Foxheart

By

Skyrocket

Life is full of infinite possibilities. Nothing is truly impossible. Every choice we make is like a pebble cast into a stream. Each pebble slightly alters the flow of the stream in ways human eyes rarely ever see.

This idea is certainly true when it comes to affairs of the heart. A stolen glance, a harsh word, a smile, an impure though or a small act of kindness; any of these things, if they should occur at a crucial moment, can make or break the love between two people. Such a fragile thing is love.

For an example of this let us turn our eyes to Keitaro Urashima. This somewhat unremarkable young man has found himself as the manager of the Hinata House, an all-girls dormitory. If one were to think that placing a clumsy and naïve, albeit goodhearted, fellow in a place where he could live with five very attractive young women that romantic hijinks would ensue, then you'd be right. The majority of said hijinks involving a girl by the name of Naru Narusegawa.

It is a strange bond indeed that unites Keitaro and Naru. Promises made to beloved ones in their youth and the dream of attending the prestigious Tokyo University drive both of them. Though the relationship between them is a tumultuous one, there is also an undercurrent of attraction. A feeling Keitaro is more willing to admit to than Naru.

Now let us drop a pebble into this stream. A pebble by the name of Mitsune "Kitsune" Konno, also a Hinata resident and Naru's best friend since her high school days. Free-spirited, fun loving, uninhibited and a natural-born instigator with a penchant for sake, Kitsune is about as fine an example of a pebble as one could ever hope for.

Now that the pebble has been cast let us see where destiny flows.

~*~

January 1, New Year's Day

Hinata City, Japan

In Japan it is the tradition on New Year's Day to visit a local temple to pray for good fortune in the new year. Considering that if he didn't get into Tokyo U this year it would mean facing a third year as a ronin, Keitaro Urashima figured a little divine assistance couldn't hurt. As he stood before the front of the shrine he prayed to any deity that would listen for their aid.

"Please, help a poor ronin out!" prayed Keitaro. "If I don't get into Tokyo U I'll never be able to reunite with the girl from my promise. Plus, the girls from the house, especially Shinobu, will be disappointed in me!"

After he felt he'd sufficiently petitioned the gods for their help, Keitaro turned back to his other main reason for coming to the temple. Nearby at one of the temple's other buildings were the girls of the Hinata House.

Keitaro had originally planned to spend this day, as he did most days, studying to get into Tokyo U. But a little prodding from Kitsune and the promise of seeing the girls in traditional New Year's kimonos had convinced him that taking a break from studying might not be so bad. Motoko had already left for the temple by that time but the sight of Kitsune, Su and Shinobu wearing kimonos had pretty much made up for that.

As lovely as those three had looked it was the possibility of seeing Naru in traditional dress that made Keitaro's heart skip a beat. Sadly, just as Keitaro was daydreaming about that image Naru had shown up wearing a normal skirt, a worn orange sweatshirt she was particularly fond of, and the very thick glasses she sometimes wore while studying. Keitaro had been unable to hide his disappointment.

Naru had then proceeded to remind him on how important it was that they study and that they couldn't waste all day at the festival. She intended to only go to the celebration for a short time and then return home for some studying.

Pushing his disappointment aside Keitaro headed down the temple steps to meet up with the girls.

Motoko had volunteered to work at the shrine selling fortunes to visitors and now the other girls had gone over to where she stood get their fortunes. As he headed down the stairs Keitaro glanced at each of the girls.

He was slightly surprised to see that Matoko was giving small but genuine smiles to her customers. She'd also swapped the kendo training uniform she usually wore for a shrine maiden's outfit. Motoko is certainly something of a traditional girl, thought Keitaro. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that she'd enjoy something like this. It's shame she doesn't smile more often.

Not far from Motoko, Su, Naru, Kitsune and Shinobu were examining the fortunes they'd just bought.

"Wow, mine say I'm going to have the best luck!" cheered Su.

"I got medium luck," said Naru, sounding fairly satisfied. When one was aiming for Tokyo U a little luck was always welcome.

"I got best luck too!" grinned Kitsune. "Now that's the way to start off the new year."

"I only got a little luck," reported Shinobu, who felt a bit let down.

"I wonder if this means lucky in cards or lucky in love," mused Su.

"Hope that it's lucky in cards," advised Kitsune. "You've got a better chance of winning at cards than you do at love. Trust me, I know."

Shinobu was about to reply to the older girl's comment when she caught site of Keitaro approaching. Shinobu, having just turned thirteen, was experiencing her first crush with Keitaro as the unknowing recipient of her feelings. Though terribly nervous when dealing with these feelings, Shinobu was doing the best she could. The idea of getting to enjoy herself with him at the New Year's festival was part of the reason she'd come today. Since everyone seemed to enjoy getting their fortunes told the young girl plucked up her courage and called out to Keitaro.

"Sempai! Why don't you come and get your fortune too?"

"I was just coming to do that," replied Keitaro. "Thanks though, Shinobu."

Outwardly Shinobu blushed a bit and just nodded. Inwardly she beamed.

As Keitaro approached where she was selling fortunes Motoko frowned. Keitaro completely failed to notice this as he dug some money out from his pocket. "All right, Motoko, I hope you've got a lucky one left for me."

"Urashima, I feel it only fair to warn that the fortunes from this shrine have long had a reputation for coming true," said Motoko. "If you were to draw ill luck it would be most unfortunate for you."

"Oh, come on, Motoko," dismissed Keitaro with a wave of his hand. "I don't really believe in that superstitious stuff. Drawing fortunes like this is just meant for fun."

"Very well," shrugged Motoko as she handed Keitaro a slip of folded paper with a fortune written inside. "On your own head be it."

Keitaro felt a bit unnerved by the younger girl's attitude but tried to push such thoughts from his mind as he opened his fortune.

Strange Luck

This will be an unusual year for you.

A new path will present itself.

Tread carefully for this path will lead you to either great happiness or disaster.

Dig below the surface of things, but be careful of when and where you dig.

Travel broadens one's horizons both mental and emotional.

Disaster will test the strength of your heart.

Deal honesty with those around you.

Their presence will affect you greatly this year.

In matters of the heart this year is crucial for you.

Remember that the eyes of others can see what you are blind to.

The same is also true in reverse.

Follow your heart in all things and you will be rewarded.

Keitaro read the fortune a second time and blinked. What the heck kind of crazy fortune is this!? he thought.

Seeing Keitaro reading his fortune, Shinobu decided to go and inquire as to what it said. It took some courage, but the young girl couldn't let this chance go by. Shinobu headed toward Keitaro and was about to ask about his fortune when she suddenly felt herself grabbed.

"Shinobu! Look, Shinobu!" shouted Su. "There's a stall selling mochi really cheap over there! Let's get some!"

"Wait! Please, Kaolla!" begged Shinobu as the foreign girl dragged her away. Her protests were in vain and she and Su were quickly lost in the crowd.

Keitaro was still so absorbed in looking at his fortune that he failed to notice both Shinobu's predicament and someone else coming up behind him.

"Hey, Keitaro. What's your fortune say?"

Keitaro yelped and jumped a bit. He turned to see Kitsune standing behind him smiling in a bemused manner. "Man, you're wound awful tight. Was it bad news or is seeing everyone but Naru in traditional outfits getting you all hot and bothered?"

"No!" sputtered Keitaro. "I mean, no, there's nothing wrong with my fortune or seeing you girls in kimonos! Not that I noticed your kimonos. Well, I noticed them but not in the way you're thinking about. I was just thinking--"

"Relax," interrupted Kitsune. "You're normal young man with a guy's urges. There's nothing wrong with you enjoying the sight of four nice-looking young women in traditional clothes."

Kitsune then batted her eyes at Keitaro. "Personally, I think this outfit makes me look damn sexy! Don't you?"

Keitaro's face blushed pure crimson. "Uh…well…that is…you…I think…"

Kitsune mentally grinned at Keitaro's embarrassment. Poor Keitaro. He's got all those hormones swirling around in him, but the second a girl gets his juices going he totally falls apart. If it wasn't so much fun to watch I might actually feel bad about teasing him like this.

As Keitaro continued to struggle for words Kitsune gave him another sexy smile. "Feel free to look at me all you want, Keitaro. I don't mind. Just don't let Motoko or Naru catch you looking too long at Su or Shinobu. They'd probably get the wrong idea and give you a quick lesson in pain for those roving eyes."

That snapped Keitaro back to his senses. He gulped and nodded. The wraths of Motoko and Naru were certainly to be feared.

"Anyway, you gonna tell me what your fortune was or not?" inquired the girl from Osaka.

"Oh, that. It just says a bunch of silly nonsense," dismissed Keitaro. "I really don't know who writes these things."

"If it's just silly nonsense you won't mind if I have a look then, will you?" said Kitsune. Before Keitaro could react the girl's hand snaked out and grabbed the fortune from his hand.

"Hey!" shouted the ronin.

But Kitsune ignored him as she read the fortune. She then turned back to Keitaro with a bemused look on her face. "Don't tell me this has you all bent out of shape. I admit it's sorta odd as fortunes go, but it doesn't seem that bad to me."

"It 'doesn't seem bad' to you?!" Keitaro repeated. "It mentions disaster twice. Twice!"

"It also mentions happiness and being rewarded. You're making it sound all bad."

"It sounds to me like this year will either be one of the best of my life or a total disaster," said Keitaro, nervously. "No middle ground. A weird fortune like that isn't something I want to bet my future happiness on."

"Ah ha! So you admit this fortune has you worried."

After a moment's hesitation Keitaro nodded. "I know it sounds silly. But I've been really happy since moving into the Hinata and I don't want anything rocking the boat. Plus, the Tokyo U entrance exams are coming up and I don't need any 'strange luck' when it comes to them."

"If that's really what you want why don't you tie this fortune to a branch on one of those trees over there?" suggested Kitsune. "That's an old trick for getting rid of bad fortunes, you know."

Keitaro turned and looked at the grove of trees his housemate had indicated. "Yeah, you're right. I'd forgotten about that. But the branches are pretty high. I'm not sure if I can reach."

"No problemo," assured the light-haired girl as she grabbed Keitaro's coat and dragged him over to the trees. Once there Kitsune turned to face the her companion. "If you really want to get rid of this fortune squat down and let me climb on your shoulders. Then you can boost me up and I'll tie it to a branch."

"Really!?" exclaimed Keitaro. "It'll be good to be rid of this silly fortune. I'm feeling more happy already."

"You should be happy," smirked Kitsune. "There are loads of guys in this town who'd love to get their head between my legs."

Keitaro gulped and felt his face turn bright red. He also felt some blood start to trickle from his nose which he quickly covered with his hands. "Kitsune! Keep your voice down! If someone were to hear you say that they might think--"

"That you were one hell of a lucky guy," finished the girl. Kitsune then allowed herself another mental grin. It really should be a crime to have this much fun. Just to make things interesting I think I'll run a little psychological test. Now we'll find out just what Keitaro Urashima is really made out of.

While Kitsune had been thinking Keitaro hand managed to get himself under control but still looked a bit flush. "Are you ready, Kitsune? I'd really like to get this over with."

"Before we do that there's something I wanna ask you," said Kitsune. "You want to get rid of this fortune because you think it means this new year will be bad for you, even though it also talked about how very good things could happen to you too, right?"

Keitaro nodded. "Right. I don't have a gambler's spirit when it comes to my future happiness. The way the fortune made it sound I'll either come out on top or have everything go hell this year. No middle ground. I'd rather take my chances then deal with extremes like that."

"That's kinda funny that you say you don't have 'a gambler's spirit when it comes to your future happiness'. It seems to me the opposite is true."

"What do you mean?"

"Take this childhood sweetheart of yours," began Kitsune. "I heard you mooning over her the day you first came here, remember? I bet you dream about finding her someday and riding off on a white horse to live happily ever after."

Keitaro gulped but then nodded. "Yeah, I know it sounds silly but…I really think she's out there somewhere. And we did promise to meet again someday."

"Really? Where and when?"

Keitaro turned a bit more red and fidgeted. "Uh, actually, that's kinda personal. I'd rather keep that to myself."

Kitsune arched her eyebrows. Now isn't that interesting? she thought. Keitaro doesn't seem to want to share on this topic so I'll let it drop for now. I can always figure a way to get the whole story out of him later anyway.

"Okay, the gal of your dreams aside, what about Tokyo U?" continued the girl. "I know your test scores aren't the best, but you could probably get into a decent second tier school if you wanted, right?"

Keitaro nodded.

"But you keep aiming for Tokyo U, the hardest school in all of Japan to get admitted to. For two solid years you've tried and failed but you keep at it. Can you honestly tell me that saying that it's Tokyo U or nothing when it comes to college isn't a gamble on your future happiness? And a longshot at that."

Keitaro was silent for several moments as he mulled over Kitsune's words. "I guess if you put it that way I am sorta gambling my future happiness on some pretty long odds. But even so I'm not going to stop. I've had this feeling that the girl from my memories and Tokyo U are my destiny. I know that sounds a bit silly. But I've felt that way since I was five years old and I'm not going to give up on those dreams now no matter what!"

Kitsune actually felt a bit taken aback. I never thought Keitaro had that kind of determination in him. I guess you really can't judge a book by its cover.

"Then if you're already playing the long odds why not keep this fortune?" asked Kitsune. "One thing I know about gambling is that the people who win big are the ones that play the long odds. If you're already doing that, why stop? Ever think that maybe finding your dream girl and getting into Tokyo U is the happiness and reward the fortune mentions?"

Keitaro was again silent as he thought over what had been said. "But what about the disaster the fortune mentions? What if--"

Kitsune sighed and shook her head. "What if ants wore hats? Every person in the world risks disaster just by getting out of bed every morning. If you really believe that that girl and Tokyo U are your destiny are you really going to let a possibility from a fortune stop you from a chance of having it all after having come this far?"

Keitaro again considered Kitsune's words for several moments before reaching out and taking his fortune back. "You're right, Kitsune," he said, his voice strengthening. "I have taken a lot of risks already. If it means I can finally be with that girl again and get into to Tokyo U, then in the end what's one more risk matter?"

Kitsune smiled. Congratulations, Keitaro. You passed the test. Hold on to that attitude and you just might make those dreams come true.

"Good for you, Keitaro," said Kitsune happily. "See? Not only am I sexy but I'm wise too. Just like any good fox."

Keitaro nodded and tried to keep his thoughts from going off in impure directions. He failed utterly. "Uh, well, you'll get no argument from me. Now maybe we should get back to the others. They must be wondering where we went off to by now."

"Sounds good to me too. I wanna find someone selling sake. All that doling out wisdom stuff makes a gal thirsty."

"You don't need to look for someone selling sake," informed Keitaro. "There's an all-you-can-drink table of sweet sake set up by the temple. I saw it on the way in."

"What!?" squawked Kitsune. "How the hell did I miss something like that?! Quick, show me where it is!"

Sighing, Keitaro complied. A few minutes later the pair stood looking at the long table where the free sweet sake was set out. All around the table people stood drinking and chatting happily. More than a few flushed faces could be seen.

"Oh, free booze," sighed Kitsune, tears almost forming in her eyes. "This is as close to heaven on earth as we humans can know."

Just then a loud growl could be heard coming from behind the two. Startled, Keitaro and Kitsune whipped around to see someone wearing a large lion mask that was normally used in New Year's parades. Before either could speak the mask lifted to show the face beneath it.

"Hi, guys!" greeted Su in her most energetic voice.

"Su?!" gasped Keitaro. "What in the world are you doing wearing that thing?"
"Motoko told me that when someone gets bitten by one of these lions they get happiness for a whole year," informed the foreign girl. Su then gave Keitaro the sort of grin she normally used for looking at a tasty meal. "Since you've been so nice to me lately I'm gonna bite you so you be happy all year, Keitaro!"

"Oohh, a biter. Why doesn't it surprise me that Su's that type?" teased Kitsune.

"Kitsune! Don't say such things in front of Su!" flared Keitaro in embarrassment. "She's only thirteen!"

"Are you ready for your good luck, Keitaro?" asked Su, still grinning. "'Cause now it's Jaws time!"

Before the ronin could protest Su and her mask leapt toward him. Keitaro gave a yelp and dashed toward the sake table.

"Resistance is futile!" called Su as she gave chase.

"Says you and the Borg!" retorted Keitaro as he ran.

Kitsune just stood back and watched in amusement. But that amusement quickly faded as she realized that her housemates were barreling toward the sake table with no signs of stopping. "Stop, you two! You're gonna wreck the drinks!"

If either of the duo heard they gave no notice. Su was closing on Keitaro so in a moment of desperation the ronin hurled himself forward and managed to dive under the table.

The ever-nimble Su leapt into the air planning to sail over the table cut her prey off on the other side. Sadly, she forgot to factor in the weight of the heavy lion mask when making her jump. As such, Su fell sort of her goal and ended up having her left foot catch the edge of the table. The force was enough to send Su and the table tumbling over.

"No! The sake!" shouted Kitsune as she ran over.

Once there she could see that Su and her mask had tumbled a few feet away from the table but were unhurt. The junior high girl stood and began to rub her rear. "Ow, now I'm gonna get a bruise on my butt."

Keitaro on the other hand hadn't faired as well. The table had pinned him from the waist down and the top half of his body was soaked with spilled sake. "Jeez, I think I landed on my keys," complained the ronin.

"Aw, Keitaro, you spilled all the sake," whined Kitsune.

It was at that moment that an elderly man dressed in the robes of one of the temple keepers appeared from the crowd that had been watching what was going on. "Oh dear," he said. "Has anyone been hurt?"

"No, we're fine," assured Keitaro, having just finished getting back to his feet. He than gave the temple keeper a very deep bow. "I've very sorry for causing so much trouble."

Su trod over also looking remorseful. "Sorry about your booze. I didn't mean to wreak it. We were just playing."

Keitaro, who was still bowed, reached out with his right hand, placed it on the back of Su's head and gently but forcefully made her bow as well. Once that was done they both stood back up. Keitaro looked mortified while Su seemed a tad confused.

The temple keeper smiled and nodded. "Think nothing of it. I can see that this was an accident and that you're both very sorry. I must say, it's nice to see such well mannered young people these days."

"Hey, mister, what about the sake?" called Kitsune.

"Don't worry, young miss," replied the old man. "This temple is fortunate to have a local brewery owner as a patron. He donated all the sake we have today and said to call him should we need more. I'll just let him know what happened and ask that he send some more over. However, since today is New Year's Day, I fear that it will take several hours to get things taken care of. But I'm sure we'll be able to get things in order for the fireworks show tonight.

"Now, if you've excuse me, I'll go make that call." The temple keeper then bowed and headed off.

"Fireworks show?" blinked Keitaro. "Yesterday was the new year and there were fireworks then. Why would they have more tonight?"

Kitsune and Su shrugged.

"You mean you didn't know?" said a voice from behind the trio.

The three turned to see Naru, Shinobu and Motoko standing behind them. "This temple first opened its doors seventy five years ago today," informed Motoko. "As such, the temple has secured permission from the city to have a fireworks show tonight starting at midnight."

"Assuming you don't wreck anything else in the meantime," grumbled Naru while giving Keitaro an annoyed look. "As much fun as coming to the temple was, I need to be getting back home to study. It'd be a good idea if you came too, Keitaro. And not just because you need to study to, Mr. Second Year Ronin. You also need a change of clothes. I can smell the sake on you from over here."

Keitaro himself sniffed several times. Naru was right. He smelled like a distillery. "Uh, yeah, those both sound like good ideas," nodded Keitaro as he scratched the back of his head nervously.

"Sempai, does this mean you're not going to be here for the fireworks show?" asked Shinobu.

"Uh…well," stammered Keitaro. He cast a quick glance at the girls to try and judge what they were feeling. Shinobu seemed focused on him and looked concerned. Naru looked to be getting impatient. Motoko's expression was neutral. Su wasn't even paying attention. She was walking around Keitaro in a circle sniffing his clothes. He did his best to ignore her. Lastly, Kitsune was looking at him with mild interest at what his answer would be.

"Of course I'll be back in time," Keitaro answered. "I can go home, change, do some studying and then come back in time for the show."

"That'll be wonderful, sempai!" said Shinobu, elated.

"What you, Naru? You gonna come back for the show?" asked Kitsune.

Naru thought about it for a few moments before nodding. "I suppose being at home alone wouldn't be much fun. But, Keitaro, when we get back to the house you better not goof off when we're studying or else! If we don't get some real studying in before the fireworks start you're staying with me and studying math while everyone else enjoys the show. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am," gulped Keitaro.

"Are you sure you two just don't want a little alone time?" grinned Kitsune in innuendo.

Naru and Keitaro both blushed.

"Don't say things like that," said Naru, embarrassed. "You'll just give him filthy ideas. Besides, having someone to study with helps both of us learn better. It's as simple as that."

Kitsune was about to reply when Naru grabbed Keitaro by the arm of his coat and started to lead him away. "Come on, pervert. We need to study."

"We'll see you all in a couple of hours," called Keitaro as he and Naru headed into the crowd.

~*~

Several hours later, back at the Hinata House, Keitaro and Naru were in the middle of what they called a "two for one" study session. The idea was that each of them would get a different study guide and they would ask each other a question and then switch who the questioner was. Keitaro currently had a book on literature while Naru had a geography book.

"Who wrote the 106 volume story Nansō Satomi Hakkenden?" asked Keitaro.

A) Bakin Takizawa

B) Saneatsu Mushanokōji

C) Sōseki Natsume

D) Shikibi Murasaki

E) Masao Kume?"

"That's not too hard," mused the auburn-haired girl. "Let's see, it clearly can't be Murasaki. Everyone knows she wrote Genji Monogatari. It's not Kume because he died only about fifty years ago. Nansō Satomi Hakkenden is a samurai story and was written back in those days. I'm pretty sure it was A."

"You got it," nodded Keitaro.

"Okay, it's your turn," said Naru. "We're still on North American geography. Which of the following is the largest of the Great Lakes?

Lake Huron

B) Lake Ontario

C) Lake Michigan

D) Lake Erie

E) Lake Superior?"

"Lake Superior," replied Keitaro.

"That was easy. Now do me."

Keitaro's thoughts momentarily flew in a number of lusty directions, but he managed to reign himself in before Naru noticed.

"Who wrote the poem 'The Road Not Taken'?

A) Washington Irving

B) Mark Twain

C) Robert Frost

D) T. S. Elliot

E) Jack London?"

Naru exhaled deeply and sighed. "Let's see, I know it wasn't Jack London or Mark Twain. They were novelists mostly. I'm pretty sure it wasn't T. S. Elliot too. I think it was…gimme a sec…I know this…Robert Frost!"

"Yep," nodded Keitaro. "That's ten in a row, Naru. Good work."

"I borrowed some of Kitsune's books the other night," Naru replied, the pride in her voice clear. "She doesn't do it as much now, but she really liked to read when she was in high school. She's got quite the collection of stuff stashed in a box in her closet."

"Really?" said Keitaro. "I never would have pictured her as the reading type. I guess everyone has layers to them."

Naru's head tuned and looked in the direction of Kitsune's room. "Yeah. I guess they do," she said quietly.

Keitaro blinked and was about to ask Naru what she was doing when his studymate turned back around and looked at the book in her hand. "Uh, next question, same topic. Which of the following is the capital of the American state of Kansas?

A) Wichita

B) Topeka

C) Omaha

D) Lincoln

E) Smallville?"

"Damn, that's a tough one," muttered Keitaro. "I know that Omaha is in Nebraska. So is Lincoln…I'm pretty sure Wichita is in Kansas but I don't think it's the capital…So that means…"

"It means?" prodded Naru.

"Um, Smallville?"

Naru momentarily went stiff with disbelief. She quickly recovered and proceeded to hurl the geography book at Keitaro, taking great satisfaction at the sound it made as it smashed into his face.

"You idiot! The answer is Topeka! Smallville is Superman's hometown!"

"Whoever writes these tests has a twisted sense of humor," grumbled Keitaro as he rubbed his face where the book had impacted.

Naru huffed and shook her head. "Before that flub you were seven for ten. That's actually pretty good for you. If you study a little harder you might have a real shot at passing the center exam that's coming up soon."

Glad that Naru's anger seemed to have subsided Keitaro smiled at her praise. "Thanks a lot. I think I've got a pretty good chance of passing too. I managed to pass the one they had last year, after all."

"Say what?! If you passed the center exam last year then why didn't you make the cut off for Tokyo U?"

Keitaro began to scratch the back of his head in embarrassment. "Uh, well, the thing of it is that the center uses mark up sheets and I goofed up on them."

"A good mechanic doesn't blame his tools," frowned Naru. "And someone who wants in Tokyo U shouldn't blame the mark up sheet."

Keitaro nodded, not fully paying attention. He was currently in the middle of a semi-flashback. "I was sure I used up all the bad luck I was due there. But then I tanked on the second big test the next day. Once I realized I was going to be ronin for another year I got really depressed. Because of that my grades started to slip until I was under 50%. That's when my folks kicked me out of the house and I ended up here."

"Wow, that is kind of a downer. Still, you've improved lately and so have I. If we keep this up we could both be students at Tokyo University by spring."

Keitaro blinked and began to turn that concept over in his mind. Me and Naru at Tokyo University? Kitsune might have been right. Maybe this is the year I'll finally get everything I've ever wanted. In a couple of months I could studying law at Tokyo U. And if Naru is the girl from my promise like I think is might be…

Naru noticed that Keitaro seemed to have gotten a distant look on his face. "Hey, Earth to Keitaro. Come in, Keitaro. You'd better not be thinking something dirty!"

That last statement snapped the ronin back to reality. "Uh, Naru?"

"Yeah?"

Keitaro looked across the table at Naru. He took a deep breath to try and help gather the courage for what he wanted to say next. If it means I can finally be with that girl again and get into to Tokyo U, then in the end what's one more risk matter?

"Naru, let's make a promise to each other right here and now," said Keitaro, earnestly.

"A..A promise?" gulped Naru.

Keitaro nodded. "Let's promise each other that we'll get into Tokyo U together. You're tops in the country on those mock exams and I'm a second year ronin. If anyone deserves to get into Tokyo University it's the two of us! If we keep at it like we have there's no way we can fail!"

Naru took a second to process what she'd just heard but then nodded. "You're right, Keitaro! We've come this far and I don't plan to fail!"

Instinctively, the two suddenly grasped hands.

"Good luck to both of us!" wished Naru.

"To our double entry!" responded Keitaro.

The pair then spent a few seconds mutually reveling in the moment. Then Naru suddenly realized Keitaro was holding her hand. She jerked it back and blushed. Keitaro, after coming to the same realization about one second later, also blushed.

To shake off the embarrassment Naru stood, stretched and adjusted her glasses. "I guess we've studied enough for one day. Let me go back to my room and change and we can head out. We should have a few hours to find the others and enjoy yourselves once we get there before the fireworks start."

"Sounds good," nodded Keitaro.

With that, Naru turned and headed for the door. But just as she reached the threshold she stopped but didn't turn around.

"Keitaro?"

"Yeah?"
"If try and peek at me while I change this time, I'll hit you so hard it'll put you in orbit. Around Saturn. Got it?"

Keitaro gulped. "Got it."

As soon as Naru's footsteps vanished down the hall Keitaro flopped back on the floor and exhaled. "It worked," he chuckled to himself. "Kitsune was right. People who play the long odds do win big. I took a risk by asking Naru to make a promise like that but it worked.

"Now, if I'm right and she is the girl from my childhood, then we've double promised each other we'll go to Tokyo U together. No power in the universe can top a double promise!"

Just then Keitaro heard movement up in Naru's room. He felt his eyes drifting toward the loose piece of wood Naru kept on her floor that served as his ceiling. Keitaro had experienced on several occasions Naru's fury after poking his head through that hole uninvited. Given what had just happened between them he had no desire to do anything that might upset the positive air that, for the moment, existed between them.

"So close to heaven, yet still so far away," sighed Keitaro as he cast a final look at the hole. He then stood and stretched.

Shortly thereafter Keitaro's door opened and he almost collapsed at the sight before him. In the doorway stood Naru wearing a finely crafted, dark blue kimono with a pink and green flower design. There was also a small, pink nadesico flower in her hair and a brown stole wrapped around her shoulders.

Keitaro gaped.

"So wadda you think?" asked Naru, a quirky smile on her face.

Still stunned by the lovely vision before him, it took Keitaro a moment to pull his thoughts together. "You look…great! That outfit really suits you!"

"Really?" asked Naru as she did a small pirouette to examine the kimono. "I admit, seeing the others in their outfits made me remember how nice it is it get dressed up like this once in a while."

Wow, Naru looks amazing in that outfit, thought Keitaro. If this is any indication of what that fortune was telling me about, then this year really could be the best of my life. Thank goodness Kitsune talked me out of getting rid of that fortune. I'll have to do something to thank her later.

"Ready to go?" asked Naru.

Keitaro nodded and the two headed for the door.

As they descended the stairs in front of the Hinata House Naru suddenly turned to Keitaro. "Oh, I just remembered. You never told us what the fortune you got said."

The young ronin looked at Naru in her kimono and thought over the events of the last few hours. Then he smiled.

"Good luck. It said I'm going to have lots of good luck this year."

~*~

Keitaro took a deep breath and focused. Before him was the enemy, the one he'd vowed to vanquish.

"Come on, Keitaro," pleaded Naru. "Just admit defeat. This is a fight you just can't win."

"No way! If I can't win then I am not a man!"

"You barely qualify as a man now," muttered Naru under her breath.

Keitaro felt the weight of his weapon in his right hand. With this instrument he would fell the one before him and show Naru what he was really made of. Some inner instinct told the ronin that now was the time to strike. Keitaro hurled his weapon forward…

…and missed utterly.

"Ya sure the prescription on those glasses is up to date, kiddo?" asked the gaunt man who stood behind the counter of the carnival booth.

Keitaro whimpered. Since arriving back at the temple almost an hour ago he and Naru had been having a good time. After searching for the others to no avail for a time the duo had decided to just enjoy the festival. Since then they'd taken in the attractions, had some shaved ice, people watched, chatted about a few things and generally had an enjoyable time. Much to Keitaro's delight.

It seemed that his roll of good fortune was still going.

But then Keitaro had decided to try an impress Naru by winning her a stuffed animal at one of the booths. Using an old softball to knock down a few stacked milk bottles had seemed like no challenge at all. Now, after several failures, Keitaro had a sinking feeling his run of luck was over.

"Give it up, Keitaro," signed Naru. "You've been at this for over fifteen minutes, have already blow around ¥2,000 and you still haven't even come close. Call it quits already!"

"No!" retorted Keitaro and gabbed up another ball and hurled it. The ball fell like a rock right in front of the platform where the bottles rested.

"Ooooooh, ya were so close," said the booth worker, unconvincingly. "You've got one more ball to toss. Then it'll be another ¥200 for three more. Come on, kiddo. Ya wanna win yer girlfriend a prize, don't 'cha?"

"Hey!" shouted Naru. "I'm not his girlfriend! He's just a perverted second year ronin I happen to live with!"

The carnie let out an impressed whistle and nudged Keitaro in the ribs. "You're a second year ronin and ya managed not only to get a hot little number like that for your girlfriend, but you're living together to boot? What's yer secret, kiddo? If I could get a sweet little thing with a rack like that for myself, I'd dump that frigid scarecrow I call a wife in a New York minute."

"No! No! It's not like that! I'm not like that at all!" sputtered Keitaro.

"Both of you are disgusting!" howled Naru. She then rushed forward and dealt Keitaro a punch to the head that sent him tumbling to the ground. The carnie jumped back fearing the same fate.

"Have fun trading dating advice, you sickos!" spat Naru as she stomped off.

Keitaro then stood, dusted himself off and sighed. "That confirms it. My good luck is over."

"Crap in a hat!" gulped the carnie. "Suddenly a frigid, gangly wife don't seem so bad. Better to have to deal with a woman who can't put out then one who'll beat a guy senseless."

Keitaro gave the man a disgusted look. "Hey, don't you talk like that about her! Naru may have temper but she's also very nice and kind. Someone like you wouldn't understand that!"

"Uh, sure, kiddo," replied the carnie, nervously. For all he knew the guy could be as violent as the girl. "Look, you've got one ball left to throw. Why don't ya toss it and then go? After that I think I'll close up early."

Before Keitaro could respond the worker shoved the last ball into his hand. Keitaro looked at it for a moment and sighed. "Forget it."

He then turned began to walk away. As he did he casually tossed the ball back toward the booth over his shoulder. The ronin stopped dead in his tracks a second later as the sound of half a dozen milk bottles falling to the ground filled the air. Keitaro whipped around in disbelief.

No way! he thought.

But sure enough, through some cosmic fluke, Keitaro had knocked the bottles over.

"Well I'll be dipped," muttered the booth worker as he scratched his head in amazement. The man then reached over to the prize wall, grabbed a stuffed green frog about a foot and a half high and tossed it to Keitaro. Somehow he managed to catch it.

"That's some damn strange luck ya got there, kiddo," said the carnie. "I hope that luck's with ya when yer dealin' with that girl. Somethin' tells me yer gonna need it."

With that, the man quickly closed the shutters on his booth.

"'Strange luck'?" repeated Keitaro.

The young man shook his head to try and clear it and then looked down at his prize. "Hey, I know this toy. It's one of those Hello Kitty characters. KeroKero or something like that. Maybe if I give this to Naru later it'll help her to forgive me."

Keitaro then suddenly flashed back to the angry look Naru had worn as she'd left. Suddenly his prospects of forgiveness seemed much dimmer. "Aaahhh, dammit! And things between us had been going so well the last few hours!"

With a final sigh Keitaro tucked the toy under his arm and headed off to try and find the girls.

~*~

"This sucks," mumbled Keitaro.

It had been almost an hour since Naru had stomped off and despite his best efforts Keitaro had had no luck finding her or any of the other girls. The fireworks were due to start in about forty minutes and Keitaro was growing worried that he'd end up watching them alone. As if that wasn't bad enough everywhere the ronin looked he seemed to see couples walking, smiling, joking and flirting; all hand in hand.

As he watched yet another happy couple stroll by Keitaro let out a small whine. "One minute I'm one cloud nine and now I'm down in the ninth circle of Hell. Maybe I should have tied that damn fortune to a tree after all.

"No, I'm being silly. It was Naru's temper and my usual bad luck that caused this. Blaming that fortune is silly. Still, watching all these couples together isn't making me feel any better. Maybe I should just go be by myself for a minute before I start looking for the girls again."

With plan in hand Keitaro began to look for a spot where he could grab a moment of solitude. He soon spotted a darkened and empty area of the shrine's garden. The ronin then quickly headed there.

With some space between him and the crowd Keitaro began to relax a bit. "Ah, this is better," said Keitaro as he walked down the garden path.

For few minutes Keitaro simply walked down the path letting the silence and darkness of the garden drain his stress away. But his peace was suddenly shattered when something caught the ronin's eye. Nearby lay the figure of a woman spread haphazardly on the grass.

"Hey! Hey, miss! Are you okay?" called Keitaro as he ran over to the woman.

As he did so the woman groggily raised herself up off the grass and looked at him. "Huh? Wha? Oh, hey, Keitaro! Fancy meetin' you here," slurred Kitsune.

Keitaro just blinked in shock. "Kitsune?!"

The drunken girl then began to look around. "Hey, what are we doing here?" Kitsune then grinned one of her trademark fox-like grins. "Were you feeling lonely, Keitaro? Is that why you dragged me to this secluded little spot? And with so many people nearby! How naughty and romantic! I never thought you were that type."

"No! No! No!" blanched the ronin. "I was taking a walk in the garden and found you laying on the grass. I swear!"

"Too bad," huffed Kitsune. "Some girls like guys who are a little on the bold side." The fox-girl's grin now turned amazingly seductive. "You know, Keitaro, I've always thought you were kinda cute."

Cute?! Did a girl really just call me cute!? Keitaro thought as his heart began to pound.

"In a nerdy, hopeless loser sort of way, that is."

Keitaro collapsed to the ground in disappointment.

"Whadda ya, say Keitaro?" said Kitsune in a voice that made the ronin feel like he was going to melt. "We're all alone and technically it's still New Year's Day. We can still celebrate."

Keitaro's heart was now beating so fast he was sure it was going to burst out of his chest and go flying through the air at any moment. "C-ce-celebrate!?"

"It doesn't have to mean anything. Just two people chasing the loneliness away for a little while," assured the girl as she crawled forward seductively. Despite himself Keitaro couldn't help but notice that Kitsune's kimono was now rather loose. Plus, with the way she was moving towards him, he was getting a view of his housemate's ample bosom that bordered on indecent.

"Come on, Keitaro. I've been around the block a few times. An older, more experienced girl like me can show you everything you've ever dreamed of and more."

This can't be happening! thought Keitaro. No way in hell could anything this good ever happen to me! Then again, that fortune…

"Still thinking it over?" sighed Kitsune. "Maybe this will help you make up your mind."

With that, Kitsune turned her back to Keitaro. Seconds later her kimono slid off her shoulders and down almost to her waist. The ronin gulped as he noticed that his housemate had opted not to wear a bra. With her back to him as it was, Keitaro couldn't clearly see anything too forbidden, but the sight of the smooth skin of Kitsune's back was more than enough send Keitaro's already extremely excited senses into overload.

"Carpe diem time, Keitaro," whispered Kitsune, softly.

Good God, what do I do now? thought the ronin.

It was at that moment, in a puff of metaphor, that three tiny figures appeared on either side of Keitaro's head.

The two figures on Keitaro's left looked exactly like his friends Haitani and Shirai. The only difference was that this Haitani and Shirai wore devil costumes complete with tails, horns and pitchforks.

The sole figure that appeared on Keitaro's right, in contrast, looked just like Shinobu. Only this Shinobu wore a pure white gown, had wings jutting from her back, a bright halo over her head and a golden harp in one hand.

"What the hell are you waiting for, idiot!?" shouted Devil Haitani. "She's raring and ready to go and you're sitting on your ass trying to figure out if you should go for it or not! No wonder you're still a virgin and a ronin!"

"Yeah!" added Devil Shirai. "We know what all your fantasies are and something like this certainly qualifies as one of them come true."

Keitaro nodded as he looked at Kitsune. "Well, I'd be lying if I said something like this had never crossed my mind…"

"Sempai, don't listen to them!" implored Angel Shinobu. "Kitsune's clearly had too much to drink and doesn't really know what she's doing. I know you're not the type who'd take advantage of her like that."

"It's true, I can smell the sake on her even from over here," admitted Keitaro.

"Don't listen to Little Miss Goody Goody," snorted Devil Haitani. "So what if she's drunk? Kitsune's half drunk all the time and nobody questions her ability to make decisions then. After twenty years without so much as a date you deserve this!"

"And clearly Kitsune's a girl with a few notches on her lipstick case, if you know what I mean," said Devil Shirai. "What's wrong with you being one more?"

"You don't really think that Kitsune is…that sort of person," rebutted Angel Shinobu before Keitaro could reply. "Just because she's uninhibited doesn't mean she's… that she's a…a…"

"Slut?" suggested Devil Shirai.

"A total spread machine?" offered Devil Haitani.

"Hey!" snapped Keitaro. "Shinobu's right! I don't think of Kitsune like that!"

"Bzzzzt! Wrong!" retorted Devil Haitani. "The both of us are manifestations of your inner feelings and thoughts. Ergo, because we see her that way that means part of you does too."

Keitaro gulped. He wanted to refute Devil Haitani's claim, but in his heart he knew what he'd heard wasn't totally untrue.

"Don't let them trick you like that," warned Angel Shinobu. "It's true that they're some of your feelings given voice and form. But so am I. I'm the part of you that knows that, despite her flaws, Kitsune is good at heart. I'm the part of you that cares about Kitsune as a person and would never want to hurt her. The same way you don't want to hurt the real Shinobu or the other girls.

"You're the Hinata House's landlord. That means the girls rely on you to take care of their home and even them to a degree. If you took advantage of Kitsune now do you think they'd ever trust you again? The real Shinobu's faith in you as her sempai would be destroyed. Plus, Naru would hate you forever for taking advantage of her best friend."

"N-Naru would hate me? Forever?" said Keitaro.

"Ah, crap," grumbled Devil Haitani. "She would have to go and use the N-word."

"We're boned," sighed Devil Shirai.

It was then that another figure appeared to Keitaro's left. This figure also had horns, a tail and a pitchfork. But this new devil hand on garters, a lacy red bra with matching thong underwear and just happened to look like exactly like Kitsune.

"Oh no, not her!" cried Angel Shinobu.

"Cripes, can't you losers do anything right?" growled Devil Kitsune.

"Kitsune?!" asked Keitaro as he stared hard at the newcomer to his inner mental debate.

"The answer to that is yes and no. Actually it's just no," said Devil Kitsune. "But that's not important right now. What's important is that you've had a sure thing fall into your lap and you're thinking about running away before that sexy little thing over there has a chance to do anything to your lap or any other part of you body."

"Don't listen to her!" urged Angel Shinobu. "She'll say anything to get you to do what she wants. She's a manifestation of…of your…" Angel Shinobu trailed off and then blushed deeply.

"Aw, what's the matter, Ms. Morality?" mocked Devil Kitsune. "Are you so inhibited you can't even say the word? Fine, I'll do it. Plain and simple, I'm a manifestation of your lust, Keitaro."

"'My…my lust?!" repeated Keitaro, shocked.

"Is he going to repeat everything any of us say?" complained Devil Haitani. Devil Shirai just shrugged.

"Kitsune's a big girl, handsome," assured Devil Kitsune in a voice like silk. "If tonight she wants to share a little body heat with you why pass it up? And don't worry about the other girls. It'll just be a little secret between you two. Besides, the both of you are adults. How is what the two of you do in your spare time any of their business?"

Keitaro made a distraught sound and began to quickly look back and forth between the devils and the angel.

"Please, sempai! You know what the right thing to do is!" implored Angel Shinobu, her eyes filled with hope.

"Come on, Keitaro!" urged Devil Kitsune "The chance to kiss virginity goodbye is right in front of you. All you have to do it take it!"

"It's time to finally get your freak on!" yelled Devil Shirai.

"If you pass this chance up you'll be a disgrace to every man who ever lived," warned Devil Haitani.

Keitaro felt his dual nature raging within him. But as with all battles eventually one side claimed victory.

"I…can't do it!" he yelled. "I won't take advantage of Kitsune like this! I'm her landlord and, at least in my eyes, her friend to a degree. That means it's my job to take care of her and help her when she needs it. Right now she needs someone to get her home safe and that's what I'll do!"

"Yay, sempai!" cheered Angel Shinobu. "I knew you'd do the right thing!"

Devil Kitsune glared at Keitaro. "Loser! I hope you enjoy having never been with a woman when you're eighty!"

"I guess I won't be getting any use out of this," sighed Devil Shirai as he pulled out a mini-videocamera. "Talk about a bummer."

"You know, just because the loser over there isn't interested doesn't mean you have to go home…unsatisfied," said Devil Haitani to Devil Kitsune. "If you're lonely Shirai and I—ACK!!"

Devil Haitani was cut off as Devil Kitsune began to bash him in the head with her pitchfork. "Like I'd ever do you losers!" spat Devil Kitsune just before going after Devil Shirai.

"Mommy!" screamed Devil Shirai as Devil Kitsune began to pummel him.

"You're a good person, Keitaro," smiled Angel Shinobu. "That's why you're my sempai."

With that, the devils and angel both vanished. Since the four had all been a part of Keitaro's mind the preceding conversation had happened at the speed of thought. As such, only about one second had elapsed in the real world.

Kitsune still awaited Keitaro's answer.

Deciding to get this over quickly Keitaro hopped up, hustled over to Kitsune and, while turning his head away, pulled her kimono back up over her shoulders. He then hauled the drunken girl to her feet and quickly made sure that the sash on her kimono was tied tightly. Finally, seeing that his housemate was unsteady on her feet, he put one arm around her waist and tossed one of her arms over his shoulder.

"Awww, does this mean you don't wanna have fun, Kei-ta-ro-chan?" asked Kitsune in a singsong voice.

"You're drunk, Kitsune. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted, but I'm not going to take advantage of you when you're like this. I'm not that sort of guy. And don't call me Keitaro-chan. Only grandma and my mom gets to call me that now that I'm an adult."

"Feh, it's your loss."

"Yeah, I know," murmured Keitaro under his breath. "Just how much did you have to drink anyway? I don't think I've ever seen you this drunk."

"I stopped counting after the twentieth one. Or maybe it was thirty. Whatever. By then I was sorta havein' trouble walkin', nevermind countin'."

"Twenty or thirty drinks? Jeez, haven't you ever heard of alcohol poisoning?"

"Alcohol poison?" slurred Kitsune. "Oh, yeah, I've had those a few times. They make 'em with tomato juice and lemon twist, right? Oh, man, will those things knock you on you ass fast!"

Keitaro just shook his head. "Come on, let's get you home."

"Oh, I see. You wanna do it back the Hinata! While the cats are away the mice will play, eh?"

Keitaro could feel his emotions swirling around inside of him. Embarrassment, anger, lust, worry and duty churned steadily. Ill equipped to deal with such feelings, he just wanted for the night to be over.

It was then that Keitaro spotted the KeroKero doll he'd won laying on the ground. In all the excitement he hadn't even noticed he'd dropped it. It was a bit of a balancing act with a drunken girl on his shoulder, but Keitaro managed to retrieve the doll without falling over.

"Cute toy," said Kitsune. "Is it for me?"

"No, it certainly isn't," snapped Keitaro.

Just for a second Kitsune's eyes seemed to come out of the fog of alcohol and show a hint of pain. But just as quickly it faded and the girl was all drunken happiness again.

The ronin then took a deep breath. Yelling at Kitsune isn't going to help, he thought. I just need to get her out of here. The sooner the better.

With that, Keitaro began to walk/haul Kitsune back toward the festival area.

"Sometimes you wanna go where knows your naaaaaaame…And they're always glad you caaaaaaame…You wanna go where you see troubles are all the same…. You wanna go where everybody knows your naaaaaame!" sang Kitsune in drunken merriment.

Keitaro just rolled his eyes.

"Sempai! Are you here?" called a voice suddenly.

"Scooby Doo, where are you?" came another voice.

"Was that…Shinobu and Su?" blinked Keitaro.

"Sounds like," answered Kitsune. "YO! SHINOBU! SU! OVER HERE!"

"There's no need to scream, you know," reprimanded Keitaro.

Kitsune just snickered.

Just then Shinobu and Su appeared. "Oh, sempai, there you are," said Shinobu. "I was…I mean, we were getting worried about you. The fireworks show is going to start soon."

"Wow, Kitsune totally reeks of booze!" exclaimed Su. "Did she turn over a sake table this time?"

"No, but I'm pretty sure she drank one all by herself," sighed Keitaro. "Actually, it's lucky I ran into you two. Kitsune is in no shape to take care of herself so I'm going to have to take her home. Do you two know where Naru or Motoko is?"

Shinobu nodded. "Yes, they're near the shrine's main bell. That's where all of us were supposed to meet just before the fireworks start."

"Good, go back there and tell them that Kitsune isn't well and that I had to take her home." Keitaro then turned a bit red. "And, um, tell Naru that I'm sorry. Uh, about missing the fireworks."

Shinobu felt massive disappointment that she wouldn't be able to watch the fireworks with Keitaro. But even she could smell the sake on Kitsune and knew that her wellbeing had to come first. "I understand, sempai. I'll be sure to tell them."

"Hey, who's the doll for?" asked Su.

Keitaro glanced at the stuff frog. He couldn't give it to Naru now, that was for sure. Having Su or Shinobu give it to her didn't seem right nor did giving it to Naru the next day.

Keitaro suddenly glanced at Shinobu. You know, it never really occurred to me just how responsible Shinobu is, he thought. She's only thirteen but she does lots of chores around the house really well and never complains. Heck, she's even helping me out with this mess. I wonder if maybe we all haven't been taking here a bit for granted.

It was then that inspiration struck.

"Actually this is for Shinobu," informed Keitaro.

"For me!?" gasped Shinobu as she began to turn red.

Keitaro, who was blushing a tiny bit himself, nodded. "I won it at one of the booths a little while back. I figured this doll is cute and Shinobu is cute and I know that she likes stuffed animals so, uh, here."

Shinobu, who was a shade of red that any beet would envy, accepted the doll and then bowed deeply. "Thank you, sempai. I'll treasure it!"

At least I made one of the girls happy tonight, thought the ronin with a smile.

"It's been nice talkin' to ya but Keitaro needs to get going so he can get me in bed!" said Kitsune loudly.

Instantly Keitaro stiffened and Shinobu seemed about to cry.

"Uh oh, Keitaro's up to something naughty!" shouted Su.

"That's not true!" protested Keitaro. "You both know how Kitsune gets when she's drunk!" The ronin then focused on Shinobu. "Please, Shinobu, you know I wouldn't do something like that!"

The older boy's words seemed to seemed to calm Shinobu down and she nodded. "Yes, I know you'd never do something like that, sempai. Kitsune's just being…uh, silly."

"Thanks, for believing in me," said Keitaro in relief. "Anyway, we'd better get going. I'll see the both of you tomorrow."

"Yeah, do not disturb," mumbled Kitsune, more to herself than anyone.

"We'll be sure to tell Naru and Motoko what you said," assured Shinobu.

"Hey, Shinobu, let's get going," insisted Su. "I don't wanna miss the fireworks."

Keitaro gave the girls a quick nod and then led Kitsune off into the night.

~*~

At the shrine's main bell the two other Hinata girls were waiting.

"The fireworks will be starting soon," observed Naru. "Where the heck are Shinobu, Su and Kitsune?"

"I know not," said Motoko. "But I am sure they will be here soon."

"I suppose so."

Motoko glanced at Naru and could tell the irritation she was feeling now was not entirely due to the lateness of the other girls. The kendo girl didn't need much thought to make a guess as to the cause of Naru's anger.

"What of Urashima? Do you not fear that he will be unable to join us?

"That pervert can do as he likes," growled Naru.

To have angered Naru to this degree Urashima must have done something worse than usual, mused Motoko. Though normally I would gladly wield my blade to see that he is punished, I do not know what that ronin has done. To strike him down without knowing the nature of his infraction would be dishonorable. As such, whatever has happened will have to remain between the two of them.

Woe to you, Keitaro Urashima. To have angered Naru like this on the first day of the new year does not bode well for you.

Just then Su and Shinobu appeared from the crowd.

"Hey, guys! We're here!" shouted Su.

"Where were you both?" asked Motoko. "The fireworks shall soon commence."

"We were with sempai and Kitsune," replied Shinobu. "Kitsune had way to much to drink so sempai asked us to tell you that he was taking her home and that he's sorry about not being able to watch the fireworks with us."

"He's what?!" squawked Naru. "Kitsune was so out of it he had take her home?"

"Yeah, Kitsune was mega-drunk!" nodded Su. "Hammered, tanked, plastered, smashed, stewed to the gills, splitfaced! No, wait, that's not the word! Oh yeah, she was shi--"

"Kaolla, don't use words like that!" interrupted Shinobu, frantically. "It's very rude!

The two older girls quickly exchanged worried glances.

"Su, Shinobu, stay right here," ordered Motoko. "Naru and I must discuss something in private."

Before the younger girls could give any sign of confirmation Naru and Motoko quickly hustled off to an area by one of the shrine's wall were they could speak in relative privacy. "I see that you too share my concerns about this situation," began Motoko.

Naru nodded. "A pervert like Keitaro and Kitsune after what's sounds like way to many, even for her. That's something awful just begging to happen."

"Though he is given to lecherous tendencies, I don't believe Urashima would try and molest Kitsune."

"Of course he wouldn't," dismissed Naru. "He doesn't have the brass ones to try something like that. Besides, even if she's really drunk, Kitsune can take care of herself when it comes to guys with grabby hands. Trust me, I've seen it happen."

Motoko just nodded, not wanting to dwell on just how Naru knew that bit of information.

"What I'm really worried is Kitsune's affect on that ronin," said Naru. "You've seen how…friendly she can when she's had too much to drink. I'm just worried that her fondness for …um, the physical and Keitaro, you know, what with those guy instincts…"

Again Motoko nodded. "With Kitsune's judgement clouded by drink and Keitaro's by his deviant males urges an unfortunate incident is a real possibility. For their own good we must locate Keitaro and Kitsune post haste."

"Agreed. But we'd better hurry. I'd say they have a good head start on us."

"Let me attend to the safety of Su and Shinobu and we'll be off."

With that Motoko quickly moved back to the bell where the younger girls were waiting. "Su, Shinobu, Naru and I must leave at once," began the kendo girl. "If Kitsune is as intoxicated as you say Keitaro may need help in getting her home and attending to her."

"Motoko, does this mean you're not going to watch the fireworks with us?" asked Su, whose eyes seemed to be getting moist.

"I'm afraid so," confirmed Motoko. She then reached into a pocket and pulled out a few bills. "Here is ¥1,000. Go and purchase yourselves some chocolate covered bananas and enjoy the fireworks. After they are over go to the shrine's main office and speak to the head shrine keeper. Tell him I sent you and he'll see that you are escorted home safely. Now I must go."

"But, Motoko, I--" began Shinobu.

She got no further than that because in the blink of an eye Su grabbed both the money and Shinobu's hand. "Yay! Chocolate covered bananas! I love bananas! They're my favorite food!"

For the second time in one night Shinobu was dragged away by Su and her boundless appetite.

"Good thinking," said Naru as she appeared behind Motoko. "Now that they're safe let's get going."

"Indeed."

With that the two girls headed into the night.

~*~

Keitaro sighed in annoyance. He'd managed to get Kitsune almost all the way home without too much difficulty. But suddenly she'd gotten a queasy look on her face and Keitaro had rushed to get the girl over to a trashcan in case she had to be sick. At the moment Kitsune stood over the trashcan holding onto the sides with her hands, her head hanging over the hole, breathing in and out quickly.

"Oooohhhh, I guess there really is such a thing too much of a good thing," moaned Kitsune.

"Uh, are you okay?" ventured Keitaro. "You don't need to go the hospital or anything do you?"

"No, I'm fine," dismissed Kitsune with a wave of her hand. "I'm actually feelin' a bit better. Jus' gimme a sec."

After several more moments of labored breathing Kitsune managed to pull herself together. "I'm feelin' better. Let's go."

Keitaro nodded and again tossed Kitsune's arm over his shoulder and resumed their journey to the Hinata House. As they walked he stole a glance at the light-haired girl. At least Kitsune's sobered up a little, Keitaro thought. That should make things easier.

It was then that Kitsune's head perked up. "Hey, Keitaro? Wha time is it?"
"Uh, 11:55."

"Oh, the fireworks are gonna start soon. If we stay on this street we're gonna miss 'em."

"Yeah, that's too bad but--" Keitaro began.

"Uh uh, I'm gonna see the fireworks!" exclaimed Kitsune. Suddenly the foxgirl broke from Keitaro's grasp and dashed down an ally.

"Hey! Come back here!" shouted the ronin.

"Ha ha ha! Run, run, fast as you can, you'll not catch me, I'm Kitsune-chan!" chanted Kitsune as she suddenly made a right turn.

Grrr, I should have known that lucid moment she had back there wasn't going to last, thought Keitaro as he chased after his housemate. Dammit, is nothing easy with this girl!?!

"Hey, Keitaro! Come catch me!" called Kitsune as she burst out of the ally and charged down a nearby flight of stairs. "If you do I'll give you a surprise!"

One minute she can hardly walk and the next she's ready to run a marathon. Kitsune and alcohol have one weird relationship, mused Keitaro as he continued to run. It was then that a thought floated up from the back of the ronin's mind. Say, for some reason these alleys seem familiar. But I don't think I've been in this part of town since I moved here…

While he'd been thinking Keitaro had failed to notice that Kitsune had stopped. The young man slowed down and looked around. Much to his surprise he found that he was now standing in the middle of a playground. Wait a second. I know this place!

"We should be able to get a great view of the fireworks from here," said Kitsune with a drunken grin.

Keitaro barely heard her. He'd dashed over to the playground's sandbox and was gazing at it intently. I don't believe it! This is the sandbox where that girl and I made our promise. After all these years it's still here, he thought.

"Hey, Keitaro, I liked to play in the sandbox as a kid too but now ain't the time," called Kitsune. "Come on over here an watch za fireworks with me."

The ronin shook his head to clear the dust of old memories from his mind. Focus, Keitaro. You've got to get Kitsune home, remember? You can come back here and reminisce later.

Keitaro sighed, stood and headed over to the nearby tree that Kitsune stood under. "You're not going to settle down until see the fireworks, are you?"

Kitsune flashed a fox-like grin and shook her head. "Nope!"

"Okay, we'll watch the fireworks from here but then you're going home. No more fooling around."

"Yeah, yeah, what time is it now?"

Keitaro glanced down at his watch. " It's 11: 59 and forty-five seconds."

He then looked up to see that Kitsune was standing extremely close to him, another seductive look on her face. "Hey, Keitaro, do you remember that surprise I mentioned when you were chasing me? You didn't catch me but you tried hard so I think I'll give it to you anyway."

The young ronin gulped. "N…Now wait a second, Kitsune! I'm flattered and all but you're drunk and--"

The foxgirl put a figure to Keitaro's lips to silence him. Her sexy smile somehow got bigger. "Did you know that in the West it's considered good luck to be kissing someone you care about when the new year comes? I know that New Year's was yesterday and that we're not super close, but what's say we pretend otherwise just this one time?"

Kitsune pulled his finger back and Keitaro was about to speak when her head shot forward to kiss him. As their lips met electricity raced though Keitaro's body. In the skies above the pair fireworks suddenly and colorfully exploded while throughout Hinata City chimes rang to announce the arrival of midnight.

Given his present circumstances Keitaro failed to notice any of that. All he could focus on was the fact that his body now felt tingly all over and that something soft and wet had just pushed its way into his mouth. The ronin's senses were going into overload as Keitaro tried to think of what to do. Through all the sensory and emotional chaos he was feeling one clear voice suddenly rang out.

Kiss her back, you idiot!

Keitaro was about to mentally ask himself how to kiss Kitsune back when some buried instinct he'd never known he possessed took over and he began to return the kiss. This feels even better than I imaged a first kiss would, Keitaro thought.

At that moment Kitsune broke the kiss and turned to the fireworks that were still erupting in the sky. "Happy Freakin' New Year!" she shouted.

Keitaro didn't hear a word she said. My first kiss! MY FIRST KISS! I finally had my first kiss! he mentally shouted. The ronin felt his heart might burst from joy.

Then reality set in like a Su-style kick to the head. Crap! Kitsune kissed me because she's drunk not because she likes me. And I took advantage of her by kissing her back. I'd better say I'm sorry before something bad happens.

Keitaro glanced at his housemate to see her back to him. "Um, Kitsune?"

"Kei…Keitaro," said the foxgirl weakly.

Oh no! She's upset with me! thought Keitaro. Damn me for kissing her back like that!

It was then that Kitsune turned around and the ronin could see that her face now had a strong green tint to it. "I…I think I really am gonna puke this time," slurred Kitsune weakly. She then fell to her knees and hunched over.

Keitaro dashed to her side. "Uh, okay, if you have to throw up then do it. Just try not to get any on that kimono you borrowed from Aunt Haruka. If you do she's skin you alive."

Kitsune managed a nod and leaned out a bit further. With a deep heaving sound she then began to throw up. Keitaro glanced away and tried to tune out the sounds the sick girl was making.

"I kiss a girl for the first time and a couple seconds later she's throwing up. I wonder if I should take this as a sign," sighed Keitaro. "At least I managed not to get a nosebleed somehow."

A short time later Kitsune stopped heaving and Keitaro gently helped her to her feet. "Are you okay?"
"My mouth tastes like a cat box," gurgled the drunken girl.

"The fireworks are over now. Ready to head home?"

Kitsune could only nod weakly.

"Okay then. We'll get you some water to wash the taste of that out of your mouth when we get back to the Hinata," assured Keitaro.

With that the two slowly left the playground.

~*~

For Haruka Urashima life seemed pretty good at the moment. Business at the teahouse she ran had been brisk and profitable today. Hopefully a sign of things to come in the new year. She'd just finished watching a very impressive fireworks show and all that remained was a final sweep of her shop's front before it would be time to call it a night.

Haruka subscribed to the theory that the front of one's shop was the same as a person's face. If her shop's face looked good then business would be good to. That philosophy had earned Haruka a good living for several years and she wasn't about to change her ways in that regard anytime soon. That belief, and a strange almost Zen-like feeling that come from such activity, was the reason she swept her shopfront several times each day.

So it was for that reason that Haruka was in a position to see an unusual sight as it made it's way down the streets.

"Ha, ha, ha! You and me! Little brown jug, don't I love thee!" sang Kitsune merrily as she stumbled down the street. Keitaro still had one of her arms tossed over his shoulder and an arm around her waist. His efforts were all that kept the intoxicated girl from falling flat on her face.

"Well, well. What have we here?" pondered Haruka as she took a puff from her ever-present cigarette.

As Kitsune sang Keitaro mentally glowered. Not five minutes ago she was puking her guts out and now she's singing again. It's like Kitsune is some kind of human yo-yo tonight. Up one second and down the next. Thank god we're almost home!

"Hey, Keitaro, you finally got yourself a girlfriend I see," called Haruka to her nephew. "It's about time. Though I can't say I pictured Kitsune as your type."

"Aunt Haruka!" squawked Keitaro as he caught sight of the older woman. The look on Naru's face as she hit after the incident at the prize booth suddenly flashed into his mind. "Don't say things like that! Kitsune had too much to drink at the shrine festival so I'm taking her home. That's all, I swear!"

Haruka couldn't help but take a little pleasure in teasing her nephew. The poor boy was such an easy mark with anything related to girls. "All right, if you say so."

"Keitaro's gonna take me home and put me to bed," cooed Kitsune as she suddenly glomped Keitaro. The ronin gave a shout of surprise and instantly began to try and disentangle himself.

"Are you sure about not having a girlfriend, Keitaro?" grinned Haruka as she took another puff. "Kitsune seems awful fond of you tonight."

You don't know the half of it, thought the ronin as he finally managed to get Kitsune off him. "She's been…affectionate since I found her passed out back at the shrine. But it's just the booze talking. What are you doing here this late anyway, Aunt Haruka?"

"Most places are closed on New Year's Day," began Haruka. "Being one of the few places that's open is good business. That really paid off when one of my best customers and several of his friends dropped by just before closing. He's a big spender so I was willing to stay open late for him. By the time he and his pals left it was almost time for the fireworks so I grabbed a bit of sake and climbed up on the roof to enjoy the show."

"Ya wouldn't happen to have any of that sake left, would ya?" asked Kitsune eagerly.

"Oh no, you've had quite enough," reprimanded Keitaro. Kitsune huffed and began to pout. The ronin sighed again and looked back at his aunt. "Isn't the roof a little dangerous place to be hanging out if you're drinking?"

Haruka made a dismissive noise. "I re-shingled the roof of his place all by myself three years ago rather than pay the outrageous fee the roofer wanted. So I'm just fine up there. Besides, I've always had perfect balance. The little bit of sake I had didn't do much besides help keep me warm."

Keitaro just nodded. Aunt Haruka's one tough lady. I hope I can be as cool and confident as she is some day.

"It was nice talking to you, Aunt Haruka," said Keitaro. "But I'd better get Kitsune home now. Despite how she's acting now she's also felt sick while I was bringing her here. So I'd better get her to bed as quick as possible."

"See, Haruka! Your nephew *is* trying to get me into bed!" chuckled Kitsune.

"Dammit, stop saying stuff like that!" shouted Keitaro as he flushed red. Kitsune giggled a bit as the ronin again started to lead her toward the Hinata.

"Hey, Keitaro," called Haruka. The ronin turned, looking puzzled. Haruka gave nephew a smile. "I've known Kitsune for a long time so I know what a handful she can be when she's gone over that very impressive limit of hers. You're doing a good job looking after her like that. Grandma Hinata would be proud of you. And, as a former landlord of the Hinata House, I think you're doing pretty good too."

Keitaro blinked for a moment at his aunt's praise then smiled. "Thanks a lot, Aunt Haruka. That means a lot."

Haruka just nodded in response. "Okay, enough chit chat. Get Kitsune home so she can start sleeping off all the sake she's had."

"I will," assured Keitaro. He then turned and with Kitsune still hanging off him headed into the night.

Haruka took a long drag off her cigarette. "Since he came here most of Keitaro's attention in regards to the girls has been focused on Naru. I know they're as different as night and day, but I wonder if this could be the start of something between him and Kitsune. After all, it's been ages since she had a boyfriend and Keitaro does have a sincere, if awkward, charm about him."

Haruka exhaled and watched the smoke float through the air for a moment. "Nah, I'm just being silly. Those to could never work as a couple."

Haruka then glanced up at the hill where the Hinata House sat. "Then again, stranger things have happened. I guess only time will tell. Whatever the case, I have a feeling we're all in for a very interesting year."

~*~

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" winced Naru as she leaned on Motoko for balance.

"We are almost to the top of the Hinata's stairs," said Motoko. "Just try to be careful."

"It's a little late for careful," grumbled Naru as she and her housemate climbed another stair. "I should have known better than to try and run while wearing a kimono. If I'd just slowed down I wouldn't have fallen and twisted my ankle and we would have been here ages ago. Are positive it's not broken? Because it sure does hurt."

"I am quite well versed in diagnosing such injuries due to my kendo training. Put some ice on your ankle and do not exert yourself and you will be fine in a few days," assured Motoko.

"Oh, thank god, we're finally done with the stairs," said Naru as she and her companion reached the top of the climb to the Hinata House.

"That is all well and good, but we must still ascertain if anything undue has or is transpiring between Keitaro and Kitsune. I would suggest we check her room first."

"Which is on the second floor which means more stairs," moaned Naru. The dark-haired girl then shook her head and brought a determined look to her face. "Right, to Kitsune's room, all speed!"

A minute later, after a brief but painful battle with a staircase, the two made their way to Kitsune's door. Motoko then leaned her head down by the door and listened. "There is one person inside. From the way they are breathing I would say they are asleep."

Wow, those fighting instincts of Motoko's are amazing, marveled Naru. She then said, "I guess that's a good sign, but I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't see with my own eyes that she's okay."

"Though it is a great violation of a person's privacy to enter their room without permission, under the circumstances I fear we have no choice."

"She's my friend so let me be the one to go in first."

Motoko nodded as quickly stood aside. Naru then quietly opened the door and the two went inside. Once in their housemate's room Motoko and Naru could clearly see Kitsune covered with a blanket, sleeping soundly on her futon. Naru went over to her friend and lifted up the blanket.

"Her kimono's still tied tight as far as I can tell. So I don't think anyone has messed with her clothes," reported Naru softly. "Looks like Keitaro managed to keep himself under control for a change."

"Thinking the worst of our housemates is a poor way to start this new year," said Motoko. "Though we acted from honest concern, I feel we may have gone a bit far this time. Since nothing is amiss let us return to our respective rooms and pretend none of this occurred."

Naru nodded and the two quietly slipped back into the hall.

"Naru? Motoko? What are you guys doing here?"

The two girls stiffened at the sound and then whipped around to see Keitaro standing in front of the door to his room which was just down the hall. For some reason the ronin now had on a blue and white yukata bathrobe.

"Ura…Urashima, what are you doing here?!" fumbled Motoko.

Keitaro blinked. "Um, I live in this room right here. What are you two doing over by Kitsune's room? In fact, what are you doing here at all? I thought the shrine festival was supposed to go on for at least another hour after the fireworks ended."

Great! Now of all times he decides to be observant, thought Naru. Then inspiration struck. "What are we doing here? Uh, you see, I slipped back at the shrine and twisted my ankle. It was really hurting so Motoko helped me walk back here. Shinobu and Su told us about Kitsune so we wanted to check on her before we went to bed."

"Oh, I see," said Keitaro. "Yeah, it took longer than I thought it would to get her home. But once we got here she had a glass of water and went to bed without too much of a fuss."

And, mercifully, a minimum of suggestive talk, he mentally added. "I wasn't too keen on letting her sleep in that kimono, but there wasn't anything I could do about that."

"We promised to wash the kimonos before returning them to Haruka," recalled Motoko. "It should not be too difficult to get any wrinkles caused by sleeping in one out then."

"That's true," concurred Keitaro. "Good thinking, Motoko."

"Say, Keitaro, why you are wearing that yukata at this time of night?" asked Naru, just to make sure nothing funny had gone on.

Keitaro glanced down at his robe and then looked back at the girls. "Oh, this? I figured you girls would be at the shrine for a pretty good while longer so I went down to the main bath area for a quick soak. I hardly ever get to use the baths down there after all."

Naru and Motoko stole a quick look at each other. All the evidence was pointing to nothing having happened between their housemates.

"Hey, where are Shinobu and Su?" asked the ronin.

Naru was about to reply when a voice suddenly called out, "Sempai, we're right here."

Naru, Motoko and Keitaro turned to see Shinobu and Su heading down the hall.

"Su, Shinobu, how did you get here so quickly?" said Motoko. "The fireworks didn't end long enough ago for you to have walked here."

"After the fireworks were over we did just like you said and talked to the head shire keeper," relied Shinobu. "He managed to borrow a car from someone and dropped us off at the main stairs just a minute ago."

"He was really nice!" informed Su as she pulled a small purple bag from within her kimono. "He said we reminded him of his granddaughters and gave each of us a bag of candy."

"Su, not so loud!" hissed Naru. "Kitsune's sleeping."

"It is late and it has been a long day. Perhaps we should all retire now," suggested Motoko.

The others, even Su, quietly agreed and made their way to their respective room. Thus ended what had been a memorable day.

~*~

"Thank you for helping me clear away the dishes, sempai," said Shinobu, cheerfully.

"No problem," assured Keitaro as he helped the Hinata's resident ace cook clear away the breakfast dishes. Due to the late night at the shrine everyone had opted to sleep in. But her unofficial duty as head chef had spurred Shinobu to be the first one up. As always she prepared a wonderful meal and soon all the Hinata's residents had come wandering in to eat. Everyone accept Kitsune. But missing meals due to the need to sleep off a drinking binge was nothing new for the foxgirl so everyone was content to let her be.

After he had finished eating Keitaro recalled his thoughts from the night before about Shinobu's strong sense of responsibility. On the spot he then made a resolution to help the girl who called him sempai out a bit more and to make sure that the residents of the Hinata knew how much they appreciated Shinobu's hard work.

"Uh, sempai?"

"Yes, Shinobu?"

"I have some reading one of my teachers assigned me over school break. But I'm having a bit of trouble with some of the plot points on one of the books I'm supposed to read. Could you please help me?"

Pride swelled in Keitaro's chest. He treasured the way the younger girl looked up to him. "Of course, I'll be glad to help you. Which book is it?"

"A famous British novel called David Copperfield by Charles Dickens," said Shinobu.

"Ah, I read that when I was about your age," replied Keitaro. "It's a great story."

Just then the phone in the living room rang. "I'll get it," called Shinobu as she raced of to get the phone.

As she dashed off Keitaro gave a small smile. Shinobu's such a great girl. I can tell she's going to go really far in life someday, the ronin thought.

"Hey, any food left?" said a weak and tired voice. Keitaro turned to see Kitsune, now dressed in a rumbled tanktop and shorts standing in the dinning room doorway.

"Hi, Kitsune, good to see you're awake. We didn't know when you'd wake up so Shinobu left you some food in the fridge."

"Good," nodded the foxgirl. "Is there any aspirin around? My head's killing me and I couldn't find any in the bathroom."

"Are you still feeling sick like you were last night?" asked Keitaro.

"I don't have a clue about how I was feeling last night," shrugged Kitsune. "I don't remember a thing I did last night after about that twentieth cup of sake."

Keitaro could feel the color drain from his face as his world fell out from under him. She…doesn't remember?! She gives me my first kiss and she doesn't even remember!?

The ronin's emotional plummet was broken when Kitsune spoke again. "Hey, Keitaro, my head really is killing me. Is there any aspirin *anywhere* in the house?"

Somehow Keitaro managed to pull himself back to reality. "Uh, yeah, I have some in my room. I'll just go get it."

With his emotions now in a maelstrom yet again, Keitaro silently headed back to his room. Two steps forward, one step back, he thought. Just like always.

"What's his problem?" wondered the shorthaired girl as she watched Keitaro wander off in a zombie-like state.

"Kitsune! Phone call!" called Shinobu from the other room.

"Dammit! Not so loud. My head is killing me," winced Kitsune as she headed for the living room. There Shinobu stood, phone in hand, waiting.

"Who is it anyway?"

"I don't know. They wouldn't say," informed Shinobu. "All they said was that they wanted to talk to you."
Kitsune frowned and picked up the receiver. She then waited until Shinobu had headed back into the other room before speaking.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Kitsune-chan! Happy belated New Year!"

At the sound of the voice on the other end of the line the foxgirl went stiff and nearly dropped the phone. It was about the last person on earth she could have expected.

"Mom?!"

To Be Continued…

Author's Notes: Surprise, surprise, I'm at it again. And this time I'm actually doing an alternative pairing fic. No, I don't know what's wrong with me either. I guess all that time I've spent hanging around other fanfic authors rubbed off on me. A pox on all your houses for doing this to me!

Anyway, so why Keitaro and Kitsune? I'm not 100% sure. Part of it had to do with Kitsune being my favorite LH character. There was also the fact that Keitaro/Kitsune was an idea that that really hadn't been explored much by other LH authors. So I thought I'd give it a shot.

Plus, she and Keitaro are so totally different I knew that having them get together would be a challenge and I like a challenge. I also don't have much experience at writing romance so there was another challenge.

As you can see I've branched off from the canon Love Hina timeline and made a few changes to better suit my story. At this point the main thing that's changed, of course, is who Keitaro's first kiss was. As you can guess this is going to have some major consequences down the road. I'll leave you to pick out the smaller changes.

Also, Keitaro's going to be paying more attention to the role Shinobu plays in the Hinata household. I really love the dynamic between those two and plan to have a lot of fun toying with that.

The other big change was that Kitsune was much more drunk in this story than in the New Year story in the manga. That was because I needed A) her to be out of it to a degree that Keitaro would feel she couldn't take care of herself and would be compelled to take her home and B) to give a plausible reason for her mood shifts.

I'm sure the last word of this chapter came as a surprise. I checked a lot of LH sites on the net and really wasn't able to find anything on Kitsune's life before she came to the Hinata House. That being the case I figured I had full lease to make up whatever I wanted. So we'll be delving into Kitsune's past and seeing how she ended up becoming who she is and what led her to the Hinata. After all, all the girls are at the Hinata for *some* reason.

Not knowing much about a character's past is both good and bad. It's bad in that you don't have anything to go on and as such you've got to make up everything and make sure it hangs together. One the other hand you're free make up whatever you want.

So I sat down and really did some thinking about Kitsune and her personality and tried to see if I could infer anything about her past. If nothing else I got to use a few things I learned in my Psychology 101 class. I'm no Frasier Crane, but I think I came up with some stuff that's both and interesting and fits with what we know of Kitsune. But I leave it to you the reader to be the ultimate judge.

Okay, I think I've rambled enough. There were a few little injokes in this story that I'll now point out for those who may have missed them.

I chose to use the name Hinata House because that's what's used in the official English version of the manga. However, Kitsune is still a part-time job-hopper. I have no idea where that freelance journalist stuff that was in the manga came from. My knowledge of kanji isn't the best, but I checked with some people whose Japanese is better than mine and they all agreed that job-hopper was the correct translation.

I chose to spell Su's name as s-u because, well, that's how it's spelled on *every* official bit of Love Hina merchandise. Heck, you can even clearly see that her name is spelled s-u *in English* in the opening to the anime.

The s-u-u thing is people just being to literal with translation of the katakana used to write her name. But anyone who's taken any Japanese can tell you when romanizing Japanese words you don't always write every character. Heck, if you take the characters used to write Tokyo and romanize all of them then Tokyo would be spelled t-o-k-y-o-u.

I think we can all agree that that's not right.

Choosing to title Keitaro's fortune "Strange Luck" was a tip of the hat to an old, short-lived Fox show also called Strange Luck that used to air just before the X-Files. I thought Strange Luck was a cool show and was sad when it was cancelled.

I don't have a gambler's spirit when it comes to my future happiness.

Fans of Final Fantasy X will recognize Gambler's Spirit as an item you can get in the game. I'm a big FF fan, so this likely won't be the last Final Fantasy joke I toss in.

What if ants wore hats?

This is an odd little expression I coined myself. I tossed it in because it seemed to suit the moment and it's funny, IMO.

"Says you and the Borg!" retorted Keitaro as he ran.

I've seen Star Wars references in Love Hina several times. So I thought it only fair that Star Trek get some screen time. I always liked Star Trek better anyway. Plus, in an odd bit of coincidence, Anthony Montgomery, who plays Travis Mayweather on Enterprise, is a graduate of my university (as is David Letterman).

There were little extra meanings to all the study questions. The people mentioned in the first question are all real famous Japanese authors that most people over there would know. As an American it's sometimes hard to keep the Japanese flavor in fanfic. Hopefully little touches like that make up for that a bit.

If you look carefully at the choices for the second question you'll notice that the lakes are listed in a way that spells h-o-m-e-s. That's an old trick for remembering the names of all five of the Great Lakes. Since I'm originally from the Great Lakes region I wanted to toss in a little reference to my lovely little bit of America.

Of course, the place seems a little less lovely when you wake up on winter mornings to discover that, thanks to what people native to the region call "the lake effect", your car has been covered in six inches of snow overnight.

The Kansas question was a nod to, as you may have guessed, the excellent TV show Smallville. Plus, since geography is one of my college majors (the other being Japanese) I couldn't resist the chance to play geography teacher for a moment.

Since I'm a geography student I take a silly bit of pride in the fact that I know the capitals of all 50 states. But Kansas is one of those states I always have to think about for a second.

It was actually the poem "The Road Not Taken" that planted the idea to do this story in my head. So I put it in to reflect that.

She doesn't do it as much now, but she really liked to read when she was in high school. She's got quite the collection of stuff stashed in a box in her closet.

In the story where Keitaro gets sick Kitsune reads to him from a book called Dialogues. After some research I found out that's it's a philosophical story about angels and demons and their relationship to God, Heaven and Hell. Not really what you'd expect Kitsune to read, huh?

There was also a small, pink nadesico flower in her hair and a brown stole wrapped around her shoulders.

The truth is I've got no idea what kind of flower Naru had in her hair in the New Year's story. I picked a nadesico flower as homage to the anime show Martian Successor Nadesico.

The KeroKero doll is a silly homage to the character Miho from the game Tokimeki Memorial 2, who is a big KeroKero fan. Since I'm a big fan of all the TM games I wanted to have little reference to it this story. Though for the record my favorite girl from TM2 was Kaori with Kasumi as a close second.

"Carpe diem time, Keitaro," whispered Kitsune, softly.

A Dead Poet's Society reference. But I'm sure you knew that. ;)

I know that Keitaro and Kitsune are both twenty. What Kitsune meant when she referred to herself as "an older girl" she didn't mean older in the literal sense. She meant it in that she's clearly more worldly and experienced in a lot of life's matters than Keitaro is. She's certainly much more comfortable with her sexuality.

Also, check out the version of that scene in the manga. Kitsune calls herself older there. Given the circumstances I couldn't explain that she was speaking metaphorically at the time. I figured that most people would understand what I meant, but thought it best to make perfectly clear here.

The devil & angel bit was an idea that came out of left field but one I knew I had to run with. As for the way Keitaro sees Kitsune according to Devil Haitani and Angel Shinobu, well, everyone has both good and bad feeling about the people in their lives. Sometimes you might think someone you care about is great and another time you might feel like they're an ass. That's just life so try not to read too much into Devil Haitani's words.

That's just what the little bastard wants.

The Cheers joke just seemed so Kitsune I had to put it in there. The same with "Little Brown Jug". Sure, it isn't very likely that Japanese people would know those songs, but I figured what the hell. It's funny and this is just fanfic.

"Ha ha ha! Run, run, fast as you can, you'll not catch me, I'm Kitsune-chan!" chanted Kitsune as she suddenly hung a right turn.

Believe it or not, when I wrote that I thought it was just a reference to Batman: The Animated Series. In one episode the Joker mocks Batman by going "Run, run, fast as you can, you'll not catch me, I'm the Joker Man!"

But it was then pointed out to me that the Joker was referencing the fairy tale of the Gingerbread Man. The thing is, after racking my brain, I was only able to come up with a vague memory of a story about a Gingerbread Man coming to life. I honestly don't remember anything else about the story. I guess that story just wasn't in any of the fairy tale books I had as a kid.

I put Haruka in simply because I like her a lot. I plan on having her be around in this story more than she was in the manga. Given that she's something of the Hinata House matriarch it always seemed odd to me that she wasn't around the house more.

"A famous British novel called David Copperfield by Charles Dickens," said Shinobu.

I was actually stuck for a time as to what book for Shinobu to being reading. It was going to be To Kill a Mocking Bird for a while. Both the book and movie are great. But I wanted something sort of reflective of Keitaro. David Copperfield and its story of a young man's climb to success seemed to fit.

Plus, I think David Copperfield the magician is really cool. My dad got me his autograph years ago, which I still have.

Anyway, I think I've babbled enough. Before I go I just want to say it'll be a while before the next chapter is out. College classes, my FF.N column, some other fanfics that are still in the fire, and trying to have a social life eat up a lot of my time. But I *will* get back to this story.

Until next time then.