It was a quiet and peaceful moment at the Butterfly Estate. Shinobu was creating some medicine in her room. The calm atmosphere completely crashed as soon as she heard hearty laughter. Shinobu stopped what she was doing and went out to see what the commotion was. When she stepped out she saw Sumi, Kiyo, and Naho panicking. Kyoujurou’s arm was bleeding.
“Y-Your arm!” Naho squeaked.
“Hahaha! This is nothing!”
“But still! We need to treat you!” Sumi said while tugging on his hand.
Knowing that Kyoujurou wasn’t going to listen to them, Shinobu decided to intervene. She put on her mask and approached them. “Excuse me, Rengoku-san your arm is bleeding~ We need to get you treated,” she said with a smile.
“Oh Kochou! I told them that this was no major injury but they decided to bring me here anyways.”
“An injury is an injury Rengoku-san. Please come follow me.”
“Alright, alright!” Kyoujurou followed Shinobu to the infirmary. He sat down on the chair and Shinobu began to apply ointment. “It sure is a nice day today.”
“It sure is,” she replied. Until I got interrupted from my work.
“Say Kochou, you’ve changed.”
His comment made her eyes widen. “!” Ever since her beloved sister’s death, she tried filling in her position. She adopted her smile and laid back attitude but truthfully, it wasn’t like that in the inside. Now that she had to look after everyone, she learned to suppress her emotions. Being emotional was immature.
She finished bandaging him up. “Oh you’re as reliable as ever Kochou! Thanks I owe you one!”
Shinobu gave him her smile as she sent him off. The smile disappeared as soon as she was alone again. Out of the current pillars, Kyoujurou was one of the few pillars that had been a pillar when Kanae was one. They had known each other even before she became the insect pillar. She remembered the day Kanae introduced Kyoujurou to her.
It was a cool autumn day. Shinobu was following her sister around in the estate.
"Nee-san why do I have to meet them?!"
"It's a good idea to know who the pillars are Shinobu. We're going to be responsible for treating everyone after all~" Kanae said in a carefree tone.
Shinobu didn't care to meet any of the pillars. Besides Kanae, the only other pillar she knew and that mattered to her was Himejima.
"Hey, hey! We're here Kochou!" A lively voice said.
Kanae clasped her hands together. "That must be our guests! Let's go~" Kanae skipped with Shinobu running behind her.
When they came to the entrance, Shinobu saw two men. One had white hair and scars all over his body. The other had yellow hair with red tips. "Thanks for having us over Kochou!" Kyoujurou said with enthusiasm.
"It's nothing Rengoku-san! Thank you for coming all the way Rengoku-san, Shinazugawa-san."
"Tch," Sanemi clicked his tongue.
A vein popped on Shinobu's face. How dare he have that attitude towards nee-san! Shinobu rolled up her sleeves, getting ready to say a word or two. Before she was able to say something, Kyoujurou spoke up.
"We brought over some sweet potatoes!" He set down a basket full of sweet potatoes. "This is from all of us! Sorry all of us couldn't come together. Everyone else was busy."
"Don't be sorry~ I'm happy that you two took time out of your busy schedule!"
Kyoujurou met eyes with Shinobu. "Oh you must be the sister we heard about! Nice to meet you, I'm Rengoku Kyoujurou! Your name is?"
"Shinobu." She wasn't entirely trusting of these two yet. Especially the one with white hair.
"What a nice name!"
"I know right?" Kanae gushed. "Shinobu's just the cutest! She has the cutest smile too~"
Shinobu slightly blushed. "N-Nee-san!"
"It's okay~ Ah! Rengoku-san didn't you say you have a younger brother?"
"I do! He's adorable!"
"You should bring him over sometime~"
"I'll ask him!" Just then Kyoujurou's crow came and informed him of a mission. "Looks like I have to go. See you two next time!" He waved at them.
"Take care Rengoku-san~" Kanae happily waved back while Shinobu bowed her head.
Sanemi was the only one who remained. Sanemi turned his head. “Thanks about oyakata-sama.” He avoided eye contact with Kanae.
Kanae gasped and smiled while Shinobu glared at him. “It’s no problem at all~ Say Shinazugawa-san would you like to have some sweet potatoes with us?”
Shinobu’s head snapped to look at Kanae. Are you really going to be inviting him nee-san?!
“I have other plans. Rengoku-san paid for all of these so enjoy them.” He left the estate. Just then Kanao appeared.
“Ah~ Kanao nice timing. Come over here~” Kanae motioned for Kanao to come over. She obediently walked over to Kanae. “Let’s eat some sweet potatoes~” she said while petting her head. Kanao’s cheeks turned pink and she gave her a nod. “Ah! Kanao’s so cute!” Kanae hugged her.
“Nee-san you have to make her talk! She still only nods!”
“It’s okay, it’s okay~ There will be a time when Kanao will talk too~”
A couple years had passed since that autumn day. Her first impression of him was that he was lively. He spoke loudly at times but he was a good guy. He was positive all the time, not letting things bring him down. She wondered how someone could stay positive all the time. The positive, dependable, and warm aspect of him truly made him shine.
“Master…” a quiet voice said.
Shinobu looked up and saw Kanao. “Kanao,” Shinobu said with a smile. “Is it time already?” Kanao nodded. “Alright let’s go~”
Shinobu was in town after a mission. She was hungry and was looking to grab a bite before returning to the estate.
“Shinobu-chan~” a cute voice called out.
Shinobu turned around and saw her close friend Mitsuri. “Mitsuri-san,” Shinobu replied with a smile. She noticed that Mitsuri wasn’t alone. Kyoujurou was standing next to her. “Hello to you too Rengoku-san.”
Mitsuri ran to Shinobu to give her a hug. “Good job on another’s day of work Shinobu-chan~” she said happily.
Kyoujurou was behind Mitsuri. “Welcome back Kochou!”
“Thank you Mitsuri-san, Rengoku-san.”
“You must be starving! You should eat with us Kochou! My treat!” Kyoujurou said boldly.
“Ah!” Mitsuri’s eyes sparkled. “Really Rengoku-san? I can eat to my heart’s content?!”
“That’s right! That’s right!”
“Shinobu-chan you should join us!!” Mitsuri said ecstatically.
“Well then pardon me,” Shinobu said. The three of them entered a famous restaurant. Shinobu sat in between the two. Kyoujurou was to her left while Mitsuri was to her right. They all placed their orders. As soon as they received their orders, they said their thanks and dug in.
“Mm~ The pork’s so juicy~” Mitsuri said happily.
“Tasty!” Kyoujurou commented fervently.
Shinobu looked to her right and left. Right now she felt like she could lay everything down and be herself a bit. She felt genuinely happy to be eating with these two after coming back from a messy mission. A genuine smile formed on her lips as she took a bite of food. “It’s tasty.” Kyoujurou and Mitsuri gave each other a knowing glance. They were glad that Shinobu was able to relax a bit. After eating they stepped out of the restaurant. Mitsuri’s crow came to give her a mission.
“I’m off you guys!” she waved enthusiastically at them.
“Be careful Mitsuri-san!” Shinobu said. She really cared and worried about her friend.
“See you soon Kanroji!” Kyoujurou said.
She waved at them like crazy until they were out of each other’s views. It was now just Kyoujurou and Shinobu. “What will you be doing now Kochou?” he asked.
“I’m thinking about heading back to make some medicine. What about you Rengoku-san?”
“I’m going to visit my father and brother!”
“You know he’s still welcome to come over anytime.”
“Oh! The invitation is still valid?”
“Of course it is.”
“Haha thanks for your kindness! Before you go, I want to buy you some treats!”
“I couldn't let you do that Rengoku-san~ You’ve already paid for my meal just now.”
“That doesn’t count since I paid for the both of you! It’s my way of saying thanks for last time!” Kyoujurou started walking and Shinobu walked next to him.
Rengoku-san really is a warm person. She thought while looking at him.
“Is there anything specific you want Kochou?”
“There really isn’t anything I want specifically.”
“Then are you okay with manju? I know this really tasty manju place!”
“Sure.” Kyoujurou lead them to a small manju store. He got a huge amount of manju for Shinobu. “Rengoku-san, this is a bit too much.” It’s heavy! She felt like her arms were going to break from the weight. A vein popped on her hand.
“Oh sorry Kochou! I wanted you to share with the kids at home too!”
Shinobu was surprised that he thought about them too.
“They all work hard too!” He carried the big bag. “Oh this is heavy! Sorry about that Kochou! I’ll carry these back for you!” The two walked back to the Butterfly Estate in silence.
Shinobu lagged behind a bit since Kyoujurou was taller and took bigger steps. Kyoujurou realized she was falling behind and slowed down to match her pacing. It was the small things that Shinobu noticed. She looked up at him.
“Hm?” He looked and saw that Shinobu was looking at him. He gave her a smile.
“!” Shinobu turned her head back straight. They reached the Butterfly Estate shortly. They were greeted by all of the girls. “I’m back everyone~” she put on her usual smile.
“Shinobu-sama! Rengoku-sama!” The three girls went up to them.
“Hey, hey guys! I bought some manju!” He squatted and let them take manju.
“Wah!” The girls were excited and took a manju each. “Thank you!” He looked at Aoi and Kanao too. “You two come get some!”
“Thank you,” Aoi said with a smile.
“Thank you…” Kanao said.
“No problem, no problem! Thanks for the hard work you guys, I’m off!”
Everyone saw Kyoujurou off. They happily munched on the manju. A manju was offered to Shinobu.
"Thank you Kanao." She took a bite of the warm manju and a small smile spread across her lips. As warm as he is.
The girls were surprised. There was a different feeling to the smile she was having on right now. It didn't feel forced and felt more natural instead. Seeing Shinobu really happy, they grinned at each other.
Several days later Mitsuri came to the estate. She had just come back from another successful mission. "Shinobu-chan~" she poked her head into Shinobu's room. No one was allowed into her room besides the girls of the estate and Mitsuri.
"Mitsuri-san!" Shinobu placed the book down and walked up to her. "Welcome back," she said with a smile.
"May I come in?"
"Of course." The two women sat down. Mitsuri took out a cloth that looked like it contained something inside. "?" Shinobu tilted her head. She was curious what could be inside.
Mitsuri excitedly unwrapped the cloth. Inside the cloth were pretty sakura mochis. "Ta-da! I brought over some sakura mochi for you Shinobu-chan~"
Shinobu was always grateful that Mitsuri was kind and caring. Mitsuri would make time to visit Shinobu. At times when she couldn't visit for a long time, she would send her messages through the crows. Mitsuri's loving personality helped her relax and bring out her true personality a bit. "Thank you Mitsuri-san. I'll go bring us some tea."
"Okay!" Shinobu-chan really is kind as ever! A couple of seconds later, Shinobu brought some hot green tea and set one down in front of Mitsuri. "Thank you~" They took a sip of tea. "Ah Shinobu-chan's tea is great~"
Mitsuri took a bite of mochi. "Say Shinobu-chan is there a guy you're interested in?"
Shinobu almost spit her tea out. "W-Why do you ask?!"
"I'm just curious~"
She regained her composure. "Is there anyone you're interested in Mitsuri-san?" she smoothly changed the subject.
"Eh me? I like everyone it's too hard to pick!"
Poor Iguro-san. Shinobu knew that the snake pillar had feelings for the love pillar. She decided to help the poor man out a little. "I think Iguro-san suits you very well."
Mitsuri blushed. "Do you think so?! Iguro-san is so cool! He's the one that bought me these striped socks."
Shinobu knew he was the one that bought her socks. She happened to be strolling in town when she caught Iguro contemplating on what to buy. Iguro had told her to keep it a secret and she complied. "I do. He has a...somewhat calm composure." Unless a guy gets near you. "Your lively personality would mix well with him."
"I'm so happy you think so Shinobu-chan! Ah!" Mitsuri abruptly stood up. "I have to go over to Rengoku-san's place! He said he'd help me train!"
"You just came back from a mission Mitsuri-san. It's best for you to rest right now." There was a worried expression on her face.
Shinobu-chan's so cute when she worries about me! "I'm not injured at all! Oh! Shinobu-chan are you free?"
"I am. Why do you ask?"
"Let's go to Rengoku-san's place together!" She took Shinobu's hand.
"Yes! You could use some time to yourself Shinobu-chan~"
Shinobu smiled at Mitsuri. Thank you for always thinking about me. "I suppose a little break wouldn't hurt."
"Yay~ Off too Rengoku-san's house!" Before going to Kyoujurou's house, they decided to buy some treats on the way. They walked to Kyoujurou's residence with a pleasant atmosphere. As they were nearing the residence, they saw a man who resembled Kyoujurou.
It was Shinjurou, Kyoujurou's father. It was Shinobu's first time seeing his father. Upon closer inspection he looked like he hadn't been taking very good care of himself. “A weakling like him, he’s going to die. Good for nothing joining demon slaying corps,” he muttered.
Shinobu felt her anger rising within. Kyoujurou was a strong person who had excellent swordsmanship. As he walked past them, she turned around. She wanted to tell him how amazing his son was. To be able to be so cheerful and encouraging all the time was not easy. She personally knew it wasn’t easy because she tried to become that kind of person. It was a struggle a lot of times, having to smile even if she was crumbling in the inside. Mitsuri held her hand. Shinobu looked at her as she had a sad expression on her face and shook her head. “But!”
“Rengoku-san’s father has been like that for some time now.”
“How could he say that about his son?!”
“Shinobu-chan…” Mitsuri could tell Shinobu was truly angry to lose her composure like this.
Just then Kyoujurou came out of the gates and saw Mitsuri and Shinobu. “Oh Kanroji, Kochou!” He waved at them.
“Rengoku-san~” Mitsuri waved back at him.
Shinobu relaxed herself. Remain calm at all times Shinobu. Don’t be so childish. She plastered on her usual smile. “Hello Rengoku-san~”
“I was expecting you Kanroji, but not you Kochou!”
“I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to have her relax a bit~” Mitsuri said. “I hope you don’t mind!”
“Mind? I don’t mind at all! The more the merrier!” Kyoujurou looked towards his dad. “Come back home safely otou-san!” he shouted at him. There wasn’t any form of response from him, not that he expected any.
How cold. I can’t understand cold people. A vein popped on her hand.
“Let’s go in!” They followed Kyoujurou. The Rengoku residence was bright due to the sun shining directly down at the place.
“Nii-chan,” a younger Kyoujurou look alike appeared.
“Senjurou come out here. There’s someone I’d like you to introduce you to.”
“Senjurou-kun~” Mitsuri patted his head.
“Mitsuri nee-san!” Senjurou slightly blushed. Senjurou may have looked similar to his older brother but his personality was different. He wasn’t as energetic as him. Senjurou looked up at Shinobu.
“Hello there, my name is Kochou Shinobu. Nice to meet you Senjurou-kun,” she smiled at him.
Senjurou smiled back at her and bowed his head. “Nice to meet you. I’m Rengoku Senjurou.” Shinobu handed some treats to him. “This is from us.”
“Oh! You guys didn’t have to!” Kyoujurou said.
“Please take them Rengoku-san~ You treated us last time.”
“That’s right Rengoku-san!” Mitsuri agreed.
“Very well. Thanks you guys!”
“I’ll go set out the snacks and some tea,” Senjurou disappeared into the house.
“Oh you guys want a tour of the house?!”
“Can we get a tour after we practice a bit Rengoku-san?” Mitsuri asked. She was eager to get some training done.
“Haha alright! Is that okay with you Kochou?”
“I’m fine with anything~”
“Alright, alright! Kanroji let’s get some training done!”
Shinobu sat at the corridor as she watched Kyoujurou help Mitsuri with some fighting techniques. Senjurou showed up from behind. He settled down some of the treats and a cup of tea next to Shinobu. “Thank you Senjurou-kun~”
“It’s no problem at all.” He sat down next to her and watched also. “It’s amazing how onii-chan and Mitsuri nee-san could move like that.” Shinobu looked at him with a curious expression. "Sorry for saying something random."
Shinobu shook her head. "It's alright. Please go on."
"I already decided I won't be the next fire pillar. By doing that I just broke our family tradition. I'm just not strong enough but nii-chan said it was okay. He taught me that strength is different for everyone. People have their own strength."
Shinobu saw a little bit of herself in Senjurou. She understood what it felt like to be weak. She wasn't strong enough to cut off a demon's head.
"You know Senjurou, Kochou has her very own unique way of killing demons! It's amazing!" Kyoujurou was in front of them. He had come to get some snacks but overheard their conversation.
"That's right~" Mitsuri said. "Shinobu-chan's method is so amazing!" she raved.
"Really?!" Senjurou looked at her with anticipating eyes.
"Rengoku-san and Mitsuri-san are making it sound much cooler than it actually is. Since I'm pretty small, I'm not strong physically. I use wisteria poison to kill demons since I can't behead them." This was the first time she shared this piece of information with someone other than Mitsuri.
"Isn't that so cool?!" Mitsuri asked.
"It really is!" Senjurou agreed with Mitsuri.
"I didn’t know the reasoning! It's impressive how you found your own strength!"
My own...strength? Shinobu often hated how she had a small frame and was too weak. Besides Mitsuri no one had told her they thought she was strong but here was Kyoujurou praising her for being strong. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Not only that but she is also in charge of healing demon slayers~ She creates medicine herself! Shinobu-chan is incredible~" Mitsuri gave her a hug.
"Mitsuri-san you're quite amazing yourself."
"Thank you Shinobu-chan! Ah! Senjurou-kun you want to try holding my sword?!"
"Of course!" Mitsuri and Senjurou moved towards the front so that Senjurou could try holding her unique sword.
Kyoujurou sat down. "Kochou, I overheard the conversation earlier."
Shinobu internally felt a tiny bit embarrassed.
"Thanks!" She looked at him with a surprised expression. His thanks was unexpected. He gave her a smile.
"You really are a strong person Rengoku-san," she said under her breath.
She smiled at him. "It's nothing."
After a fun day together, Mitsuri was walking Shinobu back to the estate. Mitsuri could tell Shinobu was much happier now after coming out. "Man, today was such a fun day," Mitsuri said while stretching her arms.
"It was a nice change of pace. Thank you for taking me out Mitsuri-san."
"No problem~ We should do this again another day!"
"We should." They arrived at the estate and said their goodbyes until next time. Every step she took felt light. She went straight to her room. For a quick second she saw Kanae’s smile. She went to Kanae's shrine and sat down. "Nee-san I had a really good time today." She could imagine Kanae's response and smiled.
The next time she saw Kyoujurou again was when he came back injured from another mission. Since Kyoujurou was such a reliable swordsman, the amount of missions he received grew. She just finished bandaging him up again.
She smiled at him. Even though she was smiling, deep down she was concerned. There was this bad feeling she couldn’t shake off. “You should take better care of yourself Rengoku-san~”
“Kochou, you don’t need to force your smile!”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m able to tell between your genuine smile and your usual smile you know!”
“...Rengoku-san please be more careful.” The cheerful tone was gone and became serious. She knew how fired up he could get. It wasn’t a bad thing but it worried her at times.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “I will!”
Badump There went her heart skipping a beat again. Knowing that he was going to be more careful put her heart more at ease. “Thank you.”
Time went by. She would see Kyoujurou more often even without Mitsuri. The feelings for him grew deeper. She wondered if he felt the same way too. She was out in town to buy some ingredients when she spotted what looked like Kyoujurou. There were a group of women surrounding him.
“Thank you so much for helping us Rengoku-san~” a couple of the girls said in a flirtatious manner.
A vein popped on Shinobu’s face. Rengoku-san sure has something about him that draws people to him. She was about to continue walking until she heard her name being called.
“Kochou!” Kyoujurou waved at her happily. All the women turned and looked at Shinobu.
“Is that his younger sister?” one woman whispered.
“She’s so tiny and cute!” another one commented.
Shinobu felt her anger rising. More veins popped on her face. Kyoujurou walked up to her. “We’re friends!”
“That’s right~” Shinobu gave them her smile. Shinobu put her hand on his arm. “Well Rengoku-san I’m going to look at some ingredients.”
“I’ll join you!”
“Would you? Thank you so much~”
The women got jealous and gritted their teeth. That brat!
“Get home safely everyone!” Kyoujurou waved at them. The pair quickly got away from the angry women. “Thanks for rescuing me back there, they wouldn’t let me go!”
“Rengoku-san I was actually going to leave you behind with them you know~”
“I know! But you stopped when I called out your name and helped me out afterwards so thanks!” He smiled at her.
Her heart swelled up. How could he still be thanking her even when she told him that she was planning to let him be. It was unfair thinking back. Was he nice to everyone? Scratch that. He is nice to everyone but she wanted him to be nicer to her only. Stop. Stop being so immature. They walked together in silence.
Kyoujurou felt like something was off. “Kochou are you ok-”
“Rengoku-san you sure are nice to everyone~”
“Eh?! Where did that come from?”
“It’s nothing. Thank you for accompanying me. I can take things from here~ See you next time~” Before Kyoujurou could say anything, Shinobu hurriedly walked away. Distance yourself Shinobu! In the inside she was fuming with anger. What was she thinking developing feelings for someone. He probably doesn’t even think of me that way. Just don’t go any further from here. From that day on Shinobu and Kyoujurou barely crossed paths.
The next time they met was when she just finished her meeting with Kagaya. When she came out she saw Kyoujurou getting ready to leave. “Are you going out on a mission Rengoku-san?” she asked him with her usual smile. After thinking about it, she felt bad that she cut things off that way and wanted to apologize.
“Oh Kochou is that you? Yeah I’m going off!” Kyoujurou didn’t treat her any different after what had happened.
“I see. Take care Rengoku-san.” Looking at him, her feelings hadn’t changed a bit. I’ll apologize to him when he comes back.
“Un! I’ll be back!”
Little did they know that it would be the last time they would see each other. Kyoujurou gave up his life to protect two hundred people. Shinobu was in town with Kanao when she received the news.
There was a visible frown on her face. “Is that so? Rengoku-san has…” She was boiling with anger in the inside. She was mad at herself and despised demons even more. Once she arrived back at the estate, she quietly went to her room. She sat down and opened a book. The words on the paper didn’t make any sense to her. She blinked and the next thing she knew there were drops of tears that wet the page. His smile, his voice, she wouldn’t be seeing any of it anymore. “Why? Why did I end things like that?” Her heart hurt and was filled with regret. She wished she could turn back time and go back to the very day where she decided to distance herself.
She didn’t know how many days went by since Kyoujurou’s death. It got busy at the estate healing demon slayers but not a day went by where she didn’t think about him. When things calmed down she decided to visit the Rengoku residence to pay her respects. As she neared the residence, she was more hesitant.
Senjurou was sweeping the front of the gate when he spotted Shinobu. “Shinobu nee-san!” She saw Senjurou at the front and walked towards him. “You’re here to see nii-chan, right?” He was smiling but his eyes were full of sorrow.
Senjurou-kun you’re staying strong. “May I enter?”
“Of course!” Shinobu sat down while Senjurou set down tea for them. “Please excuse me for one second.” He disappeared for a moment and came back out holding something. He set the wrapped item in front of her.
“Is this for me?” Shinobu was stunned.
“Yes, please open it.”
She carefully unwrapped the cloth and gasped at the sight of the item inside. Before her was a beautiful light pink hairpin with small pearls in the middle.
“Nii-chan...he got that for you some time ago. He said he was strolling in town and saw a merchant selling it. The first person that popped up in his mind was you and he decided to buy it.”
Guilt stabbed her heart. Rengoku-san… “Thank you for giving this to me Senjurou-kun and...I’m sorry.”
He smiled at her. “Don’t be sorry. Nii-chan would want you to be smiling.”
After talking a bit more and paying her respects, she returned home. She put her hair down and tried putting on the hairpin. She could hear him say ‘It suits you Kochou!’ She touched the hairpin and had a sincerely bright smile on her face. “Thank you Rengoku-san,” she said as tears flowed down her cheeks. She took off the hairpin and stored it in a safe location. Even though she may not see him anymore, thinking about the sacrifice Kyoujurou had given got her even more fired up to kill the demon that took away her sister.