Disclaimer: Nurarihyon no Mago is the property of Shiibashi Hiroshi.
Sitting on the veranda, Nurarihyon took a long drag from his pipe and exhaled slowly, watching as the wisps of smoke dispersed into the crisp night air. "What do you think, Karasu Tengu?"
Sitting beside him, the old crow youkai looked up from his steaming cup of tea. "About what, Soutaichou?"
"About my idiot grandson."
Following the former supreme commander's line of sight to the young man perched up in the tree on the other side of the garden, Karasu Tengu's expression brightened. "I have to admit…there was a time when I was worried." The boy did go through a phase when he wanted nothing to do with the clan after all. "But Rikuo-sama has really stepped up and embraced his destiny. He has already managed to restore the Nura Clan to its former glory. For being only at the young age of twenty-three, that is most impressive." The old crow chuckled with a shake of his head. "He has become a fine leader, much like his father. I have nothing to worry about."
"Are you sure about that?" Nurarihyon challenged with a frown, his penetrating eyes never leaving the boy.
Karasu Tengu looked to his commander with a quizzical expression, hoping for an elaboration.
"So, you say he's like Rihan, is he?" Nurarihyon continued before giving a snort. "You know, when Rihan brought his women home, he swept them off their feet and brought them home."
At that moment, the crow youkai raised his brows and opened his beak with a silent 'ahhh', finally comprehending what his commander was getting at. "Well…to be fair, both Yamabuki-sama and Wakana-sama were actually women when Rihan-sama brought them home," he defended. "The first time Rikuo-sama brought her home…she was still just a child."
"She's a woman now, isn't she?" the old ayakashi retorted dryly without missing a beat.
Karasu Tengu opened his beak, but it took him a few seconds before he could find his words. "Well…I am sure there are additional complications that come with her being an onmyouji and such." Not to mention, it wasn't just any onmyouji they were talking about. It was the head of the Keikain family. "Rikuo-sama has chosen a much more difficult path for himself in this regard."
Nurarihyon just about sneered, unimpressed. "Excuses." Quite frankly, he had just about had it with that boy.
Though Rikuo would never say a word about it, and no one would dare ask, it was obvious to everyone at the main house what the issue was, because the vibrancy in Rikuo's aura had been lost since Keikain Yura took her leave five years ago. During the day, when in his human form, it was a bit more telling the way he would space out from time to time. At night, when in his youkai form, armed with that smirk and cocky attitude, he was much better at concealing it, though he wasn't fooling anybody, least of all his grandfather. And at times like these when the boy would just sit there, listless in the quiet night like he didn't know what to do with himself, it was downright difficult for the old man to watch.
"Pathetic," Nurarihyon said with a sigh of disappointment. Then he got to his feet and headed for the tree.
"Wait! Soutaichou!" Karasu Tengu said in a strained whisper in hopes of holding him back. "Soutaichou!" However, his words fell on deaf ears.
"Oi, Rikuo!" the founder of the Nura Clan called up to the boy on the branches. "What're you waiting for? Dallying around like you've got all the time in the world."
Sparing his grandfather a glance, Rikuo raised a brow. "Hn?" He had no idea what the old man was talking about.
"A nice girl like that won't be waiting around forever, you know," Nurarihyon elaborated as he folded his arms.
The boy turned away. "Shut up, old man. That's none of your business." He took a sip from the forgotten sake cup he had been holding in his hand for a length of time he could not remember.
The old ayakashi smirked. At least his idiot grandson was man enough to not deny anything. "Taking more than a decade to court a woman?" he voiced as he rubbed his chin in thought. "What a disgrace. How is it that you're my grandson? You don't have any of my manly charms or wooing skills."
Rikuo almost rolled his eyes despite himself. "If you're so great, how'd you do it?" he deadpanned, not particularly interested.
Nurarihyon stood up straighter. "On the night I met your grandmother, I slipped into her room, pinned her to the floor, and told her I wanted her."
For the first time in his life, Nura Rikuo choked on perfectly good sake and sprayed it out of his mouth when he heard that proud declaration. "Old man…in this day and age, they call that sexual harassment," he noted dryly. They probably considered it that back then, too, you old pervert!
"Rikuo." The sudden seriousness in the old man's voice commanded the boy's full attention. "The point is, either you go get her, or you move on. The way you are now, you won't be able to lead your Hyakki Yakou in the long run."
The boy frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Heh. Who's ever heard of a lovesick and depressed supreme commander of all youkai?" Nurarihyon inquired, his tone mocking. "What kind of Fear could such a commander possess? It's laughable, isn't it?"
A vein popped on Rikuo's forehead as his grandfather walked away laughing. "…you shitty old bastard…" he all but hissed. He was tempted to pull the Nura Clan Traditional Family Technique: Flying Youkai Yakuza Kick on his grandfather's bald head, but he had to admit that the old man did have a point.
Rikuo turned his eyes up to the moon. He had to make a decision. And given the options, his choice was not hard to make.
The next day…
"I'm going to Kyoto."
The moment those words left Rikuo's lips, everyone within hearing distance cheered.
Zen grinned as he slapped his sworn brother on the back. "It's about damn time!"
Tsurara suddenly appeared before him with a friendly warning. "Waka, if you return alone, I'm not letting you in the house."
"Should we come along with you, Rikuo-sama?" Kurotabou inquired. "In case an onmyouji should mistake you as an enemy and attack?"
"It has been a few years," Aotabou agreed. "The newbies there probably won't know who you are."
"Wakana-sama!" Kejourou hollered as she waved to the woman who was hanging up laundry in the yard. "Rikuo-sama's going to Kyoto!"
"Oh!" the perpetually happy woman exclaimed. "Does that mean I can start looking forward to having grandchildren now?"
"Bring her a bowl of rice with eggs as backup!" Nattou Kozou suggested. "If all else fails, that should help win her over!"
Rikuo found himself dumbfounded and overwhelmed. "What…? But…? How…?" It had been a long time since he was this tongue-tied and baffled, even by the standards of his human form which he was currently in. He never even said why he was going to Kyoto! He placed a hand to his forehead, rubbing his temples with his fingers. Was I that obvious?
The young man looked up at the sound of his grandfather's voice. "I don't think I need any more advice, Jii-chan," he said tiredly.
"That's not it," Nurarihyon replied with a smirk. "When you see Yura…tell her something for me."
"Ryuuji nii-chan? Are you listening to me?...Ryuuji nii-chan!"
Exerting self control in order to refrain from grinding his teeth, Ryuuji glared at his sister, who was currently sitting at his desk, from above the pages of the book he was trying to read.
When he didn't say anything, Yura repeated herself. "The case in Kaizu?"
He heaved an exasperated breath as he tossed his book onto his bed. He should have known that the moment Yura walked into his room, his relaxing evening had come to an end. "It's been taken care of."
"So, what was it?"
"Rats." Pretty much all the livestock and pets, especially cats, in that area had been mauled and devoured by the time they got the case. Any later and those rats would have started hunting humans.
Yura shivered involuntarily just at the word 'rats'. "Were they part of a clan?"
He folded his arms. "No. Just a couple of rogues."
She relaxed a bit at that. Rats were nasty, but rats in a clan were nastier. Past experience of a very personal sort had taught her that. She ticked something off of the job list in her hand. "What about the Yoshidas' request?"
"False alarm," he said, his tone already making it obvious he thought the whole thing had been a complete waste of his time. "All the things going on in their house…the pipes bursting, beams falling, and all that… It was just because they live in a really old house and they never thought to do any maintenance." Really. Some people were too superstitious and cheap for their own good.
Yura ticked something else off the job list. "Mamiru nii-chan told me about there being a new job at Kaju Temple?"
"Yeah. He and I will look into it tomorrow." He scowled again. "Are we done, yet? Leave the rest till morning."
She gave a small frown of incomprehension. "Why can't we do it now?"
"We're in my room," he explained flatly. "I don't want to have a job meeting in my room." He was all about kicking youkai ass, but not twenty-four/seven.
"Oh." She blinked. "Would you rather we go talk somewhere else then?"
"No. I'd rather we not talk at all," he retorted, getting irked. "Now, get out!"
Yura blew her bangs away from her eyes, dissatisfied, and then took a glance at the clock. There was still time. "Fine. Guess I'll go look into whatever's going on at Kaju Temple." When she tried to let herself out, she found her path barred when her brother, who had been lounging in a chair at the far end of the room just a second ago, suddenly came up behind her and slammed his hand on the door, keeping her in.
"It's late," Ryuuji said sternly. "You literally just came back from the job in Matsue. You need to stop."
She turned on her heels and looked up at him with righteous defiance. "I'm the head of the family," she said calmly. "It's my duty."
The older Keikain frowned. As expected, she was pulling the 'head of the family' card. "Even heads need to sleep, or they won't be heads for very long. Now, do as I say and go get some rest." If she was going to pull the 'head' card, then he'd just counter with the 'older brother' card. Two can play at this game.
She inhaled as though she wanted to retort, but then she swallowed her words and simply stomped off to her room without another word to her brother.
Ryuuji raked a hand through his hair after watching her disappear down the hall. "Idiot." If she needed to keep herself that busy in order to not think about something, then what was the point? "Little sisters are such a pain."
Yura entered her room and closed the door. Being the stubborn girl that she was, she wasn't going to just go to sleep like her brother wanted. Instead, she went over to her bookshelf and pulled out a book, her mind set on doing some research in preparation for tomorrow's work.
She sat on her heels at her table and opened the book when a piece of paper fell out from between the pages. Yura recognized it almost immediately: a travel agency's brochure advertising travel to Tokyo. Her eyebrow twitched and she practically hissed her next word. "Hi…de…mo…to…!" She had no idea how he got his hands on the brochures...most likely, he had someone else go get them for him…but this was already the ninth one she had discovered randomly hidden amongst her belongings.
That was the problem with having a powerful ancestor as a shikigami. Whenever Yura summoned him, he would hang around longer than she required him to and do all sorts of useless things. His favorite useless thing to do was to dig out the Nura Clan's haori, the one he had obtained for her during the Hagoromo Gitsune incident even when she had vehemently insisted that she didn't need it, and lay it out somewhere visible for her to find. She really didn't understand why he was so enthusiastic about reminding her of Rikuo. It was, quite frankly, making things even more difficult for her than it already was.
Setting the brochure aside, Yura flipped through the pages until she got to the section about temple and shrine gods. If there was something going on at a temple, then it was possible that it might have something to do with the local deities. It would be wise for her to brush up on who the deities in the area around Kaju Temple were as well as their powers and weaknesses.
As she read up on this subject, she was reminded of the local deities in Ukiyoe Town. Sometimes during their midnight strolls, Rikuo would take her to one shrine or another to visit the guardian deity who resided there. It was strange how those visits were more like going to a friend's house rather than going to a place of worship. At times Rikuo would even bring sake, and they would lounge around the shrine, a place treated as sacred by worshipers, as though it was their living room. And Rikuo would always say…
Suddenly realizing where her thoughts had taken her, Yura visibly deflated, smacking her forehead against the table's surface with a dull thud as her body crumbled. Closing her eyes, she silently berated herself. Why was it that, no matter what she did, her thoughts would always stray back to him? Hadn't it already been five years? However, it seemed time hadn't been doing its part to dilute much of anything for her…
"This room's quite an upgrade from the store room I remember."
Yura's head shot up at the sound of that unmistakable voice, and her eyes were wide, suddenly alert. Was that in her head? Was she so far gone that she was delusional now?
"Guess that's the benefit of being head of the family, huh?"
No. She definitely heard it. Still in shock, Yura turned around to find Rikuo sitting on her window sill, composed and relaxed, sipping sake from his cup.
He looked to her with a small smirk. "Yo, Yura."
She was still in a daze, unable to believe her eyes. "…Rikuo." When she finally regained her wits, she jumped to her feet in alarm. "Did something happen?"
"What makes you think that?" he asked, still as calm as ever.
"Well…" she began, uncertain, "you're here out of the blue, and…so late…"
"Hm? You're the one who came back late. I've actually been here for a while. See…" He held up his sake bottle and turned it upside down, but nothing came out. "I'm already out of sake. Although…" He looked out the window as he gathered his thoughts. "…I have thought, from time to time, that it might not be such a bad thing if something were to happen…since it was looking like our paths would never cross again otherwise." He turned back to her then, his expression unreadable.
Yura averted her eyes. "I guess it's harder, now that we both have responsibilities."
An awkward stretch of silence followed, and it was at this inopportune moment that Yura's stomach growled.
The smirk returned to Rikuo's lips. "Is business so bad that you have to starve even while living at the main house?" he inquired mockingly. He had a feeling that things like this would always happen to her, no matter how old she got. That was why he came prepared. "Here." He produced a candy bar from within his sleeves and held it out to her.
Yura swiped it with a twist of her lips, embarrassed. "Shut up! I just didn't have time to eat, yet!" She had forgotten all about dinner…something that happened often ever since she became a workaholic. If nothing else, at least the awkwardness had been dispelled. "How were you able to get away?" she asked as she unwrapped the candy bar and took a bite.
"Asked the old man to take care of things while I was gone," he replied simply.
She brightened at the mention of Nurarihyon. "How's Ojii-chan?"
"Fine. Getting more senile."
"And everyone else?"
"Rowdy as usual."
"Hmm…seems like everyone's doing well," she mused aloud as she continued to eat, noting how, just like in the past, they were able to talk comfortably as though they'd never been apart for long spans of time. "I'm glad. So, what brings you all the way out here to Kyoto?"
He gave a light shrug of nonchalance. "Before you left Ukiyoe Town, you said to let you know if I ever needed anything."
Her chewing motion slowed down as she thought. "…Yes, of course." Now she was a bit confused. Didn't their conversation just now pretty much establish that nothing had happened? Did she miss something? Regardless, whatever it may be, for him, she was always willing to help. "What do you need?"
Food went down the wrong pipe, and Yura began to cough, choking on the candy bar.
Rikuo heaved a sigh then handed her what was left of the sake in his cup.
After gulping down the liquid and clearing her throat, Yura asked her next question with disbelief while still trying to catch her breath. "For what?"
"Many things," he replied with another smirk, feeling a bit of déjà vu in their exchange.
She frowned, confusion written all over her face. "I don't understand."
"Sure you do. You wouldn't have choked so comically otherwise." He stood up and stepped closer to her, holding her chin to make sure that he had her full attention before saying very clearly, enunciating every word as though explaining to a child. "I. Need. You."
Yura was on the verge of hyperventilation as she stood frozen, staring up at him. Over the years, they had always skirted around this subject, even though they both knew it was there. It was almost like an unspoken agreement between them to not put it into words. For him to so suddenly confront her so directly on this…she was not prepared for it. "Wh…why me?" she stuttered. "I…I'm not as pretty and graceful as Ienaga-san."
Rikuo let go of her chin and folded his arms. "Ah," he said, agreeing a tad too readily for her liking. "I guess that means I have so-so taste."
She let that indirect prick to her ego slide as she was preoccupied with something a bit more important. "I'm not as agreeable and nice to you as Tsurara. I argue and fight."
With his chin in hand, his brows came together in a pensive frown. "…I wonder if that makes me slightly masochistic…"
"I'm being serious, you arrogant prick!" she yelled with an ofuda in hand, ready to be slapped onto his forehead.
He caught her wrist before she could hit her mark. "So am I," he said, his tone becoming stern.
With a twist of her wrist, she slipped out of his hold. She felt dizzy, and she couldn't think straight. She placed a hand to her temple as she walked past him towards the table. "I still have some preparation to do before tomorrow's—"
Before she could even finish speaking, Yura found herself pinned against the wall with Rikuo's hands locked around her wrists, one held against the wall by her head, the other he was holding in the space between them, clutched to his chest.
"Nurari…kurari…" The frustration was clear in his eyes. "You keep slipping in and out of my life. You're even more evasive than the youkai Nurarihyon…I don't want to play this game anymore."
"Rikuo…please let go," she pleaded.
He tightened his hold. He would not let her slip away again this time…not until he got his answers. "Why can't you accept it?" It was not her feelings for him that was in question. Even though she never said it, he knew she loved him, just as he was certain that she had always understood his feelings for her. But for reasons he could not fathom, she would not allow herself to acknowledge it. "Is it because you're an onmyouji and I'm a youkai?"
Yura gave him a flabbergasted look. "What? Of course not!" She had worked through that issue years ago. She felt a bit insulted he even asked.
"Is it because of your duties as head of the Keikain family?"
"No." She gave herself a mental kick as soon as she said that. She should have lied. Now she was cornered.
It was true that she wasn't as tied down to Kyoto as it may have seemed. She herself had had many jobs outside of the area that kept her away for long periods of time. There were many competent members in their family, and Ryuuji was dependable and more than capable of taking care of things in her absence.
"Then what?" Rikuo asked, his voice rising. His patience was wearing thin, but his eyes softened when he saw the unshed tears brimming in hers. He let go of the wrist he was holding against the wall and touched her cheek, feeling tired. "Yura…just tell me."
"Rikuo…" She shook her head, unable to meet his eyes. "It won't be happily ever after for us. The lifespan of a human is so much shorter than that of a youkai. Your grandfather…he's already outlived your grandmother by centuries… Centuries! Is that what you want for yourself?" She would never forget her conversation with Nurarihyon the night she asked him about his human wife. Though he never answered her question, the look in his eyes had spoken volumes. How much he missed her…the loneliness he was bearing without her…centuries' worth of it… It was not something she wished for Rikuo, not something she wished for the one she loved. He would be better off finding someone else. "…I don't want to leave you behind…"
Rikuo found himself stunned speechless. She had said something completely unexpected. So, all along, she had been concerned for him, for his future. He thought her utterly foolish and, at the same time, her beauty beyond words or form. Brushing his thumb lightly across her cheek, he leaned in to kiss her.
Once again, she halted him with the soft sound of her voice as she tried to press herself into the wall behind her. "Rikuo…think long and hard before you—"
He sealed his lips over hers without allowing her to finish, lingering briefly before pulling away to speak. "I have thought long and hard." He had had years to do it after all. "I can't say that I know what it's like for the old man, but he's at least happier than I am right now." Without her, it seemed he couldn't function properly as a person. "And I'm not buying your reason. Instead of leaving me behind somewhere down the road, you're going to leave me behind now? What kind of half-baked Keikain Yura logic is that?"
"You weren't supposed to…" He wasn't supposed to fall in love with her.
Even though she left her words hanging, he knew what she wanted to say. "It's too late for that." Ten years too late.
She bit her bottom lip as she looked up at him, trying to contain her emotions even as tears spilled from her eyes. She had never seen him look so vulnerable as he bared it all for her to see. To Yura, it appeared as though his spirit could break at any moment, and she regretted the choice she had made to spend the last year of high school in Ukiyoe. She simply wasn't able to help it, wasn't able to help wanting to be near him. She had told herself at the time that that would be it, and they would go on to live their separate lives afterwards, but she had only been fooling herself. That time they had spent together made it even harder for her to let go. Seeing him now…she came to realize it was impossible for her to let go.
Brushing Rikuo's hair away from his eyes with feather-light fingers, Yura half sobbed, half whispered his name as she placed her hands on his cheeks and brought him down for another kiss, brushing her lips softly over his. Once…twice…and when their lips met again a third time, she poured all her emotions into it, her arms winding tightly around his neck as he engulfed her within his embrace, reciprocating all that she had to give and more.
When they finally parted, Rikuo placed his forehead against Yura's, smiling with a sense of contentment he hadn't felt in years. With his mind at ease, he suddenly recalled a little something he was supposed to do. "The old man says to tell you something."
"Ojii-chan?" she asked, still panting lightly.
"He said, 'If time stood still, then nothing would happen, good or bad'. I have no idea what he's talking about, but I'm assuming that you do."
Yura bit her lips and nodded her confirmation as she tried to hold back a second wave of tears. It was Nurarihyon's answer to a question she had asked before she left Ukiyoe Town. So, he had never wished for time to stand still. He had made his choice to pursue a love that was, to him, ephemeral, and accepted everything that came with it, good and bad. Yura smiled to herself with newfound admiration for the one she considered her shishou, thinking that it was so like him, the great Nurarihyon, to be that way and wondered if such qualities were rubbing off on Rikuo.
"So, you'll come back with me?" Rikuo asked, his quiet voice breaking into her thoughts.
She considered him for a moment then gave a small sigh of resignation. "Why can't you just find someone else?"
He shrugged. "I would, if there was another Keikain Yura out there."
She laughed shortly at his words. "You're an idiot."
"I prefer eccentric," he replied with a smirk.
"You're going to regret it when I turn into a grandma," she said as she wiped the remaining tears from her face.
"It'll be fine," he reassured. "Your looks are just so-so to begin with. It won't make much difference when you get old."
She shot him a death glare. "What did you say?"
With a mischievous glint in his eyes, unaffected by her sudden temper, he began to repeat himself. "I said—"
"I heard what you said!" she hollered as she slapped an ofuda on his forehead, making sure to do it hard. "You're the absolute worst!"
At that moment, there was a banging on the door, and a voice could be heard coming from the other side. "Oi! Keep it down in there!"
As Rikuo leisurely removed the ofuda and tossed it aside, Yura gasped. "Ryuuji nii-chan!"
On the other side of the door, Ryuuji continued. "And Yura…tell your guest that we're definitely not feeding him this time!"
Yura grumbled and huffed a breath as she stomped over to get the door, just so she could tell her brother how ridiculous he was to his face.
Rikuo grinned to himself as he watched the siblings' squabble with quiet amusement. No, he wasn't interested in food and tea. He will, however, be taking the Keikain family's most valuable gem with him whether they liked it or not. He was Nurarihyon's grandson after all. He would be breaking some unwritten laws of nature if he didn't do something of this sort at least once in his life.
A/N: And that's the story. I still think it reads better in one go... This is the first time I've written something that's this heavily focused on the romance. I'm not really used to it. Hope it turned out ok.
Even though he doesn't show up much, Hidemoto's one of my favorite characters. The guy cracks me up! I laughed so hard when he brought Yura the 'Fear' haori, I had to mention it here. XD The part where the Toono guys asked Rikuo if Yura was a beauty and he answered "She's so-so" with a straight face was also another LMAO moment that I had to work into the story somehow. LOL!
Mini glossary, just in case (only one word this time):
Shishou – master/teacher (typically of martial arts and the like)
Thanks for reading! Hope you liked! Reviews much appreciated!
And to my silent readers, you've come this far, if I can get an overall thought from you, I'd be grateful.
That's all for now! Until next time!