passages of water & blood @stanzas
veins, heart

i. what flows inside these veins

and lies inside an unbeating heart?

Beneath her wide brimmed hat, peeking between shadows and painted woven rice-straw, Nezuko lifts her eyes and surveys the dip in the horizon. Sunset casts long rays, orange and gold in her brother’s dark hair, enveloping his head in strokes of fire.

He takes another cautious sniff. “Maybe two. The second one smells...older. They might have moved on from this area already.”

A pause as he picks up a new scent from the gust of cold breeze buffeting him from below, passing through his hair and sending his earrings into a merry sway. "And I smell…" Tanjirou’s expression tightens, either reluctant or unsure if the observation is worth voicing out of considerate sensitivity. That effort is in vain as she recognizes it for what it is. Nezuko's nose isn't as keen as her brother's, but her demon senses detect the siren call of human blood somewhere below.

Wordless acknowledgement from Nezuko comes in a soft sigh. She flickers her gaze back to the forest, where she stood before in the deeper brush and trees. Her instincts urge her back into the shade. Even in the dwindling light her skin emits a faint hum, slightly stinging under the broad swatches of light. Her wide hat covers most of her shoulders and protects her from the brightness -- but not all. She can’t die in sunlight, like the other demons, but it doesn’t mean she escapes the burning. One of the advantages she holds over her full-blooded counterparts.

She’s come to accept these things; for who she is and what she’s unwillingly become.

Her brother tilts his head and considers aloud, “At least Breath of Water suits fighting in a river, if that is really where the demon is hiding.” Sniffing again, his shoulders settle some of the tension riding on them. His free hand, no longer shading his eyes from the dusk, rests upon the hilt.

The ease of his voice doesn’t betray whatever else he holds between his tongue and teeth. He waits until the last stray glowing streaks fade into twilight and starts on the path down into the incline, following the bow of the river ahead.

Nezuko removes her hat and attaches it to the loose cord that falls upon her back. Tanjirou inclines his head and gestures down the slope. “This way.”

They part ways at the forked trail. Nezuko takes the left path near the walls and hill-faced incline. Tanjirou dashes off right, his light footfall softening and fading until not even her inhuman ears can detect the rustle of earth.

A short hike from one end of the ascent to the other confirms what she already guessed. There are no demons on this side of the valley. Her hand falls to the hilt, despite that assurance, for she knows she’s not alone either. It’s a useless gesture for her blade likely won’t be drawn at all. The breeze carries notes of warning that reject ignorance. Smoke and hints of ash and the rich weight of blood. A trail that ends unhappily; whatever unfortunate soul was caught in the traps of this demon is long past saving.

She refuses to look too long at the bodies -- or what little remains of them. There’s three of them, all young, and she catches herself before she spends too long staring upon their faces and accusing half-lidded eyes. There’s no time for a proper burial alone either. But Tanjirou will return to the site with her and pay their respects. She ignores the biting ache of hunger inside of her that wells up as she passes.

She finds Tanjirou at the mouth of the river with his hands pressed into the shallow clay depths. Red strings swirl between his arms from where they meet the water, spinning and releasing the bloodstains into the current. His sword, too, gleams oil-slick and indistinct in the night. The blood is not his.

The water must be frigid but Tanjirou washes with considerate care, methodically wiping the stains from between his fingers, under his nails, splashing up to clear his face. She waits for him to finish and sheath his sword before she says, “There are bodies. Up on the hill.”

His smooth expression reflects painful resignation, a ripple in the lake stilling once more into tranquil glass. “How many?”

“Three.”

“Three,” he echoes softly, and closes his eyes. “It feels like we’re always a little too late, doesn’t it?”

“Mn.” Nezuko leans into her older brother’s shoulder, chasing the sensation of warmth that’s eluded her since she awoke in cold and hunger. She can offer nothing to ease his mind over such matters. It doesn’t matter if it was out of their control. Slayers at best were preventative measures against demons, but in most unfortunate cases, they’re merely chasing calamity catch-and-clean-up.

Few words pass between them as they clean the bodies and prepare them for burial. It’s a rushed attempt, but it’s kinder than leaving them exposed to the elements and the unforgiving nature. They lack shovels or tools, so it falls to Tanjirou to scope out large flat stones and for Nezuko to decide where the softest clay resides.

At dawn their miserable task draws to a close and they depart again. For whatever reason -- lingering human weariness, or some other sense of dissatisfaction -- she finds her gaze returning to the valley. Looking over one’s shoulder is a purely human instinct.

It should give her some sense of triumph that those instincts are still there. It should remind her that despite everything, she’s still a little human. It should satisfy her that somehow, someday, the chance she can return.

If anything, she realizes, it only deepens the well of regret.

As she had nothing to offer her brother -- no words of comfort or anything resembling something other than shallow reassurances -- so too Tanjirou provides uneasy quiet. The companionable empathetic kind, but still quiet.

The silent truce falters and breaks as night beckons close once more. “You’re doing well,” Tanjirou notes. He grins, all teeth and crinkling eyes, still the proud older brother who marches across all of her waking memory. “You’re talking more. Your smell is...happier.”

“You really should stop telling people how they’re feeling based on their smell,” Nezuko replies, as she can’t resist teasing him. No matter how much she’s changed, that instinct hasn’t abandoned her either. She huffs a laugh at Tanjirou’s put-upon expression.

In the morning she returns to the cover of shaded trees and dons her wide hat. The crow calls out as it sweeps between the trees, “To the south! South you will go! Find and defeat the demon!” Direction chosen, Tanjirou leads south. Nezuko, bobbing in and out of patches of forest coverage, follows.

 


 

Urokodaki flat-out rejects Tanjirou’s faith-bound optimism of lifting Nezuko’s demon curse. “It has never been done. I do not know if such a thing exists. And if you are to demand the answers from the one who turned you, I consider that to be...unwise.”

“We will find a cure.” Tanjirou insists. “My sister will become human again. I swear my life on it.”

Whatever old face lies beneath that mask remains inscrutable. She wonders what expression this sword master makes to her brother’s hopeful desperate promise. She wonders if he knows it’s already a futile gamble with low odds and infinitely high stakes. She wonders, perhaps, if the face behind it were revealed, if she would find pity there.

His head neither turns nor measures any angle away from her brother but she knows Urokodaki addresses both of them when he says, “You will have to swear on more than that.”

 


 

When Tanjirou isn’t hovering or making overly concerned noises about her trespassing into broad daylight, he’s usually either almost dying, or making friends with very strange people. Not that Nezuko should judge him, but, really, Tanjirou?

“That’s your sister?” Zenitsu screeches. “But she’s wearing -- you can’t even see her face! Why would you cover such a striking, heavenly visage--!”

Nezuko switches her gaze to Tanjirou, incredulous, and thinks at him what kind of friends are you making now, older brother? He sort of...shrugs, gesturing helplessly like, oh well, what can you do? Nezuko narrows her eyes.

“So weird,” Zenitsu says. Nezuko feels a human feeling of uncontrollable frustration. They’re all noticeably ignoring the body of the passed out slayer on the ground between them after Tanjirou headbutted him into a coma. “If I couldn’t hear -- well, she doesn’t have a heartbeat. Otherwise I’d assume -- well. You’d never know she’s a demon! Such a shame to hide her away like that, yeah?” With each exclamation he takes a step closer, bending his neck to peer under the cover of her hat.

While Tanjirou’s back is turned, Nezuko drops her mask far enough to show her teeth and growls at him. Zenitsu beats a hasty retreat back to safety at her brother’s side.

He isn’t the first to say so. Or not in those exact words -- not at all, really -- but sometimes she encounters some display of confusion that comes from her conservative manner of dress. To ensure maximum protection from the harsh rays of the sun she adopts the full-length pants and standard slayer uniform. She abandons the pink blossom kimono of her youth and reuses the material for her haori. Saburo’s borrowed umbrella is abandoned in favor of a wide curved hat to keep her face and shoulders in shadow.

Covering every spare patch of skin was necessary, so her face remains covered with the rest of her. She keeps Urokodaki’s mask as well. An extra shield from curious prying eyes should they land upon her unnatural features.

It seemed a shame to abandon the mask, too, being that it was a gift. She imagines if Tanjirou’s hadn’t broken during his trial on the mountain, he would honor Urokodaki and keep it as well. Their sword master crafted their fox masks for both of them as a pair before Final Selection. Tanjirou’s bore a sun crest scar over where his real scar fit under the mask. For Nezuko, he etched a delicate cherry blossom bow by the ear; a mirror to her brother.

Their confusion is understandable, though the amusement fades quickly. She imagines she strikes quite the air of mystery upon first glance; the large hat, her mask, and when drawn her dual-toned sword draws its own share of intrigue.

“Amazing,” Zenitsu whispers, awestruck at the sight of her blade. There are worse reactions, Nezuko decides.

Not all of the slayers react with good favor. Most are outright hostile. Some are determinedly curious. And others show no outward signs of ill will except wary suspicion, unless she reads between their words and sideways glances and remembers; yes, these people would cut her down without hesitation, if not for the pact that offers assurance only words can buy.

 


 

What she remembers of that night is neither merciful or forgiving.

There came no knock at their door, nor warning aloud, and only the soft gust of frosty air from the open door brought her out of her dreams. She wakes to a living nightmare.

From that gruesome, miserable moment between content to horror she remembers her fear stripping all else away. Watching her mother fall, her life cut from her body before she reaches the floor. Takeo wakes next, rising to his feet with a startled shout that is cut short with a gurgle. The wretched echoes of siblings waking to the sound and fearfully crying out into the night.

There is little in the murky fog of darkness. The scarcely visible outline of a figure. Red eyes. Echoes of a leaky roof in the wet season, although some part of her mind recognizes it can’t belong to water on a cold winter night like this. Drip, drip, drip. The sound of laughter that chills her blood at the menacing, cruel, disquieting quality of it.

Shigeru calls out her name, as the rest of her siblings scramble with panic. It’s so dark she can’t see them dying, but she can hear them. They can only scream out each other’s names, unable to see or touch one another as they face the end of their lives together.

A living nightmare indeed.

Her body churns with pulsing energy. She tries to run, to move, to fight, to flee -- only for her path to be cut short by a heavy strike that sends her reeling backwards. Her head strikes the ground with a resounding crack that reverberates through her fear and panic and into blissful silence.

She wakes to darkness and eerie quiet. The doors remain strewn across the floor, allowing the faded glow of dawn to creep in. It’s barely enough for her to see the shapes of her family lying on the ground but enough for her to recognize they are still and lie unmoving; no sign of breath from their chest. If not, the amount of blood covering the walls and floor would mark this scene for what it is: a slaughter.

She stands. Her vision staggers, blinking away the wet mist of her eyes. Blood, or tears; both, maybe.

Halting steps through the carnage of the bodies that once held the lives of her family. Stumbling over and through the tragic array of bodies. Desperate hands clawing out, reaching, grabbing, seeking the comfort of her cold-bodied siblings. Wetness sliding down her cheeks, bitter salt on her lips. An ever growing river mouth of blood. The rotting stench of death burdens the air. She crawls on her hands and knees, her entire body burning with effort as even those movements are too much for her shattered strength.

Her hands encounter the cold give of flesh. Shigeru, on his side, his arms outstretched over his head as though to cover his eyes. Takeo lies beside him, his unseeing open eyes fixed on the entrance. The burning in her stomach intensifies; nausea, guilt, so powerful her hands and breath shake with violent force. On the other side she finds Rokuta, spitting shallow wet breaths and weeping beside Hanako and their mother, who lie side-by-side against the wall and slumped over as though sleeping. She draws him into her own arms. He doesn’t stir from where he’s pressed against her chest, and no matter how many trembling assurances she stutters out his breathing continues to weaken into rattles -- little brother, don’t worry -- I've got you, stay right here, I’ve got you Rokuta, I’ve got you...

She holds him even as his small head grows limp against her, his limbs and hands fall still. Her feet fall unsteady beneath her leaving heavy tracks in their wake. She has to leave. She must get out. She can’t stay in this den of death and devastation. All of her focus narrows to the fine point of a needle, moving one foot and stumbling into the next haltering act. Two steps, three. Four. Five. A desperate, mindless, futile journey.

Her strength wavers, legs trembling, and falls on the sixth.

Rokuta is already cold against her chest. His forehead is matted with blood and sticking to the fading warmth of her neck. I’m sorry, Rokuta, your big sister can’t, I can’t do it, I can’t get up. But I’ll be with you, I won’t leave you here, please wait for me. The snow embraces her into the cold and dark.

She remembers nothing of her awakening. Only hunger. The sickly smell of blood is gone, replaced by a sweeter, tangy smell that drives iron nails into her stomach. A new hunger inside of her that yearns to be filled, a desire for warm blood and a beating heart to bite into. Death would’ve been a kinder fate than this yawning, aching chasm deep within her that begs for the very thing that averses her. She’s no longer Kamado Nezuko as she was; now a vessel with a purposeful thirst that drives her every conscious moment. She’s so hungry. So hungry, cold, so cold.

Nezuko! Please!

She knows this voice. The red haze flickers. The bloodthirst simmering in her veins cools, slows, then comes to a halt. Fog clearing with the force of a typhoon; clarity.

She knows this face, tear-stained and desperate and loyally kind. She smells his tears, tastes the bitter bite of wood between her teeth.

Tanjirou.

Shame, surprise, grief, fear -- a flood of emotions all tangled together that sweep away that entrenched, festering need and hunger. But she wants to -- she was going to -- no!

Not Tanjirou. Not him. Not her brother.

I’m sorry, she tries to say, but she can’t form the words around the wood she’s grinding between her teeth. Tears sting behind her eyes and fall, gracelessly, onto her brother’s yielding accepting face.

He was going to let her kill him.

The burning in her blood freezes cold. The thought of blood, those violent urges before to tear open his throat and drink are far, far away.

She can’t hurt him. She will not hurt him. She can’t hurt him.

Never, Nezuko promises, the moment she remembers what the word means. I will never hurt you, older brother.

This is a promise she intends to take, to carry, to uphold with every undying breath she has left.

 


 

Nezuko asks, “Do you really believe I can become human again?”

Believing has nothing to do with anything,” The Insect Pillar replies cooly. “But if such a cure can be found, it will be proven by science. Not by foolish wishing or hoping.”

 


 

Although she never asks, and no other slayer approaches her among the grounds to say so, she imagines they must make quite a pair to the others. Nezuko and Tanjirou -- Urokodaki’s newest disciples, a brother and sister, freshly scarred by the trauma of their family’s death at the hands of a unmerciful demon. She imagines if slayers were to gossip, or whatever they refer to their sharing of information and passing hands of news, she can only guess that their names come with a tone of skepticism and mystery.

Speculation is the paradigm of rumor, though in their case perhaps deserved. The arrival of their newly forged swords only tosses another magnificent burst of fuel to that suspicion.

“It’s black,” Tanjirou notes, confused at the palpable shift of wariness that ripples and shrouds the inner cabin.

“Yes,” Urokodaki agrees warily, as though reluctant to reply at all. The swordsmith howls with frustration.

Unexpected. Neither the blue of a water slayer -- as Urokodaki mentioned in passing as a common trait -- nor red of his fire-toned hair the swordsmith spoke of; the two predetermined shades anticipated for the determination of his blade.

Never one to shy his curiosity, Tanjirou asks, “What -- what does this color mean?”

“Unclear,” their sword master answers. There’s no mistaking the hesitance in his tone. “But among slayers this blade color is considered a rather poor omen of ill-fortune.”

Tanjirou’s eyes widen into full-moon platters. “Ah,” he says.

“Because nobody ever lives long enough to find out what it means,” the swordsmith mutters, on the verge of incoherency, although Nezuko can hear his words as clearly as though he shouted it across the room. “Black swords are only destined for people with short lives! Bad luck! Very bad luck!”

“It’s superstition,” Urokodaki corrects. “What you are capable of with this sword only depends on your own ability. Your sword does not define your destiny. That power only belongs to you.”

With the tumultuous reveal of Tanjirou’s blade and by unspoken agreement the ceremony quickly moves on to the latter. The swordsmith addresses her last, warily unveiling the second sword within his cloth. “I am unsure if your blade will change at all,” he sniffs. “I didn’t think demons could wield swords at all. But I am a master of my craft! I refuse no challenge no matter how great or small! I’ve adjusted your sword for someone of your...specific needs. But it goes without saying that you, especially, must be very careful. You are not exempt from it’s effects.”

Decidedly not encouraging. Then I will be the first, Nezuko thinks, stubbornly pushing aside her trepidation and her fear should the sword prove unfit. She holds out her hands and takes the offered hilt. Her fingers twine the handle, molding around it as though meant for the shape of her hands to hold.

She raises the sword, bending her elbow to display it aloft and inspects it in the lamplight. Tanjirou’s hilt is black and circular with straight-lined supports. Her own hilt bears the same resemblance, although bearing silver lines that are curved and twisted like a swirl of fast moving water. No doubt the design was intentional. One glance at their pair of swords would indicate their resemblance; their swords speak of their bond to each other. Two parts of a whole. Unity. Togetherness.

For a moment, she awaits in disappointed silence as the blade stubbornly remains the same shade of original steel. She senses Tanjirou’s anticipation-turned-disappointment as well. A trickle of doubt loosens in the back of her mind. Perhaps demons truly aren’t meant to wield the swords of slayers.

The swordsmith inhales with a sharp gasp. Beside her, Tanjirou releases a small surprised noise that’s half-glee and half-startled. Urokodaki is silent and still throughout the ordeal; although she feels his surprise in the shift of the air.

Color creeps from the bottom of her blade, giving way as though melting and eating away at the surface. Blue leeches out from the hilt. Deepens into dark violet where it meets the end and smolders into rich crimson fire.

It’s certainly not solid blue, or red, or black.

She waits in stunned, unbroken silence for an answer. Urokodaki breaks it with resigned air and says, “The both of you are certainly most...unusual.”

 


 

A white-cloaked forest in winter; a remote, peaceful, but ultimately cold scene. Except her peace is shattered, just as the bonds between her living family were severed in the night.

And her brother...

“Stop hurting her! That’s my sister, she’s the only family I have left! Please!

“Your sister is a demon,” the swordsman says, twisting her brother’s arm behind his back and forcing him to his knees.

"Then I’ll find a way to cure her!” Tanjirou howls. Cold sharp pain enters Nezuko’s side: her flesh gives way under the blade as though tearing through ripened fruit.

She blinks tears away, forcing her neck to straighten and follow the sound of her brother’s voice. It’s a lure, an anchor, a knot of rope around her neck and tightening. Remember, it says. Remember who you are, Kamado Nezuko.

The man in red cuts a severe figure in the broad white landscape. While his companion’s coloring almost allows him to disappear in it, his red haori stands out like blood against snow. Like the blood leaving Nezuko’s body from where his blade shreds through her shoulder. Now it’s raised to her neck.

She cares little for her own death. But the other swordsman holds Tanjirou back with so much force her brother’s face turns deep red and slowly leeches of color as he fails to draw more air.

“S-Stop,” Nezuko hisses, once she finds the human words again. “Stop! D-Don’t hurt...him.”

Her own wrist is shackled in his tight hold. He visibly hesitates from where his sword presses against her neck.

The other man with the white haori scowls. “Don’t tell me you’re squeamish now. Ignore the kid. Finish it.”

Cool slate-grey eyes search her. Nezuko growls, low; a warning. “She said something,” he insists. “She -- listen to her, Sabito. Listen.”

Speaking is no easy task either, with how hard she’s grinding her teeth together to keep that instinct to bite and sink her newly acquired incisors into his wrist. “D-Don’t,” her voice comes out unrecognizable, lacking all of her softness and bell-like tones. She’s left with guttural pitches while squashing down the growl in her throat. “D-Don’t touch him. Don’t touch my brother. Don’t hurt him. Don’t hurt him, or I’ll --” Her threat falls short and she lets out a frustrated growl.

Silence settles the stalemate. Another moment passes as the two swordsmen size her up, then each other and finally, “Sabito. Let him go.”

“You’re a fool,” barks Sabito, but he relinquishes Tanjirou from his arm hold. Tanjirou falls, gasping, and rolls onto his stomach as he crawls over to her. The other swordsman holding her keeps a tight grip on her wrist, although he allows her to reach out to her brother.

Her brother throws himself into his arms. The smell of blood grows sharper. She ignores it. This is her brother. Tanjirou. This is her elder brother. This is her older brother, her first companion from the time she came into the world. She could never harm him. “Nezuko, ah-hah, Nezuko,” he sobs.

“T-Tanjirou,” Nezuko murmurs. Her hands tremble against his neck. Her eyes sting, fresh tears stinging with guilt and relief all at once. “Tanjirou, Tanjirou. You are...not hurt?”

“I’m not hurt,” Tanjirou promises. “Oh, Nezuko, ah.” He smells like smoke, still ashy from coal-delivery; sweat from his flight through the forest. He smells like home. She never had Tanjirou’s great talent -- his nose, that is -- and she realizes with stark surprise that she can smell much more, too. The faint odor of blood among the strongest, but she staunchly refuses to acknowledge it.

The two swordsmen waver with uncertainty. To his companion, the scowling one demands, “Well, Giyuu. What do you expect to do with them now?

“We’ll take them to Urokodaki-san.” The other one, who his fellow swordsman named Giyuu, replies.

Sabito visibly doesn’t agree with that decision at all. Incredulous, he snaps back, “You’re going to bring a demon to him? And you’re letting it live?

“She’s not entirely demon,” Giyuu answers. “At least not like any demon I’ve seen. That must mean something.”

His white haori whips around with a snarl -- a snow squall among the trees. “It means you’re a bigger fool than I thought!”

“Think about it, Sabito.” His voice is lower, almost out of the fuzzy range of her hearing. That’s new, too -- this newfound sense of sound. She can hear his heart beating fast against his chest, as loud as the one beating inside her brother at her side. “A newly transformed demon will always succumb to hunger. They will tear apart their own human family, their own parents, siblings. Friends. Their own children. There has been no exception to this. But she is.”

Sabito scowls. “Impossible.”

Wryly, “Clearly not.”

Nezuko lifts her head from the safety of her brother’s shoulder. She meets the eyes of the red haori slayer, and he stares back with an eerie unblinking calm. His gaze flickers back to Sabito and says, “A demon like her does mean something. Think about what she represents -- unless you’ve abandoned hope of this war ending. Whatever she is, we have to take that chance.”

Sabito rolls his eyes and sheaths his sword at his hip. “You’re a sentimental idiot,” he sighs. “I suppose there’s no convincing you this is a bad idea.”

A returning smile, then, “Not a bad one at all. I think there’s something...different about these two. You can feel it, can’t you?” He lifts his chin and gestures to Nezuko with a short nod. “I think it means something. A demon who refuses to eat humans isn’t something we can ignore.”

Sabito snaps his head up sharply. “...For now.”

The two swordsmen part ways. The red bearing swordsman departing to follow a trace of the demon responsible for their family’s slaughter. The wearer of white, Sabito, follows her and Tanjirou back up the mountain to bury the remains of their family. She doesn’t know what amount of convincing went into winning the argument the other man made to make him escort them home, but she wonders if it was out of kindness or cautious obligation to ensure Tanjirou’s safety.

She also overheard their argument whether to bind her mouth closed or not, which came to an impasse as neither party could agree. Nezuko voiced her own conclusion to Tanjirou, and came to the compromise of Sabito joining their company.

“You must be careful,” Sabito warns her, although he deliberately addresses the space over Nezuko’s head. Adamantly refrains from looking at her directly. He keeps a firm hand on his sword, prepared to draw it at any moment. If she weren’t so unaccountably shaky in her own trust she would be offended, but she knows she’s capable of dangerous, unpredictable things like she never was when she was human. “When you’re out during the day. Demons burn and die in sunlight. You’re only protected now because the overcast is thick enough to protect you.”

Tanjirou’s face blanches. “In sunlight?

“There are only a few ways to kill demons.” Sabito says gravely, and counts each out. “Daylight. High concentrations of wisteria, which is poison to demons. Or beheading by a slayer’s sword.” He taps the top of the hilt.

Nezuko’s heart, though resting solemn and still in her chest, pulses with an unexpected wave of grief. She is a wretched creature of the night now. No more bright daylight or warmth for her.

Death would’ve been kinder, she thinks wearily, and is disgusted by the same thought. What is the purpose of living an after-life like this one? But she can’t die now. She can’t allow herself to entertain such dark consideration. Tanjirou needs her. This half-life is a curse in all ways except for the sole blessing of keeping her brother at her side.

Tanjirou senses her sorrow and places his firm hand upon her shoulder, squeezing with gentle pressure. “We have a long walk ahead of us,” he says.

Half-way down the mountain he stops suddenly in his path. “We need to find a way to protect you from the sun tomorrow,” he murmurs, tracing his second finger and thumb together, thinking heavily. “I wonder if --?”

Old Man Saburo answers the tentative knock on his door. Sabito remains outside with Nezuko, a safe distance from the house. Nezuko can smell him still, but he smells...stale, almost. Not interesting or appetizing to the hunger inside of her, even though she’s refusing the sensation out of sheer force of will at this point.

Tanjirou returns with a wide parasol, purple-red with a thick wide strip of white near the top.

Sabito judges the umbrella with dubious concern. “I don’t think that’s going to…”

“It’ll do for now,” Tanjirou assures her, ignoring Sabito’s clear discontent. Nezuko lets out a low growl at the flickering sunspots entreating her safe shadowy domain. She blinks at the offered umbrella, which Tanjirou holds confidently over their shared headspace and beckons her out of the trees.

Nezuko remembers little of Urokodaki’s first meeting. Her body grows lethargic, near unresponsive, sliding in and out of sleep as they approach the final stretch of their destination. Exhaustion weighs heavy in all of her limbs, even her head. She doesn’t remember a time in her life she ever felt this tired. Tanjirou drags her hands over his shoulders and lifts her from the knees, stumbling behind Sabito until the sight of smoke crawls into view. Nezuko blinks and suddenly she’s inside, Tanjirou patiently peeling her limbs off of him and tucking her into a borrowed futon.

1. veins, heart 5428 2 0 2. water, blood 5881 2 0