"When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself."

-Louis Nizer


I had been going about this all wrong.

That's the thought that was going through my head as Haruka openly gaped at my bold declaration.

This day had just been going from bad to worse steadily as it progressed. My actions seemed to merely make my situation more complicated at every turn. No matter what I was planning, it was going to backfire.

At least, that's how it seemed.

The mistake I was making was approaching this problem as if I were back home. Home, where the universe doesn't have a side order of the Rule of Funny as a law of causality.

I was fighting the very conventions of gag-comedy.

And I was losing.

In fact, no matter how hard I tried, I would lose. It would be like trying to go up against Buggs Bunny or the Road Runner... Or even The Dodo. You can't win in a fair fight. You just end up at the bottom of a cliff, standing in the shadow of a falling boulder, holding a sign that says: 'This is going to hurt'...

You have to stack the deck in your favor, and then cheat the rules.

How does that work exactly?

I'm not sure, but to start with, I'm putting my foot down. Haruka is the straight man character. The straight man is the most competent and dangerous character around.

It was the comment Luna made about Serenity. If people couldn't get along, and negotiating failed, she would resort to strong-arming them. Nice, but scary when angered. A strong player who had near absolute dominance in social circles...

Just like Haruka.

"What?" she asked after her shock started to fade.

"You heard me," I replied. "I'm sick of trying to juggle this situation single-handedly while you sit around here pretending it's not your problem."

"It ISN'T my problem," Haruka glared. "It's YOUR problem. Your fault, remember? I don't want to get involved."

"Guess what?" I asked. "Neither did I. You know... Random teleportation and all that...Jazz. So really, life's just not fair. And since life's not going to be fair to me, I figure it's only fair that I make life not so fair to you either..."

What the hell did I just say? I'm talking faster than I can think again, I'm going to put my foot in my mouth...

"You have a lot of nerve to say that after how I helped you," she shot back.

"Please," I rolled my eyes. "You expended next to no effort through all of this. I was the one who got the shit kicked out of him and spent the day getting threatened on the hour, every hour. You just had to wake up once in the middle of the night and glare at people. Do you even understand what I've been through in the last week? HELL! Utter, HELL... And if the pattern keeps up, I'm on the way to a repeat session. So I'd rather have this sorted out before the next time I spontaneously teleport into Motoko's bed. Otherwise we go through this whole routine, AGAIN. So I think a little effort on your part is not too much to ask to make both our lives a LOT less miserable..."

Silence...

"Hmmph..." Haruka continued after a moment. "So your answer is to blackmail the straight-man character into helping you, is that it? Or do you think blackmail is too strong a term?"

"No," I began. "Blackmail more or less covers it."

"I see," she continued. "I assume that since you came in here prepared to blackmail me if I didn't help, that you were also prepared offer me a reward for my help?"

"What?" I asked.

"Incentive," she commented, her tone going flat. "You don't blackmail a person and expect to avoid making an enemy. When you blackmail someone, you should be prepared to reward them for cooperating as further incentive not to seek later vengeance, or to turn on you at a critical moment. What are you offering me?"

"I don't know," I began. "What do you want?"

Haruka quit glaring and closed her eyes, sighing.

"You're asking me my price?" she began as if the words were heavy.

"Something wrong with that?" I asked.

"Only an idiot would place control of this kind of negotiation with the victim," Haruka chided me. "By asking me what I want, you allow me to name any price I want."

"I understand that," I nodded. "But I'm not exactly in the business of bribing people. So I'm just going to ask you."

"Yet you're prepared to blackmail me," she glared.

"I'm just improvising," I responded. "It's not like I planned this more than two minutes ago. I'm kind of short on time."

"Fine," Haruka continued. "I have a suggestion for you then ... Don't EVER try this again. You don't have anywhere near the experience to make it work effectively. If you really know as much about me as implied, you should know how much this little stunt could have cost you if I took it seriously."

"Does that mean you're helping me or not Haruka?" I asked with just a touch of annoyance in my tone. An afterthought kicked me pointing out that Haruka probably could have whipped a rocket launcher out of the closet if she really thought I was going to do anything. So, as a revised mission plan: Don't attempt to outsmart a 'straight-man' character just because you have overreaching knowledge of them. I should be respecting her cunning as much as I respect Hild's.

Man, now that I think about it, trying to juggle the rule of funny when people actually have realistic intelligence is a royal pain in the ass...

"That depends on your offer," she replied. That was a positive response. At least she was at the bargaining table.

"How about some secrets?" I asked.

"I'm not interested in knowing more about anyone around here," Haruka rolled her eyes.

"Really?" I asked. Great... Not good enough... Come on brain, THINK. Sell it!

"Not even secrets about the future?" I asked, inwardly wincing at dismissing my desire not to violate timelines any more than I have. "YOUR future?"

Haruka glanced at me for just a second, but averted her eyes with a scowl.

"That's dangerous business and you know it," she snapped. But glanced at me again. "You do know that right?"

I sighed. I guess I should have expected this not to be easy...

"Look," I began. "It's either nigh godlike information, or shiny trinkets from another world. And you've never struck me as the type that goes for the material goods side of the bargain bin. Kitsune's a cheap date like that."

Poor choice of words in a romantic comedy setting... Mental note: Do not repeat.

"Well, you're right there," Haruka shrugged, suddenly remembering her cigarette on the floor and stamping it out. "There's not much I really want that you're in a position to provide... Sorry."

Fucking A! This started out as blackmail, and now I'm stuck looking like the fool... Typical...

"Okay," I sighed. "I'm serious here, I NEED your help to do this, I'm practically begging here. PLEASE!"

Haruka just gave me a non-plussed look.

"Okay," she quipped.

"I can't do this wi-" What?

"Huh?" I asked, my brain suffering a disk-read-error.

"It took you long enough to just ask her politely," Luna's voice chimed in. My gaze fell down to the chair the feline was curled up in, both ears standing straight up indicating she was paying full attention despite looking like she was asleep.

"What?" I asked again.

"She's been pretty much ready to help you the entire time," Luna opened her eyes. "She just didn't want to unless you seriously asked."

"Whatever goes on up there," Haruka pointed out. "Ends up coming down here eventually. So really I can't just blow you off if things get real bad."

Now I feel like an idiot. Then again, verbal tact wasn't my strong point.

"So what was that all just now?" I asked, referring to our conversation.

"That was you getting schooled in diplomacy," Luna smirked. "Which was highly entertaining. Blackmail... Please."

I turned and flopped down in the chair on the other side of the table.

"Yeah yeah..." I grumbled. "Enjoy my screw ups... Right now I've got two worlds riding on my actions, and a young lady who needs a psychiatrist. All of this with time restrictions... Don't mind me, I'm not good under pressure."

"I won't hold it against you," Haruka cut in. "Though you seem to do okay. Just remember to think things through a little more. Especially blackmail."

I waved it away.

"Listen," Haruka continued. "Luna explained the situation while you were working with Kitsune."

"You what?" I turned to the feline.

"I took the liberty of doing my job," Luna commented. "You're a soldier, I'm a diplomat. Do the math. I'm more qualified at this kind of thing."

"Too bad I can't just send you in to talk to Motoko," I rolled my eyes.

"After she almost killed me?" Luna made one of those expressions that was a flat out betrayal of her human form. "That won't work, no thank you."

"Thus the whole 'too bad' part," I shrugged, then yawned.

Fuck. How much time did I have left?

"Okay," Haruka interrupted once more. "You came down here to recruit me for something. So you must have an idea to try out. Let's focus on that."

"Oh yeah," I put my hand on my chin. "I do have something of a plan..."

"What is it?" Luna asked.

"That's the fun part," I looked between them. "I can't tell you what it is."

They both looked at me dumbfounded.

"Look," I began. "It makes sense to me, and I'll explain later. Right now though, Haruka. Get me a pen and paper so I can work this out... And your lighter so I can burn it when I'm done."

"Okay," Haruka nodded, walking over to her register to retrieve a clipboard.

"Oh, and Luna?" I asked, reaching into my pocket.

"Yes?" she replied.

"You dropped this," I tossed the Washu collar to her.

"Oh!" she turned just the slightest shade of pink under her fur. "That would have been embarrassing."

"No kidding," I replied, reaching up to accept a clipboard.

Okay... So I had a plan.

Well, I didn't have a plan; I had an objective, and a few guidelines.

As I had realized on the way down to the Teahouse. Any plan I made around here was going to backfire. That means if I try to keep away from Naru, I will end up close to her. If I try to keep Naru away from MOTOKO, she'll be close to her.

I could try doing it backwards, but in doing that, it will STILL backfire in that the backwards version will work, PERFECTLY.

So in short, so long as I tried for a deliberate outcome, that outcome would never occur.

In summary, I can't keep Naru away from Motoko no matter how hard I'm trying.

Sketching it on a sheet of paper, I thought about it from the perspective of trying to write it as a Love Hina short story. How would I remove Motoko from the group?

Well, something funny HAS to happen. No matter what, that will be satisfied. If I want something to happen a certain way, I cannot approach it directly or it will get, funny. So what I want, cannot be the focus of the plan. The plan has to focus on something else.

So if I want to get Naru away from Motoko, I have to do something that doesn't involve me trying to get Naru away from Motoko.

That seems like...

Misdirection...

Do something completely unrelated and have its outcome as my plan, with moving Naru away from Motoko as little more than a waste product. The last time I did that was with Urd, and it worked brilliantly... Until the more direct parts of the plan where I had to improvise, at which point I managed to pull it off, but still screwed up by downing a shit-load of tainted sake in the process. I'm never doing that again.

I sketched up a few blocks on my pad, representing the layout of Hinata. If I come up with a plan that says for Naru to end up at location X, then Naru will never go there. If I throw in a plan that is designed to keep her away from there, then she'll inevitably be there. If I deliberately make it backwards, the opposite is true.

But if I play them both together...

I sketched a square that represented the teahouse. Let's say I wanted to keep Naru away from the Teahouse, so I tell Kitsune that whatever happens, she keeps Naru out of the Teahouse. That can still backfire if somehow, the laws of causality play it as reverse planning. So Naru never goes.

So to back it up, I need to get someone trying to get Naru to go DOWN to the Teahouse. That way, there's conflict, which is a source of comedy.

I sketched a double-ended arrow on my block diagram of Hinata. Even if anyone was looking, it just looked like a few squares and arrows.

Now, in order to make things even more misdirected, I needed a second 'target location'. That way, Naru would be caught trying to go to, and be kept away from, a second location, resulting in a conflict of directions.

The second location was easy after looking at my crappy schematic.

The onsen, a regular gag-magnet...

I do the same thing there. Playing that Naru needs to go there, but is kept away...

The result is that Naru is being simultaneously drawn and pushed away from two locations, and the resulting chaos from the overlapping conflicts causes the most hilarious scene outside of the epic cross-country chase. All I have to do then, is duck and let comedy do its thing...

It would be playing all sides to the middle so that Naru is kept running in circles going nowhere.

And while that's going on, my real target is overlooked.

I ripped the sheet of paper off the clipboard and quickly lit it on fire. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY is to know what I'm doing except me. The logic was simple. If anyone knew what was really going on, they wouldn't act out their parts accurately. The contamination would lead to flawed event sequences, resulting in the whole thing coming apart. So nobody knew what the plan was, but me.

And nobody knew about anyone else's part.

Except me...

Letting the paper burn nicely for a few seconds I quickly walked over and dropped it in a hand sink and let it burn until it was nothing but smoldering ashes. Then I flooded the sink with cold water, stirred it, and emptied it down the drain. Absolutely no plan evidence... Period... I'm not risking it.

Assigning parts was easy. And I quickly moved around Hinata.

Kitsune was to keep Naru away from the Teahouse AT ALL COSTS. I did not doubt her ability to do that, even when she questioned why when her attempt with the kitchen fell apart. I simply stated that it was important that she be kept away.

Haruka was to want Naru to come down, and would come up in thirty minutes to request her to be there in another fifteen. Once there, just occupy her with make-work.

Luna still needed a bath, the first one interrupted and all. So her job was to recruit Naru as her bodyguard against Motoko.

Su and Sara (along with Senbei) were to counter that. I came up with some bullshit story about an ingenious Tama-trap. And if anyone were allowed into the Onsen, it would go off early.

Once the four forces were set in motion, I simply sat down on the front step to wait. One way or another, this would either work perfectly, or come crashing down in a blaze of glory.

The outcome was almost perfect, freakishly perfect. Frighteningly perfect.

For once, it seemed like the world itself aligned to the purpose I was aiming for.

It started with Haruka coming up the steps. She did her part so well she didn't even break stride to make eye contact. She requested Naru for some help with something in the Teahouse... And cited that since Keitaro wasn't around, if she could fill in for a minute.

When Naru argued why she couldn't use 'me', Haruka smoothly gave out some absurd line about not trusting me fully. This coming from Haruka, was easy to buy.

When Haruka left, it was Luna who went next, wandering into the place on a delayed time I'd set, in human form, and begging Naru to protect her from the crazy swordswoman while she got a bath.

That got Naru arguing back. That she didn't have time because Haruka needed her in ten minutes. Luna pulled the unexpected and combined sickeningly cute with Usagi levels of pathetic. (She learned from a master there...) Getting Naru into a pitying state enough that she just agreed in frustration was near trivial.

That however, didn't last very long. I heard the frantic snapping of Su and Sara getting in the way, with the occasional lines from Senbei. And then the frustrated snap from Naru that Luna would just have to wait.

Narusegawa came wandering out the door moments later, grumbling as she turned on the path towards the teahouse. She paused, looked at me; I simply looked back.

Say nothing, do nothing.

"HMPH!" she nearly spat at me. "I can see why Haruka doesn't trust you, slob."

Excuse me for not having a RECTIFIER for my electric razor... Wait, does Haruka have one? She might. I'll have to back burner that. Naru was just sniping at anything she could find. Seta had constant stubble and he never caught any lip. And she would have just bitched about me shaving anyway. It's just a freakin' haircut applied to the face, for fuck's sake...

Once she made for the stairs off to the left, the craziness officially began. Kitsune came running by, asking Luna where Naru had gone. The quick story from Luna made her grit her teeth and take off at a full sprint behind her.

"NARU!"

I checked my watch... I'd have probably about fifteen minutes before the chaos reached a climax. Funny though, this was an old habit from when I had an actual watch. The one I was currently wearing had absolutely no use in telling time.

Standing up once Kitsune was out of sight, I turned and walked directly into the kitchen for a glass of water. Shinobu was cleaning dishes from lunch.

"Hey," she began. "Thanks for taking care of that cockroach earlier."

"Don't worry about it," I replied. "I hate the suckers anyway."

"Where'd you go?" she asked. "You missed lunch."

"I had to run down to the teahouse to take care of something," I responded. "I ate while I was there."

"Oh," Shinobu replied. At least as a side effect of my previous doomed plan, she seemed to be speaking to me normally.

Gulping down my water, I wandered out of the kitchen. If I made a move directly towards where I expected Motoko to be after Naru had seen me, she might come hunting for me when she discovered I was no longer on the step. By wandering into the kitchen, and then wandering out back, it looked like I wasn't doing anything in case Naru asked.

I wandered in back and circled around through the breezeway that separated the east and west segments of the building before I began my end of things. There was more shouting from Su and frustrated snaps from Naru beside commentary from Kitsune's voice that I couldn't make out. Satisfyingly on the other side of the building from me as I wandered inside and moved up to the second level, then the third.

On the way up, I glanced to confirm Motoko wasn't in her room. All clear.

That left only one location. Considering she wouldn't be in the onsen with Su guarding it...

As I made my way up the steps to the rooftop, a bit of apprehension in my chest from this latest plan, it struck me.

I'd been thinking about how to get some time to talk to Motoko. And I'd forgotten completely about figuring out what I was going to do once I did. Dammit Naru! I wasted so much time just figuring out how to get around you that I spent no time figuring out how to fix the problem I was trying to get around you for!

"Dammit," I muttered to myself, leaning against the wall there in the staircase. What WAS I going to do about Motoko? The entire point was to find a way to undo the problem I'd caused. Namely, undo the psychological shock I'd caused, or put her at ease, or be a cry sponge, or... Something... Washu wasn't exactly too helpful with helping me figure that bit out. And I can't just stop now and try again later. This probably wouldn't work two times in a row.

Then again, did I 'HAVE' to fix Motoko?

No, not really. Washu pretty much gave me a lesson in temporal ethics on that one. On the other hand, I'm the nice guy, whether I admit it or not. I don't like screwing shit up. Especially people. One could say I'm borderline goody-two-shoes in that fashion. To the point that others might think it a bit absurd... Especially considering the effort I'd been exerting in this situation probably outweighed the benefits.

Moral/Ethical conundrum, meet logic. Logic, conundrum...

Oh, I see you've already met. Good, now justify. Justify your actions like your life depended on-

Like my life depends on it? DUH! I've already spouted the answer once today!

Justification: If I don't put Motoko back in somewhat 'working order', it is entirely possible that I might come back again with her in this, or a worse, state of mind.

I don't want to teleport into the bed of a progressively more unhinged swordswoman. The first time she understandably freaked out. The second time I had 'come back from the dead' in a way. Both times involved struggle. One of which hurt quite significantly.

If this becomes a regular thing, and she gets more and more unhinged, it might become a game of who can wake up faster. If it's not me, waking up might never happen. And I might not have Luna there to back me up next time. It all depends on what happens.

Okay, so I'm determined to do this on at least some safe self-preservation grounds that don't have me playing mister morality... At least to make sure she's okay. But that still doesn't solve the problem of HOW.

"How?" I muttered, hitting my head against the wall for measure. "How, how, how..."

"WHO'S THERE!" Motoko's voice snapped from above. "Come out you stalker!"

She doesn't sound very meek right now...

"It's me!" I snapped, raising my voice and walking up the stairs with my hands raised. "No stalking intended!"

Motoko lowered her sword. I could hear the inhaling choke she made when she realized whom it was.

"How you doing?" I asked, trying to be amiable.

"What do you want?" she asked, quickly turning away from me and returning to that sword-swinging routine of hers. I wonder how much she does that bit...

"I want to know how you're doing," I replied bluntly.

Well? It was true!

"Why do you care?" she asked. Motoko seemed determined to avoid facing me.

Why do I care? Well, I'm under the impression that you're psychologically unstable. I think it's my fault, and for both my safety and peace of mind, I want to check and see if it's really all that bad so I can figure out way to unbreak you before I pass out. Of course, I can't just explain that to you, now can I? Well, maybe I could, but since I'm no psychologist, I'm not qualified to tell you you've got mental problems because you might do something, rather rash if I screw that up. So I have to kind of guess about it and try to apply some kind of psychological fix under your nose, for which I'm also not qualified to attempt, in the hopes that I can remedy any conditions you might or might not have. Because somehow, I might just manage to fix them because weirder shit happens around here... Like flying turtles and teleporting guys from another reality, and transforming cat girls, and... Oh god, listen to myself, I sound like the description on the back of a DVD.

"I'm just wondering," I spoke aloud. "You seemed a bit upset earlier."

"I'm fine," she stated curtly.

Okay...

Awkward silence... I can't talk if she doesn't want to talk. Man, icebreaker, icebreaker...

Uh, swords, kendo, martial arts, the weather, her hair...

No no! Know jack, know jack, still know jack all, transparent... REALLY transparent... Got to be something I can do. I'm not a socialite, but I'm good at talking to people, I just need to find something we have in common. Something that's not so two-dimensional that it's blatantly obvious to a four-year-old...

Wait... I got it!

While her back was turned, I raised my hand and opened my portal. Fishing around for a second, I found it. Motoko's dagger... Gifts are good icebreakers. Even better when it was theirs to begin with.

"Hey," I began. "Is this yours?"

Motoko stopped what she was doing and turned around, slightly confused look on her face. I just twirled the dagger lightly between my fingers.

"That's-" she began in recognition, her eyes going wide. "Where did you find it? I've been looking all over for it."

Ah, this connects the dots.

"That's what you were looking for this morning?" I smirked, almost laughing. That's what she was hunting in the grass for before I scared her off.

"Well, yeah," she began, voice getting meek again. "My sister gave that it to me."

"What?" I asked, storing the second half of her comment. "You mean you forgot that I confiscated it from you when you tried to spill your guts?"

Motoko blinked quietly, trying to put two and two together. Man, she was more out of it than I thought if she forgot me WRESTLING IT out of her hand. Or maybe she was out of it when I was wrestling it out of her hands... Probably both. Yeah, definitely both...

"I uh..." she worked her mouth, looking away. She obviously wasn't comfortable talking to me. I can understand. After all the crap I pulled merely to defend myself, ending with pretty much flipping her entire worldview on its head, I wouldn't be comfortable talking with me either.

"You want it back?" I asked, just dismissing her reaction. "After all, your sister gave it to you. Not a bad dagger either-"

"It's called a Tanto!" she snapped, her head whipping around.

"Okay!" I almost jumped back in surprise. Comfortable she is not, but still Motoko she be. "Not a bad TANTO. It really saved my ass from a nasty demon."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Long story," I commented. "Short version is we managed to fire a psychic blast out of it and torched the thing. Too bad you weren't there. It was awesome. Hell, having you around would have been real useful. Zan Ma Ken Form Two would have simplified the whole issue."

"How do you know about that?" she asked in surprise. "That's a secret technique!"

"Even longer story," I commented. "You probably don't want to get into that just yet."

Motoko seemed to mull on that. As I didn't really want to explain, I just kept going.

"On the plus side," I quirked, changing topics. "I've nicknamed your Tanto, STING."

"Sting?" she asked. "What kind of name is STING?"

Someone hasn't read 'The Hobbit, or 'The Lord of the Rings'.

"Hey," I began. "If the handle alone stings monsters like a hornet, name it Sting."

Motoko just gave me a further confused look.

"What?" I asked. "You don't name weapons?"

"No," she looked up. "I do..."

"How about the sword?" I asked. "Got a name for it?"

Motoko looked at the katana still held in front of her

"Shisui," she stated. "Its called Shisui."

Shisui... I wish I knew what- Wait. It took a moment to cross-wire mentally to convert the meaning rather than thinking about it as a name. Now that I had a complete verbal comprehension of the language (Thanks Washu!) I could convert name meanings any time I want if I chose to actually think about it.

Which was cool, because the name of the sword was Still Waters.

"Still Waters," I stated, though the word coming out of my mouth was still 'Shisui'... "Cool. Like, the calm water that holds secrets below the surface, but reflects your soul, or something nifty and philosophical... I guess that beats out Sting any day."

Motoko just stared back, unsure of how to respond. Okay, so my attempt to show interest there wasn't very useful.

"So," I continued. "You want 'Sting' back?"

"Y-yes," she nodded. "I would."

"Can I approach you then?" I asked. "Or are you going to put me through a wall?"

"Won't that... Kill you?" she asked, balking. "You said that it would kill you. Right before you... You..."

"Before I disappeared?" I provided.

Motoko nodded mutely, turning her head and squeezing her eyes shut.

"What?" I asked. "What's the matter?"

"I..." she began. But stopped. Then the waterworks started again. Oh boy... This was both good and bad. Bad because I'm not the waterworks type. Good because it meant I'd found the problem.

"I thought I killed you..." she stated weakly.

A fatal exception OE has occurred at BRAIN. The system has been shut down to protect your mind. Use Ctrl Alt Delete to reset your train of thought. Any unsaved information will be lost...

"What?" I asked.

"I thought I killed you," she commented more strongly between sobs, dropping Shisui on the ground. "I wanted you to go away. I thought you were some kind of monster man worse than Keitaro... I just wanted to get rid of you."

I'm missing something...

"But then," she continued. "You didn't do any of the stupid things Keitaro does. You didn't even cower like he does, like the weakling I thought you were. Then..."

Motoko walked over to the rail.

"Then somehow..." she continued. Now wracked with sobs. "Somehow, you reversed it, making me the weakling. I was angry... I wanted you to go away, I wanted you to die... But I couldn't let myself do that to a person. That's not my way. So I tried to... and you stopped me... I just couldn't figure it out. I just wished you'd go away, leave me alone... And then you... then you..."

Her words from this morning came back to me.

"Boom," I commented. "Gone."

Motoko broke down, tears streaming freely from her face as she choked up in sobs.

I get it...

Oh my god! I get it!

Naru wasn't exaggerating this morning! Motoko thought I'd EXPLODED. But not merely that...

"You thought you killed me with a thought," I filled in the gaps. "You thought you killed a man."

I know why Motoko threw herself at me this morning. I understood. She thought she'd killed me. Killing a person will fuck you up in the head. Especially if it was unintentional... That left her a nervous wreck for the entire week. Then I reappeared in her bed, alive and well...

"I've always told Keitaro to die," she continued. "But I never really meant it. I never meant to hurt anyone, to kill them. I don't even know you, and I thought I..."

Motoko retreated from Keitaro instead of attacking like normal... That's what Naru said.

Motoko had traumatized herself thinking she'd somehow killed me, and was afraid she'd kill Keitaro next. That was fucked up. That was so fucked up I almost regretted trying to get it figured out.

How the hell am I supposed to fix psychological trauma created from watching a person die?

I don't... That's what. It takes years to get over the emotional trauma brought on by this sort of thing.

But I'm not DEAD!

That doesn't matter. SHE thought you were dead. She had a week to herself believing you were dead. The damage is done. Motoko might as well had stuck a gun to your head and squeezed the trigger.

There's got to be something I can do... I'm not dead. That has to count for something.

No, you're not dead; you're just back from the dead. Now you're a Zombie. How do you like Undead Status?

Don't be stupid...

Okay, fine. So Motoko thinks she killed you, but you're not dead. The first thing you can do here is reassure her that she didn't actually kill anybody, and can't kill people with mere thoughts so that she can get over it as soon as possible.

Okay... So how do I do that?

I don't know.

Some help you are.

Hey, I'm just a section of your mind playing Devil's Advocate for you. I only know what you know. Just improvise. I'm sure you'll think of something.

I sighed. Looking at the pathetic creature before me. It hurt to see anyone like that. I almost couldn't stand it. It reflexively made me want to bury my sensitive side and throw up my own facade of toughness.

"Okay," I began. "It's okay. Look. I'm not dead. You didn't kill me."

Motoko just sobbed into the rail. I'm not exactly good at this kind of thing...

"Look," I began again, wandering over with only a sidelong glance at Shisui. "Do I look dead?"

Motoko turned her head, tears streaming down her face. Maybe forcing her to acknowledge the fact herself would help. Just like how I trained people at work.

"No," she choked.

"Do I sound dead?" I asked.

"No..." she answered again.

I placed my hand on her shoulder. Motoko flinched, but otherwise didn't move.

"Do I feel dead?"

There was a longer pause before she finally answered.

"No."

"Then I mustn't be dead..." I continued. "Must I?"

Then I raised my hand and gave her a light, friendly slap on the shoulder. "So suck it up... There's nothing to cry about."

Real smooth there slick. You have all the delicacy of barbed wire when it comes to this kind of thing.

Oh give me a break! I'm trying to avoid the super sappy stuff. If I get sappy, she might go completely crybaby again and cry into my shoulder.

There was a sudden series of loud pops and booms over towards the other side of the building, followed by muffled shouting. That would be a convenient distraction now that I got Motoko to admit to herself that nobody had been killed. I could only guess however as to how much the chaos had escalated in my diversion plan, but I'm willing to bet Su just broke out the explosives.

"What is going on?" she asked, turning to face the direction of the blasts.

"Laser Guided Chaos," I chuckled.

"What?" she asked, turning to look at me confused. For a moment, she just looked at me silently. Her cheeks were still wet from crying. "Who are you?"

Long answer or short answer? I guess with pretty much everyone else here in the know I might as well clue her in.

"Me?" I asked, turning to lean against the rail. "I'm not so sure myself anymore. On one hand, I'm a nobody. Just some guy who until recently spent all his time staring at a computer, writing music, and checking emails."

Then I learned and put my chin in my hand, squinting out at Sagami bay.

"Then weirdness. I wake up in a strange place, next to a strange girl. At first, I don't know what's going on. I'm being chased. Then I realize I recognize the people who are chasing me. I know everyone."

Motoko just continued to stare.

"Everyone I meet, exists in my world as fiction."

Still no comment, just a perplexed stare from a face swollen from crying.

"Then it happened again..." I continued. "And this time, I woke up when someone kicked me in the chest. And then I heard the words Zan Ma Ken, and all I wanted to do was not get hit. Because in the Manga I read back home, there is a technique known as Zan Ma Ken, utilized by the followers of the Shinmei Riyu, that can pulverize boulders and smash right through wood like toothpicks. A technique that, I figure, can equally pulverize my bones and snap my spine like a twig. A technique known by a character in that manga named Motoko Aoyama, younger sister of Tsuruko, and eventual heiress to the Shinmei Riyu."

Motoko continued to stare, then it seemed that something clicked. She took a step back, her swollen eyes widening.

"T-That's impossible!" she began.

"Impossible?" I asked. "I would like to agree! Not only from your perspective, but mine too! But then again-"

I took a step back, checking my space.

"So is this!"

And I opened my portal.

Her reaction was almost as priceless as mine must have been the first time I saw it. First she looked like she was about to freak out, then she squinted slightly and the near-terror was replaced with confusion.

"Wha-" she began. "What is-"

"Cool huh?" I interrupted. "It's a pocket universe. Perfect for storing things. I picked it up yesterday from a friend of mine. Really smart lady. As far as I'm concerned, this is impossible. But here it is. A hole in space in mid air."

Then I paused, realizing something even better.

"Oh!" I snapped with a smile. "You'll really like this!"

I fished out the magic powered beam sword I had all but ignored for the last two days before closing the portal again. Motoko likes swords, let's play with swords.

"Check this out," I thumbed the power switch.

In retrospect, I was half expecting the characteristic 'snap-hiss' sound effect of an igniting lightsaber as created by Industrial Light and Magic. The sound it generated though, while it did have the characteristic hum, had nowhere near the same pizzazz. Instead, as the blade appeared, it made more of a quickly dropping hum. As if the blade wasn't so much pulsing as the energy was cycling from one end to the other like a guitar string. I hadn't noticed that before. But then again, at the time I was rather tired, and distracted.

Motoko just fixated on the pink glowing blade. Any semblance of her previous emotional state all but erased. I could tell instantly this had to be a good idea. Her eyes looked like Su's when she first spotted Senbei.

"Is that-" she began. There was unmistakable awe in her voice.

"It's a beam sword," I nodded.

"Can I..." she began again. "Can I see it?"

"Sure..." I turned the blade off, flipped it in my hand, and stuck it out. Motoko took a few steps forward and took it from me, then retreated a little.

After a moment to examine it, she pointed the end away from her body and ignited it with the same 'guitar slide' sounding hum. Almost immediately, Motoko blinked in confusion.

"It's unbalanced," she frowned, taking a test swing, but was still obviously drooling over it. "The blade's too light..."

"The blade has no mass," I pointed out. "Of course it's unbalanced. You're just holding a handle attached to a bar of light."

"It's a little shorter than Shisui," she continued her commentary after adjusting her grip towards the pommel, balancing it more like a flashlight. "This would be more of a secondary weapon, or part of a pair."

Good guess...

"You don't strike with this," Motoko added, twirling and swinging it about a few times. "You can't impart a good impact without the momentum from the weight, so it's strictly for slicing, stabbing, and cutting attacks. And it's poor for blocking for the same reason. This is a weapon for speed and finesse, not power."

Wow, she knows her swords. Someone also might want to inform Dido that she's been using her weapons incorrectly. What did she try on me? Double overhead hammer blow?

Motoko walked back over to the rail and swung at it. The blade sliced through the wood with ease. That seemed to make her almost giddy with excitement.

"It really does cut right through things with ease," she gawked. Then she shut the blade off and looked closely at the hilt.

"I wonder how it works..."

"Magic," I shrugged. Motoko gave me a non-plussed look.

"Seriously," I added. "Magic. I would know. Magic doesn't do anything to me, and the blade passed right through me without so much as a scratch."

Motoko's look changed to one of utter horror before she covered it up. Probably imagining who or what had to be attacking me for me to find that out. I don't want her thoughts wandering back there... Hey! Idea!

"Hey!" I began. "What do you think will happen if you use Zan Ma Ken with that weapon?"

Motoko gaped, then looked down at the handle.

"I... I don't know," she replied. That made me smirk.

"How about we find out?" I asked.

Motoko started to grin a little again. It was a dangerous, shit-eating kind of grin. Like a kid who'd just found the garden hose in a water gun fight...

I took a few steps back towards the staircase to give her room as she walked to the middle of the deck and took her stance. After a moment, she activated the blade and took a deep, calming breath.

"ZAN MA KEN!" She snapped, raising it in the air.

"NI NO TACHI!"

Then she swung.

'FWOOM!'

Now, what I expected, and what we got, were two different things. What I expected was the grenade-like concussion of air. What we got, was that the foot and a half long pink blade suddenly became a fifteen foot long pink arc as it slashed downwards in front of Motoko. I could hear the sound it made as it suddenly grew as if listening to a large electrical transformer suddenly overloading.

There was no concussive thump, but instead a loud snap as the blade went through everything directly in its path. Which included the clothes line, the rail, and part of the deck. When Motoko came to a halt, the suddenly huge blade snapped right back to its saber-sized length with a final parting crack.

The first thing that popped into my mind upon processing that image, was the beam sword from super smash brothers when you executed a smash attack.

"Well that's different," I pointed out. "I'd hate to be the idiot who thought he was out of range."

Motoko turned around, a look of near childish glee on her face.

"This is great!" she chirped. "Where can I get one of these?"

An idea popped into my head.

"You want it?" I asked. The more I butter her up, the better.

Motoko blinked.

"Can I?" she began, holding the blade up and examining it more.

"It's yours," I motioned with my hands. "I'm worthless with a melee weapon, you've seen that already. Besides, I can't make that thing turn from a stick-em stick, into a fifteen-foot monster blade. Consider it a token of apology for all the crap you went through this week."

Not to mention I just discovered that I have a much sharper 'blade' that can cut through any damn thing I can imagine... But that's neither here nor there.

After a moment, Motoko turned to face me, shutting the beam sword off.

"If what you said is true," she began. "You... You know everything about me. Don't you?"

"I wouldn't say 'everything'," I admitted. My experience was proving the holes in my knowledge. "But, I can't lie... not around here anyway."

"Then it makes sense," she continued, looking away. "That's how you knew I was afraid of turtles. That's how you knew about my sister... Knew how I'd react."

"I was only trying to protect myself," I put my hands up. "I had no idea it would screw you up that bad."

Motoko suddenly turned towards me again. There was a look in her eyes, one I couldn't quite place.

"So you deliberately took advantage of my weaknesses?" she snapped. "You fight dirty, use cheap shots, and mess with your opponent's mind, just so you can win. Is that how it is?"

What the? This girl goes through mood swings faster than Usagi goes through breakfast. And I know how fast Usagi can go through a meal.

"Look," I kept my hands up. It's entirely possible I fixed her. Which in hindsight might be a mistake, because a functionally sane Motoko is also a functionally aggressive Motoko... "I didn't do any of that to hurt you. I did it just to defend myself."

"Well," her eyes narrowed. I still couldn't pin down her expression. "Let's just see how well you can defend yourself then. I challenge you."

What?

"Uh... AGAIN?" I began. "Didn't we establish last time that you pretty much owned my ass with a melee weapon?"

Motoko blinked, confused.

"Kind of 'No Contest' really," I shrugged.

Motoko smiled. Then I realized why the look was bugging me. It was that look of someone who had their eye on something they wanted. Something they really wanted. It was just missing the smile, and it instantly matched the same look she had when she met a worthy opponent.

Oh crap, I'M A WORTHY OPPONENT?

"Don't be absurd," she smirked. "I want to fight you bare handed. I can't see how that technique of yours really works if I clobber you with a sword..."

Gape and stare mode.

"You're kidding me," I replied. "I barely know enough Brazilian Jujitsu to save my ass when I have the advantage of surprise. You have no idea how much damage I actually took."

"You seemed okay to me," she replied.

"Motoko," I stated evenly. "You broke my rib, broke my nose, beat the SHIT out of me, BIT me, and I walked away with probably a torn ACL. And that was with my cheating and cheap shots. I couldn't win a fair fight against you if my life depended on it."

"Then how did you get better so fast?" she asked.

"I sprained my ankle in the last place I was in," I pointed out. "And the genius scientist there injected me with tissue reconstruction nanomachines to heal the injury. And that almost gave me heat stroke because they weren't designed for the kind of damage I was subjected to in our little scuffle."

Motoko seemed to think about it.

"The same one that made the pocket thing?" she asked.

"The same one," I nodded.

For a second, Motoko just paused.

"Okay, I believe you." She stated. "But I still want to know how that move you did works."

"Can I just tell you how it works instead?" I asked.

Motoko nodded.

"Okay," I stated. "Come here."

Motoko looked at me like I was crazy.

"I'm not going to do it to you," I stated. "Come here."

Motoko cautiously walked up to me.

"Here," I raised my hand. She still flinched, but stopped herself. "Look up a little."

She did so.

"Right here," I began, tapping a spot on her neck. "And right here. The Carotid Artery... All the technique does is squeeze it off, cutting off the blood flow to the brain."

"That's it?" she asked.

"That's IT," I affirmed. "Once you have a choke in place, its over. Your opponent will be out in a matter of seconds. And if you're good and quick about letting go, it doesn't even do any damage."

Motoko pondered about it for a moment, absentmindedly touching her throat where I had indicated.

"I want to try it," she demanded. The way she looked at me supplemented 'on you' to the end of the statement.

Oh HELL NO!

"Uh uh!" I shook my head, stepping back. "No way."

"You said it doesn't do lasting damage," she pointed out.

"I've had it done to me before," I pointed out. "I woke up on the floor convinced I was doing my best not to fall asleep in a lecture. I don't like it."

Not to mention, if she puts me to sleep... Well, the keyword is SLEEP. Do the math.

"Oh quit being a coward," she chided, stepping forward. "I'm not going to hurt you."

She'll never leave you alone if you don't...

If I pass out in her arms and teleport again, she really WILL think she killed me this time.

You should have thought about that before you explained to her how it worked.

I'm just going with the flow.

Then just go with it and make sure she knows NOT to put the squeeze on.

"Please?" Motoko asked into my train of thought.

"Fine," I looked at her. "But don't apply pressure, and let go if I tap you. You don't want to see what happens if I pass out."

"Deal!" Motoko grinned.

I turned around, and immediately, she stepped up behind me.

"What first?" she asked.

"Wrap your arm around my neck," I instructed. Motoko followed the instruction without question.

"Now," I continued. "Make sure my throat is in the crook of your arm inside the elbow. You want my neck in the V there."

"Okay..." Motoko commented after an adjustment. Being a little shorter than her made it easy for her to lock herself into place. "Now what?"

"Now," I continued. "Normally, at this point you'd just work towards tightening the hold and making sure I couldn't escape. The tighter it is, the better it constricts blood flow. The faster I pass out."

Motoko applied a little squeeze.

"Like this?" she asked.

"Easy, EASY!" I snapped. "It doesn't take much." I could feel my face flushing red from just that little bit.

"This technique is so simple," she commented off hand as she let up.

"Probably why I could remember it in the first place," I replied.

Right in the middle of my train of thought, a new voice suddenly made itself crystal clear.

"We're going to correct this right now so you can get your bath..."

NARU! Was I out of time already? Or did I miss something in my plan?

"Let go, let me go..." I stated urgently.

"Motoko, are you up there?" Naru called up the stairs.

"I'm up here Naru," she called back, releasing me as Narusegawa bounced into view on the stairs, Luna in tow.

"Look," she began. "We need to talk about-"

And she spotted me.

"YOU!" she snapped. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?"

"Eh?" Motoko seemed shocked as Naru began her verbal assault.

"What did I tell you?" Naru snapped.

"Look," I put my hands up. For all the good it'll do me. "I'm just trying to help."

"You've helped enough!" she snapped at me, closing the distance. "You've been nothing but trouble ever since you showed up! First you molest Motoko-"

Did not!

"Then you sit around the House all day with that stupid excuse of yours. Then you go and scare her!"

"Uh, Naru..." Motoko began, but I stopped her with a wave of my hand. Best not let her make this worse by saying something that can come out wrong.

While she verbally abused me, Naru worked her way between Motoko and myself and started forcing me back towards the stairs.

"It's your fault Motoko's been upset for a week," she continued. "Then you made her cry, and then I catch you in her room like some kind of pervert-"

"What?" Motoko blinked and looked at me.

Oh come on! Do I have to explain my every action to EVERYONE? Okay! I admit, I borked up with the shaving bit! I shouldn't have done that! But jeeze! It's NOT the end of the world.

"You're a pervert!" she continued, advancing on me even more. I almost tripped when I reached the stairs.

"Even if you ARE some weird dimensional traveler! You're a pervert, and I don't want to catch you alone with anyone else! I can only guess what you were going to do to Motoko THIS time! But I'm glad I showed up when I did to stop it!"

Okay, that's it. I've had enough of this. I've been walking on eggshells and playing games with causality trying to circumvent this situation, and wasting shitloads of time going nowhere fast only to get yelled at by a girl who's too stubborn to admit when she's misjudged a person.

"Hey," I began. "Why don't you BACK THE FUCK OFF! I wasn't going to do anything to Motoko. I was trying to HELP her!"

"All you've managed to do is upset her!" Naru spat.

"Maybe it's because she thought she KILLED ME!" I snarled.

"What makes you think I would believe you!" Naru snapped.

"I DON'T KNOW!" I roared. "I've only backed myself up with EVIDENCE! Yet you seem to dismiss anything I show you! You dismiss the transforming catgirl. You tune out the half-foot floating blond guy. You even ignore what your own best friend tells you! I'm doing my best to be nice but I just can't figure out what's with you!"

"All you show me is evidence that you used a strange method to get here!" Naru threw herself in my face, backing me down the stairs. "But you have yet to show me any reason to think you aren't a threat! Just one excuse after another."

"Don't you think that if I wanted to hurt someone I would have done it by now?" I asked. "In fact, if I wanted, I could kill everyone here in one shot!"

I DO happen to have three anti-matter rounds in my pocket. I could knock the whole building down.

"Exactly why I need to keep an eye on you!" Naru snarled. "You're dangerous!"

Oh for FUCK'S SAKE! I'VE HAD IT!

"FINE!" I snapped, my hand falling on my watch. "YOU WANT DANGEROUS!"

I suddenly took a step towards Naru. She's absolutely, mule-headedly determined to label me a threat! If I'm going to be accused of being a threat, I might as well be a threat! Playing innocent's getting me nowhere!

"YOU WANT DANGEROUS!" I repeated. "YOU WANT ME TO BE A THREAT?"

Naru seemed in that moment as I felt my eyes bulge in their sockets to rethink her assessment of me. Too fucking late...

Two-X, Four-X, Eight-X...

"HERE'S ME DANGEROUS!"

I stepped level and reached back, and Naru finally realized her mistake as her eyes went wide in panic.

Then I swung.

'CRACK!'

Naru's face went deathly white; my fist firmly embedded in a four-by-four wooden deck support beam next to her ear. The piece of wood was shattered around the impact that I'm certain she realized very well could have been her head.

I just stood there, glaring into her eyes inches away as my brain started to register the stupidity of my action.

"Once," I sucked in a breath. "There was a wall... Now... There isn't."

I swallowed as the sensation my brain was informing me about became more urgent.

"Want to be a wall?"

Naru's eyes disengaged from mine, flitting to her left to look at my outstretched arm. Then flitted back. Then she began to shake.

"Disappear," I all but managed keep my voice even.

Naru was shaking like a puppy at this point, and started to slide down away from where I had planted my fist. After a few seconds, she picked up the pace and quickly ducked down the stairs and out of sight.

Finally! It only took me all but proving her right to get her to back off... Now that she's out of the way, I can focus on just how stupid my latest stunt really was... I mean... I just...

"Luna," I choked. "LUNA!"

"What?" her voice came in from above. "What's the matter?"

"My watch," I stated, my breath beginning to come in uneven gasps. "Quick... Turn it off."

"Why can't you-" she began.

"Turn it off!" I choked out, the pitch in my voice climbing. "Turn it off!"

Luna skipped down the steps immediately as I held out my left arm.

"Off..." I repeated. "All the way... off."

Luna quickly grabbed the dial and gave a twist. I could feel the pseudo-weight settle back down and immediately extracted my fist from the shattered wood.

"Are you okay?" she asked. But I barely heard anything as I brought my hand in to cradle it against my stomach. Pain, searing, blinding pain. That was the problem here. The suit gave me the strength enhancement eight times my normal... But, unfortunately as I just learned, not the durability... My breath came in ragged gasps as I turned to hobble my way back up to the roof. Motoko was at the top of the steps looking down at what had just happened in a bit of a stupor.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

Fire, burning, pain...

"No," I choked, turning to flop down against the rail. "I just punched through solid hardwood with the strength of eight men."

Motoko blinked in confusion.

"I think I broke my hand..." I amended, fighting back the tears starting to stream down my face.

Motoko snapped out of her shock at that statement.

"Let me see," she began, crouching down next to me. "Let me see!"

The swordswoman grabbed my now lame arm and pulled it up where she could look at it. My fist was still balled tightly from when I had thrown that punch. Every attempt to open it burned with a heat of a million suns... Or so it seemed. Now, I'm pretty sure that compared to the beatings I've already taken that this was nothing. However, this seemed to hurt even more than the combined pain from the entire last week... Don't ask me why, maybe it's because there are more nerve connections in the hand than most of the rest of the human body. Maybe it's because the other times I was hurt, I was doped up on adrenaline, or borderline psychotic, or just plain unconscious. But this...

Ever slam a door on your fingers? This was like that, only a thousand times worse.

"A-HA!" I yelped as Motoko tried to pry my hand open. "STOP!"

"Quit acting like a baby!" she snapped at me. "Try and relax."

Try and RELAX she says? Quit acting like a baby she says! Okay, Motoko, go smash your hand and tell me if you can relax! It was kind of an ironic reversal though. First I try to get Motoko to stop crying, now I'm on the verge of crying. Pathetic... A grown man crying. I'm sure putting people in their place today. Look at me! The tough dimensional slider! He makes friends with goddesses, kills psychos with magic powers, and flirts with the devil herself... Let's not forget he falls apart at the first sign of injury and lets himself get bullied by girls with foul attitudes! Hoo-rah!

Curiously though, I picked up on something from the way Motoko was acting. She seemed to know what she was doing.

"You know-," I swallowed. "First aid?"

"You don't think I'd learn Kendo without learning how to deal with a few broken bones do you?" she asked.

Well, that explains that. Professional sword user, knows first aid just in case she causes harm she shouldn't have caus-

"AAAHHH!" I snarled as she worked my hand open.

"You nearly pulverized your hand!" Motoko gaped as she felt the bones beneath the skin. "You're lucky you didn't hit something harder!"

I couldn't respond for sucking in air in sharp gasps.

"What were you thinking?" Luna admonished me, looking on in surprise. "That was incredibly stupid, even for you."

"Lay off him," Motoko snapped. "I'd even pity Keitaro if he smashed his hand like this... I mean, this just... How the hell did you manage to hit that hard? I didn't feel you gather any Chi at all!"

"That suit he's wearing under his clothes enhances his strength," Luna cut in. "He probably turned it up to prove his point!"

"What?" Motoko asked. "That he could dangerous if he wanted?"

"Yes," Luna snapped as she crouched down next to me. "This is all your fault!"

"My fault?" Motoko turned with a snap. She yanked slightly on my hand as she did so, causing me to almost wail if I hadn't bit my lip to suck it in.

"MMMMM!"

"Sorry!" Motoko yelped in response.

"Yes!" Luna continued. "Your fault! Look at him! He's been worried about you all day! He's been fixated on just getting past that Naru girl just to make sure you're all right. Now he's hurt because of you!"

Luna's unusually hostile all of a sudden...

"Sorry for thinking I'd killed him!" Motoko replied defensively. "I wasn't exactly aware he'd be concerned about me!"

"Maybe if you spent a little less time trying to pretend you're a century out-moded samurai wannabe," Luna bared her teeth. "You'd notice things like that!"

"That's family tradition!" Motoko snapped. "What have you got going for you? Flea collar endorsements?"

"I happen to be a royal advisor!" Luna snapped. "My queen put her utmost trust in me!"

"So where was that advice for him then?" Motoko bit back. This was starting to get vicious.

"I'm sorry," Luna began, dripping sarcasm. "It's difficult to give advice to people when you're busy TRYING NOT TO GET YOUR TAIL SLICED OFF BY A MANIAC WITH A SWORD!"

Motoko and Luna both turned to face each other, still on their hands and knees.

"Maniac is it?" Motoko asked.

"And a bully!" Luna glared.

You don't call Motoko a bully! I learned that the hard way...

"Why you little-"

"You want to do something about it?"

"Are you looking for a fight?"

"I'd be more than happy to teach you some manners!"

Why am I reminded of Ryoko and Ayek-aaahhh-OH SHIT!

I managed to yank my legs back as the two suddenly tackled each other right at my feet. The scuffle lasted for a few seconds before Motoko, with somewhat more skill in general, plus a little experience from fighting me on the ground, managed to gain the upper hand and started to put Luna into a joint lock...

However, Luna broke free of the hold by transforming into her feline form, causing Motoko to fall flat on her face. Once free, she returned to human form with another loud pop as Motoko scrambled to her feet. Then the swordswoman lunged at her, only to be caught off guard when Luna reacted much faster than anyone would have expected.

With a deft thrust, she grabbed Motoko and threw her up and over her shoulder... And a good six feet...

Motoko hit the deck with a pained yelp, and crawled to her knees, shaking her head.

"Not so rough Luna!" I snapped from grit teeth. "You don't realize your own strength1"

"I'm only going to rough her up a little bit," Luna returned without so much as looking back at me. "A little humility will do her some good."

That's not what I meant...

"Rough me up huh?" Motoko asked as she turned her head. Then she reached out and grabbed up Shisui from where it had been sitting.

This will not end well...

"I'll show you ROUGH, DEMON! ZAN MA KEN!"

Luna's eyes widened as Motoko launched her attack. The concussion ripped across the rooftop at a little under the speed of sound, popping my ears as the pressure wave passed like the sonic boom from Yukinojo.

Luna somehow managed to dodge it. I mean, not merely dive out of the way of the attack, but sidestep the burst by the slightest margin. Wait!

Does that mean she really CAN still sense the air current?

"I'M NOT A DEMON!" Luna snapped as she jumped in close enough to prevent Motoko from launching another Zan Ma Ken.

"If it looks like a duck!" Motoko began, taking a slicing action with Shisui. "If it quacks like a duck..."

Luna ducked several slashes as she tried to get inside Motoko's swinging arc. With Motoko up to fighting speed, it looked to be impossible.

"QUACK!" Luna taunted sarcastically, suddenly grabbing Motoko's sword arm.

Motoko retaliated reflexively by yanking the Felis Sapien in and landing a judo-chop-looking move on her with her almost immediately free hand. Luna crumpled to the ground with a yelp.

"Strength means nothing if you can't land a blow!" Motoko chided. "Don't think you can trick me twice!"

'POP!' Luna was in feline form again, bolting through Motoko's legs and bounding up on the rail.

"No you don't!" Motoko began. "Zan Ma-"

Luna back-flipped off the rail, right over the peak of the next blast as it turned that section into matchsticks.

I should be laughing. I really should. Motoko and Luna at each other's throat like this? But really, I'm worried I might get caught in the crossfire. Plus I wanted to evaluate Luna now that I had the chance to gauge her. Motoko's obviously the better skilled, but Luna's just so quick that she's not landed her signature move once.

I need to record this...

Camera! Where's my camera?

I grit my teeth as I worked my thumb on my lame hand. At least it wasn't crushed like my other four digits. There was a quiet 'fwip' as I opened my portal. Getting my backpack out was no easy feat. But after a few tries to loop my thumb through the carry strap, I managed it.

I had to anchor the bag under my arm and use my good hand to open it, but I managed it and retrieved my digital camera. It had a record mode complete with sound!

Batteries good! YES!

"HOLD STILL!"

Luna was back in human form, standing just in reach of Motoko's attacks, but easily stepping around several slashes and a half-dozen or so direct lunges.

"Strength means nothing if you can't land a blow!" Luna mocked. "Maybe you should listen to yourself some time!"

"Listen to this!" Motoko snapped. "Zan Ma Ken!"

This was slightly different though. She varied the angle on her swing from the overhead to a forty-five degree angle. The resulting burst of air became a short-lived cyclone instead of a shock wave. The change in routine caught Luna off guard as she moved to avoid it, and the cyclone sucked her up and spat her skyward.

Luna twisted impossibly in mid-air and came down in a three-point landing with a deck rattling 'thud'.

"Whoa," Motoko blinked. I guess she's never seen a cat recover from a fall before.

The opening was all Luna needed to pounce. Crouched from her landing was exactly like how she'd be when stalking prey in feline form, so it was impossibly easy to uncoil faster than Motoko could process the image.

For a second, I had the mental image of Calvin and Hobbes... Luna plowed right into Motoko's midsection and sent them both tumbling across the deck into the guardrail. Unfortunately, she'd over judged her spring, and ended up sandwiched between Motoko and the wooden railing boards with a bang.

"What's going on!" Kitsune came panting up the stairs as Motoko broke out of their tangle and dove for Shisui. "Naru's really upse-"

"Stay back!" I snapped.

Motoko recovered Shisui and took a desperation swipe, launching a weak Zan Ma Ken. Luna managed to leverage herself with the rail and pulled up, flinging herself into the air.

There was a crack, partially drowned out by the concussion from the Zan Ma Ken, and Luna was feline again, moving suddenly much faster through the air, sending her a good fifteen feet straight up.

Holy SHIT! She just took advantage of the conservation of momentum! And I've got it on film!

"WHOA!" Kitsune's eyes bugged out.

Luna landed on the rail on all fours and raced along it at the speed only a four-legged critter could manage. Then leapt right into Motoko before she could fully recover her feet.

"OW!" The swordswoman yelped. Luna must have dug in with her claws. "Get off me!"

Motoko grabbed Luna as the feline gave her an object lesson in pain and flung her away. The cat hit the deck with a thud and winced.

"Got you!" Motoko snarled. "Zan Ma Ken-"

Oh! Nice form, perfect head on sho-

FUCK!

I dove sideways in a roll, my mind screaming as I aggravated my hand. My ears popped and rang as the concussion blast from the Zan Ma Ken attack annihilated the rail where I had been sitting.

This just got Real.

"WATCH WHERE YOU AIM THAT THING!" I half-snarled, half-whined in pain.

"Sorry!" Motoko looked a bit nervous. "I didn't mean it!"

"This just goes to prove my point!" Luna dove in at Motoko from the side in human form once again, blind-siding her. "You're reckless!"

Motoko stumbled, taking part of the blow, but managed to leverage Luna again and forced her out in front before kicking her in the back.

"AM NOT!"

Another Zan Ma Ken, and Luna moved to dodge. However, the blast clipped her legs and threw her. Luna was putting up a wicked fight. However, slowly but surely, she was losing. Motoko was just too skilled, and used a technique designed explicitly for fighting the supernatural. Luna could only win by going for a killing blow, but that was out of the question.

"Okay," I snapped at Kitsune. "Someone has to stop them before they seriously hurt each other."

"Are you out of your mind?" Kitsune looked at me with her eyes wide. "There's no way I'm getting between Motoko and anything she'd swing that sword at!"

I don't blame you.

"Hey! Hey!" Su's voice rang out. "What's going on?"

Su came bounding up the stairs with Sara in tow to see Luna pop into feline form, rush between Motoko's legs and turn back into a human, resulting in Motoko tumbling over. That was actually a pretty smart move.

"Cool!" Sara whooped. "It's a fight! YEAH! Go cat-thing!"

"SHUT UP!" I spat in English. "Don't encourage them!"

Luna kicked Shisui away from Motoko while she was sprawled out and tackled her on the ground. Either she was going to break several of Motoko's bones with raw strength, or Motoko was going to tie her up like a pretzel and Zan Ma Ken her right off the roof at this rate. Despite Luna's momentary advantage, I really was betting on the latter.

"Who are you betting on Major?"

I turned to see Su glancing at Senbei AKA 'Major Catastrophe', rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he watched the two combatants grapple on the ground.

"Tough call," he pondered.

THAT'S IT!

"SENBEI!" I snapped.

"SIR!" He straightened out.

"Teach them both what a REAL demon is like!"

Senbei suddenly sprouted an Alucard grin... Kitsune eyed me curiously as the demon-god teleported out of sight.

Luna and Motoko were both rolling on the ground, beating on each other as the fight deteriorated into a brawl.

"Excuse me... Ladies?"

They both froze to look at the surreal image of Senbei, floating in all his pint-sized glory, just feet away. Luna was the first to react, her eyes getting very large.

"Uh oh..." she began.

"Uh oh?" Motoko glared at her. "What do you mean uh-"

Then her eyes snapped wide and she fixated on Senbei... It must be nice to be sensitive to magic and chi. It allows you to see just how much shit you're really in.

"Uh oh..."

"SHAKKIN!"

Even Su winced at what happened next.

Five minutes later, Haruka came up to the rooftop to find Kitsune wrapping my hand carefully in an Ace Bandage, trying to make sure my fingers were held straight.

"Must have been one hell of a joke," she mused. "So did your plan work or fail?"

"A little of both," I winced. "For the most part, it all happened exactly as I expected it... But I think I made a minor oversight, and that caused it to break down late."

"Are you happy with the results?" she asked.

"I wish I hadn't put my hand through a solid wooden beam," I gritted as Kitsune pulled the wrap a little tighter. "But otherwise, I'm not compla-HA-ining. Not so tight, I still need circulation."

"So what about Motoko?" Haruka asked.

"I think I figured out her problem before it all fell apart," I commented. "But you might want to keep an eye on her for a few days."

Haruka raised an eyebrow and glanced over where Luna and Motoko lay in a crumpled heap. Su was poking them with a fragment of the rail from when it had been blasted.

"I hope you two learned your lesson," I snapped. "Luna! Next time I say 'easy', you better damn well EASY."

"Got it," Luna moaned...

"Motoko," I continued.

"What?" she grumbled.

"You understand the difference between a magical catgirl and a demon now?"

"... Perfectly."

"Good," I replied. "I tried to warn you."

"I still can't believe I was beaten by a midget demon..."

I rolled my eyes, but smiled.

I think Motoko's backed to normal.

I think...


[Special Note: "Shisui" or 'Still Water/Still Waters'. The use of this name for Motoko's replica blade can be found in Love Hina, Volume 9, page 67, frame six, first speech bubble of 'Burn up Blade Part 2.' This name was discovered doing chapter research and is otherwise easily overlooked because of its single use. As I discovered it after I began the story, it is not part of my original knowledge of the setting as I am using within the story itself. Much like many details being used. My 'knowledge base' is firmly locked into what I knew in February 2010... In this way, 'what I remember' Vs what I discover is based off added research experience. This allows me to 'make mistakes' in terms of what I have for knowledge and otherwise not know certain things, while still being able to bring up otherwise obscure canon details without seeming omniscient.

For example, the chase scene in SWTG Vol. 1 in the chapter 'Temple Tantrum' contains observations of terrain from Google Earth, and the Photo Collection of Panoramo linked to it. While it is not exactly the animated city, and a good fifteen years into the future in terms of layout, I would expect it to be an accurate enough portrayal. And having never been to Tokyo, let alone Hikawa, I would have no idea how the place is laid out.

For a bit of personal fun homework for the readers: If you can find the Temple, (Hikawa, located due north of the Shinagawa city-marker if you follow runway 34 Left from Haneda Airport into the city.) and then accurately retrace the path run based on description. You should be able to find a Panoramo photo-link showing a picture of a narrow street or alley roughly five to six feet wide, with a lamppost/power pole sticking up in the middle, next to a young woman. This is the exact lamppost Sailor Mars perched on at the end of the chapter.

Other photos of the Temple grounds itself shows what the environment would be like to my perspective. Including a little fact that if I'd been about half a block further southeast. I wouldn't have had to crawl through brush to climb the hill in 'General Chaos'.]