A Duet of Pigtails
Prologue 2: Fatherhood

By VGAP

I know that a lot of you must be tired of usual disclaimers, but nevertheless I somehow feel obliged to say it...... *DEEP BREATH* This story was not meant for a profit. All the characters belong to respective owners. This was written without anybody's permission, but the author claims no responsibility nor copyright. This can be distributed freely, but it is not to be used outside of nonprofit entertainment. There, you can all unplug your ears now.....

Comments would be appreciated. Criticism will be praised. Ignorance awaits flames. Letter bombs will be returned. If you send me cash, checks, or your credit card number, I will worship you! I can be reached at vg_ap@hotmail.com. Or just visit my homepage at (http://www.fortunecity.com/marina/thunder/181/index.html).

A Duet of Pigtails is a crossover fanfiction by Libby Thomas, also known as Mihoshi. It is a tale of love between two heartbroken individuals, Ranma Saotome and Hikaru Shidou. This series is (currently) about half a year old, and it is already an epic of a quality that few writers have ever matched.

I was enchanted with this great story from the first prelude, and my interest has only grown. I have grown to love it so much that I submitted a (rather substandard) fan art for the author. But my passion for this series kept increasing, and soon an idea for a side story formed in my head. It just didn't leave me alone, so I asked Libby Thomas for a permission to write it, and she has graciously allowed me to do so. What you see below is my fruits of labor that comes nowhere near the level of her masterpieces, but hopefully entertains you. It's set a little before Her Prelude.

A final note; since Libby apparently likes using Japanese in her fics, I have used them in this story as well, though I'm usually rather reluctant to incorporate a language that not everybody is familiar with, so I kept it to a basic level hopefully everyone can understand. And now, on with the side story...


Rays of sunlight pierced the gray darkness, followed by a glowing sphere of light rising out of the horizon. The birds started chirping as an another day commenced. Delivery boys and milkmen reluctantly rose out of their warm beds and started their jobs. Students of various ages gobbled down breakfast, and businessmen all over Japan raced with time.

At Narita International Airport, a plane from Europe landed, dislodging its passengers. Among those arriving for a sightseeing, business, or returning to their homeland, a man was present for an unusual purpose.

Retrieving his luggage, he purchased a map detailing an area of Tokyo; Nerima district, specifically speaking. Among other famous places, one location was listed clearly for its reputation, even though it was not a spot usually listed on a map.

Saotome-Tendo Dojo; one of the most well known martial arts schools in Japan, with its grandmaster rumored to be a fighter of an epic caliber.

He grinned. Finally, his debt of honor could be collected.

~*~

Environmental inspection... completed. Anomaly reported. Diagnosis; major heat and comfort source not found. Extending physical sensors... scan completed. Preceding prognosis confirmed. Processing for inducement of primary operation system... done. Visual lenses activated.

Hikaru blinked twice, staring at space where her arms lay. There should have been Ranma in between them, but it was not so. Confusion quickly brought her to wakefulness, prompting her to sit up on the bed. She checked the nearby clock on a bed stand; a little past seven thirty. A time she usually sneaked out of bed (and Ranma's arms) and started preparing breakfast. Why was Ranma up so early?

A wail interrupted her questioning. Her first thought was that maybe Akama fell down and scraped his knee, or something similar. Then she remembered the twins she brought back from hospital yesterday. Immediately getting out of bed, she rushed out of the bedroom. She did not bother to think of her state of dress, or about the dull pain from childbirth.

The wailing quieted down just before she reached Hikama and Hotaru's room, where she was treated to a heart-warming sight; her husband cradling both babies in his arms, rocking them and murmuring gently to them.

"Ohayo, Hikaru." Ranma turned to her. "Kids sure do cry a lot, don't they? Just like Akama used to."

Hikaru smiled in response, then noticed his attire. "Anata, why are you wearing an apron?"

"Oh, this? Just didn't want to take risks with cooking."

Hikaru's smile broadened. "That's sweet of you, but I could have made breakfast."

"You sure could have," he agreed. "But don't you want to spend some time with your children rather than doing housework?"

Her smile grew even brighter. As he put back the now sleeping babies into their bed, she gently embraced him from back; though she couldn't see his face, Hikaru was sure that Ranma was smiling. Eventually she let go and he turned around, confirming her assumption.

"Well, spend some quality time with your children, beautiful. I would love to stay, but pancakes are calling me." Ranma started to leave, but Hikaru grasped his arm gently, prompting him to turn around inquisitively.

"Just one moment."

His question was cut off by her lips suddenly zooming onto his. Ranma was momentarily caught stunned before returning the kiss atheistically. After a moment that could have well been an eternity, they separated. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"

"Ever heard of 'Kiss the cook'?" Hikaru giggled at her husband's puzzled look. As Ranma left shaking his head merrily, she stared at the two sleeping figures.

Mother. She was now a mother. Even though she had been thinking about that fact for several days now, it still fascinated her. Would she be a good mother like her own and Nodoka had been (and still were)? Was she ready for this responsibility? What kind of people would her children grow up to be?

They were wonderful and horrifying questions. Just a few years ago, which felt like yesterday, she was simply a young, single woman. Now she was married with three children, one not of her own but loved just as much as the other two. It was what she had wanted, yet feared.

Sometimes, like when she had been musing three days ago on the hospital bed, she would be overridden by anxiety and dread. Thoughts like "This isn't what I wanted!" and "I'm not ready for this!" threatened to engulf her like monsters she fought so long ago. Then she would remember about Ranma, her family and his family, and dear friends they had, and was able to reassure herself that she did want it and had so many people supporting her.

Feeling like the happiest mother in the world, she started to get ready for another day.

~*~

Hikaru watched the downward strike with an experienced eye. The power contained in that blow was greater than any of her own, but much easier to redirect. She let it slide off of her shainai before twirling gracefully on one foot and counterattacking with a wide horizontal slash. Ranma had rely on his natural dexterity to hop away from attack. Though his body was able to avoid a hit, his shainai was hit on the tip, unbalancing him somewhat.

Pressing her advantage, Hikaru feinted high before shifting low and swinging upward. However, Ranma did not fall for the deception and locked his weapon with hers, using his physical advantage to regain his balance. Hikaru quickly stepped away, knowing better than try to overpower him.

Both of them kept their guard up, looking at each other for any sign of movement while pondering their next move. Hikaru noted that her husband was fighting more defensively than usual, intending to wear her out. It was a solid tactic; his endurance had always been greater than hers. Still, he usually didn't fight like this, as prolonging the battle meant eventually losing to her superior skill. But with the effect of childbirth still on her, this tactic worked for once. She needed to end this quickly if she was to win.

Easy enough.

She advanced onto him slowly before rendering herself a whirlwind of slashes, yelling "Ryusei Kenbu!"

Ranma would have been boggled if he had time, but he was too busy parrying her erratic, lightning-fast strikes. Using all his acclaimed speed, he was barely able to block Hikaru's attacks. Unfortunately, in doing so, he lost one of his greatest abilities: unpredictable style.

Hikaru changed her target in mid-swing, aiming for his unguarded hands. Her plan worked perfectly; Ranma, trying to parry a blow that never came, was unable to move away his hands before it was struck solidly by her shainai. By the time he realized what she had meant to do, his weapon was already rolling on the floor, with her bamboo sword's tip resting on the base of his neck. He hung his head and muttered, "You win... again."

Hikaru laughed cheerfully, lowering her weapon. "You don't need to sound so depressed."

"Well, I understand analytically that I can never defeat you in a sword-fight." Ranma grumbled. "But I still hate losing."

"I hate to lose too, anata. And if I lost to you with sword, then how am I supposed to feel competent?" Hikaru pouted. "Besides, you can at least hold your own against me at this. I can't even touch you when we fight unarmed."

Ranma grinned at his beloved wife. "Somehow, you always know the right thing to say... unlike me."

Hikaru giggled in good humor. "I have to teach you to think before speaking, someday." She winced suddenly and held a hand to her stomach.

Ranma immediately grew concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Don't worry about it." She smiled reassuringly. "It's gone now."

"It may be gone, but you should call it quits for today," Ranma advised. "Go take a bath, Hikaru. I will be working out a little more."

She nodded and left the dojo, heading back into the house. As she cleaned herself in the bathroom, Hikaru pondered about what she could do to spend the day. Neither Ranma nor Hikaru had any class today, and no shopping was necessary. Normally on days like this, she and Ranma would take Akama to a walk; but with recent additions in the family, the notion just wasn't feasible. Training wasn't viable, either, as the earlier sparring match with her husband proved that she wasn't ready for a lengthy exercise yet. It looked like she was in for a monotonous day.

Hikaru's hunches were usually accurate. But in this particular case, she was wrong.

When she finished dressing in the bedroom, Akama burst into the room. She would have to teach him to knock before entering one day. "What is it, Akama-chan?"

"Okasan, there's a strange man on the gate! Do you think I should go get otosan?"

She frowned. "What do you mean by 'strange'?"

"Well, he's dressed in clothes I've never seen before. And he looks like a gaijin."

Hikaru thought about it. She didn't know any foreigners, and to the best of her knowledge, Ranma didn't either. She wondered if this man could be a dojo-yaburi; they were occasionally challenged because of Ranma's semi-legendary reputation (he beat them all, of course). Or perhaps he was a salesman? Maybe one of those 'holy merchants' that sold religious merchandise? Only one way to find out for sure.

She told Akama to play with Hikari and went out to see the foreigner Akama spoke of. Opening the front door, she caught the man right as he was about to knock on the door. He was a tall, blonde gentleman in a white suit that gave him a regal appearance. She guessed him to be a little older than her, around 30 or so. "May I help you?"

For some reason, he brightened upon seeing her. "Ah, ma dame! What a pleasant twist of fate that we shall meet again, oui?"

Hikaru blinked, and tried to make sense of what he said. "Eto... Do I know you?"

The man seemed to be pained by her response. "Que? Have you forgotten me, Mademoiselle Ranma?"

Now it made sense to her. This man, whoever he was, mistook her for Ranma's female form like Kuno always did. "I'm afraid you are mistaken. I am Saotome Hikaru. Saotome Ranma is my husband."

He frowned, then shrugged. "Ah bien... Ma erreur. As joyous as it is to meet you, Madame Saotome, I must converse with your husband about a serious topic. May I see him?"

Hikaru frowned this time. About what did he want to talk to Ranma that was so important? "I'm sorry, you'll have to wait; he's training right now. Will you come inside, Mister...?"

"Je m'appelle Picollet Chardan le deuxieme."

"What?"

"Pardon moi. My name is Picollet Chardan the second."

~*~

Ranma concentrated on the power pooled in his body. If he relaxed for even a fraction of a moment, it would seep out of him painfully. It took him a minute to build up such a tremendous amount of ki, weaving it around his battle aura, condensing it, and repeating the process. Slowly and carefully, he stretched his hands out to front of him. Bracing himself, he shifted the collected ki out to his hands and let them go, shouting "Hyakki Yakou Shou!"

Dozens of basketball-sized ki blasts shot out of his palms, each exploding like a grenade upon impact with the targets. He continued the barrage of energy shots until his reserve was spent and had to stop. Exhausted, Ranma fell to his knees with a satisfied grin. The targets, formerly eight steel-made dummy dolls, were reduced to bits and pieces of unrecognizable metal. Some of them even looked partially melted.

Ranma continued to grin as he started to clean up the mess he made. While it wasn't the most powerful or useful move in his growing special techniques arsenal, it was pretty damn close. Unlike Hiryu Shoutenha or Neko-ken, he was able to do it out of his own power instead of relying on the opponent's aura or extended exposure to cats. All he needed to do was shorten the charge time--

"Ranma."

The said martial artist paused in his activity; for a second, he thought he heard Hikaru call him in a tone that Akane liked to use when she was angry at him. Shaking his head at the foolish concept, he resumed cleaning.

"Ranma!"

This time, he was sure he heard Hikaru call him. She also sounded angry...even angrier than before, in fact. He turned around slowly, hoping that his ears had gone wrong and she wasn't there.

There was nothing wrong with his ears, and she was there. She also looked more displeased than he had ever seen her. "Um... Yes, dear?"

She gave him a look he had often seen his mother give to his father. It was a "don't 'yes dear' me" look. Caught by trepidation from seeing her in such a mood, Ranma almost didn't notice the somehow-familiar-looking man standing next to her.

"Anata," Hikaru's usually-loving voice sounded almost hostile, "would you care to explain about the 'pact of honor' you made with Chardan-san here?"

Ranma blinked, then turned pale. Hoping against hope that he was mistaken, he weakly called out, "Picollet...? Is that really you?"

The master of French Style Martial Arts Repast school smiled. "It has been a while, oui? I have arrived to collect what you owe me."

"You mean... the 100,000 yen?" Ranma ventured. It was in vain.

"Non, we did agree that you would offer your daughter as my bride, didn't we?"

"Um... yeah..." Ranma briefly understood his father more than any other time in his life. The way Picollet looked at him expectantly and Hikaru's Honou No Ya-like glare threatened his composure in such a devastating manner. "Ah... Co-come on, Picollet! You're what, 30 years old now? Surely you don't want to marry someone three decades younger than you!"

"Pourquoi, of course not." Picollet said. Ranma relaxed. "She is to be a bride for my son." Ranma gulped. Hikaru was trying to suppress nasty thoughts about her husband.

"You-you're married now...?" Ranma stalled for time. Think of something, think of something...

"Oui. I'm expecting a son in two months." Picollet smiled. "He will be the heir to my French Style Martial Arts Repast school."

French Style Martial Arts Repast school...? That was it! "Picollet, I challenge you!" Ranma tried to gain back his confidence and ignore the way Hikaru looked at him. "It's a duel of Martial Arts Repast! If you win, I will give you both my daughter and 100,000 yen! If I win, you will give up on my daughter!"

Hikaru gasped. Picollet smirked. He didn't really need the cash, but he was going to win, so why not? "How amusing... As I recall, you lost to me in a spectacular fashion all those years ago. Still, just for entertainment, I accept." He gestured toward outside. "My limousine is waiting at outside. Shall we go?"

"Great, let's go now!" Ranma hastily agreed, eager to escape from his wife.

Hikaru snapped out of her shock when Ranma started literally dragging the Frenchman off. "Ranma, wait!"

"No time to talk now, Hikaru! I'll see you later!" Ranma fled out of the house.

Hikaru stood like a fool in the dojo for a long time, unable to think. Denial, anger, and despair warred for precedence in her mind. Finally, she wandered out of her home. Somehow, it didn't feel like a home as much as it used to.

~*~

Ukyo looked up from the griddle when the front door opened. "Rasshai, Nabiki, Kasumi, Hiro!"

Kasumi smiled, unable to do much of anything else with her son clutching at her hand tightly. He was growing up to be a strong boy. "Konnichiwa, Ukyo."

Nabiki sat down on the seat adjacent to the counter. "Business is well as always, I presume?"

Ukyo chuckled. Even after such a dramatic change, Nabiki was still a queen of economy. "Of course! I'm the best okonomiyaki cook in Japan!"

"My, aren't you picking up bad habits from my little brother?" Nabiki jabbed.

"I don't really think it's a bad habit," Ukyo defended. "If it's a truth, don't hesitate to state it!"

"You really are the best, Aunt Ukyo!" Hiro chirped.

"Thanks, Hiro! So, do you want the usu... hey, isn't that Hikaru outside?" Ukyo pointed to the nearby window. Sure enough, there was a red pigtail observable in it. It was distinguishable from Ranma's by its length.

"Let's call Aunt Hikaru in here!" Hiro dashed to the front door and opened it, much to the surprise of the redhead.

"Hey Hikaru, come on in!" Nabiki insisted, noting curiously that her sister-in-law was less cheerful than usual. In fact, she even looked depressed. Ukyo, Kasumi, and Nabiki all watched with growing anxiety as Hikaru walked in silently. Even Hiro sensed something was wrong here.

Ukyo thought quickly, and came up with an idea. She wanted to help Hikaru out, but it was probably not something to be talked about in front of children. "Hey Hiro, do you want to know how okonomiyaki's made? I will teach it to you." The boy's eyes lit up in excitement. He happily followed the chef into the kitchen, and the former Tendo sisters thanked her silently.

Kasumi, ever the motherly one, spoke first, "Hikaru-chan, what's the matter?"

Hikaru hesitated before speaking, "Um, it's not really something big..."

"You're an awful liar, Hikaru." Nabiki smirked. "Don't bother hiding it, just spit it out. Did you have a fight with Ranma?"

The two women grew rapidly alarmed when Hikaru didn't speak for a long time. "In a way," she mumbled.

"What did he do?" Kasumi asked with a touch of horror in her voice. What could have happened now? Just when everything was going right for everyone...

"I... well, I'm disappointed in him."

"Hikaru, stop dodging the bullet!" Nabiki snapped. "Just say what it is!" She regretted the tone she used, but couldn't help it. This was the first time Ranma and Hikaru had any conflict of sort, and she was scared to think of what could have caused it.

The sword-mistress sighed, and hesitantly spoke out, "Do either of you know someone named Picollet?"

Nabiki's eyes widened. "You mean he's here?!" Seeing Hikaru nod, she muttered, "Oh shit..."

"Nabiki, why would that be a problem?" Kasumi asked. "He wasn't a bad man, just... peculiar."

"That's a nice way to describe a huge-mouthed, monster-tongued freak who could swallow a watermelon whole, Kasumi."

"What?" Hikaru wondered if she was stressed enough to be hearing things.

"I'm not kidding, Hikaru. The guy is a practitioner of what they call French Style Martial Arts Repast. Basically, it's just a fast-eating contest using their mutated eating implements." Nabiki sighed. "I suppose he was here to claim Hotaru, huh?"

Kasumi blinked. "Oh, that's right. Ranma couldn't pay for what he lost, so Chardan-san demanded to have his daughter as a bride."

Hikaru looked down. "So it's true. I... I can't believe this... I never thought Ranma would do something like this..." The redhead was on the brink of tears. Her sisters-in-law were decidedly uncomfortable with her emotional state.

"Um, where's Ranma now?" Nabiki sought to break the silence.

Hikaru hesitated before answering, "He... He challenged the man. If he lost, he said he would..." The petite woman clenched her teeth. "give Hotaru and pay the money..."

"And if he won, Picollet has to give up on Hotaru." Nabiki finished.

Tears started to come out of Hikaru's eyes as she spoke, "I just... I believed in Ranma, and he... He..." The young mother broke down into a sob. Kasumi made a motion to embrace her, but Nabiki beat her to it, taking the smaller woman into her arms. The oldest woman present took no offense at this, knowing that Nabiki understood Hikaru better than she did.

Nabiki gently murmured and held Hikaru. She recalled the time, not so long ago, when she periodically did the same to her brother after Akane's death. The grief Hikaru felt right now was far less severe, but she spared no effort in her job. In her opinion, this was the most important task in the world at the moment.

Eventually Hikaru stopped crying, leaving Nabiki's arms and wiping at her eyes. "How could he have done this to me? To Hotaru?" she whispered.

Nabiki collected her thoughts as quickly as she could, and chose a method. Her face turned condescending and scornful. "Well, Ranma has always been an insensitive jerk, you know."

Hikaru blinked. "Uh... I know he's not the most perceptive, but..."

Nabiki simply shook her head. "You know what? I have been counting on something like this to happen. With his stupidity, it was inevitable." She shot a glance at Kasumi, telling her not to interrupt.

"He isn't stupid!" Hikaru shot back. "He may make mistakes, but that doesn't mean he's a fool! Everybody makes mistakes!"

Nabiki smiled inwardly; Hikaru could be such an easy bait. "Yeah, but he can't take responsibility for them. Nor does he try to amend for them. God, what an asshole."

"Take that back!" Hikaru shouted. "I told you what he's doing now! He's trying to undo what he has..." The redhead stopped in her defense, realizing what she had just said.

Nabiki removed the mask of disgusted amusement from her face, and replaced it with her usual calm smile. "I agree wholeheartedly with you, Hikaru. None of what I said is true."

Kasumi spoke to the stunned Hikaru. "Hikaru-chan, what Ranma did was definitely wrong. But under the circumstances, it was the only thing he could do. And he knew he wasn't doing the right thing, too.

"We all make mistakes, especially when we're young. But he's trying to correct it now. He's doing it for two reasons: one, because he's an adult, and an adult has to be responsible; two, because he loves you and your children. When a person loves somebody, he or she will do anything for them, from protecting them at all costs to understanding, accepting, and forgiving their shortcomings."

To the relief of the older women, Hikaru calmed down to a certain degree. "You're right... I should forgive him for his former errors. But there's still something I'm still quite upset about."

"Which is?" Nabiki asked.

"When I... confronted him back at the dojo, he, well, didn't explain things to me. He just issued a challenge and ran out of the house with Chardan-san, even though I asked him to stay." Hikaru sighed. "That wasn't the Ranma I knew."

"I see what you mean." Nabiki agreed. "Here's what I'd do if I were you. Talk to him." Hikaru stared at Nabiki. "Talk to him," she repeated. "He knows how you're upset, and that's scaring him. He also knows that he shouldn't have acted that way toward you, and is feeling guilty. He loves you and fears your sadness more than your anger.

"This is the first real fight you two have had, and maybe won't be the last. But you two are just made for each other; I would bet every yen I have on it. Don't let a skirmish destroy the most important thing in the world to you and him."

For a long time, the sisters-in-law gazed at each other. Finally, Hikaru nodded, and stood up from her seat. "You're right, as always," she said. "I'm still a little angry at him, but I love him. I will give him as many chances as necessary."

She opened the front door and stepped out. "I have to go check on my children. Thank you, oneesama-tachi." Kasumi and Nabiki sent her off with warm smiles.

~*~

Ranma stepped into the dojo with more trepidation than he could ever remember having.

The match was short and easy; Picollet did not expect Ranma to be able to use Gourmet De Fore Grais, and so was caught off guard before he knew it. By the time Frenchman realized the extent of the situation, the match was too shifted toward Ranma for him to stand a chance.

Ranma, however, could care less about it. The true challenge was now how to explain things and make up with his wife, and he had no idea how to do so. It looked like he would have to dive in headfirst.

He entered the house and started searching for Hikaru. Bedroom; not here. Hikama and Hotaru's room; only the sleeping twins. Akama's room; no one present. Bathroom; nobody was using it, and nobody was there, either. Kitchen; again, no one present.

He stepped out into the garden, suppressing a rising panic. She wouldn't abandon him or do anything rash. She was too smart to do something like that, and they loved each other more than enough to overcome something like this.

Right?

A bark caught his attention, and he turned to see Hikari wiggling his tail at him. Reaching out to pat the canine, he got a whim and asked, "Hikari, where's Hikaru?"

The dog just barked back at him, causing him to sigh. While he liked dogs (unlike a certain other domesticated animal), he was never able to compound the deep bond Hikari shared with--

"Anata."

Ranma whipped his head back, seeing Hikaru standing at the front gate. He was rooted to the spot when he saw the twin marks on her face; no one could misapprehend what caused them.

She approached him. Though he knew better, she looked like a frail china doll, able to shatter in an instant. Perhaps she was so mentally.

"Did you win?"

Ranma recovered from his trance with difficulty. "Wha?"

"Did you win?"

"Um... Yeah. It was pretty easy." She merely looked at him. "Um, where's Akama?"

"At Katou-san's house."

Her calm, polite hostility finally got the better of him. "Look, Hikaru... I'm, well, sorry!"

"... Sorry for what?"

The question caught him off guard. "What?"

"Are you apologizing for what you did 12 years ago? The act of engaging your daughter before she was even born?"

"Uh... Yeah?" Ranma ventured. It was apparently a mistake; Hikaru turned her back to him, her shoulders slumping.

"You don't get it, do you?" Ranma nodded to himself hesitantly; he sure as hell didn't get it. "I'm not angry at you for that. Nobody is perfect, and since you took care of it, I can forgive you." Ranma blinked.

"What I'm upset about is that you ran away from me this morning, instead of explaining things to me first. That wasn't the man I love. I didn't see Ranma Saotome in you. It was if you were a complete stranger."

Ranma opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly and rapidly. His eyes widened in shock and realization.

    ... wasn't the man I love...

    ... didn't see Ranma Saotome in you...

    ... a complete stranger...

Hikaru waited for him to speak, hoping that her husband was the great man she believed him to be.

    ... yes, dear...

    ... come on...

    ... think of something, think of something...

Hikaru waited more, restraining her trembling heart. What if he wasn't as she believed him to be? What if he really was the scum Nabiki had hinted at? What if he had committed more of the similar sins?

    ... give you my daughter...

    ... no time to talk now...

    ... talk to you later...

Hikaru heard an agonized moan, and turned around to see Ranma fall to his knees. Concern quickly overpowered her emotional state when she saw the drops of liquid falling out of his eyes.

She ran to him, starting to panic when Ranma put his hands on the ground, now weeping openly. The only other time she had seen Ranma cry was when he told her about the love he shared with Akane, and it was only a few drops of tears, not the sorrowful sobbing that was scaring her to the bones now. "Ranma, Ranma, what's wrong?! Why are you crying?"

Ranma looked up at her, and she was startled at the amount of self-loathing she discovered in his sapphire orbs. "I, gods, Hikaru, I'm becoming like... like..."

"Like what?"

"Like... Pops...!"

Hikaru gasped.

"I'm a horrible excuse of a father!!" Ranma screamed. "Selling my children for money! Running away from my wife in fear! THAT'S EVERYTHING HE DID!!!" Ranma crumpled to the ground, soaking the ground with his tears. "I'm not a man, nor a woman... Just a... a thing!"

"No, you aren't."

Ranma raised his head, his expression marred by incomprehension and disbelief. Hikaru was smiling, her eyes moist as well. He continued to stare dumbfounded as she helped him up.

"You aren't your father, nor will you ever be. You are Saotome Ranma, my husband. You are a good father."

Ranma just stared at her wordlessly.

"I now see the man I married in you. A man who is not perfect, yet tries to be so as much as possible. A man who errors, but always corrects them. Most importantly, a man who loves me, our children, and his friends far more than himself." Hikaru caressed his cheek. "A man that I would like to spend rest of my life with."

Ranma's tears slowed, then stopped. Looking at his wife, his goddess, he allowed himself a smile. Not his characteristic, symbolic confident grin that showed his strength, but the smile he showed only to those he loved; a smile of undying gratitude and devotion.

They looked at each other. The woman nodded, and the man began to close the distance between them.

The sun shone like a ruby, continuing its never-ending journey. Wisps of cloud drifted away, revealing it in all its glory. As if waiting to be shown completely, the sun began its descent into the horizon. Soon it would be the reign of the night, with the moon on the throne.


Glossary:

anata: a formal way of saying "you". Often used by a woman to her husband.
dojo-yaburi: a martial artist who challenges various dojos in order to make a name for him/herself.
eto: an interjection, roughly like "um" or "ah".
gaijin: literally means "outsider".
Hyakki Yakou Shou: literal translation: "Palm of Hundred Demons' March at Night." Rapid-firing of ki blasts by storing one's ki in the body first. Yes, it's a made-up technique.
konnichiwa: "hello" in both formal and casual tone.
ohayo: a casual form of "good morning".
oneesama-tachi: a respectful way of referring to one's sister. "-tachi" makes it a plural form.
rasshai: a rough form of saying "irrashai" which is a casual form of "welcome".
Ryusei Kenbu: literal translation: "Meteor Sword Dance". Basically, just slashing with a sword quickly and unpredictably. Another made-up technique.
shinai: a bamboo practice sword.
-chan: a way of referring to someone in an affectionate way, often done by an older person to a younger one, often by females. Also used by intimate lovers. Sometimes used in a mocking way.
-san: a way of referring to someone in a formal way. Sort of like "mister/miss".

Author's notes:
Finished! Wow, writing a side-story for somebody else's story sure was harder than I thought, especially when trying to write something for a masterpiece like A Duet Of Pigtails.

The idea of this popped into my mind when I read chapter two of Duet, specifically in Ukyo's internal dialogue detailing the complete lack of problems in Ranma and Hikaru's relationship. In my humble opinion, even the most ideal of a relationship cannot constitute without at least some conflicts. And so, I decided to write a fanfic in which Ranma's past mistake coming back to haunt him.

Both Ranma and Hikaru are my favorite characters, and they certainly have their share of faults. Like it has been stressed in the above story, nobody is perfect. The important thing is to accept that fact, and still try to be close to perfect as much as possible.

And before anyone asks, no, Picollet is not an original character. He appears in volumes 16-17 of the original manga.

This fanfic is not to be taken as one of Ms. Thomas's classics. It probably contradicts some things in the original story, and should be read only as a "hidden episode", so to speak. Hopefully you have been entertained by it.

I would once again like to express my gratitude toward Libby Thomas for giving me the permission to write this. I also thank you, the reader, for reading this far. If you liked it, please tell me so.

Gotta get back to other stories I have been neglecting for too long... So many fanfics to write, so little time... ^_^

Tell me what you think:
VGAP vg_ap@hotmail.com

NEXT:
Her Prelude: Where I Am Today