Disclaimer: I own no part of LH.

I am a little bit of loneliness; a little bit of disregard.
A handful of complaints but I can't help the fact
That everyone can see these scars.
I am what I want you to want; what I want you to feel
But it's like no matter what I do, I can't convince you
To just believe this is real.
So I let go, watching you turn you back like you always do.
Face away and pretend that I'm not
But I'll be here 'cause you're all that I got.

---Linkin Park

Chapter 15

Morning came in all its glory, and Motoko found herself in awe at such a wondrous sight as soon as she appeared on the roof--and this is no small feat. Despite her original plans, not to mention her penchant for routine, she decided not to spoil such a beautiful day with her usual training regimen. Instead, she opted to meditate; something that quickly turned into self-reflection.

"It is amazing," the swordswoman thought. "How one's opinions, even one's values can change in such a short time. Had all of this happened six months ago, I would have beheaded both Keitaro and Kentaro for what they have done--or what I thought they might have done. Now... now I know not to judge a person... a man prematurely." At that point, her train of thought arrived at the source of her animosity. "Sister... I now understand."

Indeed, all of the girls, especially Naru, found themselves more at ease that morning. Perhaps it was because they had tied up all of the loose ends from the disaster that was two days previous. The only thing that could possibly put a damper on things would have been thoughts of their laid-up landlord, but they all knew he would return to them soon enough.

"Here you go, everyone," Shinobu said as she served breakfast, her cheerfulness back as though it was never gone. "Enjoy." She was just about to sit down when the phone rang. "Don't get up," she said. "I'll get it."

The other girls watched Shinobu skip out of the room. None of them could be too sure as to who was calling, but they all had their hopes. From their seats, they could barely hear the conversation.

"Hello? ... Uh huh. ... I see. Thank you." Shinobu hung up and returned to the dining room to find a bunch of looks of expectation trained on her. "That was Haruka," she said after regaining her composure. "She's going to the hospital now. Keitaro should be back within the hour."

Normally, such good news would have been reason enough to celebrate, but now, everyone, even Suu, just smiled, knowing that everything would soon be returning to normal--in a manner of speaking.

---

During her trip, Haruka first thought of the reactions the girls might have had to her announcement, her prediction being somewhat overestimated. To her credit, she would have been right 9 times out of 10. Also, being alone and without the sense of urgency like the previous day, she allowed her mind to wander. Memories were brought forth from past hospital visits, most notably being there when Keitaro was born. "Those were simpler times back then," she thought wistfully.

All of the issues at the hospital were resolved with minimal fuss and, before long, both Haruka and Keitaro were on their way back to Hinata-Sou. "It must feel good to be up and around again," Haruka said.

"Yeah," Keitaro said. "I'm looking forward to seeing the girls again." The way he was talking, one would think he's been out of action for months. Granted, if anybody else was put in his position, they would have been, if not in the morgue.

"They're looking forward to seeing you, too," Haruka said. Farther along in the train ride, she noticed that Keitaro looked deep in thought. "Is something wrong?"

"Huh?" Keitaro said, coming back to reality. "Oh, no. I just have a lot on my mind right now."

"Well, don't think too hard, you might hurt yourself." Haruka flinched internally at the poor choice of words, but was relieved when her nephew took it in stride.

"Yeah, right," Keitaro said, chuckling a bit. Little did his aunt know just how right she was. After all, just consider how much thinking he has done in recent days and where it got him.

Eventually, the train arrived at its destination and the two began their walk back to the dorm. Haruka took it upon herself to accompany Keitaro up the long steps, even though he said it wasn't necessary. When they reached the top, she placed a hand on his shoulder, keeping him from continuing towards the front door. Keitaro was just about ask if something was up, but he never got the chance.

Despite herself, Haruka brought Keitaro close to her in an embrace. "You have no idea how worried is was about you," she said, almost on the verge of tears. Almost.

At first, Keitaro was stunned by Haruka's actions, and rightly so, but quickly returned the favor. "Everything's going to be fine, aunt Haruka."

After a little while, Haruka broke off the hug. "I'm going to let that one slide," she said, regaining her emotionless demeanor. "Now, I have to go open up the shop. I'll see you later."

"Yeah," Keitaro said as he watched Haruka descend the steps. Taking a deep breath, he turned back towards the dorm. "I have to do this," he thought. "I would never be able to live with myself if I didn't."

---

Meanwhile, the girls were in the living room, eagerly awaiting his arrival, and have been for the last fifteen minutes, following a quick breakfast and an even quicker bath. As a group, they had decided not to inform Keitaro about their interrogation of Kentaro, so as not to risk opening old wounds. In fact the last two days, with the only possible exception of their visit to the hospital, would be a stretch of time never to be spoken of again; period.

As the time came near, anxiety began to set in. "What do you think he'll do when he gets here?" Shinobu asked.

"I wish I could say," Kitsune said. "But whatever happens, we don't have much choice but to live with it. Besides, the only one who should have anything to worry about is me and you all know it."

"On that note," Naru said. "I think we should make strides to avoid any... difficulties... between us and him in the future. This means no overreacting, no making him a test subject and no con games from here on, am I clear?"

Motoko and Shinobu quickly agreed to Naru's terms, though Suu and Kitsune didn't look too happy about it, but before they could negotiate, the front door swung open.

"Hey, everyone," Keitaro said, using his well rehearsed cheerfulness, at least to a point.

"Welcome home," Naru said, standing up to greet him, sporting a somewhat forced smile of her own.

"Yeah," Keitaro said. A moment of uncomfortable silence followed as his charade slowly gave way. "Naru..." he said, trying to find the right words. "When you can, I'd like to see you in my room for a few minutes." With that, he upstairs, leaving the girls in various states of shock.

"Why does he want to see me?" Naru thought when she got her wits back. "Maybe it's about my confession yesterday. If that's the case..." Not wasting another moment, she followed in Keitaro's wake, leaving the others to speculate, though one in particular had a pretty good idea.

"If he's doing what I think he's going to do," Kitsune thought. "...Oh man..."

When Naru opened Keitaro's door, she found him standing in the middle of the room, his back turned. "Um, Keitaro?"

"Have a seat," Keitaro said, trying to sound welcoming as he gestured towards the table behind him.

"Aren't you going to turn around?" Naru asked as she sat down. "Whatever you have to say, it might be easier face to face."

"That's what she thinks," Keitaro thought. "If I look her in the eye, I might lose my nerve--and I doubt I'll get a second chance." "Please humor me, alright?" he asked.

"Okay," Naru said suddenly feeling a tightness in her chest.

"I know I've been a jerk to you these last several days," Keitaro began. "That is beyond dispute. I just wanted to say that I'm... I'm sorry for what I did."

For once, Naru came to Keitaro's defense. "If this is because of what Kitsune did--"

"Kitsune has nothing to do with this," Keitaro broke in. "My stay at the hospital, as brief as it was, gave me a lot of time to think, especially about what you told me that day. Finally, I decided that I cannot in good conscious continue the lie I have been living."

"What are you saying?" Naru asked.

"I'm saying that all the times I blatantly ignored you and every ounce of backtalk has been an act."

"An act?" Naru asked, hardly able to believe her ears. "You mean you were pretending to hate me the entire time?"

"That's right."

"Keitaro..." Naru felt like crying, but none came out, much to her surprise. "Why? Why would you do something like that? Didn't you see the effect it had on me?"

"Yes, I did," Keitaro said. "After you last sent me flying into town ten days ago, I concluded that life at that point had turned into a cycle that could only get worse if left unchecked. Therefore, if I was ever going to pull myself out of it, I would have to take action.

"First on my 'to do' list was determine your true feelings toward me. Aside from asking you point blank--which I knew was pure suicide--the only way I could think of was turning to tables on you. From the very start, I hated what I was doing, but I convinced myself that it had to be done." Keitaro chuckled a bit despite himself. "You may be surprised to know that my greatest fear during this time wasn't you hurting me, but that, once I started verbally abusing you, I might not have been able to stop. In other words, the act would no longer be an act."

Naru hung on Keitaro's words in complete silence. She was finally compelled to speak when Keitaro turned around. "What's that?" she asked, referring to the notebook he held close to his chest.

"This is where I kept my notes during my so-called experiment," Keitaro said, taking a seat across from Naru. After searching for a particular page, he laid it down onto the table. "Here, you can see everything I observed, not to mention plans for the future."

As Naru scanned the page, she saw that it was a detailed account of her descent into her own personal hell. "If only I hadn't been so stubborn," she thought. "It would have saved both of us a great deal of grief." Turning a page, she found something that piqued her curiosity. Flipping a few more pages, her suspicions were confirmed. "Hey, why are the others in here?"

"Early on, I discovered just how clueless I've been all this time," Keitaro said. "What better way to change that than to put in the effort to get to know them better? If Shinobu is any indication, I could easily say it's been the best decision I've made since I got here."

"You mean the way you were treating them was a lie too?" Naru asked.

"No," Keitaro said. "And I want you to tell them that."

"Aren't you going to tell them yourself?"

Keitaro shook his head. "I don't think I can face them right now. Besides, when everything is out in the open, I doubt any of you will look at me the same way even again."

"You're probably right," Naru said as she got up, taking the notebook with her. "I'll go fill them in."

"One more thing," Keitaro said. "Even though it looked like I either wasn't listening or didn't care, your confession played itself through my head all day. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that you were right."

"Right about what?" Naru asked.

"About us," Keitaro said. "About how there was no hope for a relationship. I can only guess how much soul searching it took for you to reach that conclusion, but it didn't take too long for me to see the truth behind it. Even if you had said something sooner, it wouldn't have made a difference. Don't get me wrong, I went through every scenario I could think of; every time, we ended up screaming at each other within six months. I'm just glad we didn't have to find all this out the hard way."

"Why are you telling me this?" Naru asked.

"To make sure we don't think about what might have been," Keitaro said. "It would he hard to move forward if we're always digging up the past."

"Does that mean we could have a fresh start? On better terms?" Naru asked.

"Maybe."

"To be honest..." Naru said. "That was more than I ever expected." She then left the room, closing the door behind her.

"...Yeah..." For Keitaro, nothing more needed to be said. He would take whatever came his way because of his actions.

---

When Naru returned to the living room, she found everyone still there except for Suu, who most likely got bored and went up to her room. "So," Kitsune said. "What did he say?"

"It's a good thing they're sitting down," Naru thought, sighing internally as she recounted the entire discussion, only leaving out the last part for personal reasons.

"He would never do something like that," Shinobu said after Naru was finished. To her, the concept of Keitaro being deceptive--or at least intentionally so--was very farfetched.

"I must agree," Motoko said. "Granted, I have thought many things of him, but nothing like what you have described."

"See for yourself," Naru said, revealing the notebook that she had been hiding behind her back up until now and tossing it onto the table. "If anyone wants me, I'll be in the hot spring."

"Hold on," Kitsune said. "We were just there."

"What's your point?" Naru asked as she left the room.

"This must have been a lot for her to take in all at once," Shinobu said. Reaching for the notebook, she turned to the first page and was surprised by what she saw. "It's... it's me," she thought. As she read, she saw how Keitaro took note of Shinobu's prior behavioral traits and actually documented the steps he took that brought about her transformation into a more confident girl. "Keitaro..."

"Shinobu?" Motoko asked.

"Even if he did lie to me, I wouldn't care," Shinobu thought, resisting the urge to cry. Such emotional outbursts was a habit she's been trying to break in recent days, with some degree of success. "He put forth the effort to make me a better person, and I'm grateful for it." She handed off the notebook to Motoko. "I don't need to see any more," she said, much to the surprise of Motoko and Kitsune, and went off to her room.

"It is amazing that Keitaro has been able to do this without getting found out," Motoko said, taking her turn.

"No kidding," Kitsune said, keeping a straight face.

"Do you want to see what he wrote about you?" Motoko asked.

"No thanks," Kitsune answered. "Somehow, I have a good idea what he put in there." This would have been true even if she hadn't already looked through it once before.

Motoko glanced through the notebook, noting Keitaro's observations and plans concerning each tenant until she reached the page devoted to herself. She half-expected to see references to the almost ritualistic beatings she has given him in the past, but there wasn't even the slightest mention of it. Instead, he praised her for her dedication to her art and her self-appointed role as protector of the other girls from perverts (including himself, warranted or otherwise).

Following the basic profile were various objectives, including his trips to the roof to accompany her during her morning exercises. "He actually went out of his way to do all this," Motoko thought.

She continued reading, some of Keitaro's notes coming as a surprise to her, but none were as great as the final entry, marked the day before disaster struck: "Plan to talk to her about her recent odd behavior."

"Have I been that obvious?" Motoko asked herself. Thinking back, the answer became all too clear. "Yes, I have. I should have known that Keitaro would have noticed something, given his strides toward improved awareness. Perhaps..."

From Kitsune's perspective, Motoko appeared consumed in her thoughts, her face slowly showing color. Then suddenly, without warning, the swordswoman turned to face her. "Kitsune," she said. "May I ask a favor of you?"

"Sure," Kitsune replied instantly. "What do you need me to do?"

---

Keitaro had hardly moved a muscle when he heard a knock at the door. "Who is it?" he called out.

"It's me."

"Oh, come in, Kitsune."

The fox stepped into the room, closing the door behind her, and took a seat where Naru had been earlier. "So," she said, noting Keitaro's neutral expression. "How are you?"

"Felt better, felt worse," Keitaro said. "I'm surprised you're the first one to visit me after I came clean."

"Why? Who were you expecting?" Kitsune asked.

"Shinobu, maybe."

"Well, I'm surprised you didn't tell Naru about me," Kitsune said. "Mind if I ask why?"

"I want to put this whole thing behind me as much as you do, if not more," Keitaro said. "I may just pretend like it never even happened."

"I don't think that'll be possible," Kitsune said.

"Why's that?" Keitaro asked.

"I'm not your only visitor," Kitsune said, turning her head back towards the door. "You can come in now!"

"Hmm?" Keitaro watched in interest as the door opened. "Motoko?" he thought.

As said girl entered, Kitsune got up to leave. The two paused briefly when they reached one another, at which point Motoko nodded in silent thanks, confusing Keitaro all the more. Unlike Naru and Kitsune before her, Motoko opted to sit next to Keitaro instead of across from him.

"So..." Keitaro said, breaking the uneasy silence. "What brings you here?"

"You wished to speak with me about the way I have been acting as of late," Motoko said, a noticeable blush on her face from the moment she walked in.

"I did, didn't I?" Keitaro said. "Though I wasn't going to be so blunt about it."

"I feel it is better this way," Motoko said. "Prolonging it further would only make it harder." She took a deep breath before continuing, at least partly in an attempt to slow her racing pulse. "Over the last few days, I believe I have... fallen for you."

That came out so quietly, Keitaro barely heard it, much less understood it. "What was that?" he asked.

"Just say it," Motoko mind commanded. "JUST SAY IT!"

Keitaro noticed Motoko start to tremble and compassion took over. "Is something wrong?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Such a simple gesture was all it took for Motoko's dam to break. Before she could stop herself, she lunged at Keitaro, sending him onto his back. "I said I love you!" she said, their faces barely an inch apart. She barely had the self-restraint to keep from bridging that gap.

"Motoko..." Keitaro gently grabbed Motoko's shoulders and, with some effort, was once again sitting upright. "Are you sure about this? I wouldn't want you to do something you'll regret."

"I am sure," Motoko said, not looking away. "I realize that this is a new experience for me, and it was very difficult to grasp at first. However, I gave the matter a great deal of thought and was eventually able to accept what my heart was telling me. It was then that I vowed to not repeat the mistakes Naru made; to keep my feelings contained until it was too late."

"And you still feel this way after knowing what I've done?" Keitaro asked.

"You must have known the risks you were taking, but you did it anyway," Motoko said. "If anything, such an act of bravery only made my love for you that much stronger." Almost tentatively, she wrapped her arms around Keitaro and rested her head on his shoulder. "I know I am not your first love, but--"

"Shh..." Keitaro said, returning the favor. "That doesn't matter."

"I had often wondered what this would feel like," Motoko said.

"Does it meet your expectations?" Keitaro asked.

"You have no idea."

The two would remain in each other's arms for a good while. Neither of them knew how long a relationship between them would last, but at that particular moment, it wasn't really an issue.

THE END

And the ride comes to an end. Despite the requests I may receive, I most likely will not be continuing this story. No offense to fans and/or authors of them, but Kei/Mot fics have sort of been done to death, and any attempt I make will probably run thin rather quickly. I thank those who have made this story as popular as it is and hope you enjoy any of my future endeavors.