Tanjiro looked over the town as he walked down the dusty road. He held on tightly to the straps of the box to alleviate some of the pressure on his back. Genya had been silent for a few hours. Maybe he fell asleep.
“Wow!” He heard someone exclaim from his left. Tanjiro turned his head and saw a small girl, no older than nine, staring at him with star struck eyes. She pointed to the sword in his sheath.
“That looks so cool! Are you some kind of secret samurai?”
“Uh, I guess so,” Tanjiro replied, feeling a bit unsure. Sakonji had told him that the Demon Slayers were not recognized by the government, and he didn’t want to be caught. Still, a small child would likely do no harm. “But, it’s a secret, okay? You can’t tell anyone else I’m a samurai.”
The girl nodded vigorously. “I’m Shinko Takame! What’s your name?”
“I’m Tanjiro Kamado.”
Something started faintly scratching against the box. It seemed that Genya had woken up. Tanjiro stiffened, silently begging Genya to stop making noise.
Shinko took notice of the sound. “What’s that?” She asked, tilting her head.
“Uh- just my, uh- my pet cat!”
There was one final scratch, as if Genya was unhappy to be compared to a house pet. Then, he fell silent.
Shinko pouted, sticking her bottom lip out. Then, she suddenly grinned. “Okay! Why did you come here?”
“To find the demon in this town and kill it,” Tanjiro didn’t say.
“Just passing through,” he replied eventually.
“Oh, you must be on a top secret samurai mission!”
“Then you must stay with me and Ma for the night!” Shinko exclaimed, clapping her hands in glee. “It would be so cool to house a top secret samurai!”
“No, no-” Tanjiro put his hands up in protest. But Shinko already grabbed him by the sleeve of his haori and started dragging him around. She led him to a house down the street.
“Ma!” Shinko called out as she flung the door open. A woman entered from the kitchen. She fiercely reminded Tanjiro of his own mother. “Ma, look who I brought! He’s a top secret samurai!”
It seemed as if Shinko had completely forgotten about her promise to not tell anyone.
“I- I’m truly sorry to intrude, Takame-san,” Tanjiro stuttered out, bowing. “I don’t want to intrude on your hospitality-”
Shinko’s mother simply smiled. “I’m not one to turn down a guest. Please, stay the night.”
Tanjiro felt unsure for a few more moments. He did need to slay the demon here, anyways. “I- I guess I can stay. But, in that case, let me help prepare dinner!”
“Shinko, go show-”
“Go show Tanjiro to the guest room.”
Shinko nodded and took hold of Tanjiro’s haori sleeve once more. She led him to the back of the house. It was a simple room with a futon and a writing desk.
“This used to be Pa’s study,” Shinko said. For the first time, she looked solemn. “He- hasn’t been home for a few days. Ma said he needed to go to some important meeting, but-”
Tanjiro felt a jolt of sadness run through him. “The crow’s report said that all of the victims have been grown men with children. Then, Shinko’s father-”
“But I’m sure he’ll be home soon!” Shinko exclaimed. “And he’ll be so happy that we housed a top secret samurai!”
Shinko’s mother came in. “Shinko, let Tanjiro get settled in.”
With a pout, Shinko ran out of the room. Shinko’s mother followed after her. Tanjiro gently closed the door and put his sword up against the wall. He set the box down. He glanced back towards the door before opening the box.
Genya had put on the muzzle in that time and looked at him with disdain.
“Sorry I called you a cat,” Tanjiro said. “But- if Shinko’s dad was really killed by a demon, I really can’t let them find out about you. I’m sorry.”
Genya whined a little. He reached behind his head to try and remove the muzzle. He struggled with the latch. Tanjiro reached over and ran his hands over the bindings.
“Urokodaki-san really thought this design out,” he murmured. “The steel coating makes it hard for you to bite through. And the latch is designed to make it easy for you to put it on. But, once the latch is in place, it would be near impossible to remove it by yourself.” He clicked the latch open and set it inside the box.
Gena shook his head and pointed to his stomach. “I’ll get you some food soon. Just stay here and stay out of sight.”
Tanjiro quickly slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him.
“Takame-san,” he said as he went into the kitchen. “I’m ready to help. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Shinko’s mother smiled. She looked tired and weary. “I was thinking of making yakitori tonight. Can you heat the oven?”
Tanjiro nodded and gathered the firewood in the corner. They worked silently as Tanjiro helped heat the oven and Shinko’s mother cut up the chicken.
“So, Tanjiro-kun,” she began. “Is it true you are a top secret samurai?”
“I- I suppose so.”
“Then…” Shinko’s mother paused. “Are you here to stop the disappearances?”
“... Yes.” Tanjiro looked at her. “Shinko-chan told me about her father.”
Shinko’s mother looked tense. Her mouth was drawn into a grimace. “Starting last week, one of the men would vanish every night. My husband, and Shinko’s father, went missing three days ago.”
She looked to Tanjiro with desperation. “He’s dead, isn’t he? My husband is not coming back.”
Tanjiro felt something squirm in his gut. “We- uh, I don’t know for sure-”
“You don’t need to give me fake reassurance,” she scoffed. “Please, just promise me you’ll find whoever did this. Avenge my husband, and all the other men.”
After that declaration, the conversation died down as they finished preparing dinner. Eating passed quietly, too. Shinko asked Tanjiro a few questions about his life as a “top secret samurai,” but other than that, it was silent. Tanjiro took a few yakitori skewers back to his room, claiming it to be for his cat.
Tanjiro quickly opened the door and closed it behind him, just in time to see Genya make a mad dash from the desk for the box and crawl inside.
“It’s me, Genya,” he whispered, approaching the box. He noticed Genya stash something behind his back. Genya peered over Tanjjiro’s shoulder and noticed the yakitori skewers. He expectantly reached out his hands, and Tanjiro handed the food over.
“Maybe this demon will know something,” he said as Genya bit through the chicken, the bamboo skewers along with it. “For now, let’s settle down here. I’ll keep my nose peeled all night.”
Genya nodded through a mouthful of chicken. Tanjiro laid down on the futon, resting his head on his hands. “I wonder how Nezuko is doing.”
They rested for a few hours as night began to fall. The moon rose into the sky, illuminating the room from the now open window. Tanjiro got to his feet. He ushered Genya back into the box. They would be heading out soon. He tucked his sheath into his belt and slipped the box over his shoulders. He ducked out of the room and headed for the front door.
“Where are you going?” Tanjiro looked back to the second room. Shinko was rubbing at her eyes sleepily.
“I- I’m going on top secret samurai business,” Tanjiro replied.
“Good luck!” Shinko crossed the room and wrapped Tanjiro in a hug. He pet her gently on the head. Genya scratched from inside the box.
“Also, that’s not really your pet cat in there, is it?”
Tanjiro jolted back and stuttered. “What- uh, I mean- How did you-”
“You make a funny face when you lie,” Shinko said with a lopsided grin. “So, what’s really in there?”
Tanjiro hung his head. “I’m sorry, Shinko. But I really can’t tell you.”
Shinko pouted. “It must be something really important to you, right?”
“Someone. But, yes, he’s really important to me.”
Tanjiro heard a faint, barely audible whine from the box.
“Keep him safe, then,” Shinko said.
“I will,” Tanjiro replied, making a promise to both Shinko and Genya. With that, he left the house and started searching for the demon.
“We’ll find the demon soon,” Tanjiro assured Genya as they walked. He kept sniffing at the air, trying to locate the demon’s scent.
Suddenly, the scent turned foul. Tanjiro’s head perked up, sniffing rapidly. He ran forward and turned left, following the scent. Genya yelped as he jostled around in the box.
Tanjiro spotted a figure of a small child running down the street. They had long choppy hair and their clothes were torn. They looked so small and meek, but their smell was undoubtedly that of a demon.
Tanjiro drew his sword. The sound of steel scraping against the sheath drew the demon’s attention, because they turned around to face him. Their eyes were a deep golden yellow.
The demon growled, baring their fangs. “Don’t get in my way!” They screeched.
Tanjiro stayed silent, holding his blade up.
The demon screeched and lunged. Tanjiro swung his sword at them, but the demon backflipped away with unexpected agility. Their hair hardened into tree branches. The branches extended forward, sharp and ready to pierce Tanjiro through the core.
“Breath of Water, Fourth Form: Striking Tide!”
Tanjiro slashed through the tree branches, severing them from the demon’s hair. They landed to the ground with a clatter. He rushed forward.
“Breath of Water, Third Form: Flowing Dance!”
The demon side stepped, but couldn’t avoid getting their right arm sliced off. It regenerated fast.
“Stay out of my way!” The demon screeched. “I have no interest in eating you!”
“You only target fathers with families,” Tanjiro seethed. “Why? Why are you splitting up perfectly happy families?!”
“You wouldn’t understand!” The demon lunged again. This time, their claws extended into tree bark.
Something rustled on Tanjiro’s back, and the box burst open. Genya jumped out. There was a loud BANG! The demon stumbled back, screeching and clutching at their bloodied eye. In Genya’s hand was-
“A gun?!” Tanjiro exclaimed. Genya was holding a sawed off shotgun. Tanjiro realized that this was what Genya stuffed into the box.
Genya growled, staring down the other demon. “What the hell?” The demon growled as their eye healed. “A demon and human working together? That’s absurd!”
“He’s my family,” Tanjiro said, readying his sword.
Genya focused his gun and fired again, but the demon evaded. His hair turned to bark once more, zooming towards Genya. Instead of evading, Genya opened his mouth and chomped down on the branches. The demon yelped. As they pulled away, blood rushed from the severed hair sections.
“You’ve got some nerve,” the demon growled. “Stay out of my way!”
Genya ran forward to try and get a second strike in. Tanjiro didn’t notice the severed branches on the ground writhing until it was too late.
The branches rooted themselves into the ground and pierced through Genya’s back. Blood spurted through the wounds, and Genya yelped. The branches began to extend upwards, taking Genya into the air.
Tanjiro felt fury in his veins.
“Breath of Water, First Form: Water Surface Slash!”
He cut through the branches before Genya could go too high into the sky. The demon was already on the offensive again, more of their hair hardening into wood and flying at Tanjiro.
“Breath of Water, Second Form: Water Wheel!”
Tanjiro flipped and slashed through the branches. They only fell to the ground and dug through the dirt.
“Every branch I slash just gives them more ammunition! I need to get to their head, fast!”
He spared a quick glance at Genya. His brother was struggling to his feet, the ends of the branches still poking through his chest.
“I just made a promise to Shinko and Genya that I will protect him! I’m not going to go back on it now!”
The branches were flying at him again. Tanjiro readied his blade and-
Genya got between them, firing the gun once more. The bullet struck the demon in the shoulder. They hissed, still standing. However, the branches still reached their target. Even though Genya raised his arms to cover himself, the branches drilled through his body.
Maybe Tanjiro was hearing things, but he could have sworn he heard Genya growl, “GO!”
Right. Genya used himself as a shield, a distraction. Tanjiro wouldn’t let himself waste this chance. He wouldn’t let Genya get hurt for nothing.
Genya fired again as Tanjiro dashed around the side. He readied himself to strike.
“Breath of Water, Fourth Form: Striking Tide!”
First, he cut through the demon’s legs. Then the arms. Finally, the neck, and the demon’s head went flying.
Tanjiro breathed out a sigh of relief, and immediately rushed to Genya’s side. His yukata was covered in his own blood, and some branches were still sticking out of his stomach and arms. He whimpered as he tugged at a branch embedded in his shoulder.
“Genya, hang on-”
Genya growled with unexpected animosity. With a final yank and screech, he pulled the branch free. The blood flow quickened. Genya quickly put the branch into his mouth and chewed through it. The skin and muscles around the wound shriveled and closed up.
“Eating demon parts helps you heal?”
Genya nodded and reached for the next branch, but Tanjiro cut him off with a hug.
“I’m sorry I let you get hurt, Genya,” he murmured. “You must have been in pain. I’m so sorry.”
Genya closed his eyes and leaned into the hug.
A child held their father’s hand as they walked down the street. They were laughing and smiling.
“Can we go get dango, Dad?” The child asked.
The father and child pair walked further down the street. From one of the alleys, Ketsuko spotted a man watching them.
“Dad-” Ketsuko started to say, but the man had already approached them. He was big, bigger than their dad, and he had an undeniably mean and drunk look to him. He was twirling a large knife in his hand.
“Oi, Hano,” the man said. His voice sounded scary. “You know you still owe me money, right?”
“Dad-” Ketsuko whined, hiding behind their father’s back. “Who is this? He’s scary.” They looked around. No one else was there.
“Reidara,” their father said, the normally easy going tone gone completely serious. “Not now.”
“Oh,” Reidara cocked his head in mock curiosity. “If not now, then when? Did you forget you owe everything you have to me?! Your job, your wife, even your child!”
“That’s enough!” Ketsuko’s father took another step forward. “Ketsuko, go home!”
“Oh, do tell them,” Reidara said with a faux benign smile. “Tell them where you’d be if not for my generous loans. That you still haven’t paid back!”
The accoster swung the knife in wild fury, striking Ketsuko’s father in the chest. He fell to the ground.
“Dad!” Ketsuko dropped to their knees, tears flowing from their eyes.
“Kid-” It was as if Reidara only now fully comprehended that someone witnessed his crime. “You are going to forget you saw that!”
Ketsuko screamed and scrambled away. They struggled back to their feet and ran, crying. Reidara chased after them, but in his drunken confusion was unable to locate them.
Ketsuko hid in another alley the whole day and into the night, crying their eyes out. Why? Why did their father get taken away right in front of them.
Footsteps crunched against the ground, and Ketsuko hid their face with their hands, frightened.
“How unfortunate.” The voice that spoke was unfamiliar. Ketsuko opened their eyes and saw a man in a suit and tie. He looked… almost otherworldly, radiating of a power they couldn’t comprehend.
“Stay away!” Ketsuko growled, mostly out of fear. They instinctively knew that this man would do as he alone pleases, and nothing they say would have an effect on him.
Indeed, the man stepped forward, stretching out a singular, long fingernail. “How unfortunate, indeed,” he repeated. “If you can’t have your father-”
“Then no one else can!”
Genya looked up as he finished chewing through the final branch. The demon’s body was starting to crumble to dust, as was the decapitated head.
“What are you talking about?” Tanjiro asked, staying by Genya’s side.
“If I can’t have my dad, then no one else can!” The demon wailed. They were… crying. Tears fell from their golden eyes. “It’s not fair! Why did my dad have to die! Why why why why why!”
They sounded like a child. Like a scared child. And for a moment, Geny felt incredibly sorry for them.
Tanjiro also looked saddened. “You’re not alone,” he said. “We lost our father, too. And I know it hurts, but- it doesn’t excuse the killing of innocent people.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” The demon screeched, though their voice lost all conviction.
“By killing all those men, all those fathers, you are making their children go through that same pain,” Tanjiro murmured. “It’s horrible, unimaginable. I’d never wish for someone to lose their loving parent.”
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
It really was a child. This demon was a child. Younger than Genya was, definitely. They just couldn’t comprehend anything outside their view of the world.
Tanjiro put his hands together in a prayer. “Please understand. I wouldn’t wish for you to lose your father, either. In your next life, I hope that you won’t lose your father, and that you won’t turn into a demon, either.”
The demon fell silent, most of their body completely disintegrated.
“Please, go in peace.”
The demon vanished into flecks of dust. Tanjiro seemed to almost deflate. He turned to Genya.
“We should go,” he said, voice sullen and tired. “We still have a few hours before the sun rises. There’s a river outside of town. We should wash the blood off.”
Genya pointed to the holes formed in his yukata and pouted.
“Nezuko should be able to mend that,” Tanjiro assured him. “We’ll meet up with her soon, I’m sure.”
Tanjiro took him by the hand and led him down the street. They walked to the river in silence. Tanjiro helped Genya remove the yukata and started washing it, blood flowing away with the water.
“We’ll figure this out, I promise,” Tanjiro said. His sorrowful expression was replaced with determination. “I can’t forgive that Muzan. So many people are suffering because of him. You. Our family. The families in this town. Even that demon. All of that is his fault. And I promise I’ll stop him. I promise.”
Tanjiro looked up in surprise.
“Pro- mise…” Genya’s voice sounded hoarse. He hadn’t spoken in years, aside from growls and animalistic screeches. He looked so unsure, as if he himself didn’t quite understand what was happening.
“Genya, did you just-”
“New assignment! New assignment!”
Both boys looked up in shock and startlement at the voice of Tanjiro’s crow, circling overhead in the still dark sky.
“Head to Asakusa! Asakusa, in Tokyo! Rumors of demon activity there! Go, go!”