As he tries to avoid Nezuko's attacks, Tanjirou remembers every time she tried cheer him up after the death of their family. He remembers her voice and her kind eyes and all the times they have helped each other brush their hair.
He thinks about all of those things as he falls to the ground in that cold street in the Undercity.
"Nezuko, please!" He screams; there are people nearby, but the neighborhood they find themselves in is not a friendly one. Tanjirou knows no one is going to help him. "I'm your brother! Please, remember!"
Tanjirou is good at fighting; having lost all his family when he was a kid and being born in the Undercity has taught him a thing or two about surviving. He knows how to throw a kick and even knock someone out using only his fists, but he doesn't want to hurt Nezuko. Besides, this Nezuko is very different from his sixteen-year-old sister.
Her eyes are glowing purple and her nails have become sharp as she tries to reach his face to hurt him; she's stronger now. Tanjirou has heard about the drug Kibutsuji and his men use to slowly poison their own city, the one they distribute to control everything.
Tanjirou doesn't understand, he's sure he had warned his sister about taking the drug, besides, he's heard is expensive so how did she get it?
Finally, Tanjirou manages to push her aside and almost collapses again as he tries to rise from the ground that's quickly getting wet because of the rain. It's a dark day, but all days are the same in that particular region, the place is only illuminated by the neon lights that every building has outside. It makes everything look more sick and dangerous than it already is.
The sun never reaches the Undercity, that's a privilege only meant for the Topside, at the other side of the bridge.
Nezuko growls and charges at him again, Tanjirou doesn't have the time to move out of the way because she's so fast now; he grabs both her hands instead and trembles under the amount of force she's using. He's not going to last long.
"I'm Tanjirou!" He screams because he's desperate and because he fears she can't listen to him due to the rain. Her long, beautiful hair is all wet and she must be cold, although she doesn't seem to care about that at the moment.
Nezuko is too far gone.
"I'm your brother! Please, you're the only thing I have left! Come back to me!"
She chokes after managing to scratch his ear, the blood spilled makes her remember... Her eyes are not glowing anymore, but they're still purple and only then, only when she stops attacking it's when Tanjirou notices the syringe on the back of her neck. Someone did that on purpose. Someone poisoned her sister.
"Tanjirou?" Nezuko mumbles, looking like she's devastated. He's not sure if she's been crying or they're just drops of water that are falling all over her face.
"It's alright," he pulls her into his arms. "You'll be fine. We'll be fine."
He takes her home and asks her to tell him everything that happened; she doesn't remember that much, just a couple of people surrounding her as she tried to go back to the abandoned old basement they call home.
Tanjirou shouldn't have let her go on her own, but he had to collect his payment from the owner of the bar he works at.
She trembles even after she changes her clothes and comes back into the room so Tanjirou can use the towel in his hands to dry her hair.
"I'm a monster now," Nezuko mumbles, looking herself through the only broken mirror they have.
"You are not."
Nezuko chuckles, but Tanjirou doesn't hear any happiness in the sound. It's just pain.
"You're right. This drug doesn't turn people into monsters. We're more like demons."
"You are my sister," Tanjirou says almost fiercely, prompting Nezuko to turn around quickly to give him a hug. She sobs over his shoulder for a while and he tries to be strong for her even though he doesn't know what's going to happen to them now.
They've seen a couple of people die because of the drug, how addicted they become to it. How much they change.
"You'll have to tie me," Nezuko whispers then.
"Tanjirou, I can feel the madness coming back again. I don't want to hurt you," she sobs. "If I try to... You can use one of those tubes to hit me on the head, perhaps if you knock me out–"
"No, please... Nezuko, I can find... I'm sure there must be an antidote, a cure, something... I'll find it."
"You're not going to risk your life by walking in Kibutsuji's territory! Besides, we don't know if he has a cure. I honestly don't think he cares about a cure..."
"But..." Suddenly, he remembers one of the things their friend Zenitsu heard once. "I'll find Urokodaki-san!"
"We don't even know if he's real. If one of the enforcers finds you so close to Topside they could take you to interrogate you."
"I don't think they care too much about an eighteen-year-old running down the river. Besides, Zenitsu says Urokodaki is in a cave, in our side."
"Don't go, Tanjirou."
"It's our only choice," he mumbles, trying to embrace her, but she pushes him away. Her eyes are glowing again, but she doesn't attack him this time.
"You have to tie me."
His hands shiver, but he does it anyway; the enforcers come every now and then to "check on them" but the truth is that some of them have made a couple of deals with Kibutsuji and pretend they know nothing about what he does to the people in the Undercity.
However, if some of them see her while she's like that, if she attacks them they'll take her to the other side where she'll be judged by the nine Council members and even though Tanjirou hasn't met them, he's heard stories about them. Nezuko could end up either in jail or dead if she's considered a threat.
Fortunately, Inosuke and Zenitsu arrive in that moment and Tanjirou quickly has to explain everything because the blond boy is already angry with him for tying his sister to a chair.
"It's alright, Zenitsu," Nezuko assures him with a smile; she looks so calm in that moment, Tanjirou feels so proud of her. "It needs to be done."
"I'll find Urokodaki-san," he promises, taking his backpack.
"I can go with you, Monjiro!" Inosuke offers, as he puts a leather jacket over his shoulders and adjusts his face mask with fangs painted on it; Zenitsu usually tells him that it makes him look like a board from afar.
"No, please... I want you to stay with my sister, Inosuke," he begs, putting a hand over his shoulder. "In case she... needs it."
Hitting his own chest with his fist, Inosuke looks at Tanjirou with confidence.
"You can trust me, Santaro!"
"I know, thank you."
It's thanks to the years he's lived there that Tanjirou can get under the bridge without getting himself in trouble in the process.
It's still early, which means that he finally finds himself under the sun after a long time; he's missed the sunlight and its warmth, it makes him feel hopeful.
He follows the stream down until he reaches a small cave; it's not a place difficult to find but he supposes not everyone comes looking for a man who clearly wants nothing to do with other people.
"Hi?" Tanjirou walks in slowly, almost shyly... There's only the sound of the stream behind him and the noise his shoes make whenever he sets a foot on the water.
His heart starts sinking when he gets further into the cave and sees nothing but small rocks and some fishes... There's a lot of bright purple flowers as well. Some of them even glow in the dark.
"What are you doing here?"
When Tanjirou turns around, he sees a man with a dark red mask over his face, although it doesn't hide his grey hair.
"I'm looking for Urokodaki..."
"You're staring at him," then, before Tanjirou can say something else, he sighs and adds: "I can't give you what Muzan is using to poison our city, if you want that I'm afraid you'll have to go back and pay the full–"
"I don't want the drug," Tanjirou cuts him off, desperate. "I was looking for a cure, actually."
The man gets closer to Tanjirou, like he wants to get a better look at him; the boy wonders if Urokodaki can actually see with that thing over his face.
"Who needs it?"
"My sister," he mumbles, knowing that he shouldn't be letting his guard down, but he's too busy worrying about Nezuko and his friends. After a couple of seconds, he decides to tell him the whole story.
"Did she manage to control it?" Urokodaki asks, his voice sounds surprised and he doesn't bother to hide it.
"Yes, for a while... But she told me she could feel... the madness coming back. I had to... I tied her to a chair."
Tanjirou feels so terribly guilty about it and silently hopes he doesn't have to do something like that ever again.
After a moment of silence that seems to last an eternity, Urokodaki nods and gives Tanjirou a vial full containing something that looks like a lilac substance. It glows in the dark.
"She'll be fine; the addiction will fade but the purple eyes, strength and other side effects of the drug will remain. The madness won't take over her mind, but you have to come back for more every week."
It doesn't occur to Tanjirou until that exact moment that the man could be lying to him; that this is some other poison that could kill Nezuko or make the effects of the drug even worse.
"I know," Urokodaki says as if he's reading his mind. "Nothing that I say will make you trust me so I won't say anything... But think about this... do you really have any other choice?"
Instead of answering his question, Tanjirou bows and offers him all the money he had managed to save in the last couple of years.
Urokodaki shakes his head.
"Keep it. You need more than I do. Besides, that thing I've been trying to perfect is not to sell... I just want to find a cure."
"Thank you," Tanjirou finally mumbles, before rushing out of the cave. He knows he doesn't have much time left.
When he goes back and walks into the basement, he finds Nezuko trembling on the chair, her face is so pale and her eyes have started to glow purple. Inosuke is tense, like he's waiting for her to snap while Zenitsu is just watching with concern and pain; he's been in love with Tanjirou's sister since he met her.
For a second, she begins to growl, but she stops as soon as her eyes meet Tanjirou's.
Then, like an echo, Urokodaki's words come back to him right then and there.
Do you really have any other choice?
Tanjirou quickly kneels in front of her and helps her drink the content in the vial before she loses herself completely.
She starts calming down until she falls asleep tied to the chair; Tanjirou is not sure if it actually worked, but he can't bare to look at her any other second like that so he unties her quickly and carries her to her bed.
He tells his friends to go in case something happens when she wakes up, but they refuse to leave them.
After a couple of hours that seem like years, Nezuko opens her eyes again. They're still purple and have something wild in them, but Tanjirou can see she's his sister again.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine now."
They have to get used to the fact that Nezuko is incredible strong now; she becomes a little bit more protective of Tanjirou even though she's younger than him, but he doesn't mind.
Tanjirou starts visiting Urokodaki a couple of times in the same week, he brings him food and talks to him while he watches him use the glowing flowers to make different kinds of what he calls potential antidotes. He brings Nezuko a couple of times as well so Urokodaki can check on her himself and see how she's doing.
However, it's mostly just him paying visits to the man or just rushing in the cave for the vial.
Usually, those visits are really quick and everything goes smoothly, but one day he is not that lucky.
"Urokodaki-san! Good morning, I–" Tanjirou stops mid sentence when he realizes there's someone in the cave but it's not the man with the red mask.
"Who are you?" A young man with long, dark hair turns around to look directly at him. His clothes are too expensive to be someone from the Undercity.
"I'm Kamado Tanjirou," the boy mumbles, realizing that the person in front of him is probably just a couple of years older than him.
"Tomioka Giyuu" the other introduces himself while Tanjirou tries to determine the trouble he's in judging by his clothes: he looks like a scholar, but one that has a lot of money.
Even though he's not an enforcer, he's a topsider and he was taught not to trust them.
Tanjirou takes a step back, trying to see if Urokodaki is nearby or if he can see where he put the temporary antidote. He shouldn't have told the topsider his name.
"What do you want from Urokodaki-san, Tanjirou?"
When the boy doesn't answer, Tomioka takes the vial out of one of his coat pockets.
It's too late to pretend he doesn't know what that is because Tanjirou's eyes betray him by opening wide on their own the moment they see the lilac substance.
Suddenly, Tomioka is right in front of him; Tanjirou doesn't have time to react to avoid the pair of hands that touch his face gently.
"You don't look like an addict."
"It's not for me," Tanjirou mumbles as a distraction before taking the vial and rushing towards the cave's entrance.
He doesn't get that far before he's tackled to the ground. Tanjirou doesn't even try to move out of the way because he's too busy holding the vial against his chest to prevent it from breaking.
When he opens his eyes and finds a pair of ocean blue ones staring back at him, he realizes that Tomioka put his arms around Tanjirou to shield him as much as he could.
He probably absorbed all the impact of the fall with his arms.
"I thought you were a scholar," Tanjirou blurts out without thinking.
Still wrapped around him, Tomioka chuckles.
"I am a scholar."
"You know how to fight," Tanjirou observes; perhaps it's not that uncommon in the other side of the city to find scholars who know how to tackle someone to the ground.
"I'm also a member of the Council. All of us know how to. It's part of the requirement."
Tanjirou gasps, turning almost white. If he's part of the Council, there's no way he won't tell the others, right?
Using his elbows to break free, Tanjirou rolls away from Tomioka before jumping on his two feet.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to know... Listen, I've also been trying to–"
"What are you doing here, Giyuu?" Urokodaki looks from Tomioka to Tanjirou before nodding to the younger boy. "Do you have it? Good. You can go now."
Trusting Urokodaki, Tanjirou runs away.
He ignores Tomioka's voice, hoping Urokodaki convinces him not to tell anyone in the Topside.
If he does, he'll be in trouble.
I'll post chapter 2 tomorrow 01/27 on my Patreon.