Yeahs!! Another Love Hina fic for my ever so wonderful fans!! ^_^ This one, I swear, will be longer than that last AND won't be nearly as angst-ish. More humor, more romance, more demonic turtle attacks and more people being married off by the parents without knowing it! Gotta love it. ^_~
Intro: Ok, so this is going to follow the Love Hina ANIME timeline, with some character personalities that are going to be more like the manga (which I still haven't read all of it). Roughly, two people we know and love have their less-than stable lives pulled out from under them before the anime ever starts and are forced to deal with the results together.
Disclaimer: Right now, that $900 debt has shrunk to about $200, but with Christmas coming up it's about to grow again and I wouldn't bother suing me were I you. From what I can see of my desk, you might get an empty Italian ice cup if you're lucky and maybe a random Pre Calc test if you're not...yeah. Don't own it, unless you don't recognize it not being from Love Hina and then it IS probably mine, so ask before you use, k?
Here is Chapter 1, Enjoy!
Motoko sat in meditation on the roof of the Inn, feeling the presence of those below her going through their normal morning routines. She herself had just finished hers, a rigorous training session of sorts. Kitsune was, as she was every morning, still fast asleep after a night with the bottle of sake at her beside. Naru was up and studying in her room, Su bouncing by her doorway before heading off to the kitchen with a banana in either hand. A strong, steady spirit beckoned from the kitchen that she didn't feel every day...Haruka.
Long, blue-black hair flowed down the back of the young swordswoman, her skin fair and smooth with not a single mark on it at all. Dark gray with a hint of green eyes opened and scanned the clear skies above. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Smiling ever so slightly in spite of herself, Motoko gracefully rose and made her way downstairs into the kitchen. If Haruka was cooking, then the food would be gone very quickly. They'd been eating their own cooking since Hina-san had left not long ago, and it would be a welcome change to have a better than decent meal for once. Shinobu was their usual cook, of course, but she'd been visiting her family for the last few weeks, thus leaving the others to take their turn at making the meals. While her own abilities as a chef were passably good, and her meals very nutritious, they were also very...plain.
"Konichiwa, Haruka-san," she said politely as she entered the kitchen, letting the comforting peace the older woman usually radiated wash over her for a moment. While she did not know the extent of Haruka's abilities, she guessed that any that dared to rouse such a...strong spirited person with such control would soon find themselves in a very hard place indeed. "I hope I find you well...?"
"You do," replied Haruka as she dried her hands on her apron and pulled out a letter from her pocket addressed to Motoko. "And I hope you find your sister in the same way. She hasn't sent you a message this way, with that huge feathered brute of hers, since the dojo was defaced two years ago and you were called home to deal with the perpetrators." The older woman was just about the same height as Motoko, with short dark brown hair that framed her composed face, her dark amber eyes taking in the world around her without worry or fear.
"She sent it with Shippu?" Motoko took the letter and opened it, a frown on her face. Haruka sat a plate of food before her, watching on in silence as she read through the letter with a puzzled look on her face. Folding it back up and putting it in her sleeve a moment later, she thoughtfully picked up her chopsticks and began to eat, Haruka sitting across from her with a cup of tea and her usual cigarette hanging from her lips.
"Is something wrong?" asked Haruka lightly as she sipped her tea, nodding to Su who came running it, giving them both a quick hug before she dashed out again.
"Bye bye, Motoko-chan! Haruka-san! See you this afternoon!" she called over her shoulder, giving them a childish grin before she disappeared.
"Be careful!" Motoko called after her, allowing a brief smile to alight on her face before she turned back to Haruka, completely masked once more. "I do not think so," she answered carefully, taking another bite of her rice. "Tsuruko, my sister, has called me home for a few days. The railway ticket she gave me is round trip, and I should return home before long..."
"Hm, it is probably just some family business, then," said Haruka with a satisfied nod as she rose to her feet. "Don't you have that training trip planned for this week, though? The one with the kendo club?"
Motoko paused as she nodded slowly. She'd forgotten about that with the arrival of the letter. "Perhaps I could go, still, at least for the last half..."
"I will call and tell them something has come up," Haruka assured her as she shooed her towards the door lightly, as calm and unmovable as ever. "I can call your teachers, as well, since you'll be missing school. Don't worry about a thing, just get back as soon as you can."
"Arigato, Haruka-san!" called Motoko, retreating quickly towards her room when she paused. "Ah....Haruka-san?"
"What about Su-chan?"
"Oh....uh..." Haruka sighed. While she found the youngest of the residents amusing, sleeping with her was a trial she had no desire to go through. "I'll think of something and tell her you thought of her before you left. That good enough?"
Motoko smiled wryly to herself. "Hai, and again, arigato!"
"Awww...I'm never going to get into Toudai like this!" Keitaro Urashima went on and on grumbling and muttering to himself, walking up the steps to his grandmother's Hotel. He didn't remember the steps being this long...then again, he'd been five the last time he'd been there and usually got carried when going up or down the steps. He still had no idea why he'd been called there, he just hoped to get a hot soak and perhaps a place to sleep if he was lucky. His parents were pushing for him to move out of the house. Again.
Messy brown hair that never seemed to want to lie down flat plagued his head, his open and honest face weary from the trials of being a 2 years in a row college failure. His warm, chocolate brown eyes scanned the place as he reached the top of the steps, looking rather deserted for even this time of the year as he went in the front door.
"Tamida!! ...oba-san?" Keitaro wandered through the main rooms, finding them all to be empty. Seeing the hot springs, he shrugged and walked towards them with a smile. "Hm... might as well have a good soak while I wait..."
Motoko watched the scenery impassively as it flashed by, her sword in her lap as she ran her thumb along its handle out of habit. It had been her sister's before, and maybe things would be different if it had stayed that way. True, she was happy at Hinata-sou, but she'd been happier still before this whole mess started and she'd needed to leave for such an extended period of time.
"Arriving at Otaka Station in five minutes!" came the conductor's voice over the speakers, Motoko reaching for her bag automatically and placing her sword on a holder so she could wear it on her back. Stepping out as the doors slid back, she glanced about and spotted her sister off to the side as serene as ever. Feeling a sudden wave of shy guilt, the young woman ducked her head as her sister's gaze picked her out of the crowd. She hadn't been home to visit in almost two years...and that last visit had been entirely business as well.
The two sisters stood across from each other as they stopped about a few feet apart, so alike in looks with the same smoky-gray eyes and flowing black hair with their flawless, porcelain skin, and yet so different in so many ways.
"It's good that you've come," said Tsuruko as she enveloped her little sister in a warm hug. "It's been too long since your last visit."
"Hai, I know," replied Motoko as she glanced away, embarrassed at that fact.
"Come, we have a bath and meal prepared for you so that you'll be refreshed for when Shoji arrives..."
Motoko felt her heart stop as she pulled away quickly. "I do not wish to speak with him," she snapped coldly, turning away as she clenched her hands into fists in her sleeves.
Flinching as Tsuruko put a hand on either shoulder and drew her close from behind, Motoko sighed. "It is the will of the council," her sister explained gently. "He has come to make his final claim...on you. The council has been forced to agree it's legitimate, you have not choice in this matter, Motoko-chan. I've been charged to bring you back to the family grounds...do not make me do it by force."
She unclenched her hands and forced herself to relax. They both knew how a confrontation like that would likely turn out. "I will come," she ground through her clenched jaw. "But only for your sake, onne-san."
Keitaro groaned as he fell back and started at the ceiling, feeling his body quickly regenerate as it always did. Fingering the pendant that lay under his shirt as he sighed, the poor young man wondered just what it was that cursed his life so. Once again, he was in over his head and no where to run to. The phone rang just as the door to the kitchen opened, the present occupants of the Inn all filing out with Haruka in the back.
"Go on and tell him," she said, taking her cigarette butt and putting it out before tossing it in the bin. "I'll get that....Mooshi mooshi?"
"You can stay," said Naru grudgingly, looking down on him disapprovingly with her bright, light brown eyes. Her hair feel most of the way down her back, a similar color to her eyes with just a shade of red to it and two antenna that stuck out from the top of her head. He hadn't meant to grope her or see her half naked or steal her clothes...it wasn't his fault!! "But the moment you step out of line...!!"
"Keitaro, phone's for you," said Haruka suddenly, saving him from coming up with a reply as he dove for the phone and hid behind Haruka, putting the receiver to his ear.
"Keitaro-kun! It's me, your grandmother."
"Oba-san! But where are you?? Your message said you wanted me to visit you here at the Inn...?"
"Oh, I know. Don't worry about that right now, at the moment you're rather needed at home..."
"Nani?! What's going on??"
"I'm not sure, Keitaro-kun, only that things aren't going as were first planned. Promise me you'll get home as soon as you can, please?"
"I promise, oba-san." Keitaro glanced over at the girls who watched him, all with varying degrees of curiosity, puzzlement, and annoyance. "I'll go right now, but I think some of the girls would like to speak with you."
"Hai, let me speak with them. I'll see you soon, Keitaro-kun!"
"Hai, oba-san." He took the phone from his and asked, "Does anyone else want to speak with Hina-san?"
"Oh, me! Me!"
"Su wanna talk first!"
"Give me that phone!"
Keitaro dropped the receiver and slipped out the front door, getting a nod of approval from his aunt, Haruka, before he slipped out of sight. Shrugging on his coat as he ran down the steps and checked how much money he had, for if he hurried he might make the next train back...
Motoko sat by the window of her old bedroom at the traditional family dojo where the council resided, out in the countryside outside of Otaka. The dojo that was used for the daily lessons, as well as where those who were not of the family were taught was in the city itself, but those who had not moved away still lived in these ancient halls and all business concerning family dealings or evil demons was done here.
Her room was smaller than some, but comfortable none the less. Her futon lay along one wall, the wall next to it holding a doorway to one of the side gardens and the wall next to it holding a shortcut to the women's baths. The fourth wall held the door to the main hallway, the one she kept glancing at and waiting vigilantly for her time to come.
The moon rose slowly, the stars coming out one by one to grace the ink-black sky. Dinner had come and gone, and she still waited for the council to call for her. As the heir to the dojo she wore her ceremonial white gi and scarlet hamaka, both done in the finest of materials with subtle differences that made the difference between it and her practice set. Hair tied back from her face with a red tie, she sat there with her sword across her knees and attempted to meditate in the time she had to herself.
Two sets of footsteps came down the hall, stopping before her door as a hand rapped lightly on the door.
The door slid open, revealing Tsuruko standing there in her old, formal kimono, her own sword slung over her back. Her husband, Kenjou, whispered something in her ear and disappeared down the hallway, leaving them alone.
"It is time," said the older sister, watching approvingly as Motoko rose gracefully to her feet, bowing ever so slightly in greeting to each other once she was on her feet. Walking to the door, the younger woman was surprised when her sister suddenly stopped her with an outstretched hand. "There is one thing before you go, onne-chan...a promise."
"Hm?" The heir to the school and dojo looked puzzled, yet nodded all the same. "Of course, anything for you, onne-san."
"Promise me you'll think of the honor of the school, the honor of our mother, and your own honor, before you act no matter what happens."
"It is not mine to tell, just promise me this!"
"I promise," said Motoko firmly.
"Good...let's go." Together, they walked the halls of the main house, coming to a long set of double doors that barred the way to the main hall. Nodding formally to the young man and woman who stood on either side in their own formal gear, the doors were opened before them and the pair entered with the grace and dignity expected of those of their rankings.
Bowing to the council seated at the end of the hall on their slightly raised platform, they took their appointed seats closer to the middle and to the right, leaving a good bit of space between them and the other party there. Elders and influential young ones who were quick of wit and slow to speak lined the walls on either side, each dressed in their best with all weapons lying either to the side or before them in a show of trust as well as proof of arms should things get...messy.
The party beside them was of the Turtle Clan, their father's family group. Shoji, as both sisters preferred to think of him, sat at the very head as cold and untouchable as ever. His weapon lay before him as theirs did, a katana of similar size but far more weight. Dark brown hair and rather tanned skin, he looked nothing like his two daughters save for the determined set of his jaw and masked look on his face, which was the only sign that they were related at all.
Neither party acknowledged the other, and for that point in time it was possibly just as well. The tension in the room was tight enough as it was, if things were to escalate anymore they might just snap.
"Shoji," said the head of the council, a tiny, shriveled old woman with a sword in front of her that was twice her height. "You have come before us, the ruling council of elders of the Aoyama family, to make your final claim on your youngest daughter, Motoko Aoyama. Is this not correct?"
"Hai, Honored Councilwoman Kairi," replied Shoji formally, his voice flat and emotionless. Motoko shuddered involuntarily, hiding her hands in her sleeves so none could see should they start to shake. "By law, she is still half mine, and after her mother's death I did partially hand over my control of her that she might continue her training here with the guarantee that should I ever come for her she would be handed over willingly. If the agreement reached then is not honored, my lawyer will take this to the courts and she will be fully mine once more."
The council and elders murmured among themselves, Kairi using a copper ball and banging it on the table to get order once more. "We of the Council will hear your proposal for your claim, and reserve the right to accept or reject it as was the original agreement," she replied gravely. "After the decision is made, you may do as you please with in the circumstances...we will hold firm!"
Shoji glanced at the man dressed in a fine suit who knelt right beside him, receiving a tiny nod. "Very well. We propose a marriage between my daughter, Motoko Aoyama, and one of the young men from my clan..."
The said young woman froze at those words, Tsuruko discreetly grabbing her arm and holding her in place while the kendo girl wavered between killing her father and killing herself. While the latter would be far easier, the first held a very distinct pleasure with it...
"Kenjou-kun has met him, and he is not so bad, Motoko-chan," whispered Tsuruko out of the side of her mouth. "Remember your promise..."
Solidifying everything she was feeling at that moment, Motoko kept it all coolly contained thought it threatened to boil through her calm exterior as her right hand clenched the handle of her blade. She would use her head, and she would keep her honor, but she would not marry this man without a fight.
"We wish to meet the offered fiancé," said Kairi suddenly, bringing an end to the buzz of the elders in the room. "Arrangements shall be made to bring him here..."
"They are not necessary," cut in Shoji hastily. "He is here though... 'tied up' at the moment..." A cruelly twisted grin came over his face as one of those with him leaned forward and murmured something only he could hear. "Ah! I was mistaken, he's free at the moment and waiting with his parents with the rest of my escort."
"Go get all three of them, Kenjou," said Kairi, the rest of the council rising to their feet as Tsuruko's husband moved silently out the double doors and down the hall. "We will retire to the council chambers and meet the young man there with his parents..."
"A moment, Councilwoman Kairi," said Motoko firmly as she stood suddenly, the fire in her eyes the only sign that she was upset at all. Sword in hand, she went on as everyone in the room went silent and still. "As my right as the Heir of this School of sword, I challenge of the offered fiancé to a duel, and only if he defeats me will he be considered!"
"The boy is untrained in any form of combat, armed or unarmed," cut in Shoji quickly before the council could reply. "As his representative here, though, I will take his place...with the agreement that should Motoko lose she will marry him regardless of the council's decision!"
"I accept the replacement, as well as the new terms," snapped Motoko before the council could do so much as blink. "We begin now!"
The pair turned and faced each other, each drawing their blade instantly as Tsuruko found herself being dragged off to the side before she could so much as protest and the rest of the Turtle Clan scattered out of the way. Shoji circled his daughter, his blade pointed at her the whole while as he sneered at her cruelly.
"You're afraid of me," he murmured as his beady, black eyes bore their way into her mind and the turtle on the band around his forehead seemed to burn its image in her eyes. "Still scared of me as you always were. Frightened, like the sniveling child you are. Are you going to run away, again? Let someone deal with your actions and take the consequences?"
"I don't fear you." Motoko spun just as Shoji lunged at her, their blades meeting hilt to hilt with Shoji on top, shoving the young woman back and forcing her to roll into a crouch. "And I'll never run from you again!"
"Ha!" Shoji leapt up and did a front flip in the air, coming down on Motoko point first. "Dodge th-"
The surprise was evident on Shoji's face as Motoko stood to meet him with her blade parallel to the ground, the vortex of wind that followed it forcing his blade way to the side and in a final blast of ki shot him through the roof and into the sky.
Motoko ran right below the human-sized hole, Tsuruko coming and kneeling beside her with her hands cupped together just like they'd done as children. Leaping up with her sister's boost, the swordswoman did a flip through the hole and landed on the roof, seeing Shoji lying on the ground in the main courtyard below. Lit from the dozens of lights that surrounded the area, it cast an odd shadow over him that reminded Motoko too greatly for her own comfort of those vile, shelled reptiles that she loathed so. Leaping from her spot to a tree nearby and then to the ground, she landed at his side and looked over him in disdain, slowly sheathing her sword when he didn't move.
"Do you concede to me?" she asked coolly, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
Shoji opened his eyes and leapt to his feet, wiping the damp dirt from his hands onto his green pants. "Feh...you'll have to do better than that to beat me. It is amazing the things Turtles can survive," he snorted derisively as he picked up his blade and held it easily in both hands. "Little girl."
"Haaah!" Motoko whipped out her sword and ran at him as he moved towards her, her bringing up her sword in an arc to the left when Shoji ducked to the right and shoved his sheath behind her right arm. Bringing the hilt of his sword down on the other side to create an opposing force, he snapped the two bones of her forearm completely in half.
"Stay down, brat," spat the man as he kicked her dropped blade away, shoving the shocked Motoko to the ground as she held her arm to her chest and clamped down on the pain, refusing to make a sound though it throbbed worse than anything she'd felt before in her life. Slowly tying the broken arm to her belt, she rose again using her left arm only as she grit her teeth against the pain and picked up her sword with her good arm to stand before him once more. "Stubborn fool...you never did know what was good for you."
Tsuruko, who'd gotten outside as quickly as she could, was forced to stay where she was and keep her mouth shut though the anger that boiled through her veins was nearly as fierce as Motoko's own. "Onne-chan..."
"She'll be fine," said Kenjou hesitantly as he put both hands around her waist and held her close. "Either way, you can do nothing..." Clouds began to form overhead, a few distant rumbles of thunder adding an ominous undertone to his words. A light drizzle began to fall, slowly wetting everything that was not shielded from it.
"I'm aware of that," snapped the ex swordswoman angrily. "That does not mean I have to like it."
Keitaro rubbed his sore head as he stood up slowly, his parents immediately on either side of him as they had been the entire time they were there when Kenjou arrived telling him it was time to go. He still didn't know what was going on, all he knew was he'd walked in the door and a mob of his more distant cousins had piled up on him and tied him hand and foot with a gag in his mouth then thrown him in the back of a car and took off for here. Wherever here was, that is.
He'd been untied after they'd arrived and told at sword point by Shoji he'd behave himself or else and not ask any questions. While Keitaro clearly remembered him somehow, he wasn't sure from what and got the feeling he didn't really want to either. Since then he'd sat in a side room with others armed like Shoji was and dressed in ancient Japanese garb, each of them serious and always on the alert though he had a feeling he had more of a reason to fear them than those from the place where he was now..
A guy named Kenjou had come and spoken with him privately, just idle conversation about who he was and what he'd been doing for the last few years. While the man had refused to tell him exactly why he was there, he did assure Keitaro that he wasn't on the line to be sacrificed to any ancient turtle god, nor was he here for some archaic form of torture. He seemed nice enough, and Keitaro hoped he'd get a chance to speak with him more later on.
Now, walking along the halls of the whatever it was they were in (he'd been blindfolded as well when they'd shoved him inside) he heard something crash that sounded like it happened from the roof. Remembering his own little fiasco earlier that day, he winced and pitied the poor soul, whoever it was, if their incident was similar to what his own had been.
Kenjou took them to what Keitaro assumed was the front door and handed him over so a group of elderly, but powerful-looking old people who stood there waiting for him. Slipping out the door to the front, he noted it had grown much later than when he'd arrived and his stomach grumbled distantly as it reminded him that he had been neglecting it for more than a few hours.
"We are the Council of the Aoyama family," said a tiny woman who bore a sword twice her size, gazing up at him with stern, dark gray eyes. "Do you know why you've been brought here, Urashima?"
"No," he answered hesitantly. "No one's really told me anything."
"Well...you look decent enough," muttered the old woman to herself, studying him for a moment or two more when she nodded ever so slightly to herself glanced around to her companions to find them doing the same. "You are here because your clansman, Shoji, has offered you in marriage to our Heir to the school."
Keitaro paused, a look of disbelief apparent on his face. "You have to be kidding me...right?"
"I'm not," replied the Councilwoman as she opened the doors to the outside. Following them out, he saw a young girl who looked to be 16 or so battling it out with Shoji, her right arm tied to her waist as she attempted to beat back his ridiculing blows, all of them solely to force her to move. Each step jarred her arm a little more, and her face was etched with the pain of dealing with it for so long.
"What's going on?" he asked as he looked around, seeing Kenjou standing nearby with a woman who was very similar in looks to the young girl who was fighting. She was angered, he could tell that much, and backed up a step from her as another vein popped into view on her forehead. "Uh...scary...who's that girl fighting Shoji-san?"
"That is Motoko, the heir to the school I told you of," replied the councilwoman Kairi flatly. "...she's also your possible fiancee."
"Oh...why's she fighting Shoji-san, then?" Keitaro shuddered as the man's blade flashed in the electric light. The clouds were now thick overhead, the stars and sky completely hidden from view with the impending storm. The drizzle began to work itself into a heavy rain, soaking those things that were not thoroughly wet before. He watched the young woman intently. Under all that rain and the grime from where she'd taken a fall she was probably very beautiful, but there was something distinctly warrior-like about her as well. "And what's wrong with her right arm?"
"She's used her right of combat as the heir to try and rid herself of you, though I think it had more to do with her trying to defy her father rather than trying to rid herself of you personally," replied Kairi simply, watching the battle with emotionless eyes. "She's overruled us on the council, and we cannot interfere without destroying both our honor as well as her own. Win or lose...it will be entirely up to her."
"No one ever wants me," replied Keitaro glumly. "And this one without even meeting me! I do have horrible luck...what about her arm, though?"
"He broke it," replied the woman standing with Kenjou suddenly through her clenched teeth. "And of course, she refused to give to him..."
"She's a very stubborn girl," agreed Kairi dryly. "It is her greatest strength...and weakness."
Motoko knew she was not doing well. He was toying with her, playing with her to show just how weak and insignificant she was to him. His blows here only at partial force, his swings slow and clumsy, his thrusts just held back enough that she'd be able to slip by. He was giving her chance after chance to get through huge holes in his defense that she couldn't touch because she was fighting with her left hand, and she hated every moment of it.
The rain had made her clothes heavy and cumbersome, and her grip on the sword unsure. If only she still had the use of her right hand...
Shoji darted in at Motoko to the right just then, the kendo girl managing to fend off his thrust, but unable to avoid the back sweep of his blade, the very tip of it entering her flesh at her left him and traveling up along her ribs in a clean cut. Staggering back, the flash of pain blinded her as Shoji cruelly hooked her leg with his own and hit her knee with his fist at just the right angle to pop it out of its socket and then smashed her in the ribs with the hilt of his sword, letting her collapse face down in the mud as the floodgates of heaven opened up.
The rain feel in solid sheets that thundered down on everyone and everything, all still as death as they watched Motoko cough up a mouthful of blood and slowly struggle to her knees, leaning to the left where she had the support of her good leg and arm and held her bleeding side as the scarlet flow trickled through her fingers to stain the ground below.
"You should've stopped while you were relatively ahead," sneered Shoji as he strolled back to his daughter, watching in contempt as she tried to stand and couldn't find the strength, toppling to the ground in a heap once more.
Kenjou restrained Tsuruko, though it tore his heart to do so, as Shoji raised his blade again, this time aiming for Motoko's bared neck and shoulders.
A figure suddenly interposed himself between the two, arms spread wide as he shouted in the rain, "Shoji, enough!"
Murmurs rose from those around the sidelines as the young man barely old enough not to be counted as a boy and the older warrior stared each other down.
"She's been disobedient to her father, boy," said Shoji suddenly, breaking the silence as he lowered his sword, though he didn't sheath it just yet. "She needs to be punished, like any unruly child."
"You've punished her enough!" his opposition cried back, refusing to budge even an inch. "You've won. Shoji, you drew first blood. There is no need to continue this duel!"
"If it ends here, you must marry her, then," Shoji reminded him with an evil smirk in low voice so only he could hear as the rain continued to pour, running off them all in small rivulets and streams. "Is this what you want, Urashima?"
"I will do what I must to honor my family," he replied flatly, and just as quietly. "Even if it is not to my preference. But I cannot allow you to harm this young woman as she is!"
"Not like you could stop me if I wished to," replied Shoji with a strange gleam in his eyes that made Keitaro quake on the inside.
"Then at least I'll have died a death that was worthwhile," came the shaky reply. "Protecting someone rather than harming them!"
"Feh, I have tired of this." Raising his voice, he went on. "Very well, I declare victory on the count of first-blood, and my daughter Motoko Aoyama will marry Urashima of the Turtle Clan." He glanced over at the council, daring them to disagree as he smirked at the barely contained rage on Tsuruko's face. Picking up Motoko's fallen blade, he planted it point first into the ground between him and the elders as if mocking them with its presence. "Does this satisfy you?"
"This satisfied us," replied Kairi tightly, her small hands nearly bending her sword in half as she gripped it.
"Come, we will leave immediately."
"Easy," murmured Keitaro as he pulled off his jacket and put it around the young woman he assumed was Motoko Aoyama's shoulders. Pulling out a handkerchief, he held it to her bleeding wound. "We'll get you some help fast...Shoji-san, she needs to see a doctor-"
"The priests will do well enough for her," cut in the swordsman as he and his men formed a ring around the pair to deter any who might try and prevent their leaving. "Come, we have wasted enough time here, help her to the cars, Urashima. We leave now."
"What...?!" Shoji turned and gave Keitaro a look that sent shivers up and down his spine in a very unpleasant manner.
"Do it, boy."
"Hair, sir..." He reached down, putting his hands on the young woman who looked up at him with hate and disgust raging in her eyes as she jerked herself away from him, though it must have hurt her greatly to do so.
"Don't touch me!" she cried, trying to scramble away as she moaned from pain of her would.
"Quiet, brat!" Shoji leaned over Keitaro and smacked Motoko across the face, the force jerking her head back as her eyes rolled in her head and a trickle of blood began to flow from her split lip.
"Bastard," she spat, blinking as she tried to focus her eyes. "Never…won't go…can't make me…"
"Shut up!" Shoji drew his hand back, striking out again blindly, though he found his hand connecting with something than his intended target. Keitaro blinked, his head leaning to the side as he tried to regain his senses after the shock his face had just absorbed. "Fool of a boy, what're you-"
"Don't hit her."
"I said, don't hit her again." Keitaro looked up at him, setting his jaw in a determined line as he gingerly touched his cheek to make sure nothing other than some tenderness was wrong with it. "I'll get her to the car, just don't touch her again."
"You're both stubborn fools. Very well, I leave her to you."
Keitaro knelt beside the young woman again, apologizing profusely as he hooked one arm under her knees and another around her shoulders, looking at her to meet her confused and pain-dazzled eyes with his own.
"Please let me do this, I can't keep Shoji away from you if you don't at least try to cooperate…" She gave him a slight nod after a moment, and he went on, lifting her clumsily as he tired to jar her wounds as little as possible.
One of the men stopped them right as Keitaro reached the first car, taking Motoko's knee in firm hands and popping the joint back in place as she gasped in pain. Motioning for Keitaro to move on, he could do nothing but obey and place her in the car next to himself, trying to make her as comfortable as possible.
"Fool..." she murmured through a groan of pain as he opened the window that separated the front from the back of the car. Looking at him for the first time, she tried to back away from him and ended up flexing her wound in a way that sent her doubled over in pain. "Who are y- Ahh!!"
"Shoji-san, I'm going to need some bandages and stuff if you don't want her blood all over the inside of your car..." A first aid kit and some rags hit Keitaro in the head. "Ow....arigato." Turning back to his patient, he opened the first aid kit quickly. "What?"
"Who are you?" she gasped as they roared down the road. "Ahh...why are you doing this?"
"Careful, just try and relax." Keitaro placed the rags over the kerchief which was now soaked all the way through, binding it all as tight as he dared. "My name is Keitaro. Please, try and stay still, I promise I won't hurt you I'm just trying to help..." He nodded as she relaxed ever so slightly, going back to the wound. "If you really want to know why, I'm not sure myself. All I know is to continue a fight when your opponent is obviously beaten and no longer challenging you...that's just wrong..." They both fell silent as Keitaro finished tying the tail ends and turned to her arm, attempting to be as gentle as possible as he used a set a splits that 'magically' appeared from the front and hit him in the head.
"You should have stayed out of this," whispered Motoko, a few stray tears falling from her eyes. "I didn't ask you to throw your life away with mine, I was ready to give mine away for my honor…"
"No," replied Keitaro with a stubborn look much like her own from earlier. "Life is too precious to be wasted like that. I don't know anything about you except that you were willing to go to any lengths to defeat your father honorably, therefore you do still have honor! You have kept your word in your agreement, and you will marry m...the one he's chosen, right?"
"I must, I gave my word...and you've somehow managed to keep him from killing me to so I don't have a choice." The words were forced, with a wry edge to them that made Keitaro's lips curl up slightly.
"Then you still have honor, as well as my respect which may not mean much to you but it does to me. I won't let you lose your life when you have so much left to live for."
"How would you know…?"
The car suddenly screeched to a halt, Keitaro taking Motoko in his arms to cushion her from the worst of it. "We are here," said Shoji flatly, getting out and heading for the temple they'd parked in front of.
"Here," said Keitaro as he opened his own door and hopped out, running around to hers to help her once more. "Just take it easy, we'll get you some help here, I promise..."
"Leave her to the Priests," ordered Shoji as he clapped a hand on the back of Keitaro's neck and led him away by force. "You and I must have some words together...."
Motoko watched through lowered lids as they entered the temple and vaguely noted it as someone picked her up as well, bringing her out of the rain to the warm, sheltered inside before her world spiraled into darkness...
Opening her eyes what seemed ages later, though from the stars that twinkled overhead through the window she guessed she could not have been out for more than an hour, Motoko took stock of her being where she lay. Someone had changed her clothes, her wound was freshly cleaned and bound up well enough, her middle for her probably cracked ribs was bound with some sort of support pads, her arm had been set and splinted, and her knee had been wrapped up as well with some sort of a poultice on it...
"You're awake, good," said Shoji as he suddenly appeared beside her, holding something in his hands as he took a hold of her face a forced her to drink it down. "Come on now, the sooner you do the sooner this'll be over..."
Motoko felt herself falling into a heavy mist as her senses were completely overwhelmed by something she'd never felt before, and couldn't quite identify. Bewildered and afraid, she quickly became lost in her own mind...
Keitaro frowned when he came in to fetch Motoko, finding her dressed in a fine kimono and sitting completely still for an old woman who applied the traditional makeup to her face. His own kimono was just as nice, but they were only borrowing them for the ceremony at hand. Walking in, he shook her shoulder gently to find her looking up at him with a completely vacant look on her face.
"T'was Master Shoji's doing," replied the old woman in a hushed voice as he grabbed her arm, her feebly pulling away and him backing off quickly as he realized what he'd done.
"Gomen," he apologized quickly. "But...what's wrong with her?"
"If it's what he usually uses, she'll be completely pliable and do anything you tell her to without question for the next several hours," replied the old woman worriedly. "Not as far as speaking or nothing like that, just actions and simple orders...it's disturbing, I tell you, to see such a spirited young thing be turned to a zombie like this..."
"Will she get through it?" asked Keitaro immediately, searching Motoko's face for some sign that she was still there, deep inside.
"It'll wear off in a few hours or so, and she'll sleep for a mighty long time after that," replied the woman as she rose unsteadily, took her things and headed for the doorway. "I must leave, Master Shoji gets touchy when he thinks others are speaking about him behind his back..."
"Of course, I apologize for having bothered you," replied Keitaro as he took Motoko's hand and pulled her gently to her feet, surprised when she simply rose as he did and stood there looking at the ground. "Please, Motoko, can you hear me? Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She looked up at him, something peaking through in those cloudy eyes giving him a glimmer of hope....but it was dashed away as two of the other men came in, demanding they hurry up as fast as they could.
"We're coming," Keitaro called back, taking Motoko's hand and leading her through the temple to the main room where everything had been set up. She followed as quiet as a lamb, the silence that surrounded them being stretched and strained until it was almost unbearable for the poor boy. He almost envied the drugged young woman, because at least she was seemingly oblivious to this...torture.
Coming to the main hall, they walked down the center together and each took their seat, kneeling on their separate cushions in front of the altar. Motoko continued to stare at the ground, Keitaro wishing somehow she was at least coherent and willing to go through with the ceremony. To him, it felt like he was...cheating. Like, without her actual consent and willingness to do it, that it shouldn't count.
The ceremony flew by in the wink of an eye, the glass of sake being passed back and forth its customary six times. Keitaro and Motoko both drank of it their allotted three sips, words were spoken, documents brought out and signed with seals, stamps, and all. The moment it was complete the other men in the room, including the priests, gathered their things and vanished from sight.
Keitaro was left with Shoji and the still drugged Motoko, standing to face the older man in his cumbersome robes.
"You are being given a choice now, boy," said Shoji arrogantly as he stood there at ease, arms crossed over his chest and smirking confidently. "Your parents, as you noticed, took off for their home when we left the dojo, and told me to tell you they're forwarding your things to Hinata-sou. Whether you live there or not is your choice, just get your things from there and don't expect to becoming back home unless you've got some news about grandkids or something. So obviously, you can't go with them.
"For right now, you can come with us or you can go on your own. Here's the way I see it, though. You've got your girl drugged, and she's not going to be giving you any satisfaction the moment she's of her own mind again, so no one's going to say a word if you have your way with her now. Come with us, and we'll even supply you with enough of the drug to keep you...sated for the next couple years whenever you need a good screw. On top of that, we'll finally accept you as one of us and give you a place to stay among our people. For a loser like you, I'd say that's a pretty good deal."
"What's my other choice?" asked Keitaro quietly, his face hidden from sight as he'd turned to help Motoko to her feet, still in her stupor.
"You can crawl back to her family, hope they don't skin you alive, and never hear from us again," replied Shoji, his voice being lowered to a growl. "Like I said, it's your choice, but only a fool..."
"We're not going."
Shoji paused as he uncrossed his arms and looked down on Keitaro in annoyance. "You're what?"
"We're not going with you," repeated Keitaro, looking up as he put himself between Shoji and Motoko once more. "You sicken me, Shoji! Offering me this young woman against her choice...and drugging her on top of that! How can you live with yourself, knowing you're destroying her life in one night...and making her a slave forever if I did take you up on your offer? I'm ashamed to be related to you at all. We'll find our own way home."
"The priests have been ordered not to assist you in any way," growled Shoji as he leveled at him a glare that probably would've sent most men to their knees. "And it's miles back to get there. The girl probably won't be able to walk it either, what with her knee still weak and cracked ribs...you'd be putting her in grave danger if you don't accept our hospitality."
"I believe she would rather face the danger with me were she able to speak, rather than go with you," replied the young man firmly. "We're not coming, Shoji. That's it."
"How will you get there? By foot? It will take you hours at best, perhaps until tomorrow night if you have to stop more than once."
"I will find a way."
"You're a fool, Urashima." Shoji marched to the door, then paused as he stood in the archway. "You have fifteen minutes to change and be gone before my men open fire on the priests they have at gunpoint out here. I'd hurry, if I were you."
"Please," said the head of the temple as he came forward with their clothes. "Change and be gone for the sake of my fellow brothers...!"
Keitaro sighed as he accepted the clothes, all cleaned and dried somewhat. "Gomen nasi, for causing this trouble...we will leave as quickly as possible." Handing Motoko her clothes, he led her behind a screen and ordered her to change, the chemicals that still controlled her mind making her nod and her hands quickly loosen the bindings of her kimono. Keitaro scrambled out of there as fast as he could and got behind his own screen, trying to stop the nosebleed from the nice flash of cleavage he'd gotten.
Coming back out minutes later, he crept around the edge of Motoko's screen as was relieved, so he wouldn't lose more blood, that she was fully dressed in her tattered and torn gi and hamaka, waiting for someone else to tell her what to do.
"Come," he said kindly, taking her arm to help support her as she limped back out, leaving the borrowed clothes where they were and heading out the front door and down the main steps. "We're leaving!" he called to the men with the guns nervously as he helped Motoko on his back after a few moments of thought at the bottom of the steps. "And they're doing nothing for us, so please don't hurt them..." Turning away as he saw them lower their weapons, the novices and priests who'd been held captive scuttling back inside, he began to walk back the way they came as slowly and carefully as he could so as to jar Motoko's wounds as little as possible.
Panting moments later with the temple barely out of sight, Keitaro began to have doubts about what he had done. His new wife hung limply on his back, her wounds still fresh and sore in a way that he wasn't able to heal. It was cold out, and they had little protection from the elements should it start to rain again. Had he let his pride get in the way of his commonsense?
"Gomen, Motoko-chan...it seems I've made a mess of things again..."
"Not really." Keitaro looked up and was surprised to see a young boy standing before him, all dressed in dark grays that hid him well in the shadows.
"Uh...wait, who are you?" asked Keitaro, feeling rather stupid and confused, which was relatively normal for him.
"Call me Zazie," replied the boy with a grin as he beckoned for Keitaro to follow him. "Master Shoji did order the priests not to help you, but he didn't say the stable boy couldn't..." Slipping back into the shadows, he reappeared a moment later with two horses and a small wagon, helping Keitaro get Motoko in the back on a pad of straw before hopping up into the driver's seat.
"Arigato," said Keitaro thankfully as he sat down beside her, getting them both comfortably situated as the wagon took off into the night.
"Don't thank me, I just wanna thumb my nose as Shoji, so to speak," replied the boy with a shrug as he huddled down in his seat and urged the horses into a gallop. "'Sides...I owe her family one." The boy grinned to himself as they sped through the night. "We headed to the Shinmeiryuu School and Summer Training grounds?"
Clouds and mists surrounded her, wrapping her in their stifling confines as she struggled to find her way out. Bit by bit, growing stronger as time went on, she fought her way through and reached the surface, coming to the light again...
Motoko woke looking up at a strangely familiar ceiling, wearing one of her old kimonos and feeling very confused. Had she been dreaming all this time? She was at home, in her old room, that was for sure, but...what of her battle with Shoji and her marriage to the strange young man whose face she could not recall? Was it all real, or had her imagination run loose once more? It was more vivid and real than her usual dreams, but she'd been known for some fairly potent visions in her mind before...
Standing, she slowly walked to the door of her room that led to the gardens, opening it and standing there in the walkway as she observed the outside. Her nieces and nephews played with their cousins and a young man she didn't immediately recognize in the gardens, running about and laughing heartily at their older companion's antics. He seemed to stumble and fall no matter what he did, yet the children obviously loved having him around and the swordswoman let one of her rare smiles briefly tough her lips in spite of herself at the sight.
Tsuruko stood in the shadows, observing her sister silently. There was something...different about her. Her spirit, though no longer whole was not shattered but simply...bent, so to speak. Molded, perhaps, would be a better word. Her inner core was not broken, but the righteous anger was no longer there, the fire that fueled her constant training. It had simply...vanished, and had been replaced by an aura of uncertainty as well as curiosity directed mainly at the young man before her.
"He will make a fine father one of these days," she commented suddenly from behind her, Motoko jumping at that sound. Feeling a sharp stab through her side, she looked down and saw a few spots of blood coming through her kimono. She had been injured...? Looking up, she realized who it was and forgot about the pain altogether.
"Onne-chan!" She sighed and gave her sister and annoyed look, turning it to a smile when her sister glared back and both broke down into soft laughter that was shared only between the two of them. "Who is he, though? One of the trainee's brothers or cousins from town?"
"Do you not recognize him?" asked the elder sister in confusion. Upon seeing Motoko shake her head slowly, she sighed. "Then, he was right...he is your husband, Motoko, and his name is Keitaro Urashima."
"Then...it wasn't a dream..." Sighing heavily, the kendo girl felt her right forearm, her ribs, and her knee, finding them all fully healed. Opening her kimono, she gingerly touched the bandaged wound, surprised that it wasn't healed. "Tsuruko-chan...why wasn't this healed? My arm and ribs are whole again."
"You were touched by a demon blade, and while we were able to battle the spirits that infected the wound from the blade and render them inactive...we cannot heal it the way we normally would," came the calm reply. Motoko winced, opening the bandages and noting the wound had opened up once more. Letting her robe hang loose, she reached for some bandages, and began to rewrap it herself.
"I really did lose...though, after we arrived at the temple...ah, now it comes back to me."
"Something wrong?" asked the elder of the two, simply going on when Motoko didn't reply. "He claims Shoji drugged you, and from what we could see it was true," explained Tsuruko as she came over and took a hold of her sister's chin, staring deeply into her eyes. "Hm...at least it left none of its effects behind. Then again, you have been asleep for three days..."
"Hai. Tonight, since you're awake, we'll have your wedding feast. The day after is yours to rest and get...comfortable with your new husband, and the day after that you are supposed to return home. However, do you remember anything at all from the temple? We have only Urashima's word to go on..."
"Yes...somewhat..." Motoko thought back, those memories feeling more like an out-of-body experience rather than having done them herself. "As much as I detest to speak of it, for it seems to go against everything life has ever taught me about males, it seems fate has deemed to prove all my logic wrong."
Tsuruko slowly raised an eyebrow at her sister's statement. "Motoko-chan, I have always told you not all men are evil...Kenjou-kun certainly isn't, and neither was your grandfather before his death many years ago."
"Hai, but...I did not see them as men, per say." Motoko furrowed her brow as she tried to put her feelings into words. "There are a few -though they are very few indeed!- honorable men in this world. Kenjou, I suppose, is one for he saved you from your grief with...he whom I won't speak of. And I can name a sensei or two from school who have greatly helped me with my studies, making them honorable as well, however the majority of the males with in this world, and all of those who are of this Keitaro fellow's age, do not fall into that category."
"Go on with what you remember, though," urged Tsuruko suddenly with a slight grin. "That I might compare with it what Keitaro-san has told me."
"Hai...hm, he assisted me on the way there, and then was going to help me some more, I believe, had he not dragged him away suddenly. I did not actually realize at first in the car who he was, for he did not tell me he was the one who was to marry me. He gave me the impression he had helped me because, perhaps, he wished to, rather than was forced to...? He told me life was too precious to be wasted in such a way, though I dimly recall him perhaps willing to sacrifice his life for another…
"Anyway, I was unconscious for awhile, I am sure of that, and then I woke to find that bastard with me...he gave me something, a drink of sorts, that made me physically incapable of controlling my body. I would react to any command given to me no matter what, though my mind was still functioning properly. It was as if I was merely watching the world through another's eyes...they did perform the marriage ceremony, yes, and I did sign the papers, though I was still drug-dazed."
"We have a copy, given to us by the young man himself. It is legal, the elders checked over any and all possibilities. What happened next, though? What of your return?"
Motoko paused, her eye twitching ever so slight. "Keitaro was then given a choice..."
"Hai, to be allowed back in the Turtle Clan with some sort of status, as well as more of the drug that controlled me at the moment." The kendo girl practically ground her teeth together in a growl. "He offered me as nothing more than a pleasure toy to my new husband...the other choice was to leave on foot and hopefully make it back to you, here, before the elements, or some other force got to us. He, obviously, chose the later."
"You do realize that, even now that you are back here, we will expect you to complete your marital duties sometime soon, correct?" asked Tsuruko suddenly with a hidden edge to her voice that made her sister wince. "Especially if you wish to have this back anytime soon..." Tsuruko brought out Motoko's blade from behind her back, all cleaned and polished within its sheath.
"Shishui! Well, I...eh..."
"Get changed, for that can be discussed later," ordered Tsuruko as she tossed her a set of her usual practice clothes, handing her the sword handle first with the barest of smiles. "And I will tell you what you have missed since then. Your husband, Urashima, brought you with some stable boy around dawn three days ago. We took you in, and except for breaks to speak with the elders or play with the children when I made him go and get some fresh air, he's hardly left your side to be honest. I'm surprised you actually woke during one of the rare times he was away from your side..."
Motoko listened with half her mind as she quickly dressed, lacing up her hamaka and tying the gi closed before securing her belt. The other half was trying to figure out this enigma that had somehow made its way into her life named Keitaro. He was a paradox of everything she'd ever learned about men from life in general, the first being that he wasn't the pervert most men turned out to be. She knew she'd started to undress in front of him while drugged, and she'd actually panicked inside her mind and had been grateful when he'd courteously left as quickly as possible. Not that she could stop him should he wish to have her later on, but at least he'd kept to himself while she wasn't in control of herself.
He'd also saved her life. She'd seen the bloodthirsty glint in Shoji's eyes, he'd meant for it all to end permanently right then and there. Yet this young man had seemingly risked his life...why would he do that for her? Yes, he had said something about life being too precious to waste…yet… There had to be something she hadn't seen...perhaps he had been told all ahead of time, and was merely acting his part. From what Tsuruko was rambling on about though, that could not be true, he'd been as clueless as she up until he'd walked in on the fight. There had to be an ulterior motive, he was one of them after all...something told her this was a pointless argument with herself. That, if he'd had an ulterior motive, he'd already let the prime opportunity to escape go by without any remorse at all. In fact, she'd felt him relax once he had left the temple.
She recalled his kindness as well, though it rankled to do so for it also reminded her of her defeat. He'd been gentle...ever caring perhaps, while doing what he could for her in the car as they'd sped away. And then, he'd stood up to Shoji in her defense again, and apologized to her afterwards while he'd carried her on his back as if all this mess were all his fault and not that bastards... He'd taken a blow that was meant for her.
"Are you listening?" asked Tsuruko sharply, her words finally penetrating the younger girl's heavy thoughts as she looked up with a startled blush.
"Nani? Oh, hai! Gomen, onne-san..."
"Come," said Tsuruko with a wink as she mussed Motoko's hair affectionately. "It's time you finally formally met him, and we have some things that need to be taken care of as well."
Keitaro laughed as Yoshi jumped on his back, grabbing the little 8 year old boy and tickling him mercilessly until he dropped to the ground squealing like a girl. "Ha! Gotcha!"
"You hath tortured my brother and must be punished!" cried Miko, the eldest of the his nieces and nephews at ten years of age, as she stood there with her wooden sword pointed at Keitaro and the rest of her siblings and cousins swarming around her. "We shall smite thee like the evil one that thine are, 'Taro-san! CHARGE!!"
"AHH!! Please, no! I give, I give, I give!!! Gomen!!" Keitaro was pulled to the ground by the small mass of wriggling bodies and soon found himself with his arms pinned to the ground and being tickled to death by 7 sets of eager hands. "Ahhahahah!! No, please, no, gomen, I give....ahahehehahah!!"
"Hey, there! No fair, ganging up on the poor man by himself!" scolded Kenjou teasingly as he swept Sato and Yuki, one of the cousins and Yoshi's twin sister, up under each arm and spun them around a few times before dropping them to the ground and laughing as they stumbled about dizzily.
"Not fair, Oto-san!" slurred Yuki as she tried to right herself and fell flat on her butt. "Owies..."
"Oh, did you fall down? Come here, I think you'll be alright..."
"What're the horses for?" asked Keitaro as he managed to finally free himself from the raging terrors and sent them off to play elsewhere, Kenjou giving him a hand as he got to his feet and dusted his jeans and tee-shirt off lightly.
"We're going for a ride," explained Kenjou simply.
"You, me, Tsuruko-chan, Motoko-san..."
"Wait, she's awake? Why didn't anyone tell me?!"
"Oh, she had some other business to take care of at the time..."
Keitaro rolled his eyes as a clamor arose to his right, all seven younglings swarming the pair that had appeared from one of the doors that opened into the gardens. Both were dressed similarly in the white gis and colored hamakas that everyone who practiced the school of sword wore, with their long black hair bound up to hang in pony tails and their swords at their side.
"You're not sick no more!!"
"Mo-chan?" asked Keitaro as they drew closer, letting the pair come to them as they stood there with the four-legged beasts.
"Their nick name for her," explained Kenjou with a shrug. "Just like they call you 'Taro-san. It's just something they do."
"Kenjou-kun," called Tsuruko as she waved slightly. "Did you get what I asked for?"
"Of course," he replied quickly with a grin. "I know better than to disobey!"
"But I thought you liked being punished..."
Kenjou turned bright red as Keitaro turned away and coughed discreetly to hide his own blush. That was FAR too much detail for his liking. The tall, and very beautiful in her own, woman who he'd married slowly walked forward beside her elder sister, young Rei in her arms and both Yoshi and Yuki hanging from her back. Miko stood proudly at her side, observing her with the same open admiration she held for her sister.
"Keitaro Urashima," said Tsuruko formally as she turned aside from her children and nephews, smoothing out her robes as she straightened herself. "I present to you my sister, and your wife, Motoko..." She turned to Motoko, giving her an encouraging smile as she went on. "Motoko-chan, this is Keitaro Urashima, your husband."
Motoko bowed immediately, her long hair hiding her face with its black tresses.
"Very pleased to have finally made your acquaintance," said Keitaro warmly with a wry smile as he bowed to her deeply. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you who I was originally, things were a little hectic at the time..."
"The fault was mine, for starting something that I couldn't finish," replied Motoko softly, keeping her eyes downcast as she put Yoshi and Yuki back on their feet, sending them off to play but allowing Rei who clung to her desperately to stay where she was. "Arigato, for what you did, for you didn't have to..."
"Ah, it was nothing. How are you feeling, though? They told me they were speed-healing you, but there was a problem along the way...?"
"Other than some weakness, I'm fully healed except for my side..." She shifted Rei carefully to her other arm so she wouldn't be resting so close it with a flinch. "It will take a great deal longer to mend... I do thank you for the speed with which you returned here. I would be in a great deal more pain, should things have been different."
"Thank Zazie, for helping us as he did. I just did what I thought you would prefer." Keitaro scratched the back of his head nervously as he blushed, grinning at Rei who grinned back and immediately reached for him.
"Hm?" Motoko looked up at her, confused, as the toddler wiggled in her arms.
"Wanna see 'Taro-san!" The little girl leaned towards Keitaro, him stepping forward and holding out his hands to catch her as she quickly wormed her way free. "Wanna go for ride, 'Taro-san!"
"Right now? You just had one a few minutes ago!" protested Keitaro teasingly as he gently swung her on his back. "Well, I guess just a quick one won't hurt...excuse me, Motoko-san, this will just take a moment."
Tsuruko and Kenjou drew away, talking quietly as Keitaro trotted around the garden in a circle, going fast enough to convince the young girl they were 'flying with the wind' but not so fast that he might trip and hurt them both. Motoko watched him closely, even closing her eyes and reaching for his presence...but finding nothing about him that resembled her father or his men in the least. He was...pure, so to speak. His ki was calm and gentle, for all that is was practically nonexistent. There was a something that sent of a slight alarm bell within her mind, but she couldn't pin it down exactly and dismissed it as him being male.
Watching as he carefully placed Rei on the ground with the other children, she covered her mouth when he tripped and stumbled into a couple of boulders, rising slowly and rubbing his head slightly but seemingly unharmed other than that. So he wasn't the most graceful person to walk the earth, but he was still kind and patient with the children in a way that she could relate to, as well as they trusted him so completely…
Keitaro felt a pair of eyes on him and turned slowly, seeing Motoko studying him from across the way by the horses. Her face was completely masked, but her eyes held a subtle curiosity mixed with a touch of warmth that made him smile and blush. Seeing her eyes come into focus suddenly, she blushed and turned away swiftly, almost with a defiant touch to it, as she nervously checked over the harness of the taller of the two geldings.
"We're ready to go," said Tsuruko suddenly, going to the other horse's side and swinging up into the saddle gracefully. Motoko followed her lead, turning her mount hesitantly and offering a hand to Keitaro though she refused to meet his eyes. He was surprised at her strength as she pulled him most of the way up, seating himself firmly behind her.
"Uh...gomen, but where do I hold on?" asked Keitaro nervously as the beast moved under him, this being the first time he'd ever ridden a horse since doing one of those kiddy rides when he was five and falling flat on his face when he'd tried to dismount on his own.
Motoko cleared her throat and replied distantly, "Give me your hands."
"Ok..." She guided them to in front of her where the pommel was, his arms encircling her waist. Keitaro probably would've burst into a nosebleed had Tsuruko and Kenjou not burst into a gallop right then, goading Motoko into a race as she took off after them.
"Put your feet in the stirrups behind mine," she instructed as he began to get a hold of the rhythm after a few moments of having his brains bounced around like a tennis ball. "Lean forward a little...that's it."
The two time college failure smiled as the wind rushed past them, his companion murmuring to the giant bay gelding as they sped onwards faster and faster. Slowly they were gaining on the pair in front of them, but Keitaro got the feeling Motoko was holding her mount back slightly as they went on.
"Can we beat them?" he asked, leaning forward some more so he'd be heard.
"We could," she admitted, glancing back at him. "Why?"
"They offered us a race, why not do as they asked?" replied Keitaro with a grin as he looked back at Tsuruko and Kenjou's backs chuckling.
"Hm...as you wish." If he thought they'd been going fast before, now they were flying. Coming up even with them, Tsuruko and Kenjou exchanged grins before urging their own mount to go faster as well.
"Do you see Kenjou, how he's partially standing?" asked Motoko as she crouched down lower behind the horse's neck.
"Hai," replied Keitaro as he glanced over and watched for a minute. "Is that what you want me to do?"
"It would help."
"I'll try, then..." Keitaro moved slowly, changing his hands from the pommel to her waist as he scooted closer and did his best to emulate Kenjou. Realizing his mistake as she suddenly bit of a cry of pain, he shifted them a little higher and was far more careful. Inch by inch, they began to pull in the lead, a stream coming into view up ahead.
"Hold on!" cautioned Motoko as the gelding suddenly stretched out his legs that extra bit and leapt over the moving waters to the bank on the other side. Skidding to a halt, the gelding's hooves plowed little grooves in the ground as they quickly came to a stop. Or, Motoko and her mount did. Keitaro, on the other hand, was another matter entirely...
"Keitaro-san!" Motoko slid off her horse and was at his side as quickly as she could move, helping to support him as he stumbled to his feet. "Why did you let go?!"
"Eh...gomen," he said with a grin as he gingerly rubbed the new lump on his head. "It's my fault, I'm just clumsy like that..." Blushing as they realized how close together they were, they jumped back like startled rabbits and stared in the opposite direction of each other. "Uh...is your side ok? Gomen, for holding on so hard, I didn't mean to hurt you..."
"I'm fine," she replied quietly with a slight shrug. "Pain is not a permanent discomfort...it will pass."
"Come on!" called Kenjou as he and Tsuruko dismounted as well, tying their horse with Motoko's before starting down the path to their right. Holding hands, the elder couple led the way as Motoko followed, Keitaro following her a few steps behind as he took in the beautiful scenery around him. It wasn't quite fall yet, everything still green and full of life in the mid afternoon sun. "We have just enough time to make it to the shrine and back and then be able to change before the feast to tonight if we hurry."
"Feast?" asked Keitaro and Motoko at the same time, glancing at each other in surprise and hastily looking away when they realized the other was looking.
"Hai, our families' celebration of your wedding, as I already told you earlier Motoko-chan," replied Tsuruko with a carefree grin. "We weren't allowed to have your wedding here, but that does not mean we will allow it to go by unnoticed."
"Who's been invited?" asked the younger sister carefully, a nervous look coming over her face.
"The aunts, the uncles, both removed sets of grandparents, mother's great-grandparents, your second cousins, a few great aunts from the south..."
Motoko twitched as the list went on and on with a sigh. "Eh..."
"I wouldn't worry too much," offered Keitaro quietly from behind her as they walked on. "At least you know them, they'll be complete strangers to me."
"True..." She glanced back at him, a guilty look crossing her face as she hesitated slightly before saying, "Keitaro...you can walk with us, you know. I don't bite." Coughing, she added more loudly, "Tsuruko-san has been known to nibble, but with Kenjou-san here there is little worry of that..."
Keitaro smothered a laugh with his hand as Tsuruko's cheeks were tinged with pink and Kenjou chuckled embarrassedly. Coughing lightly, he replied, "Personally, I would describe it more as a lipping than a nibbling..."
"Kenjou!!" The said man just laughed as the swordswoman turned a bright red.
"Oh, I didn't say that aloud, did I? Silly me!"
"Kenjou no baka!" He just laughed as she thwaped him none too lightly with her fist, Motoko hiding her own smile by keeping her head down as Keitaro chuckled nervously.
"I can't believe you just said that about your sister..."
"Oh, her victory shall be short lived," said Tsuruko evilly as she reached for her sleeve. "As I have three pictures of her with some friends sent to me by Mitsune-san...they are very interesting, to say the least."
Keitaro was surprised to see the color drain from Motoko's face her jaw dropped. "You...!! You weren't supposed to see those!!"
"Hai, so Mitsune told me, but she thought it would be nice to share them with me," replied Tsuruko as she pulled out three rather large photographs.
"They were for Naru-sempai's birthday, she just wanted something creative. I had no idea what it was going to be, I swear!"
"Oh, Mitsune-san explained that as well. However...ah! This is the one that interests me the most..." Tsuruko's grin grew a touch eviler as Motoko went from white to an embarrassed red.
"Was that a hint of begging I hear?" she replied as she held her hand to her ear as if listening to the wind.
"Gotcha!" Kenjou took the snatched photos and placed them in his gi top, smiling in satisfaction as Motoko sighed in relief and Tsuruko just grumbled in annoyance under her breath. "I believe I shall be keeping these for awhile."
"You know you were being unfair," replied Kenjou as he poked her in the side, Tsuruko squirming ever so slightly. Keitaro looked at Motoko, who had her eyes cast off to the side and a red spot on either cheek. "She didn't even know you had them. Ah, here we are!"
Keitaro was surprised to see a small pool of water, a waterfall on one side and a small waterfall in the center. A bridge of stepping stones led to it, and the shrine itself sat there in the very center, a small building built of smooth stones and brightly polished wood that shone in the single shaft of light that came down on it from above. His wife, as he supposed he should now think of her, jumped from stone to stone with an ease and agility that made him envious, Tsuruko following in a similar fashion.
Kenjou silently took him by the shoulder and led him a ways away as the two stood there quietly with their heads bent near each other. The elder put her arm about the younger suddenly, her responding by wrapping both arms about the other's waist as her shoulders began to shake slightly.
"Why's she crying?" asked Keitaro as he felt his heart begin to ache. He didn't know her very well, but no one should ever have to be sad! "Was it something I did?"
"Nothing you did, lad," replied Kenjou as he lounged against some boulders off to the right puffing on the pipe he'd brought out from his pocket, Keitaro coming and sitting beside him reluctantly. "It's her first visit back in seven years, and the last time she was here created some very...unpleasant memories indeed."
"There's a lot I don't know, isn't there?" asked Keitaro quietly.
"If it's something I can't know..."
"Oh, it's common knowledge around here, though treated with great care," replied Kenjou solemnly. "It started long before Tsuruko and Motoko were born, dating back to their mother's parent's time. Their mother was raised to be very respectful to her father, and bear all actions of his with an unending patience. They say the man was slightly mad, but that's another tale all together. So, eventually that little girl grew up and was taught the sword and its ways as best she could learn it. She wasn't brilliant, like those two there, but she had enough of the fire in her to do her duty to the school.
"The Turtle Clan, which is your family, had a little demon problem and requested the family's help as Shinmeiryuu Style is known for its ability to cast out and destroy their kind. In good faith, their mother was sent and she vanquished the evil spirits. While she was there, she met a young man though who stole her heart, though, and I am told they were deeply in love with one another.
"Their father made such an impression upon the elders here that they were married immediately. Ten or eleven years passed from then, Tsuruko-chan was born and on her way to being the best successor in generations. Motoko was born after her, and was just nearing her first birthday when it happened. Shoji was called home one day, which was not that unusual, and he went alone to his ancestral home to see what is was they wanted. He didn't return for a fortnight, though, and when he did, well...they say he was so different that Motoko didn't recognize him and refused to be held by him. His gentle caring had been replaced with a cold heartlessness with a violent temper that he brought down on all those around him.
"By the time Motoko was five, he'd been outlawed from the grounds after having beaten some man in a fit of rage. Still, her mother loved him and stayed with him, convinced that the man she married was still deep inside, somewhere. He began to beat her, and she took his blows silently, though she would never allow him to lay a hand on the girls while she was present and took to keeping them with her as much as she could. He took to drinking as well, and she dealt with his drunken rages as she could, only ensuring they never spilled over directly on to her children's lives. Tsuruko had a hard time understanding why her mother lived like this, and shielded Motoko from that which she could. This was, obviously, back when Tsuruko-chan was still heir to the Shinmeiiju School.
"Her father ruined that as well, though. Upon her 16th birthday, he sent her to his Clan for her initiation...no one, not even me, know fully what happened that day except the council who she was forced to tell upon her return. It broke her spirit in two, and though she's been healed of it for years it haunts her still sometimes in the darkest hours of the night..." Keitaro was surprised when Kenjou stopped, the pipe clenched between his teeth as he saw, for the first time, unchecked anger in the man's eyes.
"Are you alright, Kenjou-san?" he asked hesitantly, wanting to know more but not wishing to push him if he wasn't ready.
"I'm not the one that has to live with the scars," replied Kenjou roughly, sighing as he gained control of himself once more. "Gomen, Keitaro-san, I will continue...mm...this is where I come in, actually. I met Tsuruko on the way to my village, halfway between the two family's ancestral homes walking in a pouring rain. I offered her the shelter of my parent's home out of concern for her health for the night, and instead my mother kept her with us over a month. She was so lovely there...and so fragile as well! There, her mother found us a week later, and agreed to let her stay after seeing the state her daughter was in until she was ready to come home.
"We worried for her health for awhile, for she refused to eat or respond to anyone or anything, but with time she came around...after the month was up I accompanied her to formally ask the council if we could be wed. As I was not her father's choice, and also not of then family nor able to defeat her in a battle of physical combat, they denied her of it. However, she could not return home to live with her father again and wanted nothing more to do with her sword. Breaking all ties with the clan, she left and married me regardless with her mother's blessings and her father's curse. The claim was then passed to Motoko, leaving her protected no longer. Without her sister there and her mother often gone to the clan trying to defend Shoji against them or training her other students, Motoko became the focus of her father's abuse and anger.
"While her mother wasn't home one day, he assaulted her when she returned from a session with one of the other masters. Backed in a corner, and facing his bokken with her own miniature one, she managed to beat him back enough to give her an escape out of the house and she ran as fast as her small legs would take her. He had longer legs than she, though, and he caught her before she reached her destination."
"Where was she running?" asked Keitaro tightly, his hands clenched into fists on his knees.
"One of the first things taught to all children who live here once they can walk is to run here whenever they're in danger. That's why you were brought here today, to show you this place, as is custom even if it is an unnecessary one in these modern times," explained Kenjou quickly. "Thus, it was a natural and instinctive move on her part. Motoko was quick for her age, but he caught her right before she made it to the shrine where, unknown to her, her mother was. She still bears a mark for it too, a scar that runs down her back from where he nearly stabbed her with his dagger. We assume that her scream brought Motoko's mother to them, probably beating back her father just long enough for her to escape, but no one knows for sure.
"Motoko returned to the Dojo calling for help, collapsing and coming down with a fever that lasted for weeks on end. Shoji lay there next to Naoko, for that was their mother's name, half dead with wounds that could've been caused by anything and her beaten to death. He claimed that they were attacked, and Motoko had run for help, and with no other proof as Motoko refused to speak we could do nothing at all.
"He left and turned over Motoko to the care of the Dojo until, if ever, he returned for her again. We had not heard from him for so long that we had hoped..."
"What happened to her after he left?" asked Keitaro immediately as he continued to let what he'd learn swirl around in his mind.
"She stayed in the room given to her at the Dojo, after recovering, for nearly a year, only coming out at night to train and hone her skills on the sword and perhaps to take a bite to eat. Few saw her, but all knew where she was and worried constantly for her sanity and health. That's when Hina-san offered to take her in at her apartments and help her find herself there. She has been invaluable to this clan, saving Motoko as she did, but I do not think she foresaw this turn of events..."
Keitaro winced as he looked back at the sisters, both sitting now and speaking quietly to one another. "I do not think any of us did. However, there is one thing I would like to know...if Tsuruko broke off from the Clan, why are you here now? At the dojo, I mean?"
"We returned after her mother's death, since it was truly only Shoji alone who opposed the marriage, and in return for the times we stay here, she will train some of the students here who struggle in their studies of the sword. The original reason was to help Motoko, obviously, but even her sister could not break through to her then and somehow I managed to come to good terms with the rest of the council and thus we were let back in."
The pair by the shrine suddenly rose and began to walk back, Tsuruko glanced back at Kenjou who merely nodded in reply. "Time to go... Despite all that has happened, Keitaro-san, I believe everything will turn out fine for you. And that Tsuruko will be right."
"Right about what?"
Kenjou rolled his eyes as he shrugged. "She's a woman, she's right about everything!"
Finis! Well, for this chapter at least. Review, please, for I am but a humble authoress who wishes to have your opinion. That, and it's really a nice thing to do. If the second chapter is not posted at the same time this one is, it will be only a day or two later so don't miss it! ^_^
"If candy companies wanted to have a 'fun size' candy bar, it should be a least a pound. Oh look, it's less than a third smaller than usual, what a 'fun size'..."