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Perceptions

(Love Hina Echo)

Part 2 – Questions and Such

By Random1377

Bright and sunny – those were the only words Motoko could think of to describe the gorgeous weather in downtown Tokyo-3. She guessed that the temperature was a warm 85 or so, with a nice, refreshing breeze to keep things from getting too hot and sweaty. Casting a sideways glance at her companions, Motoko ran one hand through her hair wondering once more if she had perhaps made a mistake in winning the duel with her sister.

Wouldn't be so bad, she mused as the other residents of the Hinata Sou laughed and joked with their manager, Keitaro's really not such a bad guy. I can think of worse things than being his wife, I suppose…

Pushing these thoughts aside, she glanced around at the towering skyscrapers that thrust boldly up into the azure firmament. It was amazing, she thought, that these steel and glass fingers could be retracted down into the ground, turning the modern city into an impenetrable fortress to fend off the strange, unearthly beings known worldwide as 'angels.'

Perhaps more amazing, however, was the fact that she and her friends had remained relatively unscathed by the tumult. Somehow they were comforted by Grandma Hina's assurance that they were in the safe hands of the organization known as NERV.

I suppose we have much to be thankful for, she mused as Shinobu rushed to a storefront to point out a cute dress to the other residents, All of our families are still alive… all of our friends… Hinata really must be a charmed place to allow us this sort of peace of mind. And our dorm is one of the only buildings that survived the Impact without any damage!

She cast a sidelong glance at Keitaro. He had been a bit distracted since they had arrived in the city, and when they passed the little art museum he had told them about when he got back from his last visit two weeks prior, Motoko would have sworn that she heard him sigh wistfully.

"Hey, hey!" Su said suddenly. "Look at that car!"

Everyone turned their attention to where the gaijin girl was pointing. "It's… blue," Naru muttered as the car in question went speeding past.

"It's a Renault Alpine A310," Su said excitedly. "Rear-mounted V6, double-barreled carburetor, four-speed manual gearbox," she grinned proudly, "top speed of 210 kilometers per hour."

"And," Kitsune piped in suddenly, "it's blue."

Rolling her eyes, Naru muttered, "From mechanized, hundred-foot tall turtles to pre-impact sports cars, she knows it all."

Everyone jumped as the car suddenly screeched to a halt, swerving over to the curb and scaring an old couple into stumbling back out of the way.

"What the…?"

The driver's side door flew open, followed a moment later by the passenger's side, and two women stepped out of the car. Or rather, Motoko corrected mentally, one woman and a teenage girl. Both appeared irritated. The source of the older woman's annoyance was unclear, though the younger girl was obviously annoyed at her from the looks she was casting at her elder.

"Look at that dress," Kitsune mumbled as the duo started walking down the street in their direction. "I think I've got one just like it."

"Yeah," Naru quipped, "but she's got the legs for it."

Kitsune looked offended. "Hey, I've got good legs!" she protested, hiking her own skirt up to her thigh and making several passersby faint from nasal blood loss. "See?"

Naru yawned. "Ok, ok," she admitted, "your legs are fine – but you're at least a cup size smaller than her, and-"

"Hey."

All conversation came to an abrupt halt as the woman in the short skirt stopped directly in front of them rather than walking past, as they had all expected.

Motoko guessed that the woman was in her late twenties, whereas the girl at her side was no more than sixteen. Both were attractive, though the older woman was a bit closer to what Motoko considered beautiful, with long, purple-hued black hair, piercing, chocolate eyes, and a body that guys at her high school would have deemed 'tasty.' The girl, on the other hand, had shoulder-length red hair and crystal blue eyes, and clearly had some foreign blood in her. She was pretty, but when held up against her older companion, she paled quite noticeably in comparison.

Naru, of course, instantly went on the offensive. "Is there something you need?" she asked bluntly, clearly annoyed at having her pleasant shopping excursion interrupted.

"Not with you," the woman said dismissively, keeping her attention oddly focused on a very uncomfortable-looking Keitaro.

"Misato," the teenager mumbled, "you're making a scene."

Ignoring the girl, the woman swept the collected Hinata Sou residents with her eyes before bringing her attention back to Keitaro. "Well," she said coolly, "I guess this explains why you never called me."

Expecting an embarrassed, 'you've got me mixed up with someone else' or something similar, the Hinata Sou girls nearly fell flat on their faces as Keitaro quickly stammered, "It's not what it looks like! I… these are my tenants…"

"Your tenants?" the woman echoed, folding her arms over her impressive chest. "So, what – that dorm you run is an all-girls dorm?"

"Yeah!" Keitaro exclaimed eagerly. "That's exactly-"

The woman's scowl cut him off. "Who," she asked icily, "would put a single man in charge of a dorm full of underage girls? You're going to have to come up with something better than that, Keitaro."

Kitsune leaned closer to Motoko. "How does she know his name?" she wondered, clearly unable (as they all were) to accept the idea that this older, unbelievably attractive woman was actually talking to Keitaro.

About not calling her.

For a date.

It just didn't fit.

"M-my grandmother owns the Hinata Sou," Keitaro blurted, speaking so fast his words nearly ran together. "Hinata is just outside Tokyo-3 and I wanted to go to Tokyo-3 University but I failed three times and finally got in and my parents kicked me out and I didn't have anywhere to go and my grandmother told me I could come stay with her but she didn't tell me that the old bathhouse had been turned into a girls dorm and when I got there she had left me a letter that said I had to manage it for her if I wanted to stay there and the girls didn't want me to at first but I've been there two years and… and…"

Misato simply stared as his long, rambling explanation finally ran out of steam.

Before she could say anything, however, the redhead at her side shook her head and muttered, "A three time ronin? What a loser! Can we go, Misato? Why would you want to waste your time with a dumbass like this?"

Immediately, the younger girl had the dislike of every one of the Hinata Sou's residents.

"What makes you think you're so smart?" Naru demanded, stepped forward and glaring down at the feisty little girl. "You're what, twelve? You should show a little more respect for your-"

"I'm fourteen," the redhead cut in, boldly meeting the other girl's eyes, "and what makes me think I'm smarter than your dumbass manager over there is that I still have notes on all the classes he's about to take – because I finished them last year!"

Naru snorted dismissively. "Yeah right," she said acidly, "like we're supposed to believe you finished college at-"

"She did, actually," Misato interrupted, clearly deciding that she had been silent for too long, "and with top grades. Asuka's the youngest graduate of the Berlin Academy in nearly a century – but anyway…" she nodded at Keitaro, "was he telling the truth?"

From the look on Naru's face, she clearly did not believe that the snotty little girl at Misato's side was even a kindergarten graduate, but she shook her head and refocused herself on the older woman's question. "Yes," she hesitated, taking in the purple-haired woman's keen, watchful eyes before adding, "ma'am. Everything he said is true."

Asuka snorted, looking at Keitaro with obvious disgust before turning on her heel and announcing, "I'll be in the car."

As she stalked off, Misato turned to Keitaro. "Well that explains that," she said coolly, "but I'm still not happy with you, Keitaro. You know, I don't give my number to just anyone…"

Keitaro blushed as she trailed off. "I, er… I washed it…"

"Huh?"

"The piece of paper with your number," he explained awkwardly, "it was in my pants when I washed them… and it got ruined."

There was a moment of profound silence before Sarah muttered, "Wow, I think that crabby girl was right."

"I tried to find you though," Keitaro said quickly, "I called… I called five different office buildings looking for you, since you said you did office work, but none of them had a Misato working there, and I didn't know your last name, and do you know how many Misatos are in the phone book?" His shoulders slumped as everyone stared at him. His voice grew very soft as he miserably sighed, "I really did try…"

Motoko glanced at the woman, frowning as she noticed just how curvy she really was. And she's bold, too…

As if to confirm this thought, the woman suddenly flashed a dazzling smile. "This time," she said, slowly reaching into her jacket's inner pocket – and doubling the size of her cleavage in the process, "why don't you give me… your number?"

Nobody said a word as she offered Keitaro a pen and a small notepad, her eyes surveying them to (Motoko was quite sure) assess their threat potential as Keitaro carefully wrote out his number.

"I keep this with me all the time," the woman informed him as she tucked it back into her pocket. She winked as she added, "And my roommate always checks my pockets before he puts stuff in the wash, so… I'll be talking to you soon."

As she turned away and headed back to her sports car, Motoko – and all of the other girls – focused their attention on Keitaro.

This, Motoko mused as the young man looked around with wide, terrified eyes, is going to get ugly.

( 0 0 0 )

Keitaro collapsed into his bed with a weak, defeated groan. There had been… questions, when Misato had left, or perhaps 'an interrogation' would be a more suitable phrase, as the girls of the Hinata Sou had practically bombarded him with demands for more information, harrying him all the way from the shopping district, to the train station, up to his very own door.

And none of them seemed to believe that he knew so very little about the purple-haired woman or that all the two of them had shared was a simple drink and some uncomfortable conversation.

The worst aspect of the entire, screwed up questioning session was the look of hurt confusion on Su's face – as if she simply could NOT wrap her mind around the idea that Keitaro was actually a grown man with a social life… a social life that might not include her, or one of the other girls at the Hinata Sou.

From Shinobu, he expected it, but he had no idea that Su saw him that way.

And of COURSE Kitsune just HAD to ask if I was sleeping with her, he thought miserably, I thought Shinobu was going to faint when she heard that.

But Naru had not hit him, and neither had Motoko – and that had to count for something, he figured. Unless they were waiting until after he was asleep to spring their attack, of course, in which case Keitaro was doomed.

He flinched as someone knocked gently on his door.

Here we go again…

"C-come in."

The door slid a few inches open, and Shinobu's eye appeared at the crack. "Are… are you alone, senpai?" she asked timidly.

Sitting up in his bed, Keitaro wondered, "Who else would be in here?"

"I don't know," Shinobu whispered, slipping into his room and closing the door behind her, "I just… didn't want to assume…"

It made Keitaro feel vaguely ill to watch the normally vivacious girl fidgeting with her skirt and staring down at the floor. Needlessly, he said, "Well, I'm all alone."

They lapsed into silence, Keitaro waiting to see what Shinobu would say, Shinobu leaning against his door and staring down at the floorboards between her feet. Several times, she opened her mouth to say something, but invariably she simply closed it once more, unable to find the words to express herself.

Finally, she nodded to herself and lifted her head, straightening her back and walking deliberately over to Keitaro's bedside. Once within range, she clenched her hands together and uttered three, simple words.

"Su's… not eating."

"Su… huh?"

"She's not eating," Shinobu repeated. "I made her favorite… but she won't touch it. She won't even eat a banana – and you know she'll always eat a banana! I'm getting really worried, and-"

Keitaro held his hands up. "Just take it easy," he said quickly. "It's just one meal, Shinobu… she's probably just… not hungry…"

He trailed off as Shinobu simply stared at him.

"…I'll go talk to her."

"I umm… I don't think she wants to see you…"

In spite of himself, Keitaro found that he was getting a little upset. "Isn't that kinda… childish?"

Averting her eyes, Shinobu whispered, "She is… kind of a child, Senpai – at least compared to… to that woman…"

Keitaro rose to his feet. "You know I don't see you like that, right?" he said awkwardly. "I mean, yeah, you and Su are… are pretty young, but I've always thought of both of you as-"

"No you haven't."

The sadness in Shinobu's voice was so palpable that Keitaro found himself with no reply.

"But… but I understand," she added, giving him a soft, hesitant smile.

"It's… you know, it's not like you umm… lost, you know," Keitaro said, dismayed at the desperation in Shinobu's voice… and his. "I mean, I'm not like, married to her or anything – we've only gone out once, and she hasn't even call-"

Both jumped as the phone down in the foyer began to ring.

Shinobu gave him a sickly smile.

"You should get that," she said, sniffing a bit as she turned and opened the door. "I'll, umm… talk to Su, ok?"

Cursing the timing, Keitaro said, "It's probably not even her, you know…"

Looking at him over her shoulder, Shinobu weakly said, "You still need to answer it."

And so, Keitaro did. As he hurried down the stairs, half of him hoped it would be Misato, and half of him hoped it wouldn't. If it was her, there was a very good chance that she would want to see him again, and knowing that she wanted to be with him – even if it was only to date a little – made him feel warm and happy. On the other hand, if it wasn't her and she never called him again, everything at the Hinata Sou would go back to the way it was, and no one's feelings would be hurt.

As it turned out, it was just a telemarketer on the line, so Keitaro was left in suspense.

Until the following day.

Continued…

Pre-read was done by MacBeth2001 and Hawker-748.