Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. And, let's be frank, if you don't know that, why are you reading this? They belong to various talented people who are not me. I am perverting them for my own use. Any attempt at suing will be a profound waste of time.
AN: Big thanks to Thermopyle, who helped me iron out the grammatical errors in the first draft! Even I find it a lot more readable now!!! Thanks!!!
No need for a New Start
Ranma Saotome walked slowly along the forest path, hands tightening on the straps of the pack he wore. He paused a moment, adjusting the pack and stared up into the canopy of trees. Jeez, he thought irritably, This trail goes on forever. I wonder where my 'Grandpa's' shrine IS? He resumed steadily hiking toward his first meeting with his grandfather, more than a little uneasily. His mother hadn't seen her father in many years, and Ranma wasn't sure how he would react to seeing a heretofore unknown grandson show up on his doorstep. His mother had implied that there had been a feud of some sort, but she hadn't gone into much detail. In fact, he hadn't even known about his grandfather until the worst day of his life, about a week ago…
Ranma snuck into his mother's home by way of the window to the room she had set aside for him. His hands shook as he pulled himself over the sill, so much so that he fell into the house in a very undignified manner. The shock of the confrontation he had just had was beginning to wear off, Ranma felt tears begin to sting his eyes. His thoughts were torn away from his morose pondering as the door to his room opened suddenly.
"Ranma?" called Nodoka Saotome, matriarch of the Saotome household.
"Urk! Mom!" He hastily backed up against the wall as his mother walked in. Nodoka's eyes went wide as her gaze fell on her somewhat disheveled son.
"Oh, Dear. Are you all right, son?" Ranma winced as he shook his head. He watched his mother, wide-eyed, as she approached. He'd never admit it, of course, but the time he'd spent hiding from his mother as 'Ranko Tendo' had instilled a deep rooted fear of her and her family katana. Nodoka noticed this, a stab of pain making itself felt in her heart. Shaking it off, she extended her hand to her son.
"Ranma, even a man needs to have someone to talk to. Please, let me help." She implored. He looked down at his hands, still shaking with rage and horror at what he had done.
"Momma, I've done something pretty bad. I-I don't think you'll be able to forgive me for this," he said shakily. Nodoka frowned worriedly in the dim light. He was trying to hold it in, but she could hear the guilt and unshed tears in his voice. She slowly walked over to him and placed a hand on his arm, gently.
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that, son? Please, tell me what's wrong,"
"I dunno where ta start," he confessed, seemingly steeling himself for an ordeal. Nodoka drew him into an embrace, smiling encouragingly.
"How about the beginning?" she suggested faintly. Ranma paused, weighing where to begin.
"Awright. I wandered into Doc Tofu's office, and I was feelin' pretty bad. I'd been havin' a bad day, even worse than usual. To start with, I had a big fight with Akane, and she was even madder than usual. But just before she could clobber me, Nabiki saved my ass…" Nodoka winced slightly at the crudity, but gestured for him to continue.
"Yeah. Ever since Pops an' Mister Tendo tried to get us married about…a year ago? Nabiki's been getting nicer while Akane gets meaner. Lots of times she covers for me so I can get outta the house for a little peace," Ranma explained, relaxing ever so slightly. "Anyway, Nabiki saved me and turned me loose for a little while, but instead of peace today I'd managed to run into Ryoga, Mousse, and Kuno. It musta been two for one day, 'cause I fought all of 'em one on one, then they all ganged up on me, in a big fight. It was pretty brutal, even though I beat 'em all," Nodoka smiled a little as he added this, casually, not a boast, just a simple statement of fact.
"Anyway," he continued, "I wandered into Doc Tofu's office, and he was tidyin' up some cuts I got from Ryoga's bandanna, when Kasumi runs in, and scares the hell outta both of us. I was pretty stressed out already, on account of fightin' with almost everyone I saw for about two days straight, and Doc Tofu's still a little skittish when Kasumi comes 'round. Anyway, even if we were both at our best, we still woulda freaked. I ain't never seen Kasumi like that before, an' I never wanna again. Her hair was all mussed up, an' she was cryin'. After a few minutes, the Doc an I managed to get out of her that she and Nabiki were headed to market when Shampoo an' Ukyo jumped 'em. She saw them hitting Nabiki, and she heard someone say something about how Nabiki was finally gonna learn to mind her own business an' leave me an' my fiancée's alone," he trailed off, staring at his hands which had begun to shake again as he remembered. Nodoka was listening calmly, then she began to put the clues together, and with a growing sense of dread, nodded at him to continue.
"Ranma, it's all right. Please, tell me what happened,"
"I-I was already feeling pretty upset, but when I heard that they attacked Nabiki, It was like something happened in my brain. It was like watching myself from outside my body," he admitted. "I just bolted from the Doc's office as fast as I could, even though Doc Tofu tried to stop me. I was scared to death, but mad as hell, too. Nabiki's done lots of stuff to me, but she always has a good reason, and a plan, y' know? I dunno if ya know or not, but before Mister Tendo started taking students again, then only thing keepin' the Tendos off the streets was Nabiki's little games ta get money. Even with me an' the bottomless panda livin' there, she still managed ta keep the dojo in the black." Ranma sounded grimly amused. Nodoka gaped at the revelation. She'd known about the pictures of her son's cursed form that were sold by the middle Tendo daughter at Ranma's school, and she hadn't been pleased. But, she'd reasoned, as Ranma knew and hadn't put a stop to it, there was really no reason to intervene. However, her estimation of Soun Tendo dropped several degrees. It was extremely unmanly to allow the work of providing for the family to fall to his daughters. She shook off her thoughts as Ranma went on.
"Anyway, I started roof hopping all over the place, trying to find out where they were. I finally tracked 'em to a vacant lot where me an' Ryoga fight all the time. I landed on the fence just in time t' see Shampoo belt Nabiki in the jaw, real hard. She went down like a ton a bricks…" Nodoka could hear the raw anger in her son's voice. Not for the first time, she marveled at how gentle and kind hearted he was. The thought of abusing his skills was abhorrent to him, as was the thought that anyone else might. "It was awful, Momma. I know people who don't train in the art aren't as tough as the people I hang around, but Nabiki…I could already see some bruises, and I figured maybe she had a concussion, but I could tell Shampoo pulled 'er punch. I saw Ukyo lift her spatula like she was gonna use it, an' it scared me silly. It was my fault they were hurting her, an' I started moving before I could think. I used a cold blast to freeze the metal part of Ukyo's weapon while I was running, and I jumped in front of Nabiki and punched her spatula, hard. It was weird, really. It just completely shattered, into a sort of dust. I guess I was trying so hard to control myself that I added more cold than I meant to," Ranma's voice became unsteady at that point, and on impulse, Nodoka gently wrapped her arms around him. Ranma barely noticed.
"Ukyo was kind of surprised at first, I think," he continued, in a detached tone, "She stared at me and the pieces for a minute before she yelled at me. I was all stressed out, so I started yelling back. I told them that I mighta forgiven them for the problems they caused at the wedding, but there was no honor in hurting someone weaker than they were, and I'd never forgive them for what they did. Then I told them I never wanted to see them again. They argued for a bit, sayin' stuff about Nabiki that was all wrong, and I got madder. My nerves were kinda revved up by then, and when Shampoo tried ta glomp me to get me to change my mind, I thought she was attacking, and I, and I…" Nodoka tightened her embrace.
"You hit her," she stated calmly. The idea of a man hitting a woman was horrible, she had to admit, but the kind of day Ranma described, and the provocation he had been given by those two girls…well, she wasn't going to quibble about this one. They were martial artists, after all.
"Yeah," Ranma acknowledged dully. "And that was when things went to hell in a handbasket," Nodoka nodded, expecting this, knowing it would take a lot more than what her son had already told her to get him this upset.
"Shampoo was PISSED," he continued. "She jumped up from where she fell and screamed something about men knowing their place. She pulled out her bon bori and started swinging. The fight took about a minute. I tried to use pressure points, but she'd learned the bakusai tenketsu, so her skin was almost as tough as Ryoga's, so I had ta take her out. Hard," Nodoka's face was a grim mask.
"And Ukyo-san?" she prompted softly. Ranma's look turned pained.
"After Shampoo…fell," Ranma choked, "I turned to her, wondering if she was gonna give me any trouble, and the look in her eyes…," Ranma trailed off as his valiant battle against the misery ended. Tears began tracking their way down his cheeks.
"She was scared of me, Momma. She backed away from me. I didn't even think about it then, I mean, I needed to get Nabiki to Doc Tofu's fast…"
"It bothers you, doesn't it?" Nodoka asked suddenly. Ranma nodded tearfully.
That seemed to be all the encouragement Ranma needed. As his mother tended to his cuts, He began pouring out his heart to her, telling her all about his daily life, how miserable he had been since the wedding attempt. Nodoka nodded throughout his story not interrupting, save for soft encouraging noises. When he was finished, Nodoka gave her son a look of horrified sympathy. She hadn't visited the Tendo's in awhile, but the kind of things Ranma described off-handedly as part of his day to day life recently were things that no one should have to go through. She knew that her son was something of a trouble magnet, but to be alone against all those people, with his only support coming from Nabiki…? A cold anger built in her stomach. Why hadn't Genma done anything about this? When his story finally wound down, he looked up at her, gratitude in his expression.
"I…ah, thanks, mom," he mumbled quietly. "for listenin' an' all…and not hating me, for doing that stuff," Nodoka shook her head.
"Hate you? Son, I know they backed you into a corner. While I can't say I approve of the necessary action, it WAS necessary. You didn't enjoy it, and that is what you need to focus on, Ranma. All you did is come to the defense of one weaker than yourself. Ukyo and Shampoo brought what happened upon themselves. You don't need to thank me, Ranma," she told him softly. Ranma smiled crookedly.
"Nobody's ever really listened ta my side before," he said simply. Nodoka looked faintly angry with that.
"They should have,"
"I'm used to it," Ranma said mildly, shrugging.
"You don't have to continue to pretend with me, son," she told Ranma sadly. I'm well aware that you hide your pain because you fear I would deem it 'unmanly',"
"Ah… well…Isn't it?"
"It isn't unmanly to have feelings, Ranma. What matters is how one deals with them. And, while you haven't always handled them properly, I can hardly fault you for your lack of experience now, can I?" She said, a wry smile touching her lips.
"I guess not," Ranma answered warily. Nodoka turned back to the matter at hand, well aware that her son was uncomfortable with the current conversation.
"Have you come to any conclusions?" Ranma looked panicked for a split second.
"Relax, son. I'm not going to ask you to do anything you don't want to, I just want to know what you think about the current situation," Nodoka assured him, making calming gestures. Ranma stared at the floor for a moment, gathering his thoughts. After a moment, encouraged by a warm smile from his mother, he spoke hesitantly.
"Ah… well, I was thinkin' it might be best for everybody concerned if I left…" Nodoka raised an eyebrow at that, and he trailed off, blushing.
"Aw, I guess it's a dumb idea…" Nodoka's other eyebrow shot up to join the first.
"Why do you say that? Have you thought about all the consequences?" She asked reasonably.
"Um… yeah, I think I thought about that. I was hoping to go on a training trip somewhere, but I guess that's running away, ain't it," he said bleakly. Nodoka nodded, with a faint smile.
"Yes, yes it is,"
"So that's out then," he concluded. Nodoka tilted her head and gazed quizzically at her son.
"Why?" she asked reasonably. Ranma stared at his mother, eyes wide.
"Why is it 'out'?" she repeated.
"Um…Heh…Don't you think it's unmanly to run away from your problems?"
"If I did, your father and I would never have married," Nodoka said, wryly. Ranma blinked.
"I…I don't get it," he admitted. His mother grinned impishly at him.
"Three words. Saotome Secret Technique," his mother intoned as solemnly as his father normally did, then she ruined the impression by giggling. Ranma stared at her. He imagined he must look rather funny, with his mouth hanging open like it was. After a moment, he got over his shock and began to laugh with his mother.
After a few moments, when they had recovered, Ranma grinned sheepishly. Nodoka looked at him fondly.
"What of your fiancées, son?" The sad look returned.
"I want to break the engagements," he said softly. Nodoka was disappointed, but she understood. No matter what she wanted for her son, what Ranma needed now was support. The question of the engagements had plagued him for too long. If it was within her power, she would lift this burden from her son.
"Have things between you and Akane deteriorated that far?" she asked, trying to determine the amount of thought that had gone into the statement her son had just made. Ranma winced.
"Yeah," he admitted. "It wasn't always this bad, but after the wedding, it started to get a lot worse. She gets mad at every little thing, even when I decide not to talk so we won't fight, she clobbers me. I thought I loved her once, but, no matter how I feel, I can't deny that I make her unhappy. I think it might be best for her and me if I…leave. Isn't it?" He looked up at his mother questioningly, but she ignored the question for the moment.
"What about the others?" She asked.
"No one else has a valid claim," he stated flatly, shaking his head. Nodoka looked at him oddly.
"What about Ukyo-san?" His mother asked curiously, mentally wincing at the hard look that crossed his features when the okonomiyaki chef was mentioned.
"I didn't wanna say anything, because I was afraid of hurting Ucch-Ukyo's feelings, but she ain't got a valid claim," he growled. Nodoka blinked.
"She gambled away the dowry long before Pop stole it," Ranma said angrily. He followed that statement with a short explanation of he and Ukyo's encounter with the Gambling King when they were children, and his recent return. Nodoka listened intently, chuckling at the end of the narrative. She nodded thoughtfully. "And Shampoo and Kodachi are just here because they don't think what I want matters," he added when he finished. Nodoka nodded again.
"So what you want is a fresh start," she observed. Ranma looked at her, shyly.
"Yeah," he murmured nervously. "Unless you don't think it's a good idea." Nodoka was struck by that statement. With a few words, he had revealed how much her opinion meant to him. He was willing to endure a life that he had come to consider intolerable, if she wished him to. She was more determined than ever to allow him the chance he needed. The constant pressure could not continue if she wanted to consider herself a good mother. There was a time to consider honor, she reflected, and a time where things that were more important must take precedence, like the happiness of her son.
"I think it is," she said slowly. Ranma's eyes grew wide. It was evident he hadn't expected his mother to agree, but as a smile slowly formed on his face, Nodoka was sure she had made the right decision. "But," she added, "As an alternative for going back on the road, may I make a suggestion?"
Ranma nodded eagerly.
And that was how he came to be here, headed up to a shrine in the mountains, to stay with his mother's father, Katsuhito Masaki. He couldn't help but feel a little nervous. His mother had told him the reason he hadn't ever seen his grandfather was that he and Genma had never gotten along, and he had opposed Nodoka's decision to marry him. Ranma smiled to himself. He liked his grandfather already. He wasn't sure how his grandfather would feel about the son of Genma, even though his mother assured him that her father wouldn't hold his father against him. Ranma wasn't so sure. It seemed like everyone else he'd ever met, had, but he went anyway. Anyway, He mused, It should get me away from the constant fighting for awhile. He smiled up at the sun over top of the forest canopy, reveling in the fact that he got to travel on a sunny day for once when he heard a rustling in the bush beside him. Suddenly, a wild looking cyan-haired girl appeared, reeking of sake.
"Who the hell are you!" the girl snarled. Ranma jumped back, shedding his pack as he went, and landing in a defensive crouch.
"Ranma Sao-," he began, but she interrupted.
"You're trespassing," she cut him off, wobbling slightly. Ranma blinked.
"No, I'm-," he tried again, but again she interrupted.
"What is it this time?" she snapped. "Is Doctor Clay back? Or is someone else going to kidnap me this time?!"
"Hah??" Ranma asked, thoroughly bewildered at this point.
"Screw it. I'll kick your ass, then you can crawl back and tell whoever you're working for that you can't get Ryoko Habuki THAT easily," she said, summoning an energy ball into her hand. She closed her fingers around it, and with a snapping noise, the energy ball morphed into a four foot gleaming shaft of light. She waved it threateningly at Ranma, and he blinked again.
How the hell do I get myself INTO these messes???
Next Chapter: Yosho informs the Masaki house hold of Ranma's imminent arrival, and Ranma and Ryoko throw down! Please look forward to it!
Once Again, Thanks to Thermopyle, for proofreading this about nine times to iron out the wrinkles in my sloppy writing. I am in your debt.