My deepest apologies for a very late update. I hardly find time to focus on updating my fics now. While it may appear that I might abandon them, rest assured that I will not. I am sorry to say though that I will be on another hiatus and this time there will be no one to update for me. Also, I will be leaving my laptop to my parents and have it rest for a few months while I focus on my last term in school. I am very sorry.

Disclaimer: I do not own Nurarihyon no Mago.

Itaku sat in boredom as he watched Rikuo's subordinate train under their respective tutors. He would admit they are strong in their own way. If he recalled from his inquiry before, Kubanishi and Kurotabou and Ao were among those who served under the leadership of the second head of the Nura Clan. So it means they have more experience compared to the others.

"They really are interesting," Dohiko commented and sat beside Itaku, offering him a jug of drink. "It still makes me wonder what certain charm every Nura has to have acquired many subordinates."

Itaku did not answer back and kept on watching as Kejoro and Awashima were having a go. His eyes turned to the yuki-onna who was being instructed by Reira. Dohiko followed his line of sight and spoke once more.

"You think she is the weakest link of the group?"

"No." he remembered that time when she found Nobu dead. That strength. "Each of them is strong in the way they fight. I don't think anyone among them is the weakest link."

"But I never saw the yuki-onna fight any strong opponent on her own," Dohiko said once more.

"Her duty is to watch Rikuo's back. She may not have fought any strong opponent so far – an opponent that could be compared to Rikuo's caliber but she can hold her own. I think she can hold her own fight given the proper training." He glanced at Dohiko. "She's stronger than Reira if that is what you want to ask."

Dohiko took a swig from his drink. "Really? I though a fight between yuki-onna would only reach an impasse."

"The fight among yokai is a fight between fears. I've a glimpsed of it when we went to take them for training. Her fear I mean." Itaku stood up and turned to the few other yokai under their tutelage. He sighed. "From Rikuo to them – now I've become their training teacher."

Dohiko snorted. "It does not seem like you really mind it though. In fact, you seem to be enjoying yourself in helping others. Particularly them."

"Shut it," the smaller man growled quietly and jumped away.

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Torii yawned just as the teacher left the classroom already. A week passed already and she felt curious about the whereabouts of Kuro and the others. Rikuo mentioned something about training and that they needed to go there except for Ao and the few yokai who were named Gozu and his companion? She also learned that each of her friends have someone looking out for them just to make sure they are alright and unharmed.

It goes without saying that Kana was being protected by Rikuo who was so suddenly protective of her to the point of not letting her walk all alone. For the others, Rikuo is just being himself but Torii sensed a something different.

It's not like Rikuo at all. And over the week, he never mentioned anything concerning Tsurara. All he would talk about is how he would protect Kana and the rest from the yokai who intend to harm them. And though not at all against this, she saw how Kana felt so relieved to hear this from him.

It's sickening for Torii to feel so confused about this matter which no one seemed to even take notice of. But perhaps it is because she felt like Tsurara is being slowly disregarded unconsciously by Rikuo. She had no basis for this kind of assumption but given their knowledge about yokai, Torii thought it possible that perhaps something happened to Rikuo.

"Torii?" Maki blinked as she observed the different emotions that ran across her friend's face as she watched how Kana was blushing while giving Rikuo a drink. Is it just her or is that a look of disapproval? "Oi, Torii," she repeated calling her friend's attention.

Said friend blinked and turned to the one who spoke. "Eh?"

"You've been giving the two of them a look of disapproval. May I ask why?" Maki asked and lazily slouched on her chair while Kiyo bugged Rikuo about yokai stuffs already.

Torii sighed and rubbed her eyes before she scratched her head while flashing an uncertain smile. "I don't know but something is different. About Rikuo. About Kana and Tsurara."

Maki's answer to the statement was only to raise her brow, prodding her friend to continue. "Meaning?"

"Ah maybe it is just me, never mind," Torii said, not wanting to share her observation yet. But she still could not help but talk anyway. "I just feel irritated for no particular reason I think."

Taking that as her cue to end the conversation, Maki handed her another magazine to read. "Here, it might distract you from your disturbing thoughts," she suggested but discreetly gave Rikuo and Kana a glance while Torii was not looking.

Indeed, something is strange. Besides, Rikuo with no Tsurara around is already strange enough to consider. They have all been used to see Tsurara hover over their friend during breaks so now it made the atmosphere seemed different.

And Kana.

She is giving Rikuo a hopeful look. Was it to see Rikuo's other form? Maki shrugged and let the thought go away while she focused on the other magazine left on her bag. She decided that it's not a business she can interfere with.

For her, only if Torii is in real danger did she ever feel the need to do something. But even that had changed too. Torii has someone always coming to save her and Maki had no doubt that Torii likes that yokai a lot.

"Sheez, it's kinda boring this past week without Oikawa-san," Shima complained and sat right in front of Maki.

"Still haven't found no satisfaction from your yokai hunting?" she asked and briefly glanced at him before focusing back on the magazine on hand.

Shima gave a careless shrug. "Having powerful yokai around you takes away all the thrill and fun. I wish the month can be over so I can see Oikawa-san again," he stated hopefully, having that dreamy look on his eyes.

Maki rubbed her nose. "Wake up Shima. Tsurara sees you no differently than she sees us. We are Rikuo's friends whom she is bound to protect. Besides, even if we are not Rikuo's friends, you hardly have a chance against her. See, Rikuo has a different form who looks cooler than you and Kiyo combined. Then there's also that other guy who came to fetch her and the rest to train – what was his name again? itaku? He also looks handsome compared to you and Kiyo combined."

Shima's look was filled with discouragement for Maki's blunt comparison but Maki felt the need to sometimes remind these people around her that romance with a yokai is only a fairy tale come true and that means it's not really possible. But if she would voice that out, Torii would argue about it, making Rikuo's father a primary example. She sighed. She always wanted to be practical regardless of the number of yokais she had already seen since younger.

"Stop making him feel – "

"EH? THE TWO OF YOU ARE NOW DATING?"

The loud voice was obviously from Kiyo as he pointed at Kana and Rikuo who both flushed in embarrassment. Not finished with his question, Kiyo continued while Rikuo was trying to calm his friend down. "But I thought it was Oikawa-san since you always…" he trailed off and made a stupid remark much to Maki's ire. "Oh I see, you want to make Kana jealous?"

"That's not it," Rikuo argued.

"Oh so you have the time dating around while your subordinates are all out there training, beating their ass off?" the snide remark came from Torii who now stood up and gave Kana and Rikuo a disapproving look much to their surprise since Torii pretty much never showed any anger.

"T-Torii?" Kana squeaked.

"Don't Torii me, Kana," Torii said and glared at the two. In reality though, she does not understand why she was suddenly annoyed over the fact that her two friends are dating. "You always said you wanted to know that phantom guy who saved you before but that does not mean you have to – "

"Torii," Maki cut her friend off, confused at her friend's sudden annoyance.

"I just don't understand how you could change so much over a short period of time, Rikuo," Torii snapped and glared, daring anyone to answer back. "Or are you just playing with her emotions? Haven't you realized that Tsurara liked you differently?" with that, she stalked away, leaving everyone speechless.

Maki broke the silence by clearing her throat and gave an uncertain smile. "Er…" but she doesn't know what to really say.

"Tsurara liked me differently?" Rikuo asked more to himself but the rest heard this.

"That's what Torii thinks," Maki said. "She's just annoyed because she never saw that monk yokai," she lied to them.

Expectedly, that caught Rikuo's attention. "Does Torii like Kuro?"

"Who knows…maybe," was Maki's bored reply and gave Kana a subtle glance. Kana was left there still shocked at Torii's sudden outburst. Well, that's Kana alright. She hardly says anything.

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"Tell me something, Yuki-Onna," Itaku called her attention while she was busy taking a rest, away from everyone else. It has been his observation and the others had noticed it too. Even those who were from the same hyakki felt it – that the yuki-onna is so withdrawn and kept things mostly to herself.

Her daily routine involves only her training with Reira and Itaku from time to time, then doing the chore which she was assigned to do, resting and training. That was how her training went. She never mingled with anyone unless necessary. Even the yokai from the west had noted this difference from when they first saw her.

"Itaku," she acknowledged his presence with a curt nod and a crisp tone.

"I remember you to be so energetic," he commented offhandedly and sat a few feet across from her where he could easily see her facial reaction. From when they first saw her before, him and the rest of the Tono gang concluded that this woman is somehow in love with her master. "Was the death of Nobu the cause of this drastic change?"

As already expected, her only response was an impassive look. Everything about her this past week is a description truly befitting a yuki-onna as was always presented in folklores. Deciding to continue, Itaku prodded. "Or are you also angry that Rikuo chose the human over you?"

He felt the wind picking up around him and Itaku knew he hit the mark. Ice had covered a few portions of their surroundings, causing the others to quickly come and see what's wrong, only for Itaku to stop them from where they are.

"Do not interfere. This is part of our training," he ordered without looking at them. Taking his words seriously, they all decided to leave although Kejoro glanced at Tsurara with so much worry. Itaku's eyes remained fixed on the yuki-onna who remained where she was seated, her expression still cold and detached. He glanced at the ice then smirked. "It gets difficult breaking through your ice as time goes by. Just as I thought, you have a different strength compared to Reira."

"I have no idea what you are getting at earlier but please refrain from making a comment especially if it involves that human," she said spitefully, causing Itaku to stare at her in surprise. It was the first time she spoke with so much venom in her voice.

"You love Rikuo – both forms." He did not ask. He only stated the truth. And the yuki-onna made no effort denying it.

"So?"

"It's what gives you strength – your love and loyalty to him. It's really an admirable trait," he spoke with so much sincerity, his respect for this aide growing as time goes by. Rikuo had gained a truly loyal aide. "Without regards to your own feelings, you will continue serving him as his right-hand, am I correct?"

She stared at him. "Yes of course. I have exchanged sakazuki with him and for that purpose, I will always believe in him."

"You endure for him."

"I have to."

"And that's why you also have to be stronger for him."

She was silent for a dragged moment before she answered. "Yes. I don't want to be a burden especially now that he has her to protect. My sole purpose is to be his eye in the back, watching out for him and protecting him with everything I got. That's what I always believed in."

"Yet in the process you have fallen for him."

She looked away this time and gave a bitter smile, making Itaku sympathize with her. "It just happened that I fell in love with him. There's nothing I can do about that now. Still, even knowing this, I will be willing to endure - " she lightly hit her chest twice, " – this pain if only I can protect him."

Silence followed for a few minutes, each one trying to think of what to say to the other. Tsurara broke the silence for continuing, opening up to him for the first time. "When I was first attacked by Neve before, I realized how weak I still was. I never really wanted to be used as bait against him like how Tsuchigumo did years ago. My purpose is to protect Rikuo-sama and not be used against him. Yet even with all my power-ups, I was easily overwhelmed by Neve and the rest. And they have to come save me. Time and time again, I was always saved. It's really vexing just thinking about it."

She stood up. "I'm happy to know that he cares and I can never ask for more than that. I have to focus on other things aside from this romance thing. Like protecting those I could protect to lessen his burden, so he could focus on protecting those he wanted to protect. Even if it means protecting Ienaga." The last word was once again spoken with venom which she never tried to hide. "This battle now is something I don't want them to get involved with. So me and Neve and the rest must really do our best to end this." With that, she left with her back straight while Itaku watched her calmly, admiration seeping into him.

Such clear intentions, such clear goal. She will go so far as enduring the human girl if it is what makes Rikuo happy. What a fierce loyalty…it's even terrifying. And he knew without a doubt that she'll throw away her life too if it comes to that. And he had a feeling that's exactly where this will lead.

Too bad Rikuo could not see the true strength belying his right-hand. He stood up and dusted his pants. "Oi, Tsurara," he decided to call her by her name now. She stopped and only looked over her shoulder, waiting for him to state his intention. "You are the second aside from Rikuo who humbled me with your dedication and clear-cut goal. For that very reason, I have decided to aide you in this battle. I cannot let an astounding yuki-onna simply waste her life."

She gaped at him, probably surprised for him admitting that he was humbled. Then since their arrival, it was his first time seeing her truly smile and he thought she looked more beautiful than she already was. Surprised at this thought, he quietly berated himself.

Don't tread there Itaku.

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So there goes the short chapter. Personally, I love Itaku and Torii as side characters from Nurarihyon so because I love them, I can't resist the urge to give them important roles. I do apologize for that one if you are not fan of those two.

Many thanks to the following: KoNan03, darkdoll25, Lonely Athena, Mayonaka no Sasayaki, cassisintegra, FeuWitch, Ao Hana9, Princess Ren, Yu-na-milan, seth12619, Meiwa Chinmoku, I'm sweetly insane, Animelover1885, RikuTsu27, wildkatz, EveRMint.

Thanks guys for still watching out for this one even though updates comes so slow, I still hope you can be patient enough to wait for my next update which will take months to come since by the start of the term, I really can't afford any distraction for now. Thanks so much.