|To Know Pain
Author: Depraved Sociopath PM
Ranma's mute. He's also scarred, both physically and mentally. How will this change the Ranmaverse?Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Chapters: 8 - Words: 39,551 - Reviews: 175 - Favs: 48 - Follows: 53 - Updated: 11-17-08 - Published: 05-21-01 - id: 291070
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Okay. I was reading the Ranma 1/2 manga, and I got to thinking "What if Ranma couldn't speak? He wouldn't be able to insult Akane, then." That reminded me of a fic where Akane couldn't speak, so I got uneasy. I didn't want to look like I was ripping off someone else's idea. (More than I already did, of course. ^_^ ) But I decided to write it anyway. I had a two-hour wait 'till my train arrived, then another seven to ten-hour train ride, so I literally had nothing better to do. Besides, the idea just wouldn't leave me alone. It would change a lot in the Ranmaverse, ya know? Here goes...
Crap. Almost forgot something. I own nothing, and all credit goes to Rumiko Takahashi. She's the genius, not me. I'm just a con artist. ^_^
Bringing Ranma from China.
The patriarch of the Tendo family.
The pillar of strength for the Tendo daughters.
The weeping, shaking man holding a postcard.
"Oh, how I've waited for this day!" exclaimed Soun Tendo, father of three beautiful daughters.
He called for his daughters, wanting to share with them the wonderful news that he had received.
When they were all gathered at the table, Soun began.
Soun was interrupted when it was mentioned that he wanted one of the three girls to marry his friend's son.
"Yes," Soun explained, "he is named Ranma Saotome. His father says he is a good boy."
"You mean you've never met him?" asked Nabiki with an eyebrow raised.
"Heh heh heh…no." Nothing was said as Soun withered under the glares of his daughters.
Finally, Nabiki spoke, ending the hostile silence. "So, what CAN you tell us about him, then?"
"Well, he's recently been in China."
Kasumi and Akane frowned as Nabiki exclaimed "Wow! China!"
"Yes, China. Also, he's been practicing martial arts since he was very small."
"Speaking of which, father," interjected Kasumi, "just how old IS he?"
"Yeah. Is he cute?" Nabiki seemed quite excited by the prospect of a fiancée.
"Just how good at martial arts is he?" added Akane.
Before Soun could deny knowledge on any of the subjects his daughters had asked about, a knock came from the front door. "Oooh! That must be Ranma!" squealed Nabiki as she and her father rushed to greet the men. Akane and Kasumi strolled lazily behind them, not in any particular rush to meet the boy. When the door opened, however, there were a panda bear and a young girl standing in the rainstorm that had suddenly sprung up instead of their anticipated guests.
"Oh! I'm sorry, we were expecting someone else. Can I help you?" Soun smiled and waited for the girl to answer his question.
The panda held up a sign that said 'Do you have some hot water that.' It then flipped the sign, revealing the rest of the message. 'you could spare us, please?' Before Soun or Nabiki could decline, however, Kasumi cheerily said "Of course! Please, come in! You must be awfully cold out there!"
The eldest Tendo female ushered the pair of figures into the house and closed the front door. "Akane dear? Could you go start some water boiling? Nabiki, could you go get some towels?"
Before the family's only protection left the room, Nabiki hastily said, "No, why doesn't daddy go start the water? Akane should keep them company."
"Yeah," added Akane, eyeing the strange girl warily, "I'd prefer to stay in here and get to know them, anyway."
"Okay, then." Kasumi's smile never left her face. As the two Tendos went off on their specific jobs, Kasumi struck up a conversation. "What brings you to Nerima?" 'Traveling to see a friend' read the panda's sign. "That's nice. How long have you been travelling?" Akane's eyes narrowed as the panda again answered. 'About a week.'
"So," Akane asked the girl, "what's your name?" Akane ignored the sign the panda held up, instead looking intently into the girl's eyes. She was a short girl, a little smaller than Akane, and was dressed in black slacks and a black Chinese-style shirt with long sleeves and a high, stiff collar. The girl's hair was a brilliant red, which made the outfit look out of place on her. The redhead held Akane's gaze for a moment, then looked to the ground.
"Akane," said Kasumi before the girl could press her question, "if she doesn't want to talk, don't badger her. She's probably just a little shy." The girl nodded at this, still looking towards the ground. "There, see?" Kasumi's smile never faltered as she said, "Besides, she's gone to all the trouble of training her panda to reply for her. Why would she want to put all that hard work to waste by talking?"
Before Akane could point out to Kasumi that if she would just talk, the trained panda would be unnecessary, Nabiki came down the stairs with three towels in her arms. "Here you go," she said with mock cheer as she handed two towels to the panda and one to the girl.
Nothing was said for several minutes as the two guests dried themselves off. Then Soun came back into the room and broke the awkward silence. "Here you go." The girl took the proffered kettle and quickly poured some of its contents on the panda, then turned around and poured some on herself.
Nabiki widened her eyes.
Kasumi whispered "Oh, my."
The man wrapped a towel around himself.
The boy adjusted his shirt collar before turning around.
The older man bowed towards the Tendos that were still conscious. "Genma Saotome. Pleased to meet you."
Six people sat around the Tendos' dining room table as Genma, the man, explained about Jusenkyo. Strangely, though, Ranma – as the boy had been introduced – didn't speak once. Whenever he was asked a question, his father would answer for him.
After a length of time, Nabiki decided to bring this fact to everyone's attention. "Say, Mr. Saotome, why hasn't your son said anything all evening?"
"Anyway, about the engagement," Genma quickly changed the subject, "which one of your girls wants to marry Ranma?"
"No!" yelled Akane.
Soun, showing uncharacteristic resilience under pressure, covered for his youngest daughter's remark. "What she means is, since there's one of him and three of my daughters, why doesn't he choose?"
"That's not what I meant at-"
Genma cut the teenager off quickly. "Okay. Ranma, choose." Genma patted his son on the shoulder as every eye in the room turned to him, awaiting an answer. Ranma, though, just shook his head no. "Ranma, you've got to choose." Genma gestured to the girls. "Go on, pick one." Ranma exaggerated the shaking of his head no in an almost sarcastic manner. "Ranma…" growled Genma.
"See? He doesn't want it, either!" Akane crossed her arms over her chest. "Let's forget this entire thing."
Genma ground his teeth in agitation. "Ranma, pick!" The boy threw his hands up in exasperation and proceeded to rummage though his travelling pack. From it he pulled a pen and a pad of paper, and he started to write.
"Oh, you can just tell us, Ranma. No need to be shy," Kasumi smiled. Ranma gave the eldest Tendo sister a blank stare, then returned to writing.
Genma snatched the pad of paper from his son's hands and threw it outside into the rain. "Just choose!"
"Come on, Ranma, just talk to us. This is getting annoying," Nabiki scowled. Ranma moved to retrieve the pad, but Genma threw an angry punch at the boy. Ranma fluidly dodged and threw his father outside, next to the pad of paper. Ranma walked out to where the pad lay and picked it up. Genma, who had been pretending to be unconscious, lashed out with a furious paw strike meant to hit Ranma in the temple. She, however, jumped over the attack and kicked her father in the head with both feet. Ranma used the force of her kick to propel herself back inside the house.
As she was sitting down at the table to write some more on the wet paper, she was tackled by her panda-father, who tried to rip the wet pad from her hands again. Ranma flung her father outside once again, though, and continued to write.
"Oh, cut the shy crap and SPEAK!" yelled Akane, fed up with the whole situation.
Ranma, after hearing Akane's exclamation, threw the pad and pen onto the table roughly and turned towards the Tendo family. She ripped open the top of her shirt, exposing her neck, and the Tendos gasped.
Running from her collarbone to the upper third of her neck was a patchwork of scars. They mostly appeared in groups of three, except for one more prominent scar that ran vertically down the center of her neck, along her trachea. Other scars, in groups of three and four, could be seen across her upper chest. As the Tendos gaped, Ranma closed her shirt collar and sat down at the table. She wrote one simple sentence on a piece of wet paper.
'I CAN'T talk.'
"How did it happen?" asked Kasumi, still in shock, even after giving Genma enough time to change back to his human form.
"Well," started Genma, "when Ranma was small, he-" Being hit in the face with a soggy pad of paper tends to stop people mid-sentence, and this was no exception. Genma wiped his face and looked at the barely legible message on the paper in front of him. 'Let me talk.' "Fine, but you'd better find some dry paper, first." The boy shook his head as he produced a chalkboard, chalk and an eraser from his pack. "Well, then. Go right ahead." Genma leaned back on his hands and waited for Ranma to begin.
After scribbling for a few moments, Ranma held up the board for the Tendos to see. "'My old man,'" read Nabiki aloud, "'wanted to teach me a martial arts technique called the neko-ken.' What's that?"
"Just some technique I read about in a book," replied Genma off-handedly. Ranma erased what he had written and started writing again. His hands were shaking from the anger he felt at his father's callous dismissal of the technique that ruined his life. 'Some technique, indeed. Because of that damned technique I lost my voice box. Hell, I'm lucky to have escaped with my life!'
"What does he mean, Saotome?" asked Soun, worried.
Genma snorted and waved the question off. "He exaggerates." Ranma's board snapped in half, and everyone turned to look at the enraged boy. He took one half of his board and wrote some words on it. 'This is no time for fiancées. I'm going back to China.'
Kasumi, calm despite the hostile air in the room, asked sweetly "Why, Ranma?" The teenager took the other half of his board and wrote something on it. 'I'm gonna fix one of my two major problems, at least. If I can't be a man who speaks, then I'll at least be a man, not some gender-changing freak.'
"Ranma, that was your own fault! Stop trying to shirk responsibility, my son! I know I taught you better than that!" Genma's cheeks had tears running down them. "Oh, my son! Have I failed in raising you?" Ranma's eyes blazed with intensity as he booted his father outside. Genma hit the stone wall surrounding the property with a sickening thud, then slumped down onto the wet ground. The red of blood could be plainly seen coming from the panda's mouth.
Kasumi put a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my! Will he be alright?" Ranma had to visibly calm himself before erasing the first half of his chalkboard and writing his answer. 'He's had worse. Don't worry about it. He'll be fine.'
Akane chose to speak up. "Ranma, if you don't mind, could you finish telling us about how you…you know…lost your…" Ranma waved his hand to forestall any further comment from the raven-haired teen. 'I guess' read his board when he was done writing. 'It all started with a book my dad bought on an impulse.'
"Wow!" exclaimed Genma. "This book is great! What amazing techniques!"
"What kind of techniques, dad?" asked Ranma, who was walking along side his father. They were in a town somewhere in northern Honshu.
"Really powerful techniques!" said Genma, which made Ranma smile.
"Can I learn one?" asked the little boy excitedly.
"Sure!" said Genma, smiling. "Just let me find one that I want to teach you first. We should start off with the most powerful techniques, after all, right?"
"Okay, Ranma, here we go!" Genma tossed his son, who was wrapped in fish cakes, into a pit of cats.
Genma smiled as he heard the carnage below. "This will be good for the boy," he said out loud. "He'll be more powerful than even Happosai if he can master this technique." Ranma's screams echoed from within the pit, and were abruptly cut off and replaced with a gurgling sound. "Ranma?" called Genma. That sound wasn't normal; that sound wasn't right. "Ranma? Are you okay?"
No answer came except for the hissing of cats, so Genma shrugged and walked away to make himself lunch. "If he needed help, he'd call for me," he said to himself as he turned the corner.
Genma looked at the book, shrugged and turned away from the hole. "It says I'm supposed to leave him in there until the cats are dead, and the cats sure aren't dead yet, so…" Genma walked away from the hole where his son lay. "…Dinner and a movie!"
"Ranma!" called Genma. "It's been almost a week, now! Are you gonna kill the cats so you can get out now?" No answer came. "Maybe he's been killed," said Genma to himself with not a little bit of worry. "No, he's too strong for that. I've trained him myself." Genma's pride swelled and he again left his son to go swell his belly.
After a week and a half, Genma was really worried. Ranma was WAY too good to get killed by the cats, and he shouldn't have taken this long to dispatch them, either. "Okay, Ranma, here I come!" called Genma.
"Good lord!" exclaimed the doctor. "What happened?!?"
Genma handed his son to the doctor, who immediately called for a stretcher, and said "He went missing about a week ago, and just now I found him like this. I'm not sure what happened myself. Is he gonna be okay?"
The doctor quickly examined the boy on the stretcher, then started wheeling him towards the emergency room. "He's been mauled, it looks like, by a group of cats. All the wounds are infected, and his neck has swollen up and almost cut off his oxygen supply. It also looks like he's had a major trauma to the neck. It's infected, so I can't very well see exactly what's wrong without cleaning out the wound, but I'd guess that his trachea is ruptured, and his voice box is damaged, if not gone completely."
A nurse stopped Genma as the doctor wheeled Ranma through two swinging doors. "I'm sorry, sir, but you're not allowed in here. Please have a seat and we'll call you when we find out what's wrong."
"Well, Ranma's lucky to be alive. He lost a lot of blood. I'm amazed he survived for as long as he did, truthfully. The wounds on his body were infected, and the infection had started to spread. We've got him on penicillin right now, which should take care of the infection, but there will be scarring. Too much damage was done and left for too long, really. The infection just made it worse. He'll have scars all over his body: arms, legs, chest, back, everything but his face. He apparently covered his face with his hands, so it's fine. The back of his neck is also okay, probably because he backed up against a wall." The doctor paused and took a deep breath. "Unfortunately, Ranma has suffered a debilitating injury, as well."
Genma grabbed the doctor's arm, holding on with an iron grip. "What do you mean, debilitating injury? Will he still be able to practice martial arts?"
The doctor smiled at the man's reaction. "Yes, his arms and legs are fine. He will be able to run and jump and play just like any other child as soon as he heals. No, what I was talking about was his voice. You see, one of the cats – there was a positive identity on the attacking creature after we found dander in the wounds – scratched his throat deeply, and it got infected rather badly. In fact, that part of his throat was developing gangrene. We caught it before it got REALLY bad, but it got his voice box and his tonsils. They had to be removed. He'll never speak again."
"That's horrible!" exclaimed Kasumi, tears in her eyes. "Why would your father ever do something like that?
Ranma answered slowly, holding up his chalkboard after a half a minute. 'He's always cared more about martial arts than about me.' He held up a finger and erased his board, again writing. After another moment, he held it up for the Tendos to read. 'He is always so intent on what I could be that he's blind to the danger he puts me in. He just wants me to be the best martial artist ever.'
Nabiki's scowl deepened as she spoke. "So what you're saying is that he doesn't care what happens to you as long as you learn martial arts?"
Ranma nodded assent as he erased his board again.
Akane's head was down and her shoulders had started to shake slightly. Soun spoke up, finally. "My friend Genma certainly has changed over the years. I can hardly believe that he could actually do that to his only son."
"Do you think that I am not ashamed of my actions?" came the voice from just outside.
All eyes in the room turned to look at a now-male Genma standing under the awning, just outside of the rain. "Every day of my life I look at myself and my past actions with disgust and contempt. I have destroyed my son. It's my fault. However, even after I have done such horrible things, I can not bring myself to run away from this challenge. No matter what, I will make my son the best martial artist ever. I must atone for my actions."
The whole room was stunned into silence at this confession from Genma.
Then the table broke.
Akane stood up, fuming. "I'm still not marrying him, you know! Neither are Kasumi or Nabiki! This just isn't fair, picking our husband like this!"
"Akane, dear," soothed Kasumi, "please calm down. Let's discuss this in a calm, collected manner, okay?"
Akane's wrath waned, if only a little, as she sat down. "Fine. Sorry, Kasumi." Kasumi's smile answered the apology, and Soun interjected.
"Akane, I know this must be hard for you, but the fact of the matter is that our families must be joined – for the sake of the Art, you realize. The Saotome and Tendo schools of Anything-Goes Martial Arts must be united in order to ensure the passing on of the Anything-Goes style as well as the continuation of both our bloodlines."
Genma picked up where Soun left off. "Not only will this union ensure the passing on of both genetic material and the Art, but it will also fulfill the boyhood dreams of two best friends."
Soun and Genma were crying as Soun spoke again. "Genma and I always wanted our children to marry, so we, the very best of friends, could cement our friendship forever. Would you take that away from an old man, Akane? Would you deprive a dying man his last wish, that his family and that of his best friend be joined forever?" Soun was looking directly at Akane, who said nothing.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," said Nabiki as she mimicked gagging.
"Stop," chided Kasumi gently.
"So," said Genma, who was the first of the two adults to recover from his 'crying' fit, "now do you see why this must happen?"
"Good," said Soun before his daughter could form a reply. "Then it's settled. Ranma, you shall marry…whomever you choose."
Ranma glanced around the room nervously, like a caged animal waiting for whatever fate would bring unto him.
"Oh, he chooses Akane," smiled Nabiki, placing her hand on her younger sister's shoulder.
Kasumi thought for a moment. Ranma was a bit young for her tastes. Still, she didn't know him, so she couldn't very well pass judgement. "Nabiki, I think he should choose."
"Then it's settled!" gushed Soun, not even noticing that his oldest daughter had spoken. "Ranma will marry Akane!"
Akane glared at Nabiki, who merely smiled sheepishly in return. Nabiki was going to get a stern talking to.
Genma and Ranma lay on the floor of the guestroom they had been given as sleeping quarters. Genma snored loudly, juxtaposed next to the quietly staring Ranma. His eyes sought out patterns in the ceiling as he thought.
Ranma was engaged. It wasn't that bad, Akane seemed nice enough, but still…engaged? He'd only met her the day before. He'd have to talk to her. Write to her, actually. Tomorrow. What about school? Did pop want him going? He hoped not, school was boring, with the math teachers droning on and on about one little variable thingey, and the English teachers nitpicking about grammar and spelling – Ranma lived in Japan. Why did he have to know English? Stupid class. Stupid language. Still, if Ranma was going, he'd probably be in the same grade as Akane, maybe even the same class. Would she show him around, or would she ignore him? He hated school. So many people to get to know, so many people who avoided him for what he was, disturbed by his scars, creeped out by his silence, all so very horrified of something – anything – even remotely different from themselves. Human nature sucked, with the fear of change and the selfishness and the greed and everything. Ranma hoped Akane would ignore him. He didn't want to have to deal with all the pain of meeting new people again. Still, Akane was kind of cute…
Ranma blushed deeply and closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep.
Ranma smirked as her father splashed into the pond. Insta-panda.
Genma crawled out of the pond and shook his fur dry, glaring at Ranma the entire time. She smirked and turned to walk inside.
The sign that hit her head read 'where are you going, boy?' She rubbed her head and wrote back, using the pen she kept on a chain around her neck. 'I need to bathe.' She threw it back at her father and went inside before the panda could respond.
Ranma stepped into the changing room and closed the door behind her. Geez, it was warm outside. She hated wearing such high-collared shirts, but there was a functionality to the fashion that she couldn't avoid. She shucked her shirt and pants off, throwing them into the hamper. Crap. A towel. She looked around and found a clean one. That was good; she didn't want to have to get dressed again just to find a towel. She took off her boxers and tossed them into the hamper before grabbing the towel and heading towards the bathroom door. The Tendo home was nice. Not fancy or anything, but nice enough. She caught herself in the mirror, shuddered, and wrapped the towel around her shoulders like a shawl. God, she hated mirrors. She hated anything reflective. She hated her body most of all, though. She hated the fact that it pushed people away, frightened them just by existing. She hated her female body more than her male body, though, because in her male body, at least, there wasn't anything on his chest to amplify the appearance of the scars. But her female body…her female body had breasts. The way the scars ran over them, puckering the flesh, distorting their shapes, giving the nipples an unnatural tilt upward, as if they were two eyes looking for something in the sky…she shuddered again, forcing herself back to the mirror. She shed the towel and gazed at her body. Her breasts were disfigured, her stomach was a patchwork of scars that made it look like it had been char-broiled on a grill, her arms appeared as if they had been cut by barbed wire and left untreated, her legs had the appearance of scratching posts too old and used up to be of any further use. Her neck…Ranma resisted the urge to shatter the mirror, picked up her towel and again moved toward the bathroom. She opened the door and stepped in, closing the door behind her.
Ranma cleaned herself with cold water and slowly descended into the hot tub, savoring the feel of the change back to his original form. He loved hot baths. Not only because they ensured that he was male, but also because they felt so, so good. He could lose himself in the bath for hours at a time. Something occurred to him: who filled the tub? It hadn't been filled last night. Ranma panicked. Someone would be coming in to take their bath, soon. He didn't want anyone to see his body, his ugly, disfigured, abominable body. He stood up abruptly.
Akane opened the door to the bathroom and gasped. She saw Ranma, naked, eyes wide with fear and shame, standing halfway out of the tub. Ranma quickly sunk back into the tub, immersing himself to the neck and facing away from the door. Akane could think of nothing to do, so she just stood there, the image of Ranma's scarred body permanently etched into her mind.
Ranma screwed his eyes shut, why did she have to see, why did she have to see his body, the scars, the horrible, ugly scars that covered his body, she'd hate him now, shun him, ignore him, she hated him, was afraid of him, all because of the scars, his scars, his body. Everyone who saw his body, his scars, ran away, sneered with contempt at him, mocked him with false pity, called him names, why would Akane be any different? The engagement, the possibility for a friend, if even for a short while, gone, because of his scars, his horrible, ugly body and its scars…the towel, where was the towel? It could hide his scars, his disfigurement. He tried to remember where he had put it without opening his eyes and looking for it, for Ranma did not want to see the look of disgust on Akane's face. She had not left the room yet, and he knew it. Suddenly, Ranma heard a voice call his name from just behind him. "Ranma?"
Akane sat down behind Ranma, holding the towel tightly around her body, noting the shaking of his head. It looked like he was crying. She gently reached for his head, hoping to get his attention, but she drew it back. She wasn't sure why she did, but she did. Something about those horrible, horrible scars…she shook that thought out of her mind and softly said, "Ranma?"
Ranma moved with such speed that Akane barely had enough time to realize that Ranma was moving before he was out the door to the bathroom and upstairs in his room.
Genma opened the door to his and his son's room. "Ranma? You've got to go to school, boy." Ranma was sitting on the floor, meditating. "Ranma?" repeated Genma. "You've got to go to school. Hurry up, or you'll be late."
Ranma sighed silently and stood up in one fluid motion. His eyes opened and asked a single question. "Yes, you have to go, son," said Genma. "You need an education. Here," he tossed a schoolbag to Ranma. "This should be all you'll need. You'll need to register today, and get all your classes, but that shouldn't take more than an hour." Genma left the room, leaving the door open. He stuck his head back in quickly. "Oh, Akane and Nabiki will be showing you your way to school today. Don't make them late." And the man was gone.
Ranma sighed, thinking of Akane, thinking of the look of revulsion in her eyes, the revulsion that was always there whenever someone looked at his body.
Ranma's knuckles were white as he gripped the schoolbag tightly in his right hand and went downstairs.
Ranma stared at the ground intently as he followed Akane to school. Nabiki had gone early, saying that she had some business to attend to. Ranma wondered what kind of business a high school junior could have, but kept his proverbial mouth shut. He remembered Akane shooting some hostile glances toward Nabiki that morning at breakfast. Could that have had something to do with it?
Akane glanced back at Ranma, wondering what he was thinking. She was angry, because of what Nabiki had done to her, and about the fact that Ranma had seen her naked, but…Akane shuddered as her anger drained. Those scars…
Ranma kept twenty feet of distance between himself and Akane the entire way to school.
Ranma looked up when Akane broke into a run. She was heading towards the gates to what appeared to be the high school. Why was she running? Then he caught the horde of boys waiting just inside the gates of the school, and he would have gasped if had he the ability. Akane was going to fight them! She was going to get pummeled!
Ranma sprinted toward the group of boys, but Akane reached them far ahead of him. He could see Akane whirling, punching, kicking, throwing boys in every direction. He stopped just outside the gates to watch. So maybe she wasn't going to get pummeled after all. Still, the odds weren't even close to fair. Soon enough, Akane had finished with the crowd, and she stood, panting, amidst the unconscious forms of her assailants. Suddenly, Ranma caught something out of the corner of his eye, heading straight for Akane's head. He threw his schoolbag, which intercepted the projectile just before it would have reached Akane, who had turned and had apparently intended to catch the projectile, whatever it was. Ranma saw, as his bag hit the school and landed, that the projectile had been a rose. How did whoever threw that thing get it to fly? It wasn't weighted correctly, and it certainly wasn't aerodynamic. A voice rang out from a group of trees a little ways off.
"Who dares interfere with the courting of the beauteous Akane Tendo?" The voice was prideful and haughty. It seemed like it belonged to a spoiled brat. Ranma looked to the source of the voice and saw a tall boy wearing a hakama and carrying a wooden sword. He was staring directly at Ranma.
"What are you doing?" came Akane's voice. "Don't interfere with my fights!" She was obviously angry at Ranma, for some reason. He hadn't meant to interfere with her fight, but what if that boy had thrown something else, a rock or a shoe or something? Couldn't she see that he was just trying to protect her?
"Cur! Tell me thy name, so that I may challenge thee!" The haughty boy's voice pierced Ranma's thoughts. He started to jog towards his bag, so he could get a piece of paper to write on, but the boy apparently thought Ranma was advancing on Akane, or something, and he rushed in, striking at Ranma's midsection. "You dare to attack the fair maiden, Akane Tendo? When I am speaking to you, no less? Vagabond, whoever you may be, know this: that I, Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, shall not let this travesty go unpunished!" Ranma easily vaulted over the strike and turned in midair to face his opponent. The boy held his wooden sword at the ready. "Knave, tell me thy name so that we may battle." Ranma moved towards his bag again, intending to comply, when the Kuno kid struck again. Ranma sidestepped to avoid Kuno's lunge and broke into a run, hoping that he could reach his bag before the boy could attack him again. "Hold, coward!" yelled the boy named Kuno.
Akane watched with anger and confusion. What was Ranma doing? Why didn't he just tell Kuno his name so he could…oh, that's right. Ranma's…disability. Akane realized just why Ranma was going for his schoolbag. "Kuno!" shouted Akane. "Ranma's mute! He can't talk! He's trying to get something to write on so that he can talk to you!"
Kuno stopped as he absorbed this new information, allowing Ranma to fetch paper from his bag and to begin writing on it. "Well, if that be the case, get on with it, knave," snapped Kuno belligerently. Ranma scowled as he scribbled his message onto the paper, handing it to Kuno as soon as he was finished. "'I am Ranma Saotome of the Saotome school of Anything-Goes Martial Arts.' Very well, Saotome, how do you know Akane Tendo?" Ranma scribbled on another piece of paper and again handed it to Kuno, more roughly this time. "'I am staying at her house, not that it's any of your business.' WHAT? Staying under the same roof as the pure and innocent Akane Tendo?" Kuno struck at Ranma, who, for the third time, easily avoided his attack.
"Stop it, Kuno!" yelled Akane as she approached the pair of boys. "He was right, anyway! It isn't any of your business who stays at my house! Besides, he's only the son of one of my father's friends! It's not like he's staying permanently, or anything!"
Kuno seemed not to hear Akane's words as he slashed indiscriminately at Ranma, who was too busy dodging to counterattack. Finally, Ranma saw an opportunity to strike Kuno, and sent the boy staggering back several feet, clutching his gut. Ranma admired this boy's speed. Ranma was much better than he was, of course, but still, this boy had no small talent. The sword, though, limited his potential. Ranma had always hated fighting with weapons. They told your enemy where the attack was coming from. No matter, though, for Ranma was worried that it might start raining, and wanted to get inside. The clouds overhead were darkening by the minute. He felt the first drop of rain on his hand as Kuno rose his blade to strike again.
Suddenly, he was in the fuzzy grip of his father's panda form, who was heading for a maintenance shed, leaving an unconscious Kuno behind.
Ranma looked at the ground as his father poured hot water over her, triggering the Jusenkyo curse. Ranma adjusted his clothing to fit his male form but continued to stare at the wooden floor of the shed. Akane was saying something about Kuno. "You didn't have to get involved, you know. I can handle him myself." What was wrong with trying to help someone? Did Akane think that helping people was wrong, or something? Ranma didn't care, because he could hear the disgust in Akane's voice as she spoke to him. She had seen his body, and she now hated him, just like everyone else. "Besides, Kuno's a really good fighter! He's known to hold back a little on girls, but when he fights boys, he's tough! You could've gotten hurt!" Ranma almost grimaced at Akane's words. She hated him, despised him for the way he looked. She thought him weak. She thought him fragile. She thought him different from her. And why shouldn't she have thought so? Ranma screwed his eyes shut tightly, willing Akane to just leave. He knew she hated and feared him, and that she wanted to leave. Everyone did. They always would. All because of his scars. "I'd steer clear of him, if I were you." Akane seemed startled at the absence of Genma. "Where'd your father go?" she asked Ranma, who just shrugged his shoulders. He wished that he hadn't taken a bath that morning, because then Akane wouldn't hate him, wouldn't fear him. But he always messed things up. He couldn't just wait until the middle of the night to bathe; no, he had to go and be stupid about it, and now Akane had seen how horrible he really was. "Oh, well," said Akane. "Let's go, Ranma. We're already late, so we don't have to hurry, but we should probably get to class now." Ranma nodded mutely and stood up, his eyes still glued on the ground. Akane's voice…commanding. Why shouldn't she command him? He was different, after all. He was ugly, disfigured, scarred. Ranma walked silently behind Akane, approaching the school building and dreading the stares and hushed whispers that awaited him there as soon as Akane started gossiping about the freak to whom she was engaged.
Ranma's paperwork had taken him less than a half an hour, surprisingly. No one asked him any questions verbally, so Ranma was spared the embarrassment of having to explain, in writing, that he couldn't speak. He had been assigned to Akane's homeroom. Ranma wished to give a derisive snort at that fact, but could not. Akane could at least strip his bones bare quickly, because they were in homeroom together, but still Ranma hated it. He hated the perpetual feeling of loneliness, the constant companionship of sadness and hurt.
Ranma silently opened the door to the classroom, ignoring the still and silent form of Akane, who was standing to one side of the doorway, holding buckets of water. The teacher looked to him, and Ranma stepped inside the classroom, closed the door silently, walked up to him and handed him the note that he had been given. Ranma could feel the stares of the entire classroom on him as he waited for the teacher to finish the note. Ranma wondered how many people Akane had told already. No matter. It would be all over school by that afternoon. "Well, class," started the teacher after he had finished reading the note, "it seems that we have a new student. Everyone, this is Ranma Saotome." Ranma bowed stiffly. "Ranma, tell us a bit about yourself, why don't you?" Ranma hated this part. He fidgeted nervously for a few moments before the teacher again spoke. "Ranma? Tell us a bit about yourself." Ranma hesitated, then started to open his schoolbag, so that he could get a piece of paper out. "No, Ranma," said the teacher gently, "there's no need to take anything out of your bag just yet. Just tell us something about yourself, then you can go and sit down." Ranma rolled his eyes, then pointed to his throat, shaking his head. "You don't wish to speak, Ranma? Well, I'm sorry, but this is kind of a tradition. Please just tell us something about yourself and then you can go sit down, okay?" The teacher was beginning to get annoyed. So was Ranma. None of his previous teachers had been this dense. Ranma let out a silent sigh and started to grab something out of his bag again. "Fine, Mr. Saotome, be that way. Go out into the hall and stand with buckets." The teacher apparently had no patience for smart-asses, although Ranma wasn't being one. "Ms. Tendo, come on back in, and give your buckets to Mr. Saotome here," said the teacher loudly enough for Akane to hear. Akane opened the door and set the buckets down as Ranma trudged over to pick them up.
"Ranma can't talk, sir," said Akane. "He wasn't being a smart-ass. He just has lost the ability to speak. He was most likely going into his bag so that he could get a piece of paper on which to write something to you." Ranma picked up the buckets and opened the door, stepped outside and closed it again.
"Right, Ms. Tendo. And I've lost the ability to walk."
Akane was surprised. "Really, sensei, he-"
"Sit down, Ms. Tendo, unless you want to see me after school." Akane complied, not able to do anything else.
"So, Mr. Saotome, why is it that on the first day of class you chose to make me angry?" The teacher crossed his arms across his chest and frowned at Ranma. Ranma had had enough for that day. He had never, in his entire life, met someone so ignorant as the teacher sitting in front of him. He reached up to undo the collar of his shirt and heard the teacher gasp. "Ms. Tendo wasn't lying…" was all that the teacher could manage to say as Ranma refastened his collar, picked up his schoolbag and left the room.
Akane was waiting for him outside the classroom. "What happened?" she asked as she and Ranma walked through the halls of their school. Ranma, of course, was silent. "Well? Say something!" snapped Akane, not used to being ignored. She immediately regretted it, though, when Ranma stopped walking and slumped his shoulders. Akane brought her hand to her mouth. "Oh, Ranma, I'm sorry, it's just that I haven't had a very good day, and, well, I forgot that you couldn't…you know…" Ranma reached into his bag and pulled out a pad of paper. He wrote something on it with his pen necklace and handed it to Akane slowly, deliberately. "'He knows I can't talk, Akane. That's what happened. I'd love to chat with you, I really would, but I have a headache, and I want to take a nap.'" Akane looked at the note again, read the hurt and the sarcasm in Ranma's words. "Ranma, I'm sorr-" She looked up, but Ranma was gone. Tucking the pad of paper into her own schoolbag, Akane started towards home, wishing that she hadn't spoken at all that day.
Akane walked in the door and immediately caught the aroma of cookies baking. She slipped her shoes off and moved into the kitchen. "What are you baking, Kasumi?"
Kasumi looked up and smiled, sweetly. "Just baking some cookies, Akane. How was your day at school?"
Akane frowned. She didn't want to talk about her day at school. "Okay, I guess. Where's Ranma?"
The brown-haired girl looked thoughtful. "Upstairs, I think."
Akane sighed. "Thanks, Kasumi." She exited the kitchen and walked slowly upstairs, trying to form an apology. She reached the top of the stairs and turned down the hallway, stopping at the door to the guestroom, where Ranma and his father were sleeping. She knocked lightly. "Ranma? Are you awake?" A few seconds passed before Akane realized what she'd done. She was coming to apologize to Ranma about forgetting that he was mute and she does it again. Just great. "I'm coming in, Ranma." She opened the door and stepped lightly inside. Ranma was on the floor, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling from his bedroll. "Ranma," started the youngest Tendo sister, "I'm sorry about earlier, and I'm sorry about now. And…" she hesitated. "I'm sorry about this morning, too. I didn't mean to walk in on you like that." Ranma closed his eyes in response. Akane took the hint. "I guess I'll talk…see you later, then." She stepped outside the room and closed the door, wondering just what was going on in Ranma's mind.
Ranma closed his eyes and waited for Akane to leave. What was with this girl? She hated him, Ranma was sure, but she was apologizing? She was different from any other girl he'd ever met. No one had ever apologized to him, before. That was strange, to 'say' the least. She was probably just trying to lull him into a false sense of security, or something, so she could destroy him that much easier when it came time. Yeah, that was what she was doing. Ranma sighed and slowly went to sleep, the pounding headache of earlier replaced by confused thoughts of a girl with long, blue-black hair.