The weather was cold. It was the peak of the snowy season. The first day of February. A week before Giyu Tomioka’s twenty-fifth birthday.
Sanemi was lighting a fire. His physique was also weakening, but not to the same drastic extent as Giyu’s. After all, he was nine months younger, so he had at the most nine months more left to live. Nine more months he’d have to spend entirely alone.
Well, not entirely alone.
“Nezuko just wrote back,” Sanemi said, voice strained. “They’ll be here in a few days.”
“That’s good to hear,” Giyu replied before breaking into a coughing fit.
In an instant, Sanemi was at his side, trying to support him. When the coughing subsided, the former Wind Pillar wasted no time piling on top of him every single blanket they possessed. Once he was done, Giyu was almost completely buried.
“Warm enough?” Sanemi asked.
Giyu weakly nodded in return.
Sanemi sat down beside him. “Maybe this is all just stupid ruse. You’ll be fine, we’ll grow old. No stupid curse, no stupid Mark-”
“You know that’s not going to happen, Sanemi,” Giyu said. He wanted to believe Sanemi’s ramblings, or even simply indulge them. But, there was no denying the sudden frailty in their bodies, withered beyond recognition. Sanemi struggled with daily tasks, and Giyu couldn’t hold anything heavier than chopsticks.
Sanemi hung his head. “I just- I don’t think I’m ready to lose you, too.”
Giyu smiled a little. “I thought I was supposed to be the sappy one.” Sanemi didn’t respond.
“Do you think this is how it happened back in the old days?” Sanemi asked after a moment. “You’d grow weaker and weaker until your body just gives out? I kinda figured you’d just… drop dead one day and that’s it.”
Giyu pondered it for a moment. “Maybe because they kept fighting continuously, so the curse of the Mark affected them faster. We got our Marks only a little before we defeated Muzan, so the curse didn’t move as fast.”
They were silent for a moment. The logs crackled in the fire and they basked in its warmth.
“What are you going to do, after I-”
“Let’s not- let’s not talk about that,” Sanemi interjected. “I’d rather not think about that yet.”
Giyu rested his head on Sanemi’s shoulder. More silence followed. There was a lot of silence these days, with Giyu too tired to speak a lot of the time. They found that this didn’t bother them much. Silence portrayed their emotions quite well.
So much had happened since the defeat of Muzan. The two of them remained together afterwards, as pillars of support in their times of grieving. Previous walls of animosity fell away. There was no more room or energy to devote to bickering, especially since there was so little time left for them.
There was a special kind of understanding between them, a silent acknowledgement of the other’s pain. They found comfort in each other. They loved each other.
“If you… could change one thing that happened in your life, what would it be?” Sanemi asked after a moment of silence.
“I guess we should list out our regrets, so we don’t die with them weighing us down,” Sanemi said. His eyes seemed a bit misty.
Sanemi nodded, his shoulders tensing. “I wish I was a better big brother to him. I was… horrible to him because I wanted to push him away from harm. I wanted him to be safe, but he went and died, anyway. If I could go back, I would have shown him how I really feel a lot sooner.”
Giyu listened. He could hear the regret dripping from Sanemi’s voice. There wasn’t a day that went by without Sanemi mourning his little brother. Sometimes, it was the face he made after eating watermelon. Sometimes, it was the soft clipping of scissors against the branches of a bonsai. On the nights he had nightmares, Sanemi would fish out Genya’s old yukata and hug it, lamenting that he never treated his brother with this kindness in life.
“I wish,” Giyu started, “I wish I could have been stronger, so that Sabito and I could have both lived. I- I wouldn’t die in his place- Sabito would not be happy about that, but I wouldn’t let him die, either. He was stronger than me. Maybe, if he lived, as well, we could have defeated Muzan faster, and less people would have died.”
Giyu talked about Sabito a lot, Sanemi noticed. They had been best friends, more than best friends, a bond indescribable by words, before Sabito’s untimely death. Giyu blamed himself for it to a certain extent. He still wore modifications of Sabito’s kimono pattern in his clothing. He visited his old training grounds often a look of nostalgia on his face. After Sakonji passed away from old age, Giyu buried his ashes next to Sabito’s makeshift tombstone, keeping his family close by.
“Well, maybe in our next life-” Sanemi started.
“Maybe in our next life, we’ll do everything right,” Giyu finished.
The conversation ended there. Giyu continued to lean against Sanemi’s side, eventually being lulled to sleep by the crackling of the fire. Sanemi carried him over to the futon and laid him down while he went about cooking soup.
Sanemi had long since accepted that he was going to die young. But, for some reason, the fact that Giyu was going to die before him never truly sunk in until now. Even when they were Pillars, Giyu seemed like the guy who would manage to scrape by until retirement. And scrape by he did. They both did. Only now, neither of them would enjoy a long life.
Giyu woke up after a few hours. Sanemi fed him soup. They cuddled together for warmth. Sanemi was going to miss this.
He didn’t just think he wasn’t ready to lose Giyu yet. He knew he wasn’t ready to lose Giyu yet.
“Sa… nemi,” Giyu mumbled, nuzzling closer.
“I know you said you didn’t want to think about this yet, but,” Giyu paused, “don’t… do anything stupid after I die. I want you to live your full life.”
“... Okay.” One final promise he could give to Giyu, sealed with a kiss.
Nezuko and Tanjiro visited the next day. Zenitsu and Inosuke elected not to come along, knowing Giyu was closer to the Kamado siblings than he was to them. It was quiet. They spent the next four days together, with Tanjiro and Nezuko sleeping in the spare room.
On the fourth night, Giyu woke up in the middle of the night and quietly left the house. In the morning, when Sanemi and the Kamado siblings noticed he was gone, they knew immediately where he went.
They found his body in the forest, kneeling in front of Sakonji and Sabito’s graves. He had used the last of his strength to drag himself there.
Giyu Tomioka died on the seventh of February, one day before he was to turn twenty five.
“What will you do now?” Tanjiro asked with hesitance after the cremation and burial were done.
Sanemi was silent for a moment. “Travel, I guess,” he finally said.
“You can’t,” Nezuko protested. “Not in your condition.”
“You’re welcome to stay with us, you know,” Tanjiro offered. “We’ve always got room for one more.”
“Maybe later,” Sanemi said. “But, I guess I want to see the sights first. The demons are gone thanks to us, I guess I want to see what our hard work has culminated in.”
The Kamado siblings exchanged glances before silently agreeing. They helped Sanemi pack up his minimal belongings and made him promise to write.
“If you get sick, send us a crow or letter and one of us will take care of you,” Nezuko said, her tone strict.
“Don’t worry, I will,” Sanemi said, hoping he got across the exasperation he was trying to portray. “Honestly, you kids worry too much.”
Not exactly kids anymore, though. Tanjiro would be turning nineteen in a few months, and Nezuko had just turned seventeen. If Tanjiro was also fated to die by the Mark, he had over six years left. Maybe not kids, but still young.
Sanemi kept to his word and traveled. He stuck mostly to cities, the hefty salary left over from his days as a Pillar helping fund the hotels he stayed at. He couldn’t travel far in his condition. It didn’t bother him much, though. He had never spent much time in the industrialized cities, and the glimmering lights enchanted him.
People seemed to whisper about him when they saw him. The scars tended to make people wary of him. Some braver strangers asked if he was a war veteran. He said no, because they weren’t thinking of the same war. Sanemi figured he looked like an old man with his hollow cheekbones and bony fingers, not to mention the unnaturally white hair.
In every city he stopped by, he’d pick out a souvenir to send to the Kamados. At one point, he got a very angry crow from Tengen, demanding to know why he wasn’t sending them gifts. After that, Sanemi sent him the dullest thing he could find out of spite before starting to send real gifts.
In every city, Sanemi got a pinwheel for himself. He had a connection with wind. He and Genya used to play with pinwheels when they were young, Sanemi used the Breath of Wind, a windmill became his Demon Slayer Mark. Even now, he felt more like a leaf in the breeze, being carried from location to location without much will of his own.
Whenever he saw watermelon, he would buy one, the price not being a bother to him anymore. He always left at least one slice uneaten.
It was starting to snow again. October came and went. A month left until Sanemi’s twenty-fifth birthday.
Sanemi was staying in a hotel in Tokyo. The view was nice. As peaceful as he expected it to be. No more demons roaming the night, no more crying children, no more lost families.
Sanemi wished Genya got a chance to see all this. He wished he and Giyu had traveled together so that he could have seen this.
Sanemi coughed and drew his blanket tighter around his shoulders. He couldn’t stop shivering. With a pathetically immense amount of effort, he scrawled out a letter to Tanjiro and Nezuko, telling them his location and asking them to come. He attached the letter to his crow’s leg and sent it on its way.
On the twenty eighth of November, the Kamado siblings arrived at the hotel and asked about the whereabouts of a man with white hair and many many scars. They learned that he had passed away in his sleep the night before, one day before he was to turn twenty five. With a heavy heart, Tanjiro requested the body be cremated. The siblings lamented that they didn’t make it in time.
Sanemi Shinazugawa had died alone.
“At least he is no longer suffering,” Tanjiro tried to say as condolences. The two of them journeyed back to the old Demon Slayer headquarters and left the urn of ashes next to Genya’s grave, so that the brothers would be together at least in death.
Life moves on, even when you die. It keeps moving forward. The water continues to flow down the river, running over every stone until nothing is left. Windy storms continue to lift the soil away, eroding it until nothing is left.
After Giyu and Sanemi die, the world moves on, life moves on. Their loved ones mourn for them, but they move forward with life.
But, life and death are a cycle, an eternal dance. Every river eventually empties into a greater body of water. Every wind storm finds its peace and dissipates.
Change is inevitable. People change, the world changes. One day, a woman gives birth to a child that radiates light. Some are shocked, others call it a miracle. These quirks begin to spread. And spread more. They continue to spread like wildfire.
A little over a hundred years later, Quirks have become the norm.
On the eighth of February, a child with bright blue eyes and strands of ebony hair is born in Nogata. He is the second of two children.
On the twenty ninth of November, a child with starkly white locks and strangely defined eyelashes is born in Chuo. He is an only child, but dreams of a little brother.
For whatever reason, they remember their past lives.