Disclaimer: Takahashi created the paints, I used my own easel. And maybe diluted some of the colors...
Note: Divergence, takes place in... volume 23. As a side, we have questioned, and found that the following labels all apply to this fic... On second thought, that's an awful lot of labels. Tell you what. This story is dark. It contains scenes that are sexual in nature. It contains foul language. If you aren't in the kind of mood that you think you can read this comfortably, by all means, delete it. That being said... the divergences will become apparent as necessary.
I haven't considered this before, seriously... but there is music that happens to perfectly compliment the tone of most of this story:
Megumi Hayashibara -- November Rain.
You can find it here:
I _highly_ suggest that you listen to this song while reading this story...
but I'm rambling. Enjoy, please.
"Thy unnatural love be the root of thine despair." --unknown
"The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right." --
Akane woke in her bedroom. She blinked, staring at the ceiling, trying to place an odd sense of... wrong-ness... about the situation.
Sitting up slowly, she choked down the urge to retch, instinctively slapping her hand over her mouth. After a moment, the wave of nausea faded, and she was able to stand unsteadily, wondering at the slightly-too-large pajamas she was clad in. She stared at them for a moment, confused, until she recognized them.
They were Ranma's.
Spinning around quickly to stare at the bed in bewilderment revealed that she was alone, but... something nagged at the back of her mind. Something was... wrong. She shuddered, not recognizing the sensation, and grabbed an outfit from her dresser before creeping downstairs.
Her eldest sister was conversing in low tones with someone in the living room, but Akane silently slid her bare feet across the floor, focusing on not being seen. There was a trick to it -- it never seemed to work on Ranma -- and it was to not think about it. But... that nagging sensation distracted her, causing her heart to quicken with worry until she was afraid that its thumping would give her away. Something was off, and until she could place it, she wanted to avoid confronting anyone.
Once in the changing room, she shucked Ranma's pajamas, and stuffed them into the hamper. Shivering slightly from the cold that seeped into her feet from the tile, she hurried into the furo, relieved to find it empty.
It was full, seemingly just used. She frowned slightly, then scrubbed herself off and slipped into its comforting warmth. Luxuriating in the heat, she felt muscles she hadn't even known were tensed relax. The water soaked into her, leaving her feeling refreshed in the wake of its soothing embrace.
Not wanting to be in the furo too long, she gave in to her urge to hurry, and began to dress quickly, pausing only to examine her reflection. Everything about her face was the way it should have been, save... something seemed off. Her hair was the correct length, her eyes were the same color, her nose was the same shape. She smiled nervously, and that too, was the same. But something nagged that she wasn't looking at her own face in the mirror, somehow. She blinked, seeing a faint, but recent scar across her neck.
Leaning close to the mirror, she craned her neck, trying to get a better view. It wouldn't have been noticed if she wasn't paying such close attention, but... She grimaced, wondering where it had come from. It ran from a point directly over her clavicle, to a straight line towards her jugular for an inch, then sharply veered off in a curving arc across her collarbone for another two inches.
Frowning, she tore her attention away from the faint scar, and glanced down, seeing a red, discolored patch of skin above one breast. It felt smooth, like the rest of her skin, and didn't react like a burn, but the nagging sensation reassured her that it was the key, somehow. Whatever had gone wrong was linked to that odd, misshapen splotch. Her hands roamed across her torso, searching for sensitive points, or bruises, or faint abrasions, or... anything. She noted with some surprise that her proportions seemed... off. While not hugely, her bust had increased a small bit, and her figure had filled out very slightly.
That kind of growth was not an overnight development, and she was certain that she hadn't been that size and shape yesterday. She shivered, worried, then buttoned her shirt up all the way, and finished dressing.
After she hesitantly tiptoed out of the bathroom and towards the faint voices of her sisters, she paused on the threshold of entering the family area. The atmosphere in the next room was subdued, as both of Akane's elder sisters fell silent, Kasumi not meeting Akane's eyes, and Nabiki openly glowering from her seat at the table.
Her father and Mr. Saotome were both conspicuously absent, and Ranma sat at the table, seeming to radiate an aura of discontent and malice. Swallowing nervously, Akane entered and sat down at her place, smiling tentatively at Ranma as Kasumi drifted away from the table and into the kitchen.
He stared blankly forward, not meeting her gaze. Features frozen in a scowl, he instead looked directly out the open screens, focused on the pond. Akane flinched back from Ranma's demeanor, already feeling off, and confused from the reactions of her family as her smile slipped.
Ranma's expression never wavered as he studied a single point over the pond, unblinking, and ate his breakfast with a slow and mechanical precision. Once done, he neatly stacked his dishes, rose from the table with methodical grace, each motion seeming to be metered and measured, then spun on one heel to march into the kitchen. Akane stared after him, dimly hearing Kasumi's subdued words of thanks, and a noncommittal grunt in response from Ranma.
The sounds of the kitchen door opening and then closing softly reached her, and she turned to Nabiki nervously. Nabiki climbed to her feet, clenched her hands in fists, shook her head once at Akane, then turned away and stalked out across the backyard to the dojo.
Akane, not understanding what was going on, lowered her face to her hands and began to sob. Kasumi strode back into the room, clicked her tongue, and set a tray with a tea service on the table near Akane carefully. The smaller girl found herself being held by her older sister and rocked slowly, until she calmed down enough to ask, "Big sister? What... what's going on?"
The elder sister smiled sadly at this, then gently lifted Akane from her lap, and sat her on a cushion. "Well..." she began thoughtfully. "What's the last thing you remember, Akane?"
Shifting her feet uncomfortably, Akane responded, "I was walking home from school, after Ranma and I got into an argument... we went home separately... then I woke up. Why? What happened?"
Kasumi sighed sadly, and poured a cup of tea. "I'm afraid that a bit more happened than that, Akane..." she raised her eyes to meet her younger sister's as she spoke, adding enough force to her words to worry Akane. "And I doubt that you're going to like much of what happened."
Akane nodded slowly, then sipped her tea, feeling herself become calm again after a mouthful of the nurturing brew. She took a breath in preparation of asking a question, but froze, as Ranma strode in from the yard, with Nabiki dogging his heels. The middle Tendo begged, "Ranma? Please? Will you talk to me?"
Ranma froze on the threshold of the family room. His standard Chinese clothing seemed oddly formal, somehow. Lowering his head, he sighed, then looked up and turned to face Nabiki, who had halted nervously behind him. His voice was soft, carrying with it subtle undertones of bitterness and anger. "Kumon Ryu is in town again. I'd like to say hello." He turned his back to Nabiki, facing Akane again, and some of the anger seemed to leak out of his eyes, before building back full-force. "I have no time for... that."
Nabiki stared after Ranma as he methodically marched forward, leaving the Tendo home through the front door. Her eyes held undisguised longing, which twisted to anger when she turned to face Akane. Fists trembling, she tore her gaze from her younger sister and turned to Kasumi as she spat, "He was doing _much_ better until she showed up again."
Kasumi stared into the depths of her teacup, seeming not to hear her younger sister's words, as Nabiki stomped up the stairs, and to her room.
Swallowing nervously, Akane looked up to Kasumi. The eldest sister sighed, closing her eyes. "Oh dear. This is going to be difficult... I think... perhaps we should wait until Ranma returns." She nodded decisively, announcing, "I will have to invite Shampoo over for tea."
Akane nodded unsteadily in response, still not understanding, but desperately hopeful that balance could be restored to her life. What was wrong with Nabiki? And more importantly, what was wrong with Ranma?
Later that evening, Ranma returned, saying nothing, and immediately striding to the dojo before anyone could speak to him. Akane shadowed her older sister nervously, desperate for comfort and needing to understand. She had even helped her sister bake, but was too distracted to offer any clever substitutions or enhancements.
Swallowing nervously, she moved towards the dojo, only to be halted by a disapproving noise from Kasumi. Reluctantly, the nervous girl returned to the comforting presence of her sister, despite her worry for Ranma. And that nagging sensation told her that Ranma was awfully important, just now...
Her reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door. Kasumi was absorbed in checking the cookies, so Akane nervously crept to the door. That nagging feeling told her she would be best off with Kasumi, or even better, Ranma... but she had to answer the door. And why was she so nervous, anyway? So what if Daddy and Mr. Saotome had vanished, and everyone refused to explain where they had gone? So what if Ranma had suddenly transformed into a cold, angry man who ignored everything that wasn't shoved into his face? So what if... one of her older sisters... treated her like a monster...
Bolstering her courage, she quashed down her fear, and marched purposefully to the door. It opened easily, revealing a single figure, briefly back-lit against the bright light of the street. Akane blinked, staring at the woman before her.
Shampoo fidgeted, then smiled slowly, extending a hand towards Akane. Akane stared at it dumbly for a moment, before something kicked her mind enough to return the handshake. Once Akane lowered her hand, she found herself caught in a crushing embrace, as the amazon gave her a firm hug. "Is... It is good to see you back, Akane."
Akane made a choking noise, confused and even more alarmed, as she was released from the hug. She stared, flabbergasted at the woman before her. Shampoo looked exactly the same, as had everyone else, initially... but her demeanor was different. She seemed calm, and her eyes held a hint of sadness when she looked at Akane. Looked at her... almost condescendingly.
Too stunned to be offended, the girl gestured the Amazon into the house, as Shampoo bowed, then walked directly to the dinner table. After a moment of hesitation, Akane closed and latched the door, then sat down in her normal spot. Kasumi swept out of the kitchen, bearing yet another tray of tea, and a small platter of cookies.
She set them down at the table, then poured a cup for Shampoo. The Amazon gratefully accepted, frowning after sipping it. "Is... Ranma..." the Amazon trailed off, looking at Kasumi intently.
Kasumi sighed, and shook her head, then turned to Akane. In the same voice that she had used to inform her smaller sister that she wasn't going to school that day, she asked, "Could you please fetch Ranma from the dojo?"
Akane was halfway across the yard before she realized that it was a request, but something about her older sister's tone brooked no failure... She shook her head, creeping quietly to the dojo. The door facing the koi pond was open, revealing Ranma blurring through a complex kata repeatedly. She knelt carefully, just inside the door, the nagging voice telling her to be quiet and watch.
He gave no sign of noting her presence, simply melting from one stance to another, his glistening skin covered in sweat. She blinked at that. Ranma never removed his shirt _and_ his tank top in practice. But there he was, wearing nothing more than his Chinese pants, and shifting from form to form.
Several prominent, new scars were visible across his body. A long, jagged tear seemed to have run from one hip, all the way up to the opposite shoulder, though it began below the line of Ranma's pants, so she couldn't be certain. When he briefly turned around, Akane was startled to see a nearly mirroring scar on the opposite side, as though something had torn completely through him. The skin on his back was largely discolored, seeming as if some terrible fire had burned him.
He turned again, and the girl noticed a series of small slashed scars covering his arms and torso. Many appeared to continue below his waist. She marveled briefly, that for all of the scars, they seemed to simply lie on the surface like a tattoo, instead of knotting and mutilating his flesh. The long, jagged scar on his back, by all rights, should have risen in a low, gruesome ridge... it appeared as though whatever had cut him had ripped deeply into his flesh, before he had gotten away.
She paused for a moment, ignoring his scars, and instead admiring the simple purity of his art. It _was_ an art, too. Not just a way to fight, or move, but a real, beautiful, art. She sighed longingly, wondering at the distance between them, and he abruptly snapped out of his kata, staring motionlessly at the wall before him.
Grumbling, he turned, gathered his towel, and slung it across his shoulder. Shaking his head, he turned back to face Akane, who felt oddly vulnerable from her position on the floor. She shrank back, not knowing why she would be afraid, and the anger melted from Ranma's face again. He groaned, "Let's get inside, Akane-san."
Akane flinched at that, hearing nothing but polite respect in his voice. She swallowed nervously, as he continued staring at her. After collecting herself, she asked in a quavering voice, "R... Ranma... What's going on here?"
His expression soured again, and he removed a small compact from his pocket thoughtfully. "I... a lot has happened, Akane-san. We've... missed out on quite a lot." Dropping his eyes from her face, he studied the compact, flipping it over and catching it in one hand distractedly.
She shook her head slowly. Was he rejecting her? What was this? It was as though she had ended up in some twisted reflection of her own reality... no, wait, it was because-
The thought cut off with frightening suddenness. She swallowed nervously, pleading, "Don't call me Akane-san... please, Ranma..."
He recoiled from the pain in her voice, and dropped his head. "I'm sorry. Of course, Akane. Let's go into the house, we have a lot to discuss." He flipped the compact one last time before snapping it out of the air and absently tucking it into a pocket, then strode towards the house.
After she followed him inside, Ranma motioned her to sit at the table, trudging towards the furo. He paused for a heartbeat, calling out over his shoulder, "I'll be back shortly."
Shampoo's smile took on a slightly strained quality, as she set her teacup down. She turned to Akane, who sat near her older sister nervously, and gave the girl a reassuring smile. The nagging voice in the back of her head warned her that she wasn't going to like what happened next.
Ranma emerged from the furo shortly after, somber, damp, and female. She was wearing a tank top, and her normal pants, but Akane picked up the differences immediately.
She was taller. Not much, but obviously some. Her hair was the same, but she had lost what little baby-fat, she had once had, giving way to firm, sleek, musculature. Her bust had shrunken slightly, an indication of just how much Ranma must have been training. Oddly enough, her scars were invisible, as far as Akane could see. She was tempted to remove Ranma's tank top to peek, but the nervous tension of the situation kept her in check, and she knew that it was a wildly inappropriate gesture anyway.
Then it made sense to Akane, as some of the loose pieces snapped themselves into place, completing the puzzle. Ranma was older. So was her own reflection in the mirror when she had checked earlier.
She almost asked why Ranma had trained so much, and to ask what had happened, how much time she had missed, why... But she bit back the question. Ranma had trained, in order to take on-
Akane rubbed her temples worriedly. The odd flashes of memory were cutting off too suddenly to make any sense, but at the same time... Ranma sat down opposite Akane and Kasumi, leaving Shampoo to her left, and an empty space where Akane's father normally sat.
The pigtailed redhead sighed, staring down into the cup of tea that had seemed to materialize after Kasumi observed her sitting down.
Swallowing nervously, Akane asked, "Ranma... why are you a girl?"
The redhead winced, then shook her head, saying nothing. Shampoo cleared her throat nervously, glancing between Ranma and Akane, then leaned close to the dark haired girl and whispered, "Because Ranma says men don't cry." In a louder voice, she addressed everyone, "The formula 110 is wearing off slowly." She frowned, staring at her hands as they lay on the table before her. "I didn't use much."
Akane gulped, realizing that whatever she was going to hear would be very unpleasant.
Ranma rocked back on her ankles, staring at the ceiling. "Oh... let's see. What can I tell you... this... all began... about seven months ago, I think."
Akane growled at Ranma, too busy chatting with Ukyou to notice Akane's growing displeasure. Akane finally snapped, and smacked Ranma on the back of the head with her hand. It wasn't hard, but it got his attention, and he turned around, confused. "What was that for?"
She snorted, irritated, but not truly angry, "You weren't even paying attention to my question!"
Ranma blinked, mystified, then scowled. "I don't know what you're talking about... uncute-"
Akane cut him off with a glare, then stomped away, leaving Ranma alone with Ukyou. He adopted a hurt expression, and turned to Ukyou, plaintively whining, "What did I say?"
Ukyou gazed after Akane thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Don't know, Ranchan." She shook her head, clearing a stray thought, and turned to face Ranma. "Why don't you come with me, and grab an okonomiyaki?"
Thoughts of chasing after Akane were abolished by the thought of free food, and Ranma's face lit up. "Sure thing, Ucchan!" Still, at the back of Ranma's mind, he felt a nervous, worrisome tugging... as though he were forgetting something.
As the pair of schoolgirls walked down the road, Sayuri looked at Akane thoughtfully, sighing, "I wish I had a guy like Ranma for my fiance."
Akane ignored the faint heat that began to creep up her face, staring resolutely at the road ahead of her. After a moment, she admitted, "He can be nice sometimes... but sometimes he's such a jerk!"
The other girl shrugged, swinging her schoolbag in front of her, and staring off into space. After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Sayuri piped up, "It could be worse. He means well, you know. And he's always rescuing you, like when that monster abducted you last week."
Fighting back the inevitable return of her blush, Akane sighed, "I... guess."
Sayuri smirked, and shook her head knowingly. Turning towards another street, she waved cheerfully to her friend, saying, "Talk to you tomorrow, then. See you later, Akane!"
Akane smiled back, and returned the wave as she increased her pace towards her home, calling out, "I'll see you tomorrow!"
Ryouga lurked behind the wall that Akane was rushing towards, heart beating furiously, as he chanted to himself, 'I mustn't run away!' over and over. The litany ran through his head, reminding him briefly of a cartoon that he had seen somewhere. He pushed the thought away, and focused himself, hunkering down. The patter of Akane's feet drew nearer, drowned out by the dull thudding of his heart. He trembled, causing the toy fishing rod in his hands to shake as well.
'Come on, Hibiki Ryouga,' he thought. 'Calm down! Pull yourself together!' His heart seemed to pick up its pace, as he wrestled with himself. 'This toy might do the trick.' He stared at the swinging suction cup hanging at the end of the line, quivering in time with his heart. 'And if not...' he reasoned, 'too bad! Here it goes!' At that, he cast out the rod, with a cry of, "Haaa!" The line flew, and he felt it catch something.
Swallowing nervously, he thought to himself, 'The line went taught! I caught her!'
He yanked on the pole, hearing a shout of, "Tendo Akane!" Sparing no attention to the source of the yell, he looked up, seeing a startled Akane fly towards him, pulled by the suction cup.