Chapter 1: It Began

It began as it had always begun with Keitaro Urishma – with a misunderstanding.

It was a rough day of studying for Naru Narusegawa, first year ronin and Tokyo University inspiree. All she had thought about was taking a nice soak in the natural hot spring just behind the Hinata apartments. "I wonder how that pervert is going to try to peek on me today," she silently mused. Sliding the door that led to the hot spring open, Naru was shocked by the scene before her. Her higher brain functions arrested at the sight. Shinobou, the youngest resident at the Hinata apartments, was lying on the ground naked with Keitaro's mouth over hers. A voice in her mind shouted, "Keitaro is molesting Shinobou!"

A head-strong and impulsive girl, Naru instantly reached the least probable of explanations of what was happening. "You Pervert," she screamed. Naru's infamous rage sprung into action, letting loose a "Naru punch" that could liquefy concrete. Keitaro looked up and knew what was coming. "Shit, I don't have time for this," he thought. Keitaro Urishima was a gentle man. Though highly capable in the martial arts, he had never raised a finger against his tenants, which often gave the misleading perception that he was weak. Far from it. He simply did not want to hurt anyone, even if it meant more pain for himself. Normally, he would just take the hit from Naru and let things be. However, a life was on the line.

"No time," he whispered to himself.

Then in a blur, he disappeared from Naru's field of vision. Before she could register what was happening, Keitaro appeared next to her and slammed his fist into her gut. She collapsed onto the floor, losing herself to the pain. An instant later, he was kneeling down next to Shinobou.

"Oh God Shinobu, wake up!"

Motoko was in her room meditating, trying to resolve the emotional conflict raging within her. Ever since she could carry a blade, Motoko had lived her life in accordance with bushido - the way of the warrior. When other girls her own age were exploring romance and love, she focused only on honing her skills as a swordswoman. She believed romance was an indulgence of weak minds. She had a greater disdain for men, believing them only capable of guile and perversion. Her belief was unshakeable, that is until he came into her life. At first, she thought of him as just another typical male - weak and beyond redemption. Yet over time, he had shown her a compassion and kindness that she had never known before. "How could a vile creature show such qualities," she often wondered to herself. To compound her confusion, recently, she began to feel flushed and queesy when ever she was near him. Her first thought on her condition had been something she vehemently rejected after it had popped into her mind - she was in love.

"Motoko Aoyamma could not possibly in love with a weakling male," she desperately tried to convince herself, but failing to do so adequately. In truth, she wanted to be near him, but she fought this feeling with all her might. She was a proud warrior, not some silly school girl with a crush. Her conflicting emotions bubbled to the surface as she slammed her fist into the ground, her composure lost. It was then she heard Naru screaming from the hot springs.

She leapt into action, carrying with the sword that Keitaro had given her – the Hina blade. He had given his family's heirloom to her and with it, her second chance at regaining her happiness. He did so without hesitation. Her pulse quickened remembering that rainy night when she had poured out her fears and self-doubts to him. Her anger grew at the memory of her own weakness. As she neared the patio, she knew that whatever affront that the manager had committed, it would not justify her up-coming action, but such doubts were quickly repressed by an ever greater urge to free herself from her confusion. She was going to attack him, as she had done countless times before for his past transgressions. She needed to purge these "useless emotions," and nothing was as effective as dispensing her own sense of justice on the very source of her torment.

"Urishima," she declared with an authoritative voice.

Like Naru before her, Motoko was shocked by what she was seeing. Naru was lying naked on the ground unconscious, her towel blown off by the force of Keitaro's punch. So was Shinobu in a similiar state of undress. Keitaro, his back to Motoko, was hovering above Shinobu, touching her chest – her naked chest!

Motoko's trance was broken when Keitaro abruptly knelt down and placed his mouth over Shinobu's. A blind rage took hold of her, her blade raised. Her inner voice raged, "how could I ever love such a loathesome creature who would harm and molest two innocent girls!"

He had felt her presence the moment she entered the patio area. His muscles tensed from the rising anxiety he was experiencing. He knew that Motoko would misinterpret the siuation like Naru had and attack him. Seeing the blue in Shinobu's cheeks, he also knew that he had little time. Motoko drew in a sharp breath, preparing to launch a devastating ki attack, but from nowhere, a wash bucket had collided with her chin, knocking her onto the ground. Keitaro, feeling the attack coming, took the second between chest compressions to throw the nearby bucket at her with uncanny accuracy, hoping to buy him some more time. The blow would have knocked out any normal person, but Motoko was a trained warrior. She had suffered harsher blows from her sister. Her fury reached new heights at the man before her. Feelings of disgust for not being able to dodge a bucket thrown by a weakling mixed with the earlier feeling of betryal began to cloud the normally sound mind of Motoko Aoyamma. It was in that moment, when Keitaro reached down to give Shinobu his breath, did she snapped. He felt Motoko's movement, but he had to help Shinobu - no matter the cost. "Dammit, not now, can't you see that she's hurt," Keitaro said with clenched teeth. Motoko could not hear him over the roar of her own heart beats. She charged him, but in her haste, did not pay any attention to the slick patio surface. She lost her footing and lunged forward. He felt the cold steel pierced his lung from behind. He winced as the blade, now protruding from his chest, grew longer and longer as it was driven further into his body. He could taste the mixture of blood and bile rising into his throat.

"No time," his mind screamed.

With fierce determination, he lunged backwards, forcing Motoko to step back, while the entire blade of her sword was forced through his body. Motoko's mind was too lost in her emotions to hear the sickening sound of flesh being pierced. She had given herself to her bloodlust, and all that was in her mind was a single thought: "Must strike him down."

As the distance between the two closed, Keitaro reached down and grabbed for her lower region. The sudden touch made Motoko squeel like a school girl. The sensation also made her tighten her grip on her sword, something Keitaro was hoping for.

Caught up in the confusion, Motoko barely noticed that Keitaro had readjusted his weight. In less than a moment, he propelled himself forward as Motoko was stumbling backwards. The sword was pulled out of him by the sheer force of his momentum – blood spurting from his wounds.

She felt the warm droplets hit her face, several managed to land on her lips – the taste of blood releasing her primal instincts. Her anger erupted. "Die you perverted male!"She slashed him again, his back arched from the pain. He could feel the cut on his back. It was deep. From the sound, the sword had hit bone – his shoulder blade. He cried out,"No time!" Seconds had elapsed since Motoko arrived on the scene, but it would end quickly. Keitaro, praying for forgiveness, launched a devastating spinning hook kick towards her chest. It connected, launching her towards the far wall. The impact exploded pain throughout her body. Before the blackness took her, Motoko thought she had heard someone asking: "please forgive me." Keitaro, broken and bleeding, returned to Shinobou. She hadn't been breathing for the past two minutes. He continued with the CPR, hoping his limited training was enough.

It was Sarah who had alerted Keitaro to Shinobu's accident. Minutes earlier, she had burst into his room, interrupting his studies. She was scared and crying, the words choked by her sobs. She was in her bathing suit. She was wet. Keitaro felt the fear bubbling in him. He didn't know what was happening, but he knew it was bad. "Shinobu," was the only intelligible word he could decipher from the babbling young American.

Knowing that time was against him, Keitaro sprung into action, heading for the direction that Sarah had come from. He ran towards the hot springs, almost knocking over Kitsune on his way. Yelling back to her, "Kitsune, follow me, I think Shinobu's hurt!" She was right behind him when she stopped at the entrance. Su was holding Shinobu's head above the water, pleading, "Help her Keitaro, She's not breathing!"

Keitaro leapt into the hot spring, picked Shinobu up into his arms, and launched out of the water with incredible speed. He laid her out on the smooth stone patio and checked her pulse – nothing. He fought the panic trying to break free from his heart. Looking to Kitsune, he spoke with a voice booming with conviction but not overwrought with emotion, "Kitsune, call the ambulance and take Su and Sarah with you. Then call Haruka, GO!"

Su and Sarah was about to protest, but one look into his eyes and the girls knew that it was better to follow his orders – he had given them orders and they weren't about to disobey.

The moment they left, Keitaro returned his attention to the girl before him. At age 15, Shinobu looked more like a 10 year old, with her innocent features and underdeveloped body. She was a kindness and goodness that Keitaro treasured. She was turning blue. She was dying.

"No, dammit, you can't die Shinobu!" He began to administer CPR. Time passed excruciatingly slow for Keitaro. "Where's the damn ambulance," he thought. Suddenly, he heard a gasp behind him.

It was Naru.

Naru's eyes began to flutter open. Her body broke out into a series of aches and pain. "What hit me," she muttered to herself. She heard a wet coughing sound a few feet to her left. She opened her eyes and found Shinobu's body shuttering, wheezing for air. Her eyes widen when she saw Keitaro draping over her after turning Shinobu on her side. The memory of what had just transpired flashed through her mind, the anger rising at an exponential rate.

It was the blood that killed her rage. "Where did all this blood come from," Naru thought. She tried to speak, but found that her body was not following her commands as of yet. Suddenly, her cognitive functioning spurred into action, piecing together the fragmented memories into one coherent thought.

"Shinobou was unconscious, wet, near the hot spring. Keitaro's mouth was covering hers, not kissing her. He was pounding on her chest, not fondling her breasts. Did she drown? Was he saving her? Oh, god, what have I done," panicked Naru.

"URISHIMA," an ugly growl could be heard.

Naru's eyes widen with fear. She knew that voice. "Oh no, Motoko, don't, please don't," Naru screamed, but her vocal chords remained silent. She saw Motoko standing up from the floor a few feet away, her sword clearly in hand.

Keitaro tried to speak, but exhaustion kept his tongue silent. He tried to stand. "Keep her from Shinobu," his mind uttered. The loss of blood had taken its toll. No longer able to maintain his balance, Keitaro tumbled forward toward Motoko.

"Lecherous Male, is there no end to your pervasion!" Summoning her full strength, she was about to unleash a massive Ki attack, when Shinobu choked up more water and whimpered a single word, "sempai."

In a moment, Motoko's mind arrived at the same conclusion that Naru reached just a few seconds earlier– it was too late.

Motoko's was able to hold back the ki that fueled her technique, but the physical thrust of her blade had already been executed. Without the Ki to push him backwards, Keitaro stumbled onto the blade, piercing his chest with a sickening sound. He screamed for what seemed like an eternity to Motoko, before the pain and loss of blood was too much to bear for him. He collapsed onto the floor, falling onto his side.

Motoko stood there motionless, seeing the blood spurt into the air in terrible slow motion.

"What have I done?"

Chapter 2: Then you died

She was meditating just a few minutes ago. Now, her immaculate white gi was covered in blood – blood she had spilt.

Keitaro was laying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position – the Hina blade struck through him. Blood pooled around him.

Motoko knelt beside him, and raised the dying man into her arms, her tears streaming down in torrents. "Please don't die Keitaro, please I'll do anything, just don't die," she cried. She held him tightly, hoping that she could keep his life from floating away.

"You can't die, Keitaro. You just can't, you have to live here…with us…with me…"she stammered, her tears raining down on him.

The pain had subsided. He just felt tired – an exhaustion that he had never felt before – as if he was dying. No, he couldn't be dying. He still had a promise to keep. His body was growing numb. "Maybe I could rest, just a little," he thought.

His face, it was wet. Is it raining? He looked up and saw a vision of beauty starring back at him. At first, he thought it was an angel. "How nice," he thought, "angels seeing me off to heaven. Wait - no…it's not an angel…its Motoko." The memories rushed him all at once. The attack, the blood, Shinobu!

He wanted to speak, but only coughed up blood. The sight of which had struck Motoko's heart with the force of sledgehammer. He made another attempt of speaking, but was only able to throw out a single word: "Shinobu?"

By this time, Motoko was wailing almost hysterically, rocking him back and forth in her arms. Snapping out of her own spiraling descent into madness, she heard Keitaro speak. "Shinobu?" he asked again.

His words had calmed her some, givin her the strenght to speak, "Yes, Shinobu's okay, you saved her, Keitaro." Motoko said through her tears.

After coughing up the rest of the blood that had filled his airway, he replied in a slow and tortured whisper, "Good…don't…cry…Mot – oko."

Her eyes clenched shut, too ashamed of looking at the man that she had hurt. She wanted to tell him that it was all her fault and that she was so stupid, but her vocal chords clamped shut and the only sound she could make was a pained whimper.

His breathing was shallow at this point. The words burned in his throat, but he forced them out.


Her eyes sprung open, meeting his gaze. The color had drained away from his face, leaving behind only a ghastly paleness that accentuated the deep brown of his eyes. His breathing had deteriorated into spasms.

He felt the coldness grip him, but he could not tear himself from the sad beauty he saw above him. He slowly reached for her cheeks, but faltered. Motoko, seeing his hand, caught it and held it against her cheek before it could fall.

He smiled. "Tell Naru…love…her."

Motoko's heart shattered at those words. She wanted to break down and die at this moment, but seeing Keitaro struggling to speak – to live – she kept her composure, but just barely.

His breathing slowed to a few pants. His fingers lost all strength. Staring into Motoko's eyes, he uttered a final word before the darkness took him: "beautiful."

He was gone.

The sun was finally setting over the Hinata apartments. The sound of ambulance sirens could be heard in the distance, but the pedestrians on the sidewalks kept walking without notice. Then suddenly, above the din, came a sound that struck at the very souls of the people who could hear it. It was the sound of someone wailing, a wretched cry filled with such suffering that it filled the very air with an oppressive weight. The witnesses still tell the story of that day. One man would tell his son that it was the day he could never forget, it was the day he thought he heard an angel cry.

Chapter 3:Wake up

Incoherent thoughts and sensations ran through his mind as he regained some semblance of consciousness. Memories could not be distinguished from sensations. Thoughts melded into feelings. The chaos produced panic, a blanket panic that shook him to his core.

Off in the distance, he saw a light. Dim at first, but as the slit grew so did the intensity, until the light became so intense, it blinded all other sensation.

The images were blurred, more like bleeding colors running into each other. Slowly, his eyes adjusted and the images sharpened until he could see shapes. The first thing he saw was the white sheets, then the clock hanging on the far wall. It read 5 o'clock.

His body felt like a prison and a deep urge billowed out from him to move. His arms began to stir but floundered. He was about to lift himself from the bed that he was lying on when he heard the sound of plates crashing.

He turned his head to the source of the noise and was surprised to see a beautiful woman, dressed in a yellow sundress, with flowing raven black hair staring back at him. Only one word escaped her lips.


Disoriented, confused, Keitaro struggled to decipher what was happening to him. He asked,

"Where am I?"

The woman was too overwhelmed with emotions to answer his question. All she could say in response was "Keitaro."

She spoke with such earnest and love that Keitaro's heart quivered. She approached him, slowly at first, but when it became apparent that it wasn't a dream – that he really was awake, she rushed to him, embracing him. The tears flowed freely, cascading down her face.

Keitaro had never experienced such tenderness from a woman before, especially from someone so beautiful. Not wanting to interrupt the wonderful feelings he was experiencing, but curiosity got the better of him. He tried to speak, but found his throat terribly parched. He swallowed to coax some salivia down to lubricate the words out. Eventually, he was able to whisper, "Excuse me ma'am, but who are you, and where am I?"

The beautiful woman looked up from her embrace, tears still streaking down her cheeks. Her eyes were so filled with pain at his words that he flinched. He hadn't meant to hurt her, but his questions seemed innocent enough.

"It's me Keitaro, Motoko."

He flinched at the name. Images of a sword slashing at him, blood splattering against the floor flooded his mind. Pain shot out from his back and chest. His eyes widened with fear.

Motoko saw the fear in his face. Her tears came down in greater waves, and she clutched him tightly, burying her face into his chest. She began sobbing uncontrollably. The sudden movement frightened Keitaro even more, but his fear quickly dissipated when he felt the wetness across his chest. Her tears were bleeding through his shirt.

"Please don't be afraid of me Keitaro," she stammered out, trying to choke back her sobs but failing miserably.

The words struck him hard. This was not the Motoko he knew.

Out of instinct, Keitaro's arms wrapped around the weeping young woman, bringing her closer to him. She responded by embracing him tighter than before, clinging onto him like a newborn.

She continued to weep in his arms for nearly an hour. He held her close and strummed her long dark hair with his free hand. He didn't know why Motoko was so sad, but as her friend and manager, he was going to be there for her.

When the weeping stopped, the two stayed in their positions. A few excruciating minutes went by before Motoko began to speak with her head still buried in his chest.

She was telling him of all that had gone on since he was in a coma.

Motoko and the rest of the Hinata residents followed him to the ambulance. When they arrived, Haruka, who was in the ambulance with him, told them that the doctors had pronounced him dead on arrival. Something happened with Motoko, but he couldn't make out the muffled words. Later, Motoko was hospitalized. She didn't see what happened, but was told about it later. A nurse had ran up to Haruka and told her that Keitaro was alive. His heart suddenly started to beat again. The doctors couldn't explain it – his heart had stopped. His pupils were dilated. He should have been dead. Haruka would later say that she should have known: "He's immortal you know."

Unfortunately, his wounds were grave and the lack of oxygen to his brain had taken its toll. He was in a coma and most likely suffered severe brain damage. None of the doctors expected him to wake up, but he pulled off one miracle – why not another? That was five years ago.

"Five years." Keitaro couldn't believe it. He's been asleep for five years. What happened to his family, to his friends, what happened to Naru? She looked up and saw the bewildered expression on his face.

"A lot of things have changed Keitaro…" she began to say but was interrupted by his single question.

"Where's Naru?"

Motoko turned away from his penetrating gaze, unable to answer him. She then reburied her face back into his chest, and began to weep once more.

His anger rose but was quickly suppressed. He wanted answers, but Motoko was in pain. No, he could wait until she was ready. Such was a man like Keitaro.

Chapter 4: In America

They had fallen asleep in each others arms. When Motoko woke up, she found herself in the arms of the man she loved, the man she had harmed so many years ago. .

"It wasn't a dream," she said to herself quietly, "He's really awake."

Taking care not to wake him, Motoko left his embrace and went to get the doctor. As she hung up the phone, she felt the urge to make another phone call - this one to a certain young girl in Japan.

Then an image of Haruka appeared in her mind, reminding her of all that had transpired in the past five years. Hesitant at first, Motoko finally set the phone down and walked away to await the doctor. "Not yet," she thought to herself.

Keitaro awoke just in time to see a young lady dressed in a white coat walk into the room followed by Motoko. He was surprised to see that lady in question was white. He spoke, but she looked at him blankly. She replied back, but in English.

"She's obviously a doctor, but why is she speaking English," wondered Keitaro.

Motoko saw the confused expression in his face.

"Keitaro, I do not wish to frighten you, but we are not in Japan. We're in America and this is Doctor Justine Smith. She has been treating you with a special medicine not available in Japan. That's why we're here."

Keitaro's mind lurched. He looked at her again, asking, "America?"

"Keitaro, I'll answer all your questions, but first let the doctor examine you to make sure you are healthy."

After a few seconds of contemplation, he nodded his head, saying, "hai."

The doctor finished her examination and told them both that Keitaro would be fine. The doctor still couldn't believe how resilient his body was. It had shown no sign of atrophy from his long dormancy. Motoko could only reply, "He's always been unique that way." After arraning an office appointment for later next week, Justine packed up her equipment and made ready to leave.

After escorting the doctor out, Motoko knew what she had to do next. She would not lie to him. She would tell him the truth of why they were in America. It was hard for her. The truth would hurt him.

In her dreams, she had hoped to be with him forever, but she knew that the truth would rob her of her dreams. It would take him from her. Her sin was too great for even Keitaro to forgive.

She was prepared to die for him, but not before he was strong enough to leave and reclaim the life that she had taken from him. Her tanto was close at hand, waiting for that day to arrive.

Chapter 5: A walk in park

"Did the doctor leave?"

Motoko looked back at the voice from behind. It was Keitaro. He was dressed in a simple outfit that she had laid out for him before the doctor had arrived.

"Keitaro, the doctor said you shouldn't be moving around for another day or so, get back to bed," she replied.

"Don't worry, I feel fine. In fact, I don't think I ever want to lie down again. Hey, I know, let's go out for a walk. I get to stretch my legs and you can tell me what's been going on for the past five years."

Motoko was going to refuse him, but looking into his dark brown eyes tore through her conviction as if it was rice paper.

"Okay, but only for an hour, and only around the block. You're still weak."

"Yes, Ma'am," he gingerly replied.

Keitaro looked at the house he was staying in. It was a simple one floor building, much smaller than the Hinata apartments. It had a small courtyard, not much bigger than the hot spring area. He noticed that the house was situated in a small suburban area. They were some kids playing a few houses down and a large SUV had just passed them by.

"So where in America are we?"

"A small town called Piscataway, it's in New Jersey," she replied.

"New Jersey, where's that?"

"It's next to New York City," she replied. Anticipating his next question, Motoko further added, "We're here because there's a medical university nearby that had the treatment you needed to get better."

"I see," he replied. "Well, tell me more. Fill me in. Where's everybody?"

She remained silent for a few moments, trying to organize her thoughts into a cohesive stream. Then suddenly, she reached for his hand and held it firmly. Keitaro was puzzled by her actions, but after holding her in his arms for so long, he was no longer panicked by her touch.

"There's a park nearby. Let's go there and I'll tell you everything," she said.

Keitaro just nodded his head. The walk was pleasant. The park was only a few blocks away. It was larger than the one he played in as a child, but not as clean. The chains on the swing set were already rusting and crab grass had made its home in the cracks in the sidewalk that surrounded the play area. They stopped and sat on a bench overlooking a sand box. For a moment, he remembered the time Naru had found him in a similar sand box back in Japan. It was a good memory.

Several minutes had passed in silence since Keitaro and Motoko sat down. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but the vision of Motoko weeping in his arms made him wary of asking them.

Still, it was surprisingly pleasant to sit next to his friend on such a peaceful day, even if he was thousands of miles from his home – thousands of miles from Naru.

Suddenly, he felt something in his hand, it was warm and soft. He glanced down and saw to that Motoko was holding his hand. His first instinct was to panic, but that feeling quickly dissipated as he remembered the night before. He simply brushed his thumb over her fingers and let it be.

Motoko closed her eyes in response and let out a gentle sigh. She was living her dream – her and Keitaro, sitting peacefully together. "But I hurt him, wronged him, and took his happiness from him, I don't deserve to be happy," she thought. Her anxiety began to rise. Keitaro recognized the tension in her immediately.

Trying to deflate the situation, Keitaro broke the silence: "I remember playing in a sand box just like that one back in Hinata."

Motoko snapped out of her spiraling self-condemnation and turned her head towards him. Her eyes began to tear up, and quickly she cast her eyes back to the ground, saying barely above a whisper, "with Naru."

Keitaro's eyes widen with the comment. He then saw that his seemingly innocent remark had the opposite affect then intended. Motoko's hair, draping over her face, had masked her pained expression, but the barren concrete below showed splotches of wetness where her tears had landed.

He hated to see Motoko crying. It tore through his heart like a serrated dagger. He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Soon, the tears abated, and she looked up at him, trying to summon the strength to tell him what he wanted to know, to tell him about Naru.

"What's happening," Motoko asked herself. Keitaro was embracing her. His head buried in the crook of her neck, and he whispered, "I'll always be here for you Motoko, I promise." He then released her and looked into her eyes, hoping that she would let go of her pain.

"Tell me Motoko, what happened to…"

These were the words she dreaded to hear. He was going to ask about Naru. She could not stand to put the man she loved in any more pain, but she also could not deny him the truth. She owed him that much. Marshalling what little strength that she had left, she was about to tell him everything when his final word shattered her resolve.


At first, Motoko did not know what Keitaro was asking of her. Then she felt his thumb brushing against her palm, turning it over so he could confirm what he thought he had saw the night before. She looked down and found that his other hand had started to gently probe the scar on her wrist. She tried pulling her hand away, but Keitaro would not release her. "No, please don't," Motoko whimpered, but he would not stop.

He slowly lifted up her sleeve and gasped at what he saw. Her once flawless porcelain skin was marred with a series of scars of varying sizes and patterns. One in particular was from a deep gash across her vein – a potentially lethal wound.

His fingers were light at first, touching gently as if he feared of reopening wounds that have been healed years ago. He was transfixed by what he saw. He could almost feel the pain buried in each of the scars littering her arm. Slowly, his fingers gave way to his palms, as he gently massaged her forearm, trying to erase the pain he saw etched into her flesh.

The tears started to collect along his clenched eyes. He did not have the strength to look up to see her face. With his voice cracking, he asked, "Was it because of me?"

Something in his voice renewed her resolve. "He's blaming himself," a voice shot through her mind. This kind man was blaming himself for her decisions. Her back stiffen and the cool demeanor of her youth had returned to her face. She gently, but firmly reached for Keitaro's chin, and raised his head up until they were eye level.

She saw a single tear break free on his face. Instinctively, she reached for it and wiped it away before it passed his lips. She spoke with a calm even tone.

"The night you were in the hospital. They said you had died. I felt like I had died as well. When the other residents were huddled together, grieving. I walked away. No one noticed. I don't blame them. They hated me at that point for what I had done to you. I hated myself even more. So I went to the bathroom and just sat in the stall. I took out my tanto and next thing I knew, I felt the numbness. Haruka was the one who discovered me. She went to the bathroom to gather some tissues for everyone. She saw the blood collecting on the floor. I don't remember much after that, but when I came to, I was in the ICU with my arms restrained. My sister was there. She had told me that you were alive. I was glad, but the pain in my heart was still there. I had hurt you and I could never forgive myself for that."

Pausing to collect herself, she took both his hands into her own, and looked away into the distance. With the same even tone, she continued.

"After I was released from the hospital, I became quite despondent. I did not care if I lived or died. I don't know why the police did not arrest me. I've been told that Haruka intervened. I never asked how she did it or why, and she never cared to explain herself. I went back home to Kyoto under my sister's care. Those were slow and terrible days for me. I refused to eat or leave my room. I rarely slept. I began to cut myself soon after I arrived. I just wanted to feel pain. I was a silly girl with a notion that some justice would be served by self-mutilation. My sister discovered the wounds and had me kept under constant watch. I tried several times to kill myself, but my sister would always be there to stop me."

Keitaro sat there, listening to her story. He could not believe what he was hearing. "Motoko, trying to commit suicide, never," he thought. But the proof was in front of him, forever carved into her flesh. He gazed upon her face, and saw the pain in her expression, masked behind a calm veneer. He wanted to stop her from reliving her past and just hold her in his arms until all the hurt in her soul was gone. More than anything, he wanted to take away her painful memories.

"My sister, in an act of desperation, contacted Haruka and asked her for her help. She came to Kyoto. I remember when she first entered my room. I had not noticed her until she spoke to the student watching over me. She then walked over to me and before I knew it, I was sprawled on the floor. She had struck me across the face with the back of her fist. I can still feel the impact to this day. Then she said something to me. Keitaro would want you to live, so live for him – you selfish bitch. Then she walked out and left Kyoto. I just laid there on the floor, mulling over her words. I knew that you had survived, but I did not want to live because I was the one who had harmed you."

It was at this moment, her mask began to crack. Tears threaten to break free from her eyes. She felt the tanto at her breast, where it was kept at all times. She so desperately wanted to unsheathe the blade and strike herself down with it, but she fought the urge with all her might. "No," she screamed in her mind, "not yet."

She then turned to him, here eyes filled with determination and conviction. She spoke again, "I then realized the truth behind Haruka's words. What happened to me was my decision – a decision I made out of my own selfish desires. So please Keitaro, don't blame yourself for my stupidity and selfishness. I also realized that my life was no longer mine to throw away. My body was no longer mine to abuse. My life and body are yours Keitaro. I vowed that day that I would never leave your side, that I would serve you until my death. I give myself to you freely. I accept any punishment you see fit. This is my atonement for the sins I committed against you – my vow to keep."

Keitaro was struck dumb by her declaration. "What does she mean life and body?" he thought to himself. Could she possibly mean…no, stop it you pervert, get a hold of yourself…she's serious. His mind attempted to absorb her words, but it was floundering. His obtuse and narrow-minded mentality protected him from the overwhelming implications of his predicament, but it also prevented him from coping with her blatant and direct confession.

It was her eyes that gave him his resolve. She had meant every word. This was no time for the blame game. He needed to say something to help his friend. The words came to him from deep within. Breathing deep and holding it in, he paused to collect himself. He then released his breath and spoke to her with a warmth and kindness that reverberated throughout her body.

He asked, "Motoko, I can think of nothing worst than you not being here with me."

She looked at him blankly for a moment, no knowing what to say. .

He continued after seeing her confusion. "I consider you my friend Motoko – no, I consider you more than a friend - you're like family to me. So believe me when I tell you this. I don't want you as a servant in any way. There is no debt to be paid or sins to be forgiven. I want you to be my friend and because of that, I want you to be happy Motoko. Your happiness is my happiness, do you understand that?"

The converse of his statement would be that her pain would be his pain. Suicide or self-mutilation would harm him. She knew what he meant, but she felt too unworthy of such compassion. She broke from his gaze, but he brought her back with his gentle hand.

"Your happiness is my happiness," he reiterated.

She smiled at him, a genuine happiness emanated from her expression. She could not hold onto her self-loathing in the face of such kindness.

They sat there, watching the sun descend below the tree line. Neither spoke, but both enjoyed the peaceful setting.

Hating to break the calm, Keitaro forced himself to ask the question that was second on his mind: "Motoko, where's your sword?"

Fearing that the young sword maiden would break down again, Keitaro shored up his emotional defenses, but she simply glanced down for a second before looking into his eyes.

She replied, "I gave up the sword that day. I haven't touched one since, and no Keitaro, I do not wish to ever hold a sword again."

He could not grasp what she had just told him. Being in a five year coma affected him, but it did not devastate him. Not knowing where Naru was gnawed at him, but he endured. Yet, hearing that Motoko had given up her sword was beyond him.

She saw his facial expression and knew what he was thinking.

"My only regret Keitaro was that I did not abandon it sooner," she said with an honesty that he could not deny.

Contemplating his next words carefully, he said, "I know that once you love something as much as I know you loved your art, it's hard to give up, even if you have the most pressing of reasons, but I want you to know Motoko that I'll support whatever decision that makes you happy. If you have any regrets, then you and me, we could do something about it, together."

Saying his peace, he returned his gaze to the setting sun. His hand was still holding onto hers. Motoko looked at him, processing the words that he had just said. She had no intention of picking up the sword; she had made a promise. Still, she could not deny that sometimes, she felt the emptiness in her without her sword at her side.

"No more sad thoughts Motoko, I'm with Keitaro now," she silently chided herself.

She turned her attention towards the sun, where it was disappearing over the tree line. For the first time in five years, Motoko felt something kindle within her that she had thought was long dead – hope.