Title: Ranma's… Husband? 24: Disquiet.
Official Pairings: Akane/Mousse, Kiyoshi/Ranma, Ryu/Kasumi, Nabiki/OFC.
Not exactly sure when the next bit will be out.
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She'd… she'd slept with Ryu.
But yesterday, running into Atsuo… she hadn't seen him in so long but he still made her feel the same.
Small. Pathetic. Weak…
After her mother had died she'd sort of gone off the rails. Her father had been going insane and suddenly she was expected to take care of her sisters…
Atsuo was a senior, she was just about to turn fourteen… he was a creep, on reflection.
She'd drunk, smoked, had sex with him, given up the martial arts, her grades had dropped… and eventually she'd gotten pregnant. She'd thankfully had a miscarriage… thankfully because she'd discovered he was cheating on her. She'd broken up with him… and then gone back to being a good, obedient daughter.
No more fun, no more games… responsible for everyone. She'd dated a little since then, but nothing serious, and as the years went by she almost gave up on ever being with someone again. Ever touching someone. The warmth of another's flesh…
It had been fun with Ryu… they'd gotten drunk and carried on. Laughing and joking. And the sex… the sex had been good. She sort of hoped they could do it again at some point.
Anyway… she wasn't quite sure what to do now. It was morning and Ryu was still asleep, lying next to her on the plush hotel bed. It would get awkward when he woke up, she knew that, and she hoped he wouldn't say anything cruel to her – running into Atsuo had left her feeling a little bruised.
She looked over at Ryu. He really was a handsome devil… tall and rangy… he had an air of wickedness about him…
He was waking up. She wondered what would happen now.
He hadn't slept well. Sleeping on a futon in the room of his… of Akane… had been awkward. It was all awkward. He hoped he stopped feeling like this soon.
Everything was odd… he'd found his time with the Tendous had really illustrated the difference between his people and the Japanese. He'd suspected as much but last night had confirmed that the Japanese expected their women to cook dinner…It was… they were strange people, the Japanese.
Back home the idea was preposterous.
Cooking was a man's work, unless it was in a professional capacity. The Amazon's had some great female chefs but he knew that when they were home their husbands cooked for them. As was only right.
He'd heard Akane muttering to herself about being the family head… that meant…
He should ask her for permission to use the kitchen. Since he belonged to her and she was head of the family it was his duty to ensure that everyone was fed. Or it would be back home.
Her family was a little strange though… her father seemed to have taken to his bed and her sisters were older than her but not warriors… Perhaps he should only ensure that she was well fed and taken care of. Surely her sisters would marry soon and then have husbands to take care of them.
Speaking of worrying Japanese behaviours; Saotome's mother was strange. Very strange… she had the strength he was used to in a woman but it all seemed to be directed towards acting like he thought a man should… Saotome must be so confused.
What was he going to do? He had no purpose anymore… he would have to find something to occupy his time…
It was fairly early. Akane was still asleep and he desperately needed to use the bathroom… he couldn't wait any longer.
Carefully he eased himself out of bed. He reached over and picked up his glasses, he'd decided that he would wear them from now on; he had no one to impress and he didn't want to look like a fool in front of Akane.
As he quietly crept out of the room – he didn't want to wake her up – he felt himself blush. He hated the pyjamas that Xian Pu had bought for him. They were too skimpy, too cold and too pink… he looked forward to the day that Akane bought him new clothes.
He crept downstairs to the bathroom and used the facilities. Looking towards the bath with longing… maybe he could go back upstairs and get some clothes. Bathe. Make sure a nice hot bath was waiting for Akane… that would probably be appreciated.
He made his way back up to Akane's room and over to the wardrobe. Being as quiet as possible he opened its doors and went looking for his clothes.
There wasn't much left after Akane had culled the ridiculous items but he pulled out a pair of eggshell-blue shorts (what was with all the shorts? He was fairly sure Japanese women wore trousers sometimes.) and a tight teal coloured t-shirt. Locating his underwear he shut his eyes and grabbed the first pair that came to hand… he still found it entirely too embarrassing. He went to his trunk and gathered his toiletries and hairbrush.
He made his way back downstairs to the bathroom. He'd just wash, he wouldn't have a soak – he didn't really feel that he deserved one. And then he'd run the bath for Akane.
He bathed with quick efficiency, making sure the water was warm enough that he wouldn't change. He dried himself, squeezing the water out of his hair, and got dressed. His hair was a knotty mess so he brushed it and then decided to pull it back into a braid to keep it out of his way.
He ran the bath for Akane and left the bathroom to go and get her. He almost ran into her when he left the bathroom. "There you are," she said, looking relieved.
Where else would he be?
Blushing and looking to the side he said, "I ran you a bath."
She blinked at him, "That was nice of you… I was just coming to have a bath."
They stood there for a minute feeling awkward before he stepped out of her way and she walked into the bathroom.
What was he supposed to do now?
He wandered away, looking around the house. He found himself standing in the kitchen… Kasumi obviously hadn't returned as there was no one making breakfast…
Maybe he could take a risk… as he obviously wouldn't be getting in anyone's way he could cook breakfast. He liked cooking… his father had started teaching him from when he was very little and being in the kitchen always made him feel safe.
It had been strange seeing Saotome bake the day before, but he had to admit that the boy was good at it. They had a truce now. Which was also very strange.
Saotome had insisted that he wasn't interested in Xian Pu, which Ranma had done before, but he'd never believed it. He couldn't say what it was that had convinced him this time… but he was. He was convinced.
Ranma always had been confusing… straddling the gender lines as he did. There was an aspect of him that wanted to treat Saotome like a female even as he knew that Saotome was male… He wasn't sure how he would cope with living with the other boy, but he would have to get used to it. He had no choice.
He apprehensively looked about the kitchen. He looked in the pantry, the fridge and the cupboards… there was enough for him to make breakfast for Akane…
He was going to do it. It was his duty…
It felt like the darkness was eating away at him again. The black sinkhole in his soul that appeared when she died. It was killing him… it had been killing him slowly for years.
When Genma and Ranma had shown up he had become distracted. At peace for a time… even with the myriad of problems they caused. He should have known it wouldn't last.
Now there was all this with the Kurosawas, Nodoka was staying with them – reminding him of his loss, and Akane had gotten herself somehow involved with a cross-dressing, male Amazon.
It was all too much.
He felt tired, exhausted. The idea of getting out of bed seemed an epic challenge…
What was wrong with him?
Why was it like this?
He didn't know what to do, didn't want to do anything. Action seemed exhausting…
He'd get up later. He'd feel better later. It would stop feeling so insurmountable… later.
It was Sunday. Her deadline had run out… today she was sending everything she knew about Ranma to her dear friend Jacob so he could forge "Ranko" a real identity.
His work was good. Exceptional really… as well as exceptionally expensive. But he owed her.
She'd acquired some photographs of Ranma's female form from a rather dodgy source and was just waiting for Ryu to show up to see if he had any more information…
Perhaps it was time for her to get more involved personally… but then again, perhaps not. She didn't want to intimidate Ranma and she'd been told that she was very intimidating.
Anyway, she had other plans in the works… she just hoped she succeeded.
Blarghh! Gods he felt awful…
How much had he drunk last night? Way too much from the feel of it.
More importantly… where was he?
Peeling open an eye than felt like it was gummed shut with sandpaper (if such a thing was possible) he assessed the situation.
He'd gotten drunk with Kasumi and then they'd…
Perhaps that had been a bad idea, but it had seemed more friendly than serious. It had felt like comfort. Balm to ease a weary soul…
And it had been good… very, very good. Much better than anything recently…
He couldn't help comparing it to what it had been like with Kana, or what he suspected it would be like with Ranma… It had been better than it was with Kana, as much as it made him heartsick to think it… and Ranma… Ranma would be a virgin. That would lead to another whole set of complications…
Well that was Kiyoshi's concern and not his. Yes, he was attracted to Ranma… incredibly attracted to Ranma… but she was Kiyoshi's fiancée, and maybe he didn't want another serious relationship just yet.
Kana had really done a number on him. He felt… bruised… hard, and cold somewhere deep inside. Somewhere that had once been filled with warmth and light…
He was being stupid.
It was time to face the music.
He turned over and sat up, the covers pooling in his lap, and looked at Kasumi.
She had been staring into space and when he moved she startled; they made eye contact.
She was beautiful; he couldn't help thinking it, even if she wasn't strictly his type. His eyes took in the lines of her form, her face, her smooth skin and long legs…
She was very different than Kana, who was petite and curvy like Ranma; instead she was all tall, slender, grace. Not the physical type he usually went for but he could see the appeal now that he'd…
"What time is it?" she asked.
Discovering he was still wearing his watch he brought it up and peered blearily at the dial. "Eight."
She sighed, "Oh… I suppose I better get home and cook breakfast."
He looked away. "Yeah, I suppose so."
They were silent for a minute before she cleared her throat, "Thanks Ryu, I had a good time."
"Yeah me too."
He had to go home and see his mother anyway.
Mousse had run her a bath. As she towelled dry her hair she couldn't help think how strange it was… strange in a nice way. She got dressed and brushed her hair, wondering if Kasumi had returned.
She had tossed and turned for most of the night; between all this with Mousse and worrying about Kasumi, sleep had been difficult and disturbed.
She left the bathroom and immediately her nose was assaulted by a heavenly smell. It was coming from the kitchen… Kasumi must be back. She headed to the kitchen to question her sister on where she had been but discovered that, instead of Kasumi, Mousse was the origin of the delightful aroma.
He hummed softly as he sautéed something in a wok… He was cooking.
It smelt good, very good. She didn't know what he was cooking but she could see that he'd cut up something on the chopping block, she could smell spring-onions and ginger, and steam was billowing out of the vent of the rice-cooker.
She cleared her throat, startling him and catching his attention. He blushed.
"I… I… I thought I'd cook you breakfast," he mumbled, "There wasn't much in the cupboards but… Um… it will be ready soon if you want to go wait in the dining-room." He couldn't make eye-contact with her and instead seemed to be studying a point on the floor about thirty centimetres in front of her feet.
She wasn't sure how to respond. It was a little… disconcerting. Deciding that it was good that he was actually responding to his surroundings, as well as being tempted by the smell of whatever he was cooking she said "Ok" and made her way to the dining-room.
She discovered Genma curled up asleep on the tatami in a big ball of panda-shaped depression. She arched her eyebrow and shook her head. It wasn't her problem.
She sat down to wait for Mousse. She didn't have to wait long.
He entered the room balancing a large tray full of food. He placed it on the table and began unpack it. Two bowls with rice in the bottom, a serving plate covered in some fried egg concoction that smelt strongly of ginger, several smaller plates covered with various sautéed vegetables in various sauces, chopsticks, and two cups as well as a teapot full of what smelled like jasmine-tea.
How had he done all this in such little time? But then again, he worked… had worked… in a restaurant.
He placed one of the bowls containing rice in front of her and the other in the space next to hers and then did the same with the tea and chopsticks. He then arranged the other dishes within easy reach. He gave everything a look over, nodded his head in satisfaction and sat next to her. She was about to reach for the food but he got there first; he reached out with his chopsticks and elegantly began to snag the best looking bits of the dishes and place them in her bowl.
Was this normal? Was this what an Amazon male did for the woman who… who owned (the thought still made her somewhat uncomfortable) him?
He must have noticed her discomfort because he blushed fiercely and froze.
What was she supposed to do? Should she tell him not to serve her? If she did would it upset him? She wanted to tell him to stop but at the same time some small part of her was enjoying the attention. Did that make her a bad person?
She didn't know.
Deciding that she'd make up her mind later she gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile. He unfroze and returned to serving her with elegant efficiency.
When he seemed to be satisfied with her bowl he began to serve himself, leaving plenty on the serving plates. She could only assume that it was in case she wanted more later.
She looked down at her bowl… it all looked very good… she looked over to him… he was looking at her expectantly… she picked up her chopsticks and began to eat.
It was very good.
She noticed that Mousse began to eat after she did, but she also noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that he was paying close attention to her.
She really liked the egg dish, which he must have noticed, because the minute she had eaten the last piece of it his chopsticks snapped out and she found more of it in her bowl. This went on whenever she had finished something until she was so full she felt like she was going to explode.
That was when Nodoka entered the room.
The woman frowned at them, frowned at the food and then asked "Is Kasumi back yet?"
Akane shook her head and Nodoka sighed… "I suppose I'll go and make breakfast for everyone…" she gave them a censoring glare "everyone else that is."
Just then the sound of the door opening and closing drew their attention. Nodoka turned around and stuck her head into the hallway.
"Hello Kasumi" she called out, her voice like ice.
"Oh! Auntie Saotome!" she heard her sister call out.
It felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Her sister was back.
Nodoka went stalking out of the room snapping "Where have you been?"
There was a pause before Kasumi replied "I don't see how it's any of your business."
"Of course it's my business! You will be marrying my son." Nodoka snapped.
She got to her feet in a hurry and ran out into the hallway. Nodoka and Kasumi were facing each other down.
Kasumi scoffed "I'm not marrying Ranma."
Nodoka drew herself up and crossed her arms, "Since your sister has decided that her responsibility to that boy is more important than her responsibility to my son, you will take her place as his fiancée."
Kasumi looked away for a second and when she looked back Akane found herself stepping backwards. She had never seen her sister look like that… it was more than a little scary. "I don't think so Auntie Saotome. My life is my life… I have sacrificed enough as it is."
"What do you know of sacrifice? This is what your father and my husband wish; you will do as you're told." Nodoka snapped.
It seemed more than a little cruel, what Auntie Saotome was saying.
Kasumi looked at the other woman with cold eyes, "What do I know of sacrifice? Who cooks? Who cleans? Who works to pay the bills? It's not my father… I have given up years of my life for this family. I am not giving up my remaining freedom."
Oh Kasumi… was it really that bad? Thinking about it she realized that they all seemed to expect Kasumi to do everything, fix everything… it was hardly fair. She didn't know what she'd do but she vowed that she would to something to make life easier for her sister.
"Oh…" Auntie Saotome murmured.
Kasumi seemed to gather herself and gave Nodoka a slightly forced smile, "I understand where you're coming from. You just want what's best for your son… but that is never going to be me. I'm sorry Auntie Saotome."
Nodoka shook her head, "No, no… no need to apologize. I'm sorry for hopping into you like that. I… I… I just feel so helpless sometimes… not being able to see him. See them."
Kasumi gave her a genuine smile "That's Ok Auntie Saotome… Now, I really need to make breakfast."
Nodoka nodded and Kasumi entered the kitchen.
She felt awkward and crept back into the dining room before she caught Nodoka's attention.
If Kasumi had refused to marry Ranma and she wasn't going to… that left Nabiki. That would be a nightmare all round… What could she do though?
As she stepped back into the room her attention was drawn to Genma. He did not look happy. He was sitting up, awake, and glaring at her…
"Ah, Ranko! Good morning! I was thinking we could do something together today, just you and me," she heard Nodoka cheerfully call out.
"Um… Good morning Auntie Saotome. I… I have to have a bath," she heard Ranma mumble.
"Well you do that and then we can go get breakfast and I thought we could spend the day together," she could hear the smile in Auntie Saotome's voice.
"I… I guess so," Ranma sounded nervous.
"Good. I'll see you soon Ranko," Nodoka called out, walking into the dining-room.
It was a little awkward. Nodoka didn't seem as friendly as she usually was and she herself was a little uncomfortable about it all. Plus Nodoka was giving Mousse some very strange looks. She wasn't happy about that and had to restrain herself from glaring at the older woman.
Soon enough Ranma appeared in the room, dressed in a pair of form fitting, lemon-yellow toreador (length between knee and ankle) trousers, and a white halter-neck top.
Auntie Saotome smiled at Ranma, and it occurred to Akane that Nodoka wasn't exactly happy with the Tendou girls. That was good, she guessed, it gave Ranma a chance to be with her… his… mother… even in such embarrassing circumstances.
Nodoka got to her feet and said, "Come on Ranko," before leaving the room.
Ranma winced and gave Akane an uncomfortable smile.
"See ya Akane," he muttered, following his mother.
"Bye Ranko" she called out to him.
Even though she had already eaten breakfast she decided that she might as well stay while everyone else ate. It would be the sociable thing to do.
"A… Akane?" Mousse mumbled.
She looked over at him, he was studying his hands.
"Yes Mousse?" she replied.
He looked up and met her eyes for just a second, "Is it alright if I clean up this," he indicated at the refuse of their meal, "As well as the mess I made in the kitchen?"
"Of course Mousse, you don't have to ask my permission if you want to do something," she said, hoping he'd take it to heart.
He frowned at her, shook his head, and got to his feet. He gracefully gathered everything and left the room, leaving her alone with Genma.
The panda produced a sign and wrote "What's this about you not marrying Ranma?"
She winced, "I've made my decision; Mousse is my responsibility."
He harrumphed but didn't write anything else; instead he glared at her with beady panda eyes. She worried about what he was plotting.
Soon afterwards Nabiki finally came down, looking distracted, and Kiyoshi turned up.
She made small-talk with her sister until Kasumi showed up with breakfast.
"Good morning Kiyoshi" Kasumi said as she placed the food on the table.
"Good morning" Kiyoshi replied.
As Kasumi worked Akane's eyes were drawn to a dark bruise on her neck…
It couldn't be…
It looked like a love bite.
After returning home, reporting to his mother, having a shower and getting dressed he didn't know what to do.
He felt… restless…
He didn't feel like returning to the Tendou Dojou. He didn't want to see Ranma and the idea of running into Kasumi made him feel…
So… he was aimlessly wandering around Nerima.
He walked… not even noticing the pretty girls…
He found himself in the food shopping district; he didn't even know what he was doing there.
And then he saw her. Saw Kasumi.
She had a large basket on her arm and had just accepted a package from the butcher…
Instinctively he strode over to her, grinning back at her when she blushed and gave him a little grin.
He felt… at peace.
She looked at herself in the mirror.
Plain face, short black hair, average height, flat chest, wide hips on a bottom-heavy body…
She hated herself. She just wanted to smash her reflection into a thousand pieces.
Being friends with Yuuka and Aoi was difficult, they were both so pretty. The prettiest girls in their year. Yuuka with her bleached-blonde hair and delicate features, pixie-like Aoi with her top-heavy, busty body.
They could really make her feel inadequate.
The thing was, neither of them could hold a candle to Ranma's female form… Ranma, the perfect girl. Although when it came to girls, she thought that Nabiki was the most attractive. Nabiki had fire, personality… she was striking. That was something neither Yuuka nor Aoi would ever have.
She envied Nabiki, but at the same time could never bring herself to hate the other girl.
Nabiki was so free.
Bright, brilliant Nabiki… Hitomi had been watching her for years now. She'd seen her potential… Nabiki was going places, she was going to be someone. Even if that someone wasn't the type of person you'd like to encounter in a dark alley.
Nabiki was… she didn't necessarily want to be Nabiki but she always wanted to be with Nabiki. But she wasn't brave enough… Yuuka, Aoi and all the girls she knew hated Nabiki and she was frightened to go against them. Also… what could Nabiki ever want with someone like her?
She knew she was plain. Plain, boring, and stupid. They teased her about it, Yuuka and Aoi, about how unattractive she was, how she dressed and how the boys were never interested. Frankly she wasn't interested in the boys either, but still…
They thought they were so special, they thought they were so perfect, so pretty…
But she knew so many of their secrets, of all the girl's secrets. She was easy to overlook, she gave sensible advice (to the truly insensible) and she seemed so harmless…
She'd heard the boys talk too, heard what they thought about the girls… she could not imagine how Ranma could feel safe sharing the same changing room as them. They… scared her.
Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have a chance to see Nabiki again today.
Yesterday had been nice, spending time together in the park… even if she had Akira with her. He could be such a brat.
He was the son of her father and his new wife… their precious son…
The divorce was another thing that the girls teased her about.
But she liked Yayoi, her stepmother, and she could see how much happier her father was. He had always been jealous of her mother's intense brilliance.
Her mother the artist… she was in France currently, and had been for the last two years. She sounded happy whenever Hitomi had a chance to talk to her… happy and content.
She missed her.
She didn't think she would be coming home. But if she was happy…
It was just… sometimes she wished she could join her mother. To fly free. Away from Nerima.
He felt restless, uneasy and uncomfortable.
Everything was getting out of his control, not that he had much control at the best of times. It was just… all coming apart at the seams.
His wife in the house… oh, she smelt so good…
That bloody Kiyoshi confronting him like the boy knew everything…
And now Akane deciding not to marry Ranma…
What could he do? Nothing really…
He just had to trust Ranma, trust the boy to do the right thing, remember who he was.
And there was something he could do to help abound that. Nodoka had stolen all the boy's male clothes…
He was going to take a few jobs around the neighbourhood, earn some money and buy Ranma something befitting the boy…
That would show Kiyoshi.
He wasn't that much of a bad father.
(Ai Xia Do's POV)
She could see that he was sad… he hated it when she left.
She ran her hand down the side of his face and brought him close to her. She kissed him, for what would be the last time for days… weeks. It hurt to leave him.
She had to though. She had no choice. It would hurt him more if their baby's situation was bad. She could not bear to see him cry.
No… if things were bad for Mu Tsu then she would act and damn the consequences; the girl who had stolen him would know her wrath.
She would name herself Judge, Jury and Exectutioner.
Mu Tsu was too important to her to be sacrificed to tradition.
"Keep him safe" she told her daughters "keep each other safe."
Things were coming to a head. More and more the idiots of their village were showing them outright hostility. Without the sane voice of Ku Lon things were going to hell.
Nobody trusted her, nobody had ever trusted her… too scared of the shadow of her ancestors.
They were all fools.
She rolled her shoulders and checked her weapons for the third time; it was time to leave.