Disclaimers 'n' caveats 'n' stuff
On the Love Hina side, I'll be following manga or anime continuity as I see fit. I'll totally ignore continuity as I see fit. On the Noir side, I'll fold, spindle, and mutilate characters and continuity as I see fit. It'll certainly help the reader to have seen both anime series. Failing that, a glance at a one-paragraph summary of each should suffice, as I'm not taking either too seriously here. You'll certainly miss some of the jokes, but I don't think anyone ever died of that. Not unless a short, slim girl with short, dark hair took offense.
There. I think that about covers it. Oh, except for saying that I don't own Noir or Love Hina. In fact, I don't own much of anything. Here's a bit of advice for anyone who wants it: If you have kids who are heading for college, disown them before they or the colleges start hitting you up for money. Disown them as emphatically as you can. Like with a catapult. Sure, a catapult in your front yard is big and ugly, but not as big and ugly as those bills from the college.
Chapter 1: Meets and Greets
Shinobu Maehara sat on a park bench, crying. She'd left home with nothing but a small suitcase after… after another violent argument between her parents? She couldn't quite remember what had caused her to get on the train, but when she had looked at her suitcase, she'd realized that she had moved out. Run away from home.
She'd stumbled her way to a converted inn late yesterday, a girls' boarding house which miraculously had a room open. The owner had taken pity on her and agreed to let her work for her room and board. She'd come down to town this afternoon to buy groceries, when it all caught up to her. She had just turned thirteen and she was on her own and she couldn't even remember what her parents looked like.
Shinobu sat on a park bench, crying her eyes out.
Keitaro Urashima sat on a park bench, worrying. His parents had confronted him that morning about his failure to get into college, his poor prospects of ever getting in, the uselessness of college, his inability to follow the trade that had been planned for him even before his birth, and the drain he was placing on the family finances. Right now he was procrastinating before climbing up the hill to talk to his grandmother. He'd gotten a letter yesterday, possibly something about a place to live when his parents kicked him out. It was hard to tell because Granny was completely insane. After eighteen years, after supposedly changing his diapers as a baby, she still thought he was a girl. Insane.
Keitaro sighed, then looked around for a distraction from his gloomy and self-pitying thoughts.
On the next bench over he saw a girl crying her heart out. Keitaro pulled out his pad and pencils and sketched the girl's profile. He was a good artist – despite his parents' contempt for wasting time on the arts – and quickly had a drawing which captured not only her looks but her moment of despair.
Keitaro shook his head. That wouldn't do – such a pretty young girl should be smiling and enjoying life, not weeping. He shook his head again. Such a loser as himself couldn't help her with her problems, but at least he could draw her happy.
Keitaro started another sketch, intent this time on removing the heartbreak. The pencil moved over the page while Keitaro kept his eyes on the girl. When the sketch was done, Keitaro looked at it to take in the whole of the smiling portrait.
But… it wasn't a smiling portrait. What had he done? The pretty face on the paper was that of the young girl, but it was devoid of all happiness, all grief, all emotion. All humanity.
Keitaro flinched violently, then stared at his hand. Where had that come from?
Shinobu looked up, yanked from her self-pity when something came flying toward her. Her hand flicked out quicker than most people had ever seen a human move, catching it before it could hit her.
It was a sketch pad. With drawings of – of her! The artist, a college man, looked upset as he made ineffectual attempts to get the pad back. Shinobu cried out, "Auu! How could you!"
The man laughed unconvincingly, then struck his own hand. "Ah, I couldn't help it. Bad hand! Bad hand!"
Shinobu looked again at the drawings. They weren't the almost-porn she'd been afraid of when she found a college man drawing a barely-teenager. The first was realistic enough, an unflattering sketch of her crying, tears and puffy eyes and all. But the second! She looked like a monster! Why would he have done such a thing? Distressed beyond measure by this added affront, Shinobu burst into renewed tears and ran off with her groceries, still clutching the sketch pad.
Keitaro lifted his leg up one last time and then heaved his body up to follow it. He had thought he'd been keeping himself in shape, but his legs had gone rubbery after going up only 120 steps, with 26 to go. He remembered the number of steps from years ago, thanks to having to run up and down, up and down as part of his training. Strong legs make a strong heart. Granny loved him… probably. It was hard to tell, with the way she drove him so hard in training him to be the strongest, toughest, best-coordinated little girl in the world. When he was little, he'd thought she was just silly, teasing him like that. When he was a bit older, he'd thought it was part of the training, toughening him up emotionally as well as physically. Now? Now he figured she really thought he was a girl. Crazy old bat.
Finally reaching the wooden porch by the front door (five wooden steps after the 146 stone steps; adding insult to injury, they were) and staggering into his family's inn, Keitaro called out, "Hello? Granny? I'm here!" Silence was his only reply. The pattern of noises – just an old building creaking with the wind and sun – told him that no one else was in this wing, though the condition of the front room told him that someone lived here.
Granny's room was locked. Keitaro shrugged. She was probably running errands or visiting with Haruka down at the bottom of the hill. He'd avoided the tea shop on the way up because he wasn't in the mood for one of his aunt's (but don't call her Auntie!) lectures.
Honestly, he wasn't in the mood for his grandmother, either, but he was out of options at the moment.
There was one good thing: no Granny plus no guests equals Keitaro having the hot spring to himself. Leaving his suitcase by the door, he wasted no time getting himself to the changing room and then into the water.
Keitaro ran for his life. An already-bad day had turned into the worst he'd ever had. It wasn't bad enough that he'd been kicked out of home and had to come stay with his crazy grandmother. No, now he had to be attacked by a pair of violent girls when he was half-asleep in the hot spring. What was his grandmother thinking, calling him here with these psychos? And not even a word of warning!
Tearing out of the washroom with nothing but a towel clutched precariously around his waist, Keitaro headed for the front door and his suitcase. If he was very fast and very lucky – Very lucky! Where did that rocket come from? – he would be able to get decent and get out of the inn before those murderous chicks caught him again.
So intent was he on watching behind him as his feet traveled the well-known path that the young man didn't notice the young woman who'd just stepped into the hallway, heading for the washroom and the hot spring.
Keitaro found himself upside down and then on his head and then on his back before he finished his Oof. Looking up, more than slightly dazed, he thought he saw the crying young girl he'd drawn before. His eyes slid from her face, then down along the bare, slim leg standing on his throat, and then back up. She was wearing a towel. She was wearing only a towel. She was wearing only a towel!
Keitaro's nose erupted with a fountain of blood.
Shinobu jumped back to keep the spray of blood off her leg. This allowed her to see more of the young man. She saw much more of the young man, as well as his towel, lying some distance from his body. The urge to kill, the urge to pass out with her own nose spray, and the urge to run away warred within her head.
"Aaauuu!" Running away won.
Keitaro recovered from his bedazzlement just in time to scoot up six inches and let the sword chop the floor between his legs. No fool he, he leaped up and hightailed it, dodging another missile, to the front door, his suitcase, and escape.
… And his aunt, as it happened.
"What's going on in here?" Haruka demanded. "Oh, Keitaro. Mother said you would be coming soon. I expected you to be wearing more than a pair of trousers and one shoe, though."
Keitaro moved to hide behind his aunt as the girls burst from stairway. "Save me! They're trying to kill me!" If he hadn't started out naked, he could have handled them easily, even the sword girl, but he probably wasn't good enough to take them all on bare-handed. Let alone bare everything else.
It took a while, but Haruka kept everyone's violence under control long enough for Granny Hina's unsent letter to Keitaro to come out and make it clear that he was the inn's new manager. No one was happy about it, least of all Keitaro, but he had no other options, nowhere else to turn, nowhere else to live. Thus, he was less accommodating than he might have been in a different universe.
"I will not tolerate a man as manager!" the oldest girl, Narusegawa, protested. "This is a girls' rooming house! There is no place for a man. Especially not a groper!"
"Groper? It's not groping when you grabbed my hand and placed it on your own, ah, chest." Children present, though Narusegawa was acting more childish than the youngest one here.
"Varlet! You not only blame an innocent schoolgirl for your misdeeds, you exposed yourself to an even more innocent schoolgirl. That is dishonorable! You are living proof that no man can be trusted."
"You're the dishonorable one. Attacking a stunned man with a sword? You should be ashamed of yourself. That's the act of a coward."
Shinobu partially agreed with the new manager. It was cowardly to attack an unconscious man. On the other hand, if you were going to kill someone, it was easiest to do it when he was unconscious, or at least not paying attention. On the other hand, even after living here for less than a full day Shinobu had noticed that Aoyama spoke constantly of justice and honor but didn't behave honorably. Just like a self-proclaimed samurai, using honor as an excuse to bully others and do whatever she wanted.
No, wait… Where had that thought come from? She'd never thought much about samurai, other than history lessons and movies.
Still, Shinobu's earliest training had been honest to the point of brutality: her soul, her hands would be blackened, but she would hold them over the innocent, to protect the children and to make the world a better place. Not like the samurai, thinking themselves better because they could slaughter unarmed peasants and then lying to themselves about what they were doing.
No, wait… Training? Shinobu hadn't had any training, other than school. And… running? And… punishment for failing to hit a moving target?
Shinobu shook off the confusing thoughts and brought her attention back to the argument.
"Why would I agree to a duel on your terms, Aoyama?" the manager was saying, deliberately rude. "You're demanding that I give up something belonging to my family and fight you with a weapon of your choosing. You're risking nothing and tilting the odds in your favor. Are you afraid you can't win a fair fight?"
"Keitaro," Haruka-san warned. "And you, Motoko-san. Keep that sword in its sheath or I'll take it away from you again."
The manager frowned but nodded. "I'll make you a counter-bet, Aoyama: We duel, each with our choice of weapon. If you win, I will not manage the girls' boarding house. It'll probably have to close because there's no one to manage it, but you'll have gotten what you wanted."
"And if I win, you give me your sword."
"That is an outrage! ShiSui has been in my family for generations!"
"And this inn has been in my family for generations. Bring your sword. I'll meet you outside."
Motoko stomped out, followed by a huffy Narusegawa and a curious Su. Shinobu stood quietly against the wall, watching as the new manager pulled something blocky and metallic out of his bag and tucked it under his shirt.
Urashima-san met Shinobu's eyes for a moment after he stood up and turned around. She knew that look, the look of a predator, before his aunt distracted them.
"Leg wound, right Kei-kun? Try not to cripple her. Mom is trying to work with her clan."
"I shouldn't have to shoot her at all. I'll offer to cancel the duel with neither of us losing. I'm hoping she'll be smart and accept. If she doesn't, I'll try not to hurt her too much."
"Do what you have to do, Keitaro, but please protect the peace."
"That pretend samurai is no newborn, Auntie. Ow! And I'm trying to protect the peace."
Please protect the peace? Shinobu's heart skipped a beat. Where did she know that from? It meant danger and pain and … and fulfillment.
Even though Keitaro did not intend to follow the family trade, he'd been trained in marksmanship as part of his childhood training. It was hardly a common skill in Japan, practiced only by bodyguards and assassins. Unarmed combat was much more common, although most students learned gentler arts like Aikido, not the lethal techniques he'd practiced. That was why he'd set the duel up this way, with a surprise reveal of his weapon. He had no desire to kill this foolishly overconfident teenaged girl.
As for the younger girl, Maehara-san, he wasn't sure what to make of her. Most of the time she seemed like nothing more than a cute, young schoolgirl. Just for a moment, though, he'd seen a predator lurking behind the schoolgirl eyes. It was a look he was very familiar with from his family.
The next morning, Shinobu set out breakfast for her fellow tenants and for their manager. Keitaro noticed that the best dishes were set closest to him. Coincidence? Brown-nosing?
Aoyama had agreed to cancelling the duel and withdrawing her objection to Keitaro managing the inn. She would watch him carefully for any sign of perversion or dishonor, but her adamant refusal to allow him in the inn had been withdrawn.
To her credit, the samurai girl had refused to "duel" him when she saw him come out without a sword or even a bokken. He hadn't needed to scare her off with his pistol.
But of course that was not the end of the challenges.
"This place is a mess! How do you expect us to live in a battered wreck of an inn?" Narusegawa had launched her attack over breakfast. Rather uncultured, but what could he expect of someone with such an obviously unbalanced temper?
After the meal, she led Keitaro around the inn, pointing out the moss in the spring area, the cluttered common room, and the unpainted outer walls.
"What are you going to do about this? If you're going to pretend to be the manager, it's your responsibility to make this place spotless."
"Yes, Narusegawa, I agree that the whole inn is filthy and needs a good cleaning from top to bottom. It's not entirely my job to to clean it. Look here at your rental contract. You took the student-rate option, right?"
"Of course. I am a student, unlike you."
"Aoyama and Konno, too, though I'm not sure how Konno qualifies as a student. It doesn't matter. In order to get the student rate, each of you agreed that you'll do chores. Read this: 'Tenant is responsible for three hours each week in helping to clean the common areas. Cleaning tasks are to be assigned by and logged by the manager. The tenant may pay ¥5,000 per hour in lieu of cleaning.' Now look at the logbook. You, Aoyama, and Konno haven't done any cleaning in at least the last three months. That's, ah, about ¥200,000 each. Maybe more, once I find the earlier logbook. If all three of you pay what you owe I'm sure I can hire a cleaning service to make this place spotless, and buy material for some repairs, too. Try to pay in full before this weekend, all right?"
Narusegawa tried to splutter out something about "not fair" and "Granny never said anything", but Keitaro didn't budge. What mattered was the rental contract her parents had signed, and if this female dog in human form didn't want to pay, she could move out. He won either way.
Keitaro spent much of the next several days inspecting the inn, making an inventory of repairs it needed while Aoyama and Narusegawa spent every spare moment frantically cleaning. It wasn't a reassuring list. There were no major problems, or none that he'd found yet, but there were about a million things needing paint or a few nails or about a hundred shingles. Granny hadn't been doing her job as manager. Did she have something else keeping her busy, or was she just old and slowing down?
Keitaro had just pulled his head out of an under-stair closet when a rustle of fabric caught his attention. He got an arm up barely in time to deflect a head kick from a girl who'd flipped over the banister.
An agile little monkey girl! She latched onto his arm and swung around and managed to nail him a good one before wrapping around his head like a psychotic headband.
But Keitaro was good, too, and bigger and stronger than his attacker. He got her legs unwrapped from around his head, jabbing nerve clusters as he did so, then throw her on the ground. She stayed down as her legs turned to jelly.
And now Keitaro recognized her. Something Su, the foreign girl, the one who'd eaten an entire bunch of bananas on top of a normal breakfast.
"Oh, you're good!" she enthused before he finished remembering her name. "We'll have to play every day."
Coming down from the adrenalin high, it took Keitaro a moment to get his reactions under control and not pull the pistol from the concealed holster. Don't shoot her, don't shoot her. Except he wasn't carrying a pistol inside the inn. Careless, careless…
"Su-san, why did you attack me? That's a good way for someone to get hurt."
"Aw, I was just playin'. Sometimes Motoko plays with me, but she's been grumpy the past few days. And she never wants to play when I want to play with my mechas."
"Mechas? Fighting robots? So you're the one who's been shooting missiles? You've wrecked a lot of the inn and grounds."
"Oh, that's no problem. Just give me a bill and I'll pay it. My brother gives me a destruction allowance. He's the best big brother in the world!"
Keitaro blinked as little bundle of energy jumped up and ran off. Was it that easy? He wondered, would it be unethical to encourage her to blow up parts of the inn that already needed to be fixed, then get her to pay for the repairs?
Keitaro finally met the last tenant after he'd been at the inn for almost a week. She allegedly had some job where she was out most nights, spent a lot of time in bars, and was often gone for days at a time. It was news to him that "professional drunk" was a paying job, but it wasn't any of his business, so long as she paid her rent and didn't get sick where he or Maehara-san had to clean it up. In any event, he had to collect rent and arrange for her to do her chores and just meet her.
"Keep it down, I'm coming, I'm coming. It's not even eleven yet. Don't you remember I said not to knock before noon? Eep!"
The door slammed in Keitaro's face, cutting off his view of rounded flesh. She evidently slept unencumbered by clothing. He briefly thought about passing out in a spray of nose blood – he'd of course seen plenty of female flesh when he was younger and Granny brought him into women's changing rooms and hot tubs, but that had ended years ago, when he got old enough for other women to object – but frankly he was just too busy and didn't want to have to clean up the mess.
The door opened again, showing a fully-dressed woman about Keitaro's age. "Well, hello, Sugah. It's a bit early for strange men to be knockin' at my door, but you must be some hot stuff if Motoko hasn't chased you away yet."
"Good morning, Konno-san. I'm Keitaro Urashima, the new manager of the inn."
"Granny told me she'd be getting her granddaughter to fill in while she was away on business. Did something happen to her?"
Keitaro closed his eyes and sighed. The old bat was going to be the death of him.
After explaining, yet again, Granny's perennial confusion, Keitaro followed up with a request for the rent. And last month's rent while she was at it. And he made an attempt at arranging for either chores or money in lieu of chores.
"Oh, well, I'm a little short at the moment, but I should get paid soon. I can give you maybe half a month's rent in a week. That's OK with you, isn't it, Cutie?"
Keitaro stepped back as she reached to run her hand down his neck and chest. "No, it's really not OK. I need your rent money so I can pay the bills. If you want to keep having electricity and hot food, you need to come up with your rent. Let me put that another way: I want to keep having electricity and hot food, so you need to come up with your rent."
Over the next few days, Konno tried several more times to flirt her way out of having to pay her rent and do her chores. When that didn't work, she turned to other scams.
One time she asked him to come to her room after he finished his afternoon work, answered the door in a torn top, and then jumped back, yelling, "Urashima-san! What do you think you're doing?"
Her plan to have Narusegawa punch Keitaro into the next county failed because Shinobu was coincidentally nearby, taking care of one of the endless chores she did to pay her rent. Shinobu glanced at Keitaro just as Naru and Motoko burst out, then asked, "What are you talking about, Konno-san? Mr Manager is just standing there. And don't you think you should wear a bra? You're only twenty and you're already starting to sag."
Keitaro snickered inside and thought about asking Shinobu to accompany him anytime he needed to talk to Konno. He also thought about evicting Konno, but it was a good question whether he, a man, would be able to find another tenant for a women's dorm to replace her. For now, it was probably better to keep her.
After another backfiring bit of attempted blackmail, Konno gave up the attempts and went back to attempting to flirt her way out of her responsibilities.
"Why don't you take a break, Sugah? Sit down and watch this movie with me. To make up for trying to trick you before, I'll even share some of my sake. C'mon, have a seat and we can get friendly."
It didn't work. Keitaro wasn't budging. He wasn't exaggerating when he told her they needed all the money he could raise in order to buy paint and keep the utilities on and food on the table.
Besides that, Granny had trained him since childhood in how to use his feminine wiles to make a man relax his guard. Once he got to around twelve years old he rebelled against the lessons, but he still remembered them. Compared to him, Konno was an amateur at flirting with a man.
Consequently, Keitaro found himself supervising a hung-over Konno using a scrub brush one Sunday morning, having given her a choice of working all day or being tossed out that afternoon. The in-lieu-of-chores money would have been more helpful, to buy materials, but he could make do. Kaolla Su had been as good as her word, sending her mechas after Keitaro as he ran through the most run-down parts of the inn and then cheerfully handing over large wads of cash.
Shinobu saw it all. Perhaps because she was small and quiet and maintained a carefully-cultivated shyness, she had been able to get around anywhere unnoticed for as long as she could remember … She thought she'd been able to. Sometimes she could remember childhood games of sneaking around and ambushing others, marking their hearts or necks or kidneys with chalk, but sometimes she couldn't remember two days ago. It was driving her crazy.
Shinobu saw the attempted bullying and approved of Keitaro's firm response. You had to slap them down hard. For a first lesson. If the bullying continued past that, then it was time to kill them.
What!? Kill them? Where had that thought come from? She was a good girl! She had never killed anyone, never been taught to kill anyone. Her parents had been bakers. Or… they owned a restaurant? A catering service? It was hard to remember. Why couldn't she remember?
Confused, the girl wandered off, working her way through her memories.
She wasn't too confused to bring a feather duster to the new manager's room and pretend to clean while checking what weapons he had. She'd been trained to evaluate all potential threats, and eliminate them if necessary.
Author's Note: Why am I writing this? Because anything worth doing is hard, which means that anything hard is worth doing. It was hard to cross a slapstick romantic comedy with a gritty, dark, action mystery, from which you must conclude that it was worth doing. QED. If that logic is difficult for you to follow, don't worry. Go to college, taking out large loans even if you don't need them, and enter a philosophy program. Stay up late every night, talking with other philosophy majors. Make sure to take your daily recommended dosage of drugs and alcohol, or even a bit more than the daily recommended dosage, and before you know it, that logic will be clear as day.