Note:

This story has been reformatted, making it read smoother.

Not too much has changed from the previous rendition.

The characters, for the most part, are in character… for the situations they are put in. This is a Full Metal Panic x Love Hina cross-over. That will lead to some new behaviors.

Not to mention a risqué nature more in keeping with Love Hina.

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Sousuke, Kaname and Kurz walked casually through the streets of Hinata.

Nothing about their appearance stood out, with the exception of a dramatic X-shaped scar, an overly large halisen, and a garish pair of sunglasses worn on a heavily overcast afternoon..

Stopping in the door of a closed-down family restaurant, Kurz took a small box-like device out of his coat pocket. Holding it in different directions, he kept watch on a rapidly changing digital readout. When the numbers approached zero, and an indicator light started blinking, he called out a number to Sousuke.

"34...24...36...Oh yeh, I like the sound of those numbers!" Kurz smiled roguishly, then chuckled. "Do you want to explain what I'm talking about to Sgt. Clueless there, Kaname?"

"34?" Sousuke asked, a blank look on his face.

Kurz nodded.

"24?" Sousuke looked over at Kaname, who was frowning.

"Yup!" Kurz chuckled.

"36?" Sousuke shrugged.

Kurz smiled and tossed his hair. Kaname cursed under her breath.

"I see no relevance...umpfff." Sousuke was interrupted by an impact of colossal proportion.

"Sousuke, you moron! Never mind. It would take too long to explain to you." Kaname scowled at Sousuke, who was now rubbing his head.

Then she smiled.

"But...it might make for an interesting topic of conversation some night, after I fix you dinner." Kaname smiled. Kurz whistled long and low.

"I see. What…. Ooppff" Sousuke was seeing stars.

Once again, almost defying all understanding, Kaname had changed her mood in the blink opf an eye.

"That was for answering a question meant for me!!!" Kaname's look could have fractured stone.

'This is starting to become a rather painful mission,' Sousuke reflected.

Just why had Tessa insisted that Kaname join them on this operation?

Something along the lines of 'She should add a lot of impact to the story.'

'Impact' was a correct assessment.

He had previously weathered a rather intimidating 'Kaname Storm' just convincing her to come to Hinata in the first place. Fortunately, he had finally mentioned the fact that the general area had some wonderful hot springs.

Kaname had murmured the words 'white bikini' and changed her mind.

A small chiming noise in Sousuke's pocket brought his thoughts back to the present. He pulled out a string-like wire and put the ear plug in place. His listened a moment, as the radio reception stabilized.

"It's Sgt. Major Mao. She has hidden the M9 in a heavily wooded area. She's on foot. We've been instructed to meet her at the foot of the stairs leading to the Hinata Apartments." Sousuke turned to look directly at Kurz. "The Sgt. Major also told me to kick your ass...very hard...several times if I like." He turned to Kaname. "She says that you may assist, if you like, Kaname."

Kurz was convinced that his by-the-book young companion was not joking

He took a few steps out into the street, uncertain whether or not Sousuke would realize that Melissa's statement had been a joke and not a direct order.

Kaname started swing her halisen back and forth like the torture device in The Pit And The Pendulum. The look on her face would have easily fit into a black-and-while horror film classic.

"I am so glad that I came along, Sousuke. The day is full of wonderful possibilities." She started to saunter up to Kurz. "Pucker up Sgt. Weber, I have something special for you...."

Kurz started back peddling, not looking where he was going.

"Sousuke, old buddy...help me!!!" Kurz had his left arm outstretched behind him. It came as a surprise to him…….. and to a young lady in a martial arts get-up…….. when his hand reflexively groped her breast upon contact.

If Sousuke had not been watching Kurz very closely, he might have missed the resultant response from the irate teenaged girl.

"Pervert!!! Secret Technique Air Splitting Sword!!!" The raven-haired girl had unsheathed and swung her sword with such force, that Kurz was sent flying head over heels, disappearing over the roof of a shop across the street.

Kaname was applauding.

The young lady, still panting with unbridled fury, spat out "Men!" She turned to look at Sousuke. Her eyes narrowed when she saw his defiant look and stance. As she stepped in his direction, Sousuke reached into his pocket and took out his pistol.

A few rubber bullets ought to discourage that girl

She needed to be taught an important lesson. Violence never solved anything! Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was sent cart-wheeling by Kaname's halisen.

Kaname bowed to the startled young woman. "I must apologize. This one is mine to punish." Kaname patted Sousuke on the head, then started tugging him along by the ear.

The young woman sheathed her sword, smiling.

It had been refreshing to see another girl with her head on straight.

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Kaname and Sousuke had found Kurz stuck in a dumpster, his exposed legs wriggling frantically.

He wasn't in any pain.

The dumpster belonged to a liquor store. He was trying to reach a half full bottle of beer, just beyond his finger tips. Any type of offering to Melissa might spare him some more pain.

"Damn you, Sousuke" Kurz' initial response caught Sousuke by surprise. "I almost had it!!!"

"Kaname, are you carrying any of those cold compresses that you save for me? I think Kurz has hit his head, hard. A normal person would not be upset after being saved from suffocation within garbage. " He took out a small penlight, shining in his fellow sergeant's eyes, watching for the pupillary response.

As Kaname was rummaging around inside her oversized purse, Kurz spoke up indignantly. "Never mind, Miss Chidori. I'm quite fine." He thought for a moment. "Did anyone see which way that samurai babe went?"

"No." Sousuke said, looking skeptically at Kurz. "If you are able to walk effectively, we should be on our way to meet Sgt. Major Mao."

"Right, Sousuke. You're learning. We shouldn't want women to get their panties in a knot." Kurz grinned. There was another opportunity for mischief.. "That is, those who wear panties...heh heh heh. Have you ever asked Kaname about that, Sousuke?"

There was a sudden flash of movement.

"Kaname, there is no time for that now." Sousuke had shocked Kaname. He had stopped her halisen mid-swing, as if it were a gentle breeze rather than hurricane force winds. "If you like, I will keep an official log. I will supply you with the number of blows Sgt. Weber is owed, after we finish the mission."

"SOUSUKE...you...you... You… traitor!!!" Kurz' look was incredulous.

Kaname smiled.

She went so far as to give Sousuke a quick kiss on the cheek.

"You may show some promise after all, Sergeant Sagara." She looked rather pleased. There was a calculating look on her face.

"Kaname, what was that kiss for? Are you attempting to provide us with a cover story? Should I act like your boyfriend?" Sousuke touched his cheek, rubbing his fingertips in the moisture that still remained.

Kaname's growl varied in its tone and its intensity.

A buzzing nest of hornets morphed into an angry grizzly bear. Thunderclouds raced across her face.

"I'll keep a log for you, Kaname babe. And you don't even have to kiss me for it." Kurz was laughing. His young friend was so dense sometimes. "Fair's fair, Sousuke."

The trio continued on their way, until they reached the foot of a long flight of stone stairs. The stairs were flanked by gardens and stretches of dense foliage and trees. A hint of pink higher up suggested cherry trees in bloom.

A nearby sign read "Hinata Apartments." Older faded signs read "Hinata Inn" and what appeared to be "Hinata Lodge."

"Are you looking to head up there, sugar?" A rather shapely young woman with short hair drawled, stepping up to Sousuke.

Kurz' eyes bulged, and he began to stare unashamedly.

He would have used one of his best lines, but Kaname spoke up first, taking hold of Sousuke's nearest arm. "Yes we are. Is there some reason we shouldn't?"

"Oh, no...not at all. It's just that the apartment manager is a real tyrant, and he doesn't like trespassers or uninvited guests. You three don't have the look of potential tenants." The girl, whose eyes always seemed to be closed, looked over at Kurz.

She smiled.

She knew who to talk with.

"I'm certain I can convince him to let you up there. I have done it before. But, each time, it took a considerable sum of money to gain admittance. Money, and sake if you have it!"

"I'll handle negotiations here. Who would be better able to show the proper respect and attention that a gorgeous young lady deserves and requires?" Kurz shook his head, sending his long hair swinging.

He struck up a runway pose.

"My name is Kurz Weber. And your name is...?" Sousuke and Kaname frowned, not having been introduced.

"My name is Mitsune Konno. My friends call me Kitsune."

"I can see why!" Kurz said, attempting to curb his obvious enthusiasm. "Perhaps you and I can start on our way together." He took out his billfold. "You can tell me how much you think the old bastard might want."

"What a wonderful suggestion, sugar. You certainly are quite the gentleman." Kitsune took Kurz' hand, after removing the wallet from it. "I'm certain their must be enough money in such a handsome man's pocket!"

"Sgt. Weber. Oh, I mean Kurz. The 'Sergeant' part was a mistake. Please ignore that." Sousuke was a puppet to military protocol, and Kurz was once again pulling the strings. "We are supposed to wait here for...Melissa."

"Sousuke, Sousuke, Sousuke...it's not a problem" Kurz said flippantly, making use of one of Sousuke's favorite answers.

Kaname and Sousuke looked at one another. Due to standard anime conventions, that statement in itself guaranteed at least one small bit of trouble.

"I'll go ahead and take care of negotiations. You and Kaname follow when Sis gets here." With that, Kurz walked along up the stairs with the young lady, watching as her hips swayed in an obviously exaggerated manner.

"Do we really want to go up there, now?" Kaname asked Sousuke.

"No. But, it is in the author's plans, so we have little choice." Sousuke made certain that all of his necessary equipment had been written in.

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"Yane no ue de sora o aogu, hizashi wa urakara...."

Sousuke looked around, trying to see where the singing was coming from.

"Miageru sora, koradji genki ga minagitteki...."

"Kaname, is that you singing?" Sousuke had not seen her lips move.

She appeared to be listening, perplexed herself.

"THAT'S SO WONDERFUL! Ikiterunda! Yamerarenai, airier da nante..."

"Sousuke! Does that sound like me?" Kaname began to look irritated.

"Tihou ni kureta kinou ni sayonara...Futsufutsu to wakiagaru kono kimochi...."

"No. You are correct, Kaname. That voice is beautiful." Souske was too entranced by the singing to think wisely.

Where was the music coming from?

It sounded like a theme song.

"Nando demo yomigaeru, hana o sakaseyou...Omoi dewa itsumo amai nige basho...."

"Sousuke.……y-y-y-you.……." Kaname swung for the fences.

If he had been a softball, Sousuke would have landed in the bleachers, a four-bagger!

"Dakedo tachi kire, asu o ikuru tame...Shukufuku no toki wa kuru, te o jobsite."

"Kaname, that hurt!" Sousuke moved his jaw, hoping there was no dislocation of the tempero-mandibular joint.

"Uruwashi yo yawaraka na hada, imade te was todokazu" Melissa had walked up upon the two teenagers undetected. They stood slack-jawed, listening as Melissa sang. "Me o tojireba futurism imeeji, miawaku no kajitsue."

Seeing Kaname and Sousuke staring at her, she asked "What?!"

Before they could answer, something green and yellow flashed by, came to a stop, and hovered back in their direction.

"Ooooo-oooo-oo" It said, amiably. It was a small turtle. It waved, smiled, then flew off towards the Hinata Apartments.

"What the F-CK was that?" Melissa blurted, hand reaching for her pistol.

"Melissa!" Kaname exclaimed, shaking her head in a disapproving manner. "They do not use foul language in the other show."

Sgt. Major Mao looked in her mission book to see if that were indeed the case,

Souske stood unmoving.

Finally he found his voice. "Kaname. That was a flying turtle. That is ridiculous. No such thing could exist..."

"Sousuke," Kaname sounded as if she was patiently trying to explain something to an idiot. "Halisens. Guns in high school. Whispered. Teenage Arm Slave pilot. Lambda driver. Bonta-kun. Exploding school lockers...."

"Oh. Yes. I see. Point well taken, Kaname."

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Melissa was unhappy.

Sousuke didn't need to hear her question to know why.

"Sousuke, where the F----" She caught herself. "Where the Hell is Weber!" She looked over at Kaname, to see if 'Hell' was OK.

Kaname shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. If not, I figure they'll just come back and edit it later."

"But they seem to allow violence..." Sousuke was trying to get an idea on the level of censorship.

Kaname tapped Sousuke's rump tenderly with the halisen. "Sure, Sousuke. Violence is OK. I like violence...." She smiled sweetly.

Sousuke didn't answer.

"SOUSUKE!!!" Melissa did not take kindly to being forgotten.

She liked violence too.

"Yes, Sgt. Major. My apologies. Sgt. Weber went on ahead, accompanying a woman who will help gain us entrance to the Apartments."

"Damn his overactive libido and his sorry lack of common sense!!!" Melissa had her hands on her hips, eyes looking like two glowing coals. "Unless he tips off someone about our mission too soon, there shouldn't be too much trouble…… I hope."

Kaname watched Melissa carefully. There was so much she could learn from being around a mature woman.

"He will pay for this…." Melissa spat.

"Pardon me" a small and frightened voice said, timidly. "May I get by, please?"

A rather timid young girl with short dark hair stood trembling, her eyes darting rapidly about. She seemed most discomforted when she looked at Melissa's angry expression. She almost dropped the full bag of groceries she carried when Melissa turned to speak with her.

"Certainly. Are you a tenant at the Hinata Apartments? We are headed in that direction to speak with the manager." Melissa put her friendly face on.

Kaname smiled.

Sousuke had his Mithril-issued face.

"K-K-Keitaro....?" the young girl stuttered, looking like a frightened little rabbit.

Kaname had realized that the girl was exceedingly shy, and may have been upset by Melissa's earlier tone of voice and appearence. She decided to take over for the moment, speaking in a very gentle voice.

"Pleased to meet you, Keitaro. My name is Kaname. Her name is Melissa, and she is not as scary as she might seem at first." Kaname was glad Kurz wasn't there at the moment. "The stone statue over there goes by many names...we call him Sousuke."

"N-n-n-o...." the young girl answered. "Keitaro is the name of our manager. My name is Shinobu Maehara. W-w-why are you looking for Keitaro?"

Kaname had a feeling that the girl might claim that this 'Keitaro' wasn't home if she felt he was in some kind of trouble or danger. "Oh, it's nothing bad, I assure you. We need to talk to someone about the grounds around the Apartment, and he would be the best one to see, wouldn't he?"

"Y-Yes, I suppose...." The girl looked as if she was ready to start running.

"Since we are heading your way, we'd be glad to carry your bag for you" Kaname looked over at Sousuke, who did not pick up on her clue.

Her eyebrows sank lower and lower while she waited for him to do the right thing.

"SOUSUKE!!!" Kaname shouted.

Shinobu jumped, almost spilling her groceries.

Sousuke snapped to attention.

"Yes, Kaname!"

"Sousuke" Kaname said between clenched teeth. "Won't you please help the young lady with her grocery bag?"

"What young lady, Kaname?"

Shinobu had dropped the bag, and run up the stairs, hand to her mouth.

"I suppose we should carry her bag for her." Melissa picked up the groceries, not wanting them to go flying with Sousuke. She rummaged threw them, wanting to see if there were any cigarettes or beer.

"SOUSUKE, YOU MORON!!!"

Fortunately, Kaname had been swinging uphill.

That would save Sousuke a considerable amount of walking up the steps.

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At the top of the stairs, the Mithril soldiers and their companion saw a strikingly beautiful vista, with large numbers of blossom-laden cherry trees surrounding a large sprawling building of traditional architecture.

A woman with an apron on---and something unidentifiable in her mouth---diligently swept a long stone walkway. She looked up as they approached.

"May I help you?" The woman asked, a confident look in her eye.

"Yes" Melissa said. "We have come to speak with the Apartment manager. We believe his name is Keitaro."

As she spoke, Sousuke looked around, somewhat tense and ready for immediate action if necessary. A strange fog was rolling in around them all. Vague and blurry shapes moved ever closer, accompanied by a strange bell-like ringing.

As they stepped closer, it became evident that they were monks.

"I see. May I ask what you want to speak to him about?" It was as if she could sense that the two were not what they seemed. "My name is Haruka. Haruka Urashima."

'A-a-a-a-a-u-u-u-u-n-n-n-n-t-t-t-t Haruka' A disembodied voice sounded from different directions, in the general vicinity of the watching monks.

"Aunt Haruka?" Sousuke spoke, not realizing that he had verbalized his curiosity.

Before he could react, he found himself flying through the air, gifted with a gorgeous view of the Hinata Apartments and their surroundings.

"Call me Haruka. Just Haruka." The woman smiled when she saw Kaname's gaze. Her eyes became more friendly when she heard Melissa chuckle.

Kaname spoke from professional interest.

"How did you get so much lift?"

"It's all in the wrist. I've had a lot of practice. On Keitaro, and on someone else who is just as clueless about women as your young friend seems to be."

All three women laughed.

"While you look for your friend, I will see if I can find Keitaro."

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Sousuke---thankful once again for the laws of physics inherent to anime--- tenderly checked his ribs, relieved that nothing seemed to be broken.

He would try to be more circumspect in the future. The mission was paramount.

A high revving engine noise caught his attention. Instinctively, he drew his pistol and rolled out of the path of an erratic swerving minivan.

The vehicle barely missed him, kicking up big furrows in the turf as it slid and slammed into a tree. The back hatch was thrown open by the impact. Strange items and artifacts spilled onto the well manicured lawn.

Some looked mechanical.

Some looked potentially dangerous.

Had that been a suicide driver?

Was a detonation imminent?

Sousuke dove behind the largest tree near his position.

Peering out from behind his place of concealment, the young sergeant saw a man pull himself out of the wreck, hand held to his head. Even from that distance, Sousuke could tell that a fair amount of blood was covering the figure's face and shirt.

Was he a terrorist?

He had to be certain.

If it were a noncombatant, he should offer medical assistance.

Gun drawn and held in two hands, Sousuke ran sidewise, crablike. "Please place your hands on your head. Do not make any sudden movements. I am prepared to take whatever action is necessary." He watched carefully as the man smiled and complied with his orders.

"Hello. I'm Seta Noriyasu, a friend of Haruka and Keitaro. You're a rather serious young man, aren't you?" The man wore what appeared to be a lab coat or professor's garb. He straightened his glasses and thumbed his nose. "Perhaps you would be an interesting sparring partner. You may use your weapon if you wish."

"Sir?" Sousuke was confused.

The man was planning to attack, but he had ruined the element of surprise by telling Sousuke. He

Was it merely a ruse when he said that he was a friend of the manager and that woman who had struck Sousuke? Just what was going on here?

He had to jump aside quickly as the injured man leapt upward, soaring a remarkable distance above the ground.

Sousuke fired three well-placed shots, paths overlapping such that at least one should hit. He nearly faltered in his own move when he saw the man catch one rubber bullet in his hand, easily twisting his body to avoid the other two.

Souske himself attempted a difficult maneuver, swinging his leg up to catch Seta on the chin as he landed. The bloodied man used one hand to push himself off of Sousuke's foot, vaulting over the startled younger man.

"Those were fine shots, and that was a very nicely executed move. You are a worthy opponent. Better than Keitaro. Though, perhaps not as good as Motoko." He flashed forward, a blur to Sousuke's vision.

Sousuke acted quickly, taking a large risk.

"It seems you have better martial arts skills than I do" Sousuke said, the man's hand edge at his trachea. The seconds counted, he threw himself to the ground as the grenade at Seta's feet exploded.

The concussion tossed the archaeologist skyward.

Sousuke felt a hard kick to his shin. When he looked down, he saw an angry-faced little girl with a backwards baseball cap, yellow hair akimbo.

"You big IDIOT. No one is supposed to play with my Daddy but ME!" She added another series of nasty kicks.

"Daddy? Then he is not a terrorist?" Sousuke put his hand firmly on the girls head, holding her out of effective kicking range.

"No, you dummy! He's a scientist. He digs up things!" That would explain some of the things that had fallen from the van. "What are you, another loser like Keitaro?"

Sousuke let the girl go. His voice became very stern. "I am not a loser. I'm a specialist!"

Seta walked up to join the odd couple.

"A specialist, huh?" He looked very closely at Sousuke. "Paramilitary? Mercenary? Your movements were slightly pulled. Arm Slave pilot? Amalgam? No, you look well-meaning. Grendel? No, too young. Mithril?" He smiled, seeing Sousuke's involuntary twitch. "Don't worry young man, your secret's safe with me."

The man patted Sousuke on the shoulder.

"You're a good fighter, son. That was a pretty sneaky move with that grenade. If you ever want to spar for real, let me know." He took his daughter's hand and started off for the Apartment building. "Let's go Sara. Let's see what Naru's done to Keitaro this time...."

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Kaname walked with Melissa, looking at the odd little monks dotting the lawn.

"This is strange. Almost like something by Bandai or Tokyopop!"

'It's like a dream.…' Those monk voices again.

"Or Gonzo" Melissa added.

'Wouldn't it be nice if it was real…'

"I don't know, Gonzo anime seems more realistic." Kaname smiled.

'Wouldn't it be sweet if we all were real…'

"Yes, Kaname, you're probably right." Melissa was becoming irritated, but not by her companion.

'We leap from dream to dream, but every day we dream anew.…'

"What is it, Melissa?" Kaname saw Melissa's look.

That one was usually reserved for Kurz.

"All I can say is I am about to cap one of those monks in the ass if they don't F------" Melissa scowled. "...If they don't shut up!"

The monks quickly vanished, as if they were never there.

Melissa caught Kaname's look.

"What? Don't tell me I can't say 'ass' either! What's the point of being in this damn story...."

"Maybe a couple of times, then. Save it for when it sounds right." Kaname felt like being generous at the moment. "Let's go find Sergeant Shooting Star."

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Kurz was sitting with Kitsune in her room, watching her lean back in a chair, her legs crossed.

She was acting rather flirtatious, moving in ways she was certain would catch the young man's fancy.

His wallet was still in her hand.

"Well, Kurz honey, you certainly have a lot of money with you for someone so young." She purred, making that sound as if it were a very good thing. "I suppose we should talk about my fee for services. Is this about right?" She showed him the bills in her hand.

Kurz nodded his head. "That's a fair amount, if I get what I'm after."

"Oh my...aren't you the forward one...I'm not that kind of girl!" She took the paper money and placed it deep in her bossom. "At least not while I'm sober."

"I hope you aren't trying to pull a fast one on good ole Kurz Weber. I'd really hate to have to go after that money if you renege on our deal." Kurz' look said he'd be anything but sorry to retrieve the tentative payment.

"Sugar, you're making me blush. You're such a scoundrel. I'm at a disadvantage here. I have a terrible weakness for scoundrels!" Kitsune leaned forward, shook her hair, then struck a pose.

She was good.

Kurz, a professional model, was impressed.

"Now, let's talk about meeting the manager." Kurz was enjoying himself, and he was prepared to go way out of bounds if duty called.

It was a terrible job, but someone had to do it. But, he couldn't lose sight of the fact that he had a mission to carry out.

"We'll have to wait a little longer, sweetie. Last I saw of him, he was with his cute little girlfriend. He won't be wanting to be interrupted any time soon, no matter how much money you have." Kitsune leaned back and inhaled, drawing Kurz' undivided attention.

"I can't say what his fee might be this time. If I give him a good impression, he may not take everything. Just in case, do you have a checkbook with you?"

This one was a smooth operator.

But, she didn't realize what it meant to be up against the Kurz Weber, man of the world.

"Yes, I do. There are other things you can do for a larger fee." His look made the young woman open her eyes and blush. "But, before we talk about that, you might be able to help me with some of the things my friends and I came to ask about."

"Because I like you so much, sugar, I'd be glad to help. What is it you'd like to know?" Kitsune stood, her body bouncing in wonderful ways. "Would you like any sake while we talk?"

"You truly are a wonderful hostess! What type of sake are we talking? Light and dry? Balanced and slightly rich? Full and flavorful?" He smiled when the young woman slid open a tall closet, its shelves lined by bottle after bottle. "What a remarkable lady!"

Kitsune opened her eyes again, giving Kurz the slow one over.

Kurz' knowledge of sake seemed to have caught her attention even more than his bankroll.

More likely, it was the potential his bankroll had when he was full of sake.

Kurz smiled, thinking 'Bring it on, Babe! I'm no slouch. I've been trained by Melissa Mao!'

"What would you like to start off with? Toyonaoki? Kame Izume? Rihaku? Suminoe?" She held each bottle in turn, acting like a runway model or a salesgirl in a fancy upscale store.

Kurz leaned back, rubbing his chin with his hand. "Do you have any Tsukuba or Tama no Tsuyu?"

"Sure, sugar, I have them both." She waved her hand towards each bottle in turn. "Which would you like first?" The 'first' made it sound like she intended to get through a number of bottles.

Kurz turned on his best smile. "I'll let the lady decide! While you're pouring, may I ask my questions?"

"Please do! Oh, before we get to that, do you like to bet on the horses?" She smiled very sweetly, topping off each cup with sake. "We might be able to entertain ourselves with a little wager while we sip our sake and wait for that mean nasty manager."

"I'm always up for an interesting risk." Kurz said nonchalantly. "Are you talking Japan Racing Association or National Association of Racing?" She would find out soon enough that Kurz was not just another fool.

"My, my, my……… you truly are something to behold. Why, the JRA of course. Their races have the best horses and the largest payouts. And, to make things simpler, we can bet amongst ourselves and not worry about those annoying brokers. I'll see if I can find today's race form. I had one here a minute ago." She bent over to sort through the bile of things on her bed.

Kurz felt a need to close his eyes to keep from overheating.

Trying to keep focused on his original goal, Kurz brought the conversation back to where he wanted it. "Have you or any of your fellow tenants noticed anything particularly odd around here?"

"Ah, here it is! Anything odd? Sugar, around here there's something odd going on all the time." She went to the closet and brought out a large radio.

"Really? Anything truly out of the ordinary? Perhaps something large and mechanical sounding off in the woods?" This girl just might be the only source of information he needed.

He'd show Sousuke and Melissa!

"Now that you mention it, yes. Very large and very mechanical. Destructive too, but cute in its own way." Kitsune handed Kurz his sake. She placed the racing paper by his hand.

"I'd definitely like to hear more about that! Who knows, another handful of money might find its way down your shirt...."

"Mmmmm. How can a girl so no to that?" Kitsune smiled. "I'll tell you everything I know after the race. It should be starting soon. Look under Nikke Sho, at the Nakayama track. 2500 meter race, 4 year olds and up. You pick your horse and I'll pick mine. Then we can settle on the stakes."

Kurz opened the paper without checking the date.

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Strange things were happening.

Much stranger than the things Sousuke had grown accustomed to in his everyday life.

The fog seemed to appear and disappear at a whim. Those strange little men always seemed to be watching him.

Were they monks as they seemed?

Or, were they evil-doers masquerading as monks.

He must find out.

'He walks as if he were in a dream, never seeing the reality in front of him'

"My name is Sousuke Sagara. I am pleased to meet you. Are you Buddhist monks? Hinayana?"

'Yes, a blue-haired dream he does not understand. A shapely reality he does not know how to desire.'

"Not the Great Vehicle? The Theravada, then? The Way Of The Elders?"

'She certainly is one sweet dream, but he cannot see. What a waste.'

"Zen Buddhism? Char? What sect do you belong to? The old sects... Tendai... Shingon? The Young sects... Jodo... Nichiren... Rinzai... Soto?"

'Blind as a man can be, he cannot follow those sweet ripe curves. What bliss can he find in guns?'

"Are you members of an exotic sect...Yamabushi... Fuke... Senin?"

'Yes, those curves. Only a fool would not dream about those. We all would. He is so young to be such a fool.'

"I do not understand what you are saying. Are you speaking words of enlightenment?"

'Yes, it would be a dream no one would want to wake from. And yet, if it is not an order, he will not follow it.'

"Are you Shinto priests then? In your world, do the myriad spirits shine like fireflies? Can every bush and tree speak?"

'All is offered to him, but it slips through his grasp. How often do such chances come?'

"What are your local kami? Do you worship Izanami, the female who invites?"

'She invites him to run with her, grow with her, perhaps join with her. But he gains only her wrath and disappointment.'

"Izanagi, the male who invites? Nameless kami in the trees, rocks, waters, and mountains? Do you revere nature highly, worship in beautiful temples, hear the sacred music, and willingly absorb and incorporate many beliefs into you own?"

'He sure rambles on, doesn't he?'

'Yes. Just what the hell is he trying to say?'

'Beats me!!!'

"Not Shinto? Taoists? Do you consider your way to be a religion, or not? Are you followers of Lao Tzu? Mazdaism? Amidaism? Do you believe the Tao to be nature. Or knowledge? Goodness? Imminent? Are you avoiding my questions because you believe the Tao is felt in passiveness, not activity?" Sousuke was quickly growing frustrated.

'Should we tell him?'

'Might as well. I've got a golf match in an hour'

'Yes, and this is growing rather tedious!'

"Errr hemm." One of the monks cleared his throat, preparing to speak in the regular fashion. "We are Hinata monks. We are a part of the show. A bit of interesting texture, adding some relevant philosophy without growing long-winded or abstruse."

"Uh……… I see. What was all that mystical speaking about then?" Sousuke had heard their words, like a thought in the back of his head.

"Hmmppff! Let me take this one guys." The other monks bowed their heads in agreement. "That girl you are with is a fox. A real babe. A choice piece of ass! She really wants to dig you, but you are too dense to notice. With a little loosening up, some attention, a normal personality, you could score big time, capisci?"

"Uh...." Sousuke expression was blank.

The monks shook their heads in disgust and faded into the fog. The mist thinned and was quickly gone.

Sousuke could hear that bell-like noise again, and a few parting voices inside his head.

'Dumbass!'

'Moron!!!'

'Maybe we should get her number.'

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"Ninety-nine bottle of sake on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of sake. Take one down pass it around. Ninety-eight bottles of sake on the wall..."

"Give me an 'S'..."

"S"

"Give me a 'U'..."

'U"

"Give me an 'M'...

"U"

"No, give me an 'M.' An 'M'..."

"M"

"Give me an 'INOE'"

"INOE"

"What's it spell?"

"I don't know!!!"

"Sake!"

"SAKE!!!"

"Hey…….. whose horse won?"

"M---i---n---e…"

"What……… we were too busy singing……… how do you know?!"

"Here, I'll rewind the tape. Uh oh..."

"Tape? Tape??? Why you.……..give me back my money.…….."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sousuke, Kaname, and Melissa finally caught up with one another.

Kaname was swinging the halisen around, using a new wrist movement. Melissa was humming a song to herself, occasionally breaking into verse. Sousuke couldn't make out all of the words...something about pain… Kurz… and strange little monks.

"Sgt. Major, have you found out any leads? This place is rather strange. First, in the town, we met a girl with phenomenal sword technique. Then, at the foot of the stairs, a girl acted as if she were actually fond of Sgt. Weber. On our way up the stairs, we ran across a girl who behaved as if she was afraid of what we might find out about the manager. The woman sweeping looked normal enough, but she had unbelievable strength. I was almost run down by a man in a van. He is the most skilled fighter that I have ever come across. And, simply by fighting me, he figured out that I was a member of Mithril, promising to keep it a secret. A little girl, calling him 'Daddy' but showing no visible signs of kinship, viciously attacked me for no reason...."

"I like the sound of that little girl...." Kaname interrupted, sweetly.

"Kaname, could you please save your bipolar interjections until after I do this summary for the Sgt. Major?"

Fuel on the fire.

Of course.

Kaname was a match.

Sousuke was kerosene.

"GGGrrrrrrr... SOUSUKE!" Kaname started off growling, then stopped. She regained her saccharine smile, but her eyes could melt armor plating. "That's OK...I'm content to wait. I've been practicing." She continued swinging her halisen.

"Kaname, perhaps it would be wise if you actually started listening. We may be in danger here. For all we know, we may need your halisen for our side for once. I strongly suggest that you save your strength.……… and allow me to stay in one piece until after the mission!"

Sousuke, as usual, sounded like a sound tactician; but, not someone with enough savvy to safeguard his own health.

"Sousuke, did you see any sign of Kurz while you were walking back.…….. or while you were flying." Melissa fought to hide a smile.

That had been a sight she would long remember.

"No, Sgt. Major, I did not. He has been unseen for all this time? We should consider him captive then. Another worrisome fact to add to our list. That, and the mysterious and inscrutable monks...." Sousuke shook his head thinking about the strange little men.

"Did the monks provide you with any information that might aid us in our mission, Sousuke?" Melissa sounded doubtful.

"Negative. They referred to one of the woman accompanying me as a fox, a babe, and a choice piece of ass. I can only assume that they were talking about Kaname." Kaname blushed furiously.

Melissa squinted, frowned, and started reaching for her gun.

"One of them told me that that Kaname digs me, but I fail to understand the reference to a shovel. I was further informed that I could score on Kaname, if I were to loosen up, pay her some attention, and acquire a normal personality." Sousuke looked over at Kaname, whose face was doing a good impression of a sunset. "Kaname, perhaps I have missed it. Are we involved in some form of sporting match?"

"W-w-was t-t-that all t-t-they said, Sergeant" Melissa had to try extremely hard not to burst out in laughter. She looked over at Kaname, and had to strive even harder.

"There was more, Sgt. Major. They called me a 'dumbass' and a 'moron.' Sousuke looked bewildered.

"SOUSUKE, YOU IDIOT!" Kaname had overcome her embarrassment and was working on her anger again.

"They did not say 'idiot,' Kaname. It was 'dumbass' and 'moron.' I wish you would pay more attention during these briefing sessions."

Sousuke began to doubt that Kaname could ever be a professional.

"Sgt. Major. We should continue onward with the greatest care. The sweeping woman may have returned with the manager. We should not get on his bad side by keeping him waiting. It is imperative that we find out about the unusual activity in this area. Captain Testarossa and Lt. Cmdr. Kalinin are counting on us. Perhaps if the Captain had accompanied us on this mission...."

Melissa was watching Kaname when Sousuke had mentioned Tessa.

"You have my sympathies, Kaname. You have a lot of work ahead of you. I hope he's worth it." She turned to Sousuke. "Yes, we should be going. You are in a great deal of danger here, Sousuke."

"Yes, that was what I was trying to tell you..."

"I was not talking about the strangers, Sergeant!"