Forever After

A Love Hina fan story by Hikari Ishido

Author's Comment: I do not own or control any copyrights to Love Hina. However, I wish I did! ^_^

The date – Not important.

Keitaro opens his eyes and looks up at a perfect blue sky. Gentle white clouds drift by on the light breeze as the sound of birds singing fills the air. He sits ups, noticing that everything seems slightly blurred, so he reaches up and touches his face, only to find that his glasses are where they should be. He pulls them off and rubs his eyes. When he opens them again, the scenery is crystal clear. As he stares at the glasses in his hand, a woman's pleasant voice speaks from behind him.

"You do not require them here."

He spins around and gets to his feet. He looks down and carefully touches his right knee, which he was sure had been shattered by Motoko's attack.

"That injury no longer remains."

He moves his jaw back and forth and his eyes go wide. The voice speaks again.

"Those injuries, and all others, no longer remain."

Keitaro looks up at the person that speaks to him. A beautiful young woman stands amidst gently falling cherry blossoms. Her flowing robe is a perfect match for the sky. As graceful as the wind, she moves towards Keitaro.

"Wh-who are you?"

A beautiful smile brightens her lovely face.

"You may call me Chalaliry, if that pleases you."

Keitaro takes another look around.

"Where am I? Usually, when Narusegawa punches me, I end up either in the park or the city dump."

Chalaliry reaches out and takes his hand.

"Walk with me, and all your questions shall be answered."

They move through the cherry trees and enter a large garden. Everything fits naturally in its place, each plant perfectly balanced with the ones around it. A small stream crosses through the middle of the garden. Keitaro immediately notices that the walking stones appear to have always been where they are, and not placed there.

"Whoever made this garden must be a master. I've never seen one so, so perfect."

As Keitaro looks up through the branches, he notices for the first time that even though it is light out, there is no sun in the sky. The air itself seems to provide all of its own illumination. His gaze turns to the stream. As each leaf and petal falls into the water, it transforms into a multicolored fish. The fish swim for a while and then jump out of the water, becoming birds of every variety. The birds sing their songs and then land in the trees and bushes, becoming leaves and flowers once more, starting the cycle anew.

"Wh-where am I?"

"This is where you must be before you continue your journey. It is provided as a place of transition from the time before to now."

Keitaro stares at Chalaliry.

"I'm dead?"

She nods her head.

"That part of you which was mortal has ended. All that remains, everything that makes you unique, is now here."

Keitaro spins around, looking for a way out of the garden.

"I have to go back! Please, let me go!"

Chalaliry gracefully kneels by the stream and motions for Keitaro to join her.

"Tell me, why do you believe you must return? It is common for one to state this. Do you feel that you have left things undone?"

"Narusegawa and Motoko-chan. I can't stay here knowing that they will blame themselves for killing me!"

"They did not mean to cause your passing. Sit here and be at ease. You no longer need to concern yourself with those you left behind."

"The last thing I remember is, is climbing up some rocks. I don't know where I was, but I know that it was difficult because of the injuries from Narusegawa and Motoko's last attacks."

"You fell from the rocks into the sea. They never find your body. Please, sit with me by the stream."

Keitaro can feel the power of her voice. It is not demanding, it just states the truth. Yet, he refuses to sit down, knowing that once he does he will irrevocably continue down that path.

"I can't forget about them. I won't forget about them!"

Looking up into the sky, Chalaliry closes her eyes as she nods her head. She turns her gaze to Keitaro and gestures across the stream to a path that leaves the garden and winds through the trees.

"Then accompany me before you choose your path. There are things that you will be allowed to see. You are fortunate. Rarely is this gift bestowed."

Keitaro reaches out, offering his hand to the woman. Accepting it, she stands.

"You spoke of a gift. I don't understand."

"You are to be given the choice of continuing your journey, or returning to the mortal world. But first, you must pass through the Forest of Dreams."

Out of habit, he scratches the back of his head.

"What will we see in there?"

"I do not know. These images flow from the possibilities you alone possess."

Hand in hand, they enter the forest. The light dims, allowing the faint images among the trees to become clear. Keitaro sucks in his breath as the images materialize. It is as if he could walk off the path and into their reality. He immediately recognizes the first image he sees.

"That is Hinata-sou! I'm sure of it, even thought the decorations on the walls have been moved around and changed. That is the manager's room."

A very old woman walks into the hallway from the room. Her silver hair is tied into a braid down her back. After adjusting her apron, she smiles and begins to dust the furniture and clean the windows. A tear falls down Keitaro's cheek. Chalaliry touches his arm.

"Does this image trouble you?"

"No, not at all. It's just that, even at that age, Narusegawa is still beautiful to me. But, why is she still at Hinata-sou? Doesn't she make it into Toudai? Does she stay here as the manager because of guilt over my death?"

Chalaliry points to the other side of the path. The same vision of Naru appears, except that she is in an office surrounded by books and reports. She intently reads several papers before signing them, while others are set aside. On the wall behinds her are many diplomas and awards. Keitaro stares at the scene.

"I don't understand. Both of these can't be real!"

"But, they are. They flow from the possibilities of which you are the key."

Keitaro, quickly understanding, nods his head.

"These are the futures of Narusegawa, but I'm alive in only one of them."

"That is correct."

"I wish I could hear what's happening. Why are the images silent? Which one is the real, I mean, the one where I'm still alive?"

Chalaliry shakes her head.

"I do not know that answer. You must gain the knowledge you require from what you see."

They move a little further down the path. A new image begins to form and as Keitaro moves closer to it, Chalaliry touches his arm.

"You must stay on the path. These are just shadows of possibility, and you cannot touch them."

Motoko, her hair lightly touched with gray, raises her sword to block the stroke of her opponent. In a clean, graceful motion, she spins around and strikes, knocking the practice sword from her student's hands. A smile brightens her face as the student bows to her and returns to his cushion. The next student rises and begins her practice session with the master.

"Motoko-chan is finally the Master of the Shinmei School. Her movements are perfect! If she ever attacked me like that, I wouldn't stand a chance!"

He turns to the other side of the path and pauses. The scene before him chills his soul.

"Oh no!"

Shinobu and Su, both beautiful young women, kneel at the stone and place flowers and incense next to it. Keitaro forces himself to read the inscription aloud.

"Aoyama Motoko – Friend, Guide, and Conscience. Nineteen years old was too early to leave us. We will never forget the sword master of Hinata-sou."

"What happened? Oh, Motoko-chan!"

Keitaro leans against a tree.

"What do I do? Does she die because I did? Or, will she die if I am alive?"

"I am sorry, but I cannot provide you with that answer, even if it were to be made known to me."

They continue down the path, awaiting the emergence of other images. Presently, the inside of the Hinata Tea Shop appears. Kitsune leans on the counter, smiling at her customers. A picture of Haruka and Seta at some excavation site hangs on the wall behind her.

Keitaro turns around to see the other possibility. Kitsune once again is leaning on the counter and talking with her customers. A picture of Haruka and Seta at some excavation site hangs on the wall behind her. Kitsune's eyes are sunken, but she still manages a smile. There is a bandage on her arm where the dialysis needle was inserted.

"Poor Kitsune-san. What am I supposed to do to help you?"

The images fade and are replaced with Su's futures. In both, she is the queen of her country, ruling with a gentle hand and quite wisdom. Keitaro looks at his guide.

"Su-chan is a very beautiful queen. It feels somewhat strange knowing that my life or death seems to have no impact on her future."

Chalaliry hold up a hand, causing Keitaro to turn back to the images. In the first, Su is sitting in her private room carefully knitting a sweater with a loving smile on her face. In the other image, she sits in the same room, except that the lights are off and a tear falls down her cheek.

Keitaro pulls at his hair.

"What do I do? Are they better off if I'm dead or alive?"

Chalaliry guides Keitaro down the final portion of the path.

"We shall return to the garden after these last images. You must be prepared to make your decision then."

The next image forms as she speaks. It is the same as the first image. Shinobu, her hair now grey, walks up the stairs and joins Naru. They speak for a few moments and then continue cleaning the Inn together. After a few minutes, Shinobu looks up to see Naru laughing. Naru makes a swinging motion with her fist, causing Shinobu to burst into a fit of giggling.

"They look very happy there."

He turns around to see the last image. A darkened room appears. He can just make out a figure lying on a futon in the middle of the room. As he watches, a woman's arm slides off the futon and a small brown bottle rolls from her fingers.

Keitaro leans against a tree and fights to control his shaking hands.

"Oh no, oh no. Shinobu!"

He looks up at Chalaliry.

"Are all of the images on the left from one choice and the images on the right from the other?"

"Yes, Keitaro-san. We must now return to the garden. It is time for you to choose."

They walk a few steps and the trees move aside. They stand at the end of the garden where a bright light awaits. Keitaro covers his eyes.

"Is, is that the tunnel to Heaven?"

Chalaliry shakes her head.

"No, that is you, if you choose to continue your journey. All sadness and pain that you bear will be removed, allowing you to transcend to a being of happiness and contentment."

"Will I remember my friends?"

She bows her head.

"I do not know. Any memory that would cause you pain will be removed."

"Then I've made my choice. If I'm here, than I can't help my friends."

Chalaliry touches his arm.

"The knowledge that you have gained here cannot be taken back to the mortal world. Once you choose your path, if they are destined to suffer in it, you will not be able to change that."

"I will help them. I can't accept paradise if I know that they need me."

"Are you sure of your choice? Have you gained the knowledge you required from the images?"

Keitaro nods his head.

"I almost made the mistake of looking only at my friends in the images, and not the images themselves. The answer I needed was in my friends lives. I know that I must go back."

"How did you determine this wisdom?"

Keitaro smiles at her.

"It was simple, once I allowed myself to see. If Narusegawa had been responsible for my death, she would not live in my old room. She would throw herself into her work and become a prisoner to lost dreams."

Chalaliry smiles and allows Keitaro to continue.

"Motoko-chan would never allow herself to risk training any man if she had killed me. Kitsune started drinking less after I arrived, if only to be able to think up more tricks to play on me."

Chalaliry nods her head in understanding.

"Su-chan must go back to her homeland some day. But if she has to leave her friends in sadness, it would tear her apart."

"And little Shinobu?"

Keitaro blushes.

"I know how she feels about me. As long as I'm around, she will always keep that hope alive in her heart. She is special and I like to let her know that."

Chalaliry looks up into the sky.

"Yes, it will be done."

She returns her gaze to Keitaro.

"You may return to the world. You will not face your death today. But, you will be returned to the cliff and your injuries will be as they were."

Keitaro smiles.

"I think that I can live with that, as long as I'm with my friends."

Chalaliry holds out her hand. A light glows in her palm and she closes her fingers around it.

"Return to where you arrived. All will be as it was. Fare thee well, Keitaro-san."

"Thank you, Chalaliry."

Keitaro turns and walks out of the garden. As he leaves, a voice speaks.

"He has chosen wisely, yet again."

Chalaliry smiles and nods her head.

"This is the fourth time You have allowed him to return. Why are You so concerned that he be given this gift time after time?"

"All are special in my sight, yet he does more to make people happy that many others. It is good that he fulfills his chosen work. He shall be offered this gift as many times as he wishes to receive it. So I have said. What do you have there, that has procured his survival this time?"

She opens her hand.

"It is a 100 yen coin. After landing on the cliff, Keitaro-san struggled to pull himself to the top. Just before saving himself, he saw this coin. As he reached out and grasped it, his other hand lost its grip and he fell into the sea where he drowned. He is safe now. There will be no distraction as he climbs to safety."

The voice chuckles.

"He risked all to add to his meager savings. Yet, he believed it worth the risk. He plans to purchase a scarf for Naru. I shall assist him. Maybe he will be spared some pain, this time."

An image forms in the stream. Keitaro pulls himself to the top of the cliff and faints from his exertions. A few minutes later, the girls from Hinata-sou rush through the trees and kneel at his side. They gently bind his wounds and carry him home. No one notices that in his clutched hand is a small package containing a scarf.

"When will we see him again?"

"Who knows? Even I like a little surprise, now and then."

The End.