Disclaimer: I know nothink! I have no rights to the characters and plot of Love Hina, although I do have rights to the diverged path this story takes. All plot and characters are the properties of their respective owners.

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Sometimes even the smallest pebbles when tossed into a tranquil pond make large ripples. Those situations are few and far between, and are perfectly engineered for just such a reaction, whereas most of the time, the size of the rock determines the size of the

Splash!

Motoko drained yet another bucket of the hot water of the springs over her head to rinse her pristinely midnight hair of the hibiscus and lavender shampoo she had been trying. Keitaro still hadn't gotten used to the sound of it after six times in the space of time both he and she were in the springs. It didn't help that he had no precursors to watch or hear as she spoke while doing so, and he was forced to wear a thick eye-covering.

"I still don't understand why you make me wear this thing. It bugs me hearing that bucket tossed so violently over your head and not know when it's going to happen."

"You know that you have to wear it because this is not for real. We are just doing this until my sister is satisfied we are to be married. You don't have to see me naked. You really believe that I would let you sit in the springs here with me without you blindfolded when you've peeped on all of us more than once?"

"Hey! I've never meant to do it! You know I'm clumsy. I just have terrible luck, for whatever reason. But, do you really think we can fool her? I mean, how long would she stay before she's satisfied? What else might she want to see?" He made toward taking the crude vision dampener, but Motoko smacked his hands away from his face and huffed rather irksomely.

"I hope we can be through with this charade very shortly. Sister will likely stay the night, and be satisfied tomorrow if you can just follow my lead, and we can be back to the normal functioning of the dormitories the following day." Her tone signaled to Keitaro she was more agitated than him just being around, but not quite as furious as if he made some gargantuan mistake of grabbing one of his tenants.

"Are you so sure, Imouto-chan?" Tsuruko's voice came seemingly from everywhere, and she came into the baths tacitly, and she was clearly volcanic. Clothed in her gi with her breasts bound like her younger sister always had done, and wearing a loincloth, the puce of her face greatly contrasted with the alabaster of her waist and hands. "You thought you could delude me into thinking this was all real. Tell me, sister, why did you lie to me? I ought to know before I punish you." Unbeknownst to Keitaro who was still blindfolded, Tsuruko had unsheathed her katana, and was in an attack stance.

"I lied because I do not want to return home yet. This is home for me now. These people are my friends. But if you seek a fight, sister, a fight you shall have."

At this, Keitaro removed his blindfold, consequences be damned. Something serious was going down, if Motoko was offering to fight someone and it wasn't him.

"Wait," he pleaded between the two sword mistresses, "there's no need to fight! Motoko doesn't want to fight. She looks up to you. I think she could beat you, but she doesn't. She thinks she's not ready for the responsibility for the school. If anyone gets punished, make it me, because she asked me to go along with this whole thing. Besides that, Motoko hasn't graduated from high school, let alone college. Shouldn't it be up to her to take over the school this early in her life?"

Tsuruko was not quite prepared for such a heartfelt plea, but she was not going to buy what he was selling. It did at least open up a chance for verifying it was the truth, however.

"Are you sure you want to lie to me again, kanrinrin-san? I already must punish you for one lie; make sure you do not get punished for a second." Turning her head to face her sister more directly, she demanded "Is this so, Imouto-chan? Do you truly wish to continue your schooling further before returning home? You are not ready for your duties? Show me."

The fight was over before it started. Motoko unsheathed her katana and ran at her sister in preparation for an honest sword duel, but her sister parried her first strike and followed the parry with a counter that shattered Motoko's katana.

"He was right. You are not ready for our clan's leadership roles. Your punishment is to be condemned to the role of a wife until you can prove your worth to your clan. And for you, kanrinrin-san, your job is to prepare her to be wedded to the groom of her choice, on the condition that he is acceptable to our clan."

Keitaro was stunned. He had no idea that a fight Motoko was in could be so short unless it was with him. Something told him that Motoko's katana being in several pieces was quite a bad sign too. But there is no way that Motoko would be able to live the life of a wife before the life of a swordswoman. He had to make a plea for another option. As Tsuruko left the springs area and entered the changing area again, he looked over at Motoko and hoped she'd be all right. She was still a strong girl in her own right.

When Keitaro met Tsuruko back in the living room of the dorm, he dropped to his knees in front of her, and begged with his head on the floor for a different solution to address the lie they told her. "Making Motoko become a bride will kill her. And on top of that, she can't even be a swordswoman until she does. That's going to be the end of her. There has to be another choice. Please, what else can be done, Aoyama-san?"

"The punishment for telling lies in my clan is to make the one that lied make it true, or die trying. Do you have any other ways to make this up, if it is our clan's policy to punish our own this way?"

"You mean, like make ME marry Motoko?"

"You seem much wiser than my sister gives you credit. Yes. That is precisely what I mean. If you care so much for her well-being and what she wants from life, you have what you need to be a good husband for her. Is that what you would prefer, kanrinrin-san?"

"You don't want me to be her husband! She hates me! And I'm really clumsy, and I failed to get into Tokyo U three times before I got in. She wouldn't be happy with me," 'or any other guy' he kept to himself.

"Are you sure that you cannot make her happy, or that you just would rather be with someone else?"

"Yeah, I'm in love with Na-err… I'm not sure."

"Think very carefully, kanrinrin-san about how you respond."

"Well, Motoko's a great person, but everything I do I screw up, just about, and if Motoko were to get married to anyone, I would hope she had the choice in who she gets married to. I care about her a lot, but I still gave my heart to someone else. And I think that Motoko's a good enough person that she should be married to someone that loves over everyone else."

"Is it not true, Keitaro-san that the one you chose has not responded to your confessions?"

"Well, yes… But, Naru's got a lot on her mind now that she's a Tokyo U student. She's just busy, I think."

"And you are certain that Motoko does not care for you the same as Narusegawa-san does? I know that she has been quite disdainful toward most men, but you have managed to get some level of respect from her if she chose to say that she was to be married to you."

"I never thought about that. But, it's still not fair to her to be married to someone that doesn't love her over everyone else."

"You may come to find that, with time, nothing stays the same. Do not assume that you would never love her the way you feel you should in time. However, you are also not to believe that things cannot get worse with time too. Keep this in mind as you consider whether you would marry my sister. Also know that she does admire your determination, and she may lead you to believe she thinks poorly of you as a peeping tom, but she has spoken with me before and she understands that often, you are caught in bad situations."

Keitaro was silent for some time as he considered the possibility of being married to Motoko. He had realized that his relationship with Naru would come to a screeching halt, even before it really ever began, but he could not argue that he had gotten as far with Naru as he had with Motoko. And, if Tsuruko was any indication of what Motoko would look like a few years' time, it would be safe to say that he would not have to worry about her beauty fading. But, then again, he worried that Motoko would ultimately be unhappy with him. However, Motoko might be able to replace her sword and regain her status in her family at any point in her future, instead of having to find a suitable husband in order to do so. He was giving himself a headache trying to decide what was in both his and Motoko's interests and gave up trying to choose when she would have to be happy with the decision too.

"I'm going to leave that decision up to Motoko. I don't think that I could make a decision she'd be happy with."

"You have far too little faith in yourself, kanrinrin-san. You were given the responsibility of managing this dormitory from your grandmother, were you not? Someone believes you are capable of making good decisions. But, if this is what you wish, so be it. We shall give the choice to Motoko-han and let her decide."

The pair waited a few moments waiting for Motoko to come through the patio door, and their wait was brief. The young swordswoman shambled through the glass door wearing a white towel and the stain of new tears on her face, carrying her broken blade and the clothes from her former life.

She made no attempt to stop in the living room for chatter but rather wished to crawl to her room and die with the small amount of pride she still owned. Keitaro unknowingly stopped her from doing just that as he looked into her face and saw none of the fire that once burned in her eyes. The emotional pain he felt was so terrible he would have preferred to be tossed around the dorm than see Motoko so out of her element and full of sadness.

Keitaro was holding onto the hope that he could prevent the world from changing, only to realize it had changed and left him behind. He immediately got up and embraced Motoko and dragged her with him to the love seat he had been sitting on, hugging her close as she cried the lament of the loss of her preferred life.

Motoko did not want to be hugged. She didn't want to be comforted. She didn't want to be shushed. She didn't want to be told everything will be okay. The truth is she wanted to make it to her bedroom and die with the tiny amount of dignity she felt she still had. She wanted to shove off Keitaro with everything she had. She even tried. But everything she had was far too little to push him away. He registered that she was pushing him, but she was much stronger than that. She could have easily thrown him across the room if she even remotely tried. Her mind full of fog she felt only a terrible pain of loss, but being embraced had spread some warmth across her frigid frame, and dissipated enough of the haze to attribute Keitaro's face to the fire fighting back the storm. "I'm here for good, Motoko. I'm not going to give up on you. You've got me here for good."

All she heard was "You've got me here for good," but in that moment of complete loss and utter weakness, someone had stepped forward for her; thrown a life preserver to her face-to-face before she drowned in her ocean of woe. And despite all her mistrust in him, it was Keitaro who came to her salvation. Of all people, her lifeboat was the supposedly spineless, cowardly peeping tom; he was there for her in spite of her mistreatment of him just like he was there for anyone else in need. This realization burned a hole through her heart of shame, but at that moment, she abandoned her immediate cares and grabbed on tightly to a bewildered Keitaro, hoping he would not betray the trust she was giving him. In reaction, he pulled her closer, and whispered in her ear soothing words as her tears made every attempt possible to drown her. By then, Motoko grabbed onto Keitaro and held onto him as her port in the current storm of her life. After a few minutes of terrible bawling, she started to ease her crying, but it was a good ten minutes before she was silent again.

Tsuruko took the whole scene in, sizing up Keitaro's ability to help her sister in this life-changing event. She noticed the subtleties of Keitaro pulling her closer as Motoko's sobs got more ragged and awfully sounding, and gently rubbed her back with one hand, the other keeping her head close to his own. She watched as Keitaro mussed with her sister's still damp hair in a rather paternal manner. And she noted that despite her sister's vulnerability in being clothed in just a towel, he was quite the proper gentleman, in spite of everything Motoko wrote home to her about him.

'He might make a very suitable husband for Motoko-han, if only he can find an outlet for her fits of rage,' the Aoyama clan representative considered.

It was the towel that was starting to soak the knees of his pants that made him realize that the sofa was not a great place for him to be holding Motoko in her current state. Making great efforts not to bring up the issue in a negative light, he considered the best way to address the subject before suggesting that he, she and Tsuruko go to Motoko's room to give her a change of clothes and let her change her mind on the situation she was in. He opened his mouth, trying to find the words in his throat, only to find them missing, and closed it again to try again twice more before Tsuruko took notice of it.

"Do you have something you wish to say, kanrinrin-san?" she asked calmly, clearly amused that he was having such a hard time finding his tongue.

"I think… uh… maybe it would be better if we, um… if we continued this conversation in Motoko's room?" he suggested clearly not really wanting to do that either. "I mean, Motoko is um… well, she's um… and it would look bad, and um… the couch is starting to get soaked. But, um… then again, I can wait here until she gets um…"he struggled. "Dressed?" Tsuruko offered.

"Yes. That. It would be improper for me to be in her room as she changes."

"I think my sister has decided that it is acceptable to have you there. Please, kanrinrin-san. Lead the way."

Keitaro wasn't sure, but he thought for the briefest of seconds, Tsuruko was smirking. For some reason unknown to Keitaro, Tsuruko had it in for him, and she seemed to want to make every effort to make his life hell. So, as Tsuruko stood up to follow him, he tried to stand only to realize that Motoko was for once, feeling safe in the arms of another. She refused to let Keitaro go, and was still sobbing silently after Keitaro tried unsuccessfully to have her walk herself up the two flights of creaky stairs to her floor and past both Suu and Naru's rooms before arriving at her door. Ultimately, he gave up trying to have Motoko do things for herself for the time being, and carried her in a manner that westerners would call bridal style, a fact that Keitaro would find mildly amusing had he not been the one in the predicament.

'Wow, I never noticed, but for such a tall, strong girl, she's quite light. You'd think that she'd snap in half from a lot of the stuff you see her do if only she let you pick her up.' The train of thought currently occupying Keitaro's higher brain functions began wondering what he had done that had won him enough favor with the mess of a girl he held in his arms. Right from square one, Keitaro was quite badly viewed in the Hinata Sou, in not only Motoko's eyes, but pretty much everyone in the dorm. It probably stemmed from staying as long as he had in the onsen with Naru, and how he failed to clear up the misunderstanding that he was not actually a Todaisei at the time he arrived.

Many events had occurred that suggested to Keitaro that Motoko wanted nothing to do with him, and if at all possible, she'd want him on a completely separate continent for the rest of her life. Often times, it would be something like him falling over onto something, which almost always ended up with him groping one of his tenants, or inadvertently getting an eyeful while a girl was changing, or otherwise indecent for his eyes. And now here she was in his arms, holding on to something he either was or had, but he couldn't possibly have less of a clue what it was she was suddenly finding in him.

With no more desire to draw out this whole issue much more, Keitaro nudged his foot into the small opening to Motoko's room, and firmly slid the door along the track enough to easily walk through with Motoko in his arms and cautiously stepped past the threshold and stopped abruptly. Every time he walked past, or the few times he walked into, Motoko's room had ended up with terrible results. Much like any landlord faced, nobody looked forward to rent collection. Naru's parents made it slightly easier by paying the sum to him in the form of a check from before he started to manage the place, but he still had to deal with Mitsune trying to filch her way out of the rent, Suu paying in a non-liquid foreign currency that seemed very much like a game piece to a prominent American export game, and Motoko making it very clear that she felt that he was doing an inadequate job as manager and would not pay, should that have been legal. Somehow, Keitaro always felt the worst about rent collection day after seeing Motoko, because he always felt quite belittled by her comments, and on two occasions, he managed to find Motoko in different stages of undress when he went room to room.

"Are you ready to stand," he asked his charge, hoping he could set her on her feet so he could leave the room while she changed into something more appropriate. She however did not respond, having fallen asleep in his arms after crying all the tears she had and being carried more closely to the warmth he radiated. Not quite angry, but clearly not thrilled either, he slowly dropped to his knees and set her gently on the floor near her still unrolled bedding and tried to get himself off the floor. With what could only be called a pained expression, he turned his head toward Tsuruko who still stood in the doorway and asked her whether he had to be there.

"You don't really expect me to be in the room while Motoko dresses, do you?" he petitioned the elder woman, clearly dreading the possibility of having to do so.

"Why would you not need to be here, kanrinrin-san? You are not concerned for Motoko-han's modesty still, are you? You must address this if you are going to marry my sister, you know?"

Keitaro's head sunk. He knew it was not going to be that easy. And somehow, he knew he would not be able to sneak out of the room. No. He'd have to be present. Someone certainly was trying to shove his ship into the vast ocean and hope that the upcoming storm might sink it.

Keitaro hoped that he would not have to dress Motoko himself, but somehow he knew that he couldn't have put himself in such a situation. After a few second's deliberation, he stood up and looked around the room for a dresser or something like it. Seeing nothing but closets, he opened the nearest one and found that Motoko found room to place a five foot dresser in her closet, and kept several training uniforms hanging side by side in her closet. Taking another shot in the dark, he opened the first drawer expecting socks, underwear or bras, and was only mildly surprised to see all three in the top of the four drawers, separated by hand-made partitions. What surprised him about that was that he almost expected to not see any bras at all in her drawers, having only ever seen her wearing her long cotton bindings when he accidentally walked by her room as she changed from her school uniform to her training uniform. Taking one bra and a pair of panties from her dresser and placing them on the top as he grabbed a pair of socks then closed the first drawer; he wondered what other things he might find in Motoko's dresser. Somehow he doubted any of the other drawers to be filled with any clothes. He looked over to the kendogi hanging up and grabbed one, then grabbed finally a hakama and closed the closet with his findings.

He knew that this was the worst idea he had ever entertained in his brain, but placed the gi and hakama on the futon, holding the bra and panties in his hand. Somewhere, he wondered how he got suckered into dressing a fully capable and beautiful woman. Yet, his libido shoved that idea from his head as soon as it recognized the thought. Sighing once again to keep himself from losing his head, he dropped to his knees, lifting one leg with his right hand, pulling the soft cotton undergarment onto her body with the left. After getting them on one leg, he pulled them up her other leg, following the same procedure. He continued with the waistband of the garment, pulling it up her toned legs and hoped he could lift her into his arms to pull them up the rest of the way up to her heart-shaped derriere as he put on her bra. Keitaro shimmied himself over a few steps to put her arms through the shoulder straps after lifting her dreaming form to his chest, putting his chin over her left collarbone to see what he needed to do to close the front-hooked clasp. He was doing so well for himself being as good a gentleman as he could be in the situation, but her pubic patch made Keitaro somewhat distracted. For the time being, he let the bra go, pulling the white cotton underwear up Motoko's bottom, doing the best job of obscuring the pleasant view of her landing strip from his eyes, but not removing it from his view. Shaking his head of all the things he wished he could do with the gorgeous woman in front of him, he focused himself on the bra at hand. It took four tries to get the first of the three clasps, but after the initial slip-ups, he swiftly closed the rest on the first tries. Now that she had some sense of decency about her, he could feel more at ease as he finished clothing her.

The gi was the logical choice as he already had her somewhat upright, being as delicate as he could while he pushed her arm through the white cotton sleeves and tied the strip of cloth that held the kimono-resembling garment together, taking four tries to tie the knot without grabbing the girl's chest and still making the knot not slip. Knowing he'd require help affixing the hakama, he solicited the assistance of Tsuruko who had amusedly watched Keitaro's efforts at clothing her sister. It was at this time that Keitaro hooked his arms under Motoko's and lifted her from her bed, allowing her sister to pull the garment up her legs and tying it around her lithe waist. Without ceremony, Keitaro lowered Motoko back onto her rump before laying her upper body gently on the bedding, hoping to flee from the scene before anyone noticed he was in her room.

"Kanrinrin-san, I believe you have not completed the task you set out to do."

"Huh," Keitaro asked, beleaguered.

"You have forgotten Motoko-han's socks and hair bow."

"Oh," the young man replied, uncommitted in the belief that they needed to be done.

"That is, unless you want my dear sister to wake with cold feet in the night. And mind you, she would be rather upset that you failed to tie back her hair in the morning, considering all the work that goes into maintaining it so meticulously."

Keitaro was quite sure that the last part was completely incorrect. He was convinced that Motoko would not want to have been touched by him ever. He wanted to tell the older woman that she was dead wrong, but that seemed like it would leave him just plain dead. He was worried also that, should he keep touching Motoko, he would prove her wrong regardless by waking her up, and that was extremely likely to result in the same outcome. Either way he was damned. But, he had the hope that he wouldn't wake the young girl from her sleep and the knowledge that Tsuruko would not let him leave with the chore unfinished. There really wasn't a decision, but going the way Tsuruko evidently wanted him to go felt better than fighting his way from her, and likely Motoko as well afterward.

Resigned, he dropped back to his knees heavily and shimmied himself to the bedding his tenant occupied, taking every effort he had not to wake her as he tied the simple yet elegant red ribbon through the lavender scented raven locks on Motoko's head and gently placed it back upon her modest cherry blossom printed pillow. After noticing she hadn't woken yet, he knee-walked to her delicate feet and lifted her left leg, noticing how silky her alabaster skin felt to the touch. Interestingly, her legs did not feel shaved, or hairy, something she did not have in common with the resident fox from hearing her pout about the pain it was to shave them. Trying to push the thought out of his head, he swiftly pulled the ankle socks onto the feminine feet before him and scurried out of the room, only after pulling a blanket over her peaceful looking body.

"So, where are you headed, Keitaro-san?"

"Oh, well…. I was thinking of getting a soak in my tub and getting to bed. Was there anything you needed, Tsuruko-san?"

"You do not use the onsen?"

"Oh… No, I try to avoid the onsen as much as I can. I tend to have accidents when I'm around the onsen. I only go in to clean it, once a week when nobody's in it so they don't think I'm peeping."

"Well, if it is not too much hassle, I would not only enjoy the company in the springs, I would appreciate the help washing my back."

Continuing on his trend of being incapable of telling some no, Keitaro found himself in the onsen with another nude Aoyama woman and did not feel fortune smiling upon him. A tingling sense of which he couldn't explain told him he really ought not stay in the springs, but something more primal told him fleeing from Tsuruko would be a most swift death. With a hearty sigh, he dropped himself into the not quite sauna hot water and waited until the she needed him.

"This is quite a nice evening for a hot springs bath, is it not?" Tsuruko was aware of Keitaro's concern, but she wanted to discuss something of great importance and having him run off would make it unpleasant to address. "You said that you wash the springs once a week? By the looks of it, you put in quite a lot of work maintaining them. It still looks immaculate." She took a sweeping glance around the springs and noticed the boulder upon which Motoko had once used a Shinmei Ryuu Secret Technique. She noted how perfectly sliced the rock faces were halved and decided that she had found her ice breaker.

"A perfectly performed Rock Splitting Sword technique is quite difficult to accomplish. It takes a great level of focus to succeed. Do you know how she was capable of it?"

"I would prefer not to discuss that."

"Oh. And why would you wish not to talk about such a topic, Keitaro-san?"

"It's in the interest of self-preservation that I'd like to avoid that topic."

"So, you have something else to discuss then?"

"Uh…"

"Motoko-han did that to the rock before us, yes? Tell me why."

"Well, what happened was Motoko challenged me to a duel out here in the patio area not long after I arrived here as manager because I had accidently seen a lot of things I did not mean to see. Suffice it to say that she was willing to duel me and wager my right to stay on as manager if she lost. And I was just fortunate enough to get out of the way of the attack when it sliced through the rock. The duel itself lasted very short."

"And you beat my sister? Incredible!"

"Uh… Not exactly. I guess you could call it a tie."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I tripped and my bokken smacked her on the top of the head as she hit me in the chest with hers. We both ended knocked unconscious. She ended up with a nasty cold because of it."

"I see. My sister is quite the violent tenant, yes?"

"I wouldn't say that. She's just passionate about the things important to her."

"You notice that, do you? That is what I want to really discuss with you. You see Keitaro-san my sister is quite passionate in her distrust for men, turtles and other people in general. She thinks love is a weakness. She wants to be the quintessential samurai warrior, but she fails to understand that the best samurai have strength and courage, but weakness and fear. After all, he who fears nothing has never gained his heart's desire."

"So… What does that mean to me?"

Tsuruko wasn't sure how to phrase it for a moment, but managed to reply after crafting a method of roping Keitaro into a marriage he agreed to with her sister.

"Motoko thinks her only hope at her heart's desire shattered with her sword. Though she has not, this way of life for her will likely come to an end. Her only way through life now would be to have help in finding a way back on track, or having someone point out to her another of her heart's desires."

"What are Motoko's heart's desires?"

"Admiration, the love of another, my being proud of her. It is a shame she doesn't know that she already has these things. If only she knew how powerful she truly is. The truth is Motoko is singlehandedly more naturally skilled than me, but my love for her pushed me to show her that gifts from birth are not enough to overcome any obstacle alone."

"If Motoko already has her heart's desires, what could I do?"

"Your task would be to help her realize some other deep desire so she has a reason to live."

"I think I can do that."

"So, you'll marry my sister?"

"I promised her I would do anything I need to do to make her happy. If that's what I have to do, I'll gladly do so."

"It will make her happy in the long term, whether or not she is pleased about it immediately. Is that sufficient?"

"I guess that's what really is important."

"So, that is a yes? You will marry my sister?"

"Yes, I'll marry Motoko."

"So, let us discuss you. What do you want from life? What do you want to do? Why do you want to marry Motoko?"

"Hmm… I really don't know what I want from life yet. I suppose I'd like to have some kids running around and to stick around with my wife to see them have their own kids. As for what I want to do, I've been thinking about the Todai Law program." He left the final question unanswered as he wasn't quite sure Tsuruko was really asking him.

"You are quite a simple man to please, are you not, Keitaro-san?"

"I guess I am."

"Do you have any idea what you would like to do in the legal field?"

"No. Not really. I have to get into the program still, but I just started looking at the options that are out there for a legal graduate."

"I see. But, why would you want to marry my sister?"

"Um… Well, I want to make her happy and you think that marrying her will make her happy. She's a good person too, and very pretty, but I really just want her to be happy."

"That is a noble reason; however, Motoko will be happy only because she chooses to be so. You do not seem the type to force her will in being happy, whether she genuinely feels as such. The fact that you show so much consideration for her wellbeing would please her. But do not think that you can make another person happy with you. You can only do your best to learn what Motoko enjoys and let her be herself. Are you prepared for that?"

"I think so. Yes, I am."

"That is excellent. I should think that you will be a great husband for my sister."

"Er… Was this an omiai?"

"What do you think, Keitaro-san? Was this an omiai?"

"Not a traditional one, I guess."

In the warm evening summer air, Aoyama and Urashima sat in the hot springs making idle chatter about life and the great fortune to have such hot springs at the inn. Having come up with the idea for each of the two to wash the other's back, Tsuruko sat on the wooden stool Motoko set out for Keitaro in her bath only a few hours prior, with Keitaro taking up another stool behind her back. Tsuruko made a comment about how great the view was out in the springs, maybe on purpose, or maybe on accident, at the same time as she let the towel around her torso fall toward the hard rocky ground. Keitaro was sure that she was talking about the sky, but couldn't help but think that the view in front of his eyes was far from unpleasant either, having been teased and nearly goaded into enjoying Motoko's nude form not long before. Motoko has a nice small heart-shaped behind he had noticed from more than a few accidents, but Tsuruko made it a point to make hers large enough to be appreciated in private. It was a fact that mesmerized Keitaro long enough that Tsuruko had to look over her shoulder to see what was holding Keitaro up from washing her back. Admittedly, he didn't have either a bath sponge or brush, but he was too dumbstruck to have noticed the one that the elder Aoyama provided him a moment later. While Motoko had a very traditional look about her, from her snowy skin to her very long sable hair to her dainty butt, Tsuruko had a more modern appeal. Her curves were conspicous, and her hair and skin had a fair amount of color to them. And while Motoko's beauty had little need of make-up, Tsuruko made use of the most barest traces of it to make a more dramatic impression. Once he realized he was supposed to be washing instead of staring, he took the sponge offered him and a little too enthusiastically, started washing her back, making a point to avoid her sides or butt. After a few moments of silence, Keitaro hoped she would continue talking, but it seemed she had run out of nothings to say.

"Done." Keitaro claimed after a few minutes of slient scrubbing, only to be contended with.

"Keitaro-san, you have missed a lot of spots."

"I have?"

When Tsuruko took his hand to the sides of her body and down toward her luscious behind, he had to object.

"Hey, you don't need me to do those areas for you."

"You are correct. I do not need you for that, but you have to have the confidence to do so for my sister, and I believe you to be enough of a gentleman not to do something innapropriate."

"If Motoko asks me to, then I'll do it, but you're a married woman. It's not right for me to do that."

"You never cease to amaze me, Keitaro-san. You are more of a gentleman than my sister could ever imagine. If you are certain that you would do so should Motoko asks, then it is your turn."

The two changed positions after Tsuruko resecured her towel about her torso and Keitaro asked her a serious question.

"Tsuruko-san, what will happen next?"

"Well, we need to make preparations for the wedding. I suppose the best place for it would be the Urashima shrine. I was told that it is on the property, correct?"

"Well, yes, it is, but, I meant... What will happen after the wedding?"

"Typically there is a recpetion of the bride and groom with a larger party of guests, friends and family, and at the end, the bride and groom do their best to enjoy consumating the marriage. I suppose you mean something other than that, though."

"Well, uh... Yeah... I was thinking, what will happen more long-term than that?"

"That, Keitaro-san, I cannot say. At that point, it will be up to you and your wife. The best I could do is wish you luck."

"I guess I was kind of looking for pointers on how to make it work out, you know?"

"You need to be yourself. I will not tell you not to change, because you will change, but, be yourself through it all. Motoko has grown to trust you and appreciate you because you think of others before yourself. But, you have to be happy with the decisions you make too. No matter how much you give your partner, a marriage will not last if you are not happy with the situation you find youself in. Give all that you need to, but do not put yourself out too much to sustain it. And do not worry. In time, Motoko will start to give back to you in time."

"I see."

"Are you sure you want to marry my sister, Keitaro-san? You seem unsure of your decision, and it is not too late to change your mind."

"I think I can be happy married to Motoko. And it's not just because she'll be happy, I think."

"So, you are certain?"

"Yes, my mind's made up. But... Uh... We don't have to rush to consumate the marriage, right?"

"Is that the doubt that I had heard in your voice?"

"I guess. I don't think Motoko will let me live past the ceremony if she finds out we have to make it official that day."

"I see what you mean. Ideally, you would, but I think exceptions can be made from the clan's elders in this case."

"Oh. Good."

"But, you will eventually have to produce a child, Keitaro-san, if you expect to have Motoko reinstated into the Shinmei-Ryuu."

"..."

"Trust me, she will open up to you. You may just need to give her a reason to do so."

The conversation trailed off at that point and the two who had both long since been done getting clean soaked in the hot water of the springs and let their muscles relax. Eventually, Tsuruko left the manager with his thoughts and bid him a good night and found herself back to her sister's bedroom for the night. Keitaro sat in the springs for a few minutes longer before he packed up his thoughts and went to his own room for the night. He found himself unable to sleep for quite some time trying to find confidence in what Tsuruko had told him and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of the ups and downs of a marriage with Motoko.

In the warm evening summer air, Aoyama and Urashima sat in the hot springs making idle chatter about life and the great fortune to have such hot springs at the inn. Having come up with the idea for each of the two to wash the other's back, Tsuruko sat on the wooden stool Motoko set out for Keitaro in her bath only a few hours prior, with Keitaro taking up another stool behind her back. Tsuruko made a comment about how great the view was out in the springs, maybe on purpose, or maybe on accident, at the same time as she let the towel around her torso fall toward the hard rocky ground. Keitaro was sure that she was talking about the sky, but couldn't help but think that the view in front of his eyes was far from unpleasant either, having been teased and nearly goaded into enjoying Motoko's nude form not long before. Motoko has a nice small heart-shaped behind he had noticed from more than a few accidents, but Tsuruko made it a point to make hers large enough to be appreciated in private. It was a fact that mesmerized Keitaro long enough that Tsuruko had to look over her shoulder to see what was holding Keitaro up from washing her back. Admittedly, he didn't have either a bath sponge or brush, but he was too dumbstruck to have noticed the one that the elder Aoyama provided him a moment later. While Motoko had a very traditional look about her, from her snowy skin to her very long sable hair to her dainty butt, Tsuruko had a more modern appeal. Her curves were conspicous, and her hair and skin had a fair amount of color to them. And while Motoko's beauty had little need of make-up, Tsuruko made use of the most barest traces of it to make a more dramatic impression. Once he realized he was supposed to be washing instead of staring, he took the sponge offered him and a little too enthusiastically, started washing her back, making a point to avoid her sides or butt. After a few moments of silence, Keitaro hoped she would continue talking, but it seemed she had run out of nothings to say.

"Done." Keitaro claimed after a few minutes of slient scrubbing, only to be contended with.

"Keitaro-san, you have missed a lot of spots."

"I have?"

When Tsuruko took his hand to the sides of her body and down toward her luscious behind, he had to object.

"Hey, you don't need me to do those areas for you."

"You are correct. I do not need you for that, but you have to have the confidence to do so for my sister, and I believe you to be enough of a gentleman not to do something innapropriate."

"If Motoko asks me to, then I'll do it, but you're a married woman. It's not right for me to do that."

"You never cease to amaze me, Keitaro-san. You are more of a gentleman than my sister could ever imagine. If you are certain that you would do so should Motoko asks, then it is your turn."

The two changed positions after Tsuruko resecured her towel about her torso and Keitaro asked her a serious question.

"Tsuruko-san, what will happen next?"

"Well, we need to make preparations for the wedding. I suppose the best place for it would be the Urashima shrine. I was told that it is on the property, correct?"

"Well, yes, it is, but, I meant... What will happen after the wedding?"

"Typically there is a recpetion of the bride and groom with a larger party of guests, friends and family, and at the end, the bride and groom do their best to enjoy consumating the marriage. I suppose you mean something other than that, though."

"Well, uh... Yeah... I was thinking, what will happen more long-term than that?"

"That, Keitaro-san, I cannot say. At that point, it will be up to you and your wife. The best I could do is wish you luck."

"I guess I was kind of looking for pointers on how to make it work out, you know?"

"You need to be yourself. I will not tell you not to change, because you will change, but, be yourself through it all. Motoko has grown to trust you and appreciate you because you think of others before yourself. But, you have to be happy with the decisions you make too. No matter how much you give your partner, a marriage will not last if you are not happy with the situation you find youself in. Give all that you need to, but do not put yourself out too much to sustain it. And do not worry. In time, Motoko will start to give back to you in time."

"I see."

"Are you sure you want to marry my sister, Keitaro-san? You seem unsure of your decision, and it is not too late to change your mind."

"I think I can be happy married to Motoko. And it's not just because she'll be happy, I think."

"So, you are certain?"

"Yes, my mind's made up. But... Uh... We don't have to rush to consumate the marriage, right?"

"Is that the doubt that I had heard in your voice?"

"I guess. I don't think Motoko will let me live past the ceremony if she finds out we have to make it official that day."

"I see what you mean. Ideally, you would, but I think exceptions can be made from the clan's elders in this case."

"Oh. Good."

"But, you will eventually have to produce a child, Keitaro-san, if you expect to have Motoko reinstated into the Shinmei-Ryuu."

"..."

"Trust me, she will open up to you. You may just need to give her a reason to do so."

The conversation trailed off at that point and the two who had both long since been done getting clean soaked in the hot water of the springs and let their muscles relax. Eventually, Tsuruko left the manager with his thoughts and bid him a good night and found herself back to her sister's bedroom for the night. Keitaro sat in the springs for a few minutes longer before he packed up his thoughts and went to his own room for the night. He found himself unable to sleep for quite some time trying to find confidence in what Tsuruko had told him and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of the ups and downs of a marriage with Motoko.

-----------

Tsuruko woke the next morning just after five am, and wondered why Motoko hadn't woken yet. She expected her younger sister to be awake at this hour every morning practising kata and doing somewhere near two thousand katana swings. But, Motoko was still asleep, if the snoring was any judge of her state of concsiousness. Fortunately for the younger girl, she was far from asleep, having given up on true sleep hours before, after more than a couple dreams of a certain ex-ronin being romantic with her. It sickened her that she felt giddy and hot in the face about the dreams. Something told her that he had done something untoward the night before, but she had toned down her justice dispension to the point that she saw the perversion occur. So, she just lay on her bed trying to figure out why the brown-haired oaf had been so impressive in her dreams, or better yet, why he was in them at all. She felt ill, but not from a cold or flu. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Tsuruko decided to wake Motoko and start the eventful day, hoping to accomplish everything necessary and a little of the desired touches for the wedding that was quickly approaching.

"Wake up, dear sister. I know that Keitaro-san's touch is nice, but it was far from dreamy."

It was at that point when Motoko broke from her reverie and heard what her sister had said.

"That pervert touched you! I knew he was no good. How did he touch you?" She intentionally left off her intention of separating his head from his body, and his limbs from torso.

"Oh, yes. He was quite the gentleman in the springs. Like I said, his touch is nice, but it's not dreamy. You should know that. Unless his dressing you really was better than the back wash he gave me."

"He WHAT?!"

"He carried you up the stairs to your room and insisted on having you dressed, because he said you'd feel cold and wake up awfully wearing just that towel. Then he and I bathed in the springs for some time. He's a good man from what I can tell."

"That pervert! I'll kill him!"

"Oh, Motoko-chan, he's not that bad. He tried to make sure that I'd dress you and wanted to scurry off to his own bath, but I told him that I would appreciate the company and the assistance in washing my back. And that aside, I will not allow you to maim or kill your husband to be."

"WHAT?!"

"Oh. Right. You would not know. Keitaro promised to marry you, thinking you would be happy being allowed back into the Shinmei Ryuu with full rank for marrying him. He is so considerate."

"That idiot. I would never marry him."

"That is not true, Motoko-chan. You told me yesterday that you were his fiancee. You have considered it at least once and liked the possibility. So, get up. We have a long list of things to do today."

"Like what?"

"Well, paperwork has to be signed for a marriage to be legal. And the ceremony is to be tonight at sundown."

"..."

"You did not think I would not make you marry him, did you? You chose to decieve me, sister. You have made your bed and now you must lie in it."

Motoko didn't know exactly what the phrase was meant to mean, but she had a feeling that it meant she was screwed. Somehow, she knew she'd be forced to marry Keitaro at sundown, no matter what she did to stop it. But she did have one thing going in her favor; she did not have to like him whatsoever to marry him. For all the clan cared, they could be mortal enemies, but, as long as they didn't kill one another, it was acceptable. She could even go so far as to ridicule him in public and beat the crap out of him in private, but she had to make sure she didn't piss him off enough to find a way to annul the thing, assuming he didn't already know that it wasn't possible. And really, if he could find a way out of it, she would be all for it, but something told her that if he did find a way out, if she made his life miserable, he'd just stick it out. It was so… irritating that he was so incessantly stupid and bullheaded. It was at that time Motoko decided to just ignore Keitaro until this whole thing ended up blowing up in Tsuruko's face, at which point she would end the whole mess.

It was interesting that the exchange was loud enough to be heard throughout the inn. Keitaro expected that Motoko would go ballistic about this whole thing as she always did. He knew that she'd misunderstand his intentions and call him a pervert, but having heard the shouting, he found out that the wedding was going to take place that night. He wondered what the rush on the thing was, but he soon guessed that Tsuruko had the same outlook on putting things off that he had; better now than never. He just rather hoped it wouldn't have happened so immediate. Things happening on the fly like this tended not to bode well for him. But, since there's no point in crying over spilled milk, he made preparations for the event by laying out his best formal kimono and tried calling his parents and grandmother to tell them of the situation and hope that they would come for the event. He rather left out the part that the marriage was arranged partly because he promised to marry a girl that hated his guts, but he was a bright side of life kind of person.

Kitsune, who had been asleep only for a few hours trying to figure out what was going on with Motoko's elder sister and why the younger girl was so afraid of her, was very displeased to hear Motoko's screams and, for one of the few times of the year where she didn't wake up with a hang-over, called her editor for the newspaper she occasionally wrote for and asked for permission to use the drama going on as a basis for a new article.

Shinobu, who had woken up a few minutes after Tsuruko, was in the kitchen making the final preparations for breakfast and tried her absolute best to ignore the shouting coming from Motoko's room and hoped that what she was hearing about a wedding would not happen. As much as she respected Motoko-sempai, she really would be heartbroken if he married her. 'He can't be happy marrying her, could he?' Something told her that it was all a misunderstanding, that he loved Naru, who again didn't deserve his affection, but at least she knew he liked her. The house's bluenette still hadn't come to terms with Naru being the favored one, but it was better than if it were someone else, she figured, because he would be happy. She assumed that Keitaro wouldn't be happy with Motoko as a wife, however and hoped with every fiber of her being that it was not true.

Suu, well, it was hard to say why she didn't wake up. She usually slept with Motoko, but since Motoko hadn't gone to bed until a few hours later than normal, she didn't know what to do. Motoko wasn't to be found in her room when she went to look and since Shinobu had dozed off, she reluctantly went to bed in her jungle of a room. Strangely, with all the technology Suu had created, she still had the worst time trying to get to sleep on her own. It was sad, really. The poor princess had some of the worst nightmares because she slept alone. Not even a stuffed animal would help her sleep like most other girls. No. She needed a live bed-mate to get to sleep. So it was really no surprise that she fell asleep several hours after she normally did. And it probably impacted when she'd wake up too, but really, there was no telling whether Suu was at all like any other human on the planet, assuming of course, she was human at all.

It was only seven thirty when Shinobu called everyone to breakfast, and everyone made their way, with the exception of Suu, to the dinner table, where Tsuruko, without much tact, announced that the wedding between Motoko and Keitaro they had heard about the night before was going to occur at sundown, and that she would appreciate it if nobody made an attempt to sabotage it. Afterward, she would have a small party arranged for those present and come Motoko's graduation from high school, she would be assisting Keitaro with not only the managerial duties, but also their marital duties as well. Keitaro colored for a minute once Tsuruko brought up the sex topic, and Motoko not only noticed, but she scowled from Keitaro's lack of character and her sister's lack of proper breakfast conversation. She also believed her sister had no control over whether the two could have sex, much less, whether they would. When Shinobu expressed the concern about Naru, Tsuruko brightened up. Narusegawa had been a topic of conversation between her and the manager in the spa the night prior, and she made every note about the unknown girl that she could and assessed how much she could be a factor in whether the marriage worked or not. She was quite eager to find out what Keitaro had to say to the group at large about that subject, as it might be a major factor in whether he tries to make the marriage last.

After a few moments of being diplomatic with his choice of words before saying them, he sighed and told them the situation.

"I told her that I loved her when my leg broke. I told her that, and I still love her. She never once said anything back. I know she heard me, because when I said it, she stopped walking out of the room for a minute, and then she started walking again once she thought about it. I really love Naru, but I can't do anything about it if she doesn't tell me how she feels. And right now, Motoko needs me because if she doesn't get married, she gets kicked out of the Aoyama clan. It's my fault she's being kicked out, and so it's my job to fix it. I promised Tsuruko I'd marry Motoko and do everything I can to make her happy. I just hope Naru understands and doesn't hate me for it."

Motoko was blushing she was so impressed. She didn't think Keitaro was doing anything for her or anyone else for that matter, but here he was, PROMISING to do everything he could to make Motoko happy and try to fix the situation so she could be who she was and who she wanted to be. But it irritated her that Keitaro had given up on Naru-sempai. If he really love her, she reasoned, he wouldn't let something like that stop him from perusing her still. Also, it just so happened that she could be mad at him for bringing her into the mess of being married and very nearly kicked out of her clan for his stupidity.

'Wait. He almost got me kicked out of the Aoyama? What did he do?! I WILL kill him!' It then occurred to her that she didn't have anything with which to kill him, at least not in any way she might have had skill. Her katana lay in shards and a broken hilt on a long swath of silk in her room as an honor to the sword and a reminder of how she failed her implement, rather than it failing her. The swordswoman's duty was not to use the sword to kill or protect, but to be the guide for the sword to do so. Her katana was in many ways a part of her, having become more than just a conduit for her ki, but one attuned to her moods and fighting style that it had become particularly good at doing what Motoko asked of it. It was then that she realized that having her sword shattered was already a dismissal from clan Aoyama, whether Keitaro knew it or not. She didn't think about it, but she was a ronin now, and what's worse, a ronin without a blade. Marrying Keitaro wasn't going to give her back her sword and as such, she felt she might as well remain kicked from her own clan.

"As Keitaro-san says, Motoko-chan would otherwise be forced to find a job and pay her own rent, having been cast from her family for not only the dishonor of lying to a clan elder, but also the ultimate dishonor of breaking her own sword. It is so fortunate of you all to have such a kind-hearted manager as him."

'Oh. I didn't think about that either. I guess I should accept the offer Urashima is giving me. He's giving me a chance to be Aoyama again. But at what cost? Is it really worth it? Do I really want to be his wife just for the monetary support?'

"Er… Why's it Motoko's fault that she's got a broken sword? I mean, you broke it when you swung yours at her like you did."

"It is the duty of the swordswoman to protect the blade she carries just as the blade is to protect her. Motoko was not prepared for the attack that broke her blade as she should have been and it is therefore her fault for her broken blade. You would not expect one of the Aoyama's enemies to take the blame for breaking her sword but rather just use it as an advantage. It is the same case in this scenario. Unless Motoko were to find another blade by her own means, she will never be able to atone for the loss of her first blade, the blade the Aoyama provided her."

"So… I can't just give her the sword I got around here somewhere? She has to make her own or something?"

"Keitaro-san, you are offering your bride to be a blade of your own? It is not only acceptable for her to receive such a gift, but it is very generous of you to give such a gift to her, especially in this situation. You are much more noble than one would imagine."

"Er… I don't know about all that, but, if I give her the sword and we get married, Motoko's off the hook and reinstated into the clan Aoyama?"

"Noble and modest. A good combination. But, in a way, yes. She is as you said, "off the hook" with the clan, but she will be forever in your debt for your great generosity toward her."

Keitaro didn't know what to think about Motoko being forever in debt to him, but something in the part of his brain that kept him alive overpowered the part that told him to feel excited about that. As a whole, he felt sad that he'd become so important to Motoko, and hoped she would at least forgive him for putting her through such a mess.