There was a boy...
a very strange enchanted boy.
They say he wandered very far, very far
over land and sea.
A little shy and sad of eye
but very wise was he.

And then one day
one magic day he passed my way.
And we spoke of many things
fools and kings.
This he said to me,
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
is just to love and be loved in return."

Saotome's Choice
by JP Buckner
ajaff@poky.srv.net
http://onewest.net/~ajaff/manff.htm

Chapter One - A Fateful Decision

Insert typical Ranma 1/2 disclaimer here. You know the drill.
"Nature Boy" lyrics by Eden Ahbez
"Take it Easy" lyrics by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey

Thanks to Chris Stassen, who has provided valuable assistance in
fixing some grammar errors and typos in this chapter.

Also, thanks to the many fanfic writers out there whose work
helped inspire this idea. Works like "Ranma's Secret",
"Rejected", "The Bitter End", "Iris", "Genma's Daughter", many
of the works of Richard Lawson and Gary Kleppe, not to mention
Jim Lazar. Bits and pieces of these works all gave me ideas or
concepts which ended up working themselves into this story.


Tendo Kasumi smiled.

This was nothing new to anyone who knew Kasumi. Many people had
experienced Kasumi's smile, and been captivated by it on
countless occasions. It was known that when Tendo Kasumi smiled
it was time that all arguments, all jealousies, all petty feuds,
take a back seat. At this time, everyone was to stop and be
civil with each other, if for only one moment. There were many
special attacks, martial arts techniques, ki blasts, not to
mention mallets, that seemed to appear out of thin air. None of
these stood up to the challenge of Kasumi's smile.

But this smile was different. This smile was not meant to
diffuse tempers, to end hostilities, to make her family home
peaceful. There was no glomping master to appease, no emotional
father to console, no fuming sister to calm down.

No, for today, for this moment, none of that mattered. Today her
sisters were gone, out on a shopping spree. Her father and
'uncle' were gone, out to drink and in all likelihood plot to
bring their children closer to matrimony. 'The Master' was gone,
off to who knows where. Kasumi didn't know, didn't want to know,
didn't in the slightest care. She was just glad he was gone. And
Ranma, well, Ranma did not leave with the rest, but Kasumi knew
Ranma. He would not stay cooped up in the house too long. He
would find something to do outside of the house. Maybe he would
practice in the dojo, perhaps go and find a friend to talk to,
to pal around with. No, she knew Ranma was already off
somewhere, maybe Ucchan's or off to find Ryoga or maybe visiting
over at the Nekohanten. No, Kasumi thought to herself, Ranma was
too wild, too much like his name implied, to stay in the house
on such a fine day like today.

So Kasumi had the whole house to herself. Nobody around to
supervise. Nobody around to put on her 'mother' face for. For
once, for the first time in a long time, Tendo Kasumi wasn't the
happy homemaker, the steady and calm influence on everybody
around her. For once, Kasumi could relax and be herself,
although she quite wasn't sure of who that was anymore. She had
played her role too well. She was afraid it was a role she would
forever be stuck playing.

She once again smiled, not for anyone else, but for herself. She
wasn't sure of what she was going to do on this day, her day,
but that was the point wasn't it? She could do anything (well,
within reason of course), anything that she wanted to do, not
what her family needed her to do. Kasumi knew that the
difference was small, but important. It wasn't that she hated
her role, she loved her family too much, far too much, not to do
what was necessary to keep them together, keep them a family.

Kasumi headed out of her room, walking with an unsure step.
Downstairs she knew she could figure out what to do next. There
she was comfortable. There she could find whatever it was she
was looking for, yearning for. She took a cautious step down the
hall and towards the stairs that separated the two levels of her
house, her home. Tentatively, she walked down the steps, each
step bringing her closer to her destination, her day, her
freedom.

As she reached the bottom, she stopped in surprise. She saw him
sitting there. He was looking out into the yard, towards the
pond, a place he knew well, far too well. She couldn't see his
face, but from way he sat, she knew something was wrong. He did
not sit with the cocky bravado he normally held himself with. He
did not sit with the macho, at times arrogant, pose that he has,
even while sitting. Instead he sat with an almost serious, dare
she think reflective gait about him. Something was most
definitely wrong, something was bothering him; that she could
tell without even seeing his eyes and it was something serious.
She wondered what to do now. Should she go to him, should she
try to help him? No, she thought, he probably would refuse her
help. He never was good at sharing his thoughts, his feelings;
not to his father, not to her, not to Akane. After a moment of
standing there, she turned around and decided to leave him to
himself. She began to climb up the stairs as quietly as she
could. She stopped when she heard him speak up, in what sounded
like a low whisper.

"Kasumi? Please...stay. Ya think ya could stay, for a moment?"

She turned around and saw him, saw his face watching her. She
saw his expression, one she wasn't used to seeing on that face.
His face was usually stuck in one of two ways, brash arrogance
or pained frustration. This was different, this was new. And the
eyes, the eyes, those wonderful expression-filled eyes. They
told the story, even if nothing else about him did. She saw, and
she knew, for she knew that emotion all too well. She had seen
it on far too many faces in her life, and now she saw it on
possibly the last face she ever expected to see it on. She saw
one word, one thought that told much. Way too much.

Loneliness.

She knew in an instant he wanted, no, he needed to talk. To her.
To somebody. He was hurting, and was hurting bad. Right now he
needed to open up, to share, something that wasn't easy for him.
It wasn't easy for him at all considering his upbringing.

And he wanted to tell her. To share with her.

Kasumi smiled, this time for him, this time to ease his hurting,
his pain. She smiled and she said, "Of course, Ranma, I'll stay,
if you want me to."

He smiled back, and nodded in appreciation, in warmth.

In hope.

She sat down next to him, waiting, knowing he had to start this.
She knew she couldn't force this out of him. She had gained a
knowledge, an understanding of how to deal with people. She knew
how to help them, how to guide them to do what they wanted to
do, what they needed to do. Years of being a substitute mother
to her family had taught her all this and more. She waited,
because she knew that trying to force this out of him would
never work. He was too stubborn to be forced into something,
even if it was something he wanted to do. Her father never
understood that, neither did his. And Akane? Akane was the same
way as Ranma, couldn't they see that? Couldn't her family
understand that? So she waited, and watched, as the emotions on
his face betrayed him. He was unsure that he wanted to speak,
even though he knew he had to, had to say something to somebody.

"It is okay Ranma. Whenever you're ready to talk, I will not
rush you. I understand this must be difficult for you. It is
all right, I will not think any less of you for what you have to
say."

He looked at her as she said this, exhaling a held breath as he
did. Those words, those words seemed to help. He was always
concerned about how other people viewed him. Overly concerned,
Kasumi thought. The curse, that horrible curse that his father
was responsible for saddling him with, did not help. She smiled
again and added, "You are a fine young man, Ranma. Nothing you
could tell me would make me feel any different."

This helped. A lot. Ranma began to talk. He told her things,
things she knew he never told anyone else. He spoke for what
seemed like hours, stopping only occasionally when he got to a
part that seemed especially difficult. At times Kasumi gave him
assurance, gave him understanding. She let him know she was
listening, truly listening, and understanding what he was telling
her.

And it saddened her. It was hard, really hard to keep her true
emotions hidden off her face as he told her. But she had to, for
his sake. She couldn't let him know how she really felt about
this, how much it saddened her, how much it hurt her to hear
these things. So she concentrated on two emotions that were very
strong while hearing this.

Concern

And sympathy.

He neared the end of his talk, and looked at her and smiled,
"I'm sorry Kasumi, sorry I burdened ya with such stuff. I know
ya must think I'm a bit of a fool for feelin' this way, but..."

"No, Ranma, you are not a fool, you are not weak or anything
like that." Kasumi hated to interrupt people, but felt she had
to in this instance. "You are a human being, with the normal
feelings and needs that any human being has. There is nothing
wrong with feeling this way. But Ranma, I think you are wrong
about this. Everybody else doesn't see you this way. You have
friends, you have people who care for you..."

This time it was Ranma who interrupted. "No, Kasumi, I don't.
Outside of you, Doc Tofu and..." Ranma paused for a second, then
continued, "her, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY sees me as
something other than a person, other than a human being. I'm a
thing to them, Kasumi, nothing more than a thing! I'm an Airen,
a son-in-law, a vile sorcerer, a pervert, a freeloader, an heir,
a walking talking cash machine. I'm a fiancee, a rival, a
'Ranma-sama,' a 'Ranchan,' an enslaver of women, a baka. I'm a
laughing stock, Kasumi. I'm Saotome Ranma, instant punchline,
just add water!"

Ranma paused for a moment before continuing. "Ya know, Kasumi, I
heard a song the other day. It was a song that I thought was very
appropriate for my circumstance. Just the first few lines, the
first few lines...I heard those words and I thought, that's me
it's about. That's me 'n Shampoo 'n Ucchan 'n Akane. It was a
song by some American band, The Eagles I think their name was,
and ya know how the song started?"

Kasumi shook her head, she knew some American music, even some
from this band, but which song could he be talking about?

"Kasumi, the song goes..."

And Ranma began to sing, actually sing the words and Kasumi
almost thought she could hear the music behind the words.

"Well I'm running down the road
trying to loosen my load
I've got seven women on my mind.
Four that want to own me
Two that want to stone me
One says she's a friend of mine."

Ranma stopped singing and continued his talk. "Don't ya see,
Kasumi? Shampoo, she wants to own me. Akane, she wants to stone
me. And she has, on more than one occasion." Ranma stopped and
held his hand to his head, as if checking for fresh bumps. "And
Ucchan? Kasumi, ya see? None of them, Kodachi included, Kodachi
especially, are interested in Saotome Ranma, human being. To
Shampoo, I'm the warrior who bested her in combat, and who she
must marry because of that stupid law. To Ucchan, I'm the little
boy she was once engaged to, the boy who ran away from her and
made her life hell, the boy who called her cute. And Akane? I'm
the freak, the pervert, the cockroach she's stuck with because
of family honor. I'm the nightmare she's engaged to against her
will. She'd love nothing more than to see me vanish off the face
of the earth, so she can have her nice normal pervert-free life
again."

A sad sigh escaped from Kasumi's mouth. "No, Ranma, Akane
doesn't feel that way about you. She cares for you, really she
does. She just doesn't show it very well. It's the pressure you
know, of my father and yours, trying to push you two together at
every instance. She really does care, really, Ranma."

Ranma shook his head in sadness, "No, Kasumi, she doesn't. She's
constantly insulting me, hurting me. She never listens to a word
I say. And if she does, she turns my words around, makes them
into something sick, perverted. She never believes me. She's
told she hates me to my face. I've heard her say it on several
occasions when she didn't know I was listening. So don't tell me
she doesn't hate me."

Yet one more sigh escaped Kasumi's lips. "Face it Ranma, you are
not exactly the kindest person to her at all times, either. You
say she insults you. Well, you insult her right back. You're
constantly deriding her, to her face, and even when you think
she's not around, but sometimes she is, Ranma, sometimes she is.
Now be honest with me Ranma, really be honest. How do you feel
about her? How do you really feel? None of the lies,
sidestepping, or any other foolishness. You have been completely
honest with me these last few minutes. Now tell me."

Ranma looked down at his hands, watching his fingers as they
engaged in some meaningless exercise. He sat there for a moment
before answering. "I...care for her, Kasumi, I do care. She
can be so nice, and so kind, and I love her spirit, and her
strength, yet at the same time how vulnerable she can be. I
love her smile. Man, she has the most amazing smile I've ever
seen.

"The first day, Kasumi, the first day, when she thought I was
a girl and asked if I wanted to be friends and she smiled at
me...I think...I think I fell in love with her that very moment.
I had been on the road for so long, never staying in any place
long enough to make friends. Most people shied away from me,
probably 'cause I could fight so well and I think they were a
little afraid of me. And that first day, and I was a girl, and
all of you were disappointed because the boy who one of you was
gonna to be engaged to was a girl. Well, she didn't care. She
came to me and looked at me straight in the eyes and she wanted
to be my friend. My friend.

"I had just recently been cursed. I spent two weeks on the road
running from a crazed Amazon who wanted to kill me. My
self-esteem was shot to hell. My manhood was in serious
question. I was thinking so little of myself at the time, and
she wanted to be my friend. I love her, Kasumi, I really do love
her."

Kasumi watched as Ranma looked down in obvious pain, the hurt he
was feeling and the emotions he was sharing, something he wasn't
used to doing. She knew it was something he was taught to
suppress. Kasumi also knew Ranma loved Akane. She knew it from
the very beginning. She saw the pain in his eyes that night,
after Akane walked in on Ranma in the bath and screamed her head
off. She knew he felt he betrayed her, even though it wasn't his
fault. She knew, just by the way he watched Akane as they sat
down and listened to Uncle Saotome tell the story of Jusenkyo,
she knew. That was why she was so quick to insist that Akane was
the obvious choice as Ranma's fiancee. It wasn't the curse, it
wasn't the fact that Kasumi was older than Ranma, it wasn't any
of that. It was never any of that.

Kasumi reached out and took Ranma's hand in hers. With her free
hand guided his face to look up at her, so that they were
looking eye to eye.

"Ranma, have you ever tried being nice to Akane? Stopping all
the name-calling, the wisecracks. Have you ever tried actually
talking to her about this, and how you really feel?"

Ranma looked down, as though he was ashamed to look Kasumi in
the eyes, "I've...tried. I know I've tried. Kasumi, that first
day, that very first day, when you and Nabiki made Akane my
fiancee, you remember that day?"

"Yes, Ranma, I remember. In fact, I was just thinking about that
day."

"Well, when you did that, remember how Akane reacted. She lost
it. She said there was no way she would ever marry
that...that...pervert."

Ranma paused for a second, a tear starting to form around his
eye. "Do you realize how that made me feel, when she said that?
For the previous two weeks, I had felt like a joke, a freak. I
wasn't a man anymore, I wasn't much of anything anymore. Then
she befriended me, and it all went away. It just went away. This
great, kind, cute girl saw me not as a freak, but as a friend. I
felt the weight of the world, even the weight of the curse off
my shoulders. But it couldn't last, it just couldn't last.

"When she called me a pervert, it all came crashing back, ten
times harder than ever before, 'Cause it just wasn't anyone
saying it, it was someone who just a few moments ago saw me as
a friend. I was hurt, and angry, and then I did something really
stupid. I wish I could take it back, but I know I never can.
Never. I fought back, not with fists, not with The Art, but with
words, and sometimes words hurt harder than punches.

"Kami, if I could go back and change one thing, just one thing,
it would be that. It wouldn't be falling into the spring, not
the Amazons, not Ryoga, not any of that. I would change that one
moment. I wouldn't lash out at her. But I did. And ever since,
it's been like a vicious cycle we can't break. She insults me,
and I hurt. I insult her, and I hurt some more.

"Whenever I try not to insult her, to be nice to her, do you
know what happens? Does she understand what I'm trying to do?
No, either she thinks I'm sick, or that I'm up to something. And
when I try to explain it, she doesn't listen, or if she listens
she doesn't believe me. She thinks it was some sick ploy that I
was up to. Trust me, Kasumi, I've been down this road before, it
doesn't work. Nothing works. Nothing ever will."

Ranma sat back, a dejected look on his face, a face of total
defeat. He continued, "I can't live this way anymore, Kasumi, I
just can't. I know what I need to do, but that scares me, that
scares me even more than not doing it. I'm trapped, Kasumi, and
I don't know the way out. Or rather, I do know the way out, but
I'm afraid of what lies out there. There's a part of me that
wants to go out to her, to be with her, but I'm afraid, Kasumi,
I'm so afraid."

Kasumi squeezed Ranma's hand slightly, ever so slightly, and
smiled once again. This time it was a smile of understanding and
of hope. "I do understand, Ranma, I really do. I don't blame you
for wanting to do this, but please, think about it some more,
please. Give this place, this family, my sister, one more
chance, one more try. Try to be nicer to her, please, not just
for a minute, or an hour, or a day, but as standard Ranma
procedure. Ranma, not everyone thinks of you as a thing, you
just have to give them the benefit of the doubt. You have
friends and family who care for you. I would hate to see you
lose all of that because you think differently. Promise me,
Ranma, I know you are a man of your word, promise me you'll give
us all one more chance."

Ranma sat there motionless, as if coming to a great decision, an
important decision. Then he relaxed and answered, "I will
promise, Kasumi, if you promise one thing in return."

Kasumi's eyes shot up in curiosity, "Wha...what, Ranma, do you
want me to promise?"

"Promise me you won't speak of this to anyone. And I mean
anyone. Not your father, not your sisters, not anyone."

Ranma sat there patiently awaiting Kasumi's answer, one that
came after a moment.

"I promise, Ranma, not to tell anyone about this, until you give
me permission to do so."

Ranma smiled at this, and nodded his head, "And I promise,
Kasumi, I promise that I will try to work it out here, to work
it out with Akane. But Kasumi, if things don't get better, if I
feel this isn't working, if I can't take another moment of it,
then I'm gone. I'm gone, and I'm not looking back. And if I do
this, please don't think me weak for doing so."

"No Ranma, I won't think you are weak. If you feel you have to
do this, I will understand. I will think no less of you than I
ever have and I have never thought of you as any but a fine
young man. But I will be sad, sad to think of what you are
doing, not only to yourself, but to the rest of us. I like you,
and I respect you. I think you will be a fine brother-in-law,
and a good husband to Akane, if you just give it the chance."

Ranma began to respond, but was interrupted by the sounds of
people outside. Not just any people, but two people especially.
They were discussing this purchase and that, not to mention the
various items not purchased.

Nabiki and Akane were home, and Ranma quickly jumped up and
headed towards his room before either saw him. His door closed
just as the front door opened up.

"Hi, Kasumi, we're back! What a day, I'm almost all worn out."
Kasumi noticed the huge smile on Akane's face as she said this.
Yes, she seemed to have had a good day. Nabiki looked to be in
pretty good spirits as well.

"Yep, I feel so good about haggling down the price on that
sweater I really wanted. Not to mention those American jeans. I
just can't believe how much they wanted for them. They didn't
want to bargain, but when Tendo Nabiki has her mind set on
something, well, you should think all those salesgirls would
have learned by now?"

Akane began to giggle, "Oh, and thanks, sis, for helping get the
best price on that sundress. I don't know what I would have done
without you."

"You never do, Akane, you never do," Nabiki smiled. "So, where
is everyone else? Pop and Mr. Saotome are probably up to
something stupid, like usual."

'They went out right after the two of you left, Nabiki," Kasumi
replied, "and Ranma, I think he's in his room."

"Well," Akane mused, "I guess I'll go put my stuff away. Kasumi,
would you like me to help with dinner tonight?"

Kasumi noticed that Nabiki was close to hyperventilating at the
very thought. "No, Akane, that's sweet of you, but I'll be able
to manage just fine."

Nabiki gave a low mutter, "That was close."

The mutter wasn't low enough, as Akane turned to her sister and
demanded, "Now what was THAT supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, sis. It's just that after our little shopping spree, I
don't think we can afford to have Ranma's stomach pumped anytime
in the near future."

Kasumi could begin to see an aura surround Akane, and decided it
was time to stop this before it went too far. "Now, Nabiki, that
was not very nice. Akane tries so hard in her cooking. Akane,
maybe later this week you can help me with a meal. Just promise
to follow my instructions, okay?"

Akane began to calm down, "All right, Kasumi. I'm heading
upstairs." And with that, Akane stayed true to her word, and
went to her room.

Kasumi sat deep in thought. She had promised Ranma not to talk
about this, but she felt something needed to be done. After
awhile, a serious look graced her face, and she headed upstairs,
towards Akane's room.

Outside Akane's door, she stopped. Just as her hand stopped
short of knocking on the door, she closed her eyes and thought
one last time about this. A promise is a promise, but she could
not sit by and watch this happen without doing something.
Eventually she knocked.

She heard Akane respond from inside, "Yes?"

"Akane, it's me. Can I come in? I'd like to talk to you about
something."

"Of course, Kasumi. Come on in."

Kasumi opened the door and went inside. She saw Akane sitting on
the bed, holding a new yellow blouse, one Kasumi thought would
look good on her little sister.

"Kasumi, you seem worried about something, what's going on?"

Kasumi sat in a chair by Akane's desk. "Akane, we need to talk
about Ranma."

Akane gave her sister a quizzical look, "Why? Did he do
something I should know about while I was gone?"

Kasumi shook her head, "Nothing like that, Akane."

Akane's right eyebrow went up, "Then what, sis?"

Kasumi paused, thinking on how to approach this without breaking
her promise.

"Akane, I think it would be a good idea if you started being
nicer to Ranma. I think it would be a very good idea."

"Nicer to that baka? He's the one that always starts something
between us. Why should I play all nicey-nice to him?"

Kasumi looked at her youngest sister and knew this wasn't going
to be easy. But somehow she had to get this across.

"It is very important, Akane. Ranma's going through a very tough
time right now, and he could use all the help he can get."

"A tough time, Kasumi? Now what, has he gotten himself another
fiancee?" Kasumi could begin to see Akane's blood boil.

"No, Akane, nothing like that. He just needs a little friendship
and understanding right now, that's all."

"And why's that, Kasumi? What kind of mess has he gotten himself
into this time? You know something, Kasumi, so tell me." Akane
looked her sister straight in the eye, with a steel gaze that
told Kasumi she meant business.

"No, Akane, I will not tell you why. I made a promise, and
unlike some people I know..." Kasumi paused for effect, "I keep
my promises. And you cannot ask Ranma about this, either. It
will just make things worse."

"You promised? But Kasumi, if it's important, surely you can
tell me..."

"No, Akane, I cannot. Listen to me, Akane, it is important that
you start treating Ranma better. You need to give him a chance.
It is important that you are patient with him, and that you do
not jump to conclusions." Kasumi gave Akane a stern look back.
Two can play at that game.

Akane flinched. "Okay, Kasumi, if you think it's important. I'll
try. But if that baka does something really stupid, I won't sit
back and do nothing about it. But I'll try."

Kasumi gave her younger sister a grin. "All anyone can ask is
that you try, Akane. Now you think about what I said, and maybe
we will talk again later, okay?"

Akane nodded and gave a small smile. Kasumi got up and left the
room...

To find Nabiki in the hall outside of it. Nabiki gave her
'what's going on' look and asked her older sister, "Okay Kasumi,
what gives?"

"Nabiki, that was not very nice of you to eavesdrop."

"Can it, Kasumi, you should know me by now. If there's a secret
with Ranma, you might as well tell me. You know I'll find out
sooner or later."

Kasumi paused, then answered her sister. "Let us talk about this
in my room. We don't need anyone else listening in. Fortunately,
not everyone is as curious as you are."

"Sure they are, Kasumi. Everyone is. They just aren't as
up-front about it as I am. But we'll play it your way, lead on."

Kasumi nodded and entered her room, with Nabiki following right
behind. The two found a place to sit, before Nabiki could keep
in it any longer. "All right, out with it."

"Nabiki, if you heard everything I told Akane, then you know I
made a promise. And I will NOT break that promise to you any
more than I would break it to Akane. You are just going to deal
with having this secret kept from you."

Nabiki's eyes narrowed and the look on her face became even more
serious than before. "Kasumi, you are my older sister and all.
But I INSIST that you tell me what is going on here. Or..."

Kasumi shook her head. "Or what, Nabiki? What are you going to
do, blackmail me? With what?"

Nabiki froze for a second before responding. "Look, I have every
right to know what's going on in this household. I am
responsible for the financial well-being of the family; you know
that as well as I. I HAVE to know what is going on here to best
deal with that."

Kasumi once more shook her head. "This is not a financial
matter, and I will not let it become one. I made a promise, and
I keep my promises. My word means something to me.

"Furthermore, I asked Akane to try to be nicer to Ranma. I am
going to ask the same of you. It is time to stop these foolish
games you play with him. You have no idea of the seriousness of
the situation."

"I have no idea because you won't tell me!" Nabiki's voice was
firm. "As far as being nicer to that freeloader...Look, Kasumi,
I like the guy, but our family was already in financial straits
before he and his lunkhead father came to live off of us. What I
do to Ranma you may see as a cruel little game, but the money
that comes to us because of it is necessary to keep us together.
You know darned well that Father hasn't made much from the dojo
ever since..." Nabiki paused, unable to finish the thought.

Kasumi gave her sister a harsh look. "Nabiki, raising money to
keep this house going is one thing. But the way you are doing
it..."

Nabiki interrupted, "Now listen to me, Kasumi. I do not tell you
how to take care of our home, and you most certainly do not tell
me how to keep it our home. I do what I do because I have to. If
someone's feelings gets hurt, if someone gets a little
embarrassed by it, too bad. Our family comes first."

Nabiki stood up, and headed towards the door. "Okay, sis, you
want to keep this a secret from me, fine. I am very good at
finding out secrets. I will know what is going on here, sooner
or later. Now THAT is a promise. And like you, I keep my
promises."

As her sister left the room, Kasumi looked down towards the
floor and whispered to no one in particular, "Please, let this
work out. Please.."

****************************************************

A couple of weeks passed and, for awhile, things were different.
Ranma and Akane both tried to get along with the other. Not much
was said between the two, but both kept the insults and
wisecracks down to a minimum.

But all good things can't last, especially with the assorted
cast of characters that graced their lives. It didn't take long
before the two were at it once again, as though nothing had
changed. One Amazon visit here, one P-Chan incident there, and
the two were back to square one. Kasumi was disappointed at this
turn of events, but she still hoped that things wouldn't come to
such a head that there would be no turning back.

Then one day...

****************************************************

"Good afternoon, Ranma."

Kasumi put on her typical cheery smile for Ranma. The youngsters
had just started summer break, and everyone was home for lunch.

"Afternoon, Kasumi. So, what's for lunch? I'm starvin'!"

A voice from the kitchen replied, "I'm so glad to hear that,
Ranma. I made a special lunch just for you. I'll have it in
there for you in just a second."

Ranma slumped and quietly said, "Me and my big mouth." He knew
whose voice that was, and what it meant.

And sure enough, in walked Akane. She was carrying a plate
of...something. Ranma couldn't be quite sure what it was. She
placed it before him, stood back and crossed her arms waiting.
"Well, are you going to try it?"

Ranma looked down at the...food. If you could call it that.
Ranma had never seen food quite that color before. And just what
were those small black things that seemed to pepper the food?
Ranma knew that, considering the cook, pepper would be the last
thing it would be. He gulped.

"Well??????" Akane stared down at him with impatience.

Ranma raised his chopsticks and slowly raised some of
the...stuff to his mouth. Closing his eyes, Ranma also tried to
close his nose. As it got closer to his nose it seemed to have
an odor that reminded Ranma of an experience he had in a village
that was without indoor plumbing.

The food reached his mouth. It entered. He swallowed. His eyes
opened wide, bulging so wide he almost felt like he was in one
of those anime programs he had seen. His throat caught fire. His
stomach, he didn't want to think about what his stomach was
doing.

"Well? Do you like it?" Akane asked, obviously ignorant of the
signs of distress that crept along Ranma's face.

"Uhh, uhh, I've never tasted anything like this before," Ranma
tried not to tell Akane he thought it tasted like something one
would find in a refinement plant.

"Really? I'm so glad you like it. Go ahead and eat up, Ranma,
there's plenty more in the kitchen. I know what a big eater you
are."

Kasumi shook her head. Looking at her younger sister, she just
couldn't understand how she could be such a bad cook. It wasn't
for lack of trying on her part. If anything, she tried too hard.
Kasumi looked back towards Ranma and could see that he was quite
ill.

"Excuse me just a sec." Ranma got up and started running towards
the bathroom. He didn't make it, and before you could say Jackie
Robinson-san, a smattering of food plus assorted gastric juices
graced the floorway of the Tendo hall.

Nabiki walked by at this moment, and looked down at the mess.
Shaking her head, she brought her head up to look at Ranma and
mused, "It's colorful, Ranma, I'll give you that. But is it
art?"

"Ranma!!! If you didn't like it, why didn't you just say so in
the first place?" Akane had followed him down the hall, and was
now staring poison-tipped daggers at him.

"Cause ya would have flown off the handle like you always do,
you stupid tomboy! I was just tryin' not to get clobbered!"
Ranma had his back to the wall, trying to keep his equilibrium
better than he had kept his lunch. "Come on, Akane, I try to be
nice to ya, and you act like this?"

"THIS is your idea of being nice? You wanted to avoid a
clobbering? Too bad, because that is what you're going to get!"
And with that, Akane picked up a nearby lamp and proceeded to
pound Ranma's lights out. After a couple of hits, Akane picked
Ranma up by the shirt and threw him out the door. The resulting
splash heard from outside told everyone where Ranma had landed.

A moment later, a very wet, and very irate redhead stormed into
the house. Her blue eyes were flaring, partly with anger. Partly
with a touch of sadness. Eventually, she spoke up.

"Enough! I have just had enough! I can't take this anymore!"

"You've had enough?" Akane wasn't going to let Ranma get out of
this easily. "Ever since you showed up at my door, I've had more
than enough. You're an egotistical, cold-hearted jerk, and I
wish I had never met you! I wish I was never engaged to you!"

"That can be arranged, if that's what you really want, Akane."
Ranma looked square into Akane's eyes, the blue eyes focused
with resolve.

Kasumi saw the look, and began to worry. "Ranma, calm down, we
can work this all out. There is no need..."

"Yes, there is a need!" Interrupting her sister, Akane returned
Ranma's glare, steel eyes to steel eyes. "Read my lips, Ranma. I
don't want to be engaged to you. I never wanted to be engaged to
you. As far as I am concerned, our engagement is over!"

Ranma paused for a second, and Kasumi could tell Ranma was
seriously thinking about this. How this was dealt with would
make the difference. She only hoped that Ranma would make the
right decision. Everyone knew that Akane had said these words
before, but in time they would always be forgotten. But this
time...

Ranma exhaled a deep breath. "Fine by me. I wholeheartedly
agree. We are no longer engaged."

At that everyone in the room did a double-take, Akane included.
Ranma had never reacted to Akane's words like that before.
Akane's eyes glazed over, wondering what Ranma was up to.

"From this moment,' Ranma continued, "we are no longer tied to
each other. We are no longer engaged. We have no say or
involvement with the other. We are just two total strangers.

"You are free, Akane. You are free of this pervert, this
nightmare. Congratulations, you have your life back."

Ranma paused for a second, collecting her breath. "And now, if
everyone will excuse me, I am going up to my room to pack."

"Ranma?" Akane was stunned, and she couldn't get any words out
other than that one name.

But others had words to say.

"Boy, just where do you think you are going?" Genma's eyes
narrowed, as he stood up to confront his son.

"Son, we can work this out together. We've been through far
worse than this, just take a moment and calm down." Soun tried
to keep calm, seeing that his friend was more than riled up
enough for the both of them. "There is no reason for you to
leave this house."

"Yes, there is," Ranma spat back. "Now that I am no longer
engaged to your daughter, there is no reason for me to stay
here."

Genma's face was scrunching up, his eyes turning red in anger.
"The engagement is not over, boy! You are bound by family
honor..."

Ranma's aura began to flare. "Honor? What do YOU know about
honor, old man? Was it honorable to run out on Mom all those
years ago? Was it honorable to sell me for some fish?"

"Don't forget the rice and two pickles," Nabiki added.

Ranma glared over at Nabiki, shutting her up. Then she turned
back to her father. "Was it honorable to do what you did to
Ucchan? Is it honorable to lie, cheat, and steal from people
just to feed your stomach? Is it honorable to lie and hide from
Mom? It is honorable to convince ME to hide and lie to my own
mother?

"You wouldn't know honor if it bit you in your furry butt! You
talk about honor all the time, but when it gets in the way of
something you want, you forget all about honor."

"Listen, boy, I am your father and you will treat me with the
respect I'm due."

"Respect you're due? Pop, Kuno deserves more respect than you.
He may be a pompous perverted jerk, but at least he has some
idea of honor.

"Now, as far as the engagement, it's over Pop. Ya heard Akane.
Not just today, but all those other times. She's repulsed by me,
Pop. What are you going to do, force a girl to marry some guy
she can't even be in the same room with without being sick?"

Akane couldn't believe this. She couldn't believe that Ranma
thought that she found him repulsive. She couldn't fathom that
he believed all those things she had said. She wanted to tell
him so much, to tell him that she didn't find him repulsive. But
in her state of shock, the words would not come.

Instead, all that came out of her mouth was, "No, Ranma, I..."

"Now, let's not be hasty, son." Soun was beginning to see his
dream of having an heir fall apart, and had to try to do
something. "You are required to marry one of my daughters. If
not Akane, then you can still be engaged to Kasumi or Nabiki.
There is no reason for you to leave."

"Won't work, Mr. Tendo. One, both Kasumi and Nabiki rejected me
once, the day I first came here. Two, Kasumi has her eyes
set..." Ranma paused for a second, considering her words
carefully for once, "on someone else. Three, I was engaged to
Nabiki once, let's not forget. I have no desire to go through
THAT again."

A lone tear found Nabiki's eyes, "Gee, Ranma, am I that really
that bad?"

Ranma glanced over towards Nabiki. "Nice try, Nabiki, but I
ain't gonna be fooled by your actin' again."

Turning her attention back to Tendo Soun, Ranma continued,
"Let's face it, Mr. Tendo, it's over. You'll have to find
someone else to take over your dojo. You should break down and
just let Akane run it herself, she sure hits hard enough."

Akane began feeling anger rise from that, but her shock kept her
from saying or doing anything. She just continued to stand in
the middle of the room, frozen like a statue.

Ranma began to head towards the stairs, when Genma jumped into
the way. "Ranma," the elder Saotome sternly stated, "you are not
leaving here. If you try to leave, you will have to go through
me."

Ranma gave her father a hard look. All of a sudden, a wry smile
crossed her lips. "Fine, old man. If that's the way you want it,
that's the way you'll get it."

Ranma took a stance, eyeing her father with determined eyes.
"Anytime you're ready, old man."

Genma huffed and leaped towards his child. Before he reached
her, Ranma yelled something and began to attack. What Ranma
yelled stunned those in the house. They knew how powerful this
was, and the fact that she was about to use this against her
father meant that she was serious.

"Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken!!!"

The speed of Ranma's attack was unparalleled. Her hands moved at
a speed none of the Tendos had seen, even during her fights with
Cologne or Ryoga.

Genma never stood a chance.

Before anyone could respond, Genma was in a heap in one corner.
He was still conscious, though just barely. Genma tried to
stand, but could not. He began to groan, trying to count his
blessings. One, he was conscious. Two, he was human.
Three...well, Genma couldn't think past two right now.

"Now, does anyone else want to try to stop me?" Ranma gave the
Tendo family a look that shook them to their bones. Soun cowered
and began to cry. Nabiki was speechless. Akane moved for the
first time in moments, dropping to her knees. She was still in
shock, and could not respond to anything going on around her.

Kasumi lowered her head. "Ranma, no one here will stop you. But
are you sure you want to do this? It is not too late. I am sure
we can all come to some kind of understanding. Please, don't do
this."

Ranma looked at the eldest Tendo sister and sadly replied, "I'm
sorry, Kasumi, but I don't see any other way. I just can't deal
with all of this anymore. I have to leave. I need...what I need
I know I can't get here. I have to go to where I have a chance
to get it."

Ranma turned and headed up the stairs. After the sound of her
entering her room, Nabiki finally spoke up. "Kasumi, just what
is going on here? I mean worse things have happened to Ranma
before, and he's never acted like this. Hell, what happened here
today was just normal by any standards set after he came. If
anything, it was calm by comparison."

Kasumi sighed before answering. "That is just the point, Nabiki.
What happened today was not important, per se, but all those
straws... This has been brewing for some time. I really hoped it
would not come to this."

Nabiki walked over and grabbed Kasumi by her shoulders. Looking
her straight in the eye, Nabiki demanded. "It's time to tell us
everything, Kasumi. This has to do with what happened a couple
of weeks back, doesn't it? With that promise you made? Just what
is going on, Kasumi?"

Kasumi could feel the eyes of everyone in the room turn towards
her. All but Akane, who was still staring at where Ranma once
was. Kasumi bit her lip and looked inside herself for some
courage. "No, Nabiki, I still promised him. No matter what, I
still made a promise."

"And I thank you for keeping your promise all this time,
Kasumi."

Everyone, Akane included, turned to the voice. Ranma was
standing there, wearing her backpack and holding a small
suitcase. She was not carrying much, but then she never really
owned that much to begin with. She was still female, not even
taking the time for a quick hot bath or kettle of water.

"I'm sorry, everyone, for making such a mess of your lives. That
won't be a problem anymore. I'm going to leave now."

And with that, Ranma headed towards the door. Before she got
there, she turned around, and addressed Kasumi.

"Give me about five minutes. After that, you have my permission
to tell them. Thank you, Kasumi, for everything."

Ranma look one last look around the house, turned towards the
exit and left. No one said anything for a couple of moments.

Finally Akane was able to put some words together. "Ranma? Why?
Why did you leave me? I never thought you would ever leave me."
She started to cry, and Kasumi leaned down and held her.

"Let it out, Akane, it is okay to let it out. I am here for
you."

Akane looked up at her sister. "The one thing I was always so
sure of. The one thing. No matter what, he would never leave me,
never hurt me. I knew the other girls were never really a
problem, it just made me so mad sometimes. I knew he would
always be there for me."

A few tears escaped from Akane's eyes. "I know we never really
acted like it, but I cared for him, and I knew he cared for me.
Why did he leave, Kasumi, why? I deserve to know. I am his
fiancee, after all."

"Not any more, Akane." Kasumi looked to be close to tears
herself. "I am afraid that Ranma's breaking of the engagement
was not a temporary thing. This is permanent, Akane. It is over.
It is truly over."

Kasumi looked at her younger sister. It was obvious that she was
in pain. The worse thing, Kasumi thought, was how she would feel
once she found out...

"Don't you think it's time you talked to us, sister?" Kasumi
glanced up and saw her other sister giving her a quizzical look.
"It's been about five minutes. You can tell us now."

Kasumi nodded. A part of her was scared, this was not going to
be fun. But they had a right to know. Kasumi took a deep breath,
and stood up, carefully bringing Akane up with her.

"Everyone, please sit down. This could take a while. It is not
going to be easy for you to hear. Please be patient with me."

She glanced over at her captive audience. Genma had recovered
enough to get into a sitting position. Nabiki had taken Akane
and led her by the hand to where she could sit and listen to
what Kasumi had to say. Soun looked towards his eldest daughter
with tear filled eyes.

"Before I tell you everything, it is important that you
understand Ranma's point of view. So much of what I am going to
say deals with how Ranma sees things, and most importantly, how
Ranma feels everyone else sees things.

"It is easy to forget that Ranma is like any other human being.
Sure, he may come off as strong, arrogant and so full of
himself, but he has the same insecurities and needs as any other
person."

"Ranma, insecure?" Nabiki crossed her arms in front of her and
stood towards Kasumi in an almost accusatory stance. "He is the
most egotistical, arrogant guy I've ever met. He is constantly
telling all of us just how great he is."

Kasumi nodded. "Precisely, Nabiki. That is the crux of the
matter."

"Huh, just what is that supposed to mean?"

Kasumi paused for a second. Seeing she had everyone's full
attention, she continued. "All of you know I have been borrowing
medical books from Tofu-sensei from time to time." After seeing
her audience nod in assent, she went on. "Some of those books
were psychological in nature. One passage in one of those books
made me think of Ranma right away.

"Let me explain it this way. Most of you have known a bully or
two, right? Are most bullies really the strongest or the most
secure people you know? No, many bullies are by their nature,
well...for want of a better word, cowards. They pick on and
terrorize people for one reason, and one reason alone. To make
themselves feel strong and powerful. Most bullies pick on the
weakest people out there, people they know they can get away
with bullying. It is all an ego boost for them, and they always
have 'friends' around when they bully, in order to show just how
strong they are to others, as well as themselves.

"But mostly they bully to reinforce their own worth to
themselves. Each time they pick on someone, they feel a little
more secure about themselves. But when a real fight, or a real
threat comes along, these bullies are nowhere to be found."

Looks of understanding filled the room. Most everyone had known
of people like that. Including some in this very room.

Kasumi resumed her lecture. "It just doesn't apply to bullies,
but to many insecure people out there. Some insecure people
become very introverted, retreating into themselves, too
insecure to deal with anyone else. Others become extroverted,
exclaiming to the world just how great and wonderful they are.
But they really are not trying to convince the world of their
worth. No, they are trying to convince themselves. It is a
defense mechanism of sorts, whenever they feel their self worth
slipping away from them, they are just one verbal confirmation
away from keeping ahold of it."

Nabiki brought her hand up to her chin and looked like she was
thinking intently. "Hmm, I wonder. It makes sense, but if you go
to the extreme of that with Ranma, I wonder..."

Kasumi raised her eyebrow, "Nabiki, what do you wonder?"

Nabiki's eyes met Kasumi's. "Nothing I want to talk about just
yet. It is something to think about, however."

Kasumi shrugged, and returned to where she left off. "Ranma is
insecure. Very much so. A lot of factors go into this. One, he
never really has had much of a chance to deal with people very
well, and has problems relating to them. Spending most of his
time on the road, never knowing people for very long growing up,
or even being taught how to deal with people from the person who
should have taught him." Kasumi gave Genma a harsh glare.

"Two, the curse sure did not help in the very least. It doesn't
help his self esteem much when he sees himself as a freak or a
pervert. And when some people around him call him that, he feels
even more like a freak. Especially if it is someone whose
opinion means a lot to him." This time Kasumi gave Akane a look,
but one of sadness. Akane looked down in embarrassment.

"Three, and this may be the most important factor, is the way
everyone treats him. Again, it is important to see through
Ranma's eyes here. In his opinion, everyone, save for three
people, see and treat him as some sort of thing, and not a human
being. From his standpoint, everyone wants something out of him.
No one treats him like a friend, but as a prize to be won, or an
obstacle to be overcome. Or both.

"Look at how everyone treats him. For Shampoo, Ukyo and the
Kunos, depending on his form, he is a prize to be won, something
to covet and possess. To Ryoga, Mousse and the Kunos again,
depending on form, he is a vile thing to fight, to try to defeat
in combat. To Cologne, he is breeding stock for her
great-granddaughter and her tribe. To Happosai, he is both an
heir to the school, and something to glomp.

"Father, to you he is the way to keep the school alive. Mr.
Saotome, to you he is a monument to the Art, not really your son
but a legacy. Akane, in his eyes, you see him as a pervert, a
freak, a nightmare that you are stuck with that you would like
to see vanish off the face of the earth. And, Nabiki, to you he
is just a money machine, not to mention a joke. He is just a way
to get a some quick cash, someone to get a good laugh out of."

"That's not fair, Kasumi!" Nabiki was livid. "I told you once,
the money I get thanks to him is necessary to this household. So
he's a little thin-skinned. Too bad, he and his father haven't
done much to help the finances in this house. With as much as
they eat, not to mention the damage that constantly has to be
repaired here, it's amazing we even break even, let alone have
any extra to deal with."

Kasumi shook her head. "Nabiki, have you ever told Ranma any of
this?"

Nabiki stopped dead in her tracks. "Errr, what do you mean by
that?"

"Did you ever tell him about how bad our finances were? Did you
ever ask him to help out? Did you ever ask if he could get a
part time job after school?

"Did you ever think of ways that weren't so embarrassing to make
money off of Ranma? Why did every money making ploy involve some
form of embarrassment for Ranma? Did you really enjoy making him
look bad?"

Nabiki's face turned white. Her eyes began to fog over, her
mouth began to open as sounds tried to escape, but could not.

Eventually she found some words. "I didn't...I didn't think
about that. I just...I was just trying to help our family."

Kasumi smiled and nodded. "I know, sis, I know. Ranma never
understood any of that. He just saw you as a money-grubbing
extortionist. It never crossed his mind that you had any other
reason for what you were doing."

Returning her attention to the room at large, Kasumi continued,
"In Ranma's eyes, he had no friends, no one to give him the
thing everyone needs in life. Friendship and love. No one gave
him anything but grief. All he ever wanted, and all he wants, is
someone who will treat him kindly, and affectionately."

"No friends?" Akane couldn't believe where this conversation was
going. "But he had all kinds of friends at school..."

"No, Akane, he did not." Kasumi hated bringing this up, but had
to in order to get her point across. "Outside of possibly
Hiroshi and Daisuke, Ranma had no real friends at Furinkan.
Anything but."

Akane was puzzled. "What do you mean by that, Kasumi?"

"What I mean is...well, let us start with the boys at school,
shall we? Do you know how they treated him? When he first
arrived at Furinkan, and learned he was engaged to you, they
spent all their free time asking him about you two. Asking
rather improper questions about you two."

"Improper questions?" Akane did not understand just what Kasumi
was trying to say.

Kasumi nodded. "Yes, improper. Like had you two...done it yet?
What you were really like, in that way? No matter how much Ranma
would try to tell them nothing like that was going on between
you two, they would just keep pushing."

"They WHAT?????? Those...those...those...PERVERTS!!!!" The
shock that filled Akane was gone now, replaced by her righteous
anger. "That can't be true! They wouldn't dare..."

"Oh, yes they would." Akane turned her head, as the confirmation
came not from Kasumi but from Nabiki. "Akane, you know there is
nothing that happens in Furinkan that happens without my knowing
it. Trust me, Akane, what Kasumi told you right now is true.
Every word. And it gets worse."

"Worse? How could it possible get any worse than that?"

Kasumi took over. "Once they found out about the curse, it got
much worse. They would ask if you and Ranma had done it as
girls. They would ask Ranma if he had done it with Shampoo or
Ukyo. Or you with them at once.

"Once somebody asked him if he had done it as a girl with a guy!
Then he asked if he wanted to, so he could much better
understand how to please a girl as a guy.

"Once they found out about the curse, they loved to try to take
advantage of it. Ranma was always on guard in the boy's locker
room for an attack. Cold water would come from any direction,
especially if he was in the middle of undressing or in the
shower. No, Ranma hated school, for reasons other than the fact
that he wasn't very good at paying attention or listening to the
teachers."

"I never knew." Akane was near tears now, understanding her
fiancee, no, her ex-fiancee, just a little better. "Why didn't
he ever tell me any of this?"

"Because he was embarrassed by it, Akane, and because he thought
you saw him as a pervert, remember? He believed if he told you
any of this, it would give you more ammunition to tease him
with."

"I... oh, Ranma, I'm so sorry." Akane dropped her face into her
hands, she felt so close to sobbing.

Nabiki piped up, giving her older sister a rest. "And the girls,
Akane, the girls weren't much better than the guys. Half the
time, the girls would moon over him, the other half they would
treat him like a pervert trying to use his curse to spy on
them."

"But he never...he never really tried to use his curse to do
anything like that."

"No, but there were times when it appeared that way. And don't
you remember who the first person to always accuse him of
something like that was, Akane? Any time he was found in a
compromising position at school, who was the first to accuse him
of doing something perverted? How were the other girls supposed
to think, when the one girl who knew him the best was always so
quick to believe that about him, always so quick to insult and
degrade him?"

"I...I...I see it now, I drove him away. All those other people,
they really didn't matter, did they? If only I had treated him
better, if only I had been nicer to him."

Kasumi nodded. "The only reason he stayed around as along as he
did, Akane, was because of you. Because he hoped that maybe the
two of you could work it out. Otherwise, he would have left long
ago."

Soun had remained quiet too long. "There is one question I have
to ask, Kasumi. You said earlier that three people did not treat
Ranma poorly. Who are they?"

Kasumi frowned. She was now getting to the hardest part of this.
"One was me. In Ranma's eyes, I treated him like a little
brother. The second was Tofu-sensei."

Kasumi bit her lip, she wasn't quite sure if she was ready to
finish this.

Nabiki asked the questions on everyone's lips. "Who is the
third? And just where did Ranma go?"

"Ranma went to be with that third person. As to who this third
person is...

"Ask yourself, of all the people you know of in Ranma's life,
who is the one person whose mere presence excites Ranma more
than anyone else? Who is the one person Ranma wants to get to
know more than any other person in his life? Who is the one
person Ranma wants to make happy?"

There was a moment of silence as everyone thought about this.
Nabiki was the first to get an answer to the question.

"No, he couldn't have. He can't go to her. It's too dangerous,
he just couldn't..."

Kasumi smiled in understanding. "You are right Nabiki. 'He'
can't. But do you remember just how Ranma left here a few
minutes ago?"

Understanding dawned on Akane's face. "Noooooo...you don't
mean..."

"I'm afraid so."

****************************************************

She sat alone in her house. Always alone. She could feel the
loneliness that enveloped her home like it was an old friend. It
had been part of her life for some time now, and no matter how
hard she tried, she could not escape it.

Once, she thought to herself, this house was full of life. There
was a time, oh so long ago, when the house itself seemed gleeful
of the love and energy that existed within it. But that was long
ago, in what seemed like another life to the woman who sat
there, unsure of what to do next.

Another trip to Nerima, perhaps? Her melancholy seemed to
disappear whenever she was there. Now there was a house filled
with life.

Especially that one girl.

Oh, how that girl brought out parts of the woman that she had
thought lost years ago. The girl had spirit, the girl had
energy.

The girl also suffered from loneliness, of that she was sure.
It was a feeling she knew all too well. She wasn't sure if that
was why she felt so close to this one girl. There was something
there, something the woman could not quite understand, but it
was there just the same. An attachment to this beautiful,
tomboyish, energetic, lonely girl.

She shook her head in sadness. She wanted so badly, so badly, to
reach out to this girl, to become a mother to this girl. And she
knew the girl felt the bond too. But at the same time, she
seemed somewhat scared of the older woman. She couldn't
understand why this young child would be afraid of her.

The sound of the front bell broke the woman out of her
reflection. A visitor has come, probably just a salesman, but
who ever it is, it will be different at least than just sitting
here. She got up and opened the door, to see the girl standing
there.

The girl was damp. She always seems to be wet when I see her,
the woman thought to herself. Her red hair was sprawled across
her face, not the most flattering hair-style for such a beauty.
She was wearing her tomboyish shirt and pants. She also wore a
nervous frown.

"Ranko? What are you doing here?"

The girl looked up, seemingly unsure of what to say next.
Eventually some words came out.

"Ummmm...the Tendos and I got into a fight. I was wonderin' if
I could..." She paused, afraid to continue the thought.

"You were wondering what, dear?"

Ranko's eyes caught the woman's with a pleading look. "I was
wondering if I could, well you know, maybe stay here for
awhile?"

It took every bit of composure for the woman not to jump up and
down in glee. The girl, the girl who she had wanted to spend
more of her time with, wanted to stay with her.

For Saotome Nodoka, the choice was an easy one. And when she
gave her answer, the joy and gratitude on the child's face told
her that she had made the right choice.

"Of course, dear, you can stay here... for as long as you like."


End Chapter One