THE KISS THAT NEVER WAS

Introductory Thoughts

Disclaimer: I don't own Love Hina.

I've never written fan-fiction before, or any kind of fiction, for that matter. I only recently discovered Love Hina, and know next to nothing of anime or fan fiction. But I felt compelled to start writing this because I found the romance between Keitaro and Narusegawa very unsatisfying. Some of the other women were much better matches for him, plus she deserved to lose him after all of her unreasonable punching and dithering. I thought I'd pick a point where it was most likely Keitaro and Naru would have a falling out, and then see what naturally transpires. The story seems to be writing itself, and I have no idea where it will go, how long the story will be, or which woman Keitaro will finally end up with, but I think it'll be fun to find out.

I also wanted to break off from the official timeline at a point where I could cut out the increasing number of fantastical plot twists involving too many missiles, explosions, chases, and the Kanako subplot, and have things a bit more grounded in reality. Some parts are a bit more risqué than usual, especially since some of the characters actually eventually have sex (gasp!). But I hope it's done in a tasteful, "fade to black" kind of way. I think one of the fun things about Love Hina is how Keitaro is constantly kept in a state of sexual agitation, yet real emotions and consequences are dealt with honestly as well. At first a lot of the focus is on Keitaro's relationships with Mitsune and Motoko, but later on Mutsumi and Narusegawa will also play major roles.

Some people may find their beloved characters acting out of character at times, so I want to explain my reasoning on that. The way I understand the official story, the other Hinata Inn women all wanted Keitaro as a boyfriend, but failed to wholeheartedly act on their emotions out of the sense that Naru and him were inevitably fated to be with each other. So emotional relationships remained mostly static pretty much through all of the manga. This story begins with that sense of inevitability firmly broken. That slowly but eventually turns Hinata Inn into an emotional tempest, as a free-for-all competition to win Keitaro's heart develops. So, given those drastic changes, some characters are forced to dramatically change and sometimes even act against their usual natures in order to react and adjust to new developments. So the characters are changing and evolving. For some characters like Keitaro and Motoko, dramatic changes begin very early on in this story.

Note that all thoughts are marked with italics. Sound effects are marked with .

Finally, my hat is off Alzrius. He has been a great help with editing, proofreading, and even giving specific suggestions for certain scenes and chapter titles. I also would have certainly given up on finishing the story had he not repeatedly goaded me into continuing it! ;)


The Kiss That Never Was, Part One

Prologue

This story is based on the manga and not the TV show. The plot begins to diverge from the official one at the end of volume number 9. In that story, after a rough patch in their relationship, Narusegawa tells Keitaro that she doesn't have romantic feelings for him, but wants to be just friends. His romantic hopes are looking grim, but then she reverses herself and allows him to kiss her, keeping his romantic hopes alive. This story imagines what would have happened if that kiss never happened, and his romantic feelings for her were quashed enough to actually become involved with other women. The story diverges from the official one after a few paragraphs when a tossed watermelon misses him, causing him to get away from Naru before she has chance to kiss him.

To further recall the scene, this story begins around June 2000. After failing three times, Keitaro has finally been admitted to Toudai (Tokyo University), but he missed his first semester because of a broken leg. Just as his leg heals and he is ready to return to school, summer vacation begins, once again delaying the start of his university career.

Keitaro's love life hasn't been faring much better. After chasing beautiful Narusegawa for two years, a few months ago he finally had admitted his love for her, but she's been avoiding him ever since. Though she loves him, she's not ready for a serious romance.


Chapter One: Disaster Strikes

All the residents of the Hinata Inn were on an overnight trip to go swimming at a high-class hotel. They were there at the invitation of Seta, the archeologist, and Keitaro's aunt Haruka. The day had been crazy for everyone. Seta and Haruka had suffered for years because the nature of their relationship hadn't been properly defined, and earlier in the day Haruka had turned down Seta's most recent offer of marriage.

It was now late at night and everyone had gone to bed except for Keitaro and Naru. For the first time in weeks, Naru and Keitaro were freely talking, and feeling relatively comfortable around each other. With the example of Seta and Haruka's ambiguous feelings for each other freshly in mind, Naru finally decided she had to make up her mind about Keitaro, and tell him how she felt about him.

The two of them sat sprawled out by the side of the hotel's large swimming pool, quietly watching the stars. It seemed like the perfect time for Naru to finally make her feelings for Keitaro clear. Seemingly out of nowhere, she turned towards him and said, "I… I like… you…"

Keitaro looked at the beautiful girl sitting so close to him in a skimpy bathing suit, and could hardly believe his ears. She said she liked me! It can't be!

Unfortunately, it wasn't. She continued, haltingly, "Sorry that I took so long to give you the answer… But… I… In my opinion… Instead of becoming lovers… Why not leave things just as they are … Just remaining friends … That's why I took so long to answer you … Is that OK for an answer...?" Her voice trailed off.

Keitaro's eyes popped wide open. In a flash of realization, it came to him. After all this time, Just friends! Everything had been going so well … we'd been getting closer and closer over the months, until I'd told her I loved her, and then it began to go wrong. Now it was all over! I've misunderstood everything. What an idiot!

He got up, unable to hear any more. "So the answer is no!" he yelled, and ran off.

Naru picked up a nearby object, which happened to be a watermelon, and prepared to hurl it towards Keitaro's head. (Whenever she got emotionally worked up about Keitaro, she hid her true feelings behind a wall of anger.) "That's not it!" she yelled, and threw the watermelon. Keitaro got hit or kicked so often that it seemed he was cursed, but this time he got off lucky. The watermelon just missed his head, and he kept on running into the darkness.

Naru was too distraught to go after him just then, and had been hoping the watermelon would stop him in his tracks. But it didn't. She was alone, lit by dim poolside lamps, on the grounds of an unfamiliar and big hotel. All her friends were asleep, and now, he was gone. She dropped her head to the ground and began to cry.

What the hell is wrong with me, she thought to herself. I didn't mean it that way! That came out so harsh! I don't want to be 'just friends,' but I'm just not ready to be lovers yet, either. I just want things to be how they were before; before he said he loved me and it all changed and got so serious. She cradled her head in her hands and sobbed. We've had so much fun; even if he is a dumb pervert… he's a fun pervert! She reconsidered her thoughts – Why do I keep putting down, even now, in my own thoughts? He's such a great guy… He's grown so much lately… So handsome and smart and responsible now… He even finally passed and is going to go to the best university in the country. He'd be a perfect boyfriend. What IS wrong with me?!?

"Arrggh!" she yelled out loud. She desperately wanted something or someone (preferably Keitaro) to punch so she could release her emotions, but there was nothing and no one around her; just an empty concrete pool patio.

As bad as Naru felt, Keitaro was feeling even worse. Even though he knew men shouldn't cry, tears were rolling down his face as he hurried through the hotel grounds. It seemed like he was floating, lost in a cloud of confusion and despair. He didn't even really noticed where he was going, but somehow he passed right through the hotel lobby and finally found himself standing on the street in front of the hotel. He shook free from his daze enough to look around. The streets were nearly empty of cars, and there were no people in sight.

He wondered, Maybe I should go back to Naru. No, I have my pride. I don't want her to see me blubbering like this! But she's a kind-hearted person. Knowing how she hurt my feelings, she's probably going to come looking for me, even though she doesn't care for me. I'd probably just say something hurtful or something to make it worse – I'd better away from here, away from her!

He ran off in some random direction, not caring where he was headed. He wandered down empty streets, drifting farther and farther from the hotel; still lost in thought and still crying.

Meanwhile, Naru lay by the side of the pool in the hotel. "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" she cursed herself, as she shook her clenched fists at the sky. She cried aloud, "After I hurt his feelings I wanted him to kiss me so badly! I should have let him kiss me! If I could just have kept things as they were, teasing and playful… Now he'll never forgive me!"

She looked around. Where did he go? She got up and began to wander, looking all over the gardens, lawns and pathways in the hotel compound. He was nowhere to be found. She went into the hotel lobby and looked out through the windows into the street. He wasn't there either. It wasn't smart for a scantily clad woman to wander the streets after midnight, so she went back into the hotel to find her friends.

"Kitsune! Kitsune! Open up!" She pounded on the door of the hotel room of her closest friend Mitsune, calling her by her nickname, "the fox." They were to be sharing a double that night; and her other friends were in other nearby double rooms. Mitsune came to the door dressed in just a towel, and opened it a crack. "Naru? Come in! What's wrong? I was wondering where you were - making lovey-dovey with Keitaro, eh?" she teased. No response. Mitsune rubbed her bleary fox-like eyes and opened the door all the way. There was Naru, with streams of tears pouring down her cheeks, and the saddest face Mitsune had ever seen her make. Mitsune's eyes opened wide in surprise as Naru ran into her arms.

Naru hurriedly told Mitsune the whole story, emphasizing her own foolishness and faults whenever possible. Mitsune tried her best to console her friend, but at the same time her clever mind began to think: Keitaro is probably out wandering the streets, dressed in just his bathing suit and a pullover sweater that he was wearing earlier. Wandering around like a fool, he could end up hurt or lost left alone out there!

When Naru finished her story, Mitsune put on a brave face, and tried to stir her out of her funk with a plan of action.

"Naru, Keitaro is wandering the streets! The fool can't take care of himself – he can hardly get halfway across the Hinata Inn without falling into somebody – we need to go and find him!" Naru, her head bowed down, just nodded. It seemed as if all the life had drained out of her.

Mitsune went out into the hallway and began waking up all the older members of their crew. Soon, Seta, Mutsumi, Haruka, Motoko, Mitsune and Naru were wandering the streets in pairs, looking for Keitaro.

They never did find him that night. After wandering for hours, Keitaro somehow found himself back in front of the Hinata Inn just as dawn was breaking. Some vague homing instinct led him back there, even though he gave little thought to where he was going. He found his way inside and collapsed onto his bed. He slept the deep sleep of someone totally exhausted, both mentally and physically.

A few hours later, a few of the others returned to the inn to check for him, and found him sleeping there. They decided to leave him be. He finally woke up in the afternoon, and eventually stumbled into an empty lobby. He found Shinobu in the kitchen. "Sempai!" she cried, with a face both happy to see him well and yet as sad as a lost lamb, because she had to give him really bad news. "Naru-san… she's…. she's gone. I'm so sorry, Sempai! She left this morning. She said she had to go back home to her parents for the summer..."

Keitaro just stood there as if struck dumb, his mouth agape. What happened??? Everything has gone wrong!


Chapter Two: Down In The Dumps

The next few days were some of the most miserable Keitaro had ever felt. Narusegawa is gone, and won't be coming back to the inn until who-knows-when, if ever! It's only been a few days since the cast from my broken foot has come off and I'm finally free to run around. That also means I'm able to start studying at Toudai, my lifetime dream. But, fool that I am, I lost all track of time and now it's summer and there's no school to attend anyways. And now that I can walk, there's nowhere I want to go, without Narusegawa around!

He thought about going to Narusegawa's parents' house, or at least calling her, but felt too ashamed.

That would only make it worse. She's been avoiding me for months, and now I'd chase after her like some kind of puppy dog who never knows when to give it a rest? Maybe when she'll come back things will be better…. Time heals all wounds. But in the meantime, I've got to do something to get her off of my mind.

To make matters worse, the ever-cheerful Mutsumi had little chance to cheer Keitaro up, because she had to leave the Hinata Inn a few days after his incident with Naru. Summer vacation had begun, and she already had plans to return home to her parents' house in Okinawa for the whole summer. She had hoped to invite both Keitaro and Naru to come with her there for the first part of her vacation, but clearly that could no longer happen. Mutsumi still harbored strong feelings for Keitaro, but she realized he needed some time and space alone after all that had just happened to him.

Before she left, Mutsumi thought to herself, Perhaps it's a good time to leave anyway. He needs time to heal. In a month or two, Kei-kun will be back on his feet and recovered from whatever happened between him and Naru. She's had so many chances, but she never appreciates what she has with him. She may not love him, but I do! When I get back in September, I won't hold back any more, out of respect for her. I'm going to do everything I can to win him!

So Naru and Mutsumi were gone, but all the other residents at Hinata Inn were staying put for the whole summer. The other women did their best to cheer Keitaro up, but all their efforts could hardly bring a smile to his face. And with Keitaro so down, the general atmosphere at Hinata Inn was gloomy.

Two weeks passed painfully slowly for Keitaro, with little change from day to day. Then Haruka announced that everyone should go back to the beach house just as they did the summer before, but that plan was quietly dropped when Keitaro told the others to go ahead without him. Haruka decided to postpone the trip until the end of summer vacation, when everyone hopefully would be in a better mood.

Keitaro was so down that he even failed to do anything "perverted." Mitsune in particular tried her best to "accidentally" get caught in compromising situations where he would find her in various states of undress. No response. One day, even Motoko "forgot" to close her door as she was changing and he was walking by, but he didn't even notice her. Shinobu cooked his favorite dishes every night, and everyone went out of their way to give him small kindnesses, but he couldn't be consoled. Hinata Inn felt like a morgue.

Finally, after those first two miserable weeks, Keitaro made a conscious effort to throw himself into work, to make the days more bearable and pass faster. As manager of the inn, he began devoting all his energy to running it. Since most of the day-to-day work such as the cooking and laundry was being taken care of by Shinobu, he began fixing everything that needed fixing. The place was old and really run down, and badly needed the attention. He fixed the hot spring taps, repaired the broken woodwork, and sanded and polished the floors until they shined.

On one particularly morose day, he even fixed the hole between the ceiling of his room and Naru's room above him. I won't be needing this ever again! he thought, mentally beating himself up. Narusegawa will never have any occasion to call me a pervert. What a loser I've been - popping my head into her room and catching her naked, when she doesn't even care if I exist!

But time really does heal all wounds, and as the weeks went by, life slowly returned to normal. With so many good friends trying to help him and cheer him up, it was hard for Keitaro to remain depressed, no matter how bad he felt about himself. By and by, he once again began to play games and run around with the younger residents like Sara, Shinobu, and Suu. On some nights, everyone would watch TV, or play videogames, or find other ways to pass the time away together.

Keitaro also began to study. Although he had no classes to study for, he had missed the first semester at Toudai, and was in serious danger of falling behind his peers. So he began prep work for the next semester, to bolster his shattered confidence.


Chapter Three: A New Beginning

One lazy day, Keitaro sat on the roof edge at the top of Hinata Inn, overlooking the city. It had been about a month since that dreadful last encounter between him and Naru. For weeks he had kept his days completely full with work so he wouldn't have any time to contemplate, but now that his pace had slowed down, he was beginning to think about Naru and related issues more and more.

She still hasn't called the inn. Is it truly over between us? Is she coming back? She has to come back to the city in the fall for the university, but will she stay at the Hinata Inn? What will I do when I see her again? What will she do? Where did I go wrong? Am I good enough to be a Toudai student? It was only because of Naru that I was able to pass the tests to enter the university in the first place. I have yet to even start my first class, because of the broken leg. Am I going to fall on my face, now that I don't have her for support and inspiration? What about my childhood promise? Why am I going to Toudai at all, now that she and I…

His thoughts continued to go round and round in his head in this manner, as it had nearly every day since his last fateful encounter with her. He watched the clouds roll by and looked at all the people far off in the distance, as small as ants.

But on this day, he began to have a change of attitude. He finally began to think of more than just Narusegawa. Why am I thinking like this again? he asked himself. I'm kicking myself over and over. I have to be optimistic. The past is gone. It's time to move on. Think about your situation, Keitaro! Here you are, manager of a girl's boarding school that's filled with nothing but pretty women. They all like you a lot. Any other young man would be happy to trade places with you in a heartbeat. Yet all you do is mope. Forget Naru! If she's going to be that way, let her. I'm going to be a real Toudai student this September. I did it – I achieved my dream of getting in! And this archeology work Seta has shown me is really exciting. Maybe in the future he and I can work on digs all over the world. I'll be living an exciting life! A promising career already, maybe. At school, I'll be meeting all kinds of new people. Maybe I'll find some woman there who'll make me forget all about Narusegawa. It's true that I'm 21 and I still have never had a girlfriend, but I've been kissed by a few now. I'm not the same shy guy I was two years ago, when I trembled just to be near a woman. I really have a bright future ahead of me.

Now that I think about it, it wasn't that long ago that I was almost forced to marry Motoko! If she had lost that battle with her sister, she might be my wife, right now! What would the Keitaro that first arrived at Hinata Inn think about that? I'm a man now, not a kid anymore.

And would that have been so bad, to be married to Motoko? I have to admit, there was a part of me that hoped that marriage would happen. She's so beautiful. Now that I think about it, I've barely even been paying attention to her lately. She must be hurt. I haven't been paying attention to anyone. Why am I just thinking about myself? I'm too self-centered, moping for weeks like somebody died.

And that's not all! What about Mitsune? Now that I think some more, lately she's been wearing some of the most flimsy outfits I've ever seen! Just yesterday, I walked by her room, and she was standing there, totally topless! And she didn't even punch me! It was almost like … she was kind of glad that I saw her, though that can't be. Wow. Her nice soft breasts were right there in front of me…

Speaking of which… Mutsumi! Heh-heh! She's a real looker! And such a nice person, too! We have so much in common. Could it be that she really likes me, that she'd be attracted to me? Maybe she's the one who's meant for me, not Narusegawa…

Keitaro cried, "Arrgggh!" as sat up and pounded a fist into a hand. His mood suddenly turned gloomy at the thought of Narusegawa's name. Now thinking aloud, he said, "Why did I have to think about HER again? I was just starting to get excited, thinking about other people for a change. Well, I'm not going to sit here, like a pathetic puppy dog, waiting for Narusegawa to come back. If she doesn't like me, I'm going to find someone else!"

Keitaro stood up and marched back to the inn, full of new resolve. He was at once both happier and sadder than he'd felt in a while. From that day forward, he began to show more life, and took more notice in the physical charms of the other women around him.

As Mitsune put it a few days later, just after Keitaro fell down and found his head somehow stuck between her legs, "The perverted Keitaro we all know and love is back!"


Chapter Four: Masters And Apprentices

Keitaro wisely decided that if he was going to get Naru out of his life, he would have to replace the large hole in his life that she occupied with other people and activities. He did most everything with her, now that he thought about it.

One day it occurred to him, Instead of her, her, her, I need to deliberately do more with the others around me. If I become more engaged in their lives, I can forget my own troubles all the better. For instance, Motoko-chan. I've been living with her for two years, I almost got married to her, as amazing as that is, and yet, in reality I hardly know her. We still are officially enemies of some kind. She calls me a weakling and I poke fun at her lack of feminine graces. I've got to find some way to change that. It's time I put the past behind me - look at things differently, do things differently. I'm going to start with Motoko.

The next morning, Keitaro walked up to the balcony where Motoko was doing her kendo practice. He sat and watched as she went through her daily exercises, slashing her sword through the air.

At first Motoko pretended not to notice him. Everyone was trying to humor him, so she checked her normal urge to send him flying for blatantly staring. But finally her curiosity and anger got the better of her. Impulsively, she stopped what she was doing, and turned towards him. She cried angrily, "What? What are you staring at, Urashima? Is this some kind of perverted thing? Are you going to stare at me all day? I think I liked you better last week when you weren't such a peeping Tom!"

Keitaro replied, "No, Motoko-chan, you misunderstand me!" and he flapped his arms in the air frantically. He stood up and walked towards her. "I'm just admiring your skill. In fact, it's something I really envy. I wish I could be half as good with a sword as you are." Motoko turned her head away, and the angry scowl on her face turned into an embarrassed blush. She never knew how to act when people complimented her, and didn't know what to say in return. "Uh, I have much to learn," she somehow stumbled out.

Keitaro pressed on, "Speaking of learning, I don't have a lot to do this summer, waiting until school begins. You all know how I've been going crazy, just trying to pass the time. I was wondering if I could ask you a favor. Could you teach me kendo? I could be your sparring partner. I know I'm nowhere near as good as you, but it must be better to practice against any person, no matter how bad, than just by yourself all the time?"

"Hrmph." Motoko frowned, trying to act stern, as if she was barely giving his idea any consideration. But secretly she was quite delighted. She was flattered that he wanted her to be his teacher, and pleasantly impressed that he wanted to learn kendo. But she couldn't admit such ideas to herself.

Instead, she thought, I guess it is true that practicing with someone else was much better for honing one's skills than just doing it alone, even if means fraternizing with a member of that lowly species called man. Not only that, but could this mean that Keitaro likes me in some way? Could he maybe even like me romantically? Not that I care!

But despite her denial of interest, she began daydreaming. She had a vision of the two of them running over the roofs of the Hinata Inn, swords flying between them. Keitaro was dressed like a samurai warrior, and had the dignity and grace of an ancient warrior hero. "Motoko-chan!" she heard him yell, as their swords clashed: "Remember, if I defeat you, I get to kiss you! If you defeat me, you have to kiss me!"

"Um, Motoko-chan?" Keitaro asked, wondering why she was staring into the sky with a pleasant smiled on her face.

She abruptly snapped back to reality. Her face burst into a deep blush, but the clueless Keitaro failed to notice, and had no idea what she was thinking. He was too busy with his own thoughts to ponder hers.

He started again, thinking of more reasons to help convince her. "Look…" He shuffled his feet and nervously ran his hands through his hair. "I can see you're having a hard time with this idea. But, it doesn't have to be just a one-way learning experience. You'd teach me something, so I can teach you something in return."

Motoko, still recovering from her unexpected daydream, put on her stern face again. "You? What could you teach me? Is this some other kind of perverted thing, trying to get me into some compromising situation?" That's what she said, but in fact she was already looking for some way to honorably accept his proposal.

"Uhhh…" Keitaro put his hand to his glasses and thought for a minute. The idea of learning kendo had come to him spontaneously as he was watching Motoko practice, and he hadn't really thought it through. What do I have to offer, that I could teach her?

"Um, please don't take this the wrong way, but you've been so busy becoming an expert swordswoman your whole life, practicing all the time since you were little, that you've missed out on other things. Whenever we hang out in a group, I never hear you talk about lots of normal stuff, like what music is popular, funny jokes, what's in fashion, good books, what movies are playing… In fact, you hardly ever see movies at all.

"Please don't get me wrong" - Keitaro's arms began wildly flapping up and down, as he imagined her angrily chopping him into pieces for his presumptuousness - "I admire your dedication and single-mindedness. But maybe I could be some kind of cultural tutor, so you could be hip and cool…" At that, his low self-esteem kicked in. "Not that I'm hip and cool! But you know what I mean. I could teach you about stuff you don't know about and I do. And! And not only that" – a new thought was forming in his mind – "but I noticed you've been paying more attention to your studies this last semester. Are you planning on continuing on to college? If so, I could help you out with your studies!"

"Hmm," replied Motoko. "I don't know, Urashima. This sounds like some kind of perverted plan to get me into a darkened movie theater so you can do God-knows-what. And my sister has warned me that spending too much time around men weakens my fighting spirit. She thinks that you're harmless enough though, Heaven knows why. But on the other hand, I don't want to discourage you from learning kendo. A weakling like you would really need something like this. This could be something like the special 'Hell training' I wanted you to do last year. If you accept, you'd better be ready, because I'm not going to go easy on you. Furthermore, if you try anything weird, you'll have to answer to my sword."

"And, as a matter of fact, I could use help with my scholastic studies. As a matter of fact…" - Motoko turned away to stare into the distance and began blushing once more - "uhhh, umm, I'm thinking about applying for Toudai myself."

Keitaro dropped his jaw in surprise.

She nervously turned back to see his reaction, and was offended at his shock. "Don't laugh! Don't look at me that way!" She socked him in the jaw and knocked him to the ground. Motoko stood over him with arms folded, "I know I've never really paid attention to my studies until recently, and that it's the best university in Japan. But let's face it - you're not a mental genius. You got into Toudai through sheer hard work. And if you can do that, I can do it too! I will not allow myself to be bettered by you!"

Changing moods again, she continued nervously, "But don't get any ideas! My interest in that university has nothing to do with the fact that you're going there! That's just a coincidence! And I don't even know if that's what I'll do, it's just an idea I have…"

Her voice trailed off, and she stared off into the distance again, blushing. Deep down, she knew the reason she wanted to go to Toudai was because he was going there, even if she couldn't fathom why that motivated her. She prayed that he wouldn't see this obvious explanation for her sudden new change of direction.

"Wow, that's great!" replied Keitaro. He was genuinely impressed. "I think that's a great idea." He smiled a happy smile at Motoko, and she sheepishly, tentatively, smiled back. Once again, still largely oblivious to Motoko's feelings towards him, Keitaro completely failed to grasp Motoko's motivations.

Keitaro dramatically pounded his fist into his hand. "Let's do it then!" Motoko picked up on his enthusiasm, and they shook hands vigorously, sealing the pact.

The two of them agreed that Motoko would begin Keitaro's kendo training the next morning. In return, he would immediately start academically tutoring her so she could eventually get into Toudai. In the meantime, as she put it, "If you can point out a thing or two about popular culture, I'll try to tolerate your foolishness." He rightly took that as her way of approving the idea.

Later that day, she went with him into the city to buy a sword he needed for kendo. They shared an awkward lunch at a downtown café, as Keitaro desperately tried to think of things to say to her. Looking all around him at the people and objects near the cafe, he discussed topics like anime, basketball, and favorite rock bands, and found that Motoko knew virtually nothing about anything he was talking about. Her ignorance at least solved the lack of things to talk about, as Keitaro went into great detail explaining things like the rules of basketball.

Afterwards, Keitaro wondered, How could she be so oblivious? She does live in Japan, after all. But at least they had a start. They could now freely interact one-to-one and not just in a group, and they had loads of new things to discuss, even if it was mostly just Keitaro explaining and Motoko absorbing or poking fun at the things he was interested in.


Chapter Five: A Typical Summer Day

The next morning however, his first kendo practice didn't start out well. Motoko and Keitaro hadn't remembered to set a time, so Keitaro woke up unusually early and went to the roof balcony, guessing that Motoko would be there. She was nowhere to be seen. He went looking for her and wound up in front of her room.

"Motoko-chan, are you in there?" he said as he opened the door. In his excitement to start kendo he wasn't thinking straight - Motoko was still getting dressed. She was picking a shirt up off of the ground, giving Keitaro an excellent view of her panty-clad ass wiggling high up in the air.

She picked up her sword from the ground, and stood up to face him. "Do you know the meaning of the word 'knock'?" she screamed. "You want a lesson? Here's your first lesson! Secret Art: Rolling Thunder!" She flashed her sword forward, and Keitaro found himself flying backwards as a sound like a loud sonic boom crashed in his ears. He ended up slightly embedded in the wood paneling in the wall across the hallway, like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon character.

...

But such accidents were par for the course, now that Keitaro was back to his usual self. As time passed from July into August, Keitaro began feeling better and better, despite the occasional flying punch or kick.

His incident with Naru back in early June was already beginning to seem like a distant nightmare. Although it and the resultant blow to his self-esteem was always somewhere in the back of his mind, he tried not to consciously think about anything having to do with Naru. With the Hinata Inn all repaired and running like a well-oiled machine, but with the new semester still a ways off, he devoted more of his time to being with his only friends, the other Hinata Inn residents. Previously, Keitaro always seemed to be around Naru, but now he devoted more time and attention to the other girls than he ever did before. Secret crushes had a chance to bloom.

Each morning, after waking up, Keitaro would go to the roof patio and practice kendo with Motoko. But much to both his and Motoko's surprise, he turned out to be surprisingly good at it, and intimate accidents were kept to a minimum during their practices. Although he remained clumsy in all other aspects, he showed remarkable dexterity and quickness as soon as he picked up a sword. Perhaps sword fighting brought out a sense of romantic daring-do born of countless novels and TV shows he had grown up with. But for whatever the reason, he found these morning exercises completely exhausting, but in a satisfying and exhilarating way.

Drenched with sweat, he would then take a bath in his private little tub, and then go see what everyone else was doing. Normally Suu would be hiding somewhere, waiting for him, and then surprise him with a quick kick to the face or chest, and finally tackle him with a hug. Then, usually, he, Suu, Sara, and Shinobu would play silly games. Even Mitsune would join in sometimes, especially since she usually didn't have anything better to do. If nothing much was happening, he'd take a nap or just laze around.

In the late afternoons, he and Motoko would study together around a table in the main lobby. Motoko had just turned 18 years old and recently graduated from high school, but she had nowhere to go for college any time soon. She hadn't applied anywhere, and in fact wouldn't have even qualified to take Toudai's entrance exam if she wanted to. So she was already a de facto ronin - studying for the chance to pass the Toudai entrance exam later in the year, just as Keitaro had done for the past three years. She needed all the time she could get to study, too, as she had never paid much attention to her studies and had always been in the bottom half of her class.

Keitaro had bought a number of prep books for himself, especially on archeology. Although most of his classes would be in basic subjects for the first few semesters, he was already excitedly anticipating taking classes taught by Seta, the Toudai archeology teacher who was also his occasional part-time boss and the de facto father of Sara.

Although Motoko and Keitaro would study most every day, they made slow progress. There were too many distractions, as people would always be coming and going through the lobby and competing for their attention. They would have done better in either Motoko's or Keitaro's room, but the traditional-minded Motoko thought either setting would be inappropriate, and frankly she was scared of being alone with Keitaro in a bedroom. The more time she spent with him, the stronger her crush for him grew, but she was still in extreme denial.

It didn't help their academic concentration, either, that the two of them were starting to socialize more and do things outside of the Hinata Inn, as part of Motoko's "cultural training." For instance, Keitaro took Motoko to a bookstore to find new pleasure reading that would interest her. They slowly grew more accustomed to talking and hanging out just one on one, instead of part of a group.

They even started going to the occasional movie together. But they would only see matinees, and only with Suu or someone else joining them, so it wouldn't be perceived as a "date." They mostly saw kung fu and action movies. Keitaro was somewhat rueful about inviting Suu, as the movies only inspired her even further to spontaneously kick and punch, usually in his direction. But Suu's playful enthusiasm was still fun to have along, though he was in more pain the better she got at kicking.

As the afternoon would come to an end, oftentimes Keitaro would go help Shinobu cook dinner. She didn't really need the help, but he noticed that his presence there would make her day brighter, and at the same time he was learning a lot about cooking. Previously, boiling water for a cup of instant noodles was about all he could manage competently. But with Shinobu's encouragement and enthusiasm, he found himself improving.

Evenings continued much as before, with games, TV, gambling, partying, dips in the hot springs, and general lazing around. Mitsune would repeatedly try to get Keitaro drunk on sake, since he was her only potential serious drinking partner. The others were too young to drink much except for Motoko, and Motoko preferred drinking vinegar to alcohol. Motoko had loosened up a lot since she'd first arrived at the inn, but she still had a long way to go before anyone would put the words "Motoko" and "easygoing" anywhere near each other.

Once Keitaro and Mitsune had had a few glasses to drink, her teasing and tempting of him would kick into high gear. Now that Naru was gone and Keitaro's libido had been restored, Mitsune found there was nothing more fun than getting him flustered. Like taking candy from a baby, it was so easy to manipulate him! All she'd have to do is flash him any view of her impressive breasts, and he'd be blushing and stumbling through his words like an imbecile. But she never got tired of it.

And so it went on, day after day. Everyone was happy.


Chapter Six: A Female Keitaro?

Everyone was happy, that is, but Motoko. Because of her new tutoring exchange pact with Keitaro, she was spending much more time with him than ever before, but that time together was an exquisite torture for her. She'd been in love with him for a long time now, but that love was steadily growing. Just a few months earlier, she and Keitaro had an intimate mouth-to-mouth kiss. True, it was done in the height of "battle," as part of her duty to create a distraction and recover a cursed sword. But a kiss was still a kiss. She couldn't get the kiss out of her mind.

By night, she would dream of Keitaro kissing her all over, and would happily imagine what it would be like if she had lost her battle with her sister, and the marriage ceremony between her and Keitaro had been forced to take place. In these dreams, Keitaro was a great swordsman, and together they ran the dojo that had been run by Motoko's descendants for generations.

Suu slept in Motoko's bed every night, because Suu had never slept alone. Oftentimes, Suu would hold Motoko in a death-grip of a hug while she was sleeping. This was really starting to frustrate Motoko, partly because it meant she never had a chance to be alone and luxuriate in her dreaming. But, more disturbingly, on several occasions she had woke up in the middle of the night, slowly coming out of a pleasant dream about kissing Keitaro and feeling him hold her in her arms, only to discover to her horror that it was all a dream, and it was Suu who was holding her! She was petrified that she would kiss Suu in her sleep or do some other accidental intimate act. She worried too that she would say Keitaro's name or some other stupid thing in her sleep, and that Suu would hear and tell everyone.

But unlike say, Shinobu, Motoko wasn't content to live in a dream world and just pretend that Keitaro was really hers. By day, Motoko would curse her impure thoughts, and try to deny their very existence. She hadn't seen their intimate kiss cause any change in Keitaro. Sure, he would still fall onto her or accidentally grope her as he always did, but he never mentioned their kiss or their near brush with marriage.

So her days passed all too slowly, and her pleasant nighttime dreams only increased her sense of shame and weakness in failing to control her emotions. She would vow that the next time Keitaro asked her and Suu to a movie she would say no, but when it actually came to it, she would find herself saying yes. The more she enjoyed herself, the more upset she felt about it.

Mornings were not too bad for her. When Motoko and Keitaro would practice kendo together, she was in her natural element. Dressed in her fully covering practice robes, things went relatively smoothly, though of course Keitaro would sometimes make some accidental contact, and she would be obliged to launch a punch at him that would send him spiraling towards the clouds.

But when they would sit next to each other studying, she was out of her element, and increasingly all fingers and thumbs. For starters, she didn't know what to wear. Her past attempts to dress more feminine had been overdone and ended in disastrous failure. She tentatively began wearing more "normal" clothing like blue jeans and t-shirts, although her wardrobe was extremely limited in those kinds of items. Subconsciously, she wanted to seduce Keitaro with sexy clothing and provocative looks, but she could no better do that than she could speak Swahili. She knew that with both Naru and Mutsumi gone she probably would never have a better chance at romance with Keitaro, but that made her inability to act all the more frustrating.

So, ironically, she found herself acting more and more like Keitaro. Now that she was a ronin, she bitterly recalled how much she used to chide him for being the same. But even worse, she was becoming clumsy like him - dropping books, spilling drinks, and accidentally bumping into him.

One day, as they sat studying together, she absent-mindedly put her hand on his crotch while reaching for an eraser. She immediately shot up like rocket and fled the room. As she ran off, she managed to blurt out the excuse, "Gotta go find the toilet!"

Panting and red faced, she entered the bathroom and took a look at herself in the mirror. "Arrggh!" she said under her breath. "'Gotta go find the toilet?' What kind of idiocy is that??? I know where the bathroom is!"

I'm beginning to sound and act just like that idiot Keitaro, she thought to herself. Oh no! Maybe his idiocy is contagious! I'm close to him every day - I must have caught his idiot disease. Or even worse - what if I'm catching his pervertedness? I put my hand on his crotch, even if only for a second! That's exactly the kind of thing he would do - I'm turning into a female Keitaro! She began pacing back and forth inside the bathroom, striking her arms into the air one minute, then folding them over her head the next as she mumbled to herself and paced.

"Something has to change. Every day I'm getting worse and worse. Where is my self-control? I can't concentrate on my studies or my kendo. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to leave the inn and become a nun or something!"

She stopped pacing and began to look at her face closely in the mirror. "Am I cute?" She asked herself, with a pleading look in her eyes. "Keitaro has said I'm cute. He even agreed to marry me, in theory..." Suddenly, her pessimism began flooding back. "No Motoko, you're a no-good, non-cute, nothing girl!"

She looked around. "Did I just say that out loud?" she wondered. "If anybody had heard me, I would just die. What if my sister could see me now?" SIGH "Something has to change, and soon!"

She pulled herself together emotionally, and went back out to continue her studying session with Keitaro.