SEIJIN NO HI

A Fanfiction by Rizu

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DISCLAIMER: NO, I don't own 'em, and if you honestly think that I would claim such a thing after submitting stories about them to a place called fanfiction.net, you need to get the hell off the Internet and go back to eating paint chips.

ABOUT THE HOLIDAY: Seijin no hi is a Japanese holiday that takes place on the second Monday of every January. It used to take place on the fixed date of January 15th, but in 1999, they changed it to the second Monday of January so that everybody in the nation could get a three-day weekend. On this day, people who have either turned twenty since April of the previous year--or are about to turn twenty before April of the current year--go to Buddhist or Shinto shrines with their friends and families to celebrate their passage into adulthood. The Japanese government legally recognizes the age of twenty as the year that a person can begin to vote, drink, marry without parental consent, gamble, and smoke, though this age isn't only about what the Japanese government recognizes in its citizens. The holiday carries with it many social nuances as well, as society observes those who were once children now coming into their own as mature adults. The whole thing is somewhat like a Jewish bar/bat mitzvah. It's a time to celebrate the freedoms of adulthood, and the responsibilities that come along with it as well.

In generations past, seijin no hi has been considered by young people to a bigger, more important celebration than by today's young adults, though it's still considered a fun and joyous event for all involved. The biggest gripe the older generations have had in recent years, however, is that the kids today don't even "stop to think about what coming of age really means". I guess elders being disappointed in the way youths behave is a universal thing, heh.

But what's the festival doing in this story? Well, considering that I don't think Ranma and Akane will get married any time soon thanks to the way the manga left off, four years later, the members of the Nerima crew are getting ready for their coming of age ceremony, and still acting pretty much the same way they were acting when they were all sixteen. Only older. I liked the idea of having all the kids "grow up", so to speak, and the idea has been floating around in my head for some time. Min'na, yonde kudasai! Hihyou shite o wasurenai! Don't forget to review!

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CHAPTER #1

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Nodoka pulled on the antique brass rings on her old mahogany chest of drawers as Ranma and Genma sat, cross-legged, behind her. The sound of the wood groaning under the weight of the masses of neatly arranged sewing materials echoed throughout the Tendou sitting room, and Nodoka stared down in wonder at the contents inside the red drawer. Genma looked intently through glinting spectacles upon his wife's small, white hands as she reached into the bowels of the drawer and stroked several folded pieces of black, blue, and red fabric. Ranma watched as well, though with visibly less enthusiasm. To him, the emergence of the fabric from his mother's sewing drawers implied that he was about to sit through hours of annoying alterations, and arguing with his father about the reason he even had to go through the tedious process at all.

The "tedious process", of course, being not only the alterations themselves, but the seijin-shiki, coming of age festival, which was coming up next week. He needed his ceremonial clothes, and he was almost positive that his parents would never approve of him wearing the more popular Western-style suit to the event, like so many other young men his age would be doing. Wearing a suit would mean he would be done with the fitting within thirty minutes, if that. Wearing the more traditional hakama would mean several hours of being bored and standing with his arms out, due to his mother's meticulous nature about such things, while the clothes were fitted ever-so-precisely to his frame. Even so, Ranma figured it was worth a shot.

"Can't I just wear a suit like the other guys?" Ranma sighed as the Saotome matriarch pulled the black fabric close to her body and hugged the coarse, thick material. Upon hearing his son's childish protests, Genma gave a light grunt and jerked the boy in the ribs with his elbow. Ranma silently rubbed his side and glared at his old man out of the corner of his eye.

The brunette woman with slivers of silver streaking gracefully through her hair calmly closed the drawer and turned around in response to the plea of her 19-year-old son. She smiled a gentle, motherly smile ... a motherly smile that was not to be argued with. "Nonsense, Ranma," she chided gently. "You'll look wonderful in the traditional hakama, just as your father did during his seijin-shiki."

The rotund man put a hand behind his head and let out a large belly laugh at the memory of that day so long ago. "Nodoka! But you've only seen pictures of me from back then! AH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!" It was a pretty poor attempt at feigned humility, Ranma thought, if that had been what Genma had been aiming for. Having had lived with only his father for the better part of his life, however, the boy figured that the old fool had probably meant to sound modest, and rolled his eyes, knowing his father's egotism a bit better than that.

"Nevertheless, you were very handsome--and so masculine," Nodoka politely replied, up until the word "masculine", at which point, she was unable to contain the glee breaking through her voice. She turned to Ranma again with a faint but heartening smile, hoping that that same masculinity would radiate from her own son on the special day as well. "Besides... the traditional hakama is a martial artist family tradition, Ranma dear."

"Unnh!" Genma agreed in a gruff voice, nodding pompously. "A Western suit does not befit the heir to the Saotome-ryuu, especially when he emerges into manhood as the martial artist that he is. You will wear the hakama to honor the Anything-Goes school." On the last sentence, he gave a firm nod, as if he were very pleased with what the way he had actually exercised some parental authority over his irrepressible offspring (not to mention that, with Nodoka present, he was able to get away with it without Ranma kneeing him in the face).

Ranma sighed at the both of them, though, to be sure, he was more annoyed with his father than with his mother. If his mother hadn't been in the room, he wouldn't have hesitated to leap to his feet and challenge the old man to a bout, but with her quiet femininity keeping him in check, he was forced to attempt something that doesn't come easily to Saotome men: bite his tongue. He propped his arm up on his knee and placed his chin in his hand, his mouth twisting into a pout. "I guess," he grunted unhappily. I'll beat the crap out of 'im later, the boy consoled himself in annoyance.

Just as he'd expected, he was forced to stand in the same rigid position for hours on end while his mother fussed over the pleats in the willowy pair of pants, and his father sat on the opposite end of the room guffawing through mouthfuls of crackers at sitcoms with Tendou-ojiisan, who had padded into the living room after a while with the intention of watching a Samurai drama, but got sucked into watching the sitcoms with Saotome anyway. As Nodoka's nimble fingers danced across the rough fabric, pinning this, and tucking that, she talked excitedly of the events to come in the upcoming week, perfectly aware that her son's attention was often on the TV and not on her words. Still, she was just happy to be able to talk to someone and have them listen—even if it was only during the commercials.

At one point, she'd even ventured to ask him if he'd be escorting Akane to the ceremony that would be held at the Nerima temple. That got his attention. She smiled privately when she saw his body twitch nervously, and his eyes flick in embarrassment over the TV screen across the room. "I... how should I know?" he had muttered in reply, sounding a bit more irritated than he'd intended to sound. If only he'd had the sense to look at her, he would have realized that his mother's eyes were twinkling with a distinct mischief, but, then again, he was generally oblivious to how teasing and prankish his mother could be with him sometimes. Nonetheless, his boyish belief that she was too refined and elegant to be playful was a trait of his she found very cute.

As she put some of the finishing touches on the garment, humming lightly to herself as she had run out of things to say, he looked down at his legs with astonishment. He'd seen countless other men on different occasions wear hakama. It was traditional martial arts attire, after all. In fact, that idiot Kuno had made it a point to wear his hakama to his classes every day back in high school, so it wasn't as if these clothes were an unusual sight for him But for some reason, he was surprised at how good the ancestral pants looked on his own body, and he was somewhat proud of the way the traditional flaps of fabric hung from his waist. He wiggled his legs a bit, partly to ward off the sleepiness coming into his limbs from standing in the same position for so long, and partly to check if his legs still existed underneath the massive folds of fabric. His mother caught a glimpse of his expression and smiled as she continued stitching around his waistline. Very masculine, indeed, she thought proudly to herself.

Nabiki's thin frame suddenly occupied the doorway meeting the hall and the sitting room. She had her arms folded, and she leaned against the doorframe, looking down at her dad on the floor. "Hey, dad," she inquired in her low voice, "what are we having for dinner?"

Soun looked up silently at his middle daughter for a moment before letting his eyes fall back to the TV. "Nodoka should know," he said simply.

"Saotome-obasan," Nabiki asked, having every intention of asking the older woman about dinner. She stopped herself when she saw Ranma standing there, his arms outstretched to let his mother make crude practice stitches around his waist. He caught her glance and lowered his eyelids at her, non-verbally challenging her to say something further about his current state. She gave him a sarcastic smile and gladly took him up on the offer. "Oh, Ranma, aren't you proud! You and Kuno-chan could almost be brothers in those hakama of yours."

"Shut up."

"Now, Ranma, Nabiki," the Saotome matron calmly scolded as she snipped the thread with her teeth and leaned back on her knees to smooth a hand over her needlework. "We're going to have sukiyaki tonight, dear," she quickly answered in order to get Nabiki's mind back to dinner and off of aggravating Ranma.

"Sukiyaki!" Genma and Soun said in tandem as they turned about to face her.

"But beef is so expensive," Soun said, worry pulling his eyebrows together at the middle. "Are you sure we have enough money for such a luxury?"

Nodoka gave him a reassuring smile. "I'm sure, Tendou-san. We've been eating rather cheaply this month, so we had just enough left over for this one treat." She suddenly looked surprised as she remembered something. She looked up at her son with round eyes and brought a coy hand to her mouth. "Oh, Ranma, that reminds me: we need beef and harusame noodles."

To Nodoka's and Ranma's mild annoyance, the other three residents of the room face faulted upon hearing that the most crucial ingredients to the dish didn't even exist in the house yet.

"Y-yeah no problem, mom."

Genma turned to Soun with a slightly guilty look upon his face. "I'll go with him. We, ah seem to be out of crackers," he explained as he shook the empty bag.

"HEY, Saotome-kun! Those were from my secret stash!" a shocked Soun yelled as tears trickled in tiny rivers down his cheeks.

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Ranma and Genma walked along the frosty streets of the Tokyo suburb, carrying back several brown paper bags of food to the Tendou dojo. A cold wind went tracing up along the backs of their heels as they walked, though Ranma was becoming very attentive of his old man's silence. They'd walked about a kilometer by this time, and not so much of a word was uttered between them. Usually by this point, his dad would have torn into some of the cookies or crackers they'd bought, and would be happily munching away on them all the way back to the house. Instead, the bespectacled man looked uneasy, and buried in thought.

"Yo, oyaji," Ranma finally interrupted. "What's the matter?"

His father looked in the boy's direction with eyebrows raised. "Uhhn?" he questioned before peering back into the sack of food in front of him. "Oh. I was only thinking."

'Thinking'? Ranma thought worriedly to himself. That wasn't like his dad. Better say something sarcastic before it seems like you're losing your edge, his instinct told him. "Yeah, right," frowned Ranma as they rounded a corner. "Thinkin' about jacking that food so that none of the rest of us can have any."

WHONK!

The sack was on the ground, and several cylindrical items rolled out of it as Genma's fist lay where it had landed—firmly on top of his impertinent son's head. "Actually, I was thinking about YOU, you ungrateful idiot!"

Ranma somehow found his vocal chords, though they'd been smashed thoroughly into his chest cavity. "Gh Think-in' about m-me?" His dad may have overreacted, but he supposed that was fair enough, considering that he'd taken a step into vulnerable territory admitting to his teenaged son that he was fretting on his behalf. He decided to let this one slide, so as to not insult his father's honor further. After all, even he deserved some respect now and then.

Genma took a step back and pushed his glasses up onto his nose with his middle finger. "Yes. About the seijin-shiki that's coming up..."

Ranma immediately straightened himself out with an annoyed "feh" upon hearing the words and patted a hand against his thin overcoat. Okay. No honor for Genma after all. His parents had been making far too big a deal out of this thing for his understanding. He cleared his throat and continued walking, leaving the older Saotome standing on the sidewalk behind him. "That again?" he muttered under his breath. "If you ask me, that whole thing seems pretty dated." He peeked over his shoulder to savor the reaction his father would have to the bold statement, and to avoid any oncoming attacks, should the old man throw any.

As predicted, Genma was fuming at the remark. "Ara! You kids! You don't appreciate anything these days!"

Ranma continued walking, but spun on his heel to face his father. "Hey, I'm still goin', aren't I? I just think it's kinda old fashioned, all right!"

"Of course it's old fashioned! 'Old fashioned' as in 'good'!" He walked to the young man and placed a hand on his shoulder, making Ranma pause and lean away from him suspiciously. Instead of sneaking an attack on him, though, Genma just stayed with his hand on his child's shoulder, as if he were about to say somethingsincere. Though that thought only managed to make Ranma even more suspicious of what he'd do next.

Genma paused before he finally got to his point. "Ranma," he began in a thoughtful tone that made even the jaded 19-year-old prick up his ears to listen, "you're becoming a man in a few days, andwell, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you."

Ranma's heart flip flopped. This was very unlike his dad, though, in a weird way, Ranma felt sort of honored to be receiving his praise. He brought a hand to the back of his neck and scratched nervously as he mumbled under his breath in reply. A compliment? A "thank you, dad"? He didn't really know. The young man stared shyly at the thin layer of water slicked across the sidewalk, trying to find a fitting response to what his father had said.

As Ranma battled internally to come up with an appropriate reply bereft of any sarcasm or anxiety, Genma fought back the tears of joy and gripped his son's shoulder passionately. "Finally," the father continued in a wavering voice, "FINALLY, my sonwill be able to pick up some sake for me at the convenience store without my having to be with him."

The younger Saotome collapsed. Was that all?! He quickly scrambled to his feet and whacked a fist against his dumb old dad's head. "Gee, don't get too sentimental or anything, old man!"

"Speaking of sake" a mysterious voice hissed from in front of them. Both men jumped back, startled at the stranger's appearance, and shocked that they'd not heard him sneak up to them. Ranma was particularly taken off guard. He flicked his vision up and down the figure before them, noticing that he was mysteriously shrouded in a dark robe and unusually tall. This odd person must have been at least 190 centimeters in height. "Are youSaotome Genma?" the cloaked figure rasped as he raised a finger and pointed at the stout older man.

Before Genma had realized it, he had very slowly lowered himself into a ready position. Without words, Ranma had silently ducked down into one of his own. "I am," the father responded, donning a stone face and growling in a most intimidating voice.

The cloaked figure chuckled and advanced on them a few steps. "Well..." He dramatically breathed his words with every step he took in their direction. "Isn't it fortunate that we should meet up hereof all places?"

Genma's eyes scanned the figure in bafflement. "Have we met?" he offered, unsure of whether this character would pose a threat to him and his son, or if he was just some harmless fool.

The cloaked man stopped in his tracks. The three of them stood, bodies hardened in anticipation, two sets of eyes burning dangerously into the darkened shadow of the hood, one pair of eyes flicking calmly between the two martial artists. Suddenlywithout warningthe man with the dark coatPULLED A TINY NOTEPAD OUT OF HIS POCKET!

Ranma and Genma flinched, their bodies reacting to the stranger's sudden action, but stopped themselves abruptly when they saw that the mysterious figure had only yanked paper from the coat. They both let their muscles relax a bit, wondering exactly what this guy wanted, and why he was being so dramatic if he wasn't going to bother attacking them. They completely relaxed once the man flicked out a ballpoint pen, clicked it, and began to absentmindedly scribble on the paper.

Ranma and Genma could do nothing but stare at the display for a few moments. They'd been sure this would turn into a fight, but instead, the guy ended up seeming more interested in stenography than landing some hits on the two other men. Finally, Ranma arose from his posture and put his hands on his hips with a raised eyebrow. "Uh does the old man owe you money or something?"

Genma flashed his son a dirty look. "Why do you assume that, boy!"

"No," came the calm reply from the stranger as the writing continued. "He owes me something far more important than mere money."

Ranma turned to his father with an irrefutable look of annoyance. This sounded all too familiar when your dad happened to be Saotome Genma. "Oyaji," he began in a deadpan voice, "just what the hell did you do this time?"

The figure clicked on the ball point pen and tucked both items back into his robes. He looked in Ranma's direction. "'Oyaji'? You are Saotome's son, then." It was more of a statement than a question.

The pigtailed martial artist bristled at the guy's presumption and cock-sure tone of voice. "Yeah, I'm his son. Saotome Ranma. Who wants to know?" he replied severely.

The figure took a few steps toward him and stopped when he was half a meter from his face. Ranma's eyes bulged wide at the close contact, and the figure began to hurriedly scan his body, looking him up and down with eyes that Ranma could only assume were greedily searching for some weak spot. The pigtailed boy suddenly got the strange feeling that had sometimes nervously wriggled its way into his consciousness when he was in girl form and he caught some old lecher leering at him. Too add to the insult, the robed figure unexpectedly reached thin, white fingers out from underneath his willowy sleeves and began to probe the young Saotome's musclessomething Ranma was definitely not comfortable with. The young martial artist paused for a moment before taking a few steps back and stuffing his foot up into the stranger's shrouded face. "H-hey, man, you wanna fight or what!" he threatened, animosity grappling with the tenseness in his voice.

Slowly, the hood fluttered down around Ranma's Chinese slipper. The man was, for an instant, too stunned to take into account that his face was exposed, and he stumbled back against the cement wall behind him, temporarily obscured by the shadows. Genma desperately searched the angles and swells of the mysterious man's face from what he could make out in the dim light of the street lamp, and gave a quiet gasp of realization, unheard by Ranma. The Saotome son let loose another kick, aimed at the figure's chest.

The mystery man, upon Ranma's attack, quickly lifted the hood around his head once more and dashed to a nearby tree. Whoa! Ranma thought as he watched the other man's reflexes as he snapped up several branches. This guy ain't just some ordinary freak!

The cloaked man landed gracefully on a high branch of a black oak tree frozen over from winter and cackled at the two fighters beneath him. His jaunty laughter caused the limbs of the tree he was sitting in to quiver the melting snow and ice down onto Ranma and Genma, however, and when he had finally finished his very obligatory bad-guy laugh, he was quite surprised when he happened to glance back down at his nemeses.

Not only was the young man a lot smaller than he was only seconds earlier, he had miraculously sprouted breasts and looked considerably more attractive to the stranger all of a sudden. Though, the most notable change, of course, had taken place with the father, who was no longer even human, but instead, was replaced by rather large, rather dumb-looking panda. Both "men" were slicking their hands—and paws—in irritation over their wet arms as they glared up into the branches at him.

The stranger swallowed audibly. Had the Saotome father and son managed to run off and replace themselves with a young woman and a panda? Where would you find such replacements on such short notice, though? No, that couldn't have been the right conclusion. "Whawhat has just taken place here?" he asked in a hushed tone, mostly to himself.

Ranma had managed to overhear the disbelieving query, and he succeeded a humorless chuckle as he wiped a small hand against soft, rosy lips. "Not from around here, are ya?" he ventured as he looked away in repugnance. "Everyone in Nerima knows about ourlittle problem'," he explained quietly. "But don't think for a second that it'll slow ME down!" Whipping his head back in the direction of the impudent nudnik sitting in the branches of the tree, he launched with a fist ready to pound flesh. He was stopped bluntly in mid-air when he noticed the shrouded mystery man had pulled his notepad out again and was furiously scrawling on it with the ballpoint pen.

Ranma landed on the same branch the man was sitting on and balled his fists at his curvaceous waist. "H-HEY!" he shouted, a sharp, annoyed grate lacing itself through his female voice. "You here to do some bookkeeping or to fight, you fool?" The man didn't reply as he continued taking notes in his bulky notepad, whispering in astonishment to himself as he scribbled yet more jumbled notes and diagrams in the already crowded booklet. Ranma's face turned crimson as he noticed the design of his female form being drawn on the paper—with the proportions decidedly exaggerated by their illustrator. Without hesitation, he jutted a thin, toned leg forward and kicked the little booklet out of the man's busy hands, knocking it to the ground where it landed in a shallow puddle.

"M-my notes!" the strange man gasped. He clenched his fists and turned a dark gaze back in Ranma's direction, seething. "How dare you!"

Ranma was unimpressed. "Does this mean you'll finally fight me?" he inquired in a wooden voice.

Much to the redhead's chagrin, however, the cloaked figure managed to slide from the tree in a silent whoosh and slither to the ground as if he'd been some sort of ethereal creature slipping through the air like a sliver of cloth. He crouched to the ground, his robes falling protectively around the notebook, and the white hand protruded once more to snatch the notes up and tuck them securely inside the cloak. Giving one last glance to the two martial artists, he spoke a final warning in a low growl: "You'll both pay dearly for the suffering you've caused my family Expect my vengeance soon, Saotome!" Then with ease, he leapt straight into the air, robes flapping ominously about his obscure frame, and disappeared against the blackness of the night sky.

Ranma landed from the tree with a small grunt, clenched a smooth fist, and brought it down onto his shapely hip. "Whotta creep," he muttered quietly. He whipped his wild scarlet hair from left to right to release some of the cold droplets that still resided there, then proceeded to muss it up with slim fingers. He turned smoothly on his heel to the slit-eyed panda standing behind him. "Oyaji," he began in a matter-of-fact tone, weighted with untapped danger. "Y'WANNA TELL ME JUST WHAT THE HELL THAT GUY IS TALKING ABOUT?" The boy-turned-girl was, in an instant, up against his father, grasping the bear's fur in his hands.

Genma made a gruff, guttural sound and quickly held up a sign in his defense. [I DON'T HAVE ANY IDEA!]

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"So you're saying this strange man justambushed you on the street?" Akane asked as she plucked a sizzling slice of beef from the communal hotpot at the center of the dinner table and put it to her lips to nibble on it. She turned and watched as Ranma, who had returned to his normal male state, inattentively shoveled food into his mouth with his chopsticks.

"Uhhn," Genma nodded as he whisked a mushroom about in the shallow bowl of raw egg before him. "Ran off into the night muttering something about getting me back for something I'd done." He smiled and popped the mushroom into his mouth with a laugh and a brisk shake of his head, though he could see that his stumped act wasn't getting him very far. Ranma, Nodoka, and the Tendous had all known him long enough to know that it wasn't the nonsense he was trying to make of it, and they stared at him with suspicion written all over their faces. He cleared his throat and pushed the glasses up on the bridge of his nose. "Of course I haven't a clue what he's talking about," he mumbled finally.

Soun, Kasumi, and Nodoka looked back into their bowls of rice and began to slowly eat again, choosing to not say anything to that, no matter what they knew Genma was capable of. Anyhow, Ranma was always so good at saying what everyone had been thinking when it came to the Saotome patriarch's lies that they chose to leave those honors entirely up to the boy.


"Ffsh prob'ly jumped the guy's bill once, or gypped his family out of, like, an okonomiyaki cart or somethin'," Ranma predicted over the edge of his bowl, casting a reproachful glance at his father.


Ranma's insults. Like clockwork, they were.

Genma warred with his son's eyes behind flickering spectacles. "You'd better watch your mouth, boy," he warned. "How do you know he's not out to get you for something?" he asked as he raised an accusatory finger and pointed at a very unaffected Ranma. "He didn't directly refer to me when he said he'd get his revenge, only A Saotome!"

"He's got a point, you know," Nabiki pointed out with a small smirk, her head propped up by her hand. Ranma frowned at the two of them and let out a muffled hmph as he tilted the bowl toward his face again, choosing to disregard their taunts for the moment.

"Oh, but I'm sure that can't be it!" Kasumi offered lightly as she paddled another serving of rice into Genma's bowl. She turned her attention to the young man and gave a cheerful grin. "Ranma is such a good boy, after all."

Soun piped up at the banter weaving around the family members and brought his cup of tea to his lips with a laugh. "That's right! I'm sure it'll all turn out to be Genma's fault after all! Ah hah hah hah hah hah hah!"

Akane ignored the various speculations making their rounds about the dinner table and nudged Ranma's knee with her own underneath the warm privacy of the kotatsu. "Ranma," she began, concerned curiosity poking into her voice, "do you know what he looked like?"

Ranma slurped at a noodle and let a sardonic puff of air escape from his lips. "If I did, then we wouldn't be having this problem, would we?" he quipped between chews. "Didn't get a good look at the guy, anyway, he had that hood over his face the whole time."

The two families sat in relative silence for a few minutes, the only sounds being slurps from the men, and Nabiki drumming her fingertips on the top of the table every once in a while. It was hard to say whether or not this would develop into something serious or something ridiculous, as it was always hard to tell when it came to Genma and Ranma's problems. The hard part was the waiting, for who was to say whether this mysterious fellow was going to turn out to be another heavyweight (like Herb), or just another harmless meddler (like Tsubasa)?

After a time, some of the more impatient members of the family seemed to have had enough sitting under the weight of the silence in the room. "Well, have fun deliberating, but I have school work to get to," the middle Tendou daughter said as she arose from the flat pillow she'd been sitting on, pulling her legs out from the warmth of the blanket into the cold air of winter.

Her younger sister peered up at her and cleared her throat. "I should probably get to my own homework as well," she agreed quietly. She placed the bowl she'd been cupping in her hand on the table with a small tap and turned one last worrisome glance to the pigtailed fiancée seated next to her.

Ranma caught the troubled expression on the girl's face out of the corner of his eye, and immediately decided that he wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of being worried over him. He placed his bowl onto the tabletop and stood suddenly. "I'm goin' out to the dojo for a while. If this jerk ends up being as tough as he's leading on, I think I want to be prepared." With that, he turned to leave the dining area, hands jammed into his pockets.

The elders and the oldest daughter sat quietly as the younger family members strode their separate ways. After a leisurely moment of tea sipping and a light cough or two from Soun, Kasumi and Nodoka got up to pursue their womanly duties in the kitchen, cleaning off the dishes from that night's dinner. That left the two fathers alone together, the tension from the rest of the family finally dissipated enough for them to talk seriously to one another about the stranger.

Soun turned a steady gaze at his old friend. There was something Genma wasn't telling him. "SoSaotome-kun," he began as he rubbed his rough fingertips around the sides of his teacup, "shall we play a game of shogi?" He figured the other man already knew what he was truly asking for. There was no need to say it outright.

Genma knew his oldest friend well. He tipped his head down to look at the tabletop and stared intently upon its wood patterns. "Tendou-kun," he returned in a hushed voice so as to avoid arousing the suspicion of the women in the kitchen nearby, "there was something very peculiar about that stranger tonight."

"Ohhh?" the other man asked as he lifted the cup to his lips again.

"Yes" Genma continued thoughtfully. "I saw his face but for a brief moment The boy had attacked him, knocking the hood loose, though Ranma had been too focused on the fight to notice. That was when I—"

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The hood fluttered down around Ranma's slipper once the young martial artist had crushed his foot up into his opponent's face. The man was, for an instant, too stunned to take into account that he was exposed, and he stumbled back against the cement wall behind him, partially obscured by the shadows. Genma desperately searched the angles and swells of the mysterious man's face from what he could make out in the dim light of the street lamp, and gave a quiet gasp of realization, unheard by Ranma.

This wasn't just some nut who had come to bother Ranma for some stupid grudge or something equally as minisculethis was one of the most formidable rivals from Genma's past returning to settle the score with the entire Saotome clan!

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"Saotome-kun! You mean you've seen the man before!" Soun cried as his eyes bulged at the confession.

"I believe so," Genma admitted, his eyebrows twitching nervously at his partial recollection. He clenched his fist and gnashed his teeth. If only he could remember who that man had been—!

The longhaired man quirked an eyebrow at him and leaned forward in puzzlement. "Youbelieve so'? You mean you don't remember the face of one of the most fearful adversaries of your past?"

Genma lifted a thick hand behind his head and let out a robust laugh. "WA HAH HAH HAH! It's the damnedest thing, isn't it!"

Soun didn't look quite so amused. He clutched his teacup in both hands and frowned fretfully at the stout man while he guffawed idiotically. "But Saotome, shouldn't you tell Ranma-kun? This fellow's rivalry is apparently going to involve you both."

Genma sobered immediately and tilted his head back haughtily. "The path of a martial artist is a challenging one to walk, Tendou-kun. Ranma has trained since his boyhood for such tribulations, and his endurance must be tested. Whatsoever this man's grievance be with the Saotome-ryuu, it is Ranma's duty as a martial artist to meet the challenge head-on and protect his family's honor. Oh, a father's love is as deep as the sea, but can be just as cruel!"

""

""

" You don't want to tell him, do you."

"The boy kicks really hard when he's mad, Tendou."

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

Out in the dojo, the strikes on a punching bag could be heard, accompanied by the concentrated grunts of a man in his prime. The faint silvery light of the moon, which poured into the hallowed academy by way of the open shoji panels, outlined his long, lean muscles as he grunted and threw kicks and punches at the synthetic opponent standing before him. Whether or not his assistance would be needed once the strange hooded man showed up again to challenge his father, Ranma wanted to make sure he'd be more than ready.

If Ranma had ever prided himself in anything, it had to have been his readiness whenever a challenge reared its ugly head. This much, he was sure of.