Note: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE MANGA HERE! You have been warned.
Tomoika Giyuu had been traveling all night, chasing a demon. At first, it had been a rumor, and nothing more. At least, that was the tone implied from the message his crow had delivered. He'd come to the suspected town just as the sun was setting, hoping for an inn to take a nap in for a couple of hours before he got down to really looking into the situation. That plan had been derailed when he realized the town had been utterly destroyed. Bodies littered the small main road and it smelled as if they'd been in the sun all day. He heard no human sound.
He'd also seen evidence of demon feasting, and had had to wait only for night-fall before they came creeping out of houses. Newly turned, if their power had been anything to go by… which meant a Waxing Moon or Muzan himself had just visited.
Every demon in the village had died by his blade that night. And no sooner had he confirmed that, than he'd grabbed some supplies and headed over the mountain pass towards the next, slightly larger town, despite the threat of snow. If he kept moving, it would be of no consequence. Even if he had cared, his life didn't matter next to those this demon could kill. He was, after all, only a failed pillar barely holding the position until someone more worthy came along, no matter what Urokudaki-sensei and Kagaya-sama said. So he ran, pushing himself as hard as he could despite his fatigue.
It wasn't enough.
It was never enough.
He traveled over the mountain through the night and well into the next morning, unwilling to stop. He'd almost reached the next village on the other side of the montain when he caught the whiff of blood on the air. His nose had never been particularly spectacular like Urokudaki-sensei's, but he did have a sort of sixth sense he'd honed, and it told him to stop. He listened to it, pausing just long enough to change direction before continuing to run.
His footsteps barely crunched in the snow as he leapt, hoping against hope that he'd made it in time…
When the small building came into view, he wasn't quite sure what to think. Blood splattered the snow on the hill in front of it, but while he could see where a body had lain, it remained there no longer. Tracks marked the entire area, making it almost impossible to tell what had happened, but if he had to, he would guess that someone had cleaned up after what was surely another demon attack.
He swallowed the guilt back as best he could. He'd deal with that later. Right now, he could hear someone inside, likely someone who would have information for him at the very least. He braced himself and took a step forward. Not a moment later, the door slid open and someone stepped outside, carrying a large basket full of… something. Giyuu wasn't sure what. There would be little of worth in a cottage like this, but he was also positive that no sense of death or blood came from the basket. He double checked as he was positive the person carrying said basket was a demon.
A demon dressed in a cleaning outfit, apron over their clothes and scarf tying up their hair. For a moment, Giyuu could only stare as the demon stepped out into full daylight (admittedly, clouds covered the sky, but he'd still never seen a demon who would willingly do that), marched over to a cleared out area full of other variously sized baskets and set the new one down. Then they stood and wiped their forehead with the back of their hand.
At that point, they – he must have noticed Giyuu because he turned and looked at the Water Pillar, red eyes widening in surprise… and then smiling. As in a happy, warm smile.
"Giyuu-san! Is it that time already?" he asked, further shocking the demon slayer. How did he know Giyuu's name?! Were demons taught about the pillars now? Did they happen to recognize them on sight? This… was definitely not good.
And now Giyuu had lost his element of surprise. Gritting his teeth, he fell into a stance, hand on his sword. Instead of moving to attack back, though, the boy held up his hands, placating.
"Oh, hey… I don't suppose I could ask you to talk things through, this time, could I?"
This time? Giyuu thought. He had no memory of this demon…
Well, it didn't particularly matter. A demon was a demon, after all.
He darted forward, ready with a First Form: Water Surface Slash, but the boy dodged it. To Giyuu's surprise (he seemed to bee experiencing that a lot with this situation), the demon didn't look angry or upset or even frustrated. If anything, he just looked… sad. And maybe a little tired.
"I didn't think so," he said. The cloth on his head fell away leaving a boy with his dark red hair pulled up in a high ponytail. A pair of hanafuda earrings hung from his earlobes and when he landed, he seemed more than ready to jump again. Giyuu didn't give him the option to attack, switching to a Seventh Form: Piercing Raindrop as he surged forward. Again, the boy dodged easily.
"Why are you here?" Giyuu asked as he rushed in with a Fourth Form: Striking Tide that the demon dodged by jumping up and over him. He grit his teeth in annoyance and frustration. Any demon that could keep up with a pillar, even if he was not at his best at the moment, having traveled for more than twenty four hours straight with little to no food and water, had to be taken seriously.
"I live here," the boy responded as if Giyuu should know that.
The demon dodged another Water Surface Slash as Giyuu continued angrily. "Where are the humans who live here?! Did you kill them?"
If anything, the child looked offended. "Of course not! They're in the village, waiting for me." He jumped over another one of Giyuu's attackes, but this time the Water Pillar followed him, twisting into a Sixth Form: Whirlpool and then following the boy's trajectory with an Eighth Form: Waterfall Basin. He still, somehow, managed to dodge.
Why wasn't he attacking?
The black-haired man landed on his feet as he faced the boy.
Then something else occurred to him. "Are they demons too?"
The boy blinked for a second, and then smiled as if the sun had come out. How did he have such a warm smile? "Nope!"
"Then you plan on going after them?" Giyuu asked. "I won't let you hurt them, or the village."
The boy sighed and put a hand to his forehead, just above the red mark there. "Every time," he muttered quietly to himself, then shook his head as he looked up, staring his opponent in the face. "No, I don't plan on hurting anyone."
Giyuu frowned. "You're a demon."
The boy rubbed the back of his head. He looked so... open, Giyuu once again found himself too surprised to attack… and perhaps morbidly curious as to what this demon had to say.
"Yeah. Just turned last night. Woke up this morning like this…" he looked down at the sharp claws on the tips of his fingers sadly. "But I've found it's the best way."
This was just getting more and more confusing. "Best way for what?" Giyuu asked, his mind racing through the implications. This confirmed that he'd been chasing either Muzan or a Waxing Moon. He had to report back to Kagaya-sama!
The boy grinned like sunshine again. "To save everyone's lives," he responded. Giyuu could only blink in shock.
"You… want to save lives?" he asked slowly.
The boy nodded emphatically. "Yup!"
Another nod. "Yes!"
It just… didn't add up. "Why?"
The boy looked genuinely confused. "Well, why not? Life is precious."
Almost as if to circumvent the utter ridiculousness of the claims, Giyuu's mind latched onto other pieces and put them together.
"Do you remember your whole life as a human?"
Another blinding grin (that should honestly be burning him and any other demon on the spot, it was so bright). "Yes! I lived here with my family for my entire life: My mother, my three brothers and two sisters."
Then the sadness returned. "My dad just passed about a year ago. I can't go back far enough to see him, though. Probably for the better. I can't save him like I can save them." He looked longingly towards the house, then ducked as Giyuu attacked with another Water Surface Slash, hoping to catch the boy off guard. He didn't even get a piece of hair from it, and once again, the boy rolled away instead of attacking Giyuu.
Just what was going on?!
He took another stance, but the boy held up a hand. "Please don't tip over the baskets," he asked politely. Giyuu could sense no malice or mockery in the demon's voice at all. It was a genuine request. "If you do, you will have to help me pick the contents up and my siblings will be upset if anything gets wet or muddy."
The Water Pillar paused again, trying to wrap his head around that.
"You're… planning on taking these to your family… which is why you're going after them?"
The boy nodded. "Yes. I was actually going to take everyone…" he paused, looking troubled for the first time, "to see a friend so they can be safe from Muzan."
Giyuu's eyes widened.
"You… said his name."
The boy blinked. "Oh, yeah… I did, huh? That's the earliest that's ever happened."
"Why don't you start making sense?" the demon slayer practically growled out.
The boy tipped his head to one side. "I don't suppose you'd come in and talk over tea…?"
Giyuu's eyes narrowed threateningly.
The boy sighed. "Understandable. Then let me start from the beginning. My name is Kamado Tanjiro. Pleased to meet you," he said, bowing at the waist. Part of Giyuu wanted to attack him, but part of him (again with the morbid curiosity) decided to hear him out.
"I live here with my family, as I said before. Yesterday, I awoke with knowledge in my head – knowledge that Kibutsuji Muzan would attack this home that night. I persuaded my mother and siblings to leave asking them to find room for us in town while I packed up. It… wasn't easy to convince her." He snorted softly. "It never is. They always want to stay and help."
Before Giyuu could interrupt, the boy – Tanjiro – went on. "In any case, I was here when he came. I ran half the night while he played cat and mouse with me." He scoffed softly and the first signs of real anger crept onto his face. "I circled around, running into bear traps we've set up around the house.
"Eventually, he grew bored – either that or he knew dawn was coming and he decided to end it – and he caught me." The boy shuddered. "He told me he hated my eyes, hated my earrings, and wanted to see what would happen if he turned me."
He faded off as he raised a hand to his forehead and rubbed it softly. "The last thing I remember is him stabbing me with his fingers. Always the forehead." His smile faded for a moment, but then he looked up, smile back in place as he gestured to the area around him. "All of the blood here is mine." That drew a grimace from him, despite the smile.
Giyuu scoffed openly. "Some of your story makes no sense."
The boy smiled again, this time with no teeth showing at all. "Why do you say that?"
"How did you know Muzan would attack you?"
The boy sighed. "Yes, that is where things become strange. You see, this is not the first time I have lived these last few days."
"It's my Demon Blood Art," he muttered, looking down at his hand again and flexing it grimly. "And once I activated it… well… I don't know how to undo it."
Giyuu had had about enough of this. He thrust forward with another Form Seven, but the boy dodged it again.
This time, though, he grabbed Giyuu's wrist and twisted. Not hard, but enough that the sword fell from his grasp. Tanjiro grabbed it and flew backwards, leaving the Water Pillar to stumble to a steadier position as he stared down at his now empty hand before turning to look at the boy…
That was when he realized it. The demon's breaths… that was a constant total concentration breath form, and not one Giyuu was familiar with.
The boy… had been toying with him. Although, that didn't make sense…
"Are you… one of the Twelve Moons?"
Tanjiro blinked, looking mildly offended before shaking his head. "No, thank the kami."
"You can beat a pillar, though… you know a breathing form."
The boy nodded. "I told you, I'm from the future. When I'm a demon, I can use the Sun Breathing form my family has passed down for generations. I learned that in my first life. As a human, actually." And he smiled again, Giyuu's sword slung over his shoulder so casually.
Right about then, the Water Pillar realized just how outclassed he was.
So… why wasn't he dead already?
"Your… first life?"
The boy nodded, looking tired. "Yes. I… look, I really do have tea inside. It would be warmer than out here."
Every instinct in Giyuu's body told him to say no, but in all honesty, if this demon had wanted to kill him, he would probably be dead right now. (Giyuu really needed to sleep if he'd been outmatched this badly by a newly turned demon – breathing form or not.) He hated to admit it, but he had never been one to lie to himself or sugarcoat the situation. So he had two options, go (very uneasily) along with the plan and wait for an opening, or he could attack again… without a sword. He supposed he could run, but with how tired he felt, he doubted he'd get far. And what was more, he could sense absolutely no malice from said demon… which just continued to confuse him.
What really made him say 'yes', though, were the eyes. He'd never seen such kind eyes on anyone, demon or human.
After a long hesitation (during which, the boy patiently waited), he finally nodded. "Very well."
The boy smiled even wider, somehow. "Great! This way!" And with that, he tossed Giyuu his sword (WHAT?!), then turned and strode into the house again.
Giyuu wondered if he'd fallen asleep at some point already. That certainly made more sense than this being reality.
The interior of the building had definitely seen better days, but it looked well worn and well loved judging from the scuffs and marks on the walls and floors. It was clean and dry and, as Tanjiro had promised, far warmer than outside. It was also very bare. Not the normal minimalist Japanese 'bare', but 'empty of everything' bare… except for the chabudai and a tea set.
"Have a seat, Giyuu-san!" Tanjiro said cheerfully as he rushed over to said teapot and lifted it from the stove. The Water Pillar looked after him, then at the low table, and then back at the demon. His hand tightened around his sword and he tensed to attack again.
"Please don't, Giyuu-san. It'd be better for both of us if I don't have to repair the house because you decided to attack me."
So… he hadn't let his guard down. Giyuu grit his teeth, but calmly stalked over to the table and knelt down in front of it, setting his sword across his lap. He still needed to bide his time.
He watched as Tanjiro prepared – in full view of his 'guest' – the tea and brought it over with a smile. "I hope you like the blend. It's one my mother makes."
Giyuu wasn't sure he should drink anything a demon prepared, but he took the cup and held it. The warmth felt good on his cold hands, fighting back the bitter cold.
"Did you know demons can drink tea?" Tanjiro asked, taking his own cup and sipping it. "In small quantities. If we drink too much, we throw it up, just like any other human food."
He already included himself with demons… that did not bode well. Still, Giyuu didn't say anything, merely watching in fascination as Tanjiro sipped his tea with a smile, then set the cup down on the table.
"Right. So, let me tell you what happened the first time."
Giyuu blinked. "The… first time…?"
"Yeah," Tanjiro nodded. "You see, in that timeline I went down to the village the day of the attack. My family makes and sells charcoal for a living, you see. I sold all the charcoal that day, but it took me all day. On my way back, my neighbor stopped me from traveling at night, claiming that man-eating demons would be out." The boy shook his head wryly. "He insisted I stay the night, so I did. The next day, I… came back to find my family slaughtered."
He paused, looking down at his teacup and gathering himself. "I… I remember it so clearly, even now," he said softly. Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "They were all dead except for my sister, Nezuko. I wanted to get her to a doctor as soon as possible, so I put her on my back and hurried down the mountain. She… well… when she woke, she'd been turned into a demon, and attacked me, but I had an ax with me – wanted it to keep us safe in case whoever had killed everyone came back. I honestly thought it was a bear at the time." He snorted at his own naivety. "I managed to get the handle in her mouth, yelling at her to stop. She… must have recognized me because she started crying."
He took another steadying breath, then glanced up at Giyuu with his red, slitted eyes. "That's when I met you the first time, Giyuu-san. You tried to kill her, but I fought for her." He chuckled mirthlessly. "Naturally, a back-water boy like me who didn't even know the family dance was a breathing style stood no chance, but I distracted you from Nezuko, even if you knocked me out.
"She didn't attack you… or me, though. She stood between you and me – that's what you said at least. When I woke, you'd fashioned a muzzle for her out of bamboo and sent us to your mentor." Giyuu felt himself stiffen at that.
"I would never!"
"Urokudaki-sensei trained me for two years while my sister slept," the boy continued as if Giyuu hadn't spoken at all.
"Liar!" the Water Pillar hissed.
Tanjiro sighed and stood. Giyuu tensed, but the demon made no move towards him. Instead, he grabbed the only other thing left in the house – a piece of wood leaning against the wall by the door. And he proceeded to show Giyuu every. Single. Water. Breathing. Form.
There… there had to be another explanation. This… this couldn't be right! Firstly, it came from a demon. A very polite demon that didn't attack him, but still… (Not attacking him… that had to be a trap of some kind. He couldn't think of any other reason why a demon wouldn't attack him, especially one as strong as this Tanjiro seemed to be.)
"In any case," the boy said, sitting down across from him again, "My sister slept instead of eating humans. That was how she stored up energy. She also made changes inside her demon body while she slept. She had a Demon Blood Art and eventually even learned to walk in the sun."
Giyuu's stomach did flips. That… A demon who could walk in the sunlight… He didn't even want to think about how terrifying that would be. Muzan would absorb a demon like that in a heartbeat, and if he managed to gain that ability… there wouldn't be any stopping him.
"Also," Tanjiro went on, oblivious of Giyuu's thoughts. "I became a demon slayer with the water style. Took me two years to get to a point where Urokudaki-Sensei would send me to the Final Selection."
Giyuu's hands tightened around the teacup.
He hated thinking about the final selection.
"I managed to make it through and began to go on missions. Survived Waning Moon Five, Waning Moon One, Waxing Moon Three, although that was only because Rengoku-san protected us all with his life. Then we had to fight Waxing Moon Six – which are two demons in one, and you have to behead them both at the same time, by the way – then simultaneously Waxing Moon Four and Five. After that is when Nezuko learned to walk in the sun and the demon attacks lessened significantly.
"For months we trained in all of the Pillar's styles – everyone in the corps. And by that point, we'd made contact with a traitor demon named Tamayo. She and her apprentice, Yushiro, were looking for ways to kill Muzan too. Tamayo-san had managed to make a medicine that turned demons back into humans."
Giyuu dropped his cup, uncaring that it fell to the ground and spilled it's luke-warm liquid all over the tatami mats.
Tanjiro sighed, not bothering to clean up as he likely didn't have much left he hadn't packed already.
"That isn't the first time you've had that response, either," Tanjiro said, sounding amused.
He didn't really know what to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut, still trying to wrap his head around what he'd just heard. A cure… for demons?! That would be… groundbreaking. That could turn the tides of the entire human and demon war!
Before he could think further, though, Tanjiro continued.
"Ironically enough, the cure uses the blue spider lily (a very rare flower) for its effectiveness. Since it's a large reason as to why Muzan was turned into a demon himself, this is… definitely something to look out for."
Giyuu nodded, incredulous.
"They can only grow during the day, under very specific circumstances and only for a couple of days, according to Tamayo-san. I don't know how she managed to track it down before Muzan when he is obsessed with finding it, but that's Tamayo-san for you." He grinned again. His cheeks must really hurt. "She also suspects youkai involvement, but that's neither here nor there."
The Water Pillar didn't even know where to start with that. Besides, youkai didn't exist. Not really…
Then again if demons existed…
He decided not to go down that train of thought very quickly.
"In any case," Tanjiro said again, "Going back to that first life, I believe Ubuyashiki-sama set a trap for Muzan. He… he knew he was dying," Tanjiro choked, not noticing or not caring that Giyuu had grabbed his sword, ready to attack again for this unworthy being mentioning Kagaya-sama's name. That, in all honesty, scared him more than anything else this boy had said. He knew of the head of the Demon Slayer corps! He could not let this boy go! Even if it cost him his life!
No, he had to get as much information out of him as he could. It took all of his not inconsiderable patience to sit there as the boy continued.
"Muzan brought all of his demons and Ubuyashiki-sama brought all of the demon corps together." He looked off into the distance, as if looking at something Giyuu couldn't see. "We… lost a lot of people fighting the Waxing Moons. Shinobu-san, Gyoumei-san, Tokito-san, Genya-san…"
Every word coming out of his mouth made Giyuu sicker. How could he know so much? How? (Even if Giyuu had no idea who this 'Genya' was, the rest just...)
For the first time, he honestly considered believing this boy's story, but brushed it aside almost immediately. It was simply too impossible. He reminded himself that he just had to wait for an opening.
"But we managed to get all of the Waxing Moons before we took on Muzan himself." He paused. "Explaining this is much easier when I don't have to avoid his name." He seemed contemplatively amused for a moment before his expression sobered again.
"With Tamayo-san's help, we managed to keep him in place for several hours, but he escaped and a little over an hour before sunrise, everyone ended up fighting him.
"He killed the rest of the Pillars – except for you and Sanmei-san – and a large number of the remaining Demon Corps, but we managed to make him use too much power. At the end… he… looked like a giant, deformed baby and just kept crawling. We all tried to keep him pinned down, but it was a race against time and no one had enough energy or stamina left to really stop him. The dawn was coming and he was so desperate to get away. Everyone was so tired – or…" he gulped. "Or dead," he managed to get out, looking truly remorseful. "I stabbed him – before he got too big in that… weird form, and couldn't withdraw my sword as he grew… I just remember being unable to move and then darkness and…"
He paused again, fists clenched so hard they'd drawn blood. He didn't seem to notice. His eyes glowed with power, angry and demonic. For the first time, Giyuu felt truly scared of this demon, and couldn't help but be grateful his focus was not on him.
"He must have realized he wouldn't make it, because the next thing I remember is… hazy. A blur. That was the first time he turned me into a demon, by transferring everything he had left to me. I…" He faded off and put a hand on his stomach before looking up at Giyuu.
And he was looking into the eyes of a demon. The kindness was still there, but pushed to the back, as if it no longer mattered.
Giyuu's hand tightened around his blade.
"You have to realize, Giyuu-san, that the hunger of a demon is… indescribable. On the absolute worst day as a human, no matter how hungry you can get, it is nothing compared to a demon's. Even now, my base instinct is to feed."
He fully expected to be attacked with those words, so Giyuu shot to his feet, holding his sword in front of him.
Yet again, the boy defied his expectations. For several seconds, demon and demon slayer sat in silence, staring at each other, waiting for the other to move. Then the tension drained from Tanjiro's shoulders and he slumped. It seemed to Giyuu as if the demon just melted away, leaving the old Tanjiro behind, looking more tired than before.
"Please, sit down, Giyuu-san. If I was going to eat you, I would have done so already."
Well… he wasn't wrong. Still… even if he had to put the boy at ease, he doubted he could at the moment. That had been… too much.
"I'd prefer to stand," he bit out. He hadn't wanted to sit down to begin with.
Tanjiro sighed. "Very well, Giyuu-san.
"In any case, I don't know what happened, but somehow I escaped." His face fell again, looking so utterly despondent Giyuu almost wanted to apologize right then and there.
"He was in my head, you know." Tanjiro shuddered. "I don't know how long it took me to come back to myself, and when I did I… well, I'm sure you know that most demons don't remember their previous lives."
Reluctantly, Giyuu nodded, still not lowering his sword.
The red-head continued as if he saw no threat at all. He probably didn't.
"I don't know if he wanted to torture me, or if it was a side effect of what he did, but eventually I remembered everything. That… was the first time I really hated this world. I hated everything that had happened. I hated all the death and I couldn't stop it. At that point Muzan was more than willing to step out in the day, ready to take over Japan – and likely the world after that.
"Sometimes I could fight him. Sometimes… I couldn't. It was just after one of those periods when I woke that I realized it all had to change. I couldn't let Muzan continue as he had. I don't know why my powers developed like they did, but I activated my first Demon Blood Art that day.
"The next day… I woke up three years in the past with my family still alive, completely human again."
He took another bracing breath.
"I tried to save them, of course. I persuaded them to go to the village. But without this house – my family – to distract him, Muzan just went onto the village and slaughtered everyone there.
"I never did figure out if he was looking for my family specifically or if he just happened to stumble across us, but… well, I died that night." He swallowed, looking pale.
Giyuu realized that, unwittingly, his sword had dropped quite a ways. He held it back up again, but the demon continued.
"I woke up again on the day before my family was murdered. I'll admit, I panicked and told my mom everything. She… was very worried about me and left Nezuko to watch the little ones while she took me to the village to see the doctor against my protests.
"She… saw the aftermath when we came back the next day and… she didn't take it well. She just kind of stopped, and wouldn't respond. Then I had to pick up Nezuko again, taking both her and Mom back to the village, dragging Mom behind me while I carried my sister.
"When Nezuko turned again and attacked me, my Mom… got between us," he said the last part with a raspy breath, eyes completely blank.
He wasn't there, Giyuu knew. That had happened to him far too often.
Should he attack again? Something held him back, though.
"Nezuko killed my mom… and then she tried to kill me. I…" tears began to well in his eyes. "I couldn't get her to listen that time." He grit his teeth as water streamed down his cheeks.
"You killed her, Giyuu-san," he finally got out. "I wanted to get back at Muzan, but… I didn't last long that time. My family's breathing style requires very strong bodies. I had to practice a completely different style for more than two years before I could begin to do it the first time. Trying again in that body… did not go well.
"I must have died, because I woke up again, with my family." He sighed. "And I… did not handle it well. I ignored my family and set out to find Muzan myself.
"He found me that night and killed me.
"I woke up the day before.
"So I took my family and tried to run to a different town."
He closed his eyes, beginning to rock back and forth. "He followed. It's why I think he was hunting us, although I have no idea why he didn't come for us before. But he could have just found our trail when he came across the house. It wouldn't have been difficult for him.
"I tried to think of other ways to save my family… Nothing worked.
"The first time I stayed home and had them hide under the house was the first time I was turned into a demon at that point after waking up. He found everyone and killed them again. Nezuko… he always targets her. I don't know why… Or maybe he just gives everyone his blood and we're the only ones who survive.
"In any case we…" he stopped, looking utterly disgusted. Giyuu knew where this was going and he did not like it.
"We fought over our family. I…" The tears were back and he clapped a hand over his mouth. "Y-you killed us both that time, Giyuu-san, and I thank you for it."
With that he bowed.
Yet again, Giyuu saw an opening.
Yet again, he didn't take it.
He was getting soft… and he hated it.
"Th-those are the lives I hate the most, when we both turn into demons right then. Sometimes we get away. Sometimes only I get away. It always took me so long to get my memories back, but every time I did, I activated my Demon Blood Art."
He wiped the tears away and looked back up at Giyuu, eyes hard. "I'll admit, Giyuu-san, I… began to lose hope. But I had one final plan I had to try.
"That was the first time I managed to convince my mom that something terrible was coming and sent her and the kids to town while I stayed behind. If… if I give him enough of a chase, he gets intrigued and…" he gulped. "And turns me into a demon. When that happens, the only human blood around here is mine, and while it doesn't help when I wake up, it's better than other people's blood." His far-too-expressive eyes turned sad again. "I hate being a demon, but if I have to confront Muzan to save my family and lose, I will.
Judging from the hard look in the kid's eyes, he meant it. And in all honesty, Giyuu could respect determination like that.
Then the boy's shoulders slumped again and he sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "In any case, once that happens, then comes convincing you. That… isn't easy, Giyuu-san. You respond best to truth, though." He shrugged. "That's why I'm telling you everything."
And he poured himself another cup of tea to sip at, then grimaced and frowned. Apparently the tea in the pot had gone cold too. Then something seemed to occur to the boy and he smiled. Somehow, Giyuu got the feeling that it would be a mischievous smirk on anyone else, but on this kid, he just didn't seem to be able to do anything but pure sunshine.
Or rage… he did that too. Like an overabundance of sunshine on a scorching desert.
He looked up at Giyuu. "I'm going to do something, Giyuu-san. I won't hurt you, I promise."
The Water Pillar… did not like the sound of that.
He tightened his grip on his sword, bracing himself to move if he had to. Then the boy nicked one of his fingers with his thumbnail, drawing blood. Giyuu realized what was going on just as the boy transferred the cup to that hand.
"Demon Blood Art: Palm Fire." His hand lit up in flames all too red to really be considered natural and Giyuu jumped back, ready to leap to a window or the door if he had to… but then the fire died down to reveal… a steaming cup.
The Water Pillar could really only stand there in a ready position as the demon sipped his tea and smiled. "Much better." Then he glanced at the teapot. "I noticed you didn't drink any, would you like me to heat up more? I can do it on the stove if you still don't trust me."
He wasn't touching that with anything but his nichirin blade. "No."
Almost as soon as he said it, he realized it would come off as cold and rude. He could practically hear Shinobu going on about it… but the boy didn't seem fazed at all.
"Okay. I understand. Please forgive me for drinking tea in front of you then." And he lowered his head. Again. "I apologize for my rude behavior!"
The more the boy answered his questions, the more Giyuu felt he didn't understand.
However, the boy had not attacked him… or even given any indication he would. That didn't mean Giyuu would let down his guard, but he did decide to cautiously approach the table again and seat himself.
"So… why were you packing?" he finally decided to venture, going for easier questions first.
Tanjiro smiled brightly. "Oh! Well, it's my family's house. I hate to leave it, we've been here for generations, but…" and his expression darkened. "Muzan has come back or sent demons here to kill everyone if they stay. That's why… er…" he raised a sheepish hand to the back of his head again, "I was hoping you could put in a word and get them set up in a westeria house, if it's okay with Ubuyashiki-sama, of course!"
He bowed again.
He did that a lot.
Too much for a human, let alone a demon.
Giyuu finally acknowledged the headache building behind his eyes by rubbing his forehead. With his hand that wasn't on his sword, of course.
"What am I supposed to make of this?" he finally asked.
Tanjiro's small smile reeked of sympathy. "You usually ask me that."
The older teenager stared, deadpan, at the other. "Do you have an answer?"
"No, sorry," he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. "Usually what you do is you write to Kagaya-sama and ask for his opinion and he requests to see me. If you do that this time, please let him know that I won't be able to come by for a couple of months and send along my apologies!"
Giyuu narrowed his eyes. "A couple of months? Why?"
The smile dimmed again and Tanjiro set his teacup down softly. "Giyuu-san. Do you know what happens to a demon who doesn't eat?"
He didn't answer for several seconds, simply watching as Tanjiro stared at him, determined.
"Yes." Giyuu finally answered. "They… become more feral – more desperate."
Tanjiro nodded firmly. "Yes. I've had that happen to me a couple of times. It is… difficult to fight off if I do not find another way to gather energy. To prevent that I have to sleep. I told you my sister slept for two years, Giyuu-san. Two years and whenever she could after that. The more I come back, the shorter it takes for my body to change however it needs to. I think it remembers what it did before…"
He smiled. "If I sleep straight through night and day for 3 months and then during the day after that, my body changes so I can walk in sunlight in about 6-7 months, give or take. If I sleep straight for five months, my body changes completely and I just have to deal with normal sleep time after that to keep up most of my energy."
Giyuu looked at him skeptically. "You just… sleep. For five months… and your family watches over you?"
Tanjiro laughed, again with no mocking in his tone whatsoever. "Oh, no. I usually leave everyone to Nezuko and go find Tomayo-san. I sleep as long as I need to, she studies my blood as it changes so she can make the antidote this time and I see you when I know I won't hurt anyone."
Before Giyuu could answer, he heard a scream from outside. Definitely female… and was she screaming for Tanjiro?
Giyuu was out the door before he'd realized he'd risen to his feet. Coming up the hill, almost as pale as the snow around her, dressed in a pink kimono and dark hanten, her hair up in a traditional style for a girl her age – eleven or twelve, perhaps?
"Nezuko!" Tanjiro said, rushing by Giyuu as he paused once he realized no one seemed to be in danger. He'd reached the girl before Giyuu could do anything, but instead of attacking, he scooped her up into a hug. She threw her arms around him, looking between him and the cottage in shock.
"T-tanjiro?" she asked. "Y-you're alive? But… th-the blood," she said shakily, pointing to the hillside.
He grabbed her hands and held them in front of her.
"Look at me, Nezuko," he said softly. "I'm fine."
"Tanjiro… your eyes," she gasped.
He sighed. "Yeah. I'm… I've changed, Nezuko. I didn't want to, but someone came here last night. He… he wanted to kill me. But I woke up instead and I'm like this."
"L-like what?" she asked. "What happened to you?" She pulled her hands from his and put them on his face, turning from left to right. "Your scar… its'… different! And your nails and…"
"He's been turned into a demon," Giyuu said.
Nezuko gasped, retracting her hands as Tanjiro slumped. Then she looked over at Giyuu.
"W-who are you?"
"That's Giyuu-san. He's going to help us find a new place to live." The Water Pillar gritted his teeth. He'd never actually agreed to that.
Her eyes widened even further. "A-a new place… Tanjiro, what's going on?!"
He let out a long breath. "Let me go and get the tea set and tea and then we can all carry baskets down the mountain. I'll explain on the way." Tanjiro gave his sister one last hug before standing and turning around.
As he passed Giyuu, he spoke. "I'll leave her to you for now, Giyuu-san."
Giyuu followed him out of the corner of his eye. "You're drooling."
Tanjiro paused and wiped away the liquid dripping out of his mouth. "I have it under control," he said. Then he smiled up at the taller teen. "But thank you for worrying about my family."
With that he walked into the house. Giyuu looked after him for a moment before turning back to the very pale Nezuko.
"Is your brother acting… normal?" he asked.
She blinked, taking a minute to process his question. "Y-yes…"
Giyuu sighed. "My name is Tomoika Giyuu, from the Demon Slayer Corps."
Nezuko gasped. "D-demon slayer… you're not going to kill Tanjiro, are you?"
Troubled, Giyuu turned and looked back at the hut. "I don't think I could." Not without another pillar there at least.
Shaking his head, he turned and walked towards the girl, standing over her as she watched the house she'd grown up in.
"Demons are very dangerous," he said. "They all used to be human, but once they change they can only eat humans. They gain immense physical prowess and become increasingly difficult to kill." He pulled out his color-changing sword and showed it to her. "Only a nichirin blade cutting off their head or direct sunlight can kill them."
"S-sunlight?" she asked, quickly putting things together as she looked up at the mountain storm and the heavy clouds that likely wouldn't go anywhere anytime soon.
Giyuu sighed and glanced back at the cottage. "I have… never met a demon like your brother before. He… defies everything I have ever known about demons. I… don't know what to make of him."
Sighing, he turned and walked back towards the house. "I must write Kagaya-sama."
"Who is Kagaya-sama?" Nezuko asked as she hurried next to him.
"The head of the Demon Slayer Corps," Giyuu responded tersely. Then he realized who he'd spoken to and looked down at her critically. "You must never repeat that to anyone. Anyone you tell will be in danger."
She took a step back somehow paling further. Then she took a deep breath and steeled herself. She nodded firmly once and stalked past him, into the house. Tanjiro was just finishing wrapping the teapot and the two cups in towels. He also had a tin on the counter in front of him, likely what had held the tea, as well as a stick to stir it in.
"Ah, Nezuko," he said with a giant smile. Somehow Giyuu didn't think he realized how it showed off his new, very sharp teeth. Nezuko hesitated for just a moment before that same steel from before showed itself and she took a step forward.
"Onii-chan," she said. "Did you pack everything already?"
"Yup!" Tanjiro said then gestured to the teapot. "Except for these and they're ready to go! I know just what basket to put them in too." He glanced over at the chabudai sadly. "We don't have enough room to carry that, though. We'll have to leave it here." Then he gestured wildly at Giyuu. "That's okay, though. Giyuu-san needs to write a letter anyway." Then his smile dimmed. "I'm sorry, but we don't have an ink stone for you to use."
Giyuu looked at him deadpan as he took out his writing set and a bag full of paper that all pillars were asked to carry. "You knew I had this on me."
Tanjiro grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. Then he turned to his sister. "Alright Nezuko, let's go pack these and we can all take two of the baskets down the mountain."
Nezuko's eyes widened. "Two each?" she asked. Giyuu could understand. She wasn't exactly the largest person ever, and the baskets weren't small.
Her brother nodded, then frowned. "Unless you want to leave something here."
She looked between him and the teapot and deflated a little. "Yes. I'm sure we can handle it."
"We'll be outside Giyuu-san."
They left while Giyuu watched. Part of him wanted to stop them. He didn't like the idea of a demon – any demon – being out of his sight. But, again, he didn't think he could do anything about it at this point. So, instead, he grit his teeth and knelt in front of the small table, bringing out his brushes and ink stone. It only took him a couple of seconds to get some snow that would work well enough for now as it melted.
After a couple of minutes of grinding the ink stone and water, he set it down, picked up his brush and began to write. At first he wasn't sure what all he should put in his missive, but eventually just tried to summarize what Tanjiro had told him as best he could. He made sure to emphasize that he, as a single pillar, could not in any way get Tanjiro to forcibly change his mind, that this boy was the equivalent of a Waxing Moon and… that there was just something about him.
He asked for instructions as soon as possible, but informed Kagaya-sama that Tanjiro would not be able to come for several months as he had to sleep to store up energy. He also asked for a place for Tanjiro's family to stay. May as well keep the non-aggressive, all-too-powerful demon happy and not attacking anyone, for now.
Once finished, he read over the missive and shook his head. He sounded utterly delusional… but doubted a second try would turn out any better.
Eventually, he summoned his crow, tied the message to their leg and then let them go. A couple of minutes later, he had his ink set cleaned and walked out of the house, shutting the door one final time.
"Oh, Giyuu-san," Tanjiro called from the clearing of snow where he'd put the baskets earlier. "Could you prop the door shut, please? We might come back here one day, after all!"
The Water Pillar paused for a moment, then did as he'd been asked.
Once he reached the two of them, both with baskets on their backs and in front of them, Nezuko bowed as best she could without spilling anything.
"Giyuu-san! I would like to train as a Demon Slayer."
AN: I'd like to thank TimeLordTim and OriyArt for their help beta-reading this. I think we found all of the problems. :)
Yes, I have ideas to continue this, but it will be more of a 'snippet' kind of fic than anything else. Thoughts?
Discord: discord. gg/ezzFnGJ (without spaces)