Hi there!

This is 'Nodoka' calling – yes, the pen name is a tribute to a certain character from another work by Mr. Akamatsu, which has me utterly hooked.

I've decided that I should give a LH fanfiction a go, having read numerous good ones on this site before now many times before. I am a little new to this and have no beta reader, so any feedback, comments or corrections are much appreciated.

This is going to be a Kei x ? story, but I plan on giving all the characters a fair share of screen time. Although romance will be a strong factor, it will be alongside other plots.

The story kicks off about 6 months after the end of the manga, prior to the marriage chapter set years later – at the start of 2002. Making Keitaro & Mitsune 22, Naru 20, Shinobu 16 etc.

Disclaimer: Love Hina and the characters within are the creation of Ken Akamatsu, and are the property of their respective rights holders. This piece of fiction is written purely for enjoyment, not for any profit.

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Chapter One.

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It was early January I think. When I noticed things weren't quite...right.

With our resident kanrinin, I mean.

He and Naru had been together for, oh, must have been six months? Give or take a month or two.

Well, it's not as if things had ever been 'right' right. Even after they became an item. Seems words and actions don't always match up, at least from Naru's point of view.

The status was officially 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend', but I doubted things had actually changed that much.

I'm damn sure he wasn't gettin' any, at least.

Anyhow, I think things really came to a head a few days ago. When a certain member of the household found out something none of us knew about. Two things in fact.

Which suddenly cast actions in a whole new light. And their repercussions.

And certainly caused one big ruckus.

But that's for later. Right now, I think the scene needs setting.

Hmmmm. I think the first week of January is a good place to start...

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It was Friday morning. Which meant only one thing for the resident Manager, ex-ronin and general dogsbody of Hinata Sou.

Spring cleaning.

Well, springs cleaning to be precise.

Logic defined this to be the best time. Two of the regular customers to the springs would be in Tokyo-U, three others at various schools or otherwise studying. The last one... well, possibly drinking sake, possibly betting on horses. Or possibly drinking sake while betting on horses.

Besides, even if she did arrive in the springs, ignoring the huge, brightly-painted 'MAN PRESENT' sign stuck on the outer door, it was never her that produced the physical punishment.

Although she did often manage to swindle a deduction on the rent.

The brown-haired man sighed and took his glasses off, swiping a sleeveless arm across his brow. Even on a crisp, bright day in January, scrubbing stones and wooden boards by hand while waist deep in hot water wasn't cool work.

But it had to be done. He'd be reminded very quickly if it wasn't.

At least the option of using Friday mornings made things a little easier. Keitaro breathed a thank-you under his breath to his tutor and mentor, Seta, before resuming his scrubbing.

The old choice between not cleaning and cleaning during the evenings was painful either way.

Stepping into the hot spring pervert.

Not entering on pain of death lazy pervert.

Either way, altitude sickness.

Seta, the laid back loafer he was, decided that nothing happened on Fridays (at least when he was in charge) and so allowed his 'part timer' a day where he could do his duties without getting sliced, smote or swindled.

Okay, Kitsune was still in residence, so maybe swindled. But understandably, the inability to summon screaming death at a moment's notice weakened her hand.

Speaking of whom...

"Kei-kuuuuuun..." The kanrinins' head whipped up as a young lady slipped through the door, wearing only a towel and a sly grin.

"Uh, hi Kitsune." Thanking the stars he had taken his glasses off - steam, after all, doesn't go well with glass - Keitaro took a step back from the door and quickly turned the other way. Even with fuzzy vision, it was clear Mitsune's towel was nowhere near as big as her smile. And the young ex-ronin preferred his blood in his body, not pouring from his nostrils.

"Don't like what you see?" The fox mock-pouted, easily sliding down into the hot water. "Awwww, I'm disappointed. I was gonna offer you a closer look. Offer's still there if you wanna take it." The grin increased from sly to downright sultry as the predator slid towards her prey, watching him stutter impotently.

"Uh, Kitsune-san, uhm...d-didn't you see the sign? I thought I put it out..." The silver-haired girl resisted a snicker as the shoulders she approached began to shake.

"Yeah, nice sign too." The girl couldn't resist a chuckle as the shaking shoulders froze when her lithe arms draped over them. This was too much fun! "Don't remember it saying 'no entry' though." A silent sigh slipped from the kanrinin's mouth, and he gave in without resistance.

"All right, you got me. What do you want?" The resident party animal paused for a second, perhaps a little surprised by the fast submission. But she shrugged it off. After all, mission still accomplished.

"Ohhhhh nothing. Well, except a few Yen, I've got a hot tip for this afternoon, and I'm kinda strapped for cash." To seal the deal, the young lady pushed what assets she had - and ample assets they were too - against the back of the man she was draped over, and could almost feel the blush develop across his cheeks.

The slight blush that flowered on her own face was obviously due to the morning's sake, nothing more. Obviously.

"Okay. Second coffee pot on the top shelf. Only take half, the rest is for the water bill." Strangely disappointed by the rapid capitulation, the fox-girl paused in puzzlement for a second before releasing her prisoner, and working a smirk back onto her face.

"Ta Kei-kun, will pay you back this month, promise!" The young man didn't reply, stiffly staring at the wall of the springs, cloth still gripped in a tight fist until he heard the slide door open, and shut. And then after a few minutes, the noise repeating as Mitsune actually left, before minutely nodding.

Then, as if the last few minutes didn't happen, he began cleaning the exact same portion of stone with slightly more vigour. After a minute more the surface was gleaming, and he moved onto his next target, while quietly murmuring under his breath.

"Thursdays, maybe. She's never up before noon on Thursdays..."

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"Come on. Come ON!"

Shinobu was not deaf, she knew this for a fact.

"COME ON! You filthy $& NAG!!!"

But in her opinion, it didn't matter when one of her house mates was close to a winner. Because even the deaf -

"YEEEESSSSS! You BEAUTY!!!! Woooo-Hooooooo!"

- Would know quite easily if Mitsune had just won on the ponies. Deciding to shut the door so she wouldn't get a headache, the home-maker of the Hinata Sou set to work preparing the vegetables for dinner. She had decided to give vegetable stew a try, as her 'Sempai' had voiced his love of the meal two weeks ago at lunch.

Of course, to make it before now would have been a bit too, well, obvious? Deliberate? The way the young girl saw it, the older she was when she plucked up the courage to make a move for her Sempai, the better. So no need to push things too hard yet, better to pretend otherwise. Besides, the way things were right now...

"No, Naru-chan! I didn't mean it like that!"

"Then how did you mean it? Baka!" ...there was all the time in the world. As the echoes of splintering woodwork died away, Shinobu picked up her knife and went right back to chopping carrots. The repeated scenario had not changed, really. Even after the two had proclaimed their feelings for one another, the status quo was just that. The only real difference was the two patched things over more quickly after each incident.

Or in Shinobu's mind, Naru accepted Keitaro's timid apologies a bit faster than she used to.

All the same, every time the same plot played out the violet-eyed girl felt a little twinge within her that she knew was more than just a reaction to another injury to her beloved Sempai. One that didn't ease off so readily when the immortal landlord appeared again right as rain.

"Honestly, that idiot, what does he mean I'm growing? If he's saying I'm fat..." The brown-haired girl stormed into the kitchen muttering furiously under her breath.

Shinobu ignored her.

"If he is, he's going to be looking at his own tonsils after I stuff his head where the sun don't shine..." The diminutive cook accepted that her Sempai wasn't utterly blameless every time something happened.

That didn't stop her from wanting to slap Naru Narusegawa, and at times Motoko purple every time one of the two laid a fist on her hopefully beloved-to-be. Every time she saw Keitaro receiving a blow from one of the two she almost felt it herself, and the twinge grew a little more painful. But at the same time there was an odd ambivalence.

Perhaps it was the thought that each fight put the two back to where they began.

Which kept her slim hopes alive.

"Shinobu-chan? Hello?" Shaken out of dreams by a tap on the shoulder, Shinobu turned to see Naru sipping from a glass of water, eyeing her with curiosity from behind bottle-bottom glasses.

"Oh, Naru-san! Sorry, didn't see you there. In my own world." For some reason, the young girl was unable to hold onto any genuine anger when face to face with Naru.

"You okay?" The younger girl nodded in reply, going back to slicing her vegetables.

"Vegetable stew for tonight. Just getting the ingredients ready."

"Need a hand?" Shinobu glanced up at Naru, seeing the taller girl smile as she set the now empty glass down on the drying rack.

"That would be great. Could you wash and peel the potatoes? Once they're ready, I can throw the whole thing together." Naru turned on the tap in response, and started her allotted task without another word, allowing the chef to return to her thoughts.

I was fuming when she came in here. Now I'm making dinner with her. Odd. As youthful but experienced hands went back to work, Shinobu allowed herself to be swept back up into the dance of cooking. Each and every move intended to make her Sempai's dinner extra special.

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"Sweet. Best win I've had in ages!" Mitsune cheered while skipping down the endless steps at the front of the Hinata Sou, precious ticket clutched tight in her hand.

"A win, hmmmm?" The celebration ceased abruptly.

"Ah, uh, ehehehe. Yeah, decided to have a rare flutter, y'know." Mitsune scratched her head nervously, a tiny bead of sweat sliding down her temple.

For a moment, the only sound was the chirping of the watching birds.

"Well, I'll let you off this time, since you won." Haruka took her ever-present cigarette from her lips, lazily blowing out smoke.

"Oh, right. Um, yeah. Gotta go!" A stiff hand halted the fox-girl's charge.

"However, I am not my soft-hearted nephew. You miss another month of rent, well, you know what will happen." Again, only the chirping of birds.

"Sure, sure. It was only one damn bet." The tone was hard, but Haruka knew that the younger woman was nervous.

"Yeah. One bet. Now I want to see the money back in that coffee jar, with interest. Right? Oh, and I want you to buy something nice with it too, not just sake." With that Haruka was off, leaving only a cloud of smoke behind.

"Damn killjoy." Muttered Mitsune, once she was sure that the older woman was out of earshot. The young gambler continued down the stairs, all traces of good mood gone. How the hell does she know these things?

"I am guessing you have picked a winning horse for once. Yet the glum expression….."

"Oh, Motoko-san!" Startled out of her funk, Kitsune clutched her chest as she tried to regain her breath.

"Yes, it is indeed me." Came the reply, with a touch of amusement.

"Don't scare me like that!"

"I merely asked a question."

"Well let me know you're there next time." Composed, Kitsune looked the swords woman in the eye. "Late home aren't ya?"

"Yes. I was putting in some extra study, the entrance exams are not too distant now."

"Starting to emulate our favourite ex-ronin, hmmmmm?" Motoko coloured slightly, trying to ignore Mitsune's raised eyebrow.

"While I do respect his determination and his achievements, I would rather not assume all facets of his personality. Speaking of which, I think I saw him flying towards the tea house a few moments ago, may I enquire why?"

"Not really sure. Naru seemed a little pissed though."

"Hmmmm." Motoko scratched her chin in thought. "I may enquire this evening as to the nature of this particular perversion." She adopted a formal stance, dark eyes narrowing into what could only be described as a glare.

Kitsune couldn't help but wince silently at the thought. 'Ouch. Poor guy won't have time to put his jaw in place before it's back out again. Good thing he's nigh-on indestructible. Besides a palm-print, never a mark on him.'

"Well, just be sure to know both sides of the story, 'kay?" Mitsune chided, feeling a twinge of concern for her manager.

"Oh, I'm sure one side will suffice." Murmured the black-haired girl, hand gently resting on the hilt of her katana, essentially confirming the party-loving girl's fears. This was only likely to end one way, and that way was an odds-on certainty. Mitsune would certainly put money on that bet.

"Anyway, I've gotta put this on the bookie's desk before closing or Haruka will have my hands surgically removed." A new voice broke the silence, startling the birds into flight.

"Naru suggested I should have that done. Oh, and my head while they're at it." Mitsune's head spun around to see Keitaro slowly ascending the steps.

"Oh, Kei-kun. Enjoy the trip?"

"Yeah. Grabbing his jaw the part-timer wrenched his neck, an unpleasant cricking sound accompanying it, causing his audience to cringe.

"Sheez boy, you need to see a chiropractor about that."

"Ah, it's nothing. Just gets a bit stiff if I don't do that every so often." Came the reply, accompanied by a sheepish grin.

"Do it anyway. I still say it ain't natural."

"Maybe. So…." Gesturing with his arms, Keitaro asked why Kitsune was standing alone on the stairs. She was about to reply that she was with Motoko, when she noticed Motoko was very much not there any more.

"Damn. And she wonders why she scares me sometimes." Muttered Mitsune, before feeling a thought spring to mind. "Hey Keitaro, why were you stood in the hot spring fully clothed? Wouldn't it make more sense to strip off?"

"Yeah it would. But I get enough trouble if I'm in there dressed. What happens when someone - Naru whispered the silence – walks in on me like that?"

"Yeah. Guess so." Just as something in Mitsune's mind began to wave it's arms, she cast a glance at her watch. "Shi—oh crap! I'm gonna be late! Gotta go!"

"See you later!" The words were almost outrun by the young lady as she descended the rest of the steps at around the speed of sound.

"Guess Aunt Haruka ran into her after all." Mused Keitaro as he began climbing the steps, anticipating the dinner which Shinobu would no doubt be crafting at that very minute. 'Good thing I gave her the heads-up, I wouldn't know how to tell Kitsune off myself…..'

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At the foot of the stairs, Mitsune paused to catch her breath, while something still nagged in the back of her mind.

'Why is it that I feel like I missed something? Not that the answer wasn't right…..'

She looked down at the now well scrunched ticket in her hand, before sighing gently.

'But that the question was wrong?'

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Dinner was a cheerful affair. The permanent addition of Mutsumi to the usual faces had only served to increase the volume. The part-time resident had had a fainting spell a few weeks before at an inopportune moment, namely whilst cooking dinner. Thanks to alert neighbours the Okinawan had survived without ill effects, although the same could not be said of her home.

Which was no longer a building of any description.

In which case, Mutsumi threw herself on the mercy of Keitaro, who had responded in exactly the way anyone would expect him to.

And so, the number around the table was six. All female.

"Where's Keitaro?" Asked Naru, mouth half-full of stew.

"Sempai said he was feeling a little under the weather, I took his food up to him." Shinobu replied, dipping some bread into her own bowl, cheered by the fact that Keitaro had still wanted her delicious dinner.

"Ara, I hope Kei-kun is okay." Murmured Mutsumi, sipping gingerly from her spoon.

"Well if he will insist on going in the springs fully dressed, not surprised he's gotten ill." Mitsune chuckled.

"In the springs?!"

"Fully clothed?!" Naru and Shinobu stopped and looked at each other, before the younger girl deferred.

"He was in the springs? Why?" Kitsune and Shinobu met each other's eyes in exasperation before Su, wiping an errant shred of onion from her mouth, dived into the discussion.

"'Cause he needed to clean them, silly Naru." The bespectacled girl paused for a second, before sighing and holding up a hand.

"Sorry, sorry. I sometimes forget he's in charge of the maintenance around here."

"Sempai was cleaning out the springs? He must have been really hot, it's scorching when you're wearing a towel." Shinobu took up on her point, looking a little anxious. Getting too hot was no good to anyone.

"Yeah. Guess he was right too." Three people looked at Mitsune curiously, Su being too busy scoffing the rest of the bread on the communal plate to care.

"Right about what?" Naru quizzed.

"Uh, nothing. Say, who wants some sake?" The fox-girl produced a green bottle from beneath the table, holding it up to the light and allowing it to filter through, casting a green glow upon the table. "The first purchase from today's big win!"

"Yay! Yay! Give us some, Kitsune!" Cheered Su, bouncing up and down in her seat.

"Mitsune-san, I cannot say I agree with you offering minors alcohol." Murmured Motoko, taking a sip of tea with a tiny frown.

"Ah, c'mon! They do it in some parts of Europe as a matter of habit, doesn't do them any harm." At the continuing frowns of Naru and Motoko, Kitsune capitulated, "Oh, you're no fun."

"Yeah, don't be meanies!" Su moaned, before taking off after Tama-chan (who had floated into the room looking for scraps) and presumably forgetting completely about the subject.

"Ara, did Kei-kun say what was wrong?" Asked Mutsumi, pushing her now empty dish away with a satisfied smile.

"No, sempai just thanked me and asked me to leave the dish outside so I wouldn't catch anything off him. His voice sounded a little muffled too, maybe he's coming down with a cold." Shinobu replied, clearing the used plates away with a spring in her step.

"Maybe you can ask him, Motoko-san. After all, you are still joining him tonight?" Naru asked, with a hard tone to her voice.

"Yes, I believe I will. Do not worry, I will enquire as to the nature of his illness. After I enquire as to the nature of his most recent perversion." Replied the swords woman, clutching her sword tightly.

"Oh. Good. And don't forget, I'm right upstairs, if he tries anything just call me, okay?" Naru conceded, though still clearly unhappy. The girl had never worked out exactly why Motoko chose the three-times ronin for a study partner and not her. And, to be honest, nor had any of the other girls. It seemed a no-brainer to be honest. A choice between Naru and Keitaro? Star pupil and fellow lady, or perverted male ex-loser? Yet the heir to the Shinmei-ryu chose the latter. When asked, Motoko would site the determination of her manager alongside the fact that Naru never offered her help, being too busy with her own studies.

Needless to say, several of the residents in the Hinata-sou viewed the arrangement with caution, or in Naru's case outright suspicion, believing blackmail and perversion to be involved. Yet not once had there been any evidence that the ex-ronin had been doing anything but tutoring his pupil, and if grades were anything to go by, the situation was definitely beneficial.

Which didn't stop Naru and Mitsune from spying occasionally.

"I will remember your proximity, in case Urashima should find some way to overpower me." Motoko eventually answered, with more than a touch of humour. "But in any case, I believe it is time for my appointed tutoring session. I trust you will leave me undisturbed." The humour contained a touch of edge, on one occasion when Keitaro was explaining a perfectly honest biology question Naru had descended from the ceiling and proceeded to send her manager into low earth orbit.

Motoko made it quite clear she did not appreciate such interruptions.

"No problem." Naru replied. "You know men can't be trusted."

"Yes." Surely not a hint of dryness in the reply. "But in any case, I must now place my delicate life in the hands of a perverted monster." Mutsumi and Mitsune couldn't help but snort at the comment.

"Okay, okay. Maybe he isn't as bad as some of them. But be careful anyway, won't you, Motoko?" Naru pleaded, taking her glasses off and cleaning them.

"I will. Worry not, I am far stronger than him. And even if I were not, I believe he would not act in an inappropriate manner." The green eyed girl stood away from the table, every inch a swords woman.

"Can you wish Kei-kun the best from me?" The Okinawan said, a hint of sadness in her tone.

"I will pass on any condolences you may wish to give me." Casting an emerald glance around the table, Motoko waited for any reply.

"Give Sempai my best wishes. I want him out and about soon as possible, he's too nice to be stuck in bed." Shinobu proclaimed, a faint blush on her face.

"Tell him I've filled the coffee jar, and want a chat with him soon." Mitsune added, sipping her first cup of sake.

"I would like to speak with him, over a melon if he were satisfied." Added the anaemic one. Almost unbidden, attention fixed on Naru. She felt it, inevitably, but huffed after a few seconds.

"Yeah, I wouldn't mind knowing if he's going to give me a virus." The rest of the table relaxed, knowing this was the best they were likely to get. Naru liked the resident male, that much was crystal clear, but even with their current relationship she was still loathe to admit it.

"You will be informed. But at this point I must leave you. Until later tonight, farewell." With that the graceful girl swept towards the stairs, and ascended them rapidly until out of sight.

"I may take my leave also, I feel like a good long soak." Mutsumi added, arcing her back to stretch in a way that would certainly cause blood-loss in the wrong company.

"Think I'll come along too. It's been a long day studying." Naru agreed. "Just let me take these dishes into the kitchen, and I'll see you there." Walking through the doorway, the brunette placed her load on the counter, noting Shinobu, diligent as ever, had the sink almost full already.

"Just pop them on the side there, I'll add them to the sink once this lot is done." As the usually meek and unassuming teen rolled up her sleeved and set to work, the older girl had to marvel at the swiftness and ease of her work. Soap and bubbles flew everywhere, yet never over her or the floor. Dishes coated in the remnants of stew that looked as if they had been doused in mud re-appeared gleaming as the day they were made. And all this done by someone smiling and whistling a cheery tune.

"You're amazing, Shinobu-chan."

"Hmmmm?" The violet-haired chef paused mid-scrub, looking up. "What was Naru-san?"

"You're amazing." Naru gestured with her hand at the rack of spotless dishes, smiling. "It would take me half an hour to do this, and in seconds..." The recipient of her praise blushed hotly, before returning to her work with a little less vigour.

"Yeah, well, I'm used to it by now."

"Honestly, it's like you've made it your own personal hideaway." Not noticing the younger girl's pause, Naru patted her on the shoulder before making for the door. "Will you be up to join us soon?"

"In a while, Naru-san. Shouldn't take me long to finish all these." As Shinobu resumed the washing-up, she allowed herself a moment of reflection. Naru didn't know quite how right she was.

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Mitsune slunk up to the closed door, propelled by idle curiosity. Much as she would like to believe that all going on beyond the door was nothing but business, the gossip within her was refusing to agree.

Motoko choosing to study with Keitaro, without anything underhanded going on? Ridiculous. Especially since the number of pervert slicings had plummeted recently.

And hence she tiptoed silently across the tan varnished floorboards, bathed in the bright light of the overhead lamp, knowing any kind of sound would alert the woman inside room 204. Becoming a great swords woman had sharpened Motoko's senses to the point an ant couldn't sneeze without her knowledge.

"...so, can you solve this one?" A muffled voice filtered through the wood of the door, and Mitsune froze in place, happy her approach was discreet enough.

"Hmmmm. I believe so, Urashima-san. Give me a moment." A few seconds passed, the fox-girl straining her ears to pick up any noise whilst barely daring to breathe. "...there. Does it look right to you?"

"Yes. Yes, perfect. Well done Motoko-chan, you get better every day. At this rate, you'll even surpass your mastery of the sword."

"Now now, Urashima-san. No need to get carried away." The reply was cool, but carried a smile nonetheless. "But thank you for your praise. So, the next problem then?"

"Sure. Give this one a try, I've seen it come up twice." Disappointed that as usual her detective work came up fruitless, Mitsune decided to join her fellow tenants in the hot spring for some sake and conversation. Preferably lots of both.

"Oh, Kitsune-san, I do not appreciate eavesdroppers. I would request once more that you cease this habit, it is most unbecoming of a young lady." Mitsune dropped her head at the call from inside room 204, and sloped away, any pretence of subtlety forgotten. It was beyond her how someone could hear a person who made no sound. But then again, the silver fox had long given up on understanding Motoko.

"Ah, sod it. I think that bottle I started at dinner should suffice for now." The young lady muttered, frustrated that, for once, her usual instincts seemed to be failing her. Maybe it was time to pin Keitaro down, next time he was either in the springs or in some other compromising position, and wring out a few answers that way.

"Hiya Kitsune! Comin' to join us?" Koalla Su sprung out from nowhere and wrapped herself around Mitsune's shoulders, peering over to look at her face to face, albeit upside-down.

"Yeah, sure thing. Lemmie grab something from my room, I'll be right down." Happy at the response the tan-skinned Molmolian leapt from her perch and made a beeline for the springs, making aeroplane noises as she went. Smiling at the childish glee of the girl, Mitsune slipped into her room, picking up a bottle from her dresser. "Well, let the festivities commence!" she murmured, letting any worries stay in the room as she slid the door shut.

Evenings in the Hinata-sou were too good to waste with things like that.

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"Is she gone?" Motoko nodded, returning her emerald gaze to the kanrinin's.

"Yes. I have to say that her habit of snooping grows tiresome." Keitaro cracked a small grin.

"She is persistent, I'll give her that."

"Her stealth is quite impressive, also. I must admit I did not hear her approach, I doubt even my sister could do so." Motoko herself allowed a small smile to grace her lips. "It is very much a shame for her that she doesn't take all the senses into account."

"Heh, you could say that." The brown-haired man was about to flip over a page in the textbook when a quiet question made him pause.

"Why do you tolerate that kind of behaviour, Urashima-san?" Fingers tapping the table idly, Keitaro answered equally quietly.

"Because I don't really mind, to be honest. She's consistent at least, I know what to expect. And although she's always up to things, there's never...malice involved."

"Ah, Urashima-san -" Motoko was cut off by a gently raised hand.

"Don't worry about it Motoko-san. We get on better than we used to, right? Although there are times when I've earned one of your special techniques." The manager rocked back, staring up at the ceiling. "Wish I could say that about everybody..."

"Keitaro-kun?" Watching the man sat opposite look casually skywards, Motoko could almost believe he was merely daydreaming of his beloved.

The white knuckles of the hand that gripped the table suggested otherwise.

Ahem Broken out of his reverie, Keitaro caught the raised eyebrow of the lady opposite and chuckled nervously, scratching the back of his head.

"Don't mind me, always in my own world." The raised eyebrow dropped, and the kendoist regarded her kanrinin with a level gaze.

"So, why did you go on another unscheduled flight, Urashima-san?"

"Ah, well, it was another one of our misunderstandings." Into the silence following the statement, a door slid open and dull footsteps could be heard from the ceiling.

"A misunderstanding." Motoko stood, her tone hard and clear. "Same as the misunderstanding that involved your wanton groping of Mutsumi last week?" Something in the voice promised pain, and the footfalls from above paused.

"No, Motoko-san, I swear! Nothing like that!" Came the desperate reply. "I just got an attack of foot-in-mouth, that's all!" Motoko laid a hand on her katana, and fixed the 'pervert' with a hawkish gaze.

"Well, I will take your words as truth for now." The willowy beauty slowly re-took her seat opposite Keitaro, still fixing him with her stare. "But if I hear reports to the contrary then god help you Urashima-san, for none else can." Chuckling nervously, Keitaro cringed slightly at the continuing scrutiny.

"I will bear that in mind, Motoko-san." The two regarded each other in silence, waiting for a response. After a few moments the sound of footfalls resumed, this time leaving the room, followed by a door sliding shut.

"Going to the springs for the evening, I suppose." Motoko murmured, and Keitaro nodded in agreement.

"Well, now that our interruptions are out of the way, shall we actually get on with some studying?" Keitaro suggested, gesturing to the books bathed in lamplight upon the table. The Kanrinin had found that keeping the table lit with the rest of the room dim helped his pupil focus.

"That would make sense, wouldn't it Motoko-chan?"

"It would indeed. With centre exams so close, time is indeed of the essence." She rifled through the pages, stopping at the maths section. "I feel this may be suitable for tonight Keitaro-kun."

"Maths, huh? Okay, I'm fine with that. Amazing the difference a year and a half in Tokyo U makes." The ex-ronin smiled at the current ronin, one that was slowly returned. "I fully expect to see you there come spring."

"Oh, Keitaro-kun, stop flattering me." But the rosy tint to the normally unflappable girl's cheeks spoke volumes. "So, this problem has always caused me difficulty, would you shed some light on it?"

"Ah, that one caused me hell for ages. What you do is..."

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Naru settled into the steaming water, pleased to see Mutsumi serenely relaxing in the springs. The Okinawan was a good barometer. If Mutsumi was happy, it was a good indicator that life in the Hinata-sou was equally pleasant.

"How are your studies, Naru-san?"

"Going very well, thanks. I've been putting in so many hours since Christmas I hardly know what day it is. Yours?"

"I've been told that so long as I continue to do catch-up work for my numerous absences, I will have no problems." The two university students relaxed back against their respective rocks with eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the bath against the cold night air.

"Heyyyyy, look out below!" Peace that was thoroughly ruined by the arrival of Su, accompanied by a large splash.

"Thanks, Su-chan." Naru remarked dryly, wiping water from her face.

"No Problemo!" The energetic girl beamed at the two thoroughly soaked women before swimming off across the springs, making happy bubbling noises.

"Energetic, ne?" Mutsumi said, relaxing back again this time looking up at the half-moon.

"Too much energy for me, way too much." Replied Naru, trailing her fingers across the water's surface.

"Couldn't agree more, sugar." Mitsune interjected, sliding into the steaming bath. Shinobu slid the door shut behind her and she too stepped into the water, finding her usual comfortable position.

"So, any plans for tomorrow?" The mild-mannered Okinawan asked, casting a look at the fox-lady.

"Nah, not really. Got another sweet tip, that bookmaker can't resist me." Mitsune stood, striking a seductive pose. "Hey sugar, I'm a little low on funds this week, got a hot tip you could slip my way? I'll be sure to thank you..." Shinobu and Mutsumi giggled at the sultry tone.

"Honestly, Mitsune. You'll get a reputation if you keep doing that." Scowled Naru, but with a hint of humour.

"Already got one, Naru. May as well use it, yeah?" The voluptuous lady sank back into the water, wearing a tiny smile.

"How about you Shinobu-chan?" Continued Mutsumi.

"Well, thought I'd make a nice big breakfast, with some of Sempai's favourites!" Replied the violet-haired girl, cheeks reddening as they usually did whenever she mentioned a certain someone.

"And you, Naru-san?"

"Oh, it's Saturday right? Think I might study for a while in the morning, then pop out to do some shopping. I really need some new shoes." Mutsumi's smile seemed to dim for a moment, before resuming in full force.

"Well, I might join you tomorrow afternoon. You never know, you might find something else you need." With that enigmatic comment, the young lady eased back against the smooth stone behind her, and closed her eyes.

"And I'm gonna give Keitaro a biiiiiiiiiig kiss!" Su proceeded to demonstrate on a startled Mitsune, who suddenly found another pair of lips tightly clamped to her own. After a slightly-too-long pause, the Molmolian princess released the glomp and scampered out of the springs.

"Waaaaay too much energy." The silver-haired girl growled, swiping an irritated hand across her lips. Opening the sake bottle floating beside her she took a long swig, grinning as the burn began in her stomach. "If she ever, ever starts usin' tongue, I'm movin' out!"

"I think that goes for all of us." The Okinawan said dryly, standing up slowly. "I believe I'm done, I will see you all tomorrow morning." Waving a hand in farewell, she stood up onto the boarding and, miraculously, managed to walk out to the changing room and shut the door behind her without fainting once.

The dull thump a few seconds later came as no surprise to anyone.

"I'll go help her out." Shinobu said, jumping up and hurrying after the unfortunate girl. Naru and Mitsune made eye contact, one declining the other's offer of sake.

"Why do you suppose Mutsumi was holding onto that question?" Naru asked, drumming idle fingers on her knee.

"Beats me." The resident wild girl replied, taking another gulp of sake. "But hey, no worries, right? It's a Saturday, so it's bound to be good."

"Yeah." Naru swept her long brown hair back, and settled more deeply into the water. "I'll have to check my calendar, once I've copied the one from last year over."

"No bother. I might try my hand at writing something, it's been a while." The idle conversation drifted off into the night air as the two friends shared the evening over the bottle of sake, not knowing that the next day would prove to be a little more significant than they might have thought.

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Not really a cliffie, but seemed a good place to finish for now.

Please R&R, I would like to know if this story is worth following up!

Hope you enjoyed reading.

Nodoka.