It has been 5 years since the confrontation with Muzan; 5 years since suffering through loss and grief.
Things weren’t the same ever since that day. However, Kanzaki Aoi was just glad that the death of their comrades wasn’t for naught.
Muzan Kibutsuji, the root of all their demise, was successfully killed. Put an end to. Smashed. Wrecked. Annihilated. Ultimately defeated.
It was the only redeeming quality everyone had at that time when all hope was lost and too many lives perished.
It wasn’t easy, but, everyone had started slowly recovering and putting pieces back together as the years went by. Living life as it should be. Living life even with the trauma and the gaping hole in their hearts.
Aoi surveyed the empty room that she cleaned moments ago. It was spacious enough to house visitors who might come later. Having set up the Butsudan in the center part of the room, she carefully placed Shinobu’s picture inside it. She arranged a flower vase (remembering the flowers that need picking up later) on the left side and a few other ornaments in place. Her sword was at the back inside a glass casing, in perfect view for anyone, and her butterfly wing-patterned haori neatly hung beside it on display.
“Hello, Shinobu-sama. It’s been 5 years, huh?” Aoi lit an incense and offered a silent prayer. She carefully moved Shinobu’s memorial tablet beside her picture.
“Things here at the Butterfly Estate hasn’t been as hectic as they used to be when demons were still around so we don’t really do much aside from all the cleaning. Occasionally, we do get visitors.”
Aoi squatted in front of the Butsudan. Her arms gently resting on either of her folded legs.
“Kanao has inevitably lost her eyesight on her right eye. We tried a lot of things but nothing worked. Kanao says it’s some sort of a symbol for her to remember. You know, that girl has improved quite a lot, Shinobu-sama. She makes her own decisions. Have I told you she’s seeing Tanjiro-kun now? I believe you saw it coming, right? You had always been so attentive.”
Aoi stared at the inanimate picture of a gently smiling Shinobu in front of her. She wished she could get any form of reaction from her just like in the past whenever she reports to her. It’s impossible now and she still feels highly disappointed at herself. She wished she could have done something for her. Even with her lack of courage and swordsmanship skills, she would have been ready to do anything at all for Shinobu.
“It’s been 5 years and Naho, Kiyo and Sumi are still such crybabies whenever they think of you, Shinobu-sama. It took me 3 years to control my crying at the thought of you.” Aoi offered a gentle laugh and shook her head in amusement. “They’re doing well now. They assist me whenever someone comes in for medical treatment. They work efficiently around the house too.”
Aoi looked around for a moment, noticing the walls around the room and the serene sound of nature from outside the house.
“Sometimes, I think the estate has become quite hollow since you left. Even with Kanao and the girls around, it feels as if we are just here to grasp any remnants that tie us to you, Shinobu-sama. Sometimes, I think it was unfair of you to deny us the knowledge of your imminent demise. I still feel bitter at Kanao being the only one to know. I think you were selfish and didn’t give yourself a chance at life.”
“You knew that we wouldn’t have approved of your plan and would have tried to convince you not to do it, didn’t you? Even so, I wish you could have told us.”
Aoi stared back dejectedly at the picture of Shinobu. She wanted to scold her for the grief and utter uselessness she felt in the last few years. Guilt ate her up from the inside out. There was a void in her heart that no amount of distraction can fill.
Rising on her feet, Aoi wipes the silent tears that have started flowing down from her left eye and moves for the door, sliding it close gently as she went out.
She set out to pick up the flowers (wisteria flowers that were specially cultivated off-season at a much higher price) she ordered from the city before dusk falls upon her return.
It was almost sunset by the time she came back from the city to pick up the flowers she ordered. Aoi happened by Kanao, Tanjiro, Inosuke, Zenitsu, and Nezuko already lounging near the well behind the house where they used to run around before. Their presence added a pleasant noise to the otherwise empty house. Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi were also busying themselves at the kitchen preparing for dinner. They offered her a hurried greeting before going back to what they were doing. Aoi thought she saw Kiyo tear up a little when she saw the saddle of wisteria flowers she was carrying.
Aoi proceeded to walk back to the room they prepared for Shinobu’s memorial. Her feet silently padded on the wooden floorboards -- a welcome comfort for the cold weather -- in the outer hallway of the estate. She can already smell the tasty variation of meals that Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi are preparing from the other direction mixed with the calming scent of the wisteria flowers she was carrying.
Nearing the room, she noticed the door slightly ajar from when she last left it closed hours ago. She thought the others might have already peeked through while she was away.
Sliding the shoji aside, Aoi saw more of the incense lit in front of the Butsudan. The paper lanterns surrounding the room were also already lit. They burned brighter now and offered a faint glow that complemented the color of the setting sun. Aoi liked it because it made Shinobu’s picture seem alive.
She settled the Wisteria saddle at the foot of the Butsudan, knocking off the vase she put there earlier. She made a motion to just remove the vase from the setting but halted. There, in the vase, were 3 multicolored Camellia flowers: white, pink and red. There was no indication as to who left them there. No note. Nothing.
Instinctively, Aoi perked up. She had a nagging suspicion as to who left them there. Anyone around the estate who happened by them would just pass it off as part of the ornament. But, not her. Camellias were just too intimate for anyone to think of as a random gift.
“So he came again, huh?” Aoi picked up the red Camellia and glanced at Shinobu’s picture. She gently placed the red Camellia in the space below the picture while she gently put back the other two inside the vase. “Every year, like clockwork, he comes. Bearing the same three flowers each time.”
If there was one thing that Shinobu had effectively passed down towards Aoi, it was her eerie ability to notice the smallest of details. Aoi wasn’t blind to the tight connection that Shinobu had for a certain pillar. She wasn’t blind to the evenings Shinobu spent with him at the confines of the estate patio, just lounging around. She wasn’t blind to the frequency of his visits which was mostly shrug off by Shinobu as some sort of a mission meeting or medical check-up. Aoi knew better than that. She didn’t know if it was something that the late Shinobu had realized for herself, but Aoi knew their connection runs deeper than any Shinobu had with the other pillars.
Aoi was more grateful even. Because for once, she gets to see Shinobu act more like herself than a shadow of her late sister Kanae whenever Tomioka Giyu was around. Aoi thought Tomioka Giyu was odd at first. He seemed pretty aloof and stiff so she was neutral around him. But seeing him get a rise of emotion out of Shinobu without doing anything at all, looks kind of fun for Aoi. He doesn’t seem to mind Shinobu at all. In fact, he dotes back on her as much as she does on him. And so she watched them continuously and didn’t say anything.
“I just hoped you both weren’t too stubborn to confront whatever relationship you had before it was all too late because Kami, bless me, and I might just sink and drown myself in sorrow for the both of you, Shinobu-sama.”
It was roughly 5 years ago since Tomioka Giyu had left on a journey after he fully recovered from the confrontation with Muzan. Ever since then, no one knew of the places he’s been to or how he was doing. They have only ever heard of passing rumors from the people who met him during their travels.
Exactly 4 years ago did Aoi first notice the gift of Camellia flowers. Like everyone else, she thought at first they were brought by anyone from Tanjiro’s lot or anyone who came to visit and it was just something she missed. It didn’t help at all that the Camellia flowers always come at precisely the same day each year, February 24th. Tanjiro had confirmed her suspicions 3 years ago when he asked her whether Tomioka Giyu was around because he could smell his fading scent.
“Happy Birthday, Shinobu-sama. I hope you are happy wherever you are now. I miss you. We miss you. He misses you.”
Aoi knows that the void in her heart will never be filled by anything. It will be there always, reminding her what she had lost. She understands Tomioka Giyuu, she thinks.
If she were given the chance to change anything, she would. But for now, she would continue living in honor of those whose lives were lost in the pursuit of a better world.
She only hopes for Shinobu to have found happiness and peace wherever she is, and for Tomioka Giyu to keep hoping of seeing her one day once again.
A/N: In the language of flowers, Camellias represent different stages of love. The flower petals represent the spirit of a young lady and its calyx represents a young man who is trusted to protect and take care of the lady. Unlike other flowers, the calyx of the flowers falls with the petals as it withers, symbolizing unity and undying love between the two.
White Camellias symbolize adoration, other times it could mean mourning; Pink camellias symbolize longing; Red Camellias symbolize love, passion, and deep desire.