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Tanjirou was only a tiny baby with small hands and small toes, a tuft of dark wine-colored hair sticking out of his skull, and a precious smile that melted even Giyuu’s heart when they first met. The child was heavily bundled in many blankets and clothes. Giyuu wondered if Tanjirou would suffocate buried beneath them. When he told Kie his concerns, the young mother laughed and allowed the perplexed child to hold her firstborn, who fumbled at first because the elementary student did not expect the child to be so heavy. He stared deep into the baby’s bright crimson eyes, who was well-mannered and adorable, and returned a shy smile when Tanjirou babbled at the pretty stranger carrying him. This was the first time Giyuu held a baby in his entire life, and overall, it was a pleasant delight.

“Aw, he likes you,” Tsutako commented with a breathy laugh as she carefully returned Tanjirou back into Kie’s arms.

Even though he held the baby for a couple minutes, Giyuu already missed the bundle of warmth he hugged close to his chest, but they were done greeting their neighbors and it was almost suppertime. However, before they retreated back into their home, Tsutako read his forlorn expression and offered his help to their neighbor. It would have been bad manners if they forced the young mother to balance between holding her child and carrying the gifts they offered her.

The walk was short. After all, she lived right next door, but Kie still praised him, which made Giyuu preen with apple-colored cheeks and a shuffle in his feet.

Kie opened the door. Light filtered through the crack, and the scent of fresh bread and pastries invaded his senses. The young boy blinked rapidly, almost entranced by the tantalizing smell of whatever her husband was cooking inside.

“I hope you can continue getting along with my son,” she said with a gracious smile.

His eyes flickered to Tanjirou, who was slowly dozing off with a glazed expression, and nodded with a determination a child his age could handle. Before he dawdled any longer, he heard his older sister calling for him at a distance, interrupting his train of thought. She must have been waiting for his return at the front door.

“H-have a good evening,” he stuttered due to the biting cold.

Then he turned to Tanjirou. “See you tomorrow,” he whispered and patted his pudgy hands with a gentle touch.

Giyuu scurried back home quickly unless he wished for a scalding lecture, but if he spared a glance over his shoulder, he would have seen Tanjirou staring at his retreating back, completely unaware that their lives were intricately and inexorably entwined.

XXX

“Please marry me!”

Giyuu, now a middle school student struggling through puberty and his changing body, blinked at the pretty lilac flower ring dangling from Tanjirou’s hands. He was quite stumped at the brash proposal, especially when it came from Tanjirou. His best friend Sabito was busy wheezing in the background, laughing himself to death because out of nowhere, the most adorable child with plump, rosy cheeks and sparkling, wide eyes strode up to Giyuu and asked for his hand in marriage.

“M-marriage?” Giyuu stammered. His brain short-circuited. “Why?”

His response caused his peach-haired friend to laugh harder. He was obviously out of his element.

Tanjirou, who barely learned how to bake bread by himself and count all the way to a hundred, was suspiciously confident in his reply. He acted as if he knew the universe from right to wrong.

“Otou-san always give Okaa-san gifts,” he said with a beaming grin, a grin so bright it could light up the entire city. “Like you!”

Giyuu choked on his spit and understood what the kid was referencing. Oftentimes he gave Tanjirou the undesirable toys he received from the gacha capsules he wasted his allowance on, which the kid mistook as offerings from one lover to another.

Tanjirou continued. “Since Okaa-san gives Otou-san big hugs, I give hugs, too!”

To prove his point, he wrapped his arms around Giyuu’s legs, or more accurately, as much as the length of his arms would allow. Giyuu had years of practice to nitpick and comprehend the inner workings of his neighbor’s complex mind, and on another day, his heart would have melted knowing that Tanjirou was fond of him since he was not well-liked among his peers besides Sabito. Normally he would have written off this conversation as another cherished memory with the adorable ball of sunshine.

However, today was the day he broke the young boy’s heart, and unfortunately, this time would not be the last.

Giyuu knelt down until he was his eye level, and then gently grasped the child’s hands along with the flower ring with a look of regret. Through all these years they spent together, Giyuu harbored a soft spot for the eldest son, always craving for his companionship ever since his parents died. Sadly, his feelings was not the same as Tanjirou’s infatuation. Even though the boy was small and young, Giyuu despised giving children false hope because it was unnecessarily cruel and heartless. It was the same kind of hope he felt when the adults told Tsutako and him that their parents would return from the hospital.

“I’m sorry,” he regarded him with pity, “But we can’t get married.”

At first, Tanjirou was shocked, as if the notion of a rejection never crossed his mind. Watery, burgeoning tears budded at the corners of his eyes.

His lower lip wobbled. “W-why?” His tight grip crushed the flower ring in his hands. “Do you,” he sniffled, “Do you not like me?”

“Uh...”

Giyuu fumbled again, desperately thinking of a satisfactory excuse in a time-sensitive manner. Honestly, he hoped Tanjirou would accept his rejection and moved on with his life, so he said the next best thing that popped in his head.

With the most convincing voice he could muster, he said, “We can’t get married because we’re not old enough.”

There was a brief pause, long enough for Giyuu to sweat and wonder if he should rescind his words and aim for a different direction. However, Tanjirou seemed to nod in understanding.

“Okay,” he wiped his eyes and wore a determined grin. “Then I will wait!”

Overall, the kid was quite mature for his age, but in this case, he was mature for the wrong reasons.

“Oh my god.” Sabito’s cackles grew louder. This relationship was going to be a headache from the start.

XXX

“Giyuu-san, Giyuu-san! Open up!”

There was an incessant knocking on the door, and it was interrupting his studies. The university student let out a heavy sigh and removed his glasses before making his sluggish way towards the entrance. Even though every cell in his body told him to ignore the ruckus, he doesn’t want the commotion to disturb the Kocho family living across the street. Last time he received a complaint, one of the daughters threatened him with a menacing aura if he ever dared to disrupt her sister’s beauty sleep again.

With a quick shudder, he unlocked the door and turned the doorknob to reveal Nezuko and Takeo with fists raised, ready to pound the surface of the wood with extra persistence. He looked at the siblings with a bleary stare.

“Did you forget something?” He asked with a slight squint. He doesn’t recall a misplaced sweater or backpack in the living room. Perhaps the children were baking cookies or experimenting other sweet treats. “Do you need sugar again?”

He lazily scratched his tummy, comfortable enough to be in his own skin whenever the Kamado family were present. However, his comfort was short-lived once Nezuko tugged his hand with a strength he didn’t know she had. Driven out of his own home, he was forced to follow the girl’s lead with Takeo trailing behind them with a deep scowl marring his face.

“Hurry, hurry!” Nezuko cried out.

Giyuu was trying his best to match her pace, or she would trip and fall flat on her face.

“Nii-san needs help!”

His heart began to race because a capable guy like Tanjirou rarely needed help. Afraid of the worst case scenario, Giyuu barged into the Kamado residence without restraint, startling the rest of the children until they recognized who it was.

Normally Tanjirou was the first to greet him since he was in charge of supervising the children whenever he wasn’t helping his parents at the bakery. Even though he was the eldest son and the most reliable brother, sometimes an adult’s assistance was required, so Kie and Tanjurou trusted Giyuu as an emergency contact whenever trouble was amiss. This arrangement was fine since Giyuu was at home most of the time besides attending university classes.

“Giyuu-san, Giyuu-san!” They assembled at his feet and pushed him towards Tanjirou’s bedroom. “Please help Nii-san!”

The Kamado family’s wholesome, familial love always brought a smile to Giyuu’s face. Ever since Tsutako moved out of the house to live with her husband, his heart would occasionally ache, but the Kamado family, time and again, never ceased to amaze him with their generosity and compassion. They reminded him that family was not always restricted by blood.

“Tanjirou,” Giyuu rapped on the door with his knuckles.

Holding his breath, he heard a slight shift and ruffled blankets. He let out a breath of relief. Tanjirou was safe.

“May I come in?” He asked for permission.

After a tense moment of silence, he heard something akin to a mumbled “yes”. Giyuu shooed the younger children away to give their brother space before he entered, slowly turning the doorknob in case Tanjirou changed his mind. Besides his uniform haphazardly strewn across the floor, there was nothing out of the ordinary besides the bundled cocoon on the bed.

Giyuu was not a talkative person, but he knew he had to step out of his comfort zone to figure out what was wrong. The bed dipped low once he seated himself.

“Are you sick?” Giyuu murmured the question softly, his hands stroking what he assumed was Tanjirou’s head beneath the sheets. “I would have been here sooner if I had known.”

“… Not sick.”

Tanjirou’s voice sounded like a faint warble as if he went through hours of crying his heart out, but he was not ready to reveal the source of his pain.

“It’s silly,” he said feebly.

The boy tightened his grip on the sheets. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Comfort was not his strongest suit, but Giyuu still tried.

“I’m here,” he said, his voice a soothing balm to the wound even though he unintentionally caused it. “I won’t leave you,” he affirmed by reaching inside the strange barrier Tanjirou created, penetrating past the blankets until he touched his hand.

Tanjirou’s heart lurched when his crush’s hand eclipsed his, the way it radiated warmth and hidden strength. He was so incensed, so full of vitriol when he overheard his mother mentioning that his Giyuu attended a mixer to one of her friends, but more importantly, he was disgusted with his own jealousy, ashamed of the deep-rooted satisfaction he felt when Giyuu returned home empty-handed. Giyuu was his first love, the man he vowed to keep in his sight until he returned his gaze, so even though he believed Giyuu deserved the freedom to love anybody his heart chooses, a more passionate side of himself strongly disagreed and desired to monopolize him.

Though his love threatened to spill out and make itself known, Tanjirou bit his tongue because Giyuu was not ready yet.

“Thank you,” he said and took advantage of Giyuu’s kindness, nuzzling against his hand as a token of forgiveness.

The childish side of his brain yearned for the man to stay in his room forever.

XXX

“Give me those earrings, Kamado!”

Giyuu swung his shinai, hoping that he could disable Tanjirou before he got too far, but he quickly jumped out of its vicinity. High school students were a different sort of hell.

“But they’re a family heirloom!” Tanjirou screamed over his shoulder.

Years of familiarity did not stop Giyuu from chasing his childhood companion all over campus. Before his shinai could reach the mischievous teen, Tanjirou escaped, slid down the stairs, and made a perfect flip to the ground. If he was a gymnast, Giyuu would have given him high marks, but Tanjirou was not a gymnast. Instead, he was a law-breaking hooligan who challenged his authority. Some of the students who watched from afar clapped with enthusiasm and congratulated him for successfully running away, but their cheers were short-lived.

If one asked a witness, they would have recalled Tanjirou’s foot slipping on the wet floor and tripping to his downfall, but Tanjirou knew better because it was a moment a weakness. Damn right it was a moment of weakness because his teacher had no right to look that hot and seductive with sweat dripping down his temples until it trailed to his chin. The way his entire focus was dedicated to Tanjirou made him shiver in anticipation even though he was in danger from Giyuu’s wrath. Distracted, he lost his footing and almost smacked his head into the polished floor.

“Tanjirou!”

As if the scene was straight out of a romance novel, his teacher grabbed his arm and pulled him to his chest, saving him from his demise. The students mourned for Tanjirou, predicting that he would receive a harsh punishment for disregarding Tomioka-sensei’s authority as the teacher dragged his student back to the classroom. However, Tanjirou knew Giyuu best, knew him like the back of his hand. The man’s furrowed brows and forgotten shinai on the ground was more than enough evidence.

“Thank you, Giyuu-san,” Tanjirou said with soft affection.

Perhaps he was pushing his luck when leaned closer, putting more body weight against his beloved to be more close, to touch him longer.

“It’s Tomioka-sensei,” Giyuu muttered under his breath for the thousandth time, and it won’t be the last. “You need to be more careful,” he reprimanded but knew it was a lost cause.

“I’ll try,” Tanjirou said to placate him, humming with spring to his step.

In return, Giyuu glanced at childhood companion with a pout. He had an inkling Tanjirou would be rebellious during his teenage years since he went through some personal crises himself, but he wrongly assumed that the kendo classes Tanjirou attended would shape him into a more respectable young man. Fortunately, he was only a delinquent by name because of his refusal to follow the dress code and his accidental vigilantism in the subway. If the boy was involved with shady activities, Giyuu would have acted more strict and fierce because he was the type of man who would guard and protect everything he cared about.

The older one sighed.

“I need to learn how to stop being so lenient with you,” he said.

A pretty shade of pink colored Tanjirou’s cheeks, flattered that Giyuu held a soft spot for him even though it was expected and quite obvious.

“I hope not,” Tanjirou interjected back with a handsome smile, a heartstopper that would have made all the female students swoon.

To prove his point, a person, most likely an admirer, crashed into a wall, which forced the teacher to attend that student and determine if they should go to the infirmary or not. The injured student blushed like crazy when Tanjirou approached them with him, and with a mild sense of irritation, he pitied the admirer. Indeed, Tanjirou’s smile was a force not to be reckoned with, so he couldn’t blame them for being distracted. He was thankful he gained a slight immunity due to the copious amount of time they spent together because if they weren’t childhood companions, he would admit that Tanjirou was-

Giyuu stopped and blinked.

That Tanjirou was what?

XXX

In the future, Giyuu would someday tell Tanjirou that being with him was like being in spring, where the flowers bloomed and smelled nice and that the world looked wonderfully pink.

Tanjirou would then kiss his cheek beneath the night sky, still on the lookout for shooting stars, and admitted to him that being with Giyuu felt like spring, too.

XXX

“Giyuu-san, I like you,” Tanjirou declared without a smidgen of restraint.

Giyuu, who was in the middle of grading exams, paused. Confused, he replied, “I like you, too?”

After all, they have been neighborhood companions for almost eighteen years. He would be offended and hurt if Tanjirou did not harbor the same feelings of affection he held for the boy and commented about that to him.

There was an itch in his throat, so Giyuu grabbed his mug to take a sip. However, Tanjirou was insistent and stubborn.

“No, Giyuu-san,” Tanjirou groaned.

“Tomioka-sensei,” he corrected his student.

The boy, who decided to pester him today, wore an exasperated expression, rolled his eyes, and stared up at the ceiling, praying to a higher being to save him from his miserable love life. Oblivious to this monumental moment, Giyuu continued to sip his coffee.

“I love you,” Tanjirou emphasized, drawing out his words slow and refined. “The feelings I have for you is the same as another man views a lover,” he said with sincerity and a hand placed on his chest. “I love you so much that I want to have sex and go on dates with you!”

Not expecting such an outlandish, sudden confession, Giyuu almost spat his coffee, which would have been bad since Tanjirou was in the line of fire. He managed to swallow it, but the liquid went down the wrong tube. It was one of the worst moves he could have done as scalding coffee burned his throat. He proceeded to choke on his vanilla latte, thumping hard against his chest while Tanjirou hovered over him while wearing a panic-stricken face.

“Wh-” Giyuu sputtered in the middle of his coughing fit while he poorly attempted to bring air into his lungs. His voice turned out hoarse and raw when he regained some semblance of composure and asked, “What?

Shaky, trembling hands were pressed against his chest. Tanjirou averted his eyes and faced the ground, but his scarlet ears were a dead giveaway. Giyuu’s heart began to race – that confession was real. The monotonous ticking clock was louder than ever in the silent classroom.

Tanjirou took a deep breath and finally broke the tension.

“You don’t have to reply,” he spoke in a quiet, meek manner. “I don’t expect anything from you right now… But it felt wrong of me to hide these feelings from you.”

Tanjirou returned Giyuu’s gaze with such yearning and vulnerability that the man was taken aback. It was a rare occurrence to see Tanjirou look so open and distraught. Nonetheless, Tanjirou exceeded his expectations once more and steeled himself with a sure-fire confidence Giyuu had never seen. As much as the man adored Tanjirou, dating a student was against the rules, and more importantly, Giyuu was indecisive if he reciprocated the feelings Tanjirou laid out on the table.

“I’m flattered…” He started, “But I-”

Before he could speak, Tanjirou cut through his chances of saying anything else by using one of the exams he graded to cover his mouth in fear of Giyuu being too tactless to smash his fragile heart.

“Be prepared, Giyuu-san,” he said, more as a declaration of war rather than a simple love confession. “Because when I graduate, I will pursue you with everything I got.”

Satisfied, Tanjirou backed away from his teacher and exited the classroom, leaving a typhoon and a shipwrecked man in its wake. Even though only three minutes passed, it felt like forever as the man replayed the confession in his head over and over until it became a vicious, never-ending cycle. Giyuu slumped to his desk, massaged his temples, and let out a massive groan.

“What am I going to do with you?” He asked to no one in particular, for he was alone to stew in his thoughts.

If he was wise enough to check his reflection through the windows, he would have caught the unprecedented smile that reached his lips, a smile that was usually reserved for the eldest son of the Kamado family, or the furious blush that tinted his cheeks, a blush that only his favorite student had the honor to receive.

XXX

Giyuu misspoke when he said high school students were a different kind of hell. To be more accurate, he should have stated that Kamado Tanjirou was a relentless, living and breathing hell whose sole purpose was to antagonize him and make him suffer.

Exhibit A was the current predicament he was in right now.

Giyuu should have learned his lesson last time when Tanjirou invaded his space during movie night and sat on his lap for hours, but like everybody mentioned for the millionth time, he was too easy on Tanjirou to reject his advances. As the youth called it, it was free real estate when the burgundy-haired boy took advantage of his kindness.

“Ne, ne, Giyuu-san,” Tanjirou grabbed his attention and plopped one leg on his work desk.

During the day, Giyuu would go to school to teach and Tanjirou would attend his classes, but at night, when the two are done with their duties, Tanjirou would use his spare key and enter Giyuu’s home without hesitation. Sabito and Makomo continue to tease their best friend for allowing Tanjirou to have special rights, but Giyuu reasoned that Tanjirou would need the key in case an emergency happened.

Fortunately, all the times Tanjirou used the spare key was for his own self-interests.

“Giyuu-san,” the boy repeated with a lilt.

The older man frowned at his tone because it was the kind that was velvety and sultry and everything that screamed danger. Since he was so riddled with work, he lacked the foresight to avoid that danger. Giyuu then made the mistake of glancing down and got an eyeful of cute, white lacy thigh high socks with ribbons attached at the center. The thin material did not hide the shape of his muscular calves and the pretty, salivating curves of his thighs.

Damn, his resolve must have been weak and must have accidentally stared at the enticing but offending leg for too long because he could hear the satisfaction in Tanjirou’s smug, syrupy voice.

“I guess that’s a yes?” He asked with mirth in his eyes.

True to his word, Tanjirou wasted no time in his goal. Once he received his diploma, he persistently flirted with Giyuu daily, which was an effortless task since they lived so close together. Giyuu’s chaotic days were riddled with more disruption, ranging from Tanjirou breaking and entering to cook him dinner before he arrived home to the boy sneaking past his security system to snuggle by his side.

With a heavy sigh, the teacher closed his grading book and pinched the bridge of his nose to avoid the impending migraine that would soon happen. They cannot continue this game any longer.

“Tell me, Tanjirou,” he faced him head-on. “Why me?”

Worn down from this endless pursuit, Giyuu needed answers.

“You always tell me you like me, but you never told me why,” he said.

He was not deaf. He heard the whispers in the background and Shinobu’s teasing remarks regarding his unpopular status, accepting the fact that he was disliked even though the truth bruised his ego. Besides Tanjirou, who was considered the only exception since he was too kind to look at him derisively, there wouldn’t be a person caught dead flocking over to him.

Known for his instincts, Tanjirou sensed the swift change in the mood and slowly slid his leg off the work desk. He then approached his lifelong crush, standing at least a few centimeters away. Tanjirou must have taken a shower before he came because the room smelled faintly of citrus and soap, a clean, refreshing smell that was catered for one man.

Everything was for Giyuu because Giyuu’s everything was his.

“Because I love you,” Tanjirou said as if the heavens struck the earth and declared it so. “Because you’re my first.” His expression was serious. There was no joke or taunt lying beneath his features. “Because you’re my last.”

“...”

The man he loved for nineteen years turned away. The action made Tanjirou flinch. The boy thought he readied his heart for numberous rejections, but he was still ill-prepared, he guessed.

Then a quiet mumble interrupted the sharp pricks in his chest.

“I see...”

Tanjirou’s eyes beheld a rare sight. Bewildered, he openly gawked at Giyuu, whose face was a shade redder than his. Torturous years of following after the man paid off because his Giyuu finally lost his composure. His earnest confession reached the man’s ears and wormed its way into his heart.

Tanjirou wore the biggest grin. “Good,” he said and moved closer to remove Giyuu’s hands from covering his tomato-colored face.

After all, they were blocking the gorgeous view.

He laughed, genuine and victorious, since he felt like the biggest winner in the world. By extension, Giyuu won, too, because his feelings were reciprocated since day one.

XXX

Ever since they began dating, Tanjirou made quick work to nail their “firsts” as soon as possible. It was the least Giyuu could do for him since he waited forever to hold him tight and call him his. First kiss, first date, first night…

Their life together as a couple was a whirlwind, and most of the time Giyuu tagged along for the ride. Others might have called him being too passive in the relationship, but honestly, he just loved Tanjirou with his entire being. Every minute spent with him was a blessing.

“You’re so whipped,” Sabito commented one night while they were out drinking.

His peach-haired friend wanted to hang out one last time before the holidays. When Giyuu pulled out his phone to reply to Tanjirou’s text, Sabito mockingly cooed over the cute salmon charm attached to it. Without his permission, Sabito grabbed his phone to have a closer inspection of the charm. His smirk grew into a leer when Giyuu disregarded the bottle he was nursing to pluck the precious charm out of his grubby hands.

“It’s a matching set,” he glared at his friend and cradled the acrylic charm defensively.

“Aw,” Sabito pinched his cheek. “You guys are so sweet that it’s almost disgusting.”

“Hey.”

Sabito leaned against his propped arm with a wry smile. “I’m happy for you, man. Never seen so much energy and life in those dead fish eyes of yours.”

Hey.

That was definitely an insult.

“So when are you gonna invite me as your best man?” Sabito asked him, half-serious, half-joking. “You gotta give me time to write a speech, you know? I’m not the best with words. I need it to be tear-jerking while also somewhat embarrassing for you. Heck, I’ll even put in some eye drops to make it more convincing.”

“This is bullying,” he deadpanned. “Your girlfriend would be disappointed in you.”

Sabito was unapologetic. “We both know she would encourage it.”

Dammit, Giyuu grimaced, she would.

“That’s it, I’m telling Makomo you ate her last custard puff in the fridge.”

He felt pretty pleased to wipe the smirk off Sabito’s face.

XXX

Sunlight filtered through the cream-colored curtains, but Giyuu was still asleep despite the embodiment of sunshine in his arms. His bangs felt ticklish, most likely from Tanjirou toying with his hair as he waited for his boyfriend to wake up and smell the roses, but he refused to stir. The cold was biting and aggressive, nipping his toes and coating his nose.

“Merry Christmas, Giyuu,” Tanjirou whispered to him, soft and joyful and sweet.

A deep, aching pang of longing erupted Giyuu from his slumber, as if it was rooted there for years and barely touched the surface. Giyuu always had this misconception about marriage, about how it was a sacred rite filled with dramatics and fanfare. He thought a proposal wasn’t perfect without fireworks littering the sky in the background and an orchestra playing the song they heard on their first date and falling snow peppering their hair to give Tanjirou an ethereal glow and-

These expectations were unrealistic honestly, but he wanted to give Tanjirou the best because he was the best thing that happened in his life. However, he then remembered Tanjirou’s proposal, the one he made when they were snot-nosed brats without a minor care in the world and only a simple lilac was offered as a ring.

Those two scenarios were like black and white, the sun and the moon, or fire and water; yet Giyuu adored both. He was slower on the uptake, but at last, his body and soul was ready regardless if he was in his underwear or completely clothed.

What mattered most was already here with him.

“Marry me,” he croaked, eyes fluttering open to see Tanjirou’s reaction. Even without his inherent bias, it was the most beautiful expression he ever saw.

People say that being in love was like wearing rose-colored glasses, but Giyuu was different. He would argue that it was like wearing lilac-colored ones because Tanjirou was his first. His first love, his first kiss, his first everything.

“Yes,” Tanjirou said breathlessly, understanding that this proposal was beyond joking territory, because he was going to be his first husband. Because he was wearing lilac-colored glasses as well.