Love Hina belongs to Ken Akamatsu.
Chapter 1 – Saving the World
It was closing time at the Hinata Tea House and Mitsune Konno was busy shooing away the last of her customers and wiping down the tables. Business was never booming, but it was always enough to keep her busy and enough to keep her finances in the black. The dorm however…
She let out a morose sigh.
No use worrying about that. There was still some time. Maybe they'd get lucky again and another Keitaro would come strolling up the steps and save the day, their knight in shining eyeglasses. His sudden, unannounced departure had taken them all by surprise. But Mitsune understood his reasons; they all did. They'd waited patiently for his return for as long as they could, but he never did. He'd never sent so much as a postcard.
They understood his reasons but eventually, one by one, they moved on with their lives. And now only Mitsune and one other remained.
They still hoped for his return, but had come to accept the possibility that he never would. They didn't blame him, but they still missed him. He was important to them, just as she had been to him, and it hurt to lose them both at once. Time was a universal salve, but even now, his absence seemed to leave a gaping hole in Hinata. It still sparkled to a shine on the outside, the interim manager had seen to that. But the soul that had made it such a happy place was gone. Only memories remained now, and they lingered in the shadows around every corner. Too precious to forget, but too painful to remember.
It must have been the same for Keitaro… No, she couldn't blame him for not wanting to return.
A loud CLACK interrupted Mitsune thoughts. Instinctively, she said, "Sorry, we're closed. I can get you something for the road if you want, but you can't drink it here."
She looked up to greet the latecomer only to see an empty doorway. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Mitsune was far too skeptical a person to spook easily, but an involuntary chill ran through her.
Telling herself it was just the wind, she slid the door closed and returned to her work. Before she knew it, she was reminded of when she used to tell ghost stories to Su, Shinobu, and Sarah. It was always such fun to scare the young ones, and so easy, too. They'd laugh if they saw her now, jumping at shadows. Though, she supposed, what goes around comes around.
Mitsune chuckled to herself. Honestly, ghosts? What nonsense.
She nearly jumped out of her skin. Her head darted towards every corner of the room around her.
As far as she could tell, she was the only person there.
"H-Hello?" she called out uncertainly to whatever invisible force had assailed her.
This time Mitsune felt a tug on her pant leg and had the foresight to look down.
And she was more certain than ever she was, in fact, seeing a ghost.
The little girl was the mirror image of her best friend. It was as though she'd been cloned in miniature.
It had to be her mind playing tricks on her. She closed her eyes and counted back from ten. When she opened them again, the ghost was still there.
But at least it was friendly.
"Hi there?" Mitsune studied the specter, and the longer she did, the more it resembled Naru.
Of course, she didn't seriously believe in ghosts. But the only other explanation was even more unthinkable…
"Hey there, little one,"she whispered, barely trusting herself to speak. "Where's your daddy?"
The little girl smiled and shook her head before running back to the door. She struggled to open it with a CLACK and standing in the frame was a face she'd been afraid she would never see again.
The little girl reached up with stubby, grabbing paws and the man in the doorway swept her up into his arms.
"Sunshine! I told you not to run off! What am I going to do with you?"
The man nuzzled the little girl until she was giggling uncontrollably.
"Stop! Stop, Daddy!"
Mitsune could only stare dumbly at the pair in front of her. None of it could possibly be happening. It was just too good to be true.
"I don't think so!" cackled the man. "Naughty girls like you need to be punished!" He proceeded to tickle the poor girl's underside and belly until she was red in the face.
"No, stop! I'm sorry, Daddy! I'm sorry!"
Reluctantly, the man relented. Then he asked her, seriously, "Do you promise not to run off without telling me again?"
The girl shook her head like a bobble head doll.
"Okay, then I forgive you," said the man as he kissed her on the forehead. As soon as he set her down, though, she quickly ran out the door.
"Hey! Come back here, you little scamp! What did I just say?!"
The man spun on his heels to chase after her but Mitsune tackled him from behind and latched him into a bone-crushing bear hug.
"KEITARO!" Mitsune all but shrieked. "You're finally back! How long do you intend to keep standing there, ignoring me?!"
"K-Kitsune!" Keitaro gasped, struggling just to breathe. "I-It's great to s-see you, but… my daughter…"
"Oh! Right, sorry!"She loosened her grip right as his lips began to turn blue.
Coughing and taking deep breaths, Keitaro clambered to his feet and called out. "Sunshine, come back here right now! You made a promise to me!"
High pitched laughter was his only response and he made to race after his little girl, but Mitsune caught him by the arm and dragged him back inside.
"Don't worry, she's perfectly safe!" she assured him. "That way leads to the dorm and someone's up there right now. No need to panic. She's in good hands!"
"But—" he started to protest.
"No buts!" declared Mitsune. "Is this how you treat an old friend you haven't seen in three years? The only "but" you're getting away with is yours planted in this seat."
Keitaro glared at her, a serious look in his eye that she'd seldom ever seen in the past. Her smile faltered a bit.
"Can you give me your word that she'll be okay by herself?"
Mitsune felt her mouth go dry at his accusing stare, so rather than reply she nodded her head. The interim manager was looking after the dorm at that very moment and would definitely find the company a welcome surprise.
Keitaro relaxed slightly and returned the nod. "Okay, ten minutes to catch up but then we go find her. You have no idea the kind of trouble that girl can get into."
Mitsune grinned at that. "A real firecracker, just like her mother, eh?"
Keitaro smiled, but the light in his eyes seemed to recede at the comment. "Yeah," he agreed quietly.
The expression on his face was equal parts pain and pride. Even after three years, it was obvious the wounds from losing Naru were still fresh in his heart.
"Good grief, Keitaro," Mitsune muttered, shaking her head. "It's been too long. We missed you."
"Yeah, I know," agreed Keitaro. "I'm sorry. It's just my head's been… somewhere else. I couldn't come back here. Too many memories of… her. Of us. Even now, I…" He ran a hand through his hair. "It's hard just being here. But I'm at the end of my rope, Kitsune. I quit my career in Archaeology because there wasn't enough time for both my job and my daughter. I've been doing odd-jobs to get by but it's hardly a stable income. The dowry from Naru's parents disappeared after two years and after it was gone, I started to fall behind on rent. Long story short: I'm unemployed, in debt, the creditors are after me, and social services wants to take my daughter from me."
He slammed his fist into the table.
"I'll be damned if they think I'm just going to hand her over without a fight!"
Mitsune blinked owlishly. This wasn't anything like the reunion she'd imagined. It took several moments before Keitaro's words finally began to sank in. Her gut reaction was to shout "Keitaro, you're in deep shit!", but somehow she didn't think that would be terribly constructive.
"So what do you plan to do?" she asked. "Sell the dorm? It'd probably be more than enough to cover what you owe."
"It would," agreed Keitaro. "But I'm not selling it. I spent the best years of my life here. I met my wife here. I married my wife here. There's too much history, too many memories. I'm not about to let that all go."
"Do you really have a choice?" Mitsune pointed out. "Not that I'd be crazy to see Hinata go either, but I've had experience with debt collectors, Keitaro. And trust me, it can get ugly."
"I know," said Keitaro. "Believe me, I know. I just need time to think. To figure out a way to dig myself out of this hole. I don't think they know about Hinatasou, at least not yet, and they should still be sniffing around Okinawa at this point."
Mitsune nodded slowly. "Does that mean you have a plan?"
Keitaro grimaced and shook his head. "I wish. I haven't really thought that far ahead. I'm just making things up as I go along."
"Well at least some things never change," Kitsune commented wryly.
"Tell me about it," Keitaro laughed half-heartedly. "Speaking of which, do you run the Tea House now? I don't see Haruka."
"Oh, you betcha!" Mitsune grinned proudly, all other troubles forgotten for the moment. "Mitsune Konno is the proud proprietor of the Hinata Tea House!"
"What, don't I even get a 'grats'?" Mitsune pouted. "My poor, underfed ego. I suppose I'll live, though. As for Haruka, she married Seta last year."
"What?!" Keitaro jumped out of his chair. "Seriously?!"
"No joke," Mitsune affirmed. "I was Haruka's Maid of Honor. They wanted to send you an invitation to the wedding, but no one knew where to find you."
"Damn," Keitaro muttered. "I'm sorry I missed that."
"It wasn't anything flashy, just a small affair," said Kitsune. "The groom didn't even rip off the bride's wedding dress. Pretty boring if you ask me." She winked at Keitaro, who flushed a deep red, much to her satisfaction. It was good to know that he was still a prime target for teasing.
"Gosh, what else have I missed?"
"Oh, there'll plenty of time for that, later!" Mitsune beamed. "For now, let's head up to the dorm. There's a certain someone there who would never forgive me if I tried to keep you all to myself."
"Really?" asked Keitaro. "I would've thought everyone would have moved out by now."
"Nearly," Mitsune admitted. "It's definitely not as lively as it used to be, but aside from myself there's two others left."
"Well, there's Ema. Do you remember her?"
Keitaro thought on it for a moment. "Oh! The one who nabbed Naru's bridal veil! Yeah, I remember. Naru really liked her…" His voice trailed off and Mitsune could see the man withdrawing within himself.
"Y-Yeah, her!" Mitsune nodded, attempting to steer the conversation back to safer territory. "She's out of high school now and already failed her first attempt at the Toudai entrance exam. In fact, now she goes to the same cram school that you used to."
"Hopefully she has better luck there than I did," Keitaro chuckled grimly, relaxing once more. "And who's the other one?"
"That would be Hinatasou's interim manager," chirped Mitsune. "And I can't wait to see the look on her face when she sees you come strolling up."
"Interim manager?"Keitaro parroted. "Wait a minute, I gave YOU that job before I left!"
"Mmm-hmm," Mitsune nodded as she beamed at him. "And I outsourced it."
"What?!" Keitaro blustered. "You can't do that!"
"Shoot, guess I never got that memo," lamented Mitsune, snapping her fingers. "Too late, I already did!"
"Dare I ask who you subcontracted the job to?" groaned Keitaro. "Please don't say 'Su'."
"Keitaro, please," Mitsune rolled her eyes. "Even I'm not that irresponsible."
"Kitsune, I'm not playing that game."
"Then I guess you'll have to wait and see for yourself now, won't you?"
"Yep, that's my nickname, alright. Don't wear it out!"
"Ugh, I give up."
"Smart man!" Mitsune laughed. "So you ready to get going?"
"Yeah," nodded Keitaro. "It's about time I checked up on that little imp, in any case."
Mitsune smiled as she remembered the scene with father and daughter in the tea house. "You really love her, don't you?"
Keitaro's lips curled into what she was certain was the first genuine smile he'd flashed since his return. "She's my whole world."
Mitsune let out a low whistle. "Well, aren't we ambitious."
Keitaro shot her a puzzled glance. "Huh?"
Mitsune smiled knowingly. "Seems to me that your goal is to save the world. Ain't that right, Super Dad?"
He stared at her for several moments before barking out a laugh. "I suppose I am, at that."
"I suppose that makes me your plucky sidekick, eh?" continued Mitsune. "Well I got your back! Bad guys beware! Super Dad and Foxy Mama are gonna save the world from the forces of evil!"
Keitaro had his head in his palms. "Just try not to cause too much collateral damage."
"No promises, Mister!"
A/N: Before I get any indignant reviews from anyone wondering when the heck the next chapter of Patchwork Love is going to get posted, let me assure you that I AM working on it and hopefully will finish it before the end of this month. I just had to get this irritating plot bunny out of my system first.
Not sure if I'll be taking this story anywhere. If I don't get much positive feedback, it's definitely staying a one-shot. For those who didn't notice, I never actually officially named Keitaro and Naru's daughter, but there was only ever one that came to mind. It should come easily to anybody who thinks about it for a second. Anyone who still needs a hint: it's mentioned several times throughout the story and no, it's not "Sunshine". That's Keitaro's pet name for her, like "Cupcake" or "Kitten".