Hey, guys! I'm back, but this is gonna be my last time posting any story in the NuraMago archive, so please read this before starting the story's Epilogue. I've poured my heart into words especially for you, so I'd pretty much appreciate if you took a moment of your time to see how much I cherish you guys. And, no, I'll not be exaggerating in any bit of what I'm going to say now! So... where was I? Oh, yeah.
I love you people.
When I started writing this, I knew quite well there were very little NuraMago stories in this site, and, though the majority of the romantic ones was RikuTsura, there was still less stories for it than I had imagined. With that, I thought Kurushii na Kokoro was going to be my least successful work, since, in theory, if there's only a few writers, there would be also few readers. But I soon found out I was wrong. Not only there's actually a lot of you, but this also turned out to be my best work until now. I think that's not just because my love for this pairing is really huge, but because of all your support.
As I updated, I received much more alerts than I ever thought I would. Some of you even said this here was the best RikuTsura/NuraMago story you had ever read. I didn't really believe at first, but, when I went through the NuraMago archive, I noticed that my story was actually the one that had more faves, follows and reviews per chapter and was the most fan-advertised out there. I don't think you'd ever have an idea of how happy I was. But I was also quite sad, since I believe RikuTsura deserves much better works than mine (not just in form of doujinshi).
By all of this, what I really want to say is that, without any doubt, at least half of the credit for this story is yours. I would've probably never passed the Prologue if it wasn't for your awesome feedback. Thank you very much for accepting my work and making writing fics a whole lot more fun than it ever was to me. I also recently noticed my story has been added in amazing communities and I would like to say whoever has done that is included in my thanks.
I owe all of you readers a lot.
Now, with no more of my emotional shit delaying what really matters, I'm going to leave the last author note to the beginning of the chapter, so that the ending will be the end for good! I also ask one last time for the anons to create accounts if they can, because I don't want to lose you. I say that because, after this story, I'll write no more NuraMago stories. The nostalgia is a little too much for me.
As for the anons that will review to this chapter, don't worry about your responses. I shall edit the epilogue with my replies to your respective reviews every time you send one!
Thank you very much for reading! If there can be a next time to meet you guys, I'll be looking forward to it! But, for now, good-bye! *all my tears*
Well, then, for the remarks!
1) Allow me to apologize again for another late update. I had been meaning to finish this as quickly as possible, but I had other commitments to be done with, which got even more difficult with school and college entrance exams in the way. Things didn't get any better with my grandma's death – not having grandparents at only 17 years of age really sucks. Still, I've managed to get into one of our best universities ranking second place in the top three highest scores for the course I had applied to (which is design). I'm kinda proud, but then again, it was hard to get into writing again even after that, not only because I had left many things to do once I was done with all my tests, but also because I had lost a considerable amount of inspiration due to stress and because saying good-bye to you and this story is being way harder than I had thought. But here it is, at last!
2) Yes, I've finally managed to put the famous "umbrella moment" in my story. I just couldn't miss it (just like the rest of the many manga-verse, Drama CD-verse and Light Novel-verse moments I added, lol)!
3) Yes, I've put Yamabuki-sensei's students and light novel characters as everybody's kids. I just didn't write about Reira and Itaku's and Rikuo and Tsurara's kids because I have no idea of what character could replace them and I hate making up OCs. So, there, stay with the expectative! ;D
4) Yes, this was a crappy ending. But then again, the story was crappy to begin with. Sorry if I disappointed you.
5) DENNOU WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, DENNOU WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, DENNOU WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES, MY BEAUTIFUL BUDDIES~!
Now, replies to the anons who reviewed when the previous chapter was out!
Kuro: you're so early this time! Let's see if you can do it again!
Not sure. Not sure if I've told you that I loved you, either. But I do! :3
AHAHAHA, what a cute reaction~! As expected from Kuro-san~! ;D
What happened to your hands? o-o'
It's okay! I don't mind short reviews! Though, if you haven't yet said all you had wanted to in the last review, go ahead! ^_^
I'm glad you were so surprised about the twist~! :3
"Sad"?! But it had a happy ending! The original version is sad. Mine is not sad at all. I think. D:
I thought it was obvious it meant "chivalrous thief" because that's canon.
Kamuro are more like servants. I think the soon-to-be-geisha are named "maiko", but I'm not sure. :P
I've heard of this one. Maybe I'll try it out! ;3
But... I didn't use any OCs. o-o
"Wicked females running around and shit"? You mean Kana, Saori, Natsumi and Tsurara trying to escape from Rikuo?
Yeah... somehow, it had always felt to me I was writing about a kicked-perverted-and-very-embarrassed-puppy-styled Rikuo. XD
I see you still haven't reread the story, since you don't remember why Rikuo was engaged to Kana... ^_^'
YES, SHE WAS! OHOHOHO! 8D
Nah~! They aren't evil~! They had just gone after what they wanted in an "unexpected" way~! :D
I'm glad I was able to make you laugh so much, lol. XD
Thank you! ^3^
I thought so~! ^_^
3) Okay! Check it out and tell me if you get it now!
4) So you like GrayLu? But do you ship Gruvia? ;3;
I meant Kakihara Tetsuya and Hirano Aya (Jirou and Kana's seiyuu). I ship them (ShimaKana) harder now that I know they have the same voices as the charas of another pairing I like (NaLu).
6) Well, then... tell me what you thought of this!
Tsurara-nee-sama is merely going after her master's (and her) happiness~! There's nothing actually wicked in that~!
9) Haha, yes, they were engaged as well.
I'm fond of your damaged head, though. Lol.
Tumblr! Tumblr! Pick up tumblr! Pleeease! So that we can meet again outside FF! If you make an account, tell me your URL! I'll follow you forever (by the way, my URL is x0401x)!
I have accounts on (beside FF and tumblr):
FB (Flavia Sampaio)
FictionPress (Dennou Writer)
YouTube (Flavia Sampaio)
Google+ (Flavia Sampaio)
PS response: sorry~! ;D
PSS response: thanks~! ;D
PSSS response: awn~! ;D
Nadilicious (chapter 9): thanks! Although I don't want to make you feel like I'm forcing you to review or anything... I just miss ya. D':
Money crisis?! Gah, I wish I could help...
My work is done. Please tell me your final thoughts! :'3
Kurokuro96: I'm sorry for not having updated that week and taken such a long time... I had wanted it to be perfect. D: On second thought, thanks for reviewing!
Unknown: thanks a lot~! I'm glad you liked it this much~! :3 Hoho, yes, RikuTsura forever~! =w=
I'm really sorry for not having updated in a long while. Trust me, I've been trying to write this as fast as possible, but life (school, tests, prom, college admission exams, religious events, etc.) kept getting in the way. D: But here it is! Hope you enjoy it and leave one last review. ^_^
Replies to anons who reviewed after the update of the Epilogue~!
Nadilicious (chapter 10): Lol, thanks!
I'm glad it surprised you. ^_^
What's that story of Rikuo in a bikini contest?
It's okay! I don't mind late reviews. I'm happy that you review at all! :3
I can't keep up since it's now over, but thanks anyways!
Hanazawa Shizuka (chapter 7): yes to half of this (they will surely be together forever, but Kana-chan stays on this Earth, ohoho)! XD Thank you very much. Love ya! :3
Panda Musume: thank you very much! :D
I'm not in the Gintama fandom that much, so, no, sorry. D:
Nadilicious (chapter 12): thank you for your equally beautiful review! ;A;
Shiibashi-sensei shows that side of them much more than me, though. XD But, wait, they're all humans in this story. owo'
Gaaah, thank you so much for the compliments! It's very flattering and I appreciate it all. :3
I'll try to come back. I promise. TT3TT
Looks like it still makes sense when you ask me to keep up, then. XD
Shoot, I don't have a twitter account! D:
Hanazawa Shizuka (chapter 12): I know, right? I'm glad I managed to handle her character that way! And I'm glad you changed your mind about her!
Me too. XD
Aww, thank you, thank you, thank you! ;3;
L.S: whatever questions you have, you may find the answers to them in the author notes. Like to this one. XD Yes, they're all humans in this story. I just wanted to leave their essential traits and roles intact. It may be confusing, but that's how it goes. Sorry for any misunderstandings. :P
All Oni are Youkai, but not all Youkai are Oni. If you are looking for a synonym, that should be "Ayakashi". ^_^'
Regardless of Youkai existing or not, Onmyouji still could, ya know? Oh, well. I believe things will clear up for you if you keep it up. Please stay tuned. :3
Bee: yes. ;w; Thank you so much! TT3TT
eureka chrystal: I humbly thank you! I hope to be able to come up with something even better than this one story in the future.
Things had already started off awkwardly for the two young ladies facing each other. When she had requested the owner of the room she was currently at to start explaining everything to her from the beginning, Kana had not imagined the events of said time would be, from right then, intense enough to make her cheeks sting from flushing red. As she figured out little by little how the relationship between her fiancé and his personal aide had come to a sinful point, the heiress couldn't help but question said aide about why she had been so engrossed in pairing her loved one, who returned every bit of her affection to her, with another woman. And the answer she received was definitely not what she was expecting.
"I guess you could say I was... testing him."
"W-What...?" the chocolate-haired one blinked a few times and frowned in utter confusion.
"You see, Kana-sama..." Tsurara began slowly, brushing a strand of her inky hair away, "the first time I learned about Rikuo-sama's engagement, I... had spent a long time thinking about how horrible it would be if he could not turn back on his feelings, in case he fell in love with someone that not Kana-sama. I mean... having to marry someone you don't love must already be really hard, but having to do that while loving someone else must be unbearable. So I had also spent a long time trying to find ways to comfort him if the situation became like that. But, after a while, I... I stopped with that."
"Ah, please don't misunderstand!" the servant defensively shot her hands up and waved them frantically, "It's not like I stopped seeing Rikuo-sama's pain or his engagement as a bad thing! It's just that... I've come to see, first-hand, how strong he was."
"Huh...?" as the quizzical look remained in the young noblewoman's features, Tsurara could only sigh and attempt another way of making her follow her trail of thoughts.
"Rikuo-sama, he... he's really great, isn't he?" the raven-haired one asked, earning an almost inaudible gasp as response. A smile started to approach her lips as she continued, her blush gone, "He has gone through a lot more than someone his age should have, and I'm certain he has told Kana-sama about it all. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that, regardless of this, it doesn't matter if he guides hundreds of people on his back, if he's the heir of the greatest Kumi of Kantou region, or if he's a skilled swordsman that has stained his hands countless times. It doesn't matter if he's Nurarihyon's grandson. He's still a fourteen-year-old boy. He has his own fears and ambitions, just like everybody else. He has suffered, struggled... but, in the end, he would find a way of accomplishing his objectives, no matter what." With her hands on the center of her chest, her smile grew into a serene one, her sapphire hues shining blissfully, "He always carves his paths with unwavering conviction – that's why I know I can always trust him."
"Ah..." finally understanding where the conversation was going, Kana didn't notice her brows had been up the entire speech.
"That's how I knew that, if his feelings were as strong as they seemed, he would do everything he could to turn the tables. Even because Rikuo-sama probably already knew that I..." her blood rushing back, Tsurara averted her gaze, stuttering slightly, "I-I..."
"That Oikawa-san has been in love with Rikuo-kun since we were little kids?" Kana asked surprisingly blunt and calmly – rather blankly –, despite her annoyance at saying the obvious, which had bothered her for many years.
"E-EEEH?!" falling back, the servant girl screamed within her head wondering if she was really that obvious. Sadly, the Ienaga daughter gave her a positive answer. "Uwah~! So embarrassing~!" she mentally sulked.
"This is a Yakuza martial fraction member?" Kana asked herself in her mind, visibly sweat-dropping. "P-Please, go on." she requested out loud, not wanting to change the subject.
"Oh, y-yes...!" Tsurara straightened herself, "Like I said, I knew Rikuo-sama would chase after what he wanted. I just didn't want us to be hurt... because... there was still time. Rikuo-sama could always change his mind if he thought better. This is why, on the... night of mine and Rikuo-sama's f-first kiss... hum..." she cleared her throat with her eyes closed and a hand in front of her mouth, "after a while of reasoning with myself... I... I decided I would not follow Rikuo-sama's will. I wanted to see... how far he'd go for me."
"So, in short, Oikawa-san was against Rikuo-kun... to be on his favor...?" the arranged wife asked, perceiving the irony in her own words. "You were pretending all this time?"
"Not really... I'd never let go of Rikuo-sama. Not even as a joke." the aide's face suddenly became stern, contradicting the rosy stain on her cheeks. "I was only willing to give up on him if Kana-sama was his final decision. But I know I'd never be able to find someone like him anywhere, so I'd still love him until the end of my life. That's why I'd still stay where I belong. By Waka's side, I mean. It was all very risky because I could end up changing his mind, but I was doing this exactly because Rikuo-sama's feelings can't be underestimated. I was aware I could end up hurt, though..." she looked down with a slightly bitter smile.
"Oikawa-san..." Kana muttered as she could only stare as she thought about how that explained a lot. Tsurara was her love rival – that much has always been clear. However, unlike Kana, she had never been going for Rikuo's heart. That was not because she had had it for a long time, because she had only come to find out about his feelings when he confessed, according to her story, which Kana had no reasons not to believe in.
Kana had jumped into the conclusion both of them had been competing for Rikuo's love all that time because of the strong feelings of jealousy she and the aide mutually harbored towards each other. But, now that she had come to think of it, that was nothing but inevitable for people in love, and didn't necessarily mean Tsurara regarded her as a severe threat to her love life like Kana did with her. It was different than considering her a rival, since the mere fact the two were in love with the same person was enough for such. That could also explain why Tsurara had always seemed to have a certain air of superiority when she was around the heiress – she was never a strong enough enemy to begin with. While having all that in mind, Kana was wordless for a moment that was short-lived as another question popped up, "You said you had... cried a lot back then. Was it because of that?"
"Well, yes... partly." Tsurara's expression evolved into a shy frown, "It was mostly because of happiness."
"I see..." with a hand on her chin, the heiress attempted to summarize the information given to her, "So Oikawa-san has been 'testing' Rikuo-kun for a year, now, right? What happened between you in that meantime?"
Jumping a little bit, Tsurara went stiff for a second while gawking at the girl in front of her. She then looked back down with a troubled face, "H-Hum... erm... a lot of... things. Kana-sama doesn't have to listen to it if–"
"Please..." Kana interrupted, sounding a bit uncertain of her own decision..
As she was reminded of why the two of them were having that conversation, the long-haired maiden complied silently and continued, "A... At first, Rikuo-sama seemed to be hesitating about his own decision to challenge me... he wasn't doing anything very... 'flashy' and would always restrain himself whenever he went too far..."
"'Too far'...?" Kana quirked a brow, before understanding the obvious and mimicking the young underling as she looked away with a red face, "Ah... s-so Rikuo-kun is... that kind of guy..." She then whispered to herself while hiding her lips with her sleeve, "Pervert... my childhood friend, Rikuo-kun, is a... peeeerveeeert...!"
"Anyways... Rikuo-sama had been like that until his birthday. Back then, I had almost thought it was safe to say he would go on with his engagement plans, but..." Tsurara swallowed dryly, her blush reaching its darkest shade, "A-After that day, Rikuo-sama had started becoming... bold. A-And... well, here we are."
A brief moment of awkward silence followed as all the two young women could do was to look into each other intensely with matching expressions. Attempting to break it, Kana took her conclusion about the conversation out loud, "S-So... Oikawa-san's verdict about this 'test' is..."
"Yes." already knowing what she was going to say, Tsurara nodded in response. "And what about Kana-sama? What's your verdict?"
"From the talk we just had... what's your decision? What's Kana-sama going to do from now on?" the aide clarified, at last able to look at the brunette straight again.
"I... to be honest... I don't know." it was Kana's turn to avoid her as hazel pools dropped to the table. "But... I don't think I have a choice. If I don't marry Rikuo-kun, I..." she trailed off, squeezing her lids shut.
"I didn't make myself clear enough..." Tsurara muttered to herself, making the heiress's confused and startled self face her determined one. "Kana-sama, what do you want to do from now on?" she practically repeated her last question, adding the one word that made a great difference with emphasis.
"What I want...?" Kana blinked a few times before having her head down again, "I... I have no idea. Not at all. I just... don't want to get hurt any more. And I don't want to hurt Rikuo-kun any more, either..."
With a deep sigh, the raven-haired one asked seriously, "Then, please be honest with me – do you want to marry Rikuo-sama?"
"I... I..." not knowing how to answer, Kana decided to go for a more indirect approach, "I'm not sure Oikawa-san already knows it... but I..."
"You have feelings for Rikuo-sama." Tsurara bluntly finished the statement, her expression never changing.
The noble lady's brows furrowed for a moment at the same time that her hues shrank a little, but the look was gone soon, replaced by one of restrain as she pretended to cough. Her blood was still rushing as she said with her head a little lowered, "T-That's right. Marrying someone like him... is my dream."
"I'm sure it's the dream of many women..." the "Yuki Onna" smiled slightly.
"B-But," Kana hesitantly continued, "it's not just marrying him... it's about having a joyful life with him. If I were to have an unhappy marriage, I–" she interrupted herself as soon as something cold touched her skin. As she looked up, what she found was a pair of porcelain-like hands holding hers and a pair of azure orbs gleaming a little too brightly at her, causing her embarrassment to grow, "Wah?! O-Oikawa-san?!"
"I understand your feelings perfectly!"
"Eh? E-Eh?" with the corner of her mouth twisting, that was all the hazel-eyed one could sputter out.
"Please don't think of me as a heartless person!" Tsurara gripped Kana firmly without it actually hurting, an abrasive gaze digging holes into her, "I may have been fooling everyone all this time, but never did I have any malicious intentions with anyone! Kana-sama is included in that!"
"I-I've been thinking about Kana-sama too! It's not like I wouldn't care!" the aide continued, although her blush was back, "B-Because... you're one of Rikuo-sama's precious friends. It's not like he'd be able to live in peace with Kana-sama's future at risk. So, it may be precipitated of me to make this request, but..." she paused for a moment before she blurting out, "please believe in Rikuo-sama!"
It took one or two seconds more than it usually would for Kana to process what she had just heard. And, as she did, yet again, all that could come out was a confused "eh". Seeing she was only puzzling her more, Tsurara attempted to clarify herself, "Ah... erm... I know this will seem confusing and delusional, but, it's going to be fine! Don't worry! Kana-sama may have not been here during our hard times, but there are hundreds of proofs in them that things tend to go right when you place your faith in him! He will surely try to find the solution to your problems! And if he can't, he'll make one up himself! That's how he is! Rikuo-sama, he..." she finalized slowly, "he can definitely protect you."
Again, Kana was at a momentary loss of what to say. So that was it – being conveyed right before her, with immense honesty and lack of fear, were Tsurara's true feelings. It was then Kana perceived she had never put them into consideration at all. What she had always wanted was simply to be free from Tsurara as rival as soon as possible. She would be hurt if that happened, but it would be inevitable, and Kana had zero remorse towards that fact, as she believed Tsurara was the same as her. Yet, again, the difference between them was proven to be too huge – Tsurara had been thinking of everyone while carrying a heavy burden by herself that whole time. Without any supporters or even a friend to open up with about it, she had only been able to rely on herself to accomplish her goal, which would bring either ultimate happiness or sadness to her life.
"Th... Thank you, Oikawa-san..." Kana's voice wavered as she attempted to contain her emotions, "I really want to trust Rikuo-kun."
"I really want to, but..." Kana's hands formed tight fists under the table, "but this isn't just about me...! What am I going to tell my parents? If they find out I haven't married Rikuo-kun, our alliance will be...!"
Tsurara's hand flew up, her index over her mouth, as if asking for silence. Withdrawing, the embarrassed heiress covered her mouth with her eyes wide. Clearing her throat, the young servant said rather calmly, "About that... there's a lot we need to discuss in this matter."
For a moment, all Kana's brain had been able to register upon hearing that was that Tsurara was a box of surprises and her plotting went far beyond what Kana had previously thought. Still, contradicting all of her common sense and usual behavior, the heiress found herself rather thrilled by that.
"That's why, Kana-sama..." the aide continued.
"Oikawa-san, I think..." the chocolate-eyed one spoke at the same time.
"...we need to talk some more." the two finished in unison, their actions matching again, as they stopped for a moment to stare at one another before bursting into giggles. The giggles turned into actual laughter, and the girls only stopped when their stomachs started hurting and tears were shed. Truth be told, they didn't have any idea why they had laughed so much, but it had certainly been a while since they had felt that gleeful, and doing so in the presence of the other was a first to both, so they decided to enjoy the moment while it lasted.
It was the beginning of a good friendship – the most unexpected of all in their lives.
"By the way, Oikawa-san..." Kana whipped her lashes, her cheeks pleasingly painful, "You don't have to call me 'Kana-sama' or 'Ojou' anymore."
"I see..." Tsurara responded rather shyly while massaging her slightly swollen face, "T-Then... since you still call me 'Oikawa-san', I shall call you 'Ienaga-san'... is that okay?"
"Alright... Ienaga-san..." she tried, subtly proud, "I think it's going to be a little selfish of me to ask this from you, but, for the Rikuo-sama who lives as a normal person – that is, the one from the times he doesn't have to be involved with all his leadership matters –, I'm certain you're someone he needs. So, even after everything that has happened... please look after him whenever you can."
Kana stopped smiling for a second, not because of the same reason as before, but because of another realization that entire talk had given her. For Tsurara to be requesting such a thing, there was only one plausible explanation. Nura Rikuo was not the unmatched man Kana had taken him to be, and he needed as much love and care from everyone around him as he could get, just like any ordinary person.
With that, her response was to nod firmly, "I... I will."
The raven-haired one relaxed a bit at the relieving answer, yet she still needed to add, "Thank you. But, you see... 50, even 100 years from now, the one he will keep the closest to him" She smiled widely, "is Tsurara!"
In contemplation, Kana felt somewhat funny. A week or two before, she would have been annoyed to the core of the aide's attitude and given her a low-leveled reply with a glare. However, at that moment, all she could do was smile warmly in return, "Yeah..."
"And this is how it started; our 'plan'. Well, Oikawa-san's plan." with a small smile, Kana was relieved to finally finish her explanation, after having given her own apologies to everyone at the wedding hall for fooling them, much like Tsurara had done. Feeling more used to all the eyes on her direction after she was done speaking, she allowed herself to scan the place with her own, drifting them away from her fiancé's for a moment. Everyone's reactions were far more pleasant than she had thought they would be.
It had been a while since she had had that much fun.
"Then... Kana-chan..." Rikuo began, earning the attention all for himself, "if you're giving up this marriage too, that means..."
"Hm. I've taken Oikawa-san's words into full consideration." the brunette nodded. Rikuo's need to confirm if what he had just heard from her was real was almost palpable, she concluded, but that applied to everyone else – including herself. Sighing in brief contemplation at how surprisingly twisted life could become, she felt her cheeks heat up slightly as she went on, "But... there's another reason why I'm doing this..."
"Huh?" silver brows shot up instantly, "What reason?"
Shyly scratching his head, with his entire head and neck flushing red, Shima Jirou's figure could be seen getting up to stand on Kana's side, "I think... i-it's time fo-for me to take my part of the responsibility in this... H-Hum..." He stuttered nervously, looking at the ground, his palms meeting loudly, "I'M S-SO SORRY, NURA! P-PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!"
Quirking a brow at his old friend, Rikuo asked without thinking, "Kill? What are you talking...?" he slowly trailed off, his ruby hues widening in shock as he was able to put two and two together, "Huh? No way... Shima, you...?"
"Hiiiie!" the blond shrieked in terror. "SORRY, SORRY, SORRY!" he bowed to the floor countless times. Meanwhile, the brunette beside him flinched, knowing her turn to give explanations was not yet over. As much as she was reluctant about it, she had the rest of the story in her hands, including what not even Tsurara was aware of.
The events after their talk.
When Kana was returning to her eerily quiet room that afternoon, her only company had been the cold and darkness that surrounded her. Being completely alone in such scenery while in such an awkward and heartbreaking situation had made her see something that she had probably already seen before, but had been in denial about all along.
That is: how foolish she was.
A chance – that's what she had been fighting for the whole time. A chance to have a joyful life with the man she loved, a chance to honor her parents' deal, a chance to find her spot in the world. What she hadn't been inclined to admit was that she was chasing after the right thing in the wrong place with the wrong person. It was the person she wanted, but a person she simply could not reach no matter how hard she tried. After all, said person who had already been taken for a long time by someone far stronger feelings – a love that Kana had just witnessed herself, which could only bring one word to her mind.
The gap between the two of them was much bigger than Kana had thought, and she had been able to see that perfectly. Something else that she had been able to see was that, even though Nura Rikuo was most likely the man that could make her the happiest, the one who could return the favor was not her. He was the best she could ever ask for, that was why he deserved the best as well. And, if she couldn't offer him that herself, there was really no other exit.
She had to give up.
It was a melancholically painful decision – so much that Kana could have sworn her heart was being corroded as she made it, her mind insisting in turning back on her words to Tsurara and herself within every second until she could no longer bear thinking about it.
A little before she had reached her room, the will to cry had reached her first. At last, she'd be able to let out the burning sensation that seemed to be tearing her chest apart. And so, her hurried paces had come to a halt as she leaned against the wall and held her mouth tightly, sniffling uncontrollably as her cheeks warmed and cooled repetitively – courtesy of her tears and the air.
"Betrayal" – that was what she had wished to call what her arranged husband had done to her, but she couldn't. Never once in their lives had either her nor Rikuo had actually formed a relationship or promised anything of the sort to each other. Her heart had always belonged to him, yet he had never stretched his hand to take it, nor given her his own.
She had been battling a war that she had already lost from the start.
It was as she had been able to admit that to herself that she took notice she had company. On the contrary of what she had thought, there was a single person who was occupying the corridors with her, coincidentally passing by. Once she had locked stares with the blond before her, even with her blurred vision, she could see the trouble in his expression just as much as she could hear it in his trembling voice while he called her and asked if she was alright. As he came closer, she had found herself unable to lie – in fact, she had found herself unable to say anything.
Only when her eyes had cleared up a little and she was able to see the troubled expression her friend was making as he frantically asked questions regarding her welfare in whispers, so that no one would be bothered by how desperate he sounded, that she had felt inclined to do something to ease him. At first, she had thought of coming up with a lie, but couldn't. Then, she had tried to dismiss him, yet that had not only proved to be useless as well, but also made her realize he was probably not going to leave so soon and, when he did leave, he was most likely not keeping his mouth shut about what he had witnessed. Finally, she had surrendered, and asked him to accompany her to her room.
As they arrived, Jirou had seemed willing to stay to watch over his friend, as he had no idea of what else he could do. Awkwardly enough, Kana had actually asked him to stay, doing what was already expected in the process – asking him not to tell anyone a word of what had happened. As he promised her what she wanted, her unease had unfolded before his eyes as she broke into tears again.
Clumsily attempting to comfort her while sitting her down on the tatami floor, he had shut up instinctively after babbling out many things. Amongst the lines of "what happened", he had seemed to trigger something within his friend that she herself couldn't control as she hurriedly told him a summarized version of the answer to his question between sobs. In a state of anxiety and desperation, her voice had risen as she grabbed onto his clothes tightly and wet his chest – almost like a reproduction of the Haru Matsuri, when she got drunk by mistake. He had known she wasn't drunk at all, yet her emotional stability was the same as back then.
She was heartbroken.
Not able to understand most of what Kana had said, what had hit him first was the fact she had been cheated on by her fiancé – with his closest servant, no less. For a moment, the soccer addict had been so devastated that he was unable to do anything, recomposing upon seeing the one he was feeling bad for was not Kana, but himself. It had, doubtlessly, been a reminiscent of his feelings for the aide on the back of his head. Taking a deep breath, he had decided to man up for once in his life and push that aside for good.
He'd always known he was never on Tsurara's level, despite being from nobility while she was an underling, and her feelings for her commander had always been as clear as day, even though he would like to say otherwise. It would have been great if things went the opposite way, but denying the facts hadn't made anything better – that was why, at that point, Jirou had been forced to mature. None of that should matter at that moment because thinking further about it would only bring him grief, he had concluded.
The only thing that had mattered was Kana's need of a friendly shoulder.
It had taken what seemed like eternity, but she had eventually calmed down and, as expected, regretted every bit of her careless venting. Before he knew it, she had been apologizing and begging for his silence about it again, but that time, he had wanted to hear nothing of it. Making the situation the reverse of the events of the Haru Matsuri, he had drawn her closer to him by the shoulders and connected with her for nothing more than a few seconds. The sound of thunders outside had reminded him of the sound of the fireworks of that night as he backed off, just as confused as Kana was with himself.
As if switching roles, Jirou had made of that his own turn to apologize and beg for secrecy of his foolishness. He couldn't help but correct the brunette after she had muttered something about that having been her first kiss and had added that to his list of regrets. It had been when she questioned him about what he meant that he figured he had a lot of explanation to do. While he had done so, he observed her carefully, his senses working like never before, as if he had wanted to capture every single one of her movements and sounds. He had been able to tell she was a mixture of shame, exasperation, self-awareness and a lot more. But he hadn't been able to tell the most important.
His actions had drastically changed the way she saw him in a snap.
They had come to a deal after a couple of hours of clarification, forgiveness and reconciliation. The deal consisted in not only mutual confining of everything that had happened that afternoon to themselves, but also not hiding anything from each other. Just after Jirou had explained the situation Kana had put him in at the Matsuri, he had made sure she did the same and told him all that had led her to such a pitiful level, and she did. That included her talk with Tsurara – or else, Kana feared Jirou would have wanted to meddle in her affairs as with the impression that she had let her fiancé get away with murder because of her innocent love for him. And, in the midst of sealing their pact, Jirou had raised their childhood companions status to something like partners in crime as he rather determinately announced he was willing to help her and Tsurara with their façade. At the assurance of one more ally, Kana had felt like wings were fluttering inside her.
Trembling and sweating a little, the heiress went on with her narration. As predicted, the crowd had reacted with many gasps at the fact the trip to a neighbor town to fetch wedding clothes had been a lie. The truth was that the four young ladies – Kana, Tsurara, Saori and Natsumi – had spent the week prior to the wedding day as guests in the Shima household. Welcomed warmly by Jirou's parents, even though they were imposing on them, they had put their evil plan into motion after the maids were told everything and fully accepted Tsurara into their circle – not by Kana's order, but by themselves.
The reason why they had chosen to stay there and not at an inn was not only because Jirou's house was close to the town's shopping district, but also because Kana and Rikuo had been there before, and the latter had proven to be well-known around the area and visit it often. Since the nearby inns were all inside the district, the chances of the girls ending up meeting Rikuo in their week off to a supposed neighbor town weren't that slim and they hadn't wanted to risk it.
In said district was also Ukiyoe's most famous wedding raiment store, from where Wakana had pre-ordered Kana's own even before she had arrived in Japan. With everything ready, all there was left to do were the adjustments, which had been done on Tsurara instead. Thankfully, since she and Kana were almost the same size, it didn't make much of a difference.
Assisting them in every way possible, Jirou had done his best to get the big plans going. Consequently, that had given him a lot of time with the Ienaga heiress and with his own reflections about his feelings for her, as well as many chances of rather shy and clarifying conversations. In its own pace, the two had come to understand each other with their many common points, which had caused their relationship to evolve into something bigger.
Once Kana was done with her story, omitting many revealing details – especially about the development between Jirou and herself –, she sighed. Her only compensation for the most annoyingly cumbersome moment of her life and the hardest speech ever was how stupefied the people in her surroundings were. The scene was honestly almost comic and she had to hold back for a second not to do anything inappropriate. And the fact Rikuo was the one who seemed the most affected did not help her at all.
"But... that... How did you...? When was...?!" the white-haired young man trembled slightly, ignoring his aide's giggles of surprise and amusement and allowing the reality to sink in slowly.
So his childhood friend had pulled on him the same stunt as he had on her?
"While we were staying at Shima-kun's house, erm..." Kana cleared her throat while attempting to hide her embarrassment with a fist over her mouth, "some things happened."
"Wait, let me get this straight..." Zen raised his hand. Sighing while holding the bridge of his nose, his calm seemed to have flown the nest as he almost shouted, "basically, you guys had been cheating on each other all this time?!"
Both heirs went quiet at the question.
"Uwah, Zen-sama... so inconvenient..." Tsurara muttered from behind her wedding attire.
"W-W-Well, I wouldn't say that..." Kana cleared her throat again, the red of her cheeks extending to the very tip of her nose. "We've never really been together or committed to each other by our own mutual consent, s-so... I wouldn't call that 'cheating' a-at all." she stuttered a little, using a rather respectful tone.
"Ain't that just a less indecent way to put it?!" Aotabou clenched his fists, "Whether you wanted or not, you were still committed! It's cheating! Cheating!"
Kejourou rose from her seat, "Ao! Just how rude can you be?!"
"Eeh?! What is rude about me!? That girl was–"
"I'm saying you're too dense about things you don't understand!" she crossed her arms.
A vein popped on the monk's head, "What did you saaay?"
"Want to pick a fight, huh~?" the brunette's hands downed to her notable hips, "Isn't it about time~?"
"Stop it, you two!" Kubinashi interfered, "It's not time to be quarreling!"
"And besides, Ahotabou, you're speaking to the mirror!" Amanojyaku immediately counter-argued, joining the other two and leaving the ignored ex-thief wordless, "Don't think you have the right to talk about indecency when you're a womanizer yourself! Either that, or you're just preying on my sister!"
"WHAT?!" in a rare moment of utter embarrassment, Aotabou's dark skin turned into a comic shade of red.
"Yeah, I see the way you look at her!" the Toono man shot him an accusing index finger. "Her butt, that is."
"My, my..." Awashima mused, "Nura-gumi main house is totally not what I had once thought..."
"Don't you act all innocent!" her twin brother gritted his teeth with strength enough to break the stick in his mouth, which he had been biting onto for quite a while, "You've been aware of it all this time!"
"Oops~! Sorry, sorry~!" The younger sibling attempted a sexy pose while winking, "In defense of this nice body, please forgive me~!"
"Ah! I forgive!" Amezou shot up.
"Like I would!" Amanojyaku pushed his golden-eyed comrade aside.
"Hey, speaking of that, there's something I want to say to you about this, Awashima." Itaku cut in, "Just sit there and listen quietly!"
"Hmph! Are you my Oyaji or something?" the blonde retorted.
"Well, I am Akagappa-sama's successor. You'll soon be in my care, whether you want it or not. And I'd never have a kid like you!" Itaku crossed his arms authoritatively, "Besides, you are..."
"Come on~! I'm just trying to find someone here!" the curvy woman huffed, "It's not like Itaku would understand, though. You have Reira!"
"Guh?!" with his face heating up, the kusari-gama wielder was speechless.
"But it's not like having Reira as a wife wouldn't be an every-day challenge." Amezou commented with a laugh, "Remember when she was a kid, always playing pranks on everybody?"
"Heh, who'd forget that?" Dohiko joined in, "She even once let him float down the village's river all the way to the sea!"
"Dohiko..." Amanojyaku whispered while pointing at Dohiko's nose, "nosebleed."
"Hah...!?" the older man gasped and automatically used his sleeve to clean the stain close to his mouth.
"You guys..." Itaku mumbled, managing to hold himself back.
"Ara, ara, darling... you're all red." Reira observed with a hand on her cheek.
"D-D-D-Dar...?!" even redder, the dark brown-haired young man stuttered.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about." Amezou deadpanned, throwing an accusing finger at the to-be-couple.
"Because Itaku... is a Tsundere~!" Yukari giggled.
"Tsundere sure give off an honesty-lacking feeling, don't they~?" Reira poked her husband-to-be, who was lacking a proper response to her teasing as well.
"Honestly, this is all so inappropriate..." Kurotabou said quietly to himself.
"You're the one to talk, Erotabou! Aren't you the same as your partner over there?" Setsura sent him a frosty look, "Even more inappropriate than being a pervert is being a pervert for younger girls."
"W-W-W-W-WHAT ARE YOU TALKING...?!"
"Kuro?! So you've finally made your move!" Kejourou blurted out, covering her mouth as soon as she received a glare from her comrade, understanding she had just ruined any possible arguments he could have used in his own defense.
"What?! Kuro's gotten a woman before me!?" Aotabou's astonishment was at its peak.
"So that young woman really was Kurotabou's... uh-oh." Kubinashi gave off a grin, which soon turned into a darkened frown as he put a hand on his chin. "As much as I'm happy about him... an assault officer... with a younger servant from another household... that's..."
"That's a proof he lives up to his nickname!" from the other side of the room, Saori shouted angrily as never before, "And you, Natsumi! Why didn't you tell me you were being harassed by this... this..."
Natsumi shrank back a little, "EEEH?! W-Wha...?! I-I-I was not being harassed at all, I...!" She stopped for a moment, before regaining her posture and positioning herself forward, her hands forming fists against her chest, "Wait, what about Maki? You've been hiding it all along, too, that you had been meeting this guy for the past days!"
"Whaaaat?!" it was Saori's turn to shrink back as her jaw dropped, "Where did you get this idea from?!"
Natsumi could only giggle mischievously, "It's very convenient his and Shima-sama's houses are so close to each other, isn't it?"
Blushing slightly, Kiyotsugu took Maki's wordlessness as an opportunity to speak, "Oh, my, Maki-shin~! Looks like we've been discovered~!"
"I-Idiot, you're too noisy!" Saori whispered with a hand over her mouth and another pinching the brunet's arm. Still, she knew whatever she attempted to do to cover up for what he had just said would be useless, given that everybody had already heard his purposely loud words.
"It doesn't matter now, does it~?" In all his never-ending enthusiasm, Kiyotsugu took one of her hands and started babbling incessantly, "Now, Maki-shin! Why don't we do it like Nura-kun and Oikawa-kun and get married?! Ah~! A hidden master-servant relationship! My parents would surely oppose to it, but now that we have those two as example, we can prove that it would be worth–"
"Hyaaah!? Shut uuup!" the automatic reaction from the maid was to punch the wavy-haired young man, nearly knocking him unconscious but successfully keeping him silent, except for inaudible muttering.
"Fufu~! You were really taking it seriously, I see~!"
"Don't you laugh!" the blonde best friend shot Natsumi a glare, soon receiving a hug in return.
Seeing the scene, Ryuuji crossed his arms with his usual scowl, "Heh, even the maids? I knew it... this place is filled with indecency. That's one of the clearest differences between our households. We are like black and white, after all. Our morals are absolu... Yura?"
"Eh?! W-W-What is it, Nii-chan?" sensing her brother's suspicious stare upon her, Yura turned around, stammering uncontrollably. Mentally, she cursed herself for giving it away that what was currently happening reminded her of her own situation regarding her orange-haired indirect kin and how she was no longer fitting of said morals.
"You seem to have something to say... or, rather, are you sick? You're so ridiculously red I can see it even in this darkness..." Ryuuji pointed out, his low lids narrowing.
"I-I-I... Not at all!" the young family head lied, her marvelous acting skills condemning her slippery and vague façade.
"Oh, really? You seem to be hiding something..." Ryuuji came closer for his youngest sibling's shaking form to hear his still voice in the midst of the noise around them. "It couldn't have anything to do with what's going on, could it?"
Completely stiff and wide-eyed, Yura took a little too long to react to the sharp deduction. As the look she was receiving became one of utter disapproval, she already knew what was coming next.
"No way... my little sister... this kind of thing..." Ryuuji muttered, his left eye having rapid spasms.
"Hey, what's going on there?" Masatsugu inquired, adjusting his glasses.
"Oho~! Could it be a sibling fight~?" Pato asked, his cheerful personality not affected by the heavy air.
Ignoring the duo, Ryuuji continued, "As I thought... you and Mamiru... ever since that night... the two of you hugging..."
"Kyaah?! R-Ryuuji-nii-chan saw that?!" Yura said without thinking, the desire to slap herself following suit.
"I knew it!" her brother's mouth going even deeper downwards.
"Oi, oi, Yura... even you?" Koreto sweat-dropped with an awkward smile. "Then again, Ryuuji... what's the problem with that?"
"Yeah, Mamiru is a good man. He's prominent and trustable, and we're from the same house... it's much better than Yura's last crush." Shuuji joined in, "You know, the Nura brat over there..."
With blood rushing all the way to her neck, Yura let her voice tone rising uncontrollably, "W-W-WHAT DID YOU SAY?! I NEVER–"
"Shut up! You two, you're saying you're okay with this?!" Ryuuji questioned his two brothers without actually waiting for a reply while swiftly taking a piece of paper out of his black cloak – an onmyou talisman used for exorcising rituals. "That's no good! Yura, stay put! I'll purify you!"
"WAAH~~~~~!?" in a failed trial to escape in the small space she was given to sit, Yura screamed. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING~~~?! STUPID OLDER BROTHER~~~~!" she panicked as Ryuuji managed to grab a strand of her long, nearly black brown hair and put his talisman in position.
"This is getting ugly, you guys—ugh!?" in his attempts to stop them, Akifusa was accidentally hit in the stomach.
"Mamiru is lucky not to be here right now, but I'll make sure to purify him as well!" Ryuuji declared, "Such indecent relationship... I won't allow it!"
"I-It's not like it depends on you!" knowing she no longer could deny anything, Yura slapped her brother's hand away. "That's right; I'm the leader now! Don't oppose to me! I'm higher than you!"
"Should we interfere, Ojii-sama?" Momoishi quietly asked Hidemoto.
"Hm... I don't think anything we do would ever work." strangely calm, the elder crossed his arms. "Those two are always unstoppable when it comes to this..."
On the other side of the wedding hall, Nurarihyon smirked at his grandson, casually leaning close to someone, "I guess you could say life has some huge surprises stored up... I would have never imagined that my grandson... and your daughter..."
"Ufufu... I guess that makes us in-laws now. Hey, Nurarihyon, fill me up." Setsura said with a smirk as she pulled a cup of Sake from within her kimono. "Those two better give us beautiful grand and great grandchildren."
"You shouldn't drink so much, Setsura." the short geezer complained, for once acting as the old man he was. Nevertheless, he still borrowed a bottle of alcohol from Dassai's endless stock.
Meanwhile, as Gozumaru finished his own, Mezumaru could only giggle, "Ufufufu... Gozumaru~!"
"Ugh... why are you looking at me like that, Stupid Mezu?" wiping his mouth, and surprisingly sober, Gozumaru glared his partner. The blue-haired boy, however, kept taunting him instead of giving a proper answer. Still glaring, Gozumaru was about to resort to hitting him, until Kuroumaru stepped in.
"I think he means to say your feelings are pretty clear." Blunt and serious as always, the deep blue-eyed young man placed a friendly hand on the Gyuuki-gumi's Wakagashira's shoulder.
"W-What are you talking about?!" Gozumaru raised his voice without actual need, his face darkened and sweating.
"I have to admit I was rooting for you at some point, but..." Kuroumaru looked at Rikuo, then closed his eyes as he held his chin in a seemingly troubled fashion, "now that the situation has come to this..."
"Idiots! That's not it!" Gozumaru protested, a blush mixing with his features.
"Nope~!" Mezumaru teased in a sing-song voice, "No matter how we look at it, you like her~!"
"Just you wait!" Gozumaru glared daggers at him, "I'm gonna kill Rikuo and Yukinko!"
"Everyone, can't you be in order?!" Karasu Tengu asked the Kumi and guests before him as loudly as he could.
"You stupid crow! Instead of trying to stop them, you should be taking them as example!" his wife retorted accusingly, "What about you?! Can't you be more like a proper husband?! What would you do if I was taken by another man?!"
"That would put me in a spot." Karasu Tengu answered honestly, his expression and voice doing a 180-degree flip, "I love you, after all."
"How shameless! Would you not say that in front of everyone, you little–" about to get up, Nuregarasu was held back by her three eldest children, who had their arms on her Sake-reeking form as soon as they sensed her violent side about to come out. Giving them the same look of disapproval as she had given her husband, she continued, "And you, too, three siblings! You always leave me doing housekeeping alone! Coming home only once a year... don't gimme that! You may work at the main house, but Takao-san is still your place!"
No matter what direction he looked at, from his seat, all Rikuo could see in the scene before him was pure and simple chaos. As the situation got more and more out of proportion, it seemed that every single hairy fact about everyone in the room was being exposed at once, his own with his aide having been the starting mark. While he watched it all with amusement, he could only take one conclusion.
They were all the same.
Society, rules, mutual respect – everything that prevented people from having their intimacy being brought up seemed not to exist anymore. Without them in the way, Rikuo was able to confirm it that he wasn't the only one with a dark and compromising secret amongst his trustworthy companions. But the way they were all being so incredibly childish about them was just too comic – something he had never imagined he would ever see. And his reaction to the dangerous situation that ensued ahead of him, after a while of gawking and wide-eyed staring, was obvious.
It had started off with a snort, which had caused him to cover his mouth automatically. He found himself shaking as he was able to stay restrained for a few seconds. Once he was aware he was being heard by the three people that were sitting next to him, he couldn't care about it any longer. His laughter gradually became full-fledged and echoed through the whole room, replacing everybody's voices as they died one by one. With his cheeks hurting and his eyelids squeezed shut, Rikuo couldn't see the odd looks everybody was giving him as he dried a few tears. As much as his insides begged him to stop and take a breath, it seemed out of cogitation as he became inaudible from time to time, aware everybody was watching his young-spirited self's breakthrough.
It was just as carefree and gleeful as it was contagious.
The heart-warming sound increased, and Rikuo could finally open his eyes again. What he found only made him want to laugh harder, regardless of his limitations as a human due to lack of air, since the scene was just too happily pleasant. The arguments had ceased and nearly every single soul in the hall shared with him the same long and loud laughter in surprising harmony. Beside him, his aide's merry and high-pitched one was the one that he could distinguish the best, and, for whatever reason, it made him want to embrace her as tightly as possible. Even if he couldn't yet do so, somehow, the word was suddenly a wonderful place and absolutely nothing hurt anymore.
That was doubtlessly the best day of his life so far.
It had taken a while, but once everybody had calmed down and the sounds of laughter were almost gone, someone from the crowd shouted, "Well, what's your response to all of this, Sandaime?"
"Huh...?" Rikuo raised his head, simultaneously attempting to steady his heartbeats and find whoever had made the question.
"You know what we mean~!" came another voice from the dark back. "You'll be settling with Yuki Onna, right~?"
"Geh...?!" at the playful and suggestive looks everybody had started giving him, Rikuo knew his face was no longer rosy only from laughing as he gagged, in a complete loss of proper reasoning.
"No need to say anything else, Rikuo-sama! We get it!" Shouei said while coughing slightly, easily reading his friend and master's mood.
"Hm... so that's how it is..." Aotabou said lowly to himself while some cheering started to form. "Rikuo-sama and Yuki Onna, huh... doesn't seem... that bad..."
"It's happening! THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING! FINALLY!" Nattou-Kozou jumped continuously with flailing arms.
"Uooh?! Zen-sama is so happy he's vomiting blood!" Ko-Oni screamed upon seeing the medic let everything out in his haori.
"Okay, this calls in for an all-night-long celebration!" Kiyotsugu shouted excitedly, seeming to have recovered from all the pain he had previously suffered from his recently-claimed lover.
"Oh, my. There's not enough Sake~" about to take his leave, Kubinashi was held from behind. His back meeting with a tall structure, he was able to immediately tell Kichijirou was grabbing ahold of him, his expression still as ever.
"Hey, Kubinashi, you lady-killer~! Are you giving an excuse to run away~? I'm taking you with me~!" Seisuke nearly purred as he carefreely dug a bottle of Sake down his blond friend's mouth. Slightly trembling in fear, Kubinashi uselessly struggled.
"Cheers, Kino~!" unaware of what was happening behind them, Shiragiku and Kejourou made a toast – the former with a cup and the latter with an entire barrel.
"Are we going along with this?" while observing the mess that was restarting, Yura asked her brother, "It seems fun."
"Tch. Whatever." Ryuuji merely scowled, his nerves seeming to have calmed down. By the looks of it, in the meantime he had stopped, some reflection had been done. "Why are you even asking, anyways? Weren't you the one bragging about your authority and all just now? You, who can't even make onigiri..."
"Don't be a pain and just eat them!" After giving the brunet one last glare, Yura turned to the rest of her family with a bright smile, "Alright, everyone! We're joining in! Follow me, your leader!"
"We're joining it too, right, Kana-sama?" Natsumi asked while approaching her mistress, smiling slightly as she seemed to have recovered from all the embarrassment of earlier. Saori, however, did not have the same nerve.
"Hm." Kana nodded, returning the smile. "You two are free for now."
Her feline-like eyes gleaming, Natsumi's lips curled up in a way that made her look even more like a cat. She turned around, ready to look for her all-time hero and husband-to-be, only to find herself facing his broad chest the next second. As she looked up, her grin grew wider at the handsome man gazing fondly at her. Said man's own grin was soon erased by the sight of a blonde glaring fixatedly at him from nearby. Awkwardly, he opened his mouth, as if meaning to say something, but closed it as she responded by sighing.
"It's fine. You can explain everything later." she said understandingly, as though reading his mind. "Now's not the right time."
"You have a lot of explaining to do yourself, too~!" Natsumi reminded cheerfully.
"Argh! I get it, I get it!" Saori waved her friend dismissively.
"This time, I hope we're able to talk things out smoothly..." Kurotabou wished out loud.
"Well... now I can kind of relate with you two, so I... think I get it already." Saori looked away, rubbing the back of her neck, "Besides, you... you're the guy Natsumi chose! You'd better honor her decision! Or else..."
"Leave it to me..." he tipped his sugegasa at her, which he had the habit of wearing even indoors, with his fond expression back, "Saori-san."
"It's 'Ane-sama' for you!" the maid demanded, her index finger up high and authority burning within her.
"Wha...!?" he almost choked while his ponytailed companion merely giggled.
From a certain distance, Kana observed the scene with a smile, kneeling down to get the wig she'd dropped a while before and taking it in her hands. She got carried away while taking her favorite traditional hair ornaments out of it to put on herself and didn't notice Jirou coming closer until he tapped her shoulder lightly. She turned around to face his adorably nervous form, letting it get to her as well.
"I... Ienaga-san. Hum..." he shyly twirled his thumbs, "I know it's not the best time to ask something like this, but... can you reconsider your deal with Oikawa-san?"
"Huh?" with the ornaments in her right hand, Kana let go of the wig with the left without noticing.
"C-C-Could you... you know... instead of staying here until you're able to sort out your life..." the blond's voice lowered more and more as he spoke, "Wh-What do you think of moving in with me?"
"I..." almost backing up, Jirou hesitated for a moment, before keeping his ground and finding the courage to look at Kana in the eyes, "plan on proposing to Ienaga-san properly someday. I'll make Ienaga-san my bride. T-That's why..."
Watching the boy trail off, Kana lowered her head, thinking for a while. Just when he seemed to be about to say something again, she gave her answer, although her voice tone didn't have the same impact as the one he had used, "O... Okay."
Visibly stunned, Jirou had his jaw agape for longer than he would like to admit before sputtering, "R-Really?"
Still with her head down, Kana knew he had joined her as soon as she reached out to hold his hand gently with a barely audible, "Hm." Her heart pounding loudly in her ears, she almost forgot about the riot in the room as her mind seemed to be occupied with something else.
Her dreams had come true in a way.
Although happiness did come to her, it was not how she had planned it would have. All in all, she decided it was better to wish to be caught by surprise in life, always following the paths she believed that were the best. She'd learned she would be greatly compensated if she did so, and had no regrets whatsoever, but a strong feeling of fulfillment instead. She was sure it came from the air, which brimmed with glee that she knew would not be there had she been the one in the wedding altar. It was a confirmation that things were much better like as they were, and she had grown to be fond of that fact.
"PLEASE TAKE CARE OF OUR NEE-SAMA, SANDAIME!" the Tsurara-gumi members shouted in unison, bowing to the white-haired youngster, "SHARII~!"
"Don't you mean the other way around?" Gyuuki asked bandly.
"That's what aides are for, anyways." Gozumaru commented as he rested his head on one hand, adding under his breath, "That bastard needs her more than anyone, anyways..."
"Oh, so you think about those kinds of things~?" Mezumaru didn't miss the opportunity again, "Gozumaru is that much of a caring type~?"
"N... Nee-san...!" one of the Awarashi members found himself on the verge of tears.
"DON'T CRY, IDIOT! THIS IS TSURARA-NEE-SAN'S WISH! ALL WE CAN DO IS TO WATCH HER OFF HAPPILY!"
"ALL THE BEST FOR YOU, NEE-SAN!" another one said whole-heartedly.
"It's not like she's going anywhere, though..."
"Waaah... waah... wah~~~?!" like a baby, Rikuo could only stammer words that wouldn't come out in any understandable way.
"Hehe... looks like they already know what Waka will say." the Sandaime wasn't that pleased to see his aide enjoying the situation – it was the opposite of what usually happened when he teased her. "But still... I'd like to hear it for myself." becoming serene in a heartbeat, yet eager as a bird about to fly, Tsurara turned around to face her commander's messy self, "Well, Rikuo-sama? Your answer?"
Fully face-to-face with her, Rikuo went stiff like a rock. The room then grew eerie yet again with the only thing that could be heard being everyone's breathing as they fixated on the evening's most important two. His lips parted, Rikuo was in one of his moments of slow motion, as if attempting to improvise a cool way to close the lock with a golden key.
As usual, he seemed to have found it, and simply smirked.
The Nura brides were, much like their life-partners, known to be unique creatures. Also pretty much like their husbands, all of them had one thing in common that bound them all together. In the most accurate of the analogies, they were like the yearly seasons.
The Kumi's founder's wife, Youhime, was just like spring. Her royal beauty, which was considered Kyouto's number one for very long, and extremely delicate and caring persona seemed to be the human form of the Sakura that bloomed during the beginning of the warmer months of the year. Beautiful and frickle, she calmed the hearts of those who laid eyes on her. Coincidentally, she had been born in spring, in a time when the Sakura of Ukiyoe were at full bloom; that was one of the reasons of her name, which was a direct reference to them. It was also why she liked to spend her free time viewing the magnificent Sakura of the Nura mansion that, contradicting nature itself, was able to keep its flowers during spring and summer, only losing them when autumn's coldness arrived. Ironically enough, the blooming of the Sakura, which she was so often compared with by her beloved husband, only lasted for three days – it could be taken as an allusion to her short lifespan compared to his, as she had passed away at a rather young age.
The Nidaime's wife, Nura Wakana, was the personification of summer. She was tomboyish, radiant and lively – as ironic as it could be, the complete opposite of her husband's first wife. Perceptive and understanding, she was always energetic and ready to help whoever needed. She was also quite a bit the cheerful one, willing to go to the depths of hell just to make the ones she cherished happy. That had pretty much been the first thing to bind her to the love of her life, as it had been what he was in need of when they had first met. Successfully, she had been the first person able to make him smile after he had spent years in dim and hopelessness over the loss of his first woman, and for that, she had been very well-accepted by everyone in the Nura-gumi after she was asked her hand.
Before Wakana, Nura Rihan had been married to Yamabuki Otome, who was like the representation of autumn. She was calm, reserved, classy and, despite never being able to give birth, motherly. No matter how much she and her husband tried, it seemed she was just unable to become pregnant, and that not only upset the couple, but the whole Kumi. Something that also didn't make anything better was the fact she used to be a teacher. Being in contact with kids every day had been both a pain-causer and a pain-killer. After a while, she had become depressed, and, no matter how much her companions or his father tried to cheer her up, she had been certain she would only be pushing them down for not being able to bear a child – even because Rihan had made it clear he had no intentions on getting married to anyone else. And so, one night, she ran away, the only evidence she had escaped on her own will being a letter left for her recently ex-husband with a branch of the plant she had been named after.
And, finally, Sandaime Nura Rikuo's wife was the very figure of winter. She could be as merciless and fearful as a strong blizzard, but at the same time, as gentle and refreshing as melted snow. Much like nature, which was always willing to lose its beauty not to give in to the freezing times, she was always ready to give up any and every thing for the ones she loved. Similar to snow and ice, which easily scattered and shattered within the winter winds, she had gone through many hard times to be with the one she had wanted to share her life with, but her strong feelings would only continue to pile up along the process.
An amused and happy smile formed on the eighteen-year-old Tsurara's lips as she admired the sight before her, walking carefully through the dark streets of Ukiyoe, which were now quite slippery due to the reason why that night particularly pretty – snow. Silently and slowly, little white dots descended from the moon-less sky, creating a scenery that, combined with the lack of people and the special beauty of the noble streets, looked almost as surreal as a dream. For the flawless moment to become complete, only one thing was missing.
Or had been missing.
"How dangerous... walking alone at night..." a deep masculine voice spoke from a couple of meters behind Tsurara, stopping her trail of thoughts and making the smile fade from her face, replaced with a surprised gawk and a sweat drop.
"Rikuo-sama...?!" as the aide spun around, she found herself half-speaking, half-gasping. She stared at her commander, who carried his grandfather's favorite red umbrella over her and himself.
"You'll get wet." he said as he gently whipped melting snow from the top of her head.
Blinking a few times as the touch confirmed she wasn't imagining things, Tsurara's surprised look changed into a questioning one, "Did you... come just to pick me up?"
"Let's just leave that as that." he brushed her off, the corners of his lips lifting a bit more, "So, how was it today at Nishikigoi? Everything okay with the Awarashi Family?"
"A-Absolutely!" she answered gleefully, shooting him a warm smile.
"I see..." he let out a satisfied sigh and, for a second, his burgundy eyes fell down from her adorable face to her slender grown-up figure, stopping right at her empty belly. He slid his eyelids shut before she could notice where he had been glancing at and stepped forward.
In the aftermath of all he had been doing to her before and since the two of them had gotten married, it was very ironic that the couple had opted for still keeping their virginity. The reason why they hadn't consummated their union the night after it had been officialized was that everyone had come to the agreement they were too young for doing so even when Kana was the bride. That was why they were free to choose when to do it on their own accord – not that anyone had been expecting them to be giving the Nura-gumi its fourth generation that soon. But it was rather awkward for the current Soudaishou to have to admit he was still not feeling ready for that special night, his only comfort being that neither was his lovely wife. And what didn't make things any better was the fact that, now that they were no longer underage, they were starting to be pressured by the elder clan members, especially Karasu Tengu. They could see where it was coming from, as they were the only young married couple of the Kumi that didn't have a child, and that fact had no means of going unnoticed by the clansmen for too long.
Back at the great Toono household, Itaku had been announced as Akagappa's successor and married his fiancée the year before. Reira was now about to have the first child of the Toono Ikka's next generation. Also in the year before, Kurotabou had finally gained enough courage to assume his relationship with one of the two maids that had come to Japan with Kana, and the two had been blessed with a little girl. The second happy family was living at the Nura main house, but Natsumi planned on spending her days serving her mistress as soon as she was ready to be back to work. With all the help she received from her partner, she was sure she'd be able to do so as soon as her daughter no longer needed breast-feeding. Although that would take a while, Kana had promised to wait for her.
Meanwhile, Natsumi's co-worker's situation was a little more complicated. The wish to be back to serving Kana as soon as she could adjust her life was the same, but that, in and of itself, was a different case for her. Kiyotsugu had been miraculously able to convince his family to let him marry a mere maid and sire an heir with her. Little Kiyoemon was a perfectly healthy and energetic boy that brimmed with curiosity and odd interests, just like his father, and was anxiously waiting for his up-coming sibling. Both young parents hoped the next one could be a girl – one that would look more like her mother. In contrast, Jirou and Kana had their precious Ara, who was her mother's splitting image, and were expecting another one, hoping to have a boy next. Such a thing was understandable, as the two wouldn't want their dear daughter to end up in a similar situation as her mother's regarding her childhood friend – in other words, with an arranged marriage due to the lack of a male heir.
Even at the household that once had been enemy territory, Yura and Mamiru had been granted everybody's approval and, ignoring Ryuuji's slight reluctance, were able to get married and had two children. Ryuuta and Yuri were very similar to their mother and uncle in personality and relationship, and would probably compete for the title of family head in the future, given it that the Keikain did not seem to care about gender issues. As far as Rikuo was aware, the kids had also been a huge help in Mamiru's process of recovery from a serious brain problem, caused by an injury he had suffered years before. The still-nicknamed "Youkai" would never miss a chance to tease Yura about her new life.
Whenever the current Soudaishou thought about all those couples that happened to have been well on their way to a "happily ever after", as people would call it, he couldn't unsee their points in common with his own love life. Their stories couldn't have remained secret after so much time, and so he had had the opportunity to get to know how each one had happened. His conclusion about it was that all of them seemed to be following a similar course in no particular order, as if the couples were mirroring each other – as if their red threads of destiny were intimately intertwined. If that was correct, his loving mate and himself were still bound to have many other similarities with them.
In short, their turn was probably coming soon – there was no need for rush.
"Shall we head home?" he offered, attempting to keep his pose.
"Yes!" Tsurara responded instantly, taking her everlasting place beside him.
While the two walked the short rest of way home in comfortable silence, Rikuo was already prepared for the saluting of the Nura mansion's residents. His ears would be filled with their welcoming greetings, which always warmed his heart, regardless of the predominance of rough male voices in it. But every time, the sight of his loyal vassals waiting for his return, lined up on both sides of the entrance and bowing respectfully at him, would have more effect. It reminded him that his place was a wild one, full of scary people, all having pledged themselves to serve him. It reminded him of how grateful he was for each and every one of them to be fine and in one piece, despite their lifestyle. It reminded him of how lucky he was to have companions like them and made him wonder what would be of him without them.
And that also reminded him of those who were already gone.
It had taken a while to accept it himself, but Rikuo now had no doubts that he really had been visited by his late father on the day of his wedding. It had not been his imagination or any sort of hallucination whatsoever – he had been convinced of that much at the very wedding ceremony. That day, after the fuss had at last settled down, he and Tsurara made their vows, drank the ceremonial sake, and held hands. They had been both cheered and jeered, but were too busy immersed in their own worlds to care as they got up and prepared to go where the actual party was going to be held. With the intentions of leaving the wedding hall in an organized manner, as the ones to clean up the mess would be the clan members themselves, the exiting order had been from the back to the front, meaning the last people to leave would be the ones at the room's raised area.
It was right after the newly-weds came out that it had happened again – Rikuo had that feeling of his soul being assaulted by something. He had recognized it with a chill down his spine – it was the same of when his father had approached him in his room. Not letting go of his aide and wife, he had stopped for a moment, looking at the direction of his precious weeping Sakura tree. His first thought upon doing so had been a question to himself – when was it that the tree had reached full-bloom? But he had soon forgotten about it once he laid his eyes on the tree's base, where three figures seemed to be standing idly at. Rikuo's heartbeats had almost come to a halt as he identified them.
The very people whose pictures were on the ceremony hall's wall.
With his back facing his son, the Nura-gumi's former head had seemed to be walking towards his first wife and mother. The two women's smiles had seemed to extend to the Sandaime as well once Rihan had come to them, taking Yamabuki Otome's hand in his. Following them, Rihan himself had also turned around to give his son a broad grin – one that had transmitted his pride and joy better than any words he could possibly offer.
The Sun that had been setting completely hid behind the mountains on that second, and a flash of its reddish lights boomed in Rikuo's vision. His instinctive reaction had been to blink, only to find the trio gone once he could see again. For some reason, he had been suddenly struck with the idea it was the last time he was ever going to have a sight like that or hear his father's voice, and he couldn't say that didn't make sense. It was a common belief that when one died, they wouldn't be able to rest in peace until the matters of their leaves were settled for good. If that was really the case, perhaps, to Rihan, his unsolved matter was the marriage he had agreed to arrange for his own son.
Unlike the day he had to bid his father good-bye for the first time, Rikuo hadn't felt any sort of confusion, abandonment or emptiness. In fact, he had been invaded with a level of peace of spirit he had never experienced before. He had felt he had been able to do what he had missed the night his father had suddenly passed away.
Just when Rikuo had thought the day couldn't get any better, even those who belonged to the afterlife had come to brush the deepest parts of his heart with kindness, bringing to him their wishes for his eternal happiness through their actions. To him, that had also been one more confirmation what had just happened, defying every logic he knew, was real.
Tsurara had called him a few times, tugging his sleeve and sounding a little worried. He had then become more self-aware at how weird he must have looked while staring at nothingness with a smile and watery eyes. Once he had wiped his tears discreetly, he had dismissed her and Karasu Tengu's worries, receiving a little assistance from the Kokehime Jinja's Miko. The small girl had seemed to be the only one not judging him for his strange behavior, giggling a bit, as though passing off a know-it-all air.
Kokehime was obviously familiar with supernatural matters, which had given Rikuo the impression she really could be aware of something the other two weren't. He had heard it somewhere that the young brunette was rumored to be the reincarnation of the Kokehime Jinja's guardian deity as well as her descendant – hence why the former had been named after the latter. His doubts about that were no more.
Even in the current days, Rikuo debated with himself whether he should tell Tsurara about what he had seen at that moment or not, as her possible reaction to it preoccupied him a little. But, as always, he decided he would think about it later. Now what he wanted was to find out why she was laughing with herself. Knowing that her husband and master was probably looking weirdly at her for it, she mentally decided to keep her feelings to herself in her heart, even if he questioned her.
Those had been wonderful three years, yet she was amused with how she herself sometimes still struggled to believe they had finally become a couple, regardless of having been doing couple-like things like those almost their entire lives with each other. That was probably due to how, some time before, she used to think such a thing was limited to her dreams alone. She couldn't be happier to be proved wrong every day.
Unknown to her, her husband was exactly the same.
Leaving his curiosity aside, not wanting to break the comfortable silence, Rikuo looked around and, seeing there was no one nearby, he slowly and carefully slid his fingers in-between Tsurara's. She glanced up to meet a stoic mask on his face as he pretended not to notice her eyes on him. There was a rare tint of red on his cheeks, and she was sure it was not just because of the cold. She let it slide with yet another laugh, not wishing to erase the calm atmosphere either. And, just like that, he walked with her to the place he protected with all his might, his insides melting with the certainty of one thing.
That night, much like the many wonderful moments they had and would have together, would be forever engraved in their hearts.
~Kurushii na Kokoro – End~