Disclaimer: "Love Hina" is the property of Ken Akamatsu and TokyoPop. Although I did ask Santa to bring it to me this Christmas, so who knows.

I don't own this story and I don't make any money off of it. If you sue me, give me a number and I'll fax you the cash.

C+C is welcome at hawker(underscore)748(at)hotmail(dot)com. Goddamn QuickEdit…

This story idea was inspired by SimmyC, who graciously allowed me to pick up the ball and run with it.

Thanks Man!

"X" Spoken words

'X' Thoughts

Manga continuity, after the "Burn-Up Blade" story line

Love Hina:

Ships in the Night

Chapter One: Closest Point of Approach

How rain feels to a person is largely subjective, usually based on the time of year, or the mood of the person underneath it. A rain that provides welcome relief in a hot, sultry summer's day can feel like super-chilled ice water in early spring. Late fall rain, the last few rains before the snow starts to fall, are almost universally accepted as being especially cold.

Keitaro Urashima, the owner and landlord of the Hinata rooming house for girls, wasn't feeling too philosophical about the weather as he walked through the city on a cold November night. He was more concerned with trying to keep warm. The windbreaker he'd grabbed before leaving Hinata house wasn't up to the task of repelling the frigid precipitation that lashed him relentlessly. When the rain had started, it had kept him dry for about three minutes, before the water seeped through, soaking his jacket.

Resigning himself to getting drenched, Keitaro had continued with his wanderings, even after successive layers of his clothing became sodden, starting with his jacket, followed by his shirt and pants. His shoes and socks were soaked when he'd walked through some deceptively deep puddles instead of detouring around them, and now his underwear was cold, wet, and clinging to him uncomfortably.

The wet clothing was heavy, and taking away all of his heat and every step brought more of it in contact with his skin, further exacerbating the effect. He was so chilled that only his walking prevented him from shuddering to keep warm. There were abundant places where he could have gotten out of the rain and warmed himself up. Keitaro could have even returned to Hinata house, where a hot bath, coffee and dry clothes waited.

Yet he continued to walk in the rain, lost in thought, eschewing any shelter, and not paying any real attention to where he was or who was around him. His mind kept endlessly repeating the circumstances that had spurred him to take this long walk.

It has started small, as most things usually did, but it had snowballed uncontrollably from there, until it involved virtually all the residents.

Sarah and Su had lit the fuse, so to speak, with one of their traditional greetings. Their 'tag-team' kick, where Sarah hit him behind the knees while Su put a heel into his chin. It had caused him to sprawl backwards, wildly flailing his arms as he vainly tried to keep his balance. He'd failed, and ended up falling onto his back, banging his head on the floor, hard.

After a few seconds, his head cleared enough to realize that he had fallen with his head between Shinobu's ankles. As his (mostly bad) luck would have it, Shinobu had decided to wear a skirt that day, and the clinical part of his mind noted that she was still wearing teddy bear panties.

Shinobu blushed, 'eeped', and tried to cover herself with her skirt. That might have been the end of it, if Motoko and Naru hadn't chosen that exact moment to walk into the room.

Motoko's eyes flashed dangerously, as she proclaimed once again that Keitaro was pervert and attacked him, launching him headlong into the wall. Only the fact that it was a structural, load-bearing wall prevented him from being punched through and leaving a Keitaro shaped outline. In retrospect, compared to what happened next, that might have been preferable to him.

He ricocheted of the wall and collided with Kitsune, knocking both of them to the floor, Keitaro's head coming to rest between the fox-eyed girl's bountiful assets. Slightly intoxicated (as usual) Kitsune leered and told Keitaro that if he wanted to get frisky, he should at least wait until they were alone.

Naturally, Naru didn't take that very well…

Ignoring Keitaro's attempts at apology and explanations, she stomped over and kicked him with enough force to launch him out of the residence like an artillery shell. The only thing that stopped his parabolic flight path was the 6x12 ceiling joist he impacted.

After his second aborted flight in less than two minutes, Keitaro lay crumpled on the floor, his head spinning, and his body wracked with pain. After a minute or so, he slowly regained his feet, gratefully accepting Shinobu's help, and without a word to anyone, simply walked out. He headed for the door, paused only to put on his shoes and grab a jacket, and left without so much as a glance back.

He either didn't notice, or just didn't care about, the look of rain in the clouds. The residents watched him leave in silence, puzzled by his uncharacteristic behavior, and more than one wondering if maybe they'd finally gone too far.

That had been three hours earlier.

Keitaro was still thinking about this as he walked through the rainy night. If asked, he couldn't have accurately expressed what he was feeling. He paused at an intersection and waited for the light to change. When he started to shiver, he made a mental note to buy a better jacket. 'Something more waterproof,' he mused, as he tried to keep himself from shivering. 'Something better than this…sponge.'

'Least my glasses keep the rain outta my eyes. Still get drops on 'em though.' A faint grin appeared on his lips as another thought came to him. 'Maybe ask Su to make some windshield wipers for 'em?'

Sighing, he resumed walking when the light changed, and his thoughts returned to their previous tangent. 'Why does this always happen? Do they think I plan to do things like that?' He was so absorbed in his own thoughts, Keitaro didn't notice the person he bumped into until it was over. "Oh, I'm sorry ma'am," he apologized.

"It's alright Urashima."

'Huh? Urashima?' "Do I kno- Tsuruko!" he yelped in surprise.

"Yes, it's me Urashima."

"W-what are you doing here?" he stammered. The last time he'd encountered her, she'd almost ended up as his sister-in law.

"I decided to go for a walk," she replied.

'Coming from Kyoto's one helluva walk.' "Are you visiting Motoko again? I can take you to Hinata House if you want."

Tsuruko shook her head. "No need, I'm, I just wanted some time alone, that's all." She regarded Keitaro closely. "You're drenched Urashima. Why are you out in this downpour?"

Keitaro pursed his lips, trying to think of the best way to phrase his reply. "Stress of being a landlord," he answered diplomatically. "Sometimes, things get to be too much, so I need to get away for a while." He was a little surprised to see Tsuruko nodding faintly, as if in understanding.

"You need to get out of this rain Urashima. There's a coffee shop over there," she pointed over his shoulder. "Why don't go there, and then you can dry out and warm up."

Keitaro's first reaction was to politely decline the offer, but standing still had allowed the chills to set in. He felt himself start to shudder from the cold. 'Might be nice to get warm again, and coffee…' he mused dreamily. 'A bathtub full of hot coffee…' "After you," he gestured.

They walked inside, going up a flight of stairs to reach the coffee shop. Keitaro shook off his jacket and handed it to the coat-check girl, who accepted it as if it were a jar of warm sputum. The waitress who showed them to a booth gave Keitaro's soaking appearance a look of disdain before she left them with the menus.

Of course, Tsuruko looked completely presentable, her hat having done a more than adequate job of keeping her dry.

Keitaro excused himself and asked Tsuruko to order him a black coffee while he went to the washroom to try to dry off a little. Entering the washroom, he locked the door behind him, and took off his sodden shirt and wrang it out over the sink. He did the same with his socks, pants, and after double-checking that the door was locked and that the stalls were empty, his underwear. The wringing left his clothes damp and wrinkled, but no longer dripping.

He used hot water from the taps to wash his face and dried off as much as he could with paper towels. His efforts left him feeling a little drier than he started and looking more like a man than a drowned rat. Once again dressed, he used his hands to comb his hair as best he could, sighed in resignation at his look in the mirror and left the washroom, trying to avoid the angry glares of the three men waiting impatiently outside the door.

At the booth, he found a cup of coffee and a thermal carafe waiting for him, along with Tsuruko and a bottle of heated sake. Apologizing for his absence, he sat down and took a sip of his coffee, nodding in approval of its flavour and temperature. Glancing at Tsuruko's sake, he thought, 'That's not a bad idea…' He gestured for the waitress to come over and asked her if it was possible to get some brandy in the coffee.

She nodded and came back with a bottle of Hennessey. Pouring a generous splash into his coffee, Keitaro took a sip, and took comfort from the warm feeling that washed over him. "That's better."

"Brandy?" asked Tsuruko, raising her eyebrows in curiosity.

Keitaro shrugged. "Saw it in a movie."

"I'm glad you're feeling better Urashima," said Tsuruko, as she sipped from her cup. "So. Are you still glad you got out of the engagement with my sister?" she asked without preamble.

Somehow, Keitaro was able to set his coffee down without spilling any of it. "No! I mean yes! I mean…" He paused momentarily to regain his composure. "I didn't mind being engaged to her," he clarified, "but I'm not the kind of man she deserves."

"How do you know? You two do make an adorable little couple."

"I can just tell. You know, subtle things." 'Like constantly trying to send me into orbit,' he silently added. "She'll be happier with someone else."

Tsuruko merely shrugged in reply. She then gestured for the waitress to bring her a new bottle of sake, which she started drinking with a speed that Keitaro found surprising.

'None of my business,' he thought, as he refilled his own mug, this time with a larger portion of brandy.

The two of them engaged in small talk, Keitaro telling Tsuruko about his attempts to get into Tokyo University and life at Hinata house, omitting any details about the pounding that the position inflicted on him. Tsuruko told him a few stories about Motoko, nothing embarrassing, but she didn't tell him much about herself in the process.

All of the while they continued to drink, Keitaro now a third of the way into the brandy, and Tsuruko on her forth bottle of sake.

Tsuruko was a little flushed from the alcohol, but other than that seemed to be unaffected. Keitaro was feeling a little tipsy, and while he wouldn't have wanted to drive at the moment, he would have said that he was feeling 'mellow'.

His 'mellowness' was shattered when Tsuruko asked him point-blank without warning: "So how are you and Naru getting along?"

This time, Keitaro did fumble his drink. "I-I beg your pardon?"

"You and Naru. The two of you seemed to be quite close when you were in Kyoto. Even when you were engaged to my sister," she added. "Are you two dating yet?"

"No! I, I mean, we're close, and, and I like her…"

"…but…" prompted Tsuruko, a half-smile on her lips.

'She's more out of it than I thought,' realized Keitaro. 'Then again, I'm not that much better myself…' He sighed as he recalled the beating she'd inflicted on him earlier that night… as well as the many other times. "We, we just have our disagreements, that's all."

"You ever get mad at her?"

"Sometimes, but not really…"

"Give her the 'cold-shoulder'?"

'I've gotten it a lot,' Keitaro thought. "No, never."

"So, she gets mad at you, but you never get mad back?"

Keitaro thought for a few moments, during which time Tsuruko finished off her forth bottle and motioned for a fifth. "We argue," Keitaro admitted, "but I don't see a point in getting too angry, what good would it do?" He finished his last swallow of brandy-laced coffee, and started to reach for the carafe, before reconsidering and pouring only brandy into the mug.

"I knew it. My sister was a fool for wanting to be free of you." Tsuruko's façade was starting to crumble, and Keitaro could se that something was deeply troubling her. She emptied her glass and reached for the bottle only to have Keitaro grab it first.

"I think you've had enough," he told her softly.

"How would -you- know?"

"You said Motoko and I would be good together. You're not thinking straight."

"Well, why not?" prompted Tsuruko.

'She's different when she's had too much to drink.' Tsuruko's bluntness was starting to make his own hackles rise a little. "Calling me a pervert and attacking me with her sword would be my first guess."

Tsuruko shook her head sadly. "Motoko is a fool…"

In spite of all the disagreements he'd had with Motoko, Keitaro quickly came to her defense. "No, she's not! I do some dumb things from time to time, and she just-"

"Overreacts," finished Tsuruko.

"It's not her fault!" Keitaro insisted.

Tsuruko sighed deeply. "In spite of all the friction between you two, you still stand-up for her. You're a better man than anyone gives you credit Urashima." Quick as a cobra, she snatched the bottle out of his hands and refilled her glass. "You may be the noblest man in the country."

"Err, thanks…" 'I think…' "But, what about your husband?" he asked unsurely.

Tsuruko didn't even look up in response, and didn't say anything either.

Taking another drink to steady his nerves, Keitaro quietly asked, "Why are you here?"

When no response was given, Keitaro thought that she hadn't heard him, and was about to repeat his question when Tsuruko replied, "Sometimes, things get to be too much, so I need to get away for a while."

"W-want to talk about it?" a now very uncomfortable Keitaro asked.

"Not really." Tsuruko drained her glass and refilled it yet again. "I will say this though. When it comes to trying to be there for someone, he isn't nearly as good a man as you Urashima."

Keitaro took the sake bottle back from Tsuruko. "I think we've both had enough for tonight."

Tsuruko smiled crookedly, her face flush with alcohol. "You're right. I should go home now." She stood up, but had to use the table to steady herself.

Keitaro tried to jump up to help her, and then realized that his sense of balance and coordination wasn't up to par either. "You, you normally drink this much?" he asked hesitantly, struggling to keep himself vertical.

Tsuruko shook her head. "No, Don't know why though, this is kind of… interesting."

"You'll regret it tomorrow," Keitaro replied ruefully.

"Until then…" She finished the last of the sake in the glass. She then turned on her heel and walked towards the exit.

…or at least, that's what she intended.

Tsuruko's co-ordination and balance were shot to hell, and she stumbled, falling against Keitaro, who somehow managed to keep her on her feet and keep his own balance as well. 'Aw, hell, what am I gonna do?' wondered Keitaro. 'She can't go home like this…' Sighing, he helped the intoxicated woman to the exit, no easy feat considering how much he'd drank as well.

Settling his tab, retrieving his jacket, and having Tsuruko sit down while he put it on, Keitaro went through his options. 'She's too drunk to send back to Kyoto. Take her back to Hinata House?' Shaking his head, he discarded that idea. 'Motoko idolizes her, if she sees her like this… Hell, I'll probably get blamed for it. And then beaten. She's gotta sleep this off…'

This left him with two options, neither of which was particularly appealing. Taking her to a regular hotel would require a cab ride and a credit card, which he'd neglected to bring with him when he'd walked out. The other option was a 'love hotel', and that was a problem on so many levels. The image of him leading a drunk woman to one of those…facilities…would look really bad.

'But there's one around the corner. I'm a long way from home, its dark outside, and I can check in with cash.' Keitaro mulled this over in his head. 'Not my first choice, but it'll have to do.' He'd check her in, drop her off, leave a note, and head home. Nodding to himself, he helped Tsuruko back to her feet, put her arm over his shoulder, and helped her down the stairs.

"Where are we going?" she murmured.

"Somewhere you can rest."

Tsuruko chuckled to herself. "See, you're even helping me. What did I do to deserve this?"

"Don't worry about it." Keitaro was too busy trying to keep them walking straight to worry about conversation. 'At least she can walk. Don't know what I'd have done if I'd had to carry her. She's kinda light for her size though…'

Even as intoxicated as he was, Keitaro wasn't stupid enough to voice that last thought.

The drunken pair reached the street and re-entered the cold rain, which cleared Keitaro's head a little. It also made the one block walk seem even longer. He couldn't help but notice that Tsuruko's presence at his side was kind of offsetting the chill in the air.

Keitaro shook his head to eradicate that thought. 'No good can come from thinking like that… Just get this over with!'

After about ten minutes, Keitaro and Tsuruko finally reached the hotel. To his immense relief, no one was around as he used the automatic check-in. He selected the first available room on the ground floor, stairs were absolutely NOT an option, and paid the overnight rate. 'It'll take more than an hour or two to sleep this off.'

He led her to the room, used the keycard to open the door, locked it behind them, and helped her settle onto the bed. Letting out a huge sigh of relief, he headed to the bathroom, as the coffee and brandy were taxing his bladder to its limits. After obtaining blessed relief, he washed his hands and went to check on Tsuruko and take a closer look at the room.

'Nice, actually… I was expecting a heart-shaped bed, satin sheets, or maybe a bondage rack. This almost looks…tasteful. Except for that mirror over the bed,' he amended.

A soft groan from the bed attracted his attention from the questionable décor. Tsuruko was lying on top of the sheets, fully clothed, as Keitaro hadn't dared try to undress her. He walked over to the bed and sat down on the very edge. "Are you alright?"

"Where, is this?"

"Don't worry about it. You can sleep here, and go home tomorrow if you wish. Room's paid for, just leave when you're ready."

"Why, why are you doing this for me?"

"You just needed some help," Keitaro answered with a weak smile.

Tsuruko closed her eyes and sighed. She opened them a moment later, looked Keitaro right into his eyes and in a hesitant voice, barely over a whisper, said "I think, I think I need something more than that…"

Before Keitaro could ask her what she meant, Tsuruko reached up, placed her hands behind his neck and head, and pulled a startled Keitaro down, meeting his lips with her own.

"Mnph! Mmplth nnght!" 'What the hell? She's kissing me! She's married! She's drunk! This is bad! This is really BAD!' These thoughts went through Keitaro's mind in less than a tenth of a second. He immediately tried to pull back, but even as tipsy as she was, Tsuruko was far stronger, and his efforts were in vain.

Still struggling, Keitaro's eyes widened further as Tsuruko forced her tongue into his mouth, rubbing it up against his own. His mind started to short circuit when he realized that his body was starting to react the way it normally would, if a drop-dead gorgeous woman was kissing him and holding herself against him. The stirring he felt in his loins horrified him more than anything in his life, even as his mind, on some level, realized that the experience was pleasurable.

Desperate, he managed to move his hands to Tsuruko's shoulders, and with strength born of panic, pushed himself up. Gasping for breath, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DO-Ack!" He was cut off when Tsuruko simply rolled over, forcing him on his back, and straddling him. She then grabbed one of his wrists in each hand and leaned forward, effectively pinning his arms over his head and resumed kissing him, now slowly grinding herself against him as well.

'Wrong! This is wrong! I have to stop this!' Despite Keitaro's frantic thoughts, there was little he could do. His arms were trapped, and if he tried moving his legs, it only made the contact between him and Tsuruko worse. Or better, depending how he looked at it.

By now, Tsuruko was kissing him under his chin, her warm breath caressing his neck, and nibbling his earlobes. Despite his fervent wishes, Keitaro was becoming sexually aroused, and his mind, which had initially opposed the encounter, was slowly but steadily dropping its objections.

"Tsuruko, this is wrong, you're married, you're drunk, you're not thinking right…" he murmured desperately, his resistance melting away.

"I've never thought clearer," she whispered huskily into his right ear, before she resumed suckling it.

Keitaro was himself intoxicated, which clouded his judgment. But if that had been the only factor, he would have been able to resist.

Tsuruko was an incredibly beautiful woman, and Keitaro found her attractive on many levels. But this alone would not have been enough to change his mind.

Keitaro's desperate longing to finally lose his virginity came into play. But on its own, it would not have carried the day.

Even the recent trouble that he'd had with Naru wasn't enough to push him over the brink.

But working together, all of these factors, greater than the sum of their parts, were enough to finally stamp out the last bit of resistance in Keitaro.

When Tsuruko kissed him again, and released his wrists, Keitaro placed one hand under her arm and on to her back, and the other hand behind her head. He willingly reciprocated the kiss, slipping his tongue into Tsuruko's mouth, where it dueled with hers. He moaned softly into her mouth when he felt her warm hand slip under his damp shirt and slide slowly up his chest.

Through everything that happened, the rain continued to fall, an unstoppable force of nature that would not cease until it was exhausted.

The same was true of the man and woman in the hotel room. Two desperate people who were in need of comfort and tried to find it in the other.

Old promises were forgotten.

Vows were broken.

The rain continued late into the night.

XXX

When dawn broke the next morning, the skies were clear and blue. All traces of the previous night's storm had vanished, save for some puddles here and there, and the odd sign of weather damage.

Sunlight pierced the windows of the love hotel and found Keitaro face down on the bed, his left arm hanging over the edge and resting on the floor. As he slowly regained consciousness, he was assaulted by the unmistakable symptoms of a hangover. The sunlight hurt his eyes, even though they were shut, but moving would be too painful, so he was forced to endure it. His head was pounding and he was hearing a faint buzzing in his ears.

'Someone, please, kill that fly. Quietly.' There wasn't much else he could do, so Keitaro killed time by studying the texture of the carpet with his fingertips. 'Man, weird dream… What did Shinobu put in that meal? I feel like… Wait. Carpet? There's no carpet in my room…'

As successive neurons were reluctantly kicked awake, more details made themselves known to Keitaro. 'I'm in a bed. This isn't my futon… This isn't my room…' With a growing sense of dread, he continued his analysis. 'What's that buzzing noise? That's not a bug, it sounds like…breathing. Oh, dear god, I didn't…'

Carefully, he opened his eyes, wincing and shutting them as naked sunlight dazzled him. Keitaro brought his left hand up to shield his eyes and took a look around. It was a hotel room, he was disturbed to realize. 'Which, which means that wasn't a dream? Oh no, oh please no…' With the terrified resignation of a man taking a seat in the electric chair, he slowly turned his head to the right, hoping to the last for his assumptions to be wrong, sending off silent prayers to every divine being in the pantheon.

Despite all his hopes and prayers, there was an apparently naked woman with black hair and her back to him sleeping on the other side of the bed. 'I, I'm naked too,' he belatedly realized. Panic induced desperation set in. 'May-maybe this isn't what it looks like, maybe that's Naru wearing a wig, maybe I just fell asleep and got out of my wet clothes before I did…'

His senses dispassionately put an end to these half-crazed thoughts. There was scent in the air that Keitaro had never encountered before, but on an instinctual level he knew what it was. There were stains on the bed sheets, and he knew with depressing certainty that he hadn't wet the bed. Finally, his last hope, that somehow that was Naru sleeping, was obliterated when Tsuruko rolled over onto her right side, naked as the day she was born. She stirred and reached out for him, sleepily murmuring "Toshio-kun…"

Keitaro's only response was a strangled gasp.

Tsuruko slowly opened her eyes, wincing as she did so. She blinked a few times to clear them before she locked her bleary eyes on Keitaro. "Toshio?" she asked, not having fully woken up. Then her focus came back and she found herself staring at Keitaro, whose face was frozen in a rictus of panic. "U-Urashima?"

Keitaro was incapable of speech at that moment, so all he could do was nod stiffly.

With a cry of horror, mixed with despair, Tsuruko sprang from the bed, hastily wrapping herself in a bed sheet when she realized she was naked.

Keitaro lurched back, managing to grab a pillow before he fell out of the bed and hit his head on the floor. Despite the way his head was spinning, he managed to cover himself with the pillow, preserving his modesty, if not his dignity.

The look on Tsuruko's face when she'd realized what had happened would haunt Keitaro until the day he died. "I, I'm sorry! Oh God, I'm sorry!" He felt tears forming in his eyes. His hangover was annihilated, blasted away by rage at himself for letting this happen, and self loathing. A voice in the back of his mind was cursing him for not getting a room on a higher floor.

"Why are you sorry?" Tsuruko asked numbly, after a few moments of looking around the room, hoping that there was another explanation for the current state of affairs.

"I, I should have left, I shouldn't have stayed, I should've sent you home, I shouldn't have forced myself…"

Tsuruko let out a bitter, humorless, laugh. "YOU forcing yourself on ME?" She started laughing, but it looked like she might end up crying herself.

"If I hadn't stayed-"

"I think I jumped YOU, remember? That's how I repaid your kindness..."

"It's not your fault!"

"Yes it is! I started it!"

"I could have left!" Keitaro desperately exclaimed.

Tsuruko fixed him with a withering glare. "As if you could have gotten away from me…"

Keitaro put his face in his hands, feeling sick to the very bottom of his soul. "I should have done something…"

"We'll talk more later," Tsuruko said, effectively terminating the discussion. "I need a shower. Don't… please don't leave while I'm using it." She walked into the bathroom without looking back.

Keitaro didn't even look up, he just held his head in his hands. 'I'm dead! I'm dead! I slept with Motoko's sister!' His thoughts stayed on this tangent until he heard Tsuruko clear her throat. He looked up and saw her standing on the other side of the bed, wearing a hotel bathrobe.

"It's your turn to shower," she said quietly.

"Okay." Keitaro slowly got to his feet and stiffly walked to the bathroom. He couldn't bear to look Tsuruko in the eyes. In the bathroom, he placed his hands on the sink, let out a shuddering sigh and reluctantly took a look in the mirror. The overhead lighting created shadows around his eyes, reminding him of images he'd seen of the damned.

"Fitting, isn't it?" he asked himself. He noticed that his back was a little sore, and he turned to look at it in the mirror. He couldn't hold back a gasp at what he saw. 'She, she scratched me!' Rows of fingernail scratches were running vertically along his shoulder blades. Thinking back, he recalled that she'd done that during one of her orgasms. 'If Naru or the others see this…' The probable reaction was too horrible for him to contemplate.

He stepped into the shower, hissing in pain as the hot water struck the fresh scratches on his back, and letting the water flow over him like he was a statue. 'What, what do I do? I'm the other man!'

No solutions came to him in the shower, despite what he'd seen on TV, so he simply did a through job of washing himself. It was if he believed that if he scrubbed hard enough, he could wash away his guilt and shame. He was also concerned that perhaps one of the residents would smell something on him and get suspicious.

Finally clean in body, if not soul, he put on another robe and left the washroom, half-dreading that Tsuruko would attack him in rage, and half-hoping that she would do a complete job if she did. Tsuruko was sitting on the bed, dressed as she'd been the night before. She silently watched as he walked over to his clothes and got dressed as quickly as he could.

"We need to talk."

Keitaro nearly jumped out of his skin. 'Don't be so goddamn jumpy! Calm down! How am I supposed to hide this if I act like this?' The advice was easier to think than to implement. With a quavering voice, he asked "N-now?"

Tsuruko shook her head. "Not here. I think we should leave."

"Yeah," rasped Keitaro.

The two of them left the room as fast as they could without actually running, Keitaro all but throwing the keycard into the return slot. They walked out into the sunlight, Keitaro wondering how it looked to people on the street. 'It IS exactly what it looks like,' he realized. 'This WAS a secret tryst.' this thought sent him spiraling further into depression.

Tsuruko and Keitaro walked to a coffee shop, by mutual unspoken accord, not the one that they'd been in the night before. They walked in, were seated and both ordered tea. The idea of drinking coffee made Keitaro's stomach turn, and not because of the hangover. Once served, they sat in an uncomfortable silence, neither wanting to speak first.

After a few interminable minutes, Keitaro realized that if he didn't say something he'd go insane. "About last night…" He kicked himself mentally for using such a stupid, cliché line.

Tsuruko was too preoccupied to care. "It wasn't your fault."

Keitaro sighed in frustration. "Yes it is! If I hadn't taken you there…"

"What else could you have done?"

"Taken you home, to a legitimate hotel, to Hinata House, something!"

Tsuruko chuckled mirthlessly. "How could you have known what would happen?"

"I should have dropped you off and ran like hell!"

"That's not your way, is it Urashima? You were worried about me. Even now, after what happened, you're still trying to take the blame for me. You're a very good man."

Keitaro massaged his temples. "I slept with a married woman. How's that make me a good man?"

"You're kind, compassionate, gentle, loyal, and you aren't cruel, even unwillingly. That makes you a good person." A distant look came over her eyes. "In some ways, a better man than my husband."

"What, what do you mean?"

Tsuruko looked him squarely in the eye. "Toshio can be a wonderful man. He's handsome, graceful, and charming. He never willingly causes pain, and he's supportive and understanding."

Listening to Tsuruko talk about her husband in such warm terms made Keitaro's sense of shame grow even more.

"But in some ways he isn't half as good as you are," Tsuruko added. "He can also be very cruel and abusive."

Keitaro blinked in shock. "He, he hits you?" he whispered.

She shook her head. "Sometimes words can be more hurtful than blades."

"…I know…"

"The sad part is he doesn't mean to be cruel. He doesn't know how his words hurt, or how bad it feels when he's cold and distant."

"Do, do you tell him?"

Tsuruko sighed deeply. "He doesn't see it as a problem. While he'd kill himself before he'd hit me, he doesn't believe that his words and actions can hurt even more."

Keitaro felt an almost overpowering urge to take her in his arms and comfort her. 'My God, this is tearing her up inside!'

"But you, you are the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate man I've ever known. And my sister wanted nothing to do with you. She's a fool."

Keitaro didn't know what to say, so he kept silent.

"Don't let her say that makes you less of a man. It takes more courage to be compassionate than to be cruel."

Keitaro pondered what Tsuruko had told him for a few minutes, mulling over the idea that there was more than one way to hurt someone. 'I know, Naru's words sometimes hurt worse than her fists.'

Then an unsettling thought entered his mind. The way she'd described him made a cold ball appear in the pit of his stomach. He wasn't sure that he wanted to ask the question that came to him, but he felt that he needed to know. "Why did you come here all the way from Kyoto? Were you planning on visiting Motoko or…?" He let the question trail off, afraid to even voice his concern. 'Or were you looking for someone? Me?'

"I came here to get away," Tsuruko replied evenly. "Wandering around Kyoto, I might have met some of my acquaintances, I didn't want to have to explain myself to them. I was a long way from Hinata House. I didn't expect to run into any of you."

Keitaro let out a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "So, what do we do?"

"I'm going home, I'd suggest you do the same."

"We keep it a secret?"

Tsuruko narrowed her eyes. "Unless you want to tell everyone."

"No, no, no, I'll keep my mouth shut. But, won't To- your husband suspect something?"

"I don't think so," Tsuruko replied. "He's never had reason to before. What about you?"

Keitaro slumped in his chair. "They might," he admitted. "I was gone overnight, who knows what they'll think."

"What will you tell them?" Tsuruko inquired softly.

"I'll think of something. Kitsune is going to hound me over this. But even if they do suspect something, they'll never suspect you. They wouldn't believe it was you even if I told them," Keitaro added grimly.

"Then that's it. We part ways and go home. It never happened."

"Yes."

"Take care Urashima," said Tsuruko as she stood up to leave. "And, thank you."

"For what?" he asked incredulously.

"For listening. For caring. For your compassion. For just being there for me."

'You're welcome, I guess," he replied awkwardly. "Take care, and, and, good luck Tsuruko."

"You too. Oh, and Keitaro?"

He blinked at the use of his first name. "Yes?"

"This is… unusual… but even though it shouldn't have happened… it was special." Tsuruko then turned and walked out, leaving no trace of her presence, save in Keitaro's memories.

Keitaro stayed in the café for another half hour, thinking about all that had happened in the last twelve hours. Then he sighed one last time, paid the bill, squared his shoulders, and began the journey back to Hinata House.

He wasn't sure what would happen now, but in his heart, he knew that things would never be the same again.

To Be Continued

Author's Notes: So, why am I wasting my time writing this instead of working of 'Aftermath'? Once again, the wall. I've hit it again, so I decided to take a different tack, and work on something else I've wanted to do for some time.

I've wanted to try a Tsuruko/Keitaro story for a while. I know that there are some already out there, but I didn't want to do a story that used Tsuruko's husband dying from cancer/car crash/struck by an engine that dropped off an over-flying 747, plot device. I felt it was a cop-out, and just a little too convenient. But I couldn't figure out how to start it.

Then I saw an idea posted by SimmyC.

…and that's when the light bulb went on.

After asking for, and receiving, his permission to borrow the idea, the story almost wrote itself.

Random1377 took a look at this story, and did his best to purge it of my sometimes wooden dialogue.

Thanks man!