The Path to Home

Two teens, a boy with a black pigtail and girl with short brown hair, made their way slowly down an otherwise deserted residential street through the greater Tokyo evening, moving from pool of light to pool of light. The only noise was from the buzz of the streetlamps and the sound of their footfalls.

The two wore backpacks; the boy's considerably larger than the girl's. The girl seemed to be stiff or sore and moved slowly and tenderly, occasionally supporting herself on the boy's shoulder. Neither looked at the other or looked up any more than necessary, nor did either speak.

After a time, the girl quietly sank down on a convenient street side bench. The boy stopped nearby and waited. Still, neither looked at the other nor spoke. Finally, the boy gestured at the bus stop visible further down the street. The girl eventually responded with a tired but succinct gesture, managing to indicate both lack of funds and lack of destination. The boy finally removed his pack and squatted in front of the bench, allowing the girl to climb on his back, arms about his shoulders and legs about his waist.

The boy then picked up his pack by the straps, stood, and begin walking, carrying the girl who was still wearing her own pack. The two continued to trudge down the street in this manner, interrupted only when a passing bus splashed water over them. Hit by the splash, the trudging boy abruptly shrunk several inches, changed hair colors and grew breasts. Pausing only to resettle his, now her, loads; the two continued.

Eventually, the brown haired rider lay down her head on the red head's shoulder as they left the last streetlight's pool of light and passed out of sight.

Cologne sighed as she looked at the small camp. It had taken her some time to arrive here, not because of any inherent difficulty in tracking its occupants, but because of the delays she incurred getting information about what had happened.

Ranma, his normal pants and a muscle shirt illuminated by the quiet morning sun, was in the middle of some endurance training in the otherwise quiet camp. Currently, he was holding himself balanced in a one handed handstand, with a sizeable backpack balanced on his feet. The only noise in the small clearing was the small sound of the occasional drop of sweat falling the short distance from his head to the ground, unbroken even by a breeze.

Cologne, on visiting the Tendo dojo with a new flask of drown man spring water, was surprised to find Ranma and Nabiki absent and the other occupants of the home actively hostile to the mention of their names. Fortunately, she had not grown to her position due to lack of assertiveness, so it was only a matter of a relatively short time before she had the whole story.

"What'dya want, old ghoul," Ranma growled perfuctionally without looking or changing his position.

Cologne paused before answering, slowing moving into the clearing and selecting a low rock to sit on. She had feared something like this might happen. Now, however, all that was left was to see how much she could limit the damage.

Cologne merely sat silently for a time before responding. "Well, originally, I was bringing you this," she said, as she produced a small cask labeled in Chinese and set it down.

Ranma merely grunted dismissively, and slowly changed his handstand to the other hand without condensending to look. "Whatever."

The flap off the tent twitched desultorily aside, and a gaunt faced Nabiki emerged. A half-hearted twitch of her mouth that under better circumstance might have been a sneer was directed towards Cologne as she similarly sat on a rock beside the old woman's. She poured herself a cup of tepid tea from the kettle over the burned out fire, and hunched over clutching it.

The clearing was silent again for a time. Nabiki sipped her tea, made a face, and continued slowly sipping none the less. Eventually, she dully grated out a query without bothering to look. "Originally?"

Cologne pursed her lips (a frightening sight) and sighed. The children were indeed badly off. The boy seemed hardly to care about the flask she had brought, and the girl seemed no better. She could hardly leave them in this state, if for no other reason than the risk that their ennui and angst might yet again turn into anger and ferocity. Well, sometimes just keeping people a bit too busy and annoyed to brood was enough. "Have the two of you any plans?"

The boy merely grunted again, while the girl made no reply to this query.

Cologne crossed her metaphorical fingers and projected a bit of the force of personality she had developed. "Well..." she began, and sprang into action. Slapping her thighs to break the mood she grasped her staff and used it to sweep Ranma's hand from beneath him. She immediately vaulted onto another rock out of immediate reach. A small cackle escaped her as the boy and pack collapsed with an "oooof" of displaced air. She continued talking over Ranma's pack encumbered glare. "Then the two of you will have no objections to helping me recover a few small objects, and perhaps torment Happosai a bit in the process. I don't particularly feel charitable toward those two buffoons, but the opportunity to properly reseal the old goat is too good to pass up."

A further sweep of her staff sufficed to knock the camp cup from Nabiki's hands in mid sip and dowse the rising boy, turning him into a girl just at the right moment for the heavy and unbalanced pack to overwhelm her lesser upper body strength and send her tumbling back into the dirt. "Unless, that is, you girls have something more profitable to do," she grinned, now needling Nabiki as well.

Ranma gave her peculiar contralto growl, shoved the pack off herself, and began chasing the cackling crone around the clearing. Nabiki merely sat and thoughtfully wiped a few errant drops of cold tea from her face. Lost in thought, she eventually reached out her hand and caught Ranma's pigtail as the girl ran by, the unexpected force causing yet another upset for the unfortunate redhead.

Without either looking or loosing her thoughtful expression, Nabiki addressed Cologne, "Cologne," Nabiki asked intensely, "when you said a few small objects, would one of them be the Nanban mirror?"

Reseated, the small campfire restarted, and warm tea and hot cereal filling their stomaches, the two children looked notably better than when she had arrived, Cologne noted. Sometimes the simple methods did still work.

"Why yes, I do mean the Nanban mirror. Why do you ask?"

Nabiki still bore an intent expression, one hand hand held a warm cup of tea, the other, perhaps unconsciously, dug painfully into again male Ranma's forearm, causing him to wince at the surprisingly strong grip.

"And would it still work, here?" Nabiki's gaze drilled hotly, intent.

"I don't see any reason why not, child."

"Then, we could still fix things, here, in the past. Couldn't we?" Abruptly, Nabiki was pleading. She wasn't sure exactly who with.

Cologne only gaped in momentary astonishment. Pulling herself together, she answered, "Yes ... We could."

"Huh? Geez, Nabiki. Leggo. What're you so excited about?" Ranma growsed, trying to rescue his arm from a madly grinning Nabiki.

Author's notes: I'm not making progress on this lately, but here's what's been sitting on my drive for the last year or more. Apologies for the past continuity gaff(s). That's what comes from such infrequent revisiting of your stories, I guess.