a fanfic by Ammaranth
The Legalese [you can skip this if you're not Perry Mason] : I don't own Love Hina, or any of the characters portrayed in this work (though I'd REALLY like to own Aoyama-hime ;) I'm not making any money off of this. I'm doing this for the sheer joy of writing, and of indulging my ongoing miko and tsundere obsession. Thank you for reading. No ronin were harmed during the making of this fic.
Mist hung on the Blue Mountains. But the eyes of Motoko Aoyama were clear.
Overhead, a white banner flapped in the wind. It read: "Raika High Annual Kendo Championship".
Motoko sat in seiza. Her legs were folded neatly underneath her, with her feet tucked behind her. Her knees were modestly pressed together. She was wearing the blue hakama pants and white kimono top that were the uniform for her fencing school. Rain was falling, making a slow, steady drizzle as it scoured her kendo armor. So far, the rain had struck the only blows to land on her that day. No opponent's sword had gotten through.
Beside her on the wooden floor lay a shinai, a practice sword, made of slats of bamboo tied together with leather thronging. The cords, along with the wood itself and the deer skin grip that wrapped around the handle had all taken on water from the rain, changing the feel of the weapon slightly.
A voice came over the PA system,
"This next match, between Motoko Aoyama and Seki Nakahara will decide who will be this year's Raika High School Kendo Champion!"
Motoko payed it little mind.
The judge's voice was deep. It came from his belly. He hadn't used the microphone, so his voice was natural, and it stayed low to the ground, unlike the tinny, metallic sound of the announcer's voice as it went out over the loud speaker, up over the heads of the crowd.
The sound of the rain was deafening as she put on her helmet, tying its cords around the front, then the back, then the front again. Her grey eyes gleamed as she looked out from behind the steel bars of her face mask. She and Seki took their places. They turned, and bowed to the judges. They turned again, and crossing swords, both of them lowered into a crouch. The referee held his hand between them, then lifted it and sprang back.
They both leapt from the ground, using the rising action to draw back, ready to swing.
"Men! Men! Kote!"
Their shouts filled the air, calling their targets, as Seki and Motoko chopped away at each other. For a moment, neither had the advantage.
"Kote!", Motoko shouted, cutting towards Seki's arms. But Seki guarded her hands well.
"Men!", Seki shouted, cutting at the top of Motoko's facemask.
"She's strong", Motoko thought as she parried. "There are reasons she's gotten this far", she said to herself, and she answered with a "Men!" of her own.
Seki parried it, and the two of them closed together in a shoving match of crossed swords.
"Her high guard is too strong. It will have to be something else", Motoko thought, as she and Seki wrestled through their swords, each of them seeking for an opening.
Motoko pushed forward, carrying Seki's arms up.
"This is it", she said to herself, dropping her sword to one side and springing to the other.
Seki's sword began to descend. Motoko's arms were already moving forward. The wind stirred, as if the very air had gotten caught up in the motion of the bamboo blade.
"D-O-O-O-O-O-O!" Motoko shouted, calling out her target, as her sword swung forward, crashing into Seki's chest protector, even as Seki's own sword descended harmlessly to cut where Motoko had been.
"Point Aoyama! Aoyama wins!"
The crowd in the stands erupted with cheers and applause. Motoko seemed not to hear them. Instead, she loosed her helmet cords. As she took her helmet off, her headband came with it, and a cascade of long, dark hair fell across her back. Out of the shapeless noise of the crowd, several voices became distinct.
"Way to go Motoko! We knew you could do it!"
"Let's celebrate with something to eat!"
"Woo-hoo! I had money riding on that last fight!"
The voices were familiar, including that last one, which had an unmistakable Osakan accent. When she heard them, Motoko's face softened into a smile.
"You were amazing Motoko. That was really cool."
That last voice -- a MALE voice -- seemed to have a particular effect on her. Her cheeks tinged with a slight blush.
An announcement came over the loud speaker -- something about the awards ceremony. She was spared.
There was a reading of names, and the presentation of trophies. The voice on the microphone made a series of squawking noises as it relived every moment of their fight, commenting on the strength of Seki's guard, how skillfully Aoyama had avoided her sword, how clean the last cut had been.
Seki met her out on the boards of the wooden stage. They bowed, and exchanged a handshake. She carried her shinai on her arm, and along with it, Motoko noticed a bouquet of flowers -- roses -- pink ones. She wondered who had given them to her, and then another faint blush tinged the samurai girl's cheek, as she wondered what it would be like to be given flowers herself.
As Seki turned to go, Motoko could not help but admire her sincerity. She was smiling. She seemed so happy.
She made it three steps. And then she collapsed.
* * * * * * * *
"Your friend is going to be all right", the doctor said cheerfully.
Keitaro and Naru sighed.
"Well that's a relief", Keitaro said.
"You really knocked the wind out of her", the doctor went on, addressing Motoko. "That last shot of yours actually cracked her chest protector. She's going to have a nasty bruise, but other than that, she should be fine. I'm sending her to the hospital as a precaution, to get some X-rays, just in case."
Motoko looked over at Seki. An ambulance was next to the stage where the tournament had been, parked right on the grass. Its sirens were off, but the lights were still on, sending out long streaks of red and blue light that flashed overhead. Underneath them, the paramedics were talking to Seki. She had her sword with her, laying beside her on the stretcher. And her flowers. She was still smiling, even as they were putting her into the ambulance. Upon seeing Motoko, she waved. The paramedics scolded her for exerting herself. Motoko smiled faintly, and managed a wave back.
"She'll be fine. You kids go on home", the doctor said, adding, "That's quite an arm you've got there, miss --"
"Miss Aoyama," the head coach said, making his way over. "I would like to speak with you for a moment --"
* * * * * * * *
Kitsune's voice registered the shock and amazement on all of their faces. They were sitting in the main room of the Hinata House, under a giant banner that exclaimed, "CONGRATULATIONS MOTOKO!"
"That's what she said", Haruka explained calmly, although she was frowning a little more than was normal for her. "They're letting her keep the title and the trophy, but they have pulled her off of the team for the regional finals."
"But that's terrible!", Shinobu said, nearly in tears. "Motoko's been practicing for that contest since last year! Why would they do such a thing?"
"Motoko said the coaches were worried about the safety of the other participants."
"Well now that I can understand", Keitaro said with a sigh. "I've been on the receiving end of Motoko's rock splitting sword, and I'm still not sure how I'm still alive . . ."
Just then Keitaro felt a certain pair of eyes burning a matching pair of holes right into him. Two antennae bristled over the top of them.
"Naru -- ack! Why are you staring at me like that!?"
"This is no time for jokes, Keitaro."
"Who said I was joking? Have YOU ever been hit by Motoko's rock splitting sword technique? It's like being hit by a truck! First --"
"Look!", she said, snapping out of it, "Motoko's going though a really difficult time. She needs us right now . . ."
"That's right!", Kitsune chimed in. "Motoko needs us! So you get right up there and talk to her", she said, pushing him towards the stairs.
"Whoa! Wait a minute! What happened to us?", he said, trying to hold onto the banister to stop himself. "Why does it have to be me? I'm probably the LAST person on earth she'd want to see right now."
"It has to be you because you're the person she's got a huge --"
Kitsune stopped short when she realized that Keitaro, Naru, and Shinobu were all staring at her.
"Got a huge what?"
"You really are clueless", Naru grumbled.
"Um -- er -- You're the one Motoko has a huge amount of respect for!", Kitsune said hastily. "Yeah . . . Because you're her landlord!"
"Motoko doesn't respect me! I don't even respect me! And I respect myself even less for saying it!"
"Whatever", Kitsune said, trying to pry Keitaro's hands loose from the stair rail. "Just hurry up and get up there, before she commits seppuku or somethin --"
An awkward hush came over the group. Kitsune tried to laugh.
"Eh-heh-heh -- she wouldn't . . ."
Images of Motoko cutting her belly open filled their heads, against the backdrop of a giant newspaper with a headline that read, "Kendo Champion Commits Ritual Suicide."
"SHE WOULD!", they all shouted at once.
"Keitaro, DO something!", Shinobu shrieked.
"Ah! Hold on Motoko! I'm coming!"
(to be continued . . .)