Author's notes: Weebee and recently Porthos112 have very kindly in reviewed through these previous chapters. I've made a few revisions myself (nearly 600 words added!) so hopefully the chapter is better for it.
Disclamer: I own neither Noir nor Ranma ½
The Fourth Sapling
Chapter 1: The Revelation
The crisp morning air hung silently in Nerima, interrupted only by the sporadic bird's celebration to the new day. The sun's weak rays were barely cresting the roof tops, dragging reluctant residence from their pleasant dreams. It was in this calming scene that a blurred form rushed from roof to roof causing the occasional crow to blink in surprise. It was all par the norm for Nerima. For a brief moment the form stopped, resolving itself. Distinctive red Chinese clothes ruffled from their recent extreme means of transportation. The boy wearing these clothes was none other than Ranma Saotome watching the sporadic pedestrian straggling along on the streets below.
"Oh man, I'm so late for school because of that uncute tomboy," Ranma said as he once again blurred from the scene, on a direct course for school. At least that was the intention. Such intentions never last long in the city Murphy chose to reside in for his afterlife.
"STOP! PLEASE, SOMEONE HELP ME!"
Skidding to a halt, Ranma's eyes darted to the left towards the run down part of town. He frowned only a moment at the bank clock flashed 7:49.
'Looks like I'm going to be late again. Oh well, it's a martial artist's duty to help the weak.' Ranma thought briefly, leaping away to help whoever may be in trouble this time. It didn't take long before he landed on the edge of a roof. Looking over the side, his face curled in disgust. A group of four youths wielding bats and crowbars surrounded a cowering school girl. The fearful schoolgirl edged away from the lecherous grins the boys were giving her.
"Come on sweetheart, we just want ta have some fun with ya."
"We ain't goin' ta hurt ya none, that is if yer a good little girl," this from the high school student judging by his soiled uniform. Seeing the girl back into a corner, tears streaming down her cheeks as the chucking youths moved in shook Ranma out of his sickened stupor.
Silently, the martial artists slipped off the roof, landing silently behind the thugs as their dirt covered hands reached towards the cringing girl.
"I would stop that if I were you," Ranma spoke softly, his face showing none of the disgust he felt.
"What the? Who the hell ya think you's talkin' to, twerp?" asked the startled leader as he turned to face the unexpected interloper.
"RANMA! HELP ME!" The girl managed through her sobs as she recognized the new arrival.
Ranma blinked, the girl knew his name? Ignoring the threatening gestures directed his way, Ranma took a closer look. Nothing about the girl's disarrayed mousy brown hair stood out. It appeared like countless others he had seen at school. The uniform he did recognize as a Furinkan girls outfit, but aside from that, he didn't recognize her.
"Well, Ranma…" started the leader, his jaw jutting out as he patronized the younger man. "…be a good little boy and totter off while the real men play with this pretty piece of meat," he finished, jabbing his thumb towards the disheveled girl crouched behind them.
Ranma blinked in confusion before a cocky grin spread on his face. "No, I think I'll stick around to teach you real men a lesson," Ranma said, giving his most insufferable smirk while he cracked his knuckles.
Less than impressed by the younger man's display of bravo, the leader frowned. "In that case…" He whipped his bat around at Ranma's head.
Ranma scoffed at the uncoordinated slow attack, easily ducking underneath, going straight through the young man's non-existent guard, grabbing his still swinging arm and lightly throwing the kid across the alley. With a loud crack, the boy hit the opposite building.
The boy's pride was more bruised then his body. Lifting his head back up, the boy shook with fury. "Get'em," he yelled, pointing at Ranma.
Two thugs charged Ranma's right flank while the other tried to blind side him from the left. "Humff, you guys are truly pathetic, you know that?" he asked as he casually ducked in-between the middle of the two on the right, both of their swings went wide, while the person trying to attack his left slammed his associate in the stomach, leaving him doubled over, groaning.
"What are you guys waiting for? Take that fucker down!" The leader demanded as he himself regained his footing, stumbling towards the one man massacre with his bat.
"You guys just don't know how out classed you are, do you?" Ranma asked as he turned towards the leader.
"What ya say, brat? We are gonna pound ya."
Ranma only shrugged his shoulders before taking stock of the situation. One guy clutched his stomach, the bat that hit him in the hands of his friend trying to circle around him again. 'Should I play with them or not?' Ranma mused before hearing the far off sound he had been dreading.
DING, DING, DING.
"Damn! Now I'm late for school too," Ranma exclaimed in frustration.
After the gangsters picked themselves off of the pavement from their group face fault, they rushed Ranma from all sides. Ranma struck with lightning speed; his right fist lashing out to strike the assailant in front. Simultaneously he struck the one behind with a back kick to the stomach before leaping off with his free foot, barely avoiding the swing from the gang leader. Ranma twisted in mid-air landing on his last remaining opponent's back. With a quick small pivot, Ranma threw his opponent against the far wall. The unconscious body slumped to the ground, showing no signs of consciousness.
Ranma dusted his palms off, casually eyeing the motionless bodies surrounding him. His cursory observation led to the last gangster still conscious, the one who had just barely regained his wind after being pole-axed by his fellow delinquent. His eyes were wide as he found himself surrounded by his friends. Those same eyes frozen in horror as they locked onto Ranma's visage, a yellow stream appeared, forming a small puddle around his shoe as it continued to roll down his pant leg.
Ranma smirked briefly. He stepped forward menacingly. Ranma reached down, pulling the high-schooler off of the ground, looked him directly in the eye and…
"AAAAHHHHH!" a girlish scream issued from the thug, echoing through the alley before the youth's eyes rolled back into his head, slumping out of Ranma's loosened grasp.
"Always wanted to try that," Ranma said with a small smile.
"RANMA!" said boy grunted under an Amazon grade glomp.
"O…kay, it's alright. See?" Ranma said, making wild gestures towards the pile of bodies lying around them. "I took care of those guys."
Tentatively, the girl released her hold on Ranma; looking for herself, finding only bruised and ragged bodies in place of her menacing assailants of moments ago.
"Th…thank you, Ranma. I thought they would… would," the girl hiccupped, tears streaming down her face. Her cheeks flushed bright red before she buried herself into her rescuer's shoulder.
"It's alright, really. You don't have to cry any more," Ranma said, starting to panic. When a girl hugged or cried on him, a blunt object always seemed to follow closely behind.
Feeling Ranma stiffen, the girl restrained herself, hesitantly pulling away from the sense of peace she felt in his reluctant hold. "I'm sorry, Ranma. I know how your life usually handles these kinds of situations," the girl said, furiously wiping away tears.
Curious, Ranma took another look at the girl before him. He had seen her before, but couldn't quite place her. "Do I know you from somewhere? Pops didn't engage us, did he?"
The girl blinked back the tears, startled by the idea as rosy blush covered her cheeks. "No, I'm Yuriko, Nabiki's friend."
Ranma snapped his fingers as he made the connection. "Oh yeah, I've seen you and her talk sometimes." Ranma felt awkward as the girl stared at him expectantly, sniffing silently. "Um… are you ok to go to school now?" Ranma finished, suppressing the desire to bolt under that intense gaze.
"Ok…yhAAA!" Yuriko suddenly found herself flying through the air as Ranma carried the girl bridal style. Going at speeds she previously thought impossible, Yuriko clutched Ranma's neck for dear life as said martial artist lightly hopped from roof to roof, making record time to school. With one last giant leap, Ranma landed, silently depositing Yuriko on the ground. It only took thirty seconds for the girl to realize she was no longer flying through the air. In another fifteen seconds she stumbled back, releasing death grip she had unknowingly held on Ranma.
"Uhhh… I guess I'll see ya," Ranma said, waving. Two giant leaps led the pigtailed youth directly through his classroom window.
Yuriko blinked at the abrupt departure followed shortly by the next sound to shatter the relative calm of the morning.
"RANMA, YOU IDIOT!"
Ranma's day proceeded exactly as it did most days. The basic itinerary was easily summarized by a series of events: Sleeping in class, being hit by the Tomboy, holding buckets, being hit by the Tomboy, sneaking lunch through the teachers monotone voice, being hit by the Tomboy, uber-glomp by an amorous Amazon, and being hit by the tomboy.
All in all a perfectly ordinary beginning to the school day. At least until after he woke up in the branches of a tree. The last thing he remembered was Akane's furious fist of frightful fury flashing before his vision. Quite preferable compared to the alternative of eating the biohazard known in Akaneez as 'The greatest food in existence'.
The tree was a little different at least, usually he ended up in a fountain or pond. Shaking his head a couple of times to stop the dizziness, Ranma noticed, through the thick foliage, a congregation of girls below him. His eyes opened wide as several basic formulas ran through his mind.
Girls plus Meeting equals Head Trauma
Ranma blinked. Now that he thought about it, Girls plus Anything equals Head Trauma. This was especially true in cases where said girls happened to find out that someone not invited was eavesdropping which, with Ranma's luck, was almost a given.
Quietly, he squatted down on the branch ready to leap to the nearby roof and relative safety when he happened to overhear snippet of the conversation drift up from below.
"Ok girls, I've developed the next load of pictures. That includes several premium shots of both his forms in the furo. I expect those to be sold for double the price. There should be plenty of copies to sale, but I can get more if sales are higher than usual. Are there any questions?" Ranma crouched back to the tree limb he was about to vacate.
'That voice sounded familiar.' Ranma thought, before taking a closer looking. Finding one of the girls waving a large envelope in the air, his eyes opened wide, Nabiki Tendo.
'Don't tell me she's selling those things again,' Ranma thought with a scowl.
"I don't think we should sell pictures of Ranma anymore," Ranma's head swung around to the squeak of a protest from the outskirts of the group. All twelve eyes, including Ranma's, locked onto a quivering mousy brown haired girl.
'Yuriko?' Ranma thought, quickly recognizing the girl he had saved earlier. He frowned as the girl's shaking intensified under the penetrating gaze Nabiki shot her with.
"What did you say, Yuriko?" Nabiki asked, her voiced etched with a frosty calm.
"Ranma saved me this morning so I thought tha…"
"That Ranma doesn't deserve it. Is that what you were going to say?" Nabiki sneered, slowly advancing on the hapless girl. "Whether he deserves it or not isn't your concern. All you have to worry about is charging students the prices I tell you to for them. They pay big bucks for these pictures and I. Will. Cash. In." She emphasized each word, her eyes mere slits as she hovered above Yuriko's cowering form.
In an instant, Nabiki turned her back on the poor girl, waving her hand in a shooing gesture, her voice deceptively nonchalant. "If you don't like it, you can take your leave. I'm sure that you don't need the extra money. Perhaps your family won't mind the loss?" Yuriko's face fell, a tear hidden by her flushed face.
Silence hung in the air as the girls looked back and forth, most showing a thread of pity for the timid girl.
"Now, if that is settled…" Nabiki shot another hard glare at Yuriko bowed form. "Ladies, take your positions for this afternoon's picture sale," Nabiki finished handing the large packet to her second in command. Walking away, Nabiki barely concealed her triumphant smile.
Several of the girls exchanged hesitant looks. Reluctantly, each walked to the one holding the packet to take their share of the load. The blond haired girl holding them, sighed as she opened the packet, reached in. Her withdrawn expression transformed into a frown as she frantically probed the contents of the packet. She removed her hand and looked in, a dumbfounded expression rapidly developing on her face.
"What happened to all the pictures?" She asked as she reinserted her hand to verify what her eyes told her. Still feeling nothing, she turned it upside down and shook. A single picture of Ranma's girl side lazily floated to the ground.
The girls exchanged a confused look. When they returned their gaze to the ground, they found that the lone picture had disappeared as well. Startled, each girl darted glances around only to find a handful of trees surrounding them.
"Ok, who is going to tell the boss that the pictures disappeared?" a nervous voice asked. Realization of their predicament spread like wildfire, their eyes widening dramatically. The blond, there was a reason she was second in command, got a sly expression as she turned her hazel eyes on Yuriko. Catching on, the others did likewise.
"Oh, no. Not me!"
On the rooftop, Ranma shuddered as he pulled more pictures out of his pockets. Many of the photos depicted his girl side half naked while he slept. All those wet spots when he woke up suddenly started making sense. Nabiki had been taking advantage of his deep sleeping habits and changing him to take some risqué photos. Several of him training, a couple were even from the furo. Ranma started tearing the pictures apart as fast as he could.
"She even took some of Akane working out," Ranma mumbled to himself as he glanced through several. Sending tiny motes that represented the photo's remains off into the wind, Ranma lightly felt his pockets. Not feeling anymore of the pictures he had hastily stuffed in them while the girls were distracted, Ranma whipped his brow. 'For once I managed to stop the pictures in advanced.'
A small smirk appeared as he allowed the refreshing wind to flit through his hair. 'Maybe I should try that again sometime. Would save me a major headache later when people want them autographed.' Ranma shuddered as he remembered the incident where a small gaggle of girls swarmed him, waving very explicit photos in his face, fishing for a signature. Not that he cared, but he doubted they had forgiven him yet for ripping the things up.
Ranma whistled as he walked home by his favorite median, the fence. Aside from the standard half dozen hits by the Tomboy, it was turning out to be a good day so far. He help someone who needed saving and he was able to stop Nabiki from selling his pictures. As a bonus, he hadn't been challenged by some martial art wacko. Truly, Ranma couldn't think of anything that could ruin his day.
Thunder rumbled ominously above.
Casually hopping off the fence, Ranma opened the front door of the Tendo Dojo and walked in.
"I'm home." He called out as he removed his shoes, casually noticing he was the first home as he stepped into the house.
"Welcome home, Ranma," Kasumi's gentle greeted him, drifting from the kitchen. At least Kasumi always welcomed him home even if few of the other residents ever noticed.
Strolling into the living room, he flopped back onto the sofa. Ranma allowed himself to put his feet up and relax. He had at least fifteen minutes before his idiot father found him and declared him slacking off, initiating the next bout of practice. Without the constant bickering of the other residence, it was almost… peaceful. It was a concept that had eluded the pigtailed martial artist throughout his life. As will all such restful times, his relaxation was interrupted by another source of frustration in his life.
"Saotome, you look like you're in a good mood. Something happen recently? A new fiancée perhaps?" Nabiki asked causally as she sat in the chair across from him.
Ranma's eyes widened at the idea. "No! There hasn't been any new fiancées. I'm just happy, ok?"
"Right" Nabiki drawled as she flipped on the TV and began to channel surf. Relieved that one of the biggest headaches in his life wasn't paying attention to him, Ranma lay back, attempting to capture that elusive feeling of peace.
"I heard that you saved Yuriko today," Nabiki monotone voice said, not looking away from the television.
Sighing in frustration, Ranma didn't bother to reopen his eyes. "Yeah, I helped her out."
"Hummm, I guess that reaffirms your code of honor or something?"
"Yup, it's a martial artists duty to protect the weak," Ranma said proudly, the little reminder helping to lighten his mood.
"Ha, that's a laugh, Saotome."
Loosing that satisfying sense of accomplishment, Ranma sent an annoyed glance at Nabiki. "What do you mean?"
"You help one person and you think you're some kind of super hero that protects all us poor weak little humans." Nabiki said in a condescending voice. "Well here's a wake-up call; you aren't." Nabiki aimed the remote at the TV, turning the volume up.
"…These horrific images were taken by spy satellites just hours ago sent to us by an anonymous source. As you can see villagers are being lined up and shot, sources tell us these are people and their families that were once apart of the old government. Those few we were able to interview say that such executions have become all too common since the recent hostile take over. The situation is, of course, complicated further by several nuclear weapons recently acquired by this militant faction. The UN has demanded that the country disarm, but no substantial action has been taken.
And now for the weather…"
"Do you understand now?" Nabiki asked as she muted the TV. "You can pretend all you want, but your vaunted martial arts will never be do anything beyond helping a person or two." She paused, savoring Ranma's stunned countenance with a smirk. "So much for the greatest martial artist in the world," Nabiki muttered dismissing Ranma in favor of flipping through channels once more.
Ranma sat frozen on the sofa. Eleven long years. That is how long he had spent training, shaping his body to become the best, to uphold the honor of being a martial artist. He was to protect those who could not protect themselves. Now he found that all his effort wasted.
Every channel Nabiki flipped seemed to have picture after picture of the massacre; the massacre he had absolutely no power to stop.
He never even noticed Akane hesitantly enter the room with a strained look as she approached Nabiki.
"Nabiki? Could I borrow some money? The girls and I are going to get some ice cream and I'm running low for the week," Akane asked, setting her school bag down by the couch.
"Sure, Sis. I'd love to loan you some money; at 15 interest compounded hourly," Nabiki replied, a shark's grin making a quick appearance.
Akane rolled her eyes. "I should have known better." Turning to Ranma, Akane continued. "How about you, Ranma? Ranma?" Akane asked the still stunned martial artist.
"What?" Ranma asked, his dazed gaze turning to Akane.
"Could I borrow a couple hundred of yen?" She asked, ignoring the glazed eyes in favor of some time with her friends and a banana split.
"Sure." Ranma slipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out several bills before handing them to Akane.
"Thanks Ranm… YOU PERVERT!" Akane exclaimed, as she uncovered two pictures infolded within the bills.
Startled, Ranma jerked around. He groaned when he noticed the picture of his girl side and another of Akane just stepping out of the furo. Ranma foresaw his good day going sour real quick.
Ranma groaned as awareness brought a massive headache for the ride. Tentatively reaching a hand to his head, he hissed as they brushed several prevalent lumps. The headache only became worse as he opened his eyes. They snapped shut quickly, only informing him that he now lay prone on a futon in his room.
"I see that you are awake, Saotome," Ranma groan grew deeper as he recognized the voice's owner. The day just got a lot worse.
"What do you want, Nabiki?" Ranma asked tentatively against his pounding headache.
"You've stolen my property, Saotome. I expect payment."
"What do you mean? I haven't stolen anything."
"Humph, I know you didn't buy those pictures you gave Akane. Add that to the mysterious disappearance of my pictures today means you must have stolen them. Of course, I'm willing to be nice and let you off the hook for twice the price of each picture."
"What!" Ranma exclaimed, wishing he hadn't immediately as the pain shot through his mind. Much more slowly, Ranma sat up and opened his eyes to face a hard edged Nabiki in full business mode. "Those pictures were of me. How can you charge me for something you took of me, especially without my permission?"
"Easy, since the day you set foot into this house you have been nothing but a freeloader with an appetite. To offset your black hole of a stomach, I've been selling pictures. Until you start pulling in money to help with the damages, maintenance, and of course room and board, I will keep doing so. Until that long awaited day, everything about you that I can exploit belongs to me. I'll be expecting the first installment with a voluntary photo shoot tomorrow after school."
Ranma opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, the doors slammed open. Genma barged in, fist raised.
"Boy, you've been slacking again!" He yelled, grabbing Ranma by his shirt, throwing him out the window before jumping out himself.
Nabiki gave a disdainful snort as she heard the sounds of two bodies landing predictably in the koi pond. 'At least the window was open this time.'
As usual, their workout was long and tiring and ended with meditation/balance practice a.k.a meditating on their heads.
"What is it, boy?" Genma asked, his eyes remaining closed.
"You are always saying that it's a martial artist's duty to help the weak, right?"
"Yes, that is the primary ideal of the art."
Ranma frowned, appearing like an odd smile in his current position.
"What about people in other countries?"
"Nationality doesn't matter, Boy. If someone is in trouble, a martial artist should be there," Genma said in his typical high and mighty tone.
"What about wars? What about all of those people in wars that are hurt?"
Genma's arm slowly retracted itself from the air, tucking itself in with its opposite. For a minute, Genma sat there as if in deep thought.
"Boy, there comes a time when a martial artist must become more than a martial artist to help the masses."
"More than a martial artist? What do you mean Pops?"
"If you become powerful enough, you will be able to help those people."
"What do you mean power? I'm already the best there is," Ranma said, some of his old cockiness coming into play.
Genma's eyes scrunched up before his nose twitched once, twice and his eyes flew open. "Dinner time, Boy." A dust cloud replaced his father.
"Try to have a serious conversation for once and this is where it gets you," Ranma muttered to himself as he casually upended himself before hurrying after his father. After all, dinner was calling and he didn't want Pop's stomach to answer for him.
Altena unrolled the scroll onto the top of her writing desk. It was a well worn document that she had read many times since it arrived the day before.
"It appears that the Fourth Sapling has become viable… Ranma Saotome." She whispered to herself with a small, half formed, smile.
Author's end notes: This is one of the few fics I've made that I really don't have a preference on pairing. This being the case, I'm leaving it in the hands of the reviewers. You have three options: Ranma/Chloe, Ranma/Mereille, or Ranma/Kirika. Be careful how you choose as the results can drastically alter how the story continues.
Thanks for reading,