A fic that's a bit different from everything else on fanfiction.net, I believe. At least in the Love Hina section, anyways. I've only seen the anime through the Spring and Winter specials, so don't shoot me for this timeline.

Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, don't sue me because I'm about $1,100 in the hole right now trying to fix a dead car and you won't get jack.

Preview: Keitaro and Naru got married their Junior year of college, had a little boy their Senior year and a little girl two years after they graduated. Everyone else is still there as well even though now it's 5-6 years after both of them graduated, as to what they're up to you'll soon find out. Then you have the new character too. But then tragedy strikes... the question is to whom, what comes off it, and how will things puzzle themselves out in the end?

P.S: Mainly from Motoko's point of view.

The Tragedy...

^*^*^*^

"Motoko-san, look!" beamed Keitaro as he proudly held up a small bundle for her to see. A tiny baby girl gurgled at her from his arms, blinking her eyes sleepily. "I am a father!!"

"You already where, baka," Naru reminded him from her hospital bed where a young girl and boy sat expectantly on either side of her.

"Congratulations," replied Motoko firmly, a slight smile on her face. "To both of you. She is a beautiful child, one to make you both proud, I am sure."

"She looks just like you, Naru," added Kitsune from where she stood beside the kendo woman. "The eyes, the nose, even your smile..."

"I want a picture with Keiko-chan!!" cried the boy, a joyful smile on his face as his mother ruffled his hair.

"Me too!! Me too!!" added his other sister, who met his smile with one of her own. "Wiff mommy too!!"

"Shh...you'll wake her up," Naru admonished them gently as Keitaro handed the baby to its mother and quickly prepared the camera he'd brought with them.

"Motoko-san," he said as he held it out to her. "Would you mind...?"

"Get over there," she replied, shooing him towards the others as she took it from his hands and backed up a bit. "Smile everyone..." *click*

"Excuse me," said the Doctor as he stuck his head in the door, his glasses sliding down his nose as he tried to shuffle through the files in his hands. "Urashima-san...I wish to speak with you and your wife for a moment, if it is at all possible?"

"We will go," decided Motoko before Keitaro could protest, Kitsune scooping up little four year old Sizu-chan from her mother's side as Motoko took the seven year old Shinji in her own arms.

"Well, thank you for looking after the little ones for me," replied Keitaro as the Doctor slipped over to Naru's side and whispered something in her ear. "We do appreciate it greatly, as they're most used to you, even though it cuts into your training..."

"It is nothing between frieds," cut in Motoko as Kitsune headed out the door, following her slowly. "Besides, I am rather...fond of the young ones myself. Shinobu and Su send their congratulations as well, and will be here tomorrow to see you."

"Of course. Good bye."

"Bye."

*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*&^&*

"Come on, sugar," said Kitsune with a smile as she hoisted the small girl on her back outside the hospital and began to walk to the subway. "Don't you start with those tears again, your Mom and Dad will be home soon enough." Sizu was average sized for her age, the long black hair that she'd inherited from Hina-san's husband flowing freely over her shoulders. Her brother had the same coal black hair except it was shorter and stuck out at funny angles, but they both had the same amber eyes their aunt had and Sizu looked like her father in face and mannerisms while Shinji tended to lean towards his mother in that way.

"Will mommy be home soon, Motoko-obassan?" asked Shinji, looking up at her with trust and concern shining in his eyes.

"Of course," she replied, setting him on the ground so he could walk on his own. "Just remember, Shinji-kun, you're the man of the house until your father gets home, right?"

"Right!" Shinji puffed his chest out, strutting in front of her importantly. "I'll protect you!"

Motoko hid her smile behind her hand as they reached the station and boarded the subway car. "I'm sure you will."

@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@#%#@

Naru stood in front of Hinata-sou, an anxious look on her face as she handed the now three-month old Keiko over to Motoko's capable arms. "You are sure you are ok with this, Motoko-chan? It seems unfair to me, dumping the three of them on you like this..."

"It will be fine," Motoko assured her for what seemed the millionth time. "Go, before you're late for your...?"

"Doctor's appointment," explained Keitaro as he hurried into his coat to guard against the late fall chill and helped Naru with hers as well. "Just a final check, according to the doctor, and then to the school so she can get her materials for this next semester."

"Ah, right." Motoko smiled at the baby in her arms as she gurgled happily, reaching to tug on Motoko's hair gently. "Be careful, and call if you need anything."

"Isn't that what we're supposed to say to you?" said Naru teasingly as she walked out the door with final wave. "Bye, Motoko-chan!"

"Take care, Naru-chan."

"You worry to much," teased Keitaro as they made their way to the subway at a quick walk. "The children can be no safer than when they're with Motoko. She cares for them as if they were her own, and would rather die than see one of them hurt. And while it's like pulling teeth to get her to admit it, she does love them very much."

"I know," replied Naru with a smile. "But I am a mother at heart, and I do think sometimes of giving of teaching just so I could stay home all day with them."

"You'd miss teaching too much," replied Keitaro with a grin. "This way they are happy, you are happy, and Motoko gets a discount on her rent as before. I've tried to pay her more, but she refused to accept it at all."

"Stubborn to the last," added Naru with a sigh. "But you're right, I worry too much. Everything will be fine, won't it?"

Keitaro nodded firmly. "Always."

*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*()*

"Shinji get your bag, you're going to be late," called Motoko as she fed Keiko her bottle, shifting the baby and the bottle so she'd have one hand free as she heard the door open behind her. Turning quickly, she paused as she took the lone figure in. "Hm? Haruka-san!" She raised her eyebrows in surprise, then bowed. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Just an offer to take Shinji to his school today, since you obviously have your hands fully," replied Haruka with an easy nod. She refrained from smoking in the house most of the time for the sake of the kids, but hadn't given up the habit in the least. "Muchiko is to return home today, is she not?"

"Hai, Onnesan will be by in awhile to get her herself." Motoko used her freed hand to give Shinji a one-armed hug before shooing him out the door after Haruka. "Behave, Shinji-kun, and remember Su-chan is picking you up today!"

He smiled, and waved to her as he ran down the steps. "Hai, Obassan!!"

"Obassan!!" cried Sizu, latching on to one leg as Muchiko followed at a slower place, looking up at Motoko solemnly. Even at five years old, she resembled Motoko greatly with short blue-black hair, serious gray-hazel eye, pale skin and love for the sword. Most thought she was her daughter and not her niece, and considering it was Motoko who taught her the sword and not her mother they weren't far from wrong.

"Sizu-chan, you cannot do that when I'm holding Keiko-chan, remember?" Motoko reminded her gently, now using her free arm to remove the little girl from her leg with a slight smile.

"Oh..." The girl sobered for a moment, then perked back up in an instant with a grin. "Gomen, Obassan."

"It's ok." She turned to Muchiko, who bowed slightly. "Muchiko-chan, are your things ready to leave?"

"Hai, Motoko-obassan," replied the girl softly. She kept her head down, but it was obvious from the way she fiddled with the handle of the wooden blade in her belt that something was wasn't right.

"Chico-chan," asked Motoko as she knelt beside the girl, Sizu having taken off for the kitchen were sounds of breakfast were coming from. "Is something wrong? You know you only have to ask if you wish to visit again..."

The girl brightened back up, then frowned. "But...the baby, and your agreement..."

"Keiko is not my child, or even my true niece," replied Motoko firmly. "I will always have time to help you train. Besides," Motoko rewarded the girl with one of her rare full smiles. "I always like just having you around."

Muchiko beamed.

"Ara, is anyone home?" called a familiar voice are Motoko sent the girl after Sizu to the kitchen for breakfast. "The front door was left open..." *thump*

Mutsumi-san?" Motoko turned to see the young woman passed out on the threshold of the Inn. "Some things never change..." She dragged her to the couch and lifted her up there, leaving her to wake on her own. Eventually she would, and greet those who were around or find her way home. It was just the way things were, and would probably always be.

"Something wrong?" asked Kitsune, the resident alcoholic as she groggily stumbled out into the hall, having heard the thump. Seeing Mutsumi lying on the couch, and Motoko standing there still feeding Keiko her bottle, she nodded in understanding. "Oh..."

"Good morning to you too," replied Motoko, wrinkling her nose.

*yawn* "Man that '82 had a kick to it that I wasn't expecting," muttered Kitsune as she ran a hand through her hair, ducking back into her room before appearing a moment later a good bit more presentable. She still kept herself at least two glasses from sober at all time, but rarely became as raging drunk as she had every night in her younger days. Somehow she managed to live at Hinata-sou, though she didn't have a job as far as the others knew. Still, no one questioned where she got the money as long as she paid her rent on time and only tried to cheat Keitaro out of a few yen occasionally.

"Come, Shinobu will have breakfast ready by now," Motoko reminded her, leading the way to the kitchen.

"What about that one?" asked Kitsune, jerking a thumb at the girl passed out on the couch. She yawned again and stretched, her eyes remaining in their trademark ^_^.

"She'll join us if she wakes, or leave later on," replied Motoko.

"Right..." She smiled at little Keiko, who had finished her bottle and was being burped on the way to their breakfast. "Aww....she's growing fast, Motoko-chan."

"Hai, she is," admitted Motoko softly, falling into her own thoughts for a moment before Kitsune jerked her out of them again.

"I still don't get why you have that deal with them," she stated out of the blue. "If you calculate how much you'd make if you charged what other sitters make, it's worth twice your rent per month, and Keitaro only knocks off half. Or you'll only let him knock off half, whatever. Think of all the yen you'd make..."

"I don't do it for the yen, Kitsune," replied Motoko calmly as she began to clear the table of Su's latest project with one hand. "Only someone with the wrong priorities would."

"Well, my priority is sake, and that happens to cost yen," replied Kitsune with a shrug as she took the bowl from in front of Sizu. "Hey, easy there squirt! Leave some rice for us."

"Gomen," replied Sizu with an apologetic smile. "Just so good...wanna eat it all!!"

"Yeah, yeah, kid. Just curb the appetite next time..." Kitsune waved the four year old off. Shinobu smiled brightly as she brought Motoko and Kitsune their plates and tea, Sun running in randomly and grabbing some bananas before zooming out the door again with a wave. Everyone just went on as usual, since Su had taken to sleeping late and barely making it to class on time with her new job.

"I will hold Keiko for you," said Shinobu as Motoko felt the child leave her arms in surprise.

"Are you sure?" replied Motoko. "I can manage, you know."

"H-hai, Motoko-sempai," replied Shinobu with a blush. "It is my last day, you know, and I won't get to see her for a long time."

"Oh, yes, when do you want me to help you take your things to the station?" put in Kitsune. "And what's the payment again?"

Motoko's head shot up in surprise, her chopsticks with rice paused in midair. "Kitsune, you're charging her to her to help her with her things?!"

Shinobu giggled. "No, Motoko-sempai," she explained softly. "I'm giving her all the sake I was sent in congratulations that I never drank." She shrugged lightly. "I rarely drink it, and otherwise it would go to waste..." Her eyes flickered for a moment.

"Shinobu-chan, you know we are all very proud of you for what you've accomplished," said Motoko with a serious, but kind expression on her face. "We will miss you, but you will be home for Christmas and Su-chan will be coming to join you there in a month."

"Yeah, not every person who fries up noodles can get into America's top Culinary Arts school after graduating with a Major is Cooking," added Kitsune with a smile. "Go you!"

"Arigato, Kitsune-san, Sempai," replied Shinobu with another blush. She glanced at the clock. "Aii! I'm going to miss the train! Come on, Kitsune!" She rushed out the door, depositing Keiko in Motoko's arms along the way before snatching up part of her bags and slipping her jacket on while on the go.

"I'm coming..." The foxy lady winked at Motoko and whisked out the door with a bottle of sake in one hand and the rest of the bags in the other. "Later!"

The swordswoman smiled slightly to herself, shaking her head as she rose slowly and cleared the dishes into the sink while the girls washed their hands. While doing so, the doorbell rang.

"Mama!!" Muchiko ran to the door with Sizu on her heals, the mini-swords girl smiling happily as she opened the door and flung herself at her mother's legs.

Tsurako laughed and smiled broadly, gathering the little girl up in her arms. "Ah, Muchiko-chan! I hope you behaved, as expected...?"

"Of course she did," affirmed Motoko as she came from the kitchen at a slower pace, Keiko still snuggled firmly in her arms and Sizu hiding behind her legs. The young woman bowed in deference to her older sister. "Oneechan..."

"You are being silly, Motoko-chan," sighed Tsurako as she pulled her little sister into a hug, mindful of the baby. "It is I who should bow to you, the new head of our clan! Is this little on Naru and Keitaro's newest, though?"

"Hai." She held the child out slightly so her sister could fuss over it gently for a moment. "She's called Keiko. She looks just like her mother, doesn't she?"

"Which makes me wonder why she's not with her and you aren't home leading the Dojo," replied Tsurako as she leaned over to pick up the bag Muchiko had dragged out, Sizu still looking up at her with wide eyes from being Motoko's legs.

Motoko frowned. "Oneechan!"

"You finished your degree in 3 years, and graduated with all honors," pointed out the woman firmly. "With a major in Law and a minor in Martial and Weapons Arts. The years after that you completed and Mastered the few ki techniques you had not learned. You have learned much here, yes, but I believe it is time to come home." She paused as Muchiko tugged on her skirt and pointed to their ticket. The train was to leave in 10 minutes. "We will continue this discussion later, Motoko-chan." She scooped up Muchiko and headed down the steps at a breakneck speed.

"Sayonara, Motoko-obassan!"

"Bye, Chiko-chan! Come and visit me again soon!"

"I will!"

"Byebye Chiko!"

"Bye, Sizu!!"

"Let's go," said Motoko as they disappeared from view. She closed the door, Sizu skipping along at her feet as they made their way upstairs. "We'll get you changed, and then we'll go to the park."

"YEAH!!" Motoko go them both changed and cleaned up, packing another bottle for Keiko as she gurgled happily. The child seldom seemed to cry, and was rarely without a smile. They were just about to leave through the back when someone knocked on the front door, then opened it.

"Motoko-san?"

"In the kitchen, Haruka-san!" Motoko called back, recognizing the voice instantly. The older woman walked in, wiping her hands on her apron out of habit as another woman followed her in slowly from behind.

"I have someone I want you to meet," explained Haruka before Motoko could ask any questions. "This is Alicia Smith." The young woman stepped forward slightly, about 20 or so from what Motoko could see with an open smile on her face and a cane in her right hand. She was as tall as Haruka was, with light skin, short red hair and a dusting of freckles over her nose. Her eyes, Motoko imagined, would be as open as her smile but were hidden from view by the dark, silver rimmed shades she wore. Dressed modestly in jeans, a long sleeve T, and a jean jacket, she was obviously from America. "By the way," added Haruka as Sizu latched herself onto her obassan's leg and Alicia bowed slightly in Motoko's direction. "She's blind. Get her a room on the bottom floor, will you? Keitaro is expecting her." She lifted Sizu from her leg by the collar and gave her a baleful look, Sizu just grinning back ever so charmingly and getting a smile in return despite the older woman's best efforts.

"Hai, Haruka-san," replied Motoko in slight surprise, taking Sizu from Haruka and setting her on the ground. The girl promptly vanished upstairs for goodness knows what as Haruka let herself back out, giving Motoko a wave as she did. "Welcome to Hinata-sou, Smith-san. I am Aynoma Motoko, but you may call me Motoko."

"Arigato for helping me settle in," replied Alicia with another bow her accent only slightly obvious in her near-fluent Japanese. "Please call me Alicia, though. Haruka-san asked me if I'd like to live here while your resident cook is out studying abroad to take her place so I can attend a school here as well." She stepped forward, then hesitated. "Uh...may I touch your face?"

Motoko paused. "...my face? Why?"

"Gomen, Motoko-san," apologized the young lady quickly. "But since I cannot see with my eyes, I see with my hands..."

"Oh, right." Motoko nodded to herself, then took one of Alicia's hands so she could guide it to her face. "Here. Be careful, though, I am holding a baby..."

"Is she yours?" asked the blind woman with a smile as she moved her gentle hands from Motoko's face to Keiko's. "Ah...she's not, is she?"

"No," replied Motoko slowly. "How did you know that...?"

"Her facial bone structure is as different from yours as night is from day," explained Alicia with a chuckle. "She's still cute, but her beauty is different from yours."

"Oh..." Sizu suddenly jumped from at Alicia from behind where the stairs were, a huge smile on her face.

"GERONIMO!!"

"Eh??"

"SIZU!!"

Motoko paused halfway on her way to grab Sizu from the air when she noticed Alicia shift like one who could feel the small body heading for her head and move so she caught the human projectile instead. "Oomph!! A little heavy there, aren't we?"

"Bah!! Wanna kick 'Licia-san like Su-chan taught me!" pouted Size as she let Alicia run a hand over her face, then hopped to the floor.

"Sizu, you know better than that," scolded Motoko as steered the young girl to the couch. Alicia politely hid her smile and bit down a chuckle as the Sizu was placed there and told to stay until they were ready to leave. Motoko than turned back to her. "May I ask you something, Alicia-san?"

"Hai, if you wish," replied Alicia with a slight nod.

"How did you catch her like that?" questioned Motoko. "That is...if you would not consider it rude of me to ask."

"I would call that curiosity, not rudeness," replied Alicia with a laugh. "As to catching her...it was just a stroke of luck. I heard her coming and hoped for the best."

"I see..." Motoko shrugged and easily swung Alicia's bag up on her shoulder with her one hand as Keiko continued to lay snuggled in the other. The child was so good sometimes it was scary... "Well, I am glad you have come to help with the cooking now that Shinobu has left us for awhile, and hope you enjoy your stay here. Shall I show you your room?"

The red head nodded quickly. "Yes, please." Motoko led Alicia along by letting her place a hand on her shoulder.

"The first room on the right is Naru and Keitaro's room. The one beside it is Kitsune's, whom you shall meet tonight, and the one across from hers is yours..." She slid up the door and moved aside to let Alicia in, setting her bag by the door. "Do you need some help, or should I help you settle in?"

"Thanks, but I'm good." Alicia turned and bowed with a smirk. "I must say, though, you are the first to not question my abilities as a blind cook."

Motoko chuckled dryly. "When you've seen a girl who can turn anything mechanical into one of her toys and lives with her room as a jungle, a three time ronin who is seemingly indestructible finally make it into his dream school, a t-...tur-...reptile who can fly and supposedly talk, and a woman who's so often intoxicated that you only worry when she's sober you tend to just take everything else in life in stride."

Alicia laughed out loud, nodding her head. "I see what you mean. Well, thank you for your help, Motoko-san."

"It was my pleasure," replied Motoko with a slight bow. "I must return to the little ones, though. Bye."

"Later."

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Su came skipping in as usual, Shinji on her back with a huge smile on both their faces. "Mmm!! Something smells good! Motoko-chan, did Shinobu get a new recipe?"

"No, that's the new cook, Alicia-san," replied the kendo woman from where she stood beside Keiko at the changing table. "Oh, Su-chan, would you come here and take care of Keiko for a moment..."

"Nope, no stinky diapers for Su!" the young woman said with a wink. "Gomen, Motoko-chan, that's your job." She set Shinji down and went about her business, popping in the kitchen to come back out with her cheeks stuffed full of something a few moments later to disappear upstairs.

"Hm." Motoko turned to the baby and began to change her soiled diaper slowly. "Eh...this is the one part of the job I do not like..."

"Motoko-obassan!!" Shinji and Sizu came running back into the room, latching onto a leg each. "Can we have a piece of Alicia-san's banana bread?" asked Shinji urgently.

"Please??" added Sizu sweetly.

"I suppose a bite wouldn't hurt," replied Motoko slowly, smiling as the two cheered in delight and raced off towards the kitchen. "Just a bite!! You already had a snack, Sizu, and dinner's only a few hours off!"

"I will only give them a taste," called Alicia from the kitchen. "Besides, a tan-skinned with blonde hair whirlwind just blew through here and devoured 3/4ths of it in one bite. I'm going to have to make more for after the meal..."

"Anyone home?" called a familiar voice from the front of the Inn, Sizu and Shinji immediately running and latching themselves around Keitaro's waist as he walked in the door. "Shin-kun! Sizu-chan! How was your day today??" He chattered on with them for a few moments, Motoko following at a much more sedated pace as she noted along the way that Mutsumi had awoken sometime during the day and taken herself home again.

"Keitaro-san!!" yelled Su, jumping from the top of the stairs with her foot forward, only to miss as Keitaro ducked once again. "Aw...shucks."

"Gonna have to do better than that," replied Keitaro with a wink. "How was work today, though?"

"Great! They let me rewire the computer system since I'm leaving in a month to head for the States, and I got to mess with the programming too so now everyone has Tama-chan as their trouble shooter system!!" The said turtle suddenly flew in from the hot springs, landing neatly on Su's head.

"Tama-chan! Your back!!" Su danced around happily with the turtle still on her head, passing very close to Motoko as she walked into the room with Keiko in her arms.

"ACK!!" She shifted the baby to her left arm and had her katana out in a blink with the right.

"Motoko-san!" Keitaro grabbed her sword arm and held it still, talking quickly in a low voice. He knew it was a stupid thing to do, though, and feared more for himself as he did than even for the child that Motoko held for as long as it was in her arms it was perfectly safe. "Relax, Motoko...you cannot blast Tama-san, remember? I know you don't like turtles..."

"They're vile, filthy creatures! This one has returned to haunt me again!!"

"Swilly Obassan," chirped Sizu as she came out and the turtle landed playfully on her head. "Tama-chan fun!!"

"It's a t...tur...shelled reptile!!" protested Motoko, though she lowered the blade slightly.

"Motoko," said Keitaro slowly, going in for the kill. "Shinji and Sizu love Tama-san...you wouldn't want to make them sad, would you?"

"You're using guilt on me to save that thing," said Motoko in disgust with a suppressed shudder. She lowered the blade, though, and resheathed it after pulling herself from Keitaro's grip. "You are either a very brave or very stupid man, Keitaro."

"Very stupid, most likely," he replied ruefully, taking Keiko from her before passing the gurgling baby onto his wife. "Are you going to train, now?"

"In a moment," replied Motoko, heading for the kitchen. "Alicia-san!" she called lightly. "Keitaro is here, the Manager Haruka told you of!"

"Coming!!" Alicia appeared a few moments later, her shades still on place but with an apron on as she'd been cooking some things for dinner early. "Konichiwa, Urashima-san," she said respectfully with a bow. "I am Alicia Smith, the one Haruka spoke of...?"

"Oh, right!" replied Keitaro, bowing in turn. "Welcome, Smith-san. I am sorry if you found things a little unprepared for you, I wasn't expecting you to arrive for another week or so! That's what Haruka-san said anyways..."

"I know, and I'm sorry if it inconvenienced you in anyway," replied Alicia, slightly hanging her head.

"Oh, it's alright," Keitaro quickly reassured her. "We're used to things being more than a little off here at Hinata-sou. Please, call me Keitaro. As Motoko-chan said, I'm the Manager here and will try to assist you in anyway I can!"

"Arigato," replied Alicia, suddenly turning her head slightly and rushing into the kitchen. "Excuse me for just a moment!!"

"Why does she wear the shaded glasses, mom?" asked Shinji as he tugged on Naru's skirt, her turning and looking down on him with a smile.

"I'm not sure, Shinji-kun. Do you know, Motoko-chan?"

"She's blind," replied Motoko with a shrug. "But completely competent from what I can tell, regardless. She made a wonderful lunch for the kids and I. However, now I am off to train." She turned with a wave and set off down the hallway, heading for the stairs that would lead her to the roof.

"A blind cook...? Well, we've seen stranger things..."

"We'll send someone for you when dinner's ready," Naru called after her as Motoko nodded her thanks, Alicia appearing a few moments later apologizing for forgetting that she'd left the stove on.

The evening went as smooth as any at Hinata-sou, Kitsune trying to have a drinking contest with the new cook, and then finding herself drunk under the table by an American who seemed unable to get drunk. Keitaro and Naru spent time with their children (who ran everywhere and destroyed things playing) and Su continued to build something she called 'The Ultimate Mecha Tama'. At least life was never boring around there, Motoko thought to herself as she began to practice up on the roof, if that was a quality you desired in your life.

~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~!@!~

A month passed, everyone setting Alicia into their lives in some way or another, and time continued on. To the kids, she was their new favorite aunt who spoiled them with treats and goodies in the kitchen. To Keitaro and Naru, who only saw her at meal times and in the late evenings, she was a nice tenant who did her share of the work and wished they could get to know better when they had the time. To Kitsune she was a drinking buddy when she was blasted and someone to talk to when she was not. Su loved her for her banana bread and the two of them had spent evenings baking batch after batch together to be devoured moments later. For Motoko, she was invaluable friend whom she took care to never take advantage of but was always grateful for her help with the young ones when things got more than a little hectic.

Motoko sat in the sun on the floor of the living room, lightly mediating in the calm joy around her as Keiko slept beside her in a basket and Shinji and Sizu built towers with wooden blocks. with Alicia nearby.

"Lookie, obassan!!" cried Shinji as he pulled her sleeve lightly. "I made a tower like Alicia-chan's!"

*crash*

The boy turned aorund to see Sizu lying sheepishly among the heap of blocks that had once been his tower. "Oopsies...went boom..."

"Sizu-chan!!" He ran at her, fists balled in rage.

"AHH!! Gomen!!" Motoko rose quickly and was about to catch them both when the phone rang. Alicia motioned for her to answer it as she rose as well, turning to chase the pair with a mischievous smile.

"Mooshi mooshi, this is Hinata-sou," said Motoko politesly as she cradled the phone between her shoulder and ear, reaching for the fussing Keiko in her basket. "Aoyana speaking."

"Motoko, it's Keitaro!!"

"Keitaro-san?" Motoko frowned and looked at Alicia who was walking back with Shinji on her shoulders and Sizu wrapped around her right leg. "Aren't you supposed to be with Naru shopping? Did you forget your wallet again?"

"Motoko-chan, listen to me," said Keitaro, his voice on the brink of breaking as he practically begged her over the phone. "I need you to come to the Tokyo hospital. Bring the kids with you, and leave a note for the rest."

Motoko clamped down on the panic that welled up inside, forcing herself to be calm. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

She felt the relief in his tone practically wash over her through the line. "Arigato, Motoko-san."

"Mhmm." She hung up the phone and turned around quickly. "Alicia-chan," she said crisply as she gathered together Keiko's things. "Get Sizu-chan her coat and shoes. Shinji-kun, get your things, we need to go."

"Is something wrong, Obassan?" asked Shinji as he slid from Alicia's shoulders, the blind woman pausing to hear her answer.

"We're just going on a trip," replied Motoko with a forced smile. "Please just go get ready quickly, ok?"

"Are we going to take the train?"

"Hai."

"Yeah!! Shinji and Sizu ran off, heading for the closet.

Alicia started to follow, then paused again. "Do you want me to come too, Motoko-chan? They are a handful..."

"If you could," replied Motoko quickly. She finished packing Keiko's bag and slung it over her shoulder, the 4 month old baby snuggling into the crook of her arm and falling back into it's afternoon nap once more. Scribbling a note tot eh others, like a whirlwind they swept out the door and headed for the train station.

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Shinji and Sizu sat side by side on their knees as they stared out the window, exclaiming quietly to one another at the sights that whizzed by outside the train. Motoko and Alicia sat to their right, Keiko still asleep in Motoko's arms.

"You're worried," murmured Alicia as she stared straight ahead, both hands clasping the cane that she held over her lap. Motoko didn't reply, knowing it was training alone that was keeping her as clam and collected as she appeared. Inside, fear was squeezing her heart so tight she thought it would burst. Her stomach in knots from worry, Keitaro hadn't explained the situation to her and all she could do was hope for the best.

"To put it lightly," she whispered after several moments. "Yes."

"You are no use to anyone as a bundle of nerves," murmured Alicia, laying a hand on Motoko's arm. The warrior could practically feel the soothing calm that radiated from that touch, her heart slowing to its normal pace and her muscles loosening their tautness bit by bit.

"Arigato," sighed Motoko as she closed her eyes, finding herself peacefully centered as she'd been taught once again.

"A gift between friends," replied Alicia, tilting her head back as the train began to slow. The speakers crackled overhead, announcing their destination: Downtown Tokyo. "Come on, guys, we're here."

Normally, when Motoko and Alicia took the two out, Shinji would take the lead and proudly help Alicia along by holding her hand. But Motoko swept the young boy up in one arm with Keiko in the other, Alicia following along with Sizu on her back and her cane hooked on Motoko's bag. The crowds seemingly parted before them as all five rushed towards Keitaro and the Hospital, leaving a clear path by which they could run.

They just hoped it wasn't too late.

??????????????????

Keitaro paced back and forth by the front desk, checking the time every few seconds as he vigilantly waited for any sign of his friends to arrive. The doctors still wouldn't let him, and watching for their arrival was the only thing he could do. He paused as his imagination began to take over, images of the others being held up by the train breaking down, or even worse crashing into something!! Or what if...

"Otosan!!"

"Shinji-kun!" He picked up the little boy, who had jumped from Motoko's arm the moment he'd seen his father, and hugged him tightly. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here..."

"Papa?" Sizu clambered down from Alicia's back and attached herself to Keitaro's leg. "Why we here, Papa?"

"Don't worry about that, sweetie..." He brought her into his arms as well, carrying them both to another room on the other side of the waiting room and setting them down there. "I need you both to be brave and stay here for awhile, ok? Papa, Motoko-obassan and Alicia-san have something they need to take care of, and then we'll be back." Motoko smiled at them reassuringly, handing Keiko over as well with her diaper bag.

"Hai, Otosan."

"Hai, Papa."

Keitaro smiled, his eyes practically shining with the love he had for them. "That's my good children." The nurse in charge pulled the pair in, amusing them with blocks similar to those Alicia had used earlier that day so they were soon absorbed in building towers once again.

"Urashima-san?" asked one of the doctor's, appearing suddenly. Keitaro turned quickly, a frantic look on his face.

"Is she ok??" he demanded, Motoko and Alicia right at his heals. "What's going on??"

"She's stable at the moment, sir," replied the doctor, pausing for a moment as he caught sight of the two women behind Keitaro.

"These are two of her closest friends, tenants at our boarding house," explained Keitaro quickly. "They brought the children as you asked. Please, can I see her, Doctor?"

"You can," assented the Doctor, holding out his hand as Keitaro tried to rush straight down the hall. "But...I must warn you. She's extremely weak. We ran another test and the result is not good..."

Keitaro paused, and then gulped. "How much longer does she have?"

"A few days, a week at the most, perhaps."

"A week?!" Motoko burst out, grabbing Keitaro's shoulders and spinning him around so she had a hand on each of his shoulder's. "Keitaro, what does he mean she only has a week at the most?! I just saw her this morning, and she was fine..."

"Motoko, please," begged Keitaro as he put a hand over her mouth. "I will explain everything I promise, just let me see Naru-chan first..."

The kendo woman paused, then nodded slowly, Alicia taking her arm and guiding her slowly down the hall after Keitaro and the Doctor. The hallway seemed to stretch in before them into infinity, finally turn right and leading them to a set of doors in a hallway that ranged along its self in periodical intervals. The Doctor opened the first of these he came to, cautioning them again not to overwhelm the sick woman and standing aside so they could enter before he closed it once again.

"...Naru?" Keitaro sat beside his wife who lay there still as death, her naturally pale skin as white as a ghost with webs of red and purple covering her arms. Motoko stood just inside the door, too in shock to do anything else. Her eyes slowly opened, her face calm and composed though the trail of sweat down her forehead betraying the pain she was in.

"Keitaro...?" She sighed, then smiled wanly. "I suppose that...nothing can be fine forever...ne?"

"Everything will be fine," he insisted quietly, Alicia murmuring something in Motoko's ear about the children before slipping back out the door and down the hall, leaving the three of them alone for the time being. "Even the doctor said so..."

"Liar," she chided him gently, turning to look at Motoko. "I'm sorry, Motoko-chan, I should have told you and the rest earlier..."

"You did what you thought was best," Motoko whispered quietly, barely trusting herself with that at the tears that came from the sight of her friend. "What has happened is in the past."

"You still deserved to know," replied Naru, pointing weakly to the seat on the other side of the bed. "There...sit down. That is, if sitting by the IV doesn't creep you out too much..."

"It's fine," she replied softly, taking the offered seat. Kitsune burst in just as she had settled herself, a worry written all over her face as she took in the scene before her.

"Naru!"

"Kitsune." Naru smiled, reaching out for her friend who stumbled to her side in shock. "I...Gomen, Kitsune. You're the first I should have told of all."

"It doesn't matter now, sugar," replied the now-sober alcoholic as two others entered the room, Haruka with an unusually serious expression on her face and Mutsumi with Tama-chan hidden in her shoulder bag. Motoko cringed at the very sight of the creature, but stayed still as they were in a Hospital at the moment. "Just as long as you're going to be alright, and we find a way to cure you..."

"There isn't one," said Naru adamantly, silencing all protests with a stern look. "Don't give me false hope. I know what this is, and I know what it's doing to me. I watched my great aunt die from the exact same thing when I was younger, for it's a condition that comes out in one female every few generations of my family. Sometimes it strikes early, other times it doesn't come until the very end of life, but once it starts up, it is impossible to stop. My days left are few, I know this, and it no longer bothers me because I've had time to prepare myself for it. I don't want to but..." She paused there, nodding her head slowly. "I'm ready to say goodbye."

"Never!" cried Keitaro in denial. "The Doctor, when he first told us, said it would be years before it would affect you. Even when he checked in with you a month ago with the tests he confirmed it! It's not your time, Naru-chan, I'm not letting you go!"

"You don't have a choice." The finality in the doctor's voice from behind them all struck them all silent, Keitaro standing up straight and turning slowly to face him.

"Then there is nothing we can do?" he asked, his voice building with anger every moment. "Nothing at all?!"

"You can stay here at her side, and gain a few more memories until it ends," the Doctor responded firmly. "Gomen, Urashima-san, that is the best any of us can do."

"But it's not good enough!" thundered Keitaro back, balling his hands into fists. "There must be something...!"

"Calm yourself, Urashima-san!" ordered the Doctor. "I don't want to, but if you insist upon making a spectacle of yourself I'll call security and you can do it outside this facility!"

"He will be fine," stepped in Haruka, pulling Keitaro to the side and giving him a look that made him shut up immediately. Even at 31 he feared her, and probably had reason to too. "You have my word."

"Good." The Doctor nodded, then looked at Naru sadly. "Gomen, but I have other patients who need tending to..."

"Go, then," replied Haruka. "We will send for you if anything is needed."

"Arigato." He turned and left, closing the door behind himself once more.

The hours passed, Naru bringing their spirits back up with her smile alone as she assured them time and time again she was fine and needed nothing more than their presence. Su, who had left just two days before, and Shinobu were called and given time to talk to her, promising to call each day and speak with her again and wishing they had some way to get home.

The children were fetched from the nursery and allowed time with her too, tracing the red and purple lines with their fingers as their mother slowly explained to them that she was very sick and wouldn't get to see them for a long time. Keiko, of course, was too young to understand and lay there making bubbles with her spit while smiling at her mother all the while.

Night fell, and a bed was made for Keitaro by the nurses in one of the chairs of the room. Haruka , Alicia, and Mutsumi (who hadn't fainted yet that day) went home with the children, Kitsune refusing to leave Naru's side and Motoko staying with her to make sure she was alright. Curled up together on a bench outside the room, the foxy lady cried herself to sleep on Motoko's shoulder, the kendo woman keeping watch over her and the rest through the night in meditation.

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Kitsune woke well before dawn, finding herself asleep on someone familiar somewhere she didn't remember, but had a horrible feeling about. Slowly, she sat up and focused her eyes, taking in the dozing Motoko and the starch-white halls. The hospital? Why in the world was she...Naru.

She stretched her legs and moved away from Motoko completely, waking her in the process. The swordswoman opened her eyes and sighed, stretching out her arms before checking that her wrapped blade was still attached to her back. She'd taken to wearing it there when the teacher's refused to let her on the Tokyo U campus with it openly at her side.

"Ah, gomen Motoko," whispered Kitsune, lowering her tear-reddened eyes to the ground. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's alright," replied Motoko in a low voice. She turned her head as her own eyes began to tear. "Sleep isn't really a priority right now."

"Yeah..." Kitsune leaned back, blowing air out her mouth in a huff that stirred her drooping bangs lightly. "I still can't believe it...I mean, yesterday morning she was fine and telling me not to drink so much wine in front of the kids, and now..." She stopped and sucked in a deep breath of air, holding back the tears. "I...can remember even now when we first met...and then moved to Hinata-sou together in High school and met you and the rest...our world there was perfect." She laughed weakly, then amended, "Or as perfect as it could get. Then Keitaro-kun bumbled in and everything changed...but still, everyone was happy for the most part and eventually he too fit right in too. Then came little Shinobu-chan, our ever sweet and innocent chef...and Mutsumi, who still passes out everywhere she goes..."

"You can't forget Su's brother and sister," added Motoko quietly with a grin. "Or Seta-san and Sarah-chan."

"Yeah, them too." Kitsune drifted off again, strung between sleep and her memories as Motoko gently draped her coat over her again and rose gracefully, stretching out her stiff joints as the nurses came and went, some just arriving and others leaving in the change of shifts.

"Motoko-chan?" She turned, seeing a sleepy Keitaro sticking his head out of Naru's room. "Would you mind getting me some coffee? It's in the cafeteria, but I don't want to leave Naru-chan..."

"I understand," she replied with a wry grin. "And I could use some tea myself. I will be back shortly, Keitaro-san." She bowed slightly and spun on her heel, disappearing silently down the hall before he could thank her at all.

The walk down to the hospital food court gave Motoko more time to think and reflect over her own feelings, something she hadn't done since they arrived at the hospital itself and found out about Naru's terminal illness. Her grief alone was enough to overwhelm the young woman, coupled with her helplessness at being unable to help her friend and anger at the helplessness. There was a hole in her heart where Naru had given her friendship, one that ached with emptiness just at the thought that one of her closest companions would soon leave them forever. Sadness was there too, floods of it that made her want to curl up and cry like Kitsune had the night before.

She paid for the tea and coffee, distantly remembering to pick up the cream and sugar Keitaro liked with it as she continued to mull over their situation morosely. She decided she would wall up her feelings for now and deal with them later when everything was over. Keitaro, Kitsune, and the rest needed her to be strong for them right now, and so she would.

Opening the door with her elbow, she slipped into Naru's room to find Keitaro asleep again, this time with his hands clasped around Naru's and his head laying on the bed at her side.

"Morning," said Naru, who was awake," with a small smile, seeing the drinks in Motoko's hand. "Keitaro said he'd asked you to get him something...but I think we'll let him sleep a bit more, ne? Besides, I need to talk to you, Motoko-chan...it will not be long now, and this is something that is too important to wait." She motioned to the chair on the other side of the bed, which she took silently after hanging her wrapped katana on the back, setting the tea on the table nearby.

"What is it you need of me?" she asked quietly after settling herself, looking Naru straight in the eye. "Ask me anything and I will do it if I can."

"My children," replied Naru sadly, turning to look at Keitaro's hands, which she stroked fondly. "Our children, that is...there's no one I trust more than you, Motoko-chan, with them and no one they love more than you. Swear to me you'll watch after them always, even if Keitaro remarries and has another wife?"

"I swear it on my blade, in the name of friendship," replied Motoko immediately. "And it honors me that you would trust me with such precious beings as them."

Naru laughed weakly. "They are very precious to me, yes. And I can ease my thoughts concerning them knowing you will be there for them always. But that is not all..." She paused there, looking sadder by the moment as Motoko patiently waited for what Naru had to say next. "I...I want you to watch over Keitaro as well," she whispered, a tear tracing it's path down her cheek. "He's a silly man, Motoko, and even now when he's supposed to be all grown up he needs someone to keep him in line..."

"You were always the best at that," murmured Motoko, closing her eyes as she considered what Naru had said. "That's why he married you."

"I want him to be happy," went on Naru slowly, sniffling every now and then. "Even without me there. I've already told him more than once that he needs to remarry, to find someone else to help him raise our children, but he is so stubborn sometimes, and that's why I ask you to watch over them as well..."

"And I will," replied Motoko firmly. "Naru, I love them like they were my own, as everyone at Hinata-sou does. They will be well cared for, I promise."

"I know," Naru stated slowly. "But I still worry about Keitaro as well. Please promise me you'll watch over him too, Motoko? Be there for him as you've always been for the rest of us...strong and steady when we were not...or a big sister, like you were to Su-chan....she still looks up to you more than any other..."

"She's still a foolish child," replied Motoko in embarrassment. "I am hardly as you described me, Naru-san, but for you sake...I will do my best."

"Arigato."

"Hmm..." Keitaro stirred in his sleep, breathing deeply. "Now I know I smell coffee..."

"Hot and waiting, sleepy head," teased Naru as Motoko rose with a bow and slipped back out of the room, her tea in one hand and sword in the other. Kitsune looked at her dazedly from the bench and she offered her the rest of the tea, which she accepted gratefully to wake herself up before going into the room as well and spending more time with her dying friend. Motoko sat guard by her door once more on the bench, legs crossed underneath her and the wrapped blade balanced over her knees as doctors and nurses passed her back and forth during the day.

Night came once again, the Doctor going in the room at sundown and coming out again with a strained expression on his face. Motoko met his eyes, and he nodded once, leaving down the hall from which he'd originally come.

Rising to her feet, she walked in and stood by the bed, putting her hands on Kitsune's shoulders as Naru began to fade before their eyes. It was obvious she wouldn't last much longer, the webs of red and purple standing out under her skin, sucking the very life from her body.

"Goodbye, Keitaro...Kitsune...Motoko..." she murmured as she closed her eyes, her body fully relaxed for the first time since they'd arrived as she could no longer feel the pain. "I...I love you...tell my children...I will miss them too...Keitaro..." Her head sank back as her eyes closed, the body going limp as she breathed her last and her heart stopped altogether, the monitor beside the bed going to a flat line.

"Naru...!!" Keitaro lost it completely and began to weep uncontrollably, Kitsune joining him as they each held one of her cold, lifeless hands as if they could somehow pull her spirit back into her body.

"You can't be gone..." sobbed Kitsune, turning and burying her head into Motoko's side, the other woman doing her best to comfort her as she lost herself in her anguish once again. "You just can't, dammit! It's not fair!"

"Shh..." Motoko smoothed Kitsune's hair and slowly quieted her, the nurses coming and taking the body away after awhile. From there, it would be shipped to the temple Naru had indicated the day before, and tomorrow her burial would be held in the family corner of the graveyard. Taking Kitsune with one arm, and Keitaro with the other, she slowly led them out and down to the front desk where she picked up Naru's things and headed out the door, hailing a taxi that took them to Hinata-sou.

Kitsune disappeared the moment they reached it, locking herself in her room where the sound of bottles being opened could be heard and the occasional soft whimper as well. Keitaro she had to help up the stairs and into the main room, staying with him as he collapsed onto the couch and cried himself to sleep on her shoulder. Her own sadness came and went, making her numb and overwhelmed by turns, but she forced herself to remain calm and steady even as she gently removed herself from him and covered him with a blanket before heading up to the roof of the boarding house.

There, she found Alicia perfectly balanced on the rail of the area where the clothesline was, her cane below her on the ground and her hands folded neatly in her lap.

"Alicia-san?"

"Hm? Oh! Motoko-san..." The young woman unfolded her legs and swung around so she was standing beside Motoko, a sad smile on her face. "Naru-san...?"

"Died right after sunset," came the short explanation. "Tomorrow is her burial, as requested."

"I see." Alicia ran a hand through her hair, watching the katana wielding woman as she obviously was torn between keeping her calm exterior and giving in to the raging emotions inside of her. "You know, Motoko-san...it is ok to cry."

"I know." Motoko set her chin stubbornly. "But others need someone to be there for them when they shed their tears."

"I have shed mine," replied Alicia softly. "When I put Keiko, Shinji, and Sizu to bed tonight and realized their mother would never again see them like this, nor they her. I think it is time your shed yours as well."

Motoko lost it completely as Alicia talked about the young ones, tears pouring down her face as Alicia wrapped her arms around her protectively and held her like a mother soothing a sobbing child.

"Naru-chan...I'm sorry...I wish I could have done more..." The moon rose and fell overhead, time passing but neither noticing it at all. Motoko merely allowed herself to be comforted, and let Alicia be the strong one for once.

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The memorial service was held the next day, Naru already buried for health reasons and everyone visiting the fresh grave afterwards. Keitaro managed to pull himself together afterwards, getting his things in order again, and packing up Naru's things after a few days to send back home. Her ring and a few pictures were all that he kept, the rest going in boxes to be shipped or packed away for later on.

Everyday he went to work and threw himself into it wholeheartedly, taking only a week break after her death before returning because the only way to keep himself from thinking about it was to keep himself busy. Still, every night he collapsed on the couch and cried himself to sleep on Motoko's shoulder, the young woman then covering him with a blanket and heading to the roof where she and Alicia talked. At first, it had been mainly about Naru and the times they'd had together, but as of late the topics had begun to grow and Motoko found herself confiding things in the girl that she'd never admitted to anyone before and wondered at the change in herself.

Kitsune, though, was a mess. After the service she got drunk again and hadn't been fully sober since. Not that she ever was, but more so than usual. She ranged between sobbing sloppily on her bed with grief and intoxication and complete exhaustion where she simply laid there and didn't move for hours at a time. Finally, Haruka, who was coping in her own way of making elaborate paper fans, dragged her out of her room and dumped her in the hot springs, telling her to either pull herself together and come work at the Tea Shop or to pack it up and leave.

No one knew how Su or Shinobu were, though Alicia had supposedly spoken to them once or twice and claimed they were fine. Their Christmas plans were cancelled, though, due to the cost of the flight and it was rescheduled for that summer, at the earliest possible date they could manage.

Shinji and Sizu lost part of their spunk for awhile, the two playing quietly most of the time and sticking close to either Keitaro or Motoko whenever possible. Each was given as much attention as the rest could provide, as well as a break from school so Shinji could settle himself before he had to work again. They healed quickly, though, and while they missed their mother they still had their father and the rest of their huge family. Keiko was fine as well, only being three months old, and now slept in Motoko's room so she could be watched constantly.

Mutsumi disappeared back to her hometown after she heard the news of Naru's death and was never heard from again, though Tama-chan stuck around and flew messages between the two parties every once in awhile.

Grandmother Hina, however, was missing again on one of her Hot Springs ventures and no one knew where to find her nor how she would react when she returned.

Motoko was the first to see her again, sitting on the couch with Keitaro fast asleep in her lap and her running her fingers through his hair as if he were a child. The old woman slipped in suddenly, leaving her bags by the door and turning to give Motoko a surprised look.

"Motoko-chan! What are you doing?? Naru-chan will kill you if she sees you like that..."

"Hina-san..." Motoko sighed and rose slowly, then told the older woman her bad news. Much to her surprise, Hina just grunted and nodded.

"I knew it would come to her," she sighed with a shrug. "Same as I knew it would come to Kasumi, her great aunt. I will miss the girl dearly, and will stick around for awhile to make sure Keitaro has picked up the pieces to his shattered life, but when you get as old as I do you stop thinking of the friends and family you've lost and be grateful for those you still have."

Motoko nodded, seeing the wisdom in this. "I will remember that, Hina-san." She nodded and stumped up the stairs, Motoko following soon after to go to the roof. Still more time passed, and slowly the wound of losing one so close to them began to fully heal. And while it left a scar behind, while scars mark where a hurt has once been, it no longer hurts itself and is merely a reminder of that which once was.

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Just so you know, Naru's death is based off something I saw in a Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode, I think. It was called the quickening, there, where all these people were born with these spider web lines all over them, and when their time had come the lines would turn red and they would die a painful death very soon after. There was no cure, either, until the crew made a vaccination so babies could be born without it, though they could not save the parents. Yeah.

Just so you know, I don't hate Naru. That's why she wasn't randomly shot or anything and given time to say goodbye. In fact, she's one of my favorite characters, this is just a bug of an idea that wouldn't leave me alone.

Um, so let me know what you think. Part two is either up at the same time or very, very close behind so the end is near. Three parts in all, if it works out. Hope you enjoyed it, much love.

~Crosseyedbutterfly~