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"Okaeri. How was your day, Ranma?" Urashima-dono asked his nephew.
"Great! I passed my finals! I'm gonna go find Okasan and then get changed. See you later Ojisan."
Watching his nephew leave the room, Urashima-dono marveled at the changes that had taken place over the last year. Ranma's speech and manners had improved tremendously thanks to Nodoka's efforts. He also looked more mature now that the baby-fat on his face was nearly gone and he was wearing more casual clothes — Keitaro's suggestion. However the most striking change was the absence of the braided-pigtail that had seemed to be the boy's trademark. In its place was a waist-length warrior's tail. Shaking himself out of his reverie at the sound of the door, Urashima-dono turned to see his son entering the house.
"Tadaima," Keitaro mumbled.
"Okaeri. I take it your exam went poorly."
Sighing, Keitaro nodded. "Hai. They changed the room and half of us got lost trying to find it. When I got there they had already started the exam and I wasn't allowed to take it. And I wasn't the only one, looked like the others were going to start a riot."
"Why did they change the room? It doesn't make sense to do that in the middle of an exam."
"I don't know for sure, but there was a note on the door telling us which room to report to that mentioned something about a leak. I didn't bother to look into it because I was in a hurry to get to the new room."
Urashima-dono shook his head, sighing. "Well I have some good news. Ranma passed his finals!"
"It's because of your help, Kei," Ranma said, walking into the room. "Sorry to hear about your test, but you did well yesterday so you could still pass, ne?"
Keitaro smiled at his cousin in spite of himself. "I guess we'll find out soon. Though it isn't likely."
Staring at the result board Keitaro seemed to crumble. "I'm a second year ronin," he mumbled. Shaking himself a bit he stood up straight. "Not that I had much chance, missing half the exam."
"Don't worry about it, Kei, you'll make it next year!" Ranma said confidently. "Here, I got your results."
Smiling, Keitaro nodded. "You're right, Ranma. I'll definitely make it next year," he said as he took the envelope from his cousin. Opening it he read through it and turned toward a nearby tree. Grasping the tree in both hands he started to bang his head against it, stopping when Ranma prevented him from completing the second blow. "This isn't fair."
"What isn't fair, Keitaro-chan?"
Turning to the voice the two young men watched a smiling Nodoka approach.
"According to my result sheet I got every question on the first half right. If I had taken the second half of the exam and done as well I would have almost certainly gotten in."
"Well then, we know for certain that you'll make it in next year!" she said with sparkling eyes. Returning to her normal, traditional attitude she continued, "Oh, by the way, Keitaro-chan, Ranma-chan, I received a letter this morning from Hahaue stating that she wants to see the two of you. Why don't you go stay with her while you study for next year?"
Looking at each other the two cousins nodded. "Alright. We'll go see Bachan."
On the other end of the campus a small group was looking at the Tokyo University entrance exam results as well.
"Congratulations, Oneechan!" a girl with long blueish-black hair stated.
"Thanks, Akan... Nodoka-obasan?" Nabiki asked as she turned toward her sister and noticed a certain group across the campus.
"Huh?" Turning around, Akane noticed the group as well. Staring in shock, she took a few moments to regain her voice. "Who are the two boys with her?"
"I'm not sure. I don't recognize the one with glasses but the other one looks familiar..." She paused to study the long-haired boy's dignified stance and gorgeous black hair for a moment. He turned. She gasped. "Ranma?!"
Entering an apartment in the Juuban ward of Tokyo the two youngest Tendos mumbled, "Tadaima."
"Okaeri," Kasumi greeted cheerfully. Noticing her sisters slightly downcast expressions she asked, "Is something wrong? Did you fail to get into Tokyo University?"
"No, that's not the problem. I got in!" Nabiki exclaimed cheerfully though one could still see a hint of disappointment if they looked closely.
"Oh my daughter, I'm so proud!" Soun exclaimed as he rushed into the room, tears of joy spraying everything he passed.
Noticing that Akane was still despondent, Kasumi calmly asked, "Did something happen, Imouto?"
"Hai, we saw Ranma on the campus—" she began before her father cut her off.
"But that's excellent news. Now the schools can finally be joined and we can rebuild the dojo," Soun said, showing more life than he had in the last year.
Nabiki sighed. It had been a hard year for the Tendos. Shortly after Nodoka had taken Ranma another set of fiancées had shown up. Without Ranma there to take the blame for him Genma had been targeted by the girls' wrath. The end result of the fight was the almost total destruction of the Tendo-ke and Genma's disappearance. It had taken over a month for Kasumi to recover from the shock and Soun had almost completely shut down. Luckily, Nabiki had managed to find them an apartment to stay in while they saved up the money to rebuild their house. Now she had to give her father more bad news after he had finally showed life again.
"Otousan, Ranma left the campus before we could talk to him..."
Ranma and his cousin looked up a rather long flight of steps.
"Are you sure this leads to Bachan's inn?" Ranma asked. "We've been walking around this town for almost half an hour."
"Hai, I'm sure this is the right way," Keitaro responded, shrinking back from his agitated cousin.
"Well come on let's go see what Bachan wanted," Ranma said, once again cheerful. Not waiting for a response he began jogging up the stairs, seemingly oblivious to the large pack on his back.
He's been staying with us for a year and I still haven't gotten used to how quickly he can go from annoyed to happy. Shifting the backpack hanging on his shoulders, Keitaro quickly followed.
Reaching the top of the steps the two looked up at the tremendous structure of the inn that loomed over them.
"Wow, this place is huge!"
Keitaro smiled at his cousin's awestruck expression and nodded. "I stayed here when I was younger."
Shaking his head, Ranma began walking toward the inn.
Entering the inn the two called out for their relative, making their way to the Kanrinin's room. Finding the room empty, Ranma turned to his cousin.
"We might as well split up and look for Bachan."
Nodding, Keitaro replied, "Haruka-obasan runs a tea house around here somewhere. One of us could go ask her."
Ranma tilted his head slightly in thought, "Okay, I'll go talk to Obasan while you look around the inn. You used to live here so you have a better idea of the layout than I do."
At Keitaro's nod Ranma proceeded back out of the inn and made his way down the long stairway. Keitaro dropped his bags in the corner and began wandering through the inn.
"Now where is Obasan's tea house?"
Looking around, Ranma noticed a tall girl in a school uniform heading in the direction of the inn. He calmly approached her, idly noting the wrapped bundle she was carrying over her shoulder.
"Ano, excuse me but could you tell me where Urashima Haruka's Tea House is?"
The girl looked at him and seemed to be weighing him with her brown eyes. Apparently deciding he had passed whatever criteria she had set she pointed toward the inn. Speaking in an authoritative voice she said, "I had planned to visit Haruka-san on my way home. You may follow me but do not get any ideas." Not waiting for a response she continued on her way.
Ranma blinked. Shrugging, he jogged to catch up with her. "You know Haruka-obasan?"
The girl paused, her long black hair swaying slightly as she turned to look at Ranma once more. "So, you are Haruka-san's nephew?" At his nod she continued, "Haruka-san has never mentioned you."
"I don't think I've ever met her before, at least I don't remember meeting her," the last was said more to himself. Noticing the tea house in front of them he asked, "Is this her place?"
Before she could answer a short haired woman wearing an apron walked out. Pausing she asked, "Motoko, did you need something?" Noticing Ranma she refocused her attention on studying the pony-tailed teen. Her mouth dropped open causing the cigarette she was smoking to fall to the ground. "Ranma?! Is that you?"
Ranma nodded with a slightly confused expression on his face while Motoko stood to one side, apparently forgotten.
Motoko blinked, she could almost swear the young man's pony-tail had stood on end for a moment there but shrugged it off as a trick of the light.
"It's good to see you again Ranma-kun. I haven't seen you since you came and stayed at the inn with Okasan when you were three," Haruka chattered excitedly. Pushing him out to arms length she looked him up and down. "You've certainly grown... Um, Ranma-kun are you alright?" Glancing to her side she noticed Motoko's shocked expression. "Motoko, are you okay?"
Realizing she was gawking Motoko quickly composed herself. "Urrm, I apologize. I have never seen you act so... so..."
"Excited," Haruka deadpanned in her normal, nearly monotone voice.
"Urrm... yes." Glancing at Ranma she decided to change the subject, "It would appear your nephew has recovered." Why did he tell me he had never met her before when he is clearly important to her? Important enough for Haruka-san to act so... out of character.
"Ranma-kun, how is my favorite nephew? What brings you by after all these years?" Haruka asked, once again doing an emotional 180.
Scary, was the mirrored thought of both teens.
Smiling, Ranma scratched the base of his neck as he responded, "Heh, Baachan asked me an' Kei to come see her. When we got to the inn we couldn't find her so we split up. I came to look for you to see if you knew where she was and Kei stayed to look around the inn." Noticing the angry expression on Motoko's face and the nervous one on his aunt's he asked, "Is something wrong, Haruka-obasan?"
"There's a man wandering around the Hinata Sou?" Motoko stated coldly.
"Ranma-kun, you do know that the Hinata Sou is a girl's dorm now, ne?"
Ranma's eyes widened. I left Kei in a girl's dorm. Kuso. Turning around he bolted in the direction of the inn, the two women hot on his heels, though both were pushed to keep up.
Reaching the top of the stairs the three were treated to the sight of a towel-clad Keitaro leaping from the second floor balcony causing the girls chasing him to pause and stare after him. Seeing Ranma the spectacled boy quickly rushed up to his cousin.
"Do I even want to know?" Ranma asked with a sigh.
Keitaro's response was cut off when Motoko placed a sword at his throat.
I guess I was right about that bundle, Ranma thought as he prepared to defend his clumsy cousin. From her stance and aura she's much better than Kuno and Kei is nowhere near that level.
"Calm down, Motoko. Kei—" Haruka began but was interrupted by the crowd of girls from earlier rushing out of the front of the inn led by an extremely angry girl with long, reddish-brown hair.
Keitaro yelped and quickly moved behind Haruka calling out, "Haruka-obasa—" Further speech was cut off as his aunt drove her elbow into the back of his head.
"Haruka-san. Now would you care to explain what happened?" she asked in her normal, calm voice — seeming almost bored by the current events.
Rubbing the small lump on the back of his head, Keitaro asked meekly, "Er, can I get dressed first?"
"... after I landed and ran to Ranma she pointed a sword at my throat and you know the rest," Keitaro said, indicating Motoko as he finished.
Ranma groaned, "Man this turned into one big misunderstanding. Thank the kami Okasan wasn't here to see this."
"Don't tell me she's still on that manliness kick," Haruka said with chuckle, causing the Hinata's tenants to stare at her.
"Unfortunately. Haruka-obasan, do you know somewhere Kei and I can stay? We were planning on staying at the inn with Baachan, but... well it's kinda obvious that ain't gonna happen now."
"You wouldn't happen to have any spare rooms at your place, Haruka-obas—" Keitaro was once again cut off by his aunt striking him upside his head.
"Ite. How come Ranma can call you obasan and I can't?"
"It was his first word," Haruka said cheerfully with a reminiscent look on her face.
"A cheerful Haruka is kinda creepy isn't it, Naru? That hunk must be important to her," a rather well-endowed platinum blond asked the girl next to her, the same girl that had led the tenants out earlier.
Naru nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right Kitsune."
All eyes turned to Ranma while Haruka snapped out of her memories.
"Yeah, it was. I was probably your favorite person next to Neesan."
"That does not fit with what you said earlier. You told me you hadn't met Haruka-san as far as you could remember," Motoko stated formally, examining Ranma. "Did you have a specific reason for lying to me?"
"Ano, I wasn't lying. I don't remember meeting Haruka-obasan before today."
"WHAT? Ranma, you have a nearly photographic memory. How could you have possibly forgotten me?" Haruka looked devastated after she finished speaking.
"Er, ya see, there was this trainin' accident when I was six. I can't really remember much from before then. Heck, I barely remembered Okasan when I met her," Ranma stated nervously.
Motoko studied him, Training accident? He does move with a martial artist's grace... And he didn't seem the least bit winded after that run earlier, now that I think about it.
"You and Neesan have been staying at Niisan's, ne?" Seeing Ranma nod Haruka stood up, "Excuse me for a second." Everyone watched as she walked out of the room.
"I wonder what she's doing? I've never seen Haruka act that way before. You must be pretty important to her, Urashima-kun," Kitsune said as she walked over next to Ranma. "I'm Konno Mitsune, but you can call me Kitsune."
"Um, nice to meet you, uh, Kitsune. And just call me Ranma, I've never been real big on formalities. I'm sorry about this mess."
"Don'tcha worry about it. It was all a misunderstandin' and it wasn't your fault either way."
A young, blond haired girl with tan skin hopped onto Ranma's back. "Su wants to play with the Ranma. He makes Haruka more fun!" she told Motoko.
"Er... maybe later, er, Su-chan." Ranma bore her weight easily but twitched as a memory of a certain amazon flashed through his mind. Thank the kami they haven't found me yet. Keeping my aura suppressed all the time worked out, but it's only a matter of time.
Ranma watched the hyper girl hop off his back and scamper over to Motoko. Feeling someone tug on his shirt Ranma looked down at the shy, blue-haired girl that had approached him.
"Ano, eto, have you really forgotten Haruka-san, Ranma-san?" The girl paused for a moment and blushed. "Auuu! Where are my manners? I'm Maehara Shinobu," she said, bowing a bit further than decorum actually required.
Ranma blinked at the panicky young girl for a second. Placing a hand on her shoulder to calm her down, he spoke with a hint of sadness in his voice. "It's okay, Shinobu-chan. And like I said, just call me Ranma. As for what Haruka-obasan was talking about, yeah, I've forgotten most of my childhood from before I was six. Heck, I still have problems remembering things if I get to stressed."
"That's so sad."
Ranma shrugged it off. Naru was about to make her own comment when they heard Haruka shout from one of the nearby rooms.
"HE DID WHAT?!"
Keitaro turned to his cousin. "I guess she went to talk to Nodoka-obasan. What exactly was that accident anyway? She seems pretty pissed about it."
"Er, I'd rather not talk about it. Bad memories."
Haruka stormed back into the room muttering angrily, "If I ever get my hands on that bastard I swear..." Noticing everyone looking at her she coughed and returned to her normal, aloof personality. "Anyway, Ranma-kun, the Hinata needs a new Kanrinin. Neesan mentioned something about receiving another fax from Okasan. Apparently she wanted you and Keitaro to become the kanrinin and ashimane respectively."
"What, no way! We can't have a pervert as an ashimane," Naru said, glaring at Keitaro.
"I don't mind having Ranma here as kanrinin. He's cute and seems trustworthy enough," Mitsune said with a slight smirk. "It doesn't matter if his cousin stays or not."
"Ano, I don't mind if they stay. Ranma-sa— sempai seems nice and Urashima-san didn't mean to do what he did. And really, it was so small I hardly saw..."
"Ranma can't leave. Ranma promised to play with Su!"
Motoko merely studied Ranma closely but remained silent.
Ranma blinked a few times. "You want me to manage a girl's dorm? I guess I could try that, though I've never done anything like it before. Of course I can't abandon my cousin so if they don't want him to stay then I guess I can't either."
"Shinobu-chan, could you show Ranma to his room. Ranma-kun, go with her and drop off your bag. You two can stay the night at least, though I hope to get this worked out before then," Haruka stated calmly.
Ranma shrugged as the young girl walked over and tried to pick up his pack. Walking over he casually lifted the pack onto his shoulder and turned to the wide-eyed girl. "So, Shinobu-chan, which room am I staying in tonight?"
Blushing heavily, the blue-haired girl grasped his hand and led him out of the room. Wow, he's really strong.
Shaking her head, Haruka let out a small chuckle. Looks like Shinobu-chan's got her first crush. "Naru, Okasan has already decided that Ranma-kun will be the kanrinin and Keitaro the ashimane. At least try to get along with them. Besides, Keitaro is attending Tokyo University. Aren't you trying to get in there? I'm sure he can help you in your studies."
"Tokyo University! He's a Toudai!?" shouted most of the girls present.
"What's a Toudai? Is it tasty?" piped up Su cheerfully.
"Er, Haruka-oba—" Before he could complete his sentence or get hit by Haruka, Mitsune interrupted.
"Is it true?! You gotta be in the top percentile for Tokyo U..."
"Eh? I think it's the 69th percentile right now."
"Did you hear that?! Sixty-ninth percentile!" Mitsune continued excitedly.
Keitaro tried once again but was mostly drowned out by the other girls comments. "Er, listen I'm—"
"So, which College?" Mitsune continued.
"Um, The law program is—"
"Did you hear?! Tokyo U's Law program! He's going to be a big-shot lawyer or at the Ministry of Finance," Mitsune rambled to the other residents.
"Actually, what I'm aiming for is... Kuso, they're ignoring me." I'm a two-year ronin. Even if I'm in the 83rd percentile this is going to be a big mess.
So, this guy is in the college of law at Tokyo U? He's pretty buff, and his cousin is gorgeous. And they are Hina-san's grandsons. Either way, this is my chance, Mitsune thought with a somewhat devious expression.
"Alright, I vote that we let the counselor stay here with his cousin."
"Huh?! Counselor?! What are you talking about?" Keitaro sighed. I've been promoted again.
"Of course, this is still a girl's dorm. There are still a few rules. If you try anything pervy like today, you're out on your butt! Don't think your cousin can protect you again," the foxy girl continued.
"I agree, we should be able to trust a Toudai," Motoko stated calmly.
"Are Sempai and his cousin staying?" Shinobu said as she walked back in.
"Hold it, Kitsune. We can't just let this pervert stay here—" Naru began, ignoring Shinobu's question for the moment.
"Actually, Kei is just clumsy. Though he's nowhere near as bad as he used to be," said Ranma from behind Naru.
Naru spun, and Ranma tilted his head to let her fist go by. I didn't even see him come in, she thought.
"Come on, Naru, you'd throw out these poor young men? These sweet boys stressed over missing their dear Baachan?" Kitsune said, a sly smile sneaking onto her face.
"Don't be mean, Naru-sempai!" Shinobu cried, giving Naru puppy-dog eyes.
"Fine, he can stay. For now." Naru sighed before turning to the Hinata's new management.
" "Welcome to Hinata Sou!" "
Ranma and Keitaro scratched the back of their necks in identical nervous action.
" "Thanks." "
After dinner, the girls decided to relax in the springs and discuss the inn's two new residents. Taking advantage of the situation, Ranma and Keitaro made their way into the woods surrounding the inn.
"...and now they think I'm a Toudai. What should I do, Ranma? Even if I do get in next time it's still lying to say I'm in already. But they'll be mad if I do tell them and if they found out before that... Ah, what should I do? What do I do?" Keitaro began flailing his arms hysterically.
"Oi, calm down, Kei. If you aren't careful you're going to..."
Keitaro's foot caught on an exposed tree root and his flailing turned from hysterical to desperate as he attempted to regain his balance. Ranma watched as his cousin stumbled around at a high speed for a moment before crashing head-first into a smaller tree that appeared to have been dead for awhile.
"...trip." Ranma Shook his head as he made his way toward Keitaro. "You okay, Kei?"
"Yeah, it'll take more than that to beat me," Keitaro said and chuckled, scratching the back of his neck.
The two froze as they heard a cracking noise. Ranma watched, dumbfounded, as the tree Keitaro had run into cracked at the base and started falling.
At least it's falling away from Kei.
Keitaro sighed in relief as he watched the tree fall. His relief was short-lived, as the dead tree crashed into the branches of the tree behind it and brought a sizable pile of branches down on the wide-eyed ronin's head.
Ranma goggled at the mound of broken branches, amazed. I still can't believe how unlucky he is. The more he improves himself the worse his luck gets. Making his way over to the pile of wood he began digging his cousin out. "You still okay, Kei?"
His response was a muffled "Yes" as he pulled his cousin loose.
"I swear, Kei. You must be cursed or something. Maybe we should go to a temple and get some wards for you or something," Ranma said jokingly.
"Yeah, that may be a good idea," Keitaro responded with a small chuckle. "But what about the girls? What should I do about that?"
"I don't see what you're so stressed about. It was a misunderstanding. Yeah, it'll probably blow up in your face when you tell them but I'm sure things will work out at some point. I have enough experience with misunderstanding to know that much."
"Thanks for the support," Keitaro deadpanned. Groaning, he continued, "I guess I'll just tell them when we get back and let them cool off overnight."
"Yeah, now come on. I haven't been able to cut loose in quite awhile and I'd like to get a workout before we get back." Not waiting for a response Ranma began a series of mid-air kicks.
Great, he's using his second-most advanced kata as a warm-up. Between this sparring session and the girl's reaction, I doubt I'm going to make it through the night, Keitaro thought with a whimper.
Kanrinin is manager while ashimane is assistant manager.