Love Hina: Outsider Looking In

Chapter Nine

Weeks ago, Keitaro had been surprised that a relatively prestigious cram school in Japan, a highly advanced nation in the age of iPhones and internet download speeds of dozens of megabytes per second, had an old-fashioned blackboard for use with chalk. Now, though, he reacted to the permanent fixture in the mechanics classroom with either indifference or a vague sense of nostalgia, as it could very reasonably be said that the blackboard with a relic of a long-past time.

Perhaps it could also be said that the man who used it to teach was also a relic, albeit a living one. After all, the Dutchman had been born in the 1930s, and he'd gotten his Ph.D approximately when Keitaro's parents had been born.

And yet, he moved like a man half his age, and he taught like a man half of that age again. He was highly motivated and extremely knowledgeable in all fields of physics (though, at cram school, he only taught mechanics), and he never hesitated to help out individual students who were having trouble with class.

Apart from that, there was a reason he used a blackboard, and it wasn't just for old time's sake. It was because he could draw dotted lines on blackboards with a speed and finesse that made Keitaro stare the first time he'd seen it.

Somehow, the mechanics professor angled the chalk against the board and pressed hard enough that when he moved his hand, the chalk skipped against the board, creating a dotted effect. That was how Keitaro had assumed he did it, until he'd seen the professor draw light dotted lines and dashed lines just as easily as he drew straight lines.

Even now, after taking classes with the professor for the better part of a few months, that feat made Keitaro shake his head in awe—before realizing that he really ought to be more attention to what the lines the professor was drawing meant, not how incredible it was that he was able to draw them at all.

Keitaro concentrated, though, and so he was able to get the gist of what was going on within a few seconds. Within a few more moments, he felt that he had the hang of what was being taught; it probably wouldn't take a ridiculous amount of studying to commit it to memory.

Class ended suddenly, not a moment after the professor finished teaching, but Keitaro, like several other students, stayed seated to perfect his notes and to make sure that he hadn't written anything down incorrectly.

Mechanics wasn't something that came to him easily, as math did. Mechanics required too much creativity, and so while Keitaro had found out that he could perform alright on mechanics homework, when he was focused on a test, it was hard to take a mental step back and to exam a problem from all angles, in order to see how it ought to be solved.

It was the nature of the beast that made it so difficult, but there was no easy way around it. Keitaro would have to study his mechanics, hard…

But that wasn't a big deal for him. Nothing was a big deal for him these days, because even though he had a daunting amount of studying and homework to get through daily, plus chores and biking, he had a stable life at home—and that was the safe, solid foundation that allowed him to get his work done. Sure, sometimes Su surprised him with a military invasion, but Keitaro found them to be playful and goodhearted for the most part.

There was no drama in his life, and nothing weighed down on his mind—that was why it was free to perform in the classroom as well as it did.

Finally finished ensuring that his notes were accurate, Keitaro sat up from the two-person bench-desks he and his classmates used, and began to leave the lecture hall. He found himself checking his phone for texts and emails and things like that as he left, but it looked like his friends had been quiet that day. All there was was the usual "What's going on?" email he was accustomed to receiving from his parents from time to time.

For a moment, Keitaro was tempted to fire off a quick response to them then and there. Instead, he decided to wait until he was on the bus to head home to send them something more thought out than a simple "fine".

As he and the other stragglers began to file out of the cram school, Keitaro looked around for a moment, until he saw Professor Nawaz leaving his own classroom. These were the times when they often stopped to chat for a few minutes (in Urdu, of course) before heading their separate ways, but that night, the Professor simply waved at him and headed off, signaling that he had somewhere to be.

And that was alright. All that meant for Keitaro was that he'd finally catch the first bus back to Hinata Springs.

"What am I going to do about this guy?"

From the day Urashima Keitaro had come to Hinata Inn, Naru had made it her personal mission to see him leave, one way or the other. She'd hated him—but privately, in order to trick him into thinking that they were on any sort of cordial terms, and she'd done her damnedest to find out what made him tick. She'd watched him and thought about him for hours every day to try to figure out what was the chink in his armor that would allow her to expose him for what he was… but no matter how hard she looked, no matter what she did, it was as if Keitaro wasn't a lowlife after all—it was as if he really was a decent, hardworking, moral guy.

And that wasn't true. That couldn't be true.

But Naru had to admit to herself that when it came right down to it, she'd done almost nothing about Keitaro. She hadn't embarrassed him or lowered his standing in the girls' eyes, and she hadn't harmed his chances of getting into Tokyo U or doing well at the Yokohama Invitational that he always blabbered about, except for on one occasion, and that barely counted.

Keitaro was still an outsider to Hinata Inn, and Japan itself, for that matter, but soon, that wouldn't be true any longer. Already, Keitaro was becoming just another part of day-to-day life, and soon, he would be a permanent fixture of Hinata Inn whether Naru liked it or not.

She'd have to stop that long before it happened. And, as what she'd been doing thus far hadn't been effective at all, she'd have to change how she operated—drastically.

"Speak of the Devil," Naru thought, as she spotted Keitaro making his way toward the bus stop where she was waiting

She'd been listening to some music and angrily tapping her foot against the ground as she thought of new ways in which to torment Keitaro, and as such, her body language was intimidating, to say the very least. It took conscious effort for her to calm down and smile as she took her earbuds out and faced the mixed-race man approaching her.

"It's rare to see you coming home on this bus," Naru said politely. "What's up?"

"Professor Nawaz wasn't in the mood to chat tonight," Keitaro replied. He used a hand to stroke his hair after a shock of it drifted in front of his eyes—come to think of it, he'd have to get a haircut sooner rather than later.

"Ah, that's too bad. By the way, you should invite him over for tea again sometime," Naru said. "I'm trying to go to Tokyo U too, so it can't hurt to be on one of the professor's good sides, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Keitaro said absently. "That seems like it could be interesting."

All too late, Naru realized what he'd maneuvered her into doing. She'd started to talk to him with the intention of humiliating him somehow, but instead, she'd asked him for a favor—and, at least in the smallest way, she was relying on him to improve her chances of getting into Tokyo U!

Naru bit her tongue to avoid screaming; fortunately, she was able to distract herself with the arrival of the bus home. She and the usual crowd boarded it, plus Keitaro, and within a few minutes they were on their way to Hinata Springs.

Seating was limited that day, so Keitaro elected to stand, using a pole for support, while Naru sat down in a seat not far from the door. She looked anywhere but him, which was difficult, considering that he was more or less directly in front of her.

Keitaro ought to be uncomfortable for two reasons, but he wasn't. Although he was too tall for standard Japanese fixtures by a few inches, and although the bus was crowded enough that an American, for example, would feel claustrophobic, the nation which Keitaro identified with the most was built for shorter people who were still more used to being crowded than Japanese. So, he stood without fidgeting or complaining.

The idea that he could live in the same world as her without feeling any discomfort at all… ugh, it made Naru want to shudder. But she couldn't—not while he was clearly beating her at her own game. She had to find out how to beat him, and to do that, she had to understand his relationship with Kitsune.

And that meant that she had to know just what sort of monkey-song he had sung to her on Sunday.

"So…" Naru said rather awkwardly in order to get Keitaro's attention, "you're… a pretty good singer, Kei-kun. Where did you learn to do that?"

"My mom's a really good vocalist," he said. "She used to teach when she was younger, and these days, she participates in a few choirs and stuff like that from time to time. When I was growing up, she sort of taught me the ropes… and, well, I guess I never forget," he grinned. "All of my friends love Bollywood. Personally, I think it's pretty cheesy, but the musical composition is great, so… there you are."

"So it was a Bollywood thing," Naru said. She intended to use this affirmation to segue into a query about the song itself, but instead, she found herself curious.

"Isn't that weird? You and your friends like Bollywood, but you're Pakistani."

"Yeah, I guess that is sort of weird," Keitaro accepted. "Then again, the songs are in Hindi, which we understand, and there's not really a decent movie scene in Pakistan, so for us, Bollywood isn't at all foreign. Besides, half of the actors are descended from Pakistan or Afghanistan… that's the kind of rationalization you hear," Keitaro said. "Overall, though, you're right. It's completely indefensible—sort of like a Japanese knowing Korean," Keitaro said. He looked at Naru and slowly winked, and she almost smiled.

"That's interesting," she said in an aloof manner.

"Anyway," Naru continued, "what song was it? Was it… something special?"

Keitaro laughed awkwardly, then, and rubbed the back of his head with a hand.

"Uhm, well, it's one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite movies," Keitaro said. "I guess it's special to me, so… yes. Sort of."

By this time, the bus was starting to empty as they left the immediate vicinity of Yokohama and headed toward the mountains. Keitaro could have sat down if he'd wanted to, but instead, he stayed on his feet, constantly moving, constantly fidgeting, in just such a way that it made Naru want to scream.

"So… what song was it?" she asked a moment later.

Keitaro looked at Naru and grinned broadly—and then, he shook his head.

"I'm not going to tell you that, I'm afraid," he said. "I haven't told Kitsune—or Haitani or Shirai, and that's not going to change for the foreseeable future."

"What?" Naru said. "Why?"

"Because it's a lo—long song," Keitaro said, before coughing in an entirely unconvincing manner.

"Let's just say that this is something I want to play close to the chest for the time being. If that changes… then you'll be the first to know, okay?"

"Fine," Naru said curtly, "keep your secrets."

"Sorry, Narusegawa," Keitaro said, using Naru's surname for once, "but this time, I'll have to."

That night, Naru stayed up late. She reviewed the notebook she'd made to keep track of Keitaro—who he was, what he did, what he liked—but the fact was that there was almost nothing to review. Keitaro was almost one-dimensional—he liked biking, he wanted to go to Tokyo U, he studied, he cleaned, he ate a lot and even though he made mistakes, he was the perfect mask of a determined, decent guy.

There were possibilities, Naru thought, that she could exploit to throw him off his game. She could damage his bike, steal his studying materials, or create messes or trouble with Hinata Inn itself to force him to spend hours on chores.

The problem with these options was that they were extreme. Naru had no moral problems with any of them—after all, the ends justified the means when it came to a sociopath like Keitaro—but they were too risky. If she was caught, everything would backfire on her, bigtime.

So, for the moment, these extreme options were left on the backburner. If things got too bad, or if she couldn't think of anything else within a few weeks… then she'd have no choice but to start to get really serious about hurting Keitaro.

For now, though, there had to be something she could do to mess with him. She just had to think of it…

And then, a cruel smile came to Naru's face as she remembered the perverse manner she'd met Keitaro in the first place.

That was his weakness, she thought, though he kept it under wraps 99% of the time. That was why he was playing hard to win Kitsune, and that was why he'd come to the Inn in the first place.

Keitaro was a pervert. And if Naru exploited that properly, he'd be out in the streets in a week.

There was no class the next day, so immediately after waking up and eating, Keitaro hit the trails—hard. He did advanced interval training for several hours in order to build up both his stamina and his ability to ride hard, and so by noon, he was sweating hard and exhausted—but he knew that he'd done well.

So, he went back into Hinata Inn, being sure to lock his bike up in a small shed at the rear of the house. Once he was in his room, he spent a few minutes doing pushups and stretching to cool down, and then he went to shower.

The Yokohama Invitational was closing in. At this point, it was several weeks away, and so while it wasn't imminent, it was no longer some event far off in the future. Keitaro had started to cut down on his eating a little bit to lose weight, as every excess pound would become a liability during a race like the YI, and he was training harder than he ever had before in his life.

And, of course, he had to do all this while studying. Unfortunately for him, the YI and Tokyo U's entry exam were set for the same week, so he couldn't cut corners on preparing for either one, period.

Oh well, Keitaro thought to himself as he began to dry off. If he could face challenges like this and come out on his feet, he was confident that he could confront anything else in his life without fear or concern.

After he'd dressed, Keitaro automatically made his way downstairs to the kitchen. He'd have a heavy meal now in order to make up for lost calories, and while eating it, Kitsune would probably join him to chat and eat her own, considerably smaller lunch.

Actually, she wouldn't today, Keitaro realized. She'd had to head to Yokohama in the morning for work, and she probably wouldn't be back until later in the evening.

So, there was a possibility that Naru might eat with him, but that was slim. Naru was generally a two meal a day girl, and besides, she didn't like to spend time with Keitaro if she could avoid it.

Lunch was eaten and the dishes were washed, and there were no really pressing chores Keitaro had to do that day, so he made his way back upstairs. It was time to study now, and he had planned to spend the afternoon drilling history facts with Naru in her room. She'd be waiting on him, so Keitaro hurried to get his books and notes together before making his way up another flight of stairs to get to Naru's room.

He paused before entering—the door was shut, and that was a bit strange. Generally, when Naru planned to have him over to study, she left the door open, but this time…

Well, it wasn't a big deal. Keitaro shrugged, knocked on the door, and then slid it open when Naru bade him to enter.

"Hey, Naru; what's up; how's your day going—"

Keitaro's slew of generic greetings was cut short. He'd entered the room half hunched over—his books had started to fall and he'd had to stumble in order to stop them from hitting the floor—and that was the one reason he didn't see more than an inch-wide band of Naru's midriff.

As Keitaro straightened up, he took note of the position of Naru's arms and her posture. It was hard to say, of course, but it almost looked like…she'd been putting on her shirt. Just as he'd been walking in—after she'd told him to come in.

Apart from that, she was dressed rather unlike she tended to for their joint study sessions. Generally, Naru wore sweatpants or loose pairs of jeans with a hoody to study, but this time, she was dressed… rather like how Kitsune did, or rather, how Kitsune used to.

Naru's short shorts were probably designed for someone of significantly smaller dimensions than hers. Her tank top was similarly tight; in fact, the white fabric was stretched over her torso so much that it bared even more skin than it was intended to. Keitaro could clearly see the outline of Naru's figure even as she stood, and if he were to look closer, he was liable to see… well, a lot more than that indeed.

Keitaro felt himself flush and looked away.

"Err… hello, Narusegawa," he said, in a carefully-measured tone. "How, uhm, are you doing today?"

"Oh, fine, just fine, Kei-kun," Naru said, and Keitaro swore he detected a slight wobble in her voice, as if she was embarrassed or nervous. "Uhm, how was your biking?"

"Great," Keitaro said. He slowly looked back at Naru—no, at Naru's eyes, dammit, not anywhere lower than her neckline. "I pushed myself pretty hard, but I feel fine now, so I think I'm really ready for the YI. I think I have a shot at placing well in it." He gave Naru a smile, and then nodded rather forcefully before holding up his books suggestively.

"So… shall we?" he asked.

For a split-second, Naru was perfectly still, her expression unreadable. It was as if she was surprised—shocked, even—by something, so much so that she had no idea how to react. It was as if she'd planned out a course of events with the assumption that they'd take place, but then something else entirely had happened.

Or maybe Keitaro was just imagining things. The next second, Naru nodded and sat down at the squat table in her room where, already, several of her own books and notebooks awaited.

It took Keitaro a few moments to get into the studying mindset, but that was nothing irregular. What was irregular was that it took Naru a few minutes to get into the studying mindset. Generally, she was a no-nonsense girl, when it came to hitting the books. That was, in fact, something that Keitaro rather admired about her. When she sat down to study, she studied, and that was all. There was no distracting her or shifting her attention, and Keitaro often had the expression that if an earthquake were to take place when Naru was studying, she wouldn't notice it.

Today, though, it was as if Naru's mind was completely somewhere else. Keitaro noticed this and he didn't say anything, but it was highly, highly irregular, and somewhat disturbing, too. Was something wrong?

Or could it be that Naru was upset for some reason?

Fortunately, though, both Keitaro and Naru soon fell into the swing of studying and forgot about the strange fashion in which the session had started out. When it ended, Keitaro left after thanking Naru for her time and effort, and Naru waved him off with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, asking him to close the door behind him.

He did. And once it was shut, Naru's friendly expression fell and it was all she could do to stop herself from chucking whatever her hands found first after him.

"All right, Mr. Urashima," she said through gritted teeth, "you want to play tough, do you? Well, I hope your self-control is as strong as you want me to think it is."

Naru glared at the shut door for another few moments. Then, she stood up and changed back into her normal studying clothes, and immediately sat back down to study some more.

Her plans that day had failed. That was, however, no reason at all to shirk her responsibilities.

"Welcome home, Kitsune. How was work?"

"Eh, can't complain," Kitsune replied, letting her briefcase fall to the floor. "I had to meet with my boss to talk about my assignments for the next few weeks, and that was sort of intimidating, but then he took me and a couple coworkers out for lunch." She stood up and took off her jacket to hang it up next to the door.

"And—oh yeah," Kitsune said. "I found out about a swimming competition in Yokohama. It's pretty big, and it's around when you have the YI. I was thinking of maybe signing up for it."

"Oh, you definitely should, Kitsune," Keitaro said. "There probably aren't that many swimming competitions for people out of highschool."

Kitsune nodded and took a seat beside Keitaro on the couch. She glanced at what he was doing briefly—keeping track of money flows in and out of Hinata Inn—and then scooted just a bit closer to him. She wasn't close enough that they were touching, but she was close enough that they weren't quite sitting apart, either.

There she stayed, though. Though Keitaro didn't apparently look up from his work, she could see him glance at her out of the corner of his eye, and that was precisely what she was shooting for. She had his interest, and although he was… cautious, probably, he wasn't so spooked by her subtle advance that he was put off or embarrassed. She was just close enough to be on his mind, but she wasn't there to distract or disturb him.

Getting close to Keitaro was like a real-time strategy game with a hedgehog defender. If Kitsune moved too quickly or overtly, it would be to her peril. She had to move slowly, carefully maneuvering Keitaro into a certain mindset so that when the time came, yes, more overt advances could be made. Until then, though, Kitsune would be as gradual and conservative as she dared to.

It was then that footsteps were heard from the stairway. Kitsune looked up to see who was coming down, and smiled when she saw Naru approaching—dressed in a rather revealing manner, for her. Kitsune gave the darker-haired girl a questioning glance, but Naru seemed to look right past it as she said hello to Kitsune. She said hello to Keitaro too, but Keitaro barely looked up from what he was doing.

Kitsune didn't want to see something where there was nothing, but she hadn't become an expert in reading hidden cues and body language by ignoring things.

Something had happened between Naru and Keitaro.

What, though?

Kitsune couldn't ask, of course. If she said a word about it, both Naru and Keitaro would clam up tight and claim that nothing was wrong, haha, haha, and that Kitsune was just being silly. They'd grin stupidly at each other, and that would be the last Kitsune would hear about it.

For the moment, it seemed that the best way to figure out what was going on was to sit back and stay silent.

"Oh," Naru mentioned, reaching up to toy with her hair—she had done her hair, Kitsune noticed—"I taped a couple episodes of that serial killer TV show. I bet you're a fan, right, Kei-kun?"

Keitaro looked utterly confused by what Naru said. Now, she had succeeded in distracting him, because he looked up from what he was doing and stared at her blearily.

"There's a TV show about serial killers now?" Keitaro asked. "Sounds grisly… I've never heard of it before."

"Really? I'm surprised," Naru said.

Keitaro simply looked more confused, and for Kitsune's part, she wasn't doing much better. She had heard of a drama series about a serial killer before—Baxter, or Drexel, or something—but only in passing. Apart from that, Keitaro simply didn't have time to watch much TV, and if he did, he probably wouldn't watch such a violent thing. Why would Naru assume that he would…?

"Anyway, it looks like the two of you aren't up to anything important, so… why don't we give it a watch?" Naru suggested.

Keitaro looked at her, back at his paperwork, and then back at Naru rather slowly. It was pretty clear that he was doing important stuff, wasn't it? Then again, what he was doing wasn't exactly time-critical, so… and, well, it certainly wouldn't hurt to give one of Naru's hobbies a try in order to try to get a better relationship with her, so…

"Yeah, sure, Narusegawa," Keitaro said. He put his papers on the coffee table before the sofa he and Kitsune were sharing, and gave Naru a smile.

He reached for the remote so that he could access the DVR, but noticed that it wasn't in its usual place on the side of the table. Kitsune noticed this, and stood up, looking around to see if it had fallen anywhere, but Naru just sighed and knelt down in front of the TV.

"We'll find the remote later; for now, I'll just do this manually," she said.

The DVR was under the TV, safely recessed in the expensive wooden stand, along with a VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray player. Naru turned the TV on and then reached forward to operate the DVR itself, and in doing so, she gave Keitaro and Kitsune a rather, shall we say, rare view.

Naru's short shorts just fit her when she was standing, so bending over the slightest bit caused them to hike up her thighs. When she was bent over almost ninety degrees like that, too much was visible. Naru was a curvy girl, with smooth, fair skin, and so even though Keitaro did his best to keep his eyes averted, he was a guy, at the end of the day, so his eyes did run over her several times.

"Dammit," Naru swore softly. She had been wrestling with the DVR for a few moments, but she wasn't able to get it to go beyond the main menu for some reason. And although Keitaro was either looking pointedly away from her, or at her rather blatantly-placed behind, he couldn't help but notice that she didn't really seem to be depressing any of the machine's keys.

The seconds ticked by. To distract himself, Keitaro took his papers up again, and Kitsune rested her arms behind her head. She watched Naru struggle with the DVR for another few seconds, before getting up.

"Hey, let me help you, Naru—"

"No! It's okay, I got it," Naru protested. She turned to face Kitsune over her shoulder—and Kitsune noticed that she was blushing. Naru squirmed a bit and looked away from her friend, smiling half-heartedly, and turned back to the DVR.

Before she did, though, she glanced at Keitaro. And Kitsune did not miss that.

So, Naru was trying to seduce Keitaro? Was that what was going on here?

It was completely out of Naru's character. In all the time Kitsune had known her, she'd been interested in all of one guy, and that had been a silly little schoolgirl crush. Naru had never liked really liked any guy, and that was why she was being so overt with her advances.

And that's why they weren't going to work.

It was said that guys needed things spelled out for them, but Kitsune knew that wasn't quite true. To keep a guy interested for more than a few moments of intercourse, a woman had to be mysterious, enticing, special—she couldn't go doing what Naru was doing. Even before Kitsune had realized that Keitaro wasn't a person who was led around by his sexuality, she hadn't been this overt with her advances—certainly not in this pathetic, juvenile manner.

Kitsune almost felt bad for Naru. Next to her, Naru didn't stand a chance, especially when she made advances to Keitaro in such a manner. Kitsune wouldn't even have to tell her to stay away from Keitaro, because if she continued along this path, she'd keep Keitaro away on her own.

But it was still so pathetic, to watch Naru kneel there, humiliating herself in a display that Keitaro wasn't even looking at. Kitsune told herself that as soon as Naru had thoroughly pushed Keitaro away, and gotten over him, she'd teach her how to properly attract whatever man she set her sights on, but for now, Naru was on her own.

A few minutes passed before Naru finally got the DVR working, not that there had ever been a problem with it in the first place. She got the show running—it was called Dexter, Kitsune realized—and honestly, it wasn't that bad.

Kitsune was distracted from the show, though, by the fact that Naru had rather pointedly sat down next to Keitaro, and that Keitaro had gotten rather into the show. This gave Naru an opportunity to get closer to him, and closer, and closer still, so that by the time, they were halfway through the episode, she was practically at his shoulder.

This was not acceptable. Kitsune would have to make an advance soon to keep herself at the top of Keitaro's mind, or, if she wasn't careful, the less experienced, somewhat less attractive, but younger, smarter, and more innocent Narusegawa would steal him from right under her nose.

It was rare for Naru to work out. She kept slim by eating very little and walking a lot, though genetics undoubtedly played a role in keeping her at a healthy body weight. Apart from that, however, she wasn't exactly fit. She could run, sure, but only for a few hundred meters; and she could do pushups and jumping jacks, but only for a few reps apiece. And she could swim, sure, but only for a couple laps at a very moderate pace, or else she'd tire herself out and have to walk to the edge of the pool.

Naru wasn't at the swimming pool to swim, though. Sure, she got into the water and paddled around, but she wasn't there to swim or to work out in any other fashion.

She was there because Keitaro was there, and that was all.

Although Naru knew that Kitsune was attractive in her own right—well, actually, from an objective standpoint it might be fair to say that Kitsune was more attractive—the fact was that Naru was younger, slimmer, with long, feminine hair that rather contrasted with Kitsune's more practical cut.

True, Kitsune seemed to be slowly growing her hair out. But for the moment, Naru clearly had the advantage; her hair was mid-back length at least and naturally straight.

Kitsune did not appreciate this. She also didn't appreciate that when she and Naru were changing in the women's locker room, it became clear that Naru's baggy clothes hid her beauty all too well.

Naru was slim, true—but she was curvy.

Maybe dousing oneself with cold water really did increase one's bust size. After all, something had certainly increased Naru's.

Kitsune had elected to wear a rather modest swimsuit; in fact, it was one that was barely sold in Japan anymore. Hers was a dark-colored one-piece that covered her thighs and shoulders.

Naru's, on the other hand, was perhaps one of the most revealing bikinis Kitsune had ever seen.

It was white in color, and made of so little material that it didn't bother with a pattern. Apart from that, it seemed a size too small, because when Naru bent over to put her clothes into a locker, the top just barely seemed to stay in place. And when Naru made her way out of the locker room before Kitsune, it became clear that her swimsuit bottom was equally as revealing: it was little more than a G-string.

She was clearly going to try to shock and awe Keitaro, but Kitsune knew that she would only be half-successful in her plans.

She wouldn't awe Keitaro, not for very long, anyway, but she'd shock him for damn sure.

Kitsune could see it in his face when she and Naru went to say hello to him, before they all jumped into the pool. Keitaro's expression was neutral, then moderately happy as he saw the two girls, and then somewhat lustful as his eyes dipped below Naru's neckline, and then taken aback, and then rather embarrassed.

And then he rather pointedly looked away from Naru, even as she practically stood on her toes and wriggled herself in an attempt to get his attention.

They began to swim, then, and over the next hour or so that they were at the pool, Naru tried to talk to Keitaro numerous times. He was never short with her, exactly, but he didn't quite treat her with the courtesy that he tended to, either. And when Kitsune spoke to him, he was good-natured and friendly, just as he always had been to her, ever since she'd found out how to appeal to him.

Naru hadn't yet realized that the way to Keitaro's heart was not through his masculine desire. And now that she'd made the severe misstep of putting herself out before him in such a manner, she'd never get the chance to correct herself—no matter what she did, she'd always be a somewhat uncouth girl in Keitaro's eyes.

When they were finished swimming, Naru and Kitsune made their way back into the locker room. Kitsune spoke to Naru just a little, and in a way, she did feel bad for Naru. Keitaro was a good guy and he'd be tough to get over, particularly given that Naru would never get another chance with him.

Regardless, as she pulled her clothes back on and watched Naru do the same, Kitsune couldn't help but smirk to herself.

"Check, Naru," she thought to herself. "Soon, the King will be mine."

Several days passed uneventfully. Kitsune continued to hit the pool, and Keitaro continued to hit the trails. Naru continued to try to speak to him or get close to him, and although her advances were no longer as painfully blatant as they had been, he never seemed to have eyes or time for her. He even stopped studying with her, and soon, he encountered her so infrequently that he became a stranger to her.

Kitsune observed all of this, albeit from a safe distance. She couldn't let either of them on to the fact that she was well aware of Naru's advances and was doing nothing to stop her from making a fool (or worse) of herself. If Naru found out why Kitsune had started to dress better, stop drinking, and start working harder, and if she then realized that this was also why Kitsune hadn't stopped her from ruining any chance of a relationship with Keitaro, it would spoil their friendship. And if Keitaro found out that Kitsune had done nothing to stop her best friend from acting against her own best interests, well… he wouldn't hate her, certainly, but he'd find it a lot harder to trust her, and that was something Kitsune couldn't afford.

As the days passed, though, there was no doubt that Naru and Keitaro were getting further and further away, whereas Kitsune and Keitaro were getting closer and closer. At this point, she was pretty sure that they weren't "just friends". They weren't physical in any sense, of course, and they didn't exactly flirt with one another, but Keitaro wasted what little time he had to waste standing in Kitsune's doorway to chat and Kitsune often found herself cooking for him, or talking about biking, or just shooting the breeze about the future and the opportunities it might bring.

It was early one Saturday afternoon when Keitaro made his into Hinata Springs to wait for the bus that would take him to Yokohama. It was a good day—he'd gotten up early, done some studying, and biked hard for a few hours, and now, after eating a light lunch, he was heading out with his friends.

They'd booked a group deal at a paintballing arena online, and once they got there, all the gear, the guns, and the ammunition would be provided. Keitaro had never played paintball before, but Haitani and Shirai had, many times, so if he followed their lead, he'd probably be okay… well, maybe.

Regardless, it was going to be fun, Keitaro thought, grinning in anticipation. It was a lovely day outside—sunny, cool, with a pleasant cross-breeze that caused him to brush his hair out of his face with a hand. Sure, he'd get shot up a little bit and he'd probably be bruised and exhausted by the end of the day, but the rush and the challenge would be worth it. In fact, the rush and the challenge were why he enjoyed mountain-biking so much, despite the fact that it was rather dangerous and that he'd broken several bones through his career already. Fun just wasn't fun without some risk of injury.

Keitaro was so distracted by where he was going and why he was going there that he never heard or saw the motorbike coming. He didn't see the driver swerve, as if intentionally, off the road and onto the sidewalk where he waited, and when the biker's shoulder struck him in the side of the face, he didn't feel anything.

He just went down, knocked unconscious immediately.

The biker just drove on, glancing behind himself once, shocked by what he'd done—and then he just sped up and rounded a turn that would take him to a highway leading away from Hinata Springs and toward anonymity and safety on the highway.

Keitaro, though, was just left there on the sidewalk, all by himself.

All by himself…

(Sorry for the cliffhanger, and sorrier for the long wait between chapters. I have every hope of writing more in the future, now that I've settled into the routine of this semester, so look forward to the next chapter soon. Remember to leave me with your reaction and comments, to share this fic with those who may be interested in it, and as always—have nice day.)