Disclaimer: see part 1.
Naru kept her eyes on her homework as her door slid open, sighing as a very familiar throat clearing tried to catch her attention. "What is it?" she asked, trying very hard to keep her voice level as her visitor stepped into the room and closed the door. "I'm really busy with this, Keitaro. What do you need?"
"I just… hoped I could sit in here for a while."
"Why?" Naru asked, her brow furrowing a bit at this odd request. "Isn't your room warmer? You still haven't fixed that draft I told you about week before last, you know. I'd love for someone to explain to me how come you're the manager of this dive if you never do anything."
There was a very long minute of silence before Keitaro whispered, "Never mind."
Yawning expansively, Naru laid her pencil down. "Oh, just stay," she grumbled, rubbing her eyes. "You just want to sit, right? I have no problem with that – just don't think I'll be chatty. I've got assignments due, you know."
Something in the young man's tone caught Naru's attention. "Trouble in paradise?" she needled, picking her pencil back up and pretending to maked a note on her homework. "Shinobu's not giving you too much grief, is she? She's been pretty quiet at the dinner table… don't suppose you actually grew a spine and told her you couldn't date her, did you?"
Keitaro laughed softly. "You know," he said softly, "I did… a week ago."
"Mm," Naru hummed. "Bravo, then."
"It's for the best," she said, finally lifting her head, "she really can't… oh my god, what's wrong?"
In spite of her lingering anger at being rejected, Naru still held a place in her heart for Keitaro, and probably always would… so the sight of his downcast, tear-streaked face instantly brought her to her feet and around the small table she used for homework, her alarm growing more palpable as Keitaro covered his face with both hands and leaned back against the wall.
"What?" Naru asked urgently. "Keitaro – what happened?"
"I d-did something b-bad," Keitaro groaned, wiping desperately at his eyes. "S-something… h-horribly bad…"
Naru nodded. "You know I have to ask what, right?" she murmured, tentatively putting a hand on his shoulder. "I can't help if I don't know what happened, you know. I doubt it's as bad as you think… so come on… tell me what happened."
"Y-you'll h-hate me!" Keitaro gasped, managing to get his breathing under control. "You… you already do – but you'll hate me forever if I tell you what I did…"
"I don't hate you," Naru said awkwardly. "Yeah, so, I'm a little hurt, maybe… but I don't hate you." She averted her eyes. "I don't think I could ever hate you, Keitaro… so why don't you tell me what happened, ok? I promise I won't freak out or-"
Keitaro blurted out what had happened.
Naru immediately broke her promise.
"Have you lost your mind?"
"It just… happened!"
Reminding herself that she was supposed to be supportive did no good. "How does something like that 'just happen'?" she demanded. "Did you just trip and accidentally slip it in, or what? God, you were right, you shouldn't have told me!"
Keitaro cringed, fumbling for the door as Naru clenched her hands into fists, her eyes burning with rage as she towered over him. Abruptly, she took a step back, clearly realizing just how close she was to laying into him in a physical sense.
"God, I want to hit you," she informed him, her voice low and raspy as she stared him dwon. "Tell me, Keitaro – because I honestly what to know. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't," Keitaro replied miserably. "That's just it. We went into her room, and she started kissing me, and… and then she started taking her clothes off, and my clothes off… and I just stopped thinking." He swallowed with some difficulty. "…it felt so good that someone wanted to be close to me that I just didn't want to think."
Naru's hands uncurled, revealing deep nail-marks in each palm as she held them up in front of her eyes. "You should have tried harder," she said flatly. "You… you shouldn't have done this – God, you really shouldn't have done this. No one is going to understand it, no one is going to forgive it… no one is going to let it go, Keitaro, do you understand? When people find out – and they will find out – you'll have to leave, because even though you say she started it, all they'll see is that you let it happen."
Abruptly, she averted her eyes.
"I don't know how to help you, Keitaro," she whispered. "I'll do anything I can to get you out of this mess, but the way I see it, there's nothing to be done."
"I know," Keitaro said hollowly. "…I told you you'd hate me."
Naru flinched. "I don't hate you," she said quietly. "I'm disappointed in you, but I don't hate you."
Wiping his eyes one last time, Keitaro whispered, "That's even worse."
"Yeah, well, what did you expect?" Naru muttered sullenly. "Blind acceptance? You've done something horrible, Keitaro – I can't even… God, I can't even think straight. There has to be a way to smooth this over…"
"There is," Keitaro said softly.
"What is it?"
"Like you said… I'll have to leave."
Waving one hand, Naru said, "I was angry when I said that. Running away won't solve anything."
Keitaro managed a weak smile. "Funny," he mused. "I was just thinking how much easier it would be."
"And that's why you can't," Naru said simply. "You know the old saying, right? 'Nothing that's worthwhile is easy.'"
"Is that the right one?" Keitaro wondered, his brow furrowing in thought. "I was thinking I should go with, 'the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.'"
"Oh, now you're just being stupid," Naru retorted. "The bottom line is that you can't just blow this off. Something has to be done before this gets out of control, and believe me when I say that when Motoko finds out, no amount of running will save your hide."
Paling, Keitaro wondered, "Do you have any ideas?"
Naru bit her bottom lip and thought for a moment. "Just one," she said quietly. "And you won't like it. No one will, really, but I can't… it's all I can think of. God," she whispered, scrubbing a hand through her hair, "I can't see anyone getting out of this without getting hurt. You really screwed up."
"I know, but please tell me what your idea is," Keitaro begged. "I'll do anything."
"You'll need to," Naru said grimly. "You're gonna want to sit down for this."
Keitaro did as he was told, and after a few minutes, Naru began to speak. It was nine in the morning when he came into her room. He did not leave until well past noon.
And Naru was right. He didn't like her solution at all.
( 0 0 0 )
Kitsune hummed as she moved around her room, grinning to herself as she remembered watching Shinobu doing the exact same thing in the kitchen a mere handful of days before. Only with me, it's serious, she thought brightly. You were just crushing, but me… I've got the real thing.
She felt like laughing out loud.
Poor little Shinobu was going to have to wait for her adult relationship for a few years, but Kitsune had gotten her hands on Keitaro's heart without even really trying. Oh, he had resisted a bit at first, but she had 'convinced' him that sleeping together was a good idea.
And as far as she was concerned, good didn't quite cover it.
Awesome, she thought, trying the word on for size. Incredible. Fantastic. Outstanding. No, wait, her smile grew wider, mild-blowing. Hell yeah, that fits.
Turning around, she nearly screamed as she found Keitaro standing in her room. "Oh God!" she gasped. "I didn't even hear you come in."
"I knocked twice," Keitaro said weakly. "Sorry."
"No, no it's cool," Kitsune grinned. "How are you feeling this morning, lover?"
Keitaro returned her smile halfheartedly, and from look on his face, Kitsune expected him to say, 'Tired – you wore me out,' or something like that, so her jaw nearly gaped open as he gave a completely different reply.
"This isn't going to work out."
Looking as if he'd rather be eaten by wild dogs than spit out his next sentence, Keitaro somehow managed to stammer, "Y-you and me. We're not… I don't think this would work out, Kitsune…"
"Is that so?" Kitsune asked, her tone turning instantly icy. "And why not?"
"I don't see you that way," Keitaro said quietly. "I mean, I like you, and-"
"Yeah, enough to fuck me."
Keitaro paled. "Could you… keep your voice down?" he asked awkwardly. "I don't think-"
"What did I tell you about thinking?" Kitsune cut in. "Seems to me you're thinking about this too much, Keitaro – don't get all weird on me now that we're actually doing it."
"It was just-"
"Is everything ok in here?"
Keitaro flinched as Shinobu stepped into the room, placing herself with a noted lack of subtlety between himself and Kitsune, her small frame tensed as if ready to move at a moment's notice, but her face calm and collected as she looked up into Kitsune's eyes, clearly sending the message that she was not going to leave unless she was thrown out.
Which, Keitaro found, didn't bother Kitsune at all.
"Nope," the gray haired girl said flatly. "Just a discussion between two adults about what happens the day after you have sex – nothing a little girl like you needs to worry about."
Kitsune gazed over Shinobu's head and into Keitaro's eyes. "She'd find out one way or another, Keitaro," she said hotly. "Now what was that bullshit you were just spewing about not wanting to be with me – after getting my bed sheets all sticky?"
"Kitsune," Keitaro winced. "Really, you don't have to be so l-"
"The hell I don't!" Kitsune screamed. "What the hell did you think would happen when you came in here to dump me, huh? You-"
"But we're not together!" Keitaro countered, looking as if he very much wished that Shinobu would leave. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. Last night… last night was a mistake…"
Kitsune could practically hear the blood singing in her ears. "A mistake?"
Keitaro swallowed, speaking only with the greatest difficulty as he softly, but clearly said, "It was my first time too, Kitsune… that's why I wanted to wait."
"What's that face for?" Kitsune said suddenly, bearing down on Shinobu as the younger girl slowly shook her head.
Shinobu gave her a sad smile.
"…you weren't ready yet either, were you?"
Kitsune's eyes flashed, her hand pulling back as she shouted, "Shut up!"
As she started to swing, though, a thin, tube-like object slipped deftly into the space between her forearm and shoulder, stopping her movement as effectively as if she had been grabbed by a tall, muscular man. The voice that accompanied the object was soft and commanding, issuing only one word in a tone that clearly exhibited an expectation of obedience.
All eyes traveled the length of the object (sheath, Keitaro corrected mentally) to find Motoko standing just outside of Kitsune's door, her arm stretched as far as she could make it go as if unwilling to actually cross the threshold. Her expression was stern, but her eyes kept flicking to Keitaro's, as if hoping he might refute what she had clearly just overheard.
Even if he had, Kitsune's next statement would have rendered any denial moot.
"Oh, is he screwing you too, or am I the only one getting fucked around here?"
Motoko's face remained carefully neutral as she reached out with her free hand, pulling Shinobu out of Kitsune's range before extracting her sheath from the crook of the gray-haired girl's arm.
"What happens in your bedroom is none of my business," Motoko said smoothly, though her eyes told a different story as they swept briefly over Keitaro's, making him flinch and swallow audibly. "Regardless of what is or is not happening, though, I must ask that you not beat Shinobu for being observant."
"So you don't care if Keitaro is screwing me over?" Kitsune asked bitterly. "Some friend."
Motoko gently wrapped her arm around Shinobu's shoulders, resting the young girl up against her chest as she whispered, "Having sex and 'getting screwed,' as you so colorfully put it, are different. From what I've heard, Keitaro hasn't done anything wrong. I admit that I-"
"Nothing wrong?" Kitsune shrieked indignantly. "Nothing besides pump me and dump me, you mean! Whatever happened to all that, 'men are evil' crap you're so quick to babble about, huh? This is a prime example of that, and you're taking his side? What… the… hell?"
"I admit," Motoko continued after a moment, "that I don't know every detail of what happened between you… but when I came to see what the yelling was about, I clearly heard Keitaro say that he asked you to wait, and you did not. Therefore, I would say, the fault is yours."
Kitsune was absolutely livid.
"My fault?" she screamed, stabbing a finger in Keitaro's general direction. "In case you were sleeping during sex ed, it takes two to-"
"Kitsune… please stop…"
"Stop," Shinobu repeated, lifting her hands and resting them on Motoko's forearm. "I know… it hurts to hear that you're not the one – you know that I know that… but please… please don't make things worse by pretending that what happened meant something it didn't." She averted her eyes as she concluded. "You can make love without being in love. You understand the dif-"
"Out," Kitsune cut in flatly, pointing at the door and gritting her teeth so hard Keitaro could hear them grinding together. "Get the hell out of my room right this second. Why are you still here? Get out!"
Nodding, Motoko led Shinobu from the room, sparing Keitaro an assessing glance before following Shinobu to her room and closing the door.
After a moment of silence, Kitsune whispered, "You too, Urashima. I don't want to see your face right now."
Keitaro's shoulders slumped, but he did as he was told, trying to think of something to say – anything to say – to make her understand how he felt. When nothing came, he slowly slid the door closed, wishing that Kitsune would stop him before it latched and tell him that things would be ok, or that she would get over this somehow.
When she said nothing, Keitaro nearly started to cry.
…and in the morning, when her room had been cleaned and she was nowhere to be found, he did.
( 0 0 0 )
The saying about time and tide waiting for no man applies, sadly, to the brokenhearted as well. No one at the Hinata Sou spoke of what happened that night, though things seemed rather quiet with Kitsune gone. Shinobu and Motoko had reached an understanding that neither would bring the topic up with Keitaro… though each secretly wished that he would one day confess to her the truth of what had happened between him and Kitsune, because honestly, it was all rather shaky.
As for Keitaro, he found it best to keep his head down and not say anything to anyone, figuring that everyone in the boarding house must hold him responsible for Kitsune leaving. His relationship with Naru had stabilized, but had never – and would never, as far as Keitaro could see – returned to its former level of trust. She was polite to him, and even studied together with him and Motoko, but calling them more than casual friends would have been pushing it.
Keitaro felt thankful to have even that much, with the way she had reacted to the news that he had slept with Kitsune. The same was true for Shinobu… though their relationship had fallen into a more comfortable groove than the one he held with Naru. Shinobu, essentially, became his younger sister – a far cry from the rambunctious and clingy Kanako, whom he had not seen for several years.
Su and Sarah, of course, could not have cared less, and aside from Su's simple declaration that he still owed her playtime, as her lawful husband, neither of them said a word.
The only person Keitaro was not sure about was Motoko. She still spent time with him, even going back to calling him Sensei from time to time, though in a joking matter, but she seemed reserved and a bit distant, and several times, Keitaro caught her staring at him with a contemplative stare that almost made him ask what was on her mind.
On a cool day in March, several months after the blowup with Kitsune, he found out exactly what she had been thinking.
"Door's open," he called in reply to the knock on his door, his brow furrowing as he put the finishing touches on the sketch he had been working on.
It was another drawing of the Hinata residents – virtually identical to the one Motoko had inadvertently torn all those months ago. He knew it was Motoko at his door because she always cleared her throat in exactly the same way every time.
And she's drumming her fingers on the hilt of her sword, he thought, smiling to himself as he pictured the scene in his mind. Her expression is calm, but if I wait too long, she'll start to get irritated and say-
"Sensei, may I speak with you?"
Keitaro almost chuckled to himself as Motoko spoke the exact words he had been thinking. "Sure, kohei," he replied, closing his sketchbook and rising to his feet. "What's up?"
When he turned around, however, he found that Motoko's expression was anything but calm. Her face was flushed, and her hands were clasped behind her back, her eyes scanning the floor as if looking for something she had dropped.
"Is something wrong?" Keitaro asked, instantly nervous. "What's happening? Is someone hurt?"
"No, it's nothing like that," Motoko said, taking a deep breath to regain her calm. "I simply… have something I've been wanting to give you for some time, but have never been able to bring myself to part with."
So saying, she brought her arms around in front of her, revealing another silver rose.
"Thanks," Keitaro said, taking it uncertainly. "I've still got the other one, though," he pointed out. "Unless… you're not giving up the sword again, are you?"
He averted his eyes as Motoko pursed her lips. God, did I have to sound that eager? he chided himself. It's not as if I don't see her a lot anyway. The only difference between now and then is that… hey, wait… I drew this thorn…!
Keitaro squinted, bringing the rose closer to his eyes as he realized that he could spot several other details he had personally added to his sketch of the original rose in an attempt to make it more unique. He also realized that, unlike the other one, this rose really was steel – and hand-forged from what he could tell.
"This… this is…"
"I made a mold based on your sketch," Motoko calmly informed him, nodding as he looked up at her in amazement. "I have a friend in town that has a forge, so the finished result is his, but it's based on your sketch – your sketch and my molding… a joint effort to create something of beauty."
"I… didn't know you sculpted," Keitaro said awkwardly, turning the steel rose over and over in his hands.
Motoko reached out and plucked the rose from his hands, holding it up to eye level as she whispered, "It's terrible. Disproportionate, poorly cast… barely even looks like a rose." She held it out to him once more, concluding, "But it's still strong. Do you remember what I told you the rose symbolized when I gave it to you?"
Keitaro nodded, but did not trust himself to speak.
"This one symbolizes something different," Motoko explained. "It's imperfect… and not terribly shiny… but like I said, it's strong, and it's special to me because I forged it with my own hands."
Wetting her lips, she whispered, "It's… kind of like a metaphor for a relationship, Keitaro – more specifically, the relationship I want to have with you. I know it might not be pretty, and I know it might end up hurting me in the end… but I think, if we both work on it, like we both helped create this rose, it could be strong. In other words, to make it… perfectly clear, Keitaro… I would like you to be with me, for now and, if fate is kind, forever. Please accept this rose that you and I have made… and please accept my feelings along with it."
"How can you-"
"How can I what?" Motoko prompted as the young man cut himself off.
"…how can you want me when you know I slept with Kitsune?"
Motoko kept her hand outstretched, saying nothing for a moment before softly murmuring, "Please accept this rose, Keitaro… and please accept me along with it, because when I forged it, I did so knowing what has come before, and what I hope to see in the future." Her voice drew to a mere whisper. "I've spent a long time thinking about everything that's happened to us, and I've come to realize that you're the only person I've ever truly cared for. Keitaro, there isn't a better way to say this… but I cannot live with the uncertainty of not knowing how you feel, and I truly want to be with you, so this is the last time I'm going to ask. Please… if you care for me, accept this ro-"
She was cut off as Keitaro slowly lifted his hand, laying his first two fingers against her lips. He kept her waiting for well over a minute as he collected his thoughts, finally taking a deep breath before softly giving his reply.
"You told me once that you didn't think I could teach you anything… and I think that's still right. I'm not that smart, I'm really clumsy, and I say and do things that cause other people pain – but after all this time with you I've realized that I do… care about you, Motoko, so if you're willing to be in a relationship with me, even after everything I've done, that's just fine with me. More than fine, in fact – it's… God, I don't even know what else to say besides, 'yeah, I would love to be with you.'"
All at once, Motoko slumped forward, forcing Keitaro to catch her before she could hit the ground.
"I haven't… slept for two days," Motoko murmured, resting her head against his shoulder. "I've been thinking about how I can talk to you. Everything's been so… wrong since Kitsune left. This – you and me… it's the only thing that makes sense to me right now. I don't think I could have handled it if you had said no."
Tentatively, Keitaro embraced her. "Do you think… she'll ever come back?"
This topic seemed safer than the 'what happens now' question dancing on the tip of his tongue.
Motoko sighed. "I honestly don't know," she admitted. "I hope so, but she was so… angry the last time I saw her, I just don't know."
When Motoko wrapped her arms around him and gave him a tentative, chaste kiss, Keitaro decided that the topic was closed.
March gave way to April, then May, June, and July, until soon, even the blistering heat of August was almost past bringing the the start of the new semester ever closer, like a beast lurking in the shadows and waiting for the most opportune time to strike. Motoko and Keitaro took things slow during this time, keeping their intimacy to kissing and holding hands, partially for fear of moving too fast, but mostly because neither was quite ready to embark on the type of relationship Kitsune had so desperately tried to kindle with Keitaro.
Motoko passed her entrance exams, and while she knew she was not the girl Keitaro had promised to go to Toudai with, she was still comfortable stepping into the mystery girl's shoes and spending the rest of the foreseeable future in happiness with her boyfriend. She still lamented the fact that she had failed in her test, but Keitaro was a good teacher of patience, and eventually she came to understand that he was right when he repeatedly told her, 'Just think – with all the extra training, when your mom comes back… she probably won't even have to test you before letting you move on.'
There were, of course, incidents, accidents, and adventures of all types at the Hinata Sou. Keitaro still tripped and pulled towels down, Naru and Motoko still pounded him for his inappropriate behavior (though it was more Naru than Motoko), and the group still chased after their various dreams, leading, for the most part, a happy life… though each and every day, sad glances were cast at the empty spot Kitsune used to occupy, and her room was left as it was by mutual, unspoken consent.
And so it was, on breezy day in late August, that Keitaro was sweeping the front porch of the Hinata and thinking about what was to come in just a few short weeks. If we're all in school, he was thinking, casting a surreptitious glance over to where Motoko was staring down the Hinata's long stairway, then how will we have time to be together? It's like Naru said when we went out to dinner – only worse, because both of us will be studying instead of just one of us.
"But we'll work it out," he whispered to himself. "If we've come this far, and we're still together… then anything's possible."
I never even thought I would together with HER though, he mused, squinting a bit as he spied someone making their way up the stairs towards the Hinata. Naru was supposed to be the one… but that kind of seems like a dream now, especially after her advice on how to handle Kitsune.
He could still see the look of anguish on Naru's face when she had told him to do it fast, and do it bluntly, like tearing off a band aid. She had told him that the only way to avoid getting in deeper with Kitsune was to end it quickly, or else he would be stuck in the same type of situation he had found himself in with Shinobu – only to the tenth or twentieth power, since there was already sex involved.
It hurt her just as much as it hurt Kitsune, Keitaro thought miserably. I… I don't think she's forgiven me, even now, or herself, really. God, I think that day was the worst of my whole life – and I've had a lot of bad-
"Keitaro," Motoko said, the sudden tension in her voice drawing his eyes up to her shocked face. "Keitaro… look…!"
Following her finger, Keitaro found a woman making her way up the last of the stairs, lugging a heavy looking suitcase in one deeply tanned hand. She was dark all over – like Su might look if she spent some time tanning – and her hair was a very light gray, also, it seemed, from too much time in the sun… but as she took her dark sunglasses off, Keitaro froze completely, blinking several times to make sure he wasn't hallucinating as the woman gave him a tentative smile and set her suitcase on the top stair.
Kitsune's smile grew as she folded her arms across her chest and dropped him a playful wink.
Keitaro returned her smile, looking to Motoko for approval before dropping his broom and throwing his arms around Kitsune in a fierce, tearful hug.
Motoko nodded to herself as Kitsune immediately tensed and distanced herself from Keitaro, clearly unprepared for even that level of closeness so soon after her return. I can't blame her, Motoko thought, looking up at the Hinata as Keitaro took an apologetic step back and scratched the back of his neck with a sheepish grin. But at least she's here. You're stronger than I am, Kitsune… if it had been me, I never would have come back.
Meeting the older woman's eyes, Motoko nodded, pleased that Kitsune returned her nod and added a polite bow. With nothing more to be said, Motoko whispered the only thing that would have any real meaning to someone that has been away for far too long, making sure that Kitsune heard her before the rest of the residents of the Hinata came screaming and yelling from the boarding house, ecstatic to see her once more and eager to tell her about everything that had taken place in her absence.
Final notes: this was always, always a Motoko-centric fic. The name of the file that houses the entire story is motoko dot doc, for cryin' out loud, and the description mentions no one but Motoko, so no one should be all that surprised by this ending. I toyed with several scenarios, though, including every pairing possible (and no, I don't consider Su, Haruka, or Sarah possible, since each one is icky for its own reasons) before giving up and just following the story threads to their natural conclusion.
Hopefully I didn't leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth by making just about everyone suffer through broken hearts, but honestly, this was always meant to be a romance, not a WAFF, and in romance stories… sometimes people get hurt. I hope, with the ending, that everyone was – if not healed – at least content, because I didn't want to come off as a basher or hater of any of the characters.
This note has gone on long enough, and considering that this story is approaching 140 pages and 45,000 words, I think it's time to put it to bed.
I can't thank Hawker-748 enough for his input on this fic, since it was entirely his guidance that kept me from spinning entirely out of character and off canon. If I STILL failed to stay within the character and story framework of the original, the blame is on me, not him, because without him… well, I can't tell you about that plot line, because it'll probably be a fic by itself, but without him this story would have gone far further from the feel of the original than it already did.
Thanks to everyone that read this little diversion into the Love Hina world. I hope you found it entertaining, or at the very least, mildly amusing.
See you next fic.