The raven-haired Souhei lay silently yet not quite peacefully by the base of the Nura-gumi's most charming tree, absent-mindedly watching the hanabi spectacle kilometers away, the noise of flash powder popping in the distance barely audible in his ears. Upon staring blankly at the gorgeous scene, his mind found itself elsewhere, back at what he had heard from his emerald-eyed friend that evening.

"What I'm saying, Kuro, is that you..." she paused for a moment, her head dropping down almost loosely as she stared a little awkwardly at the tatami while fixing her hair without real need to. "you are..." she had tried to continue, but yet again she stopped, looking anywhere but his face as she seemed to be trying to find the best way to tell him what she had in mind.

After a couple of seconds, Kuro's rising interest seemed to be taking the better of him as he felt the need to press on slightly, or else, he would most likely be left in the dark. "I am...?"

Kejourou then understood she would have no success in her search for words, and so she decided to just be blunt at once. With a sigh, she finally raised her eyes to meet his, with no hints of doubts or suggestion in them, just plain affirmation as she suddenly seemed to have become serious. "...in love."

The man had to admit that it had taken a little more than normal for him to process the information. But, once he did, his reaction surprised even himself.

He did nothing.

Both were silent after the two words, the onyx-eyed male finally understanding his comrade's slight embarrassment in saying something like that to someone like him, who, in his glorious twenty years of age, hadn't had a single girlfriend. And, with that, she retired, probably thinking he needed some time to himself, and leaving his half-eaten dinner with him. The meal, however, wasn't touched anymore, for he seemed to have completely lost his little appetite.

While stuck all alone in his dark place, he seemed to also have started having some difficulties to breathe. He felt pressured. It was as if his room was getting smaller and the walls coming closer. As he started to feel a little suffocated, he opened the shouji doors that led to the garden and nearly desperately threw himself outside, walking a bit before collapsing in a sitting position onto the grass, his back landing on the Sakura's thick trunk. Steadying his breath after a couple of minutes with the help of the humid and refreshing outside air, he had started thinking with himself, which took much more than he expected as he found out it had already become night time and he was still in the same place.

In those hours of reflection, his mind had been wandering around and about many things, one of them being the fact that he wasn't considering the possibility of Kejourou's assumption being wrong, and the reason why was beyond him. After all, if she were talking about any other woman, he was downright sure he would have protested and argued against the very moment she gave him that kind of look, no matter how certain she could seem to be about it. But, this time, with this girl, why didn't he do that? Why was it that, instead, he caught himself continuously trying to actually accept the idea of being in love with her instead of contesting it, regardless of how impossible it seemed for him to be falling for a common, poor little maid?

What was it that made her an exception? What was it that he could have seen in her? What was it that could be so special about her?

Perhaps... perhaps it had been how she had seemed instantly relieved and utterly happy to have been able to look at him in the eyes again for the first time in so long, when they finally met again in that hateful alley. That single eye contact had made colors boom all over his vision, as if the grey, repetitive world he used to live in had suddenly become brighter. Perhaps it had been how she had caused him to feel really satisfied to have her comfortable in his arms one more time, as if she had always belonged there. Or perhaps, it had been how she had literally tempted him to the point he had found himself leaning too dangerously close to her after he was done with her foot, as if he was involuntarily going to try something like... like kissing. In resume, she indeed did have some strange effects on him, as if she was some sort of drug.

The question then had become: how was it that, being she was just an ordinary girl, she could be so "addictive" to him?

Lost across the borders of his own messed thoughts and feelings, Kurotabou didn't take notice of the sound of steps onto the cracking grass or the presence of a certain someone coming closer to him. At least, not until he felt a warm little hand reaching his shoulder gently with a faint "excuse me" from a timid feminine voice that, upon jumping slightly from his sitting position, he didn't recognize. As he was unintentionally startled, the momentary surprise he was distracted enough to be caught off-guard from behind for the first time in seven years made him instinctively seize the hand's owner by the wrist with a fast movement, knocking them over in an intimidating but not hurtful act, in which he earned a quick yelp by whoever he now had in his hold, lying beneath him on the damp grass.

As a pair of onyx cat-like eyes began to register in his field of vision, a drop of sweat uneasily broke through his forehead and blood began to accumulate in his cheeks. His eyes widened significantly as the full image of the one he was on top of formed before him, just the ones looking back at him were doing. "Na..." he sputtered at the young woman panting hardly to stable her heartbeats from the shock, her arms unsteadily trembling from both of her sides against the Souhei's not painful hold and her beautifully loose hair spread freely, "Natsumi-san...!"

Could the situation be any worse?

Panic soon took over him as he realized she was now probably going to think he had the worst intentions with his actions. He saw her mouth trying to open, a bright blush forming on her cheeks just like it was on his, and a probably huge trouble coming. Whatever she was going to do next, if he was to ever try stopping her, he would only seem fishier, so the best that he could do was most likely to let her do it, and later he could try to explain himself. Still, even if he was free of any fault, he seriously doubted that girl was ever going to spare him a glance again.

And, as odd as it could seem, that was what scared him the most about it all.

"I-I-I…" her wavering voice stammered. He immediately closed his eyes, knowing there wouldn't be time to redeem even if he backed up and apologized, as he waited for whatever kind of merciless and dirty things she was probably going to call hi– "I'm so sorry!"

Again that day, Kurotabou had unusual problems to take in what he had just heard. But this time, once he did, he didn't stay quiet at all, despite his shock. Though all he was able to manage was a confused, "Y-Yes...?"

What followed suit was the brunette proceeding to babble on many things, most of them about how sorry she was to disturb and scare him. Meanwhile, all he could do was to watch her embarrassed form as she tried not to look at him no matter what, wondering just what could possibly be going on that girl's mind. Any other woman would have been feeling violated at that point, perfectly screamed for help, or tried to struggle out of his hold. Well, either that or just lie there and let him do whatever he looked like he was going to. Any other woman – not this one. This one seemed to be too air-headed to do anything of the sort.

"Air-headed"? No, rather "too innocent".

Innocent, pure and simple-minded, just like a child. She was most likely able to notice she had caught him unprepared, and that his response had not been given with any malicious intents – that was Torii Natsumi for you. Everything that resumed her being seemed to be the complete opposite of the life the Souhei had and all it represented. With that realization, Kurotabou's eyes suddenly snapped wide open for a second, which the stuttering made didn't see while keeping her gaze on the grass, and then they warmed in apparent relief and joy as everything around him seemed not to exist anymore, not even the voice of the girl right beneath him, a smile making its way to his lips – genuine, full-fledged smile, something even rarer than a smile itself (at least, for him).

"I see..." the brunette immediately stopped all her movements to look up at the Souhei with her hands instinctively flying to her chest, trying to hear clearly whatever he seemed to be muttering to himself and blushing harder at the sight of his facial expression, which bore nothing but happiness, "so that was it."

"'T-That was' what, Kurotabou-sa...?" Natsumi began, but was never able to finish her sentence.

After all, there was no way she could speak with a mouth sealing her own.

It had been sudden, but not quick, and a little forced, but not aggressive or painful in any way. Last time Kurotabou had touched a woman like that had been pretty long ago, so he wanted to enjoy it as much as he could. Besides, that was the girl that had brought light to his once darkish life, which meant he was definitely not going to hold back on her, regardless of that probably being her very first kiss, since she was so surprised she had become completely petrified against him. He knew what he was doing was selfish and reckless of him, but there was no way he could help it, or even think about anything other than the young beauty that had just made him understand how important she was to him.

She was all he needed.

Everything she was was everything he wasn't and vice-versa. It was as if she was his other half, which, if they ever decided to be together, would proceed to complete his self and become a whole, applying color to his unsightly and boring everyday affairs with her gleeful and enjoyable persona. The violence and bloodshed he would have to endure due to his profession certainly would never stain her, for she would only take place as his welcoming and comfortable place to return to. But, of course, being so different and having absolutely nothing in common could give them hard times. They would probably have many disagreements, and sometimes, admit they wouldn't know what they would be doing. But, even so, he would always come to one conclusion – no matter what, he wasn't letting go of her anymore.

She had made him regain his happy days, and, unlike anything else he had done to find his will to keep living, he doubted he was ever going to get tired of her.

Finally regaining his rationality, Kurotabou only had the decency to stop what he was doing when he took notice of how things had turned out to be against him, cursing his unthinkable behavior towards the delicate and defenseless Ojou-san he was supposed to go easy on. Picking her numb form from the ground carefully, he carried her back to the mansion and into his room, frantically looking around to see if he hadn't been seen by anyone, blushing hard and sweating slightly at the thought of acting like a criminal, inwardly chanting many sorts of swearing to himself.

She had fainted.

~o0o~

It was getting harder to contain the blush.

Rather awkwardly, things seemed to have reversed between Kana and Jirou, for now the one leading the walk through the fair in the search for the Wakagashira and his faithful servant was the boyish blond, while the elegant heiress kept walking silently behind him, her face bearing the expression he once had when she had started dragging him around the crowd and their hands still holding tightly onto each other's. The brunette, other than embarrassment, couldn't help but also feel a hint of guilt for her previous impression of the young man grasping onto her protectively. When she had first seen him again, she had really thought almost nothing in him had changed, but a little event that very night had made her opinion become otherwise.

She hadn't known if the man that had accidentally bumped onto her shoulder was drunk, but, in any case, she thought it would have been better not try finding out, even though he could have made her almost fall on purpose. She only didn't have a hard time walking around limping with a dirty kimono because her childhood friend had been able to catch her in time, pulling her closer to him. In the little moment they had shared close contact, two things had surprised her – how he seemed to feel a little hard against her, which was a sign that he wasn't as skinny and scrawny as she had deduced anymore, and how he had toughly demanded whoever that rude man was to apologize to her. He was looking angry beyond what she had ever seen before in him. It was almost scary, to the point that the unknown man, who they had figured out not to be drunk at all, turned on his heel and apologized with a bow right away.

Kana was only able to see her friend back to normal after they passed by a nursery shack near the entrance of the Jinja and had her shoulder checked. Thankfully, her delicate skin, though slightly swollen and red, wasn't bruised or cut, which was lucky of her, considering how extremely rough that big man's arm felt when it hit her. Obviously, the spiky-haired youngster would have only been angrier if she had told him the real state of her limb, so she decided to just lie that everything was alright and forget the pain.

And, she had to admit, it was relieving to see the smile back to his lips as she did so.

The nurse that had attended her, who she had kindly asked not to say a word about her shoulder's real condition, had been gentle enough to hand her a small recipient with a natural medicine to ease her muscles while Jirou waited outside. And, as the woman did the favor, she couldn't help but ask why she was lying about her state. As an answer, Kana had simply told her she didn't want him to become even more worried about her, which had made the nurse blink a few times in confusion, but then she smiled knowingly, dismissing her with a bow and a "goodbye". Things had ended up going pretty well, Kana had thought, until she heard the same nurse commenting with her co-worker something about "young love" as her and Jirou exited the place with their hands tied together as they had already been.

And it was then that her cheeks became hot and red as they had never been before.

While constantly trying to avoid people coming from all directions, Kana kept looking at her hand in her childhood companion's, her skin itching to let go, only not doing so because she knew there was a high possibility of getting lost in the crowd, her mind no longer as centered on Rikuo and Tsurara as it had been a while ago. Sometimes, her eyes would suddenly avert to look around her, as if she was being watched and judged. Or, at least, that was how she felt after that nurse mistook her and Jirou for a young couple, the majority of her thoughts now trying to figure out if that was really the impression they were giving people. She knew it was probably just her being a little paranoid about it, but she really couldn't help it. After all, she was engaged, so the last thing she wanted was to look like she was a voluble woman. Besides, there was no way something like that could ever happen between the two of them, right?

Right...?

Come to think of it, that wasn't as impossible as she had thought. That night, Jirou had proved there was much more to him than what met the eye. He had become firm (though he was still as boyish and hopeless as he used to be when little), showing that he could become the "knight-in-the-armor" kind of guy she had always dreamt with to herself when he needed to, even if he wasn't even close to what Rikuo could pull off so well. And, if she had never met the Sandaime, and wasn't engaged to anyone else, maybe, just maybe, there was a remote possibility that Jirou could be her...

"Ienaga-san?"

"Wah?!" was Kana's instinctive response as her head shot up to face her mate, which she immediately regretted as she found herself almost chest-to-chest with him after she absent-mindedly continued walking while he had already stopped in front of her. This turned out to make their faces stop much closer to each other than they should have, and Kana almost feared her blush was apparent. Thankfully, the strong hanabi lights seemed to be covering it pretty well, since no matter how embarrassed Jirou also looked, she could spot no signs of red on his face. Still, she couldn't help but feel awkward to the point of wanting to run or hide, mentally cursing herself for being so childish.

After a few seconds of being a statue as he stared down at her, Jirou finally had the decency of backing up a little panicky, "A-A-Are you feeling alright?" finally, the question stuck in his throat was able to come out, though a bit blunter than it should have. "W-We could g-go back to the nursery if you're not okay yet."

Remembering the rather uncomfortable impression of the nurse, Kana felt her cheeks grow slightly hotter as she refused, involuntarily gripping his hand tighter while asking him to keep going ahead. And, with that, the two continued to make their way through the Jinja, looking around more desperately than before, praying to hurry up and find the two they were searching, not caring anymore about whom had been their own priority to look for first. And, meanwhile, the once uncertain and insecure heiress was now sure of one little thing.

That night was going to be way longer than she had expected.

~o0o~

"You seem to be in a rather good mood."

Kejourou jumped slightly as she slid the shouji of her room shut, turning around to face the one who had commented preparing to lie on his futon behind her, well aware the happy smile she had already gave her away without her saying anything.

"What happened?"

"Fufufu, maybe you can ask that to Kuro tomorrow, Kubinashi~!" she answered with a hand over her mouth.

"Eh...?" the puzzled young man blinked a few times as his partner moved to lie close to him in his futon, sweat-dropping as he recognized the expression she bore, "K-Kejourou... don't tell me... you've been playing 'cupid' again?" a simple giggle was his only response, making him sigh at the brunette's rather meddlesome hobbies. "Have you at least given Wakana-sama the maccha she asked for?"

"Of course~!" she answered in a sing-song voice, enveloping him in her arms after blowing her candle down, leaving comfortable darkness to spread through their room.

Blushing at the sudden contact with his woman's welcomingly warm and soft chest, Kubinashi looked up sheepishly to meet her happy face. "You really do look excited." He commented, his voice muffled as he was able to catch her tea-like scent quite well.

"I can't help it! Kuro was in deed need of someone, you know?" the emerald-eyed woman blurted out cutely, her embrace growing tighter and her smile bigger as she nuzzled her cheek into smooth blond hair. "And it was about time! This household's third generation seems to be going well on its way to happiness."

Despite his beet red face, which felt like it had just come out of a kamado, and his slightly accelerating heart, his tone was calm and cool as always when he muttered, "I see… but I don't think you should create this many hopes to see or comrades becoming like… both of us, for example. It's not like all of them can–"

"Every generalization has its exceptions, Kubinashi. Waka may be one of them, but he had no choice when he became one. You know that as well as everybody in this Kumi." Kejourou interrupted firmly.

Just by her change of tone, the honey-eyed young man could understand he had better not go any further into that seemingly sore spot. With that in mind, he decided to just end the conversation after he said something that had been stuck in his throat for a while now, "Indeed. And that makes me wonder… if that lack of choice of his would affect him as deeply as it affected his father."

"Kubinashi...?" Kejourou looked down at the rather petite man's melancholic face as he buried himself into her, his skinny arms sneaking around her waist. "You mean...?"

"I just don't want to see that smile... be erased again."

~o0o~

She was spacing out again.

Wakana sighed as she snapped out of her trance, brought back to reality by the faint sound of hanabi exploding in the distance. She glanced down at the cup of maccha in her hands, which had already gone cold without her notice while she traveled in thoughts and memories – sad, disturbing memories of difficult times, when Japan was in desperate need of a better economy and the Nura-gumi and their allies were on the verge of doom. She remembered how her husband and father-in-law had done any and everything they could to keep the balance of their families, how she had tried her best to keep strong and smiley as always in front of her son, and, more importantly, how one single little girl had forever changed the future of the Kumi and its Sandaime.

No one other than the young Ienaga heiress.

As soon as the innocent girl's parents had found out she was a female when born, and knowing how difficult it could have been for her to marry a successfully wealthy man in that time of economic troubles, they had tried by all means to force a marriage on the one that seemed to be the best candidate: the Nura's second heir. With no success, they resorted to threatening to end up their alliance with the Nura-gumi, which was the worst that could ever happen. After all, to have any of the families breaking apart would ruin everyone as a whole. But still, no matter what, the Ienaga didn't seem to have wanted to hear any of it. And things didn't get any better when Kana's mother found herself unable to give birth to another child, so the possibilities of them being saved by a male heir were completely out of question, since her father had no intentions or even enough wealth to marry someone else, which only increased their arguments to make their daughter get engaged to someone like Nura Rikuo. And, after almost three months of fighting off negotiations and insistence, the Nidaime and the Soudaishou had to give up.

It had been hard for not only the Nura family, but the whole rest of the Nura-gumi to accept something as serious as an arranged marriage, which only weakened their bonds with the Ienaga household. Thankfully, to them, they had moved to England a few years after, uniting themselves with English families. And though usually an arranged engagement wouldn't be such a big deal in any sort of society, especially the noble ones, to the Nura-gumi, there was no way it could not be. At least, not after a rather tragic episode with the Nidaime and his first wife.

And all of that led to Wakana's biggest resentment – her son finding someone to love other than Ienaga Kana.

Now that the Ienaga were in England, breaking up their bonds with the Nura-gumi in case their agreement was not accomplished would take a long while. But, in compensation, if the Ienaga did break them for good, they wouldn't be so affected, now that they were allied to very powerful British Kumi. After all, Britain was a very rich country and had a terrifying ease to control other nations. As for Japan, it wouldn't be that difficult to have another period of hunger and crisis, and that family sure would be missed in case the Nura-gumi was affected again. In other words, Rikuo wouldn't have a choice if he wanted to keep everyone together and safe – it would be Kana or Kana. Except, of course, if he threw everything away to be with whomever else he could fall for, which, even being very reckless, was still an option. Although that only valid if the Kumi was in second plan to him, which certainly wasn't the case. And the worst part was that Wakana couldn't decide on which would be better – or, at least, less worse: having her son claim for his right to share his life with the one he wanted to, like his father and grandfather had done, or be reasonable and do the best to his cherished friends and subordinates. In any case, things would have been much better for her poor child if he had fallen for the Ienaga heiress.

The brunette sighed again, diving into more memories.

It had already been an hour since Tsurara had left the kitchen, and the youthful mother couldn't decide if that was a good or a bad thing. Thinking it was about time to go check on her son and his faithful little aide, Wakana excused herself for a while, leaving the kitchen in Kejourou's trustful care.

By the time she reached Rikuo's room, she found it rather strange to hear nothing coming from inside, even with the shouji slightly open. Not resisting the urge and so taking a little look inside, Wakana almost wanted to release some tears at the scene she found, which was much more than she could have ever expected. Not only could she spot the food she had entrusted Tsurara to give her master completely gone, but also a rather heart-warming moment of comfort between the two children. Had it not been such a bitter day, the mother would have smiled fully at it.

Just by that, Wakana had known.

Taking her leave as silently as she had arrived, she decided to leave the two alone for the time being. But, after the storm of sadness of the Nidaime's loss was gone, she would have to take place as an observer in the relationship Rikuo had with his closest servant. After all, the bond the two of them shared had just reached a new level – one that was definitely not supposed to be ever reached.

Wakana had never approved the idea of an arranged marriage, just like her husband and father-in-law. But, also pretty much like them, she really did have hopes it would work out, so she had spent long praying the connection between the Nura and the Ienaga heir and heiress would become a romantic one. If that had happened, her son would never be hurt afterwards, since if he fell in love for his arranged fiancée, he would not be forced to marry her. But it seemed to be too late for that – what she had longed to never happen had become true, because, if her suspicions were correct, Rikuo's innocent young heart was already taken.

And, if Rikuo was the same as his father and grandfather, Ienaga Kana would most likely have no chance with him anymore.

The previous Nura heads were known to be extremely strong and successful men – two generations of pure glory until the present moment, even with Nura Rihan's death. But what people didn't notice most of the time was that, just like any human, they did have their own fragile and touchy spots, which were resumed into one thing – their family. The best examples of that would be when the first Nura wife's life came to an end at her advanced age and when the second one ran away from her husband for supposely not being able to bear a child. After then, the two first heads had experienced a long period of great sadness and loneliness, especially the first heir, who had kept blaming himself for his wife's getaway. If Rikuo had taken after them in that aspect, and he most likely had, he would be the same if he was not able to be with the one he loved.

That was what Wakana feared the most.

Back to the kitchen, the brunette had managed to ask Kejourou to take care of the rest, claiming she needed sleep. Understandingly, her servant and friend had complied, as if she had been waiting for her to say that all day long. More affected than she had thought she would be, the young mother had to practically drag herself to her room, not bothering to look tired and depressed, instead of full of life like she usually was, since there was almost no one at the corridors to see her in that state.

At the rather strange comfort of the room that, the night before, had been the place she had found out there was no salvation for her husband, Wakana made her way to her new futon, already missing the one that had long caught the Nidaime's strong scent, which was unfortunately ruined by a fair amount of blood. Covering herself nearly completely, staring at the wooden ceiling, she wondered if she had spent all her tears already, since no matter how much she still wanted to cry, nothing would come out.

All that was left was the sensation of her heart being ripped apart by everything that was happening far too fast.

The hanabi finally ceased, and the lack of the almost inaudible noises of the Kokehime Jinja made Wakana come back to the present yet again. She sighed deeply for the last time before giving up on her maccha, then threw it away through her shouji onto the garden's damp grass and some of her own hanabatake, magically managing to not spill anything onto her room's floor. Getting up from her sitting position on her knees, she was about to close the doors when she spotted something interesting from a little distance – a familiar figure hurrying to carry someone in their arms from near the Nura Sakura to inside the mansion, looking around frantically. Apparently, that was to check if they weren't being seen by anyone, but they still missed the current Nura mistress watching everything from her place.

A playful smile finally made its way to her lips as she was able to forget her worries for a moment, "Oh, my... is that...?"

~o0o~

He didn't know when it had begun. He didn't know why it had begun. He didn't know how it had begun.

All he knew was one thing – he was an idiot.

He was considered a real genius by the ones that knew him, yet he could be so incredibly stupid some times it made him want to slap himself. After all, he had known her since forever, and yet, only now that he was thirteen that he could see how there was much more to his feelings towards her. Going back through his whole life, he could now see how she had always been much more faithful, admiring and dedicated to him even than to herself. He wasn't sure when, why or how she had developed those kinds of bonds with him, either, but they certainly weren't limited to her loyalty as his servant or companion, as well as his weren't limited to his trust and confidence as her master or friend. Rather, that bond had become more affectionate than any other he had ever had with anyone, even with his family.

At first, when he started noticing the first hints of a certain attraction towards her, he had thought it was just a childhood crush. That made him believe he would just end up forgetting about it soon, once he was sure she only saw him as her master or younger brother. But, as the years flew by, he only found himself thinking more and more about her, from the time he opened his eyes to the one he closed them again, as if she was a dangerously addictive drug he had been trying his best to push away from his head. Sometimes, he would even become amused and startled with himself for not being able to get her off his mind for more than five minutes, even when she was right by his side. By then, he had raised her status, classifying her not as a crush, but someone he liked, which was also something that couldn't last forever. Yet, no matter how hard he attempted to convince himself it was nothing serious, another equally insistent part of him would say otherwise. And so, he was left to live with his inner conflict until he was finally able to take a definitive conclusion – he didn't like her.

He loved her.

Whether he had been genuinely indecisive about his feelings towards her or was just subconsciously trying to dispose the possibility of being in love with her because of his commitment with someone else, he couldn't decide, but that wasn't the issue. The thing was that, suddenly, everything about his trusted aide had become a serious, dangerous, confusing matter – it was more than he could have ever expected of life itself.

And to think that only then he was realizing something that important.

After then, time started running out surprisingly faster for him. For a few months, he had been struggling to think about a solution to the many problems a single girl had brought him all at once. Problems that would always remind him of something that both made him extremely happy yet incredibly sad at the same time.

Their feelings for each other were mutual, yet they couldn't be together.

The white-haired Wakagashira dismissed his memories, staring straight at his best worker as she pursed her lips and looked away abruptly, cornered by him like a little animal. He couldn't help but feel satisfied of how he had left her no exit, patiently waiting for her reply for a timespan that, to him, was like forever. At that point, he didn't care about how needy of her he was after spending so long (in his opinion) away from that little trembling spot she was pressing so tightly together, nor did he care about how egoistical he was being for asking such a thing from her. Even because his fiancée was probably out there, looking for him as if her life depended on finding him. All he cared about in the world for the time being was the one before his eyes, nothing else. And all he wanted was nothing more than hear her answer – a positive answer. Still, in any case, even if it wasn't "yes", he doubted he would be able to let her get away with it.

It was a rather chilly evening. The spring had just started, so the comfortable warmth said season usually brought wasn't there yet. Still, the cold wasn't enough to stop the flowers from starting blooming, though it was enough to make even someone like Oikawa Tsurara, who loved cold weathers, have to protect herself from the low temperatures and the risk of becoming ill. After all, she had just officially exchanged vows of loyalty with her respected master through Sakazuki. She couldn't bear to let something as trivial as a cold or a flu disturb her new job. It was with that in mind that she had decided to wear a light grey winter garment over her light pink kimono, which was stamped with beautifully detailed pink tsubaki.

The Nura-gumi had certainly been in a good mood for partying that evening, using the Sandaime's newly-made Sakazuki pact with his officially-declared subordinates as an excuse to have a celebration. In the midst of the bubbly Nura members, who were happily drinking and almost hysterically laughing together at the Nura residence's main hall, Tsurara noticed that, even though the event was meant to congratulate the Wakagashira, he himself wasn't there. That, by the looks of it, had gone unnoticed by the rest. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about him, except, of course, for she and his mother, who kindly requested her to bring him back. Complying, the first place the aide went to look for him was obviously his favorite secret spot. Sure enough, there he was, carefreely leaning against the Sakura's rather comfortable trunk, his flower-stamped pink yukata (which he was miraculously able to make look manly on him) looser around his figure than it should. As she saw him being so helplessly careless with himself, she walked over to him and, kneeling down, she proceeded to wake him up with the kindest of the gestures, brushing the back of her fingers ever so gently against his face.

It had taken a little while, but, successfully, she was able to make him regain consciousness. Discreetly, his lips started curling upwards at the familiar contact, which he had recognized even before being fully awake. His servant's face soon began to heat up until it started to burn when his hand reached out to grab hers, pressing her open palm against his cheek slightly and nuzzling into it. "Sorry, Tsurara." He moaned lazily against her skin, his hot breath running through her fingers, "I'm awake now."

Sputtering, the aide tried getting him back to the mansion's main hall, yet her attempts did nothing but make him laugh softly. That only made her already strong blush become redder, as well as did the way he allowed himself to wrap his free arm around her tiny shoulders and pull her closer to him. As soon as she reached his hard chest, she immediately felt stupid for ever thinking there was any possibility of him becoming sick for being so exposed to the cold. After all, he was so warm she almost – almost – felt overwhelmed to the point of falling asleep right then and there. Regardless of that, she still couldn't let him stay there, since, as a leader, he should be present at the celebration inside. Plus, if she was to stay like that with him any longer, she was sure her heart would explode, so she grudgingly tried fighting against the soothing comfort his body was offering. Needless to say, she had no success opposing to her master's difference in strength. And so, after a while of being paid no mind to, she decided to just lie there, controlling her inner reactions, which was working well. That was until she felt his spiky hair tickle her head as he leaned his own against it. For some reason, that gesture had made the aide conclude the Wakagashira seemed to be not sleepy, but down and depressed, and that his current state, by the looks of it, was the real reason why he was hiding from everyone.

It was then that she could see something was off.

As the Sandaime began to absent-mindedly run his fingers through her silky hair, she tilted her head upwards to try looking at him, frustrated to find his eyes still closed as she asked, "What's wrong, Rikuo-sama?"

"I'm..." he began slowly, his voice in monotone, "tired. That's all."

His answer was quite simple, yet instead of dismissing the aide's slight worries, it had only worsened them. After all, since when was being tired something wrong? There had to be a deeper meaning to his words. With that in mind, Tsurara once again broke the sound of cheering of the partying Nura-gumi with her high-pitched voice, "What do you mean?"

At her question, Rikuo finally opened his eyes, almost melancholically and like in slow motion, his usually bright and flashy ruby orbs dull and clouded as they stared aimlessly forward. "Well, when you're a leader, there are many things that can make you tired." he explained, the way he had started to sound hesitant going unnoticed by the aide. "Most of them are quite bearable, though..."

Hearing that, the sapphire-eyed girl blinked twice in suspicion. Seeing her superior admitting he had difficulties with something, whatever it was, was far too rare. And, adding that to the fact he had been acting quite strangely around her for the past few months, Tsurara couldn't help but think things were more serious than she had thought. That made her regret never going further onto the subject for concluding that, whatever was the problem he seemed to be having, it was his personal stuff and that she shouldn't meddle.

"'Most of them'? What would be the exception in that, Waka?" she kept urging slightly, moving from her position as soon as Rikuo's arm loosened a little, trying to look at him face-to-face.

Once the two of them were in the same eye level, in a heartbeat, the shine was back to his mesmerizing burgundy eyes, and the blush back to her cheeks at the sight. "Let's just say I'm not very good at pretending." was what he gave her, and the curiosity started to rise even more.

"What do you mean by 'pretending', Waka?" she asked, obviously not aware she had leaned a little too close and that her eyes had grown slightly wider with every question she made. Still, he knew there was no way she couldn't be feeling a bit affected by his responses. After all, she had known him her entire life, so being told he was not being himself at some point surely would have that effect on her. He expected nothing less, and yet, he was constantly catching himself trying to find a way to give her half-answers, so that she would notice he didn't want her to keep questioning. But it seemed what was happening was the contrary, and he was starting to feel cornered. It was then that the many months he had spent thinking deeply came back to him. He still had a whole year coming before she was back. Maybe... maybe he could do it now. Maybe that night could be the night. And he had nothing to lose, did he?

"Yoshi..." He mentally decided, his palms suddenly becoming slightly sweaty, "it's now or never."

"I'm just... tired of pretending to be okay with something I'm obviously not." He let his head hang loosely as he stared down, an unsatisfied smile appearing on his lips, making the raven-haired girl frown, "I mean, isn't it really unfair? Jijii and Oyaji... they were able to choose who they would marry. Why... only I...?"

It was at the very moment the word "marry" escaped Rikuo's lips that Tsurara's breath caught in her throat, her eyes wider than ever. After her master had slowly fallen silent, she started to become eager with more interest and worry. "W-What... what does that even..." she sputtered out. "Rikuo-sama, are you saying you don't agree with your marriage with Ienaga-sama anymore?"

"Wrong, Tsurara." The aide had felt the slightest bits of disappointment together with a little relief at his negative answer, but those were short-lived as he continued, "I never agreed with that marriage to begin with."

The indigo-eyed one really didn't like the way that his statements kept surprising her, or how she constantly had to pause to take in the information, which would only make her ask more questions. But she really couldn't help it. "I... I don't understand... if Waka never wanted an arranged marriage, why haven't you ever said anything?" she asked, her indignant tone almost drowned in sadness and disbelief. Accepting something as serious and compromising as a life-long pact with someone was not something to be taken lightly. He should have known that better than anyone. Besides, his arranged woman was crossing many countries in a very hard journey just to be with him. It would be too cruel to waste her efforts making both of them unhappy with an unwanted union.

Rikuo sighed, already not liking things weren't going how he had wanted, "You forget I couldn't object, or the Ienaga would have left us."

"That doesn't mean you have to keep everything for yourself like this...!" he watched her blurt out, thinking she was going to have one of the cute – yet this time a bit out-of-contest – little jealousy fits towards Kana she used to have when she was younger. But when he examined her look better, he found nothing related to his arranged wife, only him. She was thinking of him and him alone – his future, his happiness, his position, his children, his Kumi, and everything else that could be affected by the decision he had made to stay silent all this time. "After so many years, maybe they could have changed their mind and engaged Ienaga-sama to someone else. I'm almost sure they only sent her back to fulfill their agreement. With so many other families allied to them in Britain, they could have perfectly engaged her to someone else. It would have been easier to them and to us. I bet that if you had said that to Nurarihyon-sama or Rihan-sama, they could have–"

"It's not only that, idiot." he cut in bluntly, scratching the back of his neck. "They wanted Kana-chan to marry me also because while they were in England, they didn't want to lose their connection with Japan. It would have to be me one way or another."

At the new piece of information, Tsurara fell silent, her eyes slightly drooping, "Is that so...?"

"Yeah." The white-haired heir gave off a bitter smile, and she had to control herself not to slap it out of his face, "And, when I got to know about that, I made a promise to myself. But... I broke it."

With that, the snow white maiden could see they were back to where she had felt the conversation had reached its most important part, before it had been directed to another topic by herself. Tilting her head a little to the side, she was back to her normal state, but still being inwardly killed by the many questions she had as she asked calmly, "And that would be...?"

With his smile gone in an instant, he had become cool and serious, staring at her with an intensity she had never seen before. She had started to grow a little excited for his answer, while the cheering of the Kumi suddenly became louder as they came out of the main house and crossed the garden, passing by the Sakura. Thankfully, they were not able to spot the superior and his head aide. Meanwhile, the two watched for a brief moment as the Nura-gumi gathered together at the only spot of the huge garden that wasn't covered in grass, placing many sorts of boxes on the humid ground.

"For myself and the Kumi..." Tsurara would have lost herself trying to figure out what they were trying to do, but her master caught her attention back with his words. "I... had long promised myself t never fall in love with anyone, if not with Kana-chan."

Both the movement of her azure pools shrinking and her heart stopping for a split second were synchronized. She almost choked with air this time, surprise catching her in a way nothing could and probably would never do. But that was only the expected and understandable of her part. After all, her master had just admitted he was in love with someone that not his own fiancée, and that alone brought up far too many serious matters. And, in the servant's opinion, the worst of all of said matters was that her master's life was now compromised because of someone he shouldn't have involved himself with. Of course, due to her dangerously strong feelings for him, a very childish and shameful part of her wished she was this person. At the same time, a cold and mean side would really like whoever that person was to just freeze in the lonely depths of a snowstorm, in case it wasn't her.

However, if he was talking about her, she was sure she would hardly be able to bear such a weight, even if it would not be her fault he would be in love with her.

Trying to get her act together again, Tsurara reluctantly turned her head to face the Sandaime, her eyes watering the slightest bits, but not visibly. She tried to take a small breath, mentally chanting the possibility of that person being she herself was small, so she wouldn't have to worry about such a thing. All that she would have to worry about was how she would have to stay firm to console her master. Because, as his personally chosen aide and confident, she was almost sure he was going to do what he always did when he became sad and couldn't handle it alone – opening himself to her, so that he would have all the support he could ask for. She had been there and done that some times before, and this one seemed to be no different, although it did seem that life was being cruel to her.

But she knew very well that things didn't always go the way she would want them to.

As she locked stares with him once again, she almost missed the quick flash of scarlet in his ruby eyes, and, for some reason, looking at him seemed to have become rather different at that moment in particular. If she had any hairs in her snow white skin, she was sure they would all have been up by then, for she could have sworn she was being completely exposed, as if she was being stripped naked just by that look – of course, not from her body, but from her very soul. "Well," she began, attempting to fake a smile, but failing because of her furrowed thin brows, which showed she was tenser and sadder than she would like to admit. "if it's possible, may I know who was it that caused Rikuo-sama to break this promise? Could it be... anyone I know?"

If it wasn't for the fact he was quite a bit nervous, which was definitely not like him, he would have laughed at her tentative of masking her "dark" self, for he was sure she was obviously not expecting the answer he was going to give her. But said answer, which he was anxious to let out for good, was muffled by the cheering of the Nura-gumi yet again, which seemed to be rising. Suddenly annoyed, the Wakagashira decided to pull the girl even closer than she already was, her hands falling onto his chest as he gently held her head to be able to reach her ears. As he did so, with his hot breath contrasting the leaving winter's coldness against her reddening left ear, he at last let out the three words that he had been holding back within his heart for quite long in the most fitting way – like a whisper carried away by the wind, a secret that should remain only between him and his most trusted person in the world, a bittersweet moment that was supposed to be hidden from the rest of the world.

"I love you."

By then, hanabi suddenly started blowing up in the starry evening skies, matching with the magnitude of the head bodyguard's realization as her surroundings seemed to be slowly blurring. Without blinking, she took notice tears were starting to form in her eyes sooner than she had anticipated, and, fighting them off to be able to speak properly, she let out the only words she could think of, "J-Joke..." Her voice faltered, "this is a joke... right?"

It had to be a joke, she decided.

If it was, her master was surely being quite mean to her, but she thought that would be much more bearable than it actually being the truth. After all, there was no way something like that could ever happen. There was no way that her best dreams yet worst nightmares could be being realized so abruptly, or that her peaceful life and inner world could turn upside-down just like that. That was what she had mentally been insisting on, until Rikuo confirmed his words the most amazing yet malicious way he could.

Kissing.

The voices of the Kumi's members mixed with the sounds of the explosions above as she was pulled to him once more, this time to meet his lips with her own. It was all happening so quickly she had become disoriented for a second. But, when she understood what he was going to do, it was already too late. From that point on, everything seemed to have become incredibly confusing. As her heart started to race quickly, the reality she once knew seemed to have gained a new meaning, a new perspective, and a new sense. Unfortunately, she couldn't say those meant anything good at all, for she had just found out she was the reason of her master's suffering.

And so, in the midst of overflowing happiness, was also born unbearable sadness.

She didn't know if he was either as inexperienced as her in kissing, for that had been the first time for both, or was just taking easy on her not to startle her off, but he had been quite gentle, not taking long to let her go. And it was when they were fully facing each other again that she had started to break from the inside out. But, no matter how shattered she was, she decided she would not worry her master or hurt him by showing what he had done with the best intentions had been one of his worst mistakes. And so, without any warning, she rose to her feet, speeding up to the empty main hall's open entrance as fast as her kimono allowed her legs to walk, leaving the puzzled Rikuo behind.

For a second, he was frozen in place as he stared at the spot she had been kneeling on, but the next, he was up and about, shouting her name as high as he could. But he was still not able to beat the excessive noise of the rest of his subordinates, who thankfully were oblivious about what was happening some meters behind them. Frustrated, Rikuo almost tripped all the way to his aide, but could approach her before she had entered the mansion. Careful not to hurt her and quickly not to miss her, he grabbed her hand and pulled her back, forcing her to face him. The moment he was going to ask her what was wrong, his mouth stopped without anything coming out, his eyes growing wide as they registered the scene before them.

She was crying.

As her chin trembled slightly, cold tears spilled from her glassy azure eyes, which were full of many emotions that even the one that knew her the best couldn't decipher. It didn't take any more than that for him to let her go slowly, allowing her resume her tracks to her room and whispering her name to himself in utter confusion. He stood in that position for a while, his once warm hand still cold from grasping the girl's wrist, appalled with what had just happened.

With the decision the raven-haired one needed some time alone and the impotence of not knowing how to deal with feminine tears, he started walking away back to his own lonely place, looking behind his shoulder almost all the time, obviously still in hopes that she would return. But said hopes were totally gone after he reached his shouji with no signs of her. Sighing in disappointment, he slowly closed the doors before collapsing into his futon with no means of falling asleep at all.

He was left with nothing but to wonder what could have possibly happened that had made his servant so hurt, angry and Kami knows what else she was feeling at the moment, almost irritated with himself for being so clueless. After all, he had known about her undying love for him for quite a while. There was no mistaking about what she felt towards him – even the blind could see it. And that only made him feel even more stupid, since he had thought she would have been more than joyful to find out he was just the same as her, but things had turned out to be the opposite.

The Sandaime scratched his spiky white bangs as he stared at his wooden ceiling, incapable of getting the image of his protective bodyguard's crying face of his head as he let out one last, exasperated whisper, "Tsurara..."

Pursing her lips tightly, Tsurara suddenly looked down, pressing her back even more against the not fully-bloomed tree, so that she could be the farthest possible from her master, even though that distance was mere three inches – and, of course, if she didn't do anything, it would soon be reduced to nothing. But, while she mentally searched words to back the white-haired young man up, a battle was being set against her very own self as she tried her hardest not to let tempting sensations, unwittingly brought back to her in the many memories registering in her mind with incredible speed, lead her to the wrong way.

The white-haired heir took a deep breath before reluctant and hesitantly sliding the shouji doors of his head aide's room open very silent, slowly and patiently, despite his slight worries and nervousness, careful not to wake the owner of the room he was entering without authorization. However, he certainly hadn't expected to find out she was still awake in the dead of night, completely covered in her thick white blankets as she attempted to hide her face from him while "humbly" requesting him to leave. It was then that he could notice how her voice (even though muffled) was sounding a little hoarse, which gave away she had been crying for quite long.

Feeling guiltier than he had ever been in his life, he had tried getting her out and talking to her, apologizing a hundred times for not thinking straight before sexually harassing her and for disturbing her at around five in the morning, for he had been unable to sleep or contain his need to check if she was alright. As she kept sending him off, which only influenced him to insist and worry more (due to how unusual it was of her to reject his presence), he began to tug her covers to try taking a look at her face, since he couldn't help but want to see what effects his rather indecent actions had on her other than making her cry her eyes out, "Come on, Tsurara... at least tell me what's wrong." She had still been stubborn enough to stay silent as she refused to come out of her futon, until Rikuo used a word he would rarely remember that existed, "Please...?"

By then, she caught herself giving his request some thought, since he was going as far as asking nicely instead of ordering as he usually did. With a sigh of defeat, knowing he wouldn't be going away any time soon, she mumbled, "There are many things going very wrong right now, Rikuo-sama, and I don't think I need to point them out."

"Are you..." he began hesitantly, breaking the uncomfortable silence after a while of pause. "really this resentful about... 'that'...?"

It had taken her a moment to respond, and, when he was about to call her, he heard her muffled voice again, "Yes... and no." Blinking a few times, he was going to ask for clarification, but she seemed to already know he would do so as she continued, "Rikuo-sama, I believe you know very well about my feelings, since I've never bothered hiding anything." at the straight ball, he immediately shut up to listen to everything she was going to say with no more interruptions. "I also think you know that I cherish my job as your servant more than my own life, and that everything I've ever dreamt of was to continue serving you for the rest of it. That's why... that's why, right now, everything is taking a completely different path from what I could ever imagine, and it all seems really confusing and strange to me. Scary, even." Her breath began to waver slightly as she felt the tears that had taken her so long to dry dwelling on the corners of her eyes yet again, "I... I don't know what to think anymore. I don't even know what I know anymore. Except... except that I've become a burden." he was about to negate her stupid statement, but decided to just let her finish everything. "I'm blocking Waka's way to a successful future by becoming the cause of Waka's suffering. And of course all of that makes me really, really upset. But, still... no matter how sad I am right now..." She stroked her eyes constant and impatiently with both hands, feeling utterly disgusted with her own self as her upwardly-curling lips inevitably rubbed against her wrists, "I just can't stop smiling."

She didn't go into details, like how incredibly ridiculous and miserable she was feeling for the smug happiness inside her or how her respectful and honorable side still wished everything was just a prank, as mean as it could be. But the Wakagashira could perfectly see everything and refused to acknowledge it, since, to him, there was no real reason for her to be in that state. And at her long and honest speech, he couldn't hide the shock most of what he had just heard caused him as he stayed silent for a while, trying to organize his ideas to give her a response. After all, the fact his hardworking young aide didn't regret what had happened had him relieved and satisfied, at which he couldn't not smile, but the rest of her confessions surely required a frown and a counter-argument of the same level. "Tsurara..." he called softly, patting her covered head gently. "you're such an idiot."

"Wah?!" she fidgeted within her blankets, the disbelief of the offense she obviously wasn't expecting having her taken aback. "Wh-What was that for? Waka doesn't... Waka doesn't understand anything after all! Stupid Waka!"

He almost wanted to laugh at her comical recover as he continued, "You're right. I don't understand anything you're feeling right now. You're blaming yourself like the world is going to end for something you're not at fault for. If anyone is to blame for whatever might happen between me and Kana-chan, that..." He paused for a sigh, "would be me."

"For falling in love with the wrong person? I don't think that's very–"

"Don't say 'wrong person', idiot." he cut in kindly. "And don't speak like you've ruined my life."

"B-But... if I didn't exist in Rikuo-sama's life, probably–"

"Oh, no. You can't be seriously thinking I'd fall for Kana-chan and everything from then onwards would be all flowers and sunshine." he interrupted again, already annoyed at the idea of picturing his life without his most loyal servant by his side. "First of all, if you didn't exist, I wouldn't either."

"E-Eh...?"

"What I mean is that, if Tsurara didn't exist, I would probably... most likely... no, surely not be the Nura Rikuo you know. At least, not without you." He could already picture her rosy face as she flinched slightly, "Tsurara has always been with me, so you're a big part of what I am."

"I... I see..." she muttered understandingly, knowing exactly what he was trying to say. After all, her life resumed itself to him. If he didn't exist, she pretty much wouldn't, either.

A moment of awkward silence followed again.

"Say..." he asked slowly, breaking the calmness of the night after a while one more time. "is being in love with me... really that painful?"

"Not at all." she answered immediately, a smile reappearing on her lips. "It actually makes everything seem much brighter for me."

A little taken aback with the fast answer, Rikuo blinked a few times, before letting a smile approach his lips. "Then you can see it's the same here." he said honest and truthfully, no hints of uncertainty in his tone. "I love you, and I don't regret anything about that." At his words, the poor girl could swear her heart was going to jump out of her throat any second while swallowing hard constantly, as if to back it down.

She understood he had nothing else to say as he seemed to get up and turn around, rapidly debating on whatever to do next, until she came up with a drastic conclusion: no matter what the two of them felt towards each other, it was the right thing that had to be done. She would not melt down. She would not give up. She would not let everything go wrong.

At least, not because of her.

"Please, wait...!" as he slid the shouji open again, he was about to take his leave for good when the feeling of cold slender fingers wrapping around one of his wrists had his head turning around instantly to face the watery-eyed girl that had finally come out of her "hiding place". When his surprised eyes locked with her determined ones, he could tell they were not only wet, but slightly swollen and red, much like her cheeks and nose, yet he couldn't care less about it. All he wanted was to hear what she was about to say as she opened her trembling mouth, "If that's... if that's Waka's final decision, you'd better not count with my cooperation! I shall oppose myself to it!" She spoke, surprisingly seriously, regardless of the knot in her throat and the sobs she was fighting, her grip on him firm, "No matter what, I will accomplish my job as Waka's head aide and bodyguard and make sure Waka is married to Ienaga Kana-sama by the promised time!"

Frozen, Rikuo could do nothing but stare at his servant for a while. In her teary sapphire pools, he could see every single word she had mustered all her strength to say had been like a sharp stab right through her heart, but even so, she was really certain about what she had just done. For the sake of the one she cherished the most, she was swearing she would be willing to hand him over to someone else, no matter how painful it would be for her to see him building a life with another woman – at least, not if said woman could give him a better future than she herself would ever be able to. He could also perceive she also had no intentions in changing anything in the master-servant relationship they had, for she would never give up the lifework she had been entrusted with – her superior himself. And that was an affirmation that, thankfully, she would never retire or walk away from him.

He had never thought her feelings for him would ever become that passionate, since they had already seemed to have been really strong. But she was able to catch him undefended, like she had done many times before. Each and every one of them, she had proved to be much more loyal and zealous towards him than the last one. But this time had no way to be compared with anything he had ever seen her do for him – she was being mature and caring enough to endure the burden of having to push his feelings for her away and, if necessary, make sure he was united with his arranged betrothed herself. With all of that, he was left with nothing but find himself a real idiot, but he still couldn't help but smile genuinely at her.

He had underestimated her too much.

Reaching out his hand, he slid the long fingers of his free hand through the back of her neck, just like he had done the moment he had pulled her into a quick first kiss a few hours before. Foreseeing he was going to bend down a little, Tsurara covered her mouth with both hands as she let go of his wrist, not knowing that he was aiming for her forehead instead. While he placed a long kiss on the top of her head, she felt free to let her hands down, squeezing her eyes shut as she felt her cheeks heat up. Once his lips were no longer being pressed against her, she opened her eyes and found herself face-to-face with the man of her affections, his warm and determined expression mirroring the one she had a while before.

"Challenge accepted."

And with that said, the servant understood that they were indirectly setting a competition against each other, in which there wouldn't be a loser and a winner, only two lovers fighting for what they thought that was the best choice for the not-very-far-away future.

What shocked her back to reality rather comfortably were Rikuo's warm and broad hands. When she raised her head, she was more than surprised to see her personal space was gone sooner than she had expected. Either that or she had been swimming through thoughts for longer than it seemed. He gently urged for her answer, the comfy warmth of his breath and hands bathing her face as they contrasted the cold night breeze, much like it had happened on the evening that had forever changed everything between the two of them.

He could feel her face growing hotter as their noses almost touched.

One of the many things Tsurara really admired in her master was his honesty (or maybe the same inability she herself had to lie). But, sometimes, she wished he wasn't so compromised with fulfilling his word, because that, on the other hand, made it way harder for her to fulfill her own.

It had already been seven months after their night of exchanged promises, and, in that span of time, the two had been involved in many sorts of situations like the one in which they had first kissed. In said situations, the Wakagashira would do exactly as he had said and proceed to make his poor aide push her limits as she tried her best to avoid him, yet continue to be as close as always to him. And, of course, also during that time, the two of them had to pretend nothing had been changed at all between them. Surprisingly, they seemed to have had succeeded at that better than they had thought.

While their real relationship was hidden within the shadows of the former commander-commanded one, the faithful servant would spend most of the time trying to run away from the Sandaime's embraces, caresses and whispers. But those were becoming more and more usual as the days passed. And no matter how much she tried, he would always magically find a way to catch her off-guard. Thankfully, he had never again tried to kiss her, for he had learned from his last experience that kind of compromising act had a huge impact on both of them. Of course that still didn't mean he didn't want to do it again, but he had been able to hold back his desires quite well.

Until his birthday.

The moment she absently let herself lean against him, their hands tightly laced and breaths against each other's faces, he didn't care about anything anymore. Seeing she was being quite passive – maybe because she had missed being that close to him as much as he had – also influenced him to take the liberty to pull the strings of their relationship, and, this time, he wasn't letting her escape. And so, in a moment, the two of them were sitting on the wooden floor of his room, holding hands in a couple-like style after opening his birthday presents, and in the following one, he was using his weight to make her fall back-first onto his fluffy futon, her head successfully landing in his pillow. Taking her weak shielding and arguments as a good chance, he advanced into her gently and, soon enough, the two of them were completely lost in each other.

It was needless to say that time had been much better than the last one, not only because they were totally inexperienced the first time, but because there had been actual response from the servant's part the second one, not to mention it lasted much longer. It was only then that he was able to feel how soft she was and how sweet she tasted as he found out that, despite having a strangely cold skin, she was quite warm on the inside. He felt himself smile against her lips at her useless attempts of speaking or pushing him back with her legs and arms, which stopped after a while. From that point on, the two were left to blend together beyond the limits of their bonds, only stopping when there was no signs of air left in their lungs.

Slowly, quietly, and perfectly.

She opened her mouth, but it took longer than she would have liked to admit for words to actually come out, "Waka, I... I must humbly declin–" When he disappointedly saw she was going to turn him down, as he had anticipated, he didn't think twice before catching her off-guard, which was very easy, since she had her mouth half-open in mid-sentence and eyes down yet again to hide her embarrassment (though everything else in her gave it away).

After Rikuo's fourteenth birthday, their relationship had reached a new level one more time. As he was able to find out she had also become as needy and longing as him within the passing months they had spent as "rivals", even though she was still able to fight him back most of the time. That was the biggest reason why he had decided he would hold back no more. He wouldn't bother contenting himself only with the opportunities he had of having her in his arms, murmur sweet nothings to her ears, or make her stay alone with him in his room for long periods of time. Instead, he would try using her weakness against her as many times he could by doing the only thing that could make her defenses falter.

Kissing.

Any sort of distraction was enough. Whenever she entered his room, his mind would drift away from whatever he would be doing to plot a way of catching her without prevention, not economizing the many advantages he had against her, like how he was bigger and stronger or how she couldn't make any noises of protest, or else someone could hear them through the thin screen of the shouji doors. And, when he wasn't able to score a kiss from her, he would do the usual teasing, which had been increasing, but not to the point of becoming indecent (or, at least, not more than it already was). An instance of that could be that, whenever the aide was in the presence of his clotheless figure for any reason, he would just limit himself to fusillade her red and flinching form with his eyes. Most of the times, she would push him off, but he noticed how he was able to be the winner of their quick battles more than before, so his conclusion was that that could be his best way to the final victory, which meant he would stop for nothing anymore.

Not even when his fiancée arrived.

On the contrary: now that Ienaga Kana was there, his assaults had become more often and audacious. A good example of that would be when he had met her again for the first time after so long. Before he had come out of his room, when his aide was helping him dress himself faster, he had used the excuse of leaning his forehead against hers to check if she had a fever to plant a small peck on her lips right in front of his arranged woman, to which he really did feel bad about, but it was nothing compared to the contrasting victorious satisfaction. A little after that, when he was walking the ladies to the main hall, where a party was waiting for them, the indigo-eyed servant had clung to his arm for a while, her embarrassment almost perfectly masked as she silently told him what he had done had been a dirty move, to which he had laughed a little, despite it being true. And another example would be the following morning, when, right after she did him the great favor of feeding him while he worked, she asked him if the taste of her cooking had been good enough. The face she had made when he pulled her into a surprise French kiss for the first time and shot her own question back had been priceless.

And with one swift yet almost graceful movement, their lips met once again.

~o0o~

BEHOLD! I, THE SUCKISH DENNOU WRITER, SHALL FILL THE END OF THIS CHAPTER WITH A VERY LAME AUTHOR NOTE FOR YOU, MY LOVELY READERS, AND ALL OF YOUR SUPPORT AND KINDNESS WITH THIS STORY! THANKS TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU, I WAS ABLE TO REACH AN OBJECTIVE I FIRST THOUGHT TO BE IMPOSSIBLE WHEN I STARTED POSTING THIS STORY: +100 REVIEWS IN THE FOURTH CHAPTER! I FREAKING LOVE YOU PEOPLE!

Now that I'm back to being sane, you must be wondering why having +100 reviews for this story is such a big deal to me if I already have another story with 125 reviews in the fourth chapter. Well, that is because, as you all must be aware, we have merely about 500 stories altogether for NuraMago in this site, and, as for the number of RikuTsura stories, we only have around 150. This is sad. Really, really sad. And, adding that to the fact NuraMago is ending soon, the fans are probably starting to get over it and finding other fandoms... anyways, with this, what I'm trying to say is that there are very little RikuTsura writers in this site, which makes people assume there are very little number of readers as well, as I had already mentioned before. That's why, from the very beginning, I was utterly surprised with all the attention my story has been getting. Like, even though I have very little faves and follows, there's a total of nearly 4,000 views and many awesome reviewers. Plus, you guys have been telling me I'm very professional and the best RikuTsura writer of this site. Some even asked me if I'm an actual writer, and that has been inflating my ego a lot.

For all of that, I'm thanking you guys. You deserve infinite cookies, yet all I can give you is this lame chapter! So, I hope you enjoy it till the very end! Until then, I promise to work hard!

Shall we go on?

Well here are the remarks:

1) Hahahaha, I couldn't believe how many of you thought there was the slightest possibility of Rikuo and Tsurara not kissing in this chapter. All of the reviewers that mentioned that asked me to make them kiss. No one ever said they shouldn't, which I was already expecting. And, for all the innocent ones that thought that was going to be their first: lol, I hope you liked the real thing, even though it was just a bit... okay, REALLY suckish.

2) Yeah, so, once again, we'll have the "why I ship this pairing" thingy – this time, for my JirouxKana and KubinashixKejourou OTPs. I ship them because of two reasons: the first is that I see no one better for them to end up with. I mean, I ship Rikuo with Tsurara, Natsumi with Kuro, Saori with Kiyo, and Yura with Mamiru, so Jirou and Kana would be the remaining forever alones. The second is that I think they would look kinda cute together. I mean, the two of them are sort of bubbly and jealous – to me, it would be funny to see them act like that around each other.

As for KubiKejou… well, I don't really need to make this a big explanation like the others, right? I mean, many people ship Kubinashi with Rihan and Tsurara, but, damn, I just can't see why. Because, man, Kubinashi and Kejourou are so BAMF together and they are so kind with each other… they only have a few romantic moments, but when it happens, I can't help but go all "KYAH~!", and I'm not even the type to squeal. They rock – that's all I have to say.

3) AND, FINALLY, HERE'S THE EXPLANATION FOR THE OOC RIKUO! For those that couldn't yet tell, Rikuo was a bit closer to Tsurara than he should and their closure seemed to be a little more romantic in my story, and that was because even before the story started, a romantic bond was already created between them. That's why he's kind of lovey-dovey with her, much like Nurarihyon was with Youhime or Rihan was with Yamabuki – well, at least, I think he would act like that if he was in admitted and explicit love with someone, if you understand what I mean. Oh, AT LAST, I can take that weight off my shoulders! Wah~!

4) Okay, so I fantasized a little with Jirou up there. We all know he's not the type to get angry and defy big guys in NuraMago, BUT, he's a grown-up in this story (kinda). I think he does have the capacity to mature at least a little bit, don't you? Besides, if he hadn't, making him end up with Kana would be the same as saying that all she deserves is the immature little brat Jirou is proved to be in the original storyline. And I kinda pity Jirou for being so left-off... I hope he finds someone in the manga, even if it's not Kana.

5) ARGH, I HATED SO MUCH WRITING ABOUT AN ANGSTY WAKANA! But still, it was quite necessary. Sowwy, Wakana~!

6) Many of you guys must be thinking the part with Kubinashi and Kejourou was pretty useless, but it was meant for two things: to show they are together and that most of the Nura household is aware Rikuo isn't in love with Kana nor do they approve their union, but only the closest servants to him suspect he and Tsurara have a romantic thing for each other.

7) Many of you must also be thinking I was exaggerating when I described a kiss as sexual harassment. But remember, this is set in long times ago~!

8) I have the feeling I must apologize to you, because I'm certain that you were waiting for the kissing scene to happen in this chapter, but, due to the other shipping tease and the many long flashbacks I had to put here, it didn't happen just yet. I also feel like I've trolled you by putting the essential part of the chapter by the end of it. I just thought it would be a good cliffhanger, though I know you guys aren't cliffhanger fans. Still, I'm glad I was able to overload this chapter with RikuTsura, just like I had promised. And, don't worry, because next chapter, I'll do my hardest to make the best kissing scene I've ever wrote! Thank you so much for your patience and comprehension!

9) I also believe I must apologize (especially to Kuro-san, who has probably been checking on this story every day again) for taking longer to update this chapter than the others, but I had been really busy. I've been having many school projects, and one of them includes the yearly school plays. Since I've been in charge of the fictile, I believe you can guess I've had a ton of work. But it was worth it, since everything turned out to go okay. Other than that, I took long because this chapter really did demand more dedication than the previous ones, just like the next one is going to demand more of this. Still, I'm glad I was able to make it in time to Rikuo's birthday (at least, where I am right now is still September 13th). I feel like this has been my present for him. *evil chibi laugh*

10) And, finally, apologize if their first and second kisses sucked. That was because, well... first experiences always suck. And, even though this is fictional, they are humans, so I think I must make them a little more realistic.

11) I'VE EXAGGERATED A LOT IN THE ROMANCE OF THIS CHAPTER AGAIN, DIDN'T I?! I NEVER LEARN! WHAT DOES RIKUTSURA EVEN DO TO ME, OMG?!

Now, replies to the anons (And, is it just me or there are less anons than before? Please, don't abandon me, anons!):

Yuki Onna: Thank you! Well, here I am again! I hope this chapter was worth the wait.

Guest: I hope you have loved this one as well!

Nadilicious: Yup! They had! Aw, thank you! You flatter me~!

Kuro: Of course you can. And, no, why would you ever bore me?!

Lol.

You mean the "reply"? You're very welcome! Your reviews were usually very curt, but, that one I had to reply to!

Awn, thank you very much –dattebane~! (Kushina-san, I was wondering if I could do the same…)

Thanks again. I'm glad it was worth the wait.

Ara, you think it feels better to read a RikuTsura story on Kana's POV? I wonder why… maybe it's because she's slowly realizing she isn't worthy of Rikuo.

Ahaha, wow! It's been a surprise how many of the readers here also support those pairings. I'm also thinking about adding some ItaRei, RiWaka and RiYama, but I don't know how (I was able to add KubiKino, though!). I need a freaking flashback for Rihan and a way to put Itaku and Reira in this story! Ideas, please!

Whoa, you seem like you've become obsessed with my story or something! Lol.

Oh, snap! You figured out about the ShimaxKana stuff! But I bet you have no idea of how they'll become a couple!

I know you don't hate my descriptions. I don't really get what you meant, but, I still can't go on with your proposal. You know there are rules to split a paragraph, right? I can't just randomly split them all…

Good. Why, you think English is hard? It's quite a bit practical to me… but then again, my first language is one of the world's hardest ones. What's yours?

You don't have to be an author to make an account! There are many users who are just readers! You could still make one, so we would be able to talk to each other without having to depend on reviews and replies~!

Of course you can! Anyone can be a good writer with dedication!

Okay, so, I thereby declare formed the Kuro Kazoku! *throws confetti* Beware the Kuro siblings, bitches! *puts on flashy sunglasses*

Thank you (how many times have I thanked you already?!)!

I'm glad you understand! And, whoa, that's tough on you! No wonder you just stated your sanity is in a very low level. I would have gone mad if I was in your shoes! Respect! *HEIL KURO-SAN*

I'll continue doing my best for you guys!

I know~! *smirks back*

Whoa, this must have been the longest reply I've ever wrote (almost an entire page for ya)! Be proud, will you?! XD

Guest (2): You again? Thanks for reviewing twice, even though you didn't have to, and congrats for being reviewer number 100, even though it's not really a big deal!

chevette: Own, thank you!

Well, I believe I've been writing for two years in this site. But, in case you're asking overall, I've been writing ever since I learned how to do it.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold your horses! I'm still only 16. Writing a book is not really in my priorities list yet. Right now, I only worry about studying and having fun – and for that, I do things like writing fics. But, after I grow up, maybe I can become a successful writer! It's a distant dream, but writing is one of the stuff I want to do for a living. The others would be either designing or illustrating (maybe both)~! But now you really got me wondering what in my works make me seem like I could be a professional…

eucliwoodscythe: Thank you! And I hope you liked the moment, hehehe.

I hope I haven't forgotten anyone until now! And, man, I feel like my author notes only get bigger as I update! Is that good or bad?

Anyways, thanks for reading! And reviews are always as welcome as they are helpful!

Can I call you Yuu-chan? *-*

n-chan: Your review was also amazing!

"Lemon"?! I don't think I'm one for that style at all... sorry.