Disclaimer: Love Hina is owned by Ken Akamatsu, not me. Should he, or any of his associates ask, this story will be removed from the web ASAP.

Stability

Part 2 – Alternation

By Random1377

"Has anyone seen Shinobu?"

Keitaro looked up from the newspaper he was glancing through. "Umm, I think she's in her room," he told Naru, smiling as his wife flopped down on the couch at his side. "She said something about a stomachache."

"Might be that time of the month," Kitsune mumbled, keeping her eyes glued to the racing schedule in her hands. "She usually starts around this time, isn't she?"

Looking a bit green, Keitaro mumbled, "Do we have to talk about that kind of stuff?"

Naru yawned and leaned against him, rubbing her eyes tiredly as she replied, "You'd think after five years of living with women you'd get used to it."

"Well, I don't discuss it with everyone," Keitaro whined.

"Anyway," Naru said after a moment of awkward silence, "she's been acting kind of weird for a couple days, haven't you guys noticed?"

Keitaro shrugged. "She took a lot of classes this term," he pointed out, "and she told me that her parents aren't doing really well with their restaurant, so…"

Naru chewed on her bottom lip. "We should lower her rent a little," she said, shooting Kitsune a quick glance. "I mean, just temporarily, not… not permanently."

"Don't get all freaked out," Kitsune said calmly. "It's not bias if someone needs a hand for a month or two… I know you'd do it for me if I really needed it."

Raising his newspaper to his eyes – more to hide his face from the others than anything else – Keitaro mumbled. "I, umm… I already did."

Naru pulled the paper down, leaning forward and giving Keitaro a deep, thorough kiss. "That's my man," she whispered softly. "I should have known you'd already have it taken care of."

"I'm going to get a drink," Kitsune announced suddenly, pausing a moment before dryly adding, "I'll be taking it on a slow walking tour of the building, which should take me about twenty minutes, before I go to my room to catch a nap. If I was a newlywed with a single tenant napping on the floor directly above me, I'd want to get any… business I had to take care of finished up before she got back to her room."

"K-Kitsune!" Keitaro stammered, going bright red. "We weren't… we…"

Rising to her feet, Naru stretched. "Twenty minutes?" she asked casually. "Well, we do need to go over the plans to fix up the pipes on the third floor, so twenty minutes should be enough time to discuss it in private."

"We do?" Keitaro wondered. "But I thought-"

"Keitaro," Naru cut in gently.

"Hmm?"

"You're so handsome."

Keitaro blinked, looking in confusion from one smiling woman to the other before giving up on deciphering what he had missed. Ultimately, he shrugged and muttered, "I thought they were fixed…"

As he made his way out of the room, Kitsune murmured to Naru, "It's a good thing he is handsome."

"I know," Naru sighed, "because he sure doesn't have a clue."

( 0 0 0 )

Kitsune liked walking around the Hinata Sou. So many memories were wrapped up in the place that every location reminded her of some adventure or another, bringing a smile to her face as she thought of days gone past and the friendship that used to flourish in the spacious dormitory.

And it's still here, Kitsune thought as she leaned up against the wall near the door to the hot springs. It's just that… everyone's grown up so much lately. I mean, Shinobu and Kaolla are both third year Todai students – third year! God, I remember when they were barely high school students.

Taking a sip of her root beer, Kitsune closed her eyes.

And then there's Keitaro and Naru… she mused. No one's changed as much as they have.

"H-hi Kitsune…"

Opening her eyes, Kitsune found Shinobu approaching her from further up the hallway. "Hey squirt," she said playfully, "feeling any better?"

Shinobu absently rubbed her stomach, as if remembering the pain she had recently been in. "Yeah," she said, speaking cautiously in case mentioning the pain brought it back. "The pain's gone, but I'm all sweaty. I think I had a fever."

"Aww, you should have told me," Kitsune said gently, giving the girl a playful wink. "I would have put cool towels on your brow and made your favorite meal – just like a good wife should."

Laughing weakly, Shinobu said, "I wouldn't have liked that… the… the sheets on my bed felt weird while I was lying there – like they were too rough or something. I think a towel would have made me cry."

"Damn," Kitsune chuckled, "that must have been one hell of a fever."

Shinobu looked out at the hot springs. "Yeah, but I'm better now," she said. "Better than better, actually… I feel really good."

Kitsune nodded. "I know what you mean," she said. "When you're sick, it seems like it'll never end, so when you get better, it's like you've never felt as good in your whole life."

"Yeah – yeah!" Shinobu said excitedly. "That's it exactly! I've never… I can't remember ever feeling this good. Maybe it's the medicine I-"

Oddly, she cut herself off.

"…the medicine I took when I started getting sick."

Kitsune shrugged. "Must be."

Weird, she thought, eyeing the girl thoughtfully. It's like she didn't want me to know she took medicine to get better. She's always trying so hard to be grown up… it's kind of sad, sometimes – like we'll think less of her if she has to take a few pills to get over a fever…

"It's so hot today," Shinobu commented suddenly, pulling her shirt away from her chest and letting it fall back to create a puff of air. "Don't you think it's hot today?"

"Maybe a little," Kitsune shrugged. "You want some of my soda?"

"Yes, please," the younger girl exclaimed, licking her lips in anticipation as Kitsune held out the can. Holding it up to her lips, Shinobu took a long sip, her eyes going wide as if she had never tasted anything as flavorful in her life. After a moment, she took another, slower sip, keeping the root beer in her mouth for several moments before swallowing it with an audible gulp. "This is so good," she exclaimed once she had swallowed, "can I have it?"

Kitsune blinked, surprised by the suddenness of the request. "Well, umm… sure… I guess."

I WAS kind of thirsty, she added mentally, watching the younger girl take another sip, but if you like it that much… whatever…

"Thank you, Kitsune," Shinobu said happily, giving the gray-haired girl a radiant smile. "Thank you so much!"

"Easy," Kitsune snorted, "it's just a soda."

But Shinobu's smile was so infectious that Kitsune could not help but smile back.

Abruptly, Shinobu stepped forward and put her arms around Kitsune's waist. "I like you," she said bluntly, smiling up into Kitsune's stunned face. "I like you a lot, Kitsune, you're so nice."

"Umm… thanks…?"

Nodding happily, Shinobu let go of Kitsune and wandered off down the hall, humming under her breath and taking little sips of her root beer.

Kitsune watched her going with a confused expression, then frowned and headed back into the kitchen for another drink. Gives me an excuse to stay away from my room, she thought ironically, They've still got five minutes.

( 0 0 0 )

Naru sighed contentedly as she settled into the hot springs, splashing a bit of the warm water onto her face before settling back against a rock and letting her muscles unwind. Man, she thought happily, I thought coming here after a workout was relaxing, but coming here after… wow, just wow…

Things, in her opinion, could not have been going better. Her teaching job was stable, after a few false starts and hesitations, and Keitaro's archeology digs did not keep him away as much as they had thought, making each homecoming a sweet, passionate affair.

Leave it to Kitsune to move into my old room so we never have any privacy, she thought, trying not to roll her eyes. I mean, I know it's bigger than her old one, and that Ema girl needed a place, but we're newlyweds! I don't want to have to be quiet, damn it!

She blushed, sinking a little lower in the water at this amoral thought.

There was no way, she knew, Kitsune would ever let her hear the end of it if the gray-haired girl found out that Naru was a screamer. I can't help it, she thought, smiling wickedly as she thought of her most recent encounter with her husband, and I haven't heard HIM complain, so I guess-

A soft splash drew her attention, and looking up, she found Shinobu settling into the water five feet away from her. "Hi," she said politely, hoping that her cheeks were not so red that Shinobu would notice. "Feeling better?"

Shinobu nodded, setting what looked like a can of root beer down on the rock next to her and submerging herself entirely before coming up spluttering and coughing. "No," she coughed as Naru started towards her, "no, I'm ok, I just forgot to close my nose."

"Oh," Naru said, still looking concerned as Shinobu coughed a few more drops of water from her mouth. "Umm, ok, well… ok…"

Leaning against her rock, Shinobu let her body float in the warm water. "This feels so good," she said wonderingly. "I never really noticed how good it feels to just… float, before."

Reminded of her recent thoughts, Naru replied, "I know exactly what you mean."

The two shared a smile – the kind that only people enjoying the same simple pleasure could – and lapsed into silence. For several moments, they simply drifted together, keeping their thoughts to themselves, before Shinobu slowly made her way over to Naru's side, putting her back up against the same rock and staring down into the water for some time before finally speaking.

"What's it like?"

"Well," Naru said slowly, "it's like being weightless… drifting and warm and-"

Shinobu blushed as she cut in, "I wasn't talking about the water."

Smiling gently, Naru whispered, "Neither was I, Shinobu…"

"Is it… is this ok?" Shinobu asked awkwardly. "Can I talk to you about this kind of stuff…?"

Naru sighed. "It's… kind of weird, but I guess there really isn't anyone else to talk to about it besides Kitsune, so… sure."

Shinobu looked relieved. "Sorry I asked so suddenly," she said weakly.

"I don't really mind," Naru assured her, "but why the sudden interest?" She nudged Shinobu in the ribs. "Do you have a boyfriend, Shinobu?" she teased, clapping with delight as Shinobu hid her face with her hands. "You sneak – you do, don't you?"

Clearing her throat, Shinobu replied, "I, umm… I just want to know what it's like, that's all…"

"Mmm, ok," Naru said, sobering for a moment. "But if you are, you know… in that kind of relationship, make sure you've really thought it out before… you know." Brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, she whispered, "Keitaro and I waited a long time before… before being together. You don't have to rush, Shinobu, and don't ever let him pressure you, ok?"

Shinobu nodded. "So… what's it like…?" Before Naru could reply, the younger girl added, "Does it hurt?"

Naru's answer was immediate. "Yes. It hurt like hell the first time."

"Then why keep doing it?" Shinobu wondered, looking honestly curious. "I mean… why keep doing something that hurts that bad?"

"It, umm… because I knew it would feel good if I kept trying," Naru said awkwardly.

"But how did you know?" Shinobu insisted softly. "If you only had the first time to go on… how did you know it would ever feel good?"

"I just… I knew," Naru blurted. "People talk, I've… I've read about it, and-"

"What if they were wrong?"

"Huh?"

"What if, for you, it never felt good?" Shinobu asked leaning forward and studying Naru's eyes closely as she lowered her voice. "How many times would you have tried it, if it kept not feeling good? Once? Twice? A hundred? How many times would it take before you decided it was never going to feel good for you?"

"But it does," Naru insisted, feeling very confused by the odd line of questioning. "It feels… it feels incredible – it only hurt the first time, really… well, and a little bit the second time, but every time after that, it's been really, really…" she fumbled for words, "…nice."

"Nice," Shinobu echoed, rolling the word around in her mouth as if trying to taste it. "It's funny, isn't it?" she said thoughtfully, resting her cheek on Naru's shoulder and staring down at the older woman's body. "People keep doing things that hurt thinking that somehow it'll end up feeling better eventually. Isn't that… kind of crazy?"

Naru glanced pensively at the top of the girl's head. "Did… did it already happen, Shinobu? Is that why you've been hiding in your room for the past couple days?"

For a moment, she was sure that this was the answer. It just seemed to fit the girl's reclusive behavior and tired appearance, but Shinobu slowly shook her head, easing herself closer to Naru's side as she yawned, "I'm gonna… rest for a minute… k?"

"Ok," Naru said, wondering if perhaps she had missed some sort of clue in the girl's odd commentary on pain.

"I'll bet…" Shinobu paused for another yawn. "I'll bet it's nice because it's Keitaro…"

Naru smiled. "That could be," she admitted. "He's really gentle and…"

She trailed off as a soft snore rose from the dark-haired girl at her side. Shrugging, she settled in and put an arm around Shinobu's shoulders, letting her nap until she too drifted off. Her dreams were pleasant, if a bit on the erotic side – and though she would never tell Shinobu about it, one of them revolved around the two of them making out rather heavily in the Hinata Sou's living room while Shinobu asked her questions about life and love between brief, yet searing kisses.

When Naru woke, her face was flushed and her breathing was short and fast – just as it always was when she finished making love to Keitaro. Shinobu, it seemed, had not moved since Naru drifted off, though on her face was a small, content little smile that, for reasons Naru could not explain, made the older woman very, very uncomfortable.

Continued…

Notes: no notes except that chapter 1 is absent for a reason.

Hawker-748 pre-read.