Gravybowl: w00t keep those reviews coming! ahaha i totally forgot about the thingamerjigger...disclaimer! oh yea this chpt has character death in it, so ... yea, thought id tell you in case you...er, don't like character death.

Disclaimer: although i would like to, i do not own LH or any of its characters.

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The air crackled with energy and joy as people bustled here and there, doing their rushed Christmas shopping. Towers of presents were shoved into seemingly endless lines of taxis, and fat women in fur and jolly men with moustaches wished each other a good day as they rubbed shoulders in the crowded streets. Everyone was happy. Almost everyone, at least.

A bit further away from the city, more into the rural area, Motoko stood, head bowed, over a snow-covered tablet. Her mitten clad hand reached out and brushed off the solemn cover of white to reveal the words:

Here lies Aoyama Tsuruko
Sister, Daughter, and Wife
Born and Died within 30 years
You will never be forgotten
Rest in Peace

"Sister," whispered Motoko. Tears formed in her eyes. "You promised to stay by my side. You promised that nothing would come between us. And I, I too have made you a promise. You must not leave before it is completed! Sister!" Motoko fell to her knees. Who would be her idol now? Who would be there to encourage her, in her bleakest times? She wept, but her tokens of grief turned into crystal and shattered on the tablet. "Shattered, sister, like my heart."

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"Here, we have to get this, Haruka!" Kitsune chimed as we passed the wine section. She went in the isle and came out prancing with a bottle of red wine.

"What happened to sake?" I asked as I reluctantly allowed her to place the bottle of European water (What? Sake is stronger than red wine...) into the cart. "You are so paying for that."

"You know it," Kitsune giggled, then winked. I sighed. –I- was the one who would give the money for the expensive watery crap. "I don't know, Auntie. I feel...exotic. Besides, I want to try something different for once!"

I lightly fwapped her on the arm; I knew that she knew that I was exceptionally generous during Christmas – what do you mean, I'm never generous? "Don't call me Auntie, you hussy."

"Then quit –talking- like one."

"Shut up. Do you think it was really wise of us to just leave Motoko alone? You know she's been so sensitive since Tsuruko died."

"Ahh. The Aoyama warrior beauty."

"Shush! You might as well respect the dead if not the living."

"That's not true, Auntie, I –do- respect the dead. I respect you!"

"Didn't I tell you to shut up? Now give me your –sober- opinion, Kitsune."

"Hmm. I don't know. Maybe she just needs time alone."

"But you know Motoko. She's so violent and irrational! There's no knowing what she could do!" Little did I know then, but I was uncannily correct. Motoko, at that moment, was flying around town, blasting holes in abandoned houses and hitting some drunkards with her ki attacks.

Motoko stood at the edge of the bridge. "I can't live without you, sister, I can't!" She prepared herself to jump off the ledge, but something made her pause. The rippling water that she broke the ice away revealed her reflection. Motoko snorted. Why would that stop her? But a closer look revealed that it was not her. It was her sister. Motoko gasped and stumbled back. How could it be? She clearly remembered her sister's pallid face as her heavy eyelids finally closed and her chest stopped rising and falling jerkily. She slowly approached the edge of the bridge. Yes, it –was- her sister, but much more healthier; her face was filled out, and two spots of warmth showed high above her cheekbones.

"You must preserver, Motoko. In your life, you will lose many more important people to you. I am just the first. The first will hurt the most."

"Sister, you must come back! At least wait for me! I'll come!" Steeled on by her sister's appearance, Motoko's leg muscles tightened.

"No!" Tsuruko's (or was it Motoko's?) reflection whispered. Motoko stopped, her eyes widening in confusion. "You must stay here! Your task on earth is not completed."

"But without you, I have no family and no home!"

"Think deeper, Motoko. You –do- have a family and home." And with that, Motoko's reflection rippled back to her own.

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"Shut –up-!"

"Stop poking me, you –loser-!"

"What is a loser? Is it tasty?"

"NO!"

"Auntie, someone's coming! Look lively!"

"STOP. MAKING. THESE. OLD. CRACKS. ABOUT. ME!!!!!"

"Okay, yeesh, you old hag."

"ERGH!"

Motoko rounded a corner. A little bell rung, stirring, as always, the deeply engraved memory of her sister.

*** Motoko and Tsuruko, 5 and 18 respectively, sat under a tree, sheltering from the summer rain.
"Motoko. Take this, and become a great warrior!" Tsuruko held out her
own sword, safeguarded with two silver bells. Motoko, awed, took hold of
the sword, and her fingers brushed her sister's. The chiming laughter echoed as the gentle summer rain pattered down onto the soft earth. ***

The ringing of the bell became louder. The bushes whispered as the wind howled. Motoko reached the top of the cement stairs, and became still in amazement. The Hinata Inn was decorated with tiny silver bells, identical to the ones on her sister's sword. Each bell had it's own harmonic tinkle, so when the wind blew, a slight, sweet tune could be heard. Each and every corner, window, door had its own pair of bells.

"SURPRISE!" Everyone, of course, excluding Naru and Keitaro who were on their education-filled "honeymoon" and Shinobu, who was waiting inside with the feast, jumped from behind a bush. I "accidentally" elbowed Kitsune, who was already too drunk on her "exotic drink of the gods" to notice, and she fell down while everyone else cheered.

Everyone crowded around to embrace Motoko, who had tears streaming down her blue face. "Thank you, everyone! Thank you so much!" she cried, embracing each person warmly, even Mutsumi, who I –knew- had the supreme smell of turtle on her clothes that no one sensed except Motoko.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the crying girl and wrapped a colorful scarf around her neck. She looked at it closely, and saw tiny katanas knitted on it. "Oh, Haruka-san! This is..."

"No need to thank me." As she pulled me into her arms, I murmured, "Motoko, you know that everyone here at Hinata Inn is here for you. We can be your home and family." She pulled away in surprise.

"Well, the Christmas feast will be getting cold. Shinobu has been waiting for us for a very long time!" I briskly said as I walked off to the Inn. The others turned to follow me, and all of them halted in surprise.

"What the-"Kitsune muttered. Motoko stopped beside her, and caught her just in time from falling down.

"What is it, Kitsune?"

"Well, Motoko, I wasn't supposed to tell you, but we decked out the whole Inn in really tacky strings of sparkly tinsel. And now, it's all turned to silver bells! But don't tell yourself; it's supposed to be a surprise for you when you come back!" Motoko would roll her eyes; I can just imagine her doing so; but right then I could feel her burning, questioning stare on my back as I strolled back to the Inn, my face turned to the heat of the lights.

Wonderful when the Inn does your work for you, isn't it, now?

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"GODDAMNIT, MOTOKO!" Kitsune staggered into Motoko's room, screaming. "TAKE DOWN THOSE DAMN BELLS ALREADY! They've been up for five months, you freak; its MAY! AND YOU –KNOW- I HAVE A HANGOVER!" Turning to a steaming Kitsune, Motoko just smiled.

"No, I believe that I'll leave them out for just a little longer." As Kitsune stumbled her way out of the female samurai's room, Motoko dreamily turned back to her window. The chiming of the silver bells took her to another place, and outside, a gentle summer rain started to mist the Inn.