A/N: Well, here we go. Another brand new fic for me. I did this one in two days which I have to admit is a bit of a record for me. I think it's the fastest I've ever written a chapter for any of my stories. Anyway, I hoe that you enjoy it. I've always wanted to do a fic like this and I finally found the inspiration to do so. Yes, some of the influence did come from metangelo's "A New Light" but fortunately for me I'm trying to make this fic a whole lot realistic. There's not going to be superpowered children or fights against demons. It's simply going to be a regular story about how two people grow and about the trials they have to go through to cultivate that growth. In any case, please enjoy this brand new fic of mine, "Growth."
Disclaimer: I do not own the franchise Love Hina. However, I do own both Yuki and Rikka as figments of my imagination as well as any hijinks they are included and the effects they have on the characters of the franchise Love Hina. We hope things have been clarified for you. Please enjoy the show.
Chapter 1: Lost and Found
Innocence and knowledge. Purity and common sense. Just what is it that separates a child from an adult? Is it the fact that children know nothing of the world but because of this also know nothing about pain and suffering? And, just the opposite, adults know much but are burdened with the knowledge of a cracked and corrupted world.
These two worlds are connected to each other and yet always apart. The fluffiness of a bear, the crinkling of money, creamy ice cream on your tongue, warm flesh underneath yours. Can they all be together, or is it a rule of nature to forever keep them separated? What does it matter? When will it begin? When does it end? The world is unsure…
Small hands reaching up for the sky, wanting something, something wonderful, just beyond the horizon. Big hands stretching to embrace the ground, hoping to grasp some snatch of reality. Somewhere in between these two will meet, mixing black and white to produce awkward shades of grey. But amongst these shades will be a beautiful collection of colors, a mosaic of images that are too amazing for words.
When does the child become an adult? Will the adult remember what it means to be a child? And can these roles ever be reversed, the caretaker becoming the one taken care of?
All too often the adult must teach the child what is needed to survive in the world. And rarely, very rarely, the child can teach something to the adult, something that reminds the adult that not everything must be practical, that not everything has to happen. That things can be taken at a slow and simple pace. That you can return to an earlier time…and just reminisce.
What happens when a child must become an adult to protect another child? Can they ever go back to being that young child, or are they stuck for all eternity as the adult? Can the child be the adult at all?
The story of two people – a child and a child on the verge of adulthood. Two children, yet one must become an adult to save the both of them. Will the two be happy with this decision, or will it be what destroys them both…
Only they can create that fate…
It had rained earlier that afternoon. The roads were still slightly flooded with water and the air was muggy with the aftereffects of the rainfall. The rain had done nothing for the temperature, and steam could be seen rising from the small puddles littered about the ground even though it was already quite far into fall. Not too many people were outside and about, as the feeling of hot stickiness was a rather unpleasant feeling that no one enjoyed.
A young man stepped off of the trolley. His unruly brown hair was matted to his head, his square-framed glasses slipping down his nose from the air's moisture and his own sweat. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his face. He sighed.
He never thought it would come to this. All he wanted to do was get into Tokyo University and meet the girl of his promised memory from fifteen years ago. Was that too much to ask? Instead, he was cursed with a horrible intellect, a terrible physique, and even worse interactions with the fairer sex then he wished to think of. And to top it all off, he had failed his college exams not once but twice in a row!
Now he was out of a home and almost completely out of his pride. The only shred of that precious resource he had left was hanging to a very stupid, very poorly-thought out bet he had made with his parents! What was he thinking, claiming he wouldn't come home until he had gotten into Tokyo U? What was going through his brain when he spent almost his entire life savings just to get to his grandmother's inn? For all he knew, she might just turn him away.
He wouldn't be surprised if that did happen. Everyone else had given up on him – his classmates, his teachers, even his parents. Why would his grandmother, who he hadn't seen for nearly five years, be any kinder or any more understanding? He knew he was expecting too much of this gamble, but it was all that he had left.
As he traveled through the streets of the village of Hinata Hot Springs, the young man's thoughts turned more and more dreary. With each step he took, an old memory of misfortune reared up its ugly head. Rejections, pranks, discipline, and just plain isolation. Not much other than doom and despair was caroling through his mind at the moment. It was slowly beginning to wear on the corners of his mind, rounding down whatever sharp edges he had left, softening his mind and senses to the world around him.
Did any of this really matter anymore? Should he just give it all up? Maybe it would be better if he'd just swallow his pride, go back home, give up all chance of getting into college, and work in his parents' bakery until he took it over…At least that way he would accomplish something. Better than being the complete loser that he was at that moment.
Oh…who was he kidding! He knew that was probably the best bet that he had. He stopped, looked at the ground for a few moments, sighed bitterly, and turned around. Hopefully his parents would take him back without too much trouble; he really didn't feel like having a lecture that equated to nothing more than a big "told ya so" when he reappeared with his ego completely shattered.
Deciding to take the back ways back to the trolley station, the young man hoped he wouldn't make an ass out of himself by getting lost. It was bad enough he was returning home a defeated man; it would be even worse if he got lost in a town that used to be a second home to him. Unfortunately for him, he honestly had no idea where he was going. Fortunately for him, though, that thought hadn't occurred to him. It was probably the only thing preventing him from snapping at the time.
Weaving in and out of the alleyways, he recognized the street he had gotten off from the trolley. Well…looked like this short adventure was already over. He laughed softly. Not like it ever started in the first place though. Still, he had gotten a bitter taste of reality at that moment, a taste he wouldn't soon forget. He laughed again. Oh damn…damn it…Tears slowly began to emerge from his eyes.
Damn it…why did…why did it have to…why did he have to be so…
He yelped and instinctively jumped back away from the yowl that came from out of nowhere. His head connected with the brick wall behind him and he fell to the ground with a thump, wincing as he felt the lump on his head form. He prodded it softly and hissed at the pain. Something hissed right back at him.
Opening his eyes, the young man saw a cat sitting on top of a trashcan. It was pure white all throughout its body with bright pink eyes, staring at him like he had invaded its home or something. He growled. Bloody feline…Scaring him like that, making him injure himself like that. Especially when he was feeling like such crap at the time. His mind snapped a bit at that moment, unable to deal with just that tiny extra bit of stress. That damn cat was going to pay. He didn't know how it was going to pay, but by God he was going to make sure something happened to it.
Standing up, he advanced on the cat, his hands reaching out for its scrawny little neck. He didn't care if his arms were scratched to hell by its claws; he just wanted a hold on it and exact his revenge. His hands were about a foot away from it when they paused. He blinked.
Something strange was happening, the cat wasn't attacking him. It just lay there to the side of the trashcan, flat out on its stomach, its hair puffed out, its lips curled back in a snarl. When he reached towards it, it just hissed slightly. But when he reached towards the edge of the can it hissed even louder and crouched back on its hind legs, as if ready to jump. The boy's mind raced. What would be causing the animal's strange behavior? Could it be protecting something?
Movement caught his eye. A pile of newspaper to the side of the trashcan shifted, causing a rustling sound. The cat's ears twitched and its eyes darted to the side ever so much, almost like a human when it's guilty of something. He was even more intrigued now. Maybe the cat was trying to protect its kittens. That would make sense, and that would also verify the sex of the cat. He would have to start referring to it as a she now.
Determined to find out if what he thought was true or not, he kept extending his hand to the pile of newspaper. The cat hissed and took a swipe at his hand. He cried softly as a large scratch formed along his arm. Damn cat, she better not have any diseases. He'd have to find a clinic later and test if he was alright. However, that little bump didn't deter him from his objective. He swatted at the cat, managing to knock her off her perch. In the small space of time he had, he ripped the newspaper from where it had settled.
He dropped the newspaper from his numb fingers.
Curled up next to the can…was a little girl. She couldn't have been more than four or five years old, her small frame taking up nearly no space. Her blonde hair was very pale, almost to the point of being considered white, and very dry and brittle. His hand brushed against it. Immediately he felt how dirty and greasy it was. Her skin was pale and sallow, her cheekbones slightly drawn in. He could tell that she must have not eaten in days, her somewhat emancipated form attested to that. The dress she was donned in was soaked through with filth as well. He couldn't even tell what the original color of the fabric was. Was it black…or was that just coffee grounds?
Oh man…what was he going to do? He had just found some random little girl out in the alleyways. Who knows how long she had been staying there…He shivered. He didn't think he wanted to know. Laying a hand on the little girl's shoulder, she shook her gently. "Hey, are you okay?" he whispered. "Are you awake? Can you hear me?"
He gentle shaking eventually woke her up. Her eyes slowly opened, revealing the most beautiful pair of baby-blue eyes he had ever seen. They were bright and dazzling, like orbs of ice on a winter day. They were unfocused upon first opening, but after a few seconds they refocused and latched onto the young man's face. Instantly they widened in surprise and fear. She gave out a small cry of terror and backed into the corner made by the wall and trashcan, pushing as hard as she could to get away from the boy.
His face drooped for a second. Then again, he couldn't really blame the young girl. She had been out here for an indeterminate amount of time and then some strange boy just appears out of nowhere? Of course she'd be scared! He'd be scared too if something like that happened to him! But all he could do now was try to get her to calm down and then eventually get her someplace safer. He had no idea how he was going to do it, though.
He reached his hand out to her, palm open, showing that he wasn't hiding anything from her. He smiled as tenderly as he could and tried to make his voice as reassuring as possible. "Are you okay, little one? Are you lost? You're not hurt, are you?"
She just cringed even further into the corner. It seemed like his questions were doing nothing more than scaring her. He sighed. It didn't look like he was going to get her someplace safer anytime soon. Deciding he would take all the time in the world, the young man fell backwards and propped himself against the opposite wall. He looped his arms around his knees and just looked at her. He could wait. He had plenty of patience.
The girl just gazed at him, unsure of what to make of this weird boy who showed out of nowhere. No one had found her in all the time she was gone, so how had he? She shivered. The rain had soaked her to the bone, and the alleyway was breezy. It was cold…
She felt something plop on top of her. Her vision went dark. She pawed at the fabric encompassing her. Removing it from her head, she realized it was the jacket the young man had had tied around his waist. She saw him walking back across the alleyway and sit back down. He hadn't said a word the whole time. He just smiled when she looked at him. She hid underneath his jacket. It was still warm from his body heat, and she could detect the lingering scent of his sweat. She felt…warm. It was a very pleasant sensation.
A meow caught her attention. The cat from before jumped into her arms, snuggling into her and trying to endear her affection. She smiled softly. "Rikka…" It was the first time she had spoken. Her voice was soft and lilting, like a flower opening up to the morning sun.
"Is that her name?"
She started and looked over. The boy was looking at her and smiling. He repeated the question. "Rikka, is that you cat's name?"
She hesitated and nodded her head. It was such a small motion he barely noticed it. He smiled again. "It's a very nice name." He laughed. "But she has very sharp claws." He raised his scratched arm into view. The wound had already begun to pucker, a long, angry slash ranging from his wrist to just above his elbow. "See? She did quite the number on me." The girl looked down in shame. He smiled lopsidedly. "Hey, don't get sad. I'm sure she just wanted to protect you. You should be happy someone cares for you so much." He paused. "Do you think you could tell me your name?"
She shook her head. Again, it was with the littlest of movement.
"Then do you mind if I tell you my name?" She remained silent at this. He chose to go ahead with it anyway. He needed to keep her interested long enough to either find out why she was out here or get her someplace to get cleaned up. "I'm Keitaro Urashima." Keitaro smiled widely. "It's very nice to meet you little girl and Rikka!"
No response. He sighed. Well, gotta keep trying. "Could you tell me why you're here?" No response. "Could you tell me where your home is? Maybe where your mama and papa might be?" Again, no response. "Maybe you cou…"
The little girl blushed. Her stomach had betrayed her. The loud rumbling had filled the entire alleyway. Keitaro blinked. He was silent for a few seconds. Then he began to laugh. Rich laughter erupted from his throat that seemed to have no ending. He wiped the tears of mirth that had gathered in the corners of his eyes. He quickly stood up. "Wait here, okay?" He quickly moved out of the alleyway and into the street.
Ten minutes had passed and he still wasn't back. The girl didn't know what to do. Did he just leave her there? After he had appeared like he was trying to help her? Well…what did she expect? Everyone left her. No one cared about her. Not a single person. No one…She buried her head into her knees, sniffling softly. Her stomach rumbled again. Oh…she was so hungry.
The feeling of hot and cold pressed against her cheeks. Her eyes snapped open and she jerked her head up. The first thing she saw was Keitaro's smiling face, a can of juice in one hand and a cup of instant ramen in the other. "Here you go!" he chirped. "It's been a while since you ate anything so I thought it'd be better if you ate something simple." He sat down and opened up the cup. "Chicken okay?"
She glanced at the food in his hands nervously. She didn't want to accept something from a total stranger, but on the other hand she hadn't eaten in so long. And also, it seemed like she could trust this Keitaro person. He seemed real sweet and sincere in his desire to help her. She didn't sense any ulterior motives. Then again, she was only five years old, so she still wasn't all that sensitive to such things. Still…
She slowly reached out her hands. Keitaro gently put the ramen cup in her hands. They were so small they could barely wrap themselves around the cup. She tentatively brought the cup to her lips and took a sip. Her eyes lighted up. She tilted the cup up and began to drain it.
"Oi, oi!" Keitaro snatched the ramen from her. "Easy there! Little sips! You don't want to get sick and toss it all back up, do you? Here…" He opened up the juice can and handed it to her. "Drink this. But remember, little sips…" She nodded and sipped on the juice.
Making sure she alternated between the ramen and the juice, Keitaro managed to get the girl to eat all of the food. She let out a happy, little sigh when she finished. Looking over to Rikka, she fed her a piece of chicken from the ramen. The cat meowed in appreciation. Keitaro smiled at the scene.
"You full now?"
"Good." Keitaro leaned back against the wall. Well, he had gotten her fed. Now what was he supposed to do? He sighed and bonked his head on the wall. He really didn't know what he was going to do now. The first thing on his list was get her cleaned up and clothed properly, but that led to implications that he'd rather not think about. Maybe he should take her to the police station? But he didn't know where that was, or if the village even had one. The only logical conclusion he could come to was get the girl to Hinata House. Maybe his grandmother could help him out. He covered his eyes. Oi…this was so bothersome…
Keitaro raised his hand. "Huh? What'd you say?"
The girl blushed and hid her face in his jacket. "Yuki…" Her voice could be heard, muted by the cloth.
"Yuki…" He leaned forward. Rikka began to yowl softly. He stopped and sighed. Ah well, as expected from the girl's "bodyguard." He stopped and stared at her. She peeked out from the jacket. "Is that your name? Yuki?" She nodded and ducked underneath the jacket again. He smiled. So now he finally knew the mystery girl's name! "Well then! It's very nice to meet you, Yuki! It's a very cute name if I do say so myself!"
He could see her blush even from the top of her head. "Thank…thank you…"
He sighed. "Well, now that you've told me your name, does that mean you trust me?" She didn't respond. He tried again. "I'm kinda worried about you, Yuki. I really think we should get you cleaned up and stuff. I'm heading to my grandma's right now. I'm sure she'd help you out." He got up and kneeled in front of her. "Would you like that? Would that be okay with you?" He waited for her answer.
She looked up at him. He smiled gently. "Rikka…" She held the cat closer to her. "Rikka…?" Her voice was soft and questioning.
Keitaro tilted his head to the side. What did she mean by…? Her eyes gleamed with worry. He didn't…-oh! He smiled again and softly patted her on the head. "Sure, Rikka can come too. I bet my grandma would be happy to have her along." He stood up and offered her his hand. "So…you wanna go now?"
Yuki slowly reached up, paused, and then reached the rest of the way to lightly grip three of his fingers. He helped to pull her to her feet. Rikka yowled in displeasure at the unwanted movement but did nothing to stop her charge. It seemed like even she had accepted the young man who had appeared from nowhere. Yuki stood up before her legs trembled. She fell to the ground fast.
Keitaro gasped before catching her. Yuki whimpered softly. It seemed that she was still too weak to walk. She clung to Keitaro like he was a lifeline out at sea. She felt like crying. She didn't want to be weak, she didn't want to be useless, she didn't want…
"Upsy-daisy!" Yuki yelped when Keitaro suddenly lifted her up the ground and placed her on his shoulders. He craned his neck up and grinned at her. "Now you don't have to walk, right? I don't want you to get hurt right after I helped you. I'd feel really bad." His smile melted. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Yuki was crying like a baby. Big, fat tears rolled down her cheeks and ran off her chin. She buried her face in her arms and hiccupped. "Hic…thank…thank…hic…thank you…I…I…hic…"
Keitaro just smiled. He looked down to see Rikka glancing up at him. Her eyes told him just how grateful she herself was. He sighed. "C'mon, you two, let's go…" Keitaro headed off with a cat by his side and a girl on his shoulders.
Today was turning out to be quite interesting.
"Hello…?" Keitaro called out from the foyer, Yuki still perched on his shoulders but with Rikka cradled in one of his arms. The cat had really taken to him during the trip to the inn, a complete difference from when the two first met. Now she was downright affectionate with the young man. None of them had talked much, just content to walk together. People had looked at them strangely, but who wouldn't with a filthy child sitting on a young man's shoulders with a cat following after the two of them. Not that the three of them cared…
Picking Yuki up, he placed her at his side. She clung to his shirt. She still felt a bit weak in the legs and besides…she just really wanted to feel him close to her. Keitaro called out again. "Grandma? It's me, your grandson. Remember? It's Keitaro. And also…um…" He looked at Yuki. She just gazed ahead, as if in a dream. "I've got a friend with me too. Are you here?"
Silence was his only answer. He sighed.
It appeared that none of the inn's tenants were there either as he was sure his shouts would have alerted any nearby people to his entrance. Now what was he supposed to do? He looked down at Yuki. She was still really dirty. And from the time she had sat on his shoulders, his own shirt had gotten rather filthy as well. Well…he should probably get her cleaned up first…
Keitaro knew that the inn had an outdoor hot spring; the place was well known for it. He could only hope that it was functioning so that he could get Yuki a well needed bath. He took a step forward, signaling to Yuki that he wanted her to go with her. She conceded easily, following him like a little puppy. They made their way through the halls, stopping when Keitaro recognized the door to the changing room to the bath. He almost stepped through the doorway when he realized one important thing…
He was about take a very underage girl and make her strip down to the bare necessities to take a bath. If that wasn't enough, the fact that the girl was also in a very emotionally and physically vulnerable state made what he had originally planned to do seem even more wrong! So what was he supposed to do now! The girl needed a bath but it was completely immoral for him to go along with her. She would need to take the bath alone.
But then…then…His mind flashed to a previous memory. He was in a hot spring by himself once when he was little. That one time he had almost drowned in the springs when his foot got lodged between two rocks while he was underwater. If it weren't for his dad coming to see where he was he would have died! He didn't want Yuki to go through the same kind of terror that he had, especially after the way he had found her. But then again…
He was torn between two decisions. Either he could take the moral path and let Yuki bathe by herself, or he could go with her and make sure she was okay. Neither one was something he wanted to do but…
He felt a tug on his shirt. Keitaro looked down to the vision of crystal blue eyes gazing up back at him. Yuki blinked slowly, silently asking him to go in with her. She didn't want to be alone, not right now. Somehow he understood her silent request. Somehow those eyes told him all he needed to know. Well, at least he didn't have to worry about making a choice now…
But there was still the whole "naked" problem. There was no way in heck that he was going to be in close proximity to a nude five-year-old. He might have done that with his sister when they were younger but that was a long time ago and the age gap was certainly a lot smaller. That was only a three, four year gap; this was nearly fifteen! Keitaro grumbled softly while he thought on what he could. Yuki watched him quietly, Rikka curled in her arms.
Inspiration suddenly struck him. He fumbled through his pack, trying to find the article of clothing he needed. Ah ha! Here it was! He triumphantly pulled the clothing out. It was a good thing he had packed a pair of swimming trunks. Thank God for small favors, eh? Rifling again, he pulled out a used shirt. He then turned to Yuki. "Here." He shoved the clothing to her. She looked at him then at the clothes then at him again. She didn't understand. He blushed. "I want you to put these on! There's no way I'm going to go in that bath with you naked!" And there was way in Hell he was going to take any article of his clothing off. He would bathe another time.
Yuki blushed softly and looked at her feet. Keitaro took the initiative and ran out of the changing room into the springs, hoping to find some stuff to get her bath ready. It wasn't long before he heard the rustling of cloth that signaled her entering the bath. He looked back.
It was actually a very cute sight. Even with his scrawny body his clothes were still much too big for her. His trunks fell down past her knees, and his shirt hung just as much. He was just glad she was nowhere near developing yet as the collar of his shirt was dangerously low. Yuki fidgeted restlessly as Rikka rubbed against her bare legs. Keitaro just smiled gently. He had no intention of doing anything wrong to her. If he even thought about it he would immediately commit seppuku. Well…maybe that was a bit extreme but…
Keitaro waved her over. Yuki ran a bit before slowing down in front of him. He motioned at the stool he had procured over by the sinks. She sat down on the stool. Looking over her shoulder she saw Keitaro waiting for her to give the "okay." She blushed and nodded. Turning back to gaze at the hot springs, she felt Keitaro begin to rub his hands in her long hair. She felt the shampoo bubbling in her hair and slipping down her temples. It was so soothing…Just like what Mama had done, oh so long ago…
Keitaro kept working the shampoo into her hair, making sure he got every strand lathered up. Originally he thought he would have had a hard time keeping his thoughts straight, but to his surprise he found he had no desires whatsoever to do something wrong. Instead, he felt a kind of affection that he had never known before. Was this…love? No, it couldn't be; not with such young a girl. Still…it was a nice feeling.
The two were silent the whole time. The only time they did speak was when Keitaro asked if she wanted her back done as well. She had assented, and Keitaro made sure to scrub it clean before allowing her to do the rest herself and soak in the hot springs while he went to try and clean her dress. He went off to one of the side sinks, making sure to keep Yuki in sight. Rikka had decided to follow him, thinking she was safer from the water with him then with Yuki.
Keitaro was busy washing Yuki's dress as hard as he could. But it was almost impossible to get most of the stains out. It was like they had been ingrained into the very threads of the fabric themselves. Needless to say he was quite annoyed. When he managed to get what he could out, he raised it up so that he could examine it. He froze upon recognizing what it was.
A pitch black funeral dress.
What the…? What was Yuki doing wandering around the streets in something like this? He didn't want to think that she had run out on…She didn't… Don't tell me that she…
A scream broke him out of his reverie. He instantly recognized it as Yuki's voice. He stood up quickly, knocking Rikka from his lap. The female cat was less than pleased but Keitaro really didn't care about that at the moment. "Yuki! Are you alright?" What mattered the most was that Yuki would be alright. He didn't know why he was so worried about a little girl he had just found out on the streets but…but that didn't matter at all! "Yuki!"
He was tackled to the ground by a small mass of blonde hair. Yuki was absolutely terrified, clinging to him with all her might. He didn't know what had frightened so much but it couldn't have been good.
"Hey, are you okay? I just wanted…" Keitaro gawked when he saw a gorgeous red-head climb out of the hot springs with not a stitch of clothing on her. How the heck did he not hear her come in? Was he so absorbed in Yuki's dress that he didn't even notice another person entering the bath? What if it had been someone dangerous? What if... "Hello? Are you okay? You seem a bit scared…"
And that's when it clicked in Keitaro's mind that he had a very nubile, very naked lady in front of him. So he did the first thing that popped into his mind – he completely freaked out. And as a added bonus, his own strange breed of curse words/gobbledygook came along with the deal.
"Oh, slimy son of a monkey shiner!"
The girl's ears perked up. She paused for a second before walking a bit closer and straining her eyes. They remained strained for a moment before they widened in shock. She took one step back…two…three, took a deep breath… Keitaro instinctively covered Yuki's ears.
"KYAAAAAHHHHHH! THERE'S A PERVERT IN HERE!"
Keitaro waved his hands in front of himself. "Wah? No! I'm not! You've got it all wrong!" Yuki clung even closer to him, her wet clothes beginning to soak through his. She was really frightened he absently noted. Her trembling hadn't stopped at all. It was like when he first found her.
"And on top of that he's a pedophile! He's molesting some little girl!"
Something inside Keitaro snapped. It was okay to call him a pervert; he had seen her naked after all even though it was unintentional. But to call him a pedophile…to even suggest he would do something to Yuki? That was going too far! He was becoming more and more protective of the girl by the second, and it didn't seem like the increase was going to stop anytime soon.
"Now wait just a god damn minute!" He peeled Yuki off of him before stomping up to the redhead. By now he had completely forgotten the fact that she was naked. She hadn't however; she was already trying to cover herself up futilely as he confronted her. "I don't care if you call me names but don't you ever say I would do anything to…"
"No! Don't come any closer!" His sentence was cut short by both her demand and her right hook in his face. Without even consulting the laws of physics, his body went flying across the bath and crashed into the wall of sinks, knocking him unconscious. He slumped down to the wet rocks, down for the count.
The redhead cracked her knuckles at her accomplishments. That would teach the pervert to try and sexually assault her! Now to see if that little girl was all right…She advanced on Yuki, extending her hand out in friendship. All she got in return was a cowering little girl and a pissed off feline hissing violently at her. Yuki stepped backwards before fleeing to where Keitaro had collapsed. The girl tilted her head to the side. Well, that was…unexpected. Why would she run away like that?
In any case, the rumble of several pairs of feet was heard from the changing room. Several other girls, ranging from early to late teen, emerged from the doorway. The first one to enter, the oldest of the group, a young woman with bleached-brown hair and squinty eyes, quickly took hold of the situation. Her eyes switched from the redhead to the huddled form of Yuki on Keitaro and then Rikka who was still hissing at the redhead like mad. "What's going on here, Naru?" she exclaimed.
Naru Narusegawa looked back at the older woman. "Kitsune, it was horrible! I came in to take a bath and found that little girl in here. When I tried to ask her who she was, she screamed and ran off. Then all of sudden that…that…that lecher…" She pointed at Keitaro's prone body. "Came out of nowhere and tried to attack me!" She raised her fist in a pose. "But I showed him what for! He won't try to do anything stupid like that again!"
"I'm sure he won't," Mitsune "Kitsune" Konno sighed. Especially if he were dead. Naru always tended to go overboard in such situations. Being of a more practical mind than her younger friend, Kitsune assumed that the unknown pair were probably siblings. The big brother probably just wanted to protect his little sister from harm. He went about it the wrong way and Naru punished him for it. Still…it was getting annoying to clean up after her messes. "Still, let's make sure ya didn't kill him or nothing." She walked over to the two while the rest stayed where they were.
A raven-haired youth with a bokken at her side walked up to Naru. Placing a hand on her shoulder, she said, "It's a good thing you were the one to punish him, Naru. Had it been me, I would have shown no mercy."
Naru nodded. "Yep, it was good. I held back on him a little bit. Anymore and it would have been real bad." She laughed softly. "Thank god I'm so generous in my dealings with fiends."
"Jeeze, Naru, sometimes you're such a jerk!" The two twisted around. A tanned, foreign-looking girl was balancing on one foot and looking at them in mock humor. However, her eyes belied that she was quite angry with the redhead. "Why'd you go and punch him? It wasn't nice to do!" The others were shocked at her statement. Usually, the girl would write off anything and everything as a joke. But she was taking this event kind of seriously. It probably had to do with the fact that she had an older brother that she loved very dearly. It made her biased about the whole thing.
"Su!" the raven-haired girl shouted. How could she think to take that wretched man's side? He was a pig, trying to attack their friend! Why would she feel any sympathy for the lout? "How could you say that? Naru was just defending herself."
Kaolla Su shrugged. "Sorry, Motoko." Without another word, she bounded over to where Kitsune was trying to examine Keitaro's body.
Motoko Aoyama and Naru stood there as they watched Su walk over. They then looked at each other, and then at the last person who was with them. A quiet, blue-haired lass stood off to the side, fidgeting with her hands. She looked at them then where the others were then at them again. She said nothing as she bowed then quickly made her way to the larger group.
Motoko and Naru were speechless. They looked at each other again. "Are we the only sane ones here?" Naru asked.
"It would seem so," Motoko answered. "Pity. I had hoped they would be a bit wiser then this." Naru just nodded her head sagaciously. Stubborn as these two were, they would rather act like they were completely guiltless. The fact that Naru had overreacted made no difference to them. The man was at fault. It wasn't a pleasant aspect for either of them.
"Oi, guys!" The two turned their heads in the direction of Kitsune's voice. She waved them over. "We've got a bit of a problem here."
The two walked over to where they were. "What's up?" Naru inquired.
Kitsune shook her head. "I'm trying to get the guy's wallet to see if he has some sort of ID but the kid won't get off of him." As if responding to her observation, Yuki held onto Keitaro even tighter. She was sprawled across his chest, her tiny arms firmly locked around his necks. It would take the Jaws of Life to pry her from him. Kitsune sighed. "If that isn't enough, I can't even get near the guy 'cause this stupid cat won't stop hissing." She reached out to demonstrate but quickly pulled back when Rikka made a swipe at her. She kept growling even when the girl retreated. "See what I mean?"
"Here, let me try." Naru squatted down. She reached out a hand and beckoned to Yuki. "Come here, sweetheart. I'm not going to hurt you…"
Kitsune raised an eyebrow. "You think she's gonna listen to you of all people?" Naru looked back at her, confused. Kitsune sighed at the girl's denseness. "Naru, you just punched the guy who could very well be her brother. Ya really think she's gonna want to be anywhere near you?"
Naru sputtered. She obviously knew that she was in the wrong there but her pride wasn't about to allow her to admit it. She scrambled for an excuse. "But look at them! They don't even look alike for gosh's sake! How could they be related?"
Kitsune relented at that. She had to admit, the two didn't look like they shared the same DNA. The boy had dark brown hair while the girl had very pale blonde hair and blue eyes. It was highly unlikely they were related. But still… "Be that as it may, she's obviously taken a liking to the guy, so I doubt she's gonna get off him anytime soon. But besides that…" She frowned. "We gotta get rid of this cat first. But how…"
The blue-haired girl interrupted her by stepping forward and reaching out for the cat. Rikka hissed and swiped at her. The girl flinched in pain but kept on moving. She finally got her hands on Rikka's body and gently lifted her up. The cat meowed in confusion but calmed down when the girl put her in her lap and began stroking the top of her head. She smiled softly.
Su blinked then grinned widely. "Wow, Shinobu! That was amazing!"
Shinobu Maehara blushed and ducked her head down. "Thank…thank you." It was amazing how similar her personality was to Yuki's – shy and soft-spoken. She just kept petting Rikka, who by now was languidly lying in the girl's lap, apparently deciding that maybe these girls weren't so bad after all. She'd have to watch out for the redhead though. That girl was dangerous.
Kitsune heaved a sigh of relief. Well, at least that much was done. Now all she had to do was somehow get to the boy's wallet, if he even had it on him at the time. She began to reach for Keitaro but stopped when Yuki squeaked in fright and tightened her hold on him. She sighed. Things weren't going to be easy, huh? Well, she wasn't one that was much for being sweet at times like this so she picked the quickest route.
"Su, would you mind holding her, please?" Su saluted her and caught the girl in a bear hug. Yuki was frozen in shock but then began to struggle upon seeing Kitsune begin to search Keitaro's person. Su had a very strong grip on her though so she couldn't do anything as Kitsune rifled through his pockets. "Aha!" she exclaimed proudly. "Found something!" She waved his wallet around like some treasure. Yuki flailed around even more. "Now…let's see who this guy is…" She flipped the wallet open and took out his ID. She skimmed over it and then stopped. Her face paled. "Oh crap…"
Motoko glanced over her shoulder. "What appears to be the problem?"
"This guy…His name…"
"What about his name?"
"Urashima. His name is Keitaro Urashima…" Kitsune gulped.
Naru frowned. "So what? He has the last name as Haruka and Hinata. That doesn't mean anything though. Lots of people have that last name." Apparently her brain refused to recognize anything that might incriminate herself. It was a very handy yet very annoying defense mechanism for her.
Kitsune mentally cursed her friend out. God, why did she have to be so stubborn! "Naru, don't you remember anything? Hinata told us about her family." She paused and took a deep breath. "You just punched out our landlord's grandson!"
"What's this I hear about Keitaro getting punched out?" The group of girls twisted to see Haruka Urashima, Keitaro's aunt, walk out into the springs. She paused as she took in the view. She blinked and absently took a hit of her cigarette. "Oh hey…it is Keitaro. What's he doing here?" She frowned. "And just why is he unconscious?" Her voice had an underlying tone to it. Anyone there could tell that her nephew's attacker was in serious trouble.
Naru froze. "Ummm…"
"And who the heck is that little girl and just why is she clinging to Keitaro?"
None of them had an answer to that question.
Haruka sighed. "Everyone…inside…now! " Things were going to be explained. And if she didn't like the answers…well, it was going to be pretty. That much was obvious. But more importantly…she wanted to know just what her nephew was doing appearing here all of a sudden with a little girl no less. It was bound to get her attention. She glared at the girls when they didn't move. "Didn't you hear me? Get you butts in now!"
Yes, it was definitely going to get her attention.
Keitaro groggily opened her eyes and groaned. He winced when he was instantly blinded by a ray of sunlight. Covering his face with an arm, he realized that the other one was weighted down. Looking over, he saw Yuki hanging onto his shoulder. She was still in his shirt and trunks, but they were dry now. Another quick glance registered the fact that Rikka was using his stomach as her own personal cushion. He was wondering why it felt like it was hard to breath. He groaned again. "Huh? Yuki? What are you doing here?"
"Yuki, eh? So that's her name?"
He blankly looked to his side. Haruka was sitting cross-legged, a few cups and a pot of tea to the right of her. He blinked blearily. "Huh? Aunt Haruka, what are you doing here? Where am I?"
Upon hearing the word aunt, Haruka simultaneously frowned and pulled her halisen from her pocket. Raising it above her to get ready and smack her nephew, she stopped when noticing Yuki trying to snuggle farther into his shoulder. Well…she could forgive her nephew for this transgression this one time, if only for the girl's sake. She placed the halisen back down at her side. Keitaro was still so out of it he didn't even know she had taken it out in the first place. "Don't…call me aunt, okay? In any case, how are you feeling, nephew?"
Keitaro rubbed his face. "A bit sore. That demon girl really gave me a good punch. I thought my face would implode or something."
Haruka nodded her head in agreement. "She does tend to overdo it. Anyway…" She picked up the teapot and gestured to it. "You want some? It'll be good for you and I'm sure it your little friend would like it too."
"Umm, sure." He slowly sat up, trying to wake Yuki from her nap. "Yuki…c'mon, sweetie, wake up." Rikka fell from his stomach to his lap and wasted no time in falling asleep again. She was already used to his movements. For now she just wanted to sleep. Keitaro gently shook Yuki shoulder. Her wide eyes slowly opened, and when she saw that Keitaro was awake as well, her lips curled into a small smile. She let out a tiny cry and hugged him. He smiled back. "Aww…I'm glad to be conscious, too. Here…" He unwound her from him and gestured to Haruka. "My aunt made some nice tea." Haruka again ignored the use of the term "aunt." "Do you want some as well?"
She nodded politely. Keitaro smiled and handed her a cup given by Haruka. "Remember now…" he chided. "Small sips."
She nodded again and brought the cup to her lips, sipping slowly. She smiled at the flavor danced around her tongue. She bowed her head to Haruka and blushed. "Thank you…" Her voice was almost inaudible.
Haruka's face cracked into a small smile. "You're very welcome."
Keitaro smiled. He was glad that Yuki was talking to someone other than himself. It meant that she was beginning to trust other people. Yet…it made him feel kind of jealous. He didn't know why but it felt weird that she was getting relaxed around other people. Maybe he was getting more attached to her than he should? He shook his head. No…that couldn't be true. Sighing, he drank some of his tea. He sighed happily. Ahh…that tasted good. He wiped his mouth and checked on Yuki (who was happily sipping her tea) before turning to Haruka. "So, how have you been, Haruka?"
"Fine, I guess." She answered. "But what I'm really interested in is where you found such a cute little girl. You didn't go off and have an illegitimate love child, did you?"
"H-Haruka!" He sputtered. He glanced down at Yuki who was gazing back up at him, her eyes asking what Haruka meant by that. As if Haruka's insinuation wasn't enough, he also had an inquisitive Yuki on his hands as well. This was just too much. Blushing, he waved his hands to try and discourage Yuki's gaze. "It's not like, really!" He sighed and looked at the floor. "Really, it's nothing like that at all…"
Haruka sensed the change in his attitude. Something was up and it wasn't something she should be joking about. Her face reverted back to its usual stoic self. "Ok then. You want to tell me what happened?"
"Only if Yuki says it's okay." He turned and smiled at her. She stared back at him. "I don't want to say anything that she doesn't want to share."
Yuki glanced down at the floor. Her hand moved over and took a light grip on his shirt. She gave it a slight tug. That was good enough for him. He launched into his story, telling Haruka everything from when he first discovered Yuki to his assault in the hot springs. Haruka kept quiet through the whole explanation, not showing a single change in her expression. It was obvious that the girl had gone through some traumatic experience and that it was a good thing that Keitaro had found her when he did.
When he had finished, Haruka took out a cigarette and put it in her mouth. She needed a smoke after the sobering tale. Then she remembered that a little child was in the room. She grumbled mentally. She put the lighter back in her apron pocket, but kept the cigarette in her mouth, chewing on it in frustration. "Well…that was a very…" She trailed off, not certain at all on how to continue. There really was no way to describe what the little girl might have gone through until Keitaro had found her, so she wasn't about to let out some corny crap to wrap the whole thing up lightly. "Anyway, I really can't say anything else so…I guess the point is – what are you going to do now?"
"I…don't know." He scratched his head. "I plan on taking Yuki to a police station to see if they can find her parents or someone related but after that…" He sighed and placed a hand on Yuki's head. She rubbed up against it like Rikka would. He smiled at the affectionate movement. "I originally planned on coming to live here for a little while but…"
Keitaro stopped. Haruka was looking at like he had grown a second head. Was his hair stuck in a weird position or something? He tried to talk again. "I said I planned on living in the inn for a bit. Is there a problem with that?"
"You mean mom never told you?"
"Never told me what?"
Haruka didn't say anything for a little while. She then sighed and got to her feet. Brushing her butt off, she began walking over to the door to the hallway. "There's been a little change since you were last here." She stopped at the door. "Allow me to introduce the rest of the tenants." Sliding the door open, a pile of girls fell to the floor. Apparently they had all been eavesdropping ever since he was put into the room.
Keitaro watched in amusement as they tried to get back up but to no avail as they kept falling over the other. It was then he recognized one of their faces. He pointed at them and let out a shout. "Ah! It's the demon girl! What's she doing here?"
Naru growled and exploded from the pile. "Who're you calling a demon girl?" She screamed right back at him.
"You! You're the one who punched me for no reason!"
"Because you tried to sexually assault me!"
Keitaro blushed, his temper rising to new extremes. What was it about this girl that pissed him off so much? No one could usually got him this riled up. "S-sexually assault you! I got near you to yell because you said I was trying to molest Yuki!"
"Because you were, you stupid pedo…"
"Don't you ever say that again, you little bitch!" Keitaro exploded. He had jumped to his feet, knocking Yuki on her butt and sending Rikka flying. The rest of the room went deathly ill. Even Haruka was shocked beyond belief. She had never seen Keitaro this angry before. Was Yuki really that important of a person to him, to react in such a way when accused of doing something to her? "If you do, I'll snap you neck and throw your body in the springs! Do you hear me, you fu…"
"Keitaro!" Haruka managed to collect her senses before Keitaro really let it all out. "That's enough already!"
He calmed down instantly. Realizing what had come out of his mouth, he gasped in horror. Looking down, he saw Yuki had moved away from him and was crying. He wondered what the hell he was doing just now. Reaching a hand out for her, he whispered, "Yuki?" She just cried harder and went to hide behind Haruka. Keitaro's face crumbled. "Yuki?" She shook her head, closed her eyes, and covered her ears, trying to blot out any knowledge of him.
Keitaro felt like his world had just fallen apart. He had tried so hard to gain Yuki's trust and now he had thrown it all away in one burst of fury. He…he felt…so crappy right then and there. His shoulders slouched over and his eyes darkened in depression. "I…" He spoke in a very soft and melancholy voice. "I believe I should go now." Without another word, he walked past the girls and out of the room. They could hear the soft padding of his feet disappear down the hall.
Kitsune blinked, the second to break out of her stupor. "What was that all about?"
Haruka sighed. "I think my nephew has come to care about something far more than he should have."
Yuki just clung to Haruka's pant legs, Rikka leaning up against hers.
Keitaro collapsed on the couch in the lobby and buried his face in his hands. What the heck had he done? Why did he get so riled up when he was accused of molesting Yuki? Sure, he would have been angry if he was accused of doing so to anyone…but Yuki specifically flipped something off in him. He had felt anger like nothing he had ever felt before. Like a flame was devouring his innards, a burning sensation had formed in the pit of his stomach at Naru's words. It slowly ate away at him, until all that was left was deep, gaping hole…
He slapped himself. What was he thinking? Yuki was just some little girl that he had found in the middle of an alley. It wasn't like she was actually related to him or something. What did some stupid little girl matter to him? He should be more worried about his entrance exams! If he didn't get into Tokyo U, he would never meet his promise girl and he wouldn't be able to live happily ever after! This was no time to think about some stupid girl…
Keitaro groaned. He was the one who was stupid…He didn't know if it was love but it was obvious that he cared more about Yuki then he did about his exams or anything else. Even in the little amount of time that he had know her, Keitaro had enjoyed himself more than at any other time he could remember. It reminded him of being with his family – that warm, happy feeling that started at his toes and worked its way up to his head.
He trembled slightly. How was he going to get her to be near him again? She either hated him or was completely terrified of him. In either case, it was going to be difficult to gain back her trust. Even he knew that at such a young age, once a trust was abolished, it was nearly impossible to build it back up again. He sunk even lower into his depression. What was he going to do?
Keitaro felt a weight settle up against his arm. Looking up, he was surprised to see the little girl against him. He blinked. "Yuki…" he croaked out. Yuki blushed and took a hold of his arm. She didn't look at him but the sentiment was clear. He smiled grimly. "Did…did you forgive me?" Her hold on him tightened. That was enough of an answer for him. He smiled and leaned slightly against her. Yuki quickly fell asleep and Keitaro was falling into a daze as well. He opened an eye when he heard someone walk into the room.
Haruka was at the edge of the room, holding Rikka in her arms. She smiled softly at the two. "So…guess she forgave you, huh?"
"Yeah," he responded. "…did you say anything to her?"
"Nope. She just watched you leave and then ran after you a few minutes afterward." She chuckled. "Looks like she's really attached to you, huh?"
Yuki mutter something incomprehensible. Her grasp on his arm was like an iron grip. Keitaro laughed. "In more ways then one." He closed his eyes and chuckled sadly. "I almost really screwed up in there, didn't I, Haruka?"
"I guess…but it's not like I could blame your reaction, even if it was a little over the top. Naru didn't really have the right to call you such things. She just really doesn't know how to act around people other than her friends. Most of the girls here are like that."
His eyebrow quirked up at the odd phrase of words. For once he caught the subtle change in how Haruka said the sentence. It was rare occurrence for him and for that he was grateful…or he would have been if the catch didn't lead to a shocking revelation. "Wait. Most of the girls here are like that? What about the guys?"
Haruka smirked. "That's what I was trying to tell you before the little fiasco. Mom made some changes to Hinata House a year back before she left and…"
"Wait, wait, wait…" he interrupted. "Grandma left? "
"Uh huh. She went out to travel the world. You know – see new wonders, do great things, discover great treasures – the works. However, the change she made was a pretty big one."
"And that is…?" Keitaro dreaded what he was about to hear but plodded along anyway. It's not like he could stop what was coming from coming.
"She turned the inn to an all-girls dormitory," Haruka flatly stated.
"An all girls dormitory." She nodded.
Keitaro said nothing for a moment. He looked down at his lap, his bangs covering up most of his face. His body then began to tremble. Haruka wondered if he was crying, and when he raised his head again it appeared that he was crying. But they were tears of joy, not sadness. His whole body shook but luckily it wasn't enough to wake Yuki from her slumber. Small chuckles burst from his mouth. "Oh jeeze…" he laughed. "A girls dorm? Oh man…just my luck…And when I thought I might finally catch a break somewhere…"
She smiled ruefully. "I'm sorry, Keitaro. I can tell you had your heart set but…"
"My heart set? You're kidding me!" Haruka tilted her head at his statement. "I'm almost never came here in the first place, remember? I only found Yuki because I decided to go back home." He smiled and hugged Yuki to him a little closer. "And I'm really glad that I did. The only downside is now I have to give up on Tokyo U."
"Wait, what?" Haruka's face broke into surprise. Her voice rose several decibels. "Give up? But I thought you were already in Tokyo U. Aren't you a sophomore?"
He blanched. "What in the blazes are you talking about? I never got into-"
Keitaro jumped at the chorus of voices. He looked over to see the girls hanging around the corner. He frowned. He really wasn't in the mood to deal with any of them right now, especially not that demon girl. "What are you doing?" he called out. "Spying on us again? Didn't your parents teach you any better?"
Movement on his arm caught his attention. Yuki tiredly rubbed her eyes and yawned. Realizing that those other girls were in the same room again, she cowered against Keitaro. It seemed that by this point she had associated them with either bodily harm to Keitaro or making him turn real scary. Either way they were not people she wanted to be around.
Keitaro's frown turned deeper. "And you scared Yuki again. Are you happy now?" He ruffled Yuki's hair to try and calm her. It did the trick for she stopped huddling like an injured animal. His smile at this turned back to his former frown as he looked at the girls. "Now, what do you want?"
Naru was the first to speak up, probably because she was the one with the most gall to speak with Keitaro even after all that had transpired between the two. "Well, you said something about Tokyo U, so we were wondering if you were a student there."
Keitaro blanched. "What, do you have selective hearing or something, demon girl? I said I wasn't in Tokyo U at all. Besides, don't you have something better to do, like attack some innocent bystander or something?"
Naru stiffened and her lips formed into a tight line at the unwarranted attack. It was a low blow to be sure. Haruka thought so as well. "Keitaro!" she shouted as she jumped to her feet. "That was not needed! Apologize to Naru, now!"
"I'll apologize to her when she admits she was wrong." There was no need to clarify what she did wrong. It was evident on both his and her face. He sighed when he looked at the expression on her face. Great, he had gone off the deep end again. It had been a long time since he had last had such a stubborn streak. And twice in one day as well! It's just that there was something about that girl that really burned his insides. He stood up from the couch and took a light hold on Yuki's hand. "C'mon, Yuki, let's go outside. I think I need to cool down for a bit."
Yuki nodded, understanding that he needed the break. It was amazing how easily she understood his intentions even though they had only just met a few hours ago. She glanced at Haruka. "Rikka…" she called out in her soft voice. The cat meowed in Haruka's arms before jumping down to the ground and followed after the two. They all vanished from sight after making their way through the main entrance to the stone stairs outside.
Haruka sighed when her nephew was gone. She walked over to the girls and bowed to Naru. "I apologize for Keitaro. I've never seen him act this way before. He's usually a very sweet and kind boy. In fact…" She mentally berated herself for what she was about to say about her only nephew. "He can actually be a bit of a sissy at times. So I don't know why he's acting so belligerent. It would seem that Yuki really had a big effect on him. He's very protective of her now. You'd never think he just found her this morning…" She glanced at Naru. "You seemed to have a big effect on him too, you know."
Naru stared at her. "Me? What did I do to him?"
Haruka pulled out a new cigarette. Now that Yuki was gone, she could have one of her little pleasures without feeling guilty. She lit the end and took a puff. Blowing it out through her mouth, she said, "Gee, I don't know. Maybe punch him across the springs or accuse him of being a lolicon sex fiend?" She grimaced. "Just because Keitaro was in the wrong there doesn't mean you were completely without guilt. You did say and do some really harsh things to him."
"The pervert snuck into the hot springs! What was I supposed to do?"
"Naru, he was cleaning up Yuki!"
"A likely excuse…" It was ironic that her excuses were getting weaker by the second. Pretty soon her words wouldn't be able to hold any water at all.
"He found her sleeping near a trashcan and covered in filth. What was he supposed to do, leave her like that?" Haruka took another puff. She was starting to get very annoyed with the young tenant's refusal to back done. Persistence was one thing, being pigheaded was another. Naru had crossed that line a long time ago. "What Keitaro did was very mature. I doubt many others would have helped her out like that." She waved her hand. Her voice sounded tired when she continued. "Anyway, I'm going to go follow him. Maybe when he sees you again he'll think better of you. Lord knows he has every right not to." With that implication hanging in the air, Haruka walked out to the foyer, tapped on her shoes, and swept through the door.
She found Keitaro sitting on the top of the stone staircase that connected Hinata House to the road down below. He was absently staring down, a small smile gracing his hips. When walking up to where he was, Haruka noticed what he was smiling about.
Yuki was playing with Rikka on one of the side paths to the inn's surrounding forest. While still reserved in her movement, she was a lot more animated than she had been when Haruka had first seen her. She was slowly tapping up and down the path, dragging a fern branch behind her to tease Rikka with. The cat was pouncing on it and getting dragged along for a few inches before letting ago and repeating the entire process all over again. Yuki's face was only neutral, but her eyes were brilliantly shining with joy. Those two sapphires of hers were twinkling with the natural bliss of childhood. Keitaro was never happier seeing such an expression.
Haruka sat down next to Keitaro quietly. She took one last drag of her cigarette before grounding it into the ground, extinguishing it. She didn't speak for a few minutes, just watching Rikka along with Keitaro. After a bit, she spoke up. "She really is a sweetheart, isn't she?"
"Yeah." He said nothing else. But Haruka knew what he meant. Her nephew, even if he didn't know it yet (and she doubted he didn't, even as dense as he was), had come to adore the little girl he found sleeping in a dark and dank alleyway. One of the best aspects of Keitaro was how hard he worked when he got into something. And it appeared what he had gotten into was to make Yuki feel both safe and wanted. So far, he had done a very well job. The only problem was that he was going to be devastated when Yuki had to go back to her parents.
"So what are you going to do now?"
"What else? I'm going to take her to the police and see if we can get her parents or whoever was looking after her." His voice hitched when he said the word "parents." It seemed like Haruka's worries were dead on. He turned to her. "You think you can come with me, Haruka? I have no idea where I'm going and I think it might be better if you came with me." His added silent request did not fall on deaf ears.
"Sure thing, nephew."
He nodded and stood up. Glancing back at the inn as if trying to remember something, he shook his head, and walked to where Yuki and Rikka were playing. He scooped Rikka up in his arms. She resisted a bit but gave up quickly and instead decided to just melt into a gooey mess of cat flesh. She drooped in his arms like she had no bones. It was an odd feeling to hold something like that. Ah well…He shook his head again. Now wasn't the time to contemplate feline anatomy. Keitaro smiled gently at Yuki. "Yuki? Can you come with me and Haruka now? We're going to the police station to see if we can find your parents or someone related to you."
Yuki's face darkened. It was obvious the idea bothered her. She opened her mouth as if to speak something but then instantly closed it. She stood still for a moment and then swallowed. Then, like nothing was wrong in the first place, she smiled and nodded her head. She walked up to Keitaro, took a grip on his hand and began to walk away. Keitaro stumbled since he was not ready as she took the initiative, but quickly regained his balance and followed after her. He was not sure as to what was going on, but he could tell that Yuki was hiding something. He'd just have to wait to find out what. Haruka followed after the two with an inquisitive expression on her face.
As they made their way through the town, Keitaro and Haruka made idle conversation while Yuki just plodded on ahead, making sure to keep a grip on Keitaro's hand at all times. Haruka pointed out the various attractions of the town and talked about the tea shop that she owned near the inn. Keitaro spent his part of the conversation filling in what had happened to him in the period the two had not seen each other. The both of them had fairly amusing stories to tell, and the time it took to get to the police station was fairly light-hearted and even enjoyable.
However, upon actually arriving at the station, the mood took a complete 180. Already Keitaro could feel a vise-like grip beginning to clamp its way around his heart. He knew he had become attached to Yuki in return and that it was going tough to give her back to her parents. He found it amusing in a bittersweet way. Who would have thought that a dirty, little girl that he had discovered only because a cat had attacked him would make such a big place in his heart in such a short amount of time? But it had happened, and there was nothing he could about it but make sure that Yuki ended up happy.
Giving her hand an extra squeeze, he led Yuki into the station. Haruka heaved a sigh before following in after them. The three made their way to the main desk in the lobby. Sitting there staring at a computer was one a one of the police officers. Hearing people move up to the desk, he turned around in his chair and looked at them.
"Can I help you?" His voice was low and deep. His face resembled that of Haruka's usual one, full of apathy. It was a bit disconcerting to look at.
Keitaro was the one to answer. "Um, yes…" He gestured at Yuki. "I found this little girl in an alleyway earlier today. I was wondering if you had some information on who her parents might be."
The officer leaned over and stared at her. Yuki hid behind Keitaro's legs, a bit frightened by his gaze. He stopped and then looked at Keitaro, his eye quirked in a questioning glance. "And might there be a reason she's in swimming trunks and a shirt ten sizes too large for her?"
Keitaro froze. He did know how to answer that. Of course the officer was going to ask something like that. Girls her age normally didn't go around wearing clothes that were both the wrong gender and size for them. But if he told him just why she was in his clothes, that he had given her a bath, his actions might be misinterpreted. It was bad enough he had some random girls thinking he was a lecher, it's be even worse if the law thought so as well. He really didn't want his Good Samaritan act to become nothing more than a sex crime.
Luckily, Haruka intervened on his behalf. "It's my fault," she said. The officer looked at her, his face asking her what she meant by that. She took a deep breath internally. "My nephew is new to the area and didn't know where this station was. He brought her by my shop for help, and when he did she was filthy and her clothes were completely ruined. I had her take a bath, and he let her borrow some of his clothes. Then we came here."
The officer had a skeptical look on his face but after watching Haruka for a few moments for any signs of lying he sighed. "Very well…" He turned to the computer. "Name?"
"Her name is Yuki."
He paused, turned around and frowned at them. "First name or last?"
"Ummm…" Keitaro absently scratched his head. "I'm pretty sure it's her first."
The officer's face sunk even more. "I can't do a proper check unless I at least know her family name. There are dozens of people named Yuki. You really want to search through them all?"
"No, not at all!" Keitaro waved his hands in front of him. The officer's attitude towards them was a bit disturbing. He thought they were supposed to be friendly and helpful, not surly and rude. He wasn't about to go and say that out loud but he tucked the thought away in the back of his mind for later use. He needed to do something else at the moment. Bending down, he asked Yuki what her name was. She did not say anything for a bit but then leaned over and whispered something in his ear. He smiled and stood back up. "She said her name was Tsukihime." He languidly thought just what a cute name she had. Snow Moon Princess. But it suited it very well…
The officer nodded and turned back to the computer, typing in the information. "Yuki Tsukihime…" He hit the search button and waited for the search's replies to come up. When they did, he clicked on Yuki's profile and a screen came on. "Alright, here we go…Yuki Tsukihime. Born December 21, 1994. Parents are…" He fingers stopped and the frown returned to his face. "Well, this is definitely a problem."
"What's a problem?" Keitaro asked. Unconsciously Yuki's fingers tightened on his hand. He didn't even noticed the added pressure. "Is something wrong with Yuki's parents?"
The officer twisted the computer screen so as to face the three. "I would think so." He tapped something on the screen that froze Keitaro's and Haruka's blood. No, it couldn't be…could it…?
A/N: Well, that's the end of the chapter. I plan on continuing this fic but only if I get enough positive reviews. I don't feel like cluttering up with a story that no one feels like reading. Honestly, I hoped that you enjoyed the story as it's going to be of one of several that I'm trying to give a real mature spin too. There's going to be humor but I'm mostly going to be giving the facts of life in this fic and how they effect the people around them. What I really hoped you enjoyed was the new characters of Yuki and Rikka. I thought they would be nice new additions to the LH universe. Incidentally, both of their names are Japanese for the word snow. Just thought that might interest you. Oh, and on another side not, my birthday was a week ago. I am now 19! Yay! In any case, please review and remember, no flames!
Next Chapter: Through the Red Tape