|The Demon's Contract
Author: Ringmaster PM
Tired of stories where Ranma goes back in time and fixes life so everyone's happy and perfect? Try this Ranma on for size! A contract with a demon gives Ranma a second chance, and he ain't gonna stand for anyone running his life but himself!Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Humor - Ranma & Mara - Chapters: 3 - Words: 30,816 - Reviews: 363 - Favs: 573 - Follows: 647 - Updated: 07-12-07 - Published: 12-08-05 - id: 2693964
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
See Chapter 1
"WAKE UP, DAMMIT!"
Somehow managing to convince herself it wasn't really happening, and that she was too tired to care, Nabiki began to fall back asleep. Then, there was a loud, high-pitched, whistling sound, kind of like what one of her older teachers had described as the sound of an artillery shell flying through the air, followed by the sound of a loud splash. Disturbed by the whistling sound, as it resembled her alarm clock, she staggered over to the window, intent on finding the source. A quick shove opened the curtains and the window, revealing the Tendo yard in all its dark, rainy glory. There was a small black piglet swimming in the koi pond, and Ranma was leaning out of his window, yelling "I'M TRYING TO SLEEP!" His father was waving around a battered sign that read 'QUIET!'
It took a moment for Nabiki to process what was happening. When she did, she came to the conclusion that it was time to do something about it.
On her way downstairs, she figured it all out. Ryoga, the piglet outside, had entered the house at this absolutely ungodly hour to restart his fight with Ranma. While Nabiki currently didn't particularly care about Ranma and his fights unless bets (and therefore money) could be made on them, she did care very much, thank you, about getting a good nights' sleep. How was she supposed to concentrate in class if she was exhausted?
"Hello, police?" Nabiki said into the phone "I want to report a burglar in the area. He just broke into our house and tried to assault one of our guests. His name is Hibiki Ryoga. He's about sixteen years old, wears a yellow shirt and black pants, with a yellow bandana around his forehead…" Nabiki briefly entertained the idea of equally placing blame on Ranma, but eventually decided against it. He hadn't looked very amused at being awoken by Ryoga either, and besides that, the image of him grinding Kuno into the dirt was still a little too fresh in her mind. She could understand, somewhat. She knew of Kuno's sister, and if Nabiki had an attractive 'male form,' she'd spend no inconsiderable amount of time making sure that Kodachi never encountered it. In any case, Ryoga was the one who had forced her from her bed. She finished up the phone call with an estimate of Ryoga's strength using the ease with which he had handled the lead umbrella as a guide, emphasizing that Ryoga was a high-class martial artist, and they should be careful if they saw him.
In Nerima, nervous cops on the lookout for powerful martial artists usually meant teargas, tranquilizer darts, and tazers. That'll teach him not to make me get up in the middle of the night.
Nabiki hated not getting her full eight hours of sleep. Stupid pig.
"Damn right," grumbled Nabiki, stepping out of her room. Ranma was surprised that she cursed. "Waking me up in the night like that. That'll teach him."
"What'll teach him?"
"Reported him to the police. Told them he broke into the house, which he did, and assaulted the guests, which he did. That'll keep him from showing up and ruining my beauty sleep."
-She's vindictive. I like her.-
What's vindictive mean? If it means evil, you're right.
With a stretch, and the thought of good morning workout ahead, Ranma wandered down the stairs, with Nabiki in tow. When he reached the living room, however…
"Oh, god. Nabiki, please tell me you're seeing this."
"What?" she asked, peering around the suddenly-annoyed martial artist.
Seated at the dining table was her father, Genma, and Akane. Kasumi was smiling and serving some tea to her father, and Akane held, of all possible things, a little… black… piglet.
In her lap.
Which was happily nuzzled into her chest.
"Nabiki, Akane was there when I explained about Ryoga's pig curse, right?"
Unable to voice herself properly at this sign of her little sister's remarkably small ability to listen properly, Nabiki could only nod in surprise as Akane fed some rice to her "cute little P-chan!"
"Akane, where did you get that… pig?" Nabiki asked.
"I found him in my room!" Akane declared. "Isn't he the sweetest little thing? I think he must have run into the house to escape the rain last night."
"I give up," Ranma muttered to himself, but loud enough that Nabiki managed to overhear. "She's too stupid to survive. The whole 'I'm a martial artist' thing was bad enough, but this…"
Annoyed beyond belief, Ranma dropped into his seat by Kasumi, and dug into his morning rice, casting severely annoyed glares at the bandana-clad piglet, who seemed oblivious to Ranma's presence, basking in Akane's attention. Nabiki, on the other hand, was still coming to grips with her sister's most recent bout of stupidity.
"Akane…" she started, causing her younger sister to look up from her 'pet.' Nabiki frowned, and shook her head vigorously.
Ranma cast a glare at the piglet in Akane's lap. Probably doesn't even realize that he never made it out of the back yard, and thinks he's in a home in Okinawa. Stupid, no sense of direction little…
"Akane," Nabiki tried again. "Do you remember a few days back? A guy falling from the sky, screaming about Ranma's immediate demise, got totally knocked out in seconds?"
"Um… Ryoga, right?" Akane replied, sounding unsure about this line of questioning. The piglet, happily lost in his own little contented world, wasn't paying any attention at all. "What about him?"
"Do you remember… anything… about what Ranma said about him?" There is no way, Nabiki thought to herself, that Akane can not pick up on where I am going with this.
There was a pause, as all members of the Tendo household looked at Nabiki, to Akane, to Nabiki, and back again to Akane.
Um… Akane thought, trying to wrack up everything that had happened in those moments over a week ago. "Ranma said… that Ryoga… is a pervert who slips into girls' beds and rubs his head into their chest!" she concluded triumphantly.
All eyes swung to Nabiki. "Anything else? Something he might have in common with Ranma, perhaps?"
Ranma muttered some unsavory words under his breath, stabbing at his rice with a quiet tak tak tak tak. Kasumi turned red, but Soun could be heard muttering, "Sounds like something the Master would make a woman do."
Genma slapped a hand over his friend's mouth. "Speak not the name!" he insisted.
"They're both perverts," Akane answered at length, giving Ranma the evil eye. "But… I think… there was something about a curse…"
TAK TAK TAK TAK!
"Ranma-kun, you're going to break the bowl if you keep doing that," Kasumi said gently. Ranma grunted, but slowed his rabid attack on his rice.
"Single-minded, sis, that's all you are," Nabiki mumbled, and sat down at the table. Ranma, on the other hand, seemed to lose any semblance of control over his temper, and slammed his bowl down onto the table. He whirled right where he sat, facing Akane.
Akane cringed, thinking that he was going to yell at her. She did not want to revisit the koi pond.
"HEY, RYOGA! FUCK OFF AND DIE, PIG-BOY!"
The effect was immediate. The piglet's eyes snapped open, and he launched at Ranma with a rage-filled "BWEEEE!" Rolling his eyes, Ranma caught the rival-turned-living lunchmeat with one hand, ignoring both the pig's grunts and Akane's squeals of protest.
The hairs on Nabiki's arms stood on end as Ranma frowned in concentration while he held on to the squirming pig. "EVERYBODY DOWN!" she screamed, diving for the underside of the dining room table.
"BWEEEEE-!" screeched Ryoga-pig as dark electricity sparked out of Ranma's hand, electrocuting the piglet.
"Stupid pork butt passed out. So much for my morning entertainment," Ranma chuckled, hefting the piglet like a baseball.
The Tendo family members slowly crawled out of the collective hiding places they had run for at Nabiki's panicked warning. Awestruck or horrorstruck faces adorned them all, having witnessed the disturbing phenomenon of watching Ranma electrocute Akane's new pet bare-handed.
Well, awe or horrorstruck except one.
Akane flushed red with rage as she watched her precious P-chan's legs twitch in reflex.
"You- you- you… YOU STUPID JERK!" she screamed, throwing herself full-tilt at the smirking martial artist.
Ranma threw Ryoga side-arm style, resulting in the same artillery-whistling sound that Nabiki had heard the night before. He barreled into Akane's stomach like a cannonball, driving her to her knees with a whuff sound as her breath was driven out of her. The piglet flopped to the ground, still unconscious.
"Stupid girl," Ranma snarled, advancing on the helpless Akane. "You don't pay attention to anything at all, do you? Are you so pathetically self-absorbed that nothing that disturbs your precious perfect world can be allowed?"
"Boy, that's no way to treat your hkkkk"
"Pops, the rest of what you were about to say had better not have been 'fiancée.'" Ranma snapped, grinding his father's face into the dining room table. "She's not my fiancée. I don't even like her. And I'm engaged to Kasumi. You remember her, right? The one who-" He threw his hand out behind himself, resulting in a ball of ki leaping out of his hand, through the air, into the chest of an advancing Tendo Soun, who was promptly folded in half from the impact even as he was blown out the door and into the yard, finally impacting the outer wall like a runaway rocket, unconscious. "-cooks the food around here, takes care of the house, allows your lazy ass to live in comfort? Probably the most unappreciated person who lives here? I don't know what your deal is with this insistent desire of yours to engage me to Akane, but when, not if, but when I find out, and it turns out to be another of your stupid ideas that sets your lazy ass to retirement while I actually work to support you, I'll break your head open and use your empty skull as a rice bowl. Are we clear on this?"
"Hrrrrkkkkk!" came the enthusiastic reply.
"Excellent!" Ranma declared, and threw Genma into the koi pond. To make things a little quieter, a quick Moko Takabisha followed, ending with both fathers now unconscious.
"Gods, I hate you people! Look what you're making me do! I have to get all angry and upset just to make you idiots listen to me, and every time I do, I just know I'm going to end up ranting! I can't take this!" At this rate, I'm going to end up like a… a…
-Ruthless dictator ruling with fear?-
-Just beat her around until she gets the point.-
Are you kidding? Ranma thought, rattling Akane around by her shoulders, completely ignoring her (admittedly useless) attempts to free herself. No amount of 'I'm in a bad mood' is going to let me get away with knocking Akane through the floor!
-So fight her, stupid.-
Ranma stopped shaking Akane. What?
-Just fight her. Or is there some strange human rule not letting you do that?-
-Don't tell me it didn't even occur to you.-
…Shut up, the martial artist grumbled, dropping the youngest Tendo.
"Akane…" Ranma grinned in a way the made (conscious) Tendo family's hair stand on end. Nabiki attempted to hide behind Kasumi, an effort that was wasted as Kasumi seemed torn between supporting her new fiancée and hiding, and as such she settled for sitting down and pretending to be invisible. "I challenge you. You have five minutes to meet me in the dojo."
"Like I'd fight a perverted lunatic like you!" she shot back from the floor.
"Practitioners of the Anything Goes style are not allowed to refuse a challenge. To do so is to renounce the Art. Four minutes, fifty seconds. I'll be waiting."
"Are you insane?" Nabiki demanded. "You barely even know my sister. For all you know, she's got the strength of King Kong and the durability of Godzilla." Really, she was trying to keep her sister from being turned in Akane patties by way of Ranma's fists.
Kuno was still sporting casts, after all.
"I have been forced to be engaged to, and deal with, girls like your sister for far too long. I will not be this one's punching bag just because your spoiled princess of a sister needs to be babied like an angry toddler." He turned a baleful eye on Nabiki. "And I won't let you let her treat me like I'm her personal bitch because you and your elder sister are too busy keeping her Akane-comes-first view from slipping into the real world. I am no one's whipping boy."
"How would you know anything, Saotome?" There was something buried in Nabiki's tone of voice. A pain long buried, but not forgotten. Ranma already knew what it was, and already had an idea of how to use it. A part of him didn't like it, but another part, the part of him that was trying like hell to get away from this life, knew that if he wanted freedom from the fiancée's, from his father, that it would have to be done.
-Careful, boy, you're slipping. She suspects something.-
Somehow I don't think 'time travel' is crossing her mind, Mara. "I know perfectly well that your mother is dead. It's been ten years, Nabiki. Your sister needs to grow up. You think the rest of the world is going to keep treating her like glass just because you and Kasumi are too afraid of hurting her?"
"Shut up," Nabiki snarled. "What would you know about how it feels to lose your mother?"
"Because mine's been dead since I was six," Ranma stated blandly, staring into Nabiki's shocked face. He was lying, of course, but at this point in time, his father had made sure that Ranma was supposed to believe that Saotome Nodoka had died a decade ago. He already had several half-formed ideas about how to 'find' her. Truth be told, he missed his mother (half-baked ideas of manliness aside), and as soon as he could think of a way to get around the 'manly son' syndrome, he'd contact her.
"What?" Ranma continued, as Nabiki seemed to have lost the ability to speak. "You think that me an' my old man wandered without a home for ten years because we were bored or something? You've got a shrine right here in the dojo for your mom; I don't even know where mine's freakin' buried. I don't even know how she died. I've never burned incense or left an offering for her, so don't tell me how bad it is for you 'cause she's dead. Get up an' get over it. You're treating Akane like she's gonna break like a piece of glass, and because of that, she's thinking that everyone else in the world's gotta treat her the same an' bow down and tell her how much better she is than them, or they're targets for her temper." He frowned as a scowling Akane stomped into the dojo in her gi, with a nervous Kasumi right behind her. "And she's gotta learn that there's people out there better than her in martial arts. No matter how good you are, there's always someone out there who's so tough he can get back up no matter how many times you knock him down."
"What about you?" asked a subdued Nabiki, still reeling from the fact that she hadn't know about Ranma's 'dead' mom. "Who's the one out there who's better than you? And who's better than him? The flaw in your theory is that, in reality, there's someone who's got to be the best."
"'The best'?" Ranma echoed. He chuckled as Akane stretched. "You know how you know when you're the best? It's when you beat your master. Then you beat his master. Then, the best takes on every single challenger who can face him. And then he's gotta beat them, and he's gotta beat them so fast and so skilled, that he's not only standing, he's barely sweatin'. And when he climbs over the mountain of defeated masters and beaten challengers, and he thinks that now everyone else, even the sun, is at his back, he's really the best, he finds the one person who he ain't ever gonna beat, cause that guy is just as fast as you, can fight longer than you can, been training just as long, and can't even feel your punches. The guy who's supposed to be the best spends the rest of his life fighting him, and never wins, cause the faster the best gets, the faster he gets. You can't even find anyone to spar with to beat him, 'cause now your better than everyone else."
"So who's that guy? The one the best can't beat?"
Ranma grinned, like he was about to answer the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. "Me."
"…THAT'S THE STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!"
-WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU GETTING THIS CRAP? THAT'S RIDICULOUS!-
Ranma snickered as Akane and Kasumi looked up in surprise. "Yeah, ain't it cool?"
"-NO!-" Nabiki and Mara bellowed in unison.
"Too bad for you."
"I hope you're ready to get your butt kicked, jerk!" Akane snapped, falling into an offensive stance.
"Ranma… are you sure you're going to be ok?"
Ranma gave Kasumi a flat look. "… I'll be fine. Worry about the brat." When Kasumi continued to look concerned, Ranma rolled his eyes. "Fine. You can be the referee, if you're that worried."
Kasumi blinked, before turning to Akane. "Fight will be until knockout, submission, or until one of you can no longer continue to fight."
Nabiki backed into a corner as Akane readied herself to charge. This could get ugly.
Pain. Great, blossoming pain. Akane managed to locate the source as Ranma's fist buried in her stomach. Her lungs wrenched as they attempted to overcome the impact and resume pulling in air.
Akane fell to her knees, gagging, when Ranma pulled his fist from her gut.
"Holy shit. Kasumi, did you even see him move?"
"Uh-uh," Kasumi replied, thinking she must have missed it when she blinked. Which was funny, since she hadn't yet blinked.
Ranma stepped back and waited for Akane to regain her feet.
"Come on hotshot, we ain't got all day. Ryoga wouldn't even have stopped moving if I'd hit him like that."
"… jerk…" Akane wheezed. After a few more moments, she staggered to her feet, and threw a high roundhouse aimed perfectly as Ranma's skull.
Ranma's head wasn't even near the same spot by the time the kick was halfway there.
"Too slow," came a rumbling voice from way under Akane's defense. Her eyes widened in shock as she witnessed Ranma coming up and in for another hit. Did he go under my strike…?
Both of Ranma's flat palms drove into her ribs on her right side. For a moment, Akane sincerely believed she was flying, a concept which was firmly disproven when she impacted the dojo wall.
Kasumi started to her feet, but was held back by Nabiki's hands. She shot a concerned look at her sister.
"It's a challenge, oneechan. I don't like seeing Akane hurt, but he's not really doing anything but embarrassing her. Look," Nabiki said, gesturing at the fight.
Akane came out of the wall at running speed, throwing a haymaker from her right. Ranma dodged easily.
You fell for it! Akane thought triumphantly, pulling the punch in, and turning it into a spinning back kick.
She crashed into the far wall a few moments later.
"Kuno could have seen through that, hotshot."
"See?" Nabiki whispered. "Ranma's first hit was just him trying to determine how much Akane could take a hit. The second was a soft blow that knocked her back, and then a throw. He's not going to really hit her until the fights almost over. All he's doing is proving a point."
"WhoaoOOhh!" Akane howled as was hefted and then thrown in the manner of a bowling ball, stopping upside down on her head against a wall.
"Steeeerike!" Ranma laughed. "Try again, hotshot."
"QUIT CALLING ME THAT!"
"TRY THIS!" Akane screeched, flinging herself in the air, and trying to dive-kick into Ranma's shoulder. By the time she was properly angled for the attack, her target wasn't there anymore. Akane landed on the floor with a light tap. Ranma was right behind her.
Not that she noticed.
Akane spun, trying to find her target, only to meet with empty air. Ranma simply turned around with her. Akane attempted to locate her errant challenger in a similar manner four more times, and met with little success.
"HA!" Akane thundered, rotating at the waist, and throwing an elbow strike into her blind spot. Ranma rolled his eyes from his new position.
Mere inches above her head, hanging by his knees from the rafters.
"NO GOING INVISIBLE, YOU CHEATER!"
"What's the matter, can't find me?" Ranma rasped into her ear.
Akane spun and threw a punch that would have taken an engine out of a mid-sized sedan.
If she hadn't thrown it at gut-level.
Since Ranma had lowered himself to hang by his feet, this meant that her punch went a good twelve inches under his head.
"Now you just look stupid, hotshot," the martial artist stated, rolling his eyes.
"QUIT DOING THAT!"
Ranma smirked. "Okay."
"This is gonna hurt…" Nabiki said, wincing in anticipation.
That would be the sound of Ranma's knee impacting the underside of Akane's chin as he did an elaborate double-flip to land on his feet.
"She's out," Ranma stated in a mild, amused tone.
"Um… winner, Ranma!" Kasumi declared, and ran in search of the first aid kit.
"That was fast," Nabiki stated.
"No. That was slow."
The middle Tendo sister stared at Ranma. He raised an eyebrow at her in response. "I could have just knocked her out with the first hit. I wanted to make sure she remembered that I hit her at least once. This way she can't claim I cheated, saying she just passed out. When she wakes up, you might wanna drag her off to Doc Tofu. Nothing's broken, but she's gonna have a bruise shaped like my fist on her stomach for a while."
Ranma snorted as he attempted to squeeze P-chan's head into a football shape behind Akane's back.
Kasumi, on the other hand, was now torn between comforting her youngest sister and defending her new fiancée. She fidgeted in discomfort for a moment, before deciding that simple honesty was the best way to go. "But there was nothing I could do. He wasn't cheating."
"He went INVISIBLE! That's CHEATING!"
"I was hanging from the rafters. And before that, I was hiding behind your back. If I was going to use my invisibility technique in a fight, I'd let you know in advance so I could see the look on your face when you would say 'it's impossible' just in time for me to vanish in front of your eyes."
"You can become invisible?" Nabiki demanded.
"More like hard to notice. I could be standing right in front of you, but your eyes would just go right over me."
"A Somebody-Else's-Problem field, eh?"
"Cheater! You couldn't have won!"
"Akane," Kasumi said softly. "We all saw. Ranma was just… too fast."
Akane scowled. "It wasn't fair. Next time hold still and let me hit you!"
"Can you even hear yourself, hotshot? 'Hold still and let me hit you.' What are you, five?"
"Too fast, too strong, too skilled, too experienced. Face it, Akane, Ranma could whup your butt anytime he wanted."
Ranma stared incredulously as Nabiki picked on her younger sister. What's that about?
"You… you… you're all against me!" Akane screamed, tears appearing at the corners of her eyes. She shoved herself to her feet, and ran for the stairs, crying all the way.
"Don't forget your stupid little P-chan!" Ranma roared after her, punting the pig directly at Akane. She somehow managed to catch him, but wasn't expecting the splash of hot water that covered them both less than a second later.
"Pfft," Ranma sounded, giving the impression he was dismissing her comment, which, in actuality, he was. "By this time tomorrow, all she'll remember about it was that I was insulting and making fun of her, and that Ryoga is her precious piglet. Nothing else will sink in. I could flatten her into the pavement blindfolded and with my legs bound together just to prove that my dedication to the Art has granted me much greater skill, and all she'd do was accuse me of cheating. Hell, I knocked her into the wall with just the back of my hand during that Kuno thing, and she doesn't even acknowledge it. The mere concept of intense work for great skill wouldn't even enter her head. You know that."
Yes, I do, but how do you know that?
"That's all well and good, Saotome, but this is my room. Please find somewhere else to do your hand-stand push-ups."
Ranma gave her an annoyed look from his upside-down position. "Kasumi's cleaning my room, and Akane's using the dojo and most of downstairs to beat Ryoga. Sneaking into Kasumi's room to do any kind of strenuous activity would have your father dragging a priest here by his robes. Besides, no one comes into your room unless they want something from you. It's the quietest place around."
"Well, when you put it that way…" But couldn't you put your shirt back on?
"What about, Saotome?" Soun asked back, trying to ignore the sounds of heavy violence that his youngest daughter was inflicting on a certain newly-discovered pig-boy. His attempts at scratching his head were thwarted by the wrappings that went around his skull.
"I would have thought that you would have raged at my boy for the way he treated us." Click, as Genma moved his piece.
"I didn't, my friend, for the same reason that once upon a time, you supported me when I was like that." Click.
The fathers, of course, had paid Nabiki for the story, but she'd left out a great deal. Mostly she simply told them of her 'pet' and of Ranma's negative opinion of Akane's skill. The rest was Nabiki's secret to keep, and there was more here than met the eye. If Tendo Soun knew everything that Ranma had done, he'd have likely terrorized the boy into a coma.
"Because, Saotome, the boy is right. At least, in regards to my daughter's skill. There's no way I could ever bring myself to say such harsh things to my daughter. I suppose I could blame him for saying such things, but I see too much of myself in him to treat him so. If the boy were engaged to Akane, I wouldn't have let him speak like that to her, but, as it stands, he is not." Click.
"I don't know, Tendo. I think they could be good for each other." Click. Genma leaned out of the way, deftly avoiding a naked, screaming Ryoga (trying to blame Ranma) and a pursuing Akane ("RYOGA NO HENTAI!").
"Kasumi is gentle, and, I admit, the most traditional and calm of my daughters. I love them all, but I do believe Ranma could use an influence like her to tame his temper. If you can recall my high school days, my temper was once considered a thing to be feared before I met my dear departed wife." Click. (Genma ignored the few tears that rolled down his friend's face at the mention of his deceased wife.) "His doesn't seem to be much better; that thing with the Kuno boy. If you recall, there was once an incident involving myself where three boys were hospitalized for cornering the girl I later dated, and then married."
"I remember it well, and your father damn near had you caned for it. Ranma is much more skilled than you were at his age. You have to admit now, looking back, that your temper got you into more trouble than anything else, especially that time!"
Soun waved his friend off. "Back to the matter at hand; I haven't forgotten that the arrangement was for any of my girls. We can switch the engagement at any time. But, I believe that my Kasumi can cool Ranma like my dear Kimiko did for me." Click.
"By the way, Saotome, is there some reason you keep pressing for Akane to marry Ranma? Surely, you're not suggesting that there's something wrong with my Kasumi?" CLACK. Glare.
"No, no! Of course not! Kasumi is a sweet girl, indeed! I merely wanted to point out that it might be beneficial if the martial artists of the families married each other!" Click.
"Like I said, the boy needs someone to cool him off, and Kasumi is as gentle as my wife once was. Look, Saotome, its Mothra!"
"What? Where? I don't see anything!"
"Say, Saotome, it looks as though I've won!"
"Simple, Kasumi. We're here for training."
"Training?" Kasumi asked, glancing around. "This is the shopping district… and I don't practice the Art. Not since I was… um, seven, I think. And even then, I was really just imitating Father, not anything for real…" Was Ranma encouraging her to train for some reason? But then why weren't they in the dojo?
"What kind of training, Ranma-chan? Ranma-chan? Ranma?" Kasumi blinked. Where had she disappeared off to? Was this the training? Was she supposed to find her? Was that why Ranma had changed into a girl? Because she was smaller that way? Kasumi blinked in bewilderment, lost on what precisely she was supposed to do. She didn't really want to learn to fight…
"You're such a sweet little girl!" came the voice of a vendor from behind her. "Here, have another bun- for free!"
"Oooo! Golly! Thank you so much!" replied the squealing… Ranma? Under Kasumi's disbelieving gaze, Ranma giggled and flirted her way into a second free meat bun.
"Here, Kasumi, you can have this one," Ranma said, handing over the final bun she had received for free.
It slipped between Kasumi's fingers, and thumped against the ground.
"Are you alright?"
"How did… what you were… training?"
"Of course," Ranma replied, grinning. "When I'm cruising for eats, this girl body is the way to go. And I'm going to show you how."
Kasumi slid several feet backwards in seconds. "Wh-what?"
"This is going to be fun."
"Most of this is yours, you know," Ranma said, grinning. "I think I got the rice… and the wasabi peas… and maybe the fish… didn't we work together on the fish? But the rest is yours. I still don't know how you got the watermelons, they weren't even for sale; they were part of the vendor's lunch."
Words resembling indecent and improper floated back to Ranma on the slight breeze. She was also pretty sure that there was something called a scarlet woman thrown in, but Ranma wasn't sure what that was.
"Scarlet woman? That kind of phrase isn't found outside of trashy romance novels. (Not that Ranma had ever read one, but Mara had several… dozen… dozen.) How many of those have you been reading, Kasumi?"
An embarrassed, indignant squawk of guilt shot of out Kasumi's mouth before she could stop herself from responding.
"I would guess that would mean 'Daddy would roll over and die if he found out I had that many,' right?"
"Smurgly!" Kasumi said, or something like that, and blushed to the roots of her hair.
"I… I misbehaved so…" Kasumi whispered.
"Misbehaved? Are you serious?" Ranma demanded. "Look at you! You flirted with men, you're showing less skin than Nabiki's school uniform, and you enjoyed yourself. Don't deny it; you wouldn't have kept it up if you didn't. Congratulations!"
Kasumi turned to look at Ranma, confused. Ranma rolled her eyes. "You're nineteen, Kasumi. Today, you actually acted your own age. I thought you wanted to get out."
The eldest Tendo daughter blinked in surprise… then gave a tiny smile. "I… suppose."
Ranma smiled at her current fiancée. "Good! You think you're going to be alright if you walk the last few blocks home by yourself? We took longer than I thought, since you had to have the watermelons, and I had planned on using some time today to clear out some muggers in the park near Furinkan."
"I'll be alright, Ranma-ch…-kun," Kasumi said, correcting herself as Ranma changed genders in a flash of dark electricity.
"Ok. See you at home!" Ranma shouted over his shoulder, bounding up to a nearby rooftop.
Kasumi smiled, and continued on.
"Acted my age…"
I'm not, Ranma responded, taking a leap from the edge of a rooftop.
-Then why are you helping this Kasumi girl?-
-It sure looks like you are.-
From a certain point of view, I suppose it does.
Mara waited for Ranma to continue, but grew frustrated when he remained silent.
Ranma chuckled at the irate demoness. Do you remember, before I came back, what I did to Kasumi in her room?
-Some. I was kind of groggy at that point. I mostly remember you making her scream and cry.-
Not my fault. Well, yeah, I made her scream and cry, but I'm not the reason she did it, really. It was more her father's fault, than anything else. I admit to having partial responsibility, but it's nothing compared to what her father did.
You see, I noticed something, the first time I talked to Kasumi after we 'joined.' I wasn't in a good mood, and I took it out on her father, and mine. I stormed the living room, smashed everything in my path, knocked Akane through the dining room table, even pitched Nabiki out a window and into the pond when the tried to talk down to me. But Kasumi… Kasumi took it all in stride. She didn't blink, didn't tell me I was doing wrong, she didn't even stop smiling. I was all ready and willing to place blame on her for the way she pushed me off on Akane when I got here, but… there was something wrong with her. I punched a hole in the wall next to her head large enough to fit my old man through. I told her I was going to kill her father. All she did was smile.
I wasn't the only prisoner in that house. I was being held there for more than a year, but Kasumi had been trapped inside that place ever since her mother died.
When I cornered her in her room right before we came back, it took a lot of work for me to break her mind. Pressure points designed to lower a person's defenses, ki techniques to scare her. I had to badger her non-stop for half an hour before she crumbled. Ranma sighed as he bounced over a light pole.
-So what's the story?-
When her mother died, Soun fell apart, and he forced his eldest into her mother's role as caretaker of the house. She was nine years old
Can you imagine what it must have been like for her? She's nine, her mother dies, her father promptly has a nervous breakdown, and then he forces her to take over her mother's work, while continuing school.
-It's a wonder she didn't have a nervous breakdown, herself.-
I think she learned to cope, but after she graduated, she had to throw herself into caring for her family. There was no way she could go to college. She had to care for everyone. She had to be her mother, and I suppose, to a nine-year-old, Mom is the smiling face that always loves you. She became that, and nothing else. When I came around, I shocked her, and her normal, if stressful, routine. To Kasumi, to strangest thing she had probably encountered were the stories her sisters told her of Kuno's 'fight to date' rule. I was much more than some second-hand story. I was a shape-changing martial artist who can bounce over buildings, toting Chinese assassins, a panda for a father, and I make funny noises when confronted with cats. I get up almost as early as her so that I can beat the shit out of my old man, I have weird reflexes she's never seen, I routinely am found in yelling matches with her youngest sister, and I brought with me, mostly because of my father, too much random crap. She fell fast enough into her work, and her father insisted she had to stay and keep her family cared for. Pops probably kept her in the kitchen more than anyone. I eat a lot (ok, I eat a WHOLE lot), but pops is a machine unto himself. I was too wrapped up in my own weird life to notice what was happening to her. Kasumi was like a background character, only speaking when spoken to. My honor kept me trapped. She was stuck there because it was the only life she could really remember
By the time you came, Kasumi was simply too broken to do anything with. She needed probably years of therapy. When I broke through to her, through the walls keeping that smile on her face… I don't think you were paying attention at the time. She screamed, she cried, threw things, cursed, destroyed her room, then took it out on the person she thought was most responsible, her father.
-So that was why she was beating him when we left.-
Yup. In a way, it's a good thing you came along when you did. If left alone, Kasumi would have snapped by herself, and probably killed someone. I don't love her, but I would rather spare her that fate. Admittedly, she had no choice in being nice to me, it was all that she was by that point, but she was the closest thing I had to a friend in a very long time.
I'm simply returning the favor.
The only thing I want out of this engagement is a way out of this fucking house. And the only way I'm going to get that is if my 'fiancée' backs up my every move.
-And if you keep your word, and give Kasumi the life she really wants, instead of trapping her at home…-
She'll support everything I do.
-Clever. For a human, I mean.-
Ranma landed nicely in a public park. It took all of five minutes for him to locate the would-be thugs trying to harass some girls from school. Ranma flew at them like a runaway rocket.