DISCLAIMER: Love Hina belongs to Ken Akamatsu. Other characters belong to their respective owners. This story however, belongs to me. Feel free to repost it anywhere, as long as you give due credit.

Author's Notes
And another chapter done ! From the title, I think you can all guess that Kanako finally makes an appearance in the story. She doesn't exactly get to shine in this chapter (barring a small flashback scene), but that's how things flowed. I plan to flesh out her character a bit more over the next few chapters. Speaking of which, do my cast appear bland? One reviewer mentioned that in a PM and I want to know if anyone else feels that way as well. Also, there is a lot of action taking place in this chapter and I hope I got the mood right. Please tell me what you think in your reviews.

Some weeks back I wrote a one-shot story between Keitaro and Mutsumi (nothing to do with R&S). For all those who leave a signed review (even criticism !) to this story, I'll PM you a link to the draft of that one-shot. Frankly, I don't think it's worth publishing on it's own, but I don't like the feeling that only my beta-readers will see it. This is just my way of sharing it around. The offer will remain valid until I publish the next chapter of R&S.

Yeah, it's a cheesy way of asking for more reviews, but you can't blame a guy for trying now can you? ;P

And most importantly, I need to thank the following good people from TFF for beta-reading this chapter - rukia8492 & Without Remorse. It's thanks to them that a lot of errors got fixed. You have NO idea of how appreciative I am to them. THANKS guys !

Post-publishing, I would like to thank Genericrandom for helping me correct a phonetic mistake with one of the phone dialogs in this chapter and EagleCeres from TFF for pointing out a few other mistakes that got missed in the earlier edits.

-chronodekar
(24/September/2012)

Alternate Universe Story so far:
Keitaro Urashima (20 years old), a mage-in-training has agreed to 'try out' an engagement with Motoko Aoyama (19 years old) a master of the Shinmei-ryu style of kenjutsu. They will formally decided within the next 4 months if they should continue onto a marriage or not. In the meantime, Keitaro is pursuing a dual-degree program while Motoko is preparing for a second attempt at the Toudai entrance exam (she failed the first time).

In the last chapter, they found Shinobu Maehara (12 years old) crying in the park. When they realized that the young girl was sad because she was leaving the neighbourhood with her mother, they suggested that she could stay at the Inn with them instead. Her mother agreed with the condition that the two of them become her legal guardians. They spent a lot of time moving Shinobu's things to the Inn and Maehara-san (her mother) decided to stay over at the Inn for a night before leaving the city.

The chapter ended with all four of the witnessing the abduction of a small boy.


Ronin & Sophomore
(chapter - 08)

The Gothic Girl arrives


the number of 'missing children' has increased in the past week with 1 more reported yesterday. A family witnessed what might have been an abduction, but police are withholding details at this time …

No ransom demands have been made to any of the families involved and with an eye-witness account the police are beginning to suspect that human trafficking might be afoot …

no common link between all the victims (boys and girls ranging from 8 - 18 years old), the investigation appears be stalled. For pictures of the missing children please turn to page 7 …

-Excerpts from the morning paper


Living room, Hinata Inn

Keitaro frowned as he read the newspaper. They were not sure about it yesterday, but now he was certain that what they witnessed was just one incident in a series of events. As the newspaper reported, they did visit a nearby Police-station and submitted their concerns. The police on duty were worried, but without knowing either the license plate number of the vehicle they saw or even the name of the victim, there was little they could do but wait.

It was quiet for a while after that and Maehara-san decided to lighten the mood by taking everyone to an ice-cream parlor. Keitaro recalled Shinobu's smiling face. She really enjoyed ice-cream. Motoko as well. He wondered if it was some natural impulse for a girl to like ice cream. Something like his own impulse to randomly think of Motoko wearing different dresses, like a French maid outfit … He sighed and closed his eyes thinking of what his fiancée would look like wearing the black and white dress. He could imagine it in his head - she would look so cute! A small blush began to grow on his cheeks.

He suddenly blinked and shook his head. 'Damn … ! What the heck was I just thinking ?!' he asked himself. Taking a deep breath he continued his mental conversation, 'It's been too long since I've played around. I hope Kanako gets here soon. I might go crazy without my private hobby.'

He looked around the room and saw Motoko standing nearby looking at him with an unreadable expression.

"You looked like you were enjoying yourself. What were you thinking of?" she innocently asked.

Keitaro idly wondered if she could read his mind. He pressed his lips and turned to face her. He had a hard time looking at her eyes while he replied, "N-nothing! I was just daydreaming. Do you need me for anything?"

Motoko looked back at him with a bored expression. 'What's he so defensive about?' she asked herself. Out loud she answered, "Maehara-san is leaving now and it would be rude if you just sat there doing nothing. Now get up and let's see her off together with Shinobu-chan."

Keitaro nodded from his chair before getting up and following his fiancée to the front entrance of the Inn. There they found the two Maehara's embracing each other in a hug.

"I'll try contacting you as often as I can cupcake. You be a good girl and don't cause any trouble for you Sempais alright?" they heard the elder Maehara-san ask her daughter.

"Yes, Mama. I'll be good !" replied Shinobu.

Maehara-san smiled as she looked up and saw the engaged couple walking towards them. She turned towards their direction and said, "I've been meaning to ask - are you doll collectors by any chance?"

Keitaro blinked at the sudden question. "What makes you think that?" asked Motoko with a puzzled expression on her face.

Maehara-san turned towards Shinobu and smiled at her while she replied, "Well cupcake here doesn't like others mishandling her dolls and would complain about it otherwise. And you both handled her collection so carefully that it made me wonder if you had your own?"

Motoko smiled as she replied, "Well, it's part of my training actually. We needed to learn how to handle people gently and Aneue would make me train with paper figures. If I applied too much force the figure would get torn and I would be scolded."

Shinobu nodded as she replied, "That's true. You handled my dolls so carefully that it was obvious you were taking care not to damage them." She then turned towards Keitaro and pointed at him saying, "But you, sempai ! I was surprised to see how graceful you were with them. I'm sure that Sakura-chan was so happy with the way you seated her on the shelf !"

Keitaro blushed and brought up his left hand to scratch the back of his head, "In my case, it's because I'm a bit of a figurine-otaku myself."

Motoko blinked. That was news to her. Shinobu on the other hand just nodded expecting something of the such. Maehara-san just raised her left eyebrow and asked, "And where is your collection then? I didn't see anything of the such in this Inn."

"Kanako's bringing it with the rest of my things. I'm expecting her to arrive either today or tomorrow, actually." he replied.

Maehara-san then turned to face the outside. "Well, the sun seems to be past it's peak and I need to get going." she said, as she picked up a small shoulder bag. She turned back towards them and said, "But before I go …" she trailed off as she approached Keitaro.

She then leaned forward and kissed him on his left cheek. Motoko who was standing to his right grew a bit uncomfortable when she saw that. She found herself thinking, 'I haven't kissed him yet …' but before she could continue, Maehara-san was in-front of her and kissed her cheek as well. As she pulled back her eyes twinkled at Motoko, teasing her by silently asking "Have you kissed him yet?"

Maehara-san then walked out the entrance. The rest of them followed her down the steps of the Inn and waved her goodbye as she got on a taxi and went off.

The three of them stood there silently before Motoko let out a big yawn. She then asked, "So, what is everyone going to do now?"

Keitaro brought a hand up to adjust his glasses while he replied, "Well, I need to get back to the Inn to do some cleaning as well as a few other chores."

Motoko frowned at his reply. She waved a finger at his direction and admonished him saying, "Oh no! Not this again. I will not let you keep doing all the household chores by yourself. I'll do it instead!"

Her fiancé just shook his head and replied, "I think you have other things to be worrying about right now."

She quirked her left eyebrow up in puzzlement and asked, "What do you mean?"

He pointed towards Shinobu who was sniffing quietly. Tears were beginning to slowly come from her eyes. "You need to comfort our newest tenant. I think she could use a bit of female companionship right now." he suggested.

Motoko turned towards their youngest companion and saw that she was indeed feeling down. She nodded towards her fiancé and embraced Shinobu in a comforting hug. "There, there Shinobu" she said as she patted the little girls back. "Your mother will be back for you. So don't worry about her. Come on, let's go for a walk in the park. That should cheer you up, right?"

Shinobu looked up from the hug and saw Motoko's comforting face. She replied, "Sempai !" and hugged her again. She then let go and held Motoko's hand while she let the older girl lead her outside.

Keitaro just smiled at the two of them as he watched them walk toward the part. He then turned towards the Inn and started walking up the stairs.

'Might as well start getting a room ready for Kanako when she arrives!' he thought to himself.


Tokyo docks

A ship had finished docking and a young dark haired girl was slowing walking down the ramp to the harbor. She was dressed in a black skirt that went down to her knees. She had a long sleeve blouse that covered her hands - you could just see her fingers peeking out. Her hair fell down to her chest-level and if you were a boy, you might notice her bust. Though if you didn't, it would be understandable. The entire style screamed 'Gothic' and was not designed with the intention to show-off certain female assets. As she stepped onto the shore, she raised her hand and showed her ID card to the attendant there. The name on the ID read, 'Kanako Urashima', 17-years old.

Behind the girl was a black cat. The cat had cute long ears and there was a bell attached to it's tail. It made a small "ding!" sound as it walked.

Kanako covered her mouth with her right hand as she let out a big yawn. "I'm really tired Kuro." she said addressing the feline. The cat seemed to nod its head in response.

"Damn … all that last minute packing was such a bother too! I hope Onii-san won't mind keeping my eroge collection for me at the Inn. A real pity the dorm supervisor didn't permit me to keep it in my room." she continued talking to her cat. Kuro replied with a "Meow!"

"When I got on the ship, I thought it would be a nice relaxing sea voyage. But it was soo boring ! All I could do was just sit, eat or sleep. And occasionally read. But most of my books were packed and it would be too bothersome to get those out .." she trailed off as she let out another yawn.

"Who would think that sitting around doing nothing would be so tiring, eh?" commented Kanako. Kuro purred in reply meaning "Yeah...".

She stopped walking and looked around turning her head left and right. "Now where do I go to get our stuff transported to the Inn?" she asked out loud.

A nearby ship-worker heard her and said, "Go to the office down there miss!" as he pointed towards a building a little ways off.

Kanako gave him a small bow as she replied, "Thank you!" She then made her way over to the building indicated. Kuro followed behind her, the bell on her tail making cute noises as it walked by.


Taxi, moving towards Hinata Inn

There was a lot of luggage and Kanako had made arrangements with a moving company to have all the stuff delivered to the Inn. There wasn't anything left to do at the docks, so she decided to grab a taxi and head there herself.

Kuro was sitting on her lap, while Kanako sat in the car watching the scenery fly by. At first she planned to take the taxi directly in front of the Inn. Then she peeked into her purse and discovered to her disappointment that she didn't have enough money to pay for the fare. So, she told the driver to stop a few blocks away from the Inn. Sure she could borrow the money from her brother, but that would mean climbing down the stairs again and she was feeling too tired. This way, she should be able to rest a lot faster.

Kanako closed her eyes as she recalled the phone conversation she had with her brother when she was still in London,


Flashback to a phone conversation between Kanako and Keitaro

"Onii-san! (older brother) Glad you called. I was just packing up your clothes just now. What do you want me to do with your old jeans? The look too torn to me." asked Kanako while she was putting a few clothes into a box.

"You can throw them away, imouto (younger sister). I think I'll buy a new pair from here if I want to. Did you pack all my books?" responded her brother.

"Of course! … I think. How many of these do you have here anyway?"

"My friends told me that I had a mini-library over there. I guess about 400 or so? I never counted them."

"Sigh. This is soo bothersome ! Why can't I just sell them and you buy the latest editions from there?"

"Two reasons - for one it's expensive. And secondly, I've written notes in the margins of many of those books. It will be too time consuming to have them all replaced. Make sure you pack them with enough stuffing material. I don't want any of them damaged !" explained her brother.

"Yeah, yeah. You got it. What about your figurine collection? I don't see it anywhere …" asked Kanako in a teasing tone.

"I packed that myself. No way am I going to trust you with THAT. You break them too easily !" Keitaro replied.

"Hmph! And here I was hoping to play with them in a few S&M poses …" prodded the younger girl.

"KANAKO URASHIMA ! Don't you DARE open my packed figurine collection !" was her brother's reply in a threatening voice.

"Waaah ! Onii-san is scolding me ! ….. Fine, fine. I won't do anything to your precious collection. Say, how are things over there? Is the Inn in good shape?" queried the sister.

"The Inn is dusty. The rooms need renovation but overall, I think I can manage."

"What about the kitchen, Iron Chef?"

"Oh, knock it off ! And yes, the kitchen is great. It's bigger than the one we had in London and I think I'm going to enjoy it here."

"Did Granny tell you why she called you there so suddenly?" asked Kanako.

There was a pause before the reply came.

"Yes … she did." answered Keitaro in a slow tone.

"Well, don't keep me in suspense. Tell me !" prodded the sister.

"Now, listen Kanako. I … don't want you to get … excited or emotional over this." he replied in a hesitant manner.

"And now, I'm getting upset. Why are you beating around the bush so much Onii-san? It's not like we're in some manga where the boy suddenly gets called away and has to get married, now is it? Or does that happen to the girl? I'm confused …"

"Er … actually Kanako, that's exactly what happened. Granny wants me to get married." he admitted.

"WHAT?! As in immediately?" replied Kanako in a shocked voice. She dropped the box she was holding. It fell down with a light THUD sound.

"Unfortunately. She didn't really give me much choice in the matter at all."

"But WHY? And how could she do that to you? What about my feelings? Don't I get to choose who gets to be my sister-in-law?"

" … ", Keitaro didn't know how to answer that question.

"So what kind of girl are you going to get married to?"

"There is some good news. I don't actually have to get married immediately. I manage to convince Granny to let us try out being engaged for a few months first."

"That's reassuring. So if you two are incompatible the wedding will be dropped. Great ! So, after that you can marry me instead ! It's perfect !" suggested the sister.

"KaaNaaKoo! I love you dearly as my sister, but please stop suggesting such things. It makes me sick." was how Keitaro scolded his sister in reply.

"Well … technically you were the one who promised to take care of me all those years ago, Onii-san." teased the girl.

"I really wish you would stop twisting my words around. Besides, you know better." he lamented.

"Oh fine. You are no fun. So tell me - what kind of a girl is she? And what's her name?"

"Her name is Motoko Aoyama and she's a sword-master."

"How does she look? Is she pretty?"

"Well, she has nice long hair. She seems comfortable in her kendo training dress and yes I think she's pretty."

"How is she in bed?"

"WHAT?" said Keitaro in a shocked tone.

"Oh don't play games with me Onii-san ! We both know Grandma well enough. The only way she would have agreed to the whole engagement is if the two of you were living together. So tell me, what does she like? On top? Or below ? Is she into bondage?" Kanako was really curious to know what her potential sister-in-law would be like.

"KaaNaaKoo! Stop suggesting such things ! We aren't even married yet ! How can you even consider that option?" replied Keitaro in a mortified tone.

"Onii-san, sometimes I wonder if you realize that we are living in the twenty-first century or not. Your behavior is more fit for a girl from 200 years ago !"

"Sigh. It's at times like this I wonder if I made a mistake in raising you …"

"Silly Onii-san ! You didn't and you know it ! I'm among the most talented in the thaumaturgical arts among my peers. And most importantly, I'm part of the internet generation !"

"That actually makes me more worried …"

"Come on, admit it! You read from my hentai collection on occasion as well?"

"Lets talk about something else, shall we?"

"What a prude! Fine. How's Grandma doing then?"

"She's doing well. Actually, she just left yesterday on a worldwide tour of hot springs."

"Typical Grandma … Wait, so it's just you and your fiancée at the Inn?"

"No, her older sister's here with us as well."

"Ah ! THAT's why you are keeping your hands off her. Why didn't you say that earlier?"

"KaaNaaKoo! If you were here, I'd strangle you right now !" warned her brother.

"Biii!" Kanako just stuck her tongue out at the phone receiver and made a funny noise.

"Sigh. So when will you get here anyway?"

"I think it will take a few weeks. I'll give you a call when I arrive."

"OK. Bye for now !"

"Bye Onii-san !"


Kanako opened her eyes and found herself back in the taxi. She looked out and noted that the city had changed since she last came by. She let out a big yawn.

"I seem to be really tired Kuro-chan. Looks like the sea voyage took more out of me than I expected." she said while petting her cat on it's head. Kuro, for her part enjoyed the grooming.

She couldn't say over the phone, but Kanako was really worried about her brother's fiancée. All she knew was what he told her and that was just Motoko being a swordmaster. There was nothing wrong there, but Kanako wondered - why a swordmaster? Wouldn't someone from a more magically-oriented background be a more suitable candidate?

Still, Grandma had made her decision it seemed. Whether she liked it or not, unless something really drastic happened the marriage would take place. She knew how kind hearted her brother was and that it was only a matter of time before he would have his fiancée's heart. A real pity the fool didn't notice such things until it was obvious to everyone else.

She gave a long sigh.

Back in London, there was that American who attended the same college as her Onii-san. What was her name again? It was a Lina something. Forest? No that wasn't it. Her name reminded Kanako of tinned food for some reason. Ah, that was it ! Tina Foster ! The girl from the photography club !

Kanako didn't know the details, but it seemed that Foster was enamored by her brother for some reason. Actually, so were many of the girls in his class. But Foster was the only one who tried to be the most friendly with him. Most of the others just sat by the sidelines and watched. Or dreamed. Drawing wisdom from her vast hentai collection, Kanako could easily guess what they had been thinking when they went all starry-eyed the moment her brother would step into the area.

It was something of an open secret among his circle of friends that Foster was chasing after him. At first, it was just the girls. Then eventually it spread around to the boys too. Soon enough by the end of his first year, everyone in class knew it. Except Keitaro. He just thought that she was a bit odd.

Most of the shenanigans happened on campus, so Kanako couldn't get involved but when they went on group trips and invited her along, it was obvious to her as well. At one point, Keitaro even asked her if he was doing something wrong. It seemed that he knew Foster was an active student, but he noticed that she would get really meek when talking to him. Kanako didn't want to get involved with the whole thing (she found it an amusing soap opera) and just shrugged back at him in reply.

It was about 2 months into his second year that Keitaro began to suspect something about Foster. No, it wasn't that he grew interested in her, but rather he just wasn't interested. But he still wanted to keep her around as a friend. Kanako was stumped when he came to her for advice on how to dump a girl he wasn't going out with.

The soap opera just became a whole lot better after that. Eventually word got around and people were generally split into two camps. One group was supporting Foster and the other was supporting Keitaro. It was an unusual situation and no-one really knew how it would end. Foster was just too shy to outright confess to Keitaro, while he didn't want to sound like a fool by rejecting her before she told him.

It wasn't until Keitaro finally submitted his formal transfer request did Foster finally summon enough courage to confess. At least, that's what everyone believed. All they knew what that she invited him out to a private dinner in a fancy restaurant. Keitaro for his part, accepted the invitation and went. A few days later he invited her for lunch in a 5 star hotel.

After that, neither of them spoke with the other - unless it was absolutely necessary. It was not like they behaved like strangers, but they didn't seem like friends either. Kanako didn't know what to think of it.

Which brought her back to this 'Motoko'. What kind of a girl was she? It was doubtful that she would be some ordinary swordmaster - Grandma wasn't an idiot. But Kanako was worried nonetheless. She grew a frown on her face and grimaced. She would be most unhappy if this 'Motoko' ever made her Onii-san sad ! Kanako would make her pay !

Kanako let out another yawn. She was really tired.

She blinked her eyes and shook her head. 'No ! I should not make assumptions before I meet her. It's one of the things Grandma and Keitaro often scold me about. It's only fair to judge her after I talk with her. I am an Urashima after all !' she thought to herself.

She glanced back and noticed that a van had been following her taxi for the past few minutes.

'Is it the moving company?' she asked herself. 'I wonder if I can ask them for a ride.'

The taxi soon came to her stop. She got off and saw the van just zoomed past them. She put her hand into her purse and paid the driver the fare.

As she stood on the pavement she brought her hand up and yawned again. She was really exhausted. She blinked and looked around.

'That looks like the same van that just passed me. Did it circle around and come back?' she asked herself as she noticed the van turn the corner and approach her. 'Perhaps the moving people recognize me?'

The van came to a stop right in front of her. The side door slid open and a lot of white smoke came rushing out. Before Kanako knew what was happening, she felt a piece of cloth being pushed up her face.

She fell unconscious after that.


Nearby park

Shinobu was feeling a lot better. Motoko-sempai took her to the nearby park and they had ice-cream together. They talked a lot. Much of it was just idle chatter and Shinobu was beginning to feel a lot better. She was still a bit sad that Mama had to leave, but she felt comfortable around Motoko. Now they were walking back towards the Inn.

"So Shinobu-chan what kind of hobbies do you have?" asked the kendoist next to her as they walked.

"Well, I like baking a lot. Everyone at school seems to like the cakes I make." the little girl replied.

"Oh yes, I think I remember your mother saying something of the such." responded Motoko looking up in the sky in a thoughtful pose.

"Motoko-sempai? Can I try baking something in our kitchen?" asked the blue-haired girl.

"Hm? Why are you asking me? You should be asking Keitaro." replied the taller girl.

"Eh? But didn't you make breakfast today? I thought you were the one who did the cooking." answered the smaller one.

Motoko waved her hand in front of her face in a dismissive motion. With a smile she replied, "It took me quite a while before Keitaro permitted me to use the kitchen. Think what you will, but that's his domain."

"Perhaps I could surprise him with my cooking ?" suggested Shinobu

Motoko pulled back her hand and just shook her face, "No, that wouldn't work. You see, Keitaro actually put up some kind of ward in the kitchen. Unless you have his permission, I doubt you'll be able to do anything in here."

Shinobu looked at the ground in front of them as she walked. Her face turned sad and she replied, "Hmmm.. what can I do then? I really like cooking …." she trailed off.

Motoko then stopped and grabbed both of Shinobu's shoulders. She then spun the other girl around so that she was facing the swordmaster. Motoko smiled and ruffled Shinobu's head as she said, "Tell you what, I'll talk to Keitaro. I think I can convince him to let you try at least. But you'll need to make something nice and tasty, alright?"

Shinobu brought both her hands up in front of her and nodded her head in a determined manner saying "Hai ! I'll make a cake that everyone will enjoy !"

They had reached the stairs to the Inn and were turning to climb when Motoko said, "That's good to hear. Now lets get back …" she trailed off as she noticed a familiar van zoom past them and turned a corner.

'That van … it looked like the same one we saw last time. They couldn't be planning another abduction, now could they?' Motoko thought to herself as she stopped and looked around the street. All she saw was a girl with dark hair getting out of a taxi a block away.

Motoko got an uncomfortable feeling that something bad was about to happen.

"Motoko-sempai? What's wrong ..?" asked Shinobu in a hesitant manner. Motoko-sempai had suddenly gone rigid and she seemed to be getting into a battle stance.

"I hope I'm just imagining things, but can you head up to the Inn by yourself, Shinobu-chan? I want to stay here for a bit." replied the swordmaster.

"...ok" said the smaller girl hesitantly as she turned to climb the stairs.

Motoko stood on alert as she watched the taxi drive by. She turned and saw a black cat next to the girl in a gothic dress. 'Isn't she hot in that dress?' pondered Motoko.

Then she watched her fears come true as the van pulled around the corner. It seemed that it just went round the block. It came and stopped in front of the girl. She looked tired and was letting out a big yawn. Suddenly a lot of smoke came from under the van and the girl and vehicle were quickly obscured.

'They are too far away for me to stop them.' thought Motoko as she looked around the street. 'But it seems that this is the only way that van can travel. Looks like a good opportunity to find out what is going on here.'

The Shinmei-ryu master watched as the van screeched out of the smoke. The driver didn't seem to have noticed her. Motoko quickly started running on the pavement in the direction that the van was driving in. She was still ahead of it, but that wouldn't last for long. She noticed a light-pole hanging over the road. She smiled and jumped to grab onto it. 'Looks like my daily training is paying off.' she thought to herself as she caught the pole.

She swung round on the light pole once, then as the van passed under she dropped right on top of it. The Shinmei-ryu master was careful not to make much noise and with the hazardous manner the driver was going, it didn't seem that they would be able to tell that they acquired a new passenger.

Motoko smiled as she grabbed onto the top of the van. It looked like she would be able to discover what happened to all those missing children !


Inside the van

"Hey did we hit a bump or something?" asked Gosunkugi to Mook-A who was driving the vehicle.

"No Boss. Everything's A-OkAY !" replied Mook-A over the noise of the radio.

Gosunkugi then turned towards Mook-B sitting in the back seat with him, "The girl's still asleep, right?"

The big and fat fellow just looked back at his boss and relied in a dull voice, "Yep."

Something felt off and Gosunkugi didn't like it. He looked up at the roof of the van and narrowed his eyes. On a hunch he brought up his revolver and shot at it.

BANG!

The van skidded erratically as Mook-A lost his grip on the steering wheel. Everyone was tossed left and right for about a minute before he stabilized things. Mook-A turned back and shouted in an angry voice,

"We're lucky that there wasn't any traffic on the road. What the hell were you thinking boss?! Scaring me out like that !"

"Looks like a false alarm then. Keep driving. I got an uncomfortable feeling about today." responded Gosunkugi in a rough voice.

Above on the roof of the van, Motoko's heart was beating fast and her eyes were open wide in fear. 'That was close !' she thought to herself. She was spread out over the roof with her arms and legs stretching out in an X fashion. The shot went right through the space between her thighs. She was glad she was wearing her white blouse and blue pants today. As it was, the shot missed her clothing by an inch. It would have been really embarrassing to have a hole there on her hakama.

It seemed that there would be no more random shooting. She narrowed her eyes she felt the van slow down. It wouldn't do for her to just jump off the roof of the van as soon as it stopped. She then spotted a tree coming closer. And the van was obviously trying to park somewhere nearby.

Motoko quickly jumped off the van and grabbed onto a tree branch. She climbed into the branches to hide herself and watched as the van park on the roadside. She looked around. It seemed like they were in a deserted part of the city. She couldn't see any anybody else and the buildings looked really worn down.

She spied the goons dragging the Goth girl out of the van and into an alley nearby. As soon as they all disappeared into it, she jumped out of the tree and crept up to the wall, approaching them while staying out of sight. It wouldn't do her any good to alarm them right now.


Inside the alley

Gosunkugi watched as Mook-B shoved the unconscious girl into the dumpster. Mook-A was waiting near the cardboard box for the payment to appear. As soon as the girl was in, Mook-B closed the lid on the dumpster. They waited for a bit and then heard a "thud" sound come from the cardboard box nearby.

Mook-A opened the box and exclaimed, "Wow ! This is some haul, eh boss? Looks like we're well out of debt with the third payment and it's just blind profit for us now !" He reached his hand into the cardboard box and pulled out a bag of money.

Mook-B just turned to Gosunkugi and asked, "Hey, what's got you all so uptight suddenly?"

Gosunkugi was frowning and looking at the parchment he had in his left hand. It showed that a suitable candidate was nearby. If he had to guess, the person was just outside the alley. But how was that possible? The place was empty when they came in a few minutes ago. Unless …

Gosunkugi brought out a cigarette-lighter with his right hand from his pocket. He flicked it a few times and got it burning. Then he brought the parchment near it and watched it burn.

As the ashes fell to the ground Mook-A suddenly looked up from picking up the money and shouted, "Hey ! Why did you do that? There's still more money to be made with this gig !"

Gosunkugi just walked up to him and karate chopped him on the forehead. It resulted in him dropping whatever cash he picked up back into the cardboard box. As Mook-A rubbed his forehead, Gosunkugi brought out a smoke bomb from his jacket.

"This operation has been compromised. Your debts have been paid and there is no need for us to maintain our current relationship. As soon as this goes off, our partnership is dissolved !" he said as he threw the smoke bomb to the ground. It burst covering the area with smoke.


Outside the alley

Motoko was feeling uneasy. One minute she sensed the presence of 4 people inside but now it was down to 3. What happened in there? Then it sounded like the thugs were arguing. She was about to make her presence known to them when she heard a hissing sound and saw a lot of smoke come out from the alley. It was thick and she couldn't see past it.

She was worried for the girl that was kidnapped, but it wouldn't do any good for her to get herself caught at this point. Still, she couldn't wait for the smoke to clear up on its own. She stood in front of the alley and brought out the handle of the bokken from the pocket she carried it in. She raised it in her right hand and brought it down in a quick fluid motion. Like a magician's wand (or a car antenna), it expanded to a little more than the length of her arm.

Motoko then brought the bokken in front of her chest and started spinning it with both her hands. At first, it looked like a slow moving clock, but as the torque on the bokken increased it became a blur in front of Motoko. Soon enough she had miniature fan in front of her and it blew away the smoke.

Motoko narrowed her eyes at the empty alley. Judging from the position of the boxes on the opposite end, it looked like the goons had climbed over the wall and scattered in the opposite direction. She closed her eyes and tried extending her senses forward. From what she could tell, it was just the 3 goons who escaped. Then what about the kidnapped girl? She couldn't have just vanished, now could she?

Motoko blinked her eyes and surveyed the empty alley. There was a large dumpster to her right side. She walked up to it and opened the lid. It was empty. Opposite to it was a sturdy cardboard box. It seemed too small to fit the body of a girl … unless they stuffed her in. Feeling very uncomfortable she slowly approached the container and opened it.

She was surprised to find bags of money inside. She reached into the box and tried shifting the bags around. There didn't seem to be much of anything else inside. Motoko stepped back and frowned. She was certain that the girl was brought to this alley, but what became of her after that?

She looked towards the end of the alley. There were some old tires and oil barrels there. A quick search revealed nothing. The barrels looked as if they could fit a person, but considering the rust on them, they would more likely break if such an attempt was made. Feeling bad about her failure to even help one little girl Motoko walked back to the entrance of the alley.

She decided to take a few deep breaths. The best course of option now would be to contact the Police, but without any evidence it would end up becoming another worthless report. Motoko looked back at the alley. She blinked once. Then she approached the cardboard box.

There on it's side was some kind of marking. It looked like someone had drawn a crude circle there with a few other symbols next to it. Could it be magical? She brought her hand near it and tried sensing it. Yes, it was!

Motoko then grimaced. If magic was at work here, then calling the police would not be a good idea - yet. They might do the preliminary investigations, but afterwards would call on someone like the Aoyama clan to deal with things of supernatural nature. However, this wasn't anywhere near their home and Motoko was not skilled at analyzing runes. What to do …?

She suddenly blinked twice. Then a small smile grew on her face as she realized the obvious. Motoko brought up her mobile phone and made a call.


Kitchen, Hinata Inn

Keitaro had just put the ice tray back into the freezer and closed it. He walked up to the kitchen table and resumed stirring his instant orange juice. He idly wondered what his fiancée was up to. Shinobu had come back about an hour ago. She was currently studying in her room. She told him that Motoko had decided to investigate something suspicious in front of the Inn entrance.

As he took the second sip from his glass, he heard his mobile phone ring. He put the glass back down on the table and took out his mobile phone. From the screen, it looked like Motoko was calling him. 'Well, speak of the devil !' he mused to himself.

"Motoko ! What are you doing? It's been nearly an hour since you left Shinobu-chan !" complained Keitaro as he answered the call.

"Sorry Keitaro, but do you remember the van we saw kidnapping that boy earlier? Well, those guys just kidnapped a girl right in front of the Hinata Inn and I've been following them ever since!" Motoko replied.

Keitaro sat up straight in his chair and answered in shock, "WHAT ?! Where are you now? What's going on over there?"

"Hmmm... give me a moment." replied his fiancée. Keitaro heard her footsteps over the phone. She soon answered him, "I'm at the west end of town. On the edge of street 24. There is an alleyway to it's right side."

"If that's where they kidnappers have the missing children, then we'd better contact the police at this point. I know a few officers thanks to Grandma's contacts and ..." was how far he got before she interrupted him.

"No, I don't see any of the children here. In fact, that's why I called you. I followed the kidnappers to this alley and they definitely brought the girl here. But after that, they left. I've searched for the girl but she's nowhere to be found."

"That doesn't make any sense. Are you sure you aren't mistaken?" queried Keitaro.

"I'm positive. What's more, I think there are runes etched on some of the containers here. I suspect some thaumaturgical force is at work here." she replied.

"That doesn't sound good. Do you want me to come over and investigate it?" he asked.

"No, I think it would take you too long to get here, especially considering the evening traffic right now. I was hoping you could give me an idea what these runes do if I described them to you." she suggested.

"Hmmm... sure, I can do that. Wait ! Your phone is a model-XYZ, right?" he suddenly asked.

"Yes, but what does that have to do with anything? Did you do something to my phone without my permission?" she asked him in a suspicious tone.

"Oh come on! Have a bit more faith in your own fiancé, please! Listen - just follow my instructions and you can activate the video transmission feature of the phone …" he instructed her.

It took about 10 minutes, but by the end, Motoko had sent him a live video stream of what she was seeing in the area.

"That setup reminds me of an old barter system we used to use back in my old hostel, when I studied magic. Basically you put something in the larger container and if it satisfies the required parameters, the goods would get transported to a remote location. Payment would appear in a smaller container nearby." Keitaro summarized.

"So in other words, you think the girl was pushed into the dumpster and that the money in the cardboard box is payment?" Motoko asked.

"Yes, that's what it looks like. The fact that you can still detect magic in the area means that the system is still working." he replied.

"So … if I were to jump into the dumpster, I could get transported to where the kidnapped children are being kept?" Motoko suggested.

"Well, … if you satisfy the conditions for exchange then yes, that should work. But I can't promise what will happen after you get transported. For all we know, there could be a human meat-grinder at the other end." replied her fiancé in a worried tone.

"I think I'll have to take that risk. Besides, I deliberately let them kidnap the girl so that I could follow them. It wouldn't matter if I were to leave now." responded Motoko.

She heard Keitaro take a deep breath. "Motoko, please be careful? And contact me if you get in trouble?" he asked with worry evident in his voice. For some reason, it warmed her heart to know that he was concerned for her.

"Don't worry. And I will." she replied before closing the call. Decision made, she got into the dumpster and closed the lid as she settled down inside it. At least it didn't smell like most other dumpsters.


Unknown location

Motoko didn't really understand how it happened, but as soon as she closed the lid on the dumpster something changed. How she knew was a mystery, but she was sure that her surroundings had changed. Could she have been transported already? It was pitch black inside the dumpster, but she didn't feel anything change inside the dumpster. It was as if the outside had changed instead.

Very quietly, she opened the lid of the dumpster and peeked out. She was no longer in the alley! Opening the dumpster fully, she slipped out and surveyed her surroundings. It looked like she was underground. The room she was in looked like some storage facility. There were boxes haphazardly thrown around. Some nuts and bolts were on the floor. There was a broken jeep to the side.

Looked like the kind of room you threw old broken stuff in she thought to herself. There was an open door to the side and Motoko heard footsteps approaching. She quickly moved into one of the boxes to the side to stay out of side. She found a few stacked in a corner that was under a dark shadow. Good. This way she could see what was happening and stay hidden at the same time.

Two people walked into the room. It looked like one of them was a construction worker wearing a hard hat. The other looked like a school teacher. She was wearing glasses, had her red hair tied back in a bun and was wearing a school tracksuit. From her position Motoko was unable to read the name of the school printed on the tracksuit.

"So, we just need to break this?" asked the construction worker while stroking his beard and looking at the dumpster.

"Yes, the contract has been closed and it will not do to have loose ends about." replied the teacher while lifting a parchment that appeared to be partially burned.

The construction worker brought his left hand back and pulled out a wrench he kept to his side. He then spun it around and threw it at the dumpster shouting, "Just leave the booming to old Hitoshi !"

When the wrench hit the dumpster, it exploded in a fire. The teacher brought her hands up to cover her face while Hitoshi just looked on with glee. He then raised his right hand and caught the wrench as it flew back like a boomerang. He reattached the tool to his utility belt. Turning to face the lady he asked, "So that's done, right?"

She nodded and led him out of the room.

Motoko watched the scene with a frown on her face. If they destroyed the dumpster, then it was very unlikely that Keitaro would be able to find her, even if he was able to reach the dumpster in the other location. Or did that blow up too? She had no way of knowing. Best to contact and inform him of the current situation. Motoko brought out her cellphone and nearly cursed out loud. She was out of range !

She frowned and snuck her way out the door they just exited. 'May as well explore the rest of the place.' she thought to herself.


Unknown location

Kanako opened her eyes in a very groggy state. She blinked them once, then twice. It was dark at first, but she shook her head to clear her thoughts. There was light coming from the roof. It looked like a few overhanging bulbs were all over the place. She appeared to be in a large hall of some sorts. She tried to get up.

And then realized that she was tied down on a wooden table. Both her wrists were bound in a leather strap and tied to the upper corners of the table. Similar situation with her legs.

'I do not remember agreeing to participate in a kinky …' she thought to herself. Then realization hit her ! She was just outside the Inn and had noticed a van come up next to her. A lot of smoke came from the van and it was blank after that. She deduced that she must have been knocked out at that point and brought here.

'But where is here?' she asked herself as she tried to look around. Her bindings didn't offer her much freedom, but she could move her head around a bit. As she noticed earlier, she was in a large room. Some bottles were placed on a shelf to the side. She saw a few runes etched to the walls nearby. Kanako blinked and looked at them. If she stared at them long enough, she could make out the intricate pattern they were arranged in.

About 5 minutes later she realized what the room was for. She was tied to the center of a table and the instruments nearby along with the runes would extract some of her magical essence from her. It didn't look like it would be fatal. From the setup, it appeared that whoever created the 'mana-extractor' (as she dubbed it) was only interested in taking as much as he/she could before the subject would be fatally drained. Chances were, they would repeat the process again when the subject had regained their magical reserves.

Unwillingly Kanako let out a yawn. It wasn't that she found the entire situation boring, but she was just too tired. Perhaps that was why they hadn't started extracting her reserves? It could well be. Still, this wasn't the time to be resting. She had to get out of there quickly.

Kanako tried moving her arms. No good she was bound too tightly. However, it seemed that her hand itself was free. She found that she could wiggle her fingers. A slow grin grew on her face. While she had magical talents, she was most skilled with Alchemy. Specifically, the sub-category that dealt with flames.

The kind of thaumatology her brother dealt with revolved around using the mana in the environment and moulding it into different forms. As an Urashima, she was familiar with it but she found that it was a lot easier for her to use the mana to change air currents. She was so skilled at it that she could separate out the different elements in the air - Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Water … etc. It was a simple matter to get them arranged such that she could create a miniature flame.

She snapped her fingers and felt flames blow out of her finger tips. Some mental wind manipulation and she was able to divert the flames to the bindings on her limbs. In a few minutes, she was free. As Kanako got off the table, she idly noted that her captor had not undressed her. She was thankful that she was still wearing her black gothic dress. Even her shoes had been left on her legs!

'Now to find the insects who did this to me, and MAKE THEM PAY !' Kanako screamed mentally while she opened the nearest door and marched out in righteous anger.


Which turned out to be a very stupid decision as she collided with what looked like a construction worker wearing a yellow hard hat. He had a very noticeable wrench attached to his utility belt.

"Ow !" said the construction worker. "Hey kid you need to watch where you're going." as he rubbed the spot where she hit him.

"Ouch!" replied Kanako as she rubbed her head. "Watch yourself commoner ! I demand you apologize for ramming into your betters!" She sent an angry scowl in his direction.

"Sheesh ! I'm really sorry princess. But I'm not used to having royalty visiting me." he said in a sarcastic manner while he turned and took a step opposite to her. He suddenly stopped and turned his head slowly saying, "Hey, wait a minute. How did you get out in the first place?"

Kanako had taken a step away from him when she heard the question. 'Oops ?!' she thought to herself. Not having any better options, she quickly turned around and stretched out her hand towards the guy with the yellow hard hat. She snapped her fingers and watched with satisfaction as flames sprouted out.

Unfortunately, she was more drained than she realized. All she could manipulate was a moderate flame that looked pretty. And even worse, it seemed that the commoner in front of her was wearing flame-resistant clothing ! Thinking fast, she adjusted the air currents so as to generate a lot of smoke instead. With visibility reduced for her opponent, she quickly ran away from him.

Kanako didn't know where the passageway she was following led, but anywhere was better than the commoner who was chasing her! She saw a few boxes to the side and a fire extinguisher on the opposite side. She knocked over the boxes to the floor. Hopefully they would delay her captor. As she ran past the fire extinguisher she placed her palm over it and etched a small rune into it.

She was about 5 meters ahead when she heard a small explosion behind her. It looked like the boxes didn't serve as a good delay tactic, but the proximity-rune she etched on the fire extinguisher had burned and caused the container to explode when someone came close by. She looked back and saw her pursuer lying on flat on the ground. He didn't look like he was in good shape. His legs appeared to be bleeding. He wasn't knocked out and was slowly getting up. Hopefully, he would at least be slower now !

She turned back and continued running away. Kanako soon found herself in a room full of cages. There were a lot of children being held in confinement here ! A horrified expression grew on her face as she noticed the exhausted state the poor kids were in. There was food in their cells, but they were so worn out that they didn't seem capable of eating.

Kanako thought back to the room she first awakened in. Was this what her captors were planning to do with her? She felt a shudder crawl across her back and hugged herself. Good thing she was able to get away from the room ! But it would all be wasted effort if she didn't escape soon. Hopefully, there were still in the same city. It would be too much trouble if they shipped her out to a different country !

She quickly looked left and right and noticed a door at the end of the hallway. She ran towards it. Just as she reached it she felt something behind her. Kanako quickly dodged by falling on the floor towards her left side. She looked back and saw the construction working holding a modified nail gun.

"Damn brat ! Stand still !" he shouted at her. Not inclined to obey nasty commoners who shouted while threatening her life, Kanako picked up a waste-basket that was nearby and threw it at him.

He just punched it with his left hand and blew it into multiple pieces. Kanako, not wasting time quickly got up and ran towards the door. She grabbed the handle and turned.

It was locked.

She turned around and looked fearfully at her captor. He fired from his nail gun and it hit her on her left shoulder. She screamed out loud as pain shot out through her entire body. Kanako felt tears forming in her eyes. She blinked trying to recover from the pain that was drowning out her senses.

The construction worker grinned evilly as he listened to the screaming of his victim. Looked like he finally got her. He wasn't firing ordinary nails from his nail gun. What he had was a specially modified weapon for situations when he needed to subdue a wild animal. The nails themselves were about a foot in length and would easily pin down a wild bear, at least until he could ready the next shot. Speaking of which, it would be better to fire another shot at the girl. For what she did, he felt like making her suffer every inch of the way.

Kanako looked up just in time to see him fire the next shot. This time he got her right shoulder. It was a miracle that he missed her bones, but both shots pierced through her skin. Blood was leaking out and considering how tired she was, it looked like she would lose out to exhaustion before anything else.

She blinked her eyes and tried taking deep breaths. It was difficult, but she knew she had to try and stay conscious. She frowned as her assailant came closer. She watched as he brought up a wrench in his right hand.

"Damn you brat ! You have any idea how much you hurt Hitoshi ?! DO YOU ?!" he bellowed angrily.

He spun the wrench in his hand grinning evilly at her. "Normally, we are supposed to keep you specimens alive, but considering how troublesome you are I think I'll just kill you right here instead."

Kanako closed her eyes in panic. 'Onii-san, please save me !' she silently prayed in her mind.

The construction worker stopped spinning the wrench and raised it above his head. The wrench started to glow in an unnatural red glow. Just before he brought the wrench down on the girl they both heard a shout come up from behind him.

"Zankūshō (Air-Cutting Palm) !"

Kanako looked up in surprise as the commoner's eyes suddenly grew wide and the wrench he was holding lost power. He fell down in front of her unconscious. She looked behind him and saw a girl with a bokken at her side holding her right hand out-right with her plan facing her. It looked like she had fired a ki-powered shot at his back.

The girl walked up to Kanako and asked, "Are you alright?"

Kanako shook her head to clear her thoughts and took another breath to relax herself. It seemed that some help had arrived after all ! She replied, "I'm tired and wounded, but nothing serious. I'll make it."

Bokken girl then nodded her head and brought her hand to hold the nail that was stuck on Kanako's left shoulder. "This might hurt a bit. Hold still" she said as she pulled the metallic object out.

"OOOWWW!" said Kanako scrunching her face in pain.

Bokken girl then brought her palm to the wound on her shoulder and closed her eyes in concentration. Kanako felt some ki manipulation at work. The older girl then opened her eyes and said, "I'm not good with healing and all that will do is stop the bleeding. Be VERY careful until you can visit a real doctor, alright? Now for the other one."

5 minutes later Kanako had both her arms free and was able to stand on her own. She blinked her eyes and looked at her savior groggily. "Thank yo-" was all she said before she was suddenly pushed to the ground by the elder girl.

As she fell to the floor, Kanako heard a few gunshots fired in the room. From her position on the floor she looked up and saw bullet holes in the wall just where she was standing a few moments ago. Her eyes widened in fear. If bokken girl hadn't pushed her down she would have been dead.

"Lie here and pretend to be dead." bokken girl told her while she got off her and moved to the side behind some random furniture in the room.


Motoko looked up from her hiding spot to see who had come in through the door. It appeared to the be the teacher she saw earlier and she was holding a pistol. Motoko knew a bit about guns and from what she could see, she guessed that it was an automatic model. She looked back at the Goth girl and frowned. It looked like she was unconscious. 'The situation just became a lot more complicated. … or does this simplify matters ?' Motoko thought to herself.

Just then alarms rang throughout the area. A female voice came out through the intercom system,

"Warning ! Warning ! Area has been breached. All personnel evacuate immediately !"

Oddly enough, the alarms stopped and the area went silent again. Motoko watched from her hiding spot as the teacher scowled and left the room. She stood up and grew tense again as she felt the presence of multiple people coming near.

She was relieved when she saw uniformed police officers enter the room. They pointed their guns at her and shouted, "Hands up !"

Motoko blinked. Well, as odd as her situation was she could explain it in due time. She raised her hand in the air as a gesture of good faith and replied back to them, "There is a girl on the floor to my left. She needs medical attention immediately !"

The officers looked at each other and nodded. One of them approached the area that she indicated and confirmed to his college the situation. It didn't seem to them that Motoko was their opponent and he lowered his weapon.

"Ding !"

Motoko turned her head to the door and saw a black cat with long ears enter the room cautiously. The animal seemed familiar to her for some reason. To her pleasant surprise her fiancé followed in after it.

"Keitaro?" she said trying to get his attention. He looked back at her surprised.

"Motoko..?" he slowly answered. Smiling he slowly started walking towards her. Then he blinked and asked slowly, "So this is where they were holding all those abducted children ?"

"Yes" she replied, "Wait, if you didn't figure that out, what are you doing here?" she asked in puzzlement.

"Have you seen a girl wearing a black gothic dress ?" he asked instead with worry in his voice.

Motoko nodded her head but before she could reply they both heard another sound coming from the floor nearby.

"Meow !" came the purr of a cat. Keitaro looked towards the animal and saw the state of the girl the feline was cuddling next to. He shouted, "Kanako !" and ran up to unconscious girl on the floor.


Hinata Inn, some hours later

Dinner had concluded some time ago and Shinobu was asleep in her room. It was a quiet meal that night. Keitaro had moved Kanako to the spare bedroom he had prepared earlier and she was recuperating. The girl hadn't woken up since she fell unconscious. Keitaro had dressed her wounds and applied a few healing spells on her. He seemed satisfied with his work and announced that she would be resting until noon the next day. Motoko was relieved to hear that she would be alright.

At the moment both she and Keitaro were sitting in the living room with the television switched off. Motoko looked out the window and saw a half-moon between the clouds. She turned back to her fiancé and asked something that had been on her mind,

"So how did you end up there?"

Keitaro shrugged in his seat and began to pet the black cat with cute long ears who was sitting on his lap. He replied, "Well, some time after you contacted me, I found Kuro-chan here," he indicated to the cat and resumed, "in a state of panic. The poor dear was exhausted and quite literally passed out in front of the Inn. She is Kanako's familiar and is closely tied to my sister."

He paused while Kuro-chan rolled on his lap. He started tickling her exposed belly before continuing, "After I revived her, I tried asking it where Kanako was. All I could figure out what that she was exhausted and captured somewhere."

Motoko interrupted, "Wait, the cat can talk?" she asked in a surprised manner raising one of her eye-brows.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure on that. I know Kanako's been trying that for some years now and is close to success, but that is not the case for today's events. Simply put, being her familiar gives this feline a close connection to her master. Being a magus and her master's sister, I tried to trace back the connection." he replied.

Motoko nodded back in a thoughtful manner. She then asked, "I've heard of such connections between humans and animals. In fact, Onee-chan has been planning to adopt a familiar herself. However, isn't doing that dangerous? I was under the impression that a familiar would protect her master regardless of its own health."

Keitaro nodded. "Yes, that's true. But I've know Kuro-chan for a few years now and she knows that she can trust me as far as Kanako goes. If it weren't for that, I don't think it would have been easy to find that location as quick as I did."

"So what happened after that?" prodded Motoko.

"Well, as I've mentioned before Grandma is friends with some of the Police here. Considering that I knew Kanako was tied up, I assumed that she was kidnapped. Frankly I had a small suspicion that she was the girl you were following, but wasn't sure. Either way, I felt it best to get the cops involved and convinced them to stage a raid." he replied.

"That's quite some leeway you have with the local police there, you know?" Motoko asked with a small smirk.

Keitaro shrugged his shoulders and answered, "We owe each other favors. Besides, doesn't the Aoyama clan have similar connections? I would be surprised if you didn't."

Motoko smiled back and replied, "Yes, we do."

Kuro decided she had enough petting and jumped off Keitaro's lap. She snuggled up once against Motoko's legs and left in the direction of Kanako's room. On seeing the interaction Keitaro commented, "I think she likes you." Motoko just rolled her eyes.

Keitaro then raised both his hands and opened his mouth in a big yawn. It was infectious and Motoko found herself yawning as well. She blinked and pointed behind Keitaro to ask, "So what's all that?"

There were quite a few boxes kept to the side and they had travelling stamps and similar labels stuck over them. He replied, "My stuff from London. It arrived this evening. I think I'll unpack it later during the week. For now, I'm just too tired."

Motoko nodded and replied, "Yes, it's been one heck of a weekend."

She got up and began to walk towards her room. Just as she was about to open her door she felt her fiancé grab her shoulders and spun her around so that she was facing him again. She was about to ask what he wanted when he suddenly enveloped her in a hug. She felt his chin on her neck and hugged him back. For some reason the hug seemed warmer and more comfortable than the last time.

"Thank you for saving my sister." he whispered softly before disengaging the hug. He then held her out in front of himself and looked into her eyes. Motoko felt her heartbeat hasten. She looked back at him. He seemed to be debating with himself. Suddenly he brought his face closer to hers. Motoko found herself blushing and instinctively closed her eyes.

She felt him give a small kiss on her right cheek.

It passed quickly and when she opened her eyes she caught a glimpse of his bedroom door closing. Looked like he retreated to his bedroom. She brought her hand up and felt her right cheek. Her chest was still beating faster than usual but it was slowing down. She looked back but all she saw was an empty hallway. Not inclined to stand there for the rest of the night, she turned and went into her bedroom.

As she snuggled under her blanket she blushed and replied in a quiet voice to no-one, "You're welcome." It felt like she was growing more closer to her fiancé. She drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.


Coming Up Next "Beginning Classes for the Ronin"

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