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Author's Notes are denoted by parentheses, thoughts are denoted by italicized text, and emphasis is denoted by italicized text as well.

This story is rated T for any or all of the following: language, alcohol/drug use, non-explicit sexual, adult, or otherwise disturbing content, and graphic violence.

Love Hina: Outsider Looking In

Chapter One

(I strongly suggest reading the Love Hina manga in its entirety before reading this fanfiction. I'm going to use simple Japanese honorifics, so you may want to familiarize yourself with them as well. For the most part, I will respect the original storyline, but, of course, I plan to take some creative license.

I've decided against titling chapters, just because I feel no reason to do so. I doubt that this story will have many flashbacks at all, so it should be quite easy to follow things.

I'm not going to give you a preview of the story here, as I hope you'll give it a try with a relatively open mind. It should be light and enjoyable: a departure from the usual, dark tone of my writing. Please enjoy.)

Japan had never been big enough for the Urashima family. We all know of Hina's habit of suddenly dropping everything for long-term globe-trotting expeditions—but besides that, Haruka, for instance, had spent a great deal of her life in Australia, western Europe, and South Korea, before eventually returning home for extended employment and stability.

Likewise, Hina's son had found out during his years in the prestigious Tokyo University that his future wasn't in Hinata Springs, the paradise getaway of the Kanagawa District. No, he needed to experience the non-Japanese world, and after graduating and spending a few years, and more yen than he'd like to admit, he realized that two countries in particular stood out amongst the rest: America… and Pakistan.

An odd combination of interests and desires had eventually landed the only living child of Urashima Hina his job as a Japanese foreign politician—but despite how many of his classmates, relatives, and friends shook their heads in disappointment, swearing that he was doing only himself a disservice by selecting such a career over other, potentially more profitable paths of life, he made it work. He was soon happy, wealthy, well-connected, with a beautiful, loving American wife he'd met while on the job, and a bright, well-mannered son… who had only ever spent a few years of his life in his father's homeland.

Shortly after Urashima Keitaro had turned four, his father's career had suddenly, unexpectedly, but happily been kicked into the high gear. No longer did his job involve filling out paperwork and making phone calls in a cubicle in Tokyo, taking occasional trips to DC, Islamabad, or several other cities across the world. From then on, he'd be located in overseas, semi-permanently.

Thus, the young Urashima family spent thirteen years mostly in Pakistan, though they did stay in the US for a few months out of the year. They maintained residences in Islamabad and Washington, and their lifestyle was unique. It brought them a type of satisfaction that, they knew, few others could even comprehend. They could go to sleep in San Francisco, after a dinner of burgers and fries, and wake up in Peshawar in time for a lunch of lamb kabob and naan.

This life brought Keitaro many things—fluency in English and Urdu (and by extension, Hindi); proficiency in Punjabi, spoken Japanese; and some knowledge of Pashtu and some other Pakistani dialects. It brought him an almost supernatural mastery of his hobby, his passion—but it left him woefully out of touch with his Japanese heritage and family.

One or two "how are you doing?" phone calls a year didn't really replace the natural caring and affection that would have occurred between relatives—not for him, nor anyone else. And, yet, what could be done? Before extended family came immediate family, so Keitaro had to live with his parents. Several times, in recent years, plans had been made to send him to Japan for a few weeks, just to meet his grandmother and "aunt" again, after a lifetime apart. But they'd never worked; things had always come up with the inn, or the tea shop, or work, or something. And the fact that Hina had been (and still was, sometimes) one of the more vocal critics of her son's life decisions didn't help negotiations at all.

Now, though, Keitaro was a man—eighteen—with big dreams and a desire for a life of his own. If he was ever to really meet his grandmother and cousin again and feel, in his gut, that he had a family with more than three members, this was the best time. It was also probably the only time.

Plans for the future were often discussed at the Urashima dining table. Keitaro had mentioned the desire to head to his father's home country, after a few days of giving it some transient thought—and it was then that his parents realized that a few unrelated problems could shortly solve themselves.

Since childhood—just after he'd left Japan for the first, last, and only time in his life—Keitaro had held a burning, overwhelming to be educated at Tokyo University that rivaled the fervor with which he practiced his sport.

Of course, his parents—particularly his father—had supported him. They'd given him enough homeschooling to make up for any educational gaps left by a life without a single, set home and a single, set school… but, of course, their best efforts didn't have the same effects that months of brain-busting at a cram school could. Keitaro could read and write Japanese, but not very well, and some of his other academic skills left something to be desired.

There was, however, the slight—or not so slight—possibility of him getting in on a sports scholarship. But no one wanted to take that chance, and, so, quickly, a plan had been developed.

Keitaro was to go to Japan, and live with his grandmother in the picturesque Hinata Inn while working on his Japanese and attending a reputable cram school in nearby Tokyo. He'd be able to study, and if he got into Tokyo University, he wouldn't have to worry about housing—what's more, he'd have all the time in the world to reconnect with the only other members of his family that cared about him, as his maternal relatives were not what one might call accepting of mixed race marriage.

It was perfect—Hinata Springs was quiet, safe, and conducive to study. And, as Keitaro's father had cheekily pointed out, it certainly had its share of attractive and pointedly single women. Only minutes' travel away were enough mountains and forests and trails to keep even Keitaro's formidable skills razor sharp.

All plans, however, had their pitfalls, and this was no exception. Keitaro was a reasonably tolerant, accepting guy, being of mixed heritage, but Japan might not be. His command of the language was accented and imperfect to boot, so communicational difficulties were to be expected.

Beyond that, though, how was a biker that felt more Pakistani than anything else supposed to find a home, even for just a few years, in Kanagawa Prefecture?

At almost exactly six feet tall, Urashima Keitaro stood out from the crowd around him literally and immediately. Apart from his height, other differences between him and the general populace of Tokyo International Airport were blatant—his eyes were amber, and his inch or so long hair was a sort of dark auburn. Despite having lived completely in Islamabad for the past three years, however, he still sported fair skin—all in all, he wasn't exactly good looking, not by movie star standards. But he was fit and thin and had an endearing, lopsided smile, and there was definitely something very exotic about him. Japanese-Americans were not uncommon in places like Hawaii or parts of the West Coast—but in Japan, any mixed race individuals were likely to become the source of double- and even triple-takes.

His gait was slow, as if he was cautious of upsetting someone or crossing their path. Realistically, however, Keitaro preferred not to make abrupt movements due to a serious case of chronic clumsiness that affected him, bizarrely, whenever he wasn't on a bike.

He looked Japanese enough to not invite awkward questions, although there were a few stares. But by keeping to himself, he quickly appropriated his luggage and exited the airport without incident.

Culture shock hit him all at once the moment he stepped outside. Pakistan was a crowded nation; at least, the parts of Pakistan that Keitaro lived in were—but they didn't compare to Tokyo. People packed around him so densely that he felt he couldn't breathe and skyscrapers towered above him, almost so tall that he couldn't see where they ended.

For a moment, Keitaro was overwhelmed—but he got over it, and pulled a small index card out of his pocket.

"Hinata Inn, Hinata Springs, Kanagawa Prefecture…" he murmured to himself, memorizing the address, "alright… Dad said that it's a long trip by cab, because of traffic… eh, I might as well bike it up. I'm out of shape, anyway."

That final statement was true—by his standards, and his alone. It had been a long flight, and the last time he'd had an opportunity to stretch his legs was before his going-away party at home—well over a day ago.

Obviously, his bicycle had to be checked in. It was rather poorly protected by a simple cardboard box, and Keitaro had spent half the flight worrying that it had been broken by rough handling or turbulence, never mind the fact that it regularly survived twenty feet drops and worse, courtesy of its owner.

Still, it gave him a sense of relief when he finished pulling it out of its package—it was still in one piece.

Keitaro's bicycle was custom-built from the ground up by a small, but very exclusive and very reputable shop east of Seattle, Washington. It had cost over five thousand US dollars to build—but it was worth every penny. A titanium-alloy frame made it light but strong, and precision-milled workings meant that it never jammed, never rusted, never wasted any energy at all. Simply put, it was a dream machine—and, hopefully, it would win him entry to Tokyo University.

As Keitaro donned a full-face helmet built to fit his head perfectly, he got to thinking—why, since his earliest years, had he wanted to go to Tokyo University?

He clipped knee and elbow pads on over a pair of loose, practical cargo pants and an LL Bean sweatshirt—and decided, for the umpteenth time, that he wasn't sure. Perhaps it had something to do with Japan, or his aunt, or grandmother?... if so, he'd realize it soon enough. And even if he didn't, there were doubtlessly any number of other memories just waiting to be unearthed in the weeks and months and years ahead of him.

Now that he was fully prepared for a little ride, Keitaro had to be careful—many times, he'd jumped the gun and forgotten that his clumsiness didn't end until he was literally on the seat of his bike. He often fell flat on his face or got a leg twisted up in the chain of his machine—err, perhaps a bit more than often, now that he thought of it…

Grimacing at a plethora of unpleasant memories that suddenly surfaced, Keitaro swung a leg over his bike, carefully. The only possessions he'd brought with him were on his back, in a large, tough knapsack—he'd buy textbooks and other stuff in a day or so when he started to get settled in at his grandmother's inn.

For now, the, there was nothing to do but to get to Hinata Inn.

Keitaro's adrenal glands kicked in in a sudden but familiar and welcome manner as he nudged the stand of his bike away with his foot and started to pedal. Traffic during the Japanese rush hour was chaotic, but ordered—it couldn't compare to the unruly and quite dangerous streets of what he'd come to look upon as his hometown.

Fearlessly, the masked biker weaved through cars and pedestrians alike, harsh words, raised brows, and raised fingers resultantly. Within moments, he was going twenty, then twenty-five miles per hour, without so much as breaking a sweat—and this isn't taking into account his tendency to cut through tight back alleys and marketplaces, using the stunt pegs attached to his wheels to grind across handrails and park benches alike.

"Maybe I will be able to get into Tokyo U," Keitaro thought, as the city slowly began to fade into the distance behind him. "If I do my best at studying and keep my biking skills up to par, I can get a good grade on the exam, and win the Yokohama Invitational—if I can do that, Tokyo U will let me in for sure. And then, maybe, I can… meet her again…"

Japan was a nation of uncertainties and oddities to Keitaro. But as he made his way down a lonely road, flanked only by trees and distant, mist shrouded mountains, he started to realize that it was a nation of memories, too.

The closer he got to Hinata Springs, the more frequently he experienced powerful feelings of déjà vu and nostalgia. Keitaro's cell phone was GPS enabled, but he didn't need to take it out once—the moment he entered town, he found that despite the fact that it had been years since he'd last been there, he knew exactly where to go.

Though he was badly in need of a thorough workout, Keitaro slowed down—the town was quiet, almost eerily so. Only a few people were in the streets, and none seemed to take notice of him—and that was odd. Tall, masked men on custom-built bicycles were liable to get stared at in any part of the world, let alone homogenous Japan.

He stopped for a moment, setting a foot on the ground to balance himself as he looked around. Everything about Hinata Springs was familiar—Keitaro found that he recognized not just the layout of the getaway town, but specific buildings and businesses. It was bizarre, but the picturesque streets of the hot springs town, with their quaint businesses and homes and the lack of vehicular and pedal traffic weren't just like something out of a dream—they were like something out of a memory.

Creepy… to his knowledge, he'd only made a few memories in Japan, and none of them were exactly important… save, perhaps, for one.

"That's right… I made a promise with someone… a girl… to go to Tokyo University, didn't I?... I can't remember for certain. But it would explain why I want to study there so much… after all, I never seem to be popular with the ladies…" he admitted to himself ruefully, acknowledging a life with a complete lack of female companionship… well, apart from his mother, but that didn't count.

"I'll have to ask Grandma Hina about this," Keitaro said out loud, as he pushed off, leisurely traveling towards the back alleys and outskirts of town. He knew they would lead him directly to his destination. "Maybe she knows something that I don't."

Shortly, Keitaro had to stop again, awed by the sight in front of him. Hinata Inn—it still seemed like a palace, though he was far bigger than he was the last time he'd seen the legendary building. He'd have to climb a large flight of stairs to get there (he could bike up, of course, but that would seem wild and rude—Keitaro had a good sense of dignity from his upbringing). The uphill climb skewed his sense of proportion, somewhat, but Keitaro knew that the inn was huge regardless. And, as he recalled, there were acres of land in the back, and some abandoned buildings as well. Maybe he could use some of them to practice his stunts… even if that was impossible, he'd certainly be allowed to bike around the private forest at will.

The thought brought a grin to Keitaro's face. Maybe feeling welcome in Japan wouldn't be so hard.

"Hello? Hello? Anybody home?"

Keitaro had left his bike and luggage out front, trusting that they wouldn't be stolen; Japan as a nation was known for its low incidence of crime and Hinata Springs was the sort of town that anyone that stole would be stealing from a family member or a friend. That was certainly a far cry from even the more affluent streets of Islamabad.

After waiting for a long moment, Keitaro entered the inn. He'd knocked more than a dozen times, and waited for at least five minutes—and the door was unlocked anyway, which meant that he was expected—after all, everyone locked their doors, even in Japan—right? He moved slowly, carefully, to decrease his chances of tripping and breaking a bone, or some irreplaceably priceless possession. He knew he was expected, but tt was quiet—too quiet for him to imagine that anyone was there.

Still, though, he had to check.

"Hmm, I suppose Grandma Hina got the time wrong, or something… or maybe she's going to try to surprise me, or something," he muttered to himself as he glanced inside several rooms—all were completely devoid of life, though several did look like people lived there. The flood of memories he was expecting to hit didn't come—it was like the inn itself wasn't of great consequence, but the people and events centered around it were.

Pondering this kept Keitaro's mind occupied for some minutes. By then, he'd searched the inn from top to bottom, albeit in a cursory manner—if Grandma Hina was still planning to spring a surprise on him, it was quickly becoming a rather tasteless, childish prank.

"Well, she is old," Keitaro said, mostly to keep himself from getting exasperated or frustrated at a relative he hadn't seen in over a decade. "It's natural that she makes little mistakes from time to time. Maybe she misunderstood things, and went to the airport to pick me up? I'd better call her—ah…"

A short attention span was one of the problems Keitaro had to overcome in order to be a Todaisei. He'd have to do that someday—but not that day. He'd do it some other day.

You can't really blame him for procrastinating, though. He'd come to the back of the inn, and after sliding open a particularly large door, just to see what was behind it, he came upon Hinata Inn's famous hot springs.

Steam slowly rose from a water surface so still it looked like polished glass. Rocks, deep gray in color, smoothed by time and the pressure of endless feet surrounded the setup, along with plants that Keitaro didn't recognize, mostly—after all, they were Japanese—but a few strategically placed banzais here and there added the slightest element of artificiality to remind visitors that they were viewing the fruits of someone's labor, not the beauty of unadulterated nature.

Somehow, Keitaro managed to undress and rinse his body off using a nearby outdoor shower without falling and injuring himself. Shortly thereafter, he was enjoying himself: relaxing, lazily swimming, clad only in a brief towel and boxer shorts.

"This is great," he said, resting against the stone walls of the spring, feeling the hot water work the tension out of his muscles. He grinned. "If this is what life in Japan is like, I can see myself prospering here, and soon—I can study and bike all I want, and hang out here as much as I… oh, it looks like I'm no longer alone… damn, where did I put my glasses?... there… oh…" He felt around for the small article on the rock next to him and found it after a moment. He defogged them with a palm and then put them on to make better sense of the approaching silhouette—and then he froze.

The figure that was approaching him had long hair, slim shoulders, and curves—there was no way to mistake it, she was a girl. Steam blurred Keitaro's vision, so he couldn't see things as clearly as his nature as a man desired—but even then, he could tell that she wasn't just a girl, she was an attractive girl—model material easy.

For a minute, Keitaro's brain and heart activity flatlined, before resuming in full force. He blushed furiously, even as he tried not to stare—how had this happened? Was this a mixed bath or something?

Keitaro really couldn't ponder the societal effects of these things—being largely Pakistani by culture, he really wasn't used to seeing more feminine body parts than arms, calves, and faces, if that. Seeing a fully nude girl was, for him, a very new experience indeed.

Thus, we can't fairly blame him for not immediately getting up and leaving, or, at the very least, announcing his presence. Keitaro simply had no idea how to react without committing some major faux pas, or worse—so, red-faced, he merely sat, forcing himself to look at his hands; they were very interesting, exciting hands with lots of wrinkles and folds, certainly more worthy of attention than a young, curvy brunette that was getting closer and closer by the second…

"Ahh," she smiled, stretching, "I love taking baths in the afternoon. Total heaven! It's so relaxing." She'd taken a seat in the hot spring opposite Keitaro—fortunately, her bust was underwater by the time the fog cleared.

Keitaro didn't hear her, whoever she was, speak for a moment. So, he dared hope that she'd left—or that she hadn't been there at all. He'd had a long flight; clearly, he was hallucinating—he needed to take a nap and get something to eat, and then things would make sense again.

Unfortunately—well, depending on your point of view—none of this was to be.

"Hey, do you think my breasts have gotten bigger recently?"

Now, she was speaking from a position very, very close to him. Keitaro was about to speak when he managed to flush harder still—he felt a silky soft hand trace from his shoulder to his chest. She was touching him now, and the very idea made him pinch his nose tight shut—he had an unfortunate tendency to have nosebleeds at, shall we say, troublesome times.

"I still can't compare to you, though…"

He finally found his voice when her hand was very close to touching something it really, really shouldn't have even been near.

"I, ahm, think you might have mistaken me for someone else."

"Huh? Kitsune?..."

There was a pause, during which Keitaro could practically taste the girl's dawning comprehension. He turned, just a little, watching her put on a pair of round, rather thick glasses—for some bizarre reason he felt the need to introduce himself, managing to do so in a relatively level, even formal voice.

"S-salaam—hello, my name is Urashima Keitaro, how do you do—"

He didn't get farther than that. Cut off by a scream of "pervert", or something similar to it, Urashima Keitaro decided that there was a time to introduce himself and a time to run like Hell. Now, it was time to opt for the latter. He jumped out of the water and sprinted—he almost stumbled on the slippery stones, but managed to hold his clumsiness at bay for the moment.

"I'm so sorry!" he called over his shoulder, rather sincerely—though he didn't stop running. "I thought—waghhh!"

He could only stay on his own two feet for so long. And yet—he'd seen the bar of soap, carelessly left on out. He'd attempted to dodge, but, unhappily, that had completely failed. Now, he was waving his arms in desperate circles, hoping to not break a bone—

As it turned out, Keitaro didn't break a bone. He didn't even fall—at least, not onto the dangerously hard rock surface underfoot. For a full five seconds, he was utterly confused, wondering how he'd fallen into a bed filled with soft, fluffy, perfectly sized pillows—wait, these were pillows… right?

"Umm… can I help you?"

No, Keitaro slowly realized: they were not pillows.

"Forgive me!" he shouted in dismay. He backed away and prepared to dodge a very well-deserved slap—but the silver-haired, fox-eyed girl in front of him simply blinked and looked to the brunette behind him for explanation.

"Get him, Kitsune! He's the pervert!" At that, the second girl simply shrugged and grinned—but Keitaro saw none of this.

"You're mistaken!" Keitaro yelled, even as he ran for dear life. He headed back into the inn and tripped over something—immediately he had to brush at a series of soft clothes that had fallen all over him. He tried to fling one off his face when he realized that he was covered in underwear. Ladies' underwear.

Things kept going from bad to worse, it seemed.

He bolted past a short, dark-haired girl without looking back; he didn't have to see behind him to know that several more hostiles—all female—were pursuing him. This was going to Hell in a handbasket fast—but Keitaro had one hope. If only he could get to his bicycle… but no. Just as he'd gotten close to the front door, a figure in some sort of martial arts outfit cut him off with some sort of weapon in her hand, and Keitaro was forced to lunge to the side to avoid barreling headlong into her.

After a few frantic seconds, the chase took to the roof. Flanking Keitaro seemed to be an honest-to-God samurai of some sort—the one who had cut him off downstairs—or perhaps he was just going insane. Perhaps Japanese air didn't agree with him or something and was worsening his obvious hallucination, but he had no time to entertain that possibility—he was running out of roof, and fast.

But stopping clearly wasn't an option. There was nowhere else to go but forward—and so Keitaro went forward. He closed his eyes and prepared to jump, shrieking Takbir in preparation for death—just as a skillfully wielded sword sliced through the air, blasting him cleanly off the roof and into oblivion.

For a second or so, he saw blue above and a whole jumble of colors below. Before he realized what had happened, though, or where he was, he plummeted into the ground. Then, he saw stars—but he managed to stumble to his feet and take off again.

Behind him, a disbelieving voice he matched to the first girl screamed. "What? He survived! Quick, let's get downstairs and finish the job!"

Shaking in fear of what might happen if they caught up to him again, Keitaro struggled to get his bearings—he was at the side of the inn, dangerously far from the front… and freedom.

"B-b-bicycle," he stammered, before redoubling his efforts. "It could be my only hope. I had no idea that Japan was so violent!"

He could hear the girls clomping down the stairs from the roof, howling for his blood, and prayed that he wouldn't trip again. As fortune would have it, he didn't, but they were closing in—if he made it to his bike, it would only be the skin of his teeth.

"Pervert! Lowlife!" He heard these insults shouted, and more, but his response wasn't more apologies or explanations—he just screamed and dived, while, he was sure, a devastating attack was prepared.

It was too late, though. Keitaro already had his feet on the pedals of his trusty machine by the time she'd pulled her fist back, twenty feet away, for what was certain to be a bone-breaking shot to the jaw or nose. Her eyes met his, and, for the briefest second, he thought that he somehow recognized her—but then he was off, speeding down the stairs far too quickly for the girl to follow.

A distant, jubilant shout of "Freedom!" was heard at the front of the inn as the rest of the girls joined Keitaro's primary pursuant. All save for the samurai girl and a dark-skinned blond were panting, exhausted—but without exception, they all stared at his retreating form until he vanished from view in the twisting crossroads of the town below.

"Son of a gun, that guy's fast," said the silver-haired girl, whose "pillows" Keitaro had inadvertently buried his face in. "Who d'you think he is, Naru? I didn' recognize him at all. Now that I think of it, he didn't even look Japanese…" She set her arm on the doorframe and sighed, trying to catch her breath—she definitely didn't know him at all. If she'd seen a face like that before, she would have remembered it.

"I'm not sure," said the long-haired brunette even as she fumed, fists still clenched in anger. "I've never seen him before in my life. Do any of you…?"

The other three girls all shook their heads. Damn—now that she thought of it, she concurred that he hadn't looked Japanese—not quite. He was a gaijan, and one of a kind in a place like Hinata Springs… so, if no one could place him off the top of their heads…

It was just as well for him that she probably wouldn't be able to find him. After all, he'd gotten a view of her to which he was most certainly not entitled.

"We have to tell Haruka about this," the brunette suddenly snapped. "She'll know how to deal with a situation like this."

There was a nod of general assent. So the girls made their way downstairs, keeping an eye out for one another—the smallest of the bunch, who Keitaro had blown by in his rush to escape, stuck close to the sword wielding female, looking nervously around in case he came back.

They made it to the teashop without incident, though. There were only two customers sitting and chatting in a far corner of the simple establishment and the short, black-haired woman in her late twenties with an omnipresent cigarette in her mouth they were looking for was busy behind the counter, sweeping and counting the day's earnings.

She looked up, though, when the girls began to file in, and arched her brow. Something was up—she could tell.

"Haruka-san," said the tall, raven-haired female, "something has come up—we need to speak with you; now, if possible. It's… very serious."

The look in the kendo enthusiast's eye was unmistakable, so Haruka sighed, and nodded. "All right," she said, leaning forward, resting on her elbows as the girls sat down, "let's hear what happened…"

"I would never, ever have imagined that Japan was filled with so many dangerous women! I know the circumstances… weren't fortunate… I had no idea that it was a women's bath; I mean, the sign only said 'bath'… but they didn't give me a chance to explain myself! Y'Allah…"

Keitaro was bewildered and still wary of his surroundings, even as he dressed. He hadn't stopped biking until he was well over five miles away from the inn, at which point he'd realized that his towel only barely concealed his… modesty. He didn't feel cold, oddly, although that day seemed to be relatively bleak and Sunless—he just came to realize his state of undress when a passerby turned and stared at him as he passed for much longer than was a justifiable reaction for simple curiosity toward a man of Eurasian heritage.

Now, behind cover in a thick, misty forest, he thought out his next move—he certainly wasn't just going to go back to the inn; that was suicidal. What to do, though? Grandma Hina wasn't at home, and his parents were a few thousand miles away—no one could help him, except…

"Ah, that's it—Haruka-obasan! I can't believe I didn't remember that that teashop just in front of the inn was hers—she'll be able to tell me what's going on… Let's see, do I have her number?... yes. Perfect. She'll be able to clear this up."

Lifting his cellphone to his ear, Keitaro took a seat and relaxed. That was easy to do, since there weren't many cars around at all—he'd have to come back to the area, someday soon, for long-distance sprints. It was almost as if this sleepy little corner of Kanagawa had been constructed for bikers like him.

"Ah, hello, Haruka-obasan?... sorry, Haruka-san… yeah, it's me, your neph—cousin, Keitaro. …Yes, thanks, my flight was just fine, but... …no, not at all, until I… yeah. When I came to Hinata Inn, Grandma Hina wasn't there, do you know…? …Oh. Oh, sure, yes, I'll be right there. No, I'm only a few miles away… alright, Haruka-oba—sorry, Haruka-san… okay. See you soon."

With a sense of vague confusion conflicting with increasing curiosity, Keitaro pressed the end key on his phone and put his helmet on again. He hadn't gotten the chance to explain what had happened at the inn, but strangely enough, he didn't feel that he had to—it had somehow seemed that Haruka was one or two steps ahead of him already.

"I wonder what that was all about," Keitaro thought, as he mounted his bicycle again. "'Come here right away, I'll explain everything…' Huh. I guess I'll find out what's going on soon enough... I hope I can apologize to those girls… even though they almost killed me…"

After a moment of thought, though, Keitaro decided that he didn't hold that against them. After all, he was the foreigner, the outsider; he was the one that had—presumably—made the mistake here. And if something like this had happened back at home… he shuddered to think of the repercussions.

"Hopefully, first impressions aren't the only ones that matter, here," he thought. "Hopefully."

He started to pedal back to the inn. Never mind how close he'd come to death—his relative had told him to come and to come quickly, and, so, he would.

"Keitaro!... call me Haruka-san. …This is really you, right? Good. How was your flight? Did you have any trouble?... Do you have our address?... oh, I think I… Wait. Wait. Can you come to my teashop? Do you need to be picked up, or can you get a cab? Good. Then, I'll see you soon—that's Haruka-san. Alright? Then, see you soon."

When Haruka finished speaking and hung up the phone, she took a drag from her cigarette and returned to the counter from the shop's back room to a roomful of wide eyes.

"…What are you all staring at?"

"Nothing, Haruka-san," Motoko answered after a moment. "Respectfully… it's just that we've never heard you speak so much before."

The faintest touch of a smile appeared on the chain-smoker's lips.

"I guess you're wondering who I was speaking to," she said. Though only Su answered by nodding rapidly, until a rather embarrassed Shinobu stopped her from revealing that they were all, in fact, eavesdropping on her, Haruka knew that they were all curious.

"I think I know who your little 'peeping tom' was," the raven-haired woman eventually said, before actually, fully smiling for a moment. "And I think that we also need to prepare for a new resident."

"Eh?" they all replied, collectively. Haruka knew characters like that—and a new resident was coming to the inn? These were two shocking revelations, that, it seemed, wouldn't be shortly explained. Haruka's lips were zipped, as she got back to the endless task of sweeping her shop clean—the girls somehow sensed that they weren't being dismissed, and so they began to take seats at a few tables near the counter, ordering several drinks (and, in Suu's case, a few full meals as well).

After she'd served the orders, though, Haruka's face hardened—not at them, though, nor even at Keitaro but rather at her grandmother. The crazy old lady…

"Of all the times to drop everything and go vacationing…"

At first, Keitaro had done as he'd been told, and headed directly towards the Haruka's teashop—then, though, he'd paused and then stopped and then chained his bike up in town. He was going to see his aunt for the first time in fifteen years—he needed to fix himself up a little.

He then took advantage of the Japanese's well-deserved reputation for almost obsessive cleanliness and disappeared into a public bathroom. When he came out, his hair had been combed, his face washed, and he'd changed from his comfortable travel clothes into a black shirt and cargo pants. In the process, he'd taken off his protective gear, which was quite rare: at home, Keitaro commonly went around with it on all day. After all, why not?

It didn't take him long to get back to back streets of Hinata Springs. As he got closer, his trepidation only grew—by the time he was in sight of the tea shop, he was downright nervous. He and parked his bike outside, though, and moved forward slowly, keeping his eyes on the inn—if an attempt was made on his life again, that's where it would come from. Apart from that, there was no real activity in the tea shop… it didn't seem to be too busy, Keitaro could only see a few silhouettes inside. Perhaps this was an off-hour.

All at once, he was at the shop's door—he'd gotten past the inn safely. After taking a deep, calming breath, he slowly opened the door—and stepped inside.

For all of half a second, he'd gotten to admire the simplistic, modern décor of the interior before his gaze had turned down and given him a view of who was inside.

And then he froze.


In a second, two girls—the two most determined of his pursuers—were on their feet: the brunette, and the katana-wielding samurai girl. Instantly, Keitaro tried to back away. He tripped, however, and found his back against the door, which opened inwards. To get away, he'd have to move forward, and something told him that the only chance for survival he had didn't at all involve making anything like an advance.

"L-let's not be hasty! It was all a big misunderstanding—an accident! No! Mercy!"

"Mercy?" the brunette said, angrily, preparing for what looked like the punch of the century. "How dare you enter a girls' dormitory and look at… my chest…" she turned pink at that, but her friend spoke up as the rest of the girls looked on, waiting for the blood to flow.

"You have an accent… you're a foreigner, eh." The samurai girl stepped forward and pressed her sword against Keitaro's neck. There was a malicious glint in her eye, one that made Keitaro shake in his boots.

"You wanted to see Japanese girls?... too bad. The last thing you'll see before you die is my blade—"

"W-wait…" he said, suddenly more curious than fearful. "G-girls'… dormitory?"

"Yes, g-g-g-girls' d-d-d-dormitory," the brunette sneered. "Can't you read? It's written right in front of the building!" She cracked her knuckles again and stepped forward—perhaps the samurai girl was wrong; it might be that the last thing he saw on Earth was hot flesh rather than cold steel.

But for a moment, Keitaro paused, thinking hard. He seemed to trace a few kanji symbols into the air… before his face went white.

"Oh, son of a…"

"I… forgive me," he said quietly. "I can't read Japanese very well; I mistook the 'girls'' character… …wait, girls' dormitory? Why would my aunt and grandmother invite me to stay at a girls' dormitory?"

That got a reaction from all of the girls. Even the most aggressive of them all—the brunette and the samurai had to blink and look at one another, at least for a second, before positively staring at the unfamiliar man before them. Actually, he did look remotely similar to—


"Keitaro? Is that you?"

Slowly, Keitaro stood up straight, ignoring the vicious weapon at his throat. He stepped past the two girls, without really noticing it—was he really speaking to his cousin?

Though they'd last seen each another some fifteen years ago, they recognized each another immediately. And after a moment of staring, in a somewhat unwonted move, Haruka held her arms out—just a little.

After running to his aunt suddenly, enthusiastically, Keitaro misinterpreted her intentions. After placing a hand over his heart in formal greeting, he vigorously shook her hand in both of his, grinning widely.

"It's been so long, Haruka-obasan! It's great to see you again."

"Yeah, same," she replied, attempting to maintain a casual tone as her arm was rapidly pumped, before she suddenly caught her nephew in a tight, rather painful headlock. "And call me Haruka-san. I'm not an old lady."

"Ouch-yes, yes, sorry, Haruka-san. How have you been? How's Grandmother Hina—where is Grandmother Hina?"

After releasing her nephew—technically, her cousin—Haruka noticed just how tall he really was. He towered by at least a half head over even Motoko, the tallest of the girls. His eyes were an almost glowing hue of amber, in stark contrast with the varying shades of brown of the rest of the shop's occupants, and his hair had a palatable tint of red in it. He was actually pretty good-looking, and as he calmed, merely smiling, he stood straight with perfect posture in a rather stately manner.

Certainly, he didn't seem like the peeping tom type; and now that they were able to get a good, long, relatively unbiased and calm look at Keitaro, even his worst enemies—the brunette and the katana wielder—had to admit that.

"Oh, forgive me…" he said, turning, facing the rest of the girls, albeit in a slightly wary fashion. "Allow me to introduce myself—I'm Urashima Keitaro… Haruka-san's nephew—cousin—and Grandmother Hina's grandson. It's very nice to meet you. And… sorry about… you know." He made a feeble gesture toward the brunette, before wincing and turning away.

The shock of seeing Haruka being remotely affectionate to anyone hadn't worn off—skepticism or worse couldn't yet take root. At least he wasn't being attacked again, though. Even the most dangerous two of them all seemed to be confused, for the moment, as if they were deciding if, rather than how, to end his life.

Still—in Keitaro's book, this was a victory, albeit a small one.

Haruka cleared her throat, then, and stepped forward. Everyone was starving for an explanation, and they all deserved one.

"We all need to discuss a few things, about my nephew, Grandma Hina, and the dorm itself. Something unexpected happened recently… Keitaro, make yourself at home in the resident manager's room. I'll be over in a few minutes when the shop closes—and I'll find you safe and unmolested." Those last few words were accompanied with a meaningful glare directed at the samurai girl and the brunette—who, after a moment, reluctantly acknowledged the implied order with a nod apiece.

"Good. And Keitaro," she said, stifling a smile at the terrified expression still on her younger cousin's face, as he looked at his two most devoted haters, "if you find any more confusing signs… this time, get someone to read them for you before making any assumptions."

Haruka told him where to find the resident manager's room, but oddly enough, she only needed to get halfway through the directions before Keitaro knew exactly where to go. So, he'd left the shop, still in a relatively good mood from seeing his cousin, and after picking up his backpack and bike, he was on his way. This meant that he entered the dorm well after the girls had had a few moments to vanish from sight, to avoid the temptation of violence—thank God for that.

After a few seconds admiring a building he hadn't been to for a lifetime, Keitaro was in the room he'd been told to take. He was then free to unpack what few clothes he had and check out his immediate surroundings.

The room was classically Japanese—bare bones and simple, with few furnishings, but for his purposes that was perfectly acceptable. Perhaps a few homely touches, such as a Persian rug and maybe a framed photo of his parents and friends wouldn't be amiss—but besides that, the room was great. It was reasonably large and offered a stunning view of the forest and mountains behind the inn-turned-dorm—once Keitaro had opened the balcony door and stepped out, he'd had to tear his gaze away from things in order to get back to what had to be done.

Narusegawa Naru was pissed off and to a degree, this was understandable. She wasn't hopping with rage, anymore, but she certainly wasn't satisfied with the way things were going. It really, really didn't strike her as appropriate for Haruka to so readily brush off the undeniable fact that an enemy combatant—that is, a man—had entered a girls' dormitory, gone into the hot springs, and looked at her in her state of undress.

The memory still made her seethe—and, despite everything, blush as well.

She was pacing back and forth in her room, unable to sit calmly and figure things out. To her knowledge, everyone else was in her respective room—they'd all just filtered back into the inn, looked at one another, oddly, and then broke apart. Even Motoko didn't seem like she was going to go against Haruka, and, so Naru wouldn't—but that didn't mean that she had to like things.

Worst of all, the bastard as directly below her. The thought made her stare at the floor—maybe if she glared enough, she could split it in half with the sheer force of her will… no, perhaps not.

Finally, Naru sighed. She would have sat down, then, but her name was being called. It looked like Haruka was back… what could she want?

The last one to get downstairs was Keitaro himself. This was defensible—although he wasn't on the top floor, his room was farthest from the front of Hinata Inn. Apart from that, he had delayed leaving by just a few seconds, when he'd heard that everyone else had been called down as well. He didn't want to test his luck by being with any of the girls out of Haruka's sight for any amount of time.

As it was, he found himself walking downstairs almost directly behind the fiery brunette whose fists of fury had nearly smashed him into oblivion. Immediately, he felt guilty—as a result, he almost fell forward before catching himself on the handrail and shivering, imagining where his face may have landed if he'd been a second slower. For a brief second, Keitaro's gaze lingered on the curves hidden by the brunette's knee-length skirt… maybe he should have been just a split-second slower…

He shook his head to clear his mind of such thoughts. Then, he was in front of Haruka and who he could only assume were the residents of the inn—no, the dorm, he reminded himself.

Now that there wasn't any undue tension in the air, Keitaro had a chance to look over the girls, and they had a chance to look back at him.

One of the smallest two—she couldn't be older than fourteen—seemed particularly wary of him. He could barely see a pair of big puppy eyes below short-cut, sleek black hair before she took refuge behind who seemed to be the resident samurai of the place.

She confused him almost as much as she intimidated him. Did she always go around with her uniform on?... maybe she'd just not bothered to take it off after practice, but she'd had more than one or two minutes to chance into different clothes since Haruka had dismissed everyone into the inn.

Maybe she was a fanatic about her sport, just like he was. Maybe they could get along and even find common ground someday—with that thought in mind, Keitaro looked into her eyes for a moment and smiled, in a friendly sort of manner.

He was rebuked with a glare, and, stung, he looked to the next girl.

Many Japanese would have thought that she was Indian. After all, her complexion was a deep copper—but Keitaro had lived in Pakistan for most of his life, and he knew for damn sure that the small, blond-haired girl didn't trace her ethnic roots to anywhere in South Asia. Her features weren't Caucasian, for one thing—and the few green-eyed blondes in South Asia were universally fair-skinned. He'd have to talk to her, soon—and hey, she seemed relatively friendly, even to him. She didn't break eye contact when he looked at her, and she even smiled back.

The next girl reminded Keitaro immediately of a fox. Her features were sharp, for a Japanese, although she seemed to have her eyes half-shut by choice, there was a shrewd cunningness about her that he couldn't mistake. Light brown hair suggested dying… that wasn't popular in Japan, but then, neither was plastic surgery and there was no way that those were natural—Keitaro felt himself flush and immediately forced calm by looking her in the face and nodding, politely.

Her response was just a knowing, rogueish grin. She was definitely quite foxy indeed…

The last girl was the only one to his left, and, unfortunately, he felt he knew her all too well already. Looking at her apologetically, however, earned him no respite—she just huffed and turned her nose up at him, but he could hardly blame her for that. Even as he looked her over, he made up his mind—he'd have to find some way to meaningfully apologize to her, and soon. He abhorred the idea of being hated, and righteously so—accidents aside, he had seen her naked. That wasn't acceptable at all… and besides, she was a pretty good-looking girl. It wouldn't be nice to be on less than friendly terms with her…

And then of course there was Haruka. With fair skin and features not so dissimilar from his, one could guess, after a moment, that they were closely related. She wasn't bad looking, for a woman in her thirties, but Keitaro didn't look at her in that manner. They were cousins, after all—the only sort of love in his eyes when he looked at her was the sort that there was no shame in showing.

Haruka cleared her throat, then, and looked at the motley group around her. This wasn't going to be easy to explain—what with Motoko, and Naru, and the fact that Keitaro had been involved in a… misunderstanding with at least two of them. But she had to do it.

She sighed and began to speak. "You already know that this is my cousin Keitaro. Sorry for not telling you about him earlier, but we haven't seen each other since he was about this tall." Haruka held her hand at roughly knee-level—this was no exaggeration, though. Although Keitaro was tall now, when he had been younger, he'd been something of a runt.

"So, Keitaro… why don't you say a few words to introduce yourself?"

Keitaro felt somewhat nervous—did he really have to? Public speaking had never been one of his strong points, and he wasn't in a room of friends or neutral parties. At least two of the people there had tried to kill him just minutes before. He gave a pleading look to Haruka, but she just stared blankly back at him—she hated speaking even more than he did.

And so Keitaro stepped forward and looked around at everyone. He smiled a little and then began to speak in a fairly nervous tone. It was clear that he was intimidated—very, very intimidated.

"H-hello everybody, I'm Urashima Keitaro. M-most people call me 'Kei'… I, uhm, am Grandmother Hina's grandson, and Haruka-oba—Haruka-san's n-n-n-cousin, and my father is Granny H-H-Hina's son…"

This wasn't going well. The brunette had locked a gaze on him that plainly said exactly what was on her mind—she wanted him dead, then and there, and Haruka's presence was only barely holding her back from a vicious, fatal assault. Apart from that, he was making an ass of himself by stuttering every other word—already, the short ravenhead in the corner seemed more amused of him than frightened by him.

Keitaro closed his eyes for a brief second and took in a deep breath. That calmed him down; it was a routine he repeated before every race—it had never failed him before and it didn't fail him then.

"My father works for the Japanese government; he's part of an attachment to the embassies in Islamabad and Washington DC." That statement seemed to engender curiosity—he could see it in the girls' eyes, after deciding that he had been hearing things when the blonde had asked what an Islamabad was, and if it was good to eat.

"I've lived in Pakistan for most of my life… sometimes we go to DC—we have a great house in northern Virginia, and I have a few friends there whose parents work permanently at the DC embassy. I'm here in Japan to meet my father's relatives, since we haven't seen each other since I was three. Also—I've wanted to go to Tokyo University for ages, so when Grandmother Hina heard about that, she suggested that I come and stay here in Hinata Springs."

At that point, there was a minor side conversation. The silver-haired vixen looked up and then spoke discretely to her friend.

"Todai, eh?... Naru, isn't that your first choice too? Hey, maybe you could form a study team with him. Who knows how much work you two might get done alone, together, late at night…"

Keitaro didn't hear that, fortunately—but Naru couldn't shut her ears to her friend's teasing so easily. She flushed again, and glowered at the fox-girl before returning her attention to the gaijan.

"I've only looked over the mock exams and past exams, but I think I can do well enough overall to make up for bad grades in Japanese… even though my dad says I can speak it fine, I can't get the kanji down. And even if I can't do that great on the exam…"

Keitaro's eyes took on a distant, hopeful look. He wasn't looking at anyone in the room, anymore—he seemed to be looking directly into the future with nothing other than confidence and a hunger to achieve, and, somehow, when he looked like that, he managed to give everyone there just a taste of what he saw.

"I'm a biker. I love biking—street biking and stunt BMX stuff is fine, but what I really love is mountain biking. Every day at home, whether I'm in DC or Islamabad, I do at least thirty kilometers—usually fifty or more. It's great—and my parents let me go on trips all the time, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I've been biking in Chitral, Kashmir, and Baluchistan a few times each, and in Washington State with my American friends just last year. I'm pretty good," he said, speaking almost too fast for his Japanese skills to support. "They've written a few articles about me in some magazines, after I won a few big races in America… biking isn't that big in Pakistan, but I've won a few races there, too. That's why I'm going to compete in the Yokohama Invitational—have any of you heard of it?"

There were a few scattered nods, but Keitaro could see that even those that who heard of the epic race hadn't heard much about it. So, still enthusiastic, he managed to make eye contact with everyone else in the room in turn as he explained.

"The Yokohama Invitational is a huge mountain bike race, and not just for Japanese bikers. People come from all over to compete—last year's winner was a guy from Chile, and the one before that was from America. Anyway, like I said, it's huge—it's the Mecca of the mountain biking world. There's a prize of 20 million yen, plus advertisements, endorsements, fame—a bunch of the winners in the past have gone professional and become full time bikers—they actually get paid to go biking, can you imagine that?... anyway, if I win the Yokohama Invitational, or even just place well… Tokyo U should be a little lenient about my grades."

He was actually breathing a little hard by the time he finished that. Talking about biking always got Keitaro pumped, never mind that he was talking to people who probably had never been off-road in their lives before. He could tell that some of his excitement had rubbed off on the surrounding women, perhaps some more than others—but even the brunette seemed fairly interested in what he had to say by the time he was finished speaking. He really did think he'd reached out to everyone present—after all, his ambitions were so sincere and pure, who wouldn't be inspired by such drive?

A cold-sounding snicker made Keitaro turn and face the brunette. She smirked at him—and then spoke. "The Yokohama Invitational… what makes you think they'll even let a lowlife like you in? People like you must be a dime a dozen… I doubt anyone in charge of something so important has even heard of you."

"I've already been invited," Keitaro replied, stung. "I was last year, too…"

She only needed a second to adjust her attack. "Right," the brunette sneered. "If you were invited last year, why didn't you go?"

"I didn't feel like I was ready for it."

"And you do now?"

"Sure. I've gotten in a lot more practice, and besides, I'm eighteen. There would have been a big scandal if they tried to let a minor compete—this race is pretty dangerous. People get broken bones and worse, all the time… a few years ago, someone even died."

That shut her up, at least for the moment—and it put the level of Keitaro's plans in perspective. Until then, all of the girls had had a pretty innocent vision of his sport. Mountain biking was still just biking, after all, so it couldn't be that bad. But if the best of the world in biking got injured, and even killed… the Yokohama Invitational had to be pretty dangerous indeed.

The brunette was still looking at him untrustingly, but she didn't say anything more. Keitaro turned away from her—and saw that the foxy lady had a question for him.

"You said you wanted to go to Tokyo University… what major?"

"That, I haven't decided. My dad's always wanted me to follow in his footsteps… and I really like what he does, but I want to take some classes, and talk to some professors and graduate students before I make any permanent decisions. I'll probably end up doing something with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs… maybe I won't do exactly the same as my father, but something like it. Err… does that answer your question?"

She nodded, then, but Keitaro could tell she was still curious about something. He waited for a moment—she didn't ask anything else, so he could only assume that his Japanese had been subpar. Haruka, though, knew exactly what was on the vixen's mind—she wanted to know how much money he was planning on pulling down.

"Why… are we supposed to care about all this?"

Keitaro turned, planning, automatically, to answer that question. When he saw who had asked it, however, he realized that it was simply a rhetorical device. The brunette's fists were half-clenched and the expression on her face was quite poisonous—involuntarily, he flinched and took a step back.

"So what if you're some kind of biker? Who cares what you want for a career—"

"Naru," Haruka's warning voice was enough to stop the brunette in her tracks. She'd never needed to really show her temper in front of the girls—but if she had to, she wouldn't hesitate. And the sort of insolence that was being displayed toward her relative was simply intolerable.

Once the brunette had cooled down, resorting to simply glaring at Keitaro rather than verbally bashing him, Haruka continued, this time in a level, somewhat disinterested tone.

"Anyway… I guess you're all wondering what all this has to do with you. Keitaro said that the plan is for him to stay in Hinata Springs… that's true, but that's not all. He's supposed to stay here—"


"—in Hinata Inn itself."

"No way!"

This time, the brunette was not alone in her opposition. Until then, the samurai girl that Keitaro had regarded as at least as dangerous as her, albeit less aggressive, had been politely quiet. But now she too raised her head, angrily, although the tightness in her eyes was directed at Haruka rather than Keitaro, who simply stood, awkwardly, as if he'd like to slip away and disappear.

"This is a girls'—girls'—dorm, Haruka-san! It doesn't matter that he's your cousin, or Granny Hina's grandson—he's still a guy, and a twisted pervert of a guy at that. I mean, come on! Do any of you honestly, seriously believe he happened to read the sign wrong? His Japanese is perfect!"

"She's right, Haruka-san." The samurai's girl cool-headedness immediately followed the brunette's fiery assault. She calmly made her case, although her passion in the issue was obvious. "It's immoral for a male to stay at a girls-only dormitory, period. Even if what happened earlier was… a complete accident," she said that in a manner that made it clear how unlikely she thought that was, "it's not acceptable, not in a thousand years."

Haruka was about to put both of the girls in their place. But Keitaro, of all people, stopped her.

"Haruka-san… they're both right."

That surprised everyone present, even himself, to a degree. Was he really making a case against himself—against living with a number of incredibly attractive women in a beautiful, quiet town, for free? Living in Pakistan for most of his life had given him a very traditional sense of morality, but this was pushing it. Yet, he continued to speak.

"It was an accident—and I'm very, truly sorry for that—but even if it hadn't happened, it still wouldn't be right to stay in a girls' dormitory. It's—imagine if things were switched around, and there was a girl in a position to stay at an all-male dormitory. That definitely wouldn't be right, would it?" An analogy like that was somewhat shocking, and extremely effective as well. No one present would ever stay at an all-male dormitory, no matter how closely they were related to the owner or how convenient and cheap it was.

There was silence, for a moment. Then, Keitaro sighed. Things never worked out, did they?...

"I'll just stay somewhere in town, Haruka-san. I'll come and visit you and Grandmother Hina all the time—wait a second, where is Grandmother Hina?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you—I don't know."


Keitaro wasn't the only one that made that last exclamation. The girls did as well, and it was easy to tell why. Granny Hina, missing?... and yet, Haruka seemed so calm. What was going on?

"Granny Hina sent me an email this morning… she's decided to go traveling and she doesn't know when she'll be back. She also sent me these…"

Haruka took out a large manila envelope and handed it to Keitaro. Of course, he would have preferred to open it later, privately—but something about the way Haruka looked at him told him that he ought to see what was in it now.

Feeling all eyes on him, Keitaro nodded, vaguely, and unfastened the envelope's covering flap. He then pulled out a small packet of legal documents, and sifted through them, briefly, before looking up—confusion was his only expression.

"It's… a transfer of ownership. I… own Hinata Inn, and the surrounding grounds and properties."

What that meant didn't seem to sink in to Keitaro, or the rest of the girls. So, Haruka just nodded and explained, leaning against the wall in annoyance. Her mother could never make life simple, could she?

"It's conditional. You can only legally own Hinata Inn if you act as the resident manager… you'll have to live here and take care of the buildings, grounds, finances, and so forth. There's a letter attached—I didn't read it, but if I know Granny Hina, she's said some nonsense about how the only way to learn about the real world is through experience."

By that point, Keitaro had sorted out the documents inside the envelope and found that what Haruka had said was indeed true.

"Word for word," he said. He felt his breath catch in his throat—this was not good, seriously not good at all. This kind of a responsibility, dropped into his lap all at once—

"N-n-n-n-n-no way, Haruka-san! I can't—this is—you have to tell Granny Hina that this is impossible—"

"I already tried," Haruka said sympathetically. "She didn't reply to my emails, and her cell phone's service has been ended, and I don't know how else to get in touch with her."

"Th-then you have to take control of this," he sputtered furiously. "You're her legal daughter, right? You should be able to do something about it."

"Granny Hina would never make something like this that easy to get out of," Haruka said in a somewhat irritated tone. "She might be old, but she's not senile—she's a lot smarter than any of us can imagine. Keitaro… you'd better do what she wants."

"There has to be something that can be done." Now, it was the brunette who was speaking, red-cheeked and assertive as ever. She looked at Haruka almost fiercely, and pounded her fist into her palm as she continued. "Alright, maybe he has to be the owner, and the manager—he can just stay somewhere else and hire a cleaning service or something."

"Nice try, Naru, but the documents say 'resident manager'. You can try to battle out the exact definition in court if you want," Haruka shrugged, "but I wouldn't recommend it. I only brought the overview—the rest of the legalese is saved to a USB drive because I didn't have enough paper to print it all out."

Misery loved company, apparently, because it lifted Keitaro's spirits the slightest amount to see that his rapidly growing sense of dismay was shared. Apart from the two most ferocious of the girls, however, everyone seemed to tentatively accept things. Apparently, Grandmother Hina's word counted for a lot around here.

"But I haven't even signed any papers," Keitaro said weakly, as a final form of protest. "What if I don't want to own Hinata Inn?"

"Then it gets turned over to the state," Haruka sighed. "Who knows what'll happen then, but I guarantee that it won't be a cheap girl's dorm any more. Maybe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take it over and use it to woo oil sheikhs from your country," she jibed.

"But there are no oil sheikhs in Pakistan," Keitaro grumbled. "There's not even any oil."

"I guess that settles it then," Haruka said briskly. "Keitaro is now the kanrinin of Hinata Inn. I'll send you a list of what you have to do later—but don't worry, it's not that much. You'll be able to study and bike to your heart's content if you manage your time. Oh yeah—you don't know anyone's name yet…"

Keitaro's shoulders slumped. It looked like there was no way to get out of this whatsoever… he'd just have to make lemonade, it seemed. After just a second, he regained his composure and stood up straight, plastering on a positive expression as he looked to the first girl.

"Um, my name's Maehara Shinobu. Pleased to meet you…"

That was the small raven-head. Looking at her reminded Keitaro a bit of a frail mouse, owing to her big eyes and extremely pale skin. But he wasn't one to judge so quickly—after all, he'd gotten plenty of jibes over the years due to his own height and weight (or lack thereof—bicycling burned a load of calories, after all).

"I'm Kaolla Su. We're going to have plenty of fun soon!"

"Hyper," Keitaro noted to himself, trying not to be intimidated. This one was thirteen or so—the same age as Shinobu—and with blonde hair, green eyes, and a deep tan, Keitaro couldn't help but wonder about her. He wasn't sure what to make of her just yet.

"My name is Aoyama Motoko. Welcome to Japan, Urashima-san."

Keitaro nodded, politely, and placed a hand on his heart as he offered her a brief bow. She was the samurai-girl—no, that wasn't quite it. She wasn't wearing any sort of armor, and besides, there was no such thing as a female samurai. Maybe she was just obsessed with martial arts?... no, that wasn't quite it either. She was into martial arts for sure, but it was more than a hobby for her… more like a lifestyle. He'd have to learn more about her—but carefully. He somehow doubted that they could build bridges that quickly…

"I'm Konno Mitsune, sugar. Call me Kitsune. I'm lookin' forward to getting to know you, real soon."

Keitaro couldn't help but flush the smallest bit as the busty vixen winked at him. She, he would have to watch out for. He could tell that she wasn't a seductress, not exactly, but she definitely seemed like the kind of girl that wasn't afraid of using her looks to get her way. Keitaro would have to show her sooner or later that he wasn't the kind of guy for her to mess around with—in any sense of the phrase.

And now it was time for the brunette to introduce herself. It was clear, though, that no matter what everyone said, no matter what Granny Hina wanted—she didn't approve of what was going on one little bit. Her arms were folded and she pointedly refused to make eye contact with Keitaro.

He winced, inwardly. He didn't like things much more than she did—and he'd apologize to her soon enough. Surely she could just accept things for the moment?...

She seemed to come to the same conclusion that he did. For now, she'd go along with things, but she'd never really give up—in other words, she was sacrificing the battle so that she might win the war. She was going to see him out of the inn, one way or the other—and she would also have her revenge for the undue liberties he'd taken with her.

And so the brunette smile, in a way that made Keitaro shiver when she looked at him.

"I'm Narusegawa Naru," she said. "Welcome to Hinata Inn. I hope you… enjoy… your time here as much as I do."

(I encourage you to review, and tell me what you liked, hated; what you want to see in the future and any ideas you might have for this fic.)