Disclaimer: Love Hina is the property of Ken Akamatsu and TokyoPop. I will never, EVER, see money for this little tale.
C+C is welcome at hawker(underscore)748(at)hotmail(dot)com
This story was inspired by a snippet from Fatuous One, who graciously allowed me to use it.
The Shinmei Ryu dojo was old; old, but not dilapidated, for the floorboards and support columns still shone brightly, countless hours of oiling and rubbing working to preserve the centuries old timbers. Despite being trod on by thousands and thousands of students, the wood had not been worn away, but had been polished to a near mirror smoothness. The building had stood as a silent witness to many kendo matches, but only a few as important as today's.
As the unquestioned mistress of the dojo, Tsuruko Aoyama stood at the head of the immense room, all present deferring to her authority, The students who were watching from the sides and the three fully armored people who were the centerpiece of today's activities. Tsuruko coolly regarded the three figures that stood at attention before her, two girls and one older boy. For a brief second she rested her eyes on the taller girl, her younger sister Motoko, searching for any sign of nervousness or uncertainty. She was pleased to see only stoic readiness, but she didn't let her face show any sign of satisfaction. She cleared her throat and met the eyes of the only male before her. "Ayasaki-kun, you stand aside. You will battle the winner of the first match, giving your all, with no holding back. Am I making myself clear?"
"Of course, sensei" the male replied instantly, bowing to her and moving to the side.
Tsuruko turned her attention to the shorter kendo-ka. "Hinagiku, are you prepared?"
Facing her sister, Tsuruko repeated the question and received an identical response. She raised her right hand and let it drop. "Begin."
The two young women leapt at each other, bokkens clattering against each other as each attempted to get in the first strike. Tsuruko watched the combatants impassively, inwardly pleased at the skill level of both, but not wishing to give the impression she was satisfied. Hinagiku was one of her star pupils, a natural when it came to using a blade, her only weakness being a fear of heights, but Tsuruko was most impressed by her sister. She had pushed Motoko relentlessly, harder than she would have tried with any other student, but she had never backed down or complained. As she watched, Motoko effortlessly parried a blow that would have rendered a lesser opponent unconsciousness, even with a helmet.
Motoko then countered with a crushing blow to Hinagiku's side, the crack of wood striking armor sounding like a gunshot. The girl grunted faintly in pain as the concussion from the impact traveled throughout her body, but she didn't falter, countering with a blow to Motoko's shoulder padding. Her sister ignored the strike, pulling back her bokken, switching her grip and then driving the point of her weapon into her opponent just beneath the edge of the chest armor.
Hinagiku instantly folded over, her weapon falling from her fingers, harsh gasps coming from her throat as she frantically tried to get her wind back.
Through the grill of her mask Tsuruko could see that Hinagiku's eyes were wide in pain and not a little fear as she saw Motoko looming over her, bokken raised to strike. She seemed to collapse in on herself with relief when Motoko lowered her weapon and stepped back, clearly understanding that she was victorious.
"Hinagiku, are you injured?" Tsuruko asked formally.
The girl shook her head and got back to her feet; she was a little unsteady, but she radiated confidence and her eyes flashed with determination. "I'll be fine, just have to catch my breath…"
"Very good. You fought well Hinagiku, do not be discouraged in your training."
"I won't. Thank you, sensei." She bowed to Motoko, then Tsuruko and made her way to the periphery of the dojo to regain her strength.
"Ayasaki-kun, step forward," Tsuruko directed.
"Yes sensei." The young man moved towards Motoko and stopped, his bokken at the ready, Ayasaki bouncing on the balls of his feet, clearly eager for the chance to do battle.
Tsuruko worked to keep her face impassive as she regarded the two opponents; her sister had already surpassed all the female students the dojo had, at her own age or even older. If she was to be challenged any further, the only option left open to her was the chance to have matches with the male students. Even this wasn't as easy as it appeared, as Motoko would be more than a match for most of the boys her own age, so Tsuruko had decided to have her battle Ayasaki, who was the closest to her in skill level, even though at seventeen years of age he was over four years her senior. "Both of you… Ready," Tsuruko raised her hand again and let it drop. "Begin."
Almost faster than eyes could follow, Ayasaki launched himself at Motoko, moving like his legs were steel springs. He had been instructed to attack without hesitation, and he'd taken his orders to heart; he swung his bokken relentlessly, a noisy tattoo of wood striking wood and armor. To an untrained observer the duel would have appeared grossly unfair, for in addition to being older, he was almost two inches taller and at least half again heavier than Motoko. But Tsuruko's careful scrutiny told her that Motoko was effortlessly parrying each strike; she didn't even seem to be exerting herself, for her moves were defined and methodical, and she had an air of boredom about her.
Ayasaki kept up his assault for over three minutes, impressing Tsuruko with his stamina and determination, even if he hadn't managed to land a solid strike. But he had only so many reserves to draw on, and his swings began to lose their power and speed. He finally stopped striking, his harsh pants filling the dojo, exhausted wheezes whistling from his chest. He took a step forward and stumbled, Motoko charging at him, only to be struck hard in the head when Ayasaki unleashed a powerful swing, having lured in the younger girl with a simple feint.
Tsuruko watched with displeasure as her sister's helmet was launched clear, planning to discipline her later. Motoko had always been too headstrong for her own good, too eager to rush in, and she'd paid for it this time, falling for a trick that hadn't fooled anyone else. She stood bareheaded, shaking it to clear the cobwebs, surprise writ large on her features. Tsuruko took a breath to tell the two combatants to halt when Motoko's eyes narrowed dangerously and she threw herself at Ayasaki with a shrill battlecry.
Ayasaki froze for a second, not expecting her to rush him without a helmet, and that was all Motoko needed. She descended on him like a whirlwind, a flurry of strikes raining down upon him, far too many to be parried. He frantically blocked as many as he could with his bokken, and tried to take the blows where his protection was the best, but it was like trying to hold back the tide with a shot-glass. Many, many strikes landed, and he went from actively trying to protect himself to simply surviving the onslaught. Then a particularly violent slash connected with his upper left leg, shattering the meager protection that was there and breaking the femur with a sickening crack. Letting out an agonized yell Ayasaki crumpled to the floor, dropping his bokken and clutching his ruined leg.
"Hold!" Tsuruko ordered, moving to render aid to her hurt student, upset that someone had gotten injured. Her concern turned to horror when Motoko once again struck the defenseless man, a blow to his right arm snapping his radia and ulna like matchsticks, the edges of the broken bones protruding from his skin. "Motoko! Stop!" Tsuruko had to shout to be heard over Ayasaki's agonized screaming and the gasps of shock and disbelief from those watching the proceedings..
Motoko had her bokken over her head to deliver another blow, but she slowly brought it down, her reluctance to obey obvious. Taking a second from rending aid to her student, Tsuruko glanced at her sister; her face was flushed and she was breathing hard, but she wore an expression of exhilaration, not fatigue. Her eyes were glittering in excitement, and there was no doubt she'd relished the battle, and even now she seemed to savor Ayasaki's pained shrieking.
"She's crazy," Ayasaki sobbed softly, tears running down his cheeks and fear in his eyes. He'd finally stopped screaming but he was going pale, probably going into shock. "She's an animal, a monster, I'd given up, she didn't have to do that…" Words flowed from the wounded mans lips, sounding nearly delirious as he tried to cradle his smashed arm.
"Call an ambulance," Tsuruko directed. She could hear the observers murmuring in concern, and she saw more than one of them look at her sister the way one would at a rabid dog. "He needs a doctor." She made sure that help was on the way before turning to face Motoko. "What the hell were you thinking?!"
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help it."
"Couldn't help it? You may have crippled him! Have you lost your mind?"
"I don't think so," Motoko replied sullenly.
Tsuruko's eyes narrowed, but now wasn't the time to deal with insolence. "We'll talk later," she assured Motoko before turning back to Ayasaki, helping place him on a stretcher and carrying him to the front door, the welcome wail of a siren growing in volume.
"Explain yourself Motoko," Tsuruko commanded a few hours later in the now deserted dojo. "Tell me why I should ever let you hold a sword again."
"I'm sorry I embarrassed you," Motoko apologized solemnly, prostrating herself in front of her sister. "I didn't want that."
"Embarrassed? You fail to grasp the seriousness of what you did. I had to ride with Ayasaki to the hospital, listen to his cries of pain. I had to tell his parents what happened, tell them why it'll be months before he walks again," Tsuruko stated. "You have brought shame and dishonor upon this dojo. You owe an explanation for that."
"I-I don't really know what happened," Motoko murmured. "When Hinagiku and I were fighting, it was intense, but nothing unusual. When she fell I was ready to strike, but I felt no need to."
"So why was Ayasaki different?"
Motoko contemplated that a bit before replying. "He was a man."
"You knew you would face a male today," Tsuruko reminded her. "You're too skilled for any of the women here, so I decided to let you spar with a man."
"Yes, but it was different."
"It shouldn't have been that different."
"But it was," Motoko insisted, meeting Tsuruko's eyes for the first time. "Fighting Hinagiku was exciting, just like any good match really, but with Ayasaki, there was something…"
"What kind of something?"
"A thrill. A rush. A spark. I don't know what to call it," Motoko admitted. "But when I struck him, it felt… good."
"Good?" Tsuruko repeated after a heartbeat.
"I felt powerful, overwhelming," Motoko gushed. "That man, he was nothing compared to me. I could hit him, and he couldn't stop it. I just couldn't seem to stop."
"You could have killed him."
"I know, but… but knowing that just seemed to make it better. I heard his scream, and I liked it. I couldn't make myself stop hitting him, to keep making him scream," Motoko finished.
Tsuruko felt herself go ashen. Exulting in the rush of a duel was one thing, but what her little sister was describing went far beyond that. She had a mental image of her killing an opponent in a frenzied rush of violence. Something was very wrong with Motoko, and the next few questions would help determine what needed to be done. "Have you ever done anything like that before? At school maybe? Or if a stranger approached you?"
"No, I've never fought a man before," Motoko replied. "I never knew it could be so exhilarating…"
Tsuruko let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. 'So, she hasn't crippled anyone before this.' She frowned when she realized that this wasn't exactly something to be happy about. "Are you going to start hurting boys in school now?"
Motoko looked horrified at that. "No! I'm not a monster, I won't hurt some man just because I feel like it."
"But what about Ayasaki?"
"That's different, we were dueling."
A wave of relief came crashing over Tsuruko, almost bringing her back to a sense of normalcy. For a moment she almost felt giddy; Motoko knew what was right, she wouldn't attack some ordinary man just because she liked it. She sobered when she reconsidered it. Dueling, certainly, but would anything else…? "Would you strike a man for any other reasons?" It had taken all of her control to keep the tremor out of her voice.
"I don't think so," Motoko replied after a moment's thought. "But if a man attacked me, yes. Or if he was hurting someone, or doing something bad…"
Tsuruko closed her eyes and let out a short breath. Motoko had said she would be responsible, but her list of acceptable reasons to get violent was too long for Tsuruko's liking. She'd never be able to forget the way Ayasaki had shrieked in the ambulance until one of the paramedics had given him a shot of morphine. 'How many other men will have to go through that?' she asked herself. 'Or end up dead?' She regarded Motoko with a hint of sadness, wondering if she'd become this way because of the pressure she'd exerted on her.
"Sister…?" Motoko asked hesitantly, uncomfortable with the prolonged silence.
Tsuruko met her younger sister's eyes, wondering what she should do next. After what she'd done to Ayasaki, brutalizing a defenseless opponent, stripping Motoko of her blade forever wouldn't be improper. 'Was it her fault though, or mine? Pushing her so hard.'
And deep down, Tsuruko knew that taking away Motoko's blade would be just above killing her. She had to insure that her sister never did this again, but the only way to make sure would destroy Motoko. Tsuruko felt her anger turning into something like pity as she decided on a course of action. Motoko would never be allowed to duel with a man again, even if it hobbled her development. It was just too dangerous. "Motoko, you will have to apologize to Ayasaki and his family. Are you willing to accept that?"
"Yes," Motoko replied softly.
Tsuruko smiled a little inwardly. 'At least she seems sincere,' she decided. 'Perhaps she would do well to leave the dojo for a while,' she mused. 'Maybe living with some other women would soften her compulsions a little…'
Keitaro Urashima was running for his life.
Less than ten minutes earlier his biggest worries were whether he'd ever be accepted into Tokyo University and meet up with his promised girl, and how he'd convince his grandma to let him stay at her hotel. But after accidentally walking into the girls' bath he was now being chased by a number of enraged females, none of whom appeared to believe in 'forgive and forget.' The brunette who'd groped him seemed especially pissed, but Keitaro had caught a glimpse of another girl who looked like she was carrying a sword. Dressed in only a towel, and quailing at the thought of an angry woman armed with something sharp, Keitaro beat feet, instinctively heading for higher ground and desperately hoping to run into his grandma, praying that she could keep the women from killing him.
Keitaro reached the roof and discovered he had nowhere left to run, except maybe jumping over the railing; considering the enraged shrieks he'd overheard, he found himself briefly debating doing just that. He turned around and faced the five women, desperately trying to cover himself, not wanting to anger them any further. "H-hold on!" he stammered, frantically trying to get himself out of the mess he was in. "I just… I just came to visit my grandma! I wanted to stay at her hotel… I didn't mean to peek, or squeeze, or flash…"
The women loomed menacingly over Keitaro, and he knew in an instant he was a dead man; the only question was who would start the festivities. The brunette he'd encountered in the bath nailed him with a vicious right that caught him right on the nose. He managed to stay on his feet when the kendoka struck him across the jaw with her sheathed blade. Keitaro tasted blood in his mouth and was checking for loose teeth when the tall girl slammed the handle of her sword into his gut, driving all the air from his lungs and dropping him to his knees, holding himself and gasping for breath. Folded over and struggling to get oxygen to his lungs, Keitaro never saw the blow that connected with the back of his head, crumpling him in a heap on the roof.
Instinctively protecting his head with his hands and pulling himself into a ball, Keitaro felt more impacts raining down upon him, the flurry of pain signals lighting up his nervous system like a Christmas tree. He barely noticed the voices of the others as he lay there, his consciousness starting to go hazy at the edges.
"Motoko? What are you doing?"
"That's enough, you're going to kill him!"
"Stop it! You're hurting him!"
When the blows stopped for a few seconds Keitaro carefully looked up between his arms and saw his attacker, Motoko if he'd heard correctly, glaring down at him, her face red from exertion, breathing hard through her mouth as the first two girls he'd met stood between him and her. A light touch on his forehead made him whimper and pull in on himself for protection, but it was only the girl he'd inadvertently exposed himself to attempting to check on his injuries. "Are you okay?" she asked gently. "Can you move? Is anything broken?"
"I'm sorry," Keitaro babbled, terrified of another assault. "I didn't mean it, I wanted to see my grandma, I didn't know you all were here, it was an accident, I'll never do it again, it was my fault, I'm sorry-"
"This hasn't been a hotel in years," the brunette told him quietly. "This is a girls' boarding house."
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't know…"
"What's going on up here?" A new voice cut in. "Keitaro? Is that you?"
"A-aunt Haruka," Keitaro murmured, grateful to see a familiar face.
"I didn't know this was a girls' dorm, I went into the bath by mistake…"
Haruka's eyes narrowed as she took in his injuries. "Who did this to you?"
"I did," Motoko admitted. "He went into the bath, groped a few of us, we thought he was a pervert."
"What did you do to him?"
"It's okay Aunt Haruka," Keitaro interjected softly. "It was my mistake, I shouldn't have just walked in."
"You sure you're al right? You look pretty bad."
"It's nothing, I'll be okay." Not wanting to make eye contact with the residents, Keitaro missed the skeptical look the two girls keeping Motoko from him traded, or the curious gaze she gave him.
"Fine…" Haruka replied after a moment's consideration. "Let's get you inside and cleaned up."
Keitaro sat on the sofa in the living room, flinching occasionally as Naru –he'd been introduced to everyone by Haruka- cleaned the scratches on his face with iodine while Shinobu carefully applied band-aids to his right arm. He kept his head down, not able to make eye contact with anyone while Motoko glowered at him. He listened impassively as Haruka explained that Hina had converted the hotel into a girls' dormitory several years back; he let out a depressed sigh as he learned that he'd encountered another obstacle to attending Tokyo University. "I guess I've got no choice but to go home now," he whispered.
"I guess that's the case," Naru agreed as she placed a band-aid on a scratch on his forehead. "If you'd just called first, you could have saved yourself all this trouble," she told him not unkindly.
"You're right," he replied with a despondent shrug. "Hey. Maybe if I talk to grandma, she could-"
"You can't," Haruka interrupted. "She's not here, she went on a tour of the worlds hot springs."
"I-is that true? Grandma isn't here…" Keitaro felt his world come crashing down around him. 'How could this happen to me?' he wondered. 'I said I wouldn't go home until I got into Tokyo University. Now I have to go eat my words in just one day, three hours and twenty six minutes. I'm pathetic…' "I'm screwed."
"It's probably not the end of the world," Kitsune consoled him. "There's always someplace else."
"I don't think so," Keitaro responded. "But, I understand. I can't ask you to let a guy stay in a girls' dorm." He stood up, wincing as a few sore spots of his body protested. Murmuring thanks to both Naru and Shinobu for the first aid, Keitaro went up to Haruka. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"Sorry Keitaro," the housemother apologized. "I know you'd have saved on rent here But, the commute would have been hell."
"Yeah, you're right."
Haruka gave her nephew an enigmatic smile. "If I remember… You're at Tokyo University now, right?"
"You'd be about a sophomore now…"
For a few seconds Keitaro couldn't think of how to reply to that, but he decided to be honest. "No Aunt Haruka, Tokyo University is what I've spent two years-" He didn't get the chance to finish.
"Tokyo University?!" the residents exclaimed in unison, crowding his personal space.
"You're a student at Tokyo University?!"
"That's so awesome!"
"Wha? It is?" Keitaro was astounded by the reactions of the girls at the misunderstanding; in a few seconds he'd gone from wounded wretch to paragon of coolness. The admiring looks he was getting were new to him, and not surprisingly, quite appealing. For a second he considered lying, but he resigned himself to clearing everything up.
He did. Really.
But as it turned out, the residents didn't seem to mind him staying there if he was a Tokyo University student, so while he never actually said he was attending that prestigious institution, he ended up doing nothing to deny it either. At least, up to the point he told Shinobu that if she worked hard she could one day be a Tokyo University student just like him.
Afterwards he was wracked by guilt, and he immersed himself in a study book, spending a nearly sleepless night working on it to little gain. When Naru caught him in a lie the following morning, he was almost relieved. But instead of throwing him out on his ass, she told him to work hard and get into Tokyo University next year, (then it wouldn't be a lie, she'd pointed out) for Shinobu's sake. It was a touching moment, up to the moment the rest of the residents showed up.
Apparently believing that she'd caught him in a compromising position, Motoko launched herself at Keitaro, driving the hilt of her sword into his stomach, dropping him in a heartbeat. In a flurry of strikes, which had Keitaro curled up in a ball to protect himself, while Motoko lashed into him with insults, calling him a womanizer, pervert, and countless other curses, his wallet was sent flying. The assault was abruptly stopped when Su picked up his student ID and innocently asked what a 'preparation school' was.
And the cat was out of the bag.
Later, after Naru had applied band-aids on his most recent injuries. Keitaro stood outside the residence, his backpack on his shoulders, as Motoko read off his offenses like a bailiff, and pronounced that he had to leave immediately. Keitaro didn't even try to put up a defense, he simply nodded in agreement and apologized to everyone for misleading them. Looking over at Shinobu, Keitaro saw that she looked like she was torn between feeling angry at him and sympathy for the beatings he'd endured. When she saw him looking at her, she turned her back on him; that gesture was more painful than anything Motoko had done to him.
Giving a formal bow to everyone, Keitaro made his way back down the stairs, idly wondering what he'd say to his parents, when an old photo booth caught his eye. 'Why not?' he asked himself wryly. He entered the booth, selected a frame and posed for the camera; he didn't even notice Naru until after the shot was taken.
"What are you doing?" she asked. "A guy taking photo booth pictures by himself? That's depressing!"
"Did you come here to make fun of my hobby too?" Keitaro squawked.
"What are you talking about?" Naru wondered, idly picking up his notebook and opening it. She blinked a few times as she belatedly noticed something. "Hold on… What's this notebook? These are all of you alone?"
"Don't look! Give that back!"
Naru shook her head bemusedly. "Well, you say you're not an expert in girls, right?"
Keitaro didn't answer that, he just nodded faintly. The two of them moved to the bench at the trolley stop and sat down, Keitaro wondering why Naru was there.
"You sure you're all right Keitaro?" Naru inquired. "You took quite a thrashing."
"I'll be okay," he assured her. "I deserved it anyway."
"Well… maybe, but it was pretty bad," Naru admitted. "She didn't have to hit you like that."
"You did too," Keitaro reminded her.
Naru looked away guiltily. "You were in the bath, I got a little carried away. But Motoko really hurt you."
"I don't think she was wrong," Keitaro murmured.
Naru shook her head at that. "What are you going to do now? You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"
"No. I could go home… Even though I hate having to ask dad for help…"
"But what about Tokyo U?"
Keitaro sighed briefly and then his spirits seemed to pick up. "If I give up now, I guess I really will be a liar. I'll try for a little longer."
Naru smiled warmly. "That's great." She took one of the stickers and pressed it onto his cheek. "Good luck ronin!"
"Eep! Sorry Keitaro, is it still sore?"
"Yes," Keitaro replied with a wince, carefully peeling the sticker off. "But, I'm glad you came. I finally got to take a photo booth picture with a girl."
"Well, if it isn't Keitaro…" Haruka chimed in. "What's up? You going somewhere? Hmm? You're sure getting along well with Narusegawa," she added.
"Th-that's not true, housemother!" Naru stammered as her cheeks colored.
"Aunt Haruka, I've decided to go back home," Keitaro told her. "Could you send my love to grandma?"
"I see," Haruka replied. "But that's not possible. Just got a fax from grandma and something huge has happened."
"Huh?" Keitaro read the papers Haruka wordlessly handed over, taking a few seconds to realize what exactly they were. "Real estate… Deed of ownership…?"
"It's all legal," Haruka explained. "Grandma said she's giving everything to you."
"Hinata House is all yours. If you become the landlord…" Haruka clarified.
"Landlord?" Keitaro and Naru replied in unison.
And so, Keitaro found himself once again facing the residents of Hinata House, knowing full well that they weren't going to like hearing what he had to say. "Hello everyone. I'm back. I'm here to tell you that… I'm g-gonna be the… landlord." The last word had come out as a whisper, the looks of shock and disbelief on the faces of everyone slowly shifting to anger.
"No…" Motoko whispered, her jaw muscles tightening.
"Th… It can't be true!" Kitsune yelled, running at Keitaro with her fists clenched.
"I can't help it!" Keitaro yelped, turning and running for his life.
In a flash of white and red Motoko passed the fox eyed girl, her sword flashing in the sunlight as she bolted after Keitaro.
Because she was in the lead, and because Keitaro was too busy scrambling to risk looking over his shoulder, no one saw the excited gleam in her eyes, or the look of exhilaration on her face.
End of Part One.
I KNOW that it closely follows the manga in the second half, and while I don't usually like that trait, I felt I had to use it here.
But from this point on, while it may make allusions to the manga, for the most part it'll follow its own path. The source material is too good to not use a little of it.
Thanks to Random1377 and Fatuous One for pre-reading this.
All errors are mine, not theirs.