The evening was breezy – the air fresh and flowery sweet –, the night sky illuminated by the full moon. Its magnificent form was bigger and brighter than usual, given that there were no clouds on sight. The reflected rays from the Sun had nothing in their way then, covering every single part of Ukiyoe with beautiful white light – a light that was still not enough to outshine the ones coming from the biggest mansion in town. The main residence of one of the most powerful clans of Japan, Nura-gumi, was radiant as day.
It was not unusual for the members of said clan to party during late hours, as much of a hassle it could be for them in the morning. However, the scenery was unquestionably too extravagant, even for such a famous household, and even with it being home for an absurd amount of people. Yet the intention seemed to be exactly that – every lamp was to be on and the music loud, the inquilines were to gather, and the possible by-passers were to comment about that peculiarity.
After all, together with that very first evening of spring, an important guest was making her return.
"Waka~" a slightly high-pitched voice beamed, followed by pale hands sliding open the doors of one of the most important rooms of the Nura residence – the one belonging to the clan's commander himself.
Nura Rikuo was a fierce young man, but had an air of friendliness about him that was the source of his charisma. Despite being fifteen, he had assumed authority over his subordinates, regardless of the difficulties, shortly after his father's premature death. His well-built physique and attractive face were a plus, masking any bad impressions that could spawn from his oddly-shaped white hair and intimidating blood-red eyes.
Sitting comfortably on the tatami, in front of his small wooden desk, he smiled at his cheerful servant. He wore nothing but a nagajuban and his current posture was far from what could be considered proper, but he knew the lack of need to fix himself in her presence. She confirmed that much by not commenting on his appearance, kneeling beside him with one smooth motion, the tray she carried in her arms swaying in the process. Its contents – a variety of simple sweets, such as youkan, and water – received a quirk of one silver brow from the heir.
"Ah, Tsurara. What's that?"
"I figured Rikuo-sama could be hungry, so I brought a snack." The aide explained, placing the tray on the floor, "Since dinner will be served late tonight."
"Oh, right... the party..."
"My, Rikuo-sama, don't tell me you forgot about it." she giggled, otherwise aware of how her master could be absent-minded at times – courtesy of continuous loads of work thrown upon him.
When Rikuo gave her a sheepish scratch of his neck as response, she sighed, examining his messy desk. She would definitely put him to clean it up afterwards, Tsurara decided, discovering something interesting amongst the same old objects.
"Oh, is that a feather?"
"Yeah. Pretty good one, by the way. It's nice to write with that."
"Is it?" she asked enthusiastically, her azure orbs gleaming with curiosity. "Where did you buy it?"
"It was a present. I still like the brush better, though." He reached out, offering her the pen after diving it into a pot of ink. "Wanna try it out?"
"Really? Thank you very much, Waka!" she took it with a grin, leaning down to write a random kanji on a blank paper, careful not to ruin her young master's manuscripts or dirty herself by rolling up her sleeves. Not getting a good result with the experiment, she childishly puffed her cheeks, earning a chuckle from the boy beside her. Needless to say, she also favored the brush.
"Oi, you can't hold it like that." Rikuo pointed out, taking her hand and adjusting her slender fingers around the pen. "You have to support it like this. It's pointed too, so the ink will only come if you write in a single direction." He continued, allowing himself to come much closer to her than he should as he enveloped her tiny cold hand in his warm big one. "Besides, this is foreign. It wasn't made for Japanese. If you try to write kanji, you'll have to draw strokes in a lot of directions; that won't work. You'd better just try another language."
From his last statement, Tsurara automatically guessed what language Rikuo would try out as example. The sole other he spoke was English – something he did not have to bother learning, but had either way for good reasons. One of them included a childhood friend of his, who was half-British.
Still holding Tsurara's hand, as he began to conduct her, she finally took notice of what stance they were in. Her back was almost glued to his structured abs, while he allowed himself to rest his cheek on the top of her head, his legs around her delicate frame. The temperature around them rose steadily, and it was suddenly slightly difficult for her to breathe. Still, she could not deny she guiltily enjoyed it, and what he had written did not make the situation any better.
"I love you," it read.
Even as an underling, Tsurara could understand English after the years she had spent helping her master with his lessons – there was no mistaking the words she kept staring at, her vision continuously blurring and refocusing on said point. It was just a common sentence, which should not have any meaning, except to show her how the foreign item worked and how it was supposed to be used. But it had come from her superior of all people, and that was beyond the realm of inconvenience.
As silence grew between the two for a couple of seconds that felt eternal, Tsurara sighed, the urge to say something being stronger than her. "Rikuo-sama."
"Hm?" he resounded without opening his mouth, releasing her from his hold, as she seemed ready to take her leave.
"If you allow me, I'm going back to helping with the preparations." She attempted to say in monotone. Although she tried her best to keep her face hidden from her master's penetrating gaze, he was able to catch a glimpse of her rose-dusted profile. Unbeknownst to her, he let a satisfied chuckle escape his lips when her shadow disappeared into the halls.
The girl was far too cute for her own good.
"Excuse me." a motherly voice requested as its owner opened the doors leading to the biggest guest room of the Nura residence.
The occupant was a young heiress on temporary stay until she could move into a permanent lodging. Said heiress, with shoulder-length hazel hair and emerald-green eyes as her most remarkable features, sat neatly in front of a drawer filled with a large amount of cosmetics, jewelry and perfumes. Her elegant dress spread glamorously on the tatami, as opposed to the jet-black of the skirts worn by the two maids on both her sides. Having just arrived, she had her luggage untouched and spread around the mats, in a hurry to prioritize fixing her appearance for the upcoming celebration.
The person of honor could not afford to look unpresentable – it was a basic rule.
"Wakana-oba-sama." The teenaged lady greeted politely, the two maids helping prepare her hair and make-up bowing before resuming their work.
"No need for such formalities, Kana-chan. You can just call me 'Oba-san'." Nura Wakana waved with a smile. She blushed at the casualty, but the bashfulness soon faded when another figure walked in.
Long, inky hair, alabaster skin and sapphire-blue eyes – it was a matter of seconds for Kana to recognize the beauty before her.
"Oikawa... san?" She asked tentatively as the maids finished their masterpiece. Tsurara nodded, and Kana could feel her own tone become less stiff as she stated the obvious, "Long time no see!"
"Indeed, Ienaga-sama." Tsurara agreed with a tip of her chin. "I hope we have more time to chat from now on, because I'm full of questions! But let's save that for later. The event is about to start. By the way, Wakana-san, you're needed in the backyard." The aide informed, and soon enough, Wakana was on her feet, bidding goodbye to the four youths for the moment.
Kana watched Tsurara with interest. She had changed drastically, yet not. It was as if she had become bigger in size and her features had adapted to her age, but her looks kept the same basic patterns. Even the clothes she wore were similar to when she was small. However, if there was one thing that had definitely not remained, it was Tsurara's hostility. The offer of chattering had been unexpected, since they had never gotten along that well before, but she was clearly eager to know what the other country was like and how life went on there. There were no hints of sarcasm in her attitude, and at that, Kana let out a relieved breath. One of the things she had been worrying about the most was how awkward her relationship with the clan leader's right-arm person was, yet it seemed the issue had already been solved by the simple fact that they had matured.
"Now, Ojou, shall we go?"
Kana could feel discreet shivers on her back of her neck. She had been welcomed into the house of the Nura with such honorific, but had not been able to get used to it so far, and Tsurara referring to her with it added up to the word's weight. Nevertheless, there was a hint of pride around the edges of her unease that made her satisfied with how respectfully she was being treated.
"Where to?" she asked while standing up, the maids trailing behind her.
"To Rikuo-sama, of course." Tsurara gestured to the corridors. "Ienaga-sama should not show up without him, after all."
The maids exchanged looks of excitement, more enthusiastic than necessary to meet the heir in person. Kana tilted her head as they paced, their socks leaving no noise or dirt behind, unlike what she had become accustomed to. Maybe it had been her imagination, but she could have sworn to hear a slight bit of bitterness in Tsurara's voice.
In no time, they were standing by Rikuo's room, its entrance indistinguishable from the others. As they stopped, Tsurara immediately slid the doors open. "Rikuo-sama, Ienaga-sama is her–"
She interrupted herself halfway through the action. Taking a step back, she closed them back hastily, her second-hand embarrassment nearly palpable. She then turned around, bowed to the other young ladies, apologized quickly and let herself into the room. Although she was fast enough for them not to see anything inside, they had already glanced on the first round. It was quite a sight, as shameful as it was for a maiden to admit. Nura Rikuo, the prominent head of a yakuza organization considered unbeatable for a couple of years now, in nothing but a loose undergarment that exposed much more of his tanned skin than it should. Collarbone, chest, abs – all perfectly visible.
And perfectly toned.
The three left behind had no choice but to behold the ridiculousness of the situation as Tsurara scolded her master, her voice muffled by the screen of the doors, with her and Rikuo's moving silhouettes being the only thing they could see. "Rikuo-sama! It's been half an hour since I left this room and you're still like this! Ojou is ready, you know?! It's so rude to leave her waiting outside!"
While the maids behind Kana commented about the matter in hushed whispers, she stood frozen in place, face aflame, unable to tell what had astonished her the most. Perhaps it was how Rikuo had really caught up with his growth spurt, she decided. The last time they had seen each other had been three years before, and while she believed to have developed in the same way as Tsurara, he, on the other end, had undergone a dramatic transformation.
At twelve years of age, Rikuo had a body most children would – small, thin, and almost fragile. He now had acquired defined muscles and his hair had become lengthier than of many women Kana knew (and even though it was probably very dense and heavy, it was still as gravity-defying as always, though soft in texture). He could easily be mistaken for an adult, if not for his aura, resembling the figure of his late father even more than in the past. Were it not for minor differences, Kana would swear the man once claimed dead was back from the afterlife and standing in front of her.
In England, Kana had missed her childhood companion dearly, yet just being under the same roof as him had made her forget how that felt. But suddenly, it seemed like the moment they would meet again would never arrive, though all that separated them was a wall. The longing was tugging at her, and she wanted him to come out at once, so that she could hug him as tightly as she would be able to manage.
"Sorry. I just thought I should finish my scroll before getting dressed. Ended up taking too much time." Rikuo scratched the back of his head while Tsurara allowed herself to go through his wardrobe and get him proper clothes.
Kana resisted the urge to tremble successfully. The whispers behind her increased, and she could not bring herself to order her servants to stop. In fact, she could not even think straight. All that crossed her mind was how Rikuo's physique had not been the sole thing that was completely different. His timber was as adult-like and unintentionally seductive as the rest of him, hardly anything remaining from his infancy.
"Anyways, please hurry up." Tsurara huffed, receiving no verbal response. "No, not so much! It'll be sloppy! Here, give it to me, I'll do it!" she snapped immediately after and approached him impatiently, taking the collar of his kimono and fixing it into symmetry.
"Hey, what's wrong?" a couple of seconds of angry cloth-ruffling noises later, Rikuo asked, sounding genuinely concerned. "You're so red..."
"Wah?! D-Don't change the subject and put this on, Waka!"
Kana clenched her fists at the exchange, carefully polished nails almost digging holes into her palms. Rikuo's body had morphed into something else, but in compensation, his had personality stayed the very same, and so had his relationship with the person that was the closest to him. Tsurara had always taken the liberty of coming into and leaving Rikuo's room as if she owned it, dared to dash through his belongings when she felt like it, berated and ordered him around when he made a mistake. On top of those, she had stepped into his personal space and laid her hands on him so that he would be in compliance to her demands.
All without permission.
Regardless, she had consent, for Rikuo did not protest, bending to her on the spot. That was also something that made it hard for Kana to vocalize a complaint about it if she ever had the chance. Much like his father and grandfather, he had an easygoing philosophy towards his subordinates, yet Tsurara in particular seemed to have freedom and intimacy with him that most did not. Kana wondered if other clan heads could actually take him seriously as a general for that.
"It's like he has two mothers, huh, Maki? Or maybe a nagging elder sister~" the brunette maid asked from behind her mistress in low voice, leaning close to the blonde one.
Kana could hear her quite well, yet paid no mind to it until the reply came, '''Mother'? 'Sister'? To me, that's much more like a wife..."
She put up an effort to keep herself from flinching, gritting her teeth. She did not have any counter arguments to such statement, and could do nothing but bite back a snide retort.
Tsurara's manners around Rikuo were why she and the heiress had never gotten along, despite their friendly characters. As Rikuo's personal aide, she was expected to be familiar with him, but only those who knew them enough would ever say their relationship was a master-servant one. The way with which she helped him to dress up properly was proof of that, as it seemed his exposed figure was no secret to her.
Much to Kana's disgust, it most likely was not.
It was then that, together with missing Rikuo so much, Kana was assaulted by a sentiment she had managed to forget until then – jealousy. Raw and ugly, unfit for a someone of her rank, but lamentably inevitable.
"You sure you don't have a fever, Tsurara?" Rikuo's question captured her attention just in time to see him lifting Tsurara's raven bangs and leaning down. With the 25-centimeter difference between their heights, the scene would look comical if it was not so inappropriate, due to how insignificant was the distance between their almost-touching noses. From the other side of the doors, their silhouettes were crooked in an angle that made it look like they were kissing.
Kana pursed her lips in a way they contorted unrecognizably. If she were holding her fan – an accessory that she had used with frequency in Britain –, she would have broken it into half instantly.
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Tsurara answered embarrassedly, at last backing off. "Let's just go, Waka."
"O-Okay." Rikuo responded awkwardly as Tsurara went to blow off the candle on his desk.
Kana's heart skipped a beat. The dim feeling burning within her chest was gone without a trace as the gruesome spectacle was over. She stiffened, as did her maids, and when the doors were opened, the world was scarlet to the three of them. Her breath caught in her throat as she found herself staring at mesmerizing orbs that bore stoic and power, gleaming of liveliness and goodwill. She was finally looking directly at him, and just as she had thought, his face – the part of him that she had not been able to see earlier –, had also become irresistibly handsome and almost like a copy of his father's. His eyes were now narrow and had a sharp glint to them; his face was no longer puffy, his jaws having become prominent.
He would never be an example of classic charm, but that was precisely his appeal.
"Ah, Kana-chan. My bad. I kept you waiting." His lips formed a smirk as soon as he saw her. The way he said her name with the same honorific as ever so kindly caused her to shudder and blush harder. "Good to see you again. You seem like you've been doing well; that's great."
It took a few seconds for Kana to snap from her trance and find words to convene as her mouth trembled. She had to get used to keep her head raised in order to face him, since the gap between her and his heights was about as much as his and Tsurara's, as it was not the case three years before, when she was taller than him, though by very little.
What was also not the case anymore was his choice in cheap garbs. He was clad in an almost-white lavender-colored kimono, held by a white obi, a blue haori with elaborate purple and lilac patterns hanging on his shoulders. Such an elegant get-up was not like him, but complemented him just fine. Kana guessed he had come to understand the importance of his figurine in formal occasions, since he was allowed to wear whatever he wanted when younger.
"Ri-Ri... kuo-kun... it's go-od to see you again t-too." she stammered lame and weakly, ogling.
The maids had no words to her fail and nervousness, which was a side of hers they had never seen, but the heir didn't seem to pay any attention to it. Whether he was just being his carefree self or gentle enough not to show disdain, she could not figure, but soon decided she did not even want to.
"Let's go, girls. The party has already started." He called, guiding the trio through the hallways.
Tsurara trailed from behind, passing them and taking place beside him. The thought of seeing them holding hands had Kana's blood boiling, but she realized soon enough that it was merely Tsurara holding onto his arm. Was it out of habit or was she trying to set Kana off? The latter's stomach clenched at the unrest of not knowing the answer to that, but whatever it was irritated her all the same. If her ego were the one to speak louder, she would have pushed Tsurara away and taken the position to herself, or maybe even tried to squish herself between them. Since it was not, she was stuck with containing her impulses, choking in contemplations she could not muster out.
The corridor that at maximum allowed two people to walk side by side at a time came to an end. Kana mentally thanked the Gods for separating their ways as Tsurara went to the kitchen and Rikuo continued towards the main room. She was able to move closer to him, but had no courage to do the same as Tsurara, despite her whims. Her fingers extended to his sleeve, yet she retracted them embarrassedly. She knew that if she did what she wanted, she would be admitting Tsurara's actions had seemed compromising, and Rikuo and her servants would witness it. She could not allow herself to be so pathetic. However, she could not lie to herself about her condition.
No one treated Rikuo the way Tsurara did – she was too straightforward, too familiar, too clingy. Kana would not mind that if Rikuo were willing to remind her that she should keep it to herself. In fact, the slightly sadistic part of Kana would secretly dance to its contentment if things were that way. But they were not; for Tsurara, being as she was with Rikuo was natural and undebatable, and that was at the top of the list of few things Kana genuinely hated. She sometimes despised herself for it; still, she could not help it. Anyone would feel the same way in her shoes, and that was one truth she was certain of. Because, without perceiving, the oh-so-trusted subordinate was slowly taking a place she should not by her superior's side – a place that already had an owner, and that was Ienaga Kana herself.
She was his fiancée, after all.
"'Fiancé'?" asked a four-year-old Kana to her mother. "What's that, Mama?"
"Your fiancé is the person that will become your husband when you get married." While brushing blonde strands that went just past her shoulders, Ienaga Kanako explained, "A husband is a person a woman is supposed to share her life with, and the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife is made through marriage, when you commit yourself to be with this person forever."
The short-haired girl gleamed with excitement. "So the one Kana is going to meet tomorrow... is the person Kana is going to live with forever?"
"Yes." Was the simple reply, followed by a phrase Kana would never forget, regardless of her age, "You shall love and take care of this person, just as I do with your father."
The day after, she was introduced to Nura Rikuo. She had to admit she had been afraid of him at first, for he was nothing like she had imagined. Being half-British, she would dig into fairy tales with her mother whenever she could. Under their influence, the one she had pictured to marry in thefuturewas a reflection of the princes she became enamored to, and Rikuo was the total opposite of them.
What she primarily noted about him was his white spiky hair. The next was how aloof he was for a kid. Last but not least, his eyes. The pair of demonic ruby orbs that seemed ready to haunt her once she her guard let down was a huge contrast to the innocence expected of someone younger than herself. She was undoubtedly frightened, but at the same time, she felt somewhat attracted to him. He was actually very mysterious, and if Kana were to use fiction to describe, she was positive he resembled much more the evil kings and sorcerers that would attempt to snatch the princesses away. That triggered her enthusiasm; perhaps because, she came to understand, he was not evil.
She was also soft towards his family. Rikuo's grandfather, father and mother were remarkably gentle people. However, with the exception of Wakana, no onecould beconsidered "normal". Kana's parents were not very fond of that, but it may have been the main motive why she taken a liking of them.
The Nura were unique.
She had been introduced to a few clansmen as well. The one she had been interested in the most was the woman serving tea to her parents, who were sitting with Rikuo's around a table in the room beside theirs. While playing around with her betrothed, Kana had sighted her from between half-open doors.
Oikawa Setsura, Kana would find out much later, was a woman of noble roots. She had cut ties with her former and much more comfortable lifestyle to join Nurarihyon's group in its initial stage, and lived as humbly as their earnings allowed since then. She was a plain person, with no make-up or ornaments, dressed in an ordinary kimono. Even so, she was probably the most beautiful woman Kana had ever seen. With her seriousness and sensual movements, paired to the delicate lineaments of her face, she easily surpassed Kanako in allure – everything in her screamed 'danger' in such a captivating way it was mind-blowing. Kana had once considered her mother the number one beauty she knew, but she came to realize that had been fruit of what the latter wore and applied to her skin rather than what was underneath it all.
When Kana figured Setsura was the same age as Rikuo's grandfather, she admired her extremely, given that she looked as old as Rikuo's twenty-one-year-old mother. She had no signs of wrinkles or white hairs anywhere, in stark contrast to the geezer she had ended up calling out on after he commented on how she should pour the drinks more sexily. She also miraculously managed not to break a single drop of sweat, despite the fact that her clothes and the scarf she had on were meant for winter while it was mid-summer.
Setsura had a baby daughter, regardless of her advanced age, whom Kana had met on the same day. She was in charge of serving tea and wagashi to her and Rikuo, and did so with a level of prowess that could rival her adult comrades. Kana could not help being intrigued by her.
Oikawa Tsurara was like a copy of her mother, but also the absolute opposite. Her hair was of the same color, yet straight instead of wavy, and her eyes were full of life as intense azure opposed dull burgundy. She, too, wore a winter kimono with a black-and-white-striped scarf, both with patterns different from Setsura's. Her personalities shared traits such as the determination and pushiness; however, Setsura's stringency begged to differ from Tsurara's vivacity.
During the time Kana had spent with her, she experienced a something that, for having been born in a household that lacked nothing, she had never felt before – envy. It was not so perceptible, but the heiress had a subconscious craving for Tsurara's skills, to make it her own or even do better. Kana envied her, and yet she wanted to befriend her.
That thinking was gone within a couple more visits.
Arranged marriages do not require love, but the Nura and Ienaga parents wished for their descendants to find it in themselves, making the deal into something fulfilling for everyone involved. With that in mind, they would make the children see each other at least once a week. And on each occasion, Tsurara would be at least at forty centimeters of Rikuo.
Kana knew the girl was overprotective – that was something hard to ignore –, but it was to a meddlesome extent. To Kana's deception, it was impossible to get rid of her, as she refused to listen to anyone but Rikuo to determine that she left and Rikuo himself would not do much. He was seemingly unable to decide on what action to take in their heated moments, resolving to ask the two of them to cut it out when things got too intense.
Kana was afraid to try sending Tsurara off more assertively – in other words, to remind her that she would be taken into the Nura as a bride ten years ahead. No matter if she would have authority over Tsurara at some point, it was a fact that she did not have it just yet. That aside, Rikuo obviously had some attachment for the aide and could frown upon such treatment towards her.
Kana sometimes wished to ask why Tsuraratracked them around in the first place, but feared the answer would be that Rikuo was the one who wanted her to do so. For that motive, and out of fear that he would misunderstand her intentions, requesting Rikuo to give Tsurara a what-for was out of question. Kana also considered complaining to her parents about the whole situation, or even to Rikuo's, but dismissed the idea, in denial that a mere servant could be a threat to her.
With no option other than securing her anger to herself, Kana had attempted to hold her ground, but everything has a limit. Not much later, she found herself having gratuitous arguments and pointlessly quarreling with Tsurara whenever they were alone. When not, they would not bother disguising their mood most of the times, their interactions loaded with implications and thorns.
They would exchange glares every time they met since then.
"Kana-chan." Rikuo's laugh echoed through the heiress's ears. "You still there?"
"O-Oh, sorry. I got distracted." Her memories dispersing, she waved him off sheepishly, taking notice of how she had been staring fixatedly at nothing. "I'm fine, don't worry. I was just... thinking."
If Kana were to say thinking had not been all she had been doing from the moment she had sat down, she would be lying shamelessly. The event she was taking part in was nothing like she had had in mind. Truth to be told, she would have preferred much more if Rikuo had gone to live in England with her, not the contrary. Not that it could ever happen, since he could not leave his clan, but it did not stop her from daydreaming about how things would be if there were any possibility of him abandoning everything just to be with her in an environment that suited her tastes. She was not being selective or spoiled, Kana convinced herself. Any person who had been raised surrounded by mannered calmness as she had would not be so appreciative of the inevitably loud and somewhat messy routine of the Nura house.
The first half into the night had been marked by her having to greet every single one of the attending people, plus dealing with being interrupted every now and then by whoever would come talk to her. She had planned to tell Rikuo and hear from him anything what had not been mentioned in their letters, discuss their relationship, make plans for the future, yet it all had to wait until late at night, when everyone was stoned enough to give them some privacy.
But by the looks of it, privacy was something rarely conceived to the third head.
"Waka, Ienaga-sama, I have brought you yamecha~" with the announcement, two cups were placed on the table Kana and Rikuo shared.
Emerald pools stared at the leisurely swirling quality tea, lethargically tracing back to Tsurara's hand, arm and face. She bowed before sitting down in seiza and Rikuo thanked her right away, while Kana took a bit longer to force the word out meekly. She had not intended to sound ungrateful, but it was a frustrating déjà-vu.
Kana had asked Rikuo not to be waiting at the main gates for her when she had arrived for a reason – the trip across Europe and Asia had been exhausting, and she looked no less than pitiful when she stepped out of her carriage. Her maids had done their best so she would be twice as beautiful once they had gotten a room, yet Rikuo would not comment about how she was or take the hints that she would definitely not mind being complimented. Not that he was deliberately insensitive, but he was not the type to pay attention. Kana was sure the amount of Sake he had been drinking was at fault, too, delusional as that could be.
All of it had been dampening her feelings for hours, and the fact Tsurara opted for taking a seat beside her and Rikuo after her duties in the kitchen were done had worsened everything. As Kana and Rikuo were sitting in front of each other, the sole place Tsurara could take was on the side, between the two of them, and nothing could make the scene more ironic.
The inertia of their positions, Kana decided, was simply disheartening.
The last cup of tea was the last thing Kana remembered upon waking up. She found herself in her room at the break of dawn, lying on her futon with a thick blanket placed on top of her. Her temples throbbed painfully as she got up, taking in her surroundings, which had remained the same as she had left it. Her luggage was still latched, with the exception of her cosmetics bag and jewel boxes. She had not changed into a sleeping gown, but her dress was unbuttoned and her corset loosened. Looking in the mirror, she realized her make-up and ornaments had been removed.
Had she walked to her room after the party was over and been so tired to properly arrange herself before collapsing that she had merely made herself more comfortable? If so, there was too big of a gap in her memory, which made her slightly anxious. But when her blonde maid came to bring her breakfast, everything was made clear – Rikuo had brought her to her room.
As her cheeks went crimson with the new information, she began to frantically ask questions such as "wasn't it too much trouble to him?" and "did anyone see us?". To her relief, he had claimed it was no problem, and most of the people around them were too out of it to even see them leaving, save for the one accompanying them – Tsurara. Even though Kana did not recall a thing about being carried in her sleep, which was a pity, she felt a smug sense of victory sprout within her. She had to kill a lopsided smile at the mental image of Tsurara behind Rikuo's large back and watching her in his arms, as she had done while watching Tsurara holding onto him.
By the time she finished her meal, she changed quickly and fixed her appearance, immediately heading to Rikuo's room. She did not know where to start from – should she thank him, ask about what happened, or not beat around the bush and just treat him for the favor? The nervousness prevented her from deciding, and imagining herself breathing peacefully and clueless as her fiancé held her in princess style – or bride style, as people called it –, was one more distraction.
She giddily tried to ease her jaws with her fingers, as their corners ached from grinning too much. Her face was hot, which was no good. She should not be so agitated; it was not that big of a deal, just the expected of a couple. And though they were not a couple yet, they would become one soon. Deep down, Kana could barely wait for that, warmth spreading to her chest.
But such warmth was short-lived. Rather, it soon morphed into a strong flame, burning too bright and too dangerous. It steadfastly consumed Kana, melting her from inside out and turning her into something new – the world's largest crystal... of salt.
As she reached the doors of Rikuo's room, which were half-open so that the morning breeze would refresh the place, even the chirping of birds outside seemed to hit a nerve in her. Her timing was just right to see Tsurara cover Rikuo's shoulders with a red haori and smooth the fabric so gently that he seemed very close to dozing off. The two were unaware of Kana's presence as she motionlessly watched them, for Rikuo had relocated his desk to make the most use of sunlight. That way, the two had their backs to her, and giving her the unpleasant premonition that their figures could stand up and start walking away just like that, leaving her behind.
"Rikuo-sama, this is wrong." Tsurara said lowly as she pointed at one of his scrolls.
The heiress's pupils shrank slightly. She had never known that Tsurara could read and write. Perhaps her mother had taught her – and very strictly, too, for her to be able to correct Rikuo, who had received the best tutoring his father could afford.
"Ah, it's true... damn." The young man muttered, grimacing.
"Ehehe, Rikuo-sama needs to be more patient with math."
Kana had to blink a few times. It was not just reading and writing, but math as well. More importantly, it never ceased to amaze and exasperate her the amount of tiny details Tsurara knew about Rikuo. Kana had a valuable amount of information on him stored in the corners of her consciousness, yet she had to confess she was no match for Tsurara in that aspect. The aide had never been the type to boast about it, so it was when Kana had first attempted to show off her observation skills that the verity of facts had come to mercilessly slap her, along with an icy "You really don't know anything, do you, Ienaga-sama?".
"Hm... but that's a bit too much to handle before breakfast, don't you think?" Rikuo nodded.
"Eh? But your breakfast is right there, Waka!" Tsurara frowned, hands on her hips. On her left was a plate with fried onigiri and a saucer with an appetizing arrangement of leftovers from the party's banquet, such as cuts of kelp and grilled salmon. Beside them was a teapot and a bowl with chopsticks lying on it. Kana did not have to think much to understand the ingredients were meant for – chazuke was a dish she had been yearning to savor again.
Apparently realizing something terrifying, Tsurara flinched. "D-Don't tell me... you're rejecting it...?!"
"Nah. You know how much I like your cooking, even though it's a bit... chilly." Rikuo smirked, back to writing and earning an unnoticed blush.
Kana reminisced to the experiences of tasting a meal made by Tsurara. She was a proper cook, the heiress had to give her that, but her food was always gelid somehow. Kana would do anything not to eat it, having someone else prepare her shares whenever she came over.
"It's just... difficult to do the two things at the same time." Rikuo finished, holding the bridge of his nose.
"Then why don't you just stop for a while? You barely got any rest this night." Tsurara asked, worry raw in her tone. "Waka has been eating poorly lately."
"It's this damned report for Jijii. I have to finish it before he comes back from his trip."
She scratched her neck, aware that she was probably going to fight a losing battle as she asked, "But Rikuo-sama, don't you think it's enough for now? Why don't you recess a little? It's been long since your last day off."
"Don't worry. It's the last one. Mom thinks it's best to get this done before the 'deadline' and take a week to rest while Jijii is gone." he explained. "Fair enough, since Kana-chan is here. I gotta spend more time with her."
At that, Kana had to swallow down a squeak. A whole week just for them after so many years connected by correspondence seemed too good to be true, yet it was not.
"I see... that's nice." Rikuo turned to meet Tsurara's droopy eyes, and she could not help casting him a questioning look. "W-What?"
"You don't seem very happy at all. And you're the one who suggested a break." He put emphasis on the word 'you', another smirk playing on his lips. "Could it be... that was just an excuse... for monopolizing me?"
"Wah?! O-Of course not! I'm not a brat!" she glared, flailing her arms.
"Then why are you angry?" he asked, still mostly concentrated on the scrolls.
Blunt questions out of nowhere were a tendency of his, but in this particular case, Tsurara knew he was just teasing. She puffed her cheeks, as easy to read as a book written entirely in hiragana. "I-I'm not."
Rikuo fought not to laugh. Kana fought not to groan.
Suddenly, a solution seemed to have hit Tsurara as her expression did a 180-degree flip, second intentions evident in it. "Hey, Waka, how about letting me feed you?"
"It's fine, isn't it? We used to do that before." The aide reminded cheerfully. She then grabbed the chopsticks, taking one of the onigiri and putting it on the bowl. She proceeded to pour the tea on it, place some of the konbu on top and chop a fraction of what it had become, lifting the bite to the level of Rikuo's mouth. "Okay, 'ahn'~!"
Kana nearly let out a protest, praying that Rikuo would refuse the silly proposal. What Tsurara got as response, however, was a knowing smile, together with a hardly visible stain on his cheeks that Kana pretended was just the reflection of his irises.
"My bad." He apologized, and when the one in the white kimono was about to protest, he enveloped the rice with his mouth. "Thanks."
And that was the last drop.
Kana left the room as silently as she had come, not even glancing past her shoulders. She wanted to have had the audacity of asking for permission to come inside right before Rikuo had offered his gratitude, so that she could be the one to feed him. Her composure would not allow such audacity, which would have made it obvious she had been eavesdropping.
Rikuo's smile was engraved in her retinas, blocking her view and making her steps partially blind. When had she even ever seen him make such a face? It was the epitome of fondness. Tsurara acted as if it was usual, but it was not. Not even with his own mother was he so affectionate. That smile was reserved to his aide alone.
Kana needed to do something that would keep the two apart for a while. After all, even though it had been decided a decade before, hers and Rikuo's was still an arranged marriage, which he had the right to give up on if he wanted to. But if he did so, what would be of her? Females were seen as lowly creatures – such was their society's thinking. The single thing women had the right to call theirs was a family. No spouse, no future. A divorce would be an equal tragedy, and even if Rikuo gave up before the wedding, who would want a rejected as a wife?
It was a matter of honor, and all was fair in love and war, as many quoted. If Kana's notion of it fit the standards, she did love Rikuo genuinely. Her heart was his for as long as it would beat – he had stolen it, and that was one thing she could not deny. But what if that was not mutual? She could not just sit and watch. Her whole life from then on would be doomed if she did so. It was either act or perish.
And act she did.
End of chapter! Here is Dennou with her first and suck-ish NuraMago work for her all-time favorite pairing. Yes, the plot is underdeveloped, the characters are kinda OOC and the writing is shit, but I still hope y'all enjoy it.
I really need to ask: does it look like I hate Kana? Because I don't. I just honestly believe there would be no story without making her as jealous of Tsurara with Rikuo as she is in the original but giving a deeper and more serious insight of it. I also believe there are things people will have questions about, and there are some others I'd like to point out, so I shall leave a few remarks here:
1) Rikuo's party clothes are from one of the first key promotional images of the anime, where Night Rikuo is sitting on the sakura tree, holding Nenekirimaru. This is so that you can picture it yourselves.
2) Kanako is the heroine of Nurarihyon no Mago's first pilot (the one published in Akamaru Jump). Although everyone considers Kana alone to be what spawned from her, I think she was also Yura's predecessor, since she shares characteristics with both. No one has never seen her colored version, but I'm convinced her hair was blond, because it was left white and its style is a little similar to Maki Saori's. Why I used her as Kana's mother here is simple: we've never seen Kana's parents and I'm not fond of creating OCs (plus, their character designs are conventionally alike).
3) For those who might not remember, Kana is often in denial when it comes to Rikuo and her feelings for him. I felt it wouldn't be really Kana if I didn't portray that, so forgive me for the horrible metaphors (especially the salt thing). I've kind of always wanted to write some deep shit and then completely butcher it. I also wanted to do it in style, but that's pushing my luck.
4) If anyone got the impression that I tried to write about a super smart Tsurara while reading this: she's average. I wanted to show she had a large range of subjects she knew the basics of, but the truth remains that she masters none. It feels close to canon.
5) "You really don't know anything, do you, Ienaga-sama?" is a parallel to that one line from chapter 25, "You really don't know anything, do you, Ienaga-san?". I love reminding everyone that, unlike what the first season of the anime preaches, Kana is the one that was hostile to Tsurara first. Tsurara literally had never done anything to her until then. Also, Rikuo's "that's a bit too much to handle before breakfast" is a contrary reference to his words in the drama CD 'Nurarikurari no Izakaya Sandaiki', "hmph, I can finish all this just in time for breakfast".
6) Rikuo sometimes has difficulties eating Tsurara's food because it's cold, so I've seen fans joking a lot about how she sucks at cooking. However, Rikuo said in chapter 1 that "Yuki Onna's cooking is good, even though it's frozen", so he likes it, nonetheless.
7) Fun fact! The line "Could it be... that was just an excuse... for monopolizing me?" is a reference to a really cute RikuTsura doujinshi by one of my favorite dounjinka, Jack. Y'all should look them up on pixiv! They made amazing NuraMago and Macross F pieces (warning: some of them are 18+). *shamelessly promotes*
8) Forgive me, people who aren't familiar with Japanese honorifics, untranslated terms and cuisine. There are some things I have no idea how to adapt, and not using honorifics make the dialogues really weird to me, so it's really hard not to include them. I hope you guys don't mind...
9) This story has started being edited and half-rewritten in March of 2016, which is why it's now different from what first-time readers remember. But to whoever might be seeing this for the second round onwards: don't worry, the contents are still essentially the same. I was just (really, REALLY) unsatisfied with my old writing skills.
Last but not least, I'd like to kindly ask for reviews and thank you all for reading!