There is an old saying that the first year of marriage is always the hardest. However, this is a statement specifically applying to marriage, and usually doesn't apply to a regular relationship. If it was just indeed marriage that is the hardest first year, then Keitaro Urashima had all but decided it wasn't for him.
This occurred to him as Naru Narusegawa was hitting him over the back of the head for the umpteenth time that day. They had just gotten home from the "holiday" on Okinawa, and he was just pondering what exactly he could do for money.
"What makes you think you need a job anyway?" Naru asked him, crossing her arms.
"Even if I'm not paying rent, I need money for lots of other stuff."
Stuff was, of course, vague as could be. Stuff was referring to food and basic necessities, but he didn't want Naru to know how tight he was having to swing things. It made him look weak to the girls, and if there was anything that would make his life even more difficult around the Hina Apartments, it was looking weak… well weaker.
Naru nodded to herself, asking, "Where would you get a job? You can barely keep things in shape around here and study as it is."
"I don't know yet," he said tiredly. "I'm still looking around."
Let's finish settling things for tonight before I worry about tomorrow, he thought.
"Sempai!" said Shinobu, greeting Keitaro happily as he entered the building. "I'm glad you're back!"
He smiled happily at her, and he knew he was glad to be back too.
"Always good to see you too," he said to her. "I'm going to let Motoko know it's her turn to prepare the rice this time, so I'll be back soon."
Keitaro climbed the set of stairs that lead up to Motoko's room and slid the door open, smiling wide.
"Motoko! It's your turn to…"
Opening his eyes slowly, Keitaro noticed he'd managed to interrupt Mokoto changing clothes. This was his curse: a perfectly horrible mix of thoughtlessness and bad luck. Had he thought to knock, Motoko could've warned him… Had she not been changing the middle of the day, her modesty wouldn't have been compromised. However, he didn't live in either of the worlds where these things had happened.
"…prepare the rice."
Keitaro lived in a world where a very, very angry Aoyama was about to kill him with her blade. Motoko was an accomplished warrior, with years of training to fall back on, even though she was only 16. Keitaro did not have over a decade of training. He had five years of sparing when he was a kid, and recently had about a year's experience of running away from angry women. So, he played to his strengths, fleeing the angry kendo girl.
"URASHIMA! I WILL PART YOUR HEAD FROM YOUR SHOULDERS!"
"Motoko! Please! It was an accident!"
Now, even though Naru was literally right next to him when the offense had occurred, she stayed on the sidelines, watching what she considered to be a show. Of course, he didn't expect her to cross her long-time friend, but at least a little defense on his part would've been nice. His thoughts were interrupted by Mokoto screaming again.
"I'll kill you!"
Running outside to have more room to dodge, Keitaro saw the other Hina girls had gone out and he ran to Mitsune in a hurry.
"Mi-Mitsune!" he panted. "Help me! She's going to kill me!"
The alcoholic woman looked at him laughing softly.
"Keitaro, calm down," she said.
"Urashima!" yelled Mokoto, busting the door down. "You don't have the courage to call yourself a man!"
When the hell do you act like a woman? he thought, but wouldn't say.
"I will not forgive your weak ass!" called the raven-haired girl.
"Motoko, calm down. It was just an accident."
For a moment, Keitaro thought Naru actually had come to help him, but no… of course not. It was actually Kitsune who had stepped and in tried to stop the crazy swordswoman.
"At least someone is trying to help," he whispered.
"It's not a matter of accident or not!" yelled Motoko. "That's why I challenge you to a duel, Urashima!"
This made Keitaro perk up. Motoko wasn't mad at him for accidentally seeing her change… Why was she mad, because he wasn't manly?
"What? Why?" he asked.
"If you beat me, I will not say anymore about this," she said, readying herself. "In fact, I will obey you and do as you say! However, if I win you will have to go through a training session from hell with me!"
Training session from hell? I don't even want to know what that means. If she beats me… When she beats me, I am doomed!
However, the other girls were all getting excited about the idea of their duel.
"Keitaro, here is your weapon!" said Kaolla Su, handing him… a baseball bat…
Keitaro liked Su… honestly. But how in the hell she expected him to hold Motoko off with a bat was beyond him! However, he wasn't given any time to reflect on how he was supposed to do anything; Motoko was already moving.
"Let's duel to the end!" she screamed at him, leaping high into the air.
Keitaro leapt back, keeping on his toes. He was still far from a fighter, but he had learned how to not get hit… at least for a time. Motoko was not going easy on him and constantly kept him moving back. He barely had time to even try and hit her with the bat, let alone succeed.
Motoko moved forward again, yelling, "Secret Technique! Rock Breaker Sword!"
Always with this bullshit from her! I don't have secret attacks!
Desperate, Keitaro held out his weapon to defend himself and realized too late his weapon was made of wood. It wouldn't have stopped a normal attack, let alone one of Motoko's demon defying blows. The wood shattered in his hands and Keitaro fell back, panicked. The sword mistress swung at him again and he had no time to dodge. Acting instinctively, he clapped his hands together, stopping her attack cold.
Everyone had a moment of stunned silence before Motoko spoke softly.
"Impossible! How could you so easy defeat my attack? I must not have trained enough… Well, I lose to you. Kill me, or do anything you wish. I will even commit seppuku if you wish."
"Wait!" Keitaro called out.
Despite his irritation with the kendo girl, he never wanted her hurt or dead. Kitsune snuck up next to him and whispered so only he could hear.
"You should make her do something totally embarrassing."
He considered it. For Motoko, an honorable death wasn't hard. The idea of keeping her honor was above all else. However, if she was trying to make him into more of a man…
"Ok, from now on, you have to show more of your feminine side! How's that?"
"Nice one!" said Kitsune.
"She was always saying he didn't have an masculinity," said Shinobu softly.
"Yeah, but Motoko doesn't really act like a girl either," said Naru.
"Huh?" asked Motoko, genuinely shocked. "I don't act like a girl?"
"Not ever," said Kitsune to Motoko. "You're always the samurai woman, so cold! It's not very womanly."
"So then," said the sword mistress. "That's how this will be?"
"Relax!" said Kitsune, pushing Motoko inside. "We'll get you fixed up in a second!"
Keitaro smiled as he watched Motoko get push into the apartments despite her protests. He liked the little prank he'd gotten over on her, even if he'd only won through a fluke. Of course, he never intended to actually make her become all girly. It just wasn't her style. However, this might just make her understand that being all stupidly macho wasn't his style either.
"If I was just a meat-head, you might be right to hate me," he muttered. "Maybe this can help you."
He walked calmly upstairs and heard Kitsune, Shinobu and Motoko scuffling and arguing with each other behind closed doors. It was actually amusing to see that the controlled warrior could be so… normal. Motoko was always so detached and apart from everything it was nice to see her just being human.
Naru came up and sat down next to him. Keitaro knew exactly what this moment was. This was one of the many, many moments Naru would lead him on and make him think there was actually a chance for a relationship between them.
And I let her do it every single time… he thought.
"Hey Keitaro, you did well out there."
"Thanks, but it was actually an accident."
"I figured," she said. "After all, there was no way a loser like you could ever actually beat Motoko."
"Gee, thanks," he said sarcastically.
"For the first time ever," said Kitsune, throwing open the door. "I present to you, Mini-skirt Motoko!"
Keitaro looked up at the sword mistress and could see from the look on her face that she was miserable. However, he was still feeling a bit miffed about her trying to kill him over not being a man.
"I think I'm just going to let her go through this for a bit," he said to himself.
"Well let's ask Keitaro," said Kitsune gesturing to him. "What do you think of Motoko's look?"
"Well," he said, thinking of a way to get back at her a bit. "You look pretty cute really."
It wasn't that he didn't mean what he said. Motoko did look cute all dressed up like a real woman, but it didn't suit her. It was so un-Motoko that he knew she'd instantly take offense. Just as he thought, she pulled out her blade, rounding on him.
Luckily, the beating from that morning did not continue, and Kitsune and Naru were around to help control the insane swordswoman. It was at this point that Keitaro's little joke on Motoko started to take on a life of it's own.
"Ok Motoko," said Su. "My lessons on how to talk like a cute little girl while start now. Pay attention! Lesson one is how to wake your big brother!"
"Su," said Keitaro softly. "Maybe we don't…"
"Big brother," said Su gently, rubbing Keitaro's cheek with her own. "You'd better wake up or you're going to miss school, and your pancake is getting cold."
"Do I have to do that too?" asked Motoko, pointing at Su's odd actions.
"Of course," said the young blonde.
As Keitaro was about to object, Motoko started repeating what Su had said.
"Big… Big brother," she said, shaking with fury. "If you don't… don't wake up soon… I cannot do this!"
She swung her blade at him and he felt her sheath connect with the back of his head, hitting him swiftly into the floorboards.
"Again with this crap," he muttered.
"0 points Motoko, you fail!" said Su, making things worse.
Shinobu then got the idea to try and help make Motoko cook, and it swiftly proved that the sword mistress was a sword mistress… not a knife wielder.
"Just go grocery shopping with Sempai!" Shinobu said, sighing. "I'll take care of the cooking."
Keitaro nodded and lead the kendo girl down the train station. Of course, he would've liked to tell her at this time that she could drop this whole being more girly thing, but someone had decided to knock him out only half and hour ago and his head was still smarting.
Even if it's only to control her damn temper, couldn't she change just a little bit?
"All this because I lost a bet," sighed Motoko.
"Well yeah," he said smartly. "You did agree to this, right?"
She nodded softly and they entered the train. As they rode it to their next destination in silence, Keitaro caught everyone in the car glancing at Motoko.
Well she is tall, and has a pretty face.
"Keitaro," she said suddenly. "How tall are you?"
"How tall am I?" he repeated, confused. "About 5 and half feet, why?"
She didn't answer him. They finished the shopping and when they got home, Motoko threw herself down on the couch, crying softly. This bothered him way too much. She was a proud and decorated warrior, and even if she could be a bit of a bitch, she didn't deserve to be miserable. She walked up to her room and Keitaro decided to follow her.
As he opened her door, he saw her examining her reflection in the mirror.
"A girl as tall as me will always be ugly," he heard her say.
That's why she asked how tall I was?"
She turned and he saw the fury come over her face again.
"I hate you!" she shouted, running away, towards the roof.
Sighing, he chased after her. This had gone on more than long enough.
"Motoko!" he called out to her.
"Stay back!" she shouted.
"Look, I'm sorry. We weren't trying to be mean or make fun of you. We just aren't used to you looking like this. You do honestly look cute like this."
"Shut up! I am a kendo warrior! I am five feet and seven inches as a high school student and I look horrid in this damn skirt!"
"Motoko, it's not like that…" he said reaching out.
"Don't touch me!" she shouted, slapping his hand.
He walked next to her, and leaned on the railing.
"I'm sorry," he said simply, seeing tears in her eyes he continued. "I was trying to prove a point when I said you should be more like a girl. But, honestly you're best when you're just being you. I am best like me, and you should be like you."
"Urashima," she said softly. "Thank you. I shall rely on my kendo from here on out, and not worry about being anyone else."
He smiled at her.
"I think that's a good…"
"And so I challenge you again!" she said, pulling a katana from somewhere hidden on her person.
"That is not what I meant!"
This battle was not nearly as long as the last one, and Keitaro did not win by a fluke.
"Scarred wind blade!"
In fact, he didn't win at all.
"What the hell?!" he screamed at her, flying backwards.
"Urashima," she said, sheathing her blade. "You are the only man to ever break a sword technique of mine. I shall never forget you for that."
"Then stop trying to kill me!"
"So," said Naru, showing up on the roof. "Does he still have to endure that training from hell you promised?"
Motoko smiled softly.
"No," she said simply. "The girls here aren't like girls anywhere else in the world, so having an unusual man isn't so bad."