The air at the Butterfly Estate is somehow fresher than back home. It was the first thing he noticed when he stepped foot off the train.
It’s a new day. Trees rustling, while he’s curled up in a heavy blanket. It’s comfortable, like being wrapped in a hug. He pokes his head out from between the blankets and takes in his surroundings. A western style bedroom, dresser, bed, and a big window to let in all the morning light. Completely foreign, but still for the first time in a long time he’d slept comfortably. Normally, sleep escapes him, his father’s mental state worries him and he hasn’t heard from his brother in a while, but today he isn’t ready to leave bed. He wants to, early to rise aniue says. But he is smothered by the warmth of the big, cotton-filled blanket Shinobu gave him. And watching the dawn break through the little sliver in his blanket, fills him with something soft.
The leaves shift again, rustling softly, and cool crisp air runs through the crack in his open window. The grounds are beautiful. The leaves have changed colors and the light of early morning bathes the world in a soft, golden glow. Everything feels exceedingly more beautiful at the estate. He counts himself lucky to be allowed to come during such a beautiful time. He takes in a deep breathe, cleansed from the inside out, the chill in the air settling in his lungs.
The wind blows again and he pulls the blankets tighter around his body. He’d been so tired yesterday he forgot to close it.
Yesterday was a time, Shinobu was the first to greet him. Senjuro-kun, she called out, soft and familiar, but polite. She was a lot more intense than he expected. Exuding regal energy, she is unapproachable, but she still feels kind. Her presence confuses and comforts him all at once. She had led him through the grounds, personally introducing him to each tenant of the house and showing him through the different rooms of the house. From the bedrooms to the kitchen to pharmaceutical labs kept in the basement and the ward on the first floor. She’d gone over everything in great detail, quietly and playfully, pulling at his ponytail with a lilt in her voice. The energy in the Butterfly Estate is paradoxical just like Shinobu herself, calm, but bustling. Serious, but playful. Everything is done with startling efficiency, but Shinobu never seems to let anyone take themselves too seriously if she can help it.
Even while she was explaining the importance of what they do and how it’s imperative that Senjuro pay attention, study hard, and work even harder, Shinobu’s smile is soft and genuine. Warmth settles in his chest and eventually he’s handed off to the girls he’d met earlier. Aoi, Sumi, Kiyo, Naho, and Kanao.
Kanao does not speak when spoken to, but she is not unkind. She greeted him when prompted by Shinobu, he’d learned from his brother that Kanao was something special. A girl training under Shinobu as her tsuguko. She is as talented as she is beautiful or at least that's what Aoi tells him.
Kanao was instructed to accompany them through the rest of Senjuro’s informal induction and she did. Even if she didn’t say much. It was Aoi that lead the charge, firm and steady, she sat him down, explained the schedule, told him when to wake and what his duties for the day would be and where to find them the next.
“You’re in charge of dinner tonight.” Aoi said firmly. “Drop your things off and then meet me in the kitchen. I’ll show you what we have.”
With that she turned on a heel and left him with the other three. Young girls, younger than Senjuro, and excitable. They all crowded him at once, pushing him along to his room while chatting idly.
“Senjuro-kun, can you use a sword like Aoi-san? Can you cook? What was Final Selection like?”
“Senjuro-san, you look just like your brother, you’re going to be a handsome fellow when you get older! He’s always so kind! Shinobu-sama says he’s stupid, though!”
“Sen—Senjuro-san, are you okay? That some spill you took.”
Immediately after he hustled downstairs, made dinner with the others, and had an enjoyable time. Even if he got teased for overcooking the rice. Shinobu is a tough critic, but everything else was grand. Thankful faces are all over the medical unit, holding Senjuro’s hands as he passes them trays and shouting thanks. Aoi took him on her “lights out” rounds shortly after. Turning off lights in the ward and scolding anyone making too much noise in the manor. The he and the other girls hard dinner together after all the work was done. Aoi is tough, but kind.
“You did well today, we’re glad to have more help in the manor. Work hard, Senjuro-kun.”
Followed by a chorus of thanks from the other little butterflies that flutter closes to Aoi and Kanao. It made his heart swell, everyone in the estate is so kind. It’s different from his home. His brother doesn’t come home often anymore and it's not the same without him. There’s always work to be done, Kyojuro says, before he heads back out the door. Without him things are stale, his father barely acknowledges him, and when he does it's dismissive or out right unkind.
Everyday Senjuro would wake to the same feeling of not enough. He kept the house, cleaned, cooked, did what he could to make sure his father lived in comfort even if he could not take away his pain. He can’t help, but feel his own failings contributed to it.
As he lays in the bedroom Shinobu assigned him, he is breaking a long tradition.
His father was a pillar and now his brother is one as well, he’s supposed to be with him. Training and fighting to be the one that takes his brother’s place.
And he tried. Senjuro wanted to learn, threw himself into everything, his brother had thrown at him. He, trained, drilled, went through field work, but no matter what he did Senjuro’s sword did not change colors and he can barely use breathes. As it stands now he is beneath, Aoi and even further beneath Kanao. He knows his brother would not be disappointed, is not disappointed, but his father is another story. He barely responded when Senjuro mentioned the idea, only scoffed and went back to his liquored up thoughts. And he didn’t put up a fight when Senjuro said goodbye, only quietly watched as he made his way to the train station. He feels guilty, it hangs heavy in his chest while he’s swallowed in the comfort of his blanket and bed.
Deep in Senjuro’s soul he knows this is what he wants. No matter what his father may feel. His brother had told that everyone has something for them. That it’s okay to branch out and stray from the path, so long as you hold your head high, and keep moving forward. Those words rest in him, along with this feeling of comfort.
Senjuro rises, closing his window and grabbing his toiletries. Everything is still quiet in the house. It’s perfect. He nervously greets Shinobu on his way to the bathroom, she flashes him a small smile. Radiant in the light of the early morning. After his face is clean, he gets dressed and hurries to the kitchen for breakfast.
The butterfly estate is close, everyone is already awake and in the kitchen by the time he makes his way there. Naho, Sumi, and Kiyo are already eating, barely awake. Aoi seems to be waiting for him.
“Good morning, Senjuro-kun.” Aoi says “Have a seat. I have something for you.”
“Ah, Good morning, to you too… Good morning, Sumi, Naho, Kiyo.” Senjuro says quietly waving to each of them.
The girls acknowledge him sleepily. Aoi’s face is neutral and she holds something wrapped in a piece of purple cloth. It makes him nervous, even though it's obviously a gift, Aoi makes it seem like it could be something much more dangerous. Senjuro has a seat at the table, back straight and jittering.
“You can have breakfast in a moment, this needs to be done first.” Aoi says, brandishing something new. It’s an ornament, just like the others have.
“What do you think?” She asks, turning it over in the light.
The ornament is brown, light brown, thin, and butterfly shaped. It’s big and full just like the ones Shinobu, Kanao, and Aoi wear in their hair. It catches the light, almost looking transparent. Just like real butterfly wings.
“It’s beautiful.” Senjuro whispers, Aoi nods, moving behind Senjuro and brushing his hair back into a tight ponytail. She hands him a mirror once she’s finished. His hair tumbles out from the butterfly, his heart does flips. “Um, are you sure it's okay for me to wear this?” he asks brushing at his nape. Aoi comes around quickly, looking indignant and serious as usual.
“Well, of course!” She pounds out, “It was made for you after all!”
Aoi turns pulls him up by the wrist, marching him over to the stove.
“Your brother asked Shinobu to make one for you!” She firmly places a plate in Senjuro’s hand “Just in case you wanted to try something different.”