath the surface where it belonged, thank you very much. 

 

Sabito hummed. He didn’t say anything, but Giyuu noticed him close the distance between the two of them just slightly. They still had a long way to go before they’d ever be friends again, like they once were, but at the very least, it was a start. 

Chapter Text

“How come you never let Urokodaki cut your hair?” 

 

Giyuu remembered this meadow. He and Sabito had found this meadow once, long ago, exploring on one of their few days off. They’d spent hours here, sitting on a bed of soft grass and wildflowers, shooting the breeze until Urokodaki had eventually found them and dragged them back to the house, a lecture spilling off of his tongue behind his ever-present mask. It was only a few months before their Final Selection, if Giyuu recalled correctly. Back when they were a little more than brothers, a little less than— 

 

Giyuu inhaled deeply, feeling the soft scent of wildflowers flood his senses. He didn’t want to open his eyes, for fear that this perfect dream might melt away into something much more sinister. After all, even his nightmares smelled like wisteria. 

 

Giyuu felt something poke his side, and he finally turned to left to see—

 

Sabito. Young and innocent and happy, just as Giyuu remembered him. Just as he was always meant to be. “Answer my question,” he demanded. 

 

Giyuu blinked up at him. His hand crept up to his ponytail subconsciously. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just want my hair to be long and—soft.” 

 

Sabito tugged on Giyuu’s ponytail, not unkindly. “It’s already soft, you dork.” He paused, wrinkling his nose as he considered Giyuu’s reply. “You really wanna grow out your hair?” 

 

Giyuu nodded. 

 

Sabito’s face scrunched up, the way it always used to when he didn’t quite understand something. “Won’t it get in the way?”

 

Giyuu shrugged. “Tsutako never had a problem with hers,” he replied, and then suddenly his chest felt hollow. Sabito stared at him, a mix of shocked and concerned, and Giyuu remembered at that moment that he didn’t talk about Tsutako. Sabito had only learned of Tsutako late in the evening once, years ago, when Giyuu was staring at nothing, dead-eyed and hollow inside after another nightmare he couldn’t seem to come down from. 

 

Sabito recovered first. “Don’t—”

 

“I’m not gonna cry,” Giyuu cut him off, a touch bitter.

 

“That’s not what I was gonna say,” Sabito replied, huffing. “I was just gonna tell you not to lose your hair tie.” 

 

Giyuu hummed. Sabito waited a beat before he launched into a random story Giyuu wasn’t fully listening to, its context lost on the raven-haired boy, and Giyuu couldn’t help but wish that this dream, this memory, this moment— 

 

He wished it didn’t have to end. 

 

-

 

Giyuu woke up with a sharp breath, feeling like the ground had crumbled beneath his feet, like he was falling falling falling. He wondered when he would hit the ground. He wondered if it would hurt. 

 

“Tomioka?” 

 

At once, Giyuu remembered where he was. Sleeping in their camp off the main road, next to Sabito except it wasn’t his Sabito, on their way to a pillar meeting in a universe where nobody had died yet. Giyuu didn’t think he was ready to face all of them, not when he’d only just gotten used to them all being dead. 

 

Sabito frowned down at him. “Are you sick, or something? You’ve gone catatonic.” 

 

Giyuu sat up. “I’m not catatonic,” he muttered. 

 

He could feel Sabito’s eyes on him, and Giyuu turned to look at the other man, this man who bore the same face as his—truthfully, Giyuu still wasn’t sure what Sabito had been to him. They were kids, at the time, so their relationship didn’t have quite as many doorways as it would, say, now. He knew for sure that Sabito was more than just his brother, even if Sabito didn’t see Giyuu in the same light. 

 

A breeze blew through, ruffling Sabito’s hair and blowing his haori back from his torso and—Oh. Giyuu wasn’t sure how he’d missed it earlier, especially when it’d been so windy when they first met, but Sabito was wearing two haoris. His ugly, geometric patterned haori on top, the pattern Giyuu hated so much but felt itchy without, and then underneath it there was a red one, of a thinner, silkier fabric. 

 

Tsutako’s, and, by extension, Giyuu’s haori.The exact one Giyuu was wearing at that very moment. 

 

Sabito grunted. “What’re you staring at? I got something on my face?”

 

“You’re wearing her haori,” Giyuu said dumbly, staring at the place where he’d spotted that brief glimpse of Tsutako’s haori.

 

Sabito furrowed his eyebrows. “What? No, I’m not. I’m not wearing anyone else’s haori, you weirdo.” 

 

Giyuu finally tore his eyes away from Sabito’s torso to look up into Sabito’s eyes. “I saw it,” he said. “You’re wearing another haori underneath that one.” 

 

Sabito shifted. His face remained impassive, but Giyuu could see his eyes flickering with fear. After several moments passed, Sabito grunted and looked away. “Fine,” he admitted. “Yes, I’m wearing two.” 

 

Giyuu waited. 

 

“It was my friend’s,” Sabito confessed. “It was so important to him, I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving it behind—after.” 

 

It seemed that everything Sabito did was because it had been important to Giyuu. Giyuu had only taken half of Sabito’s haori because he didn’t want to let go of all of him, didn’t think he could bear it. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Giyuu said. “About your friend.” 

 

Sabito grunted. “Sorry about your sister.” 

 

Not for the first time, Giyuu wished that demon had killed him, instead of sending him here. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand to look at Sabito’s face, to look at this man who was more than his brother and not quite his lover, and to see a stranger looking back at him. 

 

Sabito suddenly turned away, staring into the small fire he’d been tending while Giyuu slept. The orange flames flickered and reflected in his lavender eyes, painting his face in strange shadows. 

 

“We’re about a half-day’s walk from headquarters,” he said. “We’ll start moving again a little after dawn. You should get some more rest, you were only asleep for an hour or so.” 

 

The echoes of warm sunlight and a young Sabito’s soft voice were still clinging to Giyuu’s subconscious, filling his gut wit a strange sense of dread and grief he wasn’t fond of. “I don’t think I’ll be able to fall asleep again,” he confessed. “I’ll take over watching, if you’d like.” 

 

Sabito squinted at him for several long moments. Finally, after what felt like an age, he sighed bitterly and turned away. When he turned back, he was holding his sheathed nichirin sword out to Giyuu, a strange expression on his face. “Fine,” he said. “But you’ll need this, if you plan to take over for me as guard.” 

 

Giyuu stared at the sword. He reached out with a trembling hand and took the blade from Sabito, setting it down next to him as Sabito laid down and made himself comfortable. “Goodnight,” he said. 

 

Sabito only grunted in response. 

 

-

 

Dawn came much sooner than Giyuu had been anticipating. At some point, when the sun’s first rays began to taint the sky a soft peach color, he felt himself begin to doze, though he never truly fell asleep. He and Sabito made quick work of eating a light breakfast before they gathered their things and set off toward Headquarters once more. The walk itself passed in relative silence, until finally the two of them had arrived. Giyuu stared up at the familiar home with apprehension curdling in his gut. He hadn’t been back here since—

 

The final battle. He’d known in advance that this meeting, this universe, would force him to go places and see people that didn’t exist anymore, people he’d laid to rest and paid respects to alongside Tanjirou before Ubuyashiki Kiriya directed him and his crow to one of the last remaining demons and he wound up here. He knew it was going to happen. He just wasn’t ready to see it come to fruition.

 

Sabito continued on toward the Ubuyashiki home, apparently unaware of Giyuu’s inner turmoil. It was only once he reached the gate and realized he was alone that he turned around, a frown on his face. “Well? Are you coming?” 

 

Giyuu jerked himself out of his thoughts. “I—yeah. I’m coming.” He hurried to catch up to Sabito, allowing the taller man to lead him onto the grounds and through to the garden. Several of the other pillars were already there, including Kochou, Tokitou, and Rengoku. Himejima was discussing something quietly with Kochou, while Tokitou tipped his head back and stared up at the sky and the clouds passing overhead. Rengoku turned and offered Sabito and Giyuu a wide smile. 

 

“Ah, Sabito!” he called. “You made it!” 

 

Sabito grunted. “Of course I did, I’m bringing the guest of honor.”

 

At this, Rengoku’s gaze shifted to Giyuu, and his smile widened, shifting into a welcoming grin instead of a smile shared between old friends. Something about it made Giyuu’s chest tighten. “You must be Tomioka!” he declared, loudly. Loud enough that it drew everybody else’s attention, as Himejima and Kochou cut off their conversation and Tokitou lazily shifted his gaze over to Giyuu. Something rustled in the tree, and Giyuu noticed Iguro watching him from where he rested upon the thickest branch with Kaburamaru. 

 

Giyuu finally turned back to Rengoku when he noticed the other man waiting for a response. “Yes, that’s me,” he said lamely, then cursed his own social ineptitude. He’d been hoping to actually make friends with these people this time, but it seemed his awkwardness would get in the way all over again. 

 

Himejima and Kochou walked over to join the small group. Himejima looked like he wanted to smile, but tears continued to stream down his face and hindered the joy in his expression. “Pleased to meet you, Tomioka,” he said. “I pray that you are never wounded by the demons that walk among us.” 

 

Giyuu stared. Himejima was like this back home, too, but for some reason it felt heavier and more depressing when the big man’s tears were partially because of him. “Thanks,” he said slowly. “I think.” 

 

Kochou smiled. “Kochou Shinobu,” she said, holding out a hand for Giyuu to shake. Giyuu took it, keeping his grip light. “Insect Pillar. I’m sorry you had to travel so long with someone like Sabito, I’ve tried to tell him about his dreadful personality but he never seems to listen.” 

 

“Oi,” Sabito protested. 

 

Giyuu blinked and glanced between the two of them before he made an executive decision and looked back at Kochou. “Yes,” he said sagely, “It really was a hardship.” 

 

Kochou chuckled and turned to Sabito with a sickly sweet smile on her face. “See, Sabito? Tomioka understands.” 

 

Sabito muttered something under his breath that Giyuu didn’t pick up, but made Kochou’s eyes flash. 

 

Giyuu turned to Sabito. “I don’t recommend insulting her, if that’s what you just did. I’ve heard she works with poison, which means she knows how to kill you and make it look like an accident.”

 

Kochou grinned. “I like this one,” she declared. 

 

“I feel like we’re all overlooking a very important detail,” came Iguro’s voice, as he swung down from the tree and approached their growing group. Tokitou trailed after him, finally seeming to realized the commotion. Iguro stopped in between Kochou and Himejima, squinting up at Giyuu with severe disdain and skepticism. Some things never changed, it would seem. “We all heard about Sabito’s run-in on the mountain, after all. So tell me, Tomioka, why you defended something as vile as a demon.” 

 

Giyuu floundered, shrinking back slightly under the intensity of Iguro’s gaze. Iguro had always intimidated him far more than any of the other pillars, and that fact rang true even in another universe. The Snake Pillar’s question made the other pillars turn curious eyes on Giyuu as well, until everyone in the garden was staring at Giyuu and Giyuu alone. 

 

“I don’t—she was—she’s never eaten anyone,” Giyuu finally blurted. “And she protected her brother. I could tell that she had retained some of her humanity.” He paused, glancing at Sabito in the corner of his eye for less than a second before he turned back to Iguro. “And besides, I didn’t get involved to protect her at first. I was trying to help her brother, I only decided to help her once I saw that she wasn’t completely lost.”

 

It wasn’t entirely a lie, in any case. The Pillars didn’t need to know the real reason yet. 

 

“A demon is a demon, though,” Rengoku said, his smile a tad strained. Giyuu had always hated that about Rengoku; around him and the other Pillars, Rengoku always smiled. Giyuu wished he would show his true thoughts, but he also figured that might be a bit hypocritical. 

 

“A tortured soul that deserves to end its suffering,” Himejima added. 

 

“A monster,” Iguro muttered. 

 

Giyuu stared at them. It was true that several years ago, when he was really nineteen, he might’ve agreed with every word that fell past their lips, but now? Now that he’d met people like Tamayo, and Yushiro, and Nezuko? Now that he had seen the end of Rui, seen the way Tanjirou said that demons were pitiful, tragic creatures? 

 

Such a notion was—preposterous, after everything Giyuu had seen and heard and been through. True, demons had taken his sister, Sabito, his arm, and many of his trusted colleagues. True, most demons focused only on their own innate hunger, without care for who or what they destroyed in the process. But to profile an entire group of individuals based on experiences had with less than half? To decide that an entire group of people deserved to die just because a portion of them were not good and noble and just? 

 

It almost seemed unfair. 

 

“No,” Giyuu finally said. “No, I think you’re all wrong.” And maybe this would drive a hatchet between them all, maybe Giyuu was burning his bridges before he’d even really met any of them, but—it needed to be said. Giyuu spent his entire life holding his tongue and burying his thoughts in his own universe, and all it had gotten him was alone. He would rather speak his mind and lose them all than keep quiet and lose them anyway. “I don’t think every demon is evil, and I don’t think every demon deserves to die. I think some of them retain their humanity. I think some of them are good and I think some of them don’t want to be as cruel and heartless as you think them to be.” 

 

Iguro scoffed. “They eat people. They kill without remorse. All demons are the same, no matter how good you might think they are.” 

 

“Demons have taken everything from me,” Himejima agreed. “I cannot simply turn a blind eye to the pain they reap.” 

 

“I’m not asking you to,” Giyuu replied evenly. “Demons have taken much from me, too. But demons were humans too, once. Humans who suffered and humans who struggled so much that they didn’t see any other option but to let go of their humanity.” He paused, hearing Tanjirou’s voice in the back of his head. “Demons are pitiful creatures, who lead tragic existences. Some of them deserve to die, yes. Some of them have done cruel things, and some of them feel no remorse for the pain and suffering and grief they cause. But to condemn an entire species to death over the actions of only a portion is ignorant, and small-minded.” 

 

“Well said,” a new voice said, and Giyuu turned to see that at some point during his speech, the other Pillars had arrived, as had Ubuyashiki and his daughters. At once, the Pillars all around him fell to their knees and bowed, Giyuu quick to follow.

Chapter Text

After a moment or two, Ubuyashiki said, “Please, rise.” 

 

“Oyakata-sama,” Sabito greeted. “Your continuing health brings us great joy.” 

 

Ubuyashiki smiled thinly, turning blind eyes in Sabito’s direction before his gaze settled forward once more. “How is the sky today?” 

 

Nobody spoke. Giyuu glanced at the Pillars all around him, before he finally decided what he wanted to do. “It’s blue, Oyakata-sama. Not a cloud in sight.” 

 

Ubuyashiki’s smile widened slightly. “Thank you, Tomioka. I have always hoped one of you would tell me, when I asked.”

 

“Oyakata-sama,” Rengoku cut in. “Why have you called this meeting? The bi-annual isn’t supposed to be for a couple months.” 

 

Ubuyashiki nodded, holding out a hand. One of his daughters placed a small scroll into the palm of his hand. “You’re correct,” he said. “Our bi-annual is still scheduled to take place in the late spring. But certain matters have come to my attention that seem too prudent to be put off until later in the season.” Once again, his gaze drifted over to Giyuu, staying fixated on Giyuu even after he finished speaking. He unrolled the scroll, holding it for his other daughter to read. “This letter was delivered to my home several weeks ago,” he announced. “Around the time that Sabito came to us with news of a young boy, traveling with his demon sister in the mountains.” 

 

Ubuyashiki’s daughter shifted her weight, beginning to read. “ Oyakata-sama ,” she read, “ I hope this letter finds you in good health. My first order of business is to ask about the Final Selection dates for the upcoming years. As you may know, I haven’t taken a student since Sabito, but a young boy has come to me and I have decided to take him under my wing.” She paused, clearing her throat. “ But that is not all I wish to discuss. I know from my time as a Pillar that you take the time to memorize the name of each child who wields a nichirin blade, even if they never make it past the wisteria. Which is why I must tell you, Oyakata-sama, that Kamado Tanjirou travels not only with his demon sister Nezuko, but a man who uses the name of a dead child: Tomioka Giyuu.” 

 

All eyes shifted to Giyuu. Giyuu stared forward, waiting to hear more. 

 

“I don’t know why he would choose such a title, as Giyuu had nothing to his name when he reached my doorstep, but I don’t believe him to be a demon,” the girl continued. “ I send you this letter so that you might provide some of your wisdom to me, and help me decide what to do. Giyuu died six years ago at his Final Selection, of this I have no doubt. Sabito would never have left him on the mountain if he wasn’t sure. But I am also sure—Tomioka is alive and whole. Alvie, whole, and good, if the way he nurtures the Kamado siblings is anything to go by. I have never seen someone treat someone they aren’t related to with such tenderness and love. Yours, Urokodaki Sakonji.” 

 

Ubuyashiki rolled up the scroll and handed it off to the daughter who he’d first taken it from. The girl tucked it into her kimono, sitting as prim and proper as ever. Giyuu watched as Ubuyashiki repositioned himself on his knees, seeming to consider his words, before he finally asked, “Well? What do you have to say, Tomioka? After that speech, I am eager to pick your brain a little more.” 

 

Giyuu hesitated. What should he tell them? If he told them it was a demon, they might make him go back, they might lose what little trust he retained, there really was no telling what might happen to him. But, if he lied, they also might not believe him, not if both Urokodaki and Sabito were insistent that he was dead. 

 

Finally, he took a deep breath. “I am Tomioka Giyuu,” he said. “I am not dead. That’s all I can say.” 

 

Ubuyashiki didn’t so much as bat an eye as Giyuu’s choice of words. “I see,” he said. “I don’t doubt your identity, Tomioka. I only wonder how you came to be in my garden.” When Giyuu said nothing, Ubuyashiki hummed and turned to Sabito. “Sabito, if you could enlighten Tomioka as to what befell him on the mountain, I would appreciate it.” 

 

Sabito nodded, then turned to face Giyuu. Giyuu frowned. 

 

“Giyuu and I went into the Final Selection together,” Sabito started. “We trained under Urokodaki together, too. He didn’t want to send us, thought we were too young, but we were—insistent.” Sabito paused, a bitter smile on his face. “Maybe we should’ve listened. We stuck together for the most part, barely even slept longer than a few hours before we continued moving. Giyuu didn’t want to be a sitting duck, as he put it. And then, on the last day, we saw it.” His voice trailed off, his hands clenched into fists where they rested on his knees, and Giyuu heard him take in a shaky breath before he continued, “It was a morphed demon. Much older and much stronger than any of the others we’d seen. It said that it killed all of Urokodaki’s students. Said it recognized us by the—the warding masks.” 

 

Giyuu’s hand crept up to where the warding mask still rested on the side of his face.

 

“It was fighting another kid, a kid who was losing,” Sabito said. His voice was slowly getting quieter. More sullen. “I jumped in to defend him, but I only got beaten back. The demon—it was going to kill us both, me and the other kid, but Giyuu jumped in the way with his sword drawn and he—he told me to take the kid and run.” Sabito pressed his lips into a thin line. “I listened, and then I didn’t see him until the seven days ended and I found his haori snagged on a branch, and his mask shattered to smithereens. I didn’t look for anything else. I didn’t need to.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Giyuu said, when Sabito finally fell silent. He didn’t know what else to say. 

 

Sabito grunted, turning to face forward once again. Giyuu gazed at him for several moments longer, before he sighed and turned to look at Ubuyashiki. 

 

“I remember Tomioka Giyuu,” Ubuyashiki said evenly. “Amane had been the one to lay him to rest, so I never saw how he ended up. But Tomioka Giyuu’s name resides in the wisteria garden, remembered as one of the fallen. My son and I pray for his eternal soul each morning.”

 

Once again, Giyuu found that he didn’t have the words to reply. He wondered if Sabito’s name was on that list, back in his own universe. 

 

“I am told you share not only his name but his face,” Ubuyashiki continued. “So I can only assume that you know the Water Breathing techniques, no?” 

 

“Yes, that’s correct,” Giyuu said. 

 

“Hinaki,” Ubuyashiki said, inclining his head toward the daughter sitting on his left. “Do me a favor and check for a ranking on his hand.” 

 

“Oyakata-sama,” Uzui interjected, “I don’t mean to undermine your wisdom, but if he died during the Selection, wouldn’t he not have ever received a ranking?” 

 

“You’re right,” Ubuyashiki said, “if this was the Tomioka Giyuu who died. But I don’t believe it is.” 

 

“You suspect an impostor?” Shinazugawa grunted, frowning in Giyuu’s direction. 

 

“No,” Ubuyashiki replied. “As I said, I don’t doubt that this is Tomioka Giyuu. I simply don’t believe that this is our Tomioka Giyuu.” 

 

Hinaki had reached Giyuu by this point, reaching for his hand slowly. Giving him enough time to back away, Giyuu realized. She really was a kind soul. Giyuu mourned the fact that he had never known her before she died alongside her mother, father, and twin sister. He held out his hand, allowing her to press against his wrist. His ranking appeared on the back of his hand mere moments later. Hinaki’s grip didn’t waver, even as the kanji for Pillar stared up at her from Giyuu’s pale hand. 

 

“Well?” Ubuyashiki asked. “Am I correct?” 

 

“Yes, Father,” Hinaki told him. “He is ranked as the Water Pillar.” 

 

“Impossible,” Iguro said immediately. “Sabito’s the Water Pillar.” 

 

“I have heard stories,” Ubuyashiki started, silencing the other Pillars, “of Blood Demon Art that can send people to alternate realities. Parallel universes, if you would. But in all my years as the head of of the Demon Slayer Corps, I have never seen it for myself.” He paused. “Who are you really, Tomioka?” 

 

Giyuu considered his response carefully. “I am Tomioka Giyuu. I am not dead,” he repeated. “But, where I am from, of the people here, Shinazugawa and Uzui are the only ones still alive.”

 

The garden went impossibly silent. 

 

“I suspected something like this,” Ubuyashiki said, after a few moments. He paused. “Well, Pillars, what should we do?” 

 

“Send him back,” Shinazugawa snapped, staring at Giyuu with a strange look in his eyes. 

 

“We can’t have two Water Pillars,” Kochou said, nodding. “He doesn’t belong here, in any case.” 

 

All of the Pillars murmured their agreements, but Sabito remained stubbornly silent. And then, out of seemingly nowhere, Tokitou glanced lazily in Giyuu’s direction and asked, loudly, “What does Tomioka want to do?” 

 

Once again, the garden fell silent. All eyes turned to Giyuu, but Giyuu was watching Ubuyashiki. Ubuyashiki smiled softly.

 

“Tokitou brings up a good question,” he said. “Tomioka, what do you wish to do? We can’t give you Sabito’s position, but I could have a nichirin blade forged for you, and reinstate you to the Corps. Or, we could focus our energy on finding a way to send you home.” 

 

Home. In all honesty, Giyuu wasn’t quite sure he had a home anymore. His own universe didn’t feel like much of one, not when he spent his days painfully alone and feeling off-kilter in more ways than just the lack of arm.

 

“I don’t want to be a Pillar,” Giyuu finally said. “And I’m not sure I want to go back yet, either. I would like to be a Demon Slayer, if possible.”

 

Ubuyashiki nodded. “It shall be done. I should like to speak with you sometime soon, about the things you have seen in your own universe, but until a proper meeting can be arranged, you are free to do as please.” To the rest of the group, he said, “You’re dismissed. Thank you all for coming.” 

 

Hinaki and her twin sister stood up, helping their father to his feet before the three of them retreated back into their home and Giyuu was left alone with the Pillars once more. 

 

At first, it seemed like nobody would speak until the ten of them eventually broke off and went their separate ways, but then Sabito cleared his throat. “Kanroji,” he started. “I have a favor to ask you.” 

 

Kanroji blinked, wide-eyed, before she smiled. “Oh! Sure!” 

 

The silence broken, the other Pillars began to gather themselves together and exit the garden, many of them not even paying Giyuu a second glance as they left. Kochou stopped in front of him, though, a strange look on her face. 

 

“Do you really believe that?” she asked. “All of those things you said about demons?” 

 

Giyuu gazed up at her unreadable expression. “I do,” he replied. 

 

Kochou’s face twisted, her eyes flashed, before that pleasant smile spread on her lips again and she looked as cheery as she always did. “I see. I look forward to seeing you again, Tomioka.” 

 

And then she was gone.

Chapter Text

Kanroji approached the place where Giyuu and Sabito stood, a bright smile on her face and a question in her eyes. Giyuu spotted Iguro lurking nearby, like an angry shadow. 

 

“What did you need?” Kanroji asked, looking at Sabito. Her eyes darted over to Giyuu momentarily before she turned her focus back on the taller man. 

 

Sabito shifted. “Giyuu’s hair is bothering him. I was wondering if you could help him keep it out of his face, since he’s apparently joining the Corps.” 

 

Kanroji blinked, then smiled even wider. “Of course! That sounds like fun!” 

 

Iguro muttered mutinously under his breath, probably snarling underneath his mask. 

 

Sabito nodded curtly. “Good. I have business to discuss with Rengoku, so I’ll leave you two.” He paused, glancing at Iguro. “Or three, I guess.” With that, he spun on his heel and exited the garden, leaving Giyuu alone with the only two Pillars left. Kanroji clapped her hands together, cheering quietly. 

 

“Okay!” she declared. “What kind of style are you going for? Oh, you have such pretty hair, I bet you’d look great with anything!” 

 

Ignoring Iguro’s furious scowl, Giyuu frowned. “Shouldn’t we go somewhere else? We’re still in the Ubuyashiki Estate.” 

 

“Oh, right,” Kanroji said, giggling. She surged forward and linked elbows with Giyuu, leading him out of the garden. Iguro trailed behind, still looking like he was imagining an intricate rendition of Giyuu’s death. 

 

Giyuu stumbled, trying to keep up with Kanroji’s fast pace. “Where are we going?” 

 

“There’s a lovely little creek nearby!” Kanroji replied. “With berries! I love berries. Do you like berries, Tomioka?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. He’d never imagined Kanroji being this energetic. Though, he never really had a chance to talk to her. “Berries are good,” he finally said. Kanroji nodded excitedly. Giyuu ignored the slight twinge in his chest at the thought of berry bushes; Tsutako had worked at a berry orchard, once upon a time. She used to come home with her fingertips stained bright red or purple depending on the day, smearing the pigment on Giyuu’s cheeks and painting nonsensical shapes. And even though the thought of berries of any kind was steeped so entirely in memories of Tsutako, Giyuu could never bring himself to dislike them or stop eating them. The memories were too happy, too cheerful and carefree for him to let them be tainted by grief. 

 

Before Giyuu knew it, the three of them had arrived at the creek Kanroji mentioned. Kanroji immediately released Giyuu’s arm, wandering over to the berry bushes situated near the riverbed. Iguro came to stand beside Giyuu, glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. 

 

Iguro snarled. “If you so much as look at her wrong—” 

 

“I’m gay,” Giyuu blurted, then promptly flushed up to the tips of his ears and clapped a hand over his mouth. He’d never told anyone that before. He’d never had anyone to tell. 

 

Iguro’s eyes blew wide for several moments before his entire demeanor shifted, and he huffed. “Good,” he said. “Then maybe I’ll tolerate you.” 

 

Giyuu stared. Kanroji returned before he could say anything, hands full of red berries and a breathless smile on her face. She held the berries out to Giyuu, their sweet scent wafting underneath his nose. “Try them!” she encouraged. “They’re good!” 

 

Giyuu hesitantly reached out to take a berry from her hand, popping it into his mouth. She was right; it was good. “What kind is this?” he asked. 

 

Kanroji shrugged. “I dunno. They’re Iguro’s favorite, though!” 

 

Iguro flushed bright red. “I—it’s—Kaburamaru likes them,” he stammered, taking a berry and shoving it into the poor snake’s mouth. Kaburamaru shot Iguro a look that could only be described as disdain, though Giyuu didn’t know animals were capable of such an emotion. 

 

Once the three of them had finished the berries Kanroji collected, Kanroji rinsed her hands off in the creek’s clear waters and sat down on the riverbed, patting the space next to her. Giyuu sat down where she indicated, Iguro taking his seat on her other side. 

 

“Okay,” Kanroji said. “What should we do with your hair?” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. “I don’t know what we can do,” he replied. “I wasn’t really planning on this.” 

 

Iguro scoffed. “Typical Sabito,” he muttered. Giyuu frowned at the remark. From his perspective, it almost seemed like the other Pillars didn’t like Sabito, which was crazy to Giyuu. Giyuu was the antisocial one who didn’t make friends easily. Even in the Final Selection prior to his death, Sabito had befriended several of the other children.

 

Kanroji poked Iguro in the shoulder. “You shouldn’t be so negative all the time, Iguro,” she said. “I bet you’d look great when you smiled!” 

 

Iguro froze, flushing redder than before all the way down his neck and up to the tips of his ears. He stared for several seconds in stupefied silence, until Giyuu finally turned to Kanroji and declared, “You broke him.” 

 

Kanroji blinked. “I didn’t do anything, though.” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. “I never said it made sense.” 

 

Kanroji giggled, reaching forward to play with the ends of Giyuu’s hair. “Really, what should we do? Do you want it all out of your face, or do you want to leave some of it down? Do you want a simple style or do you want me to teach you how to do something complicated?” 

 

Giyuu blinked at the onslaught of questions. “I don’t..know?” 

 

Kanroji hummed. “I can do multiple syles and you choose your favorite?” she suggested, looking at him for validation. 

 

Giyuu smiled softly. “Sure.” 

 

Kanroji beamed. “Okay, okay, turn around!”

 

Giyuu did as told, feeling Kanroji begin to sift through his hair.

 

“Oh, it’s so soft!” she gushed. “I’m gonna start with a braid, okay?” 

 

Giyuu hummed. Kanroji began to divide his hair into three, before she expertly wove it all together into a thick, short braid that barely reached the place where Giyuu’s neck met his shoulders. She sat back on her heels once she finished, clapping her hands together. 

 

“What do you think?” she asked, biting her lip. Giyuu tilted his head this way and that, before he made his way over to the nearby stream and kneeled down. He peered at his reflection in the water’s surface, and felt his heart stop. 

 

He looked like Tsutako. So much that it hurt to look at. Before he’d fully registered what he was doing, Giyuu reached up behind him and yanked the tie out of his hair, watching his reflection as his dark hair fell in a tousled curtain around his face. 

 

“Hey,” Kanroji said suddenly, jerking Giyuu out of his reverie. Her eyes looked sad. “Did you really not like it?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. “I—no—it’s not—“ He broke off, feeling tears stinging his eyes. Fuck, he really hadn’t wanted to alienate himself, not when he’d been given this golden opportunity. 

 

It was Iguro who saved him. “Kanroji,” he said, turning away from where he’d been feeding berries to Kaburamaru to look at Giyuu. There was a strange glint in his mismatched eyes. “It’s nothing personal. The braid didn’t suit him.” 

 

Kamroji hesitated. “Yeah, but…”

 

“Put his hair in a ponytail next,” Iguro suggested. “I bet he’d like that.”

 

Kanroji brightened. Giyuu shot Iguro a grateful look as Kanroji crawled over to kneel behind him once again, already running her fingers through his hair. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, if Giyuu was being honest. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had done his hair for him like this, couldn’t even remember the last time someone else had touched his hair. 

 

Kanroji finished and hummed a happy note under her breath. “Go look!” she demanded. 

 

Giyuu did as told, turning to look at his reflection in the water. Even though the ponytail had been his staple for so long, looking at it now felt...off. It almost felt like trying to put on clothes that he’d grown out of, like it was so familiar and yet it was still so wrong. It felt like lying, like he was trying to pretend that he hadn’t changed, that everything was the same as it had been the first time he was nineteen. Somehow, the mere sight of his hair in a ponytail once more seemed to cheapen everything Giyuu had been through since he lost it. 

 

“I don’t think this is it,” Giyuu said. “It’s nice, though.” 

 

Kanroji pouted. “Okay, if you’re sure. I think I’ll do a half-back style next.” 

 

Giyuu settled back in as Kanroji pulled his hair loose from its tie and began arranging it once more. Her hands were delicate, combing through the small knots that had formed as a result of the jostling and different styling. Giyuu imagined he might’ve been lulled to sleep in another universe, feeling those gentle hands carding through his hair as the afternoon sun warmed him from the inside out. The sweet taste of berries still lingered on his tongue. Giyuu couldn’t think of anything more peaceful than this, not even the wildflower clearing from his childhood with Sabito. He wished this moment never had to end. 

 

But Kanroji finished the latest style, and the tranquility of the moment was broken. Giyuu sighed and gazed at his reflection. 

 

“I don’t know,” he started, “it’s not bad, but I kind of wanted all of it to be out of my face. Well, everything but the bangs.” 

 

Kanroji seemed to consider this, before she snapped her fingers and her face brightened. “I’ve got just the style!” she exclaimed, making grabby hand motions in the direction of Giyuu’s hair. Giyuu complied, turning to give her full access to his hair.  Kanroji worked much quicker this time, gathered all of Giyuu’s hair at the nape of his neck and twisting it before she tied it off. Giyuu moved to the creek at her insistence, staring down at his reflection. Overall, the style looked remarkably similar to the ponytail, just barely differentiating. And yet, Giyuu couldn’t help but feel like they’d found the right style, the style he was always meant to have. 

 

“I like this one,” he told her. “What do you call it?” 

 

“It’s a bun!” Kanroji chirped. “Iguro likes to call it a dumpling, though.” 

 

“It looked like a twisted cinnamon bun,” Iguro piped up. “Or a bao dumpling.”

 

Giyuu chuckled and turned to offer Kanroji a gentle smile. “I like it. How do you do it?” 

 

Kanroji squealed, beaming brighter than the sun. “It’s easy. Here, you can do it on me an Iguro for practice!” She immediately loosened her hair and let it cascade down her back in gentle waves, crimped slightly from her braids. Iguro took in a sharp breath at the sight of her, and Giyuu imagined him flushing underneath his ever-present mask. Kanroji turned and sat on her knees, giving Giyuu access to her two-toned hair. 

 

“Okay, first you have to gather it all like it’s a ponytail,” she instructed. Giyuu did as told, bringing her hair together near the nape of her neck like she had with his. “Then, you twist it into one long coil.” 

 

Giyuu followed her instructions as she continued, until finally she handed him a piece of twine and told him to tie it all off. Once he’d finished, he tapped her lightly on the shoulder and she turned around, grinning. Her hair was a bit looser than Giyuu’s, but overall she looked quite nice. Giyuu wondered why she always wore her hair in braids, when she clearly would look so nice in other styles. 

 

“You look nice,” Giyuu told her. Kanroji blinked, turning as pink as her hair. 

 

“Gah, Tomioka!” she cried. “Don’t do that to my poor heart!” 

 

Giyuu tilted his head to the side. “Do what?”

 

Kanroji pouted. “You know what you did,” she huffed. Before Giyuu could argue that no, he didn’t, Kanroji grabbed Iguro’s sleeve and dragged him over to where the two of them were sitting by the river’s edge. Iguro came easily, not even bothering to put up a fight. “Do him next!” 

 

Giyuu turned to Iguro. “Is it okay if I practice on you?” 

 

Iguro shrugged. “I couldn’t care less. Just don’t pull my hair.” 

 

Giyuu nodded as Iguro turned around. He wracked his brain for the steps Kanroji had given him, first gathering Iguro’s hair before he continued with the rest of the bun. It didn’t take him long to finish, and this time it actually looked better than Kanroji’s did. Kanroji giggled at the sight of Iguro, her face still flushed.

 

“Just like a bao dumpling,” she teased. Iguro rolled his eyes, but Giyuu could see a light shade of red dusting his cheeks and the curves of his ears. To Giyuu, she said, “It looks great! It’s actually easier to do on yourself, so don’t worry about that aspect.” She paused, glancing around. “Was that all you needed my help with?” 

 

Giyuu nodded. “I’m sure Sabito will come get me when we need to get moving again.” Kanroji’s face fell slightly, the movement so minute Giyuu wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t imagined it. Taking a chance, Giyuu said, “I don’t have to go back right away, though. I can stay a little while longer, if you’d like.” 

 

At that, Kanroji brightened again. “Yay!” she cheered. “We need to have more berries! Oh, and I wanna talk to you about Sabito!” 

 

Giyuu watched her scamper over to the berry bushes, blinking in confusion. “What about Sabito?”

 

Kanroji turned to him, already cupping a handful of berries in her palms. “I want to know what he’s like! Tell me everything!” she knelt down beside him once more, holding the berries out toward him. Giyuu took one, rolling it between his fingertips as Iguro took one and fed it to Kaburamaru. 

 

“What do you want to know?” Giyuu asked. 

 

“Anything,” Kanroji replied. “Everything. He’s always so grumpy and he never talks to us after meetings.” 

 

Giyuu blinked. “Really?” More and more, it was starting to seem like losing Giyuu had done to Sabito wat losing Sabito had done to Giyuu, in his own universe. The thought saddened Giyuu, more than he’d been expecting; Giyuu had spent so many years staring at his hands that were simultaneously unblemished and covered in the blood of everyone who had ever saved him, he’d spent so long drowning in his own grief and misery and self-loathing that they saved him but he couldn’t save anyone in return, at some point it had become his entire existence. He never would’ve wished that on anyone, especially not someone he loved as much as Sabito. 

 

But that also made him wonder—just how much did he love the Sabito he had now? It wasn’t his Sabito, not by a long shot. He had loved his Sabito. As much as everyone else seems to be the same as they always were back home, Sabito’s mere existence and the shift in his personality was enough to remind Giyuu that he didn’t belong here, not really. 

 

Tomioka Giyuu was supposed to be dead. Giyuu couldn’t change that, no matter how much he might’ve wanted to. Dead things were meant to stay dead. 

 

“Tomioka?” Kanroji asked, a concerned look on her face. “You okay? You got all quiet all of a sudden.” 

 

Giyuu blinked himself out of his thoughts. “Right, sorry. I’m fine. Sabito’s—I don’t know, I think the amount of people he’s lost weighs on him more than you might think. He’s pretty closed off, in all honesty.” 

 

“I’ve never met a Slayer who hasn’t suffered,” Iguro said, holding up a berry for Kaburamaru. The snake’s tongue flicked out to lick the berry before it opened its mouth more, and Iguro popped the berry into the opening. “But you can’t just stare at your wound forever. At some point you have to move on, or you’d never stop bleeding.” 

 

Giyuu opened his mouth to reply, but the true meaning behind Iguro’s words hit him at once and he was rendered speechless. At Giyuu and Kanroji’s prolonged silence, Iguro glanced away from Kaburamaru to look at them. 

 

“What?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow. 

 

Kanroji recovered first. “Gah, Iguro, you never told me you were so wise! That’s so cool!” 

 

Iguro flushed. “I—I’m really not,” he stammered, but Kanroji wasn’t listening anymore. Giyuu simply continued to stare, unable to form words or even a coherent thought. 

 

You can’t just stare at your wound forever. At some point you have to move on, or you’d never stop bleeding. 

 

In the process of psychoanalyzing Sabito, somehow Iguro had cut Giyuu down to his very core. 

 

...or you’d never stop bleeding. 

 

That really was the crux of it all, wasn’t it? Giyuu sat in a closet trying not to breathe while he listened to a demon slaughter his sister in the next room, too scared to so much as cry, and when it was finally over he stared at her blood for so long that he couldn’t leave without her red haori. He never realized before, never even noticed the irony of it—the haori he’d taken wasn’t what she’d been wearing when she died, instead it had been folded next to the kimono she’d planned to wear the following day when she married, but Giyuu couldn’t leave without at least some part of her. It had never occurred to him that her haori was the same red as the blood that coated the floorboards and the walls and stained her pretty, pale skin. He’d never realized—he was never wearing her haori, all these years. He was wearing her blood. 

 

And when he added Sabito’s half, because only half of it had been salvageable after the demon had finished with him, Giyuu hadn’t been wearing Sabito’s haori. He was wearing Sabito’s body, broken and bloodied and lifeless on the ground in that horrible forest on that awful mountain. 

 

It was never just a haori, which might’ve been why it was so important. Might’ve been why it never seemed to stop hurting. He wore their bodies on his shoulders like a cloak, shrouded himself in their blood like curtains that kept him disconnected from the rest of the world, the rest of reality. He could not give Tsutako his blood, could not give Sabito his body, and so instead he bore their wounds on his soul and died alongside them. 

 

Fuck. 

 

“Kanroji,” Giyuu said. Kanroji turned to look at him. “I think I need a new haori. Will you help me pick one out?” 

 

Kanroji frowned. “What’s wrong with the one you’ve got now? It’s such a pretty color on you.” 

 

Giyuu shrugged, clenched his fists in the fabric of Tsutako’s haori. There it was again—even in his own head, he had never called it his haori. Just like he never called it his life. It was a life he’d been given but didn’t deserve, a life that had been saved by people whom he could never repay. He would not give her haori away, would not let go of it. But, sitting here in this sunny clearing with two of the people he’d always wanted to befriend, Giyuu supposed it was finally time to wash away the blood and lay her to rest, finally time to bandage his wounds and stop the bleeding. No more red, no more hurting. Tsutako did not have to live on his shoulders and stain his soul for him to remember her. He did not have to remind himself of his own trauma every morning when he dressed, did not have to hurt himself over and over and over again all in the name of honoring her sacrifice. She would not want to live on in a such a miserable legacy. 

 

“This one’s old,” Giyuu told her. “I don’t think it suits me anymore.”

 

Kanroji stared at him for a long moment, a strange glint in her eyes, before she shrugged and said, “Sure! I bet you’d look great in something patterned, but it would have to be subtle. Maybe a lighter pink? Ooh, or yellow!” 

 

The sunlight filtered in through the canopy of trees overhead, a gentle breeze blowing through, and for the first time since he’d lost his sister, Giyuu felt a weight lift off of him, felt like his wounds were stitching themselves back together. 

 

All the blood he used to drown himself in suddenly felt much lighter, felt like water, washing him clean. Like gentle rain after a tumultuous storm, like Giyuu had finally spotted a sliver of sunlight after wandering darkened woods for longer than he could remember. It felt a little like coming home, here in a universe he didn’t belong in. 

 

Giyuu chose not to read into that.

Chapter Text

The marketplace Iguro led the three of them to was small, though it was clearly bustling. The vendors were squished together to fit as many as possible on this narrow street, all of them full of their product and boasting about it to anyone who would listen. Giyuu glanced around at all of the activity, watching a small child point out a candy vendor to her mother as she was dragged by the hand down the street. 

 

“Wow,” Kanroji marveled. “Look at all these people!”

 

Giyuu felt the same way, just more negatively. Ugh, he thought. Look at all these people. 

 

Iguro gestured for the two of them to follow, bringing Giyuu and Kanroji further down the street until they’d nearly reached its end and came across a small vendor that looked more like a shop, with racks of haoris in all different colors and patterns hanging. Truthfully, Giyuu hadn’t even known they made haoris in so many different colors, though he supposed there wasn’t any reason why they wouldn’t, other than the dye might be expensive. 

 

Giyuu was momentarily grateful he’d remembered to snag some of Sabito’s money, eyeing the prices. Kanroji clapped her hands and set to work rifling through the racks immediately, as Giyuu nodded his greeting toward the vendor. 

 

“Okay!” Kanroji said. “You have dark hair, which would probably look best with a bright color to bring it out, but you have blue eyes so you’d look good in shades of blue,” she listed, pulling a haori off of the rack and depositing it in Giyuu’s arms. She pulled out several more and did the same, turning Giyuu into a human clothes rack. 

 

“I don’t want anything blue,” Giyuu told her. Kanroji paused, a navy haori halfway off of the rack, before she slowly slid it back into place and moved on. He wasn’t lying, of course; he thought that a blue haori on top of his blue eyes and blue-tinged hair might be a bit redundant, and he didn’t much care for the color blue to begin with. 

 

Iguro came to stand beside Giyuu, Kaburamaru lifting his head slightly to investigate Giyuu’s hair and shoulder. Giyuu inclined his body more toward Kaburamaru, reaching up to pat his head lightly with a fingertip. Iguro gently nudged Kaburamaru away from Giyuu, stroking his head affectionately as Kanroji continued to shuffle through the shop’s selection of haoris.

 

“Are you sure you want to leave all of this up to her?” Iguro asked in a low voice. “She might not pick something you like.” 

 

Giyuu blinked at him. “Why wouldn’t she?” 

 

“I love Kanroji,” Iguro started, “but she doesn’t have the best sense of style. I mean, she willingly wears knee-high, lime green socks that I bought her.”

 

“I don’t think that has anything to do with her sense of style,” Giyuu replied, but he didn’t say anything else, even when Iguro pestered him. He allowed Kanroji to continue going through the vendor’s inventory, even as the pile in his arms was starting to get heavy. What must’ve been thirty minutes had gone by before Kanroji finally finished her search, depositing a single, yellow haori on top of the pile before she stepped back and put her hands on her hips. 

 

“Okay!” she chirped. “Time to try them on!” 

 

Giyuu stared. “Time to—what?” 

 

Kanroji giggled. “Why did you think I’d been setting them all aside, silly? Iguro, take the pile from him and come stand by me.” 

 

Iguro, of course, did exactly as told, leaving Giyuu floundering. He cast a quick glance behind him at the vendor, but the woman seemed amused by this turn of events, and it became clear that she wasn’t going to be helping Giyuu any time soon. Giyuu sighed, and took the yellow haori off the top of the pile, removing Tsutako’s and handing it to Kanroji. 

 

The yellow pattern wasn’t bad, all things considered; it was littered with sakura flowers and petals, with the occasional koi fish pigmented a pale blue. However, once he’d put it on, Giyuu could see by the look on Kanroji’s face that she wasn’t pleased with it. 

 

“You look like a bumblebee,” Iguro said. 

 

Giyuu’s face burned with embarrassment, even as Kanroji elbowed Iguro and hissed, “Don’t be mean!” To Giyuu, she said, “I don’t think that one is quite right for you.” 

 

Giyuu wasted no time in removing the haori and folding it neatly. The vendor took it from him once he’d finished, returning it to its place on the rack. The next haori that Kanroji handed him was a garish orange, which Giyuu didn’t even bother trying on before he vetoed. 

 

“I don’t want to look like a pumpkin,” he told her, completely deadpan in the face of her childish pout. 

 

“Fine, fine,” Kanroji said, waving a hand. She picked through the pile for several moments before she produced a navy blue haori that made Giyuu raise an eyebrow. 

 

“I thought I said I didn’t want blue,” he murmured, taking the haori from her. He unfolded it, scanning the pattern. It was pretty, all things considered; the haori’s base fabric was navy blue, with jellyfish and starfish embroidered near the bottom in a brightly colored thread that almost seemed to be glowing. 

 

“I know, I know!” Kanroji exclaimed. “But it’s so pretty, how can you say no to that?” 

 

Giyuu looked up from the haori. “Like this,” he said. “No.” To punctuate the statement, he passed it to the vendor. Iguro snorted as the vendor snickered. Kanroji pouted, already turning back to the pile. 

 

“You’re no fun,” she said. 

 

Giyuu shrugged. “Maybe.” 

 

The next haori Kanroji produced was white, with black and grey clouds spreading along the base of the torso until about mid-back. Several different koi fish seemed to swim among the clouds, most of them black and white apart for one, orange and white fish. Giyuu slipped on the haori easily, holding out his arms and looking to Kanroji for approval. 

 

Kanroji tapped her chin with her finger, humming contemplatively. She turned to Iguro. “Does the white wash him out?” 

 

“Like soap,” Iguro replied. 

 

Giyuu huffed and took off the haori. The vendor was already waiting and ready for him to hand it to her, seemingly enjoying this fashion show just as much as Kanroji, if not more. Kanroji passed Giyuu another from the pile, not even bothering to unfold it. 

 

Giyuu held the haori by the shoulders, watching it unfold before his eyes. It was black, with a colorful pattern on its sleeves and on the back of the bodice. The sleeves were patterned with purple wisteria, as was the back collar. Red and green leaves were littered in between the wisteria petals, brightening the pattern even more. On the back of the bodice were two large koi fish swimming near each other, one orange and one grey. White ripples spread out beneath the fish. 

 

Giyuu glanced up. “Are koi fish going to be a recurring theme?” 

 

Kanroji shushed him. “Just try it on!” 

 

Giyuu did as told, flexing his wrists and adjusting the way the fabric fell as Kanroji clicked her tongue. 

 

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, squishing her cheeks between her fists. “I thought that one would be cool, but it doesn’t feel right.”

 

Iguro nodded his agreement. 

 

“These are all very intricate,” Giyuu said. “I’d be fine with a simple, solid color.” 

 

“Don’t be silly!” Kanroji replied immediately. “If you have the chance to get something cool, get something cool!” She pouted slightly, her bottom lip jutting out. “They don’t sell cool ones in my village, so I had to get white.” 

 

Giyuu stared at her, wondering if he should point out where they were or if that would be in poor taste. 

 

Before Kanroji could find him another haori to try from her pile, the vendor tapped Giyuu on the shoulder, a soft smile on her face. “I think you will find this is more suited to your liking,” she said, handing Giyuu a folded haori. Giyuu took it from her with a grateful nod, unfolding it to get a good look at the pattern on it. It was black, just like the one Kanroji had given him, but this time the sleeves were patterned with both sakura and wisteria flowers on the sleeves, tapering off near the hem. The right sleeve’s pattern ended before it reached the rest of the bodice, but the left side’s sakura flowers continued over onto the chest, covering the place where Giyuu’s heart would be, if he wore it. Near the bottom of the hem, rippling water spread out embroidered in shimmering, golden fabric. Giyuu turned it over to see what it looked like from behind, and saw that it the golden water continued onto the back, as did the flowers. Two koi fish were situated on the back beneath the water, circling each other. An amber crescent moon sat nestled behind the flowers, up near the right corner of the bodice, just barely avoiding spilling over onto the sleeve. 

 

Giyuu was almost afraid to put it on, lest he ruin it. Eventually, he slid it on and let it fall naturally. He glanced down at himself for a moment, before he looked up and held his arms out to model it for Kanroji. Kanroji was positively beaming, her hands pressed over her mouth and her eyes crinkling up at the corners. 

 

“Ah, Tomioka, it’s perfect!” she cried, practically vibrating with excitement. Iguro gave Giyuu a curt nod of approval, passing the remaining haoris in his hand over to the vendor. Giyuu glanced back at the vendor, who gave him an approving nod. 

 

“I guess I’ll take this one,” Giyuu said. “How much?” 

 

The vendor looked up from where she was putting the pile back into their rightful places. “3000 yen,” she replied. Giyuu handed it to her immediately, thanking her for her help. Kanroji thanked her as well, bowing slightly before she linked elbows with Giyuu and led him away from the vendor’s shop, Iguro walking on her other side. 

 

“What should we do now?” Kanroji asked, humming a cheerful tune under her breath. Much like Giyuu remembered Tanjirou being, Kanroji seemed to be tone-deaf, though neither he nor Iguro dared asking her to stop. 

 

Iguro shrugged. “Food?” 

 

Kanroji brightened immediately. “Ooh, yes!” She swiveled to look at Giyuu, smiling brightly. “What do you like to eat?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. “Uh...salmon daikon?” he said, not entirely sure why she was asking him. 

 

“Good idea!” Kanroji declared, already leading Giyuu further into town. Idly, Giyuu wondered how Sabito was even going to find them, at this point. He didn’t pay the thought much mind, instead allowing her to drag him and Iguro into a small restaurant near the center of town. The hostess led them to a table nearly immediately, seeming to recognize Kanroji and Iguro. 

 

They ordered and ate quickly, foregoing conversation to focus on the food. Once they’d finished, Iguro paid and the three of them exited the restaurant. By the time they exited, the sun was beginning to set, painting the whole street in shades of gold. The streets were also significantly emptier than they had been earlier, most people having returned home for the evening by that point. Giyuu had heard stories about cities bustling well into the dark of night, but he’d never really seen it for himself; most of his missions, oddly, tended to be in rural villages or forest paths. 

 

“We should find Sabito,” Giyuu suggested. Kanroji pouted slightly, but she didn’t argue. 

 

“He’s no fun,” she huffed. “But I liked hanging out with you, Tomioka! You’re way cooler than Sabito, I wish you were our Water Pillar.” 

 

Giyuu shifted. “No,” he told her. “Sabito is more qualified.” 

 

Iguro shrugged, muttering something under his breath that sounded like qualified at being an asshole, maybe. Giyuu pointedly ignored the comment, allowing the others to lead him back toward the Ubuyashiki Estate in hopes that Sabito would be waiting for them. He’d had fun with the two of them, and he privately wished that he wouldn’t have to go back to Sabito. As much as he loved Sabito, this universe’s Sabito only filled him with an odd sense of dread he couldn’t quite explain. Still, he knew he couldn’t avoid it forever; he was ultimately tied to Sabito, no matter how much he might’ve wished otherwise. 

 

Sabito was standing at the gate of the Ubuyashiki Estate when the three of them arrived, tapping his foot impatiently. He straightened up as he saw them draw near, glaring. “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting here for—” Abruptly, any and all words he might’ve said died on his tongue. Giyuu stopped several feet away, standing in between Iguro and Kanroji. Kanroji handed him Tsutako’s haori, folded neatly the way it had been the night he’d taken it and fled so many years ago. For the first time, the sight of it folded didn’t fill his heart with pain, didn’t turn his blood to ice. He felt—the only real word for it was calm. 

 

Giyuu didn’t know what to do with that. 

 

Sabito was still staring at him, mouth open and poised to form words that weren’t coming. Kanroji placed her hands on Giyuu’s shoulders, pressing in close as she chirped, “Doesn’t he look so pretty, Sabito?” 

 

Sabito made a strangled noise in the back of his throat. 

 

“Close your mouth,” Iguro said. “You’ll catch flies.” 

 

Sabito’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click. He huffed and turned away, crossing his arms over his chest. Giyuu frowned at the sight of the bright flush on his face, wondering what had gotten him so flustered. “Whatever,” Sabito spat. “We have to follow my crow over to the swordsmith village. Oh, and you’ve been assigned this crow.” 

 

Sabito whistled a low note, and Giyuu watched as two crows swooped down from where they’d been apparently circling overhead. One of them landed on Sabito’s shoulder with practiced ease and grace, preening underneath Sabito’s pleased pets. The other one, however, wobbled its way onto Giyuu’s shoulder. It took Giyuu a moment to recognize his old crow, the elderly bird that used to make him nervous. He smiled softy, patting its head. 

 

“Nice to meet you,” he said, mentally tacking on an again. When he looked up, Sabito was staring at him again with a vaguely constipated look on his face. “What?” he asked. “Do I have something on my face?” 

 

Kanroji snickered at the same time Iguro rolled his eyes. Sabito flushed bright red, the pigment on his cheeks clashing horribly with his hair as he abruptly turned away from Giyuu again. Giyuu glanced over at Kanroji for an explanation, but she was too busy stifling laughter. Iguro muttered idiots under his breath and reached up to pet Kaburamaru. 

 

Kanroji squeezed Giyuu’s shoulder as she and Iguro started to walk away. “Goodbye, Tomioka! See you soon!” 

 

Iguro lifted a hand in a lazy wave. Giyuu watched them walk off down the street, before he turned back toward Sabito. “Should we get moving?” 

 

Sabito, still refusing to look at him, huffed and muttered, “Fine. Whatever. Let’s go.”

 

Giyuu frowned and fell into step beside the taller man. The silence didn’t bother him, but it was a little stifling when he added in the fact that Sabito still wouldn’t look at him. Finally, after what felt like hours, Sabito’s eyes darted over to him for less than a second and he muttered, “You look nice.” 

 

Giyuu’s cheeks warmed. “Oh—thanks.” 

 

Strangely, he felt like his heart had skipped a beat. That couldn’t be good.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The rest of the trip to the swordsmith village passed in stony, uncomfortable silence. Giyuu could feel Sabito’s eyes on him every once in a while, and occasionally the quiet would shift into something like awkwardness and, strangely, longing, but neither of them ended up speaking. When they finally arrived and saw the familiar masked-villagers, Giyuu glanced over at Sabito, but Sabito was resolutely not looking at Giyuu. 

 

“We’re here,” Sabito grunted. “I’m leaving now.” 

 

Giyuu hesitated, watching as Sabito spun on his heel and made to leave. His fingers twitched, as if he wanted to reach out to Sabito but didn’t, at the same time. There were a million words sitting on the tip of his tongue, weighing him down, but Giyuu had only ever learned how to swallow them, never to spit them out or, God forbid, speak meaning into them. And so, he swallowed his words, watched Sabito walk away, and forced himself to turn around and face the village once more. 

 

His chest felt hollow. 

 

None of the villagers paid Giyuu any mind as he made his way into the village, all of them going about their days without so much as turning to look at the stranger walking down their dirt road. Giyuu walked until he reached the place where he knew the leader to be, entering the small building after a brief moment’s hesitation. Tecchikawahara looked up when Giyuu entered, though the mask fixed to his face made it impossible for Giyuu to tell what kind of expression he might’ve been making. 

 

“You must be Tomioka,” Tecchikawahara said, voice level. “Oyakata-sama wrote to me about you.” 

 

Giyuu bowed low, remembering the chief’s inflated self-esteem from his own universe.. “That’s me,” he replied, straightening up. 

 

Tecchikawahara stared at him for several seconds before he sighed and turned away, rifling through several papers. “Everybody’s busy, gearing up for the Final Selection, so we could only spare one swordsmith to make your blade.” 

 

“That’s fine,” Giyuu replied. 

 

Tecchikawahara pulled out a small piece of paper, running his finger along the fold as he hesitated. Finally, he passed Giyuu the paper. Giyuu unfolded it, and found himself staring at a name and address, neither of which he recognized. 

 

He looked up. “Who’s Haganezuka?” 

 

Tecchikawara scratched the side of his face where the mask rested. “Unfortunately, he’s the worst swordsmith in the village. Everybody asks for someone new eventually.” 

 

Giyuu blinked. He tucked the paper into the pocket of his pants, standing up. “This is fine,” he said. “Thank you for your help.” With that, he exited the building and started walking toward the location he’d been given. He hoped Haganezuka would be finished with his sword by the time he arrived, as he’d never been all that fond of the swordsmith village. Nothing against the people, though he did find their intense focus a touch unnerving. It was more the location that bothered him, as well as the constant out-of-place feeling he had wandering those streets. It was hard to feel comfortable in a place where he could tell so easily that he didn’t belong. 

 

Before Giyuu knew it, he’d arrived at the location Tecchikawahara had directed him to. He knocked lightly on the door, listening for an invite before he pushed the door open and found himself staring at several different swordsmiths, many of them hard at work. The one nearest the door looked up with Giyuu entered, and asked, “Who’re you here for?” 

 

“Haganezuka,” Giyuu replied. “Is he here?” 

 

The swordsmith’s demeanor shifted slightly, as if they suddenly pitied Giyuu or felt bad for him. Giyuu frowned at the observation. “Should be around back. He doesn’t like to work inside.” 

 

Giyuu nodded his thanks and left the way he’d come, walking around the back of the building. Just as the swordsmith had told him, there was another swordsmith crouching near a large boulder, apparently sharpening a blade. Giyuu waited a moment before he cleared his throat, hoping he wouldn’t startle Haganezuka too badly. 

 

Haganezuka turned, and stared at Giyuu for several long, uncomfortable seconds. “Tomioka Giyuu?” he asked. Giyuu nodded. Haganezuka stared for a moment before he turned back to where he’d been sharpening the blade. He continued to work on the sword for several minutes, during which Giyuu shifted and glanced around, unsure what to do. Finally, after what felt like ages, Haganezuka turned and presented the blade to Giyuu. Giyuu lifted a hand and took the blade from him, turning its hilt over in his hilt before he shifted his stance and held it properly. 

 

Before their eyes, the silvery blade changed colors, turning blue starting near the bottom of the blade up to its tip. Giyuu squinted at the blade; for some reason, the color seemed a touch different than he was used to. There was less green in its color, and more red even though it was still a bright blue. 

 

“Huh,” Haganezuka said. “Never seen that shade of blue before.” 

 

Giyuu turned to look at him, unsure how to respond. 

 

“But it’s not as weird as that other blade,” Haganezuka continued. “Some Water Breather years back had a blade that was obviously blue but it was almost black with how dark it was. He switched swordsmiths after a while, but I’ve heard his blade only got darker.” 

 

“Who was it?” Giyuu asked, before he could stop. 

 

Haganezuka turned to look at him. “Think his name was—something Sabito, if I remember correctly.” Giyuu jerked, staring at Haganezuka as the man turned to retrieve his tools as well as the sheath for Giyuu’s sword. Come to think of it, Sabito’s sword had been unnaturally dark. Giyuu didn’t even realize it until Haganezuka had pointed it out, but Giyuu had never seen a Water Breather’s blade so close to black. Idly, he wondered why it wasn’t lighter, since he remembered Sabito being such a strong swordsman. By all means, he should’ve had the brightest of blues for his blade. 

 

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Giyuu sheathed his sword and bowed to Haganezuka. “Thank you for my sword,” he said. He straightened up after a moment and fastened the sheath around his waist beneath his haori. Haganezuka nodded and said nothing, already heading back toward the front of the building. Giyuu watched him go for a moment, intending to turn and follow him toward the main road, but a flash of movement in the forest behind him caught his eye. Frowning, Giyuu stepped closer, squinting to get a better look. Something teal flashed again, and Giyuu walked into the forest to find out what it was. Wild animals weren’t usually colored teal, and he couldn’t risk leaving a demon so close to the swordsmith village. 

 

As he plunged deeper into the forest, the trees became thicker and his ears picked up the sounds of—it sounded like grunted, as well as the dull thud of something hitting a tree trunk repeatedly. Giyuu frowned, wondering if it really was a demon. But it was daylight, he reasoned. No demons would be out during these hours, even in a forest as dense as this one. 

 

After a few more minutes of walking, Giyuu reached a small clearing surrounded by trees with wide, sturdy trunks. On the other side of the clearing, Giyuu saw Tokitou apparently practicing his skills by trying to slice through a tree trunk without damaging his blade, though the chips near the foible proved that he wasn’t quite succeeding. 

 

Giyuu purposefully stepped on a tree branch to catch Tokitou’s attention. Tokitou whirled around, sword poised and ready, but he relaxed when he saw that it was only Giyuu. The two of them gazed at each other in silence for several minutes, as neither had ever been that talkative. 

 

It was Giyuu who broke the silence. “What are you doing?” 

 

Tokitou’s head listed to the side slightly, as if he’d forgotten to keep holding it up. “Practicing.” 

 

Giyuu glanced over Tokitou’s shoulder at the mutilated tree trunk. “Is it working?” 

 

Tokitou shrugged. 

 

Silence fell over the two of them again. Tokitou spoke next, asking, “What are you doing here?”

 

“Got my sword,” Giyuu replied. “Saw movement and thought it might be a demon.” 

 

Tokitou pointed toward the sky. “It’s daylight.” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. 

 

Tokitou stared at him for another beat, before he turned around and lifted his sword again, going in to strike the tree. Giyuu could tell from the movement—he was trying to slice the tree trunk, cycling through every form of Mist Breathing without success. It was reminiscent of Urokodaki and his boulders. Giyuu wondered who trained Tokitou, or if anyone had trained him at all. If he remembered correctly from his own universe, Tokitou improved at a rapid pace with his swordsmanship, becoming a Pillar only a month or two after passing his Selection. He wondered if it was the same here.

 

“What exactly are you trying to do?” Giyuu finally asked, drawing Tokitou’s attention once more. 

 

“Split the tree trunk,” Tokitou replied. Giyuu stepped closer, drawing his own sword from its sheath. He turned to a tree next to Tokitou’s, and readied his stance before he summoned Water Breathing and used the first form to slice the tree clean through its trunk. The tree didn’t even fall, but Giyuu could see where he’d cut it. 

 

“Like that?” he asked, turning to Tokitou. Tokitou blinked up at him, then looked down at the tree. He reached up and poked it with the tip of its blade. The tree slid out of place, eventually overbalancing and falling to the forest floor with a loud thud that rattled Giyuu’s ribcage. 

 

“How did you do that?” Tokitou asked.

 

Giyuu shrugged. “My trainer required me to learn how to slice a boulder clean down the middle before I was allowed to attend Final Selection.” He paused, considering his next words carefully. “You just have to hone your technique enough that you can force an opening even into the toughest of opponents.” 

 

Tokitou blinked. 

 

Giyuu shifted awkwardly. “I mean—well—you know how when you finally find a demon’s opening, you strike and cut it’s head off?” Tokitou nodded. “Boulders and trees don’t exactly have openings. At least, not ones that are easy to find. But if you practice your technique enough, eventually you’ll be able to manipulate the enemy’s defense and create your own opening. Does that make sense?” 

 

“No,” Tokitou replied. “Thanks for the advice.” Without another word, he turned back to the tree and resumed his slashing. Giyuu hesitated for a moment, before he ultimately sighed and sheathed his sword, retreating back through the forest toward the main road. It seemed he’d squandered an opportunity to befriend the younger boy, just like he’d squandered his chances with many of the other Pillars by making his stance on demons known at the meeting. Perhaps there wasn’t a universe out there where Giyuu could ever make friends with his colleagues. 

 

Perhaps Giyuu was always meant to be alone, Sabito or no.

Chapter Text

Giyuu tipped his head back toward the sky, closing his eyes. A soft breeze blew through, ruffling his hair and lifting the edges of his haori. He sighed in tune with it, and wished that the peace of the moment could calm the raging waves within him. That was the problem with water, he’d found: always so turbulent, so quick to rile. It seemed terribly ironic that Giyuu’s invented technique was a lull, as Giyuu didn’t think the ocean within him had ever been anything but violent. 

 

A new hairstyle and a new haori wasn’t going to be enough to undo the trauma of his past years, no matter how much he would’ve liked it to be that simple. He could still feel Tsutako’s blood on his face, could still see Sabito’s body whenever he closed his eyes. His ocean was bleeding red, too tainted to clean. Giyuu wondered if it might be better to let the waves swallow him, rather than continue trying to fight. It would certainly be easier, all things considered, if he could just let go now. 

 

There was also the problem of Sabito that Giyuu had to deal with. 

 

Sabito was—different than how Giyuu remembered. Of course he was; it had been six (eight) years since Giyuu saw Sabito last, since he spoke with Sabito last, since he promised that the two of them would make it out alive because it was always meant to be them against the world, demons or no. 

 

Sometimes, Giyuu regretted not wishing for a miracle that night alongside Sabito. He regretted being so confident that they were going to live, that they didn’t need a miracle to see them through to the end. He wondered if Sabito’s wish granted Giyuu’s life and Giyuu’s lack of one stole Sabito’s. Which was a foolish thing to wonder, all things considered, but nobody said that grief had to make sense. 

 

He wanted to like Sabito. He wanted to befriend Sabito like they used to be, wanted to love him in secret like he always used to even if he didn’t realize it. He used to tell himself, when he was grief-stricken and bartering with the universe, that if the universe only gave Sabito back, it would be enough. And here he was, Sabito within reach, and somehow, inexplicably, it just—wasn’t enough. He wasn’t enough. 

 

The universe had a nice way of always proving Giyuu wrong, didn’t it? 

 

Giyuu thought that maybe Tanjirou had something to do with this sudden desire for companionship, a place to call home. Before Tanjirou, Giyuu didn’t much care that nobody liked him, that nobody would mourn if he died in battle or if he succumbed to some frivolous illness by the side of the road. He ignored the Water Estate he’d been given as soon as he became a Pillar, because he didn’t feel the need to go home when he could just keep moving. There was no home without Sabito, without Tsutako, and therefore Giyuu didn’t want it. 

 

But then he met Tanjirou, and he saw a boy who was willing to give his life to save his sister’s, even though, for all intents and purposes, she was already condemned. The mere notion of it was too reminiscent of Tsutako tucking Giyuu away in the closet instead of hiding herself, dying the night before her wedding so that Giyuu could live. 

 

Maybe it wasn’t Tanjirou. Maybe this desire had been hidden in the recesses of Giyuu’s soul, sinking to the bottom of the ocean inside of him, all along, and Tanjirou was the one who reminded him that there was more to life than killing demons and mourning losses. That what he’d been doing for almost a decade wasn’t living, even if he was still alive. 

 

Giyuu sighed and dragged a hand down his face. Emotions were so complicated . He missed having Tsutako or Sabito around to decipher them for him, as they used to when he was small. 

 

A thought occurred to Giyuu at that moment, and for the first time since he’d been sent here, he wondered how those still in his own universe had reacted to his sudden vanishing. Many of them, he was sure, wouldn’t care all that much—in the wake of everyone else they’d lost, barely three weeks after the end of the final battle, everyone was still grieving the others who had fallen. Would Giyuu be lumped in with the rest of them? Had anyone even noticed? It wasn’t like he was making an effort to stay in contact with anyone who might’ve cared, like Tanjirou or Urokodaki. For all they knew, Giyuu was simply doing what he did best and detaching himself from everything in favor of killing demons. 

 

Tanjirou and Nezuko might miss him, Giyuu decided finally, but they would also be fine without him. After everything else they had lost, losing Giyuu wouldn’t be nearly as significant. They were—healing, after everything they’d gone through. It was finally morning for them, the tides finally receding and the ocean waters stilling. In the face of something as bright as the morning sunlight, Giyuu’s disappearance must’ve been little more than a passing cloud, distant on the horizon. 

 

Giyuu pressed his lips into a thin line. He didn’t like this particular train of thought.

 

Abruptly, a steaming cup of tea was thrust in front of Giyuu’s face and Giyuu blinked, reeling back to get a better look at whoever was attached to the hand holding the cup. 

 

It was Tokitou, staring at him blankly and holding his own cup of tea in his other hand. Slowly, Giyuu reached up and took the cup from Tokitou, who merely listed his head to the side and trailed closer, sitting down beside Giyuu closer than was strictly necessary. Tokitou was remarkably hard to read, all things considered. 

 

Giyuu stared at the shorter boy for several long seconds before turning back to take his tea. He sniffed the steam wafting off of it, hoping to decipher whatever type of tea it was by the aroma alone. 

 

“It’s ginger,” Tokitou said suddenly. Giyuu shifted slightly, lifting the cup to his lips to take a small sip. It was good tea, but it tasted like whoever made it had diluted it to dull the spiciness. 

 

“Thanks,” Giyuu said, lowering his tea cup. Tokitou hummed, staring out at the deserted village street in front of them. Giyuu tapped a finger against the side of the tea cup, unsure what to do. “Did you slice the tree?” 

 

“Not yet,” Tokitou replied. “I saw a frog on my way back, though.” 

 

A frog? “Oh,” Giyuu said dumbly. “That’s—cool.” 

 

Tokitou hummed again. “I like frogs.”

 

Giyuu glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, before taking another sip of his tea. “I prefer fish.” 

 

Tokitou turned to him, blinking wide eyes up at him as he asked, “What kind?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. “Uh—I dunno, I’ve never thought about it. Koi fish, I guess.” 

 

Tokitou nodded at that, and turned back to the street. “I’m not going to remember that,” he declared.

 

“That’s okay,” Giyuu told him. “It’s not that important.” 

 

Tokitou said nothing. A small lizard darted across the street toward the two of them, attracted to the scent of ginger coming off of their tea. Tokitou lowered his hand and allowed the lizard to scamper up his arm, which he lifted and brought to rest on his knees. The lizard, situated on Tokitou’s forearm, stared at Giyuu, who stared back. 

 

Faster than Giyuu could blink, the lizard had dived into Tokitou’s tea cup, splashing the hot tea everywhere. Tokitou didn’t bat an eye, merely turned the cup upside down and dumped out the lizard as well as the rest of his tea. “Don’t do that,” he told the lizard. “It’s too hot.” 

 

The lizard looked up at him, as if to apologize, before it scampered off again. Tokitou set down his now empty cup, crossing his arms over his knees and resting his chin on them. He was much smaller than Giyuu ever realized, looking every bit the child he really was. Something about it didn’t sit quite right in Giyuu’s chest. 

 

“I’ve forgotten something,” Tokitou started suddenly. “Something important.”

 

Giyuu startled, turning to look at Tokitou. 

 

Tokitou didn’t look at him. “I think it has something to do with my family. Or my purpose in life. I think that if I remembered, I wouldn’t feel so lost.” 

 

Giyuu just stared, unsure how else to respond. 

 

Tokitou seemed to sigh, his body deflating, though Giyuu didn’t hear his breath. “I don’t know what I am supposed to do.”

 

Giyuu paused. When it became clear that Tokitou was finished, he asked, “Do you have to have a purpose? Can you not just live, and can that not be enough?” 

 

Tokitou lifted his head, staring at Giyuu with a dumbfounded expression on his face. Had nobody ever told him this? He was—what, twelve? And he was already struggling with the suffocating concept of existence and what he could do to deserve it? And yeah, Giyuu had spent nearly a decade working so hard to deserve his own life, to finally believe that he had a reason to exist, that he was valuable, so telling Tokitou this might make him a hypocrite, but—

 

Working so very hard to find a reason to exist, to finally believe that he deserved his place on this earth—it had only made him miserable in the end, and he never even found it. 

 

“Maybe you don’t need a greater purpose,” Giyuu finally said. “You’ll never find a reason good enough to convince you that you deserve to be alive, so maybe it’s just better to give up.”

 

Tokitou’s lip twitched downward. “But why am I here? What was I born for?” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. “What were we all born for? What is the meaning of life, the one thing we spend our whole lifetimes chasing after?” 

 

Tokitou said nothing, waiting. 

 

Giyuu turned to look at his tea, now gone cold. The liquid swirled slightly, its spicy scent wafting off of the cup. “Maybe we were just born to be happy,” he murmured. “Maybe that’s all there is to it.” 

 

Tokitou took in a sharp breath, still staring at Giyuu. Giyuu lifted his head and turned to look at him, blinking at the thunderstruck expression on the younger boy’s face. 

 

“What?” he asked. “What did I say?” 

 

“I was...born to be happy,” Tokitou breathed. “I was born—to be happy?” He looked to Giyuu, his face searching for something. Giyuu just nodded, a little off-put by how much his words seemed to have shaken Tokitou to his core. Tokitou pulled a piece of paper from within his uniform, jumping to his feet. He took the two tea cups into his hands and started down the street, back toward the popular part of the village.

 

Giyuu frowned. “Where are you going?” 

 

“To write this down,” Tokitou called over his shoulder. “I don’t wanna forget it!”

 

Giyuu stared, watching his small form retreat until he couldn’t see him anymore. Sighing, he turned his head up toward the sky again, staring at all of the stars shining millions of miles away. 

 

He wondered what it was that would make him happy. He wondered if such a thing even existed.

Chapter Text

Giyuu woke up the next morning to find Sabito’s crow pecking his arm insistently. There was a small scrap of paper attached to its leg, which Giyuu took as he sat up. He glanced around for his own crow, only to see it toddling around several meters away in the center of the dirty road. There was a piece of paper attached to it, too, but evidently it had gotten distracted before it reached Giyuu. Giyuu unfolded the paper Sabito’s crow had brought him, scanning the information written on the small surface. 

 

Mission in the Red Light District with Uzui. Meet us there. 

 

Sabito didn’t even sign the note, Giyuu observed. Heaving a sigh, he folded the paper and tucked it into the pocket of his pants, standing up and stretching. His back popped as he attached his sword to his hip and started toward the edge of town. He’d camped out in an empty clearing the night before, which had been peaceful but proved to be bad for his back, as he found there was a knot of stiffness that didn’t ease as he walked. Sabito’s crow perched itself on Giyuu’s shoulder, and Giyuu stooped down to retrieve his own crow before he headed for the road. The Red Light District was a day or so’s walk from the swordsmith village, if he recalled correctly. With any luck, Uzui or Sabito would be waiting for him there and he wouldn’t have to search the whole place for his colleagues. Idly, he wondered what mission could possibly be so difficult that it required not two but three Slayers with Pillar-level skills. He wondered if the Upper Moons or Lower Moons were showing themselves early, now that Giyuu had shown up. Could the demons even sense the unnatural aspects of Giyuu’s existence?

 

The sun was beating down with a particular warmth that made Giyuu feel like the back of his neck was burning even in the last dregs of winter. He sighed. This was going to be a long walk. 

 

-

 

The Red Light District at last came into view just before the sun had sunk beneath the horizon. Giyuu squinted, but he couldn’t tell if any of the figures lurking near the road were Uzui or Sabito, which wasn’t promising as both of them were quite distinct. Heaving a sigh, Giyuu picked up the pace. He was lucky he’d woken so early thanks to Sabito’s crow, or he might not have made it before nightfall. 

 

Once Giyuu had passed into the Red Light District, he tugged his hair loose from its bun and tucked away the hair tie Kanroji had given him, hoping his hair would help him keep a lower profile. It seemed that almost everyone here looked at least a little disheveled, aside from the workers. He carefully tugged his haori over the sheath of his sword he’d strapped to his back and scanned the crowd for any signs of his colleagues. Sabito’s note had been so sparse, Giyuu didn’t even know what he was getting himself into. Sometimes, he really hated the person Sabito had become. 

 

Just as Giyuu was passing a darkened alley between two buildings, a hand darted out and snagged his wrist, pulling him back into the shadows before Giyuu could so much as cry out. Giyuu wrenched his wrist free, turning to look at his assailant. It was an older man, probably somewhere close to Urokodaki’s age, who reeked of liquor. The man stumbled close to Giyuu, pinning him to the wall of the nearest building. 

 

The man reached up and dragged a finger down the side of Giyuu’s face, his touch making Giyuu’s skin itch. He felt slimy. “So pretty,” the man slurred. “What’s a pretty thing like you doin’ out all alone?” 

 

Giyuu glared. He really didn’t have time for this. Sighing heavily, Giyuu kneed the man in his crotch as hard as he could, kicking it once for good measure. He carefully stepped around the man’s crumpled form, scowling as he adjusted his haori. There was a reason he avoided the Red Light District missions in his own universe, and it wasn’t just because he and Uzui really didn’t get along. 

 

When Giyuu stepped out of the alley and back onto the main road, he found Sabito waiting for him with his arms crossed over his chest and his foot tapping the ground impatiently.

 

“Took you long enough,” Sabito snapped. 

 

Giyuu quirked an eyebrow. “Are you telling me you watched that whole interaction?” 

 

Sabito grunted. 

 

“And you didn’t even try to intervene?” Giyuu asked. 

 

Sabito shrugged. “You had it under control,” he replied. He turned and started walking down the street. Giyuu gaped at his back for several seconds before moving to follow. “Uzui’s waiting. He sent me to brief you before we dive right into it.” 

 

Giyuu frowned. “What’s the mission?” 

 

“The workers are going missing,” Sabito said. “At an alarming rate. Uzui think’s it’s a demon, I think it’s more than one.” 

 

“So, what’s the plan?” Giyuu asked. 

 

Sabito shifted his weight slightly. “Infiltrate as a worker, and lure in the demon or demons. Then, we kill it and go home.” 

 

Giyuu’s frown deepened. “And how do we plan to do that?” 

 

Sabito didn’t spare him a glance. “You’ll see.” 

 

Giyuu didn’t like the sound of that. 

 

-

 

“This is humiliating,” Giyuu muttered, as Sabito tugged the ends of his obi, tightening it. He stiffened, glancing over his shoulder at the taller man. “Any tighter and you’ll crack a rib.” 

 

Sabito’s face was impassive. “I need to slim your waist to make you more feminine. The demons won’t fall for it if you look like a dude, dude.” 

 

Giyuu rolled his eyes at the same time Uzui lifted a hand. “Leave it,” Uzui interjected. “It’s tight enough. It’s lucky that he’s a lot slimmer than we are, otherwise this might not have worked.” 

 

Giyuu’s face burned with indignation. It wasn’t his fault that he just had a naturally lean figure, why was he the one who had to do this? Surely, there was someone out there who’d be into a woman as beefy and tall as Sabito or Uzui. Although, he supposed that if Uzui had been studying this case for a while, he’d know what the demon’s type was, and he’d know whether or not he or Sabito fit the picture. 

 

Giyuu wished he was anywhere else. Hell, he’d like to be back in his own universe arm-less and lonely than be here, masquerading as a worker in the Red Light District to lure a perverted demon. 

 

“Okay, give us a spin,” Uzui said, miming a spinning motion with his index finger. Giyuu glowered, staying resolutely put. 

 

Sabito kicked the back of Giyuu’s shin. “Spin.” 

 

Huffing, Giyuu turned once in a circle. Sabito came around to stand in front of Giyuu next to Uzui, a shit-eating grin on his face. “You make a very pretty girl,” he drawled. 

 

“I’ll kill you,” Giyuu spat. “Don’t think I won’t.” 

 

“Speaking of,” Uzui said, “I’ll hold onto your sword until you get settled in. They won’t hire you if they think you have a weapon.”

 

“That’s bullshit,” Giyuu snarled. 

 

“I know,” Uzui agreed. “But we have to go for the full, flamboyant picture, no? And let me tell you, sir, you are radiant.” 

 

Giyuu said nothing, merely stared at Uzui with a wholly unimpressed expression. 

 

Sabito glanced out the window of the small inn they had set up shop in, frowning. “It’s getting late. We should get to work, if we want to get this mission over with quickly.” 

 

“Right,” Uzui agreed. He beckoned Giyuu with a finger, smirking. “Come along, Tomioka. Time for work.”

 

Giyuu really hated this universe.

 

-

 

Possibly more humiliating than the act of masquerading as a female worker was how quickly he was hired when Uzui and Sabito presented him to the woman in charge. She seemed nice enough, but Giyuu had a predetermined bias against anyone who saw him like this. Nothing against the profession itself, Giyuu just didn’t make a habit of cross-dressing. 

 

The woman in charge’s name was apparently Ichika, which she told him as she led him to his room in the building. Ichika was an older woman, probably at least a decade older than Urokodaki and old enough to be Giyuu’s grandmother. The two of them traveled down several hallways full of closed doors before they finally reached a relatively small room at the end of the hall on the eastern side of the building. Ichika nudged the door open with her cane, presenting the room to Giyuu. 

 

“This is where you’ll be working,” she said. “Doors open in thirty minutes, please try to be ready.” Giyuu nodded stiffly, bowing to her before he slipped into the room. Ichika lingered in the doorway for a moment, watching as he adjusted things in the room. Giyuu glanced up. 

 

“Did you need something else?” 

 

Ichika visibly hesitated. “Be careful, okay? I don’t want to lose another one of my girls.” 

 

The girls part stung, but Giyuu brushed the infliction off as he felt his demeanor softening slightly. He’d been so focused on his own humiliation, he’d forgotten—how horrible must it be for these people, who develop close familial bonds with their employees and coworkers, to have their friends snatched away night after night without so much as a trace? 

 

“I will,” Giyuu told her. Ichika smiled thinly before she nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her. Giyuu stood up from where he’d been sitting on the floor, striding over to the window and pulling it open. Just as they said, Sabito and Uzui were waiting outside the window, hidden in the shadows cast by the moonlight shining onto the building.

 

Sabito was the first to look up after Giyuu had opened the window, nudging Uzui to get his attention. 

 

“What’s the plan?” Giyuu asked. 

 

Uzui passed Giyuu’s sheathed sword through the window. “I’ve managed to stir up the rumors about a new worker here, so we shouldn’t have any problems about customers interested in you.” Giyuu swallowed down the discomfort at the thought of that. Uzui handed Giyuu a small pouch, tied shut with a piece of string. “Use this to knock out your customers. They’ll think they’ve been satisfied by the time they wake up.” 

 

“I hate this,” Giyuu muttered, tucking the pouch away. 

 

“Don’t be a prude,” Sabito said, rolling his eyes. 

 

“I’m not,” Giyuu huffed. 

 

“Ladies, ladies,” Uzui interjected. “Save the catfights for after we’ve murdered a predator, yeah?”

 

“Fuck you,” Sabito snapped. Giyuu shared the sentiment.

 

“The demon likes the newbies,” Uzui told Giyuu. “I don’t even want to know why. It’s got to be pretty good at disguising itself, or someone would’ve suspected by now. Be on guard. As soon as you try to administer that sleeping draught to a demon, it’ll remove whatever disguise it has on. It will not put a demon to sleep the way it would a human, got it?” 

 

Giyuu nodded. 

 

Uzui leaned back slightly, running a hand through his hair. “Sabito’s going to be stationed beneath your window, listening in for any signs of struggle. As soon as you think you’ve got the demon, open the window. I’ll be out front watching the customers who come and go for any suspicious activity.” 

 

Somewhere int he hallway beyond his door, Giyuu head voices clamoring and doors opening. He glanced at his own door, a frown tugging on his features. “I think it’s time to go.” 

 

“Knock ‘em dead, Tomioka,” Uzui said. “We’ll be here if you need us.” 

 

Giyuu shut his window before Sabito could say anything, crossing over to open his door. He sat down on the floor in the center of the room, unsure where he was supposed to wait. The room itself was sparsely furnished, with only a small table low to the ground and a futon tucked into the corner of the room. The floor was tatami. Giyuu hoped the walls were thicker than they looked. 

 

Soon enough, Ichika began leading the customers down the halls, bringing them to the other workers. Giyuu watched her pass each time, secretly praying that he wouldn’t even get any customers. That really would be nice. 

 

But, of course, Giyuu never gets what he wants. “Tomioka,” Ichika greeted, pushing the door open a little further. Giyuu could just barely see a man standing behind her, dressed in a yukata. “Your first customer.” 

 

She bowed to both Giyuu and the man before she left, allowing the man to step further into the room. The man closed the door behind himself, and Giyuu thought he heard the click of the lock. Distantly, he recalled Ichika reminding someone not to lock the door, but he dismissed the thought when the man turned around. He looked fairly human, all things considered, but Giyuu remembered that Uzui claimed disguise would be the demon’s strengths, so he didn’t allow his guard to fall just yet. 

 

The man was young, probably Himejima’s age or a little older. He sat down across from Giyuu at the small table, an easy grin on his face. “Tomioka,” he greeted. Giyuu didn’t like the way his family name rolled off the man’s tongue. 

 

Giyuu stared. Was there something he was supposed to be saying here? Nobody taught him how to be a good worker, which could be problematic the longer this charade went on. 

 

The man shifted his weight, inching around the table to come closer and sit next to Giyuu. “Ichika told me to be gentle with the newbie,” he purred, reaching up to brush a lock of hair out of Giyuu’s face. Giyuu prayed his face didn’t look as openly disgusted as he felt. The man leaned a little closer, so close that Giyuu could feel his breath hot and uncomfortable against his ear when he spoke. “But wouldn’t it be better to break you in and show you how rough the real world is?”

 

Giyuu stiffened. Abruptly, the man grabbed him by the waist and spun him so that the two of them were facing each other. Before Giyuu could so much as fend him off, the man had pressed his lips against Giyuu’s. Giyuu threw out a hand blindly, patting his back until he found the fold of his obi, and, by extension, the place where he’d tucked Uzui’s sleeping draught. He grabbed the pouch and yanked it open, lifting it and dumping it on the man’s head. The man reeled back, crying out as the powder fell in his eyes and mouth and nose. At once, his skin rippled and shifted before it seemed to melt away like sludge, revealing a grotesque demon in its place. There were no numbers in its eyes, but it still seemed to radiate power the way Upper and Lower Moons did. Giyuu dove for his sword, tucked under the futon, but he reacted a moment too late. The demon lunged, slamming Giyuu back into the wall. Giyuu cried out at the sharp pain in his spine, as the demon cackled. 

 

“You little bitch,” he hissed. “You’re a fucking Slayer, ain’t you?” When Giyuu said nothing, the demon dug his claws into Giyuu’s shoulder and slammed him back against the wall again. Giyuu’s skull banged against the wall with a sickening thud. “ Ain’t you?”

 

“Yes!” Giyuu exclaimed. His head was throbbing, the room spinning. If he could only reach his sword, he might’ve been able to turn this around. As it was, he didn’t think he could move even if the demon wasn’t pinning him to the wall. Attempting to gather his thoughts, Giyuu demanded, “Where are the other workers? What have you done to them?” 

 

The demon’s grin widened. “Exactly what I’m gonna do to you,” he said, stroking a clawed finger down the exposed expanse of Giyuu’s neck. Giyuu repressed a shudder. “Once they finished me, I finished them.” 

 

Giyuu’s stomach felt like it’d been doused in ice water. Thinking quickly, he yanked his wrist free from the demon’s loosened grip and slammed his wrist back against the window. The window pane shattered on impact, slicing Giyuu’s hand to hell and back as the demon screeched and raged, raking his claws down Giyuu’s torso. 

 

“You’re not getting away from me that easily!” the demon raged, slamming Giyuu into the wall over and over again. Something twinged uncomfortably in Giyuu’s lower spine. He really hoped that wasn’t as severe as it felt. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you right he—” 

 

The demon’s head fell forward into Giyuu’s lap, its body going slack. Its claws ripped into Giyuu’s shoulders and upper arms once more as its body fell sideways, and Giyuu hissed. 

 

“Sorry,” Sabito said. Giyuu stared at him, then slowly looked down at the disintegrated head in his lap. 

 

“Whore,” the demon hissed through a garbled breath, before it turned to dust entirely and left Giyuu’s lap a bloody mess of what was probably once a very nice kimono. The door slammed open, Uzui stumbling in with Ichika hot on his heels. Over their shoulders, Giyuu could see other unoccupied workers poking their heads out to see what all the commotion was about. 

 

“Tomioka!” Ichika cried. “Are you okay?” 

 

As if on cue, Giyuu doubled over and threw up.

Chapter Text

When Giyuu finally came to enough to make out his surroundings, he first registered that he was laying in a bed. The second thing he registered was that the ceiling above him seemed vaguely familiar. The third thing was that it was the ceiling of the Butterfly Estate, a place he didn’t go very often. The fourth and final thing he registered was that there were several very small girls tending to him, all of them humming a gentle tune. 

 

Giyuu shifted, inhaling sharply at the spike of pain the minimal movement sent up his spine. 

 

“Don’t move!” one of the little girls demanded, hands on her hips. She couldn’t have been more than—what, eight? Seven? 

 

“I’ll go get Shinobu!” another one cried, her braids flying behind her as she fled the room. Giyuu groaned, closing his eyes and breathing deeply to quell some of the pain. The fuck did that demon even do to him? Did it break his spine? 

 

“Tomioka,” Shinobu greeted mere moments later, dragged by the hand of the little girl who had run to fetch her. Giyuu turned his head to look at her and watched her pat the little girl on the head. “Thank you, Naho. You three may go help Aoi now.” The girls all bowed, hurrying to leave the two of them alone. One of the girls with pink butterfly clips chirped out a feel better, Tomioka! before she was gone. Once they were alone, Shinobu walked over to Giyuu’s cot, a frown on her face. 

 

“What happened?” Giyuu rasped. 

 

“How much do you remember?” Shinobu asked, gently maneuvering Giyuu’s head so that she could see the back of his skull. She barely skimmed a finger over his hair when Giyuu flinched away, further aggravating his injuries. “Sorry. You should try to keep still.” 

 

“I was on an undercover mission with Uzui and Sabito,” Giyuu told her through gritted teeth. “The demon surprised me before I could get to my sword. It slammed me against the wall at least ten times.” 

 

Shinobu hummed. “Indeed it did. And your spine paid the price, as it would seem.” 

 

“What happened?” Giyuu asked again. 

 

“Your spine was fractured,” Shinobu told him. “You have deep lesions in both of your shoulders and on your left side. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a concussion, from the impact your skull took.” 

 

Giyuu fell silent. That didn’t sound good. Why was he getting hurt so much in this universe? Was it payback for getting his arm back? 

 

“Sabito’s here, too, if you were wondering,” Shinobu continued, lifting Giyuu’s shirt to inspect his back. “Uzui’s being tended by his wives.” 

 

“What happened to them?” Giyuu asked. 

 

Shinobu clicked her tongue and lowered Giyuu’s shirt, finally stepping back and taking a seat on the edge of the cot next to Giyuu’s. Giyuu turned his head to look at her. “According to Sabito, there was another demon who came as backup not long after the three of you had left the site of the mission. Their injuries were minimal compared to yours, but Sabito’s dominant arm was broken, so I’m keeping him here to ensure he doesn’t over-train or damage it further.” She paused. “Where was this mission, anyway? Neither of them will tell me.”

 

“Prefer not to say,” Giyuu said immediately, turning to face the ceiling. His cheeks burned with embarrassment at the thought of what he’d had to do. 

 

Shinobu fell silent for a few moments. “After everything they’ve done to you,” she finally started, “you still think there are demons who deserve to live? Who deserve mercy?” 

 

Giyuu glanced at her. She was staring at the floor, her fists clenched in her lap. It took him a shameful moment to remember Kanae, and everything Shinobu had been through because of what demons did to her sister. Kanae had been nice. She had tried more than any of the other Pillars to befriend Giyuu when Giyuu first showed up to the meetings, and Giyuu might’ve considered actually being her friend had she not been killed. Shinobu was trying to take her place, evidently, with a different Breathing technique and skills of her own, but it was still painfully obvious to Giyuu—her smile was forced. Always had been. 

 

Giyuu knew what grief looked like, in all of its forms. He wished she did, or they might’ve been able to understand each other a little better back before she had died in his own universe. A universe that, for all intents and purposes, was really beginning to feel less like his. 

 

“I do,” Giyuu finally told her. “Punishment should follow crime. Punishment should not be given for existence.” 

 

Shinobu chuckled humorlessly. “And if they’re all evil? If they’re all wicked and vile and cruel? What of your values then? What of your mercy?” 

 

Giyuu paused. “They aren’t,” he said. “But I will not hesitate to condemn those who deserve it.” 

 

Shinobu looked up then, a fire behind her normally empty eyes. “And what will you do when your mercy kills the ones you love? What will you do when you watch the light die from their eyes, murdered by a demon that you let live? If you have mercy on the murderer, who will have mercy on you, the accomplice?” 

 

Giyuu stared at her. Tsutako flashed before his eyes, Tsutako whispering please be quiet, Giyuu. It’s hide and seek, okay? reverberated in his skull. Tanjirou begging Nezuko to live through his own tears, trekking down a mountain in the dead of winter to save the only family he had left. Sabito demanding the other child take Giyuu away from that demon, Sabito begging Giyuu to promise that they would always be together. 

 

“You don’t get mercy just because you deserve it,” Giyuu whispered. “The best you can do is give mercy unto others, and hope they will give it unto you in return.” 

 

Shinobu stared, unblinking. She stared, stared, stared, until finally her lip curled back in disgust and anger and she stood. “You’re just as naive as I thought you’d be,” she hissed. “You don’t know anything.” 

 

And with that, she was gone, and Giyuu was left alone. 

 

-

 

It happened when he was eleven. 

 

Tsutako was getting married. Their parents were long dead at that point, having succumbed to illness when Giyuu was barely walking, but her fiance’s family had been kind enough to welcome them into their estate, and so they were staying in the eastern wing. It was only the two of them, the only surviving members of the Tomioka family on the eastern side of the house, fifteen members of her fiance’s clan on the other side. And it was nightfall, dark outside the windows. Tsutako was sitting on her futon, folding her red haori and laying it gently next to the kimono she’d planned to wear to her wedding the following day. Giyuu watched her, frowning. 

 

“How come you’re folding it like that?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. “You’re so careful. It’s just clothes.”

 

Tsutako glanced at him as she unraveled her braided hair, a gentle smile on her face. “I don’t think it matters how conscious something is,” she said. “We should treat everything we love with care and gentleness, or we shouldn’t be able to claim that we love it.” 

 

Giyuu blinked. “I don’t get it,” he said. Tsutako chuckled, patting the space in front of her. Giyuu moved to sit in front of her, feeling her take his hair down from its ponytail and begin to run her fingers through it. 

 

“How do you know that I love you?” she asked. Giyuu frowned. 

 

“Because you told me,” he replied. Tsutako laughed again. 

 

“No, silly,” she replied. “I mean how do I show it?” 

 

Giyuu paused. “You hug me,” he said. “And take care of me. And you always make me feel better when I get hurt.”

 

Tsutako hummed. “See? Gentleness and kindness is how you know that I love you. But if I were to pull your hair,” she said, tugging on a lock of Giyuu’s hair. Giyuu cried out and lifted a hand to hold his hair, turning to look at her. “Or if I hurt you, would you still think I loved you?” 

 

Giyuu gazed up at her. 

 

“If I could never hug you again,” Tsutako started, “if I could never help you again, if I could never make you feel better—would you still be able to say that I loved you?” 

 

“Yes,” Giyuu replied.

 

“Right,” Tsutako said. “And it’s because I’ve shown you all your life how very much I love you.”

 

“But why would you say that?” Giyuu asked. “Don’t act like you’re going to die and leave me all alone. Don’t pretend.” 

 

Tsutako’s smile softened, and she reached out to caress Giyuu’s cheek and pull him into a hug, smoothing his hair. “I have found that it’s better to live each day as if it is your last,” she said. “We mustn’t take this beautiful life we’ve been given for granted, okay?” 

 

“Okay,” Giyuu mumbled, clenching a fist in the fabric of Tsutako’s yukata. “Don’t let go.” 

 

Tsutako pressed a kiss to the crown of Giyuu’s head. “Never.” 

 

When the candle’s light burned to its wick, and the golden light in the room had faded into inky blackness, Giyuu remembered opening his eyes to find Tsutako clutching him close to her chest, running down the hallways of the estate. The pungent stench of something vaguely metallic lingered in the air, his ears ringing as if someone had been screaming mere moments ago. 

 

Giyuu lifted his head. “Tsutako?” 

 

Tsutako shushed him. “Don’t speak.” And the urgency in her voice silenced any words Giyuu might’ve said in response. He allowed her to carry her through the halls, watching empty rooms pass by in a blur and wondering where she was taking him. She didn’t stop running until they’d reached an empty bedroom at the far end of the estate, sliding the closet door open and skidding to her knees on the tatami floor. She gently set Giyuu down in the closet, reaching up to brush his hair out of his face. 

 

“Stay here,” Tsutako said. “No matter what you hear, stay right here until I come get you.” 

 

“What’s going on?” Giyuu asked, blinking wide eyes up at his sister. Tsutako shushed him, pressing her hands to his face almost desperately, as if she were trying to remember how his face felt on her fingertips. 

 

“Please be quiet for me, okay?” she said. “It’s just like hide and seek. You don’t wanna give your hiding spot away, right?” 

 

Giyuu nodded.

 

Tsutako smiled, but Giyuu could still see the fear in her eyes. “Don’t move. Be quiet. I love you, Giyuu.” 

 

Giyuu opened his mouth to say it back, but the closet door shut and he heard her footsteps retreating. Giyuu sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, the silence oppressive, until suddenly, the silence shifted—horrible screaming filled his ears, horrible screaming that sounded so familiar and so close and so everything, too much too much too much—Giyuu clamped his hands over his ringing ears and stifled his sobs in his kneecaps—what was going on where was Tsutako—why did it smell so bad— and then everything stopped. 

 

He could hear it the minute it stopped. The slice of a blade, the dull thud of something hitting the floor, and then foreign footsteps and a foreign voice. 

 

“No survivors,” a voice said. “Damn.” 

 

“I really thought we’d make it in time,” another voice said. “Should we search the place?” 

 

“Nah,” the first said. “Look, this girl was about to get married. The families were probably split up between the two wings. If she’d had any family, they would’ve been dead, too.” 

 

“I hate these outcomes,” the second voice said. 

 

“Don’t we all?” the first one replied, and then the both of them fell silent. Giyuu heard retreating footsteps again. He waited several minutes before he pushed open the closet door, rising to his feet on shaking legs and padding slowly down the halls. The stench of blood grew stronger the closer he came to his and Tsutako’s room, the scent hitting him like a wall when he slid open the door. 

 

Giyuu stared at the sight before him, unsure how else to react. There, laying on her futon in the center of the room, dressed in her wedding kimono, lay Tsutako, her abdomen destroyed and blood coating almost the entire floor. There was red on the walls, on the ceilings. Giyuu stumbled over to his sister, falling to his knees in a puddle of her blood. He reached out with a trembling hand, brushing her hair out of her face like she’d done for him. He pulled her body up, limp and stiff and cold, and cradled it in a close embrace. 

 

“Don’t let go,” he whispered, his eyes stinging with tears that refused to fall. 

 

Never. 

Chapter Text

Uzui showed up barely three days after Giyuu first woke up, sporting a large cast on his leg and a crutch underneath his arm to support himself. His three wives initially attempted to follow him into the infirmary where Giyuu was resting, but he shooed them away and hobbled over to the bed on Giyuu’s left. Giyuu turned his head to look at him, wondering what he would’ve wanted. 

 

Uzui took a moment to get situated, propping his leg out in front of him and resting his crutch against the side of the mattress, before he turned to look at Giyuu. “So,” he started. “What’re you in for?” 

 

Giyuu stared at him for a moment, before he replied, “Deep lesions on both arms and shoulders, as well as a possible concussion and a fractured spine.” 

 

Uzui winced. “Makes my broken ankle look like a joke, huh?” 

 

“Let’s not compare wounds,” Giyuu said. 

 

Uzui fell silent after that, which made Giyuu frown. He’d always thought Uzui to be so well-spoken and sociable; he couldn’t believe he was really seeing Uzui at an apparent loss for words. 

 

It took several moments before Uzui finally sighed. “I wanted to thank you,” he said. 

 

Giyuu blinked. “For what?”

 

“For agreeing to the mission,” Uzui elaborated. “I know it was a bit...unorthodox, but—if you hadn’t agreed to be the bait, I would’ve had to use one of my wives, and while they’re always willing to help and plenty capable—I don’t want to be the one putting them in danger.”

 

Giyuu paused. He’d known Uzui to be many things before his resignation, but sincere was never one of them. Then again, he never really knew Uzui, just like Uzui never really knew him. A pang of regret nestled its way into Giyuu’s chest at the thought of all of the opportunities he’d missed with his colleagues. If only he could’ve—truthfully, he didn’t know what he would’ve done, if he’d been given a second chance. He supposed he already had, that his second chance was playing out right before his eyes, and just like he said: He had no idea what to do.

 

“I was only doing my job,” Giyuu finally said. 

 

Uzui snorted. “Cross-dressing isn’t technically in the job description.” 

 

Giyuu wasn’t sure what to say to that. Uzui was one of those people he just didn't know how to speak to, with a personality he couldn’t bring himself to understand or approach. His own social ineptitude was haunting him even now.

 

Uzui shifted, seeming to sense Giyuu’s discomfort, and asked. “Have you seen Sabito around anywhere? I gotta talk to him about a detail for the report.” 

 

Giyuu shook his head. “Not since I woke up, no.” 

 

Uzui quirked an eyebrow. “Oh? Hasn’t it been a few days?” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. 

 

Uzui scoffed and rolled his eyes. “That dumbass,” he muttered. He waved a hand. “In any case, I need to talk to you, too, about the mission report, since you were the only one in the room when the attack started.” 

 

“Okay,” Giyuu replied. “What do you want to know?”

 

“Just walk me through it,” Uzui said, leaning forward and propping his elbows on his knees. He rested his chin on his interlocked fingers, and shot Giyuu a quick wink, tacking on, “Make it flamboyant, will you?” 

 

Giyuu stared, hesitating, before he said, “The demon looked like an ordinary human when he walked in. He started talking about how I was new and Ichika told me to be gentle, then started talking about getting rough and he abruptly grabbed me and kissed me, so I ripped the sleeping draught open and poured it over his head. He got angry and slammed me into the wall before I could get to my sword, and he only got angrier when I tried to avoid answering his questions.” He paused, swallowing thickly. “I got the heavy implication that he...had his way with the previous victims and then killed them. He was holding me against the wall too tightly to free myself, and I was already injured, so I punched a holde through the window to get Sabito’s attention. Sabito killed him, then you and everyone else showed up and I think I blacked out. That’s all I remember.” 

 

Uzui straightened up, running a hand through his hair. “Noted. Thanks.” He reached for his crutch and pushed himself to his feet, making his way slowly back toward the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, glancing over his shoulder and saying, “I’ll kick Sabito’s ass back in here if I have to, once I’m finished talking to him.” 

 

The door closed behind him with a soft click. Giyuu sighed, and turned his gaze back toward the ceiling.

 

-

 

Giyuu blinked himself out of his doze when the door to the infirmary opened again. He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d seen Uzui, but the light streaming in through the window was painting the room in swaths of gold and orange, so he guessed it had been several hours. Turning his head, Giyuu saw that the newcomer was Sabito, decked out in a cast and a sling. His face was set in a sharp frown as he made his way over to the bed where all of Giyuu’s visitors seemed to make themselves comfortable when they came in. 

 

Neither of them spoke. 

 

Sabito clenched his free hand into a fist where it rested on his knee. “How bad is it?” 

 

“Fractured spine is the worst,” Giyuu replied. Sabito’s frown deepened. Something dark flashed in his eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he muttered. Giyuu blinked. 

 

“Sorry?” he echoed. “What for?” 

 

“If I’d gotten there sooner,” Sabito started, “maybe—maybe none of this would’ve ever happened.” 

 

Giyuu gazed up at him, at the warring emotions in his eyes, and said, “I don’t need your apology.” 

 

Sabito jerked, lifting his head. “You—what?” 

 

Giyuu turned his gaze back to the ceiling. “I don’t need your apology. A ‘maybe’ or a ‘sorry’ won’t change the fact that it happened.” 

 

Sabito said nothing for so long that Giyuu shifted to look at him again, only to see him gaping openly. Abruptly, his countenance shifted and his facial expression turned to one of anger, rather than shock. “You are such an asshole, you know that?” he snapped. “I mean, seriously—I’m fucking apologizing, and you jsut wave it off? The fuck?” 

 

“I didn’t ask you to apologize,” Giyuu started, but Sabito cut him off. 

 

“No shit!” he exclaimed. “You don’t ask someone to apologize, they’re supposed to apologize of their own volition because they recognize their mistakes!” 

 

“Why are you getting upset?” Giyuu asked, furrowing his eyebrows.

 

“I’m not upset!” Sabito spat. “I’m fucking—I’m fine! I’m fan-fucking-tastic! I just—I didn’t—I never asked to have you back, you know! I was doing just fine without you! I made my peace with it, I laid you to rest, I said goodbye—I didn’t ask for you to come back after six years. Why do I have to be the one to deal with you? Why me?” 

 

Giyuu blinked. Somehow, it always came circling back to that, didn’t it? 

 

Sabito seemed to realize what he’d said a second later, his face paling and his eyes widening. “Fuck, Tomioka, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that—”

 

“I didn’t ask to be sent here, either,” Giyuu murmured, cutting off Sabito’s stuttered apologies. “I didn’t ask to be sent to a world where the one person I love most hates me more than anything else. I was finally moving on, finally letting go and picking up all my broken pieces to put them back together again after so many years spent as a shattered husk.” He closed his eyes, ignoring the tears stinging. “I was healing. I was going to be happy. I didn’t ask for you, either.” 

 

Sabito, apparently, had been stunned speechless. “Tomioka, I—”

 

“Just go,” Giyuu said, cutting him off. “I’m giving you an out, right here. I won’t blame you if you walk away from me.” He didn’t think he’d want to put up with this, if the situation were reversed. He didn’t think he could bear it.

 

Except—

 

After less than a minute’s deliberation, Sabito schooled his features into a neutral expression, stood up from the cot, and left the infirmary. 

 

The silence that followed made Giyuu’s ears ring.

 

-

 

A sleek, black crow arrived the next afternoon, after Aoi had finished administering Giyuu’s medicine. She removed the letter tied to its leg and unfolded it, glancing once at Giyuu for permission to read it. Giyuu nodded, and Aoi turned her gaze back to the letter. 

 

Tomioka,” she read, “ I am writing you to update you on what has become of the Kamado siblings.” 

 

Ah, so it was a letter from Urokodaki.

 

After nearly a year and a half of slumber,” Aoi continued, “ Nezuko had woken up. She seems to be in good health, completely rejuvenated after so much rest. However, there is one small problem—Tanjirou has yet to return from the Final Selection. It’s been well over a week. I worry for his safety, and I can tell that Nezuko is worried, too.  I fear the worst. I will do my best to keep you updated. Yours, Urokodaki.” 

 

Giyuu swallowed thickly, clenching his fist where it rested at his side. 

 

Tanjirou couldn’t die. He couldn’t. 

 

Giyuu didn’t think he could take another loss.

Chapter Text

When Shinobu cleared Giyuu to walk again, he found himself greeted by two of Ubuyashiki’s daughters—Hinaki and her twin, if he was remembering correctly. It was still early, the sky tinged pink as the sun rose over the horizon. The Butterfly Estate was quiet, as not even the three little girls were awake and working yet. Shinobu was presumably awake, having let the two girls into the Estate, but the Estate itself was still silent. 

 

Giyuu turned to look at the girls when they entered the infirmary, both of them looking at him with small, pleasant smiles on their faces. He recognized it as the same diplomatic expression their father wore at Pillar meetings, gentle and not entirely fabricated, but still not a grin born of joy. 

 

“Good morning,” Hinaki greeted. 

 

Giyuu nodded his own silent greeting. 

 

Hinaki’s twin spoke next. Giyuu made a mental note to learn her name. “Father wanted to send us, rather than a note via crow. Kochou notified him of your improving physical health, and thus decided to send for you to come to the Estate to speak with him regarding your experiences in the other universe.” 

 

The other universe. She didn’t call it Giyuu’s universe. Giyuu wasn’t entirely sure why his mind had gotten stuck on that. 

 

“We’ll wait outside,” Hinaki said, and together the two girls left the infirmary. Giyuu glanced around, and noticed that a Slayer uniform had been left at the end of his bed, folded neatly next to his haori. The rest of his things had been put in a bag laying on the floor at the foot of his bed, his sheathed sword propped up next to it. It seemed like Kochou had known about this in advance, which made Giyuu wonder why she hadn’t told him.

 

Giyuu dressed as quickly as his injuries would allow, fastening the sheath of his sword to the belt he’d been provided. He slung the strap of the bag over his shoulder and headed for the door, trying to walk off the stiffness in his legs. 

 

Hinaki and her twin were waiting outside the door, conversing quietly among themselves. They fell silent upon noticing Giyuu, turning to him with those little smiles poised on their lips again. 

 

“How are you feeling?” Hinaki asked. 

 

Giyuu shrugged. 

 

“It’s lucky your injuries weren’t more severe,” Hinaki’s twin said. “Or you might’ve been laid up for far longer.” 

 

Giyuu hummed, though he didn’t say anything. Just as the three of them were about to head for the exits, a voice said, “Wait!” 

 

Giyuu faltered, turning to see who had called out to them. Aoi stood at the end of the hall, holding a cane and looking, for all intents and purposes, like she’d run across the Estate to find them. She walked over to Giyuu once she’d caught her breath a little, and presented the cane to Giyuu. It was rather simple, made of plain, dark wood. It was light when Giyuu picked it up, though he could still clearly tell it was sturdy. 

 

“Shinobu told me to give you this,” Aoi said, still panting slightly. She looked up at Giyuu, an earnest expression on her face. “I wish you a swift recovery. You’ve been one of the best patients I’ve ever treated.” 

 

Giyuu stared between her and the cane for several second before he finally lifted a hand and pat her once on the head. “Thank you for taking care of me,” he said. “I am forever grateful.”

 

Aoi blinked up at him, a light flush on her cheeks before she bowed and declared, “It was no problem!” 

 

“We should be going,” Hinaki said, drawing Giyuu’s attention once more. To Aoi, she said, “It was nice to see you again, Aoi.” She started off down the hall once more, her twin sister walking right beside her. Giyuu turned and waved to Aoi over his shoulder, following the Ubuyashiki twins as they led him out of the Estate. He found that the cane helped ease the stiffness in his legs by taking some of the pressure off, a fact which he was grateful for. 

 

The walk to the Ubuyashiki Estate passed in relative silence, as neither of the girls spoke and Giyuu didn’t make an effort to start a conversation, either. Once there, Giyuu found that Ubuyashiki’s wife was waiting for him at the door, thanking her daughters before she gestured for Giyuu to follow her through the winding halls. 

 

“I do hope you are recovering swiftly,” she said, breaking the silence after a few moments. 

 

Giyuu hummed. Amane was smaller than he remembered, more delicate, though he supposed that his memories of her were few and far between. 

 

“Kagaya and I were sorry to hear about your injuries,” Amane continued, unbothered by Giyuu’s prolonged silence. “On your first mission, too.” 

 

Giyuu shrugged. He couldn’t lie and claim he was used to it, but he also knew that injuries like there were merely a trade risk. He’d been lucky to avoid injury back when he was a Pillar, back before Kibutsuji Muzan. 

 

Amane stopped outside a small room, the door open to reveal Kagaya and Kiriya Ubuyashiki sitting near a low table in the center of the room. Kiriya was seated slightly behind his father, removed from the table. “Go on,” Amane encouraged. Giyuu limped his way into the room, his cane making a dull clunk with each step. Amane slid the door closed once Giyuu had entered fully. Kiriya stood up and came around to help Giyuu over to the space across from his father, a feather-light touch on Giyuu’s elbow to help stabilize him. Giyuu murmured his thanks once he’d gotten situated, and Kiriya offered him a smile before returning to his own place behind the eldest Ubuyashiki.

 

“Good morning, Tomioka,” Ubuyashiki greeted, a soft smile on his face. “I trust Kochou and her girls have been treating you well?” 

 

Giyuu nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you.”

 

Ubuyashiki smiled. “Of course. Now, onto the purpose of this meeting.” 

 

Giyuu swallowed thickly. He hadn’t been looking forward to this part. 

 

“I would like to go over your personal experiences in the other universe,” Ubuyashiki said. “If that’s alright with you.”

 

Giyuu shifted. His spine twinged painfully. “Of course,” he said. “Where should I start?” 

 

Ubuyashiki waved a hand. “Wherever you please. I am interested in all that you have to say.” 

 

Giyuu nodded, clenching his hands into fists where they rested on his knees. “In—the other universe,” he started, his voice halting and awkward, “it started with the Kamado family. I imagine it’s the same here.” 

 

Ubuyashiki’s face didn’t change, though Giyuu could see that Kiriya looked intrigued. “Please, continue,” Ubuyashiki said. 

 

“Kibutsuji Muzan was— is the one who attacked the Kamado family,” Giyuu explained. “And he’s the one who turned Kamado Nezuko into a demon.”

 

Ubuyashiki hummed, though he didn’t say anything. 

 

“The 12 Demon Moons started appearing about two years after that,” Giyuu said. “But Tanjirou seems to be progressing quicker here, so I would say that they’ll start appearing not long after Tanjirou passes his Final Selection.” He ignored the little voice in the back of his mind whispering If he passes. 

 

Tanjirou was going to pass. There was no way he wouldn’t. 

 

Giyuu shifted. “To be honest, we never really saw many of the Lower Moons after Lower Moon 5 was defeated, which was—odd,” he said. 

 

“Why do you think that is?” Ubuyashiki asked, tilting his head to the side. 

 

Giyuu blinked. “If I had to guess, I’d say that Muzan killed them before they could attack us”

 

Ubuyashiki opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment, the door opened to reveal Amane and Hinaki. “Kagaya,” Amane greeted. “I hate to intrude, but you’re needed in the garden.”

 

“Of course,” Ubuyashiki said, unfolding himself and standing up from where he’d been kneeling beside the table. “Kiriya, I trust you to continue listening to Tomioka’s story?” 

 

“Yes, Father,” Kiriya said, watching his father leave the room. Hinaki closed the door, offering Giyuu a soft smile, before Giyuu and Kiriya turned to look at each other. Kiriya moved to sit where his father had been mere moments ago, gazing up at Giyuu with something akin to apprehension in his gaze. Giyuu was abruptly reminded of how very young Kiriya was, however mature he may seem to act. Eight years old was too young to become the head of a family. Eight years old was too young to have to lead the entire Demon Slayer Corps. Eight years old was too young to be anything other than a child, happy and innocent and carefree. 

 

Giyuu hated Kibutsuji Muzan for what he’d done to the world. He hated that little girls like Sumi, Niho, and Kiyo had to work at an infirmary because their parents were dead, that children like Kiriya and his siblings never actually got to be children. That children like Tanjirou and Nezuko lost their families, that children like Muichirou were all alone. 

 

That people like Giyuu and people like Sabito lost so much so fast so young, that they were all training to be Slayers instead of playing outside and goofing off with their friends and pestering their family members, like kids were supposed to. 

 

That of the hundreds and hundreds of Slayers, Giyuu couldn’t name one that had received a normal childhood, a childhood that wasn’t plagued by loss and grief and pain and expectations. 

 

Kiriya was looking at him funny, by the time Giyuu snapped himself out of his thoughts. “Sorry,” Giyuu said. “Where was I?”

Chapter Text

It was mid-afternoon by the time Giyuu exited the Ubuyashiki Estate, trained both physically and emotionally. He walked for a little while aimlessly, not entirely sure where he should go now that he’d been discharged from the Butterfly Estate. He briefly toyed with the idea of returning to Urokodaki’s home, but he scrapped the idea when he realized that it was too far a walk for him to make before he was assigned his next mission. 

 

Giyuu sighed and tipped his head back toward the sky, as a gentle breeze wove its way through the street. It was quieter than usual, the streets more deserted than they were ordinarily. 

 

It occurred to him at that moment that, for the first time since he’d arrived in this universe, he had a moment of peace. A reprieve from the chaos of it all, a small pocket of time in which he didn’t have to worry about his and Sabito’s emotional baggage, or whether the demons were organizing their strike back just yet. Giyuu lowered his head and felt his lips twitch downward into a frown. He had a moment to himself, finally, but—what was he supposed to do with it? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had some free time, not even before this whole mess started. 

 

The wind ruffled Giyuu’s hair, catching the hem of his haori and lifting it around his legs. Glancing up and down the street, Giyuu made up his mind and turned to walk toward the inn he’d seen several streets over, situated almost directly in between the Ubuyashiki and Butterfly Estates. It was a quaint place, a small building with only the bare essentials for furniture in its main sitting room, but the woman in charge offered Giyuu a kind smile when he walked in and the main room smelled of chamomile. A warm feeling spread through Giyuu’s chest, a strange calm washing over him. Giyuu took a seat in the far corner, watching the few other patrons in the inn interact. He idly ran his finger along the grooves of his cane, as a girl on the other side of the inn laughed loudly at something her date said. 

 

A shadow fell over his table, and Giyuu lifted his eyes to see the woman in charge standing nearby with that same kind smile on her face. “Good afternoon,” she greeted. “What would you like?” 

 

“Chamomile tea, please,” Giyuu replied. The woman nodded and walked away, disappearing into what Giyuu assumed was a kitchen. Giyuu took the moment to observe the patrons again. He wondered, idly, if he would’ve looked the way they did, had Tsutako not died. Would he be happy too? Would he be laughing with Sabito at those tables if the Final Selection had never happened?

 

Giyuu pressed his lips into a thin line. He knew that speculating and dwelling upon what might’ve been wasn’t a good idea, but he couldn’t help himself. He was only human, after all. And Giyuu was beginning to learn that human beings, intrinsically, only yearned for love that they would never have. 

 

A sharp pain on the back of his hand drew Giyuu out of his reverie, and he glanced down to see that at some point, his old crow had flown in through the open window and was pecking him rather insistently. There was a piece of paper tied to its leg, which Giyuu reached for and unfastened. He gave his crow a small pat on its head to show his gratitude, watching the old bird attempt to fly back out the window. It missed the first time, but shook off the impact of hitting the wall and didn’t look back. Giyuu chuckled under his breath, before he turned to the paper he’d been given. 

 

You really need to get a better crow. New mission, demon in the mountain killing hunters. Meet by the eastern edge of town at dusk.

 

Giyuu frowned down at Sabito’s familiar scrawl. This universe really wasn’t going to let either of them catch a break, was it?

 

“Your tea,” the woman said, setting down a cup of tea in front of Giyuu. Giyuu paid her, thanking her before she walked away. He folded up the note he’d received and turned to pick up his tea, only to see another crow perch itself on his table. This one, Giyuu recognized to be Urokodaki’s, and it was also apparently carrying a note for Giyuu. Giyuu took the small piece of paper, and watched as Urokodaki’s crow flew off almost immediately. He frowned, wondering what Urokodaki would have to tell him this time. Was Tanjirou finally home?

 

Hi, Giyuu! I’m writing this to tell you that I’ve made it back from Final Selection (mostly) in one piece. Nezuko is awake, but Urokodaki told me you already knew that. I hope I didn’t worry you too much, I just took longer to get back because I broke my leg in the Selection. 

 

Speaking of, Giyuu, I killed the demon that killed you and Makomo. I don’t think anyone else should have to suffer the way you have at the hands of that demon, no matter who they are. 

 

I hope we run into each other again soon! I just got my first mission, Nezuko and I are leaving tomorrow morning. Tell Sabito I said hello.

 

Tanjirou 


Giyuu blinked away the growing blurriness in his vision, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. Tanjirou was okay. He was safe, and happy, and home . Perhaps this universe wasn’t all bad, after all.

 

-

 

Hours later, when Giyuu found Sabito waiting by the eastern edge of town, the smile still hadn't left his face, his note from Tanjirou a warmth nestled in his pocket. 

 

Sabito turned to him and grunted, quirking an eyebrow. "What's got you in such a good mood?" 

 

In that golden lighting, all of Sabito's hard edges looked softer, safer, warmer. In that lighting, in that moment, Giyuu could almost forget all of the pain they'd caused each other, all of the heartache. In that moment, they were not two different Water Pillars from two different universes, they were not two different men who had suffered an identical loss. In that moment, they were merely Giyuu and Sabito, childhood friends learning to love each other once again.

 

Giyuu smiled, humming lightly under his breath. "Nothing," he replied. "Tanjirou says 'hello.'"

Chapter Text

The mountain villages were still buried beneath inches of snow, even at the tail end of winter. Giyuu shivered as he and Sabito entered the village where Sabito’s crow directed, pulling his haori tighter around himself in an effort to preserve warmth. 

 

“Take your hair down,” Sabito grunted. 

 

Giyuu blinked. “What?” 

 

“Your hair,” Sabito elaborated. “It’ll keep you warmer.” 

 

Giyuu stared at him for a moment longer before he did as told, tugging his hair free from its bun. It still felt odd for it to be so short, but Giyuu supposed that warmth was worth the minor discomfort. 

 

Sabito led Giyuu to an inn, where the two of them took a seat at a small table in the corner. The innkeep smiled warmly at them when she approached, indicating to Giyuu that the people in this village were not wary of outsiders. The perfect victims for a demon, he mused. Sabito ordered tea for the two of them, smiling at the innkeep until she turned away and his smile fell back into that serious expression Giyuu was growing used to. 

 

“So,” Sabito started. “Here’s what we know: young people are going missing in the evenings, all of them usually children who would be missed. They’re all over eighteen, though.” He paused, idly twirling a lock of peach-colored hair around the tip of his finger. “Strangely enough, none of them have anything in common, other than the age and the fact that they live in this village.” 

 

“The people here are trusting,” Giyuu pointed out. “Which means the demon won’t need to form a bond with any of them in order to gain their trust and lure them away.” 

 

“Fuck,” Sabito muttered, running a hand through his hair. “That means it could be literally anyone, and there’s virtually nothing stopping it from attacking everybody in this village.”

 

The innkeep returned at that moment, handing the both of them a cup of tea before she set down the pot on the table and walked away. Giyuu picked up his cup, pressing it between his fingers but choosing not to take a sip just yet.



Giyuu hummed. “What should we do?” 

 

Sabito pressed his lips into a thin line, the focused expression on his face warping the edges of his scar. “We’ll have to talk to the families, see if they noticed anything strange before their kids disappeared.” 

 

Giyuu frowned. He swirled the cup in his hand, watching the tea swish around. The steam wafting off of it was warm on his cheeks. “I hate it when they have families.” 

 

“Yeah,” Sabito sighed. “Me too.” 

 

-

 

The two of them had elected to separate to investigate the family members, but even after hours of going from house to house, Giyuu didn’t feel any closer to determining the demon’s identity. None of the families he’d spoken to recalled seeing their child with a stranger, and all of them mentioned that, even if they did, they wouldn’t think much of it; their child was the friendly type, they claimed, always talking to someone new. 

 

So, essentially, the families told Giyuu what he already knew. Giyuu sighed, rubbing his temples as he trekked through the snow toward the meetup spot near the forest on the edge of town he and Sabito had agreed upon. The sunset was painting the snow in pinks and oranges, a peachy blend that inexplicably reminded Giyuu of Sabito. 

 

Sabito was already waiting for him when Giyuu arrived, leaning against a tree. He glanced up at the sound of Giyuu’s approaching footsteps, snorting lightly. His lavender eyes glittered with mirth. 

 

“What?” Giyuu asked, feeling a frown pulling at the corners of his lips. Something about this felt strange; Sabito wasn’t normally this happy to see him. He didn’t think he'd seen Sabito smile even once in all the time he’d been in this universe, much less laugh. 

 

“You’ve got snow in your hair,” Sabito replied. “You look ridiculous.” He kicked off the tree trunk and took several steps forward to meet Giyuu, lifting a hand to, Giyuu guessed, brush away the snowflakes. Giyuu allowed the contact, his frown deepening. Something was wrong here, he just couldn’t quite figure out what it was. 

 

“Did you find anything out?” Giyuu asked, once Sabito had dropped his hand. 

 

Sabito cocked his head to the side. “About?” 

 

Giyuu stared. “About the demon,” he said. “The one we’re here to investigate?”

 

Sabito’s eyes flashed, but it vanished before Giyuu could read into it. “Oh, right,” he said. “No, I didn’t. They were all pretty useless, to be honest.” 

 

Giyuu squinted. 

 

Sabito grinned. “Got something on my face?” 

 

Giyuu said nothing for a beat, still trying to piece together what part of this Sabito seemed so off. The wind picked up slightly, blowing some of Giyuu’s hair into his face. Sabito reached up to brush it away, at the same time it finally clicked: This Sabito’s hair was longer. About as long as Giyuu remembered Sabito’s hair used to be, when he first got here. Giyuu caught Sabito’s wrist before his hand could come into contact with his face, and felt all of Sabito’s muscles tense at once. 

 

“You’re not Sabito,” he said. It wasn’t a question. 

 

As if a mask had come off, the demon’s entire countenance shifted into one of condescension and smugness, rather than the mischievous camaraderie it had been less than a moment ago. He tilted his head to the side, his eyes taking on a shadow Giyuu had never seen in the real Sabito. “What gave me away? Was it the way I treat you the way you wish he actually did?” 

 

Giyuu’s stomach burned. “No,” he said. “Your disguise is imperfect.” 

 

The demon scowled. “Not possible.” 

 

Giyuu released Sabito’s wrist, practically shoving him back. “Sabito’s hair isn’t that long anymore,” Giyuu said. 

 

“You’re wrong,” the demon hissed. 

 

“I cut it myself,” Giyuu countered. 

 

“Tomioka?” a voice called. The demon’s eyes widened and its face paled. “Who are you talking to?” 

 

“I found the demon,” Giyuu called over his shoulder, and heard Sabito’s footsteps quicken their pace until he was standing beside Giyuu, his sword already poised and ready for a fight. 

 

The demon’s eyes darted between the two of them before it let out an ear-splitting shriek, kicked up a mound of snow into Giyuu and Sabito’s faces, and fled into the forest behind them. Giyuu blinked the stinging cold out of his eyes and ignored the ringing in his ears, already giving chase. Sabito was quick to follow, letting out a stream of curses as he swiped the snow out of his eyes. In a split second decision, Giyuu threw his sword like a dart and watched as the blade snagged on the demon’s clothing, most likely nicking its shoulder in the process, and embedded itself in the nearest tree trunk. The demon shrieked again, yanking the sword out of the tree and throwing it back at the two Slayers. Giyuu dodged his own sword easily, picking it up once it hit the ground. The two of them had the demon cornered now, as it clutched its wounded shoulder. 

 

“Slow regeneration,” Sabito observed, stalking around the demon like a predator circling its prey. Giyuu hummed. Abruptly, the demon shrieked again and moved like it was going to go for Giyuu, but at the last moment it pivoted on its heel and slashed at Sabito, slicing open Sabito’s arm and chest with its claws. Giyuu barely suppressed the shocked cry of alarm at the blossoming red on Sabito’s white haori, too busy fending off the demon that had turned its attention on him now that Sabito was injured. The demon’s fighting technique was erratic and frantic, an endless barrage of seemingly unplanned and panicked slashes. Giyuu parried them easily, acutely aware of Sabito’s rasping breaths somewhere over the demon’s shoulders. 

 

Giyuu kicked the demon in its chest, sending it stumbling back away from him and providing him an opening to deliver the killing blow. He raised his sword, already preparing his strike, when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sabito stumble to his knees, supporting himself with the tip of his blade. His eyes widened.

 

Pain blossomed down the side of Giyuu’s face, and a weight shoved into his chest and bowled him over onto his back. Giyuu let out a strangled gasp as the wind was knocked out of him, coughing and wheezing. The demon was sitting on his chest, restricting his breathing further. Its claws had been dug into the sides of Giyuu’s face, just barely missing his eyes on either side. 

 

“Distractions will be the death of you,” the demon taunted, its voice cruel and bitter and Sabito’s even if it used a tone Giyuu had never heard from Sabito. The demon raked its claws down Giyuu’s face, ignoring the way Giyuu cried out. Giyuu writhed and bucked, hoping to dislodge his tormentor, but the demon only snarled and dug its claws in further.

 

The slice of a blade, a dull thud, and the body sitting on top of Giyuu slumped forward. Ash fell into his mouth as the demon crumbled away, and Giyuu lifted his eyes to see Sabito standing above him, sword still poised to cut off the demon’s head. 

 

“Fuck,” Sabito said, collapsing to his knees.

 

Giyuu shared the sentiment. 

 

Fuck.