Disclaimer: See Chapter One
C+C is welcome in the reviews or 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.
"Hold still Keitaro, this'll sting a little."
Keitaro sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth. "A little?" he hissed.
"Okay, a lot," Naru admitted, dabbing the cut over the manager's right eyebrow. "You sure you don't need to see a doctor?"
"I'm okay," the young man assured her.
"I don't know, Motoko hit you pretty hard…"
"Nah, that wasn't so bad," Keitaro replied dismissively. "She did a lot worse when she challenged me to that duel."
"Yeah, you were lucky," Naru agreed. "How could she mistake a fever for love?"
"She still didn't have to be that harsh. She could have broken your arm."
"I don't think she'd do that," Keitaro remarked. "I don't think she's that bad."
"Then you're the only one," Naru muttered.
Naru sighed for a moment and then looked Keitaro right in his eyes. "Listen Keitaro, she's hurt you a lot, or tried to at least. I'm amazed she hasn't done anything worse than some cuts and bruises."
"Well, I usually do ask for it," Keitaro admitted sheepishly.
"Like today? Keitaro, it was an accident, anyone could see that," she insisted. "You tripped on a floorboard and fell against my chest. Why would I get upset about that?"
"But you didn't."
"Of course, you think I'm crazy?" Naru asked in a disbelieving tone. "Why would I go ballistic over a simple mistake?"
"Maybe, if you thought I was feeling you up…" Keitaro murmured, avoiding eye contact.
"You? Feeling me up? I don't think you've got the spine for that," Naru told him glibly. "There's no way I'd get that violent." She applied one final bandage and then leaned back to look at her work. "There you go, all finished. How's it feel?"
Keitaro touched his face gently, hissing as he contacted a few tender spots. "It's fine. Nice work Naru, and thanks…"
"No problem Keitaro," she told him with a sunny grin, closing the first aid kit and getting to her feet. "Anytime…"
"Sorry for the trouble."
Naru made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry Keitaro, I don't mind. I finally get to put that stuff I learned in health class to use."
"You should be a nurse."
"Nah, I'd rather be a doctor. You'd like that, right? You and I playing doctor?" She arched her eyebrows and leered at Keitaro.
"Naru!" Keitaro stammered as he went beet-red.
"See?" Naru pointed out. "You're no pervert. See you at dinner!" With a jaunty wave she walked out of the room, leaving Keitaro with a few unwelcome, mostly, images of Naru in a white nurses cap and uniform.
Motoko sat at the dinner table and ate in silence, idly noticing that Keitaro was seated as far as he possibly could be away from her. Dinner had been quiet tonight, with little of the chatter that usually livened up the meal. Then she noticed Keitaro reaching for the soy sauce and caught a glimpse of the bandages that he had wrapped around his wrist. She had struck him a few times that afternoon for falling on and groping Naru, but she hadn't done him any serious damage.
"Sempai, are you okay?" Shinobu asked, her eyes on the white gauze.
"I'm fine Shinobu, thanks." Keitaro smiled at the little chef but he kept his eyes away from Motoko's.
Kitsune didn't however, and neither did Naru. Motoko noticed the both of them giving her a hard look before they turned away, both of them looking embarrassed at being caught glaring.
Motoko paid them no mind, secure in the knowledge she hadn't done anything wrong; Keitaro had had his hands on Naru's chest, despite his pleas that it had been an accident. She'd struck him to drive home the point that he couldn't engage in that type of behavior, at least in her presence. Whatever Keitaro and Naru did when she was succoring his injuries, or studying was their own business.
'See?' she asked silently, imagining her older sister watching over her. 'I never hit him without reason, and he never protests…' Motoko would never admit, not to her sister, and maybe not even to herself, that she relished the opportunities to punish the new landlord for his transgressions. What did it matter that she experienced a rush when she lashed out at Keitaro? He was in the wrong, so she was perfectly justified in doing what she did. The fact that she felt good when she did was just icing on the cake.
"Pleasant thoughts Motoko?" Kitsune's Kansai drawl intruded into her musings.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You look like the cat that ate the canary," Kitsune told her, her eyes flicking over to Keitaro for an instant.
Motoko blushed, an image of Keitaro huddled on the floor, trying to protect himself with his hands fading into the ether. "Sorry, just day dreaming…"
"I bet," Kitsune muttered before refocusing her attention on Keitaro. "So, how's the studying going?"
"Umm, not bad, I hope," he replied, scratching the back of his head with his hand. "It's really hard…"
"Even with a cute tutor?"
"Kitsune!" Naru yelped as she went bright red. "It's not like that."
"He hasn't made a pass yet?" Keitaro began choking on his food at that, until Shinobu slapped him on the back.
"Don't joke about that, please?" he all but begged.
"Naru, why are you helping him?" Motoko asked.
"It's not a big deal," she murmured. "He wants to go to Tokyo University, and I guess I can help him…"
"Help him? You're kidding, right? You saw his grades, they're horrible! He's too stupid to ever go there…" Motoko stated.
Keitaro looked at her in surprise, looking more hurt than he ever had after one of her attacks.
Motoko locked eyes with him and let loose a burning gaze. "You may be the stupidest man I've ever met, and I've met many," she taunted, feeling a warm tingle spread through her when he withered. "You make an idiotic, foolish promise to some girl you can't even remember, and you absurdly try to keep it, thinking you'll do it and see her again."
"Motoko," Naru whispered.
The kendoka wasn't even listening. "Even if you miraculously do manage to get in, you think that girl would still want to be with someone as pathetic as you? Don't make me laugh. You're a failure, a loser, a ronin, and no girl would want anything to do with you. You're a weak, pathetic, useless man Keitaro, and you'll probably die a virgin even if you live to be a hundred."
"That's enough!" Naru exclaimed in exasperation.
"Ex-excuse me," Keitaro mumbled as he set down his chopsticks and stood up. "Thanks for dinner…" The young man quickly exited the kitchen.
"I knew you were a coward!" Motoko called out to his retreating back.
"Okay, that was too much," Kitsune accused after the manager had left.
Motoko shrugged. "Am I wrong about him?"
"Why don't you give him a break?"
"You may have accepted him, but I haven't." Motoko calmly resumed eating, the disapproving looks of her fellow residents not fazing her in the least. She smiled inwardly as she remembered the way Keitaro had wilted at her litany of insults before he'd left the table.
"I don't believe her," Naru seethed later that night as she and Keitaro were studying together. "Bad enough she uses you as a punching bag, now she's verbally assaults you as well…"
"Sticks and stones, Naru…"
"She does use a stick, remember?"
Keitaro held up his arm and showed an ugly black bruise on his forearm. "Kinda hard to forget."
"Exactly! So why do you just take it?"
"It's not so bad, Naru, I usually ask for it."
"Can we just keep studying?" Keitaro asked. "I don't think it's a big deal and the center test's coming up soon We have to concentrate on that."
Naru's frown was sharp enough to chip granite but she relented. "Fine, fine, I'll drop it.," she grumbled before she forced herself to act more cheerful. "How did you do on that test last year?"
"Squeaked through? Good lord, you've got to do better than that or you're screwed. What did you do best on?" she wondered.
"History, I think."
"And the worst?"
Naru shook her head in resignation. "Have you ever considered community college…?"
"A few times," Keitaro admitted. "But I can't just give up… I-I've tried too hard to quit now."
Naru looked at Keitaro, hitting him with such scrutiny that he started to fidget uncomfortably. "You're determined, I'll give you that."
"But unless you can get your scores up it won't matter," Naru admonished. "What's your single worst subject?"
Keitaro stopped to consider that. "Probably math. Though my English is pretty bad too. And my sciences are-"
"That's enough," declared Naru. "We'll start with math and move on to the others. Agreed?"
"Yes sensei," Keitaro replied.
Naru chuckled at that. "Nurse, teacher, you certainly know how to showcase my talents Keitaro. Are you ready to follow my instructions?"
"Then open up your math book and we'll start at the beginning."
"Keitaro?" Kitsune called out, tearing open the door to his room. "What's going on?"
"It's a miracle!"
"What happened Keitaro, they discovered oil on this land? You hit the lottery? Buffalo won a Super Bowl?" Kitsune wondered as she and the other residents took in the odd sight of the landlord dancing about his room. He hardly looked like the suicidal figure they'd expected.
"Six hundred! I made six hundred!" Keitaro cheered.
"Six hundred…" Naru murmured before comprehension hit home. "Keitaro, you did it! You passed!" she practically squealed.
"He did?" Motoko asked, looking at Naru as if she'd grown a second head. "Him?"
"He did," Naru confirmed with a nod. "He just made it, but still…" Had everyone not been watching Keitaro dancing a victory jig (poorly) they might have noticed the proud look on the brunettes face.
"Congratulations sempai!" Shinobu gushed, stars in her eyes as she beamed at Keitaro.
"What she said," Kitsune added with a smirk.
"Good work ronin!" Su piped up.
"So, you aren't completely useless after all…" Motoko admitted grudgingly. "But even a stopped clock is right twice a day."
"Hey, what's with the kill-joy attitude?" Naru demanded. "Keitaro made it, he passed."
"Just barely," Motoko pointed out, relishing the way Keitaro flinched. "And it only gets harder, right?" When Naru reluctantly nodded, Motoko locked her gaze onto the ronin. "Congratulations, you passed," she told Keitaro sweetly, knowing her words would taste like vinegar to him. "Maybe you'll get another miracle and get into Tokyo University this time. But I doubt it…" Still showing her teeth in what would never be mistaken for a smile, Motoko turned her back to him and started out.
"Listen," Keitaro replied, attempting to summon some backbone. "There's a good chance I'll-" The rest of Keitaro's speech was cut off when he tripped over a floorboard and fell flat on his face. Unfortunately, while falling he had grabbed out wildly, trying to stop his fall but only managing to take hold of Motoko's hakama, pulling it down around her ankles.
"You bastard!" Motoko snarled, lashing out at the prostrate Keitaro, her bokken connecting solidly with him several times before Kitsune and Naru were able to grab one of the kendoka's arms and all but drag the livid woman away from the defenseless landlord. Her curses and obscenities could have stripped paint as she was forced down the hallway, the dazed ronin sitting up and shaking his head to clear it.
"You okay sempai?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine Shinobu," Keitaro slurred before he gave his head a final shake to clear it. "I did it. I really did it," he murmured.
"I know you'll make it this time," Shinobu told him.
"I just have to keep it up," Keitaro replied with a grin, giving the young girl a thumbs up. "This time for sure!" He got to his feet, dusted himself off and opened his study guide just as Naru re-entered the room.
"How can she be so angry all the time?" she wondered. "Yeah, you pulled down her pants, but it was an accident…"
"Don't worry about that," Keitaro remarked with a dismissive wave. "We're going to do it! Attend Tokyo University together. With your help I can't fail…"
"Don't be so cocky," Naru warned. "But yeah, I'll make sure you do it," she assured him with a smile.
As the rest of the residents, sans Motoko, clapped him on the back in congratulations Keitaro found himself admiring Naru's gentle smile.
'Why am I here?' Keitaro asked himself as he made his way through the crowd of anxious students. 'There's no way I made it…' He thought back to the second day of the exam, when Naru had told him that she wasn't his promise girl; that little announcement had shaken him to his core, and rattled him so badly that he was sure he'd blown the test. He'd been nearly catatonic while waiting for the results to be posted, falling behind on his landlord duties, not even responding when Motoko had gotten violent.
Keitaro had considered not even checking whether or not he'd passed, but in the end he'd decided that holding on to a faint hope was better than nothing. Not wanting Naru or anyone else to see his likely disappointment he'd gone alone, reluctantly approaching the boards that held the names of the fortunate ones. Steeling himself, Keitaro closed his eyes and opened them to look for his name. When he finally confirmed what he'd suspected, he was surprised by how philosophical he felt. 'I failed. Again,' he told himself. 'I should have known better, maybe Motoko's right…'
Not wanting to see the celebrations of those who'd passed, and really not wanting Naru to see his failure, Keitaro made his way back to Hinata House, thankful that he made it back without running into anyone. He noticed that the others had hung up a banner congratulating him and Naru on getting into Tokyo University. The sign merely rubbed salt into an open wound and he wanted nothing more than to slink into his room and feel miserable, but he wasn't able to make a clean escape.
"Hey Keitaro, congratulations!" Kitsune crowed, setting off a party popper. She sidled up to him, clearly smelling like she'd decided to start celebrating early. "How's it feel?"
"I-I wouldn't know…" he whispered, not able to look her in the eyes.
Kitsune's eyes went wide. "You failed…?"
"I knew it!" Motoko declared, seemingly materializing behind Kitsune. "You failed."
Keitaro opened his mouth for a moment before closing it, not having anything to rebut the kendoka.
"You don't have to be so happy," Kitsune snapped.
"Happy? No, just vindicated." Motoko glanced over her shoulder. "We need to fix that sign…" She strode over to it and with a few quick slashes cut Keitaro's name out as cleanly as if she'd used a scalpel. "That's better."
"Hey, leave the guy alone, he's feeling bad enough already!" objected Kitsune.
"No, she's right," Keitaro murmured.
"See? He knows his place."
"Just-just don't tell Naru I failed, okay? Just for tonight?"
"Okay…" Kitsune replied after a long silence. "Listen Keitaro, you shouldn't give up, you can-"
"I don't wanna talk about it now," Keitaro spoke softly as he headed up the stairs. "not now…" He slowly made his way up to his floor, not seeing the hard look Kitsune gave Motoko, entering his room and laying on his futon, staring up at the ceiling.
Keitaro had known that failing again would be a disappointment, but knowing that hadn't made it any easier. 'I'll have to apologize to Naru,' he told himself after some quiet reflection. 'I didn't work hard enough, it's not her fault…' Keitaro stayed in his room all day listening for the sounds of Naru's triumphant return. When dinnertime rolled around and she still hadn't returned, he figured that she'd gone out with some of her classmates to celebrate and thought nothing of it. Even after he'd gotten ready for bed he still wasn't concerned, telling himself that he'd congratulate Naru in the morning.
It wasn't until morning that everyone realized that Naru was gone.
Keitaro closed his toolkit after giving the pipes under the kitchen sink a final shake to ensure they were set. He mentally crossed another task off of his list of repairs and carried his tools to the closet, deciding that he'd done enough for that day. After Naru had gone off to Kyoto to find herself, Su and Shinobu had gone after her, and then Kitsune and Motoko had gone after them. Keitaro had thought about perhaps going off to Kyoto himself, but he'd changed his mind at the last minute, electing to stay at Hinata House. Motoko had also let him know in no uncertain terms he wasn't welcome with her and Kitsune when they departed, so now he had the place to himself.
He'd used the week to simply relax, sleep late, and catch up on some of the repairs that the residence needed. No one had bothered to call but Keitaro wasn't too worried, his aunt had told him that everyone could take care of themselves. 'It'd be nice if I knew when they were getting back,' he mused. 'I'd hate to have them walk in on me if I was using the bath… And I haven't gotten hurt in a while either.'
Keitaro hadn't been completely alone, Haruka had dropped in from time to time and they had gotten caught up on old times, as well as just talking. "Was Motoko always this way?"
"Not that I know of," Haruka replied. "Not till you got here."
"Well, she usually has a rea-"
"Why are you still here?" she interrupted. "She's beaten you senseless, why have you stayed?"
"I'm trying to get into Tokyo University, maybe Naru can help…"
"You sure she'll try again?"
"Yeah, I am…"
Haruka nodded after a few moments. "So am I."
"Did they tell you when they'll be back?" Keitaro asked.
"No, but I don't think it'll be much longer," Haruka replied.
"How do you know?"
"Naru's graduation is in a few days," she explained. "I don't think she'd miss that."
"Makes sense," Keitaro admitted.
"So, besides fixing this place up, what have you been doing this week?" Haruka asked.
"Just some sketching."
"I've been doing it for a while now."
"Can I see?"
"Sure." Keitaro handed over the sketchbook and Haruka began thumbing through it.
"Not bad," she remarked. "That's a good one of Naru. Shinobu too. How'd you get Su to stay still long enough to draw her?"
"Was that outfit Kitsune's idea or yours?"
"Mine. B-but she would have posed naked otherwise!" Keitaro squawked when he saw Haruka's eyes narrow dangerously.
"I see," she growled, flipping the page. "God, that apron makes me look old…"
"Not at all," Keitaro replied, for once recognizing danger and avoiding it.
Haruka flipped over to the last sketch, a look of surprise coming over her. "Motoko? You drew Motoko?"
"She posed for this?"
"No, I did it from memory," Keitaro admitted.
"Looks pretty good," Haruka acknowledged. "But what's wrong with her mouth?"
"I tried to draw her smiling," he explained. "But…"
"But what?" Haruka pressed.
"I've never seen her smile," Keitaro replied after a long silence.
End of Part Two
Author's Notes: None, except that Random1377 and Fatuous One pre-read this.
All errors are my responsibility, not theirs.