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.

Chapter 4 – Love and Prejudice

"I think we've heard enough," Kanako interrupted, scowling as she turned from Shinobu to her grandmother. "See, Granny? Her story just digs a deeper hole for Kengo girl. What more do you need to hear? Motoko did it. Case closed."

"No!" Shinobu protested. "Don't listen to her, Granny. It might look bad, but I know Motoko-senpai would never—"

Her voice caught in her throat. She couldn't will the words into being.

"Never what?" Kanako asked with a self-satisfied smirk. "Hurt my brother? Go on and say it. You've told so many lies already, what's one more?"

Shinobu blinked in confusion at the accusation. "What? Why would you say that? I'm not a liar." Kanako studied her for a moment before shaking her head.

"Wow, you actually believe that." She heaved a theatric sigh. "Fine, then let me ask you this: if you care about my brother, why didn't you ever stand up for him? If you trust Motoko, why can't you defend her? It's simple: you're in denial. You can't handle the truth so you wrap yourself in soothing lies until you believe them yourself. You're a coward."

Shinobu recoiled as if she'd been slapped. Was Kanako right? Her trust for Motoko-senpai... was it really that fragile? Were her feelings for Urashima-senpai not in earnest? Until now, she'd defended Motoko out of loyalty, but how did she really feel in her heart of hearts. She took a deep, cleansing breath and closed her eyes, searching for the answer from deep within herself.

And then she knew.

When she opened her eyes again, she met Kanako's gaze with her own. Shinobu stared unflinchingly into the other girl's pupils as she opened her mouth to speak.

"Motoko-senpai isn't perfect," she admitted, "but she isn't the monster that you seem to think she is either."

Her voice felt ten times bigger than normal; not loud, just... big. She couldn't explain it any other way. It flowed out soft and steady, neither meek nor threatening. Every word echoed confidence and clarity and Shinobu could hardly believe she was the one speaking them.

"I didn't like her at first. When we first met, I was afraid of her. She was so cold to me. She never smiled or laughed, and she barely spoke. I thought she hated me. And then one day, about two weeks after I came to live at Hinata-Sou, my parents arrived at our doorstep to convince me to come home. When I said no, my dad lost his temper and tried to drag me out the door by the wrist. I saw Motoko-senpai in the corner of my eye and she moved towards us faster than I could have believed. I thought she was going to hit him. But she never laid a finger on him. Instead, she sank to her knees and bowed her head all the way down to the ground and begged him to reconsider, to let me stay. She did that for me when we'd barely said more than two words to each other."

Kanako's eyebrows lifted in surprise, though the scowl never left her face. Shinobu doubted that she could ever sway the stubborn girl's judgment, but Kanako was not the only one with convictions.

"You say I'm a coward. Well, I don't deny it. I know I'm timid and wishy washy and jump at the sight of my own shadow. Even now, as I'm saying this to you, I'm frightened. But, coward or not, I could never forgive myself if I let you slander and accuse my friend, Motoko, when you have no idea what kind of person she is. When you don't have a shred of proof to back it up. I don't care if you're his sister. You have no right to lash out at Motoko-senpai, or me, or anyone else just because you're angry. Grow up, Kanako. Urashima-senpai would be ashamed of your behavior."

As Shinobu finished, she noted the bewildered looks on everyone's faces and instantly regained her senses. Blood rushed to her head, leaving her feeling faint and completely mortified. Whipping towards Granny Hina, she inclined her torso forward into a deep bow.

"I'm sorry! That was so inappropriate of me, saying such things to your granddaughter in such a public place. I even had the insolence to do so while you were present. I beg your forgiveness, Hina-sama!"

Tense seconds ticked by as Shinobu steeled herself for the worst.

She never imagined that the worst would involve Granny Hina bursting into a fit of raucous laughter. Everyone in the room, by-standers and all, turned to stare at the hysterical elderly woman. She nearly fell over as her howls filled the room and received more than a few funny looks.

"Shinobu," Su leaned in close, miming a stage whisper, "I think you broke her."

Minutes passed before Hina finally regained composure enough to speak. "Oh dear, oh dear," she chuckled, eyes dancing with mirth. "You've grown up on me, child. I suspected that my grandson might have more success than I did in coaxing you out of your shell, but I never imagined he'd get these results in so short a time. I'm so proud of you, and of him."

Shinobu's face flushed an even deeper shade of scarlet. "Urashima-senpai did so much for me. For all of us. That's why I don't think Motoko hurt him. She knows her own strength better than anyone. Of she'd wanted to badly injure Urashima-senpai, she could have done it a long time ago. But she always held back, even when she was really angry. I believe in her, no matter how guilty she might look."

Kanako scoffed, but the gesture lacked heat, and Shinobu wondered if maybe she'd gotten through to the girl, if only a little. Feeling reassured by Granny Hina's broad smile, Shinobu bowed deeply again in one last desperate appeal on behalf of Motoko-senpai.

"I understand how things may look, but please give Motoko-senpai a chance. I don't know what happened after she ran out of the house after Urashima-senpai, but I beg that you give her the benefit of the doubt until she can tell you her side of the story."

"Then tell me who did this to my brother!" Kanako demanded in a sudden outburst. "If not her, then who?! Who the hell would do such a thing?! It's HER! It HAS to be her!"

It was the first time Shinobu had seen Kanako cry, and it unnerved her. For the first time she realized that Kanako had known Urashima-senpai longer than the rest of the put together. Out of all the girls, his brush with death must have shaken her the most. She was afraid for him. Maybe even afraid of him because he was no longer the brother she'd spent all those years with. Shinobu's own grief must have been dwarfed by Kanako's.

"Kanako-san," she called her name very gently. "I'm sorry. I didn't think about your feelings. I can understand that you need someone to blame, but sometimes bad things just happen. At least Urashima-senpai is still alive."

"Shut up!" Kanako spat bitterly, her eyes burning with feral rage even as tears pooled under them. "Don't pretend that you know how I feel. And don't bullshit me about how 'bad things happen'. Bad people make bad things happen. The world is full of them and they do it everyday. I've seen it. I've experience it first-hand growing up in an orphanage. Only Onii-chan was kind to me. He's as good a man as I've ever known and he nearly died today. You might think I'm out for blood, but this isn't about revenge. It's about justice. My brother didn't deserve this. And I don't care what it takes, I'm going to make it right."

"And what if no one is to blame?" Shinobu asked. "What if Urashima-senpai was just in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if it was all just an accident? What then?"

"What if pigs could fly?" Kanako riposted. "It doesn't matter because they can't. And this wasn't just an accident. If Aoyama is so innocent, why isn't she here right now? Why did her face pale like a sheet when she saw my brother? Why did she break down like a filthy animal when I asked her about it? At least I can support my conclusion with facts instead of clinging to baseless suppositions. 'What if' isn't an argument. It's a stall tactic and I've wasted enough time on you."

"You're wrong!" Shinobu screamed. "My beliefs aren't baseless! I know Motoko Aoyama is a good person. I see her everyday. I eat breakfast with her every morning and I wish her sweet dreams every night. Don't you dare pass judgment on her when you don't even know her. Or can you tell me why she came here to see Urashima-senpai? Wouldn't a murderer have run away? Why did she do it now when she could have done it a hundred times before? Why was she biting her lip and wringing her hands with the rest of us if she didn't care about him?"

"Shut up already!" Kanako roared. "Shut your filthy, lying, ungrateful mouth! She did it! You did it! You all did it! He gave you everything and you threw it back in his face! None of you could ever do any wrong in his eyes. None of you appreciated what he sacrificed for you! None of you deserved his love but you got it anyway! So what if it was just an accident? It doesn't change the fact that YOU mistreated him. YOU caused him to suffer. Why do you think he doesn't remember you? Think about it. Maybe he doesn't WANT to. And why would he, after everything you've done to him? It doesn't matter who pulled the trigger, you're ALL holding a smoking gun. You're ALL murderers with his blood on your hands."

Every one of Kanako's words felt like a knife through Shinobu's heart. She felt her knees threaten to buckle from under her at any moment. She wanted to scream her innocence. She loved Keitaro Urashima. She would never hurt him.

And yet, she had. Maybe not personally, but knowing that her friends were doing wrong and choosing to do nothing about it made her just as guilty. They loved him, too, of course. But that didn't make it any less wrong. Kanako had been right. They were all hypocrites. Every last one. It was a bitter draught to swallow. But, she could bear it. She could accept it. She would never forget those regrets, but neither would she allow them to become her shackles.

"Urashima-senpai taught me so much," she said quietly. "I was so lonely. I wanted a friend, but I was always scared to take that first step forward. 'What if they hate me?' I thought. 'I'm so gloomy, nobody would ever like a girl like me,' I thought. The way I saw it, there was no point in trying if I was going to be rejected. I thought I deserved to be lonely. But then he took my hand. He showed me what an empty way to live that was. I'll never turn back. I won't be paralyzed by my own doubts and insecurities. I love him. And I know I hurt him. But I still love him. What do you want me to do? Hide under a rock and cry over how guilty I feel until I die? I DO feel guilty, but that only makes me want to be with him even more. To say I'm sorry, and more than that: SHOW I'm sorry. I accept my sins, but I'll atone for them. Whatever it takes. He means that much to me. And not just me, to all of us at Hinata-Sou."

Kanako only glared at her in response, but Shinobu didn't turn away. Kanako's resentment: she would accept that, too.

"I'll never forgive you," Kanako rasped. "Any of you."

"I know," said Shinobu. "But that won't stop me, either."

To Shinobu's amazement, Kanako actually smiled.

"I'll be watching. If you hurt him again, I'll make you pay. But if you can show me what you said just now is more than mere words, then maybe I can accept you."

Shinobu nodded gravely.

"I just want him to be happy," Kanako whispered. "I don't think you can give that to him, but go ahead and try. I won't lose to you."

Shinobu nodded again.

"Fine," Kanako said. "Then I'll listen to what Aoyama has to say."

"Thank you," Shinobu bowed.

"Save your thanks," Kanako muttered. "I told you, I just want him to be happy. This doesn't have anything to do with any of you."

Without sparing so much as another glance at her adversary, Kanako turned and stalked down the hall. Mr. and Mrs. Urashima exchanged uncomfortable looks before excusing themselves to follow. Granny Hina's eyes sparkled as she winked at Shinobu and threw a thumbs up. Haruka alone lingered behind and approached the blue-haired girl.

"I'm impressed," she said seriously. "You handled that girl better than Granny Hina can."

Shinobu felt her face heat up. "I-I didn't do anything worthy of praise. I just told her how I felt. I'm actually surprised she didn't explode at me."

Haruka smiled wryly. "That makes two of us. That girl's been like that since I've known her. I'm no good with her at all. It's like oil and water."

Shinobu shook her head. "I don't think it's any different with me."

"I'm not so sure about that," Haruka said. "Either way, thanks for calming her down. When she gets high-strung like that, there's no telling what she capable of." She yawned and brought a hand to massage her temples. "It's been too long since I've had a drag. I think I'll let Granny Hina handle the rest. Why don't we find Naru and Kitsune and I'll take you girls home?"

Shinobu nodded. "I hope Naru-senpai is alright."

Haruka shrugged. "Kitsune is with her. I can't imagine how they became friends but they do a pretty good job of looking out for each other."

"I'm a little jealous," Shinobu agreed.

"Alright, girls, grab your coats and let's head out." Haruka was already reaching for her lighter as she walked briskly towards the exit.

Shinobu turned to follow when she felt a tug at her sleeve. It was the familiar dark-skinned foreign princess of Molmol. "Yes, Su?"

"Are you really Shinobu?"

Shinobu frowned. "Who else would I be?"

Su squinted suspiciously at her. "An evil alien robot who has kidnapped the real Shinobu and taken her form in a sinister plot to take over the Earth."

Shinobu's frown deepened. "Why would you think that?"

"Because there was a 82.13 percent incongruity with your typical behavior in high-stress social situations just now," Su explained, never taking her eyes off of her companion. Or blinking.

Shinobu pouted indignantly. "You're making fun of me."

Su did not smile. "I must be certain that you have not been compromised, Shinobu. To remove all doubt, I must unleash my secret weapon."

Shinobu watched as Su slowly reached into her front coat pocket, which was clearly flat and contained no such weapon. "Su, stop teasing me."

"Hyah!" Su whipped out her hand and thrusted a single sheet of paper into Shinobu's face. The "weapon" was nothing more than a photograph depicting a... n-n-n-naked Urashima-senpai with his private area blackened out by a mosaic. Shinobu slumped to the ground in a gelatinous heap.

"Hmm, identity confirmed," Su sighed in relief. She reached for her smelling salts to revive the girl, before thinking better of it. She ought to confirm criteria number two first. Better safe than sorry.

Su rapped her knuckles against Shinobu's skull casing. "No abnormal metallic compounds present. Yep, definitely Shinobu," she decided.

She knocked once more just to be certain.

Author's Notes: Sorry about the wait, folks. And sorry this chapter wasn't longer. I didn't intend for this paticular scene to turn out as long as it became and by the time I finished, I felt it merited status as a full-fledged chapter. I wasn't sure about adding the humor at the end either, but I figured the story could use a bit of levity. I know Keitaro hasn't gotten a lot of face time at this point, but rest assured he'll have his time in the sun. For at least a couple more chapters, I'll be focusing mainly on the girls. As for the pairing: I'm still not telling. As always, thanks for reading. Write a review and let me know what you think.