Title: hunger pangs

A/N: For the Bound by Blood zine! I've always wanted to look at the darker side of Nezuko's transformation, the blood lust and hunger barely controlled.

Summary: Nezuko knew of death, of the delicious scent of iron-rich blood and the sound of a quickly beating heart. Tanjirou told her she was good, she was different than the other demons, but that wasn't true at all. His flesh called to her just as loudly as it did other demons and it took all her might to resist her hunger.

0.

Nezuko knew of death, knew of the ways it could linger like a bad cough. She had watched as her father wasted away over the years, his body growing thinner and weaker until it was a kindness that he didn't wake up one day. Her mother faded away from heartbreak, more a ghost than a person until the end. When death came for her, Nezuko had hoped it would be quick and painless.

Instead, it seemed death had a sense of humour. The attack was quick, her body falling to the ground before she could put everything together. It was only as she lay on the wooden floor, her blood pooling around her, that she'd even realized she'd been injured. Nezuko felt disconnected from her body, unable to scream as her mother and siblings fell around her, their bodies dropping one after another like broken dolls. Something, someone darted between her family, killing them faster than she could blink. At the edges of her vision, flames licked the walls, turning her home into a pyre.

Something sharp pierced her skin and suddenly she felt everything: every cut, every bruise, every broken limb. A sharp, metallic smell flooded her nose and she could taste the blood on her lips. Her body burned as though poison ran through her veins and she screamed.

With what little of her consciousness was left, Nezuko prayed that Tanjirou wouldn't return until long after the slaughter was over.

1.

Nezuko knew nothing. Her eyes blinked open in a wooden structure, her brain slowly supplying her with the words to describe her surroundings. Every part of her body ached, but that sensation as quickly fading as she sniffed the air. An utterly delicious scent tickled her nose, a rusty, iron-filled smell that permeated on every surface of the house. Drool dripped off her lips as she realized she was surrounded by a feast.

A rotten feast. She didn't have to touch the torn bodies strewn around her to notice that they weren't fresh, that they were the remnants of another hunter. Even the blood beneath her hands was cold and thick to the touch. Instinctively, she knew it was a bad idea to drink that. Her stomach gurgled, starving, and she licked her lips as she stared at the body of a young boy.

She should go. A meal could be found elsewhere. Flames engulfed the vast majority of the house and even if she wanted to stay, she couldn't. Still, it was a waste. An utter waste.

Her nose twitched and Nezuko turned toward the entrance to catch a new scent. It smelled faintly of charcoal and soap, an oddly familiar combination. Something about it, about this house and the bodies, jogged her memory. She knew the boy (and it was a boy, not yet a man) approaching the building.

Part of her wanted to reassure his panicked cries. A greater part of her inhaled the thick, iron-rich smell beneath his skin. His blood was still warm, still pumping, still sweet. Nezuko's thoughts scattered as her hunger burned, and she attacked her first meal.

2.

The boy's hands were gentle. Nezuko learned that first, before she even learned his name. The boy's hands were especially gentle now, as she rested on his lap, his fingers combing through her hair. She'd felt this sensation long ago, somewhere in the fogs of her memory, but if she lingered on the thought any further than that, her head would split in pain.

Instead, she leaned into his touch, grunting slightly.

"You always liked this," the boy said, chuckling softly. Sadly. Seated on a tatami mat, he continued to stroke her hair.

"What sort of self-respecting demon does that?" Another boy said—a demon. With her right eye, she looked up, over the table where the demon boy shot her a disgusted look. "Especially a brute like her."

"Nezuko is not a brute!" The boy—Tanjirou, his name was Tanjirou she remembered—growled back. Despite his tone, his hands remained gentle. "She is beautiful and kind and—"

"Right, right, got it." The demon boy rolled his eyes.

"Yushiro." The final occupant of the living room sighed. If the demon boy smelled faintly of blood, the woman was thick with it. "What did I say?"

"I didn't—"

She cut him off. "Don't insult our guests either, alright?"

"Nezuko is beautiful," Tanjirou asserted a final time, his brow furrowed. When Nezuko returned her gaze to him, he beamed down at her. "Don't listen to his lies."

His words and actions always had a strange weight to them, a familiarity that she couldn't understand. She wasn't even sure if he was talking to her sometimes. The only thing she knew was that his hands were gentle, just as his voice was kind, just as his eyes were welcoming. Despite the steel in his posture whenever they faced danger, he did not look like a man who could fight. There was a streak of kindness to him, a streak that would kill him one day.

It could have killed him earlier, if she hadn't stopped attacking him. Nezuko still didn't know what had held her hand, only that it was a memory of similar tenderness.

"She is lovely," the woman agreed. The aroma of blood intermingled with her scent throughout the house, just enough to keep Nezuko's hunger at bay.

"Not as lovely as you," the demon boy immediately replied, his chest puffed with pride. Turning his attention to Nezuko, he frowned. "So, she really doesn't eat anyone?"

"Of course not." Tanjirou resumed his ministrations. His movements were as steady as a stream. He looked from the demon boy to a demon woman, his gaze utterly confident. "Nezuko would never do that."

She closed her eyes. That wasn't right. She didn't know why, but that wasn't right. While his body was littered with wounds, the ones branded on his arm were from her claws. They were a warning, a reminder of what losing control meant.

Tanjirou didn't realize that. Or maybe he didn't understand that despite how much stronger he'd gotten, he was still quite weak. As he stroked her hair, she could feel the muscles in his hand, the delicate bones of his wrist. His skin was paper-thin and his muscles were nothing compared to hers.

It would be easy to reach up and snap his arm, to break it in two and devour his life-sustaining flesh. To sink her fangs into his neck and lap his warm, sugary-sweet blood.

As though reading her mind, the demon boy snorted. "That brute of a girl—"

"Yushiro!" the woman warned, an edge to her voice. "What did I just say?"

"I was—"

"One more and you will be kicked out." She sighed, her shoulders sinking. "Anyway, that is really impressive. I have never heard of a demon doing that before. Even us—it might be a little blood, but we need it all the same."

"That's cause she's Nezuko." Tanjirou's hand stilled and she opened her eyes to find him beaming down at her. "She's a good girl."

I'm not. Nezuko opened her mouth, but her broken vocal cords couldn't do more than groan at the weight of her words.

(Months later, when she stood in the sun, Tanjirou scared that she'd disappear, Nezuko wasn't afraid in the least. She'd already been burned. These rays were nothing compared to his warmth.)

3.

The wind whistled, an oddly sharp sound that tugged on Nezuko's consciousness. It ran through her hair and clothes, and dazed, she wondered if she had fallen asleep outside. Not only was it chilly, the cool night air hitting her skin painfully, it also wasn't very respectable. What would the villagers think? Her bro—

Nezuko's eyes opened before she could finish the thought, before she could grasp her identity. Dangling upside down in the treetops, her eyes widened as she remembered her predicament. They were in the mountains, surrounded by demons and desperate humans. One of the demons had trussed her up, his wires binding her limbs so tightly that she couldn't move. Straining her muscles only made the wires dig in tighter, cutting into her skin until she bled.

The wires reverberated with each movement, giving off sharp twangs as they alerted the demon below her. Like a moth trapped in a web, she couldn't escape, her movements only ensnaring her further.

"Oh, you're awake," the demon said. His hair and skin were as pale as the moon, his words as cold as the distant starlight. There was an idle curiosity in his eyes, but even that emotion was fleeting. "Just in time."

"Nezuko!" Tanjirou grunted, his breathing strained as he struggled to get to his feet. Blood soaked his haori, red blooming on his chest like spider lilies. Rips and tears in his clothing revealed numerous cuts on his body, his injuries far more serious than he let on. "I'll save you!"

He was injured. Nezuko's eyes widened as she took in her boy, her prey. The rich, thick scent of his blood filled the air even as it pooled at his feet, yet it didn't tempt her. For once her stomach roiled with anger, not hunger.

Tanjirou was wounded. She could hear how many bones were broken with every wheeze he took, hear just how many cuts he'd sustained with every grunt he made. Her blood burned and Nezuko growled as she struggled against the spider's web, ignoring how the threads cut into her flesh. Her blood dripped down the wires, coating them a bright red.

"Don't cut yourself too much," the demon grumbled, clicking his tongue. It was the closest thing to an emotion he'd shown so far. "It's too annoying putting you back together."

"Leave her alone!" Tanjirou shouted, climbing to his feet only to fall once more. Nezuko heard his muscles strain, his heart trying to pump more and more blood to compensate for the loss.

"No." The demon stalked forward, as silent as a predator. Lifting Tanjirou up by his mop of hair, the demon smirked. "She'll be part of my family now. I need to replace the one you killed."

"That'll never happen," Tanjirou swore through clenched teeth, his hands curling into a fist. A rare anger course through his voice. "That's not what family is."

Family.

Nezuko couldn't follow the conversation. Just thinking about the word made her head hurt. She couldn't understand the demon's quiet insistence anymore that she could understand Tanjirou's harsh rebuke. What she did understand, however, was that these overly complicated sounds they tossed at one another only meant one thing: the demon was going to separate Nezuko from Tanjirou.

No, the demon was going to remove Tanjirou from her. He was going to kill him.

Nezuko ground her teeth. Tanjirou was hers.

Like oil on flames, the fire within her burned even hotter at this. She couldn't say what happened next, only that it felt like every part of her burned. Unable to bottle her rage, it exploded out of her, running down the wires before reaching her target.

4.

The box was dark. Nezuko kept her eyes closed as she curled up inside it. Whether they were open or closed, she saw the same void. The only thing connecting her to the world was how the box moved, how Tanjirou jostled it as he moved from one place to another. There were other, muffled sounds outside, the sounds of strangers and of a pond. Nezuko never knew how to take these signs of the outside, of this world she almost never saw.

But the box had come to a stop now, and she opened her eyes, anticipating a release.

"NEZUKO!"

Tanjirou's desperate scream was the only warning she got before a sword stabbed through the box, piercing her belly. Nezuko gasped, the restraint in her mouth muting her scream. Paralyzed in pain, she couldn't react before the sword withdrew and speared her once more, plunging into her chest now. Blood invaded her lungs, and though she didn't need to breathe, she choked on it all the same.

"Nezuko!" Tanjirou yelled once more.

His kind hands were nowhere to be found. Instead, all Nezuko could feel were the firm, wooden panels of her prison, and above it all, the piercing pain of her injuries. She wanted to call out his name, to bury her head in his arms. Nezuko needed comfort.

Instead, she was hit with drops of warm blood, dripping in through the holes in the box.

"Taste this!" challenged a stranger, a man who smelled like a gale and sounded like a hurricane. He shook the box, knocking her side to side before dripping more blood in. "I know you want to!"

With a soft plop, the blood hit her forehead before slowly sliding down her face. Nezuko shivered at the warm sensation. Her skin was cold. Always so cold. She craned her head up slightly, allowing the droplets better access as they hit her skin like pebbles, painting her skin as red as a woman's lips. No matter how much she shifted, though, the droplets never slid into her mouth. No, they dripped past, splattering her clothes.

Unceremoniously, the box was tossed to the ground, the impact jolting her injuries. Nezuko curled tighter into herself, not sure when another sword would sink into her skin.

"Get out!" the stranger ordered, kicking the box for good measure.

For a long moment, she stayed still. Muffled as it was, she could faintly hear Tanjirou struggling to reach her. His breathing was strained again, his heart beating all too fast, and she could smell the sickly-sweet scent of sweat as he struggled to reach her. Nezuko remembered the white demon and pushed the box open, not caring if there was sunlight or moonlight on the other side.

She found neither when she poked her head out, only the cool shade of yet another house. This one was filled with people, and her hackles raised at their hostile stares. Under the sun, just out of reach, was Tanjirou, his face pressed to the ground.

A growl escaped her lips automatically.

"Hungry yet?" the stranger asked as he stood before her. Despite his tense stance, his eyes were full of anticipation as he flicked blood at her. He dangled his arm in front of her, red rivulets running down his skin and splashing on the floor. "Come on, take a bite."

He wanted her to attack. He was downright eager for it. The others were too, Nezuko dimly realized, as their scents warped, hostility changing into something darker.

"Nezuko, don't!" Tanjirou cried, but it was hard to hear his voice.

It was hard to pay attention to anything but the red dripping down her skin, to the wounds on her body aching for healing. His scent was entirely unlike Tanjirou's—bitter instead of sweet, sharp instead of soft. Saliva dripped down her mouth either way. There was a hunger within her she hadn't filled, a hunger that she had ignored for years now.

A single taste could fix that.

A single taste would fix that.

Her tongue ran over her teeth in anticipation. The man's lips tugged into a sharp smile.

With as much force as she could muster, Nezuko turned away, rejecting the scent before her. She had waited this long, she could wait a little longer.

There was no way this man's blood could be nearly as delicious or tempting as Tanjirou's.

5.

The world was burning.

No, that wasn't quite right. Despite the fires roaring around her, the smoke and ash lying on her tongue, the world wasn't burning. Just this small town, this small district. Just a few dozen people who couldn't escape the wreckage. People trapped just as she was, stuck under the rubble of a broken inn.

Nezuko clawed at the earth, trying to drag herself out of the rubble. Her head rattled from her injuries, her body aching from the fight. It seemed the only reason she left her box these days was to fight. The house, the mountain, this town—wherever she woke up, there were demons.

And the boy, Tanjirou, had dedicated himself to fighting them.

One day, he would die that way. But that day wasn't today. Nezuko grunted as she pulled herself forward, ignoring the blazing pain where her leg and arms used to be. She couldn't, wouldn't lose him. Unfortunately, she couldn't see him, couldn't smell him—his charcoal scent was hidden in the ash,

"You should just give up, you don't have the energy to regenerate," her enemy stated confidently, her perfume coiling around her like a snake. Despite their fight, her make-up remained unsmudged, her painted lips as bright as blood. No matter how many floral scents she hid under, the stench of death clung to her like a second skin.

Nezuko gritted her teeth as she stared at the demon. This woman had injured Tanjirou. She had wounded this whole town, burning it to the ground with a smile. Her mind flashed to a different, kinder woman, to a gaggle of kids who tugged on her hands. To Tanjirou, who smiled despite the spectre of death lingering over him.

She thought of all of that and her limbs began to burn.

Unaware of this, the demon winked at her, her lips curled into a sly smirk. "If only you'd drunk some blood. Come back in a hundred years."

The fire within her grew into an inferno, and Nezuko only had to think and her limbs regrew near instantly. Forcing herself to stand, she spit out her wooden restraint.

The demon stepped back, shocked. "How? That's impossible!"

Nezuko growled, her blood boiling as she attacked.

6.

Nezuko knew one thing: Tanjirou loved her. Her brother had moved the sun and moon to save her, to transform her from monster to human. Whether it was watching out for her, protecting her, or simply giving her a hug, Tanjirou had done more than any person should have.

That was the only reason he was standing in front of her now, his eyes almost glowing as he took her in. Saliva dripped down his chin and Nezuko had a feeling of deja vu at the sight. She'd had that same look years ago, when she'd first turned into a demon. Had that blinding madness run through her mind, making it hard for her to be reasoned with until Tanjirou had pulled her out of the darkness.

And now, he'd fallen into that darkness. Her sight grew blurry as she took in her demonic brother. This wasn't how their reunion was supposed to go at all. "Tanjirou…"

He snarled, though she couldn't say if that was a reaction to the name or her movement.

"You love me," she reminded him, swallowing hard. She didn't know if she was talking to him or herself, only that it was true. Her brother, however deep he slept inside, loved her. He just had to remember that.

It was hard to break out of a demon's spell, but he could do it.

"Tanjirou—" Before Nezuko could finish, his fangs were buried in her neck, his claws digging into her arms. Dimly, she recalled being in the opposite position years go, His arms were still littered with scars. She wondered if hers would remain too. Her blood smeared her neck, hot and thick, and she wondered if she tasted as sweet as she'd imagined Tanjirou had.

Reaching up, she wrapped an arm around his back. "Don't!"

He was possessed, she reminded herself. That didn't make the betrayal heart any less when his teeth dug in deeper.

But she could endure. If there was one thing Nezuko knew, it was how to endure. How to survive. And how to make sure her brother made it with her. He was kind, after all, too kind, otherwise, his eyes wouldn't be filling with tears right now.

One day, that kindness would kill him.

But that day wasn't today. Nezuko would make sure of it.