Forget and Forgive
Love Hina belongs to Ken Akamatsu.
A/N: Well that was a short turnaround for an update, wasn't it? Two reasons: 1) I had time to write, and 2) This chapter came pretty easily once I got the ball rolling. Don't count on future updates being this quick, though.
Chapter 4 – Past and Present
"Girls, we have a guest!"
Keitaro took a deep breath. As he stood in the foyer of the building he remembered so fondly as a child, he took solace in knowing that at least not everything about his new life was unfamiliar. He half-expected Granny Hina to come waddling out of the kitchen with a tray of hot tea and cookies. Granny always made the best cookies, though Haruka often took the lion's share. Back then his bossy young cousin (who'd insisted he call her "Aunt") was always leading him around by the nose.
He supposed some things never changed. Well, except for the part about calling her "Aunt", anyway…
In any case, this wasn't the time to be reminiscing. Keitaro was keenly aware that he was hardly a master of subterfuge. If he was to have any chance of succeeding in the ruse he'd so impulsively agreed to participate in, he needed every bit of concentration he could muster.
Naru Narusegawa. His study mate and fellow Toudai aspirant. She was the top examinee in the nation on the Toudai mock exams and attended the same cram school as himself. Resident of Room 304.
Mitsune Konno, "Kitsune" to her friends. She was out of school and currently making a living as a freelance writer. Resident of Room 205.
Motoko Aoyama. Third year middle school student and heiress to the Shinmeiryuu school of swordsmanship. Resident of Room 302.
He went through their names and backgrounds in his head one last time.
"Girls!" Haruka barked again when her summons went unheeded. "Keitaro's back from the hospital!"
The ground rumbled. Half a heartbeat later a young lady halted at the base of the staircase.
Keitaro swallowed, though not out of nervousness. Quite simply, the girl was stunning. Long honey-chestnut hair draped onto her shoulders, cascading over them like sheets of elegant, flowing water.
No, "girl" wasn't the right term. She was definitely a "woman". Even through her loose-fitting blouse, he could see that she was well-endowed. She wore a short skirt with stockings and her fine, shapely legs seemed to stretch on forever… His mind went completely blank.
Paradise. He must have died and gone to heaven. Now this angel, the very picture of beauty, was here to escort him through the pearly gates where he would spend the rest of eternity basking in the bliss of her radiance.
And then the illusion faded. His image of an angel faded into that of a timid, hiccupping young woman. Only then did he notice the outer edges of her eyes were red and swollen and the deep, black lines that underlined them. A feeling Keitaro didn't recognize stirred within him. Suddenly he wanted to hold this woman in his arms and never let go.
Then that feeling, too, faded, as suddenly as it had come.
Having regained his senses, he coughed awkwardly and said, "Hi, Narusegawa." The photo Haruka had shown him of Narusegawa had not done the young woman any justice.
He wasn't prepared when, for the third time that day, he was tackled with the force of a locomotive.
"Keitaro, you're okay!" Narusegawa wailed as she wrapped her arms around him. "I'm so sorry, Keitaro! I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry…"
A wet, warm sensation spread across his shoulder. He stared down at the sobbing girl who was endlessly stringing together "sorry" after "sorry". Before he realized what he was doing or could even think of stopping himself, his right hand moved of its own accord and started stroking her long, silky hair.
Gradually, Narusegawa's sobs subsided but even after she had stopped completely, she did not withdraw from her embrace. Keitaro had no idea what else to do, so he returned it. The warmth of her body seeped into his own.
He didn't know who exactly this girl was beyond her name and what Su and the others had shared with him, and he didn't know what exactly she meant to him, but only just now at that very moment did he feel the tiniest pang of regret over his lost memories.
"Urashima… I am… relieved to see that you have returned."
A new voice greeted him, one belonging to a black-haired beauty of unmatched grace and refinement. She was unusually tall, particularly a Japanese woman, and towered above her contemporaries. More than her height though, she radiated an aura that made her seem larger than life. Even Keitaro felt small compared to her, though he must have been taller by at least a couple of centimeters.
"It's good to see you too, Motoko-chan," he said. "Good" didn't begin to describe it. Again, the photo had done no justice at all.
It was the strangest thing. There he was, surrounded by a veritable harem of attractive women and yet instead of feeling nervous, which by his past experiences with girls should have been completely off the scale in this situation, he'd never felt more at peace.
"Where's Kitsune?" Haruka asked when the last remaining tenant didn't appear.
"I believe she is still in her room, Haruka-san," Motoko answered, brushing aside a stray lock of hair as she did so. Keitaro stared, mesmerized.
It was official. His life kicked ass.
"What's she doing in there?" Haruka demanded. "Keitaro is back, practically from the grave, and she doesn't care enough to come down and see him?"
"I am not privy to the reasons for her absence, Haruka-san," said Motoko. Then she turned back to Keitaro. "Urashima, I… must apologize for my behavior last night. It was… unseemly, to say the least."
The details Keitaro had received about the previous night were sparse. He only knew Narusegawa was the one directly responsible for the injuries he'd suffered, while Motoko and Kitsune shared in some peripheral responsibility. Even so, he couldn't bring himself to bear them any ill will. Not when he didn't even remember what exactly they had done to him.
"Don't worry about it, Motoko-chan," he told her. "I've already forgotten about it."
Motoko shook her head. "That is kind of you to say, but I cannot forget so easily. You saved my life last night, Urashima. I now owe you a debt and I intend to repay it. If there is anything you desire of me, simply name it and I will grant your wish if it is within my power."
Keitaro didn't know what to make of her words. He saved her life? Nobody had mentioned that. And now someone owed him a life debt. That was so cool! It was just like in those samurai movies he used to watch with his dad.
Just to reiterate: His. Life. Kicked. Ass!
"I'm not sure about any of that," he said modestly. "I mean, unless you can help me pass the Toudai entrance exam, there's nothing that I really want."
"I am afraid that is beyond the scope of my abilities," Motoko frowned. "Is there nothing else you can think of?"
He considered it. Well, he wouldn't mind going out on a date with such an alluring young woman… No! That was definitely his libido talking and bad things happened when he listened to his libido. Besides, using a life debt to force someone to go out on a date with him not only seemed dishonorable, but it also made him feel like a loser.
"No," he sighed. "Just forget it, Motoko-chan."
"My honor demands that I repay you for your selfless deed," Motoko insisted. "Please, I will do anything."
Stop being a big baby! A date! Ask her for a date! She said anything! Think about that! Anything!
"Well, actually, a date-" he started to say before clamping his own mouth shut. He'd almost done it! Damn his libido! That little monster almost screwed him over, again!
Dude, are you gay? A hot chick says she'll do anything for you and you're just going to let this chance slip you by?
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!
You know, at this rate, you're going to be a virgin forever.
Burst into flames! Burst into flames and DIE!
It'll probably be on your tombstone in big, bold letters: V-I-R-G-I-N. Here lies a stupid fuck who never got laid once in his entire life.
"A date?" Motoko cocked her head to the side quizzically.
Thinking faster than he ever thought before, Keitaro said, "Yeah, you know… Can we postpone this for a later date? Like a rain check?"
"Oh," mouthed Motoko, nodding sagely. "Of course. I apologize. I did not intend to force you to make a decision this very moment."
But I bet you wouldn't mind that, eh? Being forced, that is…
Just shut up already! I am NOT an animal!
…says the guy who still hasn't let go of the leggy brunette with the nice rack.
Keitaro flinched, suddenly acutely aware of the fact he still had Narusegawa in his arms. He gently, but very deliberately, pried her off.
"Maybe I should go up and check on Kitsune-san," he said hastily, latching onto the first decent excuse he could think of to leave the room. He didn't know what he might wind up doing at the rate things were going… and he was he twenty years old now in body, if not in mind. He no longer had the excuse of raging teenage hormones. Maybe the girls who'd spurned him in the past were right.
He was a pervert.
Nah, you're a male. Not that there's much of a difference.
Would you shut up already? "Chicks" hardly find guys who talk to imaginary voices in their head to be suitable boyfriend material.
…ahhh. That was better.
"Did you want us to come with you, Senpai?" Shinobu asked. She looked up to him, eyes shimmering with concern.
Damn, did she have that "cute underclassman" look down pat. Maybe the curves weren't all there yet, but in a few years…
Hmm. He really needed a cold shower.
Or a therapist, maybe. A smoking hot female therapist…
Ahem. Or just a cold shower. Yeah, that sounded like a plan.
"No need," Keitaro assured her. "I can handle it." Probably. At least dealing with one pretty girl sounded easier than four. "Don't worry about me. Say, it's starting to get kinda late. Have you all eaten yet?"
Everyone shook their heads.
"Perfect," he nodded. "Why don't you ladies go do that and I'll go fetch Kitsune-san and then we'll both join you."
"But I haven't prepared anything today," Shinobu said. "It'll take a while to cook a meal for seven people."
Keitaro gaped at her. "You prepare the meals here all by yourself?"
Motoko and Narusegawa shot confused glances at him. Su waved her hands and then drew her thumb in a horizontal line across her neck.
"I-I mean, why not let us all help for once?" he amended quickly. "I can chop vegetables okay and simple stuff like that. I'm sure things will go faster with everyone lending a hand."
"That sounds like a great idea," Haruka said. "It's about time the rest of you started pulling your own weight around here."
"But I can't cook to save my life!" Narusegawa yelped. "One time I managed to start a fire just trying to boil water!"
Keitaro laughed before he could stop himself.
"I'm serious!" Narusegawa growled, glaring at him. Then her expression softened and she looked down to the ground, abashed. "We used to order take-out all the time before Shinobu moved in."
"Oh, right, I remember that," Haruka said thoughtfully. "I'll be supervising you myself, then. No burning down the place on my watch. Everyone into the kitchen. Keitaro, go drag Kitsune out of bed. If she doesn't budge, kick her in the head a few times and say it's from me."
Keitaro stifled a chuckle and made for the stairs, but felt a tug of his arm. He turned and saw Haruka shake her head at him. They both lingered in the entrance hall after the girls went to start breakfast.
"You slipped up towards the end, there," she told him in a low whisper. "One or two mistakes won't raise any alarms, but make it a habit and this is all going to blow up in our faces."
"I'll be more careful from now on," Keitaro said apologetically.
"You'd better," Haruka replied. "Just watch your tongue around Kitsune. She likes to play the fool but she's subtle as a snake. If she gets a whiff of any bullshit, she'll try to wheedle everything out of you and she won't care how she does it. This is going to be your first real test. Don't blow it."
"I know," Keitaro said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "You already told me this."
"And I'm telling you again," Haruka snapped. "You won't be able to count on one of us always being there to cover for you."
"I'm doing okay so far, aren't I?" Keitaro insisted stubbornly. "Give me a little credit. I can handle this."
"Fine," said Haruka as she turned to leave. "Just don't get cocky, or I'm going to be the one to bust you back down a few notches."
Keitaro nodded soberly. "Is that all?"
"One last thing," Haruka muttered, already walking in the opposite direction. She stopped just before the doorway to the kitchen. "Good luck." Then she said more loudly, "Alright, girls, get ready for boot camp!"
A chorus of groans was her response.
It was with a smile when Keitaro headed up the steps to the second floor. He had a feeling Haruka would make a good mom someday. Though… she'd probably hit him if he said that to her face.
He could vaguely remember the inn's layout and seemed to recall Room 205 was across from Granny Hina's room. He supposed it was his room now. Now that was an odd, though cheering, thought. It wouldn't hurt to take a quick peek inside, would it?
Sliding the door open, he stepped over his lumpy futon which he apparently had not put away the previous day. It seemed a bit out of place in the midst of the otherwise tidy, if somewhat spartan room furnishings. Keitaro didn't know what he'd really been expecting, but he found himself disappointed that the décor didn't have a little more character.
His attention shifted to a desk in the corner with a neat row of books stacked side by side. Most of them looked like study materials for the Toudai entrance exam, but one with handwritten lettering on the spine caught his eye.
Print Club Photos. He picked it up, turning over the cover to the first page.
His intrigue quickly turned to disgust when he saw that every single photo inside was of himself. Didn't he make any friends in high school? What kind of pathetic loser filled a photo book with pictures of himself? After flipping halfway through, he'd seen enough of his own oblivious, goofy grin. Curling his lower lip in contempt, he tossed the book into the trash bin.
Five years worth of memories and that was all he had to show for it? Had his sense of self-worth eroded so much over that short span of time? Five years of life without really living. He felt furious at himself, at his future self. What a waste. What a sorry excuse for a human being.
He clenched his jaw. He would not go back to being that person. If he had to take a sledgehammer to his own head and induce another coma, he refused to allow that to happen.
Still simmering, he turned to leave only to trip over his futon. He tumbled to the floor, hitting something firm on his way down.
"Ouch! Watch it!"
The voice came muffled from under the covers. Hmm. Either he had a magical talking futon, or…
He lifted up a corner flap. Underneath was a woman with short, sandy blonde hair and huge… er… hands. She was rubbing her side, where he'd accidentally stepped on her.
"What's the big idea, Keitaro?" she griped. "I was just trying to catch a few Z's before you got home, ya big lummox! Now you've gone and-" She blinked. "Keitaro, is that you?"
"Er… yeah," Keitaro said, recoiling back from the pungent stench of the woman's breath. "Why are you sleeping in my room… Kitsune-san?"
Drowsy bloodshot eyes, a disheveled mop of hair, and soiled clothes that reeked of sweat and alcohol were not a flattering look for Kitsune. Her photo had been one of a playful, seductive woman with bright eyes and a mischievous smile. Under the circumstances, he'd barely been able to recognize her.
"I was waiting for you," Kitsune said in a rough, throaty voice. If she didn't smell like urine, Keitaro might have found it sexy. "I wanted to tell you…" She made a gulping sound like a floundering fish. "I wanted to say sorry… I'm sorry, Keitaro."
Not that he didn't appreciate the sentiment, but he really wished people would stop telling him that already.
"Don't worry about it," Keitaro said. It was becoming an almost automatic response. "Never mind that, Kitsune-san. You don't look so good…"
"You take that back!" Kitsune growled, suddenly belligerent. "I am dead sexy, and you know it! Here, just have a feel."
She took his hand and forcefully placed it on her breast.
"Now tell me I don't look good!"
Ordinarily, this would have been the stuff of Keitaro's wet dreams but he'd always imagined the girl as being less… drunk. As it was, the whole situation felt completely wrong.
"You look fantastic," Keitaro said unenthusiastically, withdrawing his hand. "Now maybe you should go back to sleep, Kitsune-san. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"I'm not sleepy," Kitsune whined. "And you haven't accepted my apology. I said I was sorry, Keitaro. You believe me, right?"
"Yes," Keitaro said as soothingly as he could. "Apology accepted. Now go back to bed."
"You didn't mean that," Kitsune complained, inconsolable. "You don't even know what I did. Shinobu knows, though. She didn't forgive me, either. She hates me. Everyone hates me."
Keitaro frowned. "Shinobu couldn't hate a fly," he said. He'd only known the timid girl for about two hours and he was already certain of that. "And I don't hate you, either."
"Well you should," Kitsune slurred. "I hate me, too. I dunno why I do that sleazy stuff, I just do! It wasn't even funny, this time. Watching you… watching you…" She began to retch, but nothing came up.
Keitaro rubbed her back. "Easy, easy. Can you stand? We should get you to the bathroom."
"I don't need to use the goddamned toilet!" Kitsune bellowed. "Just leave me alone!"
Keitaro had no problem granting that request. To be honest, he was starting to panic. "Okay, I'll leave now, Kitsune-san. Try to get some rest."
"Wait!" she cried in anguish as he rose to leave, pulling him back down with terrifying force. He lost his balance and fell face forward. He planted both hands just above Kitsune's shoulders to break his fall.
"Don't leave me, Keitaro," she pleaded, clinging to his right arm for dear life. "I'm sorry I yelled. Please, stay."
Keitaro swallowed. "Okay, Kitsune-san," he mumbled nervously. "If that's what you want."
"Yes," she said, tightening her grip on him. "Stay. Don't leave. Please."
"Okay, just calm down. I'm not going anywhere," Keitaro assured her, even as he prayed that someone would come up and rescue him from his current predicament. Even when women evidently liked him, he still had rotten luck with them, it seemed.
"Kitsune-san, do you think you could let go of me now?" he pleaded.
Kitsune said nothing in response. She'd already drifted back to unconsciousness while still clamping his arm in a vice grip. Keitaro lay there, helpless to free himself as long as Kitsune clung to him, with no idea of how to react or what to do.
Please, somebody find me, he willed silently. Aunt Haruka. Su-chan. Anybody.
Then he heard the voice of his savior.
"Keitaro, are you up here?" It sounded like… Narusegawa! "I snuck out of the kitchen when Haruka wasn't looking. What's taking you so long?"
"Narusegawa!" he called out in desperation. "I could use a little help, here. I'm in my room with Kitsune-san. She's drunk and acting really weird."
"Again?" Narusegawa sighed, sounding as though this was a perfectly common occurrence. Her footsteps grew closer. "What is it this time? Did she pass out again? …Eh?!"
He locked eyes with Narusegawa just as she entered his doorway. She froze on the spot, a state of pure shock painted on her face. Then, gradually, she turned red and a tic above her left eyebrow began to twitch. She clenched a fist and for one frightful moment, Keitaro feared she might hit him.
Then her eyes widened in horror and she seemed to think better of it. She took several deep breaths, relaxed her balled hand, and calmed herself back down to a reasonable level.
"I'm going to assume there's a good explanation for this," Narusegawa said matter-of-factly. "I'm going to help you up, we'll both put Kitsune back in her own room, and then you're going to explain to me exactly what happened. Okay, Keitaro?"
"Y-Yes," Keitaro stuttered, somehow feeling he had dodged a bullet despite the fact he had done nothing wrong.
"…and then she fell back asleep and I was stuck there until you came along."
Narusegawa scratched her head from across Keitaro's kotatsu back in his room, looking equal parts confused and exasperated. "That's pretty extreme, even for Kitsune. I haven't seen her like this for a long time."
"You mean she's been like this before?" Keitaro marveled.
"A few times, before you came here," Narusegawa nodded. "Come to think of it… she stopped drinking as much after you became manager…"
"Well, what should we do about it?" Keitaro asked.
"There's really not much we can do, I'm afraid," Narusegawa frowned. "I've done everything I could think of in the past. I've tried talking to her, going with her to sign up for AA, pouring all her drinks down the drain, dragging her to therapy. Nothing ever sticks. She's gotten a lot better recently, though she's never quit completely, and I thought she might be turning a corner but…"
"It looks like we're back to square one, again."
"You don't suppose this might have something to do with what happened last night, do you?" Keitaro asked, remembering Kitsune's words about 'not knowing what she did'.
"That's a possibility," Narusegawa admitted. "She didn't really have anything to do with what happened, though… I guess it could've been the stress from when you were hospitalized. She definitely wasn't the only one who was worried. I could probably have used a drink, myself."
Keitaro's ears perked up. "Really?"
"Of course," said Naru, looking him straight in the eye. "Look, I know I'm not very good at showing it sometimes, Keitaro, but I really… care about you."
She smiled at him and he felt his heart skip a beat.
"Thanks, Narusegawa," Keitaro said earnestly. "It makes me really happy to hear you say that."
She flushed with embarrassment. "Well… I mean it." Then her expression sobered. "Keitaro… about earlier… I'm sorry. I overreacted again and I only just barely managed to stop myself. If Shinobu hadn't given us that talk this morning…"
Her voice trailed off. When she spoke again, it was barely above and whisper and Keitaro had to strain to hear her.
"Keitaro, I know I'm not a very patient person. You've suffered in the past because of it, especially last night… I know I must seem like this horrible, angry, violent girl. I hate the part of myself that hurts you and most of the time I don't even know why I do it! All I know is that I don't want to be that person anymore. I want to change. I just… I don't really have any idea where to start."
Keitaro remained silent. He really had no idea what to say to that. All he knew was that those words made him feel restless, as though agitating a metaphorical itch that he just couldn't scratch.
What did he mean to Narusegawa? What did she mean to him? He didn't remember. A part of him wanted to, but then he thought of the photo book filled with nothing but pictures of himself. No, he didn't want those memories. The memories of that contemptible coward. He was gone, and he wouldn't be coming back.
Keitaro would sooner die than let that happen.
"Hey, are you listening to me?" Narusegawa's voice snapped him back to reality. When he became aware of his surroundings again, he saw that she had moved and was now sitting adjacent to him.
"Yeah," he replied, thinking over what she'd said. "You said you wanted to change but you don't know how. I don't really know how either, Narusegawa. This might not be something I can help you with. For what it's worth I think if you really want to change, I believe you can do it. But more importantly, I think you have to believe you can do it."
"Believe in myself, huh?" Narusegawa smiled wryly. "That sounds so cheesy. But… thanks, Keitaro. As much as I hate to admit it, I don't really know if I can change. But if I don't at least try, I know I won't."
Keitaro smiled. "You sound like a fortune cookie."
Narusegawa growled and gave him a playful punch on the shoulder. "Hey, I was being serious!"
He chuckled. "I know. Just trying to lighten the mood. You looked so sad when you said that. I like it better when you smile."
"Now you sound like a cheap romance flick," Narusegawa shot back though there wasn't any heat to it, besides that of her reddening cheeks.
"See?" Keitaro laughed. "That's better."
"Oh, geez," Narusegawa sighed, unable to even pretend to be angry with him. "You're just too nice for your own good, Keitaro. It would be easier sometimes if you weren't."
Keitaro waggled his eyebrows. "But that's what you like about me, right?" He expected her to fire another snappy comeback. Or at least get embarrassed again. But to his surprise, she merely nodded and then rested her head against his shoulder.
"Yeah," Narusegawa whispered gently. "That's what I like about you, Keitaro."
Keitaro felt his own face grow hot at the admission. He didn't say anything for a while, and neither did Narusegawa. They simply enjoyed each others' company in comfortable silence.
It wasn't long, however, until a guest dropped in on them, unannounced.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
Both young adults shots straight up, averting their gazes in opposite directions as a tinge of pink traveled up both their necks.
"I guess I did," the newcomer snickered unrepentantly, stepping into the room.
"Haruka!" Narusegawa yelped. "I… um…"
"Save it," Haruka said. "Things started to go more smoothly after you snuck off, anyway. Breakfast is ready, you two. Hurry down before Su eats it all." She scanned the room and frowned. "Where's Kitsune?"
"She's sleeping off a drinking binge," Narusegawa explained. "We should probably just leave her be."
Haruka sighed. "Why am I not surprised? Fine, I guess it'll just be the six of us, then."
"I'll go fix a plate and leave it in the fridge for her." Narusegawa stood up and left, leaving only Keitaro and Haruka in the room. Neither said anything at first.
Then Haruka smirked, "So, you and Naru, hmm?"
Keitaro made himself scarce. "I am SO not talking about this with my Aunt!"
Shortly thereafter… "OUCH!"
A/N: First, allow me to preempt the inevitable "Is this going to be a Kei/Naru pairing?" question by saying: Maybe "yes", maybe "no". You'll have to keep reading to find out. I will confirm that a pairing is going to be made clear at some point and no, it won't be a harem.
Second, to all of the extremely vocal Naru haters out there: If you hate canon Naru, fine. I'm not trying to change your mind about her. However, in my story I'm trying to portray a Naru who recognizes her faults and makes a conscious effort to better herself.
I'm not going to argue that Naru can't be a small-minded, jealous little bitch sometimes. But if one chooses to focus on a person's flaws rather than their virtues and then condemns them for it, then that makes one just as small-minded of a person. And if one chooses to condemn them AFTER they acknowledge those flaws and make an earnest effort to change, then that makes the finger pointer plain ignorant.
If you really despise Naru and break into hives any time anyone portrays her as anything other than a rapacious monster who delights in snapping the necks of baby kittens, sorry to burst your bubble. Don't bother complaining to me because frankly, I don't want to hear it. If you have constructive criticism that will allow me to improve my writing, I welcome it. If all you want to tell me is that the story was great until you found out Naru can behave like a halfway decent human being and now I should go die in a fire for ruining the plot, please keep it to yourself.
As always, thanks for reading.