The Half-Full Glass
I doubt Ken Akamatsu will ever read this and deign it important enough to send a legion of unholy lawyers to bust my sorry butt for copyright infringement, but just in case: I don't own Love Hina or any of its characters, nor am I making any money from writing this.
WARNING: I try not to be too colorful, but there is what many might call "strong language" in this chapter. Not that anyone will be cursing like a sailor, mind you. I myself don't think it's terribly out of character considering the emotional stress these people are going through. Tempers can be hard to contain when the life of someone you love is on the line. But if you're sensitive to such things then consider this fair warning.
Chapter 1 – One Step Over the Line
"By all rights, Ms. Urashima, your nephew shouldn't be alive right now. When I first saw him in the E.R. I, and you'll have to forgive my bluntness, I thought the minutes he had left could be counted on one hand. Multiple fractured ribs, lacerations around his thorax and abdomen, internal bleeding, and severe head trauma. The CT scan revealed rather serious contusions in his temporal lobe. And yet inexplicably and inexorably, and with virtually no medical treatment I might add, he is alive and in stable condition. His recovery is nothing short of miraculous. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I'd never have believed it. The man isn't human!"
"Cut the crap, Doc," Haruka growled dangerously. Maybe it was an amusing little game for a butcher in a white lab coat, but it was Keitaro's life on the line. "If he's recovering as well as you claim, why is he still unconscious?"
The Doctor actually had the gall to look at her like she was the crazy one. "Ms. Urashima. I am by no means a religious man, but I will be the first one to tell you to count your blessings. Elaborating on what I told you earlier, he has suffered perilous tissue damage to his temporal lobe. As it happens, this is the part of the brain most closely associated with speech, hearing, and memory. Amazing though Mr. Urashima's latent healing abilities may be, I have sincere misgivings to what capacity that may extend to his brain. It's very delicate, highly specialized tissue, you see. A mere cut or bruise, or even a broken bone or two is nothing in comparison. Even if, and I do mean IF, he does regain consciousness, it's unlikely he will be the same person that you once knew."
It was all Haruka could do to fight the urge to vomit then and there. The doctor, as ever, was oblivious.
"Any ordinary man would be in the morgue from these injuries, mind you. If you could call anyone who has stood at the precipice between life and death, "lucky", it would be this young man."
His eyes glazed over and the short, stocky, pathetic excuse for a human being with all the ingloriousness of a thinning hairline and exaggerated mustache stared off into the distance. "This could be the medical discovery of the century— no, in all history! If we could discern the source of his body's rapid natural healing, we might stumble on an honest-to-god panacea! Think of the possibilities! Think of the prestige!"
Haruka barely restrained herself from throttling the man; there was a faint trail of saliva dribbling down from the corner of his mount. Instead, she elected to walk over to her nephew's bedside and offer him what little comfort she could, regardless of if he was aware of it. Gingerly, she ran a hand through his tussled hair, thumbing his front bangs affectionately.
"Oh god, Keitaro. I'm so sorry that I let this happen to you…"
Her jaw hardened and a fiery determination seeped into her eyes.
"But not half as sorry as whoever did this to you is going to be. Count on it."
It seemed like ages to the five female residents of Hinata-Sou before Haruka finally returned to the waiting room. Being the only actual kin of the patient, Keitaro, she was the sole person allowed to see him initially. At first they had protested loudly but Haruka shot them all a withering look that would brook no argument. She had turned a blind eye to most of their physical and verbal harassment towards her nephew. He probably even had it coming to him more often than not. Besides, he was a big boy now. She couldn't, and wouldn't, babysit him forever. She'd thought little of it at the time. He would visit the tea house from time to time, but he'd never looked… abused.
She shuddered at the word, but it only hardened her resolve. She eyed her nephew's charges with contempt. Guilty, she thought: each and every last one of them. Lingering for scarcely a moment, she spoke without preamble.
"I want names. A confession. Now."
Her words were short, but not as short as her temper.
"I said NOW!"
The girls all jumped, but none of them could look her in the eye. Instead, they glanced at each other uneasily and remained silent, as if to confirm a conspiracy to protect their fellow tenants. So that's how it's gonna be, eh? Well, they were the only ones with someone to protect.
"You play by my rules, girls; not the other way around. With Keitaro out..."
…for the count?
"…of the picture at the moment, I'm the acting landlord of Hinata-Sou and unless one of you comes forward and claims responsibility immediately, I'm evicting all of you."
"What? You can't do that!" one of the girls snapped.
Ah, it was Motoko. She should have expected as much from the belligerently brazen bitch.
"Don't you dare presume to tell me what I can and cannot do, Miss Aoyoma," snarled Haruka, her whole body vibrating from the waves of rage that washed over her. It was enough to humble even the arrogant kendo wench into submission; though evidently, not submissive enough. Perhaps unconsciously, her hand slipped towards the hilt of the blade that never left her side. Haruka's eyes flashed to it and back to Motoko in an instant.
"You… you bring that THING with you even HERE?"
"A warrior is always ready," Motoko intoned dispassionately.
Haruka loosed a bark of a laugh devoid of any mirth. "What threat could you possibly perceive in this place of healing? What could you possibly have to fear?"
She gestured around her.
"The old man in the wheelchair? The sick boy with snot dripping down his nose? MY BEDRIDDEN NEPHEW WHO MAY NEVER OPEN HIS EYES AGAIN?! NEVER SMILE AGAIN?! NEVER LAUGH AGAIN?!"
The righteous anger that had given her strength began to ebb away.
"Never sulk again? Never cry again? Never…"
Her voice was dying in her throat. It was barely a whisper now.
"Never go on a date again? Never force me to slap him for calling me 'Aunt' again?"
Her eyes stung, but she would NOT cry. Not yet. Not until these heartless bitches knew what their actions may have wrought.
"Wh-what?" Shinobu gasped. "Keitaro-senpai is going to be okay, isn't he? He's always okay."
"Y-yeah," Kitsune added. "He's a tough cookie, that one. It was pretty much the only thing he was ever confident about. He'll take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. He should be bouncing back from this one by tomorrow for sure. Right?"
Haruka considered for a long moment not to tell them. Let them sit and wonder and watch them as their uncertainty gave way to guilt and slowly ate them alive. But no, any satisfaction she might have derived from that would have been empty and self-destructive.
"We don't know. His body is recovering alright, but he took some pretty bad blows to the head. Part of his brain was damaged, and that's something that doesn't 'bounce back' so readily. It's the part that controls his speech, hearing and memory, I'm told. He hasn't woken up yet but who knows what will happen when—no, IF he does? For all we know, we may have lost the old Keitaro forever."
One cry of anguish drowned out all the others, but it hadn't come from any of the Hinata-Sou tenants. Peeking from behind the corner of the waiting room was Kanako Urashima.
"That's a lie, isn't it Haruka?" she asked, her voice laden with desperation. "I was watching you tell off the girls here and enjoying every minute of it. But that's going too far. You were just trying to make them feel bad, weren't you? What you said is a lie, isn't it?"
When Haruka couldn't look her in the eye, that was all the confirmation the girl needed.
"No…" she echoed. "No, this can't be happening. It's a dream. A bad dream. I want to wake up now. Somebody wake me up."
"Kanako…" Haruka reached towards the fragile, trembling thing only to have her hand slapped away.
"This is real," Kanako managed to heave between short, labored breaths. "This is real! I want to see him! I want to see him now!"
"I don't think you should," Haruka said in a measured tone. "It'll only make you more upset right now. Take some time to cool off first."
"FUCK THAT!" Kanako screeched, surprising herself more than anyone. She closed her eyes and took a moment to regain control of herself. One breath. Two breaths. Three. She opened her eyes. "Please. Can't I see him?"
It wasn't what Haruka expected. Kanako would normally fly off the handle over any perceived danger to her older brother, whether real or imagined. Then again, these circumstances were hardly "normal".
"Of course you can," she relented, jabbing her head towards the appropriate door. "You're family, after all."
Kanako was gone before she could finish.
"U-um, can we see him too?" Shinobu asked with trepidation.
"The hell you can!" Haruka roared, the fire igniting in her once more. "NONE of you are getting anywhere NEAR my nephew again until I get some answers. Who. Did. It."
"I swear it wasn't me," Naru said immediately. "I- I know I get carried away sometimes but I would NEVER mangle him badly enough to do anything permanent. A- And I don't really do it so much anymore, really. He's gotten better, he really has. Besides, I never really did hate him in the first place. I just didn't know how to show him how much I—"
Her face lit up crimson and she couldn't continue.
Kitsune, predictably, interjected at this point in an effort to cover her friend's awkward embarrassment. "It wasn't me neither. Sure I like to give the little guy a hard time but it's all just good-natured ribbing. I don't mean nothing by it."
"Su didn't do it. I like Keitaro. He reminds me of big brother."
"I'd never even THINK about doing something like that to Keitaro-senpai!" Shinobu insisted furiously.
Haruka appraised each of their faces one by one. There was no deceit. She sighed, whether out of relief or just plain exhaustion, she couldn't say.
"I guess that's that then. I'll allow you to visit him one at a time, after Kanako is finished."
The girls nodded dully, absorbed in their own thoughts.
Haruka frowned. One, two, three, four... FUCK. Motoko was missing. Her absence was tantamount to an admission of guilt.
Involuntarily, Haruka could feel her teeth grating. So the proud warrior was just a coward after all. She disappointed, but not surprised. Cursing her carelessness, Haruka turned to return to Keitaro's room. She wasn't letting Motoko off the hook. Not by a long-shot. But justice… and revenge... could wait. Keitaro and Hanako needed her more right now.
"What are YOU doing here, you frigid bitch?!" a scream erupted from Keitaro's quarters. "Get away from him!"
"Please," a second voice appealed. "I mean no harm. I only wish to pay my respects."
Haruka broke into a run and hurried to the door. Inside was Kanako... and Mokoto.
"Respects?" Kanako parroted. "He's not fucking dead yet, you enormous ass! Not that you would care, Miss Ice-Water-Running-Through-Her-Veins? Get. The. FUCK. Out. NOW!"
"Please! I have to see him. I have to know. I can't bear the guilt."
"Guilt?" Kanako echoed. There was a flash of realization in her eyes, then white hot rage. "YOU DID THIS TO HIM! YOU BITCH! YOU FUCKING BITCH! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!"
Get in line, Kanako. Rolling up her sleaves, Haruka stepped forward to intervene.
"Cut it out, will you?!"
Time stopped. It was a new voice. Not Kanako's. Not Motoko's. Not Haruka's. All three craned their heads towards the bed.
"Jesus Christ, I feel like I got hit by a train."
Keitaro was awake. And he could talk. Normally. He was alright.
"Get a doctor in here, quick!" Haruka yelled loud enough for the whole hospital to hear.
"Holy hell woman, those are some tonsils you've got there."
He coughed suddenly and all three women hurried towards him.
"Maybe you took mine, eh? Jesus, it hurts to even talk."
"Keitaro?" Haruka gaped lamely. "You? You're okay?"
"Well," gestured Keitaro, the effort causing him to wince slightly. "I'm covered in bandages from head to toe, near as I can see. You tell me."
"Thank god!" Kanako breathed. "Oh, thank god you're okay! I was so, so worried." She gingerly wrapped her arms around his head, resting her own on his chest when the tears she'd been holding back would no longer be denied.
"Thank god," Motoko mumbled to herself more than anyone else. Nobody heard her. And nobody cared. Not right now, at least. Because Keitaro had come back to them.
"Whoa, a guy could get used to attention like this," Keitaro grinned. "Just one question though."
Haruka smiled, wiping away a tear. "Yeah, Keitaro?"
"Uh, just who are you people, anyway?"
Author's Notes: It's been a long time since I've last written any fanfiction. Lack of motivation coupled with a time budget and the fact that I'm a World of Warcraft addict really don't get the creative juices flowing. But, out of the blue, I got the idea for this story and like an itch that you just can't reach, it really got under my skin until I just had to set everything else aside until I finally hammered this out. I gotta say, I kinda missed this. But WHY Love Hina and WHY now is completely beyond me. I was over the harem genre a LONG time ago. But, I digress. I may or may not decide to continue this story depending on what tickles my fancy. I might feel more inclined to do so depending on what kind of reception this first chapter gets. Just don't get your hopes too high if you like it. I have a lot on my plate and Wrath of the Lich King is right around the corner…
Oh, and that medical crap from the beginning is all a bunch of hooey. I'm not a doctor and I've never been to medical school. What little expertise I have was imparted to me by watching House and Grey's Anatomy.