By: Tezza1502

Disclaimer: 'Love Hina' ain't mine. The good Lord knows that I would have given Keitaro a normal-sized pair if it were! Instead, the whole mess can be blamed on Ken Akamatsu, Tokyopop®, and their affiliates.

Notes: I KNOW. I KNOW. I should be working on AFiN. You'll just have to put up with an update here. (Somehow, I don't think there will be too many howls of outrage…)

Previously, on Leaving Hinata…

Keitaro got sick of being used as a doormat/stress ball by his tenants, and in a fit of common sense, moved his person out of their reach. He also broke up with Naru Narusegawa, his abusive girlfriend. Since then, he has reconnected with his immediate family. He has also reaffirmed his friendship with Shirai Kimiaki and Hiatani Masayuki.

And now we rejoin him, five months after he split with the Hinata Honies and made a go of it on his own…

Keitaro awoke to the sound of his alarm going off. Glancing over, he found that Sarah had wound it back a couple of hours earlier again. 'You'd think that I would have learnt to check the damn thing after she and Seta have been around by now, wouldn't you.' He groaned to himself. Over the past few months since he had left the Hinata and moved into his current living space, Professor Seta Noriyasu had taken it upon himself to become something of an informal guardian to the young man. At least once every couple of weeks or so, the professor would either drag him out to one of the bars that dotted the campus, or simply pop around to his place for a beer.

Occasionally, he stayed long enough to have dinner with him. This usually consisted of either takeaway or instant meals simply because, being Seta, he would never bother to give Keitaro any sort of advance warning as to when he was going to drop in. The Toudai student would just get a text message that afternoon saying to expect a visitor, which would not leave him with enough time to prepare a proper meal.

After this had been going on for about six weeks, Keitaro figured that Sarah had gotten sick of being excluded from the festivities and put her foot down, because Seta had cautiously showed up one day with her in tow.

Surprisingly enough, the young girl had behaved herself quite well that first time. She was reasonably polite, did not go out of her way to be a bother, and even respected his personal things when she gave his little place the once over.

Keitaro had been at a loss before he remembered his 'deal' with Granny Hina. 'I guess the old bat is beginning to crack the whip back at the Hinata.' He had mused, calling her by Haruka's nickname. Keitaro played along by being polite to her, and thanking Sarah when she did something nice. While it was not all hugs and kisses between them, their current relationship was a vast improvement over the way it had been when he was still the Kanrinin of the Hinata. He had seen them out the door smiling at how much of a change had come over the young girl since he had seen her last.

Until the next morning, when his alarm clock had gone off about four hours after his head had hit the pillow. He had also discovered that the little so-and-so had somehow managed to turn off his hot water. About thirty seconds after he stepped under the spray, naturally.

'I guess it's not so bad in the end. She's capable of a lot worse.' He mused, wondering idly why Sarah had not let the cat out of the bag and told the other girls where he was living yet. There was no way for him to know that during Seta's talk with her that day after he had helped Keitaro move in, he had made her promise not to reveal anything about where Keitaro was to the other tenants at the Hinata. Since he was so disappointed in her already for her behaviour towards his favourite part-timer, she was willing to do promise anything to regain his trust. Including sequester information from the others.

Deciding against trying to get some more sack time, Keitaro got out of bed and poured himself a coffee. 'So, due to Sarah being a brat, I have a several hours to kill before I have to be anywhere. Hmm…' He mused as he slurped noisily on the bitter beverage warming his hands. 'Oh what the heck! This place needs a once over anyway. And it saves me the job tonight.' Finishing his cup, he washed it out as a way of beginning the job of cleaning his small abode.

Two hours later, and feeling pleased with his efforts, Keitaro showered and gathered what he would need for a day at University. After a quick rummage in his closet for his backpack, (He'd lost track of time while showering, and was now running late.) he grabbed his helmet and left his unit, making sure to lock the door behind him. Taking the stairs two at a time, he reached the ground floor quickly and only slightly winded. Pulling out his keys, he unchained his scooter before standing back and admiring it for a moment.

'Best damn thing I've ever bought.' He thought proudly. He had signed a contract on it a couple of months ago, but already he was wondering how he had ever managed to survive without it all this time. It was only a small, 50cc scooter, but he didn't care. No more waiting for public transport. No more having to walk everywhere.

'Although I still can't believe I let that guy con me into getting the two-seater.' He mused ruefully. It's not as if he has anyone to offer a ride to, other than Hiatani occasionally sponging a lift off him. 'At least the second helmet was free.' The dealer had thrown it in as a sweetener to clinch the deal.

Hopping on, he carefully pulled out into the morning traffic, which immediately reminded him just why he tried to never be on the road during rush hour. Giving a quick one-finger salute to a taxicab that had loudly taken exception to him joining the morning commute, he puttered carefully towards Toudai.

Sipping his recently purchased Mocha to unwind after his morning lecture, Keitaro glanced around briefly before returning to the hand written list of books that he would need to find. While he was a little nervous about loitering out the front of the library in the open as he was now, it was not the overwhelming state of panic that he used to come to University in. For the first few weeks after he had broken up with his girlfriend, he had been utterly petrified that he would run into either Naru or Mutsumi. By chance, he had almost bumped into Naru once, barely a week after he had broken up with her. Luckily, she had not seen him. This was surprising, given that he had squawked rather loudly and made a scene by frantically crawling away on hands and feet in the opposite direction. Less than a week later, he had seen Naru again, this time in the company of Mutsumi. Since then, he had made sure that he was a bit more aware of his surroundings. He had also begun changing his lecture times in a further effort to put more distance between him and her.

Over the weeks though, he had come to realise that the chances of two students bumping into each other out of the thousands that attended Toudai daily were astronomical. Which was not always a good thing.

'It's a pity that Mutsumi took us splitting up so hard.' He mused. He had heard, through Haruka, that the Okinawan had gone home for a long visit, and had not returned to the Hinata yet. 'I would like to talk with her. And now that Narusegawa's no longer hovering over the both of us like a dark cloud, we might actually be able to become better friends again.' Despite her fainting spells, and the occasional beatings they induced, he did enjoy Mutsumi's company. The brief times they had spent together were some of the best memories he had of his time at the Hinata-Sou.

Draining the last of his cup and putting aside the past, he gathered his things together and made his way into the library. Time to do some work.

That afternoon, after his final lecture for the day, he headed home briefly to change before heading to his most recent part-time job as a dishwasher. The hours were long, but it was work. And the hot, moist conditions merely reminded him of the hours he had spent cleaning the hot springs, though without the inevitable poundings.

It was bearable.

Moreover, the work did not really require his complete attention, so he could spend a huge amount of time thinking about other things. Assignments, coursework, mentally planning which section of Seta's vast backlog of artefacts he would be cataloguing or repairing in the near future, shopping lists, whether he would be able to catch up with his friends soon. All these thoughts rattled around his mind while he worked.

Mostly though, he reflected on his time at the Hinata-Sou, wondering whether he was finally starting to properly recover from his time there. He had found recently that he was beginning to think of the girls in a kinder light than when he had first moved out. Motoko's grace and martini-dry sense of humour. Kaolla's perpetual delight at anything that managed to capture her attention. Kitsune's rare but genuine offers of assistance and camaraderie. Shinobu's shy but unwavering friendship. Mutsumi's unselfish support. There was even the very occasional memory of good times with Naru.

This wasn't to say that he was ready to charge blindly back to the Hinata. Far from it.

He was just becoming more willing to be civil to them if he ever happened to run into one of them in the street now. Which had not occurred yet.

Oh, to be sure, Shinobu had overcome her reluctance to enter the Hinata teashop when he was there talking to Haruka. She would join them about every third or fourth visit and sit in on the conversation quietly. He had actually teased her once about making more noise when she used to sneak up to the window next to where he and Haruka usually sat. 'She is so cute when she blushes!' Keitaro had thought to himself after her reaction to that comment. 'No wonder Kitsune used to like getting her all flustered.'

But, he had not bumped into any more of his former charges. Yet.

Days passed, the weeks flew, and eventually a Sunday rolled around.

"Hi dad!" Keitaro called out loudly as he entered his parent's sweet shop.

"Hello, my son. How does this day find you?" Kenichi Urashima asked pleasantly from his place behind the wide counter.

"Very well indeed." Keitaro answered back cheerfully as he placed his helmet on the counter. The seat of his pants joined it there a moment later. "The week is done, all my assignments are up to date, no work tonight and a home-cooked meal awaits! What more could I ask for?" He finished with a contented shrug.

Kenichi smiled with pride. 'He's worked so hard to get in to Toudai. I'm glad that he's not slacking off now.'

"Excellent! Well, head on in. I'm nearly done here. Another fifteen minutes, then I'll lock up and join you."

"Do you need a hand?" Keitaro asked as he hopped down from the counter.

Mr. Urashima waved him away. "I'll be fine, Keitaro. Your mother will want to start fussing over you as soon as possible. You'd better get it out of the way so it doesn't interrupt dinner." Father and son groaned at each other good naturedly, anticipating the inevitable fuss Mrs. Urashima will whip up over her son's perceived inability to feed himself properly now that he's living on his own.

Gathering up his helmet, Keitaro made his way through the shop towards the living area at the back of the shop. Kimiko Urashima had all but demanded that her son come over for 'a decent meal' at least once a week, soon after he had moved out of the Hinata. After a bit of haggling they had both settled on Sunday as the day. Actually, Keitaro ended up having to insist on it being that night, simply because the places he worked rarely let him have any other night off.

It ended up working out well for both him and her. He got a guaranteed hot, healthy meal at least once a week. Plus, the leftovers his mother insisted on him taking kept him fed for days afterwards. In this way, Kimiko helped dampen down her own concerns that her son was not getting enough of the right type of food into him.

"Hey mum- oof!" Keitaro started to greet his mother, before a black-clad blur slammed into him from the side.


"Hi Kanako." He groaned as he attempted to peel his adopted sister away from him. Without any noticeable success.

"Kanako dear, stop crowding your brother. He's here to be fed, not smothered." Kimiko Urashima gently chided her daughter.

The Urashima children rolled their eyes at that motherly comment, both refusing to point out that she did that more than her daughter ever could. Nevertheless, Kanako did as she was asked. "How are you?" She asked, taking a reluctant step back to look at him properly.

"Oh, well enough I s'pose." Keitaro replied, scratching the back of his head. He sort of knew the reasons why Kanako acted so enthusiastically around him, but did not like to think too deeply on the subject. Instead, he continued treating her like his sister, and hoped that one day she would finally take the hint. "I'm ahead on all my assignments, so things are pretty cruisy right now. What about you and Granny Hina?"

"Things are going well, I s'pose." Kanako grumbled. "We actually managed to turn a decent profit for the first time last month."

"Really?!" Keitaro was surprised. When he was running things, there was usually barely enough money left after all the expenses to pay his meagre wage. "How'd you manage that?"

Kanako scowled. "Since those bit… since our tenants have stopped throwing their Kanrinin's through random parts of the Hinata, the repair bills have dropped down to almost nothing." She corrected herself in time. Keitaro disliked it when she referred to the other girls in such crude terms. And she didn't like it when he scowled at her for it, no matter how much those bitches deserved to be called every name under the sun.

"Ah. Makes sense I guess." Keitaro shrugged. "And how are they? The girls, I mean."

Kanako's jaw fell open in shock, while Mrs. Urashima nearly dropped the plate she was carrying to the table.

"What? Did I say something wrong?"

His mother recovered first. "No dear, nothing like that. It's just that that's the first time you've asked after them in the last few months."

"Oh." Keitaro scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, well…"

"Are you thinking of taking up Granny's offer?" Kanako asked hesitantly.

"What? No! I'm just curious. That's all. Haruka doesn't say much when I visit her, and Shinobu even less." He shrugged. "I'm just wondering how they are dealing with everything that's happened over the past few months."

Kimiko hid a smile. 'He's finally beginning to get over what those girls have done to him.' It was something both she and her husband had been privately worried about. That what the Hinata girls had put him through might have poisoned his heart permanently. If he was asking about them, it meant that he was starting to let go of the darker parts of his time spent in their company.

Kanako was a bit more conflicted though. Like her mother, she was overjoyed that her brother was getting over his time at the Hinata. However, she did not want him entertaining any thoughts of returning any time soon. If only for the fact that she still hadn't been able to extract the appropriate revenge against the tenants yet. 'The old bat keeps me on a shorter leash than she does that bitch, Naru!' She grumbled to herself. "They are…well enough, I suppose." Kanako answered aloud. "Granny has them doing the chores in addition to paying rent."

"Huh? Why?"

"'Character building', she says." The younger Urashima shrugged. "Which doesn't explain why I have to do them as well." She grumbled.

"Oh." Keitaro scratched his head. "Well, it shouldn't be too much trouble for the lot of you. I mean, if I could get all that stuff done on my own, then it should be a breeze for the seven of you." He shrugged.

"I guess…" Kanako trailed off, having forgotten that fact for a moment. And again marvelling that her brother had the stamina to do everything and still get his coursework done for Toudai. This of course led her to wondering how she could get him to expend some of that stamina on her.

Shortly, Mr. Urashima arrived in the kitchen, which was the signal to begin the meal. For the next couple of hours, Keitaro basked in the pleasantness of an evening with his family.

Later that night, Keitaro and his father were standing out on the small balcony that hung over the Urashima sweet shop, talking about nothing.

After a comfortable silence, Kenichi asked his son again how he was doing.

"Fine Dad." Keitaro responded, a little confused. Hadn't they covered this before?

"No son." Kenichi shook his head, reminding himself that his son was still a little slow on the uptake sometimes. "I meant, how are you personally. Within yourself."

"Oh. Uh, good, I s'pose." Keitaro blinked, realising what his father was really asking after. "I mean, it still hurts, sometimes, when I think about the girls. And it sometimes feels a little lonely at my place." He let out a wistful smile. "But…oddly enough, I can say that I am honestly having the time of my life recently. Hiatani drags me around the Uni bars every now and again. I baby-sit Hikari for Shirai and Sayuri occasionally." He chuckled. "And Sayuri has been trying to set me up with some of her friends."

Kenichi perked up at that. "And how's that going for you?"

Keitaro shrugged. "Usually I'm too busy with work and Uni stuff to bother, but I have been out on the occasional date."

'Thank you Kami-sama!' Kenichi shouted internally. 'I thought those harpies had completely killed off his interest in girls.' "And…?"

"'And', what?"

"'And', how did your dates go?"

"Oh! Um, they were…nice."

"'Nice?'" Kenichi blinked. 'Perhaps I spoke too soon.'

"I mean, once I got over my nervousness, and got my head around the idea that they were not going to put me into orbit for saying the wrong thing, I really enjoyed their company. I just… I still don't think that I'm ready for another relationship right now." Keitaro looked at his father apologetically, as if he had somehow just disappointed him by admitting that.

Keitaro's father felt a surge of anger towards the Hinata girls in general, and Narusegawa in particular, rip through him. 'After all this time. He still fears their memory. Fears getting hurt during what should be an enjoyable situation.' He gripped the handrails in his hands so tightly that the wood had started creaking under the pressure. 'Perhaps I should have a talk with Mother about letting Kanako have her way with those girls.' He growled internally.

Shifting the conversation towards less loaded territory, and giving him some more tips he had learnt back when he was younger and living on his own before he got married, Kenichi soon noticed that his son was beginning to fidget with his watch. Keitaro had decided it was time to be heading back to his place. Taking the hint, the senior Urashima present guided his son back into the living room.

"Another early start tomorrow, you know." He said as his mother tried to get him to stay a little longer. With a huff of defeat, she started piling up containers of leftovers on his bike while he said his goodbye's to the others.

"Onii-chan. May I get a lift with you back to the Hinata?" Kanako asked softly. "After all, you wouldn't want me to walk there on my own at this time of night, would you?"

'Like she couldn't take out a platoon of marines on her own.' Keitaro eyed her warily. 'What's she up to now?'

"Are you sure?" Kimiko paused in her efforts to stack as many containers of food on her son's bike as she could unsafely manage. "Your father and I don't mind if you wish to spend the night here. Keitaro's old room is still made up for guests."

Kanako doggedly stayed her course. "That's okay, Mother. Now that Granny Hina has us all sharing the chores, I prefer to get mine done as soon as I can in the morning. It allows me to have the rest of the day free." She frowned. "Unfortunately, 'free' usually translates into learning more about the ins and outs of running an Inn from the old bat."

"…um, sure. Why not." Keitaro finally shrugged in agreement. "I can drop you off at Haruka's tea house on my way home, if that's okay."

Kanako bowed slightly, managing not to squeal with glee. "Thank you, Onii-chan!"

'Why didn't I see this coming?' Keitaro thought ruefully to himself as he puttered along, Kanako having wrapped her arms tightly around his torso and snuggled in close as soon as they were out of sight of their parent's home. To be fair, he'd never actually had a female passenger on the bike with him before. And now that he was in this situation, he was surprised that she had not tried something like this before now. 'It's a pity. With the right company, this could really be fun.' He thought wistfully.

Eventually, they pulled up at the base of the feared Hinata staircase.

"Okay Sis. We're here." He called over his shoulder.

Kanako sighed, feeling a little flush. 'That was…comfortable.' Dismounting reluctantly, she took off the helmet and handed it to him. "Thank you for getting me home safely, Onii-chan." She said brightly. Looking over his shoulder, she smirked briefly before going up on tiptoes and giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "See you at dinner next week." Bowing briefly, she bounced away from her shocked brother.

'Oh great. Now she's trying to be even more weird.' Keitaro groaned to himself. 'Next time I see Granny, I'm gonna have a chat about this. It's starting to freak me out a little!' Shaking away the last of his shock and wiping away the lipstick Kanako had managed to swear over his cheek, he stowed the other helmet and remounted the scooter. With a last glance up at the Hinata, he motored away.

Keitaro's Monday started out normally, but quickly became something special.

He had been walking through one of the large courtyards at the University when he heard a very familiar voice call his name out. To his credit, he didn't run away, or jump, at the shock of hearing one of those girls again. Not even a little. Turning in the direction of the voice, he saw someone he had been hoping to see for some time. "Mutsumi?"

He was rewarded with the sight of his childhood friend's face lighting up into the sweetest smile he had ever seen. "Kei-chan!"

"Mu-chan!" He replied gleefully as he began moving towards her. His walk quickly became a sprint as he noticed the telltale signs of her beginning to faint. As always, he made it to her just as she keeled over.

After reassuring himself and everyone else who had seen what had happened that she was okay, he carried her to a grassy patch under a nearby tree and sat with her until she came around. It wasn't long.

"…ara, what a pleasant dream." Mutsumi mumbled as she awoke.

"Really?" Keitaro smiled down at her blissful expression as she came to. "What was it about?"

"Oh, I dreamt that I ran into Keitaro at Toudai…" She blinked a couple of times as she figured out who she was talking too. "Keitaro?" She whispered.

"That's me."

"Keitaro!" Mutsumi shrieked and launched herself at him. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she latched on to his mouth and gave him a searing kiss.

To her delight and his own surprise, he barely hesitated before returning her affections just as enthusiastically.

A few minutes later, he gently eased her away from him without letting go of her. "When did you get back into Tokyo?"

"Oh, a week or two ago, I think." Her face scrunched up in thought. Keitaro thought her expression looked extremely cute. "And…I'm staying at the Hinata again." She pulled back a little further from him, not knowing how he would take that information.

Keitaro tensed slightly, but that was the extent of his reaction. "Well, I suppose it is the best and cheapest place for a student to stay, isn't it." He said finally.

"You don't mind?"

"Why would I mind?" He frowned in confusion. "I mean yeah, I'm not likely to drop in for a visit. But otherwise, why should it matter? You have people who care about you there. And to be honest, I think that I would worry about you more if you were staying some place unfamiliar." Seeing her confusion, he expanded on that statement, "What I mean is, if you have one of your fainting spells at the Hinata, Granny and the others would take care of you until you came around. If you were somewhere else, who knows what might happen to you!" He finished loudly, getting a little worked up over the mere thought of a situation like that happening.

"Oh Kei!" Mutsumi gushed before latching on to his lips again. Knowing that he still felt so strongly about her, and her safety, was so wonderful. And it meant that she might still have a chance at his heart.

After another couple of minutes, Keitaro once again softly pushed her away from him. "Um, I have a little while before my next lecture. Can I buy you a drink? There's a place nearby that's experimenting with a watermelon-flavoured iced-tea." He offered quickly before she could move in on him again.

"What? Oh, sure." Mutsumi dragged her thoughts away from the happy place they, and she, had been for the past few minutes. "I'm finished for the day, anyway. I was just waiting for N-" She stumbled over the name as Keitaro went somewhat pale.

"oh." He whispered. "She's not around here, is she?" His eyes flicked over the courtyard quickly.

"Ah, no. She's not due to finish for another couple of hours." Mutsumi cursed herself internally. They had been reconnecting so wonderfully, and then she had to almost mention that name. 'Ara, I will have to be much more careful from now on about what I blurt out to dear Kei-chan. He still looks so sad and scared about her.' Setting her smile back in place, she stood up and offered her hand to him. "Watermelon Iced-tea sounds wonderful. I would be happy to join you for some, Kei-chan."

A glass of iced-tea each later…

"-and then Motoko spent the rest of the day hiding from both Su and Tama-chan." Mutsumi finished relating the gossip she could remember since she had returned to the Hinata. Keitaro had been a little surprised, actually. Usually when his friend gets to talking, the conversation invariably turns towards either watermelons, or a discourse on her favourite TV shows. This time, however, she had managed to stay focused. And more than a little entertaining as she related her tales of the others.

Mutsumi, on the other hand, was more than a little relieved that she could talk about the others without him tensing or frowning. To be sure, he had flinched slightly when certain names were spoken. And she did not mention Naru's name at all. But after the first few minutes, he had been so absorbed by what she was saying that he forgot to be anything but interested.

The sound of him chuckling lightly brought her attention back. "What?"

"Oh, I just realised that I think this is the longest we have ever talked to each other without anyone barging in and nailing me for doing something 'perverted'." Keitaro grinned. It faded slightly as it occurred to him to check the time. "Speaking of which, when are you due to meet up with her?"

Mutsumi blinked, before realising who Her was. "Pretty soon, actually." She pouted as she looked at her own timepiece. "And I'll have to get going if I'm going to meet her on time." She shrugged her shoulders apologetically before letting them slump.

"Um, okay." He frowned, unwilling to let his oldest friend leave, but not wanting to get her in trouble either. He reluctantly followed Mutsumi to her feet. "Um…"

Mutsumi, seeing him standing there with an uncertain expression, stepped up to him and engulfed him in a crushing embrace. "You never have to worry about needing permission to hug me, Kei-chan, 'cause you'll always have it." She promised into his ear as she snuggled against him.

"Thanks Mu-chan." He replied happily, enjoying the way her long hair brushed over his cheek as he held her close for the second time that day. Releasing her after a long moment, he stepped back. "Say hi to Shinobu for me when you see her. When you two are alone, if possible." He added as an afterthought.

"I will." Mutsumi agreed, somewhat reluctantly. She hadn't realised that he was still on speaking terms with any of the girls at the Hinata. 'Then again, she wouldn't advertise that fact to the others if she was, would she?'

"Hey, maybe I'll see you down at Haruka's the next time I show up?"

The young Okinawan smiled brilliantly. "Maybe you will."

Monday turned out to be the highlight of his week. The rest of it went along as normal, and he managed to meet up with Mutsumi once more for another light conversation over a morning coffee. Although he had a nasty moment as they parted ways. For a second, he swore that he spotted his Ex out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to look in that particular direction however, there was nothing there. It left him unsettled for the rest of the day.

Friday finally showed its welcome face, and with it, a gentle reminder that his presence was required that night as Hiatani greeted Keitaro in his usual mature, friendly way. "NOOGIES!!!!"

"ACK! Getorfameyanut!!" He gasped as Hiatani put him in a chokehold from behind and grinded some knuckles into his head.

"Just making sure I had your attention." The tallest of the ronin trio commented innocently as he backed away, favouring his ribs. Keitaro had picked up a few tricks from Seta in his time, and he was not as shy about using them as he used to be. "So, did you get the night off work? Remember, you promised to come out with us tonight."

"Yeah yeah, I remember. I'm free and clear from work. Where are we going?"

"Dunno." Hiatani shrugged. Seeing Keitaro get an evil glint in his eyes, he decided to expand on his answer. "That is, Sayuri has us booked into some restaurant in the city somewhere. But I don't know where it is. So after you get changed, you're going to catch the bus to my place, and we are all going to head in together." He said in a rush. His friend had gotten out of the habit of putting up with being teased, and sometimes got a bit testy when someone tried.

"There, that wasn't so hard was it?" Keitaro grinned. It could be a trial to get a straight answer out of Hiatani some days.

"Bite me. You finished up here?" Hiatani looked around. While he was not actually a student at Tokyo University, he knew his way around. And when he hadn't been able to find Keitaro at any of his usual haunts on campus, he had come to Professor Seta's office/storage shed.

"Just about. Lemme finish off this piece." After half an hour containing broken artefacts, steady hands, lots of glue, and a constant stream of friendly bantering, Keitaro locked up the office and headed home to change.

"So, what's the actual occasion?" Keitaro asked Shirai and Sayuri. The four of them had been seated at a window table of one of the more upper-class restaurants in Tokyo. The main meal was done with, and they were just waiting for sweets.

"No-ones actually told me about why we're here." Seeing the two of them look at each other, and misinterpreting the glance, he quickly apologised. "Not that I don't enjoy spending time with my friends out on the town. Far from it! It's just that you two have been unusually secretive about the reason for tonight." He looked over at Hiatani. "You got any idea?"

"Maybe." He smirked. "But just in case I'm wrong, I ain't gonna say a thing."

"Keitaro." Sayuri leaned over the table and put a hand over Keitaro's. "It's nothing bad, or earth-shattering. Shirai and I just wanted to take our closest friends out to dinner to tell you both something."

Keitaro looked down and saw something out of place on her left hand. He realised what it was just as Shirai spoke up.

"Sayuri and I are engaged." He beamed. "I asked her to marry me a few days ago, and she said yes."

The Toudai student looked from one to the other, stunned. "Really?"

Sayuri blushed. "Yeah. The big goof dragged me out to that park across from his place, found a quiet corner, and actually got down on one knee." She looked at him fondly, making him squirm a little. "Nothing too flash. No big production. He just sweated and stuttered his way through a very sweet speech." Leaning over, she planted a heart-felt kiss on him.

The three men at the table knew why such a low-key proposal thrilled her so much. Her first husband had made a huge production when he had asked her. It was flashy, expensive, and very public. Looking back, Sayuri had also realised that there was no real feeling behind it, just a need to show off to his mother and her friends. So something from the heart was always going to touch her deeply. And Shirai had managed it perfectly.

"I still don't know when he asked my parents for their permission. He even asked Hikari if she was okay with it."

"Yeah, well…" Shirai was ready to melt into a puddle from the sultry looks he was receiving from his new fiancée. A polite cough from the other side of the table drew their attention back to their friends.


"About damn time!"

Hiatani and Keitaro both stood and came around the table, grabbing one of the new couple each and hugging them fiercely before swapping and repeating their actions.

"So, have you set a date yet?" The question was asked after they were all seated again.

"Ah, it won't be for a couple of years yet. I just want to nail her down so she won't be tempted to trade up." Shirai answered and teased at the same time.

Sayuri leaned over. "Not a chance. You're all mine." She whispered sweetly.

Her fiancée closed the space between them. "And you're mine." Their lips met for a prolonged moment.

Hiatani and Keitaro watched the display, feeling equal parts happiness and annoyance towards the couple.

"Should we throw a bucket of cold water over them?" The two-time ronin asked, sotto-voice.

"Give 'em a couple more minutes." The three-time roninreplied. "If they haven't come up for air by then, all bets are off."

Eventually, the four friends ended up in one of Tokyo's many nightclubs, dancing their hearts out. Sayuri and Shirai were lost in each other's eyes, slow dancing in the middle of the floor despite the tempo of the current song being played. Hiatani was trying his luck with the various single ladies, while Keitaro was content to stay to the side and nurse a drink.

'Damn, they look happy.' He thought as he watched the couple swaying gently together. 'I wonder if I'd be in their shoes by now if I had chosen someone other than Naru to focus on at the Hinata?' Having consumed a few more drinks than he had intended to so far, he decided to pursue that thought. 'After all, I know that most of those girls have looked at me with something other than disgust in their eyes on more than one occasion.' He began ticking off fingers. 'Mutsumi has never been shy about letting me know that I have a chance. During that duel with her sister, Motoko seemed to think of me as a human being worthy of attention, and not just 'a male'. Even Kitsune's seriously flirted with me once or twice, without trying to get money or a favour out of me. Su…well, Su's Su. I could never get a handle on when she was being serious, even after all this time. And Shinobu…' His train of thought almost derailed right there, but he was just drunk enough to continue, 'Shinobu is almost out of school now, so she's almost safe to think about.' Keitaro blinked, not quite believing that he was thinking what he was thinking.

'Okay. Need to get drunker. Need to wash away those thoughts. Right now!' He reasoned. Standing up suddenly, he almost head butted Hiatani as the other man tried to sneak up on him. "Drinks!"

"What?" Shirai shouted over the music.

"Who wants another drink? My shout!" Keitaro demanded.

"Done!" Hiatani immediately took the offer.

Shirai and Sayuri looked at each other and shrugged. "Sure."

After taking their orders, Keitaro made his way towards the bar trying to keep who wanted what straight in his head. Suddenly, a feminine voice cut through the loud music. "K-Keitaro?"

Upon hearing his name, he spun around curiously, trying to locate the female calling out his name in such a shocked yet pleased tone. Locating her, his eyes flying wide open in disbelief. "You…"

Notes: what's been happening back at the Hinata while all this was going on, I wonder…